The end of 2017

During our journey to Edinburgh just after Christmas, the radio was reporting snow, ice, blocked roads and closed airports elsewhere but northwest England and southern Scotland were bathed in winter sunshine. Not long after we joined the M6, a line of vintage tractors crossed a bridge over the motorway, presumably heading to some tractor fest event. Wildlife spotted on the journey included two buzzards perched on fence posts, mute swans on the River Eden and a roe deer just behind the crash barrier. There were several skeins of geese in the blue sky and snow on the Cumbrian peaks. Our only delay was an accident on the M74 before we were driving on the A701 through snowy landscapes.

In Moffat the ram was still wearing his Remembrance Day poppies.

There was 6-9 inches of snow all around and the hill sheep were digging holes to find grass. In Penicuik, children were sledging down the hill opposite the barracks. Unsurprisingly there was less snow in the city although there was a snow shower the following day while we were shopping and the children next door were building a snowman when we returned. It stayed dry later and which was a blessing as I had booked us to see the Botanic Gardens’ Christmas light & music display which we had never been to before. It runs every year in December.

The remainder of our time was spent catching up with relatives and friends and a lunch and football match for James on his birthday. I had pondered trying to get some photographs of the torchlight procession which takes place on the 30th but it started to rain heavily just as I got back to the flat so I gave up that idea. Storm Dylan arrived on the 31st and at one point Princes Street was closed to pedestrians as some staging had collapsed. I decided not to go up the hill to photograph the midnight fireworks as the wind was still very strong and I had visions of slipping down the hill in the mud with my camera & tripod. We did see some of the earlier evening fireworks on the way to and from the Candlelit Concert in St Giles Cathedral. It was performed by their choir and Camerata and organist and included Handel’s Dixit Dominus and Bach’s Mass in F, both of which I have sung before and Handel’s Organ Concerto Op 4 No 2 in Bflat. Despite being described as candlelit, there were only a few candles at the front. I must return and have a look round the cathedral at some point as it has seen a lot of history. We decided to stay in on our return and saw the New Year in very quietly. Back home we discovered that the cellar pump had failed and it was flooded but managed to it going again before the storm due to hit us tonight deposits even more water on us.

Winter weather and modern art

It had snowed overnight but not as heavily as in other parts of the US and the UK.
Central Park in snow 5 March 2016 (1 of 1)
It was still lying on the grass in Central Park but the heat of the concrete in the streets was melting it and the flakes that continued to fall until mid-morning. We wandered through Grand Central, which was busy with commuters and then into St Patrick’s Cathedral. It was built in the 1880s but looks like a much older Gothic building from Europe. I was pleased to see that they were happy to let homeless people sleep on the pews out of the cold.
St Patricks Cathedral 5 March 2016 (1 of 1)

St Thomas’s Episcopalian Church had an amazing decorative carved screen behind the altar. We also found the Old Print Shop on Lexington Avenue and purchased two maps from 1660 of the Western Isles which we will have to find wall space for when we return home. One of our tasks for today was to find the marker of the start of the Lincoln Highway which I had read was at Broadway and West 42nd St at Times Square. Eventually I spotted the very small sign attached to a post and which we would never have found in June when we are driving through the city on our way to Philadelphia. At one point on our total of 15 miles around the city, we saw some members of the NYPD Counter-Terrorism Unit near the Rockefeller Plaza armed with guns. Quite why they were there was not obvious but one brave tourist was taking a photograph of them. Police do not usually like that & I have only been brave enough to photograph a sleeping policeman on the floating police station on Lake Tonle Sap in Cambodia. In the late afternoon we joined the scrum sampling the delights of the Museum of Modern Art for free. This happens every Friday from 4pm to 8pm and involves lots of queues. The first, which no-one tells you about and is 300m long when you find it, is outside, to collect a free ticket. You then have to stand in another queue to deposit bags deemed too large to take inside and yet another to have your ticket inspected before you can enter the galleries. It is obviously a popular event and a great way of familiarising yourself with the layout and the collection but if you want quiet contemplation of the works, come at another time and pay your $25. I discovered a Belgian artist I had not known of before, Marcel Broodthaers, who worked in a wide variety of media, including poetry. Here is a work entitled Armoire blanche et table blanche’ painted furniture with eggshells.
Armoire blanche avec table blance MOMA 5 March 2016 (1 of 1)
He used a wide array of different media over the years. Other works were old favourites especially the abstract expressionists such as Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock.
White Light Jackson Pollok MOMA 5 March 2016 (1 of 1)
There was a wide variety of works to see including photography but after a couple of hours it was time to head away from the crowds (who were still queuing to come in) to go for dinner and a more relaxing evening back at the hotel. Part of me is already in the Sierra Nevada as I am halfway through reading a selection of John Muir’s writings that James gave me for Christmas. John Muir was born in Dunbar in Scotland, a very familiar place, and emigrated to the USA aged 11. The paperback I have contains the first two of his books and a selection from the remainder. Today I found a biography of Ansel Adams whose landscape photography I have admired for some time. So I have plenty of reading material for winter evenings.

Sun on the beach and snow on the hills

I love walking and beachcombing in all seasons and as the morning was bright and sunny we decided that today’s walk would be on Gullane Bents in East Lothian. Several people and dogs were enjoying a morning on the beach. Ships were heading out to sea and we could see snow on the hills of Fife to the north. I was wearing my fingerless gloves so that I could operate my camera but they got pretty cold very quickly but I did find some pieces of sea glass to add to my collection and one small scallop shell with barnacles on it.
Gullane Bents 14 Feb 2016 (1 of 1)

Gullane Bents 4 14 Feb 2016 (1 of 1)

Sea glass 14 Feb 2016 (1 of 1)

After the walk, we warmed up in a coffee shop and then investigated the ruined church opposite, St Andrew’s Old Kirk. It was built in 1170 on the site of an earlier Norman church but was abandoned in 1612 as it kept getting buried in sand blown from the beach. The congregation moved to Dirleton and much later, other churches were built in Gullane and are still there today.

St Andrews Old Kirk Gullane 14 Feb 2016 (1 of 1)
We had planned to head south over a B road that passes over the Lammermuir Hills and past the Whiteadder Reservoir before descending into the borders. I could see a lot of snow on the hills and have previously taken some good shots up there so was very optimistic as the weather had stayed dry. Unfortunately the road was closed and had a fairly permanent closed sign so we had to turn round. The alternative route was to cross over to the A68 and then to the A7 via Soutra and were were rewarded by some snow.

Snowy landscape Soutra 2 14 Feb 2016 (1 of 1)

Snowy landscape Soutra 7 14 Feb 2016 (1 of 1)

We had a flurry of snow over the Teviots but south of the border the sun came out again and it was an uneventful drive home.

What is winter?

A couple of days after the most recent storm and I was back on the train to Edinburgh early this morning. The UK now gives severe storms a name and this one was Clodagh. It led to the cancellation of several towns’ Christmas light switching on celebrations. I got very wet last Friday while doing a Street Pastor shift at our local town’s event but was relieved that I had no need to travel any further than there. It is now December, we have had only one night of frost and night-time temperatures of 10-12 degrees Celsius that we would usually expect at mid-day in the winter. I left in the dark this morning and daylight did not arrive until the train reached Preston. At Lancaster, there was a little frost on top of the carriages sitting in the sidings but many flooded fields north of the city. We caught up with the rain at Oxenholme and it stayed with us as we continued northwards. The Clyde had burst its banks in several places in south Lanarkshire. It was still raining when I arrived in Edinburgh and accompanied by the usual umbrella-inverting wind so I rushed past the Christmas market and all the attractions, straight to my bus stop. It is now dry and the sky is clear.

Approach to Edinburgh Waverley (1 of 1)

Reflecting on climate change and all that it means for people living in for poorer people living in low-lying areas and coping with unseasonal weather is very sobering and I only hope the current climate talks achieve something. I have travelled over remote Himalayan passes which were bare rock while old photographs show the road edged with snow even in mid-summer and have been stranded by flooding there triggered by heavy rain which had not happened in summer for 100 years.

The flood in the gorge

I am currently reading Adam Gopnik’s ‘Winter’, the first chapter of which addresses the romantic notions of it over the ages. My childhood winters in Scotland were snowbound and I am easily seduced by some of the romance as a lover of Hokusai’s snowy Japanese prints. Snow scenes are hugely inspirational to the landscape photographer in me (you might have guessed this by the snowy mountains I have as my header) particularly as I experiment with black and white photography. I am also very keen to try macro shots of snowflakes but as the last significant snow was in 2010, I might have to wait a while. In the meantime, snowflakes are falling on this blog, I am singing about the bleak midwinter with my choir and yearning for the real stuff.Here is one of my photographs from the last real winter.

Snow in the Pentland Hills, Scotland

Sunshine, wintry showers and some very bad driving

Winter had returned by Saturday and I had caught the virus James had over Easter so things were not looking good. I had enough energy to keep our lunch commitment that day with friends at the Scottish Malt Whisky Society (while it hailed outside) but did little else for the rest of that day or Sunday morning. We left after lunch and the cherry tree I had photographed on Thursday had now lost most of its petals due to the wind and rain. On the A702 we could see that some of the Moorfoots and Tinto had a covering of snow but the sun was shining and if we had had the time to exploit them, there were several photographic possibilities as we drove past the Pentlands. After visiting a friend in South Lanarkshire (when it hailed again) we were back on the M74 in sunshine. South of the border it began to rain heavily and the traffic began to pick up. Signs began to warn us of delays south of junction 21 and I had pondered leaving the M6 at the M61 and going round the M60 to the A34. James then advised avoiding that route as there was a Manchester City/Manchester United match at Old Trafford that afternoon. We carried on and somewhere near Preston saw an amazingly bad manoeuvre involving leaving the motorway up the off ramp and returning to it via the on ramp. I would have forgiven them had it been an unmarked police car on a job but James pointed out that this was unlikely as it had a personalised number plate. Further south, fields of oilseed rape were flowering in the sunshine. We saw a DeLorean on the back of a truck which looked like it was in the process of being customised like the one in Back to the Future. The warnings about delays persisted so we left at junction 21 and followed the Irlam Royalettes Morris Dancers Bus to the Warburton Bridge. This cantilever bridge always reminds me of some we crossed on Route 66. We paid our 12p and were soon across and on the way home. Just as we were about to leave the A50 we observed another example of bad driving when someone overtook several cars at a crossroads and was very lucky to avoid anyone coming in the opposite direction.Warburton Bridge 1 (1 of 1)

Home through the snow

We left Edinburgh with sun, wintry showers and a rainbow. Sheep were grazing in the fields and most of the snow had gone from the Pentlands other than the top of Tinto. The rivers were high and we spotted a flock of oystercatchers at the edge of the Clyde. Our journey on the M74 was uneventful but across the border in Cumbria I spotted a van emblazoned with ‘The best Marmalade World Tour’ – I was intrigued as a fan of the orange gold and make some every winter. It turns out that the awards ceremony is being held in Cumbria this weekend. I started to notice that vehicles coming in the opposite direction had snow on their bonnets and wondered if there was some snow on Shap. No, there was not but on the southern slope of the pass, we were suddenly had a winter wonderland on either side and snow falling but at least the motorway had been salted. Eventually the snow ceased and were were back to grey skies, sheep grazing in the fields and a murmuration of starlings over the motorway in Cheshire. We passed one car laden with stuff but with the back window missing. I was happy to get home with just enough daylight to check the greenhouse.


Moorlands in winter

A family birthday celebration in Derbyshire and roads closed due to snow dictated our route over the Staffordshire Moorlands and into Derbyshire via Leek and Ashbourne. Driving over in the late afternoon just as the sun was dipping below the horizon and finding a layby just after sunset and where sheep were feeding was a good opportunity for some photos. The return journey was in the dark.Winter landscape Peak Distric (1 of 1)Winter landscape 2 Peak District (1 of 1)Sheep and Wind Turbine Peak District 2015 (1 of 1)

On a winter beach and snow

I love the beach in winter. Quieter and winter storms have often thrown up interesting things for beachcombers. One year we found dozens of starfishes on a beach after a storm. We have the choice of seven beaches between Edinburgh and North Berwick but James’s choice today was Gullane Bents. In winter, the dog can run free and she enjoyed running around, rolling, sniffing and encountering other dogs.
Flora at Gullane Bents 18 Jan 2015 (1 of 1)
Sea Buckthorn was planted on this coast in the 1970s to try and stabilise the dunes. It is not native to this coast and has become a bit of a pest which now has to be controlled but also provides some shelter for wildlife.
Sea Buckthorn at Gullane Bents 18 Jan 2015 (1 of 1)
I found some more sea glass to add to my collection and spotted these fabulous rock strata which will surely inspire some art later.
Rocks striata at Gullane Bents 18 Jan 2015 (1 of 1)
Inevitably it was soon time to head back down south to work but great snow scenes enlivened the route. In the Pentlands, lots of sledging was happening under the winter sun and hill sheep were scraping holes in the snow to find grass. Many a possible photograph passed by which I would have stopped for if we’d had the time. Here are a couple through the windscreen at Beattock on the M74 and Shap on the M6.M74 at Beattock 18 Jan 2015 (1 of 1)M6 at Shap 18 Jan 2015 (1 of 1)

The uplands

Although I awoke to blue sky (and grabbed a photo of the turret of Esdaile and our cherry tree branches against the blue), the clouds soon arrived and the forecast was rain/sleet and snow over 200m. James decreed that this ruled out a beach walk as he did not spend five years in Aberdeen and walk on the beach in all weathers as I did. The second option was varying the route back down south which I am always in favour of. The A68 was the choice and after passing through Pathhead where James did his trainee year, we were soon south of Earlston and spotted the Leaderfoot Viaduct which I did not remember from childhood visits to these parts (we used to go to the campsite at Lilliardsedge). Just north of the campsite is the Monteath Mausoleum which again, I don’t remember.
Leaderfoot viaduct (1 of 1)

Outside the towns there was very little traffic but some great views on the B road from near Otterburn and through Bellingham.

View north of Carter Bar (1 of 1)

We kept seeing Pennine Way signs which is a reminder to walk from Smallwood to Edinburgh, taking the Pennine Way for the majority of the journey. Today we had to pass by. The ubiquitous hill sheep are a potent reminder that these hills would have all been covered in forests before the sheep came.
Nearer to Alston (the highest market town in England) we could see the north Pennines had a dusting of snow and it was by the road as we drove over the Hartside Pass (1903 feet)
Near Hartside Pass 7 Dec 2014 (1 of 1)
and then descended into Penrith, the rain and the motorway home.
Descending into Penrith (1 of 1)

First snow of the winter

Only a few yards from home came the diversion: a traffic cone three vehicles ahead of us and a loose cable flapping in the wind. I did not wait to find out what was going and turned round to approach the motorway via a different route.  The M6 was busy and wet but the forecast of snow above 250 metres was a bit unreliable. Above that on Shap was only sleet but by the time we got to Beattock, snow was falling. At least the traffic was thinning out. One serious accident southbound but no problems northbound. After Biggar, the A702 was like a winter wonderland – several minor accidents and numerous people struggling to drive and a little snow and slush on the road. No accidents serious to require our assistance and eventually we reached our destination. James was not happy to stop and allow photography so here is one from 2010 on the same road.2010 Jan 03 038