Archive for the ‘views’ Category

Arles’ Roman heritage and Washington Black

September 3, 2019

Our next trip after Poland was to the south of France and the historic Provence town of Arles (local pronunciation Arr-le). We flew to Marseille and the train from the airport direct to Arles takes a mere 38 minutes. As well as being very well known for its Van Gogh connection (later post), Arles was a major town during the Roman occupation, (as locals would have called it) of what was later to become Provence, in the 1st and 2nd centuries. Some of the ruins in the town were built during the reign of Augustus Caesar and thus fall into the BCE i.e. they are over 2000 years old. The most impressive – and the most visited – Roman built edifice in Arles is the huge, circular amphitheatre. It was built in the late 1st century as an arena of public entertainment and crowds of up to 20,000 could watch chariot races and combating gladiators. It is still used today for bullfighting as well as plays and festivals.

It is a very impressive sight as the photo below shows. You do not get a true picture of the arena today as it is covered with scaffolded seating, but it is not difficult to imagine the crowds sitting on the stone terraces and cheering on their favourite charioteers or gladiators. While today’s football and rugby stadiums may be bigger, more comfortable and technologically advanced compared with the Roman version, this first century feat of architecture, engineering and stone masonry matches them.

Roman amphitheatre in Arles (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

When you look at the huge walls (1st photo below) and the corridors (2nd photo) behind the seated areas, you can appreciate just what an accomplishment the building of this amphitheatre was. The Romans had no mechanical stone-cutters, no no forklift trucks, no digitally controlled cranes and no cement lorries. This arena was built by labourers and stone-masons with very basic scaffolding and block-and-tackle pulleys which were manually operated. When you look up at the size of some of the stones used as lintels in the corridors, you are reminded of the superb knowledge and skills that the Romans had in creating something this spectacular. This amphitheatre could last another 1000 years. How long will our modern day stadia last?

The walls of the Arles’ amphitheatre
The corridors of the Arles’ Amphitheatre

I took this video of the arena and it includes views across the town of Arles, through which the might Rhone river elegantly flows. You can watch the video here.

Not far from the Roman amphitheatre in Arles, there is another hugely impressive feature of Roman architecture. The Roman Theatre (very good photos) held 10,000 people when it was full and was an important cultural centre in the town during the Roman occupation. It was here that the more educated class of people in Arles could watch Greek and Roman plays. The photo below shows the view from the stage and the circular seating area. Standing on the stage, you can imagine the actors in full voice – there was no artificial amplification then – acting out a tragedy or comedy.

Roman Theatre in Arles

At the back of the stage, two of the original pillars have survived and the bases of other pillars are clearly visible (photo below). The audience would therefore have seen the stage and its highly decorative backdrop, made possible of course, as this is an outdoor theatre. In the background in the photo below, you can see the many other stone remains of the Roman period and some of the sculpture on the stone is very impressive. This is a very large area and there are two more sections to the left of this photo where you can wander around the huge and small blocks of stone. The Romans built big – to show the might of the Empire and to impress the locals by the sophistication of the different elements of the stone structures, as well as the aesthetic qualities on show in the plays.

The Roman Theatre in Arles

The theatre was surrounded by thick stone walls, with a number of gates through which the audience could enter. The photo below shows one of these gates. Of course, entrance would be controlled and there would have been special entrances for the Roman governor, his administrators and his troops. You can see some of the many arches above the gates in the photo and there is a range of styles in the stone which form the arches. This is one of Arles’ must visits and the ability to walk round and feel the smooth stones which were originally moved, sculpted and put into place in 12BCE, is an enhancing experience.

One of the entrance gates in the Roman theatre in Arles

We also visited the extensive Roman baths (good photos) – the Thermes de Constantin – and you can see the areas in which people took their baths. The information board tells you that these were the baths for the ordinary people of Arles, and that men and women bathed naked here at allocated times. The wealthier locals and the Romans did not use these baths , as they had their own private baths in their extensive houses.

The Canadian novelist Esi Edugyan has written an intriguing novel in Washington Black (review). The book begins in a slave plantation in the West Indies and we are introduced to 11 year old Washington Black, who witnesses the horrors of the slave trade. While memories of the plantation haunt the man reflecting on this time and indeed haunt the book, the story moves on quickly as Washington Black is taken on as an assistant by Christopher (Titch) Wilde. The boy proves to be intelligent and artistic and soon gains knowledge of hot-air balloon technology, as well as the natural world.

This is an adventure story as well as a reflection on freedom – from slavery and from families – and Washington Black escapes with Wilde to the Arctic, where they find Wilde’s eccentric father. In further escapades, he is taken to Morocco and London. While some of the story means that the reader has to accept unlikely escapes e.g. from a bounty hunter, Edugyan is a brilliant storyteller and you are carried along by the story. Edugyan is also a stylistic and at times poetic writer e.g. her descriptions of the view of the plantation from a nearby hill or the Arctic ice scapes. Later in the novel, Black shows himself to be an inventor and natural scientist, the equal of his white employees. Whether he will get recognition for his work is not in his hands. The novel is a rewarding read and, despite some of the hard to believe coincidences and outcomes in the book, I recommend that you buy it.

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The Baltic city of Gdansk and the Literacka restaurant

August 21, 2019

A two week break in the blog as we were in the south of France for a week, meeting friends from Australia. We spent a day in Gdansk on our trip to the wedding in Poland and it is a very impressive city. When you walk around some parts of Gdansk, you feel as if you could be in Amsterdam as you look at the narrow buildings in some of the streets. The photo below shows one of the decorated set of flats in one of the main streets in Gdansk. It looks as if it might have been slotted in between the two wider houses on either side.

Colourful building in Gdansk (click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

Farther down this street, you come to the magnificent Town Hall – Ratusz in Polish – which was built in the late 14th century and its tower and spire dominate the city skyline. As you can see in the photo below, the tower is a magnificent site and is all the more remarkable as it was mostly destroyed in 1945 and rebuilt. The building now houses a museum which charts the history of the city. You can climb up the tower to a balcony just above the clock, although we passed on this as there was a large queue.

The tower of the Town Hall in Gdansk

If you keep walking on this street, you come to a gateway which would have, at one time, separated the port from the rest of the city. The Vistula River goes into the sea at Gdansk and part of the river side has been transformed into a row of restaurants on one side and hotels on the other. The side with the restaurants is very similar to the port side in Copenhagen. One of the most famous landmarks in this area is The Crane (good photos) which is a 15th century structure formerly used to load and unload cargoes and also insert masts on to ships. As you can see below, it is a magnificent sight when viewed across the river and would have completely dominated the harbour area in its functional days.

The Crane in Gdansk

From this side of the river, you also get superb views of the Gdansk skyline with its many spires and towers, as well as the Dutch looking buildings – old and new – across the river. The newer buildings are aesthetically pleasing with their traditional shapes and attractive glass. On the river itself, there is a constant flow of cruise barges and boats. The city was jam packed with tourists in some areas but there are also many quieter back streets to stroll along.

Gdansk skyline from the riverside

Parallel to the main Dluga Street, with its rows of restaurants, street performers and sellers, is the Ulica Mariacka which is a much quieter and narrower street, and during the daytime it is filled on both sides with little stalls selling amber goods. You can see some of the stalls at the bottom of the photo below. At the top of the photo is the tower of St Mary’s basilica. We noticed a promising looking restaurant at the end of the street and returned there in the evening – a very good choice. The Literacka (good photos of the inside) is a wine bar and a restaurant with a difference. The name of the restaurant means literary in English and the very helpful waitress explained that the building was formerly known as The House of Poets, as it was used by writers and poets in the Polish Writers’ Association. The food was excellent and we had (phone photo below) beautifully cooked sea bass on snow peas, with potato puree and a jug of delicate sauce. The cost of the main course was about £10 each, so excellent value, given the service, the tasteful interior decoration, white table cloths and friendly service.

Sea bass at the Literacka

When we had finished our meal, the waitress brought the bill in this book (photo below) and told us that each person paying the bill got a different book – what a brilliant idea! I told the waitress that I had two books by Cesare Pavese the famous Italian author of the 20th century. I looked up the title in Polish and it means beach in English. I checked my shelves and the 2nd photo below shows my copy – an English translation of the same book, so a neat connection. The restaurant is well worth visiting if you are ever in this strikingly attractive city.

Plaza by Cesare Pavese in Polish
Novel by Cesare Pavese

Local history exhibition and Lake Ilawa, Poland

August 5, 2019

Dunbar and District History Society (DDHS) have a new exhibition in Dunbar Town House, entitled Summers in Dunbar. The exhibition, excellently curated by DDHS secretary Pauline Smeed, presents a range of information and images from the 1960s onwards, showing how Dunbar was a very popular holiday resort. The town is still an attraction for tourist as this Tripadvisor page (good photos) shows.

Returnable keys at The Roxburghe Hotel in Dunbar (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

The first photo from the exhibition shows what was the magnificent Roxburghe Marine Hotel, which was one of Scotland’s leading hotels in the 1950s and 1960s. My former classmate Nigel Marcel’s parents owned the hotel in the 1960s and 1970s and he confirmed that when guests mistakenly went away with hotel keys, they would inevitably be returned with a stamp affixed to the key. Room 42 was on the top floor facing the sea. The hotel was later demolished and the area now contains a block of 4 storey attractive flats, many with sea views and a row of cottages which overlook the sea in front. We are lucky enough to live in one the cottages. Nigel remembers cutting the long grass where our house now stands, with a scythe.

Dunbar’s east beach in the 1960s

The second photo from the exhibition shows Dunbar’s east beach, probably in the late 1950s or early 1960s. The beach over the years has lost its sand and has become less used. The people in the photo appear to be very well dressed, so this photo may have been taken on a Sunday, with crowds gathering possibly for a Faith Mission meeting. In the background of the photo, above the beach itself, you can see the remains of the old granary and distillery buildings which stretched along from the harbour. At the bottom right of the photo is an early – and what looks like a very basic – pram. You can see more photos  from the exhibition and more examples of summers in Dunbar on the DDHS website

We were invited to our friends’ son’s wedding in Poland last weekend. The wedding took place in the idyllic setting of Lake Ilawa. There is a complex of large and small lakes in this area and we were in  the town of Ilawa, which is on one of the smaller lakes. 

Looking across Lake Ilawa

The photo above shows the view of Lake Ilawa and this smaller lake had a 2K circumference. This is looking across the water to the Hotel Stary Tartak (good photos) where we stayed and where the wedding took place. The hotel is very comfortable and very cheap by UK standards. Walking around the lake was a pleasure as once you got past the shopping area, few people were about.

Lake Ilawa through the trees

This photo shows the lake through the trees which cover the lakeside but do not obstruct your view and add interest to your walk. We did take a boat trip which began on this lake and went round an island in the next, much bigger lake. It was a very relaxing 50 minutes and although much of the trip passes the lakeside reeds, these are wonderful to look at, as they swayed in the breeze, just like the barley fields at home at the moment.

A coot swims at the lakeside in Ilawa

At the landing where the boat trip starts, there were many ducks and also a number of coots which have the scientific name Fulica Atra. These are very attractive birds but they tend to be very wary of humans in this country and will swim away rapidly at your approach. At the lakeside in Ilawa, the coots are obviously accustomed to people approaching them, so I was pleased to get this photo of the coot and its reflection in the swirling water, with its varied light patterns.

Water lily on the lakeside at the Stary Tartak

Water lilies by the lakeside at the Stary Tartak

At the back of the Hotel Stary Tartak, were outside seating areas and some loungers at the lakeside. When you got to the water’s edge, you could see the large cluster of water lilies (Nymphaea). In the close-up photo above, you can see the beautiful pink petals – inspiration for the Sydney Opera House maybe? – and the delicate yellow stamens reaching for the sun. The 2nd photo shows the water lily flowers sitting on their fan-like leaves amongst the reeds. If you ever need to be away from it all and relax , go and look at some water lilies.

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie and swans at Belhaven

July 25, 2019

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

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

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

A family of swans at Belhaven beach

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

Swans and ducks on Belhaven pond

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

Swan family on the shore east of Dunbar

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

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

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

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

Malcolm Mackay novel and Peebles revisited

July 9, 2019

Having taken a few weeks to read Milkman (previous post), I read Malcolm Mackay’s How a Gunman Says Goodbye in a week. This is a crime novel – which won the Scottish Crime Novel of the Year Award – with a difference. In most crime fiction, the police are the main characters and the focus is on their thinking and their procedures and (mostly) how they solve the crime. In Mackay’s novel – the 2nd in a trilogy about the Glasgow underworld – the focus is on the criminals themselves and in particular, on Frank MacLeod who has spent his adult life as a gunman or hit man for organised crime in the city. Mackay takes us very convincingly into the mind of Frank (as he is referred to in the novel) and his boss Peter Jamieson, who runs legitimate bars and nightclubs but is also involved in drug dealing. The novel is written in short sentences and short chapters but this adds to the quality of the writing, rather than detracting from it e.g. “People [other gunmen] get surprised by something and freeze. Never happened to Frank”. There is an excellent array of characters with some deep insight into the mindset of Frank, a young gunman Calum and Jamieson. The plot moves with alacrity and the reader is constantly wondering what will happen next. My attempts to second guess Mackay all failed. Frank MacLeod is obviously a bad person, who has killed many people to order, but the reader will have some sympathy with Frank’s dilemna – no spoiler here – around which the book is shaped. We should not sympathise with such a character, but we do. There are policemen in the book but they are on the sidelines. So how does a gunman say goodbye? You will have to read this highly recommended book. There is a very good interview with Malcolm Mackay here.

Excellent crime novel (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

At the weekend, we had a visit from my friend and ex-colleague Bob, on a visit from Australia, who has been to Dunbar a number of times but had never visited Peebles in the Scottish Borders. We had a walk along Peebles’ attractive High Street with its late Victorian architecture and I took Bob down a close (Scots for alley or vennel) to see the door of what is still a painter’s and decorator’s business. In the photo below, you can see that this ornate leaded window on the door shows the much wider extent of the business in former times. A gilder was “someone whose occupation was to apply an overlay of gold or gilt” according to one dictionary. The firm also installed windows – glazier and painted signs for businesses – sign writer. A bellhanger turns out to be what it says on the tin – a skilled tradesman who hung bells, presumably in churches.

Windows on a door in Peebles

We then had a 4 mile walk (good photos) along the River Tweed which runs through Peebles. It was a sunny day and there were excellent reflections of the trees across the river. In the photo below, you can see how the reflections slightly blur the image of the trees, but still give you a double view of the trunks and extensive branches of the trees that line the river bank.

The River Tweed in Peebles

Further on in the walk, we looked up to see Neidpath Castle and the website cited contains a very good aerial view of the castle at this time of year. I took the photo below in the winter time, so the trees are bare, but this gives you a clearer view of the castle itself. The castle has a long history going back to the 12th century and it is described as “rubble-built” i.e. mainly of rough stone and you can see this from the ruined section to the left of the castle.

Neidpath Castle near Peebles

The walk then passes a very impressive bridge along which the railway used to run. The photo below – again taken in the winter on another visit – shows the structure of the bridge, which has eight arches and in the column at the side of each arch, there is a cross., the significance of which I could not find. Above the arches, you can see the cast-iron railings which are another attractive feature of what is called the Neidpath Viaduct.

The old railway bridge near Peebles

The walk continues to another bridge which we crossed and made our way back to Peebles over the hill and along the side of the extensive forest.

Book on East Lothian and the Longest Day

June 24, 2019

One of the books I was given for my significant birthday in October was East Lothian which contains striking photographs by Liz Hanson and a well written brief history of my home county by Alistair Moffat. It can probably be described as a coffee table book, but it has been up on my little book easel for weeks now, as I (if I remember) turn over a page every day. This means that we see the images and perhaps read some of the text on a regular basis, as opposed to having the book lying about – maybe on a coffee table – and hardly being opened. So, if you have some books – maybe as presents – I urge you to buy an easel, so that you get much more pleasure from books with many photos or paintings in them.

Lavishly illustrated book on the county of East Lothian (Click on all images to enlarge – recommended)

The book covers the major towns in East Lothian, including Dunbar, as well as much of the farmland. East Lothian is known as the garden of Scotland because of its rich red soil, which is ideal for barley, wheat, oats, oil seed rape (canola in Australia), potatoes, peas, beans and turnips (swedes). The famous golf courses in East Lothian are also featured.

Looking towards Bolton

The photo above shows an oil seed rape field at its brightest, next to the hamlet of Bolton (good photos) , near the county town of Haddington. Bolton is best known for its graveyard, where the mother of Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns, is buried. I cycle through Bolton from time to time and it’s a very pleasant spot.

Bare trees and shadows in Gifford

The photo above is taken in the very attractive (and affluent) village of Gifford (good photos). The trees overlook a walled area, known as the village green, but which may well have been used to graze sheep or hold a sheep market in the past. You can walk round the village, with its mixture of traditional solid sandstone houses (seen in the photo) and more modern housing. There is a river which flows through part of the village and you can overlook the river from 2 bridges in the village. I like the way Liz Hanson has captured the shadows of the winter trees across the green. I have enjoyed this book and it will take its place on the easel again at some point.

On Friday, it was the longest day of the year here. Of course, in Australia – where many of you are – it was the shortest day. The summer solstice occurs when the sun – in summer here – is closest to the equator, as one definition has it. Now, given the size of the earth and that of the sun, we should surely talk about the earth’s equator being closest to the sun. Otherwise, we could be seen as going back to the old beliefs that the sun went round the earth. An article in IB Times states that “The origin of the word ‘solstice’ is derived from the Latin word sōlstitium. It literally translates to ‘the (apparent) standing still of the sun’.” A definition of solstice – a French word – covering both seasons states  “the time of year that seems to never end. The longest days of summer the unending nights of winter”. So our nights are getting shorter, although only by a very small amount of time. A local expression here is “Aye, the nights are fair drawin’ in”.

Sun rays over Dunbar on the longest day of 2019
Red sky and pink sea on the longest day of 2019

I took the two photos above at 22.45pm on 21st June, although the actual solstice took place at 16.54pm. To the naked eye, it was lighter than in the photos, but the sky was an intriguing mixture of shapes and colours, both of which were changing all the time. In a matter of a couple of minutes, clouds changed their shapes e.g. became more elongated, and colours both deepened – red – and brightened – pink. The second photo shows the reflection of the sky in the sea, which took on a light pink colour, like looking at a tasty bottle of Provence rosé.

I took this video twenty minutes earlier and it is something we can return to in the winter, when there will be more than eight hours less light on the shortest day of the year.

A lasting gift of yellow roses and a stormy day in Dunbar

June 14, 2019

Two years ago, my good friend and ex-classmate Nigel brought us two rose bushes as a present and the two small plants have now grown to medium sized and well-rooted specimens. These are yellow roses which have a beautiful scent, something which is mostly missing from cut roses you see in supermarkets, although independent florists may be different. This photo was taken in the sunshine during a dry spell of weather and you can see the shadows on the delicate, smooth petals shielding the more complicated centre, to which the bees are attracted.

Yellow rose in the sunshine (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

In the past few days, we’ve had heavy rain and I took this photo after a downpour. This rose is still opening up and retains the bud, like a clenched fist, in the middle of the flower. The raindrops are still on the petals and on the leaves. The rougher and somewhat damaged leaves contrast with the perfection of the bright rose and enhance the colour of the rose itself.

Yellow rose after the rain

On closer inspection, in this photo, there appears to be a great number of shades of yellow from the darker yellow in the centre, to the almost white of the outside petals. These roses do not last long and are prey to very heavy rain and strong winds, but when we watch them emerge from their initially small, green-leaved buds and grow into this startling show of elegance and sophistication, we appreciate the lasting gift we were given.

Rain-spattered yellow rose

Yesterday, the storm came from the north-east with a fierce wind driving the waves into the shore and battering trees, tall grasses and anything else in its way. It is of course wonderful to look at from inside the house, but on the 12th of June, you might think it would not be as stormy i.e. 44mph gusts, and that it might be just a wee bit warmer than 10 degrees. When we lived in Australia for a time in the mid 2000s, we would go to Wagga Wagga Road Runners (my wife running and me timing) on a Saturday in the winter months. On the few occasions that it rained and was down to 14 degrees, I would be greeted by “Just like a summer’s day in Scotland, James” by some of the runners. There was no argument with them yesterday.

The sea was very dark under a heavy sky – a darker sky than it looks in this photo – and the wind dragged the whitish waves to the beach. White waves in the sunshine are much different from white waves under heavy clouds – less appealing and less cheerful. The seagulls on the other hand, were decidedly cheerful, swooping across the top of the waves and gliding back, effortlessly into the air. It looked like they might be having a contest to see who could fly the longest without flapping their wings.

Stormy sea in June aka Summer

In this photo, you get a better idea of the force of the sea, especially in the enlarged version. It is mesmerising to watch the waves chase each other to the promenade wall, slap the wall violently and turn to face their inrushing neighbour, which is then tackled with the force of an All Black forward.

Big waves driven to the shore

For the sounds of the sea and the real strength of the wind, have a look at my wee video of the mid-morning storm.

A summer’s (?) day in Dunbar

Guardian Country diary on bluebells and honeysuckle in the garden

June 7, 2019

At the beginning of May, I read an inspiring Guardian Country Diary article by Paul Evans entitled “Spring pilgrimage to an uncanny bluebell wood” and I have kept it in mind for the blog. Evans is a poetic writer with a great gift of finding appropriate words for the scenes he describes and this article begins ” Bluebells in Black Hayes – the sky above the leafing oaks is spring clear, with an echoing blue shimmer across the woodland floor” and further on we find that this blue shimmer is a carpet of bluebells. The photo below is a local shimmer of blue in the form of bluebells in the woods at Foxlake woods near Dunbar. It is a wonderful sight as the colour of the delicate looking bluebells is enhanced by the mainly still bare trees.

Bluebells at Foxlake woods (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

Evans continues ” Black Hayes is strangely open, a kind of wood pasture whose secret valley slopes support amazing lawns of bluebells” and it to these woods, situated near former coal mines, that he makes an annual pilgrimage ” to stand and look and breathe them in”. While I enjoy the look and faint smell of the bluebells, I need to get close up to the flowers to see their intricate patterns and the surprising number of shades of blue in each flower, as in the photo below.

Many shades of blue

Evans feels that this wood “is always uncanny as if resents trespass” but he then hears the birds singing, which is more positive, although he ends with “A pair of ravens bark at our presence” and the poet in him returns. This is a short article but one with depth and you have feeling reading it that you might have been by the writer’s side. The bluebells have had their time in the sunlight at Foxlake and the ground is now in shade as the trees have a canopy of leaves, but the sight of them lives long in the memory.

Bluebells at Foxlake

In my garden, the honeysuckle is in full flower and an absence of strong westerly winds, which we often get at this time of year, has meant that the flowers have lasted longer than normal. I cut the honeysuckle back last year and this has resulted in a new flourish of these multicoloured flowers. You can see in the photo below that when the honeysuckle do flower, there is an extravaganza of flower heads, with beautiful white, pink and purple on display. Honeysuckle with its scientific name of lonicera is also known as woodbine and in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, Oberon refers to a bank “Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine”.

Honeysuckle bush in full flower

As with the bluebells, you need to get close up and personal with the honeysuckle to see how it takes on an altogether more surreal appearance. In the photo below, the flower takes on the structure of an alien creature, newly arrived on earth, with its octopus like tentacles spread out to catch sight of (and maybe devour) the strange earthlings.

Multi limbed honeysuckle flower

When you take a step back, you can see (next photo) how the flowers and the leaves complement each other, with the delicately veined leaves providing a background for the more colourful flowers which have, like the bluebells, an amazing range of shades of colour. We are now officially in summer here in the UK and the honeysuckle sparkling in the sunshine today really make it feel like summer. Mmmm – a pity about that cool east wind.

Robert Crais crime novel and late Spring evening sky

May 30, 2019

I recently finished reading Robert Crais‘ entertaining novel The Wanted (link contains video of Crais discussing the novel). The book features Crais’ thoughtful but sometimes troubled detective Elvis Cole and this is the 17th Elvis Cole novel. Crais is an established and well respected crime novelist – see this Guardian interview – and I have been impressed by the depth and quality of previous novels by this writer. This book, which was published in 2017, has an excellent plot and some very tense moments. The reader also feels that s/he has a better insight into Elvis Cole, the book’s protagonist. You can see a “but” coming here and it is that The Wanted is Robert Crais lite. It seems to me that Crais had a great time writing this novel, especially the two villains in the novel Harvey and Stemms, whose dialogue is both jokey and evil-intentioned at the same time. I found their meant-to-be-witty conversations unconvincing, but many other people may not. The two hired killers are trying to find a computer which has potentially damaging information on it. The laptop has been stolen by three fairly well off but bored teenagers in a series of raids on rich Hollywood homes. The baddies discover that Tyson Connor – one of the three teenagers – knows where the computer is and the book is a tense chase between Elvis Cole and his partner Joe Pike and the ruthless killers.

There is some very good characterisation in the book e.g. Connor’s mother, who hired Elvis Cole after she found a very valuable wristwatch in his bedroom. It is also a very good story and Crais is a master of building up tension and the ending is unpredictable. The Wanted would make a great read on a holiday flight but for a more weighty book, some of Crais’ other Elvis Cole novels would be much more satisfying.

Crime novel by Robert Crais (Click on all photos to enlarge)

As regular readers of this blog will know, we get some great skies over the town and sea in the summer months here in Dunbar. It’s not officially summer here until this weekend in the UK, but last week gave us a taste of summer, with some dramatic skies. The photo below (enlarge for best effect) shows a promise of what was to come later in the evening. There was a beautifully layered sky with many shades of blue and a hint of pink over Belhaven beach on our walk there. The photo looks towards the beach on the left and over to Winterfield Golf Club on the right. On the horizon, looking like a battleship, is the Isle of May (good photos)

Early evening sky at Belhaven beach

Back home, just after 9.30pm, the setting sun took over and shot its colours into the clouds to tremendous effect. At first, in the next photo (best enlarged) the glow was mainly over the town, with the outline of the buildings and their chimneys making it look as if the town was one huge castle, with many battlements. The clouds were tinged with orange and it was an eye-catching sight, but better was on its way.

Setting sun over Dunbar

Gradually, although over the space of only about 15 minutes, the colours changed to deep pink and then red. In this photo (best enlarged), I like the contrast between the blackened town, the light blue sky, the darker cloud at the top and the reddening clouds at the bottom right, which were changing before my eyes.

Brilliant sunset over Dunbar

The final photo (best enlarged) highlights the sky itself. Look at the dazzling shapes of the clouds and the interweaving of the clouds, which actually appear to be in motion even in this still photograph. It was as if molten metal had been poured into the sky at various points. I watched this mesmerising view for ten minutes before it took fright and disappeared into the darkness, never to return in exactly the same formation.

Blue, pink and red sky over the sea at Dunbar

Lambs at Deuchrie Dodd and Belhaven Bridge at this time of year

April 18, 2019

As noted earlier, this “weekly” blog will be less frequent while I am writing a new local history book.

I was out on my bike last week cycling past the village of Stenton which was featured on the blog recently. The blackthorn bushes (good photos) are now in full blossom on the road out of the village going west towards Pressmennan Lake, and passing Ruchlaw Mains West farm (good photo), where there’s a steep hill. It is one of these deceptive hills in that you think you are at the top when you see the sign to Pressmennan Wood and lake (good photos), but there is a nasty further climb as you veer right. It is always a relief to get to the top and look over the rolling fields. After another short climb, I came across two fields that were strewn with sheep and very young lambs. The sun was on the fields and it was an entrancing rural sight, like something out of the Far from the Madding Crowd book and film.

The first photo shows the sheep and lambs scattered across this field and in the back ground is Traprain Law (good photos). The ewes were very aware of my presence even although they were not close to the fence surrounding the field. the lambs meanwhile seemed more intent on suckling than looking at this passing photographer.

Field of sheep with Traprain Law in the background (Click on all photos to enlarge)

The next photo was taken in the field opposite, which is at the bottom of a hill and beyond the sheep, you can see the foot of the hill which is extensively covered in gorse bushes. The gorse at this time of year provides a welcome splash of yellow, but it is an invasive species and needs to be controlled. Close up, while the yellow flowers of the gorse are attractive, it is still a very thorny and aggressive pant. The other noticeable aspect of this photo is the numbers on the back of the sheep and each lamb is also numbered, to link it to its mother. Presumably this is for the shepherd who finds a stray lamb and who can reunite it with its mother. Alternatively, it may be that East Lothian has numerate sheep.

Numbered sheep and lambs at Deuchrie Dodd

The bridge at Belhaven Beach has been widely photographed and has featured on the blog more than once. I have tended to take photos of the beach in September, when the setting sun shines over and under the bridge. Last week, we went for a short postprandial walk along the beach when the tide was just going out. The bridge, when the tide is in, is referred to as the bridge to nowhere, and you can see why in the photo below. The bridge is surrounded by water and on the horizon to the right, looking distinctly snail-like, is the Bass Rock on which 150,000 gannets will soon be living.

The bridge to nowhere at Belhaven Beach

The next photo was taken as we passed the bridge, walking along the beach towards the south and you can see the line of the concrete path to the bridge just appearing as a line to the left of the right hand base of the bridge.

Retreating tide at Belhaven beach

When we returned only a few minutes later, the path could be clearly seen, so the tide was going out very quickly. In this photo, the reflection of the bridge is quite clear, but to the naked eye it was just a shimmer in the water, as the bridge reinvented itself upside down in the evening tide.

The reappearing path at Belhaven Bridge

The final photo shows the sun coming under the bridge and this is a wonderful sight, as if the water is being turned into molten gold, which if it solidified would make a solid gold pathway under the bridge. The origins of the bridge are currently being investigated by the local history society.

Evening sun under Belhaven Bridge