Events – places visited

Birdwatching 1 Group Visit to RSPB Mersehead

Barnacle GooseDespite the dreich February weather members of Birdwatching 1 visited RSPB Mersehead Reserve. When they arrived there was a lot of mist around but this had cleared a little by the time they left the centre where they had a talk by the warden about the changes taking place at the reserve following the acquisition of more land by RSPB. He also explained the arrangements for controlling the water levels in the different areas to suit the wildfowl and waders.

During the visit to the first of the hides the mist cleared and the sun even emerged which made the shelduck and shovellers look more spectacular. There was still a large number of geese at the reserve and many more flew in later in the afternoon. The Barnacle geese (illustrated) will soon be heading north to Greenland and Svalbard.

A total of 30 birds was identified and the members had some very close encounters with a number of Roe Deer.

Stewartry U3A Local History Group January 2018


The January meeting of the Local History Group visited the Stewartry Museum for a guided tour by the curator Anne Ramsbottom. Anne showed us some of her favourite items in the collection including an intricately decorated silk batik dress made by Jessie M King that is so fragile it can’t normally be displayed. Each member of the Group then had to pick their favourite item and over tea talk about why they liked it. The result was fascinating and surprising.




Visit to Hopetoun House – 5 September 2017

 On arrival at the House we discovered that we had only just missed the Queen. She had used the House as her base the day before to open the Queensferry Crossing and her helicopter had landed on the front lawn.

There were so many highlights of our tour of the magnificent private residence. Our guide Ian Low knew everything there was to know about the House and family all fascinating.


The State Rooms were packed with art and antiques and after the tour we could wander around on our own. It was worth the climb up the stairs to the roof to get a view of the three Forth Bridges.





 The House had some very interesting artworks on view as part of their Heartwood at Hopetoun exhibition. We timed it well so our tour and lunch in the stables (fortunately now a lovely Stables Tearoom) took place in the rain, but it cleared up in the afternoon to see the extensive grounds. I think most people were very happy to get on the bus and go home.





Visit to Rozelle House and Burns Centre

We found Rozelle House in Alloway despite the lack of sign posts! After the essential cup of coffee, with a scone for some, we explored the house and a wide variety of exhibitions including twenty of Goudie’s paintings on the theme of Tam o’Shanter.  Unfortunately, these were not shown to best advantage as the rooms were too small to appreciate them.

 Downstairs various local artists’ works were exhibited through Open Studios. In the stables, known as The Maclaurin Galleries, there were two exhibitions, one by Frank McFadden and the other by Yvonne Hawker. The first artist used multiple faces, eyes and lips, in his works which proved to be rather scary.  However, the other was much more muted with a variety of landscapes which she had held dear including in Scotland and work which she had produced while an artist in residence in Hong Kong. These were much more colourful.  Unfortunately, Yvonne died in 2001.

Our volunteer guide, Billy, told us of the history of Rozelle House and grounds, its original owner and his successors. He then took us outdoors in the Spring sunshine to see the Remembrance Woodland with figures created by chainsaw artists. These carvings were sad depictions of soldiers and of poppies to commemorate World War 1. This was an impressive and emotional extra to our visit.

After lunch at the Burns Centre we had the opportunity to explore the museum, the Brig o’ Doon, the Auld Kirk and the cottage in which Burns was born in Alloway. In the museum, there were artefacts about Burns, his family and present day Burns traditions.

Tea and coffee prepared us for the scenic journey home still in the Spring sunshine.





Visit to largest single site sawmill in UK

Introduction and Safety Brief

In “one size fits all” high viz. jackets and with protective ear plugs a group of members visited the BSW Timber sawmill near Dalbeattie where they were able to follow the progress of logs through the mill. The spruce and larch logs come from the Galloway and Argyll forests with some 100 Lorries delivering to the mill each day.

The mill, which currently runs for 22 hours a day, produces timber for the construction industry, for fencing and for other uses such as pallets. By- products such as sawdust is sold for animal bedding, cuttings for chipboard manufacture and bark for horticulture.

The group were able to follow the logs from when they arrive until the stage of final product. The logs are first sorted by size then scanned by laser to work out the optimum amount of usable timber. The logs are spun round into position then sawn, planed and graded as they speed along the production line. At the end the cut timber is visually inspected before being dried in one of the massive kilns which are heated by biomass boilers using by-product from the mill. If the timber is for external use it is also chemically treated.


Visit to Dumfries HouseOn Wednesday 6th July, a coachload of Stewartry U3A members paid a visit to Dumfries House near New Cumnock in Ayrshire.

This was the first major house designed by the young Robert Adam for his patron the 5th Earl of Dumfries in the mid18th century. This beautiful house, complete with its original furnishings, was on the point of being sold to pay death duties in 2007, when Prince Charles personally brokered a last minute £45million deal to secure the house and its contents, including  the most complete collection of Chippendale furniture. Those in our group who had visited in the early months of its opening could remember seeing the labels still attached to items of furniture, ready to be packed off to Christie’s saleroom, to end up scattered all over the world.

Following a sociable lunch in the Rothesay Room, we were given an hour long tour of the House. Those on a return visit were amazed to see the transformation that has been effected in the 8 years since its purchase. Walls and plaster ceilings have regained their original colour and freshness; the upholstery of chairs, sofas and beds gleams in gold and blue damask; cleaned carpets and tapestries are vibrant again. Alongside the stunning work of bygone craftsmen, we admired the skill of modern restorers who can still practise their craft. Pointing out many priceless pieces of furniture and art, our guide even managed to persuade us that the purchase price of £45m was indeed a bargain!

Outside too, work continues on the parkland and estate with new plantings, pathways, a maze, children’s playground, shop, restaurant and tea room. The Prince’s vision was to create a sustainable business that would help regenerate the local economy in East Ayrshire and, as well as the House itself, the Home Farm, Education Centre and various workshops are now beginning to fulfil that aim.

Dumfries House GardensThose of our party who braved the drizzle for a walk to the arboretum and new walled garden were rewarded with a stunning display of flowers, terraces, vegetables, greenhouses, planters and arches. Amazingly, this 5-acre walled garden, one of the biggest in Scotland, has been rebuilt from a derelict dumping site in just 2 years. As elsewhere, the quality of the materials and the workmanship on display couldn’t fail to impress.

You can tell we enjoyed our day and we highly recommend a visit: if you haven’t been, go; if you have been, go again! Thanks to Helen Henderson for organising the trip so efficiently.


2016 Visit to Dawyck garden 004A group of enthusiastic gardeners visited Dawyck Botanic gardens near Peebles to enjoy the spring colours.
The journey to the garden in brilliant sunshine was on A701 past the Devil’s Beef Tub, often mentioned by James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, in his books. There was a welcome cup of coffee in the very pleasant café on arrival and in which members later had lunch- even being able to sit outside in the sunshine. The plant sale area was well supported!
Thomas Gifford, one of the garden supervisors took the group round the garden which was handed over to Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh in 1979. He described enthusiastically the work which the five staff have to carry out to maintain and develop the garden, including clearing any damage caused by the high winds which can bring down even very mature trees. When there is a heavy snow fall the staff go out with brooms to try to knock as much as they can off bushes to try to stop it breaking them or causing frost damage.
Although a couple of weeks early for some of the azaleas there were rhododendrons and other shrubs in flower, masses of bluebells below the trees and trilliums of different colours. The meconopsis were just starting to come into flower.
The garden which is more of a woodland garden or arboretum has a tree trail with many trees planted in the mid nineteenth century from seeds brought back by the plant hunters including David Douglas. There are huge specimens of sequoias, cypresses and oaks.   A wonderful garden and worth a visit!


Trip to Vindolanda and Lanercost Priory

On arriving at Vindolanda we were met by one of the archaeologists who gave us a brief introductory talk about the site. Vindolanda was named by the Tungrians a Belgian cohort who were the first to arrive at the site in the winter between 75-85AD. The name Vindolanda means white field or moor. The fort pre dates the wall, being built from stone quarried locally, to protect the Stanegate the road slightly to the north of the site, which runs from Corbridge to Carlisle.

The fort has been rebuilt nine times over the years, this makes the archaeology interesting but difficult to interpret as the new buildings were not built directly on top of the previous one. The fort follows the usual Roman playing card pattern. It is surrounded by walls which are still extant to about 1 ½ m. It contains granaries, barracks, and more unusually inside a fort a temple, this one dedicated to Jupiter Dolichenus, a weather god (perhaps seen as necessary by the continental soldiers living at the fort). The principia or commandant’s headquarters has a strong room, which is still visible, as are the two bath houses outside the walls. The archaeologists and volunteers are currently working on excavating the vicus, the large village outside the fort which grew up to service the soldier’s needs.

Archaeologists know that when digging Roman sites, they find many artefacts. Just before we arrived a volunteer had found a brooch, and whilst we were there volunteers were finding lots of black burnished ware a type of pot made on an industrial scale in the Nene Valley.

The Vindolanda site is unique because of the preservation of artefacts which would not normally survive. The anaerobic conditions have led to the preservation of many leather products, a sample of which are shown in the museum. They have a stunning collection of shoes and sandals, ranging from the first shoes worn by toddlers, fashion sandals, through to marching boots. Leather tents and horse trappings are other rare discoveries. The most special finds though are the Vindolanda tablets a series of post cards that had been written by the occupants of the fort, these include shopping lists and birthday invitations, so give us a good insight to life on the frontier.

At Lanercost we were met by John Lee the church warden who gave us an entertaining and informative talk on the history of the Priory. Lanercost Priory is a 12th-13th century Augustinian foundation, built largely from blocks stolen from Hadrian’s Wall. It has a turbulent history, being over the years visited by many monarchs from both sides of the border. During 1306-07 Edward I stayed for 6 months and as he had the privy seal with him he ruled England from the Priory. It was not only monarchs who left their mark at Lanercost, the outside of the church is pock marked with musket shot marks left by the local Militia mustered during the Napoleonic invasion scare.

The Monastic house was closed during the Dissolution and the north aisle of the Priory became the Parish church. In the 19th century George Howard 9th Earl of Carlisle commissioned work by leading Arts and Crafts designers, this includes a woollen embroidered Dossel. The Dossel has recently been restored at a cost of £66,000.

We then went to visit the Dacre Hall a late Medieval Hall built by one of the illegitimate children of the Howard family, where we had a welcome and much needed cup of tea and some delicious home-made biscuits.  



Carlisle1 So many people said that they had never explored historic Carlisle that we arranged a visit on a blustery day in April.

We started at the Castle and were delighted that English Heritage’s site manager John Bonner was available to show us round. We spent 2 glorious hours exploring the most besieged castle in Britain. When you walk in to the outer ward you realise that it is still very much a working castle with a strong military presence and barracks named after various battles fought in by the Border regiments.


TheCarlisle2 highlight is the keep, which hasn’t changed much since it was constructed in the 12th Century. We were lucky to be able to see the “Prisoners’ Carvings” close up and explore the cells (all of which are normally not accessible). John explained that these carvings were more probably the work of a jailer, as they show some knowledge of local nobility and heraldry.

We heard a lot about a Moravian engineer Stephan von Haschenperg, who seems to have been inept to the extreme when he built additional fortifications. Of course Mary Queen of Scots was the last royal resident of the castle paid for by Elizabeth 1.

Carlisle3 After the Castle tour, the group split up and some visited Tullie House Museum, the Cathedral and other local sites. Tullie House Museum currently has a marvellous exhibition of Cumbrian artists and new permanent galleries of the Borders Reivers and Vikings. Old Tullie House has permanent galleries of its nationally important collection of pre-Raphaelite art. We can also recommend the excellent café which we certainly needed after absorbing so much local history.

If you haven’t visited historic Carlisle recently, we can certainly recommend it for a day out, especially if you have visitors.  It is all a few minutes’ walk from the Main Citadel station and within a very compact area.





U3A Members at Dawyck Gardens On Monday, 19th of October a bus load of Stewartry U3A members travelled to Dawyck Gardens to enjoy all the gardens and the lovely autumn weather could offer.

Dawyck, a regional garden of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, is a world famous arboretum with over 300 years of tree planting. In Autumn the garden foliage bursts into vivid hues of red, orange and gold and the fruit take on an almost infinite variety of shapes, colours and textures from acorns in cups and colourful crab apples to maple keys and fir cones.

Everyone’s favourites among autumn fruits are the conkers produced by the Garden’s horse chestnut trees. Overhanging Scrape Glen is a large Japanese katsura tree which in early autumn fills the air with a caramel scent as its leaves turn a pale biscuit colour.

As autumn advances the Japanese maples and spindles stand out with their colourful foliage. Birch trees can be found on the grassy plateau to the south of the Chapel and one of the best for autumn colour is the yellow birch from North America.



Parliament and Dynamic EarthAfter an early but bright start on Tuesday 29 September, some 40 members travelled to Edinburgh to visit the Scottish Parliament building and the Queen’s Gallery.

Alex Fergusson MSP for Galloway and West Dumfries welcomed the group in one of the committee rooms. Over tea and coffee he described his political career, including his term as Presiding Officer which he considered a privilege. However he has decided that he will not stand again at the election next year. He explained that the Parliament building was constructed on the site of a former brewery and as was obvious was a very complicated building but also incorporated Queensberry House, a Scottish vernacular building. The architect Enric Miralles died before the building was completed but the work was taken over by his wife and of course as was well known there was a massive cost overrun compared with the original estimate provided by Donald Dewar.


Front row!

Front row!

Mr Fergusson then escorted the group to the debating chamber where members were only too pleased to sit in MSP’s seats! He explained that the main parliamentary business days are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons but these debating sessions must finish at 5.00 pm which unfortunately had the result of curtailing the time for debates on important issues. However much of the important work of the Parliament is carried on in the various committees. A record of what is said in the debating chamber is recorded on video, by sound recording from the members’ microphones and by stenographers and is available the next day on the web. The recording of voting by members is also published.

The next visit was to Mr Fergusson’s office which most felt was very cramped even allowing for the “think pod”.

"think pod"

“think pod”

Over a sandwich lunch, Dr Howard Brown thanked Mr Fergusson for his welcome, the time he had devoted to the visit and for answering all the questions – something he said was so unusual for MSPs!!

The group then went across to the Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse to admire the paintings and other works in the exhibition, Scottish Artists 1750 to 1900. The paintings included portraits by Allan Ramsay of King George III and other members of the Royal family; The Penny Wedding by Sir David Wilkie; Flock of Sheep in a Blizzard by Joseph Farquharson; and watercolours by David Roberts of his visits to the East including one of the Treasury, Petra included in a book with a description of his visit.


Queen's Gallery

Queen’s Gallery

This was a very enjoyable outing again organised by Helen Henderson. The next visit organised by Helen is on 19 October to Dawyck Gardens and places are still available.