Friday’s journey was difficult as we drove to Edinburgh after my mother’s funeral. I had been reminded about her love of travelling (and the 35 photograph albums that resulted) and also her love of music and reading which I share. Talking to my aunt afterwards resurrected the family story that we are descended from gypsies – I still have to find any evidence for in my genealogical research. Inevitably we were physically and emotionally tired, it was dark and the motorway was very busy in Cheshire and south Lancashire. We eventually arrived, had a quick meal and slept. The highlight of Saturday was the Radical Book Fair (more books purchased) and a talk by the Minimalists. I am already trying to reduce the enormous pile of stuff we have accumulated in 20 years of living in the same place but it is a very slow process. I am part way through reducing my work hours and looking at what I can give back as well as pursuing my passions but this is a journey still being travelled. Today we visited the Secret Herb Garden in Old Pentland for the first time and I had hoped to go to Dawyck arboretum to see the autumn colours but with high winds and driving rain, decided just to carry on. The bushes and hedges lining the B roads through the borders were weighed down with berries and had it not been so wet there would have been some great photography opportunities. In Langholm I spotted a sign above a cafe – ‘Pelosis Corner Cafe’ which minus an apostrophe, sounds like a medical condition rather than the proprietor’s name. We had had to buy the Independent en route to see if the letter I had sent last week had been published and it was there in black and white. The last time I had one in a paper was 1990-something.
Up early and organised as today we leave. I was reading the ‘i’ at breakfast and was disappointed to read in an article about the ‘real’ Jack the Ripper’ that the person thought to be responsible had died in a ‘lunatic asylum’. That might have been the 19th century term but I had hoped that someone writing in the 21st century (and their editor) might have chosen a less stigmatising term. An e-mail to the Independent was dispatched when I got home. The last time I had to write to them (I don’t read the paper very often) was in the 1990s and on a similar theme. Here in Brighton, a lesbian couple kissed in a supermarket and were asked to leave after a customer complained. I was very pleased to hear that the gay community and others staged a sit-in in Sainsburys as a result. Elsewhere in the country, a woman and her clearly identified guide dog were asked to leave another supermarket as pets were not allowed in. We got to the station and boarded the rail replacement bus. A group of young people were off skateboarding and accompanying them was a spaniel with a back-pack – not something I had seen on a dog before. Apparently he does not like skate-boarding. All too soon were at Victoria, then Euston and then back home.
A day is really not enough to do justice to Brighton but that is all we have. An early start along the promenade with wind and waves suggesting that indeed Hurricane Gonzales might be on his way, meant that the Pier was not yet open. We wandered through the streets to the gardens surrounding the Pavilion (also still closed) and into the Lanes. Those nearest the Pavilion have fairly upmarket shops (I found a great tunic in the Toast sale and had a great chat with the staff) but as you head into the North Lanes there are dozens of funky vintage stores, a street market, bric a brac stalls and shops and we discovered two secondhand bookstores (needless to say, books were purchased). I also fell in love with and purchased a 1960s green Beswick coffee set which we also have to squeeze into our luggage. We had some samosas from a street stall for lunch and in the afternoon visited the Pavilion.
No photographs are allowed in the opulent interior so you will have to visit to see for yourselves. We had decided to catch up on a film we had missed when last in Edinburgh and after that had dinner in a restaurant in Ship Street after admiring the lights on the sea-front. Many people were heading into the city centre for the evening and security guards were getting into position outside the bars. One street cleaner seemed particularly jolly as he trundled his machine down the road. We opted for a quiet evening as we head for home tomorrow.
After two days of an intense but very stimulating conference, it was a relief to don my jeans and go out into bracing sea air. The sea, which had looked blue first thing this morning was now somewhat greyer but there were still a few people on the shingle beach. The first sight outside our hotel is what remains of the West Pier, part of which collapsed in 2002 and the remainder caught fire twice in 2002.
The lights were coming on and birds wheeling in the sky as we wandered along the promenade to the remaining piers before having something to eat and a relaxing evening before more exploration tomorrow
The first part of today’s journey was familiar: the drive to Crewe Station and the train to Euston. As we drove to the station we passed local farmers were lifting potatoes and cutting the last corn before the rains return. On the platform, Virgin were doing some new staff training but otherwise the journey to London was uneventful. The tube was hot and crowded as it as approaching rush hour but at least it was only a few stops to Victoria and then a train to Brighton where I am running two master classes at a conference for the next two days. We passed Battersea Power Station which is being renovated and turned into flats/shops and who knows what. Then, miles of south London before we eventually began to see green spaces appearing as we headed into Sussex. This is the only British mainland county I have never been in before. At Haywards Heath the rain began and was still there as we pulled into Brighton. I was glad to see the two great arches of a Victorian Station and as I was tired and had bags, took a taxi to my hotel which is right next door to the Grand Hotel. After dumping my bags in my room I set off for a walk towards the pier with the hope of doing some night photography. Unfortunately it was so wet and windy this was not possible so here is a photo from the Tourist Office.
We woke to a still foggy day and after breakfast wandered into town for a coffee and wifi fix and then a visit to the local museum. It had a good selection of Celtic and other early artefacts, a few medieval items and then a huge leap to the 1798 rebellion and subsequent history. A bit of a gap there. One good find in the associated shop was a book written about the old Kilraughts churchyard with all the memorial inscriptions and some history about the people. It will be a huge help for the family history research. We got soaked on the way back to the house and spent the rest of the day getting organised to return home.
This evening as we were driving down to the Belfast docks, we noticed a strange light low in the sky on our left. It was too high to be on a building and the wrong shape for a mast. We were well past the airport but as we were on the motorway, could not stop for a photograph. With a few hallucinogens or enough alcohol on board, I am sure it would resemble a UFO but a little further on, it became clear that it was a section of the moon, sandwiched between clouds which were reflecting the light. As I could not take a photo, I have grabbed one from a website which claims to have the best UFO shots. Now we are tucked up in our cabin for a short night.
Yesterday we had planned to visit relatives in Portstewart but as we arrived a little early and the weather was good, took a walk along the promenade. The sea front was fairly quiet with locals going about their business and three guys fishing in the small harbour. Banks of seaweed had been thrown against the harbour wall during the recent storms. We had picked up some sandwiches in Coleraine so ate them sitting on a bench over-looking the sea and then had the obligatory Morelli’s ice-cream.
Wandering into a small art gallery to look at the paintings, we then discovered that the owner also sold antique maps. He was interested to hear what we already had and told us some of what he kept in his workshop so we noted to call in advance on our next trip when we might be in a position to buy one.
James has been interested in tracking his family history for some time but has hit a couple of problems: the loss of so many Irish civil records and his parents’ lack of curiosity about their origins. There are no family bibles with all the births written inside the cover which is one of the things that started me researching my family history when I was at school so other than some information gleaned online there is also some footwork to be done. We spent the morning photographing gravestones in Kilraughts and Clough so that we can cross-check with the information we have already. They don’t seem to mow their cemeteries here so we got wet feet but did find a few that seem to be his ancestors. Afer that it was coffee time so we ended up in a coffee shop in Ballymoney, aquiring a parking ticket as James didn’t know that you can’t park in the main street anymore. Now off to the bookshop to look for some local history books.
Having heard last night that the Troon ferry was cancelled (due to the gales which had swept the country), we were up before it was light to drive over to the Ayrshire Coast and Cairnryan. It was certainly not the weather to be on the catamaran that the Irish call the ‘vomit comet’. As we drove through West Lothian, North Lanarkshire and into Ayrshire, the rain was still heavy and we got stuck behind various slow moving vehicles and diverted around a road closure. Once we got to the coast, we passed the Ailsa Craig in the mist and after Girvan, the weather improved.
We had just missed the 10.30 ferry which was pulling out of the port, so headed into Stranraer for coffee and to pick up some flowers for my mother in law. On the way into the town we passed a small cockle beach where an elderly man was feeding swans. I took some photos and also found a piece of seaglass to add to my collection.
The sun was out as we returned to the port and boarded the ship. I stood outside as we passed the lighthouse and headed into the Irish Sea with the Kintyre peninsula in the background.
Once I had finished a training session on Saturday it was time to drive to Edinburgh as the first stage of the journey to Northern Ireland. After heavy rain overnight the sky was clearing with the sun and patches of blue appearing. The autumn colours were stunning in the late afternoon light and we saw several rainbows over the Pennines and the Southern Uplands. I did a quick sketch with notes as we passed it just south of Tebay, of one particular view that had grabbed me. As we arrived at the service station for a break, the ducks were waddling as fast as they could towards a couple having a picnic at one of the tables outside. I took a couple of photos as a colour reference for the projected painting before having a quick coffee and completing the journey to Edinburgh before darkness fell.
Today was spent trying (and failing) to buy tickets for Glastonbury 2015, doing essential shopping and housework here before an early start to pick up the ferry from Troon tomorrow morning.