Wordless Wednesday – The Dark Tower

Niddry Castle, near Winchburgh, West Lothian
Niddry Castle, near Winchburgh, West Lothian


Well, nearly wordless.

Niddry Castle, a Tower House built around 1500, about 11 miles west of Edinburgh. Mary Queen of Scots stayed here in May 1568 after her escape from captivity in Loch Leven Castle.  We visited it on an open day last September. The entrance is up a narrow stone stairway and I was amazed to see a grand piano in the living room way up in the tower.

500th Post! And a Giveaway

This is my 500th post! I began very tentatively in July 2006, when I wrote my first post beginning “This is my first attempt at writing a blog.”  It wasn’t much of an attempt and I wrote nothing more until April 2007.  I never thought then that I’d keep going for another two years and reach 500 posts! To celebrate I’m holding a giveaway – see below.

linlithgow-bookshopLast week we were in Scotland staying with our son and his family and whilst there we visited Linlithgow and found a really great little bookshop called, not surprisingly, the Linlithgow Bookshop. It’s on the High Street in a 16th century building, the entrance being down some steps through a small door – if you’re taller than me you have to duck your head! I’m sorry I didn’t take any photos but their website shows what it’s like. It has very friendly, helpful staff and a really good range of books, specialising in Scottish authors, children’s books, travel and fiction. In fact it’s packed with books, cards and gifts – a book lover’s heaven. We bought several books and I could have bought plenty more:


  • Be Near Me by Andrew O’Hagan – an award-winning Scottish author. This book was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2006. It’s about a priest assigned to a small Scottish parish. The title attracted me first, taken from Tennyson’s “In Memoriam” and when I read the first paragraph I was hooked:

My mother once took an hour out of her romances to cast some light on the surface of things. I was just back from Rome and we stood together on the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle, watching the sky go black above a warship anchored in the Firth of Forth. Picture that time of day in the old city when the shop windows stand out and the streets of the New Town begin to glow with moral sentiment. She took my arm and we rested like passengers bound for our distant lives, warm in our coats and weak in our hearts, the rain falling heavily on the stone.

  • Star Gazing by Linda Gillard – I wrote very briefly about her book Emotional Geology in my second post. I’ve been meaning to read this one for ages. Linda now lives in Glasgow, having spent six years living on the Isle of Skye. This book was shortlisted for the Romantic Novel of the Year 2009. It is set in Skye with a blind heroine exploring the beauty of the island, in particular the stars in the winter night sky.
  • Doors Open by Ian Rankin – the award-winning Scottish crime author famous for the Inspector Rebus books. Now D I Rebus has retired this is a stand-alone thriller about a plan to steal paintings from the National Gallery of Scotland. I couldn’t resist this one either.
  • Southern Uplands by Nick Williams – this was my husband’s choice. It’s a pocket mountain guide. It’s a small book but filled with beautiful photos and sketch maps. I think I’ll only be attempting the gentler walks and content myself with reading about the others. The book features

40 circular hill routes from the remote Galloway Hills and the rolling Cheviots to the folding valleys of the Borders and Edinburgh’s own Pentland skyline, this region is rich in history and diverse in topography, inspiring great days out for walkers of all levels.

  • Making History by Stephen Fry (a present for our son) – what can I say about Stephen Fry? He makes me laugh and he makes me think; both are good for you. I love QI, he was wonderful as Jeeves  in Jeeves and Wooster with Hugh Laurie as Bertie Wooster, and even further back I enjoyed the show A Bit of Fry and Laurie. His documentary The Secret Life of a Manic depressive was very good and his TV series Stephen Fry In America was fantastic (I have the book of the series) and that’s only mentioning a few of his achievements. If you follow him on Twitter you’ll be amazed at the amount of travelling he’s been doing recently – currently he’s island hopping around Indonesia (I think).


Because this is my 500th post I’m having a book giveaway.  It has a Scottish connection as I’ve been reading books by Scottish authors or set in Scotland recently (and our son lives there). exit-music

Everyone is welcome, wherever you live. Just put a comment on this post giving the title of the book you’re currently reading and whether you would recommend reading it or not and I’ll enter your names in a draw next Thursday to win a copy of Ian Rankin’s last Inspector Rebus novel Exit Music and a magnetic bookmark from the Linlithgow Bookshop.


Rosslyn Chapel

Rosslyn Chapel Guide Book
Rosslyn Chapel Guide Book

Last week whilst staying with our son in Scotland we visited Rosslyn Chapel.  The chapel was founded in 1446 and is still used today as a place of worship.  I first came across Rosslyn Chapel through reading Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and was fascinated by it then. I never thought I’d actually visit it as we live so far away, but when I discovered through reading Ian Rankin’s The Falls that it is just a few miles south of Edinburgh and only a short distance from where our son is living we decided to go. It’s well worth a visit on its own merits (forget about Dan Brown’s book) if you get the chance. It’s simply the most stunning building, packed with stone carvings. It was a cold windy day, but there were  quite few other people there too, and I imagine it would be packed during the summer months.  

The Apprentice Pillar

I was surprised at how big the Chapel is, from outside it seems quite small but inside it is magnificent – the ceiling seems enormous, covered in stone carvings. After reading The Falls I wanted to see the Mason’s Pillar, the Apprentice Pillar and the carvings of maize over one of the windows (these were all clues to the cryptic questions in The Falls). The Pillars are eight feet high and are splendidly and elaborately carved. The legend goes that the Mason decided to go abroad to study the design for a pillar he’d been instructed to build and whilst he was away the Apprentice created the pillar having had a dream about how it should look. On the Master Mason’s return he was so enraged and jealous that he killed the Apprentice striking him with his mallet.

The roof of the Chapel is covered with a steel canopy whilst the conservation of the building is taking place – the masonry was saturated with water and pollutants and the canopy enabled the stonework to dry out before the repairs could be done. Photos are not allowed inside but here are a few photos of the exterior:

Rosslyn Chapel Exterior
Rosslyn Chapel Exterior
Rosslyn Chapel Exterior
Rosslyn Chapel Exterior
Rosslyn Chapel Under the Canopy
Rosslyn Chapel Under the Canopy

 And I did take a photo just before I went into the Chapel – for more photos see the Rosslyn Chapel website.

Rosslyn Chapel Entrance
Rosslyn Chapel Entrance
Of course, I was interested in all the mystery surrounding the carvings and their meanings and whether there really was a link with the Knights Templar. The guide book indicates that there were in fact connections – the carvings of the five-pointed star, the dove in flight carrying an olive branch, the floriated cross and the artichoke are all said to have Templar associations.

For me, though, it was the two pillars and the Biblical scenes that are the most striking, the crucifixion scenes and the images of death, particularly the series of figures each accompanied by a skeleton – known as the ‘dance of death’. The barrel-vaulted roof and stained glass windows are beautiful.  I’ll have to go back for another visit one day, once I’ve read the guide book in more detail – one visit is just not enough.

Sunday Salon – Selections

tssbadge1The idea of The Sunday Salon is to imagine we’re in a large reading room discussing the books we’re reading. 

Today is a good day for reading. Yesterday the sun was shining drawing me outside. But today the sky is grey, the light is dull and I’m content to stay indoors and read. So far, however, I haven’t done much reading. I’ve watched Countryfile, tidied up a bit, made soup and done an Alphapuzzle or two. Countryfile was good – John Craven visited Kew Gardens to celebrate its 250th anniversary, there was a fascinating film of salmon migrating to their spawning grounds in the River Severn and what was to me a truly terrifying look at a mountain bike trail in the Lake District, plus lots more.

Back to books, this morning I continued reading two of the books I have on the go – The View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro and The Madonna of the Almonds by Marina Fiorato. Both are proving to be absorbing reads. For links to these books see the sidebar.

My Tuesday Teaser this week was from Alice Munro’s book, with a brief description of the lower Ettrick Valley where her ancestors came from. The Laidlaws emigrated to Canada in 1818 and the account of their voyage across the Atlantic is made more vivid by entries from Walter Laidlaw’s journal. He had brought with him a book to write in and a vial of ink held in a leather pouch strapped to his chest under his shirt. He had the idea from his cousin, James Hogg, the poet and shepherd. It doesn’t sound an easy crossing:

On the afternoon of the 14th a wind came from the North and the ship began to shake as if every board that was in it would fly loose from every other. The buckets overflowed from the people that were sick and vomiting and there was the contents of them slipping all over the deck. All the people were ordered below but many of them crumpled up against the rail and did not care if they were washed over.

Inevitably reading this book has raised more questions for me – just who was James Hogg for one? My own resources are a bit limited but I do have A Book of Scotland, edited by G F Maine. This is an anthology of Scottish prose and verse and comments on Scottish life and character. It contains several poems by James Hogg who was born in 1770 and died in 1835. I also have Scotland: the Blue Guide, which tells me that he was known as the “Ettrick Shepherd” and was a protege of Sir Walter Scott. There is a monument marking his birthplace and his grave is in the churchyard. He and other men of letters including Scott, Carlyle and Stevenson used to meet in Tibbie Shiels inn. This led me on to look at various websites and well away from Munro’s book, but it’s fascinating how one thing in a book leads on to more and yet more. I found this website about Tibbie Shiels Inn – the inn is in the Scottish Borders 48 miles south of Edinburgh overlooking St Mary’s Loch, on the isthmus between St. Mary’s Loch and Loch of the Lowes about halfway between Selkirk and Moffat. Now I’m wondering if it’s possible for us to stop and have a look at it on our way to see my son and family next time we visit them.

electric-shepherdI also found another helpful website Books from Scotland where I came across a book on James Hogg called The Electric Shepherd by Karl Miller. This looks absolutely fascinating. James Hogg taught himself to play the violin as well as writing poetry and the novel The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner and was a friend of Wordsworth and Coleridge.

I don’t want to write about The Madonna of the Almonds today because I’m enjoying it so much I just want to get on with reading it. But I have to mention my reaction to the title. I associate it with paintings of the Madonna and Child, most notably The Madonna of the Rocks by Leonardo Da Vinci and in a frivolous vein with”The Fallen Madonna of the Big Boobies” by the fictional painter Van Klomp from ‘Allo, ‘Allo!

And so now after looking at what others are reading in the Sunday Salon it’s back to books before cooking dinner.