Cove, Scottish Borders

Cove harbour

One day last month we went to visit Eric and his family and that always means a lovely walk to the wee harbour at nearby Cove. The water was so tranquil, but there were no scuba divers around.

cottages at Cove

The cottages are still standing despite no doubt being pounded by storms at times, these are the only ones left of what was once quite a large fishing community.

harbour and headland

harbour and headland

This wee harbour is almost like a secret, you really need to know someone who knows the place as you have to walk through a dark tunnel which was created by digging through a hillside. It’s still quite easy to imagine how it must have been when it was home to lots of families though. If you’re interested you can read more about the history of Cove here.

St Monans Windmill and coast in Fife, Scotland

Pittenweem from St Monans Windmill 1

One lovely Sunday in August we went to a local craft/food fair along the coast at St Monans and then took a walk along part of the Fife coastal walk. I took the photo of the village of Pittenweem above from the old windmill at St Monans, which is below. It has been fairly recently refurbished but you don’t seem to be able to get into it.
Windmill
The tide was just about as high as it gets, but there weren’t many boats around, just one yacht and a small fishing boat laying creels/lobster pots.
Rocks  + Yacht

We sat for a while on these beautifully sea worn rocks, watching the patterns of the ripples and waves.
Rocks and Sea
From the windmill you can look down on the remains of the salt pans below. It was quite a complicated and time consuming business. No wonder people were described as being ‘worth their salt’.
Salt Pans

Salt Pans at St Monans

Salt Pan Information Board

Salt Pan Information Board

Below is a photo of the windmill with the old fishing village of St Monans in the background. It’s famous for having a ‘squinty’ harbour wall. You can see images of the village here.
Windmill and St Monans

Mull of Galloway, Dumfries and Galloway

Last year we visted the furthest north point of Scotland so this year we couldn’t miss out on visiting the furthest southerly point of Scotland in Dumfries and Galloway. The Mull of Galloway lighthouse is one of the many designed and built by the Stevenson family which the writer Robert Louis Stevenson belonged to.

Mull of Galloway Lighthouse

Mull of Galloway Info Board

Jack was determined to stand on the very most southerly point which just happened to be where the foghorn is located. Thankfully it’s no longer in use. There are lots of steps down to it which was fine going down, not such fun on the way up though!
Foghorn from path

Below is a photo of the foghorn from the lighthouse, there was a real pall of sea mist (haar) so there was no chance of being able to see Ireland or the Isle of Man that day.
Foghorn from Lighthouse

The coastline is very rocky and dangerous as you can see and there seemed to be nobody around who was mad enough to hang off the rocks or cliffs as they did when we were up in Orkney last year.
Mull of Galloway rocks

It looks like we had the place to ourselves but it was very busy, especially considering it was quite late on in the day. Anyway, that’s another thing ticked off our non-existent bucket list.

St Ninian’s Cave near Whithorn, Dumfries and Galloway

St Ninian's info board

When we were in the county of Dumfries and Galloway (south-west Scotland) recently we decided to visit St Ninian’s Cave which is near Whithorn. It’s apparently a place that St Ninian – the man who brought Christianity to Scotland way back in the 390s – used for contemplation and prayer. I must admit I hadn’t realised it was quite that long ago. It’s really a very small cave nowadays, but probably over the years it has suffered from rock falls and been eroded by the sea.

St Ninian's cave

When we reached the car park for the cave a bus full of school children and teachers complete with guitars had just disembarked. So we decided to race on ahead of them so we could reach the cave before them and sample the atmosphere better. It was apparently a walk of a mile or so, it seemed longer, through woodland before reaching what is a really beautiful beach full of the most interesting and lovely stones I’ve seen on any beach. It was slightly misty though.

St Ninian's beach from cave

pebbles

The cave is still a place of pilgrimage for Christians and a lot of home made crosses large and small have been left there, and also flat stones which have been painted with the names of loved ones who are presumably no longer with us.

crosses

crosses

To reach the cave you have to trudge over 400 yards of a beach which isn’t at all easy to walk on, when we left the area the kids on the school trip hadn’t begun to do it. They were being preached to – poor souls. No words were needed, it’s just a beautiful peaceful place. I’m glad we got to it before its atmosphere was filled with Kumbaya, or maybe it would have been Morning Has Broken.

I’m not at all religious but this is a very nice place to visit, even on a sea misty day.

flowers , St Ninian's beach

Blackpool Illuminations – and more

Central Pier, Blackpool

Last month when we were visiting friends in the north of England for a few days we were taken to see the Blackpool Illuminations – a first for both of us. I had heard that Blackpool was like lots of British coastal resorts, very much down-at-heel and that’s true for some parts of it. The sad truth is that it’s often cheaper for people to travel to Spain for a week than to stay in a seaside hotel in Britain.

Tower + tram at Blackpool

You can’t go to Blackpool and not buy some rock, it comes in all sorts of weird flavours nowadays, not just the mint of the past. So chilli, salted caramel and cheesecake flavours purchased, it was time to look at the Blackpool Tower. The TV programme Strictly Come Dancing must have been a godsend to Blackpool as it must have brought a lot of visitors to the place, to see the famous ballroom. But there was something going on in it when we were there, probably filming so we didn’t see the actual ballroom although there are still good Victorian details to admire in the rest of the interior.

Imperial Hotel Blackpool

We were treated to a splendid afternoon tea at a posh hotel, The Imperial – see above, but the framed celebrity photos on the walls spoke of a grander history when the likes of The Beatles and Jayne Mansfield visited.

Afternoon Tea at Imperial Hotel Blackpool

It was dry but windy and a wee bit chilly, so after filling up on delicious sandwiches, scones and cakes – twice as many as in the picture! – we got all day tickets for the trams and took a ride out to Fleetwood, about fifteen miles from Blackpool, but by the time we got there Fleetwood was shut! We had a walk about and Martin, who had gone there on holiday as a nipper, found a lot of changes although to me it looked fine, but was lacking the bowling greens and crazy golf of the past. There are a few buildings that would be recognisable by Edwardians who flocked to Fleetwood in its glory days as you can see from the photo below.

Fleetwood Pavilion
When we got back to Blackpool it was time for dinner, so we headed to a fish restaurant – as you do. Fish wrapped in batter is really the only kind that I like as it doesn’t taste very fishy.

By the time we had finished it was dark and the show had started, illuminations were lit up. I’ve known loads of people who go to the illuminations every year and I never really had any idea of what it was they were going to see – so now I know!

It’s a mixture of tableaux aimed at children I suppose, but I liked the Alice in Wonderland one.
Alice in Wonderland Lights
Lights Blackpool tram

The trams are festooned with lights making them look like riverboats and old steam trains, and the street on the long esplanade is decked out in a variety of designs. I was really quite impressed and I was surprised to discover that the illuminations are so temporary. It seems strange that they don’t have them there for the Christmas and New Year celebrations. Sadly most of our photos were too blurry but you can see more photos of the illuminations here.

They certainly brighten up a cold dark night but I suppose could be thought of as being a bit tacky, I think it’s just a bit of fun to try to prolong the tourist season after the summer holidays are over. It must use up a lot of electricity though so I hope in future years they can power a lot of it by solar!

Blackpool Illuminations

I thought you might like to see posters of Blackpool and Fleetwood in their heyday in the 1920s and 1930s.

Blackpool Illuminations
Blackpool

Fleetwood

Cockburnspath/Cove, Scottish Borders

headland Cove

One day ten weeks or so ago (how time flies!) we went to Cockburnspath to visit Eric and his family. it was the last week of Freya’s school holidays. It’s a very historic area, being very close to the border with England, battles were fought nearby. When King James IV married Margaret Tudor in 1503 he presented the land around here to her as a wedding gift.

Our visit usually includes a walk to the beach at nearby Cove, a settlement that was once a fishing village with quite a lot of houses and families living there, but due to the ravages of the North Sea most of the houses have been swept away, there are only around three left that are inhabited.

Uther found a ball on the beach and he thought it was a great game to poke it over the edge of the quayside and watch it drop into the harbour, Eric wasn’t so enthralled with the game. Luckily he had his wellies on! The bystanders were very amused.

Boats  at Cove

The North Sea has worn some lovely patterns into the rocks.
rocks  at Cove

rocks and houses  at Cove

Although we’ve been there numerous times we had never witnessed the place when the tide was out, it looks so different. It meant there was far more territory for Uther the red and white setter to investigate, and I must admit that I was happy to follow in his pawsteps. Mooching around on a beach is one of my favourite pastimes, why anyone would want to lie down on a beach is a mystery to me.

Uther

Uther

rocks and Uther

The low tide had brought a couple of cockle/whelk gatherers out – rather them than me, apart from not liking seafood – there’s a nuclear power station lurking in the background!

sea  at Cove

Freya, Jack and Eric were happy to sit and chat while I risked broken ankles scrabbling around amongst the rocks.

F,E, J
These old houses are incredibly picturesque and part of me thinks it would be exciting to have the North Sea battering off your walls, but the fact that all the other houses have been torn down by the sea makes me see sense. This one is now only used to store fishing gear nowadays.

steps  at Cove

Uther is the only dog that I’ve ever known that doesn’t like to go into water, whisper it but – maybe he was a cat in another life!
Uther

harbour wall

Scapa Flow Visitor Centre, Hoy, Orkney

The small island of Hoy is a fairly short ferry trip from the Orkney mainland. The Scapa Flow Visitor Centre is well worth the trip. The area was very busy during both World Wars as it’s so strategically placed it’s a perfect place to position a large part of the British Navy, meaning the population exploded with the arrival of loads of sailors and soldiers and airmen too.

This inevitably led to a change in the opportunities of the local females who up until then didn’t have much to choose from when it came to getting married. When the navy finally weighed anchors and sailed off permanently the local females’ horizons must have closed in on them again. To compensate for this disappointment it seems that they were encouraged to take up pig farming instead of getting married. No difference some might say! I liked the cartoon below which appeared in a local newspaper at the time.

Cartoon

The author Compton Mackenzie (Monarch of the Glen, Whisky Galore) owned a couple of the islands and was stationed here and donated his uniform to the museum.
Comptom Mackenzie's Battle-dress

It’s really quite a good museum with exhibits inside and outside, although I’m not too interested in military hardware.

Gun

I was happier with the more domestic parts such as this mock up of a typical 1930s interior, although I feel that they could be doing with a nice 1930s three piece suite, if I had known that I would have donated one to them before we moved, as I ended up giving it to a local college to practice their upholstery skills on.

1930s room

You can have a look at an air raid shelter, there must have been more of them scattered around but possibly they’ve all been filled in again.

Air-raid shelter

There’s also a tearoom, done out to look like it would have in the 1930s, but it was full of people partaking of the cup that cheers – as usual, so I didn’t take any photos of it. They had tasty cakes though.

The sign above the door seems to be the original one.
Church Army Sign

Hoy is well worth a visit. I’m only annoyed that we didn’t realise that the ferry is such a small one with not much room for vehicles, so you have to book ahead, we were too late to book so we just went as foot passengers, so could only explore by foot. Next time we’ll take the car and travel across as much of Hoy as we can as there’s obviously a lot more to see than we managed, going from these images.

Caithness – sheep and dolphins

Just after leaving the Castle of Mey we met a traffic jam – Caithness style – sheep. They were being moved from one field to another one down the road a bit.

Sheep
Yes the road ahead was full of sheep.

Sheep

Sheep

Sheep

Sheep

There was a teeny wee Border collie pup dancing on the end of its lead, probably its first outing with the sheep, but it hardly took its eyes off the shepherd.

It’s not the most beautiful scenery in Scotland, but just a bit further south you reach the Moray Firth, I’d like to spend some time there to watch the wildlife, it’s famous for dolphins amongst other things.

Moray Firth seascape

I found this You Tube video of the dolphins there, but I’d like to see it in person.

Skara Brae, Orkney

We were quite lucky as we got to Skara Brae before it became too busy, we looked around the remains and then walked along the beach, and when we got back to Skara Brae three tour coaches had arrived. I don’t think it can be quite the same experience when there are that many people there.

Skara Brae plaque

As you can see Skara Brae is situated close to a beach. It was a huge storm back in 1850 which resulted in a huge amount of sand being cleared away, uncovering the remains of the Neolithic dwellings. This settlement is 5,000 years old, older than Stonehenge. According to the historian Neil Oliver Orkney was the centre of the world back then!

first structure

The rectangular ‘boxes’ on the right of the photo are the beds, they would have been filled with heather and animal skins to make them cosy.

house  at Skara Brae

It is a bit like The Flintstones, with all the furniture being made from rocks, but I really like the shelves/dresser. Some Stone Age woman was really proud of her home and did her best to make it comfortable.

shelves

This is a view of Skaill beach from the edge of Skara Brae.

Skaill Beach, Orkney

Highland River by Neil M. Gunn

Highland River cover

Highland River by Neil M. Gunn won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1937 and I’m trying to make my way through as many of the winners as possible. It’ll be a long haul as there are a lot of them.

This is just the third book by Gunn that I’ve read, I think so far The Silver Darlings is my favourite.

Highland River is set around the Dunbeath area of the Scottish Highlands.

It’s really the story of Gunn’s childhood. It was a hand to mouth existence and the story begins with Kenn being sent out in the dark of early morning to get water from the well situated near a pool. It’s freezing and Kenn slips and falls in the water, but in doing so he realises that a huge salmon has become trapped in the pool, and so begins a battle to catch it with his hands. This is an aspect of the book that reccurs time and time again, in fact too much for me, it might appeal to those who are interested in unusual fishing techniques.

The Scottish Highland childhood chapters are interspersed with chapters about Kenn and his brother’s experiences in the trenches of World War 1 and I would have been happier with the book if there had been more of those. Gunn never was involved in that war though so he probably felt he was better off sticking to writing about what he knew about. He was a customs officer/excise man from 1910 until he was able to earn enough from his writing to become a full time writer in 1937.

He was active politically and was a member of the National Party for Scotland part of which later became the Scottish National Party. He died in 1973.

As it happens, when we were travelling home from our recent trip to Orkney we stopped off at Dunbeath which is a very small place, but is in a beautiful area of Caithness. They’re proud of their ‘local hero; and have erected a statue of Kenn with his massive salmon, a scene from this book. The photo below is of the river that runs through Dunbeath, it’s called Dunbeath Water, and is presumably the Highland river from the title.

Dunbeath Water

There’s also this lovely statue of Kenn and his salmon, a scene from the book.
Kenn + Salmon

I also read this one for the Read Scotland 2017 Challenge and it’s one of my 20 Books of Summer.