I've just finished reading Falling and Laughing: The Restoration of Edwyn Collins by Grace Maxwell (his partner and manager). What an amazing book. I bought it a while ago and forgot about it until we were up north recently and visited Whaligoe Steps, near Wick. This is a set of 365 stone steps (one for every day of the year, although there are a few missing now) built into a steep cliff-face beside a natural harbour. They were built in the 19th century so that local fisherwomen could haul the creels of herring up from the harbour and take them on to market (another few miles walk) in Wick.
They're no longer used for that purpose, but they're a little piece of history and even though they're not signposted a steady stream of people comes to visit. When we were there we were greeted by Davie (or Davey?), the local man who helps to maintain the steps. He was a character, and a blether, and told us all about the famous people who have visited the steps over the years (including Billy Connolly and the Coast team, who both filmed there). He mentioned that Edwyn Collins is a regular visitor from his home in Helmsdale and had even written a song about them. So to cut a long story short (we were there for ages) he also mentioned that there was an exhibition of Edwyn's bird drawings at the Timespan arts centre in Helmsdale. We nipped in on the way back home from Orkney and it was lovely.
The book and exhibition both explain how important drawing was to Edwyn's recovery from two brain haemorrhages in 2005, and how important birds have been to him since from childhood. The exhibition has been updated to include some colour drawings, and shows how much his drawing has progressed as his recovery goes on. It's a heavy story at times but the determination of everyone involved is truly amazing. The book is a very funny, heartwarming read and I was sad when it ended. This is old news really but I'd avoided reading or watching too much about Edwyn Collins until now, as I thought it might be too harrowing (I'm not good with illness). Instead it was life-affirming and a real joy to read.
This little detail confirmed the feeling that Stromness, and Orkney in general, is worlds away from the rest of the country. None of your sappy "A Famous Artist Lived Here" stuff. Mrs Humphreys! Whales! Scurvy! Brilliant.
This is the airport on Papa Westray, one of Orkney's most northerly isles. The flight from Papa Westray (known locally as Papay) to its neighbouring island of Westray is recorded in the Guinness Book of Records as the world's shortest, clocking in at well under two minutes. I counted it as 1 min 38 seconds, and apparently it's under a minute on a good day.
As we haven't been on a plane in a long time, and Danny (now 4) has only ever flown once we thought we'd take the trip while we were in Orkney. Loganair run different inter-island routes, so the trip varies on different days. We went from Kirkwall (Orkney's largest town) to North Ronaldsay - Papa Westray - Westray - Kirkwall with a 4-hour stop on Papa Westray. Orkney from the air looked amazing.
There's very little on Papa Westray (in a good way) and we didn't have any means of transport. I was very glad I'd packed sandwiches as there was no shop for miles around. There's an RSPB bird sanctuary within walking distance though, so we set off for that and had a very pleasant few hours in amongst the amazing birdlife on Orkney. I went a bit mad with the birdwatching on Orkney. It was awesome.
There's a walking trail which takes you to a quiet beach teeming with seals, and a cliff walk with a memorial to one of the world's last great auks, killed here in 1813.
All in all it was an amazing day, none of it was anything we'd do normally and it was all a bit out of kilter, in a lovely way. You even get a certificate at the end of the to say you've been on the world's shortest flight and a miniature bottle of whisky. Result! More photos on Flickr.
The brooch is available from Belle and Sebastian's online shop which holds many other treasures such as new Panto t-shirts from great Glasgow illustrator Lesley Barnes (of the previously mentioned Colonel Windpipe's Musical Brigade). This goes above and beyond the usual standard of band merch, I reckon.
We've been to Orkney, a fantastic trip. One of the many highlights was The Italian Chapel on Lamb Holm, made by Italian prisoners of war while they built the Churchill Barriers (causeways that link some of Orkney's small islands) nearby. It's an ordinary Nissen hut, intricately painted and decorated with the most basic materials to become an immaculate little church.
More Italian Chapel photos on Flickr.