We left Edinburgh on a bright sunny morning to start our journey around the coast of Britain. We crossed the Forth on the relatively new Queensferry Crossing. The bridge was in the news recently when three cars had their windscreens smashed by falling ice. Fortunately this was not a problem today but it did make me wonder how other countries design their bridges to avoid this. Perhaps we should seek some assistance from Scandinavia.
Over the bridge and now in Fife we turned left along the coast. On Dalgety Bay at the east end of the town lie the ruins of St Bridget’s Kirk. The church was built around 1178 to serve as the parish church of Dalgety. Worship was arranged by the Augustinian Canons of Inchcolm Abbey which lies on an island in the Forth. The church remained in use after the Protestant Reformation in 1560, though it was significantly altered for Protestant worship. It was abandoned in 1830 when the congregation was moved to another church. From the road it took us a while to locate the path down to it which is down a narrow alley off a residential street. It is more easily found from the Fife Coastal Path which passes closer by.
Close to the church is Crow Wood which was devoid of crows this morning because they were all feeding in a field above the bay. East of Dalgety Bay is the Exxon oil terminal but the next town along the coast is Aberdour.
After a coffee we walked down to the shore. Most of the residential streets had ‘Private Street’ notices, advising that only residents can park there, an indication of how busy the town can get in high season. Aberdour has a ruined castle (the coast here has many of them).
We walked along part of the coastal path to Hawkcraig Point where there is a small lighthouse.
Lunch was had at the Silver Sands, a beach west of the town where a lonely sandcastle sat by the sea. Plenty of others were under construction on the beach.
The coast road continues through Burntisland, Kinghorn and Kirkcaldy which has a large flour mill on the seafront. Further on is Dysart, Wemyss, Buckhaven and Methil. Inland from the road is Clatto Hill which is all of 248m, only one metre higher than Mow Cop near home. In Methil, a bridge crosses the Leven. Until 1821, the only bridge across the river was the Cameron Brig on the main Kirkcaldy – Cupar road. In that year, a pedestrian suspension bridge was built at Leven. It was replaced by a three-arched stone bridge in 1840. The toll to cross this bridge was a Scottish halfpenny, or bawbee Even though the stone bridge was replaced by a single-span bridge in 1957, it is still known locally as the Bawbee Brig. A little further on was Lundin Links which has a campsite for our first night’s stop. It is on the slope of Leven Law which is a slightly more respectable 290m.
Having collected our new campervan last month we were keen to try it out before heading off on our exploration of the British Coast. We decided to go for one night fairly locally to visit somewhere we had not been to before and to revisit an old favourite. Rufford Old Hall is situated in Lancashire, not the part I walked through earlier in the year, but west of the M6. It is now owned by the National Trust having been built in 1530 and owned by the Hesketh family until 1936.
Later wings were added in the 17th and early 19th centuries. We were there not long after it opened and on a week-day, it was quiet. So much so that the room guides jumped on us as soon as we entered a room and were keen to talk whereas I was happy to look around in peace. They had a number of items of furniture, ornaments and paintings etc which had belonged to the family and had been returned to the house. They also had a collection of antique maps of Lancashire including some by John Speed and Robert Morden. Photography inside is only permitted in the Great Hall which has a fabulous carved roof visible from a window in the first floor drawing-room.
Outside there is the garden and woodland to explore. Volunteers were tidying up after the recent gales and torrential rain. Celandines and violets were in flower and bluebell leaves emerging in the woodland so there should be a good display in a few weeks time. We were very thankful that the weather had improved and the nearby Rufford Branch of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal was so still that the trees were reflected in it.
There is a cafe and a few shelves of pre-loved books but nothing I fancied. We spent the night in a nearby Britstop. This is a network of pubs and other places which once you have joined by buying the current year’s catalogue, allow you to park up for the night for free. We stopped at the Farmer’s Arms in Bispham and after enjoying a meal in the pub, settled down on a very misty and wet evening. The following day, the 20th March is the Spring Equinox and a super moon is supposed to be visible but the cloud made this look unpromising. The next morning was a pleasant surprise with clearing cloud and sun. Our destination was Martin Mere which is run by the Wildlife and Wetland Trust. We last visited several years ago in winter as many migrating birds stop off or stay here including 2000 Whooper Swans from Iceland. At this time of year they have all returned north. It is divided into two parts, one devoted to the nature reserve and the other houses endangered birds from around the world. In the nature reserve were many familiar birds including Mallard
a Black-Headed Gull
and a Shelduck Diving.
There were other geese, ducks and waterfowl in the distance. Some people had recently heard a bittern in the reeds. The last time we heard one was in 2003 on Barra but heard nothing today. There were so many other birds in the other half:
A red-Crowned Crane
Spring had indeed sprung as we had our first coffee sitting outside this year before heading home on a relatively quiet motorway for once.
St Pancras International is a very civilised station and I wish others were like it. Unfortunately, I was not able to enjoy it to the full as I became unwell and wondered if I was going to be able to make the trip. However, I managed to get things under control as we boarded the Eurostar and in just over two hours were at the Gare du Nord in Paris. The station has had a problem with expensive unlicensed preying on passengers, but we found it easy to follow the signs to the licensed taxi rank. Soon we were at our hotel where I rested and recovered. This is at least our fourth trip to Paris, so we have seen most of the sights and were happy to just wander. We are close to the Arc de Triomphe
so then walked down the Champs Elysee which has only two closed shops but lots of temporary fencing piled up from the recent Maillot Jeune demonstrations. We did see a few demonstrators a couple of days later near the Arc. The American Embassy was well-guarded.I went to Fauchon on the Place de Madeleine to do some shopping and passed by Le Village Royale, a small upmarket shopping and restaurant court off the Rue Royale which was today decorated with umbrellas
and displaying bronze sculptures by Dirk de Keyzer, a Belgian artist and sculptor.
Le Village hosts regular sculpture exhibitions. Returning along the riverside, statues were glowing in the sunshine and there were views over to the Eiffel Tower.
In the afternoon we walked to the nearest green space, Parc Monceau; which was busy with workers enjoying their lunch in the sunshine. The main gates are huge wrought iron and gold and the park is decorated with statues, ponds with a bridge and various old constructions, none of which are labelled. There are also playgrounds for children. Nearer our hotel was a street market:
And the Église de St Ferdinand
We met up with our friends late afternoon and enjoyed a meal in a nearby Corsican restaurant. Saturday was match day so after a morning walk under blue skies enjoying the buildings it was time to join the crowds on the Metro to the Stade de France in St Denis for the Scotland-France rugby match.
Scotland, probably predictably, lost. Waiting for the crowds to diminish we stopped for a glass of wine at a co-operative in the centre of town. It sold products made by local artists and craftspeople but today the café was holding a special afternoon celebrating a children’s book author and illustrator with some wine. The artist had designed the wine labels.
On Sunday we visited the Musée du Quai Branly which has a fantastic collection of art and culture from Asia, Africa, Oceania and the Americas. Our Eurostar tickets gave us 2 for 1 tickets and we spent a few hours inside.
Outside there are gardens with grasses and magnolia trees in bud. Walking back along the riverside in this unseasonable weather, we spotted some hammocks by the Seine.
All too soon it was time to return home.
We had seen plenty of armed police around the city but at the Gare du Nord the army were on duty. On the Eurostar I read that the first Café á Chien has opened in the Marais district. That will have to be on the list for another visit. I finished reading Adam Gopnik’s Paris and the Moon which has been sitting on my bookshelf since I found a copy in Washington DC in 2004. This trip was a good chance to revisit the New Yorker writer’s account of moving from New York to Paris in 1995 where he worked for five years and began to raise his family, observing the differences between the two cultures. It was interesting having made numerous visits to both France and the USA.
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.
We enjoy visiting markets and during our recent trip to Australia, sampled the one in Cairns with friends and the largest market in the southern hemisphere; the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne which I had last visited in 2004. The market in our local town has shrunk in size dramatically over the 29 years we have lived in the area. It used to extend over the whole common but is now limited to a few stalls outside the market hall. This made me intrigued to hear that coach trips ran to Bury market in Greater Manchester and eventually we got round to exploring it ourselves. The market has been running for 500 years and claims to be the best in Britain.
The market is very central, next to the Mill Gate shopping centre, the Metrolink and the town centre. The inside hall is open every day except Sunday while the stalls outside are on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. A nearby car park only cost £1.80 for three hours. There are 11 blocks of over 350 stalls outside and others around the edge selling a huge variety of food and drink, household goods, clothes and shoes, tools, electronics, gifts, cut flowers etc at very reasonable prices. It is a little like a maze for the unfamiliar but there are frequent sign posts and the stallholders are very friendly and helpful. There is a separate meat and fish hall inside….
where you can even buy a whole salmon.
Black pudding is popular in these parts and has a separate stall. You can have it laced with chilli if you wish.
The one bookstall was largely devoted to paperback fiction with some children’s books.
The market was quite busy even on Wednesday but most of it is accessible by wheelchair, only a few aisles would be a little too narrow. There are several cafes and tea rooms and we had our lunch in one. The people at a nearby table took a long time deciding where to sit and an even longer time deciding what to order. Our journey home was quicker than the outward one as the as the motorway problems which had slowed down all the surrounding roads had cleared. If I lived a little closer I am sure I would be a regular visitor to this market.
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.
Today was our last driving day of this trip. Before we left Wollongong, we decided to take a look at the lighthouses. It is the only place in eastern Australia to have two lighthouses in such close proximity. The oldest is the Breakwater Lighthouse in the old harbour. Construction began in 1871 and the light first shone in 1872. It was deactivated in 1974 and later restored as an historic building. It now at least provides a good fishing spot.
The second lighthouse was built in 1936 on Flagstaff Hill and was the first fully automatic lighthouse in Australia.
We then began our slow route to Sydney. First we drove along the Lawrence Hargreave Drive (B65). It continues up the coast through several small communities. There were several surfers hoping for better waves at Stanley’s Beach.
A little further north is Seacliff Bridge. It was opened in 2005 and built to avoid the constant landslides and rockfalls which beset the old road which ran right against the escarpment. There are car parks at both ends of the bridge (although those at the south end are a little nearer) and there is a footpath along the entire span. Today was brighter than yesterday but there was a lot of haze.
Today was the first time we have seen this sign
and people seemed to be respecting it as we did not see any padlocks. Someone has been painting letters on the piers but I could not see all the piers and the whole word.
Below us, a man in a small boat was putting lobster pots out. We had coffee at Stanwell Park which is the largest village on this section of the coast and has two cafes. Afterwards we stopped at the very busy Bald Hill Lookout which has views out to sea and down the coast and is very popular as a launching place for hang gliders.
We then drove through Royal National Park and had our lunch by the Hacking River in Audley. Several Purple Swamphens were eating on the bank.
Afterwards, the minor road joins Highway One, the Princes Highway and we followed this into the city, continuing on another road to avoid the motorway. We had to drop the hire car off at an office at the bottom end of Pitt St near Circular Quay. My navigation system suggested a route for the last few miles but major road works and ‘no right turn’ notices kept foiling us. Fortunately, the traffic was not too busy. After being re-directed several times we saw a police station and James was given a route which avoided all the problems and via a very small lane, got us to our destination. We thought that we would soon be installed in our hotel. Not so. As the car hire office is next to a hotel and taxi rank, it should have been an easy task to hail a cab and jump in for the short journey. Many of the taxis in Sydney run on gas and have a tank in the boot, reducing the space for luggage. As we have a fair pile after such a long trip the first guy refused to take us and there was a prolonged discussion between the drivers. I spotted an estate car across the road and when the drive appeared, asked if he would take us. He was reluctant as he was the last taxi to arrive at the rank but eventually was persuaded to take us. Today we only drove 92 miles and the final total for the whole trip is 11, 584. We now have a couple of days in Sydney to relax, see friends and get ready for our homeward flight where we will be planning our next journey.