Tag Archives: scottish borders

A Grand Day Out – Abbotsford


Abbotsford house autumn

Today was a special treat for me.  I was booked in on a photographer’s workshop at Abbotsford.  Abbotsford was the home of novelist Sir Walter Scott.  It sits on the bank of the mighty River Tweed near Galashiels here in the Scottish Borders.  It has recently undergone extensive renovations and was just re-opened by the Queen.

Abbotsford house autumn

Abbotsford is a magnificent country house built by Scott in the early 1800s on the site of a traditional farm.  The interior is full of Scott’s eclectic collections of books, guns, armour, art and quirky interiors salvaged/collected from all kinds of famous and unlikely people and places.  It is full of treasure and a great place to visit.  The gardens are lovely too and the setting is absolutely stunning.

river tweed at abbotsford

The objective of the day was to use a SLR digital camera (I have a Nikon D3000) and tripod (Christmas prezzie from Mechanic Man a couple of years ago) and practice taking shots in manual mode (no Auto!).  We were to choose appropriate exposure times and depths of field.  All very technical I know – I usually use the auto settings but do occasionally fiddle about in manual so today was an opportunity to spend time practising with manual.

vriver tweed at abbotsford

Basically I took hundreds of photos using different settings – longer and shorter exposures – for example and then chose the best ones.  Normally, one doesn’t have the luxury to spend all day trying to get a good shot but that was the point of today.  I didn’t really know what I was doing but I just kept at it, experimenting.   Tea breaks and lunch were laid on as part of the package!

garden gate at abbotsford

river tweed in autumn abbotsford

Today, the weather was good so I concentrated on taking photos outside – it was cold and windy and a bit gloomy this morning but not raining!  The sun conveniently came out in the afternoon just before it got dark!  Despite the cold air, I was cosy in my new hat.

I was determined to get at least one good photo of the house and one good snap of the trees and/or River.  I took nearly 300 photos and these are some of the best (in my opinion).  I really should do this type of thing more often.

autumn trees at abbotsford

secret garden abbotsford

garden statue abbotsford

abbotsford house

autumn trees river tweed

This last photo is the new visitors centre at dusk, taken as we were leaving.

abbotsford visitors centre at dusk

Photo Competition Time Again


Tomorrow is our village’s annual flower show.  I usually enter some baking and sewing/knitting but this year I decided to not get involved as I spend way too much time on it and frankly, the judges are a bit old school and there is no room whatsoever for any fun/creativity.    Every year the same old boring categories like “a jar of strawberry jam” – don’t get me started.

They have a photography section though and I have won “the cup” three times now. My entries from last year are here and the winner is here.

This year I wasn’t even going to enter any photos but last night I had second thoughts and started desperately raking through my photos on the computer to find ones which match the titles.  I found I couldn’t let go of my trophy without at least putting up some sort of fight! There are two categories and you can enter six 5×7 photos in total – split however you like between the two categories.

The categories this year are “Spring” and “On the Wild Side”. Overall the categories are slightly more interesting than normal and we have been saved from “local view” again so that’s good; but, given that the categories were announced in early summer, the opportunity to take spring photos was already passed!  My husband said I should take photos of springs (the curly metal kind) – a good idea but, since I wasn’t going to enter this year, until last night, I didn’t take any photos specifically.  Anyway, here’s my best attempt at finding last minute entries:  Mohawk girl is my daughter – the same cutie in the beach photo a few short years ago.

For “Spring”:

black hill, earlston

soft boiled egg

For “On the Wild Side”:


west coast scotland beach

mohawk girl


Last Day of Work – Hike up The Black Hill


snow capped Black hill Scottish Borders

Today, I handed my keys back at work – I teach for an Arts charity but funding for projects here in the Scottish Borders have run dry.  I’m not going to dwell on it just now, I had a great time, did a great job, helped some great unemployed young people to have fun and be creative and gain all kinds of valuable soft skills like confidence, sense of achievement etc.

So, when I got home today, I decided to act positive.  I took advantage of the extra hour of daylight we gained at the weekend, and the sunshine we have been deprived of for months, and hiked up my local hill.  My house looks onto the Black Hill so I see it everyday.  I love to hike up it – it’s not as bad a walk as it looks and there’s fantastic views from the top.  It’s what’s left of an extinct volcano.  I haven’t been up there for months so today was the day.  Here’s some of the photos I took, it really was a fabulous couple of hours and it didn’t hurt too much!

ploughed field en-route to black hill

eildon hills from black hill

north face of black hill

view looking west from black hill

snow on black hill

my village from black hill

resting at the top of the black hill

cheviots view south from Black Hill

More Birthday Fun…another day at the seaside


sea rocks sunset eyemouth scotland

My Birthday is in the Summer and I always go to the beach – despite typical British summers the weather is usually kind to me.  My kids are all born in the winter so, in theory, beach birthday trips are out.  However, my colleague and I had such a lovely photo-gathering trip in Eyemouth a few weeks ago, he suggested I take the wee man and his two chosen pals there for his Birthday outing.  He reasoned – there’s an indoor pool, amusements, fish and chips and if, the weather is kind, ice cream and sand/rocks.  Brilliant idea – didn’t take much selling.

pebble sculpture rock man

Our trip was originally planned for last weekend but was postponed due to illness so today was the big day – the weather was ridiculously kind.  I managed without a coat although I had layers and a big scarf and had taken hats/gloves extra layers in case!

spring sunshine eyemouth

What a wonderful day…..we bought 2 new buckets (the one that lives in our car had a hole), we gathered shells and beach glass, we clambered on rocks, we had fish and chips, we played in the park, we scootered along the beach path, we went swimming in the warm indoor pool which overlooks the sea, we had award winning ice cream, we played on the 2p machines, and we built a beautiful sandcastle decorated with our shells as the sun was setting.  We’ll sleep tonight.  Thank you Scotland for being the best small, and very occasionally sunny, country in the world.  Or, as my friend Lizzie, says, “God made the world in six days and on the seventh day he made Scotland”.

sand castle with shells eyemouth beach

Shopping Fresh and Local for our Christmas Tree


pick your own christmas tree

A few miles from our house is a small but wonderful community woodland – near Gordon.  The volunteers grow and sell a few Christmas trees among the natural species.  The money goes towards the management of the woodland for free community use.  Today was the last day to go and pick/chop down your own tree.  We’re going to put our tree up on Friday 21st so it’s waiting outside for now.  There was no snow for our tree harvest this year and it was above zero but the ground was crunchy underfoot so perfect.  Here’s a few snaps of our trip.  Unfortunately, the big kids couldn’t be persuaded to come so just the Big Man, the Wee Man and the camera woman.  I got some extra branches for wreath making so photos of those to follow when I make them.

gordon community woodland

Here’s the wreath I made last year…..Christmas tree scraps and tangerines with wire through….Brussels sprouts the year before but no pics sorry.

tangerine real fruit DIY wreath

Big Red Rock – Choosing Mum a Beautiful Memorial


earlston kirk church yard gravestones

When my Mum died in January, I was given a brochure of gravestones as part of my “bereavement pack,” this sent me into a tail spin as modern mass-produced gravestones, like many things “manufactured” these days, are frankly not very nice.  I was determined to try and get something more in keeping with our families’ penchant for “lovely old things” and more in keeping with the old part of the church yard my Mum was lucky enough to get a spot in. Here’s the view from her “little corner of a Scottish field that will be forever England.”

view of black hill from earlston church yard

This is just a wee story about how I came to make my choices and hopefully it will help others in a similar situation – the point of the story is really this – you don’t have to buy a soul-less gravestone from a brochure, you can take your time and commission a beautiful piece of art – it won’t necessarily cost you any more money. If you can, buy handmade and support local crafts people!

I cast about to find a local stone carver and it turned out that a lovely woman I used to play tennis with is a stone carver  – I never actually knew what she did when we played tennis – and we were recently reacquainted at the school gates – fate I tell you.  She agreed to carve a beautiful stone for us.  Given that I could have anything I wanted, how to choose? Here a couple of examples of Natasha’s wonderful work.  Working with her has also made the whole process a lot easier than it might have been otherwise – thanks Natasha.

natasha smith stone carver scottish borders

hand carved raised lettering on red sandstone

Our church is made from local red sandstone and shines bright like Ayers rock up on the hill behind my house, so I wanted my Mum’s “rock” to be made from a similar stone – not shiny black granite with gold writing.  I wanted her stone to look like it belonged in the church yard.  Gravestones here are now restricted in size to 30cm wide so it couldn’t be too big.  I wanted a rock that I could sit on so that when I go and “visit” so I don’t have to stand awkwardly; also, I do occasionally take a cup of tea up there when the sun is shining so I thought It would be pleasant to be able to sit on the rock and have a cup of tea with my Mum.

We visited a local quarry near Berwick-upon-Tweed to choose a piece of local Red Sandstone and it turned out they had giant pieces of Red Sandstone salvaged from the Historic and World Renowned Scottish School of Textiles Building in Galashiels which was sadly demolished a few years ago and replaced with a giant and hideous Tesco Supermarket.  We chose a lovely upcycled stone – so I don’t even have to feel bad about the energy and landscape destruction involved in quarrying.  The quarry cut the face off so that it was only 30cm thick and to provide a smooth surface for Natasha to carve.

salvaged red sandstone destined to become a memorial stone

Having chosen the stone, the wording was a problem, how do you sum up someone’s life in a few words?  At first, I felt I couldn’t possibly sum my Mum up in a few words so I considered having no words at all other than her name and dates – but this didn’t feel right.  I looked at other stones in the church yard and most seemed to say things like – loving wife of, mother of etc etc.  I wasn’t happy with summing up her life in terms of relationships to others as this implies she wasn’t a person in her own right and also leaves out anyone who is not listed. My Mum was a very inclusive person who meant a lot to a lot of people so I wanted the wording to reflect this.

I resisted the temptation to put “just bleedin’ knackered!”on her stone though – although I know she would be amused because she always wanted to reply “bloody awful” when shop keepers asked her how she was – she liked to tell it how it was – obviously she didn’t feel bloody awful everyday but she thought it daft that we Brits always reply “fine, thank you” even when we’re not.

After a great deal of deliberation and tears I came up with wording I like very much…



1941 – 2012

Gave us Life, Love and laughter

I feel this includes everyone in the “US” – anyone who knew her and who might be reading it; but, it also refers specifically to me and my twin.   Since she died, a lot of people have told me how much she made them laugh so I wanted her stone to remind everyone of the fun times.  Also, since any flowers I might put on the grave will die, I am having two cowslips carved into the side of the rock, “growing” out of the surrounding grass – she loved wild flowers especially cowslips.

The “big red rock” has now been delivered to Natasha’s workshop here in the Scottish Borders near Ancrum and the design has been finalized; and work is underway.  It is a strange feeling but at least I feel I have chosen something beautiful.

red sandstone rock ready for carving mum's memorial headstone

In two days, it would have been her 71st Birthday and this stone will be the last gift we can give her.  Last November, when she turned 70, I asked her if she wanted me to organise a tea party with some of her pals and she said “No, I don’t want to be 70” –  she was worried about getting old – and not afraid to say it.  We had a lovely family tea party at home.  She was “fine, thank you” and looking forward to Christmas; but, out of the blue in early January, she died from a brain hemorrhage – I was with her holding her hand while she stopped breathing.  I sang her the special song she used to sing to “US” – the same song her dad sang to her.  So, on her Birthday on Sunday, I am going to celebrate her not being 71 – she will remain, in the words of Bob Dylan – “Forever Young”.

Another Beautiful Day in the Scottish Borders


This weekend was open studios for artists and artisans here in the Scottish Borders and North Northumberland – Crossing Borders.   I went to visit some fellow artists and had a fabulous day.  First here are some snaps I took on my travels – the Hills in the far distance are the Cheviots.

road to chesters, scottish borders with cheviot hills in background

My artist friend Hugh Roberts lives in the middle of this little piece of heaven and paints the big skies and wide spaces in bright acrylics.

I love his work, so today I went mad and bought a painting!  I forgot to take a photo of my painting though so you’ll have to wait until I pick it up.

view from the road to chesters, scottish borders.

I also bought an unusual but gorgeous bag from the talented Julia Cunningham and an unique ceramic button

from Clare Norris whose beautiful work was new to me but right up my alley.

Now I need to make something lovely to sew my button on.

road between chesters and the A68, scottish borders

Plus, if it wasn’t a good enough day already, there was a local car boot sale (swap meet) en-route and

I was lucky enough to buy two wool sweaters for upcycling and four balls of hand spun wool –

watch this space to see what they turn into.

view from road to chesters