About four years ago, I spent a day on Orkney. I would love to go back but it is logistically tricky, sadly, so it might need to wait a while. I have never been to a place so steeped in its past nor so easy to imagine it playing out.
Skara Brae, the Neolithic village, was mobbed when we got there but after a few minutes I had the place virtually to myself. I find it’s a good plan just to hang around in busy places; sooner or later folk just piss off to the gift shop or whatever. Try it in an exhibition sometime. It works a treat. Skara Brae is fascinating, much smaller than you think, but endlessly engrossing. 5000 years and our race hasn’t evolved too much.
Later we went to the Ring of Brodgar, a stone circle. I don’t have a scooby what they mean or why they’re there. But there is a presence there, an atmosphere, and I couldn’t help trying to connect with the stones in some small way. Not like Billy Connolly, who danced around them in the scud in his World Tour of Scotland – that would cause nightmares on sight of my skinny frame – but I ended up hugging one of the stones. Not quite sure why, it just felt like the right thing to do.
I like islands. I don’t know many of Scotland’s, only Bute, Arran, Mull, Iona, Staffa, Orkney and the Isle of May, but there is something attractive about being at a distant remove from the world for a while. A lot of our nation’s important events happened around its outer edges, indeed some of the earliest traces of our species have been found in Orkney. I don’t know what made me think of Orkney there. It left a mark on me, despite having only spent six hours there one cool summer’s day a few years back. This might need to be the year I go again, maybe for a bit longer this time, to see what I missed the last time and just to soak in what the place has to offer, after I wait for the hordes to disperse.