Water, water everywhere, Nor any drop to drink, i remember those two lines from my schooldays. It’s from the “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail if water…..if Jack was the only one who fell it would be ok but Jill came tumbling after.
So here’s my greatest fear…..it’s the fear of falling. I constantly visualise myself falling, falling down the stairs, falling in the street, falling off a ladder, down the steps of a stadium, wherever there’s a potential hazard to fall I see myself doing a face plant or sinking into the depths of some mysterious abyss. My other great fear is drowning, so combine falling into water and not being able to get out equals drowning.
Oh dear, when I started to tell you about my fear a couple of days ago there was a point to the confession but I’ve lost the thread or maybe not? Stay with me on this………
We’re in Kirkwall, Orkney ……..
Stevie was standing on the corner of Bridge & Shore Streets as we were making our way to our hotel. I’m not sure who said the first hello but it didn’t matter. An engaging Irishman standing on the street corner “rolling his own” cigarette who was able to casually give us a detailed itinerary of places to visit, including clustering the activities to maximise our days. At the end of our conversation Stevie recommended we go to The Reel, there’s a folk music festival in town which finishes Saturday and tonight the Orkney Accordion & Fiddle Club are playing.
The Reel is cosy some would say cramped, approximately twenty musician are playing and twenty enjoying listening to them. It’s actually practice night so musos have come and gone as they need to, it’s a 3 hour session and as well as accordians and fiddles, there’s a pianist, a guy who doubles up playing a tin whistle, a guitarist and drummer who also plays the spoons or something that sounds close to that. My brother and I had mandatory accordion lessons when we were children I have to tell you it was totally wasted on me and my brother can probably play the same three tunes if he works at it.
We are on our third day and I apologise if I tell you stories out of order. There is just so much to see and do on this bucolic isle. We could get in a rented car and drive and see it all in a day but what is the point of that, how could we really appreciate everything around us. The people, kind and generous, who are happy with their lot in life, who don’t seem fussed about travel so much, young people who are studying and have no plans to go to the big cities and enter into the fast life, the Viking history, the war history, the working life and culture. No, there’s no point in rushing.
We met two Geordies (from Newcastle, England that is) on day one who told us about mega rider bus tickets, we’ve taken their suggestion on board (if you’ll pardon the pun), the buses will take us all over Orkney, cheaper than car hire and we can appreciate uninterrupted views of the rolling hills and pastures.
Some of you would know we chose Orkney for more than just the beauty of the island, this is also the land of Peter’s ancestors. His great grandmother (GGM) was Margaret Shearer whose parents emigrated in 1852 sailing to Australia on the Omega with their four children. Peter’s GGM was born in Australia in 1856. His distant cousin Richard and his wife Audrey Shearer (neé Shearer, I know ?) live here in Kirkwall, Orkney, are the most delightful people, it was such a pleasure to meet them (see photo on Facebook). Richard is, he told us, descended from the Vikings, he’s Norse, so Peter must also be part Norse. Richard and Audrey run a general store that is so much more than just a humble general store, he is the fourth generation owner and he will eventually proudly hand it to his sons the fifth generation. The whole family is working in the business all valuably contributing to and growing this well established business.
Richard is a magnet for members of the Shearer members visiting from Australia and contributes to the information we have all individually gathered adding more flesh to bones of the history of the family. He directed us well to the family and historical society where we spent a significant amount of time with the family historians generously giving us time yesterday and who also told us that Richard was a presenter at a recent meeting of the society.
Richard has not lost his Norse (called Norm) accent. Intertwined in a generational Scottish accent one can clearly hear the Norm accent, it’s rich, it’s melodic and now we know it’s authentically Richard. He has offered to drive us today to the area of Holm (not sure how but it’s pronounced Ham) where Peter, Richard and Audrey’s ancestors lived from the 1700s but actually further back to the time of the landing of the Vikings. There are still gravestone markers there and it is those markers that we will see today there is something about standing on the very same soil and place where their ancestors lived, worked, starved and died. Yes some did starve for lack of food, the families had great numbers of children and it was that difficult living that caused sons down the line to up and seek out a better life where they could feed and raise their families without the fear of starvation.
As Richard drove us all over areas we could never have reached by bus, he spoke of subsistence living, the movement of families every six months. The whole concept is foreign to move a family every six months, Richard explained people worked for 6 months receiving basic supplies i.e. eggs and milk and oats and a place to sleep, the workers were paid at the end of six months and then they up and left to find something to better their existence.
It’s been a superb day, my head is spinning for all I have seen and heard and thankfully I’ve recorded much of what Richard has shared so that I can transcribe it for future generations of our children who will one day ask the question “where did we come from”? I’m pleased that Peter has been moved and perhaps overwhelmed by what he has learned and feels at home here amongst distant family. Been blessed? An understatement!
Now back to water, falling and facing fears. We visited Skara Brae yesterday, we had a packed agenda; Skara Brae, Ring of Brodgar, Stones of Stenness then catch a bus back to Kirkwall to meet with the family historian I told you about earlier, then jump on another bus and head to Deerness, the area where Peter’s GGGM was born.
I just want to tell you first that a bus will drop you off wherever you want along a bus route and anyone can hail a bus anywhere along the route and the bus will stop to pick up passengers. Peter watched for the arrival of the bus at Skara Brae and we bolted for it as soon as it came into view, we told the driver when he dropped us off we would be back to go to our next place, it was working like clockwork.
Skara Brae a neolithic village is something mentally too large to comprehend estimated to be 5000 year old. The standing stones of the Ring of Brodgar was phenomenal, people can only speculate what and why they exist and many have interesting views. We took advantage of the photo opportunities before moving on to the Stones of Stenness, we were on a mission………
You’ll never believe that Peter, although he couldn’t see the channel of water and the flooded area, was walking me across another waterlogged field in an effort to reach a gate to the roadway. It was a shortcut that didn’t pay off as his foot sunk into the sodden soil, we made a hasty turnabout to higher ground. What followed though could not be predicted. Back onto the roadway we headed toward the next stone circle.
He went down like a ton of bricks…..one moment he’s pacing it out in front on me on the narrow roadway, the next he’s in agony on the ground. I could see his foot in the culvert, one of many spaced out at regular intervals along the edge of the roadway which draws the water off the road. Oh dear!
He’s been hobbling, poor love, a sprained ankle, he is wearing a compression sock but it’s bruised and very painful. He’s good at making jokes at his own expense and it has not damped his enthusiasm. He’s a real trooper! If it was going to be anyone it was going to be me but unfortunately for him it was Peter. I doubt it will slow him down too much
Tomorrow we fly to Aberdeen, so we’ll see you next In Aberdeenshire.
PS: Have you heard there’s another “mad cow” case it’s putting everyone on high alert. ?