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Saturday, 28 March 2009

Snow and sun together

See - it's snowing and sunny at the same time! Snowing on Graemsay and sunshine in Stromness.

And here's a picture of the "Hamnavoe" ferry arriving in the snow.

British Summer Time begins tomorrow ......

..... and so today we have snow showers...... I do think that whoever dreamed up the title "British Summer Time" for the time when our clocks move forward was maybe being ironic?

But whatever, I shall dance when the clocks go forward (2am tomorrow morning) - OK I'll save my dance for a reasonable time, probably 11am! But I LOVE LOVE LOVE the longer days and the lighter evenings. Although I work from home I still do a fairly conventional working day from 10am to 6pm so it is a joy to have light in the evening to go for a walk or potter outdoors. Or just sit in the conservatory and watch the birds and the waves on the shore.

But as I say..... today we have snow showers and white horses cresting the waves, and with outdoor temperatures lower than I want to think about.

But Spring is definitely here. The photo at the top of the page are the rooks beginning to build nests in the trees in Stromness. The air is filled with their cawing, which at this time of year is several decibels louder than the gulls who usually frequent the harbour area.

Graemsay has no tall trees, lots of short ones and lots of shrubs, but no tall trees. So it is lovely to get off the ferry in the middle of the town and hear the rooks with their Spring calls - though it has to be said they are unpopular with a number of households. They make a real mess with their nesting and droppings in the tightly packed gardens of the town. Some folk have been known to go out with long poles and destroy the nests as they are being built to discourage the rooks. But others rejoice in the return of nests.

The nests are all higgeldy piggeldy and look as though a puff of wind will destroy them, never mind a well aimed pole. However the town around the harbour area is fairly sheltered and leaves are beginning to appear on the trees again, so hopefully that will afford them some protection. (Photo of spring leaves appearing on trees in one of the lanes in town).

The town has different bird cries echoing around during the seasons. During the autumn and winter months you can hear the starlings massing to roost. The summer months the young gulls roam around the piers trying to get scraps of fish or partans (crab) from the boats, or chips or ice cream from the visitors. Spring is the time of the rooks and crows.

For those who are interested in seeing a bit more of Stromness, the local business forum commissioned a video a year or two ago, which is available on YouTube : click on Stromness to see (approx 8 minutes). The narrator has a real Orcadian accent - for those who haven't visited ORkney, you may notice it's very unlike traditional Scottish accents. I think it has the cadence of the Welsh accent - particularly South Wales where my family originally hail from.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Some people have......

....... way too much time on their hands. I found this on another blog - you really do have to take a look at this YouTube video. It's called "Extreme Shepherding" - no really, it's not at all unsavoury! It's a video made by some Welsh hill farmers: click here

Hmmm wonder if we could try this on Graemsay?

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Fire - part 2

No, not another fire, but I wanted to post some pictures of Malcolm demonstrating how he starts a fire. I needed to check he didn't mind being posted on my blog first! So here are the photos, he is using a traditional bow drill method. He also runs courses where people can learn this art, here's his website: Five Senses

Once there is smoke coming from the wood at the base of the bow, this is used to start the fire, just a small pile of wood first then building up once the fire has taken hold.

From small beginnings...... anyone else see a Phoenix rising from the flames or just my whimsical imaginings? ;-)

Saturday, 21 March 2009


I enjoyed an excellent Spring Equinox party in Orphir (Orkney Mainland) last night. Our hosts, M&R did a great job and made everyone welcome - even providing S'mores (more of that later!). And the fire was magnificent. This picture is of the fire just getting going.

The weather also put on a stunning evening for us. Once the roar of the fire died down you could hear geese, oystercatchers and lapwings calling. The Hoy High lighthouse on Graemsay shone like a beacon, with the light reflecting across the still water to the shore. It was interesting seeing Graemsay from a different angle! At the start of the evening the lights of Stromness were twinkling - we were remarking just big the town looked with lights stretching along the line of the harbour and up the hill. However slowly and silently the mist stole in and hid Graemsay and Stromness from us. All that could be seen of the town was a shimmering light following along Brinkies Brae at the top of the town.

Although there isn't that much light pollution from Stromness, the dimming of the lights did enable us to get a spectacular view of the night sky. I used to love standing in my garden in Kent looking up at the stars, but the view is nothing in comparison with Orkney. There are just layer upon layer of stars. First the largest and brightest begin shining in the sky, then as your eyes get accustomed to looking at them you can pick out tiny pinpoints of light between the brighter stars, and eventually the whole night sky seems to be a glitter. Last night we could make out Orion, the Plough, Saturn and many others I can't name! Just magical.

The party was held on the shore near M&R's house (which is just across the Flow from Graemsay - OK they will say I am just across the flow from Orphir.... depends on your perspective). Anyway, it was possible to walk down to water's edge as the waves gently lapped the shore. Some of the kids came down with us, they were sensible and had rubber boots on so they could jump around in the shallows. Meanwhile I kept my feet firmly on dry land!

Baked tatties (jacket potatoes) were being cooked in the embers of the fire, and sausages were cooked on improvised skewers. And the best bit after consuming the savories was dessert - S'mores. For the uninitiated these are chocolate biscuits with marshmallows on top, the mashmalows first having been toasted on the open fire. The soft warmth of the mashmallows slowly melts the chocolate on the biscuit. I can only eat three in one go. Which is probably just as well as others were keen to eat them too. I was very magnanimous and even helped a wee boy, Hamish, toast some marshmallows AND let him eat them himself. Though someone did discover I was hogging the packet of biscuits and marshmallows..... damn, thought the darnkess was hiding my gluttony!

So it was a great night and a wonderful way to herald a new Spring!

Friday, 20 March 2009

A walk on the wild side

Well to be fair it's Button walking on the wild side not me! Today is the most glorious warm Spring day. Just right for the Spring Equinox, where the length of day and night are equal. YES! Spring is here! I heard the skylarks call rising in the field behind the house, and the lapwings and oystercatchers down by the shore. The wrens are twittering around the byres, and the sparrows look busy - I've seen them disappearing into holes at the top of the byre. The starlings must be nesting too.

A walk along the shore was sublime. The water is so blue and still. I tried taking a few photos, but again Button thought it was all about *her*!

Tonight I'm off to friends over on the Mainland for a Spring Equinox party - hopefully on the beach, or if the weather changes then around the warm stove in the kitchen or the conservatory.

Anyway back to the Spring Equinox - although the length of day and night across the globe are, in theory, equal, there are slight variations the further from the equator you go. So today in London there will be 12 hours 10 minutes and 35 seconds of daylight and in Glasgow it will be 12 hours 11 minutes, 49 seconds of daylight - and probably a minute more in Orkney!

I was rather hoping that the clocks would also go forward this weekend for "British Summer Time" but I see from my calendar that I have to wait another week for that event. Oh well can't have too many celebrations at once!

I feel like a dormouse emerging from hibernation, feeling the warm rays of sun on my body and warm ground beneath my toes..... Hmmm maybe not a good analogy with Button around. OK time to clean my whiskers and practice my happy dance for the party tonight!

This is a picture taken of a rockpool on the "shell" beach:

Thursday, 19 March 2009

"Early" morning

I've just returned on the 7.45 ferry from Stromness (yes that's early for me!). It's another lovely calm day and I thought you might like to see some of the photos. Since about 8.30 however the mist has been rolling in and out and it's a little chilly. But it still feels like Spring!

First, this is a picture of the Fulmars nesting at the pier on Graemsay. Usually Fulmars nest on rock ledges on cliff faces. The birds lay an egg in a shallow part of the cliff - no cosy nest lined with down for a Fulmar chick! Pairs of birds will sit together on the nest, with many other pairs around and lots of chattering going on. Fulmars will defend their nests from intruders by vomitting a horrid oily smelly substance up to 2 metres! However our pier Fulmars seem a little more laid back and accepting of passing folk. And as you can see - the "cliff" is probably only about 15-20 foot high in places! Although fulmars look like regular gulls they are in fact related to the Albatross and have an average lifespan of about 32 years, though ringed birds have been known to live to over 50 years.

These photos were taken sailing from Stromness round to Hoy this morning (before the mist rolled in).

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Note to self....

Do not endeavour to put up new washing line without first removing freshly collected eggs from one's pocket. Sigh - I should know better by now. A couple of years ago my mobile phone met a sticky end - literally, when I jumped into the car forgetting I still had eggs in my pocket form the morning collection. It was an old phone and I didn't try claiming on the insurance - wasn't sure quite how to explain that my phone now had egg yolk oozing out between the keys.....

And the hens were outraged this morning, quite rightly, when they saw their hard work being scooped out of my pocket onto the grass, all yolk and shell mixed in together. Sorry girls - I'll try and be more careful in future.

Still - at least I will be able to try out the new washing line, once my jacket has been through the washing machine!

Second Note to Self:
Pay attention when throwing ingredients into breadmaker..... I often put seeds into my bread, my favourite being sunflower and pumpkin seeds. So I buy large packets from Tesco and secure open packets with an old fashioned clothes peg. Um..... I THINK I had two clothes pegs when they came out of the cupboard, but when I went to put them back in the cupboard I can only find one. I'm hoping it's isn't in the breadmaker..... oh well it'll add fibre I suppose - sigh.

And finally, for today at least I hope!:

When putting a "jacket potato" in the oven to cook for lunch, remember to check one has turned on the oven or lunch will be - er - a little solid and raw..... (posted at 13:11)

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

A lovely Spring morning!

The sun is shining and the sea is calm. It's a little chilly outdoors and still very squelchy underfoot, but I just love the brightness. Button is also enjoying the warming of the sun and spends hours outdoors each day. When she greeted me this morning as I emerged from sleep I thought - she smells like "Comfort" fabric conditioner, hmmm weird.... and then dismissed the thought as being the ramblings of a half-awake women. However I've just sorted the laundry and realise that dear Button has been asleep among the towels and freshly washed fleeces in the basket! I must remember to explain that to anyone who comments in case they think I stick her into the washing machine at regular intervals!

On a more sombre note, today is the 40th Anniversary of the Longhope Lifeboat disaster. The lifeboat was stationed on Hoy among a small community at Brims, and on the night of the 17th March 1969, the boat was lost with all eight crew including two fathers, each with their two sons on board. You can read about it here. The memorial in the Osmandwall Kirkyard in Longhope is one of the most poignant I have ever seen. It is a bronze statue of a lifeboatman gazing forever out to sea, sculpted by Ian Scott, an artist from North Ronaldsay in Orkney.

It's so easy to forget on a beautiful calm Spring day today that there are men and women around our shores who put their lives at risk to rescue people from all sorts of sea craft in the foulest of weather. Only last year a local doctor was winched onto a large ship in the Pentland Firth in the most appalling conditions to assist some injured crewman. The Lifeboat Guild in Orkney is very strong, with lots of fundraisers and events to support the service which is run by volunteers, "ordinary" people doing extraordinary deeds to rescue anyone at sea needing help.

Picture from the Orcadian website of the memorial:

Sunday, 15 March 2009

The meaning of free range.....

Seaweed flavoured eggs anyone?! The hens have been loving the recent Spring weather and I found them rootling around on the beach one day last week. The weekend weather has returned to grey skies and a breeze, but Friday was glorious reminding me that the sun can warm the land again. Just this last couple of weeks there has been real warmth when the sun has shone. I have even been out without my hat and gloves! Though this is Britain and snow has been known to fall in June so I'm not getting too excited yet.

I thought I'd lost two of my hens (I should have four and as you can see, there are only two in the picture). However on Saturday the other two emerged again. One was making a low "chook-chook" kind of sound which I've heard broody hens make, so I suspect she has got a clutch of eggs somewhere. I had intended following her back to her nest but she outwitted me and snuck off when I wasn't looking. I am trying to search the byres to find her, without success so far. Hens will sit on a nest for days sometimes without coming out for food or water. They will only leave the nest briefly even then and lost a lot of weight during this time. As I don't have a cockeral there is no hope of the poor hen hatching anything so she could sit in vain for some time! The other hen must also have been broody somewhere but she's given up and has joined the other two hens now.

This has been a busy week. Thursday evening we had someone come and give a talk in Graemsay as part of a programme set up by the University of Aberdeen. Neil Curtis gave us a talk on "Northern Connections". Neil is an anthropologist and curator of a museum in Aberdeen and spoke about the connections between the North of Scotland, the Northern isles and also Scandinavia and Russia to the East, and Canada to th West. It was an interesting talk, and was well attended by folk on the island. Neil was staying at Sandside so I did my "B&B hostess" bit, which always amuses my neighbours as they know I am not a morning person. I did manage to cook Neil breakfast and fortunately he was happy to forgo the sparkling conversation ;-)

Friday afternoon I had some friends visit. M&R live over in Orphir - we can send smoke signals to each other across the Sound! It was their first visit to Graemsay and I was delighted that the sun shone. We went for a walk on both the beaches near the house. There is an old pier which separates them and it just fascinates me as on the right of the pier is the "shell" beach with lots of shells and coral mixed in with the sand, while to the left is the sandy beach with NO shells or coral. I *know* it must be to do with tides and currents, but it still feels like there is some sort of traffic control underwater with the marine equivalent of a traffic cop - "Sand to the left please, shells and coral to the right. Move along there please, you're causing a jam...."

So, having had visitors this week I opened up the conservatory and will use that as my sitting room most of the time now. Button really likes the room, underfloor heating to keep her paws forever warm (that stays on till about May), a long expanse of windows to gaze out and plan her strategy for hunting, and a nice sofa to curl up upon. Hmmmm think I might go and join her.....

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Creel boat run aground

There was quite a bit of activity off the East of the island this afternoon as a creel boat ran aground on the skerries (creels are used to catch lobsters, skerries - rocks that run out from the shore and only emerge at low tide). Nobody was hurt though our island ferry was out to assist, along with two barges, the coastguard and lifeboat. I think the plan was to wait till high tide and hope that the vessel would float again. There have been some very low Spring tides lately so areas that are normally OK may be dangerously shallow at low tide.

Cruelty to plants.....

This winter I decided to shut off the heating in the conservatory to save energy and money. The plan has worked in those respects, but unfortunately my dear plants have suffered. Some to the point of no return. I should have kept a closer eye on them apart from occasional watering – sigh. I shall be more careful next year.

The really hardy plants like cyclamen are doing well, and the geraniums don’t mind the cold as long as protected from frost so they are doing OK too. However others have needed resuscitating and moving into a warmer environment. I *did* manage to rescue the “Money Plant” (Crassula Ovata) – a lovely large specimen which has been suffering in the same way as our money markets and dropped most of it’s leaves. I think I have stabilised the shedding now that I’ve moved it into the sitting room. I started to get slightly superstitious about it’s fate and whether this would be reflected in my bank balance!! Fortunately I have several “offspring” from the main plant which seem to be healthy and growing!

Ironically my Umbrella plants (schefflera arboricola) are doing extremely well despite one leaning up against the window. They usually like temperatures over 60 degrees F and it’s certainly been well below THAT out there! The Dragon's Tongue no longer has any fire and as for the Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina, plain and variegated) – well they’ve been sobbing their hearts out…..

However now that the days are getting longer and I shall be spending more time in the conservatory I have put the heating back on low – it’s underfloor heating so very efficient – as long as it’s not a northerly wind in which case most of the heat goes out through the windows – even though they are double glazed. But I love the view and light in this room and use it as my main sitting room from mid-March to end of September. Spring is here I feel ……… Button is yet to be acquainted with this room. I suspect she will enjoy sitting on the window sills, watching the birdies and planning her strategy for entrapment – sigh.

This is the panoramic view I have from the conservatory. THIS is one of the reasons I bought the house!

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Chilly again.....

It's been very blustery since the middle of the night. Back to warm socks again - tenuous link to the attached photo! D very kindly hand-knitted me some socks. I chose the wool and I just love the pattern. It's "magic" wool that just allows the pattern to develop as you knit. Well I'm sure experienced knitters know all about this but it's magic to me! Anyway I'm jolly pleased with my new socks - not only do they look good but are nice and cosy too! Thanks D!

The ferry sailings across the Pentland Firth to North Scotland were cancelled earlier today due to weather. The wind feels like it has dropped a bit now so later sailings may go. Our wee Graemsay ferry has sailed through it all - though to be fair the Hoy Sound is more protected than the Pentland Firth!

I was over in town (Stromness) on Friday night as it was our monthly Film Night. This month we showed "The Italian Job" - the original (the ONLY one worth watching) with Michael Caine et al. We had a good turnout and everyone enjoyed themselves, staying a while at the end to discuss just HOW the boys might have got away with the gold. I just loved the cars - I weep every time I see the two "jags" and the Aston Martin getting crushed! But the "mini" is the star! My first car was a mini and I just loved it. I'd like another one as an island car, but they are a bit "low slung" and probably wouldn't do well on the farm tracks.

Last week I had a chance to go and look at the two new art exhibitions in Stromness. The Waterfront Gallery had an exhibiton of drawings from the local "Life" class. But for those artists among my readers - this is Orkney in the Winter. Nobody gets their kit off for the life class! Instead the artists content themselves with folds of scarves and fleeces, or weatherbeaten faces. Though my favourite was of a child sleeping under a pile of blankets. It was interesting though seeing how different people interpreted the same models. A number of the artists are "professionals" whose work I have seen around town, and others are gifted amateurs who draw or paint for a hobby. Some of the faces in the portraits I recognised too. So it was fun going round the exhibition.

I then went along to the Pier Art Gallery - one of my favourite spaces in Orkney. The gallery is as much of an art exhibit as it's contents. I just love the vistas of the town spied through different shaped windows. Anyway - this new exhibition was showing work from local artists who had graduated with an Arts Degre during the last eight years or so. Lots of different media were used. Some photographs, others were big bold oils, or fragile glass bubbles. There were also animations, textiles and a couple of "installations". A very vibrant mix and well worth going to see.

Well now the wind seems to have dropped a little I'd better go out and feed the hens. I noticed that one has been missing for a few days. I fear the worst though I have found no evidence or remains - sigh. And Bill the Lone Goose is still in the field!

Friday, 6 March 2009

I'm ready for my close up.....

.... Mr de Mille.... or at least I think that's what Button would say. Today is a beautiful bright sunny day and I thought I'd go for a short walk and take some photos. Though bright sunlight wasn't probably going to produce the best conditions for some close up photography, but it was a good enough excuse to be outdoors. However, it's Spring, the sun is shining and Button wants to come for a walk too. She managed to get into practically every shot I took. What is it about cats and their nosiness?

So, above, we have "Landscape with Cat"............. and (right) we have "Crocus with Cat" - er I'm not sure if she was drinking the dew off the grass or making a comment on my photography!

And here we have "Cat doing Owl Impression". If Mick's out without his specs he'll be taking photos and sending them off to the RSPB declaring an unusual siting....!

And finally, this was supposed to be a fine example of shell sand, coral and pebbles among the grass.......

But I *did* manage to get a shot of some green shoots in the garden without Button - but oooh look there she is in the background.....

AhA! One without Button......

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Button on the beach

(Photo: click to enlarge - Button on the lookout for??? fish maybe??).

Button is also enjoying the signs of Spring. There may be a bit of a breeze today but the sun feels like it's beginning to warm up a little now (OK I'm not listening to the forecasts for snow this week.....). Anyway I went for a walk along the shore this morning, and Button, who had once again been hunting in the outbuildings, joined me. I've had cats accompany me on walks along the shore before, but Button actually likes to PLAY in the sand! She rolled around and played with seaweed then rushed about pouncing on things. It was difficult to get pictures of her as she moves so fast!

Seaweed rub anyone?