Through no fault o its own, the district o Twatt has become the most ridiculed in Orkney.
Eighty year ago, wartime servicemen sniggered like schoolboys when they discovered they were being posted tae the Twatt Aerodrome. Nooadays, English tourists delight in takkan selfies wae the arrow o the Twatt roadsign aimed at their grinning, empty heids. Tack shops in Kirkwall capitalise, flogging Twatt mugs and t-shirts tae ignorant punters. Aal o this is just the worst kind of patronising cultural misappropriation. The name is Old Norse, and it means ‘The Cleared Place’.
Me own recent experience o the district o Twatt is as a novice tenant fermer. I rent a bit o grund there fae me fither-in-law. I keep sheep, and it’s been a steep learning curve. The grund is heavy, acidic, and dense wae clay. It’s weet and cowld, and, as a neebor remarked tae me, ‘hid’s slow tae come in the springtime’. Rashes and parasites thrive. The rock is close tae the surface, and tae plough is tae bring up stones in thur hunders and thoosands.
But aal o this is counterbalanced by the pure and absolute joy o country life in the West Mainland. A merlin crosses a field in a January gale, eight inches fae the grund. A stoat darts doon a ditch. A hunder Golden Plover alight in late winter sunshine. The brier comes on the fields in the springtime. Whaups’ nests and shalders’ nests appear. There’s the glory o cut hay, turning like a green wake in the rear-view mirror o the tractor. Silage and hay bales are the bounty of summer. A crop o fresh mushrooms appears miraculously on a damp August morning. Lambs gain weight, content on new pasture. A hare shoots oot o a peedie hollow; I stoop tae feel its residual body heat on the gress. And, best o aal, me good neebors in the owld districts o Reekiebraes and Durkadale have shown me nothing but kindness, and have given me their unconditional help, and their carefully considered advice.