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Orcadian is a State of Mind…

How to even begin writing this post?

The beginning of my masters, even up to two weeks ago, felt like a lifetime away. I day dreamed about moving to a remote isle to study in a small, rural town. I imagined being outside all the time, weathering storms, and hanging out with a few people on my course.

And then the Friday night came about. All my clothes were packed into a suitcase. My makeup collection had been blitzed and what had passed the throw-out had been packed into a plastic bag. A few bin bags were bursting at the seams containing the household objects I needed to take with me. I slowly took 4 mugs out of my cupboard and packed up my nespresso machine, forgetting to pack the pods which go with it. I dropped the cats off at Tom’s mum’s house and did my best to hold back tears at the inevitability of not seeing them for months. And I waited for my parents, who started driving all the way up from Essex that morning, to arrive.

Girl looking out over the sea, shot from behind

That night, I drunk way more prosecco than I should’ve done and had a heart-to-heart with my mum. The next day, we got up bright and early, drank a large cup of coffee each, packed the cars, and embarked on the 5 hour drive from Aberdeen to Scrabster, me and Tom in my little car, and my parents in their big car. From there, we caught a ferry over rough seas to Stromness, Orkney. I identified my tiny little cottage, the smallest building on the Stromness “skyline”, from the window of the ferry lounge. My mum voiced worries that my accommodation for the year would be too small. I was still, at that point, very hungover. We got off the ferry and followed the satnav down the winding main street of Stromness, me shouting in panicked tones the whole way about how this should not be a road!!! We found the cottage, and took in the view out to the harbour. We then identified ways out of Stromness that meant avoiding the main street. I don’t think I memorised a driving route so quickly in my life!

View out towards Stromness harbour, Orkney, Scotland

From Stromness we drove to Kirkwall – a small issue with me messing up my move in date meant we had to book a hotel for the night. As we drove down the main road, my parents lagged behind us in their car, taking in the view, whilst I enjoyed the openness of the road. Kirkwall surprised me. Expecting rural villages with an aging population, the cosmopolitan feel and familiarity of people dressed smartly, clearly starting their night, made me feel less lost. We spent the weekend exploring, checking out the little Italian Chapel, built by prisoners of war during WWII, and the wrecks of Scapa Flow. I fell in love with the place, the same way you fall in love with a beach in Spain when on holiday. That love you feel that relaxes you, even though you know you’ll only be there a few more days.

But it hadn’t set in yet that in 48 hours I’d be on my own, stuck here for the following 8 months.

The Italian Chapel - tourist destination in Lambholm, Orkney

The Italian Chapel

Eventually, 2pm on Sunday rolled around and I finally got into my cottage, we dumped my stuff, had a Chinese takeaway, and relaxed. And the next morning, at 5.30am, my parents took off back to the harbour to head home. An hour later, I drove Tom to the airport, and cried on the way back home. Although, home was a funny word to use. I hadn’t had the chance to make it mine yet!

Mast of a sunken ship sticking out of the water in Scapa Flow, Okrney

Wrecks at Scapa Flow

Despite my 5am wake up call, I went to uni at 9am. The sun shone brightly, only to be taken over by wind and rain. I met my classmates with nervous butterflies in my stomach. I’ve never been good at settling in with a group of new people. The worries of saying the wrong thing or embarrassing myself nearly won out.

Until 6pm, when I was the last to leave the university because a group of us just had fun chatting and settling in. I went home, I grappled with my WiFi (or lack thereof). I went to bed and slept soundly for the first time in days.

Wind Turbine against a blue sky background

The next day we had a tour around Orkney. I got to see more sites, and the Italian Chapel again. I learned more about Orkney. I started to appreciate it more. From wind farms in the middle of nature reserves, to the Ring of Brodgar and the surrounding archaeology sites, I felt myself settling into a place I thought would only be temporary.

The Ring of Brodgar, Orkney

The Ring of Brodgar

That night we had a museum tour, and got to know some of the stories of the most remarkable people who came from Stromness over the years. The curator said something that night that stuck with me:

“You’re all Orcadian now. Orcadian is a state of mind!”

My classmate mentioned a few things too, having moved from Belgium to Orkney. She found that in Orkney, time stands still no matter where you are. It’s never busy or bustling, and you can take your time to do things. There are also no social pressures in Orkney – no pressure to wear the right outfit or do your makeup a certain way.

The community feel here is so strong, you don’t have to take part to know it’s there. Over the course of our first day, people from various societies within Stromness and the wider Orkney isles dropped in to grab a sandwich and promote their activities. Orkney relies on an influx of young people, so they love students. It’s really eases you in to being new, and they encourage you to become part of the community.

It’s only been a week. But I never want to leave…

Rachel

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