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.com instead.

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

 

 

Just after Easter ...

Vickie and the two Marks
Vickie and her Mark
Vickie and Me

Reading Mark’s latest blogs makes me realise just how behind we are with what we are doing here ! There has been no mention of the visit of my elder daughter Vickie and “her” Mark who came up just after Easter. This was, I fear, a case of Falling Between Two Stools, as I thought Mark was going to write about it and he thought I was !!

 

Mark (that’s Vickie’s one) is particularly interested in the World War stuff that you get up here, so soon after they arrived, having braved the long drive, we had arranged for a guided tour for them with a John Rae Society colleague, Norman Shearer, who is also a tour guide. He showed them a lot of the sites – mostly from the car as it turned out to be a cold, wet and windy day. However they did go to HMS Tern, which was actually a naval airfield, and went round the control tower (and got very very wet and cold). They thoroughly enjoyed themselves with Norman, despite the weather’s best efforts, and whenever we drove out thereafter were able to educate us, as this is part of the Island’s history that we know little about. You will be glad to know that a nice hot bath sorted a very chilled Vickie out when they got back !

As Mark hadn’t been here before – Vickie has been up several times – we wanted to be sure he got a good flavour of what was on offer and luckily the weather cleared the next day and we had some love sunshine. We took them around the major sites, trying to pick the best things for them to see and enjoy because they were only here for a week – so it was Skara Brae, Brodgar, Stenness, Barnhouse for the true essence of the Neolithic in the heart of Orkney, then the Barriers and the Italian Chapel for some more World War experiences. Mark and Mark enjoyed a visit to the Museum in Kirkwall while Vickie and I thoroughly enjoyed the local shops – how lovely it is to have really truly local shops and not the big multi-nationals!

Vickie had asked me to see if I could get a book on Shetland Families 1800 – 1900 … quite an obscure little gem … and I wandered into the Kirkwall Library to see if perchance the had a copy. Yes indeed, no problem was the answer and the manager just went straight to it and handed it to me. Just goes to show how good real librarians are. And here we have the best as our library is award winning !!

Why should she want such a thing ? well she is doing some family research and a prominent family member was a Shetlander. The book led to the discovery that he had a sister which was new information and enabled another bit to be added to the family tree.

We were really pleased that they enjoyed their trip – Vickie had been dreading the drive but in the end hadn’t found it onerous at all, and had enjoyed the different areas of the country they passed through, and they hope to come back again, maybe even this summer. They would, of course, be very welcome! We certainly won’t be seeing my other daughter as she and “her” Mark (why couldn’t she have found herself a husband with a different name ?) have bought a motor home, taken a 3 month sabbatical and are wandering around Europe with their son, Sam, before he starts school in September. Judging by the pictures they are sending back they are having a grand time !

Oliver and Nicola visit 2

Feeding Lambs
Italian Chapel
Anna shows Nicola the Italian Chapel
Oliver plus Stenness Monster
Nicola about to start

After a week of fantastic sunny weather, Oliver and Nicola’s second week has not been so warm. This has not stopped them exploring the island and having all sorts of fun and experiences. We took them to the amazing and very moving Italian Chapel, a second World War Nissen hut that was converted by the Italian prisoners of war into a most amazing place of worship with trompe l’oeil  paintings all over the wall surfaces.

One place of call that could not be missed was Jerry’s Ice Cream Parlour where the amazing ice cream Sundaes are made with yummy Orkney ice cream and the incredible ‘Stenness monster’ can be consumed. This is a large cone with seven scoops of your choice, should you succeed in eating one of these your name goes in a ‘book of honour’ as proof you did it. Needless to say that both Oliver and Nicola achieved this, this being Oliver’s second successful mastery of this task, the first one, some years ago on his first visit to Orkney.

Yesterday we took Oliver and Nicola to the Tomb of the Eagles in South Ronaldsay, this visitor venue is a great introduction to the Neolithic in Orkney. You get a talk about the site, finds and life in the Neolithic and an opportunity to handle some of the finds. Then you walk out to the tomb on the cliff top and haul yourselves into the tomb via a homemade trolley. The Tomb is of the stalled type and is well worth a visit. After this you can take really nice cliff top walk back to the carpark. On this walk the sea birds fly past your heads and at certain times of the year you can see seals pupping on the shore below you. Whilst Oliver and Nicola were doing all this, Anna and I were meeting some dear friends, Peter & Fankie who are on holiday here, for lunch at the Skerries restaurant. After a very pleasant time we headed back to pick up Oliver and Nicola, hoping that they were not waiting for us as we had been some time. We found them sitting on a bench by the cliff tops watching the wildlife, they looked very contented.

Today our picnic was taken in the car for the first time as the weather has really changed to very wet and cold for the first time. We had just finished visiting the Orkneyinga Saga  centre at Ophir and what started as a light drizzle had made up its mind to become a bit more determined. This has not dampened our intrepid couple’s spirits and they are enjoying experiencing the different Orkney weather.

Oliver and Nicola visit

Tradition is if you place a stone here you will come back.
Oliver considers the water far too cold!
A wet cuddle from Nicola
On the way to the Brough
Ring of Brodgar

My youngest son, Oliver and my daughter-in-law Nicola have come to stay with us for a couple of weeks. They arrived by plane, unfortunately because of the turbulence Nicola did not have a good time, she was sick on both flights and arrived looking very green and subdued, for those who know the very excitable and lively Nicola this was quite a worry. However after a gentle drive back from the airport and a little lie down she started to feel much better.

Although Oliver has been to Orkney twice before on holiday with Anna and myself, for Nicola this was her first time on the Island and she was really looking forward to it. The weather has been in this first week has been fantastic with bright sunshine and very little if any wind (although this can bring the midges out) the temperatures have been around 18 – 20 deg C not I know as much as the heatwave that they had ‘dan sarf’ but very welcome here.

We have done masses of walking, Nicola has swum in the Atlantic ocean at Waulkmill Bay, the water is a fairly steady temperature as it is feed from the gulf stream but that temperature is according to Oliver who did go a short way in ‘F***ing Cold!’.

We have explored Neolithic tombs, stone circles, Skara Brae, clambered down cliffs, been seal spotting and a pile of other experiences. Oliver and Nicola seem to be enjoying themselves and are sleeping very well, we don’t often get started much before mid-day!

Yesterday we went on one of the free tours by the Scottish Heritage Rangers around Brodgar. Elaine was our guide and although I have been on these tours many times before there is always something new to be discovered. We sent a couple of hours at the Ring of Brodgar and then had our daily picnic, instead of on a beach, this time in the Neolithic village of Barnhouse.

We have also visited the Italian chapel and Nicola and Oliver fed some lambs at Catherine Corsie’s farm, we finished up the day quickly popping in to the Scapa distillery just before they closed, but Oliver still got a tasting in! On the drive back we all stopped off at Wideford Hill, one of the highest points on the island which you can drive up and from there get amazing ( but windy ) views of all the islands.

Anna is excelling herself on the catering front and also produced for the first time a batch of brioche buns one on which I am eating for breakfast as I type this.

Today we are heading into Kirkwall to show them the poppy display at the cathedral and to get some retail therapy, Nicola is very interested in the jewellery made on the island.

 

Musings

Before
After
Easter Bunny
Bunny two
A Blackening

Things are getting busy as summer approaches, although when
the winter showers that bring a light dusting of snow on the hills and the icy
cold winds from the north blow it is sometimes difficult to believe. My step
daughter, Anna’s eldest, Vickie, and her partner Mark a long standing friend
came to visit for a week. They drove up and as it was Mark’s first visit to
Orkney and he is very interested in the military history of the area, I arranged
a half day guided tour by Norman Shearer who does this sort of thing for a
living. I am quite happy to show people around the Neolithic stuff but I don’t
know quite so much about newer history, although I am learning! Although Norman’s
tour occurred on perhaps the worst day for weather of their stay, Vickie and
Mark said that they really enjoyed it and learnt a lot, Norman certainly seemed
to have covered a lot in the time. Poor old Vickie did come back freezing and
damp but a nice hot bath soon sorted that out.

The rest of the week we spent some of the time sight-seeing
and showing them the island plus we had some time to ‘chill out’ with them and
chat which was great. It is very easy with so much to seem on the island to overdo
things and not leave time for the important things like nattering. Vickie and
Mark seemed to have really enjoyed their visit, so much so that they were
talking of possibly coming back up for a visit in the summer this year which
would be great.

Easter has come and gone there were some egg hunts for the
children, one of which a lot of the shops in Kirkwall joined in, and some large
dressed up Easter Bunnies in the town. Bank holidays don’t seem to happen here
like they do in England, whether it is because of the large agricultural community
who can’t take time off or another reason I’m not sure, so the shops are all
open and it seems like any other day, obviously the kids are off school but
they are generally so well behaved that you barely notice them!

The weekends in Kirkwall, and to a lesser extent Stromness
are punctuated by the raucous noise of Blackenings. These are where a prospective
Bride or Groom are grabbed by their mates and covered in molasses, rice
krispies and all sorts of stuff, then bundled into the back of an open lorry
and driven around the town several times to the much blowing of whistles and
banging of sticks on the sides of the lorry, I believe a small amount of alcohol
may also be consumed. After this parading through the streets the ‘victim’ is then
tied to the stone cross outside the Cathedral or some other landmark. Their
mates then drive off only to return a little while later to release them and
usually throw them into the harbour! A good time is had by all! We never fail
to be amused by the reactions of any visitor who does not know what is going
on, it is often a mix of puzzlement and apprehension, the participants can look
quite scary and threatening, and that is just the girls!

Just another Saturday in Orkney.

And the year moves on ...

My new shelves for cookbooks
My lovely utility room
Kevin and Badger
Vickie and Mark enjoying Orkney

Oh my it’s been a while since either of us wrote a blog –
shocking ! I think it must be something to do with the way the year is moving
on. Suddenly. January and February are very dreary months, with the occasional
interesting storm to liven things up, but the evenings are still long and dark
and although we had some lovely days, to be honest there weren’t that many of
them.

 However, we had plenty to keep us occupied. We have, as most
of you will know, purchased a very splendid blue container, now named Kevin,
which serves a dual purpose – he provides shelter to Badger in the storms and has
stored our worldly goods for the past 18 months or so. Bear in mind we could
only live in half the house while the builders did their stuff getting the old
part of the house renovated and insulated and then we “moved” into that bit
while the relatively new part was also insulated and the extension built. So
the first two-three months of 2016 saw us starting to unbox all the exciting things we hadn’t
seen for so long.

 Except … you just can’t believe how much “stuff “ we brought
up that we find we neither want nor need ! Of course there were lots of things
we greeted with little cries of joy and tenderly moved to places within the
cottage. But OH BOY were there a lot of things that we looked at with amazement
and put hastily in the Charity Shop pile.

 We also hadn’t realised how many books and pictures we
possessed – the Old Railway Station was just SO much bigger than Mill Cottage.
So a lot of the books have gone to a new home in our award winning library
(they had a visit from JK Rowling a couple of weeks ago … she just dropped by
for tea and cake!), and at the moment the pictures still reside either in Kevin
or in the roof space that Mark had thoughtfully arranged to be created above the
new office.

 So with the unpacking and unboxing we have been kept busy –
and Mark has spent time doing the extra jobs like putting in some bookshelves
for my cookery books, putting up the pulley for the clothes airer, into the
extremely useful utility room, painting the wardrobe doors in the spare room
and a load of other bits and bobs.

 Watching the year gather momentum is an amazing experience –
the light changes constantly and the evenings are getting longer and longer –
seems faster since the Equinox somehow, and of course the clocks going forward
helps a lot. The cacophony of birds wakes us in the mornings – we have loads of
sparrows and starlings of course, fighting over the bird feeders and fat balls,
but overhead the curlew “wind themselves up”, the oyster catchers swoop across
shouting at each other, battalions of geese fly overheard and you can see
exactly where the farmers are busy either putting slurry on the fields or
ploughing by the following of gulls making the field look white as they search
for all the yummy bits being churned up. The Sea Eagles have returned to Hoy
and we are all hoping they manage to raise a chick this year. There are daily
postings on the Orkney Wildlife
Facebook
page about incoming migrants and we have been blessed with many
nights of Aurora sightings, some just a green glow (but then you get the
amazing starscape to enjoy as well) and others with real dancers. We are so
fortunate that there is very little light pollution here. Well none really. So
a clear night is a real treat.

 Last week my daughter Vickie and her partner Mark came up
for a week, which was just wonderful ! We had been looking forward to it with
great excitement and weren’t disappointed. Vickie knows the Island but it was
Mark’s first visit – he ran the gamut of the weather from cold and very wet to
glorious sunshine, but as they both say they would love to come back I don’t
think we managed to put them off.

 And now we look forward to the visit of Mark’s son Oliver
and his wife Nicola who are flying up in early May.

 And now … having baked a loaf of linseed and sesame malt
bread, a dozen seeded rolls and 2 dozen Swedish cinnamon buns it’s time to cook
supper. More about our lives in due course !

The first Cruise Ship

Today the first of the cruise ships visited Orkney after the winter break. This meant that coaches are laid on to hurtle the passengers from the ships around the island in less than a day, no doubt so that these visitors can ‘tick off’ Orkney from their bucket list. They have no idea what they are missing! As our friends Jan and Colin who are visiting for the third time said, in an attempt to try and define what makes this area so special, ‘Orkney is a land of experiences’ . It certainly is as they experienced a magnificent display of the Northern lights ( see here Anna’s time lapse ). Jan & Colin had come up to help look after the animals on the Corsie farm in Burray as Catherine Corsie was recovering from an operation and Colin and Jan also wanted to see how our house was looking before they disappear for their annual summer stay in their flat on the French south coast.

Whilst they were staying, Anna suggested that they might like to learn how to play MahJong as she already plays with some friends every Monday afternoon. Anna left out the more complicated rules for us and after a few games we began to get the hang of it, to the point that I feel Jan will be getting her own set when she gets back home. Our friends on the island, Vickie and Ian are also lined up for this treatment, Anna has really got the MahJong bug it seems!

The awakening

 

 

Well it has been a while since I last posted, this is mainly because everything has quietened down after all the building and my son’s wedding. The weather this winter has been varied with the usual high winds and a fair bit of rain which on occasions turned to snow, although the temperatures are such that the snow has not amounted to much. But we have also enjoyed a lot of clear days and beautiful winter sun.

Looking out of our new office window we are very aware of the different visitors that each month brings. The starlings are back in force, covering the few trees here and chattering away. The geese fly in like an air force squadron to feed in the fields, and we now have the arrival of curlew and the oyster catchers, who as they fly en-mass and change directions their black and white bodies appear to flash on and off. Obviously these numbers are supplemented by the masses of sea birds of various varieties which arrive unexpectedly in their masses. The destination for all the birds is the loch at the bottom of our garden, whilst Stenness loch is one of the deepest lochs in Orkney, our end is fairly shallow and is a favoured feeding area for these visitors along with the beautiful white swans who live around here and share the area with the seals who come and sunbathe on the rocks in the very shallow areas on the nicer days. Herons, cormorants are other visitors as is a pair of Hen Harriers and a merlin.

As we slowly move towards spring it is interesting to see the island ‘awake’ as the hotels and restaurants that are closed for some of the winter start to reopen, although often for only a few days in the week. Talking to locals the topic of conversation is often about preparations for the influx of visitors, the local paper has published the list of cruise ships visiting Orkney this year, a few more than last time. During the winter the island belongs once again to the islanders and is blissfully quiet although give it a sunny winter’s Sunday and the popular spots can soon become as busy as when the season is in full flood, as the locals ‘escape’ and try and get a couple of hours of sunshine. We found this out when we took a drive out to Birsay, when we left, the place had filled up and there wasn’t a single space to park ! Visitors at this time of year can become frustrated that so little is open, even the main Hotel in Stromness closes for a couple of months, a number of people ‘disappear’ during the winter to warmer climes so getting things done or agreed can be frustrating , but that is the way of things.

We have had several local visitors come and see our house improvements and their reactions have been very favourable, we are loving the whole living environment, very different to before but just what we had planned. It is now ready for people to stay with us when they visit and we are looking forward to seeing you all.

Confessions of a kitchen addict

My collection of boxes -
A tidy cupboard
Very flat biscuits

I promised details of my other kitchen addiction in addition to my spice habit. So it’s confession time now – I can’t get enough Lock’n’lock boxes ! Since having all these lovely cupboards I keep all my ingredients in them, so I don’t have loose packets just waiting to tip over and deposit their contents on the floor/worksurface/cupboard interior. They are all neatly decanted into my airtight boxes and stored (dare I say it) in orderly areas – all nuts and seeds in one part, dried fruits in another, rice and pasta elsewhere .. it is a lovely feeling to be well organised but for those of you who know me well, it must be rather scary ! My work life has been well ordered for a long time, with things filed where I can find them and so forth, but my cooking life hasn’t been nearly as good.

And I am loving it. It means I can go into town and buy whatever meat or fish is there and inspires me, and know that I have the wherewithal to produce a meal without having to think about the added ingredients – I can come home with my lovely piece of halibut (yes, that’s on the menu tonight as a treat) and know that I can now go to my latest discovery of www.cooked.com and find a recipe that I can use and that I will have the rest of the bits I need safely in the cupboard or freezer.

For me this makes cooking such a pleasure … and having he storage space, especially with the utility room available so I can buy plenty of flour for my bread making, store my onions well away from any potatoes, squirrel away the large packs of catfood that make life so much easier when buying in bulk and (my family will laugh at me) keep plenty of spare loo rolls … they all know that I have a horror or running out of loo paper !

I now make all my own bread as a matter of course, and am really starting to get to grips with the new oven – it’s actually very different from a normal fan oven (it calls itself 4D) but the latest batches of rolls and hot-cross buns have turned out well, as have the Victoria sponge and the lemon drizzle, though I confess that a batch of chocolate and marshmallow cookies were something of a disaster … the recipe said it made 12 and they should be put well apart on the tray. So my two biggest baking trays came out and I was very obedient – six on each. And it turned into one enormous flat biscuit on each tray ! I had to take a knife and cut them apart, and now they look like a large jigsaw puzzle for  3 year old. Mark says they taste OK but I am unconvinced. Maybe I weighed the flour wrong or something – it was a James Martin recipe and his are normally very good so I blame me and not him. Maybe I will stick with simpler ones in future !

So – there we go – confessions all round ! Spice addiction, lock’n’lock addiction and flat biscuits. Says it all really J

More of our lives anon … 

Do I need Therapy ?

Spice Jars in the cupboard
Spice Drawer
Spice tins

My wonderful new kitchen is developing nicely and I am finding a space for everything and keeping everything in its space …

This was an interesting exercise when it came to my spices though – but I accepted the challenge gladly and as a result have an up-and-over cupboard full of the small jars, plus a drawer full of the lovely spices from Seasoned Pioneers, then another drawer with my two Indian spice containers – one with seeds and one with powdered spices. The danger now is that I have discovered a new company doing spice oils – Holy Lama Spice Drops – which  sound amazing. Fortunately a friend here, Vicky, is also interested in them, so we are going to club together to make up an order, because you have to order quite a bit to get free delivery. Hope they are as good as they sound – will report back in due course ! Hopefully I can find space for the ones I decide to buy.

One of the great joys here is “discovering” fish. I have never really cooked much fish as Mark doesn’t normally like it, but he does enjoy it here – says it doesn’t taste of fish ! Though actually I can see where he is coming from, because it has no fishy smell, it is so fresh. I wanted monk fish for a curry the other night and sadly the Orkney Fish Company in Stromness didn’t have any on the counter – but I had a quick rummage in their freezer and found that they had it there, frozen by them three days earlier. Result! So that was dinner for friends Vicky and Ian sorted. Except. Ah. Where was the recipe ? Well, I managed to recall which of my (rather too) many cookery books it was in and also remembered that it had been one of the ones unpacked and used when we first moved up. But then they got re-packed when the kitchen was demolished and put back in the container where we are storing everything (and I mean everything) that we haven’t unpacked.

Mark came to the rescue as he generally does. With infinite resource and no little effort he located the boxes marked Kitchen books from house (were there really six of them? Oh dear), and extricated the required book – Rick Stein’s India – within which is the most excellent recipe for a monkfish curry with naan bread. And it has to be said, myriad other recipes which I fully intend trying in the fullness of time.

It’s great using fish I know about – lovely skate wings in a court bouillon with a brown butter and caper sauce – halibut (oh yum), the most lovely cod fillet which I turned into “fish fingers” and did with a cross between chips and wedgies and mashed minted peas and home made tartare sauce. Delicious.

But there are also fish I haven’t tried yet – I can’t even remember all the names. Ling, I recall, Witches Fillet (must try that), Lythe Fillet. And others. Adventures in fish cookery beckon.

So – what can I say – more to follow (and details of another kitchen addiction … bet you can’t wait to read about it can you !!)

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