Wednesday 28 November 2018

Dunfermline. Fife. A Strong American Connection.

                                                ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN.
A bus trip out to central Fife a while ago but just getting to it now- still over on the sunny east coast but this time centered around an exploration of this fine historic town with long deep roots and an ancient pedigree. Queen Margaret, an English Princess, married Malcolm III  of Scotland then founded a priory here around 1070, enticing some monks from Canterbury to set up a religious complex that attracted nobles, royal visits, and quickly became the preferred burial ground of various kings and the royal court- just one of several lucky spots around the UK to get the seal of approval from royals but a favourite haunt. A bit like Queen Victoria and Prince Albert falling in love with Balmoral. Margaret later became a saint, having devoted her spare time to healing and good causes. A virtue that would  later be repeated in spectacular style by another famous native of this town. An early philanthropist and one of the greatest of the modern age.
Dunfermline bus station above.
Which explains how this modest community in the middle of Fife, roughly 2 hours drive from Glasgow has so many interesting period buildings within it. Great things came out of this modest place in past times. The Abbey above has Robert- The- Bruce- King written in large letters around the four sides of the parapet tower.

After Margaret, Queen of Scotland, started the priory here her son David 1 expanded it into a large prestigious abbey in the 1100s. Robert the Bruce in the 1300s then restored the central core of buildings here, including the monastery and when he dies is also buried in Dunfermline Abbey Church. Apart from his heart which is placed in a silver casket and is transported by his trusted right hand man for many years, Sir James Douglas, thus fulfilling a pledge death prevented him keeping. To visit Jerusalem and the Holy Lands as his final task.
So there is plenty to see here a short walk away from the bus station. This photo was taken in the museum gardens of the Abbey Church.
I've been underwhelmed slightly by some local museums in towns I've visited and especially galleries of 'modern art.'    but this one was more to my tastes. A recreation of a 1960s kitchen that took me right back to childhood as ours looked very similar growing up and the tenement estate featured in the photo was a doppelganger as well for my own three tenement high estate growing up in Pollok.
Really enjoyed wandering around this fine museum. Not particularly large, compared to a city one, but great displays throughout.
1990s kitchen. I had a wry smile to myself at this one being presented as an ancient artifact to a modern audience as my own kitchen looks very similar, even today. Same units, same spice rack, same toaster, similar micro wave and cooker, same kitchen roll holder. If it ain't broke I don't replace it and modern electrical goods are now designed to break down after a few years use anyway. Old stuff was built to last. And has in my case.
I never realized they had a large factory here but every town and village then in the UK seemed to be  manufacturing something or other before we became a service and financial industry instead, centered around London, with anything valuable privatized or sold off to overseas interests. Loads of interesting stuff in this town museum but I'll keep that surprise for visitors.
Museum entrance here and old streets off the main shopping one. The 15th century Abbot House in pink.
The City Chambers. An impressive structure in its own right. Built in the late 1800s with a Gothic looking spire.
The gates to the great estate of Pittencreiff Public Park, once the private grounds of the Forbes family, a member of which, General John Forbes, fought in various wars around the world, including the 1745 Jacobite Rising, before eventually ending up in North America for the French and Indian War. He forged a path with his army through trackless wilderness in Pennsylvania from Carlisle to Pittsburgh, naming what would later become the steel capital of the USA, and inadvertently kick started the American Independence movement into the bargain. He ordered a string of forts built on a route that would later open up the country and Pittsburgh was named after the British government leader Pitt the Elder. Largely forgotten in the UK now outside Dunfermline various place names in Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh commemorate him, including the trail he blazed across country to capture an enemy French fort, the efforts of which ensured victory but also his death from failing health. He was already ill when he set off and the travel took its toll. Today the Forbes Trail is a well known route and history lesson stretching from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia. Fitting in many ways, as he died shortly after and was buried in Philadelphia in 1759, never returning to see his home again.

Forbes Trail USA Link here. Good details, interactive maps and history.

And this is it here  Pittencrieff House. In John Forbes day a grand private estate with shut gates that a young and poor Andrew Carnegie used to stand outside as a boy around the1840s, wishing he could explore it and climb the trees. He grew up in Dunfermline as well but in more deprived surroundings, the son of a struggling weaver in a humble town cottage shared with another family.
In a weird coincidence though he and his family emigrated to North America where he ended up in Pittsburgh of all places close to 100 years later than General John Forbes, during the industrial revolution sweeping America. There he gradually transformed a somewhat inefficiently scattered fledgling steel industry into a mighty unified colossus, turning himself into one of the world's richest men in the process when he sold up and retired. Sitting on well over $300 billion dollars of a fortune in today's money. Equally remarkably, in the last 20 years of his life he gave most of that vast wealth away, founding colleges, institutions, universities, and libraries all over the English speaking parts of the planet. He did not forget Dunfermline however and returned frequently, nabbing the park and house for the public to enjoy- free for all to visit. And a magnificent park it is. The real attraction for my visit. The shut gates are now open and renamed after his wife Louise. Several buildings in the town bear his name.
The other Carnegie Hall... In Dunfermline.
The Winter Gardens. Pittencrieff Park. Not large but beautiful.
With a small pond and ornamental fish.
A fine range of mature trees but also open grassy meadows and expansive views as Dunfermline sits on a rising slope with sweeping vistas over a lower part of rural Fife.
It also boasts an attractive, heavily wooded glen crisscrossed with paths.
Which complements the more open grass meadows in the upper park above.
Dunfermline also boasts another park, a couple of km away. This is also old but has more open slopes, a bandstand, and less mature groups of trees.
In a small wood nearby is a local sculpture park for children.
The Gruffalo and friend. Two popular children's book characters in the UK
So Dunfermline is full of surprises. Other notable natives born in this town are ballet dancer and actress Moria Shearer, star of The Red Shoes and Dan McCafferty, lead singer of Nazareth... and many, many others besides. A great day out.
And another highlight.
The French version of The Voice and an exceptional singer from Corsica with a traditional theme and instrument. Worth seeing although I could do without the judges reactions and expressions each time in these programmes and just have the singers on instead.

Friday 16 November 2018

North Berwick to Gullane. Adventures on the Golden Coast.

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Another bus trip out east to avoid the gloom and wet weather of the west coast and the gloom and increasing shambles of Brexit. This was another section of the John Muir Way. Well, my John Muir Way as I'd be following the coastline and beaches whereas the actual route heads inland after North Berwick. I had explored this coastline before but it had been as part of a solo cycling tour decades ago so I hadn't walked the full route to Gullane along the coast. North Berwick and town beach above. High tide during this walk but still ok to complete the route.
Getting closer. The no 124 from Princes Street to North Berwick is coloured with green and so is the bus stops it arrives at, letting you know that's where to stand to catch it.They also have 124 marked on them. One every hour I think.  Edinburgh local buses are traditionally maroon and cream coloured but East Coast buses are normally green and service a different area, commonly known as the Sunshine Coast. And it was.
By going into North Berwick itself I was walking in completely the wrong direction to where I was going but I couldn't resist visiting this small coastal town again and seeing this... Bass Rock.  A soaring volcanic monolith  rising from the Firth of Forth and home every spring to one of the largest colonies of northern gannets in the world. Over 100 metres, 350 feet high,  at the summit but made even more impressive with vertical cliffs guarding every part of it except the lighthouse, castle, and landing area.
A gannet. A large seabird with a dagger like beak- useful for diving at speed from height into the sea after fish. 150,000 of these elegant streamlined birds live here, nesting in spring and summer on the rock, turning it white, before leaving in the winter months although many stay here all year round depending on what the fishing is like. With expert flying skills Africa, Spain and the Med is a short hop away if a hard Scottish winter sets in.
Even on its gentler side it is often impossible to land due to a large east coast swell and landing nowadays is strictly controlled here anyway. When I first visited in the 1980s, if I remember correctly, it was first come first served and it didn't cost very much to visit in an oversized wooden rowing boat with an outboard motor at the rear. Health and safety or bird welfare almost non existent.

Now, I believe, you have to book months in advance for a place due to popularity and a range of different trips are available. On the one I was on we visited all the other islands as well.
Several other islands dot the Firth of Forth in this vicinity, the furthest out being the Isle of May, seen here, once the base for opportunistic pirate ships lurking unseen in the days of sail, ready to pounce on slower merchants loaded with goods.
Berwick Law, seen here, is another prominent volcanic plug, which sits directly above the town, in an area which has several more scattered around.
So golden sandy beaches, blue skies, vast horizons and volcanic thimbles sticking up dramatically in an otherwise flat landscape are main features of this walk. Bass Rock and Berwick Law seen here from the beaches near Fidra. Around seven separate beaches separated by small coves and cliffs lie between North Berwick and Gullane and make an enjoyable scenic walking trip. Three separate offshore islands  add further interest.

Craigleith, Lamb, and Fidra, which you pass as you walk westwards towards Gullane. Uri Geller owns Lamb, a bird reserve as are the other two islands.
Rocky Fidra, seen here on a zoom, was an early inspiration for writer Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island as he knew this area well as a boy and teenager. It has a dramatic profile from all angles so you can see why it would attract his youthful imagination. It also has a curious doughnut type hole cutting straight through the centre of it.
A different view of Fidra from another beach further on. So near yet so far. An uninhabited bird reserve now like all the others I've mentioned. Once you leave North Berwick behind you also leave the crowds and the next stretch was noticeable for its solitude, only a few other walkers making it this far and none near me, just specks in the distance.
Wildlife took over as my companions. Pied wagtail here looking for lunch crumbs.
Red Admiral. Seen a few of these over here now- not much else butterfly wise- strange with so many wildflowers around on the east coast.
Starlings by the shoreline.
Small boat out to sea, skirting the coastline.
Intrepid pilot up above.
treating me to an ariel display and several loop the loops. Need experience and big balls to go upside down in an open cockpit I'd imagine, even if strapped in.
More golden beaches. Fidra in the distance giving an idea of scale and ground covered. Around 4 hours fast walking along the coastline with no real stops plus 2 more hours exploring the town and walks between various buses and my house.
More wildlife.
Small hunter in the seaweed looking for bugs.
Geese overhead.
And landing later.
A cracking walk high tide or low but I was glad to see the last beach at Gullane come into view. The first community reached since North Berwick on this surprisingly empty and still remote chunk of headland. It was getting cold and the light was fading by this point so a 124 bus back from Gullane High Street to Edinburgh. Six buses in all. Around 12 km including town walking. 16km total overall from house. 12 hour day round trip. Pitch black start- pitch black finish. The nights are definitely getting longer. Dark by 4:30 pm in the afternoons now.

So this feels very appropriate. A classic by a singer/ songwriter/guitarist who has been around since the 1960s. Co-founder of The Youngbloods. Great evocative violin/fiddle accompaniment here. Grows on you this one does.

Saturday 10 November 2018

The Colours of Autumn. The Greatest War of All... still ongoing in 2018.

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With remembrance Sunday approaching and the First World War on the news and in other media outlets generally over the last month I thought I would borrow a few poppies for an often overlooked casualty of any war and all wars throughout history. The planet and the wildlife on it. Tens of millions of horses, cattle, donkeys, elephants, etc etc... basically anything that could carry men, ammunition, guns, supplies, or anything else helpful to the war effort was gathered up and drafted in to do a job, right back to the first civilizations and often treated with unbelievable cruelty and hardship. Some acts of kindness as well but war, by its very nature, is generally not the place for sentiment or much compassion. It's too brutal an arena for that.
Canada Geese flying into the UK for the winter. Also factor in the hundreds of millions of animals killed in any war zone, the loss of habitat, and breeding areas and it far outnumbers any human casualties. Humans are on the increase year by year, greater numbers now than ever before, despite our constant 'wars to end all wars'- out-breeding the planet and its remaining resources. Animals, insects and oceans, are in steady decline, pushed out to the margins by modern consumerism and growth- a collective mania to buy things we don't really need, then throw away months or a few years later, to end up in rubbish dumps so we can buy even more junk to squeeze into the few remaining holes left- as that's the way we have learned to function. To enjoy ourselves spending on anything and everything in sight. Disposable trinkets of every description. Beads and mirrors in exchange for our souls. No more make do or mend required. To have fun in rampant commerce instead and new toys every month, throwing out the old even if unbroken. To make us all happy? Getting rid of the unnecessary Secret Santa craze every year in modern offices would be a good start. That could fill a stadium sized hole in every country by itself. A tiny part of a deliberate propaganda and business model over the last 60 years carefully cultivated by an elite group of shadowy individuals who run our world completely. Not politicians, or kings and queens, or heads of state. They are just the visible pawns but the real people who mold and shape our world, deliberately destroying and altering it to suit themselves are mostly low key and hidden from view, competing with each other for the time honored delights of power, ambition, greed, religious conviction or even just for relieving boredom. It's not really about money anymore- they have countless billions already. Like every other human on the planet they are driven and motivated  by personal obsessions- only in their case it's a need to succeed- to go further- to beat everyone else- to preserve a lasting a generations long global empire. Countries and all political parties bow down to them as they pull the strings behind the curtain. And we probably end up paying them for each new recession to bail us out again.

 Since the 1960s they have escalated this trend towards cheap disposable goods at an ever increasing rate but not to our benefit. Certainly not now in the long term. According to various reports three or four people today own more wealth than the poorest 50 percent on the planet will ever acquire.  Or put another way one percent own the other 99 percent.... a situation that's a more extreme division of wealth than ever before in the modern era. I wouldn't mind that but instead of swanning off and enjoying it they always find new ways to exploit the world make more, to change our situation year by year and gain even more control over us in the process. The 1970s/1980s is when this new disposable trend started so it's back to a future before that if we even want a future to look forward towards.  Are certain technological advances really helping us improve our lot or just dumbing us down even more- just made for greater profits and a handy collar and chain for the servant's neck? A trusty safeguard to keep us compliant. All over the world right now employees are already getting micro-chipped... for security purposes in their jobs. Tracked and coded. But once that becomes normalized in the workplace, who knows what else.  Programmable particles are also being developed in labs, tiny robots so small they can enter our bloodstream- for good or ill. Sadly, not for much longer the realm of science fiction novels like Michael Crichton's excellent 2002 book -Prey. Will we even have a choice when it comes down to it? Did we have one with smart phones? And is that a wise move forwards for humanity?

 You could argue that the vast movements of people seen today from poor to wealthy countries have been greatly facilitated by smart phones. Incentive images showing a better life, directions and methods of travel and entry, potential jobs, ease of networking and feedback from friends who have made the change already... all listed worldwide at the push of a button in mud hut or shanty town. Why wouldn't you grab that chance, however slim, compared to your surroundings when you see the opportunity of a better life elsewhere? Almost every day through your phone. A modern carrot on a stick. ( Of course wealthy countries only got that way by stealing the resources of poorer countries they exploited and controlled but I'll cover that topic in a future post soon as it's still happening today.) History is often what you choose to remember as a nation or individual, rather than the reality.

 To house computer in the corner. (my new and totally essential personal servant) " Hi little buddy, here's a question for you know every single thing about me, my bank accounts, my relations and colleagues, past lovers, and all I've ever done since birth. "
"Yes, I do my Master."
Aye, thought so.
We also need to learn how to get our fun in less destructive ways. It can be done. It doesn't take much thought at all. This is our war. Taking place now. The fight for the planet. I'm already in the resistance movement but more through natural lifetime inclination than deliberate choice.

So my poppies are for the planet. As what they are doing to it is not sustainable in any way, shape or form. And it's a deliberate act. You could argue that war memorials are part remembrance for those who have died and those affected left behind but it's also a form of propaganda in its own right. Any glance at history or around the world today will tell you that war is a large part of the human condition- and that certain people, already wealthy,  make vast fortunes in war- just as in recessions. Steady but slow peacetime prosperity is for plodders- no spectacular growth to be had there but a useful lull to get plans into place before the inevitable happens again. So war memorials serve a double purpose IMHO if peace drags on too long to remind the lazy population that they may have to do their bit again at some point---to always be ready to go off and fight as our ancestors have before- to fall into line... especially in a modern age when people are more cynical and less inclined to follow routine doctrine and may even realise the pointless futility of any modern war. What if, God forbid, the canon fodder simply refuse to fight anymore- then the generals will have to slog it out toe to toe- far less fall out involved in that scenario. So there is another reason for remembering a war fought 100 years ago. And it's not so it will never happen again.

                                                       Sunset over the River Clyde.
Unfortunately, humans, by their very nature, are easily provoked to fight. The people in charge know this only too well. All it takes is a perceived enemy... be that Communists, the Chinese, Islamic State, The backward Middle East, The corrupt West- anybody really will do. Any issue to baffle and motivate the masses.  Most of them funded and supplied of course by the elite at the top moving pieces on the board to maximize profit. Being at war means you can grab lands, resources, drain other countries wealth while improving your own - and generally have a great time- from the shadows. All things you can do much quicker and easier in a war.
                                                        From death comes new life.
Happily nature tries to tidy up afterwards, improve the chaos- but will that always be the case?
                                        Or will there come a limit to even her generosity of spirit?
Often the worst diseases appear during times of war and they can be worse than the war itself. Aids, Rabies, Plague- all flourished and spread during times of great human hardship. Our old enemy plague is still around today, lurking subdued on several continents, just waiting for a catalyst and the right conditions to stage a comeback. Wars are dangerous on many different fronts.
Many victims there as well but rarely talked about.
For two years during World War One, the 'Spanish Flu' pandemic spread world wide. The only country/continent not affected was far flung Australia which managed to quarantine itself in time by banning all ships. Being at war and vast movements of troops in close proximity meant it spread and evolved far more rapidly than a normal outbreak would do and by the end it had killed more than 50 million. It didn't start in Spain and is rarely talked about today so it was a real eyeopener of a programme for me when I watched it.
 Link here to this BBC 2 programme.

50 million is a conservative estimate as many Commonwealth countries at that time had poor hospital facilities, overwhelmed staff, and keeping records on the growing piles of dead was not a top priority. It could easily have been 100 million killed directly through this deadly flu pandemic - many times more than the total who died as a result of fighting in WW1 yet it is rarely mentioned at all. Equally heartbreaking for families I'd imagine as babies, mum, dads, teenagers, grannies and grandads all died together, often vomiting rivers of blood at the end as they gurgled and choked to death all in one house or crowded wards. Entire families and communities wiped out. The young, the old, the fit and healthy. Very few memorials or services to them around the world. I did check. So is it total numbers of dead who count in memorials- or the way they died... or the cause they died for?

So spare some poppies for them as well and the millions of babies, women and children who died then in two short years. Or are they just put in with the war dead tributes- as that's not really made clear? It's like presenting a yearly history lesson from the past that we should remember forever because it's important and missing out half the picture. Or getting handed half the contents of a jigsaw puzzle.
 " Oh and a far greater number died afterwards away from the battle fronts but we don't talk about that bit- too messy and complicated."
I'm not diminishing the loss of loved ones during wartime in any way just that it really surprised me that this flu killed such vast numbers in every country worldwide at the same time as WW1 yet is so rarely mentioned at any point regarding this war. The forgotten victims. Or maybe that's just me and it's everyday knowledge as to the numbers involved?  Apparently Armistice Day 1918 was a huge boost to spreading this lethal virus with all the hugging, kissing and sharing of wine, beer bottles and celebrations going on. A great mix of people packed very close together, touching each other. An incubation chamber to improve the strain. These are the things that should be remembered by future generations as well to my way of thinking. Nature is really sneaky like that. Yin and yang. The ancient two handed Goddess. An expert at give and take.
Evening mist over the Dusk Water Valley.
Grey squirrel in woods.
Mist inversion over Lennoxtown.
Oyster catchers in flight.
A pastel blend of autumn colours.

And a beautiful happy video to end. No, it really is. Honest. I promise. This is a joy to watch. Maybe....A film I haven't seen yet. Catchy tune and visuals that I suspect sit much better without any dialogue at all.
 But wild nature should never... ever... ever.... kiss a human child-as  it is completely forbidden for good reason.... the kiss of death unknowing- like Pocahontas helping explorers in her own lands to prosper, or John King surviving against all the odds in outback Australia when everyone else around him perished...  with local aboriginal intervention of course ... in hindsight... kill them all.. and all those who follow them....Kill, Kill, Kill, if you value your own survival at all- as first contact is often deadly for First Nations peoples around the world and the last thing you will ever regret doing before you die is helping lost strangers survive, coughing up blood, looking up at your smiling assassins patting you fondly on the head.... as a much loved pet and trusted guide through the unknown wilderness, as they quickly take over your lands and your very existence within a quantum leap... erasing your own personal stamp of 50,000 years of careful evolution and taming of the wilderness, reduced to within one generational push of modern effort and effectively claiming it all as their own work.... flattening countless generations of hard brutal effort in one swift tumble...eliminating all that past endeavour to a very brief footnote in history... A mere blip by a primitive culture. Well... that's what I see in this film anyway. A romantic fantasy....... I think not  :o)