New things in familiar places



Kelpies were mythical water horses which could transform into humans. However, artist Andy Scott also based his work on the heavy horses which supplied the industry of the area including drawing the barges on the adjacent Forth & Clyde canal. Duke, the downward-looking Kelpie is 26.5m high and Baron, the upward-looking one is 30m high.

I remember heavy horses still being used by a brewery in Stirling in the 1970s. We lived in Falkirk for a year in the 1960s and I have not really been back since. The Kelpies were completed in 2013 and I have driven past them on the M9 but this was the first time we paused to walk around them. On a cold winter morning with the snow-covered Ochil Hills in the background, they were not busy at all.

We had spent the previous largely grey and wet day driving to Perthshire with only a few breaks in the weather. At Tebay, the ducks, resplendent in their breeding plumage, looked as if they were walking on water as just below the surface it was still frozen. On the north slopes of Shap the sun appeared briefly, and a rainbow stretched over the motorway. For once we were passing our usual turn-offs to Edinburgh and continuing north into Perthshire where I grew up. Just before Doune we stopped off at Deanston Distillery for the obligatory photograph and sampling. My clarinet teacher was from Doune. I played in the county wind band and in the early 1970s, some of us played at the wedding of Lord Doune’s daughter which took place in the medieval castle. It has since become more well-known as it has been used in some films including Monty Python’s and Game of Thrones.

We drove back towards Dunblane on the road my school bus used to take. One of the farms we passed has now become a red kite viewing centre which will be worth a visit at some point. We were heading to Dunblane to spend a night in Cromlix House just north of the town. The name Cromlix has existed in various forms since the 15th century although there is evidence of human settlement on the site before this. The Chisholms, several of whom were bishops of Dunblane before the reformation had a castle on the site as late as 1723. A marriage in the 16th century introduced the Drummond name which became Drummond Hay in 1739. A later marriage brought the estate into the Eden family who still own much of it, a reminder that only 500 people own most of the land in Scotland. The hotel is in what was initially built as ‘Cromlix Cottage’ in 1874. It was destroyed by fire and in 1880 was rebuilt. There is no sweeping staircase in keeping with the ‘cottage’ theme. The house was enlarged between 1880 and 1903. It was converted into a hotel in 1981 and we spent the first night of our honeymoon there in May 1987. It closed in 2012 but in the following year was purchased by Andy Murray and it opened again as five-star hotel in 2015. It has a Chez Roux restaurant and is situated in the hamlet of Kinbuck amongst the hills and woods that I love. Unfortunately the weather did not allow any wandering around them. It remained cold with snow and sleet showers during the rest of our weekend.

The end of 2017

During our journey to Edinburgh just after Christmas, the radio was reporting snow, ice, blocked roads and closed airports elsewhere but northwest England and southern Scotland were bathed in winter sunshine. Not long after we joined the M6, a line of vintage tractors crossed a bridge over the motorway, presumably heading to some tractor fest event. Wildlife spotted on the journey included two buzzards perched on fence posts, mute swans on the River Eden and a roe deer just behind the crash barrier. There were several skeins of geese in the blue sky and snow on the Cumbrian peaks. Our only delay was an accident on the M74 before we were driving on the A701 through snowy landscapes.



In Moffat the ram was still wearing his Remembrance Day poppies.

There was 6-9 inches of snow all around and the hill sheep were digging holes to find grass. In Penicuik, children were sledging down the hill opposite the barracks. Unsurprisingly there was less snow in the city although there was a snow shower the following day while we were shopping and the children next door were building a snowman when we returned. It stayed dry later and which was a blessing as I had booked us to see the Botanic Gardens’ Christmas light & music display which we had never been to before. It runs every year in December.




The remainder of our time was spent catching up with relatives and friends and a lunch and football match for James on his birthday. I had pondered trying to get some photographs of the torchlight procession which takes place on the 30th but it started to rain heavily just as I got back to the flat so I gave up that idea. Storm Dylan arrived on the 31st and at one point Princes Street was closed to pedestrians as some staging had collapsed. I decided not to go up the hill to photograph the midnight fireworks as the wind was still very strong and I had visions of slipping down the hill in the mud with my camera & tripod. We did see some of the earlier evening fireworks on the way to and from the Candlelit Concert in St Giles Cathedral. It was performed by their choir and Camerata and organist and included Handel’s Dixit Dominus and Bach’s Mass in F, both of which I have sung before and Handel’s Organ Concerto Op 4 No 2 in Bflat. Despite being described as candlelit, there were only a few candles at the front. I must return and have a look round the cathedral at some point as it has seen a lot of history. We decided to stay in on our return and saw the New Year in very quietly. Back home we discovered that the cellar pump had failed and it was flooded but managed to it going again before the storm due to hit us tonight deposits even more water on us.

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.