Orkney notes, 4 April 2022

The captain of the Hamnavoe, Captain Anderson, announces our crossing will have “moderate to rough seas”. I certainly feel it, and the 90 minute voyage from Scrabster to Stromness drags like a wet week.

I’m a poor traveller, and it seems I always will be.

But, on disembarking, I find that my mal de mer vanishes and I fall in love with this town. It was pre-ordained that I would, of course: George Mackay Brown spent most of his life in Stromness and he is one of the principal reasons I find myself here, a bit green around the gills, but contented to be here and to rest, even for a few precious days, in the town where he lived and wrote.


Within half an hour of walking the streets of the town, we have a fortuitous encounter.

It was meant to be. And this was the fourth cat we’d met as we strolled through the cobbled streets of the town. Good omens all of them. Fankle would approve.

Under the last, dead lamp
When all the dancers and masks had gone inside
His cold stare
Returned to its true task, interrogation of silence.

George Mackay Brown, The Poet

Our home for the week is unusual, to say the least.

And there are more than a handful of GMB’s books on the shelves, so if I need any extra reading material, I’m sorted.


The afternoon brought a change of pace with a windswept walk around the Stones of Stenness…

…and the Ring of Brodgar

These extraordinary places humble us with their power and position in what is already an unreal and magical landscape. But they also rest in their innate uncertainty, content in their silence. There are atoms of the last five millennia in every crack and lichen-filled crevice on their unspeaking faces.

To have carved on the days of our vanity
A sun
A ship
A star
A cornstalk

Also a few marks
From an ancient forgotten time
A child may read

That not far from the stone
A well
Might open for wayfarers

George Mackay Brown, A Work for Poets