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Sunday 29 January 2012

Before Banking Went Bad...

...Orkney had The Otter Bank -  a floating bank which sailed around the North Isles visiting it's customers! It was run by the National Commercial Bank (now the Royal Bank of Scotland - oh do NOT get me started on THAT topic!).  But the RBS does still visit the isles on a weekly basis, only now it uses the small inter-isles planes. Above are the opening hours on the northern island of Stronsay and below is the bank!

Anyway this is a trip down the past - below is a YouTube film (24 minutes) of the floating bank filmed in 1964, and as well as the bank you get a flavour for the Orkney Islands and the folk that live here. Some things have changed (apart from banking...sigh), but many things remain the same.


Saturday 28 January 2012

Kirkwall by night....

These pix were taken by Steven Heddle (AllaboutOrkney), who is (in no particular order) a local Orkney Islands councillor (politician), IT guru, physicist, decent chap, some-time musician and trick cyclist (I almost made the last one up!). He was cycling up the top of a hill outside Kirkwall and took these shots. Brilliant!  He kindly let me put them on my blog - hence the build up to the introduction ;-)

Anyway to serious matters. Kirkwall is the main town in Orkney. Technically a city as it has a cathedral (any place in the UK with a cathedral is designated a city, whatever the size, apparently).[[see note below amd comments! - I'm confusing Kirkwall with being a Royal Burgh, it was given this status in 1486 by King James III of Scotland]].  St Magnus Cathedral is magnificent and construction began in 1154. It's a must to visit.

The population of Orkney is about 20,000 folk, and most of them live in or around Kirkwall which is the main centre for the Orkney Islands Council, Orkney Health Board, Hospital, supermarkets, banks, leisure centre and a variety of other local shops, businesses and schools. Orkney's airport is just outside Kirkwall, planes fly to Scottish Mainland airports, Shetland, the North Orkney islands and, occasionally, Norway. Most of the North Isles ferries come into Kirkwall Harbour. The main ferry to and from Aberdeen berths at Hatston, which is on the edge of the town. I always refer to Kirkwall as "The Metropolis"!

But remember Orkney is North of Scotland - and in this photo you can see the Scottish mountains in the background - this is looking South!4. The lights in the mid-ground are on the island of Flotta, which has the oil terminal. Orkney gets a share of North Sea Oil (goes into the Council Reserve Fund), along with Shetland.

Note: - Bad me, making statements without checking the evidence!  In England and Wales up until the 16th Century a town was recognised as a city if it had a cathedral. I knew THIS was true because Wales (the Land of My Fathers) has St David's. So I was a bad researcher and extrapolated this in a very unscientific way to the rest of the UK!  See Wikepedia - what would we do without it! And bear in mind THIS isn't necessarily robust evidence either ;-)

Thursday 26 January 2012

Graemsay in winter...

Here are some more photos from the other weekend when we had SUNSHINE!  This week has been wet and windy again, although today (sshhh!) we have sun!  It's been frosty but is clearing now. Blue skies, no wind.... bliss!

I missed an excellent display of the Northern Lights (Merry Dancers) on Sunday. While I was curled up with Button on the sofa watching re-runs of "Foyle's War", outside Nature was working her magic.....sigh.... I've been lucky to see several excellent displays over the years, but was sorry to miss this one. Ho hum.....

Anyway, back to Graemsay in winter - as I've said many times, this winter has been mild, but wet and windy. Very little frost and No Snow (yet!).  I went for a walk up just a few hundred yards from the house and here are some of the old ruined crofts that show just how populated the island was at one time!

At the top of the post is the croft of Crookshouse (usually pronounced "Ce'euks" or something similar!). The land is still farmed, but the buildings are in ruins.

Below is Scarratain. It has a traditional Orkney turf roof which is very good insulation. The wee boats behind are creel boats, putting down creel pots. And some of the other Orkney Islands can be seen in the distance. Directly behind the boat on the right is the uninhabited island of Cava.

This wee house is on the way to the pier on Graemsay. It's called "Moan" - though pronounced more like "Mow-an". The land in the background is Orphir, on the Orkney Mainland.

These sheep (think they might be Rams - but I didn't get that close!) are fed regularly with silage and are grazing across a stubble field that has some green shoots in it. Again the hills of Orphir are in the background.

Meanwhile The Manse which IS inhabited, sits among a number of old ruined crofts, and the old School can just bee seen - a small white building. The Hoy Hills sit in the background.

Monday 23 January 2012

Last weekend....

....will probably go down in history as the only few days without wind and with sun for the whole of January. Such is winter in Orkney!  But here are some photos to remind me of the lovely still days.

The above photo is of a bank of cloud coming in over the water. The buildings in the foreground are (on the left) the old steading (family house), and (to the right) my henny house! The henny house entrance is sheltered from the worst of the West wind, and the hens can get round to the old farmyard and buildings. The view is taken from just outside my "back-door".

Here is one of my young hens "taking the air" - she has very pretty feathers - it looks like she has been painting them! Or is wearing a lacy shawl.

Meanwhile the other hens are also enjoying scratching about or preening their feathers in the sun. The hens that are mainly white with black "points" are an old English breed - Light Sussex. The one on the right is a young cockerel.

Meanwhile the starlings are also doing a spot of sunbathing on the chimney of the house. (Known in Orkney as the "lum" - there's an old Scottish saying "Lang may yer lum always reek"! Translated - long may your chimney smoke - meaning live long and happily (eg you always have fuel for your hearth and warmth for your house - not easy with current fuel prices!). Sandside used to have eight fireplaces, but all have been appropriately blocked off now - the house has underfloor heating and radiators.

Some more of the old buildings at Sandside. Both used to be homes for families. Both are now suffering from coastal erosion and about to slip onto the beach! The end of the building on the right used to be a forge and it's gable end wall is already on the shore. The west coast of the Orkney Mainland is in the background, the hill is Black Craig.

And here is a winter shot of the main picture on my blog! Looks a little bleaker now, though the grass is still green.

Sunday 22 January 2012

An interlude... Rousay

OK the return of the bad weather and work = low energy, hence no blog posts since last weekend.  Sorry about that! While I get my brain in gear and have another cup of tea, here is a short interlude.  On YouTube below are some pictures of the island of Rousay. A lovely island with lots of interesting archaeology to explore too. I've visited several times and is one of my favourite islands.

And here is a film of the iron age broch house on the island (about 6 minutes long) - the one in my photo at the top of this post.

Enjoy! Tea and chocolate call.....

Sunday 15 January 2012

The joy of sunshine....

....and NO WIND! Oh my goodness yesterday was just glorious. There was even WARMTH in the sun! It was such a joy to be able to walk about outdoors with little effort. Open and close doors without bracing myself. To stand still without leaning into the wind.

And the quietness - silence isn't the right word. But instead of the roaring of the wind I could hear the oyster catchers calling down on the shore, lapwings and other birds. I could even hear the waves lapping the shore instead of tearing chunks out of it. The sea was so still and calm. The day was like a balm for the soul.

Folk "south" speak of the bad winds they've had, and yes lots of areas have been struck by storm force winds. But few places have to tolerate the *constant* wind in winter. In Orkney nobody even mentions it being windy unless it's gets over Force 6 (25 to 30 mph)! Wind is a fact of life in Orkney in Winter, and often in summer too. So it is just so special when you get a quiet spell. This one has lasted three whole days so far.

So of course I was out with my camera.  The photo at the top of the post is of Burra Sound, the water between Graemsay and the island of Hoy. The cliffs/hills you see are of Hoy. I love how the light shimmers on the water.

In Sandside Bay all was quiet and calm.

Here you can see the entrance to Scapa Flow.  I watch the sun setting here in the West in the summer. The next land-fall out of here due west is Canada! Not a lot to stop the Westerly wind as you can see.

And sun shone into the house - Henry & George here soaking up the rays (You can see the thick walls of this lovely old house - they at least deaden some of the noise of the wind!)

Saturday 14 January 2012

Hitchcockian Hens....

No, this isn't a new breed of hen! But I think my hens have been watching too much TV over the dark days of winter and have decided to follow in the claw-steps of their feathered friends in the Hitchcock film "The Birds"! THIS was what greeted me as I went into the porch to sort out the hens breakfast - a light tapping on the cat flap! I knew Button was still sound asleep so bent down to see what it was.....eeek!!!!  Serves me right for having a bit of a "lie in" on a Saturday morning and being late with their breakfast!!

I still have lots of hens, a few young cockerels too, as well as the Patriarch of the flock, a lovely Light-Sussex cockerel.  Some hens are still to go to new homes, and the young cockerels will - er - be dispatched! I want to keep some of the younger birds as some of my older hens will probably not lay this year. But they can stay as part of the flock for the rest of their days. Providing an egg a day for several years is hard work and they deserve a nice retirement!

The hens have hung about around the hen house for most of the last few months with the rain and the wind keeping them naturally confined.  But I've seen them wandering a bit further afield these last couple of days. Making the most of the mild SUNNY weather with NO WIND, which we had yesterday and today!

Wednesday 11 January 2012

A trip to Hoy

And in a slightly brigher vein..... here is a YouTube video that I found on Facebook (Orkney Live) of A Trip To Hoy. It's about 9 minutes long, but gives you a flavour for the island that is next to Graemsay (Graemsay sits between Hoy and Stromness on the Orkney Mainland).  The narrator has an Orkney accent, a lovely soft accent, unlike the usual Scottish accent (as I've mentioned many times Orkney doesn't consider itself Scottish!) Enjoy!

Gloomy weather....

(Note: After some comments I'm making pictures larger on this blog. If it causes anyone problems please let me know!)

As a balance to all the sunny photos I post on my blog, I'll tell you about weather over the last month or so..... Apparently in December we had 8.4 hours of sunshine.......pause for a moment to consider that....and the fact that, in December, sun rise is about 9am and sunset about 3pm......sigh....

And the last rain free day was 20th November...... squelch.

And then there's the wind.... you've heard about the storms, but we've barely had a wind free day. And I don't mean "a bit of a breeze" which, in Orkney is anything up to Force 6.  I mean gales that buffet you as you try and go about your daily business, even just getting in and out of the car is a challenge. Hang onto your doors! The cat flap is almost permanently battened.  Button and I have had to develop a signalling system so she can shelter out of the wind till I open the door on the less windy side to let her in..... thankfully she is an intelligent cat..... (though as she's been stuck outside sometimes when I've forgotten, she thinks less of my intelligence!).

Orkney winters ARE characterised by lots of wind and rain,but this year has been exceptionally bad. It HAS been very mild with temperatures rarely below 9 degrees centigrade. However the wind-chill factor makes it feel much colder. The forecast is for the weather to get colder next week.  I don't want *snow* - just some sunshine would be nice?  It probably doesn't help that the last Orkney summer was less than good - again more rain, grey skies, cool temps.  Ah well could be a lot worse!  But it is usually the Orkney winters that are the last straw for some "incomers".  I think it is said that incomers will stay either for three winters or forever. I've lasted 12 and have no intention of leaving Orkney. But I do long for the days when I can get outside and stand up without hanging onto something, go for a leisurely walk along the shore each day. Just the simple things!

As I look out the window I can see the "Hamnavoe", the ferry that runs between Scrabster and Stromness, coming "up the Flow" - which means it's windy out west on it's usual route and it's taken the slightly longer but more sheltered route through the islands up Scapa Flow.

But the days are lengthening....sun rise today (pah! what sun!) was at 8.56, and sunset is at 3.41. But I have plenty of work to keep me occupied and we are having an island Wii Bowling night tonight.

And there has been some sun this year

And there are signs of Spring!

Friday 6 January 2012


This picture of Stromness was taken from a wee 8ft rowing boat in the water along the harbour by Vivienne Rorie. She kindly said I could share it with you.  Stromness is my favourite town.

This photo clearly shows the backs of the houses which run along the main old street in the town. It was built along "Norwegian" lines (Orkney was part of Norway till only 400 years ago), with the gable ends of the houses turning "their shoulders to the wind".  Each house had a pier and the houses on the other side of the street would have had access rights to the pier. Stromness was home to the herring fleet in the 19th century, and all the houses would also have had wee boats to go out fishing. Nowadays it's generally used by the home-owners for their wee pleasure boats.

But the harbour is still a thriving centre to the town. It's where the ferry from the north of Scotland docks, some deep sea fishing boats are based here, plus the smaller local boats which fish for crabs with creels. There are the dive boats, part of the tourist industry, with lots of wrecks around these waters for diving. More recently there are also the work-boats for the renewable energy industry as there are test centres around the West coast of the Orkney Mainland, as well as some workshops down in the flow.


I had a couple of requests for the recipe for the oaty cherry/raisin cookies I made at the weekend (see above), and for the Parsnip and Apple Soup. So thought I'd share it here too.

Parsnip and Apple Soup (sorry attribution unknown! Got it from the web years ago)
20g butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion
3 medium parsnips
2 apples (cooking or dessert, if using large cooking apple, need only one. Also slightly less sweet than with a dessert apple)
1/2 teaspoon each of ground cumin and ground nutmeg
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves (though I used dried)
1 litre vegetable stock (i use a cube)
To season to taste - salt and freshly ground black pepper
To season to taste - ground nutmeg
Optional 2-3 tablespoons cream or creme fraiche

Peel and chop the parsnips and onion and peel, core and chop the apples. Melt butter and oil in pan over a medium heat. Add the onion, parsnips and apples and cook gently for 10 minutes, stirring now and then.  Add the cumin, nutmet and thyme and cook for a couple more minutes, then pour in the stock. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until te parsnip is soft. Add a little ot water if the consistency is a little too thick. (Mine wasn't!)

With a stick blender or liquidiser blend until smooth, stir in cream or creme fraiche, season and serve. Sprinkle on pumpkin seeds (or whatever).

Oaty Cherry/Raisin Cookies (from BBC Books Good Food 101 Cakes & Homebakes)
250g/90z butter, softened
50g/2 oz caster sugar
100g/3.5 oz light muscovado sugar
150g/5.5 oz self-raising flour
225g/8oz porridge oats
200g/7oz glacĂ© cherries
50g/2oz raisins

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees C/Gas4/fan oven 160 degrees C.
2. Line 2 or 3 baking sheets with non-stick baking paper
3. In a bowl, beat the butter and sugars together till light and fluffy
4. Stir in the flour and oats and mix well.
5. Roughly chop three quarters of the cherries, then stir these and the whole cherries and raisins into the oat mixture. (At this point the mixture looks quite dry but it's fine!)
6. Divide the mixture into 18 equal portions (actually I made 26!). Roughly shape each portion into a ball.
 7. Put on baking sheets well apart to allow for spreading. Lightly flatten each biscuit with your fingertips, keeping the mixture quite rough looking.
8. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until the cookies are pale golden around the edges but still feel soft in the centre.
9. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.

Store any uncooked mixture in the fridge for up to one week, or freeze on the day for up to six months, defrosting before baking.


Monday 2 January 2012

Snow on hills....again...

Snow showers on hills, but just cold, wet and windy at sea level today. I stayed in the warm and baked some biscuits/cookies - a new recipe for oaty cherry/raisin bookies.  Yum...  I love thinking of the women who have cooked and baked in Sandside in years past. Though in the 19th Century I doubt there was much in the way of luxuries like biscuits, mostly good solid fare for the workers in the fields and byres.

 Back to work tomorrow - for me anyway, Button will snooze as usual ;-)

Sunday 1 January 2012

New Year's Day


Happy New Year everyone. So far it's been a good one for me!  Last night I went along to the farm "up the road" for the annual Hogmanay Party and a good time was had by all. Good company, good food, and er - yes plenty of alcohol.  I got home about 2am.  So I started the day with a lazy morning in bed, returning there after giving Button her breakfast. I love curling up in bed with a mug of tea and listening to the radio. So that was a good start to the day.

There is some superstition that says whatever you do on New Year's Day you will be doing for the rest of the year.  Hmmm... no domestic chores for me today then ;-)  Instead I made some parsnip and apple soup - one of the things I want to do more of is home cooking. Living on my own I tend to be a bit lazy in that department. Anyway Button seems to react to vegetables being chopped as if they were catnip! Parsnips seemed to do it for her today - as soon as I started peeling them off she went, rolling on the floor, yowling, rolling her eyes, then racing around the kitchen! She does this every time and I had thought it was possibly the onions being chopped that started her off, so I left those in the veg basket till the very last. No - it seems ANY veg sets her off.  Oh dear and by the time I'd got everything simmering and thrown in the spices and herbs I feared for my kitchen! So I took her off for a walk, firstly to give the hens some extra rations. I love my chickens, they are pets rather than anything else and I enjoy spending time watching them scratching about. Then we set off along the shore.

It's been a lovely calm day, with sunshine too! Oh I do hope this bodes well for the rest of the year. I played around taking some photos (another thing I want to do more of this year) and we pottered along the shore.

The tide was in....

Button calming down in the fresh air

Old boats and an old boat winch above the high tide mark

Another photo of one of my favourite subjects

The poor battered trees hopefully getting some respite from the storm force winds.

Then it was back home for some soup and home made bread (OK slight cheat as I use a breadmaker). Then singing along to 70's music on the radio (my era when I was dancing around my handbag in the disco's of London....). And here ends my first blog post of the year. Last year I managed the most blog posts per year so far. A result of a more manageable work schedule resulting in a bit more energy for other things. i'm hoping this year remains the same. Now a relaxing evening is in order. A thoroughly wonderful start to the new year. I hope you have had the same.