Black Friday (aka Carmaggeddon according to the media), saw us driving to Edinburgh on the busiest weekend of the year. The radio was giving out traffic warnings for most of the major roads in England. Scotland does not have a long weekend at the end of August but the rest of the country all seemed to be on the move. We had tailbacks and crawled all the way until we had passed the M55 intersection and were just south of Lancaster. Then we had a quieter road and we lost a few more vehicles at the Lake District turn-offs. We could now see the familiar profiles of the Cumbrian hills. Our main reason for choosing to travel this weekend was that some Australian friends were in Scotland during the Edinburgh Festival and we had arranged to meet up with them. On Saturday we had a few things to do in town. I went into one store to buy some glue for a craft project. The proprietor was in the midst of a long telephone conversation half in English, half in Hindi, about local landlords. He carried on while I and several others made our purchases and was still on the phone when we left the shop. That evening we met our friends for dinner at the Tower Restaurant which is situated at the top of the Museum of Scotland with good views over the city and got as far as thinking about our Big Lap of Australia in a couple of years time. Sunday morning was spent planning next year’s trips to Iceland and New Zealand before we headed out of town to visit Little Sparta, Ian Hamilton Finlay’s garden near Dunsyre in the Pentland uplands that I love. I had been intending to visit for quite some time but it is only open in summer and not on every day so had not coincided with our travels on a number of occasions. This first visit was a bit of a scoping exercise for me to see whether to return with my camera and obtain a photography permit (which only allows personal and private use of photographs). There is so much to process as there are more than 260 art works in the garden and several recurring themes. I think repeat visits will be necessary to do it justice. James gave me the book a while ago so now is time to digest that and plan a trip next summer as we are not going to be back here in September. Afterwards, we visited friends in Carnwath before enjoying Americana Sunday at Henry’s Cellar Bar. The band, Flagstaff, also play in Edinburgh at other venues including Byblos so we might catch them again at some point.
James was due back at work on Tuesday so left very early this morning and had an easy run home. I was going into town to catch the last day of an exhibition. Just down the road from the flat, a group of a dozen Goths (is there a collective noun for a group of Goths?) were sitting on the pavement waiting for a lift. I carried on past all the stallholders who were packing up and was soon in Howe Street at the Ski Club to see Paperworks 3. This exhibition contains works in various media, natural and abstract forms by three artists: Marion Barron, Trevor Davies and Ruth Thomas. I enjoyed it very much and it provided another prod for me to get back to painting and printing. Here are some of Ruth’s books inspired by finds on nearby beaches both natural and some of our pollution.
This evening I trekked up Calton Hill to try and get some firework photographs. I was up there reasonably early and set up in daylight but it got very crowded with quite a lot of jostling so I gave up before the end. I must try and get to the concert next year and get some closer shots.
On Saturday morning we were almost first off the ferry and made it to Ballymoney in good time. After breakfast we wandered into town for a caffeine fix and to use the wifi in a local café. Every time we come, a few more shops have closed. It is still the marching season here and several flute bands walked through the high street before getting on their buses to Derry. Shortly afterwards, some heavily armoured police Landrovers from Belfast followed them. In the afternoon we drove to Portstewart which has renovated the promenade since we were here last year. There is a wider path by the beach, curved street lamps and a sculpture entitled ‘The Fishing Boat’ by Niall O’Neill.
We visited the Art Shop; the proprietor is someone we have bought antique maps from in the past and we had a look through his collection but did not find anything we wanted. He told us that he was now getting into movie posters and I overheard him saying to another customer that he had about 600.
On Sunday evening we took James’s parents and other relatives out for a meal at a hotel on the coast to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. This morning we drove along part of the Causeway Coast and popped into the secondhand bookshop there where I found another two volumes for a natural history series I am collecting. We continued past Dunseverick, Ballintoy and on to Whitepark Bay with Islay and the Mull of Kintyre on the horizon. The bay has a four-star Youth Hostel which might be a stopping off point when we walk the coastal path at some point in the future. We are looking forward to James retiring and we can have longer sojourns over here. There is now a day passenger ferry over to Islay which includes lunch at the distillery. The beach is backed by wildflower strewn cliffs, the ruins of the old youth hostel and pasture for cattle. It is somewhere to go hunting for fossils: belemnites, a relative of the ammonite, can be found in some of the stones and rocks on this beach and I have a small collection accumulated over the years, on my mantelpiece.
On our way back to Ballymoney we passed the Dark Hedges which were relatively unknown outside Northern Ireland until they featured in ‘Game of Thrones’. Now you can hardly move for tourists, a new hotel has sprung up and they are finally on the map.
We are now in a queue at Belfast Docks waiting to get on the ferry.
Several years ago the overnight ferry we were due to take from Birkenhead to Belfast was delayed and we were told not to return to check in until 10.30pm. We headed into to New Brighton and found a bistro. On this journey we decided to go back there and eat before going to the ferry port and being restricted to the offerings on the boat. Despite summer Friday afternoon heavy traffic on the motorways, we made good time and had an hour to kill before our meal so parked up on the promenade and walked along to the end.
The tide was coming in fast and several fisherman were casting their lines. I asked one what he was hoping to catch; he replied ‘bass’ but they’re very slow tonight. Some brave souls were swimming but most families were heading back home after an afternoon on the beach. We were too late to visit the museum in Fort Perch Rock, a former defence building dating from 1820 as it closed at 5pm.
After dinner, it was time to head back to the port and after another wait, get onto the boat.
Across the water, lights were starting to come on in Liverpool and it was time for us to settle into our cabin before the 5.30am alarm tomorrow morning.
Those who know us well will appreciate that we had to go and view the National Library of Scotland’s exhibition of maps ‘You are here’. We have a very eclectic collection of maps dating from the 16th century: places we have lived and visited, mainly with some we just loved when we saw them. My most recent acquisition was a 19th century map of the Gulf Stream which I found in Denver. I don’t have permission to reproduce any of the maps in the exhibition so here is one of ours:
One of the interesting things in the exhibition was a display of the development of depicting contours in the landscape. Yesterday, before heading back down south we visited Jupiter Artland in West Lothian. On the way out of town, a van driver who had ‘Obi Van Kenobi’ written above the windscreen raised a smile. Numerous works from a variety of artists including Antony Gormley, Anish Kapoor, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Cornelia Parker and others. We even got in for free as the park was nominated for the Art Fund Museum of the Year Award. Despite not winning they decided to allow Art Fund members in for free instead of the usual 50% reduction on the entrance price. The works are surrounded by woodland and wildflowers but the strong winds made flower photography impossible. I was a little unsettled walking through the woods in the strong wind as a guy wild camping in the woods near the Dean Village in Edinburgh was killed when a tree fell on the tent during the night. His mate who was also in the tent was injured. I don’t think I would have pitched my tent under trees in those conditions. There is so much to take in, including exhibitions indoors back at the ticket office/cafe area.
I may have retired from clinical work but still have academic work to clear before I can finally hang my hat up for good. Just as I was planning a fairly leisurely week in Edinburgh, the reviewer’s comments on a book manuscript, papers to be revised and submitted and a Cochrane Review update have all landed on my desk. I came up here for some peace to write as we are having the living room and conservatory floors tiled at home. However, some of my neighbours here were in the process of having their bathroom revamped and another was having some work by a gas engineer. So when it got too much, I have headed out for some culture. The city was gearing up for the Festival and Fringe which kicked off today but my first destination was away from the beaten track of most festival goers – the Edinburgh Photographic Society. They hold an international exhibition every year, down in the New Town. There was no-one else in when I was there so I had the photographs all to myself.
On Wednesday evening there was a private view at the Scottish Arts Club with paintings by Jennifer McRae, pen & ink drawings by Ian Stuart Campbell and jewellery by Natalie Adams. I met a saxophonist who gave me some tips (I hope to take it up soon) and we also swapped tips about packing for the Pacific Northwest as she is heading off to study in Vancouver very soon. Yesterday the club hosted its annual ‘Fringe in a Day’ event. Comedians, actors and musicians all provide short tasters of their shows. I managed about half of it as it goes on until late evening but I did want to get some more work done today so needed a fairly early night. Hopefully next year I can do it all in a slightly more leisurely fashion. Now it’s time to be thankful I am not staggering up Brownlow Hill in Liverpool but can be at the virtual university.
We were unable to try for Glastonbury tickets this year as it clashed with our US road trip. A friend suggested Carfest North as it was local, we were around and it made an ideal birthday present for her. My car-mad husband could come along and was pleased we did not get camping tickets so he could sleep at home each night. On Saturday we set off early and were parked up by the time it opened. There was lots to look at, events in the arena and cars driving around the track which had been constructed here following the move from Oulton Park. Other small displays were going on around the place.
In addition to cars of all kinds we had the JCB Dancing Diggers, a speed boat and paddle-boards on the water (not at the same time) and plenty of non-vehicular action: show-jumping, camel racing and army dog displays. There was plenty for children to do with a fun-fair and various other activities. The music kicked off in the afternoon and again there was a variety from brass band to an NHS Choir, A Who tribute band, the Proclaimers, Kaiser Chiefs, KT Tunstall, the Corrs etc.
In between acts we were entertained by dancing poodles and Mr Motivator, all compèred by Chris Evans. On Sunday we had a slightly later start and then got held up on the way by a large horsebox going very slowly. The A534 towards Bolesworth is a two lane road with so many bends that overtaking is impossible. Eventually when we were almost at our destination, he turned off in the opposite direction. On our return that evening we caught up with the same horsebox but this time were were on a dual-carriageway and could get past him. My friend and I would have preferred to camp and not have to come and go but as 2017 will not be a Glastonbury year as we will be in New Zealand in June, we are looking at alternatives and persuading my husband that we can make it comfortable for him. After what was quite an exhausting but very enjoyable weekend, I was glad to be on an early train to Edinburgh where I hope to mix some work I have to do with some culture.