The reason for this Blog


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.

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 : 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.

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 : - Zoe is the daughter of one of my Mahjong friends, and her jewellery is just lovely - 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 ! - 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) … 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 !!

Travels, Family and Friends Part II

Oliver and Nicola at Lemur Island
Nicola, Oliver, Mark, Tim, Jordan and Vickki
Mark at Hansons - with purchase !
At River Cottage with the book
Sam enjoyed the splendid bubble making machine

Off on our travels again, we went to Kessingland, where there is a zoo with African animals and a very nice campsite. We met up with Oliver and Nicola and went round the zoo – they have a wonderful lions den there where you can view them from above with no fences. It was a very warm day, and we had an excellent leisurely stroll round the zoo enjoying all the animals and a picnic. They set off back home in the early evening and we had a relaxed time with a glass or two of vino and listened to the zoo sounds – the lions with the coughing roar, the birds with their strange cries … all of which woke us the next morning! So we headed back towards Colchester, stopping at a number of antique emporia on the way – not to buy anything just to have an enjoyable rummage which we duly did.

Thursday night saw us camping outside our friends’ house – Chris and Christian had Chris’s sister visiting so we stayed in Badger, but they fed us – Chris cooked a deeeeelicious lamb casserole which went down a treat and a good evening was had by all.

Friday was a work day – Mark had a meeting with Gridleys in Melford then we went on to spend time with Karen, our book-keeper –suspect there was more chatter and gossip catching up on the past few months than work done but still ! And then we ended up at the Railway Station with Steve, heading for Melford Valley Tandoori for an excellent Indian meal and actually staying at the Station overnight.

On the Saturday we went overboard with Zoos and visited the delightful Linton Zoo, this time with all Mark’s “lot” … Oliver and Nicola, Tim, Vickki and Jordan. Once again a picnic was the order of the day and the weather was more than kind. Jordan had a great time in the cages with the endangered Lemurs and it was a lovely relaxed day for all of us.

Soon it was time to leave Suffolk behind and head off on the next stage of our travels – this time to stay overnight at Harbury Fields, a campsite we have used in the past and find a) very convenient and b) very friendly, spotlessly clean and really nice. The reason for the convenience is that it is reasonably close to Elite Motorhomes, where we purchased Badger in the first place, and he needed to return there for his annual habitation check (he needs that to keep the warranty up to date). Elite have always provided an excellent service and as we weren’t too happy with the place closer to home that we used last year, we decided to bring Badger home and let them take care of him ! Now, it’s very boring waiting for your motorhome to be serviced – they are very good letting us use the wi-fi, or dropping us into Banbury for the day but it’s not exciting. So this time we thought we would try something different. We hired a car and drove up to Hanson’s Auctioneers where there were two auctions – one on the Monday afternoon for collectibles and vintage things and (even better) another on the Tuesday morning for wine, spirits and whisky. And those of you who know Mark will understand that this was of no little interest !! So we stayed overnight just round the corner and a very nice small hotel with an excellent restaurant – Blenheim House and had a most enjoyable evening. Sadly the whisky at the auction all went for more than Mark was prepared to invest, but it didn’t stop it being enormous fun !

That evening we went down to stay with my sister Julia near Witney, and had a lovely evening with her catching up on all the gossip – sorry exchanging of essential family information ! 

The next day we took the hire car back and picked up Badger and started heading West. We were both quite tired so to be honest we didn’t actually get very far, eventually rocking up at a campsite on the outskirts of Burford. We had a lovely walk down into the town and an excellent lunch at one of the many hostelries. Their philosophy was that a "meal without wine is called breakfast" so as it was lunchtime it would have been very rude not to have a glass which was most enjoyable. The walk back up the hill was a bit challenging but we made it and had a good night’s rest before heading on to Bristol to see Catherine, Mark and Sam. 

As Sam was at school on the Friday, Catherine took us out for an early birthday lunch at the River Cottage Canteen in Bristol – and it was gorgeous. Super food and enhanced by us spotting “the man himself” Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and to my embarrassment and delight Catherine asked for him to come over and wish me happy birthday. Not only did he do that, but he also presented me with a copy of one of his books which he signed for me. How great was that !!! The book is all about Left Overs and those of you who know Mark will know his feelings on Left Overs so I am hoping to use it to convert him ... it's a great book.

On the Saturday morning we had a great time visiting @Bristol … It is a great area for kids and Sam loved it, while Mark found lots to interest him with the 3-D printers and suchlike technology. At least that's what he said, but I think the rather delightful presenters might have had something to do with it as well !

So a lovely couple of days there then we were off on our travels again, wending our way back home (slowly)

Travels, Family and Friends part 1

The Fountains in Wroclaw
Carol, Sheena, Adele and John
Cheers Carol ! Wine o'clock
Me'n'Vickie on the boat
Umbrellas at the ready

I left home on 31st August to go to Poland for the World Bridge Championships. It was great to be with all my “bridge friends” again !

The hotel was excellent – I am fortunate to be housed in one of the main hotels, in this case the Radisson Blu, not too far from the city centre.

The only drawback being a 10 minute taxi drive to the venue, which meant two things – lots of waiting for a taxi was the cry of the event) but also meant that you can’t slip off for a 10 minute break in your room for a bit of peace and quiet ! but again, the venue was excellent – the Centennial Hall. There was a massive fountain display every hour in the grounds, accompanied by music and at night it was all lit up like Las Vegas and really was very splendid!

However, the time flew by – the event was successful, always a good thing, and, as I say, it was really good to be working with my colleagues again – Carol, Simon, Marina and myself shared an office, joined by Odile and despite the stresses that are an inevitable part, we all got on just fine !

Wroclaw is a beautiful city with a fabulous centre square around the “Rathauz” or town hall, an area with wall to wall restaurants. We managed to sample a few of them, but not so many as there were a number of official functions and cocktail parties to attend on other occasions. One evening I went with Carol, Sheena, John and Adele and managed to get a picture about midnight ... as you can see the area is buzzing with life and activity even at that hour - though I seem to remember it was a Friday night !

But the bar at the hotel provided us with a great meeting place and some very enjoyable evenings (with wine of course !). Carol joined me for a glass as can be seen in the picture.

In the meantime you will have seen Mark’s blog about his journey south for Oliver’s musical, as a result of which I flew into Stansted where Tim very kindly picked me up and took me to the Colchester Caravan park where Mark and Badger were parked up and waiting for me!  And so our trip began ..

Because I had missed Oliver’s musical, rather to my disgust as I heard really good things about it from the various family members who went along to see it, on the Sunday we met up with him and Nicola for lunch at the Yew Tree pub at Great Horkesley. And very nice it was too. As was the secret we were entrusted with – that Nicola is pregnant. Such wonderful news we are both so happy for them ! It will be officially announced after she has the first scan on 8 October, and as I am writing this after that date it isn’t a secret any more ! I have even seen the scans which are identifiable as a baby and not a litter of kittens, always good news. Apparently he/she is moving rather a lot so has been nicknamed Fidget. It seems it is due on 14 April, so the family can expect to see us around that time !

Next came a visit to Vickie and Mark in Norfolk – we drove up on the Monday and camped outside their Engine Shed for two nights. Vickie had it all planned ! We took a little boat trip into Beccles which was just lovely, and had lunch and a potter round Beccles. I love Beccles, such lovely independent shops and a truly lovely tea room with excellent food. We then got the boat back and returned – unfortunately in the pouring rain, but you can’t have everything and it didn’t spoil it at all – umbrellas were provided and much hilarity ensued.

That evening they took us to one of the local pubs for a lovely early birthday dinner …  it was so good to see them and to see the progress on their home. Vickie is planning to do a university degree and become a primary school teacher and I am really thrilled that she has made this decision, which I am sure is absolutely right for her ! I am very proud of her …

I was also surprised (and pleased) to find she has “gone blonde” which really suits her – I prefer it to the black hair she had until recently !