GMB — What the Pier Head Is Saying (1969)

The following “What the Pier Head Is Saying” columns by George Mackay Brown were published in the Orcadian during 1969, signed with his initials only.


16 January 1969, p. 3. “They speak sometimes about colour television at the Pier Head, and they wonder if it will come to Orkney in their time.” ¶ 23 January 1969, p. 4. “Robbie Burns’ Day on Saturday . . . is one date in the calendar that the Pier Head never forgets.” ¶ 30 January 1969, p. 4. “Solemnly at the Pier Head they debate the pros and cons of one-way traffic in Stromness.”

6 February 1969, p. 3. “Snow has a queer effect on the Pier Head folk.” ¶ 13 February 1969, p. 3. A “magnificent blizzard” – followed by complaints from “the Pier Head folk.” ¶ 20 February 1969, p. 4. Daydreams about summer holidays. ¶ 27 February 1969, p. 2. “So we are, in all likelihood, to have a new Warehouse Pier in Stromness. The Pier Head folk are quietly pleased about that.”

6 March 1969, p. 4. The pleasures of the Eventide club room “on a cold wet winter afternoon.” ¶ 13 March 1969, p. 4. “A variety of topics at the Pier Head last week,” including a final blizzard of the winter. ¶ 20 March 1969, p. 4. “Sometimes, especially in such terrible weather as last week, they speak at the Pier Head about summer and the tourists, to keep their hearts up.” ¶ 27 March 1969, p. 4. The good and bad of television.

3 April 1969, p. 4. “The West Shore is still, at week-ends, the favourite walking-place for Stromnessians.” ¶ 10 April 1969, p. 4. Affectionate memories of the Stromness cinema. ¶ 17 April 1969, p. 4. The Stromness Museum. ¶ 24 April 1969, p. 4. A visit to Edinburgh, where he encounters many Orkney students.

1 May 1969, p. 4. Beards have returned in the Edinburgh taverns. ¶ 8 May 1969, p. 4. Thoughts of spring in Edinburgh and Orkney. ¶ 22 May 1969, p. 2. “. . . women have been known to join in a discussion [at the Pier Head], but in the end they are gently frozen out, as they inhibit complete freedom of expression – the whole spectrum of the language cannot be used.” ¶ 29 May 1969, p. 4. Alexander Graham’s fountain at the Pier Head.

5 June 1969, p. 4. Watching “Tomorrow’s World,” a television program about the technological marvels of the future. ¶ 12 June 1969, p. 4. “The gaming machines have come to Orkney, all except Stromness.” ¶ 19 June 1969, p. 4. “They sat all last week bewildered with heat at the Pier Head.” ¶ 26 June 1969, p. 4. “The imminent death of the half-penny is causing some concern at the Pier Head.”

3 July 1969, p. 4. The old women who were the first doctors of Stromness. ¶ 10 July 1969, p. 3. “It seems like only yesterday since the first Shopping Week was opened, on a fine Monday morning in July 1949, by Provost G. S. Robertson at the Pier Head.” ¶ 17 July 1969, p. 4. A quiet Sunday morning. ¶ 24 July 1969, p. 4. An afternoon squall and an amazing cloud.

7 August 1969, p. 4. “Was there ever such a Shopping Week as the one just past?” ¶ 14 August 1969, p. 4. The Dounby Show. ¶ 21 August 1969, p. 4. Walking to Warbeth. ¶ 28 August 1969, p. 4. Many children now actually enjoy school.

4 September 1969, p. 4. Many of the Pier Head regulars are at home watching television. ¶ 11 September 1969, p. 4. Various minor religious groups in Stromness. ¶ 18 September 1969, p. 4. “Probably the greatest single event in Stromness this year is the Swimming Pool.”

2 October 1979, p. 4. “After being in the doldrums for years, the Pier Head is glad to note a great resurgence of interest in football, on the part of young folk.” ¶ 9 October 1974, p. 4. The pleasures of making beer at home. ¶ 16 October 1969, p. 4. “A great silence has descended on the town: the hush before winter.” ¶ 23 October 1969, p. 4. “Naturally the Pier Head was delighted with the Highlands and Islands Development Board decision to keep Stromness as the Orkney terminal of the Pentland Firth ferry.” ¶ 30 October 1969, p. 7. “In that longish spell of mild weather through October – ‘the peedie summer’ – creation turned back a little from the cold of winter.”

20 November 1969, p. 4. “Last week in the Youth Centre the Heritage Society gave a show of local slides, with commentaries by Ernest W. Marwick, E. Balfour and Ian MacInnes. It was intended to show the precious things – nature, streets, houses – that history has bequeathed to us, and that are perhaps in danger of being sacrificed to notions of progress and planning.” ¶ 27 November 1969, p. 4. “With St Andrew’s Day looming up . . . the Scottish Nationalists at the Pier Head are working up a fine head of steam.”

4 December 1969, p. 4. “Twopence on a pint of beer – that was the shock news that hit the Pier Head last week-end.” ¶ 11 December 1969, p. 4. “. . . it is very important . . . that that there should be a central pool, such as the Heritage Society or the Museum, for gathering and preserving these [old] photographs.” ¶ 18 December 1969, p. 4. “They are standing at the Pier Head these nights . . . dyed with multicoloured lights. It is of course the Christmas tree in the Town House garden and the festive web strung athwart the Fountain, that is scattering such richness.” ¶ 25 December 1969, p. 4. Christmas, which was once seen primarily as an English festival, is now vigorously celebrated in Orkney.

GMB — What the Pier Head Is Saying (1965)

The following “What the Pier Head Is Saying” columns by George Mackay Brown were published in the Orcadian during 1965, signed with his initials only.


21 January 1965, p. 4. “The Pier head gets very concerned sometimes about rising prices and inflation.” ¶ 28 January 1965, p. 4. “. . . Burns has a numerous following in Stromness.”

4 February 1965, p. 4. The death of Winston Churchill. ¶ 11 February 1965, p. 4. “They speak forever about the weather at the Pier Head; it ranks high in the conversation charts above politics and local genealogies.” ¶ 18 February 1965, p. 4. “The pipe smokers at the Pier Head (and no doubt they are in the majority) preened and perked up one day last week, and looked pityingly at their cigarette-smoking brethren. For they had just heard on their radios, or read in the papers, that the government had banned the TV advertising of cigarettes.” ¶ 25 February 1965, p. 4. “Wednesday is the busy day at the Pier Head, and if you want to hear a good debate that is the day you should take your seat.”

4 March 1965, p. 4. “Two or three afternoons towards the end of February the Pier Head observed the first ‘spoot ebbs’ for a long time, when very low tides uncovered the sandy bottom between Ness and the Outer Holm.” ¶ 11 March 1965, p. 4. “The Pier Head, when the historical mood is on it, sometimes wonders about Alexander Graham. They can hardly avoid thinking about him sometimes, for Graham’s memorial, the Fountain, has bee right there in front of their eyes since 1901.” ¶ 18 March 1965, p. 4. “One noticeable change at the Pier Head over the years is that the old Kirkwall–Stromness rivalry is dying out.” ¶ 25 March 1965, p. 4. “Is there a thinning of the ranks at the Pier Head? Many a morning one would swear there is.”

1 April 1965, p. 4. Stanley Cursiter once suggested that “the present Warehouse Buildings – built in the early 19th century for a rice store” – should be made into a new town hall. ¶ 8 April 1965, p. 4. “Often the Pier Head, in reminiscent mood, speaks of the great number of peedie shops that there used to be in Stromness, usually kept by old wives with shawls.” ¶ 15 April 1965, p. 4. “The Pier Head is a bit disillusioned with factories and talk of factories. . . . What does rouse their enthusiasm at the mere mention of it is the great herring fishing days in town at the turn of the century. . . .” ¶ 22 April 1965, p. 4. What title the locals would like to assume if they were made a lord. ¶ 29 April 1965, p. 4. “The news that ITV (Grampian) is shortly to be available to Orkney viewers got a mixed reception at the Pier Head the other day.”

6 May 1965, p. 4. “. . . the other day splendour came to the Pier Head, when Alexander Graham’s fountain got its annual coat of paint.” ¶ 13 May 1965, p. 4. The strong sense of connection between Stromness and the sea. ¶ 20 May 1965, p. 4. Changes along the West Shore. ¶ 27 May 1965, p. 4. Memories of “the years when Stromness Athletic dominated Orkney football, and were top of the league years after year.”

3 June 1965, p. 4. The arrival of tourists. ¶ 10 June 1965, p. 4. Plans for summer holidays. ¶ 17 June 1965, p. 4. “A favourite occupation at the Pier Head, now that summer is here, is to watch the ‘St Ola’ discharging her passengers and cars.” ¶ 24 June 1965, p. 4. The South End of Stromness was once the center of many activities, and it is now again showing signs of life.

1 July 1965, p. 4. The trows once associated with midsummer. ¶ 8 July 1965, p. 4. Gloomy talk about the weather and Shopping Week. ¶ 15 July 1966, p. 4. Tales about gold near the Black Craig. ¶ 29 July 1965, p. 4. Why the name of Shopping Week should be changed.

12 August 1965, p. 7. Population decline in Orkney. ¶ 26 August 1965, p. 4. The end of summer brings back recollections of school in earlier years.

2 September 1965, p. 2. The reopening of the local cinema; memories of films during the war. ¶ 9 September 1965, p. 4. Lammas Market Day during pre-war days. ¶ 16 September 1965, p. 4. Playing the football pools. ¶ 23 September 1965, p. 4. “Three or four times a year Stromness is invaded by small fleets of Norwegian fishing boats, and our cousins from over the North Sea step ashore to see what our town can offer them.” ¶ 30 September 1965, p. 2. “The reporter of the debates at the Pier Head regrets that he has been unable to attend recently, as he is on holiday in the south.”

7 October 1965, p. 4. A series of photograph albums, created by George Ellison, at the Stromness Museum. ¶ 14 October 1974, p. 4. “Winter has come to the Pier Head.” ¶ 21 October 1965, p. 4. “Most members of the Pier Head watched with great interest on T.V. one night last week the Magnus Magnusson programme on the Faroe Islands.” ¶ 28 October 1965, p. 4. “. . . the Pier Head is alive to the natural charm of their town, and they would not like to see it destroyed by the forces of progress.”

4 November 1965, p. 4. Preparations for Guy Fawkes Day. ¶ 11 November 1965, p. 4. The gradual appearance of women on the pier head benches. ¶ 18 November 1965, p. 4. “The Pier Head is certain that the day is coming, and that not far distant, when there will have to be some kind of one-way traffic system in Stromness.” ¶ 25 November 1965, p. 4. Christmas was once a less important festival.

2 December 1965, p. 4. “The Pier Head was delighted to read the other day of the success of the Stromness Academy magazine ‘Stromnessian,’ runner-up among 150 magazines from Scottish schools.” ¶ 9 December 1965, p. 4. “Never, never in all their long and checquered lives, does the Pier Head remember a winter so ferocious in its beginning as the present one.” ¶ 16 December 1965, p. 4. “The Pier Head was thrilled the other week to learn that Miss World 1965 was born in Stromness, at 5 Alfred Terrace, the home of one of the best-known Pier Head members, Arthur (‘Attie’) Campbell.” ¶ 23 December 1965, p. 4. The Yule Log competition on the streets of Stromness. ¶ 30 December 1965, p. Remembering the big events of the past year.

GMB — Letter from Hamnavoe (1972)

The following “Letter from Hamnavoe” columns by George Mackay Brown were published in the Orcadian during 1972 and were signed with initials only (except for the column of 11 May 1972, which was unsigned). Most were reprinted in GMB’s Letters from Hamnavoe (1979), cited here as LH.


6 January 1972, p. 3. “January is a month when . . .” [a long list]. Repr. LH 31–32. ¶ 13 January 1972, p. 3. What Sunday was like during his childhood. ¶ 20 January 1972, p. 4. “Next week Orkney will once more be celebrating Robbie Burns.” Repr. LH 32–33. ¶ 27 January 1972, p. 4. The spread of flu in Orkney – but it turns out that his own illness was only “a bit of a cold.” Repr. LH 33.

3 February 1972, p. 4. The mixing of races and nationalities in Orkney’s history. ¶ 10 February 1972, p. 4. The traditional rivalry between boys of the South End and the North End of Stromness. “Nowadays that old rivalry seems to have completely withered away among the young – and whether that is a good or a bad thing I would not care to say.” Repr. LH 35. ¶ 17 February 1972, p. 3. “The Scots above all love to wear masks before the world”; the former cathedral on the Brough of Birsay.

2 March 1972, p. 4. He visits Perth to watch a rehearsal of his play A Spell for Green Corn. Repr. LH 36-39. ¶ 9 March 1972, p. 4. A stroll about Perth, and a performance of J. M. Barrie’s The Admirable Crichton. Repr. LH 36–37. ¶ 16 March 1972, p. 4. “One Saturday morning I took a bus to the royal burgh of Falkland in the interior of Fife, to visit my friends Kulgin Duval and Colin Hamilton.” Then he rides with them to their new home on Loch Tummel in the heart of the Highlands. Repr. LH 37–38. ¶ 23 March 1972, p. 3. Growing pollution in Orkney: “We must have faith that somewhere, deep down at the very roots and sources of life, there is an endless upsurge of health and renewal.” Repr. LH 38–40.

6 April 1972, p. 3. “After the dance of the bulldozers, Gray’s Pier is no more. When I got back from Perth at the end of March, there was a tall wooden stockade along the seaward side of the street, and a padlocked gate.” Memories of the people who once lived in the vicinity. Repr. LH 40. ¶ 13 April 1972, p. 4. “We had better relish the flavour of every day we live from now on, because very soon the life of the place is going to be radically altered. Oil is going to change everything. . . . But there is more than oil in Orkney; somebody has discovered traces of uranium at Yesnaby.” Repr. LH 41. ¶ 20 April 1972, p. 3. ¶ 27 April 1972, p. 4. An account of John Louttit, Kirk Officer of the Secession Church in Stromness during the early nineteenth century, who was removed from office for butchering whales on the sabbath. Repr. LH 41–42.

4 May 1972, p. 3. Admiring daffodils alongside the road on the bus journey from Stromness to Kirkwall. Repr. LH 42–43. ¶ 11 May 1972, p. 3. Unsigned. The pleasures of listening to his transistor radio. ¶ 18 May 1972, p. 4. Advice to tourists on the best things to see in Stromness. Repr. LH 43–44. ¶ 25 May 1972, p. 3. “I have a rent book that goes back to 1934.”

1 June 1972, p. 4. A visit to Edinburgh for “a literary gathering, a cocktail party for my new book Greenvoe”; but there is a delay in returning to Orkney, and he finds himself staying briefly with friends in Aberdeen. Repr. LH 45. ¶ 8 June 1972, p. 3. “‘The Orkney Croft’ is the title of this summer’s exhibition in Stromness Museum. . . . It is a memorable exhibition, one of the best that the Museum has put on (and that’s saying something). I have been to see it twice and I hope to go back a few times yet before September.” Repr. LH 45–46. ¶ 15 June 1972, p. 3. Heavy automobile traffic in Stromness. ¶ 22 June 1972, p. 3. “Here we are, near midsummer, and how pleasant it would be, among all these dull days, to have a splash or two of sunshine. The weather has been meagre with his gold as a miser this year.” Repr. LH 46–47.

6 July 1972, p. 3. “Our ignorant great-grandfathers had a relationship with the sun that was intense and meaningful. Midsummer for them was a mysterious time. . . . Nowadays we just get tanned, and drink iced lager, and have a little holiday.” Repr. LH 47. ¶ 13 July 1972, p. 9. “Stromness is being pleasantly invaded by troops of young folk.” Account of an evening spent with Jeremy Rundall, a journalist from London. Repr. LH 47–48. ¶ 20 July 1972, p. 4. Affectionate memories of an Orkney childhood – rather different from the experiences of the young today. Repr. LH 48–49. ¶ 27 July 1972, p. 4. “It’s such a gay, giddy, coloured wheel, Shopping Week [in Stromness], that when it’s all over . . . it’s difficult to separate the various incidents.” Repr. LH 49–50.

3 August 1972, p. 4. “Nobody seems to know anything nowadays about The Book of Black Arts: though in my young days all the old men could tell the story in different versions.” Repr. LH 50. ¶ 10 August 1972, p. 3. ¶ 17 August 1972, p. 4. A day of heavy rain at the annual Dounby cattle show. Repr. LH 50–51. ¶ 24 August 1972, p. 4. A visit to Rackwick. “The old magic of Rackwick is stronger than all its threnodies and desolations.” Repr. LH 51–53. ¶ 31 August 1972, p. 4. A day at the Lammas Fair in Kirkwall: “I never saw such a crowd in Kirkwall as last Wednesday afternoon.” Repr. LH 53–54.

7 September 1972, p. 4. Watching the Olympics on television. ¶ 14 September 1972, p. 3. A depressing town holiday; heavy traffic in Stromness. ¶ 21 September 1972, p. 4. For the past fortnight he has been exploring the roads of Orkney: Mainland, Burray, South Ronaldsay. Repr. LH 54. ¶ 28 September 1972, p. 4. The problems and pleasures of letter-writing. Repr. LH 54–55.

5 October 1972, p. 4. Affectionate memories of various pens he has used during his lifetime. Repr. LH 55–56. ¶ 12 October 1972, p. 4. The arrival of postcodes in Orkney. ¶ 19 October 1972, p. 4. Reflections on various Poets Laureate, including the only two who are known to have visited Orkney (Betjeman and Tennyson). Repr. LH 56–57. ¶ 26 October 1972, p. 4. “The Stromness Library has never been in better shape, or so well stocked, as it is today.” Repr. LH 57.

2 November 1972, p. 4. A parable about what we have lost in the modern world. Repr. LH 58. ¶ 9 November 1972, p. 4. Reflections on the observance, past and present, of Guy Fawkes Day in Stromness. Repr. LH 58–59. ¶ 16 November 1972, p. 4. A young American visitor is disillusioned to discover that GMB does not live in a croft and has modern conveniences (including a radio and an electric fire) in his modern council house. Repr. LH 59–61. ¶ 23 November 1972, p. 4. His morning routine. Repr. LH 61–62. ¶ 30 November 1972, p. 4. (Unsigned.) Description of a typical week at home. Repr. LH 62–63.

7 December 1972, p. 4. Memories of Christmas during childhood. “December for a child is a marvellous magical month. He exists then and then only among the stars and the storms and the snow, without hindsight or foresight.” Repr. LH 63. ¶ 14 December 1972, p. 4. Stromness sweetie shops that he frequented as a child. Repr. LH 64. ¶ 21 December 1972, p. 3. Various incarnations of the St. Ola ferry since the nineteenth century; suggests that the next one be renamed St. Olaf, of which St. Ola is merely a corruption. Repr. LH 64–65. ¶ 28 December 1972, p. 4. “Every year, once it’s gone, has its own flavour. 1972 leaves a pleasant taste in the mind, all things considered.”

GMB — What the Pier Head Is Saying (1970)

The following “What the Pier Head Is Saying” columns by George Mackay Brown were published in the Orcadian during 1970, signed with his initials only.


1 January 1970, p. 3. “As the last few days of the Sixties dwindle and flicker at the Pier Head, they remember some of the things that happened during the year.” ¶ 8 January 1970, p. 3. What Stromness was like in the 1770s and 1870s; information about Robert Leighton, author of Pilots of Pomona. ¶ 15 January 1970, p. 3. Puzzling local street names. ¶ 22 January 1970, p. 4. “This is the Burns season, and at the Pier Head they honour the bard as sincerely as anywhere.” ¶ 29 January 1970, p. 5. Eyesores in Stromness that could be repaired or removed.

5 February 1970, p. 4. “Washing day in the old times – not so long ago either – was a large-scale operation, especially if there were more than four or five in the family.” ¶ 12 February 1970, p. 4. “”The Pier Head waits, with some apprehension, for the introduction of decimal currency a year from now.” ¶ 19 February 1970, p. 4. Recalling the wartime aerodrome near Stromness. ¶ 26 February 1970, p. 4. “The big snow came with a wild white flurry one Friday morning, and continued most of the afternoon.”

5 March 1970, p. 4. A visit to the Eventide Club. ¶ 12 March 1970, p. 4. “Congratulations to the Stromness W.R.I. on winning the Orkney Drama Festival again”; suggestions for an open-air drama in Stromness. ¶ 19 March 1970, p. 4. “Have they gone forever, the old shops of Stromness, where you could drop in for a talk at any hour of the day, and be sure of a good story before you left?” ¶ 26 March 1970, p. 4. The tradition of collecting pace eggs the Saturday before Easter.

2 April 1970, p. 4. “Nowadays, whetted no doubt by the activities of the Heritage Society, there is a great interest in old photographs both of the places and people that were once a part of our story.” ¶ 9 April 1970, p. 4. Signs of spring. ¶ 16 April 1970, p. 4. “Would it not be a good idea to start thinking now about the future of the Warehouse Building?” ¶ 23 April 1970, p. 4. Local feats of walking, past and present. ¶ 30 April 1970, p. 3. We are all hypocrites.

7 May 1970, p. 4. Spring-cleaning is no longer the “important and desperate ritual” that it once was. ¶ 14 May 1970, p. 4. “Whether they put fluoride in the water or not does not concern the Pier Head people very much.” ¶ 21 May 1970, p. 4. a visit to Edinburgh. ¶ 28 May 1970, p. 4. Signs of opulence in the shops of Edinburgh.

4 June 1970, p. 4. The pleasures of crossing the Pentland Firth. ¶ 11 June 1970, p. 3. The June holiday in Stromness. ¶ 18 June 1970, p. 4. Memories of earlier General Election Days. ¶ 25 June 1970, p. 4. The attempt to revive the tradition of a Johnsmas Eve fire on a hill on Hoy.

2 July 1970, p. 4. The flood of summer visitors.


[In the 3 December 1970 issue of the Orcadian (p. 4), a letter from G. Woodward complained, “We very much miss the one-time feature ‘What they are saying down at the Pierhead.'” The editor responded, “The writer of the Pierhead Gossip is ‘recharging his batteries’ and intends to return to the fold sometime.” In fact, GMB never resumed the “What the Pier Head Is Saying” column, but in February 1971 he launched his “Letter from Hamnavoe,” which seems to have been intended for a somewhat broader audience.]

“Under Brinkie’s Brae” (1976)

The following “Under Brinkie’s Brae” columns by George Mackay Brown were published in the Orcadian during 1976 and were signed with initials only. Most were reprinted in GMB’s Under Brinkie’s Brae (1979), cited here as UBB.


5 February 1976, p. 4. The tradition of the ba’ in Kirkwall. Repr. UBB 9. ¶ 12 February 1976, p. 4. “It seems that the most famous of Orkney foods is clapshot.” Repr. UBB 9–10. ¶ 19 February 1976, p. 4. Description of a trip on the ferry across the Pentland Firth. Repr. UBB 10–11. ¶ 26 February 1976, p. 4. Taking the train from Edinburgh to Thurso. Repr. UBB 11–12.

4 March 1976, p. 4. His visit to Edinburgh. Repr. UBB 12. ¶ 11 March 1976, p. 6. “I must have said somewhere before that two of the highlights of each day are when the postman delivers the mail, around about 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.” Repr. UBB 12–13. ¶ 18 March 1976, p. 4. “The poet who seems to me to be closest in spirit to Van Gogh is Gerard Manley Hopkins.” Repr. UBB 13–14. ¶ 25 March 1976, p. 4. “All month, with short interludes of peace, Orkney has been scourged by this south-east gale.” Repr. UBB 14–15.

1 April 1976, p. 4. Loss of the old vocabulary for pre-decimalized coins. Repr. UBB 15–16. ¶ 8 April 1976, p. 4. A visit to a Perthshire village evokes some thoughts about yew trees. Repr. UBB 16. ¶ 15 April 1976, p. 4. It’s now possible to watch three television channels. “It’s perhaps best not to ask if we might not have a penalty to pay for all the luxury, in terms of weakened speech and colder social relations.” Repr. UBB 16–17. ¶ 22 April 1976, p. 4. Ball-point pens are essential but unreliable. Repr. UBB 17–18. ¶ 29 April 1976, p. 4. A visit to the local public library, which is suffering from the consequences of austerity. Repr. UBB 18.

6 May 1976, p. 4. A couch in need of repairs. Repr. UBB 20. ¶ 13 May 1976, p. 4. The pleasures of the bench in Mayburn Court: “It has been a beautiful week, altogether.” Repr. UBB 20–21. ¶ 20 May 1976, p. 4. A hypothetical account of Stromness grown into a major seaport. Repr. UBB 21–22. ¶ 27 May 1976, p. 4. “There was a lot of football on the TV last week.” Repr. UBB 22.

3 June 1976, p. 6. An excursion with friends to Marwick Bay and Birsay on a beautiful day. Repr. UBB 22–23. ¶ 10 June 1976, p. 4. An afternoon on the bench near Stromness Museum, with an account of the people he spoke to there. Repr. UBB 24. ¶ 17 June 1976, p. 4. His brief visits to England (by crossing the bridge at Berwick) and Ireland. ¶ 24 June 1976, p. 4. Midsummer past and present in Orkney. Repr. UBB 24–25.

1 July 1976, p. 4. School holidays when he was a boy. Repr. UBB 26. ¶ 8 July 1976, p. 4. Hot weather and midges. Repr. UBB 26–27. ¶ 15 July 1976, p. 4. Visiting Rackwick. Repr. UBB 28. ¶ 22 July 1976, p. 6. Walking around Rackwick with a small boy. Repr. UBB 28–29. ¶ 29 July 1976, p. 4. The intense sounds of scraping the railings on Mayburn Court. Repr. UBB 29–30.

5 August 1976, p. 4. Various kinds of tourists in Stromness. Repr. UBB 30. ¶ 12 August 1976, p. 6. A Caithness friend has given him a large salmon. Repr. UBB 31. ¶ 19 August 1976, p. 4. A visit to St. Peter’s Church on South Ronaldsay, once presided over by the eccentric Rev. John Gerard. Repr. UBB 31–32.

2 September 1976, p. 4. “It has been a beautiful summer in the islands”; tents and caravans just south of Stromness. Repr. UBB 32–33. ¶ 9 September 1976, p. 4. The Muirs and other friends at Newbattle Abbey College. Repr. UBB 34. ¶ 16 September 1976, p. 4. He is again using his record player, which had been gathering dust for two years. Repr. UBB 34–35. ¶ 23 September 1976, p. 4. “. . . why, I wonder, do the fishermen of the north have an aversion to mackerel as an item of diet?” Repr. UBB 35–36. ¶ 30 September 1976, p. 4. The Scotsman has been sending him review copies of books of verse. Repr. UBB 36.

7 October 1976, p. 4. City dwellers are now coming back to Orkney. Repr. UBB 36–37. ¶ 14 October 1976, p. 4. We don’t respond appropriately to good news. Repr. UBB 37–38. ¶ 21 October 1976, p. 4. The futility of reading the Sunday newspapers. Repr. UBB 39. ¶ 28 October 1976, p. 4. A car breakdown in Sutherland on his way to Edinburgh. Repr. UBB 39–40.

4 November 1976, p. 4. Visiting exhibitions in Edinburgh. Repr. UBB 41. ¶ 11 November 1976, p. 4. The journey home. Repr. UBB 41–42. ¶ 18 November 1976, p. 4. His failure to climb Brinkie’s Brae in 1976 and his uneasiness about the Black Craig. Repr. UBB 42–43. ¶ 25 November 1976, p. 4. His apparently dead wristwatch has come back to life. Repr. UBB 43.

2 December 1976, p. 4. Driving around the island on a bleak winter day with a friend from Northumberland. Repr. UBB 45. ¶ 9 December 1976, p. 6. Writing is merely a trade that brings in income. Repr. UBB 45–46. ¶ 16 December 1976, p. 6. The arrival of snow in Stromness. Repr. UBB 46–47. ¶ 23 December 1976, p. 4. Christmas in the 1920s. Repr. UBB 47–48. ¶ 30 December 1976, p. 4. A look back at 1976, when he began to write poetry again. Repr. UBB 48.

GMB — Letter from Hamnavoe (1973)

The following “Letter from Hamnavoe” columns by George Mackay Brown were published in the Orcadian during 1973 and were signed with initials only. Most were reprinted in GMB’s Letters from Hamnavoe (1979), cited here as LH.


4 January 1973, p. 3. The South End of Stromness, where he lives, was once a much more lively part of town. Repr. LH 65–66. ¶ 11 January 1973, p. 3. Holiday advertisements in the Sunday newspapers. “There is magic in Orkney indeed in summer, but it is not the kind of magic that can be caught in holiday brochures, even with the help of coloured photographs. The essence of Orkney’s magic is silence, loneliness, and the deep marvellous rhythms of sea and land, darkness and light.” Repr. LH 66–67. ¶ 18 January 1973, p. 3. An imaginary account of how Robert Burns might have traced his ancestry to the island of Sanday. Repr. LH 67–68. ¶ 25 January 1973, p. 4. How he cooks for himself. Repr. LH 68.

1 February 1973, p. 4. He imagines what it was like when the first wheelbarrow arrived in Stromness. Repr. LH 38–69. ¶ 8 February 1973, p. 4. He thinks about a potential volcanic eruption near Stromness. ¶ 15 February 1973, p. 4. Trying to write while suffering from the flu. Repr. LH 69–70. ¶ 22 February 1973, p. 3. “The first snow for two winters has come to the islands, and is reluctant to go away. . . . But where are the sledges? . . . One grows old, and forgets. But I swear there seem to be far fewer snow vehicles than there used to be 40 years ago.” Repr. LH 70.

1 March 1973, p. 4. Memories of being a Celtic supporter when he was in school. Repr. LH 70–71. ¶ 8 March 1973, p. 4. Recounts the legend of Helen Waters and Henry Stewart (the latter of whom disappeared just before their wedding); concludes by wondering whether the story is true. Repr. LH 72–73. ¶ 15 March 1973, p. 4. A visit to the site of the battle of Summerdale (1529) on Orkney. Repr. LH 73–74. ¶ 22 March 1973, p. 4. His memories of the first air raid on Orkney in March 1940. Repr. LH 74–75. ¶ 29 March 1973, p. 4. Remembering the record players of his childhood.

5 April 1973, p. 4. A discussion of some of the most important books about Orkney and his recollections of purchasing them. Repr. LH 75. ¶ 12 April 1973, p. 4. Foul weather and a disturbing television drama. ¶ 19 April 1973, p. 4. Watching the Eurovision Song Contest on television; Picasso; various scholars who have visited him and asked questions about Edwin Muir. ¶ 26 April 1973, p. 4. A television adaptation of Forster’s A Room with a View; John Holden’s letters in the Orcadian; “. . . the meaning of precious old things [such as St. Magnus Day] is gradually seeping away, like honey from a comb.”

3 May 1973, p. 4. “There has never been an April like this for a long time, with cold northerly winds streaming over the islands day after day.” But now the weather has turned pleasant, and he remembers idyllic days of his childhood. Repr. LH 76–77. ¶ 10 May 1973, p. 4. “Nearly everyone who writes to me from the south mentions, somewhere in the letter, and in tones varying from apprehension to horror, the black wave about to break over Orkney – OIL.” But then he remembers a reassuring line by Gerard Manley Hopkins: “There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.” Repr. LH 77. ¶ 17 May 1973, p. 4. The performance of two of his stories, Witch and The Return of the Women, as plays in Glasgow; place names within Stromness. Repr. LH 77–78. ¶ 24 May 1973, p. 4. “Last summer, it seemed to this unbiased observer, Orkney had about as many tourists as it could take.” A book published in 1810 records an instance of hostility by an Orkney crofter toward strangers. Repr. LH 78–80. ¶ 31 May 1973, p. 4. Discusses the recent theatrical productions by the 7:84 players on Orkney; connects the Highland clearances and the drilling for oil. Repr. LH 80.

7 June 1973, p. 3. Instead of sponsored walks, perhaps there should be a sponsored “attack on littler.” ¶ 14 June 1973, p. 3. The publication of his An Orkney Tapestry leads to some reflections on the pleasures of buying paperbacks when he was younger. Repr. LH 80–81. ¶ 21 June 1973, p. 4. The old tradition of complaining about the weather. ¶ 28 June 1973, p. 4. The pleasures of a bus trip to Kirkwall on Midsummer Day. Repr. LH 81–82.

5 July 1973, p. 4. An imaginary account of how Finstown acquired its name. Repr. LH 82. ¶ 12 July 1973, p. 4. He conjectures what Shopping Week in Stromness will be like in 2049. ¶ 19 July 1973, p. 4. “As I write this on the eve of Shopping Week, the flood of tourists is reaching the high level.” Lists the most quiet places in Stromness. Repr. LH 83. ¶ 26 July 1973, p. 4. A fanciful history of the Standing Stones of Stenness. Repr. LH 84–85.

2 August 1973, p. 4. Various editions of the Orkneyinga Saga. Repr. LH 86. ¶ 9 August 1973, p. 4. Visitors arriving in Orkney to discover “a thin persistent saturating drizzle.” ¶ 16 August 1973, p. 4. A day-by-day account of the rainy weather in early August. ¶ 23 August 1973, p. 4. Nowadays a writer’s rough drafts are thought to be valuable. “Whatever the reason, the little scraps of paper with a few words on them, and the scarred and gory rough work, and neat immaculate fair copies – that I used to light the fire with in the mornings of yore – are now carefully labelled and put away in a drawer until the arrival of the manuscript dealer.” Repr. LH 86–87. ¶ 30 August 1973, p. 4. Has recently seen a group of drawings by Ian MacInnes intended for a new edition of the Orkneyinga Saga that was never published; hopes they will appear in print eventually. Repr. LH 87.

6 September 1973, p. 4. Accompanying a friend who was whelk-hunting on Marwick beach. ¶ 13 September 1973, p. 4. A local legend about King James V of Scotland, the embryo of GMB’s story “The King in Rags.” Repr. LH 87–88. ¶ 20 September 1973, p. 4. The Lammas Market as it was in Stromness during his childhood. Repr. LH 88. ¶ 27 September 1973, p. 4. His experiences in guiding visitors around Orkney. Repr. LH 90.

4 October 1973, p. 4. Cars in the street causing interference on his television; investigating the meaning of “grouting”; the wealth of nations does not correspond with wealth of individual citizens. ¶ 11 October 1973, p. 4. A story about the men who built the Suleskerry Lighthouse. ¶ 18 October 1973, p. 4. Reading about St. Brandon; approaching winter; Israelis in a state of seige; books about Orkney in the Stromness library. ¶ 25 October 1973, p. 4. “Looking through the sittingroom window, I can see a segment of harbour, and further off, between the Outer Holm and Clestrain shore, a thin gleam of sea. It suddenly struck me this afternoon that that piece of sea was where Gow the pirate cast anchor on a winter day in 1725.” Repr. LH 90–91.

1 November 1973, p. 4. How they celebrated Halloween in Stromness when he was a child. Repr. LH 91–92. ¶ 8 November 1973, p. 4. A typical week when he was a schoolboy. Repr. LH 92. ¶ 15 November 1973, p. 4. Old and new place-names in Stromness. Repr. LH 92–93. ¶ 22 November 1973, p. 4. Describes how John Renton, an Orcadian sailor, became the victim of a conspiracy in San Francisco in 1867. Repr. LH 93–94. ¶ 29 November 1973, p. 4. The sad depopulation of Rackwick. Repr. LH 94–95.

6 December 1973, p. 4. Some of the traditional holidays, such as St. Andrew’s Day and Burns Day, are no longer widely celebrated. Repr. LH 95. ¶ 13 December 1973, p. 4. Pedestrians in competition with cars on the narrow main street of Stromness. ¶ 20 December 1973, p. 4. A visit to Maeshowe on the winter solstice: meditations on the shaft of light that strikes the interior of the tomb on that one day of the year. Repr. LH 95–97. ¶ 27 December 1973, p. 4. Unhappy local news during the past year.

GMB — What the Pier Head Is Saying (1966)

The following “What the Pier Head Is Saying” columns by George Mackay Brown were published in the Orcadian during 1966, signed with his initials only.


6 January 1966, p. 4. Looking forward to the various festivities of the coming year. ¶ 13 January 1966, p. 4. “One of the perennial subjects that crop up in the Town Council is the possibility of making a shore road from the Auction Mart to the Pier.” ¶ 20 January 1966, p. 4. The Temperance Hall has been taken over by the local Sea Cadets. ¶ 27 January 1966, p. 4. Watching a television program about people in a Welsh valley celebrate Hogmanay.

3 February 1966, p. 4. Concerns about the possibility that Stromness might ban alcohol again. ¶ 10 February 1966, p. 4. “At the Pier Head they don’t place too much faith in weather forecasts. . . . The folk they are inclined to trust with regard to the weather are the fishermen.” ¶ 17 February 1966, p. 2. Local memories of snow in February. ¶ 24 February 1966, p. 4. Alterations in the public toilet at the Pier Head.

3 March 1966, p. 4. “With another General Election coming up soon, the Pier Head, generally amiable and agreeable about most things, tends to show sharp rifts and schisms as they assert their loyalty to this part or that.” ¶ 10 March 1966, p. 4. “Flu has been thinning the benches at the Pier Head recently, scything the members down indiscriminately.” ¶ 17 March 1966, p. 4. “Over the generations the St Ola [ferry] has become a symbol to Stromnessians – a symbol of continuing life and prosperity, in however muted a key.” ¶ 24 March 1966, p. 4. “Nowadays many of the Pier Head fraternity are not so regular in their appearances. They are at home, turning over the garden. . . .” ¶ 31 March 1966, p. 4. An important but dull election.

7 April 1966, p. 4. The need for “a place in Stromness” where visitors could go. ¶ 14 April 1966, p. 4. “The Pier Head learned with great pleasure and interest – indeed, with some excitement – that soon a new boat-building industry may be starting at the Point of Ness.”  ¶ 21 April 1966, p. 4. The lack of candidates for the Stromness Town Council. ¶ 28 April 1966, p. 4. “The Pier Head follows with patient curiosity the restoration of old houses in Stromness.”

5 May 1966, p. 4. “What the Pier Head in Stromness is saying just now is a mystery to this chronicler, who is spending a brief holiday in the south.” ¶ 12 May 1966, p. 4. “The Pier Head often wonders what the future of the Alexander Graham fountain will be.” ¶ 19 May 1966, p. 2. The seamen’s strike. ¶ 26 May 1966, p. 4. “A Stromness holiday on Monday, and the Pier Head was very disgruntled, because the heavens opened and floods of rain descended.”

2 June 1966, p. 4. A new hotel in Stromness, The Braes. ¶ 9 June 1966, p. 4. “. . . the absence of summer visitors.” ¶ 23 June 1966, p. 2. “Today is midsummer eve, what the old folk called Johnsmas night, a really enchanted time of the year when all the trows and fairies and peedie folk were out in legions. . . .” ¶ 30 June 1966, p. 2. “. . . all last week, as summer deepened upon us, Stromness seemed more and more a ghost town, haunted by the tourists and holiday-makers who used to be here in years gone by.”

7 July 1966, p. 4. “The fact that sport in Stromness is at such a lamentable ebb frequently disturbs the Pier Head.” ¶ 14 July 1966, p. 4. “Next year, 1967, Stromness will be celebrating its one hundred and fiftieth anniversary as a burgh.” ¶ 21 July 1966, p. 4. The “Pier Head parliament stands dissolved” because of Shopping Week.

11 August 1966, p. 4. Summer visitors are enchanted by the sunny weather. ¶ 18 August 1966, p. 4. “Nearly all the Pier Head went off to the Dounby Show last Thursday, by bus and car.” ¶ 25 August 1966, p. 4. “What the Pier Head members dislike almost more than anything is when young teenage visitors sit down on their seats with transistors chattering and blaring away.”

1 September 1966, p. 4. “. . . the Pier Head members, in common with every other islander, were quite excited when the Old Man of Hoy was essayed and triumphantly climbed.” ¶ 8 September 1966, p. 2. “It is ten summers at least since we had so much sunshine. . . .” ¶ 15 September 1966, p. 4. “How many Scottish Nationalists are there in Orkney? . . . The Pier Head considers that there is a much stronger case for Orkney Nationalism.” ¶ 22 September 1966, p. 4. The “transformation of St Peter’s Church . . . into a Youth Club. . . . It is almost . . . as if St Magnus Cathedral was being turned into a car-park or a bingo hall.” ¶ 29 September 1966, p. 4. “Cars everywhere, and on the increase. Some days, especially Wednesday and Saturday, the Pier Head resembles Piccadilly Circus.”

6 October 1966, p. 2. The rise in the cost of living. ¶ 13 October 1966, p. 4. “There is life and bustle everywhere [in Stromness] – a feeling of hope and optimism.” ¶ 20 October 1966, p. 4. In the last generation Orkney children were taught nothing about the history of their own community. ¶ 27 October 1966, p. 4. “The Pier Head heard last week with some regret and to the accompaniment of much reminiscence, that The White Horse at the North End of the town, is in process of final demolition.”

3 November 1966, p. 4. “The Pier Head notes, with some despondence, that winter is upon us.” ¶ 10 November 1966, p. 4. The Orcadian now has news rather than advertisements on the front page. ¶ 17 November 1966, p. 4. Changes in the observation of Christmas.

1 December 1966, p. 4. Memories of local shipwrecks. ¶ 8 December 1966, p. 4. Discussion of how education should be conducted in Stromness. ¶ 15 December 1966, p. 4. Gloomy talk about the weather. ¶ 22 December 1966, p. 4. The sad disappearance of traditional competitions in Stromness – The Ba’ and The Yule Log. ¶ 29 December 1966, p. 3. A retrospective view of 1966: “it has been a fairly quiet and contented year.”