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Friday, 30 September 2011

Not more chicks.....sigh.....

I have this chicken problem.....sigh...... I may be able to class myself as a chicken farmer soon! I began the summer with 8 hens and a cockerel. Up to now there have been numerous clutches of eggs hatching out so I am up to about 40 birds..... and today...... another hen has hatched a brood - probably about 10!! You can see them in the photo above - day old!  They were hidden in one of the outbuildings..... She's a very protective mother so was pecking my boots with her sharp pecky beak while I took this snap.......sigh.......  Hey Ho!  At least I am getting about 3 eggs a day from the other hens - now I've found their stash..... however...... while rummaging in the barn for any other broody hens I found one of them tucked into a corner - out of my I fear this won't be the last batch!

Next year I'm hoping to organise nesting boxes around the barns so that I might be able to collect the eggs more easily and this population explosion won't happen again........

My week  didn't begin particularly well as I seemed to have an ear infection and that coupled with a flu vaccine had my immune system on overdrive and me feeling rather "wabbit" - no that isn't a reference to Bugs Bunny or Woger Wabbit (Roger Rabbit) but a lovely Scots word meaning "tired" or "exhausted". The ear infection gave me vertigo when I laid down, but fortunately I was OK as long as I sat or stood up! It seems to be clearing now thankfully.

Yesterday I had a nice surprise. Some visitors came to the island who had family links with the Sutherland family who had lived at Sandside since the early 1800s and stayed till the mid 1950s. They also brought along family trees and some old photos which was great. Particularly as they are descended from the branch of the Sutherland family I have little information on.  So we had a good blether (chat), and they were shown around the island and wandered on the beach to find "groatie buckies" (tiny cowrie shells), and had their photos taken outside the house etc.

Here are three photos - this is labelled as Isaac Mowat, in which case his bride is Clara Sutherland on Sandside beach.

Clara as a young girl with her twin Jane-Anne Sutherland (I think). Jane-Anne ran the post office at Sandside for many years. She lived here with her brother John Daniel (Dannie) and his wife Eliza Williamson until the early 1950s when Dannie died and the family left the farm.

Here is Dannie with his wife Eliza

But this is the side of the family I know quite well (figurateively speaking anyway!). The visitors left me with lots of photos and info about the other branch of the family so a project for the winter for me to match them with the Sutherland family tree! 

Back to the present - the weather has been unseasonably warm this week. Not the high temps of the South of England, but definitely WARM for Orkney and no wind.  Apparently in the town the Rooks are roosting again! They think it's Spring! Well the wind will no doubt get up in a few days again and put them off THAT idea.

Today I'd decided to go over to town to do some stocking up of store cupboards. However our wee ferry has some engine problems and today was only doing a couple of runs to get the children to and from school in Stromness, so I cancelled my trip to the town.

Instead I made use of my time by making several batches of roast potatoes ready for the freezer using any baking dish I could find. I have lots of "tatties" (potatoes) from the garden and I just love them roasted. I often buy "Aunt Bessie's roast potatoes" from the supermarket. But I'm not taken in by the jolly "aunt" label and know full well that these are mass produced in a factory! So thought I'd try my own. I love a few roast tatties with my dinner during the week and it seems very decadent to make them fresh just for me.

So as another week draws to a close I'm looking forward to a quiet weekend with some pottering in the garden (if the weather holds!).

Sunday, 25 September 2011

North Ronaldsay

One of the North Ronaldsay beaches

I thought I'd tell you about another of the Orkney islands, another "small island" - the island of North Ronaldsay is the northern most of the Orkney islands and is seriously remote! It's only about 2.7 square miles and it's only connection to the Orkney Mainland is via cargo ship once a week, or via a regular small plane service.

Pat, one of my regular blog readers mentioned watching a short film "Life on a Small Island" which is about North Ronaldsay, so I thought I'd share it with you all. Click here for the film

It's about 18 minutes long and is narrated by a young North Ronaldsay lass. It was filmed in 2008, and since that time the school has closed and then re-opened again! The wee boys at the school in the film have grown now and gone to the school in Kirkwall (where most children from the isles go from the age of 14 to finish their studies, along with children from the town of Kirkwall and surrounding parishes). However the island community managed to get two "gateway" houses built and advertised for two families to come and live on the island. So the school could reopen again - much to the delight of the community. Once a school closes it can be the end of many rural communities as young families are not keen to move there.

But a "claim to fame" of the island is the Seaweed eating sheep, the famous North Ronaldsay sheep. Those in the UK may have seen North Ronaldsay on the BBC Countryfile programme recently. These sheep really do live on seaweed! Most of the year they are out on the shore, getting shelter from the dry stone dyke that runs around the island and keeps them out on the beach. The seaweed gives their meat a special flavour and several restaurants in London serve this as a speciality.  The fleeces are also sold, and the wool processed and sold on. The island has it's own website so do take a look here at more info and photos.

Here are some of the North Ronaldsay sheep on the beach!

Saturday, 24 September 2011

A beautiful day

Today has been just glorious with WARM sunshine, and NO wind!  There were a couple of very brief showers but nothing to bother about. I spent the entire day in the garden and had a lovely time. I dug over part of the veggie bed ready for a seaweed mulch. Then I dug up some more tatties (potatoes) and harvested almost the last of the broad beans. The latter are now "blanched" and in the freezer - last year I gave a lot away but then I regretted that in February when I ran out of my own supply. So this year I'm being selfish!

Above is this evening's sun setting above the Hoy hills (just after 7pm) and below is some late afternoon sunshine over Sandside bay, taken from just outside my garden.

Tatties drying after washing the soil off, ready for storing.

Broad beans - and of course Button has to get in the picture!  She's desperately trying to look cute as she clearly thinks *she* is more interesting a subject for a photo than a bucket of beans......

Friday, 23 September 2011


Autumn is definitely here, now we have passed the equinox. But Nature produced a beautiful rainbow to mark the occasion so I couldn't be sad.

Meanwhile Button is selecting her "indoor spaces" for additional napping time, now she doesn't want to be outdoors so much.

The bees are still making the most of the Borage which apparently keeps refilling it's flowers with nectar. This plant has been a huge success and I'm hoping for reseedings next year too! I love the fine hairs on the borage flowers!

I took an opportunity this morning in the lull between gales to go out and do some harvesting. The courgettes (zucchini) have done well this year, and the broad beans are not doing too badly, though they are late in filling out their pods.  But there will be lots of broad beans for the freezer which is good!

But the Hoy Hills look very dour today. An image of a sleeping dinosaur!

And tonight there is a Quiz in our community hall, so I'd better go and put my "thinking-cap" on!

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Mellow fruitfulness (again!)

I must thank blog-readers Shirlwin and Betsy for directing me to the poem by John Keats "Ode to Autumn" for the reference to "Time of mists and mellow fruitfulness". I was unfamiliar with the poem till now.  I do love Autumn, though for me there is always a sadness because of the departing summer and the onset of Winter. I've come to accept the seasons much more in later years. It's all part of the circle of life.  But Spring and Summer will always be my favourite seasons!

However, this verse particularly strikes me:

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they? 
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,— 
While barrèd clouds bloom the soft-dying day
 And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
 Among the river-sallows, borne aloft
 Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
 And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
 Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft 
 The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft; 
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Ode to Autumn, J Keats

The light is definitely changing now. I really noticed this on my walk along the shore yesterday.

Button sitting rather impatiently by an old winch at the old Sandside Pier, tide is in, the grass green after the recent rain, and the Hoy hills in the background.

This old wooden boat is a favourite subject of mine.

It's full of old creels and ....bulrushes!


Tuesday, 20 September 2011

A visit "south"

I've just returned from a visit "south". To London to be precise, as it was a friend's 50th birthday and for her "birthday weekend" (this girl knows how to party) we went up in a helicopter over London, followed by dinner in a lovely Portuguese restaurant. The next day we travelled down to Goodwood in Sussex to stay overnight in a beautiful luxury hotel with spa. We visited Goodwood House (a "stately home" (English country house of the landed gentry) still in private ownership) - photos weren't allowed so you will have to content yourself with this link. The guides who showed us around the various rooms were really knowledgeable and engaging. We had afternoon tea in the ballroom - pretending we were 18th Century ladies taking tea while looking out at the beautiful grounds! Finally we had a tour of the stables (which are still used for Goodwood races) and viewed an exhibition by Tim Flach of stunning photos of horses. I had to buy the book "Equus" !  It was a brilliant weekend and the sun shone brightly upon us.

Later in the week I spent time catching up with some friends and family.  I also met the latest edition to our family, baby Ruby, who at six months old is a real sweetie! But I forbade anyone to call me "Great Auntie"!

Here are some photos of the helicopter trip. The helicopter was a very smart "executive style" model, with leather seats and plush carpet. One or two of our party were a little worried about throwing up on the carpet! But fortunately we were too engaged in the view to think about that once we took off. I just loved the flight, the all round view, the way we banked left and right, the vertical take off and landing.....  Ooooh I want to go up again!

I got to sit next to the pilot and had a set of controls in front of me (obviously not allowed to play with them, though the red buttons were calling to be pressed!).

It was great being above the city as you could really see how the river Thames winds it's way.

Albert Bridge (named after Queen Victoria's consort) is the second bridge from the bottom.

From left to right - Westminster Abbey, Houses of Parliament/Palace of Westminster (seat of the UK government), Westminster Bridge, and the "London Eye" (the big wheel).

Above - from left to right - the green and white building that looks like a rocket is known locally as "The Gherkin" (it's an office block), and right of centre is a building nicknamed "The Shard" - it's still under construction but will be an office block too. Below another view of the Shard plus Tower Bridge

Below the circular building is the Olympic Stadium, getting ready for next year's Olympics in London. (But don't get me started on *that* topic!)

Above is Greenwich Park (I think), which is just South of London. A very famous park. And below the rolling hills of Surrey

I hope you enjoyed your "tour of London"!

Monday, 19 September 2011

A time of mists and mellow fruitfulness....

Not sure who used that phrase to describe Autumn but it was certainly true this morning. I woke to the view above. A beautiful sight to come home to! Have "domestics" and washing to be done today but will be back soon with photos of my trip "south".

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Back home...

I've just returned from a short trip "south" for a friend's birthday celebrations and a catch-up with friends and family. Normal service will be resumed shortly! But now I'm in need of tea and a relaxing bath, not to mention spending time with Button, who still seems to have four paws and be in good health.

Friday, 9 September 2011


Just a selection of photos taken over the last few days. Above the cockerel and one of the hens enjoying the last of the summer sun.  Below - feeding time for the chooks..... I began the summer with one cockerel and eight hens. Most of the hens successfully hatched chicks so now I have a flock of about 40! Oops!  Some "thining out" needs to take place soon I think.

Meanwhile last Friday the ladies on Graemsay (of which I am not one....) also known as the "Fat Cats Craft Club" (there's the clue - I don't do craft...!) had a sale of craft, bric-a-brac, home bakes and plants. A grand total of over £500 was raised for community funds (theirs and the hall).  Amazing! Well done ladies!  Some folk came over from the Orkney Mainland and some from Hoy too. There was a light shower of rain but most of the time folk could sit oudoors when they weren't in perusing the goods on sale, or wandering along the shore.

I grew borage in the garden for the first time. It did really well despite some windy day. The bees just loved it.

This summer the swallows have had a very good breeding season here in the barn. There have been about a dozen or so swallows at least flying around in the evening catching insects and midges. They would daily sit on the guttering (rain water pipe) above my study window, or sit on the window ledge too. I loved hearing them screaming around and seeing their wonderful acrobatics.  Sadly all is silent now, so I wish them well on their long journey south and bid them "Haste ye back"!

OK these are VERY blurry shots, but trust me, these are swallows!

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Poor Puss-Cat

Poor Button cut her paw on Tuesday night, out on the prowl.... unfortunately she chose to stay in bed till mid-day yesterday so I didn't discover this till she finally emerged from bed and stood looking pathetic on three legs. Every time she put her fourth paw on the floor she meowed (before you start panicking this ends OK!). Of course *I* panic and all sorts of catastrophe theories rush through my mind, culminating in me thinking she's broken her leg or something!  Needless to say once I got a look at the paw it was merely a cut pad. However it WAS a deep cut and I was worried about infection. I'd missed all the boats that day so made an appointment at the vet for today. I'm glad I did as the wound has already got a slight infection, however the vet gave Button an injection of an antibiotic which lasts for two weeks, plus a painkiller (which doesn't last long). Needless to say Button is walking on all four paws today, but still "shouted" all the way to the vets and home again.

I did feel sorry for her this morning though as the sea was quite rough and a squally shower came just as we were getting on the boat.  I'd put a towel over the cat-box to try and keep the worst of the weather off her, but she was not impressed and the yowelling got louder!

The vet practice I take her too (NorthVet) is very good with "isles" pets and keeps them in a crate at the surgery while owner's go off shopping, rather than having the poor pet in the car for several hours. I think they all needed ear plugs by the time I got back.

Anyway we are home now, Button has eaten a late breakfast, demanded lots of fuss (of course) and is now settled down on my bed ready to sleep off her exhausting day.

The vet said if her paw wasn't clear within a week to take her back. I asked for tranquilizers, and she said yes she could give me some pills to sedate the cat. No I said, for ME!

Anyway I did a bit of shopping in town, met a friend for lunch and another for a coffee (only don't tell Button that I was having a good time while she was shut in at the vets!).

Picture at top of this post is our wee ferry the MV Graemsay, next to a wonderful "gin palace" with the big ferry the Hamnavoe in the background.

Below is the shower that drowned us all at the pier (including the kids going off to school!)

And here is Kirbuster Loch in Orphir, on the Orkney Mainland, looking very atmospheric.

And here is the exhausted Button- and yes she got into bed before I'd made it as I left in a hurry this morning for the "early boat"......I don't have the heart to disturb her though....... I may be sleeping on the floor tonight!


Sunday, 4 September 2011

Brough of Birsay

On my day out on Friday I went along to one of my favourite places, the Brough of Birsay (Brough pronounced like "brock" in this instance).  Well to be precise the Brough of Birsay is the tidal island just off the coast and I didn't on this occassion walk across as the tide was coming in. On the island itself are settlements dating from about the 5th Century AD, then a Pictish settlement around 7th century AD and a Norse settlement about 9th Century AD. All ruins now and managed by Historic Scotland. There's also a lighthouse on the west most part and on these cliffs, in season, you can see puffins, as well as fulmars and guillemots

But I love this stretch of coastline, and although a cloudy day, it was clear enough that, looking South, I could see the mountains of the Scottish Highlands!  Having come from the very South of England, where the Scottish Highland were thought of as being so far north, it amuses me that I am now looking "south" at them!

This cow was chewing the cud near the Birsay Tearoom (no day out is complete without a visit to a tea room!).  The tearoom overlooks the sea and is a lovely spot to sit and eat Cake!

 This is probably one of the most photographed tractors in Orkney. It's along the shore and used to haul up a small fishing boat.

This hut was used by fishermen of yore. Well it's still in use today, but the boat nousts (the dips in the grass you can see near the hut) are no longer used. This was where the small fishing boats would be pulled well above the high tide mark.  The hut still has a traditional grass roof which helps with insulation. Though the hut would probably have just been used to store equipment as it is today, rather than being a dwelling.

This rather "impressionist" photo shows the mountains of Scotland in the distance! 

Friday, 2 September 2011

A Day Out

Yesterday I had a day out in Orkney. First it was a visit to the town of Kirkwall, although really it's a city, as in the UK any place with a cathedral is termed a city - whatever it's size!  Kirkwall is the main town in Orkney and most of the (approx) 20,000 inhabitants live in or around the town. The town is also the "commercial" centre of Orkney with most people working in the town, either at the local authority or the health board, as well as smaller offices. Of course there are also the shops. There is one main street with small shops along it (though the name varies from Albert Street at one end, through Broad Street, to Victoria Street at the other). Then of course there are the main supermarkets, just on the outskirts of the town, and an industrial estate further out. But those of you from further South in the UK do NOT think large shopping centres!  Remember we only have a population of 20,000!  But you can get most of what you want within the town, though you may pay higher prices than "south" (cost of transporting from south), and you might not have the same wide choice.  BUT it can be done!

Broad Street - rather a quiet day on the "main street"!

As I mentioned Kirkwall has a Cathedral. As you will see from the photo at the top of the page it is a fine one at that. St Magnus Cathedral was built in the 11th Century by Earl Rognvald, though his intentions were not entirely honourable! Read more about the history here.  Unusually for cathedrals in the UK, St Magnus is owned by the people of Orkney and managed by the local authority, Orkney Islands Council, and the "Friends" of the cathedral. It is used for recitals, pop conterts, and a performance space as well as for the usual worship, weddings and funerals.  The regular services are "Church of Scotland", though other denominations are able to use the cathedral too.

Next to the Cathedral is a lovely cafe "The Reel" run by the Wrigley Sisters, local musicians. Often they have music nights in the cafe, which is also part music shop, but yesterday I was able to enjoy a quiet cafe latte, with a wee cake in peace and tranquility. Just what I needed after an early rising!

After calling in at a local feed merchants to get more food for hungry hens, I headed back to the town of Stromness, which is just across the water from Graemsay.  The Pier Arts Centre has an exhibition of Sylvia Whishart's work and it was wonderful to see the whole collection together for the first time. Sylvia Wishart was an Orcadian artist, her studio used to be in the building which is now the Pier Arts Centre. She described her own aspirations for her life as ‘having no ambition beyond painting on and finding out what comes’. Her paintings are all of Orkney, though not what some people would call truly representational art. She was friends with Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicolson, some of whose work is also part of the Pier Arts Collection.

The notes accompanying one set of paintings called "Reflections" explained that she loved painting through her window, and her painting included reflections of inside or reflections from other windows onto that window, so within the painting it's hard to tell what is inside and what is outside. I loved them! In this set of paintings there is an added layer too as the viewer's reflections is also imposed upon the painting! These paintings hang overlooking the harbour where she would have sat painting in her own time too. I was really pleased to here a book has been commissioned and will contain essays from many of her friends as well as plates of her pictures.

After such an uplifting experience it was time to head off for a walk along the coast with a friend and her wee doggies.  But more of that another day.