Exploring Berwick

We broke our journey home from Scotland at Berwick-Upon-Tweed.  It is one of those places through which we have passed many times on the train and we thought it was about time we actually had a look around.

We stayed at the King’s Arms which for me was primarily notable for the fact that Charles Dickens had stayed there and had even given a reading in the ballroom.  I was delighted by the Dickens coffee lounge but sadly disapppointed to find that it was not open when we wanted it.  That didn’t stop me having a quick read though!

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We spent pretty much the entire day walking around the old town walls which were so interesting.   I love exploring historical sites and there is so much history there.  I was just a bit sad that we could not get to more of the castle.

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The museum at the barracks was also very good.  I particularly liked the rooms set aside for the King’s Own Scottish Borderers Regimental Museum.  I found it incredibly moving and actually ended up feeling rather overwhelmed – which wasn’t helped by the fact that I am scared of mannequins.  It was a fantastic museum though and I would highly recommend a visit.

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I had a great time discovering the history of Berwick and I could easily have spent more time there.  We did however manage to squeeze in a short boat trip which rounded the day off nicely.

Scottish Bookshopping

I couldn’t leave Pitlochry without visiting the bookshops there.  In fact, I doubt if I’ve ever been on holiday without buying a book!

My first stop was the Station Bookshop – opening off the main platform at the railway station.  This was a lovely little warren of a shop with a huge mixture of titles.  It is a charity bookshop so the books are donated but it had a great range and I found several books I wanted to buy – including a box set of PG Wodehouse which I would have loved but getting it home would have been tricky.

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In the end, I picked two lovely, old editions of Walter Scott – The Abbot and Kenilworth. They were both inscribed to the same person, although they were given by different people.  I thought them a perfect souvenir of my trip.

I also visited Priory Books.  I had been hoping to find an easy history of the Jacobite rebellions but everything was either very detailed or too simple.  In the end I spied something entirely different – Fiesta for Wild One, a book in the Kit Hunter series by Peter Grey which I love.

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The tourist information office supplied me with a basic children’s history of Scotland which I found to have the perfect level of information for me.  Then a few days later we made a brief stop in Aviemore and the Waterstones there had Jacobite Stories by Dane Love which was even better.  I read it all the way home!

Reading Waverley in Scotland

I have carried Waverley around Scotland with me on two previous occassions without reading a word of it. I had the best of intentions but somehow I always wanted to read a different book which would be easier – who wants to work on holiday?

This time though, I was determined. Scotland was clearly the place to read it so read it I would. I made sure I wasn’t partway through any other books and started Waverley on the very first train. Within a few pages I knew that it was not going to be hard work after all.

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Of course, I had to read it by the Scott Monument!

The only other Scott book I had read was Ivanhoe many years ago. I remember enjoying it but not much else and I had got it into my head that he would be difficult and rather slow reading. Instead, I was swept along by the story and I absolutely loved it.

I also found that it was genuinely funny. Who can resist a line like this in the last chapter?

This should have been a prefatory chapter, but for two reasons: First, that most novel-readers, as my own conscience reminds me, are apt to be guilty of the sin of omission respecting that same matter of prefaces.

I so rarely read prefaces!

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I am sorry I never read the book before but very glad I finally took the time to do so. Reading it in Perthshire was especially wonderful – a good deal of the book is set there so I could really picture it coming to life. It was perfect!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Last night I went to an outdoor theatre production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Immersion Theatre.  I love the atmosphere of open air theatre so I was looking forward to it but was also very concerned that it would have to be moved indoors.  It had rained for most of the morning and although it brightened up in the afternoon it was raining again when I left work.  Luckily it had stopped by the time I got to the venue and they had decided to go ahead outside.  They had set up inside as well though – just in case!

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Outdoor theatre is not complete without a picnic!

We arrived nice and early which meant that we had excellent seats right at the front.  The cast roamed through the audience chatting with us before the play started which was a lovely way to make us feel involved.  Of course, me being me, I was worried about being called on for audience participation but it wasn’t a problem and I could relax and enjoy the show.

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I was right in the middle of the action – this was the sleeping Hermia at the end of the interval.

Enjoy it I did too.  It was an hilarious production and I haven’t laughed so much for quite some time.  The actors in small travelling companies never cease to amaze me with their ability to play several parts at once – and be convincingly different characters.  There were several impressively quick changes too!

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By far the most dramatic moment though had nothing to do with the acting.  Thisbe was in the middle of her death scene when, with absolutely no warning, the heavens opened and the rain just poured down.  It was so loud!  The poor actors were immediately drenched and we weren’t much better but dramatically speaking the timing just couldn’t have been better.

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Sadly it wasn’t really possible to continue so we missed out on Puck’s epilogue but it was actually quite fitting to end with Theseus’ words, ‘No epilogue, I pray you; your play needs no excuse.’

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This was us by the end – soaking wet but still reluctant to leave!

After that there was nothing to be done but go home, dry off and read the ending for myself.

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I had the most fantastic evening.  The play is almost at the end of its tour now but if Immersion Theatre are playing near you I would highly recommend going to see them.  I will certainly be doing so if they are in this area again.

Summer Fête Delights

On Saturday I took my book stall out for its first outing of the year. Previously I have always had it within a larger marquee or room full of other stands. This time I didn’t have that option so I had my own little gazebo to set up. I had tried a practice run at home and was quite excited about having a space to myself which I could make cosy and just how I wanted it.

We had to arrive early as we had some entries to set up in the craft classes and as it was a reasonable drive I decided to stay and start setting up. For one thing, I didn’t really know how long it would take me with the new gazebo.

That turned out to be a great decision. It was so much more relaxing to have a leisurely set up process instead of rushing and getting stressed. I have been known to get so wound up when short of time that I have actually been unable to remember the alphabet. That was not a fun experience and this was far more enjoyable.

Even better was that fact that my sister lives close to the fête and kept us constantly supplied with tea and cakes. Such a luxury!

Once I was all set up I had nothing to do but sit in the shade and read until the fête opened. It was a lovely, sunny day and even when the crowds started arriving it just meant that I could talk to more people about books – which is after all the point of having the stall in the first place. That and selling some of the books of course!

It was a delightful afternoon. There cannot be many better ways to spend time than sat on the grass with a book, good conversation and listening to music from a Dixieland band. Bliss!

Celebrating Stories

The main reason for my Scotland trip was to stay in Pitlochry for the festival theatre there.  I love going to the theatre but – at least locally – we don’t seem to get many proper plays so I was very much looking forward to my trip.

The theatre famously states that you can, ‘Stay six days, see six plays.’  We were a little early in the season for that but I still had a choice of four.  I decided against The Crucible as it traumatised me when I had to study it at school.  Watching Jo March (Winona Ryder) playing Abigail Williams in the film was just too disturbing for me!

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The theatre has the best views

That still left me with a choice of three shows though.  The first I went to see was Blonde Bombshells of 1943, which tells the story of Betty – a band leader whose band has landed a BBC performance just when she has lost half her players.  The auditions and rehearsals were so entertaining and it was a great show.  I especially enjoyed the performance of Tilly-Mae Millbrook who played Miranda.

Next I saw Blithe Spirit – a story I know very well as I have seen the film several times.  This was my favourite of the week  – a real classic play.  I loved Eddie – played by David Rankine – a different take on the maid character.

Finally, I went to see Summer Holiday which was of course a lot of fun.  It was a bit too noisy for me but that is the case for any musical.  I enjoyed myself but it reinforced something which really I already knew – for me, plays are the thing.

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I’ve never had the opportunity to see repertory theatre before and I loved being able to watch the same people play different characters through the week.  They really did change, which just shows what great actors they are.

I had the best time – a whole week immersed in stories was just wonderful.  I do so enjoy the theatre and I must make the effort to get to more plays – even if I have to travel a bit further to get there.

Literary Edinburgh

I have recently been spending some time in Scotland, a place which I love.  I stopped off on the way up to spend the day in Edinburgh and I had a great time soaking up the culture.

My first stop had to be the Scott Memorial.  It really stands out on the skyline and as I was reading Waverley at the time I couldn’t not pay it a visit.  There is a little café in the park there which I found was the perfect spot for breakfast.

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I had a lovely time wandering through the streets before moving on to the National Library of Scotland.  Unfortunately the main exhibition was closed due to technical problems with the lighting but I did get to see a small display of letters and manuscripts relating to the publication of Byron’s Don Juan.  It was wonderful to see and I was especially fascinated by the proof copies annotated with Byron’s corrections.

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I loved this staircase at the National Library of Scotland!

By then it was lunchtime.  I was meeting an old university friend and we had a lovely catch up before going on to the Writers’ Museum.  I had been so looking forward to this and I was not disappointed.  I had actually been before but not for several years and even then it was just a flying visit.  This time I could really take everything in, although we still had to be kicked out at closing time!

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If I lived here I would have to have that little tower room!

The museum mostly focuses on Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott.  Obviously, as I was reading Waverley, I was excited about seeing the Scott displays.  I was especially moved by his rocking horse – with uneven steps for his feet as he had polio as a child.

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I was also fascinated by the Stevenson displays.  He lived such an interesting life all over the world, although sadly that was mainly due to his ongoing ill health.  Last year I read an excellent book by Joseph Farrell about Stevenson’s time in Samoa so I loved seeing some of his belongings too.

The Burns exhibition was also great, although I am perhaps less familiar with his work.  I’m afraid that I also came away with the impression that he was the least likeable of the three men!

Having left the museum I had half an hour to spare before my train left, which gave me just enough time for a very fleeting visit to The Fruitmarket Gallery.  I had seen the title of their current exhibition – The Annotated Reader – as I passed in the morning and naturally I was intrigued.  It hadn’t been open then but was now so I sacrificed my chance of a cup of tea and dived in.

The creators of the exhibition – Ryan Gander and Jonathan P Watts – had asked a whole range of people to annotate a page from the book they would choose to have with them if they had missed the last train home.  Those pages were hung from the walls around the gallery and visitors were positively encouraged to take them home.  I found the whole idea fascinating, picked up several pages for myself and would have loved to be able to spend more time there.

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Catching my train north I learnt both that Edinburgh Waverley is the only railway station in the world named after a novel and the there is such a thing as a UNESCO city of literature.  I had no idea that was a thing but I thoroughly approve and would love to find some more!

I had the most fantastic day – I couldn’t live in a city but I do enjoy my occassional trips.  I love discovering literary and other cultural places to visit and I always come away feeling inspired to write and to read everything.

Independent Bookshop Week

This week is one of the most exciting in the whole year – it is independent bookshop week!  A whole week celebrating independent bookshops, what could possibly be better?

I normally try to visit as many bookshops as I can but this year my schedule is rather full and I’m not sure I’ll be able to make it to any this week (although we’re only halfway through so there is still hope!).

I didn’t want to miss out entirely though so I took myself out for my own mini bookshop crawl last week.  I was spending a couple of days in Dartmouth and took advantage of that to explore the bookshops.

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I started off in the Community Bookshop which opened to replace the famous Harbour Bookshop (started by Christopher Robin Milne himself!) when it sadly had to close.  The Community Bookshop still has a dedicated Pooh Corner and of course I had to send a Christopher Robin postcard!

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This is such a lovely shop, crammed full of books and with a wonderful atmosphere.  I could have spent hours browsing – although that is true of most bookshops!  Naturally I couldn’t leave without buying something.  I was browsing the classics section with nothing particular in mind when I found The Old Man in the Corner by Baroness Orczy.  I love the Tommy and Tuppence series by Agatha Christie and in the first book they solve several different mysteries, each time using the methods of a different fictional detective. One of those is the Teahouse Detective and as I have never read it I couldn’t resist.

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My next stop was Dartmouth Booksellers, another lovely little shop with the most tempting table displays – there were so many books I wanted to buy!  I love browsing and finding books I have never heard of, which is what happened here.  I came away with Midnight at Moonstone by Lara Fletcher, mainly because it is such a pretty book.  It also sounds like an excellent story and I am so much looking forward to reading it.

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I had a wonderful time on my mini bookshop crawl.  Browsing in bookshops is one of the best things to do – if you can get to an independent bookshop this week do try to visit it.  If not, just take a trip to any bookshop or even a library.  We need them!

Springtime Reading

We have been having some simply glorious weather for the past few days. We have had some cold days too of course – it is only April after all – but definitely a good proportion of the time has been sunny.

Days like this make me want to escape outside as much as possible and whilst I was at Halsway Manor last week I took full advantage of the free time on offer to explore the grounds and neighbouring countryside. I found the loveliest disused tennis court complete with the most amazing view and a tumbledown pavillion. There was even a beautiful set of steps just right for sitting and reading.

I also went some way up the hill beind the house. My seat of choice up there was a tree in the hedgeline. I don’t think I’ll ever grow out of wanting to climb trees! I didn’t manage to get a picture of myself up the tree but I can show you the view which was magnificent.

It was the most wonderful place to while away a few hours.

Reading and Dancing

This past weekend I went away for a few days folk dancing at Halsway Manor.   I recently treated myself to a copy of the first Abbey School book by Elsie J Oxenham – The Girls of the Hamlet Club and although I have only read a couple of books in the series before but I knew the girls were very keen on folk dancing so it seemed the perfect choice to take away with me.

The house is absolutely beautiful. I had been particularly looking forward to seeing the library and it did not disappoint.

In fact, it was even better than I had hoped as I found half a shelf of Abbey School books in there which made me very happy indeed.

The weekend was very full but I still found plenty of time for reading and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I had the most wonderful windowsill in my bedroom.

It was perfect for sitting and reading and I could have quite happily spent the whole weekend there!

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