25 Sep 2015

inchcolm island

In the middle of the Forth is a wee island called Inchcolm. Actually there are quite a few islands in the Forth, but we're not talking about those other ones today, we're talking about the one I went to on a boat this week. The sun was shining, the wind was blowing, and all my seal pals came to see us (read: the seals I decided to call my pals even though we had never seen each other before, probably.)
hello, seal pal #1

Inchcolm Abbey is a beautiful old building what monks used to live in. As you walk up to it there's an information board that tells the story of a king (Alexander I, I want to say?) who was shipwrecked in the Forth and was taken in by a hermit who lived on the island. After sharing his meagre supply of food with the king, Alexander declared he would build a monastery on the island in what I assume was intended as a gesture of thanks. Given that the hermit was in fact, you know, a hermit, I can't imagine he saw it that way.

"Kind hermit of Inchcolm! To show my gratitude to you I shall build a monastery on your island!"
"Well I thank you, your majesty, but it's really not nec-"
"Monks shall flock from miles around to live on this secluded rock!"
"That's nice, but the thing is I'm a hermit-""
"Monks! Monks everywhere! Monks as far as the eye can see!"
"-like, I live on my own-"
"Yea! No more in isolation shall you live, good man!"
"But that sort of defeats the poin-"

This chap is seal pal #2. He kept bobbing around just off the beach as we walked along it, having a look at what we were doing. Like big blubbery puppies of the sea, that's what they are.
As we were boarding the boat to come back to shore, we noticed the rocks just alongside Inchcolm were inhabited by garden gnomes. I didn't get to the bottom of this one unfortunately.

17 Sep 2015

led astray by fairies in the trossachs

 Boyfriend and I went to the Trossachs for a couple of days where we saw some very impressive hills and my feet got a lot wetter than I normally like them to be while they're still inside shoes.

Doon Hill, the Fairy Knowe, is a wee hill in Aberfoyle where fairies live, they say. At the top is an old pine tree that is said to be the entrance to fairy land, where the spirit of Reverend Robert Kirk is held captive after he wrote his book The Secret Commonwealth which revealed the secrets of the fairies and caused them to snatch him away. He was found dead in his nightshirt on top of the hill on the 14th May 1692, though whether it was really the fairies or some other perturbed party... who knows.

If you walk around the pine tree seven times your wish will come true. If you walk around it seven times backwards - well, best not do that.

The glade up at the top of the hill is strewn with cloutie ribbons and gifts now. When we arrived there in the drizzling rain we realised maybe we should have brought something, but we didn't even have a coin between us (and Boyfriend could not be persuaded to leave his hat.) Then, on the way down off this really very small hill, we somehow managed to take the wrong path and ended up wandering around in the rain for a good twenty minutes longer than it should have taken us to get back. We were squelching by the time we made it back to the car, and I can only assume we were right in thinking we shouldn't have come empty-handed.
 Back at the van we made a wee robin pal and shared some of our bread with him, and in return he posed very nicely for my camera.

 About halfway up the Duke's Pass is the Lodge, from where you can do a number of walks. We only did the shortest one but it turned out to have a few fun things on the way. These mirror people scared the shit out of me when we first came across them. They're eerie things, like ghosts in the woods. Then we came to a tumbling waterfall over which people occasionally went screaming on a zipwire.

The following day I was to be coaxed up to the summit of Ben A'an which, despite the assurances of Boyfriend ("It's really not that high, not compared to the other hills around here") is actually plenty high enough to make a rather physically feeble young woman in an insubstantial pair of trainers still wet from the day before feel a bit like lying down on a rock to be taken away by a buzzard. To make matters worse, the normal path up to the hill was closed due to tree felling and the diverted route (a) started much further away, and (b) was basically swamp land, or as good as after a season of heavy rain and footfall. It was horrendous to be honest, and my already moist feet were moistened tenfold.

When we did at last emerge onto the dry path, it very quickly turned into a getting-on-for-vertical ascent up some crude stone steps. At ten minute intervals for the duration of this climb, Boyfriend would turn to me cheerfully and say "That's the worst bit done! Nearly there now!" and I, delusional or desperate, willfully ignored the fact that I knew he was lying.

We did eventually make it to the top, which I had to begrudgingly admit was worth the effort. The vast blue plate of Loch Katrine laid out to one side, heather-coated moorland on the other. Boyfriend pointed out to me the horned Cobbler in the distance, with a glint in his eye that told me I'd likely be on top of that at some point in the near future too.

10 Sep 2015


 The Huntarian is closed on Mondays, just FYI. We found out the hard way, so here are the things we saw instead of the thing we wanted to see.

In the Kibble Palace is this sculpture of King Robert of Sicily, posing nude with a monkey on his lap. It's based on this kind of long poem by (appropriately enough) Henry Wadsworth Longfellow called 'The Sicilian's Tale' which tells the story of an arrogant king who is impersonated by an angel and forced to become the jester in his own court, with the monkey as his only friend. It's all a cautionary tale about being humble and submissive to God etc. etc. and in the end he admits defeat, gives up trying to claim his throne, and is returned to his rightful place. That's all very well and good, but let's be perfectly honest - the sculpture is best viewed totally out of context, as a naked man with a monkey on his knee for no immediately apparent reason.

2 Sep 2015

big orange moon

Taken on 29th August

1 Sep 2015

the not-fringe

August in Edinburgh means the Fringe Festival, which is fine in moderation but can also dredge up some slightly harrowing things for people like me who have previously soaked up a lot of Fringe atmosphere at close range and now find that true contentment can only be achieved by mostly not being in town for this particular month. These are some of the places I've been and things I've seen this month. It's a no-show zone.

Devilla Forest
 Devilla Forest in Fife claims to be home to a number of red squirrels. I say 'claims' not because I doubt it, but because I didn't see any, so I can't confirm. What I did see were lots and lots of interesting fungi, which was almost as good.

The Pineapple

Weirdly blunt graffito in the porch of the folly

The Pineapple at Dunmore is both an impressive piece of masonry and an entirely purposeless structure that one might be inclined to call a waste of time if it weren't for the fact that it is shaped, delightfully, like a pineapple. You can also rent it out as a holiday let if you're drawn to the idea of sleeping in an enormous tropical fruit.


In the Western Cemetery at Arbroath on the east coast is an ornate and very under-appreciated building called the Mortuary Chapel. I think it looks like it could be The Addams Family's second home in Scotland.

The cliffs of Arbroath are red sandstone (as are most of the buildings in town) which is both very nice to look at and very soft and erodable, hence the interesting structures that line the coast.

This is the Needle's E'e (Needle's Eye) even though it doesn't resemble one in any way.



Balmedie beach, just north of Aberdeen. Every time my mum and I are on a beach together it rains.

New Slains Castle (as opposed to Old Slains Castle) should have been an easy daytrip. The main reason it turned out not to be easy for us was that we were mistakenly led to believe that cars could not drive up to the ruins (which turned out not to be true at all once we arrived there to find a blue Ford Focus parked up next to an enormous camper van). What we did was scramble over to it across the headland, trudging through barely-there paths in the long grass until we came to what can fairly be described as a gorge. To get across we descended into the valley, tore through some reeds that were taller than all of us, then navigated across the estuary. Boyfriend, being of the intrepid mould, bounded across some peaking stepping stones before encouraging me to follow. I made it halfway across before a slip forced me to make a dash for it that miraculously didn't end in anyone getting soaked or a head injury. My tiny wee mum had no choice but to take off her shoes and wade through the water, which judging by the shade of red her toes turned afterwards (passata red) was presumably pretty cold.

Slains Castle itself is nothing all that great. Perhaps at this point I've just seen the ruins of too many castles and now consider anything less than a medieval fortress pockmarked by Cromwellian artillery a waste of time. Slains only lost its roof in the 1930s and isn't all that old really, so it has the vaguely unpleasant atmosphere of the abandoned World War Two buildings on Cramond Island, full of graffiti and beer cans. Still, I'm sure it's seen some really great revelries.

We walked back via the neat gravel footpath that took us right into the village.

 The Aberlemno sculptured stones are some of the most beautiful things you'll see by the side of a road. They're decorated with Pictish carvings and are extremely lovely and interesting. There's also another huge cross slab in the church just a few yards down the way with all different kinds of animals around the cross and a battle scene on the reverse.


A rainbow over the city, as seen from the top of Dundee Law.