Archive for the ‘beaches’ Category

Rocks off Dunbar and May sunsets

May 30, 2020

I recently did a virtual talk for Dunbar and District History Society on the first half of an 1899 map of my home town. I made up a PowerPoint presentation and I then used the File and Export function – a new feature to me – and selected Create a Video. With this function, you can add a narration to your presentation and then create a video from it. This avoids having to use video editing software, the free versions of which I have found difficult to use. The first, and longest part of the talk concentrated on the area just off the coast of Dunbar. This first quadrant of the map is shown below.

First quadrant of 1899 map. Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended

I have looked at the rocks off the coast many times, either from Dunbar Harbour (good photos) or from what you can see on the bottom left of the map – the West Promenade, known today as Winterfield Promenade. This was gifted to the town in 1896. I then became interested in the names of the rocks on the map and consulted local experts. From left to right, the rocks are: Oliver’s Ship – named after Oliver Cromwell who defeated the Scots at the Battle of Dunbar in 1650. Wallace’s Head – named after the Scots hero William Wallace whose campaign was the subject of the film Braveheart. Half Ebb Rock – so called as it is covered at half tide i.e. when the tide is half way in or half way out. Scart Rock – named after the Scots word for cormorant or shag which are birds that often are seen in numbers on the rock. The photo below shows Scart Rock part of which is white with bird droppings.

Scart Rock. Image used under Creative Commons Licence – author Rosser 1954

Castlefoot Rock – rocks near Dunbar Castle (good photos). Round Steeple and Long Steeple – named after the Scots word for tower. The Yetts – meaning The Gates after the Scots word yett meaning a gate, through which fishing and sailing boats might pass.

At the bottom of this section of the map, Dove Rock is highlighted. This rock has been the subject of debate over the years. The photo below – the Dove Rock is prominent on the left – is the site of the former Dunbar Swimming Pool or Pond (good photos). Local people know this as the Doo Rock and this was often spelt Dhu Rock – in Scots Gaelic (pr Gallic) Black Rock. However the map clearly shows Dove Rock and Doo is a Scots word for pigeon. A local history colleague speculated that a visitor to Dunbar may have asked a local the name of the rock and been told it was Doo Rock. The visitor may have had knowledge of Gaelic and heard “Dhu Rock”. It is aptly named Doo Rock as pigeons are often seen on the rock.

Dove Rock – photo by Liz Curtis

The virtual talk is available on video here.

Now that it is late May and the nights here are stretching out i.e. at 10.30pm, as Bob Dylan sings (video) “It’s not quite dark but it’s gettin’ there”. We have had a spell of warm (for Scotland) weather and some stunning sunsets and post-sunset skies of different shapes and hues. In the photo below, the sea has turned pink along the shore, looking west from the decking at the back of our house. It is a reflection of the pinky/purple sky just above the rapidly setting sun. Within two minutes of taking this photo, the molten white of the sun above the town had disappeared, as had the yellow above the dazzling white. The pink on the beach disappeared beneath an incoming wave and then reappeared as the fairly gentle wave, having accomplished its mission, retreated.

Pink sands on the shore

The next photo was taken on a different evening and later on. The pink has shifted north and can be seen as quite bright through the roof of Dunbar Leisure Centre in the enlarged photo. Above that appeared constantly shifting clouds. You saw this image at one point and two minutes later, the sky had been rearranged, like furniture on a theatre stage during the interval. It is hard to count the variety of blue and pink on show here. The clouds seemed to effortlessly and gracefully re-morph almost as you watched.

Variegated sky above Dunbar on a May evening

The final photo – taken at 10.30pm, has many contrasts, from the dark, deceptively ominous-looking clouds at the top to the still-pink glow in the sky above the horizon. The sea was almost unmoving and you could only just hear the waves which crept on to the shore – almost apologetically. At the bottom right, you can see one of the oil/gas ships which have been parked out to sea, along from the Isle of May (good photos) which you can just see on the horizon to the left of the ship. When this photo was taken, there were five ships. Now there are eight sets of lights stretched along the horizon like a lit up necklace. The huge drop in the oil/gas price has meant that these ships – some of which have been there for eight weeks now – have no work to do. They have come to resemble the series of rocks on the 1899 map above.

Looking north with ships parked out to sea

Pease Bay: Sand, rocks and mobile homes

February 8, 2020

Pease Bay lies about 11 miles/18K from Dunbar and you get there down a narrow road. The site is now a well known caravan/mobile home park (good photos) as well as a popular surfing venue (good photos). My intention was to mostly ignore the mobile homes, but not quite – see below, and walk along the beach on a quiet winter’s morning to the rock spectacle at the west side of the bay. The photo below shows the wide beach available to walk on when the tide is out. There is a well trodden sandy section to the left, then a rocky part and then the receding tide leaves a hard flat beach to walk on.

Looking along Pease Bay beach (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

At the end of the beach, you come to the amazing red rock section and one geological source describes Pease Bay as “a sandy bay dramatically rimmed by cliffs of Upper Old Red Sandstone strata that dip 25°–35° to the north”. The photo below shows the extent of the rockface and there’s a gentle reflection in the water. When you walk towards this on a sunny day, you can get the feeling that this rock has just been transported from the USA’s midwest.

The red sandstone rocks and their reflection at Pease Bay

 The geological site notes “Red, medium- to coarse-grained, cross- bedded sandstones at Red Rock have silty mudstone interbeds containing yellowish green ribs and coarse sandy layers” and these can be seen in the close up views of the rockface in the photo below. If you look at this as you would an abstract painting, then you might think it could be the work of an Australian aboriginal artist, with the graceful, flowing (albeit cracked) lines of red and white, and the intriguing, moon-like white circle in the middle.

Layers in the Pease Bay rockface

I looked at the rock from many angles and in the photo below, you can see the rock, this time looking away from the sea. While the lines at the top and middle are fairly horizontal, the lines at the bottom take a dive towards the sand. This just makes the rock more aesthetically pleasing and you get the impression that this may have been caused by ferociously rushing water and hurricane winds.

Flowing lines at Pease Bay

The final photo of the rockface below shows the rock sloping down towards the sand and the harder, greyish rock on the beach. There is a dramatic overhand in the middle right of the photo and if you stand immediately below it, you get a feeling that perhaps it might not be safe to stand there for too long, as at the edge of the rock in the photo, you can see where huge sections of the sandstone have collapsed. I have visited this part of Pease Bay many times and each time I go, I have a slightly different experience and see new parts of the rock which have previously gone unnoticed.

Rockface meets sand at Pease Bay

I walked back along the hard sand, listening to the gentle hush of the little waves on this quiet, not very good for surfing, but peaceful day and I was the only person on the beach, so a very satisfying experience. The photo below shows the mouth of the burn which flows through the mobile homes at Pease Bay. This site has dramatic sea views at the front but also, as you can see in the photo, a very impressive backdrop of hills and bare trees, which took on a purplish hue on the day of my visit. The reflection of the bridge in the burn shows how the water flows gently here, having passed the small rapids in the distance.

Where the burn meets the sea at Pease Bay

People who consider themselves proper campers would no doubt look down disdainfully at these mobile homes and large caravans – too big, too comfortable, too pampered. They would argue that it is much more satisfying to pitch your own tent – even in the driving rain or snow – and enjoy the confines of a sleeping bag within a tent. I think that if the true campers saw the photo below, they would be horrified. Central heating? The devil’s work!

Mobile home for sale at Pease Bay

Darren Woodhead exhibition and Dazzling Blue on Xmas Day

January 8, 2020

The current (ends on 15 January 2020) exhibition on at Waterston House in Aberlady, home of SOC, is by the renowned wildlife artist Darren Woodhead (video). I reviewed Darren Woodhead’s previous SOC exhibition on the blog here. This new exhibition is no less stunning than the previous one and shows the artist at the height of his powers. Woodhead has a very distinct style and a key feature of this style is shown in the example below. Our eyes are attracted to the sunflowers – the complicated structure of the flower heads and the vivid yellow petals. If you hadn’t seen the title of the work, you might pass on to the next painting without seeing the tiny, almost elusive but very elegant birds. The goldfinches’ yellow, black, brown, white and red patches then catch your eye. So the artist’s skill is in making us look closely at the whole painting. As with all the examples here, the photos of the paintings do not do justice to the actual paintings, many of which are quite large.

Goldfinch on Sunflowers by Darren Woodhead (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

The second example below shows that Darren Woodhead’s range is not confined to birds. This is a different painting altogether, with the strong colours of the butterflies standing out, as opposed to the lighter shades used in the picture above. So this could be seen as a heavier and darker composition, but there is a lightness about the butterflies which appear to be in motion. Anyone who had tried to photograph red admirals will know that they are creatures of almost perpetual motion, stopping only briefly on flowers to feed. As with all his paintings, the artist here captures the variety of colours on display and I like the contrast between the strong blues, oranges and blacks of the butterflies and the lighter purples and yellows of the flower heads. Look at the butterflies and you will see that each one has its own individual – and fascinating – colour scheme.

Red Admiral Butterflies by Darren Woodhead

The third example is the lightest of the three and, like the goldfinches’ painting, is a very delicate portrayal of these small birds. Tree sparrows differ from house sparrows (of which we have an intermittent population nesting in the eaves of our house) in appearance, in that they have ” a solid chestnut-brown head and nape, whilst house sparrows (males at least) have a light grey crown”. Darren Woodhead has captured the solid heads of the birds and he has also shown how well camouflaged these birds can be by showing the similarities in shape and colour of the birds’ plumage and the leaves on the branch where the birds are perched. The two tree sparrows look as if they might be enjoying a warm summer’s day, with the sun showing off the white face of the bird on the right. They look at ease with the day and with each other.

Tree Sparrow Pair by Darren Woodhead

If you can get to see this exhibition or another display by this artist, do not hesitate to go, as you will be in for a visual treat.

We awoke on Xmas Day in Dunbar to a cold, bright, sunny morning with a big Australian sky i.e. cloudless, above us. I went for a walk to the shoreline next to Dunbar Golf Club (good photos), taking my camera with me. I went along the side of the course, where quite a few golfers were out, no doubt trying out their Xmas presents. I then went down on to the little stretch of beach just beyond the 4th green. It was a very still day and the sea was flat calm, with only the gentlest of surf i.e. what Philip Larkin observed, with wonderful onomatopoeia, as “the small hushed waves’ repeated fresh collapse”. It was the colours that enthralled me. The photo below shows a smallish rock pool which reflected the clear blue sky and if you look carefully, you can see the small reflections of the little rocks in the pool.

Blue rock pool to the east of Dunbar

The next photo shows the larger pond, the sea beyond and the sky, which is of a lighter blue than the pond. Not long after I took this photo, a single greylag goose appeared at the far side of the pond. If I had taken my long lens, I could have had a close up shot. I could clearly see its pink beak as it glided nonchalantly across the pond, keeping its distance from me.

Large pool on the shore at Dunbar Golf Club

Looking at the pond reminded me of Paul Simon’s excellent song Dazzling Blue and this superb video shows him singing the song.

Back on the beach, there was a scattering of seaweed of various shapes, textures and colours.The photo below shows an example of the smooth, leathery seaweed which you could imagine might be made into belts. I liked the way the sun caught parts of the shiny surfaces and cast intriguing shadows across the myriad shell sand. It is a natural piece of abstract sculpture abandoned by the sea on the beach and waiting for rescue on the incoming tide.

Seaweed and shadows on the beach

The final photo looks back across the town of Dunbar. If you enlarge the photo, you will see the buildings of the Old Harbour on the right, the top of the modern swimming pool and the multi-chimneyed skyline of the High Street, with the white golf clubhouse on the left and the church behind it. In the foreground are the rocks at low tide and the dazzling blue of the pond taken from the side, half way up from the beach. So an enchanting walk on a dazzling Xmas Day.

Dunbar skyline from the east

Frosty by the river and in the garden

December 15, 2019

A week past Sunday, it was -5 degrees during the night in Dunbar – unusually cold for us. The result was a very hard frost everywhere and even the beach was partially white. We walked to Belhaven Pond which I had expected to be frozen over, but there was only ice at the edges. Further along, towards West Barns Bridge – featured previously on the blog here – the path was a streak of white. The photo below shows the path along to the bridge and – on the bike – you approach the path down a tricky slope, just behind this shot. This was not a day for a road bike on the path. You can see how white the grass is over the Biel Burn – burn is Scots for stream – and the trees are bare beyond, except for the pines.

Frosty path at West Barns Bridge (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

The next photo shows more of the grass and the equally frosted field beyond. It was a cold but beautifully still day, with the sun on the river reflecting the grass on the right and the bridge at the top left. There was just a gentle ripple in the burn as it meandered its way on to Belhaven Bay.

Frosty burnside at West Barns

Looking over the wall approaching the path beside the burn, Belhaven Bay can be seen at low tide in the photo below. The beach was host to a large flock of seagulls, as well as – out of picture – oystercatchers, redshanks and curlews. On the right, you can see St Margaret’s House, the present day home of Winterfield Golf Club. Coming down on to the beach itself, you can cross Belhaven Bridge. When the tide comes in and covers the steps, it is known as The Bridge to Nowhere (good photos).

Belhaven Bay

The frost also brought a white addition to the flowers in pots on our decking. While both the compost in the pots and the flowers were frozen, there is a startling beauty about this altered state of nature. In the first photo below, the pansy’s flowers have been transformed into starched butterfly wings and the frost shows the mottled surface of the dark purple flower very clearly. The white and paler purple flower could be part of a Japanese fan or a painted scallop shell. The contrast between the normally soft and floppy flowers and these stiffened petals is quite marked. We could be looking at a different flower altogether. In the second photo, the flower has been broken – probably by the recent strong winds – and looks like a frosted dome, while the greenery on the plant has a thick white covering which emphasises the patterns on the flower.

Frosted pansy
Broken and frosted pansy

I have also planted polyanthus in the pots this year and they too are changed by the frost. In the photo below, the leaves of the plant are changed into fern-like structures, with each element of the pattern clearly delineated by the frost. The flowers looked shocked by the onset of this icy blast but the frost enhances the yellow and pink colours of the polyanthus and this is a very attractive sight.

In his poem Hard Frost, Andrew Young writes

Frost called to water “Halt!”
And crusted the moist snow with sparkling salt.
Brooks, their own bridges, stop,
And icicles in long stalactites drop,
And tench in water holes
Lurk under gluey glass like fish in bowls.

You can see that my flowers have been “crusted …. with sparkling salt” – a perceptive metaphor for the frost.

Paxton House and the marina at Valencia

December 6, 2019

On our way back from our visit to Berwick (blog post here), we stopped off at Paxton House (good photo) to experience more of the autumnal splendour on show that day. The photo below shows the grass strewn with fallen leaves and the trees – mostly deciduous but some evergreen – casting their shadows across the area. The shadows cast by the trees are extensions of themselves, claiming a horizontal as well as a vertical domination of their environment.

Paxton House grounds (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

As we walked past the impressive house, I took this video which shows more of the trees and the back of the house.

We then went down to the river to see the mighty River Tweed. The house organises boat trips and fishing trips from the banks and it is a beautiful setting. The photo below shows one of the views from the trees, looking along the river to the autumnal trees brightened by the sunshine on the shore. The sun also gives the river its delicate blues.

Looking along the Tweed at Paxton House

The final photo shows a wider view of the river, with the trees reflected into the water on the left hand side. You need to breathe deeply when you stand on the shore of this river, take in the panorama in front of you and appreciate the unadulterated peacefulness of the day – the calm river, the calm trees and the calm sky. Go to Paxton House if you can on a still autumn day and you will be well rewarded.

From blue water and blue skies in a cool November to blue water and blue skies in a 27 degree today in October in Valencia. I am sure that many people visiting Valencia may never leave the main city centre. If you get a bus from the main station, in 15 minutes you are at the beach and the extensive marina. This area is no doubt packed to the gunwales in summer with tourists but on our visit, there were few people about. The marina was showing its splendid opulence on the day of our visit. The photo below shows a range of the yachts parked in the marina. There is a Scottish expression which says Ye canny hide money! and this was certainly true of this area.

Yachts at rest in the Valencia marina

The next photo shows a closer view of one of the immaculately clean – but uninhabited – yachts. Just to the right of the main sail of this yacht, you can see the funnel of one of the cruise ships that visits Valencia and pours its day visitors into the city. Although the yachts here look tiny by comparison with the liner, I would choose the more intimate luxury of the yacht before the huge ship – if only I could afford it.

Yacht with cruise liner in the background

On this quiet day at the marina, the atmosphere was very relaxed and this video from the cafe where we stopped for tea/coffee, captures it nicely.

Along from the marina is the huge beach which will be crowded in the summer months with tourists who are able to tolerate the heat. The photo below shows the first part of the beach, which seems to go on for miles around the coast. It was sparsely populated on the day of our visit. The sea was warm for a paddle and you could certainly walk straight into the sea for a swim in October, without shivering. This view is from a long, elevated walkway next to the marina.

Valencia beach

Valencia is a wonderful city to visit, so put it on your list of you haven’t been there.

John Hatton linocuts at SOC and Valencia architecture

November 13, 2019

The current exhibition at Waterstone House in Aberlady, the home of the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club, includes a series of stunning linocuts by the wildlife artist John Hatton. Other artists showing their work are Max Angus, Paul Bartlett and John Foker, but I was most attracted to John Hatton’s work, and he kindly gave me permission to download some art from his website. Original linocuts and some of his greetings cards can be bought at Waterston House for another week.

The first work to stand out for me is this beautiful portrayal of eider ducks in the photo below. Through my scope from the back of my house, I often see groups of eiders near the rocks and if the tide is in, I can get a superb view of the male birds’ necks. Eider have the intriguing scientific name of Somateria mollissima and you can often hear their chortling calls when they gather in groups in Dunbar Harbour (good photos). If you click on the audio here and if you are of a certain age, the ducks’ calls may remind you of Bill and Ben, The Flowerpot Men.

What the artist captures here best is the delicate green on the neck of the male birds, as well as their black and white plumage, which contrasts with the dull brown of the female birds. There are impressive shapes in this portrait – of the rocks, the water and the birds themselves. Hatton also captures the birds’ calm as they glide along, making circles in the water. This is not a completely naturalistic depiction of the eider ducks but is in some ways more effective than a close-up photo might be. The artist’s keen eye for detail and mature ability to contrast colours and shapes stand out here.

Eider ducks by John Hatton (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

The second example from the exhibition shows a curlew in the photo below. Curlews (Numenius arquata) are also frequent visitors to the rocks lining the shoreline at the east end of Dunbar where I live. Through my scope, I can watch a curlew bend its neck and put its powerful beak under a rock or stone, and sometimes it will emerge with a small crab. The bird will toss the unfortunate crab in the air, open its beak, and swallow its prey whole. The curlew has a very recognisable call (click on audio) which rings around the shoreline.

In this linocut, the artist has managed to show the curlew’s beautiful stature and its elegance, in the form of its extended beak and delicate feathers. The detail shown in the curlew’s plumage is stunning and your eye is drawn down the bird’s back and front. I like the contrasting colours between the black and white of the front of the bird and the light tan over black on its back. John Hatton manages to show the flow of the bird’s shape and you can imagine it walking through flowers in a field in the countryside during the nesting season, when the birds disappear from the shore. There are many more works by this artist in the exhibition, which is very well worth visiting.

Curlew

Early last month, I went with my pal Roger to Valencia, on our annual venture to see a city and its football team. Valencia (good photos) is a stunning city and it’s clear why so many tourists choose to visit. It is one of these cities that you can easily walk around the central area. There are also long stretches of pristine beach which are a mere 15 minutes away on the bus. We staying in an apartment not far from the impressive Plaza del Virgen (good photos) which contains the magnificent cathedral and basilica. the first photo below is of the very attractive fountain which sits at the edge of the square. The fountain – La Fuente del Turia – represents the river Turia and has Neptune lying in the river. The second photo is of the famous basilica, one of the most visited sites in the city. It has a very attractive pink exterior and an impressive dome, which has a famous ceiling (good photo) inside. It is cavernous inside and built to impress.

Turia Fountain in Valencia
Pink basilica in Valencia

Further down from this square, you come to the beautiful Placa del Ayuntamiento with its mixture of traditional and modern architecture. This square houses the magnificent town hall and the central post office as well as having another impressive fountain in the middle. I took a video of the square.

Everywhere you go in Valencia, you see the emblem of the city (good photos), which is a bat on the king’s head. In the photo below – of one of the original gates to the city, you can see the bat clearly at the top. The bat was supposed to have landed on a king’s head when he reconquered the city from invaders.

Finally, a building to appreciate and bring a smile to your face. In the photo below, you can see this finely decorated building, where the owners of the first floor apartment have revealed the main window and balcony – a clever and artistic touch.

Swans at Belhaven and gladioli season

October 17, 2019

All summer and into the autumn, we have been watching a family of swans at Belhaven Beach. The two adults had eight cygnets and surprisingly, all eight have survived. These are mute swans and the first photo below shows an adult – male or female? – in the water. Swans are elegance personified and there is a calmness about this bird, as it gently makes circles in the water. The impressionist reflection and the clarity of the water at this stretch of the Biel Burn, which becomes part of the sea when the tide comes in, shows off the swan’s calm authority. The second photo shows the other adult, also reflected in the water but creating a smooth wake behind it as it makes its way effortlessly along the stream.

Adult mute swan at Belhaven Beach (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)
A swan and its wake in the Biel Burn

The family of swans seemed very relaxed in the water as they swam up and down and finally under the bridge. The first photo below shows all ten swans in the burn, with the beach behind and the sea in the distance. This was in the early evening and there were still quite a lot of people around. The swans ignored us all, although no-one went into the water where the swans were. I stood right on the edge of the water and the adults blithely passed me by, ignoring this swan paparazzi. The second photo shows the swans closer up and you can see that, while the cygnets are maturing, they have not, as yet, gained the perfect whiteness of their parents.

Ten swans a swimming in the Biel Burn
Swan family at the Biel Burn

The final photo of the swans sees them all gliding under the bridge in a quiet procession, like a human family out for a walk in the early evening. Perhaps the swans are communicating with each other, but there is no sound that I can hear. Maybe they communicate by gestures known only to themselves. This is no military-type march but relaxation in motion, enviously watched and admired by all.

Ten swans in a family glide under Belhaven Bridge

I took this video (2 combined) of the swans and in the first part, you can see the beach behind with still quite a number of people there, despite it being after 7pm on a September evening.

Each year, in late Spring, I lift the winter bulbs and plant gladioli. This is a random exercise, as the gladioli are stored in a cardboard box in my garage and planted out as they come. This means that different bulbs are planted in different parts of the garden and in tubs at the front and back of the house. Gladioli are described by the RHS as ” cormous perennials with fans of sword-shaped or linear leaves and spikes of funnel-shaped flowers” and are also known as The Bride. They are also commonly known as sword lilies, the name being derived from the Latin gladius meaning sword. the two photos below show gladioli at the back of our house, with a vigorous (albeit blurred) incoming tide in the background. In the second photo, the colour of the gladiolus matches that of the geranium below – purely accidental on my part, as I have no knowledge of the colour to emerge from the corm being planted in the pot.

Half flowering gladiolus

As regular readers of this blog will know, I love taking photos of flowers just when the rain has stopped outside. For the many people who receive notice of the blog outside the UK, this should not be interpreted as indicating that this part of Scotland is rain-sodden for months on end – prejudices die hard! Here in Dunbar, we get less rain on an annual basis than Sydney. Of course, if you go further west in Scotland …. The two photos below show different plants at the front of our house – again in pots. I like the shimmering quality of both the flower head and the raindrops in the first photograph and it is interesting to see how even large drops of rain still cling to the flower. There are fewer raindrops in the second photo but the colours are spectacular, with the deep purple centres enfolded by the gentler purples of the petals, which resemble the skirts of the flamboyant Folie Bergere artistes. The centre pieces could be ballet dancers.

White gladiolus after the rain
Light purple gladiolus after the rain

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie and swans at Belhaven

July 25, 2019

The latest novel which I have just finished reading is Home Fire (review) by the now renowned author Kamila Shamsie (interview with author). This is a fascinating and very well written story about the clash between politics and religion and the family strains that involvement in such a clash can involve. Karamat Lone is Home Secretary in the UK and is of Pakistani origin. He is regarded as a Muslim although he is a humanist. The story involves Lone and his son Eamonn, who becomes romantically involved with another family, also of Pakistani origin. Eamonn first meets Isma in the USA and then her sister Aneeka in the UK. The main story revolves around Isma’s and Aneeka’s brother Parvaiz, who is indoctrinated in London and goes to join ISIS in Syria. No spoilers here, so I will give no more of the plot. The author does present us with an intriguing story and although moral choices may be at the heart of the novel, the plot nevertheless keeps us reading. Shamsie, like all good novelists, is an excellent storyteller and we can easily identify with the characters and the decisions they do and do not make. I highly recommend that you read this intriguing novel.

K Shamsie’s intriguing novel (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

With the warm weather we have been having in Scotland over the last week, we have been going for short walks in the evening after our meal. A few days ago, we went down to Belhaven beach and walking past the bridge, coming towards us was a family of swans, with two adults and eight fast maturing cygnets. The photo below (taken on my phone, so not as clear as I would wish) shows the approaching swans. The group formed a straight line at first and looked like the peloton at Le Tour. When they came to the sandbank, they broke up and one cygnet (see photo) climbed on to the sand. At this, the two parents turned round and headed back out towards the sea. There is an elegant perfection in adult swans.

A family of swans at Belhaven beach

This prompted me to think when I last featured swans on the blog and this 2015 photo shows swans on Belhaven Pond, which is not far from the beach. This shows the swans in action, gliding along the smooth pond and making ripples. The trees in the background are in full leaf and I like the tranquillity of this scene.

Swans and ducks on Belhaven pond

For a more close up view of a swan family, we need to go back to this 2010 photo which was taken on the rocky shoreline next to Dunbar Golf Course, which is on the other side of the town from Belhaven Beach and just along the road from our house. This is a contrasting setting for the swans. Gone is the smooth pond at Belhaven, but there is still great attraction in the rocks and pools and rock formations here. The adults and cygnets look very contemplative in this photo and paid no heed to this human interloper into their resting place.

Swan family on the shore east of Dunbar

One of my favourite poems is Wild Swans at Coole by W B Yeats and these lines show his admiration for these magnificent birds who give us all so much pleasure when we see them in the water, on the shore or in the air.

Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.

The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.

This post appears earlier than it might as we are off to Poland this weekend for a friends’ son’s wedding. Watch this space.

Robert Crais crime novel and late Spring evening sky

May 30, 2019

I recently finished reading Robert Crais‘ entertaining novel The Wanted (link contains video of Crais discussing the novel). The book features Crais’ thoughtful but sometimes troubled detective Elvis Cole and this is the 17th Elvis Cole novel. Crais is an established and well respected crime novelist – see this Guardian interview – and I have been impressed by the depth and quality of previous novels by this writer. This book, which was published in 2017, has an excellent plot and some very tense moments. The reader also feels that s/he has a better insight into Elvis Cole, the book’s protagonist. You can see a “but” coming here and it is that The Wanted is Robert Crais lite. It seems to me that Crais had a great time writing this novel, especially the two villains in the novel Harvey and Stemms, whose dialogue is both jokey and evil-intentioned at the same time. I found their meant-to-be-witty conversations unconvincing, but many other people may not. The two hired killers are trying to find a computer which has potentially damaging information on it. The laptop has been stolen by three fairly well off but bored teenagers in a series of raids on rich Hollywood homes. The baddies discover that Tyson Connor – one of the three teenagers – knows where the computer is and the book is a tense chase between Elvis Cole and his partner Joe Pike and the ruthless killers.

There is some very good characterisation in the book e.g. Connor’s mother, who hired Elvis Cole after she found a very valuable wristwatch in his bedroom. It is also a very good story and Crais is a master of building up tension and the ending is unpredictable. The Wanted would make a great read on a holiday flight but for a more weighty book, some of Crais’ other Elvis Cole novels would be much more satisfying.

Crime novel by Robert Crais (Click on all photos to enlarge)

As regular readers of this blog will know, we get some great skies over the town and sea in the summer months here in Dunbar. It’s not officially summer here until this weekend in the UK, but last week gave us a taste of summer, with some dramatic skies. The photo below (enlarge for best effect) shows a promise of what was to come later in the evening. There was a beautifully layered sky with many shades of blue and a hint of pink over Belhaven beach on our walk there. The photo looks towards the beach on the left and over to Winterfield Golf Club on the right. On the horizon, looking like a battleship, is the Isle of May (good photos)

Early evening sky at Belhaven beach

Back home, just after 9.30pm, the setting sun took over and shot its colours into the clouds to tremendous effect. At first, in the next photo (best enlarged) the glow was mainly over the town, with the outline of the buildings and their chimneys making it look as if the town was one huge castle, with many battlements. The clouds were tinged with orange and it was an eye-catching sight, but better was on its way.

Setting sun over Dunbar

Gradually, although over the space of only about 15 minutes, the colours changed to deep pink and then red. In this photo (best enlarged), I like the contrast between the blackened town, the light blue sky, the darker cloud at the top and the reddening clouds at the bottom right, which were changing before my eyes.

Brilliant sunset over Dunbar

The final photo (best enlarged) highlights the sky itself. Look at the dazzling shapes of the clouds and the interweaving of the clouds, which actually appear to be in motion even in this still photograph. It was as if molten metal had been poured into the sky at various points. I watched this mesmerising view for ten minutes before it took fright and disappeared into the darkness, never to return in exactly the same formation.

Blue, pink and red sky over the sea at Dunbar

Lambs at Deuchrie Dodd and Belhaven Bridge at this time of year

April 18, 2019

As noted earlier, this “weekly” blog will be less frequent while I am writing a new local history book.

I was out on my bike last week cycling past the village of Stenton which was featured on the blog recently. The blackthorn bushes (good photos) are now in full blossom on the road out of the village going west towards Pressmennan Lake, and passing Ruchlaw Mains West farm (good photo), where there’s a steep hill. It is one of these deceptive hills in that you think you are at the top when you see the sign to Pressmennan Wood and lake (good photos), but there is a nasty further climb as you veer right. It is always a relief to get to the top and look over the rolling fields. After another short climb, I came across two fields that were strewn with sheep and very young lambs. The sun was on the fields and it was an entrancing rural sight, like something out of the Far from the Madding Crowd book and film.

The first photo shows the sheep and lambs scattered across this field and in the back ground is Traprain Law (good photos). The ewes were very aware of my presence even although they were not close to the fence surrounding the field. the lambs meanwhile seemed more intent on suckling than looking at this passing photographer.

Field of sheep with Traprain Law in the background (Click on all photos to enlarge)

The next photo was taken in the field opposite, which is at the bottom of a hill and beyond the sheep, you can see the foot of the hill which is extensively covered in gorse bushes. The gorse at this time of year provides a welcome splash of yellow, but it is an invasive species and needs to be controlled. Close up, while the yellow flowers of the gorse are attractive, it is still a very thorny and aggressive pant. The other noticeable aspect of this photo is the numbers on the back of the sheep and each lamb is also numbered, to link it to its mother. Presumably this is for the shepherd who finds a stray lamb and who can reunite it with its mother. Alternatively, it may be that East Lothian has numerate sheep.

Numbered sheep and lambs at Deuchrie Dodd

The bridge at Belhaven Beach has been widely photographed and has featured on the blog more than once. I have tended to take photos of the beach in September, when the setting sun shines over and under the bridge. Last week, we went for a short postprandial walk along the beach when the tide was just going out. The bridge, when the tide is in, is referred to as the bridge to nowhere, and you can see why in the photo below. The bridge is surrounded by water and on the horizon to the right, looking distinctly snail-like, is the Bass Rock on which 150,000 gannets will soon be living.

The bridge to nowhere at Belhaven Beach

The next photo was taken as we passed the bridge, walking along the beach towards the south and you can see the line of the concrete path to the bridge just appearing as a line to the left of the right hand base of the bridge.

Retreating tide at Belhaven beach

When we returned only a few minutes later, the path could be clearly seen, so the tide was going out very quickly. In this photo, the reflection of the bridge is quite clear, but to the naked eye it was just a shimmer in the water, as the bridge reinvented itself upside down in the evening tide.

The reappearing path at Belhaven Bridge

The final photo shows the sun coming under the bridge and this is a wonderful sight, as if the water is being turned into molten gold, which if it solidified would make a solid gold pathway under the bridge. The origins of the bridge are currently being investigated by the local history society.

Evening sun under Belhaven Bridge