I started a new job last year, quite a step up from my last one, and I’ve finally got my head around it. It takes a while to work out where the pencils live, how the photocopier works, and how to fill in what may be the most complicated time sheet I’ve ever seen.
The job is going to involve quite a bit of travel – in no way is this as exciting as it sounds (think Boots Meal Deal on Scotrail rather than sushi on a BA flight) – although I did find myself on Orkney last week.
I’ve never been to a Scottish island before. Despite being fond of history and scenery they’ve never been on my to-visit list, so I didn’t have any particular assumptions before I went. From the taxi driver who told me his entire life story to the security lady at the tiny airport who joked that my makeup was being “randomly” drugs tested because I was the only woman on my twenty five seater flight, I was pleasantly surprised by how friendly and welcoming everyone was (although my colleagues did laugh and wish me luck when I mentioned being vegetarian while asking for dinner suggestions…)
Despite it being decidedly wet and cold and Februaryish, I found an hour to explore Kirkwall in between meetings while the sun shone. I’m so glad I did. It turns out Orkney’s history is pretty unusual and interesting (and completely new to me, as my degree was in modern history), and still present in the culture of the islands and the beautiful Orcadian accent.
Despite the main site being closed for the winter, I took a quick tour of the outside of the Bishop and Earl’s palaces. Built in the 12th century when Kirkwall was the leading settlement of the Norse northern islands, the Bishop’s palace was the home of the founder of the spectacular St Magnus Cathedral over the road. The Earl’s palace, on an adjoining bit of land, was built in the early 17th century after the then Earl of Orkney decided he wanted something fancier. He was apparently a strong contender for the least pleasant nobleman in Scottish history and a fan of slave labour – but he built a rather spectacular house…
Over the road from the palaces is the spectacular St Magnus Cathedral, which dates back to 12th Century and is the most Northerly cathedral in Britain. I do love a graveyard – I find the tombstone inscriptions fascinating – and St Magnus’ was a testament to the history of the island with stones dedicated to the memory of young sailors alongside those of more affluent men who left the island for Edinburgh.
Now that I’m back home and thawed out, I’m finding myself more interested in finding out about Orkney – and it’s neighbour Shetland. I hear there there’s an excellent series on the BBC at the moment (although I’m not sure it’s a documentary…)