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Tuesday 29 November 2011

Party Time on Graemsay (again!)

This time it was Andrew's 18th Birthday - as evidenced above he was given the "bumps" in true tradition of birthdays (His Dad, Uncle and brothers instigators of this I think). It was also his Grandma's birthday, I'll not reveal her age, suffice to say there were so many candles the cake caught fire - as evidenced in the picture below.

Oh - OK it wasn't really all the candles that caused it but they set fire to the sugar stars that adorned the cake - here is a picture of it before the conflagration! Beautiful isn't it?  It depicts Pat reclining on a luxury sofa doing her craft work.  The cake was made by Sandra of Hoy High, who makes great cakes! And it survived the fire due to some adept blowing out of candles by Grandma and family, but Bobby was on hand with the fire extinguisher and Sandra was clutching the Fire Blanket - just in case!

Here is the cake she designed for Andrew who loves playing his guitar!

There was lots to eat for everyone and no, we didn't cut the cake. And yes I'm still in trauma that I didn't get ANY CAKE!  Well - to be fair there WAS other cake to eat and other goodies which the family had worked hard to prepare.

This was a family party for both Andrew and Pat (Grandma) rather than an "island party" but sometimes it's hard to tell the difference because, of course, everyone on the island is invited. Andrew and "Grandma" are part of one of the larger families on the island. When the "family photo" was taken it didn't leave many of us left in the hall, what with island family and their visitors (grand children and great-grandchild).

There was much dancing too! The famous Graemsay version of "Strip the Willow" - which gets more chaotic every year!

And of course an opportunity for Andrew to sing (supervised by his cousin)

And then the brotherly duet

And Mum makes three

And when it all gets too much for a wee chap, there is always the chance for a nap.

I left about 1am, but I understand the party went on in the hall till about 4am and then adjourned home to continue till about 8am!  That's the way to celebrate!!

Sunday 27 November 2011

Stormy night....

That WAS a windy night!  A maximum gust was recorded on one of the hills on the Orkney Mainland of 130mph at 6am this morning!  Highest average windspeed was 83mph. I have to say I did feel snug in my old stone house with it's stone roof (2 ft thick walls deaden a bit of the sound). Though it was scary hearing the storm raging outside and I feared for the modern extension to the house with it's "picture window"! The old Orcadian builders were very sensible - gable ends to the prevailing wind with no windows in them; small windows set well into the stone and near the eaves. Thick walls and strong stone for the roof.

I've only been out briefly and there seems to be no damage to the house. The hens all survived as did Charlie the Barn cat. Button of course slept through it all curled up on my bed ......sigh..... I woke up several times during the night and put on the radio to drown out the sound! Fortunately no power cuts for us on Graemsay, though others in Orkney didn't fare so well.

The photo above shows water breaching the sea wall at Sandside Bay and washing onto the road and fields. This was the result of a high tide this morning combined with a northerly wind.  We often get seaweed on the road, and some spray but this was something else!

Thankfully the wind dropped during the day, though it is forecast to get back up again tonight. Hopefully not to the level of last night.

However the wind didn't stop the island party going ahead in the hall. More of that tomorrow - I need to censor the photos to protect the not-so innocent ;-)

Meanwhile here are some photos taken at Skaill Bay (near Skara Brae neolithic village) this morning by Davy Sinclair of Stromness.

The tower at the top of these cliffs is at Marwick Head - where all the sea birds roost in summer to raise their chicks! Just as well they would have headed off by now....

Saturday 26 November 2011

Dreich weather

The old Scots word "dreich" is descriptive (an onomatopoeia (sounds like it is) if every I heard one). Today the weather is very dreich as you can see from the photo above.  And now the wind is really getting up again. The last couple of days have been wild (weather wise). Severe gales, thunder, lightening and the consequent power cuts, and loss of TV and (oh calamity!) radio too.  Thankfully only for a short period of time.

I've very glad I live in an old stone house with thick walls and a secure roof (well it should be - I saw it being put on during the renovations and it looks fairly secure, fingers crossed).

There's an island birthday party tonight in the hall so hope the wind settles a bit so folk can get to it OK!

Below  - and so it goes on....... boats cancelled and time to hunker down in the warm.

Note - according to an online Urban Dictionary : Dreich is a combination of dull, overcast, drizzly, cold, misty and miserable weather. At least 4 of these adjectives must apply before the weather is truly dreich. Yup - I think it is truly dreich today!!

Monday 21 November 2011

Orkney Anthem

Came across this short film on YouTube via All About Orkney and thought I'd share it here. It's called the "Orkney Anthem". Below are the words (also from YouTube). It's about 5 minutes long but gives a bird's eye view of Orkney and the music is very haunting.

ORKNEY ANTHEM TS Peace/I Drever (part 1) Tae the riven rock rims around them, tae stack and skerry and geo, tae the cliffs piled high wi' their heads in the sky and their feet in the surge below. CHORUS Isles ne'er forgotten, be your sons afar alone or ringed they be by their ain native sea Waes hale, they drink tae their own. Tae the reek o' the rushing tideways, tae the fling o' their froth and foam, tae the spouting hedge, by the iron ledge, o' skerry and reef and holm.
lyrics Part 2: CHORUS Tae the feet o' the bright aurora, that dance tae the elfin lyres, tae the gleams that break, in the midnight wake, tae the blaze o' the beltane fires. CHORUS Tae the brochs o' forgotten builders, each howe wi' its spectral wraith, tae the ruins' hoar, by the ancient shore, o' the kirks o' the ancient faith. CHORUS Spirit haunted and hallowed Wi' rune writ legend strewn, lone isles o' the north, ye call it forth waes hale we drink tae o'or own

Flowers in November

The last couple of days have been great - sunshine, very little wind and so MILD. Lovely to be outdoors! Last year at this time we had snow! Now I think it's been the mildest November in years. I even managed to clear out half the henny hoose (ran out of energy after that, but it's a start!).  After my visitors this weekend it was lovely to be able to hang the washing out on the line to dry. Not much of a breeze (for once) but they still dried fairly quickly.  It meant I could get two loads of washing dry in a day, rather than the usual method of draping over a clothes airer (known as a clothes horse when I was a child). The underfloor heating dries it fairly quickly but you don't get the lovely fresh outdoors smell on the fabric. I'm sorry but NO fabric conditioner can mimic the smell of pure fresh air!  And yes I am aware I've just posted a picture of my pyjamas for the entire world to see....

The late summer flowers are still hanging on in there in the garden!

Here are some daisies still blooming

And a rather battered but valiant osteospernum

And "dames rocket"

This bright cheerful purple flower (can't remember it's name, sorry flower but you gladden my heart anyway!)

And a Hebe (which has recovered so well after bad frost damage last winter).

Of course Button was prowling the perimeter fence

Sunday 20 November 2011

Harvest Home

Friday night was party night on the island. It was the annual "Harvest Home", a non-religious celebration of bringing in the harvest. Many parishes throughout Orkney will hold a Harvest Home in October or November. This year there were nearly 40 folk gathered to celebrate, with visitors joining the island folk.

The evening begins with a meal of soup, cold meats, salad, new potatoes and clapshot (mashed potatoes and "neeps" (swede)) followed by trifle or jelly and ice-cream for the kids (of all ages), coffee and homebakes as well as after-dinner mints. Everyone on the island takes a part in the organising. I steer clear of "mass catering"! I leave that to those well used to cooking for large extended families! I do my bit by doing B&B (bed and breakfast) for some of the visitors, handing round drinks, and helping with setting up and clearing up.

At the end of the meal it is traditional to have a speaker who will talk about the harvest or some aspect of farming. This year we had Harvey Johnstone over from the Orkney Mainland with his lovely wife, Helen. Harvey has a wonderful Orcadian accent and is very proud of maintaining the Orkney dialect. He read us a poem, penned by himself, about past Harvest Homes in the parish of Harray where they live. He was very entertaining!

Of course no party is complete without music. We were really pleased that Fran Gray and John Budge could join us again from the neighbouring island of Hoy, both playing accordions. Ruby, who was born and brought up on Graemsay but now lives in Stromness, came along and played her fiddle. And Andrew, one of the teenagers on the island, joined in with his guitar.

And a special appearance by Irene, who lives on Graemsay (she's the retired school-teacher). She has a lovely voice and sings some lovely haunting ballads. When she sings you can hear a pin drop in the hall.

There was dancing for young and old

And singing and telling of stories

Of course there is always a raffle (to help with hall funds). There are the usual prizes of chocolates, wine, toiletries etc, and because it's harvest home - there were also baskets of vegetables and "neeps" (those swedes again!).  Irene seems to have won a bumper crop!!

The party goes on into the wee small hours.  About 2am another traditional was played out..... rolling 10p coins at a bottle of whisky. The person who gets their 10p nearest the whisky bottle wins the whisky. Hot competition for quite some time, and here are the "judges" debating the winner..... All in a good cause though - for the "Children in Need" appeal.

Fran and John stayed at my house overnight and in the morning we had a blether (chat) about the evening over tea and toast (I was grateful nobody wanted a fried breakfast!).

Fran gave me this lovely gift - two wee lavender bags which she had crocheted - out of plastic carrier bags! They are brilliant! She's hoping to sell some in a local craft shop where she already sells some of her other art work. I thought it was a fantastic idea - what a great way to re-use/recycle.

Friday 18 November 2011

Dog Sitting....

I was over in Stromness yesterday dog sitting for a friend who had to be away for the day. She has two Shetland collies and needed a volunteer to go and let them out several times during the day. So I volunteered to  spend the day with the doggies.

Now it has to be said, although I grew up with doggies, I am much more of a cat person these days. I  prefer the way cats are so independent. And Button has a cat flap so can come and go as she pleases. It therefore feels "special" when she chooses to spend time with me.

Dogs, on the other hand, well they are always under your feet! Er - as you can see here with beautiful Lyra expecting her tummy to be tickled as I try and get through a doorway. And yes she IS upside down... not the photo... dogs have no dignity...hehehehe.

Pippa, being an older dog, showed a little more restraint and devotion to her Person Who Was Absent, and stared balefully at me from the sofa.  Amazingly though she was quite happy to be my friend when Food was on offer.  That's dogs for you - devoted only to food ;-)  Cats are far more discerning......

But we all survived the day. I worked at the kitchen table which had the glorious view at the top of this post. It looks down Scapa Flow with Orphir on the left and the Hoy Hills on the right. Graemsay is lost in the mist!  And the dogs, of course, got lots of treats, fuss and let out into the garden when necessary!

Anyway I must go now - we have our island Harvest Home tonight - more of that over the weekend. I must go to the pier and collect the visitors!

Wednesday 16 November 2011


This picture is the "Um....I've just dropped my toy and it ran behind the dresser" face of my cat Button. Sigh..... It's that time of year when the field mice are moving out of the fields and into the barns, byres, and hen houses. They also, of course, head towards homes. Generally I don't have a problem with them IN the house unless Princess Button brings them in.....!  They do of course get in through tiny gaps in the stone walls (if you can fit a pencil through it a mouse can get through). But after a traumatic year when I first moved into the house when it was newly renovated, I think I can safely say I have blocked up every tiny hole within the house so they can't access any of the rooms. Sadly I have to put poison down under the floorboards to try and control the population I can't get to. I hate doing it, but then I think of all the wires that run under the boards that I don't want mice sized teeth on!

I accept I have a cat and she will eat mice. Fine - I just wish she wouldn't bring them in ALIVE! Or givet to me as a present.  "Look what I brought you - and when I do this - it runs!"  However I've never been afraid of mice - one used to share a stable with my old pony and would sit under his hay net nibbling whatever dropped down. Sweet...and at least it meant he didn't have rats! (Rats and mice won't live together so if you have one you won't have the other. No rats on Graemsay so....). Anyway I digress, I just don't like them IN my house. But I have become quite adept with an old cereal box and a brush in being able to scoop the poor things up when they stop running. I then have to shut Her Highness indoors while I release them and give them at least 15 minutes head start before I release HER!

Anyway - back to the matter in hand.... she let this one go and it went behind the dresser.  I got out the humane mouse traps, baited with peanut butter and put them either side of the dresser.  I then sat down at the kitchen table to work.  Sadly I missed the photo opportunity of the century - the mouse came out the opposite end to Button and jumped OVER the mouse trap! But when I moved for my camera it shot back behind the dresser again....sigh.... anyway I did get *this* picture. Button at one end, while the mouse had just hopped back over the mouse trap on the left and back behind the dresser....

Eventually Button got bored but wasn't going to give up entirely so sat - er - laid on sentry duty. I found this reassuring as I didn't really want a wee mouse running up my leg while I worked away on my laptop!

Eventually though it popped out and right into the humane mouse trap - as you can see it beat Button to it!

I then released it out in the garden while Button was still convinced it was behind the dresser!  Just in case there were more there - who knows how many she might have brought in to play with! I replace the humane mouse traps - but nothing else was caught. Phew...!  It could be a long winter though.....

Tuesday 15 November 2011


..... is the name of my barn cat. It does what it says on the tin as the advert says! Charlie came to stay about 3 years ago. The plan was he'd be a companion for Button(s). However he turned out to be almost totally feral and a very shy boy, who made a run for it at the first opportunity (or open door). Since then he has chosen to remain in the barn. It has to be said it is a very desirable residence. As you can see from the photo above, it has a sea view. There's also lots of warm cosy hay bales to snooze in. Plenty of mice to snack upon. And of course he gets breakfast in bed each morning along with lots of fuss. It took a long time but now he quite happily let's me stroke him and make a big fuss of him. He's not keen on being picked up but at least he lets me near him now! Interestingly he never comes near the house, and only comes up to me when he thinks he'll be fed.  No food - no Charlie!

The morning feeding routine has become a little hectic of late. All of my hens successfully raised their respective broods of chicks. This means I now have about 40 hens!  With just one cockerel - he's a busy boy!  Naturally the hens also had male chicks but these were - um- despatched by a neighbour a few weeks ago. Sadly no one has much need for cockerels and they start to fight each other from an early age.  Anyway - the chicks have grown up into young hens - multi-coloured because although the cockerel is a Light Sussex, the hens are a variety of breeds.  Now....I just need to find homes for some of them!

Monday 14 November 2011

Winter sun over Graemsay

I took these photos as the sun was slipping towards sunset...... I love the drama of sunset and clouds! Above is the Manse on Graemsay. I don't think a Minister ever lived here, but apparently Missionaries would come and stay for a while - um I think that was as a bit of a holiday rather than to convert the "natives"...but who knows! Anyway the Church of Scotland sold it many years ago. Also in these photos disappearing under the cloud are the Hoy Hills.

All the photos were taken within about a minute.

A matter of interpretation.....

Above you can see the new interpretation boards that have been attached to the Graemsay waiting room at the pier. Both the boards were provided by the Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership, working in collaboration with the Graemsay community.  The Partnership has been working to have new interpreation boards put around Scapa Flow. It has to be said I have mixed feelings about such boards. I think they are fine on our waiting room - they give visitors to the island an idea of the history and flora and fauna. But I do get grumpy when I see interpretation boards out in a wilder more natural landscape. If I've staggered up a hill (a rare occurrence - that's why I chose to live on Graemsay, only 65ft at it's height!) or walked along a rugged coastal path, I love to marvel at the landscape, the remoteness of Orkney etc. I *know* many feet have trodden the same path, but - well I like to feel I *might* have been the first.  An illusion that is shattered when I come upon an interpretation board.....sigh.....

However I digress, and the new boards look smart and give a good snapshot of the history of the island. Including of course both the lighthouses, Hoy High and Hoy Low. Built by Alan Stevenson (one of the "Lighthouse Stevensons" and who was related to Robert Louis Stevenson, who did visit the island in the 196h Century. Someone has a photo of it somewhere!  I think it was taken outside Hoy Low.

An example of some of the plans for the lighthouses

And some photos of plants (always useful I find!) and some info on the various beaches around the island.

Apparently there will also be a leaflet or something available on the Orkney Mainland at the tourist offices, showing the coastal walks around the island.  Always handy unless you can memorise a map! Though it has to be said with the island being so small (about 1.5 x 2 miles) it's hard to get lost! Though the pier can seem a looong way away when it's near boat time and you are the wrong end of the island!

Having told you about all the information, it has to be said, there are no special "sites" on Graemsay. We have no Maes Howe, no Skara Brae, no standing stones. But we do have lovely views around the island of the Hoy Hills and Stromness. And a quiet gentle walk around a farming community, plus some lovely beaches with shells and cold-water coral! Just remember if you visit - there's no shop, pub, restaurant, or tea room!

Sunday 13 November 2011

Remembrance Day

Throughout Orkney on Friday there were Remembrance parades and the laying of wreaths at War Memorials in each parish. A ceremony that will be carried out throughout the UK and many other countries (though in some countries it is referred to as Armistice Day).  Graemsay has no war memorial of it's own, but a wreath is laid on behalf of the Graemsay, Hoy and Walls communities at the Memorials on the island of Hoy. There was a large naval base at Lyness on Hoy during WWII and there is a large military cemetery there including graves of those lost at the sinking of the Royal Oak. The Scapa Flow Museum at Lyness tells the story of the naval history on the island during WWII. Warships based in Orkney also escorted merchant ships carrying supplies through to Russia and there is a joint Orkney and Russian War Memorial at Lyness too.

Kirkwall held a service of Remembrance at the St Magnus Cathedral on Friday. This was timed to coincide with the two minute silence which is observed throughout the UK - at the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month - to mark the anniversary when the guns fell silent on the battlefields at the end of WWI in 1918.

Of course there is added poignancy these days with the British forces (as well as others from around the world) involved in ongoing conflicts far from home. While we may not support the choices of governments to enter conflicts, it is right (I believe) that we honour the men and women who give the ultimate sacrifice.

In the UK the Royal British Legion hold a "poppy appeal", donations are made and poppies worn in support of the charitable works undertaken by "the Legion", as everyone calls it. The Legion works to help all generations and families of the armed forces past and present. In Trafalgar Square poppy petals were thrown into the fountains as a mark of remembrance.

"Lest we forget..."