My personal blog as a 'grown-up' Goth and Romantic living in the Highlands of Scotland. I write about the places I go, the things I see and my thoughts on life as a Goth and the subculture, and things in the broader realm of the Gothic and darkly Romantic. Sometimes I write about music I like and sometimes I review things. This blog often includes architectural photography, graveyards and other images from the darker side of life.

Goth is not just about imitating each other, it is a creative movement and subculture that grew out of post-punk and is based on seeing beauty in the dark places of the world, the expression of that in Goth rock. It looks back to the various ways throughout history in which people have confronted and explored the macabre, the dark and the taboo, and as such I'm going to post about more than the just the standards of the subculture (Siouxsie, Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus, et al) and look at things by people who might not consider themselves anything to do with the subculture, but have eyes for the dark places. The Gothic should not be limited by what is already within it; inspiration comes from all places, the key is to look with open eyes, listen carefully and think with an open mind..

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Vampire Prince In The Lost Garden

Or at least that's how I was imagining myself in these photographs. In reality I'm neither a prince nor a vampire, and this is actually that meadow close to my current apartment that I love posing in because it's such a pretty meadow (and I am such a vain Goth!). 

I will be moving soon (very soon) and will no longer have this lovely meadow to pose in so near by, but I am sure I will find somewhere equally pretty in my new location. All the photographs are by my partner Raven. The meadow is especially pretty now it is summer and the grass is long and the flowers in bloom. I specified this part of the meadow because of how much I like the shrubbery there.

Photograph by Raven

It was a day bordering on dreich; cloudy, overcast and dull, but not quite as damp and drizzly as a truly dreich day. The skies were grey and leaden and I like how Raven capitalised on that dreariness when it comes to both the photographs and the editing. I am really grateful to Raven for his photographs. 

Photograph by Raven

I am especially happy with my make-up this day. I did deep purplish red lipstick fading out concealer close to my skin tone for an effect I have seen done beautifully both on humans and on well-painted art dolls. I think I could have done even better had I made my lips dewy with some gloss, but as it stands, it still seems quite successful to me. I think I was a tad heavy-handed with blusher and contouring, but I am still new to it. The eye-shadow was in shimmery pinks - a completely alien concept to me - and I was aiming for a look that was somewhere between natural and a bit fey. 

Photograph by Raven

I really enjoy dressing in Ouji and Aristocrat fashion - with a Gothic take on such things, of course! Most of this outfit was second-hand; the trousers are from Primark originally, and I bought them in a charity shop for £2, the pirate boots were bought secondhand on eBay, the waistcoat is vintage Marks & Spencer and I bought it secondhand on eBay, the blouse is from ZanZea and was a Christmas/Solstice present from Raven - as was the cane (which comes in useful, what with my coordination disorder), and the only things I bought new were the necklace and the gloves, both from Claire's and the Jabot. The jabot I bought earlier this year, and I know I ordered it online, but I've actually forgotten where. I have a feeling it's handmade and either from Etsy or Ebay. 

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Androgynous Aristocrat

It would, if you went by how I dressed in most of my blog posts, be an easy assumption to make that I am always very "feminine" by the traditional gendering of fashion. While I always love frills, I don't always go for skirts, corsets, long hair, and usual staples. I am actually quite fond of a more "tomboyish" or "androgynous" version of Romantic Goth fashion.  I love brocade trousers, waistcoats 'vests' to my American readers), frock-coats, pirate boots and ruffled shirts - the branch of Romantic Goth fashion that is derived from historical male fashion. It was not a very big step from that point to become interested in the fashion worn by the more Gothic-looking Visual Kei bands, Aristocrat fashion, and Ouji; the same aesthetic inspirations coming through in Japanese alternative cultures. There is a great overlap between Romantic Goth fashion and the Gothic Japanese street-fashions, and as I am someone that basically likes things that are frilly, anachronistically inspired and Gothic, I draw from both and mix and match. 

Selfies by HouseCat

I quite like looking somewhat androgynous. Since my late teens I have been quite curvy, which is not the most androgynous-looking shape, but I try and choose cuts and underwear that will to some degree make it less immediately apparent. I like playing with that androgyny because I don't actually see gender (the psycho-social aspect) as part of my identity. I have no particular dysphoria about my sex; I just see it as utterly irrelevant to who I am as a person, and not really part of my identity as a person on any fundamental level. but the rest of the world does not work like that; for as long as I can remember, I have had others try and define me and their expectations of me according to my sex and gender. This is one way I like play with, and try subverting those societal categories. 

Selfies by HouseCat

Being heavily made-up is probably a strange choice when deliberately aiming for androgynous, but the appearance I am seeking is something akin to more everyday, casual version of the styles worn by members of bands like Versailles Philharmonic Quintet, Moi-Dix-Mois, or Blood, and a little bit of Dave Vanian, Peter Murphy, David Bowie and maybe a small hint of Sharon Needles. I love seeing make-up on Goths and Gothic types of all sexes and genders. I think I end up looking more like an older teenage boy than a woman in her late 20's! I have a relatively angular face, which is useful in that regard. Any advice on make-up techniques like contouring to try and achieve this sort of look would be greatly appreciated.

Selfies By HouseCat

I wish I could post a full-body photograph of this outfit. I am wearing a long pirate-style coat by Dark Star which originally belonged to Raven, but as he began to bulk out more, it no longer fitted him, so I ended up with it and had it tailored to fit me a bit better. I had black brocade trousers on, and knee-high pirate boots. That is not my real hair, of course (that is still turquoise for now); it is a wig that was originally Raven's but I end up borrowing it far more than he ever wears it! I will try and get more photographs of me in Ouji and Aristocrat and whatever the Western equivalent in Romantic Goth fashion would be called. 

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Goth Meets Lolita: Outfit Of The Day

This is just a quick and belated outfit-of-the-day post. I wore this outfit just over a week ago, for some shopping, and I wanted to post it up here as an example of my day-to-day summer style. As I work at a school (for now, I will be leaving soon for university) and it is currently the summer holiday, I don't have to wear work-clothes 5 days a week so am taking the opportunity to dress more in my own style. 

Stripes. Photograph by Raven

This outfit is a mixture of Gothic Lolita and regular Goth. I wouldn't call it truly Gothic Lolita because it has elements that stray from the parameters of Lolita. The boots I am wearing are certainly more Goth than Gothic Lolita, and I am using my natural hair in all its unnaturally dyed turquoise colourfulness, and despite it being in a style not really suitable for Lolita (not to mention my roots are showing!). As such, I think of this as something just beyond the borders of Gothic Lolita. Also, I usually wear glasses. When I am photographed without them, it is usually so my make-up is visible. 

Outfit rundown: ☠ Bat Necklace: eBay, secondhand. ☠ Blouse and JSK: ☠ Bodyline set from the "separates" section. ☠ Gloves: Claire's Accessories. ☠ Charcoal and black striped tights: Poundland (yes, really). ☠ Boots: H&M. ☠ Bat backpack: gifted. 

Bat-bag. Photograph by Raven

I am totally in love with the bat-backpack. It was a gift given to me as a leaving present in the sweetest of circumstances, and I love it for what it represents as well as it being a cute heart with bat-wings and a wonderful embodiment of my "perky-Goth" personality. Since I got it, I have taken it out nearly every day that I have been out. Very rarely do I cry when given something, but I was so touched that I did cry this time! Oftentimes it is far more than just having a thing that is important, it is having something that is an embodiment and token of something much greater than the object itself. I know that I touched someone else's life, and that person has touched mine, and we have both made each other's lives better, even though I will probably not see them again after September, but I will never forget them. 

Monday, 20 July 2015

Highland Lolitas Botanic Garden Meet-Up

I organised my first meet for the Highland Lolitas community for the 7th of July. We are a very new and small community. We had our first proper meet up as high tea at the Royal Highland Hotel back in March, but this was just before my hiatus and I did not get to blog about it. If people request a retrospective blog post about the first ever Highland Lolta community meet up, then I can probably do a blog post about it. I have organised a mini-meet at the Botanic Gardens before, and I blogged about that ::here:: but that is when there were only the three of us and we had not formed a community because our numbers were too small. There are now about 8 active memembers in our community, and our meets are usually between 3 and 6 people in attendance, so it is still a very small community. 

Photograph by Danielle
There was actually a meet up in Culloden for International Lolita Day, but I chose to go the big Scottish Lolitas community meet in Edinburgh instead (I felt a bit like I'd accidentally ended up as the 'Highland representative' as I got a few questions about our small community) and while I don't regret going to Edinburgh, I wish I could bilocate and have gone to both! A few of the girls met up on the same day as ZombieNess, which again put me in the position of having to choose, and as this was the first ZombieNess and the council were trying to guage interest to see if it would be run again, attending that with my friends seemed like a priority as we wanted to show our support on hopes of it happening again in future years. I was left feeling like I was abandoning our nascent Lolita community, and thus decided to organise a meet-up myself. 

Better size view. Photograph by Danielle

I chose the Inverness Botanic Gardens (Floral Hall) because it is a very beautiful location, has an on-site cafe that serves teas and cakes (with delightful antique-style crockery), it has both indoor and outdoor sections so we could have an enjoyable visit regardless of the weather, and because when we had our mini-meet before, they were very welcoming of us despite us all looking so very unusual, and seemed intrigued in a positive way rather than thinking we might be a detriment to their custom. It was also an all-ages venue, and as the youngest in our community is 14, I did not want anyone to feel left out. 

Sitting on a bench with my umbrella as a parasol. Changeable weather!
Photo by Danielle.

Organising the meet-up is actually quite a bit of work; I was helping girls with their travel arrangements (like which busses to take), ran a poll to find out the most convenient date and had to work out where we would meet, whether there were going to enough of us to ring ahead and book tables, etc. I think organising a meet-up that involves a booking, much larger numbers and perhaps group travel would be a really large amount of work, so I am very grateful to all those at the Scottish Lolita community who organise things like the tea-parties at the Willow Tea Rooms and the recent International Lolita Day meet (which I blogged about ::here::). 

Danielle, in a lovely Sweet Lolit outfit. Photograph by me.

We met up at the Eastgate Centre in Inverness (the shopping mall), as it is a central public space, and open enough for us to all immediately recognise each other by our outfits (quite distinct from the regular fashion in Inverness!). The initial plan was to meet up in the food-court, but all of us seemed to have the idea to go into Claire's and look for floral head-decorations, beforehand so we ended up meeting up there instead! Before I got into the mall, the weather was a bit dreich, but it had been sunny earlier, and I thought perhaps it might only shower lightly. When we got out of the mall it was more than mere drizzle, and it rapidly became downpour. We rapidly got totally soaked - or "drookit" as it is in Scots. We had our umbrellas with us, but they were useless against wind-driven rain that just blew under our umbrellas and drenched us. We did not get as far as bus to the outskirts of town in one go - we gave up, and decided to hide in the So CoCo cafe until the rain passed, or at least stopped raining quite as hard. It transpired that nobody else at the meet had tried macarons, so I bought a box of macarons to share. Once the rain died down, we walked the rest of the way to the bus, and then took the bus to the botanic gardens. The rain had flooded many of the paths, so we had to walk around the long way. Once we got to the gardens the weather started to improve. 

I'm growing! I'm growing! Photo by Danielle

I am considerably taller than all the others in the group; I am  5'9½" without heels on, and I was wearing 4½ inch heels above that, making me approximately 6'2" with heels on! Even without heels I am quite a bit taller than the other group members with their heels on, so I towered like an giantess over them. Within the hot-house, there is a room that is part of the staff area and is underneath the waterfall section and mezanine terrace; I would presume it is the pump-house for the waterfall and pools. The entrance is a door that is under the average door height, and I had fun standing in the doorway and pretending that I was suddenly growing like Alice from Alice in Wonderland, when she eats the 'Eat Me' cake!

We had a wander around the hot-houses of the Botanic Gardens, took lots of photographs, admired the flowers and the fish (there is an indoor koi pool in the hot house, and several ponds in the outdoor gardens), and then we visited the cactus house, which is my favourite part of the botanic gardens. After we had visited all the indoor parts, we visited the outdoor gardens, which are quite extensive. Several visitors took photosgraphs of us; all our outfits were on themes that fitted in with the aesthetics of the gardens, so we must have looked just right for photographs! One chap with a rather fancy camera took photographs for us, which was very nice, and then we had them e-mailed to us, which is very nice! I have been photographed hundreds of times while out and about elaborately dressed, but I have only seen about 5 of those photographs taken by strangers. In this age of smart-phones, wi-fi hotspots and social media, it is really not difficult to send me at least a link!

We then had cake and snacks in the cafe, before finally heading back into town on a double-decker bus, being quite silly and sitting at the front of the top deck and pretending we were super-heroes flying through the city! When we got back to the town centre, I found out that Danielle and one of the other girls are street performers in Inverness too - I busk playing the recorder, and they do dances and singing. I watched them perform, and then went off (and actually did some performing of my own as I often carry my recorder with me in case the opportunity comes up!).

I apologise for the lack of group photographs, but most of them include group members who are quite young, and I did not feel it was appropriate to post them on my public blog. 

PicMonkey collage of Danielle's photos. PicMonkey's clip-art.

I went for a Classic Lolita in old-school black-and white instead of outright Gothic as I was aiming for something more summery. The weather started off sunny, then went through torrential rain (hence the umbrella) complete with sideways rain (the umbrella was useless), then to rather sunny, and then back to rain again! It was really hard to try and dress for the weather because it was so changeable. The only thing that was constant about it all was the warmth and the humidity. Oh the Scottish summer!

Outfit rundown: ❀ Wig: Coscraft ❀ Old-school headdress: handmade by me ❀ White hair roses (not part of the bush!): Claire's ❀ Choker: cheap lace choker from eBay which I modified by adding a cameo from Rock and Roar and removing some of the tacky beads from ❀ Blouse: Metamorphose ❀ Black fabric ❀ Rose pin: thrifted ❀ JSK: Baby, The Stars Shine Bright ❀ Tights (rose-pattern): I've forgotten, but it was some bridal supplier ❀ Shoes: Fiore ❀ Gloves: Claire's ❀ Umbrella: Primark 

I would love constructive criticism! I would really like for suggestions on how to improve this outfit. Please remember I was dressing for summer, hence why this is not a very elaborate outfit, and why I am only wearing one petticoat with my dress. I am 5'9½" before heels, so the dress is a bit short on me, but the weather was so clammy, and all my underskirts are quite thick so I decided to just bend the rules a bit instead.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

A Goth In Dingwall

I am continuing with project photographing Goths and similar alternative types in the Highlands. It is really important to me to show the world that even a mostly rural and often quite remote area like the Highlands (quite sparse in terms of population, with Inverness, our only major city, being smaller than some towns) has Goths, and that we are every bit as fabulous, unique, and varied as Goths in other places. I actually think that are lower numbers means that we do not tend to group ourselves into cliques by genre, and that many of us are quite varied as individuals as well as each being representative of varied styles; I know I can be anything from Gothic Lolita through Romantic Goth to Trad Goth when it comes to fashion and that I am hybrid of all of those things when it comes to my approach to Goth itself, and to being alternative, and there's so many different aspects to many of the Goth individuals I know locally - I am certainly no exception. 

Samm, a portrait. I love the narrow depth of field in this one!
Photograph by HouseCat

This installment of the project is bringing you Samm, from Dingwall. Dingwall is a town of Viking origin that's a short way North of Inverness. I was quite happy to get there on a £6.10 day ticket that could also take me as far south as Daviot  -which I considered, but I ran out of time. Daviot has a lovely church in a beautiful location that I have been wanting to photograph ever since I saw it on my way up the A9 to get here! Samm is an enthusiastic cosplayer, as well as Goth inclined alternative lassie, and a big fan of camping. I have had an awesome time camping with her, and hopefully we're going camping together again soon. 

Full length Samm, by a railing and vines. 

Samm's style for this photoshoot is very Nu-Goth, with a Killstar top and and H&M skull scarf, a neat black skater skirt and chunky black boots. This is just one variation on Goth and Alternative fashion that Samm wears, and I may well photograph her again in the future in a different set, wearing a different style. She took her jacket off for the photos, and as you can probably see, it started off a grey and dull day, so the scarf is actually mine, lent to her as I didn't want her getting cold! 

Looking into the graveyard, the sky making

The location is the churchyard of St. Clement's church in the centre of Dingwall. It is bordered on 3 sides by carparks (including a particularly large one for the local supermarket) and offers an idyl of quiet and respite from the traffic and busyness around it. I am not the sort of person to ask models to drape themselves across gravestones, nor to walk across graves like they are ordinary grass, nor to be loud or obnoxious in a cemetery, so I was very careful in taking these photographs to respect the surrounding graves, and to only use fence railings as "prop"s, not the graves themselves and to at least try to keep the wording on graves obscured, as I feel those things are personal to the families of the deceased. 

Samm and the "teeny tiny urn-thing". Photograph by Housecat

Samm is a particularly chirpy and bubbly person, and I tried to convey that in the photos. She was trying to do her "serious Gothic modeling" expression, but it always cracked into at least a smirk. It doesn't help that I called the finial on the railings a "teeny tiny urn-thing".  Perky Goths are real (and I am one! especially once caffeinated... ). 

Playing with the angles of stone walls. Photograph by HouseCat

In terms of photography, I am relatively with how these came out. My favourite is the first one shown, with the narrow depth of field. I both like how that specific effect turned out, and also the composition for that photograph. All the photographs are in black and white, which is not something I have done for portrait photography before - I took inspiration for how I normally treat my architectural photographs. In some of them, where she is mostly monochrome and the background is quite leafy, I do feel like she would have been more distinct from the background in colour, but over all I like how this set turned out. 

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Scene Drama

I was just reading ::this:: post by The Everyday Goth, and I thoroughly recommend it - especially if you are a younger Goth in your teens, and are first encountering drama within any scene or subculture. I wrote a fairly long comment on the article, and I think article struck a chord with me. I am not going to repeat what The Everyday Goth has already said; I agree with all the advice she has given and certainly think it is good advice to follow. 

My first observation on scene drama is that there appears to be two kinds of drama - the kind where there is no underlying actual problem other than a person who likes to create drama, and people deliberately wanting drama are creating a storm in a tea cup over nothing much, and the other kind where whatever the underlying argument is, feelings run deep and the actual issue needs to be resolved at some point for it to stop continually resurfacing. 

The first type can be ridden out, and with careful observation those who are either starting or perpetuating the drama for their amusement or for some silly convoluted social politics will be evident, so you can know to avoid those people and their drama. This sort of drama is usually either entirely fabricated with the use of rumours and gossip, or a deliberate escalation of what really ought to be a minor and private matter. A key sign with this sort of drama, and those who start it is that it makes private disagreements as public as possible - people involved will post their personal fallings-out on social media, on forums, and tell everyone who will listen, provide you with screen-caps of sections of privately messaged conversation to "prove" who is in the right, and try and get as many people as possible to join in with the airing of grievances. Whether this is done to deliberately damage someone's reputation or simply because the person in question is wanting to be the centre of attention, similar methods are used, and the dispute being aired is either nonsense or something minor that has been inflated, and is absolutely not worth getting involved in - getting involved will only make matters worse, and is best ignored and left to die of attention starvation. 

The second type is trickier, especially when it is an issue that actually involves the local scene instead of just an issue affecting the personal lives of certain members - say an argument over the management/mismanagement of club nights or the organisation of an event or some such (for example there's been big drama recently in the Lolita community over how certain large Lolita events in America were run, with online petitions being written, and people in communities world-wide getting involved if even as distant commentators). These sorts of dramas are not empty, and while people's personal grievances often get dragged into them, there is usually a larger underlying issue. 

Sometimes it is worth getting involved to get the issue solved, but it has to be done in a way that is constructive rather than causes a rift. These sorts of issues are certainly where The Everyday Goth's advice of picking your battles is important, and knowing where the boundaries are between constructive disagreement and causing a vicious schism. Certainly, if you feel there is a real issue in your community, do what you can to further things, but make sure your behaviour in trying to achieve results does not degenerate to petty tactics. I often see people who think they are campaigning on the side of some variant on righteousness acting in ways that really are not right at all. If there is a problem in your Goth, Lolita or similar community, it needs resolving so that you are a stronger and more cohesive group, not becoming the starting point for a major and divisive issue; divisions in the community will weaken it, will make it harder for people to collaborate and organise things, and generally more difficult for any form of progress to be made, whether it relates to the issue that caused the division or not.

I should not have to really write this guide to good conduct, but as these issues constantly resurface, and often times those perpetuating them seem like perhaps they really have lost touch with what is reasonable in their endeavours rather than are simply nasty people, here it is:

Don't result to personal insults, threats or wishing misfortune on people. It is incredibly childish. I work at a primary school and this is literally the sort of behaviour I sometimes witness in the playground. If you are older than 13, you have no excuse to be acting like this, and even if you are younger than that, you should be learning to make better choices. If I expect better conduct from a child at primary school than what you are doing, you have really, really, stooped low. "You are lower than scum" is just a more elaborate way of saying "You're a poop-head" and no less childish. 

No giant internet battles/flame wars! This is where the entire forum, or even a large section of the online community for a scene, are arguing over the internet with each other. We probably all have better things to spend that time on in our offline lives! Sometimes people on the internet are wrong, and you do not have to make it your personal mission to correct every wrong person. 

No getting an e-posse on side to troll and harass the opposition. It is tempting to tell all your friends about how bad something is and urge them to take action, but be careful about who you are talking to. There are those people who, on hearing about an issue, will take time to look at both sides of the problem, and consider their stance - and only then take action, and if so, will do so with reasoned arguments if participating in discussion, or maybe with signing a petition if it is a big issue, or perhaps write an article on their position that is not vindictive or denegrating the opposition. There are also those who will only have listened to, or understood, half of what you have told them, have no interest in the other side of the matter, jump to conclusions, act purely on a knee-jerk emotional reaction rather than take time to look into things more deeply, and will immediately start with the hateful words and the "I hope you die in a fire" type comments. Think before you tell people things; if a person falls into the second category, telling them may unwittingly escalate things. If you are deliberately inciting the second category of people, that is deliberately provoking drama and it is a) counterproductive to your cause and b) very petty. 

No screaming matches. If you have got to the point where you are actually face-to-face yelling at each other, you have both lost. No progress can be made when emotions are running that high and people are too hurt and too angry to think straight. At this point it is better to walk away and let somebody else take on the role of trying to fix the issue. If it has got as far as a real life argument, then both people arguing are probably very firmly fixed in their perspective, and it is often a complete waste of time arguing with them, especially as the more emotionally attached someone is to an issue, the more likely they are to disregard any reason or evidence that goes counter to their stance. 

Certainly no attempts at trying to bring harsh real-world problems onto those you disagree with. This means no doxxing, no telling people's employers or similar institutions with authority over them that after hours they are goths/fetishists/Pagans/whatever misunderstood group, etc. (something similar happened to me when I was a teen about me being Pagan...). I have even seen petitions to have people fired from their jobs where the issue has absolutely no relation to their employment. Those who start these actions are often being vindictive at worst, or at best hugely misguided in an "the ends justify the means" attempt to improve things, and those who join in to support these actions need to thoroughly consider how destructive the rammification of these actions are. Sometimes the ends do not justify the means, and it is real people being hurt at the other side of a computer screen. 

If there is a real issue in your community that needs to be addressed, try and resolve it like mature adults with discussions, compromises, and simply refusing to participate in events you don't think are run right, or if you think you could do better, actually DOING that. The phrase "I could do better" often crops up in complaints about club nights, amongst the perennial complaints about club nights "the music selection is awful! The venue is awful! The timing is awful! I could do better!!" - but rarely does anyone actually try and do better, because they are just wanting to moan, and neither do they request better tunes, actually contact anyone about improvements to the venue ("the toilet door's broken, it's been that way for years" - so has anyone told the management about this? Has anyone contacted the venue owners? Has anyone made a proper complaint? Maybe even volunteered to fix it?) or suggest better dates - for example, if a club night is mainly patronised by students, it is probably best to host a summer event AFTER university exams are over, so those running the club night need to know when that is. Communicate issues clearly, speak up to those who have the power to change things, and if you honestly think you can do better, have a go; maybe you could be the start of something good!

Friday, 17 July 2015

Urquhart Castle

I have visited Urquhart Castle several times. One February a few years ago Raven and I went there on Valentine's Day - for an engagement photo-shoot for another couple, where Raven was photographer! This time however, Raven and I were there for an afternoon out together, and I took my camera. The weather was windy, with heavy rain coming in - just perfect for atmospheric photographs!

I know I am rather overdue with these pictures. We went to Urquhart Castle in early April, and it is now late July. Between now and then I have been incredibly busy (hence the blog hiatus) and I am only going to get busier over the next few months. Blogging is only a hobby for me, and I have quite a few offline commitments that have to take priority. There are quite a few photographs here, and I hope those who have been waiting enjoy them. 

Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness. Photograph by HouseCat

Urquhart Castle is on the banks of Loch Ness - supposed home of the famous cryptid - and beneath the mountains. Geographically, it is in a stunning location, a place of incredible natural beauty. Strategically, it guarded the loch and the pass beneath the mountains.  In its glory days it would have been a vast compound - more of a walled town or village than a fortified house. It is in ruins because it was deliberately destroyed by its owners, Hanoverians who, after being beseiged by Jacobites once, decided it was better to blow up their own castle than let such a strategic point fall into Jacobite occupation. If I owned a castle, I don't think I could ever contemplate anything as drastic as blowing part of it up, regardless of strategic necessity!.  They began by blowing up only the gatehouse, but this was the beginning of structural decline for the castle, as even when peace came, it was never repaired, but instead was quarried for stone (as was common for ruined castles in times past - it happened to Rait Castle, Wallingford Castle, etc. etc.) 

Craghy ruins. Photograph by the HouseCat.

Of course, ruins become picturesque as nature begins to reclaim them - especially the ruins of structures once grand and beautiful themselves. I, a true Romantic, am drawn to windswept crags and ruined castles (apparently, I am in the good company of Neil Gaiman in these tastes!), and even when swarmed with tourists, Urquhart Castle loses none of its majesty and presence. The ruins stand upon great earthworks - sculpted out of hard ground - and this unnatural landscape, once practical and now alien, gives an eerie quality to the place. The remains of buildings perch on arteficial ridges, above deep defensive ditches gouged out of the earth. I did read about whether the moat held water while I was there, but can no longer remember; if it did, the castle would have seem even more isolated, turned into its own island fortress like Eileann Donan Castle, or Le Mont-Saint-Michel.

Ruined wall with arrow slit. Photograph by HouseCat

The castle walls are now partly reclaimed by the landscape, seeming to almost be a geological feature in places, a crag or cliff with grass growing out of it and rough escarpments of boulders. There is enough remaining masonry for it to be built by the hand of man, but it is slowly blending into the Earth with time. ::Historic Scotland:: are doing a brilliant job of maintaining and preserving it as best as is humanly possible, but it is stone exposed to the scourging winds, rain, snow and frost of the Scottish climate - the elements and the centuries will take their toll; it is inevitable. 

A brooding sky. Photo by the HouseCat

That harsh Scottish weather that I mentioned made its presence felt the day of our visit. It started out bright, slightly over-cast but mostly sunny. There were fast-moving clouds on the horizon and a keen wind. As our visit progressed, the wind got harsher and colder, and the rain blew in with darkening clouds, leaden and grey. I did not get any good photographs of this (but Raven did), but the rain coming down the Loch was a sight to behold; a curtain of what seemed like almost opaque mist rapidly drawing towards us, lit by the afternoon sun, and shaded by thick clouds in bruise colours.

Best photograph of the rain I got. Photo by HouseCat

Before the rain came in, I took 111 photograph of Urquhart Castle - and a surprising number turned out relatively well. It was hard to pick favourites for this blog - I have the same problem I had with my photographs of Edinburgh Castle! There is something about exposed Scottish castles on bleak days that really compels me to try and capture a visual record - but no photograph I take really expresses what I feel when I am there and whatever flourishing words and purple prose I use to describe it also falls short. All I can say is to visit for yourself if you get the chance, preferably on a day where the weather is at least drizzling (this is Scotland, such days are frequent) and there are fewer tourists about (probably because it is raining). 

Raven stepping out of the shadows. Photo by HouseCat

Despite being a ruin, it is not a place of desolation; the landscape is too mountainous, too forrested. Even with the wind whipping at my jacket and trying to snag my hair out of my (velvet) bandana, it seemed like when the walls and roofs had been intact it would have been good shelter against even the worst of the Scottish weather - which includes flash floods and winds in excess of 100mph in lower areas and in excess of 150mph up on the mountains. The gable end of a hotel near here was blown down in a recent storm, but I doubt any such thing would happen to the walls of the castle; if it had not been for deliberate destruction of various sorts, I think the castle could easily be standing whole to this day, and what remains will probably remain for centuries more. 

Base of a round tower and a shard of wall, overlooking the waters of Loch Ness

I did stare down into the depths of Loch Ness, hoping for a glimpse of the fabled monster, but I saw nothing. Logic tells me that any plesiosaurs or similar creatures that may have lived within the loch aeons ago will be long dead, with no contemporary descendents swimming in the murky dark, but the poetic aspects of me want to believe that somewhere in the seemingly unfathomable depths, the creature or creatures lurk, feeding on the fish that swim alongside, and avoiding humans with their loud engines and bright lights. I bought my 3 year old neice a souvenir monster hat - it's too big for her head so she wears its sideways with the tail draped across one shoulder, and the head dipped down to the other. I bought her several books too - including 'Nessie Needs New Glasses' by A. K. Paterson, as it includes an introduction to Scottish places. I keep promising her that one day she and her mother will come visit me in Scotland and we can all go to ::Nessieland:: and wander around Loch Ness looking for 'Niseag' as she is called in Gaelic. 

Steep stone spiral staircase. Photo by HouseCat

One thing I will warn potential visitors about is that the stairwells are for the most part medieval - this means they are narrow and cramped, with steep stone. I don't know if they ever originally had hand-rails (there must have been medieval people who thought hand-rails were a good idea! It's just practical!) but currently they have rope for a hand-rail (as pictured). Flat shoes, and patience for others on the stairwells are a necessity. I have spacial awareness and co-ordination difficulties due to neurological issues, so I had to walk slowly as I find going down stairs difficult at the best of times (I have to literally watch where I put my feet, and to take my time), and the tuts and glares I got from people behind me were not exactly polite.

Another stairwell photo. Photograph by HouseCat

If you are ever visiting the British Isles, I seriously recommend coming to Scotland if you like castles. While England, Wales, Northern and Southern Ireland all have beautiful castles, of all the places I have visited and all the castles I have visited (including those I visited before I began blogging) Scotland has the most castles in dramatic locations - by lochs and up craggy mountains being relatively common places to find castles.

Inside part of the keep. Photograph by HouseCat

One of my favourite things about Urquhart Castle is that despite being a ruin, there is enough of the structure that is still safe and stable for people to be actually able to go inside, and they have partially restored it in a way that greatly facilitates this. It was nice to be a little bit out of the wind, and it is interesting to be in these spaces with reconstructed wooden ceilings/floors and such. It is certainly not restored to how it was; the castle is very much in a state of ruin. It is, however, restored enough to make a lot more of the castle safely accessible than it would be otherwise, and to get a sense of how the remaining parts of the castle worked as buildings, rather than as a tumble of protruding stones. 

Great edifice. Rear of the keep. Photograph by HouseCat

As those who read my blog well know, I am rather fond of castles, especially ruined ones. Urquhart is no exception to that, and its location makes it one of my favourites. I love the natural world and the beauty of wild scenery even more than I love historical architecture (and that really is saying something!) so to visit a castle in such an amazing location really is a treat for me. I really got quite carried away taking photographs while I was there, and if (no, when) I next visit, there will surely be plenty more. It is somewhere that does not seem exhaustable for interesting angles, and as the light changes, the interplay of shadows changes; the shadows walls cast on each other, the shadows in the textures of the stones, the sense of space and the way I try and capture that in a mere flat image - it fluctuates literally with the weather. 

This view deserved to be in full colour. Photograph by HouseCat

Scotland has beautiful geography, and so much history. I love living here, and I do not regret having moved to here from where I was in England. I am much happier here amongst mountains and ruined castles, and I think only Ireland compares for rugged natural beauty, and Wales for castles (Ireland has some nice castles too, but in having visited more Welsh ones, I am probably biased). England is not boring, but I am definitely a 'mountains' sort of person - like Neil Gaiman, I seek the windswept craggy places and their solitude. Most of the hills around Loch Ness are more rounded, but there are certainly craggy ones near there too. One day, I hope to visit Urquhart Castle when it has freshly snowed, nice and early so that snow is mostly undisturbed... that would be perfect. 

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Beauly Priory With Friends

This being my blog, it has a lot of pictures of me on it, and not really many pictures of anybody else unless I was at a gathering. I intend to change that this summer, recruiting friends from within the Goth subculture and friendly  to it, to be models for mini photo-shoots. I am not a professional photographer, this is only a hobby, and I do not profess to be much good.

The two models for this photo-shoot are my friend Ducky, and Catastrophe Plague (artist name, obviously) who is a good friend of Ducky's and whom I have only just recently met. These photographs are not highly styled fashion photographs, they are instead taken to capture images of my friends and fellow members of the Highland Goth and Alternative scene just being themselves. I guess it would be a bit pretentious to call this project social documentation, but I am proud of the local Goth and Alternative community, and wanted to capture some of it as a visual record of who we are and what we are.

Beauly Priory was chosen because Ducky is from Beauly, and knows the place well, and because it is a beautiful building that I had not thoroughly visited before. I had been there briefly a while ago, but there was plenty of restoration work being done at the time, and it was also not the best weather, so I took a few pictures with the camera on my smartphone but did not take any proper photographs. This time I was supposed to bring the nice Canon camera I use when I am taking "proper" photographs, but I couldn't find the charger the day before, or any batteries with full charge (it has been ages since I took it out) so the "point and click" camera had to do. 

Ducky standing in the front door. Photo by HouseCat

Beauly Priory is a wonderful Gothic building, which has long been out of use as an actual priory, is mostly in a state of ruin, and has since been used as a graveyard, with people interred actually within the building (hence the headstone behind Ducky) as well as around the building. The priory is undergoing a process of restoration, so a large portion was surrounded in scaffolding and temporary fencing. We left all of that area well alone, but the positions of the fences made it hard to walk around the priory without walking on grave-slabs. I find actually walking on them both disrespectful to those interred and likely to damage any inscriptions and carvings with repetetive passings.

Ducky ended up wearing my sunglasses. I had them in my raincoat pocket. Yes, Scottish weather is changeable enough that it is entirely possible to need sunglasses and a raincoat is quick succession. I'm often carrying sunglasses and a compact umbrella in my handbag at the same time, especially in "summer". We're prone to 'all four seasons in one day' weather. 

Ducky wearing my sunglasses. They were in my raincoat.

I took several photographs of both Ducky and Catastrophe Plague. They are not a couple, just good friends. I liked using the wall as a backdrop because there is just so much of it, and the textures of the stone, and the varying colours, look interesting. The patches of colour I presume indicate patches of construction as it was built in sections with stones from different places, or different batches of quarrying. The stones look recently repointed, probably part of the recent restoration work.

Both friends infront of the wall. Photo by the HouseCat.

Catastrophe's dress was a tad long, so if worn hanging from the straps, came down very low at the bust, so instead it was pulled up higher and the straps folded down over at the shoulders, which I think looked very witchy. An important thing about Goth fashion is that clothes do not have to be worn in the way intended; wear them however you feel like wearing them! 

Looking sorrowful in the archway. Photograph by HouseCat

This alcove is actually very low down, and Catastrophe was barely sitting in it, more leaning against the ledge. I really like how the composition turned out, and the archway provided a frame for the image. This is one of my favourites from the session. I know this could have still been done better, but considering this is my first time deliberately doing a set of photographs where people are the subject, I am very happy with this particular photograph, and reasonably chuffed with the whole set.

Portrait of Catastrophe Plague

I took some close-ups of Catastrophe, in a portrait style. I think the walls of the Priory are just beautiful, and so used them for the backdrop as much as possible. Catastrophe is lucky to have very nice cheek-bones, so I tried to pick angles that would highlight that. I am really not very experienced at taking portraits at all, so would quite like any advice my readers have on taking better pictures. 

Hair adjusting pose. Photograph by the HouseCat.

Catastrophe was doing some hair adjustment, and I thought it would make for an interesting composition, so Catastrophe ended up hair-tweaking about four times for this. I am frustrated that the raised arm came out a bit too bright compared to the rest of the skin tones, but other than that, am quite happy. The dress makes me think 'Game of Thrones' meets 'Lord of The Rings'. especially with all the vertical seams and the layering - another reason to capitalise on the splendid medieval building! 

Yellow roses signify happiness, if I remember rightly.

Catastrophe has a great fondness of roses, so especially requested this one with the yellow roses by the perimeter wall. I think the perimeter wall is a Victorian or later addition. The stones are far more finely dressed (cut more neatly) and there is fancy Gothic Revival carving on some points. I am not happy with the contrast on the roses, but I am not sure how to fix it in a satisfactory manner, as I think the lightest petals are just too washed out. I altered the contrast on the rest of the image as it needed more contrast, with the flowers masked out, but I do not know how to improve them. 

Photograph of me by Ducky

And one photograph of me! I figured there ought to be some record of my having been there. I think I was the most colourful of the three of us, with my violet and black brocade jacket and turquoise hair.

I took several more photos of both Ducky and Catastrophe, but these ones were the best o the bunch. I took 95 photographs in total, and about a dozen of them were reasonable - I think that is a good ratio of useable photographs to dud ones! I will be taking more photographs of friends willing to model, so I hope my readers like the idea of this project.