It’s Sunday morning and the sun is shining. It’s a fine day for a walk, so I head for Brinkie’s Brae. Most of Orkney is formed from fine-grained flagstone, laid down as the sediments in Lake Orcadie millions of years ago. Brinkie’s Brae is different. A big lump of granite-schist, it was never submerged in the Devonian, but stood proud above the water. Today it still dominates, rising up to 94m and offering a panoramic view over largely sea-level Stromness. The whole history of Orkney is writ large in the panorama; to the northeast you can just see the Brodgar peninsula and the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site; right round to the island of Flotta with its 1970s oil terminal, to the island of Graemsay and Hoy High lighthouse, built in 1851 by Alan Stevenson. Stretching out beyond is Scapa Flow, the backdrop to so many World War II dramas, and the hills of Hoy to the south. The Hamnavoe heads out into the Atlantic on its way to Scrabster and Scotland, and the polytunnel of the Stromness Community Garden lies below.
And then at the foot of it all, there’s Stromness with its network of stone-built piers and closes. All of these are linked by the street uncoiling, as George Mackay Brown once said, like a sailor’s rope from north to south. Writing a century and a half earlier, Walter Scott had been less than impressed with the same street’s charms, describing Stromness as a ‘dirty, straggling town’. Scott had visited Orkney in 1814, as part of his six-week summer cruise aboard the Lighthouse yacht as a guest of the Commissioners of the Northern Lights. Whilst on the islands, he visited antiquities and collected stories and folk-tales, many of which he later integrated into his writing. In Stromness, he went to a smoke-filled hovel on Brinkie’s Brae to meet a certain Bessie Miller, the town’s witch who would later become the inspiration for Norna in the The Pirate (1822). For the sum of sixpence, Bessie would sell sailors a favourable wind. She would boil her kettle, and say her charms, and the sailor would be assured fair weather for sailing.
Sunrise 06.35 Moonrise 17.02
Sunset 19.43 Moonset 00.53
High tide 05.27 (2.49m) Low tide 11.24 (1.57m)
High tide 17.58 (2.65m)
Waxing quarter moon