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.

In a Dark Wood Wandering by Hella S Haasse

 In a Dark Wood Wandering  cover

In a Dark Wood Wandering by Hella S Haasse was first published in Dutch in the Netherlands in 1949 but wasn’t published in English until 1989. It was one of my 20 Books of Summer and although I finished it in August I didn’t manage to review it then. The setting is 15th century France during the Hundred Years War. The French King Charles VI is not a well man, described as being mad but he has periods of lucidity over many years. His wife Queen Isabeau is in charge of things for most of the time and she manages to keep her husband isolated, even from his brother Louis d’Orleans. Isabeau hates Louis wife Valentin and after Valentin gives birth to a son Isabeau turns everyone against her, accusing Valentin of being a witch and causing the king’s illness. For her own safety Valentin has to leave the court. Louis isn’t really interested in power but given that he’s the king’s brother he can’t help being involved in the power struggle between the dukes of Burgundy, Berry and Bourbon.

Again and again Louis d’Orleans’ actions show that he isn’t cut out for leadership anyway, poetry is his favourite pastime and he has plenty of time to compile it when he is taken for ransom by the English after the Battle of Agincourt and spends 25 years as a prisoner in England.

This book is 574 pages long and is a great read. Over decades the book was translated by Edith Kaplan, Kalman Kaplan and Anita Miller. The writing is really descriptive, such as the scene before the Battle of Agincourt:

The moon hid behind clouds; a fine, even cold rain fell. There was no wind, but the raw damp of the long night seemed far less bearable than a dry cold. On the muddy plain the French army stood with its vast camp of tents: hundreds of bonfires smouldered in the dank mist. Torches flashed like comets through the darkness. Flags and banners hung limply; from the pointed tops of the tents water trickled down the gold and silver escutcheons.

If you want to read a much more detailed review of this book have a look at Helen at She Reads Novels thoughts here.

Corpses in Enderby by George Bellairs

 Corpses in Enderby  cover

Corpses in Enderby by George Bellairs was first published in 1954 and I read it on my Kindle, the first time I had used my Kindle for ages because I much prefer actual books, for one thing you can flick through them easily to remind yourself of details, and put bits of paper in the pages. I did use the notes bit on my Kindle but now can’t get into them! Modern life – huh.

Anyway Corpses in Enderby if I’m recalling correctly more or less begins in a pub in a small English town where there’s a bit of a ‘stooshie’ because a local businessman Ned Bunn has refused to help one of his neighbours who has a dying wife and needs some money. Ned Bunn is obviously not a good guy and the neighbour swears he’ll kill him. When Bunn leaves the pub to walk across the road to his ironmonger’s shop and home he’s furious to discover his daughter and shop assistant having a bit of a canoodle. The widowed Ned Bunn is determined to keep his daughter a spinster so that she can look after him, he has seen off her previous boyfriends. As he throws the poor man out into the street there’s a huge bang and Ned Bunn is dead, but who did it?

The local police waste no time in calling in Scotland Yard in the shape of Inspector Littlejohn and his assistant Cromwell. It turns out that the Bunn family is a big one and they’re all obsessed with money and Ned Bunn had been the top of the pile. In fact there is more than a baker’s dozen of Bunns and also an awful lot of other characters with names beginning with ‘B’, it’s a bit bizarre!

I enjoyed this one, there’s more murder, quite a lot of snarky humour and some entertaining female characters. I really like Inspector Littlejohn and his side-kick Cromwell so I’ll look out for more of these books. I got this ebook free from the George Bellairs Estate. Thank-you.

The Berry Scene by Dornford Yates

The Berry Scene cover

The Berry Scene by Dornford Yates is a collection of short stories involving Berry Pleydell, his wife and cousin Daphne, the narrator is Daphne’s brother ‘Boy’. Dornford Yates was a local magistrate and his experiences in court obviously inspired him to write some hilarious court situations. The dates vary between 1914 and post World War 2 and the locations begin in England and move to France, just as Yates himself did.

A couple of the stories are about the Pleydells having good luck at auction houses, due to Daphne’s eagle eyes and also feature them getting one over a rival bidder which ends in grief for the other bidder, but relations are always smoothed over in a later story so there’s no residual nastiness.

If you like P.G. Wodehouse you’ll probably enjoy the Yates books that involve Berry, they’re similar although not quite as snooty and upper class. There are a few of his books available free from Project Gutenberg here.

Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times – September the 4th

How quickly Bookshelf Travelling in Insame Times comes around. This meme was originally hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness, but I’ve taken it over for the moment.

Topshelf Books

This week’s bookshelf is in a glass doored bookcase, another one from Jack’s parents and it’s situated in our living room. Click on it to enlarge the picture. It has a variety of books in it, some really old library discards from a library I used to work in, those are the natural history books, ancient but nicely illustrated so still useful. All of the books are worth reading. The World War 1 poet Siegfried Sassoon’s Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man and Memoirs of an Infantry Officer are great reads and my copies are published by Folio Books, as is Crime Stories from the Strand. This is a compilation of short stories featuring Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy L. Sayers, Edgar Wallace, Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, Carter Dickson and several more crime writers.

The small read volume to the far right of the bookshelf is a Bradshaw’s Continental Railaway Guide, illustrated and complete with several maps. It cost all of 3/6 or 17 and a half pence in ‘new money’. It dates from the early 1900s and apart from the continental railway guides it also gives lots of information on the towns and villages in Europe – including Russia – that are worth visiting, what you can see and recommendations on where to stay. It also has lots of adverts for hotels, many of which are called The Grand Hotel. There are lots of adverts for shipping lines too. It might interest you to know that if you sailed from Liverpool to Boston first class it would cost you £12. Second class was £8 and 10 shillings. I found this lovely book when I was having a rake around in an antique/junk shop which just had a few books. When I asked the owner how much the book was she said – Just give me a couple of quid (pounds). She explained to me that so many copies of the book had been published it wasn’t worth any more than that. It felt like theft but I gave her the £2 and departed with my treasure. Michael Portillo’s TV series Great Continental Railway Journeys was already very popular at the time and as he uses these guides during his travels they’re become highly desirable, but I’m holding on to mine.

If you don’t know about the TV series you might want to have a look at the You Tube video below, you also might want to wear sunglasses as Portillo is known for his bright and clashing colours.

Will you be Bookshelf Travelling this week?

Other Bookshelf Travellers this week are :

A Son of the Rock

Culross, Fife, Scotland

Culross

A lot of the wee houses in Culross are owned by the Scottish National Trust and were delapidated and uninhabited until they took them over and renovated them.

Culross street, Fife, Scotland

Then they rented them out to people, I’m not sure if the houses that I’ve photographed are some of those ones but I think they are. I wish they had kept one of them as a tourist attraction, it’s lovely to visit palaces and stately homes but it can be even more interesting to see how the ordinary people lived back in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Culross, Fife, Scotland

Culross, Fife, Scotland

It’s strange but looking back I remembered having a hard time picking my way over the stones and boulders that made up the roads but I now see that some of them were tarmacked. In the photo below you can get an idea of how rough some of the roads are. It looks like a great tower house and must have a lovely view over the River Forth.

Culross house, Fife, Scotland

It’s a pity about the wheelie bins in the photo below – ugly but necessary for the people who live there. Sometimes tourists forget that these are people’s homes and have a good old look through a window, nose pressed to glass. I know someone who did that thinking the house was a museum and got the shock of their life when she saw the woman of the house staring back – it wisnae me!

Culross house, Fife, Scotland

The merkat cross below is about halfway up the very steep hill that leads to Culross Abbey, it seems a strange place to hold a market, it can’t have been an easy haul up there for any stall holders or shoppers. Maybe they held the market elsewhere despite the merkat cross being here.

Culross Mercat Cross, Fife, Scotland

On the way back downhill it’s easiest either to walk down the gutter at the side or along the middle of the road where the boulders are bigger and flatter.

Culross lane, Fife, Scotland

Below is a photo that I took close to the top of the hill that leads up to the abbey, looking over to the Firth of Forth. I inadvertently got a cow’s backside in view too!

River Forth View, Culross, Fife

The beach isn’t the bonniest but apparently it’s very rich in food for seabirds which is the main thing. Culross is definitely worth a visit if you are in or close to Fife.

Culross, Firth of Forth,Fife

Culross Abbey, Fife, Scotland

Last Friday dawned dry and bright, the only dry day in the week, so we decided to drive to the very historic Fife village of Culross, which is pronounced Cooris. Although we’ve visited Culross Palace at least three times we had never tackled the very steep and stony road which leads to the Culross Abbey. It is now a ruin and a lot of the stones from it have been ‘robbed’ to build the nearby manse.

The tower of the abbey church which is in use today stands in what was the middle of the original abbey. It was founded in 1217 by Malcolm, 3rd Earl of Fife. It was home to Cistercian monks who wore white habits.

Culross Tower, Fife, Scotland

The metal stairs are very steep, I went down backwards.

Culross Abbey Vault

Culross Abbey Ruins, Fife, Scotland

Culross Abbey Wall, Tower, Fife, Scotland

Culross Abbey Ruins , Fife, Scotland

And parts of the original abbey can be seen in the manse garden. What a wonderful feature to have in your garden!

Culross Abbey Ruins,River  Forth

The ‘modern’ Abbey Church is still in use, it’s a shame it was closed when we were there, it looks like it would be very interesting internally. I did have a good old mooch around the graveyard though.

Culross Abbey church  graveyard

I know it isn’t everyone’s idea of a good afternoon out but it hit the spot for me!

Culross graveyard , Fife, Scotland

If you don’t mind walking up a very steep hill on at times a painfully uneven surface this is an interesting place to visit, as much for the lovely wee houses on the way up as for the grand but ruined abbey. A lot of the houses in the village are now owned and rented out by the Scottish National Trust, they were ruins before they took them over and refurbished them, but I’ll keep the photos of the houses for another blogpost.

You can see more images of the abbey here.

20 Books of Summer – the Wrap-up

20 books of summer

All too quickly we’ve come to the end of 20 Books of Summer and I haven’t quite managed to read all of my chosen books. I did actually read more than twenty books over the summer but I veered away from the list when I felt the need to read a Heyer or vintage crime or some children’s books. I haven’t quite managed to review all that I’ve read from the list, I still have to review In a Dark Wood Wandering and The Berry Scene. I enjoyed most of the books, a few didn’t quite hit the spot but it was a good summer of reading over a time when we were still locked down and not allowed to travel far from home. I’m so glad that I’m a keen reader.

1. North from Rome by Helen MacInnes
2. The Road Home by Rose Tremain
3. My Friend Flora by Jane Duncan
4. Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome
5. The Citadel by A.J. Cronin
6. The House of Doctor Dee by Peter Ackroyd
7. The Runaway by Elizabeth Anna Hart
8. Madame Solario by Gladys Huntingdon
9. Autumn Quail by Naguib Mahfouz
10. Peter Pan in Scarlet by Geraldine McCaughrean
11. An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott
12. The Berry Scene by Dornford Yates
13. The Flight of the Heron by D.K. Broster
14. Wolf Among Wolves by Hans Fallada
15. The Dark Wood Wandering by Hella S. Haasse
16. The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar
17. Call for the Dead by John le Carre
18. A Murder of Quality by John le Carre
19. The House in Norham Gardens by Penelope Lively
20. Snow by Orhan Pamuk

Bookshelf Travelling – August 30th

Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times was originally hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness.

Classic Books

Jack took the above photo last week for his Bookshelf Travelling contribution, a wee bit of a cheat as it’s really a shelf full of my books! Anyway, I haven’t read them all but I have read and enjoyed the What Katy Did books by Susan Coolidge. This shelf houses What Katy Did Next and it was a Sunday School prize to Ina Scott in 1921. I don’t think I have a copy of What Katy Did nowadays, but I remember as I child that it left a deep impression on me and I swore that if I ever had any children I would always explain things to them – rather than just saying ‘No you can’t do that’.

I also really enjoyed reading The Old Wives’ Tale by Arnold Bennett, much more recently. You can read what I thought of it here. Actually I see that it wasn’t all that recently it was 2013 when I read it – how time flies.

The other two books that I want to highlight are books that I’ve never got around to reading. Westward Ho! by Charles Kingsley belonged to Jack’s Granny Margery Besford and she inscribed it in October 1909 when I think she was about 15. I have not a clue what this book is about. Westward Ho! is a town in England which is famous for being the only town in the UK which has an exclamation mark! It’s a lovely copy of the book and I really should put it on my Classics Club list.

The last one I want to talk about is The Cloister and the Hearth by Charles Reade. Again it belonged to Margery Besford but she got this one as a Sunday School Prize in 1909 from St. Gabriel’s Church, Govan – which is an area of Glasgow. At one point, in the heady days when there were quite a lot of secondhand bookshops around they all seemed to have at least one copy of this book on their shelves so it was wildly popular in its day. It’s 533 pages of very small print – I might get around to reading it it one day.

I see that there are quite a lot of books by Rudyard Kipling too. I have read all of these ones I believe, he is wildly unfashionable now, I suppose because he is wrapped up with ‘British Empire’ days, but last year I was in the St Andrews secondhand bookshop and there was an Americam tourist (not that old either) who was absolutely thrilled to discover a whole set of old Kipling volumes, he was buying them no matter what the flight weight restrictions were, so somebody is still reading them.

Have you read any of these books? Click on the photo to see it enlarged.

Other Bookshelf Travellers are:

A Son of the Rock

Bitter Tea and Mystery

Books Please

Read – warbler

She Reads Novels

Stainless Steel Droppings

Staircase Wit

The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer

 The Talisman Ring cover

The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer was first published in 1936. This book doesn’t feature on my 20 Books of Summer list but I really needed a book to cheer me up. The news pandemical and political is bad enough, but the days and days of constant rain just about pushed me over the edge. I knew that a Georgette Heyer book would hit the spot, accompanied by some chocolate of course. I recalled that someone recently said that The Talisman Ring was her favourite Heyer – and it was sitting unread on my Heyer shelf – such luck! I think it has become my favourite too. More than any others it seemed to be a Regency version of one of Heyer’s crime/mystery books and there was plenty of scope for snappy and witty dialogue between the male and female characters.

The elderly Lord Lavenham is dying and three of his grandchildren have gathered at Lavenham Court. Ludovic the heir to the estate is absent as he has had to skip the country after he was suspected of murdering a fellow gambler. Lord Lavenham makes Tristram promise to marry his much younger cousin Eustacie as there’s no one to look after her, her branch of the family had recently come to grief in the French Revolution, but neither of them are attracted to each other. Basil or Beau as he is nicknamed will inherit the estate in the absence of Ludovic.

Eustacie believes that she would have a more exciting life if she became a governess (maybe French governesses have an exciting life!) so when her grandfather dies she sneaks out of the Court to ride to London, having to ride through a notoriously haunted forest. Instead of meeting the Headless Horseman she bumps into a group of smugglers, one of whom turns out to be Ludovic.

Events lead them to have to put up at a nearby coaching inn and so begins an adventurous romp with Eustacie being enthusiastically aided by Sarah Thane who is staying there while her brother Sir Hugh samples as much of the liquor in the cellar as he can get his hands on.

This book has great characters and a good plot too, it was just what I needed, mind you I’m still fed up with all the rain.

Kinnoull Hill, Perthshire, Scotland

Last Thursday was a beautiful day, such a treat after the twelve hour long thunder and lightning storm of a few days previously, so we grabbed the day and drove to Kinnoull Hill in Perthshire. For decades we’ve driven past the rocky outcrop which towers above the M 90 motorway that takes you into the city of Perth and had just never got around to actually visiting the place, despite it being a really popular beauty spot.

Kinnoull Hill Path, Perth, woodland

The hill is covered with trees and the path is fairly steep but it only took us about 15 minutes to reach the top, we really needed the exercise anyway after being cooped up in the house hiding from the torrential rain of earlier in the week.

Kinnoull Hill Path,Perthshire, Scotland

There’s a wood carving of an owl in flight on the way up, but the woodland itself was bereft of birdlife. I’ve often been puzzled by this when walking in woods. Even when there’s nobody else around and it’s very quiet the woods never seem to have any wildlife in them. There are far more birds around my garden.

Kinnoull Eagle sculpture, Perthshire

Through a gap in the trees you can get quite a decent view of the historic village of Scone which is close to Perth.

Scone, from Kinnoull Hill, Perthshire

From the top of Kinnoull Hill you get a great view east to the Carse of Gowrie and over to Errol, even on what was a fairly hazy day. You can see why the River Tay is called the silvery Tay. Over the river are the hills of Fife.

Kinnoull Hill View , Distant Hills

The photo below is a stitch of three photos that I took looking over to the south side of the river and Fife beyond. The yellowy-gold coloured fields had just been harvested.

River Tay stitch, Perthshire, Scotland

The stitch below is from the top of what was a very blustery Kinnoull Hill, looking down towards the bend in the River Tay. It felt quite dangerous, in fact there are plenty of warning signs to tell you not to go too close to the edge as it just falls away and it would be easy to walk over by accident.

River Tay stitch, Perthshire, Kinnoull Hill

The one below is looking northwards towards Dunkeld and Birnam Wood of Macbeth fame.

View from Kinnoull Hill

Below is an information plaque which tells of all the instances of historical interest around this area.

information plaque, Kinnoull Hill, Perthshire, Scotland

After we walked back down the hill we had another look at the information board at the car park and realised that we had somehow missed a tower which has been built on the hill, so one day we’ll have to go back again and take a close look at it. Obviously we missed a path which leads over to that side of the hill. You can see images of it here.

We should have done our homework before setting out, such as visiting this Visit Scotland site.