May Magic!

Extraordinary magic is at play in the semi ancient woodland of Speke Hall, an outstanding Tudor mansion situated on the shores of the River Mersey and just a few miles from the vibrant city centre of Liverpool.

Step into the magic…

The picture book hall is a fairytale wattle and daub building, dating from the 1500s. And while a visit to the characterful and historic interior is very special, for me the experience of the bluebell wood is out of this world!

I choose to go when the woods are quiet, when sweet birdsong fills the air and unseen fairies might dance through fresh green fronds of unfolding fern.

Home sweet home! The Clough woodland of Speke Hall on the banks of the River Mersey

In the month of May a special adventure is to follow weaving paths through a scented ocean of blue. Soon the Bell Tree appears. Breathtaking! The sculptural sound installation is the joyful creation of artist Serena Korda. Bedecked with 300 porcelain bells, the ancient oak rises out of a blue haze. The iridescent bluebells are associated traditionally with constancy, sorrow and grief.

Their magic is slow to colonise; the journey from seed to bloom is 5-7 years. When the leaves are crushed underfoot by careless walkers, the photosynthesis process to produce food is impaired. The plant may never recover and so it is important to keep to paths, and to be aware also that it is against the law to intentionally pick, uproot or destroy bluebells.

The Bell Tree at Speke Hall, Liverpool

Extraordinary sights and sounds deep in the woods

The experience is utterly dreamy! The Bell Tree enchants and the sweet bluebell ocean is deeply intoxicating!

Calling in the nature spirits!

Artist Serena Korda explains that her creation is designed to celebrate the seasons and transform anyone who sees it into a nature spirit. I love that concept!

The wonderful experience feels like tripping through a picture book! Turn the page to step out of the woodland and into the formal garden where the magnificent Tudor hall is revealed. Discover inside secret priest’s holes and glorious Jacobean and Victorian furnishings.

Speke Hall, Liverpool
The north front of Speke Hall

The hall survives and is available to visit largely due to the determination of Adelaide Watt who inherited the estate as a young girl.

On her 21st birthday in 1878 she assumed management of the property, grounds and 17 farms. A fascinating woman and a progressive landowner, Adelaide had clear ideas of what she wanted to achieve. Her tenants were expected to comply with her request to attend church and vote Conservative!

Adelaide was determined and capable, undaunted by Victorian society dominated by men. She was informed and took great care to be personally involved in any developments that might impact her riverside estate, including the Manchester Ship Canal. She opposed the route of the project fearing that it would impact the currents of the River Mersey. Accordingly changes were made.

Following Adelaide’s death, Speke Hall was managed by her butler, Thomas Watmore and other house staff. In 1942 the magnificent estate was passed on to the National Trust.

Porcelain bells created by Serena Korda to bedeck the boughs of the Bell Tree


Pioneering Adelaide Watt

Aye Write Festival 2019

Central Station mosaic, Glasgow

To wonderful Glasgow, where I was invited be among the happy gathering of authors at a cultural highlight in the city’s year, the prestigious and vibrant book festival Aye Write.

Another lovely bag from another lovely literary festival! I’ve quite a collection of these now!

It is always an honour to speak of my writing and researching process. And to share my inspiration, images and insight with people seeking to discover more about my work and about the north west highlands of Scotland.

The joyful yellow brochures and posters is festival sunshine right across Glasgow!

A joy for my latest book North Coast Journey to be received so kindly at the Mitchell Library venue by a lovely crowd, and great to hear questions, and stories of others’ experiences of the far north highlands.

The fun of connecting with people and sharing inspiration is cool!

I was especially touched by a teenage girl and her mum who are planning a highland odyssey together. And an older gentleman who shared beautiful memories of his family traveling with a caravan on fiendish mountain roads in the early 1950s.

He was moved to tears at the memory of the beach at Achmelvich, where he made sandcastles with his sister.

It is an honour to be asked to sign in person my books. for those who queue in line so patiently, I am always deeply appreciative of that.

Having worked in professional theatre, I totally appreciate the huge behind the scenes efforts in hosting any kind of event such as this. The tech crews, the ushers, the ticket sales team, the book sales teams and the inspirational programme curators are all awesome and no festival happens without their passion!

So thank you for a great time Glasgow!

And in keeping with my own little tradition of a special treat at the end of every public appearance, this time I opted for a delicious hunk of cake over Earl grey tea with a friend at Patisserie Valerie on Glasgow Central station!

I am not a big cake eater yet when the mood takes me, I make it special!

The wonderful mosaic at Glasow’s Central station
Glasgow’s coat of arms celebrates the extraordinary achievements of the city’s patron saint, Mungo
Glasgow is among my favourite cities
This mural, seen from the train, explains why!

Far From The Madding Crowd

A vibrant, charming, independent, award winning bookshop

To lovely Linlithgow, birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots, for a happy literary lunch hosted by Sally Pattle of Far From The Madding Crowd, an award winning independent bookshop of character.

The company was great. A sell out crowd savoured a tasty lunch at the vibrant Granary Cafe where owner Gillian creates delicious food, inspired by her grandmother who kept the community happily healthy at her whole food store!

Literary host Rebecca presented the event beautifully and invited me to share my insight and experience of Scotland’s highland landscape and communities and my work, especially my latest book North Coast Journey.

It is always an honour for me to attend bookish events, to hear questions about my work and other folks’ experiences of the highlands.

A small area of the glorious basement den of books for young readers and their adults!

Before leaving Linlithgow, I was honoured to accept Sally’s invitation to sign the visiting authors’ beam at her bookstore. I added a stag for good measure!

A wonderful day, and my thanks to all involved in creating the opportunity to gather and share together. I did miss my namesake BB though! The resident rabbit Bookshop Bunny, aka BB, joins children in the basement for reading sessions on Saturday mornings. How special!

Bookshop Bunny, a regular at Saturday morning events at Far From The Madding Crowd bookstore

Thanks 2018! Hello 2019!

As the year closes, here’s a lovely reflection that I came across in the Ullapool News, which circulates weekly to a small and scattered community on the west coast of Scotland.

Especially poignant are the lines social worker Andre du Plessis writes about the human experience, relationships and the importance of nurturing our relationships together to create enduring warmth and love in our lives. 

I read this while listening to a storm stomp around the house. The wind prowled and howled across the landscape, rain lashed the windows but they did nothing to dim the coals in the fireplace. The room was full of  soothing glowing light and reassuring warmth. It was cosy, it was beautiful and I filmed it because it felt so lovely to be held safe while the storm raged. In time it would pass, all part of nature’s rhythm.

So farewell 2018, and welcome 2019!

And may your fireplace warm your heart!