Posts Tagged ‘frozen’

Snowdrops in the snow at Smeaton Lake and how the ice changed the views across the lake.

March 2, 2021

The day before the thaw after the recent cold spell, we went to Smeaton Lake which is about 6 miles/10K from Dunbar. I wrote about this interesting place two year ago on the blog. The conditions between then and our recent visit could not be more contrasting. Most of the ground below the trees was covered in snow and the lake was frozen solid. The snowdrops had emerged before the snow but, being the hardy plants that they are, ignored the freezing conditions and put on a display. The photo below shows the delicate green stems and perfectly formed heads of the snowdrops. Alice Oswald’s words are very appropriate here. “Yes, she’s no more than a drop of snow/ on a green stem…. But what a beauty, what a mighty power/ of patience kept intact is now in flower”. This graceful flower – Galanthus Nivalis – is also known as February Fair-Maid (Tennyson) and Candlemas Bell in this interesting article in The Independent.

Snowdrops and ice at Smeaton Lake (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

As you walk along the path – mostly clear and ice-free on our visit – there are little clumps of snowdrops huddled together. Then you come to an open area where there is a plethora of white bells on display. The photo below – from 2019 – shows what you can normally see. The photo below that shows that the snowdrops were surrounded by snow and you did not get the impression of a white blanket of flower heads as in the 2019 photo. In fact, you were more aware of the greenery on the snowdrops than in the snow-free photo. In the second photo, I like the way that the remnants of autumn and winter can be seen – the brown leaf on the far right apparently partially wrapped around the snowdrops, as if it is protecting them – and the skeletal remains of a dead fern, collapsed on to the ground as if felled by lightning.

Snowdrops at Smeaton Lake – no snow
Snowdrops, leaves and dead ferns at Smeaton Lake

The lake itself was almost completely frozen solid, apart from a few spots near the edge. One consequence of this was that there were no reflections from the trees, apart from where you could see narrow strips of water. Two years ago, it was different. If you compare the two photos below – the first from 2019 and the second from 2021 – you will see that the vibrant colours of the trees and the sky reflected in the water in 2019 have been replaced by a fairly colourless grey and white. Of course, there is beauty in both photos – in the verdant green of the overhanging fir branches in 2019 and in the bare, entangled branches in 2021.

Tree reflections at Smeaton Lake
Frozen surface on Smeaton Lake

Further on along the south bank of the lake, looking across the ice cap on the water, you could see (photo below) what look like the footprints of an animal which has crossed from one side of the lake to the other. Also in this photo, you can see the thicker ice in the middle of the lake and the greyer, presumably thinner ice below the trees. Here we were sheltered from the east wind and well rugged up, so it felt less cold, despite the snow on the bank and the smooth, glide-able, skate-able but utterly frozen layer if ice on the water.

Footprints on the ice at Smeaton Lake

At the end of the walk, I turned to take the photo below, looking back down the lake. It is an uplifting view, with the tall, multi-variety trees on the far bank – a mixture of evergreen and deciduous; the shiny green, middle-whitened leaves on the left, the snow on the bank and as before, the contrasting grey and white ice. I wondered what would happen if I had stepped on to the white ice. Could I walk – or slide – across to the other side i.e. the ice would be thick enough to take my weight? Needless to say, I did not take part in this ice-stress test.

Looking back over Smeaton Lake

Once again, if you contrast the view above with the view below – taken from the same point – you might be mistaken for thinking that you were in another place altogether. The tall, bare trees on the opposite bank were more frost-laden than this year and cast ghost-like reflections in the water. It was as if the strict Puritan ice had taken over and forbidden the appearance of the more gaudy Cavalier reflections. You could walk around this lake – and do take the opportunity if you are in the area – a thousand times and never have exactly the same views or the same experience. That’s why we will come back.

Looking back down Smeaton Lake

Wind blown Gifford trees and James Ellroy’s This Storm

July 10, 2020

A couple of Sundays ago, we drove up to the bonnie village of Gifford (good photos). There was a very strong south westerly wind and I was drawn to the swaying of the trees as we walked around the village. At times, when the wind was whooooshing through the trees, it made a similar sound to the waves on a big-swell sea day. I was also interested in capturing the variety of trees on show in the village and the multitude of shades of green. The first photo was taken at the village park and as it is a still image, you will have to imagine the trees swaying in the wind, almost as if they were keeping time with some music unavailable to the human ear.

Swaying trees at Gifford park. (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

From the park, we walked towards the river across the main road and on this side of the street, there are some large sandstone houses which are shielded by trees of different kinds. The photo below shows one of these impressive, multiple-windowed, red sandstone houses. On show in front of the house are tall trees, both deciduous and evergreen, towering over the smaller trees and bushes below. Again – note the numerous shades of green across the photo.

Impressive house behind the trees in Gifford

Walking up the avenue which eventually leads to the path to the former railway station, we came across this fir tree (photo below) which had sprouted large cones all across its branches. You associate cones with the autumn, when they fall to the ground and not with July, so this seemed a strange site. In some ways, this is an inelegant tree, with its branches sticking out at angles and the top of the tree looking like a dishevelled shelter in a forest. On the other hand, it has its own beauty and grace and I thought it looked like a very relaxed tree.

Hanging cones in Gifford

Just before we got back to the car park, we crossed the river again. The photo below shows the river, which is quite low at the moment, almost hidden beneath the lushness of the trees. On view is also a superb copper beech tree at the far end. The second photo below was taken at the end of December 2019 and shows almost the same scene. The contrast is startling between the frozen garden and riverside and the white, sterile-looking branches overhanging the river, and the dazzling array of greens in the first photo.

I have recently finished James Ellroy‘s doorstop of a novel – This Storm (review). The story is set in Los Angeles in 1942 and it is a tale of corruption, crime, extreme right wing politics and internal city and federal police intrigue. Ellroy’s style sets out to tell the story at a fast rate with short staccato sentences, portraying Los Angeles as a city of sleaze e.g. police run brothels where two lots of people pay – one to participate and the other to watch the participants. Ellroy is not to everyone’s taste, both as a novelist and as a provocative person. There is extreme violence in parts of the book, especially against the Japanese residents who are being rounded up by the police after Pearl harbour.

The protagonist is Dudley Smith, an Irish police sergeant in L.A. who is multiply corrupt himself but tries to solve three crimes involving a range of characters including other corrupt police and politicians on the make. You either like Ellroy’s roller coaster stories which show the dark side of the city, or they appal you and you would give this book up after a few chapters. There does not seem to be readers who can take or leave Ellroy. I have read a number of Ellroy’s books and enjoy them for their style, the intriguing plots and larger than life characters. This Storm is a follow up to Perfidia and, for the first time reading one of this author’s books, I began to think – at times – that I read a particular scene before. This may be because some of the same characters, such as Dudley Smith, turn up in a number of Ellroy’s novels. If you enjoy reading a book in which all the characters are guilty of avarice and some form of corruption, but is fast moving and has many interesting men and women – including real ones like Orson Welles – then this is for you and it comes highly recommended.

Scottish Birds cover and last post for 2017

December 25, 2017

Through the post recently came the latest copy of Scottish Birds which I receive as a member of the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club (SOC). I was struck by the front and back covers which I think are possibly the most attractive of the year. The journal contains articles on in-depth research on birds in Scotland – their numbers, their habitat and trends in population. There are also shorter articles on rare sightings of visiting birds. I have to admit that I don’t read the research articles in full, but I particularly enjoy the photographs of birds which accompany the articles. I don’t count myself as a birder as I don’t do any serious bird watching. Please don’t use the term twitcher for bird watchers as this is regarded as pejorative, a bit like referring to serious runners as joggers or The Inuit as Eskimos. I’ve been given permission to scan and use the covers by the good people who run SOC. The front cover below shows a water pipit which was photographed at Skateraw, which is along the coast from Dunbar and on one of my mountain bike cycling routes in the winter. The article on this bird stated that is has a “prominent pale supercilium”  – unfamiliar terminology to me. Looking it up, supercilium (good illustrations) is “also commonly referred to as “eyebrow” — is a stripe which starts above the bird’s loral area (area between beak and eyes), continuing above the eye, and finishing somewhere towards the rear of the bird’s head”. Loral area is more new terminology. The scanned photo is not as clear as the journal cover photo, but you can see that this is a strikingly attractive bird, with its sharp beak which has a lightning streak of yellow, its pale plumage neatly folded to keep out the rain, its blacksmith crafted legs and feet, and black snooker ball eye.

Scottish birds front

Scottish Birds front cover (Click on all photos to enlarge)

The back cover has this photo of a Spotted Crake, captured at Doonfoot, near Ayr. This bird has the wonderful scientific name of Porzana, Porzana and there is a short video of the bird at this location here. While the spotted crake does not (I think) have the elegance of the water pipit, as it has a patchwork-looking foliage, it does have a fascinating beak, with what looks like a small boat on the upper part. As with the pipit, the spotted crake’s eye is prominent and alert to food in the water. Of course, the bird’s reflection and the reflection of the reeds by the water add much to this well composed photo.

Scottish Birds back

Scottish Birds back cover

This is the last post of 2017 as your blogger is taking a rest over the New Year, to return reinvigorated in early 2018. So where did 2017 go? Or 2007 or 1997 or ….? In a flash is the answer. Looking back on my extensive range of photos for 2017 and earlier blog posts, I recall the colours and reflections in a rockpool at Seacliff Beach on New year’s Day.


Vibrant colours and reflections at Seacliff Beach

In May, it was the smooth lines of the tattie dreels that drew my attention. Soon after, the first sign of green shaws appeared and before we knew it, September was well under way and the tattie machine was lifting the crop. This field is now a vibrant green, with the spring wheat coming through.


Smooth tattie dreels near Dunbar

Smooth tattie dreels near Dunbar

In September, the Tour of Britain came our way again and I was up Redstone Rig with my cycling pals – and many other cyclists – to see the peloton approach the big hill, with the rolling country side of East Lothian in the background.


Peloton at the top of Redstone Rig

Then I blinked and it was December and Seafield Pond was frozen over on a very bright, sunny and freezing cold day.


Seafield Pond frozen over


If my letter to Santa has been received and the white bearded reindeer driver is in a good mood, I may return with a brand new DLSR camera, with a video function. I’m off to leave out carrots for the reindeer and a large dram of Bunnahabhain for the man. I wish you all the very best for the festive season and a Guid New Year when it comes.

Re-reading Thomas Hardy and walk to Seafield Pond and West Barns Bridge

December 17, 2017

Recently, I’d come to the end of the new books I’d bought and, looking along my bookshelves, I picked up a copy of Thomas Hardy short stories (cover below). I bought this book in the mid 1970s and opening the book and starting to read the first story The Three Strangers, I was immediately taken back to Hardy’s eloquent and flowing style. The story begins “Among the few features of agricultural England which retain an appearance little modified by the centuries, may be reckoned the long, grassy and furzy downs, coombes or ewe-leases, as they are called, according to their kind, that fill a large area of certain counties in the south and south west”. What struck me was the length of the sentence – typical of nineteenth century writers like Hardy – and the local words used by the writer. “Furzy downs” are stretches of rural land covered in what we might call gorse and a “coomb” is a deep valley. More explanations here. In his excellent introduction to the short stories, the novelist John Wain wrote that Hardy once said that a short story “must be unusual and the people interesting”. Wain also notes that Hardy’s short stories are unlike more modern versions, which tend have a single theme around which a tale is told. In Hardy’s stories, such as “The Withered Arm” or “The Distracted Preacher” the reader is presented with different characters, some of whom have their own intriguing tales to tell. It is the context of the stories – rural Dorset in the early to mid-nineteenth century – that distinguishes them from even contemporary short fiction. The isolated cottage in “The Three Strangers” or the village in “The Grave by the Handpost” where ” a lane crosses the lone straight highway dividing this from the next parish” and where “the whispers of this spot may claim to be preserved”. There are also echoes of Hardy’s novels in the stories such as the character William Dewy of Mellstock and the town of Casterbridge. Hardy is a superb story teller and in each story, the reader is given an early indication of what might be to follow. In “The Withered Arm”, the setting is “an eighty cow dairy” in the early evening and, with most of the cattle milked “there was opportunity for a little conversation. “He do bring home his bride tomorrow, I hear. They’ve come as far as Anglebury today”. Hardy continues “The voice seemed to come from the belly of the cow called Cherry, but the speaker was a milking-woman, whose face was buried in the flank of that motionless beast”. The reader knows the setting and is intrigued by the conversation. I have enjoyed reading these stories again after many years and I encourage you to try them.


Short stories by Thomas Hardy (Click on all photos to enlarge)

There’s a good 2 mile (3.2k) walk from our house to Seafield Pond (good photo)  and West Barns bridge. The most picturesque route is firstly to  Dunbar Harbour (historical photos), then along Winterfield Promenade and on round part of the picturesque Winterfield Golf Club. I was headed for Seafield Pond first, to try to get some more photos of the pond and its birds. A previous attempt can be seen here. When I got to the pond, it was frozen over and not a bird to be seen, just some bits of wood from the nearby trees stuck to the ice. There was however, a nice reflection (see below) from the adjacent caravan/mobile home park, where you can now hire a “Deluxe running water wigwam with WC” – what next?


Seafield Pond at Belhaven, near Dunbar

The birds were all on the beach over the wall but firstly I walked along to West Barns bridge, which spans the Biel Burn (small river). It was a very sunny day and the previous night’s sharp frost can be seen on the entrance to the bridge here.


West Barns bridge and the Biel Burn

Because of the position of the sun in the early afternoon, there was a superb reflection in the water below the bridge, with the brilliant blue water becoming paler and paler as the sun caught it fully on the bend of the river. This part of the Biel Burn is where the fresh water meets the incoming tide.


West Barns bridge

I know a few people – of a certain age – who spent quite a bit of their youth on the Biel Burn guddling for trout, and they each have their own secret method. This is a form of fishing in which the potential fish catcher does not use a rod or a net, but his/her fingers to catch the trout. I’m assured by two former poachers that it is an art and not a science, and that an expert guddler is born with a gift. There’s a PhD in there somewhere for a dedicated scholar e.g.  “Guddling: A phenomenological analysis”. Guddling was – and probably still is – carried out in shaded areas, such as at the tree line end of this photo.


Guddling spot near the trees on the Biel Burn

It was on my way back along what is known as the Dump Road as there used to be a council tip nearby, I tried to capture some of the birds on the beach and on the water on Belhaven Bay. I was using my zoom lens and it’s difficult to get very clear photos without a camera stand. The two best were firstly, a redshank on the move, with some nice reflections of the rocks and the vegetation.


Redshank amongst the rocks and grass at Belhaven Bay

I’m more pleased with the second photo, which is of a curlew flying off across the water. While the beak is not all that clear, I do like the light on one wing and the shadow on the other, plus the reflection in the water. I used my Sports setting for this one.


Curlew flying over Belhaven Bay with the tide in

So a very rewarding walk on a cold but bright day and on the way back I reflected how lucky I am to live in such an entrancing environment.