Here in Stromness, we filled in some blanks while visiting the Hall of Clestrain, John Rae's boyhood home. The wealthy Honeyman family, descended from an early bishop of Orkney, built the place in the 1760s. They had just returned from a trip to Italy, where symmetry and balance were all the rage, and applied those principles here.In 1814, Rae's father was running the estate and entertained Walter Scott, who drew on his knowledge of two of the explorer's older sisters for his novel The Pirate. Two of the Canadian visitors who trekked around the grounds, Jane Hamilton and Mary Davey (pictured with Our Hero), are descended from one of those sisters.
Out front of the Hall, Andrew Appleby assured me that the old place is destined to rise again. He is chair of the newly formed John Rae Society. That Society and a leading Orcadian architect have been working with the Vivat Trust, a building preservation trust dedicated to rescuing historic buildings and sensitively restoring them into self-catering holiday homes.
The sortie to Clestrain, which is located across a bay from Stromness, followed a visit to the extraordinary Stromness Museum. The place is chock-a-block with well-researched artifacts pertaining not only to Rae, but to whaling and Orcadian history. And that's before you reach the natural history exhibits. This place is a gem.