some people assumed that there would not be much in the way of leaves to dye with here in Orkney towards the end of November, and that the weather would be too awful to get outside much. but in fact the weather was mild and open; some days the sun shone all the short hours it was up.

the low lying islands make the sky huge, and there is light reflected from the surrounding and interlocking water of sea and loch.

at the bottom of the garden at Woodwick House the island of Wyre is a low hump across the sound, and the sea constantly changes colour

  

and the bare trees form a patterned screen – in this case

Rousay is the pink land under the pink cloud on the horizon, caught by the setting sun.

in George Mackay Brown’s book Magnus he describes this group of islands, ten including the mainland which he gives its old name, Hrossey (horse island) “the islands shift their places around the firth, Hrossey, Eynhallow, Rousay, Gairsay, Shapinsay, Wyre, Eday, Sanday, Stronsay, Egilsay” as Magnus and his men sail/row across the sound towards his martyrdom on Egilsay

on the beach there is a thick wreath of seaweed, coloured from ochre to rust to deep wine-purple, amongst stones that are lighter versions of the same colours, and at low tide, fine grey sand, ripple marked.

from the beach you can walk back up beside the burn, as it pours over the rock steps and pools in treacle brown depths

on a path through shrubs and trees

with secret spots to hide and read a book or draw,

leant over by tree branches. from the name I suppose there must always have been trees here.

quaint post and rails – the seabird skull my addition, a find from the beach –

snow drop bulbs everywhere in bare earth and humous, already starting to sprout green horns.

at the top there’s what they call in scotland a doo-cot – a dove cote

with compartments for all the pigeon nests, providing baby pigeons for pies. whether this is a genuine really old one is hard to say, but it’s been made into a sort of pagan chapel

a quiet contemplative place

beside the sound of the rushing burn

at the gate before the bridge

and at the other side of the house there are castellated turrets – a late Victorian fancy. the gates are missing, anyway, and the path down the to the sea is public.

the hens are the rightful owners of the garden, six of them, and with no foxes they don’t have to be shut in at night.

this one is the boss, she’s twelve years old. one day they laid four eggs!

inside we had been hard at work stitching on paper, watercolour, or other special paper – some hand made. I had brought heavy weight watercolour, and it was brutal to stitch on, so mine was quite minimal. others filled up their three pieces with masses of abstract stitching and pieces of fabric.

then we made folded books, into which we inserted leaves/and seaweed

wrapped them into parcels with cloth

and after a brief cook

opened our little treasures, at the same time adding to our drip-sheets/abstract paintings (Japanese inksticks ground on beach stones and peat from the burn-side, using sticks and home-made brushes, and yes, fingers)

they looked gorgeous when wet

though this lovely rusty brown

dried to something a bit duller.

the drip-lengths were made into something very exciting on the last day.

when you work with leaves and stitches your eyes get tuned into all the fine details of the landscape

things you might walk past before, suddenly shine out at you with their beauty.