Going for a (nearly) daily walk along the same route sounds boring doesn’t it. Trust me it isn’t – not here on Orkney anyway. Especially if you are a sad person like me and notice the changes – and have to hurry home to look up a bird in the Orkney Bird Book to see what it is. The other day something sat on a fence post and swore at me in the most unholy manner and I found it was a Stone Chat. At a walk round Brodgar a couple of days ago, we were again roundly abused by a Redshank which had obviously built its nest too close to the path for comfort.
Mind you the birds aren’t all joy – the starlings nest in the dyke (that’s the wall by the house for those who don’t know), and their flight path to food sources takes them right by the house with inevitable and messy results.
My walk is also defined by the types of traffic. In the early months of the year it all belongs to locals, and they are wonderful about giving you a wide berth as you walk along. But then come the tourists who seem to think sometimes they should get as close to you as possible despite there being nothing coming the other way. Now the roads are full of motorhomes – they are OK normally as I don’t think half of them know the width of their vehicles, especially the ones who have hired it so they tend to move right over “just in case”. And finally there are the coaches – great big modern ones transporting people who arrive in hordes on the cruise ships and are whisked around the island for a day to see the sights.
This year there aren’t quite as many of the enormous ones like this, though I note there is one arriving soon with 4,500 passengers. Put that in the context of the population of our own little town of Stromness which has just over 2,000 people living here, or Kirkwall, our “city” or “the toon” as it is referred to, with 8,500 head and you can see it makes quite a difference to the number of people around and about on that day. It’s like having another city to come and visit.
Earlier in the year the ploughing started – it’s always done in the spring here, never in the autumn to overwinter. So it’s used as the opportunity to hold ploughing matches to see who can plough the straightest furrow. Matches are held in each district, hosted by a kind farmer (who gets his field ploughed as a reward). That’s followed by harrowing, sowing and then you start to see the fields going green. And before you know it, they are there in stripes when the first lot of silage is cut.
The season kicks off with things that have been closed all winter coming out of hibernation and getting ready for the influx – places like Gerri’s Ice Cream Parlour, a must visit for people coming to stay with us. Mark is never averse to going there for one of her special sundaes !
One of my favourite shops, Shearers in Kirkwall, can always be relied on to indicate the seasons. The front of the shop is given over to groceries but in the back area you can find lots of hardware, guns, fishing equipment and, at different times of the year, everything you might need for house or garden, from Fireworks and Christmas trees at the end of the year to grass seed and barley at the start of the year, seed potatoes, barbecues, planters, plants, flower seeds. In addition to anything you might need to feed your cat / dog / parrot / budgie / canary or the wild birds. It’s an amazing shop and one that I frequently take visitors to.
Although a few intrepid souls have been known to visit us in the winter months, it is generally around May that we start to get people coming up. Our first visitor this year was Barbara Travis from Australia. I know her because of bridge as she has frequently represented Australia in World Championships. Barbara was incredibly lucky and had fabulous weather for her time here.
But now the weather has turned again – it’s been cold, and today is wet wet wet with a changeable forecast ahead, but hey – this is Orkney. You grab the times you can to get the washing out on the line, but the trick is that you stay at home while it dries because if you decide to go out you can pretty much guarantee a storm will arise. So while you can you let it blow, let it blow, let it blow. Remembering always to use plenty of pegs of course!
And I mustn’t forget the Folk Festival last weekend – sadly the weather had turned somewhat and it was chilly and not very nice, but still an enormous success. We spent a really enjoyable afternoon in the Stromness Hotel, listening to the music as players came and went, with groups forming and dispersing at will. The photos I took are at : https://www.flickr.com/photos/annadg/ along with a couple of cows taken last year which believe me are NOT there as a comment on the Festival – I just happened to upload them at the same time!