Rerwick Head Coastal Battery, Tankerness

Light and form

Photographs by Ian Collins. 4th July 2018

The coastal gun battery at Rerwick Head sits on the low cliffs at the northeastern corner of Tankerness in the east mainland of Orkney. Military installations at this site have protected the eastern approaches to Shapinsay Sound during both world wars though the extensive range of reinforced concrete buildings that remain date from the second.

Rerwick Head


Structures of this type are perhaps amongst the most strictly rational and utilitarian of all architectural forms; built quickly for a specific function using basic materials that were often in short supply.  It would seem unlikely that those who drew up the plans for these buildings gave much conscious thought to their aesthetic qualities or imagined that they might remain standing over seventy years later.  From the distance they seem both permanent and lifeless.

Rerwick Head


Come closer and it becomes apparent that these structures are in a state of constant interaction with the elements… walk slowly around and notice how the sound of the wind or sea is sometimes enhanced then muted. On a sunny day, beams of light might cut an interior into geometrical forms.  Dazzle against gloom. Shadows are thrown across walls.  Wait for your eyes to adjust to a dim interior and the walls will reveal a rich palate of colour… rust, algae and faded paintwork.

Rerwick Head



Rerwick Head

No surface  has been left unchanged by the passage of time.

Rerwick Head



Rerwick Head

And then, in the light of the evening sun, stored objects and some of the buildings seem to have an almost  surreal or perhaps monumental quality.

Rerwick Head



Shapinsay Sound

And what of those who served here? Rehearsing, watching, listening and waiting.

Technical notes:

All of these photographs were taken using a micro 4/3 format digital camera. The resultant images have not been re-touched or enhanced. In other words I have tried to present what I saw.


With thanks to Bernie Bell for her kind encouragement.

Contact:   or Instagram iancollinsimagery




7 replies »

  1. Light and Form. Words and Images. Working together. These are really …something.

    Thanks for the acknowledgment, Ian – much appreciated – but I’m not being kind – I know a good thing, when I see it, and I believe in sharing good things. These are strong, significant images and thoughts.
    What it is, to have an ‘eye’ and a ‘feel’ for what’s around you, a good camera, and to know how to make those things work together to best effect.
    More, please?

  2. When Mike and I went to Rerwick, I loved the place – the sweep of the land and the sky, the monumental rocks, but I had no inherent interest in those buildings.
    I saw them as grey, concrete, grim things – I was just fascinated by the one with the steps and the door to the underwaterworld, but Ian’s images gave me a whole new perspective on them. I began to see them as…..places……..with their own life in them.
    He catches life, in images. Some words, which are as strong as the images, but, mainly images.