Round Britain: Tarbat to Wick


On Monday we awoke to a wet and dull day. It was too wet for the forest walks in the hills above Tain, so we decided to explore the Tarbat Peninsula. A minor road from Tain passes a disused airfield and a moor which is still designated a military bombing site. During World War Two, many of the villagers of Portmahomack were evacuated so that landing exercises in preparation for D Day could be carried out. The village was quiet when we reached it. Its name means the Port of St Colman, an early Christian saint.

The Discovery Centre is based in the old church and covers the area history from the Picts to more recent events. Many of the local archaeological finds are displayed. The church is dedicated to 7th century St Colman and has had many incarnations from the earliest monastery and Pictish church to the Church of Scotland. In 1948 it ceased to operate as a church.

In the old churchyard is a baptismal well. It is said to have been sanctified by St Rule on his way to St Andrews and is still used to baptise the eldest son of the Earls of Cromartie to this day.

A statue entitled ‘The Pictish Queen’ sculpted by Leonie Gibbs sits near the church.

Quite a few of the local towns have a cast iron fountain dating from the second half of the 19th century when piped water reached the community. Portmahomack also has an old streetlamp dating from 1900. It is one of the first erected which used paraffin. They were extinguished during the First World War but electric light did not arrive until 1949.

Before we left the village I noticed a house on the shore. I have seen gardens with gnomes in before but these were all ensconced inside.

Three miles beyond Portmahomack is Tarbat Ness with its lighthouse. There is a walk from the village I had found on the Walkhighlands website and might have done it in better weather. The area on the Ness is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and is visited by birds migrating from Scandinavia. The lighthouse was built by Robert Stevenson in 1840 and at 40 metres, is the third tallest in Scotland.

When we arrived, a robot was mowing the lawn: some modernity in the midst of all the history.

The path continues to the end of the peninsula

and we saw one seal briefly. The stone stackers have also been here at some point. Returning to Tain, we joined the A9, crossed the Dornoch Firth

and entered Sutherland. Before reaching Dornoch we also crossed the River Evelix. Dornoch Cathedral is Scotland’s smallest and was built by Gilbert de Moravia who became bishop, beginning in 1224. Two hundred years later, a Bishop’s Palace or Castle was built and is now a hotel. There is a crowd-funded distillery start-up there. We could not see inside the cathedral as a funeral was in progress.

However, we did have a browse in the nearby independent bookshop:

Afterwards we took a minor road north out of town and then along the south shore of Loch Fleet which is a National Nature Reserve. We paused just after the ruins of Skelbo Castle

spotting a grey heron and a curlew in the distance.


Back on the A9 the cloud was low. Near to The Mound, there was a ‘Caution Otters’ sign and hordes of people were down by the bridge looking for them, so we carried on passing through Golspie and Brora. We had previously visited Dunrobin Castle and Clynelish Distillery so pressed on to our destination for the night: Helmsdale. The rain had eased when we arrive there so we had a short walk around up to the Telford Bridge and the old harbour. The town has been a port since 1527 but the first harbour was not constructed until 1818. In 1832 a fishing boat brought cholera to the town but it was rescued from decline when other fleets brought herring in.

Timespan is the heritage and arts centre.

Before dinner we walked down to the modern harbour where sea birds were lined up on a wall as the tide came in.


The following day we were back on the A9, entering Caithness north of Helmsdale. A little further along is the site of the abandoned village of Badbea. People were moved during the clearances in the early 1800s when landowners decided that the glens where most people lived would be better places for sheep farms. Some people were living at Badbea in 1793 but most arrived in 1802 when Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster decided that Ousedale, a fertile glen on his Langdale Estate required clearing for sheep farming. He tried to encourage people to engage in the coastal industries. At least twelve families lived at Badbea. It is said that the winds on the cliffs were so strong that animals and even children had to be roped together to prevent them from being blown over the cliffs. Eventually it became impossible to continue and people left; the last resident departing in 1911. The short walk from the carpark leads to a memorial and the remains of a few homes.


After coffee at the River Bothy in Berriedale (where the mobile library was parked up outside) it was time to head north. The next stop was Dunbeath. Very little remains of the monastery which once sat slightly upriver from the village. It was washed away in the 18th century. There is a heritage trail which goes along the river and up a hill to a broch and some old stones.

The village street was constructed between 1840 and 1850. One of my friends from Aberdeen University told me that her grandfather worked at the mill by the old bridge. Just outside it we met an elderly man who remembered him.

Neil Gunn the author was born in Dunbeath in 1891. I read his books many years ago. There is a memorial sculpture down at the harbour.

Looking across the water there is a cave accessible at low tide and the castle which is not open to the public.

Back on the A9 we took the A99 to Wick at Latheron passing through Lybster, Ulbster and Thrumpster. The coast is littered with ancient remains of brochs, castles, cairns and standing stones. There are also the ruins of abandoned crofts and large wind farms stand offshore. Soon we were settled into our riverside campsite.

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: exploring Spey Bay


Ever since we walked the Speyside Way in 2012, I have wanted to return and explore Spey Bay more. The campsite here is run by the local golf club. The last time we saw it there was nothing between it and the sea but there are now several new houses between the golf course and the beach with another section yet to be completed. This may have been where the old hotel was situated. In World War II troops were based in the Richmond and Gordon Hotel here and an airfield was built nearby at Nether Dallachy. The hotel burnt down in 1965 and a replacement was built but is no longer here. Spey Bay has Scotland’s largest shingle beach. It is situated on the eastern side of the estuary opposite Kingston on the west. We arrived late afternoon and the after the showers ceased, had a wander on the beach.


Later I returned to see the Summer Solstice sunset.


On most other beaches there are notices asking you not to remove stones but there are none here and in the morning, I saw some people filling large shopping bags.

You can sometimes see Bottlenose Dolphins and whales offshore but today all I could see were birds. At least the crazes for padlocks on bridges and stacking rocks does not seem to have made it here yet. Salmon fishing has probably carried out on the River Spey since prehistoric times. In 1768 a fishing station was built at Tugnet but all that remains are the ice-houses built in 1830, the largest surviving in the UK. Only a third is visible above ground.

The fish were stored here before being shipped out. The last salmon was landed in 1991 and the nearby building is now the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society’s Scottish Dolphin Centre. A local high school project begun in 1988 and completed in 1991 with sponsorship and assistance from local sculptors and stone masons created a number of mosaics and some sculptures.

Across the river is a nature reserve. We saw a heron, swans and various ducks from the opposite bank.

We walked down the section of the Speyside Way to the viaduct (another remnant of the Beeching cuts) and into Garmouth on the other bank.


The Speyside Coffee Roasting Company is based in the local hotel – they roast the Brazilian beans and grind as required. It certainly tasted good and I bought some to take home. We also spotted an information board for the circular 95-mile Moray Way. It is comprised of some of the Speyside Way, the Moray Coast Trail and the Deva Way. It might be on for us to do at some point. As we turned to return to the campsite it was getting more overcast.

A few days in Paris


St Pancras International is a very civilised station and I wish others were like it. Unfortunately, I was not able to enjoy it to the full as I became unwell and wondered if I was going to be able to make the trip. However, I managed to get things under control as we boarded the Eurostar and in just over two hours were at the Gare du Nord in Paris. The station has had a problem with expensive unlicensed preying on passengers, but we found it easy to follow the signs to the licensed taxi rank. Soon we were at our hotel where I rested and recovered. This is at least our fourth trip to Paris, so we have seen most of the sights and were happy to just wander. We are close to the Arc de Triomphe

so then walked down the Champs Elysee which has only two closed shops but lots of temporary fencing piled up from the recent Maillot Jeune demonstrations. We did see a few demonstrators a couple of days later near the Arc. The American Embassy was well-guarded.I went to Fauchon on the Place de Madeleine to do some shopping and passed by Le Village Royale, a small upmarket shopping and restaurant court off the Rue Royale which was today decorated with umbrellas

and displaying bronze sculptures by Dirk de Keyzer, a Belgian artist and sculptor.



Le Village hosts regular sculpture exhibitions. Returning along the riverside, statues were glowing in the sunshine and there were views over to the Eiffel Tower.


In the afternoon we walked to the nearest green space, Parc Monceau; which was busy with workers enjoying their lunch in the sunshine. The main gates are huge wrought iron and gold and the park is decorated with statues, ponds with a bridge and various old constructions, none of which are labelled. There are also playgrounds for children. Nearer our hotel was a street market:

And the Église de St Ferdinand

We met up with our friends late afternoon and enjoyed a meal in a nearby Corsican restaurant. Saturday was match day so after a morning walk under blue skies enjoying the buildings it was time to join the crowds on the Metro to the Stade de France in St Denis for the Scotland-France rugby match.

Scotland, probably predictably, lost. Waiting for the crowds to diminish we stopped for a glass of wine at a co-operative in the centre of town. It sold products made by local artists and craftspeople but today the café was holding a special afternoon celebrating a children’s book author and illustrator with some wine. The artist had designed the wine labels.

On Sunday we visited the Musée du Quai Branly which has a fantastic collection of art and culture from Asia, Africa, Oceania and the Americas. Our Eurostar tickets gave us 2 for 1 tickets and we spent a few hours inside.



Outside there are gardens with grasses and magnolia trees in bud. Walking back along the riverside in this unseasonable weather, we spotted some hammocks by the Seine.

All too soon it was time to return home.

We had seen plenty of armed police around the city but at the Gare du Nord the army were on duty. On the Eurostar I read that the first Café á Chien has opened in the Marais district. That will have to be on the list for another visit. I finished reading Adam Gopnik’s Paris and the Moon which has been sitting on my bookshelf since I found a copy in Washington DC in 2004. This trip was a good chance to revisit the New Yorker writer’s account of moving from New York to Paris in 1995 where he worked for five years and began to raise his family, observing the differences between the two cultures. It was interesting having made numerous visits to both France and the USA.

Around Australia: Sarina Beach to Townsville


Today we woke before dawn and watched the sun rise over the sea in front of our motel room. After breakfast we had to drive back into the centre of Sarina for fuel and to see the Cane Toad statue in the middle of town. Back home, Moffat has a sheep and Rockhampton where we stayed the previous night, has several statues of bulls.

Cane Toads are native to Central and South America. They were introduced in 1935 to control insects which were detrimental to sugar cane production and to reduce the use of pesticides. They did not control the insects however and proliferated beyond Queensland where they were introduced. They exude poison from glands on their shoulders and can be fatal to domestic pets which eat them, although some birds have mastered the art of catching and eating them without triggering the poison. There have been debates about how and whether they should be eliminated but not all methods utilised have been successful. The Cane Toad has been listed by the National Trust of Queensland as a state icon of Queensland, along with the Great Barrier Reef, and past icons, the Royal Flying Doctor Service and the backyard mango tree (also an introduced species). Local school children gave this toad the name Buffy.
Continuing north on Highway 1 towards Mackay, I noticed on the map that a range of mountains southwest of the city are called The Blue Mountains. I am familiar with the Blue Mountains in New South Wales but did not know there were others elsewhere. Coffs Harbour has a big banana, but Bowen has a big mango, illustrating one particular variety introduced and grown here.

Bowen also has a number of murals in the town centre, reminiscent of some American towns we have driven through. However, they are not in such vibrant colours as some of the American ones but they do illustrate the history of the town.


A must in Bowen is a drive to the top of Flagstaff Hill which gives 360 degree views. The interpretive centre is closed having been damaged in the most recent cyclone to hit the area.


There were a number of birds hanging around, this magpie obviously regularly perches on this street light.

After Bowen the surrounding area is much drier. At 1pm the temperature got up to 30 degrees. After lunch at a rest area we continued towards Townsville and again entered sugarcane territory.

We had to stop at a level crossing for a cane train to pass and counted 216 trucks.

In Townsville it was pretty windy on the strand and the beach was quiet with the lifeguards hanging around with not much to do.

Walking along the strand I spotted this sculpture: Bazza and Shazza by Jan Hynes in 2004.

A large number of helicopters kept passing over during late afternoon and early evening. A couple of them were obviously military but there were several others. I hope they stop before we need to sleep. 280 miles today brings the trip total to date to 1957 miles.

Meeting the Warriors in Liverpool


Last Friday saw us on the train to Liverpool to see the World Museum exhibition of ‘China’s First Emperor and the Terracotta Warriors’. I have heard that the reason the exhibition came to Liverpool this year rather than any other UK city, was that there are many Liverpool FC fans in China (known as ‘The Other Red Army) who campaigned for it. Liverpool has a very longstanding Chinese community, older than that in San Francisco. The warriors were discovered quite by chance in 1974. It estimated that there are around 8,000 figures and horses in total but only 2,000 have been excavated so far. We were seeing a very small sample of those. There were a number of displays of ancient Chinese history and the rise of the Qin dynasty. The Chinese Empire was bigger than the later Roman Empire. The tomb complex was huge, larger than the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. In addition to the warrior figures, there were horses and chariots, helmets, armour, weapons and items needed in the afterlife.




Other displays focussed on the Han Dynasty, the Silk Road and items which probably found their way to China via that route.

The warriors were perhaps the most striking items on display.



A lighting display of how the tomb might have looked in it’s setting:

We left the exhibition via a walkway with Chinese lanterns suspended above it.

Outside the sun was out, buskers were playing in the street and the city centre was busy. A group of people including the Merseyside Chief Constable, were abseiling down wires suspended from the Radio City Tower. Unfortunately they had just landed so I could not get a photograph of them. On the train back to Crewe, a guy was having a dispute with the train manager about the price of his ticket for the short journey to Liverpool South Parkway station. We began to wonder if the matter would be resolved before we got to his station but it was. The Terracotta Warriors exhibition continues until October so there is still plenty of time to see it.

Walking in Madeira: exploring Funchal


Our walking tour of Funchal began with the farmers’ market which has meat and fish markets at the back and plants, herbs, spices and seeds upstairs.


Along the sides are independent shops. We found some rum of the north in a shop whose ceiling was composed of wine bottles. The proprietor told us how to best drink the rum: take a brandy glass and put in a teaspoon, add hot water and stir before removing the spoon & water and adding the rum. This is the best way to release the aroma.

I also bought some seeds and some cardamom pods. Our next stop was the Bordal Embroidery factory where we had a guided tour.


Once the fabric has been prepared it is sent out to the embroiderers. Some items can take as much as three months to complete. Their oldest embroiderer is 90 and we were told that no young people are taking up the trade so it may become a dying art. Continuing around the city streets we passed the taxi ranks. They are all yellow with a blue stripe in Funchal so easy to spot but this sign was interesting.


We also visited the cathedral.


It is the oldest church in Madeira, the first building being constructed in 1514. After some wine tasting at a casa with wines dating back to the 19th century

we took the cable car to the Tropical Garden at Monte.

The gardens occupy 70,000 square metres and house tropical plants from around the world. I was rated as one of the 13 most beautiful botanical gardens in the world by Condé Nast Traveler. Monte Palace Museum holds exhibitions and on our visit the Berardo Collection from Zimbabwe was on display.

Other artworks are placed around the garden:

There are also Chinese and Japanese gardens, native forest and mineral specimens. There are tiles from the 15th to 20th century and 40 tile panels outlining Portuguese history. We walked down the the cafe at the bottom of the site and the steep upward return gave us some good exercise. The central lake has swans from Iceland and Scandinavia in winter. Most would have been on their way back to their breeding grounds in April but this lonely swan had an injured wing and had stayed behind.

Some of our group decided to take the wicker sledges back down the hill:

However, we took the more sedate cable car back down to the seafront.

At the final group dinner in a local restaurant, we gave our group leader a signed boomerang in addition to his tip. They are on sale in Madeira. I had always associated boomerangs with indigenous Australians, but it turns out that they were also used in Europe and Africa with the earliest one found in Poland. It was made from a mammoth tusk and estimated to be around 23,000 years old.

There is so much more to be seen in Funchal: gardens, museums, the Frente Mar walk along the shore and other areas of the island to explore so I am sure that we will be back.