Making the Best of It
Well, out of the countless excellent adventures that we have had, something had to eventually go wrong. here it is: Balfour Castle. Luckily, since our trip, the owners sold the home to another party, so if we go back, we might be welcome this time.
Balfour Castle was built from 1847-1848 on the island of Shapinsay. So it is not a very old building as one might think, but it is certainly built in the spirit of the old castles.
We made reservations via emails exchanged with a person at the castle. Our first selection for a night was not available, as there is only room for 12 guests at a time at this B&B, as we requested the following evening and changed our plans around that, including flight arrangements.
We ran into a few difficulties getting to the pier in order to leave the West Mainland of Orkney to get to Shapinsay Island where the castle sits. We were fortunate enough to have a person running the ferry that called over to the castle on his cell phone to have the lady of the house pick us up at the dock. We had originally planned to bring our own car, but the person we emailed back and forth with suggested that we not bring a rental car with us since they would drive us around the island in the morning to see the archeological sites on the island. All was going particularly well.
When we arrived at the dock, indeed a woman was there with the van to pick us up. "There seems to be a problem", she stated. We did not know what to say. "Do you have a place to stay in Kirkwall (city on the West Mainland) tonight?" she asked. We found this question a bit odd, actually. We noted that we had been camping on the far side of the island, so no, we did not have a place to stay other than at the castle. She asked us if we had a car on the other island. Again, no. We had returned it right before we departed on the ferry. We started guessing at what the problem might be. Bill deducted that they had overbooked, so he suggested that perhaps we could just set up a tent and stay somewhere in the tent. We probably should have gone with that idea.
As it turns out, they booked us for October 9, not September 9th. I guess the email that I sent before I left saying "see you in a few days" did not confirm that we were actually on our way. But they were not overbooked. Actually, they were expecting no one and it appeared as though they were looking forward to the evening without guests. I asked if we could still stay in the room since they were available (after all this did cost me hundreds of dollars). She agreed to this, but said we would be on our own for dinner since the cook was not working that night and she had her own family's meal to worry about.
The woman's sister drove us to the only place on the island that sold food, and we selected frozen Swanson fish cakes and a can of corn for our dinner.
We went back to the house and tried our best to find our way around the kitchen to get what we needed to heat our meal. I find it best not to see the kitchens of the places that we eat, but in this case we had little choice. After washing some of the pans and dishes we were ready to cook. I have to admit it was rather uncomfortable cooking in someone else's kitchen, especially when...well...you were not sure if you were exactly welcome. We prepared the meal and brought it out to the formal dining room and set our places to eat. we were thankful to find a room between the kitchen and the dining room that was full of silver.
We ate in peace, feeling ravenous after not having eaten all day - we had saved room for this exquisite feast. We continued to feel hunger pangs while we did the dishes and tried to recall where we found some of the items we used. I certainly hope they find what we put away!
After we decided to go out for a walk in the gardens. I must say that the gardens were an absolute treat. I never saw vegetables look so big and so good. On the edges of the gardens were roses and other late blooming perennials that made the walk even more enjoyable.
When we came back, we were asked if we would like tea in the library. We asked for a bit of time to take a shower before. What we found was a big old tub with a hose that somehow attached to the faucet to make a shower, but even with my BS in Mechanical Engineering and Bill's plumbing experience, we could not figure how to fit the hose to the faucet. So we washed our hair in the sink and took a 'bubble bath'.
We dressed in the nines for tea and came down to the library to see that we must be early. No people, no tea. We sat and looked over maps planning our next few days and minutes turned to hours. With no tea in sight, we turned our energies into snooping. How can you not?
We looked at a lot of the books in the library and opened the cabinets to get access to the books. On one shelf I noticed that the books were completely fake. I opened the cabinet to see what was up and lo and behold - we found a secret passage way! It just does not get better than this!
And it really does not get better than this. We slept comfortably that evening, and when we awoke in the morning we helped ourselves to the kitchen to cook some eggs. Afterwards we waited for some sign of life or at least someone to drive us to the archeological sites on the island. No such luck. Finally someone came to take us to the ferry. I am sure they were glad to get rid of 'those meddling kids'.