Sunday, 22 November 2015

Favourite Places: Barns Ness Lighthouse

I seem to have a fascination with lighthouses, I'm not sure why. I think it must be a childish delight. On the one hand they make me think of fairytale towers, pirates, smugglers and the lighthouse keeper's cat but on the other, I think of isolation, storms, shipwrecks and that terrifying episode of Doctor Who - 'Horror of Fang Rock'! 

Fortunately, there's nothing terrifying about Barns Ness Lighthouse. Although it is in a fairly lonely spot, standing on a strip of coastline completely exposed to the North Sea, it is enchanting.When we first moved to this part of Scotland I was surprised to discover it as it is incongruously situated between the cement works and the nuclear power station. 

At low tide you can see the layers of sedimentary rocks between the pools and shingle - one of the reasons this is designated as an area of special geological interest. It is also a migration watch point for bird watchers and coastal forragers searching for all kinds of treasure: mussels, whelks, razor shells, corals and fossils. 

The lighthouse itself came into operation in 1901 and was finally deactivated in 2005. Made from local stone it withstood attack during the war Until 1966 it was manned by two lightkeepers which explains why there are two identical cottages alongside as well as the old engine house. These buildings are privately owned today and the lighthouse has become the ideal spot for abseiling, the last brave soul being our local minister who took up the challenge for the Bethany Trust just a few months back. Sometimes I think it would be rather romantic to live in a lighthouse but then I think of the practicality - Barns Ness has 169 steps to the top!  

Today, buttoned up in warm coats and wrapped in hats and scarves, we took a short walk with Luna. It's perfect for dog walking as grassy banks and well kept paths mean no mud! I attempted to capture some of the magic of the place. The light was just beginning to fade and you can just see the moon making its early appearance.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015


I had begun to write a post for Armistice Day but  I was finding it hard to write anything that didn't sound glib or mawkish. Having given up and left the post in my Drafts folder, I was compelled to resurrect it when the dreadful news about the terrorist attacks in Paris quite literally exploded onto our screens.

The sense of panic and terror was almost palpable. If it can happen in Paris it can happen here. Our proximity just across the Channel and the fact that, although we hate to admit it, we have much in common with our Gallic cousins, made the attack feel more personal. Perhaps this feeling has been forged from much shared history (if we weren't at war with one another then we were busy forming alliances). The English language alone bears witness to this - 29% of our lexicon is in fact borrowed from French.

There were criticisms of the amount of coverage given to Paris when compared to similar recent attacks in Lebanon and Iraq. I think this is, sadly, a reflection of human nature. We seem to have a limited capacity to care and we are, selfishly, more sensitive to victims closer to us both culturally and politically as well as geographically. The media is biased, this is true, but we as media consumers are also to blame for this inequality in sympathetic response. An attack in the heart of Paris, the city of romance, has had more power to shock and this type of atrocity is less frequent than reports of bombings in the Middle East. Morally we should care the same amount about all victims but it would be hypercritical to say this is always the case.

I'd like to think that this event expands our capacity to care rather than increase any tendency to hatred and division. Yet, it is worrying to hear about the rise of racial abuse and the ignorant accusations hurled at Muslims both here and in France. Fear breeds intolerance and suspiscion. You need only look at the mixed reactions to the first arrival of Syrian refugees in Scotland this week. Abhorrent extreme right-wing groups are quick to stir up anti-migrant sentiments in the aftermath and there are cries to close borders and deny aid to the increasingly desperate trail of refugees.  I hope and pray that the feeling of being under threat will foster a sense of empathy, support and solidarity that will, in the end, be stronger than hate. Love not war.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside...

We've moved. Again. And, this time, we're quite literally beside the sea - The North Sea - to be precise and not so much as 'beside' exactly as more 'above'. Perched on the edge of a cliff (I feel a bit weird typing that) the new house has spectacular views and I'm finding myself captivated by the expanse of blue, and thoroughly entertained by the constant parade of marine traffic, whether it's a heavily laden container ship or a jaunty little fishing boat. Not long after we had moved in we were amazed to see dolphins and learned from our neighbours that this is a regular sight; such a thrill to see them leaping clear out of the water.

I think my Australian sister would not think much of the rock and shingle beach below but I love it. I like to be able to amble down the path and walk along the shoreline, trying to distinguish between the many types of gull as they soar overhead while admiring the stillness of a pair of grey herons as they wait patiently on the rocks. The beach is not one to attract tourists as it is not a traditionally pretty beach but a wild and rugged spot. This is a place for birdwatchers, photographers, and serious walkers; the John Muir way passes through here. Neither is it a beach that's easy to discover. It is hidden away and you must walk down the pathway, through the dean and past the old mill house, following the sound of the water.  On one side you look out to the north and on the other the industrial coastline of East Lothian, the power station dominating the headland.

At the end of the path...
The little path down to the beach

We're not just enjoying having the beach on our doorstep, we're also enjoying the new house. I always attribute human qualities to houses and imagine them as distinct personalities. I think of this house as a stoic matronly type of house. She stands for no nonsense from the weather and seems completely unpeturbed by the gales and horizontal typical of a Scottish summer! One hundred years old, she must have witnessed a great deal and several generations have lived out the dramas of family life within her walls. Her rooms are firmly square and spacious - no whimsical arches, narrow recesses or pokey corners. It's comforting how solid she feels though the bones of her stairs and floorboards creak a little with old age. Despite her maturity, she's a well- kept woman and everything was immaculate and sparkling when we moved in. It made the whole moving process so much easier, only having to clean the one house we were moving out of and knowing that things could be put straight away; now I'm determined to keep the house that way!

So as well as photos of the beach, here is a sneak preview of one or two of the rooms in the house. We're still in the process of making the house into our home: deciding where furniture should go, sorting out pictures and raking through the remaining boxes - you know, the ones with no contents listed, packed at the last minute and containing all manner of random and unrelated items!

The back of the house has an open plan feel with the sitting room leading through to a dining room with a large picture window overlooking the sea. There is a sliding door to the kitchen from here and a sun room to the other side. I can't quite work out which way the garden faces but it seems to get the best of the sun for most of the day.  

When mowing the lawn or hanging out the washing you're liable to get distracted by the beautiful views and it takes discipline to finish the job.

 I end up just standing there admiring the scenery, lulled into inactivity by the sound of the waves.

Our eldest daughter definitely has the best bedroom in the house. She has two large windows that afford all round views of the sea and the coastline. Fabbydoo seems to like this bedroom the most too and can generally be found on the end of her bed or perched on the windowsill, looking out while the house martins and swallows put on a first-rate aerial display every afternoon.

I'm hoping that now we're settled here, and with a change to working 4 days instead of full-time, that this will be the start of more regular blogging. This setting is certainly inspirational!

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Advice to my daughter on her 17th birthday...

So, yesterday, my beautiful girl, you turned seventeen. Seventeen! Such an inspirational age that it frequently features in song lyrics and novels. I can remember being seventeen very clearly - an age all about attraction, growing independence and following your dreams, all mixed up with uncertainty, anxiety and a lack of experience! Lawrence Olivier once said, "Inside, we are all seventeen with red lips" and I think he's probably right - we don't like to think about growing old; in our hearts and minds we want to stay our seventeen year old selves forever.

So, if it's such a remarkable age, then what advice would your old mum give you? Well here it is, 17 things I've learned and wished I'd known at seventeen (in no particular order and with no apology for cheesiness or cliche!)

1. Pause once in a while and take in the good moments - be mindful of the experience - you'll want to play it back to yourself one day.

2. Stand up for yourself and what you believe in - don't let others tell you what you think or feel.

3. Weigh up your options but don't spend too long thinking. Take the opportunity if it feels right - it might not come up again.

4. But there again, remember - 'there's no such thing as a free lunch'. If someone offers you something think about what they might expect in return!

5. Don't be in a rush to do everything. Take time to think about what you need at the moment as well as what you want in the future.

6. Be yourself - everyone else is taken.

7. Find a partner who is truly interested in you and not just in how you look.

8. Don't underestimate the value of patience and kindness. They can take you just as far up the career ladder as single-minded ambition, and, people will be less likely to want to push you off!

9. Everything seems worse at night. Sleep on it - things will be clearer in the morning.

10. Cherish your sister; sisters are blessings. She loves you just for being you and no-one will understand where you're coming from like she does!

11. Don't overlook 'the nice guy'. You might be drawn to the bad ones, the wild and the dangerous, but Mr Nice Guy is worth a try. Gentleness is far more important in the long run. He'll be the one who'll look after you and support you even when you're not being so nice yourself.

12. Nurture your friendships. Make sure to keep up with the old ones and be open to new ones.

13. Be kind to yourself. You're allowed to get things wrong.

14. Don't be persuaded to do something to please or to impress someone else. Listen to your inner voice; if you don't feel comfortable then it's not right.

15. Look after your body and stay safe. There are so many temptations but all come with risks and consequences.

16. Make time for the spiritual. There is something more to life than the material world around us. Whatever your beliefs, keep in touch with your spiritual side - be thankful, say a prayer, meditate, reflect, go for long walks - whatever feeds your soul!

17. Remember your family loves you no matter what. Our love is unconditional. You might, in the future, do things that are foolish, regretful, hurtful or downright annoying but it won't lessen our love for you - not even a tiny bit.