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Saturday, 22 May 2010

Sunset over West Mainland

The sun has moved across from it's winter position of setting behind the Hoy hills to now setting behind the West Mainland. A lovely Spring sunset from this week.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Graemsay Kirkyard

The Kirk at Graemsay has been disused for many years and now houses hay instead of a congregation. However the kirkyard is still in use, and is well kept and a very tranquil spot. The kirkyard overlooks Burra Sound and the Hoy Hills - a stunning and peaceful location.

There are clumps of wildflowers around the kirkyard which have been left to bloom, pretty blue bells, pink bells and primroses.

An oystercatcher has laid her eggs among the chippings of one of the graves!

Apparently this isn't the first year that the eggs have been laid here. Hopefully another brood will be raised this year.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Ullapool - Mountain Fest !

OK - I've saved the best to last. The BEST thing about Ullapool was that it sat among mountains! Beautiful mountains with wonderful Gaelic names like An Teallach, Ben mor Coigach, Stac Pollaidh, Cul Beag... Friends walked to the summit of some of these, while I ensured an adequate supply of tea and cake at base camp! I shall stop writing and let you gaze upon mountains......

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Ullapool - Town

Ullapool town is very picturesque, but I was surprised by the layout which is basically a grid system. Not at all usual in the UK. However it seems that Ullapool was founded by the British Fisheries Society around 1788 as a fishing station, with boats mostly fishing for herring. The village (as it was then) was laid out deliberately on a grid system, with wide avenues, and terraces of houses with large gardens for folk to grow vegetables. The fishing industry has gone through decline and increase over the succeeding years, including "Klondikers" - large factory ships anchored in Loch Broom. Now the local fishing fleet consists of just a dozen boats who fish for prawns, lobsters, scallops and crab.

In latter years of course, like many other sea ports, tourism has increased with former fishing vessels providing trips to nearby islands. There are various festivals too, the weekend we arrived there was a Gaelic music festival, and the following weekend a literary festival. I managed to get to one of the readings given by Glasgow author, Anne Donavan, who read from her new book in dialect "Being Emily". I so enjoyed the reading, I'm now reading the book.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Ullapool - the Summer Isles

Today's photos are of the Summer Isles which are just off the coast between Ullapool and Achiltibuie (NW Scotland). The islands are a haven for wild-life. Each evening we watched the sun setting over the Summer Isles, really beautiful.

There are beautiful beaches along near Achiltibuie, which is a small hamlet. I took the regular bus service out there one morning and the bus driver gave us all a guided tour of the area, pointing out local landmarks and telling us some of the history. He had moved up from England having been a coach tour driver for many years and on his own initiative had started giving the guided tour on the regular bus route! The bus stopped at a cafe at Achiltibuie long enough for tea and cake and a short walk, then back on a loop road and along the single track road (with passing places) to Ullapool. The journey was a bit hair-raising as the single track road follows the edge of the mountains and is very winding. I think we started the few car drivers we met - fortunately there are plenty of "passing places".

A beach near Achiltibuie

Monday, 17 May 2010

Ullapool - Leckmelm Gardens

Ullapool was very green with lots of *big* trees. These are photos from Leckmelm Gardens & Arboretum which is just outside the town. The 12-acre walled garden was originally planted in the 1870s. They fell into neglect from the mid-1940s until 1985 when they were restored. The guide books says that although the gardens are north of Moscow, due to the waters of Loch Broom being warmed by the Gulf Stream, lots of exotic trees and shrubs flourish in the microclimate.

The garden was full of rhodedendruns, azaleas, and camelias as well as stunning trees. I hugged a giant sequoia (Redwood) and my favourite tree was the cedar at the top of this post.

One sad tree - the name of which I forget, had been blown over in a winter gale and had been cut back, though the wood was being re-used for benches, seats and other things. But it was sad to see such a great tree felled. There had been lots of snow damage to trees too, but work was being done to encourage new growth.

There were peedie lambs in the field next to the gardens. This one was enjoying the sunshine. Lambing in Ullapool must be late, like that of Orkney.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Ullapool Holiday

As promised here are some photos of the scenery at Ullapool where I stayed with some friends for a few days. The cottage overlooked Loch Broom, a sea loch and was just outside Ullapool at a place called Rhue.

We had some fantastic sunsets, and there was a pleasant walk down to the lighthouse - which was actually not very big, you can just make out the silhouette in the photo below! Not like the lighthouse next door to me - Hoy High! But it was lovely to go down to the shore and watch the sun setting and listen to the birds.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Spring sunshine

I know, I know, I know, I promised you photos this week of my hols in Ullapool. Well the week kind of ran away with me. I hope to get them sorted this weekend. Meantime - above is a photo taken by Irene of Breckan this week. It's a St Andrew's Cross (National Flag of Scotland) in the sky! Well it was a fluke really - due to continued problems with the Iclandic volcanic ash cloud more planes have been using the UK air space around the cloud and this was a criss-cross of plane vapour trails. Pretty though! The land is Black Craig on the West mainland of Orkney.

The sun has been out today and it has been *warm*. Oh joy! At last! We've also had some light showers. It's amazing how quickly things are growing though. I swear the grass grew a few inches while I was away on hols and this week everything is almost growing before my eyes. We are getting wonderful long days now - sunrise is at 0442 and sunset at 2137.

I've managed to plant all my veggie seeds outdoors at last and have some seeds in pots growing in the conservatory. I think the ones in the conservatory may be triffids instead of courgettes as they seem to sprout new leaves overnight! The conservatory hasn't been heated but is a lot warmer than outdoors. I'll have to harden the plants off outdoors before I put them in the garden, which although protected, is still exposed to bracing breezes.

Orkney had the switch-over to digital TV this week and we lost BBC2 analogue. Despite having a digi-box which has worked fine for years, I found I lost all the BBC channels. Apparently by digi-box is "out of date" being about 8 years old so I had to go and buy a new one - sigh. I only got a cheap one, which does the job fine but I do resent being forced to pay out for a new bit of technology when I didn't even ASK for it! A lot of older folk have been bewildered by the switchover, despite lots of publicity - AND have had to go to the expense of buying new technology and paying to have a new aerial too. The lass in OTE in Stromness had been fielding calls all week from folk not sure what to do, or finding the instructions in the box don't match what's on the screen. There's another update at the end of the month, so let's hope that is less painful!

Lots of birds around at the moment - swallows flying about, and the air is filled with calls of oyster-catchers, lapwings and curlews. I heard terns screaming while I was out in the garden, and several "bonxies" (Skuas) flew over. Apparently on the Orkney Mainland a Sea Eagle has been sighted.

Just heard on the news that more disruption expected to flights this week due to volcanic ash. This could go on for some time!

Monday, 10 May 2010

Highland Spring

OK I confess, I've been away on holiday for the last week! I left you with some pix of Graemsay to keep you occupied ;-)

Got back on Sunday from a lovely week in Ullapool (very-North Western Scotland) among mountains - see photo above. I'll post more pictures later this week but I'm just trying to catch up on emails, work etc.

Returned to Orkney where it's COLD, and has just SNOWED!!

In true "Amazon" fashion - If you like reading about islands - you might also like Island life - the Blue Cabin Blog. This is by Michael Faulkner, a writer, who lives on Islandmore, Stanford Lough, an otherwise uninhabited island in Northern Ireland. His wife, Lynn, is an artist and her semi-abstract style is inspired by the landscape. Mike also sent me a link to a short video of a young seal pup who befriended them a while ago : YouTube video clip. Thanks to D for pointing me in the direction of the blog!

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Wartime relics

These days Graemsay is a peaceful island nestling between the Hoy hills and the West mainland shore. But during WWII the island took it's part in maintaining the defences of Scapa Flow, which was base to the "home" fleet.

Here are some photos of the remains of a look-out tower, search light post and gun emplacement on the West Graemsay shore, right beside the Hoy Low lighthouse. The lighthouse is one of a pair of "leading lights" to guide ships into the safe channel to the harbour at Stromness. It doesn't have a sweeping beam, but flashes in a pattern in conjunction with the Hoy High lighthouse. I'm curious to know if it was operating during wartime.

There is currently a new exhibition at the Lyness "Scapa Flow Visitor Centre" which tells more of the story of Orkney in wartime. Once their website is online I'll provide a link - I'm sure it will be fascinating. Meantime here are some photos taken by Tom Muir on a visit Graemsay last year. (Thanks for letting me use your photos Tom!).

This is the base of the gun enplacement.

The gun emplacement was just one of many along the coast protecting the mouth of the Flow.

This is inside one of the huts that held the search-lights on top. Bet it was a damp and draughty place! It faces west - right into the teeth of the prevailing winds. There were also army huts on the island used for living quarters for the men stationed on the island. These have all disappeared now, though the foundations are still in evidence in places.