Archive for the ‘harbours’ 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harbour reflections and making Minestrone

December 14, 2016

I took my camera for a walk along to Dunbar Harbour (good photos) last week. The day was so wind free that the water in the harbour hardly moved and the wee boats, which are usually swaying gently to an unheard waltz tune on the accordion, were statuesque. It’s very unusual not to have any kind of wind in Dunbar and at one point, it looked as if the sea had given up coming into the harbour, as the water appeared – very briefly – to be motionless. Then a gentle ripple spread from the entrance to the harbour across to the boats.

The two photos below are taken at the east end of the harbour and the perfect reflection in the 1st photo shows how calm the water became. There’s a hint of movement in the water in the 2nd photo and the wee boat looks isolated. This is because all the small yachts that lie in the harbour in the summer have been removed for safety. I like the way the harbour walls are reflected in the water in the 2nd photo.

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Calm day at Dunbar Harbour

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Calm day at Dunbar Harbour

The next 2 photos are taken at the castle end of the harbour. In the first photo, the reflections look as if they might come from an impressionist painting e.g. the squiggly lines in the castle walls’ reflection. It was a cold day but the colours in the boats and in the fish boxes on the quayside inserted a warm feature into this walker’s experience. In the both photos, the castle ruins still show the white patches left by the nesting kittiwakes, who visited in the summer. The kittiwakes have featured on this blog more than once e.g. here. In the 2nd photo, the wider angle shows the castle ruins and the narrow entrance to the harbour. Another unusual feature of this visit to the harbour was the absence of birds on the water, as you often get small groups of eider duck. On this RSPB site, you can listen to the gurgling, whoo-hooing of the eider duck, and you can usually hear this from the harbourside.

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Fishing boats near Dunbar Castle

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Reflections of the ruins of Dunbar Castle

Having made lentil and vegetable, tomato and lentil, and parsnip and pear soup recently, I thought that it must be the turn of minestrone. The term minestrone comes from the Latin minestra meaning soup with pasta (and/or other ingredients) and one as a suffix meaning large, thus giving us a soup with big vegetables. The soup is mentioned in a cookbook by Apicus (the whole book from Project Gutenberg here) published in 30CE, so it has ancient traditions. You could spend the rest of your life looking at the myriad of minestrone recipes on the web i.e. almost anything goes as long as you have vegetables and pasta in it. Almost all recipes include tomatoes. Today, my minestrone has a large leek, 3 stalks of celery, diced turnip (aka swede) and carrot, dried basil and oregano, a tin of tomatoes, 2 tbs tomatoes puree and a litre of chicken stock. I put a little oil in the bottom of my large soup pan and added the basil and oregano. I then sweated the leeks and celery, and added the turnip and carrot until it looks like this:

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Sweating the vegetables in the making of minestrone

I then added the tomatoes, tomato puree and broken spaghetti, brought it  to the boil and simmered it for c20 minutes. I always find that you should never eat minestrone soup right away – let the flavours develop for at least 8 hours or preferably overnight. You can then have a colourful, tasty and winter warming soup which served up will look something like this photo from last year. Have it for lunch with crusty bread and if you are lucky like me, go for a walk along to the harbour with your camera afterwards.

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A plate of minestrone soup with basil leaves

The Bone Seeker, views of St Abbs and the Number Four gallery

December 6, 2016

I’ve just finished reading M J McGrath’s  The Bone Seeker, a crime novel set in the Canadian arctic. This is a crime novel with interesting characters, including the heroine Edie Kiglatuk, a teacher who is seconded to help the police solve the mystery of a local girl’s murder. One the key “characters” in this novel is the arctic itself as well as the local Inuit culture. McGrath introduces us to Inuit words like  qualunaat – white people and avasirnguluk – elder, to create a convincing environment for her story. The history of the exploitation of the Inuit by outsiders, such as the US and Canadian governments, is  covered but with a light touch. McGrath is a story teller and the plot is well-paced. The reader does get a real sense of how people live in this (to most of us) extreme climate. Most of the novel is set in the summer where darkness is absent and the endless light can prevent people from sleeping, but winter approaches fast near the end of the novel and the transformation of the land and sea is well portrayed. Perhaps the ending features too much action in a short space of time in this book where the story builds to a complex conclusion. This is not just a book for readers of crime novels, so get it if you can.

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The Bone Seeker by M J McGrath

Regular readers will know that my wife and I visit St Abbs Head on a regular basis and these visits have featured on this blog many times. This visit was on a very cold and frosty Sunday morning but the sky was huge and Australian blue. Leaving the car parked at the number four art gallery (of which more later), into which my wife ventured, I walked along the path which leads to another path, which leads to one of the cliff-top walks. In this photo, you can see the cliffs in the distance, with sheep in the field and before that rows of winter wheat, which are a delicious green in the winter sun.

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Looking towards the cliff-tops at St Abbs Head

I crossed the road towards the village, with a large field on my right and the disused church at the top of the hill. What I liked about the field (photo below) was the bright yellow of the grasses at the edge of the field, and the way your eyes are drawn to the lines in the field, both the narrow crop lines and the wider tractor tracks. All seem to lead to the now abandoned church on the hill. The pink-tinctured clouds are also attractive.

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Stubble field at St Abbs Head

Across the road is the imposing Northfield House, with its head of St Ebba above the gates. I’ve photographed the gates from front-on and the head in close up before, but I’ve never taken a side-on shot of the entrance. In this photo, the impressive stone entrance is shown off by the field and sky. There is a large walled garden here, part of which is in view.

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Side view of the entrance to Northfield House in St Abbs Head

I walked to the St Abbs Visitor Centre (open March-October) and looking down to the harbour, I saw a strange sight – a tractor was reversing into the harbour. On a second look, I could see that the two yellow poles behind it were part of a platform. One of the wee fishing boats reversed and sailed gently on to the tractor’s trailer.

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Tractor in St Abbs Harbour

I walked back to the car in the fading afternoon light and you could feel the cold deepening, ready to freeze anything that didn’t keep moving. We’ve been to the number four art gallery many times over the years and have bought paintings and glassware for our home and for presents. With my camera at hand (and this blog already in mind) I took some photos, with permission. The gallery is part of a very well maintaned stone built row of what presumably were farm buildings and has a very attractive entrance – photo below.

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number four gallery in St Abbs

The inside of the gallery (photos below) is bright, well laid out and encourages you to walk around to view the paintings – some superb landscapes were on view on our visit – prints, glassware, ceramics, sculpture and jewellery. See examples here.  One of the reasons many people revisit this gallery is the warm welcome given by the staff, who are very helpful, informative but unobtrusive. The original works available here are of excellent value, so pay a visit if you are in the area.

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Inside number four gallery in St Abbs

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Inside number four gallery in St Abbs

Richard Allen and Jan Wilczur exhibition and lifeboat exercise

July 13, 2016

Another dazzling array of talent on show at Waterston House, Aberlady at the moment, in the form of an exhibition by Richard Allen and Jan Wilczur. The show includes Allen’s paintings and linocuts and Wilczur’s paintings of birds in a wide variety of settings. Both artists kindly sent me photos of their work. Richard Allen’s linocuts are smaller pieces than his paintings but no less effective for that. As can be seen in the portrayal of the curlew below, the linocuts in the exhibition draw your eye to the flowing lines in the picture and the almost abstract quality of the way the lines make shapes e.g. the curlew’s eye. Although the linocuts present us with birds, the flow of the lines reminded me of Australian Aboriginal drawings and paintings.

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Curlew by Richard Allen

In contrast to the linocuts, Allen’s paintings are full of colour. Some of the bird portraits have a lightly surreal feel to them, such as the Drake Goldeneye which clearly shows the ducks but includes a variety of areas in light and dark blues which are not naturalistic. One of my favourite birds, alas not seen as much around here as when I was young, is the lapwing aka peewit because of its call. Allen’s painting of the lapwing, shown below, was for me one of the highlights of the exhibition. The natural setting, the dignified portrayal of the bird and the range of colours on the bird and in the flora all combine to very good effect. Look at how the lapwing’s crest bends as do the reeds.

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Lapwing by Richard Allen

Jan Wilczur has provided visitors to the exhibition with a stunning range of paintings. For me, the most striking and one I went back to several times is Bullfinches – shown below. When you first look at this painting, you see the birds, especially the striking red breast and piercing eyes of the top bird. The lower bird – a female? – seems to be a little shy, as if aware that she is being painted but the colours on the head and the wings are delicate and draw your attention. Come back to the painting and you see the branches and the berries. the little globules of berries hanging precariously, it seems, from the branches, which seem animated with their hand-like twigs waving in the air. So – that’s what I see – what do you see?

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Bullfinches by Jan Wilczur

The second painting I noted down on my phone Memo was Long Eared Owl which is a fascinating work of art. Central to the picture is the imperious looking owl, a beautifully manicured bird without a feather out-of-place. It looks dressed to go somewhere. I like the subtle colours on the bird’s feathers and face and those penetrating eyes. Then you see the trees with their irregular notches, some of which could be small owl feathers that have drifted off and stuck to the trees. I think that the trees may be silver birch, one of my favourite trees.

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Long eared owl by Jan Wilczur

The two artists have set up an exhibition which is a must see for anyone in the area and the quality of the linocuts and paintings transcend what might appear to some people as a narrow subject. Richard Allen’s book of linocuts Coastal Birds is available at the exhibition and is superb value.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, the sound of a helicopter close by attracted my attention and it appeared to land in a nearby park. I then saw it hovering above two RNLI lifeboats outside Dunbar Harbour. I went to the harbour which is just along the road from my house and took photos from the harbour wall. I’ve been having problems with my camera lately – just got the normal lens repaired – so I put on my longer lens. The photo below is perhaps not as sharp as it might have been but it does capture the helicopter and lifeboats, which were on a training exercise. There are many more photos – and better ones I think – here (scroll down to see photos). The 2nd photo below is of the lifeboat returning to harbour at the end of the exercise.

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RNLI/Coastguard exercise

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Dunbar lifeboat returns to harbour

 

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

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.

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Cod with Parma ham – straight from the oven

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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.

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Kittiwake chick on Dunbar Castle walls

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Fishing boats in Dunbar Harbour

Jane Smith exhibition and a different look at Coldingham Beach

March 12, 2016

The new exhibition at Waterston House, the home of the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club is by wildlife artist Jane Smith. We visited this very impressive exhibition and could see why Jane Smith is an award-winning artist. I got in contact with Jane Smith and she kindly gave me permission to download 2 examples of her work, which are shown below. What impressed me most about this exhibition – mainly of screen prints – were the shapes, of both the birds and the background, and in some cases, the shapes of the birds’ wings are replicated in the background sea and hills. So there is an abstract quality to some of the works on display, while in others, there is a fairly true representation of the bird but with melodious lines and curves both on the bird and in the water behind. This is shown vividly in  The Great Northern Diver, shown below.

Jane Smith Great Northern Diver

The Great Northern Diver by Jane Smith

In her prize winning portrait of diving gannets – Fishing Frenzy – shown below, there is a dramatic representation of the gannets entering water, with their bodies narrowing, and their concentrated focus on the fish. Again, the shapes – and this time, the colours, stand out. If you can get to this exhibition, it’s a must see. You can also see Jane Smith’s book Wild Island in which the author writes about a year in Oronsay and accompanies her fascinating text with a variety of paintings and prints.

Jane Smith Fishing Frenzy

Fishing Frenzy by Jane Smith

We haven’t ventured down to St Abbs Head and Coldingham Beach for a good while, so last Sunday – a clear, bright but cold day – we parked at the Nature Centre and walked down to the harbour and along to Coldingham Beach. I’ve posted photos of this beach and its surrounds on this blog before but this time, I pointed my camera in different directions. From the harbour, I took a photo of Northfield House which sits proudly on the headland. In the 19th century, the house was bought by an Edinburgh brewer and has recently been refurbished.

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Northfield House St Abbs Head

Going along the coastal path to Coldingham Beach, I looked back over the harbour, the centrepiece of which is the now defunct Lifeboat Station, which closed last year, despite a determined campaign by locals. The sea was quite rough and, perhaps with my knowledge of its closure, I thought that the Station looked forlorn.

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Looking back on the Lifeboat Station at St Abbs Head

On to the beach itself and there have been some dramatic changes over the years to the west side of the beach. Firstly, a large and impressive new house The Pavilion has been built on derelict land. Secondly, to the left of that house, the garden of the Dunlaverock House has been beautifully developed. Thirdly, there has been a dramatic transformation in the quality of the beach huts at Coldingham Sands. All three changes are in the photos below.

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Beach huts, The Pavilion and Dunlaverock House at Coldingham Sands

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Beach huts, The Pavilion and Dunlaverock House garden at Coldingham Sands

As there was a big swell on the sea, the surfers were out in force and I counted 12 of them, some of whom were standing on their boards and gliding effortlessly towards the shore. There’s a video of Coldingham surfing here.

Six little terns, wintry St Abbs harbour and green shoots

December 16, 2015

I’m reading the new Poetry Book Society ChoiceLes Murray‘s Waiting for the Past. Murray’s poems are dense with images and he has the poet’s knack of reducing into a few words what the rest of us would need a paragraph to explain. One of the early poems in the book is entitled Dynamic Rest:

Six little terns

feet gripping sand

on a windy beach

 

six more just above

white with opened wings

busy exchange of feet

 

reaching down lifting off

terns rising up through terms

all quivering parallel

 

drift ahead and settle

bracing their eyes

against the brunt of wind

So we have four short verses and like all the poems in this book, you need to read and re-read to gain an insight into the depth of what the poems is about and what happens in the poem. The title is an oxymoron in that dynamic and rest appear to be contradictory. My English teacher at school, Mrs McKie, would be impressed that I remembered the term oxymoron. The terns are “resting” on the beach and in the air, and in the last verse, they “settle”. Murray imagines the birds – I assume that you cannot see birds “bracing their eyes” – perhaps narrowing their eyes in the face of a strong (and cold?) wind. The last phrase is “the brunt of wind” i.e. not the brunt of the wind, suggesting a forceful and unpleasant wind for the birds. The wind also affects the birds on the ground as their feet have to grip the sand. So the poem is dynamic, with “terns rising up through terns” and there is constant movement in this attempt at rest. Murray’s white terns are common in Australia and have striking blue/black beaks and black eyes.

White tern (Public domain photo from http://www.ozanimals.com/Bird/White-Tern/Gygis/alba.html)

White tern (Public domain photo from http://www.ozanimals.com/Bird/White-Tern/Gygis/alba.html)

We drove down to St Abbs Head on Sunday on a cold and damp winter’s day. It was grey all day and dark in the morning until 8am and dark again at 4pm. Despite this, we were well rugged up for a short walk, there was still plenty to see. The harbour, which still contains the now defunct lifeboat station, has fewer boats, with some on the shore for maintenance (see photos). The sea, of course, never stops and the waves were gently caressing the sea walls – the wind was light and south westerly, so no dramatic coastal scene on Sunday, but the sea still looked cold. There were some people about but you felt an absence – of tourists, divers and fishermen that throng the harbour in the summer.

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

Before walking to the harbour, we parked at the Nature Centre and visited the excellent Number Four Gallery. On the way to the gallery, I remarked that it would not be long until we saw snowdrops here. Looking down at the leaf strewn ground, there was no sign of growth, but when I pushed back some leaves, the green shoots of the snowdrops were well above the ground – see photo. I pushed the leaves back over the stems for protection. I remembered the final lines of Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind – “O Wind, / If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”. Apparently not, as the snowdrop growth looked strong and healthy and the green provided a good contrast to the ever-fading leaves from the trees, although some ivy leaves were still green.

Emerging snowdrops at St Abbs Head

Emerging snowdrops at St Abbs Head

Nora Webster, Brooklyn, late autumn harbour and sudsy sea

November 28, 2015

A double dose of author Colm Tóibín this week. Firstly, I finished reading Tóibín’s remarkable novel Nora Webster. On the face of it, this is a simple tale of a woman whose husband has died and is struggling to cope with the too early onset of widowhood. A lesser writer than Tóibín might have presented Nora Webster, a woman living in a small town in the  Irish Republic, in a sentimental and melodramatic way. However, Tóibín writes a compelling story, taking episodes from the lives of Nora and her family, their relatives, friends and (sometimes unwished for) acquaintances, and identifying the complexities of their lives. As the novel progresses, Nora becomes stronger and more independent, having to a certain extent lived in the shadow of her late husband Maurice, a popular school teacher. The author describes apparently small events in her life in detail but the prose is never dense, and the reader gains an understanding of Nora as a person e.g. her developing love of music, and not just as a mother or sister. There are some very moving scenes in this book, both in Nora’s recollection of her time with her husband and in her relationship with her two sons and (to a lesser extent) two daughters. This is a book of high quality and if you haven’t read it, then you surely must.

Nora Webster by Colm Toibin

Nora Webster by Colm Toibin

This week, we went to the cinema to see Brooklyn, based on Colm Tóibín’s novel of the same name. The film also has a very strong female character. Eilish is a young woman growing up in (like Nora Webster) a small Irish town in the Republic, but unlike Nora, she is due to emigrate to the USA at the start of the film. The story follows her to Brooklyn and highlights her homesickness and then her growing maturity and relationship with a young Italian. Eilish returns to Ireland when her sister dies and the film develops into a tale of the complexities of love and morality. I haven’t read the novel but I’m sure that Eilish’s character is more fully drawn in prose. The actress Saoirse (pr Seer – sha) Ronan is superb in the part. There is also humour in the film and while, at times, it veers on the edge of tweeness and sentimentality, it nevertheless tells a powerful story and it is certainly worth seeing.

November is nearly gone and we’ve had a taste of winter in Dunbar already with ice lining the sides of the country roads on my cycle ride last weekend. We’ve also had strong winds and big tides and this was reflected on my walk on Sunday morning. I stopped at the Old Harbour aka The Cromwell Harbour, which was built in the late 17th century. In summer, the occasional fishing boat is moored, often for work to be done. On Sunday, it was packed with fishing boats, sheltering from the heavy swell that affects the main harbour at this time of year. The boats nestled together in this sheltered haven.

Fishing boats in the Old Harbour

Fishing boats in the Old Harbour

Fishing boats in the Old Harbour

Fishing boats in the Old Harbour

By contrast, the Victoria Harbour which was built in the 1830s, was nearly empty. It’s an unusual sight to see so much of the water in the harbour and on Sunday, it looked abandoned, as if a storm (or malevolent sea serpent) had arrived and driven all the boats out to sea. The photos below show the harbour last Sunday and in the summertime.

Victoria Harbour bereft of boats

Victoria Harbour bereft of boats

Dunbar Harbour in summer

Dunbar Harbour in summer

In my poetry calendar this week, these lines appeared:

“The ocean’s grey today, like someone’s dingy laundry,/ the flop and slosh of sudsy waves agitate on the sand,/ and the sky’s like the inside of an ashtray at some salty dive”.

They are from the poem “The Winter Sea” by the Pennsylvanian poet Barbara Crooker and I like the laundry metaphor. As I walked back from the harbour, I passed the east beach, which used to be covered in pristine sand but over the past 5 years or so, the sand has gone to be replaced with stones and often large mounds of seaweed. The waves were rushing to the shore and there was certainly a distinct “flop and slosh”.

"Flop and slosh" on the east beach

“Flop and slosh” on the east beach