We last visited the Christmas lights in the Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh in 2017. This year I booked it again and we met up with a friend to visit it. The Christmas Light Trail runs from mid-November to the 30th of December. Entry is timed so we set out for 6pm last Monday. Weekdays are quieter than the weekends. The trail starts by passing through the West Gate building and continues through various different sections with static displays like this green tree.
and others with changing colours in time to the music
and video on one of the buildings. We walked through a tunnel of lights.
and continued on the trail. The Chinese Garden had lights hanging from the trees
Another area had light bulbs hanging from the trees.
One section had 2 metre UV feathers. which looked as if they were floating in the trees.
Santa was standing near the catering section.
There was a large variety of displays including some on water. This one on a tree looked almost abstract as the tree faded behind the lights.
The trail eventually wends its way back to the West Gate buildings and it was time for us to head home for an evening meal.
Yesterday evening I had a short walk on the beach at Laide
Where a seal was sitting on one of the rocks.
The next morning was another quiet day.
After picking up supplies in Aultbea we walked to the pier
where there are views over to the Isle of Ewe.
Back on the A832 we passed Drumchork. Loch Ewe distillery was the smallest legally operated distillery in Scotland founded in November 2005 by John Clotworthy, the hotelier of the Drumchork Lodge Hotel in Aultbea and started its business in 2006. It lasted until 2015 when it was put up for sale, closing in 2017. On a hillside further on was a viewpoint looking over Loch Ewe and an MOD pier and associated property. After the Soviet Union was invaded by the Nazis in 1941, Loch Ewe was one of the Arctic Convoy shipping points to send supplies to the Soviet Union for the next four years.
The next viewpoint overlooked Loch Thurnaig.
We then entered Inverewe and visited the Gardens. Despite lying on the same latitude as Moscow and Hudson’s Bay, the Gulf Stream enables an amazing variety of plants from all over the world to grow.
Inverewe Garden was created by Osgood Mackenzie. His forbears were the lairds of Gairloch. It is said that he saw the barren peninsula and decided to build a garden there after acquiring the property in 1862. His first job was to plant a shelter belt of trees against the west and south-westerly winds. 15-20 years later other trees, including non-natives were planted. He had to import soil from Ireland. The first rhododendrons were acquired around 1890. Osgood died in 1922 and is buried in Strath churchyard. His daughter took over the estate. His and her plant inspiration came from their many worldwide travels. Eventually the garden was given to the National Trust for Scotland. We began by exploring the walled garden.
Although in September many of the flowers, shrubs and trees have gone to seed, some were still in bloom.
There was a sculpture entitled Sheltered Existence by James Parker in 2014.
The house was built in 1937.
Some of the rooms are left as they would have been in Osgood’s daughter’s time.
Also on the ground floor is The Sawyer Gallery. The exhibition when we visited was by Pamela Tait and Erland Tait who are visual artists from The Black Isle and the Highlands respectively. Pamela’s work is in watercolour and monoprints.
We then walked around the forest and saw many different trees including eucalyptus
tree ferns from Tasmania
and Californian Redwoods.
On 30 January 2022, Storm Corrie with 90mph winds, felled 60 trees and destroyed 90 large shrubs. Work is still going on to deal with this. There is a jetty from which boat trips are run.
It had begun to rain so we walked back to the café to top up the caffeine levels and then it was time to check into our campsite which was just down the road. Before we had some quite torrential rain, I looked at the view across Loch Ewe.
Ballyrobert Garden is close to Ballyclare in County Antrim, Northern Island. It Is a family run affair, open to visitors and a Royal Horticultural Society Partner Garden which the owners try to blend into the local surroundings, both horticulturally and culturally. They cite influences on the garden design and philosophy from Vita Sackville West, Christopher Lloyd and Irish-born William Robinson, author of The Wild Garden and others.
The garden contains an extensive collection of plant varieties; over 4000 at last count.
It began as a small farm around 300 years ago and existed in that form until the present owners came along in 1994 and started to dig beds and add trees. Then it became a garden, a nursery, and a small farm. The site was quite rich in wildlife and had a bit of history. After a lot of thought they planned to garden in a way to fit the local landscape being as careful as possible to blend their love of gardening with the rich built and natural history of the site. The entrance to the property in 1994 consisted of a nondescript tubular gate. A search of the local area soon revealed what a traditional entrance ought to look like and so they copied the design for the pillars and the gate.
We began our walk around along the woodland walk
where autumn crocuses were beginning to emerge.
And some fungi in the grass.
The lake was very dry and empty of water after the recent hot, dry weather.
In normal times dragonflies, reed buntings and wagtails can be seen there. There are several bridges across the streams in the garden and this stone one has nest boxes built into it.
The station lawn has its name because there once was a station across the road. The gate from the front garden leads through to it.
The old hay shed is now reception and it and the other buildings are close to the front garden.
Behind the buildings is the nursery
which grows plants which they sell.
I was interested to see for the first time, discounted mis-labelled plants.
There are many wonderful plants in the garden and although it was a little too windy for macro photography, I did manage to catch a couple of insects on some of the flowers.
The rowan trees had ripe berries on them.
It has been suggested that the warmer weather due to climate change might bring autumn colours and leaf drop sooner. We had a coffee in the self-service cafe before we left. I was delighted to see one sculpture amongst the foliage.
In another area an earthenware pot sat beside some of the trees and plants.
It would be interesting to return in different seasons.
I have been a member of the Royal Horticultural Society for many years and visit their gardens if I am in the vicinity. The newest is RHS Bridgewater in Worsley, Salford, Manchester. We stopped off on our last trip down south. You do have to book visits but the booking lasts for the whole day and you can arrive whenever you want and stay for as long as you like. We arrived mid-morning in July.
The historic 154-acre Worsley New Hall estate was turned into the RHS Bridgewater Garden to improve and enrich Salford’s communities and environment. Worsley New Hall, in its formal landscaped gardens, was a notable residence in the 19th century. It was built for the 1st Earl of Ellesmere between 1840 and 1845, designed by the architect Edward Blore – whose speciality was Tudor and Elizabethan-style architecture, and whose reputation was for completing projects on time and to budget. This project cost just under £100,000 to build, which is the equivalent of around £6.7 million today. The estate sat northwest of the current garden.
Worsley New Hall was a British Red Cross Hospital during the First World War and afterwards the house and garden declined. In the Second World War parts of the hall were requisitioned by the War Office and its gardens used as training grounds by the Lancashire Fusiliers. In the 20th century, a fire and dry rot led to the hall falling into disrepair. In 1943 a scrap merchant bought it for £2,500. Subsequently, the grounds were used as a garden centre, a Scout camp and a rifle range. There are still some old buildings in the garden.
We began by walking around the walled gardens after passing the learning centres on the way. Weston Walled Garden is divided into two: the Kitchen Garden
and the Paradise Garden.
I enjoyed photographing some flowers.
North of the walled gardens are two glasshouses, one devoted to fruits
and one to Mediterranean plants.
There is a pollinator meadow
and Moon Bridge Water.
The Chinese Streamside Garden is under construction and should be completed in three years.
The garden is surrounded by a forest with an arboretum to be developed in future.
There is also a lake which will have future development. I will definitely return in a different season.
We have been members of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh for several years and visit it frequently. It began in 1670 when two doctors, Andrew Balfour and Robert Sibbald set up a small 180 square yard plot containing 800-900 plants as a physic garden near Holyrood. This became too small after a few years and in 1682 an area at the end of the Nor Loch where Waverley Station is now situated, was planted with 2,000 plants and shrubs. It was close to Trinity Hospital and was later extended into Trinity College Kirkyard.
In 1763 a new site for the Botanic Garden was found in Leith Walk. It moved to its present home in Inverleith in 1820; a process taking two years to transfer all the plants and trees. The Botanical Society of Edinburgh was instituted in 1836. Over the next century and more, the garden evolved into the one we know today with plants from all over the world and buildings which house the visitors centre, exhibition spaces and places for the staff to work.
Events are organised and in 2017 we visited the Christmas Lights display they have most years in December.
The glasshouses are currently closed for refurbishment. An article in yesterday’s Times Scotland said that they were having to cut down a 220-year-old sabal palm tree which had to be moved in order to do the work and as it was 50 feet high, could not be moved intact. It had been in the Leith Walk garden before being moved to its current place. They have grown some seedlings.
The garden has the largest collection of Chinese plants outside China including many wild ones from mountains. The RGBE botanists are working with the Kuming Institute of Botany to develop a botanical garden and a mountain field station.
I enjoyed looking at some of the interesting trees
and the alpine garden.
As it is early autumn, some leaves were beginning to turn and seed heads were appearing.
Autumn crocuses are in bloom.
After wandering around the grounds we visited the exhibition of botanical photography of Levison Biss which covered fruits and seeds from the Herbarium Collection. I must try and get the book which was sold out in the botanic garden shop. It might inspire me to do some more macro photography.
We are now several weeks into lockdown and wanderlust has to be contained. Spending so much time at home is vaguely reminiscent of writing my thesis and books several years ago. We are fortunate to have a large garden and live in a rural area so do have some space. I really feel for people living in cramped accommodation and no outside space. After weeks of rain and flooding in February; warm sunny weather arrived and the garden is now slowly drying up. There is a lot to do out there and the spring flowers are a joy.
Our house was put on the market two weeks before lockdown and we had a few viewings but all that has now ceased. We do not have a deadline so we are now taking the time to do some packing, pile up donations for charity shops and stuff to go to the recycling centre when it re-opens. The need for exercise takes us out for walks. Fortunately, we are not restricted as much as some countries where the furthest you can walk from home is 1km. Most of our walks are 2-3 miles along the lanes. The only place where you cannot stay two metres from anyone you might pass is the path alongside the brook.
Two hundred years ago our lane was a through road with a ford across the brook. This was later changed to a bridle path alongside the water with no vehicular access. When digital maps came out, many still had it depicted as a through road so early satnavs were sending people down it, thinking they could reach the other end. Eventually the council were persuaded to put up no through road signs at each end of the lane.
The lanes were initially quieter than usual with the odd car and several tractors but traffic is now increasing. We have seen a little more of our neighbours who are walking and cycling and one recently had a frightening close shave with a speeding vehicle. We also met some very new neighbours.
Some houses had rainbow paintings done by children in the windows. One plus is that there is less litter in the hedgerows. I only picked up one bottle on one of our walks whereas there is usually plenty of litter. McDonalds in Congleton being closed will be helping but there has also been a lot more fly tipping in the surrounding areas. Sadly, there is no option of refreshments at our local pub.
I have been undertaking a photographic natural history of the garden and am now trying to finish this before we leave.
It will not cover everything: one wood louse will have to represent the 30 species of woodlice and some visitors we have had over the years including cuckoos, woodpeckers and swallows; are now rarely or not seen at all.
If we were not in lockdown and only leaving the village for a weekly shop/medication collection, we would have been continuing our coastal journey in the campervan; juggling this with the house sale. Not knowing how long it will take to sell meant we had no major trips planned for 2020 and so not having the problems with refunds that many people are experiencing. I have as always been planning future trips without knowing when we can get back on the road
We left home in sub-zero temperatures and fog to travel to Oxford. With climate change there have been fewer winter days like this in the last couple of years. I did not get chance to take any photographs before leaving but here is one from a few years ago.
The fog lifted around Birmingham, returned in the Cherwell Valley but had disappeared by the time we reached Oxford and settled into our hotel. We have been to the city numerous times but my most recent trips had been work-related, so I saw little more than a meeting room in the Ashmolean and the route to and from the station. The following morning was bright and sunny, so we walked into town. Blue plates proliferate on the walls of buildings around here and Tolkien’s house is nearby. I was introduced to his work at primary school in the very early 1970s when the miners’ strikes led to widespread power cuts. Our teacher read us TheHobbit by candlelight. Our first destination was the Weston Library which is across the road from the Old Bodleian. Its interior is modern but some of the walls are lined with collections of antiquarian books. We had come to see an exhibition entitled Talking Maps; some of their vast collection. It was varied and eclectic from some of the earliest to very recent examples. There was a map indicating where to buy a drink in Oxford in the 1880s.
This one is of Laxton in East Nottinghamshire which has a portion of the last remaining open field systems. The feudal rural Map of England dates from 1635 and there are three large fields still relatively intact in Laxton which is almost unique in post-enclosure Modern Britain.
Also on display was the earliest known medieval map of Britain produced as a separate sheet rather than in a book and drawn on the hides of a sheep and lamb. More recent maps were wartime examples, some fake to confuse the enemy. Maps of imaginary places included Tolkien’s (which could not be photographed) and RL Stevenson’s Treasure Island. There were also pictorial maps by Grayson Perry.
There were faith maps of Christian pilgrim routes to Jerusalem, maps to assist Muslims in identifying the direction of Mecca and others related to Hinduism and Buddhism. An interesting display explained that although maps were not always orientated north; they were never orientated towards the west as this was where the sun went down and darkness reigned. Later we walked into the Boddleian courtyard
and then wandered around the city, purchasing an antique map for our own collection from a dealer we have bought from online previously. It was interesting to meet him in person and find out a little more about his work. The Botanic Gardens in Oxford are the oldest in the country
and are situated near Magdalen College and Bridge.
Only three glasshouses were open as a renovation project was underway but the snowdrops were more open than mine are. The Gunnera Manicata had been cut down on the island in the middle of the pond and left folded over the stalks to provide shelter for wildlife. Some shrubs were beginning to flower and some other spring flowers. Fish were swimming around under the ice in one pond.
Just outside the garden is a garden with yew and box hedging. A notice said that this had been a water meadow in 1190 and became a Jewish burial site. In 1231 a new site was established under what is now the college. An ancient footpath connected the site with the medieval Jewish quarter and was known as Deadman’s Walk for 800 years. In 1290 Edward I expelled all the Jews in England and they were not permitted to return for 300 years.
We had a meal in the Three Goat Heads pub. The First English Guild of Cordwainers was founded in Oxford in 1130 and three goat heads appeared on the crest. Cordwainer is derived from Cordoba in Spain where cordovan leather was produced from goatskin and became very popular for making shoes. The original inn was owned by one of the cordwainers and dates from 1621 on another street. In the 1800s it was moved to the present site. Inside are three goat heads and numerous items used in shoemaking.
All too soon we had to return home having sampled only a little of what Oxford has to offer.
On the way out of Mikea we stopped at the sand dunes which had views back over the village and the sea.
Continuing down the coast, the road passed through several small villages. Many only had one zebu rather than a herd. Larger communities had herds of both goats and zebus. It was Sunday so many people were going to church in their Sunday best. A larger rural commune had a post office and police station and just outside the village, a large open-air church service was underway.
Not long afterwards we were back on asphalt and RN9. The villages we passed through looked considerably better off than those of the previous few days; better quality housing than the wood, bamboo and straw thatched ones we had been among. We arrived at a bay with a mangrove swamp and boardwalk which was an opportunity to stretch our legs. There are eight species of mangrove in Madagascar, three of which were at this location.
Pools further along the road were coloured green, pink and orange presumably due to algae. After crossing the dry Fiherenana River, we arrived in Toliara, a port city where we had lunch. There was a delay in leaving as the garage was waiting for a fuel delivery so that the cars could fill up. We had a walk around town
where the vegetable and meat markets were closed because it was Sunday but this shop was open – you can have a chair only in purple!
Outside the lycée, the results of the recent Baccalauréat were posted on the walls.
Leaving town, we headed inland with hills ahead and passing some tombs.
There were stalls along the road with what looked like plastic bottles of water for sale but were told that it was sugar cane rum. Our destination was Ilakaka but we passed through a number of towns containing gem stores. It was one of the first few places to have discovered sapphires. Many of the mines now are illegal and even located in nature reserves. Trees are uprooted, streams diverted and many workers hope to get out of poverty this way; often juggling jobs in agriculture with illegal mining. Other demands are for crystals such as quartz, amethyst and others due to beliefs that crystals conduct healing energy described in the New York Times in 2017 as ‘the great crystal boom’. Mining can be dangerous due to landslides and the fine dust can lead to silicosis. Child labour is also a problem and mining is threatening the small amount of rainforest that is left. We found it a bit of a shock to be in a busy hotel with a large queue at breakfast for coffee but it was located next to the most visited national park in Madagascar.
There was time for a short beach walk in Belo sur Mer before we left. The fishing boats had already departed and Pied Crows were scouring the beach for something to eat. Travelling back over the dunes and the salt flats was reminiscent of the Great Salt Lake in Utah. This was followed by a slow ascent through desert-like landscape before reaching the greener highlands again. We crossed the River Lampaolo which was dry and passed through several villages with crops and irrigation channels. Some people were walking back from the market carrying bags of rice on their heads. Madagascar is the largest consumer of rice per head of population in the world. They grow a lot and rice fields are present in most of the fertile valleys we have passed through but they also have to import it. In Western and Northern Madagascar many women paint their faces with a mask derived from grinding a branch of the masonjoany tree. It is said to act as a sunblock, a moisturiser and to remove blemishes. It is removed at night. Just before we reached our last and biggest river crossing, we saw bushes with white seeds and were told that this was wild cotton.
I also noticed that several termite mounds had had their top removed and learnt that the locals used the termites to feed their hens. The following morning, we were on R9 by 7am amongst a rock-strewn landscape. Further on baobabs and red soil appeared.
Our first stop was at a local school that the local tour company supports. Gifts were presented and we met some of the staff and pupils.
On the blackboard was an anatomy lesson.
R9 descends down to rivers and fields of crops but cacti and more desert appeared before we crossed a tributary and then arrived at theRiver. It is the biggest river in Madagascar. The ferry’s engine was broken so the boat was being pulled across the river which was shallow due to it being the dry season. This would not have been possible in the rainy season.
The other side of the river was sandy. A tributary had been dammed upstream and on the riverbank was another dam with a road on top. Other work suggested that a bridge across the river was under construction by a Chinese company.
We were now on the N35 and passed a line of baobabs longer than the Allée.
After a cactus forest we arrived at Morombe on the coast, our destination for the night. I had a wander along the beach spotting a phone-charging sign on a village hut. It looked incongruous but mobile signals are very good in Madagascar.
There was plenty of time to watch the sun go down over the sea.
The following morning was bright and sunny. Down at the sea, was the same boat with a patchwork sail.
Back on the dirt road we passed through the Spiny Forest where the Octopus Tree Didierea madagascariensis grows to 12-15 feet high with branches always pointing south. It grows on coastal red sands north and south of Tulear. The locals use it for firewood.
The road then ran alongside a mangrove swamp between it and the sea. Further on were date palms, a few villages and several taxi-brousses. Our next stop was at one of the largest baobabs, said to be around 1000 years old.
Lunch was at a small town Andavadoaka at the Olo Bé Lodge. It had only recently opened and was owned by a man born in Mauritius and brought up in Australia. He was a mining engineer and had come to Madagascar to prospect for minerals while running the hotel as a hobby. There were sea views from the restaurant.
The remainder of the journey to Mikea was on deeply rutted sandy tracks. The next day we had time to wander along the beach while some people went snorkelling off the reef. Crabs scuttled down holes as we approached and a few seabirds were feeding by the water but flew off too quickly for photographs.
In the afternoon we visited the nearby forest through cacti, succulents and mini baobabs. We met a man and two of his children from a hunter-gatherer tribe who have little contact with the modern world. His wife and other children were away collecting water. He showed us how he made fire. They spend only a few days in each area before moving on.
We walked the short distance back to our hotel to get ready for the next day’s departure.
The UK had TV programmes about Madagascar in the months before we left which could have left the impression that it is a green island with much wildlife. The latter is certainly true but flying over it reveals the Red Island with clear evidence of the deforestation that has happened since the first settlers arrived and the silted-up rivers in the dry season. We landed in sunshine and were taken to our hotel to meet up with our group. The island has been separated from Gondwanaland for millions of years and over 90% of the wildlife are endemic and not found anywhere else. It is the fourth largest island in world but also the fifth poorest nation. We left Antananarivo on a Sunday morning via RN 2 which was still busy with a lot of trucks as it is the main route to the port of Toamasina. There is also a railway line (narrow gauge and dating from the 1930s) which is only for freight. The most common form of transport for passengers is the taxi-brousse; a minibus with luggage piled on the roof.
Just outside the city centre brick making and laundry were being carried out by the River Ikopa: scenes which would be re-visited all over the highlands.
Occasionally, it looked as if all the fabrics in a home including curtains and carpets were being washed. Our guide told us that when someone has died, all the fabrics in the home are washed to remove the evil spirits/death. This tradition is less frequently practised now. We had a distant view of Tana with the Queen’s Palace and the first church on the hill.
Further on near Moramanga was this sign:
The Malagasy Uprising was a nationalist rebellion against French colonial rule in Madagascar and lasted from March 1947 to February 1949. Political efforts to achieve independence for Madagascar had failed and spurred on radicalised elements of the Malagasy population, including the leaders of some militant nationalist secret societies. On the evening of 29 March 1947, coordinated surprise attacks were launched by Malagasy nationalists, armed mainly with spears, against military bases and French-owned plantations in the eastern part of the island concentrated around Moramanga and Manakara. In May 1947 the the French began to counter the nationalists. They increased the number of troops on the island to 18,000, mostly by transferring soldiers from French colonies elsewhere in Africa. The French military forces carried out mass execution, torture, war rape, torching of entire villages, collective punishment and other atrocities such as throwing live Malagasy prisoners out of an airplane (death flights). The mausoleum is on the site where more than 120 nationalists were executed. Before we reached Andasibe, we stopped at Peyrieras Reserve which cares for amphibians and reptiles. They have Nile Crocodiles and a number of lizards and geckos I am in the process of identifying.
Later in our trip, we saw some of them in the wild. After a night in Andasibe, we hiked around four miles in the nearby National Park which preserves some of the 1% of the original forest that remains. In the rainforest it rained, heavily at times, leading to some of the park guides saying that this did not usually happen until November. October is usually dry and hot. We saw the five species of lemur in the park but I did not get photographs of them all.
The Indri is the largest and its call can be heard 2km away.
We also saw several species of birds, most of which flew around too quickly to photograph. One notable tree is the Travellers’ Palm which acquired its name due to the collection of water where each leaf meets the stem, providing a drink in hot weather.
In the afternoon we visited Vakona Reserve which comprises Lemur Island and a crocodile reserve. It is owned by a French national who came to work in the now defunct graphite mine. He then set up the reserves which provide rescue for lemurs sold as pets (hence they are habituated to humans) and has one lodge in operation and another being built.
We returned to our hotel as we had an early start the next morning.