I woke up late today and rushed to catch the bus into Kirkwall in time for the Science Festival Lunch in the Peedie Kirk Hall. I am very glad I did. The lunch was homemade soup and a selection of local foods including cheeses, fishes, sausages, cakes and bere bannock, washed down with a small glass of Orkney ale and a toast to the Orkney born folklorist George Marwick given by local storyteller Tom Muir.
When I sat down I met a lovely couple; Louise and Arthur. After a good blether over lunch we headed to the St Magnus Centre where there were talks being given as part of the Science Festival. The first of which was all about the wandering brown crab or parton as it is known in Orkney. Arthur told me how the fishermen were mostly after lobsters but the partons would crawl into the lobster pots or creels and the bigger ones would be trapped. He told me how he used to get big bags of the crabs for free from the fishermen and that they had “nice white flesh in the toes”. The talk, focused on the tagging of brown crabs for research into the migration of crab stocks for the Orkney Fisheries Association was very interesting. However I couldn’t help but feel my attention wander from the facts and diagrams back to the things Arthur had been telling me. He had also described a traditional song about a fisherman counting the partons he caught and if he caught enough he was going to ask his girl to marry him, I made a mental note to try and find this song. After the talk there was the opportunity to taste the crabs. It was served up in various ways, white meat and dark meat and even some ‘parton toes’ as Arthur had described, delicious claws served with mayonnaise. After another very interesting talk about how the islanders in the Vanuatu archipelago are developing their economy, Louise invited me back to theirs for a coffee and a chat. I was very touched to be welcomed so warmly by these two lovely people and had a great day in their company.