A Meander around Melrose

The Melrose Sevens rugby competition has been running since 1883. Our friends in Inverness were coming down for it and had a spare ticket so James joined them for most of the matches on the Saturday running up to the final. I spent the time wandering around the town which lies on the River Tweed at the foot of the Eildon Hills. I had not visited it since 2016.

The Sevens are a big event for the town and a pipe band were playing in the High Street.

I then spent some time in Priorwood Garden. It was originally part of an abbey estate, the kitchen garden for a large house and a market garden in World War II. It has belonged to the National Trust for Scotland since 1974.
It covers 2 acres in total and was the first garden in Scotland devoted to the cultivation of flowers for drying and preservation. It has an orchard with more than twenty varieties of apples.

I had an appointment to visit Melrose Abbey at 2pm. The guy at the entrance said that he had seen a number of ‘rugby widows’ on that day.

It is not possible to go inside the building at present because there is a huge backlog of surveys and repairs to damage underway in many historic buildings. The abbey was founded around 1136 by the Cistercian Order and originally had fairly simple architecture. The original church was destroyed by the English army in 1385 leaving only one wall remaining. The large nave was built around 1400 and is in a grander and more ornate style.

In the grounds is a museum which has many relics from the abbey and a list of all the abbots.

There were also relics some from Newstead which was known as Trimontium in Roman times relating to its position at the foot of three Eildon Hills. There is a museum devoted to this in town but like many businesses was closed for the Sevens. My next stop was Harmony Garden.

The house was built in 1907 and gifted to the National Trust for Scotland in 1996. It has a kitchen garden and glasshouse

and in summer the fruit and vegetables grown are sold from a trolley at the main gate. I enjoyed the flowers and some of last years seeds still hanging from trees and shrubs.

I then had a river walk along the banks of the Tweed, crossing the chain bridge.

Some of the riverside walks and the bridge are part of the Southern Upland Way.

Eventually it was time to meet up with my friend, have something to eat and to return home in the evening.

Back on the Causeway Coast

The Causeway Coast stretches 30 miles from the mouth of the River Foyle in the West to the Glendun River in the East.  We last visited Magilligan Point in the west in December 2019:

but on this occasion in warm March weather, a shorter journey took us to Portstewart promenade. We began our walk at the harbour.

The shore is very rocky here.

As it was so warm, we sat down and had an Ice cream from Morellis who have been selling it since 1911. The beach here is very small

but further west of the town are the Portstewart Strand and Downhill beaches. Back at the harbour end you can walk down to the Herring Pond which has views over to Portrush.

We arrived in Portrush hoping to have a browse in the secondhand bookshop. The ‘open’ sign was on the door and the lights were on but the door was locked. We had a wander around town and down to the harbour.

Further along the coast is Magheracross viewpoint which looks towards Dunluce Castle and on a clear day the Skerries, a small group of islands.

There were some hang gliders above us.

We had lunch at Shell Beach, Portballintrae which has views over to Runkerry Beach. I found a fair bit of sea glass here.

Whitepark Bay is a SSI and sheep and cattle graze behind the dunes.

There are the remains of a ‘hedge school’ for young gentlemen. The beach has a lot of stones and you can find ammonite and belemite fossils here sometimes.

Our final stop was Ballycastle. It is one of only two places in Northern Ireland that was associated with coal mining and it also had a glassworks which ceased production in 1791. You can take the ferry here to Rathlin Island which we did previously.

The Glenshesk River estuary is in the bay and there are views towards Fairhead.

Revisiting Liverpool

I was last on a train in 2019. This time we were travelling down to Liverpool to see an event at the arena and catch up with some of my former colleagues. We have visited the city several times but not since 2018.

The trains and stations were still somewhat quieter than before the pandemic. Before the arena event we had some time to wander along the waterfront near the Albert Dock.

Liverpool has an interesting history. It was established as a town on a greenfield site in 1207 and was an agricultural and fishing village until the River Dee began to slit up and Chester could no longer function as a port. Liverpool had become a major port by the industrial revolution taking e.g. salt and coal from South Lancashire, Cheshire and North Staffordshire for export.  Emigration across to the Americas increased in the 19th century and Liverpool became the main European emigration port. Some of my ancestors sailed to North America from Liverpool. Unfortunately, much of this trans-Atlantic trade involved the slave trade.

I had not seen any exhibitions at the Tate Liverpool that I wanted to see but did enjoy this installation outside.

Further along is a statue of Billy Fury.

Like many other fences or bridges on waterways, people have been attaching padlocks to the fence on the waterfront. Most are now quite corroded.

We watched the Mersey Ferry come over from the Wirral and dock a little further along from where we were standing.

Near the Pier Head is a propellor from the Lusitania. The ship sailed from Liverpool to New York from 1909 until the 7th of May 1915 when it was torpedoed by a German submarine. 1,191 people lost their lives.  

It was then time to watch the sun go down

And then return to the hotel via the Pier Head.

Our precious and precarious world

Numerous events went on in the run-up to the COP26 climate conference including demonstrations, protests and various get-togethers. I had hoped to take join some pilgrims who were walking from Dunbar to Glasgow on the John Muir Way. They were arriving in North Berwick and being accommodated in our church for the night. We had been given the option of joining them for the next stretch from North Berwick to Aberlady. I had my rucksack packed ready but did not sleep at all well the previous night and had to opt out. Most of the big events are a concern because of the pandemic: so many people are heading to Glasgow from all over the world. Hence the only thing I have been to is the art exhibition hosted by St Cuthbert’s Parish Church in Edinburgh. They hoped it would raise awareness of climate concerns, stimulate creative thinking and influence policy makers to act decisively in defence of our precious planet. Anyone could submit works for the exhibition and had we not been quite so busy recently; I might have had time to think about it. Drawings, paintings, sculptures, textiles, photographs or calligraphy were requested on the themes of

  • Climate change
  • Pollution
  • Recycling
  • The beauty and fragility of nature

Fortunately, we were in Edinburgh during the five days the exhibition was on and on the day we visited it was relatively quiet. Many local schools have contributed works including a couple of Polish ones, in addition to local artists, photographers and crafters. I did not take my camera as most exhibitions don’t allow you to take photographs but it turned out that this one did; so I used my phone. St Cuthbert’s church sits at the north end of Lothian Road on a site said to be on one of the earliest Christian sites in the city. The current building was designed by Hippolyte Blanc and constructed in 1894.

Various musical events have been held to open, during the evenings and to close the exhibition but we could not make any of those. Back home we have an electric car on order which we hope will arrive in the New Year and we are also awaiting the installation of solar panels and a power wall. Having moved from the countryside where we were several miles from the nearest shop and public transport to a town where many services are in walking distance and buses and trains are close by. I have joined the local Wildlife Gardening group and we are working towards linking up the Glen conservation area and the equivalent at Yellowcraigs on the other side of town with a network of gardens and wildlife-friendly areas.  

Exploring Eyemouth

Eyemouth is Scotland’s most south-eastern port, only five miles from the English Border. James had a vestry away-day meeting at St Ebba’s church there last week, so I used the time to explore the town. It lies where the Eye Water runs down from the Lammermuir Hills and meets the sea. The current population is around 5,000. In the 17th century it was one of the major Scottish centres of witchcraft. At least two dozen women and one man were found guilty. There was no jail in town, so they were kept in the ‘common pit’ until they were burnt at the stake. I began by walking down to the harbour

and then on to the beach. It was quiet with a few dog walkers and one birdwatcher. The tide was out leaving patterns on the wet sand.

I followed a section of the Coastal Path which runs from Berwick to St Abbs up to the headland where Eyemouth Fort was situated.

The first Trace Italienne Fortification in Britain was constructed by the English in 1547 as part of the Rough Wooing campaign which tried to force a marriage between Prince Edward and the infant Mary Queen of Scots. After the Treaty of Boulogne in 1550 the English troops withdrew from Scotland and the fort was demolished. In 1557 the Scots and their French allies began to rebuild it. However, a treaty in 1559 led to it being demolished. Today all that remains are some earthworks and these cannons.

There were views over Killiedraught Bay towards St Abbs Head.

After a coffee, I wandered over to the other side of town. The harbour was busy with boats bringing in their catches and repair works going on.

There is a regeneration project underway on the waterfront which should be complete by 2023. There was also a seal-feeding stall where children can buy fish to throw to them.

I crossed the swing bridge and walked along the other side of the harbour and up the slope to Gunsgreen House.

The house was designed by Robert Adam for a local merchant, John Nisbet who was also a smuggler. It contains the Smugglers’ House of Secrets Museum but this was closed on my visit. Nearby is Nisbet’s Tower which was a dove cote for Gunsgreen House that was restored in 2005 and is now a holiday cottage.

There is also the memorial to the 189 fishermen who died in the fishing disaster of 1881 when boats went out despite weather warnings. They encountered hurricane force winds which destroyed 26 of the town’s 46 fishing boats. Incoming tides washed wreckage, bodies and personal effects ashore for days afterwards. It took around 80 years for the population to return to the levels of 1881.

The town museum has a moving exhibition about the disaster and lots of other information about the town. It is in the Auld Kirk – the bell still rang on the hours while I was in it. Afterwards, I re-joined James and the others for lunch.

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

We have been members of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh for several years and visit it frequently. It began in 1670 when two doctors, Andrew Balfour and Robert Sibbald set up a small 180 square yard plot containing 800-900 plants as a physic garden near Holyrood. This became too small after a few years and in 1682 an area at the end of the Nor Loch where Waverley Station is now situated, was planted with 2,000 plants and shrubs. It was close to Trinity Hospital and was later extended into Trinity College Kirkyard.

In 1763 a new site for the Botanic Garden was found in Leith Walk. It moved to its present home in Inverleith in 1820; a process taking two years to transfer all the plants and trees. The Botanical Society of Edinburgh was instituted in 1836. Over the next century and more, the garden evolved into the one we know today with plants from all over the world and buildings which house the visitors centre, exhibition spaces and places for the staff to work.

Events are organised and in 2017 we visited the Christmas Lights display they have most years in December.

The glasshouses are currently closed for refurbishment. An article in yesterday’s Times Scotland said that they were having to cut down a 220-year-old sabal palm tree which had to be moved in order to do the work and as it was 50 feet high, could not be moved intact. It had been in the Leith Walk garden before being moved to its current place. They have grown some seedlings.

The garden has the largest collection of Chinese plants outside China including many wild ones from mountains. The RGBE botanists are working with the Kuming Institute of Botany to develop a botanical garden and a mountain field station.

I enjoyed looking at some of the interesting trees

and the alpine garden.

As it is early autumn, some leaves were beginning to turn and seed heads were appearing.

Autumn crocuses are in bloom.

After wandering around the grounds we visited the exhibition of botanical photography of Levison Biss which covered fruits and seeds from the Herbarium Collection. I must try and get the book which was sold out in the botanic garden shop. It might inspire me to do some more macro photography.

An afternoon on the Antrim Coast

It rained for most of our time in Northern Ireland last week but our last full day there was dry, so we headed to the coast. Portballantrae is a small community with a population of 734 in the 2001 census.

The harbour was very busy with lots of paddle boarders and several people taking turns at jumping off the harbour wall into the water.

There were a few people sitting at the back of the beach but no-one else walking on it. There was an incredible amount of plastic waste among the rocks and on the sand, some of it very small. It made me feel very grateful for all the people who pick up the rubbish on the beaches of our home town. I did manage to find a few very small pieces of sea glass.

At the other end of the relatively small beach we walked up the pier and back to the road we had parked the car on.

The next stop was the more familiar Whitepark Bay, a three-mile beach we have visited on numerous occasions. It has been under the care of the National Trust since 1938.

There is a Youth Hostel there and a farmer is allowed to graze his animals on the land. Apparently, the cows and sheep can sometimes be seen on the beach although there were none there on our visit. The National Trust says that they are the most-photographed cows in Northern Ireland and that they appear in numerous selfies.

Fossils of creatures called Belemnites can be found here in the rocks. They were marine animals belonging to the phylum Mollusca and the class Cephalopoda. Their closest living relatives are squids and cuttlefish. I have a small collection from previous visits.

The beach was much busier than we have ever seen it before. As I was walking back up to the car park, I met a wedding party heading down to the beach for photographs. A long wedding dress and bridesmaids’ dresses, stiletto heels and smart suits for the men did not look as if they would cope with the sand. They were struggling a little with the steep steps down to the dunes. Some of their elderly relatives or friends were struggling with the steps so I did wonder how they would manage the path through the dunes where the others were heading.

It was time for us to head back for our last evening with James’s parents and prepare for our departure the following morning.

Street Art

Our first trip to Northern Ireland to visit my husband’s parents in almost two years coincided with an art project on the North Coast which it was hoped, would increase footfall to the area again. It began in early August and involved street artists from the UK and Ireland to add murals to towns on the coast between Limavady to Ballycastle.  On our visit, not all were completed but we managed to see some. In James’s hometown of Ballymoney which is also known as ‘cow town’ there is a cow on the gable end of a building

and another by Shane O’Driscoll elsewhere in the town.

Queen Street, Coleraine has a large work by artist EMIC.

Port Stewart has two; a Sea Eagle by Danleo adorns one building

and a monochrome one by JMK sits below the Dominican College.

There are five works in Limavady, off Market Street but we did not have chance to see them. Two more are due to be unveiled there. There is also one in Castle Street, Ballycastle but we missed that also.

We have seen a lot of street art on our journeys including a mural of Amelia Earhart in Cuba.

The Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas on Route 66 has regular updates from the public.

This is in Lisbon, Ohio on the Lincoln Highway which we drove in 2016.

Here is a side street in Melbourne, Australia which we found on our journey round Highway One in 2018.

In 2017 we saw a Banksy at Jökulsárlón, Iceland.

St John’s church at the west end of Princes St in Edinburgh has a group of artists who regularly paint a mural on the side of the building, often commenting on current issues. This one was done in December 2016 after a small child migrant’s body was washed up on a shore in the Mediterranean.

I always enjoy spotting some new street art wherever I am, even though it is not something I have tried myself.

A night by the canal

Our first trip to England since moving back to Scotland in the autumn of 2020 was back to South Cheshire and was our first night in the van since autumn 2019. We are members of Britstops; a list of places which allow you to park a campervan overnight for free. No facilities have to be provided but many are public houses or cafes and benefit from the custom. The Broughton Arms in Rode Heath is one of such venues and sits on the Trent & Mersey Canal. It was close enough to where our son and his partner live so we had arranged to meet them for a meal that evening.

The Trent and Mersey Canal is 93 miles long, has 76 locks and opened in 1771; engineered by James Brindley. The canal runs from Preston Brook and the connection to the Bridgewater Canal down to Trent Lock at Derwent Mouth where it joins the River Trent. The Broughton Arms is situated between Bridge 140

and lock 54. The towpath is accessible from the side of the bridge in front of the pub.

It abuts Rode Heath Rise which used to be the site of a salt works. Brine was pumped up from underground and heated in large pans until the water had evaporated. The salt was transported to the rest of the country via the canal. The salt works were abandoned in 1930 and the land reclaimed for public use in 1980. There are open areas, woodland

and plenty of wildflowers.

Each year on 5th November, a large bonfire is held here. I did wonder if the pile of old beer garden furniture in the corner of the car park was being saved for that. Further east, past the junction with the Macclesfield Canal is the Harecastle Tunnel, constructed to carry coal to the kilns in the Potteries and was one of the longest in the country.

The Macclesfield canal was very close to our home when we first moved down to England. We had to find a building that could house the surgery for my husband’s GP practice and accommodation for us. After four years we could afford to move out to let the practice expand and find our own home. Living so close to the canal was great for a walk but also meant that I made sure that our son learnt to swim. I had just thought ‘what if he runs out of the garden and down to the canal and falls in?’ The gates were open much of the time to provide access to the surgery parking. A few years later, when I was working at the Parent and Baby Day Unit, we had a staff outing which was a day trip on a narrow boat on the Macclesfield canal. We hired it and drove it up towards Congleton, stopping before the locks to have a pub lunch and then returning to base. I have known and still do, several people who love narrow boats and even live on them by choice but that is not for me. I did enjoy seeing some of the Mallard ducks and ducklings.

The following morning we drove to Shropshire to give my Dad his Fathers’ Day present and then headed back north to Scotland.

A wander around Dunbar

Having to leave the campervan to be cleaned meant that we had three hours to kill in Dunbar. Following Spott Road in towards the town centre we first had a short walk on the East Beach although the tide was in. There were a few dog walkers out but otherwise it was very quiet.

Cromwell harbour had a few people working on boats. The first harbour was constructed in 1100 at what is now known as Belhaven. The next was stone-built nearer to the castle in the 16th century. After storm damage in the 1650s, Cromwell repaired it to enable English ships to supply his army. Herring fishing was important; In 1819, 280 boats with 2000 men and in bumper years some 700-800 boats would arrive. In the 18th century merchants traded with Europe and in 1828, 203,276 gallons of whisky were exported from Dunbar. The heyday for oyster fishing was from 1770 to 1790 and whaling was undertaken from 1751 to 1802.

The Castle ruins stand beside the harbour. It was built on the site of a Pictish fortress, the first stone castle being constructed in 1071. There were numerous attacks and rebuilding over the centuries and Mary Queen of Scots visited on several occasions. The ruins now provide a cliff-like place for gulls to nest on.

In 1844 a new harbour entrance was blasted through the remaining castle ruins and Victoria Harbour was built by the engineer David Stevenson. We walked around the walls watched by a pair of gulls.

In the 19th century potatoes were taken to London by sea. This continued until 1914 when Lincolnshire began to grow large crops of potatoes. In the 20th century lobster and crab catching increased to supply the demand from local, Edinburgh and London hotels. More recent work on the harbour in 1988 revealed the Harbour Vaults. From the items found in the underground passages, it is assumed they were related to the whaling industry.

In the High Street we found a coffee shop with comfortable sofas and had our first coffee in a cafe for several months. Opposite was the town house museum – the first home of John Muir.

The west end and Belhaven Bay will need to be explored on another day as our three hours had gone and it was time to collect the van.