Stromness, Orkney. The author and poet George Mackay Brown once wrote that the town’s ‘streets uncoiled like a sailor’s rope’, and it is to these streets that I will be returning on Friday. Can’t wait! Location: Victoria Street, Stromness, Orkney, Scotland
Stromness local /ˈstrɒmnəs/ is the second most populated town in Orkney, Scotland. It is in the south-west of Mainland Orkney. It is also a parish, with the town of Stromness as its capital. The name “Stromness” comes from the Norse Straumsnes. Straum refers to the strong tides that rip past the Point of Ness through Hoy Sound to the south of the town. Nes means “headland”. Stromness thus means “headland protruding into the tidal stream”. In Viking times the anchorage where Stromness now stands was called Hamnavoe, meaning “peaceful” or “safe harbour”.
A long-established seaport, it has a population of approximately 2,190 residents. The old town is clustered along the characterful and winding main street, flanked with houses and shops built from local stone, with narrow lanes and alleys branching off it. There is a ferry link from Stromness to Scrabster on the north coast of mainland Scotland.
Trading, exploration and whaling
First recorded as the site of an inn in the 16th century, Stromness became important during the late 17th century, when England was at war with France and shipping was forced to avoid the English Channel. Ships of the Hudson’s Bay Company were regular visitors, as were whaling fleets. Large numbers of Orkneymen, many of whom came from the Stromness area, served as traders, explorers and seamen for both. Captain Cook‘s ships, Discovery and Resolution, called at the town in 1780 on their return voyage from the South Seas where Cook had been killed. Stromness Museum reflects these aspects of the town’s history (displaying for example important collections of whaling relics, and Inuit artefacts brought back as souvenirs by local men from Greenland and Arctic Canada). An unusual aspect of the town’s character is the large number of buildings decorated with displays of whale bones outside them.
George MacKay Brown
George Mackay Brown (17 October 1921 – 13 April 1996) was a Scottish poet, author and dramatist, whose work has a distinctly Orcadian character. He is considered one of the great Scottish poets of the 20th century. Mackay Brown lived most of his life in the town, and is buried in the town’s cemetery overlooking Hoy Sound. His poem “Hamnavoe” is set in the town and is in part a memorial to his father John, a local postman. George Mackay Brown’s gravestone bears an inscription from the last two lines of his 1996 poem, “A work for poets”:
Carve the runes
Then be content with silence.