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.


Perth Museum, Scotland

We visited the new Perth Museum a couple of weeks ago, it’s mainly for local interest I think and was opened because what had been an Edwardian concert hall was no longer fit for purpose, so it lay there, rotting and unused. Some thought the building should be demolished, but it has been repurposed, successfully. The big attraction is the Stone of Destiny which has been taken from Edinburgh Castle, but we had seen that before so didn’t bother with it, you had to book a ticket for a time slot . I took the photo below of the Pullar’s dye works and cleaners. It reminded me that in one of her books Deborah Devonshire mentioned that they used to send their evening gloves to this place to have them cleaned, and it was so famous the address was just PULLARS, PERTH. I think the building itself is one of those Edwardian, on the cusp of Art Deco, designs.

Art Deco Pullars, Perth, Scotland

The St Madoes standing stone was dug up from a field where it must have lain for years undisturbed, hence it being in unweathered condition, I think some of the designs on it look a bit Mackintosh-ish.

St Madoes stone, Perth Museum, Scotland

The swords were all found locally, possibly gifts for a river god, but there were so many battles around the Perthshire area they could just have been lost in battle. When I read a book about Montrose fairly recently I was amazed by how many villlages in Perthshire Montrose had ridden into that I had visited. Places where battles had been fought in the Civil War, or Wars of the Three Kingdoms as it now seems to be called.

Swords, Perth Museum, St Madoes

More finds, including an amazing leather shoe.

metal stuff ,shoe, Perth Museum, Scotland

In 1633 King Charles I did actually visit Scotland, and they had a bit of a do for him.

King Charles 1, Perth Museum, Scotland

Below is one of the costumes from that dance. I imagine it was a bit more colourful back in its day.

River dance , Perth Museum, Scotlandgarment

King Charles’ surcoat apparently, below.  There must have been a contrasting silk fabric showing through the slashes originally I think.

King's surcoat, Perth museum, Scotland

These neolithic carved stone balls which must have taken ages to make are a mystery, they’ve been found in lots of places in Scotland, but what were they used for?

Stone Balls, Perth museum, Scotland

There was a ‘Unicorn’ exhibition on the top floor of the museum, but that had to be paid for separately and as neither of us are much into unicorns we didn’t bother to visit it.


We visited Bannockburn recently, a place we had never been before, it’s not far from Stirling. The famous battle was fought there in 1314 although there’s no actual archeological evidence of the battle now, the geography of the battle was known as it was the bogginess of the terrain and Bruce’s knowledge of it which led to the Scottish victory. There’s now a visitor centre there, but the statue in the photo below of Robert the Bruce by Pilkington Jackson was placed there in 1964. I have to say that modern day sculptors seem to have lost the art of sculpting,  this one is really good.

Robert the Bruce , Bannockburn, Stirling, Scotland, battlefield

There’s also a rotunda below, with a massive flagpole which dates from Victorian times although the rotunda is much more modern.

Rotunda + Flag, Bannockburn, battlefield, Scotland

Inside the actual visitor centre we enjoyed a really informative talk by Callum, who certainly knows his subject. He used cards to explain where each army was and pushed them around as they moved around the battlefield. There were also animated films which Jack thought were a bit amateurish looking, but I really liked them, there were two dimensional  figures which had a feeling of puppets the way they moved, I thought it was quite artistic.

Bannockburn Tableau, Bannockburn visitor centre

The articles on display are all reproductions as there are no archaeological finds in the area at all. As the soldiers in the Scottish army weren’t actually paid they were given permission to pick over the battlefield and take anything away that they wanted, it would have been picked clean, anything which had been missed would have sunk into the bog over the centuries.

This is the view down to the area where the battle took place.

Bannockburn Today

If you happen to be interested in the battle there’s a good You Tube animation of it below. The narrator is somewhat strange, there are some mistakes in pronunciation of basic words such as Scone which should not be pronounced like the baked scone, but should rhyme with ‘boon’ and incursion doesn’t have two ‘s’ sounds, plus the spelling is all American, but I suppose that’s me nit-picking.


The Willow Tea Rooms, Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow

Last week we had a couple of days away over in the west of Scotland, and on one of the days we took the train to Glasgow, something that Jack used to do on a daily basis and I did at least once a week, it was a bit of a nostalgia trip, despite the trains being completely different. Anyway, we were aiming for The Willow Tea Rooms in Sauchiehall Street. They were designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, they had been fairly recently refurbished, and have now been taken over by the National Trust for Scotland.

The Willow Tea Rooms, Sauchiehall Street , Glasgow, Charles Rennie Mackintosh

As you can see from the photo below, the pedestrianised area of the street is having work done on it at the moment, the whole place is a mess and as usual there didn’t seem to be any actual work going on, you have to be quite determined to reach the tea room!

The Willow Tea Rooms, Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, Charles Rennie Mackintosh

We were sitting right at the window but as you can see from the photo below they have it screened by curtains so you don’t see people going past, and they can’t see in.  It was a very busy Friday lunchtime so the place was packed downstairs, but the food was good.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh, The Willow Tea Rooms, Margaret Macdonald, Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow

The staff must be well used to people going around taking photos of the decor, as nobody batted an eyelid when Jack did that. I love the details, Mackintosh was quick to give his wife Margaret Macdonald the credit  for designing and working many of the textiles that feature in ‘his’ work

The Willow Tea Rooms, Sauchiehall Street, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Glasgow

The Willow Tea Rooms, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Glasgow, Sauchiehall Street

In the 1970s and 80s the tea rooom was shut and it was being used by Carrick the jewellery shop. They specialised in silver jewellery which was inspired by Mackintosh’s designs. It was more successful than many others and nowadays you can still buy some of the jewellery on Ebay and in ‘antique’ shops. There is an awful lot of ‘Mockintosh’ stuff around though which isn’t so pleasing to the eye – or my eye anyway.

The Willow Tea Rooms, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow

Have you ever been in a tea room which actually had a bell on the table to summon assistance?  Everyone was very attentive so they weren’t really necessary.  Mind you I didn’t hear one actually being used!

The Willow Tea Rooms, Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, C.R. Mackintosh

The photos above and below are of the second floor room which wasn’t being used at the time, it’s a sort of gallery and you can look down to the ground floor from there. There is another floor above that one which I suspect is used for special occasions like weddings – maybe.

Upper level The Willow Tea Rooms, Sauchihell Street, Glasgow Charles Rennie Mackintosh

Anyway, this visit was something that we had been planning to do for ages, then along came Covid and it was postponed yet again. We’ll go back for another visit sometime, the desserts were delicious!

Pretty Young Rebel by Flora Fraser

Pretty Young Rebel  The Life of Flora MacDonald by Flora Fraser was published by Bloomsbury recently, I borrowed it from the library. I hadn’t read anything by Flora Fraser before but apparently she is an award winning biographer, and I can see why.

About half of this book is set in the Highlands/Islands of Scotland and I must say that considering everyone knows that ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ did escape to safety the author manages to convey an atmosphere of tension, fear and danger. I don’t think I had realised before that it was Flora MacDonald’s step-father who had volunteered her for the job of helping the prince to escape. A job that no doubt none of the men wanted to do because if caught they would definitely have been executed.

I was impressed by the behaviour of the prince, he seems to have been brave and stoical, despite the hellish weather conditions that had to be endured during his long and hazardous journey before his escape.

I must admit though that it was the second half of the book which I was most interested in reading because it was only a few years ago that I realised that Flora MacDonald had emigrated to North Carolina – but had gone back home again after a few years.

Sadly Flora hadn’t chosen wisely when it came to getting married, her husband Allan was a complete liability, not that she ever seems to have complained about him. In theory he was a good bet, he was well educated  and certainly had good prospects, but his business plans always failed. He ran through all of Flora’s money and ended up being heavily in debt to many people.  With so many people in the Highlands and Islands emigrating to America Flora and Allan decided to join them.  Again Allan wasn’t wise in his business dealings, but what was worse was that the fighting between Crown and ‘rebels’ wasn’t long in arriving at their door and Allan had plumped to support King George. He went around gathering support on that side from other Highland emigrants and when a lot of the men ended up being killed both Allan and Flora were very unpopular with the widows and families.

After that ‘the rebels’ started attacking their farm and stealing anything they fancied including all the farm tools and hpousehold goods. It was time to go home to Scotland, which they did, with almost nothing to their name, and having to rely on the charity of old friends. Still,  Flora seems not to have been bitter about things, but maybe she just kept her thoughts to herself!

Anyway, this was a great read by an author who has in the past won prizes for her biographies.

Dumbarton Castle – info boards

If you want to see some photos of the castle, including the Georgian part which I took back in 2018 on a blue sky day have a look here.

Dumbarton Castle, info board

There are plenty of information boards to read if you visit Dumbarton Castle. If you want to read them more easily click on the photos.

Dumbarton Castle, info board

The photo below was taken from inside the guard room which has only fairly recently been opened to the public.

Dumbarton Castle, guard room

Royal Progress, info board, Dumbarton Castle


Mary's Cause, Dumbarton Castle

Dumbarton Castle has had famous prisoners over the years, including William Wallace and Mary, Queen of Scots.  I believe that it was one of the many places that she managed to escape from. In fact she escaped from so many places that I suspect that it was a bit of a cat and mouse game which was being played on her.

Held Captive, Dumbarton Castle


Dumbarton Castle and environs

Dumbarton Football Club ground

Back in September Jack wanted to go to Dumbarton to watch a football match there, he’s a loyal supporter of Dumbarton Football Club – through thick and thin and at the moment it’s quite thin! Anyway, I’m not a huge football fan so I opted to visit Dumbarton Castle which is situated right at the football ground. As you can see below the info board names it Dun Breatann, Fortress of the Britons. Over the years the town which grew around the fort became known as Dumbarton, it’s a bit easier to say I suppose.

Dumbarton Rock info board

Although it’s called a castle it isn’t anything like Stirling or Edinburgh, but in its day it was one of the most important fortresses in Scotland. Ships sailed from here to France and elsewhere. Mary Queen of Scots sailed for France from the castle, she was also imprisoned here, and of course escaped. There have been lots of drawings of the area over the centuries and in some of them the patch of grass in the photo below has a house on it, it was demolished long ago. Behind the wall to the right are steps, when I was wee they used to say there was a step for every day of the year but now they say there are over 400. As a wee girl I tried to count them, but I always got a different tally.

Dumbarton Castle, Dumbarton Rock

And here are some of the steps in the photo below, these ones are right at the beginning and are possibly some of the steepest. It’s not a good place to visit if you aren’t good with stairs! On the other hand it will keep you fit.

Dumbarton Castle stairs, Dumbarton Rock

The photo below is of a small part of the rock face. The whole thing is a volcanic plug.

Dumbarton Rock face, Dumbarton Castle

At the moment some areas are cordoned off. The building below is known as the French Prison because during the Napoleonic wars it was used to house French prisoners, it’s apparently going to be refurbished and will then be open to the public, it never has been in my lifetime.  The sunken area below with the metal bars in it is part of it too but is in much worse condition.

French prison, Dumbarton Castle


French Prison, Dunmbarton Castle

More rockiness!

Dumbarton Castle, Dumbarton Rock

There are still cannons in place. This has always been a very strategic place, at the confluence of the River Clyde and River Leven.  The Romans were here, and the Vikings and it’s amazing how often it’s mentioned in historical fiction.

Dumbarton Rock, Dumbarton Castle, cannons

It was low tide at the River Clyde when I was there.

Dumbarton Castle, Dumbarton Rock, River Clyde


Dumbarton Castle, River Clyde

Below is a photo of some of the stairs seen from above. The small white building is a guard house and that hadn’t been open to the public before. Looking at this photo it strikes me that you need a head for heights!

Dumbarton Castle, Rock

Below is the River Clyde again. It’s a pity it was such a grey day as the views are spectacular when it’s bright.

River Clyde, Dumbarton Rock

Looking to the other side of the river in the photo below is a small part of the town, Dumbarton. I lived close to this area and it was my playground when I was a wee girl, but all of these houses and flats are new, sometimes the rivers pay them a visit!  The Sunderland aircraft factory took up a lot of the land where these houses are now.


If you cast your mind back to when Prince Harry and Meghan Markle got married you might remember thet the Queen bestowed the Scottish title on them of Earl and Countess of Dumbarton on them. It was supposed to be an honour for the town I’m sure but they were unimpressed. It was expected that they would pay a visit to Dumbarton soon after they married as that’s what normally happens, but apparently (if you can believe the tabloids) the couple took it as an insult instead of the honour it was meant to be – something to do with the word ‘dumb’ apparently. Honestly, how daft can you get!


Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott – The Classics Club spin # 35

I wasn’t too thrilled when I got this book in the Classics Club spin, but I feel that I should read Scott’s novels and putting them on my list is the way to do it for me.

Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott was first published in 1818, but the setting is around about 1715, just before the first Jacobite Rising but the story begins in the south of England, Frank Osbaldistone narrates the tale.

Frank’s father owns a succesful business which he expects Frank as his only child to take over, but Frank has no intention of being tied down to something that he knows he wouldn’t enjoy. He refuses to follow his father into his business, which disappoints and upsets the father so much that he says that Frank must leave home, he’s cutting him off.  His father had been looking forward to the company and friendship of Frank now that he’s an adult. Frank doesn’t really believe that his father will throw him out of the family home, but he does, he also gives Frank the task of visiting the home of Frank’s uncle and cousins who are strangers to Frank as the senior Osbaldistone brothers had fallen out years ago, due to religious differences. Frank is to ask the eldest cousin Rashleigh to replace him in the family business, Frank almost changes his mind about refusing to work for his father.

Frank travels to their home in the north of England and meets his uncle, six male cousins and their relative the lovely Die Vernon whom Frank falls for. Rashleigh sets off for England and his new position, but eventually Frank hears news that Rashleigh has not been the good and dutiful businessman he has been expected to be, and Frank’s father’s whole business is in danger.

There’s a lot more to the story than this as Frank gets involved with Jacobite Highlanders and Rob Roy MacGregor, whom he had met earlier when he was calling himself Campbell.

I found the beginning of this book really hard going as Scott would never use one word when he could write two hundred, and it makes everything very dense, but towards  the end I felt my way through the fog, (I think) I was glad to reach the end of the 455 pages of quite small print. I think it’ll be a while before I tackle another book by Walter Scott.

When the book was first published it kicked off tourism in Scotland as people wanted to visit the locations mentioned in the book, and that continues to this day. I intend to visit some of the places that I haven’t been to already, but I grew up close to some of the locations. My gran was a MacGregor.

If you’re interested in seeing Abbotsford, Sir Walter Scott’s home, have a look at my previous blogposts about it here.


Aberdour Castle doocot (dovecote) in Fife

We visited Aberdour Castle one afternoon  last month, we hadn’t been there for years and it looked like quite a lot of work had been done in the gardens. Below is a photo of the dovecote – or as we say in Scotland the doocot (dookit). This is obviously a beehive type construction, they are various different designs but I think this is the most elegant kind. I would love to have seen the structure which was on the right hand side of the grass, it looks like it was a wall with pillars, going by the outline, but is long gone now.

Aberdour Castle, Doocot + grounds, Fife

As you can see, inside the doocot is ringed with stone shelves which have nesting niches for the pigeons to nest in – or doves if you want to be posh. They were important sources of meat for the castle inhabitants, especially during the winter months when hunting wasn’t so easy.

Aberdour Castle, Doocot interior

I’ll do another post about the castle soon.



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.