My garden update

A few friends have asked me how my garden is getting on, and I have been taking photos of it over the past couple of months, but just haven’t got around to blogging about it. It has been a weird year weather wise. The spring weather was quite late in getting here, then we had a very dry period, particularly while we were away in Belgium and Holland in early May. My garden was gasping when we got back home.

But since then we’ve had a lot of rain and wind to contend with. In Scotland we didn’t get the really hot weather that they had in England and Wales earlier in July, we’ve been getting one good day of weather followed by three or four bad days, sometimes feeling more like November.

The plants are coping though.

red broom

physocarpus and forget-me-nots

clematis

fir tree

acer and euphorbia

rosemary and geraniums

turk's cap lily

aquilegias

aquilegia

Most of those photos were taken in May so the garden looks quite different now, but I’ll leave those photos for another post!

Dutch dog walk – part 2

Back to that long walk we had with the dogs and family in Holland – one of the things I love about that area is that most of the houses are very individual, generally designed by the original owners and built by a local builder. So below are a few of the rural houses we passed whilst walking the dogs.

Thatched House

Dutch House

Dutch house + topiary

The hedge and trees in the photo below look like they’ve been trimmed by manicure scissors, and apparently the man who cuts it does it all by eye, no guide string required.
Dutch House + Hedge

The house below has ‘built in 1918’ on it, it looks fairly modern to me though. I find it difficult to judge how old the houses are as they are all built of the same sort of bricks as nowadays. I haven’t seen any stone built houses there at all. It’s rare to see an unkempt house and garden, Dutch people seem to be very houseproud.
Dutch house 1918

The photo below is one of the roads we were walking on, amazingly straight. If you have no hills to manouever roads around then there’s no reason not to have straight lines I suppose.
Dutch road

We were there in early May, the spring was late, so lots of the trees were just beginning to get their leaves.
Dutch view

Dutch view

The sheep were gathered expectantly at the gate for some reason, but we had to disappoint them, we had nothing for them.
Dutch sheep
We walked round in a big circle and must have gone about four or five miles on what turned out to be the hottest day we had there. Well it keeps you fit!

A Dutch dog walk

Back in May we were in Holland, visiting relatives, and although for once the weather there wasn’t great, we did have a few good days. On one of them we went on a long walk with the dogs and as the area in the north-west (Frisian) part of the Netherlands is mainly rural, we were walking around farmland.
Foals and horse in Holland

Foals and horses

Unfortunately it isn’t like in the UK where you can get up close to any animals in fields. Most of the fields are surrounded by wide drainage ditches, I really wanted to get nearer this mare with her foal, but unless I waded over mud it wasn’t possible.

Foal and mare

There are horses all over the place, a real paradise for horsey people, apart from the fact that you usually can’t get close enough to pat them. They were always interested to see us though.

horses

St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney

St Magnus Cathedral

After a few decent days of weather on Orkney a storm rolled in, terrible high winds and torrential rain, so we decided to drive to Kirkwall which is the main town on Orkney. We dashed from shop to shop in a bid to avoid the worst of the rain, not that there are that many shops in Kirkwall.

St Magnus Cathedral beckoned us over the road and although there were quite a lot of people inside – that didn’t detract from the beauty of the place. I usually much prefer the atmosphere in small churches (not that I am at all religious) as some large places of worship often have that ‘fear of God’ about them, but this cathedral felt like a place of peace.

St Magnus Cathedral back towards door

The floor is particularly lovely.

St Magnus Cathedral Floor

As is the font which is encrusted with semi-precious polished stones.
St Magnus Cathedral Font

St Magnus Cathedral altar

St Magnus Cathedral Wall

I love this model of a Viking ship.

St Magnus Cathedral Viking Ship

There are more images of the cathedral here.

Orkney Houses

One thing that I really like about going to visit new places is the different types of houses that have been built there. Most places have their own distinctive style, or they did have before the 1960-s anyway.

The wee house below is at Skara Brae and is used as a teeny exhibition centre. It is obviously well maintained which is just as well as it is more or less right on the beach and the weather is often wild.
a house a Skara Brae

Sadly the Orkney islanders have mainly opted for warmth and comfort in recent years, not that I blame them as I have recently done that too. But a lot of traditional houses on Orkney have just been abandoned and are now ruins. Every since I was a wee girl I’ve had an urge to bring any derelict houses I see back to life, it seems such a shame to me to leave a house standing empty, especially nowadays when there are so many homeless people around, but that doesn’t apply in Orkney I hope. The ruin below is just above the beach near Skara Brae.

ruin  near Skara Brae
Even I have to admit that it’s probably a wee bit too far gone, the location is great though.
a ruin

It looks like most of the local buildings have been built from stones taken off the beaches, there are certainly plenty of them where you can just pick up perfectly flat straight stones. Some houses that aren’t that far gone in dereliction still have their stone roof more or less intact.

In some ways the old buildings are quite similar to newbuilds now as small windows were preferred, presumably to keep the cold and wind out as much as possible. I was very taken by the house below which I managed to snap while Jack was driving past it. If I had a flagpole I’d be very tempted to fly a Jolly Roger/pirate flag from it too! That house has been harled/cement rendered to try to keep the weather out and preserve the stone underneath.

Pirate flag

I think it might be possible to rebuild these old homes, using a modern house structure as a sort of lining, all well insulated of course. Then you could have the best of both worlds – a lovely quaint building with character and the warmth of a modern home. I’d be tempted to give it a go – if Orkney wasn’t so far away.

The house in the photo below is now used for storage I think.

an old house in Stromness

The building below may have been just for storage or animals, on the other hand, if there are a few wee windows on the other side, it might have been a house at some point in the past. It has a slate roof though, not stone.

Orkney buildings
People in Orkney are very friendly, well the ones we met were anyway. One windy evening we were walking along the back road, struggling with a small map we had been given, and a motorist stopped to ask if he could help us. We told him we were looking for the location of Norna of the Fitful Head‘s home. She was a character in Sir Walter Scott’s The Pirate. As it happened the friendly gentleman had built his house right at what had been Norna’s gate, but of course her house was no longer standing. It was probably just by the escallonia bush on the right below.

Bitsy Miller

Sir Walter Scott had based his character Norna on Betty Miller (the motorist called her Bitsy) who was a sort of white witch who made her living selling ‘fair winds’ to sailors, apparently at sixpence a wind, a lot of money in those days. With sailors being superstitious and fearful of rough weather, she did a good trade in fair winds which I think she sold to the sailors in a piece of cloth. It was an ingenious way of making a living, even better than the snake oil merchants of America’s wild west. As you can see from the photo below, the motorist has named his house Fairwinds, in memory of her.

Bitsy Miller

There are ruins all over the place, often with a modern-ish house very close by, they have just built the new home in the garden of the old one. It’s quite difficult to take photos of places on Orkney though as often there is no suitable stopping place and the roads are very narrow with passing places, so stopping would cause a traffic jam.

The photo below is of Stromness from the south. If you’re interested in Polar exploration – this is the harbour that Captain Cook’s ships Discovery and Resolution called in at to replenish their stores of fresh water and food.

Stromness from south

The well they used was sealed up in 1931 and as you can see they now have it covered to protect it.

Well for sailors

Sneek, Holland

One town that we visited on our recent trip to the Netherlands was Sneek (prounced snake). It’s one of those places that I would have been very happy to settle down in, or at least have a small holiday house there, but as I haven’t won the lottery – it won’t be possible. Lots of canals means lots of bridges and this one dates from 1887, it’s unusual I think.
Canal Bridge
It doesn’t really look like it’s meant for cars to go over it, but they do – we did.
Canal Bridge

To me there’s something lovely about being able to moor a wee boat right outside your house so you can hop in and sail along a canal any time you fancy. It’s one way of avoiding the road traffic anyway!
Canal

The canal leads eventually to the North Sea, but presumably it can’t cope with boats big enough to sail across it to Scotland, but it would be tempting (or crazy) to try. Below is a photo of the waterpoort.

waterpoort
The town itself is very historic, but there are also independent shops, which is such a nice change from towns in the UK which always seem to have the same chainstores – or often nowadays – empty shop premises.
Street in Sneek
If you ever find yourself in north-east Holland you should definitely have a keek at Sneek – or even a cake at Snake!
Canal

Meet Ziggy and Fleur

Back to the subject of dogs, I was really impressed with the cute Aran pullover that my Dutch sister-in-law knitted for my niece’s pit bull terrier Ziggy. The pattern is very similar to my Aran jacket, so I just had to get a photo of us together – we’re well matched!
Ziggy and K

Ziggy has very short hair, he feels like velvet but it means that he feels the cold easily so he really needs his Aran in chilly weather. He also has wee short legs as well as a very thick, dense body and although he loves the water he isn’t able to paddle his legs fast enough to stay up. So a dog life-jacket was purchased and that means he can swim around as much as he wants.
Ziggy + buoyancy aid

dogs swimming 2

We went quite a long walk to reach this popular pond and unfortunately on the way Ziggy was attacked by another pit bull which made its way over a large ditch to reach us. Ziggy is such a sweetie and very gentle, but the other dog had a terrible owner who must have trained his dog up to be aggressive. Its ears had been cut off, leaving just small bits on his head, apparently that is what people do when they use dogs for fighting, it means there’s less for the other dog to get a hold of, it’s horrific, and illegal in Holland, they have to go to Slovakia to get dogs like that. Anyway, no damage was done to Ziggy, although that dog had three goes at attacking him, being dragged off by its owner each time.

Ziggy Swimming 2

It was Fleur the border collie/spaniel cross who was barking back more at the attacking dog, but as you can see – it didn’t stop her from being completely laid back later on in the day.

Fleur

How Much Is That Doggie In The Window

Wandering further afield from the town centre in Ypres, Belgium, we were amused to see a dog sitting in the window of a shoe shop.

dog in window

That was our cue to start singing How much is that doggie in the window? of course. Well, we thought it was funny but the dog was not amused and took to pacing the length of the window, we were obviously dodgy customers as far as that dog was concerned.

Did you know that when Margaret Thatcher ‘did’ Desert Island Discs she said that that song was her favourite piece of music. It says a lot about her!

If you want a blast from the past have a look at Patti Page singing it.

Home from Orkney!

We had a really enjoyable week in Orkney although two of the days we were there were pretty horrendous weather wise, but it turned out that those days were very wet and windy in lots of parts of the UK, although probably just not as bad as Orkney. Although it was June I felt that we were definitely novices as the people who had thought to bring woolly hats and gloves with them were at an advantage, it did feel more like November.

We got the ferry from Gills Bay – right up in the north-west Scottish mainland and I have to admit that when we got off the ferry at St Margaret’s Hope I wasn’t at all sure what I thought of the treeless Orkney landscape. I love trees and I really missed them, the weather is too fierce there for anything but the toughest of trees to survive, and it turns out that field maples are the only ones that seem to be able to withstand the cold and wild winds, but even they are sparse. After a few days though I began to love the scenery, it’s just a different sort of beauty.

Not many people seem to bother with gardening there, maybe it’s just too disappointing when plants die, but I did see a fuchsia hedge and oriental poppies seem to do well there, and I spotted one wee laburnum tree sheltering beneath a field maple.

Loads of photos were taken of course, but I haven’t looked through them all yet – and in any case, I still have to do some blogposts about our recent visit to Holland. I’ll catch up with Orkney soon though I hope.

Perth Cemetery near Ypres in Belgium

We stayed at the hotel in Ypres for a couple of nights and during the day we mainly travelled around visiting World War 1 cemeteries. This one is Perth Cemetery near Ypres (Ieper) so called because most of the soldiers around this area came from Perth in Scotland.

Gates and Cross
They’re well looked after by the War Graves Commission and most of the time the smaller ones are very peaceful places, they’re mainly surrounded by farmland.
graves 1
In this one we disturbed a beautiful hare who was sunning himself amongst the flowers, far too fast to photograph of course, but I had to admire the choice of place to relax as the plants were particularly lovely here.
Perth cemetery from road

As you can see these cemeteries are very much part of the scenery with roads and people’s houses right next to them.

Perth Cemetery near Ypres