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Friday 31 August 2012

Of sunsets, chickens and eggs...

.... or should that be "Of sunsets, eggs and chickens"??!  Above is the sunset last night. Beautiful after a couple of blustery and rainy days.  Though sadly it now sets behind the point of Graemsay, rather than over on the West Mainland. Autumn approaches.  I should rejoice in the changing of the seasons, but we haven't had the most wonderful of summers in Orkney, nor indeed the UK, so it's sad to see the approach of autumn and winter in the sun. Ho hum......

Now to the hens...... I was out inspecting wind damage in the garden today, and of course the girls had to come along too and give their opinion!

I found both these eggs in a nest today.  I think the wee one was laid by mistake!  Although hens lay one egg a day they will have several smaller eggs inside which increase in size before being laid. Not sure what happened to this one!  Sometimes a young hen coming into lay for the first time will lay a small egg, but I've never seen one THIS small!

I mentioned a walk in the garden. It's been a battle this summer what with the cooler temperatures, less sun, and quite a fair bit of wind and rain.  I'll post pictures of the garden in a few days time. But for now here is one of my favourite plants - I've forgotten it's name! But it is just starting to flower. It's a bit like a thistle but not!

And this is a Blackbird - not sure if this is a juvenile or a female. I love the lichen on the garden wall, and there's a fuschia and a willow tree just peeping over from outside the garden.

Meanwhile, Thursday evening is time for the Stromness Sailing Club to take to the water. It was a bit breezy last night so they didn't stray far from the harbour.

Thursday 30 August 2012

And yet more archeology!!

Here's a link to the artist, Nicki MacRae, who was the artist at the Ness of Brodgar dig this year. I think I had a photo of her among those of my visit to the site. I wondered what she was doing !

Do take a look - Nicki Paints: Artist Residency

More archaeology.....

Photo copyright Historic Scotland

There's been great excitement in the archaeology world in Orkney as another hand carved figure has been discovered during excavations on a site on the island of Westray. This adds to the collection - there were two other similar finds in recent years.  In 2009 what is known locally as the "Westray Wifey" was discovered - believed to be the earliest artistic representation of a human form ever found in the UK.  All of the finds will be on display at the Westray Heritage Centre.  The dig is ongoing so who knows what else they might find!

Here's the three "finds" - photo copyright Radio Orkney

The island of Westray has a new website "Westray's Living Heritage" which is worth a look. It's just been set up but already contains some interesting photos

Meanwhile, if you can't get to Orkney, take a "virtual tour" of Maeshowe on the Historic Scotland website : click here to see it. Maeshowe is a chambered tomb thought to date from 2700 BC. More info on it can be found here

Wednesday 29 August 2012

Back to school.....

No....not for me but for the island school children!  There are two young boys who have started school for the first time this August. (The Scottish terms are different to the English school terms). The children  join three others from the island who go to the primary school and teenager J. who attends the secondary school in Stromness. All of whom go over on the ferry each day.

The ferry schedule is designed so that they have a fairly short journey time of 15 minutes on the boat each way. Though obviously there are times in the winter when the boat is cancelled. I'm sure many of them are praying for a stormy winter so they get more days off school!

There used to be a school on Graemsay - see the picture above. This was a one classroom school with cloakroom and toilet, and playground. It was a primary school (up to age 11), the children would go over to the Mainland for their secondary level education where they would stay during the week and come back to the island at the weekend.

Then in 1996 the island got a daily ferry service with the MV Graemsay. Previously the ferry had not run daily during the week.  So it was now possible for the school children to travel back and forth to Stromness each day.

With just one pupil remaining on the school roll and probably for economics and "inclusiveness" reasons,  the local education authority decided to close the school. Shops, schools and churches make small communities, and the island was very upset at the proposed closure. However, despite valiant efforts by the island folk to keep it open, the decision was made and the school closed.  Irene Mathieson was the teacher at the time having moved up here some years before from just outside Glasgow. She loved Graemsay so much she decided to stay and she and her husband Bobby still live on Graemsay.  Irene has lots of stories and many happy memories from her time as the island teacher.

As for the rest of Orkney - most of the isles have primary schools, and some secondary level education up to age 14. Then the children go to either Stromness or Kirkwall schools for the remaining time. Some of the children from the North isles still have to stay in a hostel during the week.  Again with a recession and falling school rolls small communities around the county are fighting to keep their schools. It's not an easy battle.

But for the Graemsay children, it's a daily "commute" to and from Stromness via boat. Which might seem a bit daunting (and in bad weather it IS!). Up to the age of 12 the children get a "minder" supplied by the council, who gets them on and off the boat and sits with them during the journey.  There are also a number of children from the neighbouring island of Hoy who are also going over to secondary school each day.  So the boat can be quite lively in term time!

Tuesday 28 August 2012

Stormy Monday....

After the heat of Sunday, Monday dawned fair if a little breezy. By the afternoon it was Very Windy, with torrential rain. It felt like November......sigh......

As you can see I have my new camera!  Not much time to "play" at the moment, but I have a few days off next week so hope to be able to experiment fully with it. Really pleased with it so far......

Hoy High and Sandside......

Sunday 26 August 2012

Sunny Sunday!

It's been a glorious day today, but no I haven't been hiking the hills of Hoy. These photos were taken by a friend, Jenny, who was over on the neighbouring island of Hoy today. As you can see it was a fabulous day to be out walking. Above is the "Old Man of Hoy" a sandstone sea stack, a favourite with climbers.

Meanwhile I was spending a more leisurely day pottering. Mowing the grass, some light weeding, a few domestic chores and lots of sitting outside drinking tea!  Pure bliss.......

Hopefully picking up my new camera tomorrow so will post some pictures taken with it during the week.....

Meanwhile - more of Jenny's pictures......

You need a head for heights with this one!

A friendly gull (herring gull I think)

Speaking of gulls and seabirds in general, there was an excellent programme "Springwatch" on TV this week. UK readers may have seen it (sadly unavailable outside the UK). Most of it was filmed in Orkney around a number of the RSPB bird reserves.  Sadly the Orkney population of Kittiwakes is on the decline, possibly due to a reduction in their main food of sand eels. Scientists are still unsure what is causing this but potentially climate change.  However the number of gannet pairs in Orkney is increasing which is great news. Gannets often dive just off Graemsay. It's a wonderful sight!

Time for another cup of tea while gazing at the moon I think....... (accompanied by the sound of tractors as hay and silage is brought into shelter - weather forecast not good for the week - ho hum).

Saturday 25 August 2012

Oh Calamity! I drowned my camera!

So this lovely picture is courtesy of Derek Mayes, my camera guru, who has been advising me on a replacement. It shows Graemsay on the left, the Orkney Mainland on the right, with Stromness on the far right. And in the mid-ground is the "sea snake" - part of the wave technology being tested out by one of the local renewable energy companies.

As you can see on Graemsay, from the pattern of the fields, silage and hay cutting is still ongoing.  It's been poor weather this summer for growing silage/hay and the farmers are struggling to get a crop in for animal feed for the winter.  The weather is warm enough now, but lots of rain showers mixed in with sun so not very conducive to baling silage or hay!

Back to my poor camera...... I popped it into a pocket in the car when I went to the pier.  Unfortunately the screen wash bottle had leaked and there was a pool of sticky liquid in which my poor camera sat for an hour or so..... I wiped it and let it dry out but all the stickiness has gummed it up so I shall have to invest in a new camera.

Derek has recommended a Panasonic Lumix (compact) camera which I hope to get next week. It's a better specification than my defunct Canon Ixus so I'm looking forward to playing with it!  And yes of course the photos will be appearing here!

It's been one of those weeks for me really. Nothing serious, just little things going wrong. I've had trouble with my ride-on-mower/tractor as it wouldn't start. A couple of neighbours have been jump starting it for me. It was a bit incongruous on Sunday when Mick used his jeep to jump start my wee mower! Mick's tested the battery and stuff and all seems OK. So I'm not sure what the problem is and once the silage baling has finished I'm hoping one of the "tractor mechanics" can take a look at it.

One of my hens hatched a chick last weekend - it was a surprise to us both I think. She'd been sitting on one egg for ages and I hadn't paid much attention. I leave a marked egg in a nest to encourage the hens to continue to lay and then take the other eggs each day. Of course if she has been brooding it, then it would hatch. Which it did..... sadly though she is a "new mum" and never hatched chicks before. She obviously didn't look after it properly as it disappeared. It was safely in the hen house and I *thought* safely enclosed. But either she left it and one of the cats got it, or she took it outside and one of the crows or other birds had it.  She was a bit bewildered for a day but seems OK now. Though she's laid another egg and I suspect she will try and brood that one now.... Another hen is sitting on a small clutch of eggs too.  Still, although I have 5 chicks (ranging from a month to about 3 months) at least there are not as many as last year (I ended up with 35 birds....gulp!).

Is this cat wearing a guilty look???  Nah - butter wouldn't melt!  This is Charlie, the barn cat. 

Button looks equally innocent .....

Monday 20 August 2012

Ness of Brodgar Archaeological Dig 2012

Today I finally went along to see what has been happening this year at the Ness of Brodgar dig. If you are in the UK or Australia you may have seen the programme at New Year or recently on the site. It is amazing. A huge site which is thought to cover 3 football pitches, though only part of the site is being excavated at the moment.

This site is between the Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness. It's also between two lochs. Barnhouse, a Neolithic settlement, is nearby, as is Maes Howe.  The Ness of Brodgar site dates from the Neolithic period but the purpose of each building is still unknown. It's not thought they are domestic spaces like Skara Brae. These are much larger and are defined in different ways. The whole site is surrounded by a huge wall too.  The largest building has been dubbed "the Cathedral" - though as this pre-dates Christianity it has nothing to do with specific religiosity but more because it is a cross-shaped room.  But it is thought the building was used for ceremony or ritual and it has walls 5 metres thick! It is aligned with the Maes Howe passage grave, and in line with the rising sun on Spring and Autumn Equinoxes  Several hundred cattle heads and shin bones have been found in one part of the building. So some feasting took place on the site too. (Or it was the first Orkney Abattoir!!)

Stones have been found with incised patterns on them and pigments of autumnal shades have been found on some of the stones too.  Lots of pottery fragments have been found and various stone tools. Some of the tools are made out of flint, which isn't found in Orkney but given the position of the islands, trading was very common and this could have been "imported".

The dig is closing up for the season and the site will be covered over till next July.  If you want to know more about what has been going on this year there is a diary available here.

Meanwhile, here are some pictures giving a "snapshot" of the site (if you click on one you can see them larger and in a "slide show" format). No "digging" was going on as such today. Now is the time to record everything before the site closes, so there were various archaeologists, measuring, drawing, recording.

The site probably extends under the house to the top right but no one knows for sure.

The chap in the middle seems to be standing on plain earth - but it is actually "midden" - that is rubbish, and was often used to fill in houses or sites after they become disused. The midden is always a valuable resource for archaeologists, giving clues to what was eaten, used and discarded.

Nick Card, on the left, is the site Director (and Senior Project Manager at ORCA), seen here staring into a big hole... archaeologists seem to do a lot of that ;-)

As you can see the walls are really well defined and well built.  One of the archaeologists is recording data in this corner.

This building is sitting on part of the site. But within the archaeological site have been found stones which give rise to the opinion they were used for roofing, much in the way these larger stones are used on this very traditional Orkney stone slate roof.

Recording the site takes many forms, some high tech, some very traditional!

This is part of one of the two standing stones found as part of this site.

That's an awful lot of stone!

More careful recording going on. Look at those stone walls!

As you can see - the site is huge!

There's a viewing platform which is essential for non-archaeologists to make sense of the place!  Tours were held several times a day, with a large part of the tour conducted up here on the platform. Great view!

This stone was dug up recently. It's a bit like a quernstone - used for grinding up grain to make flour etc. It's unclear what it's purpose was on the site - it may have been as a quernstone - or not - the jury is still out apparently. But... I got to touch it! Amazing!! To think someone thousands of years ago made this and it's lain underground for so long....and I got to touch it!

These are just some of the tools that have been found this season

More of this year's finds. Including some pottery fragments

Who knows what this was used for. One thought is it was used to make or mark pottery.

So that's it for another year at the Ness of Brodgar.  Can't wait to see what they find next year!!

Saturday 18 August 2012

A day out.....

It's been a glorious day, with sunshine, blue skies, HEAT, oh yes and fog and a thunderstorm. Welcome to Summer in Orkney! The day started very misty on Graemsay. I could barely see up the road as I drove to the pier.  But once in Stromness it was blue sky and sunshine.

A beautiful spider's web with drops of mist upon it at the kitchen window this morning.

I was meeting up with some friends on the Orkney Mainland to head out for a picnic as a birthday celebration for one of us.  We'd had trouble settling on a date that fitted with everyone's schedule, then of course the vagaries of the weather. So we'd decided on today, come what may.  In the event it was one of the best days of the summer.

We headed out to Birsay and had planned on a short walk before a picnic lunch (note the jackets - we didn't need these later in the day but you always need to be prepared...).  The wee dogs enjoyed the walk too.

Then we heard thunder, saw some lightening and a storm appeared to be heading towards us.

 As you can see from the picture the sky looks quite black and dramatic.  So we curtailed our walk and sought shelter in  S.'s camper van for a cup of tea.  But the sky soon cleared and as you can see here - sun and blue skies returned, and the temperature rose.

So it was out with the picnic tablecloth and food and then relaxing in the sun. We thought we ought to walk off our lunch so wandered along the shore.  I'd put some sun-screen on, but even in just a tee-shirt was feeling way too warm (about 21 degrees C/70F which is hot for Orkney!).  I was glad to find a shady spot when we got back. Then I could see a group of folk looking out to sea and so wandered over to see what the excitement was.  A Minke Whale swimming just off-shore!!

A couple of our group wandered off for a walk to the Brough, while the rest of us preferred a slightly flatter walk.  The Brough is full of history as it has the remains of a settlement dating back to the 5th Century AD. But it is only accessible at low tide, so you have to watch the tide times as there is nowhere to stay if you get stuck there!

The geology is fascinating too.  There's a dark band running along the sandstone clearly visible in this photo. Clearly tells of some sort of "volcanic intrusion" (or whatever the geological term is!).

All too soon it was time to head back to Stromness where I had time for a quick cup of tea, then heading back home on the boat.  A lovely day out and definitely a "memory day".

And on a weather note.....the wind has got up and is rattling the windows!!

Friday 17 August 2012

Fog and farming....

The last week has been weird, weather-wise. Warm, but lots of fog, a sunny day, then showers, then sun, then fog. It's been a nightmare for farmers in Orkney and on Graemsay, trying to get silage and hay cut for winter feed.  There are just not enough consecutive nice days to crack on with cutting the grass and letting it dry before turning into bales for silage OR hay.

Yesterday was beautiful - hot sun, clear blue skies, a stunning evening (if you forget the midges, which you can't, but still)...... and then today....rain and fog again!

Meanwhile the landscape is beginning to take on it's patchwork appearance as the silage and hay is slowly gathered in.

Thursday 16 August 2012

The old boat on the beach.....

Ever since I came to Graemsay there has been an old wooden boat on the "shell beach" below Sandside. It has been a favourite photographic subject for me and many others. But not any more. My neighbours have been clearing up the shore and so the boat was set on fire this week as it was too heavy for the tractor to haul off the shore. I shall miss that boat...... But I took photos of it's ceremonial burning - rather like a Viking boat burial - without the Vikings...sadly.....

And here are a selection of photos I've taken over the years.

One of my favourites in the light of the setting sun.....

She was called "Scarborough"......

And was favoured by the hens....

The sharp end!

The peeling paint was sandblasted every storm

And her name lives on....I've rescued her nameplate and the sun will shine on it in the garden...oh and the rain, and the wind.....!

So now it's time to find another boat subject.....

Against the setting sun.....