Scotland’s Gardens: Logan Botanic Garden

Logan Botanic Garden is one of three regional outposts of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (the other two are Dawyck in the Scottish Borders, and Benmore in Argyll).

Due to its position on the south-west coast of Scotland, Logan experiences the effects of the Gulf Stream, a warm ocean current that runs up Scotland’s west coast. The particular climate of Logan allows plants to flourish there that wouldn’t survive in other parts of Scotland. Tree ferns and palm trees give the garden a tropical feel.

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Cabbage palms by the fish pond at Logan Botanic Garden.

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Tree ferns at Logan Botanic Garden.

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Tree fern leaves and cabbage palm flowers at Logan Botanic Garden.

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Cabbage palms at Logan Botanic Garden.

I’ve been going to the south-west of Scotland on holiday, and visiting Logan Botanics, for as long as I can remember. As a child I was always excited to revisit the terraced garden. I enjoyed running up the flight of broad flat steps lined with palm trees and rhododendrons leading to the top terrace. Logan is home to some species of rhododendron that are so tender they only thrive in a few locations in the UK.

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Steps up to the top terrace at Logan Botanic Garden, with rhododendrons and palms.

In the summer, plants overflow the stonework of the terraces, creating luxuriant tiers of foliage.

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Burgeoning foliage in the terrace garden at Logan Botanics in June.

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Logan Botanic Terrace Garden in June.

Another part of the garden I remember well from my childhood is the gunnera bog. You can’t tell from the pictures below, but at Logan some of these giant rhubarb-like plants are taller than a tall man. Standing under gunnera leaves was part of our holiday tradition.

Some portions of the garden have been designed to showcase plants from specific areas of the world. In recent years a Tasmanian forest was created, which is now maturing into a lush part of the garden quite different from everything else. Earlier this year I noticed a section under construction devoted entirely to plants from Chile.

Some plants need a little more protection than the Gulf Stream provides, and for these Logan’s recently constructed conservatory offers the perfect environment. Completed in 2014, the conservatory houses a rare collection of South African flora.

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Central section of the three-zone conservatory at Logan Botanic Garden.

One of the many wonderful things about Logan Botanic Garden is its cafe, the Potting Shed Bistro, which serves delicious lunches and home baking.

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The Potting Shed Bistro at Logan Botanic Garden.

Some of the fruits, vegetables and seafood come from the small village of Port Logan, less than 2 miles away.

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Baked potato with cheese and red onion marmalade at the Potting Shed Bistro.

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Tomato and cheese quiche with salad at The Potting Shed Bistro.

Logan is the only garden in Scotland to have been awarded both a 5 star visitor attraction status and the Green Tourism Gold Award for sustainability.

The garden is open 7 days a week from 15 March to 31 October from 10:00-17:00, and every Sunday in February from 10:00-16:00 for the Scottish Snowdrop Festival. Admission costs £6.50 for adults, £5.50 for concessions, and children and essential carers get in free. Entry is also free for anyone holding membership of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

Book review: “Angels in my hair” by Lorna Byrne

I initially got this book out of the library for my dad, because he’s very interested in near-death experiences. This book is not really about that, although it does touch on the subject briefly.

Lorna Byrne is described on the cover as a modern-day Irish mystic, although I don’t think she would have used that sort of terminology herself before she wrote this book.

“Angels in my hair” by Lorna Byrne (2008)

Lorna Byrne was born in Dublin in 1953, and from the age of two was assumed to be retarded. She describes how, from very early childhood, she could see things that she later discovered other people couldn’t see. This preoccupation with beings outside the realm of other people’s existence led her family, and the doctor who made the pronouncement when she was two years old, to believe she wasn’t quite the full shilling.

At some point in her childhood she became aware that the supernatural beings she was interacting with were angels. She could also see the spirits of people who had died, such as her brother Christopher who had died at only 10 weeks old, before Lorna was born. Despite having died at such a young age, Christopher frequently appeared to Lorna as an older child, as well as sometimes looking like a baby.

Throughout her life, Lorna has been communicating with angels on a daily basis, and the matter-of-fact tone of the book suggests that she inhabits this supernatural world just as easily as she does the physical one.

My dad read the book eagerly and then encouraged me to read it, but no sooner had he finished it than my mum picked it up. They both seemed to enjoy it although they admitted they thought it was rather weird and full of strange ideas. I approached it with considerable scepticism, and assumed my cynicism would prevent me from getting beyond the first few pages. I told my dad I would give it a go, but doubted I would get very far.

To my astonishment I quickly became intrigued by Lorna’s story, from its early beginnings through to the death of her husband in the year 2000. I read the book over breakfast for several days, and found myself looking forward each morning to the next instalment.

There are several quotes at the front of the book, given by reviewers who felt much the same as I did about reading a book like this. The Sunday Independent had this to say:

“Before reading Lorna’s book, in my cynicism I saw her claims as psychobabble. But the book surprised me, I really enjoyed it. It’s a very simply and softly written narrative, one that managed to grip me emotionally and made me reflect.”

Another one, from Woman’s Weekly, simply said:

“You believe she is telling you the truth.”

This was the feeling I had when I finished the book. I am not aware of ever having seen angels, or indeed the spirits of dead people. I have not felt or heard what I would describe as an angel close to me, nor has it ever occurred to me that there might be angels with me at any time. Despite my own lack of experience in this department, I nevertheless felt that Lorna Bryne was telling me the truth, her truth.

I did wonder when I started reading the book if Lorna Byrne might have some sort of mental condition along the lines of schizophrenia, but the more I read the less I saw it like that. The impression I’ve been left with is that, in writing this book, Lorna Byrne has detailed the facts of her life as they appear to her. She uses words such as ‘angel’, ‘spirit’ and ‘soul’ to describe things that have happened to her, experiences she’s had that can’t be described in normal physical terms. I don’t see her as retarded, or mentally ill, but rather as someone who experiences life in a very different way from what I’m familiar with.

It could be said that she has an unusually fertile imagination, or that her vivid accounts suggest the results obtained by ingesting hallucinogenic substances, but there is a surprising simplicity about her narrative. She obviously feels entirely comfortable inhabiting what some would call a make-believe world, but I have no doubt that it’s very real to her.

Did she make all this up? Is there anything potentially believable about what she describes? Can anyone really see supernatural beings? Is her testimony in any way a proof that such beings might exist? I think each reader would have to form their own opinions about these questions, but I would challenge anyone who feels cynical to at least give this book a chance. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and I’m sure there are many people even more cynical than I am who could never be persuaded to read beyond page 1, but I think a lot of people have been surprised, as I was, by how fascinating her story is.

Iceland

I’ve made two visits to Iceland, both times with a geologist friend on collecting expeditions, and it’s a place I often think about although it’s some years since I was last there.

Driving through the centre of the country was particularly spectacular although it was often a challenge to see where the road was, given the lack of tarmac and roadside markings. I’m not sure how anyone unfamiliar with the territory would find their way if it weren’t for the tyre tracks of vehicles that had passed the same way before.

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Road through the centre of Iceland: rough black gravel patterned with tyre tracks indicating the route.

The roads through the central highlands are only open in the summer, and a 4×4 vehicle is needed to get across country. Rivers flow through this area but there are no bridges over them.

Crossing the rivers meant driving straight through the water over slippery rocks. Some of the rivers were quite deep and fast-flowing, but thanks to my friend’s expert driving we didn’t meet with any accidents.

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Preparing to cross a river.

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When driving through a river it’s important to keep going, slowly and in a low gear, avoiding calm stretches which could be deep, and following the flow diagonally across from one side to the other.

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Reaching the far side without incident came as something of a relief.

A lot of things about Iceland surprised me, and the colours in the landscape made a big impression. At first sight there seemed to be a preponderance of black and dark grey, with obvious patches of green where vegetation was growing, but when I looked more closely there were many more colours in evidence. The palette was subtle, but the variety of shades was remarkable.

I remember standing in the middle of the country, on a high piece of ground, looking all around. Every conceivable colour was represented, in a most unusual selection of muted tones. The pictures below were taken in an area of the Icelandic highlands called Landmannalaugar, part of the Fjallabak Nature Reserve.

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On my second visit to Iceland I was hunting for zircons, tiny mineral crystals often found amongst the sediments of a stream. The work involved hanging around rivers, shovelling spadefuls of sediment into a pan and swishing the contents round.

 

It wasn’t all hard graft though. Driving across the country between different locations meant seeing a variety of scenery, in all sorts of weather. It was August, so there was no snow falling although it was quite chilly at times, especially in the interior. Round the coasts, and in the lowlands, there was some lovely sunshine.

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View from a window of a guesthouse we stayed in.

Very close to the guesthouse with the view pictured above, there was a small turf-roofed church with a graveyard. Before setting off on our rock-collecting expeditions one morning, we took a wander round the church.

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Little turf-roofed church.

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The ground round the church was bumpy and springy with soft grass.

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Inside, the little church was plain and restful.

The graveyard was set slightly apart from the building. Each grave was marked with a white wooden cross, set against an impressive backdrop of jagged volcanic rocks.

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Like most places, Iceland looked beautiful in the sunshine, but I was glad to see some mistiness as well. I suppose it made me feel at home.

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As well as the subtle colours, the shapes in the landscape were striking. Sharp dark peaks and severe inclines would no doubt make for some interesting hiking.

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In some places, where you might expect to see white or creamy colours in other countries, in Iceland you get the polar opposite. I remember my dad telling me about beaches he’d been on in Hawaii that were too hot to stand on because of the black sand. I don’t know if it ever gets hot enough in Iceland for that to be an issue.

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It’s strange sometimes, the things that become tourist attractions. As we were driving along the south-east coast, my friend pulled off the road to show me a local point of interest. In 1996, following a volcanic eruption, huge chunks of ice were washed off a glacier. As they flowed down to the coast they ripped a metal bridge apart. All that’s left of the bridge now is two massive twisted metal girders that have become a sort of monument to the awesome power of nature.

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My party trick: supporting metal girders with one hand. Note the picnic table, thoughtfully provided so that visitors can enjoy their sandwiches while admiring this curious monument.

Iceland is well known for certain aspects of its natural environment, particularly its glaciers and hot springs. Vatnajökul, one of the largest glaciers in Europe, creeps slowly down the south-eastern part of the country, occupying over 8% of Iceland’s landmass.

For many visitors to Iceland a highlight is the famous Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa in the south-west of the country. When I arrived, my friend picked me up at the airport (which is near the Blue Lagoon) and we visited the spa briefly, but didn’t test the waters. We had other fish to fry, and as we drove to our first destination there were plenty of other signs of geothermal activity to be seen. Plumes of steam spouted out of the ground in unexpected places and grassy hillsides were dotted with chimneys of vapour drifting upwards. At one place we drove past a coiling snake of steam boiling up out of a heated river.

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Near the river a hot pool was open to visitors, bearing a sign warning that the water temperature was 80˚F (about 27˚C). Unlike the Blue Lagoon, it was temptingly deserted but unfortunately we didn’t have time for a dip.

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One evening, en route to our accommodation for the night, we stopped at a place that transported me into the realms of fantasy fiction. It seemed to me the sort of place a hobbit or wizard might make their home. To my mind, quite a bit of the country had a fantasy feel about it, with the black rocks and the lunar-type landscape.

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Perhaps the strangest thing I saw in Iceland was an iceberg lake on the south coast. The edge of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier is about a mile inland and the lake sits between it and the coast. When icebergs break off the glacier, they float into the lake, which flows into a river that discharges into the North Atlantic Ocean. As the ice travels through the lake towards the coast, the icebergs break down into smaller bits of ice you can pick up in your hand.

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Icebergs calving off the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier.

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Smaller bergy bits floating towards the coast.

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Chunks of ice small enough to pick up in your hands.

On leaving Iceland we had to take my friend’s truck back to the UK, so rather than flying we took a ferry, via the Faroe Islands, to the north of Scotland. The ferry left Iceland from the town of Seyðisfjörður on the east coast. It’s a remote part of the country and getting there involved a beautiful road journey. Coming round the mountain pass above it, we had a splendid view of the town and its fjord.

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I don’t know if I’ll ever return to Iceland, but I would certainly welcome the opportunity. I found it a surprising and strange, but endlessly fascinating and magical, place.

An Icelandic sheep keeping an eye on proceedings.

Friday Photo: Portpatrick Harbour

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Boats in Portpatrick Harbour, in the south-west of Scotland.

Portpatrick is a small coastal village in the far south-west of Scotland, and only a few years ago the state of its harbour was a cause for concern. Suffering from poor facilities and disintegrating infrastructure, there was serious doubt over its future as a working port. Desperate to prevent it from falling into disuse, local villagers formed a trust and bought the harbour from its private owners.

By 2015, struggling to pay back a loan that had been used to finance the purchase, the villagers decided to sell shares in the harbour to raise money. The trust became Scotland’s first community benefit society (an organisation run entirely for the benefit of the local community, with profits being put back into the community rather than given to shareholders). Three weeks after the shares went on sale the trust had raised the money they needed (£100,000).

A new film called Keepers, starring Gerard Butler, is currently being filmed in the area. The film is inspired by the true story of three lighthouse keepers who mysteriously disappeared from the remote Flannan Isles (off the north-west of Scotland) in 1900. Portpatrick harbour is one of the locations being used for the film.