Haddo House, Ellon, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Last weekend we drove up to the north-east of Scotland, a couple of hours from where we are in Fife. The main reason for the trip was so that Jack could watch his beloved Dumbarton football team play Peterhead – and ‘collect’ one of the few football stadiums that he hadn’t visited in Scotland. As ever we tried to squeeze in visits to other places of interest locally which is why we ended up at Haddo House which is near Ellon. It was built in 1732 and was designed by William Adam in the grand Georgian/Palladian style. Sadly I didn’t manage to get a photo of the front of the house as the heavens opened just as we walked to the house from the eatery for our scheduled guided tour, then we had to leave early as we were in danger of missing the football match!

Haddo House Garden, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

The house is now owned by the National Trust for Scotland and they don’t allow photography inside this property which is a real shame – even our guide agreed that it was a daft decision. The windows are shaded to prevent the textiles from being damaged by bright light and there was only one window not covered and I was allowed to take these photos of the garden from it.

There’s a very long winding road leading to this house and it isn’t the original access road. This property was handed down through generations of Earls of Aberdeen and one of them married a woman who didn’t like the house and would only marry him if she could change things. I think it’s obvious from the photos I took that the original driveway was through the middle of the avenue of trees, it would have been a much more elegant and scenic arrival for guests. Aparently her husband gave her the equivalent of £14 million to reconfigure the house to her liking. We all agreed that moving staircases and adding some bits on including a chapel couldn’t have cost that much, we suspect the rest of it went into her private coffers for dresses and jewels!
Haddo House garden, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

There are quite a lot of photos of the interior at the Undiscovered Scotland site.

There were only ten of us on the guided tour but this place is obviously very well used by locals as a great day out for families, the car park was very busy.

During World War 2 the house was used as a maternity hospital so the guide always asks if there are any Haddo babies among the visitors so he can show them where they were born, we were the most local people in the group though as the others were mainly from London, apparently visiting Scotland now as they feared they would need a passport in the future! The rooms used for the expectant mothers had been used by Queen Victori and and Prince Albert during their one night only stay.

Haddo House Garden, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

You can read more about the history of Haddo House here.

Thankfully Dumbarton beat Peterhead 3-2.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

 Station Eleven cover

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel won the Arthur C. Clarke Award. Probably deservedly as I enjoyed it although it’s really not what I normally read. Can you believe that I actually requested this one from the library on the strength of blog reviews, then when I went to pick it up from the library Jack said – we have that one at home! He has already read it and you can read his opinions here.

This book’s action veers between the past, present and the future. It begins in a theatre where well known Hollywood actor Arthur Leander is on stage playing King Lear, but not for long as he drops dead and despite being given CPR by Jeevan from the audience – there’s no coming back for Arthur. On his walk back home Jeevan gets a call from a friend who is a doctor who tells him that the hospital he works in is overwhelmed with patients who have contracted the Georgia flu and they are all dying – quickly. In fact 99.6% of the world’s population doesn’t survive it, which obviously leads to the end of world as it was known.

To begin with I wasn’t that impressed with the whole idea of this book, dystopian novels are hardly thin on the ground, but I soon realised that this one is really well written with all the strands of the various characters and their experiences being well interwoven, but being a grumpy curmudgeon nowadays I just feel the need to mention my dislike of the word ‘normalcy’ why use it when normality sounds so much better? I suppose it is an Americanism, and as if that wasn’t enough – on the very same page (231) the pointless phrase of ‘in and of itself’. Shocking! Or is it just me?!

Ravenspur by Conn Iggulden

 Ravenspur cover

Ravenspur (Rise of the Tudors) by Conn Iggulden was published in 2016 and is the last in the author’s Wars of the Roses series which I’ve really enjoyed, although as you would expect some are better than others. This one wasn’t my favourite but it’s still a really good read and crucially the whole thing made that era of English history a lot clearer to me.

King Edward IV (York) who snatched the throne from the ill King Henry VI (Lancaster) is forced to flee the country when the Lancaster contingent gained ascendancy again. Edward had let himself go and spent his time drinking, eating and womanising. His wife, Elizabeth Woodville has had to grab her children and run to nearby sanctuary in Westminster Abbey where she hopes they’ll be safe, but she has spent years making enemies as she took nepotism to new highs, convincing the king to give all of her family money and status, to the detriment of others at court.

It isn’t long before Edward is back in England again raising an army to depose Henry and put him back in the tower. The shock kills Henry and King Edward returns to his high living which eventually ends in his early death at the age of 40. His brother Richard sets to work to get rid of Edward’s sons who should be the next in line to the throne, albeit through a regent as the eldest is only 12 or so. Richard has Edward and Elizabeth’s marriage declared as invalid and therefore all their children illegitimate making Richard next in line. I doubt if he really relished the thought of wearing the crown however with things as they were it was probably the best way of surviving – at least for a while. Three years pass and Richard is killed in battle when the Tudors decide it’s their time to be in power.

I think this is the weakest book in the series but if you’ve read the first three then you’ll want to read this one too. Warning – there are an awful lot of Henrys and Edwards!

John Muir, Dunbar, East Lothian

On our trip to Dunbar last month to visit the battlefield – such as it is almost 500 years after the fact – we stopped off at the actual town of Dunbar which is in East Lothian about 30 miles east of Edinburgh. The High Street there boasts the birthplace of John Muir and although we had often been to the small coastal town, we hadn’t been into the birthplace museum, so we rectified that this time around. As you can see below it’s a rather spiffing looking Scottish Georgian building.

John Muir Birthplace, Dunbar

What a disappointment when we got inside though. The whole building has been stripped back so there’s really nothing left to see of the internals, apart from a hole where a fireplace must have been once. I assume that it must have been riddled with dry rot and it was easier and much cheaper just to scrape everything away down to the bare stonework, no floors or ceilings left. You can go upstairs but it is modern and is almost as if another building has been built within the original one. It’s such a shame as there’s no ambience at all and it’s impossible to imagine how it was in John Muir’s day.

I took a photo of an embroidery sampler which I believe was supposed to have been done by his mother, sorry about the reflections. I have a couple very similar to this one, but mine have the embroiderers name on them – as most do.

John Muir's birthplace, embroidery Sampler

You might be asking who John Muir was, I think he’s possibly better known within the USA than in his country of birth. He was a writer, explorer, naturalist and environmental campaigner and was years ahead of his time, realising that humans were damaging natural environments, and seeing that something had to be done – he is seen as the ‘Father of National Parks’.

Like most coastal towns Dunbar isn’t what it used to be, people would rather go on holiday to Spain than brave the icy waters of the North Sea, but it’s still a scenic area, you can see more photos of the area here.

There’s now a walk called The John Muir Way which stretches 134 miles from Helensburgh (one of my favourite areas) in the west of Scotland to Dunbar in East Lothian. That’s even longer than Hadrian’s Wall is and if I ever get around to a long walk like that I think I’d rather do the wall, if not the West Highland Way. Click the links if you want to see some stunning images of the walks.

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr

 When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit cover

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr was first published in 1971 but it was only when I was watching the BBC’s Imagine programme which featured Judith Kerr that I thought it was about time I got around to reading it. She’s probably better known as the author of the children’s books The Tiger Who Came To Tea and the Mogg books. I had it in my mind that this book was an account of Judith Kerr’s experiences as a child in Germany in the 1930s – which it is – but I just didn’t realise that it is written from a child’s perspective with Judith being able to recount how she felt as everything in her comfortable life in Berlin changed due to Hitler’s increasing persecution of the Jews. Although it’s autobiographical Judith changed the girl’s name to Anna. In some ways her family was much luckier than most as her father Alfred Kerr had a high profile job as a journalist, he was a theatre reviewer for a Berlin newspaper and was hated by Hitler so he knew that he had to get out of Germany sooner rather than later and didn’t leave it until it was too late as so many did.

A telephone tip off from a friendly policeman telling Alfred that his passport is about to be seized means that Alfred has to leave his wife, Anna and son Max and make his way to Switzerland as soon as possible. He’s gone by the morning and it isn’t long before the family joins him. It’s a frightening time for them all and even in Switzerland they aren’t safe as Nazis holiday there. As the blurb on the back says: This is the start of a huge adventure, sometimes frightening, very often funny, and always, always exciting.

This was a great read and there are two more books in this autobiographical series:
Bombs On Aunt Dainty and
A Small Person Far Away.

I’ve just requested Bombs On Aunt Dainty from the library, so much for me not borrowing any more books!

You can watch the Imagine documentary below.

More new to me book purchases

A recent trip to that place that I’m not supposed to be visiting – the library – ended up with me picking up four books that I had requested from them and three books from the for sale shelves. Honestly, there’s no hope for me!

I bought A Lovely Way to Burn by the Scottish author Louise Welsh. This was apparently a BBC Radio 4 Book at Bedtime, but I didn’t hear it.

The news of Andrea Camilleri’s death had just been announced a few days before and although I love watching the TV programme Montalbano which is based on these books I had only read one of them. So two have just joined my TBR list:

A Nest of Vipers and
The Pyramid of Mud

I’ll read one of those ones for the Reading Europe Challenge which I’ve been neglecting.

The Courts of Idleness cover

A trip into the West Port area of Edinburgh ended up with me buying two books by an author who seemed to be haunting me at one point as everywhere I went I saw his books, just as another blogger told me they were worth reading – the books all disappeared! So when I saw a whole load of Dornford Yates books I snapped up a couple of them. I was drawn to the modern paperback reprint first as I like the stylish cover. The Courts of Idleness is supposed to be funny – so fingers crossed because I need a laugh.

The other Dornford Yates book I bought is an old hardback from 1946 called The Stolen March. It was originally given to someone called Joyce from Kenneth in Falmouth, 8 May 1947. I love inscribed books but I never write in my own although I sometimes think I should. What are your thoughts on the matter?

I try not to buy books via the internet but sometimes you have no alternative as the chances of what you’re looking for turning up in a secondhand bookshop are just about nil, so I bit the bullet and bought The Stream That Stood Still and The Tree That Sat Down by Beverley Nichols, part of a woodland fantasy trilogy for young people. The other one I already had is The Mountain of Magic.

Have you read any of these ones?

Largo and Newburn Parish Church, Upper Largo, Fife, Scotland

Largo and Newburn Parish Church

Largo and Newburn Parish  Kirk 1

At the end of June we got around to visiting Largo and Newburn Parish Church in Upper Largo. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for decades as I could see it in the distance every time we drove to St Andrews. The church wasn’t open though so we didn’t get a keek at the interior. The oldest parts of this church date from the 17th century but there has been a church here since the 9th century.

It was a really hot day and as all of these old churches are built on the highest ground in the village there was a decent view over the rooftops to the Firth of Forth. Originally before this was a place of Christian worship this was probably a place of religious significance for the older religions, possibly some sort of druids.

There’s an ancient stone monument in the photo below, I think this was originally a Pictish stone and when the place was Christianised they carved a cross on it. It’s behind ‘bars’ for protection as you can see.

Old Stone, Upper Largo Kirk 2

Old Stone, Upper Largo Kirk

The decoration on the other side is definitely Pictish.
Pictish stone

sea from Upper Largo church,

aUpper Largo and sea from Kirkyard

I’m glad we managed to get there – before the very recent collapse of part of the churchyard wall, which seems to have been caused by the frequent bouts of torrential rain that we’ve been having over this strange summer. You can read about it here.

You can see a lot of old and new photos of the area here.

Fell Murder by E.C.R. Lorac

 Fell Murder cover

Fell Murder by E.C.R. Lorac was first published in 1944 but I borrowed a British Library Crime Classics reprint from the library. This is the first book by Lorac that I’ve read and I really enjoyed it. Lorac was the pseudonym of Edith Caroline Rivett who also wrote under the name of Carol Carnac.

The setting is during World War 2 and the north of England Lake Country, an area that the author obviously loved. Garthmere Hall is an ancient pile which is far too big for the Garth family to be able to maintain. Over the generations they must have become progressively poorer and they’re now just a hard working farming family. But they’re all ruled by their elderly father who is miserably mean and doesn’t even pay wages to his off-spring.

My favourite kind of crime fiction is the sort where a body is found almost immediately, so the fact that murder isn’t committed until page 66 should have been a problem for me, but I enjoyed the scene setting. The local police in the shape of Superintendent Layng manage to rub all of the locals up the wrong way but when Macdonald of Scotland Yard is called in his attitude to them and his obvious appreciation of the surroundings gets better results. I’m really looking forward to reading more by the author.

Although the setting is wartime there’s no rationing of food! Those in rural communities who were actually growing food did have ways and means of dodging such things. Something that Macdonald appreciated.

The cover of this book was taken from an LMS travel poster of Shap Fell and it does look a bit dull compared with some of the covers in this series, but the contents are better than many of those ones.

The Summer Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine by Elizabeth Chadwick

 The Summer Queen cover

The Summer Queen by Elizabeth Chadwick is subtitled Eleanour of Aquitane, History’s most powerful woman and it’s a hefty read at 478 pages. This is the first book by Chadwick that I’ve read and to begin with I was quite surprised as at times it’s a bit of a bodice ripper. I think on balance I prefer my historical fiction reading to lean more towards the battles fought rather than what goes on in the bedroom or in a secluded corner for that matter. I nearly gave up on it but I will definitely read the next one in this trilogy as I ended up enjoying it.

Eleanor’s mother was already dead when her father went off on a pilgrimage to Compostela and died on the journey. Her father had asked for his daughter to be protected by the King of France and taken into his household. Inevitably as Eleanor is heir to Aquitaine and very rich the king arranges a marriage between her and his son and heir Louis. Eleanor is only about 13 years old, but such was life in those days. Soon Louis and Eleanor are king and queen of France, but what had been an unexpectedly happy marriage turns sour when Louis becomes increasingly more pious and influenced by dubious advisers and hangers on.

As I knew absolutely nothing about Eleanor of Aquitaine I naturally wondered how much of this story was known history and how much research the author had done. Reading the Author’s Notes at the back of the book I was somewhat relieved to see that there is a Select Bibliography of history books mentioned however, when she mentioned using Akashic Records and a psychic perspective to fill in the blanks and explore what happened in the past I was really put off – what nonsense – what’s wrong with using your imagination?!

Gala at Moffat, Dumfries and Galloway

About a month or so ago we were travelling down to the north of England for a few days, just for a change of scene and as usual we stopped off at the couthie wee town of Moffat. We normally have our lunch there and check out the secondhand bookshop. Yes I did buy a few books!

Georgian Hotel, Moffat, Scotland

It was busier than usual but we put that down to it being a Saturday. Just as we parked the car – congratulating ourselves on managing to get a space in the High Street we heard pipers tuning up and realised it was their Gala day.
Pipers and drummers

The wee Border towns have been better at holding on to these old traditions, Moffat choose a ‘shepherd and lass’ each year and they’re in the carriage.

It was impossible to get photos without people in the way but you can also see the lovely cushioned hills in the background, perfect backdrop to any town.
Moffat Pipers and drummers 3

Moffat Gala Day, Horse drawn carriage

Jack took a couple of very short videos while we were there.

Shepherd and Lass Carriages, Moffat

Pipers and Drummers, Moffat

They haven’t got around to putting up a video of the 2019 gala yet but you can see a wee bit of what went on in the 2018 gala if you’re interested.