INHERITING property on a previously unfamiliar North Sea island has never been part of Englishwoman Emma’s grand life plan.
When great-aunt Freda bequeaths her estate to Emma, the 30-something insurance clerk’s unremarkable day-to-day existence in Newcastle is unexpectedly disrupted.
Rather than holidaying in Greece with her friends, Emma finds herself heading to Orkney, a windblown archipelago off northeast Scotland. After a full day’s drive and a stomach-churning ferry trip, Emma arrives to find the region grey and bleak at the end of a long winter.
Initially she intends to place the house on the market, but the more Emma learns of Freda – and Orkney in general – the more reluctant she is to dispense with her only tangible link to this previously unheard-of relative. How had English-born Freda come to be living in Orkney, and why does her own family know so little about her?
As she delves into the possibilities, Emma’s greatest ally is Gregor, an attractive but seemingly married freelance wildlife photographer and cameraman she met on the crossing who introduces Orkney through a local’s eyes.
With Gregor’s help Emma explores not only Freda’s past but also the Neolithic, Pictish, Norse and Celtic heritage of this one-time Viking stronghold. Together they visit Orkney’s intriguing attractions: the standing stones of Brodgar and Stenness (calculated to be more than twice Stonehenge’s age), the underground settlement of Skara Brae, World War II relics such as the naval muster point Scapa Flow and a chapel built by interned Italians, and the cliffs and islets that lure naturalists in their tens of thousands every year.
As Emma and Gregor research the mystery of Freda’s presence in Orkney, author Miranda Barnes weaves into her fictitious plot a heartwarmingly accurate portrait of the largely agricultural countryside and its scattered villages (including the ‘capital’, Kirkwall, with its 8000 residents).