Archive for the ‘Trees’ Category

Smooth tattie dreels and bluebells

May 3, 2017

My home county of East Lothian is often referred to as “the garden of Scotland” because of its rich arable soil. In the past two weeks, several fields around Dunbar have been transformed from being roughly ploughed and not very interesting areas, into mesmerising rows of tattie (Scots for potato) dreels (Scots for drills). The first photo was taken at a slight angle to the dreels and I love the curvature of the shaped soil and how one set of dreels leads on to another further up the field – and the 2nd set appear to curve in a different direction.

IMG_1471

Tattie dreels on the edge of Dunbar (Click to enlarge)

The 2nd photo is taken more or less straight on and the regimented dreels look like an endless set of brown piano keys, which might play a song such as (appropriately for this blog’s author) Tatties and Herrin. This song claims that the “natural food” of the Scots is potatoes and herring – and the video shows the reaping, gutting and barrelling of the herring (aka Silver Darlings). In the 1920s and 1930s, tatties and herrin’ were indeed the staple diet of many Scots people. Of course, in the 1920s and 1930s, before the advent of tractors, tatties would be sown by hand or by an early potato planter and they would be sown in much smaller fields, compared to the huge fields we see today. I have planted tatties in my own garden this year – the first time for over 30 years and yes, my dreels are smooth. When the first nascent shaws appear on my crop, I’ll post a photo

 

IMG_1474

Tattie dreels and the Lammermuir Hills

It’s May, so time for the bluebells to make their annual appearance and, for a brief time, be the dominant flower in woodland areas. A fellow blogger – Bookish Nature – has an excellent post on bluebells and she includes a lovely quote from Gerald Manley Hopkins and a clip from a Robert MacFarlane video, based on his excellent book The Wild Places. I ventured to the woods at Foxlake Adventures – as I did last year, to try to take better photos of the bluebells. The first two photos show the extensive bluebells among the trees at Foxlake. In some ways, the trees enhance the bluebells, emphasising their colour and showing how they cover the ground around the trees. The bluebells also enhance the tall, erect trees which are just coming into leaf, showing their mottled bark and their reach towards the light. In the 2nd photo, the sunshine has lightened the colour of the bluebells and strengthened the green of the new leaves. The bluebells will soon fade away but the leaves will get bigger and change colour to a darker green, so you have to appreciate the light green shapes that have emerged from the buds while they last.

IMG_1458

Bluebells beneath trees at Foxlake Woods

IMG_1461

Bluebells and trees in the sun at Foxlake Woods

Taking close-up photos of bluebells is something I find quite difficult but I keep trying. The first photo shows how the bluebell petals curl up when open and when you are looking down on stretches of bluebells, you hardly notice this feature, which is like women’s hairstyles in the 1960s. The vibrancy of the blue in the bluebell comes out very well here and you have to crouch down and look closely to appreciate this. So, next time you are in a bluebell strewn wood, hunker down and take a close-up view.

IMG_1464

Bluebell close up

For the 2nd photo, I had to hold the stem of the flower and turn it upwards. Bluebell flowers droop down, as if the flowers are too shy to show off their attractive pale cream anthers which hold the pollen. Only the creatures that scurry in amongst the bluebells, e.g. the beetles or perhaps a curious little wren, will appreciate the aesthetics of the underside of the bluebell. Seeing the bluebells in full colour and spread is a heart-warming sight, as you can feel the warmth in the colour of the flowers and know that Spring is well underway and soon the sun will have real warmth as well.

IMG_1467

Bluebell close up, showing pale cream anthers

Visit to Glamis Castle and Promotion!

April 24, 2017

On our visit to Alyth, after our delightful stay at Tigh Na Leigh, we headed for the historic Glamis Castle. The castle and the Thane of Glamis (pr Glams) is referred to in Shakespeare’s play MacBeth but the bard’s story is set in the 11th century and the castle was not built until much later. However, you will still be told that Duncan was indeed murdered in Glamis Castle, such is the longevity of myth. Glamis is not one of Scotland’s strongly fortified castles, it’s more of a grand house, property of a range of aristocrats over the centuries. The extensive gardens are certainly worth visiting, starting with a riverside walk. On our visit, the trees were just coming into bud and some of the rhododendrons were bursting into flower. We passed this bridge, with its elegant railings (photo below) on the way into a path leading into the woods.

IMG_1434

Railings on a riverside walk bridge at Glamis Castle (Click to enlarge)

There are some huge trees in the woods and many of them are multi-limbed, and look as if they might consist of more than one tree. There are certainly some very elegant shapes to be seen amongst the trees. In the photo below, the sunlight on the hump-backed tree trunk enhanced the smoothness of its shape and I like the shadows on the trunk. The footpath is wide in the woods and the trees are spread out, so it’s an enjoyable walk with plenty of light.

IMG_1435

Trees at Glamis Castle

At the end of the woods, is the Italian Garden (good photos) which is enclosed by thick hedges and contains a number of statues, as well as “two pleached alleys of beech” shown in the photo below. Pleached is a new word to me and it means that the branches of the trees are interwoven. As you walk through this alley and look up at the entangled branches, they have  a surreal quality, like an abstract sculpture.

IMG_1441

Pleached alley of beech at Glamis Castle

As you approach the front of the castle, you can view the original castle and the wings and turrets built by successive owners. I don’t find it a very attractive building, as it’s rather squat and there are too many turrets but I’m probably in a minority here. I do of course like the stonework but there is no mention of the people who actually built the castle.

IMG_1444

Glamis Castle front

Just outside the castle, there is a modern sculpture of Macbeth’s three witches, sitting around their cauldron, chanting “Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble”, although you have to listen carefully to hear it. The sculptures (photo below) were made from fallen trees on the castle’s estate.

IMG_1447

The three witches outside Glamis Castle

We went on the tour of the castle but you can’t take photographs. However, you can see many interior pictures of the rooms – many ornately decorated and furnished, here. The tour is informative and you get to see a mixture of the old and the modern. As the late Queen Mother stayed here often as a child, there is a lot of emphasis on royalty near the end of the tour. As this is of little interest to me, I concentrated on the décor.

You might be wondering why Promotion! is in the title of this post. Those people who have had an email from me will know that the strapline at the end of the message and my signature is “It’s hard tae be a Hibee”. My older son and I are long suffering season ticket holders at Easter Road in Edinburgh, home of Hibernian FC and for the last 3 years, we have endured the humiliation of being in the 2nd tier of Scottish football (aka soccer). This all changed just over a week ago, when we were promoted back to the top division. At the end of the game, Joy was not so much unconfined but beside herself. There was what some people might describe as a religious experience as 17,000 Hibees (as we are known) sang out “Sunshine on Leith”. This rather dirge-like song by The Proclaimers (fellow Hibees) contains a rousing chorus, with “Sunshine on Leith” as the key part. This is because the football ground is in Leith (good photos), a suburb of Edinburgh – and yes – the sun really did shine on Leith as we sang. So, when I use my season ticket (below) next season, we’ll be back.

Scan_20170423

My season ticket

 

 

Frosty days and Pitcox farm

November 29, 2016

Last week, we had a series of very frosty days in Dunbar. When you get frosts in November, there are always gloom merchants around who see this as a sign of a bad winter to come. Likewise, if you get a comparatively warm day in November, there will always be someone in the street saying “Aye, we’ll peye (pay) for this!”. This view of life of course, sees the world in simplistic terms, for every gain ( a sunny day), there will be pain ( a frosty day). We optimists argue that you should enjoy both sunny and frosty days – if you can. I was out cycling last week on 2 of the frosty days and I took my camera on the second one. Unlike last week, both these cycle rides were very enjoyable – sunny days, with big Australian clear blue skies, on my mountain bike and hitting the occasional thick patches of ice en route in the countryside. The thick tyres on this bike mean that you can crunch through icy puddles on the road. The key thing is never to touch your brakes on the ice, as you inevitably end up lying on the said ice and looking up to the big sky, and feeling an ever-growing pain in your knee.

I stopped the bike at Pitcox Farm, of which more later. On the roadside, the fallen leaves had been highlighted by the 3 days of frost. I took these close up photos and looking at them when enlarged, I’m sure we may see different things. What do I see? What strikes me most are the patterns on the leaves, some like splayed fingers, others like branch lines of a metro system, some like a child’s drawing of a tree and others like protruding veins, which are white, unlike their varicose counterparts. There are also twigs, leading your eye from line to line.

img_1110

Frosted leaves in November (Click to enlarge

img_1109

Frosted leaves in November

Back home, I went out to the back of the house to catch the thick frost on the beach. There looks like a confrontation in the photo below. The frost has marched out from the stone wall towards the incoming tide and the two armies are separated by the Independent Republic of Sand, upon which the sun shines. The tide receded, the frost stayed put and then it was completely annihilated by the invisible Thaw. The following day, there was high tide and the jubilant sea laughed its way up to the wall. There’s a lovely image in Amy Lowell’s poem The Hoar Frost, with these lines: “And when I came into my garden,/My silken outer-garment/ Trailed over withered leaves”.

img_1132

Frosted East Beach in Dunbar

Back to Pitcox Farm, which usually makes an appearance here in late January, early February when the first snowdrops for miles around can be seen. The farm, with its impressive house and farm cottages is 4.5 miles (7.2K) from Dunbar and you get there on quiet country roads. I was on my way back when I took the photos here – of where I’d come from and the road down to the cross roads.

img_1119

The Pitcox to Stenton Road

img_1114

Approaching the Pitcox crossroads

At the place in the photo above, the roadside was frost-filled, the leaves static, the air cold and my breath steamy. At the bottom of the road, just past the crossroads sign, the sun was out and the frost had been banished, with the leaves enjoying the temporary heat, as in this photo, which appears to contain unknown stick insects.

img_1128

Autumn leaves in the sun

There were also magnificent shadows cast by the now leafless trees in the garden of Pitcox House. In this photo, the shadows look animated as if engaged in mid morning tree shadow aerobics and the trees themselves stretch out as far as they can.

img_1121

Trees and shadows at Pitcox House

 

Late autumn trees and the woes of cycling

November 22, 2016

When I came back from my cycle this morning, having passed a field of frozen sprout plants standing motionless in the field, their now yellow lower leaves stuck to the ground, and also having gone past an exquisitely coloured avenue of trees and roadside leaves at Bowerhouse (local pronunciation Boorhoose), my intention was to add to my photos of late autumn trees and early frosts here. This plan was thwarted as the wind from the east got up and the rain arrived, meaning leaden skies and rising temperatures. A walk last week through Lochend Woods in Dunbar (about 1K from our house) was particularly enjoyable because of the variety of colours in the trees and on the floor of the woods – a hundred shades of yellow, brown and green. So I went back with my camera.

The first photo is of rose hips. I have now learned that you can make rose hip syrup although it looks like it might be too sweet for me. Also, rose hips can be cultivated from sophisticated garden roses and not just the dog roses you get in the wild. I like the contrast between the bright red of the hips and the leaves, which are in various stages of maturity i.e. from green to pale yellow.

img_1088

Rose hips in Lochend Woods (Click to enlarge)

The next photo takes in a range of trees. In this photo, I like the way the leaves contrast with the dark trunks of the trees. The erect trunks draw your eye up and down the photo and when you look closer, many of the trunks are not straight but bent at various angles, and they are of various girths. The sun on the woods here actually makes some of the trunks look darker than they are.

img_1090

Autumnal trees in Lochend Woods

Contrast this photo with the one above. In this photo, the sunlight is making the tree trunks lighter and the trees take on the look of gum trees in Australia. This photo is deceiving as you might think that it was taken on a very hot day if you only look at the shining trees. I also like the shadows on the ground which are extensions of the trees and often lead your eye from one tree to another.

img_1098

Sunlight on trees in Lochend Woods

I also liked this photo. Firstly, there is the startling colour of the yellow leaves, made paler by the sun and they show off the smooth tree trunk behind. Secondly, there is the real sense of height and I think the photo makes these trees look taller than they actually are. There are many lines to follow in this photo – up, down, to the right and left and back again.

img_1092

Autumnal trees in Lochend Woods

On the way home, at a house on the edge of the woods, I passed this copper beech hedge, shown in close-up below. This is purely accidental on my part but when I look at this photo, I have the impression that the leaves are in motion and are falling although they are not. Also, the shadows of the leaves appear to increase the number of leaves on show. The colours and leaf patterns are fascinating the more you look.

img_1105

Copper beech hedge leaves in autumn

So to cycling, at least last Friday’s cycle. There are some days you go on a bike and no matter how flat the road or how light the wind, it’s a struggle. It was a very cold but bright morning and I was well rugged up in my winter gear. One thing about late Autumn/winter cycling is that it takes a long time to get ready. In the summer, on go the shorts and top and shoes and helmet and half finger covered gloves – and off you go. At this time of year, it’s top and shorts and leggings and another top and a jacket and head cover like a monk’s cowl and a buff and a helmet and shoes and overshoes, which are tight and hard to get on. 5 minutes later – off you go. I was about a mile into the bike ride on Friday and started to feel my legs heavy and my back sore. Now, in these situations, to what extent your legs and back are  actually sore is open to question. What happens is that your mind takes over. Then there’s the good angel and the bad angel. The bad angel says “Well, you were going for 20 miles (32.4K) but, hey if you turn at 6 miles, who’s going to know?”. The good angel says “Who will know? YOU will know! Are you  a man or a mouse? Forget 6 miles pal, 10 is the turning point – if not further”. The nearer I get to the 6 mile mark, the voices get louder. Which one will win? I nearly turn at the roundabout at 6 miles but keep going and – this always happens – once I’m on my way, my legs are lighter and my back is not sore. What you need to do when cycling on these kind of days is to detach your mind from your body and just let your legs take over. On these days, there much more sense in your legs than in your weak and complaining brain.

 

Dirleton Kirk and the Dunbar Creel Loaders sculpture

November 7, 2016

A recent walk in the attractive village of Dirleton which is up the coast from Dunbar, took us around the village green, past the impressive Dirleton Castle (good photos) and on to the local church yard. In Scotland, a Presbyterian church is called  a kirk which originates from the Old Norse kirkja or the Old English cirice. The word kirk was used – I assume – after the Reformation to distinguish these Protestant churches from their Catholic counterparts, called chapels. When you turn the corner to see the kirk, it is the tower that first catches your eye. On the day we visited, the RNLI flag was flying. There’s an extensive graveyard with many old headstones, some of which tell the occupations of the people buried there. As with all churchyards, the people seen to be the most important – usually the wealthiest – in the area, got the biggest headstones. There are 3 books on the headstones available.

img_1074

Dirleton Kirk (click to enlarge)

One of the most attractive features for me in the kirkyard is the presence of well coiffured yew trees (see below) whose proper name is Taxus Baccata, probably derived from the Greek for bow and the Latin for berry. The yew trees have the look of green headstones and perhaps, if you knew where to look, there might be a secret inscription inside.

img_1076

Yew trees in Dirleton Kirkyard

As you walk from the kirk back to the village green, you get a superb view of the village trees, the wide open green and the castle walls in the background. This view (photo below) was greatly enhanced on our visit by the magnificent tree with its autumn finery on display and its random scattering of leaves the ground adding to the colourful scene. We’ve had very strong NW winds this weekend in East Lothian, so it’s likely that this tree will now be fairly bare, but the elegance of its structure and branches will remain.

img_1077

Dirleton village green in the autumn

We have a new sculpture here in Dunbar. The Creel Loaders (photos below) is the work of sculptor Gardner Molloy who has done a number of public sculptures in East Lothian. This work sits at the junction of Victoria Street (on right in photo below) and Castle Gate. This is very near the harbour and the sea can be seen in the middle left.

img_1080

The Creel Loaders by Gardner Molloy

Gardner Molloy writes “My carving style is vigorous, simple and strong and I relish the use of textural tool finishes to provide contrast. I feel that neat chisel marks enhance the finished surface”. The words “vigorous, simple and strong” could be applied to the Creel Loaders on first looking at this very impressive piece of sculpture, but there is a complexity to work that emerges on closer examination. The woman’s head, which reminded me of an Egyptian goddess, is delicately carved and there is a determined (and maybe resigned) look on the woman’s face.

img_1086

The Creel Loaders – detail of the woman’s head – by Gardner Molloy

The sculpture was built to remember the harbour women of Dunbar who put a wicker creel/basket on their backs and waited while two men loaded the creel with fish – herring in particular in the early 20th century. The women then walked many miles into the countryside along the Herring Road (good photos) to sell their fish. This was backbreaking work and a perilous journey in the winter. What is often forgotten is that the women not only carried the fish as far as Lauder (33 miles/54K away) but they also often bartered their fish for fresh vegetables, which were in short supply in the poor harbour area, and carried the vegetables back home. This may account for the determined and resigned look on the woman’s face.

Of course, there is more to this sculpture than a realistic representation of an historic event. In the photo below, you can see the elegant lines, flowing curves and intricate patterns in the bodies of the people (and the cat), in the woman’s headband and in the wicker creel. There is much to admire in this superb addition to Dunbar’s public art works and repeated visits will, I’m sure, reveal even more complexity in the work.

img_1083

The Creel Loaders – side view – by Gardner Molloy

Huntly Castle and Mac the Mandarin

November 1, 2016

On a recent family trip, we stayed at the delightful Craigellachie Hotel which boasts the world’s best whisky bar. The Quaich (good photos) has over 900 malt whiskies and at this time of year, you can sit by an enchanting log fire with your favourite malt. I tried a Bruichladdich 1998 which was superb. My wife’s home town of Huntly (good photos) is a half hour drive away, so we went for walk around the town and down memory lane – to where my wife used to live and where she went to primary school. We were joined by our son, daughter in law and 3 grandchildren at Huntly Castle (good photos) and we bought tickets and went inside this very impressive edifice.

huntly-3

Huntly Castle exterior (Click on photo to enlarge)

Inside the castle, there are many useful panels explaining the use of the various rooms. There are three floors to the castle and from the top, you can see the commanding view that the Earls of Huntly had. They could see enemies approaching from all sides of the castle, which also has outer and inner moats. The castle is build of rough stone but is no less attractive for that, with the huge round tower and some elegantly designed windows on the top floor. The autumnal trees next to the castle helped to highlight its features as shown below. The castle sits next to the River Deveron which was clear and fast flowing on our visit and reflected the autumn colours in the trees – see photo.

huntly-5

Huntly Castle and autumn trees

huntly-2

River Deveron near Huntly Castle

In the latest edition of Scottish Birds which I receive as part of my membership of the estimable Scottish Ornithologists’ Club, there is an article by Harry Scott entitled Mac the Mandarin. The article tells of how this mandarin drake was seen by Harry Scott in Aberdeen and on investigation, he discovered that the bird had been ringed in Norway and also found out that few mandarin have been known to travel between countries. So, an interesting tale but what brought this bird to my attention was its superb appearance. I emailed Harry and he kindly sent me two of his photos to use here.

scott-mandarin-1

Mandarin drake – photo by Harry Scott.

The photo above is superb not just for its colours but the reflections of the bird in the water. The mandarin to me seems to be composed of a set of shapes and patterns, each with an elegant colour – pink, yellow, green, blue, brown, white and black. It’s patchwork quilt of a bird but none the less attractive for that. The distorted reflections of the mandarin and the  trees in the river give the photo a surreal element and there is a sense of serenity about this almost magical bird as it glides effortless through the water.

scott-mandarin-2

Mandarin drake – photo by Harry Scott

The second photo has the same elements of the first and when I saw it, I thought that it would make a great subject for a Lisa Hooper print. Lisa’s birds tend to have shapes of solid colour as well as flowing lines denoting the shape of the bird and the sections of feathers. It would be interesting to see how Lisa, as a printmaker, would represent the beard like flow of brown feathers at  the side of the bird’s head. Mac the Mandarin  – the name given to the bird by Harry Scott – is certainly an autumnal visitor as some of its colours can be seen in the leaves and trees at this time of year, as well as in the stones in the Deveron River photo above.

 

Snake man and ducklings

June 2, 2016

I was showing my grandchildren this photo of the Snake Man in Wagga Wagga and it got me wondering if he was still active – and he is.

snake

Snake man releasing a brown snake at Pomingalarna Reserve, Wagga Wagga

The photo above was taken in 2004, not long after my wife and I had moved to Wagga Wagga, in South eastern Australia, as I was teaching at Charles Sturt University. We stayed there for 3 years and came back to Dunbar, from where I taught online for another 6 years, going to Australia for 6 weeks each year in October/November. My wife was running with others from Wagga Wagga Road Runners at Pomingalarna Reserve (good photos) and I was walking up one of the hills when we came across a man with a hessian sack and a hooked metal rod. I asked about the man and was told “Aw, look James, it’s the snake man”. As an aside, the word ‘look’ here does not mean ‘have a look at this’ but is a word Australians use to explain something. I always joked with my students that I was called “Luke James” in Australia. I asked the Snake Man what he was doing and he took out the snake in the photo and released it into the nearby bush. I enquired about what kind of snake he was releasing. “The second most dangerous snake in the world” he told me. It was a brown snake and, to my horror, he was releasing it just a few metres from the running track where the runners were soon to pass. He assured me that the runners were in no danger and that people who were killed by snakes in Australia were almost always trying to kill the snakes. I looked him up recently and Tony Davis (up to date photo) is still going strong, with people still regularly phoning him up to remove snakes from their houses and take them to Pomingalarna – photo below with other wild life on the reserve.

kanagaroos2

Kangaroos at Pomingalarna Reserve, Wagga Wagga

Back here in Scotland, we met old friends in Peebles (good photos) which I’ve featured on this blog (good photos) a few times. We were walking along the banks of the River Tweed (good photos) when we saw a mother duck and her 8 ducklings swimming together (1st photo) and then slightly apart (2nd and clearer photo).

IMG_0388

Duck family in Peebles

IMG_0390

Duck family in Peebles

By coincidence, that day I’d turned over a page in Chris Rose’s book In A Natural Light and it was a painting of a duck family also. I’ve had Chris’ permission to reproduce some of his paintings with acknowledgement. The painting is wonderfully realistic but also so vibrant in its use of light and shade and delicate colour. For the mother duck, this is a serious business, as it was for the mother duck in Peebles.

 

IMG_0399

Chris Rose Tufted Duck Family from the book ” In a Natural Light”.

George V Park Edinburgh and bluebells

May 10, 2016

An email the other day from my pal Tam Bruce who has recently joined the world of bloggers. Tam and I went to school together when we were 5 years old and have remained friends ever since. We went to Dunbar Primary School where our teacher in P1 was Miss Johnston and in P7 it was Miss Murray. We then went on to Dunbar Grammar School with its Latin motto Non sine pulvere palma which now appears as Effort Brings Rewards. Our Latin teacher, the eccentric but inspirational Mr Jack Milne translated it as No reward without hard work. I guess the new one is more positive. In the email, Tam sent me photos he’d taken at King George V Park in Edinburgh and has allowed me to use them here. I had never heard of this park but was intrigued.

Noticeboard at King George V Park Edinubrgh

The photo above is a guide to what was The Royal Patent Gymnasium (scroll down page). This was a fascinating and probably unique facility for the public. Within the gymnasium was a huge sea serpent with ” a circular 6 foot wide ‘boat’ with room for 600 rowers”. Everything here was on a huge scale, with a see-saw for 200 people and a “velocipide” with wooden bicycles which had metal tyres – these could be cycled by 600 people. The gymnasium closed in 1879 and St Bernard’s Football (aka soccer) Club moved there in 1880.  

Tam 2

St Bernard’s Football Club Edinburgh

This small football club soon grew in importance and won trophies in Scotland at the turn of the century. A new stand saw a crowd of 27,000 attend a game in which St Bernard’s beat my own football team Hibernian. By the 1940s, the club was gone. My team was formed in 1875 survived and is still a constant worry to their long suffering supporters. They are usually known as Hibs but are also called The Hibees, The Cabbage (and Ribs) and the Pen Nibs. You can tell the age of these nicknames as I doubt if most young people would have heard of a dish called Cabbage and Ribs or know what a pen nib is.

It’s May, so in East Lothian it’s bluebells time and if you know where to look, you can see  some extensive carpets of blue among the trees. We went for a walk in the woods next to Foxlake Adventures just outside Dunbar to see the bluebells there.

IMG_0344

Bluebells in woods near Foxlake

I like the photo above, which was taken to capture the bluebells but has incidentally also  included the strong trees and the intriguing shadows cast by them. The next photo shows the trees closer up and there’s a surprising range of colours in them to complement the bluebells.

IMG_0348

Bluebells in the woods near Foxlake, Dunbar

In Scotland, amongst people of a certain age (OK – older) the word bluebell brings to mind the famous accordion tune The Bluebell Polka by the famous Jimmy Shand (YouTube video). This is foot tapping music and there’s a joke in Scotland – How do you frustrate a Scotsman or Scotswoman? Nail their right foot to the floor and play the Bluebell Polka”. There’s an excellent article in The Guardian in which the author writes about the fleeting nature of the bluebell as “.. it is in a hurry. The flowers have to beat the closing over of the tree canopy” and “As soon as they are perfect, they are over. Within a couple of weeks, the entire population will be drowned..”. An often quoted poem about the flower is The Bluebell by Anne Bronte where the poet begins “A fine and subtle spirit dwells/  In every little flower” and later continues “There is a silent eloquence/  In every wild bluebell”. The poem veers towards sentimentality but contains some striking images. The following close up image of the bluebell reflects the “silent eloquence”.

IMG_0353

Close up of bluebell in May

 

 

 

Hospital, haws and spring flowers

April 2, 2016

A delay in the posting of this blog as I’ve been in hospital for the past week after a bizarre accident. I tripped and fell down the steep slope of our back garden while bringing in the washing and toppled over the 1.5m wall at the bottom of the garden. I broke 10 ribs and punctured a lung. I was rescued by golfers leaving the nearby golf course and some neighbours and taken to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary where I was treated by world class staff in the High Dependency unit and the Cardiothoracic ward. The attention and care given to me were truly outstanding and a real credit to the often criticised National Health Service. It’s a strange experience being in hospital as (in my case) you are taken there and transported into a totally different environment. Suddenly, your world shrinks to a hospital ward and you are severely restricted in your movements. You lose your privacy, your ability to make decisions (mostly) and cook for yourself. You spend your day in your pyjamas and slippers but it all seems natural, as your key concern is to lessen the pain. So, a few weeks to fully recover and get back on my bike again. I’ll get there.

Before the trauma, we drove up to the village of Stenton to take photos of the hawthorn trees which are just coming into flower. The hawthorn tree is very common in the UK but it at its most spectacular when the blossom arrives in the spring. Around here, the trees are referred to as haws although strictly speaking, this refers to the berries which appear later in the year. Siegfried Sassoon refers to the tree in his poem The Hawthorn Tree and writes “I know my lad that’s out in France/ With fearsome things to see /Would give his eyes for just one glance/At our white hawthorn tree”. The photos below show the lane in Stenton where there are numerous hawthorn trees and also a close up of the blossom.

IMG_0281

The haws at Stenton

IMG_0276

The haws at Stenton

IMG_0274

Hawthorn blossom

My garden has come into full spring colour again with a lovely spread of yellow daffodils but these are outshone by the polyanthus and primroses. These two plants look very similar but there are differences, outlined in this article. The following photos are of polyanthus although I think that the second one could be a primrose. On my bookshelf is  Alice Oswald’s wonderful book Weeds and Wildflowers which has exquisite greyscale etchings by Jessica Greenman.The poem Primrose begins “First of April – new born gentle./Fleeting wakeful on a greenleaf cradle./Second of April – eyes half open,/faint light moving under the lids. Face hidden./Third of April – bonny and blossoming/in a yellow dress that needs no fastening”. I’m writing this on 1st April, so a nice coincidence. You might look at the third photo differently now.

IMG_0284

Polyanthus in my garden

IMG_0285

Primrose/polyanthus in my garden

 

IMG_0288

Polyanthus in my garden

 

 

Arthur Melville Exhibition, Mizen Head and autumal russet

November 5, 2015

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

Arthur Melville exhibition

Arthur Melville exhibition

Arthur Melville A Cabbage Garden

Arthur Melville A Cabbage Garden

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

Seafood dish at the Mizen Head

Seafood dish at the Mizen Head

Steamed mussels at the Mizen Head

Steamed mussels at the Mizen Head

Scallop shells at the Mizen Head

Scallop shells at the Mizen Head

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

Russet forest floor

Russet forest floor

Rurally russet

Rurally russet

Russet tree

Russet tree

Russet avenue

Russet avenue