Chaper 35: Part i. The beginning. The holiday to end all holidays

In july, 2016 myself, my three bubs: my 4 year old daughter and my boy and girl  13 month old twinkles, left Newcastle with my mother and aunty for my first holiday in 6 years.
Our destination, Papa Westray.
Our journey: completely soul destroying. A 5 hour train journey, a good ol’ wait in an Aberdeen shopping mall, a 6 hour ferry, which turned into an 8 hour ferry ride of hell into a stressful abyss of twinkles who would not sleep, an aunty who had sea sickness and a mam who was so terrified of travelling she completely shut down.
So there i was completely alone with three kids weathering the journey. Trying to find a new spot on the ferry every 15minutes once the crying babies had worn out their welcome. It was pure hell.
That was then i had my first interactions with some of the lovely folk of Orkney: A lovely couple living in Stromness came to my rescue, keeping an eye on my eldest, as my aunty succumed to her queasiness and my mother retreated to her own world. They helped entertaining the sleepless twinkles, engaging me in conversation to keep me from losing the will to live..
Eventually what seemed like a million hours late, we docked. I wrapped and wore one twin, while carrying a backpack with all survival essentials needed for a pleasant holiday (possibly weighing somewhere in the region of a metric ton), while I pushed big sis and her little bro in the double pram, and while also carrying the luggage my four year old had abandoned. I felt eyes of pity from all our fellow travellers on me, and felt ridiculous at having even attempted this journey in the first place. Deflated and fuming with each other, my aunty green with sea sickness, my mother and I barely speaking, our “party” disembarked.. shattered, broken spirited and with three wide awake, yet over tired bubs we met my unsuspecting sister, who had recently moved to Orkney.
We jumped on the local bus, with other weary travellers (yet none as weary as ourselves) and a lovely driver dropping us at our hotel door.
I despondently gave up and left my sister to get the kids to sleep in our room, completely wiped out, saddened by our horrendous journey, furious at myself for even thinking it was possible, I passed out into hazy, all to brief sleep.
A hearty, argument-filled breakfast later and another ferry, helped on board by friendly crew, this time through sparkling waters, weaving between rugged fragments of land, being reclaimed by the sea, we arrived on Papay.
That pier!
Those waters!
Excitement and awe of these new beautiful surrounds broke through my tired, travelled-out hopelessness and being swept up in the caring, helpful hands of Jennifer, Papay Community Development Trust Officer, Hostel manager (and someone who I’ve come to know as my own personal hero and total superstar) raised my spirits.
We were whisked up the road to our holiday home…
Papay on that visit was grey, dull and cold. The rains fell, the winds blew.
The outdoors were largely inaccessible  except for brief breaks in the weather.
The community were warm: eyes were big and bright, glittering with sea and sky and smiles were welcoming and genuine.
Beyond the continuous whistling wind there was silence in the air. The kind of silence that makes bird song seem deafening.
A busy day would be seeing just a handful of other souls.
The brief shop opening times were filled with greetings from people who knew you by name, and spoke to you as a familiar friend.
Quickly and obviously so, it was clear that Papay life was a far cry from our busy inner city living back hyem in Newcastle. More people lived in our cul-de-sac than on this entire island. More cars were parked on our side of the road alone compared with those that drove the one road on this orkney isle.
And despite the heavy skies, the dull days and the heavy heart of a stress filled family holiday. I was sold. Completely taken by island life.
The people.
The space.
The simplicity of life on a small farming island.
The clean air.
The soundtrack of silence, crashing seas and singing birds.
Again the space. So much space, space for life, for sight, for sound, for just Being.
And knowing the communuty would be grateful to have three more littles through its school doors, I asked how can I move to an island like this?
Me, a single mama of three littles;
Someone who had spent the last six years so busy working for free and running charities, that i had made no money for myself.
How could i move to an island like this and give my children the kind of life that had filled my dreams, the kind of life i strived to build in Newcastle, in the kind of community i had tried to build myself in my own business/community centre.
How could I, myself and my children move to an island like this?
And for all the effort and energy and love I had put in to creating the kind of life, community, small corner of the world i wanted to bring my children up in, a world worthy of these little people. Finally, I was rewarded. I was completely there, in the perfect place at the perfect moment in time.
The island had the space for us.
The answer I was met with: “We’d bend over backwards to have you” (How valuable three children become on a small Orkney island where there are only 6 kids in the school).
The conversation went a bit like this…
“What do you need?”
“A house!”
“Have this one?”
“It would have to be permanent! I cant move here for temporary accommodation. I’d be giving up my home (albeit rented), orlas school, all the work i’d built up in 10years as a community holistic therapist, i’d be getting rid of an adult’s life time of collected furnitures and clutter, I’d be spending money we dont have on getting us here. This would be an all or nothing move.”
“Yes, we can do that. Get back to Newcastle, think about it and get back to us.”
“No need, its definite. How long do I have to save up/plan”
“We could hold the house until September/October.”
“OK, eeeeeeeeeeeeee I cant believe it.”
And that was that.
My heart belonged to Papay and it didnt even need sunshine, or dramatic storms.. just plain old grey days, and it stole my heart.How could I know I’d given my kids everything, given them the best start in life, if I didnt grasp this opportunity with both hands.
Well thats a question I can now answer knowing that I have done completely right by them.
Our holiday ended. Emotionally scarred from holidaying with a four year old and 1 year old twins. Our journey back to Newcastle was thankfully easier.
I shared my news with shocked friends and family.
I gave away a huge amount of our belongings, I attempted to pack with three littles under my feet.
I scrimped and scraped together the finances to get us back to Orkney.
Helped by family and good friends, we shed our old life of too much clutter, too much heartache (for this mammy and her children) and not enough real living and our departure date arrived.
How the heart breaks when you have to face your loved ones as you leave them.
How painful the last embrace can be, when you dont know how long it will be before you see that person again, how hard it is to keep it together so your children dont see all your sadness.
Seatbelts fastened, tears shed, goodbies over.


And the journey begins.

3 thoughts on “Chaper 35: Part i. The beginning. The holiday to end all holidays

  1. So enjoyed reading this, would like to know the follow-up. What is this lady doing on Westray, how does she survive financially. Are they happy and don’t regret moving?


    1. Absolutely no regrets, other than not being able to move all my loved ones here with us.
      survival, is a five year plan. etting our garden suitably protected from the wind, and planting an edible forest garden (inspired by permaculture gardening practices). This year is all about wind proofing as much as you can up here. I’ve planted 200+ willoow setts to grow into a living wind break and to provide at least some of our winter fuel needs. And we’ll be planting mainly edible flowers this year and a selection of herbs oh and a minimal crop of root veg later on, my eldest -soon to be 5 year old- orla, loves eating flowers, so as my time is so limited at the mo, with now 20 month old twins (orin and alaina) and orla only nurserying 2.5 days a week. I’m not putting too much pressure on myself.
      Hopefully next year, when the twinkles are steadier on their feet, gardening will be alot easier!
      “Business” for me is as a holistic massage therapist. When my bubs are all of school age I hope to run a practice here on the island, encouraging tourists and travellers to visit who wish to experience beautiful therapies in these amazing surrounds, and of course to help sustain the good health of my fellow islanders ❤❤❤❤


      1. Good for you, living your dream. Here’s wishing you every success and hopefully getting to meet you if ever I get to Papay. The Orkney are such a very special place.


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