The road that takes you into Finstown in West Mainland, on the isle of Orkney, follows the sinuous curve of the low-lying coastline. A short stretch of grass separates it from the shore of the Bay of Firth. Piles of flagstones line and protect the low earthy bank. They might occur there naturally but I suspect they are augmented as beach armour to stop erosion. Some might come from the quarry a short distance away, up the Hill of Heddle. Many pieces show patterns left by desiccation cracks filled in ancient times by sand or sediment of contrasting colour. The tide must surely come up and over them in rough weather.
Smaller rock fragments cover the intertidal zone and are in turn smothered with seaweeds that also drape an old disused stone jetty or pier. Domestic ducks waddle down a beach stream to the sea. I don’t know why I should be – but I am surprised that they are happy swimming and feeding in the salt water, dabbling among the floating clumps of bladder wrack.
Chickens are a common sight sauntering along the village streets, and amazingly also scavenge among the beach debris. I have heard of seaweed-eating sheep on the nearby island of Ronaldsay but not of wrack eating hens. Perhaps they were just searching for flies or small creatures among the weed. Seeing so many on the beach made me think they should be classed as sea-range chickens rather than free-range …..or both.