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Monday 31 October 2011


Who are all these witches, warlocks and strange ghostlike creatures?  It's the Graemsay Hallowe'en Party of course - um.... in costume in case you were wondering!!

We had our party on Saturday but I thought today, actually being Hallowe'en, was the appropriate time to write about it. Some of us decorated our wee community hall in the afternoon and set it up ready for the evening. I spent most of the time screaming because I hate spiders - even "pretend" ones! Anyway eventually the hall was ready and we all returned home to get dressed up ourselves.

There were witches and warlocks .....

and skeletons.....

and devils ......

and creepy monsters...

Everyone brought some food for the supper, which as usual was enough to feed a much bigger island! Though I avoided some of the "themed" food, even if it WAS only coloured icing! No party is complete without music and games. Someone had brought along a CD of "Hallowe'en" music which included the 1970's "hit" of "The Monster Mash" (anyone remember that?!) and creepy noises and screams!

All the children then followed the Head Witch around the hall to the music, and each did a party piece - telling a joke or singing a song. Their reward was then showered with lots of sweeties (candy) and the games began.

Among them was traditional "apple bobbing" (apples floating in water and you have to catch them in your mouth - no hands!)......

Pass the parcel (for the kids) and my personal favourite, the "Mummy" game which is a race to see who can bind up  their "mummy" quickest, and who is the quickest "mummy" to burst out of their bonds!

There was also an "eat the donut hanging on a string without using your hands" but I couldn't stop laughing long enough to take any photos that weren't blurry! Anyway the evening went well and a good time was had by all. I don't think too many of us had nightmares afterwards, which is amazing looking at this scary lot - tee hee!

Sunday 30 October 2011

First responder refresher course

It's been a busy weekend, we had our Hallowe'en party last night (more of that tomorrow), and today we had our island First Responder team refresher course. I've written about being a first responder before (in 2009, Feb 2011, and May 2011) but basically about 14 of us (which is about 54% of the island!) have trained as first responders so that should there be a medical emergency on the island we can be "first person on scene" in terms of being able to give assistance.  Having been trained we have a mobile phone link to an emergency medical centre, kit bag which contains oxygen, a defibrillator (shock box), and various other bits of kit. The scheme is organised by the Scottish Ambulance Service and we are supposed to have six monthly refresher sessions.

Thankfully we've only had one call-out since we became "active", but that makes the referesher sessions all the more important, in my view, because it's not something at the forefront of our minds. So Murray, one of the local trainers spent the day with us all, going over all the do's and don'ts, as well as getting us to do some practical exercises, such as CPR. That's what the picture is at the top of the post - not a real medical emergency but just a practice on how to put someone in the recover position. And the ghostly spectre in the corner is a left over from our Hallowe'en party!

Although it's a serious subject our sessions are always lightened by humour and today was no exception. Lots of laughter as well as practical exercises and discussion.  And of course not forgetting the copious supply of soup, tea and home bakes!

Saturday 29 October 2011

Negotiations with a cat......

So, I bought Buttons the little fleecy padded blanket above. This was for her added comfort as, in winter when the underfloor heating is on she likes to take a nap on the warm floor. She also likes to nap in the room where I am, and in winter I choose to work in the kitchen (lighter, brighter, cosier than my study). Hence the cosy blanket for Princess Buttons.

It has to be said that I did have an ulterior motive. You see her preferred place to sleep is actually in my chair, at the kitchen table/desk.  So I thought through some negotiation I could persuade her to sleep on her cosy fleecy blanket and leave the chair to me.....

She really seems to be enjoying the blanket

Really enjoying it!

Then I went to the loo (bathroom) and returned to find this.......

And this.....

I should know by now - cats are not open to negotiation.....

Friday 28 October 2011

Happy Valley

One of my favourite places in Orkney is Happy Valley. This beautiful secluded woodland in a sheltered valley is in the parish of Stenness on the Orkney Mainland. I've blogged about HV before so take a look for more info here. Yesterday there was a strong breeze blowing from the East but I knew HV would be fairly sheltered. So I wondered through the gate into the clearing in front of the old house (it even has a Monkey Puzzle Tree!) and just stood there listening to the wind in the branches. I miss that sound from my days "south" when I used to ride my pony, Badger, through the woodland. "Whoo, Whoo, Woosh, Swoosh" the trees called to me in greeting. Leafless branches dancing and grabbing at me in greeting as I walk past.

I wandered carefully down the path strew with soggy leaves to the burn which was roaring over a waterfall that Edwin Harold had made many years ago.  It was in too much of a hurry to stop and speak but roared a "hallo" as it rushed along.

Further up the same burn was meandering along a little more quietly. I could stand and listen to it murmering over the rocks and walked up the path, helped by the trees holding out sturdy branches for me to grasp.

I love the detail within a wood - the gnarled barks that hold tales of many seasons.

Among the now dead leaves small plants still flowering proudly. I have no idea what these are (I shall have to rely on Mrs Orkney Flowers to tell me!).

Another waterfall and more rushing water too busy to stop and have a blether (chat).

I'm pleased to see that local volunteers have been planting new trees, to continue Edwin's work. They'll extend this woodland of many seasons with new stock.

Up by the house St John's Wort has many berries - is this a forewarning of a harsh winter?

Edin lived here for many years, using the burn as his water supply, and also to generate his electricity, in his house with turf growing on the roof (traditional insulation).

And tiny plants cling to the stonework of the house.

Meanwhile in a corner rusting iron implements have been gathered together, telling stories to each other of their hard working past lives.

And on the wall near the entrance beautiful lichens soften the stone wall, and among them tiny plants that are often missed when the glory of the trees in leaf demand all the attention.

As I left Happy Valley and returned to the vista of the sun playing on the low hills and pasture I felt I'd visited the land of tree sprites, pixies and elves! I'm sure I heard wee voices calling me to return soon, and I must listen to them as Happy Valley is certainly balm for the spirit!

Thursday 27 October 2011

Calmer waters...

Yesterday we had some respite from the gales. I took the photo above on my trip to the pier to collect the messages (groceries). It's from Graemsay towards the island of Hoy. I love the way the light is monochrome. The wee croft outlined in the picture is Clett.

And here is one of my neighbour's Shetland ponies - also enjoying some respite from the gales!

Meanwhile at the pier, it's cargo day with a tractor ready to offload/onload! This photo was taken from near the Lighthouse, hence the odd angle!

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Preparing for winter...

To be honest I'm not THAT remote from shops and services that I need to do much in the way of preparation. They are only a short ferry ride away, on the horizon of the photo above. However on days like today when the wind is high and from a direction that makes it hard for the boat to dock at our pier, there are cancellations. Plus I don't want to have to go out unless I really have to some days, especially when it's hard to stand up!  So I've been stocking up the freezer with some essentials, including milk of course. I'm afraid I've never been a fan of long-life milk, so in preference I get ordinary semi-skimmed milk and freeze it! It freezes OK, separates a bit sometimes, but I still prefer it to the long life variety!

Then I need a goodly supply of porridge. My daily breakfast is a warming bowl of sloshy porridge with some blueberries. (Also time to start freezing some (shop bought) blueberries!).

Of course I need to ensure a good supply of CAKE. Very essential ;-)  I'm doing more baking now, and also enjoy a delicious cake with coffee when out in town. This photo was taken at Judith Glue's cafe last week.  The vanilla cup cake was delicious!

And I have to make sure the sweetie (candy) drawer is full.

I have a nice stock of broad beans, and some gooseberries in the freezer from the garden, and tatties (potatoes) ready to be used. But other fruit and veg needs to be ordered from town. Sometimes I just make up a big pot of veggie soup and freeze it, then have that with a chunk of home (bread machine) baked bread, so I get some of my "five a day fruit and veg" that way!

And there are lists of everything that I need to do when I go to town, as now I only go to Stromness or Kirkwall every 10 days or so. In the summer there are more events on, or it's nice to go over for a coffee, meet up with friends, or go for a walk on the Mainland. But winter is a time of snuggling cosily indoors - well for me anyway! Of course Graemsay is a farming island and so most of my neighbours HAVE to go outdoors to see to livestock etc.... It's hard labour struggling with large barn doors, and ensuring the tractor door doesn't get torn off in the wind.

Our power supply is fairly constant, and the power company is pretty quick at repairing faults. But I still keep torches handy in each room, plus rechargable lanterns at the ready. A calor gas heater can keep at least one room warm for a while should a power cut stop the heating working. And I have gas burners on the cooker so can still cook and heat water for drinks etc.  But generally as power cuts are short (fingers crossed they stay that way) I normally just use a rechargeable lantern, make a cup of tea and once it's dark go to bed with the battery operated radio. Though bearing in mind it gets dark early in winter - that means some very early nights!

Of course now we have mobile phone technology, the landline telephone going off isn't such a catastrophe, though it is an inconvenience. Broadband is more of a problem if it goes off, but I have a backup mobile broadband "dongle" that I can use for emergencies. Essential as I work from home and need to access emails and databases etc.

I had more insulation put into the loft this summer as part of a Scottish Government Scheme energy saving scheme. So hopefully that will help retain the heat. I have underfloor heating downstairs which acts as a huge storage heater. But upstairs it's radiators in the rooms, so the temperature drops more quickly once the heating goes off. Hopefully the insulation will prolong the heat! And of course I have to remind myself to close doors behind me. In summer I leave all internal doors open and drift around the house. But to be economical with heat, I only heat the rooms I use, and must remember to try and retain the heat in those rooms!  The underfloor heating works through an oil fired boiler. With oil prices as high as they are - I'm wondering about converting it to burning £5 notes - it might be cheaper....sigh.....  but energy - that's a whole other discussion!

Button doesn't like windy days - no good for catching mice! So most of the time she sleeps.....sigh.... oh to be a well-cared-for cat in winter...

But this is just as well because the cat flap has to be blocked off during the gales because otherwise, even when locked, it is draughty and I fear it will get blown out by the force of the wind!  On Graemsay no one has a letter box in their door either - way too draughty and water would pour in!

Transport note: - our ferry has been able to come to Graemsay during the day today but has one cancellation this evening. However due to the wind direction it's had to cancel more sailings to the neighbouring island of Hoy as it's been unable to dock at the pier there. Other islands in Orkney have had delays or cancellations too.  And the Churchill Barriers have been closed to traffic, cutting off the linked south isles from the Mainland, as well as cutting off traffic arriving in Orkney on one of the routes from Scotland! But it's hoped once the tide drops the barriers themselves will be open. Living in an island community you just need to be a little flexible, and have some contingency plans in place! It's also been announced that the Shetland-Orkney-Aberdeen ferry has had to be diverted to Rosyth as Aberdeen harbour is closed due to the high Easterly winds! Glad I wasn't on THAT boat!  Ah yes - Winter is here....

Saturday 22 October 2011

No boat today.....

Our ferry, the MV Graemsay, is "broken". Well to be correct, it is undergoing repairs after several weeks of, what the ferry company called, "technical difficulties". Basically a bit of the engine fell into the moving parts and the result was a broken engine. So for some weeks now the ferry has been operating on one engine. This means it's slower and has had to cancel sailings during the hours of darkness (not quite sure why that was?!).

But yesterday apparently the broken engine was lifted out of the hold and a new one will be put in it's place today. Meantime - the ferry company informed us they couldn't find a replacement boat for us this weekend. But they have promised us that either our ferry will be working again on Monday or they'll put some sort of replacement in.

So - I'm marooned on Graemsay!  Well - I do choose to live on an island!  And to be fair it's only in the last two or three years that we have had a ferry at weekends during the winter schedule. But, as with everything, you soon get used to it! We usually have several ferry runs a day Monday to Friday, then one in the morning and one in the afternoon at the weekend (Saturday and Sunday).

However I had no plans to go to town this weekend, particularly as it is rather blustery outdoors. But I shall be very happy when our ferry is restored to a two-engine ferry again!

Friday 21 October 2011

Autumn on the island of Hoy

A friend, J, took these photos on a recent trip to the island of Hoy, which is a neighbouring island to Graemsay - only MUCH bigger! Hoy has a population of (I think) about 1,500 in various settlements around the island.

One of my favourite spots on Hoy is Rackwick Bay, which is surrounded by high hills (not quite mountains) and fabulous sandstone cliffs. Some of the tallest cliffs in the UK are on the island of Hoy. Graemsay, in comparison, is very low lying, only being 65ft at it's highest point.

Unfortunately I don't have the breath to climb up hills so rely on photos by friends of this perspective! And it IS a beautiful one.  So here are some photos taken from Berriedale wood. This woodland is ancient native woodland and the most northerly native woodland in the UK. Sadly I've not been able to climb up into it but I love these photos.  Trees have a fight to survive on Orkney because of the low lying land and nothing to protect them from the winds which strip them of leaves and bark. Only the hardiest of trees can survive in some areas, unless they are in protected valleys or protected by buildings or stone dykes (walls). I so admire these hardy trees - braving the elements and stoutly clinging to the earth!

Below, Berriedale wood, set in a valley between the hills.

Below the heather moorland that surrounds Berriedale wood.

Thursday 20 October 2011


Gales this week and hail - this weather actually hurts! I've avoided going outdoors unless I really have to but some things can't be avoided.

Like feeding the hens.......

And because I feel sorry for them in this cold weather (which will come as a shock to most of the flock as they were born this summer!) I've been cooking up pasta for them for breakfast too.....

And then there was the trip to the pier to collect the "messages" (Scottish for shopping). The local grocery shop sends over supplies in a box via the ferry. I just have to turn up at the pier to collect it.  Um.... it was a little wet and cold......

But I have some fruit (so no scurvy this week!) and other necessary supplies like milk, flour, bacon, kitchen roll and - er - biscuits!

Meanwhile Button stays resolutely indoors except for the necessary dash for - well, the necessary!