Along the Way

Don’t tell anybody, but sometimes this job can be great fun. Sometimes a job comes along that you just know you’re going to enjoy working on.

 Pilgrims on the launch of the St Magnus Way 

Pilgrims on the launch of the St Magnus Way 

The launch of the St Magnus Way has definitely been one of those occasions.

The Way is a new, 55-mile pilgrimage route, following the route taken by the remains of Orkney’s saint, following his martyrdom in Egilsay 900 years ago.

We produced a video on the launch of the first and last sections of the walk for Orkney.com, while also doing some extra filming as part of documenting the wider Magnus 900 programme of events throughout the year.

There can be few finer spots in Orkney than Gurness. The site of a fabulous iron age broch, it overlooks Rousay and the holy island of Eynhallow. It feels like a fitting starting point for a reflective walk through Orkney’s landscape.

We’d already pre-shot an interview with the chair of the Orkney Pilgrimage Committee, David McNeish, earlier in the week. It was obvious he would have enough on his plate on the day of the launch.

It always pays to arrive early for any filming job - take a bit of time to check-out the location and its surroundings, work out where to get the best shots from, that kind of thing. On this occasion, our timekeeping proved particularly prudent; as the allotted time for the launch of the walk came and went the vehicles kept arriving, swelling the car park to bursting point, and beyond. There were over a hundred and seventy people gathered by the time it was to get underway.

The majority set off to walk the first four miles or so of the route. Visually it looked fantastic to see this great procession making its way along the narrow single-track road then onto the tracks and beach sections which carried them westwards.

 Old and young heading west from Gurness

Old and young heading west from Gurness

The going was far from easy. David McNeish had pre-warned us that these were some of the hardest of the 55 miles. Yet some of those taking part were well into their 8th decade of life, and the choice of footwear was best described as ‘varied’.

Now, if you’re going to get decent footage of any procession you have to get shots from in front, and shots from behind. But, as it comes towards you at pace, and disappears away from you with equal speed, you constantly have to fall to the back, then run to the front; fall to the back, then run to the front. Two miles in and I reckoned I’d travelled almost twice the distance of the other walkers.

On the route it's clear to see examples of community spirit - many landowners have embraced the initiative, with fence lines having been moved to accommodate the trail.

Back at the kirk in Evie a cup of tea and small mountain of homebakes revived the spirits of those for whom a four-mile hike on some pretty uneven terrain had been a stiff test. For many it had clearly been an act that had required a deep spiritual resolve; crutches and stout sticks were more in evidence than your super-lightweight walking poles. Young (comparatively) and (reasonably) fit, I was genuinely moved to see the effort shown by many of my fellow walkers. Covering an extra few hundred metres to document it suddenly seemed rather less of an ordeal.

Conditions were rather different as we gathered for the launch of the final section of the Way – an autumnal ramble from the Kirk in Orphir to the St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall. It may lack the grandeur of the coastline from Costa Head to Birsay Bay, but there’s something very special about the way the light gathers across the waters of Scapa Flow, and with the heather in bloom and the hills of Hoy and Orphir as a backdrop, this final leg has its own majesty.

Given the challenges of mixing electronics and rainwater I declined the chance to walk the route on this occasion, choosing instead to use the car to ‘leapfrog’ the walkers, catching up with them at various stages.

 St Magnus Way walkers heading past Waulkmill bay in Orphir

St Magnus Way walkers heading past Waulkmill bay in Orphir

 

Hiking boots tramped the final yards towards St Magnus Cathedral and the red sandstone arches to the St Rognvald Chapel for a moment of contemplation, before each participant was presented with their scallop shell, in commemoration of the route they’d taken. A simple token, but one loaded with significance.

These are the kinds of moments that you feel deeply privileged to be able to share with people.

Find out more about the St Magnus Way via the official website.

 The dramatic coastline of the north west Orkney mainland, looking south towards the Brough of Birsay

The dramatic coastline of the north west Orkney mainland, looking south towards the Brough of Birsay

Fionn McArthur