Archive for the ‘architecture’ Category

Highlights of 2016

December 31, 2016

I was going to give myself a festive break from the blog but, every day in the paper there is some sort of review of 2016, so coming back from my walk today I thought I might do one as well. This is what went through my head: best photo, best meal cooked, best restaurant, best visit, best novel read, best book of poems read, best …. Not to mention major highlights such as the arrival of our new grandson Zachary Buddy in June and in the previous month, the glorious victory – the Hibees won the cup after 114 years! So I started to read the blog from the beginning of January and realised that it was going to take a long time to read all of the posts. So this is a flick through, fairly randomly and not covering all the categories mentioned above.

In January, we went down to London as I was going to the T S Eliot Prize poetry readings at The Royal Festival Hall. I’m going again in January, so more of that later. A highlight of the visit was a meal at The French Table in Surbiton. The meal was delicious and one of the dishes on offer was monkfish which was served with crispy samphire and truffle froth – photo below sent to me by staff at TFT.

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Monkfish served at The French Table (Click to enlarge)

Flowers feature often in the blog and I’m always trying to improve my close up photography in my garden and other gardens and wood lands. So here’s some examples (photos below) – snowdrops at Pitcox, tulips in my garden and the multi-coloured and delicate honeysuckle, also in my garden.

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Snowdrops at Pitcox

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Tulips in my garden

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Honeysuckle in my garden

Best picture I took this year? A hard one this as there’s such as variety of photos that I like – of favourite places like St Abbs Head or Dunbar harbour, but I’ve settled on one from my garden again, except the focus this time is not on the flower but on the bee. This is from a post entitled Summer flowers. Bees are not obedient. They move constantly and their wings beat even when they are attached to flowers. This one must have been enjoying the nectar so much that it momentarily stopped moving, allowing me to capture the bee’s complex physical structure, its vivid colours and its wing, which looks like a piece of ornate glassware you might find in an art gallery.

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Bumble bee on a hebe flower.

The best visit we did this year undoubtedly to the stunning Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. From the moment you walk towards the outside of the building, you are in for a series of eyebrow raising moments and you lose count of the times you say “Wow!”. The external and internal structure of the museum represent a triumph of modern architecture, so impressive is the design and flow of the building. The two photos below can’t capture the wonder of this building but if it inspires you to visit, my efforts will have been worthwhile.

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Back of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

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Front of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

So that’s (part of) the old rung out and next week/year, I’ll ring in the new – more travel, more novels, more poetry, more photos – and anything else that comes in to the mind of this (at times) Bear of Little Brain – even if my favourite word is crepuscular.

 

 

 

Milan (2) and my gladioli

October 23, 2016

One of the most striking historical places to visit in Milan is the Sforza Castle. It has very impressive battlements, huge moats and you get a real sense of the builders of this castle wanting to show the strength of their power as well as their aesthetic design. There were numerous drawbridges around the castle walls and you can see the remains of them quite clearly. The castle has many museums but on our visit, we found that notice saying that the museums were open from 9am to 5.30pm meant nothing as the ticket office was closed at 1.30pm! It is still an experience to walk around the walls and the numerous courtyards in the castle.

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Drawbridge at the entrance to Sforza Castle

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Inside the walls of the Sforza Castle

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The clock tower in the Sforza Castle

The history of the castle is long and complicated, from the original castle to the marvellous extensions built by Francesco Sforza Duke of Milan, to the foreign occupation including that of Napoleon.

Napoleon Bonaparte’s conquest of Milan was obviously a major victory for the French emperor and there is an interesting legacy to Napoleon’s time in Milan. Far from wanting to be seen as a conqueror, Napoleon built a very impressive arch not far from Sforza Castle which portrays him as a peacemaker. The arch, set at the end of the beautiful grounds of Sempione Park, (good photos) is a stunning piece of architecture seen from a distance, and close up the detailed sculptures, smooth arches and commanding figures on the top are fascinating. It takes quite a time to see all the parts of the arch.

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Napoleon’s Arch of Peace, Milan

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The top of Napoleon’s Arch of Peace in Milan

One of Milan’s worldwide claims to being of cultural importance is of course the La Scala Theatre. The front of La Scala is, by Milan’s architectural standards, fairly plain but the inside is much more impressive. On the day of our visit, the theatre itself was closed as there was a rehearsal of the ballet Giselle (click on videos), but we could see the rehearsal through a little window, thus the lack of clarity in this photo. There is an extensive museum inside the theatre which contains many busts of composers, paintings of famous singers and musical instruments, such as Liszt’s piano, shown below. The La Scala visit was entertaining and educational and we watched a superb video of Riccardo Muti the famous conductor.

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Giselle rehearsal in La Scala, Milan

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Liszt’s piano in the La Scala Museum, Milan

Earlier this year, I came across an online offer for 150 gladioli bulbs for only £10 – it was a clearance as the bulbs should have been planted earlier if people had wanted summer gladioli. I prefer my gladioli to come out in the early to mid autumn, as they give an outstanding display of colour and texture when most of the other plants are starting to fade. Gladioli are also known as sword lilies because of their sword like structure and a flowering sword is a nice image – used to appeal to the aesthetic and not to violence. I like the variety of shapes and patterns of colour in gladioli, especially when you look close up. In this photo, the swirls of pink in the flowers are complimented by the deeper pink veins in some petals and the white of the stamen.

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Close up of gladiolus flower

I also like to photograph the gladioli after it has been raining as the raindrops appear to enhance the range of subtle colours and the more prominent stamens as in this photo. The stamens look like the tentacles of a creature reaching out from inside the flower to capture an unsuspecting passing fly.

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Gladiolus after the rain

Against the background of what was a hugely enthusiastic incoming tide, the gladioli and the fuchsia became even more attractive to the eye.

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Gladioli, fuchsia and rushing tide

 

 

 

Bilbao: Architecture, pintxos and the Guggenheim Museum

September 22, 2016

 A delayed post as we were in the north of Spain for the whole of last week. We spent the first 3 days in the very attractive city of Bilbao. This is an architecturally outstanding city with some very grand buildings in the main street, the Gran Via (good photos) and lots of narrow streets in the old town (click on photos), with tall buildings featuring some very elegant balconies as in the photos below. Bilbao is a city to explore on foot, to be a tourist and stroll down one street after another, passing the niche shops and many, many eating places. One of the gastronomic features of the Basque country is their pintxos – a Basque word for a small bite-sized snack, with a crusty bread slice for a base and a wide variety of toppings e.g. cream cheese and smoked salmon or prawn. You choose your pintxos (pr pinchos) from the range displayed on the bar and in some bars, the range was extensive. We did not find one which was not a very tasty lunchtime snack to accompany a beer, glass of wine or sangria.

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Old town Bilbao

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Balconies in Bilbao

The highlight of our visit to Bilbao – indeed of our whole trip – was a visit to the magnificent Guggenheim Museum  (good photos). The building itself is a work of art with its various shapes at the front and back and on the roof. The photo below shows the approach to the main entrance. You have to stop and take in the enormity of the building, which looks complicated at first, until your eyes go over the curves and folds.

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The front of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

If you think there’s a definite Wow factor to the outside of the building, when you go inside, you will be amazed at the height of the Atrium, with its huge expanses of glass and large tiled walls, with light flooding in from a skylight 3 floors above you. The architect Frank Gehry’s design (good photos and drawings) is breath-taking. You look up to a long shapely glass curtain which you then discover is a shield for the elevator. Then to your left, you see a curved tiled block on a plinth which rises to the upper floors. The excellent free audio commentary tells you that none of the tiles are exactly the same shape. The first photo shows the glass curtain and the second shows the tiled block.

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Glass curtain in the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

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Curved tiled block in the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

The commentary then invites you to go out on to the balcony and you are greeted with a burst of colour from Jeff Koons’ Tulips. These large, stainless steel, shining “flowers” are not only visually delightful (to my eye) but they reflect the curves of the museum building itself, meaning that where they are placed is as important as what they are, as the photos show.

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Jeff Koons’ “Tulips” at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

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tall Tree and The Jeff Koons’ “Tulips” at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

Two other external sculptures are equally eye-catching. The first is Anish Kapoor’s Tall Tree and the Eye which consists of 73 reflective balls which rise to form a tree-like shape. When you look at this sculpture from different angles, you see the building and the surrounding area reflected in the individual balls and each ball reflects its neighbour. This mathematically designed object is both craft and art.

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Anish Kapoor’s “Tall Tree and the Eye” at the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum

The second sculpture, which you see as you approach the museum from the river side, is Louise Bourgeois’ Maman. This looks like a huge spider and is dedicated to the artist’s mother who was a weaver. It’s a fascinating construction and you can walk under it and between the spider’s legs. You see the spider close up on your approach to the museum and then from the museum’s balcony. Each time you look, it seems to be slightly different. The spider is both monstrous and protective of the eggs in the middle but it is also very elegant.

The final external work of art is the monumental Puppy, also a creation of Jeff Koons. This is a huge sculpture in the shape of a puppy – I think that it looks more like a cat – with the outside covered in flowers which are bedding plants and presumably change with the seasons. It’s an amazing sight but also a very attractive one.

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Jeff Koons’ “Puppy” outside the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

 

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Jeff Koons’ “Puppy” outside the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

I’ll cover what exhibitions we visited in the next blog post but as you can see from the photos, the Guggenheim Museum is a unique piece of modern art and sculpture. The museum is a modern (if non-religious) cathedral and just as people hundreds of years ago were agog at the construction of the world’s many cathedrals, so the people of Bilbao must have looked on in awe as this superb edifice rose from the side of the river. It is by a country mile the most impressive museum we’ve ever been to.

Trip to Tokyo (1): Imperial Gardens and Asakusa Temple

September 2, 2016

All last week, I was in Tokyo, having been invited to be one of the keynote speakers at the International Association of School Librarianship conference, following the translation (and updating) of my last academic book into Japanese. One of the most pleasing, and I guess rather strange, things I saw was when I went into the large lecture room where my talk was to take place. Up on the big screen was my picture and my profile – in Japanese – and it looked like this.

ジェームズ・ヘリング博士(826

情報リテラシーと学校・学校図書館の専門家として知られ、2012年にオーストラリアのチャールズ・スタート大学を退職するまで34年間、英国とオーストラリアの大学で教えてきた。著書は11冊に上る。IASLを含め、世界各地で開催される国際研究大会で発表している。現在、生まれ故郷のスコットランド・ダンバー市のオーラル・ヒストリーの研究に取り組む(2016年に研究成果を出版予定)。サイクリングと現代詩の朗読を熱烈に愛し、世界各地を旅しながら、撮影した写真を自身のブログ(https://jherring.wordpress.com)に毎週投稿している。

いずれの日も日英、英日の同日通訳が入ります。

The conference was very good and very well organised and I went to some interesting papers e.g. on school libraries as learning spaces. I was the last cab off the rank, speaking on Friday morning just before the closing ceremony. There was a packed house and several questions about my talk, which was rewarding.

I did have some time to see some of the sights of Tokyo and my first venture was to the Imperial Palace Gardens (good photos) which was the site of the original Edo Castle, originally built in the 15th century. Part of the castle walls and the moat survive and they are an impressive site as you enter the gardens.

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Walls and moat at the entrance to the Imperial Palace Gardens, Tokyo

The gardens are extensive and it is a very pleasant quiet area in the hugely busy city of Tokyo. It was 32 degrees and 70+% humidity on the day I went so I did not cover the whole gardens but there are some interesting buildings in the gardens such as the one below with the extensive mosaics.

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Mosaics I the Imperial Palace Gardens, Tokyo

My second visit was to the famous Asakusa Temple (good photos) and it has a very colourful entrance, with a huge balloon like structure in between two Buddhist statues.

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Entrance to the Buddhist Temple at Asakusa, Tokyo

This is a very popular visiting spot for both Japanese and for tourists and there is a 200m long market area, which sells food, clothing and various Japanese artefacts such as fans and kimonos. The pagoda which houses the temple is very imposing and impressive and is honoured as a holy place by Japanese Buddhists. In the photo below, you see the pagoda but also get an impression of how busy this site was.

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Temple at Asakusa, Tokyo

As you walk towards the temple, there is a metal orb which contains a fire with incense in it and people fan the flames on to their bodies, to ward off evil and bring them luck.

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Fanning the smoke at Asakusa Temple, Tokyo

The temple itself is inside the building and while you can go in, after taking off your shoes, no photographs are allowed. The temple itself is very ornate with many statues which appear to be made of gold. There were clearly devout people in the temple praying and Buddhist monks welcomed them.

 

 

 

 

 

Craster and Dunstanburgh Castle

July 30, 2016

 On our visit to Bamburgh – highlighted in last week’s post – we went to the village of Craster twice. The first time was to visit the gallery there and have a drink at the Jolly Fisherman’s pub which has superb views over the sea. Craster is of course famous for its kippers which are, appropriately for this blog, smoked herring. On the way to the gallery at the top of the hill, the smoke from the kipper house was bellowing out of the roof. It had a fairly gentle smoky odour which was not very fishy, so quite pleasant. Kippers are an acquired taste and can be quite oily. For a more gentle introduction to kippers, try kipper pâté. There is an attractive little harbour (good photos) at Craster (my photo below) and on the sunny days when we visited, it was very pleasant to sit and look out over the harbour to the sea. It’s unlikely that anyone would sit there in the winter with a strong north-easterly blowing directly across the harbour and threatening to cut off part of your face.

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Craster harbour

There is no parking in Craster, so you park (very cheaply) at a car park nearby and walk into the village past the numerous holiday homes which appear to dominate the village. You pass through Craster if you are walking to Dunstanburgh Castle (good photos). The castle dates back to the 14th century. It is a magnificent ruin and must have been an impressive stronghold in its heyday. The castle is built on a promontory with sea at its back. This meant that anyone trying to capture the castle would be unlikely to attack by sea and if they attacked by land, the occupants of the castle would see the enemy approaching from a great distance. The castle has a significant place in English history and was owned by various nobles as well as the king of England. The first photo shows the approach to the castle on a track leading from Craster. People, cows and sheep mingle freely on the track.

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The walk to Dunstanburgh Castle

Closer up, you can see the extent of the castle and how it dominates all the land around. Apart from the height of the castle and the 2 metre thick walls, what impressed me about this castle (and many others) is the achievement of the stonemasons who constructed this stunning edifice in the 14th century with little more than their tools and block and tackle for lifting. I always like to imagine being a peasant working in a nearby field and watching the castle getting bigger and bigger in a previously unimaginable way. Castles of course were built to show power, to impress and to threaten, as well as for protection and relative comfort.

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Dunstanburgh Castle

The views from the castle walls are enthralling. It overlooks Embleton Bay and the golf course nearby and you can see for miles along the coast as in the photo below.

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Looking north from Dunstanburgh Castle

This was a huge castle with a range of living areas and many people would have lived in the castle to serve noblemen and women who owned the castle, including servants, cooks, blacksmiths and masons. The extent of the castle can be seen from the battlements as shown below. The castle is well worth visiting if you are in the area.

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Dunstanburgh Castle

Return to Bamburgh and Howick Hall Gardens

July 23, 2016

Another trip to Bamburgh in Northumberland earlier this week and a return to the excellent Mizen Head Hotel previously featured here. Just around the corner from the hotel is the local church – St Aidan’s (good photos)  – and we walked with our relatives around to the church just as the sun was setting. A very helpful church warden called us into the church to show us the reflection of the sun coming through a window and shining in bright orange on the church wall. Unfortunately, the photos did not come out. The church has an outstanding profile at dusk as in the photo below.

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St Aidan’s church Bamburgh

At the back of the church, the old graveyard continues and next to the church is a large field where sheep were grazing. You could have been there 100 years ago as from that point, looking north, there are no visible signs of the 21st century. Looking south, you can see the imposing Bamburgh Castle which dominates the countryside around. The photo below is taken from the graveyard.

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Bamburgh Castle from St Aidan’s churchyard

Inside the church the stonework is magnificent and you can see the different additions to the church over the centuries. Given that the stonemasons who built the church had no modern equipment, the result is very impressive. One feature of the church is an example of a squint which – see photo below – was an aperture allowing the poorer people in the congregation to see through to the main part of the church. [Note: the photo shows the quint at an angle]

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St Aidan’s church squint

We had an excellent visit to the nearby Howick Hall Gardens (good video). The gardens are unusual in that, instead of the normal array of formal gardens you see on visits to sites such as Alnwick Gardens, this is a vast area of woodland and countryside which has little gardens dotted around which specialise e.g. in hydrangeas of different kinds. Around the house itself, there are cottage gardens as in the photos below.

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Cottage garden at Howick Hall

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Howick Hall gardens

For me, one of the pleasures of going to gardens like this is the opportunity to get close up photos of a range of flowers, most of which I’m unable to identify but all have intriguing shapes and colours as shown below.

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Rose at Howick Hall gardens

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Lily at Howick Hall gardens

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Feeding bee at Howick Hall gardens

The gardens are known as an arboretum – a collection of trees, shrubs and flowers and there is no lack of variety at Howick Hall. It’s not possible to cover all of the 64 acres at Howick Hall in one day, so a return visit, perhaps in the Spring to see the banks of daffodils, will be needed. You can also do a lovely walk from Howick Hall to the beach for free. This is a very attractive part of the world with a range of places to visit, including Craster, famous for its kippers. We walked past the smoke house, with light smoke coming out of the roof aperture and you could smell the fish being smoked. The walk from Craster to Dunstanburgh Castle will be in the next edition of the blog.

 

Cove harbour and Co’path church

July 5, 2016

On a  recent walk down to Cove Harbour (good photos), which is 10 miles/16.2k from Dunbar, we parked near the cottages. Before you go through the gate leading down to the hidden harbour, there is a memorial devoted to the victims of a fishing disaster in 1881.  In all, 189 fishermen from ports along the Berwickshire coastline lost their lives in a fierce storm. The port of Cove was particularly hard hit, with 11 out of the village’s 21 fishermen lost at sea. The photo below is of the top of the memorial and shows the stricken women and children looking out to the vicious sea.

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Memorial to lost fishermen at Cove

You walk down a long path and through a dark tunnel to get to the little harbour which nestles behind a large sea wall. The wall is man-made but it is the natural structures of stone that are fascinating, both close up and from a distance. The next photo shows a close up of weathered sandstone. This looks like a series of sculpted rock put together for an exhibition and the difference in the colour of the rock and the intricate patterns on the rock are fascinating. If you look closely, you can see deserts, statues and cave dwellings – and much more.

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Weathered sandstone at Cove Harbour

From the harbour wall, looking south, there are two large rock formations, shown in the photo below. Behind the structures are glacier-formed slopes and you wonder what this landscape looked like millions of years ago. The structures are relatively recent in geological terms and if we could have photographs from say 200 years ago, they may look completely different. Cove was known as a haven for smugglers in the past and the structure on the right definitely has the attributes of a smuggler’s cave. The sea will of course change these structures again over the next 100 years.

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Rock formations at Cove Harbour

Just up the road from Cove is Cockburnspath (good photos). The village’s name is pronounced Co-burnspath and is locally known as Co’path. I pass the village regularly on my bike by seldom go into it. We stopped to look at the village buildings – the quaint, low-doored cottages, the Mercat Cross which is a stone edifice identifying where the thriving country market would once have stood and the church with its unusual tower. The church is an excellent example of stonework and the round tower at the top – with no cross visible – looks as if it might have been a prison if it was in another building. The stones used in the church are off different colours, shapes and textures but they are combined to produce a building of stature and strength and it will last for many centuries if maintained.

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Cockburnspath church

The graveyard has burial stones going back hundreds of years. All are weather-beaten and some to the extent that you can’t read what is written on the stones. One feature of old gravestones is that they often give a context to the person buried underneath, although this information is usually about men. Women are identified as wives and mothers whereas men can be merchants or farmers or blacksmiths. This is an idyllic setting with the surrounding countryside and the large cedar tree in the middle of the graveyard.

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Cockburnspath church graveyard

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Cockburnspath church graveyard

Co’path lies at the eastern end of the Southern Upland Way a very well-known walking route and it’s a village worth walking around for its variety of buildings and the open countryside which surrounds it.

 

Hailes Castle and municipal tulips

May 26, 2016

A visit last week from friends whom we met in Australia many years ago. I worked with my former colleague, now Professor Anne Lloyd of the University of Boras (pr Boroos) at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga, where her husband Jim Zantiotis works as an educational psychologist in local schools. We took Anne and Jim to nearby Hailes Castle (good photos) to give them a flavour of historic East Lothian. The castle is not as well-known as other castles in the county such as Tantallon Castle (many photos) and nestles in a dip in a narrow country road, where I often go cycling. Depending on the time of year, you can have the place to yourself. We went on a Sunday morning and a few people followed us in. At first, the castle looks restricted in size as you enter the gate and cross the wee, gurgling burn but when you get to the entrance, you see that the castle extends greatly to your left and right. You can see a possible reconstruction of the castle here.

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Stonework at the entrance to Hailes Castle

There is a wide range and age of stonework in the castle which was originally built in the 13th century, and as you can see from the photo above,  the more modern finished red sandstone sits beside the original rough stonework used to build the castle. The castle has a long history and the Hepburn family, one of the greatest landowners in Scotland, occupied the castle for long periods and there is speculation that Mary Queen of Scots may have stayed there briefly. As you walk around the castle, you come across the pit prison (photo) which went into a deep dungeon and you get the feeling that if you were put down there, you might never see the light of day again. One of the main parts of the living quarters of the castle was later turned into a doocot (photo). The castle sits by the river Tyne and if you walk round the back of the castle – see photos below – you get a peaceful feeling and a great view up to the castle walls and along the river. If you are visiting East Lothian, put this castle on your list – just don’t tell anyone.

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North wall of Hailes Castle.

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View along the River Tyne from Hailes Castle.

I wasn’t going to put any more photos of tulips on the blog this year, in case readers might get tulip fatigue but taking our friends to North Berwick Gardens we came across 2 vibrant displays which the local municipal gardeners had planted. The combination of the tulips and wallflower was not too harsh, despite the bright colours – see photos below. I took a close up of one of the tulip heads and it could be an example of Japanese art.

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Tulips and wallflowers in North Berwick gardens

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Tulips and wallflowers in North Berwick gardens

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Stunning tulip head in North Berwick

 

Community bakery and Dunbar High Street

April 24, 2016

This week’s blog is very parochial and does not stray beyond my home town of Dunbar. I’ve mentioned our local Community Bakery before on the blog but yesterday I thought I’d go in, take a few photos and write a bit more about it. The bakery was opened a few years ago after an enthusiastic committee received a number of grants to set up a new baker’s shop. The grants were added to by local people buying a share in the bakery. The philosophy of the bakery is to be a profitable business but to reinvest profits into the bakery itself, as well as trying to give jobs to young people who are unemployed. The bakery is thus owned by the local community, as the sign shows:

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Dunbar Community Bakery sign above the entrance to the shop

The produce is of a very high standard with none of the mass-produced bread available in supermarkets. We buy the 70% wholemeal bread which is tasty and wholesome, as well as the softer, but equally tasty oats and buttermilk loaf, which goes very well with homemade soup. There’s a range of specialist cakes also, as well as rolls, ciabatta, pies and quiche. Here’s what the inside of this very friendly, efficient and welcoming bakery looks like.

 

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Cakes and loaves at Dunbar Community Bakery

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Oats and buttermilk loaves for sale in Dunbar Community Bakery

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Dunbar Community Bakery shop window

Dunbar has a long history  with the remains of a house dating back to 8300 BCE having been discovered just outside the town. It has an impressive High Street which is said to have been wide enough for a regiment of soldiers to march along. In rural Australia, many towns have wide high streets but these were built to take large flocks of sheep not soldiers. Coolamon is a very good example of this. The high street in Dunbar is dominated by the Town House which was built in the late 16th century. It has the oldest council chamber in Scotland. Part of the building was originally a jail which over the centuries was reputed to house local drunks, debtors and people accused of witchcraft. It’s an impressive sight as shown below.

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Dunbar Town House

Outside the Town House is a statue of a young John Muir, arguably Dunbar’s most famous son. John Muir was a famous conservationist who went to the USA from Dunbar when he was 14 years old. He is probably most famous as being the founder of Yosemite National Park in California. He was “discovered” in Dunbar in the 1970s and there is now a John Muir House in the town. Much has been written about Muir’s achievements. Some of this is openly hagiographical and, from this local historian’s perspective, there is a lack of critical analysis in relation to John Muir, outstanding as his achievements clearly were. The statue is shown below.

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Statue of the young John Muir in Dunbar High Street

 

Snowdrops at Pitcox and trip to Aberdeen

February 18, 2016

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.

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Pitcox House

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”.

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Snowdrops at Pitcox House

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.

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Aconite at Pitcox House

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.

Poldino's restaurant in Aberdeen

Poldino’s restaurant in Aberdeen

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.

Marischal College Aberdeen

Marischal College Aberdeen

 

Gothic spires of Marischal College

Gothic spires of Marischal College

Statue of Robert the Bruce at Marischal College Aberdeen

Statue of Robert the Bruce at Marischal College Aberdeen

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.

Twin towers of St Machar Cathedral Aberdeen

Twin towers of St Machar Cathedral Aberdeen

 

Interior and heraldic ceiling in St Machar Cathedral

Interior and heraldic ceiling in St Machar Cathedral

 

The organ in St Machar Cathedral

The organ in St Machar Cathedral