Friday, July 22, 2016

A day at the seaside

an early start to drive east to the coast
the sun already high at seven
by eight outside Peterborough 
the rush hour is half-hearted
by nine we see the sea

Hunstanton's car parks offer loads of space
the sun shines hot, but coffee hits the spot
the tide is out, the beaches spread for miles
we stroll along the prom  
bathed by a sea breeze

the cliffs rise in broad colour bands
the greens and gardens lead upwards
to the bowling club and cafe with a view
benches along a wall, almost in shade

we walk, we look for hats and sandals
have lunch and wander to the beach
the tide's way way out, 
a long hike to the sea
we sport the trousers-rolled-to-paddle look

retreat with chairs and books to wait awhile
watching the crowds, all ages, sizes
by five the sea is close and deep enough to swim
and warm, no shivers today
though we have memories

two years since we've had a sea swim
this time no need to brace as 
the water licks my belly

when we emerge the breeze is welcome
not fierce and chill

a meal at Goblin Pantry fills the belly
we still seek shade and breeze

To end the day a pilgrimage to holdays past
we visit Heacham, locate the house called Shenstone

drive to the beach and watch the sun go down
from this westward facing beach in Eastern England
its golden orange red path on the waves
silhouettes walkers, a dog, an evening bather.

Turning round, we see the risen moon is full.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Day out at Clumber Park

We met Dan, with Isaac and Rose, for a day at Clumber Park, in Nottinghamshire. The drive up was one of the wettest ever, torrential rain and loads of surface water on the A1. The Park is a huge estate owned by the National Trust, and was once the seat of the Dukes of Newcastle.
A mansion stood near the lake, and this year there is a series of outdoor "rooms" on the site. 

Antlers and a moustache and picture frames in one room, dining furniture, which serves as picnic tables, sofas and armchairs, 
a free-standing freplace and a front door!  Scope for silly games and role plays.  
The mansion was demolished in the 1930s. 



The Park has loads of space to walk or cycle, as well as the lake and the longest double avenue of lime trees (tilia) in Europe.
The church of St Mary the Virgin is a rather blocky Gothic Revival chapel, dating from 1886.  Interior of Red Runcorn stone, exterior Steetly ashlar with Red Runcorn dressings. I had to look that up!  We took the opportunity to sketch the church after Dan had left, giving ourselves half an hour.
As I was packing up, these greylag geese thought the carrier bag must contain food. Sorry, guys, nothing doing.


Footnote: We were last here in June 2012. Four years pass in a flash.


Friday, July 08, 2016

Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes

From one book to another and another leads the trail.

After reading James Hogg's The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, I had already put Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde on my mental re-reading list.
Then a friend posted a link to a programme about Robert Louis Stevenson, and Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes. 


As an inveterate walker, though never with a donkey, and not for many years with camping gear or anything like, I had to read it again.  Sometimes he slept in inns, often sharing a room with others, sometimes he camped out under the stars. The book is a great mix of descriptions of scenery, reflections on the people he met, his own thoughts and feelings and the history of the region.  
The Cévennes area was the site of religious conflict between Protestant Camisards and Catholics at the beginning of the eighteenth century, and Stevenson met people from both faiths, leading him to make comparisons with the Covenanters in Scotland. 
And it leads me to reflect on the way religious differences divide communities and people even now.
But the lasting impression is of his appetite for adventure and discovery.
So onwards to Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. . . 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The View from Castle Rock, by Alice Munro

I was surprised and intrigued to discover that Alice Munro, the Canadian short story writer and Nobel prize winner had connections with James Hogg and the Ettrick Valley.
I read and enjoyed some of her work several years ago.  

Her writing has an understated precision, the stories set in rural and small town Canada, mostly in the mid-twentieth century.

The View from Castle Rock takes its title from the story that one of Munro's ancestors, James Laidlaw, pointed out to his son, Andrew, the Kingdom of Fife on the far side of the Forth, declaring that it was America.  An example of the Laidlaw love of stories, which runs through the generations from at least the time of Will o'Phaup, the last man in Scotland to speak with the fairies.

I was warned that Munro was not very flattering about the Ettrick valley - and indeed she is not, though her first visit involved walking around the graveyard in the rain, not the best way to see a place and very different from our first visit in glorious summer weather.

Ettrick church on a gloomy morning


Of course, I was fascinated, as I usually am, by the mention of places I had seen, near to the cottage where we were staying, and the way the history of the Laidlaws is woven into the fabric of the valley. Much of Munro's material here comes from Hogg's writings, in the Shepherd's Calendar in Blackwoods Magazine, brought back to life with her usual deft touch.

When it came to her ancestors' journey over the Atlantic and their first years in Canada, the book continued to hold my interest. She adds her imagination to the bare bones of a factual account, helped by the fact that "...every generation of our family seemed to produce somebody who went in for writing long, outspoken, sometimes outrageous letters, and detailed recollections."  She was lucky to have the material, but the treatment of it is very much her own, wonderful storyteller that she is.

I think anyone who has been caught up in an obsession with family history will recognise this sentence in her epilogue.
"We can't resist this rifling around in the past, sifting the untrustworthy evidence, linking stray names and questionable dates and anecdotes together, hanging on to threads, insisting on being joined to dead people and therefore to life."


Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Ettrick Shepherd, James Hogg

We recently spent a week in the Ettrick Valley, and became interested in James Hogg through an exhibition in the old primary school.
I have also written a couple of short posts about some of his work. There is plenty of info available online too.


James Hogg was born in the Ettrick Valley, late in 1770. His father was a tenant farmer at Ettrick Hall, and his mother Margaret Laidlaw was the daughter of Will o'Phaup, reputed to be the last man in the Borders to talk with the fairies. His mother knew lots of traditional local songs and stories.
James left school after six months and went to work as a cowherd to help the family finances.  In his teens taught himself to read and write, and play the fiddle. He began to write poems and songs.
Around 1800, while he was working as a shepherd, he met Walter Scott, who was Sheriff of Selkirk, and was collecting material for his Border Ballads. The two men became and remained friends.
Tibbie Shiel's Inn, visited by James Hogg and Walter Scott

Hogg moved to Edinburgh in 1810, as he was unsuccessful as a farmer.  He didn't make a lot of money from his writing, but began to make a name for himself.
In 1815 the Duke of Buccleuch granted him, rent-free, the farm of Altrive in the Yarrow valley.
His most famous work,  The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, was published in 1824.
James Hogg died in November1835, and is buried in Ettrick churchyard, near his parents and Will o' Phaup.

James Hogg's tombstone

Tombstone of William Laidlaw (Will o'Phaup), and of his daughter, Margaret Laidlaw Hogg, and her husband, Robert Hogg. Robert and Margaret were the parents of James.

Alice Munro, the Canadian short story writer and Nobel Prize winner, was a Laidlaw before her first marriage. She descends from James Laidlaw, a cousin of James Hogg, and from Will o'Phaup.
She tells the story of this in her 2006 book, The View from Castle Rock. Thanks to her book, I was able to find and decipher the gravestones - and James Hogg's epitaph for Will o'Phaup.

Here lyeth William Laidlaw
the far famed Will o'Phaup,
who for feats of frolic, agility and strength,
had no equal in his day . . .




Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner

James Hogg's most famous book, published in 1824, was rediscovered and praised by André Gide, and influenced Stevenson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Ian Rankin has also praised it highly.
I decided I should read it, and found it surprisingly easy in spite of occasional bursts of Scots speech.

It contains comedy alongside horror.  There are echoes of the conflict between episcopalians and presbyterians. There's plenty of criticism of the Calvinist doctrine of predestination - giving the chosen ones a free pass to heaven.  There's a shape-shifting demon, and undertones of Faust. 

His examination of fanaticism, and the way it leads people to believe they are justified in killing those who disagree with them resonates strongly today.


Monday, June 13, 2016

A boy's song by James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd (1770-1835)

A boy's song

Where the pools are bright and deep,

Where the gray trout lies asleep,

Up the river and o'er the lea,

That's the way for Billy and me.


Where the blackbird sings the latest,

Where the hawthorn blooms the sweetest,

Where the nestlings chirp and flee,

That's the way for Billy and me.


Where the mowers mow the cleanest,

Where the hay lies thick and greenest,

There to trace the homeward bee,

That's the way for Billy and me.


Where the hazel bank is steepest,

Where the shadow falls the deepest,

Where the clustering nuts fall free.

That's the way for Billy and me.


Why the boys should drive away,

Little sweet maidens from the play,

Or love to banter and fight so well,

That's the thing I never could tell.


But this I know, I love to play,

Through the meadow, among the hay;

Up the water and o'er the lea,

That's the way for Billy and me.


JAMES HOGG.