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Sunday 29 April 2012

MV Graemsay Skipper retires!

Stevie Mowat, who has been the skipper on the Graemsay and Hoy route for many many years has retired this weekend. He has skippered the MV Graemsay since it came into service in 1996 but before that he ran the wee boats the "Skapa Ranger" and "Jessie Ellen" to the islands for many years.  He knows the waters well and could be assured to get you home even in the roughest of weather!  The ferry has rarely been cancelled due to bad weather in the 13 years I've known him. Some days you wish it would have been so you didn't have to cross on rough water!!

His wife, Jean, took all the bookings for the ferry and has helped me find missing parcels that have gone for a sail around, advised on sailings and sorted out cargo deliveries too.

Both of them will be very much missed by those on the island.  So on Saturday we presented Stevie with his retirement gift from us all and then waved him off (not exactly into the sunset!) wishing him a long and happy retirement.

Here's Stevie being presented with his gift by Irene Mathieson on behalf of the island folk.

Usually Stevie is "driving" the MV Graemsay (see top of post), but at the moment it's away having it's maritime version of an MOT so we have a replacement vessel the "Golden Marianna" (below) which usually goes between Westray and Papa Westray (two of the more northerly Orkney islands).  It did seem a shame that we waved him off in this wee boat rather than our very own "Graemsay".  But I'm sure he's not caring as long as he gets to retire at the end of his shift!!

Saturday 28 April 2012

Blogging Adventures Part I

One of the fun sides of blogging is you get to know all sorts of people from around the world and sometimes get to meet them too!  I've met several in the past, including Dancing Beastie and her family, and of course Orkney Flowers. This week it was the turn of Perpetually in Transit to come for a short visit. Oh we had a wonderful time! Lots and lots of conversations about rural communities, books, archaeology, Orkney, ourselves, bread makers and many other topics.  We were both saying that having read someone's blog regularly for a while, the first meeting face-to-face meeting isn't like meeting someone for the very first time. Over many blog posts you can learn a lot about someone. OK it might be an edited version, but you can still get a strong impression of the person. So it was with "Perpetua".  We could get right into conversations based on things we knew about each other.

The weather wasn't at it's best and Perpetua braved the high seas (literally) to get here. Having got off the large ferry from Scrabster and saying it was a "lively" sail I had to introduce her to our very wee replacement ferry. However I assured her it WAS sea-worthy, and the journey would only take 15 minutes.  After a brief walk down the street and a reviving cup of tea we boarded the ferry. This being the school run, most of the Graemsay children were on board so there were many hands to be shaken and exchanges of greetings.

We had a brief tour around Graemsay and popped in to see Irene who used to be the teacher on the island in the "one teacher/head teacher" school, until it closed. We had a lovely blether (chat) with her, while she recounted tales of her days at the school and the children she taught.

Here is a photo of the side of Graemsay that looks towards the island of Hoy with the lovely sandstone cliffs glowing as the sun sets.

The old Kirk and Burra Sound with Hoy in the background

On Friday the weather had fortunately cheered up with blue skies and sun (though a chill wind) and Perpetua and I headed off for Skara Brae, the Neolithic village, and the Ring of Brodgar, a Neolithic stone circle. These are "must sees" on any visit to Orkney.  I love showing visitors around because it reminds me how lucky I am to live here. Also it's interesting seeing my "home" through other people's eyes.  Perpetua went around the interpretation centre at Skara Brae while I sneaked off for a cup of tea and cake!  Then we wandered around the neolithic village together. We were very fortunate to be the only people there at the time and had the place to ourselves for some minutes. This enabled some nice photo opportunities without getting other people's heads in the way!!

This photo was taken with my feet in Skara Brae. You can see how close it is to the shore now, though at one time it was much farther inland. There is a beautiful sweep of Skaill Bay to wander along after a walk around the village.

One of the houses with the hearth clearly visible. Skaill House is in the background.

This is the famous stone "dresser", with the hearth just in front of it. You can see how close to the shore the village is now.

Here you can see openings which lead into the underground passage-ways that link the houses. Excellent for this climate - good protection from weather and attack. Though no weapons have been found at the site. At the back of this house you can see the stone beds. It is thought that the people at that time slept in a crouched position, sitting up.

We then wandered up to Skaill House which is inextricably linked to Skara Brae. This is the home of the Scarth/Macrae family and is a large "laird's" residence but with comfortable and well appointed family rooms. The views from the "drawing room" are stunning!

It was then time to head off to the Ring of Brodgar as Perpetua had an afternoon ferry to catch. But more of that in another post in a couple of days.  Meanwhile I hope you enjoy the photos on this post. We had a lovely time wandering around, chatting over tea and exchanging stories!

Wednesday 25 April 2012

The seals are back!!

Note: The photos on this post were taken by Irene - she has a better camera than me!

OK, they never really went away. But in April and May they seem to enjoy basking on Sandside beach. In recent years there have been very few on the sand, most preferring the rocks around the shore. But clearly at the moment they are enjoying the soft sand beneath their bodies. There were a couple of dozen of them there today!

And just to prove this IS on a Graemsay beach, here they are again below my house and with the lighthouse in the background.

The seals are the reason I bought the house....yes really..... but more of that another day.....

Off now to ""get sorted" for my visitor tomorrow.  A blogging friend, Perpetually in Transit, is coming to Orkney for the first time and staying here overnight.  I've been doing a "calm weather dance" all evening to no avail. There appears to be a strong wind blowing.....sigh.... fingers crossed for a calm crossing for her tomorrow.  We're planning a little adventuring on the Orkney Mainland on Friday. Photos to follow......

Tuesday 24 April 2012


Ah yes Spring is here....the sun now sets off the coast of Graemsay on the way to it's mid-summer holiday over on Black Craig on the West Mainland of Orkney.  I love sitting in the conservatory watching the sun set, glass of wine or cuppa (tea) in hand. The best way to unwind at the end of the day.

Though tonight it was too cloudy to see the sun set below the horizon. Instead there was a lovely light and beautiful clouds over Stromness.

And yes I know I'm behind with responding to comments! Sorry about that! I do so love comments too.... will reply soon.... :-)

Sunday 22 April 2012

Visitors to the islands....

I'm a bit behind on "blogging"! So this is about a visit to the island over a week ago by Orkney Zero Waste, a  local community run recycling/re-use organisation. Several folk  from "OZ" came out to give advice on recycling/resuse, home composting, how to reduce waste with food and other handy tips. They've been going round the community with their "roadshow" and had been keen to come out to Graemsay. I help out a bit as a volunteer, updating their website and facebook page. I was keen to get OZ out here as we have nothing in the way of formal recycling provided by the local authority on the island and I know folk are interested.

So the day started with a craft session that ended up lasting most of the day and included all the "kids" on the island, young and old!

Firstly there was the chance to make wee "chooks" from recycled fabric. Young Becky above is being creative and making a shark! There were bits of sewing or ready made chooks waiting to be stuffed with "chicken guts" (recycled fabric, wool etc), either way I announced I don't *do* craft and so had someone make one for me ;-)  As you can see above, she sits proudly on my dresser.

There were spinning tops to be decorated (made out of old CDs, bottle tops and marbles - remember marbles!).

There was also an activity for the boys or those not interested in sewing - a rocket made out of recycled "stuff".  It was a huge success and despite the heavy showers, kids young and old were having a go to see who could get the highest "rocket" launched.  It was a close thing between the boys and the girls - if you discount the cheating on the boys side! Boys will be boys....sigh.....

The "before" (with lovely Fay, the OZ "SteptOZe Yard" manager) and - er - no we aren't recycling children (pram behind Fay), but Sarah, also of OZ, was out with her wee baby Callum to help out.

And after construction - young James leading the way....... (Photo  taken by Irene of Breckan)

And then the rest of the boys joined in!

J & B wanted to make some modifications as they thought they could improve on the Mark I rocket....

Meanwhile between showers folk from the island dropped in and had chance for a blether (chat) over a cup of soup, tea, or coffee, with some sandwiches and home bakes available too. I used them all as guinea-pigs  for my home baked biscuits (cookies). Everyone survived!  Though the kids were a bit "high" with all the sugar and excitement - but fortunately they all went home with their parents and weren't my problem - tee hee!

So, although it was a serious topic of recycling - we all had great fun!  We have no formal recycling facilities on the island as the local authority feel unable to provide us with anything because we only have a "lift-on/lift-off" ferry. That's a shame as many folk are genuinely interested. However Orkney Zero Waste gave us some ideas and also routes to recycle mobile phones and printer cartridges. And importantly helped introduce the kids to a bit of recycling. Every little helps!

Saturday 21 April 2012

Lambing time....

I love this time of year when the lambs are starting to appear in the fields. Particularly once they get to be a couple of weeks old as they join together like any group of youngsters and race around, or play "King of the Castle" on a hillock of grass.  Most farmers on Graemsay have flocks that are lambing now so there are the constant cries of the ewes and the lambs filling the air.  It's been a cold, wet, week for them but they seem to be doing OK. Well the ones in the photos here are at any rate!  There are one or two "caddy" (need bottle feeding) lambs who are being cared for by farmers and watched over. But most are out in the field now.

Sometimes everyone needs a bit of a nap....

Or to stand and stare.....

And of course it's necessary to keep one's strength up with plenty of food

And the young cattle stock don't like to miss out on any activity too....

As you can see, a bit of a grey day..... this picture looks out over the croft of Quoys to the town of Stromness nestling within the hills.

I took these photos today when I was on my way up to Breckan to help Squeak out with her blog as she was having difficulty - good old Google changing things again!  She showed me around her garden afterwards and of course we had a wee play to.

Sunday 15 April 2012

Hail showers and scones

I was planning on doing a bit of gardening yesterday as it was a lovely sunny day. Then the hail and SNOW showers came in!  Instead I decided to stay indoors and do some baking!

As regular readers will know, this Winter I've been getting acquainted with my "inner baker". I've been trying to perfect scones - everyone tells me how easy they are to make etc etc, but mine have not been successful. Even under the instruction of Irene on Graemsay, who makes lovely light scones. However, I have a new book from the goddess of baking - Mary Berry, and followed one of her recipes to the letter.  Result - delicious scones!  Irene tasted them and declared they were "perfect" - though she may have been humouring me.....

I delivered a few to her to try.... on the way back the sun came out, well sort of!

Note - the photo at the top of the post is looking down from the West of the island to our community hall (green hut), just below the red telephone box.

Saturday 14 April 2012

BASE jump from Hoy Cliffs anyone??

Saw this clip of a base jump by a chap called Simon Brentford from St John's Head (highest cliffs in the UK) last week.  Deeply bonkers but amazing.  If you fear heights don't watch.  But ooooh if you love heights this is for you!!

Monday 9 April 2012

Eggs, cookies and sunsets....

The weather hasn't been great this Easter weekend, but there have been clear spells and at least I've had time to catch up on indoor tasks that got left when the house was COLD last week!

The hens are laying well. I am getting 4 eggs a day (though that means some hens are slacking!). One of the young hens has started laying - her egg is on the left! And one of the "old timers" eggs is on the right! Bit of a difference in size!  Eventually the young hen will lay eggs the larger size even though they are different breeds - ouch!

As they are different breeds of hens, they have different shell colour (the inside is the same colour, a beautiful orange, and tastes wonderful). Perfect for "eggy soldiers", my favourite comfort food!

And of course eggs come in Giant Size too, this being Easter weekend!

I've also been baking some biscuits (cookies). These are "Smartie" cookies.  I've baked them for an island event this week but I need to ensure they are fit for human consumption first.......

I've also baked some oaty cherry/raisin cookies, shortbread, and a biscuity, chocolate concoction that is soooo sweet I've had to cut it into tiny chunks before I overdose with sweetness (the sugar variety, naturally....).

Meanwhile, Button has assumed her usual position on the floor warmed by the underfloor heating.  We are both very happy Easter Bunnies this weekend, being warm and cosy indoors!

PS - a friend of mine who lives on another of Orkney's islands has just started a blog. She makes some lovely crafts and is a very talented lady. She's new to blogging so please drop by and give her a warm welcome to the Land of Blogging!  Click here

Sunday 8 April 2012

Orkney: Symphony of The Magnetic North

I often get emails from folk asking me to promote things on my blog and so far I have refused. But a request from Heather Steele of Full Time Hobby Records this week touched a chord (no pun intended). She was inviting me to write about a group with links to Orkney called The Magnetic North and their new album.  I'd already come across one of the tracks via Facebook but hadn't been able to upload it here. So this seemed serendipitous.

Below is some info from the press release and at the bottom is a link to the album which you can hear in it's entirity online via soundcloud.

The Magnetic North
Orkney: Symphony Of The Magnetic North
New album featuring Erland Cooper, Hannah Peel and Simon Tong

“When someone comes to you in a dream and tells you to make an album about your homeland – the Orkney islands – would you disregard it? Especially when that someone is Betty Corrigall, the Orcadian girl who in the 1770's killed herself having been cast out by her village after becoming pregnant by a visiting sailor?”

Well, would you? In January 2011, it was the spark that led Orcadian singer-songwriter Erland Cooper to group together his Erland & The Carnival band mate Simon Tong and singer and orchestral arranger Hannah Peel (of last year’s solo The Broken Wave album) to form a new group, The Magnetic North, with a distinct purpose: the recording of Orkney: Symphony Of The Magnetic North, a new album due for release on May 7 through Full Time Hobby.

Betty Corrigall was quite specific, handing Cooper a list of track names based on places in Orkney – Rackwick and Warbeth beaches, sea port Stromness, the rock formation Old Man of Hoy – and even playing him some snippets from the finished album. “It seemed he had no choice but to follow orders and make the record,” says Tong.

The resulting project took Cooper, Peel and Tong from South London to the far, far north, the Orkney Islands themselves. Setting up a portable studio in the living room of Erland's parents’ old house on the Stromness harbour front, they wrote and recorded songs overlooking the forbidding Atlantic Ocean. At the Hoy Kirk they recorded with the Stromabank Pub Choir, which comprises almost half of the Isle Of Hoy’s population, and Cooper recorded vocals in The Dwarfie Stane, a huge neolithic rock on Hoy with a person-sized chamber hollowed out inside. “A crazy English spy and soldier called Guilemus Mounsey stayed a few nights there alone in the 19th century and went loopy,” says Cooper. “He carved his thoughts in Persian on the walls of the chamber.”

Immersing themselves in Orcadian folklore, poetry and geography, the trio were guided by a 1930s book titled Orkney: The Magnetic North, which seemed to lend itself perfectly to the album’s title.

Back in London, The Magnetic North recorded with another Orcadian, Kevin McKormack (aka Half Cousin) on the closing track of the album ‘Yesnaby’ – named after one of the highest cliffs in the British Isles where many a tortured soul has leapt to their deaths. “We have endeavoured to serve Betty and tried to produce the record that she had in mind to the best of our ability,” say the trio. “We hope she is pleased.”

It’s a beautiful, sweeping, haunting album that evokes the near-alien landscape of the Orkney Isles with drama and delicacy. We have a feeling Betty Corrigall would be delighted."

Watch the video for the band’s debut single ‘Rackwick’ here:

View the video for ‘Bay Of Skaill’ here: and available to download for free via ‘liking’ the band’s Facebook page:

The Magnetic North UK tour dates:
May 23 – London, Wilton’s Music Hall
June 28 – Orkney, St. Magnus International Festival

Saturday 7 April 2012

I saw a ship come sailing in.... completely mis-quote an old English Christmas Carol, but I did only see one...  The "Gulden Leeuw" is back in Orkney this Easter and sailing into and out of Stromness over the weekend. Folk can go for a sail but I'm contenting myself with watching it from the shore. It is a beautiful vessel.  These photos were taken by Irene of Breckan on Graemsay. She had a better view and better camera than I did! Though the weather is a bit grey and dreary today, at least it's not too windy or raining! Above is the ship sailing past Hoy Low lighthouse.

The Gulden Leeuw was one of the ships that were here last Summer for the Tall Ships Race and it's lovely to see her back again. Some pictures from that time are here and here and finally here!

Below - coming out of Stromness. As you can see farmers are busy ploughing fields now Spring is here and the land has dried out a bit.

A close up as it sails past the Point of Ness campsite outside Stromness.

And sailing past the golf course with the town in the background.

Note: And YES! I have heating!!! Oooh the joy!!  Though I went a bit OTT (over the top) and needed to open a window today as it was too warm indoors....

Tuesday 3 April 2012

Snow on hills but not on Graemsay!

A light dusting of snow on the Hoy Hills - there was much more there at 6am when I got up to feed the cat, but I didn't feel inclined to go outdoors and take a photo of it!!  No snow on Graemsay, which is often the case. Probably as we are so low lying, small and nowhere is far from the sea shore..... Though maybe at 6am there WAS snow on Graemsay somewhere!

Still no central heating...sigh... A. valiantly came along last night between calving cows and replaced this pipe - as you can see it is badly corroded.......

The boiler (furnace) was turned on (having added water to the system to make up for that which was lost) and we both heaved a sigh of relief...... then I heard dripping...... A. thought I was joking and was not impressed.  Then sure enough, there was water dripping over the kitchen window again. A. rushed upstairs and I rushed to release water pressure.  No water around new pipe or joint -all perfectly dry and well sealed.  So...up came more floorboards at the other end of the radiator and this was found......sigh......

We had discussed looking at the other end of this particular radiator given how it had been plumbed in one end. But we thought we could do that at our leisure.  So..... I'm hoping between gaps in calving A. can come back and work on this new discovery..... and of course I'm now wondering about the other five radiators.....sigh......

Meanwhile one room being kept warm with halogen heaters, and I found this fan heater too which blasts out heat....unfortunately Button isn't too keen on the noise or the hot air that ruffles her fur!