Why the Westray cats hae good coats.

I gaed a drive doon the Nort Pier wae me blue Polo wan night last week tae see a man aboot some partans. There wis a few guys on the pier and I recognised me owld boss wae his yellow rubber beuts and his white fish-processor’s kep. He wore the kep thirty year ago when he was me boss in the crab factory in Kirkwall. He haed something black, still and feathery in his right hand.

I pulled in and opened the door tae speak tae him. (The Polo’s an isles ker, so the window doesna work.)

Dae you ken whit this is? said the bearded wan, raising his hand a peedie bit tae let me see whit he haed.

Ya, I said. It’s a deid Storm Petrel. I spent a night ringan them in North Ronaldsay a lot o years ago. We played their caals through speakers oot intae the darkness o the North Soond and they flew intae wur invisible nets. Kind o the opposite of hoo the US Marines flushed out Manuel Noriega in Panama wae heavy metal. Bonny peedie things. But that’s no gaan tae feed you and the wife the night?

No. Thur’s lots o them at Mousa Broch in Shetland. Whar aboot in North Ronaldsay dae ye get them?

In a peedie geo just sooth o the Bird Observatory. Whar Heather Woodbridge – the new Cooncillor – comes fae.

O yaas. Sheu’ll be a Green. I fund this ane deid on the end o the pier.

Folk go on aboot the puffins at Castle o Burrian, I thowt, but a Storm Petrel really is the last word in seabird cute.

Me boss gaed on: We used tae see them sometimes at sea, at night. They followed the boat in the moonlight and cam doon tae pick up things that had gotten steered up in the prop.

The boys arrived wae the partans. Wae aal ken the Orkney partans are the sweetest. (The Strumniss folk gaed B. Johnson the best they could find in Hoy Soond, but precious little did they get in return, I heard.) As I wis loading me boiling intae the boot o the Polo, wan o the boys said tae me boss, That bird’s no gaan tae feed thee and the wife the night!

Na, na. It’s for the cat. Keeps his coat good ūüôā explained the bearded wan.

Bonny Isle o Sanday

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Cata Sand

 

 

A billion¬†grains o sand. A hunder thoosand¬†migrant birds. A scant scattering o folk. The isle o Sanday in October presents a glorious unfolding flatness o sand/soil¬†and pure sky, stretching northwards and eastwards into the shallow North Sea –¬†into distances that belie the island’s deceptive baby dragon profile¬†on the admiralty chart.

This isle is¬†a vast table o riches spread beneath the northern sky.¬†It’s possible for a vistor tae get lost in Sanday. Distant hooses on the horizon seem like they canna be on the same island, but they are. Every road ends in the sea. Every aspect pleases.

We traverse the vast ouse o Cata Sand and climb the dunes. A gull owerhead in the blue is an emblem o absolute purity. Godwits and redshank wade in 20mm o brine. A heron awaits the flood. The tide returns swiftly, and wur walk back is twice as long as the walk oot.

Sanday is a modern, forward lukkan piece. A generous proportion o the profits o the 10 MW wind farm at Spurness are ploughed back in tae community projects, such as the employment o a ranger on the island Рwhose job is tae mak the abundant wildlife accessible tae the public. We join ranger Emma on a scheduled walk roond Spurness, whar sheu shows us a peedie baby selkie in a geo. The mither selkie waits anxiously nearby on the margin o Eday Soond, like a granite boulder. Migrant goldcrests flit roond the geo in the morning sun Рfire creaturs in a watter place.

Sanday haes a magnificent literary heritage, teu. The Victorian gentleman-farmer Walter Traill Dennison single-handedly saved Orkney folklore with the publication in 1880 o his The Orcadian Sketch Book, a little-read gem o lore and language. As a result, we ken more folk tales fae Sanday than fae any ither pairt o Orkney.

For instance … the Broonie o Helliehowe tormented a¬†family in a¬†nearby¬†ferm tae the point whar they haed tae leave. On the day o the flit, they were carting their possessions tae the ither end o the isle when the Broonie popped his heid oot o a milk churn and said: my, but wur gotten a fine day for the flitteen. The tale is a cautionary one: many problems are within us, and canna simply be¬†left ahint.

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But on Sunday morning at low-watter we leave wur problems ahint and cross the causeway tae Start Point, the easternmost and flattest pairt o aal the brokken isles o Orkney. Here, the selkies sing, and the abundant shell sand haes a purple hue in the morning sun. Here, in the shadow o the only vertical-striped lighthoose in the northern hemisphere, we gaither groattie buckies till wur hearts are content.

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(Sanday Sealcam: http://www.sandayranger.org/galleryvideos/4591470429)