Archive for the ‘stone walls’ Category

Dunbar Battery redeveloped

June 22, 2017

Following the award of a grant of £700,000, Dunbar Harbour Trust has been instrumental in transforming part of the harbour site. The Battery has a long history, being built in 1781 as a fort to defend the existing Cromwell Harbour from attack by American privateers and also from a possible French invasion. In the 1870s, the Battery became an isolation hospital and at the start of the First World War, the hospital was taken over by the Red Cross and revamped. In the 1930s, it was the site of housing for a time but this was abandoned when the roof blew off. Until this year, the Battery has been an open space for visitors to look out from its walls out to sea or back to the south and the Lammermuir Hills. The Battery  (good photos) has now been transformed into an amphitheatre and coastal garden, with areas for public art. I took my trusty camera along to take a personal look. When you go through the stone arch, what first catches your eye is the wooden seating which is part of the new amphitheatre.


Seating in the amphitheatre at the Dunbar Battery (click to enlarge)

On closer inspection, you see that on the lovely wooden steps, there are the names from the Shipping Forecast which can be heard on Radio 4. There’s an excellent video available on why people love the Shipping Forecast. The forecast has a lyrical quality to it, as many of the names could be from a poem – North Utsire, (pr Ootseeri) South Utsire, Cromarty, Forth, Tyne, Dogger. As the Battery is next to the sea, this was an inspiring idea. The Shipping Forecast is also a poem by Seamus Heaney from his Glanmore Sonnets and you can hear Heaney reading the poem here  – a wonderful experience.

The public art on display at the moment is The Sea Cubes by Scottish artist Donald Urquhart.  In the photos below, you can see the steel cubes on display and a close up of one of the fossils engraved into the cubes. The cubes are attractive to look at and people of all ages can use their imagination to decide what they look like – ice cubes which have floated down from the North Pole or steel mirrors which have landed from space? They are a very peaceful sight. When you look closely at the intricate nature of the engraved fossils, you can see the complex structure of these fairly basic creatures. This one also reminded me of a map of an archipelago, with a thousand islands.


Sea Cubes by Donald Urquhart at the Dunbar Battery


Fossil engraving on a Sea Cube by Donald Urquhart

The Coastal Garden section is also very interesting and pleasant on the eye. The photo below shows the pebbles, the wooden blocks and the range of plants which can survive in the harsh seaside conditions. The plants include sea pinks (aka thrift), red valerian and Caradonna Meadow Sage. It will be interesting to see the plants develop and spread and bring more colour to the site in the future.


Coastal garden at the Dunbar Battery

As you leave the Battery, you see Dunbar Harbour and Dunbar Castle through the archway as in the photo below. I’ve featured Dunbar Harbour on this blog a few times and it is an ever-changing view, as the light differs or there are different boats in the harbour. The 1st photo shows the magnificent stone wall and arch which gives solidity to the entrance and frames the harbour very well. After you walk down the slope from the battery, you are on the harbour quayside and you are looking across the harbour to the castle, as in the 2nd photo below. This is the view on a calm summer evening at the harbour. In October, the small yachts are taken out for the winter as the winter tides turn the harbour into a turbulent rush of water.


Dunbar Harbour and Dunbar Castle from the Battery.


Dunbar harbour from near the Battery


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

December 6, 2016

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


The Bone Seeker by M J McGrath

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


Looking towards the cliff-tops at St Abbs Head

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


Stubble field at St Abbs Head

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


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

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


Tractor in St Abbs Harbour

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


number four gallery in St Abbs

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


Inside number four gallery in St Abbs


Inside number four gallery in St Abbs

New wall, digging find and autumn flowers

October 10, 2015

I’ve just finished building a new stone wall. There’s quite a lot of tension involved in an amateur like me attempting to produce a finished wall that looks as if it might have been built by an expert i.e. to the untrained eye. Are there enough stones that are large enough to catch the eye. Are the different colours in the sandstone well distributed across the wall? Is there a good contrast between the rougher and the smoother stones? Is the pointing done well enough? From a personal point of view, the builder himself/herself has to be pleased with the outcome, according to my expert tutor and former qualified stonemason Ian and, while I can see faults in the wall, I’m pretty pleased with it. Robert Frost wrote “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, / That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,/ And spills the upper boulders in the sun,/ And makes gaps even two can pass abreast” in Mending Wall. The poem’s narrator and neighbour set about mending the wall and he sees his neighbour “Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top / In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed”. The stone for my wall came from a local house where, possibly 100 years ago, a man from Dunbar built the wall. Now another man from Dunbar has built a new wall from the same stone.

New stone wall

New stone wall

Behind the new stone wall – on the right of the picture above – I’m digging a new patch to extend my vegetable garden. Digging this part was at times easy – as the spade cut through the soil which was newly wettened by the previous day’s downpour. At other times, I hit solid clay and occasionally my spade hit a largish stone and sent a shivering pain through my arm. One of my favourite Seamus Heaney poems is called Digging and in the poem, Heaney recalls his father digging potatoes 20 years ago ” The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft/ Against the inside knee was levered firmly./ He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep/ To scatter new potatoes that we picked,/ Loving their cool hardness in our hands”. This fairly simple task is enhanced by Heaney’s words – “coarse boot” “bright deep edge” and “cool hardness”. I’m going to plant potatoes in this patch next year and will recall Heaney’s words when I dig them up. Near the end of the digging, I unearthed a coin and it turned out to be an old penny, indeed a penny from 1916. In the photos below (a clearer picture here) you see the inscription GEORGIVUS V DEI GRA BRETT OMN REX FID DEF IND EMP. In the full Latin, this is “Georgius V Dei gratia Britanniarum omnium rex, fidei defensor, India imperator” which translates as ” George the Fifth by the grace of God King of all the British, defender of faith and emperor of India” – so a modest chap was our George. On the reverse is Britannia – a female figure representing the Roman name for the area no known as the British Isles. This military looking figure suggests clearly that the British Empire is strong.

1916 penny

1916 penny

1916 penny

1916 penny

It’s clearly autumn now, with the leaves on the trees giving a final show of golden opulence before careering down to the ground. It’s also dark by 7pm. In my garden, there is decadence in the bushy lobelia and the sword lilies’ heads have shrunk. Some of the geraniums have kept their vibrant colours while other have rotted. There is still much to see as in the photos below. The sedum is at its flowering peak, the fuchsia are still producing delicate and intricate heads and the Indian summer has produced new roses. New in the garden are the cyclamen which will last over the winter and well into spring.

Sedum at its peak

Sedum at its peak

Autumnal fuchsia head

Autumnal fuchsia head

October rose

October rose

Newly planted cyclamen

Newly planted cyclamen