Dai’s Reportage : The Northern Isles (click on drawings to enlarge)

I recently spent some weeks beyond the North coast of Scotland in Orkney and Shetland. This is not the Scotland of kilts and bagpipes, as the people here feel more Norse and akin to the people of Norway and Denmark; they were not actually part of the United Kingdom until the 1600’s when they were handed over as part of a Royal Dowry.

Shetland is quite covered by empty moors inland, but its coastline is a lacework of inlets and complicated sea lochs or voes. There are many small settlements with their own piers and rock built sea walls, home to their small fishing boats that also serve the numerous salmon farms.

Voe village and pier, Shetland

The village of Voe (above) with its pier, small marina, pub/restaurant and bakery sits at the very top of the loch.  As well as boats coming and going, two fishing boats regularly berthed here and transferred their farmed salmon by crane and pipe to a large transporter lorry.

Voe Pier and Marina - Salmon boats are transfering catch to transporter lorry (s)

Boats form a network of transport for the sea fishing, and salmon and mussel farms. This pattern of small ports each with its pier is repeated all over the islands.

Baltasound Pier, Shetland

Here (above) is the pier at Balta Sound, a community that boasts the most northerly brewery and pub in the British Isles.  As I drew this I saw an escaping sheep gallop past me; pursued shortly after by a shepherd and dog.  It made a mistake by turning onto the dead end of the pier and shortly after passed the other way in a van.  At night in mid-summer the daylight here never totally dies away – it is called ‘summer dim’

The houses of the village communities on Shetland are barely ever next to each other, but are very scattered.  They are, even when new houses are built, still acting as crofts, each with a farming element, though in the present economy most people have a second job too.  I love the look and feel of these dispersed settlements, and tried to capture something of this in drawings.

Wadbister, Shetland

The settlement of Wadbister.

There are a few main roads in Shetland, but most are single carriageways, with passing bays for cars to let each other through when they meet in opposite directions.

Scattered settlement, Shetland

A dispersed community pattern.

In their own way the narrow roads, and the closeness of the sea inlets wherever you go, means that Shetland is quite linked up while also being quite open.

Catfirth, Shetland

The settlement of Catfirth.

To the south of the Shetland Islands lies Mainland Orkney, within site of the north coast of Scotland, and with a scattering of islands to the North.  On Orkney I got hooked on the fishing boats – these are mostly small with net hauling machinery, a tiny steering cabin to the front, a mast covered in complicated looking antennae, and bits of everyday fishing all over their decks.

Fishing boats, Kirkwell Harbour - Orkney

An old and rusty fishing boat in Kirkwall Harbour.

Kirkwall is a moderate sized town and and the capital of Orkney.  From here, ferry boats ply back and forth linking the islands, and large tour boats stop at a new outer pier.  In the old harbour, safe within stone quays, a host of fishing boats find shelter and home and often tie up in lines (as below).

Kirkwell Harbour, fishing boats 2

Kirkwall Harbour – the inner dock.

The smaller islands with their ferry links to the mainland have their own piers and docking arrangements. Here, on the island of Rousay (below) there are two piers, and you can see the small community linked to the terminal and built up the slope behind.

Rousay Pier

On the South side of Orkney, facing Thurso on mainland Scotland, is the old town and port of Stromness. It was the last stop before the Atlantic for the old whaling ships, and they took on     local men as crew here, and fresh water. Nowadays it is a busy modern port for the large ferries, and fishing boats and is a diving centre as it is close to the sunken German Fleet that lies under the waters of Scapa Flow.

Stromness Harbour - Orkney

Part of Stromness Harbour (above) – interestingly, this lies close to a modern Art Gallery; there are many artists and craftspeople who have chosen to live out on these islands.  However, for this sketcher this was the last base before the journey back.

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6 thoughts on “Dai’s Reportage : The Northern Isles (click on drawings to enlarge)

  1. Being brought up in Chester and one time Chief Projectionist at the Odeon I’ve been following your blog for a while now. Imagine my surprise when I saw this post, as I now live in Stromness. Shame I didn’t bump into you. Lovely drawings – you should consider a show of them here, I think they’d go down well. – Mark

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  2. Thanks Mark – you live in a great place. I’ve been up to Orkney on holiday 5 times now, and like it very much. This was the first time we stayed in Stromness; we rented a terrace house just round the corner from the pottery shop on the main street. The port is full of life, just right for drawing.

    How do you like it up there? What do you do there – you must have changed jobs? You’ll be aware that after a few years of empty close-down the Odeon has been bought by the Council to be brought back to life as a cinema, library, music centre.

    I’ll have a think about trying places with my drawings next time we come – Mark

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    1. That will be Bunty’s place perhaps? She’s a neighbour.
      I’ve been following news of the plans for the centre. Looks interesting.
      I moved to Edinburgh in ’92 to be Chief at the Cameo. For nearly 20 years I’ve been a film editor and educator. Been filmmaking too since I moved here in 2007. Call in next time you’re here, ask in the bookshop for me.

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  3. I certainly will….what name would I ask for?
    Film work must be interesting and complex……with the drawing I do now it’s a lone occupation with a pad and a few pens. Originally years ago I trained as an archaeologist, hence the continuing interest in the landscape of Orkney.

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