"The essence of Orkney's magic is silence, loneliness, and the deep marvellous rhythms of sea and land, darkness and light." - George Mackay Brown
A friend and I finally made it to Orkney. We have been talking about visiting for the past three or four years, but life always got in the way, until now. Life did it's best to keep us out, however, but between interviews and trips to Mongolia we managed to squeeze in a wonderful four days of heaven.
The islands were magical. Lots of sky, long horizons and an overwhelming feeling of history pressing down on us. These are the islands where the neolithic, the bronze age, the vikings and the moderns all interact and day to day life encompasses all of the human epochs.
Stones of Stenness: massive, beautiful, I imagine the fire in the centre lit. People's faces shining in glorious tones of reds, oranges and yellows. The setting sun echoing those colours from the sky. I imagine drums beating, dancers moving with the rhythm of the earth and a higher state of mind being reached.
Maeshowe: The ages press down on you here. The rocks hold the secrets that we can only dream of. From prehistoric times, to Viking graffiti, Maeshowe holds the tales of the people. An ancient cathedral, whose majesty feels almost empty with ropes and torches. Imagine light from bare flame, flickering and jumping into the reaches of the ceiling. Imagine entering, bent before the gods, through a nine metre long tunnel. Imagine lifting your skirts so you didn't trip. The setting midwinter sun, from the hills of Hoy, shining down the tunnel to reach the furthest cairn. Imagine how that would feel. The miracle of light in the darkness of the earth.
The Ring of Brodgar: Huge, massive. And still mighty in its half collapsed state. Imagine (it's almost too difficult to imagine), but try to imagine people within the circle. The stones standing new and proud. Imagine the feelings coursing through the group and they celebrated...what? We do not and cannot know, but we can imagine and you will know, when you are there, what feelings behold you, if you let them and put down your camera and your mental tick box of places you have been and allow the earth to connect and to tell your soul what it wants from you.
Skara Brae: No matter what the guide books say, I found it harder to imagine life in this underground than I did to imagine songs and celebrations of the standing stones and the chambered cairns. Maybe my imagination prefers to be unguided. But, no matter what I say, the potential for modern living within the walls of Skara Brae are immense. Fill those beds with heather and furs. Set that fire from within the hearth. Place your lobsters in the pools in the floor and furnish your dresser with your plates and knives. Put the precious items up high, out of reach of the bairns and light those tallow candles in those hollows. Your neighbours' doors are shut; it's just the family at home here now, and we can relax, and we can work on the things we've been working on. Yes, even though I find it hard to imagine the darkness of the passageways outside, I can imagine what it was like once the stone door was pushed closed, and once the fire was lit and the kids were asleep. For, we're all the same are we not? Although 5000 years and a language may separate us, if we were to meet today we would know one another as kin.
Maybe that's the truth I seek. We are no different, so the graffiti we leave is as precious as theirs. We are all human, and we can think of us and them, but that's as wrong as doing the same for humans and animals. We are all the same. We sleep and dream, we wake and breathe. We fight, and tease, and love and hate. We eat, we have preferences, and we have good and bad in all of us. For we are all the same.
When we left the evening tour of Maeshowe the sun sank beneath the horizon. We rose the following morning to see the same sun rise and we watched from the Ring of Brodgar. Five thousand years of tourists speaks volumes of the place's worth. Land with water on both sides, a thin peninsula. Once I was told that this is where the fairies live, for this is where the gap between their world and ours is thinnest. I keep this information, because one day it might be useful. The sun and the moon. I watched the sun set again from a beach on Sanday. A rainbow, the biggest I have ever seen, and a glorious sunset.
I'm sitting here. The sun has just dropped below the horizon and the clouds are in every shade of yellow, orange, pink, purple, gold, blue imaginable. The buildings are silhouetted, but the land is still green for the light has not yet gone from the world.
The peewit is calling, but not because of me, for I've been here a while, hidden in this grass, and it has only just started. Perhaps it too is mourning the day ending.
There's a rainbow behind me. It echoes itself several times over, reflected also in the sea and it is entire, which I've not often seen and it is a dreamlike rainbow.
I'm thinking of crofters that would have lived here in a but 'n' ben and how they would have reacted to this night? Would nights like this be commonplace? No, never, every farmer is a romantic, though it may be buried deep inside. No man can work like farmers do without a certain quality and I doubt that quality would ever allow a beautiful sky to be ignored.
The rain is decreasing, the peewit has stopped calling and the chill is returning. I feel like I'm being watched. Every stone seems to quiver at the edge of my eyes. Once fully looked at it stills and becomes stone once more. Shapeshifting.
The colours of the clouds have deepened, intensified. The day here is over, but somewhere else it's just beginning. Arise, awake, return once more to this world. Leave Maeshowe, leave Quoyness, return once more to the here and now.