Monday, February 26, 2007

Whisgills and Windy Hill - cairns, lichen and slime mould

Yesterday we drove up towards Newcastleton to investigate some standing stones on forest land.


Parking at the gate at the eastern end of the plantation, we took the path uphill through the pine plantation. It's a slog of about 1.5 miles uphill, but decent underfoot, and it was a dry, cloudy and windless day. We caught the occasional view of the surrounding landscape between the trees, but it was rare.

On the way up the hill, we passed an interesting collection of amberish blobs hanging from a naked tree. I think it might be some sort of slime mould, but not entirely sure (?).

We were hoping for some larger wildlife, but there were no nibbled pinecones, although there were various different types of poo so there must be something here bigger than a rabbit. There were a couple of large ponds so perhaps check back in the summer as it may well be home to some amphibians.

The area at the top of Windy Edge is boggy and (as you would expect) covered with hidden treestumps and branches. Normal instincts to use the hillocks as dry stepping stones became scuppered when in fact they were rotten chunks of wood!

That said, there was some lovely moss and lichen action, if that's your thing, including treestumps with tiny forests of their own.

The standing stones (in fact, a ruined circle) were a bit disappointing, as one was well on its way to not being standing anymore, and the other one had won the race by being flat to the ground and about to be swallowed by monster moss. The only evidence that this was once upright was the typical weathering pattern at one end, found on lots of sandstone monoliths.

The cairns were very, very interesting, hard to illustrate with a photo! We thought at first they were one rediculously long Long Cairn, as the piles of stones were close together to a length of about 100 metres; but there are actually two round cairns too, all in a line.

One of the stones had a fantastic clump of pinky quartz set in it.

The weather became brighter as we yomped back downhill. The moss on the path had been rucked up by some sort of foraging beast, perhaps pheasants (but we didn't see or hear any) or maybe just blackbirds...

On the way home we satisfied the requirement for fish & chips I'd been resisting all week! (stayed off the deep-fried mars bar, though.)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Cumbrian Rail Crash

I received a phonecall late on Friday night suggesting that I switched on the TV and see the news about a train crash which had just happened about 40 miles south of here.

My family's first thought was for a cousin who was involved with Pendolinos and training the drivers (he was fine, obviously). He was one of the first people to learn how to drive one in this country, and has passed his knowledge on to others.

It was quite impressive seeing reasonably-good pictures coming out of that area near Tebay / Kendal, which is near to one of the few patches on the motorways still difficult to get radio reception. As Friday turned into Saturday and the news-channels' reports got more repetitive (Q: "What can you see of the crash from where you are" - A: "Nothing it's pitch black") so we went to bed and knew by the morning everything would be clearer.

When I saw the pictures, wow! How impressive! Last year I got to travel on one of these Pendolinos and I can say honestly that I felt completely safe (if a little claustrophobic because of non-opening windows).

I've got no problem taking a repeat journey, in fact I am really looking forward to it, and intend to invest in first class. Trouble is, you can't buy any more than 12 weeks ahead (how daft is that?)

And bravo to the driver of the train, and all those who trained him.

(what a strange word "train" is)

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Drandannow and Nappers Cottage

Last weekend we drove to the Newton Stewart area to a place in the Cree valley called Drandannow. Our target was the scatter of prehistoric attractions on the hill near Nappers Cottage.


The weather was glorious - it was one of those times on the edge of spring where thermals are perhaps not a good plan. There were very clear views across the whole area, and some wonderful bright skies with fluffy clouds!

After dodging the small family group of gingerish coos we headed up the path past the ruined house and on towards the first cairns and Drumfern stone circle. There wasn't a lot to see! The ruined walls of a sheep fold nearby were much more prominent. Fantastic location!

Then on towards the small pine plantation, these places always have a different atmosphere but although there were plenty of birds singing, it did feel a little bit barren of wildlife. Nice little pond, though.

Behind the plantation, we entered a rough area which looked as if it was entirely made up of cairns! We could see the top chimney of Nappers Cottage, and although the road so far had been 4WD-only, we wondered if it could be still inhabited. It didn't take long as we got closer to realise it hadn't been occupied for some time!

There's a great round cairn not far from the cottage, called Rory's Gill. Its walls gave us a perfect shelter to have lunch (sitting respectfully on the capstone of the one of the cists inside).

At the cottage itself, there's a chambered cairn; pretty ruined now but you can see how large it was and there are still slabs in place, including one with cupmarks.

Nappers Cottage has a few small walled enclosures behind it, perhaps gardens but more recently perhaps used to hold sheep. There's plenty of evidence of desperate attempts at trying to repair the fabric of the house, ultimately failing I reckon about 20-40 years ago. A wide estimate, I know! It's amazing how quickly some places deteriorate when left open to the elements. They've tried to use an old bedstead to keep people/sheep out, now fallen. Very wise to stay out I think; there's lots more collapsing to go on here, and the floors are rotten.

After the cottage, we climbed up the hill past some frogspawn in a ditch, up past numerous strange tuffets and hillocks, and lots of molehills. The gound further up was very boggy, continuing until we reached The Thieves.

On our way down the hill, I realised what it was that made this area feel so familiar. The walk up past the farm opening out to wide views, the abandoned farmhouse, the cairns, the sheep, even the direction of the sun, it was all very reminiscent of Blarwearie!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Albert Spamus - and the vials

Sounds like an alternative rock group, doesn't it.

It's really a poem found on this blog, which is strangly absorbing!

I've long been fascinated by spam - the mail filter for my work email is virtually non-existant so see plenty of it.

I'll have a go with a recent delivery:

believe what I came across
It is pretty much a hookup site
for nymphos

that's not all,
you won't even have to pay

don't pick lemons


Wednesday, February 21, 2007


The house I live in is on an estate which looks a bit like this:

You know the sort. It was built about 4 years ago on old cow pasture, the handiest bit of ground for people from the next estate to walk their dogs, and some folk have not let the presence of tarmac and brick deter them from their ancient habits.

Anyway, as long as I've been living here I've missed the wildlife. The gardens are as barren as a desert, unless you count slugs and worms. It's those tasty snacks though that have finally encouraged the blackbirds to move in! We've had two male blackies singing thier little beaks off, competing for the highest peak to warble from, and they've even been spotted on my garden wall!

Now some folk may laugh at me for getting excited about this, but since I've moved into this plastic house I've really missed my old garden, which even had owls and bats regularly flying above and between the trees nearby. I know it'll never be quite like that, well not for about 50 years and by that time the houses may not be standing... but one thing's for sure, I won't be still here.

There are some things you can't cover up with lipstick and powder... AKA coldsores!

I've always had them, my whole life. Sometimes on the lip so the swelling just looks like I've had collogen injected; I don't mind that. This time, it's on the philtrum. It's quite hard to disguise, and gets really cracked and painful as it heals.

A few years ago I had one after another with almost no respite. I visited the doctors in desperation, and he gave me a huge dose of an anti-viral drug, the type normally given to patients with the other form of herpes. Since then, I've had them less frequently, perhaps 1-2 a year, which I can accept I suppose.

Anyway, this unwelcome visitor coupled with the fact that I trimmed my fringe yesterday with a little bit too much enthusiasm resulted in this staring back from the mirror:

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Orkney Celebrity Pink Rabbits - eh?

I was a bit later than usual driving home tonight and the Chris Evans show had finished, so I had ended up listening to Radio Scotland. Towards the end of their news bulletin, I heard a report about a supposed scam, Orkney Celebrity Pink Rabbits.

Apparently, it was the offical London launch today, attended by someone ex-Atomic Kitten. The news report was saying that official rabbit club representitives said there was no such thing as pink rabbits and they must have had their fur dyed through being fed a special diet (beetroots?)

It went on to say that the brains behind the project was a convicted fraudster who now has sold his share in the project...

An intriguing story, I wanted pictures! I googled... nothing... except lots and lots of job adverts, for example the one below.

This story has disappeared! I want more! I'll let you know if I find anything...

edit 18-2-07 : found the following references:

Liverpool Echo

Daily Record

Monday, February 12, 2007

Holy crap, Batman! or "Why I am suspicious of colonics"

I've just been reading this fantastic Guardian article by Ben Goldacre. It's quite specific in its discussion of one particular individual but summarises quite nicely my suspicions of all new-age health fads.

... that's exactly why you do scientific research, to check your assumptions. Otherwise it wouldn't be called "science", it would be called "assuming", or "guessing", or "making it up as you go along".

Don't get me wrong, I have watched and enjoyed "You Are What you Eat", but for it's enjoyably sensationalist cruelty, certainly not it's nutritional advice. (I find myself laughing out loud at the table full of bad food, the shocked expressions on the unhealthily-skinny one's face, the reactions to the poo...). And, there's nothing wrong with some of the advice; eat more fruit and veg and less fried food, drink less, take more exercise etc.

Next time you're in a bookshop, pick up (and I don't mean "buy") a copy of the book, and look for the hilariously touched-up photo of the author - she is almost unrecognisable. This vanity, coupled with the fact that she is married to a lawyer who writes threatening letters to people who publicly disagree with her, must ring alarm bells with most free-minded individuals.

All this got me thinking of a conversation I had with a work colleague last week, where she mentioned that most of the people she knew had regular colonics. She reported that it made her feel better, rejuvenated, fresher.

Well... so can a really big poo!

Friday, February 09, 2007

I wish I was a poet...

If I was, I'd write a poem about this story :

Italy mystery of prehistoric hug

I think it's a nice touch for them to be found just outside Verona, adopted home to Romeo and Juliet!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Glasgow Casino and Story Spam

Last night I dreamt that I read a junk email and discovered it was an episode of a wonderful story, half-way through, and I wanted to know what happened next. It also referred to things that were told on previous emails that I had deleted...

Another bit of my dream involved going shopping in Glasgow and discovering that the whole city had been converted into one big slot gallery above the M8; I was endlessly trying to find the "down" route to the shops on the level below.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Galtway Gallavanting

Today we went to search for Rock Art near Kirkudbright, saying hello to High Banks and exploring the area to the south, known as Galtway.

It started as a bright day but later the hazy mist moved in.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Humber Bridge

I do a lot of travelling with my job, sometimes it's crap but the compensation is access to places I otherwise wouldn't go very often.

One such example is Hull; I wouldn't go there unless I had to - although I've been there a few times because of cheap childhood holidays to visit family who lived here. I know the area reasonably well and made sure I drove back past the Humber Bridge.

It was a lovely clear evening and although I had a Friday- night, 3.5-hour journey ahead of me I stopped at Hessle to take some shots.

The last one is a re-creation of one I took when I was about 13!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

A708, Yarrow and Ettrick

Last weekend we took a trip up the A708, returning through the Ettrick valley. The weather was grey and cold, and we were both still recovering from winter illnesses (that's our excuse!) so a nice drive in the car was chosen as our outing for the day.

The A708 is one of my favourite roads; not by frequency because I've only been on it about 4 times; but because that normal-looking yellow line on the map hides the truth that it is a road with landscapes of epic proportions.

We travelled up the M74 and came off at Moffat (we'll have to spend more time there one day) and onwards up towards Selkirk. On the way we passed the Grey Mare's Tail waterfall and St Mary's Loch. There were some rather odd imprisoned Scots Pine trees:

The main reason for the trip was to visit the standing stones in the area, starting with the Glebe Stone , near to Yarrow village.

Yarrow Kirk, built in 1640, had a wonderful sundial

Snowdrops under the trees, and enchanted white horse as a "Neigh"bour (!)

There is a lovely churchyard, with very old gravestones including this fantastic skeleton, which was procariously holding up a horizontal tomb cover. For more info on Skeletons on gravestones see this page.

Another with a flower, carved in sandstone:

At Yarrow we turned south and took the little road which crossed a remote pass, complete with Pele Tower which has been restored and I think is now home to Lord Steele.

Here we stopped for lunch of chili cheese sandwiches and licorice tea. When we continued downhill we joined the B7009 and headed south again, through the Ettrick valley.

We stopped briefly at the Samye Ling Buddhist centre near Eskdalemuir, (I considered going inside to see if anyone there owned up to recently sending me a "Shout Gouranga Be Happy" message to my house voicemail, resulting in it being read by Tom Baker which was quite surreal! )

Then down to the M74 again, passing Lockerbie and thinking of the crash again. A future trip may be to visit the memorial there.

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