Walking the Water of Leith

I have to confess, we have not walked the 24 miles of the Water of Leith from the source in the Pentland Hills, nor the 12 plus miles of the Water of Leith Walkway from Balerno to Leith. We did not have time to complete the full length of the Walkway so chose to walk to Leith from the point nearest to us.

As soon as we had returned from Ireland, friends were asking why I was not in Edinburgh enjoying the Fringe. We did come up in the middle of the month as we had some work which needed to be carried out on the flat and had selected a few samples of comedy, music and photography from the Fringe to enjoy as well. Some sensible residents stay away completely as getting around is more difficult and takes longer if you have to pass through the main tourist areas; fending off the flyers constantly shoved in your face. After enjoying Dan Willis, a UK comedian living in Australia presenting a ‘Whinging Pom’s Guide’ to the country, Ed Byrne, the Edinburgh Photographic Society’s Annual Exhibition and a great night with Lorna Reid at the Jazz Club, we were ready for a change of scene. We have walked a few sections of the Walkway in the past but fancied a bigger chunk today. It is a two mile walk to our nearest section and includes a bit of the Union Canal.

The Visitors’ Centre is at Slateford just next to where the river flows under the aqueduct carrying the Union canal. We had a coffee before hitting the trail just under the aqueduct where a sign told us it was seven miles to Leith.

There are currently a few diversions due to path closures. There has been a landslip and one section has been closed for six months while this is investigated and decisions made about action. Other sections are closed due to works on the Flood Prevention Scheme. Back on the path we enjoyed the greenery including trees and wildflowers but also spotted large clusters of an introduced problem plant: Himalayan Balsam. It is an annual but produces 800 seeds per year which are propelled huge distances and can be carried by water. It out-competes native flora and is very difficult to eradicate.

Other places have street art.

We passed the Balgreen Community Garden with raised beds made from sleepers like my own and an invertebrate hotel.

There are numerous places along the way where you can join or leave the Walkway and it connects with some of the cycle routes. Occasionally the path leaves the riverside for a short stretch for example, in the Dean Village.

It passes St Bernard’s Well, built on the site of an spring and which is open on Sundays in August. Here is an interior shot I took a couple of years ago:

Before we reached Leith we came across a family of swans having a grooming session. The swan’s partner was watching nearby.

After a succession of signs all saying Leith was 1¾ miles, we eventually reached The Shore. There is a Turkish Cafe and a pub, Salvation ready to restore you and for fine dining, Restaurant Martin Wishart is a little further along. After some refreshments it was time to catch the bus home. With all the diversions we had in fact clocked up 12 miles.

Ireland: Kilkenny and Carlow

We spent our last morning in the south exploring Kilkenny and Carlow before dropping our friends off at Dublin airport and heading north to spend a few days with relatives in North Antrim. Kilkenny has a lot of history with a medieval mile starting at the castle. The castle dates from 1192 having been constructed on the site of an earlier wooden structure but has been remodelled several times, most recently by the Butler family.

We did not tour inside but walked around the park surrounding the castle and the garden around the Dower House.


The park was busy with the Saturday Fun Run so we walked over to the Castle Yard which hosts the Design Centre and several craft studios. One display in the Design Centre Gallery called ‘Lustre’ was of jewellery produced by students based on the Faberge egg concept. They explored this theme and produce their own works encased in the egg. I also looked at some copper plate etchings as this is something I have planned to do at some point.

We looked in at some of the studios and found some ceramics we liked. After a coffee in the restaurant upstairs it was time to leave the tourists gathering outside the castle and return to the hotel for a cocktail (non-drivers only) and to digest the Irish Times before beginning our drive northeast to Carlow.

This is another town I had visited many years ago while working but I could remember little about it. Just as we were getting out of the car I met an elderly gentleman walking up the hill who paused just to take a breath. He told me that he was 88 and knew everything that there was to know about Carlow. He was keen to tell me that the river used to be bigger and have ‘really big’ boats on it. Now rowing seems to be the main waterborne activity. We walked over to the ruined castle

and then along the river path to the Millennium Bridge. Swans and a rook were keen to befriend us in case we had any food for them.


In the park ‘Bridging’ an installation containing works by teenagers on a 14-week project exploring life as a teenager in Carlow was on display.

This is one of the panels.

Carlow does have an art institute and walking back to the car, we passed some street art entitled ‘Wall R Us: is it a wall or is it us?’.

Having dropped our friends off at the airport we continued on the motorway to the border. Just north of Dublin we noted that we had driven 700 miles on this trip so far. There were still tractors on the motorway and the six-lane road it becomes across the border. Summer seemed to be ending as we made our way to North Antrim in rain. Fortunately this did not last and the sun and blue skies returned for the remainder of our trip.

Ireland: driving to Waterford


We had a leisurely start to the day as we left Dublin by the coast road. It passes through Dalkey and Killiney (I once stayed in the Castle Hotel here for a research project meeting) and to our first port of call: breakfast at Shankill Street Food Outlet. There is an Oscar Wilde quote on the wall in the toilet here and a map of a 47km walk which crosses over to Tallaght.

We then drove through Greystone which was voted the most liveable place in the world in 2008. It was not immediately obvious driving through why this might be as it did not seem all that very different from other places we could think of. I am sure there must be more under the surface, not visible to the passing traveller. After passing through Wicklow, driving and food meant that when we reached Brittas Bay, a beach walk was essential. I noticed a couple of nearby campsites which took tourers and made a note to return when we have our campervan. The beach was quiet but had lifeguards and a few families enjoying the sun. I found some sea glass and our friends picked up some shells.

We made a significant contribution to our daily 10,000 steps.
Beyond Arklow the road leaves the coast and diverts inland to Gorey, Enniscorthy and New Ross before reaching Waterford. We made use of the last sunshine exploring Ireland’s oldest town, founded by Vikings in 914 AD.

The tower near the end of the esplanade dates from 1003.

There are old fortifications, the oldest Catholic Church in Ireland and many other buildings of various ages and architectural style to look at.


There is also a fair amount of street art. One of the hotel staff said that every year, various artists arrive in the town to add more during the annual Spraoi Street Art Festival. In 2017 this takes place on August 4-6th. I spotted some art down an alley:


You can visit the Tower, the museum, Bishops Palace and other sights but it began to rain so we escaped to the comfort of our hotel which is in an old building.

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.

To the Land of Fire and Ice

It was trying to snow as we left home in the dark and there was a light dusting at the airport. A couple of days before we left there had been a photograph of a train in a snowy landscape south of Inverness in a newspaper where it was described as ‘battling through the snow’. As there only appeared to be a couple of inches this generated great discussion with contributions from Ken Bruce on Radio 2. It reminded me of trying to leave my first job in Inverness to travel to the next one in Stirling in January 1985. Inverness was cut off by deep snow on all the surrounding roads and I was phoning the station every day to find out whether the trains were running as they had been sliding back down the icy track at Aviemore. Eventually I did leave and arrived in Stirling on a train completely covered in snow. That amount of snow might lead to ‘battling’. I was hoping for snow in Iceland as we have had very mild winters for the last few years. As we descended into Keflavik there were some snowy hills peeking through the cloud. Having landed, our baggage took a long time to emerge so I could not resist pressing the ‘grumpy’ emoji button on the feedback post which asked how satisfied we were with the speed of our baggage arrival. We took the Grayline bus to our hotel as taxis are around £95 one way from the airport to Reykjavik. The Flybus is a bit cheaper but just takes you to a central point in the city. The next day we had the morning to explore some of the city before meeting up with the rest of our group in the afternoon. We headed down to the harbour first.
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The Harpa Concert Hall was started before the 2008 financial crisis and completed later.
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We then wandered around the streets admiring the street art and discovering that there is a punk museum.
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All the usual fast food outlets are here as well as Irish pubs and American bars. The only exception was McDonalds which was odd but I later found out that they had left in 2008 and not returned. It was soon time to walk along the sea wall path to meet up with our tour leader. Here is the sculpture ‘Sun Voyager’ by Jón Gunnar Árnason.
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Our tour leader told us that Iceland was having an unusually mild winter which was a little disappointing but yet another indicator of climate change. He said that some birds had not migrated and that farmers were keeping some of their animals outside which was unusual at this stage of winter. We met the rest of the group and then went for a dip in the Blue Lagoon. It is busy and booking is essential. We only just managed to find empty lockers and after the obligatory shower, sampled the water. I did not take my camera into the rain, steam and silica but there were plenty who did and we had to dodge the selfie sticks. Facials and other treatments are available and there is a bar in the pool but we just relaxed before I took a few shots through the windows of the cafe and along the path around the edge of the pool.
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Back at the hotel, we met the resident cat who was lounging on the doormat but was a little camera-shy. James was delighted to find Sky Sports on the TV in the room and live football in the bar. There was even a school trip from Liverpool watching the match to make us feel at home.

Western Ohio and Indiana

Route 30 in Ohio is mostly a dual carriageway but there are segments of the old road through various communities and at times, alongside the big road. Our first stop this morning was Bucyrus which has a large mural entitled ‘America at the Crossroads’. The garden in front is looked after by the local Rotary Club and two people were tidying it up and we got chatting. The woman told me that local people had been used as models for the people in the mural. We got into politics on both sides of the pond and the local economy. The man said that his son farmed 12,000 acres ‘..that’s not a farm, that’s a corporation’.
Mural Bucyrus OH 30 June 2016-1
In a nearby café, another local was at pains to tell us how much the town was spending renovating the 19th century town hall. Afterwards, we looked at another mural and then had to head back to the road. Before leaving I had compiled an extensive playlist for the trip and on day one, hooked up my iPod to the car audio system. It recognised the iPod and then stuck at ‘indexing’. This has never happened before but after a quick internet search it seems I am not alone. Many people have had problems with Ford’s system and their iPhone or mp3 player. The suggested solution was either to reset the system or remove the fuse: I would do this in my car but not in a rental car. So we are stuck with the radio – with the inevitable adverts and having to find yet another station as we move away from their signals. It reminds me of a trip to New England about 16 years ago when our son had acquired a Simpsons CD and we were stuck with that for 2,500 miles.

Back on R30 there are plenty of shredded tyres by the road and the occasional roadkill corpse, mostly raccoons. We are still not far from the railway, mostly used by freight trains and tracks often running through the middle of town. After Van Wert, a wind farm: some people in the USA are moving away from oil.
Winffarm Van Wert 30 June 2016-1
Woodland reappeared after crossing the state line into Indiana and driving through Fort Wayne. Malise Ruthven in his book The Divine Supermarket published in 1991, describes a ‘gruelling drive across the plains of Indiana and Illinois, which took the better part of a night and day. It had been an endless, monotonous landscape of browning fields and telephone lines, relieved occasionally by the occasional giant silo that shimmered in the heat like some distant cathedral. There were no animals in sight, and the only humans were solitary males in checked shirts and baseball caps hunched over the steering wheels of massive trucks. All the interest was in the sky, where the forces of nature were battling it out in thunderstorms that produced sudden, uncanny gusts of wind and hailstorms the size of walnuts’.
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I cannot say that I agree with him as we have found plenty of things of interest, here in Indiana and on previous drives through Illinois where we are heading on Saturday. Today’s best road sign was one advertising the waiting time at the local ER – only 21 minutes. Near Etna Green, we saw two Amish women crossing the road on a tandem and near Plymouth, an extensive cement mixer graveyard. There are lots of adverts for fireworks as 4th July approaches. Shortly before diverting from the Lincoln Highway near Valparaiso, we crossed into the Central time zone and gained an hour. The diversion is to spend tomorrow hiking in the Indiana Dunes State Park as a change from driving. We met horrendous roadworks on our way to Chesterton and having picked up trail maps at the Visitors’ Centre, are now settled into our hotel.

Philadelphia to Pittsburgh

While packing the car this morning I noticed this street art across the road from the car park.
Street Art 27 June 2016-1

After wending our way around the one-way system we were finally on Lancaster Avenue, the road out of town towards R30 which is the 1913 route of the Lincoln Highway through mainstreet America. We passed through some of the more down at heel parts of the city but once we crossed the county line into leafy Montgomery County there were plenty of mansions, Whole Foods Markets, Audi garages and adverts for yoga classes. R30 runs alongside the railway for much of the route and one train passed us.
Amtrak 27 June 2016-1
In Exton, we saw the first cornfield of the trip (many more to come) and were soon in Lancaster County where Dutch barns and Amish farmers are a-plenty. Today’s best roadside sign was one for a balanced diet: a doughnut in each hand. Our coffee stop was at the Route 30 diner.
In Columbia we stopped just before crossing the Susquehanna River and seeing I was taking photographs, a local guy came over for a chat. He thought we were Australian, said that he was a Vietnam veteran and advised me about other good photography spots. The French usually think we are Dutch; the Spanish assume we are German so Australian is a new one! The concrete bridge we crossed was built in the 1930s by veterans and was a great alternative to the four-lane R30 one upstream.
Bridge over Susquehann River 27 June 2016-1
In York we saw adverts for a gun fair that had taken place yesterday. Our lunch stop was Gettysburg which is full of history. I was slightly surprised to see a collection of musical instruments alongside shells, guns and other weapons. On the way down to the visitors’ centre I was enjoying the natural history: listening to the insects and birds in the surrounding woodland and enjoying the wild flowers.
Wildflower 2 Gettysberg 27 June 2016-1
Further exploration of the battlefields was curtailed by a heavy downpour. At this point James remembered that he had left his waterproof and a jacket in the airport hotel in New York and is currently trying to arrange for it to be sent to us in Denver. Between Gettysburg and Fayetteville, we crossed the Appalachian Trail (I started thinking about long walks) and the rain stopped. After Chambersburg, we could see hills on the horizon and were obviously in a big fruit-growing area. The road then continued up the wooded hills and we achieved another first for the trip: the first summit: Tuscarora at 2123ft in the Appalachians. All the communities we drove through had derelict houses, defunct businesses and rusting vehicles lying in the yard. The forested hills reminded me of Perthshire in Scotland where I grew up and we crossed another three summits before we reached Pittsburgh: Sideling Hill (2195ft), Bald Knob (2906ft) in the Allegheny Mountains and Laurel Hill (2684ft). We passed the Flight 93 Memorial and at Stoyston Auto Wreckers saw huge fields – acres of scrapped cars. The other first today was signs of the American election, absent yesterday but appearing today in the form of several Trump posters, the first in Jennerstown. Eventually we descended into Pittsburgh.
Tunnel into Pittsburg 27 June 2016-1