Re-discovering Biddulph Grange Garden


Despite it being only a few miles from home, it is over twenty years since I last visited Biddulph Grange. The last time was in the 1990s after it re-opened after restoration by the National Trust although many of the current features had not been created then. The house began as a rectory and was purchased by James Bateman around 1840. Along with his friend Edward Cooke, he began plant collecting and creating the garden. Bateman eventually moved on and in 1896 the house burnt down and so had to be re-built. It functioned as a children’s and then an orthopaedic hospital from 1923 until the 1980s. The gardens became very neglected until the National Trust took it over. The current building is a curious mix of brick and stone. Much of it consists of private apartments with a small portion containing the cafe and shop run by the National Trust.

The garden is divided into several different areas and it would take some time to explore them all. We looked at the Chinese Garden:

and wandered past the section devoted to Egypt and around various small paths and tunnels. I remembered the Stumpery from my last visit. This was constructed in 1856 and is said to be the first in the country. Parts of dead trees and other wood are used to grow plants on and around, a little like rocks in a rockery.

The Wellingtonia Avenue heads away from the house towards a gate which is opened once a year into the Country Park.

You can return via the Woodland Walk. It has several adventure playground items made from wood for children to enjoy.

Near the house there are several terraces and parterres and a dahlia walk. The geological gallery was the old Victorian entrance and houses a display of fossils and rocks collected by Batemen.

Most are reproduction with only one original. This grass planted in an urn on one of the terraces was very reminiscent of Donald Trump’s hair.

As the current hot dry weather continues we retreated to the cafe for a cold drink and some local ice-cream to cool off. Ducks were hovering in the pond outside hoping for some scraps.

There is an extremely well-stocked garden shop with a good range of plants, herbs and trees as well as tools, accessories and decorative items. When the rains return I might return here and select a few more plants for the garden as well as explore some of the areas we did not see on this visit.

Discovering England’s Book Town


Many people are aware of Hay on Wye in Wales and Wigtown in Scotland but I suspect fewer are aware of Sedbergh which now promotes itself as England’s Book Town. It is only six miles from the M6, 10 from Kendal and sits just inside the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The transition is dramatic, leaving the busy motorway and driving along a two-lane road flanked by drystone walls and with hills in the background. It is upland farming country and Sedbergh is a small market town. The town sign said it was twinned with a town in Slovenia which seemed a little unusual. Apparently it featured in a BBC documentary series, ‘The Town that Wants a Twin’ in early 2005 and subsequently was twinned with Zreče in Slovenia. It has a narrow main street with shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants plus a small market on the day we visited. I was quite amused by the spelling mistake on this shop front.

There are six bookshops, the biggest of which is Westwood Books which has two floors and more than 70,000 books. Others combine bookselling with outdoor gear sales and focus on walking books and local subjects (Sleepy Elephant) or craft, fine arts and textiles (Avril’s Books). The Dales and Lakes Book Centre in the middle of the town is a co-operative of dealers and also has some new books, maps, cards and gifts. I added two volumes to my New Naturalist Collection in there. Outside the cherry blossom in the churchyard was wonderful.

The private boarding school and the local state school are the major employers in the town, although some say that is now changing and local small businesses are increasing. In 2015 it was designated a “Walkers Welcome’ Town, sits on the Dales Way: an 80 mile trail and there are many other local footpaths. Like many rural places it had to recover from the devastation caused by the foot and mouth epidemic in 2015. There are many local groups and clubs and a community orchard planted to the south.

Many of the conifers here and in the surrounding area were quite brown and I initially thought this may be some disease but after noticing it mainly on the east side of them, assume it was early new growth that was caught by the Beast from the East storm earlier this year.

All too soon it was time to leave as we had to get back to the M6 via a B road (Slacks Lane)to Tebay. The road runs parallel to the River Lune and also connects with various footpaths. The Lowgill Viaduct is one remnant of the old Lune Valley Railway which closed in 1954. It is an area well worth revisiting when we have a little more time. We might even walk the Dales Way.

Walking in Madeira: Levada do Furado


The original plan for our last day before returning to Funchal was the mountain walk from Pico do Arieiro to the highest peak, Pico Ruivo (1862m). However, the weather was not looking good. It was decided not to make the final decision until we arrived at Pico Do Arieiro, where the cameras could be checked and locals consulted. En route we stopped off at the viewpoint at top of Europe’s highest cliff, Cabo Girao. It is 580m high (the highest cliff in the world is in Hawaii). Unfortunately we could see very little due to the cloud but in good weather, the glass skywalk would give fantastic views below.


After the drive up, past an old ice house, it was clear that the high winds, rain and minimal visibility meant that the mountain walk had to be cancelled. Instead we walked one of the oldest levadas which belongs to the state: the Levada do Furado. It was acquired through a contract signed in 1822 between the first Count of Carvalhal and the Board of the Royal Treasury, for irrigation of the farmlands of Porto da Cruz. Back in a well-preserved section of the island’s native forest, there were flowers like this violet:

and more waterfalls.

In places the path sneaks through narrow passages between the rocks.

However, we soon began to get views over the surrounding area.At Lamaceiros the Levada do Furado ends, near this building dated 1906

A forestry track took us down to the road in Portela.


There was a very conveniently situated bar which made a good resting place and a flower market taking place nearby.

Although we were disappointed not to be able to do the mountain walk we had a pleasant day at lower altitudes.

Walking in Madeira: Queimadas to Verdeda Ilha & drive to Porto Moniz


We left early for the short drive to Queimadas where the Levada do Caldierão Verde which runs for 6km through a UNESCO protected laurel forest: the Laurisilva. This is one of the few remnants of native forest and is made up of the laurel, or bay tree (Laurus novocanariensis), the lily-of-the-valley tree (Clethra arborea), the Madeira laurel (Ocotea foetens), Madeira mahogany (Persea indica) and a number of flowers. There are also some non-natives and this one has been named the candelabra tree.

Levadas are channels built by hand to carry water from the north of the island to the drier south. Slaves from Africa and La Gomera in the Canaries were used as labourers in the early days. Building the levadas continued until the 1940s.

The one we followed runs to the the highest waterfall in Madeira which falls 100m at around 900m altitude. It rained, although we had dry skies for lunch at the foot of the fall.

The trail passes through three tunnels, some of which have low ceilings and torches are required As we emerged from one, a pregnant cat was there to welcome us. Our guide told us that sometimes the locals would go away on holiday and just leave their cats to roam on the mountainside.

This walk only involved around 100m of ascent and then a slippery descent to Verdeda da Ilha. The path (mostly steps) was built alongside streams which were used to send felled timber down to the village. The vegatation included gorse, sweet chestnut trees, eucalyptus and mimosa. We had very brief glimpses of a fire crest and a Madeiran chaffinch and also heard a blackbird.
After tea and cake at a local cafe, we were driven along the north coast to Porto Moniz, stopping at a viewpoint at Beira da Quinta along the way.


It took 16 years to build the new road and it gives views of the old, winding north coast road. Porto Moniz has natural lagoons for swimming in but this was not possible on our visit given the high winds and waves.

The rock in harbour is Ilhéu Mole. All along the promenade waves were crashing on the rocks. In places there was some yellow/orange foam suggestive of pollution.


Walking in Madeira: Ponta de São Lorenço Peninsula

As we landed at Funchal, one of the flight attendants said that it was the first time she had been on a plane that had landed on its first attempt. We had had a 100mph tail wind so had arrived 25 minutes early but did not experience any of the gusts of wind that Madeira’s airport is renowned for. These often lead to landings having to be aborted and re-attempted. Apparently after the third failed attempt the plane has to divert to Lisbon. The runway has been extended and now projects over the sea supported by concrete columns. Funchal is named after ‘funcho’, the Portuguese word for fennel which it is said, was abundant when Zarco landed here in 1419. Madeira means ‘wood’ which is somewhat ironic as the first settlers began burning and ultimately completely destroying the primeval forest and indigenous flora and fauna. Much of the current flora has been introduced from all corners of the earth.

We had dinner that evening in a restaurant specialising in local food. Dessert was strawberries from the restaurateur’s farm. On our way out, we noticed that the local cats and dogs were gathering, ready to eat the scraps they are given. Walking along a cobbled street back to the hotel, we passed lots of street art including these examples on a derelict building.

The following morning after passing through Machico, (the first place Portuguese explorers landed in 1419) we stopped at a viewpoint on the coast.


Feral cats were hanging around hoping for food. Just before we left, a local woman drove up and began to feed them.

Our first walk was an 8km circuit involving climbing the equivalent of 119 flights of stairs on the Ponta de São Lorenço National Park peninsula. By the national park centre, we spotted several canaries but none of them stayed still long enough for a photograph. The volcanic geology gives rise to many scenic views although it was very windy. It was busy, but it was a Sunday and in the Easter holiday season.




Afterwards we drove inland west to Porto da Cruz which is the first eastern town on the north coast. We had a tasting session of a local fish like tuna (Gaiado Seco) which is salted and dried in sand. It was served with olive oil, tomatoes and onions with bread. The sugar cane mill, ’Engenhos do Norte operates between March to May. In the 15th and 16th centuries Madeira was a major producer of sugar which was known as ‘white gold’. The current distillery makes rum. They have a machine used to pump fresh sugarcane juice up to the fermentation tanks which was manufactured by Jones Burton & Co of Liverpool. Another piece of machinery was made in Oakland, California.

Further on, Faial has a hill 598m high called ‘Eagle Rock’ where ospreys nest.

Nearby we had a madeira wine tasting session in a cellar, sampling 12 year old and 19 year old samples. Returning to the road we passed several people (some in national costume) returning to the church following the blessing of a house which often takes place after Easter.

The new road passes through the longest tunnel in Europe which is over 3km long. New road construction and tunnel building has expanded in Madeira in the last few years and has improved communications and transport. However, there is a feeling amongst some, that it is going too far. Our destination was Santana, our base for the night. It is renowned for the traditional thatched A frame houses in the area.

The weather was now deteriorating. The jet stream has diverted further south this year leaving northern Europe with a much colder spring but wetter weather occurring further south, including Madeira.

Early autumn by the Dordogne


The morning we left home was only the second misty dawn with rain drops hanging on spiders’ webs draped on the bushes we had had in September. The incoming ferry was late arriving and watching all the arriving vehicles drive off, we noticed that there must have been a classic car event somewhere as several old cars appeared, even three 1930’s Rolls Royces similar to the one my father used to have. After a night on the boat we disembarked to endure lengthy security checks just before the sun rose in Caen.

The rest of the journey was easy but we did see long queues of lorries heading north on the N10 south of Angoulême. Foreign HGV drivers have been blocking roads as a protest against the high tolls on the autoroute. Drivers do not pay road tax for their vehicles in France so the tolls are the way money is raised to maintain the network. We arrived in time for a walk by the river near the local château where some sunflowers were still in flower. Many more are drying before harvesting. Persimmons and kiwi fruits are harvested after the first frost.

The village our friends live in is on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, one of the routes in France that converge at St Jean Pied de Port before the path continues on through Spain. There was a crucifix and a scallop shell (worn by pilgrims and a way marker for the trail) on one of the buildings.

Over the next few days we visited markets in Branne and Libourne where these lobsters awaited their fate in the fish market.

Libourne is attempting to control the urban pigeon population by building a dovecot on the riverside and when the pigeons nest there, the eggs are replaced with ceramic ones. The waterfront here is under renovation, due for completion in 2025. Inevitably visit to vineyards and wine buying took place at Château la Sablière and a local wine co-operative and an art and craft exhibition in St Émilion.

We visited Bordeaux in the evening for a dinner cruise along the Garonne. The meal was very enjoyable although it was the first time I have had avocado as a dessert.

Tomato plants were being grown in tubs along the waterfront and I assumed this was free food. A couple of days later while doing some shopping, these were being removed. Other walks were around Lac de la Cadie which is also used for watersports and fishing and around the 100 Years War battlefield and Talbot memorial in Castillon la Bataille. Summer re-enactments are held in July and August involving large numbers of people and horses.

The local grape harvest was underway. Much of it is mechanised but grapes for the better wines are still hand-picked. Château d’Yquem grapes are picked and examined six times before being declared suitable. All too soon it was time to leave on a wet, misty morning with the trees colouring for autumn. Again we were fortunately driving in the opposite direction to the heavy traffic and we did not have too many delays at the port before we were back on the ferry and on our way home. It was still misty when we got to Portsmouth but today we have some warm autumn sun at home to enjoy the colours and catch up on garden jobs.

Walking the Water of Leith

I have to confess, we have not walked the 24 miles of the Water of Leith from the source in the Pentland Hills, nor the 12 plus miles of the Water of Leith Walkway from Balerno to Leith. We did not have time to complete the full length of the Walkway so chose to walk to Leith from the point nearest to us.

As soon as we had returned from Ireland, friends were asking why I was not in Edinburgh enjoying the Fringe. We did come up in the middle of the month as we had some work which needed to be carried out on the flat and had selected a few samples of comedy, music and photography from the Fringe to enjoy as well. Some sensible residents stay away completely as getting around is more difficult and takes longer if you have to pass through the main tourist areas; fending off the flyers constantly shoved in your face. After enjoying Dan Willis, a UK comedian living in Australia presenting a ‘Whinging Pom’s Guide’ to the country, Ed Byrne, the Edinburgh Photographic Society’s Annual Exhibition and a great night with Lorna Reid at the Jazz Club, we were ready for a change of scene. We have walked a few sections of the Walkway in the past but fancied a bigger chunk today. It is a two mile walk to our nearest section and includes a bit of the Union Canal.

The Visitors’ Centre is at Slateford just next to where the river flows under the aqueduct carrying the Union canal. We had a coffee before hitting the trail just under the aqueduct where a sign told us it was seven miles to Leith.

There are currently a few diversions due to path closures. There has been a landslip and one section has been closed for six months while this is investigated and decisions made about action. Other sections are closed due to works on the Flood Prevention Scheme. Back on the path we enjoyed the greenery including trees and wildflowers but also spotted large clusters of an introduced problem plant: Himalayan Balsam. It is an annual but produces 800 seeds per year which are propelled huge distances and can be carried by water. It out-competes native flora and is very difficult to eradicate.

Other places have street art.

We passed the Balgreen Community Garden with raised beds made from sleepers like my own and an invertebrate hotel.

There are numerous places along the way where you can join or leave the Walkway and it connects with some of the cycle routes. Occasionally the path leaves the riverside for a short stretch for example, in the Dean Village.

It passes St Bernard’s Well, built on the site of an spring and which is open on Sundays in August. Here is an interior shot I took a couple of years ago:

Before we reached Leith we came across a family of swans having a grooming session. The swan’s partner was watching nearby.

After a succession of signs all saying Leith was 1¾ miles, we eventually reached The Shore. There is a Turkish Cafe and a pub, Salvation ready to restore you and for fine dining, Restaurant Martin Wishart is a little further along. After some refreshments it was time to catch the bus home. With all the diversions we had in fact clocked up 12 miles.