Things to do when it rains… Part 1: Throw a pot

The Trossachs, even in summer, can be a wet place but the rain is what makes our woodland so green and lush, fills the lochs so that they sparkle when the sun does shine, and keeps the rivers and burns flowing and the waterfalls spectacular. Popular activities for visitors to the area are cycling, walking and water sports and many enthusiasts aren’t deterred by a little water falling from the sky, whether it’s a light smirr or a determined deluge. But not everyone is comfortable getting soaked so this is the first of two posts about things to do locally under cover. (They are also fun to do even when the sun is shining).

I had the good fortune to spend a couple of hours at the Whimsy in the Wild pottery studio near Aberfoyle with potter Cindy McLoughlin, whose work is inspired by the Scottish landscapes around her. Luckily for me, she also runs pottery workshops ranging from a couple of hours for complete novices learning to create a bowl on a wheel, through full day ‘throwing classes’ to three day workshops which extend the experience from making to glazing.

Cindy shows us how it’s done

As it happened, it was a glorious sunny day when I joined one of Cindy’s introductory throwing classes. Cindy’s pottery is at the top of the Duke’s Pass, a scenic road linking Aberfoyle with The Trossachs which I’ve written about before, and the surrounding hills and forest provide a beautiful backdrop. Our class began with a tour of Cindy’s workshop, an expert demonstration of throwing a bowl, and an explanation of the drying, firing and glazing stages required to produce a finished piece of pottery. Then it was time to get our hands dirty, cutting our own clay and throwing it in Cindy’s studio above the pottery.

We found our individual pottery wheels waiting in the upstairs studio.

Four is the maximum for a class meaning Cindy can give each person plenty of individual attention while they work at their wheel. Our afternoon class allowed enough time for two attempts at a small bowl. For the first, Cindy talked us through step-by-step, retrieved off-centre clay if required and gently guided us to produce an acceptably-shaped bowl. For our second attempt, we were on our own with scope to be as adventurous as we liked, although Cindy was on hand to advise and help whenever required. I failed to achieve the wider, shallower bowl I was aiming for with my second attempt but still ended the afternoon with two serviceable bowls and we all agreed that the ‘rustic wrinkle’ in my solo attempt was rather fetching.

Our finished bowls are laid out ready for drying, glazing and firing.

Throwing and shaping finished to our satisfaction, our bowls were laid out ready for Cindy to glaze and fire, and a short time later, our finished bowls were ready to collect. (If you live too far away for collection in person to be practical, you can arrange to have your finished pottery sent to you.)

The finished bowls, complete with (unintentional) rustic wrinkle.

This was a wonderful way to spend a summer afternoon and Cindy was superb at demonstrating the techniques then guiding our solo attempts. You can see Cindy’s pottery on her Whimsy in the Wild website where you can also book her classes. Prices start at £49 per person including all materials and tea/coffee.


Rabbie Burns an’ a’ that

Today is poet Robert Burns’ 264th birthday and Burns suppers, with the traditional fare of haggis, champit tatties* and bashit neeps*, will be taking place this week all over Scotland and beyond. Burns was a prolific writer whose poetry ranged from railing against social injustice to sympathising with a field mouse evicted from a ploughed field, and embraced both the natural and the supernatural.

Generations of Scottish school children enjoyed (or endured) learning and reciting Burns poetry in the run up to Burns’ night. Sometimes, the challenge was simply to learn a piece of poetry in Scots, whether or not it was written by Burns. Few writers are so celebrated internationally as Burns (there are no Tennyson teas or Shakespeare suppers, after all) and Burns’ poetry is undoubtedly meaningful to, and enjoyed by, millions around the world. However, the focus on Burns overshadows other poets writing in Scots. For this reason, for many years after I had learned to recite it, I thought the short, humorous poem The Sair Finger was a Burns’ classic, when in fact it was penned by another Ayrshire-born poet, Walter Wingate.

Writing more than a century after Burns’ death, Wingate contributed poems to the Glasgow Herald among other newspapers and magazines while working as a teacher of maths in Glasgow. His work was published in anthologies but, unlike Burns, Wingate didn’t have his own book of poetry published until after his death in 1918. So here, to give Wingate his due, is The Sair Finger:

You’ve hurt your finger? Puir wee man!
Your pinkie? Deary me!
Noo, juist you haud it that wey till
I get my specs and see!

My, so it is – and there’s the skelf!
Noo, dinna greet nae mair.
See there – my needle’s gotten’t out!
I’m sure that wasna sair?

And noo, to make it hale the morn,
Put on a wee bit saw,
And tie a Bonnie hankie roun’t
Noo, there na – rin awa’!

Your finger sair ana’? Ye rogue,
You’re only lettin’ on.
Weel, weel, then – see noo, there ye are,
Row’d up the same as John!

But it wouldn’t be right to exclude Burns’ work from a post celebrating his birthday so here also is a beautiful rendition of one of his most famous love songs, A Red, Red Rose, sung by the wonderful tenor Jamie MacDougall as the soundtrack to a short film by his lovely daughter Laura MacDougall.

* Champit tatties are mashed potatoes. Bashit neeps are mashed turnips.

Last day of the year. Here’s to 2023

Hogmanay is a great day for reflecting on the year past and the new one to come. As the first dry day for ages, it was also a welcome opportunity to get outside and stroll along to Loch Venachar through the Great Trossachs Forrest.

Low cloud, ice-fringed water and snow on the hills made for chilly, monochrome views but there was some colour in the landscape in the shape of a pair of intrepid canoeists exploring the loch from the water.

Two years ago, Scotland was in festive lockdown and the usual Hogmanay celebrations could not take place. Instead, a light show with drones and poetry marked the end of a difficult year and the hope for a new and better one for us all. While much of life has returned to normal, many of these sentiments are just as valid now, so here is another look at the wonderful Hogmanay Light Show of 2020 with words by poet and former Makar Jackie Kay, music by Niteworks and readings by some very well known voices including Siobhan Redmond and David Tennant.

Bliadhna Mhath Ùr!

Burns summer (not supper)

Today (July 21st) is the anniversary of Robert Burns’ death. Usually we celebrate his birthday on January 25 with Burns suppers the world over, but it seems a pity to only consider his poetry once a year. To mark the passing of Scotland’s national bard in 1796 at the age of just 37, here is a poem of his that you might not hear at a Burns supper. Burns penned songs and poems on many subjects, some rather unexpected. This one, to a mouse he found in one of his fields while ploughing, is no exception. Despite being written more than 230 years ago, some of the poem’s sentiments seem entirely in keeping with modern environmental concerns.

Photo credit: cazalegg on
Continue reading