Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Feeling very much at home

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!


  1. Love those books. The books at Chartwell are somewhat like that, though now I'm not sure if they actually belonged to the house because I read a horrible article about the National Trust and how they stock houses' libraries from a central warehouse of period appropriate choices. How awful is that! You should have nicked that spare copy of Young Anne, I would have done. It's just sitting there, begging to be taken home!

  2. it was tempting but the french teenagers stopped me from doing anything I might get arrested for - to many witnesses

  3. Wonderfully clear photos, Hayley, so I enjoyed reading the titles. So many I would like to read! And, like Rachel, I spotted the two copies of Young Anne - how very doveish, to have multiple copies of favourite books!

  4. Ahh, to be able to snap those translucent threads and get your hands on the imprisioned volumes. When I went to Sissinghurst I was so frustrated because so many of the bookshelves were too far beyond the velvet rope to see titles.

  5. Still can't condone dual copies Simon, Such a waste of space ;)

    Thomas, I had the same frustration at Sissinghurst, you really want to see the books there and it's such a shame you can't. Happily Skaill wasn't so very smart so it was possible to have a good poke about

  6. Chartwell, Sissinghurst - oh yes I remember those places well from my days in Kent. I too love the library at Skaill, I just want to curl my legs under me in one of those library chairs and just dip into the books...!

  7. I keep looking at your posts Sian, and wishing that the weather had been better when I was in Orkney. Such a shame not to see some of that wonderful scenery in sunlight. Next time...