Around Australia: From the outback to the city and the ocean


Having spent a few days in the outback it was time today to return to the city and the ocean. Our motel was just off the highway in Katherine, so we were on our way fairly quickly. Highway One was fairly quiet although we did see our first four tanker road train and there were the inevitable roadworks. Our coffee stop was in Pine Creek at a café where a cat was sitting outside the door ready to greet us. Further on in the town is a railway museum. It was closed when we passed by, but I had a brief look around. Inevitably the gold rush was the reason the railway opened in 1889. It was extended to Katherine in 1917 but never got as far as Alice Springs. When a nearby mine closed in 1976 the railway closed. In 2004 the Darwin to Adelaide line opened which we must do at some point.

There are a couple of locomotives in a shed. As it was closed I had to take photographs through the wire enclosure.

We continued north into a more rocky and hilly landscape. Just after Hayes Creek, the option to divert via the Dorat Road to Adelaide River where it rejoins Highway One. It was even quieter and the termite mounds even bigger. Some were almost 3 metres tall.

We saw some kangaroos grazing in the bush but all too soon we were back on the main road. A sign to a place called ‘Tortilla Flats’ raised a smile. After Mount Dam the water pipe ran alongside the road. Bad signage nearer Darwin meant that we missed our exit but third time lucky we were on the correct road and off to the airport to dump the rental car. Some bizarre rules mean that we could not keep the same car all the way around according to the offices in the UK and Sydney. The woman in the Darwin office thought that we could have had a rolling contract. Anyway, it is pleasant to be car-less for a day and hopefully we can re-negotiate the fee we are being charged which is for those dropping off at a different destination. Whichever car we have, it will be returned to Sydney where we started. One bit of good news is that when we checked into our hotel, we got upgraded to a suite with an ocean view! The following morning, en route to the Botanic Garden, I spotted an Avis office in town. While James went in to switch the car pick up to that office I explored the Catholic Cathedral opposite.


We walked the just under two miles to the Gardens and enjoyed being back in a green oasis after the dry outback.

Unlike the last one we visited, the epiphytic greenhouse was open and gave me some ideas to try with my orchids and some of my succulents if they have survived my absence. After a cold drink at the cafe it was time to walk a little further to the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. One of the exhibitions was 66 out of the 300 entries for the Telstra National and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards. There were other galleries of art work and I particularly liked some of the linocuts and wood engravings and hope that these will inspire me to get back to my art over the winter.


There were other very colourful works as well as galleries devoted to the geology and natural history, Cyclone Tracy on Christmas Day in 1974 which I remember being reported on the TV and some early 20th century history of the Territory. After walking back to the hotel (with a diversion to a cold beer) it was time to relax with the AC on. Later on we found Darwin’s bookshop: Readback Books and Aboriginal Art Gallery. As usual when travelling I have to restrict myself and we bought one novel which we can leave behind when finished. I overheard the proprietor telling another customer that her main business was the art gallery and the books were a hobby. Sunset is later up here but it was so cloudy little could be seen. Today was the autumn equinox and a full moon. However, we could not see the moon for cloud so here is last night’s almost full one.

Around Australia: Hervey Bay to Rockhampton


Back on the Bruce Highway heading north, our first stop was at a garage to pick up some supplies. Outside was a stall selling pig ears and roo tails for dogs to chew. At Childers, a town with several 19th century buildings, the road became parallel to the railway which stayed with us much of the way into Rockingham. The earth became redder and there were many more sugarcane plantations with warning signs of large trucks emerging on to the highway. I could not resist a stop at a town called Gin Gin and it was coffee time.

The Travellers’ Rest not only serves good coffee but has also won several awards in The Great Australian Pie Competition. James could not resist buying a Sea Scallop pie, not one we could find at any of our local markets’ pie stalls. Continuing, we encountered yet another set of road works; many sections of the two-lane A1 are currently being widened.

To keep us awake there were yet more trivia questions, only one of which we got right. North of Miriam Vale, smoke suddenly appeared behind us and a fire service van was making its way towards it. We had not noticed anything when we passed that point a little earlier. Lunch was at a rest stop near Benaraby where you can camp for 20 hours, allowing an overnight stop which many of those further south do not permit. Drinking water is available, toilets and a shower. The stop is on the banks of the River Boyne which made James feel at home. Past Caliope, more smoke drifted over the highway. The temperature reached 29 degrees today. Just outside Rockingham was a sign warning that some trucks were carrying explosives. We found our motel very easily after passing two bull statues (there are seven in the town) in under a mile. After checking in we wandered down to Fitzroy River. It is the largest river in Queensland and is still tidal at Rockhampton. The town was founded in the mid 19th century and gold, then beef cattle have ensured its prosperity. In the city centre and riverside there are several 19th century buildings.

There is even one with a sheep statue on top to counteract all the bulls.

The riverside has been turned into a place for walks, there is a children’s playground and some sculptures and water features.

Trains run on a track down the middle of one of the roads in town with nothing to separate them from vehicles or people.

We had an aperitif in an Irish pub which was very quiet other than three motorcyclists and another couple who came in. The man was on his phone and I very quickly picked up a Northern Ireland accent although modified a little with Australian. When he had finished his call and we were on our way out, we asked him where he was from and he answered; ‘County Down 48 years ago’. He and James new several places they had in common. He and his wife were on a slightly shorter journey than ours, but we parted wishing each other well with our travels. There is a bookshop in town called ‘All Variety Books’. It was still open when we passed so we popped in. Although outside it said they sold new and secondhand, the majority of the books on display were second hand paperbacks. Most were fiction, categorised into male & female authors, sci fi, fantasy and paranormal. There were very hardback or non-fiction books and i did not find anything that grabbed my attention.

We had our evening meal at the Great Western Hotel, a couple of blocks away on the recommendation of the motel owner. Steak was a must in this town and the room was decorated with mounted cattle heads and video footage of bull riding which takes place twice a week. There are more than 2.5 million cattle within 250km raduis of Rockhampton.

We are now on the Tropic of Capricorn. One of the things I find most disorientating about being in the southern hemisphere is not cultural or language differences or the landscape but the sky. I still find the emptier southern skies slightly strange, despite having seen them numerous times but tonight’s crescent moon was even more striking with the crescent appearing at the underside of the sphere, not at the side.

Around Australia: Eumundi, the Sunshine Coast and Noosa


When he heard we were driving to Noosa, our host in the Glass House Mountains advised not to go straight to the southern end of the Sunshine Coast as soon as Steve Irwin Way ended at the Pacific Highway. He advised going north on the highway until Eumundi and exiting there. He said that Eumundi had a market worth seeing, the northern part of the coast was quieter. Also, the coastal road was much closer to the beach there, not obscured by buildings and less busy. As this was a Saturday we took his advice. Eumundi market is billed as Australia’s premier artisan market and held every Wednesday and Saturday with at least 600 stalls. There are artisans stalls, food and drink stalls and live music. Free parking is very well organised.

In the adjacent street are coffee shops and restaurants plus Berkelouw Book Barn which has been in operation since 1812. It is huge and sells both new and secondhand books and a few stationery/gift items. There is an adjacent café. I had to limit myself to one book as I do not wish to emulate having to sort out cases at check-in on the homeward journey. I had once bought so many books in the NW USA and Canada that I had to repack my case and give some to James at Vancouver airport.

Afterwards, the temperature had risen to 26 degrees, warm enough for ice-cream. We had to wait a little as the ice-cream in the van was too cold! Back in the car we drove over to the coast and stopped for a picnic lunch on Castaways Beach. There were only a few dog-walkers and families plus two guys swimming.

As we were about to leave, some guys arrived with a Weimaraner and two small terrier puppies. Our Weimaraner died almost three years ago at the age of 14 and we do miss her. I obliged and took some photos of the guys with all their dogs who were getting a bit fed up of posing. I also dipped my feet into the cold Pacific and could not imagine how anyone could swim in it.

This was definitely the quietest beach as a little further up the coast, Sunshine Beach was much busier and had lifeguards.

We settled into our motel in Noosaville before going over to Noosa Head and the main beach late afternoon.

Hastings Street is the main drag behind the beach with hotels, apartments, boutiques and restaurants. At the south end of the beach is a path to First Point and a boardwalk to the National Park. There is a coastal trail right around the head to Sunshine Beach. James was keen to eat fairly early, so we missed sunset but here is the beach afterwards.

If we wake up early we might walk into the National Park to see if we can spot some koalas before we move on. Today’s mileage was 97 making the total after one week 1086.

Around Australia: Port Macquarie to Byron Bay


Before leaving Port Macquarie we checked out the town beach. A couple of surfers were coming out of the water and a lone fisherman stood on a rock. The most striking thing was the painted rocks of the breakwater but we also spotted the first shark of the trip in the bay.

Afterwards we drove back to the Pacific Highway and continued north with the Great Dividing Lane on the left. Today’s first diversion was Route 15 through Macksville (population 7000) towards Nambucca Heads. The guidebook describes Nambucca as a quaint town. It certainly has an interesting mosaic at the bus stop outside the police station.

We stopped for a coffee in the Bookshop Café which sells secondhand books, has outside seating for better weather and sofas inside. There are a couple of PCs for internet access. I treated myself to one book.

Before leaving we drove to the Rotary and Captain Cook lookouts with views over the beaches before it started to rain again.

It was not the weather for wandering along the boardwalks alongside the water. The rain was torrential as we drove through Coffs Harbour and then into banana plantation country. Banana growing peaked in the 1960s and now tourism is the main industry. Further on the highway diverts inland to Grafton. Many of the streets are lined with trees, especially jacaranda but of course they are not in bloom at this time of year.

We also had a quick look in the cathedral which had a rather interesting organ.


Grafton’s other claim to fame is that the first modern hang-glider was invented there and launched at the Jacaranda festival in 1963. The bridge over the Clarence River into town is about to be replaced by a new one currently under construction.

Further on much of the road is still a two-lane highway but a major upgrade is underway, all the way to Ballina and due to open in 2020. This older bridge was almost over-shadowed by the new one next to it.

Back home we seem to have eternal roadworks on our motorways and now we cannot avoid major roadworks on holiday! The road runs alongside the Clarence River for quite a few miles and we had entered sugarcane country. The temperature climbed up to 19 degrees but just as we left A1 for tourist route 30 to Ballina, the torrential rain was back with us. An accident delayed us a little further on but eventually we arrived in Byron Bay. Tomorrow we will explore the town a little more and then head inland to visit some friends. So far our mileage from days 1,2 and 3 were 121, 257 and 159. So far, the total is 542 miles. As I write this, there is another downpour outside with thunder. I wonder what tomorrow will bring?

Finding quiet spots on the Antrim coast


Our main reason for going to Northern Ireland at peak holiday time was to visit relatives before we head off on our trip down under. As usual we took an overnight ferry from Birkenhead to Belfast. A rainbow in the sky promised some improvement in the weather.

We spent the first couple of days visiting family members but then started to get itchy feet so set off down the coast passing the hordes of people visiting the Giant’s Causeway and the Carrick-a Rede Rope Bridge. Our first stop was at the Portanaeevey viewpoint which gives views over to Rathlin Island and the mUll of Kintyre.


Our first destination was Carfunnock Country Park which is north of Larne. It was formed from two country estates and has several facilities for children and young people as well as a campsite. I was most interested to see the garden. This was formerly the kitchen garden of Cairncastle Lodge which was gifted to the local council in 1957 with the estate. By the 1980s it was in decline but grants enabled its restoration in the 1990s. It is now called The Time Garden and has numerous sundials giving GMT, BST and local time.


Heading north again along the coast our next stop was the garden at Glenarm Castle. This was a more traditional walled garden with pleached lime trees, beech hedges and many beds of flowers, fruit and herbs.

There were several sculptures among the plants.

There is a fudge factory in the grounds and the castle, still owned by the local aristocrats is occasionally open to the public. On our last day we popped in to the Bookcase, a second-hand bookshop in Portrush. He has a good selection of Irish books as well as general fiction, non-fiction and children’s books.

We dodged the showers on one of our favourite beaches at Whitepark Bay. There were a few dog walkers but it was pretty quiet.

The cliffs here are chalk in contract to the basalt columns of the Giant’s Causeway. You can often find fossils on the beach, most commonly belemnites (we have several on our mantelpiece) and occasionally, ammonites.
On the path down to the beach you pass a building and some ruins of an old ‘hedge school’. This was for young gentlemen and dates from the 18th century.

The beach is now under the care of the National Trust. There is a Youth Hostel here. Occasionally sheep and cows graze on the grass next to the beach under an agreement. Keeping the grass low, encourages wild flowers. There were some cows when we arrived but they quickly departed when a heavy shower arrived. If the tide is not high you can walk along the beach to Ballintoy harbour. It was soon time to head home again and after another night on the ferry we arrived in Birkenhead dock just as the sun was rising over Liverpool.

Driving not walking to Edinburgh


Having to give upon my walk after only four days and 77 miles was frustrating to say the least but not the most serious curtailment to a journey that I have experienced. Almost eight years ago I was with a group trekking in the Markha Valley in Ladakh, India when we were stranded by the severe floods that the Western Himalayas experienced that summer. After several days, we were rescued by the Indian Air Force and got home safely. Not all trekkers were so fortunate: four died in the gorge we had walked down three days previously. Many of the locals had lost family members and had their homes and livelihoods destroyed.


I had cancelled most of my accommodation reservations but left the one in Penrith as James had been planning to meet me there on his way to Edinburgh. We had a fairly easy run but something I had noticed on the way down a few days earlier still mystifies me. Two years ago, ‘Pies’ was seen on many of the motorways bridges in Cheshire and Merseyside. This related to a Liverpool band who 30 years previously had once been stuck on a bridge on the M57 and written it on there. Their fans have continued to do this periodically since then. This week ‘CANED’ in white was written on several M6 and other bridges in Lancashire. I have not been able to find out what that is about yet.

We arrived in Penrith late morning and visited three of the bookshops in town: the first at Brunswick Yard which has antiques, rugs, Black Hand Wine and a café in addition to secondhand books. Down the hill and past the church is Beckside Books which sells secondhand and antiquarian books and has several comfortable sofas to relax on. St Andrew’s church café was a great spot for lunch. It is staffed by volunteers and has a good range on offer. The Hedgehog Bookshop sells new books. We came out of all three with some finds. Penrith has a large number of independent shops in addition to some familiar high street names. Just out of town near Junction 40 on Skirgill business park is Summerfield Books. The business park is situated on an estate and sheep were grazing outside.

The shop stocks new and secondhand books specialising in natural history, botany and forestry. Penrith has a ruined castle, some standing stones, the site of a Roman Camp and other antiquities. Had I been walking from Shap as planned, I would have passed a cairn. Part of the A66 east of the town was a Roman Road. My inflamed ankle meant that exploring these would have to wait for another visit. Our evening meal at a pub in Carleton was interesting. We arrived just after six and the proprietor asked us to order as quickly as possible. He explained that he hosted a local bingo club on Wednesday and Thursday evenings to try and boost takings and was expecting around 40 people very soon. While we were eating, they all arrived and after a drink, got down to business. At the end of the day, I had hobbled around for only 1.9 miles.

This morning we left and drove a few miles on the A686 before taking the B6413 to Brampton via the Eden Valley. The road passes through farmland and villages with walls and houses built with red sandstone. One village, Castle Carrock has had an interesting addition to its road sign. No-one appears to know who did it and made it look so professional but it appeared around the time of the annual Music on the Marr festival in 2011 and the following year was put on the festival T shirts.

After a coffee stop in Brampton we headed over to Longtown, Langholm and to Edinburgh via Eskdalemuir, passing the monastery I would have been spending a night as some of this was the route I should have been walking. Descending towards Yarrow we met this group of cattle beside the road.

And had a fleeting glimpse of a red squirrel that shot across the road. All too soon we were in Edinburgh six days before I should have been arriving.

Arran: last day in Brodick


Our last day on Arran began with a visit to Brodick Castle. The current red sandstone building dates from the 19th century with some 13th century remains. It is said that a fort stood on the site from the 5th century and the numerous conflicts and wars since then have led to damage, demolition and rebuilding. The castle was given to the National Trust for Scotland in 1958 and sits amidst gardens and a country park which includes the mountain Goatfell. At the time of our visit the castle itself was under renovation and not due to re-open again until spring 2019. The gardens are open, so we contented ourselves with exploring them. At first it did not look as if this would be a very peaceful experience as the lawns were being mowed and a tree being cut down with chain saws. Fortunately, this did not last too long. Below the terrace that the castle sits on is a walled garden which was built in 1817.

George Forrest and Frank Kingdon-Ward were plant hunters and some of the plants they brought back from their expeditions are in the gardens at Brodick: there is a Plant Hunters path through some of them. Some are rhododendrons. I had always been familiar with many of them in gardens and the escapees that are in the Scottish countryside and assumed that they were all large bushes. The first time I went to India in 2009 and saw rhododendron trees in the Western Ghats I was amazed. There is at least one such tree here, but it was not quite in flower yet. Other plants were flowering:
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Towards the bottom of the garden, overlooking the road and the sea is the only remaining Bavarian summerhouse of several that used to be on the site. James remarked that it looked like something from ‘The Hobbit’. Inside the walls and ceiling were decorated with thousands of pine cones.


One recent construction is a large adventure play area which the person on reception told us was not just for children. There is also a red squirrel hide. They are not native to Arran but were introduced and as there are no grey squirrels on the island, they have done well. They do tend to feed in the early morning and in the evening, so it is less likely that they will be seen at this time of year during the opening hours. There are lots of birds and we spotted this swallow near a nest in a summer house.

Some of the information boards had an interesting approach to history. One described all the conflicts the castle had been involved in and went on to say that the 18th and 19th centuries were peaceful times. I do not think that the people who lost their homes and farms or were forced to emigrate to Canada or move to Glasgow during the enclosures and clearances that the Dukes of Hamilton initiated with would regard it as a peaceful time. There was a dispute in 2017 about a display in the Arran Heritage Museum which was reported in the National newspaper. A tour guide felt that describing this as ‘an agricultural revolution’ was not appropriate or accurate but the museum did not change the display. We did not manage a trip to the museum on this visit.

Back in the town, I visited Books and Cards which in addition to these, stocks other stationery supplies . It has books and maps on Arran and Scotland, fiction, non-fiction and a good children’s section. I picked up Thorbjörn Campbell’s Arran: a history, the Rucksack Reader for the coastal walk and another book on walking. I am always happy to support an independent bookshop. Our time on Arran is coming to an end and tomorrow we will be back on the boat to Ardrossan.