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Sunday 22 November 2015

Graemsay Harvest Home 2015

Yes it's that time of year again when folk in the parishes around Orkney celebrate bringing in the harvest.  It's not been a good harvest this year, but for the first time in several years no harvest homes were cancelled.  On Graemsay the harvest is usually cattle, lambs, silage, and hay and we always have a party to celebrate!  Whatever the weather.

Now...speaking about the weather..... Friday morning (the day of the Harvest Home) dawned fine and clear and CALM.  But while those of us setting up the hall were laying places for 42 folk, we got a phone call to say the 5.45pm ferry might be cancelled due to expected strong wind from the North. Not a good "ert" for the pier.  Arrrghh we had 15+ folk expected on that including The Band! Anyway the ferry company said they would see if the skipper could berth the boat at 6pm, but obviously only if it was safe.  Meanwhile we were frantically contacting folk to see if they could get an earlier ferry (4pm).  Thankfully many people did.

Various folk were at the pier to meet the school kids and visitors at 4.15.  It was hellish even then. Strong winds, hail and sleet, water washing around on the pier.  However we got everyone safely off. All the band had made it and headed up to Sandside where most of them were staying overnight.

A wee dram was needed to revive spirits (ha!), and then tea, and some snacks were partaken, and Fran had the sense to bring along a lovely homebake!  I need a 24 hour warning to produce homebakes, not 3 hours!  Well not when I had other things to do for the evening event.

But by 7 o'clock most folk were heading to the Hall for the evening.  The "Ladies" of the island (of which I am NOT one!) put on a lovely mean of soup, cold meats (from Fletts our local butcher), clapshot (sweede/neeps and tatties mashed together with lots of butter), salad, new potatoes and veggies.  All followed by trifle, and then tea, coffee or homebakes.  It's all prepared "at home" in the kitchens and brought along for the evening.

Action shot of Cathy delivering her legendary home made Clap Shot!

In Orkney the Harvest Home is a non-religious event.  Though often "grace" is said.  But there is always dancing, and the whisky flows freely.

Did I mention homebakes???! These are all made by Sandra, my next door neighbour. I keep offering to be her official taster but, funnily enough, she's yet to take me up on my very generous offer!

This year we were fortunate to have "Aff the Cuff" as our band.  John & Leslye Budge usually provide the entertainment, but John is away having treatment in Aberdeen so they were unable to join us.  John, of course, was known to the band and it's hoped he and Leslye are back next year to join in with music and dancing!

After the meal there is usually an invited "speaker".  This year it was Bryce Wilson, who has family connections with the island and spent many holidays here, both as a child and an adult. His Grandmother on his mother's side came from Sandside so he stayed here for the first time.  I put him in one of the rooms in the conservatory.  It used to be a cow shed...I'm hoping the smell was long gone. Ha!

He is the author of several publications and brought along his latest.  "Graemsay, a history".  He presented each household with a copy and the instruction that it is to be left "with the house" and not taken away if folk move.  It's a fascinating history and a great insight into how life used to be (blooming hard in my view!).  Available by post here  or from "Tam's bookshop" in Stromness, or The Orcadian bookshop in Kirkwall.

He also brought along a short film to show.  It was a delight to watch, being about Graemsay in the 1950s and included footage of the island's oldest resident, Ethel Mowat, in her "young days" with her sister, Ruby's pony.

There was also footage of the oxen that were used to plough the fields.

And the boats that each house would have had.  These would have been used to take folk back and forth to Stromness with eggs to sell, and to bring back provisions for the home.  The boats would have been pulled up above high tide and in winter kept in "nousts" to keep them sheltered from the gales.  I think this is the Windywalls (Winnawaas) boat.

The mail was collected by a small boat sent out from the larger vessel remaining offshore.  In the film those on the lighthouse pier got very wet feet from the waves washing over the pier!  Our current postie, Mick, has a full survival suit to wear so not even wet feet for him. Ha!

After the film, which was watched while drinking the tea and eating homebakes, there was, of course, the dancing.

The band, Aff the Cuff, are made up of Tina and Jack Yorston, Betty Harvey, James Groat, Fran Flett Holinrake, and Claire Westrop.  They did us proud, playing a mixture of music, including Christmas songs and the "Birdie Song" (Sorry I missed THAT one!). I'm a "lightweight" and left about 11.30.

From left to right - Fran Flett Holinrake, Tina and Jack Yorston

From left to right - Jack Yorston, Betty Harvey, James Groat and Claire Westrop
Folk were dancing till about 3.30 am, from what I hear. I heard the band "roll home" with much laughter.  But they didn't disturb me, both Button and I just registered they were "home" and went back to sleep.  They all seemed remarkably "bright eyed and bushy-tailed" in the morning when they appeared for breakfast!  They said they'd had a great evening and I'm delighted as they seem to want to come again!

Here are a few more photos of the night

A wee lass in a princess dress is a bit tired!
Folk chat while the band gets ready to rock!

Folk are busy reading up about Graemsay!

More of the band!

Further consultation of the book!

Oooh dancing of course!

Photo by Irene Mathieson of "Strip the Willow"!

Thankfully the wind had dropped but it was bitterly cold at the pier on Saturday morning as we said goodbye to folk. The Hoy Hills had a light dusting of snow.

After seeing folk off I went up to the hall to help with clearing up.  My hens got a treat - they got the "leftovers" bucket.  Excellent recycling!  Though unfortunately not many are laying eggs so not quite the biodigester output I would like!

Thursday 12 November 2015

A sunny November day

As Storm Abigail gears herself up to roar here are some photos from a magical day last week.  Incidentally, this is the first year the "Met Office" have named the storms in the UK. Clearly someone has a sense of humour for the first one "Abigail" - A Big Gail (Gale).  Hee hee.  Gusts of 80 mph forecast for tonight.  I'm heading under the duvet shortly!

Anyway, back to last week..... the thermometer on my car said it was 16 degrees C, which is almost summer temperatures for us! Haha!  I was working but took some time out to wander off for a walk too.

We start off on the coral beach first, of course. My favourite part of the island, just behind Sandside.

The tide is quite high but it's lovely to just hear a swish swish of the waves on the coral and shells.

This old stone pier could tell a story or two I'm sure....

These plates of rock are wonderfully tilted....

And here is Missy Button in mid roll! She loves rolling on the coral - it must be like a massage for her!

We were both being watched by some seals.  Here's a zoomed in photo.... these are grey seals and there are lots around the shore of Graemsay. I love hearing them "singing".  I can imagine sailors of old thinking it was the song of mermaids.

You can just see his/her lugs (ears) in this photo!

And here s/he is having a laugh!!  Well OK more like a yawn, but looks happy anyway!

Missy Buttons watching very attentively....

Looking towards Hoy.....

Some Oystercatchers having a bit of a nap....

Now time to head back home.  The next few pictures aren't for the faint-hearted.  Dear Buttons...lives life on the edge!

Happily ambling along.  Stromness in the background.

Oh please walk away from the edge!  My nerves can't take it!

The starlings sometimes nest in the holes. I think she lives in hope of getting in there...arrggh!

I'll take a look at the sandy beach till she comes a bit nearer!

And once we are both safely back near the house, we find one of the hens doing a little sunbathing

A flock of lapwings take to the skies. No really they are lapwings!

And once Button was safely inside having a light lunch and preparing for her nap I took a run up the road.  Here is the outside of our community hall. You will have seen many pictures of the inside during all our parties!

And one of the dozen or so picnic benches we have around the island.  The community association got a millennium grant to buy them in 2000 and we have them in various spots for tourists (and ourselves) to sit upon.  I'd been putting some danish oil on this one to protect the wood for the winter. Various folk in the community volunteer to do a bench or two.

And finally the silhouette  of a lovely old croft house...

Hope you enjoyed your wander!  I'm going to check battened hatches (and cat flap), make sure I have a torch by the bed, and hope the gale passes soon!

Tuesday 10 November 2015

Autumn skies

September and October weather was much better than most of the summer, and even now in November we have had some lovely warm (for Autumn) days with temperatures up to 16 degrees. That's warmer than many summer days this year.  But the seasons turn and this weekend we have had the winds return and likely to carry on through the week.  They do bring wonderful skies though so here are a few photos taken recently.

Lovely sunsets, with the sun setting behind the Hoy hills now.

In between the gales lovely calm days too....

Big clouds!

Big skies....

Because of the lack of wind and the mild weather the garden has carried on with a display of flowers into November.  I took these photos a couple of weeks ago before the first of the gales, sadly now the trees have been stripped bare.  Rarely do we get "autumn colour" in Orkney as the gales strip the trees before the leaves have a chance to turn.  But I like to take photos to remind me of what Spring will bring again.

I planted these willow trees a few years ago.  There was nothing but grass along the dyke before. I'm really pleased they have thrived as they are prone to the East wind here.  Though protected somewhat from the prevailing Westerly wind.

This tree is over 60 years old.  Not sure when it was planted but folk that lived here in the 1950s remember it then.  It's an Elder tree.  I've planted more in the garden as they seem to do so well.  This one didn't flower much this year so I've thrown a load of manure at it's feet in the hope it might pep it up a bit next year.  Though at 60+ it's entitled to have a bit of a rest!

Here the Fennel is as big as the hebe!  The hebe is very robust and flowers throughout winter.  The fennel will die right back now it's been blasted a time or two...

Poppies are still blooming. Though I've cut the remaining buds and brought them in as they will get blasted before blooming.

Lots of wee spiders hiding around outside the house. These wee ones are able to hide in the cracks of the sash and case windows whenever the wind blows.  Coming out and patiently respinning their webs when a calm spell descends.

And a butterfly flew into the hallway!  I rescued it and put it back outside.  This was a couple of weeks ago when the weather was still warm...

Here's a patch I plan to plant up next Spring.  Black plastic to kill off the weeds to make it easier to dig up next year.  Not me!  S. comes along to help with the heavy work.  The plastic has to be well weighted down or it will blow away. Particularly here where the wind swirls around in a gale.

Meanwhile Missy Button just sleeps through Autumn and Winter!

And on a complete change of subject!! A couple of weeks ago we had some volunteers from the Scottish Water Board come out to help the community.  They painted various bits around the Community Hall, including the toilets.  They had chosen Graemsay for their latest community project given our difficulties back in February.   The lads did a grand job and all with good humour too.

 So... how many men can you get into a ladies toilet???? Ha!