Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Book at Bedtime

So, what took me to Dock Park in Dumfries yesterday? I went to look at the monument in the centre of the pic. Although I had visited the park before, I had completely missed the significance of this granite obelisk. Let me explain...

I love reading. Books have always been part of my life, and especially so this past year. Santa was good to me at Christmas. You can see that I'm working my way through George RR Martin's epic, and that my interests span both fiction and non-fiction, and I'm happy to read both new and second hand. If I go into a charity shop, or visit a car boot sale, I usually come away with a book or two! And I dare not go into a second hand bookshop.

Some books I enjoy more than others. These days if I'm not enjoying a book after the first few pages, it just doesn't get finished. Life's too short! But I do enjoy a 'good read'. Occasionally I find a book which is impossible to put down once I've got into it. No work gets done until the book gets finished.

That was the case with this book which was in my Christmas stocking! It's Christopher Ward's account of what happened to one particular family in the aftermath of the Titanic disaster. Enthralling! Ward is the grandson of Jock Hume, the violinist in the orchestra which played on deck as the ship was sinking. Hume was twenty-one years old, and had just learned he was going to be a father. As the jacket blurb says, "One hundred years on, Christopher Ward tells the dramatic story of love, loss and betrayal, and the catastrophic impact of Jock's death on two very different Scottish families."

It is an incredible story. I'll not spoil it by giving any more details. Do read it yourself.

(As an aside, my curling friends will be interested in the role that the old Mayflower Curling Club in Halifax played following the disaster.)

Jock Hume and a steward, Thomas Mullin, were both from the Dumfries area, and I learned from the book that a sixteen foot granite obelisk had been erected in Dock Park in the town in their memory.

And here is a photo of the base of the obelisk, with the inscription and the bronze relief of the Titanic, and a bronze scroll of the music of the hymn 'Nearer My God to Thee', which may (or may not, see here) have been the last tune the orchestra played. The monument was unveiled in a ceremony on May 31, 1913.

Christopher Ward describes the controversial awarding of the contract for the construction of the monument to a Manchester firm, Messrs Kirkpatrick Bros of Trafford Park, rather than a local company. The obelisk itself used 'the very best quality of Aberdeen granite'. The cost was £100.

The memorial is a hundred years old and has survived well, particularly the bronze reliefs.

Originally the monument was protected by iron railings but these have been removed.

1497 passengers and crew died in the North Atlantic on the night of April 14-15, 1912. Only 328 bodies were recovered. Hume and Mullin were among these and both are buried in the Fairview Lawn Cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Read more about And the Band Played On, and about the author, at this website.

Photos © Skip Cottage

Friday, December 28, 2012

A New Look for the New Year

I'm planning a new look for Skip Cottage, so it may be 'work in progress' for the next few days.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve Pad Thai

I slipped into Carlisle today, Christmas Eve, by train to do a little last minute shopping. It was a wet day but the city was buzzing. I was in the Market Hall wondering about lunch... and then the problem was solved when I stumbled upon the Coconut Tree cafe!

Having lived in Thailand for nearly five years, I do enjoy Thai food. It is more than ten years since I came home, but at Skip I still cook Thai food a lot. Or I try to! To be honest, it's never the same as the 'real' thing. Today I had Pad Thai (a staple 'street food') for my lunch, and splendidly delicious (aroy mak mak) it was in this Carlisle cafe. I suspect I may become a regular customer! Khun Saeng is the proprietor and chef.

I was chatting with one of the other customers and the question was asked, "Do they celebrate Christmas in Thailand?" Well Thais do like a good party. ANY excuse! But I suspected that a better answer to the question might lie somewhere amongst the photo albums I have kept of my five years as an ex-pat. Here it is:

Top photo is Santa, courtesy of a Carlisle garden centre. Above is Santa, courtesy of a Bangkok department store, some ten years ago!

Merry Christmas everyone!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Winter 2012

Yesterday in Annandale was clear and cold, and I was somewhat surprised to wake up this morning to this wintry scene!

Garden visitors. Blackbird tracks perhaps?

The ice on the pond is pretty solid. Which of course raises the question if we are going to get some curling outside this winter. Note to self - get the stones out from under the bed and into the car boot to cool down!

Keeping the birds well fed makes a considerable dent in the pension, but they do bring a lot of pleasure. Blue tits and coal tits are the most common visitors, the latter being especially common this year.

Photos © Skip Cottage

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Santa in Moffat

The skirl of the pipes brightened a cold and overcast Sunday afternoon in Moffat.

The pipes heralded Santa's arrival in the town!

All part of the Christmas Fayre.  It was certainly colourful, and there were lots of kids enjoying the rides.

On the way back to my car, I thought I was being 'chugged' when I encountered a charming lady with a large basket of ribbons outside of St Andrews Parish Church. Not so. No hard sell, rather "Would I like to attach a ribbon to the prayer tree in the church grounds?" I paused - just long enough to think of friends who are going through difficult times at the moment. So I selected a blue ribbon, attached it to the tree, and said a wee prayer for them. Then I enjoyed a very welcome coffee and mince pie in the church hall. Christmas Fayres notwithstanding, this was a nice way to get into the Christmas spirit!

Photos © Skip Cottage

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Vendee Globe

It happens once every four years, a single handed, non-stop, yacht race around the world. The Vendee Globe began last week. This is the race that brought Ellen MacArthur to prominence when she finished second in 2001. If you have any experience of sailing whatsoever, you will be able to appreciate - a little - of just how hard a challenge this is, and not just physically and mentally. Crazy? Some would say so. Three months, with only a few minutes of sleep at any one time, is a challenge in itself!

In the 1980s, I enjoyed a few brief years sailing with friends Jimmy and Kirsty Letton in their UFO 27 called Canna. (It's not Canna, but I recently found this clip of a UFO 27 under sail, and it brought back some great memories!) I learned so much and it was great to be able to appreciate another sport. Until that time my summers had been spent hillwalking. Of course, cruiser racing in the Clyde estuary is a far cry from ocean racing, but the experiences of thirty years ago have meant that even now I follow sailing whenever I can, whether on the box, or via the internet.

This year, especially finding myself confined at Skip more often than I would like, I set out to follow the 2012 Vendee Globe online via the official website, and the usual Facebook and Twitter feeds. You know, it's easy to get sucked into the event, what with tracking the boats via the website, the animations, and the daily updates and stories which include photos and even videos from the boats. The race is dominated by French sailors but there were three Brits on the start line for me to support.

There has been lots of drama during the first week, with collisions, gear failures and dismastings. And the race has only just begun. There's a video summary of the first week here.

I was gutted on Friday morning when I logged on to read that Sam Davies' boat Saveol had been dismasted. Fortunately she is alright, and, having cut away the rig, has been able to motor to Madeira. There is no way to describe how disappointed she must feel. You work for years raising the sponsorship, and putting a team together, then just days into the race, it's all over. No wonder she was distraught when she was explaining by videolink what had happened (above). Sam is a great ambassador for the sport, and immensely popular in France where she now lives. Hopefully she will be racing again soon!

I plan to be an armchair sailor for the months ahead, and I look forward to following the fleet as it tackles the challenges in the oceans. Hopefully all will return safe.

The photos are screenshots from the video highlights on the Vendee Globe website.

Sunday, November 04, 2012


"Have you seen what it is yet?" The clue is that I'm in Greskine Forest, north of Beattock, looking down towards the M74.

I was hunting for the remains of Mellingshaw Tower.

There's not much left of this 16th century tower house which belonged to the Johnstones. Archeological notes are here.

One has to think that some of the material from the ruined tower might have been incorporated in this dry stane dyke. The pic shows the prominent position that the tower house occupied above the Evan Valley.

The little burn that come down this forest ride is called 'Tower Burn'.

Rather more substantial is Mellingshaw Burn which has carved a deep gorge, complete with waterfalls, on the downside of this bridge. Exploration of which has to be left to those younger and fitter than me!

These are the ruins of Greskine. Canmore lists it as a 'farmstead' see here, with no other information. Certainly it looks to be a substantial habitation on the OS 25 inch first edition map from 1861. Greskine farmstead gave Greskine Forest its name.

Did someone with a warped sense of humour plant the tree within the walls of the house? My OS 1:25000 Explorer map, which dates from 2001, seems to show that Greskine is in a clearing. It's not - it's well hidden by trees these days and could easily be missed it you weren't actually looking for it.

Greskine had two rooms. There's a hearth at each end of the building. I wonder what life would have been like here in the mid nineteenth century?

I tried to see if I could find one with four leaves!

There were wintry showers last night! This snow was still lying on these old logs as I walked up through the forest.

But it was a perfect day for a walk, with lots to see. Indeed, Greskine almost made it into my list of places I don't blog about - because I want to keep them a secret! The constant rumble from the nearby M74 was the only thing that prevented a full mark!

Photos © Skip Cottage

Monday, October 29, 2012


At this time of year you have to grab the good days when you can, and last week found me exploring the ruins of Auchen Castle, near Beattock.

The castle (not to be confused with the nearby Auchen Castle Hotel) dates from the 13th century. The ruins are extensive and quite confusing. I had expected to find a tower house, but Auchen predates such structures. Deciphering its history has presented problems even for the experts, as you can see if you read the comprehensive archeological notes here.

But it was a wonderful place to visit, on a spectacular autumn day! The ivy covering the remains of the corner tower looks like a skull!

This area is described on old maps as 'fish ponds'.

The function of this underground passage/tunnel remains unclear, but it is rather impressive.

It seems to be home for this splendid frog, just waiting for his princess to come along!

Looking north. The West Coast Main Line, and the A74(M) following the valley of the Evan Water, are in the dip behind the trees. Coatsgate quarry is on the left of the pic.

Photos © Skip Cottage

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Autumn Light

The sun didn't shine today until late on in the afternoon. Then, with a lot of cloud still about, the strange light had me running to find the camera! The autumn colours were spectacular!

Here's another autumn colour pic!

As the sun set, this weird rainbow appeared. And, as you know, I like rainbows, so it was another grab for the camera!

I wonder if the passengers on this southbound Virgin service on the West Coast Main Line realised they were passing through rainbow's end!

Photos © Skip Cottage

Friday, October 19, 2012

Red Light at Skip

This Acer does vary each year in the show it puts on. Looking good today, though. And yes, that is water lying in the bottom field on the right after all the rain in the last couple of days!

It is a beautiful plant. Slow growing. It will be nine years since it was planted. Here's a link to how it looked three years ago. How quickly the years pass by!

Photos © Skip Cottage

Monday, October 15, 2012

Autumn Colour

The leaves on the beech trees near to Skip have just begun to colour up as autumn approaches. Annandale has seen some lovely days this past month, and a couple of frosts already.

There's the odd flash of colour still in the garden. This Phlox went in as a small plant just this spring.

Lots of berries on this Cotoneaster. The yellow Rudbeckia seems to love most places in the garden!

This Echinops was another 'bargain buy' at the garden centre earlier this year, and is doing well.

This double flowered Calluna vulgaris 'Kinlochruel' is my favourite heather!

 I really should have more clematis. These two are getting along OK.

This old rowan tree almost got the chop early in the year. Spared the axe, the berries are as good as ever they have been!

The purple aster is just coming out in this pic, with one of my favourite perennials - whose name I can never pronounce - stealing the show!
I mean of course this Schizostylis. Love it to bits, and it always surprises me year after year.

This was the best of my Bishop's Children, grown from a packet of seeds in the spring. What a colour! And just a memory now that the frosts have arrived.

This is the largest perennial in the garden, Eupatorium maculatum 'Atropurpureum', growing behind this purple Cotinus.

I've had a lot of enjoyment from the garden this year. I think that's because it seems to thrive on neglect!

Photos © Skip Cottage.