Posts Tagged ‘St Abbs head’

Back to St Abbs and Spring flowers (2)

March 26, 2017

On Sunday, another visit to one of our favourite places, St Abbs Head (good photos), featured many times on this blog. It’s a small village but you can vary your walks and views nearby and always see something just a bit different from the last time. We parked at the National Trust car park and walked down past the farm on our left, which had a shed full of sheep just about to lamb. We saw some lambs in a nearby field and I managed to capture them amongst some shapely reflections of the trees.

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Lambs at St Abbs (Click to enlarge)

We went up the first part of the cliff top walk – going west to east – but only wanted a short walk, so we didn’t go any further. On the way back, you look across the to village of St Abbs Head, past the ragged shaped outcrop of rock (Photo below). It made me wonder whether, in a hundred or two hundred years, that rock column, sculpted by the weather, will still be there. It’s a superb view, taking in the harbour and all the houses built on the once empty cliffs above. There was only a gentle swell on the sea that day, with the waves edging slowly around the rocks, and not crashing over them as they often do.

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Rock column and St Abbs Head village

The next photo is from an angle I don’t think I’ve taken a shot from before. It is looking back across the edge of the harbour towards the clifftop walk, with the impressive Northfield House prominent on the cliff. The rock column in the photo above is just to the top right of this photo. Behind the house on the left with the red roof, with chimneys at either end (like the house to its right), there is a wooden staircase which leads you up to the impressive St Abbs Visitor Centre, which is well worth a visit.

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View across St Abbs Head arbour to the cliff walk

We walked back to the car park and, at the end of the farm buildings, I came across a trailer load of neeps – see photo below. In Scotland, we call them neeps or turnips. In England, they are called Swedes. What people in other parts of Britain call turnips, which are much smaller than neeps, we call white turnips. Around Dunbar, you will also hear people referring to Tumshies, another name for neeps/Swedes/turnips. Very confusing? For your amusement, but maybe not illumination, read this excellent Guardian article on the subject.

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A trailer load of neeps at St Abbs Head.

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Close up of neeps at St Abbs Head

And so to the second reflection on Spring flowers. In many towns in Scotland, councils in recent years have greatly expanded the planting of Spring flowers and it is not unusual to see great swathes of bright yellow and white crocuses at the entrance to these towns. Councils also planted thousand of daffodils and it is they which now take centre stage, as the crocuses have faded. There is something uplifting about seeing large groups of daffodils and I think Wordsworth had something to say on the topic in two versions (see website). I took a photo of daffodils on a banking at The Glebe in Dunbar. This small park overlooks the sea and the harbour entrance. The photo looks towards the remains of Dunbar Castle(good photos).

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Daffodils on a banking The Glebe, Dunbar

My aim every year is to take very clear close-up photos of flowers, to get to the heart of them and look at them as abstract shapes as well as attractive flowers. In the first photo below, I took two contrasting daffodils, one with white petals and one with yellow petals. They are both enchanting flowers but maybe the white petals emphasise the yellow, choir boys’ ruff of the flower’s centre more. Both have delicate stigma which thrust out to attract the pollen seekers. They are like mini corn on the cob with extensions.

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Two daffodils in my garden

In the final photo, I like the delicate folds in the prawn cracker petals and the ragged edge of the flower is similar to the rock face above at St Abbs. Also, the colour in the flower is not uniformly yellow but contains various shades, making it even more attractive.

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Yellow and white daffodil in my garden

 

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The Bone Seeker, views of St Abbs and the Number Four gallery

December 6, 2016

I’ve just finished reading M J McGrath’s  The Bone Seeker, a crime novel set in the Canadian arctic. This is a crime novel with interesting characters, including the heroine Edie Kiglatuk, a teacher who is seconded to help the police solve the mystery of a local girl’s murder. One the key “characters” in this novel is the arctic itself as well as the local Inuit culture. McGrath introduces us to Inuit words like  qualunaat – white people and avasirnguluk – elder, to create a convincing environment for her story. The history of the exploitation of the Inuit by outsiders, such as the US and Canadian governments, is  covered but with a light touch. McGrath is a story teller and the plot is well-paced. The reader does get a real sense of how people live in this (to most of us) extreme climate. Most of the novel is set in the summer where darkness is absent and the endless light can prevent people from sleeping, but winter approaches fast near the end of the novel and the transformation of the land and sea is well portrayed. Perhaps the ending features too much action in a short space of time in this book where the story builds to a complex conclusion. This is not just a book for readers of crime novels, so get it if you can.

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The Bone Seeker by M J McGrath

Regular readers will know that my wife and I visit St Abbs Head on a regular basis and these visits have featured on this blog many times. This visit was on a very cold and frosty Sunday morning but the sky was huge and Australian blue. Leaving the car parked at the number four art gallery (of which more later), into which my wife ventured, I walked along the path which leads to another path, which leads to one of the cliff-top walks. In this photo, you can see the cliffs in the distance, with sheep in the field and before that rows of winter wheat, which are a delicious green in the winter sun.

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Looking towards the cliff-tops at St Abbs Head

I crossed the road towards the village, with a large field on my right and the disused church at the top of the hill. What I liked about the field (photo below) was the bright yellow of the grasses at the edge of the field, and the way your eyes are drawn to the lines in the field, both the narrow crop lines and the wider tractor tracks. All seem to lead to the now abandoned church on the hill. The pink-tinctured clouds are also attractive.

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Stubble field at St Abbs Head

Across the road is the imposing Northfield House, with its head of St Ebba above the gates. I’ve photographed the gates from front-on and the head in close up before, but I’ve never taken a side-on shot of the entrance. In this photo, the impressive stone entrance is shown off by the field and sky. There is a large walled garden here, part of which is in view.

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Side view of the entrance to Northfield House in St Abbs Head

I walked to the St Abbs Visitor Centre (open March-October) and looking down to the harbour, I saw a strange sight – a tractor was reversing into the harbour. On a second look, I could see that the two yellow poles behind it were part of a platform. One of the wee fishing boats reversed and sailed gently on to the tractor’s trailer.

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Tractor in St Abbs Harbour

I walked back to the car in the fading afternoon light and you could feel the cold deepening, ready to freeze anything that didn’t keep moving. We’ve been to the number four art gallery many times over the years and have bought paintings and glassware for our home and for presents. With my camera at hand (and this blog already in mind) I took some photos, with permission. The gallery is part of a very well maintaned stone built row of what presumably were farm buildings and has a very attractive entrance – photo below.

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number four gallery in St Abbs

The inside of the gallery (photos below) is bright, well laid out and encourages you to walk around to view the paintings – some superb landscapes were on view on our visit – prints, glassware, ceramics, sculpture and jewellery. See examples here.  One of the reasons many people revisit this gallery is the warm welcome given by the staff, who are very helpful, informative but unobtrusive. The original works available here are of excellent value, so pay a visit if you are in the area.

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Inside number four gallery in St Abbs

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Inside number four gallery in St Abbs

Jane Smith exhibition and a different look at Coldingham Beach

March 12, 2016

The new exhibition at Waterston House, the home of the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club is by wildlife artist Jane Smith. We visited this very impressive exhibition and could see why Jane Smith is an award-winning artist. I got in contact with Jane Smith and she kindly gave me permission to download 2 examples of her work, which are shown below. What impressed me most about this exhibition – mainly of screen prints – were the shapes, of both the birds and the background, and in some cases, the shapes of the birds’ wings are replicated in the background sea and hills. So there is an abstract quality to some of the works on display, while in others, there is a fairly true representation of the bird but with melodious lines and curves both on the bird and in the water behind. This is shown vividly in  The Great Northern Diver, shown below.

Jane Smith Great Northern Diver

The Great Northern Diver by Jane Smith

In her prize winning portrait of diving gannets – Fishing Frenzy – shown below, there is a dramatic representation of the gannets entering water, with their bodies narrowing, and their concentrated focus on the fish. Again, the shapes – and this time, the colours, stand out. If you can get to this exhibition, it’s a must see. You can also see Jane Smith’s book Wild Island in which the author writes about a year in Oronsay and accompanies her fascinating text with a variety of paintings and prints.

Jane Smith Fishing Frenzy

Fishing Frenzy by Jane Smith

We haven’t ventured down to St Abbs Head and Coldingham Beach for a good while, so last Sunday – a clear, bright but cold day – we parked at the Nature Centre and walked down to the harbour and along to Coldingham Beach. I’ve posted photos of this beach and its surrounds on this blog before but this time, I pointed my camera in different directions. From the harbour, I took a photo of Northfield House which sits proudly on the headland. In the 19th century, the house was bought by an Edinburgh brewer and has recently been refurbished.

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Northfield House St Abbs Head

Going along the coastal path to Coldingham Beach, I looked back over the harbour, the centrepiece of which is the now defunct Lifeboat Station, which closed last year, despite a determined campaign by locals. The sea was quite rough and, perhaps with my knowledge of its closure, I thought that the Station looked forlorn.

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Looking back on the Lifeboat Station at St Abbs Head

On to the beach itself and there have been some dramatic changes over the years to the west side of the beach. Firstly, a large and impressive new house The Pavilion has been built on derelict land. Secondly, to the left of that house, the garden of the Dunlaverock House has been beautifully developed. Thirdly, there has been a dramatic transformation in the quality of the beach huts at Coldingham Sands. All three changes are in the photos below.

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Beach huts, The Pavilion and Dunlaverock House at Coldingham Sands

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Beach huts, The Pavilion and Dunlaverock House garden at Coldingham Sands

As there was a big swell on the sea, the surfers were out in force and I counted 12 of them, some of whom were standing on their boards and gliding effortlessly towards the shore. There’s a video of Coldingham surfing here.

Six little terns, wintry St Abbs harbour and green shoots

December 16, 2015

I’m reading the new Poetry Book Society ChoiceLes Murray‘s Waiting for the Past. Murray’s poems are dense with images and he has the poet’s knack of reducing into a few words what the rest of us would need a paragraph to explain. One of the early poems in the book is entitled Dynamic Rest:

Six little terns

feet gripping sand

on a windy beach

 

six more just above

white with opened wings

busy exchange of feet

 

reaching down lifting off

terns rising up through terms

all quivering parallel

 

drift ahead and settle

bracing their eyes

against the brunt of wind

So we have four short verses and like all the poems in this book, you need to read and re-read to gain an insight into the depth of what the poems is about and what happens in the poem. The title is an oxymoron in that dynamic and rest appear to be contradictory. My English teacher at school, Mrs McKie, would be impressed that I remembered the term oxymoron. The terns are “resting” on the beach and in the air, and in the last verse, they “settle”. Murray imagines the birds – I assume that you cannot see birds “bracing their eyes” – perhaps narrowing their eyes in the face of a strong (and cold?) wind. The last phrase is “the brunt of wind” i.e. not the brunt of the wind, suggesting a forceful and unpleasant wind for the birds. The wind also affects the birds on the ground as their feet have to grip the sand. So the poem is dynamic, with “terns rising up through terns” and there is constant movement in this attempt at rest. Murray’s white terns are common in Australia and have striking blue/black beaks and black eyes.

White tern (Public domain photo from http://www.ozanimals.com/Bird/White-Tern/Gygis/alba.html)

White tern (Public domain photo from http://www.ozanimals.com/Bird/White-Tern/Gygis/alba.html)

We drove down to St Abbs Head on Sunday on a cold and damp winter’s day. It was grey all day and dark in the morning until 8am and dark again at 4pm. Despite this, we were well rugged up for a short walk, there was still plenty to see. The harbour, which still contains the now defunct lifeboat station, has fewer boats, with some on the shore for maintenance (see photos). The sea, of course, never stops and the waves were gently caressing the sea walls – the wind was light and south westerly, so no dramatic coastal scene on Sunday, but the sea still looked cold. There were some people about but you felt an absence – of tourists, divers and fishermen that throng the harbour in the summer.

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

Before walking to the harbour, we parked at the Nature Centre and visited the excellent Number Four Gallery. On the way to the gallery, I remarked that it would not be long until we saw snowdrops here. Looking down at the leaf strewn ground, there was no sign of growth, but when I pushed back some leaves, the green shoots of the snowdrops were well above the ground – see photo. I pushed the leaves back over the stems for protection. I remembered the final lines of Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind – “O Wind, / If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”. Apparently not, as the snowdrop growth looked strong and healthy and the green provided a good contrast to the ever-fading leaves from the trees, although some ivy leaves were still green.

Emerging snowdrops at St Abbs Head

Emerging snowdrops at St Abbs Head

Visit to Cove and harvest time in the Dunbar area

September 9, 2015

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

Cove memorial to lost fishermen

Cove memorial to lost fishermen

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

Cove harbour at low tide

Cove harbour at low tide

Cove harbour at low tide

Cove harbour at low tide

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

Cove harbour cottages and harbour wall

Cove harbour cottages and harbour wall

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

Dust storm from combine harvester

Dust storm from combine harvester

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

Combine harvester filling a tractor with grain

Combine harvester filling a tractor with grain

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

Close up of ripened grain

Close up of ripened grain

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

Grain on the road

Grain on the road

Spring day in Edinburgh and Easter Sunday walk

April 7, 2015

At last, Spring has arrived in Scotland and while the tulips, daffodils, crocuses and primroses have been out for a couple of weeks, the has been a definite lack of warmth. At the weekend, temperatures rose to an enjoyable 14 degrees. Now, obviously, if you are reading this in certain parts of the world, you may shiver at the thought of 14 degrees but for us, it’s a welcome doubling of the temperature from the last 3 weeks. On Saturday I was in Edinburgh to meet my 2 pals for a lunchtime beer or two and then we went to the football (aka soccer). It’s too painful to write about the latter but we enjoyed drinking Village Idiot real ale in Robbie’s bar. Earlier, I had a walk in the centre of town along Princes Street Gardens which have been transformed from a winter scene with an ice rink and German Market, into a spring flower showcase. There is now a profusion of daffodils, polyanthus and wallflower. The 3 photos below (taken on my phone) show two new polyanthus rings above the gardens, a view along the gardens to the west end of Princes St and a bed of pansies above the hedge lined walks in the gardens. All year round, this is a multilingual area and you hear several languages in a small stretch of the walk.

Circular polyanthus beds in Edinburgh

Circular polyanthus beds in Edinburgh

View west along Princes St Gardens

View west along Princes St Gardens

Looking down on to Princes St Gardens

Looking down on to Princes St Gardens

We woke up yesterday morning – Easter Sunday – to a bit of a haar and the harbour and most of the north sea had disappeared. It quickly cleared and we set of south to our frequent haunt of St Abbs Head, featured many times on this blog but there’s always a slightly different experience. As there was a slight east wind, we walked the circular route (photos here) around the cliffs from east to west. As it was the holiday weekend, it was much busier than normal but it’s a friendly as well as a scenic walk and most people passing each other say hello. The haar was covering the village of St Abbs but the coastal walk was clear and sunny. The first photo (click to enlarge for best effect) shows the village just peaking above the haar. We walked along the high clifftops and past rocks once again covered with guillemots. This is lambing time in Scotland and we passed at least 3 flocks of sheep, one on the steep hillside (2nd photo) and another where a mother was feeding her lamb (3rd photo).

Haar covering St Abbs village

Haar covering St Abbs village

Sheep on the hill above the gorse at St Abbs Head

Sheep on the hill above the gorse at St Abbs Head

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Robin and Yellowcraig

February 6, 2015

After a walk at St Abbs Head, I was back at the car changing from walking books to shoes, and a small, barrel chested robin hopped across and stood near my feet, looking up at me, his/her head constantly twitching. I’ve never been so close to such a tame robin before and of course, this was a great photo opportunity. Sod’s Law came into force as I’d forgotten my camera, but I did have my mobile phone and I took a couple of shots which turned out (see below) fairly well. We have a couple of robins near our house and they can be heard singing their confident songs to establish their territory. The robin is a popular and attractive bird, but is also very aggressive. I put out some muesli in a bowl a few days ago and the family of sparrows, which nest in our eaves, tentatively approached the bowl but would not go in. Along came the robin and s/he shooed the sparrows away and hopped nonchalantly into the bowl. Thomas Hardy’s children’s poem The Robin encapsulates the bird’s never ending motion: “When I descend/Toward the brink/I stand and look/And stop and drink/ And bathe my wings/ And chink and prink”. The word prink was new to me but means to make minor adjustments to how you look. Chink, also new to memeans to make small openings

Friendly robin

Friendly robin

Friendly robin

Friendly robin

Yellowcraig, which is reached via a narrow road from the historic village of Direlton (good photos), is a very popular stretch of beach about 16 miles (26K) up the coast from Dunbar. You can do a variety of walks around Yellowcraig, depending on how far you want to walk and you can include some forest walks along the way. We parked near the beach and walked east along the beach. When you reach the corner, you are presented with a panoramic view across to North Berwick Law, as in the photo below.

North Berwick Law from Yellowcraig Beach

North Berwick Law from Yellowcraig Beach

On the day we visited Yellowcraig, there was a freezing cold NW wind, so being rugged up was essential. The main historical feature of Yellowcraig is the island of Fidra, which houses a huge seabird colony in the late spring and summer. The island was thought to be the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. The author visited the island many times and his grandfather’s firm built the Fidra Lighthouse. The island lighthouse are shown in this photo.

Fidra and its lighthouse

Fidra and its lighthouse

On the walk back to the car, I passed a tree laden with berries. This tree is often referred to as the baked bean tree but I’m not sure what it’s called. If you recognise it from the photo below, please post a comment.

Baked bean tree

Baked bean tree

Weekly Photo Challenge – Yellow

December 23, 2014

A colourful topic this week – see more on Sue’s website and see my selection below.

Wallflower with raindrops

Wallflower with raindrops

Yellow stripe on fish in Dubai Aquarium

Yellow stripe on fish in Dubai Aquarium

Bumble bee in my garden

Bumble bee in my garden

London Olympics - Australian cyclist

London Olympics – Australian cyclist

Oilseed rape field at St Abb's Head

Oilseed rape field at St Abb’s Head

A Word a Week Photograph Challenge – Companion

November 13, 2014

Here are my photos on the is topic – for many more, see Sue’s website.

Novak Djokovic and companion at Dubai Masters Tennis

Novak Djokovic and companion at Dubai Masters Tennis

Contemplating companions

Contemplating companions

Mother and child kittiwake on Dunbar Castle

Mother and child kittiwake on Dunbar Castle

Companions of elegance

Companions of elegance

Bovine companions at St Abbs Head

Bovine companions at St Abbs Head

Textile art, Moniza Alvi and snowdrops

February 4, 2014

A visit to the latest exhibition at the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club (SOC) in Aberlady proved to be rewarding. The exhibition featured work by Pat Beveridge and the East Coast Stitchers. There was some impressive work on show and some intricate collages of flowers and insects by the Stitchers which was much admired by my wife. The work of Pat Beveridge stands out in the exhibition with some superb stitched textile works. Indeed, if you were not alerted to the fact that some of the works on display were textile based, you could view them as “regular” paintings, as it’s only when you are closer to the frames that you see the depth of the art is enhanced because of its textile format. I contacted Pat and she was kind enough to send me the two works below. In both works, there are recognisable features – the birds, the sea, the waves but this accompanied by more abstract shapes and some surreal elements. If you get a chance to see this exhibition, don’t miss it. Otherwise, check out Pat Beveridge’s website.

Over the Waves - Pat Beveridge

Over the Waves – Pat Beveridge

Seascape_2 - Pat Beveridge

Seascape_2 – Pat Beveridge

The latest Poetry Book Society Choice  is At the Time of Partition by Moniza Alvi. The book contains one extended poem and although there are 64 pages, it is a book that can be read in 2 or 3 sittings. However, when you have finished the poem, you are likely to be drawn back into it, such is the depth of experience – and occasional horror – in the poem, which deals with one family’s view of the partition of India into India and Pakistan in 1947. Alvi has used the history of some of her family who were involved in the partition. The poem begins with a startling image: “It lies helplessly, wrong side up/like a turtle showing its underside -/ the family story”. The story which follows is, on the face of it, fairly simple – a family, along with thousands of others, is forced to leave their home in India to go to live in the newly created Pakistan. Alvi presents some striking images and manages to convey the uncertainty, the fear – “Not the thousand and one nights/but the thousand and one fears,/ each one as full/ as a night” – and finally, the hope of those involved. The grandmother is the focus of the poems and leaving her house in India is a severe blow – “The house was her second skin/hardier than the first”. I would strongly urge people to buy this book or request it at your local library.

It was a lovely bright day on Sunday – and a mild 6 degrees here – so we set off for our first visit to St Abbs Head – featured often on this blog – in 2014. There was a very strong SW wind and we had to be careful to keep away from the cliff edges at times. It ‘s a very rewarding walk, and looking down the high cliffs to the sea surging against the rocks, we were struck by the absence of birds – only the occasional seagull. Come May, the place will be swarming with kittiwakes and guillemots. At the beginning and end of the walk, we came across clumps of snowdrops, which raised their white heads above ground in mid January and are now in full bloom. Snowdrops (Galanthus) bring a welcome splash of brilliant white on the ground in winter and galanthophiles are in their element. These  flowers are mild mannered, shy, head down creatures and once again, I return to Alice Oswald’s poem Snowdrop, from here wonderfully illustrated collection Weeds and Wild Flowers. The second verse describes the snowdrop as “One among several hundred clear-eyed ghosts/ who get up in the cold and blink and turn/into these trembling emblems of night frosts”. So, here are my first two photos of snowdrops this year.

Snowdrops

Snowdrops

Snowdrops

Snowdrops