Memories of Winter Islands

I was planning to do a post today on our gear selection for the GR1 when I got distracted browsing some old photo files from our island days in Orkney. I forgot how well these pictures capture the drama of light and dark, the intensity of low sunlight, the huge, sweeping cloudscapes and beauty of the birdlife in winter. We spent 4 years as wardens of a nature reserve on a small island in the middle of the Orkney archipelago. On this thin sliver of land between the sea and skies, buffeted by Atlantic and North Sea weather, we were always surround by the cries of birds and whistling wind. Winter is an isolated, dark and mysterious time in the islands, and amidst the buffeting of grey, rain-blown days, there are scattered moments of extraordinary magic. These pictures come from our first winter months on Orkney in 2012, they were exceptional for their vividness of light and they remain vivid in our memory too. I hope the pictures convey some of the magic of this time. (Most images were taken with Barry’s skilful eye).


End of a midwinter day, cold sunset across Wyre Sound.


Sheltering in the lee of a sand-dune: the drama of clearing rain clouds and swirling sand, with the old Laird’s house beyond.


A gannet glides above a silver sea.


Kittiwakes glide across the sunlit waves.


A day of deep winter sunlight, dark clouds and a perfect, turquoise sea.


Low-slanting light picks-out the contours of the landscape, including an ancient burial mound.


The Viking-style church on Egilsay.



A flock of Greylag geese fly across the Sound, the snow-dusted hills of Rousay  beyond.


A flock of Twite rise from a winter-bird crop. Billowing clouds tinged pink above the North Sea beyond.



Low diffuse sunlight close to the winter solstice. View across the Sound from the kitchen window towards the hills of Orkney mainland.


The light shifts and deepens across the landscape.


A crow flies over bare winter branches in the garden of a derelict Manse.


In the autumn, a small flock of migrant Grey Phalaropes arrived on the shores of Echnaloch Bay. These small birds of the Arctic tundra pools were wild and unafraid of us, they rode the wavelets inches from our feet.


A Grey Phalarope skips over a wave-crest.


Curtains of rain sweep down from the clouds while skeins of geese cross the Sound.


Derelict croft house silhouetted by the setting sun. The standing stone in the foreground could be a boundary marker or something older and more mysterious.


Cold evening sky over Stromness rooftops, the weather is clearing from the west.


The standing stones of Brodgar in the heart of Orkney’s Neolithic landscape. The hills of Hoy loom beyond.

Hope you enjoyed the photos! We have a large back-stock of pictures from Orkney and our other travels which it is a shame not to share so we’ll post some other selections up occasionally.

 For the next post we are back to GR1 planning and an insight into our gear choices for 2016.



6 thoughts on “Memories of Winter Islands

  1. Lovely, lovely pics. Although I’ve only spent a few weeks in Orkney, my visit made me realise what a special place it is – and your images really capture it. It’s a superb place for photographers, that’s for sure. The light…


    • Hi Sheila, thanks so much for your kind comment. Yes, I thought it was a shame that these pics should just sit unappreciated on our computer. As you know, the light conditions can transform an average/nonedescript scene into something very special, you just have to get lucky and be at the right place at the right time, or just have the time to keep hanging around and see what happens. Living out on the island we were priviledged to have a changing sky-scape around us all the time. Certainly for Orkney the best light conditions occur in the autumn and winter when the sun sets more deeply and brings out a richness of colour that you don’t get so much in summer. Hope you are well and thanks for keeping up with the blog,
      Best Wishes


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