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Friday 31 December 2010

We have WATER!

And I've been doing a Happy Dance - though I think the gods mistook it for a rain dance as it's raining now...sigh.... pay attention guys!

But water board engineers left the island at 4pm tonight and we have water and can use it! There should be more water coming into the tank than we will be using so that's good.  Some folk had lost all water today as the tank got completely drained. I still have some water coming out of taps but was not using it (except when I forgot).

So a great way to approach the New Year .... CLEAN!  I'll carry on using bottled water for a while till the system gets completely sorted (think there is quite a bit of chlorine etc in it at the moment) but at least I can have a bath.... have really missed my late night bath which helps to relax tired muscles. 

But my resolution is to be more aware of the water I use in future, conserve where I can AND appreciate turning on a tap and water flowing forth.......

Today's photos have nothing to do with a water shortage - but of water around Graemsay and Stromness taken on the boat home last night. Lovely sunset too, after a lovely day out in town catching up with friends.

The town around Stromness harbour at dusk and the sun setting over Hoy Sound.

Wednesday 29 December 2010

Still no water but....

... at least now workmen are out on the island trying to fix the problem.  On Monday we were all getting very frustrated as there was just no news of when the Scottish Water workmen would be out again. All SW emergency numbers just gave piped music - several of us hung on for over 15 minutes at varying times with no joy. Also the SW website had removed Graemsay from the list, implying the problem was sorted - which we knew wasn't true! So each of us tried various routes....

I put a message on our local radio station's Facebook page, and as luck would have it the partner of someone connected with the water board saw the message and passed on that we had no water and no news to the "main man" on the ground. Don't know if that was what did the trick or other avenues, but on Tuesday we had workmen out and they came back again today.

It seems that water pumped over from the island of Hoy is coming ashore, so it doesn't appear to be the sub-sea pipe (thankfully!), but it's not quite clear where on the route to our water tank there are problems. Various holes have been dug, but the field that is being inspected is also crossed by a natural spring, and there are land drains there too, so it's a bit of a challenge trying to work out what's what in a boggy field! But at least we now feel progress is being made even though it may be some days before repairs are complete (oh let's be optimistic and say days not weeks!!).

However, unlike the poor folk in Northern Ireland we have been sent a large supply of (free to us) bottled water. Neighbours are being very helpful and delivering it around the island. There is still water in the taps but we are conserving this for the cattle that are indoors. Not sure how long that will last, and even those who have their own natural water supply have noticed a shortage - suggesting that their pipes may also have been affected by the extreme freezing temperatures of late.

Anyway yesterday I was over on the Mainland and while in town I nipped along to see a friend and avail myself of an offer of a hot bath! Oooh it was wonderful to luxuriate in a deep hot bath - it felt really decadent to be using all that water!!

Meanwhile yesterday most of the island were over in Stromness for a party at the Royal Hotel provided by Irene & Bobby of Breckan as it was their Ruby Wedding anniversary.  Everyone had a great time, and Fran Gray from Hoy had composed a wee tune on her Ukulele which she performed for us all. It was a lovely afternoon and the singing carried on while we were sailing back to Graemsay!  For some, I understand, the party went on into the wee small hours.

Irene and Bobby cutting the cake again 40 years on!  (Cake made by Sandra of Graemsay - and yes it was delicious and yes I had two pieces!).

Monday 27 December 2010


The situation is now really critical on Graemsay as our water tank is registering no water. There is some water in the pipes but folk are trying to reserve that for farmers with cattle. There is still plenty of bottled water to go around but thhere have been NO Scottish Water Engineers on the island since last Thursday. Our ferry ran from Stromness this morning as usual but no engineers on board.

To rub salt into the wound, the village of Holm outside Kirkwall on the Orkney Mainland had their water go off this morning, and Scottish Water engineers turned up and sorted out the problem by lunch time!

All Scottish Water Emergency Phone Numbers just give us soothing music then cut off.  Really don't know what to do - as with all the utility companies you just phone a central number so you can't get to speak with anyone to find out what is happening. It's very frustrating - and worrying for the farmers etc.

Feeling very frustrated about the situation.....!

Sunday 26 December 2010

Water shortage

As the saying goes "Water, Water, everywhere but not a drop to drink". Although we are surrounded by sea and land covered with snow we have restricted access to water. Well not quite true as Scottish Water shipped over several tons of bottled water on Christmas Eve. Above is a photo of Button going to check the delivery of water which was delivered by a local farmer via tractor.

We've had problems with the water flowing through a sub-sea pipe from the island of Hoy for about a week. The water board men came out each day last week (except Christmas Eve, and obviously over Christmas) but failed to find the problem.  Hence the shipment of bottle water via our ferry from Stromness and instructions to not use what little water is left in our water tank on Graemsay. It's still not known where the problem is, but there is no water coming into our tank at the moment (not sure if this is because "they" have turned it off or whether that's part of the problem). Anyway what water is left is being used for those farmers and crofters who have cattle over-wintering in sheds and byres. The rest of us are using bottled water for washing, cooking etc. We're hoping the water board engineers come out again tomorrow (Monday) when our ferry service restarts after the Christmas break.

It is surprising just how reliant we have become on fresh water flowing from taps!  I have had to put notices on my taps to stop me automatically turning them on!  The idea is to try and *not* drain the main island water tank to try and prevent air getting into pipes etc, or pumping sludge round. I've been melting snow to use too but it takes ages and results in less water than I expected!

A thaw is predicted this week so hopefully the 4 to 6 inches of snow will disappear and maybe the water problem (or lack of water problem) will be resolved quickly. Though the bore of the water pipe which comes underwater from the island of Hoy is quite small, meaning the tank will take weeks or months to fill up again. It's possible that water bowsers will be sent over to the island (again from Stromness) but as our ferry is lift-on-lift-off only and with a restricted weight limit, that could take some time.

Meanwhile I am resolving to appreciate flowing tap water more after this! 

Friday 24 December 2010

A White Christmas....

... is almost certain for Orkney!  We had more snow showers last night, and freezing temperatures overnight so no thaw (and no change in the water shortage situation either!).  Above is the Graemsay Hoy Low Lighthouse taken by a friend from Stromness just outside the town.

The frost has been extraordinary for Orkney. It was absolutely stunning on Wedsnesday - ice crystals standing like miniature forests on every surface.

Frosted lichen

Miniature ice forests on the stone dyke

More ice crystals

Willow branch

Frosted rosehip

And take a look at this YouTube video of the Orkney Winter Solstice 2010 taken by someone called "Red Orkney". RO must live just outside Stromness as you can see the Hoy hills and Hoy Low lighthouse on Graemsay, plus the Hamnavoe coming in and out of Stromness Harbout and our wee Graemsay ferry too.  The photograpy is stunning!

Wishing you all a Happy Festive Season however you choose to spend it.

Thursday 23 December 2010

Nativity on Graemsay

Last weekend, despite deep snow, folk came together to sing carols in our island community hall. The children also took part in a nativity play.  There are five children on the island (though two are bigger than me!) and each played their part. Laughter was stifled as J. walked down the aisle dressed as a shepherd dragging his "flock" by the foot!  He then sat at the feet of Mary and Joseph, clapping his lamb's feet in time to the music! We all sang along to traditional carols, accompanied on guitar by Irene of Breckan. Then we tucked into tea and home-made mince pies before braving the blizzard which had started up and all made it safely home.

This afternoon it was the Children's Christmas Party. With so few children on the island the adults join in all the party games (some of us even cheat!). But whoever wins there are sweeties and chocolates for all. Santa Claus paid us *another* visit and all the children got gifts. Then it was time for soup, sandwiches and cakes before heading home in icy conditions once again.
The freezing temperatures continue and currently there is a water crisis on the island. Scottish Water engineers have been out each day this week but can't find the source of the leak. We have been told to only use water when essential (!), and the work team are out again tomorrow, possibly with a shipment of water to help folk over the Christmas period. Some crofts have working wells but most of us rely on the public water supply. Fingers crossed they sort out the problem soon or it could be a Smelly Christmas!  Though I don't envy them the task with thick snow and frozen ground...

Tuesday 21 December 2010

Winter Solstice

Today is the Winter Solstice and I greeted the sun rise this morning as it rose above the croft at Windreck on Graemsay at 9.10am.  The rest of Orkney also saw the lunar eclipse this morning but our wee island was shrouded in thick freezing fog so I saw nothing. This was a special eclipse, falling on the Winter Solstice so I was sad to miss it. But I imagined the moon turning blood red through the mist, and thought of all the people over the millennia who saw this as a sign that the Ancient Gods were giving fertility back to the earth again. However I consider myself lucky to have enjoyed last night's rising moon, stars, and still air, listening to the geese calling from near the shore, and then watched the sun rise on the solstice - magical!

Hoy High Lighthouse emerging from the mist

Sandside Bay

Monday 20 December 2010

The longest night....

Tonight is the longest night (with tomorrow being the shortest day) and our lighthouse has broken. Probably one of the few occassions in it's 160 years of history that it isn't working. In fact it's only since there has no longer been a "lighthouse keeper" living on the island that it has failed!  Thankfully the natural world has taken matters in hand and provided a beautifully still night and a clear moon. In the photo above you can see the MV Graemsay on it's way to the Graemsay pier.

And below the lights of Stromness making this picture look like a Christmas card!

Sunday 19 December 2010

Extraordinary weather....

.... for Orkney anyway!  Orkney is in the Gulf Stream so our winters are generally fairly mild, but very wet and windy and snow quite unusual, and even when it falls it doesn't last long....usually. Last year though we had some snow and because temperatures didn't get above freezing it stayed a while and everywhere was like a sheet of ice for weeks. So this year we thought we'd be back to wet and windy...... not so far.  We have had snow now off and on since November and these last few days have seen a lot of snow fall (for us).  OK it's not as much as other parts of the UK but four or five inches of snow across Orkney is VERY unusual and more is forecast.

I think I heard on the TV news that our Arctic Blast is due to the Jet Stream moving, so we have the snow that is meant for Canada.  Anyone from Canada like to come and pick it up?? Getting bored with it now!

Yesterday "Scottish Water" (our water provider) had to send out engineers to the island as their monitoring of our water indicated some burst pipes somewhere in the system. They arrived on a special run by the ferry and spent the afternoon looking for leaks. The island water comes from the neighbouring island of Hoy. It's collected off the hills in a small reservoir, put through a treatment plant and then pumped over to Graemsay where it is stored in a large(ish) water tank on the island. It is constantly pumped round a circuit to keep it fresh.  Anyway the engineers were out checking various meters, hydrants and other potential sources of the problem but nothing was found. It's thought the problem might be at the Hoy end, but under several inches of snow and frozen ground it's hard to tell *where* the problem is.  Maybe they should try water divining?

I have to confess I love the landscape covered in a blanket of snow (but I appreciate it's hard for those who have to get out in it). I am obsessed with watching the weather out the window.  I'm trying to get through a block of work at the moment so that I can have time off between Christmas and New Year, but it's hard going as I keep gazing out at the landscape! Another inch or so of snow has fallen this afternoon so I think it will be like this for a while.

When walking in snow it is wise to remember that what looks like a beautiful flat surface may cover dips and holes... as Button found out!  How to climb out of a hole while trying to retain your dignity....

Saturday 11 December 2010

Santa comes to Graemsay

It was A Very Blustery Day that Santa chose to visit Graemsay. He hitched a ride on our ferry to give presents to the island's five children, who were waiting at the pier - the wee ones wondering why on earth they had been dragged out of a nice warm house to stand on a very chilly pier. But glum faces turned to smiles once Santa and his elves appeared and the smiles got broader when they realised Santa had brought them presents too! Everyone waved to Santa as he sailed back to Stromness where he was going to visit the children there and bring them some early Christmas presents too.  Then it was into the pier waiting room to munch on warm mince pies and cheesy puffs baked by Daphne at the Manse who had heard via an elf that Santa might visit and came prepared!

Even though I am smaller than two of the island children, I didn't get a present :-(  I said it was probably because he noticed I was too old, but I think I heard someone mutter it was because I'd been naughty and, as we all know, Santa only brings presents to good children ;-)

PS - I'm very pleased to see that Santa shops at the Co-op!!

Thursday 9 December 2010

S'no snow!!

It was weird this morning as I opened the door to let Button out - all the snow had disappeared overnight!! The pictures in this post were taken yesterday afternoon -so it is incredible to think it has all gone in such a short space of time!  The Orkney Mainland still looks covered in snow and according to BBC Radio Orkney roads were treacherous this morning, with some schools still closed. However even on the Mainland it is thawing.

The Graemsay "main road" yesterday!

Hopefully the situation will improve further down on the Scottish Mainland and we can get further supplies into Orkney for the shops. I haven't been off the island for two weeks and the local shops I deal with have managed to keep me supplied with things I need, but I understand the supermarket shelves have been pretty bare.

A lot of the older Orcadians are saying that it is a situation like this which highlights how much Orkney has become dependent on supplies from outside the islands.  In the past all the isles would have had bakeries, and much more local produce was grown etc.  We are lucky that Stromness has an excellent baker but it is now the only one, years ago there were several.  Most of the milk in Orkney is locally produced and most folk have allotments, gardens etc. Meat and poultry are also produced in Orkney, but we are all so used to having "summer fruits" and supplies in the depths of winter that we wail when we can't get lemons for our G&T! Anyway hopefully now there will be the chance to stock up again before the next spell of bad weather.

I took the photo of the snowman yesterday when I went to the Graemsay Post Office.  The children at Hoy High had made this fine fellow in their garden, which also houses the island post office.  Yup - no shop or any other retail opportunities on Graemsay, but we have a post office!  For many years this operated out of the small building attached to Sandside, then it moved down to Clett, and in recent years has been at Hoy High Lighthouse in a building in the garden.  The opening hours are 7.30am Monday and Friday for about half an hour, and then from about 11.30 to about 12.30pm on a Wednesday. Needless to say most of us do our business on a Wednesday!  We also have our own postman too who collects mail from the island post box which is in the centre of the island and delivers it to the 8.25am boat Monday to Friday and receives the incoming mail, which he sorts and then delivers to each house. So yesterday I was able to go and get some parcels despatched and buy my "Christmas stamps" - now all I need to do is write the Christmas cards...... bah humbug!

Hope there is a thaw soon for those of you who are snowed in and there are no resultant floods!

Tuesday 7 December 2010

Bored now!

The snow almost disappeared over the weekend but then we had an inch or so fall within an hour yesterday! Today has been a bit of a thaw, more snow, thaw, snow, thaw, currently snowing... REALLY bored with this now!

I have plenty of supplies and no real need to get out (thanks to the wonders of the internet I can work from home - I work as a health researcher for UK Universities). However I'm getting "cabin fever" after nearly two weeks of either snow or gales. Whine...moan!  To be fair we haven't had as much snow as the rest of Scotland or the rest of the UK. Though buses on the Orkney mainland have and haven't been running and the airport is open then closed then open! Same with the schools. Yesterday it was announced the schools were open then they closed at mid-day due to the amount of snow falling!

Yesterday was also very beautiful though when it was snowing - huge flakes of snow.  So here are yet more pictures of snow!  And Button - who still likes to come for her morning perambulation with me but is glad we don't go too far!
"The snow is over my paws - can we go in NOW!"

Saturday 4 December 2010

A load of rubbish....

Well not specifically this post! But above is a photo of our weekly "rubbish collection" from the island.  Each household can leave black plastic sacks of rubbish at the edge of their property on a Tuesday morning before 10am.  N. on the island is employed by the local council to come round and collect the sacks and transport them to the pier and place them in the metal container being lifted in the picture above.  The container is then taken over to Stromness where the local council truck empties it into the back of the "refuse truck" and the container is then returned to the island. The rubbish is then taken by truck to a central point on the Orkney Mainland and it is either shipped to Shetland, where it is then used in a giant burning operation which fuels a heating system for part of Lerwick (great idea!) or goes into landfill (not a great idea). There are Scottish government targets on recycling which each local council has to attain, and there are also schemes set up with funding on various islands for recycling of furniture, paint, timber, and indeed anything you can think of!

Graemsay is one of the few islands in Orkney that has no recycling facility. Most of the other islands and the Orkney Mainland also get regular "recycling" collections from the local council for items such as glass, tins and plastic. However our ferry is a lift-on-lift-off type and most recycling bins are too heavy for our ferry to manage, and seemingly the council don't want to fund an alternative.

In Orkney we also have "Freegle" which is a web-based facility (think it might be worldwide but with local sections) and folk can post items they want to dispose of or are looking for and swaps can take place between individuals.  Of course there is also Radio Orkney's "Bruck" programme (bruck meaning rubbish in Orcadian) and information is exchanged on items wanted to available to swap or pass on.

Stromness and Kirkwall also has what is referred to as "the tip" where folk can take unwanted items but because of health and safety and other rules only deposits can be made, no one is able to take stuff *out* so it ends up in landfill, .  However Stromness is soon to have a recycling centre operating, which has been set up by Orkney Zero Waste, a local charity that I'm involved with. In a time of recession I think folk will be turning more and more to "recycling" or "upcycling" (which is taking something and making something new out of it).

Meanwhile the only recycling I do is of food - giving scraps and left-overs to the hens who "upcycle" it into lovely fresh eggs!

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Arctic Smoke

Here are some photos of Arctic Sea Smoke (defined by the Met Office as "Evaporation fog or steam fog which is formed when water vapour is added to air which is much colder than the vapor's source; most commonly, when very cold air drifts across relatively warm water").  Very pretty!

It snowed again last night and then froze and today I doubt the temperature is above freezing.  However seemingly the schools are open in Orkney!  Though no school buses so I'm not sure how many children have been able to get to school. Kirkwall airport was open but a number of Scottish airports are shut so I'm not sure how much traffic has been coming in.  Even one of the London airports is closed today due to the weather conditions!  This is quite unusual for so early in the winter.

The little town of Stromness across the water looks very pretty in a blanket of snow!

Monday 29 November 2010

Yes more snow....

Well to be honest it has thawed then snowed again, so we don't really have any deeper snow than we did before. When I went out to shut the hens in for the night a couple of hours ago it was still thawing, but who knows what the next few days will bring.  All the schools in Orkney were closed today as lots of the rural roads are tricky to travel along. Not that the island kids seemed to mind having another day off school - they were out with sledges earlier today! I think all the children throughout Orkney are hoping for more snow and all the parents are longing for a thaw!  Although Orkney isn't doing too badly with snow it is far worse south in Scotland. I think the main route (A9) has been blocked for much of the day.  Thankfully I don't need to go anyway in a hurry!

Above is sunrise this morning rising above the hill at Windbreck at about 8.45am.  Most of the fields are empty around Sandside now as a lot of the cattle have been taken indoors for the winter, and sheep moved to other fields.  So the fields are left to the curlews and lapwings, who have been a bit disconsolate the last few days.

Last night there was a bit of a breeze and I love the way the snow is clinging to the stone in the garden dyke.

Snow over the Orphir Hills on the Orkney Mainland

Sunday 28 November 2010

More snow....

More snow overnight. Still not very deep on Graemsay, and very crunchy so fun to walk in (unless you have paws). I'm staying nice and snug indoors most of the time, as is Button, but we both "took the air" this morning.

The young hens are somewhat bewildered as to where all the grass has gone. I cooked up some spaghetti and rice for them as a treat (they like spaghetti as they think it's a pale worm!).

Water running from a land drain is frozen on the shore.

Another snow shower coming in

Time to head home to the warm!

Saturday 27 November 2010


We're not having as bad a time as other parts of the UK (yet), but we have snow and the occasional blizzard! I went out this morning to feed the hens and they were still roosting - the snow on the roof made the hen house dark and they thought it was night time!  They were surprised to see me with breakfast......  However I have kept them shut in for the day as there are some young birds there and I'm not convinced they understand it's better to stay indoors during a blizzard!  Charlie the barn cat was glad to have breakfast, but at least he has a lovely warm hay barn to sleep and hunt in.  I gave him "extra rations" but I suspect he's probably getting plenty of food from the mice moving out of the field into the barn! The garden birds were glad of more fat balls, seeds and peanuts, and with the hens shut in I was able to leave food on the ground for the blackbirds - though of course the sparrows and starlings were just as happy to eat it.

I was due to go over to Stromness last night as various galleries were having openings of their Christmas exhibitions. However after phoning the ferry skipper's wife to book the boat she advised me the wind was due to get up and snow to come in so I cancelled. Just as well as we have enough snow to make driving difficult and slippery!

So I'm snug indoors with a slightly grumpy Button (a bored cat is an annoying cat!) and am just watching the weather pass over. I have lots of work to be do so I'll just get my head down and get on with it and await the thaw!

Here comes the blizzard again!

Friday 26 November 2010

A dusting of snow

Just a light dusting of snow across Brinkies Brae in Stromness but the clouds speak of more to come.  It's blooming cold too!

Beach Day....

OK I confess these photos were taken a couple of weeks ago before the gales and the extreme weather. However I enjoy looking at them when the weather is quite "challenging"! 

A memory of summer

I was trying an "artistic" photo of an old winch but Button had to get into the picture!

And again.......

Seaweed piled up after a recent gale