Imaginary tours of Orkney from Elsewhere: Mapping archipelagos in East London

Before moving to London in 2012 we lived on the Åland Islands, population 28,000 and with a similar population density to Orkney. Bearing that sense of scale in mind and with London large and sprawling and Orkney surrounded by the sea, we decided to limit our mapping to an area containing the same population as Orkney, c 21,000.

In London this is, on average and approximately, an area a mile by a mile and a half. We drew a rectangle, of similar proportions to one drawn around Orkney, and centred it on Kirkwall Place in east London. We mapped the stops on the Imaginary tours of Orkney from Elsewhere itinerary by eye then explored like this:

We flew to Kirkwall via the District and Central Lines (listen here), touching down at the Bethnal Green terminal and proceeding directly to Kirkwall Place.

We found some rock and other art and stopped at the Camel for refreshments and eavesdropping. “So what did you have for breakfast?” “sourdough and avocado”, “well that’s the thing isn’t it, it’s great here now, people like you move in, it was a dump before”.

We spotted two other people who may or may not have been mapping Orkney.

We headed towards Kirkwall Airport, at the south-west corner of Meath Gardens, where we photographed a rather magnificent Gothic arch. Happy to find souvenirs so early on in our journey we acquired a plywood suitcase, Day of the Triffids and The Midwich Cuckoos from a rather carelessly constructed cairn beside Mary MacArthur House. Close to the airport we recorded local wildlife, signage and earthworks and the broch on Usk Street.

We continued northwards towards Victoria Park and, skirting what might have been the edge of Ingerness Bay, spotted a rugged little pony.

At the Palm Tree, for further refreshments, we again eavesdropped on locals: “years ago, when I was a kid, yeah, during the air raid when the doodlebugs was about, we lived in a house that had an Anderson shelter out in the yard and it had a big tree there and when we used to go down, it was all, and you used to have a bit of string, when you all got in there and you were holding the bleeding string and you used to hear them doodlebugs, and all of a sudden oh damn it, that ff! It’s the tree!”

Revived, we continued onwards past further earthworks and waterscapes;

… we even spotted a whale.

On entering Victoria Park we discovered more islands, a Ring, a mystical grove,

a windswept plain and two more Rings,

one of which was surrounded by a semi defensive moat.

Emerging on the northern side we headed westwards and, nearing the coast we reached the site of four Great Rings. Turning south we searched for Skara Brae in Temple Street and though the settlement did not take the form we were expecting, imagining and hoping for, by its angularity and simplicity of form we did believe we’d found it.

Though we’d found Rings in several places before, the actual Ring of Brodgar should have been somewhere near the corner of Old Bethnal Green Road and St Jude’s Road. In fact, it appeared on Middleton Green.

We took a photograph but were beginning to attract attention so decided to head onwards towards Old Ford Road in the hope of finding a seascape to photograph.

Footweary and thirsty, the search for Helgi’s took us to the Gallery Cafe at St Margaret’s House, which sounded so nearly like St Margaret’s Hope that we assumed it must be the right place. No cocktails were available but the local ale proved a fine substitute.

Our exploration of Orkney from Elsewhere took about 4 hours. Tired but happy and with other places to explore we flew westwards from Bethnal Green, into the city, with our souvenirs.

by Lara Band and Dave Webb



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