Do you remember the radiant journey?

Do you remember the radiant journey?

Orkney June 2015

 A walk from Maes Howe to Brodgar

Eight photographs taken on Friday, 26th JUne

We arrived by ferry from Aberdeen at almost midnight on the Summer Solstice.

Orkney was experiencing the worst summer in living memory. The island is bleak and almost treeless and dotted with ancient sites, windswept. Oslo is closer than London.

We walked from Maes Howe, a covered Neolithic tomb, to Brodgar, to the Neolithic stone circle.

There was a sea mist, raining and the saturated atmosphere became prismatic, with radiance all around. The wet grass glowed against the greyness of the sky.

This work seeks to evoke that radiant day as a distillation or essence rather than a more extended rambling narrative; as a haiku rather than a travelogue and using as few images as possible.

The title is taken from the libretto of Massenet’s opera, Thaïs.


Orkney: Margaret Tait Orkney Filmaker

Bumpted into Pete Todd (filmaker) and Sarah Christian at Nunhead station the other day.  They have been to Orkney many times and reminded me of Margaret Tait.


From Lux:

Born in 1918 in Kirkwall on Orkney, Scotland, Margaret Tait qualified in medicine at Edinburgh University 1941. From 1950 to 1952 she studied film at the Centro Sperimentale di Photographia in Rome.

Returning to Scotland she established Ancona Films in Edinburgh’s Rose Street. In the 1960’s Tait moved back to Orkney where over the following decades she made a series of films inspired by the Orcadian landscape and culture. All but three of her thirty two films were self financed. She wrote poetry and stories and produced several books including three books of poetry.

Screenings include National Film Theatre (London), Berlin Film Festival, Centre for Contemporary Art (Warsaw), Arsenal Kino (Berlin), Pacific Film Archives (San Francisco), Knokke le Zoute, Delhi and Riga. Tait was accorded a retrospective at the 1970 Edinburgh Film Festival and has been the subject of profiles on BBC and Channel Four.

The feature length Blue Black Permanent (1993) opened the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Her final film Garden Pieces was completed in 1998.

Margaret Tait died in Kirkwall in 1999.
See also Ali Smith’s tour about Margaret Tait.
See also Peter Todd’s essay about Margaret Tait.


Orkney : Bog Cotton/Sedge continued … La Belle Dame sans Merci – a ballad by John Keats

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel’s granary is full,
And the harvest’s done.

I see a lily on thy brow,
With anguish moist and fever-dew,
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
Fast withereth too.

I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful—a faery’s child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.

I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She looked at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan

I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
A faery’s song.

She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna-dew,
And sure in language strange she said—
‘I love thee true’.

She took me to her Elfin grot,
And there she wept and sighed full sore,
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
With kisses four.

And there she lullèd me asleep,
And there I dreamed—Ah! woe betide!—
The latest dream I ever dreamt
On the cold hill side.

I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried—‘La Belle Dame sans Merci
Hath thee in thrall!’

I saw their starved lips in the gloam,
With horrid warning gapèd wide,
And I awoke and found me here,
On the cold hill’s side.

And this is why I sojourn here,
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.

Orkney: Meaning of Brodgar


The Ring o’ Brodgar takes its name from the nearby farm.

For years, the origin of the placename has been explained as being from the Old Norse brúar-garðr meaning bridge farm. However, there is another intriguing possibility.

Bearing in mind the local pronunciation, broa(d)yeur, could the name actually stem from brúar-jorð – earth bridge? In this case the “earth bridge” could be the entire Ness o’ Brodgar.

Orkney: Friday 26th June – Feathery Grass, Ring of Brodgar

There is a separate ecosystem in the ring with tiny bog plants and flowers. What look like feathers or sheepswool caught in the heather is a grass with a feathery white flower.  It’s name apparently is Bog Cotton (thanks to Paul Murphy).  It is a sedge – see below.

From Wiki:  Eriophorum angustifolium, commonly known as common cottongrass or common cottonsedge, is a species of sedge in the plant genus Eriophorum of the family Cyperaceae. Native to North America, North Asia, and Northern Europe, it is often found on peat or acidic soils, in open wetland, heath or moorland. It begins to flower in April or May and, after fertilisation in early summer, the small, unremarkable brown and green flowers develop distinctive white bristle-like seed-heads that resemble tufts of cotton; combined with its ecological suitability to bog, these characteristics give rise to the plant’s alternative name, bog cotton.

Brodgar 14

The feathery grass
The feathery grass