Sunday, 22 February 2015

Happiness in bitter cold


I'm biased of course, but there's nothing that can lift winter-dulled spirits better than a day of bitter cold, pure Northern skies and the wide expanse of the North Sea.   Scotland's coastline from the Moray Firth down to the Kingdom of Fife is in my blood.  My forebears fished out of the small Moray Firth ports, venturing round the tip of Scotland to the West coast, but most often following the herring down the East coast as far as Great Yarmouth in England.  Family tradition has it that on one occasion my grandfather's boat reached as far as Calais, where touching attempts at speaking French were deployed.  The crew asked for directions to the 'postie-officie' - because at a time before domestic telephones the first thing to be done on reaching any port was to send a postcard home to announce the safe arrival:  "Made the land in [insert port].  All well."  Fresh food was the next priority - with my grandfather asking in a baker's shop for 'one breada'.  My grandfather died before I reached my teens.  I like to think he would have been amazed and proud that his granddaughter became fluent in the language that he and his crew tried to negotiate.

Yesterday we were in St Andrews on just such a spirit-lifting day.  The shot above is of the cathedral ruins. Built on the site of earlier churches, the cathedral dates from 1160.  In its time it was Scotland's greatest cathedral, but tragically was left to fall into ruin during the Protestant Reformation.  You can read more about the cathedral at the Historic Scotland site. 

From the grandeur of the ruins to intimate acts of remembrance: we came across these hand-knittted poppies on the cathedral railings.
 

The small stone pier always draws us when we're in St Andrews.
 


Lobster creels were piled up on the quayside, and we watched a boat  returning from setting some out.
 


   


For all its wide horizons and medieval grandeur, St Andrews is a very intimate place.  On the pier I noticed this fragment of china set into the surface.  I'm sorry it's a blurry image - the sun was so bright that I couldn't see if my wee camera was in focus.  You'll notice some splashes of red.  We saw these all along the pier, and after the first lurid thought - "historic blood of medieval martyrs" - realised that they were candle wax.  There is a long tradition of St Andrews University students processing along the pier in their red undergraduate gowns after the Sunday service in the University chapel.  However that is in the middle of the day, and however dark it gets in Scotland in winter I doubt if these processions are candle-lit.  There is a candle-lit procession on 30 April each year, in memory of student John Honey, so perhaps the wax has endured the year since then.  Or it may be from an informal Christmas celebration.  Archaelogical mystery!

The intimate also extends to the size of some houses.
 

And to the decorated windows that can be found around the town.
 

Today the sky is flat and grey, with snow forecast.  It's good to have yesterday's brightness to look back on.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Above the city



Last Saturday we were desperate to escape the city, even for a few hours.  With the Pentland Hills just to the south of Edinburgh it's easy to have a morning's breathing space without having to spend too long getting there.  This is the view north across the west of Edinburgh towards the river Forth and the hills of Fife beyond.  Immediately above the trees are the housing blocks of Wester Hailes.  I remember as a child coming down to Edinburgh for summer holidays in the 1960s - we used to drive on a narrow, winding road through open fields where this housing estate now stands.  

On Saturday the Forth was hidden by fog, but the two bridges were standing clear.  The three triangles in the middle of the shot - like an iron Toblerone - is the upper structure of the Forth rail bridge,  and the slender pillars to the left are the road bridge.  

Even at this height, after a stiff pull uphill, there was considerable traffic noise from the city bypass below.  But turn and face away from the city and you could be on a remote hillside anywhere in Scotland.
 


Looking east, you can see what a superb defensive position Edinburgh castle occupies on its rock.  



We passed by the frozen Bonaly reservoir, one of Edinburgh's water sources.  
 


It was so good to get away from pavements and out among heather and bleached winter grass and icy snow. 
 

The slight drawback of the Pentlands, if there is one, is that parts are used as an army training area, complete with occasional live firing.  The Ministry of Defence tells you smartly what's what:  "Live firing is restricted to the Live Firing Range at Castlelaw. The primary land use is for military dry training (i.e. use of blank ammunition). Red flags (daytime) and lamps (night-time) are flown/shown when firing is taking place and walkers are not allowed into this Danger Area."

I love this sign - it looks as if there's very choreographed troop training going on.  Or line dancing.
 

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Popping home


We've had a tough start to 2015.  My father in law died at the start of the month and since then we've been taken up with everything around a family funeral, while continuing with a hectic pace of work.  
Our son came home from Australia for the funeral.  He's spending the year there on a working visa.  It was a sad circumstance that brought him home, but wonderful to see him at the same time.  In a rare glimpse of me on my blog, here I am with my boy.  He doesn't wear the kilt all the time, but it was Burns' Night, so it was a good excuse to check that it still fits.  He has actually grown in the time he's been away - must be all the unaccustomed sunshine - but thankfully the kilt is still okay.  As for me, when I saw myself in the photo my first thought was, 'I must get my hair cut'.  I have very thick, fast-growing hair - practical for the Scottish winter in terms of warmth, but sometimes I feel like a sheep in a drift, as the saying goes here.

Now my wee boy is back in Australia, and the kilt is packed away.  We're trying to get going again and back to a more even keel.  

As a PS, I've signed up to Bloglovin and apparently I have to 'claim' my blog.  A mystery to me, but here goes:  Follow my blog with Bloglovin

  

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