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 ! 

The Cunning Plan works!

Campsite on the way down

My original thought was to pop in on the way down and visit various places and events, however this did not work out as most of the travelling down was done mid-week and the events are generally held at the weekends something that didn’t really occur to me, so I ended up arriving in Suffolk a couple of days earlier than expected. I camped up at the really nice camp site in Polstead and gave my eldest son a call. He suggested that we could go out for a meal that evening to a local pub, great idea. When he turned up in his rather nice black Mercedes which I hadn’t seen before, he said that he had booked a table at the Crown in Nayland. For those of you who don’t know, this place has a fantastic reputation for high quality food and I had always meant to visit it sometime. The place did not disappoint, better still, Tim paid! The next day I visited a client of mine who had contacted me on the way down with a little bit of work for me which I would normally do remotely, imagine his surprise when I turned up at the factory! We had a good laugh about old times and it was great to meet up again. That evening I visited our old neighbour, Steve, at the Railway Station and we did a beer o’clock just like old times. That night I slept in the guest room at the station, it was a bit strange and last year I could not have contemplated doing such a thing.

It was now Saturday, the day of Oliver’s musical. So I moved Badger to the campsite I had booked in Colchester and arranged for Steve to pick me up that evening. Unbeknown to Oliver or Nicola I had arranged for friends and family to turn up as well. So Tim with Vickki and Jordan were there along with Vicky and Mark, Liz, and friends Jan & Colin and of course Steve. It wasn’t until half way through the first half that Nicola realized I was in the audience and apparently Oliver was stressing that the video camera he had set up to record the performance for was not working properly when Nicola told him ‘”don’t worry your Dad is in the audience! “

Everyone seemed to enjoy the performance (I most certainly did) and afterwards I had booked a table for us all at the rather excellent Thai restaurant Thai One as I often did on such occasions. A great evening was had by all and needless to say Oliver was very pleased to see us all. Steve drove be back to the camp site and Tim had arranged to pick Anna up from Stanstead early the next morning.

Cunning Plan part 3

Anna walking back from a nice meal at Westlands, Pitlochry
Tomatin - inside a mashing tub
Tomatin - workshop
Tomain Barrels

I know I said event free, but that is never the case when you set out on a touring holiday without any fixed plans. My next stop I had decided would be the Scottish town favored by Queen Victoria of Pitlochry. In our past journeys we had often stayed here at the Westlands hotel, whose owners became friends of ours and then once we had bought the motorhome we would camp on one of the campsites in the town and walk up to the hotel in the evening to treat ourselves to a meal and a wee dram or two, and often it seemed,  a walk back in the rain ( see Photo) .

Pitlochry at first glance appears to a Scottish version of seaside town like Clacton, with its large numbers of souvenir shops, and the rest of the retail establishments supporting a heavy Scottish theme, but this is a little unfair. The Town has an internationally famous theatre had holds a number of productions though out the year as well as many other events. In October for example, they decorate one of  the forests for an event called ‘The Enchanted Forest’ which is extremely popular. In fact most of the events held in Pitlochry are so popular that accommodation can be an issue at times, and unbeknown to me this was going to be the case this time. As I approach the turning off the A9 for the town I couldn’t fail to notice the roadside signs for the ‘Pitlochry Highland Games’. How busy could the town be? As it turned out, extremely busy! Pitlochry had taken on the appearance of Regent Street in London around Christmas time! The pavements were so full the people were forced to walk in the road which was lined with parked vehicles on both sides, I negotiated Badger through all this and when I reached my goal, unsurprisingly the Caravan Park was full!

So with nothing else for it I headed back onto the A9 to see if I could find another park that had some space. Thankfully a little further down the road there was a place that had a little room but no hard standing, however I was assured that the ground was firm as it hadn’t rained for some time so I should be OK. Yes you guessed it, that night it rained! Badger like a lot of modern Motorhomes is built on a van chassis which is front wheel drive, and being a motorhome, most of the weight is on the back so the slightest bit of soft ground and Badger decides to dig a set rather than propel himself forward. It was this that happened the next morning as I started to leave! However based on previous experience, as soon as the front wheels started to slip and dig in, I stopped and got out a couple of metre long plastic sheets with spikes on both sides that I bought for such occasions, these items have rescued myself and other campers a number of times, they are called Traction Tracks a bit like this.

On my way once again stopping off at the rather excellent Tomatin Distillery, if you haven’t tried their 18 year old malt I suggest you do, I think it is one of the hidden treasures and very reasonably priced for an 18 year old. The tour is worth taking as there is an interesting history to what was once one of the largest distilleries in Scotland. You get to walk inside a mashing tub ( see photo ) and they still have their own cooperage ( see photo ) which is very rare these days.

I decided to drive over the Forth road bridge, to make sure that they are doing a proper job on the new one that is currently being constructed, around Edinbrough and  then down the A68 and through the Northumbria National Park. This is a beautiful part of the United Kingdom and if you haven’t driven the A68 I urge you to put it on your list, not only are the views tremendous but this very straight Roman built road follows the undulating landscape to such an extent that it takes on the feel of a fair ground roller coaster at times, the sight of the road disappearing in front of you as you approach one of the many ‘hidden summits’ makes your stomach leap into your mouth, no sooner have you recovered from one of these is there another and then another. When I drove back with Anna I took her on this road and the motorhome was filled with our cries of excitement as Badger took us on this switchback highway. Great fun!


A Cunning Plan part2

Gas door all fixed

 Whilst all this battling with the hinges was going on, the weather had been sunny, calm and fine, however the day I got everything back together, there was a storm heading in from America and the ferry crossing could be rough, out of choice I prefer not to do rough crossings, although I have survived some large storms in the past! So I decided to wait things out, this also meant that I could attend a couple of meetings of committees that I am on. Work had also unexpectedly escalated and what with everything I did not leave on the Monday but the Friday instead!

This time of year I would not expect any problem with getting a space on the ferry, however apparently because the weather had stayed good, there were many more people on the island and the ferries were well booked, but I managed to get a slot on the midday sailing on Friday, or so I thought! The other sailings are either very early in the morning ( about 7am) which as I have nearly and hour’s drive to the ferry of choice means a far too early start. The later ( 5pm ) sailing means that you can’t get much traveling done on the other side, so in the best Goldilocks tradition, the lunchtime sailing (12 pm ) was ‘just right’, or so I thought!


I got up at 8am and had a nice leisurely sort out of the last stuff for Badger, emptied the rubbish bins from the house, fed and cuddled the cats and headed to the port, stopping on the way to fill up with fuel and to buy some snacks for the journey and a local newspaper. I was feeling nice and relaxed, the sun was shining, the forecast was good for yesterday and today, but getting winds and rain the afternoon, so all was looking good.

As I approached the harbor I was surprised to see the ferry in, with people and cars in it! Never mind I thought, perhaps I got the time slightly wrong, it hadn’t sailed yet. I parked up in the now empty car park and popped into the booking office, the lady there looked a little surprised to see me. “I’m booked on this ferry” I said, her look changed from surprise to one of puzzlement, “ are you sure?” she said “ I don’t seem to have you on the list”, “But you must have, I booked it over the phone yesterday” She looked on her computer and soon found the reason for the confusion. “Ah” she announced “ You were booked on the ferry coming BACK from Gills Bay in Scotland! Boy did I feel stupid, I had obviously misheard the guy on the phone, so when he asked me what ferry I wanted, I misheard ‘from Gills Bay’ as ‘to Gills Bay’. The next ferry would be at quarter to five that afternoon so I had a wait, oh well so be it, my mistake, but it had messed up my plans as to the rest of the journey so I needed to have a bit of a rethink.


I drove Badger to a quiet spot for a think about my plans, whilst thinking the revised route through I suddenly realized that I had not packed the charging lead for my phone! Badger is full of various leads for electronic devices so normally he can provide, but my new Nokia phone had one of these new fangled USB leads that you can plug in either way around and I only had one of these! I couldn’t manage all the weeks of the trip without my phone as it also has my email. So I would either have to drive the hour trip back and pick it up, or try and buy a replacement when I got to Scotland, perhaps in Inverness in the PCWorld there. Whilst I was just checking my ‘IT bag’ to make sure the lead wasn’t in there, I noticed that I had forgotten the USB hard disc with all my work files on it that I might need when on the trip, so a drive back home was going to be the only answer! I took my time and picked up the lead and hard disc, then on the way back to the ferry I stopped off at Leiths burger bar for one of their award winning burgers made from local produce, I thought I deserved a treat after all this and it was well past lunch time by now!

I arrived at the Ferry terminal about two hours early, but as I explained to the young lady at the desk I didn’t want to miss this ferry! She was very sympathetic  and didn’t treat me as old fool who can’t read a simple timetable, even if she was probably thinking this! In comparison the ferry trip was pretty uneventful. The ferry was fully booked and I had quite a bit of company up on deck where I prefer to stand as I am not good below decks on boats.  The sea was fairly calm and the journey uneventful as we were serenaded across by a quartet of car alarms. This is caused by their owners locking the cars and the anti tamper mechanism is activated. Most cars will allow you to lock them without this being activated, but it really isn’t necessary to lock your car at all! We were guilty of this crime on our first trip, but in those days the crew would go and find the owner and ask them to disable the alarm or unlock the car, nowadays they don’t bother as it happens too often on every trip.

We got into Gills Bay in Scotland around 6pm and I started my drive down, I had made up my mind to head for a little site that we had used before and I phoned ahead to book a place, only one left as it turned out! This is the first time I have traveled and camped in Badger on my own and so I had to do all the ‘Pink’ jobs that Anna would normally do as well as my tasks. I had to fully understand how the cooker worked otherwise I would end up starving, but I managed and after watching a bit of telly I made up the bed and settled in for the night. I woke up at 9 am and started to get ready as I had a fair bit of ground to make up because of the ferry debacle. Breakfast was a simple bowl of granola and a coffee and then I packed up Badger ready for the drive, it was 7:30! I had misread my analogue watch and thought 7 am was 9, yes I know but I have no idea how this could have happened and I have never done it before but there I was on the road nice and early, leaving behind probably several annoyed campers hoping for a lie in!

A Cunning Plan part1

The complete hinge
Slight damage!

Well it seemed such an obvious and simple idea when I first thought of it. Anna would be flying back from Poland where she was going to be working at the World Bridge Championships this year and she would be landing at Stanstead airport the day after the last performance of a musical written by my youngest son, Oliver. So in the words of Baldrick from Black Adder, I had a ‘cunning plan’. Without letting Oliver know, I would drive our motorhome, Badger, down the week before and appear at  the show to surprise Oliver, and then the day after I would pick Anna up from the airport and we would have some time visiting friends and family before heading back slowly whilst having a little holiday in the motorhome, something we haven’t done for some time.

So come the time, Anna flew out to Poland, all went smoothly. The week later the plan was that at some time I would start the journey ‘dawon sarf’. However the first of what was to be several hitches came when I was preparing the Motorhome. Now as I said before we hadn’t used Badger for some time. So when I tried to open the outside doors, two of these were quite stiff, so I applied various combinations of WD40 ( Did you know that ‘WD’ stands for ‘Water Dispersant’ ) and grease and one door freed up. The other was not as obliging, I did the usual of gently moving the door back and forth on its hinges to free it up until the door eventually did lift all the way up, unfortunately it only did this because the rivets holding the hinges to the body had snapped! I was left holding the outside door to the cupboard that holds the gas bottles, in this state Badger was not going anywhere!

I could now remove the hinges from the door and took the assembly into the garage and started trying to free things up using more WD40, pipe wrenches and gentle application of a hammer. No luck. I soaked the hinges in paraffin ( a very light oil ) over night and resolved to try again the next day. Come the next day the things still would not budge so I drove around the likely places on the island, not that there are many, to see if I could buy a new set of hinges, this being the easiest option. No luck at all. Next I rang the dealer in Banbury if they had any replacement hinges, they said no, and they thought that a complete door might have to be ordered! But they would get back to me. A day passed and no answer so I rang the manufacturer of the motorhome in Grimsby, after a series of calls they sent me an email showing the parts that they thought I would need. This was interesting as the complete assemble was not available but only the two hinges that slid into the central hinge, yes those bits that were not moving and were seized solid! With a degree of resignation and a certain amount of ‘What the F***” I ordered two of these hinges and resolved to extract the existing ones using heat or if the worst came to it then by drilling them out!

After an afternoon of applying gentle amounts of heat and a considerable amount of brute force, I had managed to extract one hinge, the other was stuck firmly. I then decided to apply a lot of heat to the main body of the hinge trying not to melt it as it was made from aluminum, I had discovered. This was the reason for the seizure of the hinges, the body was made of aluminum and the pivoting shafts were made from steel, what happens when steel and aluminum are in contact, particularly with a little moisture is there is a reaction between the two metals and a corrosion takes place, in this case jamming the hinges. Back to me with the blow torch, by now I had managed to burn the paint off the assembly, never mind I can always repaint, if there is anything left that is! The final hinge started to move, this movement was as a result of me gripping it very tightly with a large pair of stilsons which belonged to my father in the 40s, I finally got the hinge rotating but still it wouldn’t move, the whole assembly was glowing red by now, and so was my face with exertion, the air was a contrasting blue! As there was some movement I then took to hitting the stilson with the hammer and finally the hinge came free of the shaft! Success and apart from the blackened paint work the shaft looked reusable. The next day when everything had cooled down, I started painting the shaft as the hinges still had not arrived yet, finally the next day they turned up and a trial fit showed that they would do the job! The reassembly was an easy task, this time with a fair bit of grease, and fitting the assemble back on to badger was accomplished with  several self tapping screws bought for the purpose.  The door worked perfectly! Now I could think about leaving.

In the Country

Our Neighbours

At our previous house in Suffolk we considered that we lived in the country, we were on the outskirts of the village of Long Melford ( pop 3,500 ) and the meadows were just behind us with a short walk to them anytime we wanted. Now in Orkney we are not only living in the country again but right in it! Next to us are fields and when the grass in them has grown enough, then cows are moved in complete with their calves and a rather large and splendid bull. From time to time these beasts seem to get bored with their diet of Orkney grass and lean over our dry stone wall to help themselves to whatever vegetation they can reach. As it happens we don’t have anything growing the other side that we are particularly fond of, so the random pruning of these plants is not an issue although at times the over stretching of a cows neck will knock a bit of the wall down so I have to go out and put the stones back. I have applied to go on a dry stone wall building course this year so I know a bit more of what I am supposed to do. We do have a nice chap who has rebuilt a large section of the wall that had fallen down before we moved in, but for some reason he is very busy on the island!

Our office side windows overlook one of these fields and it is quite disconcerting to suddenly see a couple of very large cows looking in only a few feet away! I was woken the other night during a bit of a storm by a cow bellowing loudly just outside the bedroom window, yes the main bedroom windows face the field! The other Sunday whilst I was watching the Grand Prix there was a knock on the door, I was not expecting any visitors. When I answered the door it was a passing motorist asking if I knew who might own the cow that was wandering down the road causing the nearest thing to a traffic jam that we get on the island. I directed him to one of the several farms in the area as, unless it has an engine or a processor, my skills would be rather limited in the task of moving this animal back into the field that it belongs to.

Living this close, in fact not close, but within the countryside has meant that both Anna and I have become much more aware of the changes throughout the year, I don’t just mean the seasons, that is not nearly a fine enough distinction for all the changes that go on, not only with the farm life around here but also the wildlife, at the moment you can almost set you watch by the flocks of Geese flying in for the evening ( 5 pm if you want to know ), Orkney whilst it has a resident population of geese, is inundated in the winter with some 60,000 individuals. Geese burgers and sausages appear at one of the butchers on the island at this time of year, I wonder why?

Home Alone

The end of the house was briefly illuminated with a torch to 'paint it'
A good display but moving so a little blured
This was just a couple of days ago

This week is the start of the Orkney Science Festival ( 1-7th Sept) there are over 80 talks from Tidal Power to Neolithic people plus lots of open exhibitions and other events. I hope to attend some of them this year as I never have been able to before.

Anna flew out the other day to attend the World Bridge Championships which this year are in Poland. This leaves me ‘home alone’, I have been kept very busy catching up watching some of the saved programs on the TV recorder that Anna is not interested in as well as watching the Grand Prix from Monza this last weekend! There has been the odd late night as well, as in between watching the odd film, I kept popping outside to keep a look out for a display of the Northern Lights, one night this meant that I hit the pillow at 2am. We are very fortunate here, as we can see the Aurora from our back garden, as there are no street lights here and so when we get a clear night and the sun has decided to go fully below the horizon ( this doesn’t happen in the summer ) we get the most fantastic starry skies and on occasions a display of the Northern lights.

So far this year the displays have been good but not spectacular, one can get rather blasé about such things and I only think that it is a good display if you can see the ‘dancers’ moving about with the naked eye. Although you will often see amazing photos of the Aurora, the reality is not often like that with the naked eye, this is because the camera sensor is far more sensitive to the light than the human eye, so what seems just like a faint green glow to the observer will often photograph as an amazing display of greens and purples.

If you want to see this amazing natural phenomenon then you need a dark clear night, little or no light pollution. Give your eyes about half an hour to get used to the low light and avoid using any torches, if you need light to operate your camera or to stop falling over then use a red light, this will not affect your ‘night vision’ to the same extent as a normal white torch. I have a small head torch which has a red LED light in it, true it does look a little strange walking about with a red light in the middle of my forehead but at least I can see the cat before I trip over him!

There are lots of ways to photograph the Aurora, but remember that you are dealing with a very faint object so long exposures will be needed and this means hand holding your camera/phone is right out. I use a Nikon SLR on a tripod and a wide angle lens. Exposures of 20sec are normal and a high ISO setting. You need to experiment but the important thing is to use your camera in fully manual mode, this includes the focus. Auto focus is unlikely to work because of the low light, but this is not a problem as you just need to manually set the focus to infinity as that is sort of where the Northern lights are.

So with your camera mounted on a tripod, manual focus set to infinity, manual exposure set to about 20 secs F4 and with an ISO of around 2000 +  you should see something on your camera when you take a photo. Lots of experimentation is required and if you can shorten the exposure time then so much the better as the stars will not blur. With long exposures they start seem to move, of course they are not moving, but the earth is !

I have uploaded a couple of my Aurora photos, I am still learning and experimenting. The great thing about this time of the year is that it is not too cold to stand outside waiting for another 30 sec exposure, trust me in the winter it is a different story, but the nights are darker!

KT Tunstall

Tent drying
The 'NOB' shop
KT Tunstall

We had a visit from one of our friends from the Bridge World, Maurine Dennison a former World Champion. She came at a time when not only were the Olympics on TV but also the Dounby, Vintage and County shows were on the island so she had plenty to go and see. The Dounby show I had offered to erect the tent for the John Rae Society, which we did in the rain the evening before. This was the first time we had used this tent and so the process was not a smooth as it perhaps should have been! The rain continued the next day for most of the show and so it come 3:30 most of the stalls were packing up. I was away helping out at the Blue Door charity shop at the time so was not involved in this process, but once this was done we were left with a soaking tent cover that needed drying out. I offered the use of my decent sized garage and Norman and I tied it from the rafters to drip dry, a process that I finished off a few days later when the sun came out by constructing a temporary frame out of scaffold planks and paint tins to allow the air to get under the tent canvas.

With Maureen leaving us we now have no visitors booked for the rest of the year. Anna is working hard and is fairly stressed at the moment because of the run up to the World Bridge Championships which this year are in Poland, but once that is over we plan to have a bit of ‘us’ time.

Today is a rather sad day as it is the last day of the Ness of Brodgar dig for this year, and hence the end of this year’s ‘NOB Shop’ where I have been helping a couple of mornings a week as well as at the open days. I enjoy the comradery of the site and helping out although as I explain to Anna spending a whole morning being nice to visitors is very tiring! This year the helpers have a sign written Hi-Vis Jacket to use and despite looking a bit like a car park attendant it does help when asking people for money when you have convinced them to buy a square on a map of the dig. This is to help finance the dig which costs some £10,000 a week to run, these squares collect enough for two weeks digging. With the end of all the shows and the closure of the Ness dig the island is starting to slow down and prepare for the winter although there is plenty of time yet for a Indian Summer, please!

Last night Anna and I went Kirkwall to the Fusion Nightclub, no it’s ok we having regressed to our youth and gone on the ‘pull’ but we had tickets for the rather splendid KT Tunstall who is during a world tour and I guess being Scottish, just had to do a gig in Orkney. The venue is quite intimate and was pretty packed, the show was great with a lot of her new music form a new album ( the reason for the tour I guess ) mixed with her older hits. We had a great evening.

Tim, Vikki and Jordan

Arriving on the plane
Jordan ready for his dig at the Ness
Feeding the Highland cows
Compulsory photo!
Stenness Monsters all round!

At long last I have managed to get my eldest son, Tim, to come and visit Orkney. He and his partner Vikki and her nine year old son, Jordon, flew up to stay with us for a week. Poor Jordan was not happy about the thought of his first flight, but he was very brave and after some persuasion he boarded the plane. These planes are not large, about fifty or so passengers and are propeller driven and so much noisier that a jet. All in all probably not the best for your first flight. However Jordan settled down and ended up enjoying the flight and was more than happy to take the second flight from Edinbrough to Kirkwall. Anna and I we waiting for them at Kirkwall airport and were greeted by three smiling faces. All three of them were prepared to experience bad weather so the odd day of rain and clouds did not dampen their enjoyment.

The sun did shine for several days including the day that Jordon was booked in to the children’s ‘Dig at the Ness’ day which although he was the youngest there, he enjoyed himself and made quite an impression on the helpers there. We also all went to the open day at the Ness, the weather was not good on that day, with rain and winds spoiling the event a bit, however it was great bumping into lots of people I knew. We ended up in Stromness Village hall where a whole load of Neolithic themed activities were put on for the kids to take part in, and again Jordon had a great time, in particular chatting to one of the finds experts from the dig about a stone that Jordan had found at Skara beach which looks like a stone tool from Neolithic times.

We visited most of the usual sights and one day we topped it off by a visit to Jerries’ ice cream parlour, a visit to this is almost compulsory for anyone. Tim, Vikki and Jordan all decided to attempt a ‘Stenness monster’ each. This is a very large cone with seven scoops of ice cream! If you succeed in doing this your name gets entered into a book and will also appear on their web site when it goes live. Tim and Vikki managed theirs, but despite a sterling effort by Jordan he could not finish the last bit of his, perhaps next time!

Jordan particularly like the sand dunes by Churchill Barrier number four, these sand dunes have slowly appeared since the barriers were built in the second world war, and now form a considerable are of sand dunes that Jordan loved running up and down, so much so that we had to revisit them a few days later!

It was great to have them stay and they seemed to enjoyed themselves, Jordan particularly loved our Burmese cat Nimbus, we thought we might have to check Jordan’s suitcase the day they left, just in case!