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Monday 28 February 2011

Graemsay cats are bold and fierce.....

..and adorable! Well two of them think they are anyway.  Above is Button facing down the tide..... um..... I know.... she did retreat in the end - she's not that silly!  We'd gone for a walk on the shore and I was taking photos of the Sandside Pier that had been constructed around 1850 as a way of getting all the stone and materials over to build both the Hoy High and Hoy Sound lighthouses. As you can see there is a small gap between it and the rocks and this is where the local islanders would be able to bring their yoles (a traditional Orkney small boat) ashore and pull them up into the boat "nousts" - shelters dug within the ground above high tide. Small boats still tie up at the pier - usually visitors from Stromness or visiting yachts that tie up in the bay and use small boats to come ashore.

And here we have another bold puss-cat. Not Button this time but young Squeak who is just over a year old. Squeak lives at the other end of the island but her people and I think they communicate on the web when we are out, with Button giving Squeak the benefit of experience on How To Be A Princess.  Clearly Squeak thinks she can get the better of this Big Sheep! Squeak is very clever - she even has her own blog!

Note: another blog of interest written by Fiona from the East Mainland on Orkney. Fiona is a photographer, teacher (she commutes to work by plane & ferry!), and paddles around the Orkney waters in a kayak. She has some amazing photos so do take a look at her blog.

Sunday 27 February 2011

Sun and Spring...

The weekend provided more "harbingers of Spring". The fields are beginning to green up again. The round silage bales in the foreground are getting fewer in number as these are used to feed the cattle overwintering indoors, and the sheep in the fields. The Hoy Hills are in the background.

The hens (and cockerel of course) are enjoying rootling around the soft earth.  They seem to find bugs and bits and pieces to amuse themselves anyway.  I even saw a hedgehog when I went to shut in the hens the other night. I fear it's way to early for a hedgehog to come out of hibernation so am rather concerned about it... but hopefully it can feast on bugs and things and maybe return to shelter if the weather turns bad. I'll have to remember to put food out for it if the weather changes dramatically though....sigh.......

As you can see the willows are bearing their fluffy buds at the moment. The rosa rugosa has green shoots, and the "lawn" is greening up again (time to get the tractor-mower out soon I think!).

Orkney Year O' Dialect

The year 2010 was named "Orkney Year o' Dialect" by the Orkney Heritage Society.  I discovered some poems on YouTube that were written as part of the event and thought you might like to hear them. They are read in the traditional Orkney dialect - well one of the dialects. Each island has it's own nuances and familiar words.

Click on the links to hear them :   Home Truths;   High Coo; Sea o' Dunder

Saturday 26 February 2011

Spring Sunsets...

The sun has slowly made it's way from setting deep behind the Hoy Hills to just settling into the tip of the Atlantic at the end of the island of Hoy (the tall pointy bit in the middle of the shot).  Still hidden by Graemsay but it's another harbinger of Spring!  I love it...!

Below is the Hoy High lighthouse with the lights on!

Below you can just see the small round dome on the top of Hoy Low at the right of the picture (well use your imagination then!)

Friday 25 February 2011


As far as I'm concerned Spring is well and truly on her way! Above are the dwarf Narcissus in full flower among the trees that are full of fuzzy buds protecting bright young leaves.  The hens are basking in the sun, enjoying rootling around in this miniature woodland paradise.

These wee flowers are also enjoying the Spring sunshine.... I chopped their legs off as I was trying to fend off the hens to keep them out of the photo. Sian = Bearer of Food

Button(s) the intrepid warrior was also enjoying the sunshine and busy climbing trees to inspect the buds......

This is Button(s) looking rather ungainly after deciding that she was a little too heavy for the thin branches of the willow trees!  Tee Hee!

Sunrise is now at 0721 and sunset at 1730 - yes the days are definitely getting longer!!

Monday 14 February 2011

I'm playing....

....with templates on this blog.......  just fancy a change!  Currently sticking with plain and simple.... but let me know if you think anything doesn't work!

First Responder Refresher Course....

Today we had our island First Responder refresher course (for more details on the actual course held last year take a look here).  Last year we had some basic training in "first person on the scene" techniques for medical emergencies on the island.  Half the island have been trained and most of us met up again today for a refresher course. (And yes we wear this fluorescent jackets - a casualty would need sunglasses if all of us turned up at once.  We're a bright lot! Tee Hee!)

Currently we take turns on a rota basis, 3 of us on at a time. Potentially we could be alerted via our special phone of an emergency, but more likely we will hear via the island network before we get the actual call.

Because Graemsay only has a lift on lift off ferry service it's not possible to get an ambulance out here, and even paramedics or doctors would take time to get to the island. So we wanted to be equipped for emergencies and, after the basic training, now have a "shock box" (defibrillator), oxygen and other basic supplies.

We have yet to have a real call-out and are all sincerely hoping it never happens.  But it's good to feel we are prepared and have some training and equipment which may potentially save lives.

The Air Ambulance helicopter will be able to land in the field at the rear of my house and we are to be equipped with landing lights too.  When there is an emergency folk generally all congregate to help out as if someone needs to be stretchered off the island all hands are needed.

Today we just ran through our basic training and did some practical exercises using the "shock box" (not for real!) and practised putting splints and slings on each other, guided by Lyndon from the SAS (no not that one - the Scottish Ambulance Service).  I was pleased with how much I had remembered, but it was good to actually do practical scenarios rather than just "knowing the words".

So that's us "refreshed" for another six months now - let's hope we don't EVER need to use our skills....


Another website link - Mark Jenkins, a film director who lives in Stromness, has been working on his own project "An Orkney Tapestry" getting inspiration from Orkney culture and landscape. It is a "work in progress" but you can see some of the "video shorts" here

Sunday 13 February 2011

Dreich weather

I love the Scottish word "dreich" - it is like it sounds (onomatopoeia) - the weather this week has been miserable, wet, drizzly, cold and windy and miserable.  I'm glad I haven't had to go outdoors much. However earlier in the week was a sight to gladden the heart. The delicate flower above bloomed just two days after the 122mph Orkney storm winds of a couple of days before.  The buds on the willows below don't seem to have suffered from the storm force winds either.  I love signs of Spring (as does Buttons!), even though in Orkney it will be some way to go yet......

Sunday 6 February 2011

A calm day...

Today was just glorious, probably all the more so after the recent storms. The sun was shining, there was NO wind, not even a breeze and the waves were lapping the shore. Just beautiful.  Button and I went for two walks along the shore today.

The "shell beach" has been stripped of almost all the shells and coral after the storm force tides. However I *know* it will be back again - built up by successive tides and I will find "groatie buckies" among the shells again... but it may be a while.

The shore line continues to be eroded. I have a few acres behind the house which lead down to the shore but each winter chunks disappear.  At one point you could easily walk around the outside of the fence on the shore side. Not any more.  This year I'm hoping to get the field re-fenced and I suspect the new fence will have to be moved back a few feet to protect from erosion for a few short years anyway.
Lots of seaweed has been washed ashore so I shall be scooping this up in a few weeks to fertilise the vegetable patch once again. Below is Button assessing the seaweed for quality.....!

Saturday 5 February 2011

It was a dark and stormy night....

... that's how the best ghost stories start isn't it? Well no ghosts but Thursday was a VERY dark and stormy night.  Wind speeds of 122mph were recorded at Hill of Hammars in Evie on the Orkney Mainland. I have no idea what the wind speed was on Graemsay but the noise was tremendous.  I hugged Button for comfort - not that she appreciated it!

As you can see in the photo above the house had some damage. Two ridge tiles came off in the wind. Fortunately there is a waterproof covering below which will keep the room beneath dry (I hope!) but I shall have to visit a local builder's yard this week to find replacements. And no it won't be me climbing up to replace them!  The lead covering of one of the chimneys also came off in the wind - glad I wasn't around when any of this debris was flying about, particularly having seen the dents in the ground they made on impact!

I was considering sending Button up to inspect the damage as she loves sitting on the ridge but unfortunately for some reason she didn't want to leave the comfort of her bed. (I'm always amazed at how cats can traverse roof tops without a second thought about gravity....).

But the damage could have been worse, and compared to the awful weather conditions in Queensland, Australia, this is just minor stuff. 

But just before the worst force of the wind hit I witnessed an amazing sight.  OK the blurry overexposed blob in the photo is indecipherable but it was a bird of prey having dinner just below my study window! I was gazing out the window at the stormy seas (I love watching storms as long as I'm safe indoors) and I saw a bundle of feathers struggling in the wind and do a rather undignified landing. I thought at first it was one of the island pheasants, but it's movement and behaviour indicated otherwise.  Dusk had fallen and I had to get binoculars to see what was happening, but it seems that this large bird of prey had dinner in it's claws and proceeded to eat it. Sadly it was one of my blackbirds that had moved into the garden. I'm hoping the bird was a female hen harrier (they are frequently seen on the island) as I'd like to think that one of my beloved blackbirds was dinner for this beautiful rare bird.  However whatever it was it needed dinner and I watched  for quite a few minutes as it sheltered in the clumps of dead grass near the fence.  Once it had fed it sat and thought for a minute before taking off, tacking across into the wind - amazing!