Moving to Orkney - It saved my life.

by Paul Maguire
(St Margaret's Hope)

2017 and a year into all the Brexit nonsense. My band had just headlined at a Festival in Cambridge and I'd just finished doing a stock take of all the gear. Outside the usual drug deals taking place under a tree in our cul-de-sac and a dodgy looking van parked in the residents bay which looked very much like the one that had been put on Facebook connected with the theft of dogs. The usual background noise of police cars rushing to an incident and knuckle dragging racist neighbours arguing. Again.

You may think we were residing in an inner city estate but you would be quite wrong. We were living in a small village just outside Cambridge but hate had already set in and all the biggots had reared their ugly heads and started displaying England flags in their windows and grunting, “taking our country back.”

Later that year my friend, who lived in Harray, came to visit and was telling us all about her home and suggested I go there to visit for a few days, just to see for myself and get a break from my surroundings. On the day I was supposed to fly up, I suddenly got a bad tooth ache but went ahead and packed a small case and my partner Elaine drove me to the airport. On the way there the pain got worse and I almost asked her to take me home but got to Stanstead, swallowed a few pain killers and boarded the plane for Scotland.

Half way there an abscess erupted under my tooth and I had to be assisted from the plane to the medical centre at Edinburgh. Not a pretty sight and not a good start. I had several hours to kill before the Loganair flight to Kirkwall and on arrival, my friend was there to greet me.

For the first day I didn't do or go anywhere. As a musician I had booked into the studio in Quoyloo to record a track for my solo album project but had to cancel. Eventually I was taken to see Orkney and at one point I was standing on a stony beach in Stromness looking over to Hoy and a song came to me. When I got back to the house I wrote down the chord sequence and the next day, full of very strong pain killers, visited Kathy at Starling Studios.

I completely dropped the song I had run through for days before my visit and decided to record this new song. She must have thought I was rather odd. The pain killers made me feel like I was somewhere else and it affected my playing, thinking and just about everything.

On my return home, all I could do was talk about how wonderful it was in Orkney, how I written a new song, the first for quite a while, as inspiration had suddenly returned. A few days later a package arrived with the master disks of my new song and while the recording quality was very good, I felt I could have played it better. No matter, it was recorded for future use.

By now my mood had dropped again, as I was back to watching my back every time I went to the shops, looking out for dog thieves and not sleeping properly. The trip had given me a huge lift which was dwindling. I asked Elaine if she would consider moving there and she said she would. My friend Barbara began looking for a house to rent and within days and an advert on Merkit page, she found one. It was being refitted and would be available in April of 2018. After a few phone calls we had sent the deposit, booked the removals company and my joy had started to return.

We spent our last Christmas in England but all the time Orkney was at the front of my mind. The next few months felt like years until the moving day arrived and the big blue and yellow McAdie & Reeve truck squeezed its way into our street. Barbara had come down to see some friends in Cambridge and collected me with some of my tools for the long drive up. The new house was only about half a mile from the ferry in St Margaret’s Hope. I was collecting the keys the following day so after a quick look from the outside we drove to Barbara’s house in Harray.

The next day we got the keys and I entered the house for the first time. A very friendly and helpful landlord was there to greet us and one of my jobs, to secure the back garden so our dogs wouldn’t get out had already been done. The truck arrived on the Monday morning and Elaine with the dogs arrived in our little van later in the day. I’d got rid of my car which had been my pride and joy but felt it was time to sell it as owning a 4.2 V8 twin turbo Alpina was plain stupidity for Orkney. Oddly, I was glad when it went as it was a step nearer to moving.

I now have my own studio and have met some great local musicians. I'm now almost at the end of recording my solo album. I’ve worked in music all my life - as a session player, a producer, have played keyboards for many different bands and founded a music school. Now I am officially a pensioner, I thought I had better get it done while I still can.

It will be released on CD and 12” vinyl late Spring 2020 and as a ‘thank you for having me’ kind of way, after I’ve recouped the outlay for getting it reproduced from sales elsewhere, I’ll be offering boxes of Cds, around a thousand in total and a few hundred vinyls to Orkney Charities to sell to raise funds for various local causes. I think that’s the least I can do.

I was getting to the point where so many nasty people making our lives a misery, the worry of everything back in Cambridgeshire, the awful surroundings were making me feel like ending it all, getting off early if you like, so Orkney really did save my life.

We are still very happy living in such a friendly, peaceful and beautiful place and giving the albums to local charities is my way of giving something back. Thank you Orkney from the bottom of my heart.

Comments for Moving to Orkney - It saved my life.

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by: Rhonda

Paul, thank you for sharing your touching story. Orkney is a peaceful place to live. We're glad you're here.

Warm regards,


To go or not to go
by: Anonymous

We're both pensioners, early 70s, who have lived around 20 years in EU - northern Sweden; Spain & currently SW France. We lived many years in Welsh marches/Borders region running a smallholding. I'm a retired lawyer, my wife retired midwife who has serious healthcare needs following major surgery a few times in past 3 years.
We previously lived on Isle of Skye, where our daughter was born, so have some basic idea of island life and what it can be like.
I currently own and edit a multiple award-winning international music magazine and will continue with this whatever happens going forward. We have pension income, plus business income and sufficient funds to buy a house cash - nothing special but suitable for our needs. Since Brexit, though we both have permanent residence cards for France, we've been considering a move back to Sweden; the culture, weather, wildness etc., all appeal still. I, however, feel it's time to return to UK - I'm weary of always dealing with a different language!The Scottish Islands are my personal choice, with Orkney seeming to have everything I enjoy- great fauna (I'm a keen birder); wild weather, a stunning coast and friendly natives.
My wife is unsure as she worries about access to health services and the wet weather. It's interesting to hear a musician's side of the move; and thanks to Rhonda & Tom for his helpful guide.
Seem to me the only hing now preventing a move is us!

A big decision
by: Rhonda

It sounds like you're thinking it through carefully. Moving to Orkney can be a bigger challenge than some folk anticipate. Not to toot my own horn, but (toot! toot!) I've put together a guide especially for people who are considering the move to Orkney - an ebook, which links to many resources, community groups and brings up other things that you might like to consider before deciding. The guide also features a chapter from my husband - the viewpoint of an Orcadian. You can buy an e-copy right here from the website. Alternatively, read through all the pages linked to from the main moving to Orkney page, where others tell about their widely-varying experiences.

I adore living in Orkney, but I do caution people to think it through carefully and to come visit more than once in different seasons (especially winter), if possible before uprooting yourself.

If your wife is concerned about the medical care she might need, perhaps she could contact someone at the Balfour Hospital in Kirkwall. Some treatments are available in Orkney, while others require trips back and forth to Aberdeen.

Whatever you decide, best of luck to you both!

Thanks for the Insight
by: Mr Awesome

I too live not far from Cambridge. I have just applied to live on Orkney. I’m worried I won’t be well received as an Englishman. Your story really resonates with me. I am desperate to get away from the hostility and ignorance that permeates this area. Thanks for sharing your story. Any advice?

Englishman NEW
by: Rhonda Muir

Hi, Mr Awesome!

My husband and I have many wonderful English friends here in Orkney who we wouldn't want to do without. I wouldn't worry too much about that kind of prejudice ... which is not to guarantee that you won't run into a few boneheads. Generally, folk here judge a person by their behavior, not their country of origin or other differences. If you're a good, kind neighbor, you'll be liked.

My second bit of advice is to buy my ebook (Moving to Orkney, clickable links on each page of Orkneyology) because there's a lot more specific advice in it, and moving to Orkney is better thought out ahead of time. It might save a lot more trouble later on if you decide it's not for you. Moving here is expensive and not terribly easy. Best of luck to you either way.

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Mermaid image (Rhonda's pages) and storyteller image (Tom's pages), and all other illustrations except where noted are here by the courtesy of our dear friend - Stromness author, artist and historian, Bryce Wilson MBE, who owns all copyrights. Thanks, Bryce!