Monday, 16 February 2009

Far East meets South West. Chapter 1 Escape

Far East Meets South West

Chapter 1


The two young monks had been identified as being reincarnate Lamas, and from and early age had studied at their monasteries in Tibet. Both were diligent students of the Buddhist faith, and became friends. Both became Abbots responsible for their own monastery, and the spititual welfare of their people.

By 1959 the young Abbots were nineteen years old, and their lives were to be changed for ever. These were dangerous times in Tibet. The Chinese Cultural Revolution was taking place, and the Chinese Revolutionary Army had occupied their country. They knew they would be prime targets for killing, when their areas were occupied, so they joined forces and made plans to escape with their families and friends. Around 300 of them became refugees.

It was thought that the trip over the mountains to safety, would take around 3 months, and supplies of food were calculated accordingly. However the capital, Lhasa, was under Chinese military control, and the refugees had to find alternative routes, over hostile terrain. Summer gave way to autumn then winter. Their pack animals had long since been abandoned, and desperate for food, they were reduced to boiling their yak skin bags and belts in order to get some nourishment.

By now it was too dangerous to travel by day, for fear they would be sighted by the Chinese Army, and killed. Military planes flew sorties overhead, thus prohibiting the lighting of fires for warmth and cooking. Conditions for the refugees were extremely miserable.

Eventually they reached the Brahmaputra River which they would have to cross. But the crossing was patrolled by the Chinese. The party hid in a forest and set about making coracles out of yak skin and tree resin. As the coracles made the hazardous crossing of the river, the Chinese started firing on them killing some and capturing the majority. Nine prisoners managed to escape and rejoin the refugee party, to continue their journey on foot for another six months. By this time they were all near to collapse, when they found a cave where they slept, and waited to die.

They did not realise that they were only two days march away from safety, and that Luck in the shape of some hunters found them, took them to their village and fed them until they were strong enough to continue their trip to India.

Out of the original 300 who started out, only fifteen made it to India. The remainder had either died of exhaustion in the mountains, or had been killed or captured by the Chinese.

(Adapted from Kagyu Samye Ling The Story)

More to follow.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

In Praise of the values of Henry Duncan

In Praise of the values of Henry Duncan

Hardly a day goes by at present without some horror story emerging about banks, and how badly they have been managed. The British tax payer has bailed out banks to the tune of many £billions, but still the people at the top who have caused all this carnage walk away with golden handshakes valued at £millions. The first bank in this country to be bailed out has just paid its employees huge bonuses.... with the tax payer looking on in horror, amd being helpless to do anything about it.

As mentioned in a previous Blog, the Rev. Dr Henry Duncan set up the first Savings bank in a small village in the SW Scotland. The ethos of this was to promote thrift, and to have some money set aside to have reserves for a "rainy day". Savings Banks began to spread throughout Scotland, and in 1835 the Airdrie Savings Bank was set up. Airdrie is a small town NW of the area I write about. In 1985 the Trustees, (who are UNPAID) decided to opt out of becoming a part of a larger group, and stood alone, with 7 local sub branches.

Its 600,000 customers are mostly dealt with face to face, in the old fashioned way, loans are only given to those who can pay them back. There are no shareholders, .... the customer comes first.

No surprise then when the Royal Bank of Scotland has just lost £28billion, that this little bank has managed to post PROFITS of almost £1million.

No surprise also, that those who are disillusioned with the way other banks have been run, are now flocking to the Airdrie Savings Bank !

Yes Henry Duncan was so right, all those years ago when he set up the first Savings Bank in the village of Ruthwell in SW Scotland.

Monday, 26 January 2009

250 year Anniversary Celebrations for Scotland's Bard, Robert Burns

Robert Burns 250 years Anniversary Celebrations in Dumfries Sunday 25th January 2009

January, in Scotland always produces unpredictable weather, so it is not easy to plan outdoor events for thousands of people to attend. Only on Thursday the Whitesands in Dumfries was flooded due to a combination of a high tide and torrential rain. Sunday started with more torrential rain, however the skies cleared towards afternoon. Sighs of relief were audible!

To mark the the 250th Anniversary of Rabbie Burns birth, there were lantern processions starting from various points in the town with all ending at the Whitesands, where there were various bands playing. I live in a small village about 5 miles out of town, and the music could be heard here!

Robert Burns is Scotland's National Poet, and his most famous work is "Auld Lang Syne" which is sung all over the world especially at New Year Celebrations. The poet is buried in Dumfries.

The Health and Safety Gurus had done their usual wonderful job of ruining most things for everyone, as real candles were not allowed in the lanterns, light sticks having to be used instead, which somewhat defeated the point of a lantern procession.

The Celebrations culminated in the burning of a wicker creation of Tam O' Shanter and his horse Meg, which was moored on a raft in front of Devorgilla Bridge on the river Nith. The best view of this would have been had if one had been able to stand on the bridge, however ......yes, you've guessed....... Health & Safety would not permit anyone on the bridge!
10,000 people were expected, and the Event proved to be a great success.

It also marked the start of the Homecoming 2009 Year of Celebrations throughout Scotland, when expat Scots are invited to return Home for a visit.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

There is a lot of other wildlife at Caerlaverock

Caerlaverock's other wildlife
On the continuing theme of Swans and geese one might perhaps have asked oneself how on earth they manage to get the birds ringed and attach the satellite trackers to them. Here is a photo to show how they are encouraged, at feeding times, into an enclosure on the loch, where staff are able to do this. I have also been told about all the bruises staff receive whilst performing this valuable task!

As well as all the swans, geese and other migrating birds other forms of wildlife are encouraged at Caerlaverock. I managed to catch a "reasonable" photo of the robin which had been eating the corn at on the plinth of the bust of Sir Peter Scott. All fluffed up, he was, on a very cold day.

Bird feeders are everywhere and the birds familiar to most Scottish gardens take advantage of them.

Special woodpiles have been set up to encourage insects to make their homes in. You can do this too in your own garden by simply drilling holes in logs of wood.

Hebridean Sheep - a fine fellow.

Natterjack Toad

Most interestingly Caerlaverock is home to a colony of rare Natterjack Toads. To help maintain their habitat there are some Hebridean Sheep who graze in the marshy grass and keep it at just the right height for these toads to thrive in.
WWT Caerlaverock showing tall hide from where the bird varieties are counted.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

What is the Connection between the South Pole and Caerlaverock WWT

WWT Caerlaverock Wetland Centre.
(adapted from information from the WWT)

The Centre occupies 1400 acres of saltmarsh, ponds and grassland on the Solway Firth, and is very close to Caerlaverock Castle. It is the only one in Scotland. It provides a winter sanctuary for Barnacle Geese, Whooper Swans, wild ducks, wigeons, teals, pintails which arrive from the Arctic areas - Iceland, Russia, Scandinavia etc... There is also a large number of wading birds such as Oystercatchers, Red Knots, Dunlins and Black-Tailed Godwits.

Peregrine Falcons, Merlins, Hen Harriers, and Barn Owls, can also be seen. (They must have come from my garden!!!!)

Each day a member of staff goes into the hides to count all the birds present on that day, and the numbers of the different types of birds present are written up on a noticeboard in the centre. I have watched this being done, and find it quite amazing, because I always find that when I look at the birds, they are never in the same place twice! as they keep moving.

The Wetlands Trust and Centres are the brainchild of the late Sir Peter Scott, artist and naturalist. In his early years he used to shoot wild fowl, but as he got to know that these birds mate for life, and migrate hundreds, of miles to overwinter in UK, he wanted to make amends for what he had done, so he set up the WildFowl and Wetlands Trust, and designed the site at Caerlaverock.

On the day I took this photo of the bust of Sir Peter Scott outside the hide dedicated to him, I just missed getting a picture of a robin which was eating the seeds which you can see just under his binoculars. Yes these birds just keep moving! I admire wild life photographers greatly, after having tried to get some good photos of moving targets at Caerlaverock.

So now you have a clue to the Connection with the South Pole.

Sir Peter Scott's father was the famous polar explorer Robert Falcon Scott of the Antarctic.

Scott of the Antarctic

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Remembering Lockerbie

Remembering Lockerbie

20 years ago, I was driving home from work when news of a plane crash came over the radio. I heard that it had happened at Lockerbie. It came as a shock, as this is such a rural area, things like that do not happen here. When I got home, I phoned the local hospital to offer help, and blankets. I was told that blankets would not be needed........... My reaction was to say," Are you saying what I think you are saying?" "Yes was the reply.

The night sky was lit by the blaze which could be seen from Dumfries. How could this have happened to our little Lockerbie? That night we were all watching or listening for news as it came through. Planes and helicopters started to fill the skies. Was our country under attack? ..... we did not know.
Phone lines became blocked, we did not know why. As the full extent of what happened gradually became clear, shock set in. Stories started to emerge from the people of Lockerbie, and from the local emergency crews who had attended the disaster. I cannot write about these as they are too shocking.

Visitor Centre

Now the person who is in a Scottish jail, found guilty of the bombing, is asking for release, due to the fact that he is terminally ill. Did he do it ? ......many people, including some families of the victims, think he is not guilty.

Out of such disaster has come good. Lasting links with Lockerbie and the families of the victims. Scholarships to the University of Syracuse, a Cairn of remembrance made of our local red sandstone built in the USA. A Garden of Remembrance on the outskirts of Lockerbie, with breathtaking views.

View from the Garden of Remembrance

Patchwork picture in the Visitor Centre

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Doon features on the the WWT Posters

Doon Features on the WWT posters.

We are experiencing lovely clear frosty days at present. Ideal weather to go to visit Caerlaverock, and the swans. Compared to my last visit the area is now populated mainly by swans, which is some sight to see, and HEAR! because the sound of them can be heard quite some distance away as they chatter away to each other constantly. They are very social birds. I hurried down to the hide where staff were busy counting and identifying each swan. However I was told that I had just missed Doon and his family by about 15 minutes. He had been travelling with cygnets from 3 years ago, as well as this year's family. The staff member told me that Doon is the best swan to sponsor as he has such a large family! Apparently he had moved off to a nearby field to graze with a large flock of swans. I saw them as I left, but they were just too far away to get a photo.

I have to say the sight of such large numbers of such graceful beautiful,(and very noisy!) birds is something I feel blessed to have witnessed, and heard.

After being out in the cold, my sister and I went for some delicious hot homemade soup in the WWT centre. There I saw the poster of Doon with Kate Humble (WWT president) with MY swan.

This is a photo of a swan with a satellite tracker attached to its back, just the same as Doon has. Each of these trackers costs in the region of £20,000! All the more reason for people to sponsor birds.

Another swan family arrives to feed.

I took some digital film of the swans, and when I get the time to process it all, I shall attempt to put it on the blog so that you can all see and hear the Whoopers.