Arran: discovering the south


Our tour of the south of the island began by heading south out of Brodick. The first halt was at a viewpoint looking back towards the mountains.

From left to right they are: Beinn Nuis, Beinn Tarsuinn, Beinn A’ Chliabhain, A Chir, Glenshant Hill, Cir Mhor, Casteal Abhail, Goat Fell, Mullach Buidhe, Meall Breac, Am Binnein. Whiting Bay has a long beach, views of the southern end of Holy Island and the Arran Art Gallery. Just at the south end of the beach is Glenashdale. Glenashdale Falls are reached via a track that runs through waterside deciduous woodland with bluebells and wild garlic which reminded me of the similar woods on the south face of the Ochil hills that I used to spend time in as a child. There are several properties towards the bottom of the path. The last of these looked as if it might be occupied by a hoarder given the amount of stuff piled up outside the building. This truck had obviously not moved for many years.

The higher slopes are coniferous forest and late in the day you might see red squirrels.
Having reached the waterfall,

there are options for the return. We chose to descend via the Giants Graves. The route is on a forest road until you reach the graves. They are two of more than 20 Neolithic chambered cairns on Arran. They were excavated in the 1960s and some of the stones have been removed. This often happened at cairns when stones were needed for building as it was easier than getting them from the quarries when they were operating.

The wealth of archeology in Arran reminds me that when our son was young, we had had several trips in succession to the Western Isles, Cornwall and West Cork, all of which have neolithic sites. The next trip was to Brittany where Carnac is a major site. This triggered a cry of ‘Not more old stones!’ from our son. On this trip we continued to follow the minor road along the coast to Kildonan which has a sandy beach with views to Pladda and the Ailsa Craig. There is a campsite and a hotel, both of which look appealing places to stay.
Returning to Lamlash via the Ross Road, (built in 1821-22) we passed another Buddhist retreat in the middle of the hills: the Samye Dechen Shing Retreat Centre. It occupies the former Glenscorrodale Farm, near the head of Glen Scorrodale. The farm was gifted to the Kagyu Samye Ling Buddhist Monastery and Tibetan Centre in 1994 by the owner and converted to a retreat centre ten years later. Its name means “the blissful place”, and it offers men-only on long-term retreats of up to three years (women-only retreats are available at the centre on Holy Island). A closed retreat was underway when we passed by.

There are more ruined homes and farms in the southern part of Arran than the north. Leases for the farms after the first round of enclosures were not renewed and the homes were cleared to make room for sheep. Many of the people emigrated to eastern Canada. Another sad episode in the history of this island. On the second day we were back on the String Road, planned by Thomas Telford and completed by 1817. We passed through Shiskine where friends used to live and on to Blackwaterfoot which has a magnificent sandy beach stretching out to the cliffs at Drumadoon Point.

While James was stocking up at the butcher, I was swan watching. This one was having a siesta by the river:

while his mate was sitting on the nest on the other side of the bridge. After a beach walk, we continued up the coast to the forest where a circular walk goes through the spruce plantation, down to the coast to the King’s Cave. After a picnic at a table where an artist started setting to paint as we left, we started the three mile circuit. King’s Cave is one of several which penetrate the sandstone cliffs up to 100 feet. It is said by some to have hidden Robert Bruce when he visited Arran in 1307 during his campaign for the Scottish Throne (although this is disputed). The information board at the car park said that the current name was modern, as two hundred years ago it was known as ‘Fingal’s Cave’. There are carvings on the walls, but the gate was locked on our visit. The carvings suggest that is has been in use for at least two thousand years as it has early Christian symbols and may have been used by a hermit but also there are also earlier ones, the meaning of which is unknown.

The walk returns along the end of the forest with views over the surrounding area. There were gulls nesting and we watched a gannet diving. There are hut circles marked on the map but we could not see them through the trees and walls.

Arran is a great place for walking. The coast path is 60 miles long (only 11 more than the circumference of the island) and is one we might do. There are mountain walks, and short walks of all sorts, to suit everyone.

Arriving in Arran


After driving across the country from Edinburgh, we had some time to kill in Ardrossan before we needed to check in for the ferry to Brodick so went to Castle Hill where the remains of Ardrossan Castle stand.

It is fenced off, so you cannot explore the ruined keep closely. It was constructed in the 13th century and owned by Clan Barclay. The castle was partially destroyed in the wars of independence, rebuilt in the 15th century and finally partly demolished by Oliver Cromwell’s soldiers in the 17th century. There are also the remains (only a few inches of wall) of the old parish church surrounded by some graves on the hill. There was probably a church here before 1226. It was destroyed in a storm in 1691 and the new church rebuilt down in the town centre. There is a children’s playground. Families were starting to arrive as we had to leave to get to the port.

My 1960’s 25th edition of ‘The “Contour” Book of Scotland’ gives the price of taking a motor car on the Ardrossan and Brodick ferry as £3.05 to £6 with return fares from £5 to £9.35. The hour-long crossing now costs £47.90 return. On such a fine day I had to spend some time on the deck looking at the approaching island and catching only a brief glimpse of a harbour porpoise and some gannets diving.

We were only the second vehicle off the boat in Brodick and headed to the Co-op to stock up. At the ATM I spotted the first of several Buddhist monks I will probably see over the next few weeks. We hope to visit Holy Island on this trip where there is a Buddhist Community and I am staying for a night in the guest house at the Samye Ling monastery at Eskdalemuir on my walk in a few weeks’ time. The sun and warmth meant an ice-cream on the sea front was in order and I was watched closely by this gull.

Until it was time to settle into our cottage at the end of the road in Glen Rosa, we had a walk along part of the coastal path (The Fisherman’s Path) on the beach near the Cladach Centre. I found some sea glass and enjoyed the views of Goatfell and out to sea.

Walking in Madeira: Prazeres and Calheta Levada


We left our hotel shortly after the sun rose behind the cliffs. Sunrise is considerably later this far south than it is in the UK.

We were driven to Faja da Ovelha where we walked among the gardens and past fields of flowers, fruit trees, vegetables and herbs to Prazeres, a natural terrace where there is a tea house. It sells jam, honey, liqueurs, dried herbs and teas. There was even a cat to welcome us. The project is devoted to improving the community and sustainability of a rural society. They buy raw materials from elderly farmers which improves the local economy and is fair trade. There is an art gallery (closed when we visited unfortunately) and a number of animals and birds to see.


All around the local area there are figures which look a little like scarecrows, constructed during a project by local school children. There is one in the garden here.

We then began our walk on the new Calheta Levada which winds around the hillside through the community. Growers are allowed to open it to water their land for one hour in the morning in rotation. Before local government took over the management of the levada use, there were frequent fights and disputes about who was using more than others. We passed the church and an old press which had previously been used to make the local white wine.

Back among laurel trees and farmland, the Levada was flanked by plants used to make tea and herbs, some of which had medicinal uses. We had elevenses at a café where the local dogs appeared to see if they could scrounge anything.

Afterwards we entered more open farming country and spotted a long-toed pigeon. Lunch was eaten sitting on the concrete banks.

We came to the second oldest church in Madeira, built in 1648 but which was unfortunately not open. The oldest was on the site of the current cathedral in Funchal. The former community wash house was still there and also holes in the rock which had been used in the past as water reservoirs.


After a beer at a bar overlooking the coast, we made the remainder of our descent down a cobbled path which was constructed by the villagers so that farmers and fishermen had access to the coast. It zig-zags down to the coast and our hotel. Madeira had no roads until the 20th century and these cobbled paths were the means of walking or of a bullock cart dragging a load around the island. Many new roads, bridges and tunnels have been and are still being constructed which have aided communication and transport. We passed one large construction site building a bridge and hoped that all the topsoil removed would be distributed to where it is need on such a rocky island. Eventually we completed our 500m descent and arrived back at the hotel. A brief wander on the beach which is mostly pebbles with a little black sand, yielded only a tiny piece of sea glass and the remains of Portuguese Man of War Jellyfish.



Our evening meal was at a waterside restaurant. I had hoped to get some sunset photographs, but the cloud and rain moved in and put paid to that idea. We walked back listening to the calls of the shearwaters who nest in the cliffs above the town and descend to the ocean at night to feed.

A wet weekend in Brighton


I had first visited Brighton a couple of years ago for work and James joined me for a day or so after the conference. We had both felt it warranted a second visit and booked this trip last autumn. It turned out to be a good time to be heading south rather than to Scotland with wintry weather blocking roads up there. On the day we arrived the University of Sussex were holding a graduation ceremony in the theatre near our hotel. There were many Chinese families taking photographs along the sea front. We did get a couple of breaks in the rain for a bracing walk on the mainly pebble beach in the late afternoon where the supports and the remains of the old West Pier are.


We spent some time wandering around the lanes where there are some chain stores but also many independent shops including some very quirky ones. One thing I did notice was that people we encountered in the hotel, cafes and shops were very friendly, unlike some other southern cities I have visited. Several years ago I stayed with a friend in Southampton in December and while she was at the university, I went into town to do some Christmas shopping. The only person who said anything more to me than the bare minimum to carry out the transaction was the Big Issue seller who was from Manchester.

Having visited the pavilion on our last trip, this time we explored the Museum and Art Gallery. It has a number of permanent galleries including one on 20th century furniture and art.

I was particularly struck by this lift compartment installed in Selfridges on Oxford Street, London in 1929. Designed by a French artist, Edgar Brandt and entitled ‘Les Cignones (storks) d’Alsace’ they remained in place until 1971 when they were removed because of new fire regulations.

There was a gallery devoted to Brighton in the 20th century with displays of mods and rockers who clashed on the seafront in 1964.

Other galleries contained their pottery, china and fine art collections, John Pipers aquatints of Brighton, performance and toys, youth projects in Brighton with youngsters from different countries exploring their culture and traditional costume including New Ireland, Myanmar, Peru, Canada and Alaska and Mali. There is also a collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts and the Museum of Transology.

All too soon it was time to head for home. Had it been drier I would have liked to walk the Undercliff Path which heads east for 3km and also to explore the huge amount of street art in the city including a Banksy.

Ireland: County Kerry

This mornings journey took us out of Cork, past Macroom and over the Derrynasaggart Mountains where Ireland’s highest pub the ‘Top of Coom’ is situated. It is situated just over the border between Counties Cork and Kerry. The scenery around us reminded us very much of Scotland, especially the hills where I grew up.


The road descends through Glen Fesk and on into Killarney which boasts Ireland’s only Lord of the Rings themed pub. We had a coffee and a brief wander around town before taking the turning for the Ring of Kerry. We only had a few hours to drive the road and there are many routes over the mountains and interesting ancient sites around which will have to be explored in a more leisurely fashion on another trip. Our first stop was at the point at Rossbeigh where the tide was just about to start to recede on the rocky shore. A couple of people were trying somewhat unsuccessfully to surf.

There are sand dunes and a beach on the other side of the point and it is possible to explore it on horseback if you wish. We could see the Slieve Mountains across the water. The next stop for a walk was Inny Strand on Ballinskellig Bay just before Waterville. This was a little busier with some people swimming. The water would not be warm enough to tempt me in.

Parking here is limited but we managed to find a space and walked on the beach.

The tide had retreated more since we left our last walk and numerous jellyfish were stranded on the beach.

On the edge of the bay was a derelict concrete building. After wondering what it was, we discovered that it had once been a hotel. We could not help thinking that if someone could invest in it, it could be resurrected in such a beautiful spot. Back on the road we kept stopping at various points to admire the view.

Near Castle Cove, the mist descended and began to hide the islands offshore.

We had a brief spell of rain and passed several signs to standing stones (some people even seemed to have them in their garden) to explore in the future. Eventually we reached Kenmare, a small town filled with places to stay, eat and drink in addition to local services. Its name means ‘head of the sea’ and it sits at the end of a bay. It is a good base for exploring the local area. After settling into our hotel we walked the short distance into town and after eating, found some traditional music in a local pub to finish off the night.

Ireland: Waterford to Cork

I experienced a first this morning in our Waterford Hotel: whisky on my porridge. There were other offerings including a whisky liqueur but I stuck to a small dash of the local hootch. Before leaving Waterford we visited Waterford Crystal to buy a gift and then wandered along the waterfront. This artwork was produced during one of the annual arts festivals and represents positive mental health. One of the hotel staff told us that the artist had started to paint, it had begun to rain but he continued, much to the amazement of everyone.

Back on the road we passed Dungarvan and then diverted via R674 to Helvick Head (Ceann Heilbhic in Irish). Irish Gaelic is still spoken in the community around here. Just before the end of the headland there is an old building which used to house some Turkish Baths. The nearby cafe now offers spa facilities. There is a short path which leads down to a small pebble beach where some families were enjoying the sun. There are also views over Dungarvan Bay.

There is a small harbour where one guy was fishing from the wall.

Just as we were about to leave, a fishing boat returned and was offering his scraps to the gulls who crowded around his boat. There were drifts of wildflowers and some crocosmia that had escaped from someone’s garden and was flourishing. Pollinators were feeding and I spotted this Painted Lady butterfly which is declining in number.

We sat outside the cafe enjoying our drinks while this Pied Wagtail hung around hoping for some crumbs.

All too soon it was time to return to the main road and continue towards Cork. I made a note that south of Youghal there is a large sandy beach and a bird reserve to visit on another occasion. Before we got to Middleton there was a long delay due to road works and then the satnav tried to send us down a pedestrian passageway in the middle to Cork when we were trying to find our hotel. We got there eventually and settled in to plan our exploration the following day.

Ireland: driving to Waterford


We had a leisurely start to the day as we left Dublin by the coast road. It passes through Dalkey and Killiney (I once stayed in the Castle Hotel here for a research project meeting) and to our first port of call: breakfast at Shankill Street Food Outlet. There is an Oscar Wilde quote on the wall in the toilet here and a map of a 47km walk which crosses over to Tallaght.

We then drove through Greystone which was voted the most liveable place in the world in 2008. It was not immediately obvious driving through why this might be as it did not seem all that very different from other places we could think of. I am sure there must be more under the surface, not visible to the passing traveller. After passing through Wicklow, driving and food meant that when we reached Brittas Bay, a beach walk was essential. I noticed a couple of nearby campsites which took tourers and made a note to return when we have our campervan. The beach was quiet but had lifeguards and a few families enjoying the sun. I found some sea glass and our friends picked up some shells.

We made a significant contribution to our daily 10,000 steps.
Beyond Arklow the road leaves the coast and diverts inland to Gorey, Enniscorthy and New Ross before reaching Waterford. We made use of the last sunshine exploring Ireland’s oldest town, founded by Vikings in 914 AD.

The tower near the end of the esplanade dates from 1003.

There are old fortifications, the oldest Catholic Church in Ireland and many other buildings of various ages and architectural style to look at.


There is also a fair amount of street art. One of the hotel staff said that every year, various artists arrive in the town to add more during the annual Spraoi Street Art Festival. In 2017 this takes place on August 4-6th. I spotted some art down an alley:


You can visit the Tower, the museum, Bishops Palace and other sights but it began to rain so we escaped to the comfort of our hotel which is in an old building.