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Tuesday 31 May 2011

Spring! Spring! Spring!

Yesterday was glorious! Sunshine, no rain, barely a breeze. Yippeee!!! Spring is here!  I spent most of the day weeding and generally sorting out the garden as I had a day off from work.  My poor garden is rather battered by the stormy winds we had most of last week.  Wind is common in Orkney but we usually have lighter winds in the Spring and not so sustained.  Not sure if some things will ever recover :-(

But last night's sunset was absolutely wonderful!  I appreciated it all the more because the sunshine had been in short supply for a while.

Out in the garden I could hear the blackbird, wren and sparrows in the willow trees. Starlings were flying through the garden, swallows swooping overhead.  And in the field next to the garden, oystercatchers, lapwings, curlews and the odd pheasant were clearly also enjoying the sun.  I could hear the seals down by the rocks calling to each other.  It was just a blissful day to be outdoors.

My hens (and cockerel) enjoyed sunbathing too!

Monday 30 May 2011

Another great concert... part of the Orkney folk festival. This time it was on the island of Hoy, yesterday. The weather inclement (eg torrential rain as we got off the ferry!).  We all arrived at the Hoy Kirk rather wet, though all the visitors had been given a lift from the pier in mini-buses or by kindly folk.  We gently steamed dry in the warmth of the Kirk as the concert began.

The first group were Habbadam, the group I'd seen in Stromness the night before. They were again brilliant. I was pleased that we, the audience, gave them rapturous applause at the end and demanded an encore. The audience the night before had been muted for a folk festival night. Maybe everyone was just tired from three nights of partying! But the audience on Hoy made up for any shortcomings from the audience the night before! The trio again gave us a mixture of traditional Swedish and Danish songs and music.

After a short interval we were then entertained by The Poozies, an all women group playing a mixture of instruments including two harps! I'd never heard of a bass harp before - oooh boy I loved the sound from that! As well as the harps there were the usual array of "folk" instruments - the fiddle, guitar and accordian. The music was great but for me the best song was the last one which they sang unaccompanied - called The Last Train.  Sent shivers down my spine!

Fortunately the weather cleared up and the ferry journey home was dry and we could stand on the back deck and admire the view and chat with our fellow passengers.

Photos are of the island of Hoy. The one at the top of the post is of Ward Hill - the highest hill in Orkney, just a few metre short of a mountain! Below is Ward Hill wearing a hat!

And here after the concert, the sky brightened

Sunday 29 May 2011

Folk Festival

It was a blustery trip across the Hoy Sound to Stromness lst night but it was worth the trip! I was at the the Folk Festival Club, listening to Habbadam (a Danish/Swedish? folk trio) and Daimh (from the Western Isles, singing in Gaelic).  Both groups were excellent and the concert was sold out. I never cease to be amazed at musicians who play multi instruments. Both groups had composed their own tunes too as well as performing more traditional ones. To be honest I'm not a fan of "folk" but I do enjoy live music and this concert didn't disappoint. The town of Stromness is always very buzzy when the festival is on. Lots of sessions going on in pubs and other venues, so lots of folk around.

The concert didn't begin till 10.30 pm though so first it was round to a friend's house for a "fish supper" from the Fish & Chip van that is at the pierhead every Saturday night and does brilliant fish and chips..... Then we watched the cult film "The Wicker Man" on DVD....any resemblance to Graemsay is purely coincidental!!!!!

The boat over to the concert was very lively too as it went via the island of Hoy and folk from concerts in the town were returning home. A local choir from Hoy, the Stromabank Choir (somebody record a YouTube song!), had been performing at the folk festival that afternoon and they were still in good voice on the boat. They are "twinned" with "Stamp and Go" a group from Cornwall who sing sea shanties and were also performing with them at the festival.  We had a burst of sea shanty as the boat came into dock!

There also seemed to be guests for a birthday party on the boat - all in fancy dress.  I was somewhat startled when I got on the boat at Graemsay to be faced with Banana Man!  I took his photo with a fellow reveller, who begged to remain anonymous as he was looking very fetching in a frock. All I can say is he is a brave man in more ways than one ;-)   I will also not reveal the identity of the embarrassed lady who got caught up in the revelry.... though she seemed to enjoy the fun too!

Off to another concert this afternoon on the island of Hoy. Thankfully the wind has died down a bit.... fingers crossed it stays calm....

Saturday 28 May 2011

Orkney Folk Festival

It's the start of the "festival" season in Orkney, beginning as always with the Orkney Folk Festival. Lots of bands from around the UK and further afield performing in different venues from converted churches to pubs. Most of the events are centred around Stromness, on the Orkney Mainland, so the town is quite buzzy this weekend with musicians and visitors alike. Yesterday between concerts musicians congregated outside a local pub and just played awhile......

I'm off to a couple of concerts, one tonight - though the gale blowing outside is not making the prospect of the ferry journey very appealing....sigh... but I'm sure I'll enjoy it once I'm there!  Will report back after the weekend.....

Thursday 26 May 2011

My little chickadees.....

I've had a couple of hens "gone broody" for some time now. To be honest I lost track of dates but was sure they were well past their hatching date if the eggs were ever going to hatch.  I was giving one hen in particular till this weekend and was then going to take her off the nest. I know this sounds cruel but hens tend not to feed much when sitting and I have actually found a hen dead on the nest (hidden well among the hay) because she didn't come to feed. 

Anyway - this hen clearly heard my threats and got on with the job of hatching EIGHT wee chickadees AND got them from the nest several hay bales high along to the henny house last night!  I was SO surprised to see her AND the chicks snuggled into the corner of the henny hoose.  I shut them all in last night with the hens and cockerel and investigated this morning. All seem to be doing well.  I don't have anywhere else to keep them so they will have to take their chance and hope that the Mother hen takes good care of them.  I fear for them as there are ravens and hooded-crows around - sigh.  But to be honest quite a few will be cockerels and if I save them now it just means that they will end up in someone's pot in a few months time.  So.... I shall let Mother hen get on with it.

She IS a good mother.  Here she is gathering her brood under her. She makes soft chook-chooking noises and the chicks just snuggle under the duvet.

You can just see little feet about to disappear into the cosy warmth. I think the other chick is saying "Hurry up! It's cold out here!"

The rest of the flock seem totally unconcerned to have little chicks cheeping around.  I have had to apologise to the cockerel (a Light Sussex breed) as I have never actually seen him "working" so was beginning to wonder what his purpose was.  He looked even more "puffed out" today when I went into the hen house - SEE I DO work! he seemed to be saying!

I have had a serious talk with Button and told her the chicks were OFF limits..... she gave me a look which seemed to ask "And it's OK for you to eat chicken and not me because....?"  I told her it was impolite to eat friends..... not sure that worked either but it's worth a try....!

Wednesday 25 May 2011

Volcanic ash episode...

Above is the sunset last night - mostly due to storm clouds, but it does look like the Orkney West Mainland had a volcanic explosion too!

Below - volcanic dust all over my door.  I feel like emailing this to the had of Ryanair who was on the news last night saying he didn't believe there *was* a volcanic ash cloud over Scottish air space and he wanted to fly his planes.... 

And then this is my car

And during the storm this amazing footage was taken by the Shetland coastguard of the brave boys on the Kirkwall lifeboat rescuing a yacht in distress during storm force winds off the Faroe Islands.  When the helicopter returned to base it was taken out of service to be cleaned out having potentially flow through volcanic ash.......

Video of rescue by Kirkwall Lifeboat

Tuesday 24 May 2011

Rain, gales and...volcanic ash...

It's said that the weather in Orkney is "changeable"..... if you don't like the weather wait an hour and it will change etc etc..... Well yesterday and today we have been blown about by a gale with strong gusts battering all the poor trees and plants that dared to wear their green leaves too brightly, and the poor new lambs and calves.....sigh..... Added to that it seems that the latest Icelandic volcano to erupt is, yet again, causing disruption to flights to and from Orkney and Shetland. And last night the power went out over large parts of Scotland, including all of Orkney.  So - life is a little "turbulent" at the moment...... I'm hoping for calm skys and water very soon.... please? It's the Orkney Folk Festival this coming weekend and musicians fly in from all over the place to take part. It would be such a shame if this was disrupted by weather and ash....

Below the Orkney Mainland hidden in rain cloud, and in the bottom left the hens taking shelter outside the Henny Hoose.... It's a Westerly wind and in the gap between the left edge of the picture and the land - there's nothing between us and Canada! I, however, am taking the photo from the safety of my study window!

Monday 23 May 2011

Gardening can be a challenge....

.... in Orkney, what with the wind, the short growing season and my garden being so close to the shore with the resultant salt in the air etc.  Then add to that free range hens.... and it's a miracle that *anything* gets to grow in my garden! Though at least we don't have rats or rabbits on the island!

So.... in an effort to have *some* crops from the veggie patch it is necessary to erect barricades against my feathered friends...... however first I have to get the seed into the ground...... not easy with Henny Penny IV on guard!

Eventually they got fed up with being sworn at and wandered off for a bit of judicious grooming!

But then sneaking back when they thought I'd calmed down.....! Of course nets help keep the hens off but with a severe gale warning in progress it is necessary to protect the nets from being blown across the water with stones......

I'd made a cat's cradle of string for the peas to grow up, hoping that would keep the hens at bay... nope they did a kind of "chicken hopscotch" across the patch so I had to resort to *more* netting for now..... And Borage seeds now under a plastic container.....

Hopefully next year I'll get gates onto the garden to keep the hens at bay..... limbo dancing hens maybe? Irene of Breckan could teach them a thing or two about limbo dancing ;-) Now *that* is a story I cannot tell on my blog..... one must protect the (not so) innocent....tee hee!

Sunday 22 May 2011

Still catching up....

A couple of weeks ago it was a friend's 60th birthday party. I said I'd organise a cake and asked my neighbour Sandra at the Lighthouse if she'd bake one of her magnificent cakes. I asked for the theme to be a camper van as my friend wants to drive off into the sunset in a wee camper van in her retirement. The result was brilliant.

Note the dry stone dyke behind - it seems the skills learned at our dry stane dyking course last year were put to good use!!  It was a shame to cut into the cake but it did taste delicious..... The cakes are to a professional standard but Sandra just does it as a hobby for friends. All of the cake was edible - even the gravel!

I had the challenge of then getting the cake across to the Orkney Mainland. Fortunately all went well, though the van did have a bit of a dent in it by the time I'd unpacked it and a flat tyre!  All added to the character :-)

Another friend had made sushi - I'm just amazed at the time and effort people can put into food! This too was delicious - so I'm told - I don't eat sushi, but it did look very good!

Saturday 21 May 2011

Shetland Puffin-Cam

Have to admit to obsessively checking this! It's an RSPB webcam on a puffin's nest - she's sitting on one egg. Not much to see at the moment but I love watching her breathing!  Occasionally she leaves the nest but not for long....  click here and scroll down for puffin-cam!

On A Very Blustery Day....

...the only thing to do is sit in the sun and wait for it to pass......

Though that doesn't stop Button(s) demanding that *I* make it stop.......

Dear Button(s) was on her best behaviour earlier this week when P&H from Germany paid her a visit. I didn't tell her that they were actually on the island visiting Squeak....... she would have been so affronted she wouldn't have spoken to me for days! I enjoyed meeting P&H who are big fans of the aforementioned Squeak - and not surprisingly as she IS adorable (No Button not as adorable as you dear....sigh..... cats can be SO temperamental!).

Um..... I came home from my trip "south" to see find this sticker on my door.

It has been suggested (by a non-cat person of course) that it should be the other way round....... "A normal Cat and a person lives here"......

Friday 20 May 2011


I love bluebells - they really say "Spring is here"!  These are the cultivated variety but they come up faithfully year after year. They've been there years, planted by Gertie Seatter, who now lives in Kirkwall. Not sure when they were planted but she and the family moved out mid-1980s so they've been blooming since before then!

And here are Bluebells With Cat - Button(s) always has to get into the picture!

Thursday 19 May 2011

Holiday Memories Part II

No there isn't a photo for this entry, I was too busy at the time..... but there should be a photo of police in riot gear, and police mounted on horses, bikes, in cars and up in the sky in helicopters..... sigh..... I was taking a couple of friends from the US on an excursion to Brighton, in Sussex (UK), a short train journey from where we were staying with our host D.

It was a hot day, we had sat on the train chatting about what we might do when we got to the town.... go to the shops? have fish and chips? ice cream? visit the pier? Lots of possibilities were going through our heads as we stepped out of the train station into....... the police lines!

My American friends didn't seem to think this was unusual (M commented that she hadn't noticed *quite* so many police in one area before) and strode on towards the lines.  Meanwhile I began hyperventilating and suggest we stop while I see what the problem is. I'm assuming there is some kind of protest rally going on.  I wanted to avoid having to explain to American visitors that "kettling" (a means the police use to contain protesters) is unlikely to end in a nice pot of English tea...!

I approached some heavily kitted out police officers (have I mentioned I like a man in uniform?) and asked what was going on.  Seemingly there were two protests going on connected with St George's day (in an effort to avoid having my blog "flamed" by anyone picking up search terms in google I'll not go into detail - it's not that relevant anyway) and the police were there to keep the two different parties aside. It has to be said there were more police than protesters from what I saw - which isn't much given I'm way below minimum height for police officers so couldn't actually *see* above the police lines...  Anyway the police officers just directed us to a route that was clear and would enable us to head down to the promenade and away from trouble.... except things had changed and we ended up behind MORE police lines..... I was trying to admire the beautiful police horses but was also rather more concerned about getting out of the way of the protest before things "kicked off".  So I had to approach yet *more* uniformed officers (a girl has to do what a girl has to do....) and eventually got directed *out* of trouble...... phew.......

By the time we came out of the Royal Pavilion all was quiet on the streets so we headed off for traditional fish and chips! No photos allowed of the Royal Pavilion and not wanting to cause an incident which might just involve further police activity I complied..... see here for the web site if you are interested though - late 18th Century "bling"!

Thankfully I managed to stay out of trouble for the rest of our visit.....

Wednesday 18 May 2011

Holiday memories!

It feels like a looong time ago now since I was on the south coast of England enjoying a short break meeting up with friends from the UK and US.  We had a lovely time and the weather was hot hot hot! I avoided London due to "smog warnings" and stuck to the countryside.  Spring was in evidence and the trees were looking wonderful.  We do *have* trees and woodland in Orkney but they are rarer than south, so to have trees everywhere was lovely.

Generally we just visited open gardens - my only stipulation was that a tea room was to be at hand. I'm afraid Scottish High Tea does not equal a good English Afternoon Tea. I loved the three tier cake stands with sandwiches cut small, scones, cream and jam on the second layer and finally wee cakes (fancies) on the top. Yum..... needless to say I need to lose some weight since returning home....sigh..... I expected walks around a garden or through a wood to eat up some calories at least!  And yes I did get very petulant when it appeared we were lost in a bluebell wood and I thought the tea shop (with cake) would be shut before we found our way out..... I know what it takes to survive.....!

Peony - I live these though they don't last long....

I love a bluebell wood......

I dream of having a garden like this!

This statue was entitled Spring Awakening..... where's her vest!!

Friday 13 May 2011

Music night on Graemsay......

Just home from a brilliant evening of entertainment in our wee island community hall. Local musicians known as "Shoot the Piper" (don't worry they didn't) came over from the Orkney Mainland to give us an evening of traditional tunes and songs. There were six of them playing a variety of instruments including accordian, guitars, mandolin, wind instruments and... some sort of electronic bag-pipes!  The group are made up of local folk who have "day jobs", and perform in their spare time, but amateur or "hobbyist" they are not! Definitely a group of talented musicians. They were joined by young Andrew Mowat of Graemsay playing his guitar and Irene of Breckan was persuaded to borrow Andrew's guitar and sing a song or two. It was a lively evening and we're hoping we fed and watered them well enough that they want to return ;-)

The band were warmly welcomed by all on the island and the "ladies of Graemsay" provided a lovely buffet (oh no I have *never* professed to being a lady! Tee Hee!). To my delight there was a surplus of "homebakes" so I got to bring a whole plate of coffee cake home all for myself!

Below is a photo of the modern day pipes - a wind instrument connected to an amplifier and I have NO idea how it worked but it sounded good :-)

A YouTube recording of Shoot the Piper at last year's Orkney Folk Festival can be heard here but it was much more fun having our own private performance!

Monday 9 May 2011

I know...

....I said I'd be back posting soon but I've just been running to catch up all this last week. I'm busy working 5 days a week - all from home I know but still I have to put in the hours! Unfortunately I don't seem to be one of those people who can manage on little sleep either...... so... enough excuses.

Above is a Spring sunset (another one!). The sun is really moving towards the Orkney Mainland now so sets full in the middle of the Hoy Sound each night.  We've had some lovely sunny evenings, though still a chill in the air and a few misty days too.

The primroses are blooming. This year we have a glorious display on the bank down at the pier as well as along the verges of the road. I love seeing the primroses - they are such cheerful flowers!

The house martins have been prospecting in the byres near the house looking for good nesting sites. The starlings and sparrows have already been busy building their nests. Spring is well and truly here! AND I've cut the grass around the house and in the walled garden TWICE in the last week - it's growing so quickly. Thank goodness for my trusty John Deere ride-on-mower!

Tuesday 3 May 2011

Every girl's dream??

No - the helicopter landing in my field behind the house at sunset last night was not a Prince bearing a box of "Milk Tray" (British reference to an old chocolate TV ad), but the Scottish Ambulance Service (known as the SAS but not THAT SAS) doing a test landing on a site identified for night time emergency medical evacuation.

I've mentioned before about a number of folk on the island training as "first responders" to any medical emergency. We are also now provided with landing lights which we have to place out in a designated site should the Air Ambulance need to land to medically evacuate a casualty.

In daylight hours the pilot can land the helicopter anywhere on the island and nearer to the site of the casualty. But on a dark and potentially windy night a pilot unfamiliar with the terrain needs to have a safe landing site. So once we know they are on their way we will place the landing lights to guide them in.

Meanwhile last night was a test, which provide much excitement for the children living in the lighthouse, who rushed out in slippers, pyjams and dressing gowns to sit in the pilot's seat!

Meanwhile the landing lights were laid out and the helicopter took off and came in again to test them out.

And these two aren't Wil O' the Wisps but Graemsay folk carrying the landing lights.... hmm could come in useful at Halloween ;-)

Quite a bit of excitement for a Monday evening!

Monday 2 May 2011

Just back....

.....from holiday.... more soon.  Meanwhile Button(s) tries to ensure I don't leave again without her.... she's slept on my suitcase all day!