Papa Stronsay

Throughout the western world Christmas is a brash and brightly coloured commercial celebration, all tinsel and turkey, noise, expense, and over-indulgence. On the tiny Orkney island of Papa Stronsay, however, a group of monks will be celebrating in a much quieter, more contemplative way. They are the Transalpine Redemptorists, who broke away from the Catholic Church and who celebrate the old Latin mass. Although spirituality is at the core of their being, they are an eclectic bunch of lively and characterful people, each with a tale to tell. David Hartley joins them in their preparations for Christmas, explores the environment and community around them, and discovers a Christmas that is a refreshing change to the rest of the country.

It takes David Hartley two hours and two boats to get from Orkney mainland to Papa Stronsay. There are around 30 monks from all over the world on the island, led by the redoubtable Father Michael Mary, a tall New Zealander dressed in the order's ankle-length black habit with a long rosary slung from his neck. They're building a traditional monastery and have already completed a church in a disused herring packing shed. In contrast, they monks' individual cells look like little bungalows. The monks make cheese from a small herd of Jersey cows they keep on Papa Stronsay and have ambitions to go into bigger scale cheese making, using the profits from sales to pay for the building of a church on the island.