Sunday, 23 August 2015


Fidra island

We took a very quick trip to nearby Yellowcraigs beach the other weekend.  Very quick - we were having yet another busy weekend but had promised ourselves that we would escape from the city.  It was very late on Sunday afternoon before left and we almost decided it was one thing too many on our list,  but I'm so glad we broke free.  Yellowcraigs is a gently shelving sandy beach a short walk from parking in a field.  The parking isn't totally rustic - there is a well-maintained toilet and shower block, an ice cream van, and a Treasure-Island themed (but tasteful, seemingly all made of wood) children's play area among trees nearby. It's the beach of choice for many primary school end of term trips - I remember the packing list for my daughter's trip included sunscreen, sun hat, fleece and waterproof jacket - the typical any-weather-is-possible of the Scottish summer. 

Out in the Firth of Forth are several islands, basalt left-overs from long ago volcanic activity.  The one above is Fidra, with its lighthouse and rock arch - you can just make it out to the right of the main island.  There's speculation that Robert Louis Stevenson drew on it as part of his inspiration for Treasure Island.  Looking east, there's Craigleith and the Bass Rock off North Berwick.

Craigleith and the Bass Rock

I have to admit that as a Moray Firth/North Sea girl I don't find the seascape of the Firth of Forth all that exciting.  So it was the wildflowers behind the shore that captured my attention.  The vibrant blue of Viper's Bugloss was everywhere.  This was the first time I'd seen it in the wild.  I had longed to do so ever since childhood when I read a description of it in one of Monica Edwards' books set on Romney Marsh.
Viper's Bugloss

obligatory summer shot of bee and flower

There were some ferociously-spined roses.  Not the wild Scots rose, I think, as they fairly bristle with spines, but they seemed to have larger spines than the common Dog Rose.

And teasels, which reminded me of Zebedee in the Magic Roundabout.
"Time for bed", said Zebedee

One thing which did catch our attention on the shoreline was this rock, seemingly a magnet for shells.  We moved in close to take photos, and then a wave dislodged some of them.  A very plausible bit of environmental art!

On the way back to the car park we came across this plant in the woodland.  I have no idea what it is - rare wildflower, escapee from a garden?  Internet searches haven't turned anything up, so any information welcome.  I may email a photo the countryside rangers for the area. 
mystery plant

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Summer reading part 1

 Yes, this is part 1.  I'm having a library binge this summer, and let's face it,our sodden, cold summer is just right for cosy evenings spent reading indoors, ideally in front of an open fire or wood-burning stove.  Since we lack those in Edinburgh I can be found keeping warm sitting on the large squashy sofa under a soft Swedish throw.  There is now a 'reading dent' in the sofa.  We are desperate not to put on the central heating, so it's a case of that good Scottish solution of putting another layer on.

I am fascinated by the 1930s - literature, art, politics.  I've read a lot about Britain in the period, but shamefully for a French graduate I'm rather ignorant of the feel of the decade in France.  This is a fairly dense read, and it's not going to be too cheerful.  Right now I'm still in the aftermath of the First World War and its effect on the French social and political psyche.

 When I want cheered up I turn to Ned Boulting's account of the 2014 Tour de France.  This is funny in the category of "Oh no, Mum's laughing out loud at a book on a transatlantic flight" - blame Bill Bryson for that one. In fact I've enjoyed it so much I extended its loan period and am on my second reading.  I now accept I'm going to have to buy it.

Because I'm new to this following cycling lark, I've only just become aware of Matt Rendell.  Matt is a freelance cycling commentator/author.  During this year's Tour he did an exquisite interview in French with a former French cycling professional turned journalist about his sceptical comments on Chris Froome's performance.  You can see it at the end of this short clip here.  Just shows the power of being able to speak other languages. After all that I felt I should read Matt's book about the history of the Tour de France.  As the French would say, 'j'ai appris des choses', discovering the even more extreme, punishing early days of the race, how the time trial and peleton came about, and how the race has adapted over the years.

A very pastoral, ideal-for summer read next - the life of an English meadow through a year.  Poetic yet brutally realistic about nature.  I've learned about moles harvesting worms and keeping them in suspended animation in worm-larders underground.  The Wind in the Willows didn't mention that.

Ever since watching the original BBC TV series of Survivors in the late 1970s I've been fascinated by post-apocalyptic scenarios.  That fascination has been tempered a bit since I've become a mother.  No hospitals! dentists! pain relief!   But without going as far as being a prepper I am concerned that we are really pretty helpless about even basic survival skills.  This was a very technical book, some of which I glazed over because of my complete lack of scientific knowledge.  I guess I could be useful growing food and making contact with French survivors.  In fact this year's Scottish summer made me conclude that the only sensible thing to do would be to pack up here and head for the south of France, where at least post-apocalyptic misery would be slightly warmer.

Last year I read a fascinating account of life in North Korea - a survival situation if ever there was one - by a former British diplomat there: 'Only Beautiful Please'.   'North Korea Undercover' is by a journalist who travelled to North Korea embedded in a party of students.  There was a fuss about it in the news when the subterfuge came out.  I was disappointed by this book - I felt it was sensationalist/tabloid-ish in parts, and I limped along to the end.

This account of six 19th century English women who made second lives in America is by one of my favourite travel writers.  I've read all her other exploration books, but found this very difficult to warm to.  There was a tenuous thread of the author's own inner turmoil at turning 50, but it came across to me as rather contrived.  Oh dear, I've gone into lit crit mode.  What impressed me in this book was the tenacity of these women at a time when they were expected just to fade out and grow old quietly, so perhaps it was a worthwhile read just for that message.  

That's another thing to add to my 'appreciating Edinburgh' list - great public libraries. 


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