For the last two week’s I’ve been on holiday in one of my very favourite places in the world, Orkney. An archipelago of islands just off the Northern coast of Scotland, my girls called it what I have long know it to be: “Paradise!”
But being away from this blog (and all of the internet, and even phone connections) didn’t mean being away from books. Indeed, books were everywhere we turned.
On our way up to Orkney we stopped for a night in Inverness where we discovered a magical secondhand bookshop, Leakey’s.
Constrained by the need to choose something slim and light I chose an old Puffin edition of The Children of Green Know by Lucy M. Boston.
Unfortunately we didn’t have time to sample the delights of the cafe on the balcony in the bookshop but I know at some point in the future I will be returning here, even if it is an 8-10 hour train ride away.
And talking of long train rides, (from Inverness we had another 4.5 hour train ride up to Thurso, at the very “top” of Scotland, and the nearest town to the ferry port from where we departed for Orkney), what made them a delight for us all – apart from the stunning scenery – was an MP3 player loaded up with audio books.
One of the audiobooks loaded onto the MP3 player was a collection of Katie Morag stories (here’s my review of that particular audiobook). Although these are actually set in the Western Isles of Scotland (which have quite a different flavour to Orkney), they’re a must-have for anyone wanting a taste of Scottish Island Life!
One of the reasons we travelled “off the top of the map”, was so that I could read one particular book on location…
…in the neolithic village of Skara Brae. Part of Orkney’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, Skara Brae is a stone-built settlement, which was occupied from roughly 3180 BCE–2500 BCE. It is in an amazing state of preservation, complete with stone beds, cupboards, fireplaces and water storage, and is the setting for The Boy with the Bronze Axe by Kathleen Fidler.
The Boy with the Bronze Axe was just one of several carefully chosen books we read as a family whilst on holiday, and I’ll be returning later in the week with a review of it.
Just next to Skara Brae is Skaill House, a mansion built in 1620 for the local laird and his family. Stately homes don’t really do it for me, but I enjoyed this one for two particular bookish reasons.
I had read about Skaill House’s hidden door in the library bookshelves, and sure enough, it didn’t disappoint:
One of the books on the shelves summed up what I was already feeling about this holiday; I really was living the best story ever 🙂
(This book, by the way, is by an Orcadian author who wrote prolifically in the first half of the 20th century. It is a set of “entertaining adventures and confusions, including impersonations of a curate, a lord’s valet, a schoolmaster, and a long-lost nephew, the latter achieved by shaking off his asylum minder and dropping into a funeral carriage.” One reviewer said of it, ‘I read it in the bath and nearly drowned myself. It is so uproariously, side-splittingly funny’ [source])
Upstairs I came upon a scene which made me wish I had packed The Tiger Skin Rug by Gerald Rose in my bag.
Back in the largest town on the largest island, Kirkwall on “Mainland”, I came across this in the museum:
No more details were given with this object, but I’d be very happy indeed to become a new member of this association!
I was also very taken by this book in the museum (unfortunately I didn’t note down any details):
Kirkwall’s public library was utterly inspirational. Incredibly well stocked, a wonderfully enticing space to be in, it was the only thing that made me wish it had rained more whilst on holiday! (I’d have had the excuse to spend longer there ;-))
After a week spent on Mainland, we spent a week on one of Orkney’s other islands. Right by the ferry terminal I discovered another wonderful place to sit and read: Betty’s Reading Room.
A local couple turned a ruined farm building into an oasis, in memory of a friend who died unexpectedly. It’s packed literally to the rafters with books of all sorts for all ages and it works like a library-cum-book-crossing; you’re welcome to take any book you like with you with the encouragement you try to leave it somewhere when you’re finished with it so that it can be passed on to a new reader.
Do click here to see a short film from the BBC about Betty’s Reading Room – you’ll see how the reading room has no electricity or heating, so there are lanterns and a woodfire, all of which add to the very special atmosphere in Betty’s Reading Room.
We took a copy of Avalanche by Dutch author by An Rutgers van der Loeff, and at the end of our holiday we left 5 books we’d read during the fortnight but were now happy to pass on.
I was incredibly moved by this place – what a wonderful way to honour a much loved friend! I dropped some none-too-discrete hints to my husband that this is how I’d like to be remember after I’m gone.