Sans trees & a howling breeze; The Kirkbuster Museum, Orkney Isles

Kirkwall Museum, Orkney, sea view

When was the last time you were in a place that felt profoundly foreign?

Over the past year I’ve experienced that “other worldly” feeling in a handful of countries, but none felt somehow simultaneously close to home while also being totally alien in the same way as the Orkney Isles. Orkney is an archipelago of 70 odd islands north of Scotland. The largely uninhabited and pastoral nature of the Mainland (the very inventive name of the largest Island) made me feel a little pang for the endless flat fields of the north Waikato plains, but that’s where the similarity ends.

To begin with, there are no trees. I’m not even exaggerating. The fields just go on rolling from ragged cliff coast to ragged beach coast as far as the eye can see.

Orkney Islands, Mainland beach

The wind whips across this green but kind of empty landscape like an actual whip, sometimes enough to almost poke your eye out. We visited in the height of summer, and yet the top temperature during our holiday was 11°c. With no hills or trees to act as wind breaks, on an island that is only 25 km across at it’s widest point, there is no real main land to retreat to in hopes of sheltering from the harsh northern elements.

Orkney, Kirkbuster museum sign from road

Kirkbuster isn’t a town, more a patch of fields near another patch of fields. But it does have a dinky as fuck museum where we stopped to take in some local history and play with antique farm equipment.

Orkney, Kirkbuster museum sign from carpark

Orkney, Kirkbuster museum front door

Being a museum (not very) professional, I love visiting smaller local museums. Their content is genuine and old fashioned (even if they have worryingly low standards for collection care and pest management) but lacks the zeitgeist, on-trend approach that sometimes bog down big national museums. I feel a proper going back in time, 1950’s, joy in dioramas, mannequins, and historical tableaux.

The museum consists of a handful of dry stone buildings (in various states of repair) on a country lane, surrounded by fields. The exhibitions look a bit like this;

Kirkbuster museum, interior, museum display

Kirkbuster museum, interior, museum display

“This is what life looked like a hundred years ago and for the hundreds of years previous” exhibits. The hearth at the center of the room was pumping out smoke like a demon, so everything smelt very strongly of dark, dank peat smoke which stung your eyes and left a scent to your clothes for the rest of the day.

Kirkbuster Museum, exterior of building

The bathrooms had cheery red doors and had luckily been updated in the past century.

Kirkbuster Museum, exterior, toilet doors.

Kirkbuster Museum, exterior, toilet door

There were two unisex toilets, each containing one set of facilities. The interior walls of the toilet had funny little paintings all over. Twee bunnies and flowers, like a Beatrix Potter book.

Kirkbuster Museum, interior, toilet and sink

Kirkbuster Museum, interior, toilet and wardrobe

Kirkbuster Museum, interior, sink and mirror

Kirkbuster Museum, interior, flagstones

Kirkbuster Museum, interior, doorknob

As with many historical buildings in Europe, the doorways are very low, hence the need for foam padding on the upper door frame to stop dim people banging their already empty heads.

Kirkbuster Museum, interior, door

Kirkbuster Museum, interior, door


Cleanliness :  7/10  I get the feeling there is rarely, perhaps never, an all balls to the wall, super busy, run off your feet season. The toilets were clean, but unless one of the 4 or 5 people who visited the museum that day had been a real dickbag, the bathrooms were never going to be too dirty due to over use. Each day someone goes in and gives them a good going over and that is more than enough for the daily horde.

Interior :  7/10  Both toilets had all the facilities you would require and the privacy of a unit over a stall is always a plus in my book. The surrounding fields and gardens had plenty of places to hide if panic over took me but due to the remote nature of the Orkney Isles it was mostly an if you see a toilet , use it situation.

Exterior :  8/10  Very pretty, picturesque surroundings in a bucolic and slightly barren kind of a way. The museum must have a decent bit of funding as the facilities were in good order for a place in the middle of fuck nowhere, on an island miles from any real civilization.

Safety :  8/10  Getting lost would be the only real worry on Orkney. If you ended up alone, naked and lost in the middle of a field in winter, you might have a problem but otherwise, I think you’re pretty safe up there. Less people, means less arseholes. It’s basic percentages.

Snugglitude :  7/10  This place is cute as fuck and if I were driving the windy roads of Orkney looking for a place to stop during a panic attack, I would feel comfortable stopping at the Kirkbuster Museum. The only issue might be finding someone to ask permission to use the loos.

Total :  37/50

Our time on Orkney was lovey. We saw stones, and grass, and bigger stones, and a cuttick. After we left the Kirkbuster Museum we drove to the next parish where we stopped to take some pictures. While posing with the sign, I saw a local lady drive past and roll her eyes at our childish antics. What did she expect living in the town of Twatt?

We are, after all, only human.

Twatt Church, bench, Orkney Isles




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