Sea Room by Adam Nicolson

 The Cruel Stars cover

Sea Room by Adam Nicolson was first published in 2001 and it is very curate’s eggish – that is good in parts, however the good parts will probably be different for everyone that reads it, so it should be of interest and entertaining to various types of readers. Having said that – although I’m really interested in geology – that part didn’t work well for me because I think you really need good photographs to illustrate geology and the small black and white photos in the book don’t show any detail at all. On the book cover it says “the story of one man, three islands and half a million puffins” which are probably the most well-loved of birds, but in this book they are only mentioned as a means of the inhabitants of the past being able to survive by eating them, and nowadays they are eaten by the thousands of black rats that infest the islands. Nicolson does write poetically about the islands which he is obviously in love with. The Shiants were owned by the author Compton Mackenzie in the past.

Adam Nicolson, who is Vita Sackville-West’s grandson was given the three islands 5 miles off the coast of Lewis in north-west Scotland as a 21st birthday present from his father. The Shiants (Shants) as the islands are called had been used in recent years by a sheep farmer who rented the pasture and left the sheep to get on with it until they were big enough for market. The only habitable house is lived in now and again by Adam Nicolson, although at the end of the book he claims that anyone who wants to visit the place can have the key to it! But this book is like a love letter to the wild place and its atmosphere and he covers it from all angles, history, geography, geology, the wildlife, the people who inhabited the place in the past. There’s quite a lot of humour from the real locals who live on the bigger islands and who generously enable Nicolson to live on his islands for a short time each year – and clean him up at the end of his sojourn. I suspect that it is their very good manners which guide them as I can’t imagine that an old Etonian landowner such as Nicolson goes down all that well locally.

For me it was the social history parts which were most interesting, the desperate struggle that people in the past had to keep body and soul together, living on puffins, sea bird eggs and large amounts of limpets.

Adam Nicolson sees the islands as a place for men, well neither of his wives took to the place at all and who can blame them, having to camp out in a tent as it seems safer than being in the house due to the rat population there. It seems like Nicolson has taken to the nth degree that shed bolt-hole idea that so many men cling to. He plans to hand the islands on to his eldest son eventually, whom he hopes will hang on to them and love them as much as he does. Apparently if they ever do come onto the market again there will be a chance of a community buy out, something which the Scottish Government has instituted for areas such as the islands.

One thing that the puffins have to thank Nicolson for is his refusal to turn the islands over to the RSPB who wanted to turn the whole place into a destination for birdwatchers, with all the necessary paths, cafe, toilets and such which go with large amounts of galumphing human beings.

You can see images of the islands here.

Balbirnie autumn walk part 2

I took a lot of photos on my autumnal Balbirnie walk a couple of weeks ago. I thought you might be interested to see some more of the area – so here they are.

autumnal trees, Balbirnie, Fife

tree, moss, Balbirnie, Fife

autumnal Trees, Balbirnie, Fife

The allotments are sheltered by a tall wall and backed by a lovely band of trees as you can see.

Balbirnie allotments gates, trees, Fife

So far the weather has been so mild, the birds just aren’t interested in eating the berries, so we get to enjoy them longer.

Berries, Balbirnie, Fife

Balbirnie Trees, burn, Fife

Balbirnie, Burn, Fife, trees

Balbirnie Burn, Fife, trees

How do you feel about leaf-blowers? At this time of the year they’re in use regularly around the grounds of the local big hotel which is near this woodland. Those ear-splitting contraptions must be just about the most useless tools ever invented, especially when the leaves are just blasted off the grass and left at the edge. One gust of wind and they’re all back on the grass again, and the really annoying thing is that about four strokes with a garden rake would do the job faster and silently, and obviously they should be gathered up into a wheelbarrow to make leaf-mould. With the man actually in control of the leaf-blower wearing ear defenders, the rest of us just have to put up with the racket! Yes I feel grumpy!

Autumnal walk in Balbirnie

A couple of days ago I was walking under a maple tree when a teeny wee gust of wind appeared, for all of two seconds, and it seemed like about two hundred leaves fluttered around me and to the ground. I realised that it wouldn’t be long before all the autumn colour was gone and the trees would be bare. So it was lucky that a week earlier I had taken some photos on my phone, while taking some much-needed exercise.

acer , Balbirnie trees, Fife

autumn leaves , Balbirnie, Fife,trees

As you can see from the shadows it was a lovely sunny day, perfect for catching the autumnal shades.

autumn leaves, Balbirnie, Fife, trees

autumnal Tree, Balbirnie, Fife,

As ever, click on the photos if you want to see them enlarged.

autumnal Trees, Balbirnie, Fife

Normally at this time of the year the air is full of those I think attractive, dampish leafmould/fungi scents, but our unusually mild weather seems to have kept them away for the moment – more global warming probably. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed stretching your legs with me!

autumnal trees, Balbirnie, Fife

Remembrance Sunday 2021

This year I’ve decided to share the well-known actor Clive Russell’s thoughts on his family’s sad experience of war, and his memories of Remembrance Sundays of the past. The village which features in the film is Russell’s home town, Cellardyke in Fife.

Barnard Castle, Teesdale, County Durham, England

At the second time of trying we actually managed to get into Barnard Castle, during our first visit to the town they were only allowing pre-booked visits for some Covid reason, I think that was taking things a wee bit far given that the entire place is outdoors – and it’s very easy to socially distance. You can see the photos we took of the castle from the outside here. The whole town became sort of notorious during the first pandemic lockdown as Dominic Cummings got himself into a real pickle over his illegal visit there – to test his eyesight.

Anyway, here are some of the photos I managed to take when we were there again in September. The oldest parts of the castle date back to 1093.

Interior of Barnard Castle, Teeside

Interior of Barnard Castle, Teeside

It’s mainly a ruin but there are some massive walls still standing.

Interior of Barnard Castle,Teeside

Interior of Barnard  Castle, Teeside

You can see that the town has been built around the castle, it’s very much in the centre of the town which has the same name as the castle.
Interior of Barnard Castle, Teeside

Interior of Barnard Castle, Teeside

I obviously didn’t take the photo below as that’s me down there!

Interior of Barnard  Castle, Teeside

I did take the photo of the bridge below though. I love old bridges, despite this one being old it is very well used and I had to wait a while before I could get one of it with no cars on it.
Bridge from Barnard Castle, Teeside

If you click on the photo below you will be able to read the information on the board. I’m glad we were able to get into the castle at last – and just about had the entire place to ourselves. I think there was one other visitor there. It felt very safe anyway.
Barnard Castle info Board

St Romald’s Church, Romaldkirk, Teesdale, north England

Romaldkirk Church, Teesdale,

It was an article in The Guardian that led us to visit the teeny wee village of Romaldkirk in Teesdale, north England, back in September. It was the first time we had been away from home since the pandemic. It felt strange, but I do love ancient churches and their surroundings and it was definitely not busy, in fact we were the only visitors so we had the place to ourselves. The Church of St Romald has been added to a lot over the centuries. The oldest part dates from the 12th century and the most recent addition of an organ chamber was in 1929.

St Romald's Church, Romaldkirk stained glass2 + altar

I’m always saying it – but I am not in the least bit religious yet I do love old churches – and the areas that they were built, the really old ones were previously inhabited by pre-Christians so they seem like special situations to me. Usually on high ground of course – closer to whichever gods you chose to worship!

St Romald's Church, Stained Glass 1

Below is the tesselated floor of the chancel.

St Romald's, chancel floor, Romaldkirk

Below is the tomb of Hugh Fitz Henry dating from 1305.

St Romald's Church , Effigy, Romaldkirk

Below is something I had certainly never seen before a Devil’s Door which as you can see has been blocked up!

Devil's Door, St Romald's Church, Romaldkirk

The font below is thought to be 12th century with a 17th century wooden cover.
St Romald's Church Font, Romaldkirk

The doorway has stone seats either side of it, I think this is a very English sort of design, I don’t recall ever seeing anything like that in a Scottish church.

St Romald's Church doorway, RomaldkirkEntrance 1

St Romald's Church, RomaldkirkEntrance seats

The whole church has that ancient building aroma which doesn’t really fare well for the church. I was surprised to see that the pointing in between the stone blocks is dark grey in many areas, almost black which means there is very strong cement in the mix which will be dragging moisture into the building. It should of course have been pointed with a lime mixture to stop that from happening. It’s a lovely place to visit though.

St Romald's Church from pub

Glamis Castle, the walled garden, and more

It’s a few weeks since we were at Glamis Castle, but I htought you might like to see the few photos I took of the walled garden. I love the gates.

Walled Garden, Glamis Castle

There was still a lot of colour in it, despite it being late September.

Walled Garden, Glamis Castle, Angus, Scotland

And there’s a small Japanese garden area complete with Japanese style bridge.

Walled Garden Japanese bridge

I love old stone bridges like the one below.

Glamis Castle Bridge, Angus, Scotland

And old stone staircases too. This one is a lot wider than most, but Glamis Castle was not built as a place of defence it was never expected that this staircase would have marauders bounding up it. The very narrow spiral staircases in castles make it just about impossible for people to wield a sword, especially if you happen to be right handed.
Stairs and antlers, Glamis Castle, Angus, Scotland

You can see my previous posts about our day out at Glamis Castle here, here and here – if you haven’t already seen them.

Kirkcaldy’s Heritage in Fifty Objects

This blogpost is very parochial, being about the history and heritage of Kirkcaldy in Fife, a nearby town.

To mark the 50th birthday of Kirkcaldy’s Civic Society they have decided to choose 50 objects that relate to the town and its history/heritage, hoping to stimulate memories in readers which might lead to more information being gathered, information which might otherwise have been lost. You can see some of the ‘objects’ here, so far only 16 have been written about, but I know that the Spanish Civil War memorial just off Forth Avenue will be featuring in the list at some point in the future. That memorial has been on my mind somewhat recently as I’ve just finished reading Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit and obviously George Orwell was influenced by his experiences in that war. You can read Jack’s old blogpost about the memorial here.

I only have a few Kirkcaldy objects in my own varied collection of ‘stuff’. Actually I have quite a few old postcards of Beveridge Park, some of which you can see here. Below is another one which sadly is postally unused, but is of interest to me anyway because of the clothes.

Waiting for the Boats in Beveridge Park, Kirkcaldy

The Mauchline money box below has an image of St Brycedale Free Church, Kirkcaldy. This church is still in use but is now called St Bryce Kirk. In the past the politician Gordon Brown’s father was the minister of this church.

Mauchline Ware Box, Kirkcaldy Subject

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.

A Mithraic Temple, Carrawburgh, Northumberland

After we visited the Roman fort at Chesters we drove on to see the remains of a Mithraic temple which is in the middle of a field. I have to say though that the temple itself isn’t very well signposted, so we ended up yomping over a field full of indignant sheep towards what was definitely a ruin in the distance, but that turned out to be the ruin of a farm building. Oh well, it was all good exercise and we gave the sheep something else to think about other than grass!

We eventually got on the right track, the signpost was on a small fencepost just the width of the wood, so about 3 inches square.

This is the road by the car park at Carrawburgh, Northumberland, as you can see the road is very straight so presumably this was originally the Roman road.

The temple is quite small but as the god Mithras was popular with soldiers it was probably quite well used by the men at Chesters Fort.

Mithraic Temple, Carrawburgh, Northumberland, Roman ruin

Temple Information Board, Mithraic temple, Carrawburgh, Northumberland

Mithraic Temple, Carrawburgh, Northumberland

Mithraic Temple, Carrawburgh, Northumberland, Roman ruin

The middle column of the altar has a stone offerings dish and visitors have been leaving coins, sweets and a big piece of wood as worshippers would have done. I was a really big spender and offered up 2 pence!

Votive Offerings, Mithraic Temple, Carrawburgh, Northumberland