Thursday, 31 December 2009

Once in a Blue Moon

Did you know that tonight is a blue moon? This year is one with thirteen full moons. The thirteenth in any year is called a blue moon, and given the phrase 'once in a blue moon', is more common than you might suppose.

With all the snow around, it has been wonderfully bright in the evenings this last week. Inspired by Jamie Whittle's blog I went for a wee night time wander a couple of days ago, enjoying crinkling grass, a frozen bonspiel of a pond, mysterious animal prints in the snow and a barn owl. I will go for another wander tonight, this time in company. A happy new year to you all, and here's to bringing in the bells tonight outdoors!

Update: tree at midnight:

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Alnwick

Across the border to Alnwick, site of Alnwick Castle. Today it is famous as a film location, for it stood in as Hogwarts in the first Harry Potter film. It is the stronghold of the Percy clan - don't be fooled by the soft-sounding name, for the Percys were Dukes of Northumberland, chief of the English clans on the Border, formidable foes to the Scots and, when occasion demanded, the English king.

Alnwick Castle:


In the past, the castle was the rock against which a Scots king dashed himself. During the rule of David I between 1124 and 1153, Northumbria as far as the Tees briefly became part of the Scottish kingdom. It was subsequently lost, and William the Lion invaded in an 1174 attempt to regain it, taking advantage of the chaos caused by the rebellion of Henry II's sons. He allowed his army to dissipte in multiple seiges around the county, and on the appearance of a small force of English knights, impetuously charged them shouting "now we will see who is the greater knight!" Like a numpty he was unhorsed, captured, and ransomed for the promise that Scotland belonged to England.

This promise stayed in place until 1189, when Richard Lionheart needed to raise funds for a crusade: and for a large sum of money, it was annulled. Richard and William stayed on good terms: when Richard was captured on crusade, William, who knew how it felt to be a captive, helped raise money for his ransom. In gratitude, Richard offered Northumbria to the Scottish king. William refused, as Richard wanted to keep control of all the castles.

Bamburgh Castle:


Had Northumberland become Scottish, it would have made a considerable difference to the complexion of the country today. It would be a far more Lowland country, with a greater heritage of mining and heavy industry than even today. Northumberland, after all, contains England's most deprived areas, as well as being the loveliest. Anyone who doubts either of these claims has never been to the post-industrial apocalypse of Ashington, nor walked the beautiful coast from Bamburgh to Alnmouth.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Snow for Christmas

Snow, snow everywhere. Driving back from Glasgow on Sunday night from playing a gig, I got stuck on the M8. A skidding lorry had blocked the road, but I managed to divert through deepest Lanarkshire / West Lothian, the ghostly sight of the Five Sisters bing letting me know that I was past the worst.

Ascending the Pentland Hills:


On Monday, the last of the Christmas shopping: and yesterday, a trip up the Pentlands, a lung-freshening burst of exercise on hills whose snowy slopes were making an impression of a compressed Highlands, only half an hour from my house and an hour up to the top.

Forth Bridges glimpsed from the ridge of the Pentlands:


From the top of Allermuir Hill, Edinburgh is revealed, the whole of the Firth of Forth below. Yesteday the sun had gone, a fog crept up the Forth, columns of smoke from Grangemouth rising high in the air and beyond the haar, beyond the dull Ochils, a brilliant flash of bright white - the Highlands were in sunshine.

Edinburgh Castle from Allermuir Hill:


But the most satisfying sight was back along the range towards the twin peak of East and West Kip: I made a snowball and a hillrunner appeared round a hummock, asking apprehensively:

"Is that snowball for me?"

In the Pentlands:


Back down, the road traffic was busier than usual, as was the car park at Ikea and the out-of-town shopping centre. It's always good under these conditions to snatch a hill instead. For those of you getting up to the Highlands for a number of days walking this holiday, I envy you.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Poem: Santa Run

This Sunday is the Santa Run in Edinburgh - a slightly silly charity event that involves dressing up as Santa and running twice round Princes St Gardens in the company of thousands of others. Seriously ill children get taken to see Santa in Lappland with the money raised. However that's probably a peripheral benefit to most of those involved, who are just there for the banter.

We did the Santa Run
ruddy with small charity
- that's not Edinburgh.

Took bratwurst in the German Markt
smelt warming spice in wine
- that's not quite it either.

We drank the Jolly Judge dry
rollbuckled down the Mound
- that's ma Reekie!