Four intense days drawing, painting, camping, and dodging gales in Orkney. The most uncompromising and welcoming place I have ever been to.
Working with oils in the open for the first time - though with the rain they sometimes turned into a rich and strange emulsion. But all worked fine, just as Bill Brody said they would. That insight is now in the Lessons Learned archive, in the biggest file which is marked "just get on with it." Now in Edinburgh with Shug, precious time with my philosophical best friend.
The first proper days work on Orkney was at the Ness Battery, which is just S of Stromness. Part of the defences for the W approaches to Scapa Flow. It's almost exactly 70 years since the Royal Oak was torpedoed in Scapa flow, she went down with 833 crew. U - 47 was sunk in the Atlantic as well, with no survivors. My neighbour Len Sage worked as a deck gunner on the Murmansk convoys, these gathered in Orkney too, although Len went past rather then stopped here.
Orkney is too big and overpowering to tackle except with the corner of my eye, four days is a crazy amount of time to work in a landscape so hard and deep and demanding. Took me a couple of days to realise there are no trees, they were all taken away by the Atlantic gales. Didn't feel that ready to tackle hard landscape panoramas or work on canvas (would have got soaked anyway) but did a lot of cloud studies on the second proper day of work at Car Ness. This is NE of Kirkwall.
That was a magic day, entirely because I met this charming Orcadian man on an electric bike. I was all parked up and perplexed and trying to map read my way to the coast without going through a farmers front garden. He first appeared as a speck on the horizon on a very straight road, like in the westerns. After we greeted each other he offered to take me there. He cycles every day, to keep his knees moving through the arthritis, but today he timed his ride perfectly for me. We went together to Car Ness battery and had one of those conversations I shall remember for my entire life. He remembered the explosion at 00hrs16 on 14 October 1939 when the Royal Oak went down. He must have been a child, but still clearly recalls the morning when they looked out and saw all the activity and realised what had happened. He also remembers the Murmansk convoys gathering and setting out in those frail lines. As Susi said it's one of those times a when a sound recorder would have been so much better than a camera. I hope there is a reminiscence archive for the Orkney people, and I hope his story has been held safely.
I can't sign off without mentioning the first random magic event, (they only ever happen when you are travelling) which was stumbling across the totally fabulous Orkney Wireless Museum. They were helpful and welcoming and really well informed about the Scapa Flow sites, I couldn't have got so much done without their help.