The Scottish Diaspora Tapestry

This week I managed to see the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry on its brief visit to Edinburgh. This is a fine complement to the Great Tapestry of Scotland and was initiated by the same team. The panels were designed by the same artist, Andrew Crummy, so there is a clear underlying unity to both tapestries. The fabric, linen, and the threads, Appleton wool are the same. This one has more panels, just over 300, but each is smaller – a 50cm square.

The Diaspora Tapestry started in 2012 and has involved stitchers from 34 countries, all with a living Scottish connection. The project is a celebration of Scottish heritage and culture, the people and places which connect Scotland to its global diaspora.

With the opportunities that the British Empire opened up to Scots to leave their homeland and settle elsewhere, it is not surprising that the majority of panels come from  countries that were once part of that empire. However long before then, while Scotland was still an independent country, Scots had ventured far and wide in Europe. The tapestry provides a fine visual record of this part of our history.


Scotland in the middle ages had developed alliances and trading links with most of Europe. Scots have played an important role in the cultural, economic and military development of many countries, including the Netherlands, Scandinavia and Russia. The first panel shows one of the most celebrated of these alliances – the auld alliance with France.


I was aware of some of the important contributions of Scots to other European countries, but was pleasantly surprised by some of them. For example I did not know that two Scots were among the select band who founded the Swedish city of Gothenburg.


However with the Union of the Crowns with England and later with the Treaties of Union, Scots began to venture much further afield. First to the American colonies, and not always as free men, as this panel shows. Defeated soldiers could be taken as prisoners and sent to New England to be sold for between £20 and £30 each.


Thankfully most Scots who went to America were not taken as slaves, though not all went willingly. A happier recollection of this movement of people is the town of Alexandria in Virginia, founded by Scots. Alexandria, along with Nablus, Wurzburg and Orleans, is one of Dundee’s twin cities.


Scots were also to be found in other parts of the Americas, though in much lesser numbers. However they were often just as successful and important. The first panel above illustrates one of the large estates founded by Scots in Argentina, while the following shows how Scots succeeded in many different sectors in Chile, including football.


Scots have also played an important role in many Asian countries and not always for the good, alas. This is the case with trade with China. Many Scots worked for the East India Company which led this development in the 18th century. Not just silk, tea and porcelain were in demand, but also opium. A trade that was very profitable and that Britain was desperate to continue. A determination that would directly lead to the infamous Opium Wars of the 19th century.


Scots were also active in maintaining British military rule over India. My paternal grandfather was a regular soldier in the British army and was stationed for many years in Kanpore in northern India. My father and his elder brother were both born there. So I have always felt a kind of affinity for India. Luckily not all of the Scottish involvement was of a military nature. The following panel shows the beginnings of tea planting in Darjeeling, which owed a lot to Scots. We can all drink to that!


In addition to the USA, most Scots who emigrated to settle, did so in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.  Many ended up in Adelaide in South Australia, taken there by the City of Adelaide clipper. Between 1864 and 1887 the ship made 23 voyages to Adelaide. In 2014 this fine ship was was restored and transported from Irvine in Ayrshire to Australia to become a museum ship.


New Zealand was another popular destination for many Scots and many ended up in Otago, on the southern of the two large islands. Dunedin from Dùn Èideann (Gaelic for Edinburgh), the Edinburgh of the South, was founded in 1848. It is the capital of Otago and Scots shaped the city’s spiritual life, education, and architecture.




Canada is probably the country with the greatest Scottish connection. The first Scottish settlers in Canada came after Sir William Alexander, Earl of Stirling, was granted land there by King James VI in 1621. This was to become New Scotland or Nova Scotia to give it its official name. Many of the settlers were gaelic speakers and the language remains alive and well in parts of Nova Scotia.

Ontario was another province with a strong Scottish presence. The second panel above is a lovely illustration of the move from rural Scotland to rural Canada.


This short selection of panels from the Diaspora Tapestry began with Scotland’s links with Europe. It is only fitting that it should end with another illustration of this continuing link. Though many Scots have left to settle elsewhere, Scotland has always been at the same time a destination for others. People from all over the world have come and made Scotland their home, and have enriched the lives of all of us in the process. The panel above illustrates the arrival of Italians from Barga in the 19th century. Let us hope that all who want to come to live in Scotland can do so.




Gardens in Blebo Craigs

Blebo Craigs is a very small village in North East Fife, about five miles to the west of St Andrews. It was originally the site of two quarries and most of the houses were cottages. The quarries have long since closed and the village is now a very up-market place. Earlier this month some of the gardens in the village were open to the public as part of Scotland’s Gardens programme. We went there with some friends on the Sunday afternoon and a lovely sunny day it was. All the gardens were beautiful and some just amazing. Below are a selection of photos from the gardens. First a view of the countryside around the village.IMG_2368

Though the quarries have gone, the remains of one are now part of a large woodland type garden.IMG_2310

As expected, many of the gardens had all kinds of sculptures and other interesting features. Below is a giant wooden puffin and one of the most impressive scarecrows I have come across.IMG_2320IMG_2362

The remaining photos show some of the lovely flowers to be seen. But first a newly built water feature.IMG_2333IMG_2345IMG_2353IMG_2369IMG_2337

A Day on Mt Titlis

In September 2014, during our annual holiday in Switzerland with Emma and Alessio, we took a day trip to Mt Titlis in the Bernese Oberland. The mountain reaches 3238m high and lies close to the small town of Engelberg. Luckily we had a beautiful sunny day to enjoy the vistas. The final stage of the journey to the top is by the world’s first revolving cablecar. Saves your neck muscles! The top station is at 3028m near Klein Titlis, the lower of the mountain’s two summits. The area around the top station is quite spectacular. In addition to the outside views and activities, there is a walk through a glacier cave and the usual cafes and shops.

Below are some photos from the top. First a view up towards what is probably the top summit, then Emma and Alessio walking on the snow.P1080035


One of the, slightly scary, attractions is to walk along the cliff walk. This is a rather wobbly suspension bridge, hanging over the mountain. The highest in Europe, I think and not for the fainthearted. Below Emma and Alessio on the bridge, then a view from the bridge. Finally a photo of a drone which passed overhead.P1080047

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The summit is not the only area to visit on Mt Titlis. On the way down you can stop off at the lovely lake Trübsee. Here it is, seen from the cablecar on the way down.P1080056

It is a small lake and you can easily way all the way round, which we did, before settling down for a well earned coffee and cake. There was a lot of interest to see around the lake, including an unusual form of water transport. Here are some of the sights.P1080062




Mt Titlis lies above the little town of Engelberg. It seems a fine mountain town, but we had no time left to dally around. However here is a glimpse of the town from on high.P1080058


A Day in Brighton

In October, while in London with Emma and Alessio, we all decided to spend a day in Brighton. Kathleen and I had visited the town many, many years ago, but this was Emma and Alessio’s first encounter. The journey by train was a bit on the long side, but we had a lovely, sunny day to explore the town. It was a long walk down from the station to the front, which had a few visitors, but was fairly quiet. The photos here are all primarily from the central parts of the town. First up the lovely Victoria fountain built in 1846 in an area known as Old Steine, now a public park.IMG_1299

Next a couple of fronts of buildings in the area just before the Royal Pavilion. IMG_1300IMG_1306

The Royal Pavilion itself is of course one of the glories of Brighton. Built for the Prince Regent, construction started in 1787, but most of the current complex was built in the 1820s. The pavilion has clear echoes of India and is set in lovely gardens. Below are glimpses of the pavilion and the gardens, including a musician with a zebra head.IMG_1311IMG_1313IMG_1314IMG_1317IMG_1316The other part of the old town that we liked was The Lanes, an area of narrow alleyways, full of cafes and boutique shops. A relic of the original town I think. Anyway very pleasant for wandering around of an afternoon. Below are photos of a couple of the building and a window with an intriguing display of cycles.IMG_1318IMG_1320IMG_1321

In The Lanes we found a very nice cafe where we could rest our weary legs and indulge in a bit of gluttony. The cafe was very pleasant inside and had a lovely, simple display of flowers on each table. Even lovelier and tastier was the cake!IMG_1323IMG_1324

London – Oddities and Crudities

Last month we had a short break in London with Emma and Alessio. We went for a bit of luxury, at least for the travel and enjoyed the delights and comfort of first class travel by train. Well worth the extra, now and again. The hotel alas was a bog standard travelodge, near King’s Cross. We had a lovely time, though London is just so busy and crowded. But there is so much to see and do, that a few days cannot do justice to such a grand city. With a young  boy in tow it was impossible to miss some of the usual tourist highlights. Most people will have visited London at least once, so this post contains a mixture of the familiar and the slightly less so.

The river Thames is such an integral part of London that we were by its banks quite a lot and once, on it. During our boat trip we had the good fortune to see the central part of Tower Bridge rising for passing river traffic, as can be seen from the photo below. This is followed by a another view from the boat, this time a slightly unusual glimpse of Big Ben. Finally a view across the river by night to St Paul’s cathedral.




On one of the evenings we indulged ourselves by a wander around Chinatown and I couldn’t resist taking a photo or two. Close by we came across a delightful cake shop full of irresistible delicacies. Unfortunately I was hurriedly dragged away before I could give in to my innate gluttony.

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We spent part of Saturday morning eyeing the goodies on display at Notting Hill market. It was very busy and thronged with people. So we wandered off a bit and ended up admiring some of the grand and very colourful houses on Elgin Crescent. This lovely pink door caught the attention of all of us.


London is not all bricks and mortar and has some delightful parks and gardens. The one we chose to visit was Kew, which is a great place for a day out for all the family. We all enjoyed the tree-top walkway and even in October the gardens were full of brightly coloured plants. The tropical greenhouse was incredibly hot, so hot that Emma had to stay outside. We, of a more adventurous nature, endured the heat and were rewarded by some wonderful sights, including this strange and rather frightening plant.


As part of our holiday, we spent a day visiting Brighton. It was a bit disappointing, though we did come across this amazing and fearless squirrel, who was clearly unfazed by traffic or people.


Back in London, one of my personal highlights was the V&A museum. In particular I wanted to see as much of their embroidery collection as possible. It is not in one place, so I had to hurry round as many rooms as I could manage, camera in hand. So much wonderful work to see and admire. I end with two of my favourites from the collection. The first is part of avery large fabric from India. Handstiched in silk threads, it features tulips and other flowers in an abundance of exuberance. The final photo shows a close up of a Chinese embroidery, again with silk threads. This is just so finely stitched that it just took my breath away.



The Reichenbach Falls

One of the highlights of our recent holiday in Switzerland was a visit to the Reichenbach Falls. This spectacular waterfall is well known to followers of Sherlock Holmes as the place where he met his untimely death in a struggle with his arch enemy, Moriarty. The Reichenbach Falls are just outside the little town of Meiringen in the Bernese Overland. It is quite a journey by train to get there, as you need three different trains to reach your destination. But it is worth it as you pass some lovely Swiss mountain scenery en route.

You reach the Falls via a short journey on a funicular railway. The following photo gives an indication of the steepness of the ascent.2015-09-05 13.49.02

As you travel up you get glimpses of the waterfall as it surges down the mountainside, as in the photo below.2015-09-05 14.05.20

The funicular stops at a prime viewing site, where you can see the steepest and longest stretch of falling water. It is quite spectacular and the power and force of the water is a bit unexpected.2015-09-05 14.07.27

The tumbling water is very powerful and spray from the falls is everywhere. Waterproofs are recommended. To get to the top of the falls you need to climb up a longish stretch of very steep steps. We forego that pleasure. The top station has a small visitor centre with information about the falls and Sherlock Holmes. Outside on the viewing platform you can even get your photo as a would be investigating detective.

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The town of Meiringen lies by the river Aare, the longest river which lies wholly in Switzerland. The Aare meanders across much of the country,  passing through the capital, Bern, before joining the Rhine at Koblenz in Switzerland. Just by the town and close to the Reichenbach Falls, the river carves through a limestone ridge to form the Aare Gorge. This is even more spectacular than the Reichenbach Falls and rivals it in visitors and popularity. A railway line tunnels through the gorge and Swiss engineers have constructed a technical masterpiece in creating a passageway for pedestrians to walk through the gorge. The following photos show some of the highlights of the gorge, including the bright colours which can be seen as you walk through. 2015-09-05 14.54.58

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The last of these photos shows another waterfall, this time one within the gorge itself. This is the Schräybach, and according to the information panel, it is typical example of mechanical erosion. The mineral enriched, acidic rainwater leaches down through the fields and earth, eating its way further and further into the limestone cliffs. Here endeth the geology lesson!

Meiringen is a pretty little town with the typical range of Swiss buildings. Of particular note was the sturdy stone build church which has a massive square tower, with a very large colourful mural on one side.2015-09-05 16.15.17

The two bells in the foreground are with a special mention as both are very old. One dates from 1351 and the other from 1480.

Meiringen was quite a busy little place on the day we visited, with some kind of fair with lots of stalls selling local goods. One was a stall selling all kinds of threads and I could not resist loitering with intent. To my surprise I discovered that there were some Swiss made silk threads for sale. They also had an unusual thread, at least for me, made of silk and something called sea cell. This apparently is a thread which includes a small amount of some algae substance. So I went away with one small example of each.

Meiningen makes much of its tenuous link with Sherlock Holmes and his author. There is even a museum dedicated to the detective. But for lovers of good food, Meiringen’s real claim to fame is that it boasts that it is the original home of the meringue. It is nice to think that the great culinary creations such as a Pavlova have their origins in a humble Swiss Alpine town.

Montrose Air Station

Last October, while Emma and Alessio were over here on holiday, we made the short journey up north to visit Britain’s first operational air base.Elena and Jamie joined us for the outing. There is now a small museum on what remains of the site and this lies on the outskirts of Montrose. The air base dates back all the way to February 1913, a timely establishment in the light of what happened the following year. There are three sections to the museum, though a fourth is due to open in the near future. Out in the open there are a few examples of 2nd World War planes, some original and others reconstructions. Then there is a small museum dedicated to home life during the war years and finally a grand hangar with some more planes along with engines and other plane parts.

As you enter the site you find the planes from the epoch in their glory. I am not much into airplanes of any kind, so I am not certain what the planes are, though I am sure one is a spitfire and there was a plaque which mentioned a Gloucester Meteor, but alas I can not remember which plane this was. Anyway here are some of the planes on display.

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There are some more planes inside the large hangar, including a German plane, which may date from the 1st World War.

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All kinds of other things can be found in this hangar from a Rolls Royce RB 168 Spey engine to military uniforms from the period, which were to the delight of all the children.

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The small museum has models of what real air force staff wore during the war. Pretty glamorous they look too. Did they all look like that? The museum also has a couple of rooms furnished and decorated in the style of that period. This style of course lasted well into the years after the war and I can remember our family house in St Andrews looking not too dissimilar in the early 50s.

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Montrose Air station is well worth a visit for young and old alike, with plenty to see and touch. Montrose is itself a fine old Scottish burgh and worth a wander around. The town is on the coast and has a fine beach and inland there is the famous Montrose basin with its nature reserve. Plenty to see and do in Montrose.