The Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership Scheme

Living on the Holms, Stromness

The inner and outer Holms, situated near Stromness, are accessible at low tide. For many years this has been the home of Nan Traill Thomson. Nan was asked if she would write for the Scapa Flow website about living there.

The Holms of Stromness, March 2010

Looking across to the Holms with Hoy High Lighthouse in background. (c) SFLPS.

Granny Island checking in from the Holms of Stromness. 

If you like to be beside the sea, this is the ideal spot! I know lots of people think I seem isolated, but there is so much going on here, I have no time to feel lonely.  

The islands probably started off as a small udal farm. Under udal law (old Norse law still pertaining to land in Orkney), property is owned from the highest of the land to the lowest of the tide. Painting boats on pier at the Holms with herring boats in background. (c) SFLPS.

Boat was the usual mode of transport and, in the 18th century, there was a windmill on Outer Holm, where the miller lived, too. Grain could be brought easily to the island for grinding and collected again by sea. During the herring fishing, gutting and barrelling were carried out on the same island, which must have made life more pleasant for people in the town –  less niff factor than most fishing villages.

The house was added to in the 19th century when Captain Henry Linklater from Graemsay bought it and turned it into a family home.  He retired as master of the Harmony, which plied from London to Labrador for the Moravian Mission of Germany. The ship was broken up and its ballast of labradorite dumped off the islands. Every house in Stromness had a rock of it beside the doorstep.  

The house has been in the Traill Thomson family for more than 50 years – Dr Bill Traill Thomson went out one day for tobacco for his pipe and returned instead with two islands! When his great-grandchildren are here on holiday, they take delight in exploring the shore and learning about boats.

The wildlife is always fascinating – curlews, lapwings, waders, ducks of many types, and herons. Henry Heron, who lives here all the year round, caught a flounder the other day and it was too big to swallow. He got it down and it popped back up! He finally kept it down but sat on the shore for a while with a very odd look on his face...
Seal pup. (c) Nan Traill-Thomson.
The common and grey seals use the islands to rest and have their pups, and so Sammy Seal found his way on to my Christmas cards when he was a month old.

My biggest problem is rabbits. It is amazing the damage they can do. I feel like Betsy Trotter in Dickens, only I find myself shouting "rabbits" instead of "donkeys".  

I don’t get a lot of sleep these nights – the amorous oystercatchers are wooing each other and creating an incredible racket under my bedroom window. I feel I ought to be protected, too.

© Nan Traill Thomson