Man, a wave-washed pinnacle of layered red rock knuckled out from the cliffs like a co-
lossal cubist tree trunk.
To the west, as the plane banks for Kirkwall airport, stretches Scapa Flow, the base
for the Home Fleet during the First and Second World Wars. It's where the German High
Seas fleet was scuttled after the end of the Great War, and where my dad was based
during WWII, when the service men and women far outnumbered the local inhabitants.
Way in the distance, built where the rusting hulks of the earlier block ships used to lie,
the Churchill Barriers make delicate pale lines across the grey-blue sea, slim causeways
between the isles.
Taxi from Kirkwall airport to the Kirkwall Hotel and room overlooking the harbour.
Take away the harbour and it would just be a nice view looking out to the shores and hills
across the sound, but with the harbour involved it's one of the most fascinating views
you could ask for. There are ferries coming from and going to the other Orcadian islands
throughout the long hours of daylight, fishing boats setting off high and returning low in
the water, catches being landed, and people pottering about on power boats and yachts
- many of them from Norway - all the time. On the horizon to the north, one of the big
wind generators on Burgar Hill revolves serenely, like a white giant doing cartwheels.
The only thing missing is one of the big cruise ships that regularly call in during the sum-
Orkney: a Handy Hint on blending in .
If you ever go to Orkney - and you should - never call Scotland 'the mainland'. Orkney
has its own Mainland; that's the correct name for the big island that Kirkwall and the
other sizable town, Stromness, are on. Scotland is called Scotland. The Orcadians don't
really think of themselves as all that Scottish at all; they're Orcadians.
Look, these people have two distilleries, some of the best whisky made in … the Brit-
ish Isles and a make of beer called Skullsplitter; it's as well to keep on the right side of
Ann snoozes. I take a taxi to Scapa distillery for a quick photo, then onwards the mile
or so to Highland Park. Scapa is closed, shut up, deserted, and profoundly unphotogenic.
Highland Park is smart without being too fussy, and looks happily busy. My taxi driver
used to be a barman in the seventies here and remembers when the two Orcadian distiller-
ies were level pegging on production and pretty much reputation too. Back then, he tells
me, there was real rivalry between the Scapa and the Highland Park workers; if a Scapa
man came into the bar and asked for a whisky you couldn't serve him with Grouse be-
cause there was Highland Park in Grouse; he'd have to have a different blend, like Cutty
Sark. And vice versa. We talk about how they're going to be starting a distillery on Shet-