A walk in Balbirnie, Fife, Scotland

Balbirnie Path, Fife, Scotland

Just for a change – and a bit more exercise – one morning last week we walked the long way back home after picking up The Guardian from the shop. It was a quieter walk than usual. Join me for a wee ‘daunder’.

Balbirnie Path, Fife, Scotland

I think the photo below is of a Russian Vine or ‘mile a minute’ which is its common name, it does grow incredibly fast.
Russian vine, Balbirnie Park, FifePlant 1

We chose the path that leads past the old stable block which has been converted into flats, the building looks quite smart at the moment I think – both halves of it.

Balbirnie Stable block ,Fife, Scotland

Balbirnie Stable block , Fife, Scotland

Taking a steep path we could look down on some of the trees, it was a really hot day – by our standards, so it wasn’t a comfy climb.

Balbirnie trees, Fife, Scotland

Balbirnie Trees, Fife, Scotland

Balbirnie Trees, Fife, Scotland

As we drew closer to Balbirnie House Hotel we could hear a piper doing his thing, but surprisingly there was no red carpet so presumably there was no wedding, maybe he was just practising.

Balbirnie House piper, Fife, Scotland

Today we heard a piper and Jack spotted him standing underneath trees at the back of the hotel, sort of surreptitiously. I had to laugh as there’s just no way you can play the bagpipes by stealth!

Tortoise by Candlelight by Nina Bawden – 20 Books of Summer

 Tortoise by Candlelight cover

Tortoise by Candlelight by Nina Bawden was first published in 1963 but my copy is a Virago reprint from 1989.

It’s the 1960s, Emmie Bean is 14 years old and she’s really in charge of her family which consists of her father, grandmother, older sister Alice and eight year old Oliver. Alice is determined to become a nurse and has to study, – when she’s not with her boyfriend, she seems happy to leave all the responibility to Emmie. Oliver has problems, he is happy to lie and steal and is very manipulative. Emmie is terrified that he’ll be caught stealing something, it’s just another of her many worries. The mother had been a well-known naturalist but she’s not around, in fact the children seem to think she is dead. As the father has a drink problem, he’s a journalist and claims he needs to go to pubs to get contacts, it’s Emmie who has to worry about providing school uniforms, life is tough and money very scarce. Then to make matters worse the grandmother’s age begins to tell on her. Emmie’s mother had encouraged her to start writing a diary/notebook and Emmie wonders if getting it published could be a way out of money problems.

Emmie has had to grow up fast but when new people arrive at a nearby house things change. Marjorie and Nick are a young married couple with no worries, Marjorie’s father is very wealthy and they’re financially secure, but are living a rather empty life with nothing to strive for. They become involved with the Bean family and Emmie is quite smitten by Nick. There’s a sadness to Nick and Marjorie and the Bean family seem to fill a void for a time.

This was an enjoyable read, but a difficult one to write about. I’ve read a few books by Nina Bawden, Carrie’s War is probably her best known book and I think I liked that one more than this one, but that may just have been because of my liking for a WW2 setting.

This book is one of my 20 Books of Summer.

The Shield Ring by Rosemary Sutcliff

 The Shield Ring cover

The Shield Ring by Rosemary Sutcliff was first published in 1956 and I hadn’t even heard of it until I saw it fairly recently in a secondhand bookshop in St Andrews, but it turned out to be great read – as Sutcliff’s books generally are.

The setting is the English Lake District, a place that I’ve enjoyed visiting quite a few times, but the next time I visit I’ll be looking at the landscape in an entirely different way, imagining all the things that were going on there as those of Viking descent who had settled there fought the Normans over a thirty year period or more. The Normans who had fairly easily overcome the inhabitants of the southern half of England in the softer landscape found it to be a much more difficult task in the northern wilds of the Lake District which seemed to be sheltered by a ring of mountainous terrain.

I must admit that I had no idea the famous Domesday Book that we hear about so often stopped short of the Cumberland Fells so there is no mention of Lake Land at all. I can imagine that it must have been one of those areas that on old maps would have been marked – HERE BE DRAGONS.

The book begins with the not quite five year old Frytha witnessing the burning of her village by Norman William’s men. Frytha had been out and about in the woods with Grim her father’s shepherd/man of all work, when they realised that the woodland around them felt different. The birds and animals had fallen silent because the Normans had arrived and were busy slashing and burning. Grin knew there would be no survivors so he took Frytha further north into the Lake Land where she was quickly adopted by a local family. It’s the last stronghold of the Vikings who are constantly honing their battle skills to ward off the Normans who have built a stronghold at Carlisle.

Frytha quickly finds a friend in Bjorn who is just a few years older than she is, it turns into a great relationship with the two of them facing danger together in later years as they team up to do their bit to help out their community agains the Normans.

Rosemary Sutcliff was such a lovely writer of well researched books, and I certainly always learn new things of interest in them.

Redhouse Castle, Lothians, near Edinburgh

Earlier this month, when the weather wasn’t so good we had some time to kill before going into Edinburgh so we decided to visit Redhouse Castle. I had heard of a plant nursery that was right by the castle and had wanted to go there for ages. On the way there the rain got heavier and heavier, the road was flooding in places but we drove on – after all, we’re not made of sugar – and we found the nursery with the ruins of Redhouse Castle by the side of it. It’s a four storey tower house which was built in the 16th century and has been altered over the years.

Redhouse Castle, Lothians

You can’t get into the castle but as you can see from the photos you can take photos from the plant nursery.

Redhouse Castle , Lothians, Scotland

It was actually chucking it down with rain as I took the photos but it doesn’t really show up.

Redhouse  Castle, Lothians, Scotland

You can get around the back a bit and get closer to the smaller buildings alongside the castle. In truth I prefer the wee red pantiled cottages and outhouses to the castles and I always have an urge to bring them back to life, something that would be far more doable than taking on a huge castle for renovation!

Redhouse Castle, Lothians, Scotland

I did buy some Lewisia plants at the nursery, but I’ll show you them another day.

The Classics Club Spin # 27

The Classics Club #27 has been chosen and it’s number 6 which for me means that I’ll be reading The Corn King and the Spring Queen by the Scottish author Naomi Mitchison.

I must admit that this one has been languishing on what is my second Classics Club list unread because I’ve been dodging it due to it being a chunkster – and a paperback, therefore is awkward to read. However I’m determined to read this one as I failed miserably in the last spin.

The New House Captain by Dorita Fairlie Bruce

 The New House Captain cover

The New House Captain by Dorita Fairlie Bruce was first published in 1928 but my copy is a reprint from the 1950s – going by the illustrations, there’s no date in the front.

This is the first book in this Dorita Fairlie Bruce series which features Springdale School. The school is located in the west of Scotland, Ayrshire I believe but sadly there wasn’t much in the way of Scottish atmosphere in the book, apart from one character who was a Glaswegian and supposedly had a rough accent, but there was no dialect written in any sort of Glaswegian.

However the story itself was quite entertaining with the headmistress’s unexpected choice of Peggy Willoughby to be the captain of The Rowans house. Peggy’s best friend Diana had been sure that she would be the captain and she’s more than a bit miffed to miss out on what she regarded as her right – to her best friend. To Peggy’s dismay Diana more or less drops her as a friend, using the fact that she has to study for a scholarship to sideline Peggy instead of supporting her and siding with the ghastly Sydney whenever she could. Sydney is a girl who has no team spirit and is only interested in herself.

Obviously there’s a lot more to it than this. I had read a book in this series previously and there were lots of descriptions of the Scottish countryside and a plenty of Scots dialect dialogue in it. The New House Captain is the first book in the series so I assume that the author decided in the later books that she should make the Scottish setting more obvious, which I think was a good decision. However my copy of the book was published by Spring Books, not the usual Blackie of the original books so there’s a possibility that this edition has been gutted of its Scottish atmosphere.

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

The Thin Man cover

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett was first published in 1932.

Nick Charles had retired from the sleuthing business to concentrate on managing his finances which seem to have prospered since his marriage to the wealthy Nora, but he gets drawn back into the detection business when Julia Wolf is found shot dead. She had been the ‘confidential secretary’ to Clyde Miller Wynant, an inventor and one time husband of Mimi, who just happened to find Julia’s body. Mimi is well known to Nick, as are her children, Dorothy and Tristan.

There’s a lot of boozing going on in this book, so it all feels authentically like the America of Prohibition era. I enjoyed the relationship between Nick and Nora although it is a bit bizarre, Nora is too easy going in my opinion, but maybe she was Dashiell Hammett’s idea of the ideal wife!

There are several ghastly characters to really enjoy disliking, and there’s plenty of snappy dialogue. So there’s a lot to like about this book. It’s the first one by Dashiell Hammett that I’ve read and I believe he was the first writer to develop this style, but I have to say that I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as Raymond Chandler’s writing, but that may just have been because I found it just a wee bit too convoluted with a lot of characters to keep track of. Maybe our unusually hot spell was affecting my brain!

The Classics Club Spin # 27

classics club

It’s Classics Club Spin time again, number 27 this time. I have to admit that for the first time ever I failed to finish the last spin book on time, it was Montaigne’s Essays and I’m still only about three quarters of the way through it. The small print definitely isn’t helping, but I’ll finish it sometime soonish I hope. I did manage to read High Wages by Dorothy Whipple though, which was also on my spin list.

Anyway, I’m coming towards the end of my second spin list so I have to repeat the books on the list as I don’t have twenty still to read.

1. Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott
2. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
3. The Trial by Franz Kafka
4. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
5. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
6. The Corn King and the Spring Queen by Naomi Mitchison
7. End of the Chapter by John Galsworthy
8. The Trial by Franz Kafka
9. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
10. Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott
11. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
12. High Wages by Dorothy Whipple
13. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
14. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
15. The Corn King and the Spring Queen by Naomi Mitchison
16. End of the Chapter by John Galsworthy
17. The Trial by Franz Kafka
18. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
19. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
20. Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott

The book that I’m not looking forward to reading from this list is Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, because my copy is an old paperback and it’s quite thick. I always find that type of book awkward to read as I never break the spines of paperbacks.

Are you taking part in the spin this time around?

Armchair travelling – St Monans, Fife

One hot afternoon last week we went for a drive along to the East Neuk of Fife, starting at the village of St Monans. Below is a photo of St Monans kirk with some beach explorers in the foreground. If you look closely you should be able to see the ancient sea worn steps that lead up to the church. Presumably in years past some people did sail there to the church service. For many it would have been a lot easier than tackling roads which would have amounted to little more than tracks.

St Monans Kirk, Fife, Scotland

The teazles and geraniums right above the beach were looking great. It’s surprising how much salty atmosphere some plants can put up with.

St Monans flowers , Fife, East Neuk

St Monans flowers , East Neuk, Fife

It was a sparkling day, too hot for us at around 70F, but I still didn’t fancy my chances in the Firth of Forth/North Sea, far too cold without a wet suit on.

St Monans, coast, Firth of Forth, Fife

Further along the coastal path you reach a windmill which was used in the salt making industry which went on by the edge of the water, there are only indentations left in the grass now, all the buildings having been washed away by the sea years ago I suppose.

St Monans Windmill, Fife, East Neuk

There is a rather primitive outdoor swimming pool in the photo below. It has been cleared out recently by some local people as the council had stopped maintaining it, so I was pleased to see that it was actually being used by a brave soul. The straight edge is the swimming pool edge, it’s much longer than the usual length of a swimming pool. I would drown before I reached the far end of it as I’m not a great swimmer!

St Monans rocks and pool , Fife

The rocks above the beach are interesting looking, to me anyway. I need a geologist.

St Monans rocks, Firth of Forth, Fife

St Monans rocks, Fife

As the school holidays have already begun in Scotland there were lots of people about so I didn’t take any photos of the old fishing village of St Monans but if you want to see some images look here.

The only photo I took at the nearby village of Elie was of the ancient doorway below. It’s a pity that the stonework is so worn as I think the carving would have been interesting.

Doorway Elie, Fife

The Postscript Murders by Elly Griffiths

 The Postscript Murders cover

The Postscript Murders by Elly Griffiths was published in 2020 and it’s the second book in her DS Harbinder Kaur series. Normally I would try to read books in a series in order, but it wasn’t a problem just diving in as I did.

Natalka is a care worker with 90 year old Peggy Smith as one of her ‘clients’. When Natalka discovers Peggy dead in her chair, facing her bay window she feels that something is not quite right. Peggy had spoken of being watched, but that could just have been the beginning of age related paranoia or dementia. Then a business card is found near Peggy, on it she’s described as a ‘murder consultant’. It seems that Peggy had led a secret life as an expert on unusual ways of murdering people. Her skills were in demand by many crime writers who needed her input when they needed ways of their characters being murdered.

Peggy’s son is in an unseemly hurry to pack up her flat and get it on the market, there are a lot of books, but when Natalka and her friend Benedict (coffee shack owner and ex monk) visit the flat they end up being threatened by a masked gunman who left swiftly after grabbing a book.

DS Harbinder Kaur is on the case which begins with Peggy’s death in Shoreham and leads to Aberdeen in north east Scotland. This was a really enjoyable read with unusual and likeable characters and there’s quite a bit of humour in there too. I feel I should read the first book in this series now, The Stranger Diaries.