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The Orkney Islands are a beautiful and romantic place – if somewhat windy. For the artist, there are pictures wherever you turn. So I was very busy, sketching as much as I could in the few days that we were staying. We had also come for the music festival. So our stay also involved a few late nights.
We drove up to Aberdeen and caught the ferry, but you can also fly here too.

Featured sketch above:

Ring of Brodgar

Watercolour ~ A4
The Ring of Brodgar and for all its beauty and atmosphere, we had it to ourselves. I really enjoyed sitting there quietly sketching with my watercolours, trying to capture the stones.

Materials Used

On this trip, I am using a Daler Rowney, Langton 5 x 7”, ‘Not’ watercolour pad and an Arboreta sketchbook with coloured pastel paper 140g/m. (Which I bought by mistake, thinking it was cartridge paper. Note to self, ‘more haste, less speed!’ However, I quite like the different feel that the coloured paper gives to the drawing.)
I also have my usual 6B pencil, willow charcoal and waterproof fineliner pen. Plus my Winsor & Newton, watercolour field paint box, a large Pro Art no.20 and two smaller round brushes – sable no.6 & a no.1

Pencil sketch of Stromness
Pencil sketch ~ A4
Looking back at Stromness. The Double Houses and Ness Point, where we are camping.

Camping at Stromness

After a choppy crossing from Aberdeen, we arrived on Orkney.
Pitched the tent on the exposed Point of Ness campsite and made some soup. We had planned to get some fish & chips for the first night, but there appeared to be no chip shop. We were wrong about this, but it was closed anyway!
This morning we have been exploring Stromness. Which has a fascinating, rather wigley main road. It is a lovely sunny day but we are nearly knocked off our feet by the gale-force wind blowing!
Fulmars are out riding the wind and Oystercatchers have been peep peeping at us as we walk along the shore.

Hills of Hoy

Watercolour sketch of the Hills Of Hoy
Watercolour ~ A4
The hills of Hoy. With Ward Hill in the middle distance, sketched from Hobbister Hill, close to Stromness.

Orphir Round Kirk

Pencil sketch of Orphir Round Kirk
A5 (‘ish) pencil sketch of Orphir Round Kirk is on coloured paper. I didn’t realise that this pad had coloured paper when I brought it. I did think that the cover was different, but I wasn’t paying enough attention!

After paying our camping dues at the bakery, we headed over to the metropolis of Kirkwall. Stopping on the way at Orphir Bay to have a look at the Earl’s Bu, Round Kirk and Orkneyinga Saga Visitor Centre. Which was excellent and very interesting ~ but I am rather biased about these sort of things and this was right up my street!

Pencil sketch of a Pictish Eagle, carved on a stone.
And a quick, pencil sketch of a Pictish Eagle that was carved in stone at Orphir Round Kirk.


Unfortunately, we did not find Kirkwall campsite to be as pleasant as Stromness. The campsite felt like pitching your tent in the middle of an industrial estate, so we are only staying the one night.

The Museum was, however, very good and free, as was the Cathedral.

Watercolour sketch of the Moosie Tower in Kirkwall.
Watercolour ~ A5
Sketch of Moosie Tower, in the Bishop’s Palace.
Had a look around Kirkwall’s ‘Bishop’s and Earl’s Palaces’. Which are well worth the £1.80 entrance fee! It took us longer than we thought it would, as it was all quite involved.

Scapa Flow

Watercolour sketch looking out across Scapa Flow

We then headed to South Ronaldsay via the road on the Scapa Flow barriers!
A4 Watercolour sketch of rain blowing across Scapa Flow, with the Hills of Hoy, Cava and Orphir in the distance. Viewed from the little island of Hunda.

Whilst on the way we stopped to look at a hostel we were thinking of staying at. It didn’t look too inspiring from the outside, we opened the door. No one was about so we had a look around this damp, cheerless place. All the beds were damp too! Suffice to say we didn’t stay there. However, it had a fantastic setting on the sea’s edge. It could have been a great place to stay.
We later headed back to pitch our tent again at Stromness!

The Tomb of the Eagles

Charcoal sketch in the Tomb of the Eagles.
A4 Charcoal sketch inside the tomb. There are glass skylights so I was still able to see and sketch inside.

The Tomb of the Eagles is so-called because the tomb contained the bones & feathers of 14 Sea Eagles along with its entombed human remains.
We really enjoyed this, being shown around​ by Ronnie Simison who discovered the tomb and a bronze age house nearby. You can crawl into the tomb and explore it, which is very atmospheric. Then we were shown, by Ronnie’s granddaughter some of the artefacts found in the tomb. Which we could pick up & touch, including a human skull! Yesterday we had been looking at such things in a sealed case in Kirkwall Museum – definitely,​ no picking up and touching allowed there!

Skara Brae

This morning we quickly bought supplies and headed out to the Neolithic, Skara Brae. Which was fab!
You might have noticed that I like these historic sites! Again much more complex than we had expected. You could get a real feel for how the people would have lived there. Looking down into their houses, with sleeping areas and ‘dressers’ for keeping their possessions​ on.
Then up to Marwick Head, where we were hoping to see some Puffins. The cliffs here are absolutely teeming with sea birds. As you poke your head over the edge your nose is assailed by the smell of bird guano! However whilst we were sat on the cliff edge a Puffin tried to land on us, before flying off around the bay. We were both very pleased with that spot! Further round the headland we could see more Puffins sat on the rocks, along with Razorbills, Kittiwakes and Fulmars.

Orkney Brock’s

Charcoal sketch of the Brock of Gurness
A4 Charcoal sketch on coloured paper.

Busy sketching Brock’s today ~ which fascinate me. They must have been such dominant dwelling in the Iron Age landscape. Being 6 – 13m in height. With a double-wall skin linked with slabs of stone and round internal living space.
We first went first to the Brock of Gurness which has smaller dwellings clustered around its base and defensive embankments around everything.

Pencil sketch of Midhowe Brock
Pencil ~ A4

We then caught the ferry from Tingwall to Rousay as foot passengers. There to look at Midhowe Broch which has internal walls made of slabs of stone. Both Broch’s make me speculate how they would have been lived in, whilst I sit here sketching them.

Pencil sketch of the Knee & Westray Firth
Pencil sketch ~ A4

Whilst on Rousay we headed to the north of the island. Looking across ‘The Knee’ headland and out beyond a shimmering sea to Westray Firth.

Final Sketches

Watercolour sketch looking out across to St Margaret's Hope
Watercolour ~ A4
A rainy day today. This watercolour sketch has us looking out at St Margaret’s Hope. Through a rain-splattered car windscreen.
Watercolour sketch of a Sromness Ginnel
Watercolour ~ A4
The last of my Orkney sketches before we catch the ferry and head home again. This sketch is in Stromness looking down one of the narrow ‘ginnals’, that run-down to the edge of the shore​. I’m sure Orkadians would have a different word for it!

My conclusion

Orkney has been, for us, a really fascinating​ place. With so much history waiting to be tripped over!

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