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Saturday 28 February 2015

Water in our taps!!

This water has been brought to us by a gang of workmen at the pier working all hours dealing with arrivals of water on various boats, trailering tanks up to our island water tank to pump it into the system. Other workmen around the island checking that folk have water, making sure bottled water supplies are replenished.  And all of this in typical Orkney conditions with rain, hail, wind and the occasional bit of sunshine and a wave and a smile as they pass you by.

Meanwhile on Hoy others have been working along with divers and vessels to locate the problem with the subsea pipe.  Again in all weathers and sea conditions and late into the night.

This is a major operation, logistics not made easy by needing to lift on lift off everything from the pier, plus weather, and an excess of rainwater turning everything to mud.

The Red Cross volunteers have been sent out again today, so Chris and Colin are going around folk to see that everything is OK.  They have been out here everyday too and as I say they are volunteers giving up their time to help folk out

Anyway today I had  my first hot shower since Sunday and water out of the taps to have a wash. Paradise!  Bottled water still for drinking, cleaning teeth etc, but oh the joy of washing my hands in hot water again.

And of course, probably more importantly the farmers have water coming out of taps in byres to get water to cattle. Some have had to manually take water in to the cattle. Additional work at an already busy time.

Our generation has got so used to hot water "on tap", we are lost without it.  Though when I was a child, brought up in a working-class family, we only had a bath once a week (whether we needed it or not. Ha!).  The rest of the time it was a wash in the morning and at night.  Only "posh people" or middle-class folk had showers.  Even hotels still had baths. And for my father's generation it was a tin bath in front of the fire on a Sunday night. Filled up with hot water from the copper or large kettles on the range.  Many around the world learn to live with water as a scare resource but in the UK (particularly with so much RAIN) we have high expectations of it coming out of our taps whenever we want.

Still lots of ongoing work for Scottish Water.  They need to keep the tank supplied, locate all the faults on the subsea pipe and fix them.  And ensure a regular good supply of drinking water thereafter.

Meanwhile, of course, Button snoozes in the sunshine and happily drinks out of puddles.  She positively turns her nose up at water out of a tap! And neither, of course, does she require a flush toilet or water to wash with.... She keeps telling me she's a low maintenance cat.... I, however, disagree! Pah!

Friday 27 February 2015

More water....

Today has been equally busy on Graemsay with tankers relaying water up and down the island from the pier. Above is a shiny silver tanker brand's a bit mud splattered now!

The activity has kept Button occupied anyway....

I was also asked to speak on our local radio news bulletin this morning about how the island was coping.  I wouldn't mind but they said they'd phone me at 7am. My alarm isn't THAT early! I set the alarm for 6.30 and had to have two cups of tea to make sure I didn't sound too sleepy.  It was a bit of a nervewracking experience, though our local radio guys are great and David was very reassuring and calming. I knew he would not do a "Paxo" on me [obscure British joke].

Thousands of gallons are being pumped into our island water tank.  And it would seem that water is at last working it's way through the system!  We mustn't drink it without boiling first, but we can have hot showers and use washing machines again. And we're being asked to "conserve" water as it's not exactly easy getting it here.  I'm just excited that I get hot water out the tap again!

Two Red Cross volunteers came to the island again and just checked that everyone was OK. And one turned up bearing chocolate!!  Just what every girl wants - a man in uniform bearing chocolate..... well he was a Red Cross Paramedic - that's a heroic uniform!

Every time they called round and asked if there was anything I needed I replied "Gin and chocolate". Clearly gin was seen as too much of a health hazard, but chocolate can be used purely medicinally....and was :-)

Meanwhile out in Burra Sound further work has been done to locate problems in the subsea water pipe.  It may take a while to fix that so we will be using tankered water for a while yet.  But I'm happy as long as I have water out the taps!

Thursday 26 February 2015

Send Water - and they did...

Well it's arriving anyway.  I was at the pier at the mid-morning boat and lots of activity.  A smart van is at the pier for the Scottish Water workmen, of whom there seem to be quite a few.

There are lots of blue tanks filled with water which are being taken up to pump into the system.

We've had more visitors, this time from Environmental Health and animal welfare to make sure farmers and folk have all they need.  They are handing round leaflets from the Orkney Local Emergency Co-ordinating group giving local information numbers and advice.on community safety while we are without piped water. The MV Graemsay has been doing extra runs too with equipment and people.

It started out a bonny sunny day, but it's very chilly.  So I feel for the folk working out with rain forecast later.

And here is our water tank.  Almost the highest point on Graemsay.  Not quite as simple as opening the hatch and pouring water in but hopefully there will be water in the pipes soon and backfilling the tank.  Then we can start getting water our of our taps

Folk have been asking about wells etc.  There are a few houses with their own private water supply via spring water.  But the rest of us are connected up to the mains.  Although most houses would have used a well in the past, they have fallen into disuse and without pumps and nearby electricity it's not possible to get the water to where it's needed at short notice.  And we'd still need drinking water supplied as the water would not have been tested and being out of use for so many years then it could have got contaminated and be unfit for use.

Sandside has a well but it's in the field (to wet to get a tractor over it), and no pipes or pump to get it up to the house. I had mains water installed when I moved into the house in 2000.  Though I did suggest to a neighbour he could use the well water for his livestock if necessary.  However contingency plans were suggested as there is water in the quarry that could have been used for livestock. And may in fact be used yet.  But again it's getting it pumped out and into containers and distributed around the island to the farms.

The sheep are out in the fields and many have burns running through them so the sheep will be fine. Plus there's a lot of standing water as it's rained so much lately!  Even my hens prefer the puddles to the nice clear water I put in the henny house!  Button too tends to drink out of the puddles.... But the cattle in the sheds need water taken to them - they can't open the bottled water with their hooves - hee hee...

Dr Trevett from the Stromness surgery has been phoning to check on patients, and a local councillor phoned to check if there was anything else that the council could do to help.  Mostly we keep saying -just keep sending water!!

I am now hallucinating about a hot shower.....

Water, Water, everywhere BUT....

... yup, you guessed it, not a drop to drink!  Well not strictly true. As you can see in the photo above there are pallet loads of bottled water to drink. It's just not coming out of our taps!

Since the weekend there has been a leak in our water supply and Scottish Water workmen have been trying to find the source of the leak.  So far without success.  Our supply comes from the Hoy hills into the Sandy Loch, through a water treatment works, then a subsea pipe to the water tank on Graemsay.  It now seems highly likely the leak is in the subsea pipe.  But work is ongoing to locate that.

Meanwhile some neighbours had no water on Sunday and others have been losing supply progressively since (depends how far up or down the hill you are!). The situation is ongoing.  Not quite so critical for humans with access to the bottled water. But a worry for farmers with over 100+ head of cattle in the byres, most in-calf cows. As well as Scottish Water sending out pallets of bottled water there is now a "multi-agency" response co-ordinated by OLEG (Orkeny Local Emergency Group. The Group includes (I think) folk from the local council, health and social care, fire, police, etc. So the Fire service have been checking their contingency plans, and the Red Cross came out yesterday. Mmmmm I was a bit startled at that too. But the three folk who came over are all volunteers, lovely helpful folk, and went round each house on the island to check folk were OK, to hand out hand gel and wipes, and help where it was needed and passing on information as they were updated.

Graemsay is a close knit community and so folk have been looking out for each other anyway but it was good to know that we weren't being "forgotten" or ignored.

Scottish Water officials came round each house too explaining what was happening.  They also offered folk the chance to leave the island and stay in a hotel in Stromness till the water supply is back on, or to go and use showers and washing machines. They would provide boats and necessary transport and cover all the costs.

The plan is to get water over here in tanks and pump it back into our water system so that we can have water out of the taps again while work goes on to sort out the bigger problem of the undersea pipe.  But we live on an island with a ferry that does lift on/lift off and so there is the additional challenge of national agencies on Mainland Scotland having to understand from their "men on the ground" that "get water to Graemsay" isn't quite a straightforward as it sounds.  Vessels have to be hired, water got to the correct point etc etc.

Anyway as of this morning there is a tank on the pier for farmers to be able to get water to the livestock.  So that's a relief to the farmers and their coos!  Hopefully there will be a regular run of boats continually bringing water to pump into the system and by the weekend I might be able to have a shower!! The main need is that the supply continues and is able to keep up with demand. We don't mind being "economical" with water but do need to have it coming out of taps, and to flush toilets, feed cattle etc.

Folk on the island are generally happy now there is more information coming through. It was frustrating in the beginning when it was just a case of phoning the central Scottish Water number somewhere on Mainland Scotland and having to speak to very helpful and understanding customer care operators, but with no decent information to give us.  And we can SEE things are happening now... like this wee digger arriving yesterday to help dig out near the shore where the pipe goes underwater. I believe a larger digger is due today.

And through all this "excitement" I've been trying to work with a very busy schedule - which is why it's taken me this long to post this update!

Monday 16 February 2015

A walk in the sunshine

Last Weds was just glorious with warmth in the sunshine. Button and I took a walk along the shore..... The waves gently lapped on the coral sand....

It was lunch time so the Graemsay ferry had been to the island and onto Hoy and was heading back to Stromness.

Button was happy to be out in the sunshine after several weeks of inactivity due to gales and rain

The shore was covered in tangles (seaweed), heaped up by the winter storms. This beach doesn't  get too much flotsam and jetsam washed up but the other side of the island has suffered terribly I believe.

Ahem, yes of course Button is posing...

Stromness was looking lovely too.

But the storms have reduced more of this old building to rubble.

The waves looks so benign in this photo but their power can never be underestimated.

The hens were enjoying the calm day and were rootling among the old buildings

On our way back from the walk. Button trotting home.  The lighthouse in the background (obviously!) and the "Green Box" which is the Graemsay Telephone Exchange complete with microwave link to Stromness. We have fast broadband - but I just hope it's not frying my brain at the same time!

And of course Button made the most of the warmth with a spot of sun bathing on the flags while I headed in for a cup of tea!

Sunday 15 February 2015


OK I'm being a little optimistic thinking Spring is here, but it is definitely on the way!  The days are getting longer, the grass is beginning to grow, and the garden is starting to come to life again.  Last Weds was a glorious day, warmth in the sun, no wind. Wonderful! Of course I am now typing this while the wind roars outside the house.  But still - it was daylight till almost 5.30 today! Anyway here are a few photos from the last week or so.

The photo above was taken of Sandside by Mick down at the lighthouse. It was a gorgeous eerie pink sunset. I took a couple of photos (below) but was feeling unwell and didn't venture far from the front door, but Mick's photo really captures it well.

Some green shoots in the garden.... some of the daffodils poking their heads up

The dwarf narcissi are out in bloom under the willow trees which are hardly showing any buds as yet!

More bulbs poking their heads up.  Button has to be in the photo too of course.  She thinks it adds perspective...hmmmm.

The crocosmia is coming along too. I leave the dead leaves on till later in Spring as it gives some protection to the young shoots.

And down by the shore, the grass that has been wind, sand and salt blasted is coming back to life too.

However the garden hebes are not doing so well. They got chomped upon by the escaped sheep that were in the garden. Clearly they like the taste of hebe.  Not sure if they will recover or not - the hebe that is. The sheep seem fine!

And were the pesky sheep to deny it - hee hee - they left quite a bit of "DNA" behind should Inspector Lewis come a-calling...

While out taking the photos I felt as though I was in a scene from the Hitchcock movie "The Birds" as the starlings were all hanging around on the roof of the house!  Probably just tormenting Button though!

But birds are returning again so Spring MUST be on the way - skylarks have been heard, there are more Oystercatchers around too (some overwinter here but there are definitely more about). Lapwings are calling - I love their sound.  Slowly we move to my favourite time of the year - Spring! OK not for some weeks yet. But she's calling to me :-)