So on to air. Maybe due to there not being too many mountains or trees one of the things that struck me about Orkney was the big skies.
We did waste many hours – although not sure you can really waste time on holiday if you are doing something you have chosen to do – so on second thoughts we spent a lot of time simply watching the changing cloud formations sweep across the massive canvas. The colours and shapes meant that the easel and paints came out as I sat in front of the big windows trying to capture something of their beauty.
The air was also a place to be claimed, with ancient stones stabbing upwards into it:
Who where the people who heaved and placed the stones that make up the Ring of Brodgar? What purpose did it have, the stones grounded in the earth, placed beside the water of the Stenness lochs, some of its now knarled fingers still pointing up into the clean fresh Orkney air.
The Ring of Brodgar is a beautiful tranquil place, probably best known in Scotland for Billy Connely running around in the buff, because apparently that is what the ancients once did – yeah right. Billy obviously didn’t do his filming on a breezy spring day, for the air that swept through that glen left us with numb ears and cheeks. I am pleased to announce that Hubby kept his clothes on. You can read about the Ring of Brodgar here.
Today there are more wind turbines capturing the rushing air than standing stones reaching up into it in.
While some things reach up into the air rain also showers down through it and in the big Orcadian skies you can see just where the rain is coming from and just who is currently getting wet while you stand in the sun.
Meanwhile each and every day the air was filled with the sound and sight of birds. Around our temporary home it was house sparrows, starlings, mallards, chickens, swifts, herring gulls, the grouse with its early evening call for a mate and a short eared owl. In the fields wagtails, curlews, gaggles of geese, dancing shelducks, colourful partridge, a stranded sparrowhawk and beautiful snowbuntings. Then of course on the coast the sea birds any number and variety of gulls including the fulmars with their blue lumpy beaks. Guillemots and their bridled cousins perched in colonies on the cliffs backs turned against the spray and wind from the sea. Cormorants standing wings stretched out on rocks, or perched high on the crows nest of one of the Churchill barrier ships. Razorbills paired off thinking about the next generation while the turnstones kept busy doing what their name suggests. Not forgetting the cosy eider ducks well camouflaged as if large hard pebbles when on dry land and the Ringed Plovers who are the greatest of the beach camouflage artists. The ever present oyster catches, the cliff climbing crows and sea sprayed hooded crow and of course the puffin which I finally spied as we left the islands. Some of these I never manged to get photos of as I was driving or they flew too fast or stayed out of range of my camera lens, others you will see pictures of over the coming weeks as one of my afternoon photographs, but for now I offer this story of the shags we happened upon.
Where the land meets the sea earth is seen and in the Orkney Isles that can mean both hard jagged cliffs of North Tang:
and cattle, like the young ladies who lived on the farm where we stayed:
along with the chickens that picked for goodies in the earth if we had not thrown them something tasty to pick at already:
Those who have lived off the earth down through the centuries for many years had their own existence buried beneath mounds of earth.
Like Maeshowe you can read about its possible story here. I say possible because what became increasingly clear to us during our stay was the one common denominator between all these neolithic and early sites is that there is no real evidence, only theories, as to what these structures and standing stones were really for. Just how were they used, how did they mange such engineering without modern day tools and why they were abandoned? Maybe we will never know, maybe the more recently found Tomb of the Otters will give us some clues, either confirming current theories or opening up new horizons as to how our ancestors lived and the rich variety of their lives and culture.
The Tomb of the Otters, or Banks Tomb, had remained undisturbed since it was last used and while it has now been opening it still containing layers of human remains between layers of otter scat and clay. It is not just this site however, but also many other sites which still lay beneath mounds of earth all over the islands, some silently declaring their hidden presence by the great mound of earth on otherwise flat lands. You can read about Tomb of the Otters here.
I can’t really pass by the earth element without this picture from the Ring of Brodgar:
there will be more pictures from the UK’s third largest stone ring in a future post but for now it is just this one stone. On the 5th June 1980 this stone earthed a lightning bolt as its energy fractured the ancient stone sentinel. I suppose I maybe should have started with this picture as fire the element from yesterday meets finds the earth.
What will people in 5,000 years time make of Stroma, the now abandoned island in the Pentland Firth technically just south of the Orkney’s and part of Caithness. The last resident left in the early 60′s now only sheep graze and shepherds visit its earth.
Things have been quiet on here since I said I was back, two reasons mainly, firstly I had got into the habit of not blogging, secondly I’ve been on holiday. The later will no doubt get me back in the blog habit, but probably not for a couple of days while I catch up, other than, that is to resume my daily afternoon picture later on today.
Oh and yes we did have the most wonderful holiday. It consisted of lots of sky, birds, wind and history; significant amounts of hail, cliffs, churches and boats; a few visitors centers, lazy days, islands and mishaps; and just one puffin who is hiding in this picture playing ‘Where’s Wally’.
Can’t see him? Well I am not surprised. The puffins spent all their time hiding from us unlike the oysters catchers and fulmars who were ever present. No matter how many cliffs we walked along, no matter how close I got to the edge before Hubby’s – he isn’t keen on heights – worried cries drew me back, no matter how many cliffs I scanned full of black and white razor bills and guillemots in the vain hope that a bright flash would also be spied near the bottom or at the top. No matter how wet we got in the rain or how blinded we were by the sun or how blown about by the wind. No matter how often I turned to the sea in the hope of at least a raft of them in the distance, it was only on the ferry back to the mainland from the Isles of Orkney that this one appeared.
High on the cliffs of the Isle of Switha, out he came to stand there as we headed out into the Pentland Firth and away from him. Like some kind of watch gaurd posted to then tell the rest we had left and they could all now come out, but little did he know my zoom lens would still just about catch him.
There he is, rubbish photo I know but he was just too far away and I was on a moving boat being tossed by the waves and even though the quality is poor I am still keeping it, well at least until I go back and get a better one. If you like your birds then there are some treats in store with far better photographs, but probably not this week as for now it is back to the in-box and washing machine.
I am the good shepherd.
I know my own and my own know me.
The Diocesan Synod was held on Saturday down at the Barony College in glorious Dumfrieshire. Inside it had the theme of Social Responsibility while out in the barns the pregnant ewes were confined with their warning notices for any pregnant human to stay well clear. I could have spent a long time photographing them all, but I didn’t have the time. Also as I didn’t want to spook them I kept my distance and used the zoom, so all I, and consequently you, have is these few portraits. I found myself thinking about the cleansing of the Temple; an inn in Bethlehem; a young boy playing with his sling on a hill-side; a Lamb, a King and a Cross; a boy and his elderly father climbing a hill; Psalm 23; and of course the Good Shepherd. However, with what was going on inside not that far away I also wondered where the goats where for they too are precious in God’s sight.
Well it happened, for the first time for both All Saints and myself there was an Animal Blessing service and what fun it was.
I had no idea how many people might turn up and more to the point how many animals, or what kinds and whether they would get along with each other. The hour before the service was a bit of an anxious time if I am honest. However, the reality was over 40 people turned up – by far the majority were not members of All Saints, in fact not church goers at all. We had 14 dogs, 1 kitten and a hamster in person – or whatever the equivalent of person is in the animal kingdom – and 6 cats, 2 dogs, 3 birds, 4 rabbits and some fish represented by pictures, some pinned up on a board, others on people’s mobile phones.
Helen, Webley her dog, and I had welcomed people outside – fortunately the weather had been kind to us – introducing both pets and humans to each other, although some already knew each other, walking a dog seems to be a great way to get to know people. The service started with Helen welcoming everyone and dealing with the practicalities – bowl of water outside, accidents happen don’t worry about them, just please tell us so we know, and the like – then I introduced the congregation to those pets who were present in spirit through their photographs pinned on a board at the front of the church. Then we prayed giving thanks for all creatures great and small, had a Bible reading before singing some dogs joined in. I did a very brief talk ending with part of a poem by TS Elliot, then we moved on to the blessings. Firstly for all creatures, including working animals, livestock and the creature we aren’t too keen on. A prayer for those who looks after animals, vets, those who work with animals and animals in danger, concluding with a thanksgiving for pets no longer with us. Then the owners present were blessed – much to some’s surprise and delight, then a general blessing for all the pets present and their in picture form followed by a dismissal, but it wasn’t over, oh no it was just beginning.
I had promised that the service would be short – we had decided to keep it to 15 minutes – but at the beginning of the blessings had promised that I was happy to offer individual blessings to any pet present. But first there was a bit of a mad scramble, the photographer from the local press had turned up and we gathered all the pets together including a rather anxious kitten and hamster.
I hadn’t really thought about how the individual blessings were going to happen and didn’t really know how many owners would take up the offer. Well to my surprise they all wanted their pets blessed. Remember the majority of these people never step foot in a church usually yet they wanted God’s blessing for their pets, what can we learn from that? Before I knew it I was crawling about the floor getting covered in hairs and wet from licks as labradors, a pug, a wippet and every other animal there was blessed. Some got prayers too – “Tika is scared of water do would it be alright to pray about that?”, I was asked, “Well it wont do any harm”, was my reply as I laid my hands on her head and gazed into her brown eyes. While Poppy – the three legs referred to in the title of this post – is rather timid so some bravery was asked for her along with her blessing. I have no idea if Tika is still scared of water, or if Poppy now has the bravery of a lion, but apparently Rita kitten and Lucy pussy – two of the cats who photographs were pinned on the board and who were introduced as the house mates who couldn’t be left in the same room are reported to be getting on really well this morning.
Yes it was hard work and required a lot of preparation, but it was fun, proved to be a great bit of outreach, and was well worth doing. I would recommend you try it for yourself and if needed I will offer any help I can.