It’s February again, so my annual trip to Pitcox House to photograph the snowdrops and aconites. Pitcox is a hamlet about 4 miles from Dunbar and is on one my regular cycling routes. The big house (aka big hoose) is a feature of farms in Scotland and is the place were the (usually wealthy) farmer’s family would live. In contrast, the workers’ houses would be much smaller but this would depend on status. Across the road from the big hoose in Pitcox is the Grieve’s Cottage and opposite is the Gardener’s Cottage. The grieve was the farm manager or farmer’s right hand man and was the chief employee. The origin of this meaning of grieve has nothing to do with sorrow but is from the Old English graefa reeve. A reeve was an officer or King’s representative in a locality in medieval England, so graefa reeve was presumably a senior officer. If you know different, let me know.
The snowdrops are in profusion here. As I’ve noted before in this blog, lovers of snowdrops are called galanthopiles and, as the highlighted site shows, it is a very serious and often very expensive hobby. On the literature front, my favourite snowdrop poem is by Alice Oswald, and it’s simply called Snowdrop. The full poem can be found here – I hope this blogger asked for permission. Oswald sees the snowdrop as a sad girl and “One among several hundred clear-eyed ghosts/ who get up in the cold” but although the girl may be grieving (that word again!) she is “a mighty power of patience”.
The other splash of colour – this time yellow – in the garden at Pitcox House comes from the aconites. These perennial plants are lovely to look at but most species are poisonous and shouldn’t be handled. They look like large buttercups and provide a nice contrast with the dazzling white of the snowdrops.
At the weekend, we travelled north to the city of Aberdeen (good photos) for a wedding reception on Saturday but we made a weekend of it, driving up on Friday. We used to live in Aberdeenshire in the bonnie village of Kemnay and I taught at The Robert Gordon University in the 1980s. On Friday evening, we went to an old haunt, Poldino’s Italian restaurant in the city centre. We shared the Antipasto Vegeteriano – a very tasty ” selection of marinated and grilled vegetables, salad, olives, cheese and grissini”. I learned that grissini are breadsticks. I then had Panciotti Cappesante e Gamberi : “Scallop and prawn spherical pasta parcels through a fennel and smoked salmon sauce” which were light, with a delicate taste and an excellent sauce. My wife had Sogliola Certosina : “Fillets of lemon sole pan fried with, prawns, lemon, dill, cream and tomato”, which came as a very good sized sole fillet with a sauce that complimented, but did not overwhelm the fish. We finished by sharing a dessert – Montenero “First we drench sponge in Marsala then we add vanilla ice cream, over this we pour our own rich chocolate sauce” and this has not changed in 30 years with high quality ice cream and a delicious chocolate sauce. So, a nostalgic evening and a very enjoyable one. If you are in Aberdeen, this is a fine place to eat.
On the Saturday, we were picked up by friends outside Marischal College. This magnificent building has recently been cleaned up and the granite was sparkling in the sun when we were there. When I looked up at the numerous spires, it reminded me of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, although Marischal College’s gothic design is more traditional. Outside the college is a statue of Robert the Bruce who was King of Scotland in the 14th century and the 5.6m high statue adds grandeur to the impressive college building behind.
After lunch, we went for a walk with our friends to the nearby Brig O’ Balgownie which in past times was the main entrance to the city. Further on, we visited the historic St Machar Cathedral, a 12th century building. The very helpful guide gave us a history of the church which was a catholic cathedral until the Reformation in Scotland. It’s an unusual building because the walls are made of rough granite, which was gathered from the fields and this is different from usual cut granite or stone you see in other large churches. The pillars are cut granite and of a smoother appearance. Another distinctive feature is the flat, heraldic ceiling whereas you might expect a vaulted ceiling in such a building. The large organ dominates one side of the kirk where this is a different ceiling. This is another of these remarkable buildings which were erected with little available technology and often in hazardous conditions, and you have to admire the work of the stonemasons and labourers who built it.
Tags: Aberdeen, aconites, Alice Oswald, antipasta, chocolate sauce, graefa reeve, granite walls, grieve, heraldic ceiling, ice cream, Italian food, labourers, Marischal College, organ, pasta, Pitcox House, Poldino's restaurant, prawns, reeve, Robert the Bruce, scallops, snowdrops, sole, St Machar Cathedral, stonemasons