Monday, April 30, 2012

An island idyll

...though perhaps not when the gales make the windows flex!

It's more than a year now since I first discovered Sian’s blog and began to read about her life on the Orkney island of GraemsayI was immediately entranced by the setting and her lovely photographs and descriptions of life in this beautiful, remote and windswept place. It certainly never occurred to me, even in my wildest dreams, that I would one day visit her on her tiny island, with its 27 inhabitants, set in the treacherous waters between the much bigger islands of Mainland and Hoy.

Yet that is just what happened last week as my birthday treat, when on Thursday DH deposited me at the harbour in Scrabster and stayed safely on shore to film my departure on the MV Hamnavoe for my rather lively crossing to the picturesque little port of Stromness.

A bit rough....
View to Stromness with ferry just leaving again
The main street of Stromness!
On arrival at the ferry terminal I was met by Sian and, just as I had come to expect after my meeting with The Broadthe talking began and hardly stopped for the next 24 hours. J Yet again we leapt straight over the usual preliminaries and had the most wonderfully enjoyable conversations, as Sian showed me the area she had chosen to move to over 10 years ago.

After a welcome cup of tea we caught the much smaller ferry across to Graemsay, and it being 4pm, found ourselves on the school bus crossing, surrounded by the handful of youngsters who call this tiny island home. Fifteen minutes later we were helped ashore from the tossing ferry and Sian drove me the short distance to her house, wonderfully situated on the shore near the Hoy High lighthouse.

Sian's house by the sea (copyright Sian Thomas)
Later, as Sian was making our evening meal, I took my camera and went outside to wander round her domain, with its walled garden and glorious views out to sea and across to the hills of Hoy and the huddled buildings of Stromness.

The house from the walled garden
The view beyond the wall
Oh, those nosy neighbours....
The hills of Hoy, but alas, no seals....
After supper we went out to explore the island, which is about 2 miles long by 1.5 miles wide, with 12 inhabited houses and not much more than 2 miles of properly surfaced road. After driving across to the Hoy-facing shore to see the old church, now a farmer’s barn, and then past the former school and school-house, Sian took me to meet another blogger - yes, two bloggers on the same small island!

The 'auld kirk' on the shore of Burra Sound
The old school and school-house (copyright Sian Thomas)
Irene was the very last head-teacher of the tiny school on Graemsay. When she took up the post in the early 1980s, the school had 3 pupils. Over the years the number fluctuated, but when it eventually fell to just one, the school was closed in 1996 and Irene and her husband stayed on in retirement on the island they had come to love.

We eventually tore ourselves away from her fascinating reminiscences and went home, where  - guess what - we stayed up talking until almost midnight, before heading off to bed, because tomorrow would be another day…

Hoy High lighthouse in the setting sun
The end of a wonderful day

48 comments:

  1. Hello Perpetua:
    We cannot imagine your going anywhere and not immediately making friends and so the fact that, with Sian, you were talking until 'Pumpkin Time' surprises us not in the least. But we are amazed at the remoteness of this island community where, amidst the loveliest possible, unspoilt scenery people are living out their daily lives in circumstances which, at best, must often appear challenging.

    But such a wonderful experience for you and one which, we imagine, you will remember in every detail for years to come.

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    1. Thanks, Jane and Lance. My DH always says I could talk the hind leg off a donkey, and to be honest I think that's true of a lot of bloggers. :-) But there was so much to talk about with Sian and Irene, giving me the insider's view of a very different lifestyle from most of us, but one of which I could immediately see the attraction. That was the quiet day - the next day we started sightseeing.....

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  2. Breathtaking! I love it and love that you had such a fantastic day. I could see a whole little colony of bloggers in such a place! Thanks for the lovely introduction.

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    1. I knew you, with your love of the sea and the shore, would enjoy this, Penny. :-) And, yes, blogging would keep the inhabitants of such a remote place very much in touch with the world beyond their shores. It was a wonderful day, but only the first of two - of which more anon...

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    2. You're quite right. I need to put this destination onto my wish list.

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    3. Never say never, Penny. :-)

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  3. What wonderful memories you will have of this time Perpetua, and how enhanced your blogging experience will be in the future now that you have actually met 3 bloggers whilst you have been away. The little island of Graemsay looks idyllic.

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    1. Oh, it is, Rosemary. I love the fact that some bloggers have now become so much more than a name on a screen or even a photo. Now I'm trying to capture the memories of this visit while they are still very fresh in my mind.

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  4. This post is as wonderful as I expected it to be Perpetua. Sian's incredibly remote home looks amazing...and how tremendous for you 3 bloggers to get together. I do hope you make it to Hebden Bridge, or maybe to Caunes at some stage in your world wide tour of bloggers. The beautiful pale blue skies of the island contrast with what looked like a pretty rough crossing, and it sounds as if you had a very very good time...I'm so pleased. J.

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    1. Thanks, Janice. I had a fantastic time and thankfully, being a good sailor, even the roughish crossing wasn't a problem. I could immediately see what had captured Sian's imagination enough to make her move there, and to prove that remoteness doesn't mean lack of all facilities, her broadband connection is at least 3 times as fast as mine!

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  5. Sounds like such a beautiful place to visit Perpetua. the pictures are lovely

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    1. It is, Molly - remote, unspoiled, perhaps rather bare for some tastes, but extraordinarily appealing. I loved it.

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  6. Hi Perpetua! Very belated birthday and anniversary congratulations and love - we were totally incommunicado on Mull, so I've only just been able to catch up with your blogs over the last 12 days, as we just got home at ~1730hrs this evening. How come Sian has such brilliant broadband on her tiny island, when Mull, much bigger and more populous, and 200 miles further South, seems to be totally lacking in modern technology (well, nearly so, apart from the odd WiFi availability, which was always when we didn't have the laptop with us, of course)? When I get my blog up and running, I'll try and post some photos of our trip, although I didn't take as many as I wanted to as the better half had either forgotten the camera or had packed it away underneath everything else (& that's a lot when one is travelling with 2 dogs as well!) As always, I love your photos - and haven't you had a super time with the other bloggers. I know one shouldn't be envious, but....
    Looking forward to seeing you back in wet Wales soon (Mull, as with you up there, was mostly dry, but bitterly cold and very windy at times - reality is about to strike again now we're back home, I fear). LOL.

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    1. Thanks, Helva. I had a wonderful time and took a LOT of photos. I'm glad it stayed reasonably dry for your holiday, but the bitterly cold wind has kept the temperature well down all over the Highlands and Islands. It was freezing in Orkney! Sian's broadband is a small technological miracle, as it's so much better than other parts of Orkney. I'm very envious as ours in Wales is very poor. Sigh....

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  7. Dear Perpetua, your lovely pictures and the excitement of your words have me longing for such an island visit myself. Is Graemsey not just the kind of village and folk that books are made of to keep us company on long winter nights? I will look forward to a posting of day 2 on your island adventureswith Sian.

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    1. Penny, you would love a visit to Graemsay! It truly felt like the kind of island that features in children's adventure stories, with empty little beaches, a few scattered houses and so much space to wander. I imagine that it must be a childhood like no other for the children of the island.

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  8. I think I've rumbled you - this and the meeting with The Broad was no strange coincidence, was it? When are you coming to see me in Spain? Who's next? Oh, what fun!! Bloggers in touch - what a perfectly lovely idea - I'm so glad you had such a wonderful time. Axxx

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    1. LOL! Gosh, my secret is out, Annie. :-) I've always said I could plan the most marvellous world tour, just visiting blogging friends. And as I've never actually been to Spain.....

      It really is a great experience if you ever get the chance. Such fun and from then on the blog in question takes on a whole new meaning for you.

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  9. I'm so glad to finally hear about your latest adventures! I don't think scenery can get much more stunning than this! Don't know how I'd have fared on the rough sea, but even so the misery would have been worth it. How great that you got to meet another blogger as well -- I'm looking forward to looking at both those blogs in a few minutes.

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    1. Broad, my mind was absolutely buzzing with new impressions when I got home and I needed to let them settle for a few days before I could write about them. The scenery is truly gorgeous and the sea wasn't too bad. The crossing is only an hour and a half and the ferry is very stable, so that I was able to read all the way. :-)

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  10. What lovely photographs Perpetua...you sound like you had a glorious time, and how exciting to meet blogging friends. Now, if you do plan a blogger world tour, you absolutely have to come over this way...I'll make sure there are plenty of beautiful sunsets and waving palms for your visit. Smiles - Astrid

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    1. Oh, I did, Astrid. Sian made me so welcome and there was so much to see and talk about. If I ever make that world tour, Hawaii would definitely be on the itinerary. DH visited it before he started at college in the mid-1960s and has never forgotten how lovely it is.

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  11. What a wonderful way to make new friends. How blessed you are to have been able to visit. I bet your planning another already. Sue

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    1. Hello Sue and welcome to my blog. You're absolutely right. Meeting up with bloggers is a wonderful way of cementing friendships that have already started online and I can thoroughly recommend the experience. In both cases the words "next time" have already been uttered. :-)

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  12. Lovely to read about your visit Perpetua but a good job that you have good sea legs! - XXs PolkaDot

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    1. Hi PolkaDot. It was a wonderful visit and there's still more to come about Day 2. :-) I can see what appealed to our sisters who went to live up in Orkney for a time. Actually the crossing wasn't the worst I've experienced by a long way. I just stay sitting down and don't try to walk anywhere until we get into calmer waters.

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  13. So glad to read that you had such a good time Perpetua and that the weather was reasonably kind to you. Lovely photos & I look forward to reading the second instalment very soon.

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    1. Thanks, Ricky. It was fascinating and so enjoyable. The weather was very cold, with a stiff northerly blowing, but still lots of sunshine, especially on the second day, as you will see from the photos in my next post. Incidentally, on the mainland DH was getting sleet and even wet snow while we were basking. :-)

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  14. Dear Perpetua, . . . after not reading your blog for a month, I'm here again. Happy Anniversary.

    Traveling with you to the Orkneys is a real treat as I've read about them but never seen pictures. Your visit with your Sian in Graemsay makes me so want to meet all the friends--like you--whom I've met through blogging.

    I do so enjoy your writing, which is always succinct and yet filled with your ability to find goodness and beauty wherever you roam and whatever topic you choose to write about.

    Thanks so much, Perpetua, for following my blog while I was absent in April. I always appreciate your comments. Peace.

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    1. Thanks for those very kind words, Dee, and welcome back. I'm glad your blogging break was so fruitful. Since you enjoyed the photos of Orkney, I can promise you there will be more to come in my post about the second day of my visit.

      If you ever get the chance to meet a fellow blogger, do grab it. I have so enjoyed getting to know Sian and The Broad face to face.

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  15. Hello Perpetua it was lovely to meet you and I am glad you loved our little island as much as we do. There is no place else I would rather be.

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    1. Hello, Irene, how nice to see you commenting. I so enjoyed meeting you too and listening to your wonderful stories about teaching at perhaps Britain's smallest school. I can see so easily why you would never want to leave Graemsay.

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  16. Oh this would be a dream experience, Perpetua. The island is unlike anything I've certainly ever experienced and I would really be appreciative! And to have the chance to visit with a blogging friend is just lovely, too. I have fantasies about that myself :-) What a perfect birthday present. I'm so glad you shared it with me. The photos are heavenly! Debra

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    1. It really was, Debra. I too had never experienced anything like it and it felt so different and remote and beautiful. With your Scottish ancestors, you'd probably feel quite at home. :-) Don't give up hope of meeting a blogging friend. Who knows what could happen in the future....

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  17. Well what a beautiful looking place. I've never travelled further north than Aberdeen, not in the UK, anyway. Clearly I have much to see.

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    1. Jon, I've been wanting to visit the Orkneys ever since two of my sisters moved there for a while in the 1980s and 90s. I never had time or money to go then, so this was an ambition fulfilled. I have a feeling I'll be back. :-)

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  18. Bloggers are a chatty lot, aren't they? And what a wonderful place to visit.

    But here's the thing: you drove? On an island 2 miles by 1.5 miles?

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    1. Tell me about it, Friko! If we're not writing we're talking. :-)
      Oh yes, we drove. The island isn't big, but it has a definite hill in the middle, so you wouldn't want to be carrying bags and things up and down it from the ferry to home, especially in the teeth of the kind of winds that are so frequently found there. The islanders have on-island cars and then have their off-island ones across the water, as their little ferry only carries people.

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  19. OOoh it was lovely reliving our adventure. I so enjoyed our meeting and do hope you will come back again (with John too if he fancies and island jaunt). It was such fun. I was speaking about it to Mrs Orkney Flowers today. Oh I wish you'd been here today! Glorious weather and sunshine! And NO wind..... Ho Hum..... at least we had some sunshine on your visit :-) Haste ye back as they say in Scotland. PS - I look forward to Part II!

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it, Sian. It's lovely to be able to relive it like this and capture the memories for the future. Yes, the weather is truly glorious here too, though with a bit of an easterly breeze to keep the sky clear of any cloud. It was really warm in the garden this afternoon. :-) Still, despite the bitter wind we did have sunshine last week and not the sleet and snow DH had on the mainland. I'll be back - try stopping me!

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  20. Oh, how wonderful! Isn't it gorgeous there. My boys adored the twin beaches, one coral, one sand. Thanks for bringing back very happy memories - and I'm glad you have your own, now, too!

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    1. It's absolutely glorious, DB. I can well imagine how much fun you and your family had, especially in the summer. Despite the sun it was much to cold to spend time on the beach this visit, though we had great fun doing other things. The beaches will have to be for next time.....:-)

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  21. Well worth the roughish crossing to have such a super visit.
    Lovely photographs, too!

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    1. Thanks, Fly. It was so worth the journey to visit somewhere so special and the above is just the first day! :-)

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  22. What a lovely way to celebrate a birthday. It's great meeting up with some of our huge blogger family isn't it? You had better add me to your list of bloggers to visit after you visit Annie. I think your retirement is going to be busier than you thought!

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    1. It was perfect, Ayak. You were so right about the fun of meeting other bloggers and it looks like I've caught that bug too. :-) As it happens, I've never been to Turkey either, says she speculatively.....

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  23. What a wonderful place. Some small Scottish island holds a great deal of appeal for me as a place to retreat to so I'm jolly envious!

    Such a fantastic way to celebrate a birthday x

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    1. It is quite different from any other place I've visited, Annie. I can easily imagine you there with your knitting and there are plenty of sheep with beautiful fleeces to provide endless supplies of yarn. :-) It was truly a birthday treat to remember.

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