Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Some places just speak to me...

...and in the case of Orkney, it said "get the hell out of here."

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.


Jeffe Kennedy said...

Lovely post -- sign me up to go next time!

Just love that about the UK, how you can take buses or trains everywhere, even to the most remote spots.

Chelle Cordero said...

totally intriguing.

The best trips I've ever been on have been the ones without firm plans and often avoiding the usual tourist traps.

Lindsay Townsend said...

Haunting blog, Keena. I'm so pleased you visited Orkney and its standing stones - it's very high on my places to visit and now, thanks to you wonderful account, I feel I have done so.

Thank you!

LK Hunsaker said...

Keena, this was wonderful. We saw Stonehenge recently but the crowds detract from the atmosphere, unfortunately. Wandering alone for three days sounds incredibly romantic and just the thing for a writer.

Savanna Kougar said...

Wow, Keena, fascinating experience. Did you have any unusual dreams?

Keena Kincaid said...

Hi, everyone! Sorry it too me all day to get back here. That darn day job. It blows all my writing plans. If I go back, Jeff, I'll be sure to give you plenty of time to pack a bag and come along.

Chelle, one of my favorite things to do in the UK is go to the station and take the next train out regardless of where it's going.

If you get the chance to go Lindsay, go. It's worth the effort. And I thoroughly enjoyed wandering around for three days on my own, LK.

No unusual dreams while there, Savanna. I couldn't sleep. It was like I was plugged into a caffeine drip. I was nervous and twitchy by the time I left (the only calm spot on the island was Brodgar), that I didn't think I'd ever go back. However, I have dreamt myself back on Orkney more times than I can count.

StephB said...

Keena, I loved your pictures! Thanks so much for sharing your journey. I can see how it would inspire your novel.

Jane Richardson, writer said...

Those long, long days and short nights take some getting used to. Can't imagine how weird it must be even further north!
Looks like to had a fabulous trip, Keena.

Jane x