Dundrennan Abbey, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland

We visited Dundrennan Abbey last week. It’s a ruin now unsurprisingly as building here began in 1162, it was a Cistercian Abbey. If you visit the abbey keep your fingers crossed that you get Glyn as your guide as his knowledge and enthusiasm for the subject are something to witness.
Dundrennan Abbey
The abbey is of course a ruin now as it was abandoned as a church centuries ago. This is where Mary Queen of Scots spent her last hours on Scottish soil before she was taken to Workington, probably by the tide, where she was made prisoner by the English to begin what turned out to be 18 years of incarceration before her execution and martyrdom (if you are of the Roman Cathoic faith).
Dundrennan Abbey

She rode here from Langside in Glasgow where the last battle was fought and lost by her troops. Almost certainly she didn’t go straight to the Abbey as that would have been too obvious a destination for her pursuers. It’s thought that she went to a house in the forests nearby (according to local history) but after a few days she left that place and spent the night in the Abbey’s commendator’s house. Was she waiting for a ship to take her to France and safety? Ships sailed almost right up to the abbey from the Solway Firth in those days. She was probably trying to make up her mind where to go, she would have realised that her presence in France wouldn’t have been welcome. They wanted rid of her immediately after her husband the Dauphin died. Perhaps Spain would welcome her. We’ll never know as spies had tracked her movements and the rest is history.

Below is a photo of storage areas, housing mainly bits of stone carving now but the site of the building where she stayed.
Dundrennan Abbey

I was interested to read that one of the gravestones here refers to a knight called Livingstone of Culter. Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles are set around the Scottish Borderlands and of course she used the place name Culter although she didn’t base the Lymonds/Crawfords on any particular people apparently.
Dundrennan Abbey Carved Stone info board

Dundrennan Abbey ,Carved Figure

Dundrennan Abbey

Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary by Ruby Ferguson

 Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary cover

Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary by Ruby Ferguson was first published in 1937 but it has been reprinted by Persephone Books and I was lucky enough to find it in a secondhand bookshop.

This book was apparently a favourite of the Queen as she was at that time (later the Queen Mother). I suspect that she felt very much in tune with Lady Rose, the main character in the book, as they shared very similar Scottish upbringings.

The book begins with a group of people asking if they can look around a grand house in the Scottish highlands. The old housekeeper is pleased to show them around, it’s a house that has seen better days and it’s hoped that new tenants will be found for it. Although the vistors are careful to let her know that they couldn’t afford to rent the house, the housekeeper is still happy to tell of the history of the place, the book switches from the present day to the past regularly, but is never confusing.

Like many wealthy Scots the owners of the house sent their only child – Lady Rose, to England to be educated. As she is very much a Scot, steeped in the romance surrounding the history of the country – particularly Mary, Queen of Scots – Lady Rose is very unhappy and is always happy to get back to her beloved Scotland. The story of her life is one of ups and downs and it’s an entertaining read which has been described as a love letter to Scotland. But it’s about snobbery, discrimination against women and money.

One thing did puzzle me – on page 164 wee Archie says:

“Tonight at the chair, we’ll have some battles where we beat the English.”

“We always beat the English” said Alistair hotly.

“Not at Bannockburn.”

“That was murder; Duncan says so. Wasn’t it Mamma?”

Well that is obviously wrong because Scotland did famously win the Battle of Bannockburn, I suspect that what the author meant to write was Culloden or maybe Flodden. I’m wondering if that was one of the reasons that the Queen Mother invited Ruby Ferguson to Buckingham Palace, to point out her mistake!

Ruby Ferguson was an English writer but Ferguson (her married name) is a Scottish surname, so maybe she married a Scot and fell in love with the country too.

I really dislike the endpapers though, completely inappropriate for the book, from 1937 of course but I feel that another more appropriate design must have been available for that year. The design is Masqueraders and I found an image of it on the V&A site.

masqueraders

I read this one for the Read Scotland 2017 Challenge.

Pollok House, Glasgow, Scotland

Pollok House  garden entrance

We found ourselves in Glasgow not long ago, unexpectedly really as we had been asked to drive someone to the airport. The last thing that we fancied doing was trailing round shops so as it turned out to be a lovely day we decided to visit Pollok House, a very grand Georgian House, the grounds of which are now a Country Park, very popular with the locals. If you click the link you’ll see lots of photos. The house is now owned by the National Trust and when we were there we were just about the only people looking around it. A wedding was due to start shortly and the library was the venue so we were given a look around there first, so that we would be out of the way when the ‘kilties’ turned up, as the guides said of the bridegroom and his supporters. The chap showing us around couldn’t have been nicer, it was all very interesting, even for someone like myself who isn’t terribly keen on old Spanish art, of which there is a lot there. I must admit that the El Greco is very good – Lady in a Fur Wrap.
It’s hard to believe that this painting was done around the 1570s.

It’s amazing to think that you’re in a very busy big city, it’s all very rural and this big chap caused quite a stir when he came across a bridge, heading for his stable, I think everyone loves these Clydesdales, if that’s what he is, some sort of heavy horse anyway.

Pollok House horse

I think he was happy to reach his stable, where he had a pal already there, but unfortunately it was too dark inside to get a photo of his companion.

Pollok House horse

As ever, we weren’t allowed to take any photos of the inside of the house, which is beautifully furnished. But I do have some of the gardens, which I’ll share with you at a later date.

Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson

Notes From a Small Island cover

Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson was first published in 1995. In it he tells of the grand tour of Britain which he took just before he left Britain with his wife and family. They were going back to his homeland the US for a time, to give his children the experience of living in his homeland.

I found this to be an amusing read, in fact Bryson now says of his earlier writing that he felt he had to have a laugh a page, which he just about has in this one. There are some parts which are quite hilarious, and others which are quite depressing.

For me it was a bit of a reminder of some of Britain’s past, such as the mayhem of the Thatcher years and all the industrial strife. It’s all history now, they study it in school!

The book begins with those sorts of pub conversations which I was amazed to witness when I moved down to the south of England, they might be still taking place for all I know. Those ones where men of a certain type witter on about the best way of getting from A to B – bizarre, and I’m glad that I’m not the only one who thinks so.

Over the last few years Jack and I have been doing road trips around Britain too, so I had visited a lot of the places which Bryson visited. I was surprised that he wasn’t all that enamoured with either Oxford or Cambridge. He can be a bit sniffy about modern buildings. He wasn’t at all impressed with Cambridge with its market place surrounded by concrete buildings, I wonder if he meant the art deco ones which we admired. He should have taken a closer look at the market too as it has great secondhand book stalls, I bought several, including a hard to find Angela Thirkell.

He does however love Durham and I agree with him on that, it was a big surprise to me how lovely it is – and nobody ever mentions it as a place to visit.

When Bryson gets to Scotland he’s surprised that it feels like a different country from England and Wales. I’m always amazed when people say that, I find it weird that they would think that Scotland should be just like England, with worse weather. He had some trouble understanding people in a pub in Glasgow, which is fair enough as I had no idea what two men from Fife who I happened to overhear talking today were saying, and I’ve lived in Fife for donkey’s years.

It isn’t all humour, there are some important observations too, such as the fact that the north of Britain has lost over 100 times the amount of jobs which the south of Britain has. He wondered what was going to happen to a country which had got rid of most of its industries, it worried him.

Of course we know now what happens when there is very little in the way of opportunities and work for people, it’s a disaster for the economy and for society. I could go on about that problem for a long time.

Bryson went back to America with his wife and young family after this book was published but they didn’t stay there long. It seems that England is where his heart is. I’m looking forward to reading his next book which is due out in the Autumn.

A Winter Sunset in Fife, Scotland

sunset

sunset

On the way home from visiting Cambo and Crail there was a wonderful sunset. Unfortunately we were driving along the sort of road which it’s impossible to stop on without causing an accident or holding everyone up so I wasn’t able to get the photos that I wanted to get.
sunset

I just had to take some snaps out of the car window as we were travelling along – not bad though.

sunset

Sadly the photos don’t show up the rich oranges and purples which suffused the sky, but you get the idea I’m sure.
sunset

For more photos of the same sunset from Peebles and elsewhere have a look on Evee’s Blog here.

The Sea at Kirkcaldy Esplanade in Fife

awaves 5

This is what we saw when we got to the esplanade in Kirkcaldy a couple of days ago, so we decided not to brave the actual esplanade, just in case we got wheeched into the sea by a particularly big wave. We opted for walking along by the inner wall next to the road instead.

As you can see the sea wall is badly in need of repair and in fact there is work ongoing at the moment, it’s going to take about two years to complete it I think. This is the Firth of Forth, just as it turns into the North Sea, straight ahead is Denmark I think.

awaves 7

The sea wall was built between 1922 and 24 and the work was done to give employment to men who were unemployed after the First World War, it’s quite depressing to think that we have the same problems with unemployment now. I think that the only time there has been full employment here was in those glory days of the 1960s.

awaves 12

The actual sea was almost a flat calm until about 10 feet out from the sea wall, when the waves all started to fight with each other, then exploded onto the wall.
awaves 9

Well you get the idea of what the sea was like but you can never capture it in a photo, for one thing you don’t have the accompanying noise, or the salty spray in your face. I must figure out how to work the video bit of my camera, reading the instructions would probably help!

awaves 8

Scotland – a favourite destination

The US broadcasting company CNN has named Scotland as its top travel destination for 2013, you can have a look at a BBC article about it here.

We were listening to the radio when we were travelling down to England in October for our most recent road trip, and Scotland and tourism was a hot topic then too. In fact we were thinking to ourselves that we were going in the wrong direction as it came on the news that Edinburgh had been voted the best UK city to visit by tourists.

We couldn’t help laughing when a chap from the tourist board commented on the radio about it, his accent was extremely cockney and he sounded absolutely appalled that Edinburgh had won this accolade. He actually said that he could hardly believe it, mind you, the poor chap had probably never been to Edinburgh himself, he sounded like one of those strange people who never travel north of Watford.

The new Bond film has been getting lots of people excited about visiting Scotland and although I haven’t seen Skyfall, I’ve been told the scenery is the best thing about it. It’s Glencoe which has been impressing people, I’ve always found it to be almost too atmospheric but you won’t get that feeling when you see it on screen, I suppose. If you don’t know Glencoe, you can see some images here.

This you tube video was apparently taken just last week, as you can see, we’re having a very mild winter with hardly any snow in Glencoe at the moment.

Dunfermline War Memorials for Remembrance Day

The World War 1 Memorial is situated just to the south of Dunfermline Abbey.

World War 1 Memorial, Dunfermline

The Second World War Memorial is set into the south wall of Dunfermline Abbey grounds. Smaller and more secluded than the WW1 Memorial.

 World War 2 Memorial, Dunfermline

Anstruther, Fife, Scotland

Small boats

As I was saying earlier: It was a dark and stormy night – in St Andrews, and the streets emptied fairly quickly when it got dark. So when it was time for us to make for home we decided to go via Anstruther. It always seems quite dangerous to me that the sea is right by the main street. Especially when there are pubs there and inebriated people are likely to be wandering around in the dark. But it’s the same in all of these coastal places.

Small boats

The sea was quite wild but the wee boats were safe in the harbour. The noise was incredible though what with the wind itself and then the hissing noises it made in all the boats’ lanyards and ropes. Lots of clankings too, there must be metal things hanging from the boats.

Here I am having a hard time staying on my feet, what a grimace! The red light behind me is the harbour entrance and beyond that there was just complete darkness which I find very weird looking. I’m used to seeing huge tankers and naval ships out in the River Forth, just before it runs in to the North Sea. The ships are always lit up like Christmas trees but at Anstruther there seemed to be nothing between us and Denmark!

Katrina in a gale

This is what we were in Anstruther for – fish and chips. It may not look the most appetising thing to eat but believe me, they were really tasty. The only thing which isn’t so good is that nowadays they don’t come wrapped in greaseproof paper with two or three pages of a tabloid newspaper over it. So there is nothing crazy to read whilst you’re eating. Shame – it was the only time I ever saw what nonsense the tabloids were printing!

fish supper

This is the chippy which we got them from. It isn’t the one which everyone raves about and Prince Charles and Camilla have even used. We tried that one once and weren’t too impressed by it and we had to stand in a queue – I’m not kidding you – for about an hour! The Wee Chippy is on the left hand side of the main street facing the sea and it has been endorsed by the Guardian amongst others. The queue wasn’t too bad either.

The Wee Chippy

The only downside is that the car still smells of fish and chips – five days later!

Scottish Business Sense

We had intended going to Edinburgh on Saturday to visit the Royal Yacht Britannia but the weather has been terrible for about a week now with howling gales and I didn’t fancy going over the road bridge. It was closed to high sided vehicles which means that our wee car would be buffeted about on the bridge – scary!

So eventually we ended up in St Andrews, just to get out of the house really. I have a horrible feeling that we’ll be battening down the hatches soon when the ice and snow get here so we might as well go out while we still can.

This window sign amused me. Surely only in Scotland would a barber try to get your custom by offering you free whisky. Mind you, I think it’s a brilliant idea because not only will they probably get more customers – they’ll also be less likely to complain if they don’t like the haircut – because of course they’ll be ‘half-cut’ or semi drunk!

Whisky Enticement

The long things in the window are golf clubs – well it is St Andrews!