As part of our latest series of blogs, we’re finding out more about Orkney through the people that know it best - those who live here. This week’s guest blog comes from local artist Ingrid Grieve of the Toumal Art Studio in Orphir.


I love the coast

Dingieshowe beach in Orkney's east mainland - image by Premysl Fojtu


I think the thing I like most about Orkney is that we are surrounded by sea.

No matter where you stay, the shore is never too far away through a short walk or drive. I spend a lot of time at the shore, from sandy beaches to rocky coastlines. I enjoy walking, taking photos, looking for sea glass, shells, or unusual stones, to take home for future projects, or just sitting watching the waves and listening to the sound of the sea, breathing in the air.

I love the colours, the shades of blues, greens and greys that are constantly changing with the weather and light. It’s an endless source of inspiration and there’s always the chance of spotting seals, or if you’re lucky enough, a family of otters, as well as a huge variety of sea birds.

I think my favourite beaches are on Orkney’s West coast;

The Point of Buckquoy in Birsay has a sandy beach which is great for hunting shells, rock pools to explore, a coastal path and, at low tide, the causeway over to the Brough where you can explore the Viking settlement. In the early summer you can also watch the puffins nesting.

The view towards the Brough of Birsay


The Bay of Skaill with its sandy beach, huge boulders thrown up by stormy seas and, not forgetting, Skara Brae, the exceptionally well-preserved Neolithic village and surrounding ancient archaeology just waiting to be uncovered.

Yesnaby makes the list for its spectacular cliffs, stacks and coastal walk.

On the east coast Dingieshowe in Deerness is a secluded sandy beach with views to the east over to Copinsay.


I love the history

The Churchill Barriers and blockships


I love the history of Orkney, from the first Vikings to the huge role we played in World War II, which can still be seen in the Churchill Barriers and the iconic Italian Chapel, to all of the treasures that are still being uncovered. To walk out and look at some of the landscapes, a lot of which are unchanged years later, you really feel that history and sense of time.

It’s incredibly evocative and a powerful source of inspiration. Each island has its own special characteristics and ‘feel’, with no two really the same. With standing stones, brochs, palaces and croft houses there’s plenty here to photograph, sketch and really get an artist’s imagination racing.


I love the landscape

Rolling fields and farmland in Orkney's west mainland


Orkney’s landscape has its own special qualities. Its relatively flat, treeless landscape means you can see for miles over a patchwork of farmland, and really get a sense of the history and culture, and how the land has been used over thousands of years of settlement.

There is always so much to see and do across Orkney and from an artistic point of view it’s constantly inspiring. No matter where you are there is usually a great combination of dramatic angles, nature at every stage of its cycle, and colours that can change as quickly as the weather!


I love the weather

A winter sky in Orkney, full of menace! Image by Premysl Fojtu


A huge source of inspiration for my paintings is Orkney’s weather, it is often said that we can have four seasons within an hour!

The constantly changing conditions, and unique quality of light, always bring something new to even the most familiar view. On a dull day, a sudden shaft of light through the clouds can turn the sea from grey to dazzling blues and greens; or add strips of colour to a muted landscape.

I love to sit at the Bay of Skaill on a stormy day to watch the light change in the sky, the colour change in the sea as showers pass by and listen to the roar of the waves as they hit the cliffs and shore. In contrast, on a calm summers day the same bay turns to a calming turquoise and green palette; always changing but never the same.


I love the dialect

The Orkney Storytelling Festival helps keep local dialect and folk tales alive


Another unique part Orkney is our dialect.

Being Orkney born and bred my first ‘language’ was Orcadian. Sadly, we no longer use many of the words that were once in everyday use but, fortunately, there is a good written record of Orcadian as well as a recent emphasis on writing in dialect, so hopefully we can keep it alive for future generations. There is a huge range of old Orkney weather words and I often use them in painting titles; for example: ‘A sudden glett in a day o hellyeifers, addan strips o colour tae sleepan fields’.

For those new to Orcadian, ‘glett’ is a break in the clouds allowing sun to shine through and ‘hellyiefer’ is a short heavy downpour.


Ingrid Grieve in her Toumal Art Studio, Orkney

Ingrid Grieve runs Toumal Art Studio in Orphir, part of the Orkney Craft Trail. You can visit the studio on Thursdays and Fridays between 10.30am and 5pm, or at other times by appointment. You can also find her on Facebook.