stillness on the Red Moss and flax almost adrift in soft peat: from lint holes, the memory of sunbeam on sundew and a thousand thousand blues above
jade mounds in bracken, stumps, lighten lighten but never still, always different, ever the same— the sun on metal hexagons on wooden walkways
looking to Bavelaw in the lee of Hare Hill I think of Stanley Roger Green searching for that unfound cairn while Threipmuir glitters
in scenes from a stillway of pinecone and feather can I be dappled by light, by trees? a trunk’s bend and branch’s oscillation a hoverfly lands on this nearly white page
[words and images from a morning walk through the Red Moss of Balerno nature reserve at the foot of the Pentland Hills near Edinburgh, and then along the shore of Threipmuir Reservoir, Friday 2 June 2023.]
At Longniddry Bents, the teeth of the sea gnawing the horizon’s blues. Seven days on from dad’s death, I walk this unfamiliar shoreline unsure how I should feel, and frayed at the meniscus of making-do.
i.m. James Lavelle, 1934-2022 Longniddry, East Lothian, 19 September 2022
The stone book Turns heavy pages still, whereon The story of Hamnavoe is written. The hills consider Sagas unwritten yet, austere and beautiful.
George Mackay Brown, Waterfront, Hamnavoe
The weather threw rain and hail and blinding sun at us this afternoon as we braved Ness Battery.
It’s a fascinating and sobering site. Maybe war will always be a constant in this lifetime, our reminders these concrete and steel remnants.
Later, I walk out on my own, up Brinkie’s Brae and then through the town of Stromness itself. It rains and sleets and hails, but I am happy.
At the top, I say a few silent words to Bessie Millie, the weather witch, for tomorrow’s crossing of the Pentland Firth. I take a small stone from the hill as a keepsake.
This is the last of these self-indulgent diary entries. Thanks to everyone who has read them—and even liked them.
Home tomorrow, from Stromness/Hamnavoe, to colours somehow far less vibrant than these islands’ dicefalls of precious stones.
I really hope to return to Orkney soon. It’s not like anywhere else I’ve been before.
And the chance to spend time in the town where George Mackay Brown lived most of his life has been a joy.
For now, part of me remains here: under the blue skies, under the grey, on the stones of the past or of the near future, under rain and sleet, under sun, but mostly beneath the colours and contours of Brinkie’s Brae.
Daffodils at the door in April, Three shawled Marys. A lark splurges in galilees of sky.
George Mackay Brown, A Child’s Calendar
Two views of the Brough of Birsay, taken about 90 minutes apart.
The weather, fickle all this week, is a shawled Mary and she bawls and pulls her mantle around the islands. There are daffodils on every roadside on the way here, wind-whipped but resolutely golden. The gales have put paid to any larks but the seabirds are everywhere, carried on currents of soaring air.
We miss the tides and the causeway remains underwater, but it doesn’t matter. I know I can’t set foot in all of these places. Even at this remove, the colours are magical, unattainable.
And it’s the colours of this landscape which have overwhelmed me with their constant shimmer, whether a reflection of sea or of sky. Perhaps the shifting palette of hues is in reality a mirror of Orcadians and their welcoming nature.
I’ll try to memorise the greens and greys and browns and blues of the Orkney tapestry for when we’ve left, but I know I’ll fail.
Later in the day: George Mackay Brown’s rocking chair in Stromness Museum…
…and a photograph of a photograph (again from the museum) of him ensconced in it in his home at 3 Mayburn Court.
I’m not one for the cult of personality but it feels good to stand quietly for a few moments and imagine him seated there right in front of me; almost, for an infinitesimal instant, to catch the spark and sparkle and sadness of those bluest of blue eyes.
But I know that he would wince at the attention, at the spectacle, so I move away after a minute or so and leave him at peace.
Ten thousand raindrops Take their gray courses down the window pane, With gentle pulsings, With small music on the stones outside.
George Mackay Brown, Rain
Kirkwall: the torrent of waters slides at us horizontally and the winds with it. It’s not exactly April showers and so we look for shelter and for safer (drier) havens.
The crimson sandstone of St. Magnus Cathedral pierces the leaden skies and we make for the vaulted doorway beneath its mass of red.
The sheer size of the building is startling, even if Kirkwall is Orkney’s largest community (although I think it has fewer than 10,000 inhabitants).
Hanging from a pillar in the left aisle of the Nave is a 17th century Mort Brod, a wooden death notice commemorating Robert Nicholson, a Kirkwall glazier. This is noted to be one of the oldest of its kind in Scotland and shows the shrouded figure of Death holding an hourglass and spade.
A casket of bones, thought to be those of St. Magnus, murdered on the isle of Egilsay, were discovered here in 1911 during restoration works on the walls of the Choir.
In the Chapel at the eastern end of the cathedral are many commemorations of more recently departed Orkney souls.
George Mackay Brown’s requiem mass, on 16 April 1996, the feast day of St. Magnus, was the first Catholic service in the cathedral since the Reformation.