Scottie's Photo Diary

- March 2012

I never go anywhere in Scotland without my camera and I take photographs wherever I go. Sometimes I go somewhere specifically to take photographs with a view to adding another page to the Rampant Scotland site. On other occasions I just see something that makes an attractive picture or else it's another graphic to add to the library to perhaps use on a future occasion. This is a selection of the best photographs I took in March 2012 with a commentary on each one. It thus forms a pictorial diary of my travels during the month which can be shared by everyone!


The High Kirk of St Giles in Edinburgh is named after the patron saint of lepers, having been founded by Lazarite monks who were granted royal patronage by King David I (who reigned from 1124-1153) to establish a church for the people of Edinburgh. St Giles also became the patron saint of Edinburgh. Little remains of this first church apart from some fragments built into the wall. The first church was set on fire by the invading English troops of King Richard II in 1385. Following this, the church on Edinburgh's High Street (part of the city's aptly named Royal Mile which runs from Edinburgh Castle to the royal Palace of Holyrood House )developed in a haphazard fashion as wealthy townspeople built on additional chapels attached to the main building. When John Knox came back to Scotland in 1559 he became minister at St Giles and preached there until his death in 1572. Knox was a leading figure in the Reformation of the church. Between 1829 and 1833 the building was "modernised" with a new skin of masonry (apart from the "crown" tower which was built around 1500) which explains the proliferation of stone carvings on the building's exterior.

This striking statue of King Charles II is in Parliament Square beside St Giles. It dates back to 1685 and is one of the oldest lead statues in the UK. Indeed, it is the only life-size equestrian statues of the monarch in Great Britain. Originally it had been intended to erect a statue of Oliver Cromwell on the site - but that plan was quickly abandoned after the Restoration of King Charles II in 1660. The statue depicts the King as a Roman emperor and is thought to be the work of a Dutch sculptor, Grinling Gibbons. Edinburgh's oldest statue recently underwent a 60,000 restoration.

Edinburgh's Royal Mile can be confusing as it is also known as "High Street" and its component parts are named Castlehill, Lawnmarket, High Street, Canongate and Abbey Strand. The Royal Mile (it is actually one mile and 107 yards from the entrance to Edinburgh Castle to the gates of the Palace of Holyrood House) is not only a popular tourist attraction but also provides a fascinating insight into the history of the City and of Scotland itself. At one end is Edinburgh Castle (sitting on top of what was, at one time, a volcano). It has been used as a fortification for over 2,000 years - there was a hill fort there in the time of the Romans. The Royal Mile runs east down the shoulder of the hill from the castle. The shoulder itself was formed when the whole of Scotland was covered by an ice sheet and the flow of the glacier ran from west to east - dropping rubble and earth in the lee of the rock. at the foot of the Royal Mile stands the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official residence of the Queen in Scotland.

Greyfriar's Bobby is one of the most photographed tourist attractions in Edinburgh. According to the commonly accepted story, Bobby was a Skye Terrier dog belonging to a Jock Gray, a farmer from the Pentland Hills, who regularly dined at an inn in Grassmarket, not far from Greyfriar's Churchyard. When Gray, died in 1858, the dog refused to leave his master's grave. He turned up regularly until he died in 1872 at the inn at Grassmarket which had been frequented by his master. The story may have been embellished by John Traill, the owner of the restaurant. Other versions suggest that the dog belonged to a local policeman and that while the dog was frequently found in the churchyard, it was also looked after by residents in the houses in nearby Candlemaker's Row. The story first came to prominence in the 1890s when Eleanor Atkinson, an American, first wrote the story which became a first reading book for a generation of many Americans who now love the story so much. Research published in 2011 suggests that Bobby was originally a stray that hung around nearby Heriot's hospital, but became such a nuisance the hospital gardener threw him into the graveyard. James Brown, the curator of the graveyard, was fond of Bobby's company and began to feed him to keep him around. Visitors saw Bobby and liked to believe he was loyally staying by his masters grave, and provided Brown with tips to hear Bobby's "story". (In 19th century Europe over 60 other 'graveyard dogs' have been documented). After an article about Bobby appeared in the Scotsman, visitation rates to the graveyard increased by 100 fold. Many would give James Brown a handsome tip and have lunch in a nearby restaurant. It was a lucrative situation for Bobby, Brown and the local community.

I worked in Edinburgh for 15 years so I'm very familiar with the vista of daffodils in Princes Street Gardens, below Edinburgh Castle (located to the right of this picture) and Ramsay Gardens, the "next door neighbours" of the castle. These buildings are a redevelopment built in the 18th century when there were no official planning controls, so it is a delightful mix of architectural styles, including an octagonal "Goose-pie" house built by Allan Ramsay the poet. There is also a beautiful spacious flat, with a panoramic 360 degree view, designed by Sir Patrick Geddes (regarded as the "father" of town planning). The slope faces north so is often in shade but I timed it about right on the day this photo was taken - particularly as the sun was shining brightly.

Stirling Castle

Stirling castle was developed as a principal royal centre by the Stewart kings James IV, James V and James VI between 1490 and 1600. James IV (reigned 14881513) sought to establish a palace of European standing at Stirling, but work had not been completed at the time of his death at the Battle of Flodden in 1513. His successor, James V (reigned 15131542), grew up in the castle and he continued and expanded his father's building programme, creating the centrepiece of the castle, the Royal Palace using masons brought from France. It is said that part of his motivation was to create a building which would impress his second bride, Mary of Guise who came from the French aristocracy. Their infant daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots, was brought up at Stirling Castle. She later returned many times to Stirling after the death of her first husband, the King of France.

The interior of the palace at Stirling Castle has recently undergone a major restoration project to return it to the imposing decor of King James V and his wife in the 1540s. The 12 million project was completed last year and has resulted in a major increase in the number of visitors to the castle. I was impressed not just by the quality and luxuriousness of the building but by the presence of a "courtier" who welcomed visitors in Mary Queen of Scots' Bedchamber, complete with desk, chair and fire (addressing them as "my lord" and "my lady") and answering questions in an informative and amusing fashion.

This is the inner hall of the palace where King James V and later his daughter Mary Queen of Scots would greet courtiers and visitors. At one stage, someone playing the part of one of Mary's staff explained to a party of school children how those presented to the Queen would have to bow and curtsy to the monarch and could not straighten up till told to do so by the queen. Apparently Mary sometimes amused herself by keeping everyone obeisant for several minutes!

The inner hall has reproductions of a number of magnificent tapestries adorning the walls. Many of these were recreated by a team of workers at Stirling Castle itself - their workshop was open to the public who could see how the work was done and have questions answered by the project team.

The exterior of the palace is adorned with many sculptures and has been largely left as it was and so there are signs of weathering on these - not surprising, after 550 years!

I had visited Stirling Castle on many occasions before eventually stumbling across the display of the castle kitchens, showing what life must have been like for the workers in the poorly lit rooms across from the Great Hall. The displays are sign-posted but are tucked away in a basement. The display includes recipes and descriptions of the sort of food that would have been prepared there every day for and for special occasions. The food would have had to be carried across an open courtyard to reach the Great Hall and the Palace so by the time it reached the table I presume it would not have been all that warm!

Colzium Lennox Country Park

Colzium Lennox Estate near Kilsyth in North Lanarkshire is a pleasant country park for locals (and those in the know, from further afield). Colzium Estate was the site of the Battle of Kilsyth in 1645, when the Marquis of Montrose was again victorious in his campaign against the Covenanters and in support of King Charles I. One of the attractions of Colzium, which should be better known, is a walled garden which is kept in pristine condition and has a lovely collection of all kinds of small conifers and a great collection of snowdrops. And despite its relatively small size, it always seems to manage a splash of colour from bulbs and seasonal plants. This purple magnolia is a magnificent example of this!

Magnolia is an ancient genus and evolved before bees and other flying insects appeared. So the flowers developed to encourage pollination by beetles. To avoid damage from pollinating beetles, the carpels of Magnolia flowers are extremely tough. Wikipedia recounts that fossilised specimens of Magnolia acuminata have been found dating to 20 million years ago, and of plants identifiably belonging to the Magnoliaceae dating to 95 million years ago.

Except where parks or gardens put names on their magnolia trees I am never sure what specific variety they are - except this one. The shape of the "Magnolia Stellata" (the star magnolia) immediately brings stars to mind. This slow-growing shrub or small tree is native to Japan.

I was struck by the fresh, green leaves that were starting to appear on the tree in this picture - along with the daffodils below, it is an elegant reminder that spring is very much under way here in Scotland. Just a pity that a few days after this photo was taken there was snow falling, even at lower levels, in many parts of the country! But that's fairly typical of our ever changing Scottish weather.

Home Grown

The pictures in this section were taken in March either in my own garden or locally in East Dunbartonshire. This daffodil is one of many that come up every year in my garden - some, such as this one, were here before we moved in, over 25 years ago and flower reliably each year.

Pieris Forestii is grown mostly for its fiery red leaves which it produces each year but it also creates cascades of white flowers. Perhaps because of the mild winter we have had this year, it seems as though Pieris, not just in my own garden, but all over, has been particularly floriferous this year.

It was good to see this Peacock butterfly in my garden as early in the season as March. I've tried to check back in my files on the graphics of Peacock butterflies taken in previous years and can't find any as early as this. The milder winter followed by surprisingly mild conditions in March have clearly favoured butterflies that hibernate during the winter.

Like the Pieris, the Forsythia flowers seem to be more abundant this year. Forsythia is named after William Forsyth (17371804) who was a Scottish botanist, born at Oldmeldrum, in Aberdeenshire. Forsyth was a royal head gardener and a founding member of the Royal Horticultural Society.

Finlaystone Country Estate

The milder weather has encouraged the camellias in Finlaystone Country Estate (and elsewhere) not only to bloom but to survive without the petals being turned brown by overnight frost.

Camellias are evergreen bushes and small trees up to 20 meters (65 feet) tall. Their leaves are alternately arranged, simple, thick, serrated, and usually glossy. Their flowers are usually large and conspicuous, one to 12 cm (4/5 inches) in diameter. The colours of camellia flowers vary from white through pink to red (though there is apparently a yellow variety in South China and North Vietnam).

Butterflies of various varieties are often to be seen at Finlaystone, so it was perhaps no great surprise to find this Small Tortoiseshell fluttering amongst the Pieris flowers. The adult Small Tortoiseshell is striking, with its dark body and orange and black wings which have a row of blue dots around the rear edge. However, the underwings are dull, which helps to conceal stationary or hibernating individuals. When threatened, resting small Tortoiseshells rapidly open their wings, presenting the dramatic display of colours. This can frighten away young or inexperienced birds. The Small Tortoiseshell is found in most of temperate Europe and is abundant in most areas of the United Kingdom, including Scotland, but numbers vary each year. It also hibernates during the winter and so is usually one of the first butterflies to be seen in the spring along with other regular hibernators.

Over the years, Finlaystone has built up a large collection of daffodils, naturalised in areas of grassland. So, as the white of the snowdrops dies away, the daffodils take over to provide a carpet of yellow. Of course, Finlaystone grows a wide variety of differently coloured daffodils, not just the plain yellow types, such as this one with white petals combined with a yellow centre. The gardeners have to avoid cutting the grass until all the nourishment from the withered daffodil leaves has found its way back into the bulb to improve the flowering in the following year.

YouTube Slide Show
The photos in this page are also available as a Windows Media slide show on YouTube, with a musical accompaniment. See YouTube - Scotland Photo Diary - march 2012.

If you want to read the other Diary entries going back to 2009, there is an Index page.

Where else would you like to go in Scotland?

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