Two days in London

An early drop off at Crewe Station on Wednesday morning meant that fortified with a large coffee, I got some work done before the train arrived. There was great confusion on the destination boards, which seemed to have regressed to the earlier overnight trains: ‘23.42 from Glasgow Central terminates here’. I was on the slower service to Euston via Birmingham this time, which at least meant a change of scenery. Just before we drew in to the station at Wolverhampton we passed a number of interesting derelict Victorian buildings that are crying out for restoration and could provide the affordable homes that we need so much. From the station you can see the old Chubb Lock and Safe Company building that has been restored. Here is a photo from a local history site:
After Coventry, we were back into the countryside and there was still some autumn colour. It’s hard to believe we are in the second half of November. On one farm the animals were about to be fed. Two flocks of sheep in their fields and one herd of cattle were all staring intently towards the farm buildings, waiting for it to appear. Approaching Euston there were numerous small plants which had seeded in the gravel on the line and were flowering even this late in the year.
My walking route led me past UCL where a demonstration by students and supported by Socialist Worker was getting ready to set off. On Tottenham Court Road I passed Heals (along with Studio One in Edinburgh a great place to furnish and decorate a modern house) and down to Liberty ‘the chosen resort of the artistic shopper’ according to Oscar Wilde. If money were no object, there are innumerable wonderful things here. As always, a quick look at the Japanese prints on the top floor was essential, Kawase Hasui’s snow scenes being a favourite. However, I was focussed on Christmas present buying and that was soon finished (declining bubble wrap and plastic bags) and I wandered down Carnaby Street picking up some stocking fillers. Back at Oxford Circus a band were busking.
Buskers at Oxford Circus 19 Nov 2014 (1 of 1)
Afterwards, a quick tube journey to Islington and after popping into the Oxfam bookshop (one for me and one for a Christmas stocking filler) I was in my hotel. No more wall space at the moment so I did not visit Finbar MacDonnell’s wonderful map shop in Camden Passage. The hotel is modern and almost monochrome which fits with my current exploration of black and white photography. Today I woke early to a misty morning. Down in the City where my meeting was taking place, the Gherkin and the Shard were in the mist but lack of time and unwilling to stand in the middle of the busy road, there are no photographs. Late afternoon, the meeting was over and I wandered back to Oxford Street to photograph the lights.
Christmas Lights Oxford Circus 20 Nov 2014 (1 of 1)
Hare Krishna monks were singing and chanting along the street and Jehovah’s Witnesses standing outside the tube station trying to give away booklets. I made my way back to Euston via some of my favourite bookshops in Bloomsbury. I came across two amazing shops on my wanderings – one devoted entirely to umbrellas and walking sticks
Umbrella & Walking Stick Shop 20 Nov 2014 (1 of 1)
and one that sells rubber stamps for printing. You can even buy sealing wax and seals in there. I had a fairly uneventful train journey home with pleasant company, red wine and one of the books I had bought.

Misty morning

After a great evening at Scottish Opera’s production of Rossini’s La Cenerentola we had a fairly short sleep and were soon on the road this morning. Mist was hanging in the glens as we left Inverness and climbed the Slochd Pass.
Mist on Slochd Pass 9 Nov 2014 (1 of 1)
By Dalwhinnie blue sky had reappeared and as we descended into Blair Atholl the tops of the mountains were reappearing. By the time we reached Pitlochry the cloud was higher and many crows were probing in the soft earth in stubble fields for worms.
Mist near Dalwhinnie 9 Nov 2014 (1 of 1)
After a quick coffee in Perth we had a very nostalgic drive down the section of the A9 from there to Stirling. The Wallace Monument and Stirling Castle were silhouetted against the morning sun. Further south the southern uplands looked magnificent and it would have been a great day for a hill walk. By the time we got to Johnstone Bridge it was raining but after the border there were only a few more showers and no major problems despite lots of road works. Skeins of geese and a murmuration of starlings were a real reminder that winter is on the way. Nearer home the ‘Order your Xmas turkey now’ signs had appeared at local farms while we were away, whereas the Indian Restaurant keeps its options open by having a ‘Bank Holiday Monday Buffet’ sign up all year – Easter will be the next one.

Blue skies in the Highlands

On Friday we had lunch with a friend in the Scottish Arts Club and then left Edinburgh to drive to Inverness. As expected it took a while to get out of the city but we were soon at the Forth where the new crossing is being built. There are no longer any tolls on the road bridge and the rail bridge was looking great in the sunshine. Most of the leaves have gone from the trees but the colours in Perthshire were fabulous. The new average speed restrictions are now in operation on the A9 and many people had predicted problems but we found none. North of Dunkeld there was a lot of flooding in the fields and all the rivers were in full spate. There was, for the time of year, very little snow on the top of the Cairngorms and we descended the Slochd as the sun set and drove into Inverness. After a couple of drinks at the Heathmount we had a great dinner cooked by our friends as we plotted the next day’s walk. On Saturday we were up early and off the the Black Isle to walk near Cromarty. The sun was shining and the sea and the sky blue so we had a very pleasant walk along the shore and up into deciduous woodland with views across the Firth from the top of the hill.
Installation on shore Cromarty 8 Nov 2014 (1 of 1)
We descended across some fields to a minor road and then sat by the harbour with coffee and some great cakes from the local bakery, watched closely by a pair of juvenile gulls who were begging for titbits. Now we are resting back at the house (the boys watching the rugby) before going to Scottish Opera’s production of Rossini’s La Cenerentola this evening.
Cromarty from the South Sutor 8 Nov 2014 (1 of 1)

Leaving autumn behind

My busy but newish train slid out of the tunnels near Lime Street and past several local stations this afternoon. The banks on both sides of the track were still full of autumn colour despite it now being November. Today was the first day I have worn my winter coat after a very warm October when it was not needed. The sky was blue with white clouds but as it was late afternoon the light was fading fast. Just as we passed over the M57 there were large areas of vacant brownfield sites: we are in great need of more homes but there is no money for it up here. By the time we had got to St Helens, the Scouse accent had disappeared (there is quite a tight isogloss around Liverpool) and we are into Lancastrian territory. The red sun was slipping below the horizon as we drew into Wigan North Western where I had to wait a while for my next train. Once it arrived I was on board and settled down to read a PhD thesis I have to examine. At Carlisle there had been heavy rain recently and the station was gleaming where the light hit wet surfaces. When I arrived in Edinburgh the buildings were illuminated in different colours – purple for the castle and red for Jenners. A quick walk to the mound and I was on the bus and in the flat very quickly.Beech leaves Smallwood Oct 2014 (1 of 1)