Archive for the ‘Sea’ Category

Wintry swans at Seafield Pond and a frosty West Barns Bridge

January 10, 2023

One of my last walks of 2022 was to nearby Belhaven. I parked the car opposite the Surf School (good photos) and walked up what is known as the Dump Road to Seafield Pond, which was originally a clay pit for the Seafield Brick and Tile Works in the 19th century. It later became Dunbar’s refuse site, thus the name Dump Road. The wall separating the sea from the path to the pond is known as the Divvy Dyke and was built by David France, who established the brickworks. France was referred to by Dunbar historian James Miller as “the man who beat Canute” after building the dyke (wall). At high tide, the sea comes right up to the wall. On the day of my walk, instead of sea water, there was thick ice to be seen over the wall. The first photo below shows the frozen grass – submerged at high tide – and the ice beyond. Further out is the wide stretch of sand forming Belhaven Bay (good photos) with the Bass Rock in the distance. The second photo shows the very thick ice further along the sand and you can just see an array of birds further out. These birds – oystercatchers and redshanks – normally feed closer to the wall.

Frost and ice at Belhaven Bay (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)
Ice on the shore at Belhaven Bay

My walk was in the afternoon and I managed to capture the partly frozen pond while the sun was setting in the west at about 3.30pm. I was lucky enough to have two elegant, graceful and very calm swans feeding in the pond. The photo below shows the swans, with the sun making a golden streak across the pond, the frozen and whitened reeds to the left, and more frozen solid in the ice in the foreground. It was a freezing cold, but fairly still day and the only movement at the pond was the two swans lowering their heads to feed where they had broken the ice. There is a serenity about this photo which I like, although it was not a day to stand still for long. There are numerous lines in the photo, with the grasses above the ice, the reeds standing to attention and the bare branches of the trees shown clearly by the white glow of the sun.

Ice, grasses, reeds and swans at Seafield Pond

You need have patience when taking photos of swans as, just when you think you have the perfect shot, one of them dips its head into the water. The swans were aware of my presence but treated me with insouciance, as if to say “Take your photos but don’t expect us to pose for you”. In the next photo below, you can see the ice in the foreground and, waiting a short time, I managed to capture the sun coming over the pond and the narrow strip of gold on the pond, ending beneath the feet of the swans. The ice/water below the swans has turned to pink and the sun has made reflections of the swans in the water. Just at the point of taking the photo, the further away swan lowered its head but this does not detract from the photo. Swans have a beautiful shape and look perfectly formed with their graceful necks, orange beaks and feathers neatly tucked in to produce warmth on this winter’s day. The legs and feet are perhaps less elegant but there is a fascination about swans which attracts the viewer. You can see more photos and a video of swans at Belhaven on a sunny autumnal day in a previous blog post.

Ice, swans and reflections at Seafield Pond

If you keep walking west past the pond, you come to a path which borders the Biel Burn, over which stands West Barns bridge. West Barns is a village about 2 miles/3.2k from Dunbar. The photo below shows the path and the bridge looking west, with the sun nearly set but leaving a white glow above the trees. There was a dog walker on the bridge and his reflection can be seen, as well as the bridge’s in the water. Across the bridge, the fields to the right were thick with frost and the path was very slippery, so I had to walk next to the wall on the left. So, a very picturesque scene but there was only enough time to take the photo and move on, my breath showing white in the cold air.

Frosty path and reflections at West Barns bridge

Looking east, back to the bridge (photo below), you can see that the wooden railings going on to the metal bridge are white with frost and the grass next to the path is temporarily petrified by the frost. The reflection in the water looks like an impressionist artist’s depiction of the bridge, which loses its colour in the water. I have taken my mountain bike over this bridge many times as you join a path to the right which takes you along a bumpy route to John Muir Park (good photos).

Heavy frost at West Barns bridge

In a previous blog (good photos), I referred to what a relative and a friend of mine would call the art of guddling. The Dictionary of the Scots Language (DSL) – a treasure trove for Scots words – defines to guddle as “To catch (fish) by groping with the hands under stones or the banks of a stream”. Another definition given is to catch trout “by tickling the underbelly with one hand, grabbing them with the other”. One reference from 1921 states “An’ oot aneth a mossy stane some muckle troot he’d guddelt” which is translated as “And out beneath a mossy stone, some huge trout he had guddled”. See here for more examples of guddling from the DSL. The photo below shows the view upstream in the burn and a favourite guddling site was just around the corner to the right, where the burn forms small pools, into which the trout would swim and rest. There are more reflections here – of the wintry trees and although there was little wind that day, some of the trees appear to waving their “arms” about in an aerobic fashion. There are more lines of sight here, from the left you see the wall, the path, the grassy verge, the burn, another verge and another wall, so the photo is well worth more than a cursory look. The walk ended with me going back along the Dump Road, into car and driving home for a warm and welcoming cup of tea.

Upstream view from West Barns bridge

Villefranche Sur Mer and Nice marina

October 26, 2022

Many years ago, my wife and I had a holiday in Beaulieu Sur Mer (good photos) and I remembered swimming in the warm sea there. On our recent trip to Nice, my pal Roger and I went to Villefranche Sur Mer (good photos) which is the second stop on the train from Nice, while Beaulieu Sur Mer is the next stop. This is a beautiful and charming little town, built mainly on the hills surrounding the beach and the sea. One of the great pleasures of visiting the seaside towns of Provence is being able to walk straight into the sea, with no shock to your feet, your legs and the rest of your body which you experience if swimming in most of the UK. I have a memory of swimming in Cornwall with the water much less vengefully cold there, but still nothing like the welcoming, pleasant temperature of the Mediterranean. The photo below shows the beach at Villefranche and the calm, pleasurably blue sea, with its slight ripple and what Philip Larkin called “the small hushed waves repeated fresh collapse” in his great poem To the Sea.

The beach and sea at Villefranche Sur Mer

I took this video on the promenade, just along from the beach and you can briefly see the beaches to the left at the beginning of the video.

The town of Villefranche Sur Mer sits on steep hills around the bay. You can walk up from the railway station, through narrow streets with shops and cafés, up to The Citadel (good photos), a huge 16th century fortification built to protect the townspeople from raiders arriving by sea. The Citadel was “purchased by the commune in 1981” and houses the Town Hall and four museums (good photos of museum rooms). Unfortunately, on our visit, all the museums were closed for renovations and remain so. This was a major disappointment. You enter and exit the Citadel via a drawbridge. The photo below shows the chains of the drawbridge and note the solid walls, the thick wooden beams above the entrance/exit and the solid iron door. Also, you can see the wonderful view across the town from this point. The Citadel was built in the mid 1560s as a result of a Turkish attack in 1543, with 110 galleys headed by the pirate Barbarossa.

I took this video on the way up to the Citadel and it gives a good view of the town across the bay from the Citadel side. Note the train approaching the station, on its way back to Nice. If you are ever in this area, a visit to Villefranche Sur Mer is a must.

One of the proposed visits on our trip to Nice, in addition to going to the football to see Nice play Angers on the Sunday, was to visit the very impressive Museé Matisse (virtual tour in French). Unfortunately, when we got there, the museum was closed for 3 months from that day i.e. I had not checked the website before going. I was telling an Irish tourist in a café later about this and he said “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail” – perhaps a cliché but a new one to me, and certainly a truism. There are terrific views of the city from the museum and also, next to it is the Cimiez Monastery which is well worth a visit. The photo below shows the inside of the monastery’s church and note the wonderfully preserved frescos on the ceiling – enlarge photo for best effect.

Cimiez Monastery in NIce

A walk around Nice marina (good video) is a pleasant way to enjoy a quieter part of the city. The range of yachts and motor cruisers – of various sizes – on view is impressive. There has been a vast amount of money spent on these pleasure boats and it makes you wonder how often they are used. Are they investments for rich people perhaps, rather than boats on which people regularly pursue leisure activities like sea fishing? On our visit, during the week, there was very few people about, apart from what looked like the crew on board the large cruiser you can see in the photo below. I am sure that many of the yachts on view here are an impressive sight with their sails up, out on the nearby ocean, but none were on view on our visit.

Nice marina

There are two very different, but equally interesting pieces of public art at the marina. The first is Lou Che by the contemporary sculptor Noël Dolla. The photo below shows this elegant and graceful sculpture which sits at the head of the marina, near the tram terminus. It represents three boats sailing on the waves and it is only when you look closely at the shapes (seen clearly in the enlarged photo), that you see the outlines of the three boats and you can feel the motion of the waves on these fragile looking structures as they make their perhaps perilous journeys across the sea.

Lou Che by Noël Dolla at NiceMarina

At the other end of the marina, going up the hill, you come across Un Dimanche A Nice (A Sunday in Nice) by the sculptor Stéphane Cipre (examples of his work). The photo below shows this unusual example of public art, which combines design, realism and humour, with the little car and its roof rack with lilo, ring and beach umbrella. As a metaphor for a Sunday outing to to beach in Nice, it is a very cleverly thought out and constructed work, suitably placed on the hill overlooking the marina.

Un Dimanche A Nice by Stéphance Cipre

Nice is one of these cities that you can visit time and time again and never tire of its attractions, its views, its restaurants and its variety of cultural activities on offer. Put Nice on your list.

Trip to Nice: Promenade des Anglais and the Negresso Hotel

October 14, 2022

My pal Roger and I have missed our annual trip to a European city to see the sights and take in a football match for two years because of the pandemic. Sanity was restored with our recent trip to the outstanding city of Nice (good photos). One of the most iconic places in Nice which is a must for all visitors, is the Promenade des Anglais (good photos), a seven mile/11.3k stretch of walkway and road which goes from the city centre almost to the airport. The photo below shows part of the long promenade, covered for a short while at this point, and looking over to the stony beach, the light blue of the shallow water and the deeper blue of the water further out. As you take a tourist stroll along here, you are passed by more serious walkers, runners, cyclists and people on scooters – scooterers or scooterists? There is still some sunbathing on the beach and on the promenade, but much less than you would have seen maybe 30 or 40 years ago, as we are all much more conscious of the effects of the sun on our bodies.

Promenade des Anglais and Nice beach (click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

There are two significant sculptures on the promenade, one which celebrates unity and one which remembers a tragedy. The first is the Neuf Lignes Obliques ( good photos) which was designed by Bernar Venel and built to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the incorporation of the then County of Nice into France. The photo below shows this magnificent piece of public art at night, when it is illuminated in a range of changing colours. The nine metal beams, representing the previous nine regions which eventually made up the country of France, are 30 metres long and converge at the top to symbolise the unity of the nation. It is a superb sight and you cannot but be impressed by the imagination of the sculpture, the sheers size of the work and the grace and elegance of the upwardly stretching beams, which take your eye into the sky at all times of day.

Neuf Lignes Obliques in Nice

The second sculpture is L’Angle de la Baie (good photos) by Jean-Marie Fondacaro and it was constructed to remember the victims of a terrorist attack on the Promenade des Anglais on 1th July 2016, when 86 people were killed. The photo below shows this beautiful art work, with the top designed to be a male angel, head bowed in sorrow. The site above notes “The lower part represents a wave, on which is engraved a heart, in which are the names of the 86 victims of the attack”. I did not know what the sculpture represented and was just admiring the smooth, elegant lines and apparent movement of the top half, when I read the plate below, telling me what it represents. The sculptor stated that “I worked the aluminium so that the work is luminous, it will not be polished everywhere, there will be nuances. It will be in full light, facing the sea. It will reflect the blue”. It is worth just standing for a while, to admire the sculpture and reflect on its deadly origins.

L’Angle de Baie in Nice

M y wife and I have been to Nice before on our own and with our extended family and have walked past the very impressive Hotel Negresco (history and photos) a number of times without venturing in. This is an exclusive hotel in more than one sense i.e. it is very expensive and there is a large notice outside telling tourists that they must NOT enter the building unless they are going to eat, drink or stay in the hotel. We decided to go in for a late afternoon glass of red wine. A very small glass of red wine cost us 19 euros each, but you are in one of the most opulent bars that you are likely to experience. The photo below shows just a part of this opulence. The portrait is “One of the three state-portraits of Louis XIV, by Hyancinthe Rigaud (the two others are at the Louvre and Versailles)” according to the hotel website here. The small bar is at the right hand side and from this emerged an eager but friendly barman, offering us a range of comfortable armchairs. There is an expression “how the other half live” but this felt more like “how the top 10% live”. For example, if you wish to stay in the Sea View Suite, the average cost is 3,500 euros per night.

Inside the bar of the Hotel Negresco

As customers, we were allowed to go beyond the bar and see the extraordinary interior of the hotel. The first photo below shows part of the huge rotunda beyond the entrance of the hotel. This site states that “Hanging from the high dome is a splendid chandelier composed of 16,800 separate pieces of Baccarat crystal initially commissioned by Czar Nicholas II, but which remained undelivered due to the October revolution. Its twin is housed in the Kremlin”. The chandelier is an amazing tribute to the designer and the crafts people who made this gloriously decadent piece of art/decoration. The second photo shows part of the modern art on display inside and on the walkway around the rotunda. These model cars are probably worth a fortune each and they sit on this gorgeous Japanese-style carpet with its vivacious patterns and colours – enlarge the photo for best effect.

Part of the rotunda of the Hotel Negresco in Nice
Model cars on the rotunda carpet in the Hotel Negresco in Nice

The modern sculptures in the passage next to the rotunda are an eclectic mix of shapes, materials and sizes. On which caught my eye (photo below) is Jeanne de Loulou by the French sculptor Franck Tassi (public sculpture photo). This is an intriguing, if rather bizarre model of what looks like a robotic dancer, made up of metal parts of a stripped down machine. Perhaps Tassi is suggesting that such creations might be made by other robots which have come across old metal structures left behind by humans, whom the robots have replaced? There is certainly a suggestion of movement here, perhaps of a figure skater and you can imagine the skater smoothly gliding across the ice BUT look at the feet. The dancer/ skater is wearing Nike trainers, suggesting that Tassi is, in fact, teasing us. I liked this piece especially its humorous aspect. The shadows behind the sculpture add to the drama of the movement.

Jeanne de LouLou by Franck Tassi in Hotel Negresco

From the ultra-modern to the more traditional, this magnificent silver serving trolley/stand (photo below) is one of the Christofle (good photos) creations. It looked as if was silver plated but may have been part of the Gallia collection (good photos) which was “Created at the turn of the 20th century, at the time of the famous 1900 Paris Exposition, and the Gallia collection takes its name from a tin alloy of enormous importance in its time”. The writing below the opening mechanism reads Christofle Orfevre and on the enormous lid, so you can see the intertwined NH indicating the Hotel Negresco.

Food server in the Hotel Negresco

On the Promenade des Anglais, you can sit and watch the world go by on a bench overlooking the sea. In the Hotel Negresco, you step into a different world altogether, and each has their own fascinations.

Pease Bay walk and Grahame Green’s Brighton Rock

September 5, 2022

It is well over two years since we last visited Pease Bay (good photos) which is 9 miles along the coast going south from Dunbar. As it was very busy Sunday afternoon, we had to park on the hill overlooking the holiday park. We walked along the wide stretch of beach in front of the array of mobile homes. The tide was far out and there were a couple of hopeful surfers near the shore, but that day the sea was flat calm. This is a very popular surfing area and you can see from these photos that when the surf is high, the surfers, body boarders and canoeists flock to this spot. This photo shows the beach we walked along when the tide is in. When the tide is out, you can walk past the rocks on to another big beach – a USA visitor we took here many years ago said we could be in California – which ends with the layered cliff in the photo below. As you cast your eye across the cliff face, you see the very attractive sandstone rock shining in pink. Many of the houses in Dunbar, including our previous house, which you can see with the red door on this Google street map , were built with this type of sandstone which was sources from local quarries.

Cliff at Pease Bay (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

Walking back to the first beach, I could see that, since we last visited, there had been some coastal erosion – see photo below. In some ways, this is what might be seen as a superb piece of natural sculpture, with the huge rocks seemingly carved out of the hillside and placed in a structured group to provide a visual delight to the eye. These massive boulders look as if they might have been hewn out of the rockface to provide solid material to build a castle or even a pyramid. The truth of course is less attractive, in that climate change is producing more extreme weather e.g. Storm Arwen (video) last November, and rising seas and stronger winds leave coasts such as that at Pease Bay exposed and vulnerable. There has been coastal erosion for millennia but the rate of erosion has increased rapidly in recent years. The rocks remain, even in their fallen state, very attractive to look at, with their multiplicity of patterns and subtle shades of yellow and grey.

Coastal erosion at Pease Bay

Just around the corner from these rocks, you come to a small cave with the most stunning and colourful strata that you will find anywhere. The photo below – enlarge for best effect – shows this graceful and elegant display of colours, lines and streaks of what look like daubs of paint. I am always reminded of Aboriginal paintings when I see these rocks and I feel that a native artist from outback Australia could add dots and curves to these rocks and produce an incredible work of art, like the one here by Clementine Ecila. On a more prosaic note, the bottom half resembles a slice of layered cake, with a strawberry filling. The more you look at this picture, the more patterns you see.

Strata at Pease Bay

Adjoining the above strata, was another piece of natural art, this time resembling a surrealist painting more than anything else. The rock looks less formally stratified and green algae/seaweed has started to form on the curved rock, with a plethora of shapes e.g. the long dinosaur-looking head and body near the centre of the photo. The white surrounding the pink shapes highlight this seemingly random array of mythical creatures depicted here, not by a human but by the effects of sea and wind. In the bottom half of the picture, you can see what looked like to me an elongated shark, showing off off its vicious, flesh tearing teeth to foe and prey alike. This petrified creature is lying on the sand and I felt that it would well swim away when the tide came in and covered the pock-marked sand. The cliché about nature being wonderful certainly applies here.

Fascinating rocks at Pease Bay

I picked up a copy of Grahame Greene‘s novel Brighton Rock (review) in a second hand bookshop, neatly called The Reading Room, in Haddington, the next town west of Dunbar. The book was published in 1938 and there are certain passages which would not be seen as acceptable today but were not subject to the editor’s red pen in the pre-WW2 era. It has a dramatic beginning “Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him”, so we are set for a crime novel but this book is much more than a plot, which does contain murders, as we are introduced to a range of characters, firstly from Brighton’s gang world and then a woman who is determined, sometimes comically, to find out who murdered Hale, and why they did it. Greene’s main character is Pinkie, a 17 year old who has taken over one of Brighton’s minor gangs but has high ambitions for himself. Greene does not say so explicitly but the reader immediately feels that The Boy – as he is called early in the novel – is out of his depth.

The book often refers to the Catholic faith and Pinkie is ridden with guilt about his crime and also fears having his first sexual experience. Pinkie’s angst is contrasted with the devil-may-care attitude of Ida Arnold, the last person Hale was with, who doggedly follows leads in the case, while enjoying drinks in the local pubs. There is a dramatic ending but not overly dramatic as Greene builds up tension with Pinkie and Rose, whom he has married so she cannot testify against him, driving into the countryside with a gun in the car. This is a very tense novel but one which will keep you by turns intrigued and amused. Greene is a master storyteller and I urge you to read this book.

Grahame Green’s intriguing book

Visit to Berwick Upon Tweed and the L S Lowry connection

August 25, 2022

We have not been back to Berwick Upon Tweed (good photos) since 2019 – see this blog post. We walked along the promenade at Spittal Beach which is a long stretch of sand close to the town, which is usually just referred to as Berwick. The photo below shows the southern end of Spittal promenade and the end of the beach. There is a Lowry connection here as his painting Beach Scene can be seen on the highlighted link. The beach can be seen from the top of the cliffs in the photo below in the second photo, which shows the extent of the beach and the railway viaduct to the left. In the second photo, the tide is further out. On the day of our visit this year, there were many families on the beach and quite a number of adults and children swimming in the water. On occasion, you heard the scream of a child as s/he first entered the cold water with feet warmed by the summer sun.

Spittal beach (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)
View across Spittal Beach towards Berwick

We then went into the town itself. Berwick Upon Tweed is famous for its bridges across the wide River Tweed (good photos). There are three bridges crossing the Tweed at Berwick and you can see a good photo of all three here. The Berwick Bridge (good photos) is described thus “The present bridge dates from 1624 and is the fourth to have stood on this location. Two of the previous structures were destroyed by flooding and one by an English attack. The bridge is 355 metres long and was the original route of the A1, before the construction of the Royal Tweed Bridge in the 1920s”. The Royal Tweed Bridge (good photos) was “Built in the 1920s to divert traffic off the older Berwick Bridge across the River Tweed. It is a reinforced concrete bridge. Until the bypass was built in the 1980s it carried the A1”. The third bridge, across which many people have travelled on the train north or south, is the Royal Border Bridge (good photos). This bridge was built between 1847 and 1850 and was opened by Queen Victoria. It is a “Grade 1 listed railway viaduct” and “The bridge is 659 metres long. It has 28 arches, constructed of brick but faced with stone”. The first photo below is of the Royal Tweed Bridge, with its elegant and graceful arches meeting each other in perfect symmetry. This is the bridge across which we drove to go into the town centre. The second photo below is taken looking under the bridge and this gives what the engineers who built the base of the bridge might have seen as they formed the structure of the bridge to make it safe. It is a series of interlocking steel and concrete sections put together as a 1950s or 2020s child might have built a Meccano set.

The Royal Tweed Bridge

Looking below the Royal Tweed Bridge

In the town itself, you cannot miss the ramparts (good photos) which surround the town and formed the defensive structure. These huge mounds of earth, with bastions or gun emplacements were first built in the Elizabethan period and later modified. Along the route of the ramparts, you come to the ruins of Berwick Castle (good photos) which had a commanding view over the River Tweed and was therefore difficult to attack. The photo below is an information board at the Scots Gate which was one of the very narrow entrances to the town from the area near the sea. It would have had a portcullis which could be raised or lowered as necessary and thick, studded wooden doors which are still there.

Information board for the Scots Gate in Berwick

The Manchester based painter L S Lowry (biography) was a frequent visitor to Berwick and there is a Lowry Town Trail which you can follow. The photo below is of one of the panels you see on the trail. The painting – A Market Place Berwick Upon Tweed – was described by one expert as “a classic street scene by L S Lowry, painted during the golden, middle years of his career, and depicts the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, just before the Second World War…. The picture has a joyful appeal, showing a bright and bustling street with Lowry figures going about their daily business.” 

Lowry panel in Berwick Upon Tweed

The photo below shows the street of Marygate in Berwick leading up to the impressive Town Hall (good photo) and this history site tells us that “The area between Marygate and the Tweed shore is thought to have formed the core of mediaeval Berwick through later centuries”. We are also told here that the existing town hall was built in the 1750s “and it replaced a long succession of mediaeval tolbooths and town halls. Featuring a 150 foot spire and bell-tower, and often mistaken for a church, it became the centre-piece of the town”. When you first see the town hall, it certainly could easily be mistaken for a church.

Marygate towards the Town Hall

We stopped for lunch in the excellent Atelier restaurant/cafe (good photos). I had their very tasty Punjabi chicken soup with artisan bread and my wife had salmon paté with the best gluten free bread she has ever tasted. This is a busy, friendly, reasonably priced hidden culinary gem in Berwick. If you are in the town, that is definitely the place to go for delicious food and a range of local beers.

St Abbs Head walk and ploughing tractor

August 14, 2022

Checking my blog posts, I noted that the last time we did the full walk (good photos) at St Abbs Head was a few years ago, although we have done shorter walks since then (e.g. this blog post). The circular walk, which we did from west to east this time, is 4 miles (6.25K) long and includes some steepish climbs. We walked past a flock of sheep being herded into a pen, we thought for shearing, then over the first hill to where there are fecund fields of barley and wheat at this time of year. Down a second hill, you come to Pettico Wick Bay (good photo) where you see the first of the many cliffs around this area. The photo below shows the bay and the fascinating rock formations which appear to slope down and up at various angles, engraved with solid lines. I have always been puzzled by the name Pettico Wick and it turns out that I am not alone, as the expert Berwickshire Place-Name Resource states “This name is a puzzle”. It refutes the definition provided by the Ordnance Survey Name Book, but suggests that the Scots word wick “an inlet of the sea, a small bay” may be relevant here. The suggested origins of Pettico are discussed but without a definite conclusion, with name being described as “even more puzzling”. The white ledges along the cliffs are former nesting sites of guillemots, razorbills and kittiwakes, but by the time of our visit, most of the birds had gone. Looking at the cliffs, you get a sense of the powerful forces that shaped this landscape.

Pettico Wick at St Abbs Head (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

Up from the bay is a stiff climb which has a steep rockface on your left and on your right, you look down to the Mire Loch (good photo). The walk flattens out and the road takes you along to the lighthouse and the keeper’s cottage. To your left are some vertiginous rockfaces which house thousands of seabirds in May and June and you can see examples of these in this NTS video. The lighthouse is shown in the photo below and this is a superb view of these artefacts which were so vital to passing shipping before the arrival of modern maritime technology. The lighthouse was built in 1862 by David and Thomas Stevenson and the NLB site notes “The oil burning light was first exhibited on 24 February 1862. The light was converted to incandescent in 1906 and to electric operation in 1966”. Also in the photo is what the site refers to as “A Siren Fog Signal” ( a new term for a foghorn to me) and this “was established at the lighthouse in 1876, being driven by hot air engines. These engines were replaced by oil driven ones in 1911 and by diesel engines in December 1955”. I like the variety of colours in this photo – the yellow, black and white of the lighthouse, the prominent red of the foghorn, the blues in the sea and sky, and the brown and green of the rockface. At the bottom right of the photo, you can just see a nesting site for a range of seabirds. The St Abbs Lighthouse looks small because of its elevated position but its light was as strong as any other in Scotland. The Siren Fog Signal was the first of its kind in Scotland.

Lighthouse at St Abbs

As you make your way along the paths to the end of the walk, you pass many little coves, a small beach with jagged rocks just offshore, and a divers’ boat sped past as we looked out. Near the end of the walk, at the top of another steep climb, you look across another bay to the village of St Abbs Head. The photo below captures the view of the sea, the rocky shore, the village itself, with the harbour to the bottom left, and the cliffs beyond. There is a 6K walk (good photos) along these cliffs to the fishing town of Eyemouth (good photos). Above the town, the countryside stretches languidly out and beyond, a mixture of arable crops on fertile soil and sheep grazing areas on rougher ground. Just above the rockface, in the foreground of the photo (best enlarged), you can see Northfield House (detailed description) built by the brewing giants the Usher family between 1888 and 1892.

St Abbs Head and its rocky shore

From the end of the walk, we went down to the harbourside in St Abbs for our picnic lunch. On the way there we took the high road route and this gives you a good view looking down to the harbour (aerial photo). My own photo below shows the busy scene. The red roofed building at the bottom right is St Ebbcarrs Café (good photos) which serves teas and coffees, but also delicious cullen skink (soup) and rough mackerel paté. To the left of the café, on the harbourside, is the now independent St Abbs Head Lifeboat shed and slipway. The narrow entrance to the harbour is opposite the slip way and is hidden by the harbour walls. We could see a number of boats carrying divers coming into and leaving the harbour. The sea here is very clear and popular with people doing scuba diving (good underwater photos). This being summer, there is a line of small boats and sailing dinghies in the harbour, along with the larger fishing boats.

Looking down on St Abbs Head harbour

We had lunch on a bench above the harbour and enjoyed a different view of the harbour and beyond. The photo below shows the view, with the back of the café in the foreground. In the distance, you can see the whitened cliffs where the guillemots had nested and above that is near the end of our walk. On the middle left of the photo, Northfield House sits on the promontory. It is a very peaceful spot, with little traffic noise and the mewing of an occasional passing seagull may break the silence. With this view, you have the harbour, the sea, the cliffs and the farmland beyond, so an idyllic spot which is appreciated by all who pass here.

St Abbs Head harbour and beyond

Earlier on the walk, on the far side of the cliffs and before we got to Pettico Wick, I stopped to watch a tractor ploughing a field. I did not add commentary to the video below as I enjoyed the sound of the tractor’s noise increasing as it came towards me. Watch how the tractor gently turns the earth over, to the delight of the swarming seagulls behind it. Then the balletic turn of the tractor at the top, with the shiny limbs of the plough raised and then lowered in anticipation of the next run down the green side of the field. This is a timeless scene i.e. the ploughing of the field. The technology may have changed from ploughman with 2 horses to one man in a tractor, but the overturning of the pliant sod remains the same.

So another extremely enjoyable walk at St Abbs on a fine day and lunch with what many would see as an enviable view.

Colm Toíbin’s The Magician and summer sunsets

August 3, 2022

Note: Some of the text has come out larger than others.

I recently finished reading Colm Tóibín’s superb book The Magician (Guardian review) which fictionalises the life of the famous German novelist and Nobel Prize winner Thomas Mann. Tóibín’s book begins in the German city of Lübeck when Mann is aged 15 and takes us through Mann’s adolescence and adulthood until Mann is 80, when he dies in 1955. The novel focuses on two main themes, Mann’s family and his wife’s family and their children; and the developments in German culture and politics in the twentieth century. So the novelist of the present day who is writing about a novelist and major cultural figure in Germany, has a large canvas to paint and a story, which is complicated at times to tell. To Tóibín’s credit, the reader is entranced by the story being told here i.e. this is no dry literary biography and we are taken seamlessly from event to event in Mann’s life. The novel takes us through the birth of Mann’s children and his work as a novelist, although Tóibín does not dwell on the writing of or the content of Mann’s famous works such as Death in Venice and The Magic Mountain which led to him being recognised as a major international author.

The book also presents us with Mann as thinker and philosopher and his reflections on his beloved Germany. One of the most convincing elements of the book is Mann’s horror at the rise of the Nazis in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s and his struggle to resist attempts to get him to speak out against Hitler’s regime while he is still in his homeland. The Manns are forced to flee to Switzerland and then the USA after WW2. A lesser novelist might have made this an overly detailed analysis of Mann’s thinking but Tóibín cleverly interweaves family events and arguments, with major political events from the 1920s to the 1950s. The novel could have been overly sentimental e.g. about Mann’s return to Germany in the 1950s, but the author avoids this. The Magician is a major work of fiction for our times and it is a fascinating and intriguing read from start to finish. You will struggle to put it down so go and buy it as soon as you can.

Superb novel about Thomas Mann (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

This summer in Scotland has been mostly sunny with temperatures above average. We have also had some spectacular sunsets on some evenings. Each year, I try to capture the perfect sunset, but of course there is no such thing and I am sure that if you showed ten of my sunset photos to ten people and asked them to choose their favourite, you might well get ten different answers. Sunsets are art from the west and thus open to interpretation. The photo below shows the setting sun just above the horizon and spreading its light across the sky. I like the combination of the low sun with its extended arms and the bulbous clouds higher in the sky. When the sun set, the sky was flooded with colour.

Bulbous clouds and setting sun

The photo below shows the spectacular colouration in the sky that we got later on in the same evening. The yellow sky above where the sun set has extended and gone into reds and purples, with the calm sea coloured by the sky. I like the darker, elongated cloud stretching over the town’s profile and looking like a sea creature making its way gently through the ocean. The more you look at this photo, the more colours and shapes you see. I found it fascinating.

Purple sea after sunset

The final sunset photo below shows a late evening mackerel sky – a sign of good weather the next day – hovering like an abstract painting with the white and yellow streaks below. The broken clouds are like brush strokes done by an impressionist, as is the more compact line of cloud below. As above, the colours are many and varied in texture and shape and this emphasises the dark solidity of the town at the bottom. The photo was taken about ten o’clock with darkness still an hour away.

Mackerel sky over Dunbar

Looking and sunsets and what comes after always has me recalling the repetitive beat and very recognisable guitar introduction to the Kinks song Waterloo Sunset, so enjoy the video below.

Finally, can I recommend that you all check out The Mack Walks, a blog done by my former co-author John Mackenzie and his wife Alison Mackenzie. It features a number of walks in Scotland and is well worth a look.

Edvard Munch exhibition in London

July 16, 2022

On our recent trip to relatives at Thames Ditton and Wisley Gardens (blog post) we went to the Edvard Munch exhibition ( good video from Bergen) at the Courtauld Gallery. The gallery is situated in the magnificent Somerset House in London. The photo below shows the monumental size of the buildings around the square of Somerset House with rising and falling fountains adorning the centre.

Looking towards the Courtauld Gallery in Somerset House (click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

Most people will have heard of Munch’s The Scream (good analysis of the painting) but little else and I fell into this category, so was intrigued to be able to visit an exhibition which showed a range of his other works. The paintings are in all in one medium sized room and had informative notices beside each painting. One of the aims of the exhibition was to show Munch’s early work and also to show some of the art which led to The Scream. The painting below is entitled Morning and was painted by Munch when he was only twenty years old in 1884. The information board tells us that “This painting of a young woman – probably a domestic servant – captures an intimate moment as she pauses from dressing”. The painting was widely admired but also criticised because some found “its subject matter distasteful”. It is a delicately coloured work, with Munch capturing the light coming in the window and the wondering look on the girl’s face. This is in contrast to the dark shades of her skirt. The “distaste” would have arisen from what some would have seen as the eroticism in the portrayal of this young woman, with bare arms and exposed neck and upper chest. It certainly is a remarkable achievement for a twenty year old.

Morning by Edvard Munch

The second painting – photo below – is Summer Night. Inger on the Beach. In Norwegian, this is Sommeernatt, Inger på stranden and it shows Munch’s sister Inger looking contemplative as she sits on some large rocks at the seashore. The site above notes “One of the most memorable items of this painting is the sequence of rocks around which she sits, all with their own individual colour scheme and angle of reflection. We see a palette of greys, blues and greens, with some reflected directly from the sea”. It was the rocks which fascinated me as it was almost as if you could see the outlines of faces in them. Perhaps I was looking too hard for images that might be seen in The Scream? The brightness of the white of Inger’s dress is made more vivid by her dark hair and the calm blue of the sea. This elegant and graceful woman seems to be at peace with the gentle water behind her.

Edvard Munch Inger on the Beach

In the exhibition, the saddest and most haunting painting on show is At the Deathbed – photo below – which is a depiction of the demise of his sister Sophie, who lies, mostly out of our sight, while the family mourns her. Munch, who suffered severe mental illness late in life, was greatly affected by the early death of his sister when he was only 13 years old. The information board states that Sophie “is contrasted with the heavy shadow of grief formed by the family members gathered at her side”. That shadow is shown not only in the dark clothes worn by the family but also in the expressions of grief on their faces. There are indications here of what was to come in The Scream, especially in the face of the woman on the right of the painting, who has a despairing look. This is a very emotional work of art and some viewers near me appeared to be visibly moved by it. it is one of those paintings that you want to move on from but it seems to hold you back from doing so.

Edvard Munch At the Deathbed

The painting that perhaps shows Munch’s journey towards The Scream is Evening on Karl Johan – this the main street in Oslo which was then known as Kristiana. The site above notes that Munch had “previously painted relatively realistic pictures of the street, but here it becomes the scene for an Expressionist vision of angst”. The information board states that Munch “..places us on Oslo’s main boulevard in the path of a press of oncoming figures. Munch’s writings suggest that this painting was inspired by searching the avenue for a woman with whom he was infatuated and becoming emotionally overwhelmed in the crowd”. It also states that this was Munch’s first use of “skeletal figures staring out of the canvas”. Whereas the figures on the Deathbed painting look sad, these people looked shocked as if they had just, or were just about to, witness a scene of horror. The faces look shrunken and some figures appear have lost parts of their face and become ghostly white. This dark parade of well dressed and affluent looking people keeps the viewer staring at the painting, wondering what could cause this kind of emotion.

Munch most iconic painting was not in this exhibition as the versions of The Scream – photo below – are very rarely loaned out from their home in the Munch Museum in Oslo. There have been many interpretations of this work of art and it is argued by some that the person in the painting is not necessarily screaming in fright, but screaming for nature. Munch lived in a time – the latter half of the 19th century – when industrialisation was at its peak and this affected Munch as it did many other people, who saw the old – and cleaner, less smoky – world disappearing. You can read an interesting analysis of the work from the Munch Museum here. There is, of course, more to the painting than the androgynous figure at the foreground. As we look behind her/him we see the swirling sea and the orange and yellow sunset. In both sea and sky, we see a flowing movement, which we also see to some extent in the person’s face. Also, the two figures behind – coming towards us or going away from us? – appear to be ignoring the scream i.e. if there is the sound of a scream, as Munch leaves us to decide – silent scream or loud shout? This is a painting that we can appreciate for the quality of the art alone and not spend too much time trying to interpret the figure’s emotions.

Edvard Munch’s The Scream (Produced under Creative Commons Licence)

It was a wonderful experience to see Munch’s work at close hand. There are many other rooms to visit in the Courtauld Gallery and you can view the range of paintings over the centuries which the gallery houses here.

Walk up Traprain Law and Richard Flanagan’s Living Sea of Waking Dreams

June 19, 2022

We had a walk up Traprain Law, which was last featured on the blog in 2021.  Traprain Law (good photos) is a volcanic structure dating back some 345 million years. The National Museum of Scotland (good video) has a display of Roman silver found when the Law (Scots for hill) was quarried in the early 20th century. The silver was at first thought to be stolen, but research in the last few years has shown that it was likely to have been payment to the local Votadini tribe in return for work done. We normally walk around the foot of the Law and take the Low Level Walk – see photo below but decided to take the Summit Walk this time. My wife – the runner – is much fitter than me, but although it was a hard climb in parts, I was not too far behind at the top.

Map of Traprain Law walks (click on all photos to enlarge -recommended)

You get a 360 degree view of the verdant East Lothian countryside from the top. It was very windy when we got to the summit and you could hardly hear yourself speak. The sun appeared only intermittently, so you had to keep moving to stay warm. The photo below shows the cairn at the top, just next to the Trig Point and this site tells the history of the Trig Pillars, which were established as a series of small concrete edifices for “the retriangulation of Great Britain”, starting in 1936, to aid more accurate mapping. The rough stones in the photo have been added to over the years to make a stone circle. The view is looking north and, on the coastline, you can see North Berwick Law (good photos) in the centre and the Bass Rock to the right. Unfortunately, the Bass Rock, home to 60,000 gannets each summer, has been struck by a strain of Avian Flu – read more here. Dead gannets and other seabirds have been found on the shores around Dunbar – a distressing sight.

Stone cairn at the top of Traprain Law.

In the photo below, looking south, you can see the proverbial forty shades of green in the fields beyond the rocky outcrop at the edge of the Law. The lighter shades of green are the barley fields which gradually change from green to yellow to straw colour over a period of weeks, before the harvest in late July/August. The darker green fields are of wheat, planted after the barley, but these will change colour also. The brown fields on view are potato/tattie fields and these fields will now – about 3 weeks later – will also now be green, with the shaws well established. Beyond the fields are the Lammermuir Hills, with the dark, wooded areas clearly on show. East Lothian is known as the Garden of Scotland because of its fertile soils and you can see why in this photo.

Looking south from Traprain Law

It was too windy for a video this time, but I took the video below at the same time last year.

I am a big fan of the Australian writer Richard Flanagan and I have read several of his novels over the years. I reviewed his Booker prize winning novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North here. The book I finished recently is The Living Sea of Waking Dreams (Review) and, true to form, this novel is much different from previous novels. The book is at heart, a story of a family and three siblings dealing with the hospitalisation of their Mother Francie, who is dying. The youngest – and poorest – child Tommy wants his mother to have a peaceful death, with careful medical attention to relieve the pain. The other two siblings, the much wealthier and highly educated Anna and Terzo, refuse to accept that their mother should die at all, and use their influence with contacts in the medical profession to put pressure on the hospital doctors to prolong Francie’s life, despite the pain and other side effects of the treatment.

The story is told mainly from Anna’s point of view. She deludes herself – in this reviewer’s opinion – that what she is doing is right, but I got the distinct impression that Anna feels that if her mother is allowed to die, she might die also. There is cruelty in the way Anna and Terzo prolong Francie’s life, focusing more on their own selfish desires than on their mother’s obvious pain and delirium. There is also cruelty to be seen in the backdrop to the novel, in which Australia is being threatened with destruction by wildfires and potential animal extinction. Flanagan the author is asking us – not just Australians – to pay more attention to climate change, rather than the constant demands of the digital age – Anna is obsessed with her phone’s Twitter feeds. There is an engrossing plot but no spoilers here.

Flanagan is a wonderfully expressive and sometimes poetic novelist. As Francie declines, Anna sees her mother’s body as “no more than a carapace of something long ago caught and killed in spider’s web”. On a more pleasant note, Flanagan describes parts of his native Tasmania, with Anna’s father looking at “the glittering azure of the sea, the ultramarine of the mountains, and the bands between of ploughed volcanic earth and vibrant forest and crops rippling in the racing cloud shadow”. A eucalyptus tree’s “writhing branches reminded Anna of a woman’s fingers stretching into a new glove” – the reader has to admire Flanagan’s imagination and ease of expression.

There is hope in the book, despite its dire background and hospital episodes, both for family relations and possibly for society IF we can control the effects of climate change and use digital technology to better and more productive us. A Richard Flanagan book is always worth reading and I urge you to read this one and appreciate the talent of this extraordinary novelist.