Another unsurfable day. Accordion and fiddle were apt din for a cozy mid-afternoon teatime in the small pub of our B&B aside a coal fire with pints of cask-drawn ale ‘round the dark wooden table. Then the CD started skipping and so was switched off, allowing for soothing rain patter on the room’s double-paned windows, the wind whistling around the pub’s old stone perimeter, the soft lilting voices in the room augmenting ours. Main courses were fatty and caloric—Jones’s broiled, seaweed-fed lamb, Mulcoy’s battered haddock, Smith’s beef pie with black pudding—and there were the soft fillets of wild brown trout, hooked hours ago in the adjacent loch; then the selection of Grimbister Farm cheese on a tray, the chewy warm oatcakes, the flaky butter biscuits, the gooey fudge from Stromness, the unfiltered pints of Quoyloo ale, the drams of peaty whisky from the outskirts of Kirkwall.
Dusk was a slit of ochre pressed between distant low hills and dark rain clouds. Early night was wet, a gale from the south, its constant low rumble like the hymn of waves. The rain intensified from a patter to a pelting of hail, a woodfire crackle, the tiny balls sticking to the ground like snow. White in the night. Surely the glass of the small room’s window had seen fairer eves.
Outside…pitch-black. Eventually the storm’s vigor killed the town’s wattage, so we used candlelight, a fitting glow for Orkney, islands steeped in sentimentality despite the 21st-century trappings on the far end of that Atlantic horizon. In the tiny B&B we pored over the maps, drew arrows, made plans. The boys would turn in early, not long after 9, satiated with artisan fare, comfortable in the old warmth that only a Scottish isle could grant.
Later—the wee hours. Drowsing supine with Enya’s “And Winter Came” in my ears, there was a meditation on the archipelago’s 59°N latitude and our position in surf travel. North Atlantic austerity had only allowed for recent navigation of the region’s surf wealth. Scotland has many locals now—new wetsuit technology has fostered a gestation of surfers in places like this. Abroad, too, temperate surfers have begun to search far beyond the tropical fray, the traditional heart of surf trips—the equatorial score, the Third World junket, the generic lust for barrels in boardshorts. But our Orkney nonce was dissimilar, a cerebral levitation into the northern wilds, chased by weather and lured by maps. It was emotional and risky, a long and expensive journey.
The next morning’s newspaper said the sea-and-sky forecast was good, but not for another 72 hours. Winter was near. There would be more time to burn, more setups to consider. If anything it was a chance to dry the wetsuits and study some historic decor—Viking ruins, standing stones, medieval churches, brochs, castles, cairns, tombs. It was all there, an archeologist’s dream. Sometimes, like Enya sang, dreams are more precious. We had ours, too.