Gallery of past work

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Brown and Orkney

We're home now but I'm still processing all my impressions of our fascinating trip to Northern Scotland and Orkney. Alongside this comes the current rainbow-and-beyond demand for images featuring brown. The two things seemed to go well together as so many of the colours on Orkney are muted and subdued and so often feature shades of brown, be it the pale, bleached brown of driftwood or fence posts, the purple-brown of heather and peat moorland or the myriad of browns in the rocks.

I offer a selection of my favourite (appropriately coloured) photos.

The first was taken on South Ronaldsay, looking towards the Scottish mainland. In my choice, I was attracted by the rust-coloured tinges to the vegetation and the soft grey-brown of the fence posts ... and, if I'm honest, by the fact that the sun was shining so gloriously and the fact that we were just about to enjoy the most wonderful fish lunch in the Skerries Bistro at Burwick. (What a lunch that was, and what a view!)

This next photo was in stark contrast with its sombre greeny browns and was taken on a grey evening looking across the moorland towards Hoy.

With so many views of the coastline, it was not difficult to find brown and tan seaweed washed up on a rocky beach ...

... or crab pots in a pile ...

... and a beautiful wooden hulled boat undergoing a refit, both in the harbour in Kirkwall.

Last of all comes a photo taken in a small rural museum, Kirbuster Farm, replete with almost every brown you can imagine.

This house is the last un-restored example of a traditional 'firehoose' still in existence in Northern Europe. It is a unique survival.There were hundreds if not thousands of similar houses all over Orkney and Northern Scotland and this house represents the type of housing that was still being experienced by those who were by no means the poorest members of society in the mid 19th century. The house has a central hearth with no chimney and a stone neuk bed. Smoke escapes through a large square hole in the roof. The family owned some simple wooden furniture and a selection of cooking pots but life was undeniably incredibly hard. 

Now as it is a museum, a peat fire is kept burning when the house is open to the public to heighten the realism and the main room was full of peat smoke when we visited. The smell lingered throughout the house. It was a cool grey day in summer and, despite the fire, the house was chilly. I can only begin to imagine what life would have been like in a house like that in the dark and raw cold of a northern winter. To think that this house was occupied (amazingly) until the 1960s when I was in my teens was horrifying and most thought-provoking for a cosseted English southerner who feels the cold and maybe has no idea what real hard work is like.


  1. This last photo has left me shaking my head and my mouth wide open...what about the rain, storms and the bitter cold? The furniture nice...I would imagine quilts would have been warming even in the summer! A strong people!

    1. So strong and resilient they must have been, It was a most evocative little museum, full of the difficulties of a hard life.

  2. Lovely photos of Scotland. I really like the ones (from an aesthetic point of view) of the crab pots and the boat hull. As for the last photo, as Mary Ann remarked, these must have been incredibly strong people!

    1. Thank you Sharmon. It was a wonderful trip and one we've been wanting to do for a long time.
      The whole port area was full of brightly coloured boats and interconnecting docks which were great to photograph. The crab pots and this particular boat really took my eye and I took many photos of both. I was fascinated by the angles and textures.

  3. Oh Margaret ... the picture & description of the house just sent chills through me ... I so much more appreciate and understand why my ancestors opted for new lands and more opportunity. And strong they had to be to start all over again, with their children in tow, into uncharted Huron County in the mid 1800's. WOW !

    1. Strong indeed - in both environments. I found this small farm house extraordinarily affecting. I could feel with great intensity the raw cold, the incessant damp and the shear hard graft of men and women throughout these islands. It is, guess, how I would have lived if I had been born in those times and in that place but day to day, We really have no idea how it was, I think. . There is so much I must be thankful for. It is an extraordinary, unforgettable place - and even more affectingly so for anyone with ancestral ties to the islands.


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