play: Orkney Islands


So, Ive just recently come back from a field research trip in the far north reaches off the Scotland coastline - The Orkney Islands. Its a hard life. Back when I was living in London, Id always dreamed of travelling to the various Scottish Isles - The Coast presenters always looked so smug on their travels but I now have my revenge - the islands certainly didnt disappoint. 

A bit of background, Orkney consists of about 70 islands, and 20 are inhabited. The biggest is called the mainland which is where I was headed, staying in Stromness - a port town, which seemed to be enveloped in the shadow of a ferry whenever one came into the port. 

Many highlights of the trip including an afternoon at the Pier Arts Centre in Stromness which got a makeover back in 2007 and has resulted in a wonderful space mixing both the old and new in the best way possible with exquisite attention to detail. For instance the wood used in the banisters, through to a brushed concrete pillar to ribbed walls and embedded slivers of light in the stairway walls. Light and interior perspectival lines directed towards the port created the space. 

The centre houses numerous works from St Ives group including Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson and was a real treat to see them lit up in this gallery situated by the sea - very apt as the St Ives is also a seaside town but in Cornwall. These works ended up at the far end of the other side of the British Isles courtesy of artist/activist Margaret Gardiner who was close friends with many of the St Ives Group but also she spent time in Orkney as a retreat. The Arts centre was then founded in 1979 to house these works. 

Pier Arts Centre

Pier Arts Centre -part of refurbished space

Pier Arts Centre - Work by Eva Rothschild overlooking port




We'll be hosting a group show in the space sometime in Feb which is exciting especially knowing the St Ives specials will be just upstairs...watch this space. Im thinking to work around 'oil' as a theme particularly relevant to the islands with the large Oil Terminal based on Flotta island - part of the Orkney Islands.

Had to be done, but paid a visit to the island which then unfolded into a adventure to say the least....getting caught in gale force winds, seeking shelter in the open landscape  - one being a random shed right by a wind turbine, as well running through fields to catch the last ferry, getting lost, missing the last ferry, being picked up by oil terminal security and swiftly placed on the last workers boat back to the mainland....all in a days work they say.


Oil terminal HQ
Boat ride to Flotta Island

Another aspect of the islands which I had no idea about was the masses of neolithic archeological sites from the 'Ring of Brodgar' to 'Skara Brae'. Time Team would have an absolute field day.  You do start to get immune to these mind blowing remains, up to 3500 years old. Though there are older remains. It was only when I got back and really reflected on it, that you begin to understand the timescale. Very old lets say.

Hoxa Head Battery - Wartime ruins
As if all this fodder wasnt enough, we also paid a visit to jaw dropping cliffs providing the base for a number of military outposts at Hoxa. Architecturally fascinating with also interiors more or less intact including smaller details of the runners for the loading up of the guns to rusty metal hangings on the wall. Sadly, a lot of this buildings are probably on their way to falling down with no plans in the immediate future to preserve this important historical site. The buildings are actually on land owned by local farmers whereas I thought the council owned them. However, with the amazing location of these buildings, im wondering if it wont be too long when a developer gets their paws on them to turn them into luxury one off spaces!!


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