Archives for category: Scotland

Photo ©David Russell

I sometimes forget how lucky I am to live in Scotland. Not only do I have a brilliant city life in a handsome Victorian neighbourhood, but the beauty of wild natural landscapes can be reached in a matter of minutes. Scotland may be a small country, but the variety of landscapes, from mountains and moors to white sand beaches and ancient woodlands, is quite stunning!

Recently I discovered a talented photographer whose work reflects his passion for Scotland and all its natural beauty. David Russell lives in the Cairngorms National Park and is a qualified wilderness guide and outdoor instructor. I love this photo of him as a young boy first trying to capture the beauty around him:

Photo ©John Russell

David spends long hours tramping though forests at dawn to catch the morning light through the trees. The key to success as a nature photographer is patience, and clearly in David’s case it pays off!

Photo ©David Russell

In addition to producing these beautiful images, David has recorded several video tutorials on nature photography, and some stunning drone videos of Harris in the Outer Hebrides and the Ardnamurchan Peninsula.

Photo ©David Russell

David ventures out in all seasons, showing Scotland in autumn mist and dusted with snow:

Photo ©David Russell

Photo ©David Russell

He also produces high quality prints of his work which are available for sale on his website, Highland Wildscapes.

Photo ©David Russell

Inspired by the beauty of nature, David has put together collections of his photos with evocative poems and short pieces of writing. It’s a glimpse into the thoughts and feelings that these landscapes inspire in the photographer.

It’s good to be reminded now and then of the natural beauty right on my doorstep. Thanks, David!

Photo ©David Russell

Comely Park Primary School in Falkirk, Scotland, where I am a proud Patron of Reading, has a special mascot bear called Parker. As you can imagine, Parker has been very lonely in school since the lockdown, and he is looking forward to the day when the children will return. In the meantime, he has painted a rainbow for his window, and he’s been thinking about how to help everyone feel more positive about the future.

Parker is quite a creative bear, and he has been writing some poetry. It made him feel better to think about the colours of the rainbow and all the things he is looking forward to doing with the children when they come back to school. You can read his poem here:

Parker was so pleased with his poem that he thought he would challenge all his Comely Park friends to write one too! And that’s where I come in. As Comely Park Patron of Reading, it’s my job to launch this exciting new writing challenge: Parker’s Positive Poetry.

So what can you write about, I hear you ask. Well, Parker has provided a few ideas to get you started. You can write about all the things you like about being at home instead of at school. You can talk about all the things you are looking forward to once school starts again. You can describe how the world has changed, like the cleaner air and all the animals and birds coming out of hiding. You can imagine what the future will be like – will we all just go back to the way we were, or will things change for the better?

Your poem can be in any form and any length, from a short haiku to a kenning or acrostic poem. It can rhyme or not rhyme – it’s entirely up to you!

Every poem submitted to your teacher will be posted on this page. I’m hoping there will be lots of brilliant work added here over the next few weeks! Good luck and happy writing!

And here are the first entries – some crackers already!

Lucian P7

Macy P6

Katie P1

Gregor P6

Emma P7

Ekua P7 1

Ekua P7 2

Ekua P7 3

Lilly P6

Joshua P4

Malak P4

Finlay P6

Eve P6

Wiktoria P6

Amy P3M

          Alistair P3M

Orrin P3

Amelia P6

Hannah P5

Luke P5

Aleena P7

Holly P7

Leia P7

Alexander P6

Beau P6

Lily P1

Amelia P1

Stella P5

Magnus P4

Andrew P2

Eylulnaz P6

Leo P2

Emmy P3

Mishal P3

Emma P3

Hayden P3

Madeline P7

Evie P7

Cairn P7

Coco P2

Lewis P5

Ryan P6

Daniel P7

Katie P7

Lewis P7

Louise P7

Emily P4

Alexandra P4

Finlay P4

Hamish P4

Holly P4

Imogen P4

Nina P4

Fawn P1

Eleanor P1

Tugrul P1

Luke P4

Roddy P5

Turgut P5

Ryan P6

Emme P6

Lauren P6

Charlotte P6

Logan P1

Isla P1

Eva P6

Molly P6

Fayaaz P7

Joe P6

Cara P7

Orla P7

Sophie P4

Zander P4

Penny P4

Leila P3

Raife P1

Poppy P6

Melek P3

Emma2 P3

Christopher P5

Rory P2

Ava P3

Ava P7

Josie P7

Christian P6

Lucia P5

Ryan3 P6

Bailey P5

Vinnie P5

Christopher P5

James P5

Rory P5

Amelie P5

Marcus P5

Robbie P5

Hannah P7

Olivia P7

Hollie P2

Lily P2

Ewan P2

Emma P2

Jamie P5

Rosie P1

Amy P3

Issy P2

Angus P7

Ellis P7

Ben P1

Aanya P1

April P1

Andrew P1

Alistair P4

Harris P4

Isla P4

Jack P4

Keeva P4

Lewis P4

Millie P4

Freya P4

Eva P1

Emily P6

Matthew P4

Alexander P3

Isabella P3

Eva P3

Aashif P3

Ghulam P4

Mikey P3

Jacob P3

Noah P3

Abigail P4

Georgia P2

Lucy P7

Rosa P2

Scottish wildcat

Wildcats used to wander the whole of the UK, having first come across from Europe thousands of years ago when southern England was connected by land to the Netherlands and parts of Germany. Over the centuries, through hunting and loss of habitat these cats became more rare in England, and by the early 1900s they could only be found in the sparsely populated Highlands of Scotland. Today, even here they have become an endangered species, with only about 300 animals living in the wild.

Kendra and kitten

Scottish wildcats look quite like domestic tabby cats, but their heads are broader, their tails thicker with distinctive black stripes, and they have no white on their paws or chest. The photos above were taken by Peter Trimming at the British Wildlife Centre in Surrey, which has a group of wildcats in captivity. In Scotland, the wild ones are much harder to spot, as they keep themselves hidden and only come out at dusk to hunt.

The Highland Wildlife Park is just south of Aviemore in the Cairngorms National Park. Staff there are working together with the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland to build up a population of wildcats that can be released into the wild. This project is being supported by an EU LIFE grant of £3.2 million, with additional funding and support from a range of wildlife trusts. The Saving Wildcats project will work to breed a healthy community of wildcats from British and European stock over the next six years, with the aim to release some into the wild in 2022. These may be released in the Cairngorms to begin with, and then perhaps in other parts of Scotland in future.

Willow cover

After writing stories about Scottish puffins and red squirrels for the Picture Kelpies series published by Floris Books, my next book is Willow the Wildcat, which comes out on 20 February. Willow and her brother Corrie are full of energy and love to wrestle, but when their den is destroyed by a curious sheepdog, they have to work together to help their mum find a new home. This is no easy task, especially as they have to watch out for some scary creatures along the way.

corrie and fish

The illustrator Kirsteen Harris-Jones captures the playful kittens very well.

willow and corrie

Let’s hope Scottish wildcats will continue to live and thrive in the Highlands of Scotland for many more years to come.

IMG_7748

There are not many places you can visit in Scotland that still feel like time has stood still. The little village of Culross (pronounced ‘koo-rus’) in the Kingdom of Fife is one such place, with narrow cobbled streets and charming 17th-century cottages nestled into a steep hillside by the Firth of Forth. At 5’4″ (163 cm) I felt like a giant next to the tiny front doors, and I had to fight the urge to peer into windows to catch a glimpse of history. In this town peering would be very rude, as real people live in these houses, which have been carefully restored by the National Trust for Scotland.

IMG_7754

The ‘jewel in the crown’ of this historic port town is Culross Palace, a mansion complex built by wealthy coal and salt merchant Sir George Bruce. The first house was completed in 1597, and when Sir George needed more space to accommodate all his important visitors he built the north wing (above) in 1611.

Sir George Bruce was Laird of Carnock, and he made his fortune first in salt production (which involved boiling salt water in large, shallow pans to evaporate the water) and later in coal mining. He was trained as an engineer and in 1595 he established the first coal mine in the world to extend under the sea with a tunnel deep under the Firth of Forth. Sir George exported coal and salt by sea to other ports on the Forth, and to Dutch and Swedish ports as well. His ships returned with Dutch ceramic roof and floor tiles and window glass as ballast, and these were used in the construction of Culross Palace.

Culross palace interior

Thanks to much painstaking restoration of the interiors, visitors can get a real sense of what life was like in the 17th century for a wealthy Scottish merchant and his family. There is wood panelling in every room, with decorative murals adorning some ceilings and walls. Because these rooms are so well preserved, several episodes of the popular television series Outlander have been filmed here.

IMG_7765

In the first series, the town is known as Cranesmuir and the Mercat Cross above (minus the modern cars) is the scene of a 17th-century witch trial. There are so many beautifully preserved buildings that I’m sure very few changes were required for filming.

IMG_7757

Culross town hall

The Culross Town House above served originally as a court house and prison. Today it houses an exhibition gallery and gift shop. In the foreground of this photo you can see a stone plinth and a wooden post. These mark the spot where merchants brought their produce to be weighed at the Tron, the official burgh weighbeam as shown in the artist’s drawing below. You can see the Town House still under construction in 1625. The clock tower it has today was added some years later.

Culross info sign

Culross and its distinctive ochre-coloured palace are impressive enough, but even more surprising is the terraced garden that extends up the steep hill behind. This has been planted with flowers, fruit and vegetables that would have been grown in the 17th century.

Culross flowers

lilies

Thanks to a long, hot summer this year, the garden is flourishing! There are shady bowers, wooden seating, stone walls and crushed seashell paths. From the top level, visitors have a stunning view across the Firth of Forth.

Culross garden bower

Culross garden inscription

seedling shed

A small orchard has not only fruit trees but also a collection of Scots Dumpy chickens. Apparently these supply eggs for the palace cafe, where we stopped for lunch. And like everything else in this magical place, the food was outstanding!

IMG_7752

(Many thanks to Mark Rickards and Danae Apeiranthiti for the photos shown here.)

 

RRS cover

Cover illustration ©Jon Mitchell

February 22nd is publication day for my two latest Floris picture books! One is a board book version of Skye the Puffling (smaller and simpler than the original) and the other is a brand new story about two adventurous little squirrels.

mini Skye board book

The wee puffin board book is designed for little hands and is sturdy enough to withstand a bit of chewing! My new squirrel book is aimed at older readers (aged 4-6) and follows the adventures of a brother and sister, Rowan and Hazel, who are off to explore the forest for the very first time. Their mother tells them not to wander too far, but there are so many exciting things to discover that her words of warning are soon forgotten.

Rowan p2

To be fair, Rowan tries to hold his sister back, but Hazel is fearless and ready for adventure. Most of all, she is hungry, and she nibbles pinecones and toadstools and blackberries all along the way. This proves very useful when they get lost and need to look for clues as they try to find their way home.

Rowan p8

There’s a very scary moment when a fox tries to catch Hazel, but Rowan comes to the rescue by grabbing the fox’s tail. They both run off and escape up a tree, but soon it gets dark and more scary creatures appear in the shadows.

Rowan p10

When they finally make their way back to their crooked old tree, Mum is very glad to see them! They tell her all about their hair-raising adventures and promise to be more careful from now on.

Rowan p14

I’m looking forward to sharing my new book in Scottish primary schools as we celebrate World Book Day 2018. I’ve also got an official launch of Rowan the Red Squirrel at Waterstones bookshop (Byres Road, Glasgow) on Saturday, 3 March at 2pm.

Rowan invite cover

If you’re in the neighbourhood that afternoon, do come along! The staff there are lovely, and they have delicious cakes in the cafe, too! A great place to spend your £1 World Book Day token. See you there!