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Monday 28 September 2009


I love mountains. Maybe I'm just fascinated with the way the landscapes have been moulded through millennia. Anyway while on holiday in Durness I took the opportunity to see some of the Scottish Highlands.

For some stunning professional views take a look at Colin Pryor's website. This is a man who stands on top of mountains and waits till the sun, clouds and shadows are just right before clicking the shutter. I'm a southern softie who steps outside a car and takes a few snaps. The difference is obvious. Anyway here are some of my memories (which it's nice to look back on after a couple of days of persistant rain.... was the holiday only 2 weeks ago- sigh)

In the photo below I'm sure you can see the vertebrae of the mountain on the ridge!

And rivers..... I miss real rivers.......

Sunday 27 September 2009


A brief interlude in the photos from Durness.

It was the the Graemsay Ladies Craft Sale on Friday (they call themselves "the Fat Cat's Club"). Due to the poor weather not many folk ventured over from Stromness, but most of the island folk turned out and a good afternoon was had by all, with soup, sandwiches and home bakes for lunch and a chance to browse through the "craft".

Saturday was a beautiful sunny and warm day. A reminder of summer, as Autumn had hit Orkney in the last week with a persistent wind going on for days. It only reached gale force now and again but it was very blustery - and annoying! Hey Ho - it's Autumn.......

Here are some photos taken yesterday.

Goodness knows where the butterfly had been hiding for the last few windy days!

Above you can see why Graemsay is called "the green isle" - pastoral green land with the darker Hoy Hills in the background.

And this looks like a dinosaur skeleton! It is in fact seaweed on the beach.

And the new "lawn" is looking very green too!

Thursday 24 September 2009

Cape Wrath, NW Scotland

During my holiday last week (which now seems a dim memory -sigh) I visited Cape Wrath. Apparently the name of the area is derived from the Norse word for "turning point" as it was the place where Norse seafarers would turn their boats to head for home.

We travelled over the Kyle of Durness on the "ferry" - which as you can see in this picture is a *very* wee boat. Yes it's the little boat reflected in the water....... But as you can see it was a glorious day. In fact we were in tee-shirts and borrowing sunscreen on the boat over. Fortunately there were no midges around.

The boat journey takes about 10 minutes and then visitors can get a mini-bus out to the lighthouse. However the road is very rough and I'd been warned that the ride was "bouncy". I didn't fancy having my bones shaken for an hour (30 mins each way) so we opted to walk up the track a while and stopped and had a picnic. It was so tranquil and beautiful. So it was rather ironic to find that Cape Wrath is owned by the military and used for "exercises" including bombing! Though obviously the area is closed and has check-points so tourists don't innocently wander into the area. Not sure how that works with the wild-life, but given a Golden Eagle was spotted by the tourist party the system works OK!

On the headland is a lighthouse designed by the engineer Robert Stevenson, brother of Alan Stevenson who designed the lighthouses on Graemsay (both were nephews of Robert Louis Stevenson, the author). The cliffs on Cape Wrath are the highest in the UK - up to 900 feet drop - though I didn't get to see those.

Above is the Kyle of Durness. We think the brownish water near the shore is the result of peaty water from the burns flowing into the Kyle (estuary).

Heather edging the burn on Cape Wrath

The Kyle at low water
e name of the headland derives, not from thestory waters of the area but from the Norse word for a turning point, for here the Norsemen turned their ships to head for home.
A dragon fly joined us for part of our journey

Wednesday 23 September 2009

Nirvana in a Chocolate Shop.....

Last week I found nirvana in a chocolate shop in a wee village in the north-west of Scotland. I should explain that chocolate is as important to me as air is for breathing. At island parties parents ensure I have a party bag of chocolate and sweeties so I don't steal any from the kids. OK not one of my more endearing traits, but it demonstrates the seriousness with which I regard chocolate.

Imagine my delight then when I visit Cocoa Mountain in Durness. Visitors can see through the clear glass doors to the chocolate making emporium - there is probably still an imprint of my nose that was pressed against the thick glass on a daily basis viewing with awe huge quantities of liquid chocolate...... Yes, dear reader, daily.

The shop also served mocha to die for (a double espresso, with chocolate, froth and liquid chocolate drizzled over the top) - I did resist the full blown "hot chocolate" experience as I feared I may die of joy and there is still too much chocolate left to taste to go just yet.

But I did sample a different "truffle" each day. The flavours run like a litany... black cherry and toasted almond, fresh raspberry, cranberry and cashew, chilli and lemongrass, ginger and cinnamon, coffee vanilla, whisky caramel, and my personal favourite - orange and geranium.

And then there were the bags of chocolate - with pieces of fudge, pistachio, marshmallow, almonds, hazelnuts or ginger embedded in the thick sweet delicious chocolate coating. And chocolate buttons, chocolate nibs, chocolate beans........

OK, someone asked, if we didn't know it was "special" would it *taste* special? Well I think so - YES! And as well as delicious chocolate (white, dark, milk) it was the interesting mix of flavours - who would think to mix strawberry and black pepper and clothe it in chocolate? Only a genius of a chocolate maker....... sigh......

As you can see from the photo above I brought a little home for myself. Yup all for ME! Well it's going to be a loooong winter so I need something to help my mental health and wellbeing.... Does fruit covered in chocolate count as one of my "five a day"? I wonder if I could apply to be their chocolate taster for new flavours........ a girl can only dream - sigh. At least I can buy the goodies online - I already have the site bookmarked. Oooh I just checked it and it said "Your shopping cart is empty" - I shall soon have to remedy that. Well maybe in a week or two. (Visitors please note - do not expect to be offered any of my supply of chocolate - bring your own!).

Tuesday 22 September 2009

Durness, NW Scotland

As promised some photos from my recent holiday in Durness. The photo above was from the window of the cottage where some friends and I stayed on the edge of the Balnakeil Craft Village just by Loch Croispal.

Upside down sheep?

The craft village itself is - er - interesting in appearance! It was built in the 1950's as an early warning station in case of nuclear attack - this was the time of the "Cold War" remember. Anyway although built by the military it was never used and was eventually reborn as a craft village in the mid 1960s and has continued since as a place for local crafts, and also includes a great bookshop which serves wonderful soup and lunches among the books, and the most wonderful chocolate shop - more about that tomorrow (chocolate deserves full attention)!

Durness is a great place to explore the North West tip of Scotland, and there are fantastic beaches all along the coast.

Not to mention intrepid surfers.... (or rather I think they were "body boarding"? or whatever the correct term is?). Completely bonkers......

Sunday 20 September 2009

Nope - not Orkney.....

OK I confess - I've been on holiday "South" - to the North West of Scotland, Durness to be precise. Got home yesterday so still catching up on emails, post, and the usual tasks associated with returning home - such as mowing the grass around the house as the neighbourly "ground staff" has hurt his knee, or was it his toe? The story changed during the telling ;-) - either way I felt I ought to mow the grass myself for once (well OK using a walk behind mower but you know what I mean). And I'm having to console poor Button who got beaten up yesterday by another cat. Her beautiful face is quite a mess but thankfully only superficial and the fur will grow back. Her pride is hurt too - but I suspect she gave as good as she got.....

Anyway had a lovely holiday and will share more later in the week. Meanwhile enjoy the picture of the mountain (and no I didn't climb it but admired it from afar).

Friday 11 September 2009

Skara Brae

I've had a colleague from far south visiting for the last couple of days. Among the talk of work etc we did find time to take a quick look at Skara Brae which is located in Skaill Bay (see here for loads of info). As well as investigating for ourselves this important neolithic village, we had also to sample the wonderful home bakes sold in the cafe - for quality control purposes you understand. It's important these are tasted regularly to ensure they come up to the high standards expected by tourists.....

Anyway - just sharing some pictures with you. Must dash - lots to do, may not be around for a few days - so hopefully these photos will keep you going.......

These photos are of one of the houses in the village

This shows the famous "neolithic" dresser - where objects made of bone and pottery were found when the site was excavated.

The village is now right on the shore and in danger from coastal erosion, but evidence suggests that it was much further inland when originally inhabited. The green mound in the bottom left corner is the top of one of the houses.

Tuesday 8 September 2009

Bring back our sunshine.....!

OK the South-East of England seems to have gathered up all the sunshine for itself and has temperatures in the high 20s (C). Harumph....... meanwhile in Orkney we are preparing for a bl**dy gale with gusts of 70 to 80mph. Eeeek! Plus heavy persistant raind.... I think Autumn just arrived.

Later sailings of the Hamnavoe ferry between Stromness and Scrabster have been cancelled due to the sea state. Our wee ferry will keep sailing though as the water here is more sheltered.

Oh well we had a lovely summer and I am always talking about liking being in tune with the natural rhythms of the seasons so I shall have to stop whining like the wind and welcome Autumn..... A time to put the garden to bed, turn on the heating, and curl up on the sofa in the evening among the pile of books I have gathered in over the summer.

I'd better go and see if anything needs tying down before it gets blown away!!

And the Met Office have just issued a "Flash" Severe weather warning - sigh.

Monday 7 September 2009

Tom & Jerry are alive and well.....

...... and living on Graemsay....... Tom & Jerry (as in the cartoon cat and mouse, not to be confused with "Ben & Jerry's" ice cream - that would be silly). Anyway, there I was one day last week, minding my own business and in pops Button through the cat flap. I noted the slightly muffled "meow" and did take time to glance across the kitchen. Yup, in her mouth was a dead mouse..... she drops mouse on floor and gave me that pleased-with-herself expression that only a cat can give. I stepped over the corpse and cat and reached for the dustpan and brush.

There was a bit of a kerfuffle from behind and I turned to see the "dead" mouse making a break for it, closely followed by Button. There then ensued the usual Tom&Jerry chase led by mouse, closely followed by Button, with me bringing up the rear brandishing the broom. We did three laps of the kitchen before I got the mouse with the broom. Before I hear your wails of outrage - I must clearly state that NO animals (or humans) were harmed in this exercise (well I was a bit out of breath...). The idea was to get the broom in front of the mouse so that it can hide in the soft bristles (yup I've been here before...), whereupon I scoop up cat and deposit her outside the kitchen (this is the tricky bit as there are two doors into the kitchen and she can nip back through before you can say "Jiminy Cricket" - though why you would want to say Jiminy Cricket is another matter.)

Anyway, after scooping cat out of the way, I deftly used a large yellow duster* to scoop up mouse and deposit outside in the field. First remembering to a) close porch door so cat can't get through cat flap, and b) put my shoes on else slippers get soggy. Meanwhile Button is up on her hind legs, front paws against the window pane, look of outrage on face.

I return and give Button a lecture about NOT bringing anything LIVE through the cat flap with her. She's a cat - she'll do as she pleases.......

I needed a strong cup of tea after that episode.........

*Duster - a piece of cloth that is apparently used to collect the dust, I, however, find it just redistributes it so have no use for such an article, except for the rescue of small rodents...

Note on catflaps - in previous posts I've muttered darkly about the cat flap that works with Button's microchip - or rather doesn't work. Anyway I wrote to the supplier complaining about the ineffectiveness of the flap and this morning got a call from the manufacturer's (Sureflap) general manager, apologising for inconvenience and after some discussion and rummaging around the cat flap (by me!), he is sending me a new "improved" version, and will also send me a version that is due out later this year which has an even better mechanism in it. So I shall keep you posted, but at least I'm impressed with their customer service!

Sunday 6 September 2009


One of my hens must be walking about very gingerly after laying the egg on the left - it's almost square! Well OK not quite, but it IS considerably larger than she usually lays (see egg on the right). Poor thing!

And these are my first "tatties" from the garden! Pink Fir Apple variety (though I am assured they ARE potatoes). I think they should be renamed Prolific Pink Fir Apple - this is just the crop of two plants!

Saturday 5 September 2009

Pastoral landscapes

Before the heavy rain of the last couple of days grass was still being cut for hay/silage on the island. This has been a good year for crops in Orkney as the weather has been mainly dry. So lots of silage and hay bales being piled up around in byres and corners of fields.

And on the sea, the "Hamnavoe" plies her trade back and forth several times a day between Stromness and Scrabster on the Scottish Mainland.

Friday 4 September 2009

Walk on the wild side....

The South side of Graemsay faces Hoy and, to me, has a wilder feel to it than the North side of the island which faces Stromness. Maybe the brooding Hoy Hills add to the mood, and the fact that it's less inhabited than the South side (although "less inhabited" is relative on Graemsay as we only have 10 inhabited houses on the island anyway!!). But - I enjoy a wander round the "wild side" of Graemsay.......

Thursday 3 September 2009

I saw a sea shell on the sea shore.....

Lots of sea shells........ these are photos taken from the "shell" beach just below Sandside. It's my favourite beach with cold water coral mixing with the shells along the tide line and above.

Wednesday 2 September 2009

Sailing ship...

Now this is one ship I would love to have had a ride on. The vessel was in Stromness harbour yesterday and sailed off down Scapa Flow this afternoon. She only partially had her sails raised but still looked magnificent. The small blob in the foreground of the picture is a seal also watching the ship sailing pastl.

Croft houses

Yesterday a friend visited (she's from "south" but now lives on Shapinsay - one of the islands north of Orkney Mainland). Her Grandfather was born on Graemsay in the 1800s and she wanted to visit the croft where he was born, known as "Crookshouse" which used to be the home of the Johnston family during the 19th Century. So after I'd given her a "whistle-stop" tour of the island and a short walk on both Sandside beaches, Mick from the lighthouse very kindly took us up to the croft in his jeep. His family work the croft with sheep, though the houses are long derelict with fallen in roofs. However S was delighted to visit the home of her forebears and, with dry weather and the sun in the sky, she could wander among the old stone buildings.

It seems to be quite traditional for the old crofts to be built close together with a small "lane" running between them. The building would provide some shelter for the crofter to leave the house and tend to the beasts in the byres. Though I bet the wind could whistle down the lanes, and rattle about the houses.

Scarratain is a house by the shore on Graemsay and still has a traditional turf roof (the turf would have been laid on top of stone slabs, acting as extra insulation). With continued coastal erosion it is probably yards closer to the shore than when it was first built.

The view above looks across to another wee croft house in the middle distance, with the Hoy cliffs across the water.

Tuesday 1 September 2009

September already......

........ like many of you, I've no idea where the summer months went. Fortunately, in Orkney, we have had glorious weather, with just a few wet days in August (sorry those of you who have suffered the weather for the last few months....). But just remember when Winter comes along in Orkney, we only have about six hours of daylight (if we're lucky).

And there was almost certainly a whisper of Winter at the weekend. A friend had let me stay in her cottage in "the country" on the Orkney Mainland at the weekend. It was in a beautiful spot in Stenness, with cows (and the bull) staring at me through the windows - I think they wanted to come in out of the howling wind and rain. Saturday was so miserable. However Sunday dawned bright and sunny again, and the shadow of Winter was banished for a time.

The cottage I stayed in on the Orkney Mainland was opposite the Graemsay Hoy High lighthouse - and I lay in bed and watched the reflection of the light flashing on and off on the bedroom wall. That did feel strange!

The weather has remained glorious this week too. (Sorry I have the British obsession with the weather...).

My vegetable garden has been delivering bountiful supplies for the last few weeks. I am like any new convert and am to be found haranguing anybody with a bit of ground to plant some veggies - "Peas are easy, you could get a good crop - use that bucket over there"...... oh dear...... This picture shows the latest crop of broad beans, peas and my FIRST courgette! I did a happy dance when I saw the courgette.

At the weekend I visited several folk who have successfully grown fruit and veggies in exposed locations or near to the shore. A friend in Evie (Orkney Mainland) has a lovely crop of apples (as seen in the photo) , pears, and plums. I'm inspired to try espaliers for apples in my walled garden next year.

I also discovered a wonderful new taste in something called "crumpled cress". It's full name is "wrinkled crinkled crumple cress" apparently! It has a very tangy taste, even better than water cress. So that is on the list for next year. As is spinach - though not sure how it will do outdoors, but I can but try.

The hens are also laying well, they have forgiven me for shutting them out of the garden, and seem to live in the willow trees outside the walled garden for most of the day. Today they were hunting for grubs and insects - they have clearly been taking lessons from Police Forensic TV programmes with the "searching in a line" tactic!