Staying at home

I follow Nomadic Matt’s blog and recently he tackled the issues facing travellers when returning home and another venture is a long way in the future; the coming home blues. I am often in that situation as work limits the time we can go away until we retire and have more flexibility. Matt made the following suggestions:

1. Join an online community
2. Read travel blogs.
3. Attend travel meet-ups via Couchsurfing or
4. Read travel books.
5. Take short trips around your city or region.
6. Host on Couchsurfing so you can show tourists around and see your home with fresh eyes. 

I would agree with and do most of these but travel meetups and hosting on Couchsurfing are easier if you live in a city (I live in a semi-rural area most of the time). I do have a large library of travel literature and it grows as I plan to visit a new place or revisit a favorite destination. That said, I have read ‘In Patagonia’ twice, 40 years apart and have still not made it to Patagonia. I am currently planning next summer’s USA coast to coast drive (mostly) on the Lincoln Highway. The flights are booked and as we are travelling in the peak summer season (we do not always have a choice of when to go) I am booking accommodation ahead as well and am almost finished – just Reno in Nevada, Truckee and Sacramento in northern California to arrange. I have already booked the end – by the Pacific Ocean in San Francisco. The playlist is currently under construction and James will organize the car. Phil Llewellin, in his book ‘’The Road to Muckle Flugga’ devoted less than three pages to the Lincoln Highway which he drove in 1989 in only eight days. We are taking just under four weeks, inspired in part by the views from the California Zephyr train which we took from Chicago to San Francisco five years ago. We will be getting out of our car to explore and hike in several places along the way.

Short trips around my local area is something I do, on foot in the car or on the train. It is often amazing how many places near our homes or workplaces we have not been to, how many paths and roads close by that have not been explored. During the festive season, travel can be difficult and is currently much harder with flooding and rail works so staying at home can be a good idea. This morning’s surprise on a wander round the garden was the appearance of some fungi in the garden. I am trying to identify them and think they might be Hypholoma Capnoides which is in season from spring until autumn and I am still compiling a natural history of the garden. The mild winter has led to the appearance of spring flowers in December so this is something else appearing earlier than usual.

Mushroom 1 (1 of 1)

Mushroom 2 (1 of 1)

Architecture in England’s second city

Delayed trains and slow trains were the order of the day but the clouds were parting, patches of blue sky and very occasionally the sun, were appearing so things looked a little more promising as we headed south (albeit at a snail’s pace). I had been intending to return to explore the interior of the library in Birmingham whose exterior had impressed me on as I walked past it last summer and James was keen to see the largest Christmas fair in England. We both wanted to use our day off to go and explore somewhere rather than spend the day catching up on chores. The Christmas markets provided sights, sounds and smells from the street food which were all absorbed. We did not have any shopping to do but I admired the skill of the people whose crafts were on display and we enjoyed the live music:
Live music 1 Birmingham Dec 2015 (1 of 1)Drummer Birmingham Dec 2015 (1 of 1)
One drummer was using a homemade drum kit. The Council Building reminded me of a time several years ago when I had had to give a lecture in the council chamber.

Council Building Birmingham Dec 2015 (1 of 1)

and the roof of one of the shopping centres was quite impressive:

Shopping centre roof Birmingham Dec 2015 (1 of 1)

Demolition Birmingham Dec 2015 (1 of 1)
Nearby, another corner of the city is being demolished for re-invention.

The interior of the library was as amazing as the exterior.

Libraryinterior 1 Birmingham Dec 2015 (1 of 1)

Library interior 2 Birmingham Dec 2015 (1 of 1)

Library interior 3 Birmingham Dec 2015 (1 of 1)
Library & town hall Birmingham Dec 2015 (1 of 1)

There were pods to work in and places to lounge in. I could pass a few hours in here, easily.
Library interior 4 Birmingham Dec 2015 (1 of 1)

Library 2 Birmingham Dec 2015 (1 of 1)

Outside were planted areas and a terrace with views over the city. Standing there, I was reminded that I would only like to live in a small city, not one that has buildings as far as the eye can see. I prefer those that I can see the hills, or sea or river and get out of fairly quickly. In Edinburgh I can see the hills and in Liverpool the sea or river is not far away. We had lunch in the library cafe and as the tables inside were all occupied, sat outside. Amazingly it was warm enough to do that in December. The big wheel was operating although I could only see a few people aboard. The big wheel was next to the temporary ice rink and made me wonder about their history as every city seems to have one now. Our journey home was quicker than the outward one. I observed herons and trainspotters en route and we were soon back home.

All kinds of weather in Edinburgh

On Wednesday I was longing for snow and my wish almost came true. It was raining as I headed into town to see a film and so heavily that I have never seen so much water running down the streets of the city. On the way back to the flat it had turned to sleet and wet snow was lying on the grass. Higher altitudes had the real stuff and a little sprinkling was left on Blackford Hill. My neighbour said he had never seen so much water running down the mound. I woke on Friday morning to clear blue, a crescent moon and contrails stretching across the sky. I had to get out and for a change, wandered east along Grange Loan for some supplies at Earthy, then down Causewayside noticing as few antique shops and upcycled furniture shops that will be worth a look in at some point. I passed the National Library of Scotland which is being renovated and will have to go in there at some point as this location houses the old map collection.

At Summerhall, the Mexican artist Antonio O’Connell’s permanent installation ‘Virus’ made from recycled materials has sat outside since last year (Summerhall is housed in the former veterinary medicine school).

Virus installation 1 (1 of 1)

Virus installation 2 (1 of 1)

I picked up some newsletters but did not see a current exhibition that appealed so headed for Till’s bookshop. The proprietor is a Canadian who has lived in Edinburgh for 30 years. I have lived in or visited Edinburgh regularly for more than 30 years and often pass the shop on the bus up from the city centre but today was the first day that I went in. The original range with a real fire reminded me of Reid’s in Liverpool.

Till's bookshop Edinburgh (1 of 1)

Saturday’s storm was named Desmond and large parts of Scotland and northern England are flooded. We braved the high wind and rain to head into town for a book fair. I saw one elderly man’s cap blow off and bowl down the street. Fortunately, he managed to rescue it. One of the Christmas decorations still standing was this fairy light tree in George Street. Parked next to it was a Red Bull car. Something I would need if I had to party all night. Instead we had a relaxed meal with friends.

Tree in George ST (1 of 1)

Today was another sunny morning so we set off reasonably early to drive back down south in daylight. No meandering in the Borders today. There was a lot of water on the A702 but the snow had gone from the Pentlands. Otherwise, it was an uneventful drive back but we could see large areas of flooding all around in southern Scotland and Cumbria and the water was almost up to the edge of the motorway in places. The radio told us of people being rescued, power cuts, landslides and flood defences being breached.

A702 water (1 of 1)

What is winter?

A couple of days after the most recent storm and I was back on the train to Edinburgh early this morning. The UK now gives severe storms a name and this one was Clodagh. It led to the cancellation of several towns’ Christmas light switching on celebrations. I got very wet last Friday while doing a Street Pastor shift at our local town’s event but was relieved that I had no need to travel any further than there. It is now December, we have had only one night of frost and night-time temperatures of 10-12 degrees Celsius that we would usually expect at mid-day in the winter. I left in the dark this morning and daylight did not arrive until the train reached Preston. At Lancaster, there was a little frost on top of the carriages sitting in the sidings but many flooded fields north of the city. We caught up with the rain at Oxenholme and it stayed with us as we continued northwards. The Clyde had burst its banks in several places in south Lanarkshire. It was still raining when I arrived in Edinburgh and accompanied by the usual umbrella-inverting wind so I rushed past the Christmas market and all the attractions, straight to my bus stop. It is now dry and the sky is clear.

Approach to Edinburgh Waverley (1 of 1)

Reflecting on climate change and all that it means for people living in for poorer people living in low-lying areas and coping with unseasonal weather is very sobering and I only hope the current climate talks achieve something. I have travelled over remote Himalayan passes which were bare rock while old photographs show the road edged with snow even in mid-summer and have been stranded by flooding there triggered by heavy rain which had not happened in summer for 100 years.

The flood in the gorge

I am currently reading Adam Gopnik’s ‘Winter’, the first chapter of which addresses the romantic notions of it over the ages. My childhood winters in Scotland were snowbound and I am easily seduced by some of the romance as a lover of Hokusai’s snowy Japanese prints. Snow scenes are hugely inspirational to the landscape photographer in me (you might have guessed this by the snowy mountains I have as my header) particularly as I experiment with black and white photography. I am also very keen to try macro shots of snowflakes but as the last significant snow was in 2010, I might have to wait a while. In the meantime, snowflakes are falling on this blog, I am singing about the bleak midwinter with my choir and yearning for the real stuff.Here is one of my photographs from the last real winter.

Snow in the Pentland Hills, Scotland