Finding quiet spots on the Antrim coast


Our main reason for going to Northern Ireland at peak holiday time was to visit relatives before we head off on our trip down under. As usual we took an overnight ferry from Birkenhead to Belfast. A rainbow in the sky promised some improvement in the weather.

We spent the first couple of days visiting family members but then started to get itchy feet so set off down the coast passing the hordes of people visiting the Giant’s Causeway and the Carrick-a Rede Rope Bridge. Our first stop was at the Portanaeevey viewpoint which gives views over to Rathlin Island and the mUll of Kintyre.


Our first destination was Carfunnock Country Park which is north of Larne. It was formed from two country estates and has several facilities for children and young people as well as a campsite. I was most interested to see the garden. This was formerly the kitchen garden of Cairncastle Lodge which was gifted to the local council in 1957 with the estate. By the 1980s it was in decline but grants enabled its restoration in the 1990s. It is now called The Time Garden and has numerous sundials giving GMT, BST and local time.


Heading north again along the coast our next stop was the garden at Glenarm Castle. This was a more traditional walled garden with pleached lime trees, beech hedges and many beds of flowers, fruit and herbs.

There were several sculptures among the plants.

There is a fudge factory in the grounds and the castle, still owned by the local aristocrats is occasionally open to the public. On our last day we popped in to the Bookcase, a second-hand bookshop in Portrush. He has a good selection of Irish books as well as general fiction, non-fiction and children’s books.

We dodged the showers on one of our favourite beaches at Whitepark Bay. There were a few dog walkers but it was pretty quiet.

The cliffs here are chalk in contract to the basalt columns of the Giant’s Causeway. You can often find fossils on the beach, most commonly belemnites (we have several on our mantelpiece) and occasionally, ammonites.
On the path down to the beach you pass a building and some ruins of an old ‘hedge school’. This was for young gentlemen and dates from the 18th century.

The beach is now under the care of the National Trust. There is a Youth Hostel here. Occasionally sheep and cows graze on the grass next to the beach under an agreement. Keeping the grass low, encourages wild flowers. There were some cows when we arrived but they quickly departed when a heavy shower arrived. If the tide is not high you can walk along the beach to Ballintoy harbour. It was soon time to head home again and after another night on the ferry we arrived in Birkenhead dock just as the sun was rising over Liverpool.

Re-discovering Biddulph Grange Garden


Despite it being only a few miles from home, it is over twenty years since I last visited Biddulph Grange. The last time was in the 1990s after it re-opened after restoration by the National Trust although many of the current features had not been created then. The house began as a rectory and was purchased by James Bateman around 1840. Along with his friend Edward Cooke, he began plant collecting and creating the garden. Bateman eventually moved on and in 1896 the house burnt down and so had to be re-built. It functioned as a children’s and then an orthopaedic hospital from 1923 until the 1980s. The gardens became very neglected until the National Trust took it over. The current building is a curious mix of brick and stone. Much of it consists of private apartments with a small portion containing the cafe and shop run by the National Trust.

The garden is divided into several different areas and it would take some time to explore them all. We looked at the Chinese Garden:

and wandered past the section devoted to Egypt and around various small paths and tunnels. I remembered the Stumpery from my last visit. This was constructed in 1856 and is said to be the first in the country. Parts of dead trees and other wood are used to grow plants on and around, a little like rocks in a rockery.

The Wellingtonia Avenue heads away from the house towards a gate which is opened once a year into the Country Park.

You can return via the Woodland Walk. It has several adventure playground items made from wood for children to enjoy.

Near the house there are several terraces and parterres and a dahlia walk. The geological gallery was the old Victorian entrance and houses a display of fossils and rocks collected by Batemen.

Most are reproduction with only one original. This grass planted in an urn on one of the terraces was very reminiscent of Donald Trump’s hair.

As the current hot dry weather continues we retreated to the cafe for a cold drink and some local ice-cream to cool off. Ducks were hovering in the pond outside hoping for some scraps.

There is an extremely well-stocked garden shop with a good range of plants, herbs and trees as well as tools, accessories and decorative items. When the rains return I might return here and select a few more plants for the garden as well as explore some of the areas we did not see on this visit.

New Zealand: Hamilton


En route to Hamilton on Highway 1, we stopped for coffee at Tirau, a town that does not make it into the guide book. It has numerous cafes and so is a good place for refuelling but its speciality is corrugated iron art. Some of the buildings including the information centre and merino wool shop are housed in large corrugated iron animals.


The metal is used in many of the buildings in a more usual fashion but there are also smaller art works and some for sale in the stores. I was feeling a little under the weather so after arriving in Hamilton we limited our explorations to finding some dinner. The next morning we walked the three miles from our hotel into the city centre. The guide book is somewhat scathing saying that the ‘grey-green greasy Waikato River rolls through town’ but is ignored by the city layout. There was certainly one signpost down to the river walkway from Victoria Street and another area where access is going to be made and will open in early 2018. The riverside path runs along both banks for several miles. On the east bank the path runs thorugh the Memorial Garden and Hayes Paddock, both green spaces.

We crossed the Anzac Bridge and walked along to the Hamilton Gardens which are southeast of the centre. Fifty years ago the area was a quarry and rubbish dump. There are now gardens in several different styles: this is the Italian Renaissance one

They are situated in a large park with a cafe and restaurant, childrens’ play area, productive garden, a rose garden and herb garden. We took a bus back into the city centre and browsed in Hamilton’s secondhand bookstore ‘Browsers’ on Victoria Street. We had passed the old now empty shop on the other side of the road the previous evening so assumed it had closed. It was a pleasant surprise to find it had relocated. As seems to be the case in New Zealand, there was a large local interest section but they covered a wide range of topics and had a child-friendly area. You have to keep your wits about you in the city centre, as cyclists also use the pavement. Many cyclists have no lights or bells so can catch pedestrians unaware. Tonight there is another rugby match and then we return to Auckland tomorrow.

New Zealand: first 24 hours in Auckland


Having arrived the evening before it was already dark by the time we ventured out for dinner. The doors of St Patrick’s Cathedral just down the street from our hotel were open so we looked inside. It was built in 1907 in the Gothic Revival Style with lots of polished wood and stained glass inside.

This morning we visited the Art Gallery which sits on the other side of Albert Gardens from the University. The original building dates from 1887 with a modern extension.

On the top floor was an exhibition entitled ‘Shout, Whisper, Wail: the 2017 Chartwell Show’ including works by ten contemporary New Zealand and Australian artists in a variety of media. This is ‘Nobody puts baby in a corner’ by Janet Lilo, 2017.

The first floor has modern New Zealand and international art of which this is one example from a UK 20th century family.The Boyle Family’s ‘The Gisborne Triptych’ 1990 is one work from a project in which they invited friends to throw darts at a map of the world. They then visited as many sites as possible and gathering materials from 1000 sites using what they called ‘earthprobes’ which comprised samples from the ground and resin casting. Gisborne was where Captain Cook first landed hence the significance of this work to New Zealand.

The lower levels have New Zealand paintings from the early colonial settlement, Maori portraits by Charles F Goldie and modern works exploring migration, exploration and arrival from the earliest settlements to today. There are free tours in English and Mandarin but we preferred to wander around by ourselves.
Just outside is Albert Gardens with some sculptures and plants still in flower. The University Clock Tower looks over the gardens.

The Sky Tower at 328m is the tallest building in the southern hemisphere and you can go up it and look at the view and have a drink in the bar.

We might do that when we are back in Auckland for a couple of days at the end of this trip. We met some of the other people on the trip in the bar at Happy Hour and then found our evening meal in one of the many restaurants in the city centre. Tomorrow we leave for our next destination: Rotorua.

Sunny day in London

We have been enjoying the Indian summer and the fruit harvest here. I have been busy producing apple juice, picking plums, raspberries and blackberries and amazed that I am still having to water the veg outside in September. However, today we escaped and headed to London to meet up with a friend from Sydney who is visiting for a short time. I had booked brunch at the Modern Pantry in Clerkenwell and as the trains are not great on Sundays (years ago my secretary was told by someone at a rail company to tell her boss not to travel on Sunday) we decided to drive down to Watford Junction and take the train into the city from there. All went well until we were well down the M1 and they had decided to close the motorway in order to demolish a bridge. So, we endured a very slow crawl around the environs of Luton and then through the centre to rejoin the M1. At Watford Junction we found ourselves on a new London Overground train which was far from crowded and half an hour later were at Euston. We wandered down towards the restaurant with brief stops at a bookshop and cafe. It is situated in St John’s Square which is where the Priory of the Order of St John was set up in 1040. There is now a museum devoted to the history of the order (who are now known to most of us as the St John Ambulance. There is a lovely garden filled with some of the plants the monks used to treat their patients with.
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The gate into the priory has undergone several transformations. In the 18th century, it was used as a coffee house, run by Richard Hogarth, father of the artist William Hogarth. Dr. Samuel Johnson was given his first job in London at St John’s Gate, writing reports for The Gentleman’s Magazine. Later, the Gate was used as a pub, The Old Jerusalem Tavern, where artists and writers, including Charles Dickens, used to meet. It now houses the museum.
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We met our friend and were part way through our meal when I realised that I did not have the bag with my camera in it with me. I knew I had been taking photographs in the garden and that I may have left it there. We eventually discovered that someone had found it and handed it in to the museum. Afterwards, we wandered past Smithfield market where we saw the now closed nightclub Fabric:
save-fabric-london-11-sept-2016-1 and enjoyed the blue sky and sunshine.
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Down on the Thames Path we had some slightly different views of the bridges seen last week.
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We must walk the Thames Path from its source in the Cotswolds to the Thames Barrier (184 miles) someday soon. Eventually we had to head back to the tube from near the Tower and part company with promises to meet up for longer in 2017 and 2018. We got our train and out of Watford onto the motorway fairly easily and made good progress, being thankful that we were not going in the opposite direction as there was very heavy traffic heading back into the city. Just before we left the M1, we saw the brake lights come on and a plume of smoke ahead. A car on the hard shoulder was on fire and the emergency services were arriving. It looked like everyone had got out unharmed and the fire was confined to the front end of the car so we could get past without too much risk of it exploding. The rest of the journey home was thankfully, eventful.

Heading off to drive the Lincoln Highway

The bags are packed, I have finished all the work I had to do before leaving and the house is ready for our son who is house-sitting. We are heading off to the airport later today as we have an early flight tomorrow morning.
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Although I have been looking forward to this trip for some time, there is a certain sadness in the air today. The result of the referendum which took place yesterday regarding our membership of the European Union has left enormous uncertainties about numerous aspects of our country’s future. The other is that I am having to leave on a weekend where seven local gardens, including mine, are exhibiting sculptures by various local artists to raise money for a charity. I cannot believe that I am going away when there is art in my garden but I did get the chance to meet some of the artists and assist in setting up this morning. I have finally got over my anxieties about the weeds I have not had the time to banish and the areas still being renovated. Here is one of the felt birds in the summer-house.
Felt bird in the garden 24 Jun 2016-1
The stonemasons put their work around the pergola:
Sculpture in the garden 24 Jun 2016-1
and this sculpture made from car tyres, is on the lawn.
Sculpture 2 in the garden 24 Jun 2016-1
Time for me to go away, relax and look forward to our trip.

Staying at home

I follow Nomadic Matt’s blog and recently he tackled the issues facing travellers when returning home and another venture is a long way in the future; the coming home blues. I am often in that situation as work limits the time we can go away until we retire and have more flexibility. Matt made the following suggestions:

1. Join an online community
2. Read travel blogs.
3. Attend travel meet-ups via Couchsurfing or Meet-Up.com
4. Read travel books.
5. Take short trips around your city or region.
6. Host on Couchsurfing so you can show tourists around and see your home with fresh eyes. 

I would agree with and do most of these but travel meetups and hosting on Couchsurfing are easier if you live in a city (I live in a semi-rural area most of the time). I do have a large library of travel literature and it grows as I plan to visit a new place or revisit a favorite destination. That said, I have read ‘In Patagonia’ twice, 40 years apart and have still not made it to Patagonia. I am currently planning next summer’s USA coast to coast drive (mostly) on the Lincoln Highway. The flights are booked and as we are travelling in the peak summer season (we do not always have a choice of when to go) I am booking accommodation ahead as well and am almost finished – just Reno in Nevada, Truckee and Sacramento in northern California to arrange. I have already booked the end – by the Pacific Ocean in San Francisco. The playlist is currently under construction and James will organize the car. Phil Llewellin, in his book ‘’The Road to Muckle Flugga’ devoted less than three pages to the Lincoln Highway which he drove in 1989 in only eight days. We are taking just under four weeks, inspired in part by the views from the California Zephyr train which we took from Chicago to San Francisco five years ago. We will be getting out of our car to explore and hike in several places along the way.

Short trips around my local area is something I do, on foot in the car or on the train. It is often amazing how many places near our homes or workplaces we have not been to, how many paths and roads close by that have not been explored. During the festive season, travel can be difficult and is currently much harder with flooding and rail works so staying at home can be a good idea. This morning’s surprise on a wander round the garden was the appearance of some fungi in the garden. I am trying to identify them and think they might be Hypholoma Capnoides which is in season from spring until autumn and I am still compiling a natural history of the garden. The mild winter has led to the appearance of spring flowers in December so this is something else appearing earlier than usual.

Mushroom 1 (1 of 1)

Mushroom 2 (1 of 1)