Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Season of mists

I think it is safe to say that the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is now here.  A glorious walk this morning confirmed that.  It couldn't have been better.
There was a robin sitting on the top of a plant in the brussel sprout field.  I thought the combination of robin and sprout would have made a good photo for a Christmas card, but the little devil flew off before I could organise myself and my camera!  The leaves were looking fabulous anyway, shimmering in rainbow colours and bejewelled with droplets of dew.
Earlier in the year I posted a photo of some blossom, which I attributed to blackthorn.  At the time I wasn't sure that was right, because the flowers were a bit too big.  When I was walking along this field edge last week, I saw the fruits below, and then realised they are bullace.  Too big for sloes, but still excellent material for a bottle of bullace gin.  They weren't plentiful so I will add some blackberries, to make up the quantity.  I think that will work, and hopefully be ready in time for Christmas!  Once the bullace and blackberry gin is made, I will add it to the other bits and pieces I have made from this year's fruitfulness - blackcurrant jelly, runner bean chutney, and damson jam.
Here's some of my little haul, on the tin plate I bought last week, from Sarah Raven's lovely shop.  

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Grand tour - Sissinghurst Castle

The next destination on the grand tour were the gardens of Sissinghurst Castle, in Kent.  They were laid out in the 1930s by Vita Sackville-West and her husband, Harold Nicolson.  She was a poet and wrote a gardening column for The Observer.  She was also a fringe member of the Bloomsbury Group. The history of Sissinghurst is far too interesting and ancient to even begin describing here.  You can find a potted version on Wikipedia, but it would be much more worthwhile to read Vita Sackville-West's grandson, Adam Nicolson's book 'Sissinghurst', where he charts the history of this amazing place, and how it sits in the Kentish landscape.  
I had forgotten about the photogenic Kentish oast houses.  It's many years since I have been in that part of the world.  Kent was famous for its hop fields.  Once picked, the hops would be dried in these distinctively shaped buildings.  These are the ones belonging to Sissinghurst.

Our tour of the gardens began at 5.30 pm, in the famous white garden.  Sarah Raven and her husband, the aforementioned Adam Nicolson, each took a group and we were shown round the gardens and into a couple of the buildings which now comprise Sissinghurst.  Adam spent his boyhood there.  Lucky chap - it's a fabulous place!
The white garden is not at its best in September, but as the light was fading, the flowers which were in bloom, were glowing and beautiful.
The garden room which was at its best was the cottage garden.  It was full of yellows, oranges and reds, and combined with the golden sunlight of late afternoon, was warm and wonderful.  
Here is Sarah Raven, trying to identify a rather weird fruit from the tree behind her. It had her foxed, and the rest of us!
Vita and Harold would sleep in the cottage, separate from another place where they would eat, and separate again from the building where their children slept!  It was an eccentric household, to say the very least!  The photo below shows Vita's bedroom, and there is a story that before the building was filled renovated, she woke up one morning with a blanket of snow over her bed!
We climbed to the top of the Elizabethan tower, where Adam gave us a potted history of Sissinghurst.  The views across the Wealden countryside were amazing, and Adam told us that it is almost certain that Queen Elizabeth I would have stood there, during her three day stay at the castle in August 1573.
By eight o'clock it was time to leave the garden and go for dinner.  It was nearly dark.  It struck me that it was rather special to be rocking around the gardens at Sissinghurst at that time of day, when the public wouldn't normally be there!
As we left the garden the last vestige of sunlight was illuminating the tower.  Bats were whizzing in and out of the gatehouse, where I was standing to take this photo.  It was a very memorable visit.

Sunday, 27 September 2015


I can't remember the last time I slept through the night in one go.  I was probably a teenager!  Waking up several times a night is the norm for me.  When I heard that there was going to be an epic 8 hour live performance of Max Richter's composition Sleep, 'a lullaby for a frenetic world', taking place on Radio 3 overnight last night, I was resolved to tune in.  It started at midnight, and before long I was lulled to sleep.  I woke, as usual, at regular intervals during the night, but each time the lullaby just washed over me, until I fell asleep again.  It was comforting, and wonderful.
You might have time to dip into the performance here, or better still, tuck yourself up in bed one night, and play the piece in its entirety, as the composer intended. It will be available, wherever you are in the world, for the next 30 days on iPlayer.  It's magic.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Going, going

Thousands of people came to watch the twin chimneys come down.  Cars lined up along the A1 and the coast roads, car parks were crammed.  Nobody paid and displayed.  

Onlookers stood along the beaches, and precariously on the rocks jutting out into the sea!  Chancy, with an incoming tide!
Fishing boats lined up, a safe distance from Cockenzie Harbour.
On the dot of 12 noon, the two chimneys lurched towards each other, in a fond farewell,
Two loud explosions, and the twins were gone.

Monday, 28 September 2015
 The view just isn't the same.  There's definitely something missing!

Just for the record

The two coal towers of Cockenzie Power Station will meet their end today.   At high noon.  Whoosh!  They will be there one minute, gone the next.  News of their demise has even featured in the national press.  It's an interesting article, and worth a read.

At 149 metres high, they have featured along the East Lothian coastline since 1967, when the power station opened,  It is fair to say they do dominate, but theirs is a presence I have developed a huge affection for.  I know I am not alone and it is hard to explain why.  Maybe it bears out the adage that beauty is in the eye of the beholder!
A couple of years ago, I spent a day trying to draw the two chimneys, and the series of buildings around them, with part of the little harbour at Cockenzie in the foreground.  It's a crude attempt, but it's my own record.  As I sat there, an old fisherman shambled across to look over my shoulder.  He then started on his lament for the chimneys, which have guided him and his colleagues safely home from their fishing trips.  The harr, a cold sea fog which occasionally envelopes the Firth of Forth, can disorientate, but the chimneys have been their guiding landmark. So these two towers are an important part of the community too.

Slowly the complex is being demolished, laying the base of the chimneys bare.  You can see them from the coastal path.  Mr Gaucho and I went for a wander, to take photos, and record the chimneys, before they vanish from our skyline.  
The ever-present North Berwick Law in the distance.  At least they can't remove that!

They have a presence, which keeps drawing you in.  When I am driving into Edinburgh the power station sits off to the right of the A1.  I always look across, fleetingly, several times, as I pass.  
It's the same when I travel into town by train.  The chimneys are just there.  It is hard to ignore them, and equally difficult to imagine the landscape without them!  
After taking as many photographs as one could possibly want to take of two huge chimneys, we walked back to the car.  But I found myself looking back over my shoulder.  I noticed Mr Gaucho doing the same.  

So, here is their last sunset, yesterday.  I didn't really want to see the chimneys demolished today, but having read the Guardian article, it makes the point that it is not often one can witness a change in the landscape with the press of a button.  We have charge of our two youngest grandsons this morning, so assuming there is nothing young boys like better than a bit of destruction, I thought we would go and find a decent vantage point, and watch the execution.