Springtime walk – daffodils

Daffodils , Balbirnie

Over the past week my morning walk for the newspaper has been brighter and sunnier than usual. It’s the daffodils that are doing it. The poor things have been taking a wee bit of a battering from the wind, but they’re tougher than they look.

Daffodils, Balbirnie

These ones are at Balbirnie, a place that has become a lot busier since lockdown!

Daffodils , Balbirnie

The Gates of Eden by Annie S. Swan

The Gates of Eden by Annie S. Swan was first published in 1893. This book is seen as her most successful one I believe and it was an interesting read for me as almost all of the action takes place within a couple of miles of my home. Unusually the author didn’t change the names of any of the villages involved in the tale. The main setting is a hamlet called Star which Annie S. Swan had moved to when her husband got employment there as a teacher in the wee school. They only lived there for two years, it must have been a bit of a culture shock for them as they would have been used to Edinburgh and Star was really at the back of beyond comparatively.

The story begins with the death of a young woman who has just given birth to twins, both boys. Before she died she asked her husband to make the eldest boy – Alexander (Sandy) a minister when he grew up and he was determined to keep his promise. The result was that Sandy was put above his younger brother James who was destined to help his father on the farm and was very much overlooked by everyone. Nobody seemed to realise or care that James was also talented and had dreams of his own, farming was drudgery to him, he wanted to be a writer. When Sandy left to go to St Andrews University James was deeply unhappy, especially as Sandy had always just taken for granted that he deserved the best things in life.

As you would expect Sandy had grown into a really self-centred snob with money and status being his god, which isn’t great for someone who is going to become a church minister, but James who has spent his time reading widely such people as John Stuart Mill, has turned into a really thoughtful, decent and compassionate human being. Still his father doesn’t appreciate James and it’s their Aunt Susan who has cared for the twins since their birth who eventually sees James’s worth.

This is a book very much of its time with a Christian slant but not overly preachy. The lessons are many – stick in and hard work will pay off, everyone deserves a second chance, don’t be a miser or proud and materialistic – forgive.

Locally Annie S. Swan is a bit of a heroine here for putting such small places in Fife on the map back then, but in truth, if you read her memoir as I have she was quite disdainful about the two years she and her husband lived in the area, but as she said – at least she got two books out of it.

There is a lot of Scots dialogue in this book, I can only surmise that back then readers were less easily put off by that, now many readers would find it too difficult or annoying to read. Interestingly despite the fact that there’s much mention in the book of the broad Fife speech it actually isn’t a Fife dialect, so perhaps the author couldn’t cope with that herself.

Inverkeithing, Fife

Way back in February 2020 when there was talk on the news of an imminent lockdown we drove to Inverkeithing for a bit of a rake around at an antiques/secondhand shop which is housed in an old cinema.

After that we decided to have a bit of a walk around the historic parts of the town, knowing that it would be quite some time before we were able to stray from home again, mind you I never thought it would be more than a year! You can read about the history of the town here.

The two photos below are of Fordell’s Lodging.

Old Building Inverkeithing

Old Building, Inverkeithing

It’s thought that the town dates from as far back as Roman times in AD 83, but the first church was built around AD 400. There was a Franciscan friary which would have been used as an overnight stopping off place for pilgrims on their way to St Andrews. There are quite a lot of ancient buildings still standing in the town. Sadly one very interesting looking building is standing empty and unused, but another one has been converted into flats which should stop it from deteriorating.

The photo below is of St Peter’s Kirk.

Inverkeithing Church

Marriage lintels are a tradition in Scotland, especially in the east, with the initials of the bride and groom being carved into the lintel with the date of the wedding in the middle. This one is on Thomsoun’s House, 1617, it’s a bit fancier than most of them.

A Marriage Lintel, Inverkeithing

St Peter’s Church, Monkwearmouth, Tyne and Wear, England

In January 2020 we had our last UK road trip, just before Covid arrived, the weather was mild so we went to the north of England to visit friends there. Maureen took us to St Peter’s Church in Monkwearmouth which we would never have found on our own. I do love old churches, despite not being at all religious. It’s the links to the past that I love. This area was home to the Venerable Bede and Saint Benedict, there was a large monastery on the site in the 7th century.

Monkwearmouth St Peter's Church

While we were there we met a very old lady who had been married in the church over 70 years previously, she was very pleased to see that it didn’t seem to have changed at all. As it happens our friend Maureen had had her husband’s funeral in the church 50 years previously, he died very young, but we didn’t mention that to the old ‘bride’ in case it spoiled her day.

We got a tour of the place with a knowledgable guide who mentioned that the Scots had set fire to the church. I don’t think he held it against us! It was King Malcolm Canmore who did that. He was born in 1031. The original church was built around 674, parts of it date from the 13th century but as usually happend with these old churches the Victorians extended it. If you want to see more photos hop over to Jack’s blogpost.

Golf Course Walk

In normal times when we go for a walk locally on Sunday we rarely saw anyone else, but last Sunday we had to veer off the woodland paths as there were so many people on them!

a frozen golf course

We decided the golf course would be a safer option, there were some kids sliding in the bunkers as they are full of ice at the moment, but they were off in the distance, it was good to see them having some fun. The patches of ice in the photos are where the ground was flooded with all the rain we’ve had. The golf course is closed at the moment which seems a bit strange to me as I’m sure it’s very easy for them to play and stay socially distanced.

frozen golf course

The photo below is of a frozen water hazard which claims to be five feet deep and has a life belt by it, just out of shot. That’s some hazard.

frozen golf course

The grass itself was very icy but we managed to stay upright, as usual we weren’t all that keen to go out walking in the cold but felt we needed the exercise, we did feel virtuous when we got home though!

The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt

 The Christmas Card Crime cover

The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt was published in 2009 and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize that year.

The book begins in London 1895 in the South Kensington museum where Prosper Cain, an ex-army officer is Special Keeper of Precious Metals. His son Julian is home from school due to illness and he notices a young boy who is intently drawing one of the exhibits. Julian follows the boy when he disappears into the bowels of the museum and catches up with him. Philip has run away from his poverty stricken home in the Potteries and he’s hoping that one day he will be able to make wonderful pottery himself.

Olive Wellwood, a famous children’s author is also in the museum, visiting Prosper Cain and she takes Philip home to her large house near Rye and so begins a tale which spans 25 years of British social and political history with many of the influential people of the times having bit parts. William Morris, H.G. Wells, Lloyd George, Herbert Asquith, the Pankhursts, the Arts and Crafts Movement, The Fabians. It’s all there, as are the wars.

Through it all runs the story of Olive Wellwood’s extended family and friends. Olive writes very successful fairy tales, supporting her family and husband with her earnings, but when each of her children are born she writes them their own story which she adds to over the years. It’s a charming idea for small children but has a detrimental effect on some. On the surface the Edwardian lives are idyllic but all is not well, the adults have been living double lives and the children/young adults have been used and abused in all sorts of ways, nothing is as it seems.

I loved this book which I’ll probably give five stars on Goodreads even although there are a few times when Byatt goes off on a tangent for just a few pages which probably should have been edited out. Otherwise I loved the writing, which was a good surprise for me as I’m sure that I abandoned one of her earlier books because I didn’t like her writing style, but I can’t say that for this one. I also learned quite a lot of historical facts about an era that I thought I was already well acquainted with.

Byatt really threw herself into this one and says that she had a lot of help from specialists on World War 1, women’s suffrage, Austrian theatre, the history of women’s colleges, public schools and she even had a go at sticking her hands in wavering clay, for the experience.

This isn’t a comfort read, in fact it’s quite uncomfortable at times but I found it to be a great read and surely it would have won the Man Booker Prize if Wolf Hall hadn’t been shortlisted in the same year. At one point I thought that the character of Olive Wellwood must have been modelled on the children’s author E. Nesbit, but then she was mentioned in the book. She was one of those poor women who were in The Fabian Society which at that time seems to have been mainly formed by men who wanted ‘free love’ at the expense of the women they took up with. On a personal note I was so glad that we had visited Rye in Sussex in 2019 as the town and the famous Mermaid Inn feature in this book, it’s good to be able to imagine it, although nowadays if you’re really keen you can go onto Google Street to see any locations in books.

Aldborough, Yorkshire, England

We planned to visit the Roman parts of the small village of Aldborough on our way back home to Scotland after visiting Bletchley Park recently, and even although the rain was chucking it down we decided to stop off there anyway for a rest and to stretch our legs a wee bit. We did find the ‘Roman town’ but there was a locked gate across the entrance. Due to Covid the English Heritage site was shut. You can have a look at the Aldborough Roman site here. Fingers crossed we’ll actually be able to visit again in the future.

The visit wasn’t a dead loss though as the village itself is lovely even in the rain, and has some interesting old buildings. Apparently the Roman town originally covered the whole of the ‘modern’ town. You can read about it here. The famous Ninth Legion had a base here, until they disappeared!

Aldborough houses, Yorkshire

It was obviously a very important military settlement and I think if I lived there I would be spending a lot of time in the garden digging as a lot of Roman artefacts have been discovered in this area. We only spent about fifteen minutes looking around, due to the weather but I’m looking forward to going back there one day, when/if things ever get back to normal. Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister has asked us not to travel out of our own area in these pandemic times.

Aldborough house, Yorkshire

I can’t see any mention of the very prominent Maypole anywhere on the internet which is strange as I’m fairly sure there aren’t that many around. I ‘discovered’ this village when reading my copy of the AA Book of British Villages (1980) and it states that the maypole is used in the second week of May every year for maypole dancing. It sounds like the village has a good community spirit anyway. There are some lovely Georgian houses, they always make me think of Jane Austen.

Maypole, Aldborough, Yorkshire

Maypole, Aldborough, Yorkshire

There’s something so English about a village green and obviously it should have an oak tree.

Oak Tree, village green, Aldborough, Yorkshire

This village green boasts a set of stocks too, I imagine that in May and at summer fetes they will be used with local worthies being put in them while people pay and queue up to throw wet sponges at them!

Aldborough Stocks, Yorkshire

We squelched around the churchyard, St Andrews Church dates from 1330 and replaced the Norman church which had been destroyed by Scottish raiders (ahem) it’s not all that far from the Scottish Border really. It looks like the church has been extended over the years.

Aldborough Church, Yorkshire

I think the wall which surrounds it dates from Roman times but has obviously also been extended. This is definitely a place that we’ll have to visit again.

St Andrew's Church, Aldborough, Yorkshire

Autumn garden in Fife

Ceanothus, fuchsia

We’re well into autumn now but there’s still quite a bit of colour and blossom in my garden. The ceanothus has just decided to flower for the second time and the fuchsia Ricartonii has been very late, the frost will probably get them soon.

berry tree, my garden

The mystery berry treeĀ  (possibly a cotoneaster) is very bright but I’m cutting it back to make it a bush rather than a tree as there are too many trees growing out of hand in my garden.

The dogwood (cornus) leaves are just about to drop, but they’re also contributing to the colour in my autumn garden.
heather, dogwood, my garden

autumn garden

Spring or autumn – the acers are my favourites.

autumn acer

acer, lemon scented conifer

autumn garden

There are still a few roses around, and the geranium leaves die off so cheerily.

rose, autumn garden

acers, garden

I bought some marigolds in early summer, different varieties and the one below has been great so I’m saving seeds from it to grow next summer. It’s in an old chimney pot.

marigold, garden

It was a damp day when I took the photo below, from the guest bedroom window.

garden

The smirry rain (very fine like low cloud almost) gives a hazy effect but I hope you can see some of the autumn colour in the trees.

autumn garden

It has been remarkably windless recently which is strange for this area and will no doubt account for the days and days of rain that we’ve had, but I suspect that the leaves won’t be hanging on for much longer now.

Bletchley Park – part 2

Here we are back at Bletchley Park, the World War 2 codebreaking centre. The photo below is of a sentry box which would have been manned or maybe womanned I suppose (or maybe not) by some one asking you for your papers before you could get past the gate.

Bletchley Park Sentry Box

Below is a corner of Alan Turing’s office, all of the offices are very dark, I don’t think they had any windows which would make sense when you’re keeping things secret but must have made working there even more claustraphobic.

Alen Turing's Office, Bletchley Park, codebreaking, WW2

As ever, click the photos if you want to see them enlarged. I find it so sad that Alan Turing was so badly treated by the powers that be – after the war. He certainly didn’t get any thanks for his efforts at winning the war.

Alan Turing's Office, Bletchley Park, codebreaking, WW2

Below is a fairly recently made statute of Alan Turing, it seems to have been constructed using pieces of slate piled on top of each other, it’s quite effective though.

Alan Turing Statue, Bletchey Park

The main codebreakers seem to have lived in estate cottages close to the huts and the mansion house, you can’t see inside them but they look very cute from the outside.

Bletchley Park Cottages

Bletchley Park Cottages,

Bletchley Park Cottages

I like the design of the leaded glass windows, presumably this was the bathroom.

Bletchley Park Cottages window

At least they didn’t have to travel far after a long shift of calculations and code wrangling.

Bletchley Park Cottages

Falkland Palace Garden, Fife, Scotland

Falkland Palace , Fife, Scotland

Although we’re members of the Scottish National Trust we haven’t been able to visit any of their properties this year as they’ve obviously all been closed due to Covid. Some of the bigger castles have opened up again, such as Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle, but last week we decided as it was a beautiful day we’d visit nearby Falkland Palace, just to walk in the garden, the palace wasn’t open. You can just walk in and there’s a box for donations.

Falkland Palace, Fife, Scotland

Falkland Palace was the hunting lodge of the Stuart kings and queens. Built in the 16th century by King James IV and his son James V and modelled in the French style it was also a favourite with Mary, Queen of Scots as it reminded her of the French chateaux of her childhood.

Falkland Palace , Fife, Scotland

Much of the palace is a romantic ruin, but in the 19th century the third Marquess of Bute had it partly rebuilt.

Falkland Palace, Fife, Scotland

We quite often just go for a wander around the gardens, there’s a pleasant orchard, although a lot of the trees have been fairly recently planted. In normal times you can have a nice wee sit down on a bench and admire the views, but I believe they’ve been removed due to Covid 19.

Falkland Palace Gardens, Fife, Scotland

Anyway, here are some of the photos I took while we wandered around.

Falkland Palace Gardens , Fife, Scotland

Falkland Palace Gardens, Fife, Scotland

Falkland Palace Gardens, Fife, Scotland

Falkland Palace Gardens, Fife, Scotland

Falkland Palace Gardens, Fife, Scotland

Falkland Palace Steps, Fife, Scotland

The gate below is obviously modern, it leads through to the orchard some of which you can just see in the background. The apple crop was not nearly as good as usual due to the weather.

Falkland Palace Gate, Fife, Scotland

Although Falkland has always been popular with tourists it has become even more so in recent years as the village and palace have been used as a location for Outlander. Click on the photos if you want to see them enlarged.