Sleeps 2 (4)
The Orkney Isles are a unique and very special place and Herston Hall is an equally unique and special place from which to sally forth to explore their many delights. A former chapel, it dates from 1885 and was built as a mission hall to accommodate parishioners who found it too difficult to get to the district parish church. Outwardly it looks exactly as it did then, but internally it has been painstakingly and lovingly converted by its new owners as their own holiday retreat, one which they have now generously decided to share with other fortunate visitors.
It has a fabulous situation on Widewall Bay, a bird watcher's paradise on South Ronaldsay near the pretty village of St Margaret's Hope (shops, cafes, hotel), which is where you will land if coming by the car ferry from Gill's Bay. South Ronaldsay is linked to the mainland by the Churchill Barriers, so you are effectively on mainland Orkney, with the capital, Kirkwall, just half an hour's drive up the road.
The Hall stands in its own garden area surrounded by a low wall, with stupendous sea views, and it has hard standing parking across the tiny road from the garden. On entering, you come first to the former vestry, now a delightful little flagstoned sitting area, with a multi-fuel stove which assists the underfloor electric heating to keep the place toasty warm. Next is a superbly equipped modern kitchen with a shower room off the kitchen area.
The main 'body of the kirk', to use an old Scots phrase, is, as you would expect, now the main living area, the high vaulted roof and lancet windows giving a wonderful feeling of light and space. There is sofa bed here (charge) and a child's inflatable bed for extra party members, and a tub full of children's toys and books for any youngsters to enjoy. From there, stairs lead to a double bedroom with bathroom.
While the Hall is not troubled by the disturbance of a TV, there is a projector with built-in DVD player for dark evenings when the spectacular seascape outside is no longer visible to keep you enthralled. A selection of board games, books and wi-fi round out the entertainment options.
Those coming in the summer, however, will find that Orkney is sufficiently far north to enjoy 'white nights' when it scarcely gets dark and there are only a few hours of gloaming. All the more time, then, to explore this wondrous place.
For this part of Orkney has perhaps the greatest concentration of attractions of any part of the islands. You can scarcely go anywhere here without becoming aware of its ancient past, dating back to the first settlers thousands of years ago, and South Ronaldsay is a veritable treasure trove of archaeological interest. You'll also be amazed at the many different ways there are of accessing an ancient barrow or buriall mound. (Several of these have been discovered in the most relaxed way by local farmers, sometimes when a cow disappeared and they went to investigate!) The Tomb of the Eagles on South Ronaldsay is one of the most imaginative - you roll in lying flat on a kind of buggy - kids will just adore it! There, too, is the Howe of Hoxa, reputedly the home of the Viking Thorfinn Skullsplitter (they told it as it was in those days!), the Wheems Broch and the Cloddyhall Stone.
There is wonderful walking around the high cliffs, but there are also three great beaches nearby at Sandwick Bay, Eastside and the Sands of Wright.
And the Italian Chapel, just to the north and built by Italian prisoners of war, should not be missed.
Across the impressive Barriers, you have all the rest of the mainland to explore - the World Heritage Site at Skara Brae, more fascinating remains at Maes Howe and the Broch of Birsay, the Cathedral and Earl's Palace in Kirkwall, the picturesque little town of Stromness, the Yesnaby Stacks - and that's even before you begin to consider doing a bit of island hopping to some of the outlying isles, all provided with regular ferry services.
So get out your guide book, read all about it and prepare yourself for a wonderful holiday, enjoyed from a memorable base at Herston Hall.
Bed linen, towels and the first £20 of electricity are all included in the rental. One pet is welcome under strict control (stock in surrounding fields). Smoking is not permitted in the Hall. Wi-fi should be available, subject to provider (speed may be variable). Mobile reception is generally good.
Accommodation (sleeps 2/4):
- Snug with multi fuel stove
- Sitting/Dining room with sofa bed, DVD projector and mp3 player
- Kitchen with electric cooker (induction hob), fridge-freezer and washing machine etc
- Shower room with WC and wash basin
- Double bedroom
- Bathroom with bath with hand held shower attachment, WC and wash basin