Every day I pinch myself - Richard Clubley Every day I pinch myself - Richard Clubley

Every day I pinch myself - Richard Clubley

Read the latest from author and new Orkney resident Richard Clubley as he explores all aspects of island life.


In my former life, south, I had a dream chest.

This chest was a set of wide, shallow, oak drawers, like the ones navigators and surveyors use to keep their charts flat. In each drawer was a plan. Every night, after getting into bed, I would use the seven seconds allowed (sleep specialists say this is the average time people take to fall asleep after turning out the light and settling down) to select a dream, pull it out and examine it for the umpteenth time.

The top drawer held plans to have a bothy by the sea in Orkney, with thick, silent walls, a wood burning stove, original art on the wall and a few other of modern life’s accoutrements. Further down was a scheme to have a peedie boat and explore the islands of Scapa Flow. I planned to land on Cava, clean the beach of marine litter, have a camp fire and a barbeque.

Aerial view of Scapa beach - image by Colin Keldie


Opening another drawer revealed ambitions for a best-seller about a man who went to live on an island to be at peace and one with nature.

After that the charts got a bit fanciful – be a lifeboat crew member or win a top prize for travel literature. The chest was not beside the bed, as you might imagine, but in my head.

Now here I am. Bev and I live in Orphir Village. The only down side of moving to Orkney is that the dream chest is looking decidedly empty. It’s getting difficult to fantasise because I’m actually here living it. Apart from the lifeboat shouts, for which I’m too old and stiff, I’m doing a lot of what I dreamed of. Now, as I turn out the light, I can say to Bev:

“That was great today, helping Scottish Natural Heritage count terns on Holm of Houton. It was lovely to be exploring an uninhabited island again”

“Dog and I had a great time on Scapa Beach this morning. The tide was just right for her to walk out into deep water on the outflow pipe and then swim back.”

“The flowers on the clifftop are fabulous just now. I can’t keep up with identifying them all, there’s a new one in bloom every day”

“Wasn’t the Folk Festival brilliant? Three concerts in four nights – I’m exhausted.”

“Who were your favourites?”

“Now you’re asking. I couldn’t pick one. Gnoss, Fara, String Sisters… they were all great.”

“Yes, they were, good night dear.”

The Orkney Folk Festival - image by Sean Purser


The second drawer down – remember, the one with the hope of having a peedie boat – was emptied last week when I travelled up to Shetland and bought one from a man in Whalsay.

I sailed up on MV Hrossey from Kirkwall at midnight and arrived in Lerwick, just as I was finishing breakfast in the Feast Restaurant at seven thirty the next morning. I slept on a reclining chair in the cinema (one is allowed to do this after the last film show has finished). There were twenty, or more, of us in there but everyone was very quiet.

The man picked me up from the pier and after coffee in Lerwick we made the half hour drive to Laxa for the short crossing to Whalsay. The sea outside the harbour was calm for my test run in the boat. There were puffins on the water, quite close, the first I had seen this year. With the purchase agreed I spoke to a van driver in the ferry queue and cadged a lift back to Lerwick. Sleeping on floors, breakfast on boats, hitch-hiking – the day reminded me of all the days I have spent exploring Scotland’s islands. It was perfect.

View over the north isles of Orkney - image by Premysl Fojtu


Hrossey had kindly waited all day for me to conclude business and she was full for the return run to Kirkwall at teatime, and then south to Aberdeen. There was a constant queue for dinner and at the bar. Every available square inch of floor space was occupied by the Shetland Junior Inter County sports teams. Blue track suit tops declaring allegiance to: Shetland Hockey, Shetland Athletics and Shetland Swim Team were everywhere.

The atmosphere was brilliant (if noisy). The youngsters were excited to be travelling to Orkney for the weekend to do battle in the most keenly fought of annual encounters.

Hrossey sailed in to the pier at Hatston, early, at around 10-15. The June night sky was red and reflected in the water. Gaggles of athletes stood around on the top deck, oblivious to the cold air in which they had been raised.

I was taking the last boat home. No one ever arrived home in more glorious surroundings.


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Richard contributes regularly to Scottish Islands Explorer magazine and his first book: 'Scotland’s Islands – A Special Kind of Freedom' was published in 2014. His new book 'Orkney – A Special Place' is available from all the usual outlets now.