Tuesday, 30 September 2014

A saunter along the prom

I had a walk along the promenade at Portobello at the end of last week.  Portobello is now a sort of suburb of Edinburgh, and a place with a long and interesting history.  Wikipedia can tell you more.   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portobello,_Edinburgh.  

In 1742 a seaman called George Hamilton, who served under Admiral Edward Vernon in the 1739 capture of Porto Bello in Panama, built a cottage where the high street runs now.  He called his new home Portobello Hut, in commemoration of the battle.  In time the name was taken for the community.  Portobello means 'beautiful port or harbour', and in the early days of the settlement it would have been very beautiful, looking across the Firth of Forth to the hills of Fife beyond.  Portobello Road in London has been named after the same battle, so it must have been quite a memorable tussle.
I walked from one end to the other, heading west towards Edinburgh.  

At the east end there are some curved steps leading down on to the beach.  When the tide is in, the water makes a delicious slurping sound as it slaps against the concrete.
It was a lovely, warm sunny afternoon.  What better place for a snooze than one of the breakwaters, with the gentle whoosh of tiny breaking waves to lull you to sleep!
In its heyday Portobello was a very thriving community, and popular as a holiday destination, especially with Glaswegians.  There are some extremely substantial houses along the promenade, as well as in the streets behind the beach.  
The promenade was a busy, busy place, especially around its mid point.  There was a small tidal wave of young mums with baby buggies and children, bursting with energy after school.  A few school boys were practising their circus skills, and one youngster was strumming his guitar. Little ones whizzed around on scooters and the sandy beach was proving popular too.  Some people just sat and gazed out to sea, others strolled barefoot along the water's edge.  No rush.
And, of course, when I reached the far end of the prom, I rewarded myself with an ice cream! Whenever you see the Luca's sign, you have to have one.  Too good to miss! 

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Volly Jolly

If you follow my blog from time to time, you will know that I am a volunteer for the East Lothian Council Conservation team - see my previous post  http://therunningwave.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/precariously-perched.html
Today the Countryside Officer and his team provided a wonderful day of countryside related entertainment, as thank you to the volunteers who have contributed this year, in one form or another.  We gathered in the Scout Hut in Longniddry!
 The ice breaker!
 A game of conkers!!!  Great fun!
My conker remained unbeaten, I am pleased to say!  Apart from providing some fun the Council wanted to offer us the chance to get to know a bit about some of the natural history, and different aspects of the countryside, their Ranger service is involved with.  We could choose a taster session on 'What's that feather?', 'Butterflies and bumblebees', 'Breaking the law in the countryside', Rocks - the stones and landforms of East Lothian', 'An introduction to bushcraft and green woodworking' and lastly 'Tracks and trails'.  I chose to learn more about feathers, the law in the countryside, and bushcraft and green woodworking.
 This is the wing of a shelduck,
and the little barbs, which look like teeth running along the outer edges of the wing feathers of a tawny owl, are the reason why an owl flies almost silently.  They reduce the wing's resistance to the air as it flexes up and down in flight!  Immaculate design.
The next session I chose was to learn more about the laws relevant to the countryside, i.e. rights of access, poaching, illegal traps and snares, bait digging and shellfish collection on the beaches, etc.  It's a very long list.  But I was particularly interested in finding out exactly where I can walk with the dog, bearing in mind the turbulent relationship I have with the local gamekeeper.

After lunch we walked through to the woods on the Gosford Estate, the seat of the Earl's of Wemyss and March.  This is one of two or three very grand entrances into the estate.
Firstly we did a spot of green woodworking.  I learnt how to safely split a log in half, using a wooden mallet and a small axe!  
And then I stripped the bark off, using a rather lethal implement, which I can't remember the name of.
Those doing the 'Tracks and trails' through the woods had a few props who gathered together at the end, waiting for the sessions to finish.  Messrs Badger, Fox and Otter waited patiently by the path.  They were completely unperturbed by a passing big black dog.  I don't think the same could be said for the dog!  He was more than a little puzzled when none of the creatures moved a muscle as he gave them each a curious sniff.
The last activity of the day was to build a debris shelter.  That was good fun. 
Here's the front door.  No-one in my group was inclined to try the shelter for size, so I crawled inside and can confirm it was a cosy little spot for one, although probably not very watertight!
It was a great day.  I think I could now give my grandsons a good run for their money when it comes to playing conkers and building dens.  But then I spent most of my childhood building dens.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Things I have enjoyed this week

I am just posting a few photographs from things I have enjoyed seeing this week.  Why not!

Here is my cat Pippi, in all her furry loveliness.
We have quite a wide variety of fungi in the garden.  Some of it is positively evil-looking, with puffs of khaki-coloured spores when punctured, others are black and slimy, and then under a bench I found this.  It's a huge mushroom, 9" in diameter.  (Those of you who work in metric will have to work that out!  Sorry).

On Wednesday, as I headed off down the drive to the first meeting of our little book club (that should probably read 'wine club'), the early evening light, looking towards North Berwick law, was beautiful.  The lavender strip across the middle is a field of red cabbages.
 A flypast of geese this morning, chattering all the way, as they flew from east to west.
I am enjoying the field margins which are becoming more and more a feature of the countryside these days.  I am delighted because it can only help the bio-diversity of our environment, and what could be better than that!  The University of Reading has an interesting piece on the whys and wherefores of the field margins.  It's worth a read.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Tuesday morning sunshine

Tilly and I had a very enjoyable walk in the sunshine this morning.  The sun filtered through the trees and we walked down the drive, passing a family of young deer, grazing peacefully in a field on the edge of the wood.
The John Muir Way runs along the edge of a field further down the drive, and we walked a short distance along there, turning left at the bottom to carry on round the field.  We haven't circumnavigated that field before.  It's a lovely walk, with a wide strip set aside for wildlife.  At the moment there are some ethereal, straw-coloured grasses waving in the wind, the sun gleaming off their fine stems.
A large hare shot out from the undergrowth, running across Tilly's bows before she realised what was happening!  She went nuts, of course!  What self-respecting Border Terrier wouldn't?  But before you could say "whizz kid" the hare was on the far side of the field.  I always feel bad when we disturb these lovely creatures.  They don't know that we mean them no harm, and they are just sitting, minding their own business in their own environment, and it seems so rude to scare them away.  Sorry Mr Hare.  You have nothing to fear from me. Tilly might disagree with me, but she is on a lead, so doesn't really have a say!

There were a few field mushrooms but, unlike when I was a child and would go mushrooming in the early morning mists on my uncle's farm, I am not so inclined to eat mushrooms growing in a field which is not organically managed.  Too many chemicals are poured on to the crops and their residue will linger.  It's a shame.  There is nothing more delicious than a breakfast of freshly picked mushrooms, cooked in butter and served with a grating of nutmeg on a piece of good toast.  Yum.
Back at the ranch, and the garden, despite the mountain of work that needs doing to prepare it for winter, is looking scrumptious with lots of glorious colour.
The leaves on one of my precious witch hazel plants have turned golden yellow and hang like pocket handkerchiefs.  The leaves are dropping now and the bush will probably be bare by the weekend.  The buds are there, though, readying themselves for an early appearance in the New Year!

Monday, 22 September 2014


I have a row of small bottles and jars on my kitchen worktop, glowing with autumn colour.  Three orange nasturtium flowers, an aster, softly purple with a bright yellow centre.  There are two heads of dainty young green fennel seeds, replacing the tiny yellow umbel flowers of summer. A drying sprig of purple Scottish heather, two leaves from a plane tree, rich in shades of red and orange ribbed with green, and a solitary William Shakespeare rose of velvet crimson, smelling gorgeous. 

In the garden, looking upward as I hang out my washing, the quality of light has changed since summer and the surrounding sounds are different.  The blue of the sky has lost its intensity.  The colour is thinner, delicate and, today, wispily streaked with white cloud.  In contrast to the tart green of spring, the leaves of the lime trees are mellowing to soft butter yellow.  In summer the buzzards languidly soar and mew.  Now, in autumn, skeins of geese start their daily commute to and from a lake in the east to a local estuary in the west.  I hear them first, chattering and squawking, and then they are overhead, their V-shaped flight formation constantly adjusting as they progress across the east coast sky.

The hedgerows are heavy with vermilion rose hips and wine-red haws.  The elderberry bushes are drooping under the weight of clusters of tiny black-purple berries.  Beech and oak trees are heavy with masts and acorns; birds and woodland animals will not go hungry over the next weeks as we move toward winter.   In the lane, beneath the chestnut trees, the scuffed shoe of a schoolboy kicks at a yellowing green sputnik and a mahogany conker tumbles out.  It is quickly snaffled and stowed in his pocket.  The casing falls into three segments, creamy white and soft as kid inside. 
The leaf litter in the wood is deepening as this year’s leaves fall to the ground.  Windy days blow the leaves into dancing swirls down the lane.  On a quiet day you can hear their landing.  It is a soft sound that says ‘pad’.  Autumn fungi push through the leaf mould and their subtle colours make the mushrooms and toadstools difficult to see amongst the dead leaves, orange and varying shades of brown.  There are exceptions.  A horse mushroom glows, luminous white, on the roadside verge and, in the wood, the Fly Agaric is bright red with little white spots, a favourite for illustrators of children’s story books about fairies and woodland folk but, in truth, poisonous and hallucinogenic.
The seasons move through their colour wheel.  Spring is fresh, dressed in yellow and white, summer, gaudy and bright in hot pinks and mauves.  Autumn employs a wider range of colours from the paintbox.  Woods of ochre, wine and sienna;  fields of burnt umber before the viridian spikes of winter wheat poke through.  Blackberry leaves edged in cerise.  Nature’s final fling before the plants start to shut down for winter.  

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Healthy competition

My three young grandsons played in a rugby tournament today.  They all did really well, although the oldest boy got a finger trampled on, which caused him to withdraw from the competition half way through.  He played well, though, scoring a try in the early stages of his first game for his new school club. 
The younger two and their team got through to the final in their group.  They were runners-up, which didn't impress them much, but they received a medal each for their effort, so that placated them a little!

It was a lovely afternoon.  Golden autumn sunshine warmed our backs and, best of all, the Act of Union Beeches, on the east side of North Berwick law, are still standing!!!  Hooray!
And to start the week off in colourful fashion, here is some delicious Autumn colour from the garden.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Last few days of the hols

Our last day in Devon dawned rather differently for me.  I was going to make my debut on national radio!  Three weeks before I had responded to a request from the presenters of Radio 3's Breakfast programme, for the piece of music which had stopped listeners in their tracks, a heart stopper, life changer.  I have such a piece.  Parce mihi, Domine, music composed by Cristobal de Morales and performed by Norwegian saxophonist, Jan Gabarek, together with the choral group, the Hilliard Ensemble.  I emailed the BBC, didn't hear anything, but I am used to that!  I quite often drop them an email which gets swallowed up in the myriad of communications they must receive.  Anyway, on Wednesday last week, we returned from a walk and I found an email from Breakfast's producer, inviting me to introduce the piece on the programme on Friday morning.   I was all of a twitter, rather dumbfounded, but I had a short conversation with Petroc Trelawney, and made my rather faltering introduction to this supremely peaceful and inspiring music, a fusion of ancient and modern sound.  You can hear it here (close your eyes, you definitely don't need the naff video!).  Enjoy…. and de-stress.  Bliss.

Friday morning in Totnes means market time.  I love Totnes market.  It is vibrant, diverse, colourful, and full of the characters who have made their home in the area, which is renowned for embracing alternative lifestyles.  
We used to go to Hope Cove for holidays when I was very young.  This chair cover was the closest I got to Hope Cove during this visit, but I look forward to visiting next time we are in Devon.  I have great memories of our happy times spent there.
On Friday afternoon we took our leave of Totnes and Devon and drove up to spend the weekend with my brother and his family in the Cotswolds.  They live in the unspoilt, less manicured, westerly part of the Cotswolds.  The fields around the house are completely unspoilt, full of wild flowers, now mostly at seed head stage, which is good news for next year, 
and in the strips along the edge of the fields which have been sown for cover, there was the most incredible range of flowers and grasses.
To decorate the house, for a Sunday lunch party, my sister-in-law and I picked a few sunflowers and they did look lovely, bringing some sunshine to the last day of our holiday.