My memory of Orkney is of unremittingly grey weather – which is almost unfair because every time the sun came out so did my camera with the result that a surprising number of pictures suggest that the weather was okay. It wasn’t. True it didn’t really rain but I did need a jumper, a coat (yes the one full of holes that made me look like a down and out), a scarf, and gloves. The Scottish one had a hat, it was a balaclava, I expect we made quite an impression on the local population. Leicestershire feels as hot as hell after all that.
Happily the B&B we stayed at (Holland house) was amazing – warm, welcoming, open fires (very much appreciated) scones for breakfast – a little bit of heaven, and grim weather sometimes has it’s upsides. When we went to look at Skara Brae (oldest Neolithic village in Europe is what the website says) it was initially sunny and infested with bus tourists. Skara Brae is quite small so three bus loads of assorted Europeans wondering why they didn’t go to Greece to look at remains which are still really quite old and in the sun makes quite an impact on the overall ambience. It also meant the cafe was full.
|I didn't take my own picture so this one is shamelessly pinched from the Skaill house web page|
With an instinct for approaching rain born and honed in the Shetland Islands (which were apparently ‘enjoying’ weather even less summery) it soon became apparent that a romantic walk on the beach should be postponed in favour of a ash for the interpretation shed/the cafe/or nearby Skaill House (same ticket but unjustly gets second billing). We headed for Skaill getting in well ahead of 17 disgruntled French teenagers which was probably a blessing, and just ahead of the rain.
Skaill has a long and no doubt fascinating history (the Scottish one appropriated the guide books and has them still so I’m hazy about the details), it’s a surprisingly big house made up of comfortingly small rooms. They have Captain Cook’s dinner service and a couple of nice Stanley Cursiter’s on the walls but the best bit was the library. I can’t count the number of times I’ve stared at the book shelves in houses like this, mostly laughing at books about country pursuits with unlikely but precise titles. Skaill was different; Skaill had my kind of books. They had E. H. Young’s and Elizabeth Von Arnim, Vicki Baum’s ‘Grand Hotel’ which I read last year and would love a copy of, Dorothy L. Sayers, Dorothy Whipple, Sheila Kaye-Smith, and Sapper. Books I’ve read and books I own (sadly not quite the same thing).
These are the books that every house would most likely have had – good middle brow fare, but which don’t generally make it on the library shelves. I didn’t notice the great long runs of Shakespeare and the like that never tell you anything about the people who lived there and far preferred these tatty runs of clearly well read volumes. There was a comfortable chair, a well placed window, and a book called ‘The Law Breaker’ by someone calling themselves Ridgwell Cullum – what could have been better than staying for the rest of the afternoon – if only I’d been allowed to touch!