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Wednesday 27 June 2012


Still catching up after my holiday. But here's a glorious sunset on Monday night (10.30pm) and (below) rising again yesterday morning (about 4am).

Monday 25 June 2012

Back from holiday.....

I've just returned from over a week away catching up with family in Guernsey (Channel Islands) and the South of England.  I had a lovely time and will post more on that later.  Now it's onto the washing, dealing with mail etc etc. At least Button is VERY pleased to see me!  She hates when I go away.  Whenever I get the case out she lies on top of it in an effort to prevent my departure.  Awww....poor puss (though I suspect it's largely that she finds any absence by her "staff" as an inconvenience, rather than actually missing ME!

Friday 15 June 2012

Tall ship

Stromness had another "tall ship" calling into the harbour last week. This one was the "George Stage". The weather was awful the day it left and too windy to set sail, sadly.  The crew, which included trainees, had come ashore during the folk festival. I was amazed to see them returning to the ship in the harbour here on small boats. Even in the safety of the harbour I wouldn't want to be THAT close to the water on a choppy day!

However the day before the sun had shone and the rigging looked wonderful......

Looks like someone is on their way up to the crow's nest. Or maybe trying to untangle all that "knitting"!

Thursday 14 June 2012

The Sutherland Family at Sandside

I've mentioned before that my house has a lot of family history attached to it - but not MY family.  The house was built around 1860 but the Sutherland family who lived here for over 100 years had moved here from the neighbouring island of Flotta around 1830. There were two brothers living in this house Alexander, his wife and 11 children (though maybe not all at the same time!) and Samuel and his wife and their 12 children. Alexander left Sandside in the early 1900s and Samuel took over the whole house and farm. Above is Samual and Mary with their family.

Each year I get visitors knocking on the door as they have some connection with the house and family. I always love meeting them and working out where they fit in the, by now, large family tree which goes on for several generations.  I was particularly delighted last week to meet the two folk who were actually born at Sandside and lived here for many years.  Stuart Sutherland and his wife Gillian had visited a few years ago, but this time they came with his sister Margaret, her son, Kenneth, and daughter Elizabeth and their respective families. Stuart and Margaret are the children of John Daniel Sutherland, Danny in the photo above.

I'd offered to meet them all at the pier and give them a lift to the house, but they wanted to take their time walking up the road so Margaret and Stuart could relive memories with their family. It's many, many years since Margaret had set foot on Graemsay and the first time she'd seen the house since it was renovated. This was how it looked on her last visit.......(Um.... not it didn't have a white tower growing out of it - that's the lighthouse!).

As you can see from the picture at the top of my blog, the house looks a little happier now after being renovated.

We stood outside a while chatting and taking photos (and I managed NOT to have MY camera handy!) and then I offered to show them around the house.  The family were very tactful and said the "younger generation" could stay outside, but I was happy for them all to come in. The grand-children wanted to see the house they had heard stories about and seen photos of, so of course they *had* to come in.

The interior of the house has changed considerably as it was renovated shortly after I bought it. But that made no difference to the memories that came flooding back. Margaret and Stuart were sparking off each other, reminding themselves of where pieces of furniture stood - a grand-mother clock on the lower landing, a chest with birds eggs in on the upper landing.  The names of the rooms - the "pink room".  The room that was only ever kept for guests, or would be a cosy retreat for a sick child with the fire lit to keep the room warm.

Then into the downstairs - the conservatory is a new addition and the rooms off it are now small bedrooms. But the remodelling was stripped back in memory and behind the doors they became the old bathroom, the wash-house, the dairy.

 Stuart pointed to the old outbuildings which are now in ruins and explained how he and his father had been trying to repair them to house sheep during the lambing season. But sadly his father, John Daniel Sutherland, died suddenly of a heart attack in 1951 and all work stopped and not long afterwards, I believe, the family left the farm.

Stuart was also telling me how the front door of the house was blown open in the Hurricane in the early 1950s. I'm now slightly anxious that the current lock isn't sturdy enough to withstand a hurricane!!

We went into the walled garden and I was delighted that Margaret could tell me how it had been in her time.  In fact very much as it is now in that vegetables were along the south facing side, and also a rose (I'd just planted a rose in a similar position with wonderful synchronicity!).  The clothes line and "drying green" (where your clothes can blow in the wind) is the same as during their time. Stuart was impressed that it was the same old iron posts. But they are sturdy and have stood for many years so I had no wish to replace them. Margaret remembered pulling up the line on those old posts many a time.

Sadly their time with me was soon over as they wanted to go over to the old Kirkyard and visit the family graves, and then go up to see Ethel, as they all grew up together.

I went down to the pier at boat time to bid them farewell. They'd all had a lovely time on the island, the older folk reliving memories and the younger ones enjoying the stories and exploring the island and making their own memories of Graemsay.  I do hope the family come back again soon!

Tuesday 12 June 2012

Mixed weather and it's COLD!

OK, so "cold" is relative..... but temperatures are well below average at just 11 degrees C (44F).  But we haven't the awful rain and floods of other parts of the UK so I'm grateful. And there are sunny spells.  It's just it's nearly the "longest day" and for mid-summer I expect HEAT.  Ho Hum.

But as you can see above, it hasn't stopped the hens hatching out chicks. So far two hens, one with two chicks, and one with one chick. The hen above started out with 4, but 2 died inexplicably so she now has two left. She has finally found her parenting skills and is looking after them. But for a few days I was running around trying to reunite two cheeping (loudly!) chicks with their mother.

Then this morning I had to go through the process with another hen. Honestly..... But fortunately both hens are now tucked up with their respective young ones, safe and warm.

And talking of chicks, the Shetland "Puffin cam" puffins have hatched out their "puffling"! You'll be lucky to see it - both parents take it in turns to keep it warm.  But you might catch a glimpse!   Here's the link (you get the soundtrack from Radio Shetland/Radio Scotland too)  and Cam2 is the best view (warning - it's addictive!):

Cam 4 or 5 sometimes shows the lighthouse at Sumburgh Head in Shetland - you can now watch ANOTHER lighthouse instead of the two Graemsay ones ;-)

Wednesday 6 June 2012


The hens have been loving the good weather too.  As you can see one of the cockerels is exerting his dominance. Fortunately he is quite friendly and was just looking for worms.... I think!

Several hens have gone broody already. I've managed to limit the clutch of eggs they are sitting on by removing new ones regularly. Though one hen was in the barn where the sheep were kept for lambing and I couldn't get to her. So who knows how many she will hatch!  One hen had successfully hatched one chick at the end of last week but I only spotted it as I was heading off for the weekend and didn't have time to box hen and chick into the barn. When I returned it had disappeared. Sadly probably predated by one of the crows or gulls around. Such is life.....

Current broody hen

Came across this clutch of eggs in an old manger - have removed most and just left a couple for the hen to sit upon. If I remove them all the hens just goes somewhere else and produces another clutch. So better that I control numbers this way really.  And yes, they have nesting boxes in their hen house, but they like peace and quiet so tend to sneak off to the barns to lay eggs.  At least these are accessible for collecting the moment!

And if you are wondering why one has a red cross on. Well when I come across a nest, I mark one with a red cross and leave that in the nest for a few days. The hens then lay fresh eggs around it. If they come back and find an empty nest they sneak off and lay somewhere else. Then after a few days I remove the egg with the red cross and throw it onto the shore (probably not a good one to eat!), and mark another one. That way I get regular fresh eggs and not too many chicks if a hen does go broody!

Tuesday 5 June 2012

The Queen's Jubilee Celebrations on Graemsay

We may be a remote Scottish island but we like to party and were happy to join in the celebrations for the Queen's Jubilee this weekend.  Throughout the UK last night beacons were being lit at 10pm with the Queen lighting hers (with a diamond - now that's cool!) at 10.30.

On Graemsay we started off with a party in the hall as we weren't sure what the weather would be like on the day and wanted shelter!  However it was a lovely sunny day so we needn't have worried.

I'd started out the day getting home from the folk festival in time to meet some visitors to Sandside. But that story deserves a post of it's own so I'll leave that to another day.

Our party in the hall started at 8pm with a lovely buffet (with trifle of course)

And, of course, a cake fit for a Queen!  Made by Sandra.  And yes it tasted as good as it looked!

Then it was up to the West Hill, the highest point on the island, where Neil had built the bonfire.  There was some discussion about what time to light it but by the time we had all gathered it was 10pm anyway.  The flames were soon producing quite a heat. Of course being so far North nearing mid-summer, the days are very long - this was a 10pm and it was still light!

Some folk were asking where the bonfire was you!!!

Meanwhile some of the island children were enjoying running around and letting off steam!

We were looking for other beacons around Orkney as many of the parishes and islands were joining in too.
Stromness looked like it had a roaring fire going!

The party went on into the wee small hours. I left just before midnight as I had an early start this morning, with a trip to town.  There were celebrations all weekend in Orkney with tea parties and BBQs. We did better than London with the weather. It was cool but dry, bright and mainly sunny. It was a shame for those in London to be standing in the rain - makes a change for the weather to be better here!!

Another sunset....

Sorry - but I never tire of a sunset!!

And here the lights of Stromness are twinkling in the distance.  Sunset is about 10.15pm and sunrise about 4pm!

And clearly, Button never tires of them either - here she is snoozing in the last of the sun!

Monday 4 June 2012

Orkney Folk Festival

It's been a busy weekend! Each May the town of Stromness hosts a folk festival. Musicians from around the globe arrive in the country and perform concerts in various places around the town and in the wider community too. There's a real buzz in the town. Local performers, including many young musicians starting out on their careers, also share the stage with the international acts.  Local folk who just enjoy playing a tune on a fiddle, guitar, or squeeze box gather in the pubs and on the street to give impromptu "gigs".

Saturday night I started out with a concert in the Town Hall, a converted kirk (church). The evening began with two young performers, Maggie and James Nicolson - with an average age between them of 14 years! They are ones to watch for the future. Next on was Kris Drever and his festival quartet, Kris is a local lad, though his music career means he lives outside Orkney now. Loved his group. Note to self - must go to more of his gigs.  The evening ended with a brilliant show from "top of the bill" Eddie Reader, that lady can tell a good story as well as sing haunting ballads and great rousting songs. Brilliant evening!

No boat home after the concert so I stayed at a friend's house just outside town. Time enough then to grab some chips (fries) and a nice hot cup of tea.  Meanwhile others were scurrying off to late night concerts.  I was heading for an earlyish night as I had tickets for two concerts the next day!

The view from my bedroom window looked back at Graemsay. Did I mention I live next-door to a lighthouse? ;-)

The first concert on the Sunday was in Hoy up at the old kirk. So a short boat journey and a ride up the hill in a minibus to the next concert.  The Stromabank Pub Choir were the first to perform. This is a choir of local folk from the island and yes, as their name suggests they rehearse in a pub! They began with their own composition telling a story about themselves. Below is Choir Leader, Fran Gray, playing her ukulele to accompany the choir.

Then onto a lovely lullaby written for the youngest member of the Choir, Finn, who is only a few months old!

Then it was onto some well known tunes, their rendition of "Lonley Scapa Flow" brought a tear to my eye! A professional artist saw them performing some time ago and wanted to paint them. So from a number of photos taken over a period of time she created this wonderful picture. Unfortunately I didn't catch her name! I'll have to ask someone and add to the blog later.

The presentation!

The choir see "themselves" for the first time

Fran centre stage - in both pictures!

Another local duo gave a brilliant peformance, Erik Linklater and David Delday are local lads and both clearly hold great promise for the future. Erik's fiddle playing was extraordinary - so fast, how his fingers didn't get tied into knots is beyond me!

The afternoon was ended by the Harald Daugaard Trio, over from Denmark. Um.. there were four of them but who's counting ;-)   A lovely lively set of traditional Danish tunes were played and some haunting melodies written by Harald.  But time was running out for the boat home so there was a prompt ending and a mad dash to the ferry home.  However Harald and his group didn't want to see us "short-changed" so they carried on playing on the boat.

 And Erik, the young fiddle player, joined in too.

The evening "Farewell Concert" was a sell out, again in the Stromness Town Hall. Lots of bands playing, including Harald and his band again after a short break from his trip to Hoy. They played some wonderful wild tunes.  He is an amazing fiddle player!  Then at the end all the musicians came on stage and played some foot stomping numbers (see photo at top of this post)!  Brilliant end to a great weekend.

Outside a short shower hung a rainbow over the harbour. Perfect timing to folk coming out from the concerts.

Sailing into Stromness

Although our ferry is our version of a "bus service" it is also lovely to sail upon it in the good weather......

Here we are sailing into Stromness harbour, passing one of the workboats - mostly working in the renewable energy sector.

And of course the dive boats which are busy throughout the summer as there are lots of sunken wrecks to dive. Diving holidays in Orkney are a key part of the tourism sector.

And the old lifeboat shed has been given a new lease of life. Known locally as "The Red Shed", it's been reclad and repainted and is now used by one of the local diving companies. Meanwhile the lifeboat is moored in the harbour.

But our ferry is also a vital link with the Orkney Mainland, bringing over cargo. Here is "Barney" a new pony for one of the island families! He was very placid and didn't seem bothered by his wee sail on the ferry!

Though I think he was glad to be on dry land again!

Sunday 3 June 2012

Sea Shore

More photos from the recent sunny spell. I love walking along the shore near the house.

Down at the pier are lots of sand eels - good for the local bird and sealife!  Favourite puffin food too! We don't have puffins nesting on the island but I often see them in flight when on the boat.

Rock pools are full of interesting things

And an amazing variety of seaweed too

And the seals are always curious about us land based folk!

Interesting geology here.....

Here is evidence of an old "midden" (rubbish tip) by one of the ruined croft cottages. It's thought there has been a croft here for several hundred years.

And the "Hamnavoe" sailing out of Stromness again!

Saturday 2 June 2012

Glorious weather continues....

Well temperatures have dropped but it's still sunny!  Though farmers are desperate for rain to wash fertilizer into the fields and to help crops grow.  But I'm making the most of the lovely weather!  Last Saturday there were 16.2 hours of sunshine and temperatures reached 24 degrees C (76 F).

Above - photo of the "Hamnavoe" boat sailing out of Stromness on it's way to Scrabster on the Scottish Mainland, with Stromness in the background.

And here you can see Graemsay with Hoy High lighthouse!

Last weekend I went for a short walk "up the road". It was just glorious in the warm sun.

The house with Stromness in the background.

Sheep wondering what on earth I am doing... the lambs are growing fast now.

Lesser celandine growing in the ditch.

Looking across the turquoise entrance to Scapa Flow to the West Mainland of Orkney.

The ruined croft of Moan, with a scarecrow in the field! The scarecrow was to ward off crows and the like when the sheep and young lambs were in the field.