A Spring Surprise

We took a trip today to New Hopetoun Gardens, and I was really surprised to see how far on many of the flowers were already. I’ve seen a lot of blossom decorating stark, black boughs. Daffodils are cropping up on grassy roundabouts. White and purple crocus are encircling the trees in the park. But at the garden centre the most beautiful, fully bloomed camelias, clematis, and hellebores could be found in almost every corner. Have a look at these photos to see what I mean:

Buttercream Camelia

Camelia Light

Speckled Helleborus

Backlit Helleborus

Clematis Stars

Pink Camelia

Springtime Woods

How is the change of season surprising you this year? What’s your favourite Spring bloom?

March 22, 2008. Environment, Photography. 5 comments.

The Wallace Monument

I’ve posted quite a few photos of the Wallace Monument on this blog. It’s one of the major landmarks which signals to me that I’m nearly home. It overlooks my university campus. It stands illuminated against the night sky. It is a defining feature of the landscape which reminds of national pride and of liberation. Today, we finally made the trip up the Wallace Monument, and these are a few of the photos that I took in the monument, from the top of the monument and looking up at the monument:

Wallace Monument From Beneath

Wallace Monument Stairwell

Bend in the River

Ben Ledi in the Distance

Sunburst Scenic

Mountain & Gorse

Segmented Sky

The Path Ascending

It is a bit of a climb to the top: 279 steps up a rather narrow spiral stairwell, and that’s after you’ve made it up the hill.  Of course, I only discovered that there was a complimentary bus to drive you up the hill once we reached the top!  But to say that you were rewarded when you finally reached the very top is to put it mildly.  The views were absolutely breathtaking, and the actual structure itself was simply awe-inspiring.  If you ever come over to Scotland, make sure you add the Wallace Monument to your list of must-sees.  I can’t believe I left it so long to visit!

Is there a landmark near you which draws the tourists, but that you’ve never experienced for yourself?  Have you visited a historical site recently?  Which one, and did it live up to your expectations?

March 17, 2008. Environment, Photography. 16 comments.

Stop and Stare

When I was over at my grandparents’ house the other week there, I was sitting chatting to my grandma, when a flash of green caught my eye. The sunlight, having temporarily banished the rain clouds, was now glinting off something in the cabinet. The cabinet in question is at floor level, and contains glassware never used, but which remains a part of the household, none the less. In fact, I’m sure grandmas the world over have a similar cabinet containing similar items. Anyway, I have been visiting this house ever since I was born, and I’ve even lived there for months at a time; until last week, however, I had never noticed the green glass. Maybe it was the angle I was sitting at, or perhaps the height of the early Spring sun, that caused my attention to focus. Whatever the reason, the result was the same: I saw the green glass, and I took some time to appreciate its shape and hue.

Green Glass

Leisure
by William Henry Davies

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stop and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

Not time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

What have you taken the time to notice recently? What caused you to stop and stare? Do you find that, ‘full of care’, you don’t take the time and opportunity to notice and engage with the beauty that surrounds you?

March 14, 2008. Environment. 9 comments.

The Hidden Playpark

Yesterday I made the most surprising discovery! I was walking up to the castle, to buy the tartan scarves to include in the prize draw bundles, when I noticed what looked like a boardwalk at the end of one of the tenement-lined streets. As we were so high up, I couldn’t help but imagine where the boardwalk might lead; so my curiosity got the better of me, and we detoured away from our route to investigate. I suppose I had imagined a lookout point where you could gaze out towards the hillfoot villages, the meandering Forth river, the Wallace Monument and the Ochil hills. What I actually found was so much better! There was a lookout point, but our attention was diverted by the most fabulously unexpected playpark. Now, as a mother of three I am more than familiar with your average playpark, but believe me when I say, this was no average playpark. For one thing there was an emphasis on natural materials, so there was lots of wood and organic shapes, and there was an incredible rope bridge, which I just couldn’t tear my eyes from:

Rope Bridge

Rope Bridge 2

Rope Close Up 2

However, some of the most interesting inclusions were rocks, which were seemingly randomly placed around the park. Set atop these rocks were metal casts of children’s hands and feet, and the occasional dog’s pawprint, and while the kids played on the chutes, the bridge and the swings, I set about finding all the rocks. Here are some that I found and photographed:

Hands Eternal

Fragmented Footsteps

Cast Foot

Foot of Metal

Cast Toes

I love it when a place I assume to be completely familiar, surprises me in this way! When was the last time you made a discovery like this about your environment? Do you find that you stick to the same routes all the time? Next time you’re out for a wander, will you investigate a new corner of your world, and come back to tell me what you found?

March 7, 2008. Environment, Photography. 16 comments.

The Gift of Genealogy

Do you remember this photo?

Balquhidder Graveyard 2

I posted it on this blog along with a number of others that I took in and around the small Scottish village of Balquhidder, a couple of weeks ago. Well, the reason that I’m posting it again, is that I received such an interesting comment regarding it today over at Flickr, by fellow Scot, Eddie:

“Here was Isaac living with his family on the 1881 Census

Dwelling: Ednample Mill
Census Place: Balquhidder, Perth, Scotland
Source: FHL Film 0203501 GRO Ref Volume 331 EnumDist 2 Page 15
Marr Age Sex Birthplace
William SPY W 83 M Tillicoultry, Clackmannan, Scotland
Rel: Head
Occ: Millar
Beatrice MC KENZIE M 30 F Balquhidder, Perth, Scotland
Rel: Dau
Occ: Gen Serv
John SPY U 27 M Balquhidder, Perth, Scotland
Rel: Son
Occ: Joiner
Isaac SPY U 24 M Balquhidder, Perth, Scotland
Rel: Son
Occ: Joiner
Maggie SPY U 16 F Edinburgh, Scotland
Rel: Grd Dau
Occ: Dressmaker
William THOMSON U 19 M Australia
Rel: Grdson
Occ: Joiner
John MC KENZIE 6 M Balquhidder, Perth, Scotland
Rel: Grdson
William MC KENZIE 1 M Balquhidder, Perth, Scotland
Rel: Gson”

This is the census entry from 1881 which locates Isaac Spy and his family, and gives information on their places of birth and their occupations. I don’t know about you, but I found this completely fascinating, and I am so grateful to Eddie for finding it and sharing it with me. All of a sudden this image, which attracted me because of the shape of the stone, its carved scroll form, the burst of snowdrops at its base, and the soft light filtering through the trees, has been endowed with so much more because of Eddie’s genealogical sleuthing. Rather than a collection of shapes and forms, we now have lives, personal histories, narratives, and the image is all the more richer because of it.

How does the census information affect your response to the photograph? Does it fire your imagination? Has a genealogical discovery ever enhanced your own perception of a photograph before? Have you ever had this experience where someone else has added to your understanding of your own photograph?

PS Thanks again to Eddie – you can check his photos out here.

March 3, 2008. Environment, Photography. 7 comments.

The Sunshine After the Rain

The last photos that I want to share with you, from my walk in the Trossachs the other day there, were not taken at Loch Achray, but at the loch adjacent: Loch Venachar. There’s a lovely cafe on the banks of Loch Venachar, and as we sat there eating our lunch, we watched the storm clouds roll in, the waters getting choppy, the rain begin to pound the jetty. And then, just as suddenly as it began, the storm passed, the sun would reappear, the loch became smooth and the rain-soaked boardwalk would start to dry out. There’s something so uplifting about watching the sun triumph from behind the dark, rain-heavy clouds. You get the feeling that truly anything is possible, and that any hardship you may meet along the way is but a temporary aberration. My spirits felt lifted and my soul felt as weightless as air.

Hello Sunshine

Loch Venachar Jetty

Rainwater Boat

Do you find your spirits affected by the weather? When the sun appears from behind a heavy rain-cloud, how does it make you feel?

February 29, 2008. Environment, Photography. 6 comments.

The Flooded Loch

The loch that we walked along the banks of yesterday is called Loch Achray, which is located near Brig ‘O Turk: a village above Callander but south of Balquhidder. Now, it’s not a loch that I’m particularly familiar with, but you didn’t have to be to realise that this loch is currently larger than it usually is, and that is was even larger not that long ago. We’ve been getting a lot of rain this last week, and consequently a lot of rivers have burst their banks, the fields are waterlogged, and mud predominates along woodland walks. Yesterday was the first day in a while that the sky cleared and blue sky prevailed. However, several heavy rain showers swept across the land, but fortunately we only got caught out on our walk once. The rest of the time the weather was blustery, but bright. One of the things that caught my eye (apart from the cattle) was the blue tones of the water as it mirrored the blue of the sky, and how the blue was broken up by the reflections of tree branches. Also, as you’ll see, because of the flooding, the reflections of the trees extended further than they would normally do, caused by the swollen waters. Anyway, here are some photos so you can see what I mean. The first photo shows the extent to which the loch has burst its banks, while the second shows the fence in close-up with the grass caught in its wire from a recent, more severe, flooding. The rest are of the beautiful blue waters, and the reflections I found resting upon their surface.

Flooded Loch

Stranded

Rippling Blue

Branch Reflections

Branch Reflections 2

Branch Reflections 3

What can you see mirrored in the reflective surfaces in your part of the world?

February 28, 2008. Environment, Photography. 10 comments.

Highland Cattle

I had planned to stay in today, but we had our first glimpse of blue sky in a few days and I just couldn’t resist. I phoned my mum, and soon the pair of us were taking the children for a walk in the Trossachs. I’m going to do a couple of photo posts, of which this is the first, and if you like them, you can vote for Lives Less Ordinary in the Best Photography Blog category in this Blogger’s Choice Awards.

A Highland Close-Up

Lunch

Meeting of the Cattle

Scratch That Itch

3 Stages of Ascent

Despite the rather lethal appearance of their horns, highland cattle are actually very placid creatures.  As we walked along the road which divided their field, they just raised their pink noses to peer at us through russet bangs, and then returned to their business of eating grass, sitting on moss, and enduring the driving rain.

Could these animals be any more picture perfect?

February 27, 2008. Environment, Photography. 6 comments.

In Love With My Home

The Carved Heart

The other day there I was feeling a little low. You know what it’s like; some mornings you wake up, and you just want to pull the duvet over your head and go back to sleep. But like most of you out there, I had to get on with the day. I dragged myself out of bed, put the kettle on and began to prepare breakfast. Making my morning cuppa, I had already decided that what I needed was a good dose of one of the things I love best; I needed to get out and about in my city.

Stirling is not a big place. I think currently we’re at a population of around 45, 000 which makes us the smallest city in Scotland. It’s size means that everything is relatively close to everything else. However, the old town is built on a steep incline and the castle is situated at the top of the hill. You certainly get a good workout running after 3 excited children all the way to the castle gates! As we strode up the road passed 16th century sandstone ruins, 17th century townhouses, and cemeteries where the quality of light stops you in your tracks, I was struck once again by my relationship to all this national history. Because not only did I take note of these ancient bricks and landscaping, I also gazed with affection at the bench where, eleven years ago, my fiancee and I sat and tentatively agreed that we should move in with each other. I suppressed a giggle while walking by the pub where I (rather drunkenly) celebrated my 18th birthday. My muscles remembered how much harder it was walking up that hill a decade previous, while pushing the pram containing my first precious newborn. My personal history is deeply rooted in these cobbled streets, these tall buildings, these broad trunked trees. I find my self reflected in its antique glass…

Self Portrait

I haven’t lived in Stirling all my life. I was born here, but we moved away when I was a child, and I was raised first in Ayrshire and then in Edinburgh, where I spent the majority of my schooling. When it was time for university though, I returned to Stirling. The majority of my family live in Stirling still, grandparents, parents, aunties, uncles, and it really is where I feel I belong. I won’t be suprised if I move away again at some point in the future, but I know I’ll return. Because, you see, Stirling is not just in my genes and in my memories; it’s in my soul.

Here are some photos from my trip to the top o’ the town:

A Bench With A View

Silhouette Skyline

An Enormity of Sky

The Puggy

Man the Cannons!

Graveyard Monument

King's Knot

Robert the Bruce Surveys the Hillfoots

Where is home for you? What is your relationship to the buildings, the gardens, the landmarks? Do you find that your memories are anchored by their geographical connections?

P.S. This post was written as my entry to the Lifehack Spread the Love contest. The closing date is the 21st Feb so you still have time to enter your own post on relationships. If you do decide to enter, let me know and I’ll add a link here.

P.P.S If you want to see a clip of Stirling’s historic architecture then you can view this great short film put together by Canadian David Raetsen:

February 20, 2008. Environment, Photography. 17 comments.

Long Walk, Big Thoughts

We have been getting such wonderful weather here in Scotland recently. Certainly not the seasonal wind and rain we are used to in February! Yesterday we decided to take advantage of the wide open blue skies and go for a walk. We decided on a place about 14 miles north of Calander, called Kirkton Glen. We parked the car at the kirk in Balquhidder, and had a wander around the ancient graveyard, where the Scottish folk hero Rob Roy and his family are buried.
Balquhidder Graveyard 4

Balquhidder Graveyard 3

Rob Roy's Grave 2

Rob Roy's Grave 1

Extremely old graveyards, such as this one, hold a certain morbid fascination for me. The headstones at varying degrees, the encroaching lichens, the crumbled ruins of the original kirk all speak of a history, of a tradition, of a culture which spans centuries. With thoughts concerning my own mortality, and my own insignificant position within the time line of my nation’s history, we wandered up into the hillfoot forests of the Balqhidder Braes.

Here we encountered another kind of history altogether, where time moves at a different speed from that of human lifetime. Huge trees towered over our heads, their trunks broad, and their thick roots sunk deep into the leaf carpeted forest floor. Some of these trees began their lives in a time when my great grandparents played carefree games of hopscotch and skipping, their young limbs moving with the graceful ease of youth. These trees are still reaching for the sky, while my great grandparents only exist as fond memories recounted to my children by their great grandparents.

A Long Lasting Partnership

Tall Trunks

These feelings of impermanence were then compounded when we left the path, and came across a ruined village of around 10 houses. Not one of the structures were built up passed a height of 4ft; the stones which once protected from the elements now lay strewn across the land, and the forest had moved back in to claim its own. Trees grew where once were hearths. Moss lay thick along the windowsills. Brambles with their sharp thorns entwined en masse to obscure doorways. Implements lay abandoned and rusting. And a haunting silence pervaded the scene, broken only by occasional birdsong.

Forgotten Village 3

Forgotten Village 1

Forgotten Village 2

I came away from the folk hero’s grave, the ancient trees and the dilapidated village with a renewed sense of just how brief our time on earth is, and how important it is that we try and relish every moment of our existence here. I was reminded of that Edna St Vincent Millay poem, First Fig:

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and o, my friends -
It gives a lovely light!

As we neared the end of our walk, I stopped and looked back over my shoulder, and saw a sight which has graced Kirkton Glen for millenia before it was ever known by that name, and it took my breath away.  It made me realise that my life may be brief in the large scheme of things, but if it’s filled with sights and experiences such as those I had yesterday, I know that it will have been a life well lived.

Expanse of Sky

Have you found yourself having thoughts such as these?  What inspired them and where were you at the time?

PS If you want to see more pics from the walk, you can see a Flickr Set of them here.

February 17, 2008. Environment, Inspiration, Photography. 15 comments.

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