Sketching on the edge

There’s a whole new generation of backpackers doing the rounds of hostels in wild places. I’m currently in Stromness, Orkney, with friend Anne, and we shared a room last night with an elderly energetic Australian artist/poet on walkabout and a retired American backpacker who joined us today for a long walk up a big cliff on the island of Hoy. Anne and I came back to Stromness on the ferry at the end of the day and left our American friend Carolyn pitching a very small tent in a corner of a field by the beach. It seems that the mature generation is seizing the day, banking the pension and heading off to see the world, grabbing the opportunities denied by the earlier years of jobs, family and mortgage paying.

hoy sketch


We caught a ferry to Hoy, then found a helpful minibus to take us across the island to Rackwick. An hour and a half of walking later brought us to the cliffs of the Old Man of Hoy. There was a strong wind blowing – the sort that makes it unsafe to walk to the edge of the cliffs; you crawl as close as you dare on hands and knees. Sketching in wild conditions is challenging to say the least, but it had to be tried. I crouched in a slight dip with my back to the wind and had a go. The resulting scribble reflects the weather!

It’s satisfying to sketch on the spot, however briefly. It makes you stop and spend time, connect with your surroundings, a kind of visual diary. It’s good to get away from home to new places – there’s something about new surroundings that sharpens the senses and makes you want to sketch, to record everything around you. At home, the familiar closes in again and it takes more effort to look afresh.


There are more ways to be artful than with paper and pencil – this is the inside of the bothy at Rathwick on Hoy – a free place to spend the night if you can face the rather basic amenities! But there’s beauty in the middle of the dark and dingy surroundings….


bothay sketch


Here’s the bothy from the outside – turf roof weighted down with stones. The beach lies at the western edge of Hoy, overlooking the Pentland Firth. Wild and windy!


italian chapel2

Talking of art in the wilderness, yesterday we caught a bus to the Italian chapel built by POWs stuck on Lambholm building the Churchill barriers on Scapa Flow in the second World War. The inside of this Nissan hut is astonishing, a lasting testimony to our need for beauty.

italian chapel

At least there was no wind to contend with sketching inside the chapel!

It’s my last day on Orkney tomorrow, and I could do with a few more weeks. I’ll put it on the list of ‘places to come back to’, which is now just as long as the list of ‘places I’ve never been but want to’! Life’s just way too short….. currently sitting in the hostel kitchen drinking wine and chatting to two new arrivals, lovely Irish electricians here on business. Hoping for more sketching opportunities before it’s time to sit for hours on ferries and trains again!


1 thought on “Sketching on the edge”

  1. Karen Wharton says:

    Claudia, I enjoyed reading this blog. Orkney sounds lovely, thank god there are still wild places to get lost in. You are a marvel, I have never known anyone get around as much as you!!

    Thanks, Karen Wharton

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