Getting to Papa Stronsay wasn’t as simple as jumping on a ferry. Instead we had to find a monk. It turned out that it was a specific monk we needed, Brother Dominic to be exact. We arranged to be back at the quay for a certain time, after Mass, and we could go over to the island. There was just one job before we could set off, to help unload a significant number of bags of pig food from their van and load it onto the boat. So it was that we settled onto sacks of feed for our five minute journey over the sound.
Brother Dominic was a New Zealander, an ex-computer programmer who had changed track to become a monk on this small outpost. He shares the island with 7 other monks, more pigs than they should have (by his own admission), chickens and some sheep from a Stronsay farmer. After that it is the wildlife; seals and the birds that inhabit the beach, farmland and Mill Loch that, as the name suggests, once powered a small watermill now lost under a more modern building.
We were shown the small chapels, ornate spaces in a modern looking building; shrines that had sprung up around the old farmstead and the large greenhouse. This warm inside space was home to fruit trees and vegetables that would otherwise struggle in such a windswept environment.
This small religious community had bought the island in 1999 and since then have changed it into a training place for recruits to their particular form of Roman Catholicism. I will admit to knowing nothing prior to our visit of Transalpine Redemptorists, of the Golgotha Monastery or the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer and while vastly increased, my understanding is still a little sketchy. It’s best to look at their own web site to find out more. What we do know is that we owe our visit to the religious community on the island and are grateful for their hospitality, boat trip and informative tour.
We were left to explore the island, walking around the vast majority of the small island in the 90 minutes before we had agreed to meet back at the quay for our return to mainland Stronsay. The geese lifted from Mill Loch and turnstones flitted back and forth along the beach as we passed. A sky of wispy clouds against the blue stretched the space above old ruined houses and the ancient burial cairns told of ancient people on this small space where seas and lands meet.