John O’Groats

We had a slow start to the day despite Liesel’s best efforts. She had the washing in the machine soon after 7.30 and one very long cycle later, we hung it up. Indoors. Because it was raining. I think they call it mizzle around here, a great word, somewhere between mist and drizzle.

Looking north

The short drive to John O’Groats was spectacular. The views towards and over the sea are a continual reminder of what a big country this is. And of course photos, especially those taken with a phone, can never do justice to the vista.

What?

No, this isn’t a realistic animal at all, is it, but it greeted us on arrival at John O’Groats. In the background, you can see the Orkney Islands. We’re missing them out this time, but they’re on the (growing) list of places to go back to one day.

Selfie of the day

Of course, we had to take a photo with The Sign. Just as I did 30 years ago at the end of a three-week bike ride from Lands End. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned that? Yes, over 100 of us were in that group, and Liesel was delighted to see the field that we all camped in that night. The books that ‘end-to-enders’ sign are all in storage right now, but it is hoped they’ll be put on display soon, and maybe even digitised. It’ll be fun to see my 30-year old signature.

There’s a lot more here than I remembered, much more than just a hotel and a gift shop which is what I think I was expecting.

Dunnet Head is the most northerly point on the mainland of Great Britain. It’s a fabulous place for bird watching. Wild rock doves, they claim, are the wild ancestors of domestic pigeons. Well, I think the place has just been invaded by plain ordinary pigeons, they look the same to me!

A cliff full of seabirds

There are plenty of other seabirds to choose from though, fulmars, gulls, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes but of course what everyone wants to see are the puffins. And we did! First puffins we’ve seen in the wild. We don’t know why they should be thought of as more cute than the other species, but they really are. Today for once, I did experience lens envy. The bloke with the three-foot long zoom lens undoubtedly achieved better photos than I did with my phone.

Puffin!

Dunnet Head lighthouse is off limits to the public, but I’m sure the view from the top would be stunning. There is a path leading to a 360° viewpoint, and you can see for miles out to sea and around the coastline.

Dunnet Head lighthouse
Looking towards Stroma
Looking back at Dunnet Head from near the Castle of Mey

Passing through John O’Groats for a coffee was a sad occasion. There will now be a two-paragraph silence in memory of the hat I lost in John O’Groats today.

Shhh…

Shhh…

Why do I keep losing apparel in this tiny place? The last time I was here, I managed to lose one of my cycle mitts. Anyway, we drove to Duncansby Head for another walk and a chance to see more seabirds.

Duncansby Head

It’s a very sandy place, and there are sheep living here. Just like Dunnet Head, there’s a lighthouse that we’re not allowed to visit. There’s also a trig point at both locations, without which our OS maps would be much less accurate.

Half Shawn
Bonus selfie of the day

The beach here looks very inviting, but nobody was taking advantage of it. Hang on, you’re thinking, I thought you lost your hat? I did. This is my number 2 hat, the waterproof one.

More seabirds

The path took us much closer to the nesting birds here. So close, we could smell them. A bit fishy, a bit ammoniacal, probably because of all the guano. There were a few puffins here as well, but mostly I think they’re fulmars. And pigeons. Oops, I mean wild rock doves.

The Stacks of Duncansby

We had a fun long walk here, it was nice and hilly, and you get used to the stench of wildlife after a while. We could see The Old Man of Hoy way over in the distance, another seastack. I said to Liesel, ‘Well, I can’t climb it again today, but maybe I can take its picture’. ‘You’ve climbed it?’ No, of course not. Turns out, I couldn’t take its picture today either, it was just too far away and too hazy.

Back at our place, we listened to James Taylor and Mary Hopkin while reading and writing and eating. A very nice way to end the day, thank you Liesel xx

Helmsdale to Wick

I woke up at ten past four which was perfect. This was the time for sunrise and I was hoping to see the Sun emerge from the icy depths of the North Sea. But it rose more to the north-east, from behind a hill rather then the sea. It was still a pretty sight to see, but I think we’ll have to come back to Helmsdale in about September for optimum sunrise over the ocean opportunities.

Sunrise over Helmsdale

I went back to bed of course: what a ridiculous time of day! We said goodbye to Ruth and before we left, I took down details of the place next door, which is ripe for development.

Derelict

The asking price is a mere £95,000 but I suspect you’d need that much again to make it habitable.

Helmsdale harbour was all about fishing, which is why the place exists in the first, really.

Fishing tackle

We spent some time in the museum here, known as Timespan. Some folks had a hard time. Especially the women whose job it was to cut the heads off and remove guts from herrings. They could process up to 60 a minute. Yet in the census, they were just referred to as a fish-wife, the wife of a fisherman.

Also here, we saw a small, insignificant stone that was taken into space in 2019 by Scotland’s first astronaut, David MacKay.

We are now well on our way on the NC 500 tour, the 500 miles that takes visitors around the north of Scotland. The main road, the A9 goes up and down, more or less following the coast. It’s quite steep in a few places, so much so that there are emergency escape lanes. I can’t believe that 30 years ago, I was fit enough to cycle along this road, from Helmsdale to Wick. The views were stunning, on both sides: the sea and the mountains.

Dunbeath is a cute little place. We parked up by an old mill and went for a long walk by the side of a burn.

Dunbeath Water

We walked across a pedestrian suspension bridge, designed by Thomas Telford. It was a bit wobbly, and it has been tethered to the banks presumably to remedy this.

Suspension bridge

The path alternated between grass and stones, some shingle, a few steep parts too, which were mostly OK, but next time, I’ll put trainers on rather than retain my sandals. Well, I didn’t think we were going to walk as far as we did! There was evidence of sheep but no rabbits, strangely. We investigated the remains of a broch, an old structure that was originally nine metres tall, with really thick walls and an entryway that you have to stoop to walk through.

Inside the broch

We passed the remains of an old monastery too, saw a few standing stones and a now overgrown cairn. Best of all, we found a bench to sit on for a while.

Log bench

It looks as though it would be too lumpy to sit on. But no. I think the time we spent here was the best half hour of the day. What could be more pleasant than spending time with the one you love, outside, on a beautiful day, in the middle of nowhere. The only sounds were small birds singing, some bees buzzing around, the leaves rustling in the trees and the water burbling and gurgling over the stones in the burn. This is what peace and serenity feels like, totally at ease with the world, away from people and everyday problems.

The walk back to the car was somehow easier and quicker Our picnic lunch today was enjoyed outside by the mill, not in the car! I was walking behind Liesel most of the time, and I stopped to make a new friend, so I was delayed.

Pheasant

She was very chatty and I think was protecting a chick in the bushes.

Before continuing our journey north, we stopped off at Dunbeath Harbour. The breakwater is comprised of hundreds of concrete cuboids, laid out as though it were a work of art. Another striking image was this sculpture.

Kenn and the Salmon from ‘Highland River’

Next stop: Whaligoe Steps. We didn’t know whether we’d follow in the footsteps of those hardy women who carried empty barrels down the 330+ steps, gutted herrings all day, then carried the barrels back up, now full of fish. Weights of up to 100 lb have been suggested. Well, the best laid plans of Mick and Liesel gang aft a-gley, as they say in these parts (I don’t think they do, really). The steps and the café were closed, disappointing us and several other visitors, one of whom may have jumped over the barrier when he thought nobody was watching.

Should I or should I not walk down the steps?
Seabirds

We saw seabirds, gulls and possibly oystercatchers, making their homes in the cliff face. But no, we didn’t bother walking about thirty feet back to fetch the binoculars!

And so, we reached Wick, where we will stay near the airport industrial estate for a few nights. I know, I know, it doesn’t sound very inviting at first, but it’s a nice house, and the fact that the industrial estate and the council dump are close by, well that’s the yang to yesterday’s yin, the lovely view over the sea.

Wick Harbour

The place is called Wick, the coffee shop is called Wicker’s World, a play on the name of an old TV series in which Alan Whicker reported from all around the world. In Twickenham, there used to be a travel agent called Twicker’s World, so it’s a well-used pun.

Tonight, we listened to the soundtrack from the film Brave, Wynton Marsalis’s album Joe Cool’s Blues and some Scottish music from Eddi Reader, live in concert in Japan a few years ago.

Before we left home, we had a discussion about how to play the music from my phone. If we go alphabetically by artist, then we get all the Beatles songs together, for instance, and each day will be different but not very varied. We tried playing tracks in alphabetical order on a previous trip, and that ensures you hear everything, but you’ll hear, for example, four versions of Life on Mars? in a row. So, random shuffle is the best bet, you’d think. Except that it’s not totally random. Some tracks are repeated as if on heavy rotation, while others are totally ignored. The compromise so far has been to choose specific albums or artists each night. What a conundrum. As I think I said, if this is the worst problem we have to deal with, then we are very lucky people indeed.

Two distilleries and another castle

What else has gone wrong? Nothing really, just a few more bug bites. Mick is obviously more tasty than Liesel, she hasn’t reported any bites so far, not even a tickle. It’s not nice being bitten, but it’s still sad to see so few insects around. We were talking about how, in bygone Summers, you’d arrive at your destination with a windscreen caked in dry, squished bugs. You’d have to scrape them off with a hammer and chisel.

The first exciting port of call after leaving our Inverness b&b was, wait for it… Aldi. Yes, already, we had food shopping to do. But it was nice to meet Dorothy, our host, just as we were leaving. She’s hoping for more guests later in the year as Covid restrictions are lifted.

Aldi, yes. The less said, the better, as the song goes.

We drove over a couple of bridges today that I cycled over way back in ’91. Kessock Bridge out of Inverness and Dornoch Firth Bridge. The latter was opened in 1991 by HM The Queen Mother, but two or three weeks before that, a group of us cycled over it on our way to John O’Groats from Lands End. We felt very privileged: I think it would have been a 60 mile detour without that bridge!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Kessock Bridge was longer than I remembered and soon after the crossing, we stopped for a short walk. Path to North Kessock, the sign said, 100m. I hoped it was 100 metres rather than 100 miles, and so it was. Down steps. 146 of ’em, that we had to walk back up again.

Kessock Bridge from North Kessock

While at the bottom, we had a quick chat with a couple of locals. They were saying that they used to see dolphins and seals all the time in this, the Beauly Firth. All we saw today was a man fishing. The other attraction here was a Costcutter supermarket. If only we’d known. We could have bought our shopping here instead of Aldi and lugged it all the way up 146 steps.

The first distillery we visited, Glen Ord of Singleton, was probably very interesting. We would have loved sampling the wares. But it was closed. It’s Monday. Oh well, onwards and upwards. Here’s a tip: check that places are open before you turn up unannounced.

We checked and the Glenmorangie distillery was open. And very popular. I tried one whisky and it was so smooth, we had to buy a bottle. I know, I know, we buy whisky faster than we drink it at home but, new year’s resolution: we will finish at least one bottle soon.

Glenmorangie giraffes

What is the significance of all the giraffes? There are pictures all over the place, and several models, all with extremely long necks. This distillery has the tallest stills in Scotland, which we could just see through a mesh, not ideal for taking pictures, so it’s a good job we’re not into industrial espionage.

Yes, I sampled about a quarter of a dram of whisky so of course I found it hard not to nod off in the car. The scenery is always spectacular of course, and we’re not even in the highest of highlands yet. But I’m sure I missed some beauty spots while resting my eyes. Oh, and in case you were wondering, Liesel was driving.

It wasn’t raining today, but we still ate our lunch in the car, admiring a field of barley or something like that. The seeds had spread far and wide, encroaching onto the precious space set aside for a lay-by off the A9 or wherever we were at the time.

Today’s castle was Dunrobin.

Dunrobin Castle

I found this one more interesting than the other two, partly helped by the fact that it was well illuminated. The Covid-inspired one-way system worked well too. Lots of stags’ heads on the walls, and lots of portraits of Dukes and Earls of Sutherland and their gorgeous wives. The portrait of Queen Victoria was I think the best I’ve ever seen of her, but not easy to take a picture of, unless you want to look up the royal nose.

The castle looks out over some well maintained gardens, and beyond those is the North Sea. We’d pay extra for an Airbnb with this view.

The view from Dunrobin Castle
Selfie of the day

I’d like to say our selfie skills are improving, but this one disproves that assertion. If I lost some height or if I could persuade Liesel to wear extremely high heels, that might help. Still, we keep ourselves amused by trying.

Cups of coffee were taken here before we left for our final destination today: a cottage way up a hill, just south of Helmsdeep. No, not Helmsdeep, that was the site of a big battle in Lord of the Rings. We’re just south of Helmsdale. I was last there 30 years ago, on the same bike ride referred to earlier. We set up our tents on the beach, close to a shipwreck. In the morning, I noticed what must have been a rabbit hole between the inner and outer sheets of my tent. Do rabbits really burrow on sandy beaches?

Tonight though, after driving up the steepest road imaginable, we are indeed enjoying a beautiful view.

Top view

Over the water from left to right, there is Norway, Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium and Scotland. We can only see the last one on that list of course.

After supper, I went for a quick walk. I couldn’t get much further up the hill because the vegetation was too dense. So I walked down.

Anyone lost an exercise bike?
Me and my shadow

The length of that shadow! And there are still three and a half hours until sunset. This is the day of the Summer Solstice, so days start getting shorter now. It’ll soon be Winter. Yeah, I know how to bring the mood down! And yes, that lump in the middle of the road is horse manure. That horse must have had 27 pints and a huge curry last night.

The yellow of the gorse was very nearly surpassed by the purple and the white foxgloves.

A pair of foxgloves
Gorse, of course

Our evening music was provided by Wings, the London Town album, and by Martha Tilston, as many albums as we can fit in before bedtime. We haven’t turned the TV on anywhere except briefly so we could listen to BBC 6 Music. I finished my book last night, a detective story that was good but, I think, a bit long, just one too many false leads being followed. But we’re in Scotland now and I am looking forward to reading Fireflies and Chocolate by Ailish Sinclair, a depiction of more historical Scottish events that we don’t learn about in school. I loved her previous novel, The Mermaid and the Bear, so I know I’m going to enjoy this one, even if the use of the Scots language slows me down a bit!

Oh dear, look what I found

Our host Ruth has left us these treats. Well, it would be rude not to. Cheers! Slàinte Mhath!

Two castles and a battlefield

Yesterday I expressed a desire to see a red squirrel. That wish didn’t come true, but we did see a blue one.

Blue squirrel

We saw this chap just down the road, here in Inverness, one of a series known as The Go Nuts Art Trail, raising funds for the Highlands Hospice. This one’s design is based on Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night.

Today we were tourists. Our first destination was Brodie Castle, named after the anti-hero from the American TV drama series Homeland. We saw a plume of smoke as we approached Inverness Airport and hoped it wasn’t another terrible incident on the road. No, just a harmless factory of some sort.

Nice smoke

But nicer than that is the fact that the runways at Inverness Airport are configured to look like a snowflake when viewed from a suitable height.

Brodie Castle looks alright, so we thought we’d ruin the view by standing in front of it.

Selfie of the day

Each room had its own guide, and they spoke for up to ten minutes. The tour groups were kept separate of course. But it was quite dark inside. Actually, it was pretty dismal outside too. The library was probably fascinating: I would love to have studied the children’s books in case there were any that I remembered from my own childhood, but there just wasn’t enough light.

What could beat seeing a blue squirrel? Seeing the biggest white rabbit in the whole of Scotland, of course.

White rabbit

The sign said to download an app that would animate this large rodent, but I couldn’t get it to work. The playgrounds on the castle site are fantastic, it would be a great place to bring children, or grandchildren, one day.

We had a nice walk around the grounds but while wandering around inside the castle itself, it started to rain. What a shame. Also, we were too late in the year to see the daffodil collection, put together by Ian Brodie after his awful experiences in the Boer and First World Wars left him with what we now know as PTSD. But if we can’t see thousands of golden daffodils, we can enjoy seeing the biggest monkey puzzle tree we’ve ever seen.

Monkey puzzle

It is a truth universally acknowedged that when Mick and Liesel go travelling in the UK, it is likely to rain. It used to rain when Mick and Sarah bed and breakfasted around the country too. We’ve enjoyed so many picnic lunches inside a car, watching the rain cascade down the windscreen while the windows fog up inside. Oh well, we tell ourselves, while chewing sandwiches in a car, in a car park, again, all this rain is what makes Scotland so beautiful.

According to William Shakepeare, Macbeth, the Thane of Cawdor, resided at Cawdor Castle. Not in real life he didn’t, because the castle wasn’t built until 300 years after Macbeth died.

Caravan

This isn’t the sort of caravan we anticipated seeing a lot of in Scotland. And no, nor is it our accommodation on this occasion. It’s outside Cawdor Castle, which was the next stop on our tour.

I was dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, as usual, but I did have a waterproof(-ish) jacket on too. The guide in the castle accused me of being dressed inappropriately. I pointed out that I was dressed correctly, it was the weather that was behaving badly.

Tartan carpets
Bike parking facilities

For a moment, I thought we’d entered an American house.

French arms

Too many firearms for one wall. This castle is occupied by one lady for half the year, and the rest of the time, it’s open to us visitors. Again, lots of historic artefacts. But again, I think I enjoyed walking around the gardens more, despite the weather.

Cawdor Castle
Minotaur in a maze

There’s a maze in the gardens, but we’re not allowed to enter it. Maybe they’ve lost too many visitors to the minotaur in the centre. We think it’s a minotaur, but we didn’t bring our binoculars with us today. Although they would have been useful as we watched some birds from a distance, finding something tasty on the path nearby. We saw a thrush, some chaffinches and a yellow thing that was too fast to identify.

Mum and baby

What a brilliant work of art. From this angle, the sculpture is of a Mum and her baby having a cuddle, but from the other direction, it’s a pair of hands supporting them both. Very clever.

Holding them up

Another record breaker was this iris.

Iris

This is the deepest purple iris we’ve ever seen, and it looks spectacular with a few drops of rain water.

On the way back to our b&b, we stopped at Culloden Battlefield. We’d been before, with Liesel’s Mom and Dad, and the place has lost none of its sense of eeriness. We know the terrible story, how many lives were lost senselessly. The grey clouds were perfectly matched the feeling of foreboding.

Culloden Battlefield

I went for a walk around the site, trying to avoid the other visitors. To be fair, they probably weren’t that keen on me, either. I found a couple of the memorial stones that we’d missed last time.

Clan Donald

This headstone marks the traditional site of a grave locally believed to be the resting place of the MacDonalds who fell in action during the battle. This stone was erected by members of the Clan Donald Society ‘to honour all MacDonalds killed at Culloden and in battle elsewhere’. A sad but salutory reminder of how lucky I am that I’ve never been involved in any conflict.

Memorial cairn

A very different day today, just pootling around rather than driving a long way to reach a destination. There’s plenty of that still to come of course.

So what’s gone wrong so far? My first injury was incurred yesterday when I was bitten on the ankle by some bug or other. I’d forgotten all about it until this morning after my shower when I noticed the wound was bleeding. The second injury was caused by hard furniture. My shin detected the coffee table in our lounge. It didn’t break the skin but there is a contusion, which, given we’re in Scotland, I’m naming Robert. Robert the Bruise.

As I write, we’re listening to the golden voice of Eddi Reader, but earlier we re-played my radio show from January, the one with Scotland as its theme. The one in which my microphone wasn’t working for a long time. Lots of fabulous Scottish music, but also an embarrassing amount of dead air.

Dumbarton and Inverness

When you’re packing, for the first time in well over a year, for a trip away from home, what’s the best possible interruption? Why, a visit from a grandson of course, with his Mummy. And if he were to put on a puppet show as well, that would be terrific!

William, Tiger, Giraffe, Elephant, Lion and Mummy

This passed a few minutes in our little car park, which is a good venue too for a quick game of ‘tag’ (without actually touching, of course) and hide & seek, even though the only places to hide really are behind the big oak tree and behind a couple of parked vehicles. The visit was prompted by the fact that Sunday is Fathers’ Day, which had totally escaped my attention this year. The card that Jenny gave me was designed and hand-drawn by William, so it is now taking pride of place on our book shelves.

We don’t think we’ve forgotten anything important. So far. The car was packed, mostly with food that we’ll eat over the next few days. Liesel said she’d packed more stuff for this couple of weeks than she did when we went travelling for ten months!

You may be wondering where we were going. Well, the title of this post is a clue. But the first picture I took, from the car, was of a hill close to the Lake District.

A hill

We’re off to sunny Scotland for a bit of a tour. It was good to be on a motorway again. We haven’t been on one since yesterday. We stopped at Tebay Services on the M6 as we always do when this far north, because their selection of vegetarian scotch eggs is lovely. That was the basis for our evening meal on this, the first evening away from home since March 1st last year.

The first of many saltires

On this day, England were playing Scotland in the first round of a European football competition. I know there’s a lot of rivalry between supporters of these two national teams, so I told Liesel to do all the talking: her American accent is perfectly neutral.

Our first stop on this trip was Dumbarton. The local council is West Dunbartonshire. Dum and Dun. That could be confusing. I went for a quick walk in the evening, and yes, many houses were flying the flag of St Andrew. The views were great: climbing up the hill was worth it: a novelty after the flatlands of home.

Dumbarton Cemetery

The view from the cemetery was especially nice. In fact, the cemetery itself, well laid-out and tidy, was a joy to walk around.

Premier Inn will probably send a questionnaire soon asking how was our stay? Did we sleep alright? Well, I had a nightmare, but I can’t really blame them for that. But the loud man next door who turned up in the middle of the night didn’t have to shout into his phone: that sort of thing went out of fashion a long time ago when mobile phones became ubiquitous, and you no longer had to announce to everyone in the same town or train carriage that you were in possession of such a modern device. Also, I’d advise the good people of Premier Inn to give this particular guest a bigger bucket the next time he checks in, in case he needs to chunder as much as he did first thing this morning. It wouldn’t surprise me if his entrails were all over the floor.

Those sound effects didn’t put us off a nice big breakfast though, before setting off for Geilston Garden, not too far from where we stayed. Geilston, pronounced like the end of ‘congeals’, not the same as The J Geils Band, whose big hit was Centerfold, a long time ago. And, Geilston wasn’t named after the Mr Geils who once owned the place. On the contrary, he bought it because it very nearly shared his name. And we agreed that we’d probably do the same too, if we could afford it. Mick and Liesel’s Big House? Yep, we’ll have that.

The garden was nice and peaceful, the flowers were gorgeous, there’s a walled garden too, a burn to walk beside, and a house that is no longer occupied except by wee beasties, spiders and mice.

The Clyde

We were close to the magnificent River Clyde, and yes, I sang the song, but Liesel wasn’t impressed. Oh the river Clyde, the wonderful Clyde, the name of it thrills me and fills me with pride.

Cedar
Selfie of the day
Cottage, burn, irises

We had the pleasure of driving beside Loch Lomond and already, we’re planning our next visit. We’ll spend more time by this loch and around The Trossachs.

Loch Lomond

The drive to Inverness was long and interesting. Mostly, the road surface was a delight to drive on. But there were patches that could have been imported from Surrey County Council. And some of the potholes were of Mancunian proportions. Some of the roads were narrow, with passing places, but that’s what makes Scotland so fantastic.

We passed through one small village and were greeted by a life-size cardboard cut-out policeman holding a camera. If this encourages people to slow down a bit, then that’s fine by us! We saw a sign warning of the presence of red squirrels, but we would much rather have seen an actual red squirrel.

Every day is a learning experience. The gorse is out in force right now, the yellow colour is almost day-glo. It’s known as Scotch broom in Oregon. But it’s still not the bush to fall into when you come off your bicycle.

We passed by numerous places today that we could have visited. We were within 33 miles of Stirling Castle, probably my favourite castle in the whole world. I tried not to feel guilty about missing it out on this trip. The sign to Perth caused me to recall that that was the very first town I ever bed-and-breakfasted in, in Scotland, thank you, Mrs Gourlay.

We also drove by Loch Tay, which reminded me of a Geography lesson at school for some reason.

We listened to Nation Radio. One thing I’ve noticed recently is that I often announce to Liesel that ‘I played this song last week on my show’ or ‘I played this one recently’ or ‘I’m playing this one soon’. In the old days, I would tell Liesel ‘I’ve cycled here’ when appropriate. Well, there was a bit of that today too. As we drove north along the A9 towards Inverness, we were close to the cycle path on which I incurred my most serious cycle related injury. I fell off on the approach to Newtonmore, on a cycle path that could only be described as rubbish. I never managed to complete my second Lands End to John o’Groats bike ride because of that incident, very nearly 20 years ago now, and it still upsets me.

It’s funny how your perception changes in a short amount of time. Even a couple of days ago, a drive of 100 miles would have seemed enormous. Today, when we were still 100 miles from Inverness, I was thinking, ‘we’re nearly there, then’.

Cute couple

We followed these two in their really, really old Sunbeam for a while. But at least here the road was wide enough to paint white lines in the middle.

Liesel on Tummel Bridge

Here’s Liesel on the old Tummel Bridge, built in 1730. You can walk over it, but vehicles have to use the new, ugly bridge right next to it. Here, we were close to Loch Rannoch and Kinloch Rannoch, where we’d stayed in about 1997. Again, close, but we didn’t make the detour.

One place we did re-visit though was Dalwhinnie Distillery, which we’d taken Liesel’s Mom and Dad to on their visit all those years ago. Yes, maybe one reason it appealed was that it would have clean toilets, but we did buy a nice bottle of the hard stuff.

Dalwhinnie Distillery

The sight of snow was unexpected, although we knew we were getting high . In altitude, that is, not on drugs, that would be irresponsible while driving such long distances. Only small patches of snow, but still.

Patches of snow

Something else that we saw wasn’t so pleasant. Plumes of smoke ahead on the road, and traffic at a standstill. We hoped it was just a case of a car catching fire, but later we saw ambulances rushing to the scene.

Thick smoke

Fortunately, it was easy enough for us to turn round and make a detour. But this incident wasn’t mentioned on traffic reports on Radio 2, nor at any of the online traffic reporting sites.

We found our accommodation in Inverness easily enough, a nice flat and the host, Dorothy, has left us so many treats: crisps, fudge, shortbread, fruit, yogurts, and this is all on top of what we’d brought with us! Sorry to report, the fudge was all gone by the time I’d finished writing this.

After dinner, rice and beans since you ask, we went for a quick walk down by the River Ness. We felt a few spots of rain but it was really pleasant.

Birds and buses

Liesel and I usually go for our strolls in the morning but every now and then, we venture out later in the day. The danger with this is, there are usually many more people out and about. This makes it more difficult to maintain social distancing, of course, but being out in the Sun is good, you can feel the vitamin D fizzing away while it’s being manufactured beneath your skin.

Bed of leaves

Of course, the delight of walking in the sunshine has to be balanced by the sight of flytipped rubbish, including a mattress, in the middle of the road. Yes, actually on the road, as if they’d just opened the back door of a moving van and kicked out all their rubbish. What a shame that personal details were clearly visible on some of the items.

More Northenden flytippery

Passing vehicles had to bump up onto the pavement to get past.

William the carrot-muncher

On a lighter, happier note, William grabbed his Mum’s phone and called his Grandad while eating his lunch, in the car, after his swimming lesson.

Unprompted, he told me the carrot stick was a triangle. In the pool, he had dived to retrieve a (plastic) fish, something that I could never manage to do.

 

Mincemeat scone

Liesel baked some scones, using mincemeat rather than plain ordinary dried fruit, and of course, they didn’t last very long. All the flavour of, but not as strong as, traditional mince pies.

 

 

 

There is a universe beyond Northenden. We proved that to be the case by breaking out the passports and venturing as far afield as Lyme Park this week. It’s been a while, but it was good to be out walking somewhere other than our local ‘hood.

There was evidence that deer had been roaming, but we didn’t see any. Not real ones, anyway.

Lyme deer

Time for some bird spotting, I think.

Corkbill egrets

Amongst the fallen leaves of Autumn, behold, young ferns.

Baby ferns

Selfie of the day

Mushroom

As you can(‘t quite) see, it was a very clear day. You can see the metropolis that is Manchester from Lyme Park, and today was the clearest that particular view has ever been.

 

Back in Northenden and we’re still finding new roads to explore. We took it into our heads to walk a bit further, buy some lunch and then walk home.

Britannia Country House Hotel

We had been walking along the river but the path was so muddy, we detoured at the first opportunity, not really knowing where the stone steps would lead. It’s a bit of a dilapidated hotel, with its run-down car parks, set back from the main road.

We found our destination in West Didsbury but were immediately disappointed.

Bad news at Greens

Yes, you guessed, it was Tuesday. Oh well, nothing for it, but to walk home, hungry. Well, not strictly true. We stopped off at La Chouquette in Didsbury for coffee and cake. La Chouquette has taken over from Cidsin, a coffee shop that we had frequented in the past.

Time for some more bird spotting, I think.

Wooden sculpture

Kingfisher

Spring is coming up fast, even though we probably have the worst of Winter to come, yet. I thought the baby fern at Lyme Park was a freak, but we also saw some very early daffodils near one of our local golf courses.

Baby daffodils

On the other foot, I did find a pair of shoes on one walk. Well, not exactly a pair, but I guess these folks had a good time at their illegal parties before hopping home.

Lost shoes

I was so glad I’d decided not to walk by the river on this occasion. Looking down at the path from the road above reveals how muddy it still was after all that rain. Plus, the river is a few feet higher than normal.

More muddy than Mudsville, Mudshire

Our food deliveries this week included the biggest Brussels sprouts we’ve ever seen.

Big sprouts

There is not a lot of spare room in the fridge, right now! But the sprouts are delicious, oh yes.

Here’s William on his last day at Busy Bees. He’ll start at his new nursery after Christmas.

William the former Busy Bee

And here’s Martha on the last day at school before the Christmas break.

Martha in mufti

It’s wonderful to see them both doing so well, and I’ll say it again: the worst thing about the pandemic is that we aren’t able to spend time with our beautiful grandchildren.

Brandy balls

What’s this? Another foodie photo? Are you alright, Mick? Yes, I’m fine, thanks. But you need to see Liesel’s bourbon balls, made with, not bourbon, but French brandy. Brandy balls. Liesel also baked cookies and included crème de cassis. We’ve had a bottle of that particular poison for many, many years too and it’s time to finish it all off. With white wine, it makes a cocktail called kir, something Sarah and I used to enjoy during our brief cocktail-making period.

My radio show this week was full of Christmas cheer, and you are welcome to listen to two hours of fun and frolics here.

And so, the first of the Christmas snacks have been opened. Liesel’s justification is that we are now on the first day of the Christmas Radio Times. Salt and pepper cashew nuts. M&S salted pretzel sticks. All very tasty of course. Liesel’s career as a food critic is slowly taking off. ‘These pretzel sticks are long, they’re like covid tests.’ I don’t know why M&S feel the need to straighten out pretzels, to be honest.

As this is the last post before the big day, Liesel and I would like to wish a very merry Christmas to all our readers, visitors, viewers and other passers-by. Thanks for joining us during a period of antics not quite as exciting as our gap-year travels a couple of years ago, but we’re looking forward to a much more adventurous 2021.

Ahh, gap-year travels, the good old pre-covid days! Here’s something I wrote that wasn’t published at the time, for some reason. Imagine we’re in Fiji, late 2018, mostly taking buses here and there…

Suva bus station is organised chaos. There are several different bus companies, there are several bays, there are hundreds of people, and to move around you have to walk between moving buses. Yes, there are signs saying not to cross over except at the designated places, but those designated places are never where you actually need them.

On the first bus, we bought $15 cards which was enough to cover the fare from Nadi to Pacific Harbour. Each card now has $3.50 credit. Can we use this towards another fare? No.

The second bus, we paid a man at the bus station, he wrote out a ticket which we then had to present to the driver when we got off the bus at our destination.

On one occasion we paid the driver when we got on but didn’t receive a ticket, so we’re glad nobody, no inspector, asked to see it.

On the ride from Pacific Harbour back to Nadi, we paid a man halfway back. He took my last $50 bill and got off the bus when it stopped for a break at a market. I thought I would never see him again. But he did eventually reappear with my change, but again, no tickets.

Keep on keeping on

We strolled up to the Northern Den to collect our brownies plus the coffee which we enjoyed while sitting on the wooden bench close to St Wilfrid’s Church.

Oreo brownies from Northern Den

Weird sort sequence…

One night, to convince myself I could still focus on something for long periods of time, post Liesel’s retirement to bed, I decided to sort our CD collection. Hercules would be very proud of my nine hours of more or less continuous struggle.

The Sun rose before I went to bed, one welcome, if unexpected bonus.

Sunrise over Northenden

We decided not to invest in this mobile burger business. I’ve hidden the phone number: we might reconsider sometime.

Burger business opportunity

The recycling centre round the corner re-opened but they’re restricting its use is determined by vehicles’ regnos.

Odd numbers only

No queue in sight, but Mr Jobsworth forced one even-numbered vehicle to turn round, go home. Ridiculous.

We’re still seeing weird things in the streets, together with some pretty flowers.

Lost Shoes (not to be confused with the 70s prog rock group correspondingly titled)

Pretty Flowers (not to be confused with the 70s prog rock group correspondingly titled)

It’s quite perilous strolling too close to one of the neighbourhood golf courses. My soft titfer definitely wouldn’t protect the bonce, I confidently predicted.

Golf sign

My new friend, the heron, introduced me to his chum, the crow, before flying off up-river.

The heron with his friend

Most fortuitous sighting of the week? The red growth in our hedge, complemented by the brightness of the Sun.

Red Hedge (not to be confused with Red Wedge)

Thus concludes the newest post. Short, but sweet this time, lovingly typed up without the use of one single letter ‘A’. (Well, just the one.)

Walking All Over Cancer

Walk All Over Cancer: Day 1. Sunday 1st March was the first day of my attempt to walk 10,000 steps daily, for a month, for Cancer Research. And what a good start to the campaign on this, our hottest Malta day so far.

I took 22,608 steps altogether and they were all most enjoyable. Well, all except one, at about 17,000 steps. We were ambling along on the flat rocky beach, soaking up some rays, when my left foot decided to go the wrong way. It twisted, I did a little dance, and sat down for a moment to recuperate. Three people up on the promenade help up a big red which I think means they were impressed by my spontaneous display of choreography.

I walked, limped and hobbled home. In Malta, you can only buy drugs from pharmacists and they’re mostly closed on Sundays. So, indoors, I rested, anticipating walking a shorter distance the following day, mostly in airports, as, sadly it’s time to leave this gorgeous little island.

I am sailing, I am sailing

Don’t worry: I won’t bang on about this Walk All Over Cancer malarkey every day, but I thought I might as well try and get some sympathy (and more sponsors, wink, wink) for my injury!

So how come I walked so far today? Mainly because I went out on my own for an hour, before Liesel joined me.

A cat named Scar

I was hoping to see some Malta Marathon runners in action, but I think the course was too far away. I did see a few folks running for fun, and I was surprised at how little road traffic there was.

There were more people down on the beach today, and even a few swimming in the sea.

People on the beach

The water was beautifully clear, and, with the bright sunshine, you’d think you’d see little fishes in the water, but no. Not even any crabs on the rocks. But there must be something there worth fishing for.

Cool, clear water

Later, Liesel and I did pass by some proud owners of medals and space blankets, a nice mix of old and young people, some struggling to walk home and some looking fresh, like they could do it all over again!

We paid one final visit to French Affaire for pastizzi (both of us), a crêpe (Liesel), coffee (both) and not carrot cake (should have been for me, but it didn’t show up).

We walked into and straight out of the nearby Point Shopping Mall and there was only one thing we needed here.

All you need is love

At this point, I still had two fully functioning feet, so walking back towards our Airbnb was a potentially easy, slow amble, watching people and trying to ignore the honking people in the traffic jams.

Twelve days in Malta was never going to be long enough, we knew that, but we have had a brilliant time.

Because it feels like Summer to me, I’m dressed for warm weather, so I stand out and it must be pretty obvious I’m a visitor. When I’ve mentioned Manchester to interested locals, there’s no need to mention its rain, they already know. And I can’t describe how happy I am that nobody has mentioned the UK leaving the EU, not even to have a good laugh at our expense.

Walk All Over Cancer: Day 2. This was one of those days not meant to be much fun, purely functional. Bus, walk, plane, walk, bus, home. I managed 11,481 steps with one slightly sore foot, just from walking to the bus stop, around the airports and around the flat back in England.

I was escorted by a security official at the airport in Malta. Having passed through Security, we found that the only pharmacy was back in the outside world. I had to be escorted back out so that I could purchase some painkillers. I got some funny looks: they probably thought I was being arrested, a trouble-maker.

And so we looked down upon the sunny uplands of England before landing at Manchester Airport. Sunny uplands? Well, yeah, but also: snow.

Snow on them hills

We caught the bus back home from the airport, and the driver was very relaxed, probably enjoying his book as much as driving the new, quiet, green, electric bus.

How to Drive Buses by Victoria BusStation

We try and convince ourselves it’s nice to be home, but when the rain comes down that much, it’s hard to get motivated to go out for a walk on our first full day back. But I did, notwithstanding the sore foot, and I completed the required number of steps.

In the evening, Liesel went to to a WI meeting, leaving me to watch the latest two episodes of Doctor Who. Wow, possibly the best two episodes for many a series, bringing together the current Doctor, the classic series, the novels and fan-fiction, as far as I could tell!

After a reasonable night’s sleep, Liesel ‘encouraged’ me to get up and go for a walk: she was motivated, plus, it was sunny. I was halfway through a podcast at the time, but the feeling of being miffed didn’t last long.

In the shower, I noticed the bruising to my foot had spread to heel and toes as well as the side. Very impressive. Yes, of course I asked Liesel to take pictures, but they’re far too graphic for this forum.

We walked to Chorlton, partly along the river, a much more interesting jaunt than my solo circuit in Northenden yesterday.

We admired the colourful graffitti under the motorway. Admired? Bemoaned. The geese by the Mersey didn’t bother us so we didn’t bother them either.

Geeses on the Mersey

We enjoyed the feeling of apricity on our faces, and the sight of many early Spring flowers. The only place we know in Chorlton is The Laundrette, a restaurant. Imagine my dismay when I looked it up on Google Maps to see that it was Permanently Closed. How disappointing. And only a 17-hour walk away too. Huh? Yes, I’d found a place in Wales, with the same name and same logo on the shop front fascia sign. Our Laundrette is still going strong, we broke our fast there before returning home. Because the Sun had been so bright, my glasses were ridiculously dark, I had to use an app on my phone to read the menu. We were happy that it stayed dry despite the 85% chance of rain.

Sorry to share some sad news. Last year, I acquired a pen at Ayers Rock Resort in Australia. It became my favourite biro, providing a very satisfying, smooth writing experience. A few nights ago, mid Killer Sudoku, it died. It ran out of ink. Its natural bodily juices are no more.

RIP Ayers Rock Resort pen

I gave it a decent Christian burial in the bin in our Malta b&b.

But the good news is, 4 days in, I have managed the planned 10,000+ steps every day!

My Eggs

Even the wind hasn’t been enough to deter us from a lot of walking. Sometimes it’s a bus ride followed by a walk. I think it’s fair to say we’re not looking forward to going home to be greeted by Storm Jorge and its cold, wet and windy so-called weather. T-shirt, shorts and sandals are my dress code de jour here in Malta, and I can put up with the funny looks from the strange locals, no worries.

The walk to St George’s beach was interesting, through a largely residential area of St Julian’s. One of the main hobbies here seems to be standing around on street corners chatting and laughing or, at a pinch, sitting in a stationary car, maybe lurking, maybe waiting for someone.

By the sea, I watched a couple of men fishing. I guess they caught something because the cat was having a party all by himself.

Angling

I didn’t walk to the casino, visible in the distance, but I found the sea again round the corner. St George’s Bay is, I’m sure, a very popular beach in Summer, but today, the only men sunbathing were wearing their business suits.

St George’s Bay

Sunbathers (not topless, that would be illegal)

Up the road and round the corner is a relatively new shopping centre and residential complex. This is the real centre of Paceville, but we don’t feel we’ve been missing out at all. There’s a Planet Hollywood and a Hard Rock Café not forgetting the obligatory Costa Coffee. Plus clubs, pubs and gambling dens.

Glass floor in Bay Street Shopping Complex

There’s a Women’secret rather than a Victoria’s Secret, but, as far as I could tell from a cursory 20-minute long glance, they’re selling the same kind of wares. Underwares.

Some of the architecture is fun, and it’s a shame so many of the buildings look a bit tatty, either faded in the Sun, or covered in a thin layer of dust from all the building work taking place.

Coloured balconies

I beg you pardon, I never promised you a roof garden

I was surprised the first time I saw cactuses growing here, just a week ago. But they’re all over the place. They’re prickly pears, imported from America, planted typically around fields to help reduce the force of the wind.

Prickly pear

The local cinema has 17 screens, but none of them were showing a film that particularly appealed this week.

It was a pleasant jaunt and the walk back was much faster, unexpectedly. I followed the bus route and I’m glad I didn’t catch a bus for what would have been for just one or two stops.

After a good night’s sleep and a slow start, the next bus took us in a south-easterly direction, to a place called Xgħajra. It is purely residential, of no interest whatsoever, which is probably why it’s not mentioned in the Lonely Planet Guide. So why did we go, then? Because once we got seats on the bus, we weren’t giving them up for anybody! Actually, the sea looked gorgeous here, not nice enough to want to swim in, but beautiful azure, lapis lazuli, a proper Mediterranean shade of blue.

The sea at Xgħajra

Back in Valletta, we walked around attempting to keep the warmth of the Sun on our backs, it was heaven. Liesel asked how long it would take to walk back home from here? If we took the ferry, about 55 minutes, was the answer. If we don’t take the ferry, nearly an hour and a half.

So, we went for the ferry. Thanks, Google Maps, we missed a vital turning at first. It wasn’t obvious that we had to cross the road, walk round in a loop and then walk under the road we’d just been on. It’s so easy to forget that the world is actually 3D.

A steep street in Valletta

Valletta-Sliema ferry

The single fare on the ferry was a mere €1.50. I suggested going back and forth several times as it’s so cheap, but the idea was vetoed.

The Dome of the Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Valletta

The ferry ride was short and sweet and we took our time walking back home from Sliema, a route that is very familar to us now. But, of course, we still see things that we’ve not noticed before. Have you seen those fish, Mick? What fish? Those fish. Oh, those fish!

Fish

I thought for a minute we were in danger of seeing actual, real fish, in the sea!

By the diving school, I was impressed by the mural.

Pirate mural

If only all ‘graffitti artists’ were this talented, then there wouldn’t be so many accusations of vandalism. Less than 100 metres along the shoreline, though, we came across this.

My eggs

Well, maybe it’s funny in its own way, but we’re not in on this joke. It reminds me of the long-standing message daubed at Surbiton Station: ‘Foxes know’. Maybe both are secret messages between secret agents working secretly for secret organisations and we’re not supposed to know.

Gozo is a no-go. Yes, reluctantly, we decided not to visit Gozo on this occasion. We’re attempting to see as much of the main island as possible, but without feeling rushed or over-stretched. Anything we don’t see this time will still be here next time.

Unless of course, Malta does roll over into the Med. We found out today that due to local tectonics, Malta is rising in the west and sinking in the east. That’s why the cliffs at Dingli are so high and so interesting. It was a long bus ride there, but worth it. The views were lovely, and we even ate a decent lunch at a restauarnt called, by coincidence, The Cliffs, just near Dingli Cliffs.

Now we’ve found Maltese bread, we can’t get enough of it. And our lunch came with some today. My salad included quail’s eggs, something I’ve not eaten before. What are they like? Well, they taste like chicken’s eggs to me. The implication is, there are quails hereabouts. But we’ve not seen any birds other than pigeons and sparrows. Nice to see sparrows, yes, but it would be good to see something more exotic too. The sound of budgies came out of someone’s window, but it might as well have been a tape recorder.

Stick man on a stick tricycle, in Dingli

It was good to be out in the country, too. We saw more vegetation today than we have the whole time we’ve been in Malta.

Just a small bunch of local flowers

I don’t think I’m breaching any state secrets by posting this photo.

A big golf ball listening station (top secret)

It’s probably a secret listening station, but whether owned by Malta, Italy, UK, USA or someone else, we don’t know. But combined with ‘My eggs’ from yesterday, I’m beginning to think Malta is Spy Central.

Imagine my disappointment when I found a sign claiming that this is a ‘Navigation Transmitting Site’. A likely story.

A view from the top

We approached the edge of the cliff, but not as close as Jyoti would have ventured!

Another view from the top

Selfie of the day

Teetering right on the edge of Dingli Cliffs is this cute little chapel, the Church of St Mary Magdalen.

Marija Maddalena

Nearby was a stall selling Maltese coffee. Yes, of course I was tempted, but I’d had two coffees already by this point. Plus, if it’s anything like Turkish coffee that you can stand a spoon up in, I don’t think we’d get along very well. Thanks for the offer, though.

Yes, until today, we were beginning to feel that the whole of Malta is just one big city, one huge building site, so it was nice to see some greenery. In fact, as well as the pretty flowers, we saw not only our first butterflies in Malta, but also our first wasps. We saw a beetle. We saw a really big butterfly that was in fact a kite being flown by someone who we couldn’t see. And we saw a herd of goats and sheep just wandering along the road, with no concern for the honking drivers.

A sheep or a goat or maybe a shoat or a geep

I knew it was the day but I missed it by less than a minute! Yes, today, I took my 500,000th step since I started using a Pedometer rather than the Fitbit Zip that was eating batteries like Smarties.

Half a million plod plod plod

Training for my walking challenge next month is going very well, thanks for asking.

I’m aiming to walk at least 10,000 steps every day in March, come hell or high water or Storm Jorge. Please, if you can, help me raise some money for Cancer Research, just follow this link, please, thank you, thank you, thank you!

The bus ride home was long and relaxing and allowed plenty of time for the mind to wander. All the buses here display their route number at the front, along with the name of the next bus stop. I asked Liesel if there was a bus route 66 at all. Why? Because I want to get my kicks there.

Most of the drivers have been friendly, although many of them seem to be in a great hurry all the time. But if they see someone running for the bus, they will wait and open the door for them: something Manchester bus drivers could learn to do.

We’ve experienced a few clouds of cigarette smoke here, but it’s not been as offensive as in Paris a couple of years ago. There, it was almost compulsory to walk through a smoke-filled tent before you could get into a restaurant. Here in Malta, you’re just unlucky if the wind gusts the wrong way.

It is a remarkably multicultural, multi-ethnic place. We’ve heard 101 different languages spoken, some recognisable, some not, we’ve seen people from all around the world, visitors like us of course, students as well as locals and workers from all around Europe. We’ve never felt threatened nor in danger here. We’ve heard police sirens just a few times in the time we’ve been here whereas we’re used to hearing several each day at home in Northenden.

We arrived at our ‘hood, alighted the bus for the walk to Wok to Walk where we ate, and on the way we home, we bought another loaf of Maltese bread which, alas, we’ll have to consume all in one day!

Mellieha, Valletta and Mdina

We saw this advert on the back of the bus and our thoughts turned to those poor people, Liesel’s Mom and Dad, who are currently suffering sunshine in Hawaii.

Waikiki (in Hawaii, known as the Malta of the Pacific)

Not to be outdone, we caught a bus to Mellieha Bay, north of St Julian’s. It’s not really the tourist season yet, so there weren’t many other visitors. Plus, some of the restaurants don’t open for business until the end of February. Not that we would necessarily have visited any, most dishes are fish-based.

Wind in the willows

Yes, as the trees demonstrate, it was a little bit windy today. This was one reason my walk along the beach was solitary: Liesel didn’t fancy having her legs sand-blasted so she stayed at the BBC, the Blu Beach Club.

Għadira Bay

There were few people on the beach, so not surprising to see that the sunbeds, umbrellas and sand-wheelchairs weren’t available for hire.

Beach possibly designed by Mark Rothko

When I walked back to join Liesel, I realised I should have walked up the hill first, to visit these two churches.

Churches on the hill

Our Lady of the Grotto and the Parish Church of Mellieha would have been an 18-minute walk up, but it’s probably just as well I didn’t go. I was wearing shorts and many churches here don’t approve of such attire.

We caught the bus back to Sliema and I was watching our progress on Google Maps. Some funny juxtapositions came to light.

Call the midwife

After dining out, we waited for our final bus of the day. Due to incredibly bad timing, it was ‘rush hour’ and the ‘queues’ were long and wide and disorganised.

The bus driver in Sliema was an angry man. He demanded to know why we hadn’t caught the bus in front of his. Well, it was full, plus, we weren’t 100% sure it was going where we wanted to go. Oh, it is, he assured us. Even though he didn’t have a clue where we were headed. His driving was atrocious too, our first roller-coaster experience in Malta. Gentle acceleration and braking were not in his skill set. I suggested to Liesel it might be his first day. She said it might be his last day!

If we hadn’t already consumed a beer (me) and a mojito (Liesel), we might well have indulged once we reached the safety of Paceville and home.

Did I mention a mojito? I’m not saying it contributed in any way, but Liesel fell up the stairs on the way home, earning some bruises for her efforts, to fingers and ego.

It’s halfway through our stay in Malta and it was time to do some laundry. We couldn’t believe the wash cycle was 4 hours long. It wasn’t. I think we misread 40 minutes. We left the balcony door open through the night to help the drying process. Big mistake. We were invaded by mosquitoes. I woke up with a few bites and Liesel has just one.

We followed up on a flyer we saw a couple of days ago, and returned to Valletta for a guitar recital. We joined between 30 and 40 others in the peaceful St Catherine of Italy Church for a number of pieces played on a Spanish guitar.

Bernard Catania

The music was very relaxing, the church was cool, in more senses than one, and I realised how much I enjoyed guitar music other than the almost ubiquitous electric guitar. The only downside was, the church pews were wooden benches, not a great difference from the hard seats on the bus! He re-tuned a couple of times but never used a capo. Recuerdos de la Alhambra by Francisco Tarrega was stunning: it really did sound like there were two guitars being played.

I had a quick look around the small church before we left, and I did like this painting, purporting to be something religious, but in fact just depicting a small child being dragged to church on a Sunday morning.

Today is Shrove Tuesday, the last day of the carnival and the streets were still packed with people, many of whom were in costume.

Crowds in the streets

We stopped briefly in MUŻA, The National Community Art Museum but again, it’s not fully open right now.

Brother and Sister of the Artist by Vincent Apap, 1923

We spent a lot more time in the Museum of Archeology, with artefacts dating back to 5000 BC. It was all interesting, of course, but I would love to travel back in time to see just how accurate some of the archeologists’ interpretations are.

Woman in stone

Looking at an exhibition of work by the artist Celia Borg Cardona was time well spent. She likes to paint scenes or people from above, from high up.

Mellieha Bay by Celia Borg Cardona, 2010

This picture brought back memories from our visit there, oh, a mere 24 hours ago!

Conservation work is going on in this museum too, and it was was interesting to watch a couple of the restorators at work for a short while.

Working hard at conserving/restoring paintwork and tiles on the wall

St John’s has been given equal billing to St Paul’s in Mdina, the seat of the Archbishop of Malta, hence we visited our first Co-Cathedral today here in Valletta. It is incredibly ornate and I was allowed in because today I had covered my legs.

Welcome to St John’s

One of the main attractions of this venue was the opportunity to view Caravaggio’s largest painting.

Beheading of St John the Baptist by Caravaggio, 1608

We couldn’t get too close to the painting but it is more impressive in real life than this photo can possibly show. The painter chose a dramatic moment in the narrative of the Biblical event – the moment after the death-blow had been struck with the sword, but before the executioner severed the last tendons with the knife retrienved from behind his back.

View from the balcony

Whenever I visit a church, whether Catholic or Anglican, I like to light a candle for my Mum and Dad and Sarah. There are no real candles here, though. Instead you insert your coin into a box, and one of several LED candles bursts into light. Not as satisfying, I feel, but I can understand the reluctance to light real candles, having spent years washing centuries of candle soot from the paintings and other surfaces here.

Candle in the wind

We returned to Upper Barrakka for a coffee, looked down on a huge cruise-shop and walked back to the bus station through throngs of costumed funsters.

Selfie of the day, with Triton Fountain

As we were about to turn a corner, we were nearly bowled over by a fast-moving mobility scooter. The sign on the back said ‘I’m electric and eco-friendly but I can still drive like a twat’. I may have made the last bit up.

Triton Fountain nearer the end of the day

The plumber had been to our Airbnb to plug a water leak that we’d been unaware of. In the proess, he’d rendered one of the toilets unflushable. Good job I noticed before I really needed to flush!

It was a long ride to Mdina but well worth it, even on the barely padded seats on the bus.

Mdina Gate

What a great, old, walled city. The streets are narrow, even narrower than what has become normal for us. The only downside today was the wind, blowing strongly and coldly along the narrow streets. Every door was stunning, the knockers all different, and a couple of the restaurants won’t open until the end of the month!

Olive tree

We visited the Mdina Glass shop, studied some of the items, wanted to buy some but in the end, we don’t have the space, we don’t need more stuff and one of the lampshades we liked might not fit where we want it to go, anyway.

Mdina Glass

We wandered the streets, enjoying the warmth of the Sun when available, and remarking how quiet it was, without much traffic. Our voices and people’s footfalls echoed and now and then, we heard the bells of the horses and their carriages.

St Agatha’s Chapel

Narrow street

We found the wall, well, we could hardly miss it, but we weren’t prepared for the view from the top: we could see most of the way across the island. You could see your enemies approaching from miles away. The signs warned us not to climb on top of the wall as it was a sheer drop.

What a view

Let’s spoil you with another selfie

After a coffee and lunch (Liesel) or cake (me), we split up. My lallies were out and I wouldn’t have been welcome in St Paul’s Cathedral so Liesel explored inside while I wandered around the city.

A gnarly old tree

I found the Ditch Gardens, Il Foss Tal-Imdina, and can confirm there are 273 citrus and seven olive trees. Some have been cut back quite radically: I’m sure the gardeners know what they’re doing but it might be a while before they’re producing fruit again.

Ditch Gardens of Mdina

I found a pastizzi stand and he only had cheese ones on offer so I had a cheese one, while watching some little people in the playground. The sculpture was a bit out of place, I felt, but the artist was unacknowledged.

Kissing couple

No overtaking

We’ve seen just a handful of nuns in Malta, but we did come across St Dorothy’s Convent.

St Dorothy’s Convent

St Paul’s Cathedral

Meanwhile, Liesel was taking pictures inside the fascinating and interesting Cathedral.

Death in the Cathedral (not to be confused with Agatha Christie’s new one)

St Paul’s Cathedral

Things are looking up

Most elaborate door knocker

We sightseed (sightsaw?) from the bus back to Valletta and I think the biggest surprise was passing the American Embassy, apparently out in the middle of nowhere.

Local drivers do like tail-gating and using their horns, so I’m not convinced of the efficacy of this sign: ‘Chance takers are accident makers’.

The Sun set, it became dark very quickly and it was nice to see Venus before she bade farewell.