Posts Tagged ‘Belhaven beach’

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.

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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

New Year walks, pelican in the chip shop and Kiama blowhole

January 15, 2019

On New Year’s Day, we woke to 2019 to see a fairly clear sky and a sunny day albeit with a coldish westerly. So as to make the most of the light, we headed off in the morning to St Abbs Head, which has featured many times on this blog and is one of our favourite places. We parked overlooking the harbour and there is a superb view from here, as in this 2017 photograph, which takes in the main harbour, the outer harbour and the lifeboat station.

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Looking down on St Abbs Head Harbour (Click on all photos to enlarge)

We walked from east to west as far as the lighthouse which was built by the Stevenson brothers in 1862. It’s an unusual lighthouse in that it sits on the edge of the mainland, high above the sea, as in the photo below.

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St Abbs Head lighthouse

On the walk there and on the way back, we noticed that an area next to the shore had been cordoned off and a notice said that seal pups were being protected. We saw 2 pups down on the rocky shore. When they are still, the pups are very well camouflaged and look like some of the bigger rocks. So silky smooth when in the water, the seal pups clumsily made their way across the rocks to the flatter part of the shore, maybe to enjoy the winter sun. I could not find any current information on the seals, but this 2017 report (good photo) is very informative about the St Abbs seals.

Back at the car above the harbour, I took this short video.

On the 2nd January, we took a walk along the wide stretch of Belhaven Beach. When we got to the bridge, although the tide was out, it was not far enough out and we could not cross the bridge, as the far end was covered in water. So we walked along the Dump Road to West Barns Bridge (photos from previous post) and out to the beach. The wind had eased from yesterday, so it was warmer and we could stand and watch the huge waves hurtle themselves on to the beach. There were quite a few surfers out and while some eased gracefully along a big wave, others were knocked flat by an incoming rush of water. There was a glorious sound of incoming waves, followed by a sluuurrrp as the waves hit the beach and dashed back out. The photo below shows the drama of the waves. 

Big waves and minuscule surfer on Belhaven Beach

I took a video of the waves and swung the camera round to see the chalets at Belhaven with the golf course behind.

The last stop on our overseas trip was to visit our very good friends Bob and Robyn at their idyllic house near Berry in New South Wales. They met us off the train at Kiama which is a very attractive coastal town not far from Berry. There’s a very good fish and chip shop/restaurant that overlooks the water – The Kiama Harbour Cafe. The fish and chips were excellent, but what is different about this fish and chip shop is that they have a pelican which nonchalantly walks about the shop and cafe – see the photo below -which shows the pelican waiting expectantly for fish – it does not like chips apparently – next to our table.

Friendly pelican in Kiama cafe

Kiama is probably best known for its spectacular blowhole (good photos) and it is a fascinating sight, as people watch in anticipation of the seawater being blasted into the air. The blowhole’s action comes from large waves entering a small cavern and compressing the air, which then forces the water out of the gap. This photo below shows a medium-sized eruption of water. You watch and watch for the really big blow-out and of course, this happens when you walk away and hear the other viewers yell out “WOW!”. There is an excellent coastal walk that you can do when visiting Kiama, taking in more than one blowhole, fascinating rock structures and unspoilt beaches.

Water spurting out the Kiama blowhole

Falling Awake and birds at Belhaven Pond

March 3, 2017

The Poetry Book Society Choice for Autumn 2016 was Alice Oswald’s  new book – Falling Awake. This is an astonishing book of poems and has won some literary prizes. In the book, Oswald is not just close to nature, but inside it, and she demonstrates how elements of nature are interlinked, and how nature affects our lives , but also has a life of its own. The first poem A Short Story of Falling begins “It is the story of the falling rain/ to turn into a leaf and fall again/ it is the secret of a summer shower/ to steal the light and hide it in a flower”. These dramatic images – a shower stealing the light – continue in all the poems. In Fox, the narrator hears ” a cough” in her sleep and it is ” a fox in her fox-fur/ stepping across/ the grass in her black gloves/ [which] barked at my house”. In other poems, we hear of a badger “still with the simple heavy box of his body needing to be lifted” being “hard at work/ with the living shovel of himself”. In “A Rushed Account of the Dew”, there’s an amazing image of water on a plant, as the poet imagines the dew “descend/ out of the dawn’s mind”, and affix “a liquid cufflink” on to a leaf. In Shadow, the poet describes the shadow as having ” a flesh parachute of a human opening above it” – as you see, there’s a vivid imagination at work here. There are many more images of falling in the subsequent poems. I’m only half way through the book and will return to it in the blog. I agree with the Guardian reviewer that “I cannot think of any poet who is more watchful or with a greater sense of gravity”.

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“Falling Awake” by Alice Oswald

This week, we’ve had cold, but very bright days, especially in the morning. Having cycled past Seafield Pond (good photos) on Monday and seen a gathering of ducks on the grass verge, I ventured back there on foot on Tuesday – in the morning sunlight. The ducks were gone, but over the wall on Belhaven Beach, there was a scattering of seagulls, some oystercatchers and curlews, but also 2 little egrets (photos, video and bird call). As I got my camera ready, there was a sudden squawking, a brief flurry of wings by both birds, and one took off for the pond. I managed to get two photos of the constantly moving little egret. They are not the clearest of photos and maybe, I should have used a sports setting on my camera. However, they do show the elegance of this bird, with its long beak, tiny eye and large yellow feet, which help them to steady themselves on the slippery sand below the water.

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Little Egret on Belhaven Beach (Click to enlarge)

In second photo, I like the shimmering reflection of the bird’s body in the water, its shadow (with flesh parachute of a bird opening above it, as Oswald might have put it) and the corrugated sand.

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Little Egret and reflection on Belhaven Beach

While the egrets and oystercatchers are nervous birds and will fly off if you get anywhere near them, the swans on Seafield Pond simply float towards you. OK – they are looking for food, but I also think that swans are narcissistic birds. They glide toward you, inviting you to photograph their haughty serenity. They move slowly, like elegant models on a catwalk, then dip their heads in the water. The first photo shows 2 swans coming towards the bank, where I’m standing at the water’s edge. There are other birds, such as coots, but these have swum away in panic and have hidden behind the tall reeds (2nd photo). See the causal elegance here, with the swans more interested in their own reflections than the presence of a would-be photographer.

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Elegant swans at Seafield Pond

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Coots behind the reeds at Seafield Pond

The first swan pushed its head under water a few times and after several attempts, I managed to get a shot with water dripping from its beak. Look at the perfect outline of its body, the giraffe like neck and its body like a small iceberg. You can watch swans all day.

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Swan with dripping beak at SeafieldPond

Whitesands cross country and Belhaven Beach walk

January 28, 2015

Firstly, for those in Australia, I hope that your Australia Day went well and those of you in the Sydney area didn’t get too wet. On Sunday, my wife and I were out at The Whitesands helping with marshalling and timing of the Borders Cross Country event. There were  84 junior runners and 163 seniors taking part in separate races. The races started on Whitesands Beach and the juniors ran along the beach towards Dunbar Golf Course, back over the beach, up the hill and over to Barns Ness Lighthouse. The adults went past the lighthouse, on to a stretch of beach, on to a track near the Dry Burn (burn=stream and this one dries up in summer) and back on narrow tracks to the Whitesands. The photos below show the start of the junior and adult races and the adults returning across the sands.

Junior cross country race at Whitesands

Junior cross country race at Whitesands

Adult cross country race at Whitesands

Adult cross country race at Whitesands

Adult cross country race at Whitesands

Adult cross country race at Whitesands

To Belhaven Beach, on the other side of Dunbar from the Whitesands. I’ve featured Belhaven Beach on this blog before and will again. It is a wide sweep of beach and a glorious walk at all times of the year. This week, there was a cold SW wind blowing the sand across the beach, a stunning site but I failed to do it justice with my camera, so no desert type photos of rushes of sand over sand. The sand itself is very firm in some parts, very ridged in others and very soft near the sand dunes. This was a sparkling Scottish winter afternoon, with sun now higher in the sky and delineating the metal structure of  Belhaven Bridge on the beach – in the photos below. The tide was well out for our walk, but people can get stranded as the tide comes in fast and covers the bridge’s steps. You can see two contrasting views of Belhaven Bridge from a previous post. You can walk for about 5k along the beach and back, or you can walk around the John Muir Country Park. The sea was a postcard blue next to the beach, with some interesting driftwood and views out to the Bass Rock – see photos below.

Belhaven Bridge

Belhaven Bridge

Belhaven Bridge shadow

Belhaven Bridge shadow

Runners' tracks on Belhaven Beach

Runners’ tracks on Belhaven Beach

Driftwood on Belhaven Beach with Bass Rock in the distance

Driftwood on Belhaven Beach with Bass Rock in the distance

 

A Word a Week Photo Challenge: contrast

April 2, 2014

Here are my photos involving different types of contrast. Many more excellent specimens at Sue’s website.

Please note that I’m unable, at the moment, to make photos open in a new tab – looking for a solution.

Height of man and height of termite mound in Litchfield National Park,  NT, Australia

Height of man and height of termite mound in Litchfield National Park, NT, Australia

Bright sky and dark shore at Belhaven Beach, Dunbar

Bright sky and dark shore at Belhaven Beach, Dunbar

Silhouettes against sea and sky, Cathedral Cove, New Zealand

Silhouettes against sea and sky, Cathedral Cove, New Zealand

Burj Khalifa dwarfs 70 storey buildings in Dubai (Photo taken from car)

Burj Khalifa dwarfs 70 storey buildings in Dubai (Photo taken from car)

Contrasting colours in the summer sky above

Contrasting colours in the summer sky above the summer night sky in Dunbar

Upright donkey, leaning tower in Pisa

Upright donkey, leaning tower in Pisa

Belhaven pond, curlew and ducks and festive greetings

December 25, 2013

A walk down to Belhaven Pond last week, to see if I could get some decent bird photos, but there was a scarcity that day – a few mallards, some coots who scampered away on my approach into the middle of the pond. Tennyson’s poem The Brook begins with “I come from haunts of coot and tern”. The pond itself is extensive (see Photo 1, included from here, under the Attribution  Agreement) and is beautiful on a sunny day – on my visit, it was cloudy. I was lucky however, that a woman and her daughter were throwing bread into the water and immediately, out of nowhere it seemed, a group of greedy – and pretty aggressive – seagulls arrived. Photo 2 shows two of them about to grab some bread. The gulls soon got fed up, having eaten the big pieces of bread and 3 coots arrived to eat the scraps from the big birds’ table. I then walked back down what is known as the Dump Road, as there used to be a landfill site where the caravan site now is. About half way along, I looked over the wall and could see two curlews among a large gathering of what I think were teal. Photo 3 shows the curlew on its own, with its distinctive long beak. Curlews, which have the splendid Latin name Numenius arquata, suitably august for a large bird, have a very distinctive call. Photo 4 shows the curlew amongst the ducks.

As this is the 24th December, I send you all festive greetings, wherever you are and whether you are in midwinter as I am or in midsummer. So:  Glædelig Jul og Godt Nytår,  Prettige feestdagen, Bula Vinaka, Hyvää Joulua ja Onnellista Uutta Vuotta, Joyeuses fêtes, Frohe Feiertage and Felices fiestas. If your language is not here, English will have to do, I’m afraid.

belhaven pond

Belhaven pond

Seagulls at Belhaven Pond

Seagulls at Belhaven Pond

Curlew at Belhaven Beach

Curlew at Belhaven Beach

Curlew and ducks at Belhaven Beach

Curlew and ducks at Belhaven Beach

 

 

Icelandic sagas, new bike (maybe) and dramatic sky

May 20, 2013

While out cycling last week, I listened to an In Our Time podcast about Icelandic Sagas and it proved to be a very interesting and educational programme. The panel discussed the various types of sagas, including family sagas and adventure sagas. the sagas  cover events in Iceland in the 10th and 11th centuries and were written in the 13th and 14th centuries. It’s probable – but there’s no definitive proof, that the written sagas were based on stories handed down in the oral tradition. If you want to read some of the sagas, then the Icelandic Saga Database is an excellent source. An added interest for me is that my former colleague at Charles Sturt University John Kennedy is an expert on the sagas. His book on translating the sagas is recognised as an authoritative work.

My existing bike – a 10 year old Giant OCR and while it is still a comfortable ride, it needs a new back wheel at some point. As I was walking to Belhaven Bikes my local bikeshop in Dunbar to collect my bike after another repair, I started thinking “New wheel? Mmm – how about new bike?”. I now have some catalogues for new bikes and I am particularly interested in the Forme Longcliffe 1.0 which has been very well reviewed. Now, given that I am a pretty average cyclist, it probably doesn’t matter whether I choose this bike or a similar one, but I’ve been doing my homework online and the Forme is very well reviewed. One aspect of reading reviews of bikes is that the reviews can often get very technical and pass my understanding of bike technology but I can usually get enough pertinent information. Watch this space.

May has been mainly cold, windy and sunless in this part of the world so far, so it was encouraging to have one sunny day on Friday, when we took our son, daughter in law and two grandchildren, who are visiting from Dubai, to Belhaven beach. There followed a dramatic and colourful sky in the evening. So I went out to the back of the house and took the photos below. The tide was going out and the sky was reflected in the sea at some points. I particularly like the mix of blues, pinks and reds.

Evening sky looking towards Dunbar harbour

Evening sky looking towards Dunbar harbour

 

Evening sky looking towards Dunbar harbour

Evening sky looking towards Dunbar harbour

 

Evening sky looking towards Dunbar harbour

Evening sky looking towards Dunbar harbour