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Tuesday 29 June 2010

St Magnus Festival

Above is a photo of the "Lord Nelson", a sailing ship that was in Stromness for a couple of days recently. It came and went under motor power, there not being enough wind for the sails - not a usual occurrence in Orkney!

Last week I went to a number of events at the annual St Magnus Festival. The programme this year included a number of performers from Poland, including classical musicians and a folk dance group. Each year performances are held around Orkney, some in large spaces like the Pickaquoy Centre in Kirkwall, and some in more intimate spaces such as the Italian Chapel.

This year I went to a poetry reading in Stromness, given by Simon Armitage, a British poet. Though at the reading I attended he gave a lecture on his translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, unfortunately some of the more gruesome bits! But his description of the process of translation of such an ancient poem (written in "old English") was interesting. After this session it was a brisk walk to the next venue where Polish pianist Eva Kupiec gave a fabulous performance of some Chopin pieces. Her energy at playing the music quite tired me out!

The festival runs for several days, so the next day I went to the Pickaquoy Centre in Kirkwall to hear the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. The Sports Hall was converted into a concert hall. I sat so close to the musicians I could have turned the pages of music for the lead violinist - if I could have read music that is!! As part of the festival the BBC orchestra had also been working with the Orkney youth orchestra and at another event they performed together. I was unable to attend but by all accounts it was an excellent performance and I know the young players enjoyed the opportunity to play with a professional orchestra.

I also went along to the Johnsmas Foy, a performance of music, dance, words and images conceived by Nalini Paul, who has the George Mackay Brown Fellowship and works with local performers and with the schools encouraging the arts, particularly writing. It was a very inventive performance on a theme "In search of Home" and was much appreciated by the audience, myself included.

I had planned on going to see some of the Polish dancers, but circumstances changed and I didn't get the chance to go. However I did get to a lunchtime concert in St Magnus Cathedral with a performance by Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti which was wonderful. I've not been to a performance in St Magnus before, the acoustics are great, but the sight-lines are not so good. Although I'd got the tickets on the first day they went on sale, many events are so popular that only "unreserved" seats were available. So at this concert I ended up in the choir stalls. However I really enjoyed the experience. I was cocooned in wood in an individual stall, as were about a dozen other folk, at the back of the cathedral. I couldn't see the musicians without craning my neck, so instead I gazed up at the Cathedral Rose window and listened to the beautiful music! It was a lovely experience.

As well as these various events I managed to fit in various opportunities for tea and cake, as well as chats with other Festival goers. I also managed to meet up with L & J who are on a visit from the US, and I got to know through my blog. It was delightful meeting them.

Monday 28 June 2010

Summer solstice

I'm sure other bloggers experience the same problem in the summer - too much happening and so little time to write about it! Anyway here, belatedly, are some photos from the summer solstice. Unfortunately the cloud came in during the evening so no spectacular sunset as you can see above. This photo was taken from Warbeth to the West of Stromness. A friend and I sat on the beach with a bottle of wine and some cookies watching the sun set and putting the world to rights! Even though it was cloudy it was still light by the time we left about 11.45 pm.

The boat trip over to Stromness in the late afternoon was beautiful. The water was so still, barely a ripple across it.

We passed a flock of gulls fishing

And then we passed into Hoy Sound with both Hoy High and Hoy Low lighthouses in sight. These lighthouses were built to guide the herring fleet to safe harbour in Stromness. Skippers would line up the lights as they came into Hoy Sound - if you are slightly off the lights show a different colour (red I think), so once they were aligned correctly they knew they were on a safe line into the harbour.

Saturday 19 June 2010

White Nights.....

Well not really white nights, but not very dark ones! I'm becoming obsessed with the lateness of sunsets and how light it remains as we near the summer solstice. The photo above was taken just before sunset on, and the photo below was taken at 1140 on the same evening. I was going to wait until midnight but I had to get up early the next morning and I was pushing it as it was! A Scottish Weather Forecast shown at the end of the Scottish news programme has been showing photos taken by folk around the country to show how light/dark it is throughout the country at mid-summer. Well Irene of Breckan sent in a photo which was broadcast this week thereby furthering our campaign to get Graemsay recognised globally! Well OK within Scotland is a start ;-)

Friday 18 June 2010

Memories of Graemsay

I was delighted to receive an email this week from Erling Leask, who lived in the house at Hoy High lighthouse with his parent and brother in the late 1960's. His father, Magnus Leask, was Principal Lighthouse Keeper at the time. Erling said that Hoy Low was already automated when he lived here but he remembers going to the lighthouse with his father to change the large gas bottles which powered the light.

He went to the island school where there were a total of nine students with Mrs Moore as the schoolteacher. Erling also said he had good memories of Sandside and being on the farm. At that time Sandside was also the local post office and Gertie of Sandside was the postmistress as well as selling produce to the local community from the farm she shared with Jock. Erling remembers being sent on many occasions by his mother Margaret, to Sandside to buy milk and butter with a new 10p piece!

I do enjoy hearing about the memories of folk who lived here through the years!

Thursday 17 June 2010

Carrot fly deterrent?

While out in the garden over the weekend I was busy working up a sweat when I noticed Button lazing in the sun beside me, and Red Hen sitting preening herself. So I read them both the riot act and insisted they did some work. Serves me right...... Button clearly put herself on carrot-fly deterrent detail...... Not for the first time it would seem - I'd been wondering why one side of the fleece covering over the carrots was sagging.... I have now found the answer!

Red Hen wasn't much better - she was eating all the worms which do so much good in the earth and turning her beak up at all the slugs! So I abandoned her to her preening once again and settled for beer traps for the slugs. So *that* is why I was to be seen wandering around the garden with a can of Tennent's lager in my hand!! Well at least the slugs will die happy...... Though I had to ensure that the bowls were secured under the netting otherwise I had visions of tipsy hens and a boozy Button on a Saturday Girls' Night Out bonanza!

Anyway - the garden is coming along slowly. I'm pleased with it so far as it's the first year for the walled garden. The grass has settled down nicely and I just *love* my new ride-on tractor mower! The veggie patch is planted up with peas and beans, potatoes, onions, carrots, shallots, courgettes (or they might be marrows - I lost the seed packet!), radish, lettuce, chard, spinach and strawberries. Some things are doing better than others - but that's gardening! There's a *lot* of grass at the moment and eventually I hope to add some flower beds to it, but for now it needs to be "easy care" and I need to save my energy for weeding what I have!

The flower border has some sticks which I'm hopeful will turn into trees (willow, rowan, birch, ash) as well as shrubs and perennials.

Note: For those of you interested in reading about other remote parts of Scotland, you may enjoy this website : Kilchoan "is a remote Scottish crofting village at the westernmost end of the Ardnamurchan peninsula, a two-hour drive to the west of Fort William."

Wednesday 16 June 2010

Sunset 10.40pm....

OK I know I've been scarce this last week, but the weather has been fine and after work I've been spending a couple of hours gardening. You know how it is at this time of year - you're weeding in one part of the garden and they are growing behind you in another part! It's a bit like painting the Forth Bridge! Anyway I'm more or less caught up on myself now - serves me right for being away most of May!

Anyway - here is a sunset taken on Sunday at 10.40pm - as you can see it is still fairly light. At the moment (unless it's cloudy) I'm not using electric light at all during the day or night. Well unless I want to read. I just love the "white nights" - though I do need a blackout blind to sleep!

Monday 7 June 2010

Dry stane dyke - Day 2

Um OK I know I said I'd post photos on Sunday, but well, it's tiring work making tea! Anyway day two of the course dawned a bit hazy but the weather soon warmed up. Everyone turned up, probably somewhat *less* eagerly than on day one, as I suspect many had sore muscles! But enthusiasm was revived and the task for the day was set - to build an "end" to part of the wall along with a gate post to match the existing pillar opposite. The gate post proved quite tricky as it had to be built in a square and so choosing each stone was critical. But once again I am delighted with the result! There was, of course, a "topping out" ceremony with a toast to the new wall with a "wee dram" of Highland Park whisky!

Every stone has to count...

Sometimes an adjustment is needed to make a stone fit in place

You can see the gate pillar taking shape

There are, of course, always those who enjoy watching people work!

Some interesting shaped stones were found! This one looks like a fish....

Button inspecting the wall to ensure it comes up to scratch....

Saturday 5 June 2010

Dry Stane Dyking

Well I am exhausted after a day of dry stane dyking (dry stone walling) .... um no I didn't actually DO any myself, but it's very tiring watching other people work, not to mention providing refreshments for workers and spectators!

Today was Day 1 of a two day course on dry stane dyking, funded by the Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership, with instruction provided by Brian Omand of East Mainland. I'd offered my garden dyke as material for the course and half a dozen folk from the island came along to learn the skill of building a dyke without using any cement.

This is the "before" picture

It was fascinating watching the art - stones carefully placed to provide strength and structure. The day had started misty but the sun soon burned that off, so I was dispensing sun screen along with tea!

Several other island folk stopped by to watch the workers and admire the newly repaired dyke taking shape. It has to be said I was more than a little alarmed when the first action was to demolish the dyke right back to the foundation. There was an awful lot of stone on my new lawn and very little in the dyke! I couldn't really believe that everyone would finish the wall today - actually I'm not sure the *participants* believed they'd finish it today. At one point I was in danger of being buried in the middle of the dyke just for having come up with the idea for the course! It WAS hard work!

This is the dyke taken back to the foundation as it was bulging out and unbalanced (doesn't really show up in the "before" picture).

Anyway I am absolutely delighted with the end result. Tomorrow's task is to build an "end" to the dyke so that a gate can be put into the current gap. The original end and gate post were demolished in the mists of time when the garden was used as a silage pit and the gate was probably widened to get farm machinery through, but no one knows for sure. The current plan is to put an 8 foot "farm" type gate in place, but first the end needs to be built up again. More pictures to follow after Day 2!

Nearly finished!

And even the hens joined in! Well OK they were just digging around among the earth laid bare once the old stones had been laid on the wall, but still they did their bit!

Friday 4 June 2010

Back home

Yes I snuck away for a few days in Paris, travelled on Eurostar with a UK friend to meet friends from the US who were touring France. Had a brilliant time, catching up with friends, touring the sites, drinking cafe-au-lait and vin rouge on pavement cafes in the late evening. Wonderful! But - typical British complaint - it was *too hot*! It was 29 degrees C! So I was quite happy to return to this below.... a beautiful sunset, nice warm temperatures, blue skies!

If you compare this with the previous post's photo you will see that the sun has moved across the horizon even in the short time I've been away. Nearly at it's furthest point for the summer solstice.

It's back to work now, which isn't too much of a chore when I can walk on the beach, and sit in my study listening to curlews, oystercatchers, lapwings, swallows and many other birds happily twittering in the warmth!