In the Wet

Art for art’s sake

We don’t know who the artist is, but it’s always a joy to come across a work of art when you least expect to. It’s definitely not a Banksy. Which is good, because this pillar supports a motorway, and it would be a real shame if someone were to cut a hole out in order to preserve the artwork, like they did with the hula-hoop girl in Nottingham. Well, such are the thoughts of insomniac me when it’s hot and sticky indoors. I’ve had some pretty vivid dreams too during the recent heatwave.

Liesel and I like mixing things up a bit, so we walked the other way along the river, towards Chorlton rather then towards Didsbury. Well, it makes a change. There were a few joggers and dog walkers as well, and on the other side of the river, a temporary encampment has been set up by the looks of it. If you need a new tyre for your car, there are plenty in the river here, easily seen when the water level is so low.

Overgrown river bank

After walking home we set out on another adventure. All the way over to Cheadle Hulme where we spent the afternoon in the garden with Martha and William and their Mummy and Daddy. Great fun, a lovely lunch, some fun and games and really, just being in the presence of grandchildren definitely boosts the spirits. Everyone should have some.

They’re easy to come by

They’re probably quite cheap at this site, plus there’s free delivery if you’ve signed up to Prime and you might help fund Bezos’s next trip into space.

Oma’s brownies

Nobody has ever complained about the lack of foodie photos in this space, but just to say, these brownies were very nice, thank you Liesel, very soft, more like a cake. So the question is, what’s the difference between brownies and cake?

On another little jaunt, a little pony came over to say hello. Well, not literally, that would have been incredibly newsworthy. I didn’t have anything to feed him, but neither did I ask ‘Why the long face?’

Neighbour

What could possibly beat an afternoon in the garden with William and Martha? Why, a day at the seaside with them, of course. For the first time in over sixteen months, we had passengers in our car, very important passengers too in the shape of our gorgeous grandchildren. It takes about an hour to drive to Formby, and I think they were as excited as we were!

Martha on the motorway

William told us he doesn’t like it on the motorway because it’s too loud. But he’s a very good backseat driver when it comes to traffic lights.

And then of course, it’s quite a long walk from the car park to the beach itself, but did they complain? They did not! They’re such good sports. And the delight when they finally saw the sea, well, that excitement should be bottled. There were a few other people around, but we had a lot of space to ourselves.

William waving at the waves

Lots of holes were dug, sand castles built, jellyfish poked despite our pleas not to and our picnic lunch was completed just before we had to move higher up the beach to escape the fast incoming tide.

Water lot of fun

Martha wanted to dig a deep hole, deep enough to find water. With a little help from Oma, she succeeded. Of course, then, William wanted to sit in the hole.

William in the hole

It was a very pleasant day on the beach, the Sun was out now and then, we enjoyed a perfect temperature with a slight, refreshing breeze. This was a bonus because it had rained on the way there and of course, we were concerned.

Later in the day, Martha told us that she likes being at the beach, but she doesn’t like going to the beach, because it’s such a long drive. And we thought that for a 5-year old to articulate such a distinction was something special.

We were sitting near the top of the beach and a bloke came by with a metal detector, so we tried to explain what he was doing. One of the funniest things we witnessed was William stalking the detectorist, walking with the gait of a short-armed T Rex. That would have been another £250 from You’ve Been Framed if we’d filmed it.

William v Detectorist
Selfie of the day

Unbelievably, it rained again on the way home, so phew, we were really lucky. They both fell asleep in the back of the car, following a quick snack of a gingerbread biscuit, a punnet of strawberries between them, an orange each and some gummie sweets.

Back at home, the first time they’ve visited for many months, remember, they investigated everything, all the cupboards, all the boxes and crates, all the ornaments, everything. Eventually, we encouraged them to blow the horn more quietly so as not to wake up the brand new baby in the flat below ours.

Martha wanted to have a bath because it’s so relaxing. They both had fun and kept most of the water inside the tub, which seems to have shrunk since the last time they occupied that space.

Dino Kingdom is now open at Wythenshawe Park. There were quite a few visitors there: I sneaked a peek through the gaps in the fence, but don’t tell anybody.

Horse riders

Hang on, those are horses, not dinosaurs. Yes, well spotted, they weren’t inside the confines of Dino Kingdom though, just walking around the park on a nice day.

Doyouthinkhesaurus?

That’s more like it. I reckon if he took a run and jump, he could easily clear that barrier and rampage around the streets of Wythenshawe and Northenden. But, don’t worry: he’s not real, this is no Jurassic Park.

Another dino

From my distance, I couldn’t work out whether these creatures were inflatable or animatronic. While walking from the car park to the entrance, you can’t miss a series of corny jokes. Don’t look at the next image if you don’t like spoilers.

I guessed A Dinosow

I walked home the long way, I’d like to say deliberately but no, my mind was wandering even more than I was. Still, I got home in time to play two hours of fabulous, uplifting songs for Radio Northenden, and you can catch up here.

What can be more exciting than spending a day on the beach with Martha and William? Collecting new spectacles, of course! We walked to Disbury, picked up our new specs, enjoyed a coffee and a snack in Fletcher Moss Park and walked home along the river.

Exercise is good

We saw this young lady attempting to uproot the rugby goal posts, but she didn’t get very far. She has been reported to the authorities so I hope she’ll soon see the error of her ways.

There were a few people having fun in the river, on kayaks and canoes. We didn’t witness any collisions, but their paddling skills were, let’s say, rudimentary.

Messing about on the Mersey

We more or less kept up with them as we approached the weir in Northenden, but we missed their descent into the torrents. They had a short rest on the island before continuing their journey, but we realised we don’t know where the next possible stopping point is.

What could be more exciting than successfully walking home, in new glasses, and not tripping over at all because what we see is now slightly different?

Blackberries

Yes, we enjoyed a few wild blackberries, not too bad, but certainly not the sweetest we’ve ever consumed.

We’ve enjoyed watching a lot of the Olympics this week, including the two medals we (we!) GB won in the BMX.

Future BMX champ

There’s a BMX track locally, so Martha was taken to have a go, with a spot of coaching from her Dad. They went early in the day, before the teenagers who usually occupy the venue have even thought about emerging from their pits. Thus begins her training for the Brisbane 2032 Olympics.

On the Beach

Those meteorologists don’t know what they’re talking about. First, they say Friday is the hottest day of the year so far. Then they say Saturday is the hottest day of the year so far. Well, which is it? Certainly we’ve had a few incredibly hot days this week, not quite 30° here in Northenden, but hot enough. I refuse to say it’s ‘too hot’, just because it’s warmer than we’re used to, but admittedly, it is challenging. We’ve had to dig out the fans at home and blow the dust off. Actually, the fans could have just blown the dust off each other, I suppose.

We found ourselves walking in the shade of the woods a lot this week. Even the birds seemed more hot and bothered, and subdued, than usual. But the fairies have been busy.

More doors

The Rorschach Test at the top is new (to me) and my first thought was that it resembled two bottoms looking at each other in the room behind the window.

I know it wasn’t scheduled but I took this photo of this week’s transit of Venus.

Transit

What’s that? You don’t think it’s real? OK, it’s the straw through which I slurped my first mango smoothie of the season. While at Boxx 2 Boxx I bumped into Dan the choirmaster again. It didn’t cost tuppence to talk to him, even though he did recently meet the actual Queen when his Manchester Lesbian and Gay Chorus performed for Her Majesty recently.

St Hilda and St Aidan

Here are St Hilda and St Aidan, patrons of our local Catholic church here in Northenden. Now I know I’ve been out in the Sun a lot recently, but look over St Aidan’s right shoulder. Up in the corner of the picture. Is that really the hand of God holding a cigarette?

Something was a-tugging at my toes. In my early morning torpor, I thought I was being woken up to go for a local walk while it was still relatively cool outside. But no. Liesel took me to the seaside instead. We were on the beach at Formby by 9.30, well before most people arrived. The tide was high so it wasn’t too far to go for a paddle. The very slight breeze was refreshing and we shared the beach with, literally, hundreds of jellyfish. It’s sad to see so many stranded like that. The dead seal made us wonder whether there had been an ‘incident’ at sea. Maybe some toxic effluent had ‘accidentally’ been released again. I hope not.

Selfie of the day
Jelly of the day
Skelly of the day
Spot the difference

Sadly, there was a lot of litter on the beach today, hundreds of people have enjoyed their days out and their picnics and they’ve left the evidence. Our litter-picking kit was at home, otherwise we might have done something about it.

Bathing cap
Sea urchin
Beach ball

We saw some ferries heading for Dublin and/or Douglas and we agreed that one day, we’d visit those places too. One of them was Stena Sealink. I got the look from Liesel when I told her that some of their ships operate just for women. Really? Yes, Stena Lady.

Again, we heard what sounded like gunfire from the beach. We concluded it must be bird scarers, there was no other explanation for the random distribution of shots. On the way home, we saw the sign for Altcar Rifle Range. Aha! Although, at times, it sounded more like Altcar Machine Gun Range.

We walked a long way today, along the beach, up and down to the water. Many more people were on the beach by the time we left. But the good news is, a proper toilet block has been built in the car park.

Back in Northenden, we enjoyed watching strange people out and about in the heatwave. There was a group of ladies doing exercises under a motorway bridge, tai chi or pilates, or maybe just gentle exercise. They were all in the shade of the bridge, apart from one perspiring glowing in the full glare of the Sun. I felt sorry for the dogs being taken out in the middle of the day, hot pavement, no socks or ice packs on their paws.

A couple of men were making signs at each other along the street, prompting us to wonder which house they were about to break into. More likely to be a drug deal, though, to be fair. We saw blokes wearing nothing on top and we saw people wearing thick anoraks. The runners looked even more miserable than usual and I thought, well, you could always stop for a minute. All carefully observed by us two mad dogs out in the midday Sun.

In the river, we spotted a supermarket trolley, a road cone and a chair all in one small stretch beyond Simon’s Bridge. And people were letting their dogs jump in to retrieve thrown balls.

We also saw people, humans, in the river, near the island. Swimming is understandable, but jumping in? Like the warning sign says, you don’t know what’s lurking beneath: sharp rocks, sharks, shopping trolleys.

We saw the heron most days but once, we saw an exotic white bird in the middle of the river. It was a great bustard. Well, I think that’s what I called it as it took flight before I even got my camera out. An utter, utter bustard. I was lucky enough to shoot some ducklings however.

Ducks

Even this lovely family are swimming away from me and my camera. Lots of DAs on show.

In medical news, I am still finding new bite marks from the midges in Scotland. I mean, the marks are on my skin, the bites were acquired in Scotland: stop confusing me. They’re different from, for example, the spider that got me on the back of my elbow this week. A different quality of itchy irritation.

The radio show this week was mostly songs in which the singer or band namechecks themselves. I had a chat with Chantel from Thrive Manchester, whom we met on the well-being walk last week, and she picked a couple of bangers for the show too. Here it is, if you want to listen back.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics have started and we sat through the Opening Ceremony. The end was better than the start, in case you haven’t watched yet. We’re looking forward to seeing some different sports and I have had to promise my sister that I won’t whinge about the BBC’s presentation for the whole two weeks. What they did to the Men’s Cycling Road Race this morning was diabolical. Cutting away at an exciting time to interview someone who was watching from home? Interrupting to show a glimpse of a different sport? Having to switch from one channel to another several times? Oops, sorry, Sis.

Deers and beers

The good news is that Covid is over! Yes, the news on TV was full of football and that’s terrific: no more pandemic pandemonium. Channel 4 even showed us the 1966 World Cup Final, in colour for the first time on broadcast TV, apparently. We didn’t watch.

Dunham Massey drew our attention. This time, rather than walking around the gardens and deer park that comprise the National Trust property, we went for a walk a bit further afield. By the time we’d completed the 3.5 mile route, we’d walked over 5 miles, according to my pedometer! Maybe my baby footsteps confuse the poor little gadget.

Beware of the bull

Have no fears. We take everything the government says with a large shovel of salt.

The little village of Dunham Massey is very pretty. The Swan With Two Nicks is a strange name for a pub, but certainly memorable.

We passed under the canal, which seemed to be leaking a bit. As flowing water is above us, I assume this is an aqueduct, not just an ordinary bridge?

Happy face

We spotted this happy face on the brickwork, the mark of a master craftsman, no doubt.

The towpath next to the Bridgewater Canal is very well made: if only the path by our stretch of the Mersey were as neat and tidy. This is the place to come for some peace and tranquility. We briefly discussed living here on a houseboat.

Houseboat

The route was described in a book we’ve had for a long time. Today’s wander was by way of an experiment: not too long and, if we were to get lost, we could easily find our way back. But the instructions were very good, we didn’t go wrong at all. This looks good for future, longer hikes in places new to us, a bit further away from home.

Some of the buildings we saw today were a bit old skool. Literally.

Old school

The route did take us to the ‘back door’ of the deer park and we saw more deer today than we did the whole time we were in Scotland! I guess that bloke from Location, Location, Location hasn’t been shooting them so much, here!

Hello my deer
Hello my beer

Actually, this is a pint of cider, but as a caption to the picture, it wouldn’t have rhymed with the previous image. I poured this to enjoy while watching the final of Euros 2020, England v Italy. I have to confess, I didn’t watch avidly, but it was on in the background while I was going round and round in circles with an impossible sudoku puzzle. We went to bed before the end of the match and I listened to the penalty shoot-out on Radio 5 Live. I won’t reveal the result in case you recorded it and haven’t watched yet.

Liesel visited RHS Bridgewater Garden in Salford with the ladies of the WI. A nice day, a nice walk, at least until it started raining.

Thanks to the ladies of the WI for these pictures

Meanwhile, back in Northenden, I looked at the bindweed near the river and realised I don’t have to fight it any more: not my problem!

Bindweed

Yes, that weed was my nemesis in our garden in Chessington. I suspect it’s completely taken over by now.

The heron was standing in his usual spot, on the weir. He stands so still, and then suddenly grabs something from the water. Oh, he will move if he thinks I’m about to take his picture. He’s psychic.

And what are those little things that swarm around your head whenever you sit on the bench by the river? They don’t buzz, bite or sting, they just annoy people. They don’t fly off when I get my phone out to take a picture, but I wish they would.

A swarm of something
The heron

On another occasion, the heron was on the island. I got my phone out. He knew. He took flight straightaway. He laughed. He thinks he’s a kookaburra.

Thrive Manchester organises a well-being walk each week in Northenden. It’s been on our list of things to do and places to go for quite a while, and this week, finally, we made it. Yes, we joined in an activity with half a dozen other people. It was a pleasant day for a walk which on this occasion took us along the river to Simon’s Bridge and back to The Northern Den for a cup of coffee. And we didn’t stay in one group, everyone walked at their own pace.

Single file

In places, the path was narrow, it’s a bit overgrown right now, so we had to walk in single file. Which we used to call Indian file, but I’m not sure when the change occurred. One thing I am sure about though is that in the end, when humanity has exhaled its final gasp of CO₂, nature will regenerate and recover without our meddling ways and without our help.

A miracle

This little plant is showing the way, growing out of a metal railing, possibly relying on nutrients in the mud left behind after those floods a few months ago.

The planters on Palatine Road are once again looking very pretty, thanks to the sponsorship of some local businesses.

Some colours

Lyme Park is probably the place we visit most often for a walk away from our local ‘hood. There was a film crew there today, but they didn’t need any extras. If we’d known, we too might have dressed up in period costume.

Quiet on set

We walked up the hill to The Cage, the folly that has held prisoners and banquets at various times. We must have noticed the sundial before, but today, we realised that there is a sundial on three out of the four faces. Doing the maths to locate these three elements must have been fascinating.

Three-part sundial

The stonemason got fed up with the Roman numerals, II, III, IIII, V so he finished off with Arabic ones instead, 6, 7, 8. Or maybe the gnomon’s shadow announced that it was opening time down at The Swan With Two Nicks.

Walking down the hill, we bumped into a herd of deer. All male as far as we could tell, a proper stag party. They were curious, a few backed off slowly but most held their ground. Which meant that in order to keep our distance, we had to walk all the way off the path and around a tree. Such a to-do.

More deer
Home, home on the range

On the other side of the road, we walked through the woods, over a couple of stiles and passed by very few other people. Which was quite surprising, given how full the car park was. There were some cattle who got quite excited when a tractor turned up. As they ran towards their friends in the next field, we even witnessed one of the cows jumping. What sort of a cow jumps? Well, this one was brown.

Cattle: some roaming free, some shrink-wrapped

We found ourselves at the coffee shop in the 19th century. But they were still charging 21st century prices, fnarr, fnarr!

Exciting new episode of The Bill?

Sorry, no, we didn’t find out what this production this is, and I doubt that we’ll find ourselves in the background of a key scene.

Wythenshawe Park is nice enough, but when you meet up with your daughter and grandson, it’s at least three times as much fun. Jenny and William drove over, while Liesel and I walked. William had a lot of fun, on his scooter, and in the playground. He knew that if there were too many people there, we wouldn’t go in. What a shame we have to issue such warnings.

Wythenshawe Park > Jurassic Park

We’ll bring William back when the dinosaurs have been released into the wilds of Wythenshawe Park.

Who needs steps?
Bentch

We saw some horses at the farm but only managed to smell the goats and cows and their copious output. We had ice cream as it was such a warm day and I would say less than 10% of William’s ended up on his face this time.

Liesel drove to Didsbury for her sight test but my appointment was later so I walked. It was going to be hot day – possibly the hottest of the year so far. I’d already planned to go, so after my appointment at the optician*, I walked to Withington. (*Not gonna mention the expense but, for the money, I would much rather have flown into space.)

It was no Camino de Santiago, but I wanted to make a pilgrimage to the Marcus Rashford Mural. It was defaced last week after he missed a penalty at a football game. Such a shame that after forcing our government to feed children during the school holidays, after being awarded an MBE, after writing an inspirational book for young people, You Are A Champion, after winning however many games playing for Man Utd and England and after having a mural painted in his honour, he’ll probably best be remembered as one of the black players who missed a blinkin’ penalty in a football game. Ooh, a bit of a rant there. But at the site of the mural today, there was a lot of love and appreciation on display.

Marcus Rashford MBE

I think if someone had started singing, we would have all joined in from behind the safety of our face coverings

Some of the fantastic messages

As Radio Northenden’s Sanny reported on BBC 5 Live a few nights ago, as you go higher up the wall, you notice the hand-writing improves.

Selfie of the day

It’s not like me to follow the herd, but I did today. Other families were taking selfies, so I thought, why not?

I had a coffee and a cake before I left for the long walk home. I didn’t have to, I know, but I was running out of water. The walk home was a long trudge, the whole length of Palatine Road, accompanied by the traffic. At every bus stop, I thought, should I? But no, I’ll stay off public transport for as long as I can. At home, I glanced in the mirror and a bloke with a tomato where his face used be said, ‘Been out in the Sun, eh?’ The cold shower was fabulous and very welcome!

This week’s Radio Northenden show celebrated that marvellous pastime: Clothes Shopping. Listen back here for two hours of fine tunes. What’s that, Skippy? You want more from Radio Northenden? Well why not read Katie’s new Radio Northenden blog right here.

The depiction and, usually, misrepresentation of statistical information in the mainstream media is deleterious to the general public’s understanding of scientific research and has undoubtedly led to mis-informed decisions being taken that have resulted in unnecessary suffering and even death. Well, that was the thought that I woke up with this morning, the last and only remnant from what must have been a very deep and meaningful dream. If I were Paul McCartney, I’d make a hit record out of it.

Bug bites and batteries

There’s still a moment in the morning when I wake up and wonder where I am. And still a momentary flash of disappointment when I remember that we’re back home, but away from the midges. Itchy legs and arms still and I even have a bindi where one of those little blighters bit me while in the Highlands. We are glad to be away from those microdots of torture. No other animal bites you and leaves a mark a thousand times larger than its own body size. I bet they miss me though: I’m quite tasty, they didn’t go for Liesel at all.

Wythenshawe Park

Wythenshawe Park looked nice and tidy, freshly mown, and I even had the place pretty much to myself. Sneezes erupted and followed me around and I realised I couldn’t carry on much longer without taking some anti-histamines. My hay fever really is much worse here at home than it was in Scotland, but then maybe my immune system was concentrating on attacks from those nasty little black beasties.

In our flat, when we leave the windows open, we get visits from flies the size of small humming birds. They can find a way in, but we have to open all the windows wide before they find their way out again. I say ‘they’, but it might be the same one coming back every day.

Welcome to our first exciting day out out since we returned from the extreme north. We’ve wanted to visit Tatton Park, a National Trust property, for a long time and today was the start of The Foodies’ Festival. Neither of us were particularly interested in the Foodie side of the Festival, oh no, we went primarily to see some live music.

We wandered around the gardens, yes, still socially distant from other visitors. So it was a bit strange seeing a large group, maybe a coach party, having a guided tour all in close proximity, some with masks, some without.

Rhubarb
Poppies
Selfie of the day

It was relaxing hearing the birds singing, but the peace of the Japanese Garden was disturbed by the noise from the robot lawn mower. They have modern tech like this, but one of the gardeners was trimming the edge of the lawn with shears that really needed sharpening. Or replacing!

Japanese Garden
Liesel the fountain

We didn’t see as much wildlife as we would have liked in Scotland, so to see some today was, well, wild. Some deer way over there in the distance and this little chap:

Frog

He is a very small frog, barely bigger than my thumb nail.

Nescio quid hic flos est

This is a very pretty flower, we had some in our garden in Chessington. I never knew what it was. [Thanks to Stella, we now know this is St John’s Wort. No wonder I didn’t recognise it, the last time I saw St John’s Wort, it was in the form of little off-white tablets in a bottle.]

There’s a big kitchen garden here at Tatton too, which must take some looking after, but all the indoor venues were closed. As midday approached, we wandered over towards The Foodies’ Festival. The queue was quite long already and Liesel and I were both bemoaning the fact that our poor old backs needed a rest. We knew we were in the right place when we heard the strains of Texas Angel wafting across the fields.

Jessica Lee Morgan and Christian Thomas

Jessica and Chris were playing the music to welcome all the guest to the Festival. ‘Ah, you must be Mick’, said Jessica from the stage and I thought, where? It was good to see them live and in the flesh: usually I see them on YouTube each Tuesday night playing for an hour or so. Jessica’s cousin David and Viv also watch the online shows, and this was the first time of course that we’d met them in real life. Jessica and Chris performing songs without buffering issues: priceless!

They sung a mix of their own songs and covers such as Big Yellow Taxi and You’re So Vain.

We sang and clapped along of course. Sang or sung? The more you think about it, the more wrong both words seem to be. Most people just walked on by, paying no attention to the music. Looking around the stage, it was interesting to see that all the nearby stalls were offering alcohol: prosecco, gin, Kent cider (I took some home), Pimms, beer on an old London bus. Really? Yes, really!

Oxford Circus

We properly met Jessica and Chris after their first set, before wandering off for a coffee and a sit-down. A sit-down in the marquee where the cookery demonstrations were taking place. Before the second set, we bought some cheese and some desserts that we wouldn’t normally look at. There was even a CostCo stall, bizarrely, which I thought out of place amongst all the local produce on offer. What a nice day for wandering around a field and then sitting down to watch more music. I feel bad about not staying for the other musicicans, including the intriguingly named Maybe Gaga, but I had a radio show to do later on.

Upstaged

It was fun to watch this little girl dancing in front of the stage and, in the end, sitting down for a rest. Of course it made us think about taking Martha and William to a performance like this one day.

And yes, of course, afterwards, I asked for a selfie with the stars of the show.

Mick, Jessica, Chris

The radio show this week was a Postcard from Scotland. Some Scottish singers plus plenty of other great tunes, including, of course, one from JLM. I started at 4pm this week rather than 2pm, the idea being that, like today, if we go out on a Friday, we don’t have to rush back: I have to allow a good half hour for the PC to boot up and for me to run all the necessary software.

The Tour de France continues to entertain. Spoilers coming up. Today, Mark Cavendish won his fourth stage this year, making a total of 34: this equals the record achieved by Eddy Merckx, probably the greatest male cyclist ever, in 1975.

This morning we went over to Didsbury, Liesel had things to do, while I walked home, the long way. I was pole-axed on reading the news that Jono Coleman, top radio presenter here in the UK and in Australia, had died. I had to sit down and recuperate in Fletcher Moss Park, with a coffee and a fried egg barm.

Parsonage Gardens

While I was walking back along the river, there was a downpour in Northenden. I could tell by the wet pavements, plus, it was confirmed by Liesel. I stayed dry though, chatting with the duck family who couldn’t swim away from me fast enough.

Ducks

Yep: another photo of animal rear-ends. I think my phone emits a signal that warns them that I’m about to take a picture.

Liesel told me there were three crates of empty milk bottles in front of the neighbour’s car, in our communal car park. When I looked out, I could see no crates, so I told her they’d gone. A little while later, Liesel told me the crates were still there, in front of the car. I looked out but still couldn’t see them. Was I even looking at the correct vehicle? Yes I was. The car is parked facing the fence. The crates were between the front of the car and the fence. So, in front of the car. But to me, in front of the car would place the crates between me and the offending vehicle. Liesel maintains that this would be behind the car, as the crates are closer to the back of the vehicle. We tried to come to some agreement, but basically, the English language is a bit fluid and ambiguous. Imagine the car was, say, a sphere, without a front or a back. Where are the crates now? I still think, between the ball and the fence, they’re behind the object. From our point of view in our second floor luxury apartment, if the crates were in the neighbour’s garden, are they behind the fence or in front of the fence? You might think it doesn’t matter. But if we were trying to direct someone to defuse an unexploded bomb, she would need to go straight to the device, she wouldn’t want to be wasting time climbing over fences looking for it, just because we can’t agree on what’s in front and what’s behind. So from now on, we’re going to use absolute terms to describe locations. Something will be north, east, south or west of something else, or some combination thereof. I hope that’s clear.

It’s a bit of a joke these days that when some thing goes wrong, the advice is to turn it off and back on again. There was an item on radio recently which agreed that, because most things are basically just computers now, this will work. It’s a way of clearing the temporary memory in the device. In the old days of computers, you’d get a message such as ‘Stack Overflow’, which meant you’d run out of memory. Not, you, the computer. So today, when my phone wouldn’t pair with the portable keyboard via bluetooth, I resorted to turning both items off and on again. They still didn’t want to acknowledge each others’ existence. I pulled out some of my hair, not that I have much to start with, and wondered what else I could try. I know the keyboard likes to be top of the list of bluetooth devices that pair with my phone, so I made sure the others were all (both) turned off. So, just the phone and the keyboard now. Will they shake hands and play nice? Nope. Then, in a flash, the thought occurred: batteries. The phone was 85% charged. I changed the two AAA batteries in the keyboard, et voilà, we have lift-off. This is the first time I’ve had to change these batteries, so I’m glad that was the only problem. Here’s a tip: ‘turn it off and on again and check the batteries’ should be the more complete advice when something stops working properly. 

Home and Away

One final half a day in Scotland then before declaring the end of this very welcome and much anticipated break from every day life. We’ve seen some beautiful thistles, the national flower of Scotland and it would be a gross omission not to share a photo.

Thistle of Scotland

We thought we’d lose the scenery fairly soon after leaving Fort William but no, the landscape gives and keeps on giving. Driving through some thick woodland, you can occasionally glimpse the mountains behind.

High lands
Mountains through the trees

And then of course, not too far down the road, we drove through the beauty that is Glen Coe. Now this is a proper Glen! We stopped for a few minutes to breathe in the air and the soak up the atmosphere, saturated with magic feel-good awesomeness.

Glen Coe
Old road in the Glen

Loch Lomond also hid behind the trees for a while, but have no fear, we’ve already decided to return and explore this area properly.

Fishing in Loch Lomond

It was a pleasant drive, but it did rain a couple of times. We drove into a small parking space that happened to have a coffee vendor in a van. The business name was Sassenach, so we knew it was meant for us. “It’s not like you to get out of the car in the rain,” I said. “I’m not,” said Liesel, “You are.” So I got out and the nice ladies in the van filled our flasks with the best coffee, very welcome.

A couple of observations before we leave Scotland. I don’t know if it’s old age or a Covid symptom, but over the last couple of days, I’ve been referring to Ben Nevis as Big Ben. Yes, I admit, I can’t wait to return to London but that’s just crazy.

We’ve noticed rhododendrons all over the place. They’re not native to Scotland so we concluded that Victorian gentlemen (it would be blokes) probably walked around after the clearances with seeds in their pockets, fresh from Nepal or some other exotoc location, distributing them willy-nilly.

A lot of development has been completed with funding from the European Union. Certainly some of the paths and tracks we’ve walked on, and of course, the glamping place at Durness. No wonder the Scots voted not to leave the EU and will re-join as soon as possible after gaining independence from their English overlords.

Welcome to England

Almost home then. And almost as soon as we crossed the border, I had a sneezing fit. The pollen in the north of Scotland must be more agreeable to my old passages, because I hardly sneezed at all there. But here in good old England, and especially near home, I’ve been scaring my wife and the neighbours with the force and volume of my nasal explosions.

Always such an anti-climax, the end of an adventure away from home, so it’s good to have something else to look forward to. Who knows what will happen when everything opens up on July 19th? We’ll either embrace the so-called ‘freedom’ or, more likely, we’ll carry on avoiding people as much as possible and not going out.

Our first wander along the Mersey for a while and my goodness, the vegetation has grown a lot, almost overwhelming the path!

The Mersey

This early morning walk was greatly enhanced by the fact that not many other people were around. It’s not that we’re becoming misanthropic in our old age (well, not much) but trying to keep a respectable distance from other folks who don’t seem that bothered can be quite exhausting and certainly frustrating.

Our return to Kenworthy Lane Woods was revealing too.

Thistle of Northenden

So there have been thistles here all the time. We didn’t need to visit Scotland after all. But I’m so glad we did!

Fort William and Ben Nevis

We failed again to consume everything supplied for breakfast, so we took the rest with us for lunch: fruit and a big raisin bun. It was time to say farewell to Susan, Kiva and the lighthouse. This would have been the ideal place to end our little break but we had a couple more nights to spend, at Fort William, before the long trudge home.

We awoke to the dawn chorus of sheep shouting at each other. By the rock over there, they were queueing up to scratch their butts. You could see the smiles of relief spread across their cute little faces.

We stopped one more time in Gairloch, briefly, noting that the beach car park was now fairly empty. We could have stopped there of course, but for the fact that we had booked a ferry so, unusually, we had a deadline to meet.

The mountains, lochs, scenery all continued to impress as we headed south.

Not the Olgas

The first proper stop on the way was by Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve. This would be a fanstastic hike: and yes, it’s on the list for next time. This is the only waymarked mountain trail in Britain, so we probably wouldn’t get lost.

Beinn Eighe Mountain Trail
Tent for people who don’t like lying down

Not sure you’re allowed to camp in this car park, but Liesel suggested this might be a shower. We didn’t knock on the door to find out.

Tunnels

Well this was a surprise, tunnels on the A890, wide enough for one vehicle. What happens if you meet someone halfway through coming towards you? Well, it’s a very short tunnel, so one party or the other should have enough time to move into the passing place. I’m sure we’ve seen tunnels like this in the Alps during the Tour de France.

As we reached Kyle of Lochalsh, we caught sight of the bridge over to the Isle of Skye. An online friend of mine lives on Skye, but way over at the western side, too far to go today, and be back in time to catch our ferry. Next time, Sheila, OK?

Bridge to Skye

Yes of course we didn’t spend anywhere near long enough on Skye. Add it to the list for next time. But what we saw was stunning. Very green, lots of trees, plus the hills, the Cuilins, in the distance. So much to explore.

Too narrow

After taking a detour off the main road, we encountered this very narrow track. We chickened out and returned the way we came. The map suggests this track would take us back to the main road, but, well, would you risk it?

Looking over towards the mainland
Selfie of the day

Here we are looking cool and relaxed on the ferry back to the mainland. The breeze on board was warm and refreshing, we didn’t need to cower inside, out of the elements. Guess how many dolphins we saw during this 25-minute passage?

Glenfinnan Viaduct is now most famous for its starring role in the Harry Potter films. It is a wonderful feat of engineeering, the first time concrete had been used for such a major project. We tried to book a ride on a train between Fort William and Mallaig, which would take us over the viaduct, but it was fully booked for months ahead. Now we know, we’ll catch it next time.

The Viaduct behind the trees

The car park was full, the busiest place we’ve seen for a long time. Many of the visitors were east Asian, and we can only assume they’re students here in the UK. I heard at least two languages being spoken: Japanese and Chinese, but whether Mandarin or Cantonese, well, my ears weren’t fully tuned in.

Expelliarmus

Who mentioned Harry Potter? And do the actors get compensation for this use of their images? We stayed away from the herds and hordes of people as much as we could while walking towards the viaduct on a lovely gravelly path.

You lucky people, another selfie

I walked up to the first Viaduct Viewpoint, where many people were sitting and standing around and I thought maybe they were waiting for a steam train to come a-puffing over the viaduct. But no, they were, as far as I could tell, talking about the engineering problems posed in constructing such a marvellous edifice, and counting the 21 arches. Certainly the view from above is very impressive.

Glenfinnan Viaduct

Nearby, just over the road, is a monument to Bonnie Prince Charlie. The story is told in Latin, English and Gaelic. The Prince is on top of a column, so it’s quite hard to make out his features.

Glenfinnan Monument
Prince Charles Edward
The ’45 Jacobite Rebellion

We reached Fort William and I was a little disappointed that we weren’t greeted by a big welcome sign. I wanted a good photo for grandson William who is beginning to recognise his written and printed name.

On the way into town, the only radio station we could tune into was Nevis FM, playing songs from the 50s, 60s and 70s. There was almost too much choice of places to eat. Deep Fried Pizza sounded good. On closer inspection and reading the sign properly, it was in fact Wood Fired Pizza. Unfortunately, they were fully booked for the night. Another place down the road also had a long queue outside. So we ended up right where we’d parked the car: Spice Tandoori and we had the best Indian meal we’ve had for a long time. And it was a strange feeling sitting inside a restaurant with other guests.

Our b&b was conveniently located but sadly what struck me as we went in was the stench of cigarette smoke. What struck Liesel at first was one of those gadgets that squirts a cloud of smelly chemicals into the room every few seconds, presumably to disguise the other smells. Oh well, a bit of an anticlimax after the lighthouse, but it’s only for a couple of days. How can we tell we’re in the shadow of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Britain?

Everything Nevis

Neither of us had a particularly good night’s sleep. The view out of our window is OK but it was raining a bit as well. After a late breakfast of cereal and croissants, we went for a walk to the Glen Nevis Visitor Centre. Or the Ben Nevis Visitor Centre, depending on which street sign you believe, or whether you trust Google Maps. It was less than a couple of miles from our b&b but nice to be out in the fresh air.

West Highland Way

The idea of a certificate was quite appealing. So did we collect one? Well, the trouble is, if we’d gone in and lied about walking the length of the West Highland Way, they might have asked us for proof. They might even have asked us where the other end was. So we carried on along the road.

The entrance to Glen Nevis

For a while, we walked along a track that was more or less parallel to the road, to our right, with the River Nevis to our left.

Curling is a popular sport in Scotland, but we just usually see it at the Winter Olympics. We found an old rink with some old stones. I was going to have a go at curling but I couldn’t even lift the blinkin’ stone.

Curling Stone Henge
Mick of the stones

No, it wasn’t really too heavy, it was cemented to the ground. Honest.

Amongst the interesting artefacts at the Visitor Centre was this old machine, which brought back many happy memories.

Old postman’s bike

Actually the main memory it brought back was the day I was finally able to retire from the job. It was never as good once they got rid of the bikes.

The foothills of Ben Nevis

The climb to the summit of Ben Nevis is a long walk up a sometimes narrow path. The views are stunning of course, and near the top there’s a section which is fairly flat before the final steep incline to the top. It’s much colder at the the top, so I was glad I took up an extra layer of clothing. No, this wasn’t today’s climb. This was my memory from about 1997. Today, we walked up as far as the first stile, but I suspect we might be back one day to conquer the mountain.

After the brief hike up a slight incline, and not being able to see the actual summit from where we were, we began the walk back to town. We found an alternative path, on the other side of the road this time, and enjoyed the warmth, the scenery and the flowers.

Water lilies

These water lilies with pink flowers wouldn’t be out of place in a Fijian or Japanese pond. And, something else out of place was a small green van selling refreshments such as an egg bun and coffee. We sat on a rock and had a break. An egg bun is what we normally call a bread roll with a fried egg. Or, a fried egg barm, in Northenden.

As we reached the more built-up area of Fort William, if you’d asked what sort of bird we would see, I don’t think either of us would have guessed this one.

Oystercatcher

And just like the best avian subjects of my photos, it flew off before I could get too close, straight back to its home on Loch Linnhe, presumably.

Garden dedicated to NHS workers

Yes, it’s great having a garden dedicated to the hard-working men and women of the NHS. But just like clapping for them on a Thursday night, I’m sure they’re rightly thinking they’d rather have a payrise of rather more than a measly 1%.

A quick visit to the railway station wasn’t very interesting in the end. I was hoping to see one of the steam engines that take people across the viaduct to Mallaig, if they book online early enough, of course, but all I saw was the Caledonian Sleeper.

We wandered slowly through the town centre, only venturing into one shop, but noting how many shops were closed, and not just because it was Sunday.

The Piper

The Piper played his tunes, which, as we discovered a bit later, could be heard quite a long way away.

Bronze Model T Ford

In 1911, Henry Alexander of Edinburgh drove his Model T Ford to the top of Ben Nevis. Liesel and I looked at each other. What a terrific idea. (There is more about this story at this Ben Nevis website, which has a lot of other fascinating information too.) We didn’t walk up today, but maybe we could take the Mazda 2 up? We abandoned the idea because neither of us wanted to reverse all the way down again, plus, I couldn’t remember whether there was enough room at the top in which to turn the car around.

Flowers of Scotland (again)

We started walking back to our b&b, only 10 minutes away from the town centre, although it had seemed a bit further last night. We caught up on another couple of stages of the Tour de France and I think it’s fair to say, it’s been the most exciting first week we’ve seen for a few years.

This has been a terrific couple of weeks. Scotland’s beauty can only be described in words by the best of poets. But in the greater scheme of things, I think we’ve learned that we need to keep up a much more rigorous exercise regime. Despite our best intentions, during lockdown, we’ve become more comfortable, staying locked down, locked in at home. Also, we need to plan to do more things, not necessarily two weeks away, but some nights out, at music and comedy gigs. Having things to look forward to certainly is an aide to our mental well-being. Thank you Liesel and thank you Scotland.

Flowerdale Waterfall and Camus Mor

A return to Gairloch Beach was on the agenda today. Plus, we had a couple of shops to visit. And I would have access to 4G so that I could post the latest antics here, and then sob briefly when I inspected the end of month bank statement.

But first, breakfast. It’s brought to us in a picnic basket and there is so much food. We had a large meal at dinnertime last night too. I think we’re being fattened up, just like the sheep who live here.

It is a beautiful view over the sea, a lovely shade of blue, and even the sheep gaze longingly at the sight.

Living on the edge

The drive back along the road to Gairloch was uneventful, apart from the mist bank that we had to pass through. Oh mist rolling in from the sea. I think there’s a song in there somewhere.

Play Misty for me
Gairloch Harbour

The harbour is a busy, bustling place with fishers, kayakers and canoeists messing about in the water. We even saw someone on a paddle board, taking advantage of the calm conditions. This signboard is very informative.

See what condition my condition is in

Yes, I can confirm, the midges are very annoying. I came back today with even more bites. My legs look like a star chart of the constellation Ophiuchus. We can’t say for certain that we saw any of the birds listed, but cormorants are quite distinctive, even in flight.

On the way to the harbour, we noted that the car park for the beach was already full. We decided to walk to the beach, from the harbour, once we’d completed the hike to a waterfall. Unbeknownst to us when we came up with this cunning plan was that Flowerdale Waterfall was twice as far away as we thought. The sign telling us it was a 1.5 hour walk, 3.5 km was not referring to the round trip, just one way.

The Estate of Gairloch is, we think, in the business of producing attention-seeking signs. It was a nice enough walk to see the waterfall, but we didn’t need to see so many bright blue signs. Don’t take photos of the house. Shooting takes place so don’t be alarmed. One of the bridges is collapsing so don’t walk on it. Well, that one’s fair enough.

I think it must have been on this hike that I became dinner for the midge population. So tiny, and very few even tickle when they land on a hairy limb. You just notice the itch a bit later, and scratch off the scab you didn’t even know was there. Graphic photos of the worst bites to follow. (Only for those paying premium rates.)

Is this it?

No, this minor cascade is not the waterfall we were looking for. Liesel and I noticed that when we walk in step on the gravel path, it sounds like an army of hungry soldiers on the parade ground. The path became rougher and steeper as we progressed, so we thought we must be nearing the end, surely. No, I don’t know who Shirley is, either. Certainly the sound of rushing water was louder.

We found the bridge that is in need of repair, but instead of fording the burn, we made use of the carefully placed stepping stones. As I was so hot and bothered, I plunged my head into the peaty water and it felt good and refreshing.

Flowerdale Waterfall

There are a lot of trees on the Estate so you have to be in just the right place to see the waterfall through the thick foliage, but we got there in the end. A young family were having a picnic: they didn’t mind us trampling over their sandwiches in order to take this magnificent photo. Could we have got closer? Possibly, but it had become harder to see where the path continued from this point.

On the walk back, we saw another butterfly, a lovely blue one.

Butterfly

So that’s two butterflies so far this trip. In the olden days of course, we’d go home boasting about having seen so many species of butterfly, not just the small number of individuals.

Selfie of the day

Pooh sticks? As Ian McMillan the poet would say: yes, it does. But no, we didn’t play, we just captured our shadows in the burn.

Another garish Gairloch sign

I imagine this is the place where women were murdered for witchcraft. Can you cure the laird of this disease? If not, you’ll be punished. If you do, you’re a witch, so you’ll be punished.

Paddle boarder

Yes the paddle boarder continues to paddle around the harbour. The beach car park was still full so we headed back to the lighthouse. The bank of mist was thicker on the way back, and cold. The car windows were open because it was so hot, and the cooling mist was an unexpected treat. What strange weather they have in these parts. And the midges are thinking, maybe strange to you, but it’s ideal for us.

Baa-ssing Place
Narrow bridge
Look out for bears

Back at the lighthouse, we went for a walk down to the jetty. This is where goods for the lighthouse staff were originally brought in. But the lighthouse is fully automated now.

Sloping rocks

The rocks that slope gently towards the sea are what give the lighthouse its name, in Gaelic.

We had the jetty to ourselves but do we go in the water? The barnacle-covered steps down were a challenge, especially with bare feet. But the water was cold. Much colder I think than either of us anticipated. It’s supposed to be warm water here, fresh from the Gulf of Mexico. Brrr. I poured some over my head thinking I just need to get used to its temperature. No. It’s really cold. Ice cream headache ensued within milliseconds. My bravado evaporated, I climbed back up, got dressed and enjoyed the sunshine instead. Liesel clambered up the rocks for a better view of the sea and all the wildlife out there. All just below the surface, I’m sure.

We had a chat with fellow guest Steve and host Susan and we discovered some interesting things. Sheep have learned to cross cattle grids by rolling over them. The mums show their lambs how to do this too. Now, is this a lie to tell tourists, or has it really happened? Some people want to reintroduce wolves into Scotland, but obviously not into areas such as this, with a large sheep population.

Tap water

This tap water has been filtered three times including once with UV light. It tastes OK, not at all peaty, but that’s where the strange hue comes from. It does indeed look like very weak apple juice, or watered down wine or whisky. But it makes a jolly nice cup of tea.

No internet means we have lost track of the Tour de France. And we’re getting behind with our podcasts too. The weather apps are no use at all. So thank goodness we have a phone full of our own music. Who have we listened to over the last few days? David Bowie, Eddi Reader, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, Jessica Lee Morgan, Jack Johnson, Tasmin Archer, Rosanne Cash and yes, these are mostly the performers who appear on my radio show quite regularly. What a coincidence!

There was no staying out late tonight to watch the sunset. An early night was called for and a good night’s sleep was had by us both.

Except that I woke up having failed to interview Joni Mitchell. I was in the right room, and I could see that she was looking for me. But she kept being stopped by young people at desks who were asking questions such as “How much experience do you have in fashion?” and “How long have you been a make-up artist?” Even though it was my own dream, I don’t know if they were interviewing the wrong person for a job vacancy, or maybe they worked for a magazine. All I know is, my carefully planned in-depth interview with a folk icon didn’t happen.

Today we decided to go for a walk locally, towards a place called Camus Mor. There’s a nice white sandy beach which is always welcome on a warm sunny day such as this.

The path I think was originally laid out by sheep, there was no logic to its direction, up and down, sometimes on a steep slope and again with a few steps. Some of the ground was quite soggy but neither of us sunk.

Selfie of the day

Congratulations to everyone who took a nice crisp fiver to William Hill, fairly certain that we would provide a selfie with the lighthouse in the background. I hope you enjoy your winnings.

Never mind Proust and his madeleines. As we were walking up a steep slope, I had a sudden vision of (probably) my first ever encounter with the Scottish Highlands, as a child. A 1960s Sunday afternoon serial on TV, Kidnapped, by Robert Louis Stevenson. I could see Allan Breck and young Davie Balfour scrambling up a very similar slope while escaping from the redcoats. Kidnapped is still one of my favourite books. I have just finished another book about kidnapping, also based in Scotland, at least to begin with. Fireflies and Chocolate by Ailish Sinclair is magnificent. It’s a good story well told, but what I find fascinating is how Elizabeth, the narrator, can tell us readers something that she herself doesn’t notice or register. That is some very clever writing. Highly recommended. You don’t have to read Ailish’s previous book, The Mermaid and the Bear first, but it is equally engaging. Both are based on some pretty awful historic events, the sort of history we never learned at school.

I don’t know why the intense blue colour of the sea here continues to surprise me. On one trip to Scotland, from a ferry, the sea looked black, reflecting the sky that day perfectly. So that’s now the default image in my mind. But this is stunning:

Blue sea

We were never exactly sure which direction we were walking or looking in. We think these are islands in the distance but they might be far distant headlands on the mainland. What we need is an up to date OS map and a compass. We did remember to bring the binoculars, so it was easy to identify all the wildlife and birds that we encountered. Well, they would have, if we’d seen any!

At the top of one hill, we came across a little lake or pond or a big puddle, depending on your point of view. Is there a name for such a tiny body of water, we wondered?

A little loch-ette

As you can see from this picture, we were not alone. We continued to follow the path, occasionally having to guess which way to go when it bifurcated. And then suddenly:

Turquoise sea

We could be in the Aegean on in Hawaii with sea this colour. Only when you look at the landscape and the vegetation do you realise this beauty is in Scotland.

Stack

Another surprise was seeing this little sea stack. You can count on the fingers of zero hands just how many seabirds we saw in residence.

Lichen

Many of the rocks are covered in lichen, and the geometric patterns are fascinating. Some of the little flowers are very pretty too, but I think most of the heather will be at its best later in the year.

Flowers of Scotland
The beach

We saw the beach way over in the distance and decided to quit while we were ahead. My legs were protesting: maybe I just need a day off. All this activity in the hills after so many months of being confined to Northenden, not famous for its challenging inclines, has taken its toll. But, again, we agreed that we would have to come back some day and complete this hike.

We took our time going back to the lighthouse, sitting down occasionally for a rest and a slurp of water. Oh, and looking around and saying ‘wow’ a lot, internally at least.

The only animal activity we saw in the water was a lone kayaker. I think the Scottish Tourist Board have made up some of these animals. Otters? The only otter we’ve seen is the sign on our door.

Otter

Seals? There’s a seal that lives in Gairloch Harbour apparently, but we didn’t see it. I strongly suspect it’s a rubber seal that’s fallen off a boat.

Sea eagles? Don’t exist. I think the clue is in the name. If you say it fast, it’s exactly the same as sea gulls.

Rock doves? Plenty of them around, but they still look like pigeons to me.

I know we saw some stags a few days ago, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they turned out to be animatronic. Cynical? Me? Not really 😉

Back at the ranch, we listened to a sheep and her lamb yelling at each other. Come here. No, you come here. Me-eh. Me-eh-eh. Me-eh. To be honest, the baa-ing to and fro just reminded me of the mass debating chamber that is the House of Commons. We sat outside for a while, crocheting and reading and soaking up the Sun. I went for one more quick jaunt down to the jetty and along to a little rocky beach, expecting to see dozens of basking seals on such a warm day. But no, not today.

Sheep

No, the nearest we saw to wild life was probably this sheep, who would have been absolutely livid if she’d slipped and rolled down the slope into the sea.

As the final day here at Rua Reidh Lighthouse draws to a close, we notice the clouds are moving in. A change in the weather for the weekend is on the cards. Time again to move on.

Ullapool to Rua Reidh Lighthouse

Time to move on again. On from what I referred to as civilisation, Ullapool, to a more rustic, rugged location, literally miles off the beaten track Anyway, you don’t care about that. You’re just wondering about the baby seagulls. They’re on top of the world.

Gull-lets

We ate breakfast, packed, checked out and set off in a roughly southerly direction. It felt tropical outside: hot and humid. The first stop today was Corrieshalloch Gorge National Nature Reserve. This was after a period of ooh-ing and aah-ing at the views, of course. The gorge is deep, man, and it’s a long walk to reach it, along a well-made path.

Trees
Memorial bench

Yes, a well-made path but it was hilly and there were lots of steps. Thankfully there are plenty of memorial benches on which to rest a while. This unusual one is dedicated to the memory of Leslie B Butcher and the little plaque has a quote from John Yeats: A thing of beauty is a joy forever. And the first sign that proved we were really in an actual gorge proves the point.

Sheer wall

This gives an idea of what was to come after a few more bends. The suspension bridge is fairly solid, but it did sway from side to side a little on the return trip. A maximum of six people is allowed on the bridge at any time, and this is not just for Covid related reasons.

Suspension Bridge
The waterfall
Bridge and waterfall

I don’t know how else to try and give some idea of how deep the gorge is, but this is what you see from the viewing platform. It’s at the far point of the circular walk, but the return trip was shorter, if steeper in places. This path is described as ‘accessible’ but the lady in the motorised wheelchair just glared at me when I joked that she could be going faster.

Further along the road, we saw what we assume to be an RAF jet flying past these mountains.

Mountain mist

As we approached this mountain range with its fringe of cloud, we noticed just one patch of snow that has so far survived the heat of the Summer.

Summer Isles (we think)

As we proceed towards our final destination for the day, the main subject of conversation is regarding the beauty of the surroundings. Wow, look at that. Did you see that? Where are we? Sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint our location on Google Maps, even when we have a good signal. Loch Ewe is gorgeous and we drove beside it for a while. In the middle of the loch is an island. Isle of Ewe. And I thought, ahh, that’s nice, Isle of Ewe too ❤. Soon afterwards, we found our next place of interest, Inverewe Garden

Butterfly

This guy welcomed us to the Garden and we returned the favour by encouraging him to fly away from the car park. We thought this was a good omen, we’d see many more butterflies but no, this was the only one, sadly.

Our second long walk of the day was around the well cared for gardens. The map supplied was great: you could find your way around with it, which isn’t always the case.

South Africa

There are plants here from all around the world that you wouldn’t expect to thrive in Scotland. But the gulf stream brings some heat and the gardeners here take full advantage, especially in the Walled Garden.

There are a couple of viewpoints overlooking Loch Ewe. Otters have been sighted here, but of course, not today. In fact, we didn’t spot any of the others collectively known as Scotland’s Big 5: red squirrels, red deer, golden eagles and harbour seals. We might have seen seals way off on a small island, but of course we’d left the binoculars in the car, so we can’t be sure.

Encroaching on the path
Walled Garden
Rhododendron barbatum

Rhododendron? No, I didn’t believe it either, at first. This plant is from the Himalayas and is obviously doing very well.

Pretty in pink

These little flowers drew Liesel’s attention: so much detail in the tiny petals. No idea what it is though. There were places where the only sound was from busy bees, dozens of them working together. We looked, but there were no frogs sitting on the lily pads in the pond.

After another very enjoyable walk, we went to the café. Of course we did. Coffee and we shared a millionaire’s shortbread.

Suitable for vegetarians

Did we? No, we didn’t try this unusual offering. But while slurping our delicious beverages, we were joined by a couple of birds, a chaffinch or a nuthatch and a thrush (we think).

Birdies

The final planned stop today was Gairloch Beach. We saw a sign towards Big Sand and I thought, that’s funny, I remember her, she used to be the barmaid at the pub in Hammersmith that me, Mike and Nick used to go to.

Gairloch Beach was big and wonderful, we shared it with about 30 other people. Again, the texture of the sand varied up and down and even along the beach. The few rock pools had nothing of particular interest. But people were swimming in the sea.

Gairloch beach
Crab

This wee beastie didn’t chase us along the beach, I’m not even sure he was awake. Probably somebody’s dinner the night.

Gairloch Beach

Not being allowed to check in to our new accommodation until 5 o’clock was great, it meant that we could take our time today. The final stretch entailed turning north again so the sea was on our left. We both exclaimed at the same time when presented with this vista that could be from the Mediterranean.

What a sight

On the other side of this body of water lie the islands of Lewis and Harris, named after a couple of Morse’s sidekicks, I think. The road is narrow, yes, with passing places, but it’s undulating and winding and challenging. Definitely a rollercoaster. Why anyone would want to drive faster than 20 mph is a mystery, but judging by the gouge marks, some folks have done just that.

Suddenly, there it is. The first glimpse of our final destination today: Rua Reidh Lighthouse. Our home for the next few days. What a stunning place to be, and what a glorious day on which to see it for the first time.

Rua Reidh Lighthouse

The road continues to meander after this point, and we had to open a couple of gates before we could finally park up. Some sheep looked at us but we were greeted properly by Susan and Kiva. I am so glad I didn’t vocalise my first thought: you must be the lighthouse Kiva, then.

He showed us up to our room. The wooden door creaked open and we entered the lighthouse. The light from his hurricane lamp illuminated our climb up the slightly damp spiral staircase. Up and up and round and round we went. Finally, we reached the door to our room. The locks were a bit rusty, but the room looks comfortable enough. There’s a big sign asking us not to turn the lights off at night. No, of course, that didn’t happen. Our room is in a separate building, which was used as a youth hostel as one point in its history.

The Lighthouse

From about 9pm onwards, I was keeping an eye on the Sun because of course I wanted to see it set over the sea.

An hour before sunset

I joined several of the other sunset-viewing guests at about 10.30, when, unfortunately, a bank of cloud obscured the Sun, but the sunset itself was still spectacular.

The clouds, the clouds

Dolphins, porpoises, minke whales and even orca have been seen in this stretch of water so we’re keeping our fingers crossed. I can’t believe I was out there chatting with Steve until very nearly midnight. He agrees that there aren’t words to adequately describe the beauty that is the Scottish Highlands. I’ve shared some photos here, but those pictures can’t convey the scale of the place . And when you’re aware of the local history, the clearances for example, you can almost feel the sadness emanating from the landscape.

The cue for me to turn in was the lighthouse lights coming on

The lights work

Oh, alright, I’ll admit it: I was beginning to feel a bit cold as well.

So, here we are at midnight, the last threads of red from the sunset still visible, the rest of the sky is too bright to see any stars, and the lighthouse lights are on. We have no connection to the outside world, no internet, no 4G, no phone signal, nothing. So there’ll be a delay of a couple of days until the next post. To be honest though, I am surprised and delighted that we’ve had good enough internet connection up until now for a daily post. Good night / morning / afternoon, gentle kittens: as I write, I have no idea when I’ll be able to send this. But you have it now, that’s the main thing.

Mollachin aboot

We’re staying in what can only be described as a quirky little hotel. Unusually, there is no TV set in our room. Not that we watch TV when away from home (except for the Tour de France), but how pleasant. Instead, there is a radio.

Our bathroom is not en suite. We have to leave the room, walk down the corridor to use the facility, which is ours alone, but we need a key to get in. Neither of the doors can be closed quietly however hard you try.

We can open the windows in our room but it was touch or go whether they would move. In fact, one of the latches was already broken: we weren’t the first guests to struggle. The curtains are nice and thick though, so the midnight light didn’t disturb us. No, I think what kept us up so late was the caffeine in the coffee, plus nearby doors being closed as quietly as possible. In other words, loud bangs.

But it is an old building, obviously. The lounge area looks out over the town and towards some mountains. We can look at paintings, some good, some just put up so as not to offend the artist, maybe. In the kitchen area, there are facilities to make tea and coffee (free) plus a variety of alcoholic beverages (paid for). And books. There are books everywhere: in the lounge, in every room. The book shop downstairs has a wide selection of books about Scotland, Scottish history, Scottish fiction and children’s books and, so far, as I write this, I’ve only visited twice.

Books

Breakfast was good. Instead of black pudding, we veggies are given fruit pudding. This reminded me of mince pies whereas Liesel thought it was more like thinly sliced malt loaf.

We watched the family of seagulls. The chicks were begging for food, but the parents didn’t feed them while we were watching.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull and babies

There’s a certificate on display in the lounge saying this place was voted by its employees as one of the top ten tourism employers in the Highlands and Islands. That’s great! In very small print, it’s dated 2008. I’m sure it’s still a wonderful place to work.

No venturing far afield today, we just spent time mollachin aboot this fine toon o’ Ullapool. It was a little cooler than yesterday, but still very pleasant. We passed by people, yes, people, in the streets, but we didn’t freak out. If we can’t handle this many people in a small town like this, how will we cope back in Manchester? Or London?

Ullapool Outdoors

Thankfully, we didn’t need to go into this particular shop. All the other shops seem to have their entrances more conveniently located at ground level.

Here’s a new pier and when it was constructed, they left rock pools at three different levels to encourage interest in the local sealife.

The new Wee Pier
Muted colours today
Passive aggressive messaging
We like a memorial bench

After our morning constitutional, we had coffee at the hotel, sitting outside, at table 48, since you ask.

After a rest (a rest!) in our room, we went out for the ice cream we’d promised ourselves. I went for the licorice flavour, Liesel the banoffee. Imagine the look on Liesel’s face when she realised, half way through the first lick, that she’d picked up the wrong cone.

Requirement’s

There was a time when I would have gone along in the dead of night with a bottle of Tippex and removed that superfluous apostrophe. Well, not really, I’m not a vandal. I would have sent my wife.

Garden in a boat

My task today was to do the laundry. But, because of Covid rules, we’re not allowed to operate the machines ourselves. Instead, we pay the lady in the shop to wash and dry for us. She provides a very good service and we should now have enough clean clothes for the rest of our trip. Unless, as I told Liesel, we have a number of messy accidents.

For the second night in a row, we dined out. Well, this time, we dined in, in our hotel. While eating, the England football team were beating Germany in the Euros. Or, if those fellow diners were Scots, maybe they were cheering for the Germans. We later found out that England had indeed won.

The sea starts here

Sadly, littering is a problem everywhere, but Ullapool is a really clean and tidy little town compared with some I could mention.

In the ice cream shop, I also bought a bottle, a glass bottle, of Irn Bru. Another disappointment. I knew about the sugar, but it also contains Aspartame and Acesulfame K, two artificial sweeteners. Bleurgh. It had approximately the flavour that I remember, but this is not the secret recipe they’ve been using since 1901, like it says on the label.

Irn Bru

No, I won’t be making that mistake again. So that;s Mars bars, Edinburgh Rock and Irn Brum childhood delicacies that I can no longer tolerate. What a shame. Maybe I’m getting old.

Thanks to all the correspondents who have been asking to see a pair of dancers made from chicken wire. Here they are, tripping the light fantastic in our hotel.

Tiny dancers

To round this relatively quiet day off, we’re watching today’s exciting stage of the Tour de France. And finally, a quick check on the seagull chicks: all present and correct.

Durness to Ullapool

All good things come to an end and that includes our first ever experience of glamping, here at Durness. Glamping? Yes, even though we were staying inside a modern day shepherd’s hut, it qualifies as glamping. No yurts here, or big tents with all mod cons.

Glamping at Aiden House

Part funded by the European Union. I wonder what you’d have to do to join such an organisation. We couldn’t bid farewell to our host Sandra because, overnight, she had to take her husband to hospital. In Inverness. Let’s hope he recovers soon, that’s a long way from home. Many of the photos today will be of the spectacular highlands scenery. There are not enough superlatives to describe the place. It’s big, it’s stunning, it’s almost overwhelming.

Final view from Aiden House

We thought we’d fill our flasks with hot chocolate. But, the first disappointment of the day was finding that Cocoa Mountain is closed on Mondays. And so to Ullapool, about 90 miles south. We didn’t stop at Smoo Cave in the end, we just pointed the car in the right direction and followed the one-lane road with passing places.

Sea loch

It was bright and sunny but quite windy. The further south we drove, the warmer it became and the wind died down a bit too. But looking at the scenery genuinely does put real life into perspective. These mountains will still be here long after our current inept government has been forgotten.

During the day, I was reminded of a few works of art that have entertained us over the decades. Here at Keoldale for instance is the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Standing stone

There were very few trees and bushes, which I think makes the landscape appear more rugged. Plenty of sheep and lambs around but we realised that other than on warning signs, we haven’t seen any deer yet. Then we saw on Twitter that that bloke from Location, Location, Location has been shooting them all.

Middle Earth

This could easily be somewhere dark and menacing from Lord of the Rings.

We stopped briefly near Scourie. From about this point, the road had two lanes including white lines down the middle. It’s funny how you get used to using passing places, you miss them when there aren’t any more.

Scourie Harbour
Selfie of the day

This selfie was taken from Kylestrome, looking over, we think, Loch a’ Chàirn Bhàin. Sometimes, we just don’t know exactly where we are, which is a shame.

You’re driving along, gasping at every new vista, and suddenly, even something manmade can jump out, someting with a ‘wow’ factor.

Kylesku Bridge

This bridge should look out of place, but it really fits in, as minimalist as a bridge can be, not attempting to draw attention from what nature has to offer.

The view from Unapool
Beautiful blue loch

Everywhere you look, there is something stunning, almost out of this world. The next scene took us back to New Zealand.

Why did the sheep cross the road?

Nothing to do here except wait for the slow one at the back to catch up.

We pulled into laybys a couple of times, just to look around. Sometimes there’s a map. Here’s a tip to whoever produces these maps: please don’t put South at the top. We’re all used to North at the top. There’s no good reason for it, other than to wreak havoc and cause confusion amongst visitors and tourists.

Lunch was taken by the cool, clear waters of Loch Assynt.

Loch Assynt

Another couple stopped at about the same time as us, and, being British, we each complimented the weather and engaged no further in conversation.

From our picnic position, we could look over at Ardvreck Castle. Why didn’t we stop and have a closer look at the castle? Mainly because everybody else had.

Ardvreck Castle

Closer to our picnic site though was what’s left of Calda House, a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

Calda House

It doesn’t look like there’s enough rubble there to rebuild the other two walls, so I suspect a lot of the stone has been recycled into other buildings.

Did I mention Lord of the Rings? Well, we found a place called Elphin. In fact, we stopped at Elphin Tearooms for coffee and cake, and sure enough, all the locals have pointy, elfin ears.

Knockan Crag National Nature Reserve is just a short distance along the road and by the time we arrived, we were well fortified, full of beans and ready to go. Why? Because the elfin barista made non-decaffeinated coffee for us by mistake, and it would have been churlish for us to reject it. We just tweaked her ears instead.

If you’re interested in geology, this is the place to come. So many different kinds of rock to study but first, we looked at the deer much higher up the hill, behind a fence unfortunately, but it was exciting to finally see some in the wild.

Spot the stag

No, I don’t know if Spot is really his name.

The rocks here have been accumulating for over a billion years.

A geologist’s dream

There is a beautiful hike here up to the top of the crag. There are slopes and steps made from the local rocks, and the whole track is reassuringly solid. Hard to believe that the views can become even more spectacular as you climb, but they really do take your breath away.

The geological history of Scotland over 600 million years is fascinating. It’s certainly moved about over the millennia.

Around the world in 600 million years
Scotland is near the equator

Inevitably some people will look at 200 million years ago, when dinosaurs ruled Scotland, and they’ll think, huh, nothing’s changed then. Not us, of course.

Up and up we go, stopping to look around every so often.

Stairway to heaven

It was hard work climbing some of these steps, plus it was a lovely warm day. We certainly felt like we were getting to know the crag. It’s high and mighty and again, makes you realise that something like not having a wifi signal is not really a big problem in the great scheme of things. Not having a 4G signal here though, what a disaster. Here’s a tip: if you’re in the middle of nowhere and there’s no realistic chance of acquiring a 4G signal, put your phone into aeroplane mode, otherwise it’ll drain the battery as it keeps searching for non-existent radio signals.

Liesel having a well-deserved breather
Look at it. Just look at it

There came a time when we had to turn back. A number of factors combined to help us make the decision. I felt bad about not going any further with Liesel, but she said she was beginning to feel uncomfortable too:

  • I’ve never been too keen on heights, and I suddenly realised I was too high, well outside my comfort zone;
  • It was surprisingly hot, even at this altitude, and we’d brought no water with us;
  • After some short flights of steps, my legs were shaking, and taking a couple of minutes to recover;
  • Similarly, I was getting a bit out of breath;
  • Even though we wanted to climb to the top, we just couldn’t see how much further there was to go.

Do something scary every day, they say, and this was quite scary for a while. Really glad we got as far as we did, though, it was a physical challenge and the view from such a great height was definitely rewarding. Photos just can’t give a realistic idea of the scale of it all. But they’re a great reminder of a fabulous adventure.

Another surprise was seeing this homage to the Alaska pipeline.

Strathkinaird pipeline

And here we are, back in ‘civilisation’. Ullapool always reminds me of Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds, because the Martians’ death cry is ‘Ulla’. (Sorry, spoilers.) We’ve been in the footsteps of Susan Calman to a certain extent, as featured in the TV series Secret Scotland. She tells the story of when she went on holiday as a child, with her parents, in a campervan. The only cassette they had to play in the van was War of the Worlds. Where was I? Oh yes, back in civilisation. How do we know? There are way too many people in the streets of Ullapool. Plus, there are double yellow lines on the roads.

Yellow yellow
I wonder what time we arrived here

This clock is the lovechild of Cogsworth and Lumiere from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

We wandered down to the harbour to watch people. So many to choose from. One family group were putting on their waterproofs, about to embark on a hair-raising, fast, boat ride. This guy from the Orkney Islands was very busy mending ropes.

George Roper

Well, I hope his name is George, but I didn’t ask. (I did ask if I could take his picture.) He loves it here in Ullapool, but he’d rather be reading a book and looking at the view.

We found our accommodation, Ceilidh Place, hotel, bar and restaurant, bookshop. After settling in, we went for a walk and joined the queue (yes, a queue) outside the chip shop. We took away our supper and ate al fresco, on the grass opposite our place. Very nice, very tasty.

Now, back in our room, I’m writing, Liesel’s crocheting, I’m listening and Liesel’s (occasionally) watching the Tour de France. There is a family of seagulls outside, three cute, fluffy chicks, and we’re glad their parents haven’t yet told them how to steal chips from tourists.

Yellow daisies

What a beautiful day.