Must Paint Scot

Thoughts on Hoxa Head painting, Orkney

My Hoxa Head painting recalls a day spent one of the most fascinating headlands in all of Orkney, Hoxa Head, with its wide view sweeping over the southern entrance to the former naval anchorage of Scapa Flow, a fleet refuge and assembly point in both word wars.

In general, visiting Orkney for the first time you may be struck by how much greenery there is. It’s a rich, cattle-raising green, a verdant texture that covers most of the landscape. The exception is the island of Hoy with its unnerving cliffs and moors, more reminiscent of Caithness perhaps.

There are more archeology sites here in a comparatively small area than anywhere else in Scotland, from Neolithic to Viking and, later still, mediaeval (if you include places like , for example, St Magnus Cathedral and the nearby Bishop’s and Earl’s Palace in Kirkwall.)

But it’s the unknowably ancient that will preoccupy you – the brochs and standing stones and the tombs of the ancestors of ancestors. In short, it’s easy to be lyrical in a place with such roots.

The seascapes, of course, are also spectacular. Seabird cities, basking seals and the less than natural but fascinating wartime litter of emplacements, lookouts and towers around, say, Scapa Flow. 

Near Hoxa Head, South Ronaldsay, Orkney
Near Hoxa Head, South Ronaldsay, Orkney

Hoxa Head, South Ronaldsay

Hoxa Head was just one way into the famous Scapa Flow guarded by structures built in both wars as protection for the Home Fleet in its northern lair.

Within a few moments of the place represented in the painting above, you can spend a happy time in an old gun emplacement and scan, not for enemy submarines, but for puffins, skuas and the other seabirds that make their home in these northern waters.

Hoxa Head painting – and the cliffs

This Hoxa Head painting is done in gouache and tries to convey the atmosphere of the cliffs. Glimpses of surging blue water far below and a sense of the uncomfortable verticals! You never know, beyond the cushions of thrift with their pink heads endlessly nodding in the spring wind, there might be puffins just out of sight on that ledge…just don’t lean over too far.

You see? It’s easy to be poetic about these green isles of the northern seas.