Saturday, 10 June 2017

An Orkney Adventure

Cliffs near West Manse, Westray

At the end of May we headed up to the Orkney Isles for a week. I've been really excited about this trip, we've been wanting to go for a long time but it is a long way so we've always put it off. We went with a couple of my friends who have been a number of times before which was great as we got a bit of insider knowledge. Orkney is a set of islands and we were staying on one of the most northerly, Westray.

West Manse

Dining room/workroom

One of the sea views from 'Holly'

We stayed at the beautiful West Manse. Sandy and Willy have restored this beautiful Manse carefully and lovingly to create a cosy, peaceful, welcoming space. Mr Stitches and I stayed in 'Holly' which is decorated in calming aqua colours and has views of the sea from all three windows. They were so welcoming and did everything they could to make sure we had a good time without being intrusive in any way. Sandy even let me use her spinning wheel, which I was very pleased about. I took my Electric Eel Wheel electric spinner but it's not the same as a proper wheel.

Whales bones outside the excellent Westray Heritage Centre

Beautiful side door, St. Magnus Cathedral (Kirkwall, Orkney Mainland)

The Knap of Howar, ancient neolithic farmstead

The Knap of Howar, ancient neolithic farmstead

There is so much to do up on the Orkney Isles, so much history and wildlife that it would be easy to get caught up in a rush to see everything and tick all the sights off your list. However, we knew we needed time to relax and recharge our batteries so we decided even before we went that we would just take it easy and do what we felt like doing each day rather than planning lots of trips and sight seeing. I'm really pleased we did this as we ended up having a great week, we did lots of walking and looking but we also had plenty of time just to be and enjoy where we were, meaning that we came back relaxed and calm and feeling inspired.

Coming into Stromness from Scrabster

Coming into Stromness from Scrabster

Waiting for the ferry to Westray at Kirkwall

Coming into Papa Westray from Westray

We were really lucky with the weather, most of the week we had bright sunshine and not much wind. All our ferry crossings were unusually smooth and I even ended up getting sun burnt on Papa Westray as it was so warm! The sunshine also meant that the colours, especially of the crystal clear waters, were beautifully intense. When going to northerly Scottish Islands on holiday one doesn't expect great weather but it's always a bonus when you get it.

Grobust Beach, Westray

Papa Westray

Mae Sands, Westray

Papa Westray

Orkney is famous for its ancient monuments and is believed to have been an important cultural centre of the neolithic world. We visited the Knap of Howar, an amazingly well preserved neolithic farmstead, whilst on Papa Westray and you really can feel a connection to the people who lived there. It's really not so different from a croft or modern cottage. We also visited Westray Heritage Centre (Pierowall, Westray) and the Orkney Museum (Kirkwall, Orkney Mainland) where we enjoyed looking at the various artefacts and learning more about the history of the islands. I was really drawn to the bronze and iron age artefacts and did lots of sketching in both museums.

Guillemot

Fulmars

Bonxie (Great Skua)

Puffin!

One of the things I was most looking forward to about our trip was the bird watching. As anyone who knows me or my work will have gathered, I love birds! We were not disappointed, we visited two of the RSPB's 13 Orkney nature reserves, North Hill and Noup Cliffs, and we also saw plenty of birds on our walks and explorations. Highlights have to include the Skuas (both great and arctic) and their amazing aerial displays, arctic terns diving metres in front of us and my first sighting of a great northern diver.

Guillemots at Noup Cliffs

Gannets at Noup Cliffs

Noup Cliffs

We spent a lot of time walking during the week, almost everywhere is picture worthy so I ended up taking nearly a thousand photographs as whichever way I turned it was beautiful. We walked along the beautiful beaches looking for treasure, we walked along spectacular cliffs admiring the wildflowers and being impressed with the sea birds and geology, we wandered through abandoned crofts reclaimed by starlings and lush farmland teeming with oystercatchers, lapwings and rabbits and we ambled through picturesque villages in search of coffee.

Beach patterns

Beach Patterns

Barnacles and rust

Over the last couple of years walking has become really important both as part of my practice and as a way of keeping happy. Mr. Stitches is a proper walker and whilst I'm not I really enjoy being out with him, it's a relatively slow activity giving us time to think and talk and there's always something to see. It gives us a chance to stop worrying, enjoy the present and experience new sights. Often on our walks I'll find ways of overcoming things I'm struggling with in my work, either by talking it through or just by having clear head time or through something I've seen or found.

Wildflowers

Wildflowers

Cliff walk

Abandoned croft

Whilst we were up on Westray I had some time to do some work, inspired by my surroundings and treasures seen and found out on our walks. I kept a diary of my week and did lots of sketching and sampling, as well as spinning, All the walking and relaxing we did this week has given me lots of ideas for my work and I'm looking forward to taking some of them into my studio and getting stitching...

Spinning yarn from fleece gathered on our walks

Spun yarn from fleece gathered on our walks
Rust dyeing using rusty metal collected from beaches

Knitting and sewing samples

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