Monday, 28 May 2012

Peebles and a walk by the Tweed

Here I am in my shirt sleeves, next to an open window, writing at the end of May about a small trip we made at the beginning of the month. Don't be fooled by the blue skies in some of these photos, it was distinctly chilly still. The weather had actually improved somewhat from an hour or so earlier when we were at Traquair House and rather than risk driving straight back into the Edinburgh rush hour, we stopped in Peebles for a little while.

The first thing we found when we wandered onto the High Street was this statue of three salmon swimming upstream. Three salmon appear all over the town as a feature on the town's coat of arms.

This lion we spotted is holding a shield with the salmon in their more traditional arrangement. One of the salmon is seen swimming against the flow which couples up with the town motto, Contra Nando Incrumentum which means, "there is increase in swimming against the stream" or in a slightly better sounding translation, "Against the tide, we flourish."

The copper domed shelter seen here in the courtyard of the Chambers Institute is the Peebles war memorial.

Built to a design by Burnett Orphoot who won a competition to design it in 1919. At £6500 pounds it was a little over budget. They do though have one of the best war memorials I have seen for their money to remember the 541 people killed in the first world war and 110 in the second.

There's a little film of Earl Haig opening it in 1922 here

We went for a wee wander down by the River Tweed where we spotted this heron.

Just outside the town is Neidpath Castle. The tower dates back to the 14th century and has been visited by Mary Queen of Scots and James VI. During Cromwell's excursions into Scotland, in the 17th century, Neidpath Castle held out against him longer then any other castle in the south of Scotland.

It could do with a bit of patching up in places now.

Here's a chap trying his hand at catching some of those famous salmon - I don't suspect he's all that bothered whether they are going up or down stream.

We walked as far as the Neidpath viaduct before crossing over and walking back into town.

It was built in 1863 and I do hope my pictures have managed to capture it's fascinating shape. It goes across the Tweed at an angle and with a slight curve but each arch is skewed so that it is in line with the flow of the river.

Just after the viaduct we found this railway tunnel.

I wandered in as far as I could see and took this photo, of what looked like complete darkness, with my flash on. It really was very dark and we didn't have a torch. Rather disconcertingly, we did have a camera which when pointed into the dark suddenly said, "face recognition on"!!

Turning round looked like a better route. A small investigate tells me that the tunnel is about half a mile long and has a bend in the middle which is why you can't see any light at the end of the tunnel. Built in 1853 and used until 1954, the tunnel was also used in the early part of the 20th century by the Scottish Nobel winning physicist CTR Wilson for his experiments to prove or disprove the existence of cosmic rays with his cloud chamber. It was also used to house the royal train during the second world wars when the King and Queen were examining blitz damage on Clydeside.

Back into the light and a view of Neidpath Castle again, this time from the other side of the river.

And just before we arrived back in Peebles for a much needed visit to the fish and chip shop, a last shot of the river where a bunch of local kids were using it to canoe on.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Traquair House

The fine dwelling in the picture below is Traquair House, near Peebles in the Borders, as it can be found in an engraving of 1814. There are tales of a heather hut here as far back as 950 but when Alexander I visited here in 1107 it was already a reasonably sized house. Fortified during the wars of Independence and visited by kings from both sides of the border it was eventually bought in the 15th century by descendants of the present owners. It is the oldest continually occupied house in Scotland.

When we visited a couple of weeks ago we found the house very much like it had been left in the 200 year old engraving. There is a great many interesting things to be seen in a tour of the house which, as is usual with stately homes, I am unable to show you because of photography rules. Many of the exhibits emphasis the family's connection to the Stuart royal family, the Jacobite cause and their adherence to Catholicism when it was illegal. There are a number artifacts in the house which are said to have belonged to Mary Queen of Scots including a cradle used by her son, James VI ( 1st of England), and the a (not unusual) lock of Bonnie Prince Charlies' hair and other Jacobite goodies. A little more about Charlie later.

Supporting the loosing side in the Jacobite rebellion didn't help the family and their fortunes went into decline until well into the 20th century. It is in this way that many stately homes in the country fall into disrepair or are handed over to the National Trust but the family, now Maxwell Stuarts, managed to save the house with a little assistance from government grants that became available after the Second World War and by opening it to the public. They also rent out some of the outbuildings to crafts people - only this chap was open when we were there - , hold local fairs in the grounds, do weddings, banquets and even let a few rooms.

Enough words for now. Have a wee wander through the extensive grounds.

The house from the back.

This chap is Charlie, who is a kune kune pig. They are New Zealand in origin, Kune kune means fat and round in Maori.

And his chum Lulu - I'm not sure quite how chummy they are as they had individual pens.

Just as I was leaving this chap headed my way and even had a bit of a pose.

This bridge can be seen on the way out of the estate. It'll be the reason buses and lorry are asked to leave by the front gate (I wonder if somebody spotted this potential problem before it was found out in practice)

These two bears sit on either side of Traquair's famous Bear Gate

They were built by the 5th Earl of Traquair in 1738. In 1745  Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed at the house on the Jacobite's March south into England. When he left through these gates, the Earl had the gates closed and vowed that they wouldn't be opened again until there was a Stuart king on the throne. There hasn't of course been a Stuart king on the throne since and indeed the gates remain closed. The castle entrance is now a few yards to the right of this picture.

Good grief! did I fail to mention that they made beer? In the 18th century the castle did indeed have it's own brewery and having found some of the old recipes the 20th Laird of Traquair restarted it in 1965. It has since become quite a viable brewery and, as if we didn't already know, we felt obliged to run a little quality testing later that evening. If I may say, they do make exceedingly good beer.


Monday, 14 May 2012

The Queen's treasures

There's no denying the Queen has some nice things and a selection of them are on display in the Queen's Gallery just outside Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh. A few weeks ago we were wandering past and decided to pop in to see what she had put out for us to see.

This rather impressive chap is the Venetian merchant Andrea Odoni. He built a large collection if paintings, sculpture and historic pieces which is why he had Lorenzo Lotti paint him amongst his sculptures in 1527.

We're a bit round to the side on this Rembrandt of Agatha Bas - there was quite a crowd (that being 4 or 5 people) in front of her.

I like the way he's painted Ms. Bas holding onto the picture frame.

This impressive cup and cover from around 1700 caught the eye of George IV who bought it in 1823. It is lavishly carved with hunting scenes which makes me think that the lady on top will be Diana the Huntress.

Another little wonder picked up by George IV. It's a nautilus shell decorated in silver gilt, garnets, diamonds, emeralds, pink quartz, turquoises and water sapphires sometime in about 1670.

This chair is made from wood salvaged from the Auld Kirk in Alloway where much of the action in Tam O'Shanter takes place. Though I couldn't persuade my camera to focus on it, the back of the chair is engraved with the entire poem on the brass panels.

Prince Albert commissioned Sir Edwin Landseer to paint this picture in 1841. It's his favourite dog, Eos. The quality of the painting is such, that spotting this first from across the room, I thought for a minute that it might have been a real greyhound mounted in a case.

A self portrait by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. He's far better known for his sculptures.

This is thought to be a self portrait by Annibale Carracci sometime in the late 1580s

The drawing and this painting also by him, to me, seem to have faces that could go down a modern street and hardly gather a second glance.

This diamond encrusted easter egg was made by Faberge in 1914. It is one of 50 that were made for the Russian Imperial Family.

This miniature portrait of Tsar Nicholas II's five children was made to fit inside it.

These eggs are a symbol of the extravagance of the Tsar while there was much poverty in the country, which was contributory to the Russian revolution. And, of course, poignant as the children above perished as a result of it.