A Winter Walk

A couple of weeks ago we attended a meeting at the local church (no I haven’t got religion!) where there was a local history talk about the Pilgrim Way in Fife. You can see Markinch’s St Drostan’s Church tower in the middle distance.

St Drostan's in the snow

The snow was still lying quite thickly in places, it has been a snowy winter this year and more is forecast for later this week.

Trees

But at least the days are getting longer already. These photos were taken at 4.45 pm, just a couple of weeks previously it would have been pitch black. I suppose the brightness of the snow helped.

There were apparently three paths traversed by pilgrims on their way to St Andrews Cathedral, but this path through woodland leads straight to the church which would have been a resting stage for the pilgrims.

Trees
I think that going on a pilgrimage was a bit like going to a gig nowadays. Something for people to look forward to, a bit of excitement, a chance to meet new people and particularly members of the opposite sex.

Scenery in Perthshire, Scotland

Last week we pointed the car north to Perthshire, just because it was a gorgeous blue sky day and we wanted to grab it while we could, before the cold days of winter set in. Again I was looking for some autumn colour.

aautumn trees 1

I managed to snap all of these photos from the car, of course Jack was driving!

autumn trees 8

The fields still have their rolls of hay in them, maybe not as romantic looking as a haystack though, if you’re of that turn of mind.

autumn trees 11

You can see the beautiful Perthshire hills in the distance.

autumn trees 12

And a wee bit closer.

autumn trees 13 crop

Some rather ancient and dilapidated farm buildings, quite scenic looking as you go past.

autumn trees 19

Civilisation – after a fashion! This is the outskirts of a wee place called Logierait, on the way to Aberfeldy. We would go to Dunkeld later, but I’ll keep that for another time.

autumn trees 14

Armistice Day

Jack photographs any war memorials that we come across on our travels and we also visit cemeteries which have a Commonwealth War Graves plaque on the gates. Most recently we visited a local one at Leslie for the first time, it’s always the same – you tend to overlook the places on your doorstep.

An awful lot of cemeteries have just a few war graves, presumably those poor men were repatriated after being wounded or gassed. They had got a Blighty one – a wound that meant they would be sent home. But sadly they often died of their wounds – eventually.

As you can see the poor soul in the grave below didn’t die until 1920, even if he was wounded right at the end of the war that is still a long time to linger.

War Grave Leslie, Fife

Reasons to be Cheerful

Let’s face it, there haven’t been many reasons to be cheerful recently in the UK anyway. But this morning I spotted a red squirrel not far from our house. He was just sitting on the grass by the edge of the woodland. That’s the third red squirrel I’ve seen since we moved to our more rural location in Fife. Or maybe I’ve just been seeing the same one each time. I hope not, they did say on Springwatch that red squirrels are beginning to move back into areas that had been taken over by those pesky US grey squirrels. Apparently it means there must be pine martens around, but I’ve never seen any of those. Of course I didn’t get a photo of the red squirrel.

So as you can see I’m trying hard to see some optimism in the world, not an easy task given the Brexit vote and the fact that the Dutch news channels are calling the UK a banana republic. That’s putting it mildly I think. I don’t think I’ll ever get over the horror of that outcome, especialy as the whole Brexit cmpaign was based on lies, it’s not what I call democracy.

Another reason to be cheerful is the fact that Michael Gove has been well and truly trounced in the Conservative vote for PM. It has long been a puzzle to me that that man isn’t in jail, given his lack of monetary honesty and nasty habit of charging his luxuries to the tax payer. It was no surprise to me at all that he knifed Boris, not that Boris is an awful lot better than Gove.

I’m always happy to spot deer out of a back bedroom window, which I did not long ago. This one was munching away in an abandoned smallholding at the back of our house. I suspect that the deer might be the reason it is abandoned as they can easily just step over the fences. Sorry the photos are a bit grainy. I had to crop them to show up the deer.

Deer 2

Deer 4

Deer 5

Falkland Palace Gardens

Nowadays we visit the historical village of Falkland almost every week, we like visiting the wee library there and having a chat with the very friendly Sandra who works there – if she’s not too busy. The modern wrought iron gate below is at the entrance to Falkland Palace orchard. Of course it was too early for there to have been any fruit trees blossoming.

Falkland Palace gate

That’s the orchard wall you can see in the background and the trees and daffodils in the photo are in the main part of the palace gardens, it’s a cute wee summerhouse/shelter, obviously modern.

It’s funny to think that Mary Queen of Scots (amongst many others) walked around these gardens getting on for 500 years ago. This is just a wee bit of the gardens, there was nothing much blooming elsewhere, it was that funny time of spring when the crocuses are over and the other flowers are still waiting in the wings.

Falkland 5

The photo below was taken from the orchard and you can see some of the village with one of the Lomond hills beyond. It was quite a cold and slightly misty day, but it’s worthwhile taking a hike up those hills on a clear day, as long as it’s not too windy!
Falkland 8

Andrew Carnegie’s birthplace in Dunfermline

You know what it’s like – you never seem to get around to visiting the tourist hotspots on your doorstep, which is why it has taken us 35 years or so to get around to visiting the wee cottage that Andrew Carnegie was born in. He was of course famous for having made lots of money and using a lot of it to build libraries, often in deprived areas. He was a huge believer in people educating themselves out of poverty through books.

Andrew Carnegie's Birthplace

Above is a photo of his birthplace, two families lived in this wee building. It’s a weaver’s cottage and the loom always took up the whole of the ground floor.

Carnegie Loom

Students from the local college have rebuilt an old loom on the ground floor, just as it would have been in Carnegie’s day as his father was a weaver.

Carnegie Bed Recess

There are two bed recesses in the room upstairs which the Carnegie family lived in. The box beds are built into the alcoves in the wall. It’s a teeny space, cute looking but imagine what it would be like having a family in such a small space, not much privacy that’s for sure.

Carnegie Bed Recess

Carnegie Room

The other side of the room has the kitchen table and a desk in it, all the living and sleeping and eating done in one room. There’s an old sink at the bottom of the stairs and it has been painted black as you can see below. I doubt if it would have looked like this when it was in use, I think it would have just been plain stone. There’s a tap at the left hand side. This would have been regarded as a modern convenience by Carnegie’s family, I’m sure it wasn’t there when he lived in the cottage as it was one of Andrew’s jobs to get the water from a well.

Andrew Carnegie Sink

Below is a photo of the plaque attached to the wall of the cottage. It’s a stone’s throw from the very first Carnegie library, he was keen to show the folks back home how well he had done for himself. Carnegie spent a lot of time in Scotland over the years and he bought Skibo Castle which remained in the Carnegie family until 1982.

Andrew Carnegie Birthplace

The Carnegie family had a hard life and when things got even worse they contemplated leaving Scotland and going to America in search of a better life. Encouraged by relatives who were already there they left Dunfermline in 1847, Andrew wasn’t keen to go apparently and life was even harder when they got to America, especially as his father died not long after they settled there. But Carnegie made the best of it and although nowadays it’s fashionable to call people like him ‘robber barons’ it’s not something I would agree with.

He had a brilliant business mind and at least he did something useful with his money. Some people have said it was pure vanity which made him give so much money away, building libraries all over the place. I just wish there had been more like him in the past, and nowadays it seems to have been left to Bill and Melinda Gates to be philanthropic.

I learned a lot whilst at the cottage, a large extension has been added on to the cottage to house a museum which tells his story. He was at the battle of Bull Run the first battle of the American Civil War, as an observer. Later on though he was able to pay an Irishman to take his place when he was called up. I think Carnegie paid him $960 to take his place, a huge amount of money then, I don’t know if that chap survived the war though.

It was an interesting afternoon out and if you’re in Dunfermline it’s definitely worth a visit – and it’s free!

A Walk in Balbirnie

I’ve been avoiding the woodland near our house for a while now as the rain has made the ground so boggy, and the snow and ice didn’t last long at all, so it was too horrible underfoot to walk there. And of course we’ve had horrendously high winds which makes woodland walks scary, quite a few trees have fallen over or branches have been ripped off them.

Wellies
But recently we bought new footwear, purple wellies for me, and Jack opted for shorter welly like boots – he complained that his old traditional wellies wore the hairs off his legs and nearly 40 years later he still has bald patches. I said that he should patent wellies as an alternative to leg waxing, they would be much cheaper I’m sure! I’m keeping the receipt for my purple wellies as the last pair of multicoloured ones I bought split after only around five outings in them, so if that happens again they’re going back to the shop.

Balbirnie Burn

This time as you can see we walked in a different direction along the side of the burn which is presumably what made people settle in this area as long as 5,000 years ago. You can see their graves in an old blogpost here.

Balbirnie Burn

Speaking of wearing purple,
Jenny Joseph wrote the poem Warning – about planning to grow old disreputably and just not caring what anybody thinks of you. But if like me you were a teenager in the 1970s you’ve probably always worn purple – and orange, sometimes together. I’ve not started on the brandy yet though! This poem has a lot of fans and there is even a Red Hat Society now

Warning
by Jenny Joseph

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

Jenny Joseph reads her poem below if you’re interested.

Scottish Book Trust

If you’re at all interested in Scottish books you might find these links from the Scottish Book Trust interesting.
27 Scottish novels to look forward to in 2016 as well as:
Why fairy tales aren’t just for children.
21 book-to-film adaptations coming soon.
Don’t be shy, give sci-fi a try.
Down with reading resolutions.
Robert Burns is for life, not just for Burns Night

You might know that Fife Council planned to close 16 libraries in April but we have now discovered that they can’t actually just make that decision. Apparently they have to take it to a ‘scrutiny committee’ (I know – who knew?! – not them obviously). So the upshot is that the libraries have been given a reprieve, I think for a year. But it looks like this will just be a delay of the closures, although we live in hope of the library at Glenwood remaining open permanently.

Library Closures in Fife – The Battle Commences

We went along to a meeting in the Salvation Army hall in Glenrothes last Tuesday, the meeting was about the intended closures of 16 libraries in Fife. I was quite amazed at the turn out, there were over 100 people there, much more than the organisers had hoped for. The very definitely ‘not bad’ author James Robertson spoke of what libraries mean to him. If you haven’t already read his books – you should.

There’s real anger amongst locals, especially when we realised that as usual the council has a completely different idea of the word ‘consultation’. In their dictionary it means ‘cut and dried’ or fait accompli if you want to be cosmopolitan about it. There’s always more than a hint of The Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy about these so-called consultations in my past experience. All of the community councils are closed over the summer and their next meetings are scheduled to take place after the ‘consultation’ period. Mobile libraries have been suggested as replacements for areas where libraries are to be closed. However they are also planning to get rid of one of the three mobile libraries which Fife own, so how the remaining two are supposed to cope with the extra work I have no idea.

I was vaguely aware of the words Cultural Trust being used in recent times but I didn’t really realise what it was. It seems to me that Fife Council have handed over the running of the libraries to this third party as a way of dodging the flak when cut backs are mooted. They can wash their hands of the whole thing and say – it’s nothing to do with us, it’s the Cultural Trust who say these places must be closed.

To add insult to injury it transpires that the paltry sum of £21 per head of population in Fife is all that is being spent on library funding at the moment. Considering the service given by the local libraries that’s what I call an absolute bargain already. How anyone can think of spending even less on what is an essential service is beyond me.

It seems that borrower numbers have been looked at and the powers that be have come to the conclusion that the libraries under threat of closure are not worth the cost of keeping open. In these days of austerity with huge unemployment in Fife, society can’t afford NOT to keep libraries open. It’s as if the people who have made the decision to close libraries have no idea themselves of the roles which a modern library fulfills.

Apart from the computers which are vital for people who can’t afford one of their own, there are also job clubs which meet in the libraries, a vital link for people desperately trying to find work. Those people may never borrow books so they don’t appear on any borrowing statistics but they need the libraries more than anyone.

Modern society can be a lonely place for a lot of people, the elderly in particular and the libraries are lifelines for people who might never speak to a living soul otherwise.

In another place and time I worked in a large county library, one of the many Andrew Carnegie libraries, a large Victorian building which had been designed to accommodate a large reading room. In the winter time I would say that half of the reading room users were people coming in to get out of the cold, and who would grudge them that? Not me anyway. I suspect the same is true now, especially among the unemployed and disabled.

The extra pressure which would be put on to the remaining libraries would be intolerable if any libraries were closed, the library in Glenrothes town centre is very small and the computers are always all occupied, there must be some sort of time limit to people’s use of them. There’ll be queues of people waiting to get on to a computer.

Many of the libraries under threat are in village locations, places which already have very little in the way of amenities. Women are often stuck there with no way of travelling elsewhere as public transport is dire/non existent or very expensive, especially if they are having to take children on buses to visit a library.

As it happens I’m reading George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier at the moment, written in 1934 he mentions using the libraries, and despite living conditions and life in general being dire for the ordinary working person, there was no mention of libaries being closed down. They obviously had more sense back then.

If you want to help with the campaign to keep the 16 threatened libraries open, please sign the petition.

Bees and Aberdour Railway Station, Fife

bees in Aberdour

You’re not going to believe me – but see those two bumblebees on the plant in the photo above – they buzzed right past my nose heading straight for the plant pot which is located in Aberdour High Street, just at the railway station entrance.

Anyway, I was a bit alarmed by the size of the thing which buzzed me so close and so I had to have a closer look. It was actually TWO bees flying together, tum to tum, the upper one holding on to the lower one as it flew. Jack of course, being a bloke said they must be doing the dirty deed! Think again – said I, as that’s not how they do it!

I can only think that we saw a bumblebee self-rescue service in action as when they reached the plants in the tub they proceeded to do what bees normally do. Maybe one bee saw the other one in trouble on a pavement, and decided to do it a favour and take it to be re-vitalised. You quite often see them worn out crawling along with no energy to fly.

Am I being completely daft? Probably, but have you seen two bees flying tum to tum, holding on to each other?

The railway station at Aberdour is famous locally for having a great display of plants, especially in the summer, and a lot of work goes into it, to make it pretty for travellers passing through. You can have a look at photos of it here.