Round Britain: Tarbat to Wick


On Monday we awoke to a wet and dull day. It was too wet for the forest walks in the hills above Tain, so we decided to explore the Tarbat Peninsula. A minor road from Tain passes a disused airfield and a moor which is still designated a military bombing site. During World War Two, many of the villagers of Portmahomack were evacuated so that landing exercises in preparation for D Day could be carried out. The village was quiet when we reached it. Its name means the Port of St Colman, an early Christian saint.

The Discovery Centre is based in the old church and covers the area history from the Picts to more recent events. Many of the local archaeological finds are displayed. The church is dedicated to 7th century St Colman and has had many incarnations from the earliest monastery and Pictish church to the Church of Scotland. In 1948 it ceased to operate as a church.

In the old churchyard is a baptismal well. It is said to have been sanctified by St Rule on his way to St Andrews and is still used to baptise the eldest son of the Earls of Cromartie to this day.

A statue entitled ‘The Pictish Queen’ sculpted by Leonie Gibbs sits near the church.

Quite a few of the local towns have a cast iron fountain dating from the second half of the 19th century when piped water reached the community. Portmahomack also has an old streetlamp dating from 1900. It is one of the first erected which used paraffin. They were extinguished during the First World War but electric light did not arrive until 1949.

Before we left the village I noticed a house on the shore. I have seen gardens with gnomes in before but these were all ensconced inside.

Three miles beyond Portmahomack is Tarbat Ness with its lighthouse. There is a walk from the village I had found on the Walkhighlands website and might have done it in better weather. The area on the Ness is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and is visited by birds migrating from Scandinavia. The lighthouse was built by Robert Stevenson in 1840 and at 40 metres, is the third tallest in Scotland.

When we arrived, a robot was mowing the lawn: some modernity in the midst of all the history.

The path continues to the end of the peninsula

and we saw one seal briefly. The stone stackers have also been here at some point. Returning to Tain, we joined the A9, crossed the Dornoch Firth

and entered Sutherland. Before reaching Dornoch we also crossed the River Evelix. Dornoch Cathedral is Scotland’s smallest and was built by Gilbert de Moravia who became bishop, beginning in 1224. Two hundred years later, a Bishop’s Palace or Castle was built and is now a hotel. There is a crowd-funded distillery start-up there. We could not see inside the cathedral as a funeral was in progress.

However, we did have a browse in the nearby independent bookshop:

Afterwards we took a minor road north out of town and then along the south shore of Loch Fleet which is a National Nature Reserve. We paused just after the ruins of Skelbo Castle

spotting a grey heron and a curlew in the distance.


Back on the A9 the cloud was low. Near to The Mound, there was a ‘Caution Otters’ sign and hordes of people were down by the bridge looking for them, so we carried on passing through Golspie and Brora. We had previously visited Dunrobin Castle and Clynelish Distillery so pressed on to our destination for the night: Helmsdale. The rain had eased when we arrive there so we had a short walk around up to the Telford Bridge and the old harbour. The town has been a port since 1527 but the first harbour was not constructed until 1818. In 1832 a fishing boat brought cholera to the town but it was rescued from decline when other fleets brought herring in.

Timespan is the heritage and arts centre.

Before dinner we walked down to the modern harbour where sea birds were lined up on a wall as the tide came in.


The following day we were back on the A9, entering Caithness north of Helmsdale. A little further along is the site of the abandoned village of Badbea. People were moved during the clearances in the early 1800s when landowners decided that the glens where most people lived would be better places for sheep farms. Some people were living at Badbea in 1793 but most arrived in 1802 when Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster decided that Ousedale, a fertile glen on his Langdale Estate required clearing for sheep farming. He tried to encourage people to engage in the coastal industries. At least twelve families lived at Badbea. It is said that the winds on the cliffs were so strong that animals and even children had to be roped together to prevent them from being blown over the cliffs. Eventually it became impossible to continue and people left; the last resident departing in 1911. The short walk from the carpark leads to a memorial and the remains of a few homes.


After coffee at the River Bothy in Berriedale (where the mobile library was parked up outside) it was time to head north. The next stop was Dunbeath. Very little remains of the monastery which once sat slightly upriver from the village. It was washed away in the 18th century. There is a heritage trail which goes along the river and up a hill to a broch and some old stones.

The village street was constructed between 1840 and 1850. One of my friends from Aberdeen University told me that her grandfather worked at the mill by the old bridge. Just outside it we met an elderly man who remembered him.

Neil Gunn the author was born in Dunbeath in 1891. I read his books many years ago. There is a memorial sculpture down at the harbour.

Looking across the water there is a cave accessible at low tide and the castle which is not open to the public.

Back on the A9 we took the A99 to Wick at Latheron passing through Lybster, Ulbster and Thrumpster. The coast is littered with ancient remains of brochs, castles, cairns and standing stones. There are also the ruins of abandoned crofts and large wind farms stand offshore. Soon we were settled into our riverside campsite.

New Zealand: finally reaching Christchurch

It is not a good idea to travel on a bank holiday weekend if you can avoid it and certainly not one that is also the start of a half term holiday for a large part of England. We booked this trip many months ago and I cannot quite remember why we chose this weekend to fly out to New Zealand for a month. The weekend and holiday crowds were not really a problem. The thing that put the spanner in the works was the massive global IT failure experienced by British Airways. We had got to the airport fairly early on the day we were due to leave and problems only became apparent as the time progressed. Flights before ours had not left and a disaster was unfolding at Heathrow and across the world. Eventually we were told to reclaim our bags, go home and rebook the following day. It was fairly easy for us to take a train and taxi home and sleep in our own bed rather than on the floor of Terminal 5 at Heathrow in the chaos there. I had tried via the website, app and calling the airline to rebook as they had cancelled two of the four flights we were to take. That was all unsuccessful and it was apparent that it was going to take several days for things to return to any semblance of normality so we had to book alternative flights so that we could get there only a day later than planned.

We arrived mid-afternoon. Our last flight, from Brisbane to Christchurch was only three hours. As we got closer to New Zealand, the clouds thickened but as we descended, the mountains appeared and then the Canterbury plain surrounding Christchurch. After so many hours in transit, we dumped our luggage at the hotel and then walked around a little before it got dark. We are very close to Cathedral Square. The 1881 cathedral was badly damaged in the earthquakes, losing it’s spire and a large stained glass window.

The Transitional aka Cardboard Cathedral is currently in use while a battle rages between those who want the original restored and those who wish something new.



There are roadworks and building going on all around with art works helping to fill the gaps. We had planned to spend a day here as the parks, botanic garden, art gallery and museum and wandering by the river would all have been worth doing but the delays mean that will have to wait for another trip.

24 hours in Liverpool


For once, our journey to Liverpool was not for work but pleasure. James is a Bob Dylan fan and I had managed to get tickets for his Liverpool night in his current UK tour. We arrived in the morning as for some time I had wanted to visit the Anglican Cathedral with my 1927 guidebook. The Diocese of Liverpool was not founded until 1880 as previously it had been part of Lichfield and then Chester Dioceses. Giles Gilbert Scott was commissioned to design the building at the age of 22 in 1902. By 1910 the Lady Chapel had been built and consecrated. Although work did not cease completely during the First World War, fund-raising had not been as successful as hoped and was limited to preventing what had already been built from deteriorating due to the weather. It was still under construction when my guidebook was published and it was not until 1942 that the central tower was completed and the first bells rang in 1951. We wandered around admiring the mix of the sacred with modern art. Here is the west window with a Tracey Emin installation below it.

Charles Lutyen’s Sculpture from wood ‘Outraged Christ’

The Lady Chapel is beautiful

and the Children’s Chapel has a Craigie Aitchison painting

Sadly no-one was playing the organ

You can climb to the top of the tower to see the view but I left that for another time. After a coffee in the mezzanine cafe we headed back down the hill past the entrance to China Town.

Along Bold Street I browsed in News from Nowhere, the radical bookshop but nothing grabbed me. I did find two books in Oxfam. The store had a re-vamp last year but still has a large shelf of newly arrived stock unlike any of their other stores that I have been in. Further down the hill, buskers were competing to see who could make the most noise. It was so sunny and warm we could not resist sitting outside with a cold beer for the first time this year before checking into our hotel. Before we could get into the arena, Simply Dylan, a tribute band were playing on the terrace at Jury’s Inn near the arena and quite a large crowd were listening. Nearby is the John Lennon memorial.
The Echo Arena does not allow photography so no photos of Bob in action. He is renowned for not having a support act, not interacting with the audience and just coming on and playing. A friend had said that he always starts on time so we were a little surprised that his start was delayed by people still coming in 15 minutes after the start time. The vast majority of people respected the no photography law with fewer phones flashing than at other events. Afterwards I only had my phone to get an evening shot as we headed back to the hotel.

Dubrovnik: walking the walls and exploring churches

Today was overcast and rain forecast for the afternoon so we set off to walk around the city walls first thing when they are quieter. There are good views over the town and the Adriatic, a few runs of steps to the viewpoints and Minčeta Tower which are good exercise and some spring flowers.



There was a small cafe in the walls providing a welcome espresso and others near the St John Fort and Maritime Museum where we started and finished our circuit. Wandering back along the Stradum I noted that a number of the places we have visited or are about to have been film sets for either Game of Thrones or Star Wars or both and here there are plenty of shops to buy souvenirs. Very few destinations are without an Irish pub and I have seen two of these so far. We had a look in the cathedral where there are some modern paintings depicting the stations of the cross


and then the church of St Blaise which has stained glass windows by Ivo Dulčić.


In the early evening we were wandering around trying to decide where to eat. As we we are a little out of season some places are not open. James was not keen to hang around the harbour until sunset at 19.17 so we headed back towards the centre of town and found a place (Konobo Colosseum) right next to Croatia’s equivalent of the Spanish steps.

A day in Liverpool

Despite working in Liverpool for almost seven years, there are still many sights I have not had the chance to visit so when James announced that he was attending a course there, it was a good opportunity to use some of my hotel points to get us a free night there. As the brief of summer weather had ended by Tuesday evening, we had a wet walk from the hotel to Panoramic 34, a restaurant at the top of a building. The views were indeed extensive and the food very good but as all the windows were covered in rain spots, photography was not an option. We ate our meal watching the Mersey and Isle of Man ferries departing.

This morning, I left James at the course venue and after a coffee, wandered down to the Pier Head to visit the Museum of Liverpool which I had never been in before and which is in a striking building. There were lots of things I had not known before and I learnt a lot about the city I have come to love. The photojournalist Lee Karen Stow, had an exhibition called Poppies: women at war which was very moving as I have had a number of patients who have escaped from war zones in several countries and are seeking asylum in the UK. Much of combat history is devoted to the men who are fighting so this was a refreshing change.

Museum iexterior 11 May 2015-1
Museum interior 11 May 2015-1

Afterwards I took a few photographs around the Pier Head and then visited one of the city’s secondhand bookshops, Kernaghan’s, in the Bluecoat. It was quiet so I had a good chat with the owner, his wife and her father covering caffeine metabolism, the school they used to run in Nepal and trekking in the Himalaya. I bought two books, one by some guys who did an overland trip in a Trabant. Their route covers a lot of the London to Sydney overland route we hope to do in a couple of years so it should be interesting. The other is on American myth, a topic of interest for this summer’s drive.

After lunch, James headed back to his course and I walked up the hill to visit 59 Rodney Street. Edward Chambré Hardman was a 1950s society photographer who lived and worked from the house for many years until his death in 1988. The National Trust have now taken it over and it is a fascinating insight into that era of photography and the Hardman’s lives, as they threw very little away. After the 90-minute guided tour which is a must for anyone interested in photography, I looked in both cathedrals as I had never been in them. I then walked back down Brownlow Hill towards the station, just as all the students were pouring out of the universities. On the short train journey back to Crewe, one of the staff was telling us which end of the first class section to sit in so that we had time to down the drinks and eat before we disembarked.

Hardman House 3 11 May 2015-1
Hardman House 4 11 May 2015-1

Metropolitan Cathedral 11 May 2015-1

A cathedral, palaces and the last beach of the trip

Having visited a small chapel yesterday, our first call today was St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall. It is our most northerly cathedral and dates from the 12th century. Nearby are the ruins of the Earl’s and Bishop’s palaces.

St Magnus Cathedral 1 11 June 2015 (1 of 1)

After wandering around town, a couple of art exhibitions and a quick lunch, it was time to head out of town for the last beach walk of this trip. Waulkmill Bay is near to the RSPB reserve on Hobbister Hill we visited a couple of days ago. It is a Site of Special Interest and has some unusual plants which attract insects and many bird visitors. The tide was out and after walking down the cliff-side steps, we were able to wander across the huge expanse of sand. Several oystercatchers were feeding, a family were having a picnic and another couple were walking their dogs. On the way back to the cottage we saw that one farmer had set up a fake raptor as a scarecrow.

Waulkmill Bay 11 June 2015 (1 of 1)Waulkmill Bay 2 11 June 2015 (1 of 1)