29 Mar 2010

Dusting off a literary gem

All day there has been trouble with Blogger and photos not showing up. I think it may be fixed now, but let us pretend that it’s not. Let us pretend there is a storm outside (actually there is. The rain is lashing in from the side like countless frozen kamikaze pilots). Let us also pretend the power is out, the candles are lit, and it is time for a story.

A few months ago some friends of mine in Canada saw a book in a charity shop and bought it for me. First published in in 1991 by Aberdeen University Press, this book had managed to find its way from Scotland all the way to a bargin bin on the West Coast of Vancouver Island.

It is The Land Out There: A Scottish Land Anthology.

This book is a sensualist’s dream and I absolutely love it. Compiled by the late poet and critic George Bruce (1909-2002), it is a treasure trove of poems, memoirs, interviews and stories about Scottish life, the land, the stones, the people. It is the kind of writing and story-telling that my mind wants to climb inside and experience, the way the cold water thrillingly creeps around you when you walk into a northern loch. You can feel it everywhere; that’s what this writing does for me.

There are fantastic titles that lure you into each story. Titles like He Learns about Lifting the Peats (F.G. Rea), Life At The Bu - A Farm in Orkney (Edwin Muir), and The Solitary Crofter (Neil Gunn).

A quick Google search has revealed only a couple of places where one can still buy this book, including Barns & Noble and Bigger Books. They are used and all prices seem to be in US Dollars, which leads me to believe that copies in the UK are few and far between. However I believe many of the libraries around Scotland still possess copies.

If you love Scotland and ever have the opportunity to read all or any part of this wonderful collection, lunge at it. Once you hold this precious book in your hands, make a cup of tea, sit down by the fire, and let the stories float up at you like steam. I know I will be using this book for reference and inspiration for years to come.

The following are two excerpts that I particularly enjoyed:

From Between the Sea and Moor by Iain Crichton Smith:

My house lay between the sea and the moor; which was often red with heather, on which one would find larks’ nests, where one would gather blaeberries: the moor scarred with peat banks, spongy underfoot: blown across by the wind (for there is no land barer than Lewis).

From Walking Into the Past, by Alexander Smith:

Walking into the Interior of Skye is like walking into antiquity; the present is behind you, your face is turned toward Ossian. In the quiet silent wilderness you think of London, Liverpool, Edinburgh, or whatever great city it may be given you to live and work in, as of something of which you were cognisant in a former existence. Not only do you breathe the air of antiquity; but everything about you is veritable antique. The hut by the road-side, thatched with turfs, smoke issuing from the roof, is a specimen of one of the oldest styles of architecture in the world.

Finally, a poem by Maurice Lindsay. As soon as I read it I thought “I know her.” Because this is just how I feel when I get a whole, dreamy Sunday in my kitchen.

Farm Woman

She left the warmth of her body tucked round her man
before first light, for the byre, where mist and the moist
hot breaths of the beasts half-hid the electric veins
of the milking machines. Later, she’d help to hoist
the heavy cans for the tractor to trundle down
to the farm-road end, while her raw hands scoured the dairy.
By seven o’clock, she’d have breakfast on the table,
her kitchen bright as her apron pin, the whole house airy.
Her men-folk out in the fields, the children off to school,
she’d busy herself with the house and the hens. No reasons
clouded the other side of the way she brought
to her man the generous amplitude of the seasons

Not much of a life, they’d whisper at church soirees
as they watched her chat, her round face buttered with content,
unable to understand that for her each moment
rubbed out the one before, and simply lent
nothing for words of their to touch to argument

28 Mar 2010

On the move with Glasgow's Museum of Transport

Just a few years after Kelvingrove Museum was completely revamped and revitalised, Glasgow’s Museum of Transport Technology is set to move to a new location in the Riverside Museum at Glasgow Harbour, overlooking the River Clyde.

Closing day is not scheduled until 18 April, but the last time I was there more than a month ago, the extensive exhibit of model ships had already been closed in preparation for the changes.
The Transportation Museum was born in the 1960s after Glasgow stopped using trams, and it has lived in Kelvin Hall (built 1927) since 1988. Despite the fact that the museum attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors a year, Kelvin Hall no longer does the attraction justice.

The location is nearly perfect- just down and across the street from Kelvingrove, however the museum's entrance faces away from the road and in a somewhat tucked-away position that can still be easy to miss if you don’t know it’s there.
With any big change that deals with historical objects like those in the museum, including trams, old stagecoaches, bicycles, cars, and even trains, there is concern that the same spirit that honours these items will be reinvented in the new location.

There are a few aspects I hope the museum curators seek to rebuild in the new facility, the most dramatic being the charming reproduction of a typical Glasgow Street as it would have been in the late 1930s. From the moment you walk into this area, there are cobbles underfoot, welcoming you to another era. There are shops like the fishmonger and the pharmacy, then the sound of classic cartoons coming from the cinema, and the sight of a milk truck parked at the side, as if the driver had just ducked out to make a delivery. There is even an underground train station platform. The whole scene is an exercise in frozen theatrics and I just adore it.
A few of my other favourite exhibits include the collection of trams from different years, a brightly coloured van that I should very much love to drive, and of course the most gorgeous thing of all: the cherry red gypsy caravan, with all of its detail and adornments.

For Harry Potter fans, the museum also features a car like the one owned by Mr. Weasley. If you look closely, you will see that Hedwig has snuck into the back seat and looks somewhat annoyed that Harry is taking so long.
Farewell celebrations start at the museum on 2 April and end 18 April, when the doors will be shut and the real restoration and moving work begins. The all new and improved Glasgow Museum of Transport Technology is scheduled to open in the spring of 2011.

As they say at the museum, all aboard!

24 Mar 2010

Setting a trail from Dunbar

After everything winter has given to us this year, I feel the need for some kind of offering to spring, a pledge of gratitude to the ribbons of warmth that are creeping into the wind.

Dunbar in East Lothian seems the proper place from which to set out as we head into the season of green shoots and long, light-filled days. It was in Dunbar that the great naturalist John Muir was born in 1838. Muir lived most of his life in the United States, dedicating his time to preserving wild places and in doing so becoming one of America’s most influential environmental advocates.
In honour of his memory and accomplishments, the construction of the John Muir Way was undertaken and the trail now stretches along 45 miles of East Lothian coastline, taking in sandy beaches, wetland habitat, and dramatic rock formations. For day-trekkers, the route has been split into manageable pieces that highlight specific beauty spots and historical areas.

The only time I was in Dunbar it was howling a gale and freezing cold. Yet I knew that if I could just get back there on a clear spring day, I could set myself the task of walking all the way to North Berwick or to Dunglass.
It would be worth starting with a tour of the house where Muir was born, in order to fill your mind with inspiration for the coastline that drew the young Muir towards as life as a naturalist. The house was closed when I was there, so instead I spent a long time beside the lonely ruins of Dunbar Castle, watching the gulls ride the updraft as if it were some gentle hand and not the violent palm that I felt against my ears.
I hated being driven away by the weather, but I still stopped to take one last photo of a fairytale woman and her precious goose. But that was then, and now the buds are pushing out of the tree branches and there are colourful flowers are popping up in every park.

Spring is finally here and we can start shedding some of the fleece layers and venturing out onto the trails. I don't care if it is beaches, forests or mountains, here’s to getting outside as much as possible this season, both for the pleasure of it and as a small token of gratitude to Mr. Muir.

Now everyone give your goose a good squeeze.

23 Mar 2010

Egg cups go to new SASsy home

Emerging from the hat of treats this morning is sas! "So tragic they're magic" is how she described my somewhat wayward choice for this month's giveaway. sas, please email me your address so I can mail them off to you.

Thank you everyone for being so forgiving. My goal for the coming months/year is to find a few sense-loving sponsors to host some of the giveaways, which may save us all from such silliness in the future.

The adventure continues with a new post tomorrow...

20 Mar 2010

This month's giveaway? Eggsactly.

Each month here on Scotland for the Senses, I host a little giveaway. I aim to choose things that are pleasing to the senses and offer a genuine sample of all that is wonderful in this country, so I can share it with someone out there in the world. As a rule I try to avoid things that might plunge us into the realm of the ridiculous and fan the flames of Scottish stereotypes.

But this month, I have failed.

You see, as good as my intentions are, I sometimes fall victim to a feminine impulse that bubbles suddenly in my mind when I see certain things. “Oh, how CUTE!” the voice says. It’s all downhill after that.

Here is the result of such a transaction:

They are wee ceramic kilted egg cups. I think I would have been able to resist if their little feet hadn’t been pointing inwards. But alas, they are now in my possession and looking for a new home.

So this month’s giveaway is more like a search for a volunteer to adopt this little pair, hopefully in time for Easter so at least the silliness can have some purpose.

Anyone wishing to adopt these two egg cups, which will be mailed with great care and a lot of bubble wrap, please leave a comment below or email me at scotland4thesenses@googlemail.com including “I forgive you!” in the subject line. The only people not eligible to adopt are last month’s winners.

The deadline to get your name in the hat is Monday 22 March. I’ll get JP to draw the name on Tuesday so I can mail them off on Wednesday. If the winner would be willing to post a photo of them in their new home, that would make my day.

Next month is the one-year anniversary of this blog. I promise to be on good behaviour when it comes to picking out the treat.
*****This giveaway is now finished. Congratulations, sas!*****

18 Mar 2010

A monument to strength

I have visited Holyrood Abbey twice, the first time in the height of summer but without a camera, and the second on a day so cold my fingers went numb as I tried to focus the lens.

Holyrood Abbey pre-dates the Royal Palace to which it is attached, and since no photography is allowed in the palace, I was restricted to the courtyard and to this once-grand hall of worship.

Below is the courtyard, the green lawn seeming all the brighter surrounded by grey. Walk down the left hand side and at the end of the hall there will be an entrance leading to the abbey. On a cold day the wind will hit you as soon as you reach the turn, making your entire body tense. And on a summer’s day…well, mind your kilt.
The abbey has been a ruin since 1768 and makes me think of a pop-up book that someone has left open on a table. I am posting the photos of the abbey in sepia because I liked the illusion of warmth it gives. To me it makes the stones seem more dream-like, and I am in the mood for such things.
As legend would have it, it was in 1128 when the foundations of this building were born in the heart of a king during a moment of grave danger. Johannes and Gregan from the Barony of Crawford stepped in to save King David I just as he was about to be gauged by a rampaging deer in the forests near Edinburgh. The brothers were knighted and the next year the king founded the abbey. Down the lines the legend spread and even today the crest of Clan Crawford bears a buck’s head and a cross to mark the occasion.

The story reminded me of a painting that hangs in the National Gallery, depicting Colin Fitzgerald about to spear a stag through the head, thereby saving Alexander III of Scotland from its furious attack. Similar tale, different royal. Not the most talented hunters, obviously.
I learned today that there is a chance I will be attending a garden party in London at Buckingham Palace this summer. Should I see a deer trotting anywhere near Her Majesty, I shall cast off my heels, bellow Tutum te robore reddam! ("I will give you safety by strength,” the saying that appears on the Crawford crest) and heave myself in front of it to save her.

She needn’t build me a church. A nice little cottage in Perthshire would do me just fine.

14 Mar 2010

Bothwell Castle: Medieval vision to jackdaw paradise

Imagine that you are clutching in your fist the stamp of your grandest ambition. Imagine raising your fist into the air and bringing it down onto the world, as if to gouge out a pothole in the highway of history. Finally, imagine more than 700 years washing over that stamp of yours, and how those years alter the contours of your once pristine vision.

Once upon a time, Walter of Moray, ancestor of the Murray clan, stood atop a hill looking out over the River Clyde. Up went his fist and down came the mark of his aspirations, to build the grandest castle Scotland had ever seen.
The groundwork was laid in the late 1200s, with plans for a fortress covering 1.8 acres. It began in spectacular fashion, with the construction of a massive circular donjon (also known as a keep), a central tower where the lord and his family could live as well as defend themselves even if the rest of the castle was under siege.
Today it still stands 27 feet tall, but then it was also 20 metres in diameter, with walls five metres thick. It even had its own moat. The genius of its design included a private escape route from the lord’s chamber through to the adjacent prison tower and its external stairs. Also, take a look at the photo below:
Do you see the long pointed hump on the right hand side? The entrance to the donjon is tucked around the corner to the right of that seemingly insignificant structural addition. The architect knew better protection lay in ensuring no battering ram had a clear run at the entrance from the courtyard. There is a greater chance of defence when your attackers are trying to manoeuvre a massive log around a bend at speed.

Inside the keep, the basement was thought to have been used for storage, while the upper floors were used as living quarters. From down here it is easy to feel you are being swallowed up, while above you the jackdaws wheel and turn, flying in circles through open archways before stopping to roost on wide ledges.
Follow me now through the doorway and into the stairwell, an enclosed stone corkscrew that looks deceptively still, like at any moment the rocks will emit an almighty crunch and plumes of dust will detonate from long silent internal gears. Then you need only to stand there and be lifted, like a music box ballerina, into the sky.
Murray’s dream was cut short by the start of the wars of independence, thus beginning the pinball game that saw Bothwell partially destroyed, taken over, rebuilt, partially destroyed again, and so on throughout its history.

It was one of Murray’s own descendants - Sir Andrew Murray - who, after forcing Edward III to hightail it back to England in 1337, reclaimed and then laid waste to his ancestral home, both as a partisan obligation and a wartime strategy.

Enter the Black Douglases and Archibald “The Grim.” Having married Lady Joanna, the wealthy heiress of the Murray estates, Archibald set to work rebuilding the castle in 1362. Archibald’s son went on to expand and alter those additions begun by his father, which included linking the donjon and a new tower house with a massive curtain wall.

Across the courtyard from the donjon lies the southeast tower, and it is thought it was the son who added the flourish of defensive slotted parapets around the top. I love how I see them as something pretty, like an iced fairytale cake turned to stone, when their actual purpose was straightforward and practical.
William Murray’s grand design took another turn when the Black Douglases were overthrown in 1455. Eventually Bothwell was handed to the Red Douglases in 1492, but by the 1600s the medieval fortress was losing its lustre for the family and they dismantled parts of it to build a new mansion not far way. For years and years Bothwell festered and faltered and clung on, before being placed in the care of the state in 1935.

Today Bothwell Castle maintains its dramatic position above the Clyde, and has become a haven for those lively jackdaws. They are everywhere, appearing suddenly from darkened corners and exploding in wild fervour from the tops of the towers.

Nearby there is an extra secret to this place. When you leave the castle, follow the path down to where it meets the trail that runs along the river. Not far from this crossroads is a wonderful tree whose trunk resembles the sleeping face of some magical creature, like something out of a Tolkien novel.

Of all the Scottish castles I have visited so far, none has captured my imagination like Bothwell has. Perhaps it is because it is so very old. Perhaps it is William Murray’s grandiose idea that still blossoms in my mind, all these centuries later. Or maybe it is just the jackdaws trying to tell me something.

9 Mar 2010

Scottish Scones: A valiant first attempt

I must say, I was impressed by how many of you gathered up the ingredients and made Scottish Oatcakes for yourselves. Unfortunately something tells me that my first foray into making scones won’t be quite as inspiring.

The goal was to make two varieties of scone, since there seem to be so many types out there and I needed to start somewhere. Although traditionally scones are round and flat and baked on a griddle before being cut into four pieces, since the magic element of baking powder hit the culinary world, scones are generally baked into the light and fluffy wee cake-like creatures we know and love.

At least all the ones I’ve seen look light and fluffy. Mine were not. No, mine were fairly flat.

The first recipe I used I had fetched from the internet. It called for butter, self-raising flour, caster sugar, a pinch of salt and about 150ml of milk. I raised an eyebrow at the lack of additional baking powder but went with it anyway. Since then I have seen recipes that call for an egg and some that include sour cream instead of milk. There seems to be a division on whether to add baking powder.

I struggled with the dough because it was really sticky, even though I had measured everything out carefully. I ended up having to add more flour just to be able to work with it. Finally I got it to a state where I could palm it out and use a glass to cut the little rounds, but by then I felt I had gone too far with the flour and was worried they would turn out too dry. Then I forgot to wash the tops with milk before putting them in the oven. Oops.

Baked for about 12-15 minutes on a high oven these are what emerged:
The texture inside was lovely and soft and they tasted wonderful, like sweetened, stodgy and moist yet slightly depressed clouds. Added some clotted cream and some gorgeous homemade raspberry jam from the farmers’ market and they became a treat to be reckoned with.
For the next batch it was back to Sue Lawrence and her recipe for porridge scones, which she has adapted from a war-time recipe card that she found. I like the thrifty concept of using up leftover porridge and turning it into a dessert.

Sue’s recipe does not call for butter and just uses the porridge as the binding agent. About 50 grams of medium oatmeal helps bulk them out and give them a homey, rough outer texture. She also uses light brown muscovado sugar and a bit of cream to give them a hint of that porridge-in-the-morning flavour. A pinch of salt and some baking powder and away we go. I had the same problem with the dough this time and added extra flour.

Twenty minutes later, the porridge scones were born and soon I was enjoying one with a bit of butter and jam. These weren’t as sweet tasting as the first ones, and I enjoyed the earthy texture and even the lack of buttery-ness, but maybe that’s because I needed to convince myself of their healthy attributes.
(As a side note, I would not recommend forgoing a proper meal and just eating scones, clotted cream and jam for your tea because you’ll feel like an aging horse dragging yourself into bed. I took all the leftovers to work to save myself from repeating the experience).

I have yet to try Maw Broon’s recipe for treacle scones, which sound delightful, and there are a plethora of recipes to sample on the internet. Overall my first try at scone making was alright, however for something that looked so simple on the page, it just didn’t go as planned. Good flavours, but no lift. No fluff, no puff.

Does anyone know a full-proof Scottish scone recipe? Is there a special technique? What am I doing wrong?

7 Mar 2010

A lesson in light

As I approached the building that is home to Glasgow’s prized Burrell Collection, my first thought was that I was about to waste precious hours of sunlight by going indoors. I could see how much glass there was to the structure, but it still looked to me like some enormous and jagged main course served on bed of flat green fields. I was disheartened before I had even begun.

If only all disappointments transformed into such succulent experiences. Walking through the main entrance and past the shop, I saw to my right the most beautiful hallway - so beautiful that I stood there open-mouthed for a full 10 minutes, letting my eye be drawn away into the distance.

Suddenly all those hours I had spent swooning over the television programme Grand Designs imploded into a single fragment of perception. In that moment, I understood light.
Everywhere I went, light was there: pouring, splashing, sifting through spaces and around corners. Taking nearly all of Sir William Burrell’s more than 9,000 assembled pieces of art and treating each one as if it were on a pedestal. Some doorways are framed with Romanesque arches, while others are clad with warm wood. Here, ornate frames and glass simultaneously separating and connecting two sections of exhibition space while around the corner, a nibble of shadow that gives way to a cavernous room filled with dark furniture.
Obviously most people come to see the collection itself and must be awed by the number of items that this one (very wealthy) man managed to amass during his lifetime. Medieval tapestries, ancient pieces from Rome, Greece and China, paintings by European masters, and elaborately carved English oak furniture, including a four poster bed from the 1600s, the sight of which made me groan with jealous pleasure. But as I wandered through the floors, I knew that this amazing compilation of works would not wield the same power were it not for the complimentary nature of the building that houses it.
The collection was gifted to the city in 1944 and the building was opened in 1983 (praise be to the architects Barry Gasson and Brit Andresen), so obviously this is not a new attraction. However Glasgow residents have every reason to still be bulging with pride at this magnificent (and free!) addition to their city. This vast and varied assemblage of beautiful objects, combined with the subtle genius of this building, gives the Burrell Collection an artistic vigour that will no doubt continue to strike visitors dumb with wonder for years to come.

  © Blogger template 'Isolation' by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP