Friday 31 August 2018

Orkney '18 - Barnhouse a housing estate on Orkney

A development worthy of Barrett Homes; this is a discrete arrangement of fifteen houses dating back to 3000 BC. All of this is similar to the posh neighbourhood up the road (Skara Brae). 

Barnhouse is different from Skrara Brae. The houses (what we can see of them now) are free standing. They are placed around a central open area.

Archaeologists see this area divided into ‘manufacturing zones’ the making a pottery, the working of Flint, and shaping of bones and treating of hides. It was an early form of what we now know as the industrial estate. 

It was all abandoned around 206 BC. Then another, larger, structure was constructed on top. This new edifice faces northwest. So the mid summer sunset shines along its central passageway. This is similar to Maeshowe another gem just down the road. So the theory is that the new building (known as structure eight) was for ceremonial rather than dwelling purposes. 

Will any of our current industrial estates, for example the Slough Trading Estate, some 600 acres, be raised to the ground or deserted only to have a ceremonial edifice built on top of it?

Wednesday 29 August 2018

Orkney '18 Thursday: to Skara Brae

For the cruise ships this is the must-do, must-see, ancient site in Orkney. 

Princess Cruises in its online brochure commend its virtues:
‘And most fascinating of all, the Orkney Islands boast the greatest concentration of prehistoric sites in all Europe, including the mysterious Ring of Brodgar and 5,000-year-old Skara Brae’

Because we knew that several big cruise ships were in Kirkwall we arrived at Skara Brae early.

It was, as ever exciting to walk around and imagine what this place had been like.

In the winter of 1850, a severe storm hit Scotland, causing widespread damage and over two hundred deaths. In the Bay of Skaill, the storm stripped the earth from a large irregular knoll known as "Skerrabra".

When the storm cleared, local villagers discovered the outline of a village, consisting of a number of small houses without roofs. No surprise there.

William Watt of Skaill, the local laird, began an amateur excavation of the site. The rest is there for us to see.

Guides talk brashly to their small private tours making extravagant superstitions. ‘Keep off’signs abound.

Monday 27 August 2018

Orkney '18 Wednesday: friends and museums

Our dear friends Richard and Fiona arrived today. 

Before heading over to Stromness to meet them we ventured into Kirkwall. The museum was our destination. It was packed with treasures and sadly on this occasion packed even tighter with tourists. 

We could not move for the cruise ship hordes. Every nation was represented. And as I tried to draw some groove ware pottery, other visitors shoved, stamped in the room, and then quickly decided these delights were not for them, turned left and made room for another intake of cruise ship invaders following in their wake.  

By contrast the museum at Stromness was a calmer place. It was hosting a small display of artefacts from Skara Brae. The whole place was a magnificent collection of bits and bobs relating to the town’s huge maritime heritage, every type of ship’s paraphernalia, a noteworthy collection of stuffed birds and animals. This was, all in all, a proper compendium of amusements and education. 

All in all this is a proper museum.

Saturday 25 August 2018

Orkney '18 to the island of Westray

The island of Westray sits 90 minutes away on the ferry northwest of the mainland Orkney. 

We had been there before. It’s the place to see Puffins at the Castle o'Burrian. This is a cliff face and rock stack that the puffins simply love. 

This year they were more there than you could shake a stick at! We lay on our stomachs, binoculars to hand and watching these fluttering aerobatics and skid landings.  And how they paraded about on their cliff top ledges 

On the west side of the island we found a short walk of 3 1/2 miles, we only did the 1st mile! And reached the delightful 11-century church now more of black and grey slab floor plan. Dedicated to the Holy Cross it was now guarded by the gravestones farmers and fishermen and their families of near village.

 We then the skidded into a flock of Swedish people who were coming to the end of their guided tour of Quoygrew. This is another exciting set of stones, a large site actually established in the 10th century by Vikings and continued as a settlement for farmers and fisherman right up into the 1930s. 

We looked at it all over. And marvelled at how much then maybe still to unearth  on the site.

Friday 24 August 2018

Orkney '18 - a walk with Tim Dean

Monday – Tim Dean 
We are lucky to know Tim Dean. 

Tim Dean has been working in the natural world and sharing wildlife since 1975. He will take you to the best places in Orkney to see the best of the area’s rich natural heritage. 

This is what he did. An email from Tim arrived as we were waiting for a connecting flight at Aberdeen.  His words:

Monday looks like a decent dry day of sunny weather and a light westerly.

How about Little Terns (most northerly colony of UK’s rarest breeding seabird); Oysterplant (Orkney is Britain’s stronghold for a plant only found in the far north); Sand Martin colony; Iron Age promontory fort; wreck of the SS Irene (integral in the Longhope lifeboat disaster of 1969); spectacular cliffscapes and seascapes)?
Dune flora, Sand and Shingle shore flora; heath and wetland flora and plenty of birds?

If any of those ideas appeal we can meet at 10.00 at the Burray end of the 4th (Churchill) barrier – where the comfort station is.

Best wishes and safe travelling,


And this is what we did (all of the above)

Thursday 23 August 2018

Orkney '18 Sunday - sun time

Sunday – sun time

The scene shifters had been at work. The whole island was now rinsed in sunlight from early dawn.

To Orphir, minutes drive from the cottage. 

This was a lively base for Viking noblemen. Their warring and drinking contests were any match for twenty-first century man. These people were sailors, fighters, drinkers and lovers. And, thank goodness, great storytellers.

Then we crossed the island, to Gurness a big fortification of the Neolithic period. This is an Orkney ‘must-see’.  

And we collected our bonus prize from the Heritage Scotland Warden at Gurness: He gave us details of a cairns broch site in South Ronaldsay where, since 2006 archaeologists have been digging for more clues about the working lives of the people who resided there two thousand years ago.

Tuesday 21 August 2018

Orkney '18 Saturday – settling in

The skies were every shade of Farrow and Ball grey as we taxied to the terminal building at Kirkwall Airport.

Hire car collected – check.
Tesco for our food stock-up  - check.
Tourist Office for tide times and to know when the big cruise ships would be in  - check.

All was good at the cottage as expected; we unpacked and ensured the wine was in the fridge, curry planned for supper.

Impromptu jaunt to Nistaben a small village beside Loch Harray. Rain did not keep my sketchbook or me in the car. Grey farms, stone homesteads, now deserted and swathed in nettles and grasses, all defiant against an unreasonable wind. 

We look out across the slate-grey loch, Windsor Blue at the water’s edge. Regaining the car we head home to put that curry on.

Sunday 19 August 2018

Mr Peter Perch and Ross’s loss

Genus Perca, A freshwater game fish belongs to the family Percidae

Fallon’s Angler*, ask me to paint a Perch one three illustrations for a story by Nigel Ling.

I thought I would poke the Perca with a little research.

Peter Perch is blessed with green hues, from dark to lemon, with those dark vertical bars. That red or orange colouring in the tips of his fins completes the look.

Found in ponds, lakes, streams and rivers, perch are sought and caught in a number of different ways using a variety of baits. 

The Perch is not a big fish, most weigh in at around a 1 lb., anything over 2 lb. is a prize catch.


Perch have often formed a vital part of the total weight caught by an angler during a competition.

In 2015 angler Ross Winfield failed to weigh a perch during a competition that cost him a top 5 place.  Unfortunately, he later found a perch that would have tipped the scales, at the bottom of his keep net.


Sunday 5 August 2018

T Rex, big, bad and great for selfies

Taking a selfie with the tyrant lizard king

The Natural History Museum Oxford 

Standing guard, Tyrannosaurus Rex, ready to pounce towers over us.

Apparently most people recognise the 'tyrant lizard king'  as a dinosaur. However some people get confused with so much on display

Here are the things to aid identification: 
1. Dinosaurs were reptiles that lived on land.
2. They did not fly like the pterosaurs, 
3. Or swim like the plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs. 

Their legs were held directly underneath them; 
Other reptiles, like crocodiles and lizards, walk with their legs held to the side of their body. 

Hopefully the key points will be of value during the summer holidays.

And do, if the opportunity occurs, like Noah (yellow jacket) and Sophie, get Mum to grab you a selfie with 'the king'.

Saturday 4 August 2018

Making Music at Pitt Rivers

Banging a drum at Pitt Rivers 

I was again in the world's best museum the Pitt Rivers Oxford
Today it was the trumpets and drums that caught my eye.
There are over nine thousand three hundred and fourteen musical instruments in their collection

Not on display but featured in the catalogue was a trumpet not dissimilar to the ones I was drawing that belonged to a witch doctor in Ghana. Sadly, to my mind, the instrument was confiscated by the local police.
One can only imagine the nature of the good doctor's offence.

Friday 3 August 2018

Delightful Dahlia, Perky Petunia

Having discovered the time-lapse function on my 'hand-held electronic device'
(He's a bit slow you know)
I have had a bit of a play with it.
Here is the film of this painting in the making click here
Where you can see the creation of this painting.

Delightful Dahlia, Perky Petunia

More to follow I think.

Wednesday 1 August 2018

Amsterdam Charm

Good friend and colleague from Microsoft days Debbie van Leeuwen commissioned this watercolour.

A painting of lovely old house when her good friend has a shop. All this by the Leliegracht canal in dear Amsterdam. 

Being inherently inquisitive I poked around for more information in the Wikipedia* vaults.

The canal was build in 1612 . 

Several well known Dutch people lived alongside its banks Jan Jacobsz. Hinlopen, 1626 - 1666, cloth merchant, shipping magnet and art collector. 

The writer Everhardus Johannes Potgieter lived at no. 25.
Aside from his interesting given name I learnt that before moving here in 1821 he  lived with his mum and dad in Zwolle a city in northern Holland. 

At the Zwolle connection is interesting as on several occasions I have changed trains a Zwolle which can be daunting the city has rail connections in eight directions.

*thank you Wikipedia whom I cherish, value and donate.