Round Britain: Cromarty to the Dornoch Firth


On another sunny day we set off from Rosemarkie up the Fairy Glen to join the road to Cromarty. It is a village sited between the Sutors, the two headlands one mile apart at the entrance to the bay. We parked by the shore where dozens of kayakers were arriving and getting ready to enter the water. The Stevenson lighthouse built in 1846 is now a Field Station for Aberdeen University marine biologists.

A small ferry runs across to Nigg on the other side during the summer months.

A monument on the shoreline is a memorial to all those who emigrated to North America after the clearances. It lists the names of the ships. Most of the buildings in Cromarty are 18th or 19th century. 13 sites have connections to slave plantations, mostly in Guyana and many of the merchants are buried in the cemetery here. Slavery is something Scotland has been late to acknowledge. There is no Museum of Slavery in Scotland while several English cities have one. In 2018 the University of Glasgow announced it was paying £20 million in reparation for donations derived from slavery merchants. George Ross, a businessman, bought Cromarty in 1772 investing in a harbour, hemp works, brewery, nail works, a lace-making school, stable and a hog yard for pigs. The hemp was imported from St Petersburg and the factory produced bags and sacks for West Indian goods. He built the Gaelic chapel in 1784 for the influx of Gaelic speakers into the town. Cromarty was one of the towns that made so much money from the slave trade that it petitioned against abolition. Perhaps the most famous son of Cromarty was Hugh Miller, a self-taught geologist, naturalist, writer and florist born in 1802. The house he was born in and the one he lived in are now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland but were closed at the time we visited.

He died in Edinburgh in 1856. There is a trail around the important places in the town, including his statue. The oldest building in the town still standing is Townslands Barn built in 1690 for Bernard Mckenzie. In the early 19th century it was converted to a threshing barn and latterly for agricultural storage. It is Grade A listed and was acquired by the community in 2018 who hope to be able to raise funds and restore it for some future use.

We had coffee at the Emporium which in addition to having a small café, sells new and used books, gifts and postcards.

Afterwards we continued along the north shore of the Black Isle, passing through Jemimaville and then stopping at the RSPB Udale Bay Reserve. Many migrating birds stop here to feed. We saw Canada and Pink-footed Geese and other birds in the distance. In the logbook someone in earlier in the day had seen an osprey feeding.

After crossing the Cromarty Firth, we stopped at Tain for supplies and as we were too early to check in to the campsite, had a look at the first item on the Pictish Trail. The Edderton Cross-Slab is a stone dating from the 9th century with a Celtic Cross and three horsemen: it is not certain who they are. Other fragments of stone are inside the old church which is only open at certain times. The Pictish Trail runs from Edderton to Altnaharra and visits 13 sites.

After checking in we needed a walk. The site sits between the A9 near the Dornoch Firth Bridge, the train line (and former station now a house) and just beside it runs a minor road down to Meikle Ferry Point. Cattle were grazing in the fields around the bay and looked at us curiously wondering who we were.

The passenger ferry ceased to run when the bridge opened in 1991. Prior to this vehicles had to drive to Bonar Bridge to cross the Firth. There are now houses at the tip of the point but the old piers on the south and north shore are still visible.

We have to be off the site by 10am tomorrow to continue our journey north.

The Isle of May

The Isle of May lies in the Firth of Forth, just under 5 miles off the coast. We had seen it from the Fife coast in April and as we had never been there before, decided to fit in a visit as soon as we could. The island is only about 1 mile long and about 1/3 mile wide. It is owned and managed by Scottish National Heritage as a National Nature Reserve. The history varies a little as some say St Adrian and a number of followers settled on the island but were slain by the Danes in 875. The information provided by Scottish National Heritage concurs with those who say that Saint Ethernan ministered to the Picts of Fife from the island and died and was buried there in 669AD. A small stone church was built around 900AD to replace the previous timber one. Many pilgrims were buried in stone-lined cists between 600-1000AD. Around 1145 King David I founded a monastery with 13 Benedictine monks who built a bigger church and apparently introduced rabbits to the island. During the wars of independence in the 14th century the monastery was exposed to raiding warships and was abandoned by all but one monk. In 1550 the island was sold and a laird’s tower house was built from the remains of the priory. The village consisting of fishermen and their families lasted into the 18th century; the last villager being buried there in 1730. A considerable amount of smuggling went on and it was also a good place to hide from press gangs trying to find naval recruits. A boat runs trips from Anstruther, you can also take an open rubber speedboat from there or from North Berwick passing the Bass Rock en route. We took the Anstruther boat which takes about an hour to make the crossing (spotting a few grey seals) before mooring in Kirkhaven. You then have around two and half hours to explore before the return trip.

The path from the pier to the visitor’s centre and the rest of the island passes through an Artic Tern nesting site. I got dive-bombed twice even though I tried to be as unthreatening as possible.


We first took Holyman’s Road across the East Braes towards Rona and North Ness. The latter are restricted areas for wildlife only. The path runs through puffin burrows; 120,000 are on the island between April and August each year. I have never seen so many in one location.


and past the now disused Low Light which is a bird observatory. It was in use as a lighthouse from 1844 until 1887. We could see the North Horn.

The Beacon was the first Scottish Lighthouse in 1636 with a coal fire in a metal basket burning on top of the keeper’s house.

It was lit for the last time on 31st January. The island was by then owned by the Northern Lighthouse Board who commissioned Robert Stevenson to build the 24m high Main Light in 1816. It was automated in 1989.

The South Horn was built in 1886 and the North Horn in 1938. Heading south again we passed the loch where you can sometimes see
Eider Ducks and Fluke Street where the bird researchers live.

We then passed the ruins of the priory.

At the south end of the island view points overlook the cliffs where there are puffins, guillemots, shags, fulmars, razorbills and kittiwakes and gulls.






All too soon it was time to return to the boat and it began to rain as we boarded. The return journey took us round the other side of the island past cliffs covered with birds and a rock formation called The Bishop.

We then said goodbye to the Isle of May.

Round Britain: Fraserburgh to Banff


Leaving Fraserburgh we took the B road coastal trail through Sandhaven and Pitulie which are contiguous and Rosehearty. My copy of The Fabled Coast describes some of the fishermen’s customs and superstitions in the area. These include naming certain kinds of wave and believing that a breeze could be raised by a sailor whistling or scratching the mast with a finger nail. Stormy weather in Rosehearty was said to be brought on by marriage so weddings took place at the end of the herring season. Certain items were not to be brought onto ships for fear of adversely affecting the weather e.g. eggs because witches were believed to use eggshells as boats. Just out of town is Mounthooly Doocot. It was built by a local estate owner in 1800 to house pigeons for meat and eggs.

Nearby is a mound called Gallows Hill and the Hanging Stone. We diverted along a single-track road down to Aberdour Beach.

It has sandstone cliffs with caves, some of which look through to the sea. Fortunately, it was low tide so we could explore them.

There is a memorial to Jane Whyte, a farm servant’s wife. In December 1884, a steamer left Fraserburgh heading for Burghead. Adverse weather conditions led to the captain having to run the ship aground in Aberdour Bay. Jane Whyte saw the boat and realized that the men would have difficulty getting ashore. She waded out to the boat, caught a rope thrown to her and tying it round her waist, belayed the 15 men to shore one at a time. She sheltered them in her home and with the help of the local minister, they returned home the next day. Later she received the RNLI Silver Medal for Gallantry. Close to the sea are the ruins of St Drostan’s church which was founded in 580AD making it one of the earliest in Scotland. Just above the beach is St Drostan’s Well. East of the beach is a remnant of the old castle. New Aberdour is a 19th century planned village inland. Further on is Pennan harbour and a house called ‘The Old Doctor’s House’. There is a RSPB reserve at Troup Head which has Scotland’s only mainland gannet colony as well as fulmers, kittiwakes, guillemots and razor bills.


After the small village of Crovie is Gardenstown. It has been a fishing town situated amongst the sandstone cliffs for centuries. In 1900 it had 92 boats fishing for herring and salmon. Most of the community was involved in fishing with boats being handed down to subsequent generations. Later on, fishing boats became larger and the trade moved to bigger ports. The workers and their families continued to live there and after a lull in the 1980s and 90s, leisure fishing has now increased and also smaller fishing boats and others. We parked beyond the harbour where there was some street art.

Walking through to the harbour, some just completed street art was on the wall of a building soon to open as a café. I had a chat with the artist and café owner.

On the hillside above the town in Gamrie, lie the ruins of St John’s Church and graveyard. It was probably founded in 1004 and granted to the monks of Arbroath Abbey from 1189-1198. It was renovated in the 17th century and abandoned in 1830 when a new church was built in Gardenstown.
We noticed that several of the houses down near the harbour were for sale but new ones were being built further up the hill. When I was at medical school Gardenstown, with its then rather isolated community was renowned for having a high incidence of Menkes disease, also known as Menkes syndrome. It is an X-linked recessive disorder caused by mutations in genes coding for the copper-transport protein ATP7A, leading to copper deficiency. Characteristic findings of the disorder include kinky hair, growth failure, and nervous system deterioration. Today I saw one local with kinky hair but I suspect that the community is now more genetically diverse and that this is less of a problem. We continued along the coastal trail to Macduff and Banff which sit on opposite banks at the mouth of the River Deveron. Macduff was the last place to build deep-water wooden fishing boats. Our campsite is right on Inverboyndie Beach, so I had a beach walk in between showers.

The ships we had seen at Gardenstown had followed us and were now moored in Boyndie Bay. I spotted some pink seaweed

…and some that might become an abstract painting.

Tomorrow we continue our journey westward.

Round Britain: Peterhead to Fraserburgh


Before leaving for this leg of our tour around the British coast I had a look at my copy of the New Naturalist, The Sea Coast by JA Steers. The author’s Preface says that ‘a complete explanation of the intricate landscape of the Western Isles and mainland of Scotland is not at present possible’. The first edition was published in 1953 and my copy is a reprint of the 1969 fourth edition. J.A. Steers was Professor of Geography at Cambridge. He did get around to publishing the Coastline of Scotland in 1973 with the assistance of colleagues in Scotland. There was a section of one chapter in The Sea Coast which examines the section of the coast between Peterhead and Fraserburgh. Peterhead, where we ended our last trip, is the largest white fish port in Europe. Fraserburgh (known locally as ‘the Broch’) is the biggest shellfish port in Europe although both ports have seen a decline in the last few years.
We spent a night en route to Peterhead in Forfar, to catch up with friends. On arriving at the campsite five mallards were sleeping next to our pitch. They did not wake up until the sun came out an hour or so later. In the morning we discovered that they had slept there all night.

On the way to Peterhead, we stopped for coffee and a break in Ellon. A serendipitous find was a bookshop which sold both secondhand and new books as well as a few gifts. I discovered a book on Caithness which will be very useful for the next leg of our journey.

North of Peterhead we passed through St Fergus and then by a huge gas terminal. The coastline here used to run further inland, behind the Loch of Strathbeg. A shingle bar formed and blocked it off from the sea. It is Scotland’s largest land-locked coastal lagoon. In winter, pinkfoot and greylag geese arrive and it is now under the care of the RSPB.

Rattray formerly had a tidal inlet which was blocked around 1720 by blown sand and a huge storm after which the town decayed and by 1882 only the ruins of the old church were visible. St Mary’s Chapel was constructed in the 12th century, the first recorded reference to it being in 1220. It served the local community until it was probably replaced by the parish kirk of Crimond during the reformation.

The track continues to Rattray Head. The dunes here are a SSSI. On the beach was a large pile of sea glass which had hardly been worn down by the sea at all. The Ron Lighthouse is just off the headland.

Continuing back on the coastal road we passed St Coombs which like Inverallochy a little further on is a 19th century fishing village. St Coombs has the ruins of St Colombs Church. There are a few disused airfields in the area, some of which are now the sites of communication masts. We found our campsite on the esplanade of Fraserburgh easily and enjoyed a late afternoon walk on the beach.

The following morning, we explored the town before the weather worsened. Adjacent to our campsite on the esplanade are the buildings which store and process the fish and shellfish. The smell reminded me of my student placement in Accident & Emergency in Aberdeen. Straws had to be drawn to decide who would treat the very pungent injured fish workers who came in. The harbour was very busy and many businesses in town support the fishing industry.

The statue in the town square is of course, fish.

Sadly, the only bookshop in town looked as if it had closed a long time ago. At Kinnaird Head is the old lighthouse. It was the only Northern Lighthouse Board one to be built on an existing building. The castle, which is thought to have been constructed by Alexander Fraser in 1570, was up for sale in the 18th century. The Northern Lighthouse Board constructed its first lighthouse there. In 1824 Robert Stevenson re-designed the light on the tower.

The Scottish Lighthouses Museum ticket includes a tour of the tower; right up to the light.

It operated from 1787 and was decommissioned in 1991. The modern automatic light stands nearby with the first permanent radio beacon in Scotland which was erected in 1929.

The castle wine store still stands. We were told that when one of the Fraser daughters wanted to marry a man deemed to be unsuitable by her parents; he was sent to live on the bottom floor of the wine store while the daughter was housed on the top floor. A huge storm washed him out and he died on the rocks. The woman is said to have taken her life by jumping out of the top floor. Red paint is left on the rocks as a memorial.

The wind was increasing and rain forecast later in the afternoon so we had a lazy time planning the next day’s journey and watching seabirds fishing in the bay.

Trying out the new wheels: Rufford and Martin Mere


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

An Avocet

Spring had indeed sprung as we had our first coffee sitting outside this year before heading home on a relatively quiet motorway for once.

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.