Monday, 25 February 2008

Book Review

The Price of Darkness by Graham Hurley
I've started to look forward to a new Graham Hurley novel and this one didn't disappoint. This is the eighth book featuring D/I Joe Faraday and D/C Paul Winter and over the series the characters have been well developed. The novels are set in Portsmouth, and that cities heartbeat is well described - its naval history, its football team, its rivalry with Southampton. Like the Rebus novels, they bring in some topical subjects. Peerages for sale and defunct company pension schemes in this one. All in all an excellent series. Look forward to the next one.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Ruined Houses and Salt-panning

Ruined house in field next to disused railway track

Ruined house at the top of the beach

About half a mile East of Lower Largo village at a site named as Viewforth on the map, there are some ruined houses on either side of the disused railway track. At one time they would have been known locally as 'The Pans' and the people who first lived in them during the second half of the 18th Century were engaged in salt-panning. Sea-water was collected in pans and then a fire set beneath the pans so that the water evaporated to leave the salt, which at that time was a prescious commodity for preserving meat and fish. It was dependent on a local supply of coal and whilst the main coalfields were in the West of Fife , there were small mines in the Largo area. There were several salt-pans along the Fife Coast. There are substantial remains at St Monans a few miles East of Largo.

Houses at the top of the beach in 1947

Although the salt-panning had long since ceased, the houses continued to be occupied for some time. By 1951 they had almost completely disappeared into the sea

The information on salt-panning and the 1947 picture were taken from the book Largo. An illustrated history by Eric Eunson and John Band. It is an excellent account of the history of the area, and has some fascinating photographs, some from the early 1900s and before. There is a detailed history of salt-panning in the Largo area. Sadly the book is now out of print but local libraries have copies, which can be borrowed.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Comfrey and Butterbur

Comfrey - Symphytum species. Common folk-name - Knitbone

There is a small patch of comfrey in flower just now at the back of the car-park in Lower Largo. Comfrey is an interesting plant that has been used medicinally for centuries. The name comfrey comes from the Latin confarre - to bring together, to marry. Symphytum is from the Greek Sympho - to unite. Medieval herbalists made a sludge out of the roots of the plant, which was packed round a broken limb. The sludge hardened and kept the broken bones in place in a similar manner to plaster of Paris nowadays. Comfrey contains allantoin which promotes cell division. It had various other medicinal uses. It has expectorant, astringent, cooling and healing effects. It reduces inflammation and controls bleeding, and it was previously used internally and externally. It is also used in homeopathy. However, it contains alkaloids which have been shown to cause liver damage and tumours in laboratory animals. It is therefore not now recommended for internal use or for use on broken skin. Comfrey can be used as a green manure, also the leaves steeped in water for several weeks can be used as a liquid feed for tomatoes as it is high in potash. I've tried it in the past, and it works well, but smells terrible.

Butterbur - Petasites hybridus

Butterbur was in flower at the far end of the Serpentine Walk approaching Upper Largo. In past times its large leaves were used for wrapping butter, hence its common English name. The leaves can grow to almost 36 inches across. The genus name Petasites comes from the Greek petusos - a broad brimmed hat. There is a smaller white variety Petasites alba which was introduced from Central Europe for early Spring colourin woodland. However, it has now become a troublesome weed in Scottish woods. I saw a small patch of this growing amongst the trees at the Cambo Estate, when we went to see the snowdrops.

Sunday, 17 February 2008


I love to watch the sanderling on the beach, as they energetically work the tideline searching for small crustaceans to feed on. They move in and out with each wave. Their legs move so fast that they are simply a blur. This small group kept me company for a while, running in front of me, as I walked along the shore, eventually taking off to a different stretch of beach. These were in their winter plumage - snowy-white breast and pale grey back.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Book Reviews

Fathers and Sins by Jo Bannister
I usually enjoy Jo Bannister's books. Particularly enjoyed the series featuring the private eye Brodie Farrell. However, this one although an easy read was unsatisfactory somehow. Seemed to start off as a psychological thriller, but then turned into a detective story. I think it fell between two stools.
Score - 5 out of 10.

A Disguise for Death by Susan Kelly.
Enjoyed this very much. Features Superintendant Gregory Summers in a complex case involving an ex-IRA cell which had been infiltrated by Special Branch. Not unlike some of the cases that have come to light recently. The ending wasn't what I thought it was going to be. I think my ending might have been more plausible.
Score - 7 out of 10

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Early Spring Bulbs

Early Spring-flowering Bulbs
The photos for this collage were all taken in my garden within the last four weeks.
Flowers in Bloom - Mid-February
Bulbs -Early
Winter aconites
Snowdrops (Single and Double)
Iris reticulata (Dwarf Iris)
Daffodils (Flowers just beginning to open)
Other Flowers in Bloom
Hebes (3 different)
Wallflower - perrenial and biennial
Hellebores (2 different)
French Lavender
Primulas - various

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Snowdrops at Cambo

One of the glorious sights of the Winter in Fife is the Snowdrop Spectacular at Cambo. Snowdrops, snowflakes and aconites carpet the 70 acres of woodland at the Estate, which is between Crail and St Andrews. The bulbs were planted by the grandmother of the present owner of the estate. This annual event is now part of the Scottish Snowdrop Festival which showcases some of the very best snowdrop gardens, woodlands and estates across Scotland.
Today at Cambo, the weather was beautiful - crisp, clear and sunny - and the snowdrops were at their best.

Snowdrops line the banks of the Cambo burn which runs down to the sea

Vast drifts of snowdrops lie on both sides of the path that runs alongside the burn.
This picture shows the density of the snowdrops.
The burn runs down through woodland to a rocky shore

Monday, 11 February 2008

White Deer

Photo of a white deer taken in Mull in April 1972
The BBC rported today that a rare white stag had been seen and filmed in the West Coast of the Highlands, by a member of the John Muir Trust. The Trust said that white deer were potent figures in the mythology of many cultures. The Celts considered them to be messengers from the other world.
It brought to mind that we had seen and snapped a white deer on our honeymoon in Mull in April 1972. As far as I remember, we saw it in some trees somewhere on the road between Craignure and Fionnphort. I looked back through our albums, found the above photo, albeit it's not terribly clear, and scanned it into the computer. In mythology white deer were also said to be closely identified with unicorns and their appearance was said to herald some profound change in the lives of those who encounter them. I suppose that was appropriate, since when we saw it we'd been married for less than a week.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Seals in the Early Morning

On the beach opposite the Lundin Golf Course there are some rocks favoured by seals and they can often be seen there, if the tide and weather conditions are right. These two let me apprach so far, but as I tried to get closer they rolled off into the water. I walked away, but looked back after a litle while and they were back on the rocks. These are likely to be grey seals. There is a breeding colony on the Isle of May in the Forth.

Friday, 8 February 2008

Book Review

Lazybones by Mark Billingham
Probably the best word to describe a Mark Billinham novel is gritty. They feature DI Tom Thorne and are set in London which is quite unusual, (Morse - Oxford, Rebus - Edinburgh). I am sure that there must be others, particularly amongst novels set in Victorian times, but the only other detective working in London that comes readily to mind is Sherlock Holmes. This is the third novel in the series that I have read, and I have enjoyed them all. Although in the last few chapters I began to suspect what was going to happen, he builds up the tension very well and the end is terrifying.
Particularly enjoyed the previous Mark Billingham novel that I read - Lifeless. In that one Thone goes undercover amongst the down and outs in London to try to find out who is killing ex-servicemen. It describes what life is like for the homeless in London very well.
Previously read in the series
Scaredy cat

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Cleft in the Rock

I am always fascinated by this v-shaped cleft in the rock opposite the pier in Lower Largo, and wonder how it got to be like that. It takes on various shapes depending on the angle that it's viewed from.

At low tide one can clamber over the rocks to stand in the cleft.

Can look through the cleft to the other side of the Forth. The triangular shape of North Berwick Law is just visible on the horizon.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008


Hellebores produce welcome flowers in the winter, and I particularly like this dark-petaled one.. I bought this one as a small plant some years ago, and for some time it never flowered, however, in the last couple of years it has started to produce these beautiful blooms. Although they are so lovely, all parts of the plant are extremely poisonous. All hellebores contain glycosides that are fatal to man and animals. Nowadays poisoning occurs mainly in cattle and other livestock, which have access to the green parts in severe winters.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Tube Worms

Tube worms on stone, mussel shells, whelk shell and cockle shell.

I'd noticed that some shells on the beach, particularly mussel shells, had strange white squiggly deposits on them. I assumed this was some sort of chalky material. It took me a little while to find out exactly what these were, but the Internet can be a wonderful thing and simply putting the question 'What are the white squiggly things on mussel shells?' to Google gave me the answer. They are in fact the homes of tiny tube worms, the examples in the photo, which I collected from the beach at Lundin Links today, are I think Keel Worms (Pomatoceros Species). They live permanently attached to hard structures, such as stones or shells, living inside a protective tube that they produce themselves from sand grains a chalky substance and mucus secretions. The tube narrows to a point at the tail end and has a prominent “keel” or ridge along its length. At high tide the keel worm puts out a small crown of colourful tentacles, which filter food particles from the water. When the tide goes out it withdraws the tentacles back into the tube

Monday, 4 February 2008

Herring Gull

Gulls on the pier at Lower Largo Harbour. Herring gull is much bigger than the black-headed gulls in the background.

Herring gull standing on the edge of the pier.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Blackcap Returns

The blackcap returned today (see post 17th January). The pictures are not terribly clear, as I took them through the kitchen window, but I think the black cap is visible.

Friday, 1 February 2008

February Birdwatch

Dreadful weather today - wind, rain, sleet, snow, and gales. List of birds seen similar to January, but in addition saw a wren and a great tit. Wren seems to prefer the front garden, perhaps because it gets peace away from the aggresive robin, which always seems to be chasing the dunnocks away.

Robin 1
Wood pigeon 2
Dunnock 3
Blue tit 2
House sparrow 2
Starling 1
Chaffinch - male 1
Chaffinch - female 1
Blackbird - male 2
Blackbird - female 3
Great tit 1
Wren 1