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Thursday 31 March 2011

Cargo run

Each Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday we have a "cargo run" to the island from Stromness.  This week was busy with about 30 ton of scalpings arriving. The Community Council purchased the scalpings (a by product from a local quarry) and shipped them to the Graemsay for local householders to buy and use to repair their private roads to their crofts and houses. We have about 3 miles or so of public road maintained by the Orkney Islands Council and several miles of private road, which are maintained by each landowner. Some trips to the pier can be quite bumpy!!

As well as delivering these large bags, the ferry also took away our rubbish container - each householder can put their rubbish in black plastic sacks into this container.  It's then taken away for landfill.  Sadly we have no recycling on Graemsay, despite the community wanting to have such a facility.  But cost and logistics seem to defeat any of our suggestions.  Although other islands in Orkney have active recycling facilities, because our island has so few folk and we have a lift-on-lift-off ferry, the same system doesn't work for us.

As well as delivering such material as scalpings, farm feed etc the ferry will also bring over boxes of groceries and other household supplies which we can order from the town.  It's a great system which means I need never run out of milk, or more importantly, chocolate!

Monday 28 March 2011

Tree Planting (OK "stick" planting!)...

On first arrival Orkney seems treeless but there are quite a few trees and even ancient woodland. You just need to know where to look as they hunker down in valleys and other sheltered spots. Some are very hardy and cling to cliff edges too.

Anyway today I did my bit for bringing some more trees into the landscape with a planting day in my field behind the house. My friend, Jenny, who is project officer for the Orkney Woodland Project, came over to help plant, along with another friend, Fiona.  Fortunately, given the task and the poor weather, we were also aided and abetted by my neighbours, Sandra, and her young children, Becky, Katie and James. Another neighbour, Arthur, helped prepare the ground prior to planting by spraying with "roundup" weedkiller, and strimming some of the old grass. He had arrived earlier today too and kindly lent his super-Strimmer, some stakes, and sharpened spades.  So we were all set for a busy afternoon.....

It doesn't look much in the photos, but in a few years time there should be a nice cluster of birch, rowan, ash, willow, and my pride - an Aspen!  Aspens are rare in Orkney, and when planted are noted on a grid to be followed up in years to come.  Hopefully my solitary Aspen will grow strong (they are very robust trees) and throw out suckers and eventually there will be a small grove of Aspens!

The corner of the field is quite close to the shore, but all these trees are of known provenance and are of Orkney stock so are robust versions of their species.  In addition we mulch matted them to help protect them from being overgrown, and create a "micro-climate" for them.  No tree guards were needed as there are no rabbits on the island. So.... I look forward to watching my wee patch of "sticks" grow!

The first tree planted

The working party

Trying to cut up the mulch matting (plastic) in the wind was a challenge

It's a very tiring activity for a wee boy.... a snooze among the willows is called for

The tired workers (I just "supervised" and provided tea and chocolate...).  Well done everyone!

Wednesday 23 March 2011

"I'm coming over for a coffee"...

was a familiar phrase when I lived "south". Friends would drop by for coffee. Even on Graemsay neighbours will pop by...... however I was somewhat startled this morning to get a phone call from the ferry from someone I had last (and first) met in 2008!  "Hi Sian, it's Louisa, I'm on the boat and coming over to you for coffee - I'll be there in 10 minutes!".  "Fantastic!" I replied while simultaneously thinking "WHAT?!; Have I even GOT proper coffee; oh god the kitchen's a mess what will she think; and I haven't fed the hens and cats yet...".  Spontaneity in the form of "dropping in for coffee" just doesn't happen on Graemsay when it takes meticulous thought and planning to work round the ferry schedule.....

But there I was at 11am this morning sitting in the conservatory having a chat with Louisa Waugh, author of "Hearing Birds Fly (a year in a Mongolian village)" and "Selling Olga: Stories of human trafficking and resistance", and discussing her new book (yet to be published) about her recent experiences in Gaza as a human rights worker.  Part of her role in Gaza was recording the names of the children killed in the conflict and building up a story in photos and anecdotes so they wouldn't be forgotten. They wouldn't be "just another child" lost in yet another conflict far on the other side of the globe. As you can see - she is an extra-ordinary woman, and there we were chatting like old friends over coffee - on Graemsay!

I'd missed Louisa's reading from her latest book at the Pier Arts Centre last night as the logistics of another overnight stay in the town had defeated me.  So I was delighted to have my own private reading and hear Louisa telling me the story of the train to Gaza City, and the delights of the Lingerie Market in Gaza (oh yes!).

OK I'm gushing a bit, but I love listening to her as she is a great story-teller.  Some folk are excellent writers but they just miss the beat when reading even their own work.  Louisa tells her stories in a way that draw you into the world, that help you see people as individuals and not just as groups defined by their conflict. I'm looking forward to reading the book when it's published - soon I hope.

And it was fun too because as I was trying to quiz Louisa on her recent travels etc, she was equally quizzing me on life on Graemsay - which seems so ordinary to me now, that I forget that living on a small island is rather different.  But I live in a regular house - a very nice regular house, with adequate heating, water etc, and I can afford to take care of myself, eat, live etc, safe from the mild climate (compared to Mongolia!) and with little danger of conflict that will threaten my safety. It all seemed very ordinary and far from the exotic life of living with Mongolian nomads, or in the strife torn city of Gaza.

But that is one of the brilliant things in Orkney - you get to meet extra-ordinary people in an "ordinary" setting and can vicariously share in their life experiences. After her brief coffee stop she was off to explore Hoy for the afternoon before returning to Stromness where she has made many friends already. I caught a glimpse today of why she is such a good writer - she asks lots of questions and is really *interested* in people - she remembered things I'd said when we'd first met in the pub after her previous literary reading in 2008. She remembers details, she asks questions and she's interested - all this contributes to her very atmospheric writing.

I was laughing to myself as I drove back from the pier - when Louisa said she was going to Hoy for the afternoon I said "You realise there are no *shops* there? Do you have food?  Water??" and then told her where she could find shelter etc, and repeated the times of the boats and watched to make sure she was paying attention.  This to the woman who travelled Mongolia alone and has spent many months living in Gaza City......... oh dear....... she bore my fussing with fortitude and gently said "Sian, I'll be fine" as she waved from the pier....

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Hazy Spring Day

After the gale of yesterday when the wind howled around the house, today hazy sunshine has shone, and calm has been restored. Above is the Hoy High Lighthouse and Sandside Bay, with the Orphir hills in the background.  Graemsay is getting green again....

The hens (and Cockerel) were out as usual today, rootling around looking for juicy worms and bugs. I have 10 hens and the cockerel - some are just regular brown layers, some light sussex (including the cockerel) and some with very pretty feathers but I have no idea what they are!  I just love hearing them chook-chooking around the place!

Sunday 20 March 2011

Almost the Spring Equinox.....

Last night the moon and moonlight were fantastic! Sorry no photos - but I lay in bed at 3am just marvelling at the moonlight across the bedroom floor. Eventually got up and sat on windowsill wrapped in a fleece and gazed at the moon.  It's supposed to be the closest to the Earth it's been in 20 years. Not sure it looked any bigger to me but it WAS magnificant.  I've always been a "moon-child". The light reflected on the waves gently lapping the shore just below the house. I could just make out the swish-swish of the waves as they broke on the shore... magical.

However the day dawned grey and breezy which was a disappointment! But I have managed to get out to do a little bit of gardening - just tidying up and planning really, but lovely to be outdoors.

The "daffs" (daffodils) are in bloom now, and my new hens have started laying peedie (small) eggs!

And lots of fluffy buds on the willow trees - I love glimpsing the Hoy hills through the trees (OK so they're only 6 ft high - but they're still trees!).

Saturday 19 March 2011


Still snow on the neighbouring island of Hoy!  Only on the hills though.  Otherwise weather is just grey and cool, but at least no wind for now. 

However the days are getting longer - sunrise at 6.18am and sunset at 6.23 pm.  Soon the clocks change for British Summer time too so it will be lighter even later!

I'm longing to move back into the conservatory (my sitting room for the summer) but as the weather is kind of cool at the moment I'm delaying the move.  Heating oil was 62p a litre last time I checked so I don't want to waste fuel heating the space when the sitting room in the main house is perfectly adequate.  But I so love the view from the conservatory - so for now it's pulling on another sweater to sit out there for a while!

The birds seem to have found their voice again - last night the air is filled with the sound of oyster-catchers and lapwings.  I just LOVE this time of year!

Below is Ward Hill on the island of Hoy with the fluffy willow buds in the foreground. Above the snow covered hills on Hoy and the green island of Graemsay in the foreground!

Tuesday 15 March 2011


...... I missed a magnificant display of the "Merry Dancers" (Northern Lights) on Friday.  I did see someone had posted some photos on Facebook but by the time I looked out they had faded.  Also the light pollution from Stromness tends to spoil the displays.  Anyway please do look at what I missed on Fiona's (who lives on the Orkney Mainland away from light pollution) blog........

Monday 14 March 2011

Reminder of winter....

Today Spring has returned, but last week I went back into hibernation as we had strong gale force winds, sleet, rain, snow and it was really cold!  But today there is some blue in the sky, temperatures have risen and there is NO WIND! 

Spring is a busy time of the year for the crofters and farmers on the island with lambing due to start in a couple of weeks for most people.  Lambing is much later in Orkney/Scotland than down in the South of England because of the climate.  Although some people in Orkney will lamb in sheds earlier than lambing in the fields.

The cows are beginning to calve now too.  Most of the cattle are still overwintering in the byres, but as they calve are often released into the fields.  I love seeing the fields become populated with the lambs and calves. It's just like watching kids playing! 

Tonight we have our island community association AGM were we look at setting dates for events throughout the year.  A few things in the pipeline for Spring with a couple of course planned, one on Archaeology (not much discovered on Graemsay but will be interesting to hear some history) and one on photography.

Anyway I'll leave you with some pictures of the weather this last week!

At the top of the page is the approaching weather, below, it's arrived!

 The hoy Hills glowed in the dark!

But the snow didn't settle on Graemsay, just on the neighbouring island of Hoy and the Orkney Mainland! It looked quite odd - the hens and button enjoying a respite of warm sun one afternoon.

Sunday 6 March 2011

Fencing Part 2...

The "hole making" machine went back last week and this week the bit of equipment that bangs in the posts arrived (you can tell I've got to grips with the technicalities of this....not!). Everything has to come out on the ferry and be lifted on and off by crane, so it's a case of fitting everything into ferry schedules and availability of the equipment.  This latest machine just whacked the wooden fence posts into the ground in a matter of seconds.  Quite impressive.  The strainer-posts still have to be bedded into the holes dug last week, but the post-whacker was available this week so the wooden posts were put in line first and then it will be back to the strainer posts. Once the strainers are up it's time for the "stock-proof fencing" and then a gate.  I hasten to add I don't do any of this work - just take the photos and provide tea on request!

Friday 4 March 2011

New Fencing.....

I own a few acres behind the house leading down to the shore. The fence is old, rusted wire and no longer stock-proof so this year's project is to get it renewed.  The land is used for summer grazing by a neighbouring farmer and I love having the cows and calves in there in the summer. However cows are born Houdini so the fence needs to be secure.

So above is a photo of the magic drilling machine which drills down into the ground for the post holes.  Saves hours of back-breaking work digging (um no it wouldn't have been me doing it anyway!!). You can probably just see that the new fencing posts are being brought in a little further than the old fence - this is due to coastal erosion. It's over 20 years since the field was last fenced but slowly the land disappears - I'm hoping this new fence lasts 30 years or so. I'll be past caring by then!

Below is a photo of..... a hole!  I was hopeful of treasure but none came to light. The holes are covered with flags at the moment until the next phase of work begins.

Wednesday 2 March 2011

Hjatland ferry

This ferry usually plies it's trade between Aberdeen, Kirkwall in Orkney, and Lerwick in Shetland. However at the moment it is standing in for the Hamnavoe which usually sails from Stromness to Scrabster in the North of Scotland. The Hamnavoe is having a "refit" which is usually carried out in a ship-yard down the coast in Scotland. However this year it is being undertaken at it's berth in Stromness and the Hjatland is running the trip instead.

As you can see the Hjatland is a large ship. Interestingly when this vessel was brought into service the shipping company said it would not be able to berth in Stromness because the harbour wasn't deep enough. Instead the local authority constructed a new harbour area near the town of Kirkwall.  But surprise surprise once the ships were in service it found it could quite comfortably berth in Stromness!

It's a shame for Stromness as in the summer months the previous vessels would stop in Stromness on their way to Shetland or Aberdeen and on a Friday night the passengers would get off and go for a bite to eat at a local hostelry, and piped bands would play in the streets and the shops would stay open for late night customers.  It was quite a party atmosphere and a huge disapointment to the small town of Stromness when this ceased to happen.  Ah well they say it's "progress".....

I promise this photo is an optical illusion and NOT the Hjatland about to crash into the Hamnavoe! But it just shows the size of these vessels compared to the wee houses in the town!

Tuesday 1 March 2011

Ness of Brodgar Archeology Award

I've written about the Ness of Brodgar dig (on the Orkney Mainland) several times here (in 2009 and 2010).  Well on Saturday the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) received an award at the British Museum as the Ness of Brodgar project was named "Research Project of the Year 2011"! The dig will be starting up again in the summer and it will be exciting to see what new finds emerge.

More info on archaeological digs in Orkney can be found here