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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!


  1. What a great evening, such a great community event sadly lacking these days locally.

    1. I think quite a few small rural communities carry on the traditions, often because it's the only entertainment available! Not even a pub on our island ;-)

  2. Lovely to read of the 'island highlight of the year', and even more remarkable the name Yorston appearing ... my maiden name:)

    1. Oooh what a coincidence! Maybe there is a link! Many Orkney folk set out across the seas to Australia and the USA.

  3. Loved reading about the evening, and great photos, as always! :)

    1. I wasn't feeling that well and ended up having to go home early so I didn't get too many pictures unfortunately. I think the dancing went on till 3.30!

  4. What a great evening of entertainment and chat, and good the band and others made it and that the weather cooperated.

    1. The island is always so appreciative of folk who come out to entertain! And they were well known by some folk so got to have a blether (chat) too.