Round Britain: Nairn to Inverness


After the morning rush on the A96, we left Delnies Wood and returned to the coast near Ardesier, a former fishing village. On the other side of the promontory is a platform construction yard for the oil industry. The tip of the promontory is occupied by Fort George. Construction began in 1746 after the Jacobite rebellion to aid in the government suppression of them. It is still a forces base. In late 1984 when I was working in Inverness, a friend in the army brought a platoon of Gurkhas for tea. The fort took 22 years to complete and it is more than 1km in circumference. It is now the home of the Black Watch.

We were told that the entrance doors were original

and that the bridge we walked over was once a drawbridge.

There are views over to Chanonry Point from the ramparts. We hope to explore it more closely when we continue our coastal journey in September and cross over to the Black Isle.

The fort contains the Highlanders Regimental Museum and a magazine whose 2,672 barrels contained gun powder, not whisky.

There was a small photographic exhibition ‘Scotland from the Air’ with photographs taken between the early 20th century

and the last couple of years.

Aerial photography started with crews taking shots for military planning. The RAF have 750,000 photographs of Scotland. Aerial surveys have been carried out in Scotland since 1976. Many were used in a TV programme ‘Scotland From the Sky’. The Historic Environment Scotland’s archives of more than 1.6 million photographs can be accessed via the following websites:
http://www.Canmore.org.uk and http://www.ncap.org.uk

On the way back along the old military road to rejoin the A96 into Inverness, we passed Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC training in Ardesier. There was a shop, so James popped in to get a newspaper. He was offered a free copy of the Sun which he declined. The woman in the shop had never heard of the boycott of paper in Liverpool after it published inaccurate accusations about Liverpool FC fans at Hillsborough in 1989. They were accused of being drunk and urinating on and assaulting emergency workers; and pick-pocketing the dead bodies, all of which was unsubstantiated. The A96 passes Inverness Airport and Culloden. We had to get an oil change done on the van before heading to our campsite.

Situated close to the river Ness, there were riverside walks into town via Ness Islands or along the northern bank. In the evening we stuck to the south bank and met some friends for dinner.

In the morning we walked along the north bank and passed one of several statues in an Oor Wullie series. This one was based on Scottish flora.

I had a look in Inverness Cathedral. It is the most northern Anglican Cathedral in the UK and the first stone was laid in 1866 by the then Archbishop of Canterbury. From the reformation the Episcopal church was proscribed and clergy were imprisoned for carrying out public worship. This was the first time an archbishop had performed any actions in the city since then. The cathedral was completed in 1869. I was unable to spend any quiet time in there as shortly after we entered, two bus loads of tourists marched in.

Crossing the river to the south side and city centre, we passed a man with a Liverpool FC shirt on. I asked him if he was from Liverpool and he said no, the United States and proceeded to show me his Donald Trump socks! The City Museum and Art Gallery has been created out of part of an old shopping centre next to the castle. In the art gallery section upstairs was an exhibition on immigration which aims to promote dialogue and understanding. I had seen it in Edinburgh beforehand but there were some newer items.

There was also a small exhibition based on a collaboration between makers in Scotland and Iceland in 2017 and 2018 with some of the Scottish makers displaying work done subsequently. We had seen some of the Icelandic work when we were there in early 2017.

The last time we were at Inverness Castle was in 2010 when we had completed walking the Great Glen Way from Fort William.

We had lunch with a friend and then walked back to the Botanic Garden near our campsite. I was inspired to do more with my cacti, succulents and orchids.

We were happy to leave before the weekend as the park next to the campsite was gearing up for the European Pipe Band Championship. We headed off down the A9 where I notice lots of garden escapees on the roadside near Kingussie: lupins. Further on we popped into Pitlochry for a coffee. Green Park Hotel before the town with great views of Loch Faskally and sculptures in the garden did not have a café but gave us some free coffees.


So far, our mileage for this leg is 196 bringing the total to 534. We will not continue round the coast in July and August as it is very busy especially since the North Coast 500 was created. We have other trips planned and will return to the coast route in September.

Round Britain: Peterhead to Fraserburgh


Before leaving for this leg of our tour around the British coast I had a look at my copy of the New Naturalist, The Sea Coast by JA Steers. The author’s Preface says that ‘a complete explanation of the intricate landscape of the Western Isles and mainland of Scotland is not at present possible’. The first edition was published in 1953 and my copy is a reprint of the 1969 fourth edition. J.A. Steers was Professor of Geography at Cambridge. He did get around to publishing the Coastline of Scotland in 1973 with the assistance of colleagues in Scotland. There was a section of one chapter in The Sea Coast which examines the section of the coast between Peterhead and Fraserburgh. Peterhead, where we ended our last trip, is the largest white fish port in Europe. Fraserburgh (known locally as ‘the Broch’) is the biggest shellfish port in Europe although both ports have seen a decline in the last few years.
We spent a night en route to Peterhead in Forfar, to catch up with friends. On arriving at the campsite five mallards were sleeping next to our pitch. They did not wake up until the sun came out an hour or so later. In the morning we discovered that they had slept there all night.

On the way to Peterhead, we stopped for coffee and a break in Ellon. A serendipitous find was a bookshop which sold both secondhand and new books as well as a few gifts. I discovered a book on Caithness which will be very useful for the next leg of our journey.

North of Peterhead we passed through St Fergus and then by a huge gas terminal. The coastline here used to run further inland, behind the Loch of Strathbeg. A shingle bar formed and blocked it off from the sea. It is Scotland’s largest land-locked coastal lagoon. In winter, pinkfoot and greylag geese arrive and it is now under the care of the RSPB.

Rattray formerly had a tidal inlet which was blocked around 1720 by blown sand and a huge storm after which the town decayed and by 1882 only the ruins of the old church were visible. St Mary’s Chapel was constructed in the 12th century, the first recorded reference to it being in 1220. It served the local community until it was probably replaced by the parish kirk of Crimond during the reformation.

The track continues to Rattray Head. The dunes here are a SSSI. On the beach was a large pile of sea glass which had hardly been worn down by the sea at all. The Ron Lighthouse is just off the headland.

Continuing back on the coastal road we passed St Coombs which like Inverallochy a little further on is a 19th century fishing village. St Coombs has the ruins of St Colombs Church. There are a few disused airfields in the area, some of which are now the sites of communication masts. We found our campsite on the esplanade of Fraserburgh easily and enjoyed a late afternoon walk on the beach.

The following morning, we explored the town before the weather worsened. Adjacent to our campsite on the esplanade are the buildings which store and process the fish and shellfish. The smell reminded me of my student placement in Accident & Emergency in Aberdeen. Straws had to be drawn to decide who would treat the very pungent injured fish workers who came in. The harbour was very busy and many businesses in town support the fishing industry.

The statue in the town square is of course, fish.

Sadly, the only bookshop in town looked as if it had closed a long time ago. At Kinnaird Head is the old lighthouse. It was the only Northern Lighthouse Board one to be built on an existing building. The castle, which is thought to have been constructed by Alexander Fraser in 1570, was up for sale in the 18th century. The Northern Lighthouse Board constructed its first lighthouse there. In 1824 Robert Stevenson re-designed the light on the tower.

The Scottish Lighthouses Museum ticket includes a tour of the tower; right up to the light.

It operated from 1787 and was decommissioned in 1991. The modern automatic light stands nearby with the first permanent radio beacon in Scotland which was erected in 1929.

The castle wine store still stands. We were told that when one of the Fraser daughters wanted to marry a man deemed to be unsuitable by her parents; he was sent to live on the bottom floor of the wine store while the daughter was housed on the top floor. A huge storm washed him out and he died on the rocks. The woman is said to have taken her life by jumping out of the top floor. Red paint is left on the rocks as a memorial.

The wind was increasing and rain forecast later in the afternoon so we had a lazy time planning the next day’s journey and watching seabirds fishing in the bay.

The new wheels


Before collecting our new wheels, we spent 10 days in Edinburgh. There were 2 Six Nations rugby matches on consecutive weekends which we attended with friends. The first one took place while there was still some snow on the Pentland Hills.

We met up with several friends and did some trip planning. One other thing I did manage to squeeze in was a trip to the City Art Gallery which had a couple of photographic exhibitions I had wanted to see for a while. The first was Robert Blomfield’s Street Photography which continues until 17 March 2019. He was a doctor but managed to pursue street photography from the 1950s to the 70s. It was only brought to an end when he suffered from a stroke in 1999. His son spent a lot of time sorting out the huge amount of film his father had at home.

The other photographic exhibition was ‘Scotland in Focus’ which included the galleries collection of Scottish photographs from the mid 19th century to the present day.

The final exhibition we saw was ‘Another Country’ which explored contemporary immigration to Scotland, including themes of integration, nationality and identity.
It included work by eleven leading artists from distinct ethnically and culturally diverse backgrounds, all born or currently living in Scotland and using different media.

As photography is not allowed in the galleries, the images are from the gallery website. The exhibitions are free, and the gallery is very central and close to Waverley Station. The adjoining café provided an opportunity to top up the caffeine levels.
On our last morning we were up early to take the train to Leuchars and then a taxi to Anstruther where our vehicle, a van converted to camper was made. We then drove home and for once there were no major motorway problems. The seemingly eternal SMART motorway works on our nearest stretch of the M6 and are due to be completed soon. At last we could see some parts completed since the last time we drove back in early January. At the moments we are kitting out the van and will probably have a trial run in March before starting to tour the coast of Britain. This will be done in stages, fitting around other commitments but we will set off at the beginning of April, starting in Fife and travelling anti-clockwise.

Around Australia: sampling a little of Adelaide.


We spent our first evening in Adelaide with friends and the following morning set out to sample a little of what the city has to offer. Nearest to our hotel was the Central Market which has more than 250 stalls. The Mettwurst Shop satisfied James’s craving for kabanos. In addition to food, fruit and vegetables, there are others. I had to stop at the pop-up bookshop and found one to buy.


On North Terrace there is an old and antiquarian bookshop and several others around the city. Walking north we reached the South Australian Museum on North Terrace. It is exhibiting the entries and winners of the Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year which accepts photographs taken in Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica and New Guinea. I could not select one I like best out of all those on display but there is a public vote for their favourite. After the exhibition we looked at one of the other galleries: The Aboriginal Cultures Gallery. As you enter, Norman B Tindale’s map of Aboriginal Australia is on display.

It shows the territories of over 250 Aboriginal groups at the time of European arrival and took him 50 years to produce. It was published in 1974 and challenged the myth of terra nullis. The boundaries are fluid and have changed over time, but it was an extraordinary achievement.

Nearby is the migration museum. This has a number of displays illustrating migration to South Australia from the earliest European contact to modern times. The impact on the indigenous people is not forgotten. For example, this description of the experience of the Kauna people who came into contact with the first European settlers. They thought they were visitors like the whalers and sealers they had met before. However, the Europeans fenced in and claimed land and excluded others. They destroyed the food sources and brought their own animals, alcohol and disease. After 10 years the immigrant population was 23000 and the Kauna reduced to 300. This was replicated in numerous communities.

By the rear exit is a sculpture by artist Tim Thomson created in 2007: the British Child Migrant Memorial to those shipped to SA between 1912-1970. Prior to our visit to Australia in 2011 I had read the book by Margaret Humphries ‘Oranges and Sunshine’. She was the British social worker who in 1987 had uncovered the forced child migrant programme while working in Nottingham. Many children, often those of unmarried mothers and broken families, were shipped to Australia and often subject to forced labour or sexual abuse in workhouses. Parents were told their children had been adopted. I met someone on the Indian Pacific Train who told me that he was one of those children. I had not expected to meet one, but he did not want to talk about that: he was a Jehovah’s Witness who asked me if I had read the Watchtower.

The art gallery is nearby but I needed to get outside for a while so we wandered back towards Victoria Square where 19th century buildings sit amongst the modern ones.

Our evening meal in a no frills restaurant in Chinatown which was very popular with the Chinese Community. I had a glass of wine with my food and a guy at a neighbouring table gave me the rest of his bottle when he left. There is no end to Australian generosity. Back at the hotel it was time to get organised for the morning departure to Kangaroo Island.

New Year wanderings in London

We drove to the station for an early train while it was still dark. Some people still had their Christmas lights on, visible through the mist hanging in the fields. Euston and the Royal Society of Medicine where we were staying were very quiet. The main reason for coming down so early in the year was to see the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum but I had booked that for the Monday in the hope it would be quieter. This turned out have been a good idea as the woman on the desk said that it had been full over the weekend. The museum is a wonderful building with the obligatory dinosaur hanging in the main gallery.

You could spend hours looking at all the exhibits but we confined ourselves to the photographs which were outstanding.

Oxford Street still had its lights up, the same ones that I photographed a few years ago but not all were lit.

We found some bargains in the sales although James’s search for a particular style and colour of sweater proved unfruitful until the last afternoon. Another interesting find was that Waterstones in Piccadilly has a floor of Russian books. I had only on Friday morning put a stressed Russian translation of Dostoevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’ on the bookshop internet sales site which I thought was a little unusual for us. Having done our little bit to help the economy, we spotted Joe Lynam and a BBC film crew setting up to report next to House of Fraser presumably on seasonal spending. Just before our evening meal in a local restaurant we had a drink in the Cock and Lion pub in Wigmore Street. The walls are covered with photographs of Edwardian London. James however, was a little more interested in the live sport they show.

James wanted to look at the market in Camden Passage. We had coffee in a boulangerie where frangipane tarts decorated with crowns for on sale for Epiphany. The bakery across the road had to stress that it was an English one. Only in Islington do you find a gluten-free bakery shop and the charity shops very few clothes in sizes above a women’s 10.

Later, en route down Regent Street to Liberty we passed the Canada Goose shop which opened its UK flagship store in November 2017. Then, there had been large crowds of animal rights activists with claims that coyotes and geese are mistreated to make the brand’s products. They have been accused of producing parkas with trims made from coyote fur. PETA claim the coyotes are caught in the wild in steel traps. On the day we passed by however, there was only one man demonstrating. In Chinatown where we ate on our last evening, the protest was about banning live organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners. The RSM had an exhibition entitled ‘Women and their olive trees’. The paintings were produced by an art class in Israel of 35 women aged 17-80 from Lithuania, Umm al-Fahad, Tiberias, Romania, Nazareth, Isfaahan, Argentina and the Caucasus who were from a variety of religious and backgrounds.

The exhibition has travelled throughout Europe and is due to travel around the UK. All too soon it was time to return to the station and I was coming down with a virus so needed the comfort of home for a while.

Not driving in San Francisco

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For the last two days of our trip we were happy to dispense with the car. On the first morning we had a couple of things to do downtown so took the Muni from outside the motel, it is a very good, cheap way of getting around town. The city was still cool and grey. I did the obligatory pilgrimage to City Lights Books and found Robert Moor’s ‘On Trails’ which had been on my list since I read a review a few weeks ago.

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The following day we walked through Golden Gate Park to the Botanic Gardens. There were the usual joggers, cyclists and a few people doing Tai Chi. I saw a Stellar’s Jay but didn’t manage to whip the camera out in time. At the gardens we enjoyed a couple of hours there. Sunset Piano had created a sculpture from three pianos, one of which can be played and it is installed at the entrance. There are ten pianos placed around the garden and recitals take place at various times over the next couple of weeks. When there is not formal concert, anyone is welcome to come and play. We heard several people playing well and one excruciating rendition of the Moonlight Sonata. Afterwards we visited two local bookshops: one sold new and used, James found something there. At the Great Overland Book Company I found a couple of books and we had a chat with the proprietor who, like many of the people we have met along the way, wanted to talk about Brexit. In the afternoon I did some beachcombing as the fog had gone and we had blues sky with only a little light cloud over the ocean. I took some bird photographs including these long-billed dowitzers. There are numerous small pieces of plastic waste on the sand but no sea glass. I did find some intact sand dollars.

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A local guy told me that he had just seen a young seal and that the sea just off the beach was a rich fishing ground. He also said that he had seen whales from the shore. Gulls were eating crabs on the shore and the dowitzers were probing the wet sand.  I had hoped to get some sunset shots that evening but the fog returned a couple of hours before sunset and the strong wind was blowing sand around. The total miles walked  that day was eleven. Yesterday it was time to fly back home.  At San Francisco airport the police patrol the terminals on Segways. I noticed on Facebook that the London to Sydney Overland trip we were hoping to do in 2018 is ceasing after 2017 so 2018 might have to be the Big Lap in Australia. On the plane I watched as we crossed the Sierra Nevada, desert, the Rockies and sunset over Canada. The sun rose soon afterwards over the mountains, snow and ice of southern Greenland. As we started to descend over Ireland, I found it hard to adjust to seeing small green fields again but glad to be back home among them again for a while.

 

Journey into the future and the past

We were driving to Nottingham today to visit my aunt. It is a familiar journey in addition to family visits, for many other reasons. Our favoured route is the scenic one over the Staffordshire Moorlands, which gives me a fix of the uplands before dipping down into Derbyshire. Passing through Derby, there are still a lot of Georgian buildings on the west side of the city but very quickly we are on concrete dual carriageways and a short stretch of motorway to get to my aunt’s part of Nottingham. A brief respite from the rain in what promises to be the wettest June in living memory, made the driving easy. Passing through moorland villages, many hedges were adorned with ‘Vote Leave’ posters, a reminder of the great uncertainty facing the UK in the next week about the outcome of the referendum and if we do vote to leave the European Union, even more uncertainty about what will happen then. Brailsford, a village straddling the road between Ashbourne and Derby, also has an uncertain future like many in the UK, as it is proposed as a site for more housing. ‘Save our village’ notices were everywhere.

During our time with my aunt we inevitably ended up discussing family history as I have been researching this since I was at school and was given a lot of material by my grandmother, some of which remains a mystery. She is always available to fill in the gaps and dispel some myths but some still remain. These photographs remain a partial mystery. They were among my grandmother’s photographs and her handwriting on the back of the first says ‘American oil man, distant relation’, the second ‘Arbor Lodge’ and the last has ‘Humboldt Oil Field 1923’ on the front. I sent them to Arbor Lodge, Nebraska which is now a State Park and they confirmed that the second photograph is of the house and that the Humboldt Oil Field was several miles south of there. They forwarded my e-mail with the photographs to their historian but I am still waiting to hear if they have identified the man and then I can try and identify whether he is a distant relation or not. Some of my Irish ancestors did emigrate to the USA so he may be related to them. The mystery remains.

American Oil Man Distant relation_edited-1

Arbor Lodge Nebraska State Park_edited-1

Humboldt Oil Field Sept 16 1923_edited-1