Sunday, 24 August 2014

The Bass Rock

Mr Gaucho and I took a trip out to the Bass Rock today.  We went on the Sula II, the 12 noon sailing from North Berwick harbour.  
The sun shone, the sea swell was bearable - I am no sailor.  I love the sea, to be near it, listening to it, looking at it, photographing it, but not on it.  But this was fine.  We had a wonderful outing, safe in the hands of Captain Birdseye.
We waited for a short while with fellow passengers, before we climbed abroad.  
We left North Berwick behind as we headed out to sea and the small island of Craigleith.
Craigleith is a favourite nesting place for puffins.  Very sad to say we were over a month late to see them.  They have all left by 20 July (my birthday), so next year we will keep that in mind and go back in May or June, when we will see them with their young ones - pufflings!  Currently they are all bobbing about in the North Sea, where they will remain until next spring.  They stay at sea all winter, which seems like a pretty grim prospect to me, but they have obviously worked out the logistics of it all, and seem happy with the arrangement.
Craigleith is also home to cormorants and shags, and we saw quite a number, sitting in the sun.
We sailed round Craigleith and then set off for the Bass Rock.  The rock has an incredible history. It's well worth reading the Wikipedia entry : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bass_Rock even if you are unlikely to have the opportunity to visit this part of the world.  It's amazing how much history a large lump of rock, in the middle of the sea, can record.
The Bass Rock is home to a huge colony of gannets.  Their number, combined with the guano, turn the rock white.  
I can't pretend to know much about gannets, except that it is fabulous to watch them from the East Lothian beaches, as they turn themselves into streamline darts to dive, at high speed, into the sea to catch fish.  The Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick can tell you all you need to know about these beautiful birds here :
Every ledge, crag, surface is occupied by a gannet.  
And the airspace around the rock is filled with gannets in flight.
This is the old fog horn, which no longer sounds on the Bass Rock.  And the lighthouse is not functioning any more either.  It's all, unromantically, controlled by a computer in a building on George Street in Edinburgh (https://www.nlb.org.uk/ourlights/automation.htm).
Captain Birdseye nosed Sula II into the mouth of this cave, which gave us a better view of the birds who had chosen to have a rather quieter nesting site, away from the rabble on every other surface of the rock.
The Bass Rock is a volcanic plug, jettisoned from the Edinburgh area, possibly Arthur's Seat? The rock continues down to the sea bed to the same depth as the height of the cliff above, and with the same profile.
Long ago an early Christian hermit lived on the rock, and then, in the 1400s, a castle was built in the south west side, which later become a prison.  
We left the rock behind and headed back to North Berwick.  Once we had docked we walked round the harbour and then back to the car, which was parked by the east beach.
The Sula II and her skipper were already preparing for the next gaggle of passengers for the 1.30 pm sailing.  We knew they were all in for a treat.  
The beach was a very busy place today.  Lots of families enjoying the sunshine.
 The British by the seaside.  It's a classic sight.
And the waves were wonderful too.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

23 August 2014

Today's date is one which clangs painfully in my head every time it comes round.  It's one of those anniversary dates you can do without, because it is there for all the wrong reasons.  23 August 1988 my brother and I lost our beloved sister, Lucy, in a car crash on the A30 near Bodmin, in Cornwall.  So this morning I went for a walk with the dog, blackberrying, because I know that Lucy would have enjoyed that.  We found loads, and had a peaceful time trawling along the hedgerow, in the sunshine, collecting luscious berries, which are now cooking gently on the stove. 

We walked across one of the fields bordering the chestnut tree avenue, at the start of the drive.
 Between the trees I could glimpse North Berwick law.
A couple of fields away there were lots of bramble bushes, basking in the late August sunshine, with plenty of berries waiting to be picked.
Bombus lapidarius, the red tailed bumblebee, who was also enjoying the hedgerow and the knapweed in particular.
Blackberry and apple crumble coming up for supper this evening.  Yum!

Friday, 22 August 2014

Purple haze!

The mob had the dentist this morning and as there are four of them, it took a while.  However, they all passed muster, which is a relief, after all the cajoling to clean teeth and drink water instead of juice.  So, well done boys and girl!

Six monthly dental check up completed, we headed for the hills.  The heather is in full bloom at the moment, and when I refer to purple haze, above, I do not mean a psychedelic Jimi Hendrix-type tinge to the landscape, I mean acres of soft purple, stretching away as far as the eye can see.  
These are the colours of Scotland, the inspiration for Harris tweeds and for a short, but glorious few weeks, the ling and the bell heather work together, inviting the bees to produce the best honey in the world.
The green slope in the foreground of the photo below is holding back a flooded valley, Hopes Reservoir.  We walked to the top of the grass, where we sat and had a picnic lunch, the purple hills folding in around us.
There is a significant number of juniper bushes on these hills.  
It's good to see them there because juniper is a plant under threat.  Plantlife explain the problem here :
I could see quite a lot of new berries on a few bushes, but they were not bountiful.  
On the way home we drove past Traprain Law.  This is how it looks from the south side.  The view we usually see is it's north face, with the distinctive, large chunk missing from quarrying which took place for a number of years, beginning in 1938.  The south side, thankfully, remains intact.


Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Happy days!

My UK grandchildren (I have to differentiate there because of my little Aussie princess, who is never far from my mind) have just under a week left of their summer holiday.  They start at a new school in Edinburgh next Wednesday and they have had a wizard time over the past few weeks. Lots of sunshine, plenty of fun activities and so now, during the last few days, it is quite difficult to find different things to do which don't appear to be dull!

To my mind, being a child of the 1950s, there was no better thing to do at the end of summer, than to go blackberrying.  So that's what we did today.  It's early days for the berries, but we walked from home this afternoon and found enough to make my oldest grandson's favourite pudding.  It's a sweet pastry round with berries in the middle.  In early summer I make it with wild raspberries from the wood, or mincemeat and apple (which is the original Good Housekeeping recipe) but today we used the blackberries and a grated Golden Delicious apple.  I made a double quantity, and there's only half left.  Grandson Numero Uno had three helpings.
Happy days!

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Weekend walking

My eldest grandson and I enjoyed the four and a half mile walk home from North Berwick on Friday.  He is ten years old now, and very good company.  The children still have another week and a half before they start at their new school in Edinburgh, and they will be in our tender care between now and then.  So far they have been having a terrific summer holiday, doing all sorts of good stuff, and entirely UK-based.  They have been away for the last couple of weeks, visiting places like the Harry Potter Experience, Legoland, The Imperial War Museum, a duck tour on the River Thames, rowing a boat on the Serpentine in Hyde Park, the beach at Hayling Island, walking in the more remote areas of the Cotswolds and finally, Cadbury World at Bourneville - so the young man and I had quite a bit of catching up to do.  We were able to chat, chat, chat, all the way home.  Thoroughly enjoyable.

I like this view of North Berwick law.  Note, the Act of Union beech trees are still standing - despite the gale force winds we have had this year.  Please God this is a good omen.
Over the past two days there has been the constant drone of combine harvesters, working away in the fields nearby.  The field below is one shown in my previous post and it is now all cut and cleared away, just twenty four later.
Tilly and I are delighted that the fields are now harvested because it means we can walk around them, and although Tilly doesn't like walking through the stubble, there are wide tractor tracks which are clean, dry and padded with stray straw and chaff.  Today we walked around two newly harvested fields further down the drive.  I was curious when I saw this sight and blinked a couple of times before I realised it was a deer's bum!  
It was a very young deer.  It turned and bounded off to the edge of the field,
 then stopped, and looked round.
It was an exquisite little creature.  Inexperience of humans and dogs and curiosity encouraged it to take a couple of steps towards us, and then common sense prevailed and it ran off into the wood.
Further down, in the corner of the field, there were two more young deer, grazing quietly. Then they took off when they saw us approaching. 
We put up three hares as we walked round the first field.  Tilly was beside herself with excitement each time an animal leapt up from under our feet and shot off across the field.  I have to keep her on a lead, otherwise she would be off and away with all the wildlife we encounter on our walks!  As we headed for home I spied, out of the corner of my eye, a fourth hare, hunkered down in the stubble.  It obviously decided it was going to chance its luck and stay put.  They are virtually impossible to see, but if you look very carefully in the photograph below, you might be able to spot it!  
It's a magical thing to see these beautiful animals in the wild, and a privilege.  They never cease to enchant me.