Round Britain: Sango Sands and Balnakiel

Our campsite in Durness sits above Sango Sands beach with great views from the back of the van.

There is a viewpoint giving wider views over the bay.

Much of the rock around Durness is limestone but down on the beach is some Lewisian gneiss.

Durness parish was cleared by Lord Reay over a 30 year period preceding his sale to the Sutherland estate in 1829. More clearances to enable sheep farming continued afterwards, some involving disputes and resistance from the locals. You can still see the remains of croft buildings among the 19th century and more recent buildings. This morning we walked the mile down to Balnakiel.

Most of the land is sheep and some cattle farming. The road passes Loch Croispol

and then the Craft Village. The buildings here were constructed in the mid 1950s as a Ministry of Defence Early Warning Station during the Cold War. It was never commissioned and in 1964 the County Council acquired it and the Craft Village was born. It is now owned by the residents and there is also the Cocoa Mountain Coffee Shop. A little further on are the ruins of an old church.

Balnakiel has been a centre of Christianity since the 8th century when St Maelrubha founded a monastery. The current church dates from 1617 and was rebuilt in 1690. In 1843 it was abandoned. Balnakiel House across the road was built in 1744 and has been the home of the chiefs of the Clan Mackay and may incorporate part of a bishop’s summer residence. We then wandered down to the beach.

The dunes are an SSI and in summer rangers offer guided walks to see the wildlife. In 1991, shifting sands revealed the grave and skeleton of a 12-year-old Viking Warrior, with a helmet and shield. You can walk four miles along the old military road to and around Faraid Head but the tip is an inaccessible MOD area. Had it not been raining we might have done the walk but instead had to return to Durness.

Dubrovnik: last day in the Old City

Our wanderings today took us first around the centre of the city past the clock tower which we can see from our window. The bells keep time for us throughout the day.

At the top of the steps we had our evening meal by the other night is the Church of St Ignatius and the Jesuit College. They are on the highest point within the city walls. Construction of the church began in 1699 but was not completed until 1725. There are two alcoves on the front of the building which are empty. Apparently the ship carrying two statues that were to sit in the alcoves sank en route.

Inside, there is one central aisle with side altars. After completion of the building, the decoration commenced. The walls and ceiling of the sanctum which depict the death of St Francis Xavier were painted by Gaetano Garcia who took three years to finish his work.

The foundations of the college next door were laid in 1662 but the work was destroyed in the major earthquake of 1667 and did not begin again until 1670 and was completed in the 1690s. There was a pile of rubble in front of it today so I assume more renovations are underway. Tomorrow we are planning to visit the nearest island which has a nature reserve and as our museum ticket covers it, we popped into the Natural History Museum. It is small and has areas set out for children (a school trip arrived just before we left). As it is situated in a coastal city it focusses on marine life although there was a large display about the endangered Balkan Pond Turtle. Upstairs there were a few birds and butterflies on show and only one mammal, an otter. Afterwards we had a cold drink at the nearest of the two Buza Bars which has sea views.
Continuing up and down steps and through the narrow side streets we found the Ethnographic Museum. The ground floor was devoted to a large exhibition of the work of Mateo Kalć, a photographer working in the early twentieth century. The upstairs galleries were devoted to farming and home life and costume. It was very quiet with only one other person visiting. Working our way back towards the harbour via the narrow lanes and a detour due to building work we found the Atelier Pulitika, a small gallery. On our visit one room was devoted to an installation entitled Time by Ana Požar Piplica which was created this year and a replica of Duro Pulitika’s studio (he died in 2006).

Lunch was by the harbour. A cat was curled up under the table when we arrived but as a man set up to start fishing nearby, she moved over and watched him closely. He was unlucky and gave up after a while but the cat scrounged a fish from elsewhere and returned to eat it next to us. Our meal this evening was at a restaurant just outside the Pile Gate with views over the sea.

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.

Iceland Ring Road: finding the ice in Iceland

Jökulsárlón is a glacial lake where small icebergs calve from the ice cap tongue and are washed down to the sea.

We saw some common seals at a distance offshore and snow buntings were flying around the cafe in hope of picking up some scraps. The nearby bridge has another possible Banksy work on it. It has always been headless but there have been graffiti additions.

Our next port of call was the last turf church built in 1884 and dedicated to saint Clement, Hofskirkja. The stone receptacle for holy water sits near the door and there are other stone receptacles just outside the graveyard which were used for beating and cooling metal. Wood for the fire and metal from shipwrecks were used.

More ice was seen at the Svínafellsjökull glacier. We had a short walk along it but we were now getting back into tourist territory and had to dodge the drones and selfie sticks.

We drove over the Skeiðarársandur sandflats where with the highest peak in Iceland, Hvannadalshnjúkur was hiding in the cloud. In 1996, a flood following an eruption, washed away a bridge. There is now a memorial.

The lava field here is the largest since Iceland was settled. Unlike those in the north of the country, where there is less rain, the southern lava fields are green with moss and lichens. We were now in the rainiest part of Iceland and it rained.

Iceland Ring Road: discovering history in Laufás

Another detour from the Ring Road took us to the ancient village of Laufás situated on the opposite side of the fjord from Akureyi. Just before we got to the village we had some lovely views across the fjord to Akureyi as it was getting light.
The village is mentioned in records soon after the settlement of Iceland. It has a manor farm and parsonage built of turf with brick gable ends. There was some farm machinery lying on the grass outside the farm building but it did not seem to be too ancient as James, who comes from a farming family remembered some of it being in use on their farm. The farmhouse is larger than usual, accommodating around 20-30 people needed to farm the land. The parsonage was built in 1866-1870 for the priest and was rebuilt in 1853-1882. In summer the house is open and you can see the furnishings of the late 19th/early 20th century, visit the small museum and the cafe. We had to be content with wandering around outside the house but the church was open.
The church dates from 1047 although the current one was built in 1865. It has a pulpit with wood carvings from 1698. The priest now lives in a newer parsonage.
There were also some views over the surrounding countryside and one I snapped out of the bus window as we moved on to our next stop. I must come back to Iceland and explore at a more leisurely pace.

Sun on the beach and snow on the hills

I love walking and beachcombing in all seasons and as the morning was bright and sunny we decided that today’s walk would be on Gullane Bents in East Lothian. Several people and dogs were enjoying a morning on the beach. Ships were heading out to sea and we could see snow on the hills of Fife to the north. I was wearing my fingerless gloves so that I could operate my camera but they got pretty cold very quickly but I did find some pieces of sea glass to add to my collection and one small scallop shell with barnacles on it.
Gullane Bents 14 Feb 2016 (1 of 1)

Gullane Bents 4 14 Feb 2016 (1 of 1)

Sea glass 14 Feb 2016 (1 of 1)

After the walk, we warmed up in a coffee shop and then investigated the ruined church opposite, St Andrew’s Old Kirk. It was built in 1170 on the site of an earlier Norman church but was abandoned in 1612 as it kept getting buried in sand blown from the beach. The congregation moved to Dirleton and much later, other churches were built in Gullane and are still there today.

St Andrews Old Kirk Gullane 14 Feb 2016 (1 of 1)
We had planned to head south over a B road that passes over the Lammermuir Hills and past the Whiteadder Reservoir before descending into the borders. I could see a lot of snow on the hills and have previously taken some good shots up there so was very optimistic as the weather had stayed dry. Unfortunately the road was closed and had a fairly permanent closed sign so we had to turn round. The alternative route was to cross over to the A68 and then to the A7 via Soutra and were were rewarded by some snow.

Snowy landscape Soutra 2 14 Feb 2016 (1 of 1)

Snowy landscape Soutra 7 14 Feb 2016 (1 of 1)

We had a flurry of snow over the Teviots but south of the border the sun came out again and it was an uneventful drive home.