The Height of Absurdity: Orkney 4.8

18 July, 2016 by katelaity

The Height of Absurdity 1

Yet when we stepped on land again, the most peculiar sensation overcame me. My legs insisted that the pitch of the waves continued on the land and I staggered about as if I were drunk as a Cambridge fellow.

‘You must leave your sea legs on the waters,’ Tansy said with a laugh. He certainly seemed to have no problems of adjustment, but then he was a much more seasoned traveler than I. He never appeared to be the least bit ruffled by anything. I had wondered about that point whether I was indeed the right person for the job of accompanying Tansy on the quest, but then again, I should not like to give the position up to another despite the occasional difficulty or discomfort.

‘We shall have to find our guide that Hogan spoke of, but I have no idea how we should go about that,’ I said to Tansy. Just then the captain of our little boat hailed us. He was chatting with someone in a rather strange get up. Though the weather was brisk, the attire appeared to be more appropriate for arctic regions—and as we later discovered, it was.

‘Gentlemen, here is your Orcadian guide, John Rae.’ We all shook hands and I had a moment to take the measure of the man. He seemed rough and weather-beaten as any old stone, but there was an air of gentility and intelligence that spoke of a learned history. I could only begin to imagine what stories he might have to tell and indeed, I would not be wrong on that count.

‘I’m afraid I’m not in the habit of hosting visitors regularly,’ Rae said with an air of amused apology.

‘I hope we have not intruded on your comfort,’ Tansy said with an air of true contrition.

‘Never fear. Hospitality is our byword here in the islands. We have so few visitors we do our best to make them feel welcome as long as they don’t mind our rustic ways.’ He chortled. ‘I’ll have to send someone for your luggage, but I’ve got a couple of fine mounts for you here.’

Though the horses looked a bit shaggy we found them to be most excellent mounts with a steady pace that our host assured us could be kept up for a very long time. ‘Island life is endured only by the most hardy. The rest leave.’

As we rode to Rae’s house I took in the sights. Once we were away from the small harbour town, the landscape was mostly flat and windblown as one might expect. I saw a strange formation of rocks that I made note to ask our host about, but as the wind was howling something fierce at that moment, there was little chance to converse en route.

The rolling lands were mostly covered with farms. I could see off in the distance at the other sizeable town a spire of a cathedral but we were heading away from it across a dirt track as the wind beat at our backs with a smell of rain strong in its gusts. Though there were verdant patches here and there tucked between the rising heights where sheep grazed oblivious to the gales, much of the ground had a rough and reddish hue. I did not envy the farmers who would have to patiently toil such fields, piling all the rocks up for fencing.

I found it strange to imagine the Vikings here, yet what must the coast of Norway look like? I remembered the fjords—surely they were more dramatic than these low plains that seemed in danger of disappearing beneath high tides. How precarious life on an island must be. But Tansy would chide me: we live on an island. I forge that is so, for we feel so sturdy in our land that it is hard to imagine it buffeted much by wind and water.

I took a moment to gaze curiously at Mr Rae, or rather Dr Rae as Hogan had mentioned with reverence. I had a feeling that we were in for a story or two from him for there was much curious about his appearance, beyond simply the doughty face and well-worn clothes that looked so imposing. There was a word Hogan had offered in his description of the man that still evoked magic.




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