Friday 29 May 2020

Corenvirons-20, Part 7

The two images below were used on a previous post, but are coming in handy again for a most fortuitous Corenvirons-20 outing. In fact, outing is exactly the wrong word, as I didn't have to leave the sofa for this one, nor even look out of the window. Please allow me to explain. Towards the top right hand corner of the 1882 map can be seen a property called Hestakelda, although there have been various spellings of this name over the years, with the current version being Hestakelday. The name derives from old Norse hesta meaning 'horse' and kelda meaning 'well'.

It is a listed building, see here for the designation in 1999, when the property was a ruin. Here is the description from that page:

Late 18th-early 19th century with later alterations. 2-storey, asymmetrical crowstepped gabled 3-bay house (now derelict) with single bay lean-to projection to W gable and to N wall; detached 2-bay single storey rectangular-plan barn/byre at right angles to rear (N) forming L-plan complex; rectangular-plan store with circular-plan kiln to N gable sited to W of L-plan complex. Harl-pointed roughly coursed rubble; rough long and short quoins to main house.
S (PRINCIPAL) ELEVATION: window offset to left of centre at ground. Window in bay to outer right; small window at 1st floor above. Boarded door to left at ground. Boarded door in lean-to projection to outer left.
N (REAR) ELEVATION: window offset to right in lean-to projection to right of wall. Blank wall to left.
E (SIDE) ELEVATION: small window (blocked) at ground in bay to right of centre; window at 1st floor in bay to left; gablehead stack above. Wide, square-headed opening to lean-to projection set back to outer right.
W (SIDE) ELEVATION: blank lean-to wall spanning elevation at ground; blank gablehead above.
Single timber framed window remains. Corrugated-iron roof to W end; old Orkney grey slate with Caithness stone easing course to E end; Caithness stone tiles to lean-to projections; replacement cement skews to centre; central corniced rubble ridge stack; gablehead stack to E end.
INTERIOR: ruinous state. Timber framed doorways; timber staircase (collapsed) at W end; floors divided by timber joists and boards; large central fireplace remains with fixed cast-iron pot rack and chins; large stone chimney breast to fireplace at E end; fireplace with timber framed press to left at 1st floor to E end; timber boards to canted ceiling. Finely laid transverse cobbled floor to W end lean-to projection (now hay store).
BARN/BYRE: harl-pointed rubble 2-bay barn/byre; evenly disposed boarded door in each bay to E (principal) elevation; graded Caithness stone tiled roof with small rooflights to E pitch; stone ridge; replacement concrete skews.
STORE AND KILN: harl-pointed rubble rectangular-plan store and kiln built on ground falling to E. Centred boarded door to W elevation; boarded door, offset to right to E elevation; blank gabled S elevation; circular-plan, bellied kiln to W. Purple Welsh slate with Caithness stone tiled easing course; stone ridge (some sections replaced). INTERIOR: well preserved typical store and kiln; exposed timber rafters and tie beams; low square-plan peat store to left of kiln to W end; typical rectangular kiln entrance, set high above floor-level fire space; small fuel feed hole to fire to right of kiln entrance; narrow stone ledge set low in kiln to accommodate timber drying floor (now missing); small circular smoke hole/chimney at top of kiln.
The house recently featured in an episode of 'Scotland's Home of the Year' on BBC Scotland, along with another Orcadian home and a property in Shetland, see between 8.49 and 15.57. 

After the programme was aired, the owners posted a Thank You to well-wishers (unintended pun) on social media, including some photos of what the house looked like when they bought it.

Corenvirons-20 data

Target: Hestakelday
Location: HY495020
Distance from Tense Towers (as the dragon flies): 768m
Hazards: At worst, temporarily losing the tv remote?
Mission accomplished?: Not by me, all credit to Emma and Robbie
Comments: I hope that the iPlayer link works.

Sunday 24 May 2020

60 days' worth of distance dug

Lockdown has driven a coach and horses through the phrase "... when I can get around to doing it." As someone who doesn't really enjoy DIY projects, I need a long run up, as it were, to make a start on any such task. And a weekend has never been time enough.

Until now.

Readers who have not qualified for time off for good behaviour may recall that, in 2017, our drying pole had to be moved to make way for Our Lass's new shed.

In 2017, a rough footprint of the shed location serves as an eviction notice for the drying pole. Note, also, the carpet and tyres which are suppressing weeds in the new location for the drying area. And note, too, the plastic silage wrap and other tyres which is the location for either raised beds, a veg plot, a greenhouse or a polytunnel.

Also in 2017, the shed was duly installed by the local company who built it.

Fast forward to 2020, and after three years, the drying pole is finally re-positioned, although the hard-standing is not yet done. However, this is where the lovely crop of Daisies was for Flora Tensensis!

I know! Allow me to metaphorically waft smelling salts beneath your nostrils.

So, what happened next on the runaway train of Old Tense's lockdown you may be wondering? Well, those three years weren't wasted, oh no! After more than a thousand days of thinking, we can say goodbye to the greenhouse, cheerio to the raised beds and auf wiedersehen to the polytunnel.

The tyres were stacked out of the way, the plastic silage wrap was neatly folded up and the plot roughly dug over to make a veg patch. The dry weather meant that the large lumps of soil immediately set like concrete, but I was ready with an answer for that conundrum.

It was time to create a pond at Tense Towers. Hey, it's only been six years.

I was quite keen to use the only flat bit of the garden for this purpose, that pale bit over towards the oil tank, which just happens to be right by the kitchen window. I was out-voted, and so had to hoick the mower back out and give another rectangle a severe crew cut.

The rough idea was to pave three sides, dig out several shelves and have a gentle slope back up to a boggy area. The hole would be about 20' long by 8' wide and maybe 2' deep.

The turf was stripped off and used to make one side of a compost heap, as due to Covid restrictions, I can't take the grass cuttings to the local tip.

My cunning plan for the veg patch (for which Our Lass had already bought seed potatoes and onion sets, no pressure!) was to excavate the first layer of decent soil from the pond location, and re-distribute it over the patch as a well-weeded and de-stoned mulch.

It seemed to (and did) take forever, but eventually I was satisfied that the veg would stand a chance, and I could begin worrying about the pond again. As an aside, you might notice that the drying area has begun taking shape too. In fact, there were so many heaps of small stones and rubble laid about the place (dug up from the garden) that, after laying some weed suppressant material, I was able to hardcore the base.



Here it is!

But I digress.

Next, I marked out the rough locations of the shelves/steps down and the bottom of the slope. These were going to be a bit more free-form than the graph paper drawing, but I wasn't sure what I would encounter as I dug down... drains, electricity main, telephone cable etc. As it turned out, what I encountered at about 20" was compacted rubble, probably of a natural, rather than the builders', variety.

My intention is to construct the slope with the excavations from the 'deep' end, when I get around to de-stoning it. Yes, things have paused again, for a couple of reasons, one of which was this...

and the other is this...

Yes, the chippings arrived to finish off the drying area and also add a layer to the car park hard-standing. Whilst the former is done, the latter is still a work in progress.

No, it's not the angle of the photograph, or the way you're sitting, the pole is off-centre. Free-form, remember?

So, whilst I can't crack on with my dragonfly habitat just yet, at least I can order in a few things. I have enquired about pond planting, pondered (but not yet ordered) the liner, and had two tonnes of sand delivered.

To be continued...

Saturday 23 May 2020

Flora Tensensis 20.05.23

As the Spring season progresses towards Summer (and I write this during a torrential rain shower and blustery winds), the flora in the Tense Towers garden is slowly changing. The Lesser Celandines are no more than patches of faded yellowing leaves in the lawn, the Dandelions have got really bad lockdown haircuts and the Red Campions are looking thuggish. Through all this time, there's been a small blue flower in the border, the lawn and the gravelled areas. I have tried repeatedly to take decent photographs of it, initially to confirm its identity and then, hopefully, to post here. But it has been in vain, either through my incompetence, windy weather or the fact that the flowers are so tiny and such a delicate shade of blue and white that the photos never seem quite right.

Fortunately, as the plant spreads and grows, the clumps themselves become photogenic, so that is where we'll start, with a kerb's eye view of the little love, framed by Dandelions and grasses.

And here is a close-up of one of those tiny flowers, which instantly says 'Speedwell' to me, but which one?

Recourse to various ID guides left me just as baffled, mainly because I don't know enough about plant anatomy to understand all the terms being used. And there are a large number of different speedwells, even in Orkney there's over a dozen. So, inevitably, I turned to social media and posted my photos to the local Wildflower group, which quite swiftly gave me the answer as Thyme-leaved Speedwell Veronica serpyllifolia.

This week, whilst mowing the lawn, I noticed a small clump of another plant, and studiously navigated around it so that I could return later, with hopes of crisp images rather sharp blades. Again the flowers were tiny, this time white, with five deeply-notched petals.

The flower shape was vaguely Stitchwort-y, I thought, which helped lead me through the ID books from Stitchworts to Chickweeds to Mouse-ears on successive pages. My best guess is Common Mouse-ear Cerastium fontanum, which is the most likely I suppose, but I'm told that it grows in many habitats which results in much variation.

In other news, the buttercups are just coming into flower... there's an abundance of species of those too.

Border post

One morning in the week, I was pottering about outside, ostensibly waiting for a delivery of two tonnes of sand, but in reality having a thoroughly interesting time in Our Lass's flower border. This garden feature, hunkered down from westerly winds behind a ramshackle dry stone wall, is a mix of self-seeded wild flowers (known in some circles as 'weeds') and more traditional herbaceous fare.

The air was still, the sun would occasionally appear from behind the clouds and there was a definite hint of what could be called warmth. A few hardy insects were abroad in the form of hoverflies, fever flies and dung flies, flitting about between blooms, but the most noticeable presence was the buzzing of bees. I took the opportunity to harvest some stalks of rhubarb as I planned to bake a cake later in the day, when the weather was likely to be less benign. 

Slowly but surely, as all thoughts of sand and Covid receded from my mind, I began to look closer at the burgeoning life of the border. None of the bumblebees were of the black, white and yellow persuasion, these were all variations of ginger. This year has seen a proliferation of the Ajuga reptans (Bugle) along the edges of the border, and Carder Bees were busy on its flowers. I struggle to distinguish between the two species we have in Orkney, but I think I saw both that morning, the paler Common Carder and the much more gingery Moss Carder. On some ornamental Knapweed, I spotted the holy grail of Orkney bumbles, a rare Great Yellow Bumblebee, a once widespread species throughout the UK which is now limited to the far north.

Great Yellow Bumblebee

Moss Carder Bumblebee
Dandelions are still providing both nectar and pollen for the insects, but more and more of their numerous 'clocks' are going supernova to seed new life into the galaxy of our garden.

A small dash of red caught my eye, which looked both unusual and familiar. I had to take a moment to work out what I was seeing.

It's a Daisy flower, where the petals have been removed, possibly by House Sparrows or Linnets so that they can feed on the seeds.

After several minutes wandering up and down, marvelling at the wildlife on our doorstep, my eyes fell upon a vivid scene so vibrant that I wasn't sure why it had taken me so long to notice it. The lush green and blushing pink of a Red Campion was joined by the klaxon yellow and black of a wasp.

After much referring to an ID book, searching on the internet and asking local experts, the consensus is that this is a Tree Wasp. We don't see many wasps around Tense Towers, so it was wonderful to spend some appropriately socially-distanced time with this gorgeous creature.

Tuesday 19 May 2020

Tongue, fluff and legs

T'other evening, after being cooped up for most of the day due to bad weather, we wandered out for a stroll. As we rounded a bend in the road, I spotted a Brown Hare in the field margin of the pasture below us. It wasn't too far away, so I fumbled to retrieve my camera from a pocket of my waterproofs and boot it up into movie mode and with full zoom. This took a few seconds and all of my attention, so I was blithely unaware that the hare was still headed towards us. I have no idea what the hare's excuse was, but I raised the camera and my eyes just as it appeared on the other side of the fence from us. The scene must've been comedy gold for anyone watching, as the hare did a U-turn and headed back to where I'd first seen it, whilst I frantically tried to zoom out the camera lens, then equally frantically tried to zoom in again as the hare offski'd. The resulting movie was out of focus and it skewed wildly in all directions, but I was able to salvage this still from it, of a startled creature sticking its tongue out (and it wasn't me). I'm guessing the hare was checking olfactory input, possibly even the lagomorph equivalent of the flehmen response? Perhaps it was wearing the wrong contact lenses.

Down by the shore, the pools in the flooded fields are turning into muddy scrapes, of the sort beloved by waders. Dunlin are still passing through in small flocks, headed to breeding grounds further north.

Just after we had seen the Dunlin, we spotted another Brown Hare, not so close this time, but still somewhat distracted and paying us no heed. It was obviously following a scent trail, so perhaps one of the local lady hares is coming into season again, and driving all the boys wild.

Another evening, another stroll, same route. Another Dunlin!

Take your time with the next photo, It's of a Lapwing. Quite a small one. I've zoomed in and cropped the image to help. Our Lass spotted it and managed to talk me on to it, but every time I blinked I lost it again. Absolutely brilliant camouflage when stationary.

I struggle to approach the local Reed Buntings. They are very camera shy. This male was quite a ways a way, but the light was good and the vegetation behind it added something to the image.

Then, as we walked up the hill, gazing now and again into the wet flushes of some rough pasture, a Redshank came and landed on a fence post beside us. We figured that it might have fledged young nearby too, and was in full attention-seeking mode to deflect our senses away from any thoughts of Redshank chick for tea. As if!


Thursday 14 May 2020

Two walks?!

I had waited in for a delivery for over a day and a half, with no sign or word of a change of plan. Whilst I had plenty of admin to keep me occupied and fend off cabin fever, I was beginning to get a little fractious. A phone call to the firm in question revealed that, indeed, my wait had been fruitless, as the delivery was now going to be in a few days' time instead. Gah!

Oh well, as there's been a slight relaxation of the lockdown rules, and all the more slight here in Scotland, I did have the option of more than one walk per day. So, mid afternoon, I pottered around the usual kirk loop, wrapped up against the wintry wind, and then after our evening meal, I went round again with Our Lass.

In a field beside the Tieve Road, three Brown Hares were sat. After watching their behaviour for a while, I realised that the one on the right was a female, the centre one was a male and her prospective mate, whilst the one on the left was another male, an interloper.

There was plenty of mate-guarding happening, and for good reason!

Down by the shore, a pair of Hooded Crows were trying to break open shellfish. I'm afraid my film of their antics is very unsteady and blustery, but here's a short clip, followed by stills from a different part of the video.

In the bay, there was a pair of terns, but they were some way off and sat with their backs to me, so I couldn't ID them beyond 'terns'.

Flying along the strand line, hoovering up insects above the piles of seaweed was a small flock of hirundines. They were mostly Swallows, but I managed to spot at least one Sand Martin, my first of the year.

Over in the pastures, the usual suspects were foraging, and I couldn't resist yet more photos of Wheatear and Lapwing.

Then, later in the evening, during the walk with Our Lass, the hares by the Tieve Road were sat in some lovely light, and a bit nearer too. Yay!