Click on pictures to see them enlarged in a photo stream. Comments: word verification on to allow anyone to comment but try and deter excessive amounts of spam! I LOVE getting comments!

Friday 31 May 2013

Sunshine and sunsets....

Like most of the UK (and much of Europe) we've had a very mixed bag of weather this month. Some lovely warm sunny  days, and some awful wet, windy ones too!  Here are some photos take over the last couple of weeks on the SUNNY days!

The bluebells are out. These were planted many, many years ago and flower each year (a cultivated variety).

And of course the only one with time to sit on a garden bench in Spring is.... Button!

And the sheep and lambs enjoy the sun on their backs too.

This is looking up towards the old school....

And some old crofts - there are lots of mixed habitats in the fields for birds and wild-flowers.

I love the evening light on the water and the way it silhouettes the buildings.

And of course I love the sunsets....

Each night they are different..... This group of buildings are my favourite in the evening sun. Plus they are just outside my back door :-)

Tuesday 28 May 2013

Graemsay Pier

This is an old photo taken of the Graemsay pier during it's construction in the 1950s.  The pier has since been extended but is largely the same. (The MV Graemsay at the pier - a little blurry as it was taken via Mick's webcam).

During construction explosives were kept on the island in this wee shed just along from the pier construction. The small bit in front of it that looks like an entrance is where they kept the detonators!

Before the construction of this pier, the Graemsay ferry (which was much smaller of course) would go into a much smaller pier along at Cooper's Noust further along the island towards the Hoy Low lighthouse.  There were small sheds there too keep supplies and a winch to haul stuff up. Or crofters with boats would bring them into the Sandside pier too.

Nowadays everything comes via the main pier, including phone boxes, septic tanks, building materials, and livestock. All still being winched off and on the ferry. (This photo was taken some years ago before the vessel was lengthened).

Monday 27 May 2013

Orkney Folk Festival

It's that time of year again - the Orkney Folk Festival, always the last bank holiday in May.  So I went over to Stromness, where most of it takes place, to join in some of the fun.

Firstly on Thursday it was meeting up with two friends from Germany, Peter and Helga, who have been visiting Orkney for some years. They first got to know Irene, via Squeak's blog, and then Mick's website and my blog and website too. For a small island we do a lot of blogging ;-)

We had a lovely lunch with them at the Stromness Hotel, and a lovely relaxing afternoon just chatting. They were heading off to go to some of the festival events too with Irene and Bobby.  So I went up to say hallo to Squeak while her people were away.  She let me tickle her adorable little tummy - well everything about her is adorable (only don't tell Button!).

Friday night we had our own wee concert on Graemsay. Andrew Mowat was back from University and he and Bob Leslie played a variety of music and instruments to entertain us. Sandra, Michelle and Pat had put on a lovely supper and a lively (and lovely) time was had! It was a winding down after lambing/calving kind of party.

Of course there was dancing....

And a chaotic Graemsay version of Strip the Willow!

The main street in Stromness is pretty lively during the festival with lots of the musicians, artists and visitors wandering about. Many of the shops stay open over a longer period too. Sometimes musicians just get together outside on the street, there are pub sessions and the bigger concerts too in larger venues. In the cafes you'd find yourself sharing a table with musicians, visitors and locals, all buzzing about the festival.

I went along yesterday to see The Henry Girsl, Martin Donohoe and the Irish Gang, Gria and Blazin' Fiddles.  Loved the blazin' of the fiddles in particular! (Here's a link to them a few years ago). Some of the band came on wearing football gear as there is the annual festival football match between Orkney and the Rest of the World!!  Everyone then goes on to play at the closing concerts!! Some stamina!!

And the ferry from Scrabster to Stromness was back on the route in time for the festival too. We are all celebrating THAT! (It's the one with the "N" on the funnel - not the beige workboat in front!).

Archaeology in Orkney.....

The saying goes "Scratch the surface in Orkney and it bleeds archaeology". So it's time for the summer "digs" again.  My favourite, the Ness of Brodgar, doesn't begin till July, but there is an exciting new dig on the Orkney mainland at Smerquoy.  Take a look here for the Smerquoy Dig Diary.

And this website/blog has a great online exhibition - a very atmospheric "Digital Dwelling at Skara Brae".

And more found in Firth on the Orkney Mainland - this is still at the exploratory stage. Click here

So lots of exciting things being discovered. I'll blog about the Ness of Brodgar dig once it's open and I've had a chance to go and take a look.

Wednesday 22 May 2013

Chooks and clouds....

Love the cloud above, called (I'm reliably informed) cumulonimbus.  They are what you get hail showers from.... this I can verify with personal experience as we have had them on and off all day!  The cumulonimbus clouds are quite distinctive as they are always anvil shaped (thanks to Jeff Temple for that bit of info), and planes don't fly through them (so I am told by aa former air traffic controller!)  Anyway it looked amazing...till the hail shower arrived again..... now we have a gale blowing as well as hail showers, and it's decidedly chilly.

Tonight I'm trying to put out of my mind the disturbing events that took place in Woolwich, South-East London. It's an area I used to drive through regularly on the way to University and later to work. Shocking and disturbing and my thoughts are with the family of the soldier killed today.

So I gain solace even from hail because I saw the sun set tonight.  And because one of my young hens hatched a chick today.  She's a young hen so this is her first chick. And likely to be her last as I no longer keep a cockerel.  Though I may relent some time in the future. Cockerels are bonny birds and they keep the hens together. They act as a sentry and protect the hens. Given there are no real predators like foxes, mine don't need much protection (they just need to learn how to cross the road!) so it's not a problem. But I do notice the girls are out in twos or threes now instead of as a "flock".

Anyway, back to the wee chick. I don't know if it's male or female - fingers crossed it's female then it gets to live out it's life happily here.

And with proud mum.

Their new "home" is some straw in a fish box.  The hen had laid her eggs in the manger where the old horses would have been fed in the byre. I'd let her keep one egg when she went broody but removed all the others as I didn't want to be over-run with chicks.  But once hatched this wasn't a very safe place as it was quite high up. After a day or two the hen will encourage the chick to start exploring and it could end up landing on a hard flagstone floor!  So I made it a ground floor residence in this old fish box in a sheltered corner of the byre.  Usually the hens don't like where I make their new beds - clearly I'm not good at picking a perfect location for THEM. And sometimes they march their chicks right back where I have moved them from (last year among the nettles).  But I doubt the hen can get the chick up to the high rise nest so hopefully all will be well. Also hopefully she will know to stay close by it so nothing gets it (eg a marauding cat... Buttion is on strict instructions to leave alone as is Charlie the barn cat......yeah right....).

And if the photos are a bit blury I was taking them using my iPod while trying to manage a hen and chick!

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Of horses and nature.....

Last week there were lots of events as part of a Nature Festival in Orkney.  I went along to a talk about otters given by Raymond Besant and Richard Shucksmith, with some stunning photos.  I also managed to combine an interest in birdwatching with my passion for horses in one event - a carriage ride around part of the countryside in the West Mainland.  Above is the carriage, pulled by Tom and Jerry, and expertly driven by George Louttit - who just happens to have Graemsay connections.

His two handsome horses are Friesian stallions.  I was a bit anxious as to how they might behave if we went past other horses, but they were perfect gentlemen. Well Jerry had a twinkle in his eye and a spring in his step and sent the hearts of several mares aflutter but none of us ended up in a ditch! LOL!

While out in the carriage we saw sand martins, a short-eared owl, hen harrier, kestrel and a variety of the "usual suspects".  But my eyes were mainly on Tom & Jerry!  There is nothing like seeing the countryside through the ears of a horse.

Both the horses are very handsome, this is Jerry, a bit of a showman....

Um...did I mention he was a bit of a showman?

Tom is the quieter, more reserved but impeccably behaved handsome boy....

The carriage was really comfortable!  I've done a bit of carriage driving some years ago when I thought I would have to give up riding.  It was quite a bumpy experience   Not in this carriage - this must be the Rolls Royce of "wagons" - good suspension (or whatever the technical term is...) very comfortable padded bench seats, even a small table down the middle to put your binoculars and cameras on.  Um.. did I mention I was meant to be looking for birds....???? Ah well, the birds are there any time.... this was special to be with Tom & Jerry (and George too!)........

Sigh.... how very Gothic.....

 George also takes Tom & Jerry and passengers around Stromness, meets passengers from the ocean liners that call in, and also does weddings and funerals.  Those boys are busy!!  Click here for details.

Thursday 16 May 2013

Life settles into a pattern....

So once moved into Sandside, life started to settle into a pattern. There was still work to be done to the house, but the bulk of the building work was finished in May 2002. The builders had done a great job. They had challenges too - not least their clients ;-)  And of course getting materials here which meant liaising with suppliers to get deliveries to the boat on cargo days, getting Arthur with the tractor and trailer to bring it all up to the house. And ensuring they had all they needed for the day - no popping back to the workshop if they'd forgotten something!

There were still areas of the house to be developed, a workshop at the end of the conservatory building, and the old post office which was to be a TV room.  However, as I mentioned earlier, J. decided Graemsay wasn't for him and so I took over the house myself. The house is big enough for me with various spare rooms etc so for now I've left these to be done at a later day.

My favourite rooms are the sitting room in Winter, with the curtains drawn, snuggled down on the sofa with Button; and the conservatory, the "summer" sitting room which looks out across the water to Stromness, where I can watch the sun set, and the hens pottering around. The conservatory was one of J.'s inspired ideas and it works well. A panoramic view from the Orphir hills to Warbeth.

I take most of my photos of summer sunsets from outside that door!

Like this one...

And of course....this.... see what I mean about a panoramic view??  The building on the left is the conservatory.

The field behind the house is used for summer grazing by Arthur. I'd intended bringing my pony, Badger, up from Kent. But he was already 30 when I left and after he developed some health issues I decided he would be happier spending his last few months in the comfort of familiar surroundings, looked after by A. and F and spoilt and petted by everyone. I still feel guilty - but he would have hated the field with no trees to shelter from the wind. There would have been nothing between him and Canada!  I think he would have been sharing the conservatory with me fairly quickly.

Dear Fitzi-cat enjoyed sleeping in the sunny spots around the house until he passed away in August 2008. He'd always been a "house-cat".  I'd had visions of him enjoying the great outdoors, but after he'd been beaten up by the local farm cats a couple of times, we both decided he was better remaining as a house cat! Though he did come outside and enjoy the sun and laying in the long grass in the summer months.

And I got HENS!  I'd wanted chickens for I don't know how long. And finally I could keep a few hens. Cathy & Arthur from Fillets did up an old stone building which is on their land and have let me use it as a henny hoose. There are no predators on the island like foxes so the hens can be completely free range - and they are! A bit of a hazard as you are driving past the house I think sometimes!

I continued to work for the local Council for a few years, but gradually, having been able to build up more work as a health researcher working from home, I was eventually able to give the council job up and work entirely from home. Thank goodness for a good fast internet connection! I'll not tell you the speed because it's faster than most of Orkney gets!

I love living here. I know I made the right decision to move all those years ago. There have been challenges along the way and things didn't quite turn out as I expected. I hadn't planned to be living here on my own. I had hoped to be mortgage free and just need to work to pay the bills, which when J. pulled out meant I had to make some changes and needed to work more rather than less. But in many ways The Dream turned out BETTER than I had expected, as well as different.

Folk have said I was brave to do this. But it didn't feel like that. I'm not really a brave person, really I'm not. But I wanted an adventure. I'd wanted to leave the crowded and busy South-East of England for as long as I could remember. OK I'd lived in the same town all my life for over 40 years, but I was open to adventure. I was determined to make things work out and to enjoy the process, be present to "the moment", as they say.

I now have a lovely home, in a stunning location, and feel part of a community. I can honestly say I am happy. And of course I now share my home with Button! Who despite thinking she is a Princess, is in fact a rufty tufty Orkney cat, a hunter of mice, and a wanderer on the shore!

And when people say they want to move to Orkney and ask for advice - I tell them to rent somewhere for a year and experience a winter FIRST! Tee hee!!

I hope you've enjoyed reading about my "journey". Normal service will be resumed shortly ;-)  And I'm also planning some posts about the history of the house which might interest folk.

Wednesday 15 May 2013

Another episode, another move....

So after spending six months in Longhope on Hoy, it was time for another move. The holiday cottage was being sold to folk on the island. There was no rush for me to move out, but as I had just got a job in Kirkwall   I was keen to move off the island. The commute of getting the ferry from Longhope at 7.15 am and not getting home till 7pm was way too reminiscent of my life south to be comfortable.

It was July (2001) and summer is not a particularly good time to be looking for rented accommodation for a few months in Orkney as it's the tourist season. Most folk with spare property will be doing holiday lets, while others will want longer term tenants.  Anyway I was fortunate to find a property just outside Stromness, it even had a view of the house on Graemsay from a tiny window at the back! All my furniture from "south" had been transported over to Hoy, so now it was packed up again and brought over to Stromness. The property was rented furnished but there was a large room where I could store the all my possessions so that was good.

My commute to work now took me through some lovely countryside and along the coast, no traffic jams (no traffic lights!) - a far cry from much of my former commuting life.  I also went along to some archaeology history classes to learn more about the land I now called home, and began making new friends and socialising a bit more.

Meanwhile the builders continued to work on the house. The deadline which they had set was December 2001. So we all worked towards that. The builders were confident they could be ready.... you know what's coming don't you..... I'd handed in my notice on the rented property......organised a removal firm (again), packed up (again).... then Arthur Ritch phoned from Graemsay. He'd been popping in to chat to the builders and see how things were going.  He wasn't convinced they would have the house ready. But with nowhere else for me to go, the move had to go ahead....

So it was on a very wet windy day the removal firm, McAdie & Reeve, loaded two large containers and several pallets (thankfully wrapped in plastic) onto the deck of the MV Graemsay to take me home... I was rather alarmed to be sharing the voyage with my new bathroom which was also on the deck!  An indication of things to come..... Arthur was at the pier with tractors and trailers to take everything up to the house. Two removal men had come over too.  Everything was winched off the MV Graemsay onto the trailers and carried up to the house, in the same way that all the building materials for the house had arrived. Anything you want delivered to the island comes this way!

I went and opened the front door to be greeted by an array of builders, joiners and decorators.... not one room finished....  I threw a wee hissy fit.... I think I may have said some sweary words too ;-)  Anyway within the hour a room was made ready and all the furniture and boxes could be piled in there by neighbours and the removal men.

 Meanwhile the bathroom was being plumbed in and I was assured that the water would be running later that day so the heating could be put on.  Um... did I mention this was December?  The kitchen was nearly complete but had no sink, fortunately there was one in the utility room (read "porch").  The cooker worked so that was something.

The builders ensured that by the end of the day I had some heating, a toilet that worked, hot water and a bath that I could use as long as I didn't jump about in it (those were the words of the plumber!).

Poor Fitzi-cat was completely traumatised and hid under the duvet which was on the bed - the only bit of furniture to make it upstairs that day. Slowly over the next few days I got furniture arranged and unpacked. The kitchen and bathroom got finished and the decorating continued.

 I was "home" at last. There was still a lot of work to be done on the extension, which we knew wouldn't be complete by December. That was fine as it was a separate part of the house. This was going to contain a couple of guest rooms with shower room, a workshop, and the conservatory. THIS was the bit that caused all the problems with Historic Scotland.

Stone masons had done a good job of matching the stone to raise the roof of what had once been byres, wash house and dairy.

And the underfloor heating was still to be completed in the extension too. Hot water run through pipes heated by an oil fired boiler (furnace).

The extension roof to be completed using Welsh slate from Penrhyn - not very good in terms of eco miles but I was pleased that part of my Welsh heritage was also part of my home!

And the exterior walls were to be "pick and pointed" - that meant that the harling (rendering) had to be taken off to reveal the stone underneath and then pointing placed between the stones. You can see in this photo that it's been partway completed.

It was painstaking work that took months to complete by skilled masons. But slowly I felt as if the house was beginning to breathe again...

Meanwhile...December... Christmas!! It was my first Christmas in the house. Fitzi-cat and I celebrated in style. J.  was working away again (I think, anyway he couldn't get to Orkney for Christmas). We had snow AGAIN!

I was still living out of boxes, no carpets on the floors or curtains at the window, but finally I could feel at home.  And the sitting room was finally without boxes!!

And on Hogmanay I had a party so folk on the island could have a chance to see the house and to echo the tradition that the last residents of the house had maintained - Hogmanay at Sandside.

The story to be continued..... with further challenges and with fun stuff about hens, and the house now.......