Skara Brae, Skaill Bay, Orkney, Scotland

One place that I suspect everyone visiting Orkney makes for first is Skara Brae, a 5,000 year old neolithic settlement which was uncovered after a huge storm in 1850 displaced the sand that had been hiding it for thousands of years. It does look very like The Flintstones with the furniture being made of stone. I rather like the ‘sideboard’ which is situated opposite the front door, pride of place.

Skara Brae, Orkney, neolithic dwelling, Scotland

There are the remains of several different buildings, one of which seems to have been a workshop.

Skara Brae, neolithic dwelling, Scotland

There is a reconstruction of a house on the site too, but it’s dark and was full of people (quiet scary nowadays) so it wasn’t possible to take photos. But you can see some photos here.

Skara Brae, neolithic dwelling, Orkney, Scotland

Skara Brae, Orkney, neolithic dwelling, Scotland

Skara Brae, neolithis settlement, Orkney, Scotland

Skara Brae Map, Orkney, Scotland, plan

As the site is right on the edge of the sea it’s only a matter of time before it’s lost completely as the rough weather will eventually overcome the area and wash it all away, I wonder how much has already been lost.

Bay of Skaill, Orkney, Scotland

Falkland Palace Gardens, Fife, Scotland

On the 18th of May we made a quick viisit to nearby Falkland Palace, I had wanted to see what the orchard looked like as the apple blossom in my garden was looking pretty, I thought the palace orchard would look fab, but their apple trees bloom far earlier than the ones in my garden. After realising that I vaguely remebered that I had discovered that the last time I tried to see the blossom! I must remember to visit earlier next year! Anyway, I enjoyed mooching around the other parts of the gardens, taking these photos.

Falkland Palace ,garden, shrubs

Falkland Palace gardens, Fife, Scotland

Falkland Palace Trees, Fife, Scotland

Falkland Palace Wall + Plants, Fife, Scotland

In the distance below you can see one of the Lomond hills, I’m never sure whether it’s the east or west Lomond.

Falkland, Orchard Lawn + Palace

Falkland Palace Lawn + Greenhouses

Back at the orchard there’s a huge sculpted wicker woman, she’s wearing well as she has been there for a number of years now.

Falkland Palace, Wicker Woman + Palace

I think possibly she’s meant to be Mary, Queen of Scots as she was very fond of Falkland Palace, she did a lot of hunting around the area and would have flown birds of prey.

Wicker Woman, Falkland Palace, gardens, Fife, Scotland

But the birds that I was interested in were the swallows, or maybe they’re swifts, I’m never quite sure. I wanted to see if there were many nesting in their usual place at the palace Real/Royal Tennis court. There were just a few to be seen, usually all of the nests are occupied. There are none to be seen around where we live, so that’s two bad years in a row they’ve had here. If you look carefully at the photo below you should just be able to see a teeny wee bird perched on the left of the roof support.

Swallow, Falkland Palace, Fife

Falkland Palace, Tree + Steps

The lilacs were looking particularly pretty and fresh.

Flowers , Lilacs, Falkland Palace garden, Fife, Scotland

As you can see it was a lovely sunny day. The garden was very busy and at the beginning we were having a hard time dodging other people, we’re still being very cautious which I think is sensible given that the Covid numbers are rising again in Scotland. That’s surprising given that it’s summer (supposedly) and people are outside more. It seems to be coming in three monthly waves now and just about everybody I know has had it.

Anyway, I hope to have photos on here of our Orkney trip soonish, amazingly we had great weather again, well great for Scotland, it wasn’t exactly warm but at least it wasn’t wet.

Castle Fraser, Aberdeenshire

A few weeks ago we went up to Aberdeenshire, for one night only, it was mainly so that Jack could go to a football match, but as you can see we managed to visit Castle Fraser too, which is good as I’m really not much interested in football. The earliest part of the castle dates from 1575, you can read about it here.

Castle Fraser, Aberdeenshire

It was a grey morning and really quite freezing and slightly misty for mid April.
Castle Fraser, Aberdeenshire

The castle is in the Scots baronial style which is more akin to the pepperpot towers so beloved of medieval European castles than anything that you would find elsewhere in the UK.
Castle Fraser, Aberdeenshire, Scots baronial

The photo below is of the Great Hall.
Great Hall, Castle Fraser, Aberdeenshire

Below is the library, a room I could have spent a long time in, apart from the books it was the warmest!
library , Castle Fraser, Aberdeenshire

The doorways are very ornate.
ornate door , Castle Fraser, Aberdeenshire

We of course slogged up to the top of the tower to get a good view of the surrounding area.

courtyard from tower, Castle Fraser, Aberdeenshire

In the distance we could see the walled garden, so we made our way carefully back down the long spiral staircase so we could go and get a closer look at it. I’ll leave the photos of the garden for another blogpost. Castle Fraser is definitely worth seeing
walled garden from tower, Castle Fraser, Aberdeenshire

Balvaird Castle, Perthshire

Balvaird Castle

Last week we had wonderful weather, it felt more like June than March, so we grabbed the day and drove to Balvaird Castle which is just about ten miles from where we live. It lies off the A912 road about halfway between Gateside and the Bein Inn in Glen Farg. There were two other vehicles parked by the farm gates at the bottom of the track which leads to the castle, it’s a fairly steep walk from there, but not a very long one.

Balvaird Castle, Scottish tower house, medieval castle, Murray, Perthshire

It’s thought that the castle dates from around 1495, built for Sir Andrew Murray, but over the years it has been extended and altered, as you would expect. Apparently it was owned by the Murray family until 2017 and then it was bought by an American, however it is maintained by Historic Scotland. The original Murray owners ended up moving to Scone Palace – they went up in the world it would seem but I must say that I prefer this setting to that of Scone Palace.

Balvaird Castle, Scottish tower house, Murray, medieval castle, Perthshire

It’s a lovely setting for a home though and the views of the surrounding countryside from the windows must be quite spectacular, unfortunately, it isn’t possible to get into what is left of the castle although you can walk around the ruined parts. If you’re inclined to picnic then it would be a good location for one.

view from Balvaird Castle, Perthshire, Scotland

There’s the gable end of a cottage ruin in the photo below, I suspect that most of the stone it was built with has been robbed to build the nearby wall and the stone to build the cottage was robbed from the castle!

view from Balvaird, Perthshire

aview from Balvaird  Castle, scenery, Perthshire, Scotland

view from Balvaird Castle, Perthshire, Scotland

If you look right in the middle of the photo below you will be able to see the top of some roofs, beautiful trees and a walled garden, presumably it’s the home of whoever farms the land, it looks like my idea of heaven.

aview from Balvaird Castle, Perthshire, Scotland

The roofs are towards the right hand side below. As ever, click on the photos to enlarge them.
aview from Balvaird Castle, Perthshire, Scotland

aview from Balvaird Castle, Perthshire, Scotland

Balvaird Castle , Scottish tower house, medieval castle, Perthshire

Firth of Forth at Aberdour

I had been looking forward to the 19th of February for at least a month, or whenever I realised that the big Edinburgh antiques fair at Ingliston was scheduled for that weekend, it would be the fisrt fair since befpre the beginning of Covid, I was desperate to have a good old rake around after more than two years of staying home. Sadly it wasn’t to be as on Friday night as I was tootling around on the internet I decided just to check up and make sure the fair was still on – of course it was CANCELLED! I was/am so disappointed. There was no explanation at all but possibly it was the horrendous weather forecast which led to the cancellation, although in the Edinburgh area it was just the possibility of some rain or snow that was expected. As it happens we’ve had a very placid weekend weather wise for once as Storm Eunice hit mainly southern England and Wales.

Anyway, we decided to drive to a rake around a ‘collectables’ place at Inverkeithing, which had nothing worth buying and then drove on along the coast to Aberdour, some ten miles or so from us.

Aberdour Harbour

Headland at Aberdour

We couldn’t take the usual circular walk that we normally do as the wooden footbridge that we have to go over had been washed away. So when we got down to the beach we just had to turn around and go back the way we had come, but not before I took a few photos looking out over the Firth of Forth, the first one from the wee harbour and the others looking over to Edinburgh.

Edinburgh and Firth of Forth From Aberdour

As you can see it was a sparkling day! There’s another antiques fair scheduled for May, fingers crossed that one goes ahead.

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