Cooling off period - Richard Clubley

After his first full month in his new Orkney home, regular contributor Richard Clubley is starting to get used to the ways (and weather!) of island life.

The modern way allows a cooling-off period when one signs a contract. We’ve had twenty eight days in our Orkney house now, the weather has cooled a bit but we’re still keen.

We had our first visitors from south, Jane and Howard, so we’ve been looking at Orkney afresh, through new eyes. We invited Jane months earlier and told her to bring a friend. She had been on the phone to Howard in Barnsley last Thursday, trying to fix a date for coffee, when she said “Actually, do you fancy a few days in Orkney?” Jane set off from Sheffield on Sunday night to pick him up and phoned ahead to see if he was ready. “I’ve been ready since just after you rang on Thursday” he replied.

Howard had always wanted to see the Italian Chapel so we drove out on their first morning. Crossing the barrier he said “That looks like a couple of war-time Nissen huts over there.” “That’s the chapel,” I said, “we’re here.” “Is that the chapel? Am I really seeing the chapel? I can’t believe I’m actually seeing the Italian Chapel having heard about it so many times. My mate, Dave, will be green. ‘Make sure you see the Italian Chapel’ he told me.”

The Italian Chapel in Orkney

“Wow.” Jane said when we pulled up at Brough of Birsay. The tide was in, the sun was out and shining on the waves rolling across the causeway, which was visible, just below the surface of the clear water, snaking out to the island. We drove back to collect Howard from where we had left him, looking for 400 million year-old fossils at a disused quarry, had a lunch of crab sandwiches and coffee from Palace Stores in Birsay village and went back to see if the causeway was uncovered – it wasn’t.

We agreed to leave Brough of Birsay until their next visit. “Never mind,” said Howard as we turned the car, “look, there’s an igneous dyke.” Jane’s pal is a geography and geology teacher and had spotted some dark rock streaking across some lighter rock and declared it to be an igneous intrusion. I find geologists are like that generally, always asking one to believe some impossible thing had happened some inconceivably long time ago. I was still recovering from the fossil fish sitting in the cup holder. Howard could not have been happier.

The Brough of Birsay and its tidal causeway, unfortunately underwater during Richard's visit

Jane and Howard left Orkney declaring themselves well satisfied with their introduction to Neolithic stone houses, burial chambers, causeways, history, gannets and bar-tailed godwits. “I totally get it,” she said, “I understand why you love it and have chosen to live here, although the pampas grass is not a patch on mine.”

I have a few days off now, before Phil and Maggie arrive. It was quite difficult to re-focus after the others left so I just did some ironing and dozed in the armchair for a bit. The shed was delivered, in sections, on Friday. Bev can’t wait for it to be erected so that all the tools, bikes, storage boxes, mower, cycle carriers and snorkel gear can be cleared out of the end room, allowing the furniture to be set up. Sadly we now have to wait for a dry, calm day, which doesn’t look imminent.

I have found myself to be more patient with the weather, however, than when I was only here for a limited time. Saturday was glorious, I had just arrived at Scapa, the tide was way out and I was looking forward to a long walk. A phone call diverted me to an urgent task so I missed the beach. Driving away I consoled myself with the thought the sand and shells would all be there on every sunny day in the future.

An aerial view of the beach at Scapa, just outside Kirkwall - image by Colin Keldie

Our house is on the edge of the village, just inside the farthest extent of the street lights. This may limit our appreciation of the stars a bit, and might make viewing the Mirrie Dancers more difficult, but it does mean that darkness dog-walking is less challenging. I can walk down the lane, heading due south towards Scapa Flow. In the daylight I can see Barrel of Butter, Flotta and Cava but at night I know them only by their lights. As I reach the post signing the end of 30 miles an hour I can look out into darkness. It is like standing on the prow of a ship, butting through the Atlantic waves at times. At others it is truly calm and the moon lights the way across to the other islands.

I’ve been writing this on Sunday afternoon, the rain has just stopped beating on the glass, and the wind ceased whistling round the eaves. The sky over Hoy has brightened. The sun is coming out. Time to walk the dog before the next lot of weather blows in.

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. Newsletter

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