Tag Archives: trees

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

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

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

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

This incredible mossy bark…

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

The wooly character of branches

Kelburn

The microcosms that live here

Kelburn

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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Halsdon Nature Reserve

Halsdon Nature Reserve is formed by a beautiful wood along the Torridge. Even though we missed the bluebells, which were just finishing, the air was still thick with ransoms — my new name for wild garlic (Allium ursinum). I learned that you can eat the leaves, most delicious in a pesto. Campions, violets, some early larkspur as well, and masses of others I still have to look up.

But above all the trees — oaks, beeches and sycamores, just springing into their very early green. It must be one of the most wonderful colours in the world.

Under cloud cover:

Halsdon Nature Reserve

In the sun:

Halsdon Nature Reserve

We walked down to the old mill — the house’s cob walls on a foundation of brick still standing.

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It is always sad to see such buildings falling into ruin. Picturesque though.

I climbed down into the well where I think the wheel must once have sat, and looked down the Torridge, it was a beautiful day today after so much rain.

Halsden Wood

We walked along the river a little ways, saw some mallards. And then the path opens out onto a meadow, where you can walk and look for otters if you don’t have a dog.

But we had a dog.

So we climbed up, circled back around. Sunday afternoons in Devon could hardly better, unless this one had included a cream tea.

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Breath and Memory in Highgate Cemetery

Several years ago now, I went to a talk at Highgate Cemetery. A niche talk for a very niche (but rather fascinating) audience interested in Victorian grave sculptures. It may also have been just the fact of a talk at a cemetery with wine and all that drew them as it had me. But there was no chance to wander round, and somehow I had never been back. Until our latest wander through North London, along Parkland Walk — of my favourite green spaces in all of London, these two both rate high.

South London though, I’d been to a couple cemeteries in South London, those great new cemeteries springing up along the city’s outer limits to deal with the little church graveyards full to overflowing. Lambeth Cemetery in Tooting Bec, next to St George’s hospital where I had an appointment. After a lonesome visit to West Norwood Cemetery I had rather sworn off them, it was sad and grim and I wondered why I ever thought I liked them.

I realise the answer to that question is trees.

Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery

Like Arnos Vale in Bristol, Highgate is beautiful, eerie, splendid.

Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery

Our lives and deaths as part of a natural world so much bigger than we are, part of trees and forests primeval in their swallowing up of our memories and returning us to a natural cycle. Finally, to breath part of a natural cycle here in London. Just to fucking breathe.

Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery

I like to feel able to embrace that larger reality while fighting like hell to break all of our human cycles of oppression and horror, the second reason this is such a wonderful place.

Highgate Cemetery

Marx’s original grave, before his followers moved him to larger, more monumental grave of infinitely more questionable taste.

Highgate Cemetery

Yet I confess I cried — unexpected and quite embarrassing really. It was not Marx’s grave so much as the cluster of people who have chosen to be buried near him, people who have dedicated their lives to changing the world we live in for the better, and whose actions and words have all impacted my own struggle and thinking. Beginning with Eleanor Marx, who I love immensely and is buried with her father as though she were not worth her own monument. There is also Claudia Jones:

Highgate Cemetery

And so many others, from all around the world:

Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery

Someone else who had a great impact on me when I was growing up? The incomparable Douglas Adams:

Highgate Cemetery

George Elliot:

Highgate Cemetery

Those who I have come to honour more recently through my partner’s love of film:

Highgate Cemetery

Carl Mayer, the cowriter of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari:

Highgate Cemetery

I confess, too, that I have no small enjoyment from some of the weird, wonderful and strange things to be found in places like this:

Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery

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Arizona Dreaming

Tucson during the monsoons is one of my favourite places…it’s one of my favourite places most times I have to admit. And my brother Dan is home for the summer, and my cousin Alana is living with my folks now, so it was a houseful and that is always nice.

On Saturday we went up to Mount Lemon, I remember some time ago coming home to see the entire mountain on fire, clouds of smoke in fantastic shapes, the air alive with the all the colour and smell and ash of fire…half of the mountains burned one year, and the rest in the next, along with most of Summerhaven (though the pie shop survived! My dad swears that was due to his prayers, and the prayers of everyone who has ever been there…). It is amazing to see how the trees living and dead show how fire skips and leaps, how it razes the side of mountains leaving patches of trees intact, how it jumps over the bottoms of arroyos, stops at the crests of hills. And the trees remind me of Scotland in the wintertime, I love their stark silhouettes against the sky and the distant views. Or I would if only these trees would also return to life come Spring. Still, they have an incredible beauty to them that I almost prefer to what was there before. I wonder why I prefer my beauty bleak?

Mt. Lemon after the fires

And here is another view of it…

We went up the ski lift…the first time I have ever done that in all the years we have been going up there! Here’s the family up at the top:

And my little brother out on the rocks at Windy Point…that’s Tucson in the background, only about 20 minutes down from the pine forest…it is an amazing thing to go from the Sonoran desert to forest in such a short time…

After the mountain we headed over to the Hut to see some amazing and funky music courtesy of Dan’s friends…everyone playing was good, and the rain was coming down in torrents outside, the thunder and lightening going off, the roof leaking…it was quite spectacular. Got home after 2, woke up early the next morning for brunch at Sun’s, and then saw the Dark Knight. Which was also spectacular. And I loved Heath Ledger. And the only bit that made me sad was when the Joker equated anarchy with chaos and said he stood for both…anarchy is not chaos, it is the opposite of it. So I damned the writers and the confusion of their politics but didn’t let it interfere with the rest of the movie. I definitely recommend it.

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