Doune Castle in Stirlingshire

A couple of weeks ago we visited Doune Castle which is not far from Stirling, we hadn’t visited it before although we’ve been to Doune quite a lot and even looked at a house in the village when we were house-hunting prior to J’s retirement. The castle was built in the 14th century.

Doune Castle

There’s some work requiring scaffolding going on at part of the castle.

Doune Castle
Like many such places it has been used as a location for TV programmes and films and probably because of the plummeting pound it has seen a big increase in visitor numbers, especially from the US. I’m beginning to think that Diana Gabaldon should be given some sort of award from the Scottish government – for her services to tourism in Scotland.

Doune Castle

There was also a wedding going on in the kitchen of all places while we were there and the bride was due any minute so we only got a quick look at the kitchen, the guests were already waiting for her to arrive.

Doune Castle Courtyard
Doune Castle has been famous for quite a long time though as it was used in Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Game of Thrones.

Internally it has some quite grand rooms that would have been more suitable for a wedding I think, but maybe that would have meant closing down most of the castle and they wouldn’t want to do that.

Doune Castle Interior
You can see more images of Doune Castle here.

Doune Castle Interior

The staircase below started off fine but got progressively narrower and steeper, it’s amazing to me that people manage to negotiate them without breaking something, although I did hear of one lady who got stuck in a staircase at Culross Palace!
Doune Castle Interior
Most of these National Trust properties have a dressing up box for the children, but at Doune it’s for adults who fancy dressing up as Clare from Outlander! One lady was desperate to try a dress on but I think they were all in Claire’s size so she had to give up trying. In the shop they have for sale replicas of Claire’s riding jacket priced at £200. I think you would have to be a fairly dedicated fan (or nutter) to shell out that sort of money.
Castle Interior  Dressing up

We went for a walk around the castle and it was only then that we realised how well positioned it is. They built it on high ground at the confluence of two rivers, the River Teith and the Ardoch Burn so it wasn’t going to be easy for any attackers to gain access from those sides. There were a few men fishing in the Teith.
River at Doune

Doune,River

There isn’t a tearoom at the castle but we enjoyed coffee, scones and cake at Willows Dell which is in the village of Doune nearby. You can see photos of the village here.

Willows Dell

Woodsman by Ben Law

Woodsman cover

Woodsman by Ben Law was a random choice from a local library. I had never heard of him before but apparently he is well known through being on TV’s Grand Designs after having built a house in his own woodland Prickly Nut Wood.

This book is good in parts, Law tells the story of how he started out living in Prickly Nut Wood in a bender he made himself, later upgrading to a yurt before eventually building his own home from the local wood. But in the last chapter the author zips forward to 2037 and imagines life will be more land based with people taking the place of machinery due to a lack of oil. He doesn’t seem to have heard of green energy, the renewables that will definitely take-over in the future. He imagines the future as looking like a step back in time, it’s all a bit silly.

To begin with he didn’t have much in the way of woodland skills and apparently these aren’t easy to learn as in times past those who made their living coppicing and such were keen to keep their knowledge to themselves for fear of doing themselves out of work in the future. I’m glad to say that nowadays things seem to have improved and it’s possible to go on courses to learn woodcraft. Mind you I already knew a lot of the skills involved and I’m sure I learned of them through reading Thomas Hardy’s The Woodlanders, as I recall he even explained how charcoal was made.

Ben Law started living in a bender in his woodland but decided to build his yurt when his first child was due, presumably his partner wasn’t keen to bring up a baby in a bender. But apart from that there is absolutely no mention of family life, except that he has three children.

I wish I had seen the Grand Design TV show which featured the house he built, but I gave up watching that programme because all of the ones I had seen featured enormous piles and much wrangling with banks for finances, really the programme should have been called Grand Debts.

Ben Law’s house is built more on a human scale though.

Ben Law House
As it happens there is an article in this week’s Guardian Weekend magazine about people who have bought woodland, it’s becoming very popular. You can read it here if you’re interested in it. In fact some years ago I thought about buying a small woodland – it was for sale at a bargain basement price, but the fact that there was a fairly busy road along the edge of it put me off because I suspect that it could be a place that people would fly tip their junk, instead of going an extra few miles to the municipal tip – you know how awful some human beings can be!

I’ve found the Grand Designs on Vimeo, the woodland is lovely, an idyllic place to bring up a family I think.

Grand Designs – Woodsman Cottage (Ben Law) from Nebruks on Vimeo.

Honfleur in France

I couldn’t resist taking a photo of the building in the photo below, it’s up for sale but it looks like nature is going to beat any buyer to it.

aplant cliff 1

From there we went for a snoop around a supermarket, it’s always interesting in a foreign country – to see what different things are on offer food-wise. But with French supermarkets you always have to pluck up courage to go in as when you first step through the doors you are invariably assailed by such a horrendous smell that it takes some courage not to just turn around and dash out again for fresh air. I don’t know how they manage it, I suspect they just never clean the places.

Below is a photo of an old style French ‘gents’ public toilet – and it’s still in use. As usual Jack was in need of a loo (I swear I could write a guidebook on the public loos of Scotland – I seem to have stood outside most of them at some point!) Anyway, he went into the small white building which he thought was unisex, but I’m not so sure as the old metal structure is still in use, I saw chaps using it, and I mean saw as their heads were in view. This is all rather alien to Brits, but French toilet facilities still leave a lot to be desired, in some places it is literally just a hole in the ground!
toilets

It reminded me of Clochemerle, it’s a book by Gabriel Chevallier and it was televised way back in the early 1970s on the BBC, very late due to its subject matter being seen as rather risque in those days.

From the ‘cor blimey’ to the sublime Saint Catherine’s Church below is really old, 15th century in some parts I believe.

Honfleur Church

The church has a separate belltower.
achurch 4 belltower
And this other church was actually open.

achurch 5

As you can see the internal decor is quite different from British churches.

achurch archway

The very intricate designs on the walls and ceilings seem to be more in keeping with a grand house, but maybe that is a feature of French Roman Catholic churches. It’s beautiful anyway.

achurch frieze

aleaving harbour 1

Sailing on out of Honfleur, the surroundings are lovely, with this heavily wooded area right by the coast.
aleaving harbour 2

Sailing back out to sea, as you can see it’s a flat calm but the sea did get a wee bit more interesting in the next few days as we sailed back to Scotland. Most of the time though lying in bed on ship made me think of how it would feel if you were being stirred around gently in a big bowl. I find it very relaxing – rock-a-bye-baby sort of sensation, although I always worried about that lullaby’s words. Even as a small child that sounded crazily dangerous to me!

aleaving harbour 3

Earl Hamner Jr 1923 – 2016

I just noticed Earl Hamner’s obituary in Friday’s Guardian, you can read it here if you’re interested. He died in March but I think the Guardian is a bit behind with some obituaries – it has been such a busy year! It was one of those times when I looked and thought – I assumed he was already dead! In case you don’t know, Earl Hamner Jr was the man who created The Waltons, but he did an awful lot more than that.

As a youngster I loved The Waltons, I know it has a reputation for being sickly sweet and schmaltzy but I think if that is your idea of the series then you must never have watched it.

The Walton family is portrayed as a realistic one with the siblings often at daggers drawn with each other, the reality in large families. Even grandma and grampa had a rocky relationship, often not speaking to each other and referring to each other as ‘old man’ and ‘old woman’ in a cutting way. Hamner based The Waltons on his own family’s experiences of life in Virginia in the 1930s.

I must admit that I haven’t read any of his books. Have any of you?

What do you think of The Waltons? I saw a Walton Christmas film recently and I could just sit down and watch the whole series again given the chance. You might call it ‘comfort’ viewing, but there was always some sort of crisis going on and that house is one that I could move into right now. Castles, palaces and the like have never appealed to me as a home.
Walton

It’s a shame this is just a film set.

Falkland, Fife – Outlander

Falkland in Fife

On Monday we went to Falkland, a nearby village, it’s a place we visit regularly, it’s very quaint and it’s good walking country, but this time the main street was lined with ‘no parking’ traffic cones as you can see, and lots of people were hanging about, presumably to make sure nobody parked there anyway, you know the way there are always those who believe that any rules don’t apply to them.

I hope that paint comes off the stonework all right, the drainpipes are normally all shiny black paint but you can just see that they have painted the one on the left to look all rusty and grotty, the ‘wet paint’ sign is still on it.

Falkland  in Fife

The shop below is normally a gift and coffee shop but it was in the middle of being kitted out as a furniture shop, 1950s style I would say.

Falkland  in Fife

The upshot was that they are filming Outlander there, it seems that just about everywhere we go has been in Outlander, but as it’s on a cable TV channel that we don’t have we haven’t seen any of it.

I say 1950s because there are loads of bananas in the fruit shop display, but I suppose it might be the 1930s. This shop is normally a restaurant/coffee shop and they have just about managed to cover up the modern shop sign with the awning.

Falkland  in Fife

The boarding in the two photos below is not normally there.
Falkland in Fife

We noticed a couple of weeks ago that the biggest pub/restaurant was closed and boarded up which seemed weird but presumably they were busy doing something to the interior, they would have to, because the place had been gutted and was very modern looking inside.

Falkland in Fife

And across the road from all that stands Falkland Palace, it has seen a lot in the lifetime of its stonework, as it was the hunting palace of the Scottish royalty – the Stuarts and a favourite home of Mary, Queen of Scots, before her imprisonment by the English.

Falkland  in Fife

I’m now definitely buying the Outlander DVDs so that I can play at spotting all the locations.

TV I’ve been watching

In these long days of winter and especially in the horrible weather we’ve been having recently I’ve been watching TV, even in the afternoon sometimes. In fact this afternoon was one of those days when I drew the curtains at 3.30 because it was just so dark and dreich (dismal) that the best thing to do was just shut it all out.

I scrolled down the TV menu and was amazed to see the words Three Pines – could it be the same Three Pines I wondered? And amazingly it was – Still Life. I’m not even sure that I knew that they had made a film of one of the Louise Penny books. I was/am puzzled though as to why they chose an English actor (Nathaniel Parker) to play Armand Gamache. Anyway I enjoyed it although of course inevitably it had been sanitised,, especially Ruth Zardo, who was nothing like the anarchic character in the book, but fair enough, they couldn’t have an old lady in a film ‘effing’ her way through life as she does in the books.

Otherwise I’ve been enjoying watching Capital, which is intriguing.

Also The Detectorists. That Toby Jones chap is getting around!

The Last Kingdom has been a must watch for us, it’s historical and thankfully it’s not the Tudor period. It’s King Alfred and Vikings, I’m unsure whose side I’m on!

Doctor Who is also a must watch but this series is bizarre. Each time I think it’s getting better, it is followed by a distinctly weird episode.

London Spy has turned out to be a good spy/thriller series even although it is obviously based on something which was in the news a few years ago, involving a spy who was into weird sex – it’s fine once you get past that bit.

Well that’s what I’ve been watching recently, have you seen anything else which is worth watching?

TV – a great new season – so far

There have been times fairly recently when I thought I had really fallen out of love with television as I never seemed to bother to watch most of the new things which were being broadcast. I gave up on Downton Abbey because of the greed of ITV which meant that there were more commercials being screened during Downton time than actual Downton Abbey. It put me right off commercial TV altogether.

I’ve always enjoyed watching The Bake Off. I’m not a big fan of Paul Hollywood, I don’t find him objectionable though, I am quite a fan of Mary Berry however, since watching her on a TV cookery programme which was on in the afternoons in the 1970s. It was partly her old-fashioned oh so proper Englishness (but not snooty) which I liked, but now I like her for being so positive and determined to try to say something good about some aspect of the contestants’ efforts. I’ve come to realise that in life one of the most important things is to be kind, or at least not to be vicious, some people seem to think that that’s entertainment, pulling someone’s best efforts apart, but it’s not my idea of comfy viewing.

The Bake Off is the only thing of that sort which I’ve watched. I’ve never seen ‘Strictly’ or any of those jungle/island/Big Brother things, frankly I’d rather do just about anything else. I sometimes feel a bit odd, not quite part of society as all these types of programmes feature so highly in day to day living, but I don’t even recognise most of the names of the people involved in them.

So I was watching very little of ‘new’ TV and was almost always watching re-runs of old programmes if anything at all, but I’ve been drawn into new things this season and really enjoying them, despite sometimes being quite determined not to like them. The programme which comes under that category is Cradle to Grave which is apparently about the teenage years of the DJ/entertainer Danny Baker, never a favourite of mine, but it has been a really nostalgic step back into the 1970s for me, the time when I was a teenager too.

Doctor Foster was well trailed as a must view so I gave it a go, mainly because I really like the actress Suranne Jones, and I’ve not been disappointed although I just have to shout advice at her on screen, she’s not taking any of it though!

The new series of Doctor Who is fab, Missy played by Michelle Gomez is wonderful and I’m warming to Peter Capaldi as the Doctor. I love it when they both start speaking in their normal Scottish accents, but David Tennant will always be my favourite Doctor.

I’ve been enjoying watching Boy Meets Girl which is about a young chap who happens to start dating a transgender woman/man. It’s funny and very well acted, with an actual transgender person acting in it. It’s very brave apparently for the BBC to take on this subject, brave it might be but it’s definitely entertaining.

Countdown to Life: The Extraordinary Making of You is a series about how foetuses develop and what happens when the development goes wrong, fascinating for the science and the people involved who have gone bit wonky in the womb but it hasn’t got them down.

I see that on Wednesday there’s a new Simon Schama series – The Face of Britain which looks like it’ll be interesting. There’s a book to go with the series and you can read the Guardian review of it here.

On Thursday BBC 4 there’s Oak Tree: Nature’s Greatest Survivor, a year in the life of an oak tree.

On Friday BBC 1 – The Kennedys has been tipped by the Guardian as a pick of the day. The setting is again the 1970s, so I think it’ll be another nostalgia trip.

It looks like I’ll be doing nothing but watching the telly, but I promise you I’m still getting plenty of reading in, just don’t look at the state of my house!

Have you been watching anything good on TV recently?

Rumpole a La Carte

Rumpole a La Carte by John Mortimer is a collection of six short stories featuring of course Rumpole barrister-at-law and his wife Hilda, more often known as She Who Must Be Obeyed. I think most, if not all of these stories have been dramatised for TV and I loved them when they were on during the 1980s. They were/are very faithful to the stories and I think that they were very well cast. Hilda fondly refers to Rumpole as being a character but the Law Chambers is full of odd characters.

John Mortimer was himself a barrister and he wrote with wit about what he knew – the BEnglish justice system and the people who frequent it.

Have a peek at the You Tube Rumpole episode below. It’s preceded by a clip of John Mortimer talking about his creation.

The Debate and – call me Dave

The photo below is one which appeared on the front page of the Guardian the day after the much debated debate took place. As soon as I saw it I said to Jack ‘That man still has his hand in his pocket!’ It could have been worse, it’s usually both hands which ‘call me Dave’ has hidden away. I dread to think what they’re doing.

This seems to be what they learn at Eton, along with it being acceptable to walk around dressed as a Nazi – a la Prince Harry. To me it all looks like the height of arrogance, and to be fair, that is probably what people do send their offspring to posh private schools for – cultivating an air of superiority. It doesn’t go down at all well with me though.

aDave's hand

So I was really happy when I got to Steve Bell’s Guardian cartoon to see that he obviously had the same feeling about the photo as I did, as you can see below, he should have kept to the usual hand in pocket stance though.

Elsewhere on the internet, there’s a wee girl who thinks Cameron looks like this Thomas the Tank engine train, who apprently goes under the name of Spencer the silver express. I sort of see what she means.

We’ve got over a month to go of all this shenanigans, I’m going to attempt to keep myself sane by having a laugh!

Top Gear: Not Top Bloke

I must admit that I gave up watching Top Gear about a lifetime ago, in recent years I’ve only seen bits of it when I’ve been flicking to something more interesting.

So it has been something of a mystery to me that the carrying on of those three chaps makes headlines from time to time, with their disciples grumbling when the bad behaviour goes over the top in case they get the sack.

Surely though it’s obvious to everyone that the latest nonsense happened because they were about to negotiate new contracts with the BBC. Obviously the fact that the programme is sold all over the world makes a lot of money for the BBC and those three presenters probably felt that they should be getting paid more than they were.

I know I’m a cynic but surely everyone realises that the whole fracas was orchestrated with the intention of getting away from the BBC and on to pastures new which have much more lucrative remunerations.

Stand by for those three chaps appearing on Sky or some other commercial station, on a programme with much the same premise as Top Gear, but the name of – Vrooming Brilliant or something similar, fill in your own idea for the new name!

The whole thing reminds me of those people who want to get out of a relationship but don’t have the guts to dump their partner because they don’t want to be perceived as being nasty. So they behave badly until their partner eventually dumps them. Result! they shout as they skip off footloose and fancy free, claiming to have been badly treated by their ex-partner.

Those Top Gear guys just don’t want to be seen as being greedy by their fans, who might not be able to afford to see them on whatever commercial platform picks them up. If you want to know what fuels Jeremy Clarkson, his raison d’etre, just have a look at his appearance on Who Do You Think You Are? that programme which looks back at family trees. The only thing which he was interested in was – where’s the money!