Day 368 Experiencing Cowes Week

Sunday 7 August 2016

East Cowes to Hamble le Rice, Southampton 

10 miles (+ ferry)

Riverside Park Campsite

Despite an interrupted sleep I was up early. It had rained! Only for about half an hour at 5am. The skies were grey with no sign of sun. 

looking at Cowes across the River Medina
I headed for the chainlink ferry across the River Medina to Cowes. Although only separated by a river, and sharing a name, East Cowes and Cowes are quite different. East Cowes is small and known for its shipbuilding. There are still big sheds facing onto the river. The most famous is the Columbine Shed, which belonged to the Saunders-Roe firm who built seaplanes (beginning in 1913) and then hovercraft. The world’s first hovercraft was built and launched from here in 1959. Since the Queen’s Jubilee in 1977 the Columbine Shed has been recognised by its Union Jack door. 

The Columbine Shed in East Cowes
The chainlink ferry has been running since 1859 and before that there was a rowing boat and a horse-winched barge. It cost me £1 for a return ticket, which saves a trip into Newport and out again. What a bargain. 

the chainlink ferry crossing the River Medina
Cowes is known as the home of world yachting and the birthplace of the America’s Cup. At 8am it was pretty quiet, which was understandable after last night’s party. Sailing types were appearing though and could be distinguished by their slightly dishevelled (but not too dishevelled) appearance, Musto clothing and enormous kit bags. I did not look the part. Never one to let that deter me I headed straight for the marina. 

one of the Cowes Marinas during Cowes Week…so many yachts!
Around the moored yachts sailors were scurrying around like little ants. I stood on a jetty and watched. From the variety of accents and the markings on the boats (e.g. a big silver fern) it was obvious that this was an international event. 

even the RAF had a yacht racing at Cowes Week
I had company and we started chatting. This man was sailing on a very nice yacht (worth £80k) that his (very rich) friend owned. He filled me in on what happens at Cowes Week. It did sound like a lot of fun. In return I told him about my trip and he thought it sounded cool so we were even. 

the race start…avoid the tanker!
Next I wandered through the town. More sailors. Everywhere. All getting coffee. I bought a pain au chocolat from the bakery and carried on. I wanted to see the Royal Yacht Squadron (RYS): the home of  yachting. I wondered if I might be able to blag my way in for a spot of breakfast, but that was never going to happen. One has to be a bonafide member of this place. 

The Royal Yacht Squadron
I discovered that the RYS runs Cowes Week. In front of the exclusive clubhouse was a flagpole (able to hoist 9 flags) and a row of cannons. Katy was prepping the cannons and then Paul arrived in ful rig (complete with hat). They were both employed by the RYS. I chatted to the two of them and learnt lots about how the racing works. Essentially, flags are hoisted to signify which class of boat is due to start, then the small cannons signify prep and the big cannon the start. However, while some are prepping, some are starting so it all gets complicated.

Peter outside the RYS, operating the flags and cannons to start (and finish) the races
The first race started around 10am and by then there looked to be scores of different sized yachts milling about near the start line. To add another complication, there were also ferries, container ships, sea kayakers and moored yachts. This was chaos. Fun though. 

prepare to fire…
I wandered back through town and stopped for a coffee and bacon sandwich. I had had enough of the “sailing set” so caught the chainlink ferry back to East Cowes and returned to the campsite to pack up. Within an hour I was on the ferry to Southampton. 

I had a great view of all the races as we crossed the Solent and entered Southampton Water. The wind had picked up and some of the boats looked like they were flying. 

on the ferry, aiming at the racing yachts…how many can we take out?
Welcome to Southampton! (I think this sign might indicate that more people arrive by boat than car)
We docked in Southampton and I walked along the edge of the old town and across the bridge over the River Itchen. 

one of 4 docked cruiseliners
God’s House Tower (built 15th Century to protect Mediaeval Southampton from attack)
I walked all along the Weston Shore, past Netley Abbey and the Royal Victoria Military Hospital, both of which were landmarks from the ferry. 

the (derelict) Royal Victoria Military Hospital
Aside from the wind, it was a lovely walk along the shoreline to Hamble-le-Rice. There were lots of anglers out and plenty of people enjoying the parkland.

looking bacl along the Weston Shore towards Southampton
The sun had come out and I walked up the River Hamble to my campsite. 

WW2 anti-aircraft gun on the beach at Hamble-le-Rice
I was relieved to find the campsite was next to the Mercury Yacht Harbour, which had a bar and restaurant overlooking the marina and the river. Perfect. 

the view from the restaurant overlooking the Mercury Yacht Marina on the River Hamble

Day 329 Sheltering in Plymouth

Wednesday 29 June 2016

Around Plymouth

5 miles

Kerry and James’ house, Saltash

The weather was terrible when I woke up, very wet, and the rain was predicted to last all day. I thought this was lucky for the following 2 reasons: firstly, Kerry offered me the chance to stay a second night (which meant a proper bed) and, secondly, instead of walking past Plymouth I could take a bit of time to explore the city. 

The Mayflower Steps
Kerry dropped me off near The Barbican, the old part of the city that dates back to the 16th Century. After just a short walk across the footbridge spanning one of the wharves I was soaked. 

Tinside Lido, Drake’s Island and Edgcumbe Park across The Sound
I stopped at Jacka Bakery for coffee and a truly excellent pain-au-chocolat. This bakery has been certified as the oldest commercial bakery in Great Britain, dating back to 1597, and it supplied The Mayflower with biscuits for its voyage across The Atlantic. Ancient ovens are still visible, but unfortunately unusable. 

Plymouth Gin Distillery
Just down the road is the Plymouth Gin Distillery, established 1793, the oldest one in England. 

the Belvedere Memorial, on The Hoe
I took a tour around The Mayflower Museum, which overlooks The Mayflower Steps, the point where The Pilgrims set sail for New Plymouth. I met an American couple whose ancestor was on the ship. 

Smeaton’s Lighthouse, relocated to The Hoe 1882. Game of bowls anyone?
Plymouth likes its plaques and memorials. There are a lot. There are plaques commemorating all the famous sea journeys that started from Plymouth, and memorials commemorating the famous men that set sail from here. 

Sir Francis Drake, circumnavigator of the World and famous for finishing his game of bowls before defeating the Spanish Armada in 1588
Most of the plaques at The Barbican Wharves were reminders of how the British colonised the New World; The Mayflower sailed for America in 1620, The Tory sailed for New Zealand in 1839 and plenty of ships sailed for Australia in the 18th Century. 

The RAF, Commonwealth and Allied Air Forces Memorial, the memorial commemorating the first sight of the Spanish Armada from Plymouth Hoe, and the Plymouth Naval Memorial
Up the hill, past The Royal Citadel, built in 1655 for King Charles II, to protect the seaward approaches to Sutton Harbour, I reached The Hoe. More memorials. There are 23,000 names on Plymouth’s Naval War Memorial for the two World Wars, all sailors or marines based at Plymouth. 

The Beatles were ‘ere
At the other end of The Hoe were 4 imprints in the grass, signifying the spots where The Beatles sat for an iconic photograph. All very strange. 

Blocks of granite from Dartmoor Prison, commemorating the imprisonment of Napoleon and other French soldiers in 1815
I wandered through the Stonehouse area of the city and went to the Rocksalt cafe for lunch. Highly recommended. After that I caught the bus back to the Tamar Bridge and walked across it into Cornwall again. I really enjoyed my day in Plymouth. 

the Tamar Railway Bridge

Day 301 The Cornish Riviera

Wednesday 1 June 2016

Gwithian to St Ives

8 miles (+ train)

Ayr Holiday Park

The Great Tit chicks still hadn’t fledged when I finally left Jill’s this morning; they were looking ready to go. Jill sent me on my way with several pieces of cake so I definitely wouldn’t starve. 

the view of Godrevy Lighthouse and beach across the towans
I headed into Gwithian Towans and started walking through the sand dunes. It was a grey morning and the light was flat. 

Gwithian Beach
a strange surfer at the beach
The towans (sand dunes) between Gwithian and Hayle make up the second largest sand dune ecosystem in Cornwall, 400 hectares of dunes. I only walked through part of it as it’s much easier to walk along the beach. 

looking across the mouth of the Hayle Estuary to St Ives
There were plenty of people at intervals along the long stretch of beach up to the Hayle Estuary. It was very windy and a few kite surfers were out. 

kite surfers as the tide comes in at the Hayle Estuary
The tide was coming in as I walked over the cliff top and around the Hayle Estuary. It has a main channel and other tidal areas, such as Carnsew Pool, that attract plenty of bird life. 

the Hayle Estuary as the tide comes in – a haven for birds
Hayle Main Street seems to be a busy road and unfortunately that spoils any atmosphere it might have as all other noise is drowned out by the constant passing of vehicles. I wasn’t minded to stop and hurried on through to Lelant Saltings. 

looking back at Hayle from the ‘Cornish Riviera Express’
Jill had suggested that it might be interesting to catch the ‘Cornish Riviera Express’, otherwise known as the St Ives bay line train, operating since 1877. For people heading to St Ives there is a park-and-ride service at Lelant Saltings. It was full, with cars circling looking for spaces. I walked straight through to the train platform with 1 minute to spare before the train arrived. The ticket man couldn’t operate his machine quick enough to give me a ticket so I ended up catching the train for free. It certainly was a lovely journey along the coast, via Carbis Bay, to St Ives. 

Carbis Bay from the train
St Ives was very busy. There were people everywhere in this picturesque, narrow street town. I wandered through the streets and saw a sign for a hairdressers – just what I needed. 

How I imagined the Cornish Riviera – sandy beaches and palm trees
From the hairdressers I went straight to Barbara Hepworth’s house, which is now a museum. It had been recommended to me. I’m not a big appreciator of art but I thought her garden was magical. It was possibly the loveliest garden I had ever seen; a proper oasis from the madding crowd. I was amazed to find out that all the sculptures in the garden were there when Hepworth lived there; she designed the sculptures for her own garden. It was very beautiful and peaceful. 

Barbara Hepworth’s garden…
…a very tranquil place
I was camping just on the edge of the town in a nice campsite that retains a space for hikers. 

Porthmeor Beach and St Ives Head
a great pitch, overlooking St Ives Head
Once I had done my daily chores I decided to treat myself to a nice meal and found the Black Rock restaurant. It was lovely. I finished off in a wine bar at the Wharf; the sea front was very busy with tourists. 

St Ives harbour

Day 255 Caldey Island

Wednesday 13 April 2016

Day trip to Caldey Island

3 miles

Meadow Farm Campsite

I wasn’t too cold last night but the tent was soaked with condensation when I woke up early. I snuggled down and went back to sleep, waking 2nd time around to some sunshine. 

I wasn’t sure whether I was going to move on today or not – I was flexible – so I left my tent up to dry, packed light, and headed down to the harbour. After a quick coffee (and blog) stop on the way I arrived in time for the first boat to Caldey Island. It was packed with elderly people on a coach holiday and it took ages to get them all on board.  

Castle Hill from the boat
passing St Catherine’s Island
 The sun was shining and the sky mostly blue. I had a good opportunity to see where I walked yesterday and admire the views I had been missing. Tenby is really well situated with golden beaches and lovely views; no wonder it is such a popular holiday destination.  

it’s only a hop and a skip from Caldey Island to St Margaret’s Island to Giltar Point
 Caldey Island had a lovely, tranquil feel to it, which I think was down to the lack of children. Aside from the monks there is a permanent community of about 20 adult residents, and then there is an almost daily invasion of tourists.  

Caldey Abbey
 The first monastery on Caldey Island was founded in the 6th Century by monks from Illtud’s monastery in Llantwit Major, Glamorgan. From the 12th Century  until The dissolution of the monasteries in 1536, the Island was home to a Benedictine Priory, an off-shoot of St Dogmaels Abbey in Cardigan. Monks did not return to Caldey until the start of the 20th Century. In 1928 the Abbey was handed over to the Cistercian Order of monks and they still live there and contribute to island life. I had a quick chat with one of the brothers in the Post office/museum, where I bought a bar of chocolate made by the monks for my breakfast (they also make perfume but I didn’t try any).  

breakfast, and very nice it was too!
 The tiny village sits in a sheltered, wooded valley and is dominated by the huge Abbey. It is like a pretend village catering for tourists with a post office, museum, gift shop, tea room and perfume shop. I don’t think much has changed for a century.  

Sandtop Bay and St Margaret’s Island
 I walked around the Island, enjoying the views. I saw plenty of gulls, skylarks and a raft of razorbills. Chapel Point Lighthouse is on the highest point of Caldey and has great views all the way from Worm’s Head, the Gower, to St Govan’s Head.  

Chapel Point Lighthouse (especially for Rohan)
 I popped into the ancient ruin of St Illtud’s Church to see The Caldey Stone and also into St David’s parish church to admire the stained glass windows.  

St Illtud’s church with its strange tower
The Caldey Stone, complete with Ogham inscription around the side (dating it to the 6th Century)
 On my way back to the boat I nipped up the hill to the Calvey that can be seen from Tenby.  

The Calvey (Tenby in the distance)
 Arriving back in Tenby after 2 pm I went for a late lunch and languished in a cafe reading a newspaper. I decided it wasn’t worth moving on today so I chilled out instead. I walked back up to my favourite spot on Castle Hill and sat listening to the waves and the gulls.   
the tide didn’t leave that design behind!
 Eventually I headed back to the campsite for a shower and back into town for some dinner. Someone had been hard at work creating a design in the sand. 

The tree of life (St David’s church)
The fish (St David’s church)

Day 214 Fireworks at Caernarfon Castle

Thursday 5 November 2015

Menai Bridge to Caernarfon

8 miles walked

Tegfan Guest House

I left late this morning as I was still trying to update my blog and dry out my boots, which have been constantly wet since last Friday. Still, time wasn’t an issue as I had booked accommodation in Caernarfon, a mere 9 miles walk away.

Studying my map I convinced myself that I could see a footpath across the Britannia Bridge so I thought I’d walk over that one. I walked along the main road to Llanfair P.G. and enjoyed the same views of the bridges as yesterday. One small problem when I got to the bridge: no footpath to be found. There was nothing for it but to retrace my steps back to Menai Bridge. This time, however, I did at least follow the coast path along the shoreline. I might have been cursing my misfortune (or poor map interpretation) but for the lovely views and discovering the large limestone lions That decorate the bridge and are not visible from the road (only from the railway). Also in my favour was that, in spite of the weather forecast, it was not yet raining.  

One of 4 lions guarding Britannia Bridge
 After completing my 3 mile round-trip I crossed the Menai Bridge and said hywl fawr to Anglesey.  

Last photo of Menai Bridge
 Back on the mainland the path followed the shore for a bit and passed Treborth Botanic Garden. It was here that I met an old couple walking their cat. They kept calling to it as they walked so I asked them, and yes, they were taking him for a walk. I’ve never seen that before! The old man asked me about my walk, was impressed I was doing the whole of Britain and, after asking my age, told me to enjoy the memories because in 10 years time my body will fall apart. Now there’s a happy thought to be going on with! 

I walked past this mausoleum in a wet and rainy wood on my own; creepy!
 Fortunately I was distracted from suicidal thoughts by a section of Stephenson’s original tubular bridge. The present Britannia Bridge was rebuilt in the 1970s after a fire. Stephenson’s original bridge was a wrought iron tubular bridge to carry the train line; the 1970s build incorporated the A55. (Note: maybe I am an engineer at heart?) 

A piece of Stephenson’s original tubular bridge on display in the wood
 At 11.45 am the forecast heavy rain arrived…in bucket-loads. It was too muggy to wear my waterproof trousers so I donned my gaiters to try and stop the water from running down my legs into my boots. At this point I was walking through the Glan Faenol National Trust woodland but I was soon pushed out onto the road. The rest of the way to Caernarfon was along a cycle route that followed the main road so I decided to get a bus.   

Caernarfon town square – all shop fronts painted
 I arrived in Caernarfon at lunchtime, soggy and cooling down. Time for a cafe lunch to warm up. I walked into the main square and picked a lovely caffi. After lunch I found my guesthouse, dumped my rucksack, and headed off to the Castle.  
Caernarfon Castle
 Caernarfon Castle was built in 1283 by Edward I and was the seat of power of the Welsh Princes, indeed it was the site of the investiture of the two most recent Princes of Wales. The outer walls of the castle have been well-preserved and would be great for a game of hide and seek.  

Caernarfon Castle
 I really enjoyed spending a couple of hours looking around. The history of Welsh rule was slowly starting to make some sense to me. Of the 4 main Welsh ‘principalities’, Gwynedd seems to have been the strongest. The original Princes of Wales were North Walians; in 1267 King Henry III granted the title to the Prince of Gwynedd, only for it to be taken away when Edward I invaded. One of the reasons Caernarfon Castle looks so spectacular is that Edward I possibly modelled it on Roman buildings, hence its bands of coloured stone.  

Looking out of the Castle at the Menai Straits
 Legend has it that the Roman Emperor, Macsen Wledig ruled from Caernarfon after marrying a local girl. So Edward I was not the first foreign ruler; his son was born at Caernarfon and was the first non-Welsh (even though born here) Prince of Wales.  

Narrow streets inside the walled town
The grand entrance to the walled town
 I really liked Caernarfon. This town was an architectural gem. I walked along most of the narrow streets within the old, walled town and stopped for a pint of local beer at The Black Boy. This rather non-PC named pub dated from c. 1522. I also  climbed Ben Twthill, the small hill that overlooks the town.  

The Black Boy Inn
Even outside the walled town the architecture was nice
 It was Bonfire Night and, along with the rest of the town, I headed to the waterfront at 7 pm to watch the town’s firework display. It had stopped raining and the excellent display was 17 minutes long over the water. The atmosphere was great on the sea-side of the old town and castle walls.  

Caernarfon town fireworks display
 After the fireworks I wandered around the town again looking for somewhere to eat. I walked past a place that claims to be the smallest bar in Wales and ended up in Osteria, a Tuscan restaurant. I had a lovely meal and then, just as I was finishing, Eric and Janice arrived. They had eaten elsewhere because Janice doesn’t like the (excellent) Tuscan food, but they always pop in for some wine and a chat with the Italian staff. I was roped in. Two bottles of wine later (bought by Eric), conversation was in full flow and Eric was trying to marry me off to Sergio, the Italian waiter. It was a great evening (even though I didn’t marry Sergio, who was as bemused as me). I left with a full stomach,  a spinning head and Janice’s phone number in case I need somewhere to stay. What a brilliant example of Welsh friendliness and hospitality. I also managed to get some guidance on pronunciation of Welsh place names.  

 What a fabulous day, despite the rain. 

Day 178 The Good, the Bad and the Idiot

Wednesday 30 September 2015

Haverigg to Barrow-in-Furness

8 miles

Conrad and Nicola, Barrow Island (AirBnB)

Another stunningly beautiful morning followed a chilly night. I had been very snug in my dew-soaked tent. It was cold this morning when I packed away. Just as I was readying to leave Lee drove up (he had been in the rugby club bar last night). He offered to buy me breakfast and show me around a bit this morning as he wasn’t due on shift at Sellafield until the afternoon. Naturally I accepted the offer and had a great morning. Lee is ex-Staffordshire Regiment (they’re always the friendliest guys) and seems to know everyone in Haverigg. We stopped at the corner shop to get a takeaway brew and a hot pasty and then he drove me up into the foothills of the local fells. From there we had a short walk up to the stone circle at Swinside. I’ve never been to the more famous Castlerigg stone circle near Keswick, but Lee says this one is better. I certainly couldn’t beat sipping a cup of tea in such a tranquil setting surrounded by fells on one side and then the view down to the Duddon Estuary on the other.  

Swinside stone circle on a glorious morning
 Next we drove over the Duddon Bridge and in to Broughton-in-Furness to have a look around this quaint little town with its square in the middle, rather like a French town. It has a rather large church for such a small town.  

Lee dropping me off at the station
 I had always planned to catch the train across Duddon Sands this morning, rather than walk all the way inland, along roads, to Duddon Bridge. Instead I got a lift from Lee to Foxfield Station and flagged the train down (it only stops if you wave at the driver) to go 2 stops further along the estuary to Askam in Furness. From here I planned to walk the last section of coastal path to Barrow-in-Furness (assuming I could find a path as the map indicates it goes through the marshes on the edge of Duddon Sands and I now know what that can mean!). As it happens I didn’t have to look for a path as it all went wrong from here. 

I alighted the train at Askam and as it departed the station I realised I had left my walking sticks on board. What an idiot. I have been so careful about keeping hold of these items and then I went and did what I had been afraid of…I left them behind. Shit. Not only are my sticks a walking aid, they double up as tent poles, so without them I can’t use my tent. 

I can’t believe how difficult it is to contact anyone at a train station or from Northern Rail. (Askam Station is unmanned.) I even sent a tweet asking for help! I was still trying to get somewhere on the phone when the next train to Barrow arrived 45 minutes later. I got on it. I had managed to find out that the train with my sticks on board had terminated in Barrow and no one had handed my sticks in. Only once I’d boarded the train to Barrow did I find out that the train with my sticks on was now heading  back to Carlisle – I waved at it as we passed. How annoying. The very kind conductor not only didn’t charge me for the ride to Barrow but managed to contact the first manned station (Whitehaven) and get the lady there to look out for my sticks. She promised to phone me. I sat at Barrow sweating it out for over an hour. 

Would you believe it, the lady at Whitehaven found them and arranged to give them to the guard on the next train South. Fantastic news. I am so grateful to kind people. So I spent another hour or so sat at Barrow station waiting for that train to arrive. 

The second mishap of the day was just around the corner. By now it was mid-afternoon and I was in Barrow-In-Furness despite not having walked. I headed to the post office where I had arranged to collect my next set of maps. I have nothing good to say about Duke Street Post Office. The lady in charge was rude, unfriendly and unhelpful. Without even blinking I was informed nobody had phoned the post office and arranged for this service and they didn’t provide it. Seemingly a parcel had arrived yesterday and she’d sent it back to the sorting office in Barrow so I could try there. Naturally she offered no sympathy, nor did she offer to phone the sorting office. Upon finding the number and phoning the sorting office I discovered my maps had already been sent away to a secret location where the parcel is opened to see what it is and if there’s no return address (they’re wasn’t) it is incinerated. Excellent news! (Since phoning the Head Office to complain I will hopefully get my money back as Duke Street Post Office should offer that service.)

I trudged through Barrow town centre looking for a shop to buy more maps. I found Waterstones and the lovely sales assistant sympathised with my plight and was blown away that I was walking around the coast. She made me smile.  

 It was another glorious day and I had just enough time to walk across to Walney Island. BAE Systems has a large presence here: lots of office buildings and try most enormous hangars. I didn’t realise that this is where our nuclear submarines are built.  

Crossing the bridge to Walney and looking back at Barrow Island and part of the BAES complex
 From Walney Island I looked out across the sea to the enormous wind farms. Apparently it was unusual to be able to walk along the Walney coast without having to bend double into a fierce headwind. There were lots of people out enjoying the sunshine.  

Looking West from Walney Island – a huge wind farm out there
 I walked back over the bridge to Barrow Island and past the huge blocks of flats that looked like they were built as barracks for factory employees. 

Looking back at industrial Barrow from Roa Island, across the bay with the tide out
 I had a lovely evening with Conrad and Nicola. They treated me like a visiting friend and I ate dinner with them. 

What could have been a disastrous day had been stressful but it had all worked out. I had also met some lovely people, and just one horrible one. 

Day 119 Rest Day on Mull

Sunday 2 August 2015

Circular sightseeing drive

Craignure bunkhouse

The bunkhouse was quite nice and I had no desire to head off in the rain so I decided to stay another day and make the most of the relative comfort. 

The bunkhouse was quite near to Duart Castle, the seat of the Clan Maclean who once ruled over Mull, Jura, Islay and part of Argyll, so I thought I’d take a look. The two old ladies staying in the bunkhouse were also heading there so I gave them a lift and ended up walking around with them. It is a well positioned castle, right on the NE corner of Mull where the Sound of Mull meets the inner seas off the West Coast of Scotland. It is almost opposite Oban. On a good day (which unsurprisingly this was not) you could see for miles and have a commanding view of all the sea traffic. Apparently this was a stopping point for ships travelling between Ireland and Norway.  

The views from Duart Castle across the Sound of Mull, up Loch Linnhe and across the Firth of Lorn towards Oban
 The castle was interesting to look around and then I was treated to two coffees in the cafe where I listened to Jean and Rosemary’s stories for over 2 hours. They had both worked in social care in Glasgow and so were better versed in the world of prison and drugs than me. It was fascinating.  

Approaching Duart Castle (the island of Lismore in the background)
 In the afternoon I drove them off the main road a bit and we went down to Lochbuie for a look.  

Loch Buie with grey sand on its shoreline
 There was a small post office on the shore which operates on a help yourself basis with an honesty box. Jean and Rosemary had another coffee while I walked along the shore in the rain, just as far as Moy Castle.  

The Old Post Office at Lochbuie
Moy Castle on the edge of Loch Buie
It had been a chilled day and I had enjoyed the company. In the evening I went to the pub next door for some food and a pint. It was still raining on and off. 

Day 118 Pilgrimage to Iona

Saturday 1 August 2015

Tobermory to Craignure, driving anti-clockwise around Mull

Driving tour, 4 miles walked

Craignure Bunkhouse

Sharing a room with 5 strangers meant I woke early. Unsurprisingly the sky was dark grey and it was pouring with rain but I decided to get going anyway. I wanted to visit Iona and had decided to drive a long, circuitous route around Mull to get there.  

Sheep stranded at high tide
 The drive along the South side of Loch Na Keal and then around Loch Scridain was on a road that pretty much bordered each loch. I kept my eyes peeled for otters but no such luck. I saw lots of herons and a few other birds but not a lot else. I think most of the wildlife was sheltering from the bad weather.  

The view along the Ardmeanach coastline
 The drive was scenic, with water on one side and mountains on the other. I couldn’t see Ben More, Mull’s Munro, through the clag but it was nice driving the windy, up and down roads. I was reminded of the Lake District, which I think was because of the trees. On any other day there would also be stunning views to Coll and Tiree.  

Waterfalls everywhere coming off the mountains…in summer!
 I arrived at Fionnphort, the tip of Ross of Mull, in time for the 9.55 am ferry across the Sound of Iona. 

Looking out of the ferry window to Iona
 The sky was very dark and the short 10 minute crossing was surprisingly rough. Having seen the influence of St Columba in Lindisfarne and around N Scotland I thought I ought to visit the island where his legend started.  

That’s a very dark sky over Iona!
 St Columba was from Ireland but arrived on Iona and founded the Iona Abbey in 563. This small island still attracts pilgrims and has its own Christian community (the Iona Community) who fervently believe in pacifism and go on peace marches so I didn’t mention I am ex-RAF. 

The sea around Iona has some fantastic colours: green through to black. It is pretty impressive, as is the sound the sea makes. Some people say it’s all quite spiritual; I thought the water was quite shallow and sandy, hence the wonderful green colour, and the large amounts of seaweed accounted for the darkness.  

The sun came out and look at the colour of the sea
Upon arriving on Iona I walked through the ruins of the old nunnery. I was fascinated to learn that buildings like this often had a carving of a naked woman with her legs apart, called a Sheena-Na-Gig, to ward off evil. Fortunately this carving was worn away so no eyes can be offended! (The information board was more graphic.)
The Sheena-Na-Gig at the Nunnery
 The sky was so black that I went into the Heritage Centre next and enjoyed an hour reading about Iona’s history while the rain bucketed down. I emerged into a flash flood along the road, but I was dry. That was £2.50 well spent! 

The Iona Nunnery
 I was going to go to the Abbey next but all of a sudden there was blue sky and sunshine so instead I walked across the island to the West side (it’s a good 15 minute walk from one side of the island to the other) to the famous St Columba’s Bay. First I had to cross the Iona golf course – definitely not worth a trip to play on this course! 

Approaching St Columba’s Bay across Iona’s golf course
 St Columba’s Bay was quite nice. I think I was expecting too much and have seen too many great beaches to be blown away by it. It’s mostly a stony beach with some white sand and the sea has lots of rocks and seaweed in it. The sound of the sea is supposed to be amazing?! 

St Columba’s Bay
 Just a bit further on from St Columba’s Bay is Port Ban, a smaller bay and this one has beautiful white sand and the sea looks amazing.  

Port Ban
 There was a woman in swimming but I didn’t feel like it. Although the view was wonderful, the sea had a lot is seaweed in it and the burn running into it was red with iron and that gave the sea a reddish tinge. Beautiful to look at but it didn’t call me for a swim.  

Port Ban
 After sitting on a high rock overlooking Port Ban for an hour I walked back across the saturated golf course and headed for the Abbey. It was early afternoon and more people were arriving with every ferry; it reminded me of my trip to Lindisfarne.  

The red burn running down to Port Ban
 The Abbey is the main draw on Iona and also houses people on Iona Community courses. It is not the original Abbey that St Columba founded in 563 but is the 1900s version. It is still clearly a place that is venerated by many people but I was just interested in the history, not the spirituality. 

Iona’s Abbey
  Just as I was thinking I’d had enough I saw a ferry coming in so I hurried down to the quayside to get on it. This time the water was calmer and I could see the sand beneath and some fantastic hues of green and blue.   

A cross in the primary school playground
  Once back on Mull I headed a bit further South to look at a couple of beaches shown on my map. I had been told the beaches at Ross of Mull were fantastic so I diverted to take a look and this one was rather nice. Behind the beach was Machair grassland, which is a protected habitat and gives the beach a sheltered feel thanks to the grassland and dunes.  
A beautiful beach – Ardalanish Bay with views South to Colonsay, Islay and Jura
  I think the beaches on the West coast of Arisaig, Ardnamurchan and Mull are all quite similar, it’s just that some are bigger and more remote. 
Looking the other way along Ardalanish beach
  The cloud was coming back as I drove across the Island, along Glen More to Craignure. I would definitely like to come back to Mull. I reckon this would be a great island to walk around and perhaps then I would see some of the wildlife that eluded me this time, including otters, red deer and eagles.  

The majestic Glen More
 Craignure Bunkhouse was a nice surprise as it was modern, clean and hospitable, and I was able to do some much needed laundry. I was sharing a room with 2 old ladies, Jean and Rosemary, as well as another lady. Two French girls turned up late having missed their bus connecting so, in the absence of the warden, we found them some bedding and fixed them up in our room for the night as we couldn’t just turf them out. 

Jean and Rosemary were a hoot and Jean was telling stories late into the night. She has been hostelling for 61 years (she’s 77 years old) and seems to take all her holidays in hostels, sometimes with her children and grandchildren as well. She was a fascinating lady. I fell asleep to her stories and woke up to her snoring!

Around the Southern part of Mull (and Iona) many of the locals have put out ‘scarecrows’. These were two of the best.  

A sunbather on the way to St Columba’s Beach
The Bunessan police have a sense of humour

Day 125 Mull of Galloway and Luce Bay

Saturday 8 August 2015

Stranraer to Wigtown

Driving tour, 3 mile walk

Ali’s house, Edinburgh

I woke to a beautiful sunny day and packed up quickly to make the most of the early morning. My first stop was the Mull of Galloway, the Southern tip of The Rhins and Scotland’s most Southerly point. I parked the car and walked to the tip. Wow. It was glorious, and there was no one around so I got it all to myself – the quiet, the light, the creeping warmth of the sun. How lucky am I? 

Looking across the Ireland from Mull of Galloway
the lighthouse at the Mull of Galloway
 As I was leaving I spotted a strange round tower in a field that had steps all around it. I always have to climb these things, just for the hell of it.  
what is this?
 I began the long drive around Luce Bay (I think they named it after me). It was a lovely drive and Luce Sands looked like a lovely big beach. 

The Rhins East coastline, bordering Luce Bay
On the East side of the bay I stopped in Port William, a pretty little town full of the same terraced houses I’d seen going up the East coast of Scotland. Killantrae Burn flowed through the town and right past the old piggery and abattoir. Although no longer used for that purpose, it’s history was celebrated by filling the yard with plastic pigs. I quite liked it.  

the Old Piggery at Port William
 There was a wonderful statue of a man looking across the sea to Ireland.  

“What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stop and stare?” W.H.Davies
 Just after Monreith I stopped to look at a memorial by the side of the road. It was an otter and celebrated the author Gavin Maxwell who was from the area and had kept pet otters. 

Gavin Maxwell’s otter
an otter with a view of Monreith Beach
At the eastern end of Luce Bay, just before Burrow Head, is St Ninian’s Cave. I parked up and walked the mile or so down Physgill Glen to a small beach with a cave at one end. This was apparently the place where Scotland’s first saint retreated to pray and reflect. It is clearly still a pilgrim site as there were many crosses, carvings and prayers on the walls. Quite an amazing place. 

St Ninian’s Cave
prayer offerings all around St Ninian’s Cave
Next stop was the Isle of Whithorn. It’s not actually an Isle but a small town at the end of a natural inlet. 

the Isle of Whithorn
On the headland is the remains of St Ninian’s Chapel. St Ninian was the first Christian missionary to come to Scotland around 400AD. For centuries, Isle of Whithorn was the landing place for pilgrims coming from Wales, France, Spain, Ireland and Scandinavia. 

St Ninian’s Chapel, Isle of Whithorn
There is a huge witness cairn and the whole place had an incredible feel to it. 

the witness cairn
Just inland from the Isle of Whithorn was Whithorn so I diverted there to take a look. 

a beautiful archway leading to Whithorn Abbey

Here was Whithorn Priory, the earliest known Christian foundation in Scotland. It was established about 500AD by St Ninian, whose monastery became a site visited by the likes of Robert The Bruce and King James IV. He also built the Candida Casa, the little white church. So much history in one small corner of Scotland!
Whithorn Abbey
I finished my day with a quick stop in Wigtown; I had no idea this was Scotland’s National Book Town. So many book shops to choose from but I picked one and went in to buy a book. I came away with Gavin Maxwell’s Ring of Brightwater, and John McNeillie’s Wigtown Ploughman
It was time for my road trip to come to an end and, as I was a long way from Inverness where I had hired my car, I had negotiated to drop it back at Heathrow Airport, which isn’t too far from home. That way I could visit home for a couple of weeks. I had decided to drive via Ali’s house in Edinburgh to collect my old tent and rucksack that she had been keeping for me. 

It was lovely to catch up with Ali and Morna again, and nice to spend the evening with friends before my long drive home tomorrow. 

that’s Northern Ireland I can see!

Day 115 Arisaig Highland Games

Wednesday 29 July 2015

Rest Day

Silversands campsite, Arisaig

The rain eased off during the night and the order of the day was wind instead (and a bit of rain but also a bit of sun). I couldn’t miss out on the opportunity of attending a Highland Games whilst up here and this one was right opposite my campsite. 

There was a big arena with a ‘running track’ marked with flags placed in a circle and a wooden stage in the corner. A pipe band led a the Clan Ranald representatives onto the field and the Clan Ranald chief made a speech (he sang a Gaelic song) to open the Games.  

Marching into the arena
The Opening Ceremony
 There was plenty going on. The ‘Heavies’ competition (big men throwing all different weights and tossing the caber) went on all afternoon in the middle of the arena with other competitions going on around it. I saw highland dancing, bagpiping, running races, high jump and long jump. It was all good fun and there was prize money on offer (£100 for winning a bagpiping competition, £10 for a highland dancing event).  

The Heavies putting the shot
Another throwing competition (there were many)
Tossing the caber (don’t try this at home!)
 People had come from far and wide to watch, and indeed to take part – an Aussie lady won all the highland dancing trophies and a Canadian was competing in the Heavies. Most of the running races were open events that anyone could enter but unfortunately I had left my trainers at home.  

Highland dancing competition
More Highland dancing
The 100 yd dash
 The bagpiping competition apparently was a very high standard and had 3 professional pipers in it. I was told the man who won is considered to be one of the top pipers in the world. I was supporting the young guy from Hong Kong who was representing the RAF (I have no idea how this came about as he wasn’t very talkative).  

The piping competition (the judges looked the best!)
Andrew representing the RAF – stunning backdrop!
A great fun day out! 

 In the evening I drove along Loch Morar, just inland of Mallaig, as it was quite a nice evening. Such a beautiful, peaceful loch. 

Loch Morar
A fisherman at sunset on Loch Morar