IT'S THE WEE SMALL HOURS and I'm lying awake, watching the first colours of dawn creep through our blinds. A cacophony of squawks, hoots, whistles and trills is building to a crescendo outside. I slip out of bed and through the sliding doors on to the balcony to observe my first Australian dawn.
I DRIFT awake to the soothing sounds of birdsong. Pigeons croon their time-worn lyrics and melodious harmonies. Blackbirds whistle their intricate soaring melodies to the accompaniment of the morning chit-chat of warblers. Yesterday, I heard the unmistakable jingle of a green woodpecker, then watched his undulating flight across a clearing in the trees.
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ONE week on from our Scottish farewells and we are now south of the border and saying goodbye to Nic's county of origin, Yorkshire. In a few days we will be checking in for our long-haul flight to Australia's sunny shores. Meanwhile we have three restless boys who should really be in school by now (they start at their Aussie school as soon as jet-lag subsides).
WE leave Sanday on the Friday midday boat. The galley is a chatter of islanders going into Kirkwall for an afternoon's shopping or perhaps a weekend with relatives or a holiday further south. It's a reality of small island life that one bumps into neighbours, friends and familiar faces wherever one goes. This is not an outside chance or a long-odds coincidence, but a certainty. So a host of folk that I did, or didn't, manage to say goodbye to are on the ferry today anyway.
THE day before we leave this beautiful Orkney island called Sanday is my 44th birthday.
THROUGH the swirling mists of an Orkney island summer evening we can hear what could be a long, deep rumble of thunder. We've had a few good thunder storms this year so it would not be a surprise.
ONE of the biggest obstacles to moving away from our island farm has been the conundrum of what to do with all our animals. Had we been flitting to anywhere in the UK, or even Europe, we would have taken them with us. But emigration down under is challenge enough with five humans. To add two horses, two dogs, one cat, 20 hens and more than 100 sheep would be extreme. I think we'd have to build ourselves an ark.
THERE are families on this small Orkney island of Sanday who have been here for generations, whose Orcadian lineage goes back to time immemorial.
SUMMER HAS DECIDED to visit Orkney this year - it's really hot out in the midday sun. Our normally invigorating weather has deserted us. The wind isn't blowing, the rain isn't falling. A boiler suit is too warm to work in and I'm on the lookout for a different kind of hat - one that keeps the sun out of my eyes rather than the cold out of my ears.
MILES has flown to Canada for his summer holidays. He's a long, lean 14-year-old, bored at home and eager to spread his wings. He reminds me of an adolescent Osprey chick hopping on the edge of its tree-top nest, surveying the water and hills and trees all around, desperate to go exploring yet timid about taking the first leap.
I HAVE BEEN TO Skye a handful of times in my life. The first three visits it was entirely hidden under a wet blanket of mist and rain. On visit one I remember being excited at the prospect of a few days among Skye's purportedly fabulous hillscapes. Negotiating the winding roads through rain and midges and seeing absolutely nothing was disappointing to say the least.
A MIDSUMMER Night's Dream or a Midsomer Murder? 11am on 21 June finds us scratching our heads over a mass of tent poles, on a pitch at Kirkwall's fine campsite. A light drizzle and buffeting breeze isn't helping our tempers. Three years ago we were given a five person tent as a wedding present. In the marketing photos it looked fantastic: a bedroom for everyone and a central living area high enough to stand up in. We considered selling the house to live in this canvas mansion.
NORTH Ronaldsay is crowned by her lighthouse - the tallest (139 feet) land-based light in Britain.
MY BOYS and I have lived out five years of our lives on this northerly outpost of the Orkney Islands. And yet, remote though Sanday is, it is neither the most remote, nor the most northerly member of the archipelago. That accolade goes to North Ronaldsay, a mere slip of an isle measuring three miles by one, pointing north to Shetland and lying further north in the ocean than the southern tip of Norway.
A PALL of mist hangs over the island and a chill wind worries at our inadequate attire, mercilessly seeking out gaps and holes to whistle through. Aye, fine weather for June, we say, as we hop from foot to foot, awaiting our fate. At least it's not raining.
WE HAVE got used to jumping aboard one of our fleet of three Orkney ferries every time we want to get to the Orkney Mainland shops or visit another of our Northern isles. We have even done some exploring aboard the Orkney-based Explorer charter boat with intrepid skipper, Steve, at the helm. But having listened to the experiences of my aunt and uncle-in-law, Heather and Tim, I can feel the need for an island hopping cruise on an altogether grander scale.
Maggie May, my big beautiful Clydesdale mare, has hurt her foot. In a clear case of "the grass is greener", she was leaning over the fence to chomp that apparently more desirable stuff, when a tractor appeared over the skyline and gave her a fright. We don't get much traffic around these parts.
IN THREE short weeks we have completed our 2006 lambing. Fifty ewes have produced 92 lambs, of which eight have died. Not as good a result as last year, but not bad.
MILES and I are driving around the rocky shoreline of Otterswick Bay on a sun-baked Sunday evening, heading up to our old stomping ground of Burness, the north-west wing of Sanday. Lambs frolic in fresh green fields while skylarks sing their hearts out in the blue sky above. The famous Burness hedgerow, a rare sight on this virtually treeless island, is in full bud.
LAMBING 2006, ON OUR WEE Orkney island farm, day ten. Half-time. Of our 56 in-lamb ewes, 28 have given birth to a total of 54 lambs. Four of these have died. One of our firstborn Shetland twins just didn't survive her first night out in the cold Orkney air and a cruel dose of midnight rain. I was so angry when I found her that I yelled fearsome curses at the benign morning sky. I hope my sons, still tucked up in their beds, didn't hear their mad mother.