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.
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:
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.
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.
The leafless deciduous trees made their trunks more prominent. This is Betula utilis from the Himalaya. Lichens were also prominent:
A research project was underway and I need to learn about the relationship between lichens and the trees they grow on.
I spotted a sculpture which has been installed since our last visit ‘Gentle Presence’ by Susheila Jamieson.
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.

Dreaming of a long walk on a wet drive

During a very slow and wet drive south today, I started to dream and plan a long walk. As part of summer 2016 will be devoted to a long drive, it will have to be early summer 2017. James was driving so I could let my mind wander and plot the walk from South Cheshire to Edinburgh. My original idea was to walk the Pennine Way with a bit added on to the beginning and end. I am now thinking that I will work out a more direct route, utilising as many trails and minor roads as possible. I live about 3 miles from the Macclesfield Canal and walking north on the towpath takes me to Macclesfield. Although the canal carries on to Marple, a more direct path there is via the Middlewood Way. From Marple, the Midshires Way and a few other minor paths take me to Stalybridge where I can pick up the Thame Valley Way and then the Standedge Trail to just beyond Diggle. Then, I can join the Pennine Way. How long I stay on it remains to be seen as it weaves back and forth at times and it’s end at Kirk Yetholm is further east than I need to be. Along the A702 I looked at the grass verges and pavements in the villages thinking that if needed, this road could be easily walked up although hopefully when it is less wet than it is currently.

A702 water (1 of 1)

I had previously thought that I might walk up the old railway track alongside the A7. Now that has been re-opened as the Borders Railway so is no longer an option. Further on, down the M74 and M6 we made very slow progress with breakdowns and accidents on the motorway leading to long tailbacks before we could leave it.


It took just over five hours to get back and I have a lot more time to perfect my route over the next 18 months.

All kinds of weather in Edinburgh

On Wednesday I was longing for snow and my wish almost came true. It was raining as I headed into town to see a film and so heavily that I have never seen so much water running down the streets of the city. On the way back to the flat it had turned to sleet and wet snow was lying on the grass. Higher altitudes had the real stuff and a little sprinkling was left on Blackford Hill. My neighbour said he had never seen so much water running down the mound. I woke on Friday morning to clear blue, a crescent moon and contrails stretching across the sky. I had to get out and for a change, wandered east along Grange Loan for some supplies at Earthy, then down Causewayside noticing as few antique shops and upcycled furniture shops that will be worth a look in at some point. I passed the National Library of Scotland which is being renovated and will have to go in there at some point as this location houses the old map collection.

At Summerhall, the Mexican artist Antonio O’Connell’s permanent installation ‘Virus’ made from recycled materials has sat outside since last year (Summerhall is housed in the former veterinary medicine school).

Virus installation 1 (1 of 1)

Virus installation 2 (1 of 1)

I picked up some newsletters but did not see a current exhibition that appealed so headed for Till’s bookshop. The proprietor is a Canadian who has lived in Edinburgh for 30 years. I have lived in or visited Edinburgh regularly for more than 30 years and often pass the shop on the bus up from the city centre but today was the first day that I went in. The original range with a real fire reminded me of Reid’s in Liverpool.

Till's bookshop Edinburgh (1 of 1)

Saturday’s storm was named Desmond and large parts of Scotland and northern England are flooded. We braved the high wind and rain to head into town for a book fair. I saw one elderly man’s cap blow off and bowl down the street. Fortunately, he managed to rescue it. One of the Christmas decorations still standing was this fairy light tree in George Street. Parked next to it was a Red Bull car. Something I would need if I had to party all night. Instead we had a relaxed meal with friends.

Tree in George ST (1 of 1)

Today was another sunny morning so we set off reasonably early to drive back down south in daylight. No meandering in the Borders today. There was a lot of water on the A702 but the snow had gone from the Pentlands. Otherwise, it was an uneventful drive back but we could see large areas of flooding all around in southern Scotland and Cumbria and the water was almost up to the edge of the motorway in places. The radio told us of people being rescued, power cuts, landslides and flood defences being breached.

A702 water (1 of 1)

Reading about Wyoming and driving to Edinburgh

The last two weeks have been very busy around work and home so I have not had any time for venturing further afield. However, I have been planning and making arrangements for next summer’s US coast to coast drive. We will pass through several states we have not been to before in addition to some more familiar ones. I have never visited Wyoming before so it was a happy coincidence to come across two books: one in a secondhand bookstore and one in the public library which have served as an introduction. Mark Spragg’s ‘Where Rivers Change Direction’ is an account of his growing up on one of the oldest ranches in the state, situated on the Continental Divide (we last crossed this further south in 2013 on Route 66). He describes the harsh winter weather, learning about horses, his parents and being mentored by an old cowboy. He has also written novels and I must seek them out.RiversEngland

I have read some of Annie Proulx’s novels and last month found her non-fiction account of searching out and building a property in Wyoming. ‘Bird Cloud’ is enthralling. She writes about the natural history of the area she is building in, the people and the challenge of acheiving the house she wants. This is something we will be doing in a few years as we downsize a bit. Figuring out priorities (e.g library, studio) and what compromises to make will be hard and sometimes it does not sound like downsizing.
Annie Proulx 1 (1 of 1)

This afternoon’s drive was the familiar trip to Edinburgh. I noticed that the northbound bridge near M6 Junction 18 had had a ‘D” added to the ‘Vote Pies’ directive, putting it in the past tense. In Cumbria there were very high winds, low cloud and driving rain. The recent Indian Summer and very mild autumn (I still have roses blooming) made me think that in my childhood, this would have been snow. I recall standing on snow in my Brownie uniform at the village War Memorial on Remembrance Day. Over the border, the rain had gone, some blue sky and the late afternoon sun in the golden hour beloved of photographers made the hills glow. We had an appointment in Edinburgh early evening so could not wander around with the camera much at all. Here are a couple of shots in the Clyde Valley.
Hill 1 (1 of 1)
Afternoon landscape (1 of 1)

Just before West Linton, a huge skein of geese flew over and the clouds were pink. No time to stop for photographs unfortunately.

Motorway bridge decoration

Motorway journeys around the northwest of England have been made a little more interesting in the last few years by the proliferation of Pie slogans on some of the bridges. ‘Pies your time is now’ is one and ‘Vote pies’ another. Those I see most frequently are on the M6 around junction 18 but I hear there are some at the northern end of the M57 at Switch Island and other places.

The journey home was otherwise uneventful and we are now relaxing with the dog in front of the fire, planning journeys in 2016.


Two things conflict with my drive to a more sustainable life – my love of travel and despite decluttering, still finding the very occasional item I feel I must have. Today I failed on both counts. We were driving down to Gatwick for our flight to Sicily tomorrow. Amazingly we avoided two accidents on the M6 which happened after we had reached the M42. A red soft top Ford Mustang brightened up the motorway in the midst of all the HGVs. James decided to stop at Bicester Outlet Village with the intention of doing some early Christmas shopping. Needless to say we did not really see anything for anyone’s present but enjoyed a walk in the sun, our picnic lunch and a break in the driving. Despite saying that I did not really need any new clothes or shoes, I wandered into LK Bennett and spotted the dress. A black long-sleeved sequin evening dress which looked just fabulous. The rail only had very small sizes but as I was about to give up when the shop assistant said she had other sizes in the back. I could not resist and attempted to justify it to myself by saying it was to replace one worn out evening dress and one that no longer fitted. This photo is not quite the same as it as mine has no train but you get the idea.


The M25 was not too busy and we soon found the airport and our hotel. Now it’s time to relax before final preparations for the flight tomorrow morning. There will be no need for eveningwear on Mount Etna.

Homeward Bound

We woke this morning to a perfect day for a drive. Sunshine, blue sky with s few high white clouds and a calm, blue sea. Travelling on a bank holiday is never ideal but we had to get back to work again. James had decided to vary the route and I did not complain as it involved a visit to one of my favourite bookshops, Barter Books in Alnwick. On the A1, the first traffic jam was before we had got as far as Berwick. However, it was short-lived and disappeared after the combine harvester responsible pulled over to let everyone past. The sun was still with us as we crossed the Tweed and had a coffee break at Lindisfarne services. Barter Books is based in the old station at Alnwick and is dog friendly although Flora preferred to sit outside and watch the goings on outside. They have a model railway running around the shop.

Barter books 2 (1 of 1)

I found two books to add to my North American library, one on Colorado and one on the natural history of New York.
Barter books 1 (1 of 1)

All too soon it was time to continue on our way. The second traffic jam was just north of Morpeth, the sky was clouding over and the first rain drops fell. Over the Tyne there were hordes of people heading for the Metro Centre and once we were past the Angel of the North we started to see people who were heading home from the Leeds Festival. The A1(M) continued to be busy and we had another brief stop at Scotch Corner. My childhood memories of this place are a roundabout with a few toilets under the pine trees. Needless to say it now has all the usual eateries and has little to distinguish it from any other service station. Several sections of the A1 are still being upgraded to motorway so there are miles of roadworks and slow traffic between there and Weatherby. Near Ferrybridge power station I was reminded that my younger brother used to refer to the cooling towers as ‘the big vases’ as they were landmarks on our regular journeys back and forth from Scotland to the East Midlands.


We eventually left the motorway and took the A628 through Yorkshire and over the Woodhead Pass where the purple heather and grass verges full of flowers were amazing. I got a fix of the expansive vistas of the uplands and we even had sheep in the road as we cut across to Glossop on a B road. Then it was the A6 via Chapel en le Frith and Buxton. By the time we were heading into Cheshire, the rain was heavy, the cloud low and lots of water on the road. At least the garden did not need watering when we got home.

Motorway madness and dreaming of the open road

A summer Friday afternoon is not the quietest time on the motorway, as everyone seems to be heading for the Lake District or Scotland in their caravan, campervan or over-loaded car. Today we were treated to lengthy traffic jams, reports of even more ahead on the radio and very slow nose-to-tail driving. There are still major road works near Lancaster and at one point we even lost a lane as the central reservation was being mowed. I appreciate the worker needs protection from the traffic but surely a better time to mow the grass could have been chosen. Inevitably driver frustration led to some extremely bad driving but no accidents, thankfully. I felt sorry for HGV drivers and others who had a much longer drive ahead of them.


The first of August tomorrow is a reminder that most of the summer is behind us. Despite a warm April, the next few weeks were quite cool and a lot of the fruit and veg in the garden are further behind than usual. I had thrown the waterproofs in the car as we left as I have given up persuading myself that it will stay dry. By the time we got to Beattock there was a torrential downpour and Scotland is having it’s wettest July since records began. As it dried off, we continued through Midlothian under a grey sky and I had to smile when Chris Rea’s ‘Looking for the summer’ came on the car radio.

On a more positive note, I am forging ahead with planning the Lincoln Highway drive for next summer. I have figured out all the stops and possible diversions so as soon as I have enough air miles, I will get the flights booked and the car and hotels. The open road beckons….


Home through the snow

We left Edinburgh with sun, wintry showers and a rainbow. Sheep were grazing in the fields and most of the snow had gone from the Pentlands other than the top of Tinto. The rivers were high and we spotted a flock of oystercatchers at the edge of the Clyde. Our journey on the M74 was uneventful but across the border in Cumbria I spotted a van emblazoned with ‘The best Marmalade World Tour’ – I was intrigued as a fan of the orange gold and make some every winter. It turns out that the awards ceremony is being held in Cumbria this weekend. I started to notice that vehicles coming in the opposite direction had snow on their bonnets and wondered if there was some snow on Shap. No, there was not but on the southern slope of the pass, we were suddenly had a winter wonderland on either side and snow falling but at least the motorway had been salted. Eventually the snow ceased and were were back to grey skies, sheep grazing in the fields and a murmuration of starlings over the motorway in Cheshire. We passed one car laden with stuff but with the back window missing. I was happy to get home with just enough daylight to check the greenhouse.