The Japanese Garden at Cowden – The Zen Garden

Zen garden, The Japanese Garden at Cowden, Scotland

A couple of weeks ago we decided to go to The Japanese Garden at Cowden again, it was a sparkling day and it was the first time we had really felt any warmth this year, and we were really enjoying our visit, but it’s obviously not for everyone as we heard a fairly youngish woman complaining bitterly that she had paid a lot of money to get in and there was hardly anything to see! She said that loudly as she walked quickly past what I think is a beautiful, if small Zen garden, and she didn’t even glance at it. Oh well, it takes all sorts I suppose.

Zen garden, The Japanese Garden at Cowden, Scotland

Zen garden, The Japanese Garden at Cowden

Japanese garden design seems to incorporate a lot of moss, which is something I’m going to have to embrace in my own garden I think after all the wet weather has encouraged it so much.

But nothing is perfect, I’m sure that in Japan a Zen garden wouldn’t have a redwood and lots of various mature conifers in the background, but I can see why the designer decided to leave them in situ.

We enjoyed the afternoon there anyway, although I must admit that we took advantage of this month’s Gardeners’ World magazine offer. It seemed steeply priced at almost double the normal cost, it was £9.99 but came with seeds and a 2 for 1 ticket entry into lots of famous gardens all over Britain. After visiting this garden we’re already quids in.


Green Willow’s Secret by Eileen Dunlop

Green Willow’s Secret by the Scottish author Eileen Dunlop was published in 1993. This book is meant for YA readers but is enjoyable to people of all ages I’m sure.

Kit had lived in Edinburgh with her parents and older sister, but a family tragedy has led to the father travelling to Australia and Kit and her mother moving to Maddimoss, a rural area. Kit isn’t settling in well and when her teacher tells the class about a Japanese exhibition she has been to the other pupils tell her that there’s a Japanese garden where Kit lives. Kit knows nothing about it but later when she gets home she does some exploring and discovers the remains of a very neglected but wonderful Japanese garden.

There’s a photograph of the garden in the house they are living in, as it was in its heyday, and there are people in the photo, including a Japanese man in traditional dress, but strangely he appears and disappears in the photo. There’s something slightly spooky about the garden. When Kit meets Daniel who is also not a local they decide to work on the garden together.

There’s a lot more to this book, but I don’t want to say much more other than that I enjoyed it. As it happens there is a Japanese Garden at Cowden, not that far from where we live and a hop and a skip from where Eileen Dunlop lived in the wee town of Dollar. I’m sure that is where she got the idea from because the garden at Cowden fell into neglect and was vandalised in the 1960s. As in the book the original Japanese gardener is buried in the local churchyard. You can read the garden’s history and see more photos here. It has fairly recently been brought back to perfection and is open to the public, obviously it’s a business too nowadays so you have to pay an entrance fee. It’s quite a few years since we visited, (you can see my blogposts on our visits here) I seem to remember that there was a small play area for youngsters who may not be so enamoured of the beautiful surroundings.


Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

It really felt like spring was on its way when I visited the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh on Saturday. It was busy, maybe the sun had brought people out, but there were quite a lot of tourists around who would have been there whatever the weather I suppose, they were mainly American and German I think. Entry to the Botanics is free, which seemed to puzzle some people, but they do recommend a donation of £3.

Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh

It seems to me that the gardens are quite sheltered, which could explain the early flowering of some of the rhododendrons, but there are still many that haven’t bloomed, I think I’ll visit again in a couple of weeks. The daffodils at the east gate will be over by then though, I think I saw them at their peak on Saturday.

Royal Garden,Botanics ,Edinburgh

Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh

My favourite area is the rock garden, in recent times it has been tweaked so that there is some wheelchair access but in general most of the paths are made up of stone steps.

Rock Garden, Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh

There’s a burn/stream rushing through the rock garden which begins with a small but powerful waterfall.

Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh

Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh

Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh

Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh

As you wouldexpect there are some great trees in the garden.

Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburghs

From some parts of the botanics you can see the spires and roofs of some of the buildings in central Edinburgh, not too far away, but the photo I took was too blurry.

While I was there Jack was at a football match nearby, Dumbarton beat Spartans 6-2 (it’s not like them) so a good day was had by all.

Ring of Brodgar

Last week when I wrote a brief post about our fairly recent visit to Avebury in Wiltshire I wanted to link to my previous visit the The Ring of Brodgar on Orkney in 2022, for comparison. It was only then that I discovered that I had never got around to blogging about it, either in 2017 or 2022. Or if I did the posts have disappeared!

Ring of Brodgar, Orkney

So here are some photos that I took, the Ring of Brodgar in the distance.

Part of Ring of Brodgar

A bit closer.

Looking Towards Ring of Brodgar from Barnhouse Village

Looking across the Loch of Harray towards The Ring of Brodgar.

Ring of Brodgar, Part

And the standing stones from the other side of the ring.

Stones in Ring of Brodgar

The stone circle itself is large, as are the stones. Below is a photo of Jack beside one of them. They’re not as chunky and rough as the stones at Avebury.

Ring of Brodgar, Single Stone

You can read more about the stones here.


Tartan – the V&A Dundee

A few months ago we visited the Tartan exhibition at the V&A in Dundee. It runs until the 14th of January 2024. I wasn’t all that sure if I wanted to see it to be honest. In Scotland we have a history of leaving tartan to the tourists, but I enjoyed the exhibition which has the oldest piece of tartan on show, but it’s not all history. There are tartan outfits by designers such as Vivienne Westwood who was fond of using tartan as are some Japanese designers. Sadly I can’t remember who designed the modern outfits below.

modern tartan , Tartan, V&A DundeeSuit


Dress ,  suit V&A Tartan, Dundee

Some designs are quite wild!

Modern takes on tartan, V&A Dundee

Then we get back to a bit more traditional, allthough I’m not sure about the bikini top below.

Victorian tartans, V&A Dundee

Of course Victoria and Albert were very keen on tartan, so there was a lot of it about in their time, not bad considering it had been completely banned by the government after the Jacobite rebellions.

Tartan Dress, V&A Dundee

More modern again.

Radical Gaels, V&A Dundee

Below is an army recruitment poster.

Kilties, poster, V&A Dundee

Below is some tartanware Mauchline Victoriana, made from wood. There are shortbread tins and such in the exhibition too. Tartan seems to have ended up on a lot of merchandise over the years.

Tartan Mauchline ware, V&A Dundee

Below is a portrait of the actor Alan Cumming, with a kilt wrapped around his neck, and nothing else on for some reason.

Alan Cumming, Tartan Exhibition, V&A Dundee

The outfits below are apparently Manhattan tartan. The colours are supposed to be the skin colours of the ethnic groups found in Manhattan. Designed by J Morgan and Suzanne H Bocanegra of New York. Pink is supposed to be Caucasian flesh colour. See also Manhattan Financial.

Manhattan tartan, V&A Dundee

Just recently Billy Connolly donated a kilt to the exhibition. He explained that when he was a youngster you rarely saw a man in a kilt, and if you did see one then the kids all chanted Kiltie, kiltie cauld bum at them! It’s absolutely true, it’s only in recent years that kilts have become so popular to bridegrooms, and then of course there’s the Tartan army, Scotland’s football supporters but they didn’t get a mention in the exhibition at all.

Although I enjoyed the exhibition I felt that there were some glaring misses. If I had been setting it up I would have asked for donations of stage clothes from Rod Stewart, The Bay City Rollers (a fan donated her tartan trousers) tartan was popular among punk bands. The film below is about the making of Billy Connolly’s kilt, they got him into one at last! Honestly someone should have ironed or steamed it as it’s badly wrinkled now, it’s a real shame it wasn’t taken good care of.  You can see Jack’s post on the exhibition here.

Blackness Castle – part 2 – Fort William in Outlander

We’re back at Blackness Castle which is apparently in Clackmannanshire, the smallest county in Scotland, it’s not far from Stirling. From the photo below you can see how solid and high the towers are. The gateway that you can see is where there’s a we drawbridge that leads out to the river walkway where supplies used to be unloaded for the castle, directly from ships.

Blackness Castle , River Forth

All of the rooms in this castle seem to be barrel vaulted, no doubt for strength. I’m sure that some of the rooms were used in filming Outlander most recently.

Blackness Castle Clackmannanshire, Scotland

There are stairs all over the place as you can see below. It was an incredibly blustery day as it almost always is at the River Forth but strangely as soon as we got inside the castle it felt very safe, quiet and – warm! Some of the walls are around nine feet thick, where they were in most danger of getting attacked by cannon I suppose.

Blackness Castle, Scotland

It could feel quite cosy with tapestries on the walls and heavy curtains and maybe a nice carpet underfoot, or at least rushes. I’m not sure if the room below originally had a low ceiling in it. On the right hand and above the window it looks like the remains of a fireplace.

Blackness Castle , Scotland

As is often the way with old castles a lot of the rooms have a medieval ‘en suite’ off the main rooms as you can see in the photo below. All mod cons, well it’s a long way up and down to the ground floor. No ‘garde looing’ here! But it does look a bit cold to be dangling your ‘bahookie’ over the hole.

Blackness Castle , latrine, Scotland

Below there’s even an alcove where you can wash your hands, but I don’t think it’s within the toilet area, maybe a good thing.

Blackness Castle, Scotland

I particularly like the windows, the shutters open if you need fresh air.

And I can just imagine this as a good place to read – if there were plenty of cushions on the window seats.

Blackness Castle , Scotland

Blackness Castle  window, Scotland, Outlander

The castle has been modified a lot over the centuries and the photo below show what was the original entrance, which is now blocked up. It’s much bigger than it looks in the photo.

The garden, below was the last bit which we visited, as you can see the weather had cleared by then. It looks quite industrial on the other side of the river, because it is. The blue crane thing to the right of the middle is actually at Rosyth, the naval dockyard. So this area of the River Forth is still about defence!

Blackness Castle garden River Forth

Blackness Castle became Fort William in Outlander, and it was where Jamie received the lashes from the dastardly Captain Randall – ooh err!

Blackness Castle, West Lothian

Blackness Castle , near Falkirk, Scotland

Blackness Castle sticks out into the River Forth, as you can see, it was apparently designed to look like a ship. You actually have to walk over a wee drawbridge to get on to this wooden walkway.

Blackness Castle, near Falkirk, Scotland

It’s a couple of weeks since we visited Blackness Castle, it’s not far from Bo’ness in West Lothian, it might be in Falkirk District now, they keep changing things! It’s one of the many places that was used as a location for Outlander, they had to cover the metal handrails with wooden panelling. It was also used in the filming of The Bruce, Zeffirelli’s Hamlet, Starz (?) Doomsday and Ivanhoe. Blackness was built in the 15th century.

Anyway, it’s not that far from where we live and possibly for that reason we just didn’t get around to visiting it until years after reading about the castle. For some reason I didn’t think it would be a very interesting castle – but it was. As usual there are a lot of spiral staircases involved.

Blackness Castle  stairs


Blackness Castle, near Falkirk

It’s a long way up to the top.

Blackness Castle


Blackness Castle , River Forth

In the distance you can just see the Forth Bridges below. As ever, if you click on the photos you should be able to see them enlarged. Tomorrow I’ll show some photos of inside the castle.

River Forth View, Forth Bridges, Scotland

Tantallon Castle, near North Berwick, East Lothian

Tantallon info Board , North Berwick

Tantallon Castle, near North Berwick in East Lothian, is yet another ruin, but what a ruin it is, and what a great location!

Tantallon Castle , North Berwick, Scotland

As you can see there’s a fine view of the Bass Rock from the castle. This rock was used as a place to dump prisoners back in the day. With a sea crossing over notoriously rough waters to make if you tried to get off it it was in effect not escapable. Nowadays it’s a haven for seabirds.

Bass Rock , Firth of Forth, Scotland

As you can see from the photo below taken from the castle’s top floor it’s a long way up – or down, and there are parts of the castle which have been sectioned off as they’re deemed too unsafe for the public at the moment. There are a lot of spiral staircases involved but we were determined to see the whole place.

Tantallon Castle , near North Berwick, Scotland

In the photo below Jack is surveying the walls, it’s definitely beyond his DIY skills!

Tantallon Castle , North Berwick

Tantallon Castle wall, near North Berwick

Let’s look through the arched window. That takes me back!

Tantallon Castle, Archnear North Berwick

Tantallon may look a bit grim now but as you can see from all the fireplaces below, it must have been quite cosy in its heyday. Just imagine the walls with tapestries on them and a flckering fire.

Tantallon Castle, North Berwick

There was a harbour and ships came in loaded with whatever was needed to make life comfortable, and presumably guests also could arrive that way.

Firth of Forth from Tantallon Castlerocks 1

It was a bit blustery up there to say the least, but look at the fantastic colour of that orange lichen on the stonework, it’s obviously in its element!

Tantallon Castle , North Berwick

Tantallon Castle is definitely worth a visit if you’re interested in history or like castles. It’s run by Historic Scotland.

Tantallon Castle, info board, North Berwick


Falkland, Fife

Falkland, Pond, Fife

This year is going by in a flash and it’ll be September soon, but I’m casting my mind back to a sparkling day in March when we visited nearby Falkland. The photo above is of the lodge house at Falkland House. This used to be a favourite haunt of ours when we had wee ones in the family, before we even had our own kids to take there it was loved by our niece because at that time the pond was full of ducks and all sorts of water fowl. For some reason you never see any at all nowadays. The lodge house looks idyllic, but the water flows underneath it so that will be noisy and chilly I imagine. Below is a photo I took of crocuses but they’re dark purple so quite difficult to see.

Falkland Crocuses ,Fife

From Falkland Pond, Fife

To the left of the field above the ground slopes up to the Lomonds, I’ve never gone up that way, it looks too steep.

But walking over to the right from there you get onto a woodland path which leads eventually to Falkland Palace orchard. The wee waterfall below and the bridge are close to a popular children’s play park.

Falkland Waterfall , Fife

The view below is looking over towards the villages of Auchtermuchty and Dunshalt  from the footpath which leads to Falkland Palace orchard. Nowadays Falkland is probably best known for being used as a  location in the TV series Outlander.

Fife Hills, near Falkland, Fife

In this post that I did way back in 2016 you can see the village when the film people converted the shops to look like they were in the 1950s.