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Saturday 27 June 2009

St Magnus Festival

Last weekend the St Magnus Festival was taking place in Orkney. This is an annual “arts” festival, with international musicians, poets, writers and artists performing in various venues around Orkney.

I spent the weekend in Stromness as there were several events I wanted to attend. The town feels really buzzy during the festival as events start in the morning and go on into the evening, with folk strolling around the different venues, stopping to chat or eat Orkney ice cream (I can recommend the orange marmalade flavoured ice-cream!).

Saturday I went to a reading by the poet, Wendy Cope. She read a number of poems from her various collections, many of them humorous but still with depth. Then in the afternoon wandered down the street to the Town Hall (a converted church) and listened to a piano recital by French pianist, Eric Le Sage, who is acclaimed for his interpretations of Schumann. He also played a modern piece by George Crumb (Three Romances) which is quite “Avant Garde” in the beginning and included various twanging and muffling of the actual strings of the piano as well as – um – clonking of the keys (you can tell I’m no musician!). Apparently the piano (a baby Steinway) was hired from a local musician who was in the audience and having kittens at what was being done to her precious piano in the name of “art”! However piano and musician survived to tell the tale.

In the evening we went to a late cabaret show in the “Moulin Rouge Speigaltent” – a venue well adapted to cabaret, with plush velvet booths and a bar. “Oiseau Rouge” had a variety of artists including acrobats and a juggling comedian. Very entertaining!

Sunday morning there was a recital by Andrew Motion (the former UK Poet Laureate) reading from his new collection of autobiographical writing and new poems. And this was followed by the Endellion String Quartet performing with Eric Le Sage and also doing a quirky musical piece with Wendy Cope narrating poems which were portraits of archetypal audience members including “The Cougher”, “The First Date”, and “The Traditionalist”. Clever and good fun.

The weather was lovely and warm and I took a walk along to the South end of Stromness. I have to confess I don’t venture to that part of the town normally, so it was lovely to explore and see some different views.

Here are some photos of the South end of the town……

Photo on the left - Graemsay in the distance.

And on the left here is one of the "Stromness Cats" - domestic cats who live in the houses along the street and are seen parading around or dozing on warm car bonnets (hoods).

Thursday 25 June 2009

Primula Scotica

I took a run out across the West Mainland of Orkney on Tuesday with a friend. We started off at Yesnaby which has grand cliffs and you can see the mountains of Scotland to the South. In winter they are snow capped but in the glorious sunshine there was no snow to be seen.

We were also delighted to come across swathes of Primula Scotica (Scottish Primrose). These rare tiny primroses plants only grow in Caithness (North of Scotland) and one or two sites in Orkney. They usually flower in May and July/August, but these were either late or early as it is still June!

To give you a true impression of their size I placed a 50p coin beside one of them. They are so delightful and so easily missed. In fact I usually find I'm in the middle of them before I spot them and then am afraid to move in case I trample them!

Tuesday 23 June 2009

Sunset and Seal....

Having too much fun and not enough time to blog..... so you will have to content yourself with some *more* sunset photos - these taken tonight with a seal for company......

.... honestly it *is* a seal...... a grey seal........

....and the tide coming in.....

Wednesday 17 June 2009

Hens *and* sunset....

After a rainy day the sun came out this evening and I stepped outside for some fresh air. Two of my hens have gone broody somewhere and I shall need to seek them out as their eggs will never hatch as I no longer have a cockerel. However, the two remaining "free spirits" were out late tonight. It's said "the early bird gets the worm" - well the girls clearly feel that the late bird does too (taken at 10.20pm)!

Mildred, it's getting late should we go home?

"Nah - let's PARTY!"

Tuesday 16 June 2009

Normal service will be resumed shortly....

...... once I have recovered from a nasty stomach bug that snuck up on me at the weekend. Feeling better today so hopefully well on road to recovery. The weather has been glorious - typical, just when I can't enjoy it to the full! But veggies have been growing without my constant attention and I shall just ignore the weeds for now!

A group of school children and their teachers arrived on the island a couple of hours ago for a visit to the beach. They are from Stromness Primary School, and at least they have a warm sunny day to explore rock pools and make sand-castles! It's surprising the number of Orcadians who remark upon their only visit to Graemsay having been on a school trip or a Sunday School picnic. At least these kids will have memories of sunshine and sand to take home with them - plus a few shells from the beach too!

Friday 12 June 2009

Sunset reprise

Weather has been "changeable" these last few days, with some heavy showers and grey skies, but the last couple of nights have seen beautiful sunsets again and wanted to share these with you! And yes I will try and overcome my laziness and take a slightly different view than the one from my "back door" sometime this summer ;-)

Thursday 11 June 2009

More flowers....

.... cultivated this time! The flower border is coming along nicely with the rosa rugosa, and fuschia merging together in the middle to form shelter for some perennials. Some honeysuckle seems to be woven between it too - quite by accident but it will look pretty when in flower!

The willow trees are doing well this year too, and the grass looks neat as Mick has just mowed it!

So far I've failed to get lavender to grow in the flower border which is exposed to northerly winds, so this year I'm trying a plant in the walled garden in the hope that is more sheltered!

Wednesday 10 June 2009

Wild flowers

As you will see I know very little about wild flowers! However I do know that this is some kind of hybrid marsh orchid! There were a dozen or so growing along the side of the road on Graemsay, just above a ditch. The pink (or purple?) orchids grow in abundance on Graemsay, and occasionally there are white ones too.

This is a pretty flower - think it might be red campion? Again this was growing along the side of the road and in the dunes at the links.

When I was "south" the other week I was surprised how far along the cow parsley was as it was barely evident on the island. However in two weeks it seems to have sprung up everywhere. I know it's a weed and I curse it in the flower border, but I do have a fondness for it. It reminds me of my old pony, Badger. He adored cow parsley and loved this time of year when it grew mouth height (for him) and we would arrive back at the stable yard with the equivalent of half a tree hanging from his mouth! Sadly Badger didn't make it up to Orkney but died 8 years ago at the grand age of 30 - a good age for a pony. So in memory of Badger, a photo of cow parsley (hmm or is it Hogweed? Either way it would be snack-time for Badger)!

Tuesday 9 June 2009

Button the Adventurer

Button is a very bold cat. I am still coming to terms with this and the fact that she is so agile. Dear Fitzi-cat was akin to Garfield, whereas she is akin to Sylvester (watch out Tweetie-Pie). However, having spent an overnight in the town, she seemed to be particularly keen for attention on my return. So when I went hunting for eggs in the byre (hens are hiding them again - sigh), she shot up one of the stall posts and into the rafters. She's done this before and managed to extricate herself. But this time she just sat there wailing and looking pathetic. So I looked around and found a large post I could put up against the rafters for her to run down. Nope, she was having none of it. More wailing (from her). I decided she was having me on and stomped out of the byre. Sure enough a few minutes later she appeared through a hole in the roof! She tried to repeat the trick "Ooooh I'm *scared* - this is so *high*" but I ignored her again and eventually she found her way down.

She's become very bold at chasing poor Charlie Boy and keeping him in his place (which is the barn). So I don't think there is much chance of me being able to befriend him, sadly. However he does appear when I take food into the barn for him - though I have to choose a time when Button is safely napping indoors. He always remains at a safe distance of many yards but looks healthy enough so must be doing OK catching mice, voles etc. with supplemental feeding from me.

Swallows have been flying in and out of the old barn too. They had built a nest near the entrance and I did fear for them as it was quite exposed to the west wind. Sure enough after the breezy days last week they seem to have abandoned that nest but must be making a new one in a more sheltered position further in the barn. I just love watching the swallows in the summer. Often they perch on the conservatory guttering preening themselves - particularly just before they head south and it's a real privilege to watch them at close quarters from the comfort of the sofa!

Monday 8 June 2009

We plough the fields with tractors.....

..... to quote an updated "school" hymn. Well actually the garden was ploughed with a tractor! This may seem a little OTT, however what seemed like a reasonably easy job when first started - eg levelling the garden, turned into a major enterprise when it was discovered various large bits of corrugated metal were buried not far below the surface, as well as hidden edging stones in places where paths were no longer needed.

About 30 years ago (maybe a bit less) the garden was also used as a silage bit for winter feed, so a large whole was dug in one corner and it seems corrugated metal and very large stones were put on top to hold it all in place and it may be that some metal was used to line the bottom too. Anyway, even though most of the garden will be laid to easy care grass, with bits of metal and stone protruding just above the surface, it all had to come up. Then the ground needed to be levelled and eventually it just seemed easier to put the plough through it rather than spend time rotovating it!

It does look great now. It will need harrowing to level off the furrows again, and then probably waiting till next Spring to sow with grass seed as the ground needs time to "settle" and may need a bit of light re-levelling to get a fairly even finish.

The veggie patch is coming on well too. Pea plants growing like mad, and broad bean plants have appeared this week. Tatties coming up well too so earthing up beginning (of course this is tricky as the hens then try and unearth them - sigh).

Sunday 7 June 2009


I forgot to mention in yesterday's post the incident with the Graemsay ferry last week. Apparently last weekend it hit a submerged wreck (the "Inverlane") in Burra Sound (the channel between Graemsay and Hoy). The boat sailed on and nobody was hurt, though I think it made a big "clunk" noise and startled crew and passengers alike. Divers inspected the hull of the Graemsay and apart from a scratch and a bit of a dent there seems to be no major damage.

However the outcome of this incident is that the Graemsay ferry now has to sail East of the island to Hoy and back (instead of the usual route West-about) which adds about 15 minutes on the Stromness-Hoy-Stromness journey. This doesn't cause much of a problem usually but for the first sailing of the day the time has been brought forward by 15 minutes as the delay made the kids arrive late at school registration.

A survey of Burra Sound will now be conducted, but who knows if the ferry can resume it's original route as there are actually SEVEN wrecks, which appear to have become unstable. These wrecks are as a result of Word War II fortifications of Scapa Flow which was the home base of the British Navy. Various booms were laid across the channel at entrances to Scapa Flow, and old ships were sunk (known as "block ships") to prevent submarines gaining access. However in October 1939 a German submarine got through the defences and sank the ship the "Royal Oak", which remains a war grave in the Flow to this day. After that tragedy the Churchill Barriers were erected linking what had been small islands (Lamb Holm, Burray, South Ronaldsay) to the East Orkney mainland as well as acting as submerged barriers. Other block ships and booms were used as defences too.

Nowadays the wrecks are used for recreational diving, and in the summer several dive vessels sail daily from Stromness Harbour. Once the harbour was home to the herring fleet, now it's used mainly by recreational boats, as is the case I'm sure in many harbours around the UK shores.

PS - we didn't get the snow forecast for this weekend. In fact it's been a lovely warmish day!

Saturday 6 June 2009

Let it snow, let it snow, let is snow.....!

Well OK they are forecasting snow on the "hills" and I don't think Graemsay constitutes a Hill of any great height anyway. But it is still very chilly in comparison with last week. Brrr. Though snow is no stranger to even the South of the UK in June so one shouldn't be surprised we may get some snow flurries this far north. I may have to put duvets over my veggie patch. The poor wee peas and broad beans that have just stuck their heads above the ground will be retreating beneath it again at this rate.

I've mainly been busy with work this week, but the farmers have been out ploughing and sowing seed for winter feed crops, as well as lambing and finishing off calving. It's lovely to see the fields populated with livestock again. Though it never ceases to amaze me how the lapwings and oystercatchers managed to raise their chicks with the cows and calves, or sheep and lambs across the fields. And the birds *choose* to lay their eggs among the livestock - there are plenty of places on the island "animal free". It seems as if they are trying to make life difficult for themselves!

Yesterday on the way to the afternoon boat I saw a wee Oystercatcher chick in the road. It was running for all it was worth straight up the road. Three adult oystercatchers were having hysterics in the air, and one was on the ground doing the "broken wing" trick to deflect me, the perceived predator. Eventually the chick got to the verge and stuck it's head in a clump of grass - but with the rest of it showing! I was really concerned as the road gets busy (for Graemsay) at that time on a Friday with folk collecting kids from school, going to the boat for groceries, or going over to town for the evening and I wasn't sure the chick would survive playing "chicken" on the road. So I decided I needed to take direct action and pick it up and place it through the fence on the edge of the field. I try and avoid handling wild bird chicks in case it causes the parents to abandon them, but the oystercaters were screaming in my ears as I did it and were quick to land near the chick when I retreated, so hopefully it will be OK and anyway it's chances of survival were increased by removing it from the road at that time! It was a dear little thing - just a ball of fluff with some spots on and a black pointy beak. I could feel it's little heart racing as I gently lifted it up and placed it through the fence. It promtly started sqeaking so it's parents were in no doubt where it was. Today I haven't seen the chick but the Oystercatcher's are screaming "Here comes the Giant" when they see me (even 4 ft 9" constitutes a giant in some circles it would seem) so I'm assuming they still have the chick!

Orkney had Royal visitors this week, with the Duke & Duchess of Rothesay (as Charles & Camilla are known in Scotland) visiting Kirkwall and Stromness. I wasn't in town on Monday when they arrived which was just as well as traffic struggles in the tiny street as it is without additional interest from Royal watchers. They met folk from the Lifeboat and the Ladies Lifeboat Guild in Stromness as well as visiting one of the Renewable Energy Centres in the town and Charles & Camilla spent time talking to the small crowd in the street. At least the sun shone for the occassion.

I think the folk of Stromness were somewhat bemused by all the security precautions taken for the Royal visit. One of my friends had a "bloke on a fast bike" sweep past her car as she was down at Warbeth beach dog walking on the day of the visit. Clearly checking out that she and her Shetland collie weren't a security threat!

Orkney will get another royal visitor next week when Princess Anne will visit some of the lighthouses in her role as President of the Northern Lighthouse Board. She visited Graemsay about 12 years ago but is going to the Northern Orkney Islands this time.

The Queen and the late Queen Mother have also visited Orkney at various times. The Queen Mother owned the Castle of May in Caithness just across the water from Orkney, so visiting was just a short hop away.

The other event this week was the Eurpoean elections. However polling day passed us by on Graemsay as we use postal votes as we don't warrant a polling station, there being so few of us.

And we had our own elections on the island last weekend, as it was our Community Association AGM and the committee was re-elected. We also agreed on a programme of events for the year which includes the Harvest Home (which incorporates Halloween!), Christmas party and some quizzes and games nights. So that should be ample opportunity to sample "home bakes". I have tried to get myself elected as chief taster of home bakes to ensure they are up to standard, but there would be too much competition and to be fair we'd need a committee and then there would be no home bakes left for anyone else. Apparently I'm the only one who doesn't see that as a problem ;-)