New Zealand reconnections

It’s been almost 6 months since I arrived home from my adventure in New Zealand researching leadership in communities and organisations. The experience was such a positive and powerful one leading to wonderful, rich and eclectic conversations  that there was a real sadness in leaving. The leaving was even more poignant because I was based in Christchurch during the 2 weeks of the February quake and had spent some time in Lyttleton (epicentre of the quake) the week before.

Returning home, I determined to continue my connections in NZ and luckily for me, even after this period, I’m still in contact with about half a dozen people across the North and South Islands and am introducing folks from the UK visiting NZ to some of these people. There’s even a chance for me to reciprocate some of the hospitality I received when a colleague and friend from Napier in North Island visits the UK in the autumn to launch her new book….more anon. And the connections seem almost as fresh as the day they were made.

There is Margaret Jeffries who is a community leader in Lyttleton who copies me in on the  Lyttleton e newsletter where I learn of the wonderful things going on in a community seriously impacted by a series of quakes.

 Margaret and friends are now trailblazing a way forward for their community and pioneering new concepts and projects that will help, not just their own community, but many other communities as well. And maybe  we can open ourselves to thinking about these ideas in Scotland. I’m going to ask Margaret to write something for this blog as a way of stimulating new ideas and approaches.

Rose Diamond who was the reason I wasn’t in Christchurch on the day of the quake is a Brit living in a beautiful part of South Island called Golden Bay. She has been working for some time on a global programme called ‘A Whole New World’ and already is setting up a website, putting the finishing touches to online programmes and is beginning a series of tele-interviews with people across  NZ and other continents who have a story to tell that sheds light and inspiration on alternative ways to be in this world. Rose has also agreed to make a contribution to this blog so that anyone who wants to know more can engage for themselves or their community.

Being connected to nature seems important for the majority of New Zealanders and it must have been important to most people living in Scotland even a century ago and yet it seems to me we have lost the strength of the link. One hope I have it that this blog will spark some desire for you to get out into your community and country and appreciate how lucky we are to live here.

Although my blogging is haphazard at best, it remains about appreciating Scotland in its broadest sense-its people, communities, and environment.

What have you noticed in your world that has made your heart and your step lighten just a little?This is a present from a friend in Orkney knitted from leftover Shetland wool-cool huh!


Through the Lens 2

Since my last post, I’ve had 2 photographic expeditions in stunning weather. And I’ve learned a bit more about my camera.
For instance, if I want to take a water shot and catch some indication of movement then I have to adjust the shutter speed from say 1/250 to1/1600. What does this mean apart from the beginnings of ‘geekiness’?  It means there is the beginnings of understanding of what’s actually going on in my camera.

The expeditions have been city and country so here’s what cityscape brought me- festival and fun in the sunshine.

Glaswegians generally enjoy the sunshine and enjoy a bit of a laugh. The authorities remove the traffic cone one day and locals put it back the next.

As for the pink man, there were many pink people on the streets at the Merchant City Festival last weekend (no idea what the significance was apart from engaging the crowd) and a wonderful atmosphere of an Italian market with the mouth watering smells associated with fresh food. Add in street theatre, activities for all ages and there were lots of photo opportunities.

At the beginning of this week my photo attention was drawn to the countryside with a friend who has invested in a DSLR camera and has more idea than me about shutter speeds and the like. It’s always good to learn from someone a little ahead.

We walked the Greenock Cut which I had never heard of before. It is part of Muirshiel Country Park in Renfrewshire and Ayrshire and is accessed from Greenock area. The cut is a feat of engineering of the Victorian era and was designed to bring fresh water cheaply and efficiently to the people of Greenock, Gourock and Port Glasgow. However, it also attracted industry to the area. It is exactly as it says, a water channel cut into the rock on high ground, it connects lochs and reservoirs and works mostly on the natural forces of nature and gravity..

Nowadays, it is an area of beauty for those wanting to enjoy the outdoors-either walking, running, cycling, horseriding and, in my case, photography.

Here are a few of my better shots to give you a flavour.

Whilst this photo might not seem like much, it is the first time I’ve ever managed to capture a butterfly and zoom in enough to see anything at all.

So, progress of a sort……

The photo below is an attempt to capture light, shade and perspective.

If you want to find out more about the walks have a look at the website listed at the side of this post.

However, I mentioned learning to take shots of water and so I have to include my very first attempts at capturing anything of movement in water. I think this is going to be a challenge to me but more practice will help me improve. Maybe at the end of the lifecycle of this blog I’ll do some comparison shots to see how I’ve progressed. Not much, I hear you think, but it’s a start.

What my interest in photography is doing is to connect me more closely to my environment-city or country and discovering amazing people and places on my doorstep.

What is in your immediate environment that would be interesting to explore?

And next time, maybe I’ll share something about the villages of the East Neuk. But here is a photo of Elie and Earlsferry Beach in Fife-special, huh!

Appreciating Scotland slideshow


This is a first attempt at creating a slideshow of some of the wonderful elements that make up Scotland

Through the Lens

For some years now, I’ve had a growing interest in photography. Possibly, my interest stems from having friends who are already keen amateur photographers, coupled with buying a great little point and press digital camera and, occasionally, taking a photograph I liked. And then I’ve learned how to improve on the photos either through the software or because I am learning about composition.

A few months ago, a friend and I headed to Loch Awe (north west Scotland) for a day of wildlife photography by the lochside. It was fabulous and, for the first time, I experienced the benefits of a DSLR camera. The day challenged me on many fronts-partly the weight of the camera and lens and mostly on the need for patience. If you are photographing wildlife, it has a tendency not to pose like a human but swoop in and out of vision so you have to be alert, focussed and patient and, if you’re lucky, you may be rewarded with a good shot.

Here’s my favourite photograph from the day-not wonderful by many people’s standards but special to me because it took an hour sitting in a hide being eaten alive by midges to get it!

I liked the detail you get with a DSLR camera and just the sheer joy of getting a clear shot.

By the way, if you are interested, the 1 day programme was led by Philip Price of Loch Visions. Go look at his website to see some wonderful photographs of birds in flight and other creatures.

What I love about photography is that it gets me to slow down, look around me and notice the wonders of where I am. It is about the here and now. It makes me think about what is it I want to photograph?  What draws my eye and my interest? Progressively, I realise how little I know about about what happens when I take a picture.

So, I’ve taken a leap after the course with Philip. I’ve not leapt to buying a DSLR camera yet but I have bought a wonderful bridge camera made by Canon and am setting off on another great learning adventure. This time the adventure is not travelling halfway across the world to New Zealand but is a voyage of discovery into light, shutter speeds, aperture and much more. And I’ve found some intrepid people to help me along the way. I am part way through 3 forays out in Glasgow and surrounding countryside with my camera and different friends who know more than I do (not hard) about photography as I’ve learned that the likelihood of me reading several hundred pages of my Canon guide online is infinitessimily small-no surprises there for anyone who knows me. So, my preference is to just go and play with the camera and ask questions as I go.

So to whet your appetite for my next blog posts on cityscape photography, here are a couple of shots of Glasgow city centre taken with my Sony digital camera a few years ago.








Thinking of the rhythm of your life, I wonder what is the place or the moment or the people you would like to see through the lens ? 

In a fascinating conversation with a Wildlife Artist recently, his view is that if you are taking a photograph, you don’t actually see……..mmmm, interesting.


Labyrinth Learnings

I’ve heard about labyrinths from time to time and even been in places where labyrinths have been created such as Lucca, Italy, Mull and Iona but never have I chosen to seek one out. Until I came across a temporary labyrinth that had been  created on Lindisfarne when I visited it a few weeks ago.

The labyrinth was a temporary structure burnt out from the grass within the walls of Lindisfarne Abbey and had been opened to the public for a week. By the time I arrived on the island, the labyrinth had been dismantled and the area was cordoned off to allow the grass to grow back. And, I think that it made me curious. What is a labyrinth? What’s its history? What’s it purpose and who uses them?

Since then I have discovered a website that highlights some of the labyrinths across Scotland and I’ve also realised that there are an increasing number of labyrinths being created and there are also temporary labyrinths available to rent or buy.

If you have an interest in labyrinths, then go do a google search or buy a guide through This blog post is to share with you my first experience of walking a labyrinth.

Place      Dunure, Ayrshire

Date Sunday 9th July, 2011

The setting is wonderful. There is a castle on the cliff above the village, a park and a cliff walk to little beaches around the coastline. The labyrinth has been positioned on a shelf of land below the cliff and sits within a natural amphitheatre that protects

it from the winds. There’s a steep path down and then the ground levels out.

Having spoken to a friend who has knowledge and experience of labyrinths, her advice was just to walk the labyrinth in whatever way I wanted to as there is no right or wrong way to do it. So that’s what I did.

I  chose to go alone and waited until early evening when it was likely to be quiet. I slowly walked the path to the centre and out again. Walking out was exactly 333 steps-no idea why I counted but I did. There’s no set size for a labyrinth -some are small and others large and the patterning varies but what does not change is that once you begin the circuitous path you follow it to the centre and back out. You do not get lost as there is only one path unlike a maze which offers options of path and aims to provide choices which can lead you to dead ends.

Before I started the walk, I looked out the way across the water to Arran and saw Black Isle and the Sleeping Giant range of hills on that island. I walked slowly and occasionally looked up but mostly downwards noticing the rocks that formed the structure and the wild flowers that had seeded themselves and seemed to grow wherever there was somewhere to put down roots.

There’s a definite rhythm to the experience and I felt peaceful and reflective finding my own natural breathing and walking pace. Having read a little more about labyrinths, they have a history that dates back over 4000 years and seem to be ‘popular’ at certain times in history. They can be found on many continents.

The most famous labyrinth is at Chartres Cathedral in France. I plan to walk the labyrinth at Edinburgh University Chaplaincy Centre and it has a similar structure to Chartres.The recent return of an interest in labyrinths stems from the 1950’s with exploration of spirituality in it’s different forms. There are still strong connections to religious practice as well.

Although I did not enter the labyrinth at Dunure with any question in mind, I did discover my mind being drawn into the place of stillness that heightened my awareness of place and time and my senses were sharpened. Later, my reflection on the experience reminded me of the need to bring my whole self to the work that I do as a coach, thinking partner and learning journey designer.

A fabulous experience and I’ll share more about the learnings from labyrinth walks in future blog posts. In the meantime, I’m wondering what question I might enter a labyrinth with and who I might walk one with as often labyrinths are walked as part of a community experience.

Have you had a labyrinth experience? If you had the opportunity to walk a labyrinth, what question might you enter holding?

The Sound of Silence

I suppose this title gives my age away. For those of you too young to know, this is the title of a Simon and Garfunkel album and song track from the 1960’s and I was reminded of it when I listened to the Paul Simon gig at the Glastonbury Festival last weekend. I wasn’t at the Festival, you understand-far too muddy for me -but I did listen to some of it. Glastonbury is a place of silence and spirituality much of the year but certainly there would be little likelihood of silence that weekend. However, it did look  great fun.

Why has silence been on my mind? Well, because I recently got a chest infection which grounded me for about 2 weeks and during that time I had a period of enforced silence for about 8 days. This is the longest time I have ever been silent and there was an interesting cycle to the silent time. Initially I felt too unwell to want anything but silence and sleep. Then, as I began to feel better, I wanted verbal contact but still couldn’t breathe easily or speak without bursting into fits of coughing so I had to stay quiet. Then I got  frustrated and bored and this was followed by transcendence to a place where I began to really enjoy the silent time out. Gradually,I started to reintroduce some limited conversation but actually enjoyed silence. To the extent that when I had to re-engage with the world for a piece of work I had committed to, I felt a real reluctance to do so.

So, I wondered has anyone else had a similar experience or are you uncomfortable with silence (many people are, I think) and like to fill the space?

I saw this on google images and liked it. It makes me wonder who has sat around this table, what has not been said and how have people communicated if not through speech. Or what does it symbolise?

One huge advantage of silence is it allows our minds to settle, especially if we can still the many inner voices and conversations we have that no-one ever hears but us.

Recently, I have been working with developing my skills as a Thinking Partner based on the research and teachings of Nancy Kline whose organisation is called Time to Think. Nancy is an amazing lady who has worked on understanding, writing about and teaching leaders about creating space to do the best thinking. She has written 2 books-Time to Think and More Time to Think both of which can be bought on her website (see sidebar of blog) or on Amazon.

I will come back to the theme of a thinking environment over the coming months but here are a couple of images of places where I always feel at peace and feel an inner silence that enables me to recharge my batteries or think through issues without pressure or just appreciate this amazing place where I find myself living and being.

Where are the places you go to still your mind and feel at peace?

Lindisfarne Learnings

I have been writing this blog sporadically now for 2 months and have not told anyone about it. Why? Well, I suppose that I had no idea how it might develop and what I wanted to say apart from the most general of feeling that it would focus on Scotland at its best and some of the places, communities and people I meet along the way.

So, now my plan is to share the blog  with a few folks, get some feedback and then open it up progressively to my wider network.

Although this blog is about appreciating Scotland, I am about to share some learnings I got from a short trip to Lindisfarne-an island (and sometimes not) off the coast of Northumbria. It is not far across the Border with England and may even have been in Scottish territory at some point in its history but the connection with St Columba is strong enough for me to include this place as a link to my recent trip to Iona.

This is a photo from the window of the cottage in which I stayed at the harbour in Lindisfarne. But I jump forward too quickly.

Arrival on Lindisfarne is very special. You arrive over a causeway when the tide allows. When the tide is in, the causeway in underwater and it is an island. And then, with almost exact timing the tide recedes and the island becomes connected with the world again.

There are many similarities to Iona. It is a place of pilgrimage and a bird watchers sanctuary. It attracts many day visitors and some stay for shorter or longer periods. There is a community both religious and spiritual and then there are people who live there for other reasons and who enjoy the environment and maybe even make a living out of it. There are fishermen and those who appreciate sailing in these waters.

Like Iona and all islands there is a need to live with the rhythm of the tides. Like Iona, the sense of peace is great but then I have to remember that I experienced Lindisfarne at at a time of good weather and gentle conditions. I can imagine it being very different in the depths of the autumn and winter storms completely cut off from the world with dark skies and mountainous waves. Luckily, I didn’t experience it that way-and yet, it would be exhilarating in its own way and dangerous for those at sea.

This is an amazing castle-small and almost fairytale in proportion. It mirrors a castle on the mainland-Bamborough Castle which is huge in comparison to Lindisfarne Castle and yet, if you stand on the island and look across the bay, who can tell which is the larger. It has gardens designed by Lutyens and stands proud of the landscape.

I came across the Celtic Garden which was beautiful and peaceful-an ideal place to sit and reflect but there are many places on the island which would fit the bill for both reflection and tranquillity. The monks who set up the Abbey on Lindisfarne was back in the first millenium came from Iona and it must have been a wild place to inhabit and yet that sense of the past is around you as you walk around the island.

I wondered about how the different parts of the community worked together or indeed if they came together. The visit wasn’t long enough to explore this. My reason for being on Lindisfarne was very clear. It was a place to have an extended conversation with a friend and colleague. It turned out to be an amazing place for exploring the things that are really important. Like the island and its history, our conversation took different paths, sometimes coming back to where we started and sometimes discovering we had made a leap of understanding. And the place provided everything we needed for that conversation-warmth, safety, encouragement to explore and most of all it welcomed and nurtured us.

For those of you reading this blog, who have no idea what I’m talking about don’t worry. Take out of it what interests you and subscribe to the blog to see what places and topics attract you over the coming months.

For those of you who are aware of the critical importance of time for conversations that matter, here is a quote from Meg Wheatley, my favourite author and thinker.

‘I believe we can change the world if we start listening to one another again. Simple, honest, human conversation. Not mediation, negotiation, problem solving, debate, or public meetings. Simple, truthful conversation where we each have a chance to speak, we each feel heard, and we each listen well.’

So, what are the powerful conversations you have had recently or what ones would you like to have?