Gardens, Cousins and Other Things

July 28, 2017


Not really a ‘picture’ but a ‘view’ – as seen from our bedroom.

We have had a very busy few weeks with rushing to get the garden make over finished before welcoming the cousins from far flung places – New Zealand, Spain and London.  The work in our ‘back green’ took much, much longer than anticipated and we felt we were living on a building site for months.


M and his team of garden gnomes undertook a big task – removing about 10 tens of red chips, turning all the slabs through 90 degrees, excavating various enormous lumps of concrete and much more….


… old clothes poles removed and the ‘lawn’ reshaped.


It is still not quite finished but at least we are able to enjoy coffee (or something stronger)  on the new deck area.


I am really pleased with the curved palisade fence – in spite of all the jokes about Cowboys and Indians.



Really should have brought the washing in before getting the camera out.  There are still two features to be added to complete the garden – a curving, stepping stone path diagonally across the grass and two diamond shaped, raised herb beds on the biggest pebbled area.  Then all I need to do is keep on top of the ‘wild flowers in the wrong place’ aka weeds!

We were too busy when my cousins were staying for a few days to sit about much – eating, talking, drinking, talking, sightseeing, talking, drinking etc.  I love showing people around this beautiful island we have chosen to live on because I invariably spot things I haven’t noticed before.


Dinner at Harry Haw’s – that’s Rothesay Castle across the road.

The weather was a bit grey and chilly but the sun did shine occasionally.


The visit to Ardencraig Gardens came with a severe warning from the Council ….


A trip to Bute is never complete without visiting Mountstuart – no matter how often I have been there I always happily return.


The garden here is a bit grander than mine.


The Marble Chapel, Mountstuart

I wasn’t too sad when I waved goodbye to my cousins – I hasten to add they were delightful guests – because we were meeting up again a few days later with yet more cousins.


Seven of Grannie Walker’s 14 granddaughters (only one grandson)

The seven cousins able to meet up in Glasgow had a hilarious afternoon reminiscing – we all spent many childhood holidays together with Grannie in Whiting Bay.  Most conversations started with ‘my Grannie said ….’ to be instantly shouted down with ‘our grannie ….’


Be proud – Isabella Walker nee McMunigal 1892 – 1978

Apart from my cousins there have been many more visitors to Rothesay, it being Glasgow Fair.  There is a tradition here that all the Christian congregations hold an ecumenical evening service at the ruins of St Blane’s Chapel on the middle Sunday of the Fair.  Last year it had to be cancelled because of near gale force winds and torrential rain but the weather was much kinder last weekend.


St Blane’s was tranquil in the early evening sunshine – fortunately with just enough of a breeze to keep the midges at bay.


The Rev Owain Jones preaching in his ‘church without walls’

The cloud was really beginning to thicken as we all strolled back down the hill – creating wonderful effects with the sun shining through over Dunagoil with Arran on the left and Kintyre behind.


Tractors, Scooters and … the Waverley

July 10, 2017

Bute was buzzing on Saturday when in glorious sunshine we had an influx of very interesting visitors.  The annual Vintage Tractor Club rally mustered on the Promenade.  A mix of elderly, grey workhorses (tractors or owners?) and shiny high tech modern.  The officials of the  Club were very, very pleased that about 120 entries had made the journey to join in.



Little and Large

I think perhaps the huge rear tyre on the red tractor cost as much as the whole of the little grey one when it was new.  It is a very sociable event with groups of boiler suited gentlemen deep in conversation, holidaymakers with ice-cream smeared weans and local dog walkers enjoying the sun.


Our beautiful gardens with tractors lined up behind.

I am not a connoisseur of tractors but I think most of the historic vehicles were Massey Ferguson models.


But there were other ‘decorations’ on display …


Every year the Club sets a different route for the parade to follow, always incorporating a drive through Rothesay, in and out of Mountstuart grounds and then across some farm tracks and roads before returning to the Yacht Club for a barbecue.


One of the ‘passenger’ tractors

Every year the convoy passes our house at some point on their journey – so here is ‘my View’ with added tractors.


There was another group of very colourful visitors taking to the roads of the Island.  Fifty or so Vespa scooters, their drivers and passengers, from The Animals Fae Naboombu Scooter Club were buzzing around like busy wee wasps.  Earlier in the morning as we walked into town there were happy little coteries of scooters parked outside a number of the B&B establishments.


Other Scooter visitors were camping.


Although the tractors and scooters were not out on the public roads at the same time – imagine traffic snarl ups in Rothesay!!?? – I did manage to capture a representative of each group in the same photograph.


Of course, on a sunny Saturday in July there is no show without Punch and our favourite paddle steamer came swooping into Rothesay to join the fun.


PS Waverley in Rothesay Bay

Altogether a great day and I hope all the visitors enjoyed it as much as I did.


More Spanish Cities

July 2, 2017

Seville was a new adventure for us and had just as much wow factor as Barcelona and Cordoba.  We were quickly becoming immersed in the juxtaposition of Moorish architecture, middle ages Christian additions and adaptations, and the pomp and bling of Catholic Christianity.  This can be epitomised by the Moorish entry into Seville Cathedral.

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The Moorish horse shoe shaped arch flanked with Christian saints and angels.

The cathedral was started in 1401 on the site of an earlier mosque and took a century to complete (Sagrada Familia in Barcelona is simply following the long building pattern).  My guidebook says “… in sheer cubic vastness [this] is the largest Christian church in the world … the vast Gothic arches that line the nave inside the cathedral are so high that the space within the building is said to have its own independent climate”

The piece de resistance has to be the immense  golden Retable Mayor built between 1482 – 1564 and now reputedly the largest altarpiece in the world.  Again I was glad of my binoculars for closer inspection.

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Attached to the cathedral is another piece of ‘recycled’ history – La Girelda, the symbol of Seville.  This was originally a minaret of the mosque built in 1198.  In the 14th century the bronze spheres on top were replaced with Christian symbols and the final ornate design we see today was completed in 1568.  We climbed to the top to enjoy the amazing views over the old city.  Intriguingly it wasn’t steps we had to negotiate but gently sloping ramps from floor to floor – much easier on the knees during the descent.

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After the Cathedral we moved on to Seville’s most iconic building – the Reales Alcazares.  Again I find it easiest to quote from my guidebook – saves me overloading on the word ‘awesome’.  “This extensive complex embodies a series of palatial rooms and spaces from various ages.  The front towers and walls are the oldest surviving section, dating from AD 913 and built by the Emir of Cordoba, Abd ar-Rahman III , most likely on the ruins of Roman barracks.  A succession of caliphs added their dazzling architectural statements over the ensuing centuries.  Then came the Christian kings, particularly Pedro I in the 14th century, and finally the rather perfunctory 16th century apartments of Carlos V.”

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The mosaic tiling on the lower walls in places was very delicate and very beautiful.  In the following photograph you can also see some of the intricately carved wooden doors.

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Wandering through courtyards and rooms, everywhere we turned there were yet more stunningly beautiful things to see.

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The refurbishment of this part has replicated the original bright colours.

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At times the beauty around us was almost overwhelming but away from the iconic tourist sights we found Seville to be a warm, friendly destination.  When surrounded by such amazing architecture and decoration even our hotel got in the act – viz the lift doors in the main lobby.

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The weather was mostly sunny and very hot – but you will know the phrase ‘The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain …’.  Well it certainly did in Seville one afternoon when we had two 10 minute monsoons.  This turned out to be a very friendly experience as the cafe pavement sunshades became refuges for every passerby including us.

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Our last awesome Spanish city was Granada  – where, of course, the Alhambra dominates.  This is the best preserved mediaeval Arab palace in the world and had long been on my wish list for a visit, and it certainly did not disappoint.

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The Alhambra, Granada

Seen from across the valley the Alhambra looks a quite austere, regular, defensive palace but once you start to wander around the inside it is an almost overwhelming visual feast.   There was not the layers of Muslim and Christian worship we had grown accustomed to in our other three Spanish cities – this was purely residential, luxurious and oozing power and wealth.

From the guidebook – “A magical use of space, light, water and decoration characterises this most sensual piece of architecture.  It was built under Ismail I, Yusuf I and Muhammad V, caliphs when the Nasrid dynasty ruled Granada.  Seeking to belie an image of waning power, they created their idea of paradise on earth.  Modest materials were used (plaster, timber and tiles), but they were superbly worked.  Although the Alhambra suffered pillage and decay, including an attempt by Napoleon’s troops to blow it up, in recent times it has undergone extensive restoration and its delicate craftsmanship still dazzles the eye.

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 Patio del Mexuar

This council chamber, completed in 1365, was where the reigning sultan listened to the petitions of his subjects and held meetings with his ministers.

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The temperature in Granada was in the mid 30s – a wee bit hot for we fair skinned Scots so we found the exquisitely decorated surrounds of various pools and patios particularly welcoming.

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Looking out to the Garden de Lindaraja

The Islamic calligraphy and arabesques around this window were superb and the garden beyond looked very peaceful and inviting.

The Alhambra is rightly a huge tourist attraction and after a few hours of sharing space with our fellow gawpers and trying to absorb everything I was seeing it was very pleasant to head next door to the Generalife, the country estate of the Nasrid kings – ‘tranquility high above the city, a little closer to heaven.

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Patio del Acequia

Looks like we had the place to ourselves!  I don’t know how I managed to take the above photograph with no other tourists in view – they were wandering about in their thousands – and I hope they enjoyed the Alhambra as much as we did.

A Tale of Four Cities

June 19, 2017

The cities in question were the four we visited last month when in Spain.  But first a little digression.  I always smile when filling in my address on an online form.  Usually there is space for two address lines and then the next one says ‘city’ – so I ‘promote’ Rothesay to city status.  Then I feel I should apologise to my fellow residents because we all chose to live here and not in a ‘city’!

Our trip to Spain was a concentrated sight seeing feast of Andalusia but we started with a short visit to Barcelona.  This was very specifically to see again the wondrous Sagrada Familia.  We last viewed it about 16 years ago and knew that much more of the building has been completed since then.

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Sagrada Familia dwarfing the surrounding city.

When we were last there it was even more of a building site, with really only the eight giants towers in place.  This time the main sanctuary is almost complete. It has been consecrated (in 2010 by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI) and is already used occasionally for worship.

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The huge, elegant, soaring pillars.

To stand inside this amazing space is to make you feel at the same time very, very small, and also in awe of the  immensity of the human brain able to design and build such an incredible building.

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Exquisite detail on the enormous doors.

Antoni Gaudi who designed the Sagrada Familia was in charge from 1883 until his death in 1926 but others have continued to bring his visions to reality.  Gaudi was very influenced by nature and passionate about conveying the teachings of the Gospels and the Christian Church so every detail whether large or small has meaning.

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Stained Glass Windows

The sun streaming through the glass simply filled the sanctuary with multi coloured light – it felt like standing inside a rainbow.  I loved the stained glass – no depictions of  saints, the Holy Family or Bible stories – all abstract, but a very carefully planned movement of colours.

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In most ways it has the form and shape of a traditional cathedral but just on an awesome scale.  Modern building technology and new materials allow for the heights both inside and outside to be greater – very clever geometry means that the supporting pillars appear slim and elegant.

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I used my binoculars frequently to look at the details and the sculptures on the two main facades – the Nativity and the Passion.  Sagrada Familia is now estimated to be completed by 2026.  I pray that I will still be fit enough to return then.

Whilst in Barcelona we made a quick return visit to another of Gaudi’s masterpieces – La Pedrera with its iconic chimneys.

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The other three cities we visited were all new to us.  In Cordoba we were introduced to another building ,equally as awesome as the Sagrada Familia but from a different era – La Mezquita, a mosque begun in AD786 which was frequently extended during the next six centuries until it had over a thousand pillars.

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Just a few of the forest of pillars.

The 10th century Mihrab in an octagonal chamber has some of the finest Byzantine mosaics in existence.

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In 1523 about 60 pillars were removed from the centre of the mosque at the behest of Emperor Carlos V and a huge Christian cathedral built inside and to this day it has been a place of Christian worship.  My guide book says “La Mezquita’s identity as a mosque is inescapable – notwithstanding the cathedral insensitively placed in its centre like a huge spider in its web.”

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Cordoba Cathedral

The next photograph shows how refurbishment work has been done in places on the outside to show how glorious it must once have looked.

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I loved the narrow streets of Cordoba – sometimes only a few feet wide, and sometimes just enough space for a car to squeeze along with its wing mirrors folded in.

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It was hot in Spain so we were very grateful for our cool hotel, housed in a series of very old buildings with a number of inviting little courtyards to relax in.

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Not sure how authentic the ‘ancient broken Roman pillar’ was but the oranges were real and were virtually falling off the trees as we watched.  As well as the ‘formal’ sightseeing at La Mezquita and other places we had the huge privilege of being in the right place at the right time.

Cordoba was holding its version of Gardens Open Day – La Fiesta d Los Patios d Cordoba, and we discovered the most beautiful garden gems normally hidden from sight behind the whitewashed house walls with their lace covered, ornately barred windows and solid wooden doors.  We had a sketch map outlining a route around the neighbourhood and like many local people we popped in and out of the riotously coloured and lovingly cared for private patios.

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Hours of watering every day!

That is two of my four Spanish cities – Seville and Granada will follow soon.

I’ve Set Myself a Real Problem

June 2, 2017

Because I have been ‘missing’ for six months I really don’t know quite where to start catching up.  There was no real reason for my absence, dear reader – perhaps a combination of laziness and being too busy!

All the winter activities are now finished for the season.  The diary is less full with that ‘out every evening’ scenario – the Film Club, Natural History Society, Literary Society, Bute Arts (live concerts), Rural, and Book Group have kept me entertained, educated and amused during the dark nights of winter.

In January we had the joy of travelling south to visit family in Shrewsbury to celebrate the 90th birthday of my Aunt Rene.  There can’t be many 90 year olds who can have eighty or so guests at their party and only about a quarter of those being family.  Aunt Renee invited her friends from the walking group, Tai Chi class, Discussion Group etc.  – one very lively lady.


Rene’s daughters have inherited her amazing genes which make them all look 10 – 20 years younger than they are.

The weather in the last five months, with its typical west coast confusion regarding which season we are in, has produced ferry disrupting gales, days of continuous stair rod  rain, occasional calm, crisp spells, stunning sunsets, and, only last week, record breaking temperatures.

In February we had the opportunity to scrub up tidily, dust off the dancing shoes and help raise some money for Macmillan Cancer Charity.  The Glenburn Hotel, just up behind us, pulled out all the stops laying on good food, good company and the toe tapping music of the Bute Ceilidh Band.


In March we made the decision that after 12 or so years of being part of the Puffer Work Party Week at Crinan every year it was time for us to stand down and allow other folk with more appropriate skills and, dare I say it, perhaps a few months younger than us,     have a chance at the unique experience of helping to get VIC 32 ready for her summer sailing programme.  We will hugely miss all the fun and laughter, hard work, the good friends we have made over the years and the wine fuelled games of Scrabble.  On a beautiful spring day we nipped up to Crinan to say hello.  We are still the unofficial ‘Rothesay agents’ for the Puffer and have helped them berth at Rothesay pier a few times during their Clyde Cruising part of the season.


On the Tarbert to Portavadie ferry on the way home from Crinan.


The winter evening activities have been replaced by the SAS and a large gardening project.  More of the latter when it gets to look a bit less like a building site.  The Strollers and Striders have had very mixed weather so far – at least the rain keeps the midges away.


A low evening sun and big sky at Kingarth.


Arran always looks good when seen from Bute.

Regular readers may be thinking – they haven’t been on holiday for a while.  But we have of course.  In May we visited the awesome grandeurs of Andalucia in Spain – more of that  later, I promise to come and post another blog soon now that I have got restarted.

The End of Another Year

December 27, 2016

It is the few quiet days between Christmas, with its weeks of anticipation and preparation, and Hogmanay with its reflections and shenanigans.  I realise I haven’t blogged as much this year and posted nothing at all in the last three months – no real reason but lots of excuses – so I will, as tradition dictates, finish 2016 with a quick review of September to December.

Three times we had ‘little’ holidays – two within a few hours driving time and one a short haul flight.  When we visit family or friends in the south of England we usually just shoot past the Lake District en route for somewhere else but in late September we stayed on Ullswater for a few days of glorious autumn sunshine.



MV Balmoral

The sister ship of the PS Waverley came to visit in Rothesay, so of course we had a wee sail on a rather chilly, grey day.  A nice ship but in my eyes without the personality of her sister.

Another weekend at the end of October we had reason to visit Pitlochry for a few days  when the autumn colours of the trees was quite spectacular.


In amongst all the trips away life on Bute continued in its fascinating way – the dwindling numbers of tourists and the starting of winter activities underlining this time of transition between the seasons.  There was a good dry spell of weather and the farmers gathered their harvest in.  We celebrated at church with a service and a scrumptious lunch.


He didn’t have to do all the dishes by himself!

At the beginning of November we jetted off seeking some winter sun – and found it very pleasantly warm in the south of Tenerife.  The Hotel Bahia del Duque was beautiful, peaceful and with a choice of restaurants.


The perfect terrace for breakfast and afternoon tea.

There were a number of swimming ‘pools’ scattered down the hillside, all beautifully set in the landscaped gardens.


There never seemed to be anyone in the water when we strolled past en route for our daily amble along the esplanade to the next village along the coast.  It was a very luxurious place and we even had our own wee plunge pool – I could manage three strokes from corner to corner.


The young lady in the next photograph had gone to a lot of trouble to get comfy whilst she sunbathed.


This short break set us up nicely for the whirl of activities that arrive with December.  Each of the organisations we are members of holds a Christmas party or dinner ( I try to avoid turkey until Christmas day, while Colin chooses it every time) – lots of fun and laughter and good company.  There were also concerts and special church services.

The Fundraising Committee at the United Church of Bute held a Cake and Coffee morning in mid December and I helped mount a display of Nativity Sets in the sanctuary at the same time.  It was amazing – 18  depictions of the well known story but each one different and having its own story to tell (bought in different countries, some very old and some fairly new etc).


My sister brought this set from Russia many years ago.


Beautifully carved; hand knitted by various members of the congregation; very old.

The whole church was beautifully decorated.


…. and even some cakes were suitably festive.


Would I be tempting fate by making a New Year Resolution four days before 2017?  I’m not promising but I will try not to leave such long gaps between my blogs next year.

The weather has been very wild for the last ten days – storm Barbara followed swiftly by storm Connor.  The inevitable disruption to the ferry services over the whole of the west coast of Scotland has been immense.  We personally were not affected as fortunately none of our family’s comings and goings were scheduled for ‘no service’ days but many folk around us suffered  anxiety and the last minute rearranging of already complex travel arrangements.  I hope my readers have had a joyful and Happy Christmas.


Christmas Day 2016 on Ettrick Bay

The Flower Show

September 13, 2016

The Flower Show aka Rothesay Horticultural Society Annual Show had to be a bit different this year.  After decades of being held in early September in the Pavilion the venue was changed because of the ongoing refurbishment of that iconic building.  The Show committee managed to shoe horn all the exhibitors into Trinity Church, its halls and even marquees in the garden.


Mixed herbaceous border flowers in the church.

As well as reduced display space there was also a much tighter fit for viewing visitors – just as well that plant growers and flower lovers are a generally friendly bunch.


A Bumblee

The floral artists were quite tightly squeezed for space but still turned out beautiful displays.  It was impossible to get far enough back from the big floor standing exhibits to take photographs.


I personally did not like this year’s craft theme of ‘Weddings’ so only entered one black and white photograph of zebras from our recent trip to Namibia (obviously not wedding related!) and was quite chuffed with a Third Prize from an entry of 18.


A Mouthwatering Line Up


Another example of perfection.

Inevitably there was much talk of the awful growing conditions we have experienced this ‘summer’ here on Bute and the consensus of opinion was that particularly fruit entries had suffered.

The following photographs of our little ‘orchard’ will create a false impression.  In reality some of the trees do not look in the best of health – sadly I suspect canker.  Not removing any yet but will do some serious pruning and play a waiting game.


Three of the dozen juicy looking plums before they all fell off.


The Bramleys look good but the foliage is a bit sad.

This is the first year that the Conference Pear has had fruit.  It looks really impressive in the following photograph but I have to confess that each pear is about two inches long and hard as a brick.


The young rowan tree is laden with scrumptious looking berries – I hope the birds appreciate this feast.


Another first for our orchard this year has been the appearance of two hazelnuts.  We have never seen squirrels in our garden so I am hopeful that these nuts will still be there when they are ripe.


I had to do a quick google on hazelnuts because as well as the precious bounty of two nuts the bush is covered with tiny yellow catkins – to my relief this seemingly sometimes happens.

Winter is certainly drawing in – the Waverley has stopped visiting, the farmers are furiously dodging downpours to harvest, the Flower Show is over, leaves are changing colour, the ferries were off yesterday because of the wind.  Bute is still the most beautiful place to live.