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 30 January 2015

There's a lot of weather about!

We're not getting much in the way of snow though there are some heavy hail showers and even snow showers. But it's only settling on the hills, not lower down.  Anyway Barry Jones of Lyness in Hoy has been up walking along the hills of Hoy and has kindly said I can use these stunning photos he took of the weather passing over Graemsay yesterday.  They are fabulous shots I'm sure you will agree!

The photo above - the town of Stromness and the sheltered harbour basking in sun, but with a heavy shower approaching.  And in the foreground - Graemsay out of the sun!

But wait!  Sandside and the Hoy High Lighthouse have the sun shining upon us!

But just approaching...... aaah get inside quick!!

And this is my favourite shot of all. Stunning!

You can see in the foreground of the two last shots above snow covering the hill.  And this is where Barry was walking.... Brr glad I was nice and snug indoors!

Wednesday 28 January 2015

Shetland - Up Helly Aa

Shetland is quite a bit further North than Orkney and though there are links between the two island groups and we share much of a cultural heritage, there are also differences. There's an old saying that Orkney men are farmers who fish, and Shetland men are fishermen who farm.

Anyway one fine tradition in Shetland are the annual mid-winter fire festivals - Up Helly Aa.  Islands and parishes hold these throughout January and they culminate in the main festival in Lerwick. It's a great spectacle and draws lots of tourists too.

Over recent years there have been webcams and some fairly amateurish attempts to broadcast it over the net.  But this year it was broadcast by 60N.TV and was very professionally done with commentators and various camera angles.  I captured some of it using screen shots on my laptop and so am sharing these with you now below.  For really good sharp photos take a look at the BBC new website here

Shetland and Orkney share a Viking heritage and Up Helly Aa celebrates the viking past. A jarl squad of Vikings parades round Lerwick with flaming torches, hundreds in the procession.  Each squad will wear a different uniform.  And the Guiser Jarl (head jarl of the ceremony) is pulled through the town on a longship which is then ceremoniously burned. Hopefully the Guiser Jarl makes a quick escape!

It must be a health and safety nightmare but is a real spectacle - even watched online!  So I hope you enjoy just a flavour of the festival through these screen shot photos!

As darkness fell the boys and young men were the first to begin a procession and burn their longship.

Wonderful Viking winged helmets!

The torchlight procession. Hundreds of men with burning torches

Slowly the procession gathers into a great circle

And the torches are thrown onto the longship

Every man with a torch will throw it onto the vessel

I could just feel the heat even watching online!

It was a windy night with rain showers, bitterly cold - but the fire would keep them warm!

The longship would have been built by local men especially for the festival

And as the ship burned, fire burned in the sky too. Fireworks!

Hope you enjoyed your brief visit to Up Helly Aa!  Although the fireworks signaled the end of the festival outdoors, it went on indoors for many hours.  Each squad would tour round the halls where there would be music and dancing, and they would be given refreshments and a warming drink (ahem!).

In Lerwick apparently all the squads are male, but other squads around Shetland are mixed.  One of the commentators was trying to say that the Lerwick women had an important part in the festival too, providing all the refreshments etc.  Well I'm a Warrior Woman and I would want a torch! Don't put me by the sink!  Or the cake for that matter, if you want any left! Ha!

Tuesday 27 January 2015

The Milky Way....

no not the chocolate bar but the REAL milky way.... that is what is in the picture. Actually the Milky Way over Stromness and (to the left) Graemsay. Not quite Dark Skies in Orkney, but much less light pollution than further South.

This photo was taken by Premysl Fojtu, who is originally from the Czech Republic but now bides in Orkney.  His aim is to go round all the islands in Orkney taking photos of the remote and less visited parts.  There's an article about him here  The cottage with the daffodils in the article is on Graemsay and is one of my favourite photos. A sad derelict house that was once a much loved home.  What stories that house (and the daffodils!) could tell. Premysl has a Facebook page with photos taken on his journey around Orkney - click here.

And there have been some modest showings of the "Merry Dancers" (Northern Lights/Aurora) over the last few weeks and if you click here you can see a short time lapse film by Sean Lewis of Magnetic North Films.

On a more poignant note, Jack Rendall of Rackwick (on the neighbouring island of Hoy) died last week at the age of 87. There was a large funeral at the weekend as Jack had been part of the community all his life, and was known by many others far and wide.  Jack lived in Rackwick and at one time was the only resident of the valley, one of the remoter parts of Orkney. He was a quiet man with a lovely smile and twinkly eyes. He will be much missed.

But as part of the Hoy Kirk Heritage project a short film was made a couple of years ago which wonderfully captures Jack with his stories of life in Rackwick.  It's 15 minutes long, so make a cup of tea, pull up a chair and enjoy the story of a time gone past.....  Click Here

Monday 26 January 2015

Graemsay Burns Supper and Dance

Last night was Burns Night but we had our Supper and Dance on Friday night as it suited folk better. We don't hold one every year, but folk thought it would be a nice idea to have it again this year.  Mac and Carrie were up from England and Mac is very keen on Burns Suppers so he is the Master of Ceremonies.  Having an Englishman in a kilt as Master of Ceremonies of a Burns Night might seem unconventional, but this IS Graemsay. Ha!

The evening started with the welcome and the quaich was passed around. Usually this is in a silver two handled cup, but in the absence of that (Mac had forgotten to bring it), we used a two handled bowl instead.  The sentiments are the same - when the Clans meet the cup of friendship and loyalty is passed to all. In this case full of whisky, of course.

Then it was time for Becky to say the Selkirk Grace

The soup was served, a delicious Scotch Broth, made my Mac. And then it was time for the piping in of the Haggis, which was paraded around the room before being placed before the Master of Ceremonies (Mac).

There is the Address to the Haggis and the Toast to the Haggis and the poor thing is stabbed and devoured along with clapshot (neeps and tatties) and mince for those that don't eat haggis!  The Haggis, or is it Haggi as there were several (!) were from the local butcher, Flett, in Stromness. Delicious - apparently.  Sandra had made a lovely job of the mince, and Cathy the delicious clapshot.

Oh and then my favourite part..... dessert! Again made by Sandra.  Orkney fudge cheesecake and crannachan.  Crannachan - the nectar of the gods!  My now favourite dessert! And finally something useful to do with oatmeal. Ha!  Contentious that - Scots LOVE hens love oatmeal.... I, a welsh wuman, do not!

Soon it was time for the Toast to the Lassies proposed by John Budge from Walls on a neighbouring island.

And the Ladies Response to the Handsome Escorts proposed by Shirley, who had written a great poem in response.

And a toast to Graemsay folk by Mac, and a toast to Absent Friends by Sue.  Then it was time for the Odes!

The love poem "A Red Red Rose" read by a young lad to his love

The Silver Tassie, read by Daphne, and various odes to Scotch Whisky and finally "There'll never be peace 'till Jamie comes home" read by different folk

Cathy reading an ode

Joe reads a poem about Whisky!
A wee boy ponders the Odes....maybe!

And two young lasses had practised hard to read an ode together. And it wasn't an easy one either!

Then it was time to clear away the tables and for the dancing to begin, interspersed with stories and song.

Leslye and Ian the Piper doing their best to show people the Palais Glide!

First a discussion

Then a demo (young Katie helping out John by playing along on the bodhran!)

and everyone joined in

And there were plenty of other dances too

Music was provided by John and Leslye Budge. Always welcome and good friends of mine and Graemsay

Mac has been learning the bodhran too

There were discussions with Carrie the honorary photographer

And of course, a group photo!!  This is almost the entire population of the island.  There were three folk not here, and in their place some visitors. You can see we are a small island!

As ever on Graemsay the partying went on into the wee small hours apparently.  I was back home before midnight - lightweight I know!  But it was a really good evening and I think folk thoroughly enjoyed themselves which is what matters.

Tuesday 13 January 2015

And now...snow...!

I made it through the storm! (Hmm think that's a line in a song somewhere).  Well to be precise it wasn't much of a storm the 2nd time around.  Just a regular Orkney gale. But pretty windy nonetheless. Fortunately there doesn't appear to be any damage to the house. Charlie the barn cat is fine as are the hens. Think they are enjoying all their extra rations!

We did get a power cut for a couple of hours one day - er see picture below! Our power comes over from Orphir on the Orkney Mainland and one of the poles there snapped. (Our cable comes undersea and the overground again on the island).  We were extremely lucky to get it fixed in two hours as many places in Orkney have experienced power cuts.

Photo by Brian Kemp

We got off pretty lightly this time I think.  The Western Isles and the West coast of Scotland was hard hit, and some of the very North of Scotland too.  People were without power for DAYS!

Now it's turned colder and we have snow, but it's not really settling.  Snow is forecast for a few days but it's unusual to get snow staying long in Orkney - we're protected by the Gulf Stream.  So it will be gone in a few days if it settles at all.  I do love a snowy landscape though! Well as long as I don't have to battle through it! Farmers, of course, have to feed the livestock, whatever the weather. I think the gales brought more challenges for them all.

Thanks for all the good wishes and comments. I WILL get round to answering them soon. But we are still getting lots of thunder and lightning so don't want to have the modem on too long, just for work and to check emails.

Meantime - here is a link to some video shot by Alisdair Skene of waves off Yesnaby - really high cliffs on the West Mainland of Orkney!

And this is a compilation by James Grieve Photography of Orkney seas.

Be back soon - weather permitting!

Friday 9 January 2015

Made it through the first storm...

Wind speed just before 10am this morning : only 46 mph but gusting to 80mph makes life "interesting"

That was a lively night... not sure what official figures were for wind speeds but it was blooming windy!  However in daylight I can see the roof is still on the house and all seems to be OK. Though I've not set foot outside the door yet as it's still gusting to 80mph!  A neighbour drove past and said all looked OK from the outside so that's encouraging.  Hoping hens have the sense to huddle indoors.

Button decided she was desperate to go out at 6.30 am.  She crawled out on her tummy almost, went round the corner of the porch and was back in double quick time, meowing VERY loudly, outraged at the wind. She wasn't the only one!

I started out trying to sleep on the sofa as I thought it would be quieter. However this is where Madam Button often sleeps and she wouldn't settle so in the end I retreated to my own bed. But at 5 am the noise was too much and Button agreed to share the sofa with me.

Power is on, house is warm, I have broadband and telephone. Radio transmitter is off but I can listen online so that's fine.

Feel much better in daylight. At night all you can hear is the roar of the wind, tearing at the house, screaming round the windows trying to find a way in. Pushing at doors so they rattle on their hinges. It feels like the Big Bad Woolf in the story of the Three Little Pigs. "I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house down!"   I could feel the house shaking - I kept telling myself it has stood here since 1860 and has weathered many a storm.

Ah well - the wind is supposed to calm down a bit later before getting up again tonight.  Hoping I can get out and take a look at the hens but we'll see.  They'll survive without me I'm sure!

Thursday 8 January 2015

Approaching storm....

A pre-storm rainbow
Today was just a regular Orkney winter day - windy. Nothing exceptional. But all over the island folk were making preparations for the storm force winds expected tonight. Farmers will still have to go out in the storm force winds to tend to the cattle in the byres.  As I write this (10.45pm) I can hear the wind is getting up outside.  I have the camping lantern and battery radio ready, duvet downstairs so I can sleep on the sofa (quieter than upstairs where it will rage through old chimney spaces and the vents in the loft).

Facebook and local networks were warning of ferry cancellations tomorrow and maybe Saturday. Schools are closed to pupils tomorrow. Though many folk will still have to try and get to work. However the first storm is expected to pass by mid-day tomorrow, and we have some respite before the second storm arrives on Saturday.

I was out giving the hens extra rations before it got dark this afternoon. And I gave Charlie the barn cat a whole tin of food plus some biscuits in his usual place. He was nowhere to be seen but if he's hungry he'll find it!  I'm not planning on surfacing till this first storm passes!  Button has been out to do "the necessary" earlier today so I'm hoping she can cross her legs till tomorrow lunch time!

The chickens should hopefully be OK. The roof of their henny house is well tied down and there are some stone slabs on top of it too.

Their hatch in the door is always left open and as the wind is from behind the hen house I'll leave it like that.  They'll stay put if it's too windy anyway.

There were hail showers coming in this morning....

And the lighthouse looked quite dramatic, lit by the rising sun

and the other half of the rainbow

Sun rising above the garden dyke (wall)

Up at the house the heating oil had been delivered by a neighbour so at least I will be warm - as long as power stays on!

Um yes both the pole to the left and the one to the right are slanting!!  The pole on the left is our telephone network (as well as the green box).  The dish is a microwave link from Stromness. Yes it's next to my house - it probably fries my brain - but who would know! Ha!  So I'm hoping that stands the storm.  And the pole on the right is the electricity cable - all overground on the island. Again - hoping that survives the storm.  Given there won't be a ferry tomorrow anything that goes off will probably have to wait till the storms clear.... crossing all crossables (yes including eyes!).

Meanwhile - the cat flap is also "battened".  Though the direction of the wind will be more on the other end of the house all precautions are taken.

And speaking of the cat... I mentioned bringing a spare duvet into the sitting room to sleep downstairs.... um...that is if Madam Button allows!

And out on the West Mainland of Orkney today some magnificent pre-storm waves. This photo was taken by Anne Flint.

See you on the other side of the storm!!