Archive for the ‘countryside’ Category

Back on my bike, John Clare podcast and crocuses

February 23, 2017

I had my first cycle on Saturday after being off the bike for 5.5 weeks with very painful sciatica i.e. intermittently, you get a sharp pain in your side and shooting pains going down your leg – and this can happen during the day or night. Okay, it’s a fairly minor complaint but it’s very annoying and frustrating, particularly with the knowledge that cycling will make it worse. When you look up sciatica on the web, the first thing your told by all the websites I looked at is: There is no cure for sciatica. You just have to wait until it calms down and do warm up and warm down exercises before cycling. So, on the bike – tentatively. When you come back to cycling, especially when you get older, there is a change in the environment. What used to be inclines are back to hills, and what used to be small hills are now biggish hills and as for the big hills – forget about them for a while. However, I know that after a few longer cycle rides, the inclines will return to their former status, as will the little hills and the big hills can be conquered – maybe at a painfully slow rate at first.

On Saturday’s bike ride and on today’s, it was refreshing to be out looking at the countryside again, passing clumps of snowdrops now at their peak and also emergent crocus and the odd daffodil in flower. Plus, many of the fields are going green again, while others, newly ploughed, have a sheen on the turned earth which the sun catches. So it was appropriate today that, while on the bike, I listened (safely, able to hear traffic behind me) to a podcast from Melvyn Bragg’s educative and informative series In Our Time on Radio 4. This podcast ( you can listen from anywhere in the world) was on the poet John Clare  and there was a fascinating discussion by three academic experts on Clare’s childhood. He was brought up in relative poverty in the village of Helpston in Northamptonshire, where his father worked on a local farm. Clare left school at 11 and was introduced to poetry by fellow farm labourer, who showed Clare a book of poems about landscape. Clare was published in his 20s and was marketed as a poor farm labourer (a la Robert Burns in Scotland) with a gift for poetry. The podcast reveals how Clare became a poet of the countryside – from the countryside’s and its animals’ point of view i.e. Clare on his walks delved into elements such as the Nightingale’s Nest. As one of the panel observed, Clare did not observe the rural landscape “from over a 5-barred gate” as other rural poets did, but included details – such as the composition of the nightingale’s nest. Clare’s fame did not last and he ended up in a lunatic asylum, but he still wrote poems which have endured until today, later in his life. Clare’s style fell out of fashion but there has been a revival of interest in Clare by poets such as Seamus Heaney and Tom Paulin, who admired Clare’s use of local dialect words. I would recommend this podcast to everyone, not just those interested in poetry.

We are two-thirds of the way through February and the crocus flowers have added a welcome splash of early Spring colour across the UK. Here in Dunbar, the local council have planted hundreds of crocus around the town. The photos that follow are from the council-planted crop just up the road from my house. It was very windy when I took the photos but the sun was out and the crocus glittered and swayed in the wind, which is not cold today. Tomorrow, however, the temperatures are to plummet and we may get gales and snow, which means a battering  for these attractive but flimsy flowers. In this photo, I like the combination of colours, yellow, purple and different shades of green.

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Crocus on Spott Road, Dunbar

In the next photo, a close-up (difficult to do in the wind), the crocus appear to be reaching up to the sun and opening their flowers to ingest the sun’s rays.

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Close up of crocus on Spott Road, Dunbar

In the final photo, which includes both yellow and purple flowers, the crocus are like open-mouthed choir boys, singing at the top of their voices.

Crocus on Spott Road, Dunbar

Crocus on Spott Road, Dunbar

John Clare refers to the crocus in some of his poems, such as this from Early Spring “The Spring is come, and Spring flowers coming too, The crocus, patty kay, the rich hearts’ ease;”. The patty kay is the hepatica flower and the photo below is included under the Creative Commons licence.

Hepatica flower

Hepatica flower

 

 

Ditchling Beacon and Ditchling village

January 25, 2017

During our trip to London, we ventured south from Thames Ditton, where our rellies stay, to the village of Ditchling, an hour’s drive away. Before going into the village, we headed up the steep hill, passing a few cyclists straining hard, to Ditchling Beacon (good photos). This historical site – a hill fort was found by archaeologists – has 360 degrees views across Sussex. On the day we visited, we could see the sea behind Brighton to the south but we couldn’t see the coast of France. The Beacon is on the South Downs and you can see for miles across the rolling countryside. The Downs are made mainly of chalk and it was a new experience for us to walk on the creamy coloured clay. It had been snowing the previous day and there were quite large – but headless – snowmen to be seen next the icy path. The bitterly cold wind ensured that we didn’t stay long as, unlike the groups of walkers we saw, we were not dressed for the conditions. The photos show part of the Beacon and the snow still lying there.

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Ditchling Beacon paths

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Snow on Ditchling Beacon

The village of Ditchling has a long history and there are some very attractive Tudor-style houses in the main street. Our first stop was to the jewellers  Pruden and Smith where my sister in law wanted to buy a necklace. I wouldn’t normally stop for long in a “goldsmiths, silversmiths and jewellers” but we were given a short tour of the workshop below the main shop. What you find here is a small space which features a few work desks,  but also on display are the tools of the craftsmen and craftswomen who make the jewellery. The first photo shows a dazzling range of tools and it’s interesting to reflect that these tools, some of which are quite powerful, are instrumental in producing such delicate jewellery (see shop website for examples), along with the combination of the well-honed skills and artistic talents of those making the jewellery.

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Silversmiths’ tools in Ditchling

The second photo shows some of the older equipment used to roll out the silver and gold into which a variety of precious stones would be inserted. There was also an admirable display of jewellery on display in the cabinets. So an interesting visit to the shop and an excellent insight into the extensive and delicate work that goes into producing the rings, necklaces and bracelets.

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Rolling and printing equipment in the Pruden and Smith workshop in Ditchling

Our next stop was Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft which featured work by Eric Gill, whom I knew as a famous typographer from the 1920s and 1930s. Some of Gill’s typography is on display and I’d like to have seem more. I learned that Gill was also an accomplished sculpture and one of his works, with its beautiful flowing lines and delicate depiction of the woman’s face, is shown below.

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Eric Gill sculpture in Ditchling Museum

Also on display were examples from the Kelmscott Press founded by William Morris. There was an example of an old press, along with typefaces on display and you could see how intricate a task it was to put in letters individually – and upside down – to make a page of a book or newspaper.

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Printing press at Ditchling Museum

We had an excellent lunch at The Bull pub in the village. The pub has some very good examples of local beer from its own Bedlam Brewery. The food was impressive and I had a very tasty venison pie with chestnut mash and broccoli. It rained on and off on our stay in Ditchling but we managed a walk around this very attractive village, which is well worth a visit.

Frosty days and Pitcox farm

November 29, 2016

Last week, we had a series of very frosty days in Dunbar. When you get frosts in November, there are always gloom merchants around who see this as a sign of a bad winter to come. Likewise, if you get a comparatively warm day in November, there will always be someone in the street saying “Aye, we’ll peye (pay) for this!”. This view of life of course, sees the world in simplistic terms, for every gain ( a sunny day), there will be pain ( a frosty day). We optimists argue that you should enjoy both sunny and frosty days – if you can. I was out cycling last week on 2 of the frosty days and I took my camera on the second one. Unlike last week, both these cycle rides were very enjoyable – sunny days, with big Australian clear blue skies, on my mountain bike and hitting the occasional thick patches of ice en route in the countryside. The thick tyres on this bike mean that you can crunch through icy puddles on the road. The key thing is never to touch your brakes on the ice, as you inevitably end up lying on the said ice and looking up to the big sky, and feeling an ever-growing pain in your knee.

I stopped the bike at Pitcox Farm, of which more later. On the roadside, the fallen leaves had been highlighted by the 3 days of frost. I took these close up photos and looking at them when enlarged, I’m sure we may see different things. What do I see? What strikes me most are the patterns on the leaves, some like splayed fingers, others like branch lines of a metro system, some like a child’s drawing of a tree and others like protruding veins, which are white, unlike their varicose counterparts. There are also twigs, leading your eye from line to line.

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Frosted leaves in November (Click to enlarge

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Frosted leaves in November

Back home, I went out to the back of the house to catch the thick frost on the beach. There looks like a confrontation in the photo below. The frost has marched out from the stone wall towards the incoming tide and the two armies are separated by the Independent Republic of Sand, upon which the sun shines. The tide receded, the frost stayed put and then it was completely annihilated by the invisible Thaw. The following day, there was high tide and the jubilant sea laughed its way up to the wall. There’s a lovely image in Amy Lowell’s poem The Hoar Frost, with these lines: “And when I came into my garden,/My silken outer-garment/ Trailed over withered leaves”.

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Frosted East Beach in Dunbar

Back to Pitcox Farm, which usually makes an appearance here in late January, early February when the first snowdrops for miles around can be seen. The farm, with its impressive house and farm cottages is 4.5 miles (7.2K) from Dunbar and you get there on quiet country roads. I was on my way back when I took the photos here – of where I’d come from and the road down to the cross roads.

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The Pitcox to Stenton Road

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Approaching the Pitcox crossroads

At the place in the photo above, the roadside was frost-filled, the leaves static, the air cold and my breath steamy. At the bottom of the road, just past the crossroads sign, the sun was out and the frost had been banished, with the leaves enjoying the temporary heat, as in this photo, which appears to contain unknown stick insects.

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Autumn leaves in the sun

There were also magnificent shadows cast by the now leafless trees in the garden of Pitcox House. In this photo, the shadows look animated as if engaged in mid morning tree shadow aerobics and the trees themselves stretch out as far as they can.

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Trees and shadows at Pitcox House

 

Late autumn trees and the woes of cycling

November 22, 2016

When I came back from my cycle this morning, having passed a field of frozen sprout plants standing motionless in the field, their now yellow lower leaves stuck to the ground, and also having gone past an exquisitely coloured avenue of trees and roadside leaves at Bowerhouse (local pronunciation Boorhoose), my intention was to add to my photos of late autumn trees and early frosts here. This plan was thwarted as the wind from the east got up and the rain arrived, meaning leaden skies and rising temperatures. A walk last week through Lochend Woods in Dunbar (about 1K from our house) was particularly enjoyable because of the variety of colours in the trees and on the floor of the woods – a hundred shades of yellow, brown and green. So I went back with my camera.

The first photo is of rose hips. I have now learned that you can make rose hip syrup although it looks like it might be too sweet for me. Also, rose hips can be cultivated from sophisticated garden roses and not just the dog roses you get in the wild. I like the contrast between the bright red of the hips and the leaves, which are in various stages of maturity i.e. from green to pale yellow.

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Rose hips in Lochend Woods (Click to enlarge)

The next photo takes in a range of trees. In this photo, I like the way the leaves contrast with the dark trunks of the trees. The erect trunks draw your eye up and down the photo and when you look closer, many of the trunks are not straight but bent at various angles, and they are of various girths. The sun on the woods here actually makes some of the trunks look darker than they are.

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Autumnal trees in Lochend Woods

Contrast this photo with the one above. In this photo, the sunlight is making the tree trunks lighter and the trees take on the look of gum trees in Australia. This photo is deceiving as you might think that it was taken on a very hot day if you only look at the shining trees. I also like the shadows on the ground which are extensions of the trees and often lead your eye from one tree to another.

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Sunlight on trees in Lochend Woods

I also liked this photo. Firstly, there is the startling colour of the yellow leaves, made paler by the sun and they show off the smooth tree trunk behind. Secondly, there is the real sense of height and I think the photo makes these trees look taller than they actually are. There are many lines to follow in this photo – up, down, to the right and left and back again.

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Autumnal trees in Lochend Woods

On the way home, at a house on the edge of the woods, I passed this copper beech hedge, shown in close-up below. This is purely accidental on my part but when I look at this photo, I have the impression that the leaves are in motion and are falling although they are not. Also, the shadows of the leaves appear to increase the number of leaves on show. The colours and leaf patterns are fascinating the more you look.

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Copper beech hedge leaves in autumn

So to cycling, at least last Friday’s cycle. There are some days you go on a bike and no matter how flat the road or how light the wind, it’s a struggle. It was a very cold but bright morning and I was well rugged up in my winter gear. One thing about late Autumn/winter cycling is that it takes a long time to get ready. In the summer, on go the shorts and top and shoes and helmet and half finger covered gloves – and off you go. At this time of year, it’s top and shorts and leggings and another top and a jacket and head cover like a monk’s cowl and a buff and a helmet and shoes and overshoes, which are tight and hard to get on. 5 minutes later – off you go. I was about a mile into the bike ride on Friday and started to feel my legs heavy and my back sore. Now, in these situations, to what extent your legs and back are  actually sore is open to question. What happens is that your mind takes over. Then there’s the good angel and the bad angel. The bad angel says “Well, you were going for 20 miles (32.4K) but, hey if you turn at 6 miles, who’s going to know?”. The good angel says “Who will know? YOU will know! Are you  a man or a mouse? Forget 6 miles pal, 10 is the turning point – if not further”. The nearer I get to the 6 mile mark, the voices get louder. Which one will win? I nearly turn at the roundabout at 6 miles but keep going and – this always happens – once I’m on my way, my legs are lighter and my back is not sore. What you need to do when cycling on these kind of days is to detach your mind from your body and just let your legs take over. On these days, there much more sense in your legs than in your weak and complaining brain.

 

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.

 

Back on the bike and Seacliff Harbour

June 26, 2016

Now that I’m fully recovered from my fall 13 weeks ago, I was allowed back on my bike this week, with warnings a) not to fall off and b) not to go too far. My first cycle was a very flat 14.5 miles/24K circuit to the nearby village of East Linton (good photos) and back. There was a bit of a head wind but not too strong and I certainly felt good to be cycling along the road again. This is a great time of year to be cycling through East Lothian’s countryside, passing still-green fields of barley, wheat and potatoes, as well as ever green fields of sprouts, cabbages and cauliflower. The rapeseed (canola) fields have lost their vibrant yellow flowers as the seeds have formed and they take on a lifeless look after a while. My second cycle was slightly shorter but included some hills. After my 3 month lay off, the hills have suddenly got steeper and I struggled a bit to get up them. These “hills” will be reclassified as “inclines” when I’m a bit fitter and ready to go up real hills. Today was cycle number three this week and I extended it to 20 miles although it’s flat apart from a couple of hills near the 10 mile mark. One is reasonably steep but I cycled up at a good pace, so my two previous cycles have helped. Here are some of the fields I passed this week.

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Field of barley with Dunbar in the background

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Field of sprouts near Easter Broomhouse Cottages, Dunbar

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Field of potatoes near Dunbar

We took our Australian visitors to the very attractive but not all that well-known beach and harbour at Seacliff Beach (good photos) which is not far from North Berwick (good photos). We parked the car at Auld Hame farm and walked a mile down the road and through the trees. As we walked Tantallon Castle stood proud on the cliffs to our left, dominating the countryside in front of it. This castle is now looked after by Historic Environment Scotland and is well worth a visit. Much of the castle’s impressive 12ft outer wall is still well-preserved and you can climb the ramparts to get a panoramic view. This view would have made it very easy for the castle’s owners the Douglas Family to see any enemies approaching. The castle’s back is to the sea from where it would be very difficult to attack. At Seacliff Beach, there is a wide semi-circle of beach on which families were playing and having picnics in the sunshine. At the end of the beach, the rocks take over and as you approach the rocks, you can see what appears to be a metal structure but it’s not clear what this is. Unless you know what you’ll see next, you will be surprised to see that there is a tiny harbour and the metal structure is an old wheel for loading and unloading creels and boxes of fish from boats.

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Loading wheel at Seacliff Harbour

Next to the harbour is a large knoll which people climb to get views across the North Sea. A feature of this view is St Baldred’s Boat which turns out to be not a boat, nor the cross-topped stone structure seen in the photo below, but an outcrop of rocks which was viewed as dangerous. St Baldred is believed to have lived near Seacliff for a time.

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St Baldred’s Boat beyond Seacliff

Another view of the knoll looks towards Tantallon Castle and on the day we were there, the haar (sea mist) was coming in and gave the castle the eerie look in the photo below. If you’re in this area, check out Seacliff Beach and harbour where there is lots of room for the few people who find the beach.

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Tantallon Castle from Seacliff Harbour

Poppies poem and Dunbar High Street in the 1950s

June 18, 2016

I’m working my way through this year’s Forward Book of Poetry and of course, as this is a selection of some of the best poems published in the UK and Ireland in 2014/15, there are many superb poems. I limit myself to reading 3 poems each day. Today, a poem leapt out and demanded that I read it three times and review it on this blog. The poem is Poppies in Translation by Sujata Bhatt and as the poppies are out in may garden, it’s topical. The poem starts “You tell us how in Romanian,/ the wild poppies growing everywhere/ are a living flame of love” (poet’s italics). The poet sees poppies as “a wildfire/by the roads” and in the countryside around here, you often see lines of poppies edging the road. “Wildfire” is apt description. The poem continues with the poet able to “simply feel/ the way their wild redness/ burns and reels” and she relates this to the fire of first love. Describing the poppies’ texture, the poet writes “I have seen crepe de chine, chiffon,/ how their sheerest silks glisten in the sun” – an imaginative view of poppies apparently made of silk. Another striking image comes next “They could be Hindu brides,/ ripening in their red saris”. The poet goes on to argue that while in Romanian, poppies are seen as “a living flame of love”, in English the word “love” would not be used. Instead “In English, we say the poppies speak to us” and it is “their call that moves us”. This is an interesting interpretation, so the next time you see a vibrantly red poppy, is it calling to you or is it reminding you of first love – or something else? I’m an inveterate photographer of poppies especially the inside of the flower, what Bhatt calls “whorls of black filaments” and here are two examples. Inside the first one looks like a sea anemone and inside the 2nd one looks like a small tarantula.

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Poppy flower head

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Poppy flower head

I’m on a Facebook site called Lost Dunbar which deals with the history of my home town. I was always a reluctant Facebook member and I only use the site for my research i.e. I have turned down many requests to be friends, not because I don’t like the requestors but because I don’t have time to look at any more than the Lost Dunbar site. Recently, people have been posting pictures of Dunbar High Street in the 1950s and my local history research deals with the early 1950s period. The first photo below – click on photo to enlarge it – is interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, it shows shops that are no longer there such as Nelson’s the grocer’s (as it was always called). Secondly the cars on the street would now be vintage cars. The most interesting aspect of this photo is the appearance of the message bikes, the one on the bottom left is emerging probably from Lipton’s shop on the corner and has boxes on it. In Scotland, shopping is often referred to as going for the messages with messages meaning the good bought while shopping. Thus delivery bikes were called message bikes and those on the bikes were called message boys. I was a message boy for the Buttercup Dairy shop in the High Street when I was 12/13 years old.

Dunbar High Street 1950s

Dunbar High Street 1950s

In the second photo, what is most striking is the absence of cars on the High Street. Today, it is very difficult to park at any time on this same street. In the early 1950s, very few people owned a car in Britain – only 7% overall and in working class areas, this would have been much less. It may be hard for people today to understand but many people in the early 1950s had no expectation of travelling in a car, never mind owning one. Cars were very expensive and owned only by business or professional people or farmers in the Dunbar area. In my new book, there is a chapter on how people travelled in 1950 to see the whales stranded near Dunbar and one of the most interesting interviews I did was with a man who was 6 years old at the time and was taken to see the whales in the farmer’s car. He told me that going in the car – the farmer’s car! – was even more exciting than seeing the 147 whales on the beach, as they saw very few cars near the farm where his father worked.

High Street Dunbar 1950s

High Street Dunbar 1950s

Snake man and ducklings

June 2, 2016

I was showing my grandchildren this photo of the Snake Man in Wagga Wagga and it got me wondering if he was still active – and he is.

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Snake man releasing a brown snake at Pomingalarna Reserve, Wagga Wagga

The photo above was taken in 2004, not long after my wife and I had moved to Wagga Wagga, in South eastern Australia, as I was teaching at Charles Sturt University. We stayed there for 3 years and came back to Dunbar, from where I taught online for another 6 years, going to Australia for 6 weeks each year in October/November. My wife was running with others from Wagga Wagga Road Runners at Pomingalarna Reserve (good photos) and I was walking up one of the hills when we came across a man with a hessian sack and a hooked metal rod. I asked about the man and was told “Aw, look James, it’s the snake man”. As an aside, the word ‘look’ here does not mean ‘have a look at this’ but is a word Australians use to explain something. I always joked with my students that I was called “Luke James” in Australia. I asked the Snake Man what he was doing and he took out the snake in the photo and released it into the nearby bush. I enquired about what kind of snake he was releasing. “The second most dangerous snake in the world” he told me. It was a brown snake and, to my horror, he was releasing it just a few metres from the running track where the runners were soon to pass. He assured me that the runners were in no danger and that people who were killed by snakes in Australia were almost always trying to kill the snakes. I looked him up recently and Tony Davis (up to date photo) is still going strong, with people still regularly phoning him up to remove snakes from their houses and take them to Pomingalarna – photo below with other wild life on the reserve.

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Kangaroos at Pomingalarna Reserve, Wagga Wagga

Back here in Scotland, we met old friends in Peebles (good photos) which I’ve featured on this blog (good photos) a few times. We were walking along the banks of the River Tweed (good photos) when we saw a mother duck and her 8 ducklings swimming together (1st photo) and then slightly apart (2nd and clearer photo).

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Duck family in Peebles

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Duck family in Peebles

By coincidence, that day I’d turned over a page in Chris Rose’s book In A Natural Light and it was a painting of a duck family also. I’ve had Chris’ permission to reproduce some of his paintings with acknowledgement. The painting is wonderfully realistic but also so vibrant in its use of light and shade and delicate colour. For the mother duck, this is a serious business, as it was for the mother duck in Peebles.

 

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Chris Rose Tufted Duck Family from the book ” In a Natural Light”.