We have gone full circle in our new life in the Orkney Islands and as we celebrated the anniversary of moving up here, the seasons changed once again to autumn.
This time though, I feel prepared to take autumn in and experience all that it has to offer. Last year, as we lived out of suitcases while we tried to find a home, I was a bit dazed and focused only on the house hunting.
The biggest difference with every season here is the change in light. It seems to happen so suddenly and has a huge effect on your body clock as well as the landscape. Of course the length of daylight hours changes everywhere with the seasons, but we notice it so much more here. After the summer months when the sun only briefly dips below the horizon, it is a surprise to find yourself watching the sun rise while you have a morning cup of coffee.
I am a little bit conflicted as to whether I prefer the long days of summer or the longer nights of autumn. I love seeing the sun rise and set, and here, where there is so much uninterrupted sky, it is truly magical to watch. Our two year old often insists on going into the garden in her pyjamas, when she wakes up in the morning to see the “Pretty colours in the sky!”.
However, the dark mornings make it so much harder to drag myself out of bed, to squeeze in a couple of hours of work, before the rest of the house stirs. This time is essential for me, as I am busy being a homeschool mum during the day. It’s harder to keep working late into the evening too. By the time our two youngest kids are in bed it is completely dark outside and my body wants to settle down for the evening, not start work!
I know that this will only get harder as we move forward to winter and it starts to get dark by half past three in the afternoon.
Still, we are determined to make the most of the light hours, so on reasonable weather days we will spend as much time outside as possible, to ward off those winter blues.
So, what is there to see and do while we spend all of this time outdoors, soaking up the light?
When we arrived last year, a few locals told us that there wasn’t much to forage for on the island. We were rather disappointed, as we love a bit of foraging, especially in the autumn. So we were delighted to find throughout this past year, that this information was complete nonsense and autumn is no exception!
Not only have we found lots of crowberries (which I have been using for natural dyes), but we have also found plenty of blackberries. Rosehips are all over our island and on Orkney’s mainland there are haws, elderberries and even I am told, some wild raspberries, if you take the time to look for them.
We have also found a huge variety of fungi, although I have never been brave enough so far, to forage for mushrooms. I am always worried about making a mistake and poisoning the whole family! It does give me hope that our own mushrooms will crop well when I finally get around to starting them though.
There has been plenty to forage for autumn crafts as well. Sycamores are one of the trees that do well here and we have several on our land. Their seeds lend themselves to a variety of crafts for our kids during this season. We have also gathered and pressed leaves and collected rosehips and moss to create autumn wreaths.
The end of summer certainly doesn’t mark the end of outdoor play for our two youngest girls. Far from it. They have been delighted that a week of rain has brought back the stream that runs along the front of our drystone wall. Now is a time for making little rafts, playing pooh sticks and pretend fishing.
We are also at the beach as much as ever. I really enjoy a blustery walk on the beach and the beachcombing opportunities are at their best after stormy weather. The weather changes so quickly in the Orkney Islands. I have often heard it said that you can experience all four seasons in one day here and it certainly feels that way sometimes. So one minute we are out in bare feet and t-shirts and the next we are in winter woolies and waterproofs!
Because a lot of this small island is blanket bogland, the rains of autumn and winter have a huge effect on the land around us. The rivers and streams which are quiet or disappear completely over summer, are now raging and where the ground was dry under foot (if slightly springy), there is now a definite squelch with every step!
I have been busily clearing some of our rather wild garden on nice days, in the hope that we will still be able to make some use of it through the winter, though I fear it will be a bit of a mudbath! The thick layers of moss underneath the grasses, retain so much moisture that the water just pools up on the surface.
The sounds of the birds have changed, with less variety of calls, now that the seabirds have all raised this years young. But I am glad to hear the return of the honking geese. There is something about their call that I find comforting and cosy.
The beaches continue to be littered with jellyfish and we have found that we have just as many caterpillars in the garden as we did in the spring. The tiger moth caterpillars are busy munching, before settling down over winter, to reemerge next spring for even more fattening up.
I can’t believe how quickly our first year in the Orkney Islands has gone by, especially as much of it has been spent in lockdown. You might think that time would have passed slowly spent in isolation, but there has been so much to experience and so much work to be done to get our life up and running here, that it has flown by all too fast.
So I find myself wondering what this next year will bring. Will we finally get to see something of a normal life in Orkney? Will we get to meet more people and make connections and friendships here when covid restrictions are lifted? Will we find a way to continue to move towards self-sufficiency with our limited funds? Will our businesses start to flourish?
There are a lot of unknowns.
But I think that is true of life for everyone. For now, we will make the most of the beauty around us and plan for celebrations of autumn and winter as the year passes through it’s last quarter.