"Orkney: A Special Place" by Richard Clubley can be thought of as a love letter to an archipelago: as an explanation of why he and his family have chosen these islands above all others as the place on which they are building their home. When we reviewed the author's last book, "Scotland's Islands", we commented that "he has a beautiful written style that allows him to convey his enthusiasm in a truly inspiring way." We were interested to see whether, now he has narrowed down his canvas from coverage of Scotland's island's more widely to Orkney in particular, he has maintained the same high standard. He has. A quote from his introduction illustrates this nicely: "The pillars in St Magnus are immense, the afternoon light through the stained glass on the local stone is fabulous. The building actually leans a bit at one end, you can see it and feel it as you walk down the nave to the main door. It is as if the weight of history is, literally, pressing down on you and you can touch the stone in the pillar where St Magnus was interred almost a thousand years ago."
This lovely book isn't really a guide to Orkney, and neither is it an account of the author's interactions with the islands. Ruling out the first two things you might expect it to be raises an obvious question: what is it? "Orkney: A Special Place" is a collection of largely free-standing articles grouped in clusters. The result is a marvellous miscellany based on the author's own travels and interests, and his conversations with a large number of Orcadians. This is a book that can be dipped into at random, or approached in a more orderly manner, and either way it will delight and inspire.
As an example of the author's approach, his section on "Orkney People" includes chapters on the explorer Dr John Rae; on the island games; on Orkney furniture; on young people on the islands; on the hut built for older men beside Kirkwall harbour; on traditional music; on climbs of the Old Man of Hoy; and on the islands in winter. The section on "Orkney History" is equally eclectic. It begins with a brief history of Orkney before moving on to an account of a flight over Orkney's Neolithic treasures, and then includes chapters on the Kitchener Memorial; lighthouses; and the Ring of Brodgar. Other sections look at Orkney's outer islands, wildlife, favourite buildings, tourism, and Orkney's future. If you were looking to pick fault, the author's statement that "The Vikings had, more or less, had their day by 1066" seems odd, given, as he then recounts, Orkney remained under Norse control until 1468: but that does nothing to detract from a book we believe will be of considerable interest to visitors and Orcadians alike.