Monthly Archives: July 2012

Not so much a Corbett as a Caw!

Debbie and I had initially planned to go to Ben Ledi near Callander for our next Feeding The Soul trip on Wednesday 25th July and our good friend Sid reckoned he would like to join us.  It had been a long gap of two decades since Sid had done any serious walking and his interest had been aroused by hearing about our recent hill-walking adventures.  (See my other blogs).  However, Debbie was in the middle of moving house so we had to postpone Ben Ledi yet again.  Instead we decided to do a local walk but Sid was still keen to join us.  Upon learning we only going to a wee hill, another friend, Ionwen, also decided to come along with us as a wee test of her fitness while recovering from an illness.

Debbie and I  had planned to go to Cockleroy Hill near Linlithgow a few weeks ago, but as it turned out high winds had caused major tree damage at Beecraigs and many of the  paths were closed.  (See Onwards and Upwards)   We knew it was a popular local beauty spot but knew very little else about it.   This time, as we were aware of the path closures, we opted to start from Balvormie car park at the foot of the hill itself instead of walking through Beecraigs first.

Now then….as all experienced mountaineers and hillwalkers know, it is essential to prepare properly.  I made sure I had all the safety stuff such as compass, first-aid kit and the relevant maps; packed myself a lunch box, bought juices and chocolate bars, ensured I had waterproofs, boots, walking stick, towel, plastic cover, anti-midge spray – all the usual checks for safety in the hills and to cope with the vagaries of Scottish weather.   The anticipation started to rise as the packing took place – yipee,  soul-feeding awaited.

I collected Sid from Edinburgh, then Debbie from Livingston and made my way to Linlithgow.  At the car park we met Ionwen and decanted from car seats to rucsacs .

Gobsmackingly, the weather was fine for a change so I decided to leave my waterproof in the car – adventurous soul that I am!  Debbie and I opted to brave the elements and rely on after-sun if needed, but Sid and Ionwen both lathered on a good layer of sun lotion.  Mind you, he still kept on his fleece (Sid feels the cold).

The way was clearly marked from the carpark.

The path was flooded at the start and was rather muddy for a few yards but undeterred we soldiered on. 

Once out of the wee wood we started up the hill……..

I’d hardly got going again after taking the above start-off shot when I realised my companions were already half way up…….

No sooner had I caught them up than I found we were at the – ahemm – summit!   On the mountains, the Munros or Corbetts, there are often false summits …one thinks one sees the top only to find there’s yet more to climb.    This time it was the opposite – we all looked around frantically to see where the hill continued but no, this was it – this was the top, the heights, the summit, the end of the route.  Aw naw!  Not so much a Corbett as a Caw!

A fellow walker asked me to take a photo of him and his toddler girls who had come running up behind us (NB: ‘toddlers’ !) so after I had obliged, he took one of us.

There are in fact lovely views from the  – ahemm – summit of Cockleroy so I took shots of

The Forth Bridges  

The Pentlands

The iconic viaduct in West Lothian


A wee ruin close by (don’t know what it is)

The views are certainly rewarding and, after admiring them, I glanced at my watch  to see that  a mere 20 minutes had elapsed since we started so we must have been ‘up’ in ten!!!!  Ten  minutes to the top!!

I stared at the others with embarassed disbelief thinking “But, but, but – I thought I was going to feed my soul……, Oh blimey,  I’ve invited the others for an adventure…….,  Oh bother, I’ve made a packed lunch ……….oh heck – we can’t go back now!” .    I knew we didn’t really have the time to drive further afield to try another ‘proper’ hill, and in any case that wouldn’t have been feasible for Ionwen, but we had to do something else.

I went to the other end of the wee ridge – ( I use ‘ridge’ for want of a better word) – to see if there was another option for us, but was informed by the chappie with the babies that the only other route down was one which annoyed a farmer, so we had no option but to retrace our steps.  Undaunted and determined to get something out of the day, I suggested we have a walk around Beecraigs and the others agreed.

The way to Beecraigs Loch was through a large play park which was packed with kids having a fabulous time on the various equipment.

To digress…. wouldn’t it be a good idea if there were play areas for adults as well?  I think it’d be great if there was equipment for us to swing on or climb up or bounce on – it’d be much better than just hingin’ aboot watching the kids having all the fun and exercise.  Recycled teenagers rock just now but we could be the oldest swingers and sliders as well.

Anyway – on with the story, such as it is – we stopped at the Beecraigs visitors centre to have our lunch – see the photo below of our joyous group revelling in the sheer excitement of the adventure!

( Seriously, this was just an odd  moment – they weren’t like that the rest of the time.   Honest!   )

I never go anywhere without a camera of some sort so at least I got some  snaps  ……….

Fishermen on Beecraigs Loch

Lovely wee flowers near the causeway crossing the loch…

Just an arty-farty shot of the overflow water rushing past……

Greylag goose from a flock feeding alongside the loch

Reflections of Beecraigs Loch…

There has been a lot of damage done to the trees and many have fallen or been chopped down….but there are many new ones being planted.

The walk around the loch is very pleasant and wee Cockleroy Hill presents a gentle introduction to the rewards of making a little effort. My problem with it was just not realising it was so very tiny.  However, when the loch circuit was included,  we had walked about 4 miles, which was a wee challenge for Ionwen and a nice wee break for Debbie, Sid and me, if not exactly demanding.  The weather was perfect for walking – bright but not hot and with a slight breeze – so I admit I was somewhat disappointed not to have gone further and higher, but we always make the best of what we have at the time.  It may not have been quite what I had hoped for but it still did feed the soul, this time with the pleasure of the company of friends.

Feeding the Soul – Drama

You may recall from my first blog I mentioned that one of my other interests is  Amateur Drama. I am involved both front and back stage with a couple of drama groups but my main involvement is as Edinburgh District Secretary for  Scottish Community Drama  (SCDA) an umbrella group supporting amateur drama across Scotland.  In fact my partner has often commented that he has never yet figured out how I could fit work into my life, as since I retired he has seen less of me than when I was working (cheeky so and so).

To explain the background a little: as part of the Cultural Olympics, the Royal Shakespeare Company has been running the ‘Open Stages’ project to work with amateur companies all over the UK and SCDA has been involved from its inception.  Many SCDA clubs participated during 2011 & 2012 and a representative of the National Theatre Of Scotland attended all the productions on behalf of the RSC .  RSC/NTS also provided workshops to support the groups.  The goal was to be invited to take their production to the RSC’s Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon.  You must admit – that was some goal!

I had seen Edinburgh Theatre Arts’ (ETA) production of ‘Macbeth In Scots’ when they performed it in May at their tiny venue, St Ninians, and was highly impressed by it, so it came as no surprise when they were chosen.  Can you imagine the excitement?  Performing Shakespeare at the RSC is far beyond most professional actors’ dreams and amateurs have never before had this opportunity. It was a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I had planned to go to Stratford under my own steam to support them so was  thrilled to be invited to travel with them. Hence I found myself on Friday 13th July on a coach with the ETA cast, crew and other ‘groupies’  on our way to Stratford.  ETA were not due to perform until 9.30pm on the Saturday so I knew I would have a fair amount of time to explore and photograph the area but, to my camera-mad partner’s dischuffment,  I didn’t take my ‘proper’ Canon camera with me – just my Kodak point-and-shoot.  Och, it’d daefine.

We started off at 9am  but, thanks to a massive hold-up on the M6, we didn’t arrive until 6.15pm – just in time to dump our stuff at the Premier Inn and hurry along to the Courtyard Theatre for a wee reception before attending ‘Baba Shakespeare’ – the play being performed that evening by a group from Islington, England.  ‘Baba Shakespeare’ was based on the Kendal family’s theatrical group touring  Shakespeare plays in India in the sixties.  It was extremely well acted and well worthy of being there, but some of the scenes could have benefitted from being cut a bit and the “millions” of scene changes were unecessary, especially when they were for scenes lasting no more than a couple of minutes.  It was a smashing introduction to the venue and expectations were very high for the following day.

Imagine the thrill of seeing your own show advertised in massive posters outside the RSC!

ETA’s cast and crew were due at the theatre for technical rehearsals and a run-through the following morning so after breakfast some other ‘groupies’ and  I went on a bus tour.  They got off at one of the first stops but I wanted to take the full tour before deciding where to go next, so stayed on.   I decided against taking photos from the bus because the driver didn’t slow down enough – preferring instead to wait until I walked around later. However, this is one shot taken on the move – of the back of Shakespeare’s birthplace.The next photo was taken out in the countryside when the bus had stopped because the driver thought he had a water problem (or the bus had!) and is where the Forest of Arden used to be.  Apparently the forest covered miles but was all chopped down to make houses, furniture and ships. They reckon it took 2000 oak trees to make one ship!  No wonder it is so barren and bleak now.

Eventually the bus made its way back into town.  I still had lots of time to explore and I took the opportunity to wander around the town, like many other tourists and devotees of the Bard.  Like so many places, Stratford is very tourist orientated nowadays but one can still allow oneself mentally to time-travel and wonder about what the world was like for the first folk to walk these streets. Here, in what was a large village in Elizabethan times, was born one who would change the world with his insights into human nature and leave such a marvellous legacy to the world of theatre, where words have power and powerful words can move an audience to tears, laughter, horror and joy. His stories are often far-fetched, (especially when it comes to mistaken identity plots), but the language is beautiful and he invented so much of it too.  For ‘Macbeth In Scots’ Shakespeare’s Elizabethan English has been translated into the Old Scots language – but the beauty of the words is still there. To quote the publicity tagline ‘The Scottish Play has come home’

Images of Stratford

The front of Shakespeare’s birthplace.

So many of the buildings are ancient.

This claims to have been newly built  in 1595.

This in 1490…

The next one is Shrieve’s House, the oldest inhabited building in Stratford, and claims to have been a house on the site since 1190.  It is now home to “Tudor World”  (I looked down the side of the building but didn’t go in.)

I loved the little  Holy Trinity Church  where Shakespeare was christened, married and buried.  According to the sign, there’s been a church on this site since 713.

Shakespeare’s grave complete with the curse he added in his will.  Other members of his family are buried alongside him inside the church.

The curse is the Bard trying to protect himself against being moved – he succeeded then eh?!

This alabaster bust was erected while Shakespeare’s family were still alive, and apparently his wife approved of it, so it is assumed to be a good likeness.

While on my walk I came across a young (14 to 21) group from Liverpool just about to perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a free show in the RSC garden .  The youngsters struggled to cope against the noise of a helicopter and traffic but all in all did well.

They handed out rugs for the audience to sit on too – which was a very nice touch.

I walked along the riverside twice – once from the RSC garden down to the canal (which joins the river), then back on the other side, which was starting to be flooded.

I loved the weeping willows.

My anticipated trip across the river using the ferry was cancelled due to too much water. (sic!)

Holy Trinity Church seen from across the river.

The river invading the land and starting to cover the paths as well.

Holy Trinity Church again (second time around).

The weather stayed fine all day and I had a lovely time snapping away.

I went back to the hotel for a wee rest before geting showered and changed for the evening.  My room mate and I had a nice meal then proceeded to the theatre.

The first play was from Northern Ireland and was Julius Caesar set in the Shankhill Road in modern times. The young cast had very strong NI accents and spoke Shakespeare’s lines at one heck of a pace at first, but the storytelling was very strong, the main characters clearly understood and the violence horribly realistic. I was extremely impressed and another groupie who had attended the RSC’s ‘Tempest’ (the professional production) the previous evening said she far preferred the Julius Caesar.

Then it was ‘our’ turn. I’m not kidding – I was only in the audience but the adrenaline was pumping!  ETA were amazing and seemed totally unfazed by appearing in this prestigious place.   They raised their game by so many notches and it was tremendous to start with!  They used the large thrust stage to great advantage (which is something the other two teams had not done) and had the audience in the palms of their hands.  There was not a single weak link – I cannot find anything to criticise. They could be heard clearly and although it was a strange language to most of the audience (being old Scots) their storytelling was so strong they held the audience spellbound. The acting was superb and the direction inspired – I so wished I could have bottled the experience!

Lady Macbeth sleepwalking.  (publicity image – I didn’t take any in the theatre)

The death of Macbeth and The Weirds

(Taken from ETA’s Facebook page. )

We were all buzzing afterwards and initially went to the Black Swan pub, aka The Dirty Duck, but eventually most of us decanted to the Premier Inn’s bar instead to finish off the evening by reliving the experience.

I was honoured to be made so welcome by the team and so immensely proud of them. As the posters inside and outside the Courtyard Theatre and the Open Stages programme all declared – ‘Ordinary People, Extraordinary Performances’.  Definitely feeding the drama soul.