Trees are already scarce on this northern soil, the hillsides and flatlands covered by grass and sheep pasture; it takes several hours by ferry or road to reach some little town, and even that will be a quite peripheral one. Lively culture happens far away.
The main income sources are fisheries and sheep farming for wool (famous sweaters !). Nights are long, Winter never ends. When the Sun shows up, everything is inundated with a magic, splendid light, blue and green glittering for a moment, and then it's over.
The Orkneys are dream islands, with mysterious little towns like stone ghosts in the mist - Kirkwall, Stromness* - and amazing megalithic alignments - the Brodgar complex. Those who live there know what loneliness is.
Maybe that's why many left to explore North America, especially aboard the ships of the Hudson Bay Co., the fur company, which recruited sailors here and had an asset warehouse since 1702 until the beginning of the 20th century.
This is the place where Betty's Reading Room happened :
In nowhere land, away from everything, less than half a dozen scattered houses and a docking jetty for the ferry, someone who is very fond of books decided to offer a little house - a stone cabin - as reading room, in honour of a dear friend deceased.
This Reading Room alone makes me wish to pack and sail away to the Orkney mists.
It might contain just airport literature; but in there are some Salman Rushdie, Umberto Eco, Graham Greene, Oscar Wilde, Hemingway, Dickens, ...
"The truth has never been of any real value to any human being—it is a symbol for mathematicians and philosophers to pursue. In human relations kindness and lies are worth a thousand truths."
Graham Greene, Heart of the Matter
The cabin was once part of a small farm by the pier. There lived Betty Prictor, a teacher in love with books and literature.
Some friends, wishing to preserve her memory and legacy, opened the Reading Room in 2012, a cosy welcoming space, warm in Winter, where anyone can sit reading while waiting for the ferry - it is sometimes a long wait.
And you can take the book home to finish.
Just - ‘Please return – eventually.’
'Tingwall' is a name of Viking origin, Thingvöllr, meaning "assembly field". In the Orkneyinga saga there is a reference to Viking Parliament reunion here in 1174.
Europe? THIS is my Europe.
*See about Stromness here.