An Orkney move edges closer

Regular contributor Richard Clubley has shared the latest update on his plans for a permanent move to Orkney. He has spent years travelling around Scotland’s islands, but Orkney has always been a very special place for him.

It is a dream come true. I know that’s a cliché but it really is a dream come true. We have bought half an acre of land on the Orkney mainland, overlooking Scapa Flow, and will build a house next year in which to live.

In the early days of my Orkney exploration I would start to mourn the passing of the week, or fortnight, as it came to an end. In recent years I always have a few visits in the diary at any one time so, in leaving, I can look forward to returning.

Richard's new Orkney home will look out over Scapa Flow - image by Colin Keldie

My dream though has been to live here. When I put down my book and turn out the light each night I like to fill those seven seconds (experts say it averages seven seconds) before I fall asleep, with a constructed fantasy: walking on a favourite beach; watching wildfowl through the reeds of a loch side or seeing the black/grey weather clouds rolling in over Ring of Brodgar.

Where to live in that fantasy has always been an issue. It being imaginary there are no rules or limits. A grand old house by the sea, with woodland giving shelter from the storms perhaps, or maybe a stone bothy with walls three feet thick and a low roof for the wind to blow straight over. A period town house in Kirkwall might be nice, with spiral staircases, wooden banisters and an enclosed yard making a sun trap. Nipping out for coffee at a favourite café, or a browse in the bookshop, would be easy every day. Turning out in the evenings for theatre or cinema would be no hardships.

There were never any snags, setbacks or problems in the fantasy but, oh dear, now it’s for real. I have to start thinking about planning permission, costs, logistics and what if the cats get lost?

Each time I arrive in Orkney, after the long drive from south, and walk out on that favourite beach, I take in a deep, involuntary breath of contentment and elation. It is not done deliberately, it just happens. I guess it must be like the hit of a powerful drug might feel. The late Roger Deakin, in his book Waterlog, about wild swimming in Britain, felt the endorphins in his blood when he swam in rivers and lakes – he called them ‘endolphins’. I’m expecting a daily dose of endolphins after we move.

A beautiful beach in Orkney - perfect for taking a deep breath and relaxing

Incidentally, Beverly wants to keep a couple of sheep on our new, half-acre farm in Orkney. She thinks it will be a neat, eco-friendly way of keeping the grass tidy. North Ronaldsays have been ruled out because of copper intolerance. Soays might be a bit wild. Any hints, advice or suggestions as to how we could do this, or why we shouldn’t, would be gratefully received. I should stress these will be pet sheep, raised from caddy lambs, to provide wool and grass-cutting services only. They will live the life of Riley. I’m told I’ve to make a little house in the garden, to protect them from the worst of the winter gales. Don’t be too surprised if you call round to see us and find them curled up in baskets in the kitchen – one either side of the Aga.

The efforts made to properly commemorate the centenary of the Battle of Jutland and the sinking of HMS Hampshire in Orkney this year were well planned and moving. By the miracle of modern technology I watched events at Marwick Head, on Sunday 5th June, on a live web-stream. The sun shone brightly for everyone gathered on the cliff top. It was not at all stormy as it was on that night 100 years ago. ‘Hampshire weather’ they still call it in the islands when it blows a squall in June.

The Orkney Heritage Society had arranged for the Kitchener Memorial to be refurbished and a memorial wall added bearing the names of all 737 men and boys who died when the ship sank, plus nine killed when HM Drifter Laurel Crown was lost, in the same minefield, two weeks later.

The event at Marwick Head to remember the loss of HMS Hampshire and the Laurel Crown 100 years ago

We have learned not to glorify war in these events. The whole was about remembering, and pledging ourselves, if we can, to strive never to let such things happen again. Local schoolchildren read out the names of the dead – nine names each – and it is certain they will never forget their part in proceedings. Someone expressed the hope that these children will bring their children, and grandchildren, to the memorial one day, find their nine names on the wall and say ‘these were the names I read out – they were mine’. It will be as if those souls are not lost in the deep but, even now, held in the warm embrace of young, beating, Orkney hearts.

Richard contributes regularly to Scottish Islands Explorer magazine and his first book: 'Scotland’s Islands – A Special Kind of Freedom' was published in 2014. He is working on the sequel: 'Orkney – A Special Place' which he hopes will be out in 2017. Newsletter

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