Archive for the ‘farming’ Category

Smooth tattie dreels and bluebells

May 3, 2017

My home county of East Lothian is often referred to as “the garden of Scotland” because of its rich arable soil. In the past two weeks, several fields around Dunbar have been transformed from being roughly ploughed and not very interesting areas, into mesmerising rows of tattie (Scots for potato) dreels (Scots for drills). The first photo was taken at a slight angle to the dreels and I love the curvature of the shaped soil and how one set of dreels leads on to another further up the field – and the 2nd set appear to curve in a different direction.

IMG_1471

Tattie dreels on the edge of Dunbar (Click to enlarge)

The 2nd photo is taken more or less straight on and the regimented dreels look like an endless set of brown piano keys, which might play a song such as (appropriately for this blog’s author) Tatties and Herrin. This song claims that the “natural food” of the Scots is potatoes and herring – and the video shows the reaping, gutting and barrelling of the herring (aka Silver Darlings). In the 1920s and 1930s, tatties and herrin’ were indeed the staple diet of many Scots people. Of course, in the 1920s and 1930s, before the advent of tractors, tatties would be sown by hand or by an early potato planter and they would be sown in much smaller fields, compared to the huge fields we see today. I have planted tatties in my own garden this year – the first time for over 30 years and yes, my dreels are smooth. When the first nascent shaws appear on my crop, I’ll post a photo

 

IMG_1474

Tattie dreels and the Lammermuir Hills

It’s May, so time for the bluebells to make their annual appearance and, for a brief time, be the dominant flower in woodland areas. A fellow blogger – Bookish Nature – has an excellent post on bluebells and she includes a lovely quote from Gerald Manley Hopkins and a clip from a Robert MacFarlane video, based on his excellent book The Wild Places. I ventured to the woods at Foxlake Adventures – as I did last year, to try to take better photos of the bluebells. The first two photos show the extensive bluebells among the trees at Foxlake. In some ways, the trees enhance the bluebells, emphasising their colour and showing how they cover the ground around the trees. The bluebells also enhance the tall, erect trees which are just coming into leaf, showing their mottled bark and their reach towards the light. In the 2nd photo, the sunshine has lightened the colour of the bluebells and strengthened the green of the new leaves. The bluebells will soon fade away but the leaves will get bigger and change colour to a darker green, so you have to appreciate the light green shapes that have emerged from the buds while they last.

IMG_1458

Bluebells beneath trees at Foxlake Woods

IMG_1461

Bluebells and trees in the sun at Foxlake Woods

Taking close-up photos of bluebells is something I find quite difficult but I keep trying. The first photo shows how the bluebell petals curl up when open and when you are looking down on stretches of bluebells, you hardly notice this feature, which is like women’s hairstyles in the 1960s. The vibrancy of the blue in the bluebell comes out very well here and you have to crouch down and look closely to appreciate this. So, next time you are in a bluebell strewn wood, hunker down and take a close-up view.

IMG_1464

Bluebell close up

For the 2nd photo, I had to hold the stem of the flower and turn it upwards. Bluebell flowers droop down, as if the flowers are too shy to show off their attractive pale cream anthers which hold the pollen. Only the creatures that scurry in amongst the bluebells, e.g. the beetles or perhaps a curious little wren, will appreciate the aesthetics of the underside of the bluebell. Seeing the bluebells in full colour and spread is a heart-warming sight, as you can feel the warmth in the colour of the flowers and know that Spring is well underway and soon the sun will have real warmth as well.

IMG_1467

Bluebell close up, showing pale cream anthers

Tigh Na Leigh and their orchids

April 18, 2017

We went for an overnight stay last week to the village of Alyth (good photos) in Perthshire. As we drove towards Alyth, we passed many fields of raspberry canes and others with polytunnels for strawberries. We were now in the area of the Berry Fields O’Blair –  a famous Scots song about the people who used take a holiday in July and spend it picking berries. Another song is When the Yellow’s on the Broom (contains old photos) which is about the travelling people in Scotland who spent the winter in scaldy (i.e. non-travellers) houses, often in very poor conditions, but went berry picking in the summer. The song describes the travelling people as the gan(g)aboot folk, who tak tae the road when the broom flowers. We were booked in to the Tigh Na Leigh (pr Tie Na Lee) Guest House. You have to take the Guest House part with a pinch of salt. This is no ordinary guest house, it’s more of a boutique hotel, with luxurious accommodation. The website has several photos of the interior of the house and there were some exquisite touches such as the egg tree shown below in one of the very comfortable guest lounges.

IMG_1412

Egg tree at Tigh Na Leigh (Click to enlarge)

Also in this lounge, is a log fire built into the wall, with a glass front. Many years ago, we used to live in a house with 2 wood stoves, and there is no better heat than that which comes from burning logs. Also, there is the fascination with the action taking place in the fire itself. The logs attract the flames and are consumed by them, after changing shapes and colours many times. It’s hard to look away from the wildly exotic aerobics of the flames. Sitting by the fire with a glass of wine before dinner was a real treat.

IMG_1423

Log fire at Tigh Na Leigh

The owners, Bettina and Chris, made us very welcome and if you like aeroplane business class service, then Tigh Na Leigh is the place for you, as that’s what you get. We opted to eat in and were sent a menu the day before. For starters, I had a delicious twice-baked smoked haddock (smokie) soufflé, pictured below. This was delicious, with a creamy cheese sauce to enhance the light and delicate soufflé. Our main courses of duck comfit and salmon fillet were also very tasty and the food and wine is very reasonably priced

IMG_1426

Double baked “smokie” soufflé at Tigh Na Leigh

The large dining room, which also has a lounge area, looks out on an extensive garden with a large pond (photo below) and while we had dinner, there were a succession of birds appearing on the lawn or the pond. Behind the pond is large stone fronted mound which was built by the present owners but looks as if it’s been there for centuries, and it has a very natural looking waterfall emerging from it. You also have breakfast in this room and there were numerous bowls of fruit – raspberries, strawberries and blueberries – and fruit compote, as well as yoghurt and a range of cereals. This is in addition to the varied breakfast menu, which includes some of Chris’s excellent omelettes. When you stay here, you start the day very well. Bettina did tell us of one very unwelcome (and non-paying!) guest – an otter which ate all the fish in the pond and threatens to return if the pond is re-stocked. We cannot recommend this superlative accommodation too highly, so if you are travelling in Perthshire, don’t miss it.

IMG_1414

The pond at Tigh Na Leigh

Tigh Na Leigh has flowers in every room and on the stair, there are two beautiful orchids which were instantly attracted to my camera. According to the RHS “Indoor orchids are mainly epiphytic (growing on trees) or lithophytic (growing on rocks)”. So, two new words for my vocabulary, although don’t test me anytime soon. The orchids I saw were beautifully balanced and delicately coloured. In the first photo below, the petals appear to be made of whipped egg whites and stroked with purple food dye, while the centre looks like a small stage with an ornate backdrop.

IMG_1402

Orchid at Tigh Na Leigh

In the 2nd photo, we move into the surreal. The more you look, the more different images you are likely to see. A tiger’s head? A Daliesque set of tonsils? The colours are numerous shades of purple and yellow. The 3rd photo is perhaps more dreamlike and the top half could be an imaginary creature in a SciFi film. What of the bottom half? Purple moons from a planet hundreds of light years away? As ever, you are bound to see something else or different.

IMG_1403

Centre of an orchid at Tigh Na Leigh

IMG_1405

Centre of an orchid at Tigh Na Leigh

 

Two exhibitions – local and national

August 18, 2016

Last week, we went to two art exhibitions, one here in Dunbar and one at the National Gallery in Edinburgh.

The first exhibition was Inspiring Impressionism and featured the works of very well known artists Van Gogh and Monet. However, the main focus of the exhibition was on the man who inspired Van Gogh and Monet, with a new style of painting – Charles Daubigny. I’m sure that, like many others, I had never heard of Daubigny but he was a prolific artist and one who shifted the focus of art from strictly realistic, and often internal, painting to take in landscapes, which were often painted outside, at the scene of the painting. As Daubigny progressed as an artist, his depiction of the landscapes became more impressionistic and he was called “the father of impressionism”. There are many very impressive paintings in this exhibition – see highlights –  and among my favourites was Fields in the Month of June shown below, under the Creative Commons Licence. If you click on the painting to enlarge it, you will see what is perhaps an idyllic landscape with common elements seen in may paintings, such as the women working in the fields, the donkey nearby and the geese flying overhead. However, it was Daubigny’s use of paint to portray the poppies that was unusual at the time and he was criticised for this by the more traditional art establishment.

Fields in the Month of June by Charles Daubigny

Fields in the Month of June by Charles Daubigny

Another outstanding work is Sunset on the Sea Coast in which you can see how Daubigny influenced Monet and Van Gogh. The is one of Daubigny’s most impressionist painting and the mix of colours and the contrast between the darkening land, the vivid sunset and the evening sky are beautifully done. When you stand next to this painting and look close up, it appears to be a random succession of daubs of paint, but step back and this almost volcanic looking sunset strikes you. I felt it was real privilege to see all Daubigny’s works, as well as those of Monet and Van Gogh.

Sunset-on-the-Sea-Coast-large

Sunset on the Sea Coast by Charles Daubigny

The  second exhibition is a set of reproductions of the paintings of artist James Howe. The exhibition was mounted by East Lothian Archaeology Service and it takes the form of digital reproductions of Howe’s paintings, which you see as actual size and with some paintings, at first, you think you might be seeing the actual painting. The exhibition and very well produced accompanying booklet are sponsored by Rathbone Investment Management Limited. James Howe was born in 1780 in the village of Skirling in the Scottish borders and he went on to become a prolific artist – like Daubigny – specialising in the painting of horses, which he loved doing. In order to make a living, he also did portraits of wealthy people in Scotland. The first painting below (permission given) shows the helter-skelter of the horse fair in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket, which today is a major tourist attraction. The second painting focuses on the horses preparing to start a race at Musselburgh race course which is still going strong today. While the eye is drawn to the magnificent horses, there is action at the front and rear of the painting, with boys being chased by a soldier. This was a very interesting exhibition of the work of a Scottish painter of whom I had not heard.

Scan_20160817

Horse Fair in the Grassmarket Edinburgh by James Howe

Scan_20160817-2

Preparing for the Start by James Howe

 

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.

IMG_0447

Field of barley with Dunbar in the background

IMG_0448

Field of sprouts near Easter Broomhouse Cottages, Dunbar

IMG_0453

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.

IMG_0420

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.

IMG_0426

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.

IMG_0427

Tantallon Castle from Seacliff Harbour

Parma ham dishes and East Lothian Life

March 21, 2016

We bought some Parma ham which is defined in the OED as “A strongly flavoured Italian cured ham, eaten uncooked and thinly sliced”. Parma ham can only be reared from pigs in selected farms around the city of Parma. There are numerous recipes available which used Parma ham and I’ve followed some of them to an extent and then added my own variations. The first dish was chicken fillet with Parma ham and I used the Jamie Oliver recipe as the basis for my dish. There is a video version of this but it’s 7+ minutes long and I’d rather just read a recipe. One key difference between this recipe and others using Parma ham is that you do NOT wrap your chicken in the Parma ham – I find that it won’t crispen up under the chicken. Instead, you lay the ham on top of the chicken breast and pound it with a rolling-pin to flatten it out. Mr Oliver uses parmesan cheese and thyme leaves. My own version goes like this. Lay your chicken breasts on a chopping board and gently score the top of the breast. Cover the top with grated parmesan cheese and then add 2 heaped teaspoons of crème fraiche on each one. Add one teaspoonful of wholegrain mustard to the crème fraiche – or mix both ingredients together in a bowl and then add them. I then lay two slices of Parma Ham on each chicken breast, cover them with cling film and bash them flat. I brush an enamel dish with olive oil and lay the chicken in, adding cherry tomatoes in some balsamic vinegar. Into the oven at 180 degrees for no longer than 25 minutes. If you cook them for longer, the chicken will dry out.

The second dish is cod with Parma ham and again, I laid the ham over the fish, after adding the parmesan cheese, crème fraiche and mustard ( half a teaspoon this time). Obviously, you don’t bash your cod. Cook the fish with the tomatoes for no longer than 15 minutes – or again it will dry out. I served both dishes with a packet of Ainsley Harriet’s cous-cous (yes, yes, I should make my own) on to which I added grill-panned peppers, with green beans as well. A bit too much on the plate for some tastes I would think – see below and judge for yourself – but we enjoyed it.

IMG_0269

Cod with Parma ham – straight from the oven

IMG_0270

Cod with Parma ham, cous cous, peppers, cherry tomatoes and green beans

When I retired, I promised myself that I’d continue writing. I write a full page in my diary each day and this weekly blog. I’ve also been writing up my local history research. The other writing I intended to do was of a more journalistic nature and – aye, it’s taken quite a while – but this week, I had an article published in a local journal East Lothian Life (my home town of Dunbar is in the county of East Lothian) which contains an eclectic mix of articles on local housing, farming, gardening, cooking and history. My article was about Dunbar Harbour and it is to be published in two parts. The article is my personal reflection on the harbour and while it contains aspects of history and nature, it also has my own images – and my interpretation of these images. For example, I always notice the still manual nature of the work done by the fishermen and this has changed little in hundreds of years. While the boats themselves have modern equipment such as radar, when a boat brings in a load of prawns, the shellfish are sorted by hand in the boat. The initial article looks at Dunbar Castle (good photos), the fishing boats and the kittiwakes, which have just arrived back on to the castle walls. I know I might say this and I would certainly have said it whether I had an article in the magazine or not, East Lothian Life is a very well written and extremely well produced journal which is enjoyed not only by local people but by many people who have emigrated (e.g. to New Zealand). The editor and publisher Pauline Jaffray makes a great contribution to the county in keeping this quarterly magazine going and maintaining such a high standard. Two photos similar to those in the article are shown below.

IMG_9306

Kittiwake chick on Dunbar Castle walls

IMG_8150

Fishing boats in Dunbar Harbour

Winter cycling and broccoli and Stilton soup

March 5, 2016

It occurred to me the other day that I had not mentioned cycling for quite a while on this blog. In the winter, while the mileage goes down, the regular bike rides on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday still take place. Winter cycling is obviously very similar to summer cycling insofar as I go on similar routes, but there are differences. The first difference is in clothing. In the summer, I put on my cycling top, shorts and shoes and off I go. In the winter, I have 3 thicker, but breathable tops and my winter jacket. I also have a skullcap to protect my ears and a snood for my neck. This means that it takes me longer just to get going. It also means that you have extra weight on the bike AND because it’s so cold, you use up much more energy, so you need to extend more effort to go the same distance as in the summer. My pals and I also go on our mountain bikes more in the winter and it’s very enjoyable, as you get off the road and face the challenges of rocky tracks, mud and ice at times. One of our routes when there’s an east wind is out past the Whitesands beach and on to Barns Ness Lighthouse.(good photos). On our last ride there, the track next to the beach was flooded, so we cycled along the beach itself. It’s OK on hard sand but you have to get off now and then when you hit soft sand or slippery rocks.

IMG_8684

Whitesands Beach near Dunbar

IMG_9956

Barns Ness Lighthouse

On Saturday, I went through part of the Dunglass Estate and on towards the village of Oldhamstocks. This is a good cycling route for mountain bikes (good photos). At one point, I was at the top of a hill, going along tractor tracks in a grassy field and I approached a flock of sheep about 50 yards from me. They stared intently, then one or two stirred and as I got nearer, as one they ran about 20 yards down the hill, turned and stared at me again. What came to my mind was the sheep in Far from the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy’s wonderful novel and also a well known film from the 1960s (video trailer) and more recently. Did my sheep wonder why Gabriel Oak from the novel was on a bike? It was a beautiful morning, with the  sun coming through the clouds and in the next field below, a tractor was ploughing, followed by a flock of feasting seagulls. This reminds me that I must buy a video camera for my bike – I’ve been meaning to do this for years.

To misquote an old adage, of the making of soup there is no end. I thought I’d try something different this week and it was the leftover broccoli in the fridge that reminded me that I’d never made broccoli and Stilton soup, something I’ve enjoyed in restaurants over the years. So, on to a well-known search engine and after a browse of different recipes, I settled on the BBC Good Food recipe as it had a variety of ingredients and was healthier than others e.g. the ones suggesting double cream. It’s easy to make. I sweated a finely chopped large onion, a celery stick and a medium sized leek and added a teaspoonful dried mixed herbs, then added a chopped (and soaked) large potato. I stirred this around for a minute and then added 2 heads of roughly chopped broccoli. I added a litre of stock – ham stock cubes for me but you choose your stock – and let it simmer for about 25 minutes, until the potato was soft. I then mashed it down with my potato masher and used my hand held blender to make it smooth. The recipe suggests 140g of Stilton cheese but when I measured this out, it was too much cheese. I added 85g of the cheese and this turned out to be to our satisfaction as the cheese does not over power the broccoli flavour. We had the soup today with a lovely loaf from Bostock Bakery in North Berwick.

IMG_0225

Bostock Bakery loaf

IMG_0229

Broccoli and Stilton soup with fresh bread

While the soup looks (and was) very tasty, any good chef would have told me to properly clean the plate before serving.

 

Bondagers talk and book, Brockie exhibition and goldfinch

October 19, 2015

Last week, I went to a talk at our local history society on “The Bondagers – the system, their work and the dispute” given by Dinah Iredale who has conducted impressive research  and written an illustrated book on this topic. A bondager was a woman farmworker , mainly in the early to mid 19th century but also later, and this research covers Northumberland and south east Scotland. What was peculiar about bondager women was that they were hired as part of a deal between the farmer and the hind – a married ploughman. The bondage system could be onerous for the hind who had to provide a bondager to work during the harvest and for occasional labour, as he would not get the job otherwise. For some hinds, their wives or other female relatives could do the work but for young hinds with families, it meant employing someone outside the family. For the bondagers themselves, this was also an onerous system as they were at the beck and call of the farmer, via the hind, and also had to live with the hind’s family in often very cramped conditions. An interesting local dimension for me is that in and around Dunbar, the term “hind” was used more generally for someone from the countryside. There was a rather derogatory reference to a man from the country, as he was described as “A hind fae (from) the country. Come doon (down) fae the hills and canny soom (can’t swim). Dinah has kindly given me permission to download the book cover and a photograph from her excellent book.

Bondagers by Dinah Iredale - book cover

Bondagers by Dinah Iredale – book cover

Bondagers and hinds in a farm yard

Bondagers and hinds in a farm yard

The latest exhibition at Waterston House in Aberlady is by the well-known wildlife artist Keith Brockie. Keith Brockie has a local connection, being born in Haddington which is 11 miles (18K) from Dunbar. I bought his book Return to One Man’s Island (includes many examples of Keith’s work) a few years ago, so I was intrigued to see in what directions his work had progressed. We went to the exhibition expecting to see more excellent painting of birds but in this exhibition, there are several superb paintings by Keith of hares, seals and a range of birds. I emailed Keith and he generously sent me photos of some of his paintings for this blog. The first is entitled Brown Hare at Rest and you can see the amazing detail of the animal’s fur, as well as the grass which is green in colour but also looks like hair. The brown hare’s eye has a peaceful look and the body is relaxed, perhaps enjoying a sunny afternoon.

Brown Hare at Rest by Keith Brockie

Brown Hare at Rest by Keith Brockie

The second painting is also of a hare but this time, it is a white mountain hare with a background of heather and snow. As in the first photo, the detail is outstanding in its delineation of the hare’s whiskers and fur, as well as the heather. This hare looks well fed and well content in the winter sunshine.

Mountain Hare in Sunlight by Keith Brockie

Mountain Hare in Sunlight by Keith Brockie

The third painting has a very close connection for me, as it shows a kittiwake adult and chick on the walls of Dunbar Castle (good photos). The kittiwakes are very well drawn and the adult’s yellow beak stands out. For me, it is the painting of the rocks behind the birds which make this picture as it shows the effects of the weather on the rock (and of course the effect of the kittiwakes’ droppings!). As regular readers will know, I’ve tried to photograph the kittiwakes over many years, using my zoom lens. One of my photos is included below but it is certainly not meant to be anywhere near the standard of Brockie’s painting.

Kittiwakes at Dunbar by Keith Brockie

Kittiwakes at Dunbar by Keith Brockie

Kittiwakes on Dunbar Castle walls

Kittiwakes on Dunbar Castle walls

A new edition of Scottish Birds arrived in the post recently and I was very attracted to a superb photo of a goldfinch (includes short video). I contacted Harry Scott, who took the photo and he kindly sent me the photo shown below. This bird has outstanding colours and I love the variety of the colour shapes  – the eye, the beak, the bands of red/orange, white, black, yellow and blue, all of which have an abstract quality. The goldfinch recently came to prominence in literature with Donna Tart’s extraordinary book. The title comes from a famous painting by Carel Fabritius and in the story, the boy protagonist walks off with the painting after an explosion at a museum.

Goldfinch by Harry Scott

Goldfinch by Harry Scott

Visit to Cove and harvest time in the Dunbar area

September 9, 2015

On Sunday, we went 9 miles (14.6K) along the coast to the hamlet and harbour of Cove (good photos). From the road into Cove, there is no indication that there might be a harbour nestled below the cliff face. At the car park, there is an information board about Cove and its coastline, and there is also a memorial block with metal figures of women and children on the top. This is in memory of the men from communities along this coast who were lost at sea in a freak storm in 1881. The website notes that “Cove itself lost 11 of the 21 fishermen who worked from the harbour at the time”, so this was a local disaster of epic proportion, as fisher families were the bulk of the population of Cove at the time. The photo shows a close up of the distressed women and children. There is a similar memorial at St Abbs Head.

Cove memorial to lost fishermen

Cove memorial to lost fishermen

From the car park, you walk down the hill with the sea to your left. On Sunday, two surfers were enjoying the generous waves. At the bottom of the hill, you can either turn right and go through the tunnel to the harbour or keep going and end up at the main harbour wall. The harbour itself is very small and perhaps more attractive when the tide is in. The photos below show the harbour at low tide and the entrance to the harbour with the coastline – to St Abbs and beyond – on the right. Sunday was bright and warm and blue was the predominant colour.

Cove harbour at low tide

Cove harbour at low tide

Cove harbour at low tide

Cove harbour at low tide

At the harbourside, there are two large stone dwellings which were no doubt occupied by fisher folk in the past. Next to the houses, there is a  rock escarpment which comes up from the shore and forms a natural wall, next to which was built the existing harbour wall. Cove harbour is a little pocket of tranquillity, especially if you go on weekdays or in the winter. Thomas Hardy’s poem At Lulworth Cove a Century Back begins “Had I but lived a hundred years ago/ I might have gone, as I have gone this year,/ By Warmwell Cross on to a Cove I know/ And Time have placed his finger on me there”. If you could go back to Cove in 1915, I’m sure that, while the sea, the rocks, the harbour wall and cottages would look the same, the lives of the people there would be so much different.

Cove harbour cottages and harbour wall

Cove harbour cottages and harbour wall

It’s harvest time around Dunbar now and the wide fields of barley, wheat and oats, having turned from green to cream in colour and having developed fecund heads of grain, are subject to relentless destruction by combine harvesters which gobble their way across the fields, digesting the barley/wheat/oats and spewing out straw at the rear and then grain from a long tube into a tractor. This is at once a fascinating sight for the viewer but also a regretful one, as soon the swaying, creamy corn will be replaced by the glistening brown of the ploughed earth – darker and colder, although attractive in its own right. The combine harvester I photographed – a few hundred yards from our house – left a trail of straw but also a fine dust behind it, as the ground is very dry.

Dust storm from combine harvester

Dust storm from combine harvester

The combine completed two lengths of the field before disgorging its load into the waiting tractor. It made me think of the gannets we see from the back of our house, who dive for fish and return to feed their young although the combine regurgitates its grain at a phenomenal speed.

Combine harvester filling a tractor with grain

Combine harvester filling a tractor with grain

Close up the heads of grain take on a beautifully sculptured multitude of shapes, like neatly stacked little parcels waiting to be opened.

Close up of ripened grain

Close up of ripened grain

As I walked back to the car, the tractor pulling the trailer full of grain has spilled some on the road. The grains could be peanuts scattered on the floor. The grains will shortly be disembodied and made into flour and then into bread, rolls or cakes for us to eat. In the days when barley was cut by hand with scythes, and it took men and women days to cut what the combine does in an afternoon, bread was the staple diet, and while it continues to be in some parts of the world, in the resource-rich west it is no longer of such importance. If you’re lucky enough to live near the countryside, watching a combine harvester is an exhilarating experience.

Grain on the road

Grain on the road

Doon Hill walk, summer flowers and best bee photo?

September 1, 2015

On Sunday morning we parked the car at Oswald Dean, known locally as Oasie Dean, a valley with Spott Burn (burn in Scots = stream) running through it. We walked up towards Doon Hill past the Doonery, the site of an old threshing mill, now private houses but the former chimney of the mill has been kept. Doon Hill is best known historically as the site of the Battle of Dunbar in 1650, an inglorious day for the Scots, who had the superior position and had Cromwell’s army precariously positioned between them and the sea. One section of the Scottish army incongruously took the decision to attack the English army, thus abandoning their potentially victorious position. Defeat was thus snatched from the jaws of victory and the Scottish football (aka soccer) team has been repeating this on many occasions. The views from the foot of Doon Hill are panoramic, looking over the town of Dunbar and out to sea with the Bass Rock prominent. As ever, click on photos for enlarged views in a new tab.

Dunbar, the Bass Rock and the Fife coast from Doon Hill

Dunbar, the Bass Rock and the Fife coast from Doon Hill

View from Doon Hill

View from Doon Hill

This is the end of August, so the barley fields around Doon Hill are at their most fecund and ready for the harvest. It’s a real pleasure to walk past the barley, on this morning swaying gently in the breeze. The heads of grain are tightly packed individual food parcels and have an anarchic, unregimented view when seen close up.

Barley grains ready to harvest

Barley grains ready to harvest

Taking a wider view, the barley looks more regimented, organised in countless rows of stalks, interrupted only by the tractor tracks used to sow and spray the crops. We saw 2 combine harvesters in the adjacent field from the other side of the hill. The combine was relentlessly cutting the barley and leaving a large dust cloud behind it, while the tractor waited to be loaded with the grain, once it had been cut and processed inside the harvester.

Combine harvester near Doon Hill

Combine harvester near Doon Hill

Not far from the summit of Doon Hill is the remains of a Neolithic settlement (good photos) and there is a very informative board on the site, detailing the history of the various settlements. Reading the board’s information and looking around the large fields of grain and hearing the buzz of the combine harvester in the distance, you can’t help but think that if one of the former settlers arrived back from the dead, s/he would be completely bewildered. While the basic shape of the hill and the countryside remains and the sea can still be seen just over the hill, our long dead visitor would find it hard to understand the vastness of the grain fields or the bizarre machine eating its way through the barley.

Doon Hill settlement notice board

Doon Hill settlement notice board

Like the barley, most of the flowers in my garden are at their peak and at the back of the house, the pots are overflowing with begonias, fuchsias and lobelia, with the gladioli and sword lilies not far behind. On a sunny day, with an incoming tide, it’s a treat to sit outside and appreciate the spread of colour in front of you.

Summer flowers on the decking

Summer flowers on the decking

Summer flowers on the decking

Summer flowers on the decking

Finally, I’ve been trying to get close-up photos of bees on our lavender and hebe all summer. Most are blurred because of the constant movement of the bees and their incessantly beating wings. This one may be the clearest so far. If you look closely at the bee’s head, you can see its proboscis in the flower head.

Bee feeding on lavender

Bee feeding on lavender