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Sunday, 27 July 2008

Stromness Shopping Week

Last night was the end of “Shopping Week” in Stromness (an annual gala week that’s been going for 60 years now). I didn’t go over to participate in the last evening which normally ends in a firework display. Usually I sit in the conservatory with a glass of wine (or a mug of Ovaltine depending on mood) and watch the fireworks, but last night was shrouded in thick mist – I didn’t hear any loud noises from the Mainland so either the display was cancelled or the mist well and truly muffled any sound!

The final night celebrations begin about 8pm with a parade of floats through the town, some designed lampooning various local characters or situations, and interspersed with various local pipe bands. The pubs then turf everyone out onto the street and it’s the start of a fairly rowdy outdoor party with music from bands on a dias at the Town House, culminating in a firework display about 11pm. Though of course the party continues well into the wee small hours.

One amazing thing is that next morning the streets are sparkling clean – thanks the army of street cleaners who apparently start about 5am!

However earlier in the week was an event I really wish I had participated in. It was described to me by some friends and I’ll try and recreate the scene for you. It was a mock “Up Helly Aa” (http://www.visitshetland.com/major-events/up-helly-aa) (which is a Winter fire festival in Shetland). Earlier this week the Shetland Jarl Squads were in Stromness in traditional dress. Viking attire complete with winged helmets – there was the blue team and the silver team, all male of course – they’re Vikings after all….. (I’m sure they had more heroic names than “blue team” and "silver team" but the friends who went along didn’t seem to know.) The silver team brandished metal swords, while the blue team just had wooden ones. Both teams gathered in the centre of Stromness, complete with a small wooden boat (a replica Viking long-ship) with papier-mache dragon figure heads etc. OK this sounds a bit tacky, and so my friends thought – till the torches were lit. Huge flaming torches were held aloft and a procession weaved its way through the winding main street of Stromness. People feared for the safety of the bunting waving in the breeze such was the height of the flames. Townsfolk and visitors alike joined in behind the procession, with much macho shouting. Sadly some of the macho effect was lost as the longship was dragged through the streets not by hefty Viking warriors but by a big truck with, incongruously, an accordionist playing traditional Scottish music on the back!

However, the torchlight procession weaved it’s progress through the town to the Point of Ness, where the long-ship was then ritually burned with the Jarl torches – though the amount of black smoke suggested the blaze was helped along by some modern day “burning fluid”. Apparently it all felt very pagan and wonderfully stirring walking behind the blazing torches. If the Jarl Squads return I must go along as it sounds wonderful and I have to say has made me want to travel to Shetland to experience the real “Up Helly Aa”!

Some links: Shetland-opedia: http://shetlopedia.com/Lerwick_Up_Helly-Aa_2008

Photos of the Shetland Up Helly Aa: http://www.doughoughton.com/webpage/page/page131.html

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Catching up....

Had visitors all last week and have been catching up on work since. Hopefully I’ll be able to post some photos from around Orkney taken by my guests sometime soon.

The weather has been very changeable with some dry parts of the day but showers during other parts. The farmers on the island are busy trying to cut and bale silage while the weather holds so the hum of farm machinery fills the air.

Over in Stromness it is “Shopping Week”, a gala week with various events taking place and on Saturday a parade, finishing with an open-air dance at the pier head and fireworks. I may go over on Saturday, depending on the weather, although I do get a very good view of the fireworks from the conservatory.

My “town” car has been off the road for a couple of weeks needing a new spring (something to do with the suspension rather than the season….). I had to ring around and finally found a supplier in Inverness. The part has just arrived in Orkney so hopefully my car will be back on the road again soon.

Last week my visitors hired a car locally, and if my car isn’t easily fixable I may hire it next week to take Fitzi-cat to the vet for a check over again. His pills have certainly perked him up and he is eating better but I think is still losing weight. Still he is happy in himself and enjoys going out into the sunshine (when there is any!). And he pretends to hunt in the byre too!

The road-men have finished working on the “main road” in Graemsay. Their trucks went off on the Hoy Head on Saturday ( see my neighbour, Mick’s, website for pictures, www.graemsay.org.uk). The trucks were too heavy for our own ferry to take off so the ro-ro ferry that usually serves Hoy was brought up to remove the vehicles. The road certainly looks good now it has been freshly tarred.

Here’s a picture of Stromness Harbour taken one evening recently – I know the focal point is a bit off but I just love the stillness of the water!

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Tomb of the Eagles

My visitors from London arrived safely yesterday and we spent the day exploring South Ronaldsay (via the Churchill Barriers on the Orkney Mainland). We ended up at the Tomb of the Eagles which is one of my favourite places to take visitors.

I really like this site as it hasn’t suffered too much from being “over heritaged” and is run by the family who discovered the tomb. There is a new visitors centre where family members will give a short talk about the site and let you handle artefacts found nearby made from stone and bone.

After the visit to the small museum, visitors are able to wander freely along the track to explore the Bronze age house and the Tomb, stopping to admire the scenery, geology, birds, or ponder on life in ages past as the will takes them.

The first site you come across is a “Burnt mound” and remains of a bronze age house from about 1000 years BC. The house is oval with a central hearth and a watertight pit. No one really knows the use of the trough or indeed if the house was a dwelling or a sort of “community hall”. There are various theories that it was used like a sauna – heating the water by putting hot stones in it. Another theory is the pit or trough was used to boil meat, but in truth no one really knows. What is certain is that the burnt mound next to it is made up of vast quantities of cracked, fired stones and ash which were deposited there from the fire.

The Tomb itself was discovered by a farmer, Ronnie Simison, in the 1950’s and excavated by him after several years, along with help from an archaeologist. Apparently there was a lack of funding for a full dig so Ronnie did a lot of it himself with advice from various archaeologists and visiting students etc. The tomb is believed to date from about 3150 BC.

When the tomb was excavated a number of eagle talons were found (hence the naming of the tomb). There were also various human bones, and broken pots and other artefacts made of bone and stone. It’s thought that when someone died their body was put onto a platform where the sea eagles and other birds picked the carcase clean. The bones were then split up and deposited into various chambers in the cairn. The cairn faces the open sea and it is really atmospheric standing there musing about the ancestors who lived on the land many thousands of years ago!

The tomb has a very low entrance and Ronnie constructed a “Heath Robinson” kind of contraption to enable visitors to pull themselves through the entrance tunnel to the tomb behind. Once inside it is possible to stand up and admire the stalled chambers.

Walking back visitors have a choice of taking a short coastal path which gives lovely views of the nearby coast as well as south to the Scottish Mainland. Having lived in the South of England all my life and considering the northern “Highlands” of Scotland as a distant land on the edge of the Earth, it now seems odd to be looking SOUTH to the mountains in the Highlands.

Today my visitors have set off for a walk around the shore on Graemsay – it’s a little breezy with some showers so I’d better put a pot of soup on for their return!

A butterfly seen on the coastal path - no idea what variety it is!

Monday, 14 July 2008

Primula Scotica

Photo courtesy of Jenny Taylor. Jenny was out walking along Yesnaby, along the cliffs of the West Mainland, and took some photos of Primula scotica. This is an alpine plant which grows about 10cm high at most. In the wild it can only be found in the far north of the Scottish Mainland (Caithness or Sutherland) and in a few sites in Orkney. It tends to like moist but well drained soil and grows in grazed natural grassland close to the coast – usually within a mile at most of the shore-line. Apparently this plant grows nowhere else in the world! The tiny plant has two flowering periods, one in early spring and the main season in July or August when most plants are in flower.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Random ramblings...

A busy week and I’m behind with my blog – so here are some fairly unconnected ramblings…..

Tuesday we had a presentation regarding the “First Responders” training which is being made available to island residents. A couple of chaps from the Paramedic ambulance service came over with Andy Trevett, our GP, and a representative from Orkney Health Board.

I think the folk who came out to talk to us about the training were surprised by the number of us who are willing to go forward for training – about 15 folk in all. This will involve a two day training course in first aid, but also in how to administer oxygen and use the defibrillator, both of which will be available on the island.

We have an excellent service from our primary care practice in Stromness, but they are across a stretch of water! There have been a few emergencies in the last year or so and I think several of us on the island feel that we’d like to have some training to be able to deal with emergencies while waiting for the professionals to arrive.

The First Responders scheme is organised through the Ambulance service – first responders will be “on call” and when someone phones 999 the ambulance service will notify the on call First responders to go along to the emergency and help assess the situation, administer oxygen etc until the medical professionals arrive.

For Graemsay this will give us a little peace of mind as we have no medical facilities on the island itself. For routine care we go over to Stromness to see the GPs at the surgery, or go to Kirkwall to visit the Balfour Hospital. For some diagnostic tests and treatment it's necessary to travel to Aberdeen to the main hospital there. But accidents and emergencies can be challenging to deal with - it's not possible to bring an ambulance to the island so the GP must come out on the boat and if necessary the Air Ambulance helicopter is called. But in bad weather sometimes there are delays. The Air Ambulance helicopter has to come from Inverness on Mainland Scotland, and even the GP can be delayed in adverse weather.

So it looks like the training will be set for September this year. I’ve put my name down – though I’m not good with blood. Yes I know I’m a health researcher – but blood is rarely involved!

Today the weather has been glorious and I’ve been catching up on jobs outdoors. Cut the grass at the front of the house. The ground staff went on strike I think… but turned out to cut the grass at the back. Tee Hee – only joking as Mick very kindly cuts my grass for me with his ride-on-mower.

I also got two line-fulls of washing dried. I just love the fresh smell that laundry has when it’s been out on the line for a few hours.

I’ve got visitors from London arriving tomorrow so have spent the day preparing for them. Baked another lemon cake as was so pleased with the way the last one turned out. Unfortunately the bread maker misbehaved so the Italian Herby loaf has been given to the hens – they didn’t complain!

Fitzi-cat is improving greatly on his new medication, much to my relief. He is certainly more active. Well it’s all relative really – he’s awake more is probably nearer the truth. His appetite has improved and he is vocalising more loudly – back to his usual self! Getting the medication in him is something of a challenge – one small orange “thyroid” tablet, and one large potassium pill. Both end up crushed into some tuna but he is getting wise to that….. need to find a Plan B!

Time to settle down and watch “Midsomer Murder” before getting on with some ironing in preparation for visitors .

Monday, 7 July 2008

The Mystery of The Body in the Shower Room…..

Clearing up after visitors the previous evening, the Lady of the House stepped into the Shower Room and there before her, lying prone, was A Body…… clearly dead. Very dead. Startled she stepped forward to investigate further. Gently touching the body to make sure it WAS indeed dead….. oh yes….. a small very dead vole.

How did it come to *be* there? The window is sealed, no other obvious entrance apart from the door from The Conservatory which was tightly shut. Perhaps it was left there by one of the guests the previous night – eager to dispose of The Body and place blame elsewhere? Who could it be? The retired Physician? The Forester? The Local Historian? The Teacher?? Or has Fitzgerald (aka Fitzi-cat) been masquerading all this time as a sick kitty when in fact he has been stealthily working his way through the small mammal population of Graemsay? But clever feline that he is, his furry paws could not have closed the Shower Room door so firmly – he *must* have had an accomplice.

Clearly there is a need for A Great Detective….. who should one call upon in such circumstances? Miss Marple? Sherlock Holmes (oh no, not that horrid pipe)?, Poirot (too fastidious), Inspector Morse? Inspector Barnaby (not enough bodies)?

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Luscious Lemon Cake

Spent yesterday outdoors working in the garden and it was hot and sunny. Today however is more overcast with showers so decided to do some baking. Just tried out a recipe I got from my sister recently and it lives up to it’s name so thought I’d share it with you.

Ingredients

4 oz soft margarine

6 oz castor sugar

6 oz self-raising flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

4 tablespoons milk

2 large eggs

Grated rind of lemon

Mix all cake ingredients together. Put in 2 lb loaf tin which has been greased and lined at base. Cook for 40-45 minutes at 180 degrees C (Gas….

Syrup:

mix 3 round tablespoons of icing sugar and 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice.

Whilst cake is still hot (leave it in the tin) pour the syrup over it and leave to cool before taking out of the tin. The syrup is NOT icing – instead it seeps into the cake and gives the top a slight glaze.

Oooh it is yummy and SO easy to make! Enjoy!

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Island of Westray

Thought I’d introduce you to one of the other islands in Orkney. A couple of years ago I visited Westray, which is the second largest of the Orkney islands and has approximately 600 inhabitants. It has it’s own school, doctor, still has a fishing fleet, has two hotels (I had great fish and chips at the Pierowall Hotel in the village!), lots of beaches, and spectacular cliffs with thousands of seabirds including gannets and puffins.

Noup Head Lighthouse (see photo) completed building around late 1890s, a great place to see the sea birds and the surrounding cliffs are part of an RSPB Reserve.

Notland Castle (a ruin) was built around mid 1500s. And if memory serves me right it has good views of Pierowall Bay and village.

Here’s the blog of another incomer who sought to save his sanity by moving to Orkney - Malc’s website : http://the-edge-of-nowhere.blogspot.com/

Westray web site: http://www.westraypapawestray.co.uk/westray.php

Just off Westray is Papa Westray (referred to locally as Papay). This island is similar to Graemsay only larger being about 4.5 miles by 2 miles and more inhabitants (approx 60). It also has a thriving community and apparently has the oldest house in Orkney (according to the tourist blub anyway!) – the Knap of Howar (see photo below), dating from about 3600 BC. Um…. You wouldn’t want to be staying there now though – see the photo. But it is apparently older than Skara Brae and is equally well preserved.

Papay website: http://www.westraypapawestray.co.uk/papa_westray.php