Sunday 14 April 2013

Creeper and a crawler

There are many things that are fun to experience when you're travelling - New York's continuous sirens and whistles, lizards on the ceiling in the Islands, insistent offers of "special price for you" throughout Asia - that would drive you crazy if they happened at home. Today I've decided to put ivy into that category, having spent several sweaty hours trying to make an impression on the long tangled ropes of noxious weed that have been spilling over the fence from our non-gardening neighbour's place, clearly intent on annexing the henrun.
In its Virginia creeper incarnation, though, it's a delight to see on weathered stone walls, setting off the masonry beautifully whether fresh spring green or autumn crimson, and I've enjoyed it in Oxford, Copenhagen, Boston... Here it's in Scotland, tastefully blending with the pink stone of Dalhousie Castle, a 13th century fortress belonging for centuries to the Ramsay family on the banks of the Esk, about 8 miles from central Edinbugh. I stayed here just one night, in a lovely little three-storeyed room in one of the towers, with a view out over striped lawn, huge ancient cedars and various hawks, buzzards, eagles and owls tethered to posts beneath them. It was a classic: we were piped into the lobby on arrival by a doorman in a kilt, there was a secret bar behind false shelves in the library, an actual dungeon, and the staircase was so creaky that stories of historical night-time shenanigans there were actually quite hard to believe.
Various royal personages have slept there, including Edward I the night before defeating William Wallace at Falkirk, where we went the following day to look at the amazing Falkirk Wheel; but more memorable was encountering John Herriot Ramsay, distantly related to the family, out on his motorised reclining bicycle with its trailer of batteries. He button-holed us and told us all about his genealogical connections at quite some length, and regretted that he wasn't wearing his kilt for our delectation. Looking down at him lying there, his knees higher than his waist, all we could think was how immensely grateful we were for his trouser-clips.

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