Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Around the East Neuk Festival

This is going to read like one long weather report, but frankly it matters when you're in a beautiful place by the sea (and I've done the full write-up of the marvellous music over on The Arts Desk). I've been used to changeable conditions over the parts of the previous East Neuk Festivals I've attended, but not to the non-stop wind and torrential rain on the day of my arrival this year nor the grey, drizzly day that followed. On Saturday morning our spirits lifted with the arrival of radiant light and stayed that way. Still, the Friday had its (musical) pleasures, of course, for me chiefly the discovery of the superb young Castalian Quartet - three of the players seen here at Kilrenny Church with Spanish oboist Cristina Gómez Godoy -

and an encyclopedia of soft and loud from guitarist Sean Shibe and clarinettist Julian Bliss at Anstruther's Dreel Halls in the evening. This is the only shot, unprofessional or otherwise, to prove that the two really did appear together.

By this stage the drizzle had stopped and there was the faintest promise of light on the horizon from the graveyard and the harbour where I had my only swim of last year.

Sean's dad Paul came out at the end to talk to me - such a friendly, delightful guy. He and Sean's mum Junko run The Meadows Pottery, which I intend to visit when next in Edinburgh. Here they are with Sean and his sister.

8am the next morning, and the promised sun still hasn't appeared, but it's clear with a hint of light on patches of water from my Crail B&B window.

And by 10am, from the shore at Crail, a fishing vessel this time in full sunshine is what we've got.

Crail and district is one of the spots along the Fife coast where the rock formations change with pleasing frequency, There are rather more spectacular shapes lower down in this entry, but it's good to see all these rocks around the settlement itself. 

Plenty of folk out walking their dogs beneath the castle with its orielesque folly

and some taking instruction from a local rower.

The harbour, of course was, looking more picturesque than ever

and it still has its uses - fishing continues, even if the old mechanisms are now of only archaeological interest.

You can buy fresh crab and lobster from a shack.

I was lucky with the crab - the boats hadn't been out for the previous two days, I snapped up what there was and when I came back to collect it, they'd sold out of the rest.  Then it was off to the first concert of the day, via the magnificent Schubert sand sculpture. I've given a full-frontal on the Arts Desk article, but it's worth noting the roundel behind to Thomas Kingo, Crail-born weaver who emigrated to Denmark, where his descendant was famous for his hymn tunes (Sunday's concert would celebrate that).

Clouds had rolled in by the time we got to Elie that afternoon, but the glorious sands of this very des res seaside town, much more expensive than Crail probably because it's that bit closer to Edinburgh for commuters, still looked good under louring skies.

We were here to listen to the local Tullis Russell Mills Band, one of several who'd been playing all along the coast at various times.


Their maestro for the extraordinary site-specific project we'd be experiencing later was the redoubtable John Wallace, scion of a local mining family. He was more than happy to be one of them,

Edinburgh friend Julie was down for the weekend, so we went to all the Schubertiad concerts together. Here she is on the beach talking to wonderful ENF PR Debra Boraston

and seemingly stopping or conducting more band players on their way to join the ones already there.

I had my annual vision of a perfect summer evening in Crail Churchyard in the interval of the final Schubertiad (Leonskaja, the Belceas, Alois Posch - perfection), with rooks

and a walk around dead-quiet Crail at 11pm, catching Schubert with the sunset behind him - sorry to hear that subsequently his nose was broken in a pointless piece of vandalism -

as well as more of the moon above the jetty steps

and another sweep of the bay.

Sunday morning brought glitter of waves again and an equally lovely morning down at the harbour.

Yonder beach is where I had my annual quick dip in the North Sea, Julie having bought lobster rolls from the shack which we consumed on the sand .

It was way too cold to swim for more than two minutes - when you're not warming up at all as you move, you know your time is limited - but from sand to not being able to touch the bottom in clear green water in seconds was wonderful. I thought, I could work here for six months if I had a table/desk with a sea view and a dog to walk, a dip every day weather regardless; little happens in Crail outside the Festival - and not much around the concerts either - but I could be content.

Long walks would be a must, too. I've still not achieved the aim of walking from the Cambo Estate up to St Andrews, but instead did a short (4 mile) haul to Anstruther for the afternoon concert. Julie came with me a short distance before peeling off to visit her brother. While you're still on the road, views quickly open up over the harbour

and then you're on a grassy path which gives you a view over the whole of Crail

heading out to sea

before turning right, and more or less southwards, past attractive ruins

and fine rock formations looking across to the Isle of May - another must for a future visit, it's a bird sanctuary with puffins galore in June. The rocks show the tectonic shifts of the Carboniferous period, when Scotland (hard as it is to believe) lay at the Equator - there was plenty of volcanic activity both here, in East Lothian and of course in Edinburgh.

Looking inland, the flower meadows were profuse at that time (the second shot here is actually taken en route to St Monans, but it fits the theme)

and coastal thistles are good for the bees.

Closer to Anstruther, the furthermost development of which can just be seen in the first pic below, there's a holey group of sandstone rocks called Caiplie Coves, which I only now discover were the site of early Christian worship. What I did know was that a hermit used to live in one of them. All I saw was a CND motif sprayed on the inside wall.

I fantasise how nice it would be to spend time in the nearby settlement, with its magical clump of trees and beautifully tended gardens.

Out to sea, with cormorants perching on nearby rocks as they were last year, the Isle of May looms clear while Gull Rock and Berwick Law can now be made out further round.

And so, over hastily as our beach idyll with bathing and lobster rolls had left me with too little time to arrive in Anstruther in good time for Debra's suggestion of ye famous fish and chips, I strode into Cellardyke, the hardier part of the resort. I love it that washing is still hung out to dry in the small harbour there.

Time was too short for more than a few chips at the famous Anstruther Fish Bar, but the lively concert in the Town Hall was well worth the sacrifice - pictured below, a heady mix of players from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra who go by the name of Mr McFall’s Chamber with Shetland fiddler Chris Stout, Dundee-born harpist Catriona McKay and - first-half poets who came back for the encore Norwegians Nils Økland and jazz-rooted double-bassist Mats Eilertsen. Again, there's no professional record of the occasion so this will have to do.

Chuffed to find a treasurable box of vinyl for sale - 50p each for LPs including rare Gliere LPs and Lilac Time (slightly tongue in cheek owing to the Schubertiad but since my old dad liked it I thought I should hear 'the Schubert Musical'). A final bask in the revenant sun in another graveyard, opposite the hall with the sea in the distance

and then the first half of the last concert before I was whisked to Edinburgh Airport for the flight back. 

The Bowhouse is where the site-specific wonder, 'De Profundis', had taken place; I was pleased to see it as it usually functions, a rather plusher successor to the Cambo Potato Barn (which still, I think, has better acoustics).

And a last glimpse of Fife countryside looking inland from the Bowhouse.

Lovely part of the world - but in winter? Not so sure.


Susan said...

Such a lovely idyll. Many pleasures, too many to recount, so I'll note but one, which is this: "I thought, I could work here for six months if I had a table/desk with a sea view and a dog to walk, a dip every day weather regardless; little happens in Crail outside the Festival - and not much around the concerts either - but I could be content." Right about now, that sounds like heaven on earth to me.

David said...

Always it's of the essence, whether you're in the middle of a massive national crisis or not. Always restores perspective. Though at Crail in festival time, an Englishman won't escape the older Scots anxious to debate our own Brexit disaster (which really ought not to be theirs too).

larrymuffin said...

Lovely photos and lobster too, oh no!

David said...

Presumably that's approval rather than horror at the lobsters swimming around in their watery prison waiting to be cooked and eaten...