Towards the end of July, I was fortunate enough to be whisked away to Orkney at only a few days notice! I was invited along by Alex, a good friend of my sister's, who had a spare ticket up to visit her family and knew I could do with a break.
It turned out to be exactly what I needed at exactly the right time. Fiona and Maggie made me feel so much at home and showed me around Orkney's beautiful Mainland. There is nothing quite like being absorbed into a lovely group of people you've never met before, who make you feel like being yourself is just right. And Orkney really is the most glorious place; I only explored parts of the West Mainland, so I can't wait to go back and see more!
Alex's mum, Fiona Sanderson, is a metal worker and artist, so I even had the chance to make my own miniature aluminium bowls! Honestly, not only a spectacularly beautiful landscape, the kindest hosts, Neolithic stone circles and archeological digs, Viking runes, rhubarb ice cream, the wonder that is the Pier Arts Centre, swimming in the sea, fish and chips, and a lesson in making flat breads, but also metal working!
And did I mention spotting seals and Scottish primroses? And the leg of lamb gifted to me by North Ronaldsay sheep farmers which I brought back on the sleeper train, wrapped carefully in newspaper by Maggie, who drove all the way to Kirkwall the morning I left to collect it, even though she's a vegan? And the black and ochre lichen and incredible cliffs of Yesnaby, where we ate scallop rolls overlooking the sea? And driving to the Ring of Brodgar at midnight because the moon was full, even though it had disappeared behind cloud by the time we arrived (which actually made for an even more memorable visit as we hunted for Viking graffiti by the light of our phones and got a bit lost trying to find the way in)?
So many wonderful things. I should have written about this straight away but I am, if anything, an unreliable blogger. If I had any regular readers, they would certainly attest to this fact (but of course I don't post often enough to have any of those). I've been reminded that I really must write this because I recently read the brilliant Outrun by Amy Liptrott. Born on Orkney, her memoir of alcoholism and recovery describes how she leaves the islands for the thrills of London, returning age 30 to find Orkney will hold her as she pieces herself back together. It is beautifully written and has already become the book I'm urging everyone I meet to read.
You can find out more about visiting here. We took the sleeper train to Inverness*, bus to Scrabster and then Ferry to Stromness.
*Heavily asterisked because due to an ill-timed strike we were turfed of the train at Edinburgh, in the middle of the night, and had to take a taxi to Inverness. However, it really wouldn't put me off going by sleeper again; the 3 hours sleep I did manage to enjoy were very comfortable!
PS. This has to be the best blue plaque you've ever seen, right?!
PPS. I've also just returned from Top Drawer, my first ever trade show. I'll write a separate post about that SOON, but amazingly my first order of the show was from a shop in Orkney - the beautiful Longship. What are the chances of that?!