Discovering Moffat


On our frequent journeys to and from Edinburgh, Moffat has become a regular place to pause. Not only is it on the scenic A701 but the town also has a lot to offer. It is, as far as I know, the only town in Scotland to have a statue of a sheep in the centre instead of some local worthy. I must confess that at university we used to tease a guy from Moffat about this. The ram is a reminder of how important the wool industry has been to the town. I understand it even holds sheep races every year in August and unsurprisingly, the local rugby team is called The Rams.

However, Moffat’s growth from a small village into a popular resort began in the 17th century when Rachel Whiteford discovered its sulphurous waters. They were believed to have healing properties. My 1894 copy of Forrest’s Illustrated Guide states ‘Moffat has now been for more than two centuries a place resorted to by strangers on account of its mineral waters’; citing chronic gout, rheumatism and ‘serious intestinal derangement’ as disorders which would benefit from them. The town has three wells in the surrounding hillsides but the Moffat Well brought it fame and prosperity. The current Town Hall was built in 1827 as a bath house where people could drink and bathe in the pungent sulphurous waters. Visitor numbers grew in the 18th and early 19th centuries, with people staying to ‘take the waters’. Victorian luxurious hotels were built to accommodate the increasing numbers of tourists and several are still hotels today. Another consequence of Moffat’s fame as a Spa Town is the existence of the oldest pharmacy in Scotland. It still has many of its original shop fittings preserved. Moffat Well is a short drive or walk 1½ mile walk out of the town into the hills. It is something we hoped to do on our journey south today after a balmy few days in Edinburgh where I wondered why I had brought my coat but the low cloud, rain and the need to get home before Storm Ophelia reached western England meant we satisfied ourselves with a quick coffee in the town centre. There are also riverside walks and walks up into the surrounding hills. It is close to the Southern Upland Way and the Annandale Way. The Grey Mare’s Tail waterfall is 10 miles away in a hanging valley with walking trails nearby.

Moffat also has a campsite and several other accommodation options. There are many cafes and it even has its own Moffat Toffee. Parking is free in the town centre and in the car park at the south end. There are many independent shops including a book shop which I usually pop into when I stop off. The town hosted the World Gold-Panning Championships in August 2017.

As you leave Moffat heading northeast towards Edinburgh, you pass over a small bridge at Gardensholm Linn that was part of a murder story which gripped the whole nation in the 1930s. Dr Buck Ruxton, a physician from Lancaster had murdered and dismembered his wife and their housemaid and travelled to Moffat to dispose of them in newspaper parcels in an area still known as Ruxton’s dump. His downfall was due to pioneering forensic science at Edinburgh University examining the evidence and the use of his local Lancastrian newspaper which identified the perpetrator as someone not local. He also put the parcels in a smaller stream that was in full spate at the time. Had he put them in the Annan River, they may have been washed out to sea without being discovered. Ruxton was convicted and later hung in HMP Manchester in 1936.

Despite all this history and Moffat’s situation as a staging post on the road from Dumfries to Edinburgh, it barely gets a mention in Alistair Moffat’s book The Borders. However, we are discussing walking the Annandale Way at some point which has a loop north of the town around the Devil’s Beef Tub and then heads south to Annan and the coast. Today we had to content ourselves with driving back down the motorway with a curiously red sun peeking out from the clouds.

Ireland: County Kerry – completing the ring


Before leaving to complete the Ring of Kerry we had another walk around Kenmare. the shortcut into town from our hotel is along a very short stretch of the Kerry Way a 200km long distance walk. Cromwell’s Bridge is a little further downstream from the current bridge over the Finnish River. Oliver Cromwell never visited the town although he gifted the whole area to the scientist Sir Thomas Petty in part payment for his mapping of Ireland. The name is thought to be a corruption of an Irish word. It was a single-arch rubble-stone stilted bridge built about 1700. The parapets were removed around 1900 and visitors are advised not to attempt to cross it as it is probably unsafe.

We purchased a couple of books in the local bookshop and after a coffee it was time to drive the last stretch of the Ring of Kerry: the portion between Kenmare and Killarney. The road first winds up to the Molls Gap, a pass named after Moll Kissane, who ran a shebeen (an unlicenced public house) in the 1820s, while the road was under construction. The summit is 262m and there are views of the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks mountains.

There is a shop here and it is a popular stop off on the route. The rocks are formed of old red sandstone. Further on, the road enters Killarney National Park and arrives at Ladies View which is said to be named after Queen Victoria’s ladies in waiting. It has views over the nearby lakes. A man was selling prints and photographs from a stall and there is also a cafe 100m further on.

The road descends into Muckross where Muckross House and estate are situated. They were given to the state in 1932 and can be visited. The National Park Visitor Centre is sited here. Available from here and other places along the road into Killarney you can have a tour on a jaunting cart which is horsedrawn. There are also trips available on the lakes and many other activities available around town. We took the road towards Mallow back in County Cork as the first stage of our journey to Kilkenny, the next destination on this trip. Like many towns in this area, Killarney has won a ‘Tidy Town’ award. Mallow is an administrative centre for the region and manufactures sugar (we did see a British Sugar tanker). It has a ruined castle which was burnt down in 1658. In the town centre, there were a number of closed shops like many towns in the UK but we had a light lunch in a cafe and continued on our journey. We reached Kilkenny around 5pm and found the hotel fairly easily. As we walked out for dinner a little later in the evening we crossed over the River Nore in the centre of the town.

On the return journey the evening lights were reflected in the water

and the castle was lit up.

Ireland: County Kerry

This mornings journey took us out of Cork, past Macroom and over the Derrynasaggart Mountains where Ireland’s highest pub the ‘Top of Coom’ is situated. It is situated just over the border between Counties Cork and Kerry. The scenery around us reminded us very much of Scotland, especially the hills where I grew up.


The road descends through Glen Fesk and on into Killarney which boasts Ireland’s only Lord of the Rings themed pub. We had a coffee and a brief wander around town before taking the turning for the Ring of Kerry. We only had a few hours to drive the road and there are many routes over the mountains and interesting ancient sites around which will have to be explored in a more leisurely fashion on another trip. Our first stop was at the point at Rossbeigh where the tide was just about to start to recede on the rocky shore. A couple of people were trying somewhat unsuccessfully to surf.

There are sand dunes and a beach on the other side of the point and it is possible to explore it on horseback if you wish. We could see the Slieve Mountains across the water. The next stop for a walk was Inny Strand on Ballinskellig Bay just before Waterville. This was a little busier with some people swimming. The water would not be warm enough to tempt me in.

Parking here is limited but we managed to find a space and walked on the beach.

The tide had retreated more since we left our last walk and numerous jellyfish were stranded on the beach.

On the edge of the bay was a derelict concrete building. After wondering what it was, we discovered that it had once been a hotel. We could not help thinking that if someone could invest in it, it could be resurrected in such a beautiful spot. Back on the road we kept stopping at various points to admire the view.

Near Castle Cove, the mist descended and began to hide the islands offshore.

We had a brief spell of rain and passed several signs to standing stones (some people even seemed to have them in their garden) to explore in the future. Eventually we reached Kenmare, a small town filled with places to stay, eat and drink in addition to local services. Its name means ‘head of the sea’ and it sits at the end of a bay. It is a good base for exploring the local area. After settling into our hotel we walked the short distance into town and after eating, found some traditional music in a local pub to finish off the night.

New Zealand: Lake Taupo to Auckland

The day length is noticeably longer up here. Lake Taupo was being buffeted by strong winds as we left and the ducks looked very ruffled, not knowing to risk swimming on the water.

Making a note to return in a different season, we got back onto Highway 1 just north of the town. There are plenty of adrenalin activities to do around here but I would be happy just to do some walking on the trails. The road passes through the large Kinleith Forest before descending into farmland.

North of Hamilton, farmland merges into coal mining country and Huntly is the centre. There are both underground and opencast mines here. Happily, we found a diversion around Lake Waikare. It is struggling with algal bloom and pollution from the surrounding farms. There is a big clean-up operation underway in the Waikare River which runs alongside the road. It was just as windy as Lake Taupo.

Very few birds were attempting to fly today but we did spot a few wild turkeys foraging by the side of the road. Nearer to Auckland the expressway becomes a motorway. With roadworks and road improvement schemes we felt quite at home. We dropped the hire car off and dragged our cases the three blocks or so to our hotel. We are now joining part of the British Lions tour so that James can enjoy some rugby. It does leave us with quite a lot of free time however so tomorrow we will sample some of the delights of Auckland. While we were checking in, the screens in reception were reporting serious disruptions with road closures and ferry crossings due to snow in the South Island. At least we have escaped that.

New Zealand: Wellington to Lake Taupo

We spent most of the morning on Highway 1 dodging heavy showers and getting used to the new rental car. The road runs by the coast for the first few miles before continuing inland. We had a brief stop on the windblown beach at Pukera Bay with Kapiti Island in the distance.

Foxton was our coffee stop and as this area is not very densely populated, reminded us of many places on the South Island. We were the only customers in the cafe at the time. Foxton was a New Zealand flax-stripping centre, has a Dutch windmill in the town centre and a beach. As we drove on, listening to music on the iPod, The Stranglers’ ‘Something better change’ came on and seemed very apposite given the political situation back home in the UK.

Sanson sits at a road junction and that is all it seems on the map, so finding The Ministry of Books was serendipitous. This very large shop is well-organised, has a huge selection on all aspects of New Zealand and many other subjects as well as some antiquarian volumes.

By the time we emerged with a couple of purchases it was raining very heavily. The next big road junction was at a town called Bulls. In addition to a large black bull sculpture, a notice welcomed visitors saying it is ‘a town like no udder’. The next town on our route was Waioru which described itself as an ‘oasis in the Rangipo Desert’ at 792m altitude. It is a garrison town and entry to much of the countryside on the road through the desert is restricted as it is an army training ground. We had our lunch at the rain-soaked summit which is at 1074m and noticed several military police vehicles, a fire engine and ambulance passing us on the road, red lights flashing. A rainbow appeared in the sky

but the torrential rain continued and only a mile or so down the road we had to sit and wait for more than an hour until the accident was cleared. We then descended down to the lake and alongside it into Taupo and our hotel but all we could see was the rain.

New Zealand: crossing the Cook Strait

Just after sunrise and while the moon was still high in the sky, we were driving out of Nelson.

Highway 6 runs through the mountains and over a couple of passes before descending into the Rai Valley. We had breakfast there. Further on, the road crosses the Pelorus Bridge and can be closed when the river is in flood. At Havelock, there are two options to get to Picton where the ferry departs from. You can stay on Highway 6 and get there via Blenheim or take the windy and scenic route. We chose the latter and were only a little way along it when we came to a look–out with views back up the valley and over the Marlborough Sounds.


Eventually this road descends to the shores of Queen Charlotte Sound and we arrived in Picton. We had a little time to kill before the ferry so coffee, a look in Down Under Books, the local second-hand bookstore which has a good selection of books on New Zealand as well as all the usual sections. Before heading over to the ferry terminal we had a short walk around the marina to Shelley Beach. There are other trails around here for walking and cycling.

Our mileage so far on the South Island has been 1604 miles. We dropped off the rental car as they charge you £500 to take one over to the North Island. We had arranged to pick another up in Wellington the following day. The ferry was not too busy at all and you can check in your cases so that you don’t have to lug them around on board.

The crossing was smooth and the sun went down before we docked in Wellington.

After getting my fix of mountains and forests it was quite strange to be back in the city with concrete flyovers, skyscrapers and rush hour traffic. We took an electric taxi to our hotel and had dinner at a nearby Belgian pub. We finally had some venison for the first time here after seeing so many red deer being farmed on the south island and were served by a guy from Leeds. We have met so many young people from the UK and Europe who are working here. Most of the antipodean youth seem to head for London.

New Zealand: Fox Glacier to Nelson

After scraping the ice from the windscreen we were on our way. None of the cafes in Fox Glacier Village were open early for breakfast on a winter Sunday morning so we had to wait for that until we got to Franz Josef Glacier. Dense mist and low sun made progress a little slow as did meeting a large herd of cattle who were being moved a couple of miles along the road near Whataroa. A little further on we found a lovely spot on the shores of Lake Ianthe. You can camp here and a couple of campervans were there.


Ross is a former gold prospecting town where the largest nugget in New Zealand was found in 1907. Nowhere was open for coffee so we pressed on the Hokitita. Caffeine levels topped up we had a little look around town. It has something I have never seen before: a sock shop and museum. They do sell a few other woollen (merino and possum) items e.g. sweaters but it is mostly socks and wool. They have a large display of old machinery, domestic and commercial used for sock-knitting. There is also a large jade factory and shop. You can go in and see the stones being ground and decorated and there is a large shop selling jewellery and other items.

Heading north out of Hokitita we were driving alongside the railway and the coast. Many of the old wooden bridges sit alongside the new concrete ones. Just north of Kumara junction Highway 6 still uses the old single-lane metal bridge but a new one is under construction. We drove through a place called Shantytown which had a motel but did not look at all an inspiring place to stay. At Greymouth we drove inland on Highway 7 up the Grey River Valley crossing its various tributaries and then on another road to rejoin Highway 6.