Thursday, 23 February 2012

The Bings of West Lothian

This is a recent photo that I took of that part of the County of West Lothian that I can see from the western  side of Edinburgh, where I have lived most of my life. However, I was born in West Lothian and as a child I can remember passing these monuments to the industrial history of the region when, as a family, we made visits to my Father's relations in Linlithgow. My memories of these man made hills are that they were once a bright deep orange. However, much of that colour has diminished with the ravages of time, the growing of vegetation and the general wear and tear caused by the weather and the atmosphere, much the same as has happened to your writer.

These Bings were the result of the spoil from the mining and extracting of oil from the shale rock and this region had some of the first commercial shale oil refineries in the world. If you are interested in such industrial history, apart from the Bings themselves, it is still possible to find other remains of that once great business, although most have been reclaimed by nature or built over with industrial estates. Many years ago, there were attempts to have these 'blots on the landscape' removed, particularity after the Aberfan disaster in Wales when a coal spoil heap collapsed on a school and houses in the village. Then it was discovered that the shale spoil could be used in road building but despite this, the Bings are still there and I would assume there would be an outcry if a decision was made to remove them. They remain, as a monument to the men and women who worked, often in terrible conditions, to provide the beginnings of a world wide industry on which we all now depend.

A little research has confirmed that they will still be there long after I have gone. They evidently are sites of significant importance to the flora and fauna of the area and the UK. The ecology and biodiversity of Bings means that they offer refuge for rare species of both animals and plants and as the Bings only exist in West Lothian, this gives a unique significance to the area. They are also the location for some of the UK's scarce lichen and moss species and one provides a site for a SWT nature reserve. Add the recreation value for walkers, with dogs or not and motorcyclists and you have an interesting, important and in a strange way, beautiful landscape.

I am determined to climb and explore some of the 19 sites, taking my camera with me to record every aspect of these unique and interesting remains from our industrial past. Forget Munro Bagging, I shall not rest until I have bagged all 19 Bings.

Bing Bagging, I like the sound of that!

Until the next time.....

Friday, 17 February 2012

Hammer - Has Risen Again

In my youth, I was a serious film fan, making many visits to the cinemas of Edinburgh, many (most) now no longer existing. This was in the days before the rise of the multiplex, when each cinema had it's own character and it was within their darkened voids that I saw many a great film and many not so great. It was also during this time that I was able to enjoy the vistas of the cinema widescreens and the epics that were usually produced in the various formats. CinemaScope, VistaVision, Todd-AO, Panavision and Cinerama and all the rest became a great interest to me but as I can see your eyes glazing over, I shall keep my widescreen enthusiasm for another blog.

Visits to the cinema or 'the pictures' are now rare and are usually to Filmhouse, Edinburgh's art and repertory cinema and home of the Edinburgh International Film Festival. So it was, on one of those rare visits, that I took my wife on a St. Valentine Day visit to the pictures. Now the multiplex offered much choice and I could have treated the love of my life to movies such as Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, War Horse, The Descendants, The Vow or even The Muppets. However, being the old romantic that I am, the treat was a ghost story, The Woman in Black. I can thoroughly recommend this film which returns to the simply idea of telling a tale while attempting to frighten you out of your wits. There is nothing original in the techniques used to scare you in the film but you are drawn into this little world and it's terrible secrets and Daniel Radcliffe produces a fine performance as the young widower. The cinema was full of many young girls, claiming to be twelve or over and I feared that this would spoil the film for me. To my surprise, I was reminded of the reason why there is no better way of enjoying a film and that is the shared experience of laughter or tears or screams, the latter being the most prevalent at this showing. I was reminded of a late night showing, many years ago, of Hammer Films 'Dracula'. When leaving the cinema, there was a buzz from the audience that had shared the exciting ending of that film. Mention of Hammer is interesting because The Woman in Black is a Hammer film. Of course it is not the same company. The name and the library of films, still owned by Hammer, are being carried forward by an American group using the name of Exclusive, the original company of that name, being the original distributor of the early Hammer films.
Many distributors were involved with Hammer when the latter was at their peak and those distributors  will still have the rights to many of the best Hammer films. However, I wish the new Hammer Films and the Exclusive Media Group much success and hope to see the Hammer name on many future productions.

While the youngsters added to the enjoyment of the film, I was also reminded why I seldom sit in the darkness of a cinema watching the light and shadows flow across a white screen. Two old ladies behind us talk throughout the film as if they were watching the tele in their living room. I realise that this is minor annoyance compared to what many have to put up with when they visit the cinema but the two old dear's narration did not enhance my enjoyment of the film. I will say no more on this as I feel this could be the subject of a future Room 101 blog.

In closing, the last few days here have enjoyed the sort of weather that suggest that Spring may not be long in coming. My snow shovel has stayed unused (I'm I tempting fate here) and the days are getting longer. This photo shows that the crocus flowers think that it is Spring. I hope they are right.

Until the next time......

Monday, 13 February 2012

Back Again

You, Dear Reader, may be forgiven, if you thought that this writer had died, left the country or had found new accommodation at Her Majesty's Pleasure. You will, I hope, be glad to learn that none of the above apply, I was simply busy with other things. Mind you, I could have perhaps made a little bit more effort. It would seem that I have a long way to go, before writing becomes less of an effort   and flows more easily


   The above photo was taken today in the town of Musselburgh which adjuncts to the eastern side of Edinburgh. This view of the River Esk, which flows through the town, is looking west to the old bridge. It would have been nice if the sun had made more of an effort to brighten the scene. However, the sun did make an appearance later, which at this time of year, must be considered a bonus.

This is a view of Fisherrow beach, part of said town, looking west to the Edinburgh outline. Fishing is still operated from the small harbour, which can be seen behind the sail, although I would imagine that most of the business carried out from the harbour is now with pleasure craft, judging from the number of small sailing boat taking shelter within. The Gent on the beach was carrying a spade so I presume was in search of some form of bait for fishing. Standing at this point can be, to put it mildly, a bit bracing. However, today was very pleasant and you can not say better than that in mid February.

Here is a shot from said harbour, looking west to Edinburgh and the Port of Leith. Both boats would appear to be working boats awaiting the tide. There were however, many small sailing boat waiting for their opportunity to brave the wind and waves of the Firth of Forth. The sturdy stone walls that protect this little harbour that must have witnessed much in their long existence.

I hope that these blogs become more regular and to help in that aim, I intend to carry a camera with me as much as possible and feature what I see on my travels. They may not be the ultimate in photographic art but they will allow me to share a little of my life and my views of the world I inhabit with you. 

Until the next time.....   

Thursday, 2 February 2012

The Forth Bridge

There has been much written recently about The Forth Bridge and the unique point in it's history that it has now reached. This massive steel structure, since it was built, has always required vast quantities of paint to keep the elements at bay and protect this impressive bridge from disappearing into a pile of rust. The photo above shows the bridge (or some of it) on a quiet day.  The sun can shine brilliantly  on it's brick red magnificence but nature can, on a regular basis, re-assert it's command over us mere mortals, with some of the worst and most demanding weather anywhere.

It could be said that the bridge that we know, started on the 28th. day of December 1879. It was in the evening of that day, forty or so miles to the north of the River Forth, that the bridge, which crossed the wide expanse of the River Tay on it's way to the city of Dundee, collapsed. There had been a fierce winter storm and the bridge failed when a north bound train was in the process of crossing it. All of the passengers and crew died on that freezing cold night and the North British Railway, which had spent many years trying to build a direct route from Edinburgh to the north, found that the first of it's great bridges crossing the formidable estuaries of the Tay and the Forth had gone. The engineer of the Tay bridge was  a Sir Thomas Bouch and he had also set the designs for a suspension bridge over the Forth. As the Tay Bridge had seemed a somewhat fragile and delicate structure and possibly not too well put together, his plans for the Forth Bridge, the building of which was about to start, were thrown out. The new design was to be as  strong as possible and the Victorian age threw up the very man to do the job. William Arrol became the contractor for not only the Forth Bridge but the second Tay Bridge and also the Tower Bridge in London, all being worked on at the same time. It is due to this man, that the Forth Bridge still stands and is still doing the job it was built to do.

You might be tempted to think that this writer has completely forgotten the purpose of this blog but never fear, we have finally arrived and the answer is that they have stopped painting the bridge. Not out of awkwardness or lack of money. They simply do not have to lift a paint brush again for perhaps twenty to twenty five years. The structure was taken back to the bare metal and then treated to the multi-layer paint technology of oil rigs. It has taken ten years of hard, difficult and frequently dangerous work but it has been worth it.

This means that the saying 'its like painting the Forth Bridge' can no longer be applied to any job or work that seems never ending. Since its construction, the job of painting was constant. Trying to cover the vast area of metal took so long, that when they had finished painting the bridge, the painters had to go back to the beginning and start all over again.

One of Scotland's great monuments has never looked better and it is something we should all be very proud of. There has been suggestions that a permanent viewing platform should be placed on the north most tower and while there have been the usual moaners, I for one, would love to enjoy the views such a tower would afford. If the Victorians can build such a marvellous structure as THE Forth Bridge, why should we not be able to construct what would be an excellent visitor attraction and I would be at the front of the queue.

Incidentally, the steam locomotive of the ill fated train that went to the cold depths of the River Tay was raised and put back into service, being the only survivor of the accident. Railwaymen then always referred to it as 'The Diver'.

Until the next time.