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Sunday, 17 August 2014

Late summer miscellany

The last couple of weeks have been busy, plus I had a spell of being unwell.  Much better now, and trying to get back on track.  The last 8 months have been really hectic with work, but things are slowing down now (thankfully) so hopefully a bit more time to myself and to do some of the things I've missed over recent months.

Above were some glowering clouds over Hoy on a morning sail home today.  You can just see a tiny rainbow to the right of the island.  I'd been over to Stromness for a night out with friends. Due to no "late boat" home I'd stayed in the town and got the morning boat home, sailing via Hoy before arriving at Graemsay.

The last week or so has been very changeable weatherwise.  I am actually typing this with the wind rattling around outside. A gale forecast for tonight.  I'll have to "batten hatches" - or at least the cat flap, tonight.  Of course Button has just gone out for her evening entertainment so I can't go to bed till she returns (well I could, but I'm a mad cat lady so I won't!).

Meanwhile, before I fall asleep at the keyboard, here are some photos taken over recent days......

I had breakfast on the bench outside watching a lovely cloud display.

Button enjoyed a bit of sunshine too.

The hens are laying but several are going broody so I'm having to hunt for eggs.  Meanwhile one of the hens had a bit of a mishap and laid a VERY tiny egg ........

Some of the wildflowers I grew in the garden. This packet of seeds went in quite late so they are just blooming now.  Very pretty though and the bees love them.

Raindrops on borage flowers from the recent showers.

Another one of the wildflowers (no doubt about to be battered by the gale, sigh).

And this afternoon I popped up to see Ethel (the oldest Graemsay resident who was born and bred on the island). I never like to visit empty handed so took along a posy of flowers from the garden. Not many left now as most flowers have "gone oer", but a few still giving some summer colour.

And while in the garden I took a few more photos.  Neighbour Sue is helping me in the garden doing some digging and tidying up.  This border is looking very smart now.  Well weeded, ready for some manure and then leaving for the winter.

The broad beans have been very slow this summer, though I've not helped them as I didn't water them much, and it's been a very dry spell (great for the farmers to get the silage and hay in though!). Under the green netting are salad leaves.  I used an old pallet retrieved from builders. Another neighbour, Bobby, made the cover out of a pallet and some netting. Great for keeping the hens off!  And I did some companion planting of the nasturtiums as they, in theory, help keep the black fly off the broad beans. But I think the hens help with that task too!

And then there are the garden ornaments...... a lovely hare by the fruit bushes, and Button on the black plastic!  (I use black plastic over areas I want to dig so the weeds die back and it's easier to dig. I try and avoid using any weed killer in the garden as far as possible. No pesticides either - the only pests are the pesky hens and Button!!).

Meanwhile there have been some lovely sunsets recently.  The sun slowly moving back across the sky....

And here a cloud dancing with the last of the suns rays

And this photo from some weeks ago..... I may have shared this before but I just love this photo so forgive me if you've seen it before!  (Too tired and lazy to go back and check!)

Button has finally decided to return so that's us both off to bed for the night!  Sweet dreams everyone!

Monday, 4 August 2014


...... Tallulah!  One of my new young hens, given to me by a neighbour.  I named her Tallulah because with a head-dress like that she could be a show-girl on Broadway!  Tallulah is a young Shetland hen, black, with a greeny sheen to her feathers, and a top-knot known as a "tappet".  Apparently she will lay greeny/blue eggs. Though she's a little young yet for that.  She came from one of the other Orkney islands, Eday. She seems to be settling in fine though is quite shy with me still.

Meanwhile in the garden, Princess Button continues to laze in the sun, or seek out some shade if it gets a wee bit too warm.....

And elsewhere in the garden, the salad leaves are doing well.  They are planted in between the slats of an old pallet, and with another pallet with netting across to protect them from pesky hens and (it would seem) greenfly and other stuff.  NOT from slugs of course, but nothing will deter those beasties!  Nice to wander out to the garden though and pick some fresh "leaves" for dinner.

Meanwhile the swallows have done well this summer.  There have been about 20 young swallows and adults flying around. Some doing very low flying over the grass and other performing amazing acrobatics in the sky.  They take time out to rest on the hydro (electric) wires.

Or on the roof of the house....

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Summer skies and sunsets.....

One of the things I love about Orkney is the big skies! With such a low lying landscape the sky is HUGE and the clouds make wonderful patterns day or night.  Above is a photo of the Hoy hills snuggled under a cloud blanket. As you can see Graemsay was in bright sunshine.

A sunset a few weeks ago. I love the reflection running to meet the shore.

A molten sunset.

Meanwhile one of the girls was still out and about enjoying a late summer evening snack! (This was about 10pm). Because there are no foxes or other predators on the island the hens can be totally free range and as you can see they really enjoy themselves!

I love the light over the still water to Stromness.

Stromness in shadow. The Hamnavoe having returned from the evening sail from Scrabster and moored in the harbour for the night.

The old buildings and reaper against the backdrop of the setting sun.

a reflection of the Stromness hills and shore in the conservatory windwow......

And the sun drops down below the horizon once again.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Ness of Brodgar dig 2014......

For a few years now each summer archaeologists appear at the Ness of Brodgar on Mainland Orkney to continue excavating one of the most amazing Neolithic sites. A frequent saying is "if you scratch the surface of Orkney, it bleeds archaeology".  There are many archaeological sites around Orkney, big and small, domestic and grand scale, but what is being uncovered at the Ness of Brodgar is just extraordinary and has, deservedly, attracted worldwide attention.  If you've not heard of this site before or want to learn more take a look at this comprehensive website on the dig which is part of Orkneyjar website.

Each year I've been visiting the site and it's brilliant to see the site unfolding and hear about all the amazing discoveries first hand.  I went for my first visit in 2014 on Friday and here is a snapshot (excuse the pun!) of my visit.   Tours are free so if you are in Orkney between now and August 20th do to along.

So.... above as you can see, to the untutored eye and at ground level it all looks a complete jumble.  How on earth do you make sense of THAT?  The black plastic is covering sensitive areas or areas that are yet to be uncovered. Because the site is only excavated 6 weeks of each year it has to be protected from the elements the rest of the time. So it's covered in plastic which is weighted down with tyres and sandbags.

Lots of fancy kit on tripods are used to measure accurately around the site.

Methodically the site is excavated - all the stone walls you can see are what have been uncovered. The earth running through the centre below actually contains the water pipe for the neighbouring farm so it's a challenge to excavate round it!  Some samples of midden (rubbish heap) have been taken - they are the small squares cut out of the earth bank.  These can be analysed to help build up a picture of the site - after it was "decomissioned" several thousand years ago it appears also that it was filled in with earth, so that too can tell something about farming practise at the time.

There are experienced archaeologists plus archaeology students working on the site. Some of the archaeologists work for ORCA (Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology) which is partnered with the University of the Highlands and Islands, including the site director, Nick Card.

There are people digging, sifting, measuring, and...drawing.... in the background here, with heads bent are three artists who contribute to the interpretation of the site.

As I mentioned before - the stone walls are all part of the site. Some decorated stone has been found, which is quite unusual.  Some stone has been painted with pigments and some have "pecked" designs, made with implements.  It's all very fragile so will be covered for protection.

In recent years a viewing platform has been constructed for the tours so it helps get a better understanding of the site.

From the platform you can also see how the site sits within the surrounding landscape - one of the lochs and the Hoy hills visible in the background behind the site exhibition/shop.

I mentioned measuring earlier..... oh a lot of that seems to go on!

And while we were up on the viewing platform excited squeals came from one of the groups of excavators.  One of the team had found something. It turned out to be a damaged mace head, to the experienced archaeologists it wasn't anything special it seemed, but to the young archaeologist who found it, it was treasure indeed.  And for those of us watching it was exciting.... just think how many thousands of years that had lain buried, and the hands that last touched it.....

As we left the view platform we walked this wall with the flags on the floor - this is as it was found, really well preserved and with a lovely curve in the wall.

The viewing platform is on the left - swathed in blue netting for safety. You can get an idea of how huge this site is....

I mentioned earlier about the setting of the Ness of Brodgar in the landscape.  It's set among some of the best Neolithic structures, there is Maes Howe (you can just see the doorway on the right - this is aligned so that for a few days in mid-winter the sun which sets between the Hoy hills will shine the last rays directly through the door, down the tunnel to the back of the chambered cairn...... and all constructed without all the fancy measuring equipment builders have today!

The picture above was taken from the top of the viewing platform, and when I turned around I then took this photo.... where the sun will set in mid-winter....

And then to the right of the viewing platform is the Ring of Brodgar...... and nearby are the Stones of Stenness

And if you click here you'll see these sites in context on a map....

And a real treat, a short National Geographic film taken last year of the Ness of Brodgar and some of the finds, with Nick Card, the site director, being interviewed.....  click here

Hope you enjoyed the update on the Ness of Brodgar dig! I'm planning to go back again in a few weeks. I want to see some of the finds but had to leave the tour before the end as had to be in Kirkwall (and also couldn't stand around any longer!)

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Misty evening.....

I'm Back!  Yeah I know you didn't realise I'd gone. Humph!  But I've been "down South" for a few days (very down South actually in the wonderful city of Bath, but more of that later).  Just before I went on my travels there was a beautiful ethereal misty evening so I thought I'd share those photos, and a few others, with you.  (And yes before you ask Button is fine, she is well looked after when I'm away and doesn't sulk when I come home. Bless....).  Right....mist..... (Fran Gray a local musician wrote a tune called "Mist over Graemsay".....)

Anyway, I was driving up the island as I had to post a letter in our island post box (collected at 7.30am Monday to Friday by Mick our postman in his shiny red van) and the mist was just starting to come in.....

I love the way it softens the landscape....

Meanwhile, on the way back from the post box I stopped to say hi to some young calves that had recently been turned out into this field.  They are VERY inquisitive and I do love the young calves when they play together, just like kids in the school playground!

And someone had clearly got tired of cycling round the island!

And coming back round the bay the light was quite different though the sun has some way to go before setting.

I love the variety of clouds in the sky at any one time (well except the thick blanket of grey we had most of the Winter!).

Meanwhile the young stock in my field behind the house came to see why I was standing outside and had I got anything for them (No!).  These were calves born last year.  The yellow in the field are buttercups. Not sure the cattle are that keen on them which is a shame as we had a lovely display this year!

And now the sun is dropping behind Black Craig

And the mist is slowly creeping up the flow, covering the East end of Stromness like a gauzy blanket.....

Gradually getting thicker.....

And thicker.....

And then it was time to see if the hens were settled for the night.  Remember the wee fluffy chick of a few weeks ago..... well she (oh god she'd better be a she but I'm not convinced....she looks awfully like her father) has now exchanged fluff for some fine feathers!

And talking of feathers, these are the swallow fledglings.  NOW a couple of weeks later they are sitting on the hydro (electricity) lines and flying around the field and garden day and evening! Just think, in a few short weeks they will be on their way to Africa again!

Hope you enjoyed the misty evening!