Scotland calling...

Is it possible that six weeks can fly by quite so quickly?  From May to July in a single blog, but with rather a few places visited too.  I hope you are okay to take in the ride.

1.  D O R S E T

We start in Dorset on a balmy evening in mid-May, and Charlie's irises singing their song in the allotment garden... Perfect still evenings have felt as if they have been rather few and far between this summer, but this was one.
Sibyl in one of her favourite spots.
A couple of mornings later, back in London, Enid in one of hers.

2. S C O T L A N D

Then, I was up to Scotland.  I was taking our New Zealand clients around our Scottish project, Tornagrain, which was sparkling in fine sunshine when I arrived.... looking better and better at each visit as the town grows and new quarters emerge.
But this isn't quite the place for another blog about Tornagrain, purely because we have so much to get through!  That afternoon, we made the trip up to wonderful Cromarty, on the Black Isle... such a beautiful town, so influential on our thinking in the early days of Tornagrain.   Here is a fine townhouse - I recall recently for sale, lucky person who has bought it (maybe they will consider putting sash windows back one day?).
Everywhere, glimpses down to the sea:

And beautiful houses.
Inside the Kirk.
A gently curving street, with long vistas made beautiful by fine mature trees:

It's all in the incidental moments...
Cromarty Lighthouse.
Back to Tornagrain the next morning... misty and settled in its landscape.
And then on the way down to Edinburgh, a quick stop in beautiful Dunkeld.... another vital town in the Tornagrain inspiration....
We had an afternoon and a night in beautiful Edinburgh. I didn't take photos because it POURED with torrential rain for the entire time.  I gave everyone a hurtling tour around my favourite haunts in the New Town.  Dinner and we all went to bed completely exhausted!

The next day, I was off to the bothy.  It was a magical light that evening.
Not a breath of wind the following morning, mirror calm at dawn.
The sky sparkled, the sun shone, the bothies gleamed - it was so long since we've been there, magical to be home.
Charlie arrived from Dorset that afternoon. Another magical evening.
The next day we walked to over to the stone jetty...
Overlooking Jura - covered in thrift.
Bothy details.
Early evening.
The sea pinks (or thrift) was amazing down on our shoreline.
Magical reflections on the nearby loch.
I became mildly obsessed by these families of geese and goslings...
Finally we have a canopy that stops our fire smoking and we've been able to rip off the cardboard that has served the same purpose for the last 5 years! Our building works progress very fast.  Doggies in their happy places.
Evening calm.
And our last evening before it was time to return home. Gosh it's hard to say goodbye.
I returned to London - Charlie and the dogs to Dorset.  Enid found her friend Henry.

3.  B A T H

Then, to Bath - where we were staying for a couple of nights, for our friend Wilfred's magical birthday party at Worcester Lodge, Badminton.  We were staying with a happy gang in the beautiful Landmark Trust house, Elton House, in the centre of Bath - a recommended place, and a haven from the 100,000s of tourists (and hen weekends) who seem to have descended onto the city these days... it's a while since I've been, and it's mad.
This was a good place to escape!
Evening light;
Morning light...
Worcester Lodge, designed by William Kent as one of the great avenue gateways to Badminton House, is a dream building - one I have passed many times, but never stopped to see up close.
A dream.
Thank you Wilfred....
Back to Dorset the next day.... the garden is bursting at the seams now.

4. V I S I T   T O   O R K N E Y

And then - we had a wonderful weekend exploring a part of Scotland we have never been to but I have LONGED to go to - Orkney.  It was a short trip, and rather spur of the moment, not least because I'd read that a house I have always, always wanted to see - beautiful Mesletter on the Isle of Hoy  - was open on Fridays and Saturdays in June.   Here we are, passing the Hoy on the ferry - the famous rock stack, the 'Old Man of Hoy', remarkable and majestic.
On our way to Hoy the next day to visit Mesletter, the sky was blue and the sea sparkling.
We had a little while before our ferry and visited the amazing, rather sad, Hall of Clestrain on the way.... a building I had long wanted to see.  I am not quite sure of the progress of the restoration that is planned by the John Rae Society, which you can learn more about here, but I do hope things happen soon...
Stromness in the distance... a lovely town!
A final glimpse at the Hall, as a ray of sunshine gleamed on its ancient facade...
The colours of Orkney - such a saturated blue sea.
On the ferry to Hoy....
Melsetter is the dream house, a wonderful reworking and expansion of an old Georgian house by the arts and crafts architect Lethaby, working in an assured Scottish vernacular.
Carvings over the door to the chapel.
And its interior.
Roof scape from the walled garden...
One of the most famous gables in architectural history - celebrating the house built by Thomas and Theodesia Middlemore, a flower above his initial, a thistle above hers, and a heart in the middle.
A dream day, and the charming owner led us everywhere.
A glimpse back across the walled garden with the old doocot matched by Lethaby's new pavilion, and out to the sea beyond.
A new bothy project?  Heaven!
Sadly the Longhope Lifeboat Museum was closed on Saturdays, but we got this alluring glimpse through the window... to return one day.
Then the incredible new Scapa Flow Museum - very recently opened and truly fantastic.  Here's part of the boiler house....
Here just a fragment of the brilliant displays explaining life here for hundreds of thousands of servicemen and women during the first and second world wars - now, few traces of this extraordinary existence as the centre of the Royal Naval Home Fleet remain.
The rest of Hoy was magical.
A great visit to Rackwick....
And back to Kirkwall that evening.
Kirkwall in rain and sunshine....
The next day blew a storm and my camera stayed rather in my pocket! The rain cleared as we caught the ferry back from Stromness to Thurso...
And a wonderful drive back down the far northeast coast of Scotland to Inverness, and home.


5.  D O R S E T

We had garden tours in Dorset that week - a magical evening, the night before, but it poured with rain for the visits, I'm afraid. I think it's rather been that sort of summer, hasn't it?  Luckily, I like the rain, which helps.
Tea time.
Early walks.
And then, as if like that - I was in Dallas.

A fiery sun the next morning.

6.  T O   T E N N E S S E E

Destination: Blackberry Farm, Tennessee - it's a long story (which I won't quite relate just now) as to why I was there, together with the landscape architect Kim Wilkie and one of our lovely clients, but it was a truly magical visit.
Never more so than on this soft still misty morning when we all went for a walk at dawn.
Always so strange, as here, flying back into Dallas, to see the outlines of American suburban sprawl still expanding inexorably over the countryside.
Ah well, this is not what we want to see in the blog, but I suppose it is a reality we need to think about.


7.  H O M E

Getting home has never felt so good (and, I'm afraid to admit, via two days in Vienna, taking photographs of a house we have designed there).
The next day we popped over to see the Bannerman's at beautiful Ashington - here is Julian, looking magnificent at the end of their candy coloured double border.
Dorset that evening.
This weekend, it feels like midsummer has left us and turned to July, as if like clockwork. The air is heavy, the ground dusty, the verges filled with grasses, the trees moving to their darkest bottle green foliage...
The ground is dry, the grass baked.

Such an enormous difference from the atmosphere if you scroll to the first photograph in the blog.  The changes are so wonderful.  Maybe you can see, too, why it has taken me a little while to record what's been up, just recently.

It is big weeks in politics at the moment. Nature knows nothing of it, and never will.


Time sure does fly on by but no one can say you all do not carpe diem. I feel like I have had a tour of GB. Here in North Carolina, with my own spoiled corgi, I say…pray for us…it’s like an effing fire storm already. I am rather near to Blackberry Farm where friends’s very swank now. Just so you know. I live Hillsborough which is a perfect wee 17th c town that saw the Revoutionary War close and personal..and I am Daughter of said war. Hootman. Love you all from afar.

Mary Lou Bethune

What a wonderful travelogue to read sitting inside on another 100+ degree day in the Hudson Valley … with so much garden work to do… Your trip to the Orkneys makes me long for another trip to the Highlands … spent a month touring around the Deeside area and then the Highlands with my since deceased mother. it was one of those vacations where all was wonderful – and i fell totally in love with the Highlands … granted i didnt go to the big cities – Ballater was the largest (we stayed at the wonderful Daroch Learg Hotel (before the devastating fire) and toured all the castles and gardens in the Deeside including of course Balmoral. Then a drive up the Cairngorns and on to a BnB near Tain Wemyss House. From there we drove all over the Highlands, to Panda Island, to Castle Mey , of course Dunrobin Castle (stunning garden and the eagles!). I found my dream house perched on the side of a hill looking out over the North Sea…. and still gaze at it longingly … if things take a turn for the worse as may be this fall, I may just sell everything and move to Scotland. (impossible dream for a US citizen i imagine).

anyway your lovely travelogue provoked those memories of the long drives thru the Highlands and all the places we visited including a rather interesting encounter with the local police (we were not doing anything wrong) … thanks for all your lovely posts. They provide a glimpse of a life well lived. Back to my 100 degree garden work!

Southern Gal

Thank you for sharing your wonderful photo’s. Anne from Amsterdam


Hello Ben, I am wondering why we can no longer see other reader’s comments? I always enjoyed their intelligent and witty observations, and I miss them. Will they come back? Thank you.

Diane Keane

That was a lovely read, and beautiful photos. Thank you Ben.

Nicky B

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