“Pardon”, I said.
“We’ve got a customer in Orkney who’d like you to do some work for them.”
Orkney. I’d heard of it. I even knew the word Orcadian, and I knew there was something in the back of my mind about music and natural history or was it geology. “Okay”, I said. Having finished the conversation I began my Internet search. No, it wasn’t one of the Western Isles – it was north. Far north; as far north as it is possible to go on land and then some more across the sea, but not as north as Shetland. It looked great on the Internet. Four days work there would be an adventure.
I booked my flights from home in Devon – I had soon realised that driving was not an option – and felt inspired enough by the tourist information to book an extra day there at my own expense. I met someone I would be working for in London and they told me how historic the place was. “It’s Norse,” she explained, as if that said it all, “There’s not the same Celtic influence there.” I did my research and packed my ski jacket, waterproof thermal trousers and walking boots, just in case. It was April, after all. Getting to Orkney from one end of the UK to the other (well, Cornwall and Shetland are further) was a breeze. A 7:00 am flight from Exeter to Edinburgh, a quick change and off to Kirkwall, the capital city of Orkney by taxi from the airport. Just after 11:00 am and I was strolling in a Viking city.
My expectations were high. It was historic, of world archaeological interest, with stunning scenery and natural history. That’s what the tourist information said. As soon as the plane touched down, though, I hated it. Flat, grey, windswept and featureless with no trees and a landscape dotted with ugly 1970’s style pebble-dash bungalows. No hedges, just an industrial farming landscape. Grim. The taxi took me and my luggage to an anonymous room in an anonymous hotel in Kirkwall – a capital city the size of a Devon village. I phoned my family, “It’s awful,” I said. “What on earth am I going to find to do here for five days. It’s like the worst most boring place on earth.”
But then I met the people.
Coils of rope on the quayside in Kirkwall as I look at the ferries leaving for the Northern Isles.