The Isle of May

The Isle of May lies in the Firth of Forth, just under 5 miles off the coast. We had seen it from the Fife coast in April and as we had never been there before, decided to fit in a visit as soon as we could. The island is only about 1 mile long and about 1/3 mile wide. It is owned and managed by Scottish National Heritage as a National Nature Reserve. The history varies a little as some say St Adrian and a number of followers settled on the island but were slain by the Danes in 875. The information provided by Scottish National Heritage concurs with those who say that Saint Ethernan ministered to the Picts of Fife from the island and died and was buried there in 669AD. A small stone church was built around 900AD to replace the previous timber one. Many pilgrims were buried in stone-lined cists between 600-1000AD. Around 1145 King David I founded a monastery with 13 Benedictine monks who built a bigger church and apparently introduced rabbits to the island. During the wars of independence in the 14th century the monastery was exposed to raiding warships and was abandoned by all but one monk. In 1550 the island was sold and a laird’s tower house was built from the remains of the priory. The village consisting of fishermen and their families lasted into the 18th century; the last villager being buried there in 1730. A considerable amount of smuggling went on and it was also a good place to hide from press gangs trying to find naval recruits. A boat runs trips from Anstruther, you can also take an open rubber speedboat from there or from North Berwick passing the Bass Rock en route. We took the Anstruther boat which takes about an hour to make the crossing (spotting a few grey seals) before mooring in Kirkhaven. You then have around two and half hours to explore before the return trip.

The path from the pier to the visitor’s centre and the rest of the island passes through an Artic Tern nesting site. I got dive-bombed twice even though I tried to be as unthreatening as possible.


We first took Holyman’s Road across the East Braes towards Rona and North Ness. The latter are restricted areas for wildlife only. The path runs through puffin burrows; 120,000 are on the island between April and August each year. I have never seen so many in one location.


and past the now disused Low Light which is a bird observatory. It was in use as a lighthouse from 1844 until 1887. We could see the North Horn.

The Beacon was the first Scottish Lighthouse in 1636 with a coal fire in a metal basket burning on top of the keeper’s house.

It was lit for the last time on 31st January. The island was by then owned by the Northern Lighthouse Board who commissioned Robert Stevenson to build the 24m high Main Light in 1816. It was automated in 1989.

The South Horn was built in 1886 and the North Horn in 1938. Heading south again we passed the loch where you can sometimes see
Eider Ducks and Fluke Street where the bird researchers live.

We then passed the ruins of the priory.

At the south end of the island view points overlook the cliffs where there are puffins, guillemots, shags, fulmars, razorbills and kittiwakes and gulls.






All too soon it was time to return to the boat and it began to rain as we boarded. The return journey took us round the other side of the island past cliffs covered with birds and a rock formation called The Bishop.

We then said goodbye to the Isle of May.

Finding art in Edinburgh


There is so much on in Edinburgh in the summer that you have to be very selective. In addition to keeping up with friends and getting things done in the flat, we did manage to get out to a couple of exhibitions. I have been familiar with some of Bridget Riley’s work for a long time but the Scottish National Gallery has now got one of the largest collections of her work on display. It showcases the development of her work from life drawings done at art school, pointillism and some copies of Impressionist works. There are some preliminary drawings for paintings and rooms displaying the OP Art black and white and colour works that she is best known for. She painted her first abstract work in 1961. Her monochrome painting ‘Movement in Squares’

reminded me of a perspective study I had to do at school and still have on my monochrome wall in Edinburgh.

Others are very colourful. The large size of many of her works means that she has used assistants since the 1960s but mixes all the colours herself.

The other exhibtion I managed to get to was ‘Weird Plants’ by Chris Thorogood which is on at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh. He describes himself as being fascinated by plants since childhood and finding was of illustrating them. The works in this exhibition were mostly oils. I was particularly interested in his painting of Ravenala madagascariensis or the Traveller’s Palm:

The reason it evolved blue seeds is that Madagascar has very few fruit and seed-eating birds which are hard-wired to prefer red, orange and yellow fruits in that order. Lemurs however, can only distinguish visually between shades of green and blue. They are attracted there fore to the seeds and aid in their dispersal. We have a trip to Madagascar planned for October so I will look out for the seeds. There is an exhibition of collage at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art which I must see on another trip. It is on until October so I should have no problem fitting that in.

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: Spey Bay to Nairn


In order to cross the River Spey, the coastal trail runs south alongside the river down to Fochabers. It passes a small community with the evocative name of Bogmoor. We continued into Elgin for supplies. Lossiemouth is the next town along the road, for many years the home of RAF Lossiemouth. The east beach is reached by a footbridge across the River Lossie.

There was some street art by the harbour which was a little worn.

While having a coffee in one of the esplanade hotels, we got into conversation with a family at the next table. The older woman had been a nursing assistant at the hospital in Elgin which is struggling to recruit doctors and some services may be closed and relocated. Even though they are closer to Inverness here, they are still in the NHS Grampian area which means they often have to travel to Aberdeen for appointments and procedures. There were a few ice-cream parlours run by Italian families as there are in many towns in Scotland. Many of their families had come over to Scotland in the late 19th and early 20th century. West of town on the coast near the RAF base is Covesea Lighthouse which can be visited and the old keepers’ cottages can be rented for holidays.

Further west is the private Gordonstoun School. Just before Hopeman, the road was closed because of an accident. A cyclist had been hit by a car and the air ambulance was on the road. Our next stop was Burghead

where the ramparts of an old fort can be seen under the vegetation and there are two ancient wells. The town has a large maltings and there is another on the road to Kinloss. The ruins of an old Cistercian Abbey founded in 1150 by monks from Melrose Abbey in the Borders. It functioned for 400 years until the Reformation in 1560. In 1650 Alexander Brodie of Lethan reduced it to a ruin and sold some of the stone to Oliver Cromwell for the construction of Inverness Citadel.

Findhorn lies at the mouth of the River Findhorn. The Findhorn Foundation here began in 1962. An eco-village which functions in a sustainable and spiritual manner was opened in the 1980s and in 1997 is became a NGO. There is a on old hotel now used for workshops and meetings etc and they have retreats on Iona and Erraid. We had a walk on the beach.

JA Steers in my New Naturalist Sea Coast book states that the coast between Nairn and Burghhead has ‘the finest mass of sand dunes in Great Britain’. Culbin was an old estate which was working agricultural land. In 1694 it was overtaken and buried by the sand, re-appearing once around the end of the 18th century. Much of the land is now forest but there is a nature reserve. We stopped in Nairn and had a walk on the East Beach.


Our campsite was away from the sand and in Denlies Wood which lies to the west of Nairn. Before the rain caught up with us, we had a walk in the woods which was a pleasant change from beaches.

Although the woodland is mixed, there is lot of Scots Pine and other conifers, so we have seen red squirrels and back at the campsite hooded crows probing the ground around the pitches. We are hoping for a drier day tomorrow.

Round Britain: Banff to Spey Bay


Having left the east coast behind and turned onto the north coast of Aberdeenshire, I had the first opportunity on this journey to see a sunset. Needless to say, as dawn is around 4.12am in these parts, I have not seen it. The other photographer on the beach that evening told me that the sunset had been much better on Sunday but I enjoyed the evening light very much.




Leaving Inverboyndie in the morning, the coastal route passed through Whitehills and a very small community at Birchwood which sits among the trees. On the Burn of Boyne there are several old mills including a lint mill; a ruined castle and a quarry by the bay. Portsoy has an old harbour, with a sculpture above it

and a newer one. The Scottish Traditional Boat Festival which occurs every year at this time was getting underway for the weekend. It includes a torch-lit Viking Parade and a concert as well as lots of boats. The coffee shop down on the waterfront on my digital map was defunct but we found one up in the town centre, near the Loch of Soy.

West of Portsoy on the A98 is Glenglasshaugh Distillery. It dates back to 1875 having been converted from an old water mill and continued to 1907. In 1959 it was renovated but production ceased in 1982. Production restarted in 2008 and it is now owned by the American company that own Jack Daniels.

The remains of an old windmill which ceased working in the 19th century stand beside it. Further on is Sandend which has been a fishing settlement for a long time.

Its fishermen were rebuked in 1624 for baiting their lines on the Sabbath. Line fishing was the main industry of the village but later the men would work in herring fishing in the larger ports. It is said that the McKays and Sutherlands which are common names in the village, came from across the Moray Firth during the Highland Clearances. Staff in the Fish Merchant business here start work at 4am. Fish are brought in from the boats in Fraserburgh and got ready for local purchasers to collect.

Cullen is further west. It is renowned as the home of ‘Cullen Skink’ a smoked haddock soup. The Cullen Bay Hotel just outside the town has won the World Championship for the last four years. There is an impressive viaduct in the town but no trainline since the Beeching cuts in the 1960s.

In the town square is the Bits and Bobs shop which also stocks secondhand books. Sadly, I did not find anything I needed.

I have enjoyed re-connecting with the Doric. Formerly the dialect most removed from standard English it has now been declared to be a separate language.

We had lunch by the beach and I had a good walk there. There are three rocks near the golf club called the Three Kings.


West of Cullen is Portknockie which has the impressive Bow and Fiddle Rock just beyond the harbour.

The road continues past Findochty which has a ruined castle and then into Buckie which consists of several small communities: Portessie, Ianstown, Gordonsburgh in addition to Buckie itself. The harbour is busy with a lifeboat station and one of the fish processing businesses was called ‘Eat Mair Fish’. Just before we entered Port Gordon, I spotted a seal colony on the beach.


We reached Spey Bay and our campsite next to the Golf Club. I had been meaning to come back here having walked through it on the Speyside Way seven years ago and look forward to exploring it tomorrow.

Round Britain: Fraserburgh to Banff


Leaving Fraserburgh we took the B road coastal trail through Sandhaven and Pitulie which are contiguous and Rosehearty. My copy of The Fabled Coast describes some of the fishermen’s customs and superstitions in the area. These include naming certain kinds of wave and believing that a breeze could be raised by a sailor whistling or scratching the mast with a finger nail. Stormy weather in Rosehearty was said to be brought on by marriage so weddings took place at the end of the herring season. Certain items were not to be brought onto ships for fear of adversely affecting the weather e.g. eggs because witches were believed to use eggshells as boats. Just out of town is Mounthooly Doocot. It was built by a local estate owner in 1800 to house pigeons for meat and eggs.

Nearby is a mound called Gallows Hill and the Hanging Stone. We diverted along a single-track road down to Aberdour Beach.

It has sandstone cliffs with caves, some of which look through to the sea. Fortunately, it was low tide so we could explore them.

There is a memorial to Jane Whyte, a farm servant’s wife. In December 1884, a steamer left Fraserburgh heading for Burghead. Adverse weather conditions led to the captain having to run the ship aground in Aberdour Bay. Jane Whyte saw the boat and realized that the men would have difficulty getting ashore. She waded out to the boat, caught a rope thrown to her and tying it round her waist, belayed the 15 men to shore one at a time. She sheltered them in her home and with the help of the local minister, they returned home the next day. Later she received the RNLI Silver Medal for Gallantry. Close to the sea are the ruins of St Drostan’s church which was founded in 580AD making it one of the earliest in Scotland. Just above the beach is St Drostan’s Well. East of the beach is a remnant of the old castle. New Aberdour is a 19th century planned village inland. Further on is Pennan harbour and a house called ‘The Old Doctor’s House’. There is a RSPB reserve at Troup Head which has Scotland’s only mainland gannet colony as well as fulmers, kittiwakes, guillemots and razor bills.


After the small village of Crovie is Gardenstown. It has been a fishing town situated amongst the sandstone cliffs for centuries. In 1900 it had 92 boats fishing for herring and salmon. Most of the community was involved in fishing with boats being handed down to subsequent generations. Later on, fishing boats became larger and the trade moved to bigger ports. The workers and their families continued to live there and after a lull in the 1980s and 90s, leisure fishing has now increased and also smaller fishing boats and others. We parked beyond the harbour where there was some street art.

Walking through to the harbour, some just completed street art was on the wall of a building soon to open as a café. I had a chat with the artist and café owner.

On the hillside above the town in Gamrie, lie the ruins of St John’s Church and graveyard. It was probably founded in 1004 and granted to the monks of Arbroath Abbey from 1189-1198. It was renovated in the 17th century and abandoned in 1830 when a new church was built in Gardenstown.
We noticed that several of the houses down near the harbour were for sale but new ones were being built further up the hill. When I was at medical school Gardenstown, with its then rather isolated community was renowned for having a high incidence of Menkes disease, also known as Menkes syndrome. It is an X-linked recessive disorder caused by mutations in genes coding for the copper-transport protein ATP7A, leading to copper deficiency. Characteristic findings of the disorder include kinky hair, growth failure, and nervous system deterioration. Today I saw one local with kinky hair but I suspect that the community is now more genetically diverse and that this is less of a problem. We continued along the coastal trail to Macduff and Banff which sit on opposite banks at the mouth of the River Deveron. Macduff was the last place to build deep-water wooden fishing boats. Our campsite is right on Inverboyndie Beach, so I had a beach walk in between showers.

The ships we had seen at Gardenstown had followed us and were now moored in Boyndie Bay. I spotted some pink seaweed

…and some that might become an abstract painting.

Tomorrow we continue our journey westward.

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.