• The Hoy hills, Orkney

The Magnetic North

For generations, Orcadians have left the islands and settled all around the world. But, as most islanders know, there is always something pulling you home.

Louise Bichan is an Orkney photographer and musician currently studying in the United States. This past summer she was back on island ground, and we asked her to share her memories of her few weeks at home.

Orkney’s Kris Drever perfectly describes the pull toward home, when he sings, “there’s a magnet in the north.” As I have travelled, met new people, and grown, I have come to realise quite how lucky I am to have such a strong sense of ‘home'.

The more time I spend away, the more I miss and love and appreciate the time I spend in Orkney. This summer was no exception, when I had two months in the islands, which I spent catching up with family and friends, taking photos, and playing music.

I am Orcadian born and bred, and first moved away in 2007 to study photography at the Glasgow School of Art. After graduating, I stayed on in Glasgow, working as a freelance photographer and fiddle player. I have had the chance to travel to some fantastic corners of the world to play music and take photos, including the Middle East, Norway, Ireland, France, Denmark and Germany. In 2013 I headed across the pond for three months to attend a fiddle camp in California, run by Scottish fiddler Alasdair Fraser, and then travelled across Canada working on a photography and music project (“Out of My Own Light”). Fast forward a few years and I am now living in Boston, on the east coast of the United States, in my fourth year of studying at Berklee College of Music.

I have been fortunate to be able to spend most of my summers at home in Orkney. After the craziness of trying to keep up with studying, working, socialising and racing around the big busy city on my bike, through wind, rain and snow, I love coming back to Orkney’s slower, quieter pace of life.

I usually arrive home and collapse and don't want to leave the farm for a week or so! It’s fantastic to look out of my bedroom window over Scapa Flow and watch the landscape changing with the light and weather.

I will never tire of the view over Swanbister bay and find myself running out to photograph it regularly.

This year my time at home began with a visit from Sheffield-based photographer and fiddler Elly Lucas. We spent some time playing music together and scheming future creative collaborations. And with the weather being so great, we got out and about Orkney with our cameras.

We spent a beautiful afternoon walking along the coast from Yesnaby back to Stromness. I took my fiddle and played a few tunes along the way for my Instagram account ‘Fiddlecam’!

We share a love for Orkney’s beautiful summer evening light, and for the peace and tranquillity of island life.

For the past few summers since I began studying in Boston, I have been lucky enough to be able to bring some friends over from the US to play music in Orkney, and all over Scotland. This summer I had two different groups visit, starting in June with my trio Corner House. We did a little island hopping, visiting Hoy, Stronsay and Westray, as well as playing several concerts on the mainland, before heading down south for a run of shows across the rest of the country. Visiting Stronsay was a first for me, bringing me very near to ticking off all of Orkney’s populated islands! I always love visiting Hoy, and the ‘Queen of the Isles’, Westray. We received such warm welcomes, with lovely audiences all over Orkney, I enjoyed showing it all off to them, on their first visit to Scotland.

In between touring and all the admin involved, I grabbed every opportunity to get out and about with my camera and sometimes fiddle, and enjoyed every minute of being home. Even on greyer days, there is so much beauty to be found. As much as I love the socialising, seeing live music and convenience of living in a big city, it’s the sea views and Orkney’s beautiful beaches I pine for when I’m in Boston!

I finished up my summer at home in July, when I had fiddler Katie McNally and guitarist Conor Hearn return to Orkney for their second and third visits, respectively. We did some sight-seeing around Orkney, visiting the Gloup and the Deerness Distillery, playing in Westray (two visits in one summer! How lucky am I?!) two completely packed concerts at the Reel and Skaill House, and a quick peek at Skara Brae afterwards. Orkney really came with the goods this summer. With such beautiful weather, it didn’t make it hard to show her off.

I always have such a hard time leaving Orkney; my time here is never long enough. I usually hope for rain and cloudy weather, as it’s especially difficult leaving when the sun is shining! But the flight down to Glasgow happened to be a beautiful day, which was a lovely last look at Orkney before flying back to the States.

Now I have some new photos of home for my walls, and I’ll be seeing you again when the weather is a peedie bit colder, Orkney.

Louise Bichan (l) with Katie McNally and Conor Hearn

Visit Louise's official website to see more of her work

The Digital Orkney project has been part financed by the Scottish Government and the European Community Orkney LEADER 2014-2020

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