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.

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.

Ireland: driving to Waterford


We had a leisurely start to the day as we left Dublin by the coast road. It passes through Dalkey and Killiney (I once stayed in the Castle Hotel here for a research project meeting) and to our first port of call: breakfast at Shankill Street Food Outlet. There is an Oscar Wilde quote on the wall in the toilet here and a map of a 47km walk which crosses over to Tallaght.

We then drove through Greystone which was voted the most liveable place in the world in 2008. It was not immediately obvious driving through why this might be as it did not seem all that very different from other places we could think of. I am sure there must be more under the surface, not visible to the passing traveller. After passing through Wicklow, driving and food meant that when we reached Brittas Bay, a beach walk was essential. I noticed a couple of nearby campsites which took tourers and made a note to return when we have our campervan. The beach was quiet but had lifeguards and a few families enjoying the sun. I found some sea glass and our friends picked up some shells.

We made a significant contribution to our daily 10,000 steps.
Beyond Arklow the road leaves the coast and diverts inland to Gorey, Enniscorthy and New Ross before reaching Waterford. We made use of the last sunshine exploring Ireland’s oldest town, founded by Vikings in 914 AD.

The tower near the end of the esplanade dates from 1003.

There are old fortifications, the oldest Catholic Church in Ireland and many other buildings of various ages and architectural style to look at.


There is also a fair amount of street art. One of the hotel staff said that every year, various artists arrive in the town to add more during the annual Spraoi Street Art Festival. In 2017 this takes place on August 4-6th. I spotted some art down an alley:


You can visit the Tower, the museum, Bishops Palace and other sights but it began to rain so we escaped to the comfort of our hotel which is in an old building.

New Zealand: Hamilton


En route to Hamilton on Highway 1, we stopped for coffee at Tirau, a town that does not make it into the guide book. It has numerous cafes and so is a good place for refuelling but its speciality is corrugated iron art. Some of the buildings including the information centre and merino wool shop are housed in large corrugated iron animals.


The metal is used in many of the buildings in a more usual fashion but there are also smaller art works and some for sale in the stores. I was feeling a little under the weather so after arriving in Hamilton we limited our explorations to finding some dinner. The next morning we walked the three miles from our hotel into the city centre. The guide book is somewhat scathing saying that the ‘grey-green greasy Waikato River rolls through town’ but is ignored by the city layout. There was certainly one signpost down to the river walkway from Victoria Street and another area where access is going to be made and will open in early 2018. The riverside path runs along both banks for several miles. On the east bank the path runs thorugh the Memorial Garden and Hayes Paddock, both green spaces.

We crossed the Anzac Bridge and walked along to the Hamilton Gardens which are southeast of the centre. Fifty years ago the area was a quarry and rubbish dump. There are now gardens in several different styles: this is the Italian Renaissance one

They are situated in a large park with a cafe and restaurant, childrens’ play area, productive garden, a rose garden and herb garden. We took a bus back into the city centre and browsed in Hamilton’s secondhand bookstore ‘Browsers’ on Victoria Street. We had passed the old now empty shop on the other side of the road the previous evening so assumed it had closed. It was a pleasant surprise to find it had relocated. As seems to be the case in New Zealand, there was a large local interest section but they covered a wide range of topics and had a child-friendly area. You have to keep your wits about you in the city centre, as cyclists also use the pavement. Many cyclists have no lights or bells so can catch pedestrians unaware. Tonight there is another rugby match and then we return to Auckland tomorrow.

New Zealand: walking in the forest and on the beach

Driving north of Geraldine towards Peel Forest we passed through farmland where large numbers of red deer were grazing. When we arrived at the forest car park there was only one other vehicle there. We set off to walk the trail to Acland Falls. There are various trails of differing lengths and difficulty. Ours had a steep climb uphill and then down towards the falls.

Peel Forest has a large collection of native conifers, some of which are over 100 years old. There are numerous other trees, plants and ferns and the forest is home to several species of native birds as well as a few of the introduced ones. Amidst all the unfamiliar birdsong I heard the alarm call of a European blackbird. We did see a New Zealand fantail who came quite close as they are known to do but darted away before I could get a photograph. New Zealand Birds Online is a very useful resource for identification: http://www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz/

Peel Forest has a small community living there and a wooden church dating from 1869 which is described as ‘historic’. Churches built in the 1860s and 70s do not make it into my copy of ‘Old Cheshire Churches’ at home. On the way back southwards we passed a holiday park just north of Geraldine called ‘Grumpy’s Retreat’ which raised a smile. Our destination was a motel perched above Caroline Bay in Timaru. The beach here is among the ten most loved in New Zealand.

Dolphins, seals, sea lions and penguins are known to visit the beach. In the middle of the day, only some seals could be seen offshore and dogs being walked kept scaring the birds. Several gulls were bathing and drinking in the stream that runs through the beach and there were a few oystercatchers.These are the most common South Island Pied Oystercatchers. The other day we saw some of the Variable Oystercatcher which is often black and which is declining.

There is a coastal trail and we walked some of it via the dune boardwalks and over to the Timaru Lighthouse which from 1878-1970 was the main harbour light.
It is a public holiday long weekend here so the motel is fully booked but we have a great view of the bay. In the late afternoon we walked back down to the beach. The bridge across the road is called the ‘Matrimonial Bridge’ and is yet another festooned with padlocks. There were still quite a few people, dogs and only one drone down on the beach as the sun went down at 17.03.

Shetland: Hamnavoe and Tingon


Hamnavoe is the site of Eshaness’ main pier. It was also home to John Williamson, a weaver who had no medical training but devised a method of inoculation against smallpox and gave this to 3000 people who all survived. This earned him the name of Johnny Notion and his cottage is now a camping böd.


We parked a little way out of the hamlet where the track to Tingon leaves the road. This is next to the Giant’s Stones which are thought to have been part of a stone circle. The local myth was that the two stones were the head and foot of a giant’s grave. Here is the smaller of the two.
Walking up the track there are some great views over the small lochs and the coast. We met a woman feeding her horses who confirmed that we could walk alongside a wall down to the Warie Gill where there is a waterfall. Today this was just a trickle but we had good views over to the stacks of Muckle Ossa, Little Ossa and Fladda offshore.
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We then tried to make our way back down the coast to Hamnavoe. As this is a little-used route there is no path as such and only a couple of stiles over the fences. At one point, there was no stile over the fence to follow the coastline. While I spent my youth climbing over sheep fences, I now weigh considerably more and would not want to demolish one in the process so we diverted inland towards the road. Inevitably, I could not quite make the jump over a boggy section and landed in it while James managed to get over it s. Thankfully I was only ankle-deep and my camera was quite safe. Back at the lighthouse I cleaned myself and my boots up as James was complaining about the smell in the car on the way back.

That evening we headed back down the road, finally back to the two-lane bit to have our evening meal at Frankie’s Fish & Chips in Brae. It is the UK’s most northerly chip shop and won an award in 2015. One customer was wearing a skimpy T-shirt and shorts which I thought was a bit over the top as it was only 19 degrees. You can eat outside on the veranda but I thought it was too windy for that. The food was certainly worth the journey and I imagine it must be very busy in high season. The sun set that evening at 21.50 and it was still light after 23.00. James woke at 4.00 and looking out saw that it was light again.