The Balbirnie Park, Fife

It’s officially spring now and a couple of days ago I took my camera with me on a walk around the Balbirnie Park in Fife. Originally this land was the Balfour family estate but now it belongs to Fife Council and it’s well used by the local people – walkers, cyclists and even now and again people riding horses as there are some bridle paths there. Get your walking shoes on and come with me!

Back Burn

The wild garlic is really burgeoning now although only the leaves, so I wasn’t accompanied by its pungent scent, the flowers won’t be long in appearing now if the weather keeps mild. That aroma will probably assail me whenever I open the back door in a week or two. By the bye, I was at a ‘fancy’ food market last weekend and there was a stall there selling bunches of wild garlic leaves at £5 a bunch. At that rate the land around Balbirnie is worth a fortune! It’s good for making pesto, if you’re that way inclined.

Back Burn

It’s a quiet walk, apart from the birds who keep up a constant chatter but are mainly in hiding. The Back Burn as this small stream is called is I suppose what attracted the neolithic people to settle in this area 4 or 5,000 or so years ago. You can see a post about their nearby stone circle here.
Back Burn

There are a few picnic benches dotted around but they don’t really detract from the essential wildness of the place.
Back Burn

As far as I know there’s only this one giant redwood (sequoia) tree on the estate although as those trees were introduced to Britain around the time of the Battle of Waterloo they’re more commonly know as Wellingtonias here – in honour of the Duke of Wellington’s triumph in battle. This one doesn’t seem too large to me so possibly it isn’t actually a giant one. I suppose a lot depends on how old it is though.
giant redwood tree

Hallelujah – the first rhododendron is in flower, as you can see this one is being propped up as it’s trunk wouldn’t bear the weight of its top. In common with many Victorian estates Balbirnie has lots of beautiful specimens, some of them quite rare and planted when there was a vogue for the next exciting thing to be found by plant hunters of the day, many of whom were Scottish.

Rhododendron, Balbirnie, Fife

Well, that was just a wee wander along a part of the large Balbirnie estate, I hope you enjoyed the breath of fresh air and aren’t too tired. I went home and had coffee and a biscuit of course. Well I deserved it I think, but I wish I could offer you one too.

You can see more images of Balbirnie Park here.

The Fire Court by Andrew Taylor

 The Fire Court cover

The Fire Court by Andrew Taylor was published in 2018 and it’s the second book in his James Marwood series which is set just after the Great Fire of London. The previous book in this series is called The Ashes of London and in that one Marwood’s future seems much brighter as he has been noticed by the king, but his elderly father is a problem and he’s beginning to wander from home and get into trouble.

It’s 1667 and The Fire Court has been set up to settle all disputes between tenants and landlords of property which had been burnt in the Great Fire. In Marwood senior’s latest wander he thinks he has seen his wife Rachel in the distance, forgetting that she is long dead. He chases after her and eventually finds himself in the building where the Fire Court is held. But when he tracks down Rachel in an upstairs room he realises it isn’t his wife at all, but worse than that – the woman is dead – there’s been a murder.

But when he tells his son James about it, James is sceptical to begin with as he knows his father is becoming more and more confused. It isn’t long before James thinks that his father’s tale just might be true and so begins in investigation which leads to danger for him and his young assistant Cat Lovett.

This was another enjoyable read, so atmospheric of London as it must have been post the Great Fire. I see that he has published another one in this series – called The King’s Evil so I hope to get hold of a copy of that one soon.

Reading Andrew Taylor’s Wiki page I was really surprised to see that he had written the Bergerac books which were televised back in the 1980s, although he wrote those under the name of Andrew Saville.

New to me books

A couple of weekends ago we went to a book charity sale in the Scottish Borders and inevitably I came back with quite a few more books for my ever groaning bookcases, in fact within the last three weeks I’ve managed to squeeze four more into the house!

I have to say that there were loads of modern paperbacks for sale but the books that came home with me were the type that most people would dodge. They’re all fairly old and this time they’re mainly for children. In truth a few of them I bought just for the book cover or illustrations – as good a reason as any I think you’ll agree.

Books Again

So I bought:

We Didn’t Mean to go to Sea by Arthur Ransome.

Riders and Raiders by M.E. Atkinson (the author was recommended by a friend.)

The Golden Book of Children’s Verse – this book was published by Blackie and Son, the Glasgow based publisher who was a client of Charles Rennie Mackintosh who designed Blackie’s family home Hill House in Helensburgh, but also designed a lot of the Blackie book covers, including this one.

Granny’s Wonderful Chair by Frances Browne – it’s another Blackie book.

Two Joans at the Abbey by Elsie J. Oxenham. This seems to be an adventure tale which was first published in 1945. Chosen because of the title – well why not!

Breakfast with the Nikolides by Rumer Godden. I’ve been buying her books when I see them over the years. This is one of her Indian ones.

Mortimer’s Bread Bin by Joan Aiken, illustrated by Quentin Blake.

And lastly

Just What I Like which is another Blackie publication. It’s an annual sized book and has an inscription dated 1932 and I think the illustrations are lovely – so of their time. I suspect I’m turning into a Blackie book collector. Inadvertently of course!

Blackie

I was really surprised to see the evidence in this 1932 book that apostrophes were also misused back then. Bus’s indeed!

Book Illustration

Local Buzzard

Just a quick one tonight.

Buzzard

Jack took these two photos of a buzzard just outside our garden yesterday, they normally hang about in a tree a bit further away from us. I wonder if they’ll ever actually pay our garden a visit.

Buzzard

They’re not exactly rare in fact there seem to be loads of them constantly calling to each other here as they wheel around, but I never get blase about seeing them. We were just amazed that the tree branch didn’t show any sign of bending as these birds must be quite a weight.

Tomorrow’s post will be more recent book purchases – I know, it’s an illness!

The Looking-Glass War by John le Carre

The Looking Glass War cover

The Looking Glass War by John le Carre was first published in 1965. This is the third le Carre book that I’ve read and it’s the one that I least liked, it seems that I’m not alone in that as le Carre said that “his readers hated me for it”, but he was cheered by the fact that it went down better with American readers. I suspect that this tale is just too near the truth for most Brits to want to accept. The two government military intelligence departments involved are rivals, don’t share information and a lot of mistakes are made.

A Soviet defector claims that the Soviets are positioning missiles at Rostock close to the West German border. That information is treated as suspect and in an attempt to get some clarification an airline pilot is paid to divert his plane over Rostock to get photographs of the area. The intelligence officer sent to pick up the film is killed in a hit and run accident but this is interpreted as being a murder by the Stasi. A lot of the book is about a Polish officer being trained to go into the east to send radio messages back to London. Almost as soon as he gets there things go wrong. It’s not going to end well.

This book was written as a satire but mainly hasn’t been read as such.

It shows that lives were/are cheap but as the reader is involved with the spy and the relationship between him and the man training him then the casual lack of loyalty leaves a bad taste in the mouth. For that reason I found it quite depressing particularly as John le Carre was an MI5 and MI6 agent himself and he said it was an accurate representation of his own experiences. It sounds like ‘botched’ is the operative word.

Not long ago the man at the top of such things nowadays gave a speech at St Andrews University, saying that you didn’t have to be an Oxbridge graduate to be recruited by them. I’d advise anyone to just say NO.

The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen

The Last September cover

The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen was first published in 1929 and it was just her second book and I think it shows, although having said that I must admit that her first book The Hotel seemed far better to me. Her books are very hit and miss, I wasn’t at all keen on The Little Girls, but I did enjoy In the Heat of the Day.

Anyway The Last September was fairly recently made into a film and my copy of the book is the tie in. The film starred Keeley Hawes, Jane Birkin, Michael Gambon, Fiona Shaw, Maggie Smith and Lambert Wilson.

The setting is Ireland in 1920 at the beginning of ‘The Troubles’. The problem is that it takes great skill not to make reading a book tedious – if you’re writing about really rather boring parties. Danielstown is the local ‘big house’ which is owned by an Anglo Irish family. They’re very gregarious and as the area is full of very young English officers the house has been thrown open to them for tennis parties and dances. There are a lot of upper class single women around, presumably because so many men were killed in World War 1 and there are some pairings off despite parents saying that such pairings can’t happen because the officers are just out of school and have no money or prospects, or come from Surrey which is just the absolute end to the snobbish Anglo Irish.

But the young subalterns are there to do a job, and they have to go out looking for IRA men and searching for guns and it ends in disaster for some of the young people.

There’s an introduction by Victoria Glendinning who says that this is her favourite Bowen book but I felt that it was in dire need of a good editor, just too much meandering chat and thought, but obviously that appeals to other readers. I wasn’t keen on her writing style. I have to say that I went right off Bowen after reading The Love-charm of Bombs in which it’s described how she regularly took herself off to neutral Ireland during World War 2 when she had had enough of the bombing and lack of food in London.

Elizabeth Bowen was herself Anglo Irish – they were Protestants who were transplanted to Catholic Ireland from England for political reasons generations before, and the tragedy for them was that they weren’t truly accepted by either community, but that’s something that they never seemed to realise. Some of the locals would have been employed by those in the ‘big house’ as servants who I’m fairly sure would have despised them as being English and upper class and so they always lived in fear of being attacked and their houses being burnt down by the ‘real Irish’. That didn’t stop Elizabeth Bowen from actually having an affair with an IRA man – delusional I’d say, or she just liked living dangerously. I remember in the 1970s there were some terrible incidents with Anglo Irish people being murdered in their own homes, but presumably if they left their ‘big houses’ then they would never be able to afford the same standard of living in England.

Glasgow Cathedral’s stained glass windows

Despite the fact that apparently a lot of the Victorian stained glass didn’t last long there are still plenty of lovely windows in Glasgow Cathedral.

Stained Glass 1

Stained Glass 2

I adore colour and particularly coloured glass. I’ve never seen the attraction of flashy diamonds. I’d always be happier with a beautiful coloured gemstone, even if it was only glass. So long as it was set in a metal which wouldn’t turn my finger green.

Stained Glass 3
These stained glass windows were originally designed so that those medieval Christians who couldn’t read would still be able to recognise the stories from the bible that the windows depict.

Stained Glass 4

You could study some of the windows for hours I’m sure and probably still find something in them that you hadn’t seen the first time you looked at them. Going to a church service must have been quite an entertainment and of course most people probably didn’t have any glass at all in their own houses.
stained glass 5
Sadly the photo that I took of the Millenium window which is in shades of blue and purple didn’t come out well, but you can see some images of it here.
I think the colours are sumptuous, but those blue/purple shades are some of my favourites. Can you believe that there are people in this world that hate purple? Bizarre, and I’ve never felt that it’s a colour that I shouldn’t be wearing, no matter what my age might be.

Glasgow Cathedral – St Mungo’s

Glasgow Cathedral

I’m sure you know what it’s like – you rarely get around to visiting touristy places nearby and to be fair it’s donkey’s years since I’ve lived near Glasgow, but I did spend the first five years of my life there so it was about time I got around to visiting Glasgow Cathedral which is also called the High Kirk of Glasgow and has a Church of Scotland congregation. It’s the oldest cathedral on mainland Scotland and the oldest building in Glasgow. It dates from the late 12th century and is also known as St Mungo’s or St Kentigern’s (one and the same person). His tomb is in the crypt and the kirk features in Sir Walter Scott’s Rob Roy.

St Mungo's Tomb

altar-ish

I was impressed with the building although lots of the windows are just plain diamond paned glass. Apparently in the 1800s the powers that were gave a German company the commission to renew the windows with stained glass at huge expense, but within just a few years the glass began to deteriorate badly. I suspect that Prince Albert had something to do with the work going to a German firm, he seems to have seen it as his mission in life to give his country of birth as much economic help as possible. I bet they didn’t get their money back either!

The stone rood screen below is apparently quite unique.

stone rood screen

The ceiling is quite impressive.

medieval roof

The modern tapestries below are beautiful but the camera couldn’t do them justice.

modern Tapestries

The cathedral has a good atmosphere and there was also a very interesting photographic exhibition on when we were there. You can read more about the building here. I must admit though that to me it comes second to St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, Orkney which is stunning.

Glasgow’s coat of arms decorates the old lampost outside the cathedral.

Glasgow crest on Lamppost

There are stained glass windows in the cathedral, but I’ll keep them for another blogpost.

Bonnie Dundee by Rosemary Sutcliff

Bonnie Dundee cover

Bonnie Dundee by Rosemary Sutcliff was first published in 1983 and it’s a Puffin book. Previously I’ve enjoyed quite a few of Rosemary Sutcliff’s books for adults and I found this one to be well written and informative, very early on in the book I learned that a lorimer was a maker of spurs and horse accoutrements. I had just thought of lorimer as being a surname.

Young Hugh Herriott is an orphan and is living in the Highlands with his mother’s family. His mother had more or less been cast off by her family as she had married a travelling artist against their wishes. Hugh’s grandfather had taken him back into the family but Hugh was very much an outsider, just tolerated by the rest of his relatives. It is a turbulent time in Scotland (when isn’t it?) and religious zealots in the shape of Covenanters are being hunted down by government soldiers. A close encounter with some redcoats makes Hugh realise that he’s happier on the side of the redcoats than with his Covenanting family. If you thought that ‘redcoats’ were always English think again, there were plenty of Lowland Scots in that army.

In truth it’s seeing Claverhouse (Viscount Dundee) that pushes Hugh to leave his family and eventually he finds himself as part of Claverhouse’s household which leads him to follow him into battle. Things had come to a head when the Catholic King James succeeded to the throne on his brother Charles’s death. When James’s wife gives birth to a son the Protestants at court are determined to bring William of Orange over from Holland to push James out, William’s wife is a Stewart and of course they are Protestants. Some deluded people are still fighting this religious mess – it’s what has caused all the trouble in Ireland.

So begins the Jacobite cause with James eventually legging it to France after Claverhouse or Bonnie Dundee as he was nicknamed pays the ultimate price. If you want to learn a bit of Scottish history painlessly then this is an ideal read, a bit of an adventure tale woven into historical fact, and very atmospheric.

I’m fairly sure that Sutcliff’s mother must have been Scottish as she’s very good at writing Scots dialect, and her mother’s name was apparently Nessie – another clue I think. Rosemary Sutcliff spent most of her life in a wheelchair which makes her ability to write such great descriptive scenes all the more impressive as her own experiences must have been sadly narrow, especially as she lived at a time when access for disabled people was not great.

This is one of those books that you continue to read, knowing what the outcome must be – but daftly hoping for a better one.

The Willow Tearooms, Glasgow

A couple of weeks ago we had to go over to the west of Scotland – all of about 75 miles from us here in the east. We were picking up a table we had bought on Gumtree, but before doing that we had a look at the cathedral – can you believe we had never visited Glasgow Cathedral before? I’ll blog about that visit soon. I’m a bit pushed for time tonight and it’s nearly my bedtime so I give you – The Willow Tearooms in Buchanan Street, Glasgow. While we were waiting for our coffee and cream/jam scones to arrive (we made them Cornish style of course) I took a few photos. Luckily by this time it was getting on for 5 pm so there weren’t many others partaking of a stylish rest and snack.

Willow Tea Rooms Chairs

You have to walk through a gift shop to get into the lower tearoom (which is still upstairs, just not as high up as the other one) and the demi lune chair below is situated there. The woman on the till offered to take a photo of us both on the chair, but that would have hidden the whole shape of it so we politely declined.

Willow Tea Rooms Demi-lune Chair

The upper room is called The Chinese Tearoom, but whenever we go there it’s almost always closed already, maybe we should get there earlier. The loos are up that way though so we were able to take photos of the very different style. I love that vibrant colour.
Chinese Tearoom

Chinese Tearoom

The chair below stands on a mezzanine landing.

C.R. Mackintosh chair

The alcove below shows some of the things available to buy.

The Willow Rearooms alcove

If you want to see some photos from a previous visit have a look at this blogpost that Jack wrote a few years ago.