Sunday 24 November 2013

Starlings and sheep

Earlier this week we were lucky enough to catch quite a murmuration of starlings just where our lane joins another before it continues up to the main D road. We stopped to watch the arial ballet and listen to the 'woosh' of their wings. They danced in the sky whirling up and then down before swooping to briefly settle on the large oak, electricity wires and harvested sunflower fields before rising up to repeat the whole procedure.

Dancing over the fields
Heading to settle in the tree

Off again
We've also had the sheep 'visiting'. Earlier this year the farmer whose field is on the east side put his sheep out to graze there. This was a 'first' for us as in the three years we've lived here he's just cut the field several times for hay in the summer. A simple single [temporary] wire fence was put up to keep them from wandering.

Sheep invaders
Last week the sheep were back, minus the wire fencing. Niall kept an eye on them during the day. Oddly enough they kept themselves pretty much in the field and hardly strayed over onto our property - just a little bit - for the odd nibble around our trees. The were very skittish and bolted back down into their field whenever Niall went out to the barn or woodshed. However, he did manage to sneak a few photos of our interlopers.

Just a nibble here and there

Friday 15 November 2013

A great watering hole

One of the nice things about being back in the UK is going to a pub; a proper traditional pub with real ale, nice food, no canned music or fruitmachines and a warm welcoming interior. We have several favourites in Edinburgh and usually end up visiting at least one for a meal or drink in between seeing family and friends.

Photos of Cumberland Bar, Edinburgh

This photo of Cumberland Bar is courtesy of TripAdvisor 

Two of our favourites are the Bailie in Stockbridge, where we met a very good friend for a meal and the Cumberland Bar in the New Town where we had a drink after our tour round Arthur's Seat.
great real ales and lovely wood bar
When we got to the Cumberland it was mid-afternoon and very quiet; there were just a few people in. The bar person was able to tell us about the guest ales she had on tap and we also ended up having a chat about the challenge to create a lower abv ale which still retains taste -- something which drivers would appreciate. She had one on tap and kindly gave me a sample. It was lovely and it made a nice change to be able to have a half rather than the ubiquitous diet coke which I usually have as the driver. The pub has recently changed ownership and she was full of ideas of how she wanted to develop the ale selection which changes regularly. The plans sounded good so we hope she realises them.

Back in the late 1980's we lived in Edinburgh and this was one of the pubs we used to visit regularly. Then it was called The Tilted Wig. It has always had a nice beer garden -- a rarity in Edinburgh and thankfully, when it became the Cumberland it retained its nooks and snug as well as the larger room with an open fire which give it, we feel, a lovely atmosphere. The only downside of going to the Cumberland is that it can be busy; especially during the summer. It has a claim to fame as it was immortalised in the 44 Scotland Street novels written by Alexander McCall Smith.

Oddly enough a friend of ours who lives close by to us here in Touraine was also in Edinburgh at the same time. Chatting to her at work after we came back I found out that she too is a fan of the Cumberland Bar and had popped in for lunch while on her visit. Small world :-)!

Monday 11 November 2013

Remembrance Day

Dore Abbey, Welsh Borders, October 2013

Anthem for Doomed Youth

                                            What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
       Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
      Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle  
                                             Can patter out their hasty orisons.
  No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,
               Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—  
                                             The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
       And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

                                              What candles may be held to speed them all?
       Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
                                              Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
       The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
                                              Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
                                              And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
                                                   Wilfred Owen

Friday 8 November 2013

Here be volcanoes

Edinburgh is a city of amazing green spaces and they really define and enhance the urban landscape. Some of the more well known are: the area round the university known as the Meadows; Princes Street Gardens between the Old Town perched on its spine and the New Town; and, at the eastern end of Princes street, Calton Hill, which offers an amazing view over Leith and the Firth of Forth to Fife. Most well known are the more rugged and extremely imposing Arthur's Seat and Salisbury Crags which together form part of a brilliant recreational space called Holyrood Park.

Busy late October afternoon at the bottom of Arthur's Seat
The whole of Edinburgh is built upon the remains of ancient volcanic activity. Arthur's Seat, like Castle rock, is the remnant of a volcanic core, while Salisbury Crags is an ancient igneous intrusion. The hills which have gradually become part of greater Edinburgh, are also a legacy of this volcanic activity.
Dramatic ruins of St Anthony's chapel above St Margaret's Loch. Holyrood Park
These open spaces are extremely popular and actively used by locals and tourists alike. It isn't unusual to see plenty of people walking, jogging or cycling on an ordinary weekday in the middle of the afternoon. Even at the end of October on a day with blustery showers, the parking lot at bottom end of the Royal Mile just beyond the garden wall of Holyrood Palace was pretty full and there was a continuous procession of people climbing up the path to Arthur's Seat. So well used are Arthur's Seat & Salisbury Crags that wardens have to close paths from time to time to allow them to recover from their intensive use.
Dunsapie Loch, round the back of Arthur's Seat. You can just make out a tanker on the Forth beyond.
Edinburgh is perched on these remnants of ancient volcanoes and lava flows because of their strategic value. It is at this point that, to the south, the barrier of the Pentland Hills comes closest to the Firth of Forth and the outcrops form an natural barrier.  From the top of Arthur's Seat you have a fabulous 360 degree view of the surrounding landscape. Even lower down you are still able to see landmarks which are miles away.

View towards Dunbar. Traprain Law [lone hill] in the far distance on the right [17 miles].
Looking east along the south coast of the Firth of Forth towards Dunbar just proves the point.

click on the photos to enlarge

Saturday 2 November 2013

Edinburgh Birthday

While we were visiting family and friends in Edinburgh recently, Niall celebrated his birthday. It frequently falls in the autumn half term break so, as last year, he was able to celebrate it in his home town; much to the delight of his mum.

Naturally a birthday calls for cake and Shona, Niall's sister, bought a great one, entitled "Farmyard Stack". This seems to be a new trend in cakes and we thought it was great fun and probably quite simple for you bakers out there to do something similar if you fancy having a go. Inside was a simple Victoria sponge cake with jam, so apart from the icing it was light, ...... oh and tasty!
Moo, Baaah and Oink - all very yummy!
Unsurprisingly many of the gifts were books and music Niall requested, However, Shona in a 'tour de force' of inspiration found "the" gift of the birthday: a Man Tin!! Brilliant! Niall even forgave her the traditional silly socks--crocodile ones this year!

A fully kitted out Man Tin
All in all we had a super time and it was so good to catch up with everyone! Even the weather wasn't too bad; in fact we had odd moments of sunshine and generally the temperatures were very mild for late October.