Manchester by bus

The weather is very changeable here in Manchester, I may have mentioned this before. This week, we’ve experienced at least two seasons. A couple of days of Summery heat, a nice dose of apricity (a nice word, that) and very welcome. On the other hand, one day, the cold, strong wind, seemingly fresh from Siberia, made for an unexpectedly unpleasant walk. Yes, I could have put on more and warmer clothes, but as I said, the ferocity of the gale was a big surprise. Never mind the weather: as a Brit, I could whinge about it for several hours.

It’s been a while, but after acquiring some new bags, we collected some litter from our local streets. There should be a law against driving over discarded drinks cans because the flattened items are so much harder to pick up with the bespoke litter-picker-upper. But then, I could whinge about the amount of littering for several hours too. Well, it makes a change from moaning about the weather.

We had a coffee break at Boxx2Boxx and that was nice, sitting outside in the Sun. Now if only they’d ban traffic from Palatine Road, it would be even more quiet and pleasant, but that will never happen. Yes, I could whinge about the amount of traffic until the cows come home. In fact, there are so many cars around here, they don’t all fit on the roads, they have to park on the pavements.

We paid a visit to Manchester and we chose to go in by bus. The first bus we’ve been on here, I think, since before the first lockdown. Most of the windows were open, but somebody had managed to close one of the windows that was fitted with a device to prevent it from being closed. It was a long ride into Manchester, over half an hour to travel just six miles or so. We agreed that there should be a fast, non-stopping bus service from outside our front door to the big city. But then, I guess that’s what Uber is for. Could I whinge more about the local bus services? Yep, I sure could.

Unfortunately, we chose a day right in the middle of the Conservative Party Conference, so we witnessed hundreds of police officers from several police forces keeping us all safe from the politicians in the city centre. St Peter’s Square was the venue for several protest groups, but we fought our way through into the Central Library.

Gandhi

Liesel was looking at some specific books, so I wandered around and amongst other things, came across this bust of Mahatma Gandhi. There are hidden, secret passageways in this library: it seems I find something new every time I visit. In 1980, Manchester became Britain’s first nuclear free zone.

Nuclear free Manchester

In the music department, I resisted the temptation to play the piano and to play on the drumkit. One thing that did surprise me was the number of books about David Bowie.

Where the books were found by the golden ones

My plan now is to write a book about David Bowie, and for a title, I can just pick one of his song titles. There can’t be much left to say about him, surely? It’s bad enough that some people play one of his records on each and every single radio show they cobble together. Ahem.

I mentioned the less than ideal bus service before, but very soon, Manchester’s public transport system will be improved. We look forward to the full implementation of The Bee Network, fully integrated mass transportation, and this includes facilities for cyclists and pedestrians.

The Bee Network bus

There is a shortage of lorry drivers and of slaughterhouse workers in the UK right now, so farmers are having to cull 150,000 pigs. What a waste. There was a protest outside the library against this, of course.

Don’t burn the pigs

We walked to a place called The Green Lab for lunch, but I was disappointed that there wasn’t a big green dog sitting outside. It’s a popular place, we were lucky to get seats, really. Another group of people were observed walking towards the library, carrying the Roma flag I think, blue and green with a red wheel. Amongst the delegation was a unicorn with his own security detail.

A rare Manc unicorn

Our first day out in Manchester concluded nicely when we passed these buskers, singing the songs of Bob Marley and doing a very good job.

Buskers

The exciting news this week is that we are resuming our childminding duties. We picked Martha and William up from school one day, so that Jenny could show us where to go. And on Thursday, we collected them both and brought them home to ours for a few hours.

It’ll take a while to get back into the swing of things of course, as they are both very tired at the end of an arduous schoolday.

William earning his snack
Martha fighting a biscuit packet

We’ll get the balance right between satisfying their desire for post-school snacks and not filling them up before dinnertime. We shovelled the coal out of the tub again so that they could have a soak and a play in the bath together and afterwards, we watched something on TV. William knew what he wanted, and our TV setup is different to theirs at home, but he still took charge of the remote control.

Jenny and Liam arrived and we all ate together. Liesel went out to her WI Knitting Group meeting and missed Martha and William getting ready for bed. What an absolute pleasure to spend time with these delightful little people.

Again, my plan was to walk to the well-being walk in Wythenshawe, but once again, I left home too late. Having taken the plunge a few days earlier, I cheated and caught the bus to about the halfway point.

Red and blue

This was a nice, bright day, and I did like the look of the red and the blue here.

We walked through Painswick Park again and back to the main offices of Thrive Manchester. After which I walked all the way home. I’m not one to whinge, as you know, but the weather forecast is not looking good for the next week

The theme for the Radio Northenden show this week was Days. Listen here. And yes, it includes a David Bowie track, something from my Mum and Dad’s record collection as well as Sounds of the ’20s: that is, a song from the 1920s and a brand new release by a (fairly) local artist. Listen back here (in case you missed the link the first time)!

Morecambe and whys

It’s been a long time coming, nearly two years, but we’ve been to our first gig indoors, in an actual indoor venue. And it was fab.

The original plan was to spend the day in Morecambe and then attend the concert in the evening. At one point, we even thought about spending the night, but in the end, we chose not to. To even be having discussions like this is a great step forward as we slowly get back to normal. Why? Because the pandemic and restrictions imposed have drastically affected our way of life.

The weather on Saturday morning was miserable, making a day at the seaside much less attractive. The drive was uneventful, and we parked close to the venue, More Music. Why? So that we could make a quick getaway after the show, without having to wander around a strange town in the dark. It looked a bit run down to be honest, but we knew we were at the right place when we saw this poster.

More Music Gigs

And by now, you might have worked out who we were going to see this evening.

We enjoyed a walk along the sea front, but I was surprised that there wasn’t much of the expected sandy beach. We walked along as far as the Eric Morecambe memorial statue and guess who we bumped in to? Jessica and Christian had also made the pilgrimage, and of course, we all had to pose with Eric. Why? Because he and his partner were the best of Saturday night TV entertainment in the ’70s and, as Jessica said, he’d brought us sunshine today.

Eric Morecambe and Jessica Lee Morgan
Liesel, Eric and Mick

While Jess and Chris wandered off for an ice cream, we continued our exploration of this strange little seaside town. Some of the sights weren’t very nice: the bloke sitting immobile on the pavement for instance. We later learned that he was probably under the influence of ‘spice’, a new (to us) recreational drug. Some of the shops could do with a lick of paint too. Comparing this town with the relatively well-kept splendour of London is obviously unfair, a tangible sign of the north-south divide.

We were impressed by the flood defences all along the front, though, with a nice wide promenade for pedestrians and cyclists and scooterists and skateboarders. Why? Flood defences were beached here in 1977 causing extensive damage to property. The West End Pier was lost, the remains being removed the following year.

Flood defence

There were a few people on the beach, soaking up the Sun. Yes, by now it had warmed up nicely, and the rain had moved away. The mudflats extend for miles, not somewhere we felt like exploring today.

Nice view
Cormorant

They do like their bird sculptures here, fulmars, cormorants, maybe even pelicans. But other than common or garden gulls, I don’t think we saw any living seabirds. Those sitting on the water just floating by gave an indication of how strong the current was.

We walked along the pier, where someone was flying his drone. I gurned at it, just in case it was filming us. Why? Well, why not? Another bloke at end of pier was loudly regaling us with his drone stories. He’d gone out for a bike ride with some friends in order to fly his drone over the farms. The day started off badly when he didn’t open the garage door far enough and it came down with some force on his head. While flying his drone, a farmer came running out after him, shouting and hollering. He was complaining because some people use drones to photograph what farm equipment is left out and can therefore be stolen easily. Our friend here was totally innocent of course: my drone doesn’t even have a camera. The farmer promised he’d shoot it down if he ever saw that drone again. If he had a shotgun.

Our story-teller here had a bad experience with a glider once too. On its maiden flight, it nose-dived somewhere, never to be seen again.

Well, that was plenty of entertainment for the day, you’d think. But no. A woman was on the phone:
Were you bulk buying?
Did you get rid of that toilet paper you got last time?

That was probably referring to the current petrol shortage here, and the queues of cars at the forecourts. We filled up successfully, but that was because we needed fuel if we were to be able drive all the way home from Morecambe at the end of the day. Why? Because, as I said, we thought about staying the night and decided not to, weren’t you paying attention?

The pier itself can keep you entertained. There’s a maze and a hopscotch pitch as well as some jokes.

Maze on the pier

On what side does a lapwing have most feathers?
On the outside.

We dined at Morecambe Tandoori, which seems very popular with the locals. Why? Our first choice of pizzas didn’t work out, but really, we weren’t that fussy. With some time to kill before the show, I went for another quick walk, really just an excuse to eat my daily apple. West End Gardens is a nice place to explore. Some sculptures depicting the ancient four elements certainly draw the eye.

Stainless steel trumpets

“It was decided … to connect Wind with Sound and to make a sculpture inspired by the ancient aeolian instruments, where wind creates random changing sounds. As we began to explore ways of making this happen, the design developed into the form of seven stainless steel trumpets of varying heights, shapes and angles standing like sea horns proudly calling out in all directions. The 4m high, stainless steel sculpture has wires set in the trumpet spun cavity allowing them to resonates when the wind passes over them.”

Rock seat

“It was decided that the Element Earth should take the form of Rock and relate directly to the geology of Morecambe. This evolved into a ‘rock’ seat, a unique sculptural bench using found glacial stones. Six different shaped stones were split in half and and their top face polished. These were set into a curved section of Corten steel. The effect was a very unique looking seat 3m in length with six obvious seating points.”

And to think, when I first saw this, I just thought what a clever, different, park bench.

If you think I’ve undersold Morecambe, well, this mural should convince you to go for a week or two of its bracing sea air.

A bay of big skies and shifting tides

We joined the queue at the venue, and when we took our seats, by a table, in front of the stage we noticed that I was not the oldest person there, and Liesel was not the youngest. Each table had two or three chairs, and were quite apart from each other. It was organised to be as Covid safe as possible. I made my bottle of ginger beer last all night: no need to be walking about more than necessary.

Jessica and Christian came on first for a wonderful set, all their own songs, including a couple in which we, the audience, were invited to sing along. I caught myself singing along to most songs, but not too loudly, I hope.

Robyn Hitchcock was as entertaining as always: The Cheese Alarm again reminding me that there aren’t enough pop songs about cheese. Sadly, he didn’t perform No, I Don’t Remember Guildford, but maybe he remembers the time he sang that song in a radio studio with me sitting behind, breathing down his neck.

Christian, Robyn, Jessica

Because we were so close to the stage, it was difficult to get a good photo, so this will have to do. All three performed Robyn’s Brenda’s Iron Sledge together, a song I would like to join in with but not knowing the lyrics is a bit of a handicap. Don’t call him Reg. Why? It’s not his name.

What a great experience. Covid’s always at the back of our minds of course, but we felt safe tonight and enjoyed a terrific few hours of live music.

Late to bed, late to rise, of course. West Didsbury Makers’ Market takes place once a month on a Sunday, so we walked over to see what was going on. It was a pleasant walk along the river and to the market, which was very popular, much busier than I’d expected. Lots of craft stalls, but plenty of food too. The scones were huge and very tasty.

Liesel picked something up from Lakeland, the shop that is, not the gorgeous geographical region, after which we went to Quarry Bank Mill for a quick walk. Autumn is here so we expect to see some colour, but it was fascinating to see so many different colours here today.

All the colours of the rainbow

We enjoyed more wandering around our local streets, despite the weather. After the storm, I looked for and found a rainbow, hiding between the houses.

An actual rainbow

It wasn’t really a storm on this occasion, just a bit of rain.

I haven’t been to a proper Macmillan Coffee Morning for a while, but I made up for it this year. The venue was Boxx2 Boxx and they were very busy on this occasion, good to see. Why? Well, I’ll always support Macmillan Care since they looked after my Mum all those years ago.

What a tasty treat

Liesel and I joined the well-being walk at Wythenshawe this week too. I thought about walking all the way there and back, as well as doing the walk itself. Driving all the way again to do a walk, like I did last week, felt wrong. So we compromised, drove halfway and then walked the rest.

Oof…

I have no idea how somebody can build up enough speed in the short distance from the car park to cause this much damage.

We walked to the Lifestyle Centre, joined Chantel and a few others for a walk around Painswick Park and beyond.

Painswick Park

Yes, of course I was tempted to have a go on this zipwire, but it’s probably for children, and I didn’t want to lag too far behind the group. Why? I don’t know, maybe I just didn’t want to get left behind or maybe I didn’t want to risk breaking the equipment or more likely, I was pretending to be grown up.

Zipwire

I had a couple of nasty technical issues this week that caused a few moments of panic. Acast, the app through which I listen to many podcasts, forgot all my subscriptions. It acted like I’d only just signed up. And the one podcast it claimed to know about wouldn’t play anyway. It looked like I’d have to re-subscribe to everything. And how can I possibly remember them all? In the end, I thought I had nothing to lose, maybe it’s just a stack overflow or something stupid, so I did a Force Stop on the app, and that fixed it. In other words: turn it off and turn it on again. There’s a tip for you.

The other one was when my PC forgot how to use its ethernet connection. It’s happened before, and it’s been resolved, but I’ve never found out why it’s gone wrong and why, seemingly, just as spontaneously, it’s started working again. So this week, I had to do the radio show via wifi, having turned off all the other wifi-connected devices. It seems to have worked.

The show itself was about Manchester. Why? Well, it only seems fair after the London-themed show last week. You can catch up here, if you missed it.

This is the first post in a somewhat cooler, damper, Autumnal October. When it was dreich and drizzly the other day, I wanted to go to bed and set the alarm for May. Why all the stupid questions? Purely so that the pun that comprises the title makes sense. As much as anything does in this neck of the woods. 

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!

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.

Home and Away

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

Thistle of Scotland

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

High lands
Mountains through the trees

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

Glen Coe
Old road in the Glen

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

Fishing in Loch Lomond

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

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

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

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

Welcome to England

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

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

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

The Mersey

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

Our return to Kenworthy Lane Woods was revealing too.

Thistle of Northenden

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

Fort William and Ben Nevis

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

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

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

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

Not the Olgas

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

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

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

Tunnels

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

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

Bridge to Skye

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

Too narrow

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

Looking over towards the mainland
Selfie of the day

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

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

The Viaduct behind the trees

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

Expelliarmus

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

You lucky people, another selfie

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

Glenfinnan Viaduct

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

Glenfinnan Monument
Prince Charles Edward
The ’45 Jacobite Rebellion

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

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

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

Everything Nevis

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

West Highland Way

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

The entrance to Glen Nevis

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

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

Curling Stone Henge
Mick of the stones

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

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

Old postman’s bike

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

The foothills of Ben Nevis

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

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

Water lilies

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

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

Oystercatcher

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

Garden dedicated to NHS workers

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

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

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

The Piper

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

Bronze Model T Ford

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

Flowers of Scotland (again)

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

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

Flowerdale Waterfall and Camus Mor

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

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

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

Living on the edge

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

Play Misty for me
Gairloch Harbour

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

See what condition my condition is in

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

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

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

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

Is this it?

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

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

Flowerdale Waterfall

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

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

Butterfly

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

Selfie of the day

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

Another garish Gairloch sign

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

Paddle boarder

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

Baa-ssing Place
Narrow bridge
Look out for bears

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

Sloping rocks

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

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

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

Tap water

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

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

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

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

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

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

Selfie of the day

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

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

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

Blue sea

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

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

A little loch-ette

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

Turquoise sea

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

Stack

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

Lichen

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

Flowers of Scotland
The beach

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

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

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

Otter

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

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

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

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

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

Sheep

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

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

Ullapool to Rua Reidh Lighthouse

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

Gull-lets

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

Trees
Memorial bench

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

Sheer wall

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

Suspension Bridge
The waterfall
Bridge and waterfall

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

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

Mountain mist

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

Summer Isles (we think)

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

Butterfly

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

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

South Africa

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

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

Encroaching on the path
Walled Garden
Rhododendron barbatum

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

Pretty in pink

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

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

Suitable for vegetarians

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

Birdies

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

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

Gairloch beach
Crab

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

Gairloch Beach

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

What a sight

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

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

Rua Reidh Lighthouse

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

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

The Lighthouse

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

An hour before sunset

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

The clouds, the clouds

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

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

The lights work

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

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

Mollachin aboot

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

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

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

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

Books

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

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

Jonathan Livingston Seagull and babies

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

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

Ullapool Outdoors

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

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

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

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

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

Requirement’s

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

Garden in a boat

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

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

The sea starts here

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

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

Irn Bru

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

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

Tiny dancers

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