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Monday 28 December 2009

Orkney traditions - the Kirkwall Ba'

Nope - nothing to do with sheep. But the Kirkwall Ba' 0r the Ba' as it is more simply known, has been played in the streets of the town for generations. It's basically a game of street football, but with fewer rules! There are two teams - the Uppies and the Doonies. Your membership is defined by where you live or family allegiances. The Ba' refers to the game and also the "ball" - the ba' is thrown up in the town centre (outside the St Magnus Cathedral) then the teams scramble for possession and form a scrum with the aim of pushing through to their goal (in the south end of the town for the uppies and the north end of the town for the doonies). It actually looks more like rugby than "football". Only the "game" lasts for hours - averaging four or five hours, sometimes more. Lots of folk also go to spectate, but it is something of a hazardous spectacle - you need to make sure you keep well out of the way of the mele!

I'm not sure I can explain it any better so suggest you take a look here for details and here for photos of this year's Christmas Ba'!

As we don't have a ferry service (due to public holidays) I've never actually witnessed the event myself - though if I did I would want to doing so from a window high up! I remember the first year I was in Kirkwall at Christmas - stout thick barricades were being put over windows and doorways and I thought - Blimey this is a bit of a rough place I've moved to! Not then understanding that this was all in preparation for the Ba'! The barricades get taken down after the New Year event and the town returns to "normal"!

Sunday 27 December 2009


Still looks like the "Frozen North" over on the Orkney Mainland! And today we have sleety showers again. There has been a bit of a thaw but still a lot of ice about and more forecast for later in the week. Brrrrrr. Think most of the UK has been in the icy grip for some time. Bored now..... Anyway - thought you might like these bright rainbows as some respite....

Thursday 24 December 2009

Christmas Eve

Icy conditions are still with us. I was in Stromness on Tuesday and Wednesday and it was very slippery! There was 1.5 inches of snow on my car windscreen - frozen solid. So I did the remainder of my food shopping for Christmas in Stromness rather than going through to Kirkwall supermarkets. And apparently the Kirkwall supermarkets were heaving so I'm glad I chose to shop locally!

The snow has more or less disappeared on Graemsay. In comparison to the Orkney Mainland, Graemsay is almost totally green - as can be seen in this picture!

Today is Christmas eve and there was a carol service up at the Hall, and Santa was arriving with some early presents for the kids. I wasn't able to make it this year as I had some work I needed to clear, so I missed out on the mulled wine, mince pies and party games!

However I have an entire chocolate "yule log" all to myself - it was a tradition in our house when I was a kid to have this on Christmas eve as it was Mum's birthday and this was her choice of birthday cake. She would have been 93 today. So Happy Birthday Mum, wherever you are! I shall now go and curl up with Button, a mug of tea and a large slice of "birthday" cake! Happy Christmas (other seasonal greetings are available) and hope you are all able to stay safe and warm (or cool depending on which part of the world you are reading this in....!).

Monday 21 December 2009

Twinkling dusk.....

No sunset photos - but here's a very seasonal photo of Stromness in the dusk as the lights are just coming on.

In the bleak mid winter.....

...... the snow isn't really settling so it's just ice and slush underfoot and not at all pretty.... but that probably doesn't quite fit the tune....... As you can see - the sleeping dragon of the Hoy Hills is under the duvet - don't blame him/her.

Anyway - we have some snow but as described above it's more of a nuisance than the picture postcard effect. Still - today is the shortest day - YES!!!! Mid-winter!!!! Whooo Hooo!!! So today the sun rose at 0905 and sunset is at 1515........ I don't think there will be much of a sunset due to clouds, sleety showers etc, but still it's good to mark the winter solstice.

We've had poor weather since Saturday and it's expected to last during the week. Nothing as bad as some folk are having in the UK or indeed across on the East Coast of the US. Fortunately I have plenty of fuel so the house is nice and warm (as long as the power stays on!) and there is plenty of food in the freezer.

Though Graemsay is suffering not just from the weather but almost half the population are down with the Winter Vomiting Virus (norovirus). Not pleasant. I am in self-imposed isolation at the moment having managed (so far) to escape it's clutches. But the children's Christmas Party was cancelled at the weekend as most of the kids were ill. However Santa is apparently hoping to make a brief appearance on Christmas eve after the carol service so the children won't be entirely disappointed.

Last week the weather was glorious - so in the absence of any scenic Winter Solstice photos today here are some from a few days ago:

Reflecting sun on an approaching snowstorm:

Loooong shadows in the mid-winter

Monday 14 December 2009

Button is on a diet.....

This is A Bad Thing as far as she is concerned - of course. But she has put on weight since she was last at the vets...... I had hoped that increasing her tinned cat food would reduce the intake of wild food but this isn't working as she eats her regular dinner and then gets a carry out to bring home! So I'm reducing the intake of cat food and deciding she needs more exercise......

Day 1 of The Diet: less food for breakfast and when she sits complaining she gets put outside the front door and I lock the cat flap so she can't come in..... it's a nice day............ I make tea and wander up to my study to work - she's waiting for me sitting outside study window..... complaining loudly..... I ignore her..... after 5 minutes this becomes difficult........ I go downstairs and open the back door, she sits on the end of the roof pretending she can't get down......... I ignore her - I'm not stupid..... I close the door and go back upstairs to the study..... repeat of complaining loudly on windowsill. Eventually I put on coat and boots and walk along path to the edge of the roof where she can jump down onto the wall - she needs "rescuing" from hens who are also sitting at base of wall...... this accomplished she trots indoors behind me wearing a look of triumph ........ it's scary having a cat who is cleverer than me.......

And in this photo I suspect she is trying to work out how she can fool the scales....... oh it was ever thus wasn't it girls.......?

Saturday 12 December 2009

Another December sunset.....

Another fabulous sunset tonight. We are having some beautiful weather at the moment, clear skies, mild, NO WIND....! Long may it last. The days are getting ever shorter with sunrise at 0856 this morning and sunset at 1515.... nearly the shortest day.......

And talking of mid-winter sunsets....... The live webcam is now up and running at Maeshowe, Orkney's chambered cairn thought to date from 2,700 BC. At Maeshowe the last rays of the sunset on the Winter solstice shine down the entrance tunnel and light up the rear wall of the main chamber. Click here for the live webcam. Other pages on the site will show you pictures from past sunsets. Maeshowe is an amazing place to visit - you have to crouch down to enter the chamber through a long low tunnel (not for the claustrophobic!) which then opens out into a larger chamber, complete with Viking graffiti!

Monday 7 December 2009


I was in Stromness today visiting the dentist and finishing off some Christmas shopping. The dental surgery is out on the Garson industrial estate in Stromness, and I took the opportunity to drive to the shore for the view above of the sun setting behind the Hoy Hills.

Above is the Hamnavoe, the ferry which sails between Stromness and Scrabster (North of Scotland). It dwarfs the wee boats at the harbour, even the town looks like a toy beside it!

It was a very high tide today with the boats bobbing level with the harbour wall

Stromness had it's Christmas decorations aglow - the Christmas tree in the centre of town, and coloured lights strung across the main street. And yes folks - this is the Stromness "main street" - and no it's not one way traffic....... it makes for natural traffic calming measures as you will meet traffic coming both ways AND shop doors open directly onto the street! The road covering is natural Stromness flagstone.

Sunday 6 December 2009

Winter afternoon....

The sun sinking below the horizon on a winter afternoon in Orkney. This photo was taken from my bedroom window at 2.11pm today! It's been a beautiful day, very mild and no wind. One of those winter days to treasure and remember when it's dark, wet and windy!