Miss Marjoribanks by Margaret Oliphant

 Miss Marjoribanks cover

Miss Marjoribanks by Margaret Oliphant has been languishing on my Classics Club list for years, it was definitely about time that I got around to reading it, and I’m so glad that I did, it’s so well written. This book was originally published in 15 parts in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine in 1865-66. Margaret Oliphant was Scottish, born in Wallyford, near Edinburgh. In case you don’t know – the Scottish surname Marjoribanks is pronounced Marchbanks and indeed by the end of the book Marchbanks does appear – in the shape of an estate and village.

It begins when Miss Marjoribanks, known as Lucilla to her friends is only fifteen years old, and her mother has just died. Lucilla was away at boarding school at the time but she has decided that she will leave school and concentrate on being ‘a comfort to her papa’. Papa is a popular local doctor and he succeeds in making Lucilla go back to school to finish her education, including a finishing year in Switzerland and Italy. By the time Lucilla gets back to her home town of Carlingford she’s raring to go.

She’s a managing sort of female and quickly takes control of the household. She gets the decorators in to transform the drawing room where her mother had died, making sure that the walls are the perfect shade of green to complement her own complexion and re-upholstering the sofa where her mother had died. She couldn’t be called good looking and she’s a bit on the heavy side, but her father is well off and she intends to stay at home with him for at least ten years before getting married, after ten years she thinks she’ll begin to ‘go off’. She very quickly develops what would be called in London ‘a salon’, with every Thursday night an open evening for the local society and very good dinners being served to them, no wonder she becomes very popular. The house becomes the centre of Carlingford society and Lucilla seems to have an abundance of common sense which helps her to manage everyone which could be very annoying – but somehow isn’t.

To begin with it’s her intention to stop any men from ‘speaking’ (proposing marriage) but over the years just as she thinks that the big moment is coming from various eligible bachelors – it doesn’t, and before she knows it her ten years of self-imposed spinsterhood are almost up and she’s sure that her best days are behind her.

To begin with I wasn’t too sure about this book but I really ended up loving it. Miss Marjoribanks’s thoughts and comments often seem so modern. Men were often seen as being rather inadequate and far from perfect and I really had to laugh when she met up with an old favourite from the past and realised that he had definitely ‘gone off’ far more than she had over the years.

Jack read Miss Marjoribanks before I did and you can read his thoughts on it here.

I agree with Jack that Miss Marjoribanks would make a great TV dramatisation and would be such a change from the seemingly constant re-makes of Charles Dickens and Jane Austen’s works. It’s about time that TV producers branched out to the less well known writers of the past, but I suspect that they never actually read any of them.

What I’m Reading

Unusually for me I have no books that I can write about, this is what happens when you get stuck into the knitting season instead of reading – and when you choose to read Miss Marjoribanks by Margaret Oliphant. This one has been waiting for me to pick it up for years. It’s a Virago and has quite small print and 495 pages, but I only have 80 to go and I’m very much enjoying it. Just in case you don’t know, the Scottish surname Marjoribanks is pronounced Marchbanks. This one has been on my Classics Club list since I joined years and years ago, and I’m now on my second list of classics.

I have still been buying books, unsurprisingly and have recently added these ones to the piles:

Recently Purchased Books

The Rendezvous and other stories by Daphne du Maurier
The Reason Why by Cecil Woodham-Smith (about the Charge of the Light Brigade)
The Double Image by Helen MacInnes
The African Queen by C.S. Forester (I could act the film myself, but if it’s on TV I find myself watching it again).
Midwinter Nightingale by Joan Aiken
Scotland’s Hidden History by Ian Armit (featuring standing stones and more)

From that place that I’m not supposed to be visiting – the library, I have:

Rosie Scenes from a vanished life by Rose Tremain
The Marches by Rory Stewart
They are both blogpal recommendations, and lastly
Le Testament Francais by Andrei Makine

That last one will count towards the Reading Europe Challenge. Have you read any of these books?

My autumn garden – 29th of October

The leaves that are still on trees have been raining down on us over the past few days, the frost has left them unable to cling on any longer, but these photos are of my garden as it was on the 29th of October when the acers were at their most vibrant. A last loud hurrah before they have a rest.


acers , physocarpus, viburnum, liquidambar

Below is a much smaller acer, a pieris and a conical evergreen which I love but can’t remember what it’s called, I’m really not very good with all those conifers. The blue/green one in the foreground is a creeping juniper I think.


The mystery tree below which I bought for all of two quid at Hill House of Tarvit plant sale a few years ago is great – but still a mystery. It has lovely glossy berries and its leaves look a bit cotoneaster-ish, but it’s definitely a tree not a shrub. The heather has been looking a bit scruffy until now, it is great for autumn colour though.

mystery tree, my garden

The bright yellow-ish conifers in the background are those ones that you can buy from supermarkets for about £1 when they’re just a foot or so tall. These ones are now five years old and although they were all the same size when I planted them two of them have had to be cut back because of frost or perhaps wind burn damage, but they’re still growing well and they have a lovely lemony scent when you brush against them.


Well, it was nice for me to be able to remind myself what the garden looked like just a few weeks ago. I hope you enjoyed it too.

Chunky Knit Jumper – finished

Today I finished sewing up the chunky knit jumper that I started knitting a couple of weeks ago, just in time for the really cold weather that has arrived earlier than expected – whatever happened to autumn? It seems to have been over and done with in a couple of weeks.

Latest Knitting Again

If you do any sort of crafting yourself then the chances are that you’ll know how I feel about this knitting project. I’m never completely satisfied with anything I make, if I wanted to do this pattern again I would make it longer so that it covers my bahookie. But as I wasn’t using the recommended yarn I was worried about not having enough to finish it, which would have been a hair-pulling-out disaster for me! I knitted it exactly to the length that the pattern required, so it’s about three or four inches below my waistline. As it happens I had two 50g balls left over, enough to make a matching hat maybe. I used an acrylic yarn, which feels incredibly warm, just what’s required when the temperature is below freezing all day, as it has been over the last few days.

Have you finished any knitting projects recently?

Island of Dreams by Dan Boothby

Island of Dreams

Island of Dreams by Dan Boothby is subtitled A Personal History of a Remarkable Place. The place is the Kyleakin Lighthouse Island (Eilean Ban) which is now used as a base for some of the stanchions that hold up the Skye Road Bridge, so it’s now very different from the remote unspoiled place that was home to the nature writer Gavin Maxwell for years. He was of course most famous for writing books on otters that he had tamed (supposedly) Ring of Bright Water being the first and most popular one in the series, more than a million copies of it were sold. Some fans of the book seem to become quite obsessive and the author appears to have been one of them.

Dan Boothby had always wanted to visit the island and sort of worship at the place where Maxwell had lived and written his books. After years of wandering around the world he jumped at the opportunity to work as a warden there, clearing the island of the worst of the weeds engulfing the paths and such and showing visitors around the place. It must have been a very different experience from Maxwell’s with the Skye bridge looming above and the noise of the cars thumping across it.

Apparently Boothby has always wanted to emulate his hero and become a writer, and this is his first publication. For me it wasn’t a huge success, there are some interesting observations in it, but at times the author seemed to be going out of his way to make himself quite unlikeable. One bit particularly irked me.

Over the summer and autumn I’d remained remote, and had been a rare visitor to the pubs in the villages. I shared the paranoia that many English feel when they move to Celtic lands. We know we’re not really wanted. The English have historical ‘previous’: think of the Highland Clearances or the Welsh Not, think absentee landlords and Famine. The English have been oppressors and usurpers, loud crass and bullying; an occupying colonial force. English imperialism and heavy-handedness, the injustices of the past, still cause Celtic eyes to narrow, mouths to move, and men to bare their teeth. The Scots, the Welsh and the Irish don’t forget, unlike us English, who’ve moved on.

To which I say – it’s very easy to move on if you’ve not been the victim of injustice, or treated like a second class citizen in your own country. Boothby seems to suffer from the breathtaking arrogance that is thankfully a bit rarer nowadays, but as an English friend of mine who has lived in Scotland for many years said to me. The only English people who have a problem in Scotland are those who do the English thing – by which he meant throw their weight around and assume that they are right about everything and expect Scots to change their culture to suit them.

So as could be expected, Dan Boothby moved on at the end of his Scotland stint, no doubt thinking he knows it all now, despite the fact that he thinks we’re all Celts, he has ‘done Scotland’.

I enjoyed Gavin Maxwell’s writing as a youngster, but I was never happy about him keeping what should have been wild animals as pets and remember thinking how stupid he was when one of them gave him a very nasty bite and he was absolutely furious with it for being so ungrateful!! But anyway, if you were keen on the Maxwell books it might be better not to read this one, they do say that you should never go back and it might be better if you keep your memories of this island as it was back in the 1960s before there were cars thundering overhead.

If you’re interested in viewing the 1969 film of Ring of Bright Water starring Virginia McKenna you can see it below.

Balbirnie Park Autumnal Walk

Will you join me on a walk through Balbirnie Park in Fife on a lovely autumnal morning? It was November the 8th.

Balbirnie Park, Fife, Scotland

There is a reason for the walk, apart from needing the exercise, the destination is the shop where we buy the Guardian.

Balbirnie Park, Fife, autumn trees

It used to be about a seven minute walk for the paper – there and back, but it takes about 50 minutes now that we’ve moved. Well it keeps us fit – allegedly.

Balbirnie Park, Fife, autumnal  trees

The maples are always the best I think, whether they’re bog standard field maples or the more genteel looking Japanese ones.

Balbirnie Park, Fife, autumnal trees

Although the Balbirnie estate is a very old one some of the trees which give the best autumn colour have been planted fairly recently.

Balbirnie Park, Fife, autumnal trees

Balbirnie Park, Fife, autumnal trees

We’ve had quite a lot of rain recently although luckily a lot of it has been overnight. As you can see below, there’s a mini loch flooding part of the park, but nothing to complain about when compared with the inundations that some poor souls in England have had to put up with recently.

Balbirnie Park , Fife, Scotland

We’re now walking past the golf course, not my favourite use for land but I must admit that they’ve planted it well with lovely trees.

Balbirnie Park, Fife, Scotland, golf course

It’s not all manicured though, below is part of the rough and we often end up trying to help golfers find their wayward balls – while thinking to ourselves – how on earth did they manage to hit it in this direction?! I’d give up if I was that bad, but apparently golf is quite addictive. I’m so glad I don’t have an addictive nature, apart from the good chocolate of course, but wheesht – that one’s a secret!

Balbirnie Park, Fife, Scotland

We’re on the home stretch now, almost time to get the kettle on and sit down with the paper to read about the crazy things that are going on in this world.

Balbirnie Park, Fife, Scotland

It might just be this walk that is keeping me/us semi sane!

Balbirnie Park, Fife, Scotland

I hope you enjoyed it.

Knitting update


I’ve finished knitting the back of my jumper, that had far fewer stitches on the needle to cope with and as I was having trouble getting the pattern to work out correctly I decided to complete the back before going on to finish the front as the pattern of the front also continues over the sleeves. I almost gave up at one point although I don’t recall having any problems with this pattern when I first did it over 40 years ago. I actually typed 30 years at first and then had to stop and think, where did all that time go?! However, it was not my fault as I eventually realised that there was a misprint in the pattern as one row said … continue to last 18 stitches and actually there were only instructions for knitting 17 stitches, which is what I had left on the needle.

Anyway, I’m on the home stretch now which is good because I have another pattern that I want to do but I’m determined to finish this one first. I have too many sewing projects languishing in various baskets waiting to be completed, I don’t want to start doing that with the knitting too. I suspect that all arty crafty people have that same problem.

The Tree That Sat Down by Beverley Nichols

The Tree That Sat Down cover

The Tree That Sat Down by Beverley Nichols was first published in 1945 and it’s the first of his books for children that I’ve read. Having said that – there are parts of this book that are probably aimed more at any adults who might read it.

Beverley Nichols describes it as ‘a fairy story and it’s a real old fashioned one, full of magic spells, wizards and transformation scenes. Maybe some of the characters have a modern touch … the witch for instance keeps a vacuum cleaner to assist her with her spells, but otherwise it joins all those other magic tales which begin once upon a time.’

The setting is a woodland where Judy and her granny have opened a shop to cater for the needs of the woodland animals – yes, it’s all very anthropomorphic. But then Sam and Old Sam open another shop nearby, with the intention of fleecing all the animals, conning them out of their money, and at the same time ruining Judy’s shop.

I enjoyed this book which is on one level a children’s fantasy tale and on another is a vehicle for the author to get some things off his chest, such as his feelings about how animals are treated by some humans, the over-commercialisation of society and mad consumerism – and his attitude to war.

Did you ever hear of such impertinence? It is an insult to the noble and peaceful family of Sheep. It is the Humans who go about in herds and don’t think for themselves! Look at the way they make War! Sheep would never be so foolish, nor would any other animal. Did you ever hear of a herd of sheep or any other animal leaving their homes and their pastures, and going off to fight say, a herd of zebras whom they’d never even met, just because some silly sheep had told them that the silly zebras wore striped coats, and that anybody who wore striped coats must be their enemy? That is exactly what Humans are doing all the time. Look at their dreadful way of waging war in the air. If I have a fight in the air it is because I am attacked. I fight for my life. But what would you think of me if I were to take a rock and fly off with it to a farmyard and just drop it into a basket of eggs.That is what Humans call “bombing”. They all do it, and they think it is wonderful, and they give medals to the Humans who break the most eggs. To me, it is all sheer folly and wickedness. I have very little hope for the Human race … very little. It will take them at least a million years to reach the level of animals … and long before then, I am afraid they will all have killed each other off.’

It’s fair to say that the previous six years of war seems to have left the author exasperated and a bit depressed I think. This is the first book in a trilogy, the other two are The Stream That Stood Still and The Mountain of Magic. I intend to get around to reading those ones – sometime.

Castle Campbell, by Dollar, Clackmannanshire,

Castle Campbell, Dollar, Clackmannanshire, Scotland

Castle Campbell which is situated in Dollar Glen close to Dollar in Clackmannanshire. It was originally named Castle Gloom but was changed to Campbell in 1489-90 by Act of Parliament with the approval of King James IV. The word Gloom was probably from the Gaelic glom meaning a chasm. As you can see it was a gorgeous blue sky day when we visited at the end of October.

Castle Campbell, Dollar, Scotland

Castle Campbell,Dollar, Scotland

Castle Campbell, great hall, Dollar, Scotland

Below is a photo taken from the top of a spiral staircase – you have to be fairly fit!
Castle Campbell, spiral staircase, Dollar, Scotland

The large vaulted room at the top has a cute wee window seat at one end, a perfect place to sit and read or admire the view.
Castle Campbell, Dollar, Scotland

If you look carefully at the photo below you should be able to see two carvings of faces that look a bit like the Green Man. There are holes at the mouths and it’s thought that lamps probably hung from there.
Castle Campbell, ceiling face carvings

Onwards and upwards to the roof which would have been a good place to relax, away from the bustle of the castle and servants, somewhere to have a private conversation – and get away from the smell of the loos as many of the rooms have an ‘en suite’ – non flushing of course.
Castle Campbell roof, Dollar, Scotland

And a fine view can be had in all directions, below is a photo looking over to the wee town of Dollar.

view from Castle Campbell, Dollar, Scotland

It’s a popular place with hill walkers, but we stuck close to the castle grounds, not feeling too energetic – and I didn’t bring the correct footwear – well that’s my excuse!

view from Castle Campbell, trees, Scotland

a view from Castle Campbell, Dollar, Scotland

Of course there had to be water nearby and below is a rushing rushing burn, eager to join up with more of the same which could be heard thundering far below in the glen.

burn, Castle Campbell, Dollar Glen, Scotland

It’s definitely a good place to visit although there’s an uphill walk of about 800 yards from the car park so it’s not great for anyone who couldn’t tackle that by foot

Info Board, Castle Campbell

Lest We Forget – Markinch War Memorial, Fife

Markinch War Memorial after the Remembrance Service and wreath laying yesterday.

Markinch War Memorial