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.

Aerial view of Bendigo.JPG

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.

Polytunnel erection day.jpg

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.

Primula Scotica.jpg

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...

St Magnus Cathedral.jpg

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!