Finding True North - a journey to Orkney by Dr Linda Gask


This month I am grateful to Dr Linda Gask, a retired professor of primary care psychiatry now living in Orkney, who has kindly provided a fascinating and inspiring piece on her personal journey to find true north.

Finding True North- a journey to Orkney

by Dr Linda Gask


For most of my adult life I sought out the Western Isles to escape, rest and find peace and quiet to write. My fascination with all things ‘North’ began in childhood when travelling to Central Scotland, my mother’s home. It was a 12-hour drive then from the East of England going up the A1, forking West at Scotch Corner, turning North up the A6 and A74 then finally dropping down into Hamilton where my maternal grandfather was a miner in the coalfields of Lanarkshire until his early death. On a couple of these family holidays, we ventured as far North as Ben Nevis, Loch Ness and Glen Affric - but never into those parts of the map that really interested me. The regions of Scotland (but never England) that were always drawn in a smaller scale on the British road atlases, as though they were an afterthought.

It was when I was eighteen, just before university in Edinburgh, that I first came to Orkney on the old St Ola that cars still had to be winched on and off and stayed, alone, in the summer youth hostel in Stromness- now the Town Hall. By then however I had already fallen deeply in love with Scarista Beach in Harris. That was where I always imagined I would end up living one day. Meanwhile, I ventured further- to Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and even to Siberia and Archangelsk in Russia in the middle of winter, finding the cold air suited me so much more with my Scottish genes than the heat of the South.

            The millennium had come and gone before I returned to Orkney, gradually coming to understand that I wanted to settle where there was not only a sense of history, beauty and the extraordinary Northern light of winter days but also a powerful sense of community. A place less limited by the constraints of not belonging because of language and religion than the Hebrides.

            Eight years ago, I took early retirement from work, and moved, spending half of each year gradually renovating a cottage near Stenness, and writing. First completing one book I had been working on for over a decade and then beginning another, which gradually turned into the story of how I came to be here each day at my desk, trying to make sense of my life while looking out at the garden in which, today, the daffodils are just coming into bloom, and from where I can see the distant, purple hills of Hoy. Writing about how I struggled to get past the depression that has dogged most of my adulthood and explore different ways of leading a healthier, happier life. Coming to terms with being on my own for long periods while my husband was still working in the South, then caring for his elderly mother until her death. Trying to use what I had learned from years of therapy and education to discover what really matters under the massive skies of Orkney where it can seem impossible to hide from the world, even if you are completely alone.  I’ve been searching for my own True North which, as I have learned, isn’t so much a real island in the North, although being here is a place where I can feel at peace and simply ‘be’, but a growing sense of tranquility and calm inside me.

Now at last, I’ve settled her permanently and dedicated the book to my late neighbour who befriended me when I was alone.

 Finding True North: The healing power of place is published by Sandstone.

You can learn more by visiting Linda's web site at

photograph copyright John Manton. Reproduced here with permission.


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