Highland dancing, St Andrews, Fife

A couple of evenings ago I was watching a lovely programme Darcey Bussell’s Wild Coasts of Scotland, it’s on the UK’s Channel 4 but might be available on a channel near you too. Apparently her grandfather had been Scottish and she had always promised him she would visit some of his favourite places that he had obviously never forgotten about after he migrated to Australia, sadly she didn’t get around to doing it until after his death, but it was clearly a moving experience for her.

Anyway, in one of the episodes she had some Highland dancing lessons and I was surrised at how exhausting she found it to be. Admittedly it’s decades since I did the Highland Fling or sword dance, so Darcey is years older than I was, but she described it as part dance and part endurance sport as you’re constantly moving quickly. She seemed quite puffed out within a very short time.

Highland Dancers, St Andrews, Fife

It reminded me that way back in November 2019, before Covid 19 appeared we had visited a St Andrews Day Fair at St Andrews. It was absolutely freezing, there was a Baltic wind and it was really the scantily clad dancers that impressed me, just because they were so stoical about the weather, but now I admire them for their strength and stamina! You can see the the ground was white with frost. I must say that when I did Highland dancing I was not dressed like them, I wore a proper kilt and white blouse! There’s a very brief video of them below, dancing to what sounds more like Irish pipes to me, there were certainly no Scottish pipers there, just piped music.

Highland Dancers video

For some reason there was a vintage bus parked by the edge of the festivities. It has to be said that in Scotland we don’t make much of our Patron Saint’s day, not even in the town of St Andrews. It was really just an opportunity for some local food makers to sell their wares – we bought cakes of course!

an old bus, vintage bus, St Andrews, Fife

Balbirnie walk, Fife

Our Saturday afternoon walk took us through the Balbirnie Estate woodland in Fife, which in these pandemic times is much busier than it used to be. There are lots of snowdrops looking their best at the moment and I thought they would be visible in the photos but obviously I need to do a close up of them as even I can hardly see them, and I know where they are!

Balbirnie Park , Fife, Scotland

The path leads to a wooden bridge which is perfect for playing Poohsticks, if you’re that way inclined.

Balbirnie Park, Fife, Scotland, woodland

A bit further on there’s a good view of the surrounding park and farmland which was once part of the estate which was owned by the Balfour family. A train dashed across the middle of the scene but I didn’t manage to get it in my photo, it’s behind the trees to the left.
Balbirnie Park, Fife, Scotland

You can see lots more photos of the parkland here. The landscaping of the estate began in 1779, you can read a bit about it here.

Back home in my garden the most colourful spot at the moment is the pot of dwarf Iris reticulata (Joyce). There are some planted directly into the ground but they haven’t appeared yet.
Iris reticulata Joyce

The Loud Halo by Lillian Beckwith

 The Loud Halo cover

The Loud Halo by Lillian Beckwith was first published in 1964 and it’s the third book in her Hebridean series. These books are comic novels set in the village of Bruach where ‘Miss Peckwit’ has gone to recover from an illness, she had been a teacher in the north of England. Life on a remote and primitive Scottish island is very different from what she has been used to. There’s no indoor plumbing, actually no plumbing at all, no running water just a well and the toilet is a shed with a big bucket – if you have a man strong enough to lug it out. Lillian makes do with two earth sheds which she takes turns at using and seems to think that’s hygienic enough.

By this time Lillian has been well and truly accepted by the locals and is even speaking some Gaelic. The books are stories of her encounters with her neighbours who all seem to be eccentric. There’s Kirsty who treats her poor brother like a slave and she steals her neighbour’s crops with no conscience involved, her neighbour ends up having to move.

More and more tourists are arriving, despite the midges and they are turning out to be good business opportunities for the locals. Quite a lot of this book deals with the things that the islanders get up to in order to get money, including the government assistance which they all seem to be on, there’s also an awful lot of boozing going on. I had a feeling that life on the island was beginning to lose its charm for Beckwith and indeed at the end of the book she has packed up and the villagers are seeing her off at the station. She did write some more Hebridean books in later years though.

It was a wee bit of a Miss Buncle situation – if you’re familiar with that D.E. Stevenson book you’ll know that Miss Buncle wrote a book about life in her own village which became very successful. The trouble was that all of the characters were far too recognisable and none of them was happy at being put in her book!

This book is a good light read, a glimpse back to the days before everyone on the islands had all mod cons. By the time I went to Skye for the first time in 1970 the locals even had freezers which I was very impressed with as we only had a small fridge with ice box at home. Our old friends who had gone back to live on Skye again after a five year sojourn in Glasgow had a freezer in their living room, it was one of those sliding lid ones and thinking about it I think it actually said ‘Wall’s ice cream’ on it! Anyway, I still have a few of these Beckwith books to read so I’ll continue with the series at some point in the future.

Scots Language explained, a little

If you’re interested in Scottish words the video below explains five Scots words in an amusing way, with some nice illustrative scenery.

Courtesy of Visit Scotland

Scotland’s Mountains from the Air and The Finest Mountain Between Heaven and Hell

I feel that things are getting very samey around here, normally I would be able to blog about my travels and visits to what I regard as interesting places but lockdown has scuppered that. While You Tube wandering – not something that I do a lot of – I came across the scenic films below. I hope you enjoy them. You’ll have to click over to You Tube to view the first film. Meanwhile I’m going to trawl through my old photographs to remind myself of where I’ve been before lockdown and haven’t got around to blogging about.

Scotland’s Mountains from the Air

The Finest Mountain Between Heaven and Hell

The film below has some great scenery on it with a couple of kayakers travelling to Knoydart, then climbing a mountain. Armchair travelling is the perfect way to do it – no midges involved.

Armchair Travelling around Scotland

I must admit that I’ve watched a lot more TV this year than usual due to the various lockdowns, and it has been a good way to see some lovely scenery and note down places to visit in the future when we’re eventually able to get out and about. Or even to re-visit favourite places that we haven’t been allowed to travel to.

I always enjoy Paul Murton’s Scottish tours, the episode below is from Grand Tours of Scottish Islands. I hope you can see it and it isn’t blocked where you are.

Or you might prefer Tales from the Coast with Robson Green in the Outer Hebrides.

Or what about the classic Weir’s Way with Tom in the Orkneys? These films are really old now but still entertaining.

Tom Weir in Edinburgh.

And Tom Weir again at Dumbarton Rock, which is where I used to play when I was wee. This is now quite a historic wee film as the town of Dumbarton has changed so much. The Ballantine’s distillery which can be sen steaming away in the background at times is now long gone. It was the largest brick built building in Europe at one time.

I hope that wherever you are you can see these You Tube films and find them interesting. There are loads of them on You Tube and it’s good to be able to do some research this way before setting out on your own journeys.

Strip Jack by Ian Rankin

 Strip Jack cover

Strip Jack by the Scottish (Fife) author Ian Rankin is the fourth book in his long Rebus series which follows Detective Inspector John Rebus through his whole career in the Lothian police force, based in Edinburgh. I have read quite a few of the books and it would have been sensible to read them in order mainly for the personal life of Rebus, although not crucial I think.

Strip Jack was first published in 1992, it’s quite shocking to think that that is now 28 years ago, so this book now has the feel of vintage crime, no mobile phones or internet, it adds to the charm.

The book begins with a police raid on an up-market brothel in one of the Georgian terraces in Edinburgh’s New Town, (believe me – there is one!) One of the clients caught up in the raid happens to be the popular local Member of Parliament Gregor Jack. The ‘gentlemen’ of the press are hanging around the brothel doorway and it dawns on Rebus that they must have had a tip off from someone, he suspects that the MP is the victim of a set up.

Gregor Jack’s wife Elizabeth is from a local wealthy family and she’s more than a bit wild, she’s a party animal, with drink and drugs involved. She spends a lot of time away from home, sometimes at her home in the Highlands, so when she disappears it’s assumed that she has gone there in high dudgeon after having seen her husband’s face all over the newspapers.

Gregor Jack’s staff and close friends that he has known since childhood rally round to protect him, but his friends are not what they seem to be on the surface.

I really liked this one although I do think that the books get even better as the series progresses.

At the back of my copy of the book there is a map of Edinburgh New Town which will be of use to people who don’t know the city, but if you do know the area part of the charm of these books is being able to visualise all the locations. However, if you’re really keen you can go onto Google Street to have a wee ‘walk’ around and see for yourself.

River Tay, Perth, Scotland

For obvious reasons our travelling this year has been very much curtailed, but I’ve been coping well with having to keep within the guidelines for travelling around, even when we were only allowed out for an hour a day for exercise, and to go to the supermarket. But it looks like we in Fife will have to stick to our own county again soon as Covid stats rise again. So last Thursday we drove to Perth in the neighbouring county, just for a change – and while we could. I wasn’t interested in the shops – well – apart from the Oxfam bookshop, but the River Tay is right at the top of the High Street so we went to have a look at it. Unfortunately as you can see from the photos below we were a week or two too late for the best of the autumn colour.

Perth, River Tay at Perth

River Tay at Perth , River Tay, Scotland

There’s a nice old bridge over the river.
River Tay at Perth, Scotland

And a not quite so nice more modern bridge.
River Tay at Perth, Scotland

With my back to the river I took a few steps forward to take the photo below. The river is perilously close to the shops and the town has flooded in the past but I think they’ve solved that problem, for now anyway. I love towns with a river running through them, as all the old places do. The building on the left below with all the flags hanging from it is now the Perth County Council Headquarters. I really like that they are inclusive and happily fly the flags of so many other countries instead of just a Union Jack/flag or Saltire/St Andrews flag.

Perth, Scotland

You can see some great images of Perth here.

Yes I DID buy a couple of books in the Oxfam bookshop, but I’ll keep those for another time.

Falkland Palace Garden, Fife, Scotland

Falkland Palace , Fife, Scotland

Although we’re members of the Scottish National Trust we haven’t been able to visit any of their properties this year as they’ve obviously all been closed due to Covid. Some of the bigger castles have opened up again, such as Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle, but last week we decided as it was a beautiful day we’d visit nearby Falkland Palace, just to walk in the garden, the palace wasn’t open. You can just walk in and there’s a box for donations.

Falkland Palace, Fife, Scotland

Falkland Palace was the hunting lodge of the Stuart kings and queens. Built in the 16th century by King James IV and his son James V and modelled in the French style it was also a favourite with Mary, Queen of Scots as it reminded her of the French chateaux of her childhood.

Falkland Palace , Fife, Scotland

Much of the palace is a romantic ruin, but in the 19th century the third Marquess of Bute had it partly rebuilt.

Falkland Palace, Fife, Scotland

We quite often just go for a wander around the gardens, there’s a pleasant orchard, although a lot of the trees have been fairly recently planted. In normal times you can have a nice wee sit down on a bench and admire the views, but I believe they’ve been removed due to Covid 19.

Falkland Palace Gardens, Fife, Scotland

Anyway, here are some of the photos I took while we wandered around.

Falkland Palace Gardens , Fife, Scotland

Falkland Palace Gardens, Fife, Scotland

Falkland Palace Gardens, Fife, Scotland

Falkland Palace Gardens, Fife, Scotland

Falkland Palace Gardens, Fife, Scotland

Falkland Palace Steps, Fife, Scotland

The gate below is obviously modern, it leads through to the orchard some of which you can just see in the background. The apple crop was not nearly as good as usual due to the weather.

Falkland Palace Gate, Fife, Scotland

Although Falkland has always been popular with tourists it has become even more so in recent years as the village and palace have been used as a location for Outlander. Click on the photos if you want to see them enlarged.

The Turning Tide by Catriona McPherson

 The Turning Tidecover

The Turning Tide by Catriona McPherson was published in 2019, I’m glad that I’ve caught up with this series which should be read in the correct order if possible. Dandy’s family has just expanded by two as her daughter-in-law has given birth to twins.

The setting is the summer of 1936 and on the east coast of Scotland Dandy is feeling no need to shed her cardigan as there’s a keen wind, as usual! Dandy and Alec have been asked to investigate goings on at the Cramond Ferry. It doesn’t sound like their sort of thing and initially they decline to take the case on, then refuse the second plea, when the third request came along things at Cramond had deteriorated and they decided to take the case on. Apparently the ferrywoman’s behaviour was now so strange that she was refusing to ferry anyone out to the small tidal island in the middle of the Firth of Forth. There has been a tragic accident, the body of a young man has been fished out of the river and Dandy realises that she knows his family. When Dandy and Alec arrive at Cramond island the ferrywoman who goes by the name of Vesper Kemp is raving, filthy and is naked from the waist up. Alec doesn’t know where to look! Vesper claims she murdered the young man.

Various Cramond residents including the local minister don’t believe that Vesper is guilty, surely it was just an accident, but there’s no doubting that there are strange things going on in the small community. Dandy and Alec are the ones to get to the bottom of it all, assisted by Grant, Dandy’s maid who now sees herself as a key component of any investigation.

This was a good read and for me the fact that I know the settings of Cramond and Edinburgh so well added to the enjoyment. You can see images of Cramond here. However the tidal island off Cramond whih is featured in this book sounds much bigger than the actual island.