Plate 39: Barley Field, Stenness, Orkney, Orkney, 2007
Bere (pronounced “bear” barley, cultivated primarily on Orkney is thought to be the oldest cereal in continuous commercial cultivation in the British Isles. It is adapted to growing on the poor, acidic soils and in the short summer growing season of this northern latitude. Up to the early 20th century this grain was used for milling flour, malting, and straw for thatching, animal bedding as well as the weaving of Orkney chairs. Bere also provided a large portion of a tenant’s rent and a valuable commodity for trade with northern Europe. In the 20th century Bere was replaced by higher yielding barley grains and by the 1990’s very little Bere was being grown in Orkney, the Shetlands and Caithness islands. It’s cultivation survives today in thanks to Barony Mills, a 19th century watermill, who purchases the grain to produce beremeal, used locally in bread, biscuits and the traditional beremeal bannock. The Agronomy Institute at Orkney College (UHI, Scotland) has a program began a program in 2002 aimed at developing new markets for the crop and better practices for growing it more easily and with better yield. From this have come marketable commodities, which include an Islay whisky, a bere-based microbrew and bere biscuit found in many Scottish restaurants.
I tried on many occasions to capture the flowing nature of a barley field and none of the photographs felt quite right. On this particular morning I was heading into Kirkwall on a back road from Ramsquoy and as I crested the hill I saw this “glowing” field of barley. I pulled over and began to photograph. The land falls gently to the north with Loch Harray in the distance and the hills above Finstown at the edge of the horizon. This field glowed in the summer light and the wind provided the movement, making it feel alive.
Plate 40: Churchill Barriers, Scapa Flow, Orkney, 2007
Scapa Flow is a large body of water, bordered by mainland Orkney to the north, Hoy to the south and east and the four small barrier islands of Lamb Holm, Glimps Holm, Burray, and South Ronaldsay. It is the traditional home waters for the British fleet. For several centuries the British fleet would rendezvous in Scapa Flow before heading west or anchor in the protected waters that rarely froze in the winter.
It was also the gathering place for the British fleet in the early days of World War II. On October 14, 1939, the German u-boat U47 entered Scapa Flow, between the barrier islands, and sank the HMS Royal Oak, killing 833 of the crew. The sub entered Scapa Flow at night on a high tide between two of the barrier islands and slipped out the same way. After the sinking, Winston Churchill visited the area and demanded that a barrier be built between the islands to prevent any further German subs entering Scapa Flow. Thirteen hundred captured Italian prisoners were employed to build the barriers, which took five years. The prisoners agreed to work on the project not because it was a defensive barrier but because it would provide a causeway linking the five islands together. The barrier was competed in May 1945, just in time for the end of the war. Since then the barriers have provided an essential economic link between mainland Orkney and the four southern islands.
My problem was how to photograph this stone causeway. I wanted to emphasis the size of the concrete blocks and imply their power for holding back the tides. In this image the causeway runs in shadow on the top left of the image and one of the massive concrete blocks fills the frame. On the left you can see the hills of Lambs Holm and Glimps Holm and the waters of the North Sea.
Plate 41: Sunrise, Stromness, Orkney, 2006
Stromness is the second major town of the Orkneys. It is located on the western end of Scapa Flow and is either the first or last site a boat sees as they enter the waterway. As towns go it is not as old or as large as Kirkwall, but it has its own charm of narrow winding streets, stone houses right on the harbor and a sense of history that is filled with a past of commerce, ships and sea. Many a Hudson Bay ship left for the new world from Stromness with Orcadian men aboard. This image was made early on a March morning, with the sun coming up over Scapa Flow and the light bouncing off the water to illuminate the stone houses on the waterfront. The hill behind Stromness is known as Brinkie’s Brae. It is easy to imagine the town; its buildings huddled together, protected from the storms coming in from the west by the hill behind. In fact you can see from the clouds that a front was moving in on the area.
Plate 42: Happy Valley, Orkney, 2007
This burn (Scots for brook) runs through an area known locally as Happy Valley. It is a forest and garden created by Edwin Harold. Mr. Harold moved into the croft on the property in the late forties and for the next 50 years devoted his life to turning this plot of land into a tree-filled garden area. Trees and woodlands are rare in Orkney, and he spent untold hours caring for this area. When he was in his 90’s he had to move out of the croft and he died in 2005. Today the Orkney Islands Council and the Friends of Happy Valley are maintaining the garden. I found this burn to be a peaceful place to pass a few delightful hours making photographs. The flowing stream creates a wisp of white surrounding a tiny island of mud. The light coming through the trees creates bright dancing reflections on the water. Perhaps this is my homage to Ansel Adams and John Sexton and the others who have made so many beautiful images of the natural landscape and running water, though on a much smaller scale.