On the Road

By the Photographers Assistant

Orkney: a land of water and sky and ice scoured land

Orkney: a land of water and sky and ice scoured land

There has been a silence, for which I apologise. The Photographer and his Assistant have travelled around 2000 miles within Britain since we last met.

The Photographer had acquired a new camera and had graciously allowed the Assistant a new pen and bought her several new notebooks (some of which usually go missing).

We are situated right at the top of Scotland. We have spent some time on Orkney, where the sky is beyond beautiful and the atmosphere has a dreamlike quality. It is quite unlike its image on television. It is an almost country, not a Highland one. It is far wealthier than you would think. Do not go there expecting any one image to be true. The Neolithic dominates in a peaceful and intriguing way.

Kirkwall Cathedral ceiling; a Viking wonder from 1167

Kirkwall Cathedral ceiling; a Viking wonder from 1167

There are many Norwegians in residence there. A great deal of Orkney is more Nordic than you would imagine. It is an island given by Norway to one of the king James as a dowry with a woman, who died before she married him. Being a James, he kept Orkney all the same!

We have, of course, had much to explore. Food has been sporadic, but I can tell you this, the Assistant has not gone without tasting Orkney ice cream and she can contest that it is incredible. The Assistant has eaten five bowls of the stuff (over five days), just to make sure.

If you have never seen Stromness at night, or read George MacKay Brown’s poetry about Orkney, you really need to, even if you do have to sell your granny to do it! This would take you somewhere quite new.

We have now moved to Highlands. The Photographer has filled all his photographic memory cards and the computer with his pictures, some of which will be on Flickr on his return. He has had to have two days off – he can’t take any more dramatic views, they get beyond your perception. Yesterday, at Applecross, the Assistant relieved the situation when she found a typical almost English view. There is a large flat beach there, where the sea goes on forever. The Photographer set up the boiler for tea, and both of us creatures enjoyed a long tea almost as if we were on a Devon beach.

What of the Dog? Ungrateful beast! He has been staying with our daughter, who is quite upset at his lack of loyalty. He has abandoned her in favour of the Boyfriend, and the two are inseparable. Par for the course.

The Photographer is still, when not glued to the camera, investigating wood burner supplies, something to do with “alternative geographic economic theory” based on the availability of alternative fuels. We have seen driftwood from Canada being collected in Orkney, peat in the North West Highlands, wet pine Forestry Commision discards in the Kyle of Localsh, “weed” oak in West Sussex and mixed hardwood on dear old Dartmoor.

It will be another while before our return to Dartmoor, but no matter how dramatic our surroundings, we will look forward to our return to the little town and our own people. The impression of this area of Scotland is that it is even more  remote than Dartmoor. Yesterday, we visited a coastal area where a community was able to live sustainably entirely to itself. There are pieces of land, where just a caravan and a washing line are set up, waiting for croft land to become available. If you have a croft, you can eventually gift some land to a relative (we attended a talk on the subject). We cannot do that so easily. This is frontier land with some civilised touches. This is where the Assistant’s whole Scottish family were forced to flee in the clearances to the U.S.A. and the industrial heartland of Wales. It is a hard country and it is quite beautiful, but it is quite different from ours.

Stromness at night: Feel that George Mackay Brown is just around the corner

Stromness at night: Feel that George Mackay Brown is just around the corner

  1. Virginia Richards said:

    You sound as if you are having a really interesting time. Brings back good memories of our trip to Shetland many years ago. Continue to enjoy your holiday xx V and D

  2. Josie Bennett said:

    Traitors! Leaving dartmoor… Tut tut

  3. Rosie and Mike said:

    Sounds like a wonderful holiday:we look forward to hearing all about it when you get back.

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