We arrived in Orkney for a short break. Orkney in February? But why not? Perhaps we would see the Northern Lights.
"You should have been here in winter!" said the first man we talked to. I looked around. There was snow on the ground. Isn't this winter? He shook his head. The sun was shining.
Loch of Harray:
We returned to a favourite spot. Above, the Kitchener Memorial. Below, Marwick. What was that black dot... no...? yes. A surfer. Suffering fuck, that must be freezing.
People in Orkney are often named after their place, she explained. The people from Twatt, well, their surname was Twatt. But some didn't like it. They changed their name to Watt. But if you meet a Watt, she said slowly, drawing the vowels out, you know they're really a Twatt.
Hailstorm passes Marwick:
I went for a run and counted more than twenty tractors in a field. What was going on? "It's the plooing match," said a retired farmer. Straightest furrow wins. I wished I'd asked how the field gets chosen. Dounby. Farms surrounded by a bowl of low hills. Never mind Kirkwall, this part of Orkney feels like the real heart of the archipelago.
At Skara Brae officialdom greeted us. Did we have a ticket? No? Sorry, it was about to close. We could return tomorrow. Only Maes Howe and Skara Brae operate through the winter as tourist sites, she said. She was snugly wrapped up against the wind. Only her blue Viking eyes were visible. But the inference was clear. We could wander at will elsewhere. A rugged-up family drew pictures in the sand. A black dot in the big wave near the rocks. I don't believe it. There was another surfer out there.
We went to the Ring of Brodgar for sunset. At this time of year that's 5pm. The whaleback hills of Hoy, the pale space of Loch of Harray, empty as the sky, the scattered lights of Dounby. We breathed in the cold, keen air and returned to our rented cottage for dinner, bath and a fire.
Ring of Brodgar:
This is the time of year to visit Orkney. No cruise liners. No queues. Just you and the wind and the locals.