Up Knock Hill

May 28, 2017

Earlier this month, when the famously fickle Scottish weather granted us a few days of unfettered sunshine, [m] and I took the opportunity for a Sunday trip to Largs. Located on the west coast of Scotland, or more precisely, on the Firth of Clyde, Largs is just an hour by train from Glasgow, making it an ideal destination for a day trip.

The seafront is dominated by two large Gothic Revival churches from the Victorian era. Other notable buildings include Skelmorlie Aisle, an early-17th-century mausoleum with a fine painted ceiling, and Nardini’s, allegedly Scotland’s most famous ice cream parlour, still housed in its original Art Deco structure dating to the 1930s – a testimony to Largs’ long history as a seaside resort.

On this occasion, however, we didn’t pay too much attention to any of these attractions, but simply walked along the seaside promenade and then headed straight for the hills north of the town. The first part of our walk took us through pleasant farmland. As we passed close by several farms, we also encountered all kinds of farmyard animals, both large and small…

 

As you’d expect in Scotland, though, most of the animals we saw were sheep…

… and, given the time of year, not just sheep, but lots and lots of lambs, teetering and frolicking in the meadows.

But lambs weren’t the only ubiquitous thing typical for the season: Wherever we went, the hills and hedges were covered in yellow broom which turned the landscape into an almost surreally colourful spectacle.

The effect became even more surrealistic as we walked further uphill and the vegetation changed into a grassy moorland.

Eventually, as we ascended Knock Hill, the highest elevation in the area, even the broom disappeared, and we found ourselves wandering through barren moor.

Knock Hill offers great views across the surrounding countryside and over the Firth of Clyde…

… all the way to the isles of Bute and Arran…

… and back down towards Largs.

It is said that the top of Knock Hill consists of the earthworks of an iron age fort. Whatever their origins, the rock formations up there provided a welcome shelter from the wind and, consequently, a lovely place for a picnic with a view.

Eventually, we made our way back towards Largs, albeit on a different route – part of the Ayrshire Coastal Path – closer to the sea.

The general character of the landscape didn’t change that much: We were treated to more views across the Firth of Clyde…

… more rolling hills, more yellow broom…

… and, of course, more sheep. Not that we minded. As the saying goes, you can never have too much of a good thing, can you?

Largs, too, looked every bit as lovely as in the morning, only a bit brighter and sharper in the late afternoon light.

As it turned out, it had also become a lot more crowded. Apparently, we weren’t the only ones who had opted for a Sunday trip to the seaside, and the seafront promenade was buzzing with people. So, for all of Largs’ attractions, we couldn’t help thinking that heading for the quiet of the hills had been the right decision after all…

Walking in Surrey

November 9, 2015

It has been noted by a friend of ours that most of my recent posts – and I use the term recent in the loosest of senses – have been about graveyards. So you probably won’t be surprised to learn that our recent excursion into Surrey saw us visiting two nice country cemeteries as well. In our defence, it ought to be noted that at least the first of these visits wasn’t actually planned: The plan was simply to take the train to Guildford and then walk to the nearby village of Compton to visit the Watts Gallery and the Watts Mortuary Chapel. The thing is, in order to get from Guildford station to the edge of town, our walking guide book suggested a route that steers clear of busy roads and leads through back-streets and footpaths instead. As it happened, one of these paths was right through Mount Cemetery.

Not that we minded, of course. It really is a beautiful old cemetery with a nice Victorian chapel, and the colours of its autumn trees added to the atmosphere while squirrels were busy gathering their winter supplies. Much to our surprise we found that Mount Cemetery also holds the grave of one Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known by his nom de plume Lewis Carroll.

On we went, not down the rabbit-hole, but rather past gently sloping hills and meadows and finally through pleasant woodland.

Some of the narrow forest paths were overgrown with branches and brambles and looked like something out of a fairy-tale. It was only fitting then that upon our arrival at Watts Gallery in Compton we found that there was a splendid special exhibition dedicated to Victorian ‘fairy painter’ Richard Dadd, best-known for the amazing The Fairy-Feller’s Master Stroke which was also on display.

Watts Gallery (pictured above) was purpose-built around 1900 (it opened in 1904) to house the works of the painter and sculptor George Frederic Watts who lived nearby with his artist wife Mary Watts. To be honest, we weren’t too impressed with the art of G. F. Watts, but then again, we hadn’t come to Compton to look at his work anyway. What we’d come for was Watts Mortuary Chapel in the nearby cemetery, designed by Mary Watts:

Begun in 1895 and completed in 1904, the chapel’s rich decoration is perhaps best described as a fusion between the Book of Kells and art-nouveau, its symbolist iconography focusing on the hierarchies of the angels.

The terracotta decorations on the outside of the building are a testimony to Mary’s preferred artistic medium, pottery, while the colourful interior has a more painterly aspect to it. Even here, though, the designs are executed in flat relief which lends a unique and fascinating texture to their overall appearance.

In typical arts-and-crafts fashion, Mary Watts paid attention to every last detail of the chapel and its furnishings such as the iron door-grills or the elegantly curved benches both on the inside and on the outside.

And speaking of the outside, the hillside cemetery surrounding the building is every bit as beautiful as the chapel itself, at least at this time of the year when the trees are in their autumn beauty and the ground is strewn with fallen leaves…