Dunnett Newsletter – 13th Dec 2003

Winter Greetings from Edinburgh

I’d originally intended to get this out for last month but the stresses of job-hunting and a number of other personal matter (mum’s been in hospital for the last two weeks) have side-tracked me. I’ve also been having a lot of email problems – despite now having three different ISPs – and have been missing quite a few days incoming mail and a disturbing number of outgoing messages. I was thus reluctant to send out a newsletter until I was confident that it would go out without too many problems. I suspect that much of the difficulties have been caused by the massive number of worm-distributed fake Microsoft patches that were going around for a while as the failures mostly coincided with attempts to filter out those messages due to load they imposed on servers. One of the ISPs said that they were getting 4Gb of them a day at the height and before I found a suitable spam filter to run on my mailboxes I was getting around 40-50 of them a day. If any of you are having problems with spam and fake attachments then I can recommend Mailwasher as an excellent solution. Just as an added complication a couple of days ago AOL bounced a message I sent out via Freeserve (the largest UK ISP and part of the multinational Wanadoo group) and it looks as if they’ve blacklisted them so I’ll be using a different outgoing server and keeping fingers well and truely crossed. It’s maybe about time I set up my own mail server but that will have to wait until I have a permanent connection.

Orkney story and pictures

The principle feature of this newsletter is something I’ve had in half-finished form since last year – a description of the return trip I made to Orkney in August 2002. With the Claes group re-reading King Hereafter it seemed an appropriate time to finish it off and I’ve added some new Orkney photos to both the Dunnett web site, where I’ve rewritten and expanded the Orkney page, and my personal site, where I’ve added a second page for Orkney photos. (http://home.freeuk.net/billmarshall/bphoto.htm) Both Orkney trip descriptions have been put onto the Dunnett website and I’ll put some illustrations into them later.

Another site that you may want to check out is www.maeshowe.co.uk which is run by Orkney photographer Charles Tait. With the winter solstice coming up he’s set up three web cams which, weather permitting, will show the sun streaming down the low passageway and being reflected around the interior of Maes Howe. He has loads of pictures on that and his other associated sites including some very atmospheric shots of Brodgar in mist and one of the sites has some wonderful photos of the recent spectacular Auroras. I rather think I could die happy if I could see an aurora from the Ring of Brodgar!

Writers Museum Exhibition page

There is a new page just added (www.dorothydunnett.co.uk/duwritersmuseum.htm) with some pictures of the small exhibition about Dorothy in the Writers Museum in Edinburgh. Once again we’re indebted to Elspeth Morrison for putting that together. The two interior pictures aren’t the greatest as I wasn’t really supposed to be taking them and the person I needed to get permission from wasn’t available. One of them shows the Warming Apple and the Unicorn Collar in the display case and I knew everyone would like to see those. If I get a chance I’ll go back and try and get permission for proper photos with the serious camera gear. The museum is an interesting building dating originally from 1622 and known as Lady Stair’s House. Extensively restored by Lord Roseberry in 1897, it now houses full time exhibitions about three of Scotland’s most famous writers – Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson, with many artefacts and pictures which will fascinate all devotees of literature.
There are also additions to the pictures in the Edinburgh pages (www.dorothydunnett.co.uk/duvisitsedin.htm)

Venice Pictures and new Maps

Since the last newsletter I’ve added a new item to the Dunnett Places to Visit in Europe page – some photos of the eternally romantic city of Venice very kindly sent to me by Sharon Michalove. (www.dorothydunnett.co.uk/duvisits2venice.htm)
A Maps page has also been added with centralised links to the maps on the site, including a new map of Europe in Nicholas’ time and a redrawn and slightly clearer Orkney map. I hope to add further items when time allows. (www.dorothydunnett.co.uk/dumaps.htm)

Forthcoming Events page

There is now a long overdue Forthcoming Events page with details of the various Spits and Gatherings (www.dorothydunnett.co.uk/duevents.htm).
A notable one for those living “down-under” is the Sydney Revel in Australia on Saturday 17th January 2004 being organised by Michael Sedin. There is a registration form you can download if you want to attend this, or contact him at msedin@exhibitorservices.com.au.

Along with the now well established UK dates such as Oxford there are also plans for a gathering in Malta in either Autumn 2004 or Spring 2005 and there is a Yahoo discussion group formed by Simon Hedges and Cindy Byrne to arrange this if you’re interested in seeing the home of the Knights.

DDRA AGM in April

Of course we also want to see as many of you as possible in Edinburgh in April for the 4th DDRA AGM. Alongside the AGM there will be a talk on the Unicorn Tapestry project by one of the weaving team from Stirling and Charles Burnett will give us more insight into Heraldry. Stirling – site of the Papingo Shoot in Game of Kings – is also the focus of the Sunday trip and we’ll take in the site of the Battle of Bannockburn on the way. A visit to the 16th century Argyll’s Lodging and lunch in Mar Place House will then leave the whole afternoon for exploration. Of course the E2000 Gathering Banquet was held in the Great Hall of Stirling Castle and it will be good to get a chance to explore the castle in more detail than was possible then. Cost is UKP 33 for the Saturday and UKP 27 for the Sunday trip.
Bookings or enquiries should be sent to The Editor, Whispering Gallery, 9 Gillespie Crescent, Edinburgh. Note that she’ll be away during February and during that time I’ll be taking enquiries instead.

At this point I should make an appeal to anyone whose subscription to the DDRA has lapsed – issue 81 has just come out and if you didn’t receive one it may be that you were one of the 37 people who were due to renew after issue 80 but didn’t. If you’re unsure please contact me as I now administer the membership database. We need as many members as possible to keep the Association going and keep Dorothy’s legacy of writing available to as wide a readership as possible.

Renaissance Band CD problems

A word about the Edinburgh Renaissance Band CD – I’ve been unable to get hold of my usual band contact Peter Jones since August, and his phone number has been out of service for some months, so I currently don’t have any copies of the CD. I’m trying to get hold of other band members at the moment. Will keep you posted.
I do still have signed copies of the Lymond Poetry for anyone who is looking for it.

Dunnett Readers in Spain

Earlier this year I received a message from Liza Cochrane in Spain who’s been running reading classes on Lymond! I asked if she could elaborate for us and she sent me the following delightful article.

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At various stressful times in my life, I’ve escaped into the 16th century. Reading the Lymond Chronicles again last summer, I realised just how much history I’d learned from them, and because of them! I live on Spain’s Costa del Sol where, for 4 years, I’d been giving a U3A course on Art History. Why not give Art a rest and offer a course on 16th century history? Being a Scot, I thought I might start with the How When and Why the United Kingdom became united. Why not, in fact, use Game of Kings as a starting point? The result was: 10 readers signed up for the course, all ex-pats like myself – a fellow Scot, three Americans, the rest English. To their own subsequent astonishment, none of them had even heard of Dorothy Dunnett! One lady commented, “I wondered how we were going to spend six sessions discussing one book. But then I started to read it; and it’s not just an ordinary book, is it?”
Indeed not!
“I found history boring at school,” said another.
“If only we’d had a book like this, making it so real!”

After Kings, I suggested we skip on to Disorderly Knights, but two members (hooked on Lymond) insisted they read Queens’ Play, so I asked them to give us all a résumé of it – which also allowed time for everyone to do the inevitable re-reading of Knights! During the Christmas break, two members went to Malta and returned with maps and books.

We studied the history of the Knights. We sidetracked into heraldry. Those of us with Internet researched Dragut Rais. I passed around my holiday photographs taken inside and outside a Scottish keep (Hunterston Castle, in fact) to explain the fight at Liddel Keep. I also encouraged those English members who’d never visited Scotland (!) to take a trip to the Borders on their next visit ‘home’ – and to look out for the keeps that belonged to the Kerrs. You can tell, I said, from the spiral stairs twisting the ‘other’ way, for defence by left-handed swordsmen.
“Fascinating!” said someone. “I know a Kerr. He’s left-handed.” (Corrie- or Kerrie?- fisted.)

By that time, we were all caught up in the Lymond story, so we’re about to start the new term and Pawn. Two members have bought all six books. One couldn’t stop, and has read the lot. Another “rationing myself”, she says, has deliberately left Checkmate in England for a Christmas treat.

She told me a funny story. At Easter, travelling back from England by train, there was a three-hour hold-up in France. She didn’t mind. She was engrossed in Pawn. Last week, travelling back from England by train, there was another delay. She didn’t mind. She was deep in Ringed Castle… But she’s wondering if bringing Checkmate back after Christmas might be tempting fate!

At least one of us (our computer guru) dips into several of the DD websites, but where our reading of the last three books will take us, who knows? Moscow? Istanbul? A search for Sevigny?

I did that very thing many years ago, and wrote to Dorothy about it. Her charming and lengthy reply (typed, with errors corrected in ink) has been with me through four ‘flittings’ – including the move to Spain. A treasure to treasure! My greatest pleasure has been in introducing Dorothy’s ‘box of delights’ to a group of brand new fans.
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Liza tells me she even negotiated a discount at her local English-language bookshop since they’ve been doing bulk sales of DD books! Long may she continue her excellent “missionary” work and many thanks for letting us know about it.

On to the main item. Many people wrote to me after I produced the Modern Orkney Saga to say how much they enjoyed it so I thought you might also appreciate a description of a second trip I made just over a year later.
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Return to Orkney

In the 16 months since my previous joyous visit to these haunting isles a great deal had happened in my life – much of it things that I would dearly wish undone. So it was with some hope of drawing a curtain on that unfortunate period that I ventured back to the north for another visit – to seek rest, renewal and refreshment. This time I was going for myself and for the wonders of Orkney rather than for the connections with the world of the writer in whose influence I’d spent so long basking, yet it is impossible to visit such a magical place where the landscape cries out to be described in those rich and evocative phrases, without thinking of the incomparable lady who we’d lost so suddenly.

Compared to the train trip which I’d enjoyed the previous year the drive north was comparatively uneventful – a number of heavy squalls breaking the journey and clearing the August air. The only stop was in the pretty little village of Alness. A recent winner of the Britain in Bloom award, it was bedecked with hanging baskets cascading with colour and its pavements sprouted trays and tubs which would have been at home in the Alpine regions I usually favour at this time of year.

Once again the noticeable change in the light as we gained the north-eastern coast but this time the route was to Wick rather than Thurso, and the land north of Helmsdale, where the railway line leaves the road and turns inland, was unfamiliar to me. The place-names of course were now reflecting the Norse influence and the road wound along the clifftops giving excellent views with occasional plunges into river cut ravines concealing villages nestling in their sheltering folds.

A stop at John O’ Groats gave a fine sunset though the wind was keen and fresh. The area is named after Jan de Groot, a Dane who was asked by James IV to set up a ferry service to Orkney to cement the island’s ties with Scotland and whose family continued to run the service for the next 200 years. A new ferry runs between Gills Bay a few miles along the coast and the village of St Margaret’s Hope in South Ronaldsay, providing a shorter and cheaper crossing than the more familiar one between Thurso and Stromness. Disappointingly the day dawned grey and cold but the trip was enlivened by the brief spotting of a porpoise heading in the opposite direction. A reminder that we don’t have the seas to ourselves and that the northern islands are far closer to nature than the cities of the south.

Taking the boat early in the morning gave plenty of time to drive up from these southernmost parts of the Orkneys, across the Churchill barriers and over the length of the Mainland (as the largest part of Orkney is known) to our accommodation in a converted barn near the village of Evie in the north-west section of the island. Having settled in we went for a drive along the coast to the Brough of Birsay, and were delighted to find the overcast conditions breaking to give a much more appealing light than had been the case on that windy wet visit of the previous year. Our timing was perfect – the tide was just going out and the walk across the causeway perfectly dry. No sheltering in the lee of the old settlement walls needed this time; instead the views along the dramatic coastline stood out clearly as the sun broke through to pick out the colours of the fields and rocks and reflect off the white froth of the waves churning against the cliffs. Still no Puffins though – too late in the season for them – but plenty of seals and the usual profusion of gulls and terns. The improvements to the lighthouse on the north of the island are now finished and it sports a large bank of solar panels, though the renovation work claimed the life of a helicopter pilot whose machine crashed in high winds while delivering supplies during last winter. Today the scene was peaceful, if such a description is ever apt in a place with views down the cliff edge to the blue and white foaming water which batters the rocks even on a calm day. But after the stressed and bustling conditions of festival Edinburgh this is indeed a haven of peace and after such a wet year it was a treat to be able to lie on the dry grass and listen to the distant cries of gulls and oystercatchers.

Monday – no showers today!

Monday morning brought a nasty shock as we discovered the shower didn’t work. Our barn is high on the hillside and the water has to be pumped up from the village below and is thus on the threshold of sufficient pressure for the system to operate. Fortunately this was the only morning when this applied but it was a gentle reminder of the differences of remote living compared to the taken-for-granted luxuries of the city.

A trip to Kirkwall to sort out the second week’s accommodation gave us time to take a stroll round St Magnus Cathedral and marvel anew at the astonishing stonemasonry that could be achieved at a time when the rest of the country was living under thatched roofs and earth floors. Returning to the warmth of bright sunlight prompted the thought of Orkney ice cream – there is none better and it was eagerly dispatched!

Our barn is only a short drive from the Broch of Gurness – one of the places that we hadn’t had time to visit the previous year – so the late afternoon sun made this an essential stop. It lies on a small promontory beyond a picturesque little beach and has a wonderful outlook across the bay to Eynhallow. Even having seen pictures of it beforehand one is still astonished by the size of the construction and the amount of effort that must have gone into assembling the thousands of stones – not just for the tower itself but also for the adjacent houses and everything contained within them. The old entrance point is a mass of upright stones and my photographers eyes struggled to cope with the myriad possibilities of angle and juxtaposition that present themselves. I longed to be able to spend time exploring the changing light over an entire season.

Brodgar, Stenness and Maes Howe

A cooler and cloudier day presented itself on the Tuesday but clear enough for us to persist with our intention of visiting the three ancient sites in the centre of the western arm of the island. The Ring of Brodgar comes first – visible from afar and drawing the eye like a magnet. Devoid of the masses of curlews whose plaintive cries had filled the air in the springtime, it seemed a different atmosphere this time but still a wondrous sight and a rare pleasure to feel again the warmth of the stones under my hand and gaze around the incomparable setting. It is a place that is hard to tear oneself away from, always one last look back, one more comparison of the angles and alignments, trying to commit the shapes and feelings to memory so that they can be recalled on a cold grey city afternoon when the heart longs for the peace and tranquility, the vast open skies and pearlescent light.

Just down the road, past the various outrider stones and across the narrow causeway that splits the two lochs, lie the even older Stones of Stenness. Far fewer in number but impressively taller, they had been off limits due to foot and mouth disease restrictions the previous year, so this was my first opportunity to get close to them. Their height makes it even more of a surprise just how thin the slabs of rock actually are – you wonder how on earth they stand up to the mighty blasts of Orkney’s winter winds. Visible over the fields is the third of the Neolithic set – Maes Howe. Once again the low stooping walk to the interior chamber, past the massive door stone which can be rocked into position far easier than its bulk suggests possible, past the thirty ton single slab of rock that makes up the left hand face. Once again to gaze on the distinctive Viking runes and then to marvel at the thought that they are but modern graffiti on an incomparably older structure whose purpose we can only guess at but whose winter solstice alignment can still infuse us with awe. Lucky indeed are those that have been inside this chamber when the winter sun shines directly up the passageway and fills the space with light. A webcam now records the event for the world, but to be there, oh to be there….

Our cultural appetites having been filled for the day, those of a more mundane type came back to the fore, and finding to our surprise that the fish and chip shop in Stromness didn’t open until 8pm we drove over to Kirkwall again for sustenance. Simple fare but fresh and hugely satisfying. The return trip once again brought us to the two lochs and we strolled the shores, squinting against the light on the water before returning to the Ring for the promise of a sunset. Though not the dramatic orange and red of the previous June it is still the time when the Brodgar stones seem at their most alive and magical, sounds carrying vast distances across the water on either side and leaving a deep serenity that is hard to imagine anywhere else.

Scara Brae and Yesnaby

High winds greeted us in the morning as we set off for Scara Brae. But at least they kept the clouds busy and allowed us clearer light. Finding the stone village busy with a bus party we took time to walk along the beach, seeing the first examples of the local children’s miniature reconstructions of the stone circles and brochs that surround their landscape. Well-built with a good eye for detail they seemed surprisingly durable and dotted the sands in echo of the ancient dwellings just behind the dunes. The village itself had lost none of its ability to captivate, and the better light allowed my photographs a better chance of recording the fascinating details of the sunken rooms. The snell wind still drove white waves against the beach and we were glad to retreat to the warmth of the old house.

Conditions brightened again by the time we moved down the coast to Yesnaby but a sudden soaking squall drove us back into the car for half an hour before we dared venture down the path to one of the most dramatic cliff scenes in the island. At times the wind threatened to reduce us to a crawl, while we were intrigued to see flecks of foam filling the air hundreds of yards from the rocky bay where it was being plucked from a seething mass. On my previous visit the rain had curtailed our walk and we hadn’t got as far as the much photographed stack, and I had begun to wonder if it had fallen, but this time the weather relented long enough for us to make the trip and we watched in awe as the waves battered and churned round the narrow slotted column of rock which holds the stack aloft. Photography was attempted but the camera vibrated uncontrollably in my hand even when lying as close to the ground as possible to escape the worst of the storm.
On the return walk to the car we were caught not 200 yards from our goal by another squall which quickly demonstrated that even the best of modern waterproof technology is worthless against the Atlantic elements. The car steamed for the rest of the trip back to the barn.

Rousay

A day that started with rain and midges became torrential rain and seals. We were booked on the ferry across to Rousay with the plan being to walk along the stretch of coastline that contains a remarkable number of archaeological sites including Midhowe Cairn and Broch. However by the time we had landed the rain had become sufficiently heavy to delay that plan so we decided to drive round the island in the hope that it might have abated a little by the time we’d finished. Although the crossing had been flat calm in the water around Wyre, the conditions were rather different around the point where the tidal race runs between Rousay and Eynhallow, and although much reduced from the previous day there was still a fair amount of white water on the Atlantic-facing side where there are some attractive cliffs. Continuing round to the north side we came across a small bay where a speckled object out in the water that at first seemed to be a conical buoy, was soon revealed be a resting seal with its head flung back, accompanied by about a dozen others who appeared out of the surf. It wasn’t clear whether we were watching them or they were watching us but we all seemed to be intrigued. As I strolled along the edge of the beach path to see if there were any others up on the sand further along, the seals swam along to see where I was going!

With the rain getting steadily heavier and water streaming across the road in a number of places we considered getting a much earlier ferry back but fortunately after a warming bowl of soup in the hotel bar we decided to take a quick trip back to Midhowe and see if we could take it in without getting too wet. Both the Chambered Cairn and the Broch are exceptional sites – the cairn is covered by a large protective building with an overhead walkway from which you can look down into the long narrow passageway that runs the length of the structure, while the broch stands on a number of slabs of rock that jut out into the sound. It’s impossible not to imagine longboats or coracles milling about in the water waiting to land. Perhaps the most amazing consideration is that despite the age of the broch the cairn predates it by around 3500 years.

Moving down to Deerness

Thursday’s high winds returned with a vengeance as we prepared to move out of the barn and down to our new base in Deerness. Eynhallow Sound again speckled with white horses glinting in the sharp northern light as we headed down the road. Since entry to the cottage was from 4pm onwards we had time to spare so on reaching the Stromness to Kirkwall road we diverted down to the south towards Orphir on a little used back road which we had to ourselves. The village of Orphir is a mile or so from the church and a trip up the back road above it provided a fantastic view over to Stromness and Hoy with the lighthouse standing out clean and white in the clear sunlight and the ships battling in and out of the Sound. Down to the Orkneyinga Saga visitor centre and enjoy again the local children’s choice of film and TV stars to represent the Norse heroes in the Genealogy table. There is an excellent unmanned film show in a mini-cinema there which gives an overview of the Sagas in relation to Orkney and Iceland and a storyteller narrates some well chosen examples. I’ve sat embarrassed through some dire examples of the genre but this one captures the Viking spirit perfectly and the photography of the two island groups, particularly the winter shots, is superb. By the time we’d watched the film the weather had changed again and our trip out to the remains of the round church and cemetery was soon cut short by the biting wind and squally showers. Our new accommodation, another converted farm building, proved to be extremely comfortable with lovely views over Deerness Sound and even had underfloor heating!

Mine Howe

Amongst the sites I hadn’t been able to get to on the previous visit was the remarkable Mine Howe, which descends steeply into the ground as a rock-built series of chambers. As it was only a few miles from the cottage it was high on our list so down we drove to discover an archaeological team excavating trenches around the area and an explanatory tour round the dig about to start. We were treated to an excellent talk by Nick Cant, the first archaeologist to descend into Mine Howe when it was rediscovered in 1999, and an interesting display of bones and artefacts described by other senior members of the island’s overworked but happy archaeological team. Nick, who some of you may have seen on the Time Team program which visited the site, is an assured speaker and gave us as detailed an understanding of the site as was possible in the available time. He certainly passes on his enthusiasm for the work and if it hadn’t been for the chilling wind I might have been reconsidering my career options! The decent into the “mine” itself was an eerie experience – I had a curious desire to somehow stand back and view it in perspective. The effort and workmanship involved in its creation must have been immense, and it appears that there is a large ditch – possibly a henge – surrounding the entire site and making it all the more impressive.

Gloop and Brough of Deerness

Just a few minutes down the road from our cottage was the path to the Brough of Deerness. Having been so captivated by it the previous year another visit was a must. Putting on our walking boots we were befriended by a local cat who was determined to inspect every inch of the car. Leaving it to its hunting we walked down to the Gloop and marvelled again at its depth and distance from the sea. It must have been an impressive cave before the roof fell in many centuries ago.
The walk to the Brough was much calmer than the storms of a few days earlier, and we were able to admire the coastline in peace, dropping down to the flat rocks by the coast to see the variety of birdlife. The view out to the northern isles was clearer today and we could pick out the different islands much more easily. Down to the little boulder-strewn cove and up the rock-cut steps to the flat top of the Brough itself. It’s a timeless place and as inspiring in its solitude as before. The view along the cliffs from the end beyond the little ruined chapel pulls you forward to watch the seals and birds far below, but you must be careful not to be drawn too far for the thick deep grass hides some precarious overhangs.

Tankerness

Superb sunny weather took us round to Tankerness and Renwick Head. Despite being strewn with old wartime lookout posts it’s a peaceful spot. We pottered amongst the rocky nooks and crannies observing the birds on the skerries a little way offshore. Later back at the cottage I walked down to the point and along the beach from where I could just make out the sandbanks with basking seals. On the way back I diverted down an overgrown lane to arrive at another beach from where I could access an intriguing broch mound nestling between the sea-loch and a small fresh-water pond busy with ducks and waterfowl, which we could see from the cottage. Anywhere else this mound would have been an important and much-investigated object – on Orkney it’s just part of the landscape and in a very long queue for the attentions of the archaeologists.

The Tomb of the Eagles

South to the furthest tip of South Ronaldsay – to St Margaret’s Hope and the Tomb of the Eagles. Some time ago, after trying for 20 years to interest the island’s over-stretched archaeologists in the tomb, the farmer was told that it wasn’t of sufficient interest to them and he was given permission to excavate it himself. The results were extraordinary and he and his family have made a popular attraction around describing it. The tomb yielded remains of around three-hundred and forty people, a number of animals, and at least ten white-tailed sea eagles.
In the purpose-built centre near their farmhouse, we listened to an excellent talk by one of his pretty grand-daughters, then out to another site on his land, a Bronze-Age house where the man himself gave us a short talk on it – breaking off in the middle to point out the owl that was hunting in the field behind us. Having heard his description of the water and heating systems which our ingenious ancestors had built into the house, we chatted to this wonderful old character before watching him climb on his motorcycle to head back to the farm for his lunch! Then out along the cliff path to the Tomb itself perched on the edge. You have to enter the Tomb, which has been roofed over with concrete to protect it, by lying on a wheeled bogey and pulling yourself through on a rope. While the interior is naturally no longer as interesting as it must have been when full of bones it retains an eerie atmosphere and the outlook from the front “door” over the weirdly layered rock of the cliff echoes that.

Orkney was hosting its Science Festival during our visit and that evening there was an event which connected to one of my other favourite places. A visiting scientist from Slovenia was giving a talk and wine tasting at the Kirkwall Hotel. As many of you will know I have visited the tiny alpine country on many occasions and am a great fan of its excellent wines, so this was too good to miss. Though his command of English was not as good as many of his compatriots he nevertheless gave an interesting account of the history of viticulture in the area and his selection of wines was a treat.

Seal Evening

The morning was spent shopping in Kirkwall and attending another festival event while the rain fell heavily, but later we had one of those sudden changes that are normal on Orkney and the late afternoon saw us down on the beach near the cottage again. After a splendid sunset we tarried in the evening twilight enjoying the profound silence and deepening blues of sea and sky and were rewarded with a seal popping up inquisitively in the water just a few yards from us. A magical moment to round off a memorable stay.

Dunnet Head and the return home

An early start saw us on the boat back to Scotland – Orkney has such a unique character that I can no longer consider it as anything other than a separate country – and a sunny but breezy voyage. Alas no porpoises this time. On landing we decided to drive along the coast towards Dunnet Head and down the narrow lanes out to the lighthouse perched on the high cliffs, where we gazed over to Hoy and watched ships ploughing through the Pentland Firth.

Reluctantly we turned South. Normally the trip through such scenery would be memorable on such a fine day but the sights and atmosphere of Orkney linger long in the mind’s eye and I find that I have little recollection of it. Only the timeless stones, the restless sea, and the vast endless skies.

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That’s all for now. Off to do some more job hunting.

A good New Year to you all when it comes

slainte

Bill


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