Posts Tagged ‘dunbar harbour’

Dunbar harbour without and with boats and Hannah Lowe’s The Kids

February 16, 2022

Recently, when I walked from my house along to Dunbar harbour, I came across a phenomenon that I had never seen before i.e. the harbour had no boats or yachts or dinghies in it. It was vessel free and empty looking, as this is usually a thriving hive of activity with boats coming and going, fishermen mending nets and tourists and locals strolling along the harbourside. The photo below shows the deserted harbour, looking as if it was in some post-apocalypse Sci-Fi novel in which every boat and ship in the world has vanished overnight. There was quite a swell in the harbour and I assume that the fisher-folk and yacht club members were expecting a storm which might cause damage. While this open stretch of water has its own merits and beauty, I am so used to seeing the fishing boats in it, I kept thinking that there was something missing.

A deserted Dunbar harbour (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

I walked over the harbour bridge and past The Battery (good photos) to the end of the harbour and took the photo below. On the right hand side, you can see the buoys which are normally attached to small yachts that are kept in the harbour for part of the year. Beyond that, you see the ruins of Dunbar Castle (good photos), a former stronghold of the Earls of Dunbar in the 15th century and to the left of the castle, the indoor swimming pool, which was an archaeological site before being built. To the right of the castle is the large and impressive sea wall, originally built in 1844 and extensively (and expensively for the town) repaired in 1854. You can now walk along just below the top of the sea wall and get superb views across the Firth of Forth. This is also a popular site for fishing and in the summer, you can often see a line of rods with their lines cast over the top of the harbour wall.

Empty harbour from the north east side

I went back to the harbour two days later and normality was somewhat restored, with some fishing boats back in their usual berths. There was much less cloud in the sky on my return and this clear blue sky had turned the harbour water from grey-blue to shining blue. As the photo below shows, the water was much calmer and this allowed a harbourside stroller to see the brilliant reflections in the water. There are a plethora of reflections here – the white, blue and red of the smaller boat beneath the castle, the harbour wall and ladder to its right and, in front of the boat’s reflections, the castle walls are a blur of Impressionist painting. To the right of the photo, you can see the circles created by an emerging eider duck.

Shimmering reflection in Dunbar harbour

Moving further back, I took the photo below and, as you can see, the castle wall reflections appear to have stretched out into the harbour. The fishing boat on the left is the Oor Millie (details) and it has its own crazy reflections in front of it. The eider duck had dived down again in search of food and left the rings in the water, decorating the castle wall reflections with circles. This was at a fairly low tide and you can see the mark of the high tide on the wall below the castle. The blue sign is for the harbourmaster’s office – the square building with the window to the right of the castle and overlooking the harbour mouth. So, a beautiful, albeit cold day for a walk at the ever-changing harbour, where you will never see the exact same colour of the water or exact reflections, but you will always appreciate them.

Reflections and circles in Dunbar harbour

Hannah Lowe‘s book of poems The Kids was not only the Poetry Book Society’s Choice for Autumn 2021 but it also won the Costa Book of the Year for 2021. The poet states “I wanted to pay homage to the teenagers I taught over years at a sixth form college in London. Looking back, I saw how much I’d learned from them”. This is a very accessible but also quite subtle book of poetry. The Costa judges commented ““It’s joyous, it’s warm and it’s completely universal”. It might be patronising to say that this book would appeal to people who do not normally read poetry but it would certainly be a good start. Lowe has some exquisite lines in the book e.g. “the ruby blot of lips/ where last year’s girls had kissed the schoolhouse brick”; “Why did no one warn me about Monique – / kiss-curls and diamanté nails, Queen Bee/ who fixed me with a fuck you stare”; “Boredom hangs like a low cloud in the classroom”; and “In the ruby light of The Odeon, Leicester Square”.

The second section of the book deals with Lowe’s own school days as an adolescent and learning the piano with Miss Forbes and “her parlour with its sills/ of old cracked china and dried camellias”. There is a link to her future career as Lowe writes that with Miss Forbes “I learnt what learning was for”. The final section is about Lowe’s son Rory growing up “and the iPad is a raft/ he sails on from breakfast to lunch and on…”. This book is what one reviewer calls “A joy to read” and its mixture of teaching and learning – particularly learning – about the classroom but also life itself, is uplifting.

Hannah Lowe’s intriguing poems

Storm Arwen attacks Dunbar and the countryside

December 27, 2021

At the end of November, the UK and in particular the south east of Scotland, where we live, was hit by Storm Arwen. This was a storm like no other I have experienced in my life. I was told the next day that the Dunbar Lifeboat had been moved from its mooring at Torness Power Station to Dunbar Harbour for safety reasons and that the boat clocked 114mph on its way. You can get an idea of the ferocity of the storm at sea from this video.

My own experience of the storm at its peak began when I hear a loud BANG outside the front of our house. I went outside to see 2 wheelie bins – normally stored quite compactly across from our row of 6 houses – passing our garden path and heading straight for our neighbour’s car. I put these around the corner at our neighbour’s garage – the houses are staggered – for safety. When I turned round, a brown bin (garden waste) was on its side, lid in front and coming towards me at speed, with murderous intent. I managed to jump aside as it went past me. The wind was so strong that I could only walk sideways back to the house. The direction of the wind mainly from the north meant that our houses were in a direct line of the storm. We went to bed hoping that there would be no damage. When I went out the back door in the morning and looked up at the roof, I saw what is in the photo below. The wind had caught one of the tiles at the bottom of the roof and ripped upwards, shifting a number of tiles.

Our ripped roof at the back of the house (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

This was Saturday morning and the problem no was to get the roof fixed. The forecast was for no rain until Tuesday, when it was to be heavy. We – and a hundred others – contacted 12 roofers but only got one reply – for the following weekend. On Monday, we got lucky. A roofer, whose phone had been off since Friday because of a power cut up the country from Dunbar, was checking our elderly neighbours. I showed him our roof and he fixed it in 10 minutes – to our great relief. Taking a walk around the town, we saw many examples of shattered roof tiles and broken fences and heard stories of people much worse off than we were.

There was worldwide coverage of the storm and my sister in New Zealand told me that the devastation at John Muir Park (good photos), just outside Dunbar, had been on the national news. A few days later, we went to see the extent of the destruction for ourselves. The forest area of the park is enjoyed by runners, cyclists and walkers, many of whom have dogs. Unfortunately, due to a minority (we are told) of irresponsible dog walkers, you have to be careful where you walk in the trees. On a normal visit to this mainly coniferous forest, you cannot see through the rows of various kinds of fir. After the storm, you can now look through from one end of the forest to the other i.e. across the fallen trees. The photo below shows the view through the now stricken forest, with many trees ripped from their roots.

Fallen trees at John Muir Country Park

To the left of the photo above, you can see the path along the side of the forest and just over the fence in view is the East Links Family Park, with its range of wildlife attractions for young and older people. In the photo below, you can see that, as a result of trees collapsing across the path and partly over the fence, the llamas enjoyed an unexpected treat. As we walked past, the llamas nibbled at the tree branches and took no heed of us.

Extra feed for the animals at East Links Family Farm

You can get an aerial view of the damage done to the plantation in this short video below. As you can see, the forest is almost completely covered in pine trees, which notoriously have very shallow roots. One hope amongst many locals in Dunbar is that, when the trees are removed, the forest will be replanted with a much more diverse type of tree than at present, i.e. with many more deciduous trees.

The destructive wind not only affected shallow rooted pine trees. On our walk two days later near Spott Farm, we saw the power of the wind demonstrated in the felling of a huge beech tree. This was no narrow-trunked evergreen but a solidly built tree, which you would have imagined to be indestructible. The first photo below shows the uprooted base of the tree, cut by what must have been a sizeable chainsaw. On the right of the photo, you can see part of the stone wall which was sliced open by the falling tree. In the second photo, you can see part of the trunk and some of the thick branches which have been sawn off. This had been a tall, proud looking tree, dominating part of the wood on which it stood. Now it had turned into what will probably become hard wood logs to give out beautiful heat from someone’s wood stove.

Solid beech tree uprooted at Spott Farm
Wood from felled beech tree

The final photo shows a close up of part of the tree trunk. If you just look at the multi-patterned end of the tree, it can appear to be like a photo taken from a spaceship, with flatlands, fields and heavily wooded areas on view. Many a surrealist artist would have been proud to produce a work of art such this, with its elegant and graceful lines circling the bizarre-looking hole. The more you look at this, the more shapes and patterns you will see. Is that a one-eyed feline head to the left of the middle? So, from destruction comes art and the previously unseen innards of a huge tree.

Beech tree trunk and its history

Billy Main’s fishing trip from Dunbar harbour

October 23, 2021

On the Facebook site Lost Dunbar which deals with Dunbar history, there was a reminder that some things have changed very little over the years. An example of this was brought to my attention by Billy Main, who posted photographs of his trip on a creel boat from Dunbar harbour. Despite mechanisation on the wee boats that go out to catch crabs and lobsters, this is still an arduous job for the fisherment who handle the creels. Billy Main gave me permission to use the photos below, from his trip on the Dunbar boat Bonnie Lass III (photo). The photo below shows the creels on the boat, ready to be baited with fish from the blue box on the left hand side. The long length of rope next to the creels links them together, so that they can be hauled up one by one and inspected for crabs or lobsters. I like the way the photo takes your eye along the creels to the skipper and up towards the variegated morning sky above.

Creels on Bonnie Lass III (Click on all photos to enlarge)

Billy Main’s trip was made just as the sun was rising in the east. The photo below shows the sun just above the horizon, looking from the back of the boat. The colours of the sky, lit up by the white looking sun, go from bright yellow to various shades of purple. You can see that there is a fair swell in the sea and the sun’s reflection across the water starts with a golden path in the water. I found this a very calm and peaceful photo, which is worth looking at in detail.

The rising sun from the back of the Bonnie Lass III

The Bonnie Lass III sailed near the Bass Rock (history) and the photo below shows this magnificent, 320 million year old volcanic structure early in the morning. David Attenborough referred to it as “one of the 12 wildlife wonders of the world” and it is home each year to 150,000 gannets – more below. The Bass Rock was, according to your religious views at the time, the site a famous or infamous prison in the late 17th century, and was well known for housing what were seen as rebellious and heretical Presbyterian ministers, many of whom died in the unheated dungeons in the rock’s prison. The Bass Rock’s lighthouse, seen in the photo below, was a major landmark from the early 20th century. The lighthouse’s light (good photo) was first visible to passing boats and ship on November 1 1902. The lighthouse had keepers (b/w photos) on it until 1988 and they would spend 4 weeks on the rock and 2 weeks at home. This could be a treacherous occupation in bad winter weather as supplies had to be delivered by small boat every two weeks.

Bass Rock at sunrise

On his trip, Billy Main managed to capture two photos of gannets. The first photo below is the more dramatic and he has been able to capture not only the fierce (and for fish deadly) stare of the gannet, but also the turbulence of the water from which the gannet has emerged after its vertical dive. The gannet’s symmetrical head is a work of art in itself and your eyes are taken down from the bird’s eyes to the peak of the sharp but elegant beak. In the second photo, we see a calmer and more satisfied looking gannet, gliding on the waves with its graceful, brilliant white plumage and black tail feathers. We can just see its blurred but active foot below the water as the water – a beautiful bluey green – swirls around the gannet’s body. The Bass Rock changes colour after the mass arrival of the 150,000 gannets each year, going almost totally white at its peak. The whiteness is often mistaken for the guano you see on smaller island around Dunbar harbour, but in this case, the whiteout is caused by the sheer numbers of birds.

Determined looking gannet in the Firth of Forth
Post-catch gannet in the Firth of Forth

To see a much more detailed study of gannets on the Bass Rock, watch this sparkling video by Espen Holland.

Finally, the main purpose of the creel boat’s outing was to catch crabs and lobsters and in the photo below, we can see the fruits of the crew’s labour. The brilliantly coloured, shiny lobsters have had some of their claws tied together to prevent damage. Some of the lobsters landed by Dunbar’s creel boats are kept alive and end up in expensive Japanese restaurants. Depending on your point of view, this may be excellent commerce or a form of cruelty to the lobsters.

Lobsters caught aboard the Bonnie Lass III.

So thanks to Billy Main for sharing these exquisite photos with Lost Dunbar readers and for allowing me to feature them here.

Stonehaven, Dunnottar Castle and Joan Eardley

August 6, 2021

On a recent 3 day break, staying in the village of Edzell (good photos), we ventured to the coastline. Our first stop was at the attractive seaside town of Stonehaven (good photos). We walked along the wide sweep of beach to the west side and then walked back towards the harbour – see photo on the link above. As we approached the harbour – on a long stretch of boardwalk – we passed some metal sculptures (good photos). The one that caught my eye was the Viking longboat – in the photo below. Most people on the boardwalk passed without a second glance, but stopping to see the intricacies of the design was rewarding. From the dragon’s head on the ship’s figurehead, to the shields and oars, then up to the large sail – see the dragon appearing again here – this was an admirable and impressive piece of sculpture. Given the detail on the piece, I imagine that the ship must have taken hours and hours to complete. The rocky shore and blue sea beyond the sculpture form a perfect background for such a well-crafted work of art.

Viking longboat sculpture on Stonehaven boardwalk

Stonehaven also has a very attractive harbour, with a very sandy beach, in contrast to the more pebbly beach beyond. I took the photo below of a local fishing boat, with the intriguing name of Banamha Ighstir. I contacted the harbourmaster James Brown and he told me that it was his father’s boat and the name was pronounced Bana Veecha. I was told that the name is Scots Gaelic and means mistress, as in a lady in authority. The harbour at Stonehaven is very similar to our harbour (good photos) here in Dunbar. At the right hand side of the photo, you can see the Marine Training Academy which trains people on aircraft and ships in safety procedures and supplies products such as “life jackets and immersion suits” as well as inflatable boats. There is a very well known seafood restaurant on the northern harbour wall – The Tollbooth – which has a delicious looking menu. We might have been tempted but it was closed at lunchtime.

Fishing boat in Stonehaven harbour

From the town centre, it was a short journey to Dunnottar Castle (good photos) which must have one the most spectacular locations of any UK castle, as it is perched on the edge of some vertiginous cliffs. The photo below is an aerial view from the helpful information board at the car park, a short walk from the castle itself. We hadn’t booked online and there was no on-the-day entrance, so we did not get to wander around what are quite substantial remains of the original castle. There has been a building on this site since the 3rd century when a Pictish fort was built. The castle was then established over the centuries but destroyed by Viking invaders in the 9th century. The modern castle – again added to over the centuries – was first built in the 14th century. There is a very good outline of the history and the main parts of the castle here.

Dunnottar Castle

I made this short video from one of the promontories opposite the castle and it gives you a good idea of how impressive the castle is and why so many sieges of the castle failed. You can see a longer and more detailed video of the castle here.

Our third visit that day was to the village of Catterline (good photos) which was the home of two well known artists – Joan Eardley and Jim Morrison. My wife was particularly interested in Eardley, having seen this TV programme. The photo below shows the view from what was Joan Eardley’s house. According to her former neighbour, whom we met on our visit, Eardley spent many hours – in all weathers – down at the pier, doing paintings. The 2nd photo below shows a plaque commemorating Eardley’s stay in Catterline. The plaque is on the building next to the Creel Inn restaurant, which was closed on our visit but looked extremely inviting. The menu on the website confirms this. There is currently an exhibition featuring Eardley and Catterline at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and some of the paintings featuring Catterline are on view on the website.

Catterline Bay – photo by Alan Morrison and produced here under Creative Commons Licence
Plaque at Catterline

Also on the website is a link to this fascinating YouTube video which (we think) features the man whom we met at Catterline.

The coastline in the counties of Angus and Aberdeenshire feature many interesting places to visit, including the one cited here, and it is certainly an area to discover if you are ever in this part of Scotland.

Dunbar Harbour: Craning-In Day, Prawns and Kittiwakes

April 28, 2021

A sign that normality is slowly returning in the UK could be seen at Dunbar Harbour on 12th April. Last year’s craning-in day was delayed because of the pandemic until August but this year, all was set for the yachts to go back into the water. It was a beautifully sunny day in Dunbar with a big Australian sky, albeit without the heat. The crane is hired by Dunbar Sailing Club and (photo below) it dwarfs everything else in the harbour. The photo shows the harbourside as one of the yachts goes below the wall and into the water. The yacht joins the fishing boats on its right and you can see the many creels which line the side of the harbour. On the hill above the harbour you can see Dunbar Leisure Centre which houses the swimming pool as well as an extensive gym and a large hall for fitness classes. Before this building could be started, there were extensive archaeological diggings (good photos) on the site. These revealed that there had been a settlement here since the Iron Age and that a fortress – perhaps mainly wooden – was here in the 9th century.

Crane at Dunbar Harbour (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

The photo below shows one of the yachts – also seen in the video to follow – nestling into the water and its crane ropes being released. The creels on the left are fairly new, retaining their blue colour and creels are used every day by a number of small fishing boats in the harbour which seek to catch crabs and lobsters in the creels. Above the creels in Dunbar Lifeboat Station (good photos) which holds the RNLI offices and shop. The lifeboat itself is an irregular visitor to the harbour as it is moored at Torness Power Station in permanent deep water. The harbour is tidal and if you look at the harbour walls just below the castle on the right of the photo, you can see the tidemark

Yacht finally reaches the water in Dunbar Harbour

I took the following video in the morning. It retains some of the wind effects although it was not a particularly windy day.

Craning Day in Dunbar

We returned to the harbour in the afternoon and walked around the far side to The Gripps (blog post with photos and video) and when we returned, the bridge separating the harbour from Lamer Island (history) had been raised. Not all of the yachts sit on the harbourside during the winter months and some are moored in the Old Harbour. The video below shows one of the yachts gliding serenely and gracefully under the bridge to its new summer home. You will see that the tide has now come in and the fishing boats in the harbour are much higher in the water.

As we walked back along the harbourside, one of the larger fishing boats, The May Queen (good photo) had just landed some boxes of prawns. In the two photos below, you firstly see the prawns and the paper identification of the boat which landed them. The second photo – a closer up view – has a surreal quality to it and it could be a still from a horror film of writhing pink alien creatures. The shades of pink are manifold and the bright sunshine shows off the sharp claws and the more delicate underbellies of the prawns.

Newly landed prawns
Close up of prawns in Dunbar Harbour

The walls of Dunbar Castle have long been the home for visiting kittiwakes which return each April to nest and rear their chicks. In the past, every ledge of the castle walls was made into a nesting site as the kittiwakes jostled for space. If an adult stood at the foot of the walls, s/he would see a nest and chicks just above their head. Unfortunately, due to the climate emergency, many of the sand eels upon which the kittiwakes feed have moved to colder water and today, only perhaps one-third of the walls have nests. Kittiwakes – scientific name Rissa Tridactyla – are smaller and more delicate, but only in body size, than the resident common gulls and herring gulls in the harbour. I was given a very well illustrated bird book (cover photo) at Xmas time and there is a chapter on kittiwakes in it. An interesting (to me) piece of ornithological trivia is included. Kittiwakes on the North Pacific coast have “a normal gull foot structure with three long, forward pointing toes joined by webs and a smaller, unwebbed hind toe with a claw”. Kittiwakes on our UK coasts do not have a hind toe or it “is reduced to a tiny bump”. Why this toe differential exists “is a mystery”.

I took the video below near the end of our afternoon walk. It shows the nesting kittiwakes, some of which are very lively and you will hear what can sometimes be the raucous, high-pitched cacophony of the birds as they greet returning mates. You can also see the surviving outer and inner walls of the castle, with the first stone castle built in the early 11th century. The pink of the sandstone is not unlike that of the prawns at the harbourside.

That Was the Year That Was …

December 31, 2020

For the final blog of 2020, I’ve been looking back at the posts I have made in the last 12 months. In the 1960s, the TV programme That Was the Week That Was began with a song (video) by Millicent Martin. The first lines were That Was the Week That Was, it’s over, let it go and I am sure that in many parts of the world, people will be saying the same about 2020 – It’s over, let it go – because of the global pandemic. Here in the UK, today saw the announcement that the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved, so there is hope. I have chosen some posts at random over the year.

In February, I reported on a walk I did at Pease Bay which is 11 miles/18K from Dunbar. I wrote:

It is a well known surfing area (good photos) on its popular and attractive beach. At the end of the beach, you come to the amazing red rock section and one geological source describes Pease Bay as “a sandy bay dramatically rimmed by cliffs of Upper Old Red Sandstone strata that dip 25°–35° to the north”. The photo below shows the extent of the rockface and there’s a gentle reflection in the water. When you walk towards this on a sunny day, you can get the feeling that this rock has just been transported from the USA’s midwest.  

The red sandstone rocks and their reflection at Pease Bay

The geological site notes “Red, medium- to coarse-grained, cross- bedded sandstones at Red Rock have silty mudstone interbeds containing yellowish green ribs and coarse sandy layers” and these can be seen in the close up views of the rockface in the photo below. If you look at this as you would an abstract painting, then you might think it could be the work of an Australian aboriginal artist, with the graceful, flowing (albeit cracked) lines of red and white, and the intriguing, moon-like white circle in the middle.

Layers in the Pease Bay rockface (Click to enlarge all photos – recommended)

In April, there was a feature on hyacinths and tulips. I wrote:

My annual attempt to capture the essence of the beautiful tulips now at their resplendent best in my garden carries on. In addition, this year I have hyacinths as last year, my sister bought us some bulbs in a small pot and, having stored them over winter, I planted them out again in a much larger pot. The photo below shows three plants already in full bloom and two others just emerging. I like the way that the flowers change from a dark blue when they are maturing to this graceful light purple colour when fully grown, and there is a contrast between the strong green of the leaves and the delicate shades in the flower heads.

Hyacinths in a large pot

If you take a closer look at some tulips, as in the photo below, you get a better appreciation of the colours on display. What appear to be yellow tulips also have other colours on the outside and inside of the flowers. I like the shadows on the leaves of this group, as they appear to be creeping up the plants towards the tulip heads, which are opening to the sun and increasing the quality of the display. Tulips are bigger and bolder than daffodils and take over from their still beautiful, but mono-coloured neighbours. You get the feeling that the tulips enjoy this superiority of colour.

Tulips and shadows

In July, following the end of the first lockdown, the little yachts in Dunbar harbour were put back in the water. This normally takes place on the first Saturday in April. I wrote:

We walked round to the eastern side of the harbour to get a better view of the craning. The photos below show one of the small yachts being lowered into the water. This is a slow and delicate business, and communication with the crane operator is vital, particularly in the second photo, where the boat is about to go into the water. On view here is the Dunbar Lifeboat (good photos) shed and offices – next to the lowered boat. On the left of the crane, the dark red building with the writing on it is one of the local pubs, the Volunteer Arms (good photos) which has just reopened with the easing of the lockdown. This pub is well known to locals and visitors alike for its real ales and upstairs restaurant.

Boat being lowered into Dunbar harbour
Boat about to hit the water at Dunbar harbour

In September, we enjoyed a fecund harvest in East Lothian. I wrote:

It is early September here in the south east of Scotland and time for the harvest – of barley, wheat and oats – to be brought in. We drove around the countryside yesterday looking for a combine harvester, with no luck until we came up the hill at the historic hamlet of Whittingehame (pr Whitting – Jim). The photo below shows the combine just about to turn around and go back down the hill, churning up the grain as it goes. The photo depicts the East Lothian countryside well, with the extensive woods behind and the large fields, some of which have been already cut. Beyond the trees lie the Lammermuir Hills (good photos) which are a popular walking area. On my bike, this is a steep climb going both ways past Whittingehame and at the top of hill in this photo, there is a private road to the historic Whittingehame House.

Combine harvester at Whittingehame

When I think about songs relating to the harvest, I immediately call to mind Neil Young’s wonderful Harvest Moon (lyrics) with its brilliant, memorable introduction and swaying melody that makes you want to dance. You can see the great man performing the song here.

Neil Young’s Harvest Moon

So despite the pandemic surging across the UK and elsewhere, although not in more prepared countries, 2020 was a year in which we could still enjoy the wonderful environment of where we live around here. My new book – Dunbar in the 1950s – was published and sales have been much higher than I could have expected. All profits got to Dunbar and District History Society and none to me. I am looking forward to more blog postings in 2021. I bought a new phone – a Google Pixel 4a (review) – and it has a much superior camera, so the videos I take next year should be of better quality – pictorially at least. My final task is to wish you all, wherever you may be in the world, A Guid New Year and an illuminating – and vaccinating! – 2021.

Dunbar Harbour on craning -in day (delayed)

July 18, 2020

Each year, normally in the first or second Saturday in April, the sailing club vessels, of difference sizes, are lifted into Dunbar Harbour by a large crane. This is known as craning-in. The boats are then lifted out of the harbour in early October, known – unsurprisingly – as craning-out. The high winds and high tides of winter could do damage to the yachts and small boats, so they are removed in October. This year, craning-in did not take place until this month and the organisers picked a perfect day for it, with Dunbar Harbour looking as it does in the many picture postcards of it. The photo below shows the harbour, with the crane seen on the right hand side, under a blue summer sky, with high, intricately patterned white clouds. The large propeller at the bottom right of the picture, is a tribute to Dunbar man Robert Wilson, whom some claim to be the inventor of the propeller, although this is disputed by others.

Dunbar harbour on craning-in day (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

We walked round to the eastern side of the harbour to get a better view of the craning. The photos below show one of the small yachts being lowered into the water. This is a slow and delicate business, and communication with the crane operator is vital, particularly in the second photo, where the boat is about to go into the water. On view here is the Dunbar Lifeboat (good photos) shed and offices – next to the lowered boat. On the left of the crane, the dark red building with the writing on it is one of the local pubs, the Volunteer Arms (good photos) which has just reopened with the easing of the lockdown. This pub is well known to locals and visitors alike for its real ales and upstairs restaurant.

Boat being lowered into Dunbar harbour
Boat about to hit the water at Dunbar harbour

We then went into The Battery (good photos and history) which was completely refurbished a few years ago and is now an increasingly popular site for visitors to the harbour. The photo below was taken from the wall of The Battery, looking west across the harbour. The enlarged photo will show the wee boat being finally lowered into the water. It was a beautiful summer’s day and the harbour water was glittering in the sunshine. On the right hand side of the photo is the walkway around the harbour, which can be reached only when the bridge (seen in the photo above) is down. So you can stroll along the walkway and around the corner to The Gripps (blog post from May 2020). On the bottom centre and left of the photo are stacks of fishermen’s creels. Dunbar was once a fishing port but the only fish caught now come in the landings of prawns and langoustines brought in by the bigger boats. There are a number of creel boats which land crabs and lobsters. These are in action again now that restaurants have reopened.

Looking across Dunbar harbour from The Battery

The final photo shows the lifeboat parked under the castle walls. Dunbar Castle (good photos) was once one of the strongest castles in Scotland and dates back to the 11th century. It has been a ruin since the late 15th century when parliament ordered that it be cassyne doune and alutterly distroyit. It was finally demolished in the mid 16th century, and only the outer walls and a section of the topmost part remains today. Behind the lifeboat, on the castle walls, you can still see the nesting kittiwakes (Video). The young birds could be clearly seen from under the main wall of the castle and once they are fully fledged, the kittiwakes will leave and go out to sea until returning in 2021. The birds were very noisy on craning-in day and their distinctive call, which sounds like kitt-i-wake, kitt-i-wake could be heard all across the harbour. So a shortened sailing season began for the yachts and boats restored to their watery berths on a warm and very pleasant day in Dunbar.

Dunbar lifeboat under the castle walls

The Hoot and SPLIT: Poems by Juana Adcock

April 28, 2020

Members of the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club (SOC) receive a seasonal online newsletter entitled The Hoot which is put together by Rosie Filipiak, the Communications Officer at SOC. The Hoot’s heading shows a different bird each season and this is the one for this Spring.

The Hoot edited by Rosie Filipiak (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

On of the birds featured in this issue is the bullfinch (link includes bullfinch song) which has the wonderful scientific name of Pyrrhula Pyrrhula. Rosie Filipiak’s description is “Bullfinches are such lovely birds, both sexes with their smart, clearly defined colouring and the male with his gloriously-coloured chest in a difficult to describe bright red/pink/orange hue” and that is as good as I could do. The photo below – Rosie Filipiak gave me permission to download her photos – shows a bullfinch with perhaps some nesting material in its beak – or a captured insect? This is a very graceful looking bird which looks comfortable in its own elegance and I like the contrast between the delicate pink of the chest and the dark blue of its head. The female bullfinch (video) also has different shades on its plumage but the colours are less pronounced.

Bullfinch by Rosie Filipiak

The Hoot includes brief articles and photos by a range of authors. The second one featured here is the eider duck which has the rather serious sounding scientific name of Somateria Mollissima. The name comes from the Greek for body and wool, so the eider duck is seen as having the softest wool. The photo below shows both male and female eider duck and there are no prizes for guessing which is which. We regularly get sets of eider duck in the water at the back of our house and sometimes, when you walk along to Dunbar Harbour, there will be up to 30 male and female eiders in the harbour water. From the harbour side, you can clearly hear the clucking of the females and the whoo-whooing of the males, the latter being quite a comical sound.

Eider duck by Rosie Filipiak

Male eiders have a beautiful light green colour on their necks and this is quite visible when they swim away from you. The photo below hints at this colour but when the sun is on the bird’s neck, the green becomes lighter and more prominent.

Eider duck by Ross Elliott and produced here under the Creative Commons Licence.

The Poetry Book Society’s (PBS) Winter 2019 Choice was Juana Adcock’s debut collection Split. The Guardian reviewer found this collection “unnerving, moving and engrossing” and I would agree with that statement – in parts of the book. Adcock can be a beautifully lyrical poet. In a poem about the Italian Cinque Terre, the land describes itself as “cut into terraces my earth/ hugged together by roots my water/ inking through gaps my stones/ holding together neatly my walls/ tidy in vineyards and olive groves”. The poem – no punctutation – regrets that this pristine land has become a tourist destination in modern times. One of the themes of the book is migration and Adcock adds a very modern aspect to today’s Cinque Terre – “And as the dinghies sink/ and those fleeing from war drown/ wordlessly in my picturesque sea” the Tourist Board is examining how to increase visitor numbers – of tourists that is, not refugees.

I found some of the writing self-indulgent and was not as impressed by the opening section, which is a dialogue between a woman and a snake, although other, and I am sure much more qualified, reviewers raved over this part. The book is also overtly political in parts – and none the less effective for that. In Letters to the Global South, the richer northern hemisphere tells the South “Thank you for sending us your choicest foods/ …. In exchange, please receive these trade agreements/ you never agreed to/ These weapons for small and large-scale kills”. This is of course, a generalisation of the whole northern hemisphere but it is certainly relevant to some countries.

There is also humour in the book and Adcock, who is Mexican and has lived in Glasgow since 2007, amusingly but tellingly compares different languages – Spanish, English and Scots dialect. The poet reflects “Reading Scots on the page, to me/ a non-native of these lands/ is a bit like trying to read an architect’s plans”. The poet listens to Scottish people talking with ” their ars rolling around the muirs/ their els liltin and birlin over the water/ … their ees stretching my face bones higher/ … their liquid ues in the muine-moon” – very clever. It reminded me of living in Australia and doing timing at Wagga Wagga Road Runners, with people mimicking my accent and asking “Where’s the booook James?” as they came to sign in. So I would recommend Split – just don’t believe all the hype.

Kittie Jones and Jane Smith exhibition: Gannets, Kittiwakes, Dunlin and Fieldfares

May 21, 2019

The current exhibition at SOC in Aberlady which ends on 22 May, so unfortunately not much time left to see it, features 2 artists well worth seeking out in future exhibitions around the country. The prints below were donated to SOC by the artists and permission for their use here was given via SOC’s exhibition coordinator. According to the SOC handout, Kittie Jones is ” a painter and printmaker, producing small edition screen prints, unique multi-layered monotypes, charcoal and ink drawings and mixed media paintings on paper”. The first example of Kittie Jones’ work is entitled Gannet colony Bass Rock and is a depiction of the impressive gannets both close up and circling round the volcanic mass that forms the Bass Rock (good photos). What is interesting about this work is the way in which the gannets are outlined in some detail but we see them not as we usually do, with elegantly smooth white feathers and bright silvery beak, but as a series of interconnecting lines. The birds on view at the front of the picture are almost transparent. In a reflection on this work (scroll down to Kittie Jones), the artist writes ” Out of my scribbled, silvery lines began to emerge the soft ovular heads and heavy geometric bodies of these enigmatic sea-geese”. It is a stunning portrayal of the two birds, deep in concentration.

Kittie Jones’ gannets on the Bass Rock

The second example shows nesting kittiwakes just along the road from us at Dunbar harbour. Again, this is not a fully naturalistic portrayal of the birds, although their shape and the patterns on their plumage are expertly outlined. The background of the untidy nests, the white guano on the rocks and the jagged rocks themselves are eye-catching, with artist’s use of a graphite pencil as well as other tools. You also get a sense of the vertiginous cliffs upon which the kittiwakes nest. Unfortunately, the kittiwake population in Dunbar and other places is in decline. You can see some of my photos of the kittiwakes in this previous blog post.

Kittiwakes by Kittie Jones

The second artist featured is Jane Smith and the handout tells us that she “started her career as a wildlife film maker for the BBC Natural History Unit and National Geographic, winning an Emmy for her work”. Jane Smith’s work is different from that of Kittie Jones but the two artists do complement each other in the exhibition. The first example of Smith’s work is a brightly coloured depiction of dunlin, and they are small wading birds which we used to see in some numbers along the shore at Dunbar, but are very seldom spotted these days. Dunlin have the attractive sounding scientific name of calidris aplina and Jane Smith’s print is also joyful, with a display by a male bird, trying to entice a female into courtship. You can see a live depiction of the display here. This print is a series of patches of colour – on the birds and on the flowers in the background. I like the sharpness of the lines and shapes in the birds’ beaks, tail feathers and legs. It is an imagined, almost cartoonish depiction of the birds, so there is a slightly surreal quality to the print. It certainly is very impressive when seen in full size at the exhibition.

Displaying dunlin by Jane Smith

The second example of Janes Smith’s work below shows fieldfares , which have the unfortunate scientific name of turdus pilaris, feeding on berries. This print attracts you immediately because of the contrast in the colours – the bright red berries, the delicate blue of the birds’ head and the sharp black of the birds’ markings and the tree branches. It is also a very active print, with the top bird hanging on to the branch while clutching the red berry in its mouth, and the bird at the bottom flying off with its food. Again, this is not a literal depiction of the fieldfares but the artist’s impression of the birds. It is no less effective for that and this is a print which bears looking at closely to see, for example, the determined look of the birds for whom feeding is a serious business.

Fieldfares by Jane Smith

The next exhibition at SOC – Over land and sea features both artists and sculptors i.e. artists Tim Wootton, Darren Rees and Daniel Cole, and a sculptor, Simon Griffiths. It will be well worth visiting if you are in the area from 26 May to 3 July 2019.

Spring tide in Dunbar and Caroline Jackman’s prints

March 24, 2019

Two days before the full moon this week, we had a huge tide in Dunbar, with the waves ripping along the coast and smashing into the rocks nearby. From my house, I could see that the waves were performing Fosbury Flops over the harbour wall, so I went along to try to capture the biggest of them. When I got to the harbour, the water was almost to the top of the main harbour, with the occasional splash along the walkway. I was standing opposite the large harbour wall which protects it from the worst of the elements. It is quite a long wall and the waves were coming over at various points, so I had to be quick – or lucky – to capture the action. In the photo below, the sun caught the wave as it leapt up into the sky above the wall and the wave looks as if it has merged with the clouds behind it. There was quite a severe undulation in the water in the harbour and at times the water rose to nearly the top of the stairs that you can see below the harbour wall.

Pink wave over the harbour wall in Dunbar (Click on all photos to enlarge)

The next photo captures a double over-the-wall splash – synchronised wave leaping. There is still a hint of pink in the waves and I like the variety of blues in the clouds above. What these photos do not show is the noise of the waves hitting the wall and pouring down the other side, on to the steps of the wall, then on to the walkway and then into the harbour itself.

Double action waves at Dunbar harbour

Looking back at earlier blog posts and identifying previous photos of spectacular tide events at Dunbar harbour, I found the photo below – from 2010. This was taken in the summer or early autumn, as the dinghies and yachts are still in the harbour. It is impressive how the waves completely dominate the scene and make the yachts look smaller. Meanwhile, in this photo you can see a group of male and female eider duck, who swam nonchalantly up and down the harbour, ignoring the action above them. The ducks have the splendid scientific name of Somateria Mollissima, which sounds as if it could be an Italian opera.

2 huge masses of seawater over the harbour wall

As a Xmas present, my wife’s sister and partner gave us a Caroline Jackman print as a present. It now hangs on the wall in the room where I write. The print – photo below – has very striking lines on the bird itself and on the foliage surrounding it. There is also an abstract quality to some of the print e.g. in the patterns on the leaves and on the bird’s back. The use of colour here – in clearly defined blocks – gives the image an unusual effect. I also think that there is a wonderful flow to the print which takes your eye both down the bird and down its subtle green environment. The more you look at this print – as I do daily – the more patterns you see. It is a very impressive piece of art and a very welcome present.

Caroline Jackman print

Caroline Jackman sent me some of her other work, one of which is featured below. I admired this work because of the delicacy of the colours and the vibrancy in the painting, both in the strutting?dancing? cockerel and in the streamer-like lines in the background. This is a vivacious, multi-coloured cockerel, with flamboyant tail feathers perhaps being used to entice females of the species to mate with him. There’s also a surreal quality to the background, as if this cockerel is so smart that he is walking above the clouds. This is a very stylish painting which demonstrates the range of this consummate artist’s vision, skills and talent.

Painting by Caroline Jackman