Tuesday, 27 July 2010

(29) Hoy, Orkney

By Alistair Peebles
with Alison Flett

Our Hiraizumi is Hoy, Orkney

29 Stromness
Alistair Peebles, 2010

Stromness–Hoy–Cantick Head

On the twentieth of June, Alison and I set out from her house in Stromness to walk through the old harbour town to Ness Point.

29 Harizumi craft
Alistair Peebles, 2010

It was overcast and muggy, and before we reached the car park and began our return, raining heavily. Between the low cliff and Hoy’s near-symmetrical Ward Hill and Coolags – Mount Kinka, as it were – runs Hoy Sound, one entranceway for Scapa Flow.

29 Isle of Hoy
Alistair Peebles, 2010

Beyond, a grassy track leads on to the Atlantic shore at Warebeth. In the rain and with the bricked-up wartime ‘Bunkerman’ hut, it did seem rather a wilderness, though the steady, civilised, liquid thwack of balls from the golf course let us know that culture was also present here.

The Pine of Aneha we had imagined earlier in a telegraph pole at the Pier Head, and I would see it again a different form a few days later, passing Flotta. The town was Sunday-quiet, though a great rush of St Magnus Festival-goers suddenly engulfed us, on their way out of a reading. Then we found a helpful bookseller, his shop still open and pleased with trade, who pointed us to a friend’s house upstairs, where we were soon supplied with tea

29 tea
Alistair Peebles, 2010

I crossed the Flow later that week, on a bright and breezy Thursday, meeting a teacher friend on the boat, on her way to take her last class in the school. Cycling south to Cantick Head, I passed verges filled with orchids, vetches, bog cotton, flags and clover. Old wartime relics were everywhere too: buildings, guns and a tidy graveyard. The occasional gardens, neatly cared for; the crescent-shaped ayre; the lemony yoles at Longhope; the two Martello towers; another graveyard further south where an entire lifeboat crew of eight was laid to rest in ’69. The sea, the playful Collie at the harbour, the old wireless station set to a crazy birdsong channel. The Pine of Aneha rising again, as a wind turbine, 2MW Enercon E70.

29 Enercon 'pine'
Alistair Peebles, 2010

29 Archaeologists

Alistair Peebles, 2010

On a headland above the Pentland Firth, archaeologists were busy excavating an ancient mound, Neolithic in origin, buried into later by people of the Bronze Age. A slow, careful exploration, lasting several years, the work made light with enthusiasm and always-imminent discovery. Like a renga-journey through correspondences between things near and far, they were looking again at the obvious and probing the places that were hidden. Out of the wind, with a lunchtime view over the sea and Scotland, we toasted it all, swigging from a flask of Highland Park.

29 audio: Dan Lee, ORCA, Cantick Head

Speaking on site at South Walls, 24 June, is excavation supervisor Dan Lee, Project Officer from Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA). Archaeologists from Aberdeen and Durham Universities were working alongside Dan and two other ORCA personnel, Gavin Lindsay and Antonia Thomas.

29 fauna (I)
Alistair Peebles, 2010

29 fauna (II)
Alistair Peebles, 2010

A hospitable welcome at Melsetter House as I made my way back, though I had to rush to make sure of the ferry.

tea with Elsie
quickly and away –
a kiss in my hand

29 hokku-label (dyke)
Alistair Peebles, 2010

(AP & AFl)


Melsetter House, Longhope, and Cantick Head are located at the southern end of Hoy (58°46'58.07"N) (3°14'16.59"W). For ferry timetables between mainland Orkney and Hoy, visit Orkney Ferries website.

Melsetter House is privately owned, but is open to the public on most Thursdays by prior appointment. For details phone: 01856 791352

the completed journey will be realised as an audio-visual word-map, published online and in print, May 16, 2011. If you would like more information about the project email info@theroadnorth.co.uk


Alistair Peebles is a writer, artist, and publisher who lives and works in Orkney. He owns and directs Brae Projects.

Alison Flett is an Edinburgh-born writer, now based in Orkney. Her first collection of poems, Whit Lassyz Ur Inty, was shortlisted for the Saltire Awards. Available through Argyll Publishing.


Hoy Cod a

Alistair send us these photographs of his peregrination on the High island.

coda: Hoy renga

By Alistair Peebles

with Alison Flett

Whichever way we’d taken
beyond us lay Victoria Street
a hydro pole and Hoy

hooded, two-thumb-texting
from the pipe-spitting bench

ferry turns in
bringing home its name
its numbers

a dinghy on an anchor rope

they won’t mind
the clouds descending
– divers on the Sharon Rose

Summer of Sculpture
the tall Pier windows stream

orange sari, crimson scarf
under a filmic heaven
a mother smashes rock

Festival-goers: All he read was
from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight!

a small burden
this twist of Yunnan Chitsu Pingcha
we mean to share

the bookshop raises an eyebrow
points us to a kettle above

Rebecca's horses
upside down with summer joy
– we sip an earthy brew

the street signs
are as much in the stones we cross

a pee stop
– opposite ends
of the same plumbing

concrete studies concrete
across sufficient sea

next day to Lyness
south of the mountain and sunny
– Aneha turned Enercon

Do you not know the Ore Brae?
in lungfuls of pine now

skylarks see more
but not so well these orchids
buttercups, vetches, thistles, clover

a foot rest on the parapet
for stonechat and burn-chat

ayre and tide
silencer erupting over
the slow waves breaking

old lifeboat station
nothing else it could be, waiting

four yoles
in several colours
too pretty for this mooring

a bonxie takes the air
tilting the shoreline

field after field of grazing kye
– then figures on the skyline moving
marking a mound

in a cliff-scoop with a dram
eleven toast the endless sea

glacial till beneath it all
where someone sometime scraped a start
and archaeology ends

WWII Wireless Station
still on the crazy birdsong channel

tea with Elsie
quickly and away
– a kiss in my hand

freewheeling downhill, moment
with heather air and salt air.

(Summer 2010, Orkney)

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