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...