The Mystery of Lighthouse Corner

MikeachimOrkney7 Comments

“Lighthouse Corner? Aaaaaahrr.”

This was the response I’d been hoping for. From deep within a creased, twinkly-eyed, wind-ruddied face looking like an elephant wearing blusher, the wheezing voice continued.

“Hoos. Lighthoos. Road, blarg, garb oot crossflarp. FLARP”.

Now, I’m part Scottish. You’d think I’d have a smattering of understanding at a genetic level about how to translate accents like this into English. But this isn’t Scotland, it’s Orkney – and I’d be better equipped having Norwegian ancestors. No luck there, sadly.

“Lighthoos – uhhr!”


I didn’t really need to ask for directions – the map was clear and the road didn’t deviate. It led unambiguously away from the spectacular archaeological excavation taking place at the sea-stack called the Brough of Deerness (official website here), through a few turns, over a couple of low hills and theoretically deposited me somewhere called Lighthouse Corner. Wherever the hell that was.

But the golden rule is Always Chat To The Locals.

Actually, there’s an important rule to obey before that one, which is Make Sure You And The Locals Speak The Same Language Before You Attempt Conversation. But this is Orkney – and I thought I had that one covered.

Coonah! You wirru clart ooonan gurble blivey Lighthoos.”

With this, he gesticulated in a wildly uphelpful 180-degree arc, covering both the road ahead and the road behind. Now at least I could be sure that my destination wasn’t in the sea, or in Shetland.

He noticed my arm. “Flees! Arglbarglelaaaarpfaggras!”, at which he broke into a cough that started somewhere near his knees and threatened to propel his hat down the road. What had interested him – as it would anyone – was the exciting rivulet of blood running down to my elbow. The day was baking and sticky, and the horse-flies were out in force. One had formed a temporary yet meaningful attachment to my arm, which would spend the next two days swollen and itchy.

I was getting nowhere – and with just twenty minutes before my bus arrived, the only bus that afternoon, I couldn’t afford to. I tried to wrap things up.

“I’m heading down this road now. The bus will be along soon”.

“Boos. Aye, BOOS.”

Now we were talking.

“Yes – uh, ‘BOOS‘.”

Triumphantly, with the air of a wise, friendly old salt who knows every scrap of local knowledge and has the goodwill to bestow it on hapless tourists, he pointed down the way I’d just come. Or possibly out to sea. It was hard to tell, because he used both arms, moving in opposite directions.


“Oh bugger it. Look! The map says…well, actually the map says very little, frankly. There’s no ‘Lighthouse Corner’. The bus timetable says Lighthouse Corner, yes, but it’s not on the map. I wish someone from Ordinance Survey was here right now, trying to take notes as the flies sent arterial sprays fountaining off them like the gardens of Versailles. But they’re not, and I’m pretty damn sure it’s down this road because I’ve just been down the other one, and all that’s down there are some holes in the ground and archaeologists and tea and biscuits and filth. That’s all. No booses. I’d have noticed, trust me”.

He stared at me pityingly as I hauled my rucksack onto my shoulders again, yelping as my wind-cooled sweaty shirt met my skin, and extended the arm of my wheeled suitcase. (It was getting noisy – and I discovered why later, when I noticed that one wheel had locked solid and been ground down to a semicircle by days of dragging). Waving my free arm convulsively at the flies, I strode off. This had to be the way to Lighthouse Corner.

And so it was.

The thing is – and this is so very, very Orcadian – Lighthouse Corner isn’t really a corner, and it doesn’t have a lighthouse. This is understandable, since it’s inland. It’s entirely unannounced. There’s no sign that says “Lighthouse Corner” in large friendly letters. And being a crossroads, there are lots of corners, where all you want is a nice reassuring right-angle of flyblown tarmac. Or an “s”, tacked on the end of the name. Not this perfect marriage of ambiguities.

(Luckily, when I got there, the name of this self-catering cottage was a massive clue).

As I headed up the road for my thankfully destined appointment with Lighthouse Corner and the X-4 service to Kirkwall, I looked back – but he’d gone inside, probably to load up a WordPress blog and tell the world how stupid and ungrateful English tourists are.

But I am grateful. Can’t you tell?

Useful link: if you’re going to Orkney, print this off (pdf) at least 20 times and duct-tape it to books, camping equipment, items of luggage or even your body. Because you *will* need it. To survive in Orkney you need 3 things: food, shelter and a bus timetable. (And with a bus timetable, you have access to the other two. ‘Nuff said).