Scotland – Coast, Castles, and Cathedral

Culzean Castle on the Ayrshire coast is a National Trust for Scotland property and is a place that we love to visit each year in late summer. It is beautifully situated on the edge of the cliff with magnificient views over the firth to the Isle of Arran, and Ailsa Craig. The top floor apartment was given to President Dwight D Eisenhower after the last world war in appreciation of his leadership as the Supreme Commander of allied forces in Europe. It is said that he visited on four ocassions, once while President of the United States. Other apartments are available for rent today from the National Trust. Nearby is the village of Dunure with a more ancient (1256) castle. The remains seen today however are from the 15. -16th century. Both these castles are associated with the Kennedy clan, although the Mackinnons are said to have held Dunure Castle at some point after the battle of Largs.

We love to stroll in the quietness through the woods, and visit the walled garden and the castle gardens as well. This year the fountain unfortunately was under repair, so we didn’t see that operational.

This month we made an unplanned return trip to the Isle of Cumbrae. We had driven down to Largs on a beautiful sunny day, but found the resort very busy, so hopped on the ferry which was awaiting at the quay. We were so glad we did as the island was was so beautiful and we took the opportuniity to visit the Cathedral of the Isles and College of the Holy Spirit for the very first time. This is a Scottish Episcopal Church building.

Reflection

When we are out and about we often stop and stand in awe at the greatness of God. Last Sunday at church we were reading from Paul’s letter to the Church at Colossae in Chapter 1 which speaks of the supremacy of Jesus Christ. It reads

The Supremacy of the Son of God
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

And at out Wednesday Prayer Fellowship we sang that well known hymn ‘How Great Thou Art’. Some veses go like this –

When through the woods
And forest glades I wander
I hear the birds
Sing sweetly in the trees,
When I look down
From lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook
And feel the gentle breeze 

And when I think that God, His Son not sparing
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing
He bled and died to take away my sin

Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou art
Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou art

I hope you enjoy what remains of the summer

Matthew

‘Garden’ please come in!

I was given a new arrow shaped notice by some of the family that simply says ‘Garden‘. So all that pass by are being encouraged to have a look. So no pressure, but we’d best keep the bit nearest the gate looking tidy 🙂

This year I tried growing different varieties of fruit and vegetables in the greenhouse with varying amount of success. Cucumbers, and tomatoes, in spite of early misgivings, have all produced a very good crop, tomatoes in fact a bumper crop. The coloured peppers have been ok, but the fruit has been a bit on the small side. Potatoes and carrots grown in bags and bucket have been fun to grow and I think the results were amazing. Cropped 100 potatoes from the ten sown, and the carrots yielded 22 from the bucket and plant pot. (See the video below)

After a promising start and much care and attention my bags of strawberries produced an abundance of leaves and shoots but only a handful of small strawberries. So what did I do wrong? Perhaps they were fed too much with a strawberry fertiliser bought online? Help please. My two small gooseberry bushes produced their first fruit this year, but not enough to make jam. The rhubarb also produced its first decent crop this year enough for some rhubarb crumble on a couple of occasions. The apple tree is looking good, but too early yet to pick them.

In my last garden report I was able to show you some of the flowers that were enjoyed earlier in the year, so here are some pics of those that have appeared since.

Now here’s the wee video on Carrots – ‘From Seed to Freezer

Reflections

Today I spent time again in the garden and greenhouse. But yes, today has also been a day of deep reflection. As I sit here writing this blog infact, thoughts that I had earlier, have come flooding back, causing me to stop and ponder. After breakfast I was reading from a magazine a short report regarding life in the country of Northern Macedonia. I consider myself quite well versed in geography, but I knew little or nothing of this relatively new country in the Balklands, which was previously part of Yugoslavia. So that kept me busy for a while doing some research, looking at pictures of its people and countryside online and reading of the diversity of its people and its economic poverty. It is evidently amongst the poorest nations in the world, where people have suffered so much in my lifetime.

Then like everyone else we were confronted again on our tv screens by the chaotic scenes at Kabul Airport in Afghanistan. The sense of fear and desperation was palpable in people’s voices and faces, as thousands make every effort to flee from the threat posed by the Taliban, after they so easily over-ran the country.

We have been recalling the promises made by Western Nations just a short 20 years ago, saying that we would never abandon the Afghan people. They must ring hollow in the ears of the Afghan people now.

We often say that the world now is a global village, but how helpless we feel in these situations to do anything which we feel would make a difference.

I was recounting that Jesus was in Israel at the time of the Roman occupation and oppression. There is the lovely story in Matthew’s account of his life, where it says ‘Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.’ What an apt expression of people in Afghanistan and in so many parts of our world today, ‘harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.’

Last night our Church was praying especially for the situation in Afghanistan, and for all those ‘harrassed and helpless’, perhaps in the near future we can help be the answer to our own prayers. Meantine the message of Jesus’ love and compassion continues to be beamed around the world. His death and resurrection make fulness of life to all who will come to him a reality.

How blessed to have a garden, and to live in a country that has known peace for the last 75+ years.

I trust your garden has flourished in 2021.

Matthew

Matthew

I had a home in Africa!

So begins the famous Karen Blixen movie ‘Out of Africa’.

Yes, we too had a home in Africa, it was in Tearfund’s Guesthouse and office complex in Nairobi, Kenya. Very shortly our grandson and his wife and four of our great grandchildren are planning a move to Africa, so last Sunday we had a special service for them at Church. They are going to work for one of the UK’s children’s charities in East Africa. He and his family are following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps! Africa, ah! that brought memories flooding back!

There has been great deal of development in Africa in recent decades, and whilst the cities are in many ways similar to any city around the world, (except perhaps for the shanty areas on the outskirts) the challenges of working in rural Africa are still very real. There always seems to be another urgent task needing attention, and often the resources and expertise are not readily available. Nonetheless, as I’ve said in a previous blog, if you have ever had the privilege to live and work there, truly Africa does get ‘under your skin’.

With a rich inheritance of people coming from a variety of cultures, tribes and languages, combined with many new sights and sounds, the first impact in coming from Europe is decidedly a “wow” factor. In the city people rise early and soon the bustling crowds are heading to their workplace, or school, college and university.

In the villages the children have often to walk long distances to school, and workers are heading to their ‘shambas’, or to one of the sugar, coffee or tea plantations. Of course the daily task of wood and water collection, and regular trips to market are still all a big part of everyday life for many rural people.

Tourism contributes a large part to the economy, certainly in East Africa, where the beauty of villages, savannahs, mountains, game parks and coral lined beaches, are a huge attraction, or were, prior to the current pandemic.

One could write a book (and many have) of the abundance and variety of animals, birds and insects, not to mention the trees, for example, the Acacia, the beautiful flowering Jacaranda, and the amazing Baobab trees, all of which seem to be forever imbedded in your mind.

Here are some memories from our 5 year stay and many subsequent visits to East Africa.

First – the people …

Animals …

Birds …

Places …

Reflections

So many people are asking, what do you think of your grandson and his wife moving to Africa with your four great grand children? Some express excitement saying, it will be a great adventure, others seem more apprehensive, will it be safe? Why give up your home and jobs here to face uncertainty there, even if it is just for a few years?

I remember when my wife and I left for Kenya, many such questions were similarly asked.

Yes for sure, it will be an adventure, a huge learning experience for them all, there will be fun and laughter with the children, along with trials and frustrations, and the need always to take care of the security issue. So what is the motivation?

Well my grandson was brought up in Africa, and went to school there, my grand-daughter-in-law became a Christian in Africa, visiting this same children’s centre as part of a work team, so there is an element of ‘Africa under your skin’!

The real motivation however comes from their Christian faith. Jesus invites his followers to come and ‘take up their cross and follow me’ and sends some of his children to the ends of the earth. When Christians ask the question ‘Lord what do you want me to do’ ? The answer to that question sometimes takes a while to become clear, but when it does, it is time to act. It’s amazing to see how the skills of my grandson and wife completely match the needs at the children’s centre at this very time. God’s timing is always right.

A home in Scotland, a home in Africa, and a home in heaven! Jesus said to his followers ‘In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also’. Now there is something to look forward to no matter your age or how many homes you’ve had down here! He also announced how to be sure of being there.

Jesus said, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. I’ve never regretted coming to Jesus.

Video – A Home in Africa!

Hope you are all having a great summer now that restrictions are easing!

Matthew

Sunny Morayshire – the place to be!

We took the 200 mile drive from Glasgow to Elgin in Morayshire recently, and enjoyed a week of relaxation and of visiting places of interest along this lovely coastline in the North East of Scotland. We travelled from Glasgow to Perth, where we took the A9 road, which is a very scenic route, but was as usual busy, with many roadworks. We returned via Aberdeen, Dundee and Perth and then to Glasgow at the end of our holiday, completing a 400 mile plus circuit.

Elgin has a number of places of interest, and on our first day we visited the ruins of the 13th century Cathedral, and the ‘Biblical Garden’, which is just next to the cathedral. We had hoped for a tour of the cathedral, but were told on arrival that you have to prebook on line! The Biblical Garden was free to enter.

Work on building this cathedral started during the first half of the 13th Century, and the cathedral eventually became known as ‘the Lantern of the North‘. It was destroyed during the Protestant Reformation around 1560. Photographs were limited without access, which was a shame. The ‘Biblical Garden’ was lovely to wander around in the peace and quiet of the place.

Later that day we visited Duffus Castle. We had driven past it many times, it was great to have the opportunity to explore it on this visit. There was a mobile cafe next to the car park, where we enjoyed some ice cream and a cool drink, before starting our walk.

We never come to this area without visiting the nature reserve and bird sanctuary at Spey Bay. It was strange this year to see the river Spey with so little water, but we had just experienced an unusual long dry spell of weather. The millions of stones the river has deposited over the years is a sight to behold. Just once over the years were we fortunate enough to see an osprey catch a salmon here, but there is a monument which captures such an event.

No time to tell of all the other places we visited during the week. However here are some photographs which illustrate the beauty of this area.

The following is a 1.5 minute video I made of our day in Burghead, which we fell in love with this year. Just watch how busy the beach is!!

Click on photo to start video

Reflection

It’s so good to get out of the city for a few days. We have enjoyed many holidays here over the years, and revisiting brought back many memories of the fun and laughter we had in the past with family and friends, as we swam in the sea, picnicked, climbed, walked and cycled. This year at Finechty we heard someone calling us from the beach, and were hugely surprised to meet Sarah and her husband and young son, (the great grand-daughter of my late brother), who were following in the family tradition with a holiday at Sandend.

We also had a ‘catch-up’ dinner with my ‘sister in law’ and ‘niece in law’ at ‘The Galley” in Whitehills. They both had lost their husbands in recent years, but it was encouraging to see how they were both moving on with their lives having their faith and trust firmly set on the promises of God.

People Make Glasgow is the marketing brand of our city, but I think that is true in all of life’s situations, and was certainly true of our holiday. The joy of interacting with others, family and friends for sure, but also people from all different ethnic backgrounds and cultures.

Heaven is going to be an exciting place, not only will JESUS be there, but the Apostle John describes in his book one scene that says:

And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll,
And to open its seals;
For You were slain,
And have redeemed us to God by Your blood
Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,
Revelation 5.9

It’s good to book your holiday well in advance, but I think infinitely more important to ensure your place is secure in that heavenly land, especially in this day of pandemic. And the cost? FREE to us, because we have nothing to offer in payment, it’s a gift from God! But we need to accept it. How do I do that? Read the book of Romans chapter 10 verse 9 and then speak to God in prayer, confessing your need for forgiveness and acknowledging Jesus as your Saviour and Redeemer, and committing your life to Him.

Have a great holiday

Matthew

Early Summer in the Garden and Greenhouse

It was a very cold Spring here in Scotland, but in early May the weather started warming up at last. Here is an update on the garden and greenhouse –

Blooming June – the Garden

Daffodils were a bit of a disappointment this year as a spell of frost and snow arrived just as the flowers were about to open, but amazingly some did survive, and the tulips coming on a bit later more than compensated as they seemed to go and on!

It’s nice to see the rhododendrons and clematis in flower again, without too much effort from me, and also the shrubs and bushes bursting into life, not to mention the apple tree and lilac, which shout out to you ‘summer has come’! I’m afraid I haven’t done too much this year in the way of planting ‘annuals’, but I have however planted from seed some french marigolds, sunflowers, tom thumbs, coleus and cornflower, and some begonia corms.

The greenhouse is doing fairly well, and this year I’m trying to grow quite a few different fruits and vegetables. Cucumber ‘F1 Socrates’ is proving to be fantastic, the cucumbers are smaller in size but delicious in taste and are cropping very well. Tomatoes are Tigerella, Shirley F1 and Ferline F1. The latter is one I’m trying for the first time, it seems to be struggling a bit, but it may come away yet. There is a variety of peppers, three bags of potatoes, one bucket of carrots (Autumn King 2) and two bags of strawberries, and lots of ‘tom-thumb’ lettuce. So between cutting the grass and keeping everything in trim its enough to keep me busy. Here are some photographs of progress so far.

Reflections

With the wonders of camera, computer and the www, I have been able to show you the best of my garden and greenhouse. What I haven’t shown you are the plants some slugs have eaten, the parts of paths that need weeding, or my Spring plant pots that have yet to be emptied and cleaned. In a small garden it is difficult to find a spot to hide them away 🙂 I guess if you are a gardiner you are in much the same boat!

Got me thinking, ‘social media’ is a bit like that, we (including me) tend to emphasise the positives and try and bypass the negatives. The ‘about me’ section on Facebook usually paints a glowing picture of the person we would like others to believe that we are, and seldom do you find folks telling you how they have messed up! But of course we all do at times.

I’m reading a book this month entitled ‘Gentle and Lowly‘ by Dane Ortlund, concerning Jesus Christ he says, ‘in the four gospels accounts given to us in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John there are 89 chapters of text, but there is only one place where Jesus describes his heart. (The heart in biblical terms is the centre of who we are, what defines and directs us) So what will this man Jesus, who claimed to be the Son of God say? He says, ‘I am gentle and lowly in heart’. Ortlund goes on to say ‘The posture most natural to him is not a pointed finger, but open arms’!

You can read the full words of Jesus in Matthew 11 v 28-30. Jesus said – “Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Now there is an open invitation, but folks are so loathe to come.

So I’m thinking, what two words would you or I use to truly define ourselves on social media? Mmmm, let me get back to you on that …..

Happy gardening!

Matthew

REDWOODS, RHODODENDRONS and more!

We have continued our ‘holiday’ day trips around the West of Scotland, and are thankful that so many beautiful places are within easy driving distance from Glasgow. The weather has also heated up now, with plenty of sunny summer days.

The Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh has a number of ‘outposts’ around Scotland, the nearest to us being in Dunoon, so we made a trip there to visit the Benmore Botanic Garden, which is a magnificent mountainside garden just a few miles out of town. It has a spectacular avenue of Redwood trees, and a rhododendron collection said to be one of the finest in the world.

There were fifty ‘Redwoods’ in this avenue but one was blown down in a fierce storm in recent years. In contrast it was lovely for us to walk here in the quietness on a warm sunny day and to take in the majestic beauty of the place.

Here are some more photos of parts of the garden which takes in fifty hectares.

There is a section of the garden set aside for rest and contemplation, and it too was situated in the middle of some magnificent trees including redwoods.

We next made our way to the ‘Dolphin fountain’ and pond, and admired the wide range of plants and flowers.

The afternoon passed all too quickly, and soon it was time to head back to the entrance, over the little wooden bridge. Then, on our drive back towards the ferry, we drove through Ardentinny and found a few beautiful spots along the way for our proverbial picnic!

Reflections – A visit to a garden is so good for our souls, and for peace of mind. It’s amazing how many words have been written about the beauties of God’s creation. Here are a few selected verses from Psalm 104 speaking about the ‘garden of life’.

Praise the LORD, my soul. LORD my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendour and majesty. He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved. He makes springs pour water into the ravines; it flows between the mountains. They give water to all the beasts of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst. The birds of the sky nest by the waters; they sing among the branches. He waters the mountains from his upper chambers; the land is satisfied by the fruit of his work. He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for people to cultivate—bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens human hearts, oil to make their faces shine, and bread that sustains their hearts. The trees of the LORD are well watered, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted. There the birds make their nests; the stork has its home in the junipers. I will sing to the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the LORD. Praise the LORD, my soul. Praise the LORD!

I hope you enjoyed our trip as much as we did, and that you too are able to get out to explore the beauties of God’s creation wherever you are.

Matthew

A Favourite haunt …..

THE ISLE OF CUMBRAE – looking back over to Largs

Millions have had their double dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, and here in Scotland we were all looking forward to another easing of restrictions, which would allow the meeting of family and friends indoors, and permit staying overnight in accommodation throughout Scotland. However after months of waiting it was announced last week that Glasgow and Morayshire would remain at level three on the Covid restrictions ladder due to a rise in Covid cases in these areas. So hugs and visits from family and friends are again on ‘hold’!

BUT, we are still allowed to travel around Scotland, and for that we are very grateful. This week we checked the forecast and then headed for a favourite haunt – the Isle of Cumbrae on the southern end of the Firth of Clyde. First a 50 minute drive to the town of Largs before boarding the ferry for Cumbrae. (£20.50 for two passengers and a car – return) Visit at the weekends and the ferries are very busy as the island is popular for hikers and cyclists, but mid-week, and all is peace and tranquility.

The Island is about 2.5 miles long and 1.25 miles wide, and a walk or drive around the perimeter taking account of bays and promontories is appoximately 11 miles. We were able to drive at walking pace viewing the abundance of animals, birds and flowers. The most famous beach is on the west side of the island at Fintry Bay where there is a cafe and restaurant.

The only town on the island is Millport, which was once a famous stopping off point for the Clyde ferries in the middle of the last century when the Clyde Coast was a popular holiday destination for people living in Glasgow and the Central belt of Scotland. It is a lovely litle town nestling around Kames Bay. As you approach it you have some spectacular views of other islands in the firth, Little Cumbrae,, Bute and Arran, and on a clear day you can see Ailsa Craig and even the Coast of Ireland.

On the return journey we like to take the narrow road that runs down the middle of the island, and stop at the viewpoint, this is the island’s highest point at 417 ft above sea level, where a large boulder called “The Glaid Stone”is situated. No time today to visit one of Scotland’s smallest Cathedrals – The Cathedral of the Isles’ but we did pass one of the entrances.

Then it was back to the ferry and a sail to Largs on the mainland, before a drive home in time for supper. A perfect day out!

Reflection

We had a beautiful day out, enjoying the wonders of God’s creation and as I reflected on Psalm 145 in my last blog, sometimes the whole ambience of a place, speaks of the glory and majesty of God and causes you to quietly praise him in your heart.

The day brought memories of days gone by when 50 years ago at the ‘Glasgow Fair’ Millport was full of families gathered for their summer holidays. Deck chairs on the beach, paddling and swimming – no matter the weather, volley ball, and donkey rides, ice cream cones and picnics. Also folks from the ‘Children’s Seaside Mission’ organising games and singing, and Bible stories by means of puppets and a ‘flannel graph board’. Many of my family and friends were there helping with crowds of children and parents gathering around. These were happy days. I’m now trying to remember why we all spend a fortune heading for the beaches of continental Europe and beyond 🙂 How life moves on!

In contrast to this picture of peace and quiet, this week our church has been fundraising for the poor and marginalised in India during the horrors of the Covid-19 crisis. We have been thinking of the sadness, madness and terror of the conflict between Hamas and Israel in the Middle East and praying for a cessation of hostilities. The plight of the estimated ten million + children in Yemen, the ongoing slaughter in Afghanistan, Burkino Faso, Nigeria, Sudan, and on and on, and on and on!

China this week joins the USA in successfully landing and controlling a Mars rover on the surface of planet Mars, how amazing is that? WOW! Unfortunately we have not yet learned how to eliminate hunger, or give clean water to the thirsty, and provide shelter and healthcare to countless millions! But we applaud all those who are trying from all around the world.

Here is some poetry to finish:

One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD,
and he will reward them for what they have done.

God bless, Matthew

Free, but to do what?

So where should we go after months of restrictions, which saw everyone in Scotland being compelled to stay at home, and if you did need to travel, it was restricted to your own home area? That was the pleasant decision we had to make in the last ten days, as permission was granted to travel freely again around Scotland.

We decided, let’s head for the hills and sea, in the Bute and Argyll region, just a comfortable afternoon’s drive from Glasgow. The Rosneath Peninsula, which is just south of Garelochead, was our chosen destination on a beautiful sunny day. The Rosneath peninsula separates the Gareloch from Loch Long, two sea lochs on the Firth of Clyde. Our journey took us over the Erskine bridge and on to Loch Lomond, before we turned off, onto the ‘new’ road to Garelochead. I am always amazed at how beautiful, and invariably quiet this road is.

Arriving at the village of Cove we enjoyed a scene of peace and tranquility on the edge of the loch, and soon we were enjoying our picnic lunch.

We next moved a few miles south to Kilcreggan, and like Cove, it is another village dating back to the Victorian era. In fact the pier at Kilcreggan is said to be the last original ‘Victorian’ pier on the Firth of Clyde.

Later we drove home via Glen Fruin.

A week later, on another sunny day we had an afternoon drive to the Ayrshire coast on the southside of the Firth of Clyde.

Shhh! we are sitting quietly at Croy Bay

On route we stopped for lunch at Dunure and found a parking place by the harbour, before viewing the castle. Later we stopped at the ‘Electric Brae’, and yes, the car did run up the hill when we stopped and put the gear into neutral!

Croy Bay is beautiful, and was a favourite haunt for us when the children were small. In those days the beach was busy, but how many people do you see there today?

Then we had a short visit to Maidens, frequented in earlier days by two famous Roberts. King Robert the Bruce, and the Scottish bard Rabbie (Robert) Burns! Time then for a drive along the coast and back to Glasgow!

Reflection:

Free to Worship! It is so good to be back in Church again! Our house groups however are still meeting on Zoom.

Our Study Book

Our Church house group is using this study guide to look at six of King David’s psalms written some 3000 years ago (recorded in the Bible). The Psalms comprise five books of poetry, and were read and sung by ancient Hebrew worshippers. They are still read and sung today, and have been throughout the ages. The title of the study guide certainly got me thinking, “WORSHIPPING THE GOD OF ALL, IN ALL OF LIFE“! We started off by reading psalm 145, and when we were out and about picnicking these last two weeks we found that worshipping the ‘God of All’ was an almost spontaneous reaction to the beauty of his creation, seen all around us.

Psalm 145:1-3

I will exalt you, my God the King;
I will praise your name for ever and ever.
Every day I will praise you
and extol your name for ever and ever.
Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise;
his greatness no one can fathom.

At the start of the Psalm, David is praising God personally ‘for the power of his awesome works‘, which he says speak of ‘his glorious splendour‘, something that even the youngest child can appreciate and understand. By the end of the psalm he is calling every creature to praise his holy name for ever and ever. But is this great and powerful God good you may ask? David, who himself lived an imperfect life, and suffered through many sorrows, trials and dangers goes on to describe this God whom he has come to trust.

He describes him as having ‘abundant goodness’, ‘righteous’, ‘gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love’, ‘good to all’, ”faithful’, ‘trustworthy’ ‘upholds all who fall’, ‘lifts up all who are bowed down’, ‘is near to all who call on him’ and ‘watches over all who love him’. This is the Jesus that I seek to follow! He also reminds his readers, that the God we worship is a God of justice and judgement and that ‘all the wicked he will destroy’.

Throughout the psalm the word ‘all’ is used over and over again. Yes, God wants to be part of all our everyday lives, not just on a Sunday, if we will just let him. Like David, I am so glad that he has walked beside me every day of my life, since that day I learned to trust him, even picking me up when I have fallen down, and have been bowed down!

Isaac Watts hymn of 1719 beautifully summarises psalm 145. Take a read!

Wherever you are, and whatever your circumstances may you find strength to lift your heart to God, perhaps for solace, perhaps in great need, or perhaps with a heart full of praise!

Matthew

Have you ever awakened from sleep laughing?

Well, there are certainly lots of things we can smile about, now that we are well into Springtime. Lovely to see the lambs in the fields, the flourish on the trees, and the flowers in the garden and the beauitiful countryside, not to mention the singing and tweeting of the birds as they busily build their nests.

Some recently taken photos in the sunshine.

I often smile to myself too in the greenhouse, as I plant seeds and seedlings, wondering how they manage to survive and produce for us such amazing fruit, vegetables and flowers. This year I’m trying something new, following the instructions of a professional gardener on You Tube. I’m trying to grow carrots in a bucket. To give the seeds a flying start I have sown them (as instructed) on a piece of kitchen roll in a sealed dish, before planting them in the bucket. Sounds crazy, but take a look and I’ll let you know whether it works, or not.

Planting Carrots!

I think my wife thought I’d lost the plot on this project, especially when she caught me drilling drainage holes in the new bucket! 🙂

Talking about waking up laughing, yes I did the other morning this week. But when I was wakened it didn’t seem really a laughing matter! As gardeners know the weather is so important at this time of year when you have the greenhouse full of plants. Yesterday’s weather was an example. In the morning the temperature in the greenhouse was 83 deg. In the afternoon we decided to go a walk and just got home before the hail and snow storm. Last night in Glasgow the temperature was 3 deg below freezing.

How quickly the weather changes!

So earlier this week I was in the greenhouse at 10pm checking the heater etc. it took a bit of time, so when I came in my wife asked, ‘what were you doing?’ To which I replied ‘I was puting up draught screens to protect the plants not in propagators. ‘Draught screens‘ she says? ‘It’s a long time since I’ve heard of that!

So during the night, guess what I dreamed? You got it, – draught screens! When I was a child living in the early 40’s, we lived in a new 3 bedroom flat in Glasgow. The only means of heating was a coal fire in the ‘living room’ so at night in the winter when the fire had gone out, the temperature would at times plummet below zero, so it was not unusual to wake up with a sheet of ice on the inside of the windows. No double glazing in these days, so there was always a cold draught through the window fittings. To protect us as children from the cold, my dad would come into our bedroom and put up ‘draught screens’ (usually extra sheets or blankets) strung on various contraptions around our bed. 😦 This was not something we welcomed!

So in my dream there were the draught screens, and reminders of having your chest rubbed with ‘Vick’ and a hot salt sock strung around your neck if you had a cold or a sore throat! Ha!Ha!Ha! (these were the days before the NHS) I awoke with my body shaking laughing! Then I thought, hold on, I hope these draught screens in the greenhouse worked!

Everything thankfully seems ok at present.

Everything under control?

Reflections: As I look back now I am so grateful for good, loving and caring parents who did everything to look after us as kids, especially during the war years. Mum was up at 6am to prepare dad’s ‘piece’ (sandwiches) as he left for work at 6.30 am. She would then light the fire, and come through to get us up for school, and if it was a frosty morning, she would carry us to the fire saying ‘Jack Frost’s been out’. Then in our short trousers and ‘tackity boots’ we would head out with coat and jacket, scarves and gloves. Then in the 50’s when TB infections were running at around 50,000 cases per year in the UK, my teenage sister contracted the disease at a badly ventilated comptometer operator’s office. At that time there was no known cure except fresh air and good food so most young people were sent to sanitoriums in the country. My sister looked set for a move there, but Dad said ‘we can provide fresh air and good food here’, so one room was allocated to my sister, whose bed was propped up to allow her to see out of the window. No draught screens now! Every window in the house was opened summer and winter, and within a year my sister had made a full recovery. We were all so thankful to so many friends in the Church who prayed, and to those who brought eggs and dairy produce from their own rations to help suplement her diet and recovery, and to the gracious hand of God.

But most of all Mum and Dad introduced us to our heavenly Father, and His Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. That I think, is the best gift any parent can pass on. Now I look back with grateful thanks to God my Father who has kept and sustained us for more than 80 years through all life’s joys and sorrows, trials and triumphs.

Jesus speaks of God seeing the sparrow when it falls, and that ‘the hairs of our head are numbered’, so He sees you and me too. That can be a comforting or scary thought depending on, if we know Him as Saviour and friend, or are just known by Him. Not sure? let me know if I can help.

Do you think He sees these wee carrot seedlings too?

God bless

Matthew

Look to the Hills!

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

Whistler – Blackcomb – The Rockies, Canada

Walking on ‘Whistler

It has been a great pleasure throughout life to walk in the mountains at home and abroad. The above pictures were taken on our 50th wedding anniversary when we had a special visit to Canada and Alaska. And yes, we used the chair lifts, which took us onto the 7200 feet summit. The notice which said ‘Matthew’s Traverse’ could be a description of my life as I look back. Sometimes on the flat, sometimes a rocky climb and at other times an easier downhill walk.

Climbing in Scotland and the Lake District of England

When it comes to hill walking and climbing in Scotland, then you are spoiled for choice, and the English Lake District is just across the border if you want a change of scenery. Above are some pictures taken over the years.

What is it about hill walking and climbing that attracts so many thousands of enthusiasts around the world every year, every month, week and day? Certainly the joy of being in the fresh air, the challenge of the climb, and of the weather!, with the wind, sun and the rain in your face! The sound of a mountain burn or waterfall, the smell of the heather, flowers and moss, and the sense of achievement. For me it also provides a sense of perspective, as I consider the vastness and beauty of God’s amazing creation displayed here on planet earth. I so relate to the song quoted above (Psalm 121) sang by pilgrims three thousand years ago as they made their way up to the mountain of the Lord, to worship and honour their creator and redeemer. The very next psalm says ‘Jerusalem is built like a city that is closely compacted together. That is where the tribes go up—the tribes of the LORD—to praise the name of the LORD’.

Well, if climbing hills has been part of my life since boyhood, so has this psalm. My father would gather us six children around him with my mother, and read this psalm to us and pray during the ‘air raids’ of the last world war, and also in times of family crisis. You might say it has become part of my ‘DNA”! So if you are fearful, in trouble or in despair I recommend a read of this psalm before you go to bed.

I’ve also had the priviledge of walking on top of the mountains the pilgrims are singing about. You might not think of Jerusalem as being on top of a mountain, but in fact it sits at over 2500 feet above sea level! The first time we were there the sleet and snow were blowing down across the hills.

Jerusalem

And as we approach Easter I’m reminded that Jesus the Lord, not only walked here, but died here, and arose from the dead on this mountain. A close friend of mine died just a few weeks ago, he was a lovely solo singer. I always remember him singing this hymn with such pathos about these historic events. It goes like this:

Up Calvary’s mountain one dreadful morn
Walked Christ my Saviour, weary and worn
Facing for sinners, death on the cross
That He might save them from endless loss

Blessed Redeemer, precious Redeemer
Seems now I see Him on Calvary’s tree
Wounded and bleeding, for sinners pleading
Blind and unheeding, dying for me
.

How good to know this Saviour and friend. Jesus is still inviting all of us to come to Him.

Finally, writing this wants me to look out my boots in anticipation of the end of lockdown, after that all I need is a little more puff’ 🙂

Matthew



Time for Strawberries?

Well they are not quite ready yet! The ‘bare rooted Karona’ strawberry plants only arrived this weekend! So thoughts of strawberries and ice cream, strawberries with morning cereal and evening salad, and strawberry jam, will just need to wait a wee while, so stop licking your lips! 🙂

I’ve grown strawberries a few times in the past either from seed, or from plants bought at the garden centre. This year looking on line I came across a nursery selling ‘bare rooted’ plants so thought ‘that sounds interesting’ but what like are they and how do you plant them?

The plants arrive by post – two bundles with elastic bands!

Not quite ‘love at first sight’! Is this the right time of year with snow around and temperatures below freezing? and what’s the procedure? Thankfully with the wonders of the internet I found the answers to these questions, time will tell if they are the right answers!

Separate the plants and soak overnight in water.

I had already ordered a couple of strawberry bags as strawberries featured in this year’s ‘garden plan’ so it was good I had these ready in stock. Here are some pics of the planting.

Watering and fertilising tubes, the felt keeps the tube from clogging while planting! The top of a lemonade bottle makes the perfect filter funnel for watering tube!

So working from the bottom of the bag and filling with compost as you go the plants were put in place making sure the crowns of each plant were above the compost. So now its time to call in the ‘boss’ 🙂

Greenhouse is currently unheated, apart from a 80 watt tube heater.

I only scored 9.5 out of 10 for missing one of the planting holes 🙂 So will these strawberry dreams become a reality? Watch this space, but I have every confidence in the Creator.

Other signs of life in the garden

So time to look out the gardening gloves and the spade and trowel, Spring is on its way!

Happy gardening!

Matthew

PS: After one month the strawberries are all showing signs of life!

January, Jack Frost and Jabs!

The cold wintry weather continued throughout January with many frosty and snowy days, and some occasional blue skies! Days ideal for a local walk! Here’s a wee slideshow.

In January we normally take delivery of the previous years photo book, but this year we instead bought a ‘Decade of our photos’ book from Facebook, and it was interesting to see just how much of our normal life acivities were curtailed by lockdown in 2020.

We also try to keep some sense of normality during this continued lockdown by dressing differently for Church on a Sunday, even although it is just a zoom service on line. And even on 25 January when we celebrated ‘Burns Night’ my wife put on her kilt and served ‘Haggis, neeps and tatties’. 🙂

And something to go with all these cups of tea!

Ofcourse the big event in January this year was the roll out of the Covid 19 vaccine across the UK. We were pleased to be invited to go to our local medical centre to receive ours towards the end of the month. Appointments were 10 minutes apart, and you were told to appear exactly on time! The service was very impressive, as after answering various questions and receiving the first dose of the vaccine, we were given an appointment card giving us the date and time for the booster injection.

We both reacted to the vaccine by having ‘flu’ like symptoms the following day, but were fine within the next 24 hrs with help from some paracetemol. The vaccine we received was the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine, and we were warned that 1 in 10 have a reaction to it. Since then the German government has announced they are not giving it to the over 65’s! In the UK two doses are said by the MHRA to be 62% efficient, which is quite a drop from the 90% efficiency initially reported by the Oxford team. However we are still in lockdown at present and there is unlikely to be any change to that for at least the next few weeks.

We are very grateful to everyone involved in fighting this pandemic by working around the clock to produce vaccines and treatments, and those in our National Health Service in particular who have given 110% to help save countless lives.

Robert Burns, Scotland’s national bard finishes one of his most popular poems with these famous words, they speak about a mouse whose little nest is disturbed by the ploughman:

But Mousie, thou art no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
          Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
          For promis’d joy!

Still, thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me!
The present only toucheth thee:
Bu
t O
ch! I backward cast my e’e,
          On prospects drear!
An’ forward tho’ I canna see,
          I guess an’ fear!

It seems no time ago that our politicians here in the UK were boasting confidently of all the happiness and prosperity that was coming our way when we left the European Union. Now we are in a pandemic, over 100,000 deaths due to Covid, grief and sorrow around the nation, unemployment soaring, the country trillions of £’s in debt, and a strained relationship with our former European partners! Mmmm! How apt, the words of Burns ‘The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men Gang aft agley.” And many many are saying again with Burns, An’ forward tho’ I canna see, I guess an’ fear!

Solomon, the wise man of old, warned us about boasting, he said, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.” It’s good then to keep our horizontal relationships with family, friends and colleagues on a loving and even keel! How awful to be separated by death when we are in ‘conflict mode’.

More importantly however is our vertical relationship with God! If you or I are suddenly called into His presence will we meet him as Saviour and friend, or as our judge? That is a big question! Here’s a prayer similar to one I prayed many years ago, it changed my status and my life!

Lord Jesus, I’m sorry for all the wrong things in my life. Thankyou for dying on the cross to pay for my forgiveness. I’m putting my trust in you as my Saviour. I surrender my life to you as my Lord and ask you to help me live a life that pleases you. Amen

more help at: matthewmuriel@aol.com

God bless

Matthew

Bondage, Bond and a Bridge

When I was a wee boy of five years, I spent the best part of a year in an infectious diseases hospital in Glasgow, having contracted diphtheria, followed by scarlet fever and a mastoid. No visitors were allowed so I was separated from my siblings and parents even at Christmas and New Year.  This year, for the first time since, my wife and I were on our own at Christmas and New Year due to Covid-19 restrictions. But we did have a nice time, and spoke with family and friends by phone, and on ‘what’s app’ or ‘Zoom’. One of our grandsons with his wife and family even came and sung carols to us outside our front door with the gift of a freshly baked cake! And of course we did manage a few photographs at home and in the garden and when driving to a quiet spot in our local area!

Oh, and we watched a few films, which is a bit unusual for us, as we are not really much into that. Perhaps it was because we have had to buy a TV licence again! 🙂 Yes, we did watch, (feel free to laugh) ‘The Sound of Music’ and ‘The Bridge on the river Kwai‘! The latter inspired the heading of this months blog ‘Bondage, Bond and a Bridge’.

Bondage. When I arrived in Thailand to work on an engineering contract back in the 80’s, I found myself within 10 days walking on the Burma (Death) Railroad. We had gone to Church on the Sunday I arrived, and I was told the following weekend there would be a church trip to the bridge on the river Kwai, and that we were invited. Walking on the railroad and visiting a commonwealth war memorial was a sobering experience, as anyone who has read anything of the history of that infamous railroad can imagine. Thousands upon thousands of British and Commonwealth soldiers and Asian civilians lost their lives, due to starvation, disease and cruel bondage. There was a subdued atmosphere amongst our group as later that day we rode downstream in a number of motorboats to catch a view of the bridge and it’s surroundings.

Bridge on the River Kwai and Commonwealth War Graves

Some months later we visited the refugee camps along the Cambodian border, where we witnessed the devastation in human lives caused by Pol Pot and his regime. They murdered at least 2 million of their own people and sent countless thousands more scattering for refuge to Thailand and elsewhere. Children in bondage, what a blot on the human race! Stories here too gruesome to tell or contemplate!

Cambodian refugees on the Thailand border – consider the disturbed look on some of those children’s faces.

BOND: Fortunately we were also able to visit other beautiful places in Thailand during that year’s contract, which brought some relief from the busyness of our hectic lives at that time. So look no further than the island and area immortalised by a certain Mr Bond, James Bond! in his legendary film ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’. Sailing among the mangroves and the amazing rock formations was certainly a fascinating experience, and visiting the village where they cultivated pearls, was financially perilous! Ever think that if only in real life we could find someone to save humanity from its madness and folly?

In and around ‘James Bond’ island

BRIDGE: The strange thing about the bridge on the River Kwai episode was that soldiers, on the same side in this deadly conflict, were working against each other. Some working to build a bridge and others working to destroy a bridge. There was good reason for that in this instance, but I’ll leave you to read the story for yourself. That fact however has been true in other international conflicts and disagreements, where selfish national interests take precedence over what might have been a better and more sensible outcome. And if we are honest we see that happening in almost every level of human society. Having your cake and eating it too, is now heralded as a great outcome in any negotiation!

Makeshift Church in Refugee Camp

We noticed that in the camp we visited on the Thai / Cambodia border there was a large church, open at the sides and back, which we were told was packed to capacity whenever a service was held, with people standing around outside. The message they were hearing was new to their ears and truly revolutionary. It’s the story of another bridge, one prepared by God Himself, that allows weary and worn sinners in a self destructive world to find peace and rest.

As I write, this new strain of Covid-19 is running rampant in Scotland and throughout the UK, with more than 1000 daily deaths and gloomy forecasts for the coming months, in spite of vaccination hopes. We are daily reminded of this virus’ impact around the world, and are being told we will defeat this virus together, so life can return to normal. But defeating Covid-19 will do nothing to help the reported 12 million children in danger from war, disease and famine in Yemen, or solve the countless wars, acts of terrorism and troubles and injustices perpetuated around the globe, which only get a brief mention at present. Today the USA, recognised as the world’s chief promoter of democracy was demonstrating how it should not be done, by a mob invading the White House! The Bible diagnoses humankind’s most serious problem and calls it sin. If we are honest we know we have all been infected.

So there is no Mr Bond who is going to save us, but Christmas is about a greater Saviour, who brings help from outside our world, coming to save us by becoming one of us. ‘Emmanuel’ God with us, Jesus the Saviour of the world. He provides the bridge for all who are seeking forgiveness, peace and rest. For our present and eternal safety and wellbeing we really need to step across. The last photo of a bridge spells it out so well. Take a look!

Jesus THE bridge!

Here’s the story of one young woman who crossed that bridge!

Wishing you all a very happy new year, and God’s peace, care and protection throughout 2021.

Matthew

2020 LOCKDOWN ESCAPES to the great outdoors!

It’s easy to look back on 2020 and think of all the restrictions that we lived under, but my photographic record seems to tell a different story. We did in fact enjoy some beautiful weather, and made many escapes to the great outdoors – either in the garden, the local vicinity or further afield. I’ve picked a photograph for each month as a review of the year, that tries to sum up our outdoor activities.

In early January we headed for Arrochar at the top of Loch Long

Arrochar is the ‘half way’ point in a popular drive from Glasgow, known as the ‘The Three Lochs’. Loch Lomond, Loch Long and the Gareloch. It’s a great place for a picnic, and we often stop here before travelling on to other destinations such as, Invergarry or Dunoon.

Irvine harbour area – February

Irvine is our nearest point to the sea, so hardly a month goes by without us being here, either for a walk on the beach or for a read in the car if the weather is inclement! In my ‘boyish imagination’I think looking at this photo, that I’m standing on the deck of a submarine as it heads out to sea from the clyde 🙂

In March, just before lockdown we visited Balquidder on a stormy sleety March day. This is the Churchyard where another popular Scottish folk hero is buried, Rob Roy MacGregor, known as the ‘Robin Hood’ of Scotland.

Stay Safe, stay local, so we did! This is the housing estate where we live

The weather in April was amazing for this time of year, so almost every day we walked around enjoying the budding trees and hedgerows. We now know more of our local area than ever before!

May – Apple Blossom in the garden, daffodils and tulips in decline, YES! summer is around the corner

The garden and greenhouse played a major part in our outdoor activities this year, and it was a real blessing to have them.

In June daytime in Scotland extends to 11pm and beyond, so it was nice to drive around the area close to home one summer evening. There I spotted this unusual cross on top of a Presbyterian Church, which seemed to me to still have the ‘crown of thorns’ hanging on the cross. With the moon in the background it was for me a very emotive scene, hence the photo and the text.

Girvan beach and ‘Ailsa Craig’ on a warm summer July evening!

In July restrictions were eased, so having already cancelled our holidays, we made most of the opportunity to make day trips here, there and everywhere!

August – A bumper harvest

With lots of sunshine and much care and attention the greenhouse produced a bumper harvest this year, and we are still enjoying the benefits of it yet, from the freezer!

The beach at Dornoch, Scotland

September saw us having a short autumn break in the Scottish Highlands at Inverness. We have many memories of beaches, castles, battlefields and memorials. One of our finest memories was walking on the beach at Dornoch on a glorious sunny day.

The redecorated lesser church hall

October we were back at church with social distancing, no singing and a maximum of fifty persons. It was great to be there again, for although zoom has been an alternative and a blessing, nothing beats meeting together with fellow Christians to worship and praise God, in the quietness the church building provides.

Glasgao Necropolis – Glasgow Cathedral in the background

November we visited the famous Glasgow Necropolis for the first time, to view the grandoise tombstones of the past, and to enjoy amazing views over old Glasgow, and also Glasgow’s ancient Cathedral

December and the first signs of ice on the local pond!

Yes, winter is here, lockdown is back to level four, and on a few mornings this last week we have been scraping the ice from the car windows. But the central heating is on, and we have every comfort, and the good news is that a vaccine has been developed for Covid 19. So we are thankful for everything we have enjoyed in 2020 and look forward with faith and hope to 2021.

Matthew

Ny-Alesund – The World’s Most Northerly Permanent Settlement at almost 79 degrees North!

One of the most fascinating places we have ever visited was the island of Spitsbergen in the Svalbard archipelago. Sitting almost halfway beween the north of Norway and the North Pole, it’s a land of the midnight sun and the polar night. Svalbard they say, is home to more polar bears than people!  There are countless glaciers and dramatic mountains and fjords to be wondered at, and even in mid summer the remains of winter’s icebergs can still be seen. It’s also home to the white fox and reindeer and the rock ptarmigan, the only landbound bird that stays for winter.

When we put our clocks back on the last weekend of October, I thought of the shortening days and dark nights ahead, and then remembered Svalbard and its residents. That same weekend for them was the start of the polar night! This means that they will not see the sun again until 8 March 2021.

When we visited there a few years ago our first port of call in Svalbard was Ny-Alesund on the island of Spitsbergen, which is home to a number of international arctic research stations. Most are active throughout the summer months, but some 30+ researchers remain throughout the year. It was a rainy day when we arrived, but somehow that just added to the feeling of wilderness, isolation and the sheer ruggedness of the place, and indeed caused us to consider the tenacity of the people who live and work there, summer and winter! Here are a few photographs .

We then sailed further north to the Magdalena Fjord, where once there was a British whaling station, but now it is completely abandoned, just the graves of some seamen are there, who died in this cold unforgiving place.

After Magdalena we moved south to Longyearbyen, a small mining town and the largest populated settlement in Svalbard with over 2000 residents. It is also the administrative centre for the Norwegian Government. Here you will find hotels and tourist organisations offering a variety of adventure holidays, and also a very interesting museum. Fortunately the weather had inproved when we arrived, and again the scenery was spectacular. This however, was the wrong time of year for seeing the ‘northern lights’ for which this place is famous!

What is it like to live through a polar night winter in this cold dark place? Christiane Ritter’s book entitled ‘A Woman in the Polar Night’ would make a great read during ‘lockdown’, you’ll be caused to consider how well off we are! Here’s Muriel reading an excerpt!

REFLECTIONS: Winter for us has always invoked memories of cosy nights around the fireside with family and friends, laughter, games and story telling, and the sharing of good food and drink. We also associate it with streets lined with ‘fairy lights’, brightly decorated shops and town squares, not to mention Christmas markets, Christmas trees and shopping! At Church we think of choir practices for the coming carol services and youth events, and of children’s Christmas parties. The women folk are always busy with sewing, knitting, and craft making activities for the ‘sales of work’ in support of missionaries and charities. The Church community cafe is in full swing bringing in local friends including the walking and photography clubs. And quietly and consistently the Bible is being taught at Sunday services, and in house groups, strengthening Christians in their faith, and also sharing the good news about Jesus with those who are searching for answers to life’s big questions.

However this year, many in Europe are fearful as we approach winter, because of the increasing threat of Covid-19. Some of us have family and friends who have been infected with this disease, and indeed others are still grieving the loss of loved ones. We are all doing our best to cope with another partial or full scale lockdown, with the restrictions and mental anguish and economic hardship that they entail.

I have wondered, how I would cope living for months in a land of permanent gloom and darkness with not a chink of sunlight to cheer the day. I guess that people will sometimes ask in their hearts ‘will the sun ever rise again?’ It’s the same with this pandemic, people are asking ‘will things ever get back to normal again?’ Well, people do persevere and live through the polar night, and celebrate the day when above the horizon the sun dares to raise its head and shine again. We too need to look foward with hope to a day when we will celebrate together as this pandemic is at least neutralised. But the fact is we can be joyful and at peace in our current circumstances, perhaps that’s the hard lesson we need to learn from this pandemic. Life can be enjoyed at a less frenetic and different level. Jesus offered to the people of His day ‘Life in all its fullness‘and that offer is still open. How about reading a good book, telling the kids a story, going for a run or walk, gardening indoors or out, starting a hobby, baking or cooking etc. etc. Jesus brings daily hope and joy into our lives if we come to Him and seek His forgiveness and help. I find singing or listening to some of my favourite Christian songs in the morning, and then reading the Bible sets me off for the day, for as the Psalmist says ‘Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path‘. Of course speaking to God in prayer is also a must! That is truly an anchor for the soul!

For those feeling uncertain and concerned about dark days ahead, I like the poem quoted by King George VI on Christmas Day 1939 at the start of the last world war. It reads, “I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year, ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’ And he replied, ‘Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be better than light, and safer than a known way.'” How true! When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:32

If you are reading this, and feel that you are living through a period of gloom and darkness, then please seek professional help now, (SAMARITANS Telephone 116 123, or The National Christian Lifeline telephone 0300 111 0101) there is light and life and hope to be found.

Let’s all keep looking up, like those in Svalbard, we may not see the sun yet, but it is still there, and Jesus the Light of the World is still there, inviting us to come to Him.

Matthew

 

New Direction and a History Lesson!

For those who follow this blog, you will know of our regular travels around Scotland’s many beauty spots. When we leave our home here our preference would normally be to travel North, or West or sometimes East. Recently we took the notion to try a new direction and go South, and we were so impressed by our first trip that we followed it up with a second, just a few weeks later.

We started by heading for the small town of Strathaven and then took the B743 signposted for Muirkirk. We had been out this road once or twice before, but just as far as the Dungavel Holding Centre for Refugees, people who have been refused permission to remain, and were awaiting repatriation.

It’s a beautiful winding country road and we pulled over for a coffee and stretch of legs at a parking spot overlooking the forest and river. There Muriel spotted a ‘Wayside Pulpit’ with the words ‘Be Strong in the Lord‘, these ‘pulpits’ were very common in Scotland at one time, but rarely seen now-a-days. We continued on to the lovely little town of Muirkirk set amongts the rolling hills of the Borders. There we turned left onto the A70 and headed for the heritage village of Glenbuck, a place we had never visited before. It was once famous for its Iron Ore Mill and Coal Mine, but is now remembered especially as the birth place of a certain ‘Mr Bill Shankly’, dear to the hearts of all Liverpool football supporters!

The Village dates back to the Bronze age, and between 1786 – 1813 was a source of iron, coal and limestone. It reached its peak in 1900 with the opening of new mines, and then the population reached 1700 persons and the village thrived and bustled with all kinds of sports activities. It also had a Co-operative store, a school, village hall and church.

THE SHANKLY’S – The story of the ‘Glenbuck Cherry Pickers’ football team, and the Shankly family and their huge impact on the world of football is now legendary. That such a small village should be home to men of this fame is in itself quite extraordinary. I’ll let you enlarge the above photos so that you can read the story for yourself. It was good to meet a few Liverpool supporters during our visit.

We then enjoyed a beautiful evening drive along the A70 until we joined the M74 for our return to Glasgow.

There is another memorial stone at Glenbuck commemorating another hero of an earlier time. You probably have never heard of him but here is the memorial plaque to John Brown Richard Cameron

This man from Glenbuck was among countless others, both men and women, who in the late 1600’s were part of ‘the Covenanters’ who fought for freedom of religion in Scotland, rejecting all interference from the King and Government in relation to belief, proclamation and practice. A freedom still enjoyed today, but one many consider to be under threat, in our growing secular society.

SECOND TRIP TO MUIRKIRK – On our next visit to Muirkirk we visited the cemetery and the ‘Heritage Lay-by’ for some more interesting facts about this Scottish village and its history. You can read the boards below by enlarging the photos.

We made our way home driving west on the A70 in glorious sunshine passing through the village of Sorn and the town of Galston, on almost empty country roads. It’s amazing what you learn when you get out and about! 🙂

ON REFLECTION I was thinking not so much about our change of direction, but of the dramatic change of direction enforced on all the refugees and asylum seekers who have passed through ‘Dungavel Holding Centre’ that we saw from the road, of their shattered hopes and dreams of happiness and prosperity. But who knows what that dramatic change would teach them or where it will take them. Who would have thought that the Shankly boys from the wee village of Glenbuck would find that their change of direction into football, would bring them fame and fortune? Lots of people have found that the Covid 19 pandemic has brought a dramatic change of direction into their lives. The question so many troubled and anxious people are asking today is ‘where do I/we go from here‘?

I personally have found that life has many challenges and disappointments, that have forced me to change direction. But I love the story Jesus told which rings true down through the generations. It’s about the man who leaves his Father’s home with his inheritance and big ideas of fun, fame and fortune. After sometime he hits the skids, his friends desert him, and he finds himself ‘in a field feeding the pigs’. When he comes to his senses, he decides to go back home, apolgise to his dad and ask if he could employ him just as a servant. So what does he find? A Father pointing a finger and yelling? No, a Father running to meet him with arms outstretched – and while the son splutters out his confession, the father is planning a celebration! So if you gave up on God thinking ‘I’ll manage fine on my own thankyou’ Just remember that your Heavenly Father is waiting for you to come to your senses and come home! You can read the full story in the Bible – Luke 15:11-32

It is possible to know God personally, I can testify to that. He offers forgiveness for sin, because of what His Son, Jesus, has done for us on the cross, He brings peace in life’s storms and promises never to leave us, and to take us safely to our heavenly home! That is such good news, that’s why it’s called the Gospel! All we have to do is come to our senses and make up our mind to come home. It is possible as the wayside pulpit said ‘To be strong in the Lord’.

God bless – Matthew

Staycation, Staycation!

Summer was ending and we had decided not to bother with a holiday away this year, but when we spotted a break in the weather coming up, we changed our minds. After trying a few places we managed to find accommodation at Inverness, so headed there for a short 5 night break.

It’s a 3 .5 hours drive from Glasgow on the A9, but since we were in no hurry we enjoyed a days drive, visiting and stopping at a number of places along the way.

We had not been in this area for a number of years so visited again the ‘Black Isle’ where we once acted as leaders at a Christian Youth Centre camp for a 100+ teenagers at Fortrose / Rosemarkie. Here you can visit the remains of an ancient Cathedral dating back to the 1200s. We enjoyed a walk around the ground. This area was, and perhaps still is, a stronghold for the MacKenzie clan.

We then drove to Cromarty and Nigg bay, home to many redundant North Sea oil rigs, before joining the A9 and crossing the Cromarty Firth for a drive to the beautiful village of Dornoch. and a walk and picnic on one of Scotland’s most beautiful beaches.

Our hotel was very near to the Culloden battlefield so on another morning we visited there. Here the Jacobite uprising of 1745 was finally crushed on the 16 April 1746. It is a very emotive place to visit. Many of my ancestors from the clans Cameron, McLachlan and McKinnon fought and died in this bloody and ferocious battle, which brought to an end not only the Jacobite cause, but also saw the beginning of the end of the clan system. Retribution was fierce, even the wearing of the kilt was banned, and it seems inevitable that the Highland clearances were to follow. Thankfully this was the last battle to take place on the UK mainland.

We also managed a forage along the Moray Coast visiting many places where we had spent holidays in the past. Here is a selection of some of them.

We travelled home on the single track road from Daviot to Whitebridge and then on to Fort Agustus, before reaching Fort William. The last leg took us through Glen Coe, down past Loch Lomond and then to Glasgow. There were many photo opportunities along the way.

There were certainly more people around at the main tourist attractions, especially for this time of year, due to folks having a ‘staycation’ this year , but you could not say the place was busy!

REFLECTION: It was great to be away even just for a few days, and switch off (literally) from the continual bombardment of bad news, and the potential bad news diet, fed to us daily by the media. It’s true however, that there is lots of bad news around! Covid-19 pandemic, economic crisis, education crisis, health service crisis, business crisis, refugee crisis, racism incidents, wars and rumours of wars, ‘super powers’ vying for supremacy, arms build up, environment crisis ……….. Do you ever feel like saying, ‘stop the bus, I want to get off‘? Sadly even our trip around the beauties of Scotland, with its memories of Culloden, and its many war memorials and broken down cottages from ‘the clearances’ etc. reminds us that the ‘falleness of humankind’ is an ongoing problem. Even although most people would relate to the Psalmist who said ‘Too long have I lived among those who hate peace. I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war.’ Psalm 120:6-7.

But isn’t it true that within our hearts we long for the day when the world and it’s people will at last be at peace and their will be justice and equity.

As a Christian I believe that day is coming. The prophet Isaiah envisages such a day after the return of Jesus Christ. He says:

In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.
Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD. Isaiah 2:1-5

‘Let us walk in the Light of the Lord‘, now if only we could all learn to do that!

Stay safe, save lives, and God bless.

Matthew

Green Grows the Garden – but how green?

Summer is almost over for another year and the garden is starting to show the signs. The heather is out and the apples are ripening on the apple trees, just in time for the apple and bramble jelly, and the flowers are just past their best.

This year we spent more time in the garden due to the virus pandemic, and as always we derived much pleasure in watching everything grow and flourish. The weather was mostly dry and sunny from mid March to mid June, but then reverted to a typical Scottish mix of rain, followed by sunshine and showers, and at times blustery winds.

Here are some of the flowers and plants that we grew this summer.