Historic Haarlem

During our visit to Amsterdam last November, we took two trips outside the city. The first was to Haarlem, just 15 minutes away by train. As we left the station and walked towards the main square, we were already noticing lots of interesting historic and decorative buildings.

The square, Grote Markt, is the heart of the city  where we admired St Bavokerk, the 14th century Town Hall, and a statue to Laurens Coster who is believed by Haarlemmers to have a claim, along with Gutenberg, to be the inventor of moveable type.

There is a small Tourist Information Office in the Town Hall, so we headed there to pick up a walking map of the old town which we followed for the rest of the day. At first we passed mostly shops, some of which retained traditional signs such as this chemist (1849) and baker (1900).

Then we turned into residential areas, a higgledy-piggledy mix of narrow streets, small squares, churches and alms-houses.

Our steps then led us to 62 Groot Heiligland, formerly a poorhouse where the artist Frans Hals (1582-1666) spent his final years, and now a museum dedicated to him. We saw two interesting exhibitions, The Art of Laughter and A Global Table – both very good, but long over now so no point in me recommending them! Do you recognise Frans Hals’s friend in the bottom picture?

It seems our walk took us down to the canal after the museum. I really should write these trips up nearer the time – even with my map, I’m struggling to remember what all the buildings are, so much of the gallery below is not captioned.

A last hurrah for some more decorative features:

Then, in the faded light of late afternoon, we arrived back at Grote Markt from where we headed for the train.

With a few minutes to wait, we admired the art deco station, a national monument.

My Fitbit recorded 20,355 steps on this day, the second highest for our week in Amsterdam. The highest (almost 26,000) was the other day trip we did, to Utrecht. A post on that is coming soon – if I can remember it! In the meantime, this post is linked to Jo’s Monday Walk – today she’s in the beautiful North Yorkshire town of Knaresborough.

A walk on Great Cumbrae

Magnus the Viking

On Easter Saturday we decided to take a trip to Great Cumbrae, an island just off the coast of Ayrshire. Don’t be fooled by the name – the island’s circumference is only about 10 miles, but there’s also a Little Cumbrae so this one has to be Great!

We arrived at the ferry terminal in Largs and left our car under the watchful eye of Magnus the Viking. He appeared in 2013 to commemorate the 750th anniversary of the Battle of Largs in 1263, an indecisive engagement between the kingdoms of Norway and Scotland.

The ferry ride from Largs to Cumbrae Slip only takes about 10 minutes, but the skies changed dramatically during the short journey. When the ferry arrived in Largs, all was blue. When it dropped us off at Cumbrae, the skies were grey and a strong wind was blowing. That set the tone for the rest of the day.

A bus meets every ferry and takes passengers into the main settlement of Millport. After a quick coffee and scone as fuel, we set off on our walk. As we climbed out of the town, first stop was the old cemetery, used from 1703 to the 1930s. John spotted the 15th century “jougs” on the gatepost for manacling prisoners.

The road we were following ended at a golf course, so we struck off along farm tracks and onto open hillside. The Gowk Stane is one of several in Scotland – it means Stone of the Cuckoo (or fool) in Scots.

The path then dropped steeply down to the far side of the island where we made a small detour to the Fintry Bay tearoom for a hot drink – at least, we expected a tearoom, but it turned out to be outdoor seating only, so it didn’t warm us up much!

The toilet facilities were basic, but charming. We had read in town that due to council cuts, public toilets are now community-run. It seems that Suki is doing a great job in Fintry Bay. (Apologies, Scottish readers, for the scatological pun.) Cludgie is probably self-explanatory from the context.

Frome here, we followed the perimeter road and coastal paths round the headland back to Millport. Next stop, the War Memorial.

The views across to the islands of Bute and the more mountainous Arran behind it were amazingly beautiful, despite the clouds.

The road back into Millport took us past some splendid Victorian villas and then more humble terraced housing.

What next? Well, it was either a very late lunch or a very early dinner. We headed for the George Hotel where we met a friendly band of pirates and were entertained by a band as we ate.

We could have got the bus back to the ferry from outside the George, but decided to walk a bit further. We spotted a conference bike for hire and The Wedge which purports to be Britain’s narrowest house – that’s it to the left of the café, barely wider than its front door. Garrison House, built in 1745 to house the captain and officers of the Revenue Cutter Royal George stationed in Millport, is now the town’s library and museum.

Turning left, we went back uphill to the walled, wooded grounds of The Cathedral of the Isles, the smallest cathedral in Britain. It dates from 1851 when it was built as a theological college for the Scottish Episcopal Church – it’s still possible to stay in the old college buildings and the cloisters house a pleasant do-it-yourself coffee shop.

Finally, we made our way back down to the seafront to see Millport’s famous Crocodile Rock – the Clyde’s fiercest stone since c. 1900!

From here, it was a short bus ride back to the ferry and home. Who would have thought we’d meet Vikings, pirates and crocodiles on a tiny Scottish island?

Linked to Jo’s Monday Walk – join her and her band of fellow cyber-strollers.

A stroll round Lanark

Wellgate, Lanark

After our recent visit to the textiles exhibition at New Lanark, we walked up to the original town of Lanark and onwards to Lanark Loch.

Below are the clock tower of St Nicholas Church (1774) and the Provost’s Lamp (1890s). At one time, this ceremonial lamp-post would have stood outside the house of the current Provost (Mayor), but these days it is a permanent fixture outside the Tollbooth. The dog sits on the roof of a house in Castlegate. Sometime in the 1800s, a Miss Inglis lived opposite. She complained so much about her neighbour’s dog that it had to be put down, and in revenge its owner erected this statue so that she would see it every time she looked out her window! It’s called the “Girnin’ Dug” (the “Crying Dog”).

Lanark is one of the few Scottish towns with direct links to William Wallace, whom you possibly know from the film Braveheart in which he was played by Mel Gibson. St Kentigern’s Church (pre-1140s) at the entrance to the cemetery is where Wallace married Marion Braidfute – unfortunately, it’s fenced off so you can’t get inside. I loved the little skull and crossbones on this gravestone next to it – sweet rather than scary.

Nearby is the Murray Chapel, bequeathed to the community in 1912 by Helen Martin Murray in memory of her parents and siblings. It’s not possible to go in here either. The doorway is finely carved – if you can’t read it, the inscription says Thou wilt not leave us in the dust : Thou hast made us, thou art just.

Finally, we had a walk round Lanark Loch. The sculpture at the entrance, Spirit of Flight, commemorates the Lanark Airshow of 1910.

We made our way back to New Lanark along a lovely path called The Beeches – all downhill. What goes down, of course, must come up so we climbed the very steep steps to the carpark and headed for home.

Linked to Jo’s Monday Walks – this week, she’s camellia hunting. As for me, next week I’ll be back to writing about Amsterdam – there’s still more to tell!

The Birks of Aberfeldy (and other walks)

Breadalbane Stag

The Birks of Aberfeldy

Between Christmas and New Year we spent three nights in Aberfeldy in Highland Perthshire. The Birks (birch trees) of Aberfeldy is a famous walk, and also the subject of a Robert Burns song, a few words of which you can just about make out on the Breadalbane Stag above (Breadalbane being the name of the wider area).

The walk itself is a steep climb up one side of the Moness Burn and down the other. It’s the third time we’ve done it, the first being at a similar time of year in 2009, but with much more snow. Check out the two photos of Burns’ statue to see the difference! This year Rabbie, like the stag, has been decorated for Christmas.

I actually preferred walking on the deeper snow – it was more stable. In 2017, a thin covering of snow, followed by rain which froze over night, meant we slithered up and down to the Falls of Moness. Again, compare and contrast – in 2009 the Falls are frozen.

Black Spout

Another circular walk starts in Pitlochry, taking you past Black Spout waterfall and the Edradour Distillery (sadly, closed to visitors in the winter – a warming dram would have been nice).

Falls of Acharn

Yet another waterfall, this time above Loch Tay. Again, we slithered up one side of a gorge and down the other. The Falls are seen by walking through a so-called “Hermit’s Cave”, in reality an artificial structure built in the 1760s by the 3rd Earl of Breadalbane in order to conceal the view until the last minute. Some of these pictures look almost black and white but they are definitely in colour!

River Tay at Kenmore

Kenmore Hotel

No waterfalls in this walk! Kenmore is a model village built by the Lairds of Breadalbane. After lunch in the Kenmore Hotel, which dates from 1572, we walked downhill past Taymouth Castle gates.

Crossing the bridge over the Tay, we could see the back of the hotel, with its modern extension, on the other bank.

We walked along the river as far as a Gothic folly named Maxwell’s Temple, built by Lord Breadalbane in 1831 as a tribute to his wife Mary.

Returning through the village, we passed the church, white timbered cottages built by the 3rd Earl in 1760, and the Post Office which still advertises itself as a Telegraph Office (zoom in above door).

Aberfeldy

Should you ever need to visit Aberfeldy, we can recommend the Townhouse Hotel: comfortable rooms, a great breakfast and pleasant staff.

We ate in the hotel the first night and set out to explore on the other two – not that we got far: The Three Lemons was just across the road. We had a lovely dinner on night 2, but liked the look of the pizzas on the next table so much that we went back on night 3 to try them. Delicious!

Linked to Jo’s Monday Walks, which this week comes from Lisbon and is a much sunnier prospect than Aberfeldy.

Edinburgh: a Canongate walk

White Horse Close

After our recent visit to the Scottish Parliament, we walked slowly up Canongate exploring the closes, or courtyards, to either side. Canongate itself is over 800 years old, and was a separate burgh from Edinburgh until 1856. Its name comes from the Augustinian Canons of Holyrood Abbey who, in the 12th century, were given permission by the king to build on either side of the path, or “gait”, between the Abbey and the Old Town of Edinburgh.

Immediately opposite the parliament is White Horse Close (above) which takes its name from an inn which once stood there. The buildings have been restored, but still give a good impression of how the courtyard must have looked hundreds of years ago. Zoom in on the window above the stairs and you will see that it is dated 1623.

Further up Canongate is 17th century Panmure House, once home to the economist and philosopher Adam Smith. It’s currently undergoing renovation so it was hard to get a photograph to do it justice.

Panmure House

Not all the closes hide new buildings – tucked away in Crichton Close is the Scottish Poetry Library (1999).

Scottish Poetry Library

Next we explored Canongate Kirkyard – like all these places, apart from the Poetry Library, somewhere I’ve walked past many times without investigating. I was surprised how extensive the Kirkyard is.

The next close was my absolute favourite – Bakehouse Close is home to Acheson House, built in 1633 for Sir Archibald Acheson and now the home of Edinburgh World Heritage. The Acheson family crest, a cock and trumpet, is above the door.

Why do I love it so much? The information panels on the wall about Rangers Impartial List, a 1775 guide to 66 of Edinburgh’s prostitutes. Many of the closes in the Old Town housed brothels, and Acheson House was one of them, then known as the Cock and Trumpet after the crest. The list pulls no punches in assessing the women’s appearance and skills – I hope you can enlarge the panels sufficiently to read some of it. I particularly like Mrs Agnew, a “drunken bundle of iniquity” who would think nothing of a company of Grenadiers at one time. At 50!

A couple of shots as we made our way to our next stop – the Tolbooth Tavern on Canongate peeking through an archway, and a further example of modern buildings behind old ones. These are student flats, with a lovely view of Salisbury Crags.

Another 17th century mansion is Moray House, now owned by the University of Edinburgh. The buildings round about comprise the University’s School of Education.

Next up is Chessel’s Court with this traditional 18th century Edinburgh ‘mansion style’ tenement, originally built to provide better accommodation for relatively wealthy residents of the Old Town. Back on Canongate, we were observed by a strange statue which is said to represent the Emperor of Morocco.

Finally, we turned the corner into St Mary’s Street, the site of Boyd’s Inn where Dr Johnson stayed in 1773 on his way to meet James Boswell for the start of their journey to the Hebrides. I liked the shop opposite with its rather cross looking bull!

From here, we headed across to the New Town and our visit to the ice sculptures which I’ve written about previously. I was soon to find out that it was possible to shiver even more on this bitterly cold December day!

I hope you’ve enjoyed your tour through part of old Edinburgh. I’m linking to Jo’s Monday walks – the blue skies of Portugal should warm you up after this chilly post!

A walk round Kerrera

Remember this view from last time? Our window in Oban looked out on the island of Kerrera which we were determined to explore. A small passenger ferry runs from Gallanach, a couple of miles along the coast from Oban. Unless you live on Kerrera (current population about 35) no vehicles are allowed.

There are two possible walks suggested, the southern loop taking in Gylen Castle (and nearby tea garden – vital!) or a linear walk to the northern tip where there is a monument to  David Hutcheson, one of the founders of the Caledonian MacBrayne Ferry service. We chose the 11km loop to castle and tea garden / bunk house.

Kerrera

From the ferry, we turned right along Horseshoe Bay and Little Horseshoe Bay. We hadn’t gone far when we discovered the tea garden owners were enterprising in a quirky sort of way. The slates read Hello! Is it tea you’re looking for? Lionel Rich Tea. 

From here on our walk was punctuated by teapots – and cattle. At one time, Kerrera was a stepping stone for transporting cattle from Mull (the much larger island behind it) to the mainland.

Sometimes the teapot messages were really helpful. Cake!

The path to the castle was just before the tea garden but we chose to go for a cup of tea first, then explore the castle and return for lunch. Might as well make full use of the place! It was a lovely sunny day, but even if it hadn’t been there was comfortable indoor seating in the old barn.

The quirkiness continued in the bike park (an old tree trunk, click to enlarge to make it clearer).

And the toilet which is twinned with a toilet in Pakistan.

The ruined Gylen Castle, dramatically perched on a rocky outcrop, was built in 1587 by Duncan MacDougall of Dunollie, the 16th chief, on the site of an earlier fortification.

From the castle and tea garden, the path followed the more rugged western edge of the island before crossing back to the ferry point. And, of course, just in case anyone was walking the loop in the other direction, there were more teapots.

This was an absolutely beautiful day and I’d love to go back to Kerrera. The next day, we were heading back home from Oban and the weather was not so kind to us. We still made some interesting stops, though – next time!

I’m linking this post to Jo’s Monday Walks. Pop over for some Portuguese sunshine, I could certainly do with that today!

Kananaskis

At Kananaskis Village

Kananaskis Country, south-east of Banff National Park, is an area we had not explored on our previous visit to the Canadian Rockies. This time, we enjoyed a stay at Kananaskis Village – basically, Delta Lodge and a few attached businesses. Originally developed for the 1998 Winter Olympics, it was later chosen to host the G8 Summit in 2002 for its get-away-from-it-all ethos – what world leader could complain at being surrounded by scenery like the above?

The main hike we did here was a lovely trail round Upper Kananaskis Lake, starting at the Upper Lake parking lots at its south-east corner.

Upper Kananaskis Lake near parking lot

From there, we crossed Upper Lake Dam (both Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes are now reservoirs).

Upper Lake Dam

We continued round the lake drinking in the views:

On the north shore, the path began to climb above the trees –

View from north shore

– ending in a huge boulder field, dazzling in the sun.

After picking our way down through this, we encountered rivers and falls as we made our way back along the west shore.

Two final panoramic views – as we neared the parking lot we could see people out on the lake enjoying the boating life.

I admit my feet were sore after this walk – our first of the holiday and yet, as measured by Fitbit, the longest of all at over 30,000 steps (although there wasn’t much climbing: we did much steeper hikes later on).

A last word on Kananaskis Village. There are two routes in and out.  On the way in, we took the long way round – the unsealed Smith-Dorian Road via Spray Lakes.

On the way out, we stuck to Hwy 40. When we woke up that morning it was pouring with rain, but by the time we got out onto the highway this had cleared to leave a pleasing mist over the mountains. I also include what I think is the only picture of our hire car, a Nissan Rogue, which served us well for three weeks.

Where were we headed? Into British Columbia’s Glacier National Park. Nostalgia is involved. In the meantime, I’m linking this visit to Jo’s Monday Walks. She takes us to Northumberland this week.

Arran – the walks

Machrie Moor

Moss Farm Road Cairn

The trail to Machrie Moor Stone Circles is an out-and-back walk of 4km. Before we got to the main event, we passed Moss Farm (above), the burial cairn of a powerful person who lived about 4,000 years ago, and Fingal’s Cauldron Seat (below), named after the legendary warrior Fhionn / Fingal.

Fingal’s Cauldron Seat

We stepped through a gate just beyond this onto open moorland and the sight of five separate stone circles – the tallest standing stone is over 5m high.

Kilpatrick Preaching Cave

A coastal walk took us to the well-hidden Kilpatrick Preaching Cave. After the Highland Clearances in the 19th century, when the Earl of Arran evicted many of his tenants to make room for more sheep, local people showed their disapproval in the only way they could by rejecting the Earl’s choice of minister. The Preaching Cave provided a suitable meeting place for the congregation. A sad story, but a beautiful setting.

String Road Viewpoint

Returning to Brodick on our last afternoon in Arran, we crossed the island via the String Road (B880) from which a short trail led to a beautiful viewpoint. Ayrshire was just visible on the horizon.

And behind us were beautiful mountain panoramas.

The next morning, we took the ferry back to the mainland while hoping to return to Arran soon.

Linked to Jo’s Monday Walks – today she’s taking us to Bolton Abbey, and her cyber-companions are walking all over the world.

Budapest: Margaret Island and Óbuda

Yes Pub

I knew before we arrived in Budapest that it had been formed in 1873 from the cities of Buda and Pest which lie on opposite banks of the Danube. What I didn’t know was that there was a third settlement involved: Óbuda (Old Buda) which, although largely modern these days, still had a historic town centre. One morning we set off to walk there.

Our route took us from our hotel in Pest to the Margaret Bridge (Margít hid). On the way, we were amused by this pub sign – has the campaign for Scottish independence now reached Hungary?

Margaret Bridge is slightly V-shaped with a spur in the middle onto Margít-sziget, or Margaret Island, walking the length of which gives access to another bridge leading to Óbuda. Like many places we’ve visited at this time of year (it was early March) the island was still gearing up for the tourist season – nothing had been planted out yet in the gardens, and there were several diversions to avoid repairs which were being made to the roads and footpaths. There was still plenty to see though. I made a friend.

I don’t know who he is, but later in the week we saw a photograph of children playing on the same statue in the 1960s, so he’s been there for a while.

We saw the ruins of a Franciscan Church from the 13th century, and a chapel with a Romanesque tower dating back to the 12th.

There are also ruins of the Dominican Convent inhabited by St Margaret of Hungary (1242-1271) after whom the island and bridge were named in the 19th century.

Margaret was the daughter of King Béla IV who vowed to bring her up as a nun if Hungary survived the Mongol invasion. When it did, he consigned her to the convent at 9 years old. What a father! She seems to have made the best of it by curing lepers and performing other saintly deeds as well as, allegedly, never washing above the ankles. Eurgh! Although she was beatified soon after her death, she didn’t actually become a Saint until 1943.

Other attractions include two thermal baths and an outdoor theatre, all probably very busy in the summer. Behind the convent sign above you can see an Art Nouveau water tower peeking through the trees, and below is the Japanese garden.

Árpád híd at the far end of the island is just a big modern road bridge, so we strode over that as quickly as possible to reach Óbuda which, as I said, is largely modern but still has some attractive historic buildings.

The town square houses several museums, one of which is dedicated to Imra Varga who created the sculptures with umbrellas below. This time it was John’s turn to make friends.

As I’ve observed before, Budapest is fond of its outdoor sculptures and statues. The signpost amused us – 2336 km to Stirling which is not far from us. I wonder why they chose it?

This statue is Pál Harrer who initiated the founding of Budapest. It’s good to see him honoured.

We had a quick lunch in a café but didn’t linger to visit any of the museums. John had a plan – he wanted to visit a cave. The hills to the west of Óbuda have a network of caves formed by rising thermal waters, two of which are open to the public. We set off to walk to the nearest, Pál-völgyi Cave. I have to confess I was a bit grumbly here, as the walk was not very interesting: uphill through residential areas. Also, I was far less keen on this idea than John was. I’d read the description of the cave in the guidebook which mentioned 400 steps and a 7 metre ladder. Steps I can deal with, but I wondered where this ladder would be taking me.

In the end, I needn’t have worried. Although not all that spectacular, the cave had some interesting formations and fossils.

The ladder wasn’t too bad – you can see me disappearing up it, feeling glad that it didn’t look like the other one pictured which, I’m assured, is there for illustrative purposes only.

From the cave, the walk back to Margaret Bridge was all downhill, thank goodness. This time we stopped to admire its sculptures – and to rest my weary feet.

By the end of that day I had done 31,744 steps! This was our longest day in Budapest by almost 10,000 steps, and my longest ever since I started wearing a Fitbit in February 2016. The only other time I have cracked 30,000 was hiking the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River – I didn’t expect to exceed that in a city. All in all, I feel totally justified in linking this to Jo’s Monday Walks. She’s in sunny Portugal again this week.

Deer Mountain

View from Deer Mountain
View from Deer Mountain

Rocky Mountain is a very busy park! By the time we got ourselves out in the morning, and that wasn’t very late, the signs for the car parks at the popular Bear Lake Trailhead were already indicating full. We headed for the Deer Mountain Trailhead instead.

Climbing Deer Mountain is a 6 mile round trip and you end up at over 10,000 feet. Before you get too impressed, I’ll confess that you actually start around 8,900 – but some of it is very steep, especially at the end. My knees didn’t like that section one little bit.

Here are some views from the way up.

Just before the summit we stopped to get our (well, my) breath back and I made the acquaintance of this little guy. I think he was begging, but I didn’t give him anything. Too many titbits is probably what made him so bold, and animals should not be encouraged to become dependent on humans for food. But he was cute.

On Deer Mountain On Deer Mountain On Deer Mountain On Deer Mountain

Pressing on to the summit, we could see right back down to our hotel on the edge of Estes Park.

Then it was time to retrace our steps, stopping for a quick picnic on the way.

In the afternoon, we took the one-way gravel Old Fall River Road which winds uphill for 11 miles and 3000 feet to Fall River Pass. The short trail at Chasm Falls made a pleasant stop on the way.

At the pass, we had a very welcome hot coffee at the Alpine Visitor Centre – it was cold up there and still had pockets of snow. Information boards told us more about the road which opened in 1920, and until 1932 was the only motor route across the park. Then it was replaced by Trail Ridge Road, our route back down.

The views from Trail Ridge were stunning.

Trail Ridge Road

Trail Ridge Road

Trail Ridge Road

We were really sorry to have only one full day in Rocky Mountain, but the next day we were off to Denver  – and we were really excited about that.

Linked to Jo’s Monday Walks where this week she takes us on a stroll around Lucca.