The Pentland Ferries Road Race

The fast Pentland Ferry from Gills Bay near John O’Groats docks on Orkney at the sheltered harbour of St Margaret’s Hope (known locally as “Hup”) on South Ronaldsay and nearly all vehicles disembarking are intent on making their next leg the 15 mile journey from here to Kirkwall.  Google Maps correctly estimates this short distance to take an extraordinary 46 minutes – which presumes an average speed just under 20 mph.  For although the road has many straight sections it is also very undulating with several sharp bends, and is conservative in width, so overtaking opportunities are limited and the first-time visitor may feel slightly apprehensive.

However, delivery van drivers and locals disembarking the ferry are usually anxious to get ahead of meandering tourists exhibiting a lack of urgency on unfamiliar roads, so during embarkation they will if possible try to engineer a position at the bow of the ferry, so as to be among the first off.  Those failing to pull off this trick are left to overtake at every opportunity.

Far from presenting an obstacle, the four “Churchill Barriers” – the narrow wartime causeways a few hundred meters in length connecting the islands of the southern archipelago – offer local drivers a last-ditch overtaking opportunity provided (a) there is no immediately oncoming traffic and (b) the doubtless alarmed visitor keeps resolutely to the left on these very narrow carriageways bounded by Armco barriers and menacing rocks.  One cannot help but feel sympathy for any visitor who is remorselessly overtaken by an assorted procession of speeding vehicles, including the odd Mercerdes Sprinter van with just inches to spare, provided that is, they are not sitting in front of you at the time doing 20 mph….

Outside of scheduled ferry arrival and departure times, South Ronaldsay roads revert to being as typical as any on Orkney in exhibiting considerate driving at (relatively) moderate pace.

Airpro Media Ltd has just released a drone-imaged video of the Pentland Ferries “Pentalina” sailing from Orkney to the Scottish mainland.  Worth a view if you can search for it on Facebook.

image
The southern part of the Orkney archipelago, focusing on South Ronaldsay, Orkney Mainland and Inner Isles, omitting the Northern Isles.

 

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