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Saturday, 27 August 2016

Farewell to Ethel



Elsbeth (Ethel) Mowat

29/12/1929 to 21/8/2016


Yesterday we said goodbye to Graemsay's oldest resident, Ethel.  She died peacefully at home last Sunday morning. She was 86 and only a couple of days before her passing had walked down to the pier as usual. A very independent lady and able to live alone in her wee house to the very end.  Her son, N, and family had lived on the next farm and she's had the joy of seeing grand-children grow up around her.

Ethel was born on Graemsay, over on the croft of Gorn, when she married Ronnie she lived at Ramray, and in her later years moved to Western Horn.  The stories about Ethel are legend and will be retold many times I'm sure.

Some of the stories were told at her funeral yesterday.  There was the one about a trip to Hoy dances in her younger years.  With her parents asleep she and her sisters Ruby and Nettie would slip out of the house, down to the boat noust and Ethel would row them across to the dance, and then back again!

She loved cats.... at one time she had about 27, but when she died this had been reduced to a mere 18....  She had names for them all, though they lived in the barn once she'd had her house done up. But in Winter she would put hot water bottles in boxes to keep them warm in the shed, and they slept there by the boiler or in the byres among the hay.

She was famous for her remedies.  Always the same one whether it was for man or beast - containing copious quantities of whisky, molasses and probably turpentine!

She was also a very kind person, quietly doing good deeds, and giving comfort to folk.  Whenever I went to visit I would take her some flowers from the garden or some home bakes. I would come home laden with chocolate, or dried fruit for more baking.

One of my first memories of Ethel was when I lived in the caravan in the garden when my house was being renovated.  She was at the post office next door which was also a shop at the time. She'd been buying cases of cat food - of course! She spent more on cat food than on her own food!  Anyway she'd walked down to buy it and Jimmy Manson (brother-in-law and neighbour) offered her a lift home on his tractor.  So she loaded the cat food in the box at the back of the tractor and then climbed in herself - standing up and holding onto the back of the tractor cab.  Off Jimmy set with her.  I couldn't bear to watch as he trundled the tractor up the steep incline to Ethel's door but it would seem she got there unharmed!

So yesterday we all came together with her family and friends to bid her goodbye.  She came back to Graemsay on the 12 noon sailing, which seemed appropriate to me as that was always the one she would come back from Stromness on. I shall miss our blethers (chats) on the boat home.

The service was held in the Graemsay hall.  Very sad for the island folk as just last Saturday night we'd had one of the best parties the island has had in a long while and the next day we had lost Ethel. The service was lovely, with a poem and eulogy from those that knew Ethel well.  I have no "faith" or "religion" so tend not to sing along to hymns. Instead I gazed out the window at the fields that Ethel knew so well.  In my head I could hear her laughing as she ran among the long grass and wild flowers with her sisters, Nettie and Ruby.

After the service folk made their way down to the kirkyard. Ethel was taken past her home and Ramray one last time.

I stayed in the hall with a few others to clear away the chairs and set up the buffet, get the whisky, and wine into glasses, all in readiness for the return of the mourners.  The family had prepared a magnificent spread of food with a few of the "ladies" lending a hand in the morning to prepare sandwiches etc.

Once back folk swapped memories of Ethel, her stories, her family. There were tears but much laughter too. The rain of the morning had given way to a lovely sunny day with just enough breeze to keep the midges at bay.



Ethel was laid to rest in the kirkyard which overlooks Burra Sound and the Hoy Hills and is just a short walk from the farm where she was born.

Burra Sound and the Hoy Hills

So goodbye Ethel.  You will be greatly missed by all of us on Graemsay.


Thursday, 25 August 2016

Ness of Brodgar Dig 2016

Dig with Hoy Hills in background
Each year, since excavations began in 2003, the Ness of Brodgar archaeological dig has been giving up it's wonderful secrets.  Though not all - it's still unclear what the purpose of some of the structures were or why the entire site is there.  It sits within the heart of the Neolithic Orkney World Heritage site, sandwiched between the Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness.  The site is being excavated by ORCA (Orkney Research Centre for Archeology), overseen by site director, Nick Card.  If you want more detailed info take a look at the website.  But briefly, the site dates from about 3,300 BC and it seems that it began to be dismantled about 2,200 BC.

The BBC have run a number of programmes, presented by Neil Oliver.  There is a new series of 3 programmes due to be broadcast which also involve Chris Packham (TV presenter and naturalist). The world media has also been filming at the site these last few summers.

Earlier this week some news from the site hit the UK media as some unusual stone slabs were found underneath a midden (rubbish dump) and may be one of the first structures on the site. Click here for photo and brief report

Anyway each year I go along to take a look. I love watching the archaeologists painstakingly working their way through what to me looks like mud and rubble!  Students of archaeology as well as qualified professionals come to work for the 6 week period in the summer.  Now the dig is being wrapped up again until next year.  The work doesn't stop there though as the team spend the winter cataloguing and carrying out further research on all the "finds".

Here are some photos taken this summer.

The walls in the centre of this picture are as they were found.  They haven't been "rebuilt", just carefully excavated.


The house in the background was purchased by a benefactor and given to the ORCA and is used for storage - as well as the flush toilet. A bit of a luxury on a site I'm told!  The tyres are used at the end of the dig to weight covers down until the next season.  Hopefully that preserves as much as possible and stops any weather damage.



I mean....how DO you make sense of this!  Yeah I know - years of training!


Heads down on with the work.... I would imagine sore knees is an occupational hazard.


A film crew (not the BBC this time) busy recording


The site is extensive with a number of structures, and in one corner what appears to be the remains of a "standing" stone.


As I say, the site is extensive, these next two photos show the whole site from the viewing platform.



And daily artifacts are appearing.  This is a stone pot just dug up that day.  Stone pots are very unusual and this is the first found at the Ness dig. Most pots were of various types of - er - pottery. There will be analysis to see if there is any pigment in the base, as some decorative art has been found at the dig. It was amazing to think that I was one of the first people to see this in millennia...


One of the team is carefully cleaning what seems like an ordinary stone till he turns it and shows the sharpened edge. A tool of some kind.


Meanwhile the Hoy hills look upon the dig in 2016, just as they did when the structures were first built. I love all that "timey wimey" stuff (to quote Dr Who!).


Thursday, 11 August 2016

Clouds....(among other things)



With big skies in Orkney we get some great cloudscapes.  We also get a lot of low, grey looming cloud which is very depressing, particularly in Winter when it goes on for days. But recently we had some beautiful clouds, like mares tails, dancing across the sky.  So I thought I'd share a few photos of them.


Above the house...


Above the garden....


And while we are in the garden.... Button, posing.....


The new flower bed.  Still has the plastic down to keep the weeds at bay but will be dug over in autumn - too difficult stopping the plastic from flying away with all the holes in it!


The bees love the Monkshood - they disappear up into the pods for the nectar and of course gather up the pollen on the way.  Monkshood is pretty toxic but so far no one has eaten it so it's fine!


In the central pod you can just see a bee...


Ah yes, Button.... never one to be ignored!



Looking out to sea - nothing much between us and Canada!


And on the subject of the garden...... the daisies outside the house - blasted by a recent storm now, but they looked pretty for a while!


And in the evening.... Hoy High light - it has a temporary light while work is being done on rewiring etc.  It looks VERY bright from the house.  The usual light is blanked out at the back of the glass so I don't usually see the light!


And on another day with a different cloud formation.... here is the "main" road round the island.....


And the mist rolling onto the Hoy hills behind Graemsay (and The Manse).






The tall plant - Lovage, also got battered in the high winds this week, so has had to be hacked back now.  It's a lovely structural plant in the summer months though.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

More on the hens!



Whenever I'm doing some gardening I am supervised by the hens, especially if digging is taking place! Notice the concentration in that beady eye above!

I battle against creeping buttercup in the garden.  Because I was unwell and away a while in June the weeds had a change to run rampant.  So the last couple of weeks has been battling to get the garden back into some sort of order. Ably assisted by the hens!


Having a good dig around the roots of the columbine to seek out any worms!


And everyone joins in....


Even this wee chick!


Oh wait s/he (I'm still not sure!) has lost sight of Mum and is standing on the highest point (ahem, a tussock of grass about to be dug up!) to try and spot her!


It has to be said s/he failed. I wasn't worried as the chicks can feed themselves now and usually wander back into the hen house to roost with the other hens (including mum).  But no, this one got in a panic and managed to get through a small gap in the anti-chicken netting and was hiding among the wild flowers.  Took me the best part of an hour to coax it out - by bringing the rest of the hens into the garden for their "tea" and out comes the chick too!  Phew!

Anyway, after a good rootle some of the hens need to take a wee rest and have a bit of a preen....


While others carry on rootling through the now weeded earth....


And the other cockerels (yes I have more than one, sigh, and no they don't fight - they seem to have divided the females among themselves).


And at least the girls give me lots of lovely eggs, and the netting keeps them off MOST of the strawberries!


And WHERE was Madam Button during all this activity?  Sunbathing of course! She doesn't concern herself with mundane activities such as gardening... and yes she eventually found her way into the cordoned off veg patch - over the garden wall of course!


Here she is among the weeds (yes plenty of those) rolling around on top of the nepeta (cat mint) which I did plant especially for her.  I know....I know...


And after a rain shower, well one does have to keep paws dry after a shower!



Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Hoy hills....



Recently an artist friend had an exhibition of one of her larger pieces of work.  Jeanne Bouza Rose has a shop in Stromness called "Artworks of the Earth" where she sells much of her work and runs workshops. But a few years ago she rented a house which had once been the home and studio of Sylvia Wishart.  Inspired by the landscape Jeanne began this huge painting that goes from the West with the sun sinking into the sea in a blaze of colour just off the edge of the Hoy Hills, to the East (over Graemsay of course!) to the moon rise.  It IS magnificent and I have a very small version of it as a print.

Here are bits of it!  From the West


Over Ward Hill on the island of Hoy.


And East over Graemsay and Hoy High lighthouse. My house, Sandside, is a blob, but I forgiver her for that!


Here is the print I have, still to be unwrapped and put on the wall....



And here is a link to a video I took very quickly on the day the painting was being taken down.  With Jeanne sitting guard at the door.


Jeanne's shop is right along the street, she's full of boundless energy and enthusiasm for life and sometimes I just drop in for a chat in the hope I pick up some of it by osmosis!

Monday, 8 August 2016

A Stromness wander....



I had a wander down the street in Stromness last week. Dodging the rain showers.  Stromness is my favourite town, and where I would choose to live were I not on Graemsay.  Here are a few photos of the main street - and yes cars go BOTH ways down the street, mixing with pedestrians. It usually works as a good traffic calming measure but you do have to watch out as you wander along!

Many of the buildings facing onto the harbour have piers, and the houses that don't often still have access to the piers.  Years ago, when most folk would have had a wee boat, even houses ACROSS the street had right of access to the piers.  Not sure how many do now though.





















And then the houses across from the harbour side have lanes running up the hill. Some of these are traffic free, some of them are not - you need to be good on the brakes if not!




This is a VERY steep hill leading up to the Community Centre (which was once a kirk).  Actually I think there were THREE kirks on this road at one time.


Most of the properties are right on the road, but some have a wee garden out front. This is a particularly pretty example I think.


And "down the street" are some lovely shops too.... This is one of my favourites, Cream is run by Sally, where she sells much of her own art, plus that of other local artists, and wonderfully imaginative "recycled" artifacts too. Definitely worth a visit!


And another of my favourite shops is the Waterfront Gallery, run by Trudi, lots of wonderful Orkney related things, as well as other fascinating curios, and at the back the Gallery which has lots of exhibitions throughout the year.


And the Bayleaf Delicatessen (it's just moved to new bigger premises) is a wonderful emporium of good coffee and great food!  Oooh wonderful cheeses, and lots of other "delicacies".


And despite the sign over the shop saying J. L. Broom, this book shop will forever be known as "Tam's" as Tam McPhail ran it for many years.  I think Sheena has taken over now, but as I say, it's still known locally as "Tam's"  And you MUST read this review to get a real flavour of this wonderful gem of an independent bookshop!  Bookstore Guide


And another of my favourite shops, the Quernstone, run by Elaine Bentley. Well two shops actually, one with lots of wonderful knitwear produced locally as well as brightly coloured accessories (I go and visit for my colour therapy in the winter, ha!). And in this shop, lots of gifts, or lovely household goodies like ornaments and lamps, rugs, cushions etc. It's an Aladdin's cave!


And this is the shop of the Harray Potter (ha not not Harry Pottery, but Andrew Appleby who has a studio out in the country (er, Harray) on the Orkney Mainland, but sells through various shops and has his own shop in Stromness. It's next to the Orca hotel - you can see a whalebone from an Orca on the wall.


And then there are the wee lanes running off in odd directions. This goes to the Town Hall (a former kirk) that now has concerts, and is also used by the Baptist Kirk for services.  The gouge out of the wall is seen around many parts of Stromness - the purpose was to allow carts to easily pass though! Ha! Great design feature!


And I love the rooftops in the town!


And the ferns growing out of this wall! Hmm suggests it's a wee bit damp!


So I hope you enjoyed your tour of the lower end of Stromness.  You could hop on the Orkney opened topped bus now for a tour round the countryside, it's just ready to leave the Stromness Travel Centre.  Hee hee in Orkney even the open topped buses need a bit of cover!