Above Stromness

By Bernie Bell

The last few weeks have been rain, rain and more rain. We like to go for walks at the weekend, but not when the land is just goo. There are the beaches, but sometimes the tides dictate that there isn’t much room to walk there either.  I remembered this walk, and thought I’d send it to TON again, for if other folk are looking for a walk that isn’t too claggy. 

(First published in TON March 1st 2018)

We parked in the small car park by the Stromness reservoir, and walked up the track to the left, going gently uphill, looking back to a lovely view of the reservoir itself.  A very peaceful spot – still water – hills – birds.

Stromness Reservoir B Bell

We carried on up the track, past the remains of an alien spaceship –

Round rusty thing B Bell

Up, over the hill, and then carried on along the track, and down, turning to the left when we came to the tarmac road.  Around here, you get what I think must be one of the best views of Hoy.  The Hoy Hills dominate much of the West Mainland, mostly seen as two, big, magic mountains – looming – ‘ Hoy’s Dark and Lofty Isle’ – that’s a tune.

The view you get from this part of this walk, above Warbeth, shows a more gentle, greener aspect of Hoy – it’s more than just the big, magic mountains – it has a softer heart, too.

Hoy B Bell

We carried on along the road, and walked past what used to be Sylvia Wishart’s house.

Sylvia Wishart was/is an Orcadian artist, who lived and worked at Heatherybraes, with that  – slightly disconcerting – view of the Hoy Hills , ever-present through her living-room window.

I have a strong liking for her work. When Sylvia passed from this life, Heatherybraes was left in Trust as a place where artists could stay and work.  Stromness’ own Jeanne Bouza Rose spent some months there, one winter, which gave her the space, and peace, to produce some striking, strong pieces of work – full of colour, movement and LIFE.  This includes Jeanne’s 75 foot long piece – ‘Moonrise, Sunset and Hoy in the Middle’ – which is exactly what it says it is!  It’s not possible to see the whole painting in its full glory, as it hasn’t found  a permanent ‘home’ where it can be displayed – yet – but you can see smaller prints of it in Jeanne’s gallery/shop, ‘Artworks of the Earth’, in Stromness high street.

And now, back to Sylvia Wishart!  The Pier Arts Centre, in Stromness, has at least one of her pieces on permanent display, and a book ‘Sylvia Wishart – a study’ on sale in their shop.  This book is A GOOD THING as it means that you can look at many of Sylvia’s paintings, even if you can’t buy an original.  When we get a certain salt-laden wind, I say that we have ‘Sylvia Wishart Windows’ – you’ll see what I mean, when you see her paintings!

The next time that Jeanne was staying in Heatherybraes, we went to visit, but before that, I had a ‘dream’ in which I met Sylvia, in her house.  Here it is, as written to Jeanne, at the time………………

 “Last night, an extra-ordinary thing happened.  Having said that, it’s not that extra-ordinary, as in, similar things, have happened before, but, well, each time it happens, it’s extra-ordinary.  Sometimes, I ‘go away’,  to other places.  Though I’m still, wherever I am, in my body, I’m aware of being, elsewhere. Sometimes, I’m just there, sometimes, I talk with people.  Mostly these are folk who are still ‘alive’, as in, still in their body, but sometimes, not, they’re folk who have passed.  I see this, as the ‘essential ‘ me, talking with, or connecting with, the ‘essential’ them. Sometimes, I later find, that there has been an outcome, as if we had had the conversation, in actuality.  Do you get the idea?

So, last night, I went to bed.   Though I’d had quite a full day ( for me, at the moment!), I was wide awake.  There was a feeling in the air, of something going on, not a bad feeling, by any means, but the air was alive with expectation and possibilities.  Then, I found myself……. in Heatherybraes!  The only idea I have, of Heatherybraes, is from Sylvia Wishart’s paintings.  I walked in the door, and there she was.  There’s a chair, to the right of the table, by the window, in the living room, and she was sitting there.  As I came through the door, she was smiling at me.  I sat down, across from her, and we had a good talk.  We talked about, moving on, when  someone is ready to move on from this life and place, to whatever is next for them.  I was asking, would she think of moving on?  Her reply was simple, that there’s no-where she’d rather be, so why move on?  why leave?  Those were her exact words “There’s no-where I’d rather be”.  This, of course, is fair enough.  Folk often hang about somewhere, if they have un-finished business or un-happy links to a place, sometimes, they stay there, because they’ve been so happy there. I was wondering would Sylvia not be ready or want to move on, but, no, there’s no-where she’d rather be, so, of course, she’ll stay, where she’s happy!  I asked is she always there, and she is, and I asked is she maybe lonely, there, on her own.  But, her answer was, that it’s not too different to when she lived there.  She was there, on her own, a lot, then, which is why she chose to live there!  She liked to be alone, and get on with what she was doing.  People came to see her and visit, and they were interesting people, and that was fine, but she liked the solitude, too.  It’s not too different, because that’s pretty much what happens, now.  She’s mostly there on her own, then folk come by, and some folk come to stay, and they’re usually interesting folk, doing interesting things, then they go away again! So, not too different, and it suits her.  If someone came to live there, and took over her house, she wouldn’t be too pleased, that would be a different matter, and she might think of moving on, then, as the whole situation would be different, but, as it is, it suits her fine. She’s there, and spends a lot of time, looking out the window, at that view, over to Hoy.  I looked out, at that view, and said that I don’t know if I could live there, as I think I’d go a bit crazy, looking out at that, all the time, I think I’d get a bit ‘detached’.  She laughed at that!  Anyway, we had a good old talk. I was sitting at another chair, just across the table from her, and I put my hand out, on the table, and she put her hand, on mine.  Of course, being in spirit, she can’t touch me, and I can’t touch her, but she put her hand on, or over, mine, and we smiled at each other, and made a connection. She said did I want to look round the hose, so I did ( ! ) – exclamation mark, is because, obviously, I had no idea of the other rooms, at all.  I had a look round the house, then came back to the living room, to say “bye bye”.  Sylvia stood up, and came across to me.  I put my arms out, to hug her, as I would in that situation, with anyone.  Of course, she’s in spirit, so, we can’t touch, but she kind-of put her arms out, too, and we kind-of had a hug, if you can imagine what I mean!  We were laughing and smiling at each other, because, it didn’t really work!  We drew back, and were standing with our finger-tips ‘touching’, not touching, but, as if they were, and I said “It don’t work, but it’s worth a try!”, and she said “Yes, it was worth a try”.  She went back to sit down, and I left.  As I went through the door-way, I turned, said ‘”Bye bye”, and waved to her.  Then I left.  Then I went to sleep.

My idea is, that if I ever do get to visit Heatherybraes, Sylvia is there, and I’ll meet her.  Though, as I said at the beginning of this, I would say that I’ve ‘met’ her, anyway. 

It was an extra-ordinary, and very pleasant experience and visit.  I like her, immensely.  She was, I think, maybe a bit awkward with folk, not  entirely at her ease, sometimes, but, that’s often how naturally solitary people are.  I like her. 

So, Jeanne there it is.  I thought I’d  tell you about it, with your connection with Heatherybraes and the work which you did there.”

Heatherybraes is now privately owned, so I didn’t take a photo, on our walk, as that would be a bit rude.  When we walk past, it’s hard not to look, and remember our visit with Jeanne ( and her little dog, Guinness) and the ‘dream’, but, well, we try not to stare – eyes right – to Hoy, instead!

And so we carried on along the road, which becomes a track again, until we met a tarmac road, onto which we turned, heading left, and so, back to the reservoir and the car.

Then down into Stromness to Julia’s for lunch – v. busy on a sunny Sunday lunchtime, as Julia’s food is V.GOOD!

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