Thursday, 31 March 2011


Edinburgh is well known for it's gardens which provide a wonderful green space in the centre of the city.  The gardens also afford the pedestrian, a series of great views of the inspirational architecture of the Royal Mile and surrounds.  Among the more 'palatial' has to be the building of the Bank of Scotland.
Now the Scottish headquarters of LloydsTSB Banking Group, it houses the 'Museum on the Mound'.  Perhaps the best-known building from architect David Bryce it was redeveloped by him between 1864 and 1871.  A worthy building and just what you would expect a Victorian banking establishment to look like.
Looking the other way, from the Royal Mile side. towards the Princes Street side, you get a magnificent vista taking in some of the most magnificent architecture.
The gardens are particularly nice at this time of year with the daffodils nodding in the breeze.  There are thousands of them, providing a nice bit of colour against the honey-coloured stonework of the buildings and the polution-blackened monuments in the distance.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Carlton Hill 2

More from the top of Carlton Hill today.  The views from the hill are spectacular in all directions.  There are many monuments and buildings around too.  From one of these - the Dugald Stewart Monument - the views across the city are particularly good.
Dugald Stewart was a Professor at the University of Edinburgh from 1786 to 1828.  The monument was commissioned by the Royal Society of Edinburgh and built in 1831, modeled on the 'Choragic Monument of Lysicrates', a Greek monument near the Acropolis in Athens.
Close by, another monumental building is set against the city backdrop.  This one is dedicated to Horatio, Lord Nelson.  It is built in the style of a telescope and replaced a signal mast which was used to send messages to ships in the Forth.  The commemorative plaque on the building reads...
"To the memory of Vice-Admiral Horatio Lord Viscount Nelson, and of the great victory of Trafalgar, too dearly purchased with his blood, the grateful citizens of Edinburgh have erected this monument: not to express their unavailing sorrow for his death; nor yet to celebrate this matchless glories of his life; but, by his noble example, to teach their sons to emulate what they admire, and, like him, when duty requires it, to die for their country".
The largest group of buildings on Carlton Hill, make up the City Observatory.  Construction began in the late 18th century and it was handed over to the Edinburgh Astronomical Institution in 1812.  The main use of the observatory was for accurate time measurement through the observance of stars crossing the meridian.
More views from the hill are to enjoyed.  This one looking along the full length of Princes Street.  The scene is dominated by the clock tower of the Luxury, Rocco Forte collection's Balmoral Hotel.  NOT where we stayed.... far too 'down-market'....!!!!

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Carlton Hill

Overlooking the Palace of Holyroodhouse, is the imposing sight of Carlton Hill.  The hill is easily identifiable with it's Neo-Classical architectural monuments adorning the top and around the sides.  Walking up to the summit, one of the first of these buildings to take the eye is the 'New Parliament Building'.
The name comes from the fact that it was proposed becoming the new Parliament in 1978.  Funding never became available for the conversion however and the Building was used instead for various, City Council departments.  It was originally built between 1826 and 1829 as the Royal High School.  It cost £34,000 and was built in the neo-classical, Greek Doric column style.
Carrying on around the hill, we came to another piece of Classical architecture.  Standing alone, it resembles an unfinished Athenian Acropolis and is known as the 'National Monument'.
Building started in 1822, a year after Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo, it was meant to be a replica of the Parthenon in Athens, as a memorial to those who had died in the Napoleonic Wars.  Money soon ran out and the building was never finished.  It became known as the Nation's Shame, but has since become one of the most visited attractions in the city.  Plans to finish the building have never had much support.  I think, the 'unfinished' nature of the monument gives it a certain drama which it may not have had if completed...  But what do I know?

Monday, 28 March 2011


At the end of the Royal Mile, lies the imposing edifice of The Palace of Holyroodhouse.  The official Scottish residence of the Queen, this baroque, stately pile sits, backed by Arthur's Seat.
Mary, Queen of Scots was married at the Palace to Henry, Lord Darnley on 29 July 1565.  This was also the site of the brutal murder of her secretary, David Rizzio.  Lord Darnley was instrumental in the murder as he was so jealous of Mary's friendship with Rizzio.
The Palace briefly served as the headquarters of Bonnie Prince Charlie during the 1745 uprising.  The State Apartments are still used to this day for official entertaining and state ceremonial occasions.
The ruins of Holyrood Abbey are to be seen adjacent to the palace.  The Abbey was founded in 1128 by King David I.  The completed building consisted of a six-bay aisled choir, three-bay transepts with a central tower above, and an eight-bay aisled nave with twin towers at its west front.  It was the site of many of Scotland's Parliament sittings between 1256 and 1410.  It was the site of the coronations of King James II (who was also born here) in 1437 and King Charles I in 1633.
This is a view of the Palace from the nearby Carlton Hill.  Stately indeed!

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Short Break

Yesterday, Malcolm and I returned after a few days away in Edinburgh.  The weather was very kind to us - remarkable for this time of year.  We arrived early on Wednesday morning to cloudy skies, but it was quite warm, so we had most of the day to explore.  We started off from our Hotel, down the Royal Mile towards the Palace of Holyrood House.  First was the building of the Old Free Church of Scotland.
Built in 1850, it is no longer used as a church, being turned into a maintenance workshop for the Palace close by.  Attached to the Church building is the Abbey Courthouse, now used by the High Constables of Holyrood House.
The heraldic panel fixed to the wall is the cypher and arms of King James V. It was originally fixed above the entrance to the Gatehouse.  The outline of the Gothic Porch and Gatehouse, built in1502, are still visible. Both were demolished in 1753 by the Keeper of the Palace.
According to legend, the Abbey was built as the Monastery of the Holy Rood (or cross) by King David I.  The Sanctuary was a defined area, five miles in circumference, taking in most of Holyrood Park. Those in need of 'protection' (petty criminals mostly who could find themselves at risk of hanging for stealing), applied to the Baillie of the Abbey.  These 'tenants' were eventually accommodated in buildings erected around the Palace and Abbey, and thereafter called Abbey Lairds.
In 1880 a law was passed which meant that debtors could no longer be imprisoned. Sanctuary of this nature then became unnecessary.  The Sanctuary building is now used as a gift shop for the palace.
More to come...

Tuesday, 22 March 2011


The "close approach" of the Moon last Saturday was well documented.  The Moon is, on average about 239,000 miles away from us, but on Saturday, it reached what is called 'Apogee', or it's closest approach to Earth and came to within about 225,000 miles.  This, of course was supposed to make the Moon look bigger to observers on Earth.  In effect, the difference is so small, that you would have to be very lucky - or at least have a strong imagination - to notice the change at all.
I did, have a look as the Moon rose in the east, but as it shone through the Hawthorn tree at the front of our house, it didn't appear to be any different to me.  The slight mist on Saturday evening made photographing it rather tricky, but I did get a couple of 'atmospheric' shots (a euphemism for 'not very clear').
Hope this works, but here is an animation of the Moon as it waxes and wanes.  This also shows nicely, the 'wobble' as the Moon rotates.

Sunday, 20 March 2011


More pictures today, of the Blackthorn (or Sloe) trees in blossom.
These taken from around 'Swan Lake'....
Beautiful in the sunshine...

Saturday, 19 March 2011


It was a glorious morning, so we struck out for Straw's Bridge with the sun shining on us and the birds singing.  As usual for a Saturday, the cyclists were a bit of a nuisance as they inconsiderately raced past hogging the whole path and furiously ringing their bells at us to get out of their way - but that's enough bile from me for now.  The scene around the lakes was a lot more peaceful.  The white of the swans was reflected beautifully in the water.
Chiff-Chaffs, Chaffinches and Song Thrushes were as we walked around the lakes, ut the Swans were more interested in seeing if we had any bread.

Friday, 18 March 2011


A walk through the woodland which used to be known as "Dog Kennel Coppice" and which now makes up a part of the footpath around Shipley Country Park, reveals the emergence of hundreds of small, bright green plants.
These are Dog's Mercury (Mercurialis perennis) and are always among the first green shoots to be seen in Spring.  Looking quite 'perky' in the deep shade under the trees, they are already in full flower as you can see.
The flower buds are a distinctive, triangular shape opening to reveal a bunch of yellow-tipped stamens.  Poisonous to most animals, it has proved fatal to sheep.  Fortunately it has a nasty smell and an extremely acrid taste so ingestion is rare.  Culpepper, speaks of it's 'rank poisonous' qualities in his famous "Herbal".
The name derives from the medicinal virtues of the plant which were first revealed by the God Mercury - apparently!  The Greeks called it Mercury's Grass.  The prefix 'dog' probably comes from the old English way of putting 'dog' before the name of any plant which lacks fragrance (such as Dog Violet, Dog Rose, etc), or other, useful properties normally associated with plants of the same family.  Not bad for a common, garden 'weed'.

Thursday, 17 March 2011


Misty again this morning as we set out for our walk.  But, by the time we got home again, the clouds were breaking and the sun was trying to burst through.
The hedgerows are also beginning to burst, with blossom.  First on the list of spring flowers are the Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa).  Also known as Sloes, these bushes are very common around these parts.
The flowers, resplendent with large numbers of yellow-tipped stamens appear before the leaves open, so you get to see them in all their glory, unfettered by greenery.  By the number of unopened buds still adorning the branches, this promises to be another floriferous year - as was last year - If only the sun would shine a little, they might have the chance to open and enjoy it.  And so might we!

Monday, 14 March 2011


We had a trip to King's Lynn yesterday, to visit my mother.  As usual, mum's garden was full of birds, all helping themselves to her feeders and bird-table full of grain and bread.  Among the most common birds seen yesterday were Stock Doves (Columba oenas).
Smaller and neater than the Wood Pigeons which were also to be seen, Stock Doves also lack the Wood Pigeon's white flashes on the neck.  When the light catches the plumage of Stock Doves, the iridescence shows well, especially with the metallic green 'smudge' on the neck.
The name 'Stock' is thought to come from the Old English word Stocc, meaning tree-stump, log or post.  This is surely a reference to this bird's habit of nesting in holes in trees, unlike most of our native doves and pigeons.  This wood would then be taken by people as 'stock' firewood.

Saturday, 12 March 2011


There is a shrub growing among the trees of the old Hall gardens on Shipley Hill, which is almost smothered with flowers at this time of year.  Standing at least 12ft high, it is quite a sight to behold.
The bell-shaped flowers are best seen close to, but from a distance, they seem to form a froth of white covering the bush.  It is, of course a Pieris, commonly known as Andromeda.
Pieris belong to the family of plants known as Ercaceaea (know you know where the title of today's blog entry comes from).  The family is perhaps more well known for it's heathers than for Pieris, but looking closely at the flowers, you can see where the familial bond lies.
The plant is very poisonous, containing a substance known as Andromedotoxin (also found in Rhododendrons and Azaleas).  Ingesting the leaves, or even the nectar of this plant can cause tingling sensations, salivation, nose and eyes watering, nausea, vomiting, sweating, abdominal pain, headache, weakness, convulsions and rarely death.  Quite a list for such a beautiful plant and one which is so widely planted in our ornamental borders.  Despite this sinister side, it remains a magnificently showy plant.

Friday, 11 March 2011

More Flowers

A second fine day saw us once again striking out for Shipley Hill, but this time tackling it from a different angle.  Heading out towards Mapperley Village, we enjoyed the scenery for the first time this year.  Among the grass at the side of the footpaths, the Colts Foot (Tussilago farfara) flowers are beginning to show their colour.
The scientific name Tussilago may seem a little familiar.  This is because of a cough medicine called Robitussin which takes it's name (at least in part) from this plant.  Tussilago actually means 'cough supressant'.  The plant has been used for various ailments including skin conditions and lung problems.  The flowers were dried and smoked in tobacco pipes at one time.
The Yew trees (Taxus baccata) are also in flower right now.  The small flowers are not easily recognisable and certainly not as 'flower-like' as the Colts Foot.
It was a longer walk today and by the time we had walked through the village, crossed the dam of Mapperley reservoir, climbed Shipley Hill and circled the top taking in both Nottingham and Derby Lodges, we were ready for home and our elevenses.  Malcolm seemed ready for home in this picture.

Thursday, 10 March 2011


Malcolm and I had a lovely walk around Shipley hill this morning.  Once again, the skies were blue and the sun shone on us as we picked our way through the woodland atop the hill.  Here, the old water tower which once provided water to the Hall and it's gardens is standing proud in the sun.  I believe it is up for sale if you have a spare half million to spend!
Looking down the hill towards Mapperley, we look through what is known as Horsepool Woods and the sight of shoots beginning to burst from almost all the trees and shrubs.  Polypore fungi cover the stumps of long-felled Beech trees which, in turn provide feeding platforms for birds and squirrels.
Amid the trees which surround the old Hall, many are in flower at the moment.  Pieris, Maple and Yew trees to name a few.  But some of the most colourful flowers are those which belong to the Mahonia shrubs.
Commonly known as Oregon Grapes, they get this name from their bunches of purple berries which resemble grapes.  The leaves could make you think these plants are related to Holly trees, but this is simply a coincidence.  They are in fact, related to the Berberis family and are part of the Ranunculales order - which includes Buttercups of all things!
The drifts of Snowdrops beneath the trees are beginning to make way for stands of Daffodils now.  Small bunches of Daffodils are opening their flowers to the sun, glowing with a butter-yellow glow in the shade of the woodland floor.
It was very windy this morning and the roar of the wind through the still bare branches of the trees was a little disconcerting at times.  The number of twigs which had clearly fallen and littered the ground, did little to allay such thoughts.  But the Daff's looked beautiful as they nodded in the breeze.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011


A beautiful day - at last!  The only bad thing about bright, blue-skied mornings at this time of year, is the very cold night which invariably precedes them and this morning was no different.  It was bitterly cold as Malcolm and I set out for a walk and frost was still glistening on the grass where houses had shaded the turf from the rising sun.  But, the sky was clear blue and the birds were singing their little hearts out.
Walking through the old car park of the American Adventure theme park, we were struck by these small, red flowers beginning to open on a couple of trees.
Resembling the flowers of the Hazel trees, but with a more 'furry' look to them, they are not the 'usual', petaled flowers we are used to and as yet I have not been able to identify them.
The trees were no more than 12ft tall and obviously of an ornamental, non-native type, planted for decoration around the car park.  If anyone has any idea what they may be, please leave a comment.  Meanwhile, I will continue to search.  I hate to be defeated!