When trying to visit 50 islands you have to take what opportunities arise and with half a day to spare there was just enough time for a rather cursory visit to Shapinsay. It’s easy to get to although with a keen wind and showers threatening the half an hour ferry journey seemed a little longer.
The ferry arrives at Balfour which is dominated by Balfour House, the web site for which simply states it is a private house. The village itself is entirely created in a very country estate like fashion and the island too owes its character to the Balfours. The fourth laird, Colonel David Balfour, was responsible for an agricultural revolution on the island in the 1840s and much remains including the lay out of what is productive arable and pasture land, the old water mill which retains its waterwheel, and the somewhat unusual gasworks masquerading as a castle tower.
Our visit couldn’t exactly do justice to the island as a whole as without a car much of it was beyond our limits. We started the day with a hot drink from the small island shop, well stocked with essentials to avoid the need for a ferry trip to Kirkwall. Then it was a walk towards the heart of the island and the RSPB bird hide overlooking Mill Dam. Lapwing and Oystercatchers dotted the fields while on the water teal, mallard, wigeon, dabchicks and greylag geese swam in and out of the low marginal vegetation.
We just about avoided the squally showers as we explored around Balfour, watching the rafts of eider ducks on the waters of Elwick and the fulmars wheeling around Dishan Tower.