Go with the Flow

Mention the word ‘flow’ to anyone in Orkney, and the chances are they’ll think you’re talking about Scapa Flow. The Flow, as we usually call it, is the spectacular natural harbour at the heart of the Orkney archipelago.

Mention the word ‘flow’ to anyone in Orkney, and the chances are they’ll think you’re talking about Scapa Flow. The Flow, as we usually call it, is the spectacular natural harbour at the heart of the Orkney archipelago. To its south lie the sandstone cliff ramparts of Hoy. To its north the beaches and rolling hills of the Orkney mainland. Looking west you can see the twin lighthouses on the tiny island of Graemsay, and the wild Atlantic beyond. Head east and you encounter the long string of islands connected by the Churchill Barriers.

              The name of those barriers gives a strong clue to one of the important uses that The Flow has been put to. During both the first and second world wars it was the headquarters of the Royal Navy’s North Atlantic fleet. Hundreds of ships passed through these waters, where they were fueled up, had their stores replenished, and their crews refreshed. Tens of thousands of shore staff saw to the needs of the ships and their crew, and whole towns of concrete and corrugated iron were flung up to house the personnel.

              It might seem strange to still be talking about two wars, one of which ended over a century ago, and the other 75 years ago. But historical memory is long in Orkney: we live in a landscape scattered with buildings and monuments that go all the way back to the Neolithic, so 100 years doesn’t really feel like that long ago.

              And we have physical reminders all around of Orkney’s days as a military hub. There are lookout stations and searchlight pads, bunkers and gun emplacements. There are grand constructions such as the Churchill Barriers, built to keep U-boats out of The Flow, but now providing road connections between the Mainland and Lamb’s Holm, Glimps Holm, Burray and South Ronaldsay. And there are much more mundane structures, like the office I’m writing this in, which was originally a wooden navy hut till it was converted into a permanent building – ‘blocked-in’ as folk say – around 1950.

All this human activity – this building and repurposing, concreting and dry-stone-dyking, sailing and sinking and raising of boats, fishing for mackerel and diving for scallops and leisure – all of this encircles The Flow, and has gone on in various forms for five thousand years. But The Flow has been there much longer than that, and its own activity has changed far less than that of the humans camped at its edge or floating on its surface.

Twice a day the tides rise and fall. The North Sea floods in and out through Hoxa Sound in the east, and the Atlantic though dramatic Hoy Sound in the west. Darting shoals of fish, scuttling crabs and lobsters, playful porpoises and ruthless killer whales, all make The Flow their home or at least pass through. Common and Grey Seals pass through too – very quickly if a killer whale is on their tail.

And along the coastline the waters of The Flow rise and fall on rocky shores and beautiful sandy beaches as they have done for aeons. The names of the beaches are a roll call of summer pleasure for every Orcadian: the Sands o Wright on South Ronaldsay; Scapa Beach just outside Kirkwall; Swanbister and Waulkmill in Orphir; the rarely visited Sandside Bay on Graemsay, and the evocatively named Bay o Creekland in north Hoy.

These beaches are shallow and generally filled with light-gold sand – dazzling white in the case of Sandside, with its high coral content. Because of its sheltered position, Scapa Flow rarely experiences the huge waves that batter the western cliffs of Orkney. Instead, there tends to be a gentle swell, water rolling in up the gently sloping beaches and rolling out again in rivulets. On a still day, the water whispers through the sand as it ebbs away, leaving channels in the sand, and the odd bubble or pebble.

Such is the inspiration for Ola Gorie’s Flow collection. Once you know, it’s obvious: the design echoes the shape of water ebbing and flowing on our sandy beaches. There are lines, swirls, channels, bubbles, pools, pebbles. Even the background is subtly textured like fine-grained sand. And all of this is suggested by the delicate traceries of the gold and silver. In fact, this collection is unusual in our range because many of the pieces do feature gold and silver together. Almost all of Ola’s jewellery is available in either gold or silver, but it’s very rare that she felt both metals were necessary to make the design come alive. This is one of those rare examples.

So the timeless natural beauty of The Flow is evoked by Ola Gorie in this collection. Nothing is solid or settled, all is liquid, all is in gentle movement: the flow of water, the flow of human history, the flow of time itself.

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