Tantallon Castle

Tantallon Castle is only a few miles from our home in North Berwick. You can even see North Berwick Law from it.

It was the headquarters of the Douglas family. William Duke of Douglas built the castle in the 1350s and they remained occupants until the 16th century when Archibald Douglas was charged with treason. It then passed to the Earldom of Angus.

The outer gate used to have double wooden doors which by the 1500s was the main route into the castle

and the Tower built in 1520s.  

Tantallon was besieged three times:

  • By James IV in 1491
  • James V in 1528
  • Oliver Cromwell in 1651 who also captured nearby Dirleton Castle as well.

The castle was abandoned after this last attack. The Dalrymples bought it as a romantic ruin in 1699. It was taken over by the ministry of works in 1924. The castle is now under the care of Historic Scotland. At the moment access is only to the outside grounds. During the pandemic a backlog of safety inspections and work compiled and is now being carried out. Until this is complete there is not access to the inside of many buildings. We wandered around the outside which gives views to the bays on either side and to the Bass Rock.

The Doocot sits in the grounds and used to house thousands of pigeons to provide meat and eggs to the residents. The birds entered via the roof and the door was kept locked to prevent poachers gaining access.

The grounds are spacious

and there are picnic tables near the entrance. It is only a short distance from the Drift Cafe as well.

RHS Garden Bridgewater

I have been a member of the Royal Horticultural Society for many years and visit their gardens if I am in the vicinity. The newest is RHS Bridgewater in Worsley, Salford, Manchester. We stopped off on our last trip down south. You do have to book visits but the booking lasts for the whole day and you can arrive whenever you want and stay for as long as you like. We arrived mid-morning in July.

The historic 154-acre Worsley New Hall estate was turned into the RHS Bridgewater Garden to improve and enrich Salford’s communities and environment. Worsley New Hall, in its formal landscaped gardens, was a notable residence in the 19th century. It was built for the 1st Earl of Ellesmere between 1840 and 1845, designed by the architect Edward Blore – whose speciality was Tudor and Elizabethan-style architecture, and whose reputation was for completing projects on time and to budget. This project cost just under £100,000 to build, which is the equivalent of around £6.7 million today. The estate sat northwest of the current garden.

Worsley New Hall was a British Red Cross Hospital during the First World War and afterwards the house and garden declined. In the Second World War parts of the hall were requisitioned by the War Office and its gardens used as training grounds by the Lancashire Fusiliers. In the 20th century, a fire and dry rot led to the hall falling into disrepair. In 1943 a scrap merchant bought it for £2,500. Subsequently, the grounds were used as a garden centre, a Scout camp and a rifle range. There are still some old buildings in the garden.

We began by walking around the walled gardens after passing the learning centres on the way.  Weston Walled Garden is divided into two: the Kitchen Garden

and the Paradise Garden.

I enjoyed photographing some flowers.

North of the walled gardens are two glasshouses, one devoted to fruits

and one to Mediterranean plants.

There is a pollinator meadow

and Moon Bridge Water.

The Chinese Streamside Garden is under construction and should be completed in three years.

The garden is surrounded by a forest with an arboretum to be developed in future.

There is also a lake which will have future development. I will definitely return in a different season.

A night by the Leeds and Liverpool Canal

We spent a night in our van at a Brit stop by the Leeds and Liverpool Canal at the Crooke Hall Inn.

The canal is 127 miles long and we were close to bridge 47 which had a notice saying it was 32 miles to Liverpool and just over 95 to Leeds. Crooke sits three miles to the west of Wigan, on the far side of an area known as Standish Lower Ground. It is within the parish boundary of Shevington and situated on the north side of the River Douglas and the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. The last time I was near this canal was in 2018 on my walk to Edinburgh when I diverted from the road into Wigan along the canal and through the flashes into the town centre.

The history of the village goes back to the 11th century when it was part of Shevington Manor. The Crooke estate was owned by the Catterall family from 1421-1713. Crooke Hall was built in 1608 but no longer exists because of subsidence. It was demolished before the Second World War. From the 1870’s until 1963 Crooke became a vital cog in the coal mining and distribution system along the river and the canal. There is an old tip tub sitting by the canal which was discovered after the mines had closed. It is thought to be 70-100 years old.

Around that time Crooke had more than 550 people living in the village; now the population is around 120. The school closed in 1985 due to falling numbers and the village shops have closed.  It is now a quiet little village which has a one road access off the main road.  There is a total of 65 dwellings, the pub, a Marina, a Chapel and a Nursery.

In 1975, the houses in Crooke were due to be demolished.  This stirred the residents into action and the Crooke Village Co-operative was formed to protect 36 of the 67 properties from definite demolition. It ran from 1978 to 2008.

Thirty-five of the properties are now owned by Adactus, a housing authority and the rest are privately owned. Throughout the year, the chapel organises events for its members which are open to anyone who wish to attend and the pub too have regular events and are ably assisted by the Crooke Village Residents Association. Formed in 2008, it replaced the former Co-operative. This association deals only with the maintenance of pathways, some grass cutting, tree and shrub pruning, litter picking, some bulb planting with a view of keeping the village looking presentable. Thanks to this, Crooke has managed to win one of the top awards in the ‘North West in Bloom’ challenge.

We parked up and waited until the pub opened at 4pm. Thankfully the excessive heat of the previous two days had disappeared. Several barges came past us, some mooring for the night: others heading to the nearby marina which can hold 90 boats.

In the morning the towpath was in use by joggers, dog walkers and an e-scooter. Under the trees in the beer garden two magpies, a wood pigeon and a grey squirrel were hunting for food just like back home.

A few days in London

The last time I was in London was probably sometime in 2019. After 26 years of travelling on the West Coast mainline, it was slightly strange travelling down to Kings Cross from Edinburgh on the East Coast line. We stayed for one night with our friends in Hertfordshire and then returned into London to visit other friends in Kew and see Van Morrison in Kew Gardens.

The following day we were back into central London to stay at the Royal Society of Medicine. We ate in the new rooftop restaurant on the top of the John Lewis building one evening but views were difficult due to the planting all around it. Later on in the week we had a meal on the terrace in their Place to Eat and had a view of the surrounding building works.

On Thursday I had booked to go to the Garden Museum in Lambeth. We walked down there via New Bond Street. I was probably last there in 2009 for the Max Mara sale. Further on we traversed St James’s Park. It covers 90 acres and has a lake so is a bit of a wildlife refuge in the city.

We crossed the water and sat down for a rest. A mute swan nearby was feeding and then had a siesta.

A few years ago, I was here and got a photo of a sleeping Bean Goose.

We passed the Houses of Parliament. As this was the day Boris Johnson was resigning, TV people and journalists everywhere, lots of police and a helicopter hovering above.

After passing the Covid Memorial Wall

we sat down to have our lunch on the Embankment under the London Eye.

The Garden Museum is situated in an old church: St Mary at Lambeth. It was the church of John Tradescant 1580 -1638 who was renowned as the first great gardener in British history. The church has deconsecrated in 1972 and the museum was situated in it in 1977 saving it from demolition. The surrounding gardens were created in 2008.

The current exhibition is of the work of Beatrice Hassell-McCosh entitled ‘Of Silence and Slow Time’. Here is one painting and some of her sketches, drawings and small paintings.

You can also climb the 131 steps to the top of the tower which gives 360-degree views all around.

On our last day we wandered around some shops and then stopped for lunch in Soho Square. Next to us a couple of guys started skipping and then boxing. Lots of starlings were on the grass looking for food, one in front of us staring at us for several minutes. Our last day was at Wimbledon for the women’s final. We arrived early and watched the lines being marked, the nets being raised, the players getting ready and then the match started. It was a great conclusion to a few days away.

Chess Valley Walk

While visiting friends in Hertfordshire it was a warm sunny day, so we had a walk on part of the Chess Valley Walk. Our friend is the vicar at St Lawrence Church in Bovingdon

so, before setting off for the walk we had a wander around the churchyard and I admired the invertebrate hotel which is under construction in the grounds. Mine is very small in comparison and constructed from a six-bottle wine box, not pallets.

The River Chess is a chalk stream. It arises in the Chiltern Hills and flows for 11 miles through Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire in Rickmansworth. We parked near Chenies Manor which was built in 1460 by Sir John Cheyne it soon became the seat of the Dukes of Bedford. It was closed on the day we were there, but you can visit and it is also a wedding venue. The Chess Valley Walk is 10 miles. We walked a section of it along paths and some lanes.

We passed some horses in fields but also saw some ragwort in nearby fields. It is toxic for horses.

The walk passes through Frogmore Meadow which is a nature reserve. There are wildflower meadows

and further on, farmland.

Historically, the water of the River Chess, together with the fertile land, was ideal for growing watercress. This industry flourished in both Chesham and Rickmansworth in the Victorian era and supplied London. It was transported on the newly constructed Metropolitan Railway. Today the only working watercress beds are at Moor Lane, Sarratt which we passed. In 2014, persistent overflows from Chesham Sewage Treatment Works forced the watercress farm to cease sales, and to continue operation the farm now uses well water. We could not see the watercress fields from the path but this was close to them.

After a cold beer in the grounds of a nearby inn we returned to Chenies to pick up the car and return to our friends’ home.

The Forth Ferry and a Walk

The Forth Ferry is run by Sula Boats between North Berwick and Anstruther. It does not run every day but only 2-3 times per month in the summer because of the tides. We were down at the harbour in North Berwick a while before it sailed so I had a wander around and saw some Eider ducks.

Our boat was soon ready and we set off.

There were only six of us, including three women going to do some wild swimming at Pittenweem accompanied by their dog.

There was also a guy with a bike who was going to cycle to St Andrews. The captain said that in high season there could be 50 people on board. We passed by Craigleith Island which we can see from our house.

In summer, puffins and gulls nest there.

We also saw several flying gannets with seaweed in their beaks. It was being taken back to their mates on the Bass Rock as a gift. After almost 45 minutes we were approaching Anstruther.

Entering the harbour, we passed the Chalmers Lighthouse which was built in the late 19th century in memory of Thomas Chalmers a native of Anstruther who died in 1847. We disembarked nearby.

After coffee we walked a section of the Fife Coastal Path eastwards towards Crail. The trail is 117 miles in length and runs from Kincardine to Newburgh in the Firth of Tay. We walked through eastern Anstruther and then through Cellardyke where there is a harbour now used for drying washing.

On the other side of the village is a tidal pool.

The path passes a campsite and then runs along the coast with views towards the Isle of May.

There were beaches with lots of shells

rockier ones

and one with some sand where we ate our picnic lunch.

There were several examples of fly tipping.

We passed by Caiplie Caves which were a site of early Christian worship by St Ethernan, monks and pilgrims. St Ethernan moved to the Isle of May to establish a monastery there. It was ransacked and they were killed by the Danes in 875AD.

Street artists have decorated the cave. We then retraced our steps back to Anstruther to give ourselves time to sample the fare at the well-known award winning Anstruther Fish Bar and Restaurant. Afterwards I had time to walk along the western beach. Here and on the path, I had found quite a lot of sea glass including some very small, coloured pieces.

Our boat was then approaching so it was time to return to North Berwick on a slightly rougher sea.

Soon we were almost home

and walked back to the house in the rain.

Round Britain: Scourie

There was a brief lull in the rain yesterday morning and a cuckoo was persistently calling as we left Kinlochbervie. The cloud was hanging over the mountain behind the harbour.

Back at Rhiconich we picked up the A838 again and headed south through pouring rain in a moorland landscape with many lochans on either side of the road.

We saw one guy with an incredibly long fishing rod near one. At Laxford Bridge during the continuing rain, we took the A894 past a working quarry and downhill into Scourie. We were a little early to check in to the campsite so had a walk on the beach.

I found some relatively small pieces of sea glass including a tiny rare blue piece. The community bird hide was closed but oystercatchers were feeding further down the beach. The beach had less waste on it than Kinlochbervie.

Scourie comes from a Norse word Skógarærgi which means shieling of the woods. There are quite a few trees round the end of the bay with some non-native species obviously planted within the last hundred years. It was the birthplace of General Hugh Mackay who was Commander in Chief of William and Mary’s Scottish Army in 1689-1690 during the conflict with James II. In the 2011 census, the population was 132. Most of the crofts around the village we established in the early 19th century. The island of Handa is just visible beyond the headland.

It was evacuated and the population emigrated to Nova Scotia, Canada after the famine of 1847. It is now owned by the Scourie Estate and is a nature reserve. Sitting in the van we have a great view through the back window; and have seen the fin of a porpoise or dolphin in the bay and the occasional seal head popping up. There are pied wagtails, house sparrows and a wheatear on the grass. The first half of the morning was dry, so we had a wander around the bay.

Scourie Lodge, built by the Duke of Sutherland in 1835 is now a hotel. We plan to eat there this evening.

The harbour end of the bay had only one boat moored there

and a net lying on the beach.

There is a small lochan on the other side of the road.

A signpost points the footpath to Tarbert: it continues the other way around the back of the beach. Where I had a wander among the rocks.

Oystercatchers and eider ducks were on one of the rocks.

Tomorrow morning, we will be up very early to drive back home. With various work to get done on the house over the next few months I am not sure when we will return to our coastal journey.

Round Britain: Kinlochbervie

Leaving Durness on a very wet grey day, we took the A838 southwards. Ordnance Survey maps show a lot of hut circles, cairns and old field systems on the land on each side of the road. There are also abandoned quarries and some patches of last years burnt moor for grouse shooting. The road passes Loch Caladail and then runs down to the shores of the Kyle. At the end of the Kyle, it follows the River Dionard for a while before passing Gualin House and Loch Tarbhajh. The A838 goes by the end of Loch Inchard at Riconcich where the junction of the B80 to Kinlochbervie, the most northwesterly port in Scotland is. The road winds along the lochside and through several small communities: Achriesgill, Inshegra and Badcall before heading down a 15% descent into Kinlochbervie. The roadside is littered with dead and decaying cars, lorries and tractors. Just as we passed the end of Loch Sheigra, the rain ceased for a while so I could take a photo.

Prior to the early 1960s Kinlochbervie was a crofting village. Some abandoned houses are still in the middle of the town

close to the Free Presbyterian Church, the only church in the community. There is a community fire station, coastguard, a medical practice, a filling station, a couple of stores, café, a hotel and several B&Bs. The old harbour at Loch Clash is now a motorhome stop-over which is where we are spending one night. If you arrive early, you can use one of the five electric hook-ups and there are ten off-grid places. Payment is made to the Spar shop just up the road.

The pebble beach at the head of Loch Clash is littered with plastic waste from the fishing industry.

In 1964, work began to convert the village into a major European fishing harbour. This took around twenty years and although the local fishing fleet is small; other ships bring in their catch and it is processed here. The new harbour is certainly busy with large buildings for processing the fish, housing the harbour master and others behind where many nets were laid out to dry. HGVs were getting ready to load up late afternoon.

While I was wandering around, the sun finally came out very briefly.

There are interesting rocks just past the end of the pier;

and a lot of native plants: gorse, speedwells, rowan and elder trees coming into leaf and buds on the heather. However, along one road someone must have planted bamboo and an arum-like large lily which I could not identify. They have now become very invasive over a large area. Elsewhere I saw Spanish bluebells escaping out of a garden.

If you have more time and good weather, you can go to Oldshoremore along the minor road from Kinlochbervie and from there; do an eight-mile return walk to Sandwood Bay which is part of the Sandwood Estate run by the John Muir Trust. Unfortunately, heavy rain is forecast for tomorrow so that and the possibility of a boat trip from Tarbert to Handa Island are probably not going to happen.

Round Britain: Sango Sands and Balnakiel

Our campsite in Durness sits above Sango Sands beach with great views from the back of the van.

There is a viewpoint giving wider views over the bay.

Much of the rock around Durness is limestone but down on the beach is some Lewisian gneiss.

Durness parish was cleared by Lord Reay over a 30 year period preceding his sale to the Sutherland estate in 1829. More clearances to enable sheep farming continued afterwards, some involving disputes and resistance from the locals. You can still see the remains of croft buildings among the 19th century and more recent buildings. This morning we walked the mile down to Balnakiel.

Most of the land is sheep and some cattle farming. The road passes Loch Croispol

and then the Craft Village. The buildings here were constructed in the mid 1950s as a Ministry of Defence Early Warning Station during the Cold War. It was never commissioned and in 1964 the County Council acquired it and the Craft Village was born. It is now owned by the residents and there is also the Cocoa Mountain Coffee Shop. A little further on are the ruins of an old church.

Balnakiel has been a centre of Christianity since the 8th century when St Maelrubha founded a monastery. The current church dates from 1617 and was rebuilt in 1690. In 1843 it was abandoned. Balnakiel House across the road was built in 1744 and has been the home of the chiefs of the Clan Mackay and may incorporate part of a bishop’s summer residence. We then wandered down to the beach.

The dunes are an SSI and in summer rangers offer guided walks to see the wildlife. In 1991, shifting sands revealed the grave and skeleton of a 12-year-old Viking Warrior, with a helmet and shield. You can walk four miles along the old military road to and around Faraid Head but the tip is an inaccessible MOD area. Had it not been raining we might have done the walk but instead had to return to Durness.

Round Britain: Cape Wrath

Cape Wrath has been described as the last true wilderness in the British Isles. The tip is the most north-westerly point of the UK mainland and is closer to the Arctic Circle than it is to London. It is further north than Moscow and Vladivostock. A large part of the Cape is a Ministry of Defence Bombardment Range which is still active and used at times, often at short notice. One way of visiting when the forces are not operating is via the ferry and minibus which does a three-hour tour. We woke early and set off to walk the 2.5 miles down the road to the Keoldale ferry to cross and pick up the Cape Wrath minibus on the other side. The A838 south of Durness was not built until 1832.

Down at the Kyle of Durness is a standing stone erected in 2000 as a memorial to ancient and Celtic peoples.

A little further along we reached the pier where what has been described as the smallest passenger ferry service in Great Britain operates from. While waiting for it, we saw someone take a small tank of diesel over to the other side to top up a minibus.

The ferry arrived just before 9.30am and we embarked for the short journey across the Kyle to the pier on Cape Wrath.

Our minibus was waiting and took us slowly along the single-track unmade road. The only road to cross the peninsula was built to service the lighthouse in 1833 and is 11 miles long.

There are abandoned houses which used to belong to the shepherds who lived and worked here and the peat banks that supplied their fuel. There were views over to Kearvaig where there is a bothy and two stacks which are known as ‘The Cathedral’.

We saw several walkers and cyclists during our time on the Cape, some of whom were wild camping. At one point we spotted a few red deer in the distance. They are numerous on the Cape and are one reason why there are no trees. Just before you reach the lighthouse there are views south towards Sandwood Bay which is only accessible on foot. Apparently there have been reports in the past of mermaids being spotted from there.

 The lighthouse itself was built in 1828 by Robert Stevenson and was automated in 1998. It is now run by solar panels with a generator as reserve. There is a café there so after refuelling and we still had some time to wander around before the return trip. There are views from the surrounding cliffs.

The old foghorn is still there.

You can sometimes see porpoises and dolphins from here but we only saw a few grey seals at a distance on the sandbanks before we reached the pier on our way back.