MarySmith’sPlace – Time out

I’m taking a blogging break for a couple of weeks until I catch up with various projects which have deadlines looming.

Around the time of the winter solstice, photographer Keith Kirk and I led a sunset poetry walk and we are doing another to celebrate the summer solstice. We’re actually a week late as the event is on Friday, June 28 but Keith is on holiday, no doubt seeing some fine sunsets, so we couldn’t do it tonight. As I type this at almost 10.30pm the sky is still streaked with red – fingers crossed it will be a fine sunset next Friday.

The walk starts at the National Trust Visitor Centre by Threave Castle carpark. After a short introduction we’ll head off along the way-marked route (see picture above), taking in the sights, sounds and scents around us. People can expect to see a variety of birds including our resident ospreys, the peregrine which yells like anything from the castle top; deer, hares or maybe an otter. Two nights ago, I was lucky enough to see a badger but it had scooted back into the hedge before I could get my camera out. After the walk I’ll be facilitating a creative writing workshop. For further information or to book a place call CatStrand on 01644 420374 or book online at

Following on from Secret Dumfries, which came out a year ago, I am working with Keith on another local history book. This one is A-Z of Dumfries. Each letter has its own chapter but each chapter can have more than one entry – though I suspect X might be a sparse chapter! I love doing the research and telling people about what I’ve discovered but now I have to knuckle down and actually write it all up – and I am already way behind where I should be at.

I’m very excited about one of the entries under P. We have a piping pig! It’s a medieval sandstone carving of a pig playing bagpipes. It’s not in a museum or an abbey but out there in plain view in the town centre above a chip shop. Despite a chapter in Secret Dumfries exhorting people to look up, we missed this little beauty.

I will be working as a seasonal museum attendant again through July and August. Last year I was in Burns House, where Scotland’s bard lived for the last three years of his life.I blogged about it here.

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This year, I’m going to be in a different museum – Old Bridge House. It was built in 1660 and is the town’s oldest surviving house with displays of a Victorian nursery, an old-style kitchen and a Victorian dentist’s room complete with a display of teeth. I’m sure I’ll find plenty blog about.

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The Old Bridge Museum is the sandstone building at the far end of the bridge – and otters are sometimes seen in the river. Photo credit: Keith Kirk


On top of all that, we’re having some work done in the house (I’m going to have a dressing room/walk in wardrobe – yay) and joiners need regular supplies of coffee and ask questions about rail heights and shelves and they drill things all day long. And when they left the floorboards up one night, the cat disappeared. I had to bribe her out with a packet of baked cheese & onion crisps.

Life is a touch fraught and frantic and much as I enjoy meandering around the blogosphere reading posts, chatting to friends I really have to claw back some time for other things. Sorry in advance for not visiting your blogs for a couple of weeks. See you on the other side!

MarySmith’sPlace – #BloggersBash

As usual, I’m way behind – like the cow’s tail – posting about the 5th Bloggers Bash held on 15th June in London at the Grange Wellington Hotel. This was the same venue as two years ago, last time I went to the Bash, so it was good to be able to find my way there.

I’m a dreadful wimp about travelling around in London. Plonk me in the middle of Karachi or Kabul and I have no problems. If lost, just ask someone and they’ll direct you, or even take you, to where you want to go. Ask in London and the odds are the person is just visiting. As for the Underground! That map, all those lines. Glasgow’s is circular with an inner and outer line so you can’t possibly get lost.

Anyway, I arrived in my usual state of trepidation to be greeted with warm hugs by Sacha, Hugh, Geoff and Adam and within seconds there were more hugs and greeting from other bloggers and I knew it was all going to be just fine.

Sacha started the ball rolling with her welcome speech on this, the fifth Bloggers Bash (and my third). Throughout the day we had two interesting speakers, a Q&A session, a flatlay workshop and, of course, the ABBA award winners were announced. You can find a list of all the winners here.

The first speaker was award-winning blogger Laura Creaven

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Author Gemma Todd (G X Todd) talked about her writing journey,

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Esther, Shelley and Laura headed up an interesting and helpful Q&A panel.

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Then Suzie and Sacha presented a Flatlay workshop.

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Suzie and Sacha

It’s a method of creating an image for promotional purposes. A collection of items are laid out on a flat surface with the photo taken from above. For example, it might be the book cover with an assortment of items linked to the story. Suzie and Sacha talked about Instagram which I don’t do but I can see how it would work on Facebook just as well and on a blog.

The best bit of the day, of course was having the chance to catch up with existing blogging friends and meet new ones.

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Geoff presenting Ritu with the Best Book Blogger award. Ritu also makes the most delicious cakes!

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A lovely smiling Shelley


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Sherri, Ritu and Marje


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April on the left in pink, Eloise on the right – and I don’t know names for the other three in this rather random pic.

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Willow with the amazing sparkling eyes and Marje

Where else but at the Bloggers Bash could I be involved in a serious conversation which contained guinea pigs, time travel and technology all in the one sentence? Thank you, Jemima.

The worst bit of the day was not having time to talk to everyone for long enough. And realising, too late, I kept forgetting to take photos – and some I did take had a serious outbreak of fuzziness to apologies to Graeme – and thanks for the drink.

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Hugh on stage

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Sherri, Hugh and Marje enjoying a joke. There was a lot of laughter throughout the day.



After seeing my posts about Arran, the pictures of Machrie Moor standing stones prompted Lynn Otty to post two poems on her Buffalo Pound blog. The first one, Standing Stones, beautifully complements my photos of the stones.

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It certainly has been awhile since I’ve been here. It could be a resurrection but I suspect  it’s more like getting back in the saddle. For over a year now I’ve been ignoring the little voice in my head that keeps repeating “Get back to your blog, will you?” And now here I am attempting to do just that.

The prompt that has stirred me out of my malaise is a recent blog by my friend Mary Smith who has been relating  stories about places she visited and what she did while on a  Spring break to the isle of Arran. She reminded me of a magical weekend  that I was lucky enough to spend there with a wild(ish) group of like-minded folk a few years ago.

When she mentioned Machrie Moor it instantly brought back memories of that ancient and very special place and the strong powers we felt…

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MarySmith’sPlace – #HolyIsle #Arran

When we were on Arran recently, this was the view of Holy Isle from our rented accommodation in Lamlash.

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We couldn’t not go.

In spring and summer, a small ferry takes people on the ten-minute (if that) trip to Holy Isle from Lamlash. The timings of the crossings are dependent on tide and weather. When we were there, sailings were on the hour-ish.

We were met on Holy Isle by one of the volunteers who welcomed us, gave us a brief introduction to the island and asked us to keep to the pathways, to respect the privacy of the nuns who are on closed retreat in the south of the island and not to feed the animals. There are Eriskay ponies, Soay sheep and Saanen goats. The goats are believed to have been on the island for 700 years, possibly left there by the Vikings. The ponies and sheep were introduced by Universities Federation for Animal Welfare who at one time owned the island.

The DH and I decided to walk up the hills, Mullach Beag and Mullach Mor and walk back along the coastal path.

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I like the sign for the path up the mountain.

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Looking back to Arran and Goatfell – a climb for another day

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Ailsa Craig in the distance – home of the granite for making curling stones

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Coming down Mullach Mor looking down onto the closed retreat centre and the lighthouse

The earliest recorded name for Holy Isle was Inis Shroin, which is old Gaelic for Island of the Water Spirit. In the 6th century Molaise (later Saint Molaise) came to the island from Ireland. Despite being offered the throne of what is now called Ulster, he chose to live in a cave on Holy Isle, near a well whose water had healing properties. The island became known as Eilean Molaise, Gaelic for Molaise’s Island. Later, Molaise went to Rome to be ordained as a priest and back in Ireland he became abbot of the monastery in Leighlin.

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St Molaise’s Cave – sorry it’s a useless photo.

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Information boards at the cave.

In 1263 King Haakon of Norway brought a fleet of ships to the shelter of Lamlash Bay, before fighting the Scots at the Battle of Largs. Vigleikr, one of his marshals, went ashore at Holy Isle and cut runes with his name on the wall of St. Molaise’s cave. It’s also likely there was a monastery on the island in the 13th century or 14th century.

Lama Yeshe Rinpoche is the founder of the Holy Isle Project. He is a Tibetan Buddhist meditation master in the Kagyu tradition and is Abbot of Samye Ling Monastery in Dumfriesshire. Holy Isle is home to the Centre for World Peace and Health which runs a full programme of courses and retreats. Visitors are welcome to stay at the centre provided they accept the Five Golden Rules: To respect life and refrain from killing; to respect other people’s property and refrain from stealing; to speak the truth and refrain from lying; to encourage health and refrain from intoxicants including alcohol, cigarettes and drugs (have to admit I cheated and had my nicotine replacement mints with me); to respect others and refrain from sexual activity that causes harm.

Once safely back down from Mullach Mor, which is quite a tricky scramble in places followed by interesting roped off areas and warnings about crevasses, we walked back to the visitor centre. It was along here we found St Molaise’s cave and lots of beautiful art work on the rocks.

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Free tea or coffee, and biscuits, are served at the visitor centre (donation box available), which is also a shop selling books and crafts.

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These little lovelies were enjoying the sunshine near the visitor centre

There was no sign of the two-ish ferry arriving. The sign post at the jetty indicated something called Red Rock was 0.6 of a kilometre further along the path. As we could keep an eye out for the ferry approaching we wandered off. We saw gulls sitting on eggs on the rocky shore, eider ducks in the water but no sign of a red rock. We did come across this.

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Gorgeous display of rhododendrons – and a television?

We were debating whether to carry on or turn back when we noticed a figure in robes and hooded jacket standing with their back to us. On closer inspection we found the person was staring silently and pointedly at a sign respectfully asking visitors not to proceed beyond this point. We turned around immediately. When I looked back the figure was sitting in front of what looks to me like a small burial cairn.

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Perhaps they had come to meditate? Or, perhaps someone stands watch when visitors are about to ensure they don’t wander where they shouldn’t. It was clear the person was not going to speak – or I’d have asked about the meaning of the television.



MarySmith’sPlace – #The Giants’Graves #Arran

Graves where giants were buried or where giants buried their victims? Neither, it turns out, and I still haven’t discovered how these Neolithic burial cairns on Arran came to be associated with giants.

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These two chambered cairns (there are over twenty others on Arran) are in a clearing on Forestry land above Whiting Bay. Built around 5,700 – 5,000 years ago they’re of the Clyde type – so called because a separate group of burial cairns found in the Firth of Clyde region were identified. They are considered to be the earliest chambered cairn tombs in Scotland, and their construction technique was probably carried from Scotland to Ireland.

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Holy Isle in the background

The burial chamber was usually located at one end of a rectangular or trapezoidal cairn, while a roofless, semi-circular forecourt at the entrance provided access from the outside. Forecourts are typically fronted by large stones and it is thought the area in front of the cairn was used for public rituals. The chambers were created from large stones set on end, roofed with large flat stones and often sub-divided by slabs into small compartments. They were intended for the community’s ancestors and not for individuals – and it would have taken considerable community effort to construct them.

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Before being placed in the cairn, bodies would be left outside for ravens to strip away the flesh from the bones and different parts of the skeleton may have been placed in different parts of the chamber. The chambers were not permanently sealed and were used again and again over many years.

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It all looks a bit of a jumble and quite hard to picture how they would have looked over six thousand years ago. Many of the stones have been removed and incorporated into local buildings and dry stane dykes and many other stones lie below the turf. The Giant’s Grave (North) is the larger with the main axis north-south while the smaller grave (South) is at right angles to the northern cairn with its east-west axis. As I don’t know my right from my left never mind east west, I took these details from the information board on the site.

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Excavations in 1902 recovered pottery shards, flint knives, and leaf-shaped arrowheads in the larger cairn but only soil and stones in the smaller. During a later excavation in1961-2 nine shards of a round-based vessel and fragments of burnt bone were found.

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Much more information about Arran’s Neolithic chambered tombs can be found here which is also where I found this image of how the chambered cairn would have looked.