About Katrina

I live on the east coast of Scotland, not from choice. After 30 years here it still doesn't feel like home. Hence the name of my blog. West is still best as far as I am concerned. I'm married with two grown up 'boys'. I'm interested in books, films, art, crafts, cooking, politics, museums and travelling around Britain.

Wolsingham, Weardale, County Durham, England

We’ve done hardly any travelling around since Covid so I haven’t been doing much blogging about what I regard anyway as interesting places, and even when we did travel in May – to the County Durham area – I only blogged about one place. So here are a few photos of Wolsingham.

Old Building, Wolsingham

These north of England villages are just as scenic as the Cotswold villages, but I suppose their location counts against them as it’s not a handy journey from London and the south – as the Cotswolds area is. I can’t resist an old church though despite not being at all religious. Below is St Mary’s and St Stephen’s Church.

A Church in Wolsingham

St Mary's and St Stephen's Church, Wolsingham

I think it’s the burial grounds around old churches that I’m really attracted by, strange I know. But some of the gravestones can be fascinating. As you can see there was a lovely cherry tree blooming nearby.

Flowering Cherry, St Mary's and St Stephen's Churchyard, Wolsingham
The church dates back to the 12th century but like so many it was rebuilt in Victorian times, the 1840s for this one. It still looks quite ancient to me though.

St Mary's and St Stephen's Churchyard, Wolsingham

There’s a war memorial of course – there always is, sometimes they’re in the middle of nowhere, or so it seems.

Wolsingham War Memorial

You can read about the pretty wee town of Wolsingham here if you’re interested

Everyman’s Castle by Philippa Lewis

Everyman’s Castle by Philippa Lewis was first published in 2014, and it’s subtitled The Story of our cottages, country houses, terraces, flats, semis and bungalows.

This is such an interesting and informative read, but it references quite a lot of other books, mainly novels which of course I’ve taken a note of – it has bumped up my book list considerably! It also has plenty of lovely illustrations, and obviously there’s quite a lot of social history involved too.

I had always wondered why a great-uncle of Jack’s had insisted that his house was NOT a bungalow. They were the kind of house popular in colonial India amongst the Anglo Indians or ‘ex-pats’. But the early UK versions were often little more than wooden shacks, often built by soldiers after the end of WW1 when decent housing was difficult to find. Then after WW2 the prefabricated bungalows erected to try to alleviate the housing shortage tended to be despised, although they were loved by the people who actually lived in them.

I was surprised to discover that people in England were really reluctant to live in flats, so they were difficult to sell or let when builders first offered them. Eventually service flats became popular among the wealthy in London, it must have seemed like living in an hotel as meals could be sent up from the kitchen or you could go down to the restaurant, but there would have been more privacy than in an hotel. But flats have always been very popular in Scotland’s cities, they tend to be roomier than the narrow terraced housing on offer in England, but even those tiny houses ended up being split up into bed sitting rooms with kitchens being shared as the housing difficulties got worse.

It’s not all about grim housing problems though, having said that the ‘nobs’ who lived in country estates had problems of their own as new death duties took effect, and some were just abandoned and demolished but others such as Longleat took on the challenge and made a successful business out of the estate. It’s the suburban villas and semis section that I enjoyed most, and it was interesting to read that people in privately owned homes were building walls to separate themselves from newly built social (council) housing nearby.

This book has all sorts of interesting bits and pieces in it about old places such as Edinburgh and Bath as well as information about the ‘garden cities’ that became popular.

So this ws a really good read, and I love the cover too. I really like those 1930s art deco homes – Crittall curved windows and all.

The Women of Troy by Pat Barker

 The Women of Troy cover

The Women of Troy by Pat Barker is the sequel to her book The Silence of the Girls. This one continues with the Greeks sitting cramped in the wooden horse, waiting to be able to jump out and overcome Troy, if it isn’t dragged into the city and isn’t burnt with the men in it. All goes to their plan and Achilles’ son Pyrrhus seeks out the elderly King Priam to murder him, which he manages to do eventually although he botches it badly. The women of Troy are now all slaves, the ‘best’ given to the officers and the others being passed around the ordinary soldiers. King Priam’s body lies in a bloody heap with the Greeks not allowing him a funeral, the final indignity for him and those who loved him. Briseis who is now married to Alcimus but pregnant with Achilles’ child goes in search of Helen whom she had met when she was younger. So many people blame her for the war so Helen is not at all popular, but Briseis is trying to forge relationships where she can. She discovers that hundreds of women had commited suicide and she fears that her sister Ianthe was one of them, she can see no little boys at all. It seems that even they have been killed by the victors.

The Greeks are stranded in Troy due to the weather, there’s just no wind to fill their sails. To stop the soldiers from getting bored and drunk, which would surely lead to them fighting among themselves Alcimus decides to hold competitive games. The men all think that they’re unable to sail home because they’ve angered the gods, they’ve treated their priest as a figure of fun in the past.

This was an enjoyable read particularly as the women do feature a lot more in this one and they’re all interesting characters. I’ve always identified with Cassandra!

Thanks to Penguin Books, Hamish Hamilton for sending me a digital copy of the book via NetGalley.

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi

 The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle cover

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi was published in 1990 and has won several children’s book awards. You really have to suspend your disbelief while reading this book in order to enjoy it as the whole thing is most unlikely, but that didn’t stop it from being an enjoyable read.

It’s 1832 and thirteen year old Charlotte Doyle is in a crowded dock in Liverpool where she is to board a ship bound for America. Her father had arranged for her to be in the company of two families who would also be passengers and would look after her, but when Charlotte boards the Seahawk she discovers that those families have changed their plans, and she is alone on the ship, apart from a crew of mainly ragged ruffians.

Captain Jaggery is a cruel master and it isn’t long before Charlotte witnesses his harsh command. The only person that Charlotte befriends is the ship’s cook, but he is the target of Jaggery’s cruelty, with disastrous consequences.

Charlotte ends up becoming a member of the crew, casting off her dainty frocks in favour of the more practical clothing of a sailor boy and in no time she’s crawling up the masts to the crow’s nest as if she has been born to do it – you see what I mean about having to suspend your disbelief!

Things go from bad to worse when Charlotte is accused of murder – but all’s well that ends well. I can imagine this one being very popular with young girls hankering after adventure – vicariously.

The Guardian’s Bakewell Traybake

I recently deleted the old Mary Berry Bakewell recipe that I had on ‘Pining’. Someone called Emma was incensed that it didn’t work out for her which I found quite amusing as if you are an experienced baker you know that you can do a recipe fifty times with no problems but sometimes it just fails for no good reason. When that happens Jack says there were ‘too many clouds in the sky’ – it’s a thing that scientists say about failed experiments! Anyway, as I had stopped doing the Mary Berry version, I thought it was about time that I shared what I think is the Felicity Cloake version from The Guardian, which although I’m fairly sure must be more calorific due to the ground almonds, is much tastier in my opinion.

Bakewell Pudding

For the base:

100g (1/2 a cup) soft unsalted butter
50g (1/4 cup) sugar
100g (1/2 cup) plain flour
pinch of salt

For the filling:

150g ground almonds
50g (1/4 cup) plain flour
150g soft unsalted butter
150g sugar
3 medium eggs
a few drops of almond extract (optional)
1/2 a jar (or more) of raspberry jam
15-20g flaked almonds
150g fresh raspberries
icing sugar, to serve

Heat the oven to 170C//335F/gas mark 3 and lightly grease an 18cmx25cm baking tin.

To make the base, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, sift in the flour and salt, and work to a crumbly mixture. Press into the base of the tin, don’t worry if there are a few gaps, it will spread out as it cooks) and bake for 20 minutes until golden brown. Remove and turn the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.

For the filling, combine the ground almonds and flour and set aside.
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Gradually beat in the eggs one at a time, adding a spoonful of almond mix with each egg.
Fold in the remaining almond/flour mixture, and almond extract if using.

Spread the jam thickly over the cooled base and spread the almond/flour mixture evenly on top. Stud with the raspberries, pressing them in gently, and scatter with flaked almonds.
Bake for 35-40 minutes, until golden brown. Leave to cool, then dust with icing sugar and cut into squares.

I tried to convert the weights into US cups but I’m not confident they’re correct as according to some sites it depends which ingredients you are measuring. Honestly it’s a lot easier using scales.

Bakewell Pudding Sliced

As with many recipes I use them as a starting point and do my own thing. When I baked this batch a few weeks ago I had a jar of homemade jam that needed to be used up. I had made it last autumn and just called it autumn jam as it was a mixture of plums, pears and brambles/blackberries. It was really delicious as it tasted sort of Christmas spicy, despite having no such spice in it, I think it might have been the type of pears I used. I hope I can replicate it this autumn. Anyway, I used up the whole of the jar of jam in this batch. As raspberry season was over I didn’t add the raspberries, and it was still delicious, I also skipped the icing sugar and flaked almonds – well I am trying to eat healthily! However, as you can see, I cut the slices into rectangles, not squares!

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown – Classics Club, Back to the Classics

The Rose Garden cover

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown was first published in the UK way back in 1971 but the copy I read, in a very tightly bound and therefore difficult to read paperback edition was published in 1975 which is when Jack bought it, and I’ve been meaning to read it ever since then, so I put it on my Classics Club list, to encourage me to get on with it. I also read it for Karen’s Back to the Classics Challenge.

What can I say other than I’m really glad that I read this book, but it was so depressing. The American politicians of the day were so duplicitous, cruel and greedy and the First Nation Indians were so trusting, honest, dignified and forgiving – it was only ever going to end in tears for them.

Hunted like animals all over the country, by men who were no better than gangsters, whether in uniform or not and who conveniently didn’t even see the Indians as human beings. It was the Europeans who originally started scalping people, but the Indians who got blamed for it.

With settlers, gold rushers, corrupt government land agents and soldiers seeking glory it was only a matter of time before the First Nation people were either killed fairly quickly, or slowly by starvation as they were corralled in reservations (concentration camps) which had such poor land they couldn’t grow crops and all the animals had been frightened off or killed by hunters for their skins.

I must admit that after reading this book I’ll never see American settlers in quite the same light again, although to be fair they were also at times the victims of corrupt land agents. They must have known that they were usurping the original inhabitants of the land though.

It’s very true to say that history is written by the victors, which is why so many people believe that the American War of Independence was about a tax on tea. It wasn’t, it was about the fact that the British government had promised the First Nation people that they wouldn’t expand westward into their territory. That was something that the American politicians and businessmen were desperate to do – for profit of course. So they had to get rid of the British to get on with their expansion plans. A people with not much more than bows and arrows plus a strong tradition of caring for their land in what we nowadays see as a conservationist fashion just didn’t fit in to the American way.

This is an absolutely heartbreaking read with entire tribes being wiped out, ethnic cleansing is the euphemism now, but I’m very glad that I got around to it at last.

River West Water near Edzell Castle

When we visited Edzell Castle last week we realised that there must have been a source of water nearby, although it certainly wasn’t obvious, so we went on a wee walk in search. About a half a mile as the crow flies from the castle and maybe double that by the road we found the West Water which if you were travelling by car you would have no idea it was there as it’s down quite a steep and wooded path off the road. It’s lovely and clear, quite fast running, and with rocks to sit on it would be a lovely place for a picnic.

River West Water, near Edzell Castle, Scotland

As you can see the surrounding rock is red sandstone, the same rock which Edzell Castle was built from, presumably there’s an old quarry nearby.

River West Water, by Edzell Castle, Scotland

River West Water, Geology, red sandstone

We walked across Pirner’s Brig, which is quite a high and not very steady feeling metal bridge, but we survived!

River West Water, from Pirner's Brig

The photos below are the ones I took on my phone.

River West Water , near Edzell Castle, Scotland

River West Water , near Edzell Castle, Scotland

River West Water, near Edzell Castle, Scotland

Some of the surrounding rocks are conglomerate, with big pebbles stuck in the sandstone, when they are washed out by the water it leaves big indentations in the sandstone.

River West Water geology, near Edzell Castle, Scotland

And just to finish off, here’s photo I took of the view of the castle gardens from a window seat within the castle ruins. You have to imagine how it would have looked with cushions on the stone seats and maybe a nice tapestry to lean back on, and of course glass in the window. That would have been my favourite place to read a book, but the view of the garden would have been a distraction!

Edzell Castle window, near Brechin, Scotland

The Rose Garden by Tracy Rees

The Rose Garden cover

The Rose Garden by Tracy Rees is the first book that I’ve read by the author and although I enjoyed it in parts it did have problems for me as there were at least a couple of glaring historical mistakes in it and the relationships between the women seemed unlikely to me.

The setting is 1895 London where Mabs is working as a docker, dressed as a boy to get the work as obviously females can’t work there. Her mother is dead, her grieving father has taken to drink, and she and her younger siblings are facing starvation. Against all the odds Mabs gets a job as a companion to Abigail a woman who has just moved to London from Durham with her husband and children. Abigail seems selfish and spoiled to Mabs and not ill at all, but the husband has asked Mabs to spy on his wife and Mabs realises that things are not at all as she was led to believe. Olive Westwater is a spinster, only child of very wealthy parents and at 28 she doubts that she will ever marry, but she has a yen to have a child and so adopts a three year old girl against her parents’ wishes. Through Olive the lives of them all become woven together and when Abigail’s situation becomes dire it’s to Olive that Mabs turns to for help.

I was unable to suspend my disbelief in this premise, it just seemed far too unlikely for me, but if you aren’t as pernickety about details as I am then it won’t bother you.

The glaring historical mistakes are a mention of the phrase ‘the elephant in the room’ which is a very modern phrase, apparently first used in the US in 1935 but it didn’t reach the UK until years after that, probably around 1990 by my reckoning. The author had difficulty writing the voices of the various characters. There’s just no way that a wealthy and genteel Victorian lady would have used the word ‘guff’. The other mistake was that one of the young girls in the absolutely poverty stricken family which could barely afford food was still at school aged 15. Poor children back then left school at 12 and particularly in England free secondary schooling wasn’t available until 1944 and even then most people left school at the age of 14. The Scottish education system has always been different and we had free education decades before England had.

Also there is just no way that a seventeen year old girl could have got work at the docks even dressed as a boy. In those days, and up until comparatively recently (1960s) dockers were hired by the day and had to stand every morning looking fit and strong, hoping to be chosen to work a shift that day. A skinny girl would never have passed muster under those circumstances. These are all problems that should have been picked up by an editor but maybe nobody cares that there are big holes in the plot. Maybe I’m weird to be bothered by things like that – but that’s just me!

My thanks to Pan Macmillan for sending me a digital copy of this book via NetGalley.

After a Dead Dog by Colin Murray

 After a Dead Dog cover

After a Dead Dog by Colin Murray was published in 2007. The setting of this thriller is the west of Scotland.

Iain Lewis is living in the small childhood home that he had inherited from his father. He makes a precarious living writing various things for TV – now and again. His earlier writing career seemed certain to point to a glittering writing career but it hadn’t come to fruition. In some ways he has been living in the past after his romance with Carole, the daughter of the local wealthy businessman (fish processing) had failed soon after her father’s death. Twelve years on from the end of that romance Iain is attending Carole’s mother’s funeral and meeting her husband Duncan for the first time. Duncan makes it clear that he sees Iain as a danger to him and tries his best to get him into trouble with the police.

Irish gangsters seem to have become involved in Carole’s family business and they’re a violent bunch, but Iain holds his own as he had been a boxer in his student days. It isn’t long before firearms feature in attacks against Iain. The bad guys think Iain has their money and drugs and Iain travels to Glasgow to get help from his old friend Dougie who is a well-known crime reporter who knows some of the gangsters involved.

This book is reminiscent of Iain Banks’s writing, which is definitely no bad thing. I really enjoyed this one. Colin Murray had worked in publishing in London as an editor for years before moving to Scotland some years ago.

Edzell Castle Garden, near Brechin, Angus, Scotland

The garden at Edzell Castle dates back to 1604. Apparently Sir David Lindsay wanted the protection that a medieval castle gave him and his family, but he also wanted his children to experience the more beautiful things in life such as this renaissance garden. You can read about it here.

Edzell Castle Garden Info Board 2

The niches in the walls are normally planted with flowers but due to Covid it hasn’t been done this year, most of the historic places have just reopened to the public, the gardener is also having a tough time with the box hedging which was famous for its intricate topiarised Latin inscriptions, but sadly the box got blight and is nothing like it should be, it is being replanted I think but it’ll be ages before it’s back to its former glory as in the old image below.

Edzell Castle

The wee house in the next photo is a summerhouse which was used for entertaining in the garden.

aEdzell Castle Gardens Summer House 1

The walls have carvings of planetary gods on them and the swallows often nest in the small wall niches, especially the star shaped ones.

Edzell Castle Gardens Wall

Edzell Castle Gardens , Brechin, Scotland

Edzell Castle Garden, Brechin, Scotland

Edzell Castle Garden, Brechin, Scotland

There’s a well in a corner of the garden and when I had a look down into it (as you do) I could see that there was no water in it, just some sweetie wrappings deposited there by some ‘charmer’. So that led us to go on a search for the source of the water as you can’t have a castle without a water supply. Presumably there was a burn (stream) which supplied the well in days gone by but it must have been diverted or drained, probably by modern farming. We found the West Water about a mile from the castle, it’s a lovely walk down to the river with fast flowing clear water, but I’ll leave that for another time.