Is that really..? Yes, it is. The Pineapple.

Talking to a fellow blogger about weird buildings reminded me of this craziness, just outside my village. Folks, I give you…The Pineapple!

Photo by Karen Soutar

Photo by Karen Soutar

I love follies. And this must be the folly of follies. It looks strange enough now – goodness knows what people thought when it was first appeared. Then again, it was built by a member of the aristocracy, and everyone knows they’re mad, always have been. 😉
The Pineapple is a summerhouse, built for the 4th Earl of Dunmore. In 1777, Lord Dunmore returned from serving as Governor of Virginia, where sailors would put a pineapple on the gatepost to announce that they were home. Lord Dunmore, who liked a joke, announced his return more prominently.

Photo courtesy of gentles.info

Photo courtesy of gentles.info

Here’s the official National Trust for Scotland page.

And…you can stay there! The Landmark Trust book it out for holidays. How cool is that?

The Pineapple overlooks a large walled garden, which is open to the general public. It’s a lovely place for a walk, and to take photographs, or draw or paint. I often go for a stroll there. The old curling pond on the estate is home to the rare Great Crested Newt. I’ve never been lucky enough to see one, but I’ll keep looking!

Photo courtesy of animalspot.net

Photo courtesy of animalspot.net

If you ever find yourself on the A905 between Airth and Dunmore, look out for the signs for The Pineapple. It’s not visible from the road, but wind your way down the track through field and wood and you’ll be rewarded with some secret Scottish strangeness!

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Two Huge Horses and a Walk in the Park

I’ve gone all photographic for this post. Let me introduce you to my two biggest friends, The Kelpies.

The Kelpies

The Kelpies

These 30 metre high steel sculptures, designed by Andy Scott, are just a few miles from my home. Aren’t they beautiful?

They are modelled on two actual Clydesdales, and celebrate the working horses of the Falkirk/Grangemouth area’s industrial past. Their name comes from the mysterious ‘water horse’ of Scottish legend.

They are part of a large drive to regenerate this area, and they make a grand entrance to the canal system and to Helix Park, another new development. Take a walk with me and see more…

A stroll along the canal path takes us to the marina. I’m imagining when heavy horses would have pulled the canal boats.

All ages and types of boat can be found. The Kelpies oversee them all.

Helix Park has wild areas to explore, some pretty, some – er – slimy.

Everyone is enjoying themselves at the Park.

So if you’re ever in Falkirk, this is a great place to visit. Creative friends: The Kelpies are inspiring. They have certainly given me some story ideas… I can’t help but wonder though – what are they thinking about us? 😉

Towering above us mere mortals

Towering above us mere mortals

(All pics by moi, Karen Soutar) 🙂

Pictures from a wild weekend (well, not really).

I spent the weekend with my best friend and our two husbands, in rural Aberdeenshire. We were helping prepare for a new kitchen to be fitted. As usual, these things always take longer than you estimate, and we didn’t get back home until late Sunday evening. So I’m starting Monday a bit behind and flustered, trying to catch up with shopping/washing/blogging.

We did have a fun time in spite of it being a ‘working’ weekend. The friend in question is the one who breeds Bengal and British Shorthair cats. Warning: cat picture alert! She also has horses, a dog, and many ducks and hens. Here’s a little picture story of the weekend:

Don’t think much of this hotel. The bed seems to be overrun with cats!

Clockwise from top left: Paige, Rowan, Gemma, Fearghus

Clockwise from top left: Paige, Rowan, Gemma, Fearghus

We woke up to snow on Saturday morning. Horses still had to be fed and dog walked.

L-R: Shaquille, Tracey, Theo Front: Bean

L-R: Shaquille, Tracey, Theo
Front: Bean

The boys worked on the kitchen – well, most of the time. Hubby got his mouth taped shut for giving us ladies cheek.

What happens to men who give me nonsense.

What happens to men who give me nonsense.

Best mate’s hubby decided to teach Bean the Dalmation how to dance.

Next winners of Britain's Got Talent?

Next winners of Britain’s Got Talent?

But somehow the work still got done! (Note the shiny new range oven in the background of the above pic).

Next day dawned – and the snow was all gone.

Theo, Shaquille, and Haggis.

Theo, Shaquille, and Haggis.

The boys did some more work while me and bestest buddy looked after played with cats. 😉 Here’s a selection of the Bengals (and one British Shorthair who wanted to be in the pictures too).

So that was my weekend. Now I must really get some housework and coursework done. You might get a more sensible blog post next time. Then again, you might not! 😉

We Are The Champions!

We did it! All right, maybe it’s not much by some people’s standards, but hubby and I are feeling pretty pleased that we succeeded in walking Miles for Macmillan.

For anyone who missed me constantly going on about it, on Sunday 15th September hubby and I walked 8 miles in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support. The walk took place at Chatelherault Country Park in Lanarkshire, which is a beautiful place, ideal for picnics, looking at wildlife, visiting the hunting lodge and gardens… Unfortunately on Sunday it wasn’t so ideal for any of this, as it was raining heavily and there was a howling gale – blowin’ a hoolie, as we Scots say!

We knew in advance that the weather forecast was poor and in good old Scottish style it didn’t let us down. Undeterred, we got out of bed and drove the 30 miles to the event. Another 400 or so crazy people also didn’t let the weather put them off. Hubby and I had kitted out in many layers, waterproofs and hats, but for those who hadn’t, the event organisers were giving out rain macs and plenty of extra T-shirts. I have to say a big well done to the organisers and volunteers who remained cheery and upbeat in spite of horrible conditions, waterlogged ground and soggy walkers!

One plus point about our 8 mile course was that most of it was sheltered, as it took us through forest – some of which is the oldest in the country. The walk got underway on time at 11 am and after less than a mile we were in amongst the trees and out of the rain and wind. The downside was that it was muddy and slippery in places, so our pace was slower than when we had been training. But it wasn’t a race, so we took it carefully and there were no mishaps. Everyone had been warned about potential danger areas – part of the course took us along the banks of the River Avon where there was some erosion, and there were tree roots and some steps to contend with. Again, the organisers had done a brilliant job with many stewards and First Aiders along the course, and the danger zones taped off and signposted.

The last mile and a half of the walk was out in the open but by the time we were finishing – hurrah! the sun was trying to come out and the rain had eased off a lot. We completed the course in 2 ½ hours. This was about half an hour longer than expected but understandable due to the adverse conditions. Apart from slightly sore calves and knees, I don’t seem to have any ill effects, although I was in bed by half past ten that night, which is unheard of. 😉

We raised well over our target so a big thank you to everyone who sponsored us. As promised, here is a pic of me at the finishing line, although I’m not as red in the face as I expected!

Hubby and I with our medals at the finish

Hubby and I with our medals at the finish

I did intend to publish this post on Music Monday, but due to unexpected circumstances it’s a little late. So let’s call it Tuneful Tuesday instead. Here’s the song that sums up how hubby and I felt on completing the course. You’ve probably already guessed from the title of my post – it’s Queen, with We Are The Champions!

Going to the Boston Tea Party…

Boston…what can I say? I spent two days of my recent holiday in this wonderful city. Although hubby and I were based with friends, about an hour’s drive away, they suggested we book a hotel and spend a couple of days in Boston, to give us a chance to see more of it. So we did.

First of all, it could not be a more different city to New York. (Trust me – there’s a post on that crazy place coming soon). For me, Boston was to New York what Edinburgh is to London. Boston has a friendly, compact feel to it. The historic sites are dotted about everywhere, nestling amongst the skyscrapers. We got around by a combination of walking and using the trolley bus. The first thing we did on arriving was take the trolley tour of the city. Our bus was driven by a mad garrulous guide who explained all the sites, with many a humorous anecdote thrown in. Once we’d got our bearings in this fun way, we dumped our bags at the hotel and set off for Boston Common and the Public Garden, home of the famous ‘swan boats’.

It was a beautiful afternoon, so we strolled around drinking juice and soaking up the sun. The Common and the Garden were full of families and couples enjoying an afternoon out. Everyone seemed to be in a good mood. After a lovely walk we moved on to the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum. The ships are replicas but no less interesting for that. The experience starts with a re-enactment of the meeting at which the Tea Party is planned. Costumed players encouraged us tourists, now playing the part of the Sons of Liberty, to shout and cheer and boo, and some of the kids got a little ‘speaking part’. Then we moved on to the ships, and again the kids had fun throwing cartons of tea over the side (the cartons were cleverly roped to the ship, so they could be hauled back in later). Long-suffering hubby also acquired himself a role in the proceedings. He was Francis Akeley, the only man arrested for taking part, due to not being able to keep his mouth shut about what he had been up to. Very appropriate, I thought! The whole Tea Party experience was fun and informative, and an ideal thing to do if you visit Boston with kids (or are big kids yourselves, as in our case). 😉

Like the rock chick I am, I couldn’t resist going to the Hard Rock Café for dinner. Yes I know, I’m sad. But we’ve been to the HRC in pretty much every city we’ve visited, so it’s kind of a tradition. After a few beers we walked through the Quincy Market area, home of street performers and stalls during the day and now lit up prettily. Then it was off to bed ready for another day of sightseeing.

Next morning saw us take a boat cruise round Boston Harbor. Note my American spelling! When in Rome (or Boston) and all that… 😉 This was a fantastic way to see the sights on the coast and let us take amazing photos of the skyline. Then it was hot dogs for lunch sitting looking out over the Harbor. We finished our trip with a visit to the New England Aquarium. WOW! Again, aquariums are something we visit regularly, and this one definitely ranks as one of the best. It even has penguins and seals! Also turtles, and all kinds of fish, including rays (which I stroked), and piranhas (which I didn’t). Another great attraction for kids big and little. Sadly, after that it was time to catch the bus back to New Hampshire and regale our friends with what we did.

I think the main thing I’ll take away from Boston is what a friendly city it is: both its people and its general feel. Being one of the first places colonised, the history is rife. The streets are winding, like Edinburgh, which was my home for many years. Yes, cities with a grid system help people get around, but I love the character of old, twisting roads and I am used to navigating them, so I found my way round Boston easily. I loved the mix of old and new architecture, which somehow seems to fit together perfectly. It’s a city with something to offer all ages and types of people. Once I’ve saved up some more money, I’ll definitely be back!

Places that inspire me – all within 10 miles of my home (posted using iPhone and iPad)

This is just a fun little post to test my iPhone skills! One good thing about my day job is that I do get out and about in a beautiful and interesting area. I hate rushing between driving lessons; I always give myself time to stop and chill if I can. When I get a long break I’ll do some writing – if I can park somewhere inspiring so much the better! At the moment, I’m practising using WordPress on my iPhone and iPad in preparation for my holidays! So, from my iGadgets, here’s a selection of places I get to see when I’m driving.

The Falkirk Wheel (the world’s only rotating boat lift) – beautiful night pic. Amazing engineering

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Witches’ Craig (or Carly Crag) just outside Stirling – inspiration for spooky tales

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Swan and cygnets on Stenhousemuir pond – just because they’re cute!

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The Pineapple at Dunmore – yes, it is a building in the form of a fruit! Built in 1761, you can now stay here in holiday flats

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Nature Red In Tooth And Claw

Spring is here! I only know this because one of my favourite TV programmes has started, not because of the weather. Every year I enjoy a programme called Springwatch, which follows the lives of animals and plants as they mate, breed and try to survive a British spring. Now, you may have already gathered that I like nature. And I can say, “Aww! A fluffy bunny!” along with the best of them. But I admit, what I really have a soft spot for are predators. The first programme reminded me of that straight away, as Springwatch always features birds of prey.

Next to cats, birds of prey are my favourite animal eye candy. They are beautiful. They are deadly. They are perfectly designed for what they do. This is not going to be a list of facts about them, as there are plenty of websites (or good old-fashioned books!) to look those up if you want. But I have been up close and personal with a few of these birds, and this is a little bit about what I did and how these magnificent creatures made me feel.

I spent a day flying them, and it was amazing. But dealing with them in close proximity is not for the faint-hearted. Although it was not officially a hunting flight I took part in, you can’t stop these birds from hunting if that’s what they want to do. Therefore, you may see something killed right before your eyes. Also, as a reward for flying, they are given what they would normally eat: rodents. So, the little animal that was cute a short while ago is now in pieces and being fed right in front of you to a beak like a razor and talons like, well…talons. Fortunately, I am not squeamish.

Two of the most incredible birds I flew were the Peregrine Falcon and the Golden Eagle. However, I did not, strictly speaking, fly the Peregrine. A Peregrine Falcon takes its prey on the wing, so to simulate it hunting a ‘swung lure’ has to be used, and that takes training. A swung lure is a piece of meat (fluffy rodent again) fixed to a string which the handler swings through the air to simulate a bird in flight. The Peregrine flies in at extremely high speed and takes the meat right out of the air as it whizzes past on its string. Absolutely incredible to see. This bird is thought to be able to reach up to 200 mph in a dive, at the end of which it can still deliver a controlled blow and carry off its victim. Beautiful and deadly.

At the other end of the scale, the magnificent Golden Eagle. Living in Scotland, I have been lucky enough to see these flying in the wild as well, mainly on the Isles of Arran and Skye. But when you are close to one, that incredible wing span that’s always being talked about becomes real. It’s over two metres! That’s a wing span taller than most men. Having one of these huge birds sit on your wrist, then take off, fly, come back and elegantly pluck a piece of prey from your hand is amazing and humbling. It reminded me that all the stuff man has to do with tools and inventions can be done already by something created in nature. Now don’t mistake me, I love innovation and the fact that man has designed and made incredible things. But we get it wrong a lot. We invent stuff quickly, throw it out there and discover all the mistakes when it’s too late. Nature has spent millennia evolving things that work perfectly.

On a frivolous note, I am envious of these beautiful birds as well. A fellow writer asked me the other day what I would want as a superpower, and I said, “The power of flight” without a moment’s hesitation. Sure, there are lots of other cool ones: telekinesis, invisibility…but I would LOVE to be able to fly. In my dreams, I often can. I’m aware that probably has some hidden meaning – don’t spoil it for me, any dream experts out there, it just means I want to be able to fly! Under my OWN power, before anyone points out micro lights or the like. (I know that sort of thing is the nearest man can get – at the moment). So, if anyone wants a volunteer for some strange experiment to give a girl wings, get in touch…