shewhomust: (guitars)
I've tended to regard Peter Maxwell Davies as a Good Thing without really knowing his music. Listening to the radio news coverage of his death, I suspect I may have encountered something from his days as an enfant terrible before he mellowed into the Master of the Queen's Music (I paraphrase the BBC). Today they've been playing fragments of a very pretty, plaintive piece of piano music, and by the time I'd heard it a couple of times I was thinking "But surely that wants to be a fiddle tune?"

Thankyou, YouTube:

shewhomust: (mamoulian)
  • Premysl Fojtu Photography posts photos from Orkney on FaceBook.

  • 'Enterprise Magazine': the car hire company encourages you to drive to places worth seeing with View Finders: here's somewhere to visit in San Francisco.

  • The Guardian had a supplement about Georgia: one of those paid-for sections which try to look like editorial, but are really advertising. I regard them with deep suspicion, and throw them away unread. This one had an ad on the back page for the Georgian national tourist office. We spent a few days in Georgia thirty years ago, and I have good memories of it, but so much has happened since then, it hadn't occurred to me it was somewhere you could still visit. Perhaps it isn't, I wouldn't take the word of an advertorial supplement for it. Still, pretty pictures. And more on Pinterest.

  • What we dug up on our summer holiday: a gold hair ornament from the copper age (I hadn't met the term 'copper age' before)

  • Megapenguin fossils!
shewhomust: (bibendum)
While the rain washes the snow away and the wind hurls dustbins down the back lane, I've been sorting last summer's holiday photos and dreaming back to long sunny days. The photos on Flickr are now caught up to the last holiday post I wrote here, up to the point where we left North Ronaldsay. I took photos from the plane, obviously, because I could; but I'm not satisfied with any of them. I could disregard the technical flaws, the sloping horizons and smudged window glass, but nothing catches the brilliance of what you see, the tiny perfect details of the islands.

We paused for a coffee at Kirkwall airport, and I played Kim's game, writing down what I could remember. So have one last photo of North Ronaldsay, a group of black guillemots:


and as for the view from the air, have some words: there, right on the edge of North Ronaldsay, was the broch that I'd never reached on foot; there were green fields edged with white beaches and blue, blue sea; there was a sailing boat in the bay at Stronsay; there were dolls' house farms (such a dishevelled cluster of buildings from the ground, such a neat pattern from the air); here a deeply incised cliff, there someone riding a horse into the sea.

By the time I had written my list, a man from Visit Orkney had arrived with a questionnaire about our trip, and we settled into a conversation about where we had been, what we had seen, where we could buy a bottle of Scapa for [ profile] fjm's Raw Spirit project (the whisky for us, the bottle for [ profile] fjm).
shewhomust: (mamoulian)
  1. The mornings are getting lighter, at last. We notice it most the days we go out early to the pool. Last Monday the sky was dappled pink; on Thursday it was veiled in grey, but cleared to sunshine while we swam. The river is high, and flowing fast, but still within its banks. What will tomorrrow bring? We shall see.

  2. But there is still winter ice to be had, if you know where to look. Such as this Flickr set of the Ice Caves of Apostle Islands.

  3. This weekend's Saturday poem in the Guardian is And by Alison Brackenbury:
    Sex is like Criccieth. You thought it would be
    a tumble of houses into a pure sea
    and so it must have been, in eighteen-ten.

  4. Clearing my desk, and indeed my entire study, is a long-term project: sorting, shelving, filing and occasionally discarding. Occasionally I discern progress. This week, I have closed the top drawer (the one that was pulled out so that things could be stacked on it as if it were an extension of the desktop); admittedly, the stack of paper on the desktop is higher and more precarious than it was, but still, I have closed the drawer. And found the 2013 puffin calendar that I bought in Anstruther - I wondered where that had gone...

  5. In the process, Gregor Lamb's Orkney Wordbook came to the top of a pile. Opening it at random I found:
    skrivver a skrivver and klanker a pancake coated with rhubarb jam (Sanday) [ON skrifli, fragment; see KLANKER]...
    klanker, klankertony, klunkertony, a big jellyfish (medusa), a scone and rhubarb jam (the jelly fish looks like rhubarb jam!), [Eng sea nettle; ON klungr bramble, ON þrn a prickle; the jelly fish, nettle and bramble sting or prick]

    On the same page, there's a rhyme to recite if you meet a long-legged hill spider or kirsty-kringlick.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Once we were settled in our room at the Bird Observatory, we took the sketch map we'd been given (a version of this one), and headed towards the sea: we thought we might just make it to the broch before dinner time. The beach at the south of the island is a crescent of fine white sand, the sea was blue in the sun and the seals bobbed along, keeping pace with us. More seals were sunbathing on the rocks at the end of the bay, where we turned inland. Here we were stymied: the lane ahead was barred, and there were sheep in the meadow, for shearing; June, who was out feeding her alpacas, introduced us to some of her elderly rare breed sheep, and showed us where we could get down to the shore, past the ruined store house with its "window on North Ronaldsay" which had provided the title for a book about the island. From here we could have scrambled round the headland on the stony beach, but we were running out of tie, so we turned back outside the sea dyke past the baby fulmars.

The next day we walked the length of the island, along the road to the lighthouses. There are two, both Stevenson lights of different generations: the red-and-white striped New Light, which was being repainted, and the Old Beacon, Scotland's oldest intact lighthouse, first lit in 1789, which is scaffolded:


We were told that funding had been found for renovation, but that work had ground to a halt because of disagreements about how far the keepers' cottage should be restored: this is what the North Ronaldsay Trust has to say. It's a perfect emblem for the island: a lighthouse, with all that says about safety - of sorts - in stormy seas, its history, the beauty of the building (and even the scaffolding has a certain geometrical elegance), the paradoxical conflicts between the heritage industry and the desire to keep things as they are...

Yes, well. Some word pictures: on the road north, the drystone wall topped a bank. Looking up, I saw above the lush grass and the stone of the wall, white cloud, blue sky and four bonxies wheeling. We approached the Old Beacon through a maze of stone pens, littered with wisps of wool from the recent shearing. There's a café at the New Light, where the staff wear t-shirts with the slogan: "Have you seen the light?" As recommended, we both ordered the mutton pie:

Mutton pie

It was delicious, with a filling of mutton, green peas, and - unexpectedly, though it shouldn't have been - mint jelly, adding a lightness and sweetness to the dark and savoury meat.

Back at the Observatory, we were invited to see what birds had been caught in the traps, and watched a linnet being ringed - and weighed, for which purpose it was popped into a film canister: what will they do when there are no more of these to be had?

The next day we walked past the standing stone - unusually, but not uniquely, it has a hole in it:


and peered over the dyke at the black guillemots. Here's the day's mystery object (not the only one of these we saw, but the most pleasingly placed):

Iron ball

We were heading for the old church, where there is an exhibition of material about the island's recent history. I was intrigued by the photograph of Tomima Tulloch, "the only island woman to have been recruited into the armed services (she may have volunteered) in WW1" and a project to photograph everyone on the island. Later, [ profile] durham_rambler set off on a second attempt to reach the broch, while I lounged about and read my book, and then went out for a much less strenuous stroll = and ended up again on the beach, watching the dunlins scurrying back and forth along the tideline.

We left North Ronaldsay the next morning: there was just time for one last visit to the beach, to say goodbye to the seals - and the seals came to the beach to say goodbye to us. There were also a family of ducks, and a very clear view of the lighthouse on Sanday, and then it was time to leave.

Photos of North Ronaldsay.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
Today is the two hundredth anniversary of John Rae, the arctic explorer. I've written before about Rae, and how we ran into some early celebrations in Stromness. A new statue has been unveiled at the pierhead - though as far as I can judge from photographs I prefer both his memorial in St Magnus Cathedral and this wonderful structure:

"A Hoose Within A Hoose"

From the photostream of Orquil on Flickr, who has posted a whole series of great pictures on the subject.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
When I said about the scenery in Orkney that you are always looking at a pattern of the land beyond the water, or the water beyond the land, uncertain where one island ends and the next begins, I wasn't thinking about North Ronaldsay. This most northerly of the Orkney islands is more isolated, the view a narrow band of green farmland between sky and sea. But from the Bird Observatory, where we stayed, at the very south of the island, the sea is bounded at the horizon by a hazy line of the bright sands and darker mass of Sanday, and the silhouette of its lighthouse - on a clear day, at least. Further round you might see Papay, or the hills of Westray. From the north it is possible to see Fair Isle's south light, but we didn't.

Words, words, words )

Fulmars nest by the sea dyke

So this is my strongest image of North Ronaldsay. Reading from top to bottom, the blue sky, the wire mesh reinforcing the green and gold of the stone wall, the fulmars' nests tucked in to the base of the wall - no nest to be seen, just the chicks, great balls of grey fluff, looking so soft and hissing so angrily as we walked by. Then the fine white sand of the beach, and behind me the blue sea, and the seals bobbing up to see what's going on.

*ETA: This short film, discovered by D., claims that in the couple of centuries that the sheep have been excluded from the fields, they have "evolved" and "adapted" to eat seaweed, and extract copper from it more efficiently: if so, presumably their extraction of copper from grass which is naturally rich in the stuff is *too* efficient. But evolution within centuries, really?
shewhomust: (dandelion)
White house Stromness is long and narrow, squeezed between the natural harbour of Hamnavoe and the hill - Brinkie's Brae. Much as I love it, I wouldn't call it a pretty town, though there are some pleasing perspectives as the long main street straggles along, none of which I managed to photograph. The picture I like best is atypical, because most of the houses are a drab shade of brown, and the crow stepped gables are uncommon too. But all of this side of the street backs onto the sea.

On the other side, narrow lanes snake up the hillside, and one of the steepest and narrowest of these is Khyber Pass (the internet doesn't seem to know whether there is a proper imperial rationale for this name, or whether it is entirely a joke). For the almost-week we spent in Stromness, we lived in Khyber Pass Cottage.

Walking down from Franklin Road, the new road which (thankfully) takes most of the traffic out of the town, the landmark is a gooseberry bush growing above the retaining wall, by a footpath cutting (past the garden of ther cottage, in fact) between two lanes. The next front door you come to is Khyber Pass Cottage. Go in, and the bathroom is on your left, bedroom on your right. In front of you is a spiral staircase, which you climb, a little warily at first but with growing confidence, to emerge into a single open room, sitting room to one side, kitchen to the other. The kitchen has a back door which - because the hill rises from the front to the back of the house, as well as side to side - opens onto the garden: a pocket-handkerchief of lawn, a bench, a clump of rhubarb.

Four rooms, wrapped snug as a snail in its shell around that central spiral, but it felt very spacious for two. Downstairs is enclosed: the windows face onto the high wall across the narrow Khyber Pass, but upstairs feels light and airy. "Do you have a view?" someone asked us. "Can you see down to the harbour?" I had to think about that: there's a view across grey-tiled roofs, but you can't see anything beyond them - unless the Hamnavoe, the big ferry, is in port, towering about the rooftops (and then you can hear the ship's announcements, too).

I didn't want to leave - but it was time to move on to North Ronaldsay.

ETA: Orquil on Flickr has a better photo of Stromness:

The Main Street Of Stromness by orquil
The Main Street Of Stromness, a photo by orquil on Flickr.

shewhomust: (dandelion)
Bon voyage

One last visit to a stony little beach, from which we watched the ferry emerge from Scapa Flow into the bay - time to board!

We left the islands in sunshine on smooth seas, disturbed only by a cacophony of car alarms (not ours, fortunately; we have learned how to turn it off). We sat on the sun deck and watched the islands pass by.

And now we are in the Highlands, at the Balavil Hotel in Newtonmore, where the internet consents to speak to me (that at the Creel didn't, for some reason; it preferred [ profile] durham_rambler). But it must be time for dinner...

Home tomorrow.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
We are on North Ronaldsay: and this is how we got here. )

But first we had most of a week on Mainland, and did many things: which I will hide behind a cut to save your f-page. )
shewhomust: (dandelion)
Our almost-week in Stromness has flown by; tomorrow we leave our home in the Khyber Pass and take the plane from Kirkwall to North Ronaldsay. But here's what I wrote soon after we arrived:

The sun was shining

Every other shop window was decorated wih a tribute to John Rae, who is, as I have said before, one of my heroes.

A month or so ago, looking for something else, I stumbled over the fact that the bicentenary of Rae's birth falls in September this year, and muttered to myself that despite the passion of the media for commemmorating annversaries, this one looked likely to pass unnoticed. But not in Stromness, where the museum has expanded its habitual display about him into a mini-exhibition, where there is talk of erecting a statue and where the shop windows carry displays ranging from the seriously educational (the pharmacist's display of the historical medical and navigational aids relevant to Rae's service as a doctor for the Hudson Bay Company) to the cheerfully minimalist (the whitewashed window inscribed 'John Rae in a BLIZZARD in Stromness in summer 1833')

Happy Birthday John Rae

They had laid on a parade to greet us.

We had managed to arrive for the culmination of Stromness Shopping week, whatever that is, and were in time for the parade of floats. While we waited for the show, we listened to the band, Genuine Draft, working their way with gusto and some nifty fiddle playing, through an eclectic repertoire: their first three numbers were Dirty Old Town, the Eagles' Take it Easy and "an old Country song" which turned out to be On the Bayou.

The parade was another glorious mixture: there was a pipe band - in fact, two - a squad of purple robed Vikings, small children labelled 'William' and 'Kate' with a pushchair containing 'George', and elaborate floats making complex allusions to the misdeeds of Northlink ('Nolink') ferries. Later there were fireworks*, but we didn't stay for that - we came home and cooked pasta with the smoked mussels we'd bought at the Farmers'Market in Kirkwall that morning.

*ETA: in fact there weren't. This morning's Orcadian reports that the fireworks were cancelled because of the mist - so it's as well we didn't wait up.

Photos of Stromness
shewhomust: (dandelion)
I'm in Stromness Library, where they have wi-fi - with such super security that I can't access my webmail. No obligation to do work, then, just on with the next installment of our travels. Here's one I prepared earlier:

It had rained overnight, and seemed to have cleared as we left Tain, crossing the Dornoch Firth in a gleam of silver and into woodlands, the roadsides still busy with flowers, meadowsweet again and spikes of foxgloves, as many white as purple. The fog came down as we drove into the Highlands, not just to treetop height this time but blanking out sometimes even the middle distance, sometimes everything but the road. We made good time, and allowed ourselves a quick stop in Wick, with the aim of picking up provisions for picnics for the next couple of days. I enjoyed this glimpse of the town, depressed rather than smart but quirky with it and - as the mist coalesced into a mixture of rain and sunshine - colourful too. We didn't find any convenient little food shops, though, and ended up making a quick dash through Tesco's.

After this it was mainly ferries. Pentland Ferries' new catamaran crosses from Gill's Bay (a place unknown to our satnav, but well signposted) to St Margaret's Hope. Despite the grey weather, I was grinning like a loon all the way up to Kirkwall, across the Churchhill Barriers, just so happy to be here. By the time we'd confirmed and paid for our reservations for Eday at the ferry office, it was after half past two and we had less than an hour to wait for the ferry, but that gave us time to cross the road to the Shore and lunch on soup for me and a burger for [personal profile] durham_rambler. The crossing to Eday was uneventful; not exactly misty, not exactly raining, but too close to both to make me want to sit on deck and watch the islands come and go. I huddled in the saloon with my book.

We stayed on Eday at Sui Generis, home of furniture maker extraordinaire Colin Kerr. Colin and Sherry have adapted and extended what was, I suspect, the furniture showroom, to create two bedrooms and the communal sitting / eating area in which I typed the first section of this post. The décor is indeed sui generis, one of a kind, full of beautiful and interesting things of all kinds, from the green men peeping out of corners to the framed and fitted bookshelves that line the passage to our room. I lie on my back on the bed and gaze at the ceiling, green stained and ribbed with wooden beams in flowing natural shapes. The downside is that everything is so perfectly fitted to itself, there isn't necessarily room for our many belongings. The toilet is down the hall, which isn't a problem, because we have the place to ourselves, but I'm selfishly glad the other room isn't occupied.

Sherry doesn't offer evening meals, but because the Roadside Inn was fully booked for both nights of our stay, she very kindly made dinner for us on our first night. After dinner we went out for a walk - I'd envisaged just going down to the jetty and back, but we ended up doing a two mile loop along the road to the Roadside Inn and back. On our way we saw a hand-made sign pointing to Green Farm archaeological dig, and apparently inviting visitors.

That was our morning sorted: we had no trouble locating the site, which seemed to be deserted, so we nosed around a bit and were just heading back to the car, when one of the archaeologists arrived. They hadn't planned to be working that morning: since you have to take a day off occasionally, you might as well do it while it's raining. But since he was here (to collect some stuff and see if he could get anything planned for the next few days) he gave us the tour. It's quite a small dig, a small-scale domestic structure (a neolithic dwelling), which the team have, over the past seven seasons, exacavated almost completely, which was very satisfying.

After this we visited the shop, the heritage centre and the airport - London Airport, because it's on the Bay of London. I like the way airports in the Northern Isles are left unlocked as public conveniences: it's very considerate of them, and I appreciate it.

The rain, which was getting serious by the end of the morning, seemed to have eased off by the time we had had lunch, and we decided that rather than try to shuffle by car between those points of interest that are accessible by the road, we would stick with plan A and follow the 'heritage walk' put together by the Council. Just as we were setting off, a tiny animal - much smaller than one of the numerous rabbits - ran across the road in front of us: was it the Orkney Vole? That would be a good omen.

The walk is about five miles long, which wouldn't be much if there weren't so much to see along the way. In the first 20 minutes we covered about a hundred yards - as far as the bird hide overlooking Mill Loch. Actually, I think bird hides are wasted on me: they are great for serious birders with serious binoculars, who will put in the time to wait for the desired sighting, and who will know they have seen it when they do. We sat in the hide and discussed whether the birds we could almost see were seagulls or skuas (some of each, when viewed by [personal profile] durham_rambler's camera), and what that flock of even more distant waterfowl were (mallard, probably). Then we emerged and were buzzed by two families of low-flying geese in rapid succession. They may even have been the red throated divers which are the local rarity - I'm certainly not competent to say that they weren't (or that the vole wasn't an Orkney Vole)...

Stone of Setter

Up the grassy track to the Stone of Setter, a magnificent standing stone, like a raised sandstone hand in a badly-knitted mitten of lichen. From here the path climbs in quick succession to a stalled cairn, a chambered cairn (waterlogged), and Vinquoy chambered cairn: think of a miniature version of Maes Howe, a beehive of red sandstone dripping damp and colonised by ferns, wonderful and well worth the crawling required to negotiate the entrance. But we had entered in pleasantly hazy light, and we emerged a quarter hour later into heavy fog. This obliterated all the fine views over the Calf of Eday about which my guide book was so lyrical, and made the next stretch of the path over heather upland quite unnerving. We lost the path a couple of times, but found it again - or found an acceptable substitute, and stumbled out of the thickest cloud down the grassy slope between the lighthouse and Carrick House.

We'd cut the walk short (by not pressing on to the headland) but were still quite weary, and the last long stretch of road work back to the car was stretching very long indeed - when a kind motorist stopped and offered us a lift. We were only a quarter mile from our destination, but we were very glad to accept, not only the lift, but a recomendation of a beach to visit "past where I live..." Well, perhaps - we added it to the list of things we wanted to fit in before the next day's ferry back to Mainland.

By the small hours of next morning, it was evident that we had no electricity; over breakfast we learned that this wasn't just our room, not just this household, not even just Eday, but the whole of the North Isles. A major cable had been damaged, generators would be shipped out, it was hoped the supply would be restored by the end of the day. Meanwhile, thank goodness for calor gas!

Undeterred, we packed our belongings, made our sandwiches and set off. We had seen a reference at the heritage centre to the Red House Restoration Project, at a croft in the north west of the island. After some hesitation, we parked outside the closed tearoom, abandoned except for a very bouncy puppy, and followed the waymarks across the hay meadow to the croft. There were information boards to read, but no sign that anyone had been there recently, no tracks in the thick grass- and did I mention the mist shrouding the hillside? I loved it, and took lots of photos.

We took the advice of our rescuer of the previous day, and webnt up to Castles Beach, which was charming; we returned to the Bay of London (by the airport) and took our sandwiches down to where the old road went straight ahead into the sea, before the bay was formed; we drove south until the road ran out of island, and followed the Warness Walk round the cliffs, which ought to have been wonderful, but was hard work because the path was well enough worn to be a narrow groove, and sufficiently overgrown that you couldn't see where the groove was. Puffins nest in the grass covered cliffs known as the Greeny Faces, but we didn't see any. Nor did we see any of the splendid views of the Green Holms (fog, still). And then it was time to go down to the jetty and meet the ferry. We were pleased to see that it was bringing a generator - two, in fact, because the voyage to Kirkwall was via Stronsay (no, this is not the most direct route) and the ferry had Stronsay's generator, too.

When we finally reached Kirkwall, the sun was shining, but our adventures weren't quite over, because the West End Hotel, which we had booked well in advance, had decided to bounce us out to "the house", accommodation a mile away, perfectly adequate for an overnight, but not the return to normality we had been looking forward to. This was a mere hiccup, though, and everything has gone well since...

ETA: Green Farm excavation dig diary
Photos of Eday

*Pronounced EEdee, not eDAY. I hadn't known that.
shewhomust: (mamoulian)
On the domestic and electrical front, we are reminded both that things fall apart and that sometimes they can be put back together. [ profile] durham_rambler found an electrician who declined to tamper with the television aerial, but has replaced the light-fittings in the kitchen and in my study. Then the washing machine went dead in mid-wash, but [ profile] durham_rambler worked out that it had blown a fuse, and replaced said fuse. Ah, but why had the washing machine blown a fuse? It has been astoundingly reliable for twenty-odd years, and each time there's a problem I think it will be the last.

I seem to have done something to displease Google (fair enough - it's mutual) which refuses to show me its doodles on the day; I have to wait until each one is archived. So I saw this tribute to Maurice Sendak the day after the rest of LJ. It is very charming, but the text explanation sounds rather odd: it doesn't seem to know that Sendak died last year (but surely Google knows everything?).

I was complaining that the Guardian's series on wine roads was sticking to very well-trodden routes. This week's is a bit more interesting: where to go in Corsica (For what it's worth, that's just a set of suggested locations, this is a wine road).

Driving into Darlington last night, we passed a notice of which I only had time to read the first line. It said, in large pink letters: BABY NEARLY NEW SALE.

On the subject of signs and portents, seen on the Westray ferry:

Washing instructions

The sign on the door (for those whose eyesight is no better than mine) says "Please do NOT tumble dry other people's boiler suits". These mysterious glimpses of other people's lives...
shewhomust: (dandelion)
Stuart Linklater turns 60 today, and retires from his job flying between the Orkney Islands. The BBC has a a video, with some lovely views, and gets very excited about the fact that Mr Linklater's routes include the Westray / Papa Westray flight, which is the world's shortest scheduled flight. I have sat on the beach on Papay and watched the whole flight, take-off to landing (it takes about a minute, and Mr Linklater holds the record for doing it faster than anyone else - 53 seconds - as well as more often). STV has a slightly different video (possibly because their reporter was in Orkney, not Glasgow).

The Orcadian doesn't have anything to say on the topic; flights are presumably not disrupted - I hope not, as we are flying between Mainland and North Ronaldsay in a couple of months time.
shewhomust: (Default)
"Dazed after leaving London first thing in the morning and landing before noon on an island that seems more Scandinavian than British, I ask the taxi driver taking me across Orkney if the tractor turning up brown matter is cutting peat. 'Ah no,' comes the sing-song reply (Glaswegians think Orcadians sound Welsh). 'That's manure spreading.'"
The Guardian's Jonathan Jones visits the Pier Art Gallery in Stromness for a piece on a travelling exhibition of Artists' Rooms; he seems to have liked it, but that opening paragraph is deliberate self-parody, surely? And a bit on the broad side, even so.

Here's another chunk, with a new interpretation of the purpose of Maes Howe:
"Outside Stromness there is a neolithic burial chamber called Maes Howe, its severe and perfect architecture achieved through dry stone walling. Here, in a room dedicated to the contemplation of the infinite, a shaft of light breaks in once a year on the Winter Solstice, making this one of the world's oldest pieces of time-based art."


May. 18th, 2009 09:18 pm
shewhomust: (Default)
Stromness panorama (I)

We've just watched a half hour programme in the BBC's A Poet's Guide to Britain series, about George Mackay Brown. Not being a particular fan of the poet, I watched primarily for the pictures of Orkney (and there were some fine pictures, Rackwick Bay, and Stromness streets gleaming after rain, and one of the door of the house where the poet was born - "Hey, that's where we stayed with [ profile] desperance!") - and found myself gradually warming to the poem Hamnavoe which was the heart of the programme. Some of the presentation was a little tricksy, but on the whole the programme had the rare virtues of working close to the text and trusting its material, and as a result actually did what it claimed to be trying for, it opened a door to the place and the poem.

Still available on iPlayer or repeat broadcasts.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Tuesday morning we breakfasted with the relief nurse: when the Shapinsay nurse is away, she comes over from Rousay for the three midweek days, and a colleague who lives on Mainland covers the four-day weekend. I suppose eventually you become accustomed to the casual nature of this island hopping. Certainly the ferry back to Kirkwall was as straightforward as a commuter bus journey, if rather more pleasant (always bearing in mind that we were very lucky with the weather).

We spent most of the day in Stromness; it's a very agreeable town to wander about in, and I wanted to visit the Pier Art Gallery. It's a gallery I've loved since my first visit to Orkney, not so much for its collection as for its setting. It has a fine collection of modern - that is, what I think is still called "modern" - British art, but I'm not particularly modern in my tastes. The building, though, was once the offices and stores of Hudson's Bay Company, very plain and simple interiors, running down to the harbour with - like many of Stromness's harbourside buildings - its own pier. So a Barbara Hepworth sculpture could be displayed in a small, deep set window, framed by the white walls but with the sea behind it. I love sculpture in landscape, and this comes as close as an indoor gallery can. Since our last visit the gallery has been dramatically extended, and the new building has one entire wall of glass looking out onto the harbour.

Barbara Hepworth's standing stonesThe other charm of the collection is that the heart of it is just that, one woman's collection. Margaret Gardiner was a friend of many of the artists whose work she bought, especially Barbara Hepworth and Ben NIcholson. Many of the pieces are accompanied, on the descriptive label, by her comment on what it is, and how and why she bought it. I liked her account of visiting an artist (not a name I recognised, and I've now forgotten it) and saying "Everyone tells me what a good paimnter you are, but I can't see it." He replied that she needed to live with one of his paintings for a few months, unhooked one from the wall and sent her home with it. And, she explained, he was quite right, and after a few months she couldn't bear to part with it, so she bought it, and here it was.

Some of the descriptions, however, come from a different source: children from the local primary schools have also been invited to suggest what some of the works might represent. This is more successful with the purely abstract works. Works which actually do represent something are liable to fox the children: this Paolozzi collage of an oil lamp, for example (probably my favourite piece in the collection), was described as two people facing each other in profile - up to a point. But Barbara Hepworth's 'Group III (evocation)' - there's a clearer picture here, but mine has the advantage of showing it in situ - is another matter. Margaret Gardiner's note explained that it is one of a sequence of works resulting from Hepworth's visit to Venice, and observing the groups of people in St. Mark's Square. Willie Deans of class 2, however, saw it as "the Hamnavoe in the water going by the standing stones." He wins.

And at midnight we caught the ferry to Shetland.


Sep. 10th, 2008 08:38 pm
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Shower not en suite

Each time we visit Orkney, we try to land on an island we've never been to before: this time it was Shapinsay, a small flat island, tucked into the arms of Orkney's Mainland. From our B & B at Hilton Farmhouse we had a fine view back to Kirkwall.

The harbour and the village are at the south-west corner, dominated by Balfour Castle, the perfect Scottish baronial castle, all spikes and pepperpot towers, and of course pure Victorian. The Balfours had apparently owned land on Shapinsay for generations, but it was the David Balfour for whom the castle was built who stated making improvements ("You've maybe come across the name David Balfour before," said our guide. "There's our David Balfour, but there's also the Edinburgh banking family..." She didn't mention the hero of Kidnapped, but it seems Stevenson was a friend of "our" David Balfour). He drained the agricultural land of the island, and divided it into regular plots crossed by straight roads; he built, in addition to the castle, the home farm, the gas works and the mill. He built a new, planned village on the site of the old village, Shoreside, and persuaded the Post Office to rename it Balfour. (We were also told that when he realised that the roofs of the village blocked the view of the castle from his yacht in the harbour, he had the offending buildings reduced to a single story).

The tower in the foreground of the photo is the dishan, built - I am not making this up - as a saltwater shower, with a dovecot on the top. If you were staying at the castle and wanted a shower, you told the servants who went up the tower and poured the water, heated if required, down on your from above. And presumably the reasoning goes that once you are building a tower, you might as well put a dovecot on top. This is, after all, the village with a public convenience which is washed clean by the tide.

Monday was warm and sunny, and we wpent the day walking. There's a well-equipped hide on the Bird Reserve at Mill Dam, with a view down over the wetlands below, but we actually saw more birds from closer as we walked along the road. In the course of the day we saw sparrows, oyster catchers, lapwings, curlews, mallard, geese, various gulls, pheasant and two peacocks. And the fields were alive with rabbits.

One of the reasons I love Orkney is that people are generally very welcoming to visitors: when they emerge from the farm to ask "Do you need help? Are you lost?", they don't mean &qout;Get off my land!" they really do want to know if you need help. We took advice about whether the path continued round the cliffs (it didn't) and picked our way round the foot of the cliff, primroses growing above us and thrift below. Later, as we sat on the doorstep of the church in the only available shade, two more ladies came out to ask us if we wanted to see round the church (we didn't, thank you, we were just having a drink of water).

The beaches were fascinating, though tricky underfoot, steeply sloping pebble beaches, and I took many photographs. We walked as far as the Second World War gun emplacements, great complex concrete structures, and then back down the road. It seemed odd, on what is not a large island, to be leaving so many sights unseen, but we felt we had gone as far as we wanted to, and returned to the farmhouse where we finally cracked the previous Saturday's crossword!
shewhomust: (Default)
Saturday was our last day in Orkney as a threesome; on Sunday [ profile] durham_rambler and I were to deliver Gail to the airport for her flight home, and then catch the ferry ourselves to Shapinsay. So we had to pack in as much as we could, which meant a visit to Yellowbird Gallery, and then on to Kirkwall.

Over lunch at the garden centre, we picked up the local paper, and realised we had stumbled into the middle of the big news story of the summer: Northlink Ferries were asking passengers to produce photographic proof of identity. We hadn't noticed this on our way to Orkney, as we had sailed with the rival company, but on Tuesday [ profile] durham_rambler and I were due to catch the midnight ferry to Shetland. He had his bus pass; I had nothing.

The two local papers were full of claim and counter-claim, different stories about the ridiculous effects of this recently introduced requirement. One - if I am remembering correctly - claimed that a local football team had been allowed to travel to mainland Scotland, but that Northlink had made difficulties about letting them return (except for the man who was able to produce a Kirkwall library ticket). The Orcadian countered with Northlink's denial, under the headline: "No rugby player left behind". A visiting rugby team had cut it fime and nearly missed the ferry, but had made the crossing without difficulty, except for the member who had left his documentation in the car in the car-park, and had returned for it and caught the later ferry, accompanied by a colleague who had volunteered to wait with him. The letters column carried a letter from the man with the library ticket: he had witnessed this, and was not amused.

Reading between the lines, this tightening up of identity checks was nothing to do with security, and everything to do with stopping non-residents benefitting from the cheaper fares charged to islanders. A Kirkwall library card was clearly acceptable as proof that someone who didn't appear on the electoral roll did, nonetheless, live in Orkney. We could only hope that Northlink would be equally flexible about whatever proofs of identity we could offer them.

But there was nothing we could do about it now; so we went off to be tourists. The Cathedral has a fine collection of tombstones arranged around the wall (I didn't take pictures, and can only find this detail and another here, which does at least show a trace of the beautiful square lettering: why isn't there a book about these?)*, and we browsed these until the brass band became too much to bear (not bad, just loud), and we moved on to the Earl's Palace, the Bishop's Palace and the secondhand bookshop.

And ended the day, as I've already said, with a pleasant meal and a magnificent sunset.

And of course there was no problem getting our ferry ticket endorsed to the effect that the Northlink office staff believed that we were who we said we were - although we didn't know that until Tuesday morning.

ETA: * Another Flickr set - some beautiful details, and enough examples to indicate how the same themes repeat. But still no pictures of the stones as a whole, and no indication of the distinctive lettering.

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