Nobody Expects The Orkney Haar

MikeachimOrkney3 Comments

Surely my eyes have blown a fuse. The world is blank – not a hole (because holes are *in* something) but a total absence, a blackness filled with light.

Vertigo sweeps over me. And…that strange muddled sense of depth, like when you’re drifting off to sleep in a darkened room and suddenly you can’t tell if the ceiling is a million miles away or pressed against your face.

Fevered Mutterings Image - Haar, between Mainland Orkney and Westray - Mike Sowden

If I look down, the illusion is broken by the ship’s side-wake, curling outwards like scraped butter, but if I tilt my gaze so everything disappears from my peripheral vision, I’m floating once more. The view is a featureless aether lit by a coin of light wan enough to stare at. I drift, spiritually untethered, a sense of peace filling my entire….


Dear god.

Obviously. Obviously they would have…sounded the...fog-horn. Because we’re…in fog.

But…couldn’t they WARN us first?

Fevered Mutterings Image - Haar lifting, between Mainland Orkney and Westray - Mike Sowden

Suddenly the horizon is back, in the time it takes you to read this sentence.

Behind us, the ship’s wake appears and lengthens. Are we picking up speed? No – it’s the fog we’re emerging from, revealing the mark of our passage like a meteorological magic trick.

Fevered Mutterings Image - Wake of ship emerging from haar - Mike Sowden

Here in Orkney, a sea-fog or haar can descend at any time. In this case it’s in the middle of a sunny July day (2009).

This confuses me. Fog needs the kind of cool, damp air you’d find in Winter? But then I remembered the haar I met in August 2006 when I slept rough on the Orkney Mainland. Why fog in summer? The answer is wind, or rather a lack of it – during the Winter months, the incessant wind picks up enough to blow the fog away. It’s always around, developing wherever there’s a pronounced temperature difference between sea and sky …but Winter is more adept at moving it along, presumably to make room for some real weather.

Fevered Mutterings Image - Fog on Westray - Mike Sowden

A few days later, I emerge from my tent at Chalmersquoy on Westray after an afternoon nap to find everything smudged with haar. I watch (cursing at my camera’s inability to do it justice) as it rolls down from the hills and blankets the middle of Pierowall bay, a strip of cloud as discrete as a contrail – and as it dissipates, the buildings at the opposite side of the bay emerge, rising like the Golden Gate

Fevered Mutterings Image - Fog over Pierowall Bay, Westray - Mike Sowden

Images: Mike Sowden, 2009.