30 Jul 2010

Pipes and Drums all summer long (giveaway!)

Forgive my lack of posts lately, but it is about to be a long, festival-filled summer.  Things are gearing up for The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, which is celebrating its 60th Anniversary this year. The show starts in just one week and will run until 28 August.

To kick off the summer the Tattoo has released a new compilation DVD featuring the best of the Massed Pipes and Drums from recent years. We're talking all pipes and drums, all the time (well, for about 60 minutes).

I've got a bit of a heavy bias when it comes to the Tattoo, but then again, so do millions of other people around the globe who love this show.

To make up for my recent lack of posts, I would like to offer a free copy of this new DVD to one lucky reader.

To enter, please leave a comment below and tell me your favourite piece of pipe music. You can also enter by emailing me at scotland4thesenses@gmail.com and including "Pipes and Drums" in the subject line. The DVD will play in any country so this is an airmail friendly giveaway.

Deadline to enter is Tuesday, 3 August and I'll announce the winner 4 August.

Of course if you would like order the DVD and support this fantastic Scottish charity, you can do so here.

Thank you! Tartan loving squeezes for everyone.

24 Jul 2010

The return of Portobello's rowing regatta

Three men wearing flat caps climb into a wooden skiff and begin to row away from the shore. As each man rows, the oars rise from the water at different times, making the boat look like an insect that is scuttling over the calm water.

This weekend the community of Portobello in Edinburgh is reviving a tradition that has been dormant for more than 40 years. Rowing was once a popular past time in Portobello, with regattas held every year. The 2010 regatta is part of the Scottish Coastal Rowing Project, which aims to get people interested in the area’s rowing heritage and bring back the yearly events.
The skiffs, which were built by the teams representing various coastal communities, are beautifully painted have the kind of character this just doesn’t exist in the world of modern fiberglass boats. Seeing them casts the viewer back to a time before the sound of engines and the sight of multi-story buildings, to what we think of as a simpler way of life.
The competition was energetic but always friendly. At the sound of the horn the teams had to row like mad out to a bouy about 400 metres away and back to shore, where the incoming tide made the waves crash against the beach, extending the route a little bit further with every race.

Because of the quaint character value, the group in the flat caps was my favourite, however I did love photographing the celebrating Newhaven team who, using a borrowed skiff from the Anstruther Fisheries Museum, were declared the winners of their race against North Berwick.
This kind of event is the perfect thing to visit on a weekend afternoon, and I must thank my Facebook friend Loragene for letting me know about it.

Everywhere on the beach there were dogs going absolutely mad with the excitement of seeing other dogs and smelling chips and watching Frisbees sailing through sky.

Dozens of children dug in the sand, heaving buckets of water to and from the shore while wearing the tense expressions that kids get when they and only they understand how ABSOLUTELY IMPERATIVE it is to fill the moat of the sand castle before the invading army of stick people has time to strike.

The gulls soared and dove, people waded in the water or dug their toes into the sand, and many more walked along Porobello’s long promenade, stopping now and again at one of the aging amusement attractions for a quick video game or to buy a fish supper.
I caught my favourite photo of the day as I was leaving. I saw these grandparents sitting on the beach with their wee grandson, grandfather and grandmother on either side and him in his own little chair with a matching umbrella just in case the rain that had been threatening all morning decided to fall.

All I could think was that I hoped somehow he would remember this day on the beach with his grandparents and would recognize how intensely wonderful a time it was. Not just another day.
Portobello is one of those places that is still connected to the city but feels like an escape from it all the same. Even when there are no events on, it has a faded charm that makes you feel relaxed. It’s like the place has stopped trying to show off and is comfortable to be known for simple pleasures. Slow walks, greasy chips in paper, tacky games, ice cream, sand and the sea.

I had never seen anything like this rowing regatta before and it was such a pleasant surprise that I dearly hope the tradition will be picked up again for good. The Scottish Coastal Rowing Project is ongoing and more information is available here.

Now you will have to excuse me. I have sand in my shoes.

22 Jul 2010

Breathing space at St. Cuthbert's

It is summer in the city for me. With festival season looming, the daylight hours are filling up with work and thoughts of even more work.

Life becomes about trying desperately to be less jealous of Alex and Bob’s blue sky adventures, and more focused on finding small pieces of breathing space.

There is a beautiful graveyard on the corner of Princess Street and Lothian Road in Edinburgh, which belongs to the Parish Church of St. Cuthbert.

With constant traffic rumbling past on two sides, this churchyard still feels like a tiny haven, a place where nothing has moved for hundreds of years.

In high summer, the sun seeps through the leaves and lands on gravestones flecked with moss and the surrounding carpet of green grass.

On a windless day, if you ignore the sounds from the nearby roads, it can seem like a snapshot of photosynthesis, that pause between moments when everything just stays put. Tiny pollen grains seem trapped in sunbeams like snow in a snow dome and I expect to see the bees suddenly freeze in mid-flight.
Aside from services, the church itself is only open to visitors in the summer months, but the graveyard is open all year. In the winter it encapsulates Edinburgh’s perfect gloom, and in the summer it still retains those precious shadows. It is one of my favourite places in the city.

My other favourite place at the moment is at home, where my Scotsman and I have just passed our second week of shacked-up domestic bliss. It is very, very good.

So just when the days are longest and Scotland is humming with beauty and numerous festivals and activities, my senses are otherwise engaged. I will however be attempting to share the odd post and keep reading about the adventures of fellow blogger whenever possible.

To those who have been reading along with Magnus Magnusson’s Scotland, Story of a Nation: It would seem I have failed you. My intentions were good, however I think I should have started this quest in the autumn instead of the busy spring. I remain hovering around Page 200. Luckily my friend Susan is still ploughing through and is posting updates on her progress. As for me, I will finish - eventually. Forgive me!

10 Jul 2010

A stroll through Alloway for Robert Burns lovers

Human creativity is a remarkable thing. It has the power to reinvent history, to layer a new story over old stones. If Robert Burns had never stood in the graveyard of Kirk Alloway and been inspired to write his famous poem Tam O’ Shanter, the spot would likely have been noted as nothing more than just another romantic site in Burns’ home town.

But he did stand here, and he was inspired. And from his mind he drew dancing witches, warlocks and even the devil himself.

He placed Tam at the edge of the scene, watching until he could not keep himself from calling out with passion for one of the witches. The fires suddenly extinguished and the witch Nannie took up the chase of a very humbled and frightened Tam.

Today this Kirk yard, which in the summer is beautifully adorned with dancing light and shadow thanks to the surrounding lushness of tall leafy trees, is one of the must-see locations for any Burns fan. His father is buried here, and although his mother's name is also marked on the stone, her body is buried in Bolton in West Lothian.
Just down the road, fans can also visit the very house where Burns was born, and where he lived until he was seven. The squat, white washed cottage features the thick walls and small windows that were standard at the time, practical for holding in heat.

None of the original furniture remains, however the rooms have been recreated to some extent, in order to help demonstrate the kind of life Burns’ family would have led.
The parlour is the most inviting room, with its fireplace, spinning wheel and nursing chair, as well as small embellishments like a wooden-handled paddle on the windowsill, an early tool for literacy instruction on which is written the alphabet and the Lord’s Prayer.

In one corner of the small room, hanging above a bed made of wood and a lumpy, straw-stuffed mattress, hang four small night gowns, lit up with white lights. Each night gown is embroidered with the name of one of the Burns children born in the cottage between 1759 and 1764. It is a silent, eerie sight, ghosts from childhood who can never leave the place they first came into the world.
When visiting Alloway it is impossible to miss the Burns Monument, a massive columned work that was built in 1820 and which is situated in the middle of a charming garden.

After that all the beautiful subtleties of the other Burns’ sites, this structure can seem a little brazen and out of place. Burns’ work was often so of the earth, paying homage to the average man of the fields, and the monument doesn’t quite match that tone.
There is so much to see around Alloway, including several other rural sites highlighted on this map from the Burns National Heritage Park.

In 2009, 250 years after Burns’ birth, The National Trust for Scotland began a major redevelopment of the park, which includes the building of a new museum, the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum.

No journey through Ayrshire can be complete without at least a short stop in Alloway. Not only can you spend many relaxed hours wandering a quaint and thoroughly beguiling village, but the magic of visiting an area of such vast cultural importance for Scotland is something that will stay with you for years to come.

5 Jul 2010


“We're now beginning our descent into Edinburgh. You’ve probably picked the worst place to land in the UK at the moment; the weather on the ground is rainy with gusty winds.”

I smiled as the plane moved through bulky, glowering clouds. I had just spent three days being thoroughly toasted in London and Cambridge, and now it seemed Scotland was welcoming me back with a dramatic display of cool relief.

There was no rain when I stepped out of the airport, but by the time the airport bus dropped me at Haymarket, the black clouds heaving into view were so large it made me mumble aloud: “uh oh.”

As I was walking home, it hit. It was like the whole sky was being wrung out and thrown at the earth. For as long as I could stand it I walked on, feeling my jeans and shirt soak through and the drops build up on my face. For some time now I have been welcoming the rain without an umbrella, find it an easy way to experience nature in the city.

When I could stand the onslaught no longer I ducked into a bus shelter, along with a young couple who where heaving with laughter and dripping wet. When it eased slightly they made a run for it and I watched them go, their feet splashing through the massive puddle that the pavement had become.

Aye, it rains in Scotland. The drizzle gives us atmospheric gloom and the storms make it feel like the landscape is rising up to tell its story. Glencoe is stunning on a bright day, but on a grey one, with the low cloud slinking over the ridges of the mountains and the burns pushing their banks, it is even more wondrous.

I have hauled out some of my favourite rain photos that I have taken over the past couple of years. I hope you enjoy them.

  © Blogger template 'Isolation' by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP