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Thursday 29 July 2010

An abundance of strawberries....

Last year I planted half a dozen strawberry plants given to me by friends, and as is the way of fruiting plants only one or two fruited in the first year. However *this* year I have an abundance of wonderful, juicy, organic strawberries. Yum!

It was a lovely sunny evening tonight and it was a joy to be out in the garden. Although the clouds are creeping in now, and the Hoy hill were under the duvet for an early night!

Behind the house the Hoy High lighthouse was standing bright against the darkening clouds.

Wednesday 28 July 2010

The Coal Boat

I was in Stromness yesterday and the "coal boat" was in the harbour. As Orkney is an island community most fuel has to be transported here, and usually in large quantities. So oil, pretrol, diesel and coal arrive via sea (as do newer technology fuels such as wood pellets). The coal boat is huge, and lies just in Stromness Harbour where lorries line up to be loaded with coal from the large scoop. I got to town at 8.50 am and they had been loading lorries for a while and were expected to continue loading until about 9pm in the evening! The lorries belong to local suppliers of coal who will take the loose coal back to depots and then bag up for sale on to customers. Of course for folk on Graemsay this means the coal then gets delivered from the local supplier to our own ferry to come to the island. So by the time it arrives it's pretty well travelled! Our petrol, oil and diesel comes up on the conventional ferry and as you can imagine additional transport costs add to the cost to the customer. Petrol prices in Orkney and Shetland are the highest in the UK, same for diesel and oil (for heating).

Lorries waiting to load at the harbour

Tuesday 27 July 2010

Scapa Flow Cruise (Part 2)

Here are some more photos from the "Scapa Flow Cruise". The picture above looks like a fairly nondescript subject - a skerry with a beacon on top. But to Graemsay this is a very important piece of rock - it's known as the "Barrel of Butter" and it has a weather beacon as part the navigation beacon on it, and that gives the all important wind speed during winter gales via the Orkney Harbours website! The history of the "Barrel of Butter" is slightly more interesting than that - it was so named as the seal colony here used to be hunted and locals had to pay the Laird a "barrel of butter" a year for the privilege.

Below are some rock stacks

A Martello Tower constructed during the Napoleonic Wars - used to guard against American Privateers.

The "Flotta Flare" - the island of Flotta is home to an oil terminal. Not the most picturesque of sights. The flare can be seen from miles around.

As there is a need to move away from fossil fuels, renewable energy is being embraced, particularly in Orkney. Though this is a controversial subject here! Below is a privately owned wind turbine on the island of Flotta.

Orkney is also a research centre for future renewable technology. Below is the Pelamis sea snake arriving back in Orkney waters for further testing at a site just outside Stromness at Billia Croo.

And below a closer view of the sea snake - presumably painted red and yellow so no boats bump into it?!

Monday 26 July 2010

Scapa Flow "cruise" (Part 1)

Yesterday a few of us from Graemsay went along on a cruise of Scapa Flow organised by the Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership. The "MV Graemsay" took us along with about 30 other folk, and local guides Tom Muir (Scapa Flow History), Tim Dean (Bird expert), Ann Bignal (Scapa Flow Ranger) and other helpful guides for a tour of Scapa Flow. The tour started at Stromness, sailed between Graemsay and Hoy through Burra Sound, and then passed by some of the small uninhabited islands, round Flotta and then back up through the Flow to Stromness.

As well as the natural landscape, there are reminders of the part Scapa Flow has played in both World Wars, with gun enplacements, search light stations, command posts all along the coast. We also heard about the plight of many sea birds who have failed to breed this year due to the lack of sand eels which are a staple diet. However we saw Gannets (colony on Westray), guillemots (known locally as "tysties"), Bonxies (Skuas), Arctic terns, and I saw my first puffin in flight!!

Below are some photos from the trip - the one at the top of this post is of a ruined croft on the island of Hoy.

Sandstone cliffs on Hoy. Where browsing animals (sheep) can't graze, small trees such as juniper and aspen hug the cliffs.

One "industry" in Orkney waters is salmon farming, below is one of the salmon cages in Bring Deeps, off Hoy.

Remnants of wartime
In this picture you can see the steps leading down to the lookout (photo courtesy of Irene Mathieson)

More photos to follow tomorrow!

Saturday 24 July 2010

Wild Landscapes

(Photos courtesy of Jenny Taylor - who walked the hills of Hoy while taking these! Graemsay sits between the island of Hoy and the Orkney Mainland). The north end of the island of Hoy has the feel of a wild landscape. The sandstone cliffs and Old Man of Hoy are landmarks greeted by visitors passing on the Scrabster to Stromness Ferry. However fewer people actually walk across the hills and heathland - although the ferry from Stromness to Moaness on Hoy can be very busy in the summer with 50+ folk with dogs and/or cycles. Somehow though once they disperse on Hoy the landscape can again become empty and wild.

Below - wooded landscape

The Old Man of Hoy - often climbed during the summer months, weather permitting. I was talking to some climbers on the boat the other day and they were saying there is a lot of detritus left behind by previous climbers. Wooden pegs from the 1960s/70s are still in good condition, but lots of rusting metal pegs etc littering the rock face. Such a shame that even a wild space is polluted!

Among the hills of Hoy

Friday 23 July 2010


Lots of fledglings around now - most almost as big as their parents but still wanting food and attention. The stone window ledges of the house make ideal spots for fledglings to line up for food and to practice landing and taking off. I try and not give them a fright by looming large over them, but this wee fellow didn't seem to mind (well I don't think he saw me!). I'm not well acquainted with the various species of "small brown bird" but I think this might be a pipit?

The swallows have been flying around too, swooping low for insects and their fledglings have been hanging out in the shed necessitating a protective cover for the tractor mower to protect from droppings! They also seem to like hanging onto the guttering over the conservatory.

Earlier this evening I noticed a partial rainbow above this cloud! No rain though, just pretty colours.

Thursday 22 July 2010

Stromness Shopping Week

This week is Stromness Shopping Week, a gala week for the town. In the past the local shops would display their wares on tables outside their premises. These days they don't do that, but decorate their windows, and there are bouncy castles, candy floss, and stalls at the pier head, as well as bands playing on the stage, and other activities during the week. Of course there is a "Shopping Week Queen" with attendants, and the final night there is a parade of floats through the town interspersed with pipe bands, fireworks and finishing off with a Big Party at the pier head.

The kids in the town love all the activity and many Stromness folk who now live away take the opportunity to come home for Shopping Week and meet up with everyone.

Above is a photo of the Edinburgh Post Pipe Band, who were parading through the town this afternoon in the sunshine.

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Unmade Bed....

In the late 1990's Tracy Emin won the Turner Prize with her installation "my bed" - an unmade bed..... I think the version above is cuter - and Button would love a prize - when she wakes up. I love cats when they sleep like this, all vulnerable, and cute and snuggly. I envy her suppleness, how *does* she get her paws in that position - her back paw is under her nose??! And yes of course it means my bed will be made just before I get into it tonight because she slept TEN HOURS. That's another thing I love about cats - they know how to sleep.......

Sunday 18 July 2010

Weather "changeable"

The weather is changeable and variable in Orkney at the moment! Sun, rain, wind, warmth - and all today! Tonight the light on the water was beautiful.

Tuesday 13 July 2010


These photos were taken at 3.45 A.M. on Monday morning..... the one above by me, and the one below by Irene of Breckan. Now, you may ask, why were we both up and about at this time of the morning? Indeed we were asking ourselves the very same question. The answer, of course, is entirely due to our feline friends. Irene's young kitten Squeak is an early riser, and Button decided to announce she had provided breakfast for herself. Irene spend some time entertaining Squeak, while I spent some time chasing Button around the kitchen as she wouldn't drop her "breakfast" for me to rescue. However I did find that breakfast was well and truly dead so I opened the door and out she shot with it (she's learned that once I get my hands on it I *do not share*!). While she tucked into her breakfast, I was sufficiently awake enough by now to realise what a beautiful sunrise was revealing itself. I'm sure it got even more beautiful but I resisted the temptation to watch and went back to bed!!

So - photo below is taken from Breckan on Graemsay looking towards Stromness.

Monday 12 July 2010

Orkney "bleeds" archaeology

Or rather the full quote is "Scratch the surface of Orkney and it bleeds archaeology". As well as the plethora of existing sites that abound in Orkney (here is a good resource of existing sites and monuments), there are continual searches for new finds. The photo above (courtesy of Tom Muir) is of a dig currently underway at Cairns, Windwick, South Ronaldsay.

Last year on the island of Westray the "Orkney Venus" was found. Now known locally as "The Orkney Wife"! This is a small crudely carved figure, estimated to be 5000 years old and thought to be the earliest representation of a human figure found in Scotland. The "Orkney Wife" is now on display in the Heritage Centre on Westray (click here).

Work is still continuing on Westray and further finds are hoped for this year. The diary of the dig at Notland can be found here.

Also last year excavations were underway at the Ness of Brodgar, between the Ring of Brodgar and the standing stones of Stenness. There's some info and photos from my visit to the dig last year here. Archaeologists are returning this year and work will begin from 19th July and go through to 22nd August. I'm sure they will have a daily blog again so I'll post a link once it's live. You can see a diagram of the site trenches and geophysics here.

Sunday 11 July 2010

Storm clouds

Earlier today dramatic storm clouds approached (underneath the clouds are the Hoy Hills!). The clouds were followed by some rumbles of thunder, and then heavy rain and continued wind. It's unusual to have much of a thunderstorm in Orkney, so it was odd to have TWO exactly a week apart!

Last' weeks thunderstorm was more dramatic with lightning accompanied by thunder, and then the hail, and gale, followed by sunshine and blue skies! I had visitors from South staying and we sat in the conservatory most of Sunday just watching the weather as it sped across the landscape.

However the poor weather did give me the opportunity to put my visitors to work ;-) They hung some pictures and helped me investigate some recessed ceiling lights to see how to change the bulbs, as well as doing a little light hoovering and helping with the dinner. They can come again! Though later in the week they did have the opportunity to "play" on the tractor-mower. L & B are sisters, and I thought they were going to start squabbling as only siblings can over who had been on the mower longest! They were also delighted to take part in sheep moving - or more to the point, standing in the garden gateway to prevent the approach of any sheep. L & I have been friends for years, and this was her first visit to Graemsay. I had forgotten just how different life is here to the town where we both lived!

Last week I had a lovely visit from another blogger, Dancing Beastie and her family. It was a lovely sunny day and we spent time on the beach with her two wee boys, S & J. Both the boys took great delight in exploring the "Shell Beach", lifting stones to find bugs, collecting empty crab shells, sea shells, and bits of coral. Then we went to the sandy beach at Sandside and both boys threw off boots and socks and went paddling! I love going to the beach, but often cast my eyes to the horizon, missing the microcosm that is beneath my feet. So I must thank S & J for reminding me of that wonderful world of treasures! As the boys were occupied with exploring the beach it gave me a chance to chat to their Mum and Dad about our respective lives, art, literature, horses and blogging. It was great meeting them all and fun to meet a fellow blogger.

Button was on her best behaviour while "her" home was invaded by strangers (to her). She had to thoroughly inspect guest beds, taking time out of her precious schedule to nap for several hours to ensure adequate quality of comfort for guests. She even stayed around while the boys were here. As she's a rescue cat (from Orkney Cat Protection) I have *no* idea what her history is, but clearly she is accepting of children. Though I think she views them as she does dogs - not quite sure what the point of them is ;-)

So, now it's time to get ready for my next visitors who arrive tomorrow. It's a busy summer this year!

Below is a picture of the storm approaching over Stromness:

Thursday 8 July 2010

Skara Brae

As I had friends visiting over the weekend I took the opportunity to revisit Skara Brae, the remains of a neolithic village thought to have been inhabited from between 3200 BC and 2200 BC. The remains are amazing. Above is a photo that shows the basic design shared by all the houses : a large square room, with a central hearth, beds on either side and a shelved dresser on the wall opposite the entrance. I've shared similar pictures before but I always think it's worth sharing again! I love this place. Now it is very close to the shore, with a sea wall built to protect it, and there are concerns that further work is needed to prevent more coastal erosion, but when it was built it was probably up to a mile or so inland.

As well as the neolithic village, there is also Skaill House to visit (see photo below). Early parts of this mansion house were built for Bishop George Graham in the 1620s. The house is still a family home, but certain parts are open to the public as a museum and the rooms are presented as it was in the 1950's. In the dining room is a china dinner service from Captain Cook's ship. Cook's ship put into Stromness on it's return home from his last fateful voyage.

Wednesday 7 July 2010

Sun and Cloud

I've had visitors over the last few days, so while I catch up and sort out some photos, here is a slight interlude (the BBC used to have "interludes" during transmission when I was a child - usually a potter's wheel or horses ploughing.....).

Above is Stromness in the sunshine - you can see that many houses along the harbour front have piers. This harks back to the days when almost every house had a boat. The houses on the other side of the street to the harbour would have access rights to the piers too.

Below - the mist is actually over some land - Stenness and Orphir have disappeared!

Below is a sky-scape. I love clouds!

And here we have a marsh orchid, that was actually growing in the bank down at the pier on Graemsay!

Normal service (or what passes for it on this blog!) will resume shortly......

Saturday 3 July 2010

Summer Harvest

The grass in my field behind the house is being cut for silage, used as winter feed for cattle and sheep. On the Orkney Mainland some farmers cut the grass twice, an early cut at the end May/beginning June and then one at the end of summer. But this field is only cut once. The gulls and oystercatchers love following the tractor and rootling around among the cut grass, and again when the grass is baled. I love it when the grass is first cut as it means I can walk through the field again down to the shore!

Below - Button enjoying the sunshine. She has become very attached to a plant I was given as a gift for the garden. It's called Nepeta - I have only found out this week that it's cat nip! No wonder she loves it so much!!

I've had to put an upturned hanging basket base over the plant to protect it, but now it's growing through it's protection and she lovingly hugs it!

Friday 2 July 2010

The moon in June...

Well the moon in June has inspired a lot of poetry and pop song lyrics - though probably because of the alliteration more than the connection. But here are some photos from last week - they were taken by Irene of Breckan. They are super! (I had to say that or she wouldn't have let me use them, but I think you'll agree they are great...!). This is the moon rising over Windbreck on Graemsay.

And Yes I know it's now July but I've had a busy week with visitors! Tuesday L & J from the US came out for a brief visit to the island. L reads my blog and I met up with her and J last week. Although they didn't have much time they wanted to visit Graemsay so they had a "whistle-stop tour" of the island on Tuesday. Thankfully the weather was good! Of course they were also introduced to Button, though she wasn't on her best behaviour!

Yesterday I had some friends from Stromness visit and we had a lovely afternoon in glorious sunshine pottering on the beach, and drinking tea and eating cake in the sun! Button accompanied us on our walks, yowling loudly when we sat too long.

Tomorrow I have friends from the South of England visiting for a few days. Hopefully the weather will be good (been a bit blustery today) and we can go and see some of the sights around Orkney!