Orkney Odyssey #2: From The Air

Two flights take me there: Manchester to Aberdeen and then Aberdeen to Kirkwall. From the Rainy City, to the Granite City, to Kirkjugavr (Norse meaning Church Bay).

This takes me back to the school bus, once more the backseat boy.


A sudden flash of the sun catches me unawares.


Didn’t last long, back to surfing the shadows of the north.


Somewhere below lies the Orkney archipelago, a scattering of around seventy islands.


“Beyond Britannia, where the endless ocean opens, lies Orkney.” Orosius,  5th Century.


I have just started reading a book by Adam Nicholson called Sea Room. Aged just 21, Nicholson inherited three islands, the Shiants, five miles off Harris. He describes his book as a love letter to them. On the front cover it says ‘the story of one man, three islands and half a million puffins.’

I showed it to my wife. I cannot begin to tell you how excited she looked.


Nicholson described his book as an attempt to tell the whole story in as many dimensions as possible:

geologically, spiritually, botanically, historically, culturally, aesthetically, ornithologically, etymologically, emotionally, politically, socially, archaeologically, and personally.


I can relate to all of this when I think of Orkney.


And so we descend, as though through differing strata of time.


In a great expanse of sea, the islands rear up, green, yellow, and moated.


This is my core place-the place where, in my absence, I often return. Picking up a George Mackey Brown novel, I am transported back, walking again the besieged coast, reconnecting with the remnants of unknown lives. When I see the weather forecast, I see the tiny marks off the coast of Northern Scotland, and feel once again the wind on my face, hear the whisper of a long dead tongue.


When I think of Orkney, there is a particular feel that goes with it. It is not a foreign country, with a strange culture or alien way of life. It is not that far away, in travel time.

But somehow, it is different.

For my first visit, I packed my thermals and my waterproofs, expecting to have to brave the elements to get the most out of my time there. I got sunburnt in the first few hours. Locals assured me that this was not the norm.

Returning to Kirkwall airport, after three days, to depart once again for home, an ominous bank of fog followed in our wake.

Blind to omens and portents, I did not know then that I would be returning later that year, in the depths of dark December.




18 thoughts on “Orkney Odyssey #2: From The Air

  1. Great photos!!! And there you are! Hello! So lovely to have a place that’s so key to your life.
    How long is travel time to Orkney?
    Um, a guy owns three islands?? Wow.


    • Hello back at ya!
      Travel time for the two flights is only around a couple of hours in total. Yes-got my Orkney itch at the moment. Reading and blogging about it will have to suffice for now.


    • Yes I love it-my favourite part is Stenness. All those Neolithic monuments all within a short walk of each other: Stones of Stenness, Ring of Brodgar, Barnhouse, Maeshowe. And the Ness of Brodgar site that is currently turning everything that was previously known of the place on its head.
      Oh-Skara Brae is great too 🙂


  2. Brilliant photos. The light in Orkney is something else.

    And Stromness – I love Stromness. And Skaill Bay. Orkney is amazing. I haven’t been for years now, sadly. I wonder if the 50/50 shop is still there…


    • I don’t know about that shop. The first time I went to Orkney I stayed in Kirkwall, the second time I stayed in Stromness. I loved Stromness more. I stayed at the Stromness Hotel, and want to go again! 🙂


      • Yes-George Mackey Brown drank there. Robert Shaw of Jaws fame stayed at the hotel, I am sure he must have downed the odd whiskey or eight in there.


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