We were on the road by 7.30am and soon down at the Manambolo River ferry terminal. Children were busy washing cars and a busker was wandering around playing his banjo.
After the crossing we continued and had a short break in the valley where workers were busy in the rice fields.
We returned to Belo Tsiribihina for lunch at the Mad Zebu once more and then down to the river to catch the ferry to the Réserve Forestière de Kirindy. The ferry takes 40 minutes to cross on what is essentially a raft on the top of two boats. The engines are fuelled via a pipe from a can tied to the top.
We saw fishermen setting up nets for the rainy season.
There was a 45-degree slope to drive up from the ferry and one of our cars was struggling but we all made it eventually.
We passed some more highly decorated tombs with the skull of a sacrificed zebu on the top. Nearby were the graves of poorer people. Photographs are allowed but it is fady to approach more closely than the roadside or to look inside.
Continuing along RN8 we soon reached the forest and the giant black sacred baobab tree outside our hotel.
Sacred baobabs are places of worship. It is believed that ancestors’ spirits live in the trees and forests to look after their descendants, relay messages from God and grant blessings. Hence it is important not to point fingers at it. Sometimes offerings will be placed at the foot of the tree.
After checking in we were driven to the forest reserve for a night safari. First, we met a fossa who came to the reserve to be fed. The fossa is a cat-like carnivore with retractable claws and cat-like teeth endemic to Madagascar. It is related to mongooses and civets. They are quite large; adults weighing up to 12kg and have very long tails which help to balance them when they are looking for prey in the trees. They eat almost anything from insects to lemurs and are the biggest hunters on the island.
Once it was dark, we commenced the night walk. It is forbidden to enter the forest at night, so the walk was taken along the edges at the side of the road, with a guide. It was very busy with numerous groups with the same agenda and as it was a main road, traffic was passing which was potentially dangerous. We were not allowed to use torches or flash photography so had to rely on a guide’s torch to illuminate any animals, birds or spiders in the trees. Some moved very quickly and the crowds made it difficult to get a good shot before the creature moved on. I did manage to get a reasonable picture of one lemur.
Afterwards we returned to the hotel for a late evening meal. A few people were going to get up a 3am to leave at 4am travel to the Avenue des Baobabs for sunrise as we were about 90 minutes away. Visiting at sunrise and sunset is very popular so after the crowded evening I was happy to visit later in the day after a reasonable sleep.
Last evening some bikers arrived at the motel with very noisy bikes. I had hoped that they would not be leaving too early in the morning and was relieved that it was 8am before they zoomed off. We returned to the Great Ocean Road, our first stop being at Cape Patton lookout. It is one of the highest on the road. The road was completed by soldiers who had returned from the First World War. It hugs the rock face very closely in places and must have been very challenging work given the lack of machinery at that time.
Further on is a memorial and grave. The ship WB Godfrey was built in Greenock and was wrecked along the coast here on a voyage from San Francisco to Melbourne in 1891. This is all that can be seen of the wreck which now supports molluscs and other marine life.
Those on board survived but several people trying to salvage the cargo afterwards did not. At Artillery Rocks which is between Jamieson and Wye rivers, a guy was fishing with six rods. I have not been able to find out why they are called Artillery Rocks. The many holes in the rocks could resemble bullet holes. At Lorne we found the perfect combination: Moons Espresso & Juice Bar next door to Lorne Beach Books which has a very comprehensive and well organised selection of new books. I could have come out with a pile but have to think of my baggage allowance on the way home. The one we had finished reading in Apollo Bay was donated to the local Men’s Shed: an organisation which addresses mental health and well-being in men.
There were a couple of interesting signs here:
And a variant on ‘don’t’ feed the sea gulls’
This part of the coast has good waves and is known as the Surf Coast. At Lorne beach surf school was underway and others were attempting to get going.
The road was fairly quiet and at numerous points work is going on to stabilise the cliffs and prevent landslides and rockfall. A particularly winding section is known as Devil’s Elbow. It winds down to a beach at Spout Creek. Our next stop was Aireys Inlet where a small sanctuary around a pool has a number of birds. I spotted a number of Pacific Black Ducks and this male Superb Fairy Wren. His more dapper lady friend was hiding in the undergrowth.
We then drove out to Split Point Lighthouse
and Eagle Rock Marine Sanctuary.
We had lunch near Point Roadknight Beach and I had a wander along it afterwards.
I am not sure what the significance of this metal hoop with yellow ribbons hanging from it, dangling one the bushes behind the beach.
At Torquay, the decision was made to head to Queenscliff, take the ferry to Sorrento and the slow road round Port Philip Bay to the city rather than the freeway from Geelong into Melbourne. The crossing only takes 40 minutes.
14 years ago, I had decided to go across to Sorrento one weekend and do some walking in the National Park on the headland. Unfortunately, a storm followed me across the bay and by the time I got off the ferry in Sorrento it was raining so I abandoned my plans. We got into the city eventually (my navigation app did not know that you cannot come over the bridge and turn right onto Flinders Street between 3pm and 7pm Monday to Friday) and parked the car up for a couple of days.
After driving across the country from Edinburgh, we had some time to kill in Ardrossan before we needed to check in for the ferry to Brodick so went to Castle Hill where the remains of Ardrossan Castle stand.
It is fenced off, so you cannot explore the ruined keep closely. It was constructed in the 13th century and owned by Clan Barclay. The castle was partially destroyed in the wars of independence, rebuilt in the 15th century and finally partly demolished by Oliver Cromwell’s soldiers in the 17th century. There are also the remains (only a few inches of wall) of the old parish church surrounded by some graves on the hill. There was probably a church here before 1226. It was destroyed in a storm in 1691 and the new church rebuilt down in the town centre. There is a children’s playground. Families were starting to arrive as we had to leave to get to the port.
My 1960’s 25th edition of ‘The “Contour” Book of Scotland’ gives the price of taking a motor car on the Ardrossan and Brodick ferry as £3.05 to £6 with return fares from £5 to £9.35. The hour-long crossing now costs £47.90 return. On such a fine day I had to spend some time on the deck looking at the approaching island and catching only a brief glimpse of a harbour porpoise and some gannets diving.
We were only the second vehicle off the boat in Brodick and headed to the Co-op to stock up. At the ATM I spotted the first of several Buddhist monks I will probably see over the next few weeks. We hope to visit Holy Island on this trip where there is a Buddhist Community and I am staying for a night in the guest house at the Samye Ling monastery at Eskdalemuir on my walk in a few weeks’ time. The sun and warmth meant an ice-cream on the sea front was in order and I was watched closely by this gull.
Until it was time to settle into our cottage at the end of the road in Glen Rosa, we had a walk along part of the coastal path (The Fisherman’s Path) on the beach near the Cladach Centre. I found some sea glass and enjoyed the views of Goatfell and out to sea.
James had never seen the Irish Rugby team play at home so Friday morning saw us on an early train to Holyhead under blue skies and sunshine. I was trying to remember whether I had ever been west of Chester by train as we are usually driving to Anglesey to visit friends or to take the ferry to Ireland. The railway soon meets the coast and the tide was out on the Dee Estuary so lots of birds were feeding on the sand but we sped fast too quickly to identify many. At Holyhead there is a seamless transition from the train to the ferry terminal which is at the end of the platforms. It is also a short walk over a modern bridge to to the town centre.
I had hoped that as we were sailing west and sunset was around an hour before we were due to arrive in Dublin, that I might get some sunset shots but the advancing weather front brought dense cloud which put paid to that idea. Taxis were in short supply at the port despite two ferries arriving within a short time but one arrived eventually and we were soon ensconced in our quayside hotel. That evening we met some friends from Dublin whom we had not seen for several years and returned to the Winding Stair Restaurant. I have still not managed to be there when the bookshop on the ground floor is open. On Saturday morning we walked along the quayside and crossed the river to Trinity College. Several hungry gulls were looking hopefully at passers-by.
Rowan Gillespie’s 1997 sculpture ‘Famine’ also stands by the river.
Our destination that morning was the Book of Kells exhibition which was over-booked on our last visit. Near the college we passed a pub which had been open since 7am. I later learnt that this was originally to serve the market traders. There was no market that day but several people inside. There is an explanatory exhibition about the Books of Kells, Armagh and Durrow, the old manuscripts on display and then you can visit the old college library.
It is a fabulous building, housing around 20,000 of the library’s oldest books and lined with marble busts. On our visit there was also a display of ephemera relating to Oscar Wilde. There is Ireland’s oldest harp which dates from the 15th century and a copy of the 1916 proclamation of the Irish Republic. The rest of Saturday was spent meeting up with friends and enjoying the rugby match which Ireland won. We had planned to spend Sunday morning visiting a few more places in the city in a leisurely fashion before catching an afternoon boat back to Holyhead. However, a text received during dinner changed our plans as the afternoon ‘swift boat’ was cancelled due to bad weather and we had to take the early morning one. Some time ago, catamarans were introduced on several of the Irish Sea routes to reduce the time of the crossings. However, their movement meant that they were rapidly dubbed ‘the vomit comet’ and were also said to create waves big enough to wash fishermen off the walls of Dun Laoghaire which was the port ferries from the UK previously came into. As we boarded the ferry, the police were escorting an Asian man onto the boat. However we later saw him wandering around unescorted and he disembarked with the rest of us. I hope that they had not had to protect him from harassment. I read today that hate crime rates have now overtaken sectarian crime rates in Northern Ireland but I do not know if this is the case in the Republic. In addition to cancelled boats we also had cancelled trains. The person in the rail ticket office in Holyhead did not seem to know which were running and which were not. The first train was a relatively new, warm Arriva train which only took us as far as Llandudno Junction but with views of the mountains in Snowdonia with a dusting of snow. After that we were squashed onto a bus to Chester and then a very full Virgin train home, determined to make our next visit somewhat longer.
Just after sunrise and while the moon was still high in the sky, we were driving out of Nelson.
Highway 6 runs through the mountains and over a couple of passes before descending into the Rai Valley. We had breakfast there. Further on, the road crosses the Pelorus Bridge and can be closed when the river is in flood. At Havelock, there are two options to get to Picton where the ferry departs from. You can stay on Highway 6 and get there via Blenheim or take the windy and scenic route. We chose the latter and were only a little way along it when we came to a look–out with views back up the valley and over the Marlborough Sounds.
Eventually this road descends to the shores of Queen Charlotte Sound and we arrived in Picton. We had a little time to kill before the ferry so coffee, a look in Down Under Books, the local second-hand bookstore which has a good selection of books on New Zealand as well as all the usual sections. Before heading over to the ferry terminal we had a short walk around the marina to Shelley Beach. There are other trails around here for walking and cycling.
Our mileage so far on the South Island has been 1604 miles. We dropped off the rental car as they charge you £500 to take one over to the North Island. We had arranged to pick another up in Wellington the following day. The ferry was not too busy at all and you can check in your cases so that you don’t have to lug them around on board.
The crossing was smooth and the sun went down before we docked in Wellington.
After getting my fix of mountains and forests it was quite strange to be back in the city with concrete flyovers, skyscrapers and rush hour traffic. We took an electric taxi to our hotel and had dinner at a nearby Belgian pub. We finally had some venison for the first time here after seeing so many red deer being farmed on the south island and were served by a guy from Leeds. We have met so many young people from the UK and Europe who are working here. Most of the antipodean youth seem to head for London.
We had our last sunset in Eshaness, packed up and as our ferry was not due to leave until late afternoon the following day, slowly made our way to Lerwick with a stop in Scalloway en route. We were now back on two-lane roads. The castle was built in 1600 and sits in the natural harbour. The adjacent museum is very good and covers the links with Norway as well as local history. In World War 2 the ‘Shetland Bus’ travelled over regularly to support the Norwegians. Linking in with our recent visit to the Titanic Experience in Belfast, the person who first heard the May Day call of the Titanic was in Scalloway.
The ferry left Lerwick Harbour and after a meal and watching Shetland disappear in the mist we tried to sleep but that was difficult as the ferry stopped in Kirkwall on this trip and there was much clanging and banging as the ramp was lowered.
We arrived in Aberdeen harbour very early but as we did not need to meet the friends we were staying with that night until late afternoon, decided to drive slowly down the coast. The first stop was Stonehaven where a guy was trying to surf without much success.
The ducks looked a bit happier.
Just south of Stonehaven we entered the Dunottar Estate and woods. I was very glad to be back amongst trees after being in almost tree-less Shetland for a week. The Dunottar Estate and castle are privately owned, by one of the 500 people who own most of Scotland. It was raining but we looked around the castle and some of the grounds.
Further down the coast we passed the Todhead Lighthouse, Gourdoun, a harbour on Bervie Bay and in Johnshaven found an artwork for the bathroom in the Starfish Studio. It was dry enough for a walk by the time we reached the Nature Reserve at St Cyrus where poles stuck in the beach are the remains of old salmon net structures.
We had a very short walk on Lunan bay before the heavens opened again and we diverted inland to meet up with our friends before returning to four-lane motorways and traffic jams on the way home.
We spent a couple of days in Edinburgh shopping and catching up with friends under blue skies and cherry blossom before travelling to Northern Ireland.
Cricket was being played in the Meadows in the sunshine. However, the return of winter weather was forecast and by Sunday evening the clouds were appearing. We did have some rain overnight but left early the next morning with blue sky again. After the motorways, we continued down through Ayrshire on the A77. Just south of Maybole, there was a good view over the surrounding landscape. Sheep and cattle were enjoying the sun.
While enjoying the view I could hear a woodpecker drumming over in a stand of trees but could not see him. I have also recently heard that some crows can mimic the sound of a woodpecker but did not see any crows either.
At the south end of Girvan beach we had our first sight of the sea and the Ailsa Craig. This unpopulated island provided the granite to make curling stones. It is now home to gannets, guillemots and also puffins. It is an RSPB reserve and can be visited by boat. Tours run from Girvan and Campbeltown during summer.
Further down the coast, there was quite a high wind and the waves were getting up. It might not be a very smooth crossing.
Our boat was due to leave from the P&O port at Cairnryan which has its own small lighthouse.
As we are seasoned crossers of the Irish Sea and the Minch, the slight rolling and pitching of the boat did not bother us. On arrival in Larne, Facebook friends were posting snowy photographs from parts of northern Scotland. We managed to get to our destination before the hail and rain caught up with us for a short time in the evening but the sun is peeking through the clouds again this morning.
Today it was time to head downtown. James was keen to visit the 9/11 Museum so we walked all the way down 8th Avenue and Hudson Street into the West Village and then on to Ground Zero.
The museum was very moving and reminded me that on that date in 2001, I was running a conference in a BT Training Centre in Staffordshire. There were a lot of TV screens in the foyer and finishing late afternoon, I was organising lifts to the station for speakers and caught sight of a screen showing a plane crashing into a building. I assumed this was a movie until I caught up with the news on the car radio while giving a speaker a lift to the station. At that time I was responsible for the training of junior doctors and some who the local people thought were Muslim, had dog shit put through the letterboxes in their doors.
It was then time to walk down to the waterfront and take the free Staten Island Ferry which gives great views of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and Manhattan. I found a spot on the upper deck at the stern between all the selfie sticks.
Afterwards we had lunch in deli and then visited the Museum of the American Indian which covered communities from the Arctic to Patagonia. We then walked back to the hotel for time to relax, eat, digest the New York Times and catch the sunset from the hotel rooftop terrace.
A 4am awakening and 5am departure was necessary to get the ferry from Milazzo at 7.20am. Some people can sleep on buses and boats but not me. We found a seat near the front to give James more legroom only to find that a crew member had to climb over him every time we came into a port as he was in charge of the ropes. The sea was calm and the ferry called in at Salinas and Lipari before we caught our first sight of Stromboli ahead.
Having docked we walked to the office so that those who were climbing to the summit this evening could sign all the documentation (we are not as James strained a muscle on a descent the other day) and then picked up supplies before settling in at our beachside hotel and having lunch. The town is very pretty with narrow lanes and alleys and a black sand beach which we will have time to explore more tomorrow. The volcano towers above it.
Now it is time to get ready for the small climb to the 400m viewpoint.
Our voyage across the North Channel was uneventful and we were soon bidding goodbye to Belfast Lough and Ireland.
As we pulled into the North Channel, I saw an oil platform being towed away from the coast. They are not built in Northern Ireland so I assume it had been repaired and was now heading back to its working position. On the other shore was a lighthouse and I started to see seabirds. Once past the buoy at the end of Loch Ryan, we turned into the loch with the Galloway coast on both sides.
Getting off the boat was reminiscent of the free-for-all at Dun Laoghaire as everyone had to merge into two lanes and then get into the correct one to go north or south at the exit. The road south bypasses Stranraer and heads for Newton Stewart but we cut across a B road towards Wigtown, passing a stone circle and several signposts to other historic places. It is several years since we spent any time in Galloway and we must return soon. We found our guesthouse in Wigtown easily and our hostess recommended the Inn at Bladnoch. It is situated by the bridge over the River Bladnoch and the distillery. When we arrived there was live music (fiddlers) and the accents in the bar and restaurant were from north and south of the border, east and west of the Pennines and from both sides of the Irish Sea. We walked back into town and look forward to bookshops tomorrow.