Posts Tagged ‘countryside’

Back on my bike, John Clare podcast and crocuses

February 23, 2017

I had my first cycle on Saturday after being off the bike for 5.5 weeks with very painful sciatica i.e. intermittently, you get a sharp pain in your side and shooting pains going down your leg – and this can happen during the day or night. Okay, it’s a fairly minor complaint but it’s very annoying and frustrating, particularly with the knowledge that cycling will make it worse. When you look up sciatica on the web, the first thing your told by all the websites I looked at is: There is no cure for sciatica. You just have to wait until it calms down and do warm up and warm down exercises before cycling. So, on the bike – tentatively. When you come back to cycling, especially when you get older, there is a change in the environment. What used to be inclines are back to hills, and what used to be small hills are now biggish hills and as for the big hills – forget about them for a while. However, I know that after a few longer cycle rides, the inclines will return to their former status, as will the little hills and the big hills can be conquered – maybe at a painfully slow rate at first.

On Saturday’s bike ride and on today’s, it was refreshing to be out looking at the countryside again, passing clumps of snowdrops now at their peak and also emergent crocus and the odd daffodil in flower. Plus, many of the fields are going green again, while others, newly ploughed, have a sheen on the turned earth which the sun catches. So it was appropriate today that, while on the bike, I listened (safely, able to hear traffic behind me) to a podcast from Melvyn Bragg’s educative and informative series In Our Time on Radio 4. This podcast ( you can listen from anywhere in the world) was on the poet John Clare  and there was a fascinating discussion by three academic experts on Clare’s childhood. He was brought up in relative poverty in the village of Helpston in Northamptonshire, where his father worked on a local farm. Clare left school at 11 and was introduced to poetry by fellow farm labourer, who showed Clare a book of poems about landscape. Clare was published in his 20s and was marketed as a poor farm labourer (a la Robert Burns in Scotland) with a gift for poetry. The podcast reveals how Clare became a poet of the countryside – from the countryside’s and its animals’ point of view i.e. Clare on his walks delved into elements such as the Nightingale’s Nest. As one of the panel observed, Clare did not observe the rural landscape “from over a 5-barred gate” as other rural poets did, but included details – such as the composition of the nightingale’s nest. Clare’s fame did not last and he ended up in a lunatic asylum, but he still wrote poems which have endured until today, later in his life. Clare’s style fell out of fashion but there has been a revival of interest in Clare by poets such as Seamus Heaney and Tom Paulin, who admired Clare’s use of local dialect words. I would recommend this podcast to everyone, not just those interested in poetry.

We are two-thirds of the way through February and the crocus flowers have added a welcome splash of early Spring colour across the UK. Here in Dunbar, the local council have planted hundreds of crocus around the town. The photos that follow are from the council-planted crop just up the road from my house. It was very windy when I took the photos but the sun was out and the crocus glittered and swayed in the wind, which is not cold today. Tomorrow, however, the temperatures are to plummet and we may get gales and snow, which means a battering  for these attractive but flimsy flowers. In this photo, I like the combination of colours, yellow, purple and different shades of green.

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Crocus on Spott Road, Dunbar

In the next photo, a close-up (difficult to do in the wind), the crocus appear to be reaching up to the sun and opening their flowers to ingest the sun’s rays.

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Close up of crocus on Spott Road, Dunbar

In the final photo, which includes both yellow and purple flowers, the crocus are like open-mouthed choir boys, singing at the top of their voices.

Crocus on Spott Road, Dunbar

Crocus on Spott Road, Dunbar

John Clare refers to the crocus in some of his poems, such as this from Early Spring “The Spring is come, and Spring flowers coming too, The crocus, patty kay, the rich hearts’ ease;”. The patty kay is the hepatica flower and the photo below is included under the Creative Commons licence.

Hepatica flower

Hepatica flower

 

 

Arthur Melville Exhibition, Mizen Head and autumal russet

November 5, 2015

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

Arthur Melville exhibition

Arthur Melville exhibition

Arthur Melville A Cabbage Garden

Arthur Melville A Cabbage Garden

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

Seafood dish at the Mizen Head

Seafood dish at the Mizen Head

Steamed mussels at the Mizen Head

Steamed mussels at the Mizen Head

Scallop shells at the Mizen Head

Scallop shells at the Mizen Head

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

Russet forest floor

Russet forest floor

Rurally russet

Rurally russet

Russet tree

Russet tree

Russet avenue

Russet avenue

 

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

Country walk and the end of the year

January 1, 2015

On Sunday, on a clear, crisp, frosty morning here in Dunbar, with a biting south westerly nipping at our faces, my wife and I went for a walk in the country. We parked at Oswald Dean – locally know as Oasie Dean – and walked up towards Doon Hill (good photos) where there is an important archaeological site near the summit. We walked towards the historic Spott House before going up the edge of a field at the foot of Doon Hill. On the way back down towards Spott Farm, there are views across to the sea and the Bass Rock. I took the photo below to show the winter bushes, the farm and the sea.

View from near Doon Hill

View from near Doon Hill

On the way back, we passed fields of newly emergent spring wheat which has a striking colour at this time of year and the colour is enhanced by the strong winter sun. I also like the defined lines of the winter crop.

Lines of Spring wheat near Spott

Lines of Spring wheat near Spott

Our route back to the car took us down Starvation Brae, the origins of which, apart from brae meaning hill in Scots, I have yet to discover. The strong December sun was in our back and, rounding one of the corners of the brae, my shadow lengthened considerably, giving an almost surreal aspect to the photo below.

Shadow on Starvation Brae

Shadow on Starvation Brae

At the foot of the brae lies the village of Spott (good photos), although this website contains a historical error, as it claims that Marion Lillie who was deemed a witch, was burnt to death near the village. A local historian has discovered that she was buried in Spott and therefore could not have been burned as a witch. One of the features of Spott village – it is more of a hamlet than a village nowadays – is Spott Kirk and the photos below show the kirk and what I saw as interesting shadows next to the grave stones.

Spott Kirk

Spott Kirk

Grave stone shadows at Spott Kirk

Grave stone shadows at Spott Kirk

This is the last day of December and of 2014. It is, in South East of Scotland parlance, Auld Year’s Day and the New Year will start at the end of Auld Year’s Night. There is also the Scots word Hogmanay which is generally pronounced “hog” at the beginning in the east of Scotland but “hug” in the west of Scotland. Traditionally, Auld Year’s Night was the winter festival in Scotland, with many people (e.g. in the late 1950s) still working on Xmas Day. On my poetry calendar, there is an excerpt from In Memoriam by Alfred, Lord Tennyson and the 2nd verse begins with the familiar “Ring out the old, ring in the new”. This section of the very long poem has some what might be seen as utopian ideals e.g. “Ring out the feud of rich and poor,/Ring in redress to all mankind” and this, of course, remains an ideal today. Here in Scotland, people will ask each other “What are you doing for the bells?” and this relates to how, where and with whom people are going to bring in the New Year. “The bells” are thought to relate not to church bells but to the town house bell being rung at midnight. The Scottish New Year is emphatically linked to having a good time and to drinking alcohol, and tradition has it that the New Year should be brought in by toasting friends with a malt whisky e.g. Bowmore and this is often the only time that some people will drink whisky. At the time of writing, it is already New Year’s Day in New Zealand and in half an hour, it will be a new year in Australia. To everyone wherever you are, I wish you a Guid New Year and love, luck and laughter for 2015 and beyond.

Tavira, door knockers and local countryside

June 29, 2014

On our holiday in Faro (see previous post), we went by bus to the exquisite town of Tavira. From the bus station, it’s short walk by the river Gilão to the architecturally stunning town square (Photos 1 and 2). The buildings are immaculately clean and the upright rods above the arches of the town house building add a distinctive quality to the scene. From the square, there is a pleasant walk along the riverside to the small fishing port, where you can see boats with unusual looking creels, as well as the ferry which takes people to the long, clean and uncrowded beaches of Tavira Island. Alternatively, you can cross the river by going over one of the bridges – including the 7 arched Roman bridge (Photo 3) – to the meandering streets and squares. Tavira is full of churches, the most famous being the Igreja da Misericórdia which has stunning expanses of wall tiles depicting religious stories. Photography is not allowed unfortunately.We did not have time to visit the municipal library (good photos on this site) which has won prizes for its design. Tavira is a must see if you are ever in the Algarve.

Tavira Square

Tavira Square

Tavira Square

Tavira Square

Roman bridge Tavira

Roman bridge Tavira

I’ve always liked taking photos of doors, especially in Mediterranean countries, but one feature I saw in the Algarve towns we visited were door knockers in the form of hands. These are apparently influenced by Moorish design and legend has it that they are placed on the door to keep away evil spirits, and the house is protected by the Hands of Fatima, who was said to be the daughter of the prophet Mohammed. Some are in better condition than others – see Photos 4 and 5 – but they add a real touch of elegance to the doors.

Ornate door knockers in Tavira

Ornate door knockers in Tavira

Ornate door knockers in Faro

Ornate door knockers in Faro

At the weekend, we had a visit from my ex-colleague and good friend Bob Pymm (aka Doctor Robert). We took Bob firstly to Hailes Castle which is an impressive building which is situated on the River Tyne. the castle has an outer wall to keep enemies at bay and any intruders would have great difficulty approaching from the river side as a) they would be seen and b) they would be faced with a huge wall to climb. We then went up Traprain Law (good photos on this site) and told Bob about the discovery of Roman silver on the Law (Scots for hill), and the next day we went to see the silver in the National Museum of Scotland. There are impressive views from both the castle and the Law. Photo 6 is looking north from Hailes Castle. Photo 7 shows the cairn at the top of the Law and the rolling countryside out to the sea. Photo 8 shows the shadows of clouds slowly meandering across the burgeoning crops.

View from Hailes Castle

View from Hailes Castle

Looking north from Traprain Law

Looking north from Traprain Law

Cloud shadows on the fields

Cloud shadows on the fields

Table 9, snowy run and daffoldils

March 23, 2013

When my wife and I were in Dubai, we were treated to a gourmet experience at the Table 9 restaurant. Table 9 is run by 2 young chefs who used to work for the (in)famous chef Gordon Ramsay. It’s a very pleasant restaurant, not at all pretentious, and the service is excellent, but it is the intensity of the flavours in the food that stands out. I had the taster menu and swapped the veal for scallops, plum and seaweed, which sounds an odd mixture, but the scallops were done to perfection and came on a bed of fine seaweed, on a base of intense plum sauce. While the scallops were excellent, for me the key highlights were the lobster dish – lobster, coconut and mango (see 1st photo – sent to me by Table 9) . I talked to Nick Alvis, one of the chefs after the meal and he agreed to send me a photo and a description of a couple of the dishes. The lobster dish is “Lobster marinated in chip shop curry sauce. Coated in roasted coconut with fresh mango and coconut cream puree.” All I can say is that they must have found a fabulous chip shop. The flavours in this dish hit you one after the other. An excellent culinary and artistic touch is the mango – what you think might be pasta in the photo. The other highlight for me was the lamb – “Lamb, smoked aubergine, scratchings, tomato: Smoked aubergine + raisin puree, plum tomato chutney (vinegar, sugar, shallots), large leaf spinach, lamb belly scratchings and lamb dressing (roasting juices, vinaigrette, lamb fat and lamb stock) – a range of mouth watering tastes all in one dish. This is a treat and a fairly expensive i.e. one to save up for.

Back home and from 31 degrees and wall to wall sunshine in Dubai, back to 2 degrees and a biting NE wind and snow. I took my wife Val up the hills for her morning run – slightly more sheltered up the hills. Snow here in the morning melted but a few inches up the hills (see 2nd photo), so a muddy and snowy run (see photo 3). Too cold for me to go on my bike, so I went to the gym. I do this only in desperation as I find the gym very confining and even with downloaded Guardian short stories and Thinking Allowed to distract me, it’s always a long slog.

Back at the house, with camera still in hand, I photographed some of the small daffodils which are now out in my garden (see photo 4). There’s poem I like by Alicia Ostriker called “Daffodils” and she writes ” I’m photographing the yellow daffodils/ With their outstretched arms and ruffled cups”. Daffodils always remind me of open mouthed choirboys with ruffs on their necks. They always have their heads slightly bowed, and appear to me to be diffident flowers, not wishing to be showy, despite their obvious beauty.

Lobster, coconut, mango dish from Table 9

Lobster, coconut, mango dish from Table 9

Country lane and snow

Country lane and snow

Running in the snow and mud

Running in the snow and mud

Mini daffodils

Mini daffodils