Tuesday 31 March 2015

Mellow yellow

Here's the third and final blogpost of our trip to Graemsay. Having reached the modern pier by walking along the shore, we (Sian, Our Lass and I) began the return journey to Sandside via the tarmac'd road.

Immediately behind the pier head building, a small embankment was looking splendid, draped with a delicate tapestry of Primroses.

On the opposite side of the building, next to a pallet of bottled water (a remnant of the recent shenanigans required when the fresh water supply to the island was lost), was a novel hose reel. Though not novel as in 'new'. In the distance is the Northern Lighthouse Board ship, Pharos.

Walking back along the road, we came to the remains of a boat shed, which was once used for storing sails.

There was some ancient winding gear alongside it, presumably for hauling the boats out of the water. So not a mangle, as I first thought!

As we climbed a hill, my companions were deep in conversation, so I took the opportunity to frolic on the grass verge amongst the many daffodils. After a long, dark Winter, Orcadian verges take on a rather yellow hue come Spring. Coltsfoot and Lesser Celandine begin the show, but are soon outshone by a host of golden daffodils. Someone should write a poem about that.

Once over the crest of the hill, we could see all the way to lunch. I think it's fair to say that even the most panoramic scenery is given an added frisson with the imminent possibility of a tasty meal, but maybe that's just me.

And, no, that isn't a picnic arriving in the tractor bucket!

Out in the Sound, the Pharos was carrying out maintenance on a navigation buoy. Later in the day, as we returned to the Mainland, we had a closer look at the ship, berthed in Stromness harbour.

Many thanks to Sian for a grand day, her wonderful hospitality and the interesting littoral adventure.

Monday 30 March 2015

The rocky path to Gangsti pier

You will recall, dear long-suffering reader, that Our Lass and I had journeyed far across the sea to Graemsay, on a day trip to visit Sian of 'Life on a Small Island'.

After coffee and cake (natch!), we wandered onto the beach and spent the remainder of the time before lunch walking along the rocky shore between the piers of Sandside and Gangsti. I guess you could call it a 'piers morgen'.

At Sandside, the beach on the eastern side of the old pier is comprised of mainly shell and coral. As opposed to the western side which is all sand, but we weren't headed in that direction.

We set off along the beach which, like many in Orkney, consists of a series of gentle steps in the beds of flagstones. Within the many layers, tiny features have been fossilised in time, as the sediments have built up and been condensed over millions of years.

A seabed of wave ripples.

Mud cracks.

Bits of fish bone.

Possibly mud cracks formed under different circumstances?

Dunno, not a clue. 

Forcing its way up through a fissure between the sedimentary layers, a metamorphic seam of something... geology's not my strong suit, is it?

We passed below Hoy High Light...

and eventually reached the current pier (where we had disembarked earlier). To one side of the pier is a small structure, which Sian informed us was the hut where the explosives were stored that were used during the construction of the pier. And on one side of that is an even smaller structure where the detonators were kept.

You can't be too careful when it comes to big bangs!

Sunday 29 March 2015

A sea journey

Recently, Our Lass and I spent a day on the small island of Graemsay, in the company of an island resident and fellow blogger Sian of Life on a Small Island. I can report that Sian's blog title does not contravene the Trade Descriptions Act.

Firstly though, we had to make the short 45 minute crossing from Stromness, via Hoy.

As well as the island's nominative geography, our sea-going transport was the eponymously-named ferry...


Upon leaving Stromness harbour, there is always a fantastic view of the waterfront, which was once the town's 'Main Street', no pun intended.

As the harbour falls astern, the ferry sails past the Ness and out into Hoy Sound.

Here, the Northlink ferry, Hamnavoe, is approaching Stromness, with the hills of North Hoy in the background. It was quite... er... interesting, when our wee craft had to negotiate the wake of the much larger vessel!

Tantalisingly, the route took us past our final destination, but there's some way to go yet before we can sample coffee and cake at Chez Sian. Residential note: it's not the big pointy one, but one of the shorter dwellings.

Passing the Hoy Low Light, we then entered Burra Sound, on the journey to the small port of Moaness in North Hoy.

After a brief stop to disgorge a crowd of one, the ferry carried on across Burra Sound, sailing around the southern end of Graemsay and still giving grand views of the Hoy hills.

Finally, after entering Clestrain Sound, the little pier of Gramesay came into view, with its waiting chauffeuse-driven limousine.

Yep, there's Hoy High Light again, but from the other side, so almost a complete circumnavigation of Graemsay.

Saturday 28 March 2015

To the victor the spoils

Whilst at work today, I received a phone call from Our Lass. In what I could only describe as a highly excitable state, she informed me that we had a Snipe actually IN the garden. Not over the road, not in the neighbouring paddock, not flying overhead, but in the garden. Wowser!

After so many wadery close calls during the last year, it's good to finally have the garden (ok, wilderness) christened by The Bill. It's just a shame I wasn't there, too :o(

When I finally returned home, Our Lass dropped the next bombshell... she had caught the moment on camera for posterity. My camera!

Just look at that cute russet-coloured tail... and at the business end, a view of one of the nostrils or nares. 

My only contribution to this whole endeavour was cleaning the windows last week.

Thursday 26 March 2015

The smile in the sky

Following last week's heavenly goings-on with the Northern Lights and the solar eclipse, I thought that the sky might take a back seat for a while, but this week I had one of those 'right place, right time' moments.

Working outside on a day of bright sunny intervals and isolated wintry showers meant that an eye had to be kept on the weather. On the third visit of the day, I happened to be on the ground whilst my colleague was up a ladder. This meant that, fortuitously, I was looking skywards at the appropriate moment to spot a smile in the sky.

It was directly overhead, which confused me (it doesn't take much, admittedly), so I reasoned that it probably wasn't a rainbow.

It wasn't off to one side of the sun, or compact enough in shape to be a sundog.

In fact, the sun is not in this image, as it was effectively beyond the bottom of the photograph. Taking the curve of the phenomenon into account, this meant that the sun wasn't the point upon which it was centred. So not a halo around the sun, either. Curiouser still!

Back home, after work, I rummaged through various sky and cloud books, to find that the most likely culprit was a circumzenithal arc.

This is an optical phenomenon centred on the zenith, but on the side nearest the sun.

And I was really lucky to see it as, five minutes beforehand, we had been putting in a new cable run and I had been scrabbling about in the dark space underneath a house.

Friday 20 March 2015

Meteorology 0 Astronomy 1 (Spring Equinox Cup, second leg)

To continue the footballing analogy, "Match abandoned at half time during the second leg, due to bad weather." But that doesn't really tell the whole story...

Friday 20th March 2015, the day of the solar eclipse, dawned cloudy. I awoke at 06.45 and confirmed my worst fears when I retracted the kitchen window blind. By 07.45, it was raining, with the only prospect of hope being a strong breeze that might move the clouds on.

Meantime, I prepared what I could for any possible safe viewing opportunities by digging out my solar specs from under an astronomical 16 years worth of detritus. Then, I carefully bungee-ed my bins to a tripod and taped over one of the 'oculars', to allow for a single image should the Fates decree.

At 08.25, shortly before the eclipse was due to begin, a chunk of blue sky hove into sight and I attempted to capture a test image of the Sun using the solar specs and a mobile phone.

The results weren't that great, but a whole lot better than this shot of a less-than-heavenly body...

As the Moon began to encroach upon the disc of the Sun, I rushed to find a suitable place to project the binocular image, ending up using the study window and the guest bedroom door.

As wispy clouds threatened to spoil the show, their shadows on the face of the Sun made it look as though the wooden door was smouldering! [Message to Our Lass: If you're reading this, pet, it wasn't!]

As the Moon continued to obscure more and more of the Sun, there were several hasty realignments of apparatus, progressively blocking the doorway to the study, potentially risking damaged optics or a slipped disc.

By now, the projected image was progressing along the corridor, so the image became slightly distorted. At the maximum coverage for this latitude, approximately 97% of totality, some colour effects (presumably from the binocular lenses) were noted.


At this point, the wet weather returned with a vengeance and didn't clear up again until after the eclipse had ended.

Well, we fared much better than some folk, so no complaints from me. And there's less than 12 hours to go until it is officially Spring. Yay!

Thursday 19 March 2015

Astronomy 0 Meteorology 1 (Spring Equinox Cup, first leg)

This is a big sky week in Orkney (other locations are available), with a partial solar eclipse booked in for Friday morning and a spectacular display of the Aurora borealis as a taster on the preceding nights.

I wish... or perhaps, eyewash.

On Tuesday afternoon, the signs were not good...

That dark band below the Sun isn't Hoy, it's a fog bank.

So, come the evening, when the Lancaster University AuroraWatch UK's site was lit up like a Christmas Tree all night, the same couldn't be said for many parts of Orkney.

In fact, all I managed of a very spectacular show, was this paltry effort, looking straight up where the cloud was thinnest.

Yep, the aurora was overhead and my camera does still put that weird ripple effect onto the centre of the image.

The following morning, as we left the house early on our way to the airport, things hadn't really improved...

However, as the day wore on, it turned into something of a corker. Lots of sunshine and light winds allowing Spring cleaning to kick in: cars washed and cleaned; house windows cleaned; loads of washing dried on the line and the house well and truly aired.

Sadly, come late afternoon again, the view from the ironing board was picturesque but unpromising for the evening ahead.

Still puzzled by my Canon's ability to drop a pebble into my night shots, I dug out Our Lass's Nikon and pondered how to drive the thing. It was much more difficult than the transition from, say, right hand drive and manual, to left hand drive and automatic. Or perhaps I'm just hard of thinking? But it would be interesting to find out whether it was my tripod or myself that was the problem, rather than the camera.

Anyway, the Aurorawatch UK site was again rather exciting, so I thought it worth a go.

Now, we do suffer from a little light pollution when looking northwards. There's the airport for a start, plus a new-ish wind turbine which is fitted with a nice rosy navigation beacon.

Lovely reflection off the clouds, eh?

Yeah, clouds. Fiddlesticks! But at least there's no ripples in the centre of the image, so some progress, if only Canon-condemning progress.

So here's the best image of the evening, showing something of a green tinge between the breaks in the clouds. Yay!

But you don't want to know what the weather forecast's like for Friday morning...