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Saturday, 28 February 2009

Signs of Spring

Today is misty with intermittent drizzly rain, which seeps into one's bones and makes it feel colder than it probably really is. However I felt I just HAD to get out and get some fresh air today. There's no wind and I can hear a cacophony of sound from the birds. The wrens seem to be marking out their territory. The starlings are chattering around. Down on the shore there's a lot of screaming from the gulls and I can hear lapwings and oystercatchers too. I saw a sparrow dive into a hole in the wall so it must be nest building time.

And all the plants are sprouting - the rosa rugosa, the willows, bulbs are beginning to come into flower and even a few daisies were blooming despite the drear day!

I still have the tail-end of a virus and lack energy but it was refreshing to get out and "take the air"!

Even Button has a spring in her step these days with the milder weather and calmer days. Though *snow* is potentially forecast for next week.

The cattle are remain indoors in sheds for a few more weeks, and I don't think anyone on Graemsay has started this year's calving, though I know some folk on Hoy who have had several sleepless nights already. Lambing hasn't started on the island yet either, though will be within a few short weeks and then it will be a busy time on the farms. I love watching the lambs in the fields, but I'm glad I don't have to get up and walk round the fields at dawn checking the flock!

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Shrove - er - Wednesday

OK so I was never much of one for conventional religious observance. Didn't feel up to making pancakes yesterday so saved them for today. Ooooh even though I say so myself they were really delicious, made with eggs fresh from the hens. And with lots of lemon juice and sugar. AND I managed to flip them over in the pan - wish I could have got an action shot of THAT one. It's years since I tried making pancakes and just got a fancy for them this afternoon.

That's all for today. Tonight the virus is winning and I have lost my voice again so I shall take to my bed and hope to feel refreshed after a good long sleep. There is nothing cosier than curling up safe and warm while listening to the wind rattling around outside, because yes, we are in the teeth of another gale!

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

All is calm and still

I've just been out to call Button in for the night (I'm delusional again, though she does sometimes condescend to answer) and stood for a minute or two listening to the waves gently lapping the shore in the darkness. It is such a soothing sound. Hard to image the wind may whip them into a frenzy tomorrow!

Another Spring Day

This morning was just glorious. The sun shone, the sky was blue and the wrens were singing their hearts out. Their song is so melodic and when you consider their size lasts for a long period! Ooooh for the lung capacity of a wren!

Button enjoyed being out in the stillness and the warmth. No sigh of Charlie Boy for a couple of days and in his place yesterday was a pretty ginger and white cat. However the deal is, Charlie Boy has to put in an appearance to get fed, otherwise I may end up with my own colony of cats turning up for breakfast. I know from experience that when he IS hungry he appears so he must be doing well catching mice, of which there are plenty in the barn. No rats - Graemsay is fortunate so far in that there are no rats surviving on the island.

When I stayed on the island of Hoy I had to make sure I kept external doors shut or rats would run in. Fortunately I had a very canny hunter cat which came with the property I stayed in so I had no problems.

However, Spring isn't quite here yet as I saw on tonight's TV weather forecast that gales are due to arrive in Orkney tomorrow. I'm due over in town in the morning so will hopefully make it there and back before the worst of the wind hits. I don't have enough breath to fight the wind just yet! Never mind "Oh for the wings of a dove" - give me the lungs of a wren!! But I AM feeling much better and recovering from my cold - I do feel a wimp but it's easy to forget just how yucky one feels with a cold........ I promise next time you mention you have a cold I will be more sympathetic.....maybe.....

Monday, 23 February 2009

Mist over Graemsay....

.... which happens to be the name of a tune composed by a local musician, Fran Gray, for us on Graemsay, but also happens to describe the weather today!

Visibility is only a few yards and I've heard the "Hamnavoe" ferry (Stromness-Scrabster run) hooting it's horn every time it approaches and leaves the harbour. In the mist it would be impossible to see even a boat that size and I suppose there may be some small creel boats out working today that don't show up on whatever gizmos they have on board boats these days.

Thankfully Graemsay doesn't have a fog horn attached to its lighthouses. In fact all fog-horns, in Scotland at any rate, have been disconnected as most ships have electronic gadgets that replace the need for fog-horn warnings. However the Graemsay lighthouses were never fitted with them as the island lighthouses are actually "leading lights" to guide the Victorian herring fleet safely into and out of the harbour at Stromess, rather than warning of dangerous rocks. Though it has to be said the channel between Graemsay and Stromness has quite a few "skerries" which appear at low tide (bands of rock), so even small boats need to take heed when navigating the water.

I should have been working today but the cold I developed over the weekend has gone to my chest, and coupled with the fact I have chronic asthma, I've been wheezing like a train and so have been reclining on the sofa feeling sorry for myself all day! However hopefully after a couple of days I will feel better again!

I did mange to make some soup yesterday. This is taken from a recipe I found some time ago in who knows where or when and I adapted.

Carrot and Caraway Soup

1 Tbs (15 ml) olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 lb (450 g) carrots, chopped
2 tsp (10 ml) caraway seeds, crushed in a
mortar with a pestle
4-6 cups (1-1.5 L) vegetable broth
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Chopped fresh parsley, chives, or basil for garnish

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over moderate heat and saute the
onion until tender but not browned, about 10 minutes. Add the carrots
and caraway seeds and saute 3 minutes. Add the broth and bring to a
boil. Simmer covered until the carrots are tender, about 20 minutes (depends how small you chop them!). Puree the soup in an electric blender or food processor and adjust the
seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve hot or chilled, garnished with
chopped herbs. Serves 4 to 6.

The caraway seeds take away a little of the sweetness of the carrots and give the soup a slightly nutty flavour. Enjoy!

Saturday, 21 February 2009

It's.... Winter again.....

Another gale blew up late yesterday. Fortunately I was able to go over to Stromness and meet up with friends for lunch and get home before the worst of the weather hit. But today the wind is battering the house and I can hear it roaring around in the rafters of the loft. At least it's fairly bright and sunny. AND I don't have to go far today. Which is just as well as I seem to have a repeat of the virus I had at New Year and am losing my voice. Do I hear cheers from certain quarters on the island?? So I shall snuggle down with Button and read a book this afternoon and be glad I don't have to be outdoors. Well except when I go down to the boat at 4pm to pick up a package.

At least the days are lengthening now - well the daylight is, if you see what I mean. Sunrise this morning in Orkney was 0730 (and yes I was awake for it...) and sunset will be 17.22. That compares quite favourably with London now where sunrise there is 0702 and sunset at 17.27. Mid-winter there is an hour and a half difference between our sunrise and sunset times, but we are fast catching up London, and in March we will overtake them. Sorry - I just LOVE LOVE LOVE the long days in Orkney!

We have a boat to Stromness this weekend, but I'm staying put at home. However next week I'm hoping to go over to see the new exhibition at the Pier Arts Centre in Stromness which opens this weekend. It's an exhibition of work by new artists and designers from Orkney who have graduated with Art & Design decress since 2001.

Tuesday Button is to visit the vet to have her vaccinations and to be fitted with a microchip. The microchip will enable anyone finding her, should she get lost, to locate me. But I also want her microchipped as I have just purchased a cat flap that works on recognition of the cat's microchip. Thereby preventing other stray cats entering the house. It was recommended to me by a friend, unfortunately she said it doesn't scan for a cat carrying rodents........ So we shall shee how Button and I get on with it! I fostered a cat over on Hoy some years ago and she regularly brought in young bunnies. Bunny would run behind the range cooker and Baggins and Fitzi-cat would sit either end waiting for it to emerge...... eventually I would have to separate the cats and try and retrieve the bunny. Then take it across a couple of fields to release it - though I suspect the poor wee things died of shock eventually. Baggins had to remain shut in for a couple of hours so she couldn't go and locate said bunny and repeat process.

Thursday, 19 February 2009


OK, so I'm slightly delusional...... but today I saw this little bulb stoically blooming in the garden border despite a freshening wind! And yes it may look a little blury - did I mention a freshening wind? But I just HAD to capture it as a reminder that Spring is on it's way even if it hasn't fully arrived. It fairly gladdens the heart.........

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house down...

The reason for today's title is I've just come back from visiting a straw house that is currently under construction in Orkney. I've seen such structures on TV but never one "for real". It was quite amazing.

Straw bales are used for external walls, packed very closely together, with all gaps filled in (that bit is most important). These are then covered on the outside with 3 layers of lime mortar. Inside the walls are also plastered with lime mortar although clay and other materials can be used internally. This particular house has quite a substantial roof so also has wooden beams to support the interior and the upper floor space. Various technical aspects of the build mean that the house is waterproof - protected from rising damp, seepage as well as rain etc. This particular house had fairly conventional interior damp proofing, but it is also possible to use car tyres as the foundation packed full of gravel - excellent drainage. Again because of this design and it's need to withstand high winds, more internal wood framing has been used than perhaps more protected properties. It should withstand Force 11 gales - and also has "bunding", plus natural landscaping of willow and other trees, and is partly dug into the landscape. All of which will deflect the fiercest of wind.

I know quite a number of local folk have been working as volunteers on the project to learn the necessary skills. Currently in the UK, Building Regulations for houses have incorporated requirements for lower carbon footprint, requiring higher insulation, renewable energies etc.
This current project will use a ground source heat pump for background heating, plus wood burning stoves, as well as having excellent insulation from the straw walls. A local contractor has been involved in various parts of the construction. So it's great that new technologies are being used locally, and with enthusiasm.

Small domestic wind turbines are also able to be used with schemes where any excess electricity produced goes into the local "grid system" and the power company will pay YOU for that, which offsets the amount of electricity you may use yourself at other times.

My main concern would be rodent problems! I live in a solid stone house yet mice seem to find the smallest crack to get in, and while the house was being renovated it was open to all comers! It seems that if the straw bales are stacked correctly and the lime mortar put on correctly there are no holes for the little beasties to get through. I think I remain to be convinced of that having had a ten year battle with rodents in this house! Catching the little beasties IN the house wouldn't be a problem - it's the thought of them chomping through the walls and wires that is a bit fearsome - and as I say I have these problems in a conventional stone house. Though the theory in a straw bale house is there ARE no cavities so they can't move around........

All really interesting stuff. I'm hoping to go back and visit when the house is nearer completion!

I didn't get any pictures of the one I visited today, but here is a link from Amazonails which shows you some designs for straw bale houses:

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Graemsay is green again!

Thanks to the rain yesterday and overnight Graemsay (and the rest of Orkney) is green once again. Though, being British, and never satisfied with the weather - I wish the snow was BACK in preference to the grey skies we have at present. At least we had brilliant sunshine and a crispness to the silence during the snow. Though we have been very fortunate and not had any wind to speak of for the last couple of weeks. It did feel ethereal waking up and gazing out onto a moonlit landscape that was totally silent - no bird calls nothing, no breeze. I felt I could reach out and phycially touch the silence.

Today there's a bit of a breeze and I can hear the waves lapping the shore and the breakers roaring out at Warbeth beach. Normal service is resumed for Orkney weather I suppose!

I did manage to escape to Stromness on Friday. I'd arranged to meet up with two other friends who had also been hibernating during the snow. We weren't sure we'd remember how to hold a proper conversation and thought we might be reduced to grunts over lunch. However, as ever, talking wasn't a problem!

I had planned going up to the Co-op after lunch, but discovered my car on the Mainland was still covered in three inches of snow with a nice little snow drift in front of it. Fortunately a friend offered me a lift so I could get fresh fruit and veggies from the Co-op and a few goodies to replenish the stock cupboard.

Because we don't have a ferry you can easily get cars onto and off, several of us keep a "mainland" car over in Stromness. I only use mine about once a week, but a couple of other friends also use it so it does get a run now and again. It is probably a luxury to keep a car sitting in a car park most of the time. However I think of it as a large shopping trolley! Buses run frequently between Stromness and Kirkwall but don't always match with ferries. Plus there is the necessity of carrying shopping around the town rather than dumping in the car. And the buses only go on main routes so if you want to deviate from those a car is essential.

A year ago when my old Suzuki jeep failed it's MOT and had to be retired to the island I did try by just hiring cars when needed. However that isn't always practical, especially in the summer when there is a demand for hire cars. So I got a second-hand, no frills, saloon car to run about in.

I also have an "island" car - as long as cars don't leave the islands there is an exemption on having an MOT so it's possible to keep running a car till it stops really! However if you needed to take the car to the Orkney Mainland then a road-worthy car is necessary. (For non UK readers an MOT is a government certified test of roadworthiness that all road vehicles are required to have, with certain exceptions. The exception for us is "Vehicles used only on certain islands that do not have a bridge, tunnel, ford or other suitable way for motor vehicles to be conveniently driven to a road in any part of Great Britain" (Source UK govt website.)

Yesterday I only needed to do a few hours work as I have just finished one project and am waiting for another one to start. So I did some "domestics" and then experimented with a new cookie recipe. That's "cookies" as in American Cookies, not as in Orkney cookies (which are sweet bread rolls with currants in them!). The cookies contain dark and milk chocolate, raisins, walnuts, and lots and lots of sugar. They turned out well, though are very rich in taste and I can only eat one at a time!

After the excess of sugar yesterday, I've just put the breadmaker on for a sunflower and pumpkin seed white loaf. OK white bread maybe not so good, but all that omega-3 in the seeds MUST be good for me!

Have just been out to collect eggs. The new hens are very canny - they clearly don't like the idea of someone stealing their eggs on a daily basis and have moved nests three times in the last week. Today I couldn't find a single egg. I shall have to have words with the girls........

Bill the goose failed to find a Valentine yesterday so is still on his lonesome. As I mentioned in one of my comments, Scottish Natural Heritage are conducting a feasibility study into effective ways of scaring off the geese from newly seeded fields. Some farmers have thousands of geese on their fields which cause lots of damage. It will be interesting to see what methods do prove effective. On Graemsay we've never been bothered to a great degree with large numbers. But when I lived on Hoy there was someone employed to go scaring them off fields - of course it just moved them around, but some areas are OK to have geese on, it's the newly seeded fields that tend to be more vulnerable. Oh well, with just the one goose I don't suppose I'll have too much trouble!

Friday, 13 February 2009

Goosey Goosey Gander.....

(Photo from web of Greylag Goose)

For several days now I've had a lone greylag goose in my field behind the house. I've named him "Bill" in memory of a pet goose I had when I was five. Bill II seems quite happy in the field, eating grass and grubs or whatever geese eat, and he has his very own pond plus the company of lapwings, oystercatchers, curlews and various field birds. But I have no idea why s/he is alone. I'm hoping once Spring comes Bill will fly North and join other flocks of geese. Although I wouldn't mind another pet goose!

When I was five I won a raffle at a local fete. The first prize was a goose, and my dad, who bought the ticket, was expecting a dead, plucked and dressed goose to arrive on the doorstep. Um... so it was a shock to my parents and a delight to me to find a LIVE one turning up. I named him Bill after my best friend at the time. Bill (the goose) lived in the shed in the garden and I led him round the garden on the dog lead. Dad built a pen for him, but Bill clearly had other ideas and kept escaping to the allotments behind the house which meant Dad and brother, Pete, had to keep chasing the goose, providing many hours of entertainment for the neighbours.

However the day came when it was decided by my parents that Bill had to go. So a local neighbour who was a butcher came and "did the deed" while I was at school. I was really sad to see Bill go. However completely unknown to me, Mum served up "Bill" for Sunday lunch. To this day my sister reminds me that I ate my friend Bill the goose! In my defence I didn't know! And I did keep the pillow stuffed with his goose down feathers for many years afterwards. AND I've never forgotten him. Anyway I'd better reassure Bill II that he is not destined for the same fate (fete?!).......

Fortunately Bill is too big ( even if he may be injured) to fall prey to the local cat population, of which Button is one. I found the remains of a dead lapwing in one of the barns, so I don't know if that was Button, Charlie Boy or one of the other many Graemsay cats. Sigh. I am rather worried about the wild bird chick population this summer.

Well I am just off to Stromness. Haven't been able to escape the house for a whole week but most of the snow has disappeared on Graemsay and so I shall venture forth to buy more provisions (in case of further snow) and to meet up with friends for lunch. I am already hallucinating about a cafe latte and wondering what else is on the menu!

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Just when you thought.......

....... the snow was disappearing, it gets dark and the sneaky snow clouds dump another inch onto the ground!

I know I should be thankful that actually we aren't really suffering severe weather. Not like the poor people out in Australia. As the ice slowly freezes on the puddles by the hen house it's hard to imagine the inferno on the other side of the globe.

On a lighter note, I've been enjoying watching the flocks of lapwings and curlews in the field behind the house. I even found a wren in the shed attached to the house (which used to be the old post office). I'd seen it there some weeks ago and left the door ajar for it to fly out, but presumably it has made it's home there as I regularly see it flying around inside when I open the door. It comes in and out of the old post box opening! I wonder if it will build a nest in the post box?

Button has been enjoying the fresh air. I don't think she spends much time with her feet on the snow - although there are a myriad of paw prints outside so maybe she does. She came in this afternoon and immediately curled up on the sofa in the study. Her fur smelled just like fresh laundry taken in from the washing line!

A friend was telling me she'd been watching hares in the field behind her house on the outskirts of Stromness. We don't have hares on Graemsay - nor any rabbits, that part is probably a blessing as far as the garden is concerned! But I just love hares - especially once they get into "Mad March Hare" mode.

Below is the sunset earlier tonight - the sun setting in the West was painting the clouds in the north a lovely rosy glow. See the snow had almost gone - not now, sigh.

Monday, 9 February 2009

More snow pictures!

Sorry - I just LOVE the landscape covered in snow. Here are some photos taken from just outside the house.

The blue and white boat is the Hamnavoe which sails between Scrabster (North Scotland) to Stromness.

Looking towards Orphir on the Orkney Mainland.

Ward Hill on Hoy with an old Graemsay croft in the foreground.

And a close up of Ward hill.

Sandside history

Eight years ago, when the house was being renovated, the builders found a couple of items in the rafters of the house. Apparently the attic space, many years ago, had been a rudimentary bedroom for some of the children of the house. It therefore amused me to find that one of the "finds" was a cigarette packet! (The other side of the packet bears the name "Mitchell's Prize Crop Cigarettes" - and of course no health warning!) A painted metal button was also found, presumably from a cardigan, or jacket.

Sandside has quite a history - around 1830 Henry and Betsy Sutherland moved to Graemsay from Walls on Hoy. Henry was a tenant farmer, the island of Graemsay being owned by the local "laird". The couple had ten children, and at the time lived in the house which is now a byre. Two of the sons took over the farm at some point. Alexander and Samuel ran the farm for some years, and it was at that time that the laird built the current house (around 1860). The style was unusual for Orkney, more fitting to a large town, as it was an early "maisonnette" complete with external staircase. Sadly the external staircase was lost around 1910. Other changes were made to the house about then, converting it into one home as it is today.

While the house was split into two "flats" Alexander and his wife Margaret lived in one part of the house and Samuel and his wife Mary lived in the other part. Over the years Alexander & Margaret had ten surviving children and Samuel and Mary had twelve children, including a set of twins. And no the house isn't that big! I have no idea where they all lived, although maybe the older ones were away from home by the time the youngest were born?!

In fact the entire Sutherland family of that time equates to the current island population! Though in the late 1800s the Graemsay island population was about 200, with families living in small croft houses, most of which are derelict now. Currently there are 14 habitable properties on the island. How times change!

At some point there was a parting of the ways and Samuel and Mary took over the house and the farm themselves. Alexander and his family moving to Orphir. The descendants of the Sutherland family are spread far and wide across the globe, as well as several living in Orkney. In the summer months each year I hear a knock at the door, and it's a descendant of Samuel and Mary. I love placing the visitors on the family tree. I know more about the Sutherland family history than I do of my own! Bryce Wilson, who used to be the Custodian of the Orkney Museum, and is a descendant of the Sutherland family, has provided me with a copy of the family tree and various photos over the years. And occasionally other members of the family provide information or photos. (Photo left has Samuel and Mary centre, surrounded by their children, taken circa 1905. Full list of folk in the photo from left to right: Standing: Catherine, Samuel Agnes, James, Hughina, Daniel, Henrietta. Sitting: Isabella Ann, Samuel, Mary (nee Lyon), Mary. Front: Clara, Betsy, Jane-Anne.

Daniel (John Daniel) took over the running of the farm after his father's death. John Daniel and his family remained living at Sandside, till Daniel died in 1951. I think the family left for "south" after that period. The house was then let to Jock and Gertie Seatter who stayed in the house till 1985. After that the house was left empty until work started on our renovations.

I was fortunate enough to be given a plate from the dinner service which was a wedding present to Sam and his wife Mary in 1877 and this now has pride of place on the dresser in the kitchen. I like to think it has come home again!

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Charlie Boy update

You may remember my story of the grey and white rescue cat escaping a couple of weeks ago. Well I spotted him early this past week! He was sitting on the windowsill of the kitchen (outdoors) at 11.30 one night. I got some food and quietly went outside, he ran off a way but not completely. I put some food down for him and he wolfed it down once I retreated to a safe distance. I then saw him the next day in the barn so have been leaving food there, although I haven't seen him since. He may be eating it, or the hens, or Button or one of Ethel's cats - there's no way of knowing really. He's a very shy boy so I may not see him often!

In fact he was so shy when he stayed here that I never really saw him fully, he was always hiding in or behind something. So when I saw a grey and white cat on the windowsill I had to run and check my photos of Charlie Boy to see if it WAS him. But the cat on the window had the same facial markings so I thought it was a pretty good bet!

Anyway he will be nice and snug in the hay barn, and have lots of live food to hunt (mice) as well as regular cat food if he wishes!

Let it snow, let it snow....

.... to quote an old song. Finally we have a proper covering of snow on the island! The photo above is looking across to the Orkney Mainland with Black Craig now brightly lit as "White Craig"!

Last night the view from my bedroom window across the bay to the Hoy hills was just magical, lit up by the moon and stars in the sky, reflecting off the bright snow. No camera could capture the magic of that scene. The snow just seemed to glow, with the gentle dark waves lapping along the shore-line.

This morning I woke to more snow, probably only about an inch or inch and a half but wonderfully crunchy underfoot! I wandered about outside taking some photos but didn't go too far. Fragile bones and slippery surfaces aren't a good combination!

Button also came out to explore though, understandably, she objected to getting her paws too cold and surveyed my progress from the safety of the window ledge.

The hens were eager for their breakfast scraps this morning and were a little bewildered by the snow. This will be their first year of life so won't have seen snow before. But, although they seem to have little brains (just look at the size of their heads...) they certainly worked out where the barn was easily enough and went foraging among the silage bales put there for the young stock kept in the barn.

I do feel sorry for the sheep out in the field - they too get fed silage and other feed but look a bit disconsolate not being able to get to the grass. They have very thick warm fleeces so their bodies are nice and toasty, but I do wonder if I should get my friend D to knit them some socks.....?

This is a picture of the "main road" on Graemsay this morning. I love the snow when it is fresh and crisp. But it will soon get churned up with the various vehicles going back and forth to feed livestock and to the pier. The Graemsay snow plough was out this morning - a tractor with snow plough one end, gritter t'other!

More snow looks as though it is on the way. That will please the kids on the island - I could hear voices and shrieks when I was out taking photographs so the kids must have been out with sledges making the most of the snow while it lasts!

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Winter Wonderland!

(Photo: Left is Hoy, right is Graemsay - optical illusion that they are almost touching!)

After a week of lots of sleety-rainy-haily stuff we get the real deal with overnight snow. I was staying in Stromness last night as it was our monthly film club night and laid in bed watching snow falling on the town reflected in the street lights. It was so pretty! This morning snow is still around though I was impressed to see the snow plough had been through the main street in Stromness, and I followed the gritter down the road.

I bought a few essential supplies and headed for the 9.30am boat home. The weekend boat goes via Hoy so I had a chance to take some snaps of snow on the Hoy Hills. Graemsay doesn't have that much snow, though the road was home from the pier did have a covering of snow which had frozen and that made driving - er - interesting.

More words later but for now will leave you with some images of Orkney in the snow! (click on the picture to see a larger image)

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

S'no snow

No snow as yet, though some is forecast for later in the week. It did seem odd watching the chaos of London in the snow on TV yesterday with not a flake on the ground up here in the North! The countryside does look as pretty as a picture when it is covered in snow but I do feel sorry for any animals out in it and it's not much fun for people a lot of the time either!

Anyway I was glad there was no snow on the ground today as I had my monthly acupuncture appointment in deepest Orphir on the Orkney Mainland and there is no chance of getting there if it's icy. I had a chance to do a bit of shopping in Stromness and stock up in case the weather turns bad again. I also took some quick snaps with my new camera but it was *so* cold I didn't hang about much.

The photo at the top of the page is taken in Stromness Harbour today, a very cold grey wintry day. The pier by the bright red shed where the school kids learn to handle small boats in the safety of the harbour. Sometimes in the summer you can see them out in yoles (old style of Orkney boat - bit like a rowing boat but with a sail and small motor) or in canoes or regular rowing boats. I just love the red tones of the shed against the Orkney stone. To the right of the red building is a black metal building and a stone building, both of which house the Pier Arts Centre. The church spire in the background is part of the Stromness Town Hall, a converted church now run by the local council as a community space. That's where we have our film club nights, and concerts and drama productions also take place there. Almost all the properties along the shore side of the town will have their own piers and some have boatsheds running down to the water.

Sunday, 1 February 2009


A friend phoned me tonight and when we got to the bit about "what have you been up to today?" I replied I'd spent the day doing various domestic things, clearing out cupboards, washing floors etc, made a loaf (in breadmaker), some mushroom soup and baked a date & raisin cake. Then I had to lie down on the sofa for two hours to recover. She laughed and said "It all sounded very WI (Women's Institute) for a moment there, then it descended into Victorian Melodrama!" I wonder if I should find a chaise-longue on eBay to complete the picture.........harumph......

Time and Thyme......

Though winter is still with us at least the days are getting longer. Today sunrise was at 08:23 and sunset at 16:29. This compares with 21st December (shortest day) of 09:04 and 15:15. Amazing the difference six weeks makes!

The wind finally dropped this afternoon. Button was getting a little stir crazy! She did come out to feed the hens with me and whizzed around the barns but it was too windy for her to want to stay out long and in she came again. She's been grumping around the house all day. Then this afternoon I did some cooking and discovered that the herb, Thyme, seems to have the same effect on her as catnip! I'd put some in a soup (more of that later) and while sitting having a cup of tea waiting for it to finish cooking, Button came up to say hi - then she went completely bonkers after she'd sniffed my hand - racing around, pouncing on things, yowling, she rolled OFF the sofa TWICE! Well - I'm assuming it WAS Thyme I put into the soup........

Anyway here is a recipe for what I would call a "workaday" mushroom soup. Not an extravagent recipe with cream, just basic ingrediants but ooooooh it is delicious. I adapted the recipe from one I already had and thankfully it turned out OK. So here's the recipe

Mushroom Soup
(makes about 1 and a half pints)

(Different mushrooms will give different flavours so I just use whatever I can get!)

4 cups button mushrooms, peeled and chopped (10 oz)
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
black pepper
Thyme (fresh or dried)
1 and half pints vegetable stock

Heat oil in a large saucepan and cook the onion gently until transparent.
Add mushrooms and cook until soft but do not brown.
Add the chopped potatoes.
Add the stock and Thyme and allow to simmer for about 30 minutes.
Remove from the heat and seaon.
Reheat and serve.

Options: Swap the Thyme for garlic and add with the onion. Or use Parsley instead of Thyme.

If anyone has any soup recipes they want to share then please DO email me!