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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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