Archive for the ‘rocks’ Category

Rocks off Dunbar and May sunsets

May 30, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dove Rock – photo by Liz Curtis

The virtual talk is available on video here.

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

Pink sands on the shore

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

Variegated sky above Dunbar on a May evening

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

Looking north with ships parked out to sea

Scrublands by Chris Hammer and The Gripps at Dunbar Harbour

May 21, 2020

I was particularly keen to read Chris Hammer‘s debut crime novel Scrublands (review) as it is set in the Riverina in New South Wales. The area is familiar to me from my time teaching with Charles Sturt University for 8 years in the noughties, partly in Australia and partly from Dunbar. This novel has been lavishly praised by reviewers and, on the book itself, by other crime writers. It is a very well plotted novel which keeps the reader interested and intrigued, as a good crime novel should. The atmosphere Hammer creates around the fictional NSW town of Riversend is very well done, from the run down shops to the blistering heat of the rural Australian summer. The novel is not without its flaws however, and I agree with my friend John who wondered if there was some sort of “you scratch my back…” amongst some of the crime writers featured on the book’s cover (photo below) and inside pages.

The protagonist of the story is a journalist (like the author) Martin Scarsden, who is sent to the small town of Riversend to investigate how the town is coping one year after a multiple shooting by the local priest. Scarsden himself has been a victim of violence himself, kidnapped by terrorists in the Middle East and there are flashbacks to this. The story revolves around the multiple murders – why did the priest do it? – and the discovery of murdered German tourists in the Scrublands – a wide area where little grows – outside the town. The plot is unrelenting and and sometimes overwhelmingly so. There is a road crash, a bushfire and the rescue of a young boy all happening in a short space of time and you wonder why an editor did not advise the writer that this may be too much.

As the novel progresses, we do find out more about a range of characters and the reader is kept going until the end of the book, when we find out the most plausible explanation for the multiple shooting. Hammer does not fall into the trap of many crime writers and have a melodramatic ending. So this book, while not as good as some of the reviews – in my opinion of course – is one I would recommend, especially for the rural Australian background, with its unique sounds e.g. of silver crested cockatoos screeching, its Australian dialogue which is not overdone, and its portrayal of the harsh environment in which much of the action takes place.

Crime novel set in the NSW heartland (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

If you were approaching Dunbar Harbour by boat, on your left hand or port side, you would see a concreted area on the cliff face and this is called The Gripps. It has been restored recently with the addition of the railings (photo below) but was put there as an aid to boats entering the harbour. It is also known as the Sandstone Bar. My Dunbar and District History Society colleague Gordon Easingwood told me that “Dunbar is known as a sudden death harbour” and that boats are safe once they are past The Gripps, but previous to its being built, there was only natural rock and boats could get into difficulties. Gordon continued “It is bad enough counting the breakers coming in from the west side of the rocks but to have another set of waves just where the Bar is can be frightening. Especially under sail or low powered engines as the early fishing boats were”. The Gripps was therefore built to prevent waves coming through a low gap in the rock formation and putting boats in danger.

The Gripps at the entrance to Dunbar Harbour

The photo below shows the edge of The Gripps from the north side and if you look to the right hand side (Gordon’s west side above) you can see the swell hitting the base of Dunbar Castle (good photos). What you cannot see is that there is a similar, fast moving swell just below the rocks on which I was standing. It is still a tricky entrance to the harbour and you can often see sailing boats coming into the harbour looking as if they might get into trouble and some occasionally do. You can imagine the sailors perhaps gritting their teeth, closing their eyes and just going for the harbour – and breathing a sigh of relief as they pass the dangerous part.

The photo below shows The Gripps looking north from the harbour. On the right hand side, there is a semi-circular feature made of sandstone blocks which stops the tide coming in from the east side of this area. At the top of the enlarged photo, you can just see North Berwick Law (good photos) and at the top left is the promenade above the sandstone cliffs.

I took this video on my Lenovo mobile phone, so not the best camera but it will give you an idea of what it is like standing near The Gripps.

Views from The Gripps

Eden’s Hall Broch and An Orchestra of Minorities

April 5, 2020

Following on from last week’s post , this week’s focuses firstly on the broch itself. The Dictionary of the Scottish Language defines a broch as “A prehistoric structure, found in Orkney and Shetland and the adjacent Scottish mainland, consisting of a round tower with inner and outer walls of stone, and popularly supposed to have been built by the Picts“. So the broch we visited in the lowlands of Scotland is very unusual. Historic Environment Scotland’s Statement of Significance – a pdf dowload – states that “Edin’s Hall is of significance primarily as one of the best-preserved examples of a broch (or at least a broch-like structure) in southern Scotland. This location sets it outwith the main distribution pattern of brochs and it gains additional importance by virtue of being sited within an earlier hillfort“. The report also notes that Eden’s Hall Broch differs in form from most other brochs e.g. the central area is much larger. Despite what I say in the video below, it is unlikely that the whole central area would have been covered over.

The photo below is of one the guide boards near the broch. It shows that the broch itself was part of a larger area in which there was a nearby settlement and another guide board at the site itself suggests that the broch may not have been – as in Orkney – a house with a roof but more of a “small stone-walled fort”.

Guide to the area and the broch (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

It is nevertheless a very impressive site, given its age. The photo below shows the intricate placing of the stones – collected from the hills nearby – in a wall which is 1.5 metres thick and there is an admirable solidity to the structure. We often admire late 19th century dry stane dykes (dry stone walls) around the UK but these Iron Age builders were equally adept at producing something which has its own kind of graceful flow to it.

The thick walls of the broch

The next photo shows one of the walled off spaces in the broch. These may not have been traditional rooms e.g. bedrooms as in the Orkney brochs, but could have been storage spaces. You can see the construction of the walls with the interlinking stones and this is a very skilled task, especially getting the smooth looking effect of the stones which form the “room”.

One of the “rooms” in the broch

I took this video and it probably gives you a better idea of the broch and you cannot fail to be impressed by the fact that this stone structure was built by hand, with no modern machinery, mortar or measuring equipment. Stone age people were obviously much more sophisticated than they are often given credit for.

Eden’s Hall Broch as seen by a 21st century man

I have recently finished Chigozie Obioma’s novel An Orchestra of Minorities (review). I had previously read Obioma’s outstanding novel The Fisherman (my review) and found him to be an excellent storyteller. His new book is a much more challenging read but none the less rewarding for that. Chinonso is a Nigerian chicken farmer who falls in love with Ndali, a woman from a wealthy family and she returns his love. Ndali’s family reject him because of his low status and this begins a tragic tale which follow Chinonso from Nigeria to Cyprus, where he is to study for a degree. He is then the victim of a scam. Further humiliations follow – no spoilers here – and Chinonso’s story takes on a Thomas Hardyesque tragic hue. The story is narrated by Chinonso’s chi (pr chee?) which is his spirit in Igbo cosmology, which Obioma defines as “a complex system of beliefs and traditions” in Nigeria.

Many sections of the book begin with the chi representing his host Chinonso to a greater being which has several names e.g. Edubidike and asking the being for forgiveness for his host. We do not find out the justification for this until near the end of the book. The story has some comical elements also and Chinonso’s misfortunes are often portrayed in a wry manner. Obioma is also a poetic writer with some wonderful turns of phrase and use of images. Examples include:

And in the silence, he heard the sound of nocturnal insects emptying into the ear of the night.

He was almost asleep, anchored like a wind-born leaf between sleep and awakening

In its [thunder’s] aftermath, lightning struck the face of the horizon, shaped like thin branches of phosphorescent trees

Overall, I found this an absorbing book although I think it would have benefited from some editing in the sections dealing with aspects of the Igbo cosmology. I would certainly recommend it to anyone who appreciates fine literature and I leave the final comment to the Guardian review (link above) “Few contemporary novels achieve the seductive panache of Obioma’s heightened language, with its mixture of English, Igbo and colourful African-English phrases, and the startling clarity of the dialogue”.

An absorbing novel

More daffodils – this time with scenic views

March 20, 2020

I walked along to The Glebe in Dunbar, where the annual display of daffodils has once again appeared. On the day I went, there was a strong SW wind, so the daffodils were swaying their heads vigorously from side to side, like young people attending a rock concert. The photo below shows the mass of flowers, most of which are now fully out. Only two weeks ago, this scene was completely green, so there is a wonderful transformation for the passer-by as this wide streak of yellow brightens up the view.

Daffodils at The Glebe (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

On The Glebe, there is a large gun near the cliff edge. This is one of the guns that used to be in the Dunbar barracks and is a 25-pounder Q F Mark II Gun. It was put there to commemorate World War 2 by the local Community Council. It now provides a backdrop to the daffodils. The photo below shows the gun behind the flower mass and to the left of the gun, the Bass Rock can also be seen. According to this site, the first gannets have arrived on the rock.

Daffodils, gun and Bass Rock

The photo below shows soldiers firing canon from an area above Dunbar Harbour. This area later became the Castle Barracks and the gun near the daffodils would have been part of these barracks in the 2nd World War.

Canon artillery training next to Dunbar Harbour

From The Glebe, I walked along to Winterfield Promenade, originally built in 1894 as a gift to the town from the local Baird Family. As you walk along the prom at this time of year, you come across isolated groups of daffodils. How did these flowers get to this location is unknown – people or birds? They are a welcome sight to the walker and have a beautiful backdrop. The photo below shows these elegant and graceful flowers, some of which are just coming out, against the rocks which are on view as the tide was out. On the right, you can see the red sandstone (good photos) cliffs. For many years, sand martins used to create holes in the cliff face and nest there each year. Alas, we do not see these birds any more and I used to enjoy seeing them perform extraordinary acrobatics in the air as they caught insects on the wing.

Daffodils on Winterfield Promenade

Further along to the west, I came across a larger bed of daffodils which were gently swaying in the breeze, being protected by the wall of the golf course from the fierce gusts of the wind. The photo below shows this compact, extended family of flowers with the bare rocks, the Bass Rock and the coast of Fife in the distance. On a clear day like this, you can enjoy a panoramic vista and see for many miles.

Daffodils on the prom with the Bass Rock and Fife beyond

Before turning back, I noticed the complex sky to the southwest. It was late afternoon by this time and the photo below has come out darker than it actually was at the time. Nevertheless, it was a sky which you sensed was changing, with the dark clouds maybe threatening to blot out the exquisite range of colours – of sky and cloud – below. The building on the right is now the clubhouse of Winterfield Golf Club (good photo). It was originally built as Saint Margaret’s, which was owned by the farmer whose lands now form the golf course. The term Winterfield comes from the fact that this land was used for cattle to graze in the winter.

Sky above Winterfield Golf Clubhouse

My new book and Scottish Nature Photography Awards

February 21, 2020

The delay in posting this has been caused by the very enthusiastic response I have had following the publication of my new book Dunbar in the 1950s (cover below). The book is the result of my research over the last five years into aspects of Dunbar – my home town – in the 1950s. The book’s contents are:

Chapter 1 – The whales at Thorntonloch in 1950 revisited; Chapter 2 – Rationing; Chapter 3 – Housing; and Chapter 4 – Entertainment Chapter 5 – The Store: The Co-operative shops in Dunbar; Chapter 6 – Lipton’s shop; Chapter 7 – George Low & Son: The shop, the businesses and the auctions; Chapter 8 – MJ and B Williamson’s shop; Chapter 9 – AT Smith’s shop; Chapter 10 – Louis Allen’s shop; Chapter 11 – Knox the Newsagent’s shop; Chapter 12 – Carruthers’ shop and restaurant/cafe; Chapter 13 – Conclusion.

This is an oral and social history of some aspects of life in Dunbar in the 1950s. Although the book focuses on one town, most of the book could relate to any small town in the UK in the 1950s and some chapters, such as Rationing, Housing and shops such as The Co-operative or Lipton’s would also be relevant to major cities at the this time. The chapters were chosen according to whether I had access to people to interview and, in the shops’ chapters, could provide me with contemporary photographs. Oral history allows the authentic voices of people from different social strata to be recorded. I am hoping to set up a Dunbar Oral History Archive (DOHA) later this year. Social history allows people who would not normally appear in history books to have their voices heard, particularly working class people. This book features the memories of both working class and middle class people.

My new local history book (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

Many of the photos given to me by my interviewees are quite unique. In the photo below, Jimmy Combe, who has lived all his life in Dunbar, is seen here not long after he joined the Cooperative – known locally as The Store – returning from delivering messages (Scots for shopping) to houses in the West end of Dunbar. The photo was taken by street photographers Robin Hall and Jimmie McGregor who later became famous folk artists. You can see the bike – known as a message bike – in the photo, with East Lothian Co-operative and possibly Dunbar underneath. Jimmy was 14 when joined the Co-operative in 1947 and worked his way up to become a qualified grocer and later store manager.

Jimmy Combe – message boy

The latest exhibition at Waterson House in Aberlady is focused on African Wildlife but I am featuring the previous (still touring) exhibition of the Scottish Nature Photography Awards. As you might expect, there is a very high quality of photographs on display. I was sent the first and second winners by a member of SOC staff and they are presented here with permission. We all have our different opinions about what might or might not win such competitions and in this case, my own vote would have gone to the second prize winner. The magnificent photo below shows a curlew – my favourite bird – with its impressive sounding scientific name numenius arquata, in its full splendour. I have noted before on the blog that I see curlews regularly through my scope on the rocks in front of our house. Only two days ago, I was watching a curlew doing exactly what the photo shows. The bird bends its head to the side and inserts it fully underneath a rock. It only does this for a short time, as it raises its head again to check for danger. On perhaps the third probe, the curlew straightens up with a crab in its beak. At first, I thought that the crab might be too big for this long-beaked hunter, but the curlew nonchalantly tossed the crab into the air, opened its beak fully and devoured the unfortunate crab, which was in the wrong place at the wrong time on this rocky Dunbar shoreline.

This is a very graceful bird, with its flowing feathers, sharp eye and even sharper, penetrative beak. I like the way the photographer has captured the light on the bird, highlighting the patterns on its back, white breast and legs. An enviable talent took this shot.

Eurasian Curlew with Shore Crab by Toby Houlton

The winning photograph is shown below. When you enlarge the photo, you see what I imagine many people might think to be an even more graceful animal. There is no doubt that this is a beautiful shot and possibly unique, as it captures the young roe deer (good photos) with the flowers in its mouth. I like the way the photograph frames the roe kid between the grasses. Your eye is immediately drawn to the deer itself, with the blurry grasses acting as props. The roe kid looks as alert to danger as the curlew always does. So, roe kid or curlew – who would you vote for as winner? If can see this exhibition on its tour, then do take the opportunity to see it, as you will be very well rewarded.

Roe Kid Flowers by Phil Johnston

Pease Bay: Sand, rocks and mobile homes

February 8, 2020

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

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

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

The red sandstone rocks and their reflection at Pease Bay

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

Layers in the Pease Bay rockface

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

Flowing lines at Pease Bay

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

Rockface meets sand at Pease Bay

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

Where the burn meets the sea at Pease Bay

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

Mobile home for sale at Pease Bay

Darren Woodhead exhibition and Dazzling Blue on Xmas Day

January 8, 2020

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

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

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

Red Admiral Butterflies by Darren Woodhead

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

Tree Sparrow Pair by Darren Woodhead

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

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

Blue rock pool to the east of Dunbar

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

Large pool on the shore at Dunbar Golf Club

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

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

Seaweed and shadows on the beach

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

Dunbar skyline from the east

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie and swans at Belhaven

July 25, 2019

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

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

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

A family of swans at Belhaven beach

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

Swans and ducks on Belhaven pond

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

Swan family on the shore east of Dunbar

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

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

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

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

New Year walks, pelican in the chip shop and Kiama blowhole

January 15, 2019

On New Year’s Day, we woke to 2019 to see a fairly clear sky and a sunny day albeit with a coldish westerly. So as to make the most of the light, we headed off in the morning to St Abbs Head, which has featured many times on this blog and is one of our favourite places. We parked overlooking the harbour and there is a superb view from here, as in this 2017 photograph, which takes in the main harbour, the outer harbour and the lifeboat station.


Looking down on St Abbs Head Harbour (Click on all photos to enlarge)

We walked from east to west as far as the lighthouse which was built by the Stevenson brothers in 1862. It’s an unusual lighthouse in that it sits on the edge of the mainland, high above the sea, as in the photo below.


St Abbs Head lighthouse

On the walk there and on the way back, we noticed that an area next to the shore had been cordoned off and a notice said that seal pups were being protected. We saw 2 pups down on the rocky shore. When they are still, the pups are very well camouflaged and look like some of the bigger rocks. So silky smooth when in the water, the seal pups clumsily made their way across the rocks to the flatter part of the shore, maybe to enjoy the winter sun. I could not find any current information on the seals, but this 2017 report (good photo) is very informative about the St Abbs seals.

Back at the car above the harbour, I took this short video.

On the 2nd January, we took a walk along the wide stretch of Belhaven Beach. When we got to the bridge, although the tide was out, it was not far enough out and we could not cross the bridge, as the far end was covered in water. So we walked along the Dump Road to West Barns Bridge (photos from previous post) and out to the beach. The wind had eased from yesterday, so it was warmer and we could stand and watch the huge waves hurtle themselves on to the beach. There were quite a few surfers out and while some eased gracefully along a big wave, others were knocked flat by an incoming rush of water. There was a glorious sound of incoming waves, followed by a sluuurrrp as the waves hit the beach and dashed back out. The photo below shows the drama of the waves. 

Big waves and minuscule surfer on Belhaven Beach

I took a video of the waves and swung the camera round to see the chalets at Belhaven with the golf course behind.

The last stop on our overseas trip was to visit our very good friends Bob and Robyn at their idyllic house near Berry in New South Wales. They met us off the train at Kiama which is a very attractive coastal town not far from Berry. There’s a very good fish and chip shop/restaurant that overlooks the water – The Kiama Harbour Cafe. The fish and chips were excellent, but what is different about this fish and chip shop is that they have a pelican which nonchalantly walks about the shop and cafe – see the photo below -which shows the pelican waiting expectantly for fish – it does not like chips apparently – next to our table.

Friendly pelican in Kiama cafe

Kiama is probably best known for its spectacular blowhole (good photos) and it is a fascinating sight, as people watch in anticipation of the seawater being blasted into the air. The blowhole’s action comes from large waves entering a small cavern and compressing the air, which then forces the water out of the gap. This photo below shows a medium-sized eruption of water. You watch and watch for the really big blow-out and of course, this happens when you walk away and hear the other viewers yell out “WOW!”. There is an excellent coastal walk that you can do when visiting Kiama, taking in more than one blowhole, fascinating rock structures and unspoilt beaches.

Water spurting out the Kiama blowhole

The Illegal Age by Ellen Hinsey and Karangahake Gorge Walk

December 17, 2018

There are very few books of poetry that make you feel uncomfortable while reading them. You admire the versatility of the poet, the striking imagery and the immaculate construction of the book, but the content is disturbing. Ellen Hinsey‘s The Illegal Age (review) is one of the these books. The subject of the book is totalitarianism across the world and what she refers to as “political illegality” as seen, many would argue, in regimes such as that in Turkey today. So this is not poetry for the faint-hearted and it may be seen as very different from lyrical poetry dealing with nature for example. On the other hand, it is not so different, in that the poet is using imagery to allow us to examine the subject of the poems. The book is highly structured, with 3 sections, each with 7 sub-sections and the reviewer above suggest that the poet may be trying to replicate the bureaucratic structures of oppressive regimes – something I had not thought about.

The first section beings “Nothing happens quickly; each day weighs on the next -/ Until the instant comes -” when someone walking “along/ The foggy lane in innocence”  disappears. This suggests the gradualism of oppression. Another section deals with The Inconceivable which again creeps up on society until it is too late. This reminded me of Germany in the 1920s and 1930s when most people would have seen the consequent rise of Nazism as inconceivable at the time. Hinsey then writes “.. the Inconceivable seeps forward, mastering territory with the unpredictable sleight of a storm’s stealth” – a frightening but beautiful image. In The Denunciation, subtitled East Germany 1979, a woman reflects on her husband/lover’s betrayal, asking when it began e.g. “when you sat together by the braille of a restless lake” or when he kissed her “by the prying iridescent eye of the butterfly”. Both these images – of the lake and the butterfly – are very imaginative and in another context would be uplifting and Hinsey does this throughout the book, to great effect. 

This will not be the most comfortable read of you life, but it does stress how important it is to record the rise of oppression and to remember it. Hinsey’s imagery will stay with you for a long time. 

Ellen Hinsey’s powerful book of poems (Click on all captions to enlarge the images)

On our trip to New Zealand, our niece took us to Karangahake Gorge (good photos) which is the site of an old gold mine. There are a number of different walks and we chose one of the longer ones which took us to the top of the hill which housed the mine. There are many interesting boards along the way and the one at the start of the walk (below) gives you an insight into what you might be encountering along the way. 

Karangahake Gorge in New Zealand’s North Island

It was in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that gold mining was undertaken by large British companies at Karangahake and there is a good history here. As you go up the mount, you come across the remains of the mining infrastructure and equipment. Working in these gold mines was a hazardous occupation, as cyanide was widely used to extract the gold. The information board below shows some of the machinery used to crush the stone and then to mix the ore with cyanide. The ore/cyanide mix was made into bullion and on the bottom right, you can see a photo of a man pouring the molten liquid into a barrow. Health and safety regulations were unheard of in those days and other boards told of the fatalities that occurred in the mines. 

The use of cyanide in gold mining at Karangahake Gorge

As you climb to the top of the Mount Karangahake you pass many of the railway lines used to transport the stone down to the processing plant near the river. You also go through dark tunnels (phone torches needed) and you get the feeling of how claustrophobic it must have been in many parts of the mine. The walk is steep in parts and tricky in others but it is worth climbing to near the summit to get the views down to the river, as in the photo below. 

View from one of the lookouts down to the river at the Karangahake Gorge

One of the most fascinating features of this walk was the variety of ferns which we encountered along the way. The ferns themselves were of a multiplicity of greens and very attractive in themselves. What was more striking were the fronds which emerged from the ferns. The photo below shows the fronds emerging from a silver fern  and the stem is called a koru. 

Silver fern with fronds emerging from the korus

A close-up view (below) shows the delicacy of the frond which looks as if it could have been knitted or woven and the design might be used as the figurehead of a walking stick. With its delicate hairs on display, it also resembles what might be a curled up millipede, waiting to strike the next unassuming insect. This is nature as sculpture and a strikingly beautiful example of it. 

Silver fern frond in Karangahake Gorge

The Karangahake Gorge/Mount walk is an exhilarating one from start to finish and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting the area. Near the end of the walk, I took this video at the side of the river.