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Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Am Mòd Nàiseanta Rìoghail / The Royal National Mod 2012

dunoon That time again!  After all the work put in over the last year the choir was off to Dunoon to compete for the Lovat and Tullibardine Shield. dunoon castle house museum

Here are just a few views of the town.  Above is the view from the south end looking towards the town centre, and to the right is the Dunoon Castle House Museum in its rocky gardens.dunoon old pier

Here’s the old pier, left,  and below, is the war memorial and the Queen’s Hall where our competitions were to take place.dunoon queens hall

dunoon highland mary Dunoon is where one of Robert Burns’s paramours, known as   Highland Mary, lived, and here she is, on a pedestal near the museum gardens, complete with feathery headgear at that moment.dunoon seafront

and a view looking north along the coast towards Dunoon suburbs, Kirn and Hunters Quay.

dunoon clyde view This is the view from the hotel we stayed at, looking down the Firth of Clyde.

The Gaelic Mod, as I probably said last year about this time, is the Scottish Gaelic equivalent of a Welsh Eisteddfod , a festival of Gaelic music, song, language and culture, with competitions for young and older!

It’s a chance too to meet friends from other areas, and I’m really quite surprised at the number of people I know in other choirs – and this is only my third Mod!

When Rena, my fellow 2nd alto – there are only the two of us - and I arrived on the Thursday we got tickets to hear some of the rural choirs in their competitions.  dunoon tarbert choir Tarbert choir, conducted by Hilary was a worthy winner.  She and husband Neil - almost hidden in the back row - are cousins of mine, Neil being the one who, several years ago, suggested I join the Lothian choir.  dunoon carloway choir

Carloway choir did well too.  They were the choir who were formed just last year, and although they come from the Carloway district  in Lewis in the Outer Hebrides (Heb-rid-eez) they live scattered over a wide area of the country now, and learn their songs by practising with their conductor on Skype.

Well, in the first competition we sang in, the following day,  we ended up with three choirs below us,  - which sounds great….but wasn’t really!  They all tied at just one point below us!  The L&T wasn’t to be ours either – as we knew it wouldn’t – not when we were competing with the choirs of Dingwall, Glasgow and Islay for example!  Anyway, at least we weren’t actually in last place in either competition.

dunoon mod and benmore 025 On the final morning of the week-long Mod, the choirs, led by a pipe band, all parade through the host town to gather at some large open area for a massed choir sing. dunoon mod and benmore 023

Before long the arena, to the left here, would be filled with singers.  dunoon jennifer carloway

Jennifer from Carloway, right, with  Tarbert Loch Fyne (and cousin Neil with his “blue book” in his pocket) below.dunoon tarbert parade

Here are some of the Edinburgh choir, below……. yes, I do know her!

dunoon edinburgh parade



and here are some of the Lothian choir membersdunoon lothian parade

Rena’s on the right, with Catriona, in the sunlight in front of her.  She’s our Gaelic tutor, who hails from the island of Eriskay, where her family were involved in the real life “Whisky Galore” when HMS Politician ran aground in 1941, carrying a cargo of whisky bound for the United States.  Compton Mackenzie wrote a comic novel based on the event, which was made into a film in 1949. (“Tight little Island” in the U.S. )  Catriona is 91 years old, and still teaches Gaelic.  She reckons she is the only 91 year old still to be earning a salary!

dunoon hilary conducting Here’s Hilary conducting the massed choirs in one of the songs,  the first one in the links below.  It was fun!







And after the sing, and some speeches, everyone dispersed, some for soup and sandwiches in the hall before heading off home to whatever part of of the country they had come from.  Rena and I had decided that as the weather was fine we’d have a visit to Ben More Botanic Gardens before leaving the area, but more of them next time.

Talk again soon.

Friday, 26 October 2012

More Hill House

Now then!  How did I not find this website about Hill House yesterday?  I often do links to “undiscovered Scotland”, but for some reason I didn’t find it yesterday.  However, thanks to Linda, who sent me the link today, you can now see some of the interior of the house!  There’s the cosy library, the incredible shower, the master bedroom, etc. and at the bottom the hall as I described the entry to the house.  Interestingly, the front door appears to be different to the one I came through.  That’s it on the left, beneath a double cubed light fitting.  This is what I wrote……

“You enter a wide passage ….., pass the enclosed staircase .. on your left and fireplace to the right, climb three or four steps to find yourself in the hall.  The stairs lead from this level into this rounded extended tower and turn on themselves to reach the upper landing.”  I should have said “pass the fireplace and then the enclosed stairs”.   See how the memory lets me down!!!

The picture you see on the undiscovered Scotland website of the stairs, is from the top landing looking down into that rounded extension.   In the hall picture you can see from the carpet that the stairs turn to the right.  The wee cubby hole with the almost secret sitting area is right there next to the stairs…..  a great place for the children to spy from, when their parents had guests.  The other area I said the children liked to play in is at the right hand side of the first floor hall or landing.  The stairs are at the other end of this hall, past the dark wood panelling – cupboards behind, I should think.

The furniture in the dining room was brought from the Blackies’ Dunblane home, and was not designed by Mackintosh.  You can see his work in the furniture of the hall, the main bedroom and the drawing room - the one I called the sitting room yesterday!!

Anyway, before I get too carried away, I’m going to finish here.  Enjoy the photos – and thanks again, Linda, for finding them!

Talk again soon.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

The genius of Charles Rennie Mackintosh

It seems I have loads to catch up on, but I may be able to do that during the winter when I can’t get out and about.  In the meantime I have few recent visits to places where I only took a handful of photos. 

hill house helensburgh Not so long ago I visited friends over to the west of Glasgow, and from there I went to look at The Hill House in Helensburgh.  I’m a big fan of Scots Arts and Crafts architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and Hill House is one of his most marvellous designs.  It was commissioned in 1902 by Walter Blackie, a Glasgow publisher, and Mackintosh was not only to design the house but also the furniture for several rooms.   hill house front door The Blackie family moved into their completed home in 1904, and lived there for many years.  It now belongs to the National Trust for Scotland who won’t allow photos to be taken inside, so all I can show you are exterior pictures.  The front door is very typical Mackintosh.  I love it.  You enter a wide passage  with a cloakroom to your left, pass the enclosed staircase also on your left and fireplace to the right, climb three or four steps to find yourself in the hall.  hill house sculpture The stairs lead from this level into this rounded extended tower and turn on themselves to reach the upper landing.  The doorway, left, must  lead to the hall too.

Downstairs, off the hall are the library, the dining room and the fabulous sitting room with its alcove at one end especially for the grand piano.   I would love to curl up in a chair with a book, by the fire in the library.  It was so cosy.  Going upstairs you pass a little intimate sitting area tucked in behind the cloakroom.  There is another similar but slightly bigger seating area on the landing, where apparently the Blackie children enjoyed playing.  Several bedrooms are accessed from the landing, as well as the family bathroom complete with shower cubicle which looked like an instrument of torture but was in fact a modern wonder of its day, all made of pipes and jets to shower one from every direction!

hill house back  The L-shaped master bedroom, along with its furniture and furnishings completely designed by Mackintosh, is beautiful.  Its windows are on the sunny side of the house, and below them the windows of the sitting room, looking out to the terrace, below, and beyond to the garden.

hill house detail

I wish you could see pictures of the interior, but there’s nothing for it but to visit the house yourself.hill house garden shed   I can’t find anything on the internet showing any of the rooms.

The service rooms - kitchen, store rooms, laundry, etc, are all at the back of the house, and the little round building by the steps must be the garden shed.  Were the gardener’s tools stored in here, or perhaps it was an apple store – or both.   Maybe the turret houses the “back stairs” by which the maids could access the upper floors.

I spent the whole of the afternoon in the house not wanting to miss a single detail, but I’d go back anytime for another look!  It’s amazing how you forget the details.

Talk again soon.

Monday, 15 October 2012

More from Northumbria

On our journey down from Scotland to Northumbria, Linda and I decided to detour by way of the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, where in the 7th century a monk arrived from the monastery on the west coast island of Iona, to bring Christianity to the area.  lindisfarne st aiden He was St Aiden, who founded the first monastery on Lindisfarne.  lindisfarne priory and castle The ruins of the much later priory built on or near to the original are visible and visitable on a site to the south of the village, with a new-ish visitor centre alongside.

holy island causeway Reaching the island itself has to be a well-timed event as the way across from the mainland is by causeway over the tidal sands.  There are two open periods each day, and if you choose the right times you can spend a decent time there, though of course you can stay longer in one of several B&Bs or hotels.   lindisfarne high tideYou really do have to be careful of crossing before the earliest and after the latest advertised “open” times as the tide comes in very quickly and stealthily and you can get caught out.  There’s a shed on stilts part way across – just in case!  You’ll be safe, but your car will probably be written off!

lindisfarne house However once you are on the island it is very wander-able, the village being very attractive. lindisfarne house2 lindisfarnen honeysuckleThere are pretty cottages and beautiful gardens that sometimes stray beyond the garden walls, and little corners where you don’t always expect to find something so pretty.lindisfarne cottage

lindisfarne green


.As well as the village and some lovely craft and coffee shops, not to mention the grocery store, lindisfarne mead you can visit the Lindisfarne Mead shop, and pick up a bottle or two of the stuff originally made by the monks, and still produced today, or some of the myriad bottles of Lindisfarne wines, a rather recent innovation.    I just realised these bottles look clear but the mead – made from honey – is a pale honey colour.

lindisfarne castle A shuttle bus runs from the village to the castle built on the highest point of the island, a volcanic feature of the landscape. Originally built in the 16th century it was redesigned in the early 20th century by Sir Edwin Lutyens.  We didn’t have time to visit it or the garden nearby, designed by Gertrude Jekyll but those can wait for another visit.  I’d like to visit the harbour too to see the upturned boats that are remnants of a local fishing industry.   Nowadays they are used as sheds.  Maybe in the spring or next summer I’ll book a few days at a B&B on the island and do some exploring. 

bamburgh castle Further down the mainland coast  at Bamburgh is another castle that you can see for miles.  Bamburgh was the home of an 19th century heroine who along with her father carried out an incredible rescue of shipwrecked sailors, whose ship, the Forfarshire, had gone aground on rocks off the coast.  A museum dedicated to Grace has been set up in the Royal National Lifeboat Institution near to her birthplace and grace darling grave opposite the graveyard where she is buried, the figure being portrayed with an oar lying alongside her.


 painting of grace darling on rescueIn this painting the wrecked ship is seen faintly in the top left hand side, while Grace and her lighthouse keeper father battle through stormy seas to reach the surviving sailors.

dunstanburgh and cow Further down the coast are the ruins of yet another castle, at Dunstanburgh.  It was the largest and most impressive of the Northumbrian castles, built in the 14th century but already largely ruined by the 16th.  I loved this view of it, even if I didn’t get the rest of the castle into the photo!

Along the coast which we explored a little, are a number of small towns, and I have to say I was sure I would remember which was which  Huh!  That’s what thought did!  bamburgh harbourAnyway this is Dunstanburgh Harbour, right,but I can’t remember where the next one is at.  I’ve looked at Googlemaps but can’t pin point it at all You’ll notice the concrete blocks along the beach.  I wrote about those before.  cvoastal defences northumbriaThey were placed all round the coast of Britain in WWII to hopefully prevent enemy tank landings. The next photo was taken at Beadnell Baykite surfing,

where we watched these kite-surfers.  So our short break was almost over.  We were glad we weren’t driving south as the rain of the last few days had caused a great deal of flooding.  Going north was fine, and we headed up to Berwick-upon-Tweed before returning home.  berwick upon Tweed

Berwick is an old Scottish town, that now belongs to England due to numerous boundary changes.  It has changed hands 13 times in its history!  On the right is the old bridge over the river Tweed - the same river Tweed that flows past my windows in Peebles, while the tower rises above the market hall in the town centre.

Strange to think that Berwick in England is further north than Peebles in Scotland – but that’s the way the boundary goes! Pop goes the weasel!  

Sunday, 7 October 2012


Time has raced by and suddenly summer has gone – if it were even here in the first place.  Many would doubt it.  Autumn is already colouring up nicely, and I must apologise for not having been able to find the time to keep up with my blog.   The last few months have been fairly fraught and somewhat emotional, but hopefully things are back on an even keel again now.  Scroll down for my latest post, and thanks for sticking with me.

KGB deals!

No, nothing to do with Russian secret police, but a website offering discounted deals on all kinds of things from household goods to hotel stays at home or abroad.  belford blue bell inn Linda and I have often taken advantage of hotel deals – Harrogate and Oban being two that I have blogged about – and this last weekend we headed off to Northumbria for a couple of nights at the Blue Bell in Belford, very handy for our main reason for the visit  the huge second-hand book shop situated a few miles down the A1, in the old Alnwick railway station.   northumbria, yorkshire,and before 166 That was a wonderful experience and I’m sure we’ll both be back to do it again sometime.  The bookshop is called Barter Books which was first opened in 1991.  barter bks central

It stocks all sorts of books, including old leather-bound tomes to the most up to date paperbacks; novels - historical and contemporary; reference books; coffee table books; children’s books; musical scores; maps;travel guides – old and more up to date….. you name it, they probably have it, and can find it quickly for you, being very organised, a cross between a library and a big High Street bookstore. barter bks reading area As its name implies you can bring in your own unwanted volumes and they will give you a voucher against any purchases you make!  barter bks reading room

Oh to be able to spend a cold wet day there, relaxing in front of a big open fire, in a comfy chair or sofa, just reading!  barter bks cafe You could have lunch or afternoon tea in the cafe – the former station waiting rooms, again in front of a roaring fire.  You wouldn’t need to go anywhere else all day!!!

We certainly spent a few hours there, Linda ending up with two large carrier bags of books to take home!  contour road bookI was more aware of the books I should be sorting out at home to bring here next time, and only bought three books, reference type books at that, as I still have a huge pile of novels to get through before I buy any more!   One of the books I bought was The Contour Road Book of Scotland – originally compiled by my great-uncle Harry, and revised in later years by my dad – in beautiful condition, complete with (a slightly shabby) dust cover.

Well worth the trip to Northumbria, just for the bookstore alone, but there was more to see, as you will see next time!