The reason for this Blog

Body: 

We first visited Orkney in the early 90's and fell in love with the Islands and their friendly people.

Over the next fifteen years we tried to visit it two or three times a year, experiencing the differing times of the year. In 2010 various things happened that made us consider that if we were going to have our adventure and try living in Orkney then we should do it now, so we put our house, a Victorian Railway Station ( with no trains) on the market, right in the middle of the depression caused by the Banking crisis. Not the best of ideas, it took nearly fours years of 'tyre kickers' before we finally sold it in October 2014.

Our friends seem to be very interested in following our 'madness' and hence this Blog. I hope you enjoy it as we write about our experiences, if you don't, then I can recommend LOLCats.cominstead.

For some photos of the place that we finally decided to buy please take a look at Marks Flickr album

I think – I am sure – I speak for both of us when I say how grateful we are to our families and friends for making it so easy for us to follow our dream. Your understanding and encouragement has made it possible. And we can’t wait to get properly straight so you can come and visit us … what we regard as our own small bit of Orkney, complete with lots of history, lots of wildlife – and yes, we are told there are otters in “our” Mill Stream. Our dream. Your holiday home whenever you want to come!

I have disabled the create account option because of an enormous amount of spammers trying to register. If you want an account so you can comment or be emailed when the blog is updated then please contact us.

Mark & Anna

NEW ! Our weather Station is up and running. Click Here

Plans of Mill Cottage before and after are here

GREAT NEWS! : My ( Mark ) youngest son, Oliver and his wife, Nicola, are to have a baby ! The baby is due 14th April 2017.

Seasonal Differences

Bluebells in the garden Mid May
Benign bull
Tufty the duck
Baby lamb
Startled sheep with lambs
OK it's breezy but at least it's drying

Mark gets very bored with my exclamations over flora and fauna, never more so than when we set out to travel south to see the family. It is (to me anyway) fascinating to see how things change as we get “across the water” – i.e. the Pentland Firth and start the journey. And I just can't hold back the comments. I try but it just doesn't work!

When we left Orkney on our marathon trip to welcome Magnus to the world, we left a still quite bleak Orkney, but with the daffodils starting to come out along the roadsides. It is a lovely custom here to plant masses of daffodil bulbs along the roads and outside peoples gardens, all of which serve to welcome the spring. Chickens were starting to come into lay, but the sheep were still wandering over the fields looking rather pregnant, with no sign of lambs. No cattle in the fields and the grass still quite brown after dying back over the winter.

Our rosa rugosa at the back of the house had some leaf but not a lot but our tress (yes we have TWO !) didn’t have so much as a bud.

And off we went. The roadside daffodils continued to enliven the trip as we wandered down towards the Cairngorm, and when we came across trees – the first “real” trees are really by Dunrobin Castle, - they were starting to show signs of spring and some leaves.

Heading down towards Edinburgh we were now on motorway so the daffodils had vanished from the sides of the road but were still evident as we flashed past a few gardens, and the trees were showing distinctly more leaf.

Heading into Northumberland and we came across the first lambs – they were mostly reasonably chunky, not little skippy ones so had obviously been around a little while. To diverge for a moment, if you haven’t driven the A68 from North to South on a fine day, add it to your bucket list, especially in the spring because it is fantastic !! Just hold onto your hat as you go over the hills !

However, once we got down to Suffolk it was a very different story – any daffodils left definitely needed dead-heading. Trees were that lovely bright green that comes with spring. And the lambs (dare I say it) looked almost ready to eat! By the time we got across to Bristol, trees were in full leaf, daffodils a thing of the past, tulips going over and bluebells out .. ladies smock too I noticed and bees, even the odd butterfly.

Then … back north we headed. And arrived back on Orkney to find the daffodils still out, though just starting to go over. Tulips still in bud. Rosa Rugosa in full leaf but even today – 16th May – our trees still aren’t showing any sign of leaves. The woods at Binsgarth are starting to green up though, our rhubarb is all ready and delicious. The farmers have done more ploughing and are harrowing and seeding like mad – I noticed one field had a shimmer of green today. The grass is growing fast fast fast and the garden is covered (and I mean covered) in dandelions (lioney-dans to my daughters). Our bluebells are in full swing – yes and the pink and white ones too – and hopefully we will get our mower back soon from being serviced before the grass is knee-high! And there are some bumble bees buzzing around.

In the fields there are masses of baby lambs, doing what baby lambs do best and gathering in small groups making mischief. You can just see them discussing the best way to annoy mum by rushing up behind her for a feed! Because the grass is growing at last, some of the cattle are out, together with their calves and usually a massive bull watching benignly over them (but don’t go in and challenge him – he may look benign but I bet he isn’t)

Birds are flying hither and yon with beaks full of nesting materials or for the “early birds” food for the babies. Nimbus (horrid cat) chased a baby duckling under the boiler and couldn’t get it out so hopefully it escaped. Hope it wasn’t one of the tufted ones like in the picture – bred on Orkney and raised by the friends we used to rent a cottage from! When I go out I am greeted with a lot of very bad language from the starlings who have nested in the dyke (dry stone wall to those of you who don’t know) and who have babies to protect. Move away a bit and you can hear the babies yelling for food.

The long evenings are wonderful, putting my “cooking timer” out as I keep thinking it is too early to cook then finding it is 9 pm, but hey – it doesn’t matter does it !! It’s still getting sort-of dark around 10.30 – 11 pm and the sun has moved around so far that it now shines into the north facing windows of the kitchen in the evening treating us to wonderful sunsets. And – as a great side effect – our PV panels are generating lots of lovely electricity for us.

It’s VERY changeable of course – a glorious breezy morning today meant getting the washing hung out to dry. Into town for an appointment and lunch, and …. Back home to find there had been a TORRENTIAL downpour, the sheet was (nearly) in the burn, and the rest was soaking. Seriously dripping and very heavy. So back into the washing machine for a rinse and spin and … back out onto the line where it was now glorious sunshine again. With, of course, plenty of pegs.

It’s a wonderful time of year and we are so so lucky to be here to enjoy it. Jealous ? Well, visit Orkney – and keep your fingers crossed for nice weather but bring your waterproofs and thermals just in case!

So far this May : snow; rain; hail; mist; sun; warmth; cold; windy; still. Never, ever, boring. And remember there’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing (not my saying … can’t remember who said it but it was someone else !)

Quite an Expedition

Magnus
Biker Chick Vickie
Emma, Tia and a rabbit
Badger coping with the snow

Trying to plan our spring expedition this year was .. challenging! 

We had three major plans you see – first and foremost, Mark’s first grandchild was due on 14th April, and we also had to plan to get some vital work done on Badger under warranty where the damp was coming in rather badly. And that had been booked in for 3 days which were then set in stone. So our plan was to get that done after the baby’s due date and just after Easter. And the third thing was to visit car dealers to try and sort out a new car as we both felt that it would be inadvisable to keep our diesel Mercedes- and anyway we wanted a change !

But then came the phone call – the baby (still at that point known as “Fidget” for reasons that should be obvious) was to be induced to make an appearance early. So thanking our stars that we had got Badger ready in advance, we headed South to greet him. We didn’t rush down; rushing in Badger is A Bad Thing because it is very tiring, so we took some time which was probably just as well as despite being induced on the Friday “Fidget” was obviously comfortable where he was and didn’t put in an appearance until the Sunday, 2nd April. And became Magnus Oliver Newton.

The delay allowed us to take some time out in Cambridge to look at some cars – rather briefly at Jaguar and Land Rover as we would have to buy rather old ones if we wanted to stay in budget, but rather more interesting was the Hyundai Ionic, which we test drove and really rather liked.

We finally got to meet Magnus on the Tuesday when with Liz (Mark's ex-wife and Magnus' grandmother) we helped collect him – and of course, his parents, Oliver and Nicola, from the hospital and have our first cuddle! He is, I might say, absolutely gorgeous !!

Because of the change of plans and dates we had been obliged to re-organise a number of visits, but during that week we managed: hair -cuts with Alcatraz (we had had to cancel appointments because of leaving earlier than expected); a delicious dinner with Steve and Julie; an excellent Indian at the local Tandoori in Melford with Steve; a lunch with Karen our book-keeper; an evening out with Tim (Mark’s older son) and “his” Vickki; more cuddles with Magnus; a dinner at Tim’s with Vickki’s son Jordan another evening followed by a barbecue the next day and a couple of nights up in Beccles with Vickie (my older daughter) and Mark. We slept at: the Old Railway Station where we had lived and sold to Steve; at Mark’s ex-wife’s – (Liz) house in Colchester (yes really!); on the driveway at Tim & Vickki’s and on the parking area at Vickie & Mark’s. It was nothing if not full-on. AND there were heats of the World Wide Bridge Contest running which had to be kept an eye on !!

Then on the Monday, just as we were looking forward to a quieter week and a chance to catch up on some work, came the bombshell. Mark had an email from his sister-in-Law Sue telling him that his brother, Geof, had died in the early hours that morning. Completely unexpectedly out of the blue.

I leave it to you to imagine the shock that this caused. Tim was wonderful, coming over to Beccles and taking Mark over to Sue’s to see her. Because of it being an “unexplained death” there would have to be a post mortem, and with Easter looming the next weekend, this threw everything into the melting pot as far as arrangements were concerned, and it all took a bit of working out especially as poor Mark was totally stunned his brother's death and obviously not thinking very clearly.

We decided to try and stick to plans that we had made as far as possible so the next day we went back to Colchester with Vickie and Mark to introduce them to Magnus and to take them to the Thai restaurant for dinner in the evening and we booked ourselves in at the Colchester campsite for two nights and at Polstead for the third. This gave us a couple of days “free” and spent one of them working and the other going round car dealers looking for a new car as we need to change the Mercedes.

I had been unable to find a campsite in the area with any space at all over the Easter weekend (we had intended to be heading West at this point ...)  but Liz stepped into the breach and offered us the spare room, which we gratefully accepted and she and I organised a family get together at hers for the Saturday which was a lovely day. I was treated to a new image of my daughter Vickie - that of Biker Chick as she arrived on "her" Mark's very powerful motorbike. A family gathering can be horrendous but this one worked really well, with a simple buffet, and everyone getting on brilliantly, chatting, organising future visits and, of course, spending time cuddling Magnus who was as good as gold throughout.  There are lots of pictures of him on Mark's Flickr account, some from earlier in the week and some from the party. 

On Easter Monday we headed off to Banbury, so that we could get Badger in to be fettled on the Tuesday morning, and I found a peaceful site with a lake and birds for us to relax a bit.

On the Tuesday we had arranged a hire car and we had a lovely day mooching round antiques centres (got a lovely 1960 picture of the Paris Match cover with Julie Christie for the living room) then heading to my sister Julia’s for a couple of nights. On the Thursday we met up with my niece Emma (very very pregnant niece Emma) and my enchanting great niece Tia at a sanctuary with the fluffiest, cuddliest rabbits I have ever encountered. During this time, Sue telephoned with the news that the PM had shown that Geof had had a heart attack brought on by a chest infection, and that the funeral would not be until 2nd June, which meant we didn’t need to change our plans of going to see my younger daughter, Catherine in Bristol and my 5-year grandson, Sam. So … we picked up Badger, spent a very enjoyable evening staying with our old friend Mark Horton aka Ratty, and his wife Liz, and headed West.

We had a lovely time in Bristol, very relaxing and entertaining, including a visit to a great garden centre (getting thoroughly lost on the way!) with a crazy golf course that Sam loved, a delicious Indian take-away, a Catherine-style moussaka and a lot of laughter. If you get the chance, ask Catherine about her experience of hire cars and be prepared for great entertainment!

And on the Sunday we finally headed North and back home … through snow, believe it or not ! Badger behaved well, though, and fortunately the snow wasn't lying on the roads so it was OK.

And that’s enough for now – more later when I have had time to catch my breath. Just a final thought before I leave you though ... Now that Mark is a "proper" grandfather, does it mean that I can be an "improper" grandmother to Magnus - I do hope so !!

Wind, weather, spring and food !

Mostly Rainbows
A dusting of snow
Mark's cooking
Empty plates and full tummies
The Green Dome of the Kargester

We have been enjoying the end of winter (not that it was much of a winter this year). We have been very entertained by our family and friends “South” contacting us worried because we might be freezing but actually it has been warmer here than in the south of England – or perhaps I should say less cold! We have had a few slight frosts – temperatures dropping to about -2 Celsius, and we had a light dusting of snow one day which lasted until about lunch time. Yes OK we have had a bit of wind occasionally but to be honest, apart from when I mistakenly hang out the washing in a force 7 and wonder why it ends up in the burn or across the garden, it really has been a very “easy” winter here. We did go into a storm force situation at one point, but it didn’t last long. We are a land of rainbows (and washing that dries well as long as it stays on the line !)

I was talking to someone about the wind, and she was saying that her small son really doesn’t like it. I remember as a small child being frightened of the wind (my baby-sitter had threatened me with it on a number of occasions). My father came up to say goodnight and found me sobbing in the bed, and gradually got me to tell him what the problem was. After that every time there was a strong wind, he would come and sit on my bed and tell me stories that the wind was bringing – how a south wind brought tales from the south seas, an east wind told of the legends from the middle and far east, a north wind brought stories of polar bears and myths of the ice cities while a west wind brought stirring sagas from the great plains of America. My fear was calmed, my geography – and my sense of direction improved and I learned to love the sound and ferocity of a storm. Oh – and funnily enough a new baby-sitter was found!

Up here on Orkney today, though my daffodils are out, the crocuses are blooming away and the rosa rugosa is showing leaf.

The most noticeable changes though are with the bird life – everything is moving !! The oyster catchers are busy catching oysters – well not really, more like flying around shouting and then having a dig in the mud for whatever goodies they can find. Skeins of geese are flying around making a hell of a racket as they try and make up their minds to head North to their breeding grounds. “Our” hen harrier is hunting up and down the burn. The heron is making his presence felt at the end of the loch, and there are so many different ducks appearing and bobbing around. I heard today that a pied wagtail has been seen, so I am hoping that the pair that has been around for the past two years will reappear soon.

We love it. It does interrupt the work a bit on occasion as one of us exclaims at the latest flypast or the amazing light on the loch. Some days it is grey (not often), others a greeny colour, but then it turns bright blue followed by almost black as the sun’s rays pass across. I am told that ponds in Orkney are teeming with breeding frogs and frogspawn is on offer if wanted. We did try putting some in the slower running parts of the burn last year. However, Mark fell in as he scrambled down to put it somewhere where we felt it might survive and has said rude things if I suggest trying again, especially as the next day a storm put paid to the quiet area and we think it all got washed out into the loch. Maybe the resulting frogs are what the heron is so interested in.

Digressing slightly, we have a “Kargester” which is a large green dome in the garden that does unmentionable things as part of our drainage … allegedly the water that comes out the other side is drinkable but it would take a braver person than either of us to try it. It replaces the old (very old) stone walled cess pit to which the original drains ran and all too often, didn’t. And which got filled in when we had the builders here with the big digger.

Anyway, SEPA (Scottish Environmental Protection Agency) decreed that this alone was insufficient as the end product is going into the burn which in turn goes into the loch which is a site of Special Scientific Interest. So … they insisted that the water out of the Kargester goes into not one but two reed beds. Filled with EU approved reeds rather than native ones. However, they seem to be surviving. Just.

And it occurs to me that we could put some frogspawn in the reed beds. Maybe. Or maybe not.

At the risk of offending my vegetarian daughter and other veggie friends, we were fortunate enough to be offered a lamb the other day – an Icelandic/North Ronaldsay cross. This is a small breed, and he was young (his name was Bjorn). He resides in my freezer now and I have to say that the racks we ate the other night were delicious. Lots of flavour but not too “lamby” if you know what I mean. Hoping that some friends will come and share a leg before too long !! On the subject of lamb, I went to Craigies at the Brig a couple of weeks ago and got a boned shoulder which got made into a Rogan Josh courtesy of Rick Stein’s book on India. It was really good as can be seen from the empty plates in the picture ! Channa Dhal and home-made Naan bread completed the evening and left us truly replete.

There’s lots of lovely fish around at the moment, and I have been happily trying some new fish recipes –  plaice was the latest effort, done with home-made five-spice and very good it was too. Keen to try this recipe as well : http://www.orkneycrab.co.uk/files/Asian_Style_Crab_Salad.pdf sometime soon it sounds delicious. Or maybe Thai Crab Cakes. Or something.

Mark is taking his turn in the kitchen as well and finding new recipes - like the very colourful spiced chicken with a feta cheese salad. 

I am busy putting all my recipes on One Note – that way if I see something in the shops that I fancy cooking I can check online that I have the other necessary ingredients for the recipe I have in mind. Given, of course that we can get an internet connection, not always possible here on Orkney as some of you will be aware.

But now it’s time to stop wittering on and go and feed the cats (they are wittering big time) and as it is Friday it is Beer O’Clock so we will be heading down to the Flattie Bar ere long. Poor Mark has missed out on that for ages as I had a nasty fall on a muddy walk at Birsay and **** up my leg and ankle somewhat so haven’t dared drive. But it is now sufficiently recovered and I am only limping occasionally so … I am in a fit state to drive him home. Hurrah!

 

January, pasta and gluten (or not)

Martini Time
Making Pasta
Vole Hunting
Blowing in the wind
New picture in situ

Here on Orkney it is amazing how quickly one notices the days getting longer. By the end of January – given that it isn’t pissing with rain of course – the light is noticeable in the mornings and we are starting to wake up a bit earlier as a result. And now we are into February I found myself getting my timing wrong when I needed to put the pot-roast beef in at 4.30 and didn’t because it wasn’t dark.

It’s been an amazingly mild January, witness the fact that my crocuses are out, and I have a daffodil or two that will explode into flower in the next day or two. There have been a couple of storms, but nothing compared to last year’s efforts. And as I write this, it is clear and a bit cold, and Hoy is covered in snow, but it’s been a glorious day with lovely sunshine, meaning that the heating hasn’t needed to come on at all but the office is still a balmy 24 degrees.

I managed to misjudge the wind one day though (well I didn’t look at the weather station which was registering 40mph … (force 8 fresh gale according to the Beaufort Scale), and went to hang the washing out. The two bedside mats promptly unpegged themselves and went into the burn and I had to confess to Mark. Wellies on and he went paddling and fished them out for me, and banned me from putting out washing in anything more than 28 mph in future. Dries well at that though – and smells gorgeous when you bring it in – as long as Tommy hasn’t been by with the slurry wagon that is !!

Three household purchases were made in January – some proper cocktail glasses so that Mark can make dry martinis from the wonderful Orkney Gin – or Kirkjuvagr Gin – or Shetland Gin -  or one of the other craft gins we keep finding. And very very good they are too. The gin and the martinis!

The next was a pasta maker – by Marcato – which is not the cheapest but is proving to be excellent.  To date I have made the pasta dough and Mark has done the rolling out, but next time he is going to do the lot. And it does make a difference, no question. Even with making the dough from scratch it actually probably takes about the same length of time as cooking the dried variety and the taste and texture are totally different. I did fettuccini with Anna Del Conte’s recipe for her ragu, which actually is cooked with milk (yes truly) and is deeeeeeeeeeeelicious.

And last but not least was a picture - an original - which we daringly bought from a website - Artifinder. It is by a Ukrainian artist called Aleksey Vylusk and we think it looks great in our lovely modern living room ! 

Nimbus is feeling that spring is in the air and spending more time outside and hunting. He managed to release an Orkney vole in the kitchen (dear lovable cat), and you see Mark trying to spot it and flush it out from under the fridge, excitedly watched by Nimbus. He failed. And Nimbus lost interest. However, next morning as we were at our desks there was a little scratching noise and the vole was trying to open the back door ! He also failed, but Mark opened it for him and off he went, happy as Larry, into the flowerbed outside. Just hope he has learned his lesson.

We had a friend, Alison, to stay last weekend … she suffers from Coeliac disease (for those who don’t know this means that eating even a tiny bit of wheat, barley or rye triggers an immune reaction). I had left food shopping until she arrived as I wasn’t 100% sure what she could and couldn’t eat. My plan of monkfish roasted on lentils was shafted when I got to Jolly’s because … no monkfish. However they did have mussels, and lovely tiger prawns, so I suggested paella which got the thumbs-up. The ingredients label on some “rare-breed Chorizo” was examined and deemed safe, and I knew I had a small bit of monkfish in the freezer at home that could be pressed into service, so that was OK.

As the weekend progressed, however, I discovered that it wasn’t just a matter of excluding bread and cake and biscuits etc. It is far far more than that. Did you know that Oxo cubes contain gluten ? And malt vinegar ? Every label needs to be scrutinised. And – think of this – I do all my own baking. OK so I scrubbed down the surfaces and kept my baking cupboard firmly closed. But I didn’t think of my oven gloves which get my bread, on its floury tins, in and out of the oven and are seriously contaminated. As is my plate warmer where I often prove rolls. It was all quite scary. Especially as there is no quick test – another friend who is allergic (very allergic) to nuts, can touch a bit of food to her lips and tell instantly if it contains nuts. With Coeliac the effects of eating just a crumb of bread aren’t known for about 24 hours when the antibodies kick in.

I did find some good gluten free products though – some lentil pasta which had an interesting texture. I don’t think I would ever substitute it for the real thing though. And some lovely gluten free crackers to go with cheese which were delicious. And our local Coop has started stocking “highland Brie” which had to be tried and was very runny and excellent!

I am very grateful that it seems my scrubbing was effective and Alison suffered no ill effects and hopefully will come and visit again sometime as we had a lovely weekend with her! We took her to see “the sights” of course and were very lucky with the weather – she had a ratio of 3:1 (3 good days, one bad). It would have helped if I hadn’t had a nasty fall on the walk we went on at Birsay, ending up covered in mud (yes, really really covered) and with a badly strained leg but that will teach me not to go walking without one of the walking poles. Well I hope it will teach me anyway. And for now I am limping along and waiting for it to heal.

Wining and dining at Bunchrew

Our arrival at Bunchrew

OK, so we had to go to Inverness – it happens occasionally. But mid-January isn’t the best time for it, so we decided we would like to find somewhere nice to stay where we could get a really nice dinner. We deserve a treat after all, after the early boat, the drive down, an afternoon hanging around and the prospect of the drive back the next day.

After asking around, friends Ian and Caroline mentioned the Bunchrew House Hotel. I investigated their website and found that at this time of year they do an excellent DBB rate, and it all looked rather nice. So the booking was made – not too much in advance of course, in case the weather provoked cancellation!

We arrived at the hotel as the light was fading,, and were welcomed warmly at reception by Stuart, who reserved our table for dinner, showed us the drawing room and suggested that we should come down about 10 minutes early so we could have a little drinky and examine the menu at leisure. Nothing wrong with that plan except 10 minutes probably wasn’t quite long enough for said little drinky – the drawing room was inviting and warm and held promise of a very relaxing place for the little drinky.

Stuart then showed us to our room – probably wisely as in common with many Scottish hotels in old country houses, the upstairs was a rabbit warren, with carpeted floorboards just short of creaky. In addition the owner was obviously a fan of The Prisoner, since none of the rooms were numbered, each had a name – ours was something beginning with K (Kieler, something like that). We were ushered in, shown the delightful treasure chest of tea, coffee and hot chocolate, and informed that the hotel didn’t approve of those disgusting little tubs of long-life milk, and that fresh milk could be found in the fridge which doubled as a mini-bar. He also pointed out that one of the windows overlooked a magnificent cedar tree and – with regret – that although the other window had a view of the Firth through the trees, it also overlooked the bins !! But you had to look pretty hard as they were well fenced in.

Left to our own devices we examined the spacious room with a very comfy-looking kingsized bed. It was very warm, but as hardened Orcadians and with a silent apology to the management for the waste of heat, we turned down the radiator and opened the window. Time for feet up and relax.

Come about 7.30 that little drinky was definitely calling us. So down to the bar we went. Mark had some of the local beer while I had a white wine, served in a Victorian style cut (well moulded) crystal glass no less ! It did make it feel special ! And into the drawing room with an enormous squishy sofa where we were presented with menus and a wine list and left to make our choice. Which was difficult. Very. Not because it was one of those menus with so much on them you get bewildered and where you know everything is just going to come out of the freezer and be whacked into the microwave.  No. It wasn’t. There was a choice of four starters, four main courses and four desserts. All of which sounded amazing. I decided that the salt cod starter with Jerusalem artichokes three was wasn’t for me as although I love them, artichokes hate me. Mark decided that smoked eel risotto was a wriggle too far for him and I wasn’t in the mood for salmon ceviche, though it sounded amazing and will need to be tried another time. And we both decided that goats’ cheese tart was the starter for us.

The main courses saw us diverge – Mark opted for scallops with apple and a light curry sauce, only half-believing that the combination would work, and I decided to have duck breast with bon-bons made from the confit leg.

Red wine - Argentinian Malbec - was selected and after a few more minutes to finish our drinks, we were invited to our table. And presented with an amuse bouche from the chef. I can tell you that our bouches were very amused indeed. It was a beetroot puree, with a tiny bit of the best black pudding I have EVER tasted, and a small piece of loin of hare. Now perhaps I should explain here that my mother used to make jugged hare for my father and even the smell would drive me out of the house for the day and the kitchen for about a week. So it was with some trepidation that I closed my eyes and … ate the most delicious piece of hare ! It was amazing. This was served in a very small cup, and the fork didn’t quite get to the beetroot at the bottom, so we waited until no one was looking and dipped our fingers in to get the last bits out – we just couldn’t leave it.

Then the cheese tarts arrived. Not a great big “Orkney farmer portion” but a delicate deliciousness of soft and very savoury cheese tart, topped with a slice of pickled walnut and with a beautifully understated truffle oil drizzle and a sprig of chervil. Oh, and some of chef’s home made bread.

Then came our main courses. Could they live up to their predecessors ? Yes. Simple answer. Yes. They could.

Mark’s scallops were served on a squidge of the creamiest mash, topped with apple puree (not your standard apple puree you understand – a magical cheffy appley delight) and surrounded by a curry sauce. Sounds strange doesn’t it? It wasn’t – it was a combination made in heaven – the sauce was delicate, but just occasionally you got that sort of kick that says “Excuse me, don’t forget me, I AM a curry sauce after all”. The scallops were cooked to perfection – soft, flavoursome and delicious.

As for me, well. Pink sliced duck. Crispy bon-bons. Dauphoise potatoes, all crunchy on top and perfectly cooked and seasoned underneath and braised chicory to give a bit of background bitterness. All served with a sauce/gravy/whatever-you-want-to-call-it that must have taken hours to get to exactly the right degree of unctuousness to go with everything.

Mark couldn’t resist the dessert menu – but I decided that I would “borrow” his spoon ! He also treated himself to a “late harvest Sauvignon Blanc” dessert wine to go with it. So – a chocolate and peanut butter tart duly arrived with peanut butter ice cream, peanut butter brittle popcorn and peanut butter mousse. Not large amounts of each thank goodness or I think he would have burst (and so would I probably). I tried every bit and we both agreed on something.
WE WILL RETURN TO THIS DELIGHTFUL HOTEL!

A comfortable night was spent in our room beginning with K, and we enjoyed Eggs Benedict for breakfast – and my only slight disappointment of the whole stay … the toast wasn’t made with chef’s home-made bread. But it’s not a complaint, it would just have been the icing on the cake. Or the toast in the rack. Or something.

I wonder when we next need to go to Inverness …

Christmas food on Orkney ...

Mark and the gin !
Porkney Pies - all eaten!

About 2 – maybe 3 – weeks ago, Mark and I wandered up to the Dounby butcherto do our “Christmas order”. This was going to be something of a challenge as we hadn’t actually decided what we wanted to eat on Christmas day! Goose was off the list (very expensive and after trying it two years ago we weren’t that keen). Turkey – well they are so BIG and you .. or we … eat the thing for months. And as I am not overly gone on turkey we had decided we probably wouldn’t go for turkey.

So … after talking to Barbara we ordered a capon (look it up if you don’t know what it is exactly, not going to go into graphic detail here). And a piece of gammon which Barbara told us was brining as we shopped. And some sausages – if you are on Orkney and haven’t tried her beef and caramelised onion sausages beat a path to her door NOW. They are delicious. Some pork sausages. And some pork chipolatas to go with the capon. Streaky and back bacon. And Barbara told us about the different stuffings she was going to make so two different types were ordered. Eggs were added to the haul. Followed by lovely muddy grown-in-earth carrots in a variety of colours, ditto parsnips, beetroot and a neap.

All to be collected the day before Christmas eve.

The day before that – the Thursday - Mark had a phone call that he reckoned made his Christmas complete, from George Bain. Paint and Wallpaper supplier. Yes really. To say that the special paint to cover up the knots that had come through (owing to the original decorator being in a hurry and not using knotting before painting with a water based gloss) had been delivered. So you see we simply had to go into town to collect it. And as it was late-night shopping, we went for a wander … which turned out rather expensive as we tried a new gin at Kirkness & Gowrie. And it was rather good. Well very good actually. So we had to buy it. And the delightful Porkney Pies from the Porkney Pie Company. Then as we walked out we turned to each other and said “that gin would make a cracking martini”. So we had to go to Tesco (sigh) to get the martini. Obviously.

So come the Friday we went to Dounby a howling gale. We had 60 mph winds here – and bear in mind Mill Cottage is quite sheltered – but the open road was still pretty windy !! Came back with all our goodies … and battened down the hatches. Dustbins into the garage, anything that might blow around put away. And settled down to a very quiet but one of the most relaxed Christmases ever …

Today is Thursday 29th December, and as I write this we have enjoyed a lovely “week of Sundays”. Late to bed each night, replete with good food, good wine and relaxed. And oversleeping every morning ! We decided that – given that Storm Conor, the second one to hit us over Christmas – was going strong on the Monday when the Ba’ was held, we would see if it died down and perhaps go in later to watch for a while. But we were well and truly thwarted by the Ba’ being over in a near-record 20 minutes. So that put paid to that idea and we stayed put. However, we have been out and photographed places, pottered in the house, cut back some of the hedges and overgrown bits in the garden, started on tidying the garage (well, Mark has), made a brief foray to the Co-op for milk, raisins and tomato puree, baked some bread, started to build a Lego HotRod, programmed Alexa (Amazon Echo) cooked good food watched rubbishy films on TV and generally enjoyed an extended break. And there are still some days to come … getting used to this could be dangerous as getting back to work next week is not looking great.

Bring it on ...

Parcels ready to send
And - the collapse of the tree
The tree that was too big for the hall
The final version
The shopping accident - the trimphone
The goodie bowl
The golden stag

Christmas shopping here is very different somehow … far more relaxed. Of course we can (and do) order things on Amazon but we really try not to – much preferring to buy from our local shops and take advantage of some of the local craftspeople who make really lovely things that are great for presents. I am writing this before Christmas so don’t want to give away too much, but just take a look at a few of these websites and you will get the idea :

http://zoedavidsonjewellery.co.uk/ - Zoe is the daughter of one of my Mahjong friends, and her jewellery is just lovely

http://www.orkneytweed.co.uk/ - I confess to a shopping accident with them as I bought one of their lovely rugs for the “little” sitting room … though at the moment it is in our main living room because I have had a cold and felt sorry for myself so wrapped it over my legs and watched TV one afternoon ! The cats, needless to say were delighted to take advantage of it !

http://www.ortak.co.uk/ - all Orkney crafts in their shop and again, one is spoilt for choice … I have a sneaky feeling that there may be a present for me on the way from them (fingers crossed)

http://www.thelongship.co.uk/ … we daren’t go in here too often at any time of the year as we keep finding things we love (see the picture of the phone – yes it’s a trim phone and nearly makes the right noise but don’t you adore the colour ?). So if you phone you can visualise me on that vivid green stool as I chat to you ! And the gold stag came from there too !

We started our Christmas shopping quite early – for us anyway – because all our gifts have to be posted south to the family. It was great – very relaxed and a far cry from places like Lakeside. It was somehow very uncommercial which sounds like a contradiction in terms, but we felt we were really able to think about what we were buying and have hopefully managed to end up with presents that people will enjoy. We do hampers for “the children” each year with various small goodies, and William Shearers is just perfect for this, with delightful yumminesses to tempt us to buy – and we generally end up with rather a lot of goodies for ourselves as well of course ! It’s the most amazing shop – the grocery section has most of the things that people living in England think we can’t actually get on Orkney, they do a wonderful Christmas display and a Santa’s grotto for the children. Plus masses of household stuff, nuts, bolts, hangers, brooms, buckets and so forth. An agricultural section with seeds and animal feed, bird food, and seasonal things like seed potatoes, an impressive gun shop, fishing tackle, and at this time of year, Christmas trees. Far too much money was spent but hey – it was worth it !!! That’s where our splendid twice decorated tree came from as did the goodies in our goody bowl.

The tree was twice decorated because – we did it all beautifully then relaxed and enjoyed our handiwork  at which point it slowly toppled to the floor smashing rather a lot of baubles and dislodging even more. Poor Nimbus was looking on in horror from his chair, wondering if we were going to blame him ! However, neither he nor Phercad were to blame this time; the screws that hold it in place in the stand had bitten too far into the tree itself and it has just collapsed. So amid a certain amount of colourful language, Mark got it upright again, fixed it (very) securely in place and we started decorating it all over again ! But it does look lovely now. We both recalled the time Mark ordered a tree and it was so big we couldn’t get it into the hall at the Station … the picture of that is part of our Christmas decorations and I suspect this one will join it as a salutary reminder of what happens when you don’t fix it properly.

Birthdays and Bread

Heading out

My lovely family had hoped for a big get together for my birthday (it was a so-called “special” one which just made me feel even older than I am), but it just wasn’t going to be possible. So on our visit in September (details in previous blog posts) my lovely daughters each took me out for a really nice meal and we celebrated that way.

So when it came to the day itself Mark had arranged a special evening for me – at the Foveran

Not only that he had booked us in for Bed and Breakfast – a real treat as it meant we didn’t have to drive home afterwards, which with the draconian drink-drive laws here would have meant an alcohol-free evening, but we also didn’t have to get a taxi which are eye-wateringly expensive here!

So we put on some glad rags, I sprayed on some nice perfume, even added a bit of lippy, and we headed out and it was just lovely. A real treat. Excellent food and (just as important) excellent company. I can’t believe that we have been together for 22 years and still have so much to talk about. The bed was comfy, breakfast was excellent as well – the chef makes his own bread and that makes such a difference to the toast.

I had lots of lovely cards and flowers from my Mahjong group and masses of FaceBook messages, and felt very contented and loved. Aaaah – isn’t that sweet. But it’s true !

Now speaking of bread (which I did about two paragraphs ago …), I still make all my own, baking a couple of loaves a week. Mark, to my amazement, has discovered an excellent muesli and is having that instead of his “not-cross buns” that I used to make, so I am not doing quite as much as I used to. It’s fun with the bread experimenting with different “additions” … cranberries and pumpkin seeds or some malted flour which makes the bread look a bit like chocolate cake. Dried fruit and walnuts is also yummy. It’s a very relaxing thing to do … and if you are wondering, no I don’t have a bread maker, I use my Kenwood and then do the last bits of kneading by hand. Boy does the kitchen smell good when it’s baking as well J. I am even getting used to timing it so that a cake goes in first while the bread proves for the second time then I can ramp the oven up for the bread and don’t waste the heat. Result!

Badgering Home ..

At the Yorkshire Sculpture Pari
Stac Pollaidh
Far from the Madding crowd
Hard to believe it's a main road
Sheep on the Road

This (rather long) blog is the diary of our journey north after visiting all the family and friends we could manage to meet up with. It may (or may not) interest you ! We were Badgering of course, taking our time and just enjoying the view as it were. And it will help us recall things we want to remember, with links to farm shops, campsites and the like (may help other motorhomers too ...)

There are a few photos here, but lots are at : click here

We decided to spend a couple of nights at a campsite near Leek in Derbyshire, as we wanted to go across the country in order to head up through Northumberland.

As we headed up the M5 we saw signs for a Farm Shop. On the motorway. We had gone into the Waitrose in Bristol to get a few supplies, but it really wasn’t a great experience – not enough room for all the people trying to shop there and difficult to find anything we really fancied, so had done a very basic shop and hoped to find better on our travels. And this Farm Shop sign was spotted. So nothing ventured nothing gained, we turned in and parked. And it was amazing. If I had enough storage I could have bought meals for a month !! Sadly that wasn’t possible, but we got some of the best bangers we have ever had and fabulous pork chops – Gloucester Old Spot in both cases, great vegetables and the odd treat or two in the way of interesting crisps and just a little chocolate. Oh and just a couple or three bottles of wine and a couple of local beer !

So now set up for a day or three we went merrily on our way.

The decision to stay a couple of nights in Derbyshire wasn’t for exploratory purposes, it was to get some work done and also quite a lot of washing ! So it was important – nay vital – that we found somewhere that the satellite dish would connect for our Internet. This is not easy in Derbyshire, believe me. I had done some phoning around and had found, for example, a delightful looking site but it was set in an old quarry and there wasn’t a cat’s chance of getting a signal. We had settled on a Camping and Caravan Club site at Blackshaw and soon found a pitch with a good view of the sky despite trees and rocky outcrops, so that was us settled for the day. We both got lots of work done, and lots of washing too (slightly marred by managing to leave three of Mark’s socks behind .. naturally none of them paired up, so he now has three odd socks). This was a pain because he hadn’t really packed enough pairs in the first place so shopping will be needed ! We had a relaxed couple of evenings with excellent food (brilliantly cooked of course) before heading on our way.

Driving in the peak district is lovely – the views are amazing but the roads are not the widest in England, and there are a lot of motorhomes around, to say nothing of lorries and more lorries. We have become unused to such heavy traffic living on Orkney.

We continued on our way, enjoying the drive, with the intention of ending up at the Bobby Shafto Beamish site for a couple of nights so that we could spend a day at the Beamish Museum.

It got near lunchtime and there was a brown sign pointing to the Yorkshire Sculpture park … and for once it actually had the distance on it (see my later complaint when we followed on near Edinburgh that didn’t !). So we followed it and found ourselves driving into the park – we parked up and had some lunch then set off round some of the areas of the park … which is enormous. It was a lovely afternoon and we really enjoyed it. So we were a bit later arriving at our next destination but that didn’t matter a scrap …

And off we went to the Beamish Museum for the day. We were a bit downhearted on arrival as the car park had about 15 coachloads disgorging their passengers, but in fact once you get in it’s so enormous you are not really aware of the people. And it is highly recommended.  It’s really interesting – a very long day with lots of walking but well worth it. Our only disappointment was the fish and chips which were very highly rated on Tripadvisor and other sites. I guess they must have been having an off day – they boast that they cook the chips in beef dripping, but my guess is that it wasn’t hot enough because they tasted of grease, and the fish was desperately overcooked. So most of it ended in the bin which was a shame. It is a lovely building, all beautifully tiled and they use wood ovens, but … not for us I fear. I think it must have been a bad experience “on the day” because I know a lot of people love it !

Mark had promised me the experience of the A68 up through the Northumberland National Park – he drove down that way and assured me it was an experience. So the next day off we went to Jedburgh first – interestingly even the girl at tourist information couldn’t find much to encourage us about Jedburgh and it really isn’t the most impressive little town the in the world. But we found a couple of food shops for essential supplies and a very nice café. We decided against exploring the jail and headed on our way to the aforementioned A68. And Mark was right – it’s amazing ! The road goes up and down like a switchback with more “blind summits” than I have ever come across in my life. It was real “heart in my mouth” time as we went over them because you can’t see the road ahead and as you go over a lorry or car just appears from nowhere. Great fun. And really lovely scenery again.

We crossed the border at Carter Bar and now turned right so that we could motor up the coast, stopping at Berwick for the night. We stayed at Ord House Park – there is a bar on site, but to Mark’s disappointment it only had one beer on tap and it was one he disliked, so we retreated back to Badger for a nice craft beer bought en route. Not a park I would want to stay at in high season I suspect, very big and obviously catering to children which is great if that’s what you want but … we don’t ! We thought about staying a couple of nights but decided we would rather move on – that’s the joy of a motorhome and “no particular place to go” … you can just move on when you are not too keen on the view !

As we went past Edinburgh the next day we saw a sign for “Scotland’s Secret Bunker” … brown signs are great but I wish they would indicate how far away the place they are pointing to is ! We went off the motorway for about 10 miles looking for it, then decided to stop for lunch and try and find it on the map. Well, it wasn’t anywhere NEAR, so we gave up, had lunch (yummy things we had found at a farm shop) sitting on the beach at Kirkcaldy and went back to the motorway north in disgust. That will be done on another trip (it sounds really interesting!)

Another stopover, at Pitlochry this time, which gave us the chance to wander into town and buy some new socks for Mark. There is an all year round Christmas shop there, so we bought our now traditional baubles for each of the “children’s” hampers – well I know they are all grown up and gone but they will always be “the children” to us !!

And now it was decision time as we headed north up the A9. Were we going to turn left at Inverness or carry on up the A9 and the east coast. And we let the weather forecast decide as we had promised ourselves. And the forecast for the west coast was great so … across to Ullapool we went – and I found a campsite that sounded idyllic ! Out beyond Stac Pollaidh, a favourite climbing mountain of my father’s, there is one called Port a Bhaigh. I think poor Mark thought the single track road would go on for ever (it was only 15 miles really) but it was worth it. A delightful site, right on the sea, overlooking the Summer Isles. AND with an excellent bar/restaurant, the Am Fuaran on the other side of the road. A real bonus. Locally caught squat lobsters, scallops, langoustines. Deeeeelicious. And fish and chips for lunch the next day. A lovely place for a two night break and it’s open all year ! They do have wifi, but it only works really in the facilities area, so we were glad that Badger’s satellite was able to pick up a signal … not a totally brilliant one, especially when another van parked and put his (non internet) dish up and basically smothered ours. But the view was so lovely and we were so well settled we couldn’t be bothered to move and decided work could wait for another day. We had a lovely walk instead!

So – onward and upward. Back along the single track road and back to the main road to head up to Durness. I say “main road” but a lot is unfenced so you have to be aware that you may meet sheep at any time, lying in the road (which is nice and warm) and sunning themselves. And of course a lot of it is single track with passing places, so if you want to get north quickly I recommend sticking to the A9 !

We stopped for an espresso (yes, we even carry an espresso machine, and to relax and admire the view along the way, then stopped off at an excellent shop in Scourie for some essential supplies (we had run out of wine AND beer which was very worrying), and camped up on the top of the cliffs at the Durness site. Our neighbours were a very interesting couple from Australia who had been travelling all over Europe – the had come over and bought a cheap, small van rather than renting one, and had already been offered nearly 3 times what they paid for it ! They were heading south so we recommended the site we had come from and later heard that they went there and had loved it !

Next morning we went to the “craft village” nearby to start with, and had the joy of finding Cocoa Mountain – we recalled it had been featured on Dragon’s Den – and decided to try their hot chocolate … which was HEAVENLY. And chocolate topped croissants. Oh my word. If you are in the area do make sure you visit them !

Then we set off along the North coast, ambling gently. Our neighbours had recommended what they described as a “pottery” along the way, saying it was easy to find – and it was. And so worth finding. But no pottery this. A ceramic artist called Lotte Glob. Such such beautiful inspiring ceramics. And so sad that I just couldn’t afford them. Go and see them. … they are amazing !

We stopped to admire and photograph the magnificent Farr Stone – a Pictish rectangular slab in the churchyard in the hamlet of (guess where ?) Farr, just outside Bettyhill I find these Pictish stones totally wonderful and enjoy seeking them and their mystery out when I can.

Our plan was to take it very gently and have one more overnight in Scotland but in the end it wasn’t to be – the Caravan club site on the North Coast was closed for the season (so early to close and really annoying) and although we found another site near John ‘o Groats we decided that staying so close to the ferry was just silly so … we went down to Gills Bay and they were able to fit us on the boat and we had the calmest of calm crossings (always to Mark’s relief) and after a brief stop in Kirkwall to fill up with fuel and empty the grey water and the Thetford, we rolled back home to a pair of very happy-to-see-us cats, a mountain of post and a relaxed evening under our own roof.

What a fabulous holiday !

And now we can settle down and relax – or maybe not as we were asked to go to Switzerland for meetings the next week. Maybe after that comes the relaxation and the settling in for winter !!

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