Bernie Bell: Having a Yarn in Kirbuster

Kirbuster Farm

Photo B Bell

A few years ago, Mike and I visited Kirbuster Farm Museum.  It was one of those days of sunshine and showers, so, during one of the showers, we sat by the hearth in the old farmhouse kitchen and had a yarn with Sue, who was the guide there, that day.  Sue knows me, and my weirdy ways, and she asked did I pick up on anything there. And this is what I later sent to Sue:-

Yesterday, at one point, you asked did I ‘pick up on’ anything at Kirbuster…………..I was in full flow about something else (!) and never answered that question.  So, I’m going to send you my thoughts on Kirbuster, from yesterday’s visit. If of interest, fair enough, if not….fair enough, too!

My main feeling about Kirbuster, the whole place, is of family.  Families living and working there.  It’s a very homely place.  As you go in, the first room, is, and was, very functional. It’s hard to catch the feel of it, as it’s now much to do with beginning the interpretation of the farm – which is fine. I like the place around the fireplace, just because it’s a homely kind of space.  You can imagine the folks, sitting either side of the stove, knitting and chatting. That’s only imagine, I don’t see them there!
The next room, is, of course, the centre of the house.


Photo B Bell

It’s a great place, very, very homely.  A very strong feeling of family and families, living there, going about their everyday business.  It’s full of people, families, folk….living – in a good way – real feeling of years and years and generations and generations of folk….just….living.

I was thinking about the chair which you pointed out, with the piece of paneling as it’s back, and you said that such a piece, could, maybe be from the Captain’s cabin in a ship. I was thinking that, the house doesn’t just have the history and memories of the house itself, down the years, and of the people who lived there, it has the stories attached to all the bits and pieces which are brought into the house.  That piece of paneling may have been in a Captain’s cabin, then….what happened?….did the ship sink, and the piece of paneling was washed up, to be made into the chair?  That ship, and that piece of wood, could have been all over the world, seen many sights and weathered many storms.

It reminded me of a house which was being ‘done up’ in Stromness, and I was shown a piece of wood from the structure of that house, which smelt very spicy.  Even after all this time, it had a strong smell of the spices which were, presumably, stored in the ship which it came from, and which, again, will have gone all over the world.

That house, held the memory of that ship and it’s journeys, in it’s very structure.  The bits and pieces in a farm such as Kirbuster, hold similar memories.  The drift wood used to make the Orkney chairs, where did that come from, and where had it been?  You never would know what you were sitting on!  You can imagine someone sitting on one of the old chairs, made from drift wood, and thinking about that, and maybe spinning a yarn for the family, about the very chair which they could sit in, any time they wanted to – imagine how the children would love that!  Sitting in the chair, and …..imagining.  Who needs inter-active computer games!  They certainly didn’t!

Yes, I love that room, it holds so much, and weaves so much together.

And then, there’s the Dairy, with our friend the Tree Trowie, looking through the window!

Kirbuster Tree Trowie

Can you see the trowie (B Bell)

The next room, is the Best Bedroom.  Again, that just speaks to me of being the best bedroom, where Mum and Dad slept.  Memories of the families, again, but nothing specific.

Then, there’s the next bedroom, the one with a box bed and a cradle.  I’m not keen on that room. I don’t know why, but I don’t want to linger there, and I wouldn’t lie on that bed, if you paid me!  I don’t just mean sleep in it, I mean even lie on it.    No, I don’t like that room, I particularly don’t like the bed, and wouldn’t even lie on it, for 5 minutes!  I don’t know why, I just know I don’t feel comfortable there.

The parlour…is the parlour, again a feeling of family, but not used all that much, not so many memories, or, those memories that are there, are more ….detached….or distant. Maybe someone who had gone away, would bring something back, a piece of china or whatever, and it would be placed, proudly, in the parlour, and would mean something to the folk living there, but those memories and meanings, are even more detached than the ‘real’ memories of the’real’ living space.

Thinking about not wanting to even lie on that bed, made me think of the bed in the main room, the heart of the house. I’d very gladly climb in and curl up, there  A very cosy place. And also, it takes us straight back to the Neolithic – the beds with slabs of stone to keep out the draft.

So, to me, that room, and that house, can take a person right through, from the Neolithic houses, through the lives of folk living in the first, basic, house there, living not too differently from their ancestors, for many generations.  Through to more ‘modern’ times – the time of the Parlour!  You have to get to a certain stage, before you think to have a Parlour!  So much, in one building.  I think I sent you my poem about buildings not being in-animate?  I’ll put the poem in here, anyway, as it’s apposite.

All things have life

A building is seen as in-animate

Stone and wood

Yet stone has music in it

and wood still lives

Though cut.

Then we live in it

and breathe our life into it too.

I don’t see a building as in-animate

Do you?

Then, there are the outside buildings.  I particularly like the Brew-house and Smithy.  I think that’s simply because of the practicality of them.  I like places that ‘do’ something, that make something.  There’s something so very domestic about having the brew-house and smithy, right there, at the farm.

Again, there’s a feeling of people working, busy busy – doing, making their lives, work for them.   I just love cosy, domestic, human, places. I also like big, dramatic, impressive places….it’s all human, innit?

Related story: Kirbuster Farm Museum

Bernie Bell is a regular contributor to The Orkney News. If you would like to send us a picture, story or letter you can e:mail or use our contact page

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