In the Wet

Art for art’s sake

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

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

Overgrown river bank

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

They’re easy to come by

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

Oma’s brownies

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

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

Neighbour

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

Martha on the motorway

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

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

William waving at the waves

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

Water lot of fun

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

William in the hole

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

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

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

William v Detectorist
Selfie of the day

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

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

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

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

Horse riders

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

Doyouthinkhesaurus?

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

Another dino

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

I guessed A Dinosow

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

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

Exercise is good

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

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

Messing about on the Mersey

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

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

Blackberries

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

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

Future BMX champ

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

On the Beach

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

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

More doors

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

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

Transit

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

St Hilda and St Aidan

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

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

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

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

Bathing cap
Sea urchin
Beach ball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ducks

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

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

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

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

Deers and beers

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

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

Beware of the bull

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

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

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

Happy face

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

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

Houseboat

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

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

Old school

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

Hello my deer
Hello my beer

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

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

Thanks to the ladies of the WI for these pictures

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

Bindweed

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

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

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

A swarm of something
The heron

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

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

Single file

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

A miracle

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

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

Some colours

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

Quiet on set

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

Three-part sundial

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

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

More deer
Home, home on the range

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

Cattle: some roaming free, some shrink-wrapped

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

Exciting new episode of The Bill?

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

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

Wythenshawe Park > Jurassic Park

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

Who needs steps?
Bentch

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

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

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

Marcus Rashford MBE

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

Some of the fantastic messages

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

Selfie of the day

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

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

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

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

Bug bites and batteries

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

Wythenshawe Park

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

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

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

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

Rhubarb
Poppies
Selfie of the day

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

Japanese Garden
Liesel the fountain

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

Frog

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

Nescio quid hic flos est

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

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

Jessica Lee Morgan and Christian Thomas

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

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

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

Oxford Circus

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

Upstaged

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

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

Mick, Jessica, Chris

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

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

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

Parsonage Gardens

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

Ducks

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

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

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

Fort William and Ben Nevis

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

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

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

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

Not the Olgas

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

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

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

Tunnels

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

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

Bridge to Skye

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

Too narrow

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

Looking over towards the mainland
Selfie of the day

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

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

The Viaduct behind the trees

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

Expelliarmus

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

You lucky people, another selfie

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

Glenfinnan Viaduct

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

Glenfinnan Monument
Prince Charles Edward
The ’45 Jacobite Rebellion

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

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

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

Everything Nevis

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

West Highland Way

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

The entrance to Glen Nevis

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

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

Curling Stone Henge
Mick of the stones

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

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

Old postman’s bike

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

The foothills of Ben Nevis

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

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

Water lilies

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

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

Oystercatcher

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

Garden dedicated to NHS workers

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

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

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

The Piper

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

Bronze Model T Ford

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

Flowers of Scotland (again)

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

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

Ullapool to Rua Reidh Lighthouse

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

Gull-lets

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

Trees
Memorial bench

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

Sheer wall

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

Suspension Bridge
The waterfall
Bridge and waterfall

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

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

Mountain mist

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

Summer Isles (we think)

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

Butterfly

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

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

South Africa

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

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

Encroaching on the path
Walled Garden
Rhododendron barbatum

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

Pretty in pink

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

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

Suitable for vegetarians

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

Birdies

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

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

Gairloch beach
Crab

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

Gairloch Beach

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

What a sight

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

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

Rua Reidh Lighthouse

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

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

The Lighthouse

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

An hour before sunset

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

The clouds, the clouds

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

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

The lights work

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

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

Mollachin aboot

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

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

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

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

Books

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

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

Jonathan Livingston Seagull and babies

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

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

Ullapool Outdoors

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

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

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

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

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

Requirement’s

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

Garden in a boat

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

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

The sea starts here

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

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

Irn Bru

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

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

Tiny dancers

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

Life’s a beach

You can’t have a proper holiday without spending a day on the beach. And despite being in the far north of Scotland, that’s exactly what we did today.

I knew the day would be a good’un when Liesel brought me a cup of tea in bed. Followed by toast. The view from our bed is pretty good, so we just sat there and admired it for a couple of hours.

When we finally got up and set off for a walk, of course we went the wrong way. Well, it’s a 50-50 chance. Daisy soon put us right. She looks a bit full, but Liesel declined the offer of a drink of fresh milk.

Udderly full of creamy goodness

We passed by a pretty loch: in fact, there are at least a couple nearby.

Loch Croispol

Past the craft village, past an old church and we found Balnakeil Beach. The wind had really calmed down since yesterday, and there were very few other people on the beach. Just the way we like it.

Balnakeil Beach

What a lovely expanse of sand to walk along. The sand dunes are a Sight of Special Scientific Interest so we’re asked not to walk on them. We thought this might be due to the presence of nesting birds, but other than a few ordinary gulls (no offence, ordinary gulls), we didn’t see anything of unusual ornithological interest today.

We had several attempts at taking a selfie with a decent background. This is the least worst.

Selfie of the day

Halfway along the beach, there’s a rocky outcrop. I investigated, with a view to maybe clambering over to the other half of the beach. This proved too difficult. I could have walked around it, but the tide was too high. So I walked back and around: the long, sensible route that Liesel had taken and I caught up with her having a sit down on a nice grass tussock.

There were lots of little beetles scurrying about on the sand. There are 400,000 species of beetle but I couldn’t quite put my finger on which one this is.

John, Paul, George or Ringo?
Another one

Actually, there was a flock of small birds out on the water, too far away to be able to identify, but some kind of marine duck. They were happy diving but then after a while, we realised they’d disappeared.

The texture of the sand varied. Soft and dry in some places, fairly solid sometimes, and occasionally soft and squidgy, we were leaving quite deep footprints. The sea was very calm today, and as it was unexpectedly warm, I wish I’d brought my swimwear. But until very recently, I never even thought about a sandy beach on the north coast of Scotland, never mind entering the cold Atlantic waters.

We sat down for a while and watched the people. by which I mean the two other people who arrived just as we sat down. They drew a picture in the sand so of course, when they’d wandered off to the other end of the beach, I had to enhance their artwork. After which, we beat a hasty retreat.

A beach with a view

It’s the first day of the Tour de France so while on the beach, we watched it on my phone for a few minutes. What amazing technology, and really unexpected to have such a good 4G signal on the beach a couple of miles from the small town of Durness. You’re using up your 4G data allowance on watching TV, Mick? Yes, I know, strange huh? It’s a long story but I had to guess how much data I’d need for a couple of weeks here, knowing we’d be on Google Maps quite a lot. My previous allowance ran out on our first day here, so I just bought a reasonably big package. 80 GB since you ask. For a month. A week later and I only have 77.97 GB left. So squandering it by watching TV is not likely to cause problems later on!

We walked back along the beach, which was now becoming more busy. Nothing like Formby on a hot day, of course. We had a quick look at the old Balnakeil Church and its graveyard.

Balnakeil Church

I am indebted to Captain Mackay John Scobie whose tomb I sat on while shaking the last of the sand from my shoes. He worked for the so-called Honourable East India Company and died nearby in Keoldale aged just 44 in 1818. Also here is the grave of Elizabeth Parkes, aunt of the famous Beatle John Lennon, according to the information panels.

And as if the day couldn’t get any better, our walk back home took us past the craft village and, oh dearie me, Cocoa Mountain. We enjoyed a coffee here plus some of their fine chocolate.

Neither of us wanted to spend a lot of time looking at all the arty crafty places in the village, but we did venture into Mudness, where Martina MacLeod has been producing ceramics since 1991. Liesel came away with a yarn bowl and a small puffin.

Back at our hut, we watched the rest of the day’s live coverage of the Tour de France on TV, not at all enjoying the two big crashes. Poor old Chris Froome always seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But it’s great to see Mark Cavendish back at the Tour.

I completed another really difficult Arrow Sudoku puzzle. This one took 75 minutes, a record that I’m not proud of, but I am proud that I solved it at all, in the end. We watched the bunnies, we listened to Classic FM, thanks Moira Stuart and Andrew Collins. Liesel’s crocheting project continues, but I do miss the clicketty-clack of knitting needles!

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.

At the Speed of Sound

Our first day out this week was a return visit to Dunham Massey. It was cloudy but it wasn’t supposed to rain until well after the end of our nice long walk. We wandered around the garden, no longer having to follow a one-way system. Yes, another tangible sign that things are opening up. We still tried not to get too close to other people, but it was very pleasant. And it was interesting to see plants that we’ve not been able to view for a long time.

Purple fircones (not to be confused with the 1970s prog rock group)

I wish I knew what this thing is, with its purple fircones. One day I’ll go back through this blog and insert all the proper names of plants and birds but don’t hold your breath.

Silver birches

These birch trees make us both happy, they always remind me of those paintings by Teri Lindseth that we saw in Anchorage. That was a long two and a half years ago now: I had to check my sums there. But what was nice too was hearing the birds singing their little hearts out.

Where’s Liesel?

The rhododendrons are blooming brilliant, and this one has a strange rose in its midst.

We decided to have a coffee before setting off for another jaunt, this time through the deer park. I don’t know what possessed me but I picked up a Mars bar to have with my coffee. Definitely a spur-of-the-moment, impulse buy. Apart from the small bitesize ones you get in a box of Celebrations, I haven’t eaten a Mars bar for several years. Today, I was reminded exactly why this is the case. Far too sweet and sickly and gooey, I could feel the caramel and nougat dissolving the enamel from my teeth. It made my cheek muscles ache. Luckily, the coffee washed away most of the sugar and I came home with pretty much the full set of gnashers. But, lesson learnt, stay away from Mars bars. Such a shame, because I have happy memories of Dad bringing them home from work, for my sister and me, on a Thursday evening along with the latest edition of Radio Times. Those were the days.

We watched some deer in the deer park, but I missed a great photo opp of one on its back legs reaching up to a nice juicy leafy tree.

Deer, deer

In fact, there was quite a lot of wildlife: deer, squirrels, Canada geese, ducks, moorhens, humans and dogs. So a cacophony of quacks, honks, barks and complaints about the state of everything.

It slowly got darker and darker, then we felt the first few spots of rain. It won’t last, we told ourselves. But it did. And as we were at the furthest point along the path, the rain became torrential. It even hailed for a couple of minutes.

Rain on the water (fire in the sky?)

My waterproof anorak isn’t as waterproof as I thought, but this was its toughest test to date. Liesel’s umbrella did the job though. Two very wet people sat in the car for a few minutes before setting off home. It had been raining hard for maybe half an hour or so, but already, the roads were flooded. We drove through several puddles and would have drenched any passing pedestrians if we’d encountered any.

The splash of water

There’s a nice picture of a water splash, including the bonus reflection of one of my knobbly knees.

And then, just ten minutes down the road, nothing. It hadn’t been raining here at all, we realised. Definitely a case of unfortunately being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I usually have cereal for breakfast, sometimes toast and occasionally both. Many years ago, Liesel couldn’t stand the smell of fried eggs. Now, she is kind enough to fry me a couple of eggs every now and then. Anyway, on this fateful day, I began salivating as I poured out some muesli into the bowl, added a Weetabix and then topped it all off with a couple of handfuls of Shreddies. I poured on the milk, and sat down in my usual spot on the sofa to enjoy my breakfast while watching a recording of the previous day’s stage of the Giro d’Italia. The first spoonful had barely entered the orifice before it was violently expelled across the room. The milk was off. Sour. Putrid. Vile. What’s the ‘best before’ date? Well, today. How did it know that today was the day to turn rancid? And why didn’t the smell warn me? And why were there no giveaway globules of fat floating around? Disbloomingusting. To take the taste away required black tea and toothpaste and I was tempted to gnaw on a raw onion. Yuck, yuck and thrice yuck. In unrelated news, if you need someone to provide a pebbledashing service, I am waiting for your call. Small projects only.

A quick walk around the streets of Northenden and we saw our old friend lurking.

Where’s the heron?

It’s good to see the playground full of little children again, squealing, screaming and laughing, it’s been a while. One day, we’ll be in there having a good time with our William and Martha.

Our second proper day out this week, to a place beyond Northenden, was a return visit to Lyme Park. I may have been overdoing it by very nearly walking 10,000 steps most days, but my old body wasn’t having it on this occasion. From the car park, there’s a slope to walk up to reach the house and the gardens. At the top, I had to stop to catch my breath. My heart rate was 105 according to the app. I thought my breathlessness issue had pretty much gone away, but no, like a really bad, annoying penny, it came right back to remind me who’s boss. Sometimes I wish I smoked 50 fags a day just so that I’d have something to give up.

Anyway, I recovered, and we walked around the gardens, but not the long route around the park which I’d mentally set myself up for. Oh well. At least we didn’t get rained on today.

There’s a nice Italianate garden here and lots of rhododendron bushes in flower, but one thing that caught our attention was this holly bush growing out of a crack in a brick wall.

Holly

There are many more goslings here than during our previous visit, and most of them look pretty healthy, but there was one poor wee chap who toppled over after every few steps taken.

I stood still near the bird feeder in vain for far too long, waiting for the coal (or great?) tit to return. I even hid behind a tree watching through my phone. But Liesel thinks my bright blue t-shirt might have been a deterrent.

We’ve notice several piles of dead trees around Lyme Park, but we don’t know why. Has there been some fatal disease? Or is this part of the general management of the park? There were quite a few gardeners around today, but we didn’t want to approach any of them to ask. A sign I suppose that even though we’ve been inoculated, we’re not 100% comfortable with too much social non-distancing.

Our third day out this week (yes, third, how exciting!) was to Sale Water Park where we met Jenny and William. He scooted (scootered?) all the way around the lake, a distance of 2.1 miles according to my pedometer.

William the scooterer
Danger overhead fishing lines

There were quite a few people fishing here, away from the power cables. A few had big tents to hide in while their three rods did all the hard work for them. But the thought of eating fish from this particular body of water (if I ate fish at all) was not appealing.

Squirrel in a bin

We were all amused by seeing this squirrel in the bin, but we couldn’t understand why somebody would want to throw it away.

Jenny asked William what this structure was…

Pylon

Surely he doesn’t know the word ‘pylon’, does he? No. ‘It’s an Eiffel Tower’. His teachers are going to love him when he starts school!

He wore his helmet while scootering (scooting?) so when he took it off, his hair was a bit of a mess. Which he laughed at when he saw his reflection in the water.

William and Mummy

Today it was Jenny’s birthday, so we gave her something nice, which she unwrapped so that William could see, but he’s not interested in gin at the moment, maybe it was too early in the day. We gathered up everyone we could find in the park, and we gave Jenny a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday.

Martha was at school today but we hope to catch up with her at some point during the two-week long half-term holiday. Two weeks? It’s a northern thing, apparently.

In the evening we went out. Out out. To a proper place for a proper live music event. Our first gig since before the first lockdown. We were in a marquee at The Kings Lock in Middlewich to see Tom Hingley. While there, I interviewed him for my radio show. He was very generous with his time, and I hope I can use some of it on the show. We were seated right by the canal, with running water, and a busy road just the other side, so I hope the background noise wasn’t too bad: all I had to record on was my phone. Still, what a top bloke.

Tom Hingley

The marquee was as covid-safe as they could manage, fairly well ventilated, although the stench of cigarette smoke did waft in occasionally. Each party was seated at a table and a young lady came round every now and then to take our bar orders, which were then delivered.

The first song Tom performed was Saturn 5 which, by coincidence, was the final song that I’d played during my radio show today. Ooh my radio show. What was the theme this week? Well, I celebrated the return of Live Music, something we’ve missed quite a lot. I may have mentioned that before, actually. So this week, I played tracks from some of my favourite live albums, from concerts that I’d been to and from some that I wish I’d witnessed. You can listen back here. Just remember to pre-order your drinks, and don’t forget to chat to your friends all the way through (oops, sorry, I wasn’t going to whinge about anything this week).