Homeward Bound

We woke this morning to a perfect day for a drive. Sunshine, blue sky with s few high white clouds and a calm, blue sea. Travelling on a bank holiday is never ideal but we had to get back to work again. James had decided to vary the route and I did not complain as it involved a visit to one of my favourite bookshops, Barter Books in Alnwick. On the A1, the first traffic jam was before we had got as far as Berwick. However, it was short-lived and disappeared after the combine harvester responsible pulled over to let everyone past. The sun was still with us as we crossed the Tweed and had a coffee break at Lindisfarne services. Barter Books is based in the old station at Alnwick and is dog friendly although Flora preferred to sit outside and watch the goings on outside. They have a model railway running around the shop.

Barter books 2 (1 of 1)

I found two books to add to my North American library, one on Colorado and one on the natural history of New York.
Barter books 1 (1 of 1)

All too soon it was time to continue on our way. The second traffic jam was just north of Morpeth, the sky was clouding over and the first rain drops fell. Over the Tyne there were hordes of people heading for the Metro Centre and once we were past the Angel of the North we started to see people who were heading home from the Leeds Festival. The A1(M) continued to be busy and we had another brief stop at Scotch Corner. My childhood memories of this place are a roundabout with a few toilets under the pine trees. Needless to say it now has all the usual eateries and has little to distinguish it from any other service station. Several sections of the A1 are still being upgraded to motorway so there are miles of roadworks and slow traffic between there and Weatherby. Near Ferrybridge power station I was reminded that my younger brother used to refer to the cooling towers as ‘the big vases’ as they were landmarks on our regular journeys back and forth from Scotland to the East Midlands.


We eventually left the motorway and took the A628 through Yorkshire and over the Woodhead Pass where the purple heather and grass verges full of flowers were amazing. I got a fix of the expansive vistas of the uplands and we even had sheep in the road as we cut across to Glossop on a B road. Then it was the A6 via Chapel en le Frith and Buxton. By the time we were heading into Cheshire, the rain was heavy, the cloud low and lots of water on the road. At least the garden did not need watering when we got home.

Last day in Edinburgh

Sunday was our last day here and almost the last day of the Festival. Sadly, we could not stay for the fireworks on Monday evening so I missed the chance to improve on my firework photography. We met up with friends for coffee, a trip to the farmers’ market and returned to St Bernard’s Well which is only open for a couple of days each year. It was built in 1789 to a design by the Edinburgh landscape painter Alexander Nasymth who is said to have been inspired by the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli in Italy. Last year I only photographed the interior so here it is, by the Water of Leith:
St Bernard's well 2 (1 of 1)
We met up for drinks at the Roxburghe early evening as James thought that the comedy act we were to see at 8pm was at the Assembly Rooms. It turned out that is was at George Square so we grabbed a taxi and headed over there. At least it was a shorter walk back to the flat at the end.

Exhibitions and painting of a different kind

This morning I headed north to the New Town to take in two exhibitions. The first was at the Edinburgh Photographic Society but with international contributions. It was a wonderful collection of works which was very inspiring and also something I could learn from.
After that I had selected “Paperwork 2” Four artists from Edinburgh College of Art who all came to art later in life, were exhibiting new drawings, prints and paintings on paper. I spoke to one of the artists whose work based on natural forms most chimed with my own ideas (some of her works based on rock pools were very similar to what I was planning to draw from a photograph I had taken in Orkney). I look forward to having more time to explore the ideas filling my head.
When I came out it was raining and time to head back to the flat to carry on the the painting that needed doing there. I got 90% of it done and can look forward to a slightly more leisurely day tomorrow.

Back to the festival city

Yesterday, one of my colleagues said that it felt quite autumnal and it was dark and wet when I woke at 5.30am. Summer is on the way out. My train was a few minutes late and very busy but at least I was getting away before the August bank holiday rail works and delays. My reserved seat was occupied by someone and the staff initially suggested I sat elsewhere and moved again later but I stuck to my guns and he moved. I just wanted to sit in one place for the next three and a quarter hours. Before we got to Warrington we were stationary for several minutes. I noticed some Himalayan Balsam (impatiens grandiflora) growing by the river. Another 19th century import it has become something of a pest as it shades out other plants.
I started to do some work and noted that Virgin are still having to apologise for problems with their wifi (they have been saying this for several weeks now). A woman sitting opposite jumped up and knocked my coffee over, narrowly missing my computer. It made me think of the student Leonie Müller, who is living and working on trains in Germany. This would be more expensive over here and if my experience today is anything to go by, not always feasible even in the more spacious first class coaches. Several people did get off at Preston and it became quieter. Blue sky put in a brief appearance after Lancaster but most of the Cumbrian and Southern Upland hills were shrouded in mist.
Borders hillside 2006 b&w
We passed Steven’s Croft, a power station that is fuelled by offcuts from the forestry industry. This, with wind turbines and hydro-electricity means Scotland is ahead of the rest of the UK in renewable energy. Sheep in South Lanarkshire were orange, having been dipped and at Carstairs Junction I had to again inform someone who asked if the secure buildings there were a prison, that it was a high security hospital. Almost every time I come up by train someone asks that question. A rainbow was visible on Tinto and although it was raining when I reached Edinburgh it has not persisted so far. I did get damp when walking out for supplies but there has been enough natural daylight to do some white on white painting and decorating I needed to get done. Tomorrow I hope to see some photography and art before I start painting in the flat.

Piano and panic in Edinburgh

The traffic announcements on the radio were lengthy yesterday afternoon as we drove north. All around there were major problems including flooding, a motorway closed in Birmingham, accidents, a sinkhole in the Mancunian Way and the eternal roadworks near Lancaster. We made slow progress but were eventually over the border. Nearer to Edinburgh there were more cars heading into the city than leaving it on Friday evening. The only times in the year that this happens are August and Hogmanay. When we woke this morning, the rain was gone and the sun was out. I had a couple of things to do in town and tickets for a recital of Chopin piano music at St Andrew’s and St George’s Church in George Street. During a coffee at Cafe Andaluz (which always switches my brain to Spanish) James announced that he thought he might have lost his wallet. As I had paid for what we had bought on the way down and remembered that he had been deciding whether to take a jacket when we left, I was pretty sure it was in the flat. He could not be pacified and decided he had to go back there to check, saying that he would not enjoy the music until he reassured himself. He took a taxi back to the flat while I finished my coffee and then wandered along to the venue. The church dates from the 18th century but has been restored relatively recently.

st andrews & st georges  (1 of 1)

I had a front row seat and James arrived back before the recital started, the wallet having been found in the flat. Panic over. We were treated to a fabulous programme of Chopin piano music by William Alexander. Here he is, appreciating the applause at the end.

William Alexander (1 of 1)

After that it was time to head back to the flat and start the clean up in the flat as it had been re-wired last week. We popped into the book fair at the Roxburghe. Very little was within my budget – I picked up a copy of the New Naturalists Library on ladybirds, one I don’t have. It was £750 so it was not added.

A short walk

No, not in the Hindu Kush but in my own garden. When work and other things keep me at home it is tempting to spend a lot of time thinking about the next trip which of course, I do and have several planned. However, after a few hours at the computer, I need to stretch my legs and at this time of year, there is a lot to see right here at home. Inspired by swathes of agapanthus at a house we rented near Biarritz two summers in succession, I bought two plants a few years ago. They originate from South Africa so need care in a hard winter but this year, they flowered for the first time.

Agapanthus 1 (1 of 1)

I grow a lot of plants loved by pollinators and they were flying around in their dozens. I could not catch a photograph of the butterflies on the buddleia but I let teasels self-seed, pulling out those growing where I don’t want them and watched this bee for a while:

Bee on teasel (1 of 1)

My last treat was the pygmy water lily I added to the pond this spring, was in flower.

Waterlily (1 of 1)

Flowers by the tracks

Sitting on a train always brings out the botanist in me. Today I had to go to the hospital for some training in the afternoon so I was a little more alert than when on the usual early morning journey. It reminded me of four years ago when we took the Indian Pacific train from Perth to Sydney, crossing the Nullarbor Desert. My colleagues at the conference I was attending in Fremantle said ‘it’ll get more interesting after Adelaide’, assuming that nobody could be interested in the desert. However, the previous winter had been unusually wet and the Nullarbor was much greener than usual. Some information on the train said it had over 700 different plant species but flying past them at speed did not help to distinguish between them. My train today was a little slower and the plants were familiar. In urban areas the buddleia was in full flower, the stony edge of the railway being similar to its native mountain habitat in China and Tibet. Some say its success has helped the butterfly population. In the city, it had colonised a lot and derelict buildings near Lime Street. Away from the towns, Rosebay Willow-Herb was prominent. It is hard to believe that it was a scarce woodland plant in the 18 and 19th centuries. My family always called it the ‘Railway Flower’ as my grandfather was a locomotive engineer and it is known as ‘Fireweed’ in North America. It has an amazing ability to colonise sites cleared by fire, bombs, felled woodland and along the railway where seed dispersal is assisted by the slipstream of trains.

Willowherb, Rosebay (Chamerion angustifolium) Old Fosse Sapcote SP 4923 9239 (taken 23.6.2006..

It was accompanied today by Oxford Ragwort and Bindweed. I also spotted a rowan tree full of berries. My large rowan tree came down in a storm last year so the jelly made with last year’s berries might be the last for a while. I have two much smaller rowans but they produce very few berries so far. Neither are at the gate which is where they were traditionally planted in Scotland to protect the house from witches.

A familiar gallery and paintings: some new art and ideas

I have known Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum since childhood. My parents used to take us there on wet winter Sundays. Not too far away was the relatively new Habitat store, situated on a street as steep as those in San Francisco and also open on Sundays. I was introduced to good design at an early age. It was not far from our hotel and we arrived just before it opened so enjoyed a coffee from the Grill in the car park. Inside was the familiar wonderful ceiling:

Kelvingrove 1 (1 of 1)

and an interesting installation based on white human heads with various facial expressions, suspended from the roof and illuminated with different coloured lights in sequence. When I took this shot, they were blue.

Kelvingrove 2 (1 of 1)

We wandered round the galleries devoted to the Glasgow Boys, The Scottish Colourists and Charles Rennie Mackintosh. This painting,’Moonrise’ by Macaulay Stevenson who was one of the Glasgow Boys, reminded me that I have been thinking of a painting based on our silver birches (we have 21 in the garden) for a while and need to decide what I am going to do. Another painting of an Edinburgh tenement by JD Fergusson prompted the thought that a painting of the Edinburgh tenement that we started our married life in and one of each of our homes since, might be a project.

Moonrise Macaulay Stevenson (1 of 1)

Afterwards, I had hoped to ferret in the Oxfam bookshop in Byres Road but it was closed for refurbishment. Happily, the music shop was open and we expanded our collection further. All too soon it was time to head home after a coffee stop with a friend in South Lanarkshire and join everyone else heading south. The traffic jams and diversions were enlivened nearer home with spotting interesting cars coming in the opposite direction. They had been at CarFest North and were now heading home. We might be heading there next year as James and my friend will love the cars and we will all enjoy the music.

Fashion bargains, books and a fabulous sunset in Glasgow

Saturday morning saw us driving along the M8 towards Glasgow. We had not been to the city for some time so a revisit was long overdue. The motorway corridor seems to have become one long chain of business parks and new housing including communities that we have never heard of. In the city, we had a few attempts at finding our hotel before being successful. The motorway junction was not numbered so we overshot it, the road we were to have left on had changed its number and there was a considerable discrepancy between what Google Maps said we could do and what was on the ground. We are now well acquainted with the one-way system in this part of Glasgow. After leaving our bags at the hotel, it was time to walk into the city centre and get some shopping done. There was the usual assortment of buskers and hellfire and damnation preachers on Argyle Street and shoppers were streaming out of the stations. A coffee stop in Waterstones added to the book collection – Robert McFarlane’s ‘Landmarks’ and Jen Campbell’s ‘The Bookshop Book’ for me and a North Island of New Zealand Guidebook for James (he wants to follow the British and Irish Lions Rugby Tour there in 2017). Unfortunately this will be during their winter when most of the fantastic hiking trails there are closed. My fashion bargain was a Missoni tunic in TK Maxx. I have always admired their colourful knits in Liberty but they are usually out of my price range so this was a great find at a huge discount. My signature look is rapidly becoming tunic plus leggings, trousers or jeans. We had a late lunch at an Italian restaurant and then, as it was raining again, ensconced ourselves in our 15th floor room to relax and read. It has a great view over the west of the city, ideal for sunset photography.

Glasgow sunset 1 (1 of 1)Glasgow sunset 2 (1 of 1)