Monkfish and friends

We are in the middle of the St Magnus festival, a couple of weeks of various entertainment events. One of these is a play based on a true event that happened in 1875 in Kirkwall. A delecontesant, Kirkness & Gorie ( a favorite of ours ) bought a barrel of Gin from a captain of a ship but somehow they 'forgot' to tell the local customs office. They were found out and were tried. At the time this caused a lot of public interest. So this year a play has been arranged about this event and also 140 years later this weekend, Kirkness & Gowery shipped over a barrel of French Bourgogne Pinot Noir ( duty paid this time ! ) as well as the vineyard owner,Bernard Vallet, and on the friday they were bottling and labeling 140 bottles. I just had to pop in and buy one.


" The barrel was full of gin .  It was rolled into the back yard of James Kirkness, Grocer & Wine Merchant, just before Christmas 1875.  Unfortunately Kirkness had ‘forgotten’ to pay duty and tax on the spirits, having entered into an agreement with a rascally skipper called Askam who smuggled the cheap ‘stuff’ from Holland.  The subsequent trial of James Kirkness was one of the most sensational Orkney has ever seen. This week the thrilling tale will be retold using music, comedy and court-room drama, in a new play written by Duncan McLean and performed by some of Scotland’s finest actors. " 


The last weekend was not only the first ‘Steve Fest’ a daylong event of music raising money for charity on the Saturday followed by the summer solstice event at the Ring of Brodgar at 3.30 am! Neither of these events we went to in the end as during the day we had a pile of things to sort out with regards to the work on the house and in the evening we played hosts to Ruth and Lou who were up for the weekend doing a survey for the Orkney tourist board. Ruth is the sister of our dear friend Alan Fleming, we used to meet up in Manchester at Alan’s birthday party in December, an event we always looked forward to.

We struck up a friendship with these two lovely ladies and were happy to help them out when they asked if we knew anyone who could help them with the survey. We put them in touch with Vicky our new friends who have just moved here from the Isle of Man.

Anna cooked her dish of curried Monkfish followed by fresh fruit in cream and Vodka and then some interesting cheeses. We chatted the evening away and were sad when the time came for the taxi but the girls did have work to do the next day.

The next day, Sunday, was wet and miserable all day but we had a nice time discussing the arrangements for the ensuite bathroom and then whilst I settled down to watch the Austrian Grand Prix, Anna got on with her bread making. A lovely end to a productive and fun weekend. By the way Steve Fest raised £5000 for charity a great effort by all.

Summer wot summer?

Well it looks as summer might finally have arrived, just as well as there is only a couple of days to go until the mid-summer solstice! According to everyone who expresses an opinion on the subject, this is one of the worst starts to summer that they can remember on Orkney. So bad in fact that until recently the grass in the fields was so poor that the farmers could not let their cows out from their winter quarters and the stocks of silage which they fed these cattle on were getting so low that for the first time an early auction sale was arranged for the farmers here to sell the cattle and sheep that thy didn’t think they would have enough food for to farmers further south. Even some of the newly born lambs were having trouble with the unexpected wet and cold weather this year.

Things were looking very grim but finally we are starting to see things improve and to see the cattle being released into the fields. It really is quite a treat seeing these big beasts literally kick their heals up in the air as they are let out into the fields after what must to them, seem a very long winter. A very good Facebook page to follow on the day to day life of an Orkney farm is Orkney lambing, although they have got some stick for saying exactly how farming is, no fluffy wuffy lambs here or considering the animals as pets, they are treated with kindness and care but the final outcome of a farm animal is not hidden. This caring attitude and a real desire to make sure the animals have as good a life as possible.

As you drive around the island the fields that are full of cows with their calves and the odd bull as well. Most of the cattle are ‘serviced’ in the traditional way rather than artificially as is the practice further south. Every evening from the kitchen window we watch the calves chase each other across the field opposite, it is surprising how nibble they can be for such a large animal.

The other Saturday we received two invitations to a meal in the evening which was nice. We could of course only go to one of them, but hopefully the second invite still stands for some time in the future. We had a lovely evening and ending chatting well past midnight. I was the designated driver so when it was time to head home we set out across the island from Evie, it was so light and the road a minor one that at one point for an experiment I drove without my lights on at 1 am in the morning! Obviously this I did only for a short whilst just in case we met someone coming the other way, but it was barely any darker than the official west country term of ‘dimpsey’.

On Wednesday evening we went to a book signing and a free talk at the Kirkwall theatre by the director of the Ness of Brodgar dig, Nick Card. The large theatre was almost full and the talk was very interesting on the various ages of the Ness and its Neolithic buildings. I had already volunteered to help out a couple of half days at the Ness of Brodgar  shop run by the Orkney Archaeology Group, so if you would like a knitted hat with ‘NOB’ written across the forehead, please place your orders now!

There is going to be a ‘gathering’ at the Ring of Brodgar on Sunday at about 3am for the Mid Summer Sunrise which if the weather is good we will try and get along to, the last one of these I went to it clouded over so much we all went home early.



The other day I dug out our petrol driven strimmer which had not seen action for many years, as Paul our gardener used to do such things and used his own. With some fresh fuel it fired up fairly easily which was a start. However it was at this point that I discovered that the gearbox at the cutting end had seized solid!

So I removed the gearbox and with liberal amounts of the magic WD40 I tried to free it up. I tried all the various technical processes that I could think of and ended up with it in the vice and hitting it with a hammer! But still it would not budge! 
Nothing for it I thought but to try and order a replacement on line, but no luck there, no one seemed to carry parts for the expensive strimmer we bought from Ernest Does about twenty years ago! As we had to go into Kirkwall to sort out the details on the kitchen design I decided to take the seized gearbox around and see if anyone could help. Initially I had no luck and started to look at replacement strimmers, a similar one would cost about £300 so I kept looking !
We went into Orkney Tool Hire as they had been very helpful the other day about another issue. At first they tried to look for a replacement part but this might take some time then they asked if I had the gearbox with me, which I did. They suggested that as the thing was no good as it stood then there was nothing to be lost if they tried to free it up and would I like them to try? Nothing to lose I thought but I honestly thought the thing was seized beyond hope, after all the last time it was used was probably 15 years ago, still nothing to lose.
Twenty minutes later the gearbox was fixed and spinning like a good 'un, ( I must have weakened it )  we parted with £25 and went home to try it.
Now the previous evening on the BBC's Springwatch they were expounding on the benefits to wildlife of keeping a patch of nettles in your garden which reminded me that we have a small forest of nettles out the front that needed to 'massaged' with the newly fixed strimmer. It worked brilliantly and we both spent an enjoyable couple of hours destroying the said nettles and revealing parts of our garden that have not seen the light of day for many years. Anna enjoyed having a go as well, most satisfying! Thank you Springwatch !
Staying on the subject of nature, a whale beached itself yesterday and several people went down to the beach to help it, by late evening when the tide had turned they had got it back in the water and eventually it swam out to sea.


Just a brief post as I thought you would like to see the progress so far. All the plaster boarding in the sitting room is done and the decorator is in taping and filling and then the paint goes on! Hooray!

We have ordered the taps for the new guest bathroom, waterfall type with colour changing LEDs ! The bathroom furniture has been ordered including a heated ( non misting ) illuminated mirror with bluetooth speakers built in ! I just love this stuff.
The sitting room should be completed by the end of this week. In the meantime we are spending our evening trawling the internet for various light fittings and floor coverings. 


Work is progressing well. The electrician Brian turned up with Ross today and all the wiring was laid in the sitting room. The wiring that is in the house is old ( about 1970's ) and so is being replaced throughout, not much more work and best for piece of mind. We also had time to talk about the main work and this is the reason for the "EeeeK", it was decided that it would be easier ( and hopefully quicker and cheaper ) is the next stage that they did the bedroom, bathroom and utility room all at the same time. This will mean that we will have to clear these rooms and probably end up sleeping in the living area for a while!This means clearing these rooms and we have been selling off some of the larger bits of furniture that we will not be needing. We also really really have to settle on bathroom bits, light fittings, placing of power points, paint colours and a multitude of other things!The decorator arrives in two days time!EeeeK and EeeeK ! again.Wish us luck.

Cooking, filling freezers and things

Camping in the living area
pasta bake, bread and cake
Spices - lots of spices

Well, the small sitting room has been destroyed and is being put back together again. And as a result we have “moved into” the room that will eventually become our dining and living room, open plan with the kitchen. We sold the big sofa which sadly was never going to fit, and bought a sofa bed for the little sitting room, which is currently residing at the end of our bed (the sofa I mean, not the sitting room). We have moved the new bucket chair into the “new” living room together with one of Badger’s camping chairs for now (see picture). But … it’s going to be AMAZING. I am loving the ambiance already … well we both are – being able to be with Mark, listen to the music, keep an eye on the TV, wander in and out of the kitchen when my timer goes to tell me that something is cooked.

Result ? Well, home made bread, cakes, and general foods – I went mad on the Seasoned Pioneers website and bought a big batch of spices as you can see in my picture.
Over the past few weeks I have been cooking up some fun stuff – and getting Mark used to the idea that fish is edible. Spiced monkfish, for example, grilled to blistering point, and served with naan bread. Baked sea bass with capers and lemon sauce. And the meat. Oh the meat. Leg of lamb baked in some of those delicious spices with home made flat breads. Wonderful beef in red wine, or perhaps Guinness. Trouble is those sort of things require reasonable quantities to be cooked if they are going to taste of anything, so I have a freezer that is bulging at the seams. Trouble is, you see, that I can’t walk past without popping in to see if there is something yummy. Then I buy it and … don’t get something else out of the freezer. Oh dear.

I am determined that this month I will start to reduce the food mountain that has accumulated. Probably.

So … to that end, what have I done today. Well I cooked a chicken last night. So that’s two lots of meat ready for a pie into the freezer. And the chicken stock. And tonight I have made basil and rocket pesto for a pasta bake. But it turned out as a double quantity, so that’s half of that into the freezer . And the trouble is with traybakes, there is too much for us to eat before it goes stale so … each time I make a new one – and making new ones is such fun – half goes into the freezer.

The picture by the way is bread for tomorrow, the almond and cherry cake (and yes, I know the cherries sank but it tastes fabulous) and the pasta with the pesto waiting for its topping of grated cheese and pine nuts before it goes into the oven for baking.

And we can’t have anyone to stay for a while to help eat it all as we have no spare room and no spare bed, so we can’t invite friends to come up and eat – yet. But believe me, once that spare room is done … once it’s done … we can’t wait !!

A Guest!

Corncrake © Steve Round, from the surfbirds galleries

The other night Anna dragged me outside at around midnight. The reason for this was not because of some domestic but because Anna is obsessed by how light it currently is as we approach Mid Summer ( Hah! Summer! ) it barely gets dark and it is very true that you can read a newspaper in this light.

So there we were just looking around and admiring the calm loch on this still night. There were a number of birds flying around and calling to each other as well as telling us to 'bugger off' and get away from their nests when we heard it........

I made a recording on my phone which you can hear

...... a Corncrake! Now these small birds are very rare and you have to report if you hear one as they are trying to re-establish them in Orkney. Like a lot of birds they have been hit by changes in farming and Corncrake nest in long grass, not ideal when the farmer comes along and cuts it for the very necessary silage that will feed their animals during the winter.

We have had the song confirmed and have reported it to the RSPB, how exciting!

Ceiling added

Work is progressing nicely, by the end of friday the new ceiling was in place. It took a little longer than expected as the old ceiling was uneven so a lot of leveling up had to be done on the joists before the new plasterboard went up. We found and old ( 1965 ) newspaper and a beer mat behind the old walls so these will get put back along with a copy of the local newspaper from today.On Monday the electrician should be coming around.

Friday night we had our friends Vicky and Ian over to share a lump of lamb ( that is a chef's term !) and I introduced Ian, who is a whisky love,r to the 18 year old Tomatin ( that is a whisky for those who were getting worried! ) On Saturday We went into Kirkwall at the weekend to finalise the bathroom quote and then spent the afternoon having a wander around the town, stopping off in Grooves were they had a visiting band playing live for a couple of hours. The band was Little Eye a young band and not at all folkie. We liked them so much we bought their CD which is playing on the Sonos now.

Sunday we arranged to pop down to see Catherine and Neil Corsie in Burray to catch up on their news and to see the new born lambs, pony and guinea pigs. It was raining heavily so the expected photo session did not take place, but we had a good natter or 'blather' as they call it here, over a cup of coffee and then headed back to the Commodore for lunch where we were meeting up with Julie and Mike from Straigona. The cunning plan was to have lunch there and then go on to the Scapa Distillery for a tour but Mike was suffering with a serious bout of 'man flu' and so we decided to leave to tour for another time. All the food at the Commodore is home made even the burger rolls and after demolishing a rather splendid Lamb burger and the stick toffee pudding with a pint of the new 'Orkney Ale' from the Quoyloo brewery we went back home and as it was still raining we decided to have a lazy Sunday afternoon in front of the tele. Well at least that is what I had decided, Anna was in major cake baking mood.

The work starts

Only a short post today but the news is worth it!

Ross Spence arrived bang on the time he said he would and after a chat about how he was planning to do things and allow us still to live in the place, he set to removing the plasterboard from the walls in the sitting room.See pictures.

We had also had previously arranged to 'do lunch' at the Orkney brewery with Kathie and Graham, some new friends from Quoyloo. Burgers were consumed washed down with their new Arthur Ale and finished off with homemade Lemon Meringue pie! Getting back to work in the afternoon was not what we wanted to do but we bravely did!

More news tomorrow.

Folk Festival

Apologies about the length of this posting, but there again nobody is forcing you to read it :)

Once a year the islands host a Folk Festival and whilst there are various events all over the islands during the weekend it is fair to say that the bulk of the activity is held in Stromness. In the fifteen years of visiting Orkney on holiday we had never been here for the festival so we thought it would be a good thing to do this year and we were not disappointed.

Now I’m not a great folk music fan and my feelings on massed fiddles are not as keen as many on the island but I am getting to enjoy many of the local bands that I have heard so far. Jo Philby , the Chair and Saltfish Forty are particularly good. So when the program for the Festival appeared, Anna and I scanned down through the artists to see which we would like to book to see. We were confronted by a cornucopia of artists that we had never heard of and so we spent some time listening to the ones that we could find on Spotify to see if they were the sort of thing that we might like. There is actually a Spotify Playlist for the festival if you want to check it out.

The organisers limit the time allocated to local bands which might seem a little unfair, but there are plenty of opportunities to see these later and as the festival has grown in popularity over the years ( BBC Radio was here last year ) then the time slots are limited so as some of the bands have travelled from as far away as Canada and the USA they often get more time than the local bands apparently. We also took local advice on ‘must sees’ We were also told that tickets for the best gigs sell out very quickly when they go on line so get in quick. In the end as it was our first festival we finally decided on getting tickets for just one of the final performances of the show with several bands that we wanted to see and then to spend the rest of the time going around Stromness visiting the various locations which would be having impromptu music in their bars for free.

The festival started on Thursday evening but we decided to take a walk down on the Friday evening and combine it with a visit to my regular, the 'Flattie Bar’ which for this weekend was sporting a sign saying ‘Folk Free”! As we entered the crowded bar with the juke box playing its usual load eclectic mix of music, we were greeted by the barman who although off duty that night he broke away from his friends to serve us, it does make you feel very welcome. Later we were introduced to the owner as a ‘couple of regulars’ and we chatted with her for a while. We left after a little while and headed back home passing the growing numbers of parked up motorhomes in the car parks. We had thought about bringing our motorhome ‘Badger’ down for the weekend but I think we had missed the boat as most of the places were already taken. Still we had decided that this year we would just check things out and see how things work at such events as there is also the Jazz, Blues, Rock & St Magnus Festivals as regular events which we will also be checking out.

On Saturday we drove down and had to park some way from the action as the car parks were full. The sun was shining and although there was a forecast of a few showers these turned out to be very small and short. As we walked down to the centre of Stromness the music could be heard coming from the open doors of the various bars and Hotels. The British Legion Club was also open for music. As we walked past the Ferry Inn a large group of musicians were sitting outside talking animatedly as they met up with other musicians that they perhaps had only seen a year ago at the last festival. As with any gathering of folk musicians it was not long before a group of them started up with an impromptu reel or two. This set the scene for the rest of the weekend that town would be full of music. Anna was taking photos and engaging in conversations all over the place, I now know more about how to play a Bodhran ( a type of hand drum ) that is healthy for a non-musician like myself.

We carried on down to the area called “the pier head” and examined the stalls of Orkney produce set out there. These were interesting for new visitors to the island but not new to us, so we just said our hellos to the stall holders that we knew and as it was getting near lunch time we were drawn towards the Orkney Buffalo Burger van. Their meat comes from a heard of Buffalos on the island that was setup about a year ago and is proving very popular, mainly due to the very successful marketing by the owner and the creation of this Burger van that is normally parked in the middle of Kirkwall opposite Tesco. The Burgers were great, not nearly as fatty as some and full of flavour, we ate these sitting on the newly installed seating around the statue of John Rae which now makes a nice communal area whereas before it did look rather like just more parking spaces.

We then spent the rest of Saturday wandering in and out of the Hotels and bars listening to the music being played there. One of my aims of the weekend was to sample the special beer that was brewed by one of the local breweries for the festival. The ale is called ‘Session Ale’ and I can report that is a rather good bitter. Only a couple of the bar were serving this so it took a bit of finding, but who I to complain of a pub crawl!

Any musician was encouraged to join in and it was a joy to watch them play together simply by picking up a tune from the one who would start. There was no sign of any printed music anywhere, I am always in awe of anyone who can do this, and it really is as if it is another language that they are able to communicate in. One thing I will say for the majority of folk music that I heard over the weekend was that was all very cheerful and there was a lot of dancing going on. You really did get a great feeling of goodwill and happiness watching the musicians and the spectators enjoy themselves. A couple of videos I took in the bar of the Stromness Hotel: Video 1 Video 2 I would recommend a visit to such an event if you never have tried it before.

We left in the evening, mainly because we were getting quite tired, there was a lot of standing about, but we were ready to come down again the next day on Sunday.
Sunday was another great day, having got in the swing of things we spent quite a lot of time visiting between venues to sample different types of Folk music. One that I was very surprised to enjoy was The Raymond Churchuk Scottish Dance Band. The lead instrument was an accordion. I have never considered that the accordion was a necessary instrument, how wrong could I be? The accordion player was Raymond Churchuk a nice guy and extremely talented, watching his fingers move over the keyboard was mesmerising, so much so, that when I tried to video a particular number I forgot to hit start! When reading the program for the event I had misread their band title and I thought it was some church gospel band and so probably one to avoid! His easily misunderstood surname is from Ukraine where his family hails. Here is a video I took in the bar of the Ferry Inn I think a lot of Folk music, like most music, is better live and in the right ambience and listening to is later is never as satisfying but hopefully the videos give you a flavour.

After treating ourselves to an Orkney ice cream we then spent some time upstairs at the Stromness Hotel listening to a large and changing gathering of musicians jamming away, playing a variety of reels and jigs. All too soon did the time come for us to queue up at the Town Hall ( an old church ) for the final show that we had tickets for, in fact this was the only show that we had paid money to see, talk about value for money! This show featured several artists each doing three numbers and included the hilarious New Rope and String band who are on their final tour, which is a shame but I’m glad that we got to see this hilarious group. Here is a short video I found of part of their act making music with plastic tubes .

The final act was Ward Thomas , two young girls from Hampshire who last year were awarded the “ UK Album of the Year at the 2014 British Country Music Award.“ . I particularly wanted to see this group as I had heard great things. We were not disappointed although their music is more American Country than Scottish Folk, they ended their set by calling all the other artists from the evening and a few others onto the stage for a grand finale, topped by a couple of very young girls from the audience who had been Scottish dancing throughout the show. After a very lively jig which seemed to get faster and faster the show finished. Well not quite, as the audience called for an encore, this seemed to throw Ward Thomas a bit as they didn’t have one ready it seemed. The accordion player from the New Rope and String band stepped in with a 'Scottish folk' version of ‘Wild Thing’ by the Trogs but this time the played on the accordion! It was hilarious, particularly the young lad with a very loud voice from the audience who was selected to sing the main chorus. The Town hall erupted in cheers and clapping as this last number brought the festival to an ‘official’ end. The partying continued in the pubs for some time after.

We went home happy and both agreed that is was a really great weekend and will do it again next year. Anna has taken lots of photos, which she has uploaded to her flikr account and I have put a couple of links to the videos that I made from my phone. I hope that this has given you a flavour of the festival and that you enjoy the photos.