Monday 30 September 2013

Secrets of the Sea House by Elisabeth Gifford

Scotland, 1860. Reverend Alexander Ferguson takes up his new parish on Harris in the Hebrides. His time there will change the course of his life and will echo into the future.

More than a century later, Ruth (whose late mother was from the island) and Michael buy the dilapidated old manse, where Ferguson had lived, and begin to turn it into a home. They are shocked to discover the skeleton of a baby buried beneath the house. But this was no ordinary child,
This is the basis of Secrets of the Sea House, a beautiful and haunting novel from Elisabeth Gifford.  Ms Gifford obviously did a huge amount of research for this book, but that never weighs the novel down. The history and origin of the myths of the selkies (seal people) and mermaid are beautifully woven into the story.
The book is full of the atmosphere of the islands:
Out of nowhere, a cold wind got up. We were now out on the open water, every horizon nothing but sky. The boat began to skip and jump, smacking into the waves. The sea had turned fark grey, the darker shadows moving below us. I felt an odd kind of vertigo, dizzily aware of teh tall miles of insubstantial water beneath us, where a body could sink without a trace. 
Against this background,.Ruth and Alexander in their separate times try to come to terms with their personal demons. Their stories are engrossing and moving.
I was delighted to win this book in a giveaway on The Little Reader Library blog.  


Meanwhile I'm delighted to have a very short story featured on Pygmy Giant.  

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that tak you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Saturday 28 September 2013

Friday 27 September 2013

World Tourism Day

It's World Tourism Day!

Right Tourism, managed by Care for the Wild. is a campaign to end the cruel use of animals in tourist attractions. You can read more about the issues here and take action here.

Wildlife Watching is wildely enjoyed and a responsible wildife watcher has a low impact on the animals concerned. To ensure though that your enjoyment of watching the wildlife doesn't spoil the animals' ability to get on with their lives, there's some useful advice here.

Responsible tourism can help to protect wild animals and their habitats. Wildlife watchers spend money in the areas local to the wildlife, so many wildlife-related attractions are regarded as economically important.

Poaching is a huge issue for big game animals across the world these days. If you want to ensure that your safari tour genuinely protects the wildlife check out Fair Game (For Safari. Against Poaching.)

Slightly confusingly, World Responsible Tourism Day is 6 November 2013. They wrote about animals and tourism in a recent blog post.

Thursday 26 September 2013

Ugly Fruit

Usually UK supermarkets are very fussy about the shape of the fruit and vegetables that they sell and reject any blemished or misshapen items. There have been over the years campaigns to try and change this, because after all a misshapen carrot tastes just the same as a straight carrot. There would be a lot less food going to waste if supermarkets weren't so judgemental about the cosmetic appearance of fruit and veg!

Well, where canpaigning has failed, it seems that the unusally cold Spring that we had this year may have succeeded. According to this article, supermarkets in the UK have started to sell more fruit and veg that is “good quality but cosmetically imperfect".

Independent retailers, specially those that specialise in organic produce, have long been happier to sell ugly fruit and veg. Real Foods, an organic grocers in Edinburgh likes ugly fruit so much that it has even opened a photo competition to find the ugliest or funniest examples of fruit. You have until 6 October to send in your photos for a chance to win a Real Foods Goodie Bag.

Crafty Green Boyfriend's parents have a couple of apple trees in their garden. Any supermarket would describe the fruits of these trees as ugly, but their cooking apples make a wonderful apple crumble (with added cinnamon and raisins) and the eating apples are just about the only apples I actually really like to eat raw.

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Wednesday 25 September 2013

Natural History Museum, Vienna

Seeing the film Museum Hours, which I reviewed yesterday reminded me of my trip to Vienna in 1998. 

The photo below shows the Natural History Museum in Vienna, which is opposite the Art History Museum which features in the film Museum Hours. Shamefully perhaps, I spent so much time in the Natural History Museum I didn't even get into the Art History Museum.

I took this photo while having lunch, with two redstarts playing round my feet. Lovely! Specially as at that time I'd never seen redstarts anywhere and even since have only seen them once in the UK.

I've posted more photos from my trip to Vienna here on my Shapeshifting Green blog

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Tuesday 24 September 2013

Bakaly by Birgitte Rasine

I recently reviewed Birgitte Rasine's beautiful story The Seventh Crane. As a result of this, I was entered into a prize draw with Story Cartel and was delighted to win a copy of Birgitte's short story Bakaly.

In Bakaly, a young expatriate Russian has returned to his home country and is travelling in the countryside.

A road, long, narrow, its incline a melancholy dip into darkness, lay ahead of me. It had begun nowhere, winding through murky shadows of tree trunks, slipping through its own furtive brushes with a dead wind.....

The scene is set for a bleak story that sees the protagonist finding an underground casino and entering the most important gamble of his life.

Beautifully written, thought provoking and dark, what ensues is a meditation on life, youth and taking chances, destiny and risk.

Bakaly by Birgitte Rasine,  published by Lucita

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Monday 23 September 2013

Sunday 22 September 2013

World Rhino Day

World Rhino Day celebrates all five species of rhino: black, white, greater one-horned, Sumatran and Javan rhinos.

Rhinos are threateened with extinction largely due to hunting pressures. At the root of the crisis is the myth that rhino horn contains curative properties. Rhino horn is in fact, like human nails, made of keratin and has no medicinal properties. 

Knowsley Safari Park in Merseyside, north England is highlighting the plight of the rhinos with an innovative art project. Throughout September, the Park is asking visitors to donate their finger and toenail clippings in a bid to debunk the myth that rhino horn has medicinal properties. The collection will run until enough clippings are collected to equate to an adult rhino's horn. They will then be crafted into an artwork, which will be put on display before being sent to South Africa ahead of the CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) meeting in 2016. This campaign really appeals to me because it gets people involved in a practical and thought provoking way and produces a piece of art that will then be used to influence world leaders in their decision making. 

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Saturday 21 September 2013

Autumn leaves

Yesterday in Inverleith Park, I saw a group of house martins flying low over the grass, as the falling leaves were flying round in the wind. The house martins will be off on migration soon and the leaves will keep falling.

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Friday 20 September 2013

Patchwork Meadow

I was delighted, as a member of Plantlife to be invited today to a presentation from the charity and a viewing of the Patchwork Meadow exhibition.

The Patchwork Meadow project is a public participation artwork involving miniature works of wild flower inspired art, using embroidery, beadwork and applique. People were asked to contribute a 15cm fabric square along with the story of why it was chosen. To date there have been over 800 contributions in the UK and almost two thousand entries from Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania and Slovenia.

Almost 400 squares (mostly from the UK) are on display at the Gallery of the John Hope Visitor Centre of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.  I was amazed by the sheer variety and beauty of the squares, which demostrate the diversity of our plant life, the wealth of folklore that attaches to these plants and the amazing craft skills of people across these European countries. You can browse the squares at Wildflower Europe.

 The exhibition is free and continues until Monday - so if you're in Edinburgh this weekend why not pop along! The exhibition will later tour the UK, including London, Salisbury and Bangor. (Dates to be confirmed)

The project is open for contributions until January 2014. I have to say that seeing the exhibition today both inspired me (because there are so many amazing squares) but also made me feel that I wouldn't be able to create anything good enough, but still, I'll certainly try!

Thursday 19 September 2013

'Brushes with' by Kristina Marie Darling

I was delighted to receive a review e-copy of Kristina Marie Darling's latest book Brushes with.

This is a story where the actual narrative of each section disappears after a page, leaving the reader to fill in the spaces between the footnotes at the bottom of the page. This leads to an ethereal sense of a story that, like t he meaning of life itself, can never be grasped in its entirety (though the environmentalist in me couldn't help being concerned about all the wasted paper there must be in a hard copy of this book).

The story centres on a broken relationship and the constellations of the night sky. The couple are lead by the constellations and see connections between the stars and the elements of their own lives.

'After the divorce, after your mistress, after the stars were eclipsed by the bright lights of the city.'

Brushes with by Kristina Marie Darling published by BlaxeVOX 

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more. 

Wednesday 18 September 2013

Signs all Around Peebles

 Good sign, but you should clean up after you animals on all paths, whoever maintains them!
 There are squirrels in Glentress forest!
 The sign above (click on the photo to read it!) claims that crossbills (as well as woodpeckers and other birds!) are in the woods here, we looked and looked but didn't see any!
Not only trails for walkers and mountain bikers in Glentress but also for dogs....

A selection of signs from our recent trip to Peebles for Signs Signs

Tuesday 17 September 2013

Forest of Fungi

Here are photos of some of the fungi that we saw in the forests around Peebles. Neither Crafty Green Boyfriend or I are really interested in foraging for edible wild mushrooms, apart from field mushrooms we don't like the taste or texture. We are however fascinated by fungi! If you can help with identification of any of these, please leave a comment!

 earthballs (above and below)

Calocera viscosa (jelly antler fungus)(above)

a bracket fungus (above)

oyster mushrooms? (above)

all the fungi below are entirely unidentified, any help you can give would be appreciated.....

For Nature Notes

Monday 16 September 2013

Monday Bunday - a bunny warren near Peebles

This ruined castle sits in the hills near Peebles. If you look carefully in the photo above, you can see the holes of a rabbit warren...... See the photo below for a closer view of some of the holes (and click on the photo for an even closer view!). It looks like a beautifully laid out warren.We didn't see any rabbits here, though there were plenty in the fields round the farm where we stayed.

Sunday 15 September 2013

Shadows in the Borderlands

 I love the shadow thrown by the much eaten and holey leaf in the shot above.

Below, a lovely view from the Scottish Borders, near Peebles, all framed by shadows.

For Shadow Shot Sunday

Bridges in the Borders

 This is a bridge in the centre of Peebles, it passes over the River Tweed.
 This is me on a bridge just outside of Peebles over the River Tweed. And the same bridge from below in the photo below.
For Sunday Bridges

Saturday 14 September 2013

In the Forest

One day on our short break in Peebles, it was dull and drizzly all day. We spent most of that day walking to and round Glentress Forest, which is a recreational forest, with lots of mountain bike trails and several walk routes. Everywhere was draped in a beautiful mist:

All the trees were covered in spiders webs, it's amazing to try and imagine the number of spiders that must be around to make all these webs, the photos below are entirely typical!

In the middle of Glentress there's a lovely pond area, which recently had been the venue for some kind of craft project involving weaving wool and natural materials into a fence round the ponds. There are several spiders webs in amongst the artwork (though not necessarily visible in the photo below!). 

The forest was full of fungi, I'll try and identify as many as I can and then I'll blog about them in the next day or so!

Friday 13 September 2013

On the Farm

We've just had a lovely few days in Peebles, in the Scottish Borders. We stayed at a lovely farmhouse B&B, with fields full of horses and wildlife too. We saw this family of roe deer every day from our room (click on the photo to get a closer view).

There were lots of rabbits everywhere too, though all of them too quick to be caught on camera! We watched one adorable young bunny running through the woodland, ducking under fallen branches and leaping over rocks. The B&B had these little rabbits that did stay still enough for photos! (They also had a lovely white cat that, every evening, greeted us and lead us through the farmyard, though the garden gate and up to the front door).

We've visited Peebles several times, but this time we discovered some new walks and saw new areas of the countryside.
The weather was mostly beautifully clear and warm, though one day it rained a fair bit.

We walked for miles through woodland and over moorland! I'll share more in a couple of blog posts over the next few days.

Thursday 12 September 2013

Close Encounters with Toads

We're just back from a lovely few days in Peebles, in the Scottish Borders. More blog posts to follow but for now, here is one of the many young common toads we saw - this one was much friendlier than most.....

Saturday 7 September 2013

The Last African Elephant

(somewhere in Kenya or Zimbabwe, 2033)

She wanders slowly across the plains,
hunched and tired.
It is years since she last saw
others of her kind.
she pulls grasses from the wayside.

Suddenly she stops.

She flutters her ears,
moves her trunk
from side to side.

She stands still for minutes.

Then, carefully she walks
towards a pile of bones
almost hidden in the grass.

She picks one up, explores it
with the tip of her trunk.

The savannah shimmers
with a herd of elephants,
lowing quietly.

She lifts her eyes towards
the horizon.

The herd comes closer,
her mother, her children.

She drops the bone
and starts to trot.

A gunshot.

A heavy fall.

Blood pools across the dusty ground. 


A world without elephants seems inconceivable, yet if current rates of poaching continue, elephants could be extinct in the wild in 20 years. Some reports suggest that up to 40,000 elephants are being killed for their tusks each year in Africa alone. That is almost five per hour, every hour, every day.

Elephants are one of the foci of Care for the Wild's Stop the Killing Campaign (which also focuses on rhinos and tigers). Read more about:

You can help them in their vital work by: 

Care for the Wild works on animal rescue, defence and protection across the world. In the UK, they are fighting the badger cull and are working towards a close season on the hunting of hares in England as well as working with animal rescue centres across the country to look after sick and injured animals.

Friday 6 September 2013

Forests Futures

Anyone who reads this blog, will be aware that I love woodlands and forests. 

I was very concerned when the UK Government decided in 2010 to sell off England's public forests and relieved when the power of half a million people objected caused the Government to U-turn and keep the forests in public ownership.

The Government has set up a survey that will inform a new ‘management body’that will look after
England's publicly owned woods. The Woodland Trust is one of the stakeholder organisations that have been asked to respond to the 15 questions the survey poses. They are keen to make sure that their response includes the views of the general public  on the important issues this raises, such as:
what you thinkthe new body should and shouldn't do? 
Who should be part of it? And 
 Where should the money come from to keep your woods thriving and free to enjoy?

The Government's survey closes on Sept 25th. Tell the Woodland Trust what you think by 18th September so your views are included in ourofficial response to the Government'slatest plans. 
As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more. 

Wednesday 4 September 2013

Woodland Trust Fungi Identification Swatch Book

I was delighted to receive a fungi identification swatch book from the Woodland Trust, as a thank you for being a volunteer campaigner with them.

It includes beautifully clear photos of 28 fungi commonly found in and around UK woodlands. The back of each photo includes useful information on where and when to find the species. There are clear warnings on which species are poisonous, but not indications of which species are good to eat or when they should be harvested so it's not a foraging guide. If you're interested in foraging fungi in the UK, you can use this wild mushroom foraging guide.

The pages of the swatch are laminated to protect against the British climate and the whole thing is held together in such a way that you can fan the pages out and compare different species. It fits neatly into the pocket of a rucksack and is an ideal size for carrying around on all your autumnal walks in the UK woodlands.

The only thing missing is scratch and sniff, but given that the swatch includes the stinkhorn, which, even from a few metres away smells like an open sewer, that's probably a good thing.

The Fungi Identification Swatch Book is one in a series of four wildlife identification swatch books available from the Woodland Trust shop.

Tuesday 3 September 2013

The Trees are Turning along the Water of Leith

The lindens (lime trees) are starting to turn along the Water of Leith, their fragrant flowers disappeared a while ago to be replaced with the fruits that dangle with the pale leaves you can see in the first photo here.

The hornbeams are starting to turn too, their wonderful chandelier catkins are starting to turn yellow

and the acorns are out on the oak trees

I was delighted today to see a kingfisher flash past me downriver almost as soon as I got into Colinton Dell. Then right at the other end of the walk, where I turn round and come back along the other set of paths, I saw two ravens and a buzzard. This is the first time I've seen ravens along the Water of Leith, though I think they live on the nearby Craiglockart Hills. Ravens are huge crows with big diamond shaped tails and their call is a huge deep 'kronk'.

for Nature Notes

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Monday 2 September 2013

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

Imagine being Livingstone:

weeks in thick rainforest,

clammy claustrophobia,

invisible vipers underfoot.

Land falls away,

an open gash boils

gushing torrents.

Thunderous white water

drowns out word and thought.


Mind-numbing mystery.

New wonder in your Universe.

Where Livingstone stood is now

remnant rainforest on a tourist track.

Drought thinned waters


white-water rafting.

Shouts drowning in foam,

smiles for the video

shown in the bar at 9pm.

Helicopters swoop

with clever commentary.

White water thunders.


As special effects in a blockbuster movie.

A tick on the tourist trail.

(previously published in my first pamphlet Bougainvillea Dancing)

I visited Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe in 1991 and 1992 while I lived in Malawi. It's a stunning place, even during the drought conditions of both the years I visited. Even then though, I felt it was overcommercialised. 

(Please excuse the odd light effects at the top of the photos, I took photos of my original photos (taken in 1991) and couldn't get rid of the reflections from the shiny surface.)


Just a reminder that the closing date for the Nature Conservancy photo competition is 9 September! 

And just to let you know that I've added 'Malindi Beach' a poetry collage inspired by my time living in Malawi to the Crafty Green Etsy shop

As ever, red text in this post contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.