Archive for the ‘France’ Category

Auld Year’s Night and A Walk on New Year’s Day

January 7, 2017

We had Australian friends staying over New Year. They arrived on 31st December which is known locally as Auld Year’s Day. This expression is, I think, restricted to the south eastern part of Scotland, while other parts use the term Hogmanay, the meaning of which is disputed, but it may be Scandinavian or Flemish. The term New Year’s Eve is used in other parts of Britain. Until the 1950s, New Year was the major festive event in Scotland, with people still working on Xmas Day. Bringing in the New Year in Scotland is seen as attractive by people across the world, as the cosmopolitan crowd in Edinburgh’s Princes Street on Auld Year’s Night will testify. Dunbar Running Club organise a short run on Auld Year’s Night at 7pm and my wife Val and our visitors took part, while I helped with timing. The race is known as the Black Bun Run after the tradition of giving people whisky and black bun to bring in the New Year, to ensure that people would have enough to drink and eat for the following year. I was the (non-running) President of  Dunbar Running Club for 14 years and the local paper, the East Lothian Courier would print my reports of the race – known then as The Auld Year’s Night Race, until one year the paper’s reporter used the headline Black Bun Run a Success. Thereafter, we used this title for the race. After the race, we joined the other runners (23 in total) in the nearby Masons Arms pub, for a pint of Belhaven Best ale, which is brewed just around the corner at Belhaven Brewery. Back home, we had a meal – a tasty Beef’n Beer (photo below) and brought the New Year in with rather less traditional champagne and red wine.

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Beef’n Beer done in Le Creuset pan (Click to enlarge)

On New Year’s Day, we took our friends on one of our favourite walks – to Seacliff Beach (good photos). We parked the car about a mile away from the beach. As you leave the car, just past the farm buildings, you get a magnificent view of Tantallon Castle (good photos)  and the Bass Rock and the view is enhanced (photo below) with the foreground of the emergent spring wheat’s subtle green.

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Tantallon Castle and the Bass Rock

You walk down a fairly muddy path to get to the beach but you are rewarded with a view of a long stretch of sandy beach to the right and left. We went left towards the tiny harbour – claimed to be the UK’s smallest – where there was quite a swell here with the white sea caressing the rocks.

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Swell at Seacliff Beach

On the harbourside, you can still see the remains of old iron winding gear, which, with the backdrop of Tantallon Castle (see below) makes for an intriguing view.

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Winding gear at Seacliff and Tantallon Castle

We walked back along the east side of the beach and up the sandy slope to the path/road where cars can exit. At the top of the hill, you pass under an archway and when you look back, the Bass Rock is framed by the archway. The photo below was taken on a frosty afternoon a few years ago.

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Arch at Seacliff Beach

As you walk back past the farm buildings at Seacliff Farm, you pass many horses as there’s a riding school there. I managed to catch one horse having a feed and another peering at me through the bare hawthorn hedge (see below). So, an excellent walk on a bright, sunny if cold day gave us an exhilarating start to 2017.

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Horse feeding at Seacliff

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Horse through a hawthorn hedge

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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Horse Fair in the Grassmarket Edinburgh by James Howe

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Preparing for the Start by James Howe

 

The Creel Restaurant and Olhamstocks walk

April 18, 2016

We are lucky here in Dunbar (good photos) with a population of between 8ooo and 9ooo  to have a range of good local restaurants. While The Rocks has a fine reputation for excellent service and very good food, The Creel is the pick of the restaurants. The Creel is a small restaurant owned and run by award winning chef Logan Thorburn. We have visited The Creel many times with family and friends and have never had a bad meal. I contacted Logan who kindly answered my two questions and sent me the photos below. I firstly asked Logan ” What is your approach to cooking the meals you serve in the restaurant?”. His answer was “Great simple combinations using the very best of local produce that is available – season dependent – and all prepared in a true  modern-rustic artisan style”. The second question was “As a restaurant owner, what is your philosophy of service to your customers?”. The answer was ” We strive to offer relaxed, efficient and unobtrusive service that meets our customers needs and also matches our pricing bracket. We do try our very best although staffing a small restaurant in a small rural community can sometimes be a challenge”. If asked why I would recommend The Creel to locals and visitors alike, I would reply that the meals are of a  very high standard, cooked to order and with a depth of flavour often missing from other restaurants. For example, Logan’s fish and shellfish soup, served hot in a generous bowl with his own bread is as good as any bouillabaisse I’ve had in France. The two photos below show Logan’s extensive tapas dishes, including  Griddled Pork Loin with Green Peppers and Spanish Onions; Moroccan, Aubergine and Courgette Tagine,  Steamed Local Partan Crab Claws;  Classic Chic Pea Hummus; and Slow Rioja Braised Chorizo Sausage and Fennel Casserole. We haven’t tried this but it looks very enticing. The 2nd photos is  Steamed Clams with Garlic and Parsley Butter and served with Homemade Farmhouse Loaf. The Creel is a must visit restaurant if you are in the Dunbar area.

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The Creel’s tapas dishes

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The Creel’s clam dish

We stopped for a walk at the bonnie wee village of Oldhamstocks (good photos). This is a place with a long history. Olhamstocks (pr Old HAM stocks) is set in a valley between steep hills, one of which is a testing climb on the bike and the other is a steep, grassy slope where sheep graze. It is up the latter hill that runners strive when doing the annual hill run as part of the well-known Flower Show. There are many substantial stone buildings in the village and the one below had a grand display of daffodils on display.

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Impressive stone house in Oldhamstocks

We walked along to the local church where there is a very interesting historic graveyard.  The gravestone that caught my eye was that of Philip Orkney who died aged 86 – a very long time to live in the 19th century – in November 1875. Next to his name is the word feuer. When I looked this up, I had to search beyond the German word feuer meaning fire. In this context, a feuer is one who pays a feu or rent. So Mr Orkney had “a perpetual lease granted at full rent giving the feuer a continuing right of occupancy and the granter an ongoing rental”. This probably put him in a higher status than other people who paid rent but had no life-time guarantee of occupation. The graveyard is set in an idyllic spot with the countryside in full view.

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Gravestone in Oldhamstocks churchyard

Arthur Melville Exhibition, Mizen Head and autumal russet

November 5, 2015

At the National Galleries in Edinburgh at the moment, there is an excellent exhibition of the Scottish painter Arthur Melville.  There is a local interest for me as Melville was brought up in the village of East Linton (good photos)which is 6 miles (10K) from Dunbar. I went to a lecture on Melville’s paintings at the gallery and it was interesting to see many of the pictures displayed on the large screen. The lecture itself followed Melville’s life and especially his travels to Egypt and Spain but the presenter read the text and there was little individual comment on the paintings. The exhibition is entitled Arthur Melville: Adventures in colour and it is Melville’s dramatic use of colour, especially in depicting the sea and the sky, which catches the eye. The gallery notes refer to “his ability to evoke colour and light with the brilliance of stained glass” and this is an excellent description. For me, the highlights of the exhibition included his portrayal of a French peasant, the Arab Interior, Autumn – Loch Lomond and an early work, A Cabbage Garden which is shown below, as is the exhibition poster, both with permission of the National Gallery. There is such a wide range of paintings on show, in different styles and from different locations, that when you emerge from the exhibition, you feel that you have seen the work of several artists and not just Melville.

Arthur Melville exhibition

Arthur Melville exhibition

Arthur Melville A Cabbage Garden

Arthur Melville A Cabbage Garden

A part of the enjoyment of last week’s visit to Bamburgh, described in the previous post, was staying and eating in the Mizen Head hotel and restaurant. The rooms are spacious and comfortable and there is an excellent breakfast on offer. The restaurant has a justifiably high reputation for fine dining. The hotel is set on the edge of the countryside and there are superb views of rolling farmland from the restaurant. At this time of year, the winter wheat is emerging and, in the sunshine, the growing shoots are a beautiful green colour. We had dinner with our son and daughter in law, who had been a few times before, and we were very impressed. The restaurant is spacious, so no crowding of tables and the service was friendly and helpful, with little fuss. My first course was a generous helping of scallops in Thai butter and they were well cooked (i.e. not overcooked which some restaurants tend to do) and the Thai butter was delicate and brought out the flavours of the scallops. As an aside, I say scallops, pronouncing the A and not scollops, with the A pronounced as O. My wife had the very tasty Duo of Craster Kipper and Smoked Salmon pate. I then had halibut (again not over cooked) and my wife had the best fillet steak she’s ever had. The owners kindly allowed me to download 2 of the dishes and these are shown below, along with a photo of a collection of scallop shells on a barrel outside the hotel.

Seafood dish at the Mizen Head

Seafood dish at the Mizen Head

Steamed mussels at the Mizen Head

Steamed mussels at the Mizen Head

Scallop shells at the Mizen Head

Scallop shells at the Mizen Head

We were driving out of Dunbar the other day and my wife asked me how I would describe the autumnal colours of the trees which are shedding their leaves in the countryside. My reply was russet as this is a favourite word of mine. The OED defines russet as an adjective e.g. the russet bracken, a noun e.g. an apple with a brown skin or a coarse cloth which is reddish brown. So I thought that if this week’s word challenge was russet, which photos would I choose? Coincidentally, an email from my niece Ali included recently taken photos from the countryside in the south east of England. The first 2 photos are Ali’s and the next 2 are from my own photo archive.

Russet forest floor

Russet forest floor

Rurally russet

Rurally russet

Russet tree

Russet tree

Russet avenue

Russet avenue

 

The Beautiful Librarians, Le Tour ends and sweet peas

July 28, 2015

I’ve just finished reading The Poetry Book Society’s Choice –  The Beautiful Librarians by Sean O’Brien a professor at Newcastle University and well established British poet. For me, an educator of librarians in universities in Scotland and Australia for 34 years, the title was alluring, of course. As a member of the Poetry Book Society, I get sent 4 books a year – not chosen by me. O’Brien’s book is a mixture of what might be nostalgia and class consciousness “Scattered comrades now remember: someone stole the staffroom tin/ Where we collected for the miners, for the strike they couldn’t win”  and comic interludes such as in Old Lads at the Ramshill Hotel “.. these wobbly suitors with their grease-grey quiffs/ And suits that are older than they are”. The title poem, superbly analysed by Carol Rumens is also a nostalgic look back to when O’Brien was a student. The poem begins “The beautiful librarians are dead,/ The fairly recent graduates who sat/ Like Françoise Hardy’s shampooed sisters/ With cardigans across their shoulders/ On quiet evenings at the issue desk,/Stamping books and never looking up/ At where I stood in adoration”. The reference to Francoise Hardy is very meaningful to me because, as a teenager, I was lovestruck by Ms Hardy’s stunning looks and vertigo inducing French voice, such as in the song All Over the World. Some of the poems in this collection appeared to be very clever but lacked depth, while others were superb – try it for yourself.

The Beautiful Librarians by Sean O'Brien

The Beautiful Librarians by Sean O’Brien

So, another Tour de France has come to an end. Three weeks of aching ascents and death-defying descents has thrilled millions of people across the globe and not just cycling enthusiasts. My cycling pal John maintains that even watching the cyclists go up some the high climbs such as La Croix de Fer (video) makes his legs feel sore. It was great to have a British winner again in Chris Froome and there were many exciting finishes. I’ve been wearing my Guardian cycling T Shirts recently but I was surprised – and shocked – at so many people not knowing what the third word in the slogan (photo below) originally was. As ever, I’ve promised my self that I’ll do more hills from now on, inspired by the teams on Le Tour. I would advise you to watch this space, but …..

Le Tour de France T shirt

Le Tour de France T shirt

My wife’s running partner brought us a beautiful bunch of sweet peas freshly cut from her garden. These flowers not only have soft but attractive colours but they also have a lovely perfume. These delicate flowers do not last very long but make a lasting impression as in the photos below, and some of the pinks were replicated in a rose I saw in a garden only yesterday.

Jar of sweet peas

Jar of sweet peas

Sweet peas close up

Sweet peas close up

Rose with burgeoning buds

Rose with burgeoning buds

Lucy Newton and Aix En Provence

July 14, 2015

A new exhibition at Waterstone House, Aberlady features the artist Lucy Newton and it is a stunning collection of paintings of animals and birds. For me, there were three outstanding features of the work on show. Lucy kindly gave permission for me to include two of her paintings on the blog and they are shown below. Firstly, there was the amazing detail on her animal paintings of a badger and a fox. On both portraits, the animal’s fur is crystal clear and the hairs are delicately drawn and there is a real sense of life in the paintings. (Click on paintings/photos for best effect)

Badger by Lucy Newton

Badger by Lucy Newton

Secondly, in most of the paintings, the artist has included background which is a mixture of the realistic – grass, leaves and a tree – and the abstract, and this gives an intriguing depth to the paintings. Thirdly, in the bird portraits (and I use the word “portraits” deliberately as you get a real sense of these being “real” birds with personalities of their own) Lucy Newton uses splashes of colour which also have a realistic and an abstract quality. This exhibition is another winner for SOC and I would urge you to go and see the exhibition if you are in the area.

Fieldfare Study by Lucy Newton

Fieldfare Study by Lucy Newton

One of the delights of our trip to Marseille was visiting the beautiful town of Aix En Provence – the Aix is pronounced Ex. The town is a world away from the bustling city of Marseille and, although there are many tourists in the town, once you leave the main streets, there are many quieter side streets to wander through. Aix is well known as the home of the painter Cezanne and we went to the Musée Granet which contains a range of paintings by Cezanne but also many other artists. The ticket to the museum also allows you to visit the very impressive Chapelle des Pénitents, an old church which has been refurbished into a stunning, high-ceilinged art gallery, where there is an extensive exhibition of painters such as Cezanne, Picasso and Klee. The gallery (photo below) is on 3 floors and the interior itself is a work of art.

Musee Granet Chapelle, Aix En Provence

Musee Granet Chapelle,
Aix En Provence

Aix is an historic town and as you walk through the streets, there are many impressive squares with numerous cafes in which you can sit with a nice glass of Provence Rosé and watch the world go by – or study the concentration of chess players.

Chess players in Aix En Provence

Chess players in Aix En Provence

On our second visit to Aix, we went to the equally impressive Caumont Centre D’Art which is housed in a grand 18th century mansion. We were there  to see an excellent exhibition  of the artist Canaletto and the paintings came from galleries all over the world. At the back of the mansion, there are beautiful gardens, part of which includes an outdoor restaurant, set in a corner with a number of attractively planted jardinières, as in the photos below. We did not know about the gardens when we went to see the paintings and lunch at the Centre D’Art was a treat. If you are in Provence, Aix is a must-see.

The formal garden at Caumont Centre D'Art, Aix

The formal garden at Caumont Centre D’Art, Aix

Jardinière at Caumont Centre D'Art, Aix

Jardinière at Caumont Centre D’Art, Aix

The rose on our lunch table at Caumont Centre D'Art, Aix

The rose on our lunch table at Caumont Centre D’Art, Aix

I’ve put a slide show of photos from part of our trip on my Photopeach page (click on full screen for best effect) and it includes a delightful song by Francoise Hardy, whom I absolutely adored in my youth.