Folk wisdom says that if you climb Brinkie's Brae on May Day and bathe your face in the morning dew, it will make you comely.
Hey, it might work.
But even if it doesn't, you'll see things like this ....
Or sometimes, this ....
(To be honest, I've only seen this the one time.)
Click here to go straight to the walking routes map.
I have special affection for the heathery brae overlooking Stromness.
Long ago - years before I came to Orkney - I read a collection of George Mackay Brown's weekly column, Under Brinkie's Brae. I immediately fell in love with the place and the people in his reminiscences.
I'd never have guessed that one day I'd be living under that same brae, in the very place George so lovingly described.
This is hotly debated.
Brinkie could have been a person, of course. But among other speculations, George Mackay Brown wondered if the word might have come from an Old Norse word meaning fire.
Curiously, "Brinki" is also an old Icelandic word for a steep hill.
Our friend Bryce Wilson says, "Nobody knows who ‘Brinkie’ was, but Brinkie’s Brae was originally the Ward Hill, where in historic times a fire might be lit to signal danger."
Yes - just like that soul-stirring beacon fire scene in Lord of the Rings. They really did that!
The ward fire might have been lit just about here ....
This walk is not difficult - just a bit steep at the beginning of the footpath if you start from Downie's Lane.
It can be boggy in areas, and I definitely don't recommend it on a very windy day.
In the interest of fully inhabiting your experience on Brinkie's Brae, you might want to have a rest on the lovely stone bench so thoughtfully provided, and reflect on poem that you'll find carved into a stone near your feet.
This beautiful site was created by three local artists.
I'd always assumed that the haiku was written by George Mackay Brown until Yvonne Gray, who wrote the haiku, told me the story:
This sweet place of remembrance awaits weary pilgrims, inviting us to pause and reflect.
Shall I just let Sir Walter Scott speak for himself?
The author goes on to add some rather uncomplimentary personal details about poor, old Bessie ....
"Better safe than sorry" seems to have been the common sentiment of the day.
Bessie Millie lived somewhere on Brinkie's Brae, though no one knows exactly where. She offered her prayers, mixed with a little artistic flim-flam, to call up fair winds for sailors ... as long as they first climbed the brae and paid her fee.
And the winds always came, though - as Sir Walter humorously noted - sometimes the sailors had to wait quite a while for them.
Listen to Tom's story of the weather witches of Stromness.
Near George's stone bench is an old granite quarry. The fledgling venture never took off, but the attempt left a gouge in the granite that makes a nice shelter. Bryce and his friends used to play here as children.
It's rumored that the quarry also served as a lover's trysting place.
It doesn't look very comfortable. I think it makes a better place for a picnic.
If you want to read more stories about Stromness, you'll want this book. It's written by lifelong Stromnesian and historian, Bryce Wilson.
Click the cover to purchase Bryce's lovely book.
The big concrete thing at the top of the brae is a trig point, which will interest those who like to collect them.
I don't know much about geocaching, but supposedly there's one somewhere on the brae - a tiny one in an old film canister. Good luck!
It's so fun to stumble upon artful creations that visitors make from stone.
Like our ancient ancestors, we humans seem to have an irresistible urge to leave messages for others as we pass through life.
Some of these messages, we're still puzzling over.
Here's one last place you can visit on the way back to Stromness, if you walk back to town along Brownstown Road.
The Haley Hole (from an Old Norse word meaning "holy", which eventually transformed to Hellihole) was once a place of pilgrimage for those suffering from various health ailments.
The water of the well tests high in mineral content. Sadly, it's not fit to drink in its current state.
Hellihole Road in Stromness is named for the route people took when heading for this well. Once thought to be holy, the water from this well was later viewed as a health treatment.
You'll see the mineral well on Brownstown Road, near the Stromness community garden. The community garden blog has more information.
* Many thanks to Bryce Wilson for sharing his stories about Brinkie's Brae.
Have a great hike!
Mermaid image (Rhonda's pages) and storyteller image (Tom's pages) courtesy of our dear friend - Stromness author, artist and historian, Bryce Wilson MBE - Thanks, Bryce!
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