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.

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.

Driving north at the beginning of winter

The endless summer has ended. The clocks went back last weekend, the temperature has dropped and we had our first frost a few days ago. Fortunately, I had put my pelargoniums into the greenhouse the day before. The autumn colours are still fabulous but high winds are forecast so most of the leaves will soon be on the ground. It is unusual to get to November before the heating is switched on, the warm coat comes out and I am hunting for gloves. In Edinburgh a couple of weeks ago I was cursing because I had not brought my sunglasses as they are not usually needed in October. This afternoon’s drive was punctuated by large black clouds and showers for most of the way. The sun was trying to emerge from behind the clouds in places and we saw four rainbows before we had got as far as Carlisle. On the M74, we passed Stevens Croft, a power station fuelled with biomass: off-cuts from the forestry industry. Many of the hills around here have wind farms and with the addition of hydro-electricity, Scotland is further ahead than the rest of the UK in renewable energy production.

We left the motorway near Moffat and there was yet another rainbow above the golden foliage around the town. It was fading a bit before I could find a place to stop and take a photograph.
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We continued on the A701 and as we ascended, were surrounded by cloud and rain. At Tweedsmuir, there is what looks like a stone monument on the hillside. It might be The Postman’s Stone. This marks the position where the body of stagecoach guard James McGeorge was found, after an unsuccessful attempt to get the mail bags through a blizzard in February 1831. It is inscribed “J McG 1831”. He is apparently buried in Moffat old graveyard. I am looking forward to us both being finally retired in a few months’ time, we will have more time to explore the area we are driving through. Today we needed to get to Edinburgh for a quick meal with a friend before he and James headed off to Murrayfield for a rugby match. I was looking forward to a quiet evening. Just before we descended into the city there was a lovely sunset.
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More good things in Edinburgh

The weather forecast suggested that Edinburgh might be one of the wettest places in the country this weekend. Fortunately, most of the rain held off until overnight on Saturday and early Sunday morning. We had our friends from Inverness down to stay. On Saturday morning,after a local wander, we had coffee at The Canny Man’s, a Morningside institution and free house run by the same family since 1871. The pub’s real name is The Volunteer Arms but no-one at all refers to it as that. When we first lived in Edinburgh 30 years ago, it was a serious drinking place. Now, it also serves good food but is still decorated with the same fantastic array of objects suspended from the ceiling.
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In the afternoon the men went to a rugby match while my friend & I took the bus down to the Botanic Garden. It was an unusually still day and the sun continued so the autumn colours were glowing, mostly leaves but some flowers as well.
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The garden is also set up for the Botanic Lights celebration which is held on evenings every autumn for a month. I have never been but it might be something for the future. We also managed to find some Christmas presents in the gift shop.
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I had also been keen to see an exhibition of botanical paintings from Nepal. They dated from 1802 to 2016 and there were also exhibits of other ways plants were used either as dyes or to create fibre which was then made into lace. I particularly liked this painting of Ficus religiosa or Peepal. The tree is sacred to Buddhists and Hindus and is often planted around temples and at rest stops along trails. It was also used for various medical conditions. There were paintings of many plants and flowers including Rhododendron arboreum, the national flower of Nepal but which also grows in other Asian countries. I have never been there but have seen the tree in the Western Ghats in India and was amazed to see for the first time, a Rhododendron that was not a shrub.
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In the evening we had dinner in a local restaurant and then adjourned to the Jazz Bar for their World Premiere Quintet. They arrange for five musicians who have never played together before or rehearsed to perform together. This was scheduled for 9pm after the acoustic tea-time session but by that time only a drummer, double bass player and pianist had arrived. We began to think it might only be a trio. However, the trumpeter and then the saxophonist, both from Glasgow, did appear and we were treated to a great set before heading back to the flat. Today, our friends headed back north on the A9 and we drove home through the Borders on the A701 and the motorways via a series of roadworks, arriving home just as the sun had set.
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Driving to Edinburgh and discovering some history

The weather improved as we headed north and the traffic usually diminishes after north Lancashire. That was not the case today. There were at least half a dozen very large loads heading up the M74 with escort vehicles. We could not identify what they might be components of but they slowed down even more the very heavy traffic. We left the motorway on the A701 and drove through Moffat without stopping. I had driven this road on a February afternoon and thought that I must return just before sunset as there are so many landscape views which would make good photographs in the right light. However today we were still too early for that and at the end of a long week, too tired to hang around waiting for it. Here is a shot from February.
A701 view 6 26 Feb 2016 (1 of 1)
We got stuck behind a campervan and several other cars but were still making a reasonable speed. A few brave souls overtook them without any accidents although it could have very easily been otherwise. There are a number of interesting places to explore, some of which I remember visiting in my first job in these parts. Romannobridge is named after the old bridge which stands in the middle of the hamlet.

A Dr Pennecuik’s history of Peeblesshire gives this account which I found on a website devoted to the history of gypsies in Scotland:
“Upon the 1st of October, 1677, there happened at Romanno, on the very spot where now the dove-cot is built, a remarkable polymachy betwixt two clans of Gipsies, the Pawes and the Shawes, who had come from Haddington fair, and were going to Harestanes, to meet two other clans of these rogues, the Baillies and Browns, with a resolution to fight them. They fell out, at Romanno, among themselves, about dividing the spoil they had got at Haddington, and fought it manfully. Of the Pawes, there were four brethren and a brother’s son; of the Shawes, the father with three sons; and several women on both sides. Old Sandie Fawe, a bold and proper fellow, [It is interesting to notice that the Doctor calls this Gipsy a “bold and proper fellow.” He was, in all probability, a fine specimen of physical manhood—Ed.] with his wife, then with child, were both killed dead upon the place; and his brother George very dangerously wounded. In February, 1678, old Robin Shawe, the Gipsy, and his three sons, were hanged at the Grass-market, for the above-mentioned murder, committed at Romanno; and John Fawe was hanged, the Wednesday following, for another murder. Sir Archibald Primrose was justice general at the time, and Sir George McKenzie king’s advocate.” Contrasting the obstinate ferocity of the Gipsy with the harmless and innocent nature of the dove, Dr. Pennecuik erected on the spot a dove-cot; and, to commemorate the battle, placed upon the lintel of the door the following inscription:
“A. D. 1683. 
The field of Gipsie blood, which here you see, 
A shelter for the harmless dove shall be.”

I think I might search out a copy of the History of Peeblesshire and find out a little more about the area before my next visit.

Heading south again

Leaving Edinburgh this morning we varied our route slightly by taking the A701 down to the motorway. The hills, forests (both coniferous and deciduous), the river and various places and footpaths to stop and explore mean that this is a road to come back to in a good light for photography.
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There was snow on the highest hills and on farms with lowland fields, the first lambs enjoying the break in the weather. Coming into Dumfries & Galloway, James commented that the sun on the tussocks of last year’s grass which were glowing yellow, resembled Donald Trump’s hair. They were certainly not scruffy enough to look like Boris Johnson’s. North of Moffat we passed the source of the River Tweed and a path up the flank of a hill to a ridge which promised good views and which we must do on a dry day. There are a variety of bridges over the river, some in use, some not. This one is almost camouflaged by the surrounding foliage.Bridge on A701 28 Mar 2016-1

Moffat provided a good coffee stop before hitting the M74. The first few miles were fairly quiet and we braved the crowds at Gretna outlet village to get some outdoor kit we needed and which we had not found in Edinburgh. Having escaped from there, it was a reasonably easy run with everybody else returning from their Easter break and HGVs. There was predictable slow traffic through the roadworks near Lancaster and nearer home. The two examples of bad driving seen were both provided by BMW drivers. Now I must check that the holiday rail works have not overrun or been delayed by the storms and hope I can get to work on time tomorrow.

Taking a different road to Edinburgh

Thursday was a cold misty day and as we are having some work done on the house, it is full of dust and disarray.
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So, I was happy with the plan to spend the weekend in Edinburgh while James visits his parents in Northern Ireland and set off this morning. The M6 was quiet although there are plenty of road works with speed restrictions. I had a coffee stop at Tebay and took a photograph of a derelict cottage sitting between the M6 and the West Coast Mainline. I often wonder who lived in abandoned buildings and what stories are hidden in the stones.
Derelict house vs M6 & Westcoast Mainline Tebay 26 Feb 2016 (1 of 1)
A rook was hoping to join in the duck feeding session outside the restaurant.
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Back on the road I could see snow on the tops of the Pennines, the Cumbrian hills and the Southern Uplands. I varied my route from the M74 and took the A701 to Moffat. I was at university with a guy from Moffat who was always teased about the fact that the statue in the middle of the town is of a sheep rather than some local or national worthy. Wool remains an important source of income for the area with tour buses visiting the mill shops.
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The town has several independent shops, two secondhand bookstores, scores of places to have coffee/eat or drink and nature reserves and a river walk. It is also only 10 miles from the Grey Mare’s Tail waterfall which I have not been to for years. All of this will need to be explored and enjoyed more slowly on another trip as I wanted to get to Edinburgh with time to get some things done there. The road is billed as a Scenic Route and just north of Moffat there are lots of places to stop and take photographs.
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Further north the road was busier and although there were lots of other photographic possibilities, it was harder to stop. I made a note to revisit this road in the hour before sunset. I passed through many of the small villages and towns which were covered by the hospital I first started my psychiatry training at 30 years ago and I also followed a varied selection of vehicles as I approached the city. For most of way until I was past Penicuik it was a truck with an old military Landrover Defender on the back. After that I was slowed down again by a bus which I could not get past until he found a bus lane nearer the city. After filling up with diesel and heading to the bypass, I suddenly found myself behind two brightly coloured Lamborghinis which needless to say, did not hang around once they got onto the bypass. Just south of the flat I hit the last temporary traffic lights of the day.