New things in familiar places



Kelpies were mythical water horses which could transform into humans. However, artist Andy Scott also based his work on the heavy horses which supplied the industry of the area including drawing the barges on the adjacent Forth & Clyde canal. Duke, the downward-looking Kelpie is 26.5m high and Baron, the upward-looking one is 30m high.

I remember heavy horses still being used by a brewery in Stirling in the 1970s. We lived in Falkirk for a year in the 1960s and I have not really been back since. The Kelpies were completed in 2013 and I have driven past them on the M9 but this was the first time we paused to walk around them. On a cold winter morning with the snow-covered Ochil Hills in the background, they were not busy at all.

We had spent the previous largely grey and wet day driving to Perthshire with only a few breaks in the weather. At Tebay, the ducks, resplendent in their breeding plumage, looked as if they were walking on water as just below the surface it was still frozen. On the north slopes of Shap the sun appeared briefly, and a rainbow stretched over the motorway. For once we were passing our usual turn-offs to Edinburgh and continuing north into Perthshire where I grew up. Just before Doune we stopped off at Deanston Distillery for the obligatory photograph and sampling. My clarinet teacher was from Doune. I played in the county wind band and in the early 1970s, some of us played at the wedding of Lord Doune’s daughter which took place in the medieval castle. It has since become more well-known as it has been used in some films including Monty Python’s and Game of Thrones.

We drove back towards Dunblane on the road my school bus used to take. One of the farms we passed has now become a red kite viewing centre which will be worth a visit at some point. We were heading to Dunblane to spend a night in Cromlix House just north of the town. The name Cromlix has existed in various forms since the 15th century although there is evidence of human settlement on the site before this. The Chisholms, several of whom were bishops of Dunblane before the reformation had a castle on the site as late as 1723. A marriage in the 16th century introduced the Drummond name which became Drummond Hay in 1739. A later marriage brought the estate into the Eden family who still own much of it, a reminder that only 500 people own most of the land in Scotland. The hotel is in what was initially built as ‘Cromlix Cottage’ in 1874. It was destroyed by fire and in 1880 was rebuilt. There is no sweeping staircase in keeping with the ‘cottage’ theme. The house was enlarged between 1880 and 1903. It was converted into a hotel in 1981 and we spent the first night of our honeymoon there in May 1987. It closed in 2012 but in the following year was purchased by Andy Murray and it opened again as five-star hotel in 2015. It has a Chez Roux restaurant and is situated in the hamlet of Kinbuck amongst the hills and woods that I love. Unfortunately the weather did not allow any wandering around them. It remained cold with snow and sleet showers during the rest of our weekend.

A wet weekend in Brighton


I had first visited Brighton a couple of years ago for work and James joined me for a day or so after the conference. We had both felt it warranted a second visit and booked this trip last autumn. It turned out to be a good time to be heading south rather than to Scotland with wintry weather blocking roads up there. On the day we arrived the University of Sussex were holding a graduation ceremony in the theatre near our hotel. There were many Chinese families taking photographs along the sea front. We did get a couple of breaks in the rain for a bracing walk on the mainly pebble beach in the late afternoon where the supports and the remains of the old West Pier are.


We spent some time wandering around the lanes where there are some chain stores but also many independent shops including some very quirky ones. One thing I did notice was that people we encountered in the hotel, cafes and shops were very friendly, unlike some other southern cities I have visited. Several years ago I stayed with a friend in Southampton in December and while she was at the university, I went into town to do some Christmas shopping. The only person who said anything more to me than the bare minimum to carry out the transaction was the Big Issue seller who was from Manchester.

Having visited the pavilion on our last trip, this time we explored the Museum and Art Gallery. It has a number of permanent galleries including one on 20th century furniture and art.

I was particularly struck by this lift compartment installed in Selfridges on Oxford Street, London in 1929. Designed by a French artist, Edgar Brandt and entitled ‘Les Cignones (storks) d’Alsace’ they remained in place until 1971 when they were removed because of new fire regulations.

There was a gallery devoted to Brighton in the 20th century with displays of mods and rockers who clashed on the seafront in 1964.

Other galleries contained their pottery, china and fine art collections, John Pipers aquatints of Brighton, performance and toys, youth projects in Brighton with youngsters from different countries exploring their culture and traditional costume including New Ireland, Myanmar, Peru, Canada and Alaska and Mali. There is also a collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts and the Museum of Transology.

All too soon it was time to head for home. Had it been drier I would have liked to walk the Undercliff Path which heads east for 3km and also to explore the huge amount of street art in the city including a Banksy.

New Year wanderings in London

We drove to the station for an early train while it was still dark. Some people still had their Christmas lights on, visible through the mist hanging in the fields. Euston and the Royal Society of Medicine where we were staying were very quiet. The main reason for coming down so early in the year was to see the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum but I had booked that for the Monday in the hope it would be quieter. This turned out have been a good idea as the woman on the desk said that it had been full over the weekend. The museum is a wonderful building with the obligatory dinosaur hanging in the main gallery.

You could spend hours looking at all the exhibits but we confined ourselves to the photographs which were outstanding.

Oxford Street still had its lights up, the same ones that I photographed a few years ago but not all were lit.

We found some bargains in the sales although James’s search for a particular style and colour of sweater proved unfruitful until the last afternoon. Another interesting find was that Waterstones in Piccadilly has a floor of Russian books. I had only on Friday morning put a stressed Russian translation of Dostoevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’ on the bookshop internet sales site which I thought was a little unusual for us. Having done our little bit to help the economy, we spotted Joe Lynam and a BBC film crew setting up to report next to House of Fraser presumably on seasonal spending. Just before our evening meal in a local restaurant we had a drink in the Cock and Lion pub in Wigmore Street. The walls are covered with photographs of Edwardian London. James however, was a little more interested in the live sport they show.

James wanted to look at the market in Camden Passage. We had coffee in a boulangerie where frangipane tarts decorated with crowns for on sale for Epiphany. The bakery across the road had to stress that it was an English one. Only in Islington do you find a gluten-free bakery shop and the charity shops very few clothes in sizes above a women’s 10.

Later, en route down Regent Street to Liberty we passed the Canada Goose shop which opened its UK flagship store in November 2017. Then, there had been large crowds of animal rights activists with claims that coyotes and geese are mistreated to make the brand’s products. They have been accused of producing parkas with trims made from coyote fur. PETA claim the coyotes are caught in the wild in steel traps. On the day we passed by however, there was only one man demonstrating. In Chinatown where we ate on our last evening, the protest was about banning live organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners. The RSM had an exhibition entitled ‘Women and their olive trees’. The paintings were produced by an art class in Israel of 35 women aged 17-80 from Lithuania, Umm al-Fahad, Tiberias, Romania, Nazareth, Isfaahan, Argentina and the Caucasus who were from a variety of religious and backgrounds.

The exhibition has travelled throughout Europe and is due to travel around the UK. All too soon it was time to return to the station and I was coming down with a virus so needed the comfort of home for a while.

The end of 2017

During our journey to Edinburgh just after Christmas, the radio was reporting snow, ice, blocked roads and closed airports elsewhere but northwest England and southern Scotland were bathed in winter sunshine. Not long after we joined the M6, a line of vintage tractors crossed a bridge over the motorway, presumably heading to some tractor fest event. Wildlife spotted on the journey included two buzzards perched on fence posts, mute swans on the River Eden and a roe deer just behind the crash barrier. There were several skeins of geese in the blue sky and snow on the Cumbrian peaks. Our only delay was an accident on the M74 before we were driving on the A701 through snowy landscapes.



In Moffat the ram was still wearing his Remembrance Day poppies.

There was 6-9 inches of snow all around and the hill sheep were digging holes to find grass. In Penicuik, children were sledging down the hill opposite the barracks. Unsurprisingly there was less snow in the city although there was a snow shower the following day while we were shopping and the children next door were building a snowman when we returned. It stayed dry later and which was a blessing as I had booked us to see the Botanic Gardens’ Christmas light & music display which we had never been to before. It runs every year in December.




The remainder of our time was spent catching up with relatives and friends and a lunch and football match for James on his birthday. I had pondered trying to get some photographs of the torchlight procession which takes place on the 30th but it started to rain heavily just as I got back to the flat so I gave up that idea. Storm Dylan arrived on the 31st and at one point Princes Street was closed to pedestrians as some staging had collapsed. I decided not to go up the hill to photograph the midnight fireworks as the wind was still very strong and I had visions of slipping down the hill in the mud with my camera & tripod. We did see some of the earlier evening fireworks on the way to and from the Candlelit Concert in St Giles Cathedral. It was performed by their choir and Camerata and organist and included Handel’s Dixit Dominus and Bach’s Mass in F, both of which I have sung before and Handel’s Organ Concerto Op 4 No 2 in Bflat. Despite being described as candlelit, there were only a few candles at the front. I must return and have a look round the cathedral at some point as it has seen a lot of history. We decided to stay in on our return and saw the New Year in very quietly. Back home we discovered that the cellar pump had failed and it was flooded but managed to it going again before the storm due to hit us tonight deposits even more water on us.

Crossing the Irish Sea in winter


It is now officially winter and after several years of mild winters probably due to climate change, an approaching snow storm was forecast. The lack of snow probably had nothing to do with the fact that I had found a book on snowflake photography just after our last snow in 2010. I have not been able to try any macro photography of snow or ice since, not even on the Iceland trip. We had decided to stay in Birkenhead the night before our morning ferry as problems on any of the three motorways we use to get there could have delayed us. We did not anticipate any problems getting there in the afternoon. However, while we are all too aware of the problems satellite navigation systems can have in rural areas, this was unexpected in an urban setting. It kept trying to send us down the Queensway tunnel to Liverpool, not to the street in the next block we needed to get to. Once on the tunnel approach you cannot turn around. A very helpful member of staff at the toll booth (who has probably experienced this before), let us out and we reached our destination. The following morning the sailing was delayed and we eventually boarded in the midst of wind and sleet. That had already put paid to any shots of dawn over Liverpool and I had thought that I would be wandering around on the very cold and wet deck taking photographs. Fortunately there was a brief lull in the weather south of the Isle of Man and I was able to watch the sun going down before the next front approached.



We arrived in Belfast only an hour later than scheduled and were in the car ready to disembark when we were told to go back inside as a broken down truck was blocking the ramp. This took almost two hours to sort out. Fortunately we could go back into the lounge (it’s worth paying a bit more for Stena Plus on long daytime sailings) and I had a couple of brandies courtesy of Stena. James had to stay sober as he was driving. Someone told us that thinking it had run out of fuel, they brought some more diesel but found out that there was some air in the fuel system. This would have locked the brakes. Some engineers from Merseyside we were chatting to were amazed that in a port, there was no means of dragging the vehicle away that could be found quickly. At least once we could leave the roads were quiet, there was very little snow and we arrived about 11.30pm.

Walking to Edinburgh


In six months time, on May 30th 2018 I will commence my walk from my home in Cheshire to Edinburgh. The route is outlined, most of my accommodation booked and I am looking forward to tackling a longer walk than any I have done before. In previous years we have walked the 96 miles of the West Highland Way and the shorter Great Glen and Speyside Ways. I have also been trekking in India twice, the longest of these being 9 days of walking. As soon as I started to plan this walk I seem to have been bombarded by stories of people undertaking very long walks.

Aaron Huey, a photographer based in Seattle, walked 3349 miles from west to east across America in 2002. This took him 5 months and it is said that unlike me, he made no plans. He was accompanied by his dog and camera but did not take his cell phone. Having decided not to carry all the camping equipment, I have had to book my accommodation ahead as in some places there is only one option and things do get booked up in advance. I have also read books about a couple walking around the whole coastline of mainland Britain and two guys who walked from John O’Groats to Lands End in 1916.

They had various rules including not consuming alcohol en route which apart from my night in the Tibetan Buddhist Monastery at Eskdalemuir, I will not be adhering to as I will probably enjoy a glass of wine with my evening meal. On the West Highland Way we met an ex-serviceman walking from Durness to John O’Groats to Lands End to raise money for ‘Help for Heroes’. He was wearing (apart from his boots) historic military dress. I hope i meet some interesting people on this journey.

Much of my route has been walked and ridden for many years before mechanisation and I will enjoy discovering some historic sites I have not visited before. Here is the route from Warrington to Kendal from the ‘Pocket Book of Counties of England and Wales’ by Robert Morden published in 1680. Some of the route into Warrington from the south is on a Roman Road.

I trust that the weather will be warmer and drier in six months time than it is at the moment.

A short weekend in Dublin


James had never seen the Irish Rugby team play at home so Friday morning saw us on an early train to Holyhead under blue skies and sunshine. I was trying to remember whether I had ever been west of Chester by train as we are usually driving to Anglesey to visit friends or to take the ferry to Ireland. The railway soon meets the coast and the tide was out on the Dee Estuary so lots of birds were feeding on the sand but we sped fast too quickly to identify many. At Holyhead there is a seamless transition from the train to the ferry terminal which is at the end of the platforms. It is also a short walk over a modern bridge to to the town centre.

I had hoped that as we were sailing west and sunset was around an hour before we were due to arrive in Dublin, that I might get some sunset shots but the advancing weather front brought dense cloud which put paid to that idea. Taxis were in short supply at the port despite two ferries arriving within a short time but one arrived eventually and we were soon ensconced in our quayside hotel. That evening we met some friends from Dublin whom we had not seen for several years and returned to the Winding Stair Restaurant. I have still not managed to be there when the bookshop on the ground floor is open. On Saturday morning we walked along the quayside and crossed the river to Trinity College. Several hungry gulls were looking hopefully at passers-by.

Rowan Gillespie’s 1997 sculpture ‘Famine’ also stands by the river.

Our destination that morning was the Book of Kells exhibition which was over-booked on our last visit. Near the college we passed a pub which had been open since 7am. I later learnt that this was originally to serve the market traders. There was no market that day but several people inside. There is an explanatory exhibition about the Books of Kells, Armagh and Durrow, the old manuscripts on display and then you can visit the old college library.


It is a fabulous building, housing around 20,000 of the library’s oldest books and lined with marble busts. On our visit there was also a display of ephemera relating to Oscar Wilde. There is Ireland’s oldest harp which dates from the 15th century and a copy of the 1916 proclamation of the Irish Republic. The rest of Saturday was spent meeting up with friends and enjoying the rugby match which Ireland won. We had planned to spend Sunday morning visiting a few more places in the city in a leisurely fashion before catching an afternoon boat back to Holyhead. However, a text received during dinner changed our plans as the afternoon ‘swift boat’ was cancelled due to bad weather and we had to take the early morning one. Some time ago, catamarans were introduced on several of the Irish Sea routes to reduce the time of the crossings. However, their movement meant that they were rapidly dubbed ‘the vomit comet’ and were also said to create waves big enough to wash fishermen off the walls of Dun Laoghaire which was the port ferries from the UK previously came into. As we boarded the ferry, the police were escorting an Asian man onto the boat. However we later saw him wandering around unescorted and he disembarked with the rest of us. I hope that they had not had to protect him from harassment. I read today that hate crime rates have now overtaken sectarian crime rates in Northern Ireland but I do not know if this is the case in the Republic. In addition to cancelled boats we also had cancelled trains. The person in the rail ticket office in Holyhead did not seem to know which were running and which were not. The first train was a relatively new, warm Arriva train which only took us as far as Llandudno Junction but with views of the mountains in Snowdonia with a dusting of snow. After that we were squashed onto a bus to Chester and then a very full Virgin train home, determined to make our next visit somewhat longer.