Round Britain: Banff to Spey Bay


Having left the east coast behind and turned onto the north coast of Aberdeenshire, I had the first opportunity on this journey to see a sunset. Needless to say, as dawn is around 4.12am in these parts, I have not seen it. The other photographer on the beach that evening told me that the sunset had been much better on Sunday but I enjoyed the evening light very much.




Leaving Inverboyndie in the morning, the coastal route passed through Whitehills and a very small community at Birchwood which sits among the trees. On the Burn of Boyne there are several old mills including a lint mill; a ruined castle and a quarry by the bay. Portsoy has an old harbour, with a sculpture above it

and a newer one. The Scottish Traditional Boat Festival which occurs every year at this time was getting underway for the weekend. It includes a torch-lit Viking Parade and a concert as well as lots of boats. The coffee shop down on the waterfront on my digital map was defunct but we found one up in the town centre, near the Loch of Soy.

West of Portsoy on the A98 is Glenglasshaugh Distillery. It dates back to 1875 having been converted from an old water mill and continued to 1907. In 1959 it was renovated but production ceased in 1982. Production restarted in 2008 and it is now owned by the American company that own Jack Daniels.

The remains of an old windmill which ceased working in the 19th century stand beside it. Further on is Sandend which has been a fishing settlement for a long time.

Its fishermen were rebuked in 1624 for baiting their lines on the Sabbath. Line fishing was the main industry of the village but later the men would work in herring fishing in the larger ports. It is said that the McKays and Sutherlands which are common names in the village, came from across the Moray Firth during the Highland Clearances. Staff in the Fish Merchant business here start work at 4am. Fish are brought in from the boats in Fraserburgh and got ready for local purchasers to collect.

Cullen is further west. It is renowned as the home of ‘Cullen Skink’ a smoked haddock soup. The Cullen Bay Hotel just outside the town has won the World Championship for the last four years. There is an impressive viaduct in the town but no trainline since the Beeching cuts in the 1960s.

In the town square is the Bits and Bobs shop which also stocks secondhand books. Sadly, I did not find anything I needed.

I have enjoyed re-connecting with the Doric. Formerly the dialect most removed from standard English it has now been declared to be a separate language.

We had lunch by the beach and I had a good walk there. There are three rocks near the golf club called the Three Kings.


West of Cullen is Portknockie which has the impressive Bow and Fiddle Rock just beyond the harbour.

The road continues past Findochty which has a ruined castle and then into Buckie which consists of several small communities: Portessie, Ianstown, Gordonsburgh in addition to Buckie itself. The harbour is busy with a lifeboat station and one of the fish processing businesses was called ‘Eat Mair Fish’. Just before we entered Port Gordon, I spotted a seal colony on the beach.


We reached Spey Bay and our campsite next to the Golf Club. I had been meaning to come back here having walked through it on the Speyside Way seven years ago and look forward to exploring it tomorrow.

Round Britain: Peterhead to Fraserburgh


Before leaving for this leg of our tour around the British coast I had a look at my copy of the New Naturalist, The Sea Coast by JA Steers. The author’s Preface says that ‘a complete explanation of the intricate landscape of the Western Isles and mainland of Scotland is not at present possible’. The first edition was published in 1953 and my copy is a reprint of the 1969 fourth edition. J.A. Steers was Professor of Geography at Cambridge. He did get around to publishing the Coastline of Scotland in 1973 with the assistance of colleagues in Scotland. There was a section of one chapter in The Sea Coast which examines the section of the coast between Peterhead and Fraserburgh. Peterhead, where we ended our last trip, is the largest white fish port in Europe. Fraserburgh (known locally as ‘the Broch’) is the biggest shellfish port in Europe although both ports have seen a decline in the last few years.
We spent a night en route to Peterhead in Forfar, to catch up with friends. On arriving at the campsite five mallards were sleeping next to our pitch. They did not wake up until the sun came out an hour or so later. In the morning we discovered that they had slept there all night.

On the way to Peterhead, we stopped for coffee and a break in Ellon. A serendipitous find was a bookshop which sold both secondhand and new books as well as a few gifts. I discovered a book on Caithness which will be very useful for the next leg of our journey.

North of Peterhead we passed through St Fergus and then by a huge gas terminal. The coastline here used to run further inland, behind the Loch of Strathbeg. A shingle bar formed and blocked it off from the sea. It is Scotland’s largest land-locked coastal lagoon. In winter, pinkfoot and greylag geese arrive and it is now under the care of the RSPB.

Rattray formerly had a tidal inlet which was blocked around 1720 by blown sand and a huge storm after which the town decayed and by 1882 only the ruins of the old church were visible. St Mary’s Chapel was constructed in the 12th century, the first recorded reference to it being in 1220. It served the local community until it was probably replaced by the parish kirk of Crimond during the reformation.

The track continues to Rattray Head. The dunes here are a SSSI. On the beach was a large pile of sea glass which had hardly been worn down by the sea at all. The Ron Lighthouse is just off the headland.

Continuing back on the coastal road we passed St Coombs which like Inverallochy a little further on is a 19th century fishing village. St Coombs has the ruins of St Colombs Church. There are a few disused airfields in the area, some of which are now the sites of communication masts. We found our campsite on the esplanade of Fraserburgh easily and enjoyed a late afternoon walk on the beach.

The following morning, we explored the town before the weather worsened. Adjacent to our campsite on the esplanade are the buildings which store and process the fish and shellfish. The smell reminded me of my student placement in Accident & Emergency in Aberdeen. Straws had to be drawn to decide who would treat the very pungent injured fish workers who came in. The harbour was very busy and many businesses in town support the fishing industry.

The statue in the town square is of course, fish.

Sadly, the only bookshop in town looked as if it had closed a long time ago. At Kinnaird Head is the old lighthouse. It was the only Northern Lighthouse Board one to be built on an existing building. The castle, which is thought to have been constructed by Alexander Fraser in 1570, was up for sale in the 18th century. The Northern Lighthouse Board constructed its first lighthouse there. In 1824 Robert Stevenson re-designed the light on the tower.

The Scottish Lighthouses Museum ticket includes a tour of the tower; right up to the light.

It operated from 1787 and was decommissioned in 1991. The modern automatic light stands nearby with the first permanent radio beacon in Scotland which was erected in 1929.

The castle wine store still stands. We were told that when one of the Fraser daughters wanted to marry a man deemed to be unsuitable by her parents; he was sent to live on the bottom floor of the wine store while the daughter was housed on the top floor. A huge storm washed him out and he died on the rocks. The woman is said to have taken her life by jumping out of the top floor. Red paint is left on the rocks as a memorial.

The wind was increasing and rain forecast later in the afternoon so we had a lazy time planning the next day’s journey and watching seabirds fishing in the bay.

Round Britain: Anstruther to St Andrews


Scotland has been having some unseasonably warm weather in the last few days. On Tuesday it reached 24 degrees in Drumnadrochit and on Wednesday 25.8 in Kinlochewe which was hotter than Athens and the snowy mountains in Corsica. Our two days of driving back to the East Neuk of Fife to pick up where we left in April were plagued by closed roads, diversions and temporary traffic lights. The last few miles were through farmland where the oilseed rape was bright yellow under a blue sky and some of the potatoes were emerging. A lot of sheep were finding it very warm and I could imagine them wondering when they were going to be sheared.

Our first stop was Crail, the oldest East Neuk town. It was built around a 12th century castle and confirmed as a Royal Burgh in 1310 by Robert the Bruce. My last visit was on a primary school trip in the early 1970s. In medieval times it hosted one of the largest markets in Europe. There was much trade between Crail and Belgium and the Netherlands; delivering salted fish, linen and coal and bringing back pantiles which we were told were used as ballast. Nowadays the fishing boats bring in shellfish. The architecture of the East Neuk is characterised by crow-step gables, outside stairs and pantiles on the roof.

Heading out towards Fife Ness the road passes an old air field which was a Second World War Fleet Air Arm Station but now stands with redundant buildings and is used as a race track and to host car boot sales. At the end of the road is Crail Golfing Society which is the oldest golf club in the world, founded in 1786. There is a nature reserve on the shoreline but a height limit meant we could not park there. The golf club does allow non-players to park for £1 and a path leads down to the shore and Fife Coastal Path. There used to be a harbour at Fife Ness and a sea-beacon construction yard. This was where Robert Stevenson started to construct the first lighthouse in 1813. After five years it was almost complete when it was destroyed in a winter gale. The current low-level light dates from 1975.

There was a quay here and there is still evidence of what may have been a crane base on the rocks.

There was also a tide mill nearby and a coast guard station here since 1846.

The golf course prevents visiting Constantine’s Cave which is named after the Pictish king who is said to have been killed there by the Vikings. However, there is evidence that he died peacefully in St Andrews in 946. The cave has been used by various people over the centuries including early Christians and Fifeshire Volunteers in 1812 when there were scares over a possible French invasion.

Returning to Crail we continued towards St Andrews, stopping at Kingsbarns Distillery en route. It is outside the town, nearer to the Cambo estate. In addition to whisky, they also produce gin.

Our campsite is on the cliffs south of St Andrews and close to the coastal path where there are views over the East Stand to St Andrews.

The following morning was sunny but windier. We walked into town diverting onto the beach where the path was closed for repair.

Some of the old town walls are still in existence.

We wandered around the ruined cathedral which replaced the former St Rule’s Church and when it was consecrated in 1318, was the largest building in Scotland. The west front was completed in 1272 and then blown down by a storm. After consecration there was a fire in 1378 and it was again rebuilt. John Knox gave a sermon in the Holy Trinity Church in 1599 and during the reformation the church trappings were pulled down so that by 1600 it probably looked much like it does today.

Nearby is the ruined castle. It was here that the Protestant preacher George Wishart was burnt for heresy in 1546 at the request of Cardinal Beaton, the Archbishop. Also, in that year, a group of locals opposed to the Cardinal seized the castle. Eventually an armistice was achieved only to be followed by an artillery onslaught by the French fleet. In the 1550s it was rebuilt.

Coffee was had in the Northpoint Café whose claim to fame is that it was ‘Where Will Met Kate’. We left as students were emerging from an exam and loudly discussing their answers to the questions. Birds have been around us for much of the day. While we were breakfasting a goldcrest sat on the rowan tree at the back of the van, this gull was watching us in the street

We had lunch on a bench by the harbour sheltered from the wind.

A pair of house sparrows were feeding on worms by the water’s edge and then had a dust bath on the sandy path. A pair of Eider Ducks then landed in the harbour. We had also discovered a good secondhand bookshop and had a good chat with the proprietor who was originally from Stockport.

I recalled that while deciding which university to apply to, decided against St Andrews, partly because you could not complete the whole of your medical course there but also because coming from a small town, I wanted to go to a city and St Andrews was somewhere you took your granny on a Sunday afternoon. We have enjoyed our brief visit and tomorrow continue further around the coast.

Journeys into the past


My grandmother seemed to decide that I was to be the family archivist in the 1970s. She gave me a large number of photographs, letters from the First World War front that two of my great-great uncles fought in and letters from a relative in the USA to my great grandmother. Her father came from Ireland. A cousin had done some work on part of the family tree and this was passed onto me. Over the years I filled in many of the gaps and with the help of relatives, and the ever-increasing availability of information on the internet, now have got back as far as 1588 with the exception of the Irish relatives. James is from Northern Ireland so on a recent trip to visit his family we decided to delve further into his family tree as we had relatively little information. The major problem with Irish records is that so many public records were destroyed in the 1916 Easter Uprising. Volunteers have been digitising church register information and other information is already online. Our first step was talking to relatives, finding out if there was a family bible which often had names and dates of birth of all family members (there was not one) and then visiting the various graveyards where we were told some ancestors were buried.

In total we visited four and on the next rainy day I will start to plot out the tree and double-check what we have.

Mountstewart is an estate that used to be the home of the Marquess of Londonderry but is now under the care of the National Trust. We had been there previously so had a quick look at the house and devoted the rest of our time to the garden. Our last visit was late summer so this time it was good to see tulips and Tree Peonies blooming.


A range of animal sculptures sit along the top of the garden wall. This pig is one of them.

Across the road there are views across Strangford Lough.

On our last day we decided to pay a visit to Derry, a city neither of us had visited previously. The 400-year-old city walls stand up to eight metres high and are almost one mile around, making them the most complete city walls in Ireland.

The station is across the Foyle river from the walled city but there is a free bus link to the bus station which is near the shopping centre. We began our walk on the walls at New Gate which is near a bastion containing cannons.

Ferryquay Gate is one of the original four gates and led down to a ferry which used to cross the river. The Guildhall is nearby.

St Columbs Cathedral was built in 1633, one of the first after the Reformation and the oldest building in the city.

St. Augustine’s Church is known as ‘The Wee Church’ and was built on the site of an abbey which St Columba constructed around 543AD before sailing over to Iona in 563AD. It has been rebuilt a number of times until the last in 1872.

There are views all around: over to the Bogside

…and to St Eugene’s Cathedral

We spotted a bookshop near the Craft Village.

Foyle Books is run by a retired French teacher. It has a huge selection of Irish books and others. I picked up one on ‘Difficult to Translate Words and Phrases’ and had a chat with him about this. I had noted that French does not have a word for ‘iceberg’ and we agreed that had they remained in Canada for longer, they might have had one. He also told me that Irish Gaelic has no swear words and so use English ones. My other find was a Hungarian phrasebook which I have been looking for for a couple of months in preparation for our trip to Budapest alter this year. So far in both new and second-hand stores I had had no success. However, this shop had three different ones. I also spotted a book produced by another small society; there seem to be so many devoted to what appear to be minor interests. I had previously come across the Pylon Appreciation Society, but this was a book on British Piers published by The Piers Society which I had not heard of before. Along the wall outside the Millennium Forum is an Anthony Gormley sculpture. There were originally three but the others have ended up overseas.

To return to the station we crossed the Peace Bridge which was opened in 2011.

There is then a footpath/cycle route back to the station although some work was being done on part of it. We could have spent much more time here – there are several museums and plenty of culture. That will have to wait for another trip.

Around Australia: reacquainting myself with Melbourne


When I was in Melbourne in 2004 I was living out of town or in one of the suburbs north of the river and working at a university campus in the west of the city. On this visit, I decided to stay in the centre. We spent our first day just wandering around. Very close to our hotel was a Pop-Up Bookshop selling off their stock. The Department stores are all full of dresses and hats for the Melbourne Cup and racing season. Christmas puddings, mince pies and Christmas cards are appearing, and a fake reindeer was being carried over to Federation Square. Up the hill, Flagstaff Gardens is one of the oldest gardens in the city. I had noticed there and at other places, trees are wrapped in metal around the trunk. This may be to prevent non-native creatures climbing up and attacking native wildlife. Some people there were having a morning Tai Chi session. Down the hill a little, near the courthouse we saw a long queue of lawyers in their robes and others waiting to get in. We have always thought our courts have short hours (10-4 usually) but this was 10.25 and the queue was not moving quickly. Back on Flinders Street, Hosier Street is well-known for street art.

but there are numerous other examples around the city. At the Birrarung Marr by the river there are a number of sculptures including this one entitled ‘Angel’ by Deborah Halpern in 1988.

There were a few birds on the river, mainly ducks and gulls but this Little Pied Cormorant, one of Australia’s most common water birds, was sitting on the bank.

The National Gallery of Victoria has a good selection of work by local artists up to the present day. There was a large exhibition entitle ‘Polyverse’ by LA-based and Melbourne-born artist Polly Borland who works in Cibachrome photography and tapestry.

In the 19th and 20th century gallery I particularly liked this almost impressionistic landscape by Sidney Long in 1905

and this painting Echuca Landscape by Fred Williams in 1962.

We had dinner with some friends in the evening. The following morning, we walked up Elizabeth Street to the Queen Victoria Market. It is the largest in the southern hemisphere and you can certainly get most of the food you would need here as well as many other things. Near our hotel on Flinders Street is the remains of an old bookshop which has certainly been liberated.

Fortunately, on the opposite side of the street is City Basement Books which is a great place for good quality secondhand books. The afternoon was spent on a two-hour cruise along the Yarra River. The first hour’s journey was under some of the low bridges in the city centre that can only be sailed under at low tide and out to the port.


After a lot of driving it was very relaxing to have someone else doing the driving and navigation while we just relaxed and watched the city float by. A lot of new buildings have been constructed along the harbourside since I was last here and Federation Square looks quite different.

The second hour is spent going in the opposite direction upstream, past the stadia, botanic gardens and up as far as Herring Island.

On our return to the berth near Federation Square, dozens of rowers and canoeists were on the river making it very tricky for our skipper to turn around and get into position at the berth.

After sunset the city centre looks good at night.

This is Flinders Station:

I particularly liked the poster on the front of St Patrick’s Cathedral ‘Let us Fully Welcome Refugees’.

Tomorrow we must leave and complete the last few days of our journey.

Around Australia: Apollo Bay to Melbourne


Last evening some bikers arrived at the motel with very noisy bikes. I had hoped that they would not be leaving too early in the morning and was relieved that it was 8am before they zoomed off. We returned to the Great Ocean Road, our first stop being at Cape Patton lookout. It is one of the highest on the road. The road was completed by soldiers who had returned from the First World War. It hugs the rock face very closely in places and must have been very challenging work given the lack of machinery at that time.

Further on is a memorial and grave. The ship WB Godfrey was built in Greenock and was wrecked along the coast here on a voyage from San Francisco to Melbourne in 1891. This is all that can be seen of the wreck which now supports molluscs and other marine life.

Those on board survived but several people trying to salvage the cargo afterwards did not. At Artillery Rocks which is between Jamieson and Wye rivers, a guy was fishing with six rods. I have not been able to find out why they are called Artillery Rocks. The many holes in the rocks could resemble bullet holes. At Lorne we found the perfect combination: Moons Espresso & Juice Bar next door to Lorne Beach Books which has a very comprehensive and well organised selection of new books. I could have come out with a pile but have to think of my baggage allowance on the way home. The one we had finished reading in Apollo Bay was donated to the local Men’s Shed: an organisation which addresses mental health and well-being in men.

There were a couple of interesting signs here:

And a variant on ‘don’t’ feed the sea gulls’

This part of the coast has good waves and is known as the Surf Coast. At Lorne beach surf school was underway and others were attempting to get going.

The road was fairly quiet and at numerous points work is going on to stabilise the cliffs and prevent landslides and rockfall. A particularly winding section is known as Devil’s Elbow. It winds down to a beach at Spout Creek. Our next stop was Aireys Inlet where a small sanctuary around a pool has a number of birds. I spotted a number of Pacific Black Ducks and this male Superb Fairy Wren. His more dapper lady friend was hiding in the undergrowth.


We then drove out to Split Point Lighthouse

and Eagle Rock Marine Sanctuary.

We had lunch near Point Roadknight Beach and I had a wander along it afterwards.

I am not sure what the significance of this metal hoop with yellow ribbons hanging from it, dangling one the bushes behind the beach.

At Torquay, the decision was made to head to Queenscliff, take the ferry to Sorrento and the slow road round Port Philip Bay to the city rather than the freeway from Geelong into Melbourne. The crossing only takes 40 minutes.

14 years ago, I had decided to go across to Sorrento one weekend and do some walking in the National Park on the headland. Unfortunately, a storm followed me across the bay and by the time I got off the ferry in Sorrento it was raining so I abandoned my plans. We got into the city eventually (my navigation app did not know that you cannot come over the bridge and turn right onto Flinders Street between 3pm and 7pm Monday to Friday) and parked the car up for a couple of days.

Around Australia: sampling a little of Adelaide.


We spent our first evening in Adelaide with friends and the following morning set out to sample a little of what the city has to offer. Nearest to our hotel was the Central Market which has more than 250 stalls. The Mettwurst Shop satisfied James’s craving for kabanos. In addition to food, fruit and vegetables, there are others. I had to stop at the pop-up bookshop and found one to buy.


On North Terrace there is an old and antiquarian bookshop and several others around the city. Walking north we reached the South Australian Museum on North Terrace. It is exhibiting the entries and winners of the Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year which accepts photographs taken in Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica and New Guinea. I could not select one I like best out of all those on display but there is a public vote for their favourite. After the exhibition we looked at one of the other galleries: The Aboriginal Cultures Gallery. As you enter, Norman B Tindale’s map of Aboriginal Australia is on display.

It shows the territories of over 250 Aboriginal groups at the time of European arrival and took him 50 years to produce. It was published in 1974 and challenged the myth of terra nullis. The boundaries are fluid and have changed over time, but it was an extraordinary achievement.

Nearby is the migration museum. This has a number of displays illustrating migration to South Australia from the earliest European contact to modern times. The impact on the indigenous people is not forgotten. For example, this description of the experience of the Kauna people who came into contact with the first European settlers. They thought they were visitors like the whalers and sealers they had met before. However, the Europeans fenced in and claimed land and excluded others. They destroyed the food sources and brought their own animals, alcohol and disease. After 10 years the immigrant population was 23000 and the Kauna reduced to 300. This was replicated in numerous communities.

By the rear exit is a sculpture by artist Tim Thomson created in 2007: the British Child Migrant Memorial to those shipped to SA between 1912-1970. Prior to our visit to Australia in 2011 I had read the book by Margaret Humphries ‘Oranges and Sunshine’. She was the British social worker who in 1987 had uncovered the forced child migrant programme while working in Nottingham. Many children, often those of unmarried mothers and broken families, were shipped to Australia and often subject to forced labour or sexual abuse in workhouses. Parents were told their children had been adopted. I met someone on the Indian Pacific Train who told me that he was one of those children. I had not expected to meet one, but he did not want to talk about that: he was a Jehovah’s Witness who asked me if I had read the Watchtower.

The art gallery is nearby but I needed to get outside for a while so we wandered back towards Victoria Square where 19th century buildings sit amongst the modern ones.

Our evening meal in a no frills restaurant in Chinatown which was very popular with the Chinese Community. I had a glass of wine with my food and a guy at a neighbouring table gave me the rest of his bottle when he left. There is no end to Australian generosity. Back at the hotel it was time to get organised for the morning departure to Kangaroo Island.