Archive for the ‘Walking’ Category

Auld Year’s Night and A Walk on New Year’s Day

January 7, 2017

We had Australian friends staying over New Year. They arrived on 31st December which is known locally as Auld Year’s Day. This expression is, I think, restricted to the south eastern part of Scotland, while other parts use the term Hogmanay, the meaning of which is disputed, but it may be Scandinavian or Flemish. The term New Year’s Eve is used in other parts of Britain. Until the 1950s, New Year was the major festive event in Scotland, with people still working on Xmas Day. Bringing in the New Year in Scotland is seen as attractive by people across the world, as the cosmopolitan crowd in Edinburgh’s Princes Street on Auld Year’s Night will testify. Dunbar Running Club organise a short run on Auld Year’s Night at 7pm and my wife Val and our visitors took part, while I helped with timing. The race is known as the Black Bun Run after the tradition of giving people whisky and black bun to bring in the New Year, to ensure that people would have enough to drink and eat for the following year. I was the (non-running) President of  Dunbar Running Club for 14 years and the local paper, the East Lothian Courier would print my reports of the race – known then as The Auld Year’s Night Race, until one year the paper’s reporter used the headline Black Bun Run a Success. Thereafter, we used this title for the race. After the race, we joined the other runners (23 in total) in the nearby Masons Arms pub, for a pint of Belhaven Best ale, which is brewed just around the corner at Belhaven Brewery. Back home, we had a meal – a tasty Beef’n Beer (photo below) and brought the New Year in with rather less traditional champagne and red wine.

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Beef’n Beer done in Le Creuset pan (Click to enlarge)

On New Year’s Day, we took our friends on one of our favourite walks – to Seacliff Beach (good photos). We parked the car about a mile away from the beach. As you leave the car, just past the farm buildings, you get a magnificent view of Tantallon Castle (good photos)  and the Bass Rock and the view is enhanced (photo below) with the foreground of the emergent spring wheat’s subtle green.

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Tantallon Castle and the Bass Rock

You walk down a fairly muddy path to get to the beach but you are rewarded with a view of a long stretch of sandy beach to the right and left. We went left towards the tiny harbour – claimed to be the UK’s smallest – where there was quite a swell here with the white sea caressing the rocks.

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Swell at Seacliff Beach

On the harbourside, you can still see the remains of old iron winding gear, which, with the backdrop of Tantallon Castle (see below) makes for an intriguing view.

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Winding gear at Seacliff and Tantallon Castle

We walked back along the east side of the beach and up the sandy slope to the path/road where cars can exit. At the top of the hill, you pass under an archway and when you look back, the Bass Rock is framed by the archway. The photo below was taken on a frosty afternoon a few years ago.

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Arch at Seacliff Beach

As you walk back past the farm buildings at Seacliff Farm, you pass many horses as there’s a riding school there. I managed to catch one horse having a feed and another peering at me through the bare hawthorn hedge (see below). So, an excellent walk on a bright, sunny if cold day gave us an exhilarating start to 2017.

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Horse feeding at Seacliff

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Horse through a hawthorn hedge

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harbour reflections and making Minestrone

December 14, 2016

I took my camera for a walk along to Dunbar Harbour (good photos) last week. The day was so wind free that the water in the harbour hardly moved and the wee boats, which are usually swaying gently to an unheard waltz tune on the accordion, were statuesque. It’s very unusual not to have any kind of wind in Dunbar and at one point, it looked as if the sea had given up coming into the harbour, as the water appeared – very briefly – to be motionless. Then a gentle ripple spread from the entrance to the harbour across to the boats.

The two photos below are taken at the east end of the harbour and the perfect reflection in the 1st photo shows how calm the water became. There’s a hint of movement in the water in the 2nd photo and the wee boat looks isolated. This is because all the small yachts that lie in the harbour in the summer have been removed for safety. I like the way the harbour walls are reflected in the water in the 2nd photo.

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Calm day at Dunbar Harbour

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Calm day at Dunbar Harbour

The next 2 photos are taken at the castle end of the harbour. In the first photo, the reflections look as if they might come from an impressionist painting e.g. the squiggly lines in the castle walls’ reflection. It was a cold day but the colours in the boats and in the fish boxes on the quayside inserted a warm feature into this walker’s experience. In the both photos, the castle ruins still show the white patches left by the nesting kittiwakes, who visited in the summer. The kittiwakes have featured on this blog more than once e.g. here. In the 2nd photo, the wider angle shows the castle ruins and the narrow entrance to the harbour. Another unusual feature of this visit to the harbour was the absence of birds on the water, as you often get small groups of eider duck. On this RSPB site, you can listen to the gurgling, whoo-hooing of the eider duck, and you can usually hear this from the harbourside.

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Fishing boats near Dunbar Castle

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Reflections of the ruins of Dunbar Castle

Having made lentil and vegetable, tomato and lentil, and parsnip and pear soup recently, I thought that it must be the turn of minestrone. The term minestrone comes from the Latin minestra meaning soup with pasta (and/or other ingredients) and one as a suffix meaning large, thus giving us a soup with big vegetables. The soup is mentioned in a cookbook by Apicus (the whole book from Project Gutenberg here) published in 30CE, so it has ancient traditions. You could spend the rest of your life looking at the myriad of minestrone recipes on the web i.e. almost anything goes as long as you have vegetables and pasta in it. Almost all recipes include tomatoes. Today, my minestrone has a large leek, 3 stalks of celery, diced turnip (aka swede) and carrot, dried basil and oregano, a tin of tomatoes, 2 tbs tomatoes puree and a litre of chicken stock. I put a little oil in the bottom of my large soup pan and added the basil and oregano. I then sweated the leeks and celery, and added the turnip and carrot until it looks like this:

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Sweating the vegetables in the making of minestrone

I then added the tomatoes, tomato puree and broken spaghetti, brought it  to the boil and simmered it for c20 minutes. I always find that you should never eat minestrone soup right away – let the flavours develop for at least 8 hours or preferably overnight. You can then have a colourful, tasty and winter warming soup which served up will look something like this photo from last year. Have it for lunch with crusty bread and if you are lucky like me, go for a walk along to the harbour with your camera afterwards.

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A plate of minestrone soup with basil leaves

Craster and Dunstanburgh Castle

July 30, 2016

 On our visit to Bamburgh – highlighted in last week’s post – we went to the village of Craster twice. The first time was to visit the gallery there and have a drink at the Jolly Fisherman’s pub which has superb views over the sea. Craster is of course famous for its kippers which are, appropriately for this blog, smoked herring. On the way to the gallery at the top of the hill, the smoke from the kipper house was bellowing out of the roof. It had a fairly gentle smoky odour which was not very fishy, so quite pleasant. Kippers are an acquired taste and can be quite oily. For a more gentle introduction to kippers, try kipper pâté. There is an attractive little harbour (good photos) at Craster (my photo below) and on the sunny days when we visited, it was very pleasant to sit and look out over the harbour to the sea. It’s unlikely that anyone would sit there in the winter with a strong north-easterly blowing directly across the harbour and threatening to cut off part of your face.

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Craster harbour

There is no parking in Craster, so you park (very cheaply) at a car park nearby and walk into the village past the numerous holiday homes which appear to dominate the village. You pass through Craster if you are walking to Dunstanburgh Castle (good photos). The castle dates back to the 14th century. It is a magnificent ruin and must have been an impressive stronghold in its heyday. The castle is built on a promontory with sea at its back. This meant that anyone trying to capture the castle would be unlikely to attack by sea and if they attacked by land, the occupants of the castle would see the enemy approaching from a great distance. The castle has a significant place in English history and was owned by various nobles as well as the king of England. The first photo shows the approach to the castle on a track leading from Craster. People, cows and sheep mingle freely on the track.

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The walk to Dunstanburgh Castle

Closer up, you can see the extent of the castle and how it dominates all the land around. Apart from the height of the castle and the 2 metre thick walls, what impressed me about this castle (and many others) is the achievement of the stonemasons who constructed this stunning edifice in the 14th century with little more than their tools and block and tackle for lifting. I always like to imagine being a peasant working in a nearby field and watching the castle getting bigger and bigger in a previously unimaginable way. Castles of course were built to show power, to impress and to threaten, as well as for protection and relative comfort.

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Dunstanburgh Castle

The views from the castle walls are enthralling. It overlooks Embleton Bay and the golf course nearby and you can see for miles along the coast as in the photo below.

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Looking north from Dunstanburgh Castle

This was a huge castle with a range of living areas and many people would have lived in the castle to serve noblemen and women who owned the castle, including servants, cooks, blacksmiths and masons. The extent of the castle can be seen from the battlements as shown below. The castle is well worth visiting if you are in the area.

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Dunstanburgh Castle

Return to Bamburgh and Howick Hall Gardens

July 23, 2016

Another trip to Bamburgh in Northumberland earlier this week and a return to the excellent Mizen Head Hotel previously featured here. Just around the corner from the hotel is the local church – St Aidan’s (good photos)  – and we walked with our relatives around to the church just as the sun was setting. A very helpful church warden called us into the church to show us the reflection of the sun coming through a window and shining in bright orange on the church wall. Unfortunately, the photos did not come out. The church has an outstanding profile at dusk as in the photo below.

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St Aidan’s church Bamburgh

At the back of the church, the old graveyard continues and next to the church is a large field where sheep were grazing. You could have been there 100 years ago as from that point, looking north, there are no visible signs of the 21st century. Looking south, you can see the imposing Bamburgh Castle which dominates the countryside around. The photo below is taken from the graveyard.

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Bamburgh Castle from St Aidan’s churchyard

Inside the church the stonework is magnificent and you can see the different additions to the church over the centuries. Given that the stonemasons who built the church had no modern equipment, the result is very impressive. One feature of the church is an example of a squint which – see photo below – was an aperture allowing the poorer people in the congregation to see through to the main part of the church. [Note: the photo shows the quint at an angle]

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St Aidan’s church squint

We had an excellent visit to the nearby Howick Hall Gardens (good video). The gardens are unusual in that, instead of the normal array of formal gardens you see on visits to sites such as Alnwick Gardens, this is a vast area of woodland and countryside which has little gardens dotted around which specialise e.g. in hydrangeas of different kinds. Around the house itself, there are cottage gardens as in the photos below.

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Cottage garden at Howick Hall

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Howick Hall gardens

For me, one of the pleasures of going to gardens like this is the opportunity to get close up photos of a range of flowers, most of which I’m unable to identify but all have intriguing shapes and colours as shown below.

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Rose at Howick Hall gardens

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Lily at Howick Hall gardens

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Feeding bee at Howick Hall gardens

The gardens are known as an arboretum – a collection of trees, shrubs and flowers and there is no lack of variety at Howick Hall. It’s not possible to cover all of the 64 acres at Howick Hall in one day, so a return visit, perhaps in the Spring to see the banks of daffodils, will be needed. You can also do a lovely walk from Howick Hall to the beach for free. This is a very attractive part of the world with a range of places to visit, including Craster, famous for its kippers. We walked past the smoke house, with light smoke coming out of the roof aperture and you could smell the fish being smoked. The walk from Craster to Dunstanburgh Castle will be in the next edition of the blog.

 

Cove harbour and Co’path church

July 5, 2016

On a  recent walk down to Cove Harbour (good photos), which is 10 miles/16.2k from Dunbar, we parked near the cottages. Before you go through the gate leading down to the hidden harbour, there is a memorial devoted to the victims of a fishing disaster in 1881.  In all, 189 fishermen from ports along the Berwickshire coastline lost their lives in a fierce storm. The port of Cove was particularly hard hit, with 11 out of the village’s 21 fishermen lost at sea. The photo below is of the top of the memorial and shows the stricken women and children looking out to the vicious sea.

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Memorial to lost fishermen at Cove

You walk down a long path and through a dark tunnel to get to the little harbour which nestles behind a large sea wall. The wall is man-made but it is the natural structures of stone that are fascinating, both close up and from a distance. The next photo shows a close up of weathered sandstone. This looks like a series of sculpted rock put together for an exhibition and the difference in the colour of the rock and the intricate patterns on the rock are fascinating. If you look closely, you can see deserts, statues and cave dwellings – and much more.

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Weathered sandstone at Cove Harbour

From the harbour wall, looking south, there are two large rock formations, shown in the photo below. Behind the structures are glacier-formed slopes and you wonder what this landscape looked like millions of years ago. The structures are relatively recent in geological terms and if we could have photographs from say 200 years ago, they may look completely different. Cove was known as a haven for smugglers in the past and the structure on the right definitely has the attributes of a smuggler’s cave. The sea will of course change these structures again over the next 100 years.

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Rock formations at Cove Harbour

Just up the road from Cove is Cockburnspath (good photos). The village’s name is pronounced Co-burnspath and is locally known as Co’path. I pass the village regularly on my bike by seldom go into it. We stopped to look at the village buildings – the quaint, low-doored cottages, the Mercat Cross which is a stone edifice identifying where the thriving country market would once have stood and the church with its unusual tower. The church is an excellent example of stonework and the round tower at the top – with no cross visible – looks as if it might have been a prison if it was in another building. The stones used in the church are off different colours, shapes and textures but they are combined to produce a building of stature and strength and it will last for many centuries if maintained.

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Cockburnspath church

The graveyard has burial stones going back hundreds of years. All are weather-beaten and some to the extent that you can’t read what is written on the stones. One feature of old gravestones is that they often give a context to the person buried underneath, although this information is usually about men. Women are identified as wives and mothers whereas men can be merchants or farmers or blacksmiths. This is an idyllic setting with the surrounding countryside and the large cedar tree in the middle of the graveyard.

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Cockburnspath church graveyard

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Cockburnspath church graveyard

Co’path lies at the eastern end of the Southern Upland Way a very well-known walking route and it’s a village worth walking around for its variety of buildings and the open countryside which surrounds it.

 

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.  

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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Close up of bluebell in May

 

 

 

Winterfield walk, apricot stuffing and Auld Year’s Day

January 1, 2016

Note: The photos do not appear to be opening in a new tab as normal – trying to fix this.

A bright and sunny day with a big tide haring towards the shore around Dunbar meant that it was ideal for a walk along the promenade at the end of  Winterfield Park. The origin of the name Winterfield is thought to be related to the fields where cattle were put in the winter, probably as it’s by the sea and less prone to frost. In the park, there is still the Pavilion standing, although it is likely to be demolished. My own memories of Winterfield Park and the pavilion include seeing cricket matches and sheep-dog trials. It was a very stylish building in its heyday but has been neglected for many years.

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Winterfield Pavilion Photograph by Richard West used under Creative Commons Licence

Once we got on to the promenade, originally built in 1894 as a gift to the town from the local Baird Family, we were presented with an outstanding view across the Firth of Forth to Fife and west to Edinburgh. In the article from the local paper in the previous link, it was stated that “a more commanding position could not be found where from to survey the wildest tumults of the North Sea when under a winter sky it rushes against the cliffy defences of the town. From far up the Firth out as far as the eye may pierce there stretches a scene of stormy thunderous turmoil”. On this walk, there was much evidence of the sea in turmoil with the waves engulfing the rocks around the shore. As it is still the holiday period here, the promenade was quite busy with families, including visiting relatives, out walking on the prom.

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Incoming tide viewed from Winterfield promenade

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Waves hitting the rocks near Winterfield promenade

When you leave the promenade, you go along a path at the edge of the picturesque Winterfield Golf Club (good photos) which was busy with golfers and walkers. You are then presented with a panoramic view across Belhaven Bay (good photos), now a major surfing site all the year round. The tide was well in on our walk and the waves had smoothed out as they stretched across the wide span of the beach. I always love watching the waves extending themselves when they reach the flat beach and, fresh from hurling themselves at the rocks, taking a more leisurely approach, like a long distance swimmer.

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Incoming tide at Belhaven Bay

I’ve featured Belhaven Bridge many times on this blog and taken photos of “the bridge to nowhere” when the tide is in. You never get the same height of tide, or the same light or the same motion of the waves around the bridge. As ever, there were people taking photos of the bridge and I’m sure some of them were wondering why it was there at all.

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The bridge to nowhere at Belhaven Bay

I’m not a great turkey fan but I get outvoted in our family when I suggest that we have something different. So, the highlight for me at the Xmas Day meal – food-wise of course – was my home made apricot stuffing. I still use a recipe from the 1977 book Farmhouse Kitchen and the photo below shows our well-worn copy. The book was one of series from the popular 1970s TV show Farmhouse Kitchen.

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Farmhouse Kitchen book

There are many apricot stuffing recipes of course, but this one is simple and delicious. You can of course stuff your turkey or chicken with this but I prefer to cook it separately. I finely chopped 2 small shallots and sweated them in butter. I made 6oz (it’s a 1970s recipe!) of wholemeal breadcrumbs ( FK recommends white) and in a bowl, I mixed the shallots, breadcrumbs, 4oz chopped apricots, 2 oz chopped peanuts, 1 tablespoon chopped parsley from my garden, the grated rind and juice of a large orange, salt and pepper and one beaten egg. I just mixed it with a spoon until it was moist but not wet. I put it into a flat, greased metal dish and cooked it for 30 mins at 180 degrees. This is it before it went in the oven. No post cooking photo as pressure was on to serve. All agreed that it was very tasty.

Apricot stuffing uncooked.

Apricot stuffing uncooked.

Today in Dunbar is known as Auld Year’s Day and later as Auld Year’s Night. No New Year’s Eve (too southern) and no Hogmanay (too northern) in this wee part of south-east Scotland. I was wondering how it might have originated. I’m sure one    theory may be that it was a product of strict Presbyterianism. The more extreme Protestants were very suspicious of being presumptuous. So, saying New Year’s Eve would be to presume that you would, in fact, see in the New Year but, sinner that you were, how did you know that you would be spared? So Auld year’s Day looks back to the year past and not the year ahead – until it arrives! To all my readers, have a very Good New Year and a lively 2016.

Perfidia, Hopes Reservoir walk and autumn colours

October 2, 2015

I’ve just finished reading James Ellroy’s epic novel Perfidia – a huge, action-filled book, full of intrigue, plotting, counter-plotting, licit and illicit sex, violence, murder, racism, politics, jealousy and rage. There are no purely good characters in Ellroy’s novel, so don’t expect any here. There is a hero – Hideo Ashida, the Japanese detective – but he is flawed and corrupted by the system. The two other male protagonists Bill Parker and Dudley Smith who are more senior detectives, are ruthless and Smith is a murderous psychopath who gets away with his killings as he is protected by police. The action takes place in Los Angeles in 1941 with a Japanese family brutally and perhaps ritually murdered. The next day, the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbour and there begins a round up of suspect Japanese citizens and a general distrust/ hatred of anyone who appears to be Japanese, by large sections of the public. As the Guardian review (link above) noted “from this point on, the entire cast of Ellroy’s city chase liquor and drugs with such savagery that, by the end, you’re murmuring about how Irvine Welsh is going to have to be re-shelved with the children’s books”. So, not for the squeamish but Ellroy is such a good writer and one who captures a range of different styles of dialogue amongst his characters, and whose plot structure makes the galloping pace of the novel addictive. It’s written in Ellroy’s distinctive staccato style, with short, dramatic sentences. He is one of my favourite writers and I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It is the first of a promised quartet. I bought this one in hardback as soon as it came out and will do so with the next one. Ellroy writes big novels, so a hardback does his novel more justice.

Perfidia by James Ellroy

Perfidia by James Ellroy

At the weekend, we went up the Lammermuir Hills for a 7 mile walk which is featured as a trail run in Susie Allison’s book Scottish Trail Running. We parked at the Hopes Farm and walked over the path on the low side of the Hopes Reservoir.

Approaching the Hopes Reservoir

Approaching the Hopes Reservoir

Looking over the Hopes Reservoir

Looking over the Hopes Reservoir

The route in the book takes you up over Lammer Law and we duly did this. The instructions in the book then become a bit vague and it’s not quite clear which track should be followed and where you are supposed to turn off. I’m sure that the orienteers among you will be scoffing – why didn’t we have a proper, detailed map? As it turned out, we took the wrong track and ended up crossing deep heather and coming back on part of our outward route. However, it was a beautiful, clear and warm day – Indian summer here this week – and we enjoyed the walk. It’s quite a stiff climb up to Lammer Law.

Path up to Lammer Law

Path up to Lammer Law

When you get to the top of the Law, you are rewarded with some spectacular views across East Lothian and over to Fife. There was a slight haze on Sunday and not clear enough for good long distance photos. There’s a clearer photo here.  We ended up doing 9.5 miles instead of 7 miles but on such a glorious day, with only a light breeze and hardly any other walkers, it was a delight. At one point, if you stopped, the only sound you could hear was the gentle gurgling of a nearby burn (stream). At another point, four faces looked suspiciously at us and identified us as non-sheep i.e. intruders into their territory. Having finished their disdainful look, the four faces turned and nonchalantly went down towards the burn.

It’s autumn now in Scotland but the mild weather has meant that most of the trees are still green although some have turned to reds and browns and their leaves are falling like snowflakes. This week’s summer-type days have produced some stunning colours in the sky just after sunset. There is no end to taking photos of the sky above our town when the sky seems lit up by rows of burning coals, in contrast to the black outlines of the buildings, as in these photos. I also love the pink sea in the 2nd photo.

Autumn sky over Dunbar

Autumn sky over Dunbar

Autumnal sky over Dunbar and reflection in the sea

Autumnal sky over Dunbar and reflection in the sea

Another source of vibrant autumn colour came in the form of a male red admiral butterfly in my garden and there’s a nice contrast with the yellow top and while petals of the daisy. It’s as if the butterfly was carrying its own evening sky on its back.

Male red admiral butterfly

Male red admiral butterfly

Visit to Cove and harvest time in the Dunbar area

September 9, 2015

On Sunday, we went 9 miles (14.6K) along the coast to the hamlet and harbour of Cove (good photos). From the road into Cove, there is no indication that there might be a harbour nestled below the cliff face. At the car park, there is an information board about Cove and its coastline, and there is also a memorial block with metal figures of women and children on the top. This is in memory of the men from communities along this coast who were lost at sea in a freak storm in 1881. The website notes that “Cove itself lost 11 of the 21 fishermen who worked from the harbour at the time”, so this was a local disaster of epic proportion, as fisher families were the bulk of the population of Cove at the time. The photo shows a close up of the distressed women and children. There is a similar memorial at St Abbs Head.

Cove memorial to lost fishermen

Cove memorial to lost fishermen

From the car park, you walk down the hill with the sea to your left. On Sunday, two surfers were enjoying the generous waves. At the bottom of the hill, you can either turn right and go through the tunnel to the harbour or keep going and end up at the main harbour wall. The harbour itself is very small and perhaps more attractive when the tide is in. The photos below show the harbour at low tide and the entrance to the harbour with the coastline – to St Abbs and beyond – on the right. Sunday was bright and warm and blue was the predominant colour.

Cove harbour at low tide

Cove harbour at low tide

Cove harbour at low tide

Cove harbour at low tide

At the harbourside, there are two large stone dwellings which were no doubt occupied by fisher folk in the past. Next to the houses, there is a  rock escarpment which comes up from the shore and forms a natural wall, next to which was built the existing harbour wall. Cove harbour is a little pocket of tranquillity, especially if you go on weekdays or in the winter. Thomas Hardy’s poem At Lulworth Cove a Century Back begins “Had I but lived a hundred years ago/ I might have gone, as I have gone this year,/ By Warmwell Cross on to a Cove I know/ And Time have placed his finger on me there”. If you could go back to Cove in 1915, I’m sure that, while the sea, the rocks, the harbour wall and cottages would look the same, the lives of the people there would be so much different.

Cove harbour cottages and harbour wall

Cove harbour cottages and harbour wall

It’s harvest time around Dunbar now and the wide fields of barley, wheat and oats, having turned from green to cream in colour and having developed fecund heads of grain, are subject to relentless destruction by combine harvesters which gobble their way across the fields, digesting the barley/wheat/oats and spewing out straw at the rear and then grain from a long tube into a tractor. This is at once a fascinating sight for the viewer but also a regretful one, as soon the swaying, creamy corn will be replaced by the glistening brown of the ploughed earth – darker and colder, although attractive in its own right. The combine harvester I photographed – a few hundred yards from our house – left a trail of straw but also a fine dust behind it, as the ground is very dry.

Dust storm from combine harvester

Dust storm from combine harvester

The combine completed two lengths of the field before disgorging its load into the waiting tractor. It made me think of the gannets we see from the back of our house, who dive for fish and return to feed their young although the combine regurgitates its grain at a phenomenal speed.

Combine harvester filling a tractor with grain

Combine harvester filling a tractor with grain

Close up the heads of grain take on a beautifully sculptured multitude of shapes, like neatly stacked little parcels waiting to be opened.

Close up of ripened grain

Close up of ripened grain

As I walked back to the car, the tractor pulling the trailer full of grain has spilled some on the road. The grains could be peanuts scattered on the floor. The grains will shortly be disembodied and made into flour and then into bread, rolls or cakes for us to eat. In the days when barley was cut by hand with scythes, and it took men and women days to cut what the combine does in an afternoon, bread was the staple diet, and while it continues to be in some parts of the world, in the resource-rich west it is no longer of such importance. If you’re lucky enough to live near the countryside, watching a combine harvester is an exhilarating experience.

Grain on the road

Grain on the road

Doon Hill walk, summer flowers and best bee photo?

September 1, 2015

On Sunday morning we parked the car at Oswald Dean, known locally as Oasie Dean, a valley with Spott Burn (burn in Scots = stream) running through it. We walked up towards Doon Hill past the Doonery, the site of an old threshing mill, now private houses but the former chimney of the mill has been kept. Doon Hill is best known historically as the site of the Battle of Dunbar in 1650, an inglorious day for the Scots, who had the superior position and had Cromwell’s army precariously positioned between them and the sea. One section of the Scottish army incongruously took the decision to attack the English army, thus abandoning their potentially victorious position. Defeat was thus snatched from the jaws of victory and the Scottish football (aka soccer) team has been repeating this on many occasions. The views from the foot of Doon Hill are panoramic, looking over the town of Dunbar and out to sea with the Bass Rock prominent. As ever, click on photos for enlarged views in a new tab.

Dunbar, the Bass Rock and the Fife coast from Doon Hill

Dunbar, the Bass Rock and the Fife coast from Doon Hill

View from Doon Hill

View from Doon Hill

This is the end of August, so the barley fields around Doon Hill are at their most fecund and ready for the harvest. It’s a real pleasure to walk past the barley, on this morning swaying gently in the breeze. The heads of grain are tightly packed individual food parcels and have an anarchic, unregimented view when seen close up.

Barley grains ready to harvest

Barley grains ready to harvest

Taking a wider view, the barley looks more regimented, organised in countless rows of stalks, interrupted only by the tractor tracks used to sow and spray the crops. We saw 2 combine harvesters in the adjacent field from the other side of the hill. The combine was relentlessly cutting the barley and leaving a large dust cloud behind it, while the tractor waited to be loaded with the grain, once it had been cut and processed inside the harvester.

Combine harvester near Doon Hill

Combine harvester near Doon Hill

Not far from the summit of Doon Hill is the remains of a Neolithic settlement (good photos) and there is a very informative board on the site, detailing the history of the various settlements. Reading the board’s information and looking around the large fields of grain and hearing the buzz of the combine harvester in the distance, you can’t help but think that if one of the former settlers arrived back from the dead, s/he would be completely bewildered. While the basic shape of the hill and the countryside remains and the sea can still be seen just over the hill, our long dead visitor would find it hard to understand the vastness of the grain fields or the bizarre machine eating its way through the barley.

Doon Hill settlement notice board

Doon Hill settlement notice board

Like the barley, most of the flowers in my garden are at their peak and at the back of the house, the pots are overflowing with begonias, fuchsias and lobelia, with the gladioli and sword lilies not far behind. On a sunny day, with an incoming tide, it’s a treat to sit outside and appreciate the spread of colour in front of you.

Summer flowers on the decking

Summer flowers on the decking

Summer flowers on the decking

Summer flowers on the decking

Finally, I’ve been trying to get close-up photos of bees on our lavender and hebe all summer. Most are blurred because of the constant movement of the bees and their incessantly beating wings. This one may be the clearest so far. If you look closely at the bee’s head, you can see its proboscis in the flower head.

Bee feeding on lavender

Bee feeding on lavender