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Pub Visit - Scotland

Stromness Hotel 1

Wednesday 10th June 2015

Bob Thompson

The imposing building of the Stromness Hotel cannot be missed should you be walking along Victoria Street. This street and its extension, John Street comprise the main thoroughfare of the town.

Stromness is a very old port in a sheltered inlet on the south-west coast of the Orkney mainland. It has a regular bus service to the capital, Kirkwall and ferry service to Scrabster on the Scottish mainland.

The town was founded in the 12th Century and its name is Gaelic for safe haven. This around the time the Scots were replacing the Norse settlers who either blended with the rest of the populous or returned to Norway. The Norse name for the town is Hamnavoe and that is the name of the ship that today serves the town on the route to Scrabster on the Scottish mainland.

Stromness Hotel 2Stromness has a small fishing fleet yet once it was the centre of the herring industry in the north of Scotland. However the habitat of the herring shoals are often unpredictable and the industry collapsed. It was also associated with the whaling industry in the past. The Hudson Bay company recruited sailors from here to the extent that once Orcadians formed 75% of their work force.

I would think that trade must have been good at the turn of the century when the hotel was opened in 1901. Today it has 42 en-suite rooms along with two bars open to the public and a restaurant. During both world wars it was used as the Army’s Headquarters for Orkney and Shetland. Today tourism must account for nearly all of its trade as it is close to several ancient monuments.

We, myself and wife Linda, went in through the impressive front door with a portico above and were directed from the reception to the first floor. This is where the Hamnavoe Lounge is located adjacent to the restaurant.

Stromness Hotel 3Entering the large room we found the bar on the right side. After obtaining a beer we sat right by one of the large bay windows that offer a panoramic view of the harbour, including the MV Hamnavoe that we were to travel on three hours later.

Between the two large windows there is a door that leads to a small balcony. At the point where the lounge merged into the dining room there is a lovely carved wood fireplace above which is a beautiful old advertising mirror promoting Bass’s Pale and Burton Ales.

Considering its location this bar has a great selection of cask beers. We had a choice of four, all from the Swannay Brewery (Highland Brewery) Scapa Special (4.2%); Island Hopping (3.9%), Duke IPA (5.2%) and under the Highland name, Orkney Session (3.8%). It is said that they have over one hundred varieties of whisky including some special bottles from Highland Park and Scapa, the two Orkney distilleries.

But now, we had a shock. The barman politely told us the bar had closed as it was just after 14.00. He advised that we go to the pub downstairs. Well this didn’t seem to be a hardship so we finished up and went to the Flattie Bar.

Stromness Hotel 4However, when we arrived we were told that there was no cask beer in that bar, apparently there normally is.

However the lady in charge, realising our frustration, said she would get anything we wanted from the upper bar, well done. But why four cask beers on one floor and none on the other?

The pub is also a comfortable place to have a drink. Assuming you arrived from the front the entrance is to the right of main door to the hotel. Once inside you notice the long bar counter on the left. On the right is a nice fireplace made from stone slabs.

Above this is a really nice advertising mirror for Rhind’s Scotch Whiskies and beyond that is stuffed red leather banquette benches and tables and stools facing, please photograph above left.

Stromness Hotel 5Similar seating is to be found in the curved bay window. Dangling from the ceiling is a Flattie, after which the bar is named. It is a small boat that was rowed, mostly by boys, to fishing vessels moored offshore to collect their catches.

Even in Orkney the design was unique to Stromness. It could only be used inshore and the boys were warned not to take them into Hoy Sound. Surprisingly these small wooden boats were also used in Chesapeake Bay. It is thought that Orcadians had settled there and introduced them.

So, a fascinating place to enjoy a drink or two. The hotel has reasonable rates and there are good deals to be had off-season. In the summer it hosts many events and participates in Jazz, Blues and Folk Festivals.

Please note that the hotel is closed in January and February and I am not sure if the Flattie Bar stays open. Nevertheless the pub and the Hamnavoe Lounge are thoroughly recommended.

Important Information:

Stromness Hotel, 15 Victoria Street, Stromness, Orkney KW16 3AA. Tel: 01856 850298

Hours: Flattie Bar: Monday-Thursday 11.00-23.00; Friday-Saturday 11.00-01.00;
Sunday 12.00-23.00
The hours of the Hamnavoe Lounge are not known but it is assumed it is open daily.

Except of course when the hotel is closed during January and February.

The ferry to Scrabster leaves twice a day in winter and up to four times during the lighter months. There is a direct bus to Kirkwall every hour most of the time.
This is also the departure port for the small ferries to the islands of Graemsay and Hoy.