OK, I exaggerate. Sort of.
See, I tend to travel alone. Not because I don't like company, but because I rarely plan trips far enough in advance for someone else to arrange his/her schedule and come with me.
Traveling solo has its rewards. No one ever complains about tromping around yet another moldy, crumbly castle. But it's also easy to be fairy-taken in place like Ring of Brodgar because no one is there to ask if you're done and ready to visit the nearest Starbucks.
Yes, I think I was fairy-taken in Orkney. I went there on a lark. While exploring Ravenglas, I met a couple who said to skip Stonehenge and visit the standing Stone on the Orkney Isles instead. No lines. No car park. No crowd of new-age Druids.
So I went.
Getting there was a journey in itself. I went by train to Aberdeen, then onto Inverness. From there, I boarded a train to Thurso, then a bus to the ferry, then the ferry to Stamness, and another bus to Kirkwell.
Orkney was cool and weird and very, very different.
The light falls soft and strange that far north and lingers long into the night.The land is treeless, very green, mostly flat but dotted with mounds. It feels as old as it is, and after a night of storytelling around a peat fire you're thoughts are as wild as the island's history.
First, I went to Maes Howe, a 5,000-year-old 'burial' tomb on the slight rise above the Stones of Stenness. From the tomb's entrance you can see two stone circles, numerous lone standing stones, the island of Hoy and the dips in the horizon where the sun rises and sets on the solstices.
The Stones of Stenness are four standing stones, the remnants of a much larger stone circle, that sits on the south end of a causeway between the Loch of Stenness and the Loch of Harray, sea and fresh water respectively.
Crossing the causeway, I trekked over the small isthmus (ducking midges the size of butterflies), passed a lone guardian stone, and then entered the ring. The ring itself was calming, an ancient place that lingers long in the imagination.
I spent three days on the island, absorbing the essence of the landscape and gathering stories. But the long days (I was there a few weeks before the summer solstice), super short nights and surreal, vaguely otherworldly atmosphere kept me awake the entire time.
After a few days, I fled for Aberdeen and a good night's sleep.
I may or may not go back--and I do I will definitely take a friend to keep the imagination in control--but the trip will stay with me for the rest of my life. It changed the tone of my book ANAM CARA, solidified the soul of its hero and carved a place in a memory. If you ever get a chance, take a trip without making plans. Go somewhere unusual, walk the countryside alone and let your imagination go away with the fairies.