Friday, 23 August 2013

Falkland Palace in the sun

Small Cat is asleep on my legs. I only sat down at my computer to check a couple of things quickly, but Small Cat decided that standing on my keyboard waving her tail in my face was a good idea. So I put my feet up on the footstool and she promptly settled down on my legs (ha! Pavlov's kitteh!). Of course now I can't move. I just can't. I can't disturb a sleeping cat. It's just wrong.  So I shall write a blog-post instead, or rather I'll finish one which I started a few days ago, all about Falkland Palace.

As we were in no particular hurry coming home from our trip to St. Andrews, we stopped at Falkland Palace on the way.  In fact we arrived early and had a wander round Falkland which was quiet and sleepy and attractive and a bit eerie because no-one was around. There was music and the sound of a vacuum-cleaner coming from a pub/hotel so it wasn't completely silent. We met a very friendly cat and eventually saw someone walking a dog so we were reassured then that the populace hadn't been abducted by aliens.

Eventually we headed to Falkland Palace itself, making use of our newly acquired NTS membership, and we enjoyed it very much which is why it's getting its own blog-post instead of being tacked onto the St. Andrews one.

The palace itself was moderately interesting - it was built by James IV and James V on the site of an older castle and became a country residence for the Stuart monarchs, rather like Balmoral is for the Windsors.   There's not a huge amount to it now really as the East Range was destroyed by fire in 1654, but it must have been pretty impressive at one time.  I'm not really all that gone on the lives of the monarchy or political history, so although it was mildly interesting, my interest was mostly taken by the details of the furnishings - the woodwork and tapestries and the gloomy portraits.  The highlight for us all though, I think, was the garden - we spent ages in it!

The first bit we came to (as you come out of the gift shop building, in the background of that picture) is a courtyard with big chess pieces. And draughts pieces as well if that's your thing. I can't play either game. Miss M and my Beloved quickly became engrossed in a game of chess, so the Boy and I wandered off to look around the garden. I think we came back three or four times and they were still engrossed. When Miss M was telling me about it she said, 'Chess is quite easy really - you just have to know how all the pieces move and work out the best places to move them to and work out where the other person might move their pieces and how that will affect your pieces'.  And that is why I don't play chess. Still, they were happy and the Boy and I had a great time exploring the garden.

It was just about the perfect garden for exploring, new bits to find at every corner, beautiful flowers..

and plants (does echinops count as a flower?) with stone walls as a backdrop..

steps up and down and mad urns..

a gate in a wall..


pond life..

insect life..

And an optimistically roofless tennis court. 

Quite an old one. Really old in fact. It was built for James V in 1539 and from reading various bits of information there and watching the entertaining video, Real Tennis seems to be an intriguing and somewhat eccentric game, that makes its successor, lawn tennis, look a bit tediously symmetrical and rule-driven. Bounce it off the gallery roof? Why not? 

Miss M had abandoned chess by this time and joined us in the garden. She was quite taken with the tennis court.  Here she is playing imaginary real tennis against an imaginary opponent (Boy wouldn't cooperate).

Extra points for getting the ball out of the holes (lunes) in the wall. That bit's true. Even more points if you knock out a passing peasant at the same time. That bit's not true. Probably. Oh, and in Real Tennis the net is meant to be saggy - I approve of that very much!

Back to the garden, with fragrant roses and space to run (and run and run) around.

So you see why we spent so long there.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Last day of the summer holidays

I usually try to something fun and interesting on the last day of the school holidays, but we've done so many fun and interesting things this year that we had a lazy last day instead. Miss M was happy spending most of the day playing with her best friend over the road and the Boy was happy just pottering around, bouncing on the trampoline or playing on the Wii (actually alternating between them).   This afternoon the Boy and I decided to go for a walk and see what stage the brambles are at. The answer is, developing and green (bottom left of the photo). The bees were loving the flowers though.

 We found some nice raspberries too.

And also, by careful listening and even more careful looking, a grasshopper. Actually several grasshoppers but this was the one that was most willing to be photographed. I do also have several pictures of empty leaves, vacated a nano-second previously.

This evening has been spent watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer (season 2) and sewing name labels onto school clothes. I'm pretty useless at proper sewing but I find small amounts of hand-sewing quite therapeutic. Most years I sew a couple of labels on, then resort to biro on the washing instruction tags for the rest, lazy as I am. But this year I've done loads! Yay me :-D.

Why don't my clothes have cute flower buttons on them?

Monday, 12 August 2013

St. Andrews bliss

So it's the tail end of the school holidays - the kids are back to school on Wednesday. And although it's been a great summer, I think they're quite happy to be going back really. Normally I'd be quite relived  - being chief finder-of-interesting-and-fun-things-to-do for seven weeks takes its toll, and I am pretty tired I admit, but it's been so much fun this year. Partly because we had a lot of good weather, and partly because the kids are a bit older and better able to entertain themselves.

Last week we had our final fling and headed off to St.Andrews for a few days of pottering. We stayed in the same place as last year, a hall of residence, though finally finally it's got rid of the ridiculously short-sighted name of New Hall (it was built when I was a student) and is now Agnes Blackadder Hall, after Agnes Forbes Blackadder who, in 1895, was the first woman to graduate from St.Andrews University and went on to become a doctor of some note - more information here. It's a good name, though I suspect part of its popularity is due to the opportunity for many many Baldrick jokes!

 We did a lot of nothing much - some time spent on the East Sands rock-pooling...

 ..some paddling, quite a lot actually, even the Boy joined in - those are his feet there..

.. some eating of ice-creams. Or sorbet in my case. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

One evening the Boy and I went for a wander out towards the hall I lived in during my first-year. It's no longer there, thankfully, and has been replaced with self-catering 'apartments' which look much pleasanter to live in, but the path to it is just as lovely as it ever was.  That field was one of my favourite views when I was a student. I saw it in all weathers and conditions.

The next day there was more messing around on rocks, investigating rock pools or pretending to be on a pirate ship:

Also a trip to the aquarium and a visit to the castle. I'd got the kids a drawing book each and the Boy spent a lot of time drawing plans of the castle, while Miss M wrote lists of rooms and other points of interest.

She particularly likes the mine and countermine, which are a siege mine and the tunnel dug by the besieged to meet it.  She got her daddy to take her down the tunnels several times. From inside the castle you go down the countermine which is very low-ceilinged and truly unpleasant until you climb down a short ladder into the mine, which has a higher ceiling and is generally more spacious as those digging in from outside had better equipment and so on. From that point steps lead up until they eventually stop at a wall, which I imagine stops you ending up in somebody's cellar, and there's a small manhole in the ceiling letting a bit of light in. I don't think Miss M is all that interested in the history really, it's more the 'secret passages' thing. Unfortunately I'm claustrophobic (hence the mine/countermine being a job for daddy!) and have never actually got further than the short ladder bit, but I've just watched this Youtube video that shows what it's like (the second half, on the way back from the far end, has better lighting so you get more idea what it's like). Hurray for the Intertubes! I can't imagine I'll ever get to the end of the tunnel myself, but at least I know what it's like now! Dark mostly.

I think that's our last time at the hall as sharing a family room is so tiring, especially when the youngest gets overtired after eight o'clock and we all have to go to bed early, but maybe a holiday cottage or something next year, if we go back. Shame really as breakfast there was fantastic, but decent sleep is even more so!

Monday, 5 August 2013

Train trip

The kids and I headed north for a few days with my parents last week. Just for fun (and because I didn't fancy driving), we took the train - I think it was the first time the kids had been on a longish train journey (i.e. more than an hour) and in fact it ended up taking more than an hour longer than it should have done. There were electrical problems "due to the adverse weather conditions", so I'm assuming thunderstorm, and we were stationary in Pitlochry station for 45 minutes, though it didn't actually feel that long. Then we had to stop a few times further north (such as in the pic above, in which the landscape would normally be a bit of a blur) for the same reason. The kids were fine though, not too moany. And I got a free coffee out of it :-D.

 The next day we spent at the Highland Folk Museum, always a favourite.

The following day it bucketed down. So the Boy, my mum and I went for a walk in the rain and discovered it really was nice weather for ducks:

 Especially as Mum nipped back to the house and got bread for them. That made us popular.

It was also nice weather for teeny tiny toads, about as big as my little finger nail. I can't quite believe this picture came out so well! That's a dead leaf it's half under, the stones are just the gravel of the footpath. You might have to click to embiggen, it's obviously a toad to me but the more I look at it the more I wonder if anyone else will see it. *paranoia*

And the last day was glorious! Our train wasn't until mid-afternoon so we spent most of the morning in the garden, before heading off south again. We even had the paddling pool out.

Fantastic wee holiday and it was surprisingly easy to travel with the kids. Though I made sure they carried their fair share of luggage, poor little beasts of burden that they were.

Saw this retweeted this evening: “@oceaneyes Now that we have 12 Doctors I'm going to use them to tell the time, it is currently half past Sylvester McCoy.” Well, it's 12 minutes past Peter Capaldi, so I'm off to bed!