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Sunday 28 October 2012

What did I miss....

....when I first moved to Orkney? was a question posed by "Yorkshire Pudding" in a comment to one of my recent posts.   Hmmmm well I have to cast my mind back to 2000 when I first moved to the island.  I think, even at the time that the things I *found* in Orkney and on Graemsay certainly balanced and, in some cases, outweighed what I missed.  Obviously I missed my friends who had lived nearby. My family have always been scattered around the UK so we were used to keeping in touch by phone and not seeing much of each other.  Many thought I was bonkers to move from just south of London to just North of John O'Groats.  AND to an island!

But as I have said before, I had longed to move out of the suburban town that I had lived in all my life and really was looking for a challenge at that point in my life. I'll write more in a later post on what brought me to Graemsay.

But for now, back to the question in hand.  What did I miss when I moved to Graemsay in Orkney?

Theatre and live performance - I used to go up to London to see a lot of productions, some "fringe", or in the West End.  But I knew I would be giving up the frequency that I could do this by moving to Orkney. I'd spent years going to the theatre but I knew that was one thing that would become less frequent. Of course Orkney has lots of festivals, so there is still the opportunity to go to live performances!

Coffee shops and a variety of "world cuisine" restaurants. NOW around Orkney, particularly in Kirkwall and Stromness you can get a decent latte and Cake in a number of places. But in 2000 it was the more traditional cafe providing beans on toast, mugs of tea, toasted sandwiches, burgers and chips. That sort of fare.  Nothing wrong with it at all - but I craved a lovely cafe latte and luscious cakes.  Now in Stromness at Julia's Bistro I can get both

OOoh which to choose from!

I missed the mix of restaurants where I could meet friends for coffee or a glass of wine, light meal and a chat.    At the time it was mostly the hotels and pubs that served main meals. Some were excellent, but it was the more informal places that I longed for.  Again Orkney now has a lovely selection. There's a great Italian restaurant in Kirkwall (Lucano's), and a variety of Indian and Chinese restaurants as well as cafes and bistros providing "main meals" and great desserts (ooh a meal out isn't complete without dessert!). Of course not forgetting the wonderful fish & chip van that visits Finstown and Stromness once a week. Best Fish & Chips around!

Other than eating places, whatever I could get "south" was available living in Orkney. True there were additional costs for postage (a sore point for many Orkney residents - we pay EXTRA for things to be posted to Orkney!) or shipping charges. There might be less choice and some things were more expensive. There are no large DIY stores like B&Q, or household shops like Ikea in Orkney. But there ARE a variety of places selling similar things - though no one can beat the price of Ikea ...sigh.... The nearest Ikea shop in Glasgow, several hundred miles and a sea crossing away.

Clothes shopping is obviously more limited in Orkney than in the big towns. But again there are independent shops selling lovely things. Though mostly I shop online these days. Um... I just bought these online having drooled over them when on holiday and visiting Exeter.... not sure I will get to wear them often, but just owning them give me a warm glow ;-)

Someone from Edinburgh said they couldn't live in ORkney as it was too far from a book shop. Pah! We have a great little book-shop in Stromness - Tam's.  It's a treasure trove of wonderful books, and Tam will order things in too.  Though - hanging head in shame - I'm afraid I get a lot of my books from Amazon these days......

Food shops (local butchers, bakers etc) as well as the usual suspects in terms of supermarkets also stock a range of items so it's possible to cook up whatever you want!  Though if the weather is bad and the distribution trucks can't deliver to the supermarkets you might need to be a little inventive when cooking!

Overwhelmingly, the lifestyle change was very positive for me. Yes there were some challenging times in the early years, but I always knew this was where I wanted to be and so it was a case of overcoming any obstacles or getting used to a different way of life. And frankly - look at the picture at the top of this post..... these seals are visible from my window (OK I need binoculars to see them clearly!) or a short walk along the shore..... any time......  considering I used to look out onto other houses or a main road in my home south - this is a VAST improvement and even worth giving up cafe lattes for ;-)

Saturday 27 October 2012

First snow of winter.....

.... in OCTOBER?!!  Brrrr!  After the gloriously warm and sunny weather of the last week, we have had snow/sleet/hail showers for the last few days. Thankfully none of the snow has settled.  But it's been windy.... from the North.... so yes that's COLD!

OK - I realise for those of you who live in climates where snow is not mentioned till it gets to 6 feet deep that this seems like I'm being a bit of a drama queen.... but in Orkney we don't get much snow usually or even much to get it in October is a bit depressing. It makes winter feel like it's going to be looooong.  Which of course is not necessarily so.

Snow sliding down the window pane....

Tonight the clocks go back an hour as it's the end of "British Summer Time"....sobs quietly...... ah well, time to hunker down in the warm with lots of books and chocolate!

A wee bit of a "blizzard" yesterday afternoon hiding the Hoy hills.... but it didn't last for long.

Monday 22 October 2012

Warmer than Summer!

The last few days have been glorious. So still and calm and with sunshine - indeed I think it's been warmer than most of our summer!  So I've been taking time to wander along the shore and just soak up the sunshine before the real Autumn presents itself again. Which, according to the forecast, is the end of this week with sleety rain and "snow on high ground".

Now OK I live on an island surrounded by water, but I do love walking along the beach and just listening to the waves lapping the shore. Before I moved to Orkney in 2000 I had dreamed of living "by the sea". But the most I could hope for living in the expensive South East of England was maybe a glimpse of the sea from an attic window and maybe a short (20 minute) walk to the beach on a seaside coastal town somewhere in England.

Clearly I needed to dream bigger!  Because yes I ended up with the beach just a few yards from my doorstep and most days I can walk upon it without another person in sight. (OK it required a major move North to achieve this but still!). Sheer bliss.....  Stunning views and big skies - and not an amusement arcade or ice cream stall in view.  My own private paradise!  Sometimes I need to remind myself just how lucky I am! :-)

This looks back along the "Shell Beach" to what were some old cottages and workshop - now falling onto the shore because of coastal erosion.

I think you might get wet feet if you tried sailing in this wee boat! It's pretty though.

The old Sandside pier and the old Steading at Sandside.

And yes, here is Button the Beach Cat!  The sand looks pure white here because it's actually shell sand.

And coral....cold water coral (merl) as well as lots of tiny shells....beautiful!

And much appreciated by all the kids (young and old) as well as by Princess Button!

Sunday 21 October 2012

The dragon breathes fire!

Well not quite. It was really a lovely sunset behind the Hoy hills..... but then again....

Over Sandside Bay

Saturday 20 October 2012

The sleeping dragon of Hoy.....

is having a nap under a fluffy duvet of clouds!  I love this view from my front door. I always look towards the Sleeping Dragon. I think she only wakes during the night - I hear her roaring then, though others tell me it's the wind. I know better!

Friday 19 October 2012


Now you don't hear me speak about SunRISE very often! It's only in winter, when the sun has the decency to arrive at a respectable hour, that I get a chance to photo this beautiful time of day. Sunrise is about 8am at the moment. In deepest Winter it will be after 9am...sigh..... However this week I was off to the town and managed to glimpse the sun awakening over Scapa Flow. So enjoy these (rare for me!) photos!

Pink clouds behind Hoy High lighthouse...

Clouds warming up behind the Orphir hills on the Orkney Mainland.

This is my favourite with the rising sun reflecting on the pebbles on the shore. This was taken at the Graemsay Pier, looking down Scapa Flow...

Monday 15 October 2012

Early evening on the beach....

I was out for a walk on the beach about 5.30 this evening. It was chilly but a lovely calm day and, between the showers, it had been lovely and sunny.

I started the walk on my own but Button soon appeared and was in "hunter" mode - mostly she chased bits of seaweed and grass!

I love the early evening light... it really adds a glow to the stone of the old Sandside pier.

And the setting sun sparkled across the calm water and the sand

I love the patterns in the sand....

And the rivulets of water that collect off the land and run down to the sea

And the skeletal heads of the cow parsley

Yes, a lovely Autumnal afternoon!

Sunday 14 October 2012

Sea Cat!

I was out on the road speaking to a neighbour who had stopped his tractor, when he pointed down to the shore. I expected to see him pointing at a seal. No - it was Button among the seaweed and rocks.  Eeeek!!!

She's come for a walk along the shore with me before but I didn't realise she went off exploring near the water ON HER OWN!  I think it's better NOT to know what cats get up to when they are out.  I shall worry now about "freak waves" etc. I'm hoping if the sea is wild she has the sense to stay away from it.  But who knows!!

All these photos were taken using a zoom lens! Yes she was THAT far away!

Perhaps she's waiting for Owl with the pea green boat?

And yes this is STILL on zoom....

Thursday 11 October 2012

The Merry Dancers

The Merry Dancers (Orkney name for the Northern Lights/Aurora) have been dancing away this week.  I haven't yet worked out if my new camera can take pictures of it - or rather whether I can get it to take pictures!  So no pix from me though I DID see them dancing about the sky. But this stunning photo was taken by John Wishart in Orkney and has gone "viral" on facebook, so I'm hoping he won't mind my sharing it with you all here!

In John's photo the Merry Dancers can be seen behind the Italian Chapel, which makes for an ethereal and poignant photo.  Photos capture the Merry Dancer lights differently to the human eye. Although you can see a greenish glow, it's not as bright as in photos.  This blog post from Fair Isle explains it well : What does the Aurora really look like?

Note: sorry for absence - am recovering from evil stomach "bug" this week. Getting better but feeling wabbit (Scots term for feeling tired and lacking in energy). Hope to be back soon!

Saturday 6 October 2012

A time of rainbows....

Autumn is a time of rainbows, lots of them. We've had a couple of fairly calm days, but with lots rain showers. I can hear the wind getting up outside now though.  Temperatures are about 10 or 11 degrees C during the day (about 50F). Sunset is about 6.30pm today. Ah well, time to think about hunkering down for a few months. Relaxing with books and catching up on DVDs and TV recorded programmes in the evening, instead of pottering in the garden. Though I still have some veggies (potatoes and carrots) to harvest!

It's also a time of power cuts. We had one recently that lasted only an hour, which was long enough to remind me to get new batteries for the torches and check on candle supplies. Time to stock up the freezer too so that I don't have to go to town unless I want to.

We had a broadband/internet outage on the island yesterday too. Nothing to do with the weather, something technical in the exchange.  I was hyperventilating for a while but fortunately the problem was resolved fairly quickly. NOT remove my internet access....

It feels too soon to be Autumn though....sigh.... it doesn't feel like we've had summer yet.  Ho hum....

Here's Stromness through the rainbow!

Thursday 4 October 2012

Dog Sitting.....

Part of my busy-ness this week has involved "dog-sitting".  It has to be said that, despite growing up with dogs and having dogs into my 20s, I am now a confirmed cat person.  However a friend was in need of someone to take care of one of her Shetland Collies while she took her other dog south for surgery at a specialist vet centre.  So... we made up a rota and some folk went in during the day to let Lyra, aforementioned Shetland collie, out or take her for a walk and I did the overnight stay.

So I was doing a "backwards" commute to the town at night and home again during the day. Button was unphased by this because she a) had plenty of food left for her and b) she's out most of the night in good weather and probably didn't notice my absence!

Lyra was a lovely wee dog and no bother at all to look after. In fact less demanding than Princess Button!  Though I did have to remember to keep opening the door for her to go out.

The house I stayed in is just across the water from my house. So I could look back at the lights on Graemsay at night, instead of looking at the lights of Stromness!

Bit of a fuzzy photo - but this is from the garden looking over farmland over the water back at Graemsay, with the Hoy High lighthouse and my house just to the right.....

The local farmers have been desperate to get the crops in and a combine was busy working on several days I was there.  This photo looks over the fields from the garden, down Scapa Flow and over to the Hoy Hills.

The neighbours were pretty quiet, though a little nosey....

Lyra's owner is back home now with the other dog safely through surgery. Lyra will be pleased to have her "pack" back again!

Right, time to catch up on chores etc. No more lazing on the sofa in the evening keeping the dog "company" ;-)