On the many occasions that I’ve driven to and from Edinburgh, one of the highlights of the route is the stretch just north of Berwick, where the road follows the line of the clifftops and the untamed North Sea is close at hand.  It’s not in the same league as Amalfi’s Nastro Azzurro for drama, but it has some magic all the same.  Then when my journeys took me north by train, the rails ran even closer to the edge and I was able to concentrate on the rocky coves and inlets here.  One in particular caught my attention for the presence of a ruined building perched above the waters.

Luckily there is another route that runs even nearer to cliff’s edge; a footpath that allowed me to indulge my curiosity, and there is much to be curious about.

This stretch of what is known as the Berwickshire Coastal Path includes a nature reserve where peregrines fly (though the low grey clouds that accompanied my visit meant there was little chance for me to see them or them to see prey).  The fulmar nesting in the cliffs are so numerous that they were no compensation.

Those cliffs, and more specifically their geological formation, are historically important.  The sea has exposed a number of patterns in the strata over the centuries, revealing folds in the layers and junctions between different formations.  

In the 18th century a merchant’s son inherited some farms in Berwickshire and was fascinated by these formations (and the fossils within them).  That man was James Hutton, and the theories he published based on what he saw here and elsewhere along the coast were the first steps towards understanding how the crust of the earth was formed.  Hutton was the “father of geology”.

But on to my objective and the ruined house.  This was not part of Hutton’s estate but rather the enterprise of a less esteemed individual.  A coastline like this, with a national border nearby?  This is a location ripe for smuggling.

Further north of here in Eyemouth stands Gunsgreen House, the most audacious statement of ill-gotten gains.  Whilst not quite equivalent to Pablo Escobar’s Naples Estate, Gunsgreen was designed by the leading architect John Adams for the notorious Nisbet family.  The structure here on the cliffs was rather more modest, though built in the same era as Nisbet’s show of wealth and Hutton’s meanderings.

The “cover” that John Robertson used here at the “Smuggler’s Bothy” as it is now known, was that he was running a fishing business, though in fact he was in partnership with a Swedish shipping line in the lucrative business of importing that highly addictive substance… tea!  (Of course the duty on this product was the cause of problems elsewhere in the 18th century)

Down on the shore you can see a net winch and a storage cave which add to the romance, but sadly these are remnants from a later period; when there actually was a fishery among these stones that have been a draw for so many reasons.


Getting Defensive (Berwick II)

Berwick’s precarious position meant that whether Scots or English were in control, there were always reasons to establish defences so that that control could be maintained.

The first castle was built here in the 12th Century by the Scots.  In England during this era preference was for the ‘Motte & Bailey’ design introduced by the Normans; the main defensive keep built on high (or artificially raised) ground (the motte) for the nobility, with a curtain wall extending outwards to enclose the courtyard and buildings that supported the economic life of the castle (the bailey).   In Durham, the bailey enclosed the peninsula that includes the cathedral and the buildings beyond; the heart of the medieval city.

In many cases the defensive “walls” were simple earthworks topped by wooden palisades.  I don’t know if this was case or not in Berwick, but whatever was in place was largely ineffectual.  Less than fifty years after David’s work the town was in English hands as part of a ransom deal for William I of Scotland who had invaded England only to suffer defeat and capture at Alnwick.  Richard I (“Lionheart”) then sold it back to fund his crusading.

In the 14th century Edward I recaptured the town and built two miles of stone walls, though these separated the town and castle.  The following year William “Braveheart” Wallace capture the town for the Scots but not the castle.  In the ensuing decades this game of ping-pong continued including one occasion where the Scots took the castle with only seven men!

Elizabeth I put a stop to all this nonsense in two distinct ways.

First she built new defensive walls , using designs from Italy and massive earthworks to support them and absorb the impact of artillery.  Arrowhead bastions were one of the innovations, allowing gun post to project at the corners and thus provide defensive fire that covered the length of the new walls and the vital river mouth.  These walls enclosed a smaller area, leaving the castle completely cut off and irrelevant.  For years until the construction of a by-pass to the west, all traffic heading north along the east coast had to pass through one of the Elizabethan gates.

She had good reason to take defence seriously.  Having rejected Catholicism, England was the enemy of much of Europe.  Calais had been lost to the French with whom Scotland had “the auld alliance” and the Scots had a charismatic leader in Mary.

Ultimately the Elizabethan works were left incomplete as with Mary’s capture and eventual execution the threat subsided and Elizabeth’s second act removed it all together.  On her death she appointed James I of England and  VI of Scotland as her successor.  The union was created, and recently survived a referendum on independence.  What future for Berwick if there were to be another vote? For now at least it can still justify Pevsner’s description as “one of the most exciting towns in England”.



The blog reverts to travelog mode again today as my work this week has taken me to Scotland’s largest city; Glasgow. I’ve been here before on a number of occasions, but always work-related, and so I feel I’ve never really got to know the city as well as its sister along the M8, Edinburgh. Those views that I did have always been overshadowed by a plethora of negative images that were the stereotypes of my developing years; militant shipyards,  tribally internecine football violence, razor gangs and Rab C Nesbitt! There must be more to Glasgow.

Though my work is in the financial district, my home for the week is in the more bohemian West End of the city, at the far end of Sauchiehall Street, which at about a mile and a half is one of the longest in town.

The West End provides plenty of evidence of the riches generated by Glasgow following the industrial revolution, with street after street of impressively large townhouses. Sadly many of these are showing signs of their age as stonework crumbles, fences corrode, and woodwork rots. Hidden gardens which were once a place of beauty behind the great stone facades and now neglected and home to refuse bins. This is a consequence of the change of ownership over the decades.

Change has come to Glasgow in much the same way as it affected my home in North East England.  I’ve come here to work with the staff of a financial services contact centre – which is how Sunderland tried to replace jobs lost in shipbuilding and mining.

The properties are no longer home to prosperous investors in shipping, mining, mills and industry; many are now student flats owned by landlords who will do the minimum to maintain them and so maximise their profit margin.

That is not to say that the area is completely run down for at its heart is a jewel. The great park that is Kelvingrove has much to offer, from its statuary and monuments, to its wildlife, and the opportunities it provides for recreation and relaxation. Like a miniature of New York’s Central Park it provides a home to a world-class museum and gallery, and it’s tree line is also punctuated by impressive surrounding architecture, for apart from the Kelvingrove Museum, the skyline is dominated by the impressive tracery of the spire towering over Glasgow University, and in the east by the Italianate campanile tower of Trinity College.

An hour’s walk had many rewards, and ended with one more. Just as I returned to my hotel I bumped into Ellie who is today’s portrait.


So have I changed my views of this monumental city?   Largely yes, although I was awoken in my hotel by the rousing serenade of a passing drunk on my first night.  Wonder if it was Rab?

Holiday, holiday, holiday time.

I’ve never really been a caravanner.  To be fair I’ve not experienced enough of it to see the appeal.  There were a couple of days in Castle Douglas, Scotland when my parents had agreed to tow a friend’s caravan home.  That was notable for three things;

  1. My friend Jonathan’s vomiting
  2. What seemed an interminable showing of Dr Zhivago at the local cinema, and
  3. Being told off regularly for not being careful enough with the gas light mantles.

Then there was the two weeks in a Eurocamp caravan with my family when my daughters were small.  Two weeks in the Vendée enjoying sun and sand, French coastal life and all that goes with it became seven days of strong winds and heavy rain.  We retreated back across the channel at that point when the forecast indicated more of the same!

There are those who love the pursuit however, and a few times each year they descend on the field at Seaburn Camp and do just that for a few days.  More often than not they experience conditions not unlike those that we had in France, but with lower temperatures, yet still they come year after year.

I don’t know what attracts them to the area.  I don’t see hordes of them crossing the road to the nearby beach.  It might be purely the social aspect of meeting the same hardy souls who put up with our weather this time last year.

Whatever the reason they are here again, the green of the field made white by a sea of mobile rooftops.  And the weather?  There have only been a couple of thunderstorms since they arrived, and the sun has managed to shine too, though always with the presence of menacing clouds.These of course are great for me to shoot dramatic skies – perhaps that’s what appeals to the caravanners too.

I don’t think Bill, was one of them but he did agree to be today’s portrait.  Thanks Bill,

Oh and by the way – three simple words to share.

Sir Chris Hoy!!!!!!!

Let’s go living in the past*

At 23.6 degrees Celsius, the Aberdeenshire town of Aboyne set a record last week for the highest temperature ever recorded in Scotland during March.  Seven days later, and early April sees the same town lying under several centimetres of snow.  A week is a long time in climatics.

The same weather system that painted Aboyne a whiter shade of pale has been moving south down the eastern side of the UK overnight, and the forecasters have been warning of disruption from snow falls.  Here in Whitburn, where I was photographing a woman in shorts a couple of days ago, the precipitation and wind speed have rocketed; the temperatures have plummeted.  It is 20 degrees cooler here than last week.

So far the skies have seen fit to ejaculate rain and sleet rather than the cold white stuff, so roads are flooding and drains are unable to cope.  No surfers or open water swimmers would brave the North Sea today, the white surf of Sunday turned brown by the sands snatched up by the power of the water.   The beach itself is alive, not with with the usual walkers and dogs, but with a flowing mass of sand particles, hovering above ground level as if part of some experimental reverse magnetism.

Finding anyone about is going to be difficult in these conditions, much less anyone willing to stop and be photographed while wind and rain work in tandem to provide discomfort.  Those who are out have their heads bowed in submission, or bravely sprint from door to door.

Luckily Gill’s car was due an MOT test, so in collecting her from the garage I had time to pop inside and photograph Lee who was manning the service reception desk.  The blue wall against which he stands gives an almost tropical feel in stark contrast to the conditions outside.

Returning to my car I noticed the automatic shutter doors keeping the workshop area protected from the conditions outside, and preventing valuable heat from escaping the building.  It took me back to teenage days when I would spend my summer holidays in the workshop of my father’s garage.  Even then I remember bitterly cold days when we would drag the heavy wooden workshop doors across the entrance to keep out the worst of the wind and or rain, though they were no protection against draughts.  Hands made cold by spanner or socket wrench were desperately warmed around small electric heaters that were woefully inadequate.

At least we were indoors though.  My first job after leaving school, and whilst awaiting my exam results, was in a shipyard on the Wear, though it was an office job and during the summer.  It lead me to wonder about the men who worked outdoors on the superstructure of those ships – what did they do on a day like today.  I suspect downing tools wasn’t considered unless there were extreme safety risks.  Shipbuilding eventually progressed to being undertaken in vast hangar like buildings with enormous doors that allowed the hull to be completed before being floated out for completion on the river.

It seems to me that people were more resilient in those days, more willing to put up with pain of frozen fingers, the discomfort of wet clothing, the chattering of teeth.  There seemed to be less susceptibility to allergies in those days too, ostensibly as a lesser degree of hygiene awareness led to more opportunity to build resistance.

Were we hardier souls in those days, or did the nostalgia gene kick in without me noticing, and if it did, at what age do we become susceptible?  (Probably sooner than we used to!)

Incidentally, as I processed Lee’s picture I was reminded of a guy I worked with some 25 years ago called Roger Talbot and wondered what he’s doing now.  Arrrrrggghhhh, there I go again!

*Jethro Tull