To Cumbrae and back through the Scottish borderlands

Last Monday we left our home near Berwick and drove over the country to the Scottish west coast, roughly on exactly the same longitude as our home in England. It has always fascinated me that we are so close, have so much in common … and yet are so different.To our delight, whilst English Berwick on the east coast was bitterly cold, Cumbrae, in Scotland on the west of the UK, was sky-blue – shorts and sandals weather! We waited for the ferry to take us from Largs to the Isle of Cumbrae.Our visit to the Isle of Cumbrae was prompted by my wish to visit West Kilbride and some very talented Scottish craftswomen there.  Stephen was tasked with finding us somewhere to stay in the locality … and he came up with the College of the Holy Spirit, which adjoins the Cathedral of the Isles on Cumbrae.These establishments were designed by William Butterfield in 1851, at the request of the 6th Earl of Glasgow, George Frederick Boyle. Boyle was an enthusiast of the Oxford Movement, believing in the reinstatement of older Christian traditions.  He wanted the College to train priests for the Episcopal Church – perhaps like the men enjoying the College grounds in this old print below.Alas, Boyle, an enormously generous and devout man (he was also pouring money into the building of Perth Cathedral at this time) depended too much perhaps on divine providence – Dominus Providebit (God will provide) is the Boyle family motto – and went bankrupt in 1885.Luckily the College Chapel had been consecrated as Cathedral for the Scottish Episcopal Church United Diocese of Argyll & The Isles in 1876, so the Diocese was already responsible for these buildings.

The Cathedral Spire towers over the island, even when glimpsed from the hills above.We first glimpsed it through the trees. You get an idea of Butterfield’s original concept from this drawing that appeared on the front of “Butterfield Revisited”, edited by Peter Howell and Andrew Saint, and published by the Victorian Society. The Cathedral stands proud, surrounded by manicured lawns, with a young avenue of lime trees.That’s not how it is now!  The Diocese may have funded the Cathedral buildings, but there was no money to pay for garden upkeep.

By a magical transformation, those uncared gardens have become wild and more beautiful than one could imagine. Trees have grown up everywhere – the lime avenue is enormous. Underneath the trees, are masses and masses of flowering ramsons (wild garlic).The fine lawn banks host bluebells as well as the ramsons.I do so hope George Boyle is not turning in his grave as he contemplates the changed garden!  He is indeed buried here – in the large flat tomb in the foreground of this picture. He must have loved this place very much. It is extraordinary to find such buildings on such a tiny island. Butterfield’s vision of this small group of buildings is harmonious and elegant.  Here you have the windows of the Lady Chapel, the Cathedral and the Refectory – all varied in pattern and size, but united in stone and form. And look how very deftly Butterfield has highlighted the Cathedral window with the descending dove of the Holy Spirit above it.We stayed in the North College which had once housed the choristers. Our room was the upper left hand window, set amidst the tiles.  We had the place to ourselves for the first couple of nights, and after that only another couple came and stayed at the other end of the building. It was extraordinary!The rooms are called after Christian virtues.  Ours was Fortitude ……hmmm.Inside was all dark wood and heavy carving. The corridor …The fireplace in our bedroom ….. huge and cumbersome!The common room …What I didn’t like was the inside of the Cathedral.  It looks OK from here …But once you go up into the Chancel, you get tile madness!  I don’t care for the Victorian tones of green and brown anyhow, but, that to the side, it looks to me as though some student was told to see what variety of patterns they could come up to fill the space available. It’s truly tile pattern madness!Sometimes we joined Warden Amanda and Lay Chaplain Alastair for morning and evening prayers – quiet and peaceful, though the Scottish rite (just slightly different from the Anglican one we know) caught us out a bit …Outside the calm inner sanctuary lurked danger … In the evenings we explored Millport.  I don’t think the authorities meant us to take this image away with us ….And we chuckled at this …..There are lots of boarded up properties round Millport, looking just a little bit sad and unloved … Masses of rabbits everywhere … (not an easy place to be a gardener, I guess) …Including several black ones (or was it the same one and it just got round a lot?)  …After our evening walks, we went back to the College and lowered the ecclesiastical tone, sitting in the warm, evening sunshine with a bottle of wine …The road round Cumbrae is perfect for cyclists of all ages.  This looks like a 1960s group setting out to enjoy a bicycle ride en famille.You can hire all sorts of cycles …We hired two quite ordinary bikes to get round the island.  This was extremely brave of me since I haven’t been on a bike for well over 15 years.  It was a glorious ride, and despite much moaning on my part (the seat was horribly uncomfortable), it was a wonderful experience.Picnic lunch and an opportunity to enjoy the view of the islands of Bute and Arran (grey and lowering in the far distance).I don’t think I have ever seen a war memorial as powerful as this. It is dedicated to the men and women of the British and Allied forces who have no known grave.After our bicycle tour of the island, we spent a couple of days on the mainland about West Kilbride. I got to do the workshop that I have longed to do for so long with lovely Lorna of Chookiebirdie.  We spent an entire day sewing together …. Oh, just look at this sewing heaven!Lorna was teaching me to make paisley botehs like these ones of hers.And I was so thrilled with what I made that I have only just stopped carrying it round with me!Another day I finally got to visit Old Maiden Aunt’s yarn shop in West Kilbride – somewhere else I’ve longed to go to for ages! So many gorgeous colours.  And we got to peak into her dye studio too. As an amateur dyer, it’s fascinating for me to see her professional systems – though perhaps the multi-coloured spatters behind the pots is the give away that Lilith herself might not call it that …I have to confess that I find yarn buying overwhelming.  I may have decided that I am going to make a green scarf, and need green wool, but when I see the yarns available, all my carefully thought out plans go awry.  This is what we came away with – all lovely stuff, but not a lot of green, and certainly not the grassy-greens I had in mind …At the Barony in West Kilbride we found an amazing exhibition of Radical Craft. Doesn’t this Landfill Tantrum by Pinkie MacLure just say all you really long to say about waste and rubbish and pollution?!!Who could not love Rosemary McLeish’s What I Do When I Don’t Do The Ironing ?! Dedicated I think to all those who hate this chore …But the pièces de résistance for me were these two works paying homage (as it were) to Angus McPhee.  They were both made by Joanne B Kaar – the boots are copies of Angus McPhee’s orginal boots (those too fragile to be exhibited now) and she made the hats in the spirit of his work. I came upon the story of Angus McPhee from Donnie Monro’s song, Weaver of Grass.  As far as I can see the pop song world is dominated by mostly saccharine love songs, so  it amazes and delights me to hear such a glorious song about a mentally ill man. Perhaps it is really a love song in another guise …..

Time then to say goodbye to the little Isle of Cumbrae. The weather was changing as we headed back to Largs …On to sunny Sanquhar – another place I’ve wanted to visit for a long time because of their famous knitting designs.  The little Tolbooth Museum there is a gem …Holding information about and examples of lots of historic Sanquhar knitting patterns …..We were also interested in the displays there about the local brickworks.As it happens, we have a small collection of lettered bricks.  This started with us finding them on our local beach at Spittal.  There is an entire history of northern English and Scottish collieries and brickworks to be revealed from those names.  Luckily the lovely museum attendant at the Tolbooth Musuem knew just where to send us!And so we found ourselves quite unexpectedly rooting around the old Sanquhar brickworks.There were the sad remnants of the buildings ….And we found a brick or two …..Most poignantly, Clarks Little Ark, an animal rescue shelter at this site, have constructed a memorial wall of the old bricks for those dear ones they have lost.Finally our last stop in Sanquhar, the Euchanfoot B & B – and, yes – would you believe it! – more bricks!  (along with a very comfortable room and delicious breakfast).Norma, our lovely hostess, explained that the collapsed old mill buildings which stood at the end of her garden were now just a pile of local bricks.  So there we were, brick-foraging again ….Time to go home – perhaps crawl would be a better description for our heavily-brick-laden car. The weather got nastier and nastier as we travelled up through the Lowther hills …Still extraordinarily beautiful ….We had decided to travel back via the source of the River Tweed, high up in the Lowther Hills. There, masked in the mist and murk, we found this sign. From this point, a tiny stream and all the little tributaries that run into it flow eastwards to where it meets the sea on Spittal beach.This is an iconic spot to many (including us) because it is a great river. Appropriately there is a finely ornamented stone, incorporating words that speak off the Tweed: “it is one of Britain’s cleanest rivers …”Sadly, it was not a clean site.  The rubbish was disgusting and a terrible reflection on lazy, casual visitors. I have an uncomfortable idea that people feel they have license to behave so because Dumfries and Galloway council have not provided a litter bin ….Oh dear, what a negative way to end a great holiday!  So I won’t.  As we travelled through the Borders, the sun shone through the damp leaves, and we slowed down to enjoy the wonderful countryside …. and an antique Rolls Royce … Festina Lente!

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A London walk

I found myself in London last Sunday and at a loose end.  “A loose end, in London?!” I hear you say. Well, yes.  All my family and friends were otherwise engaged, and it was far too nice a day to be inside a museum or art gallery. An exceptionally beautiful day with piercing low winter sun, perfect for a walk –  just icy, icy cold!

There is no doubt that London is a fabulous place to walk.  Everywhere, at every spot, every corner, there is something or other interesting, if not beautiful, to see.

I caught a bus from Mornington Crescent (the 88, should you ask – that which remarkably my very proper grandmother would call the Bastard since it was always a tardy bus) and alighted at Westminster Abbey.westminster-abbeyFar too busy and crowded (and expensive – £20 to go in!!!) for me, so I walked on to Victoria Tower Gardens on the Embankment, through the respectable streets around the Abbey.  They speak of another age.  Ordinand House with its wonderful plaque of sheaves and fruit trees above the old entrance – perhaps speaking of the spiritual bounty the ordinands were expected to glean, or possibly marrying in with the road name, Abbey Orchard Street …ordinand-houseRemembering my late mother-in-law, Betty, who was a strong supporter of the Mother’s Union as I walked past Mary Sumner Housemary-sumner-houseThe plaque marking Westminster Public Baths and Wash-houses is a memory of a far-forgotten time when people in this now-affluent part of Westminster did not all have their own proper washing facilities.westminster-public-baths-plaqueA marvellously vivid illustration above this building of athletic swimmers and lithe divers promotes the facilities.detail-of-public-bathsI came out into the sunshine and trees of Victoria Tower Gardens, a small patch of green, right beside the Houses of Parliament and running along the Embankment and the River Thames. A freezing, freezing cold day, but this couple were taking their wedding photos here … interestingly, not with the Houses of Parliament or the Thames as their backdrop.wedding-photos-in-front-of-parliamentNo, this was their backdrop, looking further down the gardens to the Buxton memorial. Magical light and shade.victoria-gardensBefore I walked on to the Buxton statue, I had to pay proper respect to the wonderful Rodin sculpture of the Burghers of Calais which most appropriately sits right under the Houses of Parliament – a constant reminder to our politicians of Mercy, Courage, Dignity, Generosity, Altruism.

The original of this statue is, of course, in Calais. It marks the deliverance of the 6 Burghers of Calais from the rage of the English King Edward III (a ruthless king, if ever there was one).  In 1347, his siege of Calais continued to the point where the citizens were starving.  In desperation the Burghers offered their own lives to Edward, if he would spare the rest of the citizens of Calais.  He agreed, and here are the noble and immensely courageous 6 Burghers.  They are weary, beaten, hungry – starving actually.  They have nooses round their necks, and the one on the right carries the enormous key to the town of Calais.

However, Edward’s Queen Philippa heard of their action and asked her husband to show mercy and spare these men.  And he did!

These statues never fail to move me.rodins-burghers-of-calaisTurning my back on Rodin’s statue, I walked along the embankment to another powerful landmark: the Buxton memorial. This little tower marks a defining point in history – the emanicipation of slaves in the British Empire in 1834.  It was commissioned by Charles Buxton in memory of his father, Thomas Fowell Buxton, who along with Wilberforce, Macaulay, Brougham and Lushington fought for the abolition of slavery.

But this memorial means so much more to me than just historical interest – it takes me straight back to my childhood, when we would come and play here. Later on I used to bring my own children to come and play in this park. There are drinking fountains inside (or used to be – they don’t seem to work now), and we children had a lovely time running around and splashing here.buxton-memorialTime to say goodbye to the beautiful beautiful Thames …view-over-the-thamesAnd Lambeth bridge glimpsed through the trees before I turned down Horseferry Road to our little family home – of many, many years – in Maunsel Street …horseferry-bridgeMy father was a diplomat so he travelled all his working life, and, of course, his family travelled with him. But very early in my life, back from a stint abroad,  they moved to a small house in a quiet little Westminster Street. In the ups and downs, and moves and travels, nothing is quite so evocatively stable in our family as this house. Maunsel Street.london-home-maunsel-stWe arrived when I was eighteen months old, and before long I had a little sister.marian-in-pram-1957And in another couple of years, a little brother too. Although I love this picture of my mother looking through the front window at her chubby baby, I find it quite extraordinary that my mother would park the baby outside the house!henry-in-pram-1959Perhaps it was because there was no room inside? The house was teeny tiny for our growing family, and doubtless we all got on each other’s nerves at times. Probably best when we children played our games in the little garden at the back.playing-in-maunsel-st-garden-1962There were family gatherings in the garden too.  Here we all are, smartly turned out with the grandparents, for my brother’s christening in 1958.henrys-christening-party-1958We were still there in 1962, in the freezing cold of the winter of the Big Freeze.snow-in-maunsel-st-1962Inside it was very cold too – no central heating, of course.  My mother would turn the cooker on and leave the cooker door open to get heat into the icy little kitchen.  They made us an indoor play space by covering over part of the outside yard.  There was even a sandpit under that playpen. Judging by this photo, we appear to have played there happily and biddably, even though it was always cold.  I remember that heater so well – indeed, I think it was only thrown out a few years ago.  And those are my father’s geranium plants on the shelf.playing-in-conservatory-early-spring-1959In later years my parents travelled abroad again for my father’s work and eventually settled in Kent.  Our last time staying in the Maunsel street house as a family was when I was about 14, and it was a real squash with 4 big children. However, my step-grandfather’s early death meant my grandmother was looking for a smaller home so she came to live here when we left for Kent. She was a great gardener, and that is reflected in the photographs of her time there. No room for perambulators here now!!Dordy wearing batik dress 1971Through my teenage years and early twenties, I often stayed here with my grandmother. I look very smart, don’t I?! But, after all, I was staying with my grandmother …katherine-outside-maunsel-st-1973Other family members passed through – here are my father and brother en route for a French bicycling holiday in the 1970s …rhe-henry-1975After my grandmother’s death in 1980, my youngest sister moved in and lived here for quite a long time.  I would visit regularly from Devon with my two young children.november-1991-half-term-visitThere were children playing in the freezing cold conservatory sandpit again…katherine-james-helen-in-conservatory-1986Eventually she married and moved out, and another sister and her baby daughter moved in.marian-louisas-first-birthday-1995Another child playing in the conservatory and garden – looks a bit warmer here, thank goodness!louisa-playing-in-maunsel-st-conservatory-1996The garden is abundant and lush, quite different from what it was when we first lived there …louisa-playing-in-garden-1996And – suddenly – that was it.  This little house had been a wonderful central London home for so many members of the family for so long, but there came a time when nobody wanted to live in it.  So, with not a little sadness, in 1996, my father decided to sell it. Happy memories – ups and downs, of course.  But happy memories.

Keeping us quiet as small children meant lots of walks.  When we weren’t walking to Victoria Tower Gardens, we visited St James’ Park, so that is where I went next on my walk, rendezvousing with my sister.meeting-my-sister-in-st-james-parkThe park was absolutely at it’s best, looking magically beautiful. Icy, icy cold – if you look carefully you will see the birds are standing on the frozen lake.icy-waters-at-st-james-parkbrids-at-st-james-parkThe highlight of our walk was the pelicans. Pelicans have been here since 1664, apparently a gift from a Russian Ambassador! They are very friendly, probably because they are also very greedy, and with lots of tourists about hope to get lovely treats.  Which I expect they do – even though there are plenty of signs forbidding the feeding of them.pelicans-in-st-james-parkFamily photos record trips to the park in the 1950s. No London Eye in this photograph.st-james-park-1957In 1959 we visited the park with our fascinating and very dashing American uncle.  He had a Rolls Royce – oh, we thought him so cool (not, of course, the phrase we would have used then).  Did he drive us all to the park in the car?  I don’t remember, but I guess he must have.  What amazes me is the casual way he has left the car in Birdcage Walk.bow-with-his-rolls-royce-1959 We all crowded round to be part of the next photo., but judging by the expressions on our childish faces, we were a bit fed-up.family-with-bow-rolls-royce-1959Then we went off to feed the birds – looking a bit cheerier now …feeding-the-birds-st-james-park-1959In later years, when staying with my younger sister with my small children, we would also come to St James’ Park to feed the birds …feeding-the-birds-1986I walked on from the park up Clive Steps.  Nothing says Empire like this. There is Robert Clive, commonly known as Clive of India, imposingly placed between these magnificent buildings of colonial rule.clive-of-india-statueBut stop – there’s something new here that I haven’t seen before.  Justifiably surrounded by young tourists – because it’s a most touching and beautiful memorial, is this wonderful globe covered all over with doves of peace.birds-of-peace-on-terrorism-memorialThe script on the circular stone behind explains. In memory of the 202 innocent people killed by an act of terrorism in Kuta on the Island of Bali, Indonesia on the 12th October 2002.terrorism-monumentThen on,  up the Clive Steps, through King Charles Street.  Here’s the entrance to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office where my father once worked.foreign-commonwealth-officeIt’s not the same entrance, but here are my sister and I, having accompanied him one Saturday for some reason I forget, sitting outside the Foreign Office (as it was called in 1959).K & M FCO 1959Farewell ancient memories, distant times! “The past is a foreign country.” The present beckons. Time to return to reality and walk on to Whitehall where I can catch a bus back to Mornington Crescent!

Another London visit

Just over a week ago I was in London – busy, bustling, exciting, varied – so much to see, so much to do. I love visiting London, love the excitement, the endless small details of interest, the big statements of serious important world-changing matters in one of the largest cities in the world.

A visit away is always unsettling – even the kits feel it. Eggy seems to think that if I can take Northumbrian heather to London, I could take her too.eggy-in-my-suitcaseIt was nominally a visit to see family and friends.  To visit my nonagenarian mother (92!) in her Surrey nursing home …selfie-with-my-motherAnd sit in the autumn sun on the bench marking my father’s life …rhes-benchThis London trip was different because both my children have moved to areas of London that I don’t know at all, and for one who hates using the Underground like me travel round London is always a challenge!

My daughter’s bedsit was the easier visit because it’s at Mornington Crescent, within walking distance of King’s Cross station where I’d arrived. These tall houses remind me strongly of those at Earls Court where I used to live in the 1970s. helens-flatThe building on the right in the photograph above is the back of the amazing Carreras Cigarette Factory (now the London headquarters of Asos).front-of-asos-headquartersThis is just the sort of the thing I love about London – the serendipity of discovering fascinating buildings, and architectural detailing everywhere.  Black cats were part of the Carreras branding, and if you look carefully, you will see them right high up over the windows. I would love to see what it’s like inside.cats-all-over-the-asos-buildingHer little flatlet allows for window sill picnics …candlelit-window-picnicAnd there’s just space for Mum to tog up before gadding about London.togged-up-for-london-selfieThe highlight of my visit with Helen was a trip to the Victoria and Albert museum.  I used to visit regularly, but for one reason and another haven’t been for many years.  We are watching ITV’s Victoria which is a lot of fun even if I doubt some of the nineteenth century veracity.  A major theme is Albert’s struggle for some sort of role, and with this in mind, I was amused to see on the entrance façade that Victoria is very much in the senior position.  She – with orb and crown and sceptre – stands high over the entrance; Albert – a mere mortal – is far below over the main door.v-a-museumThe great delight again with a museum such as the Victoria and Albert museum is the serendipitous treats all around. Look at the marvels of the design of the original building here – that stucco, those arches, a rotunda above – coupled with a magnificent mediaeval altarpiece – and to crown it all a striking piece of modern glass.  v-a-at-its-bestSo much good to see that you don’t really know where to start.  I had it in mind to visit the glass gallery after reading LittleLollyTravels blogpost London Baby! some while ago. On the way to the glass we were seduced first by the tins …fancy-tinsWhat a particularly desirable biscuit tin this one is!literature-tinAnd then the metalwork … metalwork-from-castel-henrietteThis fantastically snakey green wrought iron piece is a window grille from Castel Henriette, designed by Hector Guimard.  Sadly, Castel Henriette has been demolished, but if you travel on the Paris Metro, you can see more of Guimard’s metal designs at some of the entrances.  What chance that this lovely piece ended up in the V & A?!!
castel-henrietteThe glass gallery – when found – was indeed a treat.  From the 1969 sculpture “Lollipop Isle”, designed by Oiva Toikka for Nuutajärvi glassworks …lollipop-glassTo the dawn of the twentieth century  with these exquisite German drinking glasses (I posted this picture on Instagram and everybody declared the crocus glass on the left to be their favourite – I wonder which is yours?) …german-wineglassesTo the nine earlyish Egyptian or perhaps Iraqi fragments of glass, dated to sometime in the 7th – 12th centuries (this case contains lots of fascinating treasures, generally Middle Eastern glass, of the same period) I am blown away by the pattern on these glass fragments …glass-fragmentsOnly a snapshot of what we saw, but there is really no way to justice to this remarkable museum.

My London travels then took me (very bravely by Underground – buses would have involved hours of travel) to Walthamstow where my son now lives.  His cottagey terraced house couldn’t be more of a contrast to the mansions of Mornington Crescent.walthamstow-terraced-house But nice detailing still mostly unspoilt (despite the conversions to modern windows), and I think William Morris would have approved.  Walthamstow is very much William Morris’s place. What a way to improve a car park!william-morris-wall-paintingHe grew up in Water House, and this fine building is now the William Morris museum.water-house-william-morris-museumMorris is intriguing because he defies fashion with an enduring appeal.  He was enormously popular in his lifetime, of course.  In my youth in the 1970s, he had a comeback, fitting in with the hippy vibe rather well.  And now, he seems to be all the rage again – check out this article on New York Fashion week!

So, all the patterns are very familiar – either I’ve had furnishings made of them sometime in my life, or known someone who did.  Part of the fun then in the museum was looking for old friends.

It was also intriguing to see how the designs were created. Here’s the Trellis design, both in its raw design state, and as a completed wallpaper print.  We know this 1862 print as Morris’ first design for wallpaper, but, in fact, it was Philip Webb who drew the birds.  Without them, Morris’ rose trellis would be somewhat lacking. I hadn’t realised how collaborative these designs were.trellis-wallpaperPleasing details in the museum included these oak drawers – beautiful smooth action, and look at those leather handles.  I’m sure William Morris would have liked these.drawers-in-morris-museumAnd I was glad to see the museum had fully exploited the fine patterns at its disposal with Morris prints decorating their very superior toilet facilities.william-morris-patterns-on-toilet-doorsmorris-in-the-toiletThe gardens of Water House are now a public park under the care of that rare species (nowadays) a park keeper.back-of-water-houseWe decided that it was the work experience student who was helping with the planting earlier this year and that is why some beds are surrounded with silvery grey foliage and others are not.something-wrong-with-the-plantingLike the visitor from Peru, I cannot praise this museum too highly – if you are in London, check it out!william-morris-galleryIn complete contrast to the sumptuousness of the V & A and the William Morris Gallery, I paid a visit to the Wellcome Institute to see their Bedlam exhibition.  I’ve been there several times before – it’s a most convenient gallery to visit if you have time spare while waiting for a train to leave King’s Cross railway station (just a little further up the Euston Road).  There is a fascinating permanent collection of medical curiosities from the past, and some most interesting modelling of modern problems like obesity.

But I was there to see an exhibition on Bedlam, the infamous London mental asylum founded in the 1700s.  Well – that was the starting point of the exhibition, but it continued to examine attitudes to mental health in the years up to the present, as well as focussing on art associated with mental health.

The exhibition was very crowded – lots of students making notes busily.  By chance I became separated from my friend. People swirling round me as I looked and looked for a familiar face in the crowd.  Suddenly, I realised how cleverly the exhibition was structured to give an impression of the helplessness of the inmates of an asylum. A deeply thought-provoking exhibition.bedlam-exhibitionSuch a brief visit – lots of interest, company, catching up with family and dear friends. I have now returned to the big skies of a very autumnal Northumberland …autumn-colours-in-the-gardenStill plenty to do in the garden …homely-choresThe farmer and seagulls are busy too …big-skies-and-harrowingWorking long and late into the night …farmers-working-late-into-the-nightHow incongruously different Northumberland seems from London!

Missoni exhibition

Earlier this week, I travelled to London to see the Missoni exhibition in the Fashion and Textile Museum.

I love this museum.  Founded by Zandra Rhodes in 2003, it starts and finishes with bold colour. No better place to house the Missonis’ exuberant creations.Fashion and Textile MuseumInside, the exhibition announces itself within a painting by Ottavio Missoni himself …Exhibition front… and then you are led through a corridor lined with paintings that inspired the Missonis and set the tone for their work.  (Here are just a couple of those pics as examples – and please bear with me for the poor photography, light flashes etc throughout this blogpost – the conditions were not conducive to the camera!)

I wasn’t surprised to see that Ottavio loved Sonia Delaunay (her 1936 Senza Titolo here).Sonia Delaunay - Rythme couleurAnd Gianni Monnet’s 1946 rich and textured Costruzione also sits well with the Missonis’ work.Gianni Monnet - CostruzioneFrom the corridor, you step into a big, dramatic room.  First thing, you notice the mannequins.walking into entrance hallAnd then you take in the huge patchworks of knitted pieces hanging …huge patchwork in entrance hall…  all around the room. large patchworks in entrance hallThese are the most stunning pieces, and, best of all, it’s possible to get up to them quite closely to study the construction. They really do appear to be sewn together, but aren’t lumpy at all.more patchwork knittingNow back to the mannequins – they are amazing – where to look first?  The purple short jumpsuit, perhaps?  I read elsewhere in the exhibition that Ottavio Missoni considered purple a wonder colour because it went with everything.  That’s quite different to my thinking, so gave me pause to reflect.  What is really striking in this garment, of course, is those patterned hexagons on the jersey top.purple jumpsuitWhat about the elegance here?!  Those fluid lines with the extra black gore panels so perfectly inserted, and the skilful way the pattern sits on the body!  What a gorgeous and flattering dress to wear!amazing drape in the side panelsSuch an interesting dress here – the construction!kniting shaped to bodySurely my machine-knitter husband could copy some of these for me?!knitted skirt - inspiration for stephen .Trademark Missoni zigzags here!trademark use of zigzagJust take a more careful look at that dress glimpsed behind the zigzag pant suit – it’s actually mostly made of unconnected threads.  You’d have to be an Elizabeth Hurley to wear this dress.a dress made of stringHere’s one of my favourite garments, – this gorgeous multi-coloured, multi-patterned coat.my favourite coatOr is it?  There’s that red dress – right at the top – that I really like.  Can you see the one I mean?still trying to see red dress at the backStill trying to see more of that red dress … but now we come to one of the faults in this exhibition – you couldn’t see the the back of the whole display properly, nor could you see the backs of the individual garments.  trying to see red dress at the backWould anyone notice if I leapt quickly up the stand?wondering if I could slip up stand unobtrusivelyThat wasn’t the only tantalising thing with this exhibition.  I rather think the exhibition designers had got carried away with their exhibition designs, forgetting the point of the exhibition was to showcase the Missonis.  They had programmed the lighting on a loop which travelled constantly from highlights here to there, from dark, to shade – to finally (oh, thank heavens!) light all around.  Take a look:models in light sequence 1models in light sequence 2models in light sequence 3models in light sequence 4Stylish and cool it may be, but b*****  maddening!

Upstairs I was distracted from my irritations by the abundant and sumptuous examples of pattern.  These are Ottavio Missoni’s basic studies for designs. You can see how he takes simple graphical designs such as a child might do, and develops them into the fabulous patterns we associate with the Missoni brand.designing patternI particularly love the way he completely shifts his colour palette here.developing patternsMissoni zigzags.developing trademark zigzag patternsAnd this piece breaks out of the constraints of the grid to flow and ripple.designing irregular patternsAs well as these “starter” pieces, there were swatches.swatch samplesDetailed labelling was missing, but I guess some of these pieces became garments …sample knitsand others were just put to the side.Missoni zigzagsSuch a fabulous design resource here!sample swatchesmore sample swatchesIf you make garments, you will naturally be interested in not just the colourful patterns the Missonis designed, but the construction of the finished garments too.  So hard to see how those gorgeous clothes on the mannequins were constructed, but there was one Missoni jumper in a case upstairs which gave an interesting glimpse of how it was made.Missoni patchwork jumperIf you look carefully at the detailed photo, you can see that it’s a patchwork! I cannot imagine how machines coped with this work – or was it hand done?  I would be very hesitant to embark on such a work lest I get lumpy knitwear seams, but no evidence of that here.  It’s a stunning garment.detail of patchwork jumperFinally, the exhibition took you to a room furnished with Missoni carpets – oh, wow!Missoni carpetA really lovely space to sit down and watch the Missonis talk about their lives and work. What came over most strongly was the warmth between Ottavio and Rosita. This lay behind their successful business – and radiates today through the younger generations who currently manage the business.watching Ottavio MissoniA parting shot of the carpet in detail. I had a good look at these carpets and they are not made of separate pattern pieces seamed together – they have been woven as one continuous, flowing pattern. Remarkable!detail of carpetWhatever my complaints – a wonderful exhibition.  I’m just greedy – wanted to understand more.  A final piece was a film by Turkish artist Ali Kazma showing the Missoni factories at work.  This was important because I think we need reminding that this wasn’t just genteel playing with colour and pattern – this was an extremely successful business functioning with super speedy, super efficient and super sophisticated machinery.

When I left the exhibition, I found that I had time on my hands so I dropped in on nearby Southwark Cathedral. Built between 1220 and 1420 it was the first Gothic Church in London. It was then repeatedly damaged by fire (including the Great Fire) so was rebuilt and repaired.  It’s a beautiful space.interior of Southwark CathedralBut with the Missoni exhibition still in my mind, I was drawn to the kneelers …kneelers in Southwark CathedralNot quite Missoni – but sort of interesting …

Norham Tweed walk

A beautiful sunny spring day last week – and we were off for a walk.  One of our favourite walks, this one is bookended by Norham’s fine church and it’s equally magnificent castle.  Sometimes we start with the castle, sometimes with the church. You can see in the map below how the route runs in a circle – first along a loop in the Tweed and then inland to complete the circle.map of walkThis day, we decided to start with the church.Norham St Cuthbert's churchThe Church of St Cuthbert at Norham is one of the churches we like best in the locality, and on this day it was looking particularly fine, garlanded with early spring blossom.gravestones amid ramsonsJust inside the churchyard, in the damp and dark gloom of the churchyard wall, there are ramsons – wild garlic.  They were everywhere on this day’s walk  – a pungent smell when crushed underfoot. Norham ChurchThis church is a distinguished building historically and architecturally.  It dates from 1165 (the same age as the nearby castle). Kings have met here (Edward I and John Bailliol of Scotland in 1292).  1320 saw it fortified by Robert the Bruce as he attacked Norham Castle.  You can read more of its fascinating history on the church’s own website.Norman arches on Norham churchJust look at those Norman arches – what patterns!Ancient faces on Norham churchThis small face on the east end looks down on us from the past.  I think that’s a grimace: Enjoy yourself – or else!Grave of Grace Friar NicholsonThe graves stand as solemn markers to those who went before.  Was Grace Friar Nicholson a book-lover, I wonder, with those two open volumes above her tombstone?Doggy flowers on graveNo doubt that this person loved dogs – what a fine way to be remembered!Path leads down to the TweedTime to leave the churchyard with its moving mementos, and set out on the walk proper. A narrow path leads down, through the fields, to the Tweed.swans on the TweedOh – the magnificent Tweed! Such a glorious river, flowing down from the Scottish Borders, and marking on its eastern course the border between Scotland and England.  That’s Scotland on the far bank where the swans are sailing by.

What really strikes me as I look on this view is how deceptive were the green and blossom we had been enjoying in Norham church graveyard.  It is still early in the year – the trees on the far bank are dun-coloured without their new leaves out.

Our path continues along the Tweed, well-managed by the good folk of Norham. It is a truly inviting walk.Walk along the TweedBefore long we approach Ladykirk and Norham bridge, and this gentle path ends.Approaching Ladykirk bridgeLadykirk and Norham bridge – as the name says – runs between the Scottish village of Ladykirk and the English parish of Norham.  A fine late nineteenth century bridge.  Just look at the detritus on the other side! Detritus under bridgeOver the winter the country experienced heavy heavy rainfall, particularly in the west of the UK, where the River Tweed rises. As we walked along the Tweed, we were increasingly reminded of the floods, and damage, and basic mess this land had experienced thanks to the heavy rain.Rubbish under bridgeHere, at the foot of the steps leading up to the bridge crossing, you can see more rubbish – including plastics, bottles and other man-made undesirables. All swept down by the torrent of the Tweed.Ramsons and celandines under Ladykirk bridgeNature is fighting back – with hosts of wild garlic and celandine flowers.fishers' paradiseThis is fishing country – paradise, I would guess, if you have a deep pocket. small boat and fishing sheilAn old fishing shiel, a little boat, grazing sheep … Time for coffeeWhat better place to stop for a bun and a flask of coffee? But also note the detritus, caught in the branches of the tree. We reckoned this to be some 15 feet above the current height of the Tweed  – there’s been serious flooding here.small boat on TweedIt is such a beautiful river.  The stories of ancient bitter Scots and English fighting are all around, and particularly marked in the histories of Norham Castle, Ladykirk church (built at James IVth of Scotland’s command entirely of stone so that it could survive being put to the torch) and nearby Flodden field.  As for the Tweed, well “Men may come, and men may go, but I go on forever.”  Thank you, Tennyson. It’s deeply reassuring.swirls and eddies in the TweedJust before we turn up from the Tweed, we find these scummy eddies. One’s instinct is to assume this is man-made pollution, but Stephen (most conveniently) is reading Tristran Gooley’s How to Read Water and he informs me that it may be warm temperatures acting on natural ingredients that produce this effect. It might, of course, be the result of chemicals running of the fields. Best not to speculate.

At this point, the path moves away from the Tweed, and we enter wooded country.  Part of the pleasure of this walk to me is, indeed, the variety of landscapes we pass through. There are primroses ..primrose pathand celandines …celandines amid the stepsand ramsons again! Just look at those banks of wild garlic on both sides of the path!woody path with ramsonsIt’s not long before we see our next “marker”.  There, glimpsed through the trees, is one of the viaducts of the old Kelso to Tweedmouth railway line.first glimpse of railway bridgeIt’s quite a job to scramble up to the top …struggling up to top of bridgeand you have to go carefully …trees growing in stoneworkbecause trees are growing into the masonry …metal rails on bridge collapsingand the old iron railings are falling to pieces.glimpse of the Tweed from the topBut it is wonderful to be at the top – you can see the Tweed snaking away where we left it.Old Kelso lineThere are few things to my mind as poignant as a dismantled railway line.  All that effort put into the building, all the excitement of travel, all those ordinary everyday journeys!  This line took holiday makers from the mills in the Border towns to our home village of Spittal on the north sea coast.  You can just imagine the trains chugging along this track.studying the stoneworkSuch a fine piece of engineering.

The next piece of the walk took us along the road.walk hits the roadRoads are not favourite walking, but it’s sunny, there’s almost no traffic so we have the world to ourselves – and look at that burgeoning rape crop about to break into heady yellow flower on the field on the right!rape coming into bloomThere’s another “marker” along this part of the journey and it’s this that makes the road walk worthwhile.  This is Norham railway station.  And it’s for sale – it went up for sale in 2013 for a cool £420,000.Norham railway station - for saleIt was a railway museum for many years, but was closed, alas, by the time we discovered it.  More of its history here.Norham railway stationAnd – yes – that is a letter box in the wall, a Victoria Regina too! How amazing must it be to have your own private letter box!!Victorian post boxBefore long we leave the road and the route took us into a watery world again – over a bridge …walk over small bridgeand alongside a stream.walk along little streamIt’s cool and dappled after the hot road walk.  Once more we’re walking through banks of wild garlic.walk through woods and ransomsNow time for our final “marker” – our pièce de résistance, you might say.  Here we turn in to Norham castle.arrive at Norham castleIt’s such a fine castle, with all the attributes that one associates with castles – moat, drawbridge, slit windows for arrows to pass through.  And it has a fine history to boot.  It was built in the 12th century by the Bishops of Durham as a defence against the Scots. Again and again it was besieged by the Scots – nine times in all – and captured four of those times. One of those times of Scottish ownership was just before the battle of Flodden.  James IVth besieged the castle for several days, battering the walls with his powerful artillery.Norham castleIt sits in a magnificently commanding position right up on high above the River Tweed, looking straight over to Scotland.Norham castle high above TweedFrom the castle you look down on those small folk in the village.Norham castle above villageAnd that’s where we’re heading now for the very final leg of our journey back to Norham church. Norham village is a pleasure to walk through, looking sunny and simple in the 21st century compared to those bitter fighting times of earlier centuries. Daffodils, village green, war memorial. Village perfection (but who knows what lies below this well-behaved surface …)sunny Norham village greenBack to the church …Walk back to Norham church– and that heavenly blossom where we started.Blossom at Norham church

London visit: home from home

I regularly visit London. It’s partly to see my two children who live there; sometimes I visit my sister and her family, and sometimes dear friends.  But I also go to see London! – to see exhibitions, galleries, explore some part of London that I don’t know well, walk in the parks, shop.  So much to see, so much to do!

I’ve lived there at various times during my life.  My parents moved there when I was nearly 2 years old.  They had a tiny little house in very central London, not far from my father’s work in the Foreign Office.

This was in the early 1950s so London was still recovering from the war – a lot of bomb-damaged sites, seeded with the bright yellow of wild ragwort.   I loved to balance on the low ruined walls, holding my father’s hand, as he walked me to kindergarten on his way to work.   Sometimes he took my sister, Marian (on the right in this picture) and me to his office nearby in King Charles St.  (King Charles Street is close to Downing Street, and I don’t think you could casually walk up to the Foreign Office front door any longer as both streets are now gated off.)K & M FCO 1959My parents didn’t stay in London long, so my next stop there was in the 1970s, when I had finished at university.  I shared the top floor flat in one of these imposing Earl’s Court houses with two other girls.  By this time, London was a much more multi-cultural city.  Earl’s Court was known as a particularly Australian back-packer haunt.  It’s busy main street was full of money exchange shops so visitors from all over the world hung out there.Eardley Crescent 1978Through the years, as I’ve lived in Kent, Oxford, Devon and now Northumberland, I’ve travelled back to London regularly.  These days my visits are focussed on my children’s homes in North London, and I’ve had to learn my way round parts of London I’d never visited before.

I used to get panic attacks in the underground, so my journeys around London are almost entirely by bus.  But what a lot you see from the top deck of a London bus!

Here is my journey starting on the Saturday in Crouch End.  We are heading into central London, to the British Museum.Crouch End streetI am struck – as ever – by how green London is – trees, parks, gardens, all gloriously green.green London treesEven London’s traditional red buses are sometimes green.Green London busAnd, what also stands out amidst the greenery is the amount of building work going on.  There’s a lot of money at work here.  (The affluence of London is particularly striking to one coming from the more impoverished north of England.)London pub The DriverI’m fascinated by the glimpses of old London amidst the hustle and bustle of modern ways.  The fine old painted sign on shabby shops 319 and 321 remains to tell us that they once sold Scales, Weights and Weighing Machines.  Nowadays there is a Massage Parlour, Nail Bar and Computer Centre – all a sign of the times.  Our forebears wouldn’t have recognised any of these businesses.Old lettering on London buildingHere, they have kept the façade of the fine old building with the new building just behind – can you see?  Reused facade of old London buildingContrast this with evidence of modern multicultural London.  That sign over the doorway is written in the Amharic script.  Remarkably (to me), each character represents a consonant and a vowel.  Marathon restaurantWhat a riotous explosion of colour on what must have once been a pretty dull building!Painted buildingI always look out for these caryatids on St.  Pancras New Church.  They have been patiently supporting the roof since the 1820s.Caryatids on St Pancras New ChurchThe British Museum is busy, busy, busy.  It’s an old friend.  I’ve been marvelling at this imposing, pedimented façade for a long time.imposing exterior of British MuseumBut the interior is new – and so exciting.  This rotunda inside the Great Court is a work of genius, and the roof is just wonderful.British Museum roofSo much to see, but we mustn’t get distracted.  We’ve come to see the British Museum’s Indigenous Australia: enduring civilisation exhibition.British Museum exhibition bannersLuckily, it wasn’t too crowded so we were able to enjoy the exhibition comfortably.  We were asked not to photograph, and articles that I have read since explain that some of the owners of the material have been quite specific about this, even asking that parts of some artifacts be concealed from visitors’ eyes.  So, I am only reproducing images that have appeared in newspapers or on postcards.

It’s a very powerful and disturbing exhibition – if I were to define it in a couple of words I would speak of loss and dignity.  There are objects of great beauty and fascination, but there is no more reason now why they should sit in the British Museum than the Elgin Marbles or the Assyrian carvings.  Indeed, it’s worse than that because many of these objects still have significant cultural value to the indigenous peoples of Australia.

To the credit of the curator, Gaye Sculthorpe, and her team, they have taken four years to prepare for this exhibition, and consulted widely with the Aboriginal people, respecting their wishes in the display of materials.  I think they deal honestly with some very difficult issues.Aboriginal shield

Take this shield, probably collected at Botany Bay during Captain Cook’s 1770 visit.  For the Aboriginal peoples, it is a symbol of attack and invasion, for Cook and the colonists it was a foundational treasure.

There were the Dreaming paintings that have so attracted Westerners to Aboriginal art.  These modern acrylic paintings are by Spinifex people (the upper painted by four men, and the lower by six women) and tell a bitter story.  They are the Spinifex peoples’ record of the land from which they were ousted in the 1950s and 60s so that the British and Australian governments might test atomic weapons there.Dreamtime painting by Spinifex menDreamtime painting by Spinifex womenA fine turtle shell, shell and fibre mask from Mer, turtle shell maskan island in the Torres Straits.  It’s thought to be older than 1855, and is typical of much of the collection that the British Museum holds in that it was donated by the Lords of Admiralty.  How did the Lords of Admiralty come to own it, one wonders?  Through conflict?  greed? scientific research? gift?  All part and parcel of Britain’s murky involvement in Australia’s past.  It is said that the material on show is just a tiny percentage of what the British Museum actually holds in its Oceania and Australia collections.  Hmm – what would the British Museum be if it started to return some of its holdings?Modern Aboriginal basketwareModern basketware (2010),  made of plant fibre and wool by Yuwali (also know as Janice Nixon).  I love this piece – can it be that it is untainted by the dismal colonial story?!! Oh, I hope so.  I found myself longing for some salvation from the miserable exploits of the colonial Brits.Spinifex ladies painting bag

And I came home with this.  The Spinifex ladies’ painting transfers wonderfully well to artefact, and it’s a lovely bag  – with a powerful back story.

There’s no doubt that it’s a very interesting exhibition.  I learned a great deal, and – in the face of all the criticism that Indigenous Australia: enduring civilisation has drawn – that’s very important.

Just suppose we were to turn the tables and someone made the discovery that some Northumbrian Rock Art was lurking in a Sydney museum? and what’s more a Viking-like marauding party massacred, raped and pillaged this local material away?

Time for something lighter!

I wanted to buy fabric, and when I was younger, you could buy fine materials in Liberty’s and John Lewis.  So thither we went.Outside of LibertysSo disappointing!  Liberty’s is such a fine store – such a visual delight.  But honestly, what rubbish they sell!  Colossally expensive really quite ordinary items (shopping bags in the pic below), so I guess they are mainly interested in the tourist market.  As for fabric – well, they do sell their lovely Tana Lawn prints, but that’s pretty well all the fabric they sell now.Inside LibertysSo to John Lewis.John LewisIf you could count on anywhere selling fabric, surely it would be John Lewis!  They do still sell fabric, but their stock doesn’t cover almost the entire ground floor (as it used to). It’s a miserable little aisle on the fourth floor.  Not what I wanted there either.Fabric department in John LewisBut we did get lunch in the little restaurant overlooking Cavendish Square.   (More London greenery, though the grass is looking very parched, badly in need of heavy rain.)View from John Lewis cafe to Cavendish SquareNow, I’m lunching here with my daughter, but I well remember lunching here with my mother when she brought me to John Lewis to buy terry towelling nappies before my babes were born.  Of a whim, I looked for nappies today, but could I find nappies for sale – No!  (Sic transit gloria mundi!)Helen eating lunch in John LewisThere is consolation: Helen knows where to go for my fabric.  Why Soho’s Berwick Street is the place!  (I love it!! After all, I’m hailing from Berwick-upon-Tweed these days!  And as ever, I’m fascinated by the buildings – look at the detailing under the parapet on the taller building!)London's Berwick streetThere are lots of fabric shops in Berwick Street, but Borovick is the excellent little shop where I finally find some fabric that I’m pleased with.Borovick shop in Berwick StTime to head back to Helen’s home.  They still haven’t removed the tacky bum-flaunting fairy over the doorway.  I rather think it’s going to stay there for a very long time ….Fairybum CottageOne of her cats is particularly pleased to see that I’ve brought some seedlings with me because there’s several small catnip plants hidden deep in the pot.Ilsa smelling the catnipThis is Tottenham’s Tower Gardens, and when I first visited I was struck by the quality of these little homes.  Look at the detailing on the brickwork, the finely-shaped chimneys – and the simple decorative details over the windows.

In the late 1890s, £10,000 was donated for the purchase of this land by jewelry magnate, Samuel Montagu.   Homes were to be built to rehouse Jewish workers, then living in the crowded conditions of Tower Hamlets in London’s East End (whence the name: Tower Gardens).

The chief architect was William Riley.  He was a member of the Art Workers Guild which had been founded in 1884 and was an offshoot of the Arts and Crafts movement.  All the details – tree planting, brickwork etc show this influence.Tower Gardens houseIt’s a conservation area, but disapppointingly poorly implemented.  Look at  the changes somebody’s made to this house!  Weirdly out of context, but it’s somebody’s home and no doubt they love it.changes to Tower Gardens houseSadly, modern living (satellite dishes and rubbish bins) don’t improve the look of these charming houses.rubbish bins outside Tower Gardens houseThen I was grabbed by the names.  Where on earth does Waltheof come from (see the sign on the building beside Rose Supermarket below)?!

What a strange small world.  This was Northumbrian land.  Waltheof  appears in the Domesday book of 1086.  He was the son of Gosparic, Earl of Northumberland.  The local football team is Tottenham Hotspur (remember the Duke of Northumberland’s son, Harry Hotspur, in Shakespeare’s Henry IVth?)

Now it’s a vibrant multi-cultural area as this mini-mart on the edge of the estate testifies. (But first look at the detail of the window in the roof).  Rose Supermarket caters for English, Turkish, Greek, African and Caribbean tastes.  Wow!Rose supermarket, Tower GardensBefore long it’s time to go back to Berwick-upon-Tweed and Northumberland.  My heart is always warmed by the sight of King’s Cross Station.  Such a simple, magnificent statement with the strong lines of those huge arches, and the mellow tones of London brick.  Kings Cross stationStephen prefers St. Pancras station next door.  What a contrast in architecture!!

The fact that these two important London train stations sit next to each other is a reminder of their history.  King’s Cross was built by the Great Northern Railway company in 1852 (designed by Lewis Cubitt), and St. Pancras, serving the Midlands and Yorkshire, was built a few years later (1868)  for the Midland Railway company.  The famous frontage on the Euston road (which you see in the picture below) was actually the former Midland Grand Hotel, designed by George Gilbert Scott.

I wonder which you prefer?St Pancras stationNever mind – we’re going to the north-east, so it’s King’s Cross for us.  Just look at this wonderful ceiling in the revamped and extended station building.  I think Lewis Cubitt would be well pleased by what they’ve done to update his station.Kings Cross roof 1

Edin’s Hall Broch

Last week Stephen took me to Edin’s Hall Broch.   He had discovered it on one of his longer walks, but I had never been there before – indeed, had never even heard of it.

As it turns out, Edin’s Hall Broch is a very remarkable place, and I am surprised more people don’t know about it.  Or perhaps they do.  Perhaps it’s just another closely guarded Borders/Northumbrian secret.

For those of you who (like me) don’t even know what a broch is, here is a brief summary of received internet wisdom.

There is much debate about their function and purpose.  What is agreed is that they are only found in Scotland, they are superb examples of drystone architecture, and they are round.  Nobody is sure whether they were built for defensive purposes or to be lived in as farmsteads.

But ooooh – I do love the word “Broch”!  I roll it round my lips and savour the sound – quite different from any other word I know. Stephen in Edin's Hall Broch It wasn’t really that special a day to be out.  As you can tell from our photos, the day was dull, and it was quite sharply cold for May.  But it was still a comfortable – and very interesting – walk from the carpark, about a mile and half from the ruins.

After a short walk through a forested area, you cross the Whiteadder Water by the Elba Footbridge.  The Whiteadder Water then runs parallel to the walk as you climb the hill up to the broch.Crossing Elba footbridgeThe Whiteadder Water is magnificent here, swirling dramatically over craggy rocks.  But, wait – is there a yellow conspiracy afoot?!  There’s masses of gorgeous clumps of golden scented gorse, many of the trees are in that early flush of colour when the leaves are transparent yellowy-pale-green, – and to cap it all we saw a Yellow Wagtail bobbing around on the rocks in the stream! Looking down at the Whiteadder waterWhere the scenery wasn’t yellow and green, it was silvery-white.  The lichen is as much an ornament on these blackthorn trees as their own blossom.Lichen on treeOur route takes us on up and up.  The sheep gaze down anxiously at us from the ridge, not sure whether we are friend or foe.  Don’t worry, sheepy friends, we’re travelling up to the right of this pylon.

Ah yes, this pylon.  We were happily admiring the beauty and wildness of the place when we realised that there was a huge great plonking pylon – no, a chain of pylons striding across the valley.  How fascinating that we’d subconsciously “subtracted” it from our awareness.  How strange too that we object to wind farms but seem oblivious to these earlier man-made monstrosities.Pylons, sheep and gorseThe way is well-signposted.  But look behind the sign, and there’s a telling indication of modern farming.  That’s the old drystone wall broken and crumbling, and it’s been superceded by an ugly barbed-wire fence (which you can just see in the foreground of the photo).  How very sad.Route sign to Edin's Hall BrochNature gives and it takes.  En route we found evidence of the harsh reality of nature red in tooth and claw.  Somebody’s dined here….perhaps the sparrowhawk we saw wheeling above?Nature red in tooth and clawHowever the kindly sheep have left me some lovely bits of fleece to collect – it’s the softest and cleanest fleece I have found out and about for a long time.  Wish I could catch a sheep to take some more fleece home with me!fleeceFinally, we get to the top of the hill, and there – amid a lot of other stone ruins (it’s a prehistoric hill fort) – is Edin’s Hall Broch!  (You get a really good idea of the whole site with this aerial picture on the Welcome to Scotland website.)Approaching Edin's Hall BrochThe people who built this place knew about dry stone walls – they could teach modern farmers a thing or two.  Just look at the size of the stones at the base of this building!huge stones at base of wallsThe size of the walls too is enormous – at their maximum they are over 5 metres wide.thick wallsThere’s a proper entrance, and what must be a front door slab lying on the ground beside.entrance to Edin's Hall BrochOn either side of the front entrance, there are guard rooms.entrance to guard roomsSet in these huge walls around are well-built steps and more rooms. stone steps Perhaps the most intriguing thing about this place is that this is one of only a handful of brochs in the Lowlands.  They are mostly found in northern western Scotland.   And this broch is not like the northern brochs – it’s too large in diameter for starters, so there are doubts that it was ever roofed.  As you will see on the information board reproduced below, Historic Scotland have come up with the hypothesis that somebody in the 2nd century AD travelled south bringing broch-building skills with them and adapted them to this Border locality.Historic Scotland information boardWho knows?

What we do know, however, is that when this site was first excavated in the late 19th century, a number of artifacts were found (these were donated to the Museum of Scotland).  They include a stone spindle whorl, a piece of jet ring, an amber bead, an oyster shell, bones and a fragment of a glass bracelet.  Very much the normal sort of possessions of people’s lives – food, ornamentation, and the means to clothe oneself.

I’d read about spindle whorls recently in Rebecca’s Needle and Spindle blog.  She describes so clearly what an vital part they had to play in basic survival tactics – and that would have been especially the case in these colder northern climes.

So – I’m once again stretching my imagination back to the people who lived here, and I’m finding that they (like me) enjoyed a bit of bling.  Ancestors of the modern sheep grazing around would have been of value to them for clothing – just as they are to me.

The modern world interrupts my old-times reverie. Well – a slightly more modern world.  Down through the trees, on the other side of the Whiteadder Water, there’s a glimpse of an intriguing house – actually another Round House.  Apparently it’s The Retreat, built in the late 18th century by the Earl of Wemyss as a shooting lodge.  You can’t help wondering if he was referencing the round broch on the opposite hill in his choice of architecture……  It looks very comfortable and well-appointed compared to the exposed stony broch of the ancients.looking down at The Retreat