Tag Archives: Scotland

The not-so-little mermaid


What does the word ‘mermaid’ suggest to you? Andersen and Disney sweet young girl, giving herself to the man she loves? Or else the seal-women of Scotland, or the sirens of Greek legend, luring unloved men to their deaths?

The Mermaid rose is s beautiful as any of those, but has more in common with the sirens. Get too close to her and you won’t escape easily from her sharp, backward-facing thorns. But she’s lovely enough, if handled with leather gloves. She’ll grow 4m plus high and those buds will open to creamy yellow single flowers. The deep red berberis leaves set her off well.



The Lady of the Woods



We are always talking about looking and seeing, here at Will Turnstone. When we took Abel out to the woods yesterday we found this invitation to look at Betula, the Lady of the Woods. Isn’t she lovely? Find one of her sisters near you and enjoy the sight.

Here is something I’ve been saving till the right picture turned up. This one is good enough to accompany this passage from Nan Shepherd’sThe Living Mountain’. A writer may reveal what the reader more than half knows, awakening joyful recognition in her audience.  I was reading to learn about the Scottish Highlands, but I discovered something all-but known about the birch I see as I open the curtains or come home: the birch. Here is Shepherd on p53:

Birch … that grows on the lower mountain slopes, needs rain to release its odour. It is a scent with body to it, fruity like old brandy, and on a wet warm day, one can be as good as drunk with it. Acting through the sensory nerves, it confuses the higher centres; one is excited, with no cause that the wit can define.

It’s always good to return home even from a quick walk to the shops. There is magic in fingering the keys as I approach under the lime trees – trees that may not flourish on Cairngorm but here share their bee-sung, scented glory every summer. Birch is wind-pollinated, needing no nectar, but its fresh-air scent, which I barely register even in wet weather, is part of coming home. I never realised till Nan Shepherd told me! And the blackbirds sing louder in the rain.

We occasionally berate the birch for its scattered seedlings, which occupy any bare earth and even take root in garden walls. As Rome fell away from Britain no-one removed the young trees, and the towns crumbled.

Not far from here at the derelict mine, a birch forest has sprung up on the spoil. Silver birch, I called it as a child – but it is pure gold in Autumn.

Do seek out Nan Shepherd’s book and see, hear, smell, feel with her.

Indifferent gulls.


Seen from the train in Kent this morning, a field with winter cereal showing through, and a flock of gulls keeping their social distance from each other. Other than keeping a rather greater distance from it, they were ignoring a fox in the middle of the field, eating what seemed to be another gull.

These gulls keeping their social distance were at Portree on the Isle of Skye.

Strange Season III

IMGP5305 (640x374)Rainbow over the Skye Bridge.

We have had rain every day this week, filling the rivers, but giving us many rainbows. A bit of a cheat to show this one which was taken in June in the West of Scotland, where such weather is less remarkable, but I’ve been out without camera or phone. Our rainbows have been as welcome, even with an urban backdrop.


IMGP5254 (640x601)IMGP5255 (640x492)wattcow Well, Edinburgh honours James Watt with a University which has a statuPhoto0543e and his portrait on a blue and white concrete cow. However, like many another Scot, he came South of the Border to learn, to work, to fulfil ambition, win fame and fortune.

His adoptive city of Birmingham, however, has him preside over the entrance to its own University, while in the city centre he is one of the Golden Boys who helped make it the heart of the Industrial Revolution. Here he is between Boulton and Murdoch, his partners.

So what would Scottish independence achieve?

A Walk in Scotland – Part 4 – to Journey’s End

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Looking back along the canal from the bridge, only the well-laid path hints at the urban sprawl we started from. Had we continued walking toward that cloudy Western sky, we’d soon have been grateful for the shelter of another bridge, but
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our walk away from the waterway passes these stone buildings – I have seen their like in Southern Ontario.

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The lane soon meets a main road; we cross it and make for the Lodge.









IMGP5221 (640x496)IMGP5223 (640x492) Quite different in style! This was the entrance to the big estate around which the Heriot Watt University was built.

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The woods, with their rhododendrons and foxgloves,  hide the buildings where graduands have worked and played for four years. Their families are celebrating and enjoying Scotland, even if they have to wrap up warm to photograph their loved one with the piper.

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Our guide led us to a quiet corner of the campus, shared with oystercatchers, busily hunting worms inland. IMGP5238 (640x426) The rain had brought the worms to the surface, and now down it came again! No chance to sit on that inviting bench, so past a wet Watt, and into the hall to await the graduation ceremony. Well done, HDGB!

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A Walk in Scotland – 3 – Beyond Edinburgh’s Urban Fringe

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A few yards from the aqueduct an overbridge marked the end of urban sprawl and the start of a tamed but beautiful stretch of countryside. Not far ahead an orchid was growing at the water’s edge. How long has that been there?

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And away from the banks it was not quite roses, roses, all the way, though they were scenting the damp air.

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More thistles alongside them; this is Scotland; but also buttercups, forget-me-not, comfrey and more, all thriving in this green corridor.

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Half a mile into the walk and the trees have drowned the sound of the road, and all is green.

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To the North, framed by the developing haws of the Mayflower, the Hills can be seen through the haze: the rain is holding off.

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While it may have been too damp for dragonfly or mayfly to be on the wing, here they are in a blacksmith’s work of art. I like the way the fine lines of stems, ripples and tails add strength as well as beauty and interest to this gate. Near to it, small fry are gathered just below the surface.

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Is this our last bridge? We could enjoy extending this walk, but we have a destination, so time to leave the canal and climb up to the road.