By Tina Lee Taylor
There are many unanswered questions in a lifetime. Perhaps that’s where the journey begins; in one’s mind, with the hopes that upon arrival, life will become clearer. When we explore unfamiliar places with unique smells and previously uncharted paths, we transform. Sometimes this transformation changes one’s course for a lifetime, and sometimes its just one sweet breath of a cool breeze perfumed by wildflowers on a mountain top that gives us a moment of bliss. One moment of peace in the Universe that we couldn’t achieve with the constant buzz of humanity surrounding us.
For me, remote places have calmed my soul and stirred my imagination. I find love and God in nature. It is when I am in isolation and hear crashing waves and leaves rustling in trees, that I can think. My mind wanders down paths carved into windswept hillsides. A lonely path winding along a rugged cliff is an invitation to exploration.
This past spring, after a long flight from Denver to London, followed by a train ride to the northernmost tip of Scotland, I boarded the ferry in Thurso. With the enthusiasm of a child, I traveled across the North Sea to The Orkney Islands.
A sense of calm descended on those of us who were adventurous enough to make this remote journey. We watched in awe as we slid out of the small port, and the horizon opened to us. This last leg of my journey had taken me far from what I associated with as my life. The sea was darker than I had imagined, and I could feel the frigid spray of the water. The cold seeped inside my chest as I breathed in and exhaled, letting life as I knew it shed away.The first sighting of a new landmass was to my right. Dark, tall, rugged cliffs chiseled by water and time towered above my sightline. Rising like an obelisk from the sea was the Old Man of Hoy – it looked like a favorite toy I had as a child. Like someone had dripped sand from the sky over and over, creating a solid tower carved by the ocean. It stood in wonder as a centurion, both watching and welcoming travelers to this natural sanctuary.
In the distance, as we continued north to Orkney, there was a strangely arranged rock formation that rose tall directly out of the sea known as Yesnaby Stack. It served as the entry point to Stromness, an important fishing port and charming village in Orkney.
I had not made hotel arrangements, thinking that such a remote location in early May would have plenty of vacancies. Be forewarned: the Orkney Islands have limited accommodations, and it would be better to have made reservations before I arrived. I did find a sweet room in a small inn, for about 85 pounds per night (Around $110USD).
The largest centrally located hotel on Orkney is The Stromness Hotel, built in 1901. It offers reasonably priced accommodations, a bar, and a restaurant. Flanking the entrance to the lobby were two easels with small posters luring tourists with their mysterious images. The advertisement that spoke to me promised to be an eventful evening filled with readings of authentic Orkney folk tales performed by Celtic storytellers. I purchased my ticket and arranged for a taxi later that afternoon.
I had forgotten to eat, but a pub down the street drew me in for a hot meal. Inside it was dark with few patrons eating and socializing. They appeared to be locals and identified me immediately as an outsider. I took a seat, ordered fish and chips and a local ale. Before either food or drink arrived, a gentleman with white hair and a ruddy complexion spoke to me from across the dining room.
“May I talk to you?” He asked.
He sat across from me wearing a crew neck navy blue Shetland wool sweater. His bright blue eyes danced as he spoke. “What are you doing in Orkney?”
“I am in search of the rewards to be granted to me by stepping off the edge of the earth and traveling to Orkney.”
He approved of my response, and we shared a beer as he opened to me. His name was Jon Gower Davies. He was a University professor and had written a controversial book. It was a fortuitous first conversation, and I enjoyed every word spoken. Jon also let me in on the best-kept secret in Orkney: the thick sweet cream that you could only get there. I did make it a point to search for it in the village and indulged each morning with my coffee.
The taxi picked me up an hour before the storytelling session I was going to attend that evening. The driver decided he would be my tour guide upon learning that I was enthralled with the pristine beauty of the island. He insisted I could not pay him, turned off the meter, and began to drive me through what was some of the most untouched coastline I have had the pleasure of experiencing.
He showed me where I could access the walking path, which in the morning would take me past Skara Brae, the ruins created by an ancient civilization.
I watched as we passed lambs playing in the countryside and noted that they always pranced together two by two near their mothers. Watching this, I was torn between my humanitarian and culinary interests. I learned the lamb of Orkney is fed seaweed and is known as some of the tastiest in the world.
After driving through the countryside five miles north of Stromness, we passed the Neolithic Standing Stones of Stenness. It is perhaps the oldest henge site in the British Isles.
We arrived at Via House, the home of Storyteller Lynn Barbour, as darkness descended. Lynn has researched the folklore and legends of The Orkney Islands and does dramatizations in her Storytelling Center decorated with antiquities of the sea. Her knowledge of the myths, folklore, and traditions of the Orkney Islands come to life in the sing-song oracles she performs by the light of a roaring fire.
I departed that evening with my head spinning with images of giant sea snails, sea monsters, and mermaids.
The next morning, I began my walk along the desolate cliffs above the North Sea while the bright sun sparkled across crests of waves. Some paths wind along the cliffs for miles with no obstructions. No houses, no businesses, no roads, no sounds or sights other than the dark aventurine sea below, and the sound of the waves crashing on the cliffs. I walked for hours and passed one other traveler along my path.
At last, I found the very spot in the Universe I had been looking for; the spot which would serve as the genesis of the book I was writing. It was a spot on a cliff adorned with a cairn near Skara Brae. Skara Brae is an ancient Prehistoric village on the Bay of Skaill, which dates back to the Neolithic period 3200 BC.
This part of my journey was now complete. I had found the spot which would serve as the setting for the prologue of my book and learned about the special folklore of The Orkney Islands. All I had to do next to be thoroughly immersed in the Orkney culture was turn into a “Silkie,” a mermaid, and swim out into the sea.
About the Author:
Tina Lee Taylor is a gemologist and author who owned high-end jewelry stores in Sarasota, Florida and currently resides in Aspen and Nova Scotia. Her travels in business have taken her from Los Angeles to New York, Nashville, Sarasota, Aspen, Geneva, and Basil Switzerland, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, France, The Orkney Islands, Cornwall, and Cajun Louisiana. It is the combination of wanderlust and a sense of arrival that attracted Tina to become a contributing writer for Wander No More.
Tina Lee Taylor/ RogueJewelsForTheRareBreed.Com