Tag Archives: sense of place

Of Hargate Hall

-Rather than of the wedding D and I attended, which was full of light and bustle and food and good cheer, this post is about the venue itself. About the feeling it carried, subtle, overwhelmed by the good mood of our party (70 odd souls and three dogs).


Hargate Hall, Friday, early evening. That white tent is a marquee.

Hargate Hall, Friday, early evening. That white tent is a marquee.


You could say it was the perfect setting for hush, for suspense. For reading at the windows, looking out across the stumbling, black-tree garden. Hargate Hall was built (so a photograph in the entrance-way told us) in 1899, so not very old by the standards of English Country Houses. In little over 15 years after its construction, the facade of the aristocracy would begin to crack with the onset of World War One.


Nowadays it’s a collection of self-catering apartments adjoining a fantastic central hall replete with stained glass windows with pseudo-heraldry, and a spiked candelabra hanging from the ceiling. We stayed in a low mezzanine, located up a steep wooden ladder and overhanging a small central room. It was like staying in a cosier treehouse.


On that first evening, D and I walked the grounds through the soft wet mist as it grew darker.


the flash reflecting off the white mist, just outside our kitchen.

the flash reflecting off the white mist, just outside our kitchen.


The garden path curves both up and down. We followed the downward path first, by the marquee and into the thin woodland.


hargate hall 3


we found this little...house? It is used for wedding ceremonies in warmer weather. Here it stared at us mournful, open mouthed

we found this little…house? It is used for wedding ceremonies in warmer weather. Here it stared at us mournful, open mouthed



This ghostly gate marked the edge of Hargate Hall's lands. Beyond was a farm reeking of the cows.

This ghostly gate marked the edge of Hargate Hall’s lands. Beyond was a farm reeking of the cows.


The light was beginning to go, and my poor wee camera struggled to keep up. It’s hard to capture the atmosphere under such conditions. It wasn’t eerie – I have been in eerie places – but was instead still. Stoic.


The farm, the drystane walls shelving the fields off into the close horizon

The farm, the drystane walls shelving the fields off into the close horizon


hargate hall 4


We wandered round along the main road and towards the gates of the hall. I’d like to say I had time then to read The Secret History (it would I think have been a perfect choice – second only to The Little Stranger) but there was far too much to do and far too many people to meet. The same of course was true of Saturday, the day of the wedding itself. But the evening of the second day brought snow, and our last morning saw Hargate Hall and the farmlands covered white.












One last shot of the hall itself. We had to take a taxi and then a five hour train ride back north. It’s funny though, on the ride to Buxton train station, the driver referred to us coming ‘up’ to the Peak District, though he had already asked where we were from. Perhaps he misspoke, or perhaps it was something to do with where he felt situated – Northern, already. It always strikes me strangely, to hear of ‘the North’ on the BBC weather forecasts, when there’s so much more north. It reinforces the idea that Scotland is, to those who live below it, a different country, though they might in other respects (and irksomely to those who believe otherwise) refer to Scotland as a region. A region North of Thule, I suppose.


From the train we watched the snow storm follow us into the North, skittering the higher lands and leaving the valleys green and then, further, the tufty brown of semi-moorland, then green once again. I began The Secret History, but still have much to go. It seems so far like a slip of caramel over a big white plate – flavourful, but. More coherence (possibly) later. Thanks to all who wished us a good trip. It was.



Filed under Uncategorized

And the winner is…

Well, I didn’t really want to keep you in suspense! My post was eaten by the hungry internet!


To those asking what a clootie dumpling is: a cloot is the Scots word for ‘cloth’ – clootie dumplings are sweet puddings, a little like a Christmas pud but lighter, traditionally served on New Year’s Day in Scotland. Here’s the recipe I used (I added mixed peel, subbed the oats for millet flour, and used golden syrup instead of treacle/molasses). It was warmly spicy and very filling.


Now on to the winner of the ‘place’ photography contest.


After dinner, my parents looked through the photographs and cast their votes – D had to be brought in for the final decision. He chose the same photograph my mother had picked, and we had a winner: Chris J. Rice. Here is her entry:


chris j rice photo entry


She included this lovely descriptive piece with her photograph, though the judges evaluated the photos all on their own merit:


Your favorite color was yellow. Yellow, so heavenly even when mixed with black, often expressing otherworldly grief, like the field in Van Gogh’s last painting; wheat overshadowed by darkness, yet, there it was, a hint of the sun, a thick shimmer of light. In fourth grade when the teacher told the class to paint the flower on her desk, a purple iris—dark veined and fragile—you did what she asked. Except you made it yellow. Dipped your brush in water, mushed it in the palest color cake, and copied down what you saw in your head. Transferred the flat world of your vision to the flat world of the page. So easy to do, you were surprised by her praise. Still you soaked it up, feeling momentarily okay, good for something. Like it was acceptable to see what you saw, to like what you liked.


Chris, please look through the archives of pictures here and choose one you’d like me to frame for you. Let me know by email – alongside your postage address. I’ll also be sending a mystery book from my shelves, and shopping for small goodies to include in your parcel. I’ll send it to you as soon as the city has recovered from its hangover.


To all the rest who contributed a photograph to the competition: Thank you. The standard of entries was very high, and it was tough for the judges to reach a consensus on the winner. Happy New Year, and hope to run another giveaway/contest at a later date.


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Flowers in the dark


I don’t know what type of flowers these are (wild garlic perhaps) – they are growing along a side path to a wealthy and hidden mews/servants’ quarters housing development across the road from Loch Lomond. My friends and I were staying at the adjacent youth hostel, a former mansion built in 1866 and given to the people by a group of American G.Is who stayed there during the war and fell in love. The grounds are gorgeous in that slightly overblown, just clipped back into order sort of a way. The mansion itself – well, that’s for another post. But here is a picture in the grandness of the dark:


There is something a little unsettling about flowers growing in the dark, I think. Though they do all the time, those which cannot entirely close up their petals. I’m thinking of boundaries again. 10.30pm. Dusk, when these pictures were taken, is so long, it is like another form entirely – day, night, dusk, dawn, each given their full place in Scotland, in Summer.



It’s something I missed while living in the states. NYC in Summer is the most accepting or kind at dusk, but this time is contracted, happens at 8 or so. The gloaming is an unsteady time when everything is beautiful in a poignant way.



Perhaps I’m embuing it with symbolism equivalent to the Cherry Blossom season in Japan, I do not know enough to say (only that I would love to go to Japan, to the mountains, to see early morning blossoms falling slowly in a moment that seems to extend into infinity and is in fact so brief). Perhaps there should be a little light mist or smirr too. Perfection is sometimes an element of the weather.




More on the mock-castle and adventures in hillwalking another time, when I’ve fully recovered from the whole thing.


Filed under 2012, art, Photograph

Love Letter 3

I normally post pictures of the older parts of Edinburgh – since where I live, in the Old Town, is dominated by cobbled streets and the damp dark undersides of bridges…but that’s only one side of the story. Modern buildings (mid 2oth century and older) stand often shoulder to shoulder with the historic city and the ancient volcanic landscape.

Council housing near Holyrood Park - Salisbury Crags in the background.


The other side of the street, and an old VW camper van


Graffiti in Potterow, near Edinburgh University


From the Poetry Library towards another view of the Crags


Very blue hotel, tucked into a street close by the Parliament


More council housing - right next to the Palace of Holyrood House (have a search for that if you like for comparison)


Flats just off the Royal Mile, facing a very nice courtyard

Some of these places I’d never seen in all my time in this city. It’s a place that requires wandering, diversion, tangential walks to more fully discover. I must keep trying, rambling the periphery, taking a measure of things.


Filed under 2012, Edinburgh

Love Letter

The gorse in flower, in November, Calton Hill, Edinburgh

Despite the year creeping towards the darkness of Winter, there were still bright yellow  flowers on the gorse on one of Edinburgh’s  ‘seven hills’ (this number, seeking to align Edinburgh with other luminous cities like Lisbon and Rome, is highly debatable). I love the heady, coconut smell of gorse flower – although it was a little more demure when I saw it, not quite the full blown experience of summer.

From the summit of Calton Hill; Arthur's seat, Salisbury crags (the long diagonal cliffs) and at their feet the Scottish Parliament (among other structures)

I went wandering with some friends who were up for a visit, and once again found myself gifted with a second sight of the city I now live in.  Too easy it is to stay indoors immersed in other worlds and to forget how inspiring this place can be. Part of the beauty of this city is in the elegant mix of architectures, from the hobbledy-cobbledy of the Old Town (mostly from the 1500s and onwards) to the Georgian New Town, and the quirks of the contemporary – turfed roofs, new materials, slightly disconcerting angles. But another part stems from the atmosphere – at once cold and distant and sometimes sinister…

Like this shot of 'Edinburgh's Folly', a never completed monument (Calton Hill again)

But capable too of being graceful, hazy…

Looking down towards Princes St from Calton Hill

That picture of Princes St shows the Ferris wheel, up for Christmas. It’s gaudy with lights in the mid afternoon dark, and the German market at its foot will soon open, soon thrum with shoppers picking over overpriced wooden toys and gingerbread shapes and hats with cat ears and so forth, but I love it all the same.

I hope this hasn’t been too wandering a post. While I wait for more news of Kilea, I try to locate myself in a sense of place, to prevent the mind whirring off in strange unfruitful directions.  In fact, I feel I’m having to re-learn this city season by season, having been away so long.  An almost love letter, trying to create love in itself.  If I make some of you want to visit Edinburgh, all the better…



Filed under Edinburgh, Scotland, The Now