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Thursday, 20 June 2013

Along the shore......

You'll have to wait a wee while longer for my "holiday snaps" of mountains - I took so many I need to sort through them and with a busy schedule it may be a few days yet before I'm done..... however here are some photos of the lower level shore-line on Graemsay!

The one above is taken from the shell beach with the coral sand. The tide was lazily coming in last night when I took this.  The Hoy Hills in the background stand out against the lush green of the fields of Graemsay.

Gentle waves were lapping the shore.....

The sun is still quite high in the sky but it must have been after 7pm that I took this. I love the long days at this time of year!

I love the clouds in this one!  And you can just see the roof of Sandside to the left of the picture.

And here is Hoy High lighthouse standing out brightly against the darker hills of Orphir on the Orkney Mainland in the background.

Here the cow parsley is nearly up over the ruined buildings!

And today, the beach was not so deserted!  A couple of the classes from Stromness Primary School came over for a beach adventure. The "crocodile" of children, teachers and helpers wound it's way up from the pier and past the house on their way to the beach. The kids were chattering and wearing their hi-viz jackets and waving buckets and spades. (Button was appalled! The noise!! And all that fluorescent yellow!).  They are only here for a couple of hours, have a picnic on the beach, make some sand castles and wend their way back to the boat, which is specially hired to take them back to Stromness again.  Some of the Graemsay children were in the classes and it must be lovely for them to show their friends where they live and let them experience the "school bus" of the MV Graemsay ferry!  The weather was a bit dull today but it was fairly warm and at least DRY! I think all the kids had a good time and wore themselves out on the beach. Well maybe not that last bit, but I think the teachers and helpers walked back to the pier a bit slower than they came ;-)

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

A brief time to relax....

.....and watch the sun drop down behind the horizon. Sunday was a glorious day - HOT! Sunshine, with mist drifting over part of the island.

At the top of this post is one of my favourite pictures..... though it has to be said I didn't notice the figure in it when I took the photo. I don't usually take pictures with people in them - just one of my quirks ;-)  But as I was snapping the sunset, Joe from Ramray was lurking in the buildings at the shore doing exactly the same thing. Snap!!  Hee hee...... I'm just glad that Joe too appreciates sunsets.....

The water was so still.... beautiful.....

Looking towards Stromness harbour
There are a few cattle grazing in my field behind the house. I think they enjoyed the sun on their backs too.  The bull is a big handsome fellow. A Shorthorn - a lovely chocolate colour!

Cattle enjoying the late evening sunshine

Cattle can be extremely inquisitive. When I was working in the conservatory last week I looked up from my laptop to see this....

Is that what is known as line management?  Hee hee!

Monday, 17 June 2013

Holiday time!

OK I confess - I've been on holiday!  Well actually I've been home a few days now but work and life in general gave me little time for blogging.  Hectic schedule continues for a while but I have a few moments to pop in here and say HI!  I'll post more photos of my trip to the West Coast of Scotland, shortly.  For now you will have to make do with these.....

And again.....Yes - Sunshine!! Gorse in flower (ahhh lovely coconut smell).

In other news - I got a smart-phone.... for all of 2 days. I hated it. Don't get me wrong, I like the idea, I even have an iPod touch which I *adore*.  But this smart phone (a Nokia windows variety) kept wanting to make my decisions for me - how cheeky is that??!  My "old" phone does connect to the internet but it's pre-smart-phone-days so quite basic. I can make phone calls and send texts. That's what I need it for. But it's been causing problems so I thought I should join the age of "smart-phone" and my service provider gave me a very good deal. Pah!

Aforementioned smart-phone is now boxed up to be returned.  The chap I spoke to on the Help Line was trying to encourage me to persevere and said all mobile (cell) phones will be smart phones soon.  He also said they are *designed* to make decisions for me. I then had a mini-rant about women fighting for the vote and independence and I wasn't going to let a bit of plastic and a circuit board make MY decisions! kept telling me stuff I didn't want to know.... as one radio presenter said this weekend, on the same subject, who cares what the weather is like in Peru. Well unless you live in Peru of course, which I don't. Nor am I planning a visit..... and I only used it for less than one day and had to recharge it! Hallo! Trying to economise on energy bills... not helpful.....sigh.

So I shall bumble along with my "dumb-phone" for a while longer......  though I have to admit to being somewhat addicted to "online" stuff - here's the woman who walked a 1/4 of a mile from her holiday cottage where there was no mobile signal or wi-fi just to get a weak mobile signal!  And the joy of finding an oasis of free wi-fi and Cake...... not very sociable but......

Anyway..... more on wonderful holiday in Achnahaird soon...

Sunday, 9 June 2013

The tradition of peat cutting - part three

Here's the third episode from Derek Mayes about the annual peat cut. Do take a look at Episodes 1 and 2 if you haven't already. So over to Derek...

It has been hit and miss with the weather – mostly miss then, not so now, in early June.  I have done about 13 hours-worth of cutting and Dot has been out a few times to turn and stack; winds have blown some too-tall piles over. But is hasn't rained much in the last two weeks and some is now dry enough to bring home.

I explained how I had to remove the top blanket of heathery turf and place those bits on the exposed ground near the beds. This stripping along the top of the beds, is much the hardest part. 

But I have skimmed the heathery and sometimes grassy turf off and placed those ‘mats’ on worn and bare ground, left by previous and careless peat-men.

Underneath the heather – one must take most of the roots of course – is a less fibrous band of lightweight peat. Also hard to cut into, because of all the strands of yesteryear’s heather.

I can cut them into fairly thick blocks – bricks really,  as the wind and sun will dry them very quickly, in less than four weeks. These lightweight, fibrous blocks make good firelighters and my farmer-neighbours used to sprinkle paraffin on them to actually start the fire – with a scary whoosh I suspect!

The next layer down, another spade depth, the peat is far more consolidated. It cuts easily (but the spade has to be sharp) and will dry fairly quickly but I cut it smaller to make certain.

Because these first two layers are already quite dry, the shrinkage is about one third.  Obviously I have to consider the size to get through the door of the stove.
The very bottom peat, dark, chocolaty, heavy and wet, loses at least half of its bulk to the drying process. It is an art, and requires experience, to get the thickness right when cutting. Too thick and it will not dry, too thin and it will shrink and break when handled.

The Tusker, used through historic years, cuts the lower peat (called Tusker peat) to the right size.

The picture shows my farmer friends, Melvin and Neil, cutting peat in 2005 – their last ever cut I think. Melvin uses the Tusker, a strange bladed tool which is used from the top of the platform and pushed down, with assistance from the foot. Neil then forks the slices onto the top of the bed. Traditionally, in Orkney, peat was cut in pairs – often man and wife or father and son. The peats were laid out on the heather for 10 days or so, turned over and then two weeks later made into stooks.

Actually this is not a Tusker but a Luggie a slightly different design and favoured by some.

Here is a Luggie and a Tusker - see the difference?

The Shetland Tusker is different again - here's one -

But try as I might, I cannot make the Tusker or Luggie work for me, so I have resorted to a spade which, as you see, allows me to cut quite big blocks and carry them to the drying area. I slice these blocks into about five slices and stook them in my unique way whilst still wet.

Here you can see fresh ‘Tusker’ peat, cut with a spade and my little stooks, standing to dry on edge with all faces exposed to the airs. 

After 12 days or so, Dot and I will rearrange these piles, inverting each slab to complete the process. Later we will make new, higher, piles ready for collection, creaming off the top pieces as they become hard and compact.

So, I have come to the end of Phase One – the April/May cut.

Normally, at this time, after the flourish of  opening up and bed preparation, when I cut for about 10 hours-worth of evenings, I give it a break until early or mid June. This is about the time normal people cut peat.

However, the earlier cut is refreshing, brings in the Spring, as I am so keen to get started and always over-eager to replace depleted stocks, that I forget that cold rains and possible frosts may take their toll on my early ones.

Last year I started too early and frost made its presence felt. Damp and fresh cut peat does very badly in frost as the dampness expends into ice and breaks down the consolidated structure into crumbles and flakes – useless for collecting and stacking of course. We put these these bits and dust into paper bags for the fire - not many people do that.

So now I am resting a little, planting trees actually. But in two weeks' time I'll do a final 4 hour cut and stack.

Today (June 9), the headland is quiet – no-one else goes there, just Dot and I most days. Not for peat specially but because its quiet, airy and, well, delightful. The heather and crowberry are greening up, beetles have begun to hunt, sedges are waving their heads, bonxies, tern and snipe have arrived and so have the drying night-breezes. My little stooked slabs are already stiff and need turning upside-down and inside-out to complete the process.  It does not take long to move along the lines and rearrange the little structures. I leave the bigger piles of  fibrous peats as the breezes alone will do a good job.

One more short final episode to come, in September.  Who knows, we may be burning it then!

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

A Sunset Interlude...

Sorry, not much time for blogging at the moment so sharing some photos of a lovely sunset last week. I actually managed to walk down to the shore for some of this one!!

Button lives life on the edge....sigh.... what you don't see is when she hangs over the edge of the pier trying to see if she can get to the starling nests below in the stone.  With me trying to firmly and calmly talk her away from the edge!!

Sandside Bay looking glorious in the late sunshine...

And the sun lighting up the shell sand and and reflecting on the still water...

Silhouetting the buildings and trees

Before finally dropping below the horizon behind Black Craig.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Of cats and treasure....

Here is Button wearing her grumpy face because I am being tardy in getting up and delivering breakfast. She has already stomped around the room meowing with little effect. She's now in the huffing stage. And yes this is the view from my bedroom. How lucky am I?!

Meanwhile, in the garden during some digging of a new bed I came across this treasure!

I've found various broken glass bits over the years but this is the first intact bottle. It's so pretty!  I have a bucket load of china, still caked in dried mud in the shed. I must liberate it this summer and post some pictures.  In the "old" days before there were regular refuse collections by the local council, every house would have had a "midden" where they would have thrown their old rubbish. Hence lots of broken china in the garden.  There is also a story connected with the house that one of the Sutherland wives had red hair and a temper to go with it, during a row she would throw the pots and plates across the room.  Then the next day she'd have to get on her coat and scarf and head to the town to buy some more. I love that story - not least because I too have read hair.  Tee hee!

And I'll finish off with another sunset....