When did it all begin?
Mark has been doing a fantastic job updating the blog with what we are doing … but I thought I might make a few notes on WHY we are doing it ! And what has drawn us to Orkney.
We started coming here in September 2001 – on a whim. We had been watching a program on the Beeb about Lancashire and the cotton mills, and decided to start there. I was quite keen then to go up the West coast of Scotland, to where I used to holiday regularly as a child at Gairloch, and visit all the lovely places there – Ullapool, Achnasheen, Poolewe, Applecross, Loch Marie, Mellon Oudrigle – the list goes on. But unless you know and love Scotland (which Mark didn’t at that time) it would just be a trip down memory lane for me and rather boring for him.
So – being very interested in Neolithic Archaeology, we decided to drive up Loch Ness to Fort William, taking time out to go on the steam train (first class of course) to Mallaig and back, then along Loch Ness to Inverness and then North. I don’t think – well I know – that either of us had realised quite how far it is. After all, from Suffolk, when you get to Glasgow you are about half way to Orkney. And up to that point it’s pretty much motorway all the way. After that – it isn’t. Though to be fair the roads are pretty good nevertheless.
Anyway, we took a deep breath and it was decided upon. I got onto t’internet and found a small cottage to rent on Burray, called the Slap, which promised a small holding, fresh eggs, fresh air and a true Orcadian experience. Mark (being a shocking sailor) was dreading the crossing, but fortunately we arrived early at the ferry and rather than having a sleepless night with the spectre of the boat hanging over him, we managed to get space on the evening sailing – the weather was calm and sunny and he was fine. We spent our first night on Orkney at the Sands Hotel in Burray, as the cottage wouldn’t be ready until the Saturday afternoon. Then we moved into the Slap, met Catherine Corsie, her husband, Neil, and the four of her five wonderful children who were still living at home – Heather, John, Claire and Grace and our love-affair with the islands began. We only had a week so spent a lot of time dashing round Mainland Orkney exploring the various Neolithic sites, taking photographs (not digital then but we have had them scanned) and vowed to return. Often. Very often. Very very often.
It has been a strange journey in many ways – each time we came up we would stay either at the Slap or later on in the static caravan that Catherine moved onto the site by the Nissan hut. We brought members of our families up, friends joined us on occasions and each time it was marvellous. Yet each time for the first day, until the islands re-asserted their grip on us, we would look at each other and think “why are we coming here time after time”. Then the Orkney magic wove its spell, we made and met many friends and … felt we were at home.
Why do we love it here? So many people ask that. Why Orkney? And we think it is mainly the people – the strong sense of community. The friendship. The pace of life. The way you can be out in the garden and people stop their cars for a chat. And the beauty, the wildlife, the peace and quiet, the history. I could go on and on. We often talked about buying a holiday cottage or something, but house prices up here got silly soon after we started coming up and it just wasn’t possible.
Then 3 ½ years ago, in the spring of 2011 we lost a couple of seriously big contracts which basically meant that we would be sensible to downsize. So … a lot of heart searching went on, lots of conversations with family … and the Railway Station went onto the market. And to a degree our lives went on hold. We tried not to let that happen too much by buying a motor home (our lovely Badger that many of you will know well) and that gave us the freedom to travel and enjoy ourselves.
Then finally, in September this year, 2014, never to be forgotten, our very dear friend and neighbour, Steve, decided to buy our Railway Station. And for the last time as “tourists” we headed for Orkney to look at some properties. And we found Mill Cottage. Not at all the sort of place we had planned, but suddenly it was the “right place” for us. Far from perfect, needing renovation, TLC and all the rest of it. But we both loved it from the moment we walked through the door to view it the first time.
Here I must pay tribute to Mark, who insisted over my protests that we went to see it. I was sure it would be far too small (well, it is a little small), with far too much needing doing to it (well quite a bit does need doing). I was wrong. So so wrong. I knew it as soon as I walked in and I am not afraid to admit it. Mill Cottage is … home. Already. Thank you Mark for making me view it.
I think – I am sure – I speak for both of us when I say how grateful we are to our families and friends for making it so easy for us to follow our dream. Your understanding and encouragement has made it possible. And we can’t wait to get properly straight so you can come and visit us … what we regard as our own small bit of Orkney, complete with lots of history, lots of wildlife – and yes, we are told there are otters in “our” Mill Stream. Our dream. Your holiday home whenever you want to come!