Living in a Box  – then and now

By Bernie Bell

It snowed!  It hasn’t snowed properly for years – it snowed! So, we thought we’d go somewhere which meant we didn’t have to go too far on the roads, and , ideally , get views over lochs and hills, in the snow.  It didn’t quite work out that way but…”the best laid schemes…..” and all that.

So, we parked in the lay-by just outside Finstown, and set off along the path to Binscarth Woods, looking back the Oyce of Firth along the way

Oyce of Firth B Bell

Then we walked up the main track by the side of Binscarth Woods – the path in the wood itself was a wee bit too squishy even for us!  Binscarth Wood Path B Bell

It was like Narnia, only, Narnia when it was always winter.

Thankfully we know that winter will turn to spring, quite soon here, as no White Witch is in charge!

We went out though the gate at the top, and carried on up the wide main track, before turning off to the left, along the little path through Salmonberry and Rosa Rugosa bushes, which then becomes a more open path, heading towards Wasdale Loch and Refuge Corner.  The path we’d taken so far, is all part of the Magnus Way, as the sign post indicates.

St Magnus Way sign post B Bell

We stopped  at the gate at the end of this path and looked over the loch.

Wasdale Loch B Bell

The loch is there – honest it is!  It was frozen and covered in snow, so you couldn’t tell that it was there – just looked like fields!. The little hump in the foreground, is actually a small island, in the loch.  So much for views of lochs and hills in the snow – it was a white-out!  But, it’s a good spot to  stand and look around, anyway – along the loch, toward Refuge Corner, overlooking Harray parish and beyond, in the snow.

Standing here, looking towards Refuge Corner, got me thinking about living in a box, in those conditions.  Why did that come into my head? In the Fossil & Heritage Centre in Burray, there is an old box-bed, which  an old couple lived in, at Refuge Corner.  Hard to imagine, anyway, but particularly hard to imagine on a cold, snowy January day.

The tale goes, that an old couple were evicted from their house.  All they had to call their own, were some bits and pieces, and their box-bed. So they put all their bits and pieces, into the box-bed, put the box-bed into a hand-cart, and set off. They set up ‘house’ in the box-bed, at Refuge Corner, which is how it got its name – that place was a refuge for them. They lived there for some time, but, as time went on, the local people took pity on them.  They started to turn up at Refuge Corner with stones, which they placed around the box-bed, until, eventually, bit by bit, there was a stone structure enclosing the wooden box-bed!  Someone then put a roof on it, and the old couple had a little house to live in!  Pretty basic, but a stone structure, which is more weather-tight and  house-like than a box-bed.

It’s just about impossible to imagine what it must have been like for them, living in a box, in the Orkney climate, and, they were elderly folk, not young and strong.  As I looked long the loch thinking about the tale which I’d read in the Fossil & Heritage Centre  I was trying to get  a grip on how that would be, for me and Mike, at our age, to have to live like that.

Thank God for the Welfare State.

Homelessness is bad in our time, but a homeless person has some recourse – there are organizations which will help, if they can.  In those times, if you were homeless, who cared?  Apart from the good-hearted local folk who rallied round and helped this old couple in a very practical, resourceful way, to produce a house – of sorts, but….a house.  Not that different to the little house a young couple would traditionally have built for themselves, from whatever stones came to hand.

If you go to the Fossil & Heritage Centre, have a look at the box-bed, and try to imagine living in it, in the conditions in my photograph.

Then, go home, turn on a tap, to fill the kettle, flick a switch to boil the water, and make yourself a hot drink. Hmmmmmmm


Categories: Uncategorized

Tagged as: , , , , , ,

4 replies »

  1. I’ve never heard the story about the old couple living in a box bed. Just can’t imagine how cold it would have been, even without the snow?!

Leave a Reply