Monday, 23 February 2015

Coastwalk , Fife Coastal Path

Lower Largo → Pittenweem

lower-largo.jpg Distance: 11.94 miles
Ascent: 686 metres
Duration: 3 hours 56 minutes

Chains
« Kirkcaldy Harbour | Kingsbarns »

Lower Largo – Earlsferry – Elie – St Monan's – Pittenweem: a chain of fishing villages forms the heart of the East Neuk (pronounced "nook") of Fife.

Between the villages, a chain of castles and ruins.

Neither of these were the chains I was most looking forward to though. Those were the chains of the Elie Chain Walk.

kincraig-point.jpgJust west of Earlsferry the coast path takes to the top of Kincraig Hill. At low tide there's an exciting alternative: a scramble around the foot of the cliffs, aided by chains bolted to the rocks.

We'd planned meticulously and arrived at the start of the chain walk an hour before low tide. Coming near the start of the walk we knew we'd be ready for challenge.

The one thing we couldn't plan for was the weather. While dry, a fiercely chopping wind was howling in from the south-west. Standing at the point where the paths split, huge waves were crashing over the rocks. Disappointed, we took the high road.

The danger wasn't over there; the wind was so strong that we were blown off our feet at the top of the hill, but I think we made the right decision.

pittenweem.jpgWe'll return to the East Neuk another time to try the chains again. The villages will draw us back too.

newark-castle.jpg

Notes for future walkers:

  • Just south of Newark Castle, a sign explains how to tell whether or not the low tide route is safe. This is not where the paths diverge; climb up to the castle — the paths split there. The issue is the short stretch of intertidal path beneath St Monans church; it is likely you could take the low path route and hop the wall into the graveyard if the path is inundated.
  • Be sure to check out St Fillan's Cave in Pittenweem. It's a little way up Cove Wynd, which is the narrow alley opposite the telephone box on the harbour.
Posted by pab at 18:57 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Coastwalk , Fife Coastal Path

Kirkcaldy Harbour → Lower Largo

ravenscraig.jpg Distance: 12.78 miles
Ascent: 240 metres
Duration: 3 hours 38 minutes

After Saturday night
« Aberdour | Pittenweem »

There's a great Sunday bus service in Fife so we were able to make an early start today.

Dropping down to the beach at Pathhead Sands we were greeted ("Y'alright, pal?") by a group of teenagers huddled round a fire beneath the crags. With music playing and a few discarded cans at their feet, they were clearly hanging onto Saturday night but didn't once make us feel threatened.

Further on we were the threat to someone else who'd not let go of the night: standing still just a few metres away a Roe deer stared at us from his exposed position before darting into the safety in Chapel Wood.

frances-colliery.jpgThe rest of the walk has been a real mixture. Just before West Wemyss a beautiful mosaic marks the point where an old tunnelled incline rises up to a disused coal mine. On the other side of the next village (East Wemyss) is a cluster of caves, one of which was previously used as a dovecot.

wemyss-cave.jpgIt started to rain as we approached Buckhaven, and with one of us having forgotten their waterproof (ahem!) there was nothing for it but to tip heads into the wind and pace onwards.

windfarm-factory.jpgI don't think we missed much in Buckhaven, Methil and Leven. The towns looked like a smaller version of Kirkcaldy with a little more class: a tall wind turbine on the dockside marks Fife Energy Park and a sign of hope for the future.

Although we'd left the car in Leven we pushed on a little further to the next pair of twin villages: Lundin Links and Lower Largo.

Notes for future walkers:

  • Just west of Ravenscraig Castle, drop down to the beach and walk beneath the castle, picking up the formal path at the dovecot to its east.
Posted by pab at 14:23 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Coastwalk , Fife Coastal Path

Aberdour → Kirkcaldy Harbour

burntisland-sands.jpg Distance: 11.81 miles
Ascent: 234 metres
Duration: 3 hours 47 minutes

Two faces of Fife
« Queensferry | Lower Largo »

Today's walk has been a progression: from leisure to labour, rural to urban, Silversands to Kirkcaldy.

seals.jpgWe've seen two sides to Fife; the sun coaxed people out to enjoy the sands of the Kingdom's beaches, despite the biting cold. Plenty of times we've read about "fond memories of holidays by the sea" in this county. The number of people watching seals on the rocks near Seafield Tower suggests there are more memories being made even today.

kirkcaldy.jpgThe towns of Kirkcaldy and Burntisland later provided a stark contrast. The dockside at Burntisland was overgrown and eerily deserted; once past the boarded-up buildings on the outskirts of the town we found Kirkcaldy's newly-constructed promenade to be just as grim, with its whitewashed sea wall looking like an anti-tank defence. This is the other face of the county: hardworking, functional and gritty. But there were signs of hope; the large Carr's flour mill on the edge of the town centre was running, and we had a cheery welcome at a slightly eccentric cafe that offered pottery painting and family fun, along with its hefty homemade cakes.

towards-edinburgh.jpgAll day the view across the Forth towards Edinburgh has been irresistible, but we're turning our back on that: Lothian is behind us, the rest of Scotland is ahead and Fife is First.

The people of Fife are said to be very proud of their Kingdom. We haven't quite got the measure of them yet, but hopefully that will change this week as we make our way round to the Tay.

Notes for future walkers:

  • At the point where the path meets the road down to the Forth View Hotel on Hawcraig Point, take the stone steps to the top of the headland rather than following the road to the disused pier: the path round the foot of the cliffs implied by the map doesn't exist.
  • Instead of following the formal route along Burntisland High Street we took the dock road to south of and parallel to the railway.
  • It's possible to walk the two miles from Burntisland to Pettycur on the beach at low tide; there are two exit paths that could be used if you get your timings wrong.
Posted by pab at 21:23 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Walks

Eyes wide open

I first noticed them last Tuesday. There were four of them. On Wednesday there were five, then eight on Thursday and nine yesterday.

It took a fresh fall of snow for me to open my eyes.

deer-in-snow.jpg

I've been doing the same walk first thing in the morning for much of the past six months. It's become very familiar, but last Tuesday's snowfall transformed the scenery. Besides naturally turning everything white, it revealed that I'd been the first human along the path that morning. A little while later I saw the animal footprints, and following their trail into the field I saw the deer.

Here just before the track dives into the woods then crosses the thundering motorway, I've seen a small herd of deer hidden in the hollow of a field every time I've walked this way since.

Have they always been there? It's only in the past week or so that the lengthening day has meant it's been light enough to walk this way without a torch. Do they overnight in the field then take cover in the woods during the day?

For now I'll look out for them each morning. And I'll remember to open my eyes a little more on this wakening walk.

Posted by pab at 20:55 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Celtic Connections

On screen

Both of the gigs we went to at Celtic Connections are now on iPlayer. And you can spot us in the audience in each one!

us-nae-regrets.png

As I suspected, the atmosphere of the Opening Concert doesn't come across quite as well on the recording as it did in person, and the flaws of the performance are evident.

Rab Noakes may be a legendary solo artist, but he's not got the discipline of timing required to perform with a full orchestra. On the other hand, Fiona Hunter's vocals on the first two tracks are stunning. My biggest disappointment is that the camera barely picked out cellist Su-a Lee, who seemed to be enjoying herself more than anyone else on stage.

There are a few more clips from the gig online that didn't make the final cut. I recommend the thoroughly bizarre and rambling Storyteller.

Perhaps the more faithful recording is of Saturday night's gig at the Old Fruitmarket with Le Vent du Nord. This is world music at its joyous best. We certainly hope to see this Québéois quartet again. (But I still think the violinist looks like he's doing the wee-wee dance.)

You have about two weeks to watch the shows before they expire from iPlayer. Go get 'em!

Posted by pab at 08:22 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Celtic Connections , Gig

Le Vent du Nord: Misses et Messieurs

The first half of Thursday night's gig (the second was the reconstruction of GRIT) featured a number of Celtic Connections artists contextualising Martyn Bennett's work: by performing covers of his songs, or the originals that he'd sampled. The odd-one-out was Le Vent du Nord, a Québécois quartet whose close harmonies and infectiously joyful playing won us over immediately.

So last night we made our way to Glasgow's Old Fruitmarket to see the group's headline set with a festival twist: the four Messieurs were joined by seven Misses, each virtuosos in their own right from the Scottish folk scene.

misses-et-messiuers.jpgI'd seen only one of them before: Emily Smith so it was unusual to be at a unique gig listening to musicians I didn't know singing in languages I couldn't understand (French and Gaelic). The underlying music however was delightful, as were the expressions on the faces of the performers. A particular highlight was when Megan Henderson from Braebach — tonight playing in a backing string quartet — took to the centre of the stage to accompany the others on tap.

Tonight's performance is another that the BBC recorded, so look out for it on iPlayer Alba in about a fortnight.

Posted by pab at 16:49 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Friday, 16 January 2015

Celtic Connections , Gig

Nae Regrets

There are two things most people comment on when reviewing Martyn Bennett's album Grit. I deliberately didn't, but you need to know them to understand tonight's opening concert of the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow. First, Grit is full of samples. The lazy description is to say it's Scotland's answer to Moby's Play. (Indeed some of the samples were collected by the same folklorist as Play: Alan Lomax.) Secondly, GRIT was Martyn Bennett's last record. He produced it while suffering from the advanced stages of Hodgkin's Lymphoma; it's said that he was too weak to play instruments himself, which led to the heavy use of samples and layered textures.

nae-regrets.jpgNow, almost exactly ten years after Bennett's death comes a bold idea: recreate the album live with a custom orchestra and no samples.

On a technical level Greg Lawson's arrangements succeeded. As the first bass notes of Move rumbled through the Royal Concert Hall my jaw dropped. I don't think I closed my mouth again until the standing ovation. There were a few rough edges, but the musicians did the work proud, highland pipes, plainchant choir, narrated stories, epic strings, brass, percussion and all. Of particular note was Fiona Hunter's forceful vocals riding high above the cacophony. Just about the only thing lost in the mix was the Piaf-esque chorus of Nae Regrets.

But this gig couldn't be judged on pure musicianship: something else was going on. It soon became apparent that this was a long awaited final goodbye to a much admired friend. It was hard to tell who was having more fun, the audience or the performers.

At the back of the stage was a roadside GRIT bin. Part stage dressing, part percussion instrument it also served another purpose: in a BBC documentary about the making of the album, Martyn Bennett springs out from one of these bins. Tonight it remained symbolically shut.

The gig closed with Paisley Spin, a track that Bennett didn't get time to complete. Its sole vocal, sampled from an old Jerry Rafferty track, provided the sing-along cathartic moment to round out a remarkable evening: "To each and every one of you I say 'Goodbye, farewell, adieu.'"

Nae Regrets is being shown on BBC 2 Scotland later this week, and should be on iPlayer soon after. I highly recommend watching it (also check the documentary and the BBC Arts article), although suspect nothing can come close to the experience in the Hall. This was one of those times that you really had to be there.

Posted by pab at 09:11 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Album

Martyn Bennett: Grit

The album I enjoyed most in 2014 was originally released ten years earlier. I'm surprised it's taken me so long to discover Grit.

There are a few elements which seem to be required in reviews of Grit. I want to avoid them and focus on the music, so look elsewhere for comparisons with other albums or comments on Martyn Bennett's life.

Layering Romany folk singers, storytelling, poetry, highland pipes, gaelic chanting, a Psalm and some Hindi over hard industrial beats Grit is something like a Ceilidh from the Western Islands infused with the spirit of a 21st century Glasgow night.

What I love most is that the record challenged me. The vocals are very stylised, so even now after nine months of listening to it I'm picking out new phrases ("no eastern kings came bearing gifts" sings a traveller as they describe the community's reception on the opening track Move).

The standout track is Blackbird, a song recently used to tremendous effect as the soundtrack to the short film The Ridge, the soaring strings being the perfect match to the epic Cuillin Hills depicted in the film.

The 2014 reissue of Grit rounds off with Mackay's Memoirs, a track commissioned for the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999. It's a real tour de force.

It's not all straightforward listening, and a couple of tracks should come with a parental advisory warning, but all round it's tremendous.

Here's to finding more challenging music in 2015.

Posted by pab at 12:23 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Tech

It shouldn't need an act

Hooray for Alan Duncan MP!

It doesn't stand a chance of becoming an Act of Parliament, but his Internet Communications (Regulation) Bill warms my heart.

The Bill has one purpose: to finally eliminate frankly pointless verbiage that finds its way onto the bottom of emails from most companies. His speech at the bill's first reading puts the point quite well.

My previous employer added more than 200 words spread over 25 lines to every outgoing message. I've always held that I'd voluntarily include legal disclaimers in email when I see them on headed notepaper.

It shouldn't need an Act of Parliament to persuade companies of the folly of their ways.

What's surprised me is the backlash in comments on The Register's news report on the story. The general gist is that there may be some legislation that pushes companies towards including these abhorrent appendages to all outgoing messages.

Maybe it does need an Act after all.

Paul Bennett          _      onewhe
pab@doc.ic.ac.uk      |      elgood
                     /|\     twowhe
                     \_/     elsbad

Next step: stop "pithy" quotes or "Sent from my iPhone" in email signatures. Then again, back in the early '90s I was guilty of worse: unicycle ASCII art.

Perhaps an Act could've saved me from myself.

Posted by pab at 21:48 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Website

Behind again

Regular visitors will know this happens from time-to-time: I've fallen behind with the blog again. It took a new acquaintance asking me whether I had a blog to remind me that I've three months of write-ups to complete.

I will endeavour to catch up before Christmas. There's lots to tell, but I suspect the story might be told by a staccato voice in order to get any words out.

Posted by pab at 20:09 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!