Orkney Light

“The essence of Orkney’s magic is silence, loneliness and the deep marvelous rhythms of sea and land, darkness and light” – George Mackay Brown – 1921-1996

The Ring of Brodgar with incoming snow

Standing Stones of Stenness

.Across the Loch of Stenness

Across the Loch of Stenness

The Ring of Brodgar, one day later

Oil rigs on Scapa Flow

Skara Brae

The Orkney imagination is haunted by time – George Mackay Brown

Sehnsucht …

“Nowhere is the drama of dark and light played out more starkly than in the north”
George Mackay Brown

Days 5 and 6: There was a pattern to the days – while the light lasted, standing on the ice and snow encrusted upper deck, we watched the majestic waters and mountains of the Norwegian coast unfold like an IMAX movie; Slartibartfast’s finest work.

The sun never rose from behind the mountains but cowered beneath the visible horizon spreading a pink/blue glow which would begin to fade almost as soon as it arrived.

Approaching the next port, the streetlights would be on and the quays lit by an orange glow. Once off ship, a walk around the town would be in snow covered, near night such that all our memories have a dream-like quality.  I am left with nothing but a deep desire to return. It is the equivalent of my impractical but intense desire to live in the wilds of Scotland’s northwest; the Germans have a word for it – sehnsucht.

Approaching Honningsvag ...Approaching ...Approaching Honningsvag ...

Honningsvag ...

The harbour at Honningsvag ...

The images were taken in and around Honningsvåg. In the freezing temperatures the decks were quiet much of the time except at night when the northern lights put on a show. The swimming pool was always quiet – I was never tempted!

Aboard Finnmarken ... Approaching Honningsvag ...

Winter solstice …

Day 4:  On this, the shortest day, the heavy weather shifted to the west and the skies to the north became less threatening:

South of Ornes ...

In the morning, two hours behind schedule, Finnmarken sounded three long blasts on the ships horn as she eased into the Arctic Circle at 66°34′. A few miles on, she broke the silence again as a sister ship headed south into the light and we headed further north into the dark. In this part of the world, the winter solstice was actually timed at 12:03 am on 22nd December i.e. when the Sun was exactly overhead the Tropic of Capricorn.

Ships that pass ...

It was no coincidence that I was reading George Mackay Brown’s A Time to Keep – short stories set in the Orkneys, they describe a culture that had strong parallels with remote Norwegian fishing communities. The Orkney bars were populated with the crews of Norwegian whalers and the older stories speak of Viking raiders.

The tale of Check Harra, a man who could not resist gambling with the fifty two cards, contains this short passage which describes his time living among the Indians of North America:

He was lord of an area as big as Britain, a white wilderness with here and there a reindeer herd on the move and at night the splendour of the Merry Dancers, swathes of heavy yellow silk swirling and rustling in the Arctic sky.

That night the Merry Dancers were wearing green:

North Lights ...
Northern lights ...

The images were taken with a hand-held Fuji X100s pushed to ISO 25600 – better results could be achieved at lower ISO settings and a longer exposure on a tripod but, not from a moving ship – the stars streak (and don’t forget to remove the UV filter). There will be more to come.