Ode to London

As hinted at in the previous post: we did London.

The Sun was out and after breakfast, I set off for Surbiton station. I’d checked, and all three local stations, Surbiton, Tolworth and Chessington North were a 25-minute walk from our Airbnb. I thought I’d go to Chessington, for old times’ sake. But as I walked through the door, a moment of panic set in. Suppose I missed the train? I’d have to wait half an hour. There’s a much more frequent service from Surbiton. So I turned round and walked there instead. Yes, I could have caught a bus, but neither Liesel nor I were yet convinced that travelling on buses was a good idea. Hang on, what happened to Liesel? Well, she was going to Woodmansterne to visit an old friend, Claire, whom we hadn’t seen for ages. The plan was that Liesel would meet me later on in London, at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

We debated whether or not to get Oyster Cards, as our old first generation ones might no longer work, but in the end, I just used my phone. It seems TfL work it all out nicely, so the daily fare is capped. All I had to do was remember to scan in and out. Quite a challenge for someone who hasn’t used public transport for well over 18 months. But quite exciting at the same time.

It was pleasing to see that most people on the train were wearing masks. And also nice to see that the train wasn’t packed. No standing, and nobody had to sit right next to a stranger.

Travelling into London felt so normal, despite the masks. More graffiti than I remember on the walls just before Wimbledon. Battersea Power Station is looking good, nice and clean, although harder to see now thanks to the many blocks of undoubtedly luxury apartments built at Nine Elms, close to the newly relocated US Embassy.

Waterloo Station was London to me, when I was small. A small part of me still thinks that the trains now operated by South Western Railways aren’t the genuine article. No, a real, proper train has the green livery of British Rail’s Southern Region, with slamming rather than sliding doors.

And so my long-anticipated walk in London began. Through the unusually thin crowds at Waterloo Station, past a lot of newly installed seating, very welcome I’m sure. I recalled the time most of the seating was removed to make space for ‘retail opportunities’ according to ‘public demand’, they fibbed. Down the stairs by the War Memorial and towards the South Bank. Beggars, Big Issue sellers, discarded Metro newspapers, some things never change.

‘We’re so glad to see you’. ‘We’ve missed you’. ‘Welcome back to our home’. These were the messages that greeted me as I climbed the stairs towards the Royal Festival Hall. I don’t usually speak to concrete infrastructure, but I did say it was nice to be back, thank you.

I also nodded at the bust of Nelson Mandela as I passed by and smiled at the sight of the Modified Social Benches. This is the sort of thing we love about London. Nothing wrong with being quirky.

More comfortable than it looks

Usually at the point, I would nip into the RFH to use their facilities, but there’s no need to go into more buildings than necessary. But we do look forward to seeing live performances here, and elsewhere, as soon as we can.

The second-hand book stalls under Waterloo Bridge were not open today. I’ve squandered many an hour here, looking at books and maps and other things that I’ve no real intention of buying.

Outside the National Theatre, I acknowledged Sir Laurence Olivier and tried to recall all the plays we’ve seen here. One day, I hope to return to see a young actor perform here: hello Lesley!

Sir Laurence

Lesley was a barista at Boxx2Boxx in Northenden, look out for her on a stage near you! Many actors while between rôles have to take temporary jobs, and another one was operating the coffee stall right outside the theatre. He was due to go to rehearsals later in the day, but meanwhile, he made me a fine cup of coffee!

Thank goodness Boris Johnson’s vanity project, the Garden Bridge, was never built, it would have ruined this stretch of the South Bank. I wonder if he’ll ever repay the millions of pounds he squandered on it?

The Post Office Tower stood proudly way over there on the other side of the river. I’ve only been inside a couple of times: once soon after I’d passed my 11+ exam. And once just a few years ago when, for charity, I climbed the stairs inside. They said it was 1,000 steps, but in the end, there were only 870, more or less. I’d trained by climbing the long staircase at Guy’s Hospital, near London Bridge, towards which I was now walking, sometimes at my own default, fast pace and sometimes slowly, to take in all the sights.

The promenade along the South Bank is known as The Queen’s Walk. Well, I’ve never seen the queen there, but I have seen David Bowie. Not the real David Bowie of course, but a sand sculpture of his image, created soon after his death in 2016. In fact, the stretch of the beach revealed when the tide is out has been used for sand sculptures for quite a while, some of them ridiculously extravagant, considering their transient nature. Today, however, there was no sculpture. In fact, the normally pristine sand has been covered with darker coloured gravel. Which is a shame.

It had rained quite hard the previous day (when we were at Polesden Lacey) and some of the Queen’s Walk was still flooded. The Great Flood of London? No, just a big puddle.

Every time I walk by the Bankside Gallery, I think I should spend some time there. But I never do. The piece of art outside lifts the spirits though. It’s a nice bit of competition for Tate Modern, a bit further along.

Bankside Gallery

The buskers were out in force today, at least four along this stretch. One played an accordion, one a guitar, one a mandolin and under one of the road bridges, we were treated to a tenor performing On The Street Where You Live.

Liesel and I had thought about seeing a play at The Globe: we would be outside, after all. But in the end, we missed out on Twelfth Night and Metamorphoses. But still, what a cool building to find by the Thames. My daughter Helen and I saw Macbeth here twenty years ago and I still regret not going the following week too, when we could have seen Macbeth performed in Zulu: uMabatha.

What a happy bin

I still wonder if The Golden Hinde is in the best location. There’s just too much going on all around it, you can’t view it well from the side. It still reminds me of the model I had when I was younger. I wonder what happened to it?

Southwark Cathedral is a good sign that we’re approaching London Bridge. I first visited this cathedral in about 2000 when the author Michael Arditti was promoting his then new book, Easter. I bought a signed copy for Sarah and when I read it, well, it was a bit more racy than anticipated. Liesel and I visited the cathedral, as tourists, more recently.

‘There are two things scarce matched in the universe: the Sun in Heaven and the Thames on Earth’. Such is the quote by Sir Walter Raleigh inscribed on the wall just round the corner from London Bridge. And looking out on the Thames at that very moment, I witnessed the passage of an Uber Boat. This service is run in partnership with Thames Clippers, and is not to be confused with a U-Boat, something far more sinister. Another item to add to the long list of ‘Things to do the next time we come to London’.

HMS Belfast is famous for, amongst other things, its forward guns aimed at Scratchwood Services on the M1. There was no sign of them being fired today, but there were a lot of people on board a very interesting ship.

HMS Belfast

Liesel and I did the tour of Tower Bridge a few years ago, including avoiding walking on the glass panels in the floor of the high level walkway. Obviously, you always hope the bridge will open while you’re watching, but you have to time it just right. No sign of it opening today. And I wish I could stop thinking of the Spice Girls’ bus jumping over the opened bascules in the fabulous film Spiceworld. All expense was spared on the special effects.

London City Hall is I’m sure a hive of industry, especially as the Greater London Authority will be moving to new premises by the end of the year. We’ve only been inside once, and enjoyed walking up the spiral slope.

Over the river is the Tower of London. Again, a place I first visited as a child (I still have the little booklet, priced 1/6d) and again since then a few times with various family members visiting from afar.

I was taken aback by the number of people walking across Tower Bridge. As a pedestrian, you’re meant to keep left, according to signage on the ground, presumably to assist in Covid-inspired social distancing. I think more than 50% of people were complying, but I didn’t want to hang around longer than necessary and count!

One happy couple were being photographed, and it was fun to watch a professional photographer at work. The bride and groom spent a long time arranging the veil to blow in the wind, which to be honest, was not being very cooperative. Of course, I’m making an assumption: maybe they were models, not a newly-wed couple. In any case, I think they wanted City Hall and The Shard in the background of their pictures. Ah yes, The Shard, another place we should visit one day but £25 just to ride up in a lift seems a bit excesive.

May all your troubles be little ones

I strained my neck looking up at the glass floor in the overhead walkway and felt a little queasy. The thought of someone falling through and landing on my head… Or me falling over backwards into the water below…

A quick check on my phone confirmed that I still had time to walk to the V&A, but I could always catch a bus if necessary. From now on, I would remain north of the river.

There’s a small section of an old Roman wall near the Tower, a reminder that in the past, Liesel and I have joined several organised walks around London. Nearby, there are paintings decorating the walls of an underpass. One of the portraits, by Stephen B Whatley, depicts Anne Boleyn, someone to whom I am distantly related by marriage, I recently discovered.

Anne Boleyn, g-g-g-… -g-great-grandmother n times removed, or something

Tower Hill was my station of choice when I worked in the City, in Crutched Friars, to be precise. Lunchtime entertainment was sometimes provided by the Metropolitan Police Band. Today, it was mostly visitors milling about. I remembered where the public toilet was but I’d forgotten it cost 50p. Thoughtfully, they’ve installed a change machine so I changed a nice crisp £10 note for a pile of £1 and 50p coins. 50p for a pee though, that really is taking the p. On the other hand, I now had some loose change to throw into a busker’s hat, should I encounter another one.

Despite much provocation and teasing, he kept perfectly still

This part of London is a fabulous mix of old and new architecture. Old stone churches and glass and steel office blocks. Through a small gap, along a narrow road, I spotted the Monument, the one that commemorates the Great Fire of London. We’ve climbed this edifice a few times, I have certificates to prove it.

Something old, something new (don’t click on the triangle, it’s a roof, not a ‘play’ button)

It would have been nice to stick to the Thames Path, right next to the river, but there are several places where you have to deviate, thanks to building work. The smell of chlorine probably came from the swimming pool inside Nuffield Health Fitness and Well-being Club. If not, then maybe I should have reported a dangerous chemical leak.

Dear America, we have guns on the streets too

The Queenhithe Mosaic tells the story of London right from its early days. This is a terrific work of art, 30 metres in length, and what a shame it’s so far off the beaten track. This is one of those things you can look at for ages. Yes, it too is on the list for a return visit.

My collection of photos of sundials continues to grow. Polar sundials aren’t very common, so I was pleased to find one. The lady sitting next to it offered to move, but I told her to stay put and add some scale to my picture.

Polar sundial

Over the river, beyond the Millennium Bridge, sits Tate Modern. I wanted to go in today, but you have to book online. In this I failed abysmally. The booking site must work, there were plenty of people in there, but I struggled. It kept telling me about the need to book in advance, but I just couldn’t find the actual place where I could actually book an actual timeslot. Sometimes, I despair at my own incompetence. Although, bad web design is a factor here, I’m sure.

Neither did I go into the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral for a coffee, although I was tempted. I’d only had one so far today despite passing 101 coffee bars and vendors.

Looking south over the river, I caught my first glimpse of the London Eye. I didn’t feel the need to go on that again, but who knows, maybe we will if any future visitors are interested. I did have a dream once that it very slowly fell over and into the river but fortunately, each of the 32 capsules automatically converted to lifeboats.

And then over the river, I spotted the Oxo Tower. I’ve never ventured beyond the craft shops on the lower floors but I do recall one story related by a former postman colleague. Skip this paragraph if you’re under 18. Andy was very gleeful one day and if he told us once, he told us a dozen times that
the previous evening, he’d taken his wife up the Oxo Tower. I know, I know. Then he asked us all whether we’d ever taken our wives or girlfriends up the Oxo Tower. Sorry if you’re having your tea.

I passed by one of the dragons that guards the City of London and entered the City of Westminster, walking along Victoria Embankment.

Here be dragons

Near Temple Station, I found another sundial. It’s not much use though. Not because it wasn’t sunny enough, but flowers have grown over the useful parts.

Spherical sundial

Earlier, I said that Waterloo Station was London for me, when I was small. Everything else was a bonus, including Victoria Embankment, and it was occasionally my job to lookout for Cleopatra’s Needle, the obelisk guarded by two sphinxes facing the wrong direction. The obelisk was completed in 1450 BC and presented to the UK in 1819 by the ruler of Egypt and Sudan, one Muhammad Ali.

Cleopatra’s Needle

As usual, when I pass by or walk over Waterloo Bridge, one old earworm rears its head, Waterloo Sunset by the Kinks. I was still humming the tune to myself as I approached St Martin’s and Trafalgar Square. Ah, Trafalgar Square, that would be a good place to stop for a coffee, I thought. Not today. The whole square was cordoned off, probably being prepared for a future event. I was delighted to see the new work of art on the fourth plinth though. I couldn’t get close enough to read the plaque, so this is from The Greater London Authority website:

Heather Phillipson’s vast physical and digital sculpture tops the Fourth Plinth with a giant swirl of whipped cream, a cherry, a fly and a drone that transmits a live feed of Trafalgar Square. Entitled THE END it suggests both exuberance and unease, responding to Trafalgar Square as a site of celebration and protest, that is shared with other forms of life. The live feed of Trafalgar Square picked up by the drone’s camera is visible on a dedicated website www.theend.today giving a sculpture’s eye perspective. (Good luck with that, I couldn’t get it to work.)

The End and Horatio Nelson

As I couldn’t walk across Trafalgar Square today, I walked around. This was when I acknowledged that I was on a giant Monopoly board. I’d just passed The Strand, here’s Trafalgar Square, I’d narrowly avoided Whitehall and was about to walk along Pall Mall.

There’s a new lion here too, between the Square and the National Gallery. It’s the only member of the Tusk Lion Trail that I saw on this occasion, a nice colourful beast. Maybe we’ll have an opportunity to hunt down some more lions on this trail one day.

Designed by John Cleese and his wife, Fish

Nelson watched over me as I crossed the roads and I was pleased to see the so-called diversity street crossing signs are still being used. They were installed for Pride 2016 and haven’t been replaced. Instead of a green man, when it’s finally time for you, a mere pedestrian, to cross the road, you see a couple holding hands, or maybe two male or two female symbols ♂️♂️  ♀️♀️ but green of course!

The Athenaeum is a lovely building to see, the home of a private members’ club that I haven’t been invited to join yet. I also passed by the back door of St James’s Palace only identifiable by the presence of two bored-looking but armed police officers. I found my way through to Green Park which was all but deserted. Even the squirrels sauntered across the paths rather than scurrying as they usually do. In the distance to my right, The Hard Rock Café on Piccadilly, but no, I wasn’t tempted to deviate for a coffee there either. In fact, I might still have a grudge against them. We tried to book a table once and they told us we couldn’t. Then, when we turned up, we couldn’t get in because it was fully booked. You should have booked, they said.

Hyde Park Corner is a nightmare whether on foot, or in a car or bus. It had to be negotiated though. I smiled when I saw Wellington Arch: I’m proud to say I cycled under it in 2005, naked. Here’s a link so some photos… oh no, sorry, I just remembered, I’ve closed that particular account. One day, I might repeat that most enjoyable bike ride around London. Not today though, I didn’t bring my bike.

Today’s long walk was taking place on Liesel’s birthday so as I walked by The Lanesborough, I wondered whether I should book afternoon tea. But then I remembered we probably wouldn’t have time. Plus, of course I wasn’t dressed properly for such a venue. We have had tea here before, though: I remember being slapped on the wrist when I tried to pour my own tea.

Knightsbridge was busy, but there was no avoiding it. I was surprised that the big street sign called the area Scotch Corner, especially since the shop after which it’s named, The Scotch House, hasn’t been there for years. I worked in the area for six years, and I was disappointed to see that the sandwich shop where I bought my breakfast after a long nightshift, Crumbs, has gone and been replaced by something far inferior.

But this pub, Tattersall’s Tavern is the first and only venue where I have consumed eight pints of beer in one sitting. That was after a very long shift at work, and in the end, just me and Bob, the manager, were leaning against the bar.

Coming down to Tatts for a quick one?
Harrods

Harrods doesn’t change. Once, I went in to buy a pair of shoelaces, without success. Today, the window announced a coffee bar on the ground floor. That’ll be different, thought I. So I walked through. Do you think I could locate this coffee bar? No. Instead, I carried on and found a coffee at Steps Coffee Haus, across the road. Well, I just felt sorry for them, that their pop career hadn’t worked out. Tragedy.

Also at Harrods, many years ago, I met Ffyona Campbell. I often think of her when I’m on a ramble. She walked around the world in the ’90s and signed a book for me. The following week, Naomi Campbell was going to be signing the book that she ‘wrote’, even though, as it later emerged, she hadn’t even read it! On the other hand, it turned out Ffyona had had to ‘cheat’ in USA to keep up with planned media appearances, which is a shame. It must be painful to be extracted from The Guinness Book of Records like an unwanted, rotten, decayed tooth.

This is busy London, lots of pedestrians and lots of traffic, and I was torn between feeling imposed upon and just enjoying being in this vibrant city. I recognised some shops, but many were new to me, and the architecture is wonderful of course. Don’t ask me to describe the various styles, but when I see a new build that doesn’t fit in, I do wonder which developer bribed which councillor. Cynical? Me?

I reached the V&A just a few minutes before the agreed meeting time. This was when I received the dreadful news from Liesel that she’d only just left and would be quite late. I had both our tickets on my phone so I forwarded them to Liesel, telling her to use the second ticket, I’d use the top one. Yes, I could have waited a while before going in, but my bladder couldn’t.

In the end, although our electronic, timed tickets were checked by a person, neither was scanned electronically, so we weren’t in any real danger of being refused admission.

When Liesel arrived, I was sitting in the quadrangle with a nice cup of coffee and a large baguette, soaking up the Sun. Before I’d left this morning, Liesel had predicted that I’d walk over 20,000 steps. No way, José, I said. But she was right. At this point, the pedometer displayed over 23,000 steps. Liesel bought some (late) lunch too after which we went inside to look at some exhibits.

I quite liked the French Globe Clock, I think it would look very nice in our living room. But mostly, we looked at and admired the wrought and cast iron items. Why? I think we found ourselves going to galleries with the fewest people. In one room, a couple were dancing to the music in their heads.

Breathless is a collection of silver-plated brass instruments squashed by one of Tower Bridge’s 22-tonne lifting mechanisms. Who comes up with these weird ideas? In this case, one Cornelia Parker from Cheshire.

Breathless

As it was Liesel’s birthday, it was her choice of places to eat out. She remembered a Japanese restaurant somewhere near the Southbank Centre, so we set off back along Cromwell Road, Brompton Road and Knightsbridge. Yes, I was retracing my steps, but it was a first time for Liesel to be walking along the A4. The A4! And yes, we could have caught a bus, but apart from the traffic, it really was a pleasant day for walking in the city. After crossing the glorified roundabout that is Hyde Park Corner again, we veered off to walk by Green Park, along Constitution Hill.

Of course, as tourists, we were perfectly entitled to take a selfie with Buckingham Palace in the background.

Selfie of the day

The Victoria Memorial was shining brightly in the early evening sunshine, and, what’s this? A new innovation in London transportation? A man was walking along the road, in a giant metal wireball, a steel zorb. We don’t know why, but he did say he was doing this for ninety days.

A man in a zorb

The Mall was much more busy than we’d anticipated, disappointingly so, really. I have fond memories of riding onto The Mall after my 100-mile Prudential Bike Ride back in 2014, in the aftermath of Hurricane Bertha. I dream of being fit enough to do so again.

I’ve been to the ICA, the Institute for Contemporary Arts, for a few events over the years but so far, Liesel’s missed out. Yes, it’s also on the list of places to visit one day.

Eventually we crossed  the Golden Jubilee Bridge, again admiring the London Skyline to the east, beyond Waterloo Bridge. I resisted the urge to take a picture, since I already have several hundred. Unfortunately, the Japanese place has been replaced by a very stinky burger joint. So we went down to Wagamama for a very civilised meal. Plastic shields separate you from other diners, and I wonder whether they’ll keep these once the pandemic’s over? Or will we once again be forced to sit next to strangers on the bench? And you now pay by scanning a QR code on the menu, going to a website, typing in your table number and payment details. I’m not (usually) criminally minded, but I did think about entering somebody else’s table number, someone who perhaps has only ordered a couple of cheap drinks so far.

We walked back to Waterloo Station and returned to Surbiton.

Massive teapot samovar

I’d walked over 17 miles by this point, and while I didn’t say so at the time, I was quite relieved that Liesel had parked the car at Surbiton Station! The thought of walking back to our Airbnb after sitting down for half an hour on a train somehow didn’t appeal.

After a fairly good night’s sleep, we returned to the city. And we should have known it wouldn’t be straightforward. There’d been an ‘incident’ and all the trains were delayed. Sitting on a stationary train was the perfect opportunity to finish the book I was reading: Bitterhall by Helen McClory, so good, I gave it a 5-star review.

Later than planned then, we walked from Waterloo, along the river to Borough Market. We passed a couple of the same buskers as yesterday, and I was able to hurl some coins at them.

We were pleased to see that the Southbank Centre’s undercroft is still being enjoyed by skateboarders and graffiti artists: in fact, we caught one in the act. Also, being a bit later in the day, the book stalls were all out under the bridge, but we wasted no time browsing, we had a market with food to get to.

Urban artwork at its best

We acquired a picture of ourselves with St Paul’s Cathedral in the background thanks to a helpful pair of ladies who noticed that I was pretending to struggle taking the obligatory selfie.

Not strictly speaking a selfie

We ate our way around Borough Market: the best chips we’ve ever had, a very cheesey cheese straw, a tasty spinach muffin. The market was nowhere near as busy as we’ve seen before, but someone talking on the phone said it was absolutely rammed.

Borough Market and its bell
Borough market

One market’s not enough, so Liesel suggested visiting Spitalfields Market. It was a good excuse to walk along some long-neglected city streets. The Monument was gleaming in the sunshine, another selfie opp, of course.

Another selfie of the day

On the way, we walked through Leadenhall Market, one of our favourites, which in contrast, was much, much busier than we’ve ever seen it. Possibly because in the past, we’ve only been here on a Sunday. The bars were all open and full of city workers probably talking shop, definitely speaking loudly, a sign of normality if ever there was one, although of course, the spectre of Covid was never far away.

Who would think that a big lump of red, molten, plastic bottles could result in such a fabulous work of art? Tatiana Wolska, that’s who. What looks like a big red balloon, in the shape of a small human, floats above us in the market, competing with the very decorative star-studded ceiling.

Untitled by Tatiana Wolska

We found more Sculpture in the City in the form of Orphans, geometric solids made from orphaned paintings, those left behind by deceased people and unwanted by their heirs. Bram Ellens is responsible for this one, which is outside, exposed to the elements, so I hope it’s OK. I’m sure the artist knows what he’s doing.

Orphans by Bram Ellens

We sat down for a break in the courtyard in front of Lloyd’s Register of Shipping in Fenchurch Street. This is just round the corner from where I once worked, in Crutched Friars, a strangely named street that we didn’t quite get around to re-visiting on this occasion.

In this courtyard is a lovely sculpture, a mirror-polished stainless steel ship, with water running down and over it, very refreshing. The office workers returning from their lunch breaks paid it no attention as they made their way upstairs, some in more haste than others.

Our wander continued, passing the site of Petticoat Lane Market, which is only open on Sundays. Lilian Knowles House was new to us, as was Donovan Bros Paper Bag shop on Crispin Street, what a quaint area. The shop was closed, but I wanted to buy some paper bags just to see if Donovan or his brother would put them in a big paper bag. And a good reminder that despite living in or near London for forty years or more, there is still plenty to explore.

Liulian Knowles House
Donovan Bros

We like these strange, old places, but some new ones are quite pleasing to the eye too. Of course, it was a nice sunny day today, I wonder if looks as good on a gloomy wet day?

St Botolph Building

The first thing that drew my attention in Spitalfields Market was a bronze representation of Mwashoti, an orphaned male elephant rescued a few years ago. He is just one of the Herd of Hope roaming the market, drawing attention to the plight of orphaned elephants.

Mwashoti

The second thing I noticed was the second-hand hat stall. One day, I might decided to go for a 1950s titfer, but not today. We just walked around the market, a vibrant, colourful emporium. Yes, there was some tat, but a great place for people who collect, inter alia, old vinyl records. I had a quick browse, finding some David Bowie bootlegs that I’d not seen before. Tempted? Of course I was.

A load of old hats

It was someone’s birthday and as she posed for photos with a cake, she was surrounded by some of the most colourful, costumed friends you could imagine. They were more than happy to have their photo taken by us more sedately dressed weirdoes.

Why not stand out in a crowd?
Birthday girl

Liesel was delighted to find Humble Crumble, a stall that she’d read about, selling pies. I think this is just one factor that later led Liesel to suggest that Spitalfields is her new favourite market in London, knocking Borough Market off the top spot.

Old Spitalfields Market

Dogman and Rabbitgirl with Coffee is another delightful sculpture that we admired just outside, before setting off to bus stop J.

Dogman and Rabbitgirl with Coffee by Gillia and Marc

Yes, after discussion, we decided to, gulp, mask up and take a bus back to Waterloo, our first bus ride since, as far as I can remember, before the first lockdown. I didn’t even use my Old Fart’s Bus Pass (or whatever it’s called) because, well, I just forgot I could.

Fleet Street, Hoare’s Bank, The Royal Courts of Justice, Waterloo Bridge: what a fascinating, very nice, evocative bus ride.

Demon Barber of Fleet Street

From Waterloo, we took a train to Kingston, and this concludes two days in our glorious capital city. It was an itch that I feel has been well and truly scratched, but there are plenty more things to do and see, including theatre visits and other live performances – in London and Manchester.

Quebec House for students, in Kingston

We look forward to travelling on the underground again. Liesel had taken the tube from Wimbledon to South Kensington yesterday, but I totally avoided it on this occasion. Before moving away from Chessington, I had planned to visit every one of the stations on the London Underground system. It might happen one day. We were a week too early to visit the 21st century’s first new ones though: Nine Elms Station and Battersea Power Station Station, both, bizarrely in Zone 1.

Battersea Power Station way over at the back

Let me paraphrase Lord Kitchener:

          London is the place for me
          London this lovely city
          You can go to Didsbury or Manchester,
          Wythenshawe or Northenden
          But you must come back to London city
          Well believe me I am speaking broadmindedly
          I am glad to know my Mother Country
          I have been travelling to countries years ago
          But this is the place I wanted to know
          London that is the place for me.

My show on Radio Northenden this week might well be an homage to London. London is our capital city. Maybe I’ll call the show Capital Radio. That’ll confuse some people! Please join me at 4 o’clock, Friday afternoon right here, and say hello in the Chat box!

A Sandwich

This week was a sandwich. An unusual sandwich in that the bread is absolutely delicious, full of nutrition and fun while the filling was a bit more mundane, mouldy cheese, rotten tomatoes and limp lettuce. Nothing wrong with some mundanity of course, but it’s funny the way things work out.

Saturday, we joined in with Tim’s Listening party online, a good reason to listen to Bic Runga’s Beautiful Collision album in its entirety. After which, while writing, I just let Bic Runga sing away for the next hour or so, until Jenny, Liam, Martha and William arrived.

We all went for a walk along the river, our usual route, to Simon’s Bridge and back, a total of over four miles, which I think both impressed and surprised Liam.

Paddleboarders

We were all impressed by the paddleboarders, and I’m sure we all thought we’d like to try that one day. They were spooked by the weir though. They had to remove the fins from the boards if they wanted to skate (is that the word?) down the slope of the weir, but one of the board’s fins was screwed in, and I think the whole of Northenden heard the call for the yellow bag with the screwdrivers.

Liam and Martha
Jenny and William

Martha and William had a good time, finding two golf balls in the process. The second one was dropped into the river by mistake, I think William was surprised at re-discovering gravity, but no amount of peering into the Mersey was going to bring that ball back. Still, we’re one golf ball up on the deal. 

I called Liesel ‘Liesel’ and William asked why. Liesel explained about our real, given names, and what other people call us. Then Martha joined in too, telling William that when he’s a Daddy, she’ll still call him William but his children will call him Daddy. He’ll still call her Martha but his children will call her Auntie. As Liesel said later on, we should have recorded that dialogue, because our grandchildren are the best.

When we got home, Martha again had to investigate Oma’s jewellery and try some of it on.

Precious things

So that’s one slice of bread, a lovely day with our grandchildren. I’m sure you’re ahead of me. Here comes the filling, not as bad as I suggested, but comparatively plain and ordinary.

We walked into Didsbury. Liesel joined the ladies of the WI in Fletcher Moss Gardens for a chinwag while I wandered around almost aimlessly. I did sit in the rockery for a while, reading one of the seven books I’m in the middle of right now. My mid-August resolution is to finish (most of) those books before I allow myself to start a new one.

World famous Didsbury cobbles

My wander wasn’t totally aimless, the final destination being the optician who adjusted my new spectacles very slightly. I’ll now give it another couple of weeks to get used to them again.

Didsbury mural

The walk to Didsbury includes Ford Lane. This is the only route to the golf course. Ford Lane is being resurfaced. How we laughed at the golfers driving to the golf course as we walked towards Didsbury. And how we laughed on the walk back home when we passed by the empty car park. Someone must have told them that they were about to be boxed in.

Ford Lane roadworks

Most of the construction workers were, correctly, wearing hi-visibility clothing, but one of them must have been too warm.

Hi-vis cardigan

Wednesday is Well-being Walk day in Northenden, organised by Thrive Manchester, and led by Chantel, who was on my radio show a couple of weeks ago. This week, there were about eight of us, walking slowly through the woods, glad that the drizzle remained slight. A cup of coffee at the Northern Den rounded off a pleasant morning.

Walk in the woods

I then walked home the long way, at a faster, for me more comfortable pace, and as I passed the barber, I noticed there was only one customer inside. Why not? So I did. I have never had such a short haircut, an all-over number five. I have never had such a cold head for so long. I sought professional help from Helen, what can I use to speed up the regrowth? Still, on the plus side, I don’t need to use as much shampoo, I don’t need to spend time combing what’s left of my crowning glory, and my hair won’t block up the shower any time soon. Liesel looks over from time to time and very kindly tries not to laugh too much.

Walking in the opposite direction, I really didn’t expect to see a mouse in Wythenshawe Park.

Mickey Mouse

But worse than the rodent infestation was seeing the mess that the dinosaurs left behind. Dino Kingdom has packed up and is now presumably setting up elsewhere. But the churned up grass and the mud-covered paths are very sad to see. I hope the relevant authorities are being suitably remunerated for tidying up Wythenshawe Park.

Wythenshawe wastelands

So there’s your limp lettuce. And here comes the other slice of delicious bread in this ridiculous sandwich metaphor.

Chester Zoo was as busy as we’ve ever seen it. I think if Liesel and I had been on our own, we might have just turned around and gone straight back home. But with Martha and William, that would be a horrible thing to do. Thankfully, they weren’t perturbed by the hordes of visitors to the zoo. And maybe Liesel and I are just more sensitive because it’s been so long since we’ve been so close to so many strangers. With children, we’re walking along quite slowly, and I found it so intimidating when somebody was walking so close behind me. Tailgating.

Whinges apart, we had a great time, although animals were definitely not a priority for the children on this occasion. Top of the wish-list was the Treetop Challenge which I kept referring to as Treetop Adventure, much to Martha’s amusement. They were strapped in, walked around, enjoyed the rides down, and then, just as suddenly, William had had enough and Martha followed him off.

Treetop Challenge accepted

Next up: ice cream. Thankfully the queue wasn’t too long. Q: ‘Which animals would you like to see?’ A: ‘Is it lunchtime yet?’ And so, at 11.30, we sat down to eat lunch.

Baby giraffe

The baby giraffe was deserving of the oohs and aahs from so many families, while we sat there and consumed our lunch. Next on our agenda though was the playground, a water feature with rocks and a nightmare for people in charge of other people’s children. William and Martha enjoyed opening sluices and operating the Archimedes screw and lifting the ‘anchor’ which was in fact the plug that allowed all the water to drain away.

Martha and William back, back, back

William fell asleep in the back of the car pretty much before we’d left the car park. Martha stayed awake the whole way home and, big surprise, so did I.

I turned on the PC as soon as I got in because I had a radio show to do. The theme this week was Chemical Elements, if you would like to listen back.

Jenny took William and Martha home but by the time I finished at 6.06, they were back, with Liam this time. Pizza was delivered, Jenny brought cake and we dined together. The toys were liberally distributed all over the floor, and I don’t think we’d have it any other way!

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.

Smoo Cave

After posting yesterday’s edition, we broke into the bottle of whisky bought a few days ago at Glenmorangie Distillery. Very smooth and a good way to end the day. Only it wasn’t really the end of the day at all, oh no. I wanted to see the Sun set over the ocean which was about 10.30.

Rabbits

We had a couple of visitors late at night. They weren’t at all disruptive or noisy. In fact I think they were more surprised to see me than I was to see them. They weren’t bothered about the sunset though. Which was, to be honest, not as spectacular as I’d hoped. But the clouds looked pretty.

Clouds at sunset

Waking up at 2.00 am, I was surprised at how light it still was. There’s a nearly full Moon but this light is from the Sun barely dipping below the horizon.

3½ hours after Sunset, 2 hours before Sunrise

Unfortunately my internal body clock failed to wake me up on this occasion, so I missed the Sunrise by at least half an hour. Oh well, there’ll be another one tomorrow.

Liesel crocheted and I gazed at a Sudoku while we listened to the radio: Broadcasting House on Radio 4, the only news show we deliberately choose to listen to, then Cerys Matthews on BBC 6 Music. At noon, we watched Jessica Lee Morgan on YouTube singing the songs from Mary Hopkin and Morgan Visconti’s 10-year old album You Look Familiar, and very enjoyable that was too. Here’s a gripe. On my PC, I can leave YouTube playing and do other things at the same time. If I dare try and look at something else while YouTube’s playing on my phone, it just stops. It demands 100% of my attention.

In today’s unbelievable news, we can confirm that yesterday, Liesel managed to get sunburnt. It was pleasant outside on the beach, not too hot. The UV levels were low, apparently. But Liesel’s shoulders are radiating their own heat. Take care out there, folks.

Puffin

This puffin is coming home with us.

I went for a bit of a walk this afternoon, just a solo jaunt on this occasion. In the craft village, there’s the Durness Deep Time exhibition explaining the local geology and displaying the various rocks found locally and the minerals they’re composed of. There’s way too much information to absorb in a quick visit, but the subject is always fascinating.

Deep Time rocks

In the opposite direction from our temporary home is the bustling metropolis known as Durness.

Durness Visitor Facilities

I was glad to be reminded about Smoo Cave: Liesel and I talked about it a few days ago. I sent a message but Liesel declined the invitation to join me. I passed another lovely beach, but resisted the temptation to go down and investigate. My mind was now focussed on finding a cave.

Sangomore Beach
The sheep that thinks it’s a cat
Durness Millennium Cairn

There’s a lovely garden next to Durness Village Hall. It was put together by 40 local volunteers. One of the highlights is the John Lennon Memorial.

John Lennon Memorial

John used to come to Durness on holiday between the ages of 9 and 16, staying with his aunt, whose grave we saw yesterday, and cousin Stan Parkes. The gorgeous song In My Life is partly inspired by John’s memories of this place, according to Stan.

Durness Village Green

The first sighting of Smoo Cave certainly surprises you, such a deep cleft in the rock. It’s easy to see that the cave may be inundated with sea water from time to time.

Entrance to Smoo Cave

I walked down the steep wooden staircase to sea level and then, looking back, away from the sea, there is the 50-foot high entrance to the cave.

Smoo Cave

We can go on a tour of more chambers in the cave, for a fee, but, because they’re in a cave, they can’t get a phone signal, so electronic payments are out of the question. And, of course, I had no cash on me. Whether Liesel and I come back tomorrow for the tour is to be determined.

One of the illuminated features

The cave has been inhabited in bygone millennia, but I’m sure any artefacts will have been taken away by now, to ensure their security.

I walked back up the 76 steps, which was harder that you’d imagine because the rise for each step is slightly higher than you’d normally expect. I pretended to study the back of thie sign while catching my breath.

Stickers

What’s sad about this is that the stickers we ordered hadn’t come back from the printers by the time we left home. ‘Mick and Liesel’s Antics: NC500 Tour June 2021’ could have been plastered all over Scotland by now. Oh well.

The walk back to our hut was of course much faster, despite the fact that I ended up walking through the caravan park. Here’s another house where the occupants have a strange set of priorities.

Airbnb at its best

I’ve come intae some money, hen, shall I get a new roof and some windaes?

Och, no, I’d rather have a satellite dish.

When I returned home, today’s stage of the Tour de France was about to finish. Somehow, I didn’t nod off until it had finished. No, I waited until Amy Lamé was playing some good tunes from past Glastonbury Festivals!

Here’s another moan from grumpy old Mick. I rarely imbibe soft, fizzy drinks: maybe once a year. Sometimes I’ll have lime and lemonade or maybe shandy in a pub, but that’s pretty rare too. Yet here I am in Scotland and I got the urge to sample the locally produced delicacy Irn Bru. So I put my mask on and entered the local Spar supermarket in Durness. I found bottles of Irn Bru rather than cans, but that’s ok. How much? £1.45 a bottle. How much? £1.45 a bottle. Or two bottles for £1.60. What a rip-off. Irn Bru might be made from girders but I’m not made of money, my internal, parental voice said. So I left the shop without a refreshing beverage and I didn’t buy anything else either. The tap water I drank back at the hut was perfect.

Much ado about nothing much

The last couple of days, I’ve come out of the shower feeling decidedly disoriented. What’s going on? Is there something in the water? Something in the air? It finally clicked.

World Map

This map of the world is totally misleading. It’s on the window blind and it’s a repeating pattern, so that’s bearable, even if we do see Australia north of Siberia. No, what really messes this thing up is… well, look where the equator passes through the Americas. Just wrong. And you can’t avoid looking at it while cleaning your teeth. According to this erroneous cartography, we here in Wick are further north than Anchorage, Alaska, and we know that’s not really true. Not in this universe, anyway. In fact, we later discovered we’re at the same latitude as Juneau.

Musical entertainment while waiting for the rain to ease off a bit before going out was provided by Wythenshawe FM 97.2 for a while, then Guy Garvey’s show from last Sunday on BBC 6 Music. There’s a coffee making machine here, and I couldn’t resist the temptation to have a go. The leaking water hasn’t affected the electric supply so far, and while Liesel’s Americano was bitter, my café au lait was alright. Any bitterness was disguised by the very sweet Edinburgh Rock that I bought yesterday. The sweetest substance in the known universe and my teeth have just gone on strike.

The rain is getting harder, not easing off at all. After consuming a 75g box of ‘A fruity assortment of chopped rock sweets’, I feel full of energy. They’re quite healthy really: 0% fat and 0% salt. But 0% protein and a mere 96.7% carbohydrate, ie sugar. I’ve been challenged to walk/run my 10,000 steps in the house today. Well, as I write, I’m up to 300, time for a sit down, I think. Liesel is crocheting and also looking forlornly out of the window every few minutes.

Our original plan when we knew it was likely to rain all day was to visit the Castle of Mey, mainly because it would be inside. Unfortunately for us, it’s fully booked. Oh well, more plans gang a-gley.

Guy Garvey just played four David Bowie tracks in a row, saying, quite rightly, that it has to be done from time to time. Hunky Dory is 50 years old this year. And it’s still as fresh as the day it was first released.

When it rains…

Well, this positive message on our bedroom wall caught my eye as I jogged around the house. Yes, it’s raining. Not mizzle, this is proper rain, and lots of it. I’ve looked for rainbows as suggested but you need the Sun for those and right now, we have 100% cloud cover, so that’s no good. Sometimes you look out of the window and marvel at the view. Sometimes you don’t.

Nice view

I’ve no idea what this place is, but I just want to go out and paint a mural on that blank canvas. Some mountains or a sea view would be nice. If only I had some artistic skill. Oh, and some paint. But I don’t think we’ll be going out to buy paint any time soon. Time for more steps…

Up to 3176 now. Apparently my perambulation is in the manner of a silly walk. It’s not silly, I’m just taking very small steps so I can fit more into each trek up and down the length of the house. What else did I find on the wall here?

A paddle

Yes, a paddle. Now that tells me we might need a paddle later, if this rain keeps up. In fact, it’s even harder now. I’ve been running around indoors like a BAF, like a numpty, but I haven’t found the boat yet. On the other hand, we can’t even find an oven glove, so they’re probably well hidden in the same place.

Guy Garvey is now playing four songs about rain. Just for us. Even though the show was broadcast four days ago, and recorded four days before that. Specifically for Liesel and Mick anchored down in Wick. And, speaking of anchors:

Anchor

Yes, more evidence that there is a nautical theme to this abode. And what could be more nautical than a boat? Or an ark? I did think about moseying on into John o’Groats to look for my hat, but, well, call me a wimp, I don’t mind a bit of rain, but this is a bit extreme.

In other news, Liesel has decided to walk around after she completes each row of her latest crochet project. I keep looking at the clock and it still says it’s twenty to twelve. Yes, I’m tempted to wind it up but it looks like one of those old-fashioned ones with a really loud tick. Other than the sound of the rain pounding on the roof, we’ve enjoyed the sound of birdsong here, quiet a few house sparrows, plus the odd helicopter flying over.

Liesel’s latest beautiful creation

Has today been a wasted opportunity? No, not really. It’s wonderfully therapeutic to be passing time in a strange house, with no commitments at all. Yes, we would love to have a better view out of at least one of the windows, but we’re warm and dry and content.

A couple of things I forgot to mention over the last few days though. Liesel and I were talking about the fact that we hadn’t seen any rabbits all the time we’ve been in Scotland, not even any droppings in the woods or fields or anywhere. Well, we finally saw a couple of bunnies in John o’Groats in a holiday camp that we drove through by mistake. And if they weren’t cool and cute enough, we also saw some chickens by the side of the road on the way to Duncansby Head. There were a couple of donkeys too, so they may all belong to a petting farm.

I’ve wasted passed a lot of time solving Arrow Sudoku puzzles on my phone. The latest one took me over 66 minutes. So far, I haven’t used the ‘Hints’ option because I want to solve the puzzle myself, but also, when I’ve looked at the Hints in other Sudoku apps, I haven’t really understood them. ‘Obviously this, therefore that…’ Well, it ain’t obvious to me, thank you very much!

Three hours passed in a haze of drugs, alcohol and debauchery. Oops, no, that’s our other blog. No, we read and crocheted and listened to Amy Lamé on 6 Music and it slowly dawned on us that it had, finally, stopped raining. We sent out a pigeon wild rock dove and it came back with an olive branch in its beak, so we knew it was safe to go out.

Castle Sinclair Glenigoe is a short drive from our palace along some dead straight but narrow roads, that could well have been built by the Romans, if they’d ever ventured this far north. Noss Head lighthouse is here too, and we notice that all the lighthouses around here are decorated in the same way: white, black and yellow.

Noss Head Lighthouse

Maybe there was a good deal on those particular paints in the local DIY shop.

The castles, for there are remnants of two different structures, are right on the edge of the precipitous drop into the sea.

Castle Sinclair Glenigoe

There are more sea stacks here too with seabirds who seem to prefer nesting on the far side, facing the sea rather than inland. Maybe they just don’t like people much, either. I imagine they were delicious eating when the castles were occupied.

I couldn’t help but notice the similarity in structure between what’s left of the chimney stack and the sea stack.

A pair of stacks

Given the way the sea stack is being eroded, at the bottom, I don’t think it will be too long before before it crashes down into the sea.

One thing we didn’t expect to see on our walk around these ruins was the skull of a sheep. No idea where the rest of the beast is.

Shaun’s skull

I mentioned the fact that we don’t have a particularly inspiring or exciting view from any of the windows here in our Airbnb in Wick. Well, if you were using the latrines in the castle, this is the awful sight that would greet you.

Not too shabby
Northern marsh orchid

The other exciting place we visited was The Expensive Stinking Corporate Organisation, or Tesco for short. And I was amazed and delighted, not to say overawed to see this exciting new development ‘in-store’ as the marketing people but not real people like to say:

Amazing New Photo Booth

When will boffins stop inventing these amazing new things, eh? But what really irked me at this shoppers’ paradise was the fact that it has a better view than we do at our temporary residence.

The view from a supermarket

When the purchases were placed on the kitchen floor, the bags reminded us of other places that we dream of visiting again one day.

Bags for life aka shopping bags

In order to reach my target step count for the day, I went for a quick walk outside, in what was now quite a strong wind.

Wick John o’Groats Airport

Look at that poor old windsock straining against the wind, holding on for grim death. This airport is a mere 200 metres along the road from our current residence, but other than a couple of helicopters, we’ve not been disturbed by it at all.

I was delighted however to find a boat just round the corner.

Gem

I don’t think we’ll need it now it’s stopped raining, but good to know it’s so close. The bloke it belongs to is at home for a couple of weeks from the oil rigs and he’s looking forward to going fishing.

The ugly place next door whose identity I didn’t know earlier? Well, it’s Nucleus: The Nuclear and Caithness Archives. There are two very different archives here, one ancient and one modern. Because of Covid, it’s currently closed to the public, but I’m sure it’s a fascinating place to explore, especially on a wet day.

It is home to the archives of the UK civil nuclear industry which dates back over seventy years and include plans, drawings, photographs, film, microfiche and documents. Dounreay, the site of the UK’s first fast nuclear reactor, is not too far away, we’ll probably drive close by it.

Nucleus also houses the historical archives of the county of Caithness which date from 1469 to the present day and consist of documents in different formats including charters, minute books, correspondence, maps, photographs and plans. These historic collections are available to members of the public for family and local history research.

Nucleus

For those viewers who are keeping notes, or maybe even a spreadsheet, today’s musical entertainment has been provided by the rest of Amy’s show, which we interrupted when we ventured outside and Jo Whiley on Radio 2. We Got It On with Bryan Burnett on BBC Radio Scotland, he played songs that cheer us up. And finally, we tuned into Claire Benson as she presents her weekly Happy Thursday show on Radio Northenden!

In the end, then, against the odds, we enjoyed a very rewarding day and a total of over 11,000 steps were taken, the most enjoyable ones being out in the fresh air of course.

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.

Memory almost full

In a moment of cynicism as I walked up the road, I mourned the end of Summer when I saw these leaves.

Autumn Colours

Autumnal colours, I thought, how pretty, but so early in the year.

But no, we’re still good, it’s warm and pleasant outside albeit a bit cloudy which, as you’ll see later, was quite useful one day.

The good news is, our car was washed and it passed its MOT. Liesel completed another blanket and you’re thinking, whoa, that was quick, but actually, she was crocheting this one and the previous one more or less in parallel.

Another fabulous crocheted blanket

We’ve both been making plans for the next few weeks so we haven’t been venturing very far from home. My phone has run out of storage, so I spent (far too many) hours moving stuff to its SD card. Let’s hope that stops it nagging. There’s a lot going on in Northenden though, especially on the river.

You have to wade through the water to get there, but it’s less than knee-deep, and unless the water’s flowing really fast, quite safe, I think.

The obligatory dumped car tyre

It takes some effort to place a tyre on this spot. Any normal, decent fly-tipper would just throw it in the river.

Geese and heron cooling off on the weir
Kayak

I’m sure they were having a good time, but they weren’t paddling in sync, and I waited in vain for at least one of them to fall in. Or fall out, depending on your point of view.

Nearby, the golfers were out in force, some more skilled than others, judging by some of the choice language reverberating among the trees.

Playing a round

But none of these players experienced the fate that befell Adam in Australia. He went to retrieve a loose ball from the bushes and was bitten by a snake. Pretty scary, and painful, but it was non-venomous. The photos are too graphic for this site.

On being told that Uncle Adam had been bitten by a snake on a golf course in Australia, Martha announced that she was never going to go to… a golf course.

I never thought I’d encounter a real life Gollum. Most of the fishermen on the Mersey have a rod. Not this chap.

Smeagol, my precious

He was trying to catch the fish with his bare teeth.

Meanwhile, the horses were having a good time on Northenden Village Green.

Neighbourhood horses, geddit?

We wondered whether these were the horses that pull the hearses for the local funeral director. Horses, hearses, that’s poetry right there.

Of course, I don’t visit Northern Den or Boxx 2 Boxx every time I go out, but on one hot day, I opted for the chocolate milkshake.

Chocolate milkshake

The ice in it kept me going all the way to Simon’s Bridge and back which was handy, because I’d forgotten to take a bottle of water. Yep, still not fully adapted to life in hot weather.

Google was kind enough to send me its usual email at the turn of the month, showing me all the exciting places I’ve visited. I thought I’d share it.

Google knows everything but Google knows nothing

Well, I don’t like knocking Google unnecessarily, but, yes, while that was my first visit to Middlewich, I have been to Sale before. Also, Sale and Wythenshawe have very similar looking places of interest.

Another day, another walk, another local eccentric.

Panning for gold

I think this bloke’s panning for gold, but I don’t think he’ll have much luck, this region doesn’t have the correct geological history, as far as I can tell. Now, if he were panning for car tyres, I could have pointed him in the right direction.

The highlight of the week was the opportunity to observe a partial eclipse of the Sun. Naturally, that day, we had 100% cloud cover, but after maximum obscuration, the clouds did thin out a bit.

I thought this would be as good as I could manage…
…but just a few minutes later, the clouds thinned

Then when the clouds totally cleared (briefly) I projected the image in the old-fashioned way.

Projected images are the best

Yes, I know none of those pictures, taken with my phone,  would ever win an astrophotography competition, but I felt quite happy that, despite the clouds, I was able to witness this, albeit unimportant, event.

My radio show this week consisted of a few requests, some songs left over from previous shows plus a few new or re- discoveries. Also, I chatted with Rachel Nicholas, whose new single Sloth was released today. She was also responsible for the Radio Northenden jingles last year, and is an all-round good egg. You can listen to the show here.

My ultimate criterion for whether Summer is truly here has not yet been satisfied. I’ll be more convinced when there are tan lines on my feet, now that I’m wearing sandals most of the time.

Strawberries oceans ships forest

On a scale of one to ten, the weather this week has been turned up to eleven. It’s been bright and sunny, with blue skies, a few fluffy clouds, it’s been warm, it’s been Spring-like. At last. Well worth waiting for. We love a bit of sunshine, it’s been a long time coming, after the long remix of Winter that didn’t want to leave us.

We watched the end of the bike race on TV. I know, I know, gorgeous weather outside and we’re still indoors watching TV. But it was the end of this year’s Giro d’Italia, won by Egan Bernal (from Colombia) riding for the British team Ineos Grenadiers, hooray, proud to be British. It was a fascinating race and we saw a lot of the Italian countryside. In the Sun.

Cold
Brr that looks chilly, picture from TV

Mostly. High in the mountains, in ski country, the snow was still literally feet deep.

Deep snow (picture from TV)

We kept looking out of the window, just to make sure our sunshine was still there. Sorry to go on about the weather but it was  welcomed by everyone. Yes of course, some folks are already saying that it’s ‘too hot’ and I’m sure I’ll be guilty of that too eventually, but for now, I’m going to lap up every British thermal unit of heat I can.

So where was our first excursion in the sunshine? Oh, just local. Two bags of litter picked and some happy memories rekindled. I haven’t seen one of these for years, decades probably.

Golden Wonder

Golden Wonder crisps. Nowadays for us it’s all about Tyrrells low- or no-salt. But I wonder how long that packet’s been lurking in the bushes? I did enjoy Golden Wonder sausage and tomato flavour crisps in the late ’70s, but I suspect I’d find them far too salty now.

Fallen branch

I hope this branch was blown off in the last of the strong winds and wasn’t pulled off by our local heavy monkeys swinging from it. But look how bright everything is, and how sharp the shadows. Sorry to keep going on about the sunshine, but it really has been magnificent this week.

Boxx 2 Boxx provided the musical entertainment on bank holiday Monday, thanks to Angie, playing saxophone along to a backing track.

Angie sax

The coffee shop was the most busy I’ve ever seen it, all us pasty white locals taking full advantage of the opportunity. I think we just don’t believe the warm weather is going to last.

The best day of the week was spent at the seaside. We left very early to go to Formby, where we spent the day with William and Martha and Jenny and Liam. The tide was at its lowest, and way over there, we could see the wrecks of some ships that had apparently been scuttled during the second world war.

Wind turbines and ships in the ocean

The beach is flat, so at low tide, the sea is a long way away. As you walk towards it, you have to wade through a couple of dips in the sand. Well, I say sand, but in places, it’s proper mud, as William discovered.

William’s new socks

The children had a ball, we all did, really. We did comment on how popular the place was today. I think Liesel and I are just so used to having the vast expanse pretty much to ourselves.

William and Martha
Four go mad in the sea

Somehow William had learnt that you can wee in the sea. So he decided to save it. But in the end, he had to go at home before they left. It’s good that he’s now aware of such things. But as a grandad stripped from childminding duties because of the pandemic, I feel a slight loss that I won’t need to change his nappies any more. That’s progress, I suppose. Anyway, to celebrate William’s restraint, June 8th has been decreed World Ocean Day.

Selfie of the day
Martha, super sand castle constructor

We ate our picnic lunch on the beach, and as I always say, you can never go hungry on the beach. Why’s that? Because of all the sand which is there. I think I read that joke in a comic about 100 years ago, and it still makes me chuckle, even when it leaves everyone else cold.

For the second week in a row, our grocery order came with the reddest, sweetest, juiciest strawberries you could wish for. They disappear too fast for a family photo, so here are the last two survivors this week.

Strawberries

And while we’re contemplating bright colours, here’s the blanket that Liesel completed this week, a labour of love, a million crochet stitches and if she were being paid even at minimum wage, Liesel would now be a millionaire.

Liesel’s lovely warm crochet blanket

What else have we been up to? Indoors, we’re watching the Danish TV series The Killing and we’re nearly at the end of the third and final series, so please don’t send any spoilers. We watched Jessica Lee Morgan not once, but twice: her own weekly show on Tuesday (subscribe here) and she also replicated her mother, Mary Hopkin’s, show from The Royal Festival Hall, 1972, a concert that of course I wish I’d been to.

And for the first time in ages, we got tickets from the BBC, to watch, online, a recording of an episode of I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue. Via the medium of some magic software, they recorded our reactions, clapping, laughter, whoops, wolf whistles for Samantha and it was a very funny show. They asked us not to take pictures or record the show.

I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue

Oops.

I’d love to relate some of the gags but, no spoilers here. The new series begins on June 14th, Radio 4 at 6.30, and our episode will be broadcast on July 12th.

I think I spent more time than usual this week preparing my radio show, mainly editing my chat with Tom Hingley from last week and then finding the music, most of which of course was not in our collection. Anyway, it went OK (mostly) and you can hear the result here.

Alternatively, if you’re in or near Wythenshawe on Wednesday, tune into Wythenshawe Radio, WFM 97.2 at 7pm for a (slightly edited) repeat. Or listen via TuneIn.