In Kirkwall

I draw back the heavy woollen curtains and sunlight streams in like honey. The harbour lies gleaming below my grand room and a hooded man sits on a quayside bench talking into his phone. I potter all morning until a man called John arrives to pick us up to take us on a tour of the Highland Park distillery which sits on an elevated spot just outside of town. John has a long grey beard with a chin plait and is refreshingly unpatronising. The distillery feels like a little village, its grey-black sandstone buildings set into a hillside and crowded together around cobbled streets. It’s utterly fascinating, different aromas filling each shed as we are walked through the process from the malting room to the stills and finally the bonded warehousing. The work they do here can be accurately described using the dubious adjective “artisanal”, which when you break it up into its constituent syllables reveals its usual subtext. The employees we pass look pretty pleased to be there and perhaps the quality of what they produce is only half the reason why. Orkney has an ease lacking elsewhere in Scotland. It seems to have a unique semi-Scandinavian blend of tolerance (of) and concern (for) other people.

Before we start work I take a stroll round St Magnus’s cathedral with its ginger stone facade and graveyard crowded with crooked slabs, leaning aslant like drunks in the wind. I find the venue on foot and the day begins.

On Sunday we leave early for the ferry, crossing a resplendent Mainland shining in the late winter sunlight and say farewell to these mild fertile islands. The Hoy cliffs stand guard behind as our churning wake points its arrow south. I take the same seat as before. The blue-green sea churns in perpetual yearning, white frills at its torn crests. Back on the big isle we gun down to Glasgow without stopping, arriving in time for what could be called afternoon tea. Which is tea, in the afternoon. It’s warm and bright and I weave through the streets with my two bags, dog-legging home. I pass pigment spattered revellers coming back from Holi.  At my door I am greeted by the mercenary that calls itself a cat, rubbing itself on my calves in search of a tender morsel. I’m back a short while before we take to the States. I’m doing what travellers do. I’m waiting.