Category Archives: Travel & Photos

A Grand Day Out – Abbotsford

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Abbotsford house autumn

Today was a special treat for me.  I was booked in on a photographer’s workshop at Abbotsford.  Abbotsford was the home of novelist Sir Walter Scott.  It sits on the bank of the mighty River Tweed near Galashiels here in the Scottish Borders.  It has recently undergone extensive renovations and was just re-opened by the Queen.

Abbotsford house autumn

Abbotsford is a magnificent country house built by Scott in the early 1800s on the site of a traditional farm.  The interior is full of Scott’s eclectic collections of books, guns, armour, art and quirky interiors salvaged/collected from all kinds of famous and unlikely people and places.  It is full of treasure and a great place to visit.  The gardens are lovely too and the setting is absolutely stunning.

river tweed at abbotsford

The objective of the day was to use a SLR digital camera (I have a Nikon D3000) and tripod (Christmas prezzie from Mechanic Man a couple of years ago) and practice taking shots in manual mode (no Auto!).  We were to choose appropriate exposure times and depths of field.  All very technical I know – I usually use the auto settings but do occasionally fiddle about in manual so today was an opportunity to spend time practising with manual.

vriver tweed at abbotsford

Basically I took hundreds of photos using different settings – longer and shorter exposures – for example and then chose the best ones.  Normally, one doesn’t have the luxury to spend all day trying to get a good shot but that was the point of today.  I didn’t really know what I was doing but I just kept at it, experimenting.   Tea breaks and lunch were laid on as part of the package!

garden gate at abbotsford

river tweed in autumn abbotsford

Today, the weather was good so I concentrated on taking photos outside – it was cold and windy and a bit gloomy this morning but not raining!  The sun conveniently came out in the afternoon just before it got dark!  Despite the cold air, I was cosy in my new hat.

I was determined to get at least one good photo of the house and one good snap of the trees and/or River.  I took nearly 300 photos and these are some of the best (in my opinion).  I really should do this type of thing more often.

autumn trees at abbotsford

secret garden abbotsford

garden statue abbotsford

abbotsford house

autumn trees river tweed

This last photo is the new visitors centre at dusk, taken as we were leaving.

abbotsford visitors centre at dusk

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Photo Competition Time Again

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Tomorrow is our village’s annual flower show.  I usually enter some baking and sewing/knitting but this year I decided to not get involved as I spend way too much time on it and frankly, the judges are a bit old school and there is no room whatsoever for any fun/creativity.    Every year the same old boring categories like “a jar of strawberry jam” – don’t get me started.

They have a photography section though and I have won “the cup” three times now. My entries from last year are here and the winner is here.

This year I wasn’t even going to enter any photos but last night I had second thoughts and started desperately raking through my photos on the computer to find ones which match the titles.  I found I couldn’t let go of my trophy without at least putting up some sort of fight! There are two categories and you can enter six 5×7 photos in total – split however you like between the two categories.

The categories this year are “Spring” and “On the Wild Side”. Overall the categories are slightly more interesting than normal and we have been saved from “local view” again so that’s good; but, given that the categories were announced in early summer, the opportunity to take spring photos was already passed!  My husband said I should take photos of springs (the curly metal kind) – a good idea but, since I wasn’t going to enter this year, until last night, I didn’t take any photos specifically.  Anyway, here’s my best attempt at finding last minute entries:  Mohawk girl is my daughter – the same cutie in the beach photo a few short years ago.

For “Spring”:

black hill, earlston

soft boiled egg

For “On the Wild Side”:

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west coast scotland beach

mohawk girl

kangaroo

Hadrian’s Wall Hike – The Final Miles

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We’re back, we’re fit, healthy, happy and proud of ourselves.  My daughter (14) and I hiked across our entire (little but beautifully formed) country on seven of the nicest days this whole summer – 84 miles; and, since we got back last night it hasn’t stopped raining.  I’m blessed I tell you.   This post covers the last 24 miles to and from Carlisle.  My daughter’s friend joined us for this leg and the first leg, the middle leg we were on our own.

These last miles were flat and easy.  The walk into Carlisle was pretty enough and followed the River Eden more-or-less but I felt it lacked “wow” moments.

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In Carlisle, the Trail skirted past the splendid castle and through a nice play-park – which we visited later with the boys.  After Carlisle we walked along the Solway Firth (estuary) – this part was unexpectedly beautiful.

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The tide goes out for miles.  The villages along this northern coast of Cumbria were beautiful too – lots of lovely red brick houses and fabulous sandstone churches.  The beautiful cast-iron signs were truly wonderful – you very rarely see these any more as they have all been replaced by ugly modern ones – well done Cumbria.  I have been to most counties and coasts in the whole of Britain but have not visited this particular patch before – so that was exciting for me. I just love visiting new places.

We stayed the night in a bunkhouse at Hillside Farm which we loved – it slept 12 but we were the only guests that night.  We cooked ourselves a chicken curry (fresh chicken, peppers and onions but sauce in a pouch) on the camping stove provided and had a slice each of my home made Bakewell Cake with a layer of fresh raspberries (from my garden).  I treated myself to a mini bottle of white wine.

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I could not get over the view – stunning.  We will definitely go there again.  The sun was shining in the morning (again) and we had breakfast in the yard.

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The kids loved the bunkhouse especially the little nook they found to sleep in and the games (provided).  In the village of Drumburgh there was a great “service stop” for walkers – a pretty little brick building with a nice loo and a little room with seats and nice snacks and drinks to buy.  We bought pure fruit Ice lollies, left the money in the “honesty box,” and hiked off contentedly to complete the last few miles.

It was hot when we reached the end of the Trail – Bowness-on-Solway – at three in the afternoon.  We took photos and stamped the last stamp on our passports. I forgot to have a chunk of my celebratory chocolate!

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The boys picked us up on schedule (they had been to the Solway Aviation Museum on the first day and Carlisle Castle/Swimming the second).  We raced to the coastal town of Silloth to buy fish and chips.  Silloth was pretty – it’s main street was cobbled and looked a bit like an old American Street to me – like Main Street USA in Disneyland – not what you would expect on the west coast of Cumbria – maybe it was the sunshine!  It made me want to explore that coast a bit more – to visit the other pretty towns (Whitehaven, St. Bees, Maryport).

The fish and chips were great (to our relief as you always take a risk).  We had to hurry back home though as the kids wanted to be back at 7 to see the new Dr. Who revealed.  I’m already dreaming of next year’s walking adventure and have purchased a few maps – maybe a few days in the October holiday if the weather’s kind.  Meanwhile, on September 8th I’m cycling 47 miles from Glasgow to Edinburgh in the Pedal-for-Scotland.

Hadrian’s Wall Trail Photos – Miles 21 to 62

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milecastle hadrians wall

I have just had three of the most wonderful days – including turning 46 in “my kinda style”.  I have had lots of good days lately, mind you, it’s not just chance, it’s from dreaming big and then making it happen.  I’ve always been an action girl – my plans do tend to come to fruition.  Although, even I can’t control the weather; but, on this occasion, we were extraordinarily lucky.  It was a bit hot and sticky for hiking, but we coped!

Crag Lough Northumberland

flowers on hadrians wall

The first two days of our Hadrian’s Wall hike are covered here.  This post covers days 3 to 5.  We hope to complete the trail next weekend.  This central part of the trail includes the most impressive Roman ruins and scenery but was the most strenuous/demanding.

tree on hadrian's wall

To recap, I am walking the 84-mile trail with my 14-year old daughter.  We are being supported by Hubby/Dad – who has dropped us off/picked us up each day.  He has been doing “father and son” stuff with our 8-year old while we walk but has gone well beyond the call of duty by cooking our dinners/washing up at the Youth Hostel and leaping out of his top bunk in the middle of the night to plug in my forgotten phone and Ipod.  I’m big picture – he’s details – we make a good pair.

The first day was my Birthday and, when we left our house, the rain was torrential.  Luckily the storm was was heading north, and by the time we started our walk 60 miles south, it was sunny.  My daughter drew me this lovely Birthday card – it looks like us – we have our new jackets and rucksacks on.  I am leading the way and have the sun tan and the purple hair!

hikers birthday card

I ate my Birthday lunch sitting in the shade on a dry stone wall – a happier person you could not find – celebratory can of fizz in one hand and a brie baguette in the other.   My healthy-but-still-yummy banana cake went down a treat too.

housesteads fort

The second day we had arranged to meet the boys for lunch at Housesteads Roman Fort (you can see the fort at the top of the photo above).  It was heartening to see them waving from atop the Fort as we trudged towards them.

picnic at housestead fort

lake

wall1

There is a surprising amount of wall/fort remaining after 2000 years.  The wall itself is impressive but the forts, milecastles and turrets are incredible.  Originally the wall was 80 Roman miles long and there was a small fort every mile.  These “fortlets” or milecastles as they are now known housed barracks for up to 60 soldiers (see example below).

milecastle hadrian's wall

In between each milecastle there was built two equally spaced turrets – each housing around eight men.  Here you can see the turret at the bottom of Steel Rigg.

 turret near steel rigg

This detail shows the threshold of Black Carts Turret and clearly shows the groove and stop made by the door bolt.

black carts turret detail

Originally there were no plans for any large forts but this plan was quickly revised and larger forts added.  The remains of the large forts at Chesters, Birdoswald and Housesteads are very impressive today with many walls/interior details still visible.  Housestead Fort housed up to 1,000 men.  There are also still many milecastles and turrets to view today – we loved “finding” them as we progressed.  These are just a couple of the buildings at Chesters Fort.

chesters fort

chesters fort

hadrians wall map

The Romans also constructed a ditch and earth mounds parallel to the wall and these earthworks are also evident today – in many places the earthworks are all that remain. This is the disused quarry at Walltown Crags.

Cawfield Crags

Overall, my enjoyment wasn’t just in seeing the Roman relics and the vistas, I loved the details too – the stiles and gates, the wild flowers, the farm animals, the villages, and the farmhouses.  The old stone farm buildings along the wall are made from stone “borrowed” from the wall.

postbox

old road sign northumberland

barn northumberland

sheep hadrians wall trail

In some villages the trail went through people’s gardens – one family were having a party in their garden but didn’t bat and eyelid as we marched through.  Surreal.  We managed not to ask for a burger – it smelled so good.  The trail crosses roads, rail, lakes, quarries, arable and grazing farmland, deciduous and conifer woods, rivers, streams and estuary – it crosses our whole country.

stile hadrian's wall trail

sheep

At one point we were walking through a regular old grassy field; but, in the far distance to our left you could see the Pennines. Ahead of us rose the mountains of the Lake District, to our right, the Southern Uplands; and behind us, the Great Whin Sill from which we had walked – breathtaking beauty.

Streuth, in the time it has taken me to write this post I could have walked another section of the trail!  Please leave a comment if you enjoyed this so I know my time is worthwhile, ta in advance.

Hadrian’s Wall Walk

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st. mary's lighthouse whitley bay

Last week we walked the first 21 miles of Hadrian’s Wall in the most glorious weather.  Part two of our walk is here.  Family holidays get a bit complicated when you have four kids aged 8, 14, 16 and 19.  It’s difficult to please everyone – well on a budget it is.  So, this year we decided to leave the two big ones at home – they both had stuff on.  The grand plan was to stay in a caravan on the coast at Whitley Bay just north of Newcastle – approx 1.5 hours drive away.  The idea being, if the weather is great we can do beach/outdoors stuff and if the weather is bad we can do city break stuff – shopping, museums, cinema etc.  Because we live in the country, our kids love city breaks but we love the seaside/outdoors too.

whitley bay

I have always wanted to walk Hadrian’s Wall which runs 86 miles coast-to-coast between Newcastle and Carlisle more-or-less.  My 14-year-old daughter was keen too, so we planned to start our challenge on this trip and do the rest over the next few weeks.  Well it was all wonderful.  We walked 21 miles of Hadrian’s Wall in two days.  My daughter’s friend came too since we had booked a caravan for six.  We started around ten in the morning and walked until early afternoon so we would have time to swim afterwards.   My husband dropped us off/picked us up and did special stuff with the wee man while we “girls” were hiking.  The lads visited the Discovery Museum and Beamish on the days we walked and they enjoyed both of them very much.  We all enjoyed our family meet-ups in the afternoon and having a swim together in the lovely camp site pool.

Hadrian’s Wall was built by the Roman’s in about 100 AD to mark the Northern limit of their Empire.  It runs just South of the Border between Scotland and England at the skinny bit of the country! Quite a lot of the Wall remains, especially in the centre where it is still very rural.  In the towns, the stone was long ago used for building new structures.  When I was small, I thought the Scots built the Wall to keep the Roman’s out but, of course, it was the other way round!  The Roman’s did, in fact, make it into Scotland briefly – before they were chased out by the scary Scots – they had a big settlement called Trimontium only a couple of miles from my house.

We started our walk in an area of Newcastle appropriately called Wallsend.  The first 15 miles then followed the River Tyne.  At five miles we hit the centre of Newcastle and the famous landmark bridges, Baltic Arts and the Sage Theatre.  We sat on the Millennium Bridge and ate our flapjack.  We bought an ice lolly each from an ice cream van and soldiered on in the heat.

baltic tyne newcastle sunny day

At mile 15, we took a sharp right and headed up a steep hill to a village called Heddon-on-the-Wall.  Here we we saw our fist big chunk of wall.  The next 6 miles of the path was in fields bordering the Military Road.  The road was actually built on top of the Wall using the stone as a foundation.  You can just see the Military Road next to the wall in the top left corner of this photo.

heddon-on-the-wall

We got two stamps in our official “Wall Trail” passports.

hadrian's wall passport stamps

hadrians wall trail path

hadrians wall trail path

hadrians wall trail path

Our caravan site at Whitley Bay was near a lovely lighthouse on an island which could only be reached at low tide. seaweed at whitley bay lighthouse

We visited the lighthouse and climbed the 137 steps to the top!

lighthouse steps whitley bay

We also visited the ruins of Tynemouth Priory and there was some amazing salty wind erosion on the gravestones.  We spent our last day together on the beach at Long sands beach at Tynemouth with chips and ice creams for lunch.  We then had a last swim in the camp pool, got dressed up and had a lovely dinner in an Italian restaurant before heading home. Happy Happy days.

tynemouth priory

eroded gravestone tynemouth priory

We had such a great time and I am feeling very smug indeed to have had such a great sunny holiday so close to home.  Our next leg is next week starting on my Birthday – we are going to walk all three days of our trip and stay two nights at Once Brewed Youth Hostel.

A Grand Day Out – Day Trip to England

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northumberland road sign

Hubby, like Winnie the Pooh, is a honey man – he loves the stuff; so, as part of our father’s day weekend, I thought he’d enjoy a trip over the Border to England to the Chain Bridge Honey Farm near Berwick-upon-Tweed (approx 30 miles from our house).   I had no idea it would be in such a very special spot.  Needless to say, the honey was great, but the Union Chain Bridge was amazing – a Wonder of the World in fact.

n union suspension bridge

To set the scene, the mighty River Tweed forms part of the border between Scotland and England in our part of the world.  So, getting from one country to the other often involves going over a bridge.  The Union Suspension (Chain) Bridge was built in 1820 between Horncliffe in England and Paxton on the Scottish side.

tweed downstream from union suspension bridge

At the time of opening, it was the world’s longest iron suspension bridge (It was completed before Telford’s Menai Suspension Bridge and Brunel’s Clifton Suspension Bridge).  Today, it is the world’s oldest iron suspension bridge still carrying vehicular traffic – albeit one car at a time!  The deck of the bridge is actually wooden with a tarmac roofing felt-like road surface!  Apparently when it opened, it was an engineering marvel and the then 18 year old Isambard Kingdom Brunel visited!  We walked across it and it moves up and down when a car drives across.  It is fun to walk from one country to another and very funny how the accent changes so significantly in a hundred yards!

union suspension bridge berwick

chain bridge from paxton bwerwickshire

view of chain bridge from paxton house

On the English side, lies the honey farm (with a very impressive collection of vintage vehicles and tractors) and about a mile upstream on the Scottish side lies Paxton House.  We walked along the River to Paxton House and were enchanted by the highland cows, the boathouse and salmon fishing boats (cobles) and the adventure playground.

highland cow paxton house berwickshire

coble salmon fishing boat river tweed

coble boats salmon fishing River tweed

So, another grand day out in the Scottish Borders (we preferred the Scottish side of the River but then we’re biased).  The English had nice old road signs though – the ugly modern Scottish ones (what were they thinking?) were far too hideous to even show you! Of course, the yummy honey was on the English side, although I expect the bees eat the nectar on both sides of the river!

england sign with rainbow puffleThe wee man’s rainbow puffle enjoyed the outing too!

The Best Hike Ever – The Pentland Hills, Edinburgh

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pentlands hills hike edinburgh

Scotland really is the most beautiful country – possibly the most beautiful in the world – BUT – we get pretty terrible weather – still, you can’t win ’em all! This week it has been mostly sunny for over a week – it’s been years since this happened.  When the Scottish sun does shine; and, you find yourself somewhere stunning, life doesn’t get any better.  Yesterday was one of those very rare days – the days we Scots live for – luckily on such days our celtic defence mechanism kicks in and we forget all the other millions of cold, wet, windy and miserable days we normally endure with a stiff upper lip wrapped in a woollen scarf.

pentlands hills hike edinburgh

Anyway, on with the story, our wee man was going on a Beaver Scout camp in Edinburgh so Hubby and I thought we’d make the most of the opportunity and spend a night away (we left the 3 teenagers at home).  Yes, the house is fine, they mostly sleep and gawp at screens.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with Scottish geography, Edinburgh lies between the sea to the North (The Firth of the Forth) and several stunning ranges of hills to the South.  The closest of these hills, the Pentland’s are Edinburgh’s back garden.

Our plan was to hike in the Pentland’s, camp and picnic in our friend’s “posh shed” nearer home here in the Borders and then hike on Lauder Common today.  Everything went to plan, we walked approx 8 miles each day and had lots of lovely picnic nosh – may I recommend brie and oatcakes, blueberries and orange juice with your best pal on top of a sunny Scottish mountain?  Here’s the snaps – I managed to mislay my camera so these are phone snaps (iphone 3).

pentlands hills hike edinburgh

pentlands hills hike edinburgh

pentlands hills hike edinburgh

pentlands hills hike edinburgh

pentlands hills hike edinburgh

pentlands hills hike edinburgh

pentlands hills hike edinburgh

fishing boat pentlands hills hike edinburgh

pentlands hills hike edinburgh

And finally, our wee hoose for the night – in our friend’s back garden!

posh shed