Round Britain: exploring Stonehaven


Our campsite lies across the Cowie River in Cowie, a former fishing village, now part of Stonehaven. Stonehaven lies on the coast 15 miles south of Aberdeen. We spent the morning exploring the town before the forecast rain was due to return in the afternoon. It grew up from an Iron Age fishing village and like other towns in the area it has had several names over the years. During my five years at medical school in Aberdeen the nearest I got to Stonehaven was the occasional winter Saturday evening when eight of us would squeeze into a Mini Clubman and visit the Lairhillock Inn near Netherley; enjoying the huge open fire and a drink or two. Today, walking into town from Cowie the first thing we passed was the Art Deco open-air swimming pool. It is one of only two in Scotland and was being prepared for the opening on 25 May. Every April it is filled with sea water and heated to 29 degrees. Built in 1934 it is now maintained jointly by volunteers and the council.

We walked along the beachfront, round the High Street to the Old Pier. Crossing the Carron River, we saw some of the major flood prevention works that are underway, due to be completed in 2021. James had chatted to an elderly man there who told him that he recalled cars floating down the streets in some of the previous floods.

Near the bridge is the former Haven Fish Bar which invented the Deep-Fried Mars Bar.

The oldest part of the town is near the harbour and the oldest building is the Tollbooth, which was the first courthouse and prison. It now houses a museum which unfortunately is closed on Tuesdays. The first episcopal church in the town was destroyed in 1746 and laws forbade episcopalians from holding a service for more than five people at a time. For several years secret services were held by the Rev Alexander Greig at a house in the High Street, Christian’s House.

Rev Greig and two other ministers from nearby congregations were imprisoned in the Tollbooth for six months and would conduct services from the prison window to their congregations below.
There were a number of metal sculptures along the way to the pier:


The harbour was improved in 1820 by Robert Stevenson, engineer and grandfather of Robert Louis Stevenson. In the 19th century the herring trade was important. The tide was out when we visited.

The new town, north of the River Carron was founded in 1795 by Robert Barclay of Ulry with wide streets named after his and the Allardice families. The market square was built in 1826. The Stonehaven Feein’ Market is held there every year on 1st June. A farmers’ market occurs on the first Saturday of every month. Another annual June event is a vintage rally to commemorate Robert William Thomson who invented the pneumatic tyre in 1845 and a number of other things. In July a Highland Games is held and every Hogmanay balls of fire are swung around in the streets. I walked back to the campsite along the mostly shingle Cowie Beach where a fossil of the oldest known air-breathing land animal, Pneumodesmus newmani, a species of millipede, was found in 2004 picking up a few small pieces of sea glass. A notice in town asks people not to remove stones from the shingle beach.

After lunch we walked along the remainder of Cowie Beach towards the sandstone cliffs which are only 1km or so from the east end of the Highland Boundary Fault.

North of the fault is granite. There were oystercatchers on the shore and cormorants on an offshore rock. At the end of the beach a path leads along the foot and then up the cliff to rejoin others near the B road. Many wildflowers were blooming among the undergrowth.

A little further on, returning to Cowie is the remains of a gun emplacement.

I don’t know which conflict it is from. We got back to the van before the rain set in for the rest of the evening.

Round Britain: St Andrews to Angus


We had to pop in to Anstruther for a repair to the van technology. Returning along the B road back to St Andrews, we passed the sign to ‘Scotland’s Secret Bunker’ which we had seen on various occasions but never visited so we decided to take a look. Construction began in 1951 and it opened in 1953 as part of Britain’s early warning radar chain ‘ROTOR’. The Royal Air Force occupied it for six years. As technology improved the range between stations could increase and some, including this one, became redundant and were mothballed by the government. From 1958 to 1968 the Civil Defence Corps operated it and afterwards it became ‘Central Government HQ for Scotland in the event of a nuclear war’. It remained in service until 1993.

The main tunnel to the bunker is 150 yards long and is encased in 18 inches of solid concrete.

Further on the solid concrete is 10 feet deep and reinforced with tungsten bars. The main switchboard room could connect 2800 external lines and 500 internal extensions. It was manned 24 hours per day.

There is even a consecrated memorial chapel which is still used.

And a resident MOD cat whom we met.

Outside there are various military vehicles

Leaving St Andrews, we passed the Eden Mill Gin Distillery and crossed the River Eden at Guard Bridge. RAF Leuchars is a little further on but our destination was Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve. We parked by the beach which on arrival was very quiet.

Walking on the windy dunes was reminiscent of walking on Indiana Dunes on a very windy day almost three years ago.

We had our picnic there and the car park was filing up. There is even a crepe shack.

Our overnight stop was at a Certified Location in farmland near Morton Lochs which are also a National Nature Reserve. The Lochs were originally created by the Christie family who were local landlords, in 1906 and stocked with fish. They became a nature reserve in 1952.

We had a walk down there in the afternoon. A sign noted that there had been a tsunami 7,000 years ago with a wave 70 feet high which would have destroyed the neolithic population there. I had heard some time ago about that there is geological evidence of it in some Norwegian Fjord and joked that living right on the sea front on the East Coast might not be a good idea in case it is replicated. Now, rising sea levels secondary to global warming are a more likely threat.
At the loch we saw some coots and their young, a heron fishing in the distance and a red squirrel on one of the feeders.

That evening saw the end of the good weather as rain moved in. The following morning, we picked up supplies in Tayport and then continued to Newport. They are both commuter towns for Dundee and St Andrews. Manna café in Newport sells good coffees and is a community venture run by the local Church of Scotland. The profits support a youth worker. The town sits between the Tay road and rail Bridges.


The first rail bridge collapsed in a storm December 1879 while a train was crossing it, killing all onboard. Across the river, oil rigs were being repaired and Saturday morning boating was in full swing.

Down by the waterfront I discovered some street art:

After crossing the road bridge, we turned east along the coast, past the port and into Broughty Ferry. It had become a popular resort by 1790, known as the ‘Brighton of the North’. The population increased 4-fold in 30 years due to the popularity of ‘taking the waters’. The castle sits on the shore and was built in 1496.

It was rebuilt in 1860 and the Forfarshire Artillery Volunteers were garrisoned there. Later, the Submarine Miners who were ready to lay mines across the Tay in the event of war, were housed in a nearby building. It last saw military service in the World War II and has been a museum since 1969.
The first floor tells the history of the castle, the second is an art gallery containing a small selection of the collection of James Guthrie Orchar who was a prominent engineer and businessman in Dundee in the 19th century.

and on the third floor is an armoury. At the top there is a viewing platform and displays devoted to the local natural history. Down at the windy beach there were only a few brave souls, lots of kelp and I found two pieces of sea glass. It was raining as we left. Driving along the esplanade we passed the Barnhill Rock Garden. In better weather I might have stopped and explored it as I am constructing a new one at home. Our campsite was just beyond the settlement of Lucknow. It is named after the city in India but I still have to discover why.

Round Britain: Anstruther to St Andrews


Scotland has been having some unseasonably warm weather in the last few days. On Tuesday it reached 24 degrees in Drumnadrochit and on Wednesday 25.8 in Kinlochewe which was hotter than Athens and the snowy mountains in Corsica. Our two days of driving back to the East Neuk of Fife to pick up where we left in April were plagued by closed roads, diversions and temporary traffic lights. The last few miles were through farmland where the oilseed rape was bright yellow under a blue sky and some of the potatoes were emerging. A lot of sheep were finding it very warm and I could imagine them wondering when they were going to be sheared.

Our first stop was Crail, the oldest East Neuk town. It was built around a 12th century castle and confirmed as a Royal Burgh in 1310 by Robert the Bruce. My last visit was on a primary school trip in the early 1970s. In medieval times it hosted one of the largest markets in Europe. There was much trade between Crail and Belgium and the Netherlands; delivering salted fish, linen and coal and bringing back pantiles which we were told were used as ballast. Nowadays the fishing boats bring in shellfish. The architecture of the East Neuk is characterised by crow-step gables, outside stairs and pantiles on the roof.

Heading out towards Fife Ness the road passes an old air field which was a Second World War Fleet Air Arm Station but now stands with redundant buildings and is used as a race track and to host car boot sales. At the end of the road is Crail Golfing Society which is the oldest golf club in the world, founded in 1786. There is a nature reserve on the shoreline but a height limit meant we could not park there. The golf club does allow non-players to park for £1 and a path leads down to the shore and Fife Coastal Path. There used to be a harbour at Fife Ness and a sea-beacon construction yard. This was where Robert Stevenson started to construct the first lighthouse in 1813. After five years it was almost complete when it was destroyed in a winter gale. The current low-level light dates from 1975.

There was a quay here and there is still evidence of what may have been a crane base on the rocks.

There was also a tide mill nearby and a coast guard station here since 1846.

The golf course prevents visiting Constantine’s Cave which is named after the Pictish king who is said to have been killed there by the Vikings. However, there is evidence that he died peacefully in St Andrews in 946. The cave has been used by various people over the centuries including early Christians and Fifeshire Volunteers in 1812 when there were scares over a possible French invasion.

Returning to Crail we continued towards St Andrews, stopping at Kingsbarns Distillery en route. It is outside the town, nearer to the Cambo estate. In addition to whisky, they also produce gin.

Our campsite is on the cliffs south of St Andrews and close to the coastal path where there are views over the East Stand to St Andrews.

The following morning was sunny but windier. We walked into town diverting onto the beach where the path was closed for repair.

Some of the old town walls are still in existence.

We wandered around the ruined cathedral which replaced the former St Rule’s Church and when it was consecrated in 1318, was the largest building in Scotland. The west front was completed in 1272 and then blown down by a storm. After consecration there was a fire in 1378 and it was again rebuilt. John Knox gave a sermon in the Holy Trinity Church in 1599 and during the reformation the church trappings were pulled down so that by 1600 it probably looked much like it does today.

Nearby is the ruined castle. It was here that the Protestant preacher George Wishart was burnt for heresy in 1546 at the request of Cardinal Beaton, the Archbishop. Also, in that year, a group of locals opposed to the Cardinal seized the castle. Eventually an armistice was achieved only to be followed by an artillery onslaught by the French fleet. In the 1550s it was rebuilt.

Coffee was had in the Northpoint Café whose claim to fame is that it was ‘Where Will Met Kate’. We left as students were emerging from an exam and loudly discussing their answers to the questions. Birds have been around us for much of the day. While we were breakfasting a goldcrest sat on the rowan tree at the back of the van, this gull was watching us in the street

We had lunch on a bench by the harbour sheltered from the wind.

A pair of house sparrows were feeding on worms by the water’s edge and then had a dust bath on the sandy path. A pair of Eider Ducks then landed in the harbour. We had also discovered a good secondhand bookshop and had a good chat with the proprietor who was originally from Stockport.

I recalled that while deciding which university to apply to, decided against St Andrews, partly because you could not complete the whole of your medical course there but also because coming from a small town, I wanted to go to a city and St Andrews was somewhere you took your granny on a Sunday afternoon. We have enjoyed our brief visit and tomorrow continue further around the coast.

Round Britain: Lundin Links to Elie

The overnight rain had cleared so before we left the campsite, we had a walk in the woodland opposite. Keil’s Den is a narrow deciduous wood on the slopes of the Keil Burn. It is managed by the Woodland Trust and there are various walks. We did the 5km circuit.

Bluebell foliage was emerging and Dogs’ Mercury, but the primroses were blooming.

It reminded me very much of the woodland I spent many hours in when I lived in Menstrie at the foot of the Ochil Hills in the early 1970s. Afterwards we picked up supplies in Lundin Links and then drove down to the sea front in Lower Largo. Alexander Selkirk was born here and became a sailor. Unfortunately, he had a disagreement with his captain who then abandoned him on the island of Juan Fernandez, in the Pacific Ocean. Selkirk lived there alone for four years until he was rescued by a passing ship. He became a celebrity when he returned to British shores, and his adventures were fictionalised by Defoe as Robinson Crusoe. The house on Main Street where Selkirk was born no longer stands, but the building on the site is now decorated by a statue of him, looking out to sea.

There is a sign outside the Crusoe Hotel indicating the distance to Juan Fernandez which Lower Largo is twinned with.

The railway here was the victim of the Beeching cuts in the 1960s but there remains a very impressive viaduct in the village.

We got talking to one of the locals who said that as in many towns and cities around the world, houses were being bought and let out via Airbnb making the prices too expensive for local young people who were then being forced to move elsewhere. The mobile Post Office now only comes here for 2 hours every week and one of the local shops had recently shut down.

After looking at the beach, we moved on towards Elie, passing through Upper Largo and Drumeldrie before officially entering the East Neuk. As the weather forecast for the following day was not promising, we had a walk on the East Links; out to the lighthouse at Elie Ness

and the Lady’s Tower. The latter was built in 1760 as a summer house for Lady Anstruther who liked to bathe in the sea below.

At the other end of the town, Earlsferry acquired its name because ferries began a thousand years ago when Macduff, the Thane of Fife, took a boat from here to escape from Macbeth. Earlsferry was granted a Royal Charter by Macbeth’s successor. We reached our campsite at Shell Bay in time for a walk along the beach.

Today’s sea glass haul was better than the day before and included one piece of blue glass which is less common than clear, green or brown. Shell Bay had more rubbish (mainly plastic) among the seaweed and driftwood than the other beaches we have visited so far. On Tuesday we walked just over six miles in total. As predicted the night was wet and cold. We awoke to rain on Wednesday with the radio reporting that the snow gates were shut at Cockbridge in the Cairngorms.

The original plan was to walk from Shell Bay to Elie along the coastal path around Kincraig Point and Earlsferry but had to make do with a short stroll in a brief lull in the weather.

It finally dried up in the evening and I hoped to see the sunset through the clouds but it was hidden apart from a hint of pink.

Round Britain: Edinburgh to Lundin Links


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.

Around Australia: closing the loop – Wollongong to Sydney


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.

Around Australia: Melbourne to Wollongong


We awoke to black skies and wet roads. Unfortunately as we left the city, the rain returned. I had decided to take James to Healesville Sanctuary to see some of the wildlife we had only had brief glimpses of on our trip so far. We arrived just before opening time and tried to spot animals and birds who were trying to stay dry. It was quite a contrast to my visit 14 years ago on a sunny day when emus came to the fence and the dingoes were lying on the rocks soaking up the rays. The emus were hiding as were the dingoes and there was no sign of the platypus.



On the way back towards Highway One with the Yarra Range in the clouds, we passed an appropriately named sideroad: Rainy Hill Road. After being in the city it was a pleasure to be back in the hills surrounded by tall eucalyptus trees. We stopped for coffee at Pakenham where a thunderstorm cut the electricity off in the café briefly. There is a secondhand book exchange in the shopping centre and I found a couple of books by one of the Duracks which were recommended by our friend in New South Wales. Interestingly the hotel here has a big sign outside saying that there are definitely no pokies here. A little further along the highway we stopped for lunch at Trafalgar. The train stops here and the old station house now houses a pop-up arts and crafts shop. It has been part of a state programme to re-use redundant railway buildings. It needed a bit more TLC though as grass was growing in the gutter. The next part of our journey was almost like home: a traffic jam due to roadworks on the road on a holiday weekend Friday afternoon. It did not delay us too long and we settled into our motel at Lakes Entrance before the forecast gales arrived later in the evening. It was still windy in the morning and all the water birds were sitting on the edge of the water as it was too rough to feed in it. From the lookouts it did not too rough.

The next morning we got back on the highway and stopped for coffee in the Bushaware Café in the General Store near Cabbage Tree Creek. The cicadas were deafening and speaking to the owner, I learnt that they only come for two weeks every year. There are 200 hundred species in Australia and the noise can reach 120 dB, enough to damage the human ear.
The sign was being repaired. 100km or so further on, we crossed the last state border on this trip and were back in New South Wales. At Eden, the Whale Festival was on and it was very busy. This part of the coast is known as the Sapphire Coast: this is the colour of the sea, nothing to do with the gemstone.

We continued on Highway 9 to Merimbula, where we met up with a friend and walked along the boardwalk at the edge of the water.

There were a number of birds: a Barn Owl with an injured eye, Black Swans and a Yellow Thornbill. The café was shut – in Australia they often shut in the afternoon.



We then visited Bournda National Park which has a walk to a cove,

And lots of kangaroos hanging out.

On Sunday morning we left and continued on the coast road from Tathla to Moggreeka inlet and after a drive uphill, to Cuttagee Beach on Barragga Bay.

We stopped at Bermagui for coffee and then re-joined Highway One towards Narooma. The road winds upwards in the forest and then down to Camel Rock Beach.

with the mountains behind.

The Highway then passes between Dromedary Mountain 806m on the left and Little Dromedary Mountain which is too low to have its height measured on my app. There are a number of small interesting towns on this coast. Mago, a gold mining town dating from 1850 there are a number of craft shops and cafes on the street and it was very busy. At Milton, there was a long queue of people waiting to get into the theatre to see Calendar Girls. Narooma has a lovely situation on the inlet. I could spend longer in them all. Before we arrived in Wollongong, we diverted to Jervis Bay to look at Hyams Beach which claims to be the whitest beach in the world.

At Shellharbour we took the quieter and slower B62 to our hotel as the Highway was very busy with people returning to Sydney. Our mileage over the last few days was 658 and our total before our last driving day is 11,492.