Before collecting our new wheels, we spent 10 days in Edinburgh. There were 2 Six Nations rugby matches on consecutive weekends which we attended with friends. The first one took place while there was still some snow on the Pentland Hills.
We met up with several friends and did some trip planning. One other thing I did manage to squeeze in was a trip to the City Art Gallery which had a couple of photographic exhibitions I had wanted to see for a while. The first was Robert Blomfield’s Street Photography which continues until 17 March 2019. He was a doctor but managed to pursue street photography from the 1950s to the 70s. It was only brought to an end when he suffered from a stroke in 1999. His son spent a lot of time sorting out the huge amount of film his father had at home.
The other photographic exhibition was ‘Scotland in Focus’ which included the galleries collection of Scottish photographs from the mid 19th century to the present day.
The final exhibition we saw was ‘Another Country’ which explored contemporary immigration to Scotland, including themes of integration, nationality and identity.
It included work by eleven leading artists from distinct ethnically and culturally diverse backgrounds, all born or currently living in Scotland and using different media.
As photography is not allowed in the galleries, the images are from the gallery website. The exhibitions are free, and the gallery is very central and close to Waverley Station. The adjoining café provided an opportunity to top up the caffeine levels.
On our last morning we were up early to take the train to Leuchars and then a taxi to Anstruther where our vehicle, a van converted to camper was made. We then drove home and for once there were no major motorway problems. The seemingly eternal SMART motorway works on our nearest stretch of the M6 and are due to be completed soon. At last we could see some parts completed since the last time we drove back in early January. At the moments we are kitting out the van and will probably have a trial run in March before starting to tour the coast of Britain. This will be done in stages, fitting around other commitments but we will set off at the beginning of April, starting in Fife and travelling anti-clockwise.
The day before we left for Dundee, Edinburgh and the autumn leaves were bathed in sunshine. While we were in Australia the UK seems to have had a fairly mild autumn.
However, this was not to last and by the time our train pulled into Dundee Station, the sky was overcast and the wind was getting up. We had been meaning to re-visit the city for some time, especially since the V&A opened a museum there in September 2018 and James is always keen to come back to the place he was at university in. The new V&A is right on the waterfront in a stunning building. It was designed by Kengo Kuma & Associates from Japan who are also designing the stadium in Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics.
The collection is devoted to Scottish design in many different areas. The main collection is free to visit and there are additional exhibitions for which a ticket has to be purchased. The current one is on ocean liners. There was so much to see and one thing I enjoyed was The Oak Room designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh for Miss Catherine Cranston who owned tea rooms in Glasgow.
Next to the V&A is Discovery Point; a museum devoted to Antarctic research and the ship Discovery. Dundee had for some time engaged in whaling and so had expertise in constructing ships that could withstand Arctic ice, making it an obvious place to build the first ship constructed for scientific research in the Antarctic. The Discovery had sails but also an auxiliary coal-fired steam engine. There are displays on the construction of the ship which used several different kinds of wood, those who sailed in her, the work they did and the restoration of the Discovery. After looking at the displays in the museum (and trying some of the interactive things if you are brave enough) the ship can be explored, above and below deck.
When we visited some workers were repairing the decking with what looked like traditional methods.
Back in town, penguins are popping up everywhere as part of the Christmas Decorations. Those outside Discovery Point and these in the city centre are present all year.
Another Scottish export was comics. DC Thomson have been publishing newspapers and comics since 1905. Desperate Dan and Minnie the Minx from the Beano are also in the city centre.
Had the weather been better there are riverside walks, boat trips, the Botanic Gardens or a climb up the Law for the view but they will have to wait for another trip. Down in the waiting room at the station there was a wall display:
While living in Dundee, Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein
The first ever wireless broadcast took place in Dundee
In 2016 Dundee hosted the UK’s biggest independent video games festival
Dundee is the sunniest city in Scotland. This raised a smile as it was pouring with rain and very windy outside with reports of snow on high ground. Despite Scotrail glitches: announcing a delayed train when it had just departed and telling us as we approached Haymarket that the next stop was Leuchars, we made it back to Edinburgh on time.
After our night in the harbour at Lochmaddy the wind had gained in strength and our skipper decided that we need to cross the Minch before it got worse. The decision was made to head for Rum. We had a brief glimpse of a minke whale as we crossed to the Small Isles, sailing past Canna and the Point of Sleat and were followed into the harbour by a French sailing boat.
We moored in the harbour as the storm was approaching fast and dinner was served.
The boat’s flag was considerably more tattered than on the outward journey.
The following morning there was not time to explore Rum as we had to make for a sheltered loch on the Sound of Mull near Isle Oronsay. Leaving Rum, we passed a promontory called ‘Welshman’s Rock’ and I have not been able to discover how it got its name. We passed between Eigg and Muck and then round Ardnamurchan point where I managed to replace my lost photographs of the lighthouse.
We were soon in the loch and watched the sun go down.
The next morning it was a short trip over to Tobermory harbour.
Wandering along the street we noticed that since our last trip many years ago, most of the shops were aimed at tourists. A local told us that for many items they now needed to go to Oban as some essentials were not stocked locally. After a coffee, we decided to walk the 2km path to the lighthouse which goes along the shore. On our return to town, it was sunny enough to enjoy an ice-cream.
After lunch on the boat we left for Lochaline, a sea loch closer to Oban where our journey of the water would end. Ahead looked calm but behind us the clouds were building.
In the morning it was a short trip past the Lismore lighthouse once more to Oban to catch our train.
Our boat left the Sound of Harris at 5am. I had awoken when the engines started up but fell asleep again until breakfast time. The weather was improving and blue sky appearing among the clouds. Just before the St Kilda archipelago came into view, we were overtaken by some small, fast daytrip boats. The first island to come into view was Boreray with Stac Lee and Stac an Armin.
On arrival at Hirta, a cruise ship came into view.
I had not expected this and had to remind myself that St Kilda has been a tourist venue since the mid 19th century. Unfortunately, these ships also brought smallpox and cholera and in 1913, influenza. Emigration also contributed to population loss. In 1851, 36 islanders emigrated to Australia and a suburb of Melbourne is called St Kilda. After the First World War many young men did not want to return. Zealous church ministers who expected high levels of church attendance left less time to run the island and harvest food. The demand for goods which the population had previous given to their factor in lieu of rent such as feathers for mattresses and tweed made from Soay sheep wool had declined. Midwifery skills were rejected and tetanus infantum lead to infant mortality rates up 80% because putting fulmar oil on the umbilicus was a local practice. This may have been stored in gannet or sheep stomachs and is thought to be the origin of the bacterium. In 1877 a midwife was brought to the island and maternal and infant mortality levels reduced.
Packed lunches collected, we were taken in the dinghy to the village pier where a red carpet was laid out. This was not for us but for the cruise passengers.
The street consists of the 1860s cottages with the old blackhouses in between and a small cemetery behind.
Cleits are everywhere and were used to store peat, food and clothing. Some on the hillside are now used by the sheep as shelter.
The current shop is also the Post Office and mail is collected by helicopter twice a week. The helicopter also transports workers to and from the military base which is being renovated at present to turn the buildings into some more in keeping with the others on the island.
We walked up to the gap which overlooks the cliffs below, past the storehouse and gun emplacement but the tops of the hills were still in the cloud.
After descending we had our lunch on the seat outside the small museum where this Lesser Black-backed Gull was observing us hoping for some food.
I also chatted to one of the cruise ship passengers who was from the San Francisco Bay Area. At least she was used to grey days and fog. After lunch I returned to the cliff edge near the gun where fulmars were nesting, and some puffins were visible.
On our return to the boat we saw a basking shark in the bay and after our evening meal enjoyed the sun going down.
On our second morning we walked up the road which was built in the 1950s when the military arrived.
The base has a pub but it only opens from 7pm as a previous earlier opening time had led to behaviour problems and drunkenness.
It was sunny and warm at first and we walked as far as the scree.
Back at the street, I briefly saw some St Kilda Wrens before it began to rain.
Our skipper told us that we had to leave the island at 3pm due to an approaching storm which was predicted to have up to 50mph winds. It was too windy to get to Soay so we passed around the stacs and Boreray where northern gannets nest. St Kilda vies with the Bass Rock as to which has the largest gannetry in the world.
before heading to Lochmaddy on North Uist to shelter for the night.
We awoke to another grey day but as we left Tobermory marina, this shag was sitting on a buoy and a heron was fishing in the distance.
Our boat passed Ardnamurchan Point and the lighthouse. We spent our honeymoon on the peninsula, but all our photographs got lost in the processing. Approaching Canna; Rum. Eigg and Muck were shrouded in the mist. There was a fleeting glimpse of a porpoise and several gannets diving. We arrived in the bay passing a rock with seals and entered the harbour of Canna. It is one of the Small Isles and is linked to the neighbouring island of Sanday at low tide by a bridge.
Archaeological evidence suggests that Canna was settled before St Columba (or Colum Cille) is said to have visited the island during his exile in Scotland from AD 563-567 (though this is disputed by some). The original chapel was named after him as is the current one.
The first recorded Norse visitor was Guðmundr Arason, the Bishop-Elect of Holar whose ship en route from Iceland to Norway was blown off-course to the Hebrides on 14 July 1202 and sought shelter in a next to Sanday. There is evidence of what may have been a monastic site or hermitage, more recently known by the inhabitants as a nunnery. The Vikings ruled it for a time before it was transferred to Scottish Crown dependencies in 1266. In 1561 the leader of Clan Ranald, a branch of the Macdonalds, but the reformation and civil war led to it having various owners over the years. While owned by the MacNeills in 1851, the clearances were undertaken and the population census shows a drop in the population from 1841 to 1861. In 1881, the post-clearance population was recorded as 119 (62 of whom were on Sanday). In that year, MacNeil sold the island to Robert Thom, a Glasweigan shipbuilder. Thom carried out a programme of investment, including an oak pier, a footbridge to Sanday, and a Presbyterian Church (though the population remained mostly Roman Catholic). The large church is now a hostel and study centre on Sanday
and a the small Church of Scotland is now on Canna, completed in 1914. The shape of it’s tower has lead to it being called the ‘rocket church’.
In 1889, counties were formally created in Scotland, on shrieval boundaries, by a Local Government Act; Canna became part of the new county of Argyll. However, the Act established a boundary review, which decided, in 1891, to move Canna to the county of Inverness, where Eigg was already. In 1938, Thom’s family sold Canna to John Lorne Campbell, who organised the island as a farm and nature reserve. Campbell lived there until his death in 1996, but donated the island to the National Trust for Scotland in 1981. In the 1970s, local government reforms abolished counties and moved Canna into Highland Region.
There was only a short time to wander along the Shore Road as far as the bridge and no time to climb the hill for a wider view.
In the afternoon we had to be back on the boat to cross the Minch and anchor in the Sound of Harris. Leaving the harbour, we noticed graffiti on the cliffs. This used to be boat names but more recently has been added to by day trippers. Later, we passed the Duirinish Peninsula on Skye with the Neist Lighthouse.
The Minch was not too rough and we were soon in the shelter of the Sound of Harris where the water was calmer. There are several small islands there and rocks with cormorants and shags. A seal popped up several times while we were having our evening meal and another was posturing on a rock nearby. We had an early night as the next morning would be an early start.
We have visited several of the Hebridean islands over the years but the aim of this trip was to visit St Kilda, an archipelago that lies 45 miles west of the Outer Hebrides and was once the most isolated community in the UK. After taking the train to Glasgow and then to Oban, we arrived in the afternoon to find our ship. The Halmar Bjǿrge, is a former Norwegian Rescue ship, adapted to carry twelve passengers and four crew and is operated by the Northern Light Cruising Company who offer a variety of trips around the Hebrides.
Just before we pulled away from the pontoon at 4pm, a speedboat passed us. Our skipper told us that it was heading for the British Virgin Islands, had won some record and was owned by someone from Google.
It began to drizzle as we left the harbour, passing Maiden Island and Dunollie Castle.
Further out, is the Lismore lighthouse.
Lady’s Rock, a skerry (or small rock/island) southwest of Lismore, has an interesting history.
It acquired its name because in 1527, Lachlan Maclean of Duart decided to murder his wife, Lady Catherine Campbell. He rowed her out to the rock one night at low tide and left her stranded on the rock to die. Looking out the next day from Duart Castle he could not see her so he sent a message of condolence to her brother, saying that he intended to bring his wife’s body to him for burial. Maclean arrived at Inveraray with an entourage of men and the coffin and discovered Lady Catherine waiting for him. at the head of the table. She had been rescued by a passing fishing boat. Maclean was later murdered in his bed in Edinburgh some time later by Lady Catherine’s brother.
Later the mist in the Sound of Mull was an abstract grey nothingness punctuated occasionally by a red or green buoy.
On arrival in Tobermory, our skipper informed us that oats had been omitted from the stores list, so he and a couple of crew members set off in the dinghy to find some so that we could have our porridge in the morning.
There was good spell of weather forecast followed by some storms a few days later so the skipper decided that we would head for St Kilda as quickly as possible. We did not have time to explore Tobermory that evening as in the morning we would be heading for Canna.
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.