Walking to Edinburgh


In six months time, on May 30th 2018 I will commence my walk from my home in Cheshire to Edinburgh. The route is outlined, most of my accommodation booked and I am looking forward to tackling a longer walk than any I have done before. In previous years we have walked the 96 miles of the West Highland Way and the shorter Great Glen and Speyside Ways. I have also been trekking in India twice, the longest of these being 9 days of walking. As soon as I started to plan this walk I seem to have been bombarded by stories of people undertaking very long walks.

Aaron Huey, a photographer based in Seattle, walked 3349 miles from west to east across America in 2002. This took him 5 months and it is said that unlike me, he made no plans. He was accompanied by his dog and camera but did not take his cell phone. Having decided not to carry all the camping equipment, I have had to book my accommodation ahead as in some places there is only one option and things do get booked up in advance. I have also read books about a couple walking around the whole coastline of mainland Britain and two guys who walked from John O’Groats to Lands End in 1916.

They had various rules including not consuming alcohol en route which apart from my night in the Tibetan Buddhist Monastery at Eskdalemuir, I will not be adhering to as I will probably enjoy a glass of wine with my evening meal. On the West Highland Way we met an ex-serviceman walking from Durness to John O’Groats to Lands End to raise money for ‘Help for Heroes’. He was wearing (apart from his boots) historic military dress. I hope i meet some interesting people on this journey.

Much of my route has been walked and ridden for many years before mechanisation and I will enjoy discovering some historic sites I have not visited before. Here is the route from Warrington to Kendal from the ‘Pocket Book of Counties of England and Wales’ by Robert Morden published in 1680. Some of the route into Warrington from the south is on a Roman Road.

I trust that the weather will be warmer and drier in six months time than it is at the moment.

Discovering Moffat


On our frequent journeys to and from Edinburgh, Moffat has become a regular place to pause. Not only is it on the scenic A701 but the town also has a lot to offer. It is, as far as I know, the only town in Scotland to have a statue of a sheep in the centre instead of some local worthy. I must confess that at university we used to tease a guy from Moffat about this. The ram is a reminder of how important the wool industry has been to the town. I understand it even holds sheep races every year in August and unsurprisingly, the local rugby team is called The Rams.

However, Moffat’s growth from a small village into a popular resort began in the 17th century when Rachel Whiteford discovered its sulphurous waters. They were believed to have healing properties. My 1894 copy of Forrest’s Illustrated Guide states ‘Moffat has now been for more than two centuries a place resorted to by strangers on account of its mineral waters’; citing chronic gout, rheumatism and ‘serious intestinal derangement’ as disorders which would benefit from them. The town has three wells in the surrounding hillsides but the Moffat Well brought it fame and prosperity. The current Town Hall was built in 1827 as a bath house where people could drink and bathe in the pungent sulphurous waters. Visitor numbers grew in the 18th and early 19th centuries, with people staying to ‘take the waters’. Victorian luxurious hotels were built to accommodate the increasing numbers of tourists and several are still hotels today. Another consequence of Moffat’s fame as a Spa Town is the existence of the oldest pharmacy in Scotland. It still has many of its original shop fittings preserved. Moffat Well is a short drive or walk 1½ mile walk out of the town into the hills. It is something we hoped to do on our journey south today after a balmy few days in Edinburgh where I wondered why I had brought my coat but the low cloud, rain and the need to get home before Storm Ophelia reached western England meant we satisfied ourselves with a quick coffee in the town centre. There are also riverside walks and walks up into the surrounding hills. It is close to the Southern Upland Way and the Annandale Way. The Grey Mare’s Tail waterfall is 10 miles away in a hanging valley with walking trails nearby.

Moffat also has a campsite and several other accommodation options. There are many cafes and it even has its own Moffat Toffee. Parking is free in the town centre and in the car park at the south end. There are many independent shops including a book shop which I usually pop into when I stop off. The town hosted the World Gold-Panning Championships in August 2017.

As you leave Moffat heading northeast towards Edinburgh, you pass over a small bridge at Gardensholm Linn that was part of a murder story which gripped the whole nation in the 1930s. Dr Buck Ruxton, a physician from Lancaster had murdered and dismembered his wife and their housemaid and travelled to Moffat to dispose of them in newspaper parcels in an area still known as Ruxton’s dump. His downfall was due to pioneering forensic science at Edinburgh University examining the evidence and the use of his local Lancastrian newspaper which identified the perpetrator as someone not local. He also put the parcels in a smaller stream that was in full spate at the time. Had he put them in the Annan River, they may have been washed out to sea without being discovered. Ruxton was convicted and later hung in HMP Manchester in 1936.

Despite all this history and Moffat’s situation as a staging post on the road from Dumfries to Edinburgh, it barely gets a mention in Alistair Moffat’s book The Borders. However, we are discussing walking the Annandale Way at some point which has a loop north of the town around the Devil’s Beef Tub and then heads south to Annan and the coast. Today we had to content ourselves with driving back down the motorway with a curiously red sun peeking out from the clouds.

The end of summer?


The last weekend of August (the hottest August Bank Holiday since records began) saw us back in Edinburgh to catch some of the last music and the Fireworks concert at the end of the Festival. Flagstaff Americana are a mainly Scottish group with an Australian playing bass guitar and a lead singer from Northern Ireland. They play a selection of country and rock music which is right up James’s street and also do regular gigs at the bar & bistro, Biblos. We saw them in the Fringe last year at Henry’s Cellar Bar in Morrison Street and this was their venue on Sunday evening. Here they are getting ready to perform.

On Monday evening, after walking down to town with only one flyer being thrust in our faces, we joined the long queue to enter Princess Street Gardens where there is a seated are at the Ross Bandstand and standing/picnicking tickets for the gardens. I had treated us to seats so we enjoyed the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and guests while watching the fireworks a little closer than I saw them last year from the top of Calton Hill.



The Scottish schools began their autumn term in mid August and the rest of the UK returns to school this week. Monday is Labor Day in the USA and another sign that autumn is on the way. However, although we have plenty of mellow fruitfulness: I am busy making apple juice, damson and sloe gin, passata with tomatoes and soup with cucumbers, we have only so far had a fleeting glimpse of mist before the sun burnt it off yesterday morning. Summer is not over yet and some are saying an Indian Summer is forecast. Traditional recipes state that sloes should not be picked until after the first frost but if we did that now, they would all be eaten by birds as our first frost is still weeks away and they are ripe.

A friend commented recently that we used to pick blackberries in October and now they are ripe in August. I now have figs ripening outside which I could not have done several years ago. We will be extending our summer a little more during a week in southwest France very soon and I am also busy planning more journeys.

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.

Sunshine and jazz in Edinburgh


This gull had found a quiet spot to enjoy the sun we have had for the last few days but many more people were sunbathing in the Meadows, St Andrews Square or Portobello Beach. School and university are out for summer and the tourist season is in full swing. We were here mainly to get some work done on the flat but managed to escape for dinner with some friends on Sunday evening and for a trip to the Jazz Club on Monday evening. The Jazz and Blues Festival runs from 14-23 July before the main Festival and Fringe start. The Jazz Club’s resident Big Band were participating on this occasion. An early evening meal at Biblos which is almost next door meant we were first in the queue when the doors opened. Seating is fairly restricted at the venue and I did not feel like standing for a couple of hours that evening. Biblos has live music sessions in the B Bar throughout the year in Fridays and Saturdays. Here is the Big Band getting ready to perform in the Jazz Bar.

One of the festival staff asked whether I had seen them before and I had to explain that until this summer I had a choir rehearsal on Monday evenings and until last summer had to be in Liverpool early on Tuesday morning so Monday evenings in Edinburgh were not possible. He said the band had played every Monday evening for the last 10 years. The Jazz bar also runs jam sessions in the later part of the evening during the festival. Musicians can just turn up with their instrument and tell the door staff they want to play. Admission is free. They often have music going on until 5am. We enjoyed the selection of music from the Big Band but left well before morning. I made a note to get on with learning to play the alto saxophone. Wednesday was still very warm although overcast and we had a fairly uneventful drive home.

New Zealand: crossing the Cook Strait

Just after sunrise and while the moon was still high in the sky, we were driving out of Nelson.

Highway 6 runs through the mountains and over a couple of passes before descending into the Rai Valley. We had breakfast there. Further on, the road crosses the Pelorus Bridge and can be closed when the river is in flood. At Havelock, there are two options to get to Picton where the ferry departs from. You can stay on Highway 6 and get there via Blenheim or take the windy and scenic route. We chose the latter and were only a little way along it when we came to a look–out with views back up the valley and over the Marlborough Sounds.


Eventually this road descends to the shores of Queen Charlotte Sound and we arrived in Picton. We had a little time to kill before the ferry so coffee, a look in Down Under Books, the local second-hand bookstore which has a good selection of books on New Zealand as well as all the usual sections. Before heading over to the ferry terminal we had a short walk around the marina to Shelley Beach. There are other trails around here for walking and cycling.

Our mileage so far on the South Island has been 1604 miles. We dropped off the rental car as they charge you £500 to take one over to the North Island. We had arranged to pick another up in Wellington the following day. The ferry was not too busy at all and you can check in your cases so that you don’t have to lug them around on board.

The crossing was smooth and the sun went down before we docked in Wellington.

After getting my fix of mountains and forests it was quite strange to be back in the city with concrete flyovers, skyscrapers and rush hour traffic. We took an electric taxi to our hotel and had dinner at a nearby Belgian pub. We finally had some venison for the first time here after seeing so many red deer being farmed on the south island and were served by a guy from Leeds. We have met so many young people from the UK and Europe who are working here. Most of the antipodean youth seem to head for London.

Leaving Shetland and exploring coastal Aberdeenshire and Angus


We had our last sunset in Eshaness, packed up and as our ferry was not due to leave until late afternoon the following day, slowly made our way to Lerwick with a stop in Scalloway en route. We were now back on two-lane roads. The castle was built in 1600 and sits in the natural harbour. The adjacent museum is very good and covers the links with Norway as well as local history. In World War 2 the ‘Shetland Bus’ travelled over regularly to support the Norwegians. Linking in with our recent visit to the Titanic Experience in Belfast, the person who first heard the May Day call of the Titanic was in Scalloway.

The ferry left Lerwick Harbour and after a meal and watching Shetland disappear in the mist we tried to sleep but that was difficult as the ferry stopped in Kirkwall on this trip and there was much clanging and banging as the ramp was lowered.

We arrived in Aberdeen harbour very early but as we did not need to meet the friends we were staying with that night until late afternoon, decided to drive slowly down the coast. The first stop was Stonehaven where a guy was trying to surf without much success.

The ducks looked a bit happier.

Just south of Stonehaven we entered the Dunottar Estate and woods. I was very glad to be back amongst trees after being in almost tree-less Shetland for a week. The Dunottar Estate and castle are privately owned, by one of the 500 people who own most of Scotland. It was raining but we looked around the castle and some of the grounds.


Further down the coast we passed the Todhead Lighthouse, Gourdoun, a harbour on Bervie Bay and in Johnshaven found an artwork for the bathroom in the Starfish Studio. It was dry enough for a walk by the time we reached the Nature Reserve at St Cyrus where poles stuck in the beach are the remains of old salmon net structures.
We had a very short walk on Lunan bay before the heavens opened again and we diverted inland to meet up with our friends before returning to four-lane motorways and traffic jams on the way home.