I cannot believe that it is over 6 months since I did our last blog. Maybe its an indication of just how busy our season has been!
We have been pretty much fully booked, back to back bookings, at The Grainstore from the beginning of May to the end of September, with a few guests staying in March & April. Our season finished at the beginning of October this year. This was because we needed time out to visit the family, have a holiday ourselves etc. However the decision was made to keep the accommodation closed for the winter – except Christmas/New Year. This is because we are having major internal works done to the main house & we may need to stay in The Grainstore’s accommodation ourselves! We will be open for guests to stay from the middle of March 2018 & anticipate being open throughout the year from then on. Book now if you wish!
The 2017 season was our first year of welcoming people to stay as Self-Catering guests – although we still had many preferring to stay on our B&B option. We had a few learning curves during the season & we are making a few subtle changes to ensure our guests get the best possible accommodation experience whilst staying with us during 2018. We have had some lovely reviews on various sites which we were thrilled to receive and sincerely thank those of you who wrote them, & recommended our accommodation as an excellent place to stay for an Orkney holiday.
There were two very exciting events for us in 2017. The first was the building & completion of our ‘flying’ viewing platform. This goes from the terraced garden & hangs over the burn, which runs through our garden from a waterfall, also on our property. It consists of a walkway which is suspended 2 – 5 metres above the ground, with a seating area at the end where 2 people can sit in comfort & take in the views of West Mainland Lochs & stunning scenery, seeing the glint of silvery sea in the distance at Skaill Bay, near Skara Brae. We have used the platform ourselves at different times of the day from May to September & it really represents a unique spot where one can sit & relax. Our guests have used it this year, when it was completed, & it is available to our future visitors to use when ever they wish to.
The second exciting event was that our garden (a wilderness when we moved here 6 years ago) was opened up to the public this summer as one of the gardens in the Orkney Garden Festival 2017. It is a bi-annual Orkney Festival that gets bigger with more gardens & garden-related events every time it occurs. I was delighted to be asked to take part in 2017 & we hope to have our garden in the next festival in 2019. However as all gardeners will realise, showing off a garden at its best doesn’t happen by chance & for weeks beforehand most of my time & energies were concentrated on making sure I didn’t let the Festival organisers down. Hence the time has flown by this summer as it felt a bit of a race against the clock! And now the hard work continues in the garden to finish its renovation, hopefully in spring 2018.
And 2018 is now not far away! We are at this very moment in the midst of constructing a large summer house with multi-fuel burner and electricity, nicely furnished to increase the available living accommodation for our future guests. It won’t be advertised or featured on our website until it is completed & we can take photos that do its description & functionality justice. Watch this space!!
Today is the 24th April 2017 & we have had this morning the heaviest snowfall that we have experienced since moving to Orkney 6 years ago. It fell so thick & fast you couldn’t see through the snowfall. It is only by the virtue that the temperature was just above freezing, the snow fell on very wet ground & the sun came out, that it did not lie long in Harray area. However the higher ground , such as the Hoy hills are still very white in the distance.
If you had gone by the weather the last few weeks you may have been forgiven for thinking spring was still a while away. March was warmer & much more pleasant to be outside in than just recently. Cold N.W winds have been predominant for some weeks now & it’s been cold. The biggest give away that spring is here are the birds. There are many more species evident now than 3 months ago. Our current guests are keen bird watchers & have seen 90 species in 2 days! The birds are also frantically nest building in our stable & outbuilding and in the cracks of the stone walls nearby. Any potential nesting habitat is being used.
Work however has resumed outside in the garden. Tidying from the winter and continuing with ongoing hard landscaping & planting projects. We hope to have a summer house for the use of our guests later in the season, where they can have alfresco breakfast, listening to the rushing water of the burn below & with stunning views of the Lochs in the distance.
We have also had our annual Visit Scotland Quality Assurance visit recently & have been awarded 4* Gold for Bed & Breakfast. Those wishing to can also stay on a Serviced Apartment basis – awarded 4* Simply put this is basically Self Catering with serviced accommodation and other ‘treats’ for your stay. Our website will be amended to explain fully what this can offer our guests. However to stay on a basic Self Catering basis will be available still.
Finally, the Corrigall Farm Museum, one of our neighbours, has reopened from its winter closure. It is worth a visit. Depicting life some 150+ years ago, living and working on a croft farm. Our goats, lambs & chickens live in the museum over the summer months bringing ‘life’ to the exhibits, and help keep the grass down. Orkney certainly grows thick, lush grass very well!
Firstly may I just point out that taking a real interest in the Birdlife and breeds of birds indigenous to Orkney is a new & growing interest of mine and I am novice in this subject.However to spur me on I am in the process of starting a bird ‘log’ book in The Grainstore, with 2 pairs of binoculars, and books to help identify bird species, so guests can also take part if they wish. Our property is ‘out in the sticks’, with moorland & agricultural land surrounding us and not far from inland freshwater lakes. Our nearest RSPB reserve is at Cottascarth, which as the bird flies is just over the hill, probably only a mile or so away.
In January, especially around here, with the agricultural fields the predominant bird species is Greylag Geese. In fact they are regarded as a pest destroying the grassland, and consist of residential geese that are here all year round & migrating geese. We have them around us in large quantities in one field or another all the time during the winter months. Also noticeable on the lochs and even along the coast edges are ducks and wildfowl wintering over. I have been watching over the fields around us & in the garden but all seems very quiet on the birdwatching species front at the moment – or I’m looking in the wrong places!
Some weeks ago I decided to take part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch on 28-30 January ‘17. Our garden is nearly ½ acre with a waterfall on one boundary and an arched stone bridge on the other. When we bought the property it took the form of a steep, wild slope going down from the back of the property to a burn, with outcrops of tiered rocks giving it some natural terracing. After 5 years of hard work it is now terraced with traditional stone walls & getting to look something like a well loved garden ought to.
So I thought about where to observe the bird life for this ‘Big’ event, which was to last an hour. It eventually came down to the fact that the wild birds on our premises are more attracted by the original ‘farmyard’ where our livestock get fed rather than the garden! So on Sunday morning, binoculars in hand, Orkney bird species book available, a mug of tea & comfy chair I sat down at the back door to watch the birdlife. Well after an hour I had seen a lot of birds, mainly of the same 2 species, probably 50+ sparrows & 14+ starlings, 5 sea gulls and a pigeon. Very disappointing, to say the least. Not even a hooded crow!
So that’s it. At some point another bulletin. Maybe our more expert guests can offer some sightings for me to report. One thing I have noticed though – the starlings are already building nests. Maybe spring is on its way!