WEEK THIRTY-THREE – Sullom Voe/Scapa Flow

>> Sullom Voe

Scapa Flow <<

Sullom-Voe                                  Scapa Flow

Those who have ventured to the Northern Isles of Orkney and Shetland will know they provide much inspiration for poetry, largely due to their majestic, rugged and occasionally cruel grandeur. Our paired themes this week are alike in that they provide a focal point for the islands in which they are located, yet differ wildly in atmosphere and context. Sullom Voe is Shetland’s oil terminal, the landfall location for much of the North Sea’s oil output. In amongst Shetland’s extensive wild coastal landscape it is an eerie and imposing man-made complex of steel and brick which dominates its surroundings. Scapa Flow is an equally imposing feature of geography, being a vast natural harbour among the scattered islands of Orkney. Its historical context is both ancient and modern – it featured in the Orkneyinga Viking sagas, but also in 20th Century war histories as the location for the ships of the interned German High Seas Fleet after World War One (later to be scuttled at anchor) and also for the torpedoing of HMS Royal Oak during World War Two. The two themes reflect locations which loom large in Scotland’s history in the fields of commerce and conflict.


To Sullom Voe
by Robert Crawford

for Mary Blance

From the highest rock at the top of the hill
To the lowest stone in the ebb,

Past Lunna Kirk’s old wood pews pipelines
Knit gas to Sullom Voe

Through the islands’ simmer dim
Where glaciated grass still swoons,

Rising and birling under a gale
Of unleashed fiddlers’ reels that sweep

From the highest rock at the top of the hill
To the lowest stone in the ebb.


Scapa Flow, 2016
by Kate Armstrong

We squelch on peat and  film the stone
as if  to catch its crumble into sand.

Tom on the shore lists names for us,
Orphir, Hoy, Houton, The Bu,
plays skimmie-stones, counting six, seven,
young muscles perfect to the task
Grand-dad taught him.

Once he’d have been spotting
warships. Now it’s tourists, divers,
birds calling, flat water.
The tide turns.

He talks about oil and prawns,
spoots and tangle, bere scones.
Grandfather smiles,

undaunted by the dead,
so many, under soil or sea,
properly named. We strain to hear
the sound of skimming stones
and Tom decides
the silent ones are best.
Give and take, the tide runs.

The peace he stands in
not  a paper one, a pen
scraping its hasty  scrawl.
Quiet as bedrock.
Slow like the making of sand.



Robert Crawford imageRobert Crawford’s first collection of poems was A Scottish Assembly (Chatto, 1990); his most recent collections are Testament (Cape, 2014) and the Scots poetry book Chinese Makars (Easel Press, 2016). He is Professor of Modern Scottish Literature at the University of St Andrews, and editor of The Book of Iona (Polygon, 2016).


Kate ArmstrongKate Armstrong has one published collection, with the next in preparation. Since then her work has appeared in various anthologies.More recently she has been co-tutoring poetry translation classes at the University of Liege. She lives in Dundee.



Images courtesy of;
Robert Crawford image by Aisha Farr

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