New Zealand: Hamilton


En route to Hamilton on Highway 1, we stopped for coffee at Tirau, a town that does not make it into the guide book. It has numerous cafes and so is a good place for refuelling but its speciality is corrugated iron art. Some of the buildings including the information centre and merino wool shop are housed in large corrugated iron animals.


The metal is used in many of the buildings in a more usual fashion but there are also smaller art works and some for sale in the stores. I was feeling a little under the weather so after arriving in Hamilton we limited our explorations to finding some dinner. The next morning we walked the three miles from our hotel into the city centre. The guide book is somewhat scathing saying that the ‘grey-green greasy Waikato River rolls through town’ but is ignored by the city layout. There was certainly one signpost down to the river walkway from Victoria Street and another area where access is going to be made and will open in early 2018. The riverside path runs along both banks for several miles. On the east bank the path runs thorugh the Memorial Garden and Hayes Paddock, both green spaces.

We crossed the Anzac Bridge and walked along to the Hamilton Gardens which are southeast of the centre. Fifty years ago the area was a quarry and rubbish dump. There are now gardens in several different styles: this is the Italian Renaissance one

They are situated in a large park with a cafe and restaurant, childrens’ play area, productive garden, a rose garden and herb garden. We took a bus back into the city centre and browsed in Hamilton’s secondhand bookstore ‘Browsers’ on Victoria Street. We had passed the old now empty shop on the other side of the road the previous evening so assumed it had closed. It was a pleasant surprise to find it had relocated. As seems to be the case in New Zealand, there was a large local interest section but they covered a wide range of topics and had a child-friendly area. You have to keep your wits about you in the city centre, as cyclists also use the pavement. Many cyclists have no lights or bells so can catch pedestrians unaware. Tonight there is another rugby match and then we return to Auckland tomorrow.

New Zealand: first 24 hours in Auckland


Having arrived the evening before it was already dark by the time we ventured out for dinner. The doors of St Patrick’s Cathedral just down the street from our hotel were open so we looked inside. It was built in 1907 in the Gothic Revival Style with lots of polished wood and stained glass inside.

This morning we visited the Art Gallery which sits on the other side of Albert Gardens from the University. The original building dates from 1887 with a modern extension.

On the top floor was an exhibition entitled ‘Shout, Whisper, Wail: the 2017 Chartwell Show’ including works by ten contemporary New Zealand and Australian artists in a variety of media. This is ‘Nobody puts baby in a corner’ by Janet Lilo, 2017.

The first floor has modern New Zealand and international art of which this is one example from a UK 20th century family.The Boyle Family’s ‘The Gisborne Triptych’ 1990 is one work from a project in which they invited friends to throw darts at a map of the world. They then visited as many sites as possible and gathering materials from 1000 sites using what they called ‘earthprobes’ which comprised samples from the ground and resin casting. Gisborne was where Captain Cook first landed hence the significance of this work to New Zealand.

The lower levels have New Zealand paintings from the early colonial settlement, Maori portraits by Charles F Goldie and modern works exploring migration, exploration and arrival from the earliest settlements to today. There are free tours in English and Mandarin but we preferred to wander around by ourselves.
Just outside is Albert Gardens with some sculptures and plants still in flower. The University Clock Tower looks over the gardens.

The Sky Tower at 328m is the tallest building in the southern hemisphere and you can go up it and look at the view and have a drink in the bar.

We might do that when we are back in Auckland for a couple of days at the end of this trip. We met some of the other people on the trip in the bar at Happy Hour and then found our evening meal in one of the many restaurants in the city centre. Tomorrow we leave for our next destination: Rotorua.

New Zealand: the Banks Peninsula

The Land of the Long White Cloud was cloudy as we left central Christchurch to pick up our car back at the airport. We left through the southern suburbs and then east towards the Banks Peninsula. Sighted and named after the naturalist Joseph Banks by Captain Cook in 1770, it was settled briefly by the French in the 19th century before the British claimed it.

South of Christchurch we stopped for coffee in Tai Tapu at the Store Cafe which seemed popular with a local cycling club. The next halt was at Lake Ellesmere which is actually a broad, shallow lagoon separated from the Pacific Ocean by a long narrow sandy spit. We could see Black Swans in the distance. At Lake Forsyth just before Little River, there were Mallard, Australasian Crested Grebes and this White-Faced Heron.
While I was looking at birds, James had spotted some brown cattle he thought were Herefords but had a large white stripe along their backs and down to their white heads. He chatted to the farmer who confirmed that they were Herefords. At Little River, we looked in the old station which is now run by the Little River Railway Station Trust. They are a small volunteer community group who lease the Historic Railway Station from Christchurch City Council. They look after the Gardens, the Building and environs and restore the railway carriages. Inside, there is a Heritage Room and a Waiting Room with the Little River War Memorial Boards from the 1914-18 and 1940-45 World Wars. There are displays in s on local historical and community events and reference books available for people to use to research their family history. The old railway is now a 48km Rail Trail which can be walked, ridden or biked. There is also a gallery selling art and crafts plus you can Stay in a Silo.

The tide was out at Barry’s Bay
and we finally reached Akaroa
The lighthouse was moved from the headland when automation took place. As we ate our picnic lunch this female House Sparrow sat watching us hoping for scraps.

Shetland: to a lighthouse


Café society was on the pavement, students were sunbathing on the Meadows and sunglasses required on our first morning in Edinburgh. We had 36 hours there for business and pleasure: seeing our solicitor, picking up supplies and having a very enjoyable dinner with a friend before and early start to drive to Aberdeen the next morning. We had hoped to be driving over the Forth on the new Queensferry Crossing which was originally scheduled to open in May but has been delayed so that will have to wait for another trip. There were several signs on the A90 warning that deer might be crossing the road, even in the middle of Dundee. However, it was not until we were on a minor road to Fettercairn that a Roe hind ran across in front of us and disappeared into the forest. The diversion to Fettercairn was to photograph another distillery for the photobook of all those in the British Isles.

The unicorn comes from the Ramsay family crest: they founded the distillery. Noticing signs to the arch I had to ask about that and was told that it had been erected to commemorate a visit to Fettercairn by Queen Victoria in the early 1860s. The arch is dated 1864.

Just south of Aberdeen there are extensive roadworks as a city bypass is being constructed. Looking at the map I could see that its route might be contentious especially through Deeside and the friends we met for lunch in the city confirmed this. Interestingly Aberdeen also missed the chance to develop the waterfront with historic buildings behind it and instead has an enormous shopping centre. Our friend also showed me some street art which is in a small back street and I would never have found it without her help.


Pottering around the city centre before we had to board the boat I discovered a good-sized Oxfam book and music shop on Back Wynd, just off Union Street. I added a volume to my New Naturalist collection and James found some music. A little while later we were on the ship. It was built in Finland and the harbour had boats registered in Bergen, Panama, Limassol and Monrovia that I could see. We cast off and as Aberdeen disappeared in the mist, the pilot boat left us and we sailed past the last light on the harbour wall.

We arrived into Lerwick on time and after picking up more supplies at the Co-op, stopped at a coastal espresso bar. They directed us to the nearest petrol station more reliably than the car’s satnav and James was given a free can of Irnbru after filling up there. While he was doing that, I noticed Clickimin Broch across the road. It was built over 2,000 years ago and no-one knows whether it was a fortress or merely a residence. It remained partially submerged until 1874 when the loch water level dropped. various excavations have taken place since the 1860s.

Driving north on the A970 we passed abandoned crofts and Voe where the last clearances took place in 1799. The residents farming the land were removed so that larger scale sheep farming could be introduced. We reached Mavis Grind, just south of Brae. The name means ‘gateway of the narrow isthmus’ and the just over 100m wide strip of land separates St Magnus Bay and the Atlantic Ocean on one side with Ell Wick, Sullom Voe and the North Sea on the other. Until the 1950s it was used as a boat drag to enable rapid travel from one sea to the other. On our visit locals were trying to clean up the shore, disentangling plastic from seaweed. A lot of it comes from fishing nets and creels. I spoke to one of the women who said that as a child she would pick broken glass from the net floats off the beach but that now it was all waste plastic. There is a path around the area but as it was extremely windy and the car thermometer was reading 1 degree, we decided to leave that for another day. A little further on we stopped for a picnic lunch. We stayed in the car as the thermometer now read -1 degree. This did not last as we continued into Northmavine but as the thermometer rose, the rain fell. A small diversion from our route took us to the St Magnus Bay Hotel in Hillswick where we ensconced ourselves in the bar until we could get into the lighthouse. Renovation was under way and the proprietor told us that this was the first time for 50 years. He explained that the building was listed and this was delaying work. The toilets have already been re-vamped and I have never seen a sparkly toilet seat before. We eventually reached Eshaness Lighthouse which was ready for us. It is the last Northern Lighthouse constructed by the Stevenson family and was automated in 1974. The light keepers house fell into private hands and in 1999 an American author Sharma Krauskopf bought it. She wrote a book about living on Eshaness called ‘The Last Lighthouse’. I must try and find that. In 2005, the Shetland Amenity Trust purchased the cottage and now rent it out as holiday accommodation. They do not have access to the tower. We settled in hoping that the mist would lift later.

24 hours in Liverpool


For once, our journey to Liverpool was not for work but pleasure. James is a Bob Dylan fan and I had managed to get tickets for his Liverpool night in his current UK tour. We arrived in the morning as for some time I had wanted to visit the Anglican Cathedral with my 1927 guidebook. The Diocese of Liverpool was not founded until 1880 as previously it had been part of Lichfield and then Chester Dioceses. Giles Gilbert Scott was commissioned to design the building at the age of 22 in 1902. By 1910 the Lady Chapel had been built and consecrated. Although work did not cease completely during the First World War, fund-raising had not been as successful as hoped and was limited to preventing what had already been built from deteriorating due to the weather. It was still under construction when my guidebook was published and it was not until 1942 that the central tower was completed and the first bells rang in 1951. We wandered around admiring the mix of the sacred with modern art. Here is the west window with a Tracey Emin installation below it.

Charles Lutyen’s Sculpture from wood ‘Outraged Christ’

The Lady Chapel is beautiful

and the Children’s Chapel has a Craigie Aitchison painting

Sadly no-one was playing the organ

You can climb to the top of the tower to see the view but I left that for another time. After a coffee in the mezzanine cafe we headed back down the hill past the entrance to China Town.

Along Bold Street I browsed in News from Nowhere, the radical bookshop but nothing grabbed me. I did find two books in Oxfam. The store had a re-vamp last year but still has a large shelf of newly arrived stock unlike any of their other stores that I have been in. Further down the hill, buskers were competing to see who could make the most noise. It was so sunny and warm we could not resist sitting outside with a cold beer for the first time this year before checking into our hotel. Before we could get into the arena, Simply Dylan, a tribute band were playing on the terrace at Jury’s Inn near the arena and quite a large crowd were listening. Nearby is the John Lennon memorial.
The Echo Arena does not allow photography so no photos of Bob in action. He is renowned for not having a support act, not interacting with the audience and just coming on and playing. A friend had said that he always starts on time so we were a little surprised that his start was delayed by people still coming in 15 minutes after the start time. The vast majority of people respected the no photography law with fewer phones flashing than at other events. Afterwards I only had my phone to get an evening shot as we headed back to the hotel.

Back in Southwest Scotland

A coach-load of Rangers fans en route to the Old Firm match in Glasgow, accompanied us on the 7.30am Larne to Cairnryan ferry.
They were very well-behaved despite some having cider for breakfast but G4S security were lurking in the background just in case. As we disembarked there was a police presence at the port. We were heading for Wigtown, Scotland’s book town but en route stopped at Torhouse Stone Circle. It is about 4 miles west of Wigtown and dates from the Bronze Age. It is thought to have been designed to represent the midwinter sun. There are 19 granite stones. The three large upright stones in the centre of the circle are known as King Gauldus’s Tomb (he was a mythical Scottish king). This type of stone circle is most commonly found in north-east Scotland and unusual for this part of the country.

At Wigtown we browsed in the shop which says it is the largest bookshop in Scotland, Byre Books in a cowshed surrounded by greenery and Reading Lasses which is devoted to women’s literature. Another was holding a reading as there is a festival on this weekend so we could not look in there and one was inexplicably closed.

Laden with books and a few plants from a market stall we drove into Newton Stewart to find Elmlea Plants, a nursery specialising in perennials and grasses. More purchases were made for garden renovation projects at home. The A75 follows the edge of Wigtown Bay amongst gently undulating fields with the southern uplands ahead. We cut inland to Kirkcudbright where we had arranged to spend the night. In the harbour fishing boats were returning and the tide was coming in.

We visited Broughton House, the former home and studio of the artist E.A Hornel. He was influenced by Japan, used photographs rather than drawings as the basis of his paintings, collected books and was also interested in local history. Here is his studio which has his palettes and paintbrushes as well as several paintings.
Kirkcudbright ‘Castle’ in the centre of town is really a fortified townhouse dating from the 16th century. the original castle down by the river was captured by Robert the Bruce in 1313 and destroyed. There were attempts at excavating it in 1913 to 1914 but many of the stones had been removed by the townspeople for building projects. Hornel had a collection of some maps, drawings and dig notes from the excavation which was never completed because of the First World War. At the back of the house is a long garden extending right down to the marina. The house and garden are now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland.

We stayed in the Selkirk Arms which dates from the 18th century. It has been claimed that Robert Burns wrote the Selkirk Grace here in 1794 but this has not been confirmed. Just before we left we visited the plant sale in the centre of town and found a few more unusual plants for my woodland garden. There were only two stops on what was a quiet run home from Kirkudbright. The first was at Dundrennan Abbey, a former Cistercian monastery.


The last stop was at Annandale Distillery so that I could add some shots to the Book of British Distilleries I am compiling for James. This was only reopened recently after closing in 1918. They have excavated the place the old stills stood when it first opened in 1830.

Northern Ireland: Belfast

The train takes an hour to travel from Ballymoney to Belfast, which we have not visited for several years. On arrival, we walked down to the riverside and crossed over to the Titanic Quarter. There are several art installations along the way. This one is in Thanksgiving Square

and another, Big Fish by John Kindness in Donegal Quay.

The Titanic Experience is well-presented. You can join a tour or view it independently which is what we did. After wending your way around the first floor of exhibits you take a lift to the fourth floor and hop into a car which moves fairly rapidly in three dimensions with sounds and low lighting depicting the building of the ship and all the different trades.

The remainder is devoted to the launch, journey and sinking of the ship, the survivors, the inquiry and the depictions of the story in the media. I used to work in Stoke on Trent and Captain Smith hailed from the city. It now has a brewery called ‘The Titanic’. Outside is SS Nomadic, the sole surviving ship of the White Star Line. It can also be visited with the same ticket.

By the time we emerged, it was lunchtime so the nearby Dock Café which operates with an honesty box filled us up. It has a small art gallery and a prayer room for anyone who needs one. We then wandered back into the city centre and found Keats & Chapman, a secondhand bookshop at 21 North Street. There is only a small front on the street but the shop extends a long way inside with a large selection on many subjects. James found a 1930s Ward Lock Guide to Belfast & Northern Ireland. There is another secondhand bookshop opposite the Linenhall Library but it is not so well-stocked. We had no intention of seeing all the sights on one trip so the library will wait for another time as will some of the other buildings despite walking six miles in total. Here are the exteriors of the City Hall and the Municipal College of Technology.


The Crown Bar is well-known, dates from 1849 and fantastically decorated inside and out.


We could not resist a cold beer. You could spend a whole day just looking at street art and graffiti for example and we did not get as far as the Botanic Gardens, the Museum and Art Gallery, the cathedrals. It was soon time to get our train before the mass commuter exodus.