Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Natural stress relief - sunset walk at Locko Park

This week has been incredibly stressful, so feeling emotionally exhausted I headed out for a short evening walk at nearby Locko Park, hoping to relax, watch the sunset (and, as it turned out, the full moon rise), and feel physically tired afterwards. It worked.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Rushcliffe Country Park

 I've been off out to another fairly local, yet new-to-me, place for a baby and buggy ramble - Rushcliffe Country Park, just south of Nottingham.

Ladybird on the Ladybird trail

It has all the usual things you'd expect at a country park - a lake with waterfowl, easy paths, a playpark with swings and stuff to climb, skate boarding, a running route for those who like to dash past the scenery - but also some pleasant 'extras' like a dog activity trail (I wish we'd had Dylan the dog along), interesting bits of art here and there, a heritage train ride almost on-site, and a sensory play area with hands-on puzzle solving and music making (I loved that bit!)

I think it's somewhere we'll be back to visit again, particularly as our grandson gets older.

Great Central Railway sidings

Bang for music! great fun for children
and adults in the sensory area

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Weathering and Texture

It's not neat and tidy but I'm always drawn to weathered, textured buildings and surfaces. There are lots to be found round old stately homes, such as Calke Abbey, but these photos of peeling, crumbling paint and wood come from my dad's back garden.

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Top Ten alternate places to visit in Scotland

 This summer, lots of friends (both real and virtual) have decided Scotland's THE place to go on holiday. For most of them it was a first visit, so they've been asking around for ideas of where to go. Well, I've been visiting for over fifty years (!) and besides the obvious choices - Edinburgh in festival-fueled August, monster-spotting by Loch Ness, following the castle-trail in Aberdeenshire - I've come up with some slightly off-beat places I consider worth a visit ...

Where to start? At the border. Where else?

Looking north from Carter Bar
Forget Gretna Green or the rather dull section of A1, Carter Bar on the A68 is where you should cross into Scotland. In itself it's not much to look at - a couple of lay-bys either side of the road, cairns to mark the border, and maybe a piper - but it has a real feel of crossing from one country to another. Approaching from the south there's a long drag of a road, climbing gradually, curving along the hillside leading to a dip on the horizon, but just through that dip England drops away behind, and the whole of Scotland seems to open up in front. The landscape is different (there'll be a clever geological reason but the English side is gently rising moorland, the Scottish a broken tumble of hills). And the view is wonderful. I'm sure that on a clear day you should be able to see, not only down past Jedburgh, but on to Edinburgh, the Firth of Forth and Fife on the far side, but maybe that's wishful thinking.


Heading north and west of Glasgow (stop off at Loch Lomond if you must) you come to Crinan  - a pretty place, marking one end of the canal of the same name built to avoid a long trip round Kintyre. Here, yachts and fishing boats and the occasional restored 'puffer' head out along the West Coast, after negotiating the locks that separate sea and canal. There's a hotel, a tearoom, often art exhibitions at both, plenty of boats to watch as you idle away a pleasant afternoon - maybe a fisherman landing seafood for the hotel, maybe holiday-makers who aren't too sure about how to handle a boat - and if you're feeling slightly more energetic you can walk along the canal or venture into Knapdale forest, where you might spot recently reintroduced beavers.

Temple Wood stone circle

Just up the road is my third must-see place - Kilmartin Glen, a valley floor filled with prehistoric remains. There are cairns, stone circles, and standing stones, all waiting, well, not to be discovered because that's already done, but puzzled over.

The cairns must have marked the burial spots of important people, the standing stones maybe formed some sort of monument, the stone circles marked the passing of the seasons, but the reasons for choosing this specific place are lost. Walk round the glen, clamber inside a cairn, and try to guess why. It's particularly eerie at dusk, if you can stand the midges.

Onward, north up the West Coast to Glencoe. Most tourist guides will send you off up the glen itself, looking at towering mountains and gushing waterfalls, or checking out the National Trust for Scotland visitor centre where you can learn all about the violent history of the area, but, while all of these are definitely worth a visit, the first place I'd head to would be a small loch near Glencoe village. This lochan and surrounding area were deliberately engineered and planted in the late 1800s to look like British Columbia so the landowner's native Canadian wife wouldn't feel homesick.

Ardnamurchan lighthouse

You'd possibly already thought about heading to John O'Groats or Dunnet Head (which is further north) but be original and go west.

Ardnamurchan lighthouse
from Sanna beach

The spot where Ardnamurchan lighthouse stands is the furthest westerly mainland point in Britain. It's a long, exciting, often single-track drive across some wild countryside to reach it but there are wonderful views out to the Hebrides, whether you go up to the top of the lighthouse or not, and you might see whales and dolphins passing by. And there are wonderful beaches nearby, so pay them a visit too.,

The logical route onwards from Ardnamurchan is north to Mallaig to catch the ferry for Skye, and as you're zooming along (the road's now two-way and reasonably fast) you might catch a glimpse of white beach out of the window. Turn round and investigate. These are the White Sands of Morar. There are lots of these exotic-looking beaches with white sand and turquoise sea scattered around Scotland's West Coast (Calgary on Mull is particularly nice) but I like this one because of its odd juxtaposition with the A road - and because once, heading home after a wet fortnight on Skye, we stopped there on an unexpectedly sunny day. Also it's one of the few beaches you can sit on and watch a steam train go past.

There are lots of places you could visit on the Isle of Skye but when you've been and seen (even climbed) the Cuillin, splashed about in their fairy pools, handled a snake at the Serpentarium, and stood at the top of the Quiraing like Michelle Pfeiffer in Stardust, then head towards the Fairy Glen just outside Uig. It's weird and mysterious; a place where you feel you could easily get lost or bewitched by the Fair Folk. (Since writing this, I've been told that through Instagram this has become quite a popular destination for anyone wanting to see the photogenic spots of Scotland; maybe it's not so mysterious and other-worldly these days :(

Chanonry Point on the Black Isle, just north of Inverness, is possibly the most popular and regular touristy place on my list. All because it's a fantastic place for dolphins! We stayed just down the road in Rosemarkie once, and every evening we walked to the point just as the tide was turning and were amazed to see dolphins swimming past.

To be fair, it was probably luck more than judgement, but it was a wonderful sight. Standing on the sloping shingle beach by Chanonry lighthouse it feels like the dolphins are almost within touching distance.

While you're on the Black Isle, visit the Clootie Well, outside  Munlochy. Now Kilmartin was slightly strange with its multitude of prehistoric remains, but those remains are definitely things belonging to the past; the Clootie Well feels like a place joined to those prehistoric times. In essence, it's a spring where water bubbles out of the ground, and long accepted belief credits the water with healing powers.

Traditionally a personal item - say clothing or shoes - belonging to an ill person would be hung on branches by the well in the hope that their health would be restored. It still continues today, though visitors may just be hoping for good luck.  It can look tatty and tawdry, but look beyond the non-degradable nylon and polyester rags and try to enter the mind set of the person who left them, someone who believes that this place really does offer hope, perhaps when nothing else does. It's a strange, weird, and, I find, moving place.

Last of my Top Ten, and we're definitely heading south again now is Hailes Castle lying on a quiet lane, deep in the countryside near Haddington, yet not far from the A1 which will whisk you to Edinburgh in half an hour. There are lots and lots of castles in Scotland - some in ruins, some still lived in, others restored to look as they would have done in their heyday - but for me this is special. Maybe because of its tranquil location by a river, maybe because we stumbled on it on an evening walk from a bed and breakfast, rather than finding it in a guide book first. It's a ruin, but enough remains to imagine how it once looked.

Ten random places don't quite make a holiday though, so join them together with roads like this,

Spot the Outer Hebrides on the skyline

and lots of random stops in lay-bys to take in the view

Cuillins from near Torrin, Skye

Kyles of Harris ferry leaving Leverburgh

if you've time take a ferry trip or two or three

Stornoway ferry arriving
 in Ullapool

Corran ferry

and don't forget to catch a spectacular sunset

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Autumn arriving at Swan Lake

Swan Lake is a new find of mine - discovered back in June. It's not far from home, so one evening, looking for somewhere a little more interesting to go than the usual dog-walk, we went back.

The weather had been surprisingly warm all day, but the berries on the trees definitely signal autumn's approach.

and here and there leaves are starting to turn golden and red. Autumn's on the way