Rainy in the Trossachs

The weather was against us when we moved further north and west to our second and last Scottish stop at Killin. The high ground was blanketed in mist, nonetheless there were glimpses of the impressive scenery as we travelled along the banks of Loch Earn. We secured a lovely pitch on the river bank but decided to have an afternoon in the van rather than brave storm and tempest outside. The next day and the weather was still uncertain, so we opted for a circular drive, recommended in the guide book. This took us round the perimeter of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. This is a wonderful time of year to be in Scotland. The bluebells were spectacular and many gardens were full of colourful azaleas and rhododendrons.

We stopped off at the RSPB Loch Lomond reserve. This is on a much smaller scale to the one at Loch Levan. Our arrival coincided with a birthday party. I’d be the first to applaud a parent who decides to expose party-going children to the great outdoors but the piercing screams did rather put paid to seeing much in the way of wildlife. The best we could do was hear a cuckoo.

040 19 May 2019 Bluebells Trossach National Park

I was tasked with hiding a panda within sight of Loch Lomond. We stopped by the Loch Sloy hydro-electricity plant, where there is a car park, café and view point. There were also rather a lot of people. I nonchalantly attempted to make it look as if photographing a toy panda is a perfectly normal activity. It is actually quite difficult to do this without drawing attention to oneself. I accomplished the mission as subtly as possible and beat a hasty retreat before I could be accused of leaving litter in a National Park. Not that our lovely pandas are litter of course but you never know.






More Island Misadventures and some Birdwatching

One of the reasons that this holiday to ‘Northumberland’ has seen us detour to Scotland was because I wanted to make a return visit to the Isle of May to see the nesting seabirds, in particular the puffins. Last time we went the weather was truly appalling. It was raining, it was freezing; we were the only sailing that week, all others having been cancelled due to the conditions. This time, I decided I would not book months in advance but would wait until I had some idea of what might be expected from the weather. Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea, so when I went to book online a few days ago, they were already full. There was no chance on our first choice of day and the only other sailing whilst we were in the area was also full but we were invited to come along on on spec as first reserves.

The sailing is at 9.45 and you have to be there half an hour in advance. The harbour is half an hour away so, naturally, we leave the site at 8am – that is quite restrained for me. By 8.40am we are wandering round Anstruther. The fisherman of my acquaintance comments that, given the state of the tides, the boat looks unlikely to sail within the next couple of hours and indeed the harbour is almost dry. It nears 9am and we approach the booking office. What I have not thought to do is check the sailing times. 9.45am was sailing time on our first choice date. Now the tides have changed and today’s sailing isn’t until 11.30am! We could have had a lie in!

Anstruther is all very lovely, a typical fishing village that has been forced to also embrace tourism. It doesn’t have massive wandering round potential however. An additional problem is that I have believed the weather forecast, which stated that the maximum temperature would be 11 degrees (about 55 in old money). Despite this, people are sitting on the front at 9am in shorts and t-shirts. I however am wearing a long-sleeved t-shirt, my thickest fleece, a waterproof coat and a body warner for good measure, accompanied by my fleecy lined trousers that were purchased for Finland’s minus 23 degree temperatures; I have drawn the line at the thermal long-johns. I am prepared for it being colder out on the ocean. It turns out that the weather forecast is wrong and there is glorious sunshine and despite the keenish wind, the temperature is approaching 20/70. I shed layer after layer. Eventually, the ferry operator arrives and tells us to return at 11.15am. We do as instructed (well, we are there for 11am) and wait with bated breath to see if all those who were booked will turn up to collect their tickets, which are they are supposed to do by 11am. It was close. The last party arrive at 11.27am, so there is no room for us. We are offered places on the rib but I really don’t do adrenaline and this looks a bit ‘adventurous’, so we decline. I am very sad until I realise that we might be able to substitute this trip for a visit to the Farne Islands on our way back through Northumberland.

So another day of plan B. I do have thinner clothes in the car and Mr Bean-like, I manage to wriggle my way into these as we set off for the RSPB reserve at Loch Levan. The Loch provided the water supply for local paper and flax industries but was later drained, so the reclaimed land could be used. More recently, the RSPB have restored the wetland habitat and also created the world’s first bee reserve. We walk round the waterside track and see nesting swallows, shelduck, greylag geese, mutes swans, many nesting black-headed gulls, an oyster catcher, a redshank, a grey heron, mallard, a coot and a wood pigeon but the stars of the show are the nesting lapwing, who have declined noticeably in recent years, so we rarely see them now. We watch three adult lapwing mobbing a stoat, to draw attention away from the nests. This causes consternation when we report back to the ranger as the stoat was inside the predator fence.

036 17 May 2019 Lapwing at Loch Levan (1)

Despite some changes of plan, we have enjoyed our stay in Fife and look forward to moving on tomorrow. To top it all we have a booking for a boat to the Farne Islands!

Rubbing shoulders with Mary Queen of Scots in the Kingdom of Fife

Ten minutes up the road and we are at Falkland Palace and gardens. This is still considered to be a royal palace and there was a hunting lodge on this site as early as the twelfth century. We are there for opening time and historical interpreters are assembling to accompany a school party. I don’t want to be picky but we quickly spot a watch, twenty-first century footwear and an unauthentic hairstyle. I shouldn’t judge though, as Mistress Agnes has had to resort to glasses, following two unpleasant contact lens related incidents. I was therefore pleased to see that ‘Mary Queen of Scots’ was also wearing glasses. In my defence I have made some attempt to make Mistress Agnes’ look vaguely old fashioned. I wanted proper re-enactor’s frames but the optician refused to put lenses into anything but their own frames, so I had to settle for the nearest I could get.

We spend our visit playing dodge the school party. The building was extended in the sixteenth century by James IV and improved further by James V, using French architects, hence the resemblance to a chateau. It seems that the influence of his wife, Mary of Guise, was at work here. His daughter, Mary Queen of Scots, spent time at the palace and we were able to view what is allegedly the oldest real tennis court in the world that is still in use; it dates from 1539.

022 15 May 2019 Falkland Palace

A great deal of damage was done during the ‘English’ Civil War (which was not exclusively English at all), when Cromwell’s troops were billeted here and the banqueting hall wing was destroyed by fire. The Marquis of Bute was responsible for the nineteenth century restorations and the twentieth century hereditary keepers of the palace were the Crichton-Stuart family. The palace contains a functioning Roman Catholic chapel and is the only royal residence to do so.

The palace has adopted an effective method of preventing visitors from sitting on the chairs, each one has a sprig of holly placed on it! No photographs were allowed inside but I was particularly taken with the painted ceilings and the tapestry depicting a British woodland, compete with parrot! They also have an apothecary’s room and a physic garden. The gardens as a whole are beautiful and several gardeners are hard at work. They were designed in the 1940s by Percy Cane who also designed palace gardens in Addis Ababa.

This is meant to be a relaxing ‘chill out’ holiday so the remainder of the afternoon was spent sitting in the sunshine on site, planning next year’s trip to Ireland.

Walking Northward

A slight (planned) hiatus in our holiday occurred at the point we have reached in my narration. This required me to use my thirteen year old ‘emergency’ mobile phone in order to summon a lift. We had recently had an issue when such summoning did not work owing to a technical hitch but on this occasion, it seemed my phone and the recipient’s were now communicating. I decide however to send a text message in preference to a call. Simples. I know how to send text messages. It turns out that I can indeed send text messages, I just cannot write them on my phone. My capitalisation is idiosyncratic and I am unable to work out how to create a space between the words. I write the message Ifinishat4wiLLletUkNowifitcHanges and hope the fisherman of my acquaintance can interpret it. Considering that I am reasonably proficient with computers, it is sad but true that mobile phones are another country.

Amongst all this, panda hiding continues. I head out to photograph a hidden panda in the early hours before we are due to move the caravan on to Scotland. I appear to have forgotten to return the SD card to the camera after uploading previous pictures. Fortunately, I don’t have to walk back up the hill and down to the van as there the van is, just the other side of a fence. I call for assistance and my travelling companion retrieves the card and prepares to hand it over the fence to me. Ah. A slight snag, my side of the fence is accompanied by a stinging nettle filled ditch. Hmm. I am terrified that the card will somehow get dropped in the undergrowth but fortunately this danger is averted and the picture is duly taken.

We arrive in Markinch. My children have Scottish ancestry. In fact, all my grandchildren have kilt wearing credentials on both their mother’s and father’s sides. The closest I get is Northumbrian lineage. I pay tribute to Edward’s ancestors, who come from this area. We decide to go for a walk, following a leaflet we have found at the site. It is a five mile walk. We realise that it probably a while since we walked five miles. It may not sound far but we are out of practice and knocking on a bit now. We used to walk regularly until grandchildren visiting seemed like more fun!

The walk instructions are a tad vague. It starts well, with us finding our way through Markinch then on up a footpath. We are to look for a ‘worn stone step style’ (their spelling). We debate whether a couple of steps constitute a ‘style’. They are supposed to be opposite a parish boundary mark. We climb a bank. No sign of said marker. We dismiss these steps and continue. Our first mistake. It turns out that these were the steps we sought. Road signs are conspicuous by their absence but we manage to recover the route, although have walked on road rather than footpath more that we should. I am wearing soft shoes as opposed to walking boots as the latter are slightly narrower than my feet (story of my life). I should have read all the instructions. They are taking us across a peat bog. My shoes are not peat bog proof. Luckily, the recent dry weather means I can safely negotiate the boggy bits. We try to identify the ruins of Kirkforthar Chapel. The guide tells us a former vicar was called Reverend Zong, allegedly a corruption of Yogh/Young – one for the family historians amongst us. We also see the remains of Kirkforthar House and ‘doocot’. Also on the itinerary is Stob Cross, a monolith of uncertain origin but possibly Pictish.

019 14 May 2019 Kirkforthar House and doocot

As a reward for our strenuous exercise, we treat ourselves to an ice-cream. It may be a day or two before we walk again!

Of Lighthouses and Space Hoppers

Apologies for not reporting on our holiday adventures in real time but here is the next instalment. We took a short walk along the coast to St Mary’s lighthouse, which is only accessible at low tide. Fortunately, low tide it was. The island on which the lighthouse was built was used as a burial ground by Tynemouth Priory in the C7th. From the C16th it was known as Bates Island after Thomas Bates, the surveyor for Northumberland under Elizabeth I. Interestingly, the island was used to quarantine Russian soldiers who were suffering from cholera in 1799. This was particularly significant as it was 32 years before the first outbreak of cholera in Britain. In 1898, the lighthouse was built on the island to replace one at Tynemouth, as fog meant visibility was poor there. I am sure this should be the cue for a song! The lighthouse is 40m high and was constructed using 750,000 bricks and 654 stone blocks, at a cost of £8000. There are 137 steps to the top. I begin the climb then realise that this is probably not a brilliant idea for someone who suffers from acrophobia – it is making me feel a bit weird just looking up from the ground. I descend to a safer level and send a representative from our party up to the top in my stead. It was still being lit by oil in 1977 and was the last Trinity House lighthouse to be electrified. The lighthouse ceased to be operational in 1984 and is now a nature reserve. Over 50 grey seals are basking on the rocks. The ranger tells us that this is unusual at this time of year. Seals are not a favourite with a fisherman of my acquaintance, so we focus on the eider ducks instead.

012 10 May 2019 View frm the camp site

The next day and it is off to Eureka Children’s Museum at Halifax to meet up with some of my descendants. Some wonderful staff made a small boy very happy by taking the time to talk to him and letting him have a go on the giant space hopper – even though they were about to pack it away for the day. He’d spotted it from an upstairs window and couldn’t get down fast enough but they kindly agreed he could have a turn. The day also involved handing over a very large shrub. Martha had spotted these in a local garden centre when she visited me but did not have room to get it home, so I was deputed to purchase one on her behalf and hand over in Halifax. Unfortunately, what had been qute compact shrubs had assumed triffid-like qualities and grown to the size of small trees in the interim, so our car had been impersonating Burnham Wood. Handover complete, we also hid two pandas ready for the Panda Explosion for PDA Awareness, of which more tomorrow.


Some Family History, Family Reunions and a visit to Seaton Delaval

Our first day in Northumberland and the weather really was a bit much for us soft southerners. We repaired to the archives at Woodhorn, a wonderful facility but in common with many archives, its opening hours have been drastically cut since our last visit. We struggled against the biting wind to cross the car park and began to look for evidence to confirm the parentage of my great great grandfather John Hogg. I am pretty sure I know who his parents are but a bit more evidence would be helpful. Great great grandfather John has done everything he can to be elusive. His censuses entries give different places of birth each time. The birth years calculated from these entries and his death certificate are inconsistent. Not only am I confused about where and when he was born, he even calls himself George in one census! In theory, he ‘marries’ twice. His second ‘marriage’ should be well within the era of civil registration. A marriage certificate could confirm (or refute) the putative father I have pencilled in but marriage certificate is there none. I know, at this point, the antennae of my family history friends will be twitching and they will be keen to see if they can succeed where I have failed. So, if you can find a marriage for a John Hogg and Elizabeth Pearson I would be very grateful. They were not married in 1851, when John was a widower living just outside Morpeth Northumberland. Their first child was registered in 1854 and the certificate implies they are, by then, married. Elizabeth too was born in Northumberland and was in Morpeth in 1851.

The evening was set for a reunion with my second cousin and her husband. We were due to meet in an Indian Restaurant. I have made a note of the address of the restaurant for sat-nav purposes. I have failed to make a note of the name. Surely there can’t be many Indian restaurants in that part of Whitley Bay. Oh! It turns out there can. I have the full address but none of the shops are displaying numbers. I think the restaurant probably begins with S. We hesitantly enter one of two adjacent Indian restaurants beginning with S. Relief; we are being waved at, so either we are all in the wrong place or we have picked the right one. The meal was lovely, it was even bargainous special menu day and the company was great too. We speculate what our mothers and grandmothers might have thought at us meeting up many years down the line and so far from where we grew up.

What a difference a day makes. The sun shines on the righteous and on us as well. We even cast our clouts (well our coats at least) until a sharp wind blows up in the afternoon. We decide to avoid Newcastle as apparently half of it has been cordoned off into a ‘fan zone’ for a rugby match tomorrow. Instead, we travel a couple of miles up the road to Seaton Delaval. This stately home is undergoing serious renovations and learning about these was part of the visitor experience.

Extensive estates and a Saxon church were gifted to Hubert De La Val by William I after the conquest and a member of the family married William’s niece. A fortified dwelling was constructed on the site. Family fortunes declined and in 1717, Admiral George Delaval bought out his impoverished cousin. He commissioned John Vanbrugh to build a home, on a much smaller scale than Castle Howard and Blenheim Palace, for which Vanbrugh is better known. Neither the owner nor architect lived to see the completion of the house. Admiral Delaval was killed falling from a horse in 1723. The work was finished under the ownership of Delaval’s nephew, Captain Francis. He too met an unfortunate end when he fell from a terrace, to be succeeded by his son Sir Francs Blake Delaval. The ‘Gay Delavals’ spent the best part of the eighteenth century hosting flamboyant parties on the estate. They were known to play practical jokes on their guests, including rigging rooms so that the walls disappeared, or the beds could be lowered into baths of cold water, when the unsuspecting guests were asleep.

The Delavals were able to establish successful businesses, exploiting the saltpans at Seaton, founding a bottle and glass manufactury and benefitting from mining interests. They created the sluice at Seaton to enable larger vessels to enter the harbour. By the end of the eighteenth century, their lavish lifestyle became unsustainable and in 1822, a fire gutted the property, destroying the south-east wind entirely. The estate passed through the female line to the Astley family, who held the title of Lord Hastings. Some attempts at restoration were attempted in the 1860s but the property remained largely a shell. The property was requisitioned in both world wars and this left its mark. Some improvements were made in the second half of the twentieth century and the west wing of the house was again lived in before the property was given to the National Trust.

We wander round the beautiful gardens and are guided by Hilary on a ‘Spotlight’ tour. I was particularly taken with the high-viz jackets sported by the cherubs on the roof. We learn about the repairs to the ‘muses’, statues that have been created by plastering over an iron framework. In order to stop the iron rusting, they have had an electric current passed through them using innovative cathodic protection technology.

007 10 May 2019 Repairs at Seaton Delaval

Enthusiastic guides show us round The Church of Our Lady, which was extended by the Delavals and consecrated in 1102. A record survives of the baptism of Henry de Laval in 1343.

A quick look at the sluice itself and then back to the van.

Days 8 & 9 – On the Way Home

We are up early and all is bustle in the Windjammer. ‘Washy washy’ has been promoted and is today on duty as ‘Dishy washy’, clearing tables. She will work on-board for eight months without a whole day off. More goodbyes before a very long wait in the queue for our pre-booked airport shuttle. Annoyingly, we could have booked an excursion that showed us round Seattle and deposited us at the airport but unfortunately, I didn’t realise this until I had booked flights that were too early for this, another opportunity missed.

There are no problems boarding the plane for Washington Dullas; not to be confused with Dallas. Once again the plane is full and cabin luggage is being prized from people’s hands to be stashed in the hold. I inadvertently push in front of a formidable American lady who was standing in the group 4 queue. Apparently I was supposed to intuit that she was actually part of group 3 and thus entitled to board before me. We are again issued with pretzels and Sprite, so it seems they are standard fare and not just a bonus because of our delay outward bound. There is an airport shop at Dullas that is clearly not afraid to display its political leanings. There are various anti-Trump items, ranging from rubber ducks to uncomplimentary colouring books.

094 14 September 2018 From the Plane.JPGOur changeover goes without a hitch this time and our luck is in as we have an empty seat beside us. Once again I am struck that aeroplane food involves a ridiculous amount of plastic packaging. Airlines seem to be missing a green credentials USP here. I fail to achieve more than level 6 on Bejewelled; so my level 12 on the journey out must have been exceptional. I am slightly concerned to find water dripping on my head. Is this something I should be panicking about? Is something leaking from the luggage compartment overhead, or is it more sinister? Whatever it is does not seem to have dire consequences and we disembark from our fifteenth flight in the last six months, thankful that there are no more planned.

Once at Heathrow, it takes an hour, travelling up and then down again on various lifts to get to the Central Bus Station for our coach. Here our luck ends, as it is full, so we are unable to sit together. I am not sure who has the shortest straw. My seat mate has some unpleasant lurgy but I do at least have my fair share of the seat. Chris is perched on the edge of what little his generously proportioned seat mate has left him. It is quite difficult to doze off delicately sat next to a stranger. Bar a short doze on the second plane we been awake for twenty four hours. Home then to try to catch up on all the emails that have arrived whilst I have been in this internet black hole. Until next time.