Monday, 31 August 2009

The Scottish countryside

Red deer stalking. Stags, 1 July to 20 October. Hinds, 21 October to 15 February.

Oh yes, and grouse shooting: 12 August to 10 December. The hills are alive...

Thursday, 27 August 2009

August sky

The dark skies of August, above Ben Rinnes and the River Spey. Scotland's August flowers are in the foreground - rosebay willowherb and seeding thistles.

I love this particular spot on the river. Each time I'm home in the next year I'm going to take a photo from here.

More skies around the world are at Skywatch Friday.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Tropical Fringe

The only Edinburgh Festival Fringe event I've been to this year was a concert on Friday at the Columcille Centre given by 'a new generation of talented young clarsach players', as the Fringe programme described it, and very good it was too. The lovely thing about the Fringe is how it spills out of the city centre into cafes, pubs, churches, church halls, schools, universities, community centres and day care facilities. The Columcille Centre is a gem of a building in what Wikipedia describes as 'the famously genteel area' of Morningside.

My daughter was invited to play in the concert, but I have to admit she chose to go on a long planned weekend of kayaking and sailing instead. It was a nice change for me to listen to a concert where I hadn't been the harp carrier - or 'harp schlepper', as we're called in North America.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Warning - Book Festival

Edinburgh residents now take for granted the fact that driving through the centre of town is an adventure in new tramwork diversions daily, the sudden appearance of temporary traffic lights in the most unlikely places, and yawning chasms of gas mains excavations. But driving round Charlotte Square on my return to the city I was amazed to see new signs setting a speed limit of 20 miles per hour because of...'pedestrians on road'.

My first thought was 'well, get them off the road.' But on mature reflection I can see it's not as easy as that. The gardens in the centre of Charlotte Square are the venue for the Edinburgh Book Festival, and the road round the square is one of the major diversion routes of the tramworks. It's a racetrack with double decker buses, with the tented Book Festival as an oasis in the middle. Add to that pedestrians of a literary bent, whose thoughts may well be elsewhere, and I can see the point of the signs. It reminds me of the method of disposing of garden snails, which is meant to be more humane than zapping them with chemicals - gather them up and release them on the concrete island in the middle of a busy roundabout...

With that image in mind, here are the Book Festival patrons hurrying in and out, early on Saturday morning.

I can't give you the benefit of sound, but the man at the right of the shot was promoting a show of readings of John Betjeman's poetry, and right beside him was a Big Issue seller. A rich tapestry indeed.

No Book Festival-going for us this year. I didn't get organised, and besides, it gets expensive year on year. A couple of Book Festival events, something on the Festival Fringe, and a main Festival production and whoa, where did the money go?! On a walk round I could see what I might have booked given time and money.

Perhaps the session with Malorie Blackman for my daughter, who loves her 'Noughts and Crosses' trilogy. The session with Paul Stewart and Chris Riddle of 'The Edge Chronicles' might have been interesting.

For me, definitely Michael Morpurgo. My son loved 'Kensuke's Kingdom' when he was younger, and my daughter 'The Wreck of the Zanzibar', and I love everything I've read by him. Maybe Henning Mankell? I haven't read the Wallender books, not being a crime novel sort of person, but Fredrick at Ystad Daily Photo has piqued my interest. Not Sandy Mcall Smith - he's a great speaker, but I've heard him several times and demand for tickets is intense, so I'll give someone else a chance. Demand probably isn't as high as it was for J.K. Rowling - when she appeared at the Festival the phone lines burned out within minutes of booking opening. Finally, definitely not Irvine Welsh. I must be one of the few Scots who hasn't read 'Trainspotting' or seen the film, and I'm very happy without that experience.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Sea traffic

Nosing into Rosemarkie Bay after the dolphins came this sailing ship, which I think may be a barque but I'm happy to be better informed.

And after that came the sea kayaks, bobbing along in front of the ramparts of Fort George. I daresay in its heyday the fort didn't have health-and-safety-approved orange street lights on its ramparts.

I'm taking a break for a few days now, to catch the summer while I can.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Dolphin watching

Camping at Rosemarkie, on the Black Isle, my husband and daughter noticed a twilight gathering on the shore at Chanonry Point. Curiosity of course got the better of them.

Fins in the boiling water of the tide race.

Dolphins, leaping and twisting.

Parent and child quality time.

Edited to say that photo credits for these shots go to my daughter.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Skywatch Friday - low-lying sky

A finger of sea fog probes Little Loch Broom.

A boat heads home on the wind off the sea.

The houses on the other side of the loch gleam in the last of the sun.

Skies from around the world are on the Skywatch Friday site.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Summer breakfast

Fusion food - Scotch pancakes like my granny never made them. On Sunday morning my daughter decided that she wanted a stack of pancakes, North American style, for breakfast. Here are the results of her labours, with woodland strawberries and blueberries from the garden, and homemade butterscotch sauce (not whisky!) from the Grant's jug.

We realised that two years ago to the day we had also had pancakes for breakfast, this time by the shore of Slocan Lake in British Columbia, on the first day of the Suzuki Valhalla Institute. Miranda blogged about it here, and I hope will have more posts as the week goes on.

Edited to add recipe for butterscotch sauce, courtesy of Katie Stewart's Times Calendar Cookbook:

Measure 100g. granulated sugar into a dry pan and stir over moderate heat until the sugar has melted and turned a golden brown. Draw off the heat and add a scant 2 1/2 dl (1/2 pint) water - take care because the mixture will boil up fiercely when you add the cold liquid. Replace the pan on the heat and add a pinch of salt, 2 teaspoons golden syrup and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence. Stir until the caramel and syrup have dissolved (it will form a lump initially, which will gradually melt into the remaining liquid). Add 1 level tablespoon cornflour (not sure of the North American equivalent - it's not maize flour as such, but a thickening agent) blended with 2 tablespoons cold water and stir until the sauce is boiling and slightly thickened. Add 15g. butter. Leave to cool. Serve warm or cold. The butterscotch taste is more pronounced next day.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Skywatch Friday - the skirl of the pipes

It was at about this point in the ascent that we first heard them, and our hearts sank. Well, two of our hearts did at least. I daresay that for my daughter's French exchange partner the climb up Arthur's Seat was enlivened by the sound of bagpipes. For my daughter and myself, climbing the hill was to have been a welcome escape from Edinburgh's background soundtrack: year-round residents sometimes feel beset by bagpipes skirling with greater or lesser degrees of musicality throughout the city centre. And believe me, the lesser variety is not pleasant.

Round about here, we realised that the piping was coming from the very top of the hill, from the little bristling pimple in the shot above. The bristles are people standing on the topmost rocky outcrop of the Seat. Various dips in the terrain conceal a fair bit of ground to be covered before the last push, Everest-like, to the summit. By now we could hear that there was not just one piper, but several. Our Scottish hearts sank further. Not just busking, but group busking.

Only it wasn't. Instead of buskers we found this group of exiled Canadian Scots, piping their hearts out on their Homecoming visit. We sat (because the wind was so strong that we could barely stand upright) and listened to the reels and airs and laments. and felt our curmudgeonly hearts melt.

And talking of gales - note what a practical garment the traditional heavyweight Scottish kilt is. The kilts in the shot above are barely moving in the wind, but the woman at the right was swaying perilously on the edge of the rocks.

Visit Skywatch Friday for more skies from around the world.


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