Our second Orkney Summer begins


Summer came early to Orkney and in mid-May people were sunbathing on our beach in swimming costumes, a hitherto unseen sight. I was paddling daily and there was a noticeable rise in the number of wild swimmers without wet suits (but with very pink and glowing flesh). That was 3 weeks ago and we live in hope that summer will return to our glorious islands soon!



We travelled South three times in the early months of this year. In January we went for a very happy party for Mum’s 96th birthday party, then again in February when her nursing home called us down. Mum died exactly two months after her birthday, peacefully, a few days after we left her. Her funeral in early April was all we could have wished and, as many people commented, it was a celebration that she would have enjoyed.  We are sad of course, but also relieved as the nursing home years did not sit well with any of us. To reach 96 and remain interested in our big family and wide circle of friends was an achievement. I wrote a blog about her coat which seems to have touched many people - you can read here.

Mum’s death coincided with the beginning of work on our new kitchen - a perfect storm of emotional and physical chaos at Bendigo. The kitchen took over twice as long as estimated but we are thrilled with the result. Most importantly, the Bears now have a view, having been used to standing on a window sill in Tangmere where they could be admired. Our neighbour Margaret - they look out over her house to the beach - amazed us by turning up with a couple of red and yellow striped scarves (Patrick Thistle colours) which she had knitted for them, worried that they were facing north and might be cold! (Old Bear is rather grateful as he has very little fur after 62 years of hugs.)

Our clubs and activities change for the summer. The traditional music group has stopped and will resume in October. Rehearsals for our St Magnus Festival concert with the Festival Chorus are getting serious with just 2 more weeks to go. We are singing Vaughan William’s Dona Nobis Pacem. It is hard to listen to but thrilling to sing and we are very much enjoying it. We will be performing with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the concert will be recorded for BBC Radio 3 at some stage. The Orkney Folk Festival has just happened and was totally wonderful. We enjoyed 4 concerts over three days - that’s a lot of foot tapping and clapping! The Gardening Club gets outdoors in the summer with a number of outings and events. We had a walk along the cliffs on Saturday and saw our first orchids of the year. We have had the spring tidy-up at The Marengo Community Garden in St Margaret’s Hope, a tranquil and much used spot enjoyed by locals and visitors.

The Nature Festival cruise around the west coast of the Orkney Mainland on board one of the ferries that brings passengers to and from the Scottish Mainland entertained us with a small pod of Risso’s Dolphins, as well as many seabirds. We have always been in the wrong place for the many recent sightings of orcas as well as a large pod of pilot whales. Puffins are back on the cliffs, the Little Terns have returned to our beach to nest and Sand Martins are again resident at the ‘secret beach’ at the end of our lane. There has been an early flush of the rare Primula Scotica, a tiny flower which is so easy to miss but we were lucky enough to find.

Our photography group continues all year round and we really enjoy going out to local places and just mooching around with our cameras. Everyone sees things so differently and the resulting shots shared on the group Facebook page are always so very different. We produced a calendar for the group this year and have also been asked by a couple of local tourist attractions to take some photos for them, for postcards and brochures. It is all good fun. Appropriately, as the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings is remembered, this week’s outing was to Hoxa Head at the southern entrance to Scapa Flow. It is a vantage point littered with the remains of a large WWII battery. Stark, concrete constructions making harsh shapes against a beautiful blue sky.

Our garden is progressing and the Keder polytunnel has kept us well fed all winter. Now the toms and cues are taking over, albeit slowly because of our return to cooler temperatures. We are trying a couple of courgettes in there, having missed trying to keep up with them last year. A strong windbreak is affording some protection to broad beans, onions, spinach and leeks outside - we hope that it will not blow away over the summer. The tatties have just got to weather it! There is a Gardening Festival this year in early July which we are looking forward to but will not be opening our garden - this year or for several years to come!

It was strange to return home after Mum’s funeral and know that the need to commute to Sussex regularly was gone. We shall of course be back but Orkney is so definitely our home now and we both really love it here. I did my first big cookery dem on the islands for Christian Aid Week - both Mum and Dad were keen house-to-house collectors for many years. Nick is a wonderful Roady for such occasions. It all takes longer and is more tiring than it used to be (!) but the dem was a great success raising almost £1000 and I was pleased to do it - for the charity and for Mum and Dad. 

Whatever your plans for the summer we hope that it is a warm and happy time for you. We are taking bookings now for 2020...

Celebrate Good Times - it’s our first Bendiversary!

As I settle down to write to you it is the first anniversary of our actual move into Bendigo. What a year we have had and we do truly love it here on Orkney. It was a blowy wet day last year as the removal men struggled to get our furniture in between gusts and showers. The delivery of our new bookcases, scheduled for today, has been delayed by 24 hours owing to the wind and rain. It seems  a long time since our heatwave!

Lunch alfresco with Mike & Paul and some attractive washing in the background

Lunch alfresco with Mike & Paul and some attractive washing in the background

The brilliant summer even reached Orkney. Farmers here down tools when the temperature hits 18C and delivery drivers were also declaring it too hot to work! Whilst friends in towns and with sheltered gardens spoke of temperatures in the mid 20’s we were always treated to a sea breeze. We did eat outside: twice! I also swum three times in the sea: it was invigorating - and I knew it was just a few hundred metres from the beach to our hot shower! We’re told summer is not always so balmy, but we are hoping 2018 won’t be our first and last good one.

The light show not taken during the concert but you get the idea!

The light show not taken during the concert but you get the idea!

Our first foray into serious singing with the St Magnus Festival Chorus was a great success. It was an amazing experience to perform Rossini’s Petite Messe Solonelle in St Magnus Cathedral, surrounded by sound and looking at the light from the beautiful West Window, which danced over the pillars and the audience. We got a five star rating in The Scotsman and feel encouraged to join the Winter Choir. We are now working on Rutter’s Magnificat which we will perform in the Cathedral at the beginning of December.

It has been wonderful to have so many enthusiastic visitors during our first year - and we look forward to seeing more of you soon. Without exception people have been really impressed with the quality of Orcadian food and drink, the craft and, of course, the scenery and especially the archeological sites.

Fish and chips Orkney style

Fish and chips Orkney style

The hills of Hoy seen from the Ness of Brodgar dig

The hills of Hoy seen from the Ness of Brodgar dig

We visited the dig at The Cairns, a broch on our own island of South Ronaldsay, at the beginning of July, just as it was closing after four weeks of excavations. This important site is used by the local university as a training dig for archeology students and is only worked for a month each year. As The Cairns closed so the Ness of Brodgar opened. The Ness has been featured in two BBC programmes about Neolithic Orkney and is utterly Fascinating. We visited four times with visitors and will not mind how many times we go next year. If archeology is your Thing try to visit us during July or August. We’ll be following progress at The Ness for as long as we live: after fifteen years only ten percent of the site has been excavated and much of that is yet to reveal all its secrets.

We have visited two abandoned islands in the southern entrance to Scapa Flow during the summer. Our local gardening group visited Stroma and our photography group had a trip to Swona. Both islands are privately owned and it is therefore a privilege to have visited and glimpsed the harsh reality of lives lived in these remote, exposed places. Needless to say we took numerous pictures on both trips so there is a tiny selection for you in the gallery below. On the way back from Swona we stopped while Magnus, the scallop fisherman who provided our passage, did his final dive of the day. We all learned a great deal about the skills and dangers involved in hand diving for this delicious shellfish. I didn’t feel awfully like preparing the scallops that we bought from Magnus when we got home but the lure of them that fresh was irresistible! As Nick said, he’ll never order hand-dived scallops in a restaurant again without thinking back to Magnus and our ride home from Swona.

  1. The Keder had just gone up when we last wrote to you. It’s still standing! It has been a great success and has kept us well fed all summer. I am now busy planting up crops for the winter: kales, spinach and chard, more salads and Chinese vegetables plus herbs and mustard leaves. As we battle a fine crop of pernicious weeds around the garden we quickly decided that planting into the ground in the polytunnel might be many years hence, so we had raised beds made over a weed retardant ground covering. The beds are now being topped up with the smaller seaweeds from the beach and fresh compost before the new crops are planted out. The task of seaweed collection will continue all winter. Our one productive outdoor area, covered with cardboard and lots of seaweed last winter, has produced very fine potatoes for us. The earlies made way for leeks and we await to see how they will survive the winter storms.

Our Shetland Blacks, once scraped ready for cooking are purple - and very tasty.

We are continuing to enjoy our traditional music sessions at the home of Pat and Billy in St Margaret’s Hope on Friday evenings. I’m still not certain that my trumpet fits in and so am taking tentative steps towards learning the fiddle - it is very different! We are approaching the Winter Trad Fest in a few weeks time, a week-long celebration of folk music encouraging people to get more involved. There are concerts in many venues and we are booked in for three, including one in the hall in our neighbouring village of Burray that we should be able to walk across the beach to, weather permitting. 

A puffin obligingly posed for us when we visited Westray

A puffin obligingly posed for us when we visited Westray

We failed to see Orcas this summer but live in hope for another year. The little terns that nested on the beach had a very successful breeding season but are now long since gone. Plenty of swallows hatched under the eaves of Bendigo and in the gun emplacements. There are large flocks of curlews and lapwings around at the moment and the ducks are getting their winter plumage back. We enjoyed having gannets flying around us when we went to Swona. We have seen the hen harrier around us several times and perhaps we shall do more in the way of bird watching this winter? There are still many RSPB hides that we have yet to visit. 

The moon was in Stromness for the science festival

The moon was in Stromness for the science festival

Festivals are a big part of Orkney life and the one that has surprised us the most this year has been the Science Festival. The programme was astonishingly diverse and applied science to so many aspects of life that fascinate us. I attended various talks and visits about whisky and the science of distilling. We were also both completely blown away by an installation of a massive model of the moon which visited Stromness for the duration of the Festival. It provided us with yet more photo opportunities!

My food and drink blogs continue on Orkney’s main website Orkney.com. They are hugely enjoyable to write and I have quite a list of producers that I hope to visit over the two years of my contract. I shall be hosting a whisky dinner at the Lynnfield Hotel in Kirkwall at the end of November and have also been asked to talk about whiskies at a wine fair that our excellent local deli organises in the run-up to Christmas. With two little cookery demonstrations coming up at the public library in the next couple of months I will soon be wondering if I have actually retired or not?! Nick is a brilliant roady and it makes such a difference when we set off together for such events.

We are heading south at the end of October to see my mother and various friends along the way. My mother is getting more tired but still enjoys her crossword most days and chatting on the phone when she is not too breathless.

Whatever you are up to we’d love to hear about it and send you all our best wishes.

Rosemary & Nick

Our first spring on Orkney

Spring arrives a little later up here than in Sussex, but it is here now and lots of things are happening in and around Bendigo.

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We are enjoying the visits of many of you, intrepidly heading north to see what has lured us to our new home, and I must say that our guests all seem to understand why we have found Orkney to be our personal paradise. When the sun shines warmly and the bay is blue it really does take some beating! My cousin Tina took this picture on her phone from the plane as she left us: that’s our beach and we are just to the left of it. The village to the right of the barrier/beach is Burray.

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Our new Keder, a cross between a greenhouse and a polytunnel, is up and filling with plants. Our friends Sarah and Jim, the Gardeners at West Dean, have just been with us and ‘officially opened’ it (any excuse for a party). Now they are on their way home and we are busy planting up every conceivable container that we have or can purloin. We will get the ground ready over the winter so that we can plant directly next year but we need to eradicate some of the unplanned ‘plants’ first... The selection of bags and tubs etc is reminiscent of the first year in the polytunnel at Tangmere Community Garden.

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With the spring here on Orkney comes an abundance of wild flowers and we are trying very hard to learn more about them all. We found the rare Primula Scotica when Jim and Sarah were here - a plant they had never seen before! We have also found the oysterplant on a beach near us (see pic in the gallery below): it is meant to be on our beach too but we are still hunting for it.

The birds in the bay have also changed and we have swallows and starlings nesting in our eaves and garden walls. There are swallows in the gun emplacements too and so it is pretty noisy at times! Having oystercatchers flying over us when we are gardening, doubtless calling out to tell us what we are doing wrong, is wonderful. A major hazard on the Islands is starlings nesting under car bonnets and they have taken to our old Citroen! Nick clears out nesting materials two or three times a day and once when the car was moved, the starlings, beaks laden with twigs and moss, were positively stamping their feet in anger and bewilderment as to where the car had gone! We have seen a short-eared owl and a hen harrier around Bendigo - the sales details for the house said they were about and so they are! This is now peak Orca spotting time and a few pods have been around Orkney for the last few weeks, but we keep missing the black fins sticking out of the water!

G&T Tart.jpg

We have joined a local informal photography group in Burray village. We meet every fortnight and go somewhere to exercise our creativity! It’s always fascinating to see how the same site inspires a huge range of pictures. Although I do take quite a few food pictures myself of my dishes we are expecting a professional along to photograph my first recipe blog for the VisitOrkney website, in conjunction with Orkney Food & Drink. The recipe is a Rhubarb gin and tonic tart - rhubarb and gin are both big things up here and there are now three gin distilleries, that’s one more than there are whisky distilleries! It’s great to be involved with our new local food group and the partnership will be for the next two years. I mention it here because somehow, after our last photography group, Nick, a friend and I found ourselves at the Deerness Gin Distillery as our location was just a few hundred metres from there...

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We have enjoyed our first Orkney Folk Festival as residents and managed four concerts in three days: it was fabulous! The folk music tradition is vibrant and each concert had at least one local group performing. How the organisers succeeded in securing as many raffle prizes as they needed is beyond comprehension: you cannot go to anything on Orkney without there being a raffle - and very often there are homebakes as well! The next big music festival is the more ‘serious’ St Magnus International Music Festival and we are in the community Festival Chorus, our first foray into real choral singing. We are performing Rossini’s Petite Messe Solonelle, a truly fabulous piece but very difficult for novices like us! Our houseguests over the Festival have all been bought a ticket and we will perform in Kirkwall’s magnificent cathedral.

Italian Chapel service.jpg

Although I now worship at St Magnus Cathedral I do enjoy the Mass at the Italian Chapel on the first Sunday afternoon of the month during the summer. The chapel has around 100,000 visitors a year but it is wonderful to experience it still being used for it’s original purpose. It is a remarkable building.

I shall be heading south to see Mum for a few days at the beginning of July, leaving Nick in charge of the polytunnel. We manage to FaceTime with her quite regularly when our friend Sue visits and, to all of you who do pop in to see her or keep in touch, thank you. FaceTime is a wonderful way of staying close to all of you.

Finally, below are a few photos we have taken recently, starting with some of the seedlings in the new polytunnel. Now, back to the gardening!

We’ve had our first overseas visitors - in February!

At the time of writing it will be 5 months on Friday since Bendigo became our home and we absolutely love it here on Orkney. We are keen to share our new home with as many of our friends and family as possible.

Skara Brae.png

Nephew and niece Gordon and Sabrina from Germany have been our first residential and overseas visitors - in February! Although they landed in a bit of a blow the weather was then amazing for the rest of their stay. It was so good to show them around and to revisit many of the tourist sites: well, those that are open at this time of year! The photos we are sharing with you today are Sabrina’s and show Orkney through the eyes of a first time visitor. Photography is a new hobby for her and we thought some of Beeny’s shots were great. The photo above was taken from the Neolithic settlement of Skara Brae looking out across the Bay of Skaill.

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The fact that Gordon and Sabrina were here for the first ever Orkney Gin Festival added a certain panache to one of our evenings together out on the town in Kirkwall, with Nick discovering a real love for cocktails! Just as much fun, though, were the evenings in at Bendigo, trying haggis (which they loved) and playing cards as we have always done when we are together. The picture above is us on the Broch of Birsay, an island accessible across a (very slippery) causeway at low tide, and below is Nick (and me too!) striding across Hobbister Moor, where Highland Park cut their peat and the RSPB have a reserve.


After our visitors left us we made another new friend, Duncan, who also has moved to Orkney from Tangmere! Although his route took years longer than ours his parents, who still live in Tangmere, had sent him a cutting from the parish mag about us moving north and he got in touch! There are so many people here from the crowded south, looking for space and a slower, greener way of life, as we are. The picture below is a very different shot of ‘our’ beach taken on the path from Bendigo down onto the sand.

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Here we are again, at the Ring of Brodgar.

Here we are again, at the Ring of Brodgar.

The winter has seemed short to us. The days are noticeably longer now and sunset is pretty much at the the same time as in Sussex. The ground is still very wet - we are told that it has been an exceptionally soggy winter - and attempts to put up a whirly washing line without cementing in the base have been abandoned because of soft ground. We are collecting barrowfuls of seaweed for our new veg bed, an exercise which surely will start to get us fit! Our polytunnel looks like being delayed until June or July which is disappointing, but it will give us time to see how the sun travels around Bendigo in the Simmer Dim, the long days of summer.

We have joined the St Magnus Festival Chorus - first rehearsal last night - a community choir that performs in the Festival in June. We are working on Rossini’s Petit Messe Solonelle, one of my favourite choral works, so we are very much looking forward to seeing how we get on as this will be much more ‘grown up’ singing than we have done before. We continue to enjoy a very informal traditional music group on Friday nights in The Hope (St Margaret’s Hope) and I am working hard to make my trumpet fit in with the fiddles and accordians - Nick’s guitar is a much easier match but they are all very kind! We have also joined the gardening club and went to a very interesting talk by one of the members about gardens in Singapore. The speaker, a member, gave us some astonishing facts: Orkney (total land mass for all 70 islands) is slightly larger than Singapore but has a population density of 20 per sq. km. compared to over 7,797 per sq. km. for the island of Singapore! A fascinating comparison.

Highland Park.png

Of course we don’t mind how many times we go round Highland Park - or Scapa, when it opens for the main tourist season - and two of the three gin distilleries here will have visitor centres or cafes before the summer is out. The Orkney Brewery also has an excellent cafe and tasting room so, if you are planning to come and see us, prepare for a very convivial time! Our best availability for the rest of this year is July and August - but there will, hopefully, be many years for us to welcome visitors to Bendigo if you cannot come in 2018. (If we are going to be photographed together I would rather you are not tall and slim!)

Only Storm Caroline has, to date, cut us off from Mainland Orkney with the closure of the Churchill Barriers. We must wait to see if the snow that many of you will be experiencing to the south of us will actually reach here. I am hoping to go into Kirkwall on Wednesday evening to see the Royal Opera House screening of Winter’s Tale - it will be ironic if snow scuppers that plan!

Moving up, settling in

It is, unbelievably, four weeks since we left Sussex for our new life in Orkney. That's amazing  - and Bendigo already really does feel like home.

After many fabulous farewell parties, and despite the fact that we still had not exchanged contracts, we both felt an almost desperate need to get in the car and head north. All our farewells were memorable, from the village party in August which gave us a wonderful Orcadian flag 'run up' by the multi-talented Alison Coote, to the feast hosted by Sam and Janet Mahoney at their restaurant Field & Fork which was cited in an innane interview with Mary Berry in the Times mag last Saturday. Each and every farewell event was wonderful - but it was time for us to go!

Thursday to Monday were spent travelling and catching up with friends and then we shared the ferry across the Pentland Firth with Phil Vickery, an old ally and one of the really affable TV chefs. He was heading to Orkney for a couple of days fishing with some other chums including Graham, the son and now the maker of Mrs Kirkham's Lancashire cheese, and Peter Gott, a stalwart for many years of Borough Market. Orkney really is one of The Places to be for food - and fishing!

We headed from the ferry to Robertsons, the cafe-bar in the Hope (St Margaret's Hope) that became almost our second home for a couple of weeks thanks to excellent ambiance and wi-fi! Morag and her daughter Jenna kept us fed and caffeinated, and continue to be a great source of local information and insight. Our lunch arrived with a ping on our phones announcing that the exchange of contracts in Sussex had at last taken place with completion promised for Friday. Morag received our hugs of excitement with good grace as the nearest to family that we had here on South Ronaldsay! What a relief to know that at the end of our week in a holiday let we would indeed be moving into Bendigo and not turning the car around and heading back to Tangmere!

To all of you who asked if it is possible to buy furniture on Orkney, we can assure you that the answer is Yes! We spent much of our week in the holiday cottage shopping: for a 3-piece suite, dining chairs and occasional tables as well as a spare bed that we hope many of you will enjoy. We also had a memorable evening at The Orkney Food & Drink Amateur Masterchef competition where four competitors each cooked a 3-course meal featuring local produce on stage in the Orkney Theatre, part of the Grammar School and a fantastic facility at the disposal of the community. We'll be back there again this Thursday evening for the final concert in the annual WinterFest folk music workshop. We met the Orkney Fairtrade team at Masterchef and signed up with them, and also the couple who farm water buffalo for meat quite close to us - we've tried their slow-roasted buffalo topside and it is excellent, like gamey beef.

Our solicitors solicited well and we actually completed up here on the same day as we did in Sussex. That meant we had the keys to Bendigo and could unload the car over the weekend but our possessions did not actually arrive at the house until Monday 2nd October - about an hour before our first storm. Phew! Our Sunday lunch the day before moving in was a Lidl (yes, we have a Lidl) pizza and a mug of wine consumed on the stairs as we had no chairs. I'm pleased to say the dining table is now in use again!

We lost one gratin dish that had been a second and one cheap wine glass in the move - not bad! Amanda Loverseed, you will need to come to Orkney to retouch a little bit of the edge of our fabulous dining table that took a slight knock, but otherwise all is good - we think. I say that as we are still awaiting the wooden block for our coat stand (Alan and Jo) and our pecking chickens table....our furniture was just one third of a load so I guess it was inevitable that it would get a bit muddled as it had to be stored for a number of weeks. It all left Sussex about two weeks before us due to promised dates from the estate agent that were not realised, back in those nerve-jangling, pre-exchange days that we have almost forgotten about! 

Our daily life (now that all the boxes are emptied and most things are in roughly the right places) usually features a walk along 'our' beach. We are entertained by oystercatchers, a curlew or two, and flocks of what we at first thought were starlings. We have since found them to be ringed plovers, preparing to migrate by picking through the seaweed on the beach to find tasty morsels to build their strength. They are delightful birds and we love seeing them, as well as the occasional heron that wades and fishes at the water's edge. There are always seals further along in the cove and occasionally one comes along to entertain us as we watch from the kitchen balcony.

Bendigo could not be more different from The Old Cottage. We have moved from a house at least 400 years old to one that has been built for just a decade! It has central heating, something completely new to us (although I suppose we did have a warm air heating system in our flat) and we live upstairs and sleep downstairs. It is a generous house for the two of us so there is plenty of room for you too!

We will share more pictures and news with you as the weeks go by, but here are a few images to help you picture where we are. Click on any picture and scroll right or left using the arrows at the side to view the others.

We are so happy.