Archives for posts with tag: architecture

GlendaruelA little while back I received a wonderful package of letters from Kilmodan Primary School, a two-classroom schoolhouse in a tiny rural community in Argyll, Scotland. There are only thirteen pupils in the school, and the surrounding countryside is very beautiful. The river above winds through Glendaruel quite close to the school, and the harbour below is Colintraive where some of the pupils live.

Photo ©

Photo ©

The eight P1-4 pupils and their teacher Ms Hawkins had been reading my two puffin books, Lewis Clowns Around and Harris the Hero in class, and they each wrote a lovely invitation to Lewis the puffin to come and visit their school tearoom in September. Along with the letters, they enclosed photos of their impressive classroom display of puffin drawings and a fantastic seabird scene. Sadly, Lewis was on tour with the circus in Canada in September, so he couldn’t manage a visit. Instead, he sent each of the children a postcard from Toronto and told them all about his adventures. Since then, Ms Hawkins has been tweeting about Lewis and Harris on her school Twitter account, and she gave me an idea…

puffin holiday planLewis and Harris are back together now, as the circus is taking a little break. On Sunday the two brothers decided to fly off to Ayrshire to visit Blairquhan Castle, as it was a lovely sunny autumn day. They found a picture of the castle in a book and thought it would be great fun to go exploring there.

arrival castleWhen they arrived, it looked just as impressive as the picture! The enormous wooden door stood open in welcome, so Lewis and Harris hopped up the steps and went inside. They were very impressed by the big, beautiful rooms and all the paintings on the walls. One painting showed a rather large family playing out in the countryside:

big paintingAnother painting was of a little girl holding a pet rabbit. Lewis and Harris got up near the painting to get a closer look. They thought the rabbit looked a bit worried.

puffins and rabbitNext they visited the library. They had never seen so many books in one place! The little spaces in between felt just like a puffin’s burrow in the cliff.

libraryNext they wandered into the dining room, where they found a strange bird. It was a pheasant, but for some reason it refused to talk to them. Eventually they gave up and left him alone. What a rude fellow, they thought.

puffins and grouseLewis and Harris ventured up some very grand stairs and found a big four-poster bed with tartan drapery. Next to the bed was a lamp with another animal – this time a handsome stag made of metal. The puffins flew up to the bedside table to take a closer look.

stag lampIt was clear this one was not going to talk, but they thought he made a lovely lamp. Blairquhan Castle was a great place to visit, but it was getting late and Lewis and Harris needed to get home. On their way out they stopped in the grand ballroom and spotted a very special ice cream cart. What a funny thing to find in a castle!

ice cream cartThey asked the man what he was doing there, and he explained that this was an open day for people who wanted to have their wedding at the castle. He offered a free taste of his special wedding ice cream, and Lewis and Harris couldn’t say no!

ice cream choicesLewis liked the look of Rhubarb and Ginger, and Harris went for Yummy Watermelon. They were delicious! Ice cream was a perfect end to a great day out, and it gave them lots of energy for the long flight home. I wonder where Lewis and Harris will go next?

Toronto skylineMy son and I spent a couple of days in Toronto recently. It was a first visit for him, and I hadn’t been there in over twenty years. So much has changed in that time that I hardly recognised the place!

We arrived by bus, and that brought us into the city along University Avenue, where a striking new sculpture caught my eye. It’s a shiny, silver, twisted tree root covered in silver birds, and it stands in front of the Shangri-La Hotel. The sculptor is Zhang Huan, a Chinese artist who does impressive large-scale sculptures with a dream-like quality. This one is called ‘Rising.’

Detail of 'Rising' by Zhang Huan. Photo ©Craig White.

Detail of ‘Rising’ by Zhang Huan. Photo ©Craig White.

Our first stop in Toronto was the Royal Ontario Museum, where by chance we found some more sculptures from China in the William Charles White Gallery. These were ancient gold Buddhas and life-size statues of Buddhist scholars and teachers.

Painted wooden statues from Shanxi province in China. Photo @Royal Ontario Museum.

Mounted on two walls of the gallery were enormous murals taken from a Buddhist monastery from the Yuan Dynasty (over 700 years old). They were very impressive, and remarkably well preserved. It’s hard to imagine how they managed to move such large and delicate wall paintings into the gallery.

Yuan Dynasty mural. Photo ©Royal Ontario Museum.

Yuan Dynasty mural. Photo ©Royal Ontario Museum.

After all this ancient history it was time to get back out into the 21st-century city! We walked through Queen’s Park past the Ontario Legislature (where we had just missed all the Canada Day celebrations) and found Dundas Square where a street performer was juggling flaming torches on top of a very tall unicycle! We stayed to watch but kept well back, just in case!

Dundas Square opposite the Eaton Centre in Toronto.

Dundas Square opposite the Eaton Centre in Toronto.

When I lived in Toronto, Dundas Square didn’t exist. It’s similar in feel to Times Square in New York, though on a smaller scale. The bright billboards look best at night, and we were there to have dinner at the local Hard Rock Café. I thought my teenage son would enjoy a truly North American experience, but later I found out there are lots of them in the UK! We sat next to a wall mounted with backlit boxes displaying Stevie Nicks’ boots, a hat worn by Tom Petty, and a guitar played by a member of Kiss, among other things. The boxes went right up to the ceiling and we were craning our necks trying to read all the labels. Perhaps the restaurant should issue telescopes to all their customers!

Toronto is a great place to take photographs, and I found an excellent page on the Tourism Toronto website called Top Picks for Pics. We got to a few of these places but sadly only had two days in the city which wasn’t enough time!

Tomorrow I’ll tell you all about our visit to Toronto’s Harbourfront and a brilliant tour we took of the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres on Yonge Street.

Recently I visited my cousins in Canada, and stayed in a beautiful wooden house deep in the woods near Kingston. It had a big veranda out front and lots of fine woodwork inside, from the kitchen cupboards to the many beams holding up the ceiling.

cottage kitchen

I have always thought it would be fantastic to design my own house. Mine would have lots of windows and be eco-friendly with recycled water and solar panels. As well as stairs, I might put in a curving slide (my son would like that) and I would design my own furniture too, with wacky bunk beds and basket chairs suspended from the ceiling.

But it’s not easy to build your own house, especially if you live in a big city as I do. First you have to buy a plot of land, and get permission to build on it. Then you have to design the house, with lots of drawings to show how it looks on the outside and where all the rooms will go inside. If I wanted to build my own house I would definitely need some help, but my cousin Scot can do it all! He is an expert woodworker, and he knows how to build a house.

House design by Scot King.

House design by Scot King.

Here is one of my cousin Scot’s drawings, which shows a sort of see-through image of the outside and the inside. You can even see the foundations of the house that are underground. Scot does these drawings using a computer programme called Chief Architect. It allows him to look at the house from all different angles so he can spot mistakes before he gets working on site.

Traditional beams are cut to slot together, and wooden dowels hold them in place.

Traditional beams are cut to slot together, and wooden dowels hold them in place.

Scot lives in Kingston where there is lots of land for building and people like to have cottages by the water. He builds traditional timber-frame houses using big beams like the ones above. First they have to put up the main frame of the house:

The house starts with concrete foundations and a wooden "skeleton".

The house starts with concrete foundations and a wooden “skeleton”.

When they are in place, these same beams look beautiful and are part of the interior design. The wooden floor, staircases and counters are all hand-crafted, and my cousin can even make furniture!

The structural beams are part of the rustic "look" of the finished house.

The structural beams are part of the rustic “look” of the finished house.

The houses Scot builds are just as beautiful on the outside. Often they are built on a waterside plot with tall trees, so they fit well into the natural setting.

Some of these are summer cottages, and some are lived in all year round.

Some of these are summer cottages, and some are lived in all year round.

If you are designing your own house you can make it exactly as you want (providing you respect the laws of physics so it won’t fall down). Here is a very handsome one built for a family who wanted a half-circle window, rustic porches and a Georgian grey-green exterior:

House designed and built by Scot King.

House designed and built by Scot King.

And the one below was designed for a member of the family. Sometimes I wish I lived in Canada so I could build my own dream house (with Scot’s help)!

Another Scot King design.

Another Scot King design.

Scot has a company called Kingline Design and a great website (where I got all these pictures). It never ceases to amaze me that he can actually create something so big and complicated that you can actually live in! My cousin is one clever guy.

ceiling beams

A while back, my husband took his first trip to Nepal. Although he had visited both China and India several times, he had never managed to explore the small and mountainous country sandwiched between the two. He flew into the capital, Kathmandu, a busy and crowded city surrounded on all sides by mountains.

Long ago (in the 15th century) the Kathmandu Valley was divided into three separate kingdoms or city states: Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur. In each city state the ruler built a handsome palace, surrounding it with a public square, ornate temples and statues on tall plinths. These three squares still exist today, and the most famous of them is Patan Durbar Square. (If you look on the map above, Patan is just south of Kathmandu across the Bagmati River).

The most important building in Patan Durbar Square is the Royal Palace which is enormous and stretches along the east side of the square. Above you can see one of the entrances to the palace with two carved stone elephants.

Across from this entrance is the Krishna Mandir temple. While most of the Buddhist temples and indeed the Royal Palace are constructed of red brick and timber, this Hindu temple is unusual in being made of ornately carved stone with accents in gold.

While my husband was visiting the square, he noticed lots of people in colourful costumes. It turned out they were making a Bollywood film! In this picture you can see some of the dancers relaxing during a break on the steps of the temple. They have bells on their legs and bamboo pipes to play, so I’m sure their dance number must have been brilliant!

The next day, it was time to climb into the mountains and visit a small village called Chokati. It was a long trek, and the views were spectacular. At one point they came to a deep valley with a river rushing past far below. The only way to reach the village was to cross a rickety suspension bridge with quite a few boards missing!

I’m glad to say the group made it safely across and managed to reach the village. As they approached they could see little houses perched on a steep green slope. Chokati is an agricultural community and the main crops they grow are rice and corn.

Up close, the houses are very simple. This is where my husband stayed during his time in the village. Although they have very few possessions, you can see they still like their satellite TV!

Here is a picture of some corn drying outside one of the houses. The ones strung across the top still have their husks. Once they are dry the kernels of corn can be ground into flour to make bread.

My husband received a warm welcome in the village (which included having a red mark painted on his forehead and a lovely garland of flowers placed around his neck).

The most colourful character in the village was the medicine man, or shaman. This ancient practice dates back 50,000 years, and when someone in the village is ill the shaman will perform a drumming and chanting ritual to call upon the spirits to help heal his patient. In the photo below you can see the drum made of animal skin stretched over a wooden frame, and the curvy stick the shaman uses to beat it.

As always, my husband felt he had to come home with a souvenir of some sort, and he found the perfect thing: a traditional Nepalese trumpet which can collapse down like a telescope, fitting perfectly into his suitcase!

It’s made of hammered metal, about one metre in length, and if you want to see what they sound like, have a look at the short video HERE. Thankfully, our trumpet is never played – it’s just a very handsome ornament!