Day Four of our trip to Mainland, Orkney Islands kicked off with a lazy breakfast and a drive along the coast. After a bit of drive and lots of seal-spotting, we arrived at the pretty town of Stromness.
Stromness isn’t the largest settlement of the islands, that title goes to Kirkwall. But if Stromness is smaller in size, it makes up for it in character, views and history. Not to mention a vibrant and active arts scene. And not just in the galleries and workshops.
Almost every corner in Stromness has been touched with a bit of creative magic. Gardens, gateways , window ledges…you name it and its been decorated, planted up and beautified. Residents have given imagination free rein, from outgrown boots planted with flowers to old fishing gear repurposed for a bit of landscaping.
Some have even thrown in some words of wisdom and messages of encouragement written on rocks. Never mind bad news and Brexit, encouraging rocks are the way to go.
The man made views are pretty, the natural views are next level. Stromness is known as ‘the town that was shaped by the sea’ and so its fitting that walking along the main street you are never far from a sea view. Sometimes just a glimpse of waves between the houses and sometimes a sweeping vista across the bay, but always in a hundred shades of blue and green. The colours of the water here make for something special. I’m sure my I phone shots don’t do them justice.
The winding streets of the town are undeniably attractive, but they don’t just look the part. This is a traditional fishing port with a solid pedigree. Stromness is a Conservation Area of Outstanding Architectural and Historical Merit, with over 70 buildings listed for historical and architectural interest. The Townscape Heritage Initiative has secured funding to make repairs to buildings, bring new life to vacant premises and restore the town’s character flagstone streets. The initiative also recognises that the character of a place is preserved through its people and so is also providing training in traditional skills.
Speaking of the links between a place and it’s people, one of the most charming things about Stromness is the way so many of the streets and public spaces are used to celebrate the people who shaped the towns history. The really wonderful thing being how many women are celebrated here. Had I not been wrangling with the pup who seemed intent on sniffing, barking and jumping at everyone and everything, I would have been punching the air in excitement. Women of note here include Mrs Christian Robertson who made her fortunes as a merchant and whaling agent and artist Sylvia Wishart who played a role in establishing Stromness as an artistic hub.
The town is littered in a lovely way with blue plaques and places named as a tribute to local people and their achievements. Having been a major port of call in times of war and peace, a centre for whaling, producer of poets and artists as well as merchants and explorers…well, there is plenty to celebrate. But all of that said, the plaque celebrating Mrs Humphrey’s House was the one that caught my attention.
Margaret Humphrey , wife of a teacher and mother to thirteen children, set up her home as a hospital for a group of whale men who were left scurvied and frost bitten after spending months trapped in the ice of the Davis Straits. Not only did she set up her home as a hospital, she was involved in nursing the men back to health. She sounds like she was a roll-up-the-sleeves-and-get-the-job-done sort , no matter how tough the job. She must have been a formidable woman.
So… that’s Stromness. A glimpse anyway. I suspect this is a town of many views and hidden depths. Fair to say, this place is a bit tricky to get to. You can’t just jump on a train or grab an Easyjet bargain. But worth the effort? Yes, definitely!
If you are thinking of making the effort or are just curious to know more, you can find the official website for all things Stromness here.