Saturday 31 December 2011

A New Year Toast

Go online and you will see any number of Scottish toasts for Hogmanay. I must confess I haven't heard any of them. So try this one for size:
"May the road rise up to meet you and the wind blow at your back, may a moose ne'er leave your cupboards wi a tear drap in it's ee, may your life be full of freends and never need them, may your enemies dool your fortune and lose their continence, may you glass ne'er be empty and your coffin remain unfilled, lang may your lum reek, as surely you'll be my pint stoup as surely I'll be thine, a host of bonny bairns as weel, a happy 2012 to you all."
That should cover it.

Thursday 29 December 2011

Edinburgh Pubs

It gets dark by 4pm. The wind is howling outside, with fierce bursts of rain.

And there is nothing entertaining on the telly. Thoughts turn to a welcoming hostelry, somewhere to take a few pints and meet some random strangers.

In the countryside, you have to travel several miles to your nearest watering hole. But in the city, there is always one nearby, a dark close lurking at its side for short cuts and cut throats.

Which pub in Edinburgh are you most likely to visit, should you venture outside?

Thursday 22 December 2011

St Abbs Head

If like me you grew up on the west coast, where the hills meet the sea in an island-studded eternity of summer twilight, you'll probably scoff at the supposed beauties of the southeast coast. What possible interest is there beyond Edinburgh? This is an attitude born of ignorance. For the coast of Berwickshire is one of Scotland's little known highlights. Burnmouth, Coldingham Bay, St Abbs Head, Fast Castle, Cove: yet sometimes it seems only divers care for the Berwickshire coast, and that is because of the amazing subsea reefs and psychedelically coloured creatures beneath St Abbs Head. My west coast eyes were first opened on a walk from Dunbar to Tynemouth (you can read about it here). Then I first became aware of the character and beauty of the Berwickshire - and Northumberland - coast.

Cliffs at St Abbs Head:

St Abbs Head has become associated in my mind with winter walks, enjoying the wind and exposure at the lighthouse, and shivering in the shade at Coldingham Bay. I love walking along the cliff edge in the exhilarating wind, looking at the sea stacks and geos, and heading down into the picturesque village of St Abbs and the beach at Coldingham Bay. Because it is always winter, and it is always late afternoon when we visit, it always seems to be dark at Coldingham - but St Abbs Head juts out a bit and catches the last of winter daylight.

The lighthouse:

St Abbs is named after the 7th century princess Aebbe, the daughter of Aethelfrith of Bernicia, the kingdom that stretched from the Forth to the Wear. When her father was killed in 616, Aebbe and her brothers fled to the sanctuary of the court of Donald Brecc of Dalriada (modern day Argyll). There they learned Christianity at the feet of monks who had known Columba. Their fortunes turned and in 633 Aebbe's brother Oswald became king of Bernicia. At the same time as Oswald invited Aidan over from Iona to set up Bernicia's most important abbey at Lindisfarne, Aebbe set up religious communities at Ebchester and, in 640, Coldingham, where she stayed for the rest of her life.

The village of St Abbs from the Head:

St Abbs therefore is a placename that can be precisely located in time, but not the time you might think. This village was called Coldingham Shore until 1890, when the local laird had it renamed. We walked past the houses clustered round the harbour and down to the beach of Coldingham Bay. The sand was frozen solid. "It's a sign that it's a bit cold for that!" I said to a surfer, who grinned back loonishly, waxing his board, whilst his friend stripped off in the keen wind for a neoprene wetsuit. No matter how daft you think you are in getting your kicks, there is always someone crazier than yourself out there.

Crazy fools:

Back at the lighthouse it was just about to get dark, and a strange searchlight swept the hillside. What was that? Where was the helicopter that must have shone it? There was no noise except the wind. The light came again and then it dawned on me. It was the beam from the lighthouse. We enjoyed this silent sweep of light as we scrambled back up to the head and our wind-buffeted car, rosy-cheeked and looking forward to a bath and a fire.

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Love of Scotland Castles Calendar

Having gone through my pictures, I've decided to offer one more calendar for 2012, this one based on castles - Scotland has such a variety of castles, from rock citadels like Dumbarton or Stirling, to romantically situated curtain walls and tower houses of Argyll, to the grim Border peels like Smailholm, or the fairytale homes of Aberdeenshire, or powerful medieval ruins like Caerlaverock or Tantallon, and then there are the castles that aren't really castles at all but family piles from the post-cannon age such as Culzean and Floors... in fact I have always wanted to created a calendar of Scottish castles! This isn't that calendar, as I haven't been able to access the pictures I would like, locked away as most of them are in slide format, but the calendar linked below includes a reasonable selection:

Threave crows:

Love of Scotland 2012 Castles Calendar (PDF)

Please enjoy!

Friday 9 December 2011

The Love of Scotland Calendar

Inspired by Alan Scott's Pictorial Calendar, I've decided to offer a Loveofscotland calendar for 2012, featuring images and text from the site. With four years worth of pictures though, I couldn't decide which articles or pictures to feature - so instead of going for classic views I've gone for impressions of Scotland, like the picture of spindrift below which is January's picture:

Spindrift on The Fara:

spread the word - and download your calendar below!

Love of Scotland 2012 Calendar (Word)
Love of Scotland 2012 Calendar (PDF)

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Carpe Diem

Another day closer to death. And what a day! Dawn pink on Pentland and Ochil snow, ice on the side of the roads, blue sky above. If you are currently sitting at a computer, with a rare fine winter day outside, is what you are doing really that important? Of course not. I'm off.

Monday 5 December 2011

Hard Times, Golden Times

It is the time of year again when sunglasses are needed in Scotland - thanks not to baking heat but to the low angle of the winter sun shining off wet roads, making driving difficult. There is a photographer's saying that the 'golden time' for landscapes is one hour before sunset and one hour after sunrise - I have an image in my head of landscape photographers mooching around summer Scotland all day with nothing to do for 16 hours - but December and January subvert that. The sun is low enough even at midday to take pleasing pictures with defined shadows and that slight reddish tint. A clear winter day is a photographer's delight.

I returned to one of my favourite stretches of river, a bend in a Tweed tributary that rises in the Lammermuirs. Three weeks ago the autumn trees were still full of leaf and, at night, the river was alive with an eerie splashing: salmon spawning. Since then the river has risen and fallen, and the wind blown hard. The trees are bare, blackbirds unable to hide away, and the riverbank strewn with the two to two-and-a-half foot long bodies of spent salmon, their final act of spawning done. Somewhere in the gravel beds the next generation is preparing to hatch. In the meantime, bare winter and its frosts and reluctant sunshine has most definitely come for good.