Tag Archives: scotland

Glorious Trees in Winter: Kelburn Castle

It is so hard to photograph trees, but the burn of Kelburn Castle was of surpassing loveliness and contrasts on this mid-February day. Wind through  branches filled the world, an icy roaring mostly above our heads — a few branches came down around us as we were walking. One huge crack and a falling of one just in front of us provided some photographic comedy gold (Much as did my wearing three shirts, jumper, hoodie and coat), but also a slight thrill of danger.

But the woods, oh the woods. Empty of people, full of forest soundings. They sang impossibly beautiful around us in traceries of twigs framed by moss covered trunks. The red of fallen leaves still glowing.

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

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Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

My little brother, who at over six feet isn’t actually all that little but seemed hidden and small in this place…

Kelburn

Trees surrounding the falling of water…

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

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This incredible mossy bark…

Kelburn

Kelburn

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The wooly character of branches

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The microcosms that live here

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And then to slowly emerge from the trees to see the view of the Firth of Clyde and its islands and snow-capped mountains in the distance:

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

And its unexpected additions

Kelburn

From there we returned back to the castle, to a most wonderful walled garden and trees tamed — yet not entirely.

Single trees, enormous and ancient yews, some of them planted over a thousand years ago and framing more formal gardens alongside Kelburn castle. Three of Scotland’s most historic trees are here.

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

The first spring flowers I have seen this year, and a few other budding branches:

Kelburn

This whole place is primarily geared towards kids, families, campers — there were wonderful things for kids all around, though I was glad that the weather meant we had the place to ourselves and I imagine it is heaving in the spring and summer. I quite love what these Brazilian artists did to the castle when let loose on it:

Kelburn

Kelburn

But the last bit of the walk brought an unexpected reminder of some of the underlying social relations that have clouded this place. Not least that it is privately owned, but also in how it connected to power and Empire. All of this beauty was once owned by the Earl of Glasgow, who also served as governor of New Zealand — in an old not-very-waterproof shed sits a small museum with some of his collection. The faces of those who had their own wilds stolen from them stared back at us.

Kelburn

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Kelburn Castle: 2017’s first spring flowers

Tristram and I drove down to Kelburn Castle, and it was baltic, with rain almost sleet as we left but we headed from Hamilton towards Largs and occasionally the clouds would break to reveal patches of blue sky. Some sunshine, though lighting the world up far from us. The wind was freezing, even among the trees. Ice lined the puddles of water, though water flowed and rivuleted everywhere down the burn as we climbed it.

Kelburn

It was astounding to see these amazing snowdrops:

Kelburn

Thousands of them. Like these, adorning the banks, among these enormous, ancient trees.

Kelburn

As we walked back to the car park, we passed this last, lone utterly mad daffodil.

Kelburn

In the walled garden there were some beautiful rhododendrons blooming as well — I love walled gardens, what wonderful places they are in this climate! Yet I don’t feel I can count them really.

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Craigleith and Bass Rock: a wonder of birds

Bass Rock is now the world’s largest colony of Northern Gannets, and along with neighbour Craigleith, is also home also to cormorants, kittiwakes, shags, guillemots, razorbills and, of course, PUFFINS (I saw puffins!).

Like everyone else, I adore puffins.

From afar I saw puffins. They are so small! So wonderful! So hard to see! Flecks of white floating in the firth between the boat and the island, because my camera has no zoom:

Craigleith

The head of a curious seal was also visible, just one, another bright shape watching us from Craigleith’s shadows where stone meets water.

Craigleith

Craigleith with the great white mass of Bass Rock beyond it.

Craigleith

Amazing sight that it is. (Also, I saw puffins!)

Bass Rock

Northern gannets are beautiful things, spending time here between March and about October.

Bass Rock

They mate for life, and return year after year to the same patch of rock to mate and raise their young. They are intensely territorial while here, but after leaving Bass rock they will head to Africa. Seeing a natural wonder of the world and birds who migrate from Africa to the UK and back again right above all stupid human borders doesn’t make the world any easier to bear right now, but, you know, it shows there are other ways to do things. Spending time with my little brother was also pretty awesome.

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More views of gannet-strewn rocks and crevices — I somehow didn’t get any of the guillemots, who I also love.

Bass Rock

Tantallon castle’s ruins lie quite spectacular in the distance, but nothing compared to this.

Bass Rock

The cliffs themselves, wondrous.

Bass Rock

Rounding them, there are caves along the other side:

Bass Rock

up to the lighthouse, and the castle-become-prison for Covenanters and Jacobites with an old hermitage somewhere there as well.

Bass Rock

Bass Rock

The lighthouse on Bass Rock was built by the Stevenson family who were lighthouse engineers — the family, in fact, of Robert Louis Stevenson, who also trained as a lighthouse engineer. It features in his novel Catriona, and an island just down the coast from here (visible from the boat in fact) is supposedly the inspiration for Treasure Island.

A last cormorant from the shore, I still love them too…

Bass Rock

A last view of this wondrous place from North Berwick — itself a beautiful little town.

Bass Rock

 

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I saw puffins! Tristram and I had quite a lovely day, which also included Dirleton Castle, but I’ll write about that later I think.

Sunday we had a traditional Scottish barbecue with Laura’s family — in the pouring rain with our brollies and sandals, and for a little while there I also though Ireland might progress to the final eight, but sadly that first goal was not repeated. Good games today though, and good to see family I’ve not seen in ages. We even watched an hour on the Royal Highland Show — a procession of bulls, cows, sheep and coats moved across my screen in a strange recap of the past two months that has transformed how I watch such things.

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Aberdeen (I’m running a bit behind here, I know!)

I wrote this a week ago in an internet free environment…

I’m in Aberdeen with Sara and Rowen and today sparkled with sunshine and rain, the train ride up here was glorious and filled with golden light and green moors and the sea, space around me in all directions, freedom stretching out side to side. And tonight I am absurdly happy. Very few people know happiness I think; I am so lucky.

A great chat, a tramp along a dirt path through the woods alongside a burn, and then a right up the hillside past fields with horses and a high stone wall to Rowen’s school to pick her up. A wee rest and then down to visit Sara’s brother past fields of pigs. We made pasta with fresh vegetables picked from their garden and romped with three tiny puppies who all finally fell asleep in my lap, and played tig and took a walk with the two dogs Bonnie and Meg down the road to the woods. We lost Meg and had to go back to look for her and then lost some time on the great bales of hay. My first time on bales of hay, you can jump and fall and roll around and it is soft almost like I imagine a cloud would be. There is honestly little better in the world than playing tig on bales of hay and clambering up and around and over and falling and not minding a bit. We lost Meg again, Meg was asserting her right not to go for a walk, so back to the house we went and then back home. And watched the empire strikes back munching on biscuits. Nevis the small black mouse had been released to enjoy his freedom a while in the living room, and it took some time to find him. I was having some misgivings about sleeping on the floor in said living room with Nevis running about, not enough to fall asleep somewhere else of course. But I have woken to find myself face to face with a mouse before, in the good old desert days, I can’t say I enjoyed it particularly. Luckily he was found underneath the chest and put to his own bed and so the room is mouse free and I am sleepy.

And I think in spite of everything life is beautiful.

Andy Murray returns tennis to the people

So I know Andy Murray lost the U.S. Open yesterday, Federer was playing brilliantly and there wasn’t much hope…

But I watched the match in a Glasgow pub, and it was extraordinary. The great working class, yelling unrepeatable phrases at the screen, as much into a tennis match as they were into the Scotland v. Macedonia qualifier for the world cup. To be sure, there were less of them, but they were no less emotional, no less committed, no less gutted in defeat. It was extraordinary. And I suppose it is nationalism, and nationalism is bad bad bad. But there was also something lovely about hoity tennis players being fluently cursed in broad and colloquial glaswegian, and I enjoyed myself immensely.

And no one else seems to remember the Monty Python sketch where evil alien blancmanges come to earth and turn everyone in the world into scotsmen so they (the blancmanges) can win Wimbledon. It is one of the most absurd ridiculous sketches of all time, and one of my favourites. I think it adds a bit more depth to Andy Murray’s presence at the US Open. But I could be wrong.

The moors

I walked out of Glenfall and down the road, past the Howwood Inn and up past the football pitch, down along the road that leads to…god damn, I’ve forgotten the little village, it’s where Michael lives, I remember walking down that road several times in company of Michael and Knoxie and Spider, too and from copious amounts of drinks, particularly one sunny Monday when I attended a barbecue with several chefs from the Johnstone area who tend to have Mondays off and I got a sunburn. First and last Scottish sunburn I must say, a unique event in the annals of history. One of the chefs lay comatose on the grass after a long wedding weekend, a wreck the like of which I have never seen after days of drinking and no sleep and a memorable but highly ill advised battle amongst the men with their wooden skean dhus which had left him with the most hideous bruises imaginable.

But today I made the first right up the hill and towards the moors, the sky was grey and it was raining, light rain, the sort of rain where the air is half water half mist and the wind blew hard against my face. Last I was up here was late spring and the day was clearer, Ben Lomond rose up in the distance covered in snow. Ben Lomond today lay shrouded in mist, unseen, looming on the edges of my imagination, the world reduced to the steep climb between the trees of Skipton wood, the gurgling of the burn to my right. I love the woods, and yet…and yet coming to the edge of the trees, seeing the green expanse of the moor rising open before me fills me with a fierce joyful sort of wildness. The wind screams up here, mist driven into your face, hair whipping around your head. Sheep watch you warily and if you come too close they bounce away (there is something about sheep running that always makes me laugh and I’ve tried to pinpoint why I find it so delightful but haven’t quite been able to put my finger on it). I wandered fiercely joyful along the curve of the moor, the bog of the old damn to my left, heather and moss and long grass beneath my feet, a sort of gothic elf today not having packed at all for moors so I had my trousers rolled up to my knees, long black socks, smart black trainers, black sweater…and I tried to take pictures but the moors in the rain defy capture.

It got exciting when I came to the first burn, having passed the hill where an early pict settlement supposedly once lay though nothing now remains…that too loomed large in my imagination as it could not be seen really through the weather. But the burn ran high, after a minute peering up and down in a vain search for likely rocks, I grinned and stepped into it, and continued to squelch happily on my way. The moors don’t go on far enough for me, they are over far too soon, and I had to make the left through the gate to pass the little farm. This time I was squelching through mud heavily enriched by cows, luckily I came to another burn and freed myself of the enrichment. And then back onto the lonely little country roads and winding down the hill and the sun came out to sparkle on the wet grass and summer flowers and pick out the shaggy coats of the cows as they stood watching me incuriously curious. This one was my favourite, all alone in his field and I spose unhappy in his loneliness, he stared at me and then followed me for 20 minutes or so, ambling slowly alongside the fence

I almost danced down the hill, past the trout fishery, down and down and back to Howwood. The world was gloriously beautiful as you can see


And the small things full of wonder.

Once the sun was out the pictures came alive of course, the light against dark clouds extraordinary and beautiful. Still, the sun did not come out for long, and played hide and seek with the rain which never quite let up. It had almost disappeared again for the last look back to where I had come from:

And now I am sitting in an airport, on my way to London and 4 days of great things…

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evening

I sit in the conservatory and the light is liquid gold, luminous, impossibly beautiful in those few minutes at close of day when magic seizes your heart and makes it whole…too whole, almost overflowing and the overflow is what you hunger for through your mundane hours, but this moment, glorious and still, like the culmination of passion, the peak of happiness, the eye in the storm it holds you and wraps you round and whispers to you in the falling rain and the world is perfect beauty even with you in it, as flawed and hungry and uncertain of anything as you are, and the moment fades to be replaced with a sadness, and dusk comes on surely now, the darkness creeping over green fields and the flowering apple tree, clouds lit up from behind in pale yellow and silver move swiftly across the horizon and just as you wonder if it is just over there that your destiny lies, the world lights up again with the moving clouds, a reprieve and a second golden time, a hint of blue sky on the horizon, golden light pouring like the rain around you, I love these days of rain and sun, love gold filled light and the pounding of water, it is luminous again, magical again, more beautiful after having prepared oneself for the dying of the light, it gives me hope. For what I don’t know, just hope is enough, a quiet undemanding sort of hope, the hope that carries peace with it, not the demanding torments of passion or desire or blind need.

The blue sky is now encircled by clouds, deep black heavy laden ones running low, a thin line of glowing white ones above. This place is beautiful. I am glad I am here, there is nowhere I would rather be. That makes me smile, it might be a bit sad my smile, bittersweet is life, I taste it on my tongue. I am always amazed at how fast storm clouds move, I remember watching them before the monsoons hit in Arizona, amazing that they race the same over desert and green farmland. Another thing bringing these two worlds together besides me, I have trouble sometimes reconciling myself with myself, I am too many things to exist in one person I think, but watching the clouds race calms me down, I lose myself in them like I lose myself in the light, my inner voice stills and finds silence and I am content. Even as the dusk falls surely now, the darkness comes…

Escocia Querida

I love it, and why? I’m sticking the funny stuff in first this blog because it’s hell of long and philosophical:

Wholey apart from fabulous whiskey flavoured condums, as though you hadn’t just drunk far too much, I have never read anything with more delight than the “WARNING: Do not drive whilst using this product.” It is quite fun to imagine operating a condum and a vehicle at the same time, full of interesting possibilities, even more interesting for the men. Sadly, the machine was empty…I shall be on Rose street again though, it was a really nice pub too so I shall definitely be back. Bet you all know what you’re getting as birthday presents and christmas gifts now…unless I find another stock of Nightrider and A-Team beer coasters at Pivo Pivo, you never know.

So, I am enjoying myself here but I am missing frijoles y tortillas y chile. I knew I would. And I am missing spanglish and gerry’s jokes and my friends quite terribly.

It’s incredible to think that you have the power to send your life shooting off into whatever direction you choose, and incredible to wonder who I would be if I had moved to Gallup, New Mexico or the Yucatan or Mongolia. I wouldn’t be a different person right away of course, but after 6 months, a year, who would I become? And who shall I become now? I want to know, and when I want to know something i can’t know it rather makes me feel like throwing a metaphysical tantrum. That would be a good novel actually, the parrallel lives of A Gibbons all branching out from one single point like the delta of a river and each of them throwing tantrums over not being able to unravel the secrets of life at various points in the book. I might write it, so consider it copyrighted though I have a sneaking feeling it’s already been done. I can’t decide if I believe in fate or not, soulmates or not, God or not, death as the next adventure or death as the absolute end, if you should work to live or live to work to change the world, if there’s any hope at all for us, if the rightwing tide will ever turn, if enlightenment is possible and if so do you really have to go without sex to find it, if the revolution is ever fucking coming and if it does will it actually result in equality, if one day everyone will just suddenly stop believing in money cause it’s make believe anyways…I could just sit and wonder all day, wish you could get paid to wonder…the point I wanted to get to was that my being here in Glasgow is based almost entirely on my brother’s chance meeting with scottish girlfriend laura several years ago on a study abroad program in France…and looking farther back I suppose meeting my ex, getting hired by Carecen in L.A., getting my university scholarship cut which means I didn’t go to Russia. Can you believe I was studying Russian and planned to go to Russia? Fucking hell, but Swarthmore College screwing me over more than 10 years ago now has possibly had the greatest impact of all. And then there was this beautiful and tiny blue butterfly flapping its wings on the asian steppes at 11:34 am on February 2nd, 1982…

Still, I am here! Still swinging between intense happiness and loneliness and a bit of panic. I had forgotten how much I hate not knowing what I am doing, I wish my ego would take a bit of a rest because I know that no one really knows what they’re doing, still, I hate not knowing what I’m doing. I have to go to the job center tomorrow and it’s freaking me out a bit. Which is a bit justified because I have heard terrible things…but more of the annoying bureaucratic sort rather than of the random beatings for being unemployed and occassional public humiliation kind or vampires in the plumbing so I know I really have nothing to worry about, which is why I am annoyed with myself.

Anyways, haven’t been able to write for a while, you can tell because all kinds of silliness is just pouring out…haven’t been with my beautiful silly L.A. friends, that’s probably the problem, I need to find silly Glasgow friends who like to discuss life and politics and videogames at length over pints – maybe I should do a personal add? That would give me some interesting stories…But I had a great weekend with my cousin and his girlfriend in Edinburgh and and walked miles and miles and took some brilliant photos. We went up the coast a bit on Saturday to Gullane point which looked like this in the afternoon:

And became even more beautiful as the sun set

And looking at beauty such as that you don’t worry about life or death or sex or revolution at all, you just feel intensely alive and content in standing seeing breathing living…so forget everything I just wrote, I really do have the answers.

Sunday we walked round Edinburgh, down Leith walk which is also absolutely stunning

Edinburgh is honestly one of the most photogenic cities I have ever been in, you could just wander about taking the most incredible shots day after day after day. I love Glasgow as much, but it requires more work to discover its beauty…like L.A. I think, funny how I prefer L.A. to San Francisco and Glasgow to Edinburgh. Or do I? That’s a discussion for another day though. We walked all the way up to the museum of modern art and one of the coolest art pieces I have ever seen and fell in love with at first sight:

And now I’m back in Howwood, the weather has turned cold, grey and rainy again, perhaps also inspiring such a ridiculously long blog. I might go down to the local pub by myself now, that would certainly be adventurous of me. But dare I court the dissaproval of the aunt and uncle? Perhaps not since I’ll be staying with them another couple of weeks at least and its a dubious sort of adventure, with a possibility of intense discomfort…I might save it for later.

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Laughing at the Scots

Am exhausted, sending my manuscript out tomorrow and feeling very very nervous about that, and therefore not wishing to go tamely off to bed and stare at the ceiling thinking about how it’s not good enough…I have no alcohol to celebrate (and put me to sleep, perhaps I should go for the Nyquil?), so I am cheering myself up with silly things I saw on my holiday.  One of the best was this…and for my American readers, please believe the authenticity of the image you are about to see…

It is, indeed, a can of Ye Olde Oak (hilarious in itself, no?) American hotdogs…don’t they know that the only things that should go in cans are those little vienna sausages?  To be enjoyed in trailer parks everywhere?  I took a bunch of photos of crips/ chips as well, such lovely flavours like Prawn Cocktail, roasted chicken with lemon and thyme, teriyaki beef, pork rib, lamb and mint…but I shan’t bore you with those.

Hair straightening comes up next.  Now, in most lady’s washrooms in pubs across the land you can buy condoms and tampons…most sensible.  But in Pivo Pivo, Glasgow, while you can choose from an amazing selection of fine beers, ales and lagers, you can buy neither.  I guess no one’s getting lucky there…Instead, for only a pound, you can get seconds of hair straightening magic…maybe they figured that first priority was to score at all which requires having your hair straightened (that could explain some things about much of my holiday), and then didn’t have room for the condom machine so we shall just hope that the gents are well provided for, I didn’t think to take a peek.

No one told me you had to use one of these for true beauty until the very end of my stay, only think how much better my trip could have been had I only known!

What follows is possibly only funny to me (T thought it was funny as well), but found at Chatlheraut, first a fascinating discussion of

Apparently there are all kinds of “intriguing” and “secret” goings on when no one is looking, or possibly even when you are looking, since would you even know?  That’s nothing to what’s going on in the frank discussion of Chatlheraut’s herbaceous borders…I have a picture but am suddenly realizing that I have no idea why I think the words herbaceous borders are funny…possibly because herbaceous borders rhymes with curvaceous borders which just sounds naughty?  Perhaps it’s not funny at all, in which case I beg your pardon.

Place names, on the way to the wedding in Cumbria we passed Wigglesworth and Giggleswick, and I heard a tale of a small town called Piddle and the nearby village of Little Piddle…could be apocryphal but since it was Mrs. Burt told me, and she’s at least 80 years old and brilliant, I very much doubt it.  Also passed this sign:

The amazing village of Dull with its wild Highland Safari…can’t think of what was there, since we had left Hamish the wild Hielan Coo about 50 miles in the opposite direction.  Castle Menzies was a few miles away, where they had this facsinating exhibit:

The judicious hooker’s ecclesiastical polity…apparently even the hookers were dull in 1666, or did Dull have it’s more exciting side?

Well, that’s it for the photos, but I found one last splendid laugh in Bradford-on-Avon, in the small second hand bookshop right behind my great-aunt’s house…a pamphlet, for the extraordinarily affordable price of 50p, “Constipation and Common Sense.”  I do not know when it was written, but it originally sold for the price of 2 shillings, and it’s author, Cyril Scott, also wrote a fine treatise called “Crude Black Molasses” which, unfortunately, was unknown to the book store owner.  I shall share with you one of the opening paragraphs:

“Roughly speaking, there are three kinds of constipated people; those who don’t care whether they are constipated or not, and so do nothing about it; those who say, “what does it matter?  I always take some medicine”; and those who are constantly worrying over it…”

I shall leave you to ponder into which category you fall…but apparently constipation generally results from an absolute lack of commonsense, so go forth and find some, and you shall be cured!  Just don’t eat 20 apples all at once, swallow a bottle of cider vinegar, or eat bran for every meal, a “disastrous folly” in Mr. Scott’s considered medical opinion…

Scotland Remembered

Scotland remembered

So…struggling to keep awake and reset the old internal clock…up at 5 and I was absolutely finished today about 3 pm, but caught my second wind after I’d left work (I am hating this whole work thing I must say) and spent some quality time on the couch.  Nothing good to report about being in LA except being reunited with my chanclas (flip-flops to the Spanish deficient, and that reminds me, a chanclatada is a slap you give someone with your chancla, so I invented the spanglish word flip-floptada, but I don’t think it’s catching on), so I shall relive my holiday, and present…

drum roll please…

Edinburgh!  Lovely to be there with T and Chris, it shall live long among my happier memories.  We saw many sights, but just the city itself is lovely as you can see here

And here…

And here…

And here:

And here:

Went to a great pub and drank steadily, it is highly highly recommended but sadly I cannot remember its name…missed the train home but that wasn’t all bad…it was all right actually.  And finally, a few words of wisdom:

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