Click on pictures to see them enlarged in a photo stream. Comments: word verification on to allow anyone to comment but try and deter excessive amounts of spam! I LOVE getting comments!

Tuesday 25 August 2009

The dreaded "midge".....

Unlike the West of Scotland and the highlands, Orkney doesn't have too much bother with midges...... until August that is. Midges are tiny biting, flying insects, the size of a pin head. Thankfully, as I live near to the shore there is usually a breeze so the horrid beasts are kept at bay. But the walled garden is proving a haven for them. And they love hiding in the vegetation where it's damp and then swarm about me when I'm trying to weed or pick the veggies. In theory they don't like too much direct sunlight and are worse at dusk or dawn...... but nobody has told the midges this. Sigh.

"Avon Skin So Soft" moisturising body oil is supposed to be a good repellent. But in reality the midges continue to swarm around finding any spare bit of flesh to bite into and draw blood whatever one is doused in. It's only the females that bite - apparently they need the blood before they can lay their eggs. They were so bad at the weekend even poor Button got fed up with them around her eyes, nose and ears that she abandoned supervision of my weeding and retreated into the barn for a nap.

And I just discovered there is a Scottish Midge Forecast website! Orkney is in the top right of the picture. OK we only merit a "1" hmmmmm well it felt more like FIVE when I was in the garden......... and *that* is why on Sunday I was out in the pouring rain and breezy weather trying to earth up the tatties in the hope the midges would be otherwise occupied.....

Monday 24 August 2009

Sorry to bore you......

....... but I am just SO pleased with the progress in my walled garden! As you can see in the photo above, the grass seed is beginning to germinate. The recent wet weather combined with still warm temperatures have proved ideal for the grass. It really does resemble a garden now!

This was the garden back in April. Thanks to a lot of hard work on the part of Arthur, who came along with his digger, tractor, plough, harrow, wheelbarrow and lots of shovelling, the garden is finally level.

His wife, Cathy, did the first bit of digging and planted the "tatties", which gave me all the encouragement I needed to start on the veggie border. The grass seed was sown about 2 weeks ago and I finally finished going over it with a roller today (about the only manual labour I've contributed to the levelling!).

I've also now planted some young shrubs, trees and cuttings along another wall, which will hopefully turn into a flower border. It's a bit experimental as, being so close to the shore, it's hard to know how things will survive through the winter with the gales and salt spray. The wall will offer some protection, but the wind in Orkney is fierce and unforgiving. But the shrubs and cuttings have been produced in Orkney from hardy stock so I am hopeful! Once the borders are established I'm hoping to soften the linear lines with curves, but I need to be patient and keep things manageable!

And one of my favourite flowers, "Love in a Mist" has flowered from seed this year. I'll collect the seed again and spread along the other borders so hopefully next year there will the beautiful delicate blue blooms around the garden.

Saturday 22 August 2009

Ness of Brodgar dig

I was standing in the middle of a field, with rain dripping off my nose, holding a stone mace head that, up until a few weeks ago, had lain hidden under tons of earth for the last 5,000 years...... I can't really find the words to express the feeling, but it *was* brilliant!

I'd finally got a chance to go and visit the Ness of Brodgar dig. (This blog post won't do justice to the site and all the hard work of the archaeologists, so do take a look at *their* blog.) Unfortunately the day I was over on the Orkney Mainland was also A Very Blustery Day (as Winnie The Pooh would say) and it was chucking it down, rainwise. However undaunted I parked on the edge of the dig and joined around 30 other enthusiastic people to hear one of the team working on the dig give us some insight into what they had been doing this summer.

The excitement of the young archaeologist giving us the guided tour was palpable. The dig had been revealing it's secrets slowly but surely. Stones with curious markings, the remains of a shattered but still upright standing stone, pieces of pottery, an axe head, and the beautiful smooth remains of the mace head that I held in my hand.

The site is huge and, thankfully, funding has been found to continue the work next year. There are tempting glimpses of other structures yet to be revealed, and the geophysics hinting at past shapes of stone structures.

The stone walls are made of sandstone which naturally breaks very cleanly so the old walls look like "dressed" stone, with clean lines. No one is yet sure what the site would have been used for. Several of the structures are too big to be domestic dwellings, so the archeologists are piecing together the evidece as they slowly scrape and sift through all the earth that has covered the site for thousands of years.

And right through the middle of the site is a Scottish Water mains water main! This was put in during the 1960's when no one was really aware of what lay beneath. One can imagine the cursing and swearing that went on as the workmen tried to lay pipe through all that stone. In one sense it seemed sacrilege to see the water main cutting it's linear way through the ancient stone settlement, yet in another, it felt like a natural continuity as humankind makes its mark on the landscape, generation after generation.

And another team of archaeologists are excavating on the island of Westray (Links of Notland) and this week unearthed a neolithic carving of a human figure (picture and report here). It's reported to be the earliest carving of a human figure found in Scotland. It's tiny (3.5 cm x 3 cm) but is a significant find. Well it has been said that "scratch the surface of Orkney and it bleeds archeology" and that's certainly been true this year.

My memory will hold the feeling of the stone mace and I will continue to wonder at the craftsman who carefully fashioned the stone into a working tool with skill, patience and effort over five thousand years ago.......

(Sunday note: I've just found some information on a dig going on at the Brough of Deerness (East Mainland of Orkney) too - for more info click here

Wednesday 19 August 2009

Sunset reprise....

OK it's another sunset. Sorry but tonight's was particularly beautiful and I just wanted to share the photos. It's been raining the last couple of nights and I have missed the late sunshine. Sunset is now at 20.52 - days are getting shorter - sigh. Sunrise is at 5.38am and it really is *dark* at night again. It caught me by surprise that it was dark at 4.30am this morning - yes I WAS up at that time..... dealing with a small incident with Button bringing in snack food. No, really you don't want to know..... neither did I at 4.30AM (did I mention it was AM?). However it was lovely and still and calm outside the back door at that time of the morning... it's just something I don't wish to experience very often...... (Please note: I am now looking for a cat flap that scans and only opens if Button does not have anything in her jaws......)

But I digress, and tonight's sunset was very uplifting! So.... the one above is from the "back door"........

And so is this, but looking towards Stromness. I love the purple colours and yes it really did look like that.

Monday 17 August 2009

Singing in the rain......

..... well not quite and it's stopped now anyway (both my singing and the rain). But more of that in a minute.

First - family news, my niece, Suzie, gave birth to a beautiful baby boy last week. He had to arrive a little early and weighed in at just over 4 lbs. However all is well and baby Charlie Jack is safely home with his parents. Congratulations to all. And yes, I am, yet again, a Great Auntie.... hopefully in all senses of the word! And my sister, Sally, is a doting granny for the second time. Tee Hee! May you live a long and happy life, Charlie!

so... back to the singing in the rain theme. Well the grass seed was sown in the garden last week, so I was hoping for some rain to soak it in and then some sun to help it germinate. And my wish came true - we had some heavy rain at the end of last week and now the sun has returned. Even when it was raining it was very warm so excellent germination weather. I can already see lots of green heads popping up where the lawn should be. Yes I know.... it's probably weeds but well - who knows..... anyway photo at top is of garden after seed sown and rolled in. As you can see the veggie patch is doing well - oh and the boat in the background is the "Hamnavoe" which sails between Stromness and Scrabster (North of Scotland).

I've been busy harvesting the broad beans - just got another batch ready to freeze. They have been a huge success and I will grow those again next year. The sweet peas seem to grow quicker than I can pick them - but I do love the smell of them wafting around the kitchen first thing in the morning. Have munched my way through peas - though not a good enough crop to freeze. And there are tiny courgettes growing - ah bless. Potatoes still to lift, plus onions and remaining carrots. So a good first year and I am now enthused to extend the patch next year!

Anyway summer moves on - all the local agricultural shows are over now, and the weather was glorious for all of them which is great after the last couple of years of poor weather. Farmers are busy gathering in winter fodder, which on Graemsay is mainly silage, haylage and hay. Although on the mainland more barley has been sown this year. Apparently as it was such a good spring farmers decided to sow extra fields of barley this year.

The hens are laying well. I have had to exercise a little discipline as the girls were laying in the barn with no hope of me getting to the eggs. So now they are shut in until about 11.30am. They have access to food and water and a large hen house so it's not much of a hardship - though they will tell you otherwise! However at least I am getting two eggs a day - but one hen must sit with her legs crossed as she refuses to lay in the henny house and rushes out when I open to door and disappears with great haste into the barn. Oh well - two eggs a day isn't bad from 3 hens...... must increase the flock soon though. Hmmm does 3 constitute a "flock" I wonder?

Monday 10 August 2009

Sun still shining....

.... though we did have some rain today. Forecast is for winds and rain later in the week so I'm making the most of it!

I've been busy with visitors over the weekend, and this evening, in anticipation of aforementioned winds, I have been harvesting the glut of the broad beans and freezing the surplus before they get battered by the elements.

So no time for a blog entry - you will have to be satisfied with the above sunset taken on Friday night!

Thursday 6 August 2009

The sun is shining....

...... sorry for all those of you suffering from excessive heatwaves, rain, winter or other weather, but I am rejoicing in the SUN!! This week has been glorious, and apart from the fact I *love* it, the dry weather and sunshine also benefit all the folk who have been preparing for the various shows around the county. Yes this is Show Week, where parishes and islands have agricultural shows full of cattle, sheep, ponies, dogs, chickens, ducks and maybe the odd llama or two, which have been shampooed and primped from the tips of their ears to the tips of their tails (if they have one....). And of course as well as prime livestock and pets there will be craft stalls and flower and vegetable judging.

Today was "Dounby Show Day" - the West Mainland (of Orkney) show. Banks, the council offices and some shops still close for "Dounby Show Day", though with increased tourists visiting I think closure is less frequent now. And it all culminates on Saturday in "County Show Day" - the main show taking place on the outskirts of Kirkwall. In recent years the shows have been plagued by bad weather and of course the infamous "foot and mouth". So it is great that the weather is so glorious for this week, when everyone's hard work can be on show.

Quite a few folk from the island go over for the "County Show" but this year I have visitors, so we shall be touring around on Saturday instead - I'm hoping the "hot spots" of Skara Brae etc are a little quieter with folk attending the Show but who knows?!

There has also been a sea angling competition based in Stromness and organised by the European Federation of Sea Anglers, with anglers from all over the world attending. The picture at the top of today's blog entry is part of the flotilla of small boats that have been sailing in and out of the harbour all this week. The town has also been very buzzy with families and friends of the anglers taking time to enjoy Orkney in the sun (sorry - did I mention it was sunny?!). I think one of the rules of the competition is that all the fish caught has to be thrown back into the sea, but some does seem to have found it's way ashore. Plus there have been one or two fresh fish stalls at the harbour. It's surprisingly difficult to get hold of fresh fish in Orkney - well unless you go and catch it yourself! I was really surprised as South we had the "fish van" visit the town market weekly. OK maybe the fish wasn't *that* fresh but still - it was recognisable as a fish rather than something vacuum packed into anonymity!

Better get ready for my visitors who arrive tomorrow. The island seems quite busy at the moment as various folk have summer visitors. Meanwhile the farmers are trying to gather in the hay, silage and other winter crops. So..... let's hope we can keep the dry sunny weather till next week at least - then we'll pass it on to somebody else...... maybe....... but don't begrudge us the sun - remember in the winter we only get about 6 hours of daylight!

(Photos kindly provided by a friend who wishes to remain anonymous)

Monday 3 August 2009

Nothing much in particular.....

..... to say today. It's been a quiet weekend as quite a few folk from the island were over in Westray for a wedding. The weather was good so hopefully they all had a good time and the bride didn't get wet and kilts stayed in place!

I spent the weekend pottering in the garden as well as doing a little baking. I'd been over on the Orkney mainland for a party on Friday night and went to the Co-op on Saturday morning on my way to the boat to find the shelves bare of bread and cake. So I grabbed some flour and came home and baked myself a fresh loaf and a fruit cake.

So just some pictures to share - the one at the top of the page was taken from Western Horn on Graemsay, looking towards Orphir (Orkney mainland) across water beyond the lighthouse. The one below is the sunset on Saturday night, with the sky turning purple.....

I love the sun but I am definitely a child of the moon.....

And this one taken today of Button among the lilies - neither of which need gilding......