The Orkney Islands – A pilgrimage?

Photo by Alex Berger


“This trip is yours, it’s your pilgrimage,” my girlfriend replied. “I wouldn’t want to intrude,” she added politely declining my invitation to meet up in the Orkney Islands in late September. I was stunned into silence for an instant before relegating the thought at the back of my mind and moving swiftly into another conversation topic.

A pilgrimage? The word would not leave me alone that week. Was it really what I was embarking on? It would be a testing journey there was no doubt about this, but did it have that much significance? I just wanted to ride my bike from Inverness to the Orkney Islands. Simple as that.

The idea had first grown from my love of the Arthurian legends and in particular Mordred and his step brothers. In the stories it is said that they had grown on those islands before going to Arthur’s court. I know they are only tales and none of it actually happened, but they provided me with a reason to go North. So I had investigated the possibilities, found a train to bring my bike and me there and a cycle route to follow out of Inverness to the top of Scotland. The planning was done and I began to tell people around me about the trip and promptly relocated the plan at the back of my mind. Surely this was not how pilgrimage were born and planned. They grew from a strong belief and love. They were marked by time and trodden by thousands of feet. I would go on obscure islands that didn’t seem to attract many comments in guide books and that openly rejected their association with the Arthurian legends.

But the more I thought about this trip, the less trivial it became. Work fell apart, bringing back to life the questions I had carefully avoided. I needed a new direction but I had no time to think about it when my routine cluttered my mind with its constant demands. I glimpsed possible paths to follow but remained standing still at the crossroad. The Orkney Islands became a focal point, a trip to look forward to where I would have the opportunity to stop thinking, empty my mind and let the things that matter rise to the surface.

I am leaving tomorrow and the plan is still simple. I want to ride my bike, camp at night, go slow, enjoy myself, and discover the scenery that inspired legends. I won’t lie and say this is all I am looking for now. I want peace of mind through loneliness and space. I want to find myself again and understand which path I should follow into the future. But I will not force any answers, the primary goal of this trip is to escape my hard-wired routine, relax and forget about my everyday life.

So maybe it is a pilgrimage after all. A journey to a place I have come to idealised in its lush greens, prehistoric ruins, and ghosts of Mordred and his step brothers running all around them, an exile from the whirlwind and trapping of daily life and an excursion in foreign lands to heal my wounds and get closer to the answers of my many questions.

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