On Saturday morning we were almost first off the ferry and made it to Ballymoney in good time. After breakfast we wandered into town for a caffeine fix and to use the wifi in a local café. Every time we come, a few more shops have closed. It is still the marching season here and several flute bands walked through the high street before getting on their buses to Derry. Shortly afterwards, some heavily armoured police Landrovers from Belfast followed them. In the afternoon we drove to Portstewart which has renovated the promenade since we were here last year. There is a wider path by the beach, curved street lamps and a sculpture entitled ‘The Fishing Boat’ by Niall O’Neill.
We visited the Art Shop; the proprietor is someone we have bought antique maps from in the past and we had a look through his collection but did not find anything we wanted. He told us that he was now getting into movie posters and I overheard him saying to another customer that he had about 600.
On Sunday evening we took James’s parents and other relatives out for a meal at a hotel on the coast to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. This morning we drove along part of the Causeway Coast and popped into the secondhand bookshop there where I found another two volumes for a natural history series I am collecting. We continued past Dunseverick, Ballintoy and on to Whitepark Bay with Islay and the Mull of Kintyre on the horizon. The bay has a four-star Youth Hostel which might be a stopping off point when we walk the coastal path at some point in the future. We are looking forward to James retiring and we can have longer sojourns over here. There is now a day passenger ferry over to Islay which includes lunch at the distillery. The beach is backed by wildflower strewn cliffs, the ruins of the old youth hostel and pasture for cattle. It is somewhere to go hunting for fossils: belemnites, a relative of the ammonite, can be found in some of the stones and rocks on this beach and I have a small collection accumulated over the years, on my mantelpiece.
On our way back to Ballymoney we passed the Dark Hedges which were relatively unknown outside Northern Ireland until they featured in ‘Game of Thrones’. Now you can hardly move for tourists, a new hotel has sprung up and they are finally on the map.
We are now in a queue at Belfast Docks waiting to get on the ferry.
Several years ago the overnight ferry we were due to take from Birkenhead to Belfast was delayed and we were told not to return to check in until 10.30pm. We headed into to New Brighton and found a bistro. On this journey we decided to go back there and eat before going to the ferry port and being restricted to the offerings on the boat. Despite summer Friday afternoon heavy traffic on the motorways, we made good time and had an hour to kill before our meal so parked up on the promenade and walked along to the end.
The tide was coming in fast and several fisherman were casting their lines. I asked one what he was hoping to catch; he replied ‘bass’ but they’re very slow tonight. Some brave souls were swimming but most families were heading back home after an afternoon on the beach. We were too late to visit the museum in Fort Perch Rock, a former defence building dating from 1820 as it closed at 5pm.
After dinner, it was time to head back to the port and after another wait, get onto the boat.
Across the water, lights were starting to come on in Liverpool and it was time for us to settle into our cabin before the 5.30am alarm tomorrow morning.
Those who know us well will appreciate that we had to go and view the National Library of Scotland’s exhibition of maps ‘You are here’. We have a very eclectic collection of maps dating from the 16th century: places we have lived and visited, mainly with some we just loved when we saw them. My most recent acquisition was a 19th century map of the Gulf Stream which I found in Denver. I don’t have permission to reproduce any of the maps in the exhibition so here is one of ours:
One of the interesting things in the exhibition was a display of the development of depicting contours in the landscape. Yesterday, before heading back down south we visited Jupiter Artland in West Lothian. On the way out of town, a van driver who had ‘Obi Van Kenobi’ written above the windscreen raised a smile. Numerous works from a variety of artists including Antony Gormley, Anish Kapoor, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Cornelia Parker and others. We even got in for free as the park was nominated for the Art Fund Museum of the Year Award. Despite not winning they decided to allow Art Fund members in for free instead of the usual 50% reduction on the entrance price. The works are surrounded by woodland and wildflowers but the strong winds made flower photography impossible. I was a little unsettled walking through the woods in the strong wind as a guy wild camping in the woods near the Dean Village in Edinburgh was killed when a tree fell on the tent during the night. His mate who was also in the tent was injured. I don’t think I would have pitched my tent under trees in those conditions. There is so much to take in, including exhibitions indoors back at the ticket office/cafe area.
I may have retired from clinical work but still have academic work to clear before I can finally hang my hat up for good. Just as I was planning a fairly leisurely week in Edinburgh, the reviewer’s comments on a book manuscript, papers to be revised and submitted and a Cochrane Review update have all landed on my desk. I came up here for some peace to write as we are having the living room and conservatory floors tiled at home. However, some of my neighbours here were in the process of having their bathroom revamped and another was having some work by a gas engineer. So when it got too much, I have headed out for some culture. The city was gearing up for the Festival and Fringe which kicked off today but my first destination was away from the beaten track of most festival goers – the Edinburgh Photographic Society. They hold an international exhibition every year, down in the New Town. There was no-one else in when I was there so I had the photographs all to myself.
On Wednesday evening there was a private view at the Scottish Arts Club with paintings by Jennifer McRae, pen & ink drawings by Ian Stuart Campbell and jewellery by Natalie Adams. I met a saxophonist who gave me some tips (I hope to take it up soon) and we also swapped tips about packing for the Pacific Northwest as she is heading off to study in Vancouver very soon. Yesterday the club hosted its annual ‘Fringe in a Day’ event. Comedians, actors and musicians all provide short tasters of their shows. I managed about half of it as it goes on until late evening but I did want to get some more work done today so needed a fairly early night. Hopefully next year I can do it all in a slightly more leisurely fashion. Now it’s time to be thankful I am not staggering up Brownlow Hill in Liverpool but can be at the virtual university.
We were unable to try for Glastonbury tickets this year as it clashed with our US road trip. A friend suggested Carfest North as it was local, we were around and it made an ideal birthday present for her. My car-mad husband could come along and was pleased we did not get camping tickets so he could sleep at home each night. On Saturday we set off early and were parked up by the time it opened. There was lots to look at, events in the arena and cars driving around the track which had been constructed here following the move from Oulton Park. Other small displays were going on around the place.
In addition to cars of all kinds we had the JCB Dancing Diggers, a speed boat and paddle-boards on the water (not at the same time) and plenty of non-vehicular action: show-jumping, camel racing and army dog displays. There was plenty for children to do with a fun-fair and various other activities. The music kicked off in the afternoon and again there was a variety from brass band to an NHS Choir, A Who tribute band, the Proclaimers, Kaiser Chiefs, KT Tunstall, the Corrs etc.
In between acts we were entertained by dancing poodles and Mr Motivator, all compèred by Chris Evans. On Sunday we had a slightly later start and then got held up on the way by a large horsebox going very slowly. The A534 towards Bolesworth is a two lane road with so many bends that overtaking is impossible. Eventually when we were almost at our destination, he turned off in the opposite direction. On our return that evening we caught up with the same horsebox but this time were were on a dual-carriageway and could get past him. My friend and I would have preferred to camp and not have to come and go but as 2017 will not be a Glastonbury year as we will be in New Zealand in June, we are looking at alternatives and persuading my husband that we can make it comfortable for him. After what was quite an exhausting but very enjoyable weekend, I was glad to be on an early train to Edinburgh where I hope to mix some work I have to do with some culture.
For the last two days of our trip we were happy to dispense with the car. On the first morning we had a couple of things to do downtown so took the Muni from outside the motel, it is a very good, cheap way of getting around town. The city was still cool and grey. I did the obligatory pilgrimage to City Lights Books and found Robert Moor’s ‘On Trails’ which had been on my list since I read a review a few weeks ago.
The following day we walked through Golden Gate Park to the Botanic Gardens. There were the usual joggers, cyclists and a few people doing Tai Chi. I saw a Stellar’s Jay but didn’t manage to whip the camera out in time. At the gardens we enjoyed a couple of hours there. Sunset Piano had created a sculpture from three pianos, one of which can be played and it is installed at the entrance. There are ten pianos placed around the garden and recitals take place at various times over the next couple of weeks. When there is not formal concert, anyone is welcome to come and play. We heard several people playing well and one excruciating rendition of the Moonlight Sonata. Afterwards we visited two local bookshops: one sold new and used, James found something there. At the Great Overland Book Company I found a couple of books and we had a chat with the proprietor who, like many of the people we have met along the way, wanted to talk about Brexit. In the afternoon I did some beachcombing as the fog had gone and we had blues sky with only a little light cloud over the ocean. I took some bird photographs including these long-billed dowitzers. There are numerous small pieces of plastic waste on the sand but no sea glass. I did find some intact sand dollars.
A local guy told me that he had just seen a young seal and that the sea just off the beach was a rich fishing ground. He also said that he had seen whales from the shore. Gulls were eating crabs on the shore and the dowitzers were probing the wet sand. I had hoped to get some sunset shots that evening but the fog returned a couple of hours before sunset and the strong wind was blowing sand around. The total miles walked that day was eleven. Yesterday it was time to fly back home. At San Francisco airport the police patrol the terminals on Segways. I noticed on Facebook that the London to Sydney Overland trip we were hoping to do in 2018 is ceasing after 2017 so 2018 might have to be the Big Lap in Australia. On the plane I watched as we crossed the Sierra Nevada, desert, the Rockies and sunset over Canada. The sun rose soon afterwards over the mountains, snow and ice of southern Greenland. As we started to descend over Ireland, I found it hard to adjust to seeing small green fields again but glad to be back home among them again for a while.
We finally made it this afternoon to the Western Terminus Marker at the end of the Lincoln Highway in Lincoln Park, San Francisco. Although we only drove around 200 miles, this involved a descent from over 7,000ft at the Donner Summit to sea level and a reduction in temperature from the 99 degrees we were experiencing in Reno and North Tahoe, to 66 degrees, cloud and wind, here on Ocean Beach. We picked up the Lincoln Highway again in Truckee where it runs on US 40, another transcontinental road. We stopped at the Donner Memorial State Park and looked at the museum. I read the account of their journey several years ago and it was interesting to have covered their route across the Great Salt Lake Desert and into the Sierra. The history of the Washoe Indians was also included in the museum display. We drove along the lakeside which was very busy with people fishing and enjoying water sports and then up the winding road to the summit of the pass. Just short of it I was photographing the lake below when five women from San Francisco asked me to take some group photographs with their phones. One then asked us if we wanted her to take one of us and amazed that I had found someone who could operate my camera, agreed. Afterwards we carried on downwards. The names of some of the towns we passed later gave clues to where their emigrants came from: Dutch Flats, Weimar & Heather Glen. Around Sacramento there were endless roadworks and traffic jams at the various major route intersections. In the Central Valley we drove alongside fruit trees. I have been hearing that it has been wet back home so at least my fruit and vegetables should have survived my absence.
Eventually we were in the Bay Area and then over the Bay Bridge into town, to Lincoln Park and then to our motel. I did dip my toes in the Pacific this evening after dinner but decided to delay sunset photography until tomorrow. There were some hardy souls surfing. This part of town used to be called Fog City but was renamed as Sunset. The San Francisco fog phenomenon has the same origins as that along the east coast of Scotland and England: cold air from the sea meeting warmer air on land and condensing. We are used to this in Edinburgh where it is known as the ‘haar’: a name imported from the other side of the north sea. For the next two days we are looking forward to no driving. Our feet and the trams that rumble past the motel will get us to where we want to be.