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Wednesday, 5 May 2021

Adventuring around Orkney Part 1 - Birsay


Well ok it was a drive out with flask of tea, and a meeting up outdoors and one or two meets in a cafe with cake!  But after a year of lockdown that equates to adventuring for me!  These photos are from a trip out to Birsay in the West Mainland.  It's one of my favourite bits of coastline and has a lovely wee village with a great tea-room.  There's quite a bit to see and do if touring about so well worth looking up what's available if anyone plans to visit!

Anyway here are a few photos.....  Above is the Brough (pronounced Broch like Loch) of Birsay, a tidal island with a lot of history. Info available here

You can see the causeway in this photo and (checking tide times) you can walk over to the island, and up to the lighthouse at the highest point

Or stay lower down and explore the remains of a Pictish village (managed by Historic Scotland) which is just off the causeway (the stone building in the ticket office/shop for the site.

Or walk along the edge (not too close!) and admire the wildlife, wild flowers etc. as well as the view of course!

From here you get a view of one of the larger of the Orkney islands - Westray. It's a lovely island and well worth a visit.

You can just make out the lighthouse at Noup Head.  A large gannet colony there which I just love watching!

Meanwhile back at Birsay looking along the coast....

And at my feet a carpet of celandines (er there was more than one - honest!)

And back the way I came - towards the village in Birsay.....

And Marwick Head and the Kitchener Memorial - click here for some of the history  Marwick Head is another spot to enjoy watching the seabird population that summers in Orkney to breed.  Kittiwakes, guillemots, puffins, and others.  The sound and smell is quite something!

The village in Birsay. I will share photos of that in another post.

The village and the ruin of the Earl's palace

And this lovely cottage called Zanzibar. Made "famous" after appearing in an episode of "Top Gear" in 2009.  The challenge was to try and beat the post where a First Class Letter was posted in the Scilly isles to the cottage.  And the team had to race against Royal Mail in a Porsche.  I'm delighted to say the Royal Mail won!! The film has most of Orkney laughing when shown as they were showing shots out of sequence so if you knew the route from the ferry to Zanzibar you were going back and forth all the time - no wonder the post beat it!  Sadly the "team" were also very grumpy when "fans" met them at the airport as they flew south.  Not their finest hour then...

So that's The Brough of Birsay and the coast...... next stop the tea shop for cake!

Tuesday, 4 May 2021

May Day (no not an alarm call!)....


At 08.25 on the early May Bank Holiday in 1999 I set foot on Graemsay for the first time.  It doesn't feel like 22 years ago.  It feels timeless somehow.....  But that was the day we came to look at the house, having spent the weekend looking at various properties "in need of work" on the Orkney Mainland.  Now let's be honest, the Orkney Mainland is an island and that was island enough for me.  Till I saw Graemsay.... and there was a beach just yards away from the house, on which were seals........

Unfortunately the ferry schedule on a Monday at that time mean that we arrived at 08.25 and had to leave again at 10.45 to head to the airport for our flight.  But given the house had not been lived in for many years and was - er - uninhabitable at the time, taking a tour didn't take very long.  In fact it only took as long as it did as I waited while others went in front of me upstairs so if the floorboards gave way it wouldn't be me plunging down to the ground floor.  Hahahahaha!  Pigeons were the only residents, actually nesting and roosting in one of the bedrooms.  The windows were boarded up as the aforementioned pigeons were getting in through the roof and then flying out windows and smashing them - hence needing boarding up.

As we drove down the hill to the house, neighbours were at the post office, which at that time was run out of a small outbuilding attached to the house.  So we met one or two while others looked on in curiosity.  They had seen various folk come and go looking at the house with plans that came to nothing.  So they were reserving judgement I think!

Anyway after perusing the house and wandering down to the shore, it was up to the farm for tea and chat before heading to the pier again.  A shake of the hand on the pier as the ferry arrived and the deal was done.  It was a year before I was able to move up, and even longer before I could move in. But it was definitely worth it!! All of it...... well..... most of it ..... ;-)

So here are a few pictures from around that time.  The photo at the top was taken as we sailed back to Stromness on the ferry and looking back at what would become "home".  On seeing how close the lighthouse was to the house the first question I asked was did it have a foghorn? (No it didn't), and the second was does it have a revolving light (again No.  Not sure I could sleep with a revolving light through the bedroom!).

Estate agent's photo before all the windows were boarded up.  Red door was the post office.

View from the road in June the following year when I had moved up and was staying in the caravan parked in the garden...

Those seals on the beach! Sadly they don't haul out on the sand like this any more but are seen around on the rocks....

View from the skies. Photo taken by a neighbour when a passenger in a light aircraft flying over the island.

And this was how the house was originally back in the late 1800s.  It was a two storey maisonette with an external staircase for the upstairs flat.  Very unusual for an island or rural area even.  The outer staircase went in about 1905 we think.  But lots of history attached to the house....

And the house 22 years later - you can see in the stonework the outline of the old staircase!

And for those new to my blog, at the bottom of this page are the links to the story of how I came here and what we did to the house...

Wednesday, 28 April 2021


 After the snow, sleet, hail and gale we did finally get some sunshine and warm days.  A chance for lambs to enjoy the sun on their  backs, hens to help in the garden and me to enjoy just being outdoors again!

Above - you are never alone in the garden when you have hens!

If you click on the photo to enlarge you can see the Northlink Hamnavoe Ferry sailing into Stromness from the Scottish Mainland. That cloud is BIG!

Ewes and lambs enjoying the glow of the setting sun.

And then the sunset.....

From on the old lighthouse pier

Creels piled up on the old lighthouse pier

On the coral beach alongside the old lighthouse pier

And here comes the Hamnavoe ferry again...

And looking across the garden and old steading

And at bedtime, looking across to Stromness. I love it when the lights of the town reach across to tough the Graemsay shore...

Also thought I would share this link to a blog post of beautiful photos and poems by fellow blogger, Mark.

Tuesday, 27 April 2021



Here are a few random pictures taken a couple of weeks ago now.  Just catching up after a week or so of gardening and adventuring off island (more of that later).  Above - snow on hills!  We had some snow around Easter (to be honest I lose track of time now I'm retired. Ha!).  

The view through the window! Nice and toasty indoors but felt sorry for the wee lambs outdoors!

I told Button she was on her own digging out the cat flap!  

A view from the hen house of Hoy High lighthouse...

Moody sky over the croft of of Quoynanapp

As there was a gale along with the snow I did a quick rescue trip to gather in some of the daffs before they got blasted.  Fortunately there were others not due out for a couple of weeks so they seem to have survived to provide nectar for insects.  There was a lovely fragrance around the house as I had clusters of daffs everywhere!

Fortunately the sun and warmth returned and Spring could get back on with renewal.  Here are Dolores (front) and Lola (rear) enjoying a rootle around the garden....

A trailer full of lambs!  Some had "plastic macs" on to help protect against the rain and snow.

Who knew there were pandas on Graemsay!

And another sign that Spring is definitely here - the sun sets this side of Graemsay now!

A calm sea and beautiful sky, what a lovely end to a day.

Wednesday, 21 April 2021

A different ferry.....


While our usual ferry, the MV Graemsay, is away on it's annual refit (boat equivalent of an MOT) we have a replacement vessel for a couple of weeks.  In the past this has been the Golden Marianna, a very old boat, not easily accessed even if you are fit, and takes a limited number of passengers and no cargo.  This boat has been needing replaced for many years.  Finally a "new" boat was bought by the local authority. Much controversy has surrounded this vessel as to suitability etc.  Costs are unknown but the vessel was purchased for £500K and has had new engines, new crane and other modifications made.  It was a former river cruiser in Norway.  Anyway this last week or so island residents had an opportunity to sail on her and here are some photos.  She's called the "Nordic Sea".  

Now she had completed standing in for our ferry she has sailed up to the island of Papa Westray, on one the Northern Orkney Islands.  There she will sail between "Papay, as the island is known, and Westray. Taking children back and forth to school and any residents or visitors who want to go over to the larger island of Westray. There is also a 7 minute air service between the islands!!

Anyway here are a few pictures of my sail over on the Nordic Sea - it has a ramp at the bow, which was at quite a steep angle on arrival at Stromness.  Depending on pier and tide either the ramp at the bow is used, or stepping off the rear deck onto the pier steps.  You have to be fairly agile for either!

Up the ramp we go!

When you get to the top....

Pulling up the drawbridge - haha!

Inside the cabin is very smart.... easily accessible toilets too....

The vessel can seat about 35 I think from a quick count.  A few tables too.  And the school kids will be happy as there are power points by each seat so they can charge their devices on the way to and from school!  No refreshments on board though.  However on some of the more Northerly Orkney Islands the ferries do have a cafe as the journey time is often 2 hours from port to port.  On our Graemsay ferry we usually have a coffee machine.  Wonder if they will put something on this posh "new" boat?

To enter the cabin you have to be able to step over the entrance.  But it's lower than on our usual ferry which for me means potentially less scraping of shins!

This wee boat can't take cargo either, although hand carried parcels can be delivered.  But we are usually given fair warning when our own ferry will go away so we make arrangements to get deliveries before and after!

Sailing past the island of Graemsay a while ago (when we had snow).  She makes quite a noise in comparison with our usual ferry.  I could hear her coming round from Hoy!

The weather was comparatively calm when she was sailing between Graemsay, Hoy and Stromness. So it will be interesting to hear how she gets on in roughter weather....