Five Go on an Island Adventure

We arrived in the dark. On a boat. It missed the pier and had to spin round and go back out to sea before trying again. It was all very exciting.

Port Askaig, Islay:

ferry arrival

So, the five of us – four humans, 1 canine – went to bed in a lovely old house and awoke to sunshine and a eucalyptus tree.

window view

We ate breakfast. We unpacked. We ran about on golden beaches…

Kilchoman

and had our cares blasted away by the wind on rocky shores.

Salago

There was much fireside sitting and eating and laughing and talk.

jam tarts

History was explored. The Kildalton High Cross and church:

Kildalton Cross snowdrops

The Seat of the Lordship of the Isles at Finlaggan in the soft island rain:

standing stone at Finlaggan

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Then, refreshed and de-stressed, it was back on the ferry to the mainland, though the view there is of Jura:view of Islay

We passed Kilchurn Castle on Loch Awe:

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And walked between weather-battered oak trees on our way home.

Strone Hill

There’s more (oh, so many more!) photos on Twitter and Instagram.

shadows and light at the beach

st combs beach

We know extremes of light and dark in Scotland. At the height of summer it never gets properly dark; around the time of the winter solstice it barely gets light. But just now, in Autumn, the low sun illuminates spaces and objects from an angle that highlights both shadows and glorious brightness. Oh, the photo-taking opportunities!

River running into the sea at St. Combs:

river

White frothy waves crash against grey rocks:

waves

More rocks and sand and sky and a bonfire all ready to burn:

rocks

The break in the clouds is brief, the sand darkens under a blue and white patchwork sky:

clouds

Dolphins and Leopards

Bon Accord shopping centre

There’s a public art project going on in Aberdeen for the next ten weeks: Wild Dolphins

Fifty life size beasties lurk in streets, parks, museums and shopping centres. My twitter stream is full of them; I excitedly tweeted and scanned (there’s an app) my way round the city so will try to post mainly different pictures here. This first one is a collage of Aberdeen’s Leopard magazine, I love its eye below.

Aye Aye min

The next two are near Marischal College, previously part of Aberdeen University, the building now houses Aberdeen City Council, which means I can’t wander in to look at the mummies in the museum anymore. Those are its spires behind this dotty boy:

on top of st. nicholas centre

Glad they’ve kept the old gate though, seems suitably forbidding and ‘keepy-outy’:

gate

In front of the College sits a dolphin called ‘Bon Accord Beauty’; he displays the city coat of arms with its three castles and two leopards (more on it here). To the right is Provost Skene’s house, closed just now due to the surrounding demolition. Shame, I could have done with a cup of tea in the dungeon-esque cellar cafe.

dolphin

On we go, past the leopards of Union Bridge…

leopards

…into the Victorian amphitheartre of Union Terrace Gardens, where there are two dolphins. The statue of William Wallace looks down from above, in front of His Majesty’s Theatre. You may have to look hard to spot the leopards in this photo but they are there, as, less fortunately, is the rear end of a park attendant.

union terrace gardens

Finally, we head off to the beach to look at nautical creations:

octopus

One inspired by the fauna of the riverside:

Riven Don

And, contrary to the title though it is, let’s end on the beautiful detail of the dolphin’s nose: moths.

moths

A Lighthouse in a Castle, and a Love Story, and the Sky

old lighthouse, new lighthouse

That’s the sixteenth century Kinnaird Castle on the left, it was converted into a lighthouse in 1787 and now houses the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses. On the right is the modern automated lighthouse. Quite why they seem to be leaning towards one another I don’t know; I may have been transfixed by the sky when I took the photo (a frequent and increasing occurrence, should I be worried?)

Before we go in, let’s walk on a bit to the wine tower, the oldest building in Fraserburgh. The photo may not be the best of the tower, but look up!

wine tower and sky

Not much is known about the wine tower, other than the obvious use suggested by its name, but it does have this sad story attached to it. Strain your eyes and you will see the red paint on the ground there. Beneath the sky.

(Update: we visited the tower again on Doors Open Day and saw inside! Go here to read about it.)

love story piper laird's daughter

A better photo, I do love the uneven bricks and studded door of the solid little building:

wine tower

Back up the hill to castle walls…

castle walls

and lots of stairs…

spiral staircase

and, ooh look, my Granny had a television just like the one in the lighthouse keeper’s quarters! Interesting use of books.

television from the 70s

Out onto the wider deck:

lighthouse

It’s scary on the top balcony, I can’t keep the skyline straight.

sky

Into the main museum to examine things, some of which feel quite steampunk.

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We end this trip and post with a walk on the golden sands of Fraserburgh beach, as the colour blue tantalises from above.

beach, it's the sky, of course it's the sky!

Waters of Philorth

Philorth River

*Dons Scottish tour guide cap, yet again* Let’s wander along the River Philorth.

philorth 005 (700x525)There’s a small nature reserve there, created by the dunes, which in turn were inadvertently created by man during WW2. Large coils of barbed wire and concrete blocks were laid along the coastline to deter enemy invaders. Sand built up on them, plants grew, and the river changed course.

Wildlife flourishes at Philorth today. There’s a rather nice PDF about it here.

A gull fishing

A gull fishing

I love the tall grasses.

philorth reeds

The scenery grows more and more beach-like as you progress along the riverside path.

philorth sands

washed up fishing net

washed up fishing net

limpet

limpet

We reach the sea, Fraserburgh in the distance…

Fraserburgh and the sea

…and return by the higher dune path:

dune path

Exiting onto the main road, you just catch a glimpse of Cairnbulg Castle through the trees (read about it on the website of Lady Saltoun, Chief of the name and arms of Fraser.)

Cairnbulg Castle

I love the beach

view out to sea

I nearly blew over taking this photo, a high speed wind was hurtling through the sea cave, but it was worth it to capture that combination of dark and light and blue.

New Aberdour beach is never busy, being a bit far from main roads and civilisation, but I recommend seeking it out if you are in the area. It has sandy bits for summer picnics and sunbathing, stony bits that noisily orchestrate the retreat of the waves and then the magnificent caves. The almost hidden entrance to the one above:

entrance to the cave above

This next one I always avoid; I once overheard a highly respected educational psychologist, who I knew from my time working in schools, emotionally blackmailing a small child to defecate in there. Such knowledge is off-putting, plus, the roof is rather head-bangingly low…

the pooping cave

But the beach as a whole is lovely. Apart from the car park, there is no sign of the modern day, you could be meandering through any time, any era.

rock pools

Some specific points in history and local folklore are marked. St. Drostan is said to have landed at New Aberdour in 580AD. His well:

St Drostan's Well

And the heroic actions of one Jane Whyte, who rescued fifteen men from a shipwreck in 1886, are commemorated in the remains of her little cottage:

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When the tide is out there are exceptional rockpools displaying all manner of sea life from minnows to sea slugs, starfish, pipefish and anemones. Tide allowing again, you can walk for miles round bay after bay. Do watch the sea though, there’s no mobile phone reception down there if you get stranded. Sometimes you catch sight of dolphins and whales…

I sound like a guidebook, a representative of Scottish tourism… but I’m not. I’ve visited this place at times of trauma and felt negativity drain away into the pink rocks. I’ve lain on the sand reading books during hot relaxing summers while my children explored the pools and searched for cowrie shells. I’ve introduced all my friends to the beach, so memories of New Aberdour are mixed up with those of my favourite people.

I love the beach.

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Tarlair

Tarlair outdoor swimming pool

I recently explored Tarlair open air swimming pool with my husband and children. Despite having fallen into serious disrepair over the years, it retains a certain beauty, and is evocative – for me anyway – of times past.

It was the scene of many halcyon days one summer; I was fifteen, and due to head off to college that September. I recall lying on the grass in the sun, messing around in the boating pool, buying sweets from the shop and chatting with friends. The hazy, golden hue of these bright points in memory is augmented by the nature of other events from that time.

There was a face off with the girl who used to beat me up in primary school. There was an abusive incident with an older family member, he was much respected and I didn’t feel able to tell anyone. An older boy grabbed me on a bus and kissed and bit my neck; actually that’s not a dark memory; non-consensual and unexpected as it was, I found it rather exciting at the time… There were other daily disappointments, but it can be bitter to dwell too deeply; some things are over when they’re finally over, and they are now.

Tarlair as seen from the cliffs above today

But Tarlair remains bright, both as it is now, and as it appears in my nostalgic image of the past. Three girls on the brink of being women laughed together and talked of their hopes for the future. We swam in the water of the North Sea with all our clothes on and got changed in the only one of our homes that was free from adult disapproval. We ate chocolate in an abandoned campervan. We drank White Russians in a local nightclub where no one questioned our age; hangovers were revelled in the next day by the pool.

None of our lives turned out quite how we hoped, we trailed far off those teenage maps we drew for ourselves that summer. We’ve all tasted despair but known great joy too. Maybe we couldn’t have had one without the other.

Strong emotion increases our capacity to feel and to live and to love, surely the greatest experience of all.

Below: looking out to the wider ocean through The Needle’s Eye, a rock formation beside Tarlair.

through the Needle's Eye