Saturday, 27 August 2011

Home Alone...

Boo Hoo, poor me, life sucks, blah blah blah....

I'm currently home alone, out of action -still-  wondering why on earth I decide to have a vasectomy and hoping the antibiotics kick in soon as I want to be back at work, on my feet and sleeping would be nice.

For all I've had my 'poor me' moments, life's not bad really. This too will pass and I'll soon be back on form.

One benefit of it has been a reminder that I'm so glad I don't have a TV. It's been bad enough being sucked into watching hours of fluff on the computer. Even having the chance to be very selective with myriad of 'interesting' things to watch on On Demand channels and YouTube is driving me mad. Only so much reading, TV and sofa a guy can take.

Luckily, after the resentment of captivity I'm now seeing it as an opportunity to sit (or lie) zazen more, listen to Dharma talks and reflect on things. Also I'm getting a damn good rest. 

In The Litany of the Great Compassionate One there's a section I always find very empowering:

                            Thou hast a weapon within Thine hand, hail!
                            Thou hast the Wheel within thine hand, hail!
                            Thou who hast the lotus, hail!

We have the 'facilities' to choose how or if we react to things, to stop, and live in the present rather than focussing on what could or should be. Not that it's always easy or an easy choice!

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Da Big Bannock Is GO!

Well it was for everyone apart from me who was left home -not so much licking his wounds- after 'the snip' on friday. That was an epic in itself which left me hanging around for hours to starve after they decided it would be better for all concerned if I had a general anaesthetic rather than a local. I was having a nice dream when they woke me up anyway and the staff were great.

So while I sulked in bed with my bag of frozen peas Clare, Beren and friends headed nort for Da Big Bannock 2011 in aid of Cancer Research UK with a Thunder Birds theme to it and a tropical flavoured big bannock.

For once it was a sunny day, to start with, and Beren enjoyed seeing the various mock ups of Thunder Birds and their vehicles. Thunder Birds 2 ( a dressed up quad bike and trailer) was giving off road rides round some of the moor. The kids thought it was awesome and the best fun ever; Clare thought it was terrifying and her life was in danger!

Here's part of the course...

Soon after they watched the bannock been made in a large metal tray with 'sterilised' shovels, flour, milk, pineapple juice and chunks before it was ceremoniously paraded to the brick over where it cooked for around an hour. Meanwhile two manly teams had a race to churn, what was by all accounts, pretty tasty butter. The odd 'tropical' bannock, complete with fresh churned butter got the thumbs up from Clare, but she never brought the invalid some home, boo hoo...

Along with the tropical bannock came the tropical monsoon, well it is Shetland and it can't stay sunny for ever. A bit of rain couldn't stop the fun though and it was soon time for the merry tiller race. 

Here's a fine specimen of a past contender complete in boiler suit and yellow dunlops.

It's an extreme off road rotavator course of moorland bog, hills and streams with the odd fire hose to contend with and obligatory pit stops for drams and cans of sweetheart stout.

All I can do now is hope that I get up there next year to enjoy the fun and say a thanks to all who made it the great day it was for those visiting.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

A beautiful evening's fishing

I had a nice surprise yesterday when a friend of mine dropped me a line to see if I fancied going out fishing for some mackerel on the evening. It was a beautiful day with little sea, so yeh, I was over the moon at the prospect.

After work he picked me up and we headed for Whiteness where the little 14 foot Orkney boat is moored. The only problem with the fine condtions was the midges were out in force and terrible as we loaded gear on to the skiff to get out to the boat. It was a real relief to get out on the water and away from them and soon we were motoring down Stromness Voe, scouting for otter and seeing the odd fish jumping.

Once out of the voe past Jackville we headed west and settled on a spot just south of North Havra. As look would have it 20 yards from the boat the water started to boil with mackerel and our lines could hardly get in the water before we were pulling them out again and again fully loaded with the shimmering fish. I've never hit a shoal like that before and in no time we'd got more than enough mackerel for both us and the boatowner.

Here's an otter enjoying a local mackerel a while back in Scalloway...

The rest of the trip was spent gutting them and feeding the gulls and bonxies before enjoying the run back up the voe in the fantastic evening with the sun setting over the hills.

Unfortunately, we then had to brave the dreaded midgies to get all ashore. Even my friend's dog was being driven mad by them.

It's another stunner of a day here today, surely the best of the year, so after a dinner of our fresh mackerel we'll get out and about tonight after work to make the most of another wonderful evening.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

My first sour dough loaf...

In the beginning there was flour, water, a bit of natural yoghurt and a few raisins. Out of this came Margo, our own pet yeast in an old mayonnaise jar...

Not so pretty is she really? But give it a few days for her to grow, add some more flour, water, honey, salt and oil. Put in a little elbow grease and a bit of time and here's her first baby.

I may be made this mix a bit on the wet side, but it seems with sour dough it 's a bit more of an art than a science. Anyway the out come was a lovely tasting textured loaf with a nice chewy crust, just a bit more spread out than I'm used to.

The remainder of Margo has gone back into gestation with more flour and water added. The remainder of this loaf is tempting us all beyond belief and had a hearty thumbs up from Clare and Beren. I've got to say it's the tastiest loaf I've made and adding a couple of our own poached eggs to it later will be fantastic.

I'll start off a 'sponge' later tonight and then in the morning be ready to roll for sour dough loaf mk 2...

Friday, 12 August 2011

Holm Field on the Clift Hills

Summers back! We seem to be having 4 seasons in a week at the moment, but judging by the colour of my bonce it's definitely summer today, accompanied of course by a stiff breeze.

It's the last day of my summer holidays and I was determined to get out, so I decided on a visit to The Clift Hills that run a fair way along the western side of southern mainland. They're quite imposing from Scalloway and Burra, but luckily you can get part of the way up to some of them from the east coast of Shetland. So, today I drove down to Cunningsburgh and up through Blett to park up and begin my trek up to Holm Field via Scroo with thoughts of possibly getting over to Royal Field.

After leaving the peat track it was just a case of beating up the hill and following sheep tracks ever upwards, whilst working round the dissected peat hags like I would imagine you wind around crevasses in a glacier. I'm glad I'd brought my trekking poles, life's a lot easier with them on that sort of ground.

There were still some Bonxies swooping about in parts, but I've never found them as concerning as others seem to, their swoops are great for photos too.

Looking south from Scroo. It was pretty windy up top, it'll be a shame to see a couple of wind turbines up here that a local family plan to erect.

It was then down in to bog hopping again in the saddle between Scroo and Holm Field followed by another trek up to come out at the top.

Looking south. South Havra to the right of the cairn.

And a closer view.

On nearing the summit a mountain hare had been teasing me, by waiting until I'd got the camera out then scarpering. Eventually I got it; my first mountain hare photo, though not great.

East and West Burra, South Havra and peeking in on the far right Foula.

Papil with the mysterious Foula in the distance.

Looking north...

Sitting for a drink of both scenery and liquid I noticed some yummy looking black berries.  I've not come across any moorland berries to munch on up on Shetland before, odd as back home we have loads of bilberries over the moors. These are crow berries and very nice indeed. Ironically I opened the Shetland Times to see an article about how it's a good year for them. Well there weren't that many, I'd hate to be trying to get enough for a pie!

It was time to be heading back now, Royl Field was tempting me across the valley, but to be honest I was pretty shattered and had an appointment with Clare for lunch in Flames back in Lerwick. So of I set down and around the hills to the car and into town to pick up Clare. If the weather holds we're off to Maywick beach for a picnic this evening. Fingers crossed!

As for the weekend... well there's Walls Show tomorrow. On Sunday it's Trondra Rowing Regatta (though oddly rowing from Scalloway Marina). I'll be rowing with the vets for that, may be even the in the open too if I'm unlucky. It'll certainly be a shock to the system as I've not been out for some time although I've been managing to keep the gym up.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Sour Doughs and Beer Barms

For a while  I've made my own bread on and off; it's so much nicer than shop bought bread and I also enjoy the process. I just happened to catch part of a programme on BBC Radio 4 the other day talking about different yeasts for bread and beer making and the difference in tastes they can impart. Intrigued I listened again to the Food Programme on iplayer

It was a fascinating programme. I had no idea how much difference different yeast can make to the taste colour and texture of breads, never mind beers. 

I've always just used the dried yeast from the shop for bread, but I've had friends in the past who made basic sour dough bread, so, inspired by the food programme, I'm giving it ago. Once I've got my pet sour dough friend happily growing away I hope to progress to make a beer barm bread with even more yummy flavours. I think a trip to Valhalla Breweries might be in order to get the necessary wort for starting the beer barm. Could be the start of something interesting with bere meal yeast bread.

So anyway I've now got 'Margo' in a big glass jar (spoon of natural yoghurt, a few raisins a cup of flour and a cup of warm water) sitting on the top shelf in the kitchen waiting for her to come to life over the next few days like some Frankenstinian experiment  Mwahahahaaaaaa!!!!

Watch this space...

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Symbister, East Burra

There's a lot of places up in Shetland with the same name, it can get confusing at times, but Symbister on East Burra has a unique loveliness.

I wandered out there today just as the sun was starting to get some heat through. I had intended to go out to the end of Houss Ness and investigate the caves and arches there, but I got waylaid at the remains of the farm stead at Symbister and dozed in the sun.

I assume it was still a bit foggy on the East side of Shetland as the clouds were hanging over the Clift Hills across Clift Sound.

Here's Symbister and The Houb (bay) looking north towards Bridge End

The mushroom to at the right of the photo above reminded me of the 'Mermaids Tables' we get carved out of rock on the coast back 'home'.

Clift Hills in the distance and burnt mound in the foreground. There are a few around here. Mounds of old discarded cooking stones. The stones were heated in a fire and then dropped into pots to heat water and cook. When they broke up they were just tossed to form the burnt mounds common on Shetland.

An Arctic Skua was around about and harassed by the few remaining terns from time to time.

Looking south back across The Houb to the remains of the houses. The little finger of land that forms the enclosure of The Houb is a beautiful place to sit. At it's end is a circular bit, raised and grassed over with circular high tide marks around it, very cool.

It was too hot for me to be out and about long. Not expecting it I'd no cap or sun screen on; that combined with a nap on the banks left me hot, red, tired and grumpy by the time I got home. God help me if I lived some where where it actually does get hot!

In other news today:

School Exam results would have been a day late due to yeasterday's fog delaying the 'paper plane'. But, they arrived on the ferry today and the fantastic Posties up here put in an extra effort to get them out to the anxious students and parents. Well Done Posties!

This made me laugh as my Mam was so confused when she couldn't get a paper at the shop one time during bad weather when she was up; 'there were none at all!' She told me. When I said 'well the paper plane won't have been' she thought I was winding her up until I explained.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Misty Morning on St Ninian's Isle

After a rough start to the day I decided I needed to get out and stretch my legs. It was a misty morning, but not really wet and pretty mild. I didn't want to push it too far, so I set off for a short walk around the relatively flat St Ninian's Isle.

I've kayaked round the isle before with Clare and Beren and visited various bits, but never walked around it all. With my legs not being too great lately I took my walking poles and set off at a steady pace.

Looking south from near the Chapel remains...

And back towards the tombolo...

As I looked out towards Ireland and the skerries along the coast I noticed this little arch hiding away below me.

I was soon at the northern tip of the isle. Here's the view looking south down the coast where we kayaked last year.

Hitch Holm was just peeping out the mist.

It seems an age since we kayaked through these stacks and skerries. I'll have to hope for a day when both the sea's and my own conditions allow for me to do it again and spend some time exploring the nooks and crannies.

The southern end of the island always gets my interest going. It's so dramatic looking and on a clear day the view to the south of Shetland only enhances it. A gorgeous spot to sit.

Despite my steady pace and the easy walk I was feeling it by now. I looked down on the spot where we had stopped for our lunch on the kayak last year (the shingle beach between the holm and the cliffs below), had a drink and decided to cut back to the tombolo from here.

For all it's small size there's so much to explore around the coast of St Ninian's and plenty of places where you can, with care, get down to to the sea if you're that way inclined.

For now though  it's time to get the chilli on for tea and put my feet up. Body and weather permitting I hope to go down to East Burra tomorrow to have a little nosey round that less explored part of Burra, but we'll see what tomorrow brings...