Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Graemsay: the unknown, almost forgotten Orkney

Graemsay is a small, scarcely populated island in the Orkney archipelago, south of main Orkney, from where Stromness, Kirkwall and St. Margaret's Hope towns have been reported here at Ultima Thule.

Formerly known as Grimsey, Old Norse for Grim's Island, Graemsay is the smallest of the inhabited South Isles of Orkney.

Graemsay, Orkney Islands
Coordinates: 58º 56' N, 03º 16' W
Population: ~ 25-30

The island is approximately 2 miles from east to west and one mile from north to south. The highest point is only 62 metres above sea level. The centre of the island is rough grass and heather moorland. Its two major lighthouses guide ships navigating to the harbour of Stromness.

Hoy High Lighthouse and the Sandside farm site.

Sandside is rightly by the side of a fine stretch of sand.

The building of the lighthouses, Hoy High and Hoy Low, was a major development on the island; they were first lit in 1851. Situated at either end of the island, the two towers were joined by a paved road which benefitted all inhabitants.

[S.T.]  Hoy High lantern and the view.

Hoy Low.

If both lights are kept in line, it ensures a safe passage through the tricky Hoy Sound. They were designed by Alan Stevenson, of the Stevenson family of lighthouse builders.


Graemsay is probably one of the least visited of the Orkney Islands . There is no shop or café on the island and no heritage centre, so there isn't much for visitors to do apart from walk. And enjoy the flowering grasses or the sea.


The lighthouses are the larger buildings on the islands, as just a few small farm houses survive at Sandside, besides ruins and abandonned school and church.

The old school, now closed.

The primary school closed in 1996 and the island's children travel daily by boat to school in Stromness on the ferry.

[S.T.]  The old Kirk

[S.T.]  Old kirk's cemetery.

There are 12 inhabited houses and some 25 to 30 people living in Graemsay. They were over 200 during the 19th century, but that was much more than the island could sustain.

The house of Sian Thomas was the Sandside Farm manor house.

As Graemsay is no tourist attraction, it's hard to find decent images and data from there. Most of this post and its photos are taken from Sian Thomas, who publishes on her ' Life on a small Island ' blog. I want to thank her for the permission. The images marked S.T. were borrowed from her blog.


The Comunity Hall

[S.T.]  Most events and meetings take place at the Community Hall - a small Army hut from WWI.

[S.T.]   Halloween Party at the Hall.

[S.T.]  Story Telling

Is this classified heritage ?

There are some fine landscapes to enjoy, biking is mandatory !


Turfed roof house

The sea is probably the main character and the real star of Graemsay.



But other good things come from land:

[S.T.]  Gooseberries

[S.T.] " Button", Sian's house cat, is like the 'Queen' of Graemsay :)

The islanders are served by the passenger ferry MV Graemsay from Stromness.

The Graemsay ferry pier, with the waiting room shed.

Probably the most lively spot on the island, when the ferry arrives from Stromness.

MV Graemsay.
The arrival of the last ferry around 18.00 h brings Graemsay residents back home from work or from classes.

[S.T.]  The famous sunsets of Graemsay

If you look for nature's bauties, maybe there is one good reason to visit Graemsay in spring: the rich variety of wild flowers covering the grass and the marshes. Just a few of them:

Wild primrose (*)

Yellow flag

Marsh Orchids

Marsh Regwort

Red Campion

Tormentil, or Potentilla

Cow Parsley

Starling among daisies


I think Graemsay is a Ultima Thule site in its own right; I hope to contribute for an increase of visitors !

(*) See comment below

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Napakiak and Napaskiak, both on the west coast of Alaska near the Kuskokwim river delta.

This is the Arctic in a less refined mode, two settlements under the minimum decency and quality of life I've most oftenly showed here. For example, Napakiak does not have a piped water system - a striking contrast to the previous Solvorn post, but hey!, that's Norway...

Alaska - as well as Russia - has a lot to improve, mainly in its native villages and towns, to reach the living levels of other northernly regions elsewhere, mainly in Europe or Canada.

But anyway, one can always feel attracted to the high latitudes, to this northern landscape and lifestyle, and truly some improvement has been done. Let's have a look at the sub-arctic region of Bethel, by the Kuskokwim River, the second largest in Alaska after the Yukon River.

The Kuskokwim River flows westwards through southern Alaska to the Bering Sea. Both Napakiak and Napaskiak are located near its broad estuary.


Coordinates: 60° 41′ N, 161° 58′ W
Population:  ~ 350

Napakiak is located at approximately 16 km downriver from Bethel, sitting on a lowland sandbar on the north bank of the Kuskokwim River. The Yup'ik Eskimos have lived in this region since 1000 A.D.

The sand island on which the village was built is severely eroding, and is prone to frequent and severe flooding due to ice jams and overflow.

The village looks well kept. Most of the houses look as if they were recently painted.

A native-owned cooperative store opened in 1946. A Post Office was established in 1951. The National Guard post was built in 1960, and the first airstrip was completed in 1973.

The Post Office.

There are presently two stores in Napakiak:

Jungs Trading post

Naparyalruar native store.

Traditional fishing is an important aspect of life in Napakiak; there are about 12 vessel owners. Salmon, sheefish, whitefish and lamprey abound in the nearby waters. Moose, bear and seal hunting provides meat.

One clinic - not red, not blue, a rarity.

No roads lead from/to Napaskiak ! But the river road is frequently used by Napakiak residents:

Boats ashore and one other returning, on a river canal.

Sunrise on the Kuskokwim ice-road to Napaskiak. In winter, the marked ice trail allows ATV and snowmobiles to reach Bethel.

A small plane on Napaskiak gravel stripe - and at far you can see trees, in fact the tree-line is not far, some 22 miles to the Northwest.

The isolation caused by the absence of roads is partly compensated by daily flights to other Alaskan towns; a flight to Napaskiak takes just 10 minutes ! ...


Coordinates: 60° 42′ N, 161° 45′ W
Population: - 420

Napaskiak is another traditional Yup’ik village just 20 km east of Napakiak, on the oppostite east bank of the Kuskokwim river, seven miles southeast of Bethel, the region's main settlement.

To move around the village only a rather well-maintained wooden boardwalk serves most houses.

There are no roads to or in Napaskiak (except winter ice-road), and there is also no running water ! Boardwalk connects everywhere - no streets or even house numbers, just slightly raised wood boards over the permafrost.

The school, local businesses and fisheries provide employment while subsistence activities (traditional fishing and hunting) supplement cash earnings.

Approximately 150 students attend Napaskiak's School.

Houses are raised on stilt-like beams of wood to be sturdy against the permafrost and rainwater. And so are too the school or the old orthodox church.

St. James orthodox church.

The entire (?) village is Russian Orthodox.

Residents have access to healthcare and shopping through short flights or boat travel to Bethel. There is a gravel airstrip and seaplane landing area that provides flight access year-round.

Boarding to Bethel.

The Yukon-Kuskokwim rivers Park

The Kuskokwim river is a large river in Southwest Alaska. Its basin and its flow volume are quite remarkable. The name come from a Yup'ik word kusquqviim meaning 'big slow moving'.

Kuskokwim basin near the mouth, drainig to the Bering Sea. A maze of small side-rivers converge through the tundra to the main flow.

Marshes in Kuskokwim's delta.

The southern portion of the Delta is a huge, swampy, treeless area comprising the muddy lowlands where two rivers (the Yukon and the Kuskokwim) drain into the ocean. A rich fauna - birds and fish, mainly - lives there.

Spectacled Eider (somateria fischeri), one of the beauties in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Park.

White-fronted goose, also a common visitor to the Kuskokwim's marshes.

A lonely barge navigates on Kuskokwim's final estuary.

Sunsets by the Kuskokwim are famous.