Tuesday, 24 February 2009

End of the End of the Month Club

One of my simple pleasures when living in Glasgow was to visit the monthly End of the Month Club at the legendary 13th Note. The EotMC is hosted by TJ Boz and features host band Bozilla, tune-friendly electro guest bands, topical themes, and a 'Catharisis Sheet' handed out to each punter, with questions about your month to fill in.

Smartly Dressed Robot:


For a fan of electro-pop it was the best regular night in Glasgow, so it is with a cry of sadness I discovered that after 7 years, this Saturday 28 February is the last, final EotMC!

Schmoof at EotMC:


Now I live on the east coast I rarely make it through to Glasgow, but I will be there - to see Bozilla, Thriftshop XL, and cult performer Cnut. Perhaps I will see you there!

Otterley at EotMC:

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Red Head and Lunan Bay

Ever since glimpsing the perfect curve of Lunan Bay from the Aberdeen to Dundee train, I've wanted to visit. Recently, the opportunity came.

There is a car park at Lunan Bay itself, but we wanted a walk along the coast as well, so started further back - near the beautiful red sandstone pile of Ethie Castle, now a high-class B&B. This claims to be the second-oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland.

Ethie Castle:


From Ethie Castle, it is a short walk to the spectacular cliffs of Red Head - a well-named feature - where the rich sandstone underlying the fertile fields of Angus is exposed.

Red Head:


The walk was exhilarating due to the surroundings and weather, with a strong offshore wind, and a ceaseless army of waves rolling all the way across the North Sea to crash against the cliffs of Red Head. The boiling waves generated a huge amount of foam, and the wind blew this over our heads in big flecks to land in the freshly ploughed fields inland. It was a day to be buffeted and enjoy the power of the sea.

Rollers at Lunan Bay:


Lunan Bay itself was windy and fairly dull, but the sands were studded with a wide variety of smooth stones. We picnicked at the fragmentary ruin of Redcastle - an old castle, a hunting tower of King William I's and home to several gruesome stories - before making our way back, watching eider, gulls, cormorants, oystercatchers, and my favourite, knot, at the shoreline.

Ethie Haven, at the edge of Lunan Bay:


A great place to visit, and further exploration of the dramatic coast between Montrose and Arbroath is definitely in the pipeline!

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Spindrift

The thaw might have come to Edinburgh (though it is set to freeze again), but not to Aviemore and the North of Scotland! The snow was deep yesterday, with storm force winds at 900m. Not a good day to slog up the Cairngorms (or any hills that are high or with long walk-ins) but a good day for cross-country skiing in the Rothiemurchus forest. However, I preferred to go up a hill, as it felt like I hadn't been up a hill in the snow for ages.

By Loch Ericht:


But what hill to do? The Fara was nearby, with a short walk-in, yet could be extended if the weather turned out to be OK. I fancied visiting the curious geological features Dirc Mhor & Beag that lie to the NW of the summit, so would go there if conditions were right.

Ben Alder from Loch Ericht:


But the snow was often a good three feet deep in soft, pillowy drifts - I had to crawl uphill using four points of contact in places. Higher up, the spindrift came screaming across the smooth hillside.

Spindrift:


Pictures of spindrift never quite convey the sense of battering you get. Try this video instead:



Higher up thick disorientating cloud came in, the wind and spindrift seemed even worse, and I decided that Dirc Mhor would have to wait for another day. It was a good trip, but I would not like to do any more in such conditions.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

The Thaw

A February dawn, and the grey canyon of Canongate snakes down the spine of Edinburgh into the underworld of Holyrood. The sun has apparently risen, but it is no match for the thick, damp blanket of drizzle that has crept up the Forth overnight, isolating poor Edinburgh from heat, light and joy. Pinched, black-clad locals merge into the greyness, hurrying - lest they shiver - to their places of work. Nobody would be abroad this morning unless it were absolutely necessary. It is the dispirited silence that gets me. There are no tourists today, no splashes of colour in the gloom save for car headlights, no sounds save the diesel rattle and swish of tyre on wet street, no warmth save the exhaust fumes of buses.

What a contrast to yesterday! Yesterday the snow fell all day, crunching dryly underfoot, the magical sight of fat snowflakes from the office window. Thoughts turned to a snowy hill at the weekend. Even after sunset the world glowed white, and the town was full of excited children roaming as if at Halloween - boys throwing snowballs, and the young folk built a giant snowman outside our house. This morning I woke, and the snowman had been knocked down, melting into the saturated, slushy grass.

I hate the thaw.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

The Ulster Scots

These Scottish flags - can you guess where they are flying?

Saltires:



Glasgow? Ayrshire? Aberdeen? No - County Down in Northern Ireland.

These flags surprised me recently, as there were no Scottish flags flying in Northern Ireland on my previous visits. The Protestant community was content to fly the English flag - a St George's Cross - with a Red Hand of Ulster superimposed on the middle. Why were there suddenly so many Saltires?

A clue was the recently formed Ulster Scots Agency, an organisation dedicated to the preservation of the Scots language. It was formed by Protestants in response to the creation of the Catholic-supported cross-border Foras na Gaeilge. A reactionary, tit-for-tat move to many, it is ironic that the only official agency to promote Scots is not in Scotland.

Yet the formation of the agency has served to highlight Northern Ireland's Scottish heritage, when in the 17th centuries Protestant settlers from the Lowlands were planted in Ulster as part of a centuries-old attempt to subdue the native population. This is the root cause of the continuing tensions in Northern Ireland.

I'm not sure I like the Saltire being dragged into Northern Irish politics. But it is too late for that. The Scots were a tribe who crossed the water from Ulster during Roman times, and the Ulster-Scots crossed the North Channel in the other direction in the 17th century. It cannot be denied that Scotland and Northern Ireland are joined by deep, two-way cultural and ethnic ties.