It is now officially winter and after several years of mild winters probably due to climate change, an approaching snow storm was forecast. The lack of snow probably had nothing to do with the fact that I had found a book on snowflake photography just after our last snow in 2010. I have not been able to try any macro photography of snow or ice since, not even on the Iceland trip. We had decided to stay in Birkenhead the night before our morning ferry as problems on any of the three motorways we use to get there could have delayed us. We did not anticipate any problems getting there in the afternoon. However, while we are all too aware of the problems satellite navigation systems can have in rural areas, this was unexpected in an urban setting. It kept trying to send us down the Queensway tunnel to Liverpool, not to the street in the next block we needed to get to. Once on the tunnel approach you cannot turn around. A very helpful member of staff at the toll booth (who has probably experienced this before), let us out and we reached our destination. The following morning the sailing was delayed and we eventually boarded in the midst of wind and sleet. That had already put paid to any shots of dawn over Liverpool and I had thought that I would be wandering around on the very cold and wet deck taking photographs. Fortunately there was a brief lull in the weather south of the Isle of Man and I was able to watch the sun going down before the next front approached.
We arrived in Belfast only an hour later than scheduled and were in the car ready to disembark when we were told to go back inside as a broken down truck was blocking the ramp. This took almost two hours to sort out. Fortunately we could go back into the lounge (it’s worth paying a bit more for Stena Plus on long daytime sailings) and I had a couple of brandies courtesy of Stena. James had to stay sober as he was driving. Someone told us that thinking it had run out of fuel, they brought some more diesel but found out that there was some air in the fuel system. This would have locked the brakes. Some engineers from Merseyside we were chatting to were amazed that in a port, there was no means of dragging the vehicle away that could be found quickly. At least once we could leave the roads were quiet, there was very little snow and we arrived about 11.30pm.
We woke to sun and light cloud on our first full day in Shetland. Rain was forecast later and having spent so much time yesterday in the car, we decided to explore on foot. A little further back down the road is the Cross Kirk Churchyard which is still in use as a burial ground. The Roman Catholic Cross Kirk continued after the reformation but gained a reputation as a place of ‘superstitious pilgrimage’ and it was burnt to the ground in the 17th century by the minister of Northmavine, Hercules Sinclair who was a Protestant zealot. Some of the older stones apparently commemorate local notables but after a wet winter they were covered with lichens and I could not read them.
Back to the coast we descended to Stenness which was a Haaf (deep water) Station where fisherman went 40 miles offshore to fish for cod and ling with lines. The ruins of their summer lodges remain on the beach. Any sand on the beach is dark and along with all the black rocks, clues to the area’s volcanic past.
We wandered back along the coastal trail on the cliffs. Just south of the lighthouse is the Kirn O’Slettans. It is thought to have been one of the side vents of the volcano and when the waves are high enough they blow up it and the spray drenches the lighthouse. Back at the lighthouse we had lunch and then set off to Brae as James felt the need to find a newspaper (we had no internet at the lighthouse and the only thing on the TV news was the cyber attack). Mission accomplished, we stopped off at the Mavis Grind on the way back. Deserted by people but with sheep grazing, we walked along the shore and I picked up some wool for a future project.
After dinner, I sat outside and waited for the 21.40ish sunset.
Our second full day at the lighthouse was sunny but the wind had returned. We decided to walk up the coastal path to the north of the lighthouse. The trail is marked at stiles and occasionally signposts but mostly you follow the coast on sheep tracks and don’t get too close to the edge. Following sheep tracks reminded me of my childhood on the Ochil Hills. I spent hours just exploring on sheep tracks. We first reached the Hols O’Scrada, a 100m passage which was a long cave where the pressure of the water opened it to the sky. There used to be two holes but the bridge between them collapsed in 1873.
We diverted off the trail a little to visit the Broch O’Houlland where the remains of a defensive broch sit on a peninsula on the loch.
Further on up the coast there is a large gap in the cliffs at Grind O’ Da Navir.
We saw the New Year in quietly at home as James had worked a 12 hour day and then driven up here on Thursday and we had been out celebrating his birthday with friends on the 30th. The 31st had dawned with high winds which were blowing down all the barriers being erected in the city centre for the Hogmanay celebrations that evening. It then rained for a few hours in the afternoon. I had been contemplating doing some firework photography from Blackford Hill as the weather did improve a little. However, I could see myself slipping in the mud with all my equipment in the dark and thought better of it. New Year’s Day began quietly as some of my neighbours are away and one is a taxi driver who had been working last night. After coffee with friends who popped in to deliver a Christmas present, we needed some exercise and headed up Blackford Hill. The dog-walkers, kite-flyers and some runners were all out and a few others who like me were hoping so see a good sunset. The darkest clouds were moving away to the southwest but the sun remained mostly hidden as it set.
As we walked downhill towards the Observatory, I spotted this guy who was playing Auld Lang Syne on the top of one of the hillocks.
This morning I braved the tourists and sales shoppers to buy some post-Christmas birthday presents in the city centre. The roads were fairly quiet but the pavements were full of people. I had to step into the road to avoid the horde who were taking pictures of Greyfriars Bobby. My purchases completed, I headed back to the flat via the West End. I always have a look at the mural on St John’s Church which is usually very challenging. As I could not take a photograph due to the building work going on around it, here is the Christmas photograph for 2016 taken from their Facebook page:
Back at the Meadows it was sunny enough for some people to sit out.
At the flat the sun on the bare cherry tree branches made a very abstract pattern and might turn into an abstract painting one day.
A wood pigeon was waddling around feeding underneath. Almost every house I have lived in has had wood pigeons in the garden or next door. I think the only exception was a student flat in Aberdeen where there were no trees nearby. One year I was doing the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch which takes place at the end of January each year, in Edinburgh. I did not expect to see as many different birds as I do in my garden in Cheshire but it was rather cold and frosty and I counted 18 wood pigeons on one shrub eating the red berries.
Now that the trees are bare, I could see the sun disappearing behind the west end of the Pentland Hills through the trees next door. Some energetic people were watching it from the top of Blackford Hill which must have given them a great view but I walked 4.7 miles this morning so I was content to look out of my window.
If you are after the precise timings of sunrise/sunset/moonrise etc there is a very useful piece of software for use on a computer or as a mobile app which can give the timings on any given date, anywhere on earth:
I am continuing to read David Bain’s book and have just read the chapters on Wyoming. I recall driving through the places he describes, seeing the Medicine Bow and Wasatch Mountains and learning about the Sand Creek Massacre of the Cheyenne Indians by US Cavalry in 1864. I also remember passing through Medicine Bow and seeing the Virginian Hotel, the most impressive building in the town. It is often said to be the place that Owen Wister wrote the novel ‘The Virginian’.It became one of the cowboy shows on TV during my childhood. However, Bain knows that the hotel was built in 1911, 11 years after the novel had been published. There were also significant dinosaur fossil finds in the area, many of which are now displayed in museums in New York and Washington. Bain and his family stayed in the Virginian Hotel and found themselves in a room over the bar and could hear the music and noise all night plus the early departure of railroad construction crews who were also staying there. We had a similar experience when we walked the West Highland Way in 2009. We stayed at the Drovers Inn at Inverarnan, a historic hostelry. Our room was above the bar and unfortunately, Friday night was music night. Added to that it was someone’s 40th birthday. Over at breakfast next morning which is served in the newer building over the road, I said maybe we would have been quieter in a room in that building. Another couple told us that it had been quiet until 1am when the birthday party contingent had noisily returned to their rooms shouting that they had never been so drunk in their lives. I shall be more careful when selecting rooms in the future.
The endless summer has ended. The clocks went back last weekend, the temperature has dropped and we had our first frost a few days ago. Fortunately, I had put my pelargoniums into the greenhouse the day before. The autumn colours are still fabulous but high winds are forecast so most of the leaves will soon be on the ground. It is unusual to get to November before the heating is switched on, the warm coat comes out and I am hunting for gloves. In Edinburgh a couple of weeks ago I was cursing because I had not brought my sunglasses as they are not usually needed in October. This afternoon’s drive was punctuated by large black clouds and showers for most of the way. The sun was trying to emerge from behind the clouds in places and we saw four rainbows before we had got as far as Carlisle. On the M74, we passed Stevens Croft, a power station fuelled with biomass: off-cuts from the forestry industry. Many of the hills around here have wind farms and with the addition of hydro-electricity, Scotland is further ahead than the rest of the UK in renewable energy production.
We left the motorway near Moffat and there was yet another rainbow above the golden foliage around the town. It was fading a bit before I could find a place to stop and take a photograph.
We continued on the A701 and as we ascended, were surrounded by cloud and rain. At Tweedsmuir, there is what looks like a stone monument on the hillside. It might be The Postman’s Stone. This marks the position where the body of stagecoach guard James McGeorge was found, after an unsuccessful attempt to get the mail bags through a blizzard in February 1831. It is inscribed “J McG 1831”. He is apparently buried in Moffat old graveyard. I am looking forward to us both being finally retired in a few months’ time, we will have more time to explore the area we are driving through. Today we needed to get to Edinburgh for a quick meal with a friend before he and James headed off to Murrayfield for a rugby match. I was looking forward to a quiet evening. Just before we descended into the city there was a lovely sunset.
Today it was time to head downtown. James was keen to visit the 9/11 Museum so we walked all the way down 8th Avenue and Hudson Street into the West Village and then on to Ground Zero.
The museum was very moving and reminded me that on that date in 2001, I was running a conference in a BT Training Centre in Staffordshire. There were a lot of TV screens in the foyer and finishing late afternoon, I was organising lifts to the station for speakers and caught sight of a screen showing a plane crashing into a building. I assumed this was a movie until I caught up with the news on the car radio while giving a speaker a lift to the station. At that time I was responsible for the training of junior doctors and some who the local people thought were Muslim, had dog shit put through the letterboxes in their doors.
It was then time to walk down to the waterfront and take the free Staten Island Ferry which gives great views of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and Manhattan. I found a spot on the upper deck at the stern between all the selfie sticks.
Afterwards we had lunch in deli and then visited the Museum of the American Indian which covered communities from the Arctic to Patagonia. We then walked back to the hotel for time to relax, eat, digest the New York Times and catch the sunset from the hotel rooftop terrace.
Saturday morning saw us driving along the M8 towards Glasgow. We had not been to the city for some time so a revisit was long overdue. The motorway corridor seems to have become one long chain of business parks and new housing including communities that we have never heard of. In the city, we had a few attempts at finding our hotel before being successful. The motorway junction was not numbered so we overshot it, the road we were to have left on had changed its number and there was a considerable discrepancy between what Google Maps said we could do and what was on the ground. We are now well acquainted with the one-way system in this part of Glasgow. After leaving our bags at the hotel, it was time to walk into the city centre and get some shopping done. There was the usual assortment of buskers and hellfire and damnation preachers on Argyle Street and shoppers were streaming out of the stations. A coffee stop in Waterstones added to the book collection – Robert McFarlane’s ‘Landmarks’ and Jen Campbell’s ‘The Bookshop Book’ for me and a North Island of New Zealand Guidebook for James (he wants to follow the British and Irish Lions Rugby Tour there in 2017). Unfortunately this will be during their winter when most of the fantastic hiking trails there are closed. My fashion bargain was a Missoni tunic in TK Maxx. I have always admired their colourful knits in Liberty but they are usually out of my price range so this was a great find at a huge discount. My signature look is rapidly becoming tunic plus leggings, trousers or jeans. We had a late lunch at an Italian restaurant and then, as it was raining again, ensconced ourselves in our 15th floor room to relax and read. It has a great view over the west of the city, ideal for sunset photography.