Reflections on people and places in Shetland and Orkney.

Tue 31 Jul 2018 21:30


on people and places in Shetland and Orkney.

I probably shouldn’t be blogging anymore as I’m not on the boat, but as I was still on it when I had the following experiences I will anyway!

When travelling I very much enjoy brief encounters with strangers whose paths I cross. You will know I am a chatty person who is not afraid of striking up a conversation with others. I thought today I would reflect on some of the people I met in the past few days and how they helped to shape my days and often improve them. When we are sailing we are stuck with the crew we are with and whilst this can be wonderful and creates a great team spirit, for me it can also feel a bit claustrophobic at times, so that when we go ashore I think these brief encounters are even more important to me.

On landing at Lerwick we had dinner at a hotel and the waitresses were new friends, one born in Shetland and living in Sweden, and the other born in Wales and living in Lerwick. They met three weeks ago and are now best mates, clearly very happy in their summer job and chatted away to us as we had our dinner, their cheerful gregariousness infectious. The following day we didn’t have much time before we left so my chatting was curtailed and had to wait for Kirkwall. Here, however, I had several lovely conversations. Firstly there was Kenny, the ex footballer with a Methodist minister wife, who ran the marina. His office was literally a cupboard! He was incredibly helpful in a very unassuming way, just giving us information as we needed it, and assuring us that the boat would be fine staying where it was for a month. Not that we could move it with a broken throttle cable anyway! We met and chatted with him on several occasions the next few days and he was a delightful character.

When Peter, Patrick and I went to St Margaret’s Hope we met Tom at The Smithy museum. He was full of information about the blacksmiths, village life and the boys ploughing match.(when the girls dress up in extraordinary costumes that look like Pocahontas and actually represent horses! Rather a sexist occasion as the girls don’t actually do anything other than dress up and the boys compete-or is it their fathers who compete-to row the neatest furrow in the sand with miniature ploughs!) A little later we met an Orcadian in her 70’s running the local pub, married to a farmer, who told us all about how the local village hall committee was entirely English these days-how the English love the committees and how shy us Orcadians are! And the story behind the song “and you take the high road and I’ll take the low road and I’ll be there afore ye” which we were all ignorant of. Two excellent local people who gave us a flavour of the village in a way that nothing else can.

The following day Patrick and I took a tour bus around and left it at the impressive Neolithic stone circle of Brodgar to walk down to the Ness of Brodgar, a current archeological site that only allows visitors at certain times. We were disappointed to find it shut, but on further conversation with a local bird watcher down the road we learned that there would be an excellent hours tour at 3pm. And so it was, and thanks to that conversation we were able to return to the site and enjoy the amazing energy and enthusiasm of an hour’s tour of 5000 year old remains that came to life with her skill and stories. It’s quite incredible the way the remains of walls really do look like they were built yesterday. Then we walked to the end of the road hoping to flag down the bus, ending the day on a bus full of chatter, finding people who’d been to Svalbard and experts on Orkney who told us we must visit St Magnus’ cathedral.

We duly did so the next day. What an awesome place and what history! It was definitely as good, if not better, than Durham (same stonemasons) and York Minster, with a fascinating background. In memory of an Earl who was murdered by his cousin who broke a promise not to bring arms to a secret meeting on an island.......later in the day what we thought was a regular bus to the ferry, we were treated to a guided tour of South Ronaldsay with lots of information from the driver, and a quick visit to the impressive chapel built by German prisoners of war and preserved beautifully to this day. Yet another stranger who coloured our day before we left Orkney for John O’Groats. And more land based adventures in the next four weeks no doubt. Watch out for the final stage of Sea Fever’s blog at the end of August, hopefully featuring guest editor Lizzie once more!

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