Monthly Archives: April 2016

Bannockburn revisited

Recently I have been posting a picture each day on Facebook thanks to a challenge more than a month ago now, by Fraser my brother in law.   Today’s picture is one I took last June on a visit to Bannockburn, near Stirling, on my journey home from Brentford.  I call it Contemplating the Bruce.  Lily the dog, complete with tartan collar (!) looks at the statue of the victor of Bannockburn, slightly out of focus in the distance.  Our perspective on past historical events is often far from clear, and seen through the lens of our own prejudices and our interpretation and reinterpretation of the past.


It was an early Saturday morning, the site was quiet, the sun was out and the buttercups were in full bloom – a perfect place for some photographs.   The dogs loved it as they chased one another round the statue of King Robert the Bruce, my 19th great grandfather.



The words of Roy William’s song now adopted as an informal Scottish National Anthem come to mind.

O Flower of Scotland,
When will we see
Your like again,
That fought and died for,
Your wee bit Hill and Glen,
And stood against him,
Proud Edward’s Army,
And sent him homeward,
To think again.

Ecclesiastical daffodils

We have quite a few clumps of daffodils growing in our garden just now.  In preparation for the felling of the tree a few days ago I decided to cut those nearest to the scene of the action.  They are now in a vase in the conservatory, safe from the ravages of falling branches.  A little brown and battered perhaps but still giving a splash of colour and smiling to those still crowing in the garden outside.

Daffodils in springtime always seem to encourage me to get the camera out.  Reviewing just some of the pictures I have taken over the years I have chosen two, both with an ecclesiastical flavour.

Cruden Parish Church lies in the countryside between Cruden Bay and the main Peterhead to Aberdeen Road.  I noticed the bright yellows daffodils outside the church hall door, and after an unsuccessful attempt to get the picture with my phone, I went home for my camera and lay down on the ground so that I could get the flowers in the foreground and the church, surrounded by bare trees behind.


The other picture is taken inside Peterhead Old Parish Church, or the Muckle Kirk as it is known locally.   Again getting the little vase of flowers close to the camera with the slightly out of focus colourful inside of this large church behind created a pleasing picture.


Crocheting along with Granny

I am always fascinated to watch Mary crocheting.  She has taken to this craft in a big way recently, and produces wonderful, colourful pieces – blankets for grandchildren, a custom made cover for the bench seat of our motorhome, scarves, shawls, lovely little flowers which she wears on her body warmers, to mention but a few.  It is also a craft which she feels comfortable doing on long car journeys.

I have also learned to look a little embarrassed when I go to the wool shop for a 5 millimetre crochet hook, or a ball of a particular yarn.   “I have been sent for this….I stutter to the shop assistant,”  who smiles back, knowingly and indulgently, producing the required object.

I have also been exposed to video blogs (vlogs) of crocheting experts, and learned that any self respecting crocheter is required to store up a stash of yarns.

But I have never been tempted to take up a hook myself.   Not so Maisie,  our Granddaughter.  She loves to crochet along with Granny, even if her technique is a little idiosyncratic.  We were looking after her yesterday afternoon and she acquired two crochet hooks and some yarn.  Just look at the concentration on her face.   I wish I could have moved her away from the bright sunshine pouring in behind her from the window, to get a better picture, but you have to seize the moment.  These moments don’t last, and all I had was my phone.   But I love the resulting picture of the little crocheter.

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By the way, not only did she acquire hooks and yarn, she is now in possession of Mary’s favourite crochet flower brooch.   She will have to make another one now for herself.  That shouldn’t be a problem, she has plenty yarn in her stash.

Farewell Leylandii


A large Leylandii tree has dominated one corner of our garden, having stood there for 50 years or so.   It has been a home to many birds, a refuge for cats escaping our dogs, not to mention a play place for grandchildren.   But it has been getting out of hand, and not able to be thinned or pruned.   So with sadness in our hears be brought in the tree surgeon.  It was not the best of weather for the job either, driving April snow made it a wet and unpleasant job.


Even with a few of the bottom branches off, the tree began to look better, but we realised that it was just too big for our little garden.


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It was interesting to watch a skilled craftsman at work as he climbed up the thin trunks, wielding his chain saw.  And when it was all down, he brought out his big saw and slicded off the trunk close to the ground.   Counting the rings,  the original estimate of about 50 years was confirnmed.   We have even kept one of the big slices of the trunk as a souvenir.   Perhaps we will create a garden table out of it.



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We now have a big corner space in the garden.  We are planning a summer house there.  That’s the next project…….


Farewell Leylandia!

Thanks to Treewise of Aberdeenshire!

A cold day at Port Erroll

A strong wind got up yesterday afternoon, driving the snow and hail into your face.  Just the sort of weather to photograph waves at Port Erroll Harbour at Cruden Bay, or so I hoped.   The wind was certainly strong enough when I parked the car, so strong that it took me all my strength to open the driver’s door against the wind.  There were are couple of herring gulls posing for me, sheltering beside the sea wall. I didn’t need to get out of the car, just wind down the window to photograph them. Indeed as soon as I did open the door, they flew off.

But the wind was blowing from the land, and the only waves and spray to be seen was far out in the bay.

The light, though was interesting, making the little waves splashing in the harbour a bright grey blue colour. I took a few boat pictures as I walked with the dogs.

Standing out among the old containers used for storage along the edge of the quay is one beautiful shed. Clearly the owner is artistic, decorating his store with a life buoy, some scallop shells, netting and lobster claws.


My gulls came back and watched as I took my pictures of boats, dogs and of course, the shed.




A cold day on Aberdeen Beach

It was a cold day as I walked with the dogs along the sands on Aberdeen Beach.   Even in the height of summer,  Aberdeen Beach can be a cold place.  It is had to believe now how in those far off days before cheap flights and package holidays to Spain, crowds of Glaswegians would flock to Aberdeen at the Glasgow Fair for the delights of the beach and the North Sea waves.



Today we had this stretch of the beach to ourselves and  Poppy enjoyed a run at full speed, chasing birds like the rook which took off with a squawk of complaint.  Lily’s complaint of course was at the waves.  She used to be afraid of the water, but now she delights in barking at the waves, a touch of a doggy King Canute, perhaps?


You go first, Lily!

You go first, Lily!

The waves were not high, but there was enough movement in the water to give some dramatic pictures.   The groynes on the beach are a photographer’s delight, leading the eye out to sea and the oil supply boats waiting offshore.  And Girdleness Lighthouse draws the eye.




Celebrating the Bard

All the celebrations of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death today have brought back memories of a special performance which Mary and I attended of the Bard’s “Scottish Play”, (since you are not supposed to use its title!)   It was about 1967, when we were students together at St Andrews.  The performance was outdoors, in the ruins of St Andrew’s Castle.  I still recall sitting there, wrapped up in blankets as the fog rolled in and shrouded the castle – very atmospheric and just the right setting for the witches.

In those far off days Students at St Andrews University wore red gowns most of the time.  Indeed if you wore your gown you were not charged for entrance to the ruins of the castle.  It was one of the favourite places to study for final exams in the warm days of early summer.

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Sadly I don’t have any photographs of that Shakespeare performance, but I do have a slide of May Day celebrations at the castle when students in their red gowns greeted the dawn.   I even remember one year on May Day being brave enough to venture down to the sea below the castle walls and have a (very) quick dip. It snowed!   A BBC cameraman was there and we appeared for a few seconds on BBC Scotland news.


In my student gown in St Andrews Cathedral ruins

A different lighthouse

As I drove along the beach road in Aberdeen the other day I reflected on Girdleness Lighthouse which I could see silhouetted in the distance.   Perhaps I’m prejudiced, but its shape is not as aesthetically pleasing to me as Buchanness.  And it’s not just the shape, I miss the distinctive red bands that adorn our local lighthouse.

Perhaps here is a theme for a future photo project:  lighthouses. I can already think of a few I would like to photograph or photograph again.  To start off,  I remember a lovely walk a few years ago in early November on Tarbat Ness near Portmahomack in Easter Ross.  Now that is a proper lighthouse with red bands!  We were there just as the sun was going down with a lovely gold glow.

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The Emigration Stone


It was a moving experience to stand on the Links at Cromarty and read the words of Hugh Miller, the famous stone mason, writer and geologist, engraved on the Emigration Stone which commemorates the people from the Highlands who made the long journey to Canada at the time of Highland clearances.   Miller’s words come from the Inverness Courier in June 1831, marking the departure of the Cleopatra from Cromarty.

The Cleopatra, as she swept past the town of Cromarty, was greeted with three cheers by crowds of the inhabitants and the emigrants returned the salute, but mingled with the dash of the waves and the murmurs of the breeze their faint huzzas seemed rather sounds of wailing and lamentation than of a congratulatory farewell.

The town was a main embarkation port for the emigrants and the names of 39 ships known to have set sail from there in the 1830s and 40s are carved round the edge of the stone.

Cromarty Harbour

Cromarty Harbour

The gull perched on the top of the stone looks towards the harbour at Cromarty which has changed very little since Miller’s days.  All that has changed are the boats that can be seen there.

What you can see in the Cromarty Firth these days are oil rigs, presently laid up because of the downturn in the North Sea Oil industry.   It seems appropriate that my picture of the Emigration Stone and the oil platform are seen together, signs of the effect of economics on the lives of so many ordinary people.


Still in focus

I find it helps to have a subject or theme in mind when I am out with my camera.  I walked the dogs round the field yesterday, the first time for a while because of the damp weather which makes the field quite muddy.   The wind had blown all day and the sun was out and the field was accessible again.


I had the idea of taking pictures on the theme of Focus on the Foreground.   I had thought to try a picture of a daffodil with a yellow blur of daffodils behind.   However, there just did not seem to be the right clump of daffodils and I came away with just one, and it’s still not whast I wanted.IMG_6137




There are not many trees in the field, but I focussed on details and I am quite pleased with the resulting pictures.  And of course there is always a gorse bush in bloom at this time of year.  One or two other pictures presented themselves, like the reeds beside the burn and a young rook hopping about beside the path.




The dogs are not too happy with me stopping to take pictures all the time.  Lily got quite bored and Poppy was trying to entice me on.



A figure on the beach

We went for a walk along the beach at Cruden Bay on Saturday evening.  It was getting late, but it was a lovely, if chilly evening.  We had the beach to ourselves, well nearly.  We met one lady from Massachusetts who was staying in a local hotel and was delighted to chat and to greet our dogs.   We were able to give her some local information and tell her how to find Slains Castle which she hoped to visit the next day.  It was only when I got home and looked at the pictures I had taken that I noticed she appears as the lone figure on the beach, almost lost on the wide stretch of sand at low tide.


The dogs did enjoy their run.  Poppy circled us over and over again and even tried to scale the dunes.  Poor Lily always comes second in the races, but she does not seem to mind.


My eye was taken by these tacks in the sand, a straight line far into the distance.  The footprints were quite far spaced.  I think it had been two people running along the beach.


The Ladies Bridge across the Water of Cruden which gives access to the sands was rebuilt about a year ago now.  It is wider than the old bridge, and quite sturdy.  It is a shame, though, that the wood has been left its natural colour.  It does lack the impact of the old bridge which shone out with its white paintwork.


Getting it into focus

Fraser, my brother-in-law has been commenting recently about pictures with the foreground in focus and the rest blurry.  I have agreed with him that we will post a few pictures in that style on Facebook.   This took me back to a project I did last year to take a photograph in that style for Practical Photography Magazine.  I tried various locations and in the end submitted this shot of a model fishing boat on a Peterhead beach.


I have several other pictures in this style in stock but yesterday I decided to go out and deliberately take another one on my regular walk with the dogs.   When the Hatton field is too wet and muddy for little dogs with short logs and a low slung undercarriage I will often walk up the little road to Auchlethen farm.  Yesterday’s pictures were taken on the same road.


The Last Post

It is amazing how often you can walk past something and not really register it.   There are a couple of big fence posts driven into the verge.  Clearly this had been the line of a fence at some time but now they are connected to nothing.  I have walked past them countless times and not really noticed them.   Today I focussed on one, with its remnants of barbed wire, and the road leading back down to Hatton, blurry in the background.   The wood on the right of the picture is also the hiding place for the roe deer which I will often see here.   I have called the picture, The Last Post.


The last post from the different angle. (Taken a few weeks ago)

Preposition Photographs

I am always looking for possible photographs wherever I am.   Sometimes it is not possible to stop and take a picture, sometimes I don’t have my camera with me, but with smart phones these days it is nearly always possible to try a picture.

The weather wasn’t great last night:  it was overcast and grey, but at least the rain had stopped.   I had my camera with me with a plan to photograph the pair of wee lambs I had noticed in the field.  Unfortunately they were coorried down at the far side of field, far too far away for a photograph.   But I did manage a few pictures:  preposition photographs, looking out, looking in, looking down, and looking up.


I looked out and saw some sheep and focussed on one which was making its way purposefully across the field.   Clearly it had been having supper and not wearing a bib:  you can see some hay on its front and coming out of its mouth.


There was another sheep, shut up in a trailer, watching me intently as I walked past.  I could see its eyes over the spars of the gate at the front of the trailer.   This seemed like a picture to take, focussing on looking in.


On the road to Auclethen farm there are quite a few daffodils in bloom now.  I remember getting excited when I spied a couple of dwarf daffodils a few weeks ago.  Now there are lots in bloom and all different shapes and sizes.  Looking down I focussed on these more exotic flowers.


There were a few rooks about, and the occasional seagull.  On my way home I looked up, and saw the gull, gently circling beside the wood of larch trees near by, the same trees we can see from our bedroom window.  Perhaps not the best picture, with the grey sky and the bare trees, but you make the picture with what you have.

Perhaps the lambs will come nearer and pose for me another day.


What to leave out

After my visit to Potarch the other day I was reminded of the photographs I took last year of the old bridge over the River Ythan in Ellon.  The bridge is now for pedestrians only with the traffic leaving Ellon crossing by a new bridge build alongside.   The blossom is now out on the trees again this year but there has neither been the weather or the time to go to Ellon with my camera.   I took two pictures, one with the tree in blossom and the second some weeks later with the leaves in place.   Looking at them again I find it hard to say which I prefer.



Pictures can tell only part of a story.  Any one who has looked at photographs included in schedules for buying a house will know that.  They only show the best bits, and will often hide the unsightly things right next door.   The old bridge pictures only tell part of the story too.  You would never know that I was standing at the edge of the car park right in the middle of town.  Part of the art of a photographer is to choose what to leave out of the picture.

Along the Dee at Potarch

Aberdeenshire is a big county.  The other day I found myself beside the Bridge of Potarch on the River Dee, 50 miles from home but still in Aberdeenshire.  I had never stopped there before to admire the bridge, but on this occasion I parked in the adjacent layby on the road between Banchory and Aboyne and took out my camera.  I was sure there would be a picture there.


The arches of the bridge make a very pleasing shape with the waters of the Dee flowing past pink rocks. Built by Thomas Telford and opened in 1813 to the convey the old military road which made its way from Edinburgh over the Cairn o’ Mounth and eventually ended up in Fochabers, later extended to Fort George, near Inverness.   There was a network of military roads built by General Wade and others in the post Culloden days to help subdue the Highlands after the 1745 rebellion. Later I drove along a portion of that road from the south side of the bridge as I headed to Strachan and Finzean.   From there the military road climbs up and over the Cairn o’ Mounth as it heads south.

The other claim to fame of the Bridge of Potarch is the great feat of strength of Victorian strong man, Donald Dinnie who managed to carry two huge stones over the bridge in 1860.   But I was not inspired to try any great feat of strength but to try to take a few pictures, despite the grey overcast day.

Then Lily, Poppy and I went for a walk along the Deeside Way footpath.   The damage caused by the flooding in December during Storm Frank was very evident, although repairs are now underway.   There was plenty of grass and other vegetation caught up on fences and trees where the water had risen and flooded the fields.  You can see it quite clearly in the picture I took when I posed Lily and Poppy at a picnic table. The flood even damaged the old bridge, but fortunately it is now repaired and hopefully will stand for many years to come.


Following Farquharson

I have been posting nature photographs on Facebook for nearly a month now, thanks to a challenge by my brother-in-law, Fraser.  I have discovered that a fresh pair of eyes looking at what is for me, a familiar photograph can see different things.

Three years ago took a picture of some sheep in a snowy field just outside Hatton while I was on an early morning walk with my dog.  I was quite pleased with it – the sun just trying to shine through the wintery clouds and the sheep quietly grazing in the field.   When I put it on Facebook, Dana from Latvia immediately thought of something that had never occurred to me.   My picture reminded her of a postcard she had of a painting by Joseph Farquharson of Finzean.  He is best known for his landscapes of sheep in snow, often with the rising sun giving a warm orange glow to his pictures.

"Beneath The Snow Encumbered Branches" by Joseph Farquharson

“Beneath The Snow Encumbered Branches” by Joseph Farquharson

If it was good enough for the Laird of Finzean………  I opened up Photoshop and warmed up the tones in my original photograph and created my own Farquharson style picture.  Afterward Fraser said it did remind him of a Farquharson, painting.


Yesterday I made a trip to Birse to look for the farm where my great-great-grandfather, Joseph Coutts was born in 1806.  The old Parish Records for the Parish of Birse record his baptism there.  While I was in the area I paid a quick visit to the old Birse Kirk, and there in the graveyard was the tomb of the Farquharson family, including  Joseph Farquharson, the artist.  The reference books say that the Coutts family is a sept of the Farquharson Clan.  They may have shared a clan and a first name and hailed from the same part of the world, but they led very different lives, the 13th Laird of Finzean and the agricultural labourer who was my great-great-grandfather.


Birse Kirk


In memory of JOSEPH FARQUHARSON RA of Finzean (1846-1935)

By the way, I did find Murley, the farm where Joseph Coutts was born, but I will write about that another day.

Passing a rainy weekend

It was not how we had hoped to spend the weekend visit by the grandchildren.  We had plans to go to Whinnyfold and throw stones in the water.  This is always a favourite activity.   But the weather put paid to that.   While the rest of the country seemed to bask in sunshine, Hatton was shrouded in clouds and the rain poured down.



Indoor activities were the order of the day.  Lochlann concentrated on Minecraft while Maisie found girlie activities with Granny.




We all hope the weather is kinder on their next visit to Hatton.

A walk in Dales Park


I decided I would give the dogs a walk in Dales Park when I was in Peterhead yesterday.  It had been pouring with rain in the morning but the weather had dried up and the paths looked decided “un-muddy” – or I thought.


By the time I was half way round the circuit I was walking up a little stream that was flowing down the path, and the whole area was very soggy.  Not that the dogs minded, it was me who had to wipe them down afterwards.




It was a lovely spring day.  The light was good, the bare trees seemed to stand out against the sky.  There daffodils everywhere, adding a  splash of yellow to the scene.   I managed a few photographs with daffodils and the unleafed skeletons of trees.  It was fortunate that I had a thick supermarket bag in the car, so I was able to kneel down to get closer to the flowers.

While I was there I also took the opportunity to look for another view of the Reform Tower.   I will come back later when the trees are in leaf and see how the tower looks then.



Dales Park and daffodils in April.   I can hardly wait for the bluebells in the woods to come out!

Urban ornithology

My cousin Ian Smith commented recently on Facebook about how many people are able to get pictures of Herons on riverbanks.  He had just posted a wonderful picture of herons up a tree – a very different setting.   That set my mind off and I realised that bird pictures don’t have to be in the countryside.  I had a quick trawl through some of my pictures for urban ornithology.

A Heron near a wear on the River Brent in West London underneath the Motorway!

A Heron near a wear on the River Brent in West London underneath the Motorway!

Great Tit in the garden

Great Tit in the garden

My neighbour has provided a desirable residence for the sparrows

My neighbour has provided a desirable residence for the sparrows

Jackdaws pair off on the overhead electricity wires

Jackdaws pair off on the overhead electricity wires

The eye of the cat

Mary showed me some funny videos on the Internet the other day of dogs afraid to go past a cat.   It became obvious quite quickly that the cat was deliberately intimating the dog.  Size didn’t matter.  The cat was giving the dog the evil eye and daring it to try to get past.


That was the sort of thing that happened at the weekend when we were visiting family in Aberdeen.  Binky, the ginger cat was deliberately sitting on the kitchen windowsill, giving Poppy our little dog who was out in the garden, the evil eye.  Poppy will usually get very excited when she sees cats, and will set off in hot pursuit.   But she could not get at Binky who was six feet or more above her, and safely behind glass.  Poppy got so excited and started barking her little head off.  Score: Binky 1, Poppy 0.

Meanwhile in London, Pepsi, the kitten was practising her staring from inside a cardboard box.