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Tuesday 30 August 2011

"Summer time and....

....the living is easy" to quote one of my favourite Gershwin songs. However it's probably only true for cats and chickens....sigh.  These photos were taken last week before Autumn hit us with gales and 2 inches of rain in 24 hours at the weekend!  Above is Button who, being a canny cat, has found the warmest part of the garden - the compost heap!

Brown Hen having a well deserved snooze after laying eggs and scratching for worms.

 These are some of the young(ish) chicks also enjoying the sunshine. (This summer the hens have hatched 30, yes 30 chicks between them!)

 While the real babies of the flock are learning to forage for themselves

Snoozing among the flowers

This is one of the oldest of the chicks (Light Sussex breed)

While the hens and cat snooze *I* was busy digging up dinner!

Monday 29 August 2011

Ring of Brodgar

The gales of the weekend have retreated and Orkney is drying out after 2 inches of rain fell over the weekend. Nothing in comparison with the havoc on the East Coast of the USA I know, but still as wet and windy weekend is over!

On Friday last week I went to the Ring of Brodgar, one of my favourite places in Orkney. It's a Neolithic stone circle, surrounded by a ditch and earth mounds likely to date from that period.  The site is managed by Historic Scotland and is a favourite place for coach tours, however we were lucky to visit when it was very quiet. The heather is out in bloom just now and looking glorious, the sun shone, it was warm and there were NO midges!

The Ring of Brodgar has never been fully excavated but is part of a number of Neolithic monuments in that area. The others being the Stones of Stenness and Maeshowe, as well as the newly discovered Ness of Brodgar. I'll do a separate post on the new dig at the Ness of Brodgar later this week.

This photo was taken from the Ring of Brodgar, and the black rings denote from left to right: Maeshowe, the Ness of Brodgar (new archaeological dig) and the Standing Stones of Stenness.

As I say the heather is looking lovely at the moment. Here are several photos of the ring of stones....

Another post on Standing Stones with photos: February 2010

Sunday 28 August 2011

Wartime Graemsay

(I've amended my original blog post after receiving some corrections (I blame the wine I drank!) and some additional information from Gavin by email this morning).

Friday evening we had a talk by Gavin Lindsay, an archeologist and historian who is currently working at the Scapa Flow Museum at Lyness.  He was telling us about Orkney's role in WWI and WWII along with pictures and film clips. That's him above ...copyright "Gavin The Brand" ;-)

The first part of the talk was about Orkney during WWI.  I knew about the scuttling of the German Fleet, of course. But I was unaware that the island of Flotta, which is one of the islands further down Scapa Flow. Apparently during WWI this was a focus of land based activities by the Navy, although there weren't many buildings there, the lookout tower and associated buildings and defences were even designed to look like the bridge of a ship, and the base itself was regarded as a ship. There was also a golf course where officers went to play while on shore leave.  There was also the tragedy of the HMS Vanguard which blew up in 1917 while in anchor with the "home fleet". According to one web site report (not always reliable) a magazine below deck caught fire and the ship exploded with the loss of 700 lives.

Gavin also told of the first trials of planes taking off and landing on a ship, as these were conducted in Scapa Flow, just off Flotta. The Sopwith Pup, piloted by Squadron Commander Edwin Harris Dunning would take off from the deck of a ship which had had the deck specially cleared, then it would fly over to Swanbister at Houton on the Orkney Mainland and land on an airstrip there.  It would then have to be put on a BOAT and towed back to the ship and winched on board to continue the experiment!! Obviously a number of planes ditched in the sea during experiments - but the cost of a plane at that time was the equivalent cost of a shell so it was expendable!  Sadly Dunning, who was the first person to land on the deck successfully, died shortly after that landing as his plane tipped overboard on a later attempt. Gavin said today that there is still a pier there where they winched the aircraft aboard. There is also a memorial to Dunning.  Though extraordinarily there was no equipment to top the plane AND it had no brakes so it relied on the sailors on the ship grabbing hold of it to stop it going over the side!!

During WWII of course, Scapa Flow played a much larger part. This time it was again the safe anchor of the Home Fleet, but after the tragic sinking of the Royal Oak, by a U-boat, more defences were put in place, including the building of the Churchill Barriers. We were shown some interesting propaganda footage of Gunther Prien, the U-boat commander, being welcomed by Hitler, and making a speech about the sinking. Interestingly at the end of the talk Gavin showed us some of our own home-grown propaganda from "MovieTone News", where the jolly British narrator gave a morale boosting talk over film of British ships firing guns across the sea.

Graemsay also played a part in the defence of WWII.  Gavin was telling us that our search-light emplacements were of a design rare.  Here's a photo of one (courtesy of Tom Muir) - the light would be shone through the slits which would then enable it to cover a greater distance (Gavin gave a better technical explanation of this which I won't try and repeat!!).

 The gun emplacement was also unusual as it was not covered over, thereby not really being protected from air attack. However the main purpose of the Graemsy gun emplacement was as part of a team between that at Ness Battery and the one over on Hoy. Between the three of them they covered the Western entrance to Scapa Flow. (Again photo courtesy of Tom Muir).

One thing that hadn't really occurred to me was that while all this naval and army activity was going on, the Orkney inhabitants were trying to go about their usual business. I can't imagine what a challenge it must have been to try and ship cattle and other livestock in open boats across Hoy Sound to market at Stromness, towed behind a small boat with an engine, never mind the fishing boats going in and out of the Flow!  Permits were required by all boat owners and naval boats would meet the vessel to check permits before it could be allowed into the harbour. Meanwhile the guns on Graemsay, Hoy and Ness Point at Stromness would have been ready to give a shot across the bow of any ship that didn't stop!  Apparently the old "St Ola" (a passenger and cargo ship) *did* require a shot across the bow as it was about to head into an area that had been mined the night before. According to Gavin the mines were dropped from the German planes by parachute.

The observation tower which is part of the Graemsay battery is so tall as the gun fired so fast it created a lot of smoke. So the tower was built high so that the gun could be directed onto the tower from the top level where the officer would be able to see over the smoke!  The window below would be used to direct the searchlights.

 (Observation Tower, with Hoy Low Lighthouse in background)

It must have felt like the end of the earth to many of the service men and women who were stationed in Orkney, particularly given the prevailing Westerly wind, and on a day like today I can imagine the wind would be whistling through the accommodation huts and everyone would be gathered round the stove.

An interesting fact that came to light while talking to Ethel, our oldest resident on the island, who was here during the war, was that our Community Hall was in fact a World War I accommodation hut! You can still see the round cover where the stove flue pipe would have been.  It was originally in South Ronaldsay and was then shipped over to Graemsay in 1935.  Ethel was saying that during WWII the servicemen on the island were not allowed to drink inside the hall - they had to stand outside!  I can imagine us trying to reinstate THAT tradition now ;-)

Ethel also remembered the event Gavin spoke about of a German air craft flying low over Graemsay. Ethel has always said it was flying so low she could see the pilot!  Fortunately no bombs were dropped or shots fired that day.

Gavin also told us lots of other interesting facts too, but I think that's enough for one day. If you've made it to the end of this post I wish I could offer you one of the excellent home bakes that we had during our refreshment break..... sadly they're all gone!

But there are more photos of wartime Orkney on this website. You need to find "Fortress Orkney" here

It's no hurricane but it's wet and windy!

What a change in the weather from Friday!  Overnight there was about 10mm of rain, and wind gusting to approx 40mph.  It's still very blustery and wet outdoors. I know we don't get the best of weather in Orkney, but really this is "unseasonal" even for Orkney! AND the phone is off (mine only it would appear as neighbours seem to be OK).  A "duvet day" I think...... move over Button!!

Saturday 27 August 2011

Another sunset....

Well my readers do seem to like sunsets so I'm possibly going for overkill with this....sigh. But I'm just catching my breath as the last month has been really hectic with work. But a draft final report has been sent off after a huge amount of work by me and my colleague and now a bit of respite for a few weeks.  So, I'm just putting my feet up today with a cup of tea and CAKE and will begin to share some photos and events of the last couple of months in a day or so!

Meanwhile the above photo was taken this week. It was a beautiful still evening (yes lots of midges around!) and I just loved the way the current and tide made patterns on the calm water.  Yesterday was also a beautiful HOT sunny day, one of the best this summer. But today a gale is brewing, grey skies and rain on the way. Farmers are frantically trying to gather in hay and silage before the weather breaks again. However, we're not forecast the awful Hurricane the East Coast of the US is experiencing and for that I'm thankful. Hope all on the East Coast are keeping safe.

Friday 19 August 2011

Sunsets and tornado?

Above is the sunset last night - a beautiful still evening, and the lighthouse, next door, with an orange glow and a rainbow!

But in the afternoon there was heavy cloud and a mini-tornado (probably more likely to be a water spout).  My neighbour, Mick, took these photos below - I was slaving away over a hot computer in the top right window at the time and was oblivious to everything!

Thursday 18 August 2011

Evening sunshine.....again....

This was the view from my "back door" the other night, a beautiful soft reflective light. I love evenings like this!  We've had a period of fairly settled weather of recent days, but of course it is now midge time!  Evil little blighters that bite wherever they can find access!

Here's a link to a YouTube video taken on the small island of Egilsay (one of the Orkney Islands) of some swallows over a pool catching midges.  I have plenty of swallows here AND midges - they need to eat faster!!

Wednesday 17 August 2011

Wildflowers on Graemsay...

OK the above is NOT a wild flower.... it's a dog otter, or so I am reliably informed by Tim Dean, who took the photo in the burn at Quoys on Graemsay. I've seen evidence of otters around Sandside bay, but never actually seen one of these shy creatures. Tim was out last week collecting info and photographs for his Orkney Book of Wild Flowers. Take a look at his website here for more information on wildflowers on Graemsay, with wonderful names such as eyebright, twayblades, creeping willow, Sneezewort, Shepher'ds purse, and lousewort!

Sunday 14 August 2011

Full moon over Hoy Hills

Last night there was a clear sky and a beautiful full moon. Above is a photo taken of the moon hanging over the Hoy Hills. This was at 5am in the morning.... I am not normally acquainted with this time of day, but suffice to say Button The Cat is entirely responsible.  I heard her yowling in the hallway downstairs, that kind of Mother Cat - "Come here Kittens I have food" kind of yowl..... this gets me out of bed faster than any alarm clock as I want to prevent her delivering - um - breakfast in bed!

Anyway she presented me with a dead mouse and was very pleased with it. I explained that 5am is a little too early for breakfast for me and suggested she ate it herself, opening the front door to let her go and eat it on the step.... and that's when I saw the moon and why I was, again, standing outdoors in my pyjamas taking photos....

Having devoured the aforementioned mouse, Button then demanded breakfast  - clearly that was just a snack....sigh....

Monday 8 August 2011

Gale Force 7-8

Just to show that it isn't always sunny in is a photo of a windy day in summer....note the leaning bushes.....sigh...and yes this is SUMMER.....

I've rescued my flower tubs and put them in the shed and have apologised to my peas and beans - they weren't expecting THIS when they came out the packet of seeds...... not sure how long this will last.  And of course it's hay making and silage cutting time - not much of that happening at the moment. Though as you can see in the photo above the neighbouring farmer managed to get one field of bales made this weekend.

It's such a shame as this week is Agricultural Show Week for many of the isles and parishes, with the West Mainland Show in Dounby on Thursday and the County Show at Kirkwall on Saturday.  I hope the weather cheers up for everyone. So much work goes into the shows!

Here's a YouTube short film of a County Show Day of a year or two ago. It's an agricultural show - so if you're a vegetarian or don't like seeing livestock then fast forward through!  The narrator has a real Orcadian lilt. Click here to watch

Saturday 6 August 2011

Summer sunset

These photos were taken this evening at different stages of the sunset. I just *love* sitting watching the sun setting across the water. Tonight there was not even a breeze to stir the water, just the currents and the tide. Beautiful!

It's been a lovely warm sunny day after a week or so of gloomy weather. I had a visitor today. C was on her first visit to Orkney and came over to Graemsay for the day. We had a lovely time just pottering around (we decided that "pottering around" was an excellent thing to do). We pottered on both the beaches, looking at shells and flowers, and pottered down at the kirk looking at headstones (and marvelling at the ages of the inhabitants - many lived well into their 80s and that was at the end of the 19th, beginning of the 20th for many of them - not an easy feat when crofting often meant eeking out an existence with a little land). We pottered around the garden too.

Anyway to round off a lovely day -here are the sunset pictures, with the sunset beginning and then culminating in the picture above. I think the clouds help make sunsets special and unique.  And last night apparently the Northern Lights could be seen over Orkney. Sadly they appeared way past my bedtime so I missed them this time.....

Friday 5 August 2011

Evening sunshine...

After a number of very grey cloudy or foggy days it's lovely to see the sun again!  It's been a busy week with work and visitors. Then this morning a quick shopping trip to Stromness across the water, then more work and preparing for another visitor tomorrow.  So entertain yourselves with these pictures!  Sorry I'm not writing more OR responding to comments.... hopefully I'll catch my breath soon......

Looking across the fields at Sandside up the hill to Windbreck.

Thursday 4 August 2011

Making hay....

though not much sun shining!  This summer in Orkney, as in the rest of the UK has not been one of the best.  "Unsettled", "changeable" are words you hear on the weather reports. Therefore it's not been the best of growing seasons either.  In April it was very warm, then it's been fairly cool, right down to darned cold, some sunshine, but not that much rain. 

Anyway the hay was being cut from my field behind the house ready for winter fodder for a neighbour's cattle. But cutting of silage is slow and these last few days there have been quite a lot of rain showers, so not ideal cutting weather.  We now also have the "haar" (sea mist) hanging around, so although it's pleasantly warm you can't see more than a few yards ahead!  Ho Hum... that's British weather for you!

Although we are in the far north of the UK we are fortunate to have the Gulf Stream which keeps our temperatures "moderate" in Orkney, even in the winter.  But a little more of "summer" would be nice too!