Month: July 2016 (page 2 of 4)

B & Bees


This B stands for Charlotte Brontë’s 200th anniversary this year (Valley Gardens, Harrogate)

IMG_8371IMG_8370IMG_8376Judith was working today so after lunch I took the bus into Harrogate again (it’s 7 pounds 90p for a return – a bargain!). The previous day I’d  seen that a masterclass by Sir Willard White was taking place in the Wesleyan Chapel in the center of the town so that’s where I was heading. I’d booked a ticket online anxious that it would be already sold out. As it transpired  about 30 people attended, but before that I explored one of Harrogate’s main attractions – Valley Gardens, in July at the peak of its bedding plant splendour. In one bed celebrating the anniversaries of British authors the initials of Beatrix Potter, Charlotte Brontë, Roald Dahl and William Shakespeare were ‘painted’ in flowers – quite beautiful, but difficult to photograph since I didn’t have my stilts with me! It was yet another very hot day and I made a bee-line (get it?) to the tea shop and asked, with some trepidation, if they could make an iced coffee. ‘Of course,’ came the reply, ‘Do you want sugar in that?’ When it arrived it was made with half water and half milk and nowhere, I mean nowhere, was there any ice involved. I’ve had some strange iced coffees before but none that didn’t involve ice:-)


The iceless iced coffee

I arrived at the Chapel just before it opened. I’d purchased an open seat in the balcony and wanted to be sure I got a good view. As it was there were just two of us in the balcony! One thing I hadn’t thought about was that heat rises, and this was a very hot day – no fans, all the windows closed, no air. I chatted to my partner in crime who had recently moved to Harrogate and had just come to this event on the spur of the moment. It seemed odd to me that two world renowned artists , the author Val McDermid yesterday and bass Willard White are playing to a ridiculously small number of people during the day for free or very little, while in the evenings they play to sold out audiences in big venues as part of the Harrogate Festivals.


The masterclass was wonderful and reminded me of the play I recently saw in Santa Cruz called Masterclass which is based on masterclasses given by Maria Callas to emerging singers. It wasn’t until I was looking up more about him that I found out that Willard White was one of the up and coming singers who performed in a masterclass with Ms Callas. “Insecurity is the instigator of creativity,” was one of his quotes that I came away with. With the soprano he concentrated on her dramatic interpretation and with the baritone he focused on continuous sound production.


Sir Willard White

The masterclass was over in an hour and I thought about wandering back to the gardens but a big storm cloud was hovering over the town and I decided to get back to Birstwith. Judith had popped home for tea before she went off to usher at one of the festival events – Unthanks, a duo from the North East. She didn’t enjoy the show. I settled in for an evening of embroidery, watching on TV the Strictly Proms event I’d listened to on the radio the previous evening. Since this particular prom had a dance element to it that’s not so ridiculous as it appears. I chatted to Anna and Sarah via Facebook. Sarah was in the middle of helping Anthony’s family remove his stuff from my house. After his terrible road accident coming back from Tahoe on July 5th in which his two friends had died, he needs 24 hour care and is moving back in with his parents.


Wesleyan chapel was the venue for the masterclass

Wire in the Blood – in Harrogate?

1:45 I’m sitting in Wetherspoon’s in the Old Winter Garden in the center of Harrogate. I rather like the Wetherspoon concept for buying  historic buildings and turning them into bars/eateries while endeavouring to keep as much as their former glory as possible. I’m currently enjoying a pint of Ruddles and waiting for my Tandoori chicken wrap. I was a bit taken aback when they asked me if I wanted chips with it but . .  .there you are.


Lunch in Wetherspoons

This is the first time I’ve taken the bus from Birstwith for the 20 minute ride to Harrogate. I couldn’t believe it when it cost 5 pounds 50p. Yikes! Twice on the country lanes the bus had to stop to let lorries negotiate the inches between us and them. There was only one lady at the bus stop and I struck up a conversation with her, initially as to whether I was on the correct side of the road for the bus to Harrogate. It turned out that she used to live in  . .  .Truckee, and was quite familiar with the Donner party story. It’s a pity I didn’t have my Donner party hike hat on! She lived for 23 years in the US, including Las Vegas and returned to the Harrogate area seven years ago.She prefers village life to the hustle and bustle (where?) of the big (?) town. Like me she’s been ancestry hunting for the last seven years. Initially she believed she was the first member of her family to go to the US, but no. Aren’t these coincidences weird? It reminded me of Keith who said that the first time he ever visited Bath he felt as if he was going home – but he’d never visited it before his Jane Austen trip. The ‘Truckee lady’ exchanged a ‘Have a nice day’ as we got off the bus and I set of to wander the streets of Harrogate. The stores are predominantly upscale women’s clothing stores, chic tea rooms and coffee shops. There’s even a Jamie Oliver restaurant. High fashion is here – summer frocks abound and I’ve seen more high heels and maxi dresses in the last 2 hours than I have on the rest of the trip combined.


Elegance in Harrogate

The Tandoori chicken (rather dry) and salad (rather sad) were adequate but my table just by the open door to the garden area was lovely. “Are you a secret shopper?” came from over my shoulder. It took me a minute to understand the question but someone on the adjacent table thought I was writing a review of Wetherspoons. She commented that sometimes the food took an hour to arrive! I must admit that when I ordered and they told me  that the food would be at least 20 minutes I was somewhat taken aback. But I wasn’t in a hurry and the 30 minute wait gave me time to write up my journal.


Wire in the Blood author, Val McDermid

Next stop was the Oxfam book shop where Val McDermid was to hold a question and answer session at 3 p.m. I’d helped Judith write a brief press release for the event and the author’s name seemed familiar but when I saw the display I realized that she was the author of Wire in the Blood – that wonderful psychological profile series with Robson Green. About a dozen people showed up and I don’t know how many of those were the book shop staff!  Currently Harrogate is hosting an international music festival and a crime writers festival. I’d though about getting a day pass for the writers festival for tomorrow but the 97 pound price tag made the cost prohibitive (!). Here I was getting a very up close and personal chat with the author for free . . . and she was happy to sign a used copy  (the only ones Oxfam carry) of that very book for me. It was great to hear sentences like,’When I was chatting to Coin Dexter he told me he’d never set foot inside a police station until he’d completed the first five Morse books.” and she related how J. K Rowling came to review her rewrite of Northanger Abbey, bringing it into the 21st century.


Judith had joined me for the book talk but she needed to return to work – this time her job doing some bookkeeping at a vet’s in town, so I settled myself in an upper room at the surgery for an hour or so while she completed her work. We had dinner at The Old Spring Well in Killinghall on the way home since she’d had a particularly taxing day.

On the trail of Charlotte Brontë

Last year when I stayed at Judith’s in the tiny estate village of Birstwith I had commented on the large building on a hill overlooking the village. Originally the entire village belonged to the Greenwood family and all the buildings were constructed for the people who worked at the cotton mill.  Swarcliffe  had turrets and towers and looked very

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Swarcliffe today

imposing. Judith told me that it once belonged to the mill owner but was  now a private school. It was only when I got back home  and read about it that I discovered that Charlotte Brontë had resided in this house for the summer of 1839 when the Sedgwick family for whom she was a governess to the two small children moved here for the summer. The home belonged to Mrs Sedgwick’s parents. So on my visit this year I wanted to see if I could get a closer look at the building. As luck would have it Judith knows a teacher there and so we arranged to meet, first in the teacher’s home (next to the post office) which was once the mill manager’s home and then she would give us a short tour of Swarcliffe. In her elegant home she provided me with a copy of a letter that Charlotte wrote to her friend Ellen Nussey, describing how dreadfully unhappy she was at Swarcliffe. Charlotte just


The school library

wasn’t a ‘people person’ and with the entertaining of guests and the care of the youngsters (she was not fond of children either) she felt very lonely. “As it is I can only ask you to imagine the miseries of a reserved wretch like me thrown at once into the midst of a large family – proud as peacocks and wealthy as Jews – at a time when they were particularly gay, when the house was full of company – all strange people whose faces I had never seen before – in this state of things having the charge given me of a set of pampered, spoiled and turbulent children, whom I expected constantly to amuse as well as instruct.”


It was a steep climb up to the school, passing the church, but one that Eleanor Bird does each day on her walk to work, where she teaches English. Once a boys’ boarding school it is now an expensive day school for children from nursery school age to eleven years old. Fees are 10,000 pounds per year. Little of the original building that Charlotte knew remains. In fact, probably  only  the original stable block (which is now a classroom)


The stable block that Charlotte would recognize

remains, which may account for the place having no’ blue plaque’ but for me to simply take in the views that she would have looked out on was simply magical. Again it was a very warm day – 80F – and the scenery and extensive grounds looked idyllic, but as Eleanor pointed out, in poor weather (i.e most of the time!) chaparoning the students from one building to another between classes is an arduous duty for the staff. I noticed a noticeboard with the names and successes of about 20 students in the ABRSM music exams. I think I could teach here! I suspect that most of the students go on to ritzy boarding schools and there were some fliers on hand for places like Seburgh and Uppingham, though Eleanor said that some go to local schools too.

The interior has been kept up to look as much like a stately home as possible, though the children won’t see how unusual a school it is until they leave – or become adults. The ornate ceiling and large mirror in particular caught my eye, as well as the amazing views. Eleanor said that she could sometimes see Middlesborough, 70 miles away, on a very clear day. The maid’s bells were mounted and labeled in a corridor and one was the school room. IMG_8262

In the afternoon we took a stroll along the river Nidd passing Mr Greenwood’s old mill, now a fertilizer factory, which make a very intrusive noise, and then we drove about 5


Strolling along the River Nidd from Judith’s house

minutes to Cold Cotes, the Bed and Breakfast where Judith took up a job last month helping to serve breakfast. The extensive gardens were open to the public as part of a fund raiser for the Royal Gardens. I met the owners, who moved there quite recently. The

property was listed for one million pounds. There are eight rooms for BnB, beautifully landscaped gardens and lovely views in all directions. What a difference from Hebden Bridge where the population is all squished together on the steep hillsides. Here we were greeted a lady from the Royal Gardens with a plum in her mouth, and the visitors were showing up in their BMWs and Mercedes convertibles. I sipped a glass of wine and took in the scene.


In the ‘Secret Garden.’

For our evening’s entertainment we watched Brassed Off, one of my family’s favourite movies, and I was surprised to see places that I now recognize – the Piece Hall in Halifax, and I’m sure I caught a glimpse of Studely pike in the distance.


A day in Whitby

We set off at 9 o’clock for a grand day out in Whitby. If we’d have driven direct it would have taken us about 2 hours but we stopped to look at The Finest View in England, according to James Herriot who wrote All Creatures Great and Small. In Helmsley we had morning tea and a cake. It was a lovely little market town, busy with elderly couples enjoying the dozens of tea shops. There were lots of lovely flowers in hanging baskets too.


Giant hollyhocks in Helmsby

We reached Whitby at noon and I could hardly believe the number of holiday makers on the beach, wandering around the narrow streets, and queuing up, 20 deep in some places, for fish and chips, which now come in a blue and white box – rather than newspaper as


Whitby Beach

they did when I was a child. We were on the headland overlooking the beach (complete with donkey rides) across from the abbey. I barely recognized the place. I’d visited as a child with my parents and was fascinated by the jet for sale in the shops. Then I’d hiked there with Colin along the coastal footpath from Saltburn to Scarborough, a punishing


Looking across to Whitby Abbey

hike over several days, and we’d stayed at Whitby Youth Hostel which was situated at the top of 199 steps up the cliff – this after a 23 mile hike! Here was the stereotypical British tourist, ladies in skimpy sundresses and men in all their shirtless splendour – not!


Queuing for fish and chips

We had lunch in a small cafe but it was so hot that it was difficult to eat anything. After lunch I headed for the Captain Cook museum while Judith wandered around the town some more. of course it was no cooler in the museum but it was fascinating to see original documents that he had signed. It was in this building that James Cook served his three year apprenticeship. A special exhibition told the story of the wives and sweethearts the sailors left behind – and how they coped. The exhibition focused on the wives of Cpt Bligh and Cpt Cook.


Cpt James Cook lived here

We decided to drive up to the other headland across the river where the abbey is situated. A wall just above head height surrounds the abbey and the only way in is through the new


IThe Abbey. I stood in awe of the people who built this place on this exposed headland.

Visitors’ center. It was too late in the day, and still too hot, to go inside so instead I went in search of the Youth Hostel. It’s now located in a spiffy new building behind the visitors’ center – very smart – but then I spotted the building we’d stayed in. It’s now Abbey Cottage – a private dwelling. I wanted to see the 199 steps that we’d climbed at the end of a


(Melting) Ice cream at the Abbey

very grueling day but before I found them I found a very, very steep cobbled street that runs adjacent to the steps. I didn’t remember that as being an option.

We stopped to collect some groceries and arrived home at 7:15, just in time to talk to Sarah over Facebook. It was still ridiculously hot as I tucked into my cottage pie an hour later.


A very hot Heather in the heather

Catching up

Judith left for work and I stayed home. In fact, it took me all day to sort through my photos and write up my blog, sort out my luggage and take a walk to the one corner shop in the village, which also doubles as a post office. She came back around 5 and then immediately set to work trying to recoup the extra money that we’d had to spend on my train ticket to/from Edinburgh because Virgin hadn’t sent me a confirmation email with a ticket number on it. I suggested we walk up the street to the Station Inn for a drink around 9:30. It had been very hot all day – a complete contrast to the days in the Outer Hebrides. It was around 80F when we went out and it was impossible to sit outside in the beer garden because of all the flies. IMG_8166

Searching for Robert Dean

Lizzie left early to go on a 5 K color fun run so I had the house to myself – well.almost. Daisy came and made herself quite comfortable on my lap while I had my morning cuppa. Still tired but excited for the morning’s adventure to try and find where my great, great grandfather Robert Dean lived in the six years when he moved from Patricroft near Manchester to live in Scotland, before returning to Barton-upon-Irwell and dying there soon after. Several of his 6 children were born in Portobello.He himself was one of 10 children.


His address on the 1861 Scottish census is 30/2 Tower Street which implies the second floor, therefore probably a tenement block. I had been in contact with the Leith historical society and someone had told me that in the 1960’s Portobello underwent some street name changes and Tower Street is now Figgate Street. I’d selected Lizzie’s place hoping I could walk there. (As I write this Faure’s Pavane has just come on the radio, part of the London Proms. I recently performed this with Sarah and the Cabrillo Symphonic winds.) It IMG_8139IMG_8149

took me 35 minutes. It was grey outside again. That’s the color I most associate with Edinburgh: steely grey sky, sea, and grey foreboding stone houses. Yet the human life in the city is colorful, distinctly cosmopolitan and vibrant. Getting lost in an underpass at the first roundabout on my walk got me a bit dispirited and I contemplated taking a bus instead but I really wanted to walk there. After asking for directions from obvious locals and getting three completely different responses I finally figured it out. I’ve learnt that it’s only by walking places can i sense the spirit and flavour of a place.


The ‘Welcome to Portobello’ sign, ‘Edinburgh’s Seaside’ was adjacent to the railway bridge after which the main street retains its original cobbles. It’s this railway that brought Robert to Portobello where he held the position of Railway Goods Superintendent, presumably a significant promotion from his previous job as station master at Patricroft. As I stood on his street now I wondered whether he went to Portobello for health reasons too. He died, aged 39, from tuberculosis. It was thought at that time that sea air was beneficial for that condition, and Anne Brontë died at Scarborough, on the coast where she had gone for the help the bracing sea air could give her poorly lungs.  I knew that Portobello is on the coast but I didn’t realize that Tower Street actually connects Portobello High Street to the sea front.  The tower which gives the street its name is still there, newly refurbished but all the older buildings on the street have long gone. It’s now the site of an amusement arcade. But parallel to it are little alleyways, walls and doorways, all that remains of older dwellings. A couple of older tenement blocks are also close by, but most buildings which had date stones post date 1861.


Tenement blocks in Portobello

I caught a bus back to 41 Corbiewynd feeling proud of myself for getting off at the correct stop. There’s a big difference in people’s attitude here. I told the bus driver where I wanted to go. “One pound 60.”I gave him 2 one pound coins. “No change given on this bus.” I deposited the two pound coins in the box and then he pointed at something. I’d no idea what he was pointing at – and then i glimpsed a ticket peeking out from a machine. I gave it a tug and behold – it was mine! No-one here thanks the driver when they get off. In Hebden Bridge everyone said Thanks, and the driver would reply, ‘See ya’ luv.’ It’s little things like that that make me warm to a community.



Lizzie was driving to the center of Edinburgh to take Daisy for a walk so she dropped me off at the station. I was 2 hours early for my train but I’d planned on having some lunch there. But the station was in chaos. There’s been a fatality on the line south of the city where a person had been hit by a train and so all the trains south were either cancelled or severely delayed. The reservation system had been abandoned and everyone was allowed to board any south-bound train they could get on. After dragging my luggage up and down the lifts to several different platforms because of all the last minute platform changes I eventually found a train to Kings Cross stopping at York. Everyone else in the coach were students from China who all promptly fell asleep after consuming vast amounts of snacks. This train, too, had to run very slowly and only reached York in time for me to catch t my intended train to harrogate where I arrived at


Victorian decorations at York railway station

7:50 and Judith was waiting to drive me back to her village of Birstwith, 8 miles from town.

The long road to Edinburgh

We were all checked out and on the road by 9 a.m. The weather for our hour’s drive to Tarbert was much clearer than yesterday. The steepness of the winding roads through the mountains and past the lochs was quite delightful. We passed a few hardy souls on road bikes – and they were mostly women! Our bus get in line for the ferry to Uig on Skye and then we had an hour to explore Tarbert  – again. When everyone else made a beeline for the same coffee shop as the previous day I headed on up the main street to get views of the IMG_8022harbour. Many of the cottages do a good trade in B and B. There were a few houses with flowers in the garden but very few, so when I spotted a couple they drew my attention. The community center behind the coffee shop had a craft fair and I would have been tempted to buy some souvenirs but they didn’t take credit cards. Then I wandered over to the  new IMG_8087distillery, the first one to open in Harris, where a peat fire was very welcoming. There wasn’t time for a tour but I remembered Sarah going to one in Ireland, early one morning, so I had a coffee in honour of Sarah! I intended emailing it to her immediately but on asking the waitress for the internet password I was tole, ‘I can’t give it to you because we want to encourage you to socialize.’ So I socialized with my cup of coffee until it was time to board the ferry ‘Over the sea to Skye.’ The rain was coming down hard. It felt like sleet, and a couple of motorcyclists said they’d seen snow on the road on the higher ground.

It was a crossing of one and three quarter hours to Uig on Skye and we’d been told that we must have lunch on the ferry, so that we could get on with getting back to Edinburgh. It turned out that although Brightwater has been doing this itinerary for a number of years they recently placed things in a new order and we were only the second tour with the new order which accounted for Ali’s concern with timing.


Soon after we went through Kyle of Lochalsh we came upon a bad road traffic accident and for a while cars and tour buses turned around, backed up a very narrow lane and promptly got stuck. We ‘d no idea of the length of time we’d be stuck there. I was surprised to realise that the driver had no GPS or smart phone. Ali told of one time when the road had been closed for 8 hours in a similar situation. There are no back or side roads here! Eventually we got going again after an hour or more but we had to pass the remains of the vehicles involved which rather upset me.

IMG_8106As we traveled across Skye I kept seeing road signs which recalled my one and only visit to the island with my parents in 1971. I didn’t know I still knew the names of the places! We passed the commando monument that I have a photo of me, my friend Susan there.It was a 4 hour drive to Spean Bridge where we stopped for 30 minutes – just enough time to guzzle down a salad at the only place to eat there. I recalled a stop there with my mom at the woolen mill, and I’m pretty sure I bought some yarn to make a hat with!

We arrived in Perth at 8.55 but then had to wait for a different driver to be sent out because Ali had exhausted his driving time for the day because of the accident. It was a 35 minute wait for the new driver to show up. Ali didn’t have the new driver’s cell phone and the driver didn’t have Ali’s. A group member asked for a toilet while we waited (we’d just driven 2 1/2 hours) but Ali said the council toilets were closed for the night. I suggested we found a pub. ‘You can do that?’ everyone asked.There seemed an amazing reticence at doing that. outside the first pub I found was a bridal party.


We transferred buses and arrived at our departure hotel at 10:20. While all the others on our group checked in to the Marriott I got the concierge to call me a taxi to my Airbnb in Portobello. “It’ll cost a packet,” he remarked. I thought about saying, “Yes, but it’ll be cheaper than staying here,” but I kept that too myself but I was so tired that I almost inquired about the cost of a room. But I knew my new host, Lizzie, was excited for me to stay there because I was to be her first Airbnb guest. The ride cost 25 pounds.



The road to Portobello took me along Princess Street, Edinburgh’s downtown area and I saw the castle lit up high above the city. Even at this time – 11 p.m. crowds of people packed the streets.Lizzie, and her little dog, Daisy, welcomed me with a cup of tea and within 15 minutes I was all tucked up in a really comfy bed. I dreamt about the Queen and Lionel Ritchie . . . .er . . . .not together – but still . . .


Lewis and Harris

10:15 p.m. in the hotel on Stornoway

I feel as if too much has happened in the last 2 days to write it down: it feels too daunting a task. When I left Hebden Bridge I’d got into a routine of spending a couple of hours each day, mostly in the evenings, sorting through photos and writing my blog but for the past few days it’s been after 10 pm before I’ve found a spare quiet minute to collect my thoughts.


Left the hotel at 7:45 where I watched everyone else tuck into plates laden with eggs, bacon, sausage, black puddings – really? Apparently McLeod and McLeod of Stornaway are famous for their black puddings. I thought my Bury was the place for back puddings? I learned that Stornaway puddings have less fat in them. In fact on the morning that we left the island the bus driver and a couple on our trip bought some to take home.

It was pouring with rain and blowing a gale as we set out to Tarbert where a narrow inlet forms the boundary between Lewis and Harris. I was grateful for the calm weather of yesterday. I learned later that in the whole month of may the boats had only been able to reach St Kilda on 5 occasions.


We drove along the Golden Road, a one track road with passing places, that derived its name from the high cost of its construction. The 12 miles takes over an hour to drive as it turns and winds past ponds and lochs, over rivers, all remnants of the flooding at the end of the last Ice Age.


Our first stop was at a church of St Clement at the extreme southern tip of Harris – Rodel. It was built in the sixteenth century by Alexander McLeod (any relation to the black puddings?) and it contains 3 wonderful tombs of knights, carved from black gneiss. Unlike the more usual white marble effigies these had a peculiar character to them, quite spooky.

One of my friends saw my photo of one of the knights and thought it was a mummy. I can see why. As an aside – It would have useful if the driver would have pointed out where the bathrooms were before we went to explore the church. I’d asked and he pointed vaguely behind the hill.

I thought he was indicating an al fresco affair and said I’d wait to the next stop – which he said was in 15 minutes time. Coming out of the church I saw the rest of the group heading en masse behind the hill. There was a real bathroom – with a visitors’ book! It’s little details like this that I think the driver should be aware of.


When we arrived in Tarbert the rain was even worse and everyone piled into one cafe that was already overflowing. I wanted some fresh air and to stretch my legs and see the town so despite the rain I took off, stopping first at the visitors’ center and then went window shopping in the small stores, mostly craft stores with lots of Harris tweed for sale. I’d never connected Harris tweed with the island of Harris before – duh! I got a tea to take


Main street, Tarbert

back on the bus and this caused quite a stir. It dawned on me that not one had I seen anyone eat or drink anything – not even a toffee – on the bus. In fact, no-one had even mentioned their trip to St Kilda. Bizarre. I wondered whether this was because the rest of the group are so well travelled ‘When I was in Rio last year . .  .” and “On my round the world air ticket for my 60th birthday” and  “Last time I was in St Petersburg.” Also several of the group had been to the Outer Hebrides before and it they wanted to come again it wasn’t too far.While, for me, coming from California this was a trip of a life-time.



Balckhouse village

Our next stop was the Blackhouse village at Gearrannan where our driver had arranged for lunch  for us and a talk about the site. We were immediately shown to the cafe which was itself in a blackhouse. These were one roomed stone buildings with walls up to 6 ft thick,

thatched, in which a family and the animals would share the space. Over the centuries windows were added in the roof – that was easier than trying to make an opening in the thick walls, and a chimney was added to direct the smoke away from the earlier central fire – which resulted in  the name ‘black house.’ The talk was given in a black house that had been furnished as it would have been around 1930. It recognized several items from my own home – a stone hot water bottle, a bedspread and pottery. The captain’s mother had been born in a renovate black house in 1947 and we passed several restored black houses that are lived in on our tour.


Over lunch – sandwiches (ah, yes, I remember these:  a transparent slice of ham and a lettuce leaf) – the conversation went from Sainsbury’s supermarkets  now acquiring their fish direct from Grimsby, to the problems of the bus driver keeping to his schedule of a 15 hour day. Still bizarre to me.

The village was on the edge of a cliff and I went to explore, scaring some rather large sheep. It was raining cats and dogs and I was glad I’d remembered to put leggings on under my trousers so that there was the possibility of retaining one layer of dry clothing. One of the 6 remaining houses is a hostel and others are for rent.

IMG_7815The next stop for the day was at Cardoway Broch. The function of a Scottish broch is still very much the cause for dispute amongst archaeologists. At one time they were thought to be fortifications erected during the Roman invasion but perhaps they were the ‘manor house’ of a clan.

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This is one of the best preserved. It has a double wall, the inner one being vertical and the outer one sloping inwards so that the space between the two walls becoming increasingly narrower as you go up. People lived in here, made Harris tweed, tended their animals.

Soon we were at the final stop for the day – the Standing Stones.


We were back at the hotel by 5:30 – time for a relaxing bath before dinner. I’d just settled in, listening to my favorite bath-time music: opera arias – when the hotel phone rang. Err. Forget it. Dinner  in the hotel restaurant was planned for 7. I got there on the dot and no-IMG_7986one from our group was there but every table was full, for this was the big night in town. the Red Hot Chili Peppers were playing in the marquee at the Hebcelt festival, and live IMG_8005music was happening in the hotel restaurant from 11p.m til 1 a.m. I inquired at the front desk and told that my party was to eat at 7:30. Ah, that explains the phone call, I thought. So I headed downtown to take photos of the festival goers. The sun was out – amazing! I IMG_8001went all the way up to the marquee and saw the pitch city (the very wet tent village) and then I heard bagpipes. I got back to the square and sure enough here were the dozen pipers with a fair sized crowd of onlookers – part of the festival. The wind was blowing strongly, of course, which produced some unexpected photos! I ran most of the way back to the


hotel to be on time for dinner and then headed back into town for a few more sunset-type photos, though it was still bright daylight at 10:30.



St Kilda

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Main street St Kilda

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Arriving on the island





The last of the inhabitants who left in 1930


At the top of the hill there’s a sheer drop- no warning, no fence, just nothing!

No wonder the brochure says of a day in St Kilda ‘not for the faint hearted.’ The day began with breakfast at 5:30then a hour coach drive except the coach driver had misplaced his keys so we had to bring out 2 emergency taxis. Then a 4 four hour boat ride on a 12 seater boat. Then a transfer into the island in a 6 person inflatable. 4 hours to explore the island. Facilities included 1 bathroom, period. No food or drink. And then the same journey in reverse except for an additional hour detour to see the birds nesting and orcas. Dinner back at hotel at 9:45. Not enough space here for the amount of exclamation marks needed. It was WONDERFUL😊

I’m not sure when I last had breakfast with a group of people at 5:30 a.m. Cereal and tea was all I could manage at that ungodly hour. At the hotel check in desk we picked up our packed lunch. I had forgotten that a ham sandwich meant one transparent slice of ham and one lettuce leaf! It came with a drink, too. A can of Pepsi. I asked to exchange it for water and was given a glass bottle of water. And I had to pay 8 pounds for this lunch in addition to the tour price – really? But as I was realizing all this our driver Ali was going around in a total panic. It turned out that he had lost the minibus keys! Out boat to St Kilda would leave whether we were on it or not, so the desk clerk was frantically trying to get us two taxis to take our group to the  harbour. Eventually, after calling several taxis we got two and piled into them.

It was close to an hour’s drive to Loch Roag on the West coast of Lewis to meet our 42 foot motor cruiser MV Lochlann. The harbour facilities consisted of a hut, a cockle shack and a bathroom. We were kitted out with waterproof jackets and pants, and then boarded the boat. I was surprised how small it was. We were joined by a younger couple for the day’s excursion. As we pulled out of the harbour I sat outside facing the rear of the boat and immediately the boat began to go up and down – a lot. I thought that was perhaps just until we picked up speed – but no, it was like that for four hours. the majority of the time we rose and plunged so fast that we were in free fall. Despite there being a bathroom on board it was impossible to get to unless we asked for the boat to stop – such was the plunging and tossing that it was totally impossible to stand up, let alone walk. We couldn’t even change seats without requesting the arm of our captain’s mate. Within an hour of this i was feeling decidedly sick and just managed to request a sick bag in time. We had been directed not to be sick in the bathroom because that would put it out of use for other passengers. Tea was served as we boarded the boat and the crew were fantastic. They are so used to people throwing up that I didn’t feel like a burden at all. Eventually they suggested I go into the cabin and I put my feet up and a blanket was thrown over me . .  and I completely slept through the first sighing of the island! Darn it!

I woke up as we were coming to a halt at Village Bay, and we somewhat precariously transferred to a dinghy, then up the steps and I was there. So why had I come here? Many, many years ago my mom had brought home a book called The Life and Death of St Kilda.  How she came across the book or why we had it in the house I don’t know, but I’d been fascinated by the story of this island which had been voluntarily evacuated in 1930. I’m rereading the book now. I’m sure I never read the whole book before, but now every word and every photo in it means something to me. I’ve stood in the very footsteps of the inhabitants, and seen the 100ft sheer cliffs, the highest on the British isles, and the colonies of seabirds on the sea stacs.

We were greeted by a park ranger who told us a little of what we could do and see in or four hours but after 5 minutes we were on our own. I think I’d thought there would be trails to follow and our tour group might stick together but it was obvious that was not going to be the case. I made a bee-line for the street whose only occupants are now the sheep. Each renovated newly  roofed house was built in the 1860’s and currently houses archaeologists, volunteers and park rangers. Between each of these is the ruins of black houses where people and animals would share the same living accommodation. The post office is now the museum and shop where you can buy a postcard and stamp and have it stamped with the St Kilda’s postmark. Of course I did that and sent a postcard to myself – and it arrived home before I did. Because I had’t booked the trip until close to the time it left I’d done very little research about what there was to do once I was there but the ranger had said that in four hours it was possible to hike up to The Gap. So off I went – gourmet picnic in hand, or rather rucksack. This cannot have been me! There was no real path. i just followed the line of cleits up the mountainside. I quite from Tom Steele’s book: ‘cleits are unique to St. Kilda. They were constructed entirely out of stone and turf, usually about8- 12 ft in diameter and 4-5 ft high. Those built inside the wall surrounding the village were used mainly to store the carcasses of seabirds and were round in shape. Beyond the wall cleits were used to store practically everything that had to be kept dry like ropes, feathers and even clothing. High on the hill slopes they were used almost exclusively to dry and store lumps of turf for the fires of Village Bay.’ I read somewhere that on the island nothing grew taller than a cabbage, so it was pretty ironic that when the islanders were relocated they were given jobs in the Scottish Highlands as lumberjacks! I was so fortunate in the weather. Apparently during the whole month of May boats were only able to land on the Hirta on 5 occasions. Today it was sunny and clear, with a strong wind as I go higher and higher. I followed the line of cleit sup a very steep hillside. There was no-one else in sight. Here I was, in one of the remotest places in Britain, in fact, the remotest, and it felt so good to be exploring alone. I passed many cleits topped with live sheep but I was never fast enough to take a photo. After the first steep climb the hillside flattened for a while and then an even steeper climb was in store – something I couldn’t tell from the village. I kept looking back at the village as I was getting an increasingly bird’s eye view of the layout and the rocks surrounding the bay, and then suddenly there was a 1000ft drop in front of me. No warning. No fence. No sign. But just one further step would have meant certain death. Of course I wanted to see the cliffs and I crawled on all fours as close as I could get to get a video of the nesting birds on the cliff face but I couldn’t get close enough to see the sea directly below me. Stac Lee, like some dragon’s tooth, lay in front of me, and Stac an Armin, and the bigger Boreray as sea birds in great quantities soared and swooped above them.

To my left there was another climb to Conachair but I reckoned I probably wouldn’t have time to climb that too, so I backed away from the cliff and settled myself for my picnic with a view of Village Bay, and sheltered from the driving wind by a cleit. I brought out my hedgehog too at this time. I’d purchased it at Gibson Mill in Hardcastle Crags. Because of something that Anna did a few years ago my mom’s symbol has become the hedgehog (in the nicest possible sense) and so i took out my little stuffed hedgehog so that my mom could experience the view of St Kilda that she’d introduced to me so many years ago.

Back down at the village I visited he school house and the church. I’d seen several photos of both when they were in use and it was wonderful to stand in the very spot in which those photos were taken.  The brand of religion was very, very strict and this contributed to a high degree of life to be so untenable on the island after probably two thousand years of habitation. I was determined to find the cemetery. I came across one of our tour group who gave me the wrong direction which had me climbing back up the hillside, and then another wrong direction from someone else. By the time I found the oval wall which surrounds the few graves I was running out of time and I had to hurry back quickly to be on time for the boat. I wondered how many people get lost, or miss the boat!

Back on the boat at 4:15 (via the dinghy again) we went around the east of Hirta and I got a fantastic view from the sea of The Gap. Then we got close to the sea stacks and our crew suggested we went out on deck to get the best glimpse of the seabirds. Now I’m by no means a birder, but something very strange happened. As we got very close in between the stacs I became completely overtaken by some strange emotion and found myself wanting to cry. It was just so amazing. I can’t ever recall feeling that way before. The stacs were one mass of nesting birds. Now I dont know a fulmar from a puffin but whatever they were these birds were the life source of the St Kildan, providing food, oil, feathers to pay their rent to the owner of the island, MacLeod of Dunvegan Castle on the isle of Skye. As we idled the boat began to lurch violently. We could see 4 other boats and the captains ere in walkie talkie contact describing where the orcas were. People got very excited, and I certainly didn’t want to say that I can sometime walk out of my house and see orcas passing along Santa Cruz bay. We did see a few flipper flying. This detour added an hour to our 4 hour trip back to Loch Roag (during which I was sick again) and then we had an hour’s minibus journey (Ali had located his missing keys) . Supper at the hotel was at 9:25. I managed about 3 spoonfuls of soup.  (The end of an amazing day which I didn’t manage to write up in my journal until Aug 20th, 2016).


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