In his article Notes on Weather Words in the Orkney Dialect, while historian Hugh Marwick laments Orkney’s tempestuous and ‘vile’ weather he also celebrates the superb collection of words that have developed as a result of needing to describe such a ‘superabundance of wind and rain’.
From ‘kuil’ meaning a light breeze to ‘skolder’ denoting a sudden breeze (but one lasting longer than a mere gust, obviously!) to ‘skreevar’ describing a very strong gale - and every definition in between – these ‘weather words’ are both gloriously descriptive and often traceable back to the ancient Orcadian language of Norn. But weather thesaurus aside, the biggest impact of all the skolder and skreevar is the general absence of trees across most of Orkney. However, to say that these islands are completely devoid of trees would be untrue… you just need to know where to look. Enter local photographer Kendra Towns, a Canadian by birth who sorely misses the tall trees of her native country, on a mission to head off the beaten track to search out the woods and the trees with her camera.
Kendra’s journey starts in Binscarth Wood, in the valley below Binscarth House towards the west end of Finstown. Binscarth is owned by Major Malcolm Macrae, the 12th Laird of Breckness, whose article A Walk through Binscarth Woods provides great insight into the planting of the estate. And according to walkhighlands.co.uk (who describe seven legs of the walk through Binscarth) you’ll find ‘over seven acres of broadleaved species including sycamore, ash, beech, hawthorn and ash’; they also note that Binscarth is home to Orkney’s largest rookery. On a practical note, Kendra advises: “Make sure you bring your wellies when you visit Binscarth - it can get really muddy – but what a great place to explore, especially with dogs and/or children!” She also recommends parking across from Baikie’s Shop in Finstown and walking up the road a little before crossing the field (watch out for the cows!) to the lower gate the opens into the woods.
Next stop on Kendra’s walk in the woods is the cheerfully named Happy Valley, described as a ‘much-loved, magical woodland garden’ and located in the parish of Stenness. The garden was created by Edwin Harrold, who began planting it in 1948 and took great pleasure in sharing the beautiful surroundings he created with neighbours near and far. Happy Valley was gifted to Orkney Islands Council following Edwin’s death and is cared for by a local group, keen to maintain both his planting vision and his desire to welcome visitors. Incidentally, Harrold lived in a cottage here called Bankburn – without connection to mains supplies, he built a dam for his water and a mini hydroelectric system too! Want to find out more? There’s a lovely article on Happy Valley in orkneyology.com and, according to Kendra, “It’s a great place to stop if you’ve been visiting Ring of Brodgar and the perfect place to take photographs of bluebells, daffodils and snowdrops in the spring – or to crunch through leaves at this time of year.”
Kendra’s last stop is Olav’s Woods in South Ronaldsay. A mix of woodland and garden with a burn running through the middle, there’s a maze of pathways to explore – perfect for a game of hide and seek. Created by Olav Dennison in the 1970s and 80s, it’s now a haven for wildlife and a firm favourite for local and visiting children. Find out more at olavswood.org.uk.