The end of 2017

During our journey to Edinburgh just after Christmas, the radio was reporting snow, ice, blocked roads and closed airports elsewhere but northwest England and southern Scotland were bathed in winter sunshine. Not long after we joined the M6, a line of vintage tractors crossed a bridge over the motorway, presumably heading to some tractor fest event. Wildlife spotted on the journey included two buzzards perched on fence posts, mute swans on the River Eden and a roe deer just behind the crash barrier. There were several skeins of geese in the blue sky and snow on the Cumbrian peaks. Our only delay was an accident on the M74 before we were driving on the A701 through snowy landscapes.



In Moffat the ram was still wearing his Remembrance Day poppies.

There was 6-9 inches of snow all around and the hill sheep were digging holes to find grass. In Penicuik, children were sledging down the hill opposite the barracks. Unsurprisingly there was less snow in the city although there was a snow shower the following day while we were shopping and the children next door were building a snowman when we returned. It stayed dry later and which was a blessing as I had booked us to see the Botanic Gardens’ Christmas light & music display which we had never been to before. It runs every year in December.




The remainder of our time was spent catching up with relatives and friends and a lunch and football match for James on his birthday. I had pondered trying to get some photographs of the torchlight procession which takes place on the 30th but it started to rain heavily just as I got back to the flat so I gave up that idea. Storm Dylan arrived on the 31st and at one point Princes Street was closed to pedestrians as some staging had collapsed. I decided not to go up the hill to photograph the midnight fireworks as the wind was still very strong and I had visions of slipping down the hill in the mud with my camera & tripod. We did see some of the earlier evening fireworks on the way to and from the Candlelit Concert in St Giles Cathedral. It was performed by their choir and Camerata and organist and included Handel’s Dixit Dominus and Bach’s Mass in F, both of which I have sung before and Handel’s Organ Concerto Op 4 No 2 in Bflat. Despite being described as candlelit, there were only a few candles at the front. I must return and have a look round the cathedral at some point as it has seen a lot of history. We decided to stay in on our return and saw the New Year in very quietly. Back home we discovered that the cellar pump had failed and it was flooded but managed to it going again before the storm due to hit us tonight deposits even more water on us.

The end of summer?


The last weekend of August (the hottest August Bank Holiday since records began) saw us back in Edinburgh to catch some of the last music and the Fireworks concert at the end of the Festival. Flagstaff Americana are a mainly Scottish group with an Australian playing bass guitar and a lead singer from Northern Ireland. They play a selection of country and rock music which is right up James’s street and also do regular gigs at the bar & bistro, Biblos. We saw them in the Fringe last year at Henry’s Cellar Bar in Morrison Street and this was their venue on Sunday evening. Here they are getting ready to perform.

On Monday evening, after walking down to town with only one flyer being thrust in our faces, we joined the long queue to enter Princess Street Gardens where there is a seated are at the Ross Bandstand and standing/picnicking tickets for the gardens. I had treated us to seats so we enjoyed the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and guests while watching the fireworks a little closer than I saw them last year from the top of Calton Hill.



The Scottish schools began their autumn term in mid August and the rest of the UK returns to school this week. Monday is Labor Day in the USA and another sign that autumn is on the way. However, although we have plenty of mellow fruitfulness: I am busy making apple juice, damson and sloe gin, passata with tomatoes and soup with cucumbers, we have only so far had a fleeting glimpse of mist before the sun burnt it off yesterday morning. Summer is not over yet and some are saying an Indian Summer is forecast. Traditional recipes state that sloes should not be picked until after the first frost but if we did that now, they would all be eaten by birds as our first frost is still weeks away and they are ripe.

A friend commented recently that we used to pick blackberries in October and now they are ripe in August. I now have figs ripening outside which I could not have done several years ago. We will be extending our summer a little more during a week in southwest France very soon and I am also busy planning more journeys.

Walking the Water of Leith

I have to confess, we have not walked the 24 miles of the Water of Leith from the source in the Pentland Hills, nor the 12 plus miles of the Water of Leith Walkway from Balerno to Leith. We did not have time to complete the full length of the Walkway so chose to walk to Leith from the point nearest to us.

As soon as we had returned from Ireland, friends were asking why I was not in Edinburgh enjoying the Fringe. We did come up in the middle of the month as we had some work which needed to be carried out on the flat and had selected a few samples of comedy, music and photography from the Fringe to enjoy as well. Some sensible residents stay away completely as getting around is more difficult and takes longer if you have to pass through the main tourist areas; fending off the flyers constantly shoved in your face. After enjoying Dan Willis, a UK comedian living in Australia presenting a ‘Whinging Pom’s Guide’ to the country, Ed Byrne, the Edinburgh Photographic Society’s Annual Exhibition and a great night with Lorna Reid at the Jazz Club, we were ready for a change of scene. We have walked a few sections of the Walkway in the past but fancied a bigger chunk today. It is a two mile walk to our nearest section and includes a bit of the Union Canal.

The Visitors’ Centre is at Slateford just next to where the river flows under the aqueduct carrying the Union canal. We had a coffee before hitting the trail just under the aqueduct where a sign told us it was seven miles to Leith.

There are currently a few diversions due to path closures. There has been a landslip and one section has been closed for six months while this is investigated and decisions made about action. Other sections are closed due to works on the Flood Prevention Scheme. Back on the path we enjoyed the greenery including trees and wildflowers but also spotted large clusters of an introduced problem plant: Himalayan Balsam. It is an annual but produces 800 seeds per year which are propelled huge distances and can be carried by water. It out-competes native flora and is very difficult to eradicate.

Other places have street art.

We passed the Balgreen Community Garden with raised beds made from sleepers like my own and an invertebrate hotel.

There are numerous places along the way where you can join or leave the Walkway and it connects with some of the cycle routes. Occasionally the path leaves the riverside for a short stretch for example, in the Dean Village.

It passes St Bernard’s Well, built on the site of an spring and which is open on Sundays in August. Here is an interior shot I took a couple of years ago:

Before we reached Leith we came across a family of swans having a grooming session. The swan’s partner was watching nearby.

After a succession of signs all saying Leith was 1¾ miles, we eventually reached The Shore. There is a Turkish Cafe and a pub, Salvation ready to restore you and for fine dining, Restaurant Martin Wishart is a little further along. After some refreshments it was time to catch the bus home. With all the diversions we had in fact clocked up 12 miles.

Sunshine and jazz in Edinburgh


This gull had found a quiet spot to enjoy the sun we have had for the last few days but many more people were sunbathing in the Meadows, St Andrews Square or Portobello Beach. School and university are out for summer and the tourist season is in full swing. We were here mainly to get some work done on the flat but managed to escape for dinner with some friends on Sunday evening and for a trip to the Jazz Club on Monday evening. The Jazz and Blues Festival runs from 14-23 July before the main Festival and Fringe start. The Jazz Club’s resident Big Band were participating on this occasion. An early evening meal at Biblos which is almost next door meant we were first in the queue when the doors opened. Seating is fairly restricted at the venue and I did not feel like standing for a couple of hours that evening. Biblos has live music sessions in the B Bar throughout the year in Fridays and Saturdays. Here is the Big Band getting ready to perform in the Jazz Bar.

One of the festival staff asked whether I had seen them before and I had to explain that until this summer I had a choir rehearsal on Monday evenings and until last summer had to be in Liverpool early on Tuesday morning so Monday evenings in Edinburgh were not possible. He said the band had played every Monday evening for the last 10 years. The Jazz bar also runs jam sessions in the later part of the evening during the festival. Musicians can just turn up with their instrument and tell the door staff they want to play. Admission is free. They often have music going on until 5am. We enjoyed the selection of music from the Big Band but left well before morning. I made a note to get on with learning to play the alto saxophone. Wednesday was still very warm although overcast and we had a fairly uneventful drive home.

Spring in Edinburgh and discovering another art gallery

On Wednesday morning I was standing on the northbound platform at Crewe Station. The destination board said that the train was going to Edinburgh however the display on the door of my carriage said, ‘next stop Tamworth’, which was a little disconcerting. Fortunately, we did leave heading in the right direction and before 7.30am were at Warrington where the train spotters were already out on the platform. I was going up to Edinburgh a few days ahead of James to get some spring cleaning done but did find time to explore a gallery I have not been in before. The Talbot Rice Gallery is in Old College and free to enter. Old College is undergoing some renovation now but the dome was still visible.

One of the exhibitions was Between Poles and Tides comprising new acquisitions from the university collection and focusing on elemental forces, natural rhythms, destruction, social discord and displacement. It consists of works by David Batchelor, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Ilana Halperin, Jessica Harrison, Fabienne Hess, Daniel Hughes, Daisy Lafarge, Jonathan Owen, Katie Paterson, Isobel Turley, Luc Tuymans and JL Williams
I particularly enjoyed Ilana Halperin’s works which were new to me

Paterson’s Future Library

and works by a familiar artisit, Ian Hamilton Finlay. Here is Les Femmes de la Revolution after Anselm Kefer
and Bicentenary Tricolour

 Also on display was The Torrie Collection, the University of Edinburgh’s founding art collection being exhibited in the Georgian interior of Gallery 2. It consists mainly of Dutch and Flemish 17th and 18th century painting and Renaissance sculpture.
Back at the flat, the cherry tree outside is in flower, a little earlier than usual. The wood pigeons enjoy the petals
The wood pigeons were enjoying the petals

and some passers-by spent ages taking photographs of the tree, selfies with the tree in the background and persuading one of my neighbours to take a shot of them both. I think they were Japanese and perhaps missing the cherry blossom back home.

On the way home through the borders we saw some of the first upland lambs. Lambing in the uplands lasts from mid March to May so there will be many more on my next trip.

Two cities and a woodland walk in one weekend

On Friday morning, I had a meeting to attend in Liverpool. Although I have retired, I still sit as a lay person on the Ethics Committee of the Fertility Unit at the Women’s Hospital. It is only four times each year and I enjoy meeting former colleagues again and engaging in what can be quite challenging discussions. On arrival at Lime Street Station I noticed that the block on the corner of Skelhorne Street and Bolton Street was being re-developed. There was a 24-hour convenience store there and I wondered where the guys I used to see at 8 am sitting on the station steps with their cans of Carlsberg and a morning cigarette were getting their supplies from now.
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The meeting finished a little early so I headed back into town to pick up a couple of things. I always enjoy walking down Bold Street. There are independent shops including two bookshops, one of which is the radical bookshop, News from Nowhere. There is an art materials store, two outdoor shops, some vintage emporia and coffee shops amongst others. On Friday, I had to limit myself to popping into the Oxfam shop. It has had a re-vamp since my last visit. I did find a few National Geographic volumes to fill in the gaps in my collection. This comprises a few bound volumes given to me by my uncle which start in 1948, some my parents had from the 1960s and 70s and others I have picked up at various times. I currently subscribe and am filling in the gaps. I wonder if it was one of the drivers for my wanderlust as I have been reading it and enjoying the photography since childhood. I read the current issue on the train into Liverpool and learnt about the mistreatment of widows in Uganda who are expected to give up their children, land, homes and themselves to their in-laws when their husband dies. This is a cultural tradition, not a law so charities and others are working to challenge this.

In the city centre, a busker was playing Bruce Springsteen songs. I found what I needed quickly. I got back to Lime Street just as my train was pulling in and a group of guys from Glasgow were arriving all wearing T shirts announcing Lewis’s Stag Do. Back in Crewe, I saw a few slightly unusual vehicles. A Morris Minor was parked next to me in the car pack and had a sticker from the Annual Morris Minor Rally 2016 in the window. This is not an event I have heard of before. I passed a Landrover Defender with so much equipment stacked on top of it, it looked like it was about to embark on major trip in Australian outback, not drive through Crewe. Perhaps the owner runs off-road driving experience events. On the A534 I passed a vintage fire engine and have no idea where it was going. I was happy that I had clocked up 4.3 miles of walking as there were 250 miles to do in the car later that evening.

We hit the road as soon as James got back from work. There were numerous accidents incidents and roadworks along our stretch of the M6 so I took the A50 north in the dark & rain. Joining the motorway on the slip road at junction 20 was the first of three occasions where a vehicle (this time a truck) moved out of his lane sideways and almost pushed me into the crash barrier. I managed to avoid him, another HGV and a car who also tried to shift me sideways into the outside lane when I was overtaking. Otherwise, the journey was uneventful and we got to Edinburgh before midnight.

We were in Edinburgh this weekend as the Six Nations Rugby Tournament begins and the Scotland-Ireland match was at Murrayfield. Here is the ground just before the match started:
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Scotland won after a very exciting game. That evening we went to our local cinema to see Trainspotting 2 relaxing on their sofas and had walked 8.4 miles.

On Sunday morning, I popped into the Secret Herb Garden at Old Pentland to pick up a new lovage plant and then continued south to Dawyck Botanical Garden which has just re-opened after its winter closure. It concentrates on trees, shrubs and woodland plants.
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As we entered, the woman on the welcome desk congratulated us on having brought the sun with us. The snowdrops were out and other spring plants were starting to emerge.
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The leafless deciduous trees made their trunks more prominent. This is Betula utilis from the Himalaya. Lichens were also prominent:
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A research project was underway and I need to learn about the relationship between lichens and the trees they grow on.
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I spotted a sculpture which has been installed since our last visit ‘Gentle Presence’ by Susheila Jamieson.
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We continued south on a B road which parallels the motorway as far as Gretna Green and then picking up the A6 in Carlisle. I am looking at the route I will walk next summer, spotting things to visit, great views between Penrith and Shap and places to stay. By the time we were back on the motorway the sun had set and we had a quiet run home.

New Year in Edinburgh

We saw the New Year in quietly at home as James had worked a 12 hour day and then driven up here on Thursday and we had been out celebrating his birthday with friends on the 30th. The 31st had dawned with high winds which were blowing down all the barriers being erected in the city centre for the Hogmanay celebrations that evening. It then rained for a few hours in the afternoon. I had been contemplating doing some firework photography from Blackford Hill as the weather did improve a little. However, I could see myself slipping in the mud with all my equipment in the dark and thought better of it. New Year’s Day began quietly as some of my neighbours are away and one is a taxi driver who had been working last night. After coffee with friends who popped in to deliver a Christmas present, we needed some exercise and headed up Blackford Hill. The dog-walkers, kite-flyers and some runners were all out and a few others who like me were hoping so see a good sunset. The darkest clouds were moving away to the southwest but the sun remained mostly hidden as it set.
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As we walked downhill towards the Observatory, I spotted this guy who was playing Auld Lang Syne on the top of one of the hillocks.
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