Birsay to Dounby, 16km
Tomorrow’s theme on the pilgrimage will be Change and this is the photo for tomorrow. But today it’s Growth. “The growth of the cult of St Magnus….. helped by the rolling farmland and rich diversity of wildlife”. Diversity might have been a better theme. I reflected on the consequences of growth on our world.
The St Magnus pilgrimage app is growing on me. It bursts into life as I pass a point of interest and plays its Orkney theme and stamps my credential. When I press the icon she tells me everything I need to know, just like one of those audio tours but you don’t have to look for a little number in the grass. It knows where I am. Look at those farm buildings ahead… she says in her fine Orkney accent and explains how their name, Kirbuster, links them to the Church. The only evidence for this is in the name, and a 15th century sandstone Baptismal font found in the nearby Loch.
She also explained the significance of the stones I walked past. They are called Mans stones and they mark the places where the body of St Magnus was laid while on the journey to his final place of burial in Kirkwall. It’s brilliant and adds so much to the pilgrimage. I just love her accent.
Unlike yesterday, today’s walk was mostly on roads. There’s no real traffic on Orkney, just the occasional car which slows down, indicates and moves across the road to pass. The frustration is not the cars but the fences that surround the fields of grass, shimmering in the dazzling sunshine. The landowner doesn’t want me walking on the land because I’ll make a mess. England is crisscrossed with footpaths with enshrined rights of way dating back to times when farm workers needed access to their fields. You can get off the roads and into the countryside. In Scotland you have complete freedom to walk anywhere in the countryside providing you don’t walk across a field of crops or damage anything. The landowners have the freedom to fence off their land with barbed wire and locked gates. So you can walk in the fields if you’re prepared to climb the obstacles or you have to stay on the road.
It’s a problem if you’re creating a new long distance footpath. You either do what the JoG trail does: send walkers over the barbed wire and along the cliff top edges. Or you do what this pilgrimage does: follow the shore and the roads. It’s a slow process to gain the support of landowners. If you try to build a style over their fence you’ll soon find it vandalised.