An Orcadian Odyssey

Apr 18, 2019 | INSIGHTS

Utterly out of the blue, Robin, from church, (who in the past I have travelled to France with), rang to invite me at next-to-no-notice to accompany him for a week to Balfour House, a castle on Shapinsay, one of the Orkney islands, that his sister and brother-in-law own. He was taking a friend there with a view to him moving permanently up there and was keen for me to come too. As I was waiting on the Lord to discern if this was a prompt for the Lord, He suddenly impressed on me that He wanted me to take up again for a very brief time the mantle of a watchman from the north praying down into Europe at this pivotal time, just as I had done when organising the Fire from the North intercessory conference in Shetland in 2005.

This was definitely going to be a case of ‘now for something entirely different’ – especially as I had been suffering from labyrinthitis (giddiness) for the five weeks beforehand. The prospect of rocky boat rides hardly seemed the ideal way to recover from it! I was blessed by this word from Proverbs 3:26 that a friend sent me immediately prior to leaving.

For the Lord will be your confidence (NIV ‘at your side’) and will keep your foot from being caught in a trap. May your centre (spiritual and inner ear) be completely anchored and fixed on Jesus – He’s got this and He’s got you!’

We were blessed with a delightfully easy trip up country, leaving at 5.30 in the morning and getting to Aberdeen in good time to catch the ferry twelve hours later. Conditions across the North Sea were unusually mild, and I was back on board my favourite ship, The Hjaltland, which I had been on so often during our 3½ year sojourn in Shetland.

It was an overwhelming moment getting back on board the boat as memories came flooding back in from so many directions! We reached Orkney at 11:30 and transferred by taxi and then water taxi to the castle on Shapinsay, – again in remarkably gentle conditions. This unseasonably mild weather continued for the next few days. It was good to leave the hurlyburly of British life and politics behind for a while, and Robin and I enjoyed precious times of prayer up in the turret of the castle. The divisions in the UK have become so great that it has begun to feel a bit too much like a return to the days of the Civil War – mercifully minus the muskets and canon fire!

In amongst much else, I revelled at having extended times of retreat with the Lord in the library. I particularly appreciated reading a two volume Life of Christ from Victorian times by Frederic Farrar, (Dean Farrar). It continues to speak powerfully to another generation.

As Robin’s sister and brother in law do not live on the island, the three of us were the only people resident in this beautifully maintained 52 room castle during the daytime. Simon had come with a view to moving there, and a place was indeed found for him during our time up there.

The following site gives a good idea of the Balfour Castle, although some of the information is out of date in that it is now in private hands.



It was a treat to be there, and to make friends with people there, one of whom we were able to introduce to the local fellowship, hopefully making a lasting connection there. It also made an excellent jumping off base for visiting Bob and Ruth Askey in Stronsay, two islands up and two and a half hours away by ferry from Shapinsay. This would surely have come about no other way! I have known Bob since the days when he was training to be a lawyer in Chester Law College and we have always kept in close touch, with Ros having been involved in the birth of two of his children.

By British standards this is seriously remote! Stronsay has just over 300 people on it, about the same as Shapinsay. They have bought a plot of land and intend to build a house there. Bob tells me there are many thoughtful folk on the island, who love reading, and the church is doing well too (as it is on Shapinsay too, the one church there serving all denominations, and pastored by a young(ish) Polish lady. It is a model that appears to be working well.

So many have been praying much more for the nation that they have ever done before. Although it is good and necessary to have a break from it and to pace ourselves, may we not the momentum that has been building, and the fire in our hearts behind that.

Linda has been reflecting this week on the PC buzz word of ‘tolerance,’ that is so often just an excuse for intolerance towards anything truly spiritual. As Shirley Shipman put it, ‘Merely tolerating is a weak concept, and ironically all too often enables intolerance. I love the understanding that ‘re-spect’ brings. When broken down the word means ‘to look again.’

So now, during this quieter period over Easter, somewhat away from Westminster and Brussels, may MPs and others see things as they really are, and see things more from one another’s perspectives, bringing focus, clarity and respect rather than ever increasing prejudice and polarisation. It is not an entirely comforting thought that there are doubtless more rounds to come in the Brexit saga . . . but for the moment let’s keep our gaze upwards and heavenwards – and give full reign to our desire to be closer to the Lord!

My return from Stronsay to Shapinsay coincided with the weather taking a turn for the very much colder – with the wind soon reaching eminently Shetland-worthy intensity. It was a time for wearing many coats again – along with angora long johns! Stepping outside the castle into a howling cold gale at 9.30 in the pitch dark to begin the return journey on a bouncy small motor boat to take us back to Kirkwall felt decidedly challenging! Unfortunately when we reached the main boat at midnight, the captain warned us that the conditions were much worse than forecast, and that there would be continual high pitched rolling and pitching, and people were not to move about. (As if i could have done!) He was too right – it was a grim journey and Simon and I were both extremely poorly!

Driving the 500 miles back down to Worcestershire after a night with no sleep was a challenge the following day but by God’s grace we all lived to tell the tale, and, as the Lord had said to me before we left, ‘You’ll be glad that you went.” I was and I am!

I revisited the Proverbs 3:26 quote in The Message version this morning: Dear friend, guard Clear Thinking and Common Sense with your life; don’t for a minute lose sight of them. They’ll keep your soul alive and well, they’ll keep you fit and attractive. You’ll travel safely, you’ll neither tire nor trip . . . No need to panic over alarms or surprises, or predictions that doomsday’s just around the corner, because God will be right there with you; He’ll keep you safe and sound!



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