Over the last couple of years I have become fascinated with the history of Orkney. As background for a feature I was working on, I asked Twitter friends to suggest books which were firmly rooted in a real landscape. As well as the magnificent Alan Garner, whose fiction shaped my youth, friends suggested Graham Swift and George Mackay Brown. So I ordered Magnus, and then Greenvoe, and finally Vinland. These novels bring the islands to vivid, patient life, and I learnt not to read the blurb after the book jacket gave the end of Magnus away. I suppose the end would not have been a surprise if I knew anything about the Orkneyinga Saga, but this was my first foray into the complex history of the islands. I’m glad I had learnt this lesson before tackling Greenvoe as the ending of that story is truly shocking when you don’t know that it’s coming.
I wanted to visit for myself and walk in the footsteps of Ranald Sigmundson, the quiet hero of Vinland. I tour Scotland in September most years as part of the Round Britain Rally, a navigational challenge, and I’ve been to Shetland for the Simmer Dim rally, but it was still a big adventure, especially as the Lomax had wanted its engine rebuilt for the third time in three years before we set out. I am hoping that 2017 will be the year that I don’t have cylinder heads on my kitchen table.
The Wingman didn’t like the dog cage on the evening ferry from Aberdeen so if we go again, which I hope to do, we will go by road to John O’Groats and take either of the short crossings, to St Margaret’s Hope or to Stromness, and we will have longer than three days to spend there.
And the special memory? Rounding the corner to the end of the road on Sanday’s north coast to find a wide beach of spotless white sand, bordered by bright green grass and dotted with yellow flowers. Probably the most beautiful picnic spot in the world.
Prompt: A special memory from 2016