Winter days in Edinburgh

There are still no trains north of Carlisle due to the Lamington Viaduct repairs and the replacement buses increase the journey times. I managed to slip away from work and catch an earlier train out of Lime Street Station than I had originally planned. At least part of the journey would be in daylight. By the time we got to Wigan North Western, enough sun had penetrated the glowering clouds to produce that wonderful golden hour of light before sunset beloved of photographers. It made even the station and the adjacent rather utilitarian car park glow.

Evening at Wigan 2 (1 of 1)

At Preston we were kept waiting a driver whose arrival was delayed by floods. I finally finished reading Great Plains while on the train. I was pondering that I had already known something about the native Americans, the explorer and settler trails across the region, its geography, wildlife, the farmers trying to make a living there and the dustbowl. From the book I learnt more about the Mennonite settlers and something else that had not occurred to me: it is the location for several nuclear missile silos. In Carlisle, I was waiting for the bus to Edinburgh with a guy from London who had also been on my train. He said that he had just started work for Railtrack and that he had never been this far north before.

On Wednesday I had work to do, a day of coffee and statistics. In the evening, I attended a Burns Night celebration at the Scottish Arts Club. I met several new people (including some of the botanic artists) and enjoyed some great food. We were entertained by several members with the toasts, some of Burns songs and some by James Hogg. At the end of the evening I got back to the flat by taxi and was physically exhausted but my mind was racing with ideas and plans for more creative work of my own. The first few blossoms are appearing on the cherry tree outside the window but from Thursday evening through Friday and into Saturday we were treated to gales, snow, hail and sleet showers, the remains of storm Gertrude which battered the eastern USA a few days ago. The snow on Saturday morning lay long enough for all the local children to be out on the Meadows building snowmen but it melted soon after when the sun emerged. The blossoms have survived the onslaught.

Cherry tree blossom (1 of 1)

One winter treat in Edinburgh is that the Scottish National Gallery puts on a display each January of Turner watercolours. Although he never ventured further than Europe, here is one entitled ‘Falls near the source of the Jumna in the Himalaya.

Falls near the source of the Jumna Himalaya (1 of 1)

Saturday evening saw us having dinner in Katie’s Diner in Bruntsfield. There are only six tables and it is decorated with Americana including photographs of New York taken in the 1950s, musical instruments and also some more local colour from several Jack Vettriano prints. At night the castle is lit up and glows almost orange.

Edinburgh Castle 30 Jan 2016 (1 of 1)

This morning it was time to head home so we wandered through the borders with flooded fields being enjoyed by swans and geese and some snow on the Lammermuir Hills but very little further south. Between Greenlaw (one of only two towns in Scotland to have a village green) and Kelso, we came across Hume Castle. It is closed in winter and all you can see from the road are the 18th century walls which hide a much older keep. I made a note to re-visit in the summer. Just before we got to Kelso on the B6461 I saw a sign that said ‘Bookshop’. We did not explore further as it was unlikely to be open on Sunday but something else for the return visit.

Hume Castle 31 Jan 2016 (1 of 1)

Borders landscape 31 Jan 2016 (1 of 1)

We were soon descending towards Carlisle, the border and lower altitudes. Snow-covered Cumbrian hills appeared above the cloud but fog and rain were with us for the rest of the journey.

New things and routine journeys to Liverpool

At the end of a busy week I had to travel to Liverpool on Thursday and Friday. On Thursday I drove to Aintree Racecourse to deliver a lecture to GPs and mental health workers with one of my colleagues. I have given lectures in many different venues over the years including a football stadium (which was quite amusing as I have never been to a football match in my life) and Birmingham City Council House but never at a racecourse. Fortunately there were no horses and I did not have to wear an amazing hat as the racing season does not start until April. On the way I saw the ‘Pies Music’ slogan on a bridge at the north end of the M57 which complements those seen regularly on the M6. The lecture had to be delivered twice, once in the early afternoon and then again in the evening. The first session was disrupted by a fire-alarm and we had to evacuate and stand in the rain before they decided it was a false alarm and we could start again.

Aintree racecourse (1 of 1)

In between sessions we escaped to a colleague’s 18th century cottage in nearby Aintree village, tucked away off the A59 behind all the 1930s houses. The old Saxon settlement took its name from ‘one tree’ or a ‘tree standing alone’ sometime in the 12th century but the locals attribute the name to a much more recent tree which was felled in 2004. It was very interesting to learn about the history of the area from my colleague. On Friday morning I had a very wet start travelling by train to the city centre and walking to the hospital, a very familiar journey. On the train I was still reading Ian Frazier’s book ‘Great Plains’ and was interested to discover that the iconic plant of the plains, tumbleweed, was introduced from Russia with settlers in the 19th century. It has various names including Russian cactus, thistle, saltwort, prickly glasswort and wind witch. Presumably it also blows around on the Russian steppes. After chairing a meeting at the hospital, I could escape and on the way back to the station, visited one of my favourite bookshops in the city, Reids. It is the only remaining Georgian building in the city which has a business on the ground floor and proprietor’s living accommodation above. Most buildings have been divided up but not this one. The proprietor sits in the middle of the shop next to an open fire and I always find something of interest in here. This time it was a book about Istanbul, one of the cities to visit in the future.

Reids bookshop (1 of 1)

You will see a lot of corn

‘You will see a lot of corn’ said our son when I told him about our USA coast to coast drive in June. This is true, although there are a lot of other things to see as well. We had a foretaste just in Illinois when driving Route 66 just over two years ago. At home, winter has finally arrived and as it is colder with sleet, snow and transport disruptions, I have not been very far afield in the last couple of weeks. However, I have been amassing my pre-trip reading, some of it found in the second-hand bookstore that I work in. The Great Plains have also been described as flat, dull and provincial and I remember the excitement of a bend and an incline in the railway track on the Californian Zephyr as we began to climb up towards the mountains. So I will enjoy Ian Frazier’s book ‘Great Plains’.

Great plains (1 of 1)

We will be following the tracks of earlier settlers and as I have an interest in anthropology and ethnography, these two books the first published in the 1990s and the second in 1914, have also been added to the reading list.

Native Americans 1 (1 of 1)Native Americans 2 (1 of 1)

Dreaming of a long walk on a wet drive

During a very slow and wet drive south today, I started to dream and plan a long walk. As part of summer 2016 will be devoted to a long drive, it will have to be early summer 2017. James was driving so I could let my mind wander and plot the walk from South Cheshire to Edinburgh. My original idea was to walk the Pennine Way with a bit added on to the beginning and end. I am now thinking that I will work out a more direct route, utilising as many trails and minor roads as possible. I live about 3 miles from the Macclesfield Canal and walking north on the towpath takes me to Macclesfield. Although the canal carries on to Marple, a more direct path there is via the Middlewood Way. From Marple, the Midshires Way and a few other minor paths take me to Stalybridge where I can pick up the Thame Valley Way and then the Standedge Trail to just beyond Diggle. Then, I can join the Pennine Way. How long I stay on it remains to be seen as it weaves back and forth at times and it’s end at Kirk Yetholm is further east than I need to be. Along the A702 I looked at the grass verges and pavements in the villages thinking that if needed, this road could be easily walked up although hopefully when it is less wet than it is currently.

A702 water (1 of 1)

I had previously thought that I might walk up the old railway track alongside the A7. Now that has been re-opened as the Borders Railway so is no longer an option. Further on, down the M74 and M6 we made very slow progress with breakdowns and accidents on the motorway leading to long tailbacks before we could leave it.


It took just over five hours to get back and I have a lot more time to perfect my route over the next 18 months.

Seeing in the New Year in Edinburgh

On Wednesday I was wondering whether we would make it to Edinburgh at all. High winds (Storm Frank this time) and even more rain had exacerbated the already flooded areas of Northern England and Scotland and reports were coming of more areas being flooded and landslides. Someone had posted a photograph of the M74 looking more like a river on Facebook. My 4×4’s maximum wading depth of 50cm might be exceeded in some of the floods we have seen. Thursday morning in Cheshire was sunny, still and with a blue sky. The radio DJ obviously thought that a blue sky in Manchester was worth commenting on. As we drove north, dense low cloud and rain were with us until we got to Edinburgh and despite numerous signs saying ‘snow forecast’ there was none to be seen on the hills. We got there with enough time to get ourselves organised and down to the New Town where we were to spend Hogmanay with some friends. After our meal we walked a bit closer to the city centre and watched the midnight fireworks. Today has been a much more leisurely day. Despite all the snow warnings we have still not seen a flake. I am working on an painting which might become an elegy to winter.

Fireworks 1 Jan 2016 (1 of 1)
Fireworks 5 Jan 2016 (1 of 1)