Thursday, 4 July 2013

A Chance Encounter with Keith Allardyce

From Found, photo by Keith Allardyce of Douglas Hollick in Stronsay

I was outside my newly built house talking on my mobile phone to the builder, when an unfamiliar character wandered up the path, rucksack slung over one shoulder.

Had the pile of stones at the side of the house once been part of an old dwelling? No, they had been the ruined remains of a mill and byre and had been attached to the kiln which still stands there.

Why did he ask? 

The Kiln and Remains of the Mill and Byre by Maggie Miller
There then followed one of those serendipitous moments that have happened so frequently during this residency. The stranger with the backpack was Keith Allardyce who took the photographs for some lovely books about Orkney. The one above is of Douglas Hollick holding part of a block and tackle in Stronsay and comes from Found: Beachcombing in Orkney.

This time Keith is travelling round Orkney photographing ruined and abandoned houses. Was there one in the neighbourhood with a tree growing out of it? Not that I knew of, but I am new to the area. 

I put down my car keys - I was about to travel in to Kirkwall to the library for work - and invited Keith in for a cup of coffee.

I knew about Keith's earlier book, Seahaven: Stromness in the Orkney Islands, a collection of stunning photos of the people and places of Stromness, with words by Bryce Wilson. I particularly like the elegant photograph of Gunnie Moberg, sitting on her desk in her studio and the unmistakeable figure of Ian MacInnes, at work on a painting in Thistlebank. 

What I didn't know was that he had produced an earlier book about the disappearing way of life of Scotland's lighthouse keepers, At Scotland's Edge and a sequel, Scotland's Edge Revisited. This arose out of his time as a travelling keeper himself. He was 'third man,' he told me, on Suleskerry, the Pentland Skerries and Copinsay, all Stevenson Lighthouses, 'always the third man on the rock stations.' North Ronaldsay was a family station and there he would be fourth or fifth man. I wish I'd asked him what the differing duties were of the first, second, third, fourth and fifth men! Hard to imagine that much employment happening on stations now completely unmanned.

Keith lives on the Northumberland coast near Alnwick and runs holidays there for people with learning disabilities from the Camphill Village Trust.

But he has had a connection with Orkney stretching back to the seventies when he worked for the RSPB and lived in a cottage in Evie. He returns to the islands when he can and photographs aspects of island life he finds interesting. 

Thinking about it, all his projects have something of an elegiac air, trying to capture experience, character, place as they change and disappear. His fine books can be borrowed from Orkney Library & Archive.

I wish him luck with his latest venture, whatever it may turn out to be.


  1. Serendipitous indeed ... that's really interesting. I didn't know about Scotland's Edge Revisited and would really like to read it now! Yvonne

    1. Thanks, Yvonne. Yes, I'd like to read it too and there are copies in the library to borrow. I personally have located three!

      Thank you for the comment.



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