Archive for May, 2011

The Bruce

The Bruce

When we left Edinburgh city centre for our current location, I was veeeeerrrryyy pregnant with my second child and we were simply looking for more space at a reasonable price.  What we have found since our move is that Dunfermline ROCKS!!!  For instance, look who is buried practically in my backyard – Robert the Bruce, King of the Scots from 1306-1329.
Burial Site of Robert the Bruce

For anyone who has seen the movie Braveheart ( and you all should even though Mel Gibson is yuck), Robert the Bruce was this guy, played by Angus MacFayden.

Actor Angus MacFadyen - Braveheart

 Anyway, he is buried here at Dunfermline Abbey right up the toon from where I stay.  This Abbey was founded in 1128 and but was built upon on earlier monastic establishment dating back to 1053-93 during the reign of Malcolm Canmore (which literally means Big Head). It was one of the wealthiest Benedictine monasteries, but alas was sacked in 1560 – hey ho.

Dunfermline Abbey

During the 19th century the abbey was renovated and the zippy stonework added to herald the great King’s location.

Victorian Addition to Abbey "Bruce" "King"

 Although his body is local to me, his heart is not.  Upon his death he requested that his heart be removed and taken into battle on a crusade.  This was partly to make up for not going on a crusade himself (rather like being a draft dodger in his day, but he was very busy to be fair) and also to atone for that wee murder of his rival for the throne of John Comyn – oops.

Burial Site of The Bruce's Heart

Quick confession – without knowing what this was at the time, my then 15 month old daughter thought this was a fab resting place for her tired sight-seeing bum.  There are no markings to identify its importance so I plead ignorance to such a faux pas!

His heart did make it into battle at the Moorish Kingdom of Granada, where both its guardian James Douglas and the heart casket were found on the battlefield. 

Melrose Abbey
The heart is now buried at the beautiful Melrose Abbey in the Borders, confirmed by Archaeologists that inspected the small lead casket to find it did indeed contain a human heart and reburied it in 1998.
Statue of Robert the Bruce with the Wallace Monument in the Distance – Stirling

In a nutshell, there is an incredible amount of super cool  history and artifacts that are everywhere in Scotland.  This is just one of the many bits that are a stones throw from where I reside.

Future Plans Du Jour

Future Plans Du Jour

While we are very happy right where we are with good friends, good schools and the Mother-ship of all Tesco on our doorstep, we find ourselves winding down one five-year plan and cooking up another one.
Skye Homes Kit House

The basic idea is to move a bit more into the country, not too far just enough to be able to afford decent piece of land.  Now it gets fun, we are thinking of a self-build kit house like the one above or maybe even a straw bale house with full eco kit, to be as off grid as possible without giving up the convenience of modern living as I am a wimp.

Wigwams with Heat for Year Round (or Scottish Summer) Camping

We need to have enough land, say 2-5 acres so that at one end we can host a few of these wigwams.  Part of a growing trend in “glam camping” and as a reaction to collapsed travel companies, ash clouds and the recession in general, Brits are staying close to home for their holidays.  I love the idea of structured camp site, not too much maintenance but a steady income to support our more creative endeavors.  These babies come with curtains already hung and heat, a very real need for camping in Scotland whatever the time of year.

Alpacas in Scotland? Wool, Wee Ones & Weed Whackers

 And then come the Alpacas.  As an eco-friendly grass cutting scheme, a source of fine wool and breeding for additional income and of course keeping a small holdings farm in agricultural use.  Sounds like a plan, no?

Born to Run

Born to Run

If you are looking for a great read, a bit of inspiration and a fresh take on you and your feet – than this is the book for you!

Born to Run

Whilst this has nothing to do with Scotland per se, it is my favourite read of the past year.  Whether you are an avid runner, a couch potato or a tired middle-aged mama with a bad back like myself, you can not help but enjoy this book.   It has already take the States by storm and is now making waves over here in the UK.

Vibram Five Finger Shoes

It is available in the UK from Amazon either as a book or Kindle download.  I won’t spoil it too much as it is such a fun read, but don’t blame me if you find yourself walking (or running) around in a pair of these before too long!  Enjoy!
Beltane 2011

Beltane 2011

As springtime finally comes to Scotland in the form of the flowering of the Hawthorn (or May) flowers, those in the know start getting ready for an all night party known as Beltane.  One of the ancient Celtic fire festivals, Beltane is a time of clearing out the cobwebs, asking for blessings of the growing season to come but most of all just a chance to party.

Flowering Hawthorn - the cue to celebrate

Each year in Edinburgh on the evening of 30th April begins a spectacular Beltane celebration up on Calton Hill.  Starting in 1988 an eclectic group of professional musicians, dancers and academics devised a contemporary celebration that is now an evolving, volunteer, outdoor theatrical event.

Waiting for sunset on Calton Hill

Drawing upon historical records, ritual dance, drumming and symbolic storytelling the event retells the story of the Greenwood Marriage of the May Queen and the Green Man. This year in particular it came just a day on the heels of the royal wedding so one could swing between a very current and a very ancient marriage celebration all in the same weekend!

The May Queen Arrives

Entering the Fire Arch


Opening Ceremonies


Before its current location, the early events were set upon Arthur’s Seat and were not just a celebration of culture but also a protest of the then Thatcher government’s restrictions on the rights of to gather.  What started out as a free community event now sells out the 12,000 tickets (costing £6) that they are allotted each year by the city.  I also hear from very reliable sources that it is not quite as wild (or nudie) as it was in those early days.

If you can’t get to Edinburgh you can have your own Beltane celebration wherever you may reside.  The basic themes are of “out with the old and in with the new”, hopes for prosperity, good luck and blowing off steam from the winter.  The colours of Beltane are red and white, and a good amount of green for the Green Man himself.  Light a fire or candle at sunset and try to (safely) keep it going until dawn when your night of unabashed merriment should end with the washing of your face in the fresh dew of May Day.  If you happen to be face down in said grass by them, well two birds one stone I guess.

Blue Dancer

For those of a more decorous manner a backyard BBQ with friends is the perfect way to herald Beltane.  Be sure to gather lots of flowers for decoration and the women should feel free to pop a few fresh buds into their hair.  The menu should reflect the wildness of the original event so this is the time to break out the wild salmon and maybe some venison.  One of the main traditions of Beltane gone by would be to drive the cattle over the embers or even between two fires as a blessing, so maybe not so much with the beef or lamb for this occasion.

You can also gather the welcome fresh bounty of springtime with asparagus, spinach and of course strawberries!  I am going to experiment with cooking my Salmon on a Plank of Ashwood as the natives of Northwest America would have done, for additional flavour and to save time and effort on the washing up if things get out of hand, so watch this space.

Welcome Summer!

Scottish Sea Glass

Scottish Sea Glass

About a year and a half ago, I had the pleasure of meeting a lovely woman named Gaynor, who had just started up her own jewelry business created from sea glass that she found on the beach.  It was astounding! (All photos courtesy of Gaynor Hebden-Smith)

Emerald Sea Glass Commission March 2011

She had always enjoyed spending time at the beach, and as her husband would train for his open water swimming (bbrrrrrrr!) she  would while away the hours with her kids gathering treasures that they found on the shoreline.  Viola, a business was born.

Cornflour Blue Sea Glass with "Scottish Sweetheart" Hole

Each piece of sea glass, also known as mermaid tears or sea jewels, is in the state that it was formed by nature.  With only a wash and perhaps a small adornment such as the “Sweetheart” hole above, pieces are chosen and designed around their existing shape.

Blue Sea Glass (9 Pieces) Direct to Chain

Not shying away from the fact that these “jewels” are the result of littering, Gaynor relishes how nature can create such beauty out of others carelessness.  She is also garnering great local history such as the previous existence of a medicine bottling plant that specialised in the deep blue glass as in the above necklace, and even how pubs used to get around their refuse collection by dumping their bottles in the water.  Old maps with coastal pubs = shoreline bonanza!

Red Sea Glass Commission March 2011

Gaynor not only selects and designs the pieces herself but she is happy to take commissions.  Whether you found a piece of sea glass on your honeymoon or in your daily walk with your dog, she can create a piece with your personal treasure.  She even records the location of everything she collects so you can request that your piece originates from a place of special importance to you.

Multi-coloured Seas Glass Direct to Chain
This is one of my favourite pieces.  To me is just shouts sunshine, summertime and beaches and all the fun they entail.   For more information check out the Scottish Sea Glass website, and browse for yourself.
PS This is not an advertisement just wanted to share this groovy stuff from a lovely colleague!
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