The castle – An afternoon in Edinburgh.

Monday 15 August 2016 – Edinburgh.

I have completed my first week in my new job, a three month contract with a software house. The first week was a good week, it is a very small team and they all seem to be good guys. My second week started with a visit to a client with a head office in Edinburgh. Travel was not expected in this job so it was a very pleasant bonus. I have been to Edinburgh once before, with El and we really enjoyed it, it is a fabulous city for tourists.

Rather than fly up on the Monday morning I decided to go up on the train on Sunday morning and try and catch Joe. El’s eldest’s, play. It is Edinburgh Fringe Festival on in August and there are dozens of shows playing. Unfortunately Joe’s play finished its two week run on the Saturday, fortunately we had seen and enjoyed it in London earlier. I chose to go up anyway and make the most of the opportunity.

I had a 9:00 am train out of Kings Cross, my favourite London station, mainly because it is so close to home, unlike Paddington which seems to have most of the south westerly trains. The journey north was pretty good, maybe it was one of the lucky days when everything went well on the rails, I managed to write the Ilfracombe blog on the way up. Which was obvious when it was proof read and there were loads of little typos!

I love looking out of train windows as we pass through the countryside, it is by far my most preferred method of travel, except for a slow riverboat. Not many of those going to Scotland though.


The River Tweed at Berwick-on-Tweed. Next time I come up this way I am going to get off here and have a look around, it looks to be a nice little town.


I arrived in Edinburgh early in afternoon, it had been quite warm in London and the forecast for Edinburgh was pretty good, 21 degrees. It wasn’t 21 degrees when I got off the train. I went straight to Marks and Spencers and bought myself a cheap light jersey. I was cold. I will admit to having taken it off an hour later and have not warn it since, it will keep!

My hotel was about a 30 minute walk from the station. I passed below the castle on the way.


It was not the best accommodation I have stayed in and was definitely not worth the money, but with festival month I was lucky to find anything at all. At least it was comfortable. I dumped my pack and went walking. I have seen the key attractions of downtown Edinburgh so had sort of planned on just randomly walking the streets. Walking past the castle.



What I did not bank on, which was utterly foolish, was the amount of people. It was very crowded on all the main thoroughfares in the centre and it was just a bit frustrating really.


I did like this silent disco/walk, every now and then they would stop and burst in to song – the singing left a bit to be desired mind, but they looked like they were having fun.


Well, not everyone looked like they were having fun 🙂


I gave up with the ‘Royal Mile’ side of town and headed over to the other side of the tracks, towards George St and the main shopping area. One of the many things I like about central Edinburgh, is that it crosses a deep gully and on either side there are some fabulous looking buildings, the castle on one side and Calton Hill on the other.



I was not looking for shopping though, I was looking for a pub with the football on. It is the opening weekend of the premiership and my team Arsenal were playing (and lost at home to) arch rivals Liverpool. It was a torrid afternoon. Luckily there was the castle!


To make myself feel better I went to find The Oxford Bar and have another pint. The Oxford Bar was on my ”must do in Edinburgh list and I am glad I managed to find it. It is the hang out of one of my favourite fictional characters, Detective Inspector Rebus. Funnily enough his author, Ian Rankin is known to have a pint or two there as well.

The Oxford Bar

I had planned to get stuck into booking flights and organising myself for my big holiday in November in my hotel room in the evening, but was totally knackered by the time I got back, even though it was barely 7:30pm. I watched a bit of telly in my room, gave up on that after a while and tried to sleep. Not very successfully.

Monday was a work day, it was a busy but productive day. I flew back to London in the evening; a delayed flight followed by a slow train had me home much later than I expected. Still it was a good trip away and I just love that castle. I could live in a town with a castle like that.

After much frustration, the occasional bout of swearing at the screen, and one ‘get away from the screen’ run I have sorted out my November holiday, well I have booked flights anyway. Two weeks in India followed by three days in Brisbane with my son and just under two weeks in New Zealand with the rest of the family. Just the detail to go now, but yay!

Bath and The Roman Baths

Friday 29 July 2016 – Bath.

Thursday morning was a bit grey and damp and the renovation work in the flat above us had  started by 8:30 so we decided to leave one day early and stop in Bath on the way home for a night. We have been talking about going to Bath for ages, but there is always somewhere else to go. As we had to drive past it on the way home it just seemed like the right thing to do. We booked a hotel online, packed the car and drove off. Into the rain…


We arrived in Bath just before lunch time, the room in the hotel was not quite ready so we decided to dump the bags and go for a short walk. As we stepped outside it absolutely poured with rain, very un-English like rain as well, proper rain rain… We went back inside and had lunch until the room was available. Luckily that was the end of the rain for the day, the forecast was correct and we had a pretty good afternoon and evening.

I selected a hotel that was outside the immediate centre of town, I didn’t want to have to faff too much with the car, and a lot of the central hotels had no car parking. We were only a 10 minute walk from the centre, and it was a nice walk in.Like many Roman and medieval towns Bath is located on the side of a river, in this case the River Avon. We were staying on the far side of the river.

Bath is famous for two things, famous in my mind anyway. The Roman Baths and the Royal Crescent, and we visited both. On the way to the Royal Crescent we passed through The Circus, a roundabout surrounded by wonderful Georgian Terraces. I suspect that some of the pictures I have seen on the internet purporting to be the Royal Crescent, were actually taken here. I much preferred this to the nearby Royal. Crescent. The circus was built between 17544 and 1768 and the buildings are 318 feet from the centre of the circus – the same as Stonehenge. John Wood (the elder), the designer believed that ancient Bath was a centre for Druidism. I really like knowing (and then forgetting) these little snippets of local history!


The Royal Crescent was designed by John Wood (the younger), the son of the architect who designed The Circus, though it was built just prior. It is still magnificent, but a fair bit of it was covered in scaffold and there were too many cars parked outside to see it in all its glory. There were a lot of tourists here as well.



We took a walk around old Bath after leaving the Royal Crescent. Bath is a very old town, the Romans built their first spa here in 60-70AD but there are hints of a long history prior to the Romans coming to town. It is a World Heritage site and is well preserved and very nice. We would move here tomorrow ! Even though it is a tourist town and quite busy when we visited, there are plenty of places to wander to get away from the business. The centre had a nice feel to it.




One of the things I like about my travels and exploring is finding out little titbits of history, things so minor that they are totally irrelevant to almost everyone, but finding them can make a day. Today I found Sally Lunn’s house – the oldest house in Bath, but more importantly the home of the Sally Lunn bun. I loved Sally Lunns, a few years back I used to have one every day for morning tea from a bakery near work. I never knew they were actually named after a person!


We had booked ourselves an early dinner in a well know vegetarian cafe behind the cathedral so decided to just hang out in and around Bath for the rest of the afternoon, we crossed the Avon behind the train station and found this building with high river marks and dates up its side. There must have been some major floods here in the past, I was standing up right when I took this photo, so those marks are well above my head.



The river was very benevolent today though.



The vegetarian cafe was excellent, an imaginative and different menu and the food was excellent, as was the wine we had with our food. I am glad we had decided to go and visit the Spa after dinner, it gave us a good chance to walk the food off !

The Roman Baths are the main attraction in Bath, I have not been before, though El has visited a couple of times over the years and told me the museum just gets better and better. It is not particularly cheap to enter, but well worth the money. It is excellent – one of, if not, the best local museum I have been to. Even better was that it was open until 10:00pm in summer – which mean for a much smaller crowd early in the evening than the middle of the day.




The baths were built by the Romans between 60 and 70AD, probably on the site of a Celtish site dedicated to the god Sulis, known as Minerva by the Romans. There was a temple to Minerva here as well as the bathing area. The site was redeveloped many times up until the 5th century when the Romans left and the water ways silted up.



Nothing much happened again until the 12th century when new buildings were erected, there was plenty of further redevelopment up until the 18th century when the current building shell was finally built by the good old Woods – both father and son involved. I loved it, we both loved it.

As I said earlier, the museum is really good. Well spaced and paced and designed to cater for a lot of people. There are some interesting things to see and plenty of information both visually and through an audio guide. I took a lot of photos!


It really is a terrific place to relax on a relatively quiet evening.



The temple pediment and Gordons head, is a magnificent relic, probably 1st century and the carving is stunning, remember this is 2000 years old! It was discovered in the 18th century and no-one really knows what all the related carvings mean, there have been many interpretations over the years.


This gilt bronze head of Sulis Minerva was found in the 18th century renovations, the statue would have stood in the temple near the baths.


There were a few statues and sculptures in the museum and stupidly I did not make note of the names.



It was mid-evening when we left and took a slow walk back to our hotel, the sun was setting over Great Pulteney St.


Arriving back at the hotel just as the sun was finally going down over the grounds at the front of the hotel.


As expected we really enjoyed Bath. Though we did not linger on Saturday morning, packing up the car and heading back to London. On a gloriously sunny day, of course!

A holiday in Ilfracombe

Thursday 28 July 2016 – Ilfracombe, North Devon.

In a break from tradition I will add a bit of news that is current as of today, 07 August. My short period ‘between jobs’ ends tomorrow when I start a three month contract doing systems analyst and support work for the software house that supplied the package I have been supporting over the past two years. This was anticipated as I left my last job, but as always there was plenty of detail to sort out. I am expecting to only work three or four days a week as well, which of course suits me perfectly.

The three month time frame was what I wanted as I am going to go to Australia and New Zealand in November as my eldest son, and middle child, has a baby due at the end of October. My daughter is going to be in India in November so I may do a two week side trip there as well. Exciting times ahead!

Of course by any standard there has been plenty of exciting times recently, with photography tours to Orford Ness, three days in Valencia with friends and now, two days after returning from Valencia El and I are off to Ilfracombe in North Devon for a week of relaxing.

We chose Ilfracombe as there is not a lot to do there, there are few sights to see or sites to visit, or much else really. The idea was to relax and do as little or as much as we felt like rather than charging around doing touristy things as I tend to do on holiday.

We were not in any particular rush leaving London on Friday, as I was driving I decided to leave it until after the morning rush hour. We had a good run till just before Bristol, this was the first time I have travelled from the M11 to the M4 on the M25 without actually stopping. The journey from Bristol was bad, bad. It took almost three hours to get to Ilfracombe from there, a six and a half hour journey all up. We had organised a really nice flat for ourselves, so something to look forward to when we got there. We were on holiday and not rushing.


The plan for this holiday was not to do much. I wanted to walk up one of the headlands outside Ilfracombe and when El is spending time in a spa in nearby Woolacombe I will walk out to Morte point. Apart from hanging around Ilfracombe we had not much else in mind. Reading, writing, eating and drinking was about it.

The weather forecast for the week was not great, so with a fine morning on Saturday we took the opportunity to walk up the headland we could see from our flat, Hillsborough Hill. I had walked down the headland last July as it is on the South West Coast Path (SWCP). The view back from the top is magnificent, Ilfracombe in all its glory, with Lundy Island in the distance.


As was the view towards the east.


Near the top there was a tiny shrine, almost under a rock, I am not entirely sure who it is for, though it is quite touching and someone was obviously well loved.


It was nice walk, good to be walking up and down some grass hills for a change, though it was warm!


Once down from the hill we took a walk around Ilfracombe and picked up a few groceries. One of the reasons for getting a holiday flat rather than staying in a hotel or a guest house was to be able to cook for ourselves rather than eat out every night. Something we actually achieved!

We did not do a heck of a lot the following day, it was raining so we went into Barnstable for a walk and a coffee and then just mooched for a while. We had a table booked at one of the restaurants in Ilfracombe. We left early so we could stop on the way and see Verity without there being too many people in the way.


Ilfracombe is a small fishing town, now dominated by tourism, with a natural harbour. People having been living here for a very long time. While not quaint in the ‘olde worlde’ way it is a nice little town, and the harbour is very well organised !


Verity is a 20 metre tall statue created by Damien Hirst and erected in 2012. It is a stunning work and completely dominates the small harbour. I found her quite a challenge to photograph.




IMG_4482After a very nice dinner we took a stroll up Capstone Hill, a small hill overlooking the sea. I was hoping for an amazing sunset as it looked like the view to the west would be great from up there, but there was no stunning sunset tonight. The light looking back over town was magic though. ‘Magic hour’ indeed. As I said on my Orford Ness post, I really should get out for this light more often. I do like the look of a town that grows up a hillside.



The statue of Katy remembers the short life of a young Russian girl,  Ekaterine who tragically fell to her death walking in the fog when she was studying English here in 2000. The statue has such a lovely smile and I was quite taken by it. I wonder if the shrine on Hillsborough Hill that we found yesterday is related, it was in that area that the accident occurred.


Walking back down the hill I finally got the angle I was looking for to get this image of St Nicholas’s Chapel with Hillsborough Hill behind it. Lovely light.


The following day El had a spa session booked in nearby Woolacombe. I took the opportunity to go for a morning walk from Woolacombe, along the SWCP out to Morte Point. I was hoping to see seals.

Woolacombe is the start of proper sandy beaches on the stretch of coast from North Devon to Lands End. Woolacombe Beach is massive and very popular. Though it was sunny there was quite a strong wind blowing and it was not really a lying on the beach day. Most swimmers were in wet suits!


I had walked around Morte Point last year on my walk, it was at the end of a day of walking from Combe Martin so I was quite looking forward to going back and taking a more leisurely stroll, unencumbered by a large pack.


It took me about 40 minutes from the spa to round the end of the point and the view up the coast. There are no massive and dominate cliffs here, but those rocks are sharp and brutal and it is not called Morte Point for nothing.



I walked along the path for a little bit, looking for and hoping to see some of the seals that are known to frequent the area. For a change I was rewarded with the sight of two seals just off the shore. Without a big lens and not being able to get too close to the edge here, this is a heavily cropped image. But I did see seals, so very happy!


I watched them play for a while before turning round and heading back the way I came, at the end of the point I decided I would head up the rocky spine and get some height and take the upper track back.


From the sea the point must look incredible as its spine is topped by rocky shards pointing out, like a stegosaurus, unusual. As were the plants growing in the rocks.


The view from the top of the point was brilliant, it was cool being able to see the coast path winding in both directions, I was trying to get a photo of both sections of the path with walkers on them, but the timing was never quite right, though there a lot of people walking today.


There were also a lot more people on Woolacombe Beach when I got back there, I love those wind breaks, and how so many people are huddled inside them – and you can buy chips on the beach. Perfect!


Ilfracombe does not have many scenic wonders or tourist attractions. The tunnel beaches are one of them, though I am not sure why. Maybe it was the day was a bit grey, or maybe I am just cynical! But I was not overly excited. Ilfracombe is not really a swimming town, the best beach was cut off from the town by cliffs so in the 1820s Welsh miners cut tunnels through the small hill from the town to the beach.



I must admit I was not stunned by the beach…


The Landmark Theatre is quite a cool building, known as ‘Madonna’s Bra’ by some, for obvious reasons.


It was Eleanor’s birthday while we were away, but the weather did not really play fair. We decided to go to Lynmouth and Lynton for lunch and a look around, we had passed the towns on the way to Ilfracombe and had visiting them as a back-up, rainy day activity.

We parked in Lynton, which is at the top of the cliff, with Lynmouth below. There is a funicular railway between, which we caught both up and down. We only had two hours of parking so with lunch in mind we did not linger in Lynton before heading down. The cloud was quite low.


Lynmouth is a pretty village, very badly damaged when these gentle looking streams were turned into raging torrents after heavy rain back in 1952. We really liked it here and enjoyed the brief time we had wandering about – and eating fish and chips for lunch.




The funicular railway is very cool, not as dramatic as Victoria Peak in Hong Kong, but it is really steep, and is a great piece of engineering. Built in 1890 the two rail cars are water powered. The cars are linked by a cable, the car at the top is loaded up with 700 gallons of water which makes it heavier than the one at the bottom, which is emptied of water. Gravity does the rest. It really is ingenious.


The original plan was to make the short walk from Lynton to the Valley of the Rocks, but as we could only park for two hours we decided to be lazy and drive. It is quite a cool little place to walk with its unusual, castle like rock structures.


And goats…


The weather really started to close in so after a short walk we headed back to the car and back to Ilfracombe.


El and I had another great meal out, a birthday celebration. The evening was  nice so we went for another walk around, hoping for a sunset again. I had brought my tiny tripod and we took a couple of selfies on the sea wall below St Nicholas’s Chapel.



With one last snap of Ilfracombe on the way back up to the flat – naturally up a hill overlooking town.


The flat above our one was under renovation, it had been a little bit noisy during the week but not too bad, though as we were heading out for dinner we warned that on Thursday night new carpet was going to be laid and that lots of furniture would be moved around – and it would be noisy.

Thursday turned out to be a bit of a rainy day, so the thought of spending a day inside with noise above was too much and would have ruined what had been a good week. We decided to leave one day early and take a night in Bath on the way home. It was the right decision.

We really enjoyed Ilfracombe, the flat and our holiday. Thankfully, the holiday flat people refunded us for the night we did not stay due to the noise. That was really appreciated!

Three relaxing days in Valencia

Wednesday 20 July 2016 – Valencia, Spain.

Arriving home from my trip to Orford Ness early on Saturday evening it was a quick hello to El and then I was upstairs packing and organising myself for a three day trip to Valencia. I had to be at Gatwick Airport at 7:00 am on Sunday, and it is almost an hour long drive. I was not looking forward to getting up at 5:00 after the very late night and even earlier rise at Orford Ness. It was worth it all though.

Our Valencian house owning friends had invited us over to stay with them and some others for a few days, but El has work and as I am currently not working I decided to pop over for three nights – better than moping around the house during the day! El and I have a week booked in Devon this coming Friday so something for both of us to look forward to.

I arrived at Valencia Airport at mid-day after a pretty good flight on EasyJet. The sky in Valencia was a heck of a lot bluer than the sky in London was. One of the reasons for going was to see some nice blue sky!


I was picked up by Paul and Andy and driven back to the house in Lliria. Paul and Paula, have another couple staying along with various kids and their friends, though the ‘kids’ are all 16 and above, there was seven young ‘uns. Luckily it is a big place!

My plan for the three days was to do not much, fit in with everyone else’s plans and very little else, eat some food and drink some cold Spanish lager in the sun. Unwind now I am not working and, hopefully, before I start another job. For the first two days I very much achieved that – it was very enjoyable, I took no photos and did not write one word in my notebook. I did read a lot.

On Tuesday we went into Valencia for a few hours. I left the group once we got off the metro and just went wandering on my own for a while. I have seen the main sites and was quite keen to get lost in the back streets of the old town again and just lose myself for a while. I surprised myself by not really enjoying it, not Valencia’s fault, I was just not feeling it today. Maybe I have gotten too used to spending time on my own in more remote places than the back alleys of small cities. Not that there were a lot of people off the main Valencian thoroughfares. I did see one piece of street art I liked, that I am not sure I saw last time we were here.


I did take a few photos, just not anywhere near as as many as I expected. Valencia is very photogenic, even feeling off and unenthused about taking photos the city compelled me to get the camera out. Maybe after the fun of Orford Ness and using the big old DSLR having the pocket camera was not inspiring enough ?




Eventually I found myself at Torres de Serranos, one of two remaining 14th century gates into the town of Valencia. Originally there were 12 gates. It was the main entrance into the town so was designed to be more ornamental than the other gates, along with its main purpose of being part of a solid defensive wall. The city walls were pulled down in 1865, though this and the Cuart Towers were left behind as they were being used as prisons after the town prison burnt down.


When we were here back in March the front of the gates was covered in scaffolding so we didn’t have a really good look around. Now it was all clear I decided to head to the top and have a look. There is a 2 Euro fee to get in. Worth it! Just before I went inside I ran into some of the young ‘uns who I am staying with and was informed that this was a meeting point for the rest of the group in a few minutes. Good timing !

There are a lot of steps in the building, they made for some interesting shapes and I started taking a few more photos. I like the cleanliness and symmetry of the lines inside the building, with very little ornamentation left inside the structure itself is allowed to show off.




I made my way up to the roof, and the view was worth the effort of the walk, there were some other folk really struggling to get up to the top, it was fairly warm and fairly humid inside the walls and well there are some unfit people about! The view north east and out of the old centre of Valencia.


I have been developing a ‘thing’ for roofs and sky line images, I quite like the mix of line and shape and colour, a counter to the clean and tidy lines inside the gate towers.



Coming down from the towers I met the rest of the group and we split up again  after agreeing to meet later on at a horchateria for a horchata. I was quite keen to go and see inside the cathedral after talking to those who had been earlier in the day.

I set off on a roundabout walk back towards the cathedral, passing this cool little bike shop on the way.


The back of the cathedral had some interesting things, some of the detail on the building was really good, even after seeing so much of this ancient carving on the outside of forts and religious buildings all over the world I am still struck by the level of skill that was required to get that detail. I also like how it has faded over the centuries.



The front of the cathedral is interesting, not a traditional tower with massive doors, but definitely expressing its wealth and power. I liked it a lot.


The interior of the cathedral was OK, it was not the most amazing one I have visited, and it certainly had its highlights. I particularly liked the 14th century Holy Chalice Chapel and spent a bit of time relaxing in the coolness and semi dark. I also left my hat here 😦


I wandered around the interior until it was almost time to meet everybody else and walked out just as they were passing – great timing!



After a bit of misplacement we eventually found the horchateria and settled inside for a cool drink. The building is lovely inside, tiled and cool and relaxing. Horchata is a milk made from tiger nuts and is a speciality of Valencia. It was quite nice too!


After the sit down and drink we all headed back to the train and on to Lliria, for a cold cold lager and another pleasant evening of chatting in the garden.

The following morning (Wednesday) it was back to Valencia Airport for the flight home to Gatwick.

I really enjoyed my little break in Valencia, it was good to hang out with friends, chat, eat and drink sitting in the sun – with the occasional dip in the pool. Thanks Paul, Paula, Andy and Caroline for having me.

Orford Ness Photography Tour. P3 – in and out of windows.

Saturday 16 July 2016 – Orford Ness, Suffolk.

This will be the final post from the 24 hour photography tour I attended on Orford Ness in Suffolk. For information about the Ness you will need to track back a couple of posts. If you like landscapes that are utterly different to the typical English rolling countryside then I recommend you visit Orford Ness. If you want to get access to the places I have photographed here then you will need to join a tour. Space on these tours is very limited and you will need to book via the National Trust Orford Ness web page. I believe 2016 tours are all booked up.

This last post has some images I took that were frames by windows and doors.  I have been experimenting a bit more with the use of framing in my photography, using trees and buildings to frame the centre of the image. The broken windows and window frames in the buildings at Orford Ness allow for some interesting framing opportunities. Next time I will use the tripod and get a bit squarer on the frame – if I can. Using my tripod is a habit I really need to get in to…

Lab 2 from Lab 4


Lab 4 from Lab 5


IMG_0529 IMG_0508

The aerials of Cobra Mist



As I have mentioned a few times in these three posts, Orford Ness is an amazing place to visit, I highly recommend it to anyone interested in photography, landscapes or the small weird or unusual parts of English History. Thanks National Trust for keeping it open, and thanks to the volunteers who look after this wonderful place.