We last visited the Christmas lights in the Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh in 2017. This year I booked it again and we met up with a friend to visit it. The Christmas Light Trail runs from mid-November to the 30th of December. Entry is timed so we set out for 6pm last Monday. Weekdays are quieter than the weekends. The trail starts by passing through the West Gate building and continues through various different sections with static displays like this green tree.
and others with changing colours in time to the music
and video on one of the buildings. We walked through a tunnel of lights.
and continued on the trail. The Chinese Garden had lights hanging from the trees
Another area had light bulbs hanging from the trees.
One section had 2 metre UV feathers. which looked as if they were floating in the trees.
Santa was standing near the catering section.
There was a large variety of displays including some on water. This one on a tree looked almost abstract as the tree faded behind the lights.
The trail eventually wends its way back to the West Gate buildings and it was time for us to head home for an evening meal.
We have been members of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh for several years and visit it frequently. It began in 1670 when two doctors, Andrew Balfour and Robert Sibbald set up a small 180 square yard plot containing 800-900 plants as a physic garden near Holyrood. This became too small after a few years and in 1682 an area at the end of the Nor Loch where Waverley Station is now situated, was planted with 2,000 plants and shrubs. It was close to Trinity Hospital and was later extended into Trinity College Kirkyard.
In 1763 a new site for the Botanic Garden was found in Leith Walk. It moved to its present home in Inverleith in 1820; a process taking two years to transfer all the plants and trees. The Botanical Society of Edinburgh was instituted in 1836. Over the next century and more, the garden evolved into the one we know today with plants from all over the world and buildings which house the visitors centre, exhibition spaces and places for the staff to work.
Events are organised and in 2017 we visited the Christmas Lights display they have most years in December.
The glasshouses are currently closed for refurbishment. An article in yesterday’s Times Scotland said that they were having to cut down a 220-year-old sabal palm tree which had to be moved in order to do the work and as it was 50 feet high, could not be moved intact. It had been in the Leith Walk garden before being moved to its current place. They have grown some seedlings.
The garden has the largest collection of Chinese plants outside China including many wild ones from mountains. The RGBE botanists are working with the Kuming Institute of Botany to develop a botanical garden and a mountain field station.
I enjoyed looking at some of the interesting trees
and the alpine garden.
As it is early autumn, some leaves were beginning to turn and seed heads were appearing.
Autumn crocuses are in bloom.
After wandering around the grounds we visited the exhibition of botanical photography of Levison Biss which covered fruits and seeds from the Herbarium Collection. I must try and get the book which was sold out in the botanic garden shop. It might inspire me to do some more macro photography.
We left home in sub-zero temperatures and fog to travel to Oxford. With climate change there have been fewer winter days like this in the last couple of years. I did not get chance to take any photographs before leaving but here is one from a few years ago.
The fog lifted around Birmingham, returned in the Cherwell Valley but had disappeared by the time we reached Oxford and settled into our hotel. We have been to the city numerous times but my most recent trips had been work-related, so I saw little more than a meeting room in the Ashmolean and the route to and from the station. The following morning was bright and sunny, so we walked into town. Blue plates proliferate on the walls of buildings around here and Tolkien’s house is nearby. I was introduced to his work at primary school in the very early 1970s when the miners’ strikes led to widespread power cuts. Our teacher read us TheHobbit by candlelight. Our first destination was the Weston Library which is across the road from the Old Bodleian. Its interior is modern but some of the walls are lined with collections of antiquarian books. We had come to see an exhibition entitled Talking Maps; some of their vast collection. It was varied and eclectic from some of the earliest to very recent examples. There was a map indicating where to buy a drink in Oxford in the 1880s.
This one is of Laxton in East Nottinghamshire which has a portion of the last remaining open field systems. The feudal rural Map of England dates from 1635 and there are three large fields still relatively intact in Laxton which is almost unique in post-enclosure Modern Britain.
Also on display was the earliest known medieval map of Britain produced as a separate sheet rather than in a book and drawn on the hides of a sheep and lamb. More recent maps were wartime examples, some fake to confuse the enemy. Maps of imaginary places included Tolkien’s (which could not be photographed) and RL Stevenson’s Treasure Island. There were also pictorial maps by Grayson Perry.
There were faith maps of Christian pilgrim routes to Jerusalem, maps to assist Muslims in identifying the direction of Mecca and others related to Hinduism and Buddhism. An interesting display explained that although maps were not always orientated north; they were never orientated towards the west as this was where the sun went down and darkness reigned. Later we walked into the Boddleian courtyard
and then wandered around the city, purchasing an antique map for our own collection from a dealer we have bought from online previously. It was interesting to meet him in person and find out a little more about his work. The Botanic Gardens in Oxford are the oldest in the country
and are situated near Magdalen College and Bridge.
Only three glasshouses were open as a renovation project was underway but the snowdrops were more open than mine are. The Gunnera Manicata had been cut down on the island in the middle of the pond and left folded over the stalks to provide shelter for wildlife. Some shrubs were beginning to flower and some other spring flowers. Fish were swimming around under the ice in one pond.
Just outside the garden is a garden with yew and box hedging. A notice said that this had been a water meadow in 1190 and became a Jewish burial site. In 1231 a new site was established under what is now the college. An ancient footpath connected the site with the medieval Jewish quarter and was known as Deadman’s Walk for 800 years. In 1290 Edward I expelled all the Jews in England and they were not permitted to return for 300 years.
We had a meal in the Three Goat Heads pub. The First English Guild of Cordwainers was founded in Oxford in 1130 and three goat heads appeared on the crest. Cordwainer is derived from Cordoba in Spain where cordovan leather was produced from goatskin and became very popular for making shoes. The original inn was owned by one of the cordwainers and dates from 1621 on another street. In the 1800s it was moved to the present site. Inside are three goat heads and numerous items used in shoemaking.
All too soon we had to return home having sampled only a little of what Oxford has to offer.
Departure time was 7.15am on the day we spent exploring Isalo National Park. First, we had to stop at the next village along the N7 to pick up our guide as it is not possible to enter the park without one. The park was created in 1962 and consists of an eroded Jurassic sandstone massif with gorges and river tributaries sited among grassland. We parked and began our short hike up one of the gorges. There were several groups setting out as it is a very popular park and reminded me of how busy Snowdonia and the Lake District get. There were quite a few ring-tailed lemurs among the rocks.
Cairns are dotted around the park, built by the Bara people who add a stone to make a wish/request of their Creator via their ancestors who act as intermediaries. They are the dominant tribe in the area, are descended from the Bantu people in southern Africa and are mostly crop and zebu farmers.
We were also shown a silkworm on a plant.
There is a botanic garden within the park. There are 400 plant species and some of the endemic plants are Aloe, Euphorbia, Pachypodes, Kalanchoe. The Tapia is the most common tree and lemurs eat its fruit. There are also some plants which we were told were miniature baobab but I later learnt they are in fact a different species.
Earlier this year on the fringes of the park reforestation projects were underway. From the summit there are 360-degree views of the park.
Then we walked downhill to the river. En route we passed the coffin of a rich person which was highly decorated. The tribe place the dead in natural caves and later collect the bones and carry them in a parade, family members dance with them in matching clothing and hold a reburial after wrapping he body in fresh silks along with sacrifices and feasting.
The Piscine Naturelle was popular and a few members of our group had a swim but it was a little too busy for me.
There was a walk over to a campsite where we were to have lunch with a 300-step descent which I was a little concerned my inflamed would knee survive. Before we began, we were sitting in the shade, we were joined by an 87-year old Italian woman who had walked up with two sticks and her friend and who put my concerns into perspective. During the walk I was chatting to the park guide. He said that polygamy was still common in the south. If a first wife did not produce a son, others would be sought. He told me that his brother had seven wives. He also told me that some taxi-brousses which would carry coffins back to the tribal area, would also act as drug transport. One coffin had been found to be full of cocaine. I told him that ice-cream vans also sell illicit drugs in housing estates in many of the cities in the UK. After the descent we reached the campsite where we had lunch. This is also a place that ring-tailed lemurs visit regularly.
We also saw some insects and a chameleon, a bee-eater and Madagascan hoopoe. In the evening a few of us went down the road to la Fenêtre d’Isalo:, a window in the rocks which faces west.
En route we stopped at a rock entitled ‘La Reine d’Isalo. Dinosaur remains have been found nearby and are located in the local museum.
It was sharp elbows and selfie territory at the sunset but worth putting up with.
There is so much on in Edinburgh in the summer that you have to be very selective. In addition to keeping up with friends and getting things done in the flat, we did manage to get out to a couple of exhibitions. I have been familiar with some of Bridget Riley’s work for a long time but the Scottish National Gallery has now got one of the largest collections of her work on display. It showcases the development of her work from life drawings done at art school, pointillism and some copies of Impressionist works. There are some preliminary drawings for paintings and rooms displaying the OP Art black and white and colour works that she is best known for. She painted her first abstract work in 1961. Her monochrome painting ‘Movement in Squares’
reminded me of a perspective study I had to do at school and still have on my monochrome wall in Edinburgh.
Others are very colourful. The large size of many of her works means that she has used assistants since the 1960s but mixes all the colours herself.
The other exhibtion I managed to get to was ‘Weird Plants’ by Chris Thorogood which is on at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh. He describes himself as being fascinated by plants since childhood and finding was of illustrating them. The works in this exhibition were mostly oils. I was particularly interested in his painting of Ravenala madagascariensis or the Traveller’s Palm:
The reason it evolved blue seeds is that Madagascar has very few fruit and seed-eating birds which are hard-wired to prefer red, orange and yellow fruits in that order. Lemurs however, can only distinguish visually between shades of green and blue. They are attracted there fore to the seeds and aid in their dispersal. We have a trip to Madagascar planned for October so I will look out for the seeds. There is an exhibition of collage at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art which I must see on another trip. It is on until October so I should have no problem fitting that in.
After the morning rush on the A96, we left Delnies Wood and returned to the coast near Ardesier, a former fishing village. On the other side of the promontory is a platform construction yard for the oil industry. The tip of the promontory is occupied by Fort George. Construction began in 1746 after the Jacobite rebellion to aid in the government suppression of them. It is still a forces base. In late 1984 when I was working in Inverness, a friend in the army brought a platoon of Gurkhas for tea. The fort took 22 years to complete and it is more than 1km in circumference. It is now the home of the Black Watch.
We were told that the entrance doors were original
and that the bridge we walked over was once a drawbridge.
There are views over to Chanonry Point from the ramparts. We hope to explore it more closely when we continue our coastal journey in September and cross over to the Black Isle.
The fort contains the Highlanders Regimental Museum and a magazine whose 2,672 barrels contained gun powder, not whisky.
There was a small photographic exhibition ‘Scotland from the Air’ with photographs taken between the early 20th century
and the last couple of years.
Aerial photography started with crews taking shots for military planning. The RAF have 750,000 photographs of Scotland. Aerial surveys have been carried out in Scotland since 1976. Many were used in a TV programme ‘Scotland From the Sky’. The Historic Environment Scotland’s archives of more than 1.6 million photographs can be accessed via the following websites: http://www.Canmore.org.uk and http://www.ncap.org.uk
On the way back along the old military road to rejoin the A96 into Inverness, we passed Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC training in Ardesier. There was a shop, so James popped in to get a newspaper. He was offered a free copy of the Sun which he declined. The woman in the shop had never heard of the boycott of paper in Liverpool after it published inaccurate accusations about Liverpool FC fans at Hillsborough in 1989. They were accused of being drunk and urinating on and assaulting emergency workers; and pick-pocketing the dead bodies, all of which was unsubstantiated. The A96 passes Inverness Airport and Culloden. We had to get an oil change done on the van before heading to our campsite.
Situated close to the river Ness, there were riverside walks into town via Ness Islands or along the northern bank. In the evening we stuck to the south bank and met some friends for dinner.
In the morning we walked along the north bank and passed one of several statues in an Oor Wullie series. This one was based on Scottish flora.
I had a look in Inverness Cathedral. It is the most northern Anglican Cathedral in the UK and the first stone was laid in 1866 by the then Archbishop of Canterbury. From the reformation the Episcopal church was proscribed and clergy were imprisoned for carrying out public worship. This was the first time an archbishop had performed any actions in the city since then. The cathedral was completed in 1869. I was unable to spend any quiet time in there as shortly after we entered, two bus loads of tourists marched in.
Crossing the river to the south side and city centre, we passed a man with a Liverpool FC shirt on. I asked him if he was from Liverpool and he said no, the United States and proceeded to show me his Donald Trump socks! The City Museum and Art Gallery has been created out of part of an old shopping centre next to the castle. In the art gallery section upstairs was an exhibition on immigration which aims to promote dialogue and understanding. I had seen it in Edinburgh beforehand but there were some newer items.
There was also a small exhibition based on a collaboration between makers in Scotland and Iceland in 2017 and 2018 with some of the Scottish makers displaying work done subsequently. We had seen some of the Icelandic work when we were there in early 2017.
The last time we were at Inverness Castle was in 2010 when we had completed walking the Great Glen Way from Fort William.
We had lunch with a friend and then walked back to the Botanic Garden near our campsite. I was inspired to do more with my cacti, succulents and orchids.
We were happy to leave before the weekend as the park next to the campsite was gearing up for the European Pipe Band Championship. We headed off down the A9 where I notice lots of garden escapees on the roadside near Kingussie: lupins. Further on we popped into Pitlochry for a coffee. Green Park Hotel before the town with great views of Loch Faskally and sculptures in the garden did not have a café but gave us some free coffees.
So far, our mileage for this leg is 196 bringing the total to 534. We will not continue round the coast in July and August as it is very busy especially since the North Coast 500 was created. We have other trips planned and will return to the coast route in September.
Our last morning in Port Lincoln saw us heading up the hill to Winters Hill Lookout for views over the town and Boston Bay.
Back in town we had coffee on the waterfront while waiting for the Book Bazaar to open. It is a secondhand bookshop which raises funds for local charities. It has a large selection of books which are very well organised and some antiquarian and collectors’ books. We found a couple to keep us going (one on the Camino de Santiago which I would like to do one day).
It was then time to get back on the road up the east coast of the Eyre Peninsula. This road is called the Lincoln Highway but is certainly not the one we drove two years ago from New York to San Francisco. I am not sure when this one got its name. After passing through North Shields, our first stop was Tumby Bay. Just off the highway is a silo mural created by Martin Ron from Argentina assisted by Matt Gorrick. There is a car park and path with picnic tables. Someone had helpfully written on the notice that the best view is from the end of the path.
Tumby Bay has a local art group and some street art has been created on various walls in the town by different people. There is also a 10km white sand beach which was almost empty when we arrived.
The most southerly mangrove stand is here with a boardwalk and there are other paths and a couple of museums. It was time to press on. The water main runs alongside the road for much of the route. We stopped for lunch at Arno Bay. The wide estuary here is mostly dry at this time of year except the creek amongst the mangroves.
There are also mudflats and areas covered with samphire. I heard a few birds, but fishing is more important here than wildlife. There are several jetties along the boardwalk and you are also allowed to kayak but not use motorised craft.
Further north is Cowell, a coastal town which was more 19th century buildings on the main street than most of the others on the peninsula. James wondered why they needed a pharmacy but as I had seen three mobility scooters in the short drive down the street, I suspect there is a large elderly population here. There is an agricultural museum with lots of old machinery outside and the Viterra grain silo every town here seems to have. The oldest and a large deposit of nephrite jade was found in nearby hills in 1965. The Jade Motel on the way back to the highway has souvenirs and jade jewellery for sale. After Cowell the land seemed drier and ranges of hills appeared west of the highway. Closer to Highway One is Iron Knob where the first iron ore in Australia was found in 1894. Current deposits in nearby mines supply the ore for the steelworks in Whyalla, our destination for that night. Whyalla is said to get 300 days of sunshine every year and the temperature climbed to 37 degrees before we arrived there. Prior to 1978 shipbuilding was a major industry but now it is steel production and mineral salt processing. The hotel we stayed in is owned by two former footballers and there was a big focus on drinking and betting. There were even betting slips on the restaurant tables. It was reminiscent of a hotel in Nevada we arrived at and could not find reception. Someone told us we had to go into the casino next door to check in.
Back on the road in the morning we had the water pipe again and the railway line alongside. Our first destination was Port Augusta which sits at the top of the Gulf with the Flinders Range behind. At the junction with the Stuart Highway to Alice Springs was the Standpipe Motel. I did wonder if it had any showers. The Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden which is a short distance north of the town and has several trails among the trees and plants. We saw a few emus at a distance and a crested pigeon. The garden also has sculptures including this one by Warren Pickering.
It was very windy so I did not do much flower photography.
We had by now rejoined Highway One. We spotted a van parked at the side of the road with ‘men are like mascara: they run at the first sign of emotion’ written on the back. The road runs south with the sea on one side and the mountains on the left. At Port Pirie it turns inland. We saw communities named Bute and Lorne and at Lochiel, Nessie is on Lake Bumbunga, a salt lake.
Lunch was at Port Wakefield which has a memorial to Jack Brabham, a Formula One racing driver in the 1960s who won his first race there in 1955. The highway runs pretty far into Adelaide before any serious navigation is required so we arrived in good time. Over the last two days we have covered 422 miles bringing the trip total to 9,697 miles. The next day will be entirely on foot.
Cervantes was named after an American whaling ship ran aground in 1844 (several other ships have sunk or run aground here). Many of the streets are named after Spanish cities. Before we left we drove out to Thirsty Point. It is said to have acquired its name after fishermen sailing between Fremantle and Geraldton ran out of water at this point. There was a coastal surveillance look-out point here in the Second World War. Other than one fisherman, the beach was deserted. The islands offshore have sea lion populations, but we did not see any. Fishing is important along this coast evidenced by the large fish on the way in
and the fact that the only information board about local species at the point was on fish.
Further south is Namburg National Park which contains the Pinnacles Desert. You can drive around or there is a walking trail. We chose to walk and as well as the views from the lookout, also saw a flock of Galahs.
In the interpretive centre I learnt a little more about the quandong fruit photographed the previous day. It is related to sandalwood and takes nutrients from the roots of other plants as well as the soil. Emus love the fruit and the leaves were used by indigenous people to cure disease. The nut contains an oil that can be used as a moisturiser and early settlers used the skin to make jams and jellies. Nearer to Lancelin, we passed a sign warning drivers that ‘windblown sand may reduce visibility’ and shortly afterwards saw why: a mobile sand dune.
At Nambung National Park we had been told that our pass allowed access to other parks on the same day. As we passed Yanchep National Park, we decided to take a look and saw animals and birds. Many were having a snooze as it was the middle of the day.
Afterwards we continued to Perth where we were staying with friends and visiting relatives for a couple of days. We had some time in the city centre to explore Kings Park which has views over the city and the botanic garden. I discovered the names of some of the plants I had seen in Western Australia over the last few days and enjoyed some of the others. There is also a small indigenous art gallery which is also worth a visit.
We then walked back into town to visit the Art Gallery of Western Australia which has collections from the 19th century to the present day from Australian artists, artists from other countries who have worked in Australia, indigenous art and others. I particularly enjoyed an exhibition called Spaced 3: North by Southeast, which was the result of a three-year collaboration between Nordic and Australian visual artists. The only Nordic country not represented was Norway.
There is a secondhand bookshop in the city, Elizabeth’s. It has a blind date with books project underway at the moment. We found one book to buy.
After visiting relatives in Mandurah, we re-joined Highway One which is the Old Coast Road for a while before joining with Highway 2 to become the Forrest Highway to Bunbury. We had done 283 miles since leaving Cervantes and our trip total now 7,520. The forecast rain had begun as we arrived so evening walks along the beach did not happen.
Waking early and not having too far to drive today meant we could spend a little more time exploring Noosa before we left. There are so many things to do and ways to explore (boat trips, horse riding etc) but we stuck to walking. The coastal boardwalk to Noosa Heads National Park begins at the southern end of the main beach just off Hastings Street. A few people were already on the beach.
You can also drive to the park if you wish but we were trying to keep up some exercise on this long drive. The path is being renovated so there are some diversions and as it was Sunday there were lots of runners. We reached the park and continued along the coastal path. It goes all the way round to Sunshine Beach which takes about four hours, so we just did a small section. The first part looks over Laguna Bay to Cooloola sandmass which has been building up for 500,000 years and is one of the biggest accumulations of wind-blown sand on the Queensland Coast
continuing past the Boiling Pot
until we reached Tea Tree Bay
It was then time to return to the town, leave Noosa and head back to the Pacific Highway which we joined near Cooroy. Before we did this, we visited Noosa Botanic Garden which is on the shores of Lake Macdonald. It is free to visit, owned by the council and much of the work is done by volunteers. 80% of the plants and trees are native. There were also quite a few birds around.
Back on the highway we had a brief rest and cold drink at the Golden Nugget Road House. There are many signs on the highway exhorting you to stop and rest every two hours, but things have got to a new level up here. A sign said that playing trivia could keep you awake. A little further on was the question: What is Rockhampton famous for? We knew the answer: beef cattle. This was on the next sign. The landscape was getting drier and large cattle farms could be seem as well as pineapples and sugar cane. More traffic was heading south than north. At Maryborough we turned off towards Hervey Bay and found a shady corner in their Botanic Garden for lunch. A white ibis came to see us
and there were several turtles sunning themselves on rocks alongside the water.
Finally, we reached the esplanade and our motel. The beach here is sheltered from the ocean by Fraser Island so the sea is very shallow. Today’s mileage was 131 bringing the total so far to 1214 miles and the temperature reached 28 degrees. Tomorrow the car will be going nowhere.
Rain seems to be following us up the coast and was very heavy when we were breakfasting in our Newcastle hotel. Fortunately, it stopped, and the sun emerged as we drove out of town following the Hunter River to re-join the A1 Pacific Highway. The first diversion today was exploring the Hunter Region Botanic Garden which is just north of the city. It is run by volunteers and the garden covers 33 hectares surrounding the visitor centre. There are several walking trails which cover areas such was palms, wetlands, rainforest, succulents, conifers, banksias, rare and endangered plants, grasses and many others.
A boardwalk crosses the swamp and we could hear dozens of frogs but did not see any.
The gardens are also full of birds which we could hear but we only got brief glimpses of some.
Wildflowers grow in the forest areas and nearer to the visitor centre there are collections of bromeliads and orchids although unfortunately the orchid house was closed. Many of the trees and shrubs were also flowering.
After topping up our caffeine levels in the café we hit the road again, heading north and crossing the Karuah River. Shortly afterwards we saw the first koala sign warning motorists of wildlife and then unfortunately, the first dead wallaby by the side of the road. The road continues into more hilly country and crosses many rivers including the Myalla and Coolongolook. Once the A1 reached Kew, we diverted along Tourist Route 10 aka Ocean Drive which runs south of Queens Lake. A side road runs down to North Haven Beach where the tide was coming in.
Another stop was Rainbow Beach near Bonny Hills which is a popular beach and surfing spot but today, out of season, it was very quiet. I am assuming it acquired the name from the multicoloured rocks that lie on it.
Something James spotted while I was beachcombing was this traffic cone on the top of a 50m Norfolk Pine!
Further on the road descends into Port Macquarie. We passed the first camels of the trip – domesticated and standing in a roadside field. Unfortunately, there was nowhere to safely stop and take a photograph. We did manage to replace the windscreen wiper so now I can see where we are going when it is raining. After settling into our motel we walked a couple of blocks to the bowling club which our host had recommended for our evening meal and also given us some discount vouchers. After eating, we emerged to very heavy rain which soaked us on the short walk back. We should not complain because New South Wales has had a serious drought for some time. We will see if the rain follows us again tomorrow.