Motorway madness and dreaming of the open road

A summer Friday afternoon is not the quietest time on the motorway, as everyone seems to be heading for the Lake District or Scotland in their caravan, campervan or over-loaded car. Today we were treated to lengthy traffic jams, reports of even more ahead on the radio and very slow nose-to-tail driving. There are still major road works near Lancaster and at one point we even lost a lane as the central reservation was being mowed. I appreciate the worker needs protection from the traffic but surely a better time to mow the grass could have been chosen. Inevitably driver frustration led to some extremely bad driving but no accidents, thankfully. I felt sorry for HGV drivers and others who had a much longer drive ahead of them.


The first of August tomorrow is a reminder that most of the summer is behind us. Despite a warm April, the next few weeks were quite cool and a lot of the fruit and veg in the garden are further behind than usual. I had thrown the waterproofs in the car as we left as I have given up persuading myself that it will stay dry. By the time we got to Beattock there was a torrential downpour and Scotland is having it’s wettest July since records began. As it dried off, we continued through Midlothian under a grey sky and I had to smile when Chris Rea’s ‘Looking for the summer’ came on the car radio.

On a more positive note, I am forging ahead with planning the Lincoln Highway drive for next summer. I have figured out all the stops and possible diversions so as soon as I have enough air miles, I will get the flights booked and the car and hotels. The open road beckons….


Jazz by night – the beach by day

Yesterday we had expected the electricians to arrive to rewire the flat but this had to postponed as someone was off sick. We had a number of things to do in town (dodging the rain) and then met up with some friends for a meal. Without planning it, our time here for the rewiring coincided with the Edinburgh Jazz Festival so it was off to the Old Tron Kirk for some music. We all had to confess that we had no idea what the word ‘tron’ meant despite this church and another in Glasgow with a similar name. Subsequent research has established that it means ‘public weighing beam’ and one used to stand there. It ceased to be a church in the 1950s and excavations at the time revealed some of the Old Town beneath it. We enjoyed a very lively set from Mr Sipp and the resident band although there was a little too much bass at times.

Mr Sipp (1 of 1)

This morning we headed for North Berwick as the weather promised to be a little better. In addition to the beaches it has a secondhand bookshop so I found three volumes for my collections of natural history books and old travel guides. The bookseller was entertaining his grandson with a jigsaw puzzle and we spent a little time chatting about Jurassic Park lego. Walking along the West Strand and up over the cliffs at the end there were lots of wildflowers in bloom and I also made a note to complete the rest of the John Muir Way. A few years ago we had done the Musselburgh to Aberlady part but have not got round to doing the rest which goes all the way to Berwick on Tweed. It is now part of a longer trail which runs across from Dunbar to Helensburgh on the west coast.

Coastal flowers (1 of 1)

West Strand North Berwick (1 of 1)

Heading back to Edinburgh

The 36 hours before my departure today were spent rehearsing and performing in the choral society’s summer concert so it was a relief to get into the car this morning and head north. We do not usually travel on a Sunday morning so it was quieter despite the English schools’ holiday having started this weekend. However, there were quite a few caravans on the motorway and in south Lancashire we saw a cycle race pass over the motorway flyovers several times. At the obligatory coffee stop and driving changeover at Tebay services, we watched a couple with two great Danes cause great consternation on the pond. A duck was getting very agitated about the potential threat to her ducklings, which fortunately never materialised. The other ducks slept on, on their islands, totally unaware of the risk.

Ducks at Tebay (1 of 1)

We carried on north through drizzle over Beattock but this disappeared and we arrived in Edinburgh under clear skies. We settled into the flat and then had an evening meal with some friends on the other side of the city. The rain had caught up with us by then but had stopped before we left to walk back to the flat. As we walked back across Bruntsfield Links we saw lots of seagulls on the grass and I was reminded of recent reports of them killing small dogs in Cornwall and people asking for the law preventing them or their nests being harmed to be rescinded. It will be interesting to see what becomes of this.

Wigtown: books and bookshops

It is many years since we were last here. Our B&B was right in the town centre and after checking the leaflet which gave all the details of the shops, decided that none of the specialist ones needed a look in. We confined ourselves to the two largest general shops. The first claims to be Scotland’s biggest bookshop.

Wigtown 1 13 July 2015 (1 of 1)

It is certainly extensive and also has some strange decorations:

Wigtown 2 13 July 2015 (1 of 1)

However, there are also plenty of cosy corners to read in. I found one book in there and then we wandered over to the shop in an old bank. This had a much better natural history section and I discovered another volume to add to my New Naturalist series and also a few of the old guidebooks we collect. This shop also has an extensive collection of sheet music. Others in the town specialise in science fiction, children’s books and old newspapers etc. It has a festival in September which I will not be able to get to as we will be in London. All too soon it was time to join the long lines of traffic on the A75 and head for the motorway. For most of the way through Cumbria and Lancashire the rain was heavy and we almost aquaplaned home. At least the garden will not need watering.

The North Channel, Loch Ryan and Galloway

Our voyage across the North Channel was uneventful and we were soon bidding goodbye to Belfast Lough and Ireland.

Goodbye to Ireland 12 July 2015 (1 of 1)

As we pulled into the North Channel, I saw an oil platform being towed away from the coast. They are not built in Northern Ireland so I assume it had been repaired and was now heading back to its working position. On the other shore was a lighthouse and I started to see seabirds. Once past the buoy at the end of Loch Ryan, we turned into the loch with the Galloway coast on both sides.

Galloway coast 2 12 July 2015 (1 of 1)

Getting off the boat was reminiscent of the free-for-all at Dun Laoghaire as everyone had to merge into two lanes and then get into the correct one to go north or south at the exit. The road south bypasses Stranraer and heads for Newton Stewart but we cut across a B road towards Wigtown, passing a stone circle and several signposts to other historic places. It is several years since we spent any time in Galloway and we must return soon. We found our guesthouse in Wigtown easily and our hostess recommended the Inn at Bladnoch. It is situated by the bridge over the River Bladnoch and the distillery. When we arrived there was live music (fiddlers) and the accents in the bar and restaurant were from north and south of the border, east and west of the Pennines and from both sides of the Irish Sea. We walked back into town and look forward to bookshops tomorrow.

River Bladnoch 1 12 July 2015 (1 of 1)

River Bladnoch 2 12 July 2015 (1 of 1)

Escaping to Scotland

We arrived at Belfast Port well ahead of schedule as the roads were quiet because it is Sunday and also a public holiday. We should have been on our usual overnight ferry back to Birkenhead but this was cancelled due to the 12th of July ‘celebrations’. Apparently there has been fighting on the ferry in previous years. I am quite glad to be escaping the festivities: there are Unionist flags everywhere, bonfires scheduled for tonight and marching bands tomorrow. It does give us the chance to vary our route home and so we are enroute to Cairnryan with an overnight stop in Wigtown, Scotland’s Hay on Wye. We sat watching the boats coming into the port for a while.

Belfast Port 2 12 July 2015 (1 of 1)

Our ferry came in and off it came several buses from Scotland: Glasgow, Falkirk, Motherwell and Airdrie. One had a poster, ‘The Pride of Govan Flute Band’ on the side. There were a dozen in total and it must be the only time you see a Union Jack on a Scottish bus. As we slid out of the harbour into Belfast Lough, an announcement was made regarding the therapies on offer during our sailing. I prefer to save my cash for the bookshops tomorrow. Ahead of us, the sky looks lighter and more promising for tomorrows ferreting around in bookshops.

The north Antrim coast

On Friday we set off for Portstewart and the art gallery. We had a coffee and a chat with the proprietor who had been a social worker in a previous life. The conversation ranged from social work, politics, old maps and books to his wife’s health. We eventually settled on a sixteenth century map of Ireland. Unusually it is not orientated north to south as back then, maps were orientated towards Jerusalem.

After a saunter along the seafront and another coffee we visited some relatives and then set off for Portrush. We had a look in the secondhand bookshop there but found nothing of interest on this occasion. We then carried on along the coast past White Rocks Beach (for exploring on another trip) and Dunluce Castle, a ruin.

White Rocks near Portrush 1

Dunluce Castle

It was then time to turn inland to Bushmills where the bookshop has closed and take the obligatory photographs of the distillery. In the evening we took James’s parents out for a meal at one of the coastal hotels. Despite the calm sea, there were some people trying to body board on almost non-existant surf. We spotted a sign for coastal trail which requires further investigation as a possible walk at some point.

Third island of the summer: Rathlin

On Thursday we managed to cover several of our passions in one day. Visiting a new place, antique maps, bird watching, walking and beachcombing. On our last visit to Northern Ireland we had discovered a gallery in Portstewart that sold antique maps. The proprietor had said that he had more in his warehouse and to call him on our next visit, so this time we rang up and arranged to meet him on our way to Ballycastle. His warehouse was in the Glens of Antrim and on the edge of Breen Wood nature reserve. He told us that this was the oldest oak wood in NI (although there is another which also makes this claim) and that it has a fairy ring. However, this will have to be explored on another trip as we had a boat to catch. We did buy a small print of ports on the north and west coast of Ireland, which is similar to one I have of ports in the northeast of Scotland and agreed to visit the shop and see some of his older maps of Ireland the following day. A few miles further on we arrived at Ballycastle and after a coffee caught the ferry to Rathlin Island. Surprisingly, we had never been there before despite James growing up in County Antrim and us having visited at least once a year for the last thirty years.

Ballycastle Harbour

The sea was calm and we were soon there and set off to walk to the West Lighthouse and Seabird Centre. The roadside verges and fields were full of wildflowers and at the highest point of the island, is a cairn. The Puffin Bus, ferrying people to and fro passed us several times. At the lighthouse, there are steps down to the viewing platform overlooking the cliffs and stacks, which are covered with birds. Guillemots and fulmars are everywhere and on a grassy slope at the bottom of the cliff are the puffin burrows which they return to every year. We saw some although they were too far away for a good photograph even with the telephoto lens. We had never seen them before as on a trip to Staffa several years ago, they had left the week before.

Fulmar with chick Rathlin

We had our packed lunch, with a visit from a racing pigeon that had flown off course and then set off on the return journey.

Back at the harbour, it was time for an ice cream from Jack whose shack was at the back of his van and then a spot of beachcombing.

Jack the Ice-cream vendor's shack

On the beach I found five tiny coloured periwinkles but was horrified by the amount of plastic waste deposited there by the tide. It was then time to catch the ferry back to Ballycastle and head for home.

Over the Irish Sea

As soon as I had returned from work we hit the road, heading for Birkenhead docks. I had crossed over the motorway on my way back from the station and it looked slow and busy. The traffic announcements on the radio were of accidents on several routes and long delays. We set off heading north on the A50 but found a long line of traffic there as well, slowly heading north. There was even what appeared to be quite a serious accident just a little further north. Past that, we made reasonably good progress and were soon at the dock. Having just returned from working in Liverpool, it was interesing to look at the city from the other side of the water.

Liver building from Birkenhead dock (1 of 1)

Museum of Liverpool from Birkenhead dock (1 of 1)

Once at the dock we waited until we could board, watched by a lone seagull on the roof.

Seagull Birkenhead dock (1 of 1)

Now we are tucked up in our cabin with the alarm set so that we can grab some breakfast before we arrive in Belfast at 6.30am.

A day in Birmingham

The hottest day of the year ended with thunder and lightning in the evening but no rain. It was still pretty warm when I set off early this morning to travel to Birmingham for a conference. The train got busier as commuters got on at Wolverhampton and Coseley but we were soon at New Street. I had not been in central Birmingham for some time and always said that New Street was my least favourite station. However, it has had a makeover and is a much more pleasant place to be in. The conference centre was only about half a mile away and is part of the complex containing Symphony Hall. Next door is Francine Houben’s post-modern Library which looks very striking and I am only sorry that I did not have time to look inside.

Birmingham Library (1 of 1)

The conference was stimulating and I caught up with several colleagues that I had not seen for a while. When I emerged at the end of the day, it was raining so I scuttled down to the station to get the train home. After Wolverhampton it was less busy and I saw that the sheep in fields had been shorn, a sign of summer. Wildlife spotted included a trainspotter with camera and tripod who was supping a cup of tea on the platform at Stafford and a flock of Canada geese feeding in a field north of the town. Finally, I saw a rainbow before we drew into Crewe.