Tuesday, 31 July 2012


Stromness in Orkney is the first port of call when arriving by ferry from mainland Scotland, i.e. if you come from Scrabster on the north coast.

It has a charming town centre of winding narrow streets and sea views and  is well served with shops, banks, supermarkets and bus services.

John took these photos as we spent an afternoon enjoying the town with its nooks and crannies, its history and stone buildings including rooftops. The harbour has fishing boats, the big Northland ferry, and a variety of other sailing, rowing and motor craft.

When the boats set off for Canada in the early days of exploration their last stop before leaving UK waters was here in Stromness in order to take on fresh water.

The source was here (above photo): a well on the "High Street". If you look into the glassed up front, you can see ferns and other plant life. 

Many Orcadians went out on these voyages to Canada and to this day there are a lot of descendents of these men who married (or not) into the local aboriginal and immigrant population.

The excellent Stromness Museum has masses of material to do with Orcadians in Canada including a lot relating to the history of the establishment of the Hudson Bay Company in Canada.

Monday, 30 July 2012


 These are John and Mairi's photos of the one of Orkney's many remarkable geological features: The Old Man of Hoy.  It is 449 feet (137 m)  sandstone sea stack which was an arch in the past but has lost half of it leaving this stack. The column is perched on a plinth of basalt rock at grid reference HY175007. It is close to Rackwick Bay on the west coast of the island of Hoy, in the Orkney (red arrow above).

The Scrabster - Stromness ferry passing the Old Man.

Iain and Mairi walked along the path from Rackwick Bay to the view point on the cliff edge.

A typical Orkney day with swirling fog coming and going. John took this photo from the ferry.

Sunday, 29 July 2012


Love it or hate, the Olymics are here for the next fortnight. I watched the 3. 5 hour BBC coverage of the Opening Ceremony and found it stunning, quite stunning!  The event is really a son et lumière (sound and light) production as it was purposely staged to take place at night. At so many levels the whole production worked; it was very, very impressive.

This epic event purposely had a London feel to it: e.g. the Queen, present throughout, was also  involved in a clever James Bond film sequence and at the end,  Paul McCartney - no show without Punch -  was on stage  leading everyone with "Hey Jude".

Rowan Atkinson, comedian.  Photo: Wikipedia
But ... what do the British do best? Humour!... a unique kind of self-deprecating humour!  These film industry people SHIPPY ... who are they?... made this 2.54 minute video  for the BBC TV programme.  Oh how I laughed and laughed at Rowan Atkinson, playing the keyboard piano (as I do myself!), and Sir Simon Rattle, conducting the London Symphony Orchestra in the Chariots of Fire theme.  If you  have ever had to keep counting the bars through a piece of music you can relate to this fun piece!  As they say in Glasgow "Pure Dead Brilliant"! 

Someone in the The Telegraph newspaper said about the evening: "bonkers, bold and brilliant - and so British"!

So well done Olympic* workers, participants, contributors all!


* ... or as wee Alastair says "the Limpics"!

Saturday, 28 July 2012


Even for one not knowledgeable about geology the variety of different and unusual rocks to be found in Orkney is fascinating.


John and I spent an afternoon on Melsetter Beach while Iain and Mairi went to pay a visit to The Old Man of Hoy.

This is one of my favourite photos.  John took this of Ishie and I walking back from the beach.

We were intrigued to find that the beach was not sand but made up of shells!  This photo is a close-up showing that we were sitting on millions of bits of ground-up sea shell!

Our eye caught these little turquoise "fossils"? in the black rocks in one part of the beach.  I don't know if they are mineral or perhaps were sea creatures at one time.

This is another example of the shell-sand and the black rock.

The sand dunes adjacent to the beach were great fun for everyone!

Meanwhile here we have "A Man on a Mission". [John's photo.]  There was a wreck nearby (part of a pier or platform) and on it was a bit of flotsam* which one little person discovered.

*  Flotsam (or floatsome) are those items which are floating as a consequence of the action of the sea. Jetsam are those which have been jettisoned by a ship's crew (although that may float too of course). [Wikipedia]

Friday, 27 July 2012


While everyone in the rest of the UK was having non-stop rain we were in Orkney where we had some lovely days on the beach.

One such beach was Rackwick Beach on west side of Hoy (red arrow above).  It was breathtakingly beautiful!


I had a marvelous afternoon playing about with the camera, the light, subject matter.  These 2 photos above are mine of (1) the kids in tidal pool on long stretch of sand and (2) an oystercatcher (L)  and a gull who were beach residents.

John took lots of gorgeous shots with various types of lenses. These are all his below. There are lots more Orkney photos of the high standard shown here on his Flickr site here.

This one of Alastair and Ishie building a sand castle is one of my Top 5 Favourites!  (More to follow in subsequent posts!)

Thursday, 26 July 2012


A lifeboat shed with slipway was built in 1906 in Brims, Hoy in Orkney, for the Longhope lifeboat.  It is now a museum, looked after by a local gentleman who lives along the road.  The museum has a great deal of memorabilia relating to the Longhope Lifeboat Disaster March 17th 1969 as well as stories of its over 101 "shouts" (the word for being called out for a rescue).  See previous day's posting about the 1969 disaster with the loss of 8 crew when the lifeboat "TGB" went to rescue a stricken vessel in the Pentland Firth.

The centrepiece of the museum is the Watson lifeboat which you are allowed to go on board and walk through. She is wooden boat, built in 1933, is of the non self-righting type and was in service from 1933 to 1962. She is occasionally still launched for special occasions.

Last launch from Brims Lifeboat House was in 1999. "There was a large turnout of islanders and well-wishers from further afield on 11th September at the ceremony to mark the end of Lifeboat service from Aith Hope, Brims after 125 years, 93 of them from the Lifeboat house and slipway."  **

Nowadays the lifeboat and RNLI building are in the village of Longhope down at the pier.

The view back to Hoy from the museum.  Low cloud which started out as fog. Very typical Orkney weather.

Aith Hope, the body of water facing the Pentland Firth

John's arty photo of the pier slipway.

Red hot pokes at the road junction.    Photo: John


** Longhope Lifeboat website is here.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012


The Pentland Firth is the name of the body of water along the north coast of Scotland.  The Orkney Isles are the islands to the north as indicated in the red circle below.

The waters of the Atlantic and the North Sea sweep through this channel and in and around the Orkney Isles themselves.  There are hazardous rocks, skerries and strong tidal streams. Ships in trouble and lifeboat call-outs are part of life in these waters.

At various locations in the Orkneys, like other places in the UK, there are lifeboat stations which are  manned by volunteers.  Everyone in Britain, itself an island, is familiar with the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution, a charity established in 1824) which has lifeboats all around the coast.  Those of us who sail, use ferries, go swimming or wind-surfing off the beaches know all about lifeboats! (Yes, we had one come out for us once.  Someone on shore thought we were in trouble .... we weren't but that is another story!)

Just near where we were staying at Cantickhead Lighthouse on Hoy was the graveyard with the graves of the men who drowned in March 1969: the Longhope Lifeboat Disaster. Longhope is the small village (red arrow above). The black arrow shows this Kirkhope cemetery, South Walls.

The lifeboat TGB capsized on 17 March, 1969, after setting out from Hoy in Orkney, to help a Russian cargo ship which was in distress off the shore of South Ronaldsay.  The next day, the lifeboat was found floating upside down in the Pentland Firth.  No-one survived. 

The memorial plaque showing the loss of all 8 crew from this small community including two instances of a father and two sons.  Photo: John

Jennifer Wrigley (fiddle),  and her sister Hazel on the piano, from Orkney, tells the story in this 6 minute video.  She has a delightful Orkney accent but even better ...  in the second half she plays The Heroes of Longhope, a beautiful slow air written by the late Ronnie Aim from Orkney ... and one that works really well with a fiddle orchestra (good harmony).

 This fine bronze statue by Ian Scott, 1970 dominates the graveyard.

It was very sad reading the gravestones.  Now, 43 years on, we see a widow of one of these men now lies in the graveyard.

The important outcome of this disaster was that it led to lifeboats being designed to be self-righting.

Friday, 20 July 2012


The Orkney Isles are full of historical sites to visit: ancient and modern, military and domestic.  Normally visiting a military site is not something that quickens my pulse but right next to where we were staying on Hoy was a Martello Tower ... so we decided to pay a visit. 

Hackness Battery and Martello Tower were built in 1813–14, at the height of the Napoleonic War. French and American warships were wreaking havoc on British and Scandinavian merchant shipping going north through the Pentland Firth or round the Orkney Isles. Longhope Sound provided a safe anchorage.

Martello Towers take their name from Mortella (Myrtle) Point in Corsica. They are small defensive forts built in various countries of the British Empire during the 19th century from the time of the Napoleonic Wars onwards. There are still quite a few around.  (If you read James Joyce"Ulysses" the opening scene takes place on the top of one outside Dublin.)

We decided to take a guided tour of the barracks and the tower.  It was absolutely terrific!  And this was all because of our outstanding tour guide, Mike Webster.  He had a vast knowledge of his subject; we could have stayed all day hearing his stories and learning about for example, ballistics; the difference in hull thicknesses between British and American ships in the time of the Napoleonic Wars, design of the structure, etc. 

In the barracks there was one room where the men slept and cooked on a cast iron stove.  There were beds all around the perimeter.  On each bed was a black wool blanket with the above lettering on one corner. What did the lettering and the arrow symbol mean?

The B and O letters:

This indicates the mark of the Board of Ordnance and the 2 letters plus arrow is a very old mark meaning "Government Property".  

[Wikipedia]: "The Office of Ordnance was created by Henry VIII in 1544. It became the Board of Ordnance in 1597, its principal duties being to supply guns, ammunition, stores and equipment to the King's Navy."

Mike explained how in the past there were 4 sections to the War Department: Artillary, Infantry, Navy and Ordnance.  The responsibility for surveying was given to the Board of Ordnance rather than the Army or Navy.  (Hydrographic surveying stayed with the Navy.)

The Arrow:  

This is called a broad arrow.

 [Wikipedia continued]: "The Office and Board used the broad arrow to signify at first objects purchased from the monarch's money and later to indicate government property since at least the 17th century. The introduction of this symbol is attributed to Henry Sydney, 1st Earl of Romney, who served as Master-General of the Ordnance from 1693 to 1702, since the pheon [another word for 'broad arrow'] appears in the arms of the Sidney family.

The broad arrow frequently appeared on military boxes and equipment such as canteens, bayonets and rifles, as well as the British prison uniform from the 1870s, and even earlier, that of transportees in British penal colonies such as Australia."

The broad arrow marks were also used by Commonwealth countries on their ordnance.  An example of this is when "the broad arrow was used by the British to mark trees intended for ship building use in North America during colonial times. Three axe strikes, resembling an arrowhead and shaft, were marked on large mast-grade trees."  Details of how this practice was used and abused and what it contributed to is here.

With the demise of the Board in 1855, the War Department and today's Ministry of Defence continued to use the mark. The arrow also appears in the Ordnance Survey logo.

And that leads on to the topic of BENCHMARKS (here).  I have seen them around but never knew what they were.  Resolution: get some photos and add them here.