I found this wee house to stay in, on the outskirts of Kirkwall: Innisgarth. I booked it for 3 nights, at £45 a night, through the website on the strength of its rave reviews on TripAdvisor.
The reviews were outstanding, so I expected something very, very special. Yet I was still amazed! Sheila, who runs the property and lives next door, met us with a very warm and genuine welcome and showed us round. It looks like a show-home: newly-decorated and tastefully furnished, spotlessly cleaned, and with absolutely everything you could need. With 3 little girls, I was really thankful for little touches like the cupboard of games suitable for their ages, DVDs, the washing machine and tumbler, the toddler cutlery and plates, the perfectly clean high chair and travel cot, and the mountain of towels! Being able to park the car in the garage meant the minxes could get out in comfort on the day when it was *really* wet and windy. And The Boss could hoover out the half-beach of sand we’d accumulated in the car without being anti-social (he cleaned out the filter and emptied the hoover as payback).
The kitchen had every single thing you could want. I really appreciated things like plenty of cleaning equipment, soap, kitchen roll, salt, vinegar, tea, coffee, sugar – you know, the kind of things you normally have to buy when you go self-catering!
I was already wowed (underfloor heating, for goodness’ sake!), but the welcome hamper had me grinning like a kid: a stack of Orkney produce that meant we didn’t need to worry about buying food till the next day. Things like local ice-cream. It was just cream, milk, sugar and a bit of stabiliser, so egg-free, which meant Mini Minx could devour it (and she did. And held her own against her sisters when we let them polish off the last of it for breakfast on the last day. I am a Bad Mother. I know. Whatever). Butter made from raw milk. Marmalade. Local cheese, crackers and relish (yum!) Local bread (did Sheila know of my white-bread toast and butter craving?!). Very, very fresh eggs. Milk from down the road. Fudge (oh my word, the fudge! It was so good we hunted it down and bought loads more).
I know they’re booked through the rest of the year, so we’ll need to get our skates on to book for next year. Our biggest problem is that it only has a double and a twin bedroom, so once Mini Minx is too big for a travel cot, we can’t go. Doom!
Well, we probably should have done our research on where to eat, but decided just to chance our arm.
Saturday night we went for a bimble around Kirkwall and peered in to lots of different eateries. As we were all in the mood for fish and chips we decided just to go to a local chippy rather than go fancy. And ate really huge, juicy haddock with batter to rival the best I’ve eaten. The minxes giggled at being allowed to drink a carton of ‘red juice’ (I think the only natural thing in it was the water. Perhaps). I hope I’ve got the name right – I think it was the Harbour Fry. Kids under 5 ate free with paying adults, but only if they ate from a specific menu. We wanted the kids to sleep that night, so preferred to let the minxes share a portion of what we had, thereby exposing Mini Minx to her first serving of chips…
Sunday we ate a packed lunch in the car waiting for the Birsay causeway to clear – lots of delicious local food provided by Sheila (bread, butter, cheese, fudge – blimey, she even supplied butty boxes!) supplemented with ham , fruit and juice. The allure of the local van ‘Teas and Tabnabs’ was too much, so The Boss was despatched to bring back cups of home-made lentil and veg soup and sausage butties.
We ate at The Orkney Hotel, Kirkwall, for our Sunday evening meal (Mother’s Day). We’d just spent the day out in the windy hills, so were weatherbeaten, still grubby round the edges (there’s only so much you can do with nappy wipes) and me and Maxi looking like a haystack dragged through a girl backwards. We took the time to change from wellies to approach shoes because it seemed quite formal, but the staff made us feel very welcome. The food was good, but not outstanding: huge amounts of tender meat, leaving not much room for vegetables. Though maybe we were just missing green veg having had a chippy the night before and too much ice cream and fudge…
Monday night lots of places were shut (eg Creel, which we really wanted to try. Doh! Next time check out the info beforehand, Trout The Dolt), so we went to The Commodore, who specialise in local, fresh food. We chose it because the second word of its advertising was ‘family-friendly’. It sure was – Under 5s ate free and still got a good selection from a proper menu. They polished off melon balls, vegetable lasagne and an enormous plate of ice cream; me and The Boss had deep fried local cheese and plum chutney (me) and chicken liver pate (him), followed by some juicy, tasty Westray salmon, then the most moreish fudge cheesecake it has ever been my pleasure to eat.
Our food adventures weren’t over when we sadly left the island – oh no. On the way home, we happened on Le Bistro in Thurso. I only chose to go in there because it was the first place we saw stumbling out the car park, and it seemed busy. What a result! For a start, the staff were all fantastic with all 3 minxes. Then more importantly, perhaps, the food was really excellent. Example, I had a baked potato, cheese and coleslaw. The ‘side salad garnish’ that came with it was fresh, varied, interesting and tasty, well-presented with just the right amount of balsamic vinegar splashed on it. Someone had really thought about the variety of textures, colours and flavours – it was downright beautiful.
And have I told you about Orkney fudge? Esp. the vanilla and the hazelnut stuff?! Only 5 or 6 times, now…?