I leave for Orkney in just two days time. I’ve decided to drive up from London, visiting my Grandma on the way in Preston and then up the A9 through the breathtaking mountains and Highlands. Driving will allow me to take more camera equipment than I’d be able to carry on the train/plane. And a car will be handy on Orkney to get to the port etc.
It’s been 6 months since I originally applied for the New Collaborations Bursary. And I’ve been imagining and dreaming of what the island of Swona will be like. I know it was last inhabited around 1974, and the only residents are now a herd of feral cows (which I’m slightly concerned about!). I’ve spoken to one of the owners of the island, Cyril Annal, on the phone a few months ago. He is supporting our trip and we hope to meet with him next week to hear stories about the island, which his mother lived on. Cyril quoted Erik Meek during our conversation, who reports that Orkney is made up of 76 islands. Meek defines an island as ‘That upon which a bird can nest’. Swona is officially part of Orkney, but not many visitors get the chance to visit this abandoned island. I feel very privileged. On a side note, there is an interesting back story to getting Cyril Annal’s permission and phone number. By a very strange coincidence, my artist friend Kate Murdoch, whom I met several years ago when we both had studio spaces at Cor Blimey Arts in Deptford, has a connection to Swona! Her husband Pete is related to the Annals (a forth cousin I think), and visited them last summer. I spoke to Pete’s dad Eric Annal on the phone, who in turn provided an introduction to Cyril Annal. It’s a very small world!!
The original idea to visit Swona was Keir Strickland’s, the archaeologist I’m collaborating with. My next blog post will include a short interview with Keir to explain his interest in the island. We are unsure how our collaboration will take shape, but I’m trying to keep my ideas loose and not pre-plan too much at this stage. I’m reading Islands: A trip through time and space by Peter Conrad for inspiration. It begins ‘On an island you are disconnected, with water all around you. On an island you are alone, even if you share the place with others…’. I will be thinking about how the sea surrounds this tiny island, and how nature is eroding the dwellings. I’m also enjoying reading Adam Nicolson’s Sea Room about a man who inherits three lonely islands in the Outer Hebrides.
For now, I’ll keep reading and imagining (and I suppose start packing!) about the island, waiting for us to arrive.