When it rains in Orkney, it really rains. There is no drizzle. There is no soft spatter of raindrops. The sheep know it; the geese know it; my stylish but insufficiently waterproof Uniqlo knows it. Today, to be outside is to be instantly drenched.
The Orcadians tell me that in Orkney it is common to experience three seasons of weather in one day; they speak the truth..
I arrived to low lying cloud after an epic journey; it's true, I haven't followed Scott's footsteps across the Antarctic (yet) but I have taken one taxi, one train, two flights, three buses and one ferry to reach an island off the north coast of Scotland..not bad. Each step of the way brought with it more excitement and less emphasis on the importance of any kind of protocol, the crew on my flight to Kirkwall, for example, being more concerned that I had ample shortbread to nibble on whilst waiting in the queue than an official boarding pass.. more than fine by me.
A friend had commented prior to my departure that he always felt more comfortable in a plane with propellers. I'm still on the fence, but I can tell you that being served a Tunnock's caramel wafer and a hearty portion of irn bru at 36,000 feet goes a long way to settling the nerves.
Spotting the island of Hoy from the air made for both a thrilling moment and a pause for contemplation. The beautiful Cantick lighthouse rises up from the southerly point; a beacon of colour amidst a sea of green fields and little else. It looked bleak, it looked empty; and I couldn't help but wonder how would I spend a month here? would there be anything to do, anyone to speak to? Spurred on by the thought of how a month's quiet reflection would do me a world of good I exited onto the smallest runway and felt instantly relieved to see mist, moorland and sheep as far as the eye could see; having grown up in rural Yorkshire, it felt like coming home.
After a chance meeting with John, my air bnb host, at Kirkwall bus station (apparently a slightly disheveled girl equipped with unusually large suitcase and camera kit is not a common sight and I was easy to identify- personally, I think it had more to do with my comically inaccurate pronunciation of my place of destination and the ten minute conversation with a confused bus driver and the entire bus queue that followed) I boarded the boat to cross the infamous Scapa flow to Hoy.
Scapa flow, a natural harbour, has been used over many centuries , from the Viking fleet to the present day. It formed an important base during the first and second world wars and evidence of that time lies scattered over the hills as well as beneath the waves in one of the most famous dive sites in the world.
The greying and crumbling military buildings add a further layer of atmosphere to the dramatic landscape of Hoy. With very few trees (I think I've spotted about five so far) the barren and mostly flat land runs unchallenged to the waters edge, allowing on a clear day pristine views to the other islands and the Scottish mainland. It was an evening of this nature that welcomed me to the community of Longhope, where I would be staying, and a sunset so beautiful I spent an hour in the garden with my inexperienced fingers darting over the camera settings in a frenzy. The adventure had begun and I felt very glad to be here.