Category Archives: Art and architecture.

A LITTLE MORE OF THE LOT.

It’s the end of August and I’m back in the Lot Valley, France, for a couple of weeks as is usual.

The house of my friends is as welcoming as ever and the weather is perfect. The problem is I can’t get out of bed in the morning. My stiffness in shoulders and hips has intensified and nobody sees me until lunchtime when I’m the head chef. After that I’m semi OK and can walk up the easy Combe de Filhol behind the house. To my amazement on an oak tree I spot a luxuriant fungi. Orange and yellow bracts sprout from the tree, I’ve no idea what it is but I suspect it is edible and return to cut off a few slices.

A quick search suggests, no proves, it is  ‘chicken in the woods’  – a delicacy in some regions. Without further to do I fry a piece up and season up with salt and pepper. It tastes good but more like a lemon flavoured mushroom than chicken. I start with a small piece, some people are allergic to them, but the next day fry up more pieces for friends who realise I’m not dead.

Nothing to do with the fungus but I slowly become worse with the stiffness and pain, almost certainly PMR [look it up], and have to resort to the steroids prescribed to me. I take two after breakfast and two the same evening and miraculously the next morning I’m virtually back to normal. Life is returned and  I’m able to do some gardening, swim and go on my usual walks around the area. I enjoy a lovely walk along the ridge to the communication tower and back along the vineyards. Buzzards flying above and butterflies fluttering alongside, blues and clouded yellows. From the ridge I have great views of Puy L’Eveque above the River Lot and am impressed by the size of the church above the town, arrowed below. I don’t think I’ve ever visited it,

So a couple of days later we make a pilgrimage to investigate. What a find! The church of Saint Sauveur began in the 13th century and is in an elevated position with views over the valley. It is of course built from limestone giving it a clean bright appearance. There is an elegant arched entrance porch soaring up to the bell tower. Elaborate stone carvings are found above the door. The interior is generally plain with high vaulted Gothic arches but there are fine stained glass windows. Coming back outside we can see where the building was extended in the  C19th. High on the North East wall is a strange observation tower. Surrounding the church are masses of burial vaults.

Apart from that it is mainly eating and drinking at the numerous local hostelries. In particular Le Pigeonnier alongside the River Lot gives a fine view of Puy L’Eveque’s medieval houses rising from the valley. In contrast Le Cote Lot restaurant in the Bellevue Hotel has a fine terrace room looking down onto the Lot below. Le Caillau courtyard restaurant close to the house has a romantic atmosphere with fine food but due to its popularity we found the service has deteriorated. More fine evening dining was experienced at La Venus Restaurant in nearby Prayssac and of course we made our usual pilgrimage to the Brit Hotel in Fumel for their fabulous lunchtime buffet.

Looking up at Puy L’Eveque from Le Pigeonnier.

Looking down from Cote Lot to the river.

Le Caillau courtyard.

The Brit’s Buffet.

Back at the house mirabelles, quince, plums and figs all collected locally gave a healthier balance to our diet.

It will be a wrench returning to the UK as Autumn starts.

JOHN O’GROATS TRAIL. 7. Golspie to Brora.

A perfect walk.

Breakfast was shared with a man from France who was taking a dog and a cat over to Orkney – that is a long story. The day was perfect – fresh and clear. The trail went out of town past the houses of the former Sutherland estate with their Duke’s statue looking down on them. In the close up photo below the quarry used for stone for the base can be made out. Onto the dunes  and a path towards Dunrobin Castle the largest house in the Highlands and once owned by the notorious Duke Of Sutherland. I saw it from below and it did look impressive, I was too early for their falconry display. A bit further on and I diverted up to Dun Liath broch expecting I’d be the only one there but a mini bus pulled in and discharged a group of tourists who were mainly interested in taking selfies of themselves. After they departed I wandered round the 2000 year old ruins in peace. After regaining the shore I dropped onto the beach as the tide was out. There were some interesting rocks covered in seaweed, one reminding me of Dougal the dog from The Magic Roundabout. There were seals on the rocks and exposed sandbanks, their calls were hauntingly human. I arrived into Brora by the harbour area where a few fishing boats were preparing to go out to their lobster pots. Nearby was the old ice house used when the harbour was more prosperous. This coast was famous for its herrings which would have been smoked locally. Up the road was a clock war memorial of unusual design. I lunched in the delightful Linda’s Cafe and enquired about a taxi who could pick me up if I walked a few more miles up the coast, none was available but they suggested I would be able to catch a bus back. So off I went again over the golf course onto the perfect beach for two or three miles. A swim was needed halfway to cool me down. At the end of the golfcourse I clambered over the railway and landed on the A9 where I managed to flag down a bus back to Brora.

Notice Trail waymark.

Brora Golf Course.

Endless sands.

My airbnb was good with plenty of time for stimulating conversation with the hostesses and the Jack Russell. There was a private episode in my bedroom when becoming concerned I may have a tick attached to my derrière.  I attempted to locate it without the benefit of mirrors with no success until I came up with idea of a selfie from my phone. Eventually I focused in to the right area, a false alarm as it happens, but I hate to think what Google may have done with my images.  Now all I have to do is persuade someone to drive me back up the A9 in the morning which will make for an easier day’s walk to Helmsdale.

*****

JOHN O’GROATS TRAIL. 5. Tain to Embo.

A day of two halves.

Two halves scenically and weather wise. It drizzled in the morning but was hot and sunny for the afternoon.

Dornoch Firth.

Breakfast in The Royal was excellent and made entertaining by a group of plonkers on a nearby table. On some sort of group activity holiday the 30somethings were engrossed in laptops and tablets and ignoring the staff. Their ‘leader’ announced that they had to leave at 9am and went off to rouse a couple of late risers. After 8.30 they eventually switched off, almost, their electronic devices and put in complex orders for the cooked breakfast. Not surprisingly they started getting frustrated with the slightest of delays and complaints were put to the waitress who dealt with the little darlings with restrained Scottish aplomb and a wry smile.

After passing the Glenmorangie Distillery little estate lanes were used before dropping down to another brush with the A9 to get across the Dornoch Firth – 30 minutes of fumes and speeding cars. I was glad to clamber down a steep bank onto the shore. The track eventually swung away from the coast onto a road past farms. Bulls guarded the fields and there was some equine presence at some stables. It was along here it started drizzling, so off with my shirt and on with the waterproof. A little further the JO’G Trail was signed into Camore Woods, pine woods standing on a gravel ridge from the ice age. Within this area were several obvious mounds which are the remains of hut circles and chambered cairns 3000 yrs old. A standing stone was seen in a field on the right seemingly reflecting the steeple of Dornoch Cathedral. As an aside I noticed for the first time the sound of rain falling on different trees – almost silent on the pines but waterfall like on the larger deciduous  leaves.

Dornoch was busy with tourists, I visited the cathedral with its beautiful vaulted ceiling and then found a little cafe in the square behind for a light lunch. The rain had now stopped, the sun was out and fortified I walked down to Dornoch Royal golf course which has been used for the open in the past. The fairways were narrow between the sand dunes and the bunkers looked horrendous. The track on the edge of the course was directly above the sandy deserted beaches and I couldn’t resist a paddle which turned into a brief refreshing swim.

I was dry by the time I walked through a large camping/caravan park and into the little village of Embo. This was made up of streets of small houses presumably a fishing industry in the past. My B and B for the night was comfortable and peaceful.

 

*****

JOHN O’GROATS TRAIL. 4. Invergordon to Tain.

Quiet roads.

It was only in the morning as I left that I noticed all the wall murals in town depicting the history and culture of the area. There is also a distillery on the edge of town, a part of Whyte & Mackay producing grain spirit for the blending industry.

The B817 road along Nigg Bay was almost absent of cars and for some of the way I could use the beach. Oil rigs were prominent in the bay.The villages passed had no facilities so I pushed on and found even quieter lanes inland. The odd cyclist passed me with a cheery greeting [not all cyclists are odd!] A petrol station appeared and an ice cream was purchased.

The A9 was perishingly close but I was able to continue on an old road which was slowly being reclaimed by nature. At its end it was a short hop across the main road to reach the rather isolated Shandwick Arms where I rested over a Belhaven ale and sandwich. Despite being refreshed I soon ran into blocked ways and escaped to fields and barbed wire crossings. Then all was all plain sailing on little used lanes passing small crofts. I didn’t try to join up with the JO’G Trail in the forests which I had heard was difficult. So I was soon dropping into Tain a prosperous looking town just above the Dornoch Firth. It was only in the last few hundred yards that I touched the JO’G Trail. An uneventful day’s walk through very pleasant scenery.

On the outskirts of town today a Highland gathering and games were taking place. My hotel was central and the games continued into the night by the sound of it.

 

*****

JOHN O’GROATS TRAIL. 3. Culbokie to Invergordon.

Over and along the Cromarty Firth.

After a breakfast of fresh farm eggs I took the lane dropping down to the Cromarty. The causeway bridge carrying the A9 was plainly visible, it looked a long way across. The traffic was heavy and fast but there was an adequate footway on the verge for my 30 minute crossing. As well as the traffic hazards terns were dive bombing me at the far side. I couldn’t wait to leave the road on the other side and I probably took the wrong path which led me up to the railway but no further. I resorted to trespassing along the line, The Far North Line, for a distance until I reached the level crossing I should have been on.  These private level crossings were a frequent feature across the single line railway, there aren’t many trains per day.  My track went up to a house and then onto a quiet country lane high above the water so there were good views all morning. The only people using the lanes were cyclists, many on a LEJOG trip. Groups of them were using backup transport which meant they could travel light. The busy A9 was somewhere out of sight and sound.

I arrived in sleepy Evanton at coffee time and the Novar Arms duly obliged. The B817 road was a bit busier but immediately out of the village was a signed cycle path in the trees alongside the road so the continuation was quite pleasant. Interestingly most cyclists persisted on the fast road leaving me to enjoy their cycle route. This gave me time to take in the views and high above me on a hill was the Fyrish Monument. Built in 1782 for Sir Hector Munro lord of the area who had served in India. It represents the Gate of Negapatam, a port in Madras, which General Munro took for the British in 1781. At the time the local population was being cleared off the lands they had worked for centuries to make way for profitable forestry and sheep. Survival was a problem and it is said the folly was built to help keep the locals in labour. The view from up there must be good but no time today. Along the road were signs of the Novar Estate, Sir Hector’s home. now concentrating on tourism of the shooting and fishing variety, somewhere in there is the big house. Out of interest his two sons were both killed in India one by a tiger and the other by a shark!  His daughter married and the estate passed into new hands.

The cycle path ran out leaving a stretch on a boring footpath adjacent the busy but safe road into Alness. A thriving little high street on which I found the basic Cafe Picante for a cheese toastie. I got the impression that most of the staff were central European as well as many of the clients. Oh and why do all these villages have so many, mainly Turkish, barbers?

Wanting to lengthen the day I pushed on a further 3 miles or so to Invergordon. This meant leaving the route of JO’G Trail, not that there had been much evidence of signage throughout the day. Again I was lucky as there was a cycleway out of town parallel to the road. I dropped down past the renowned Dalmore Distillerry to the shores of the Cromarty which I followed pleasantly into town. Along here I passed a standing stone marked as a Symbol Stone on the map. This is the Bronze Age Thief’s Stone which has three C6th or C7th  Pictish symbols carved on it, I couldn’t make them out. Looking back up the Cromarty I’m fairly sure that is Ben Wyvis in the back ground.

The views down the water were dominated by oil rigs in for repair. They looked strange with their legs up in the air.

Invergordon was an unpretentious town with a wide high street. It was at one time an important naval base and there are masses of old fuel tanks still on the edge of the houses. Aluminium smelting works closed and the oil rig business was a saviour. As I found later when wandering down to the harbour Cruise ships now call here because of its deep waters. One was being piped out this evening on its way further north.

The Marine Hotel where I stayed benefits from the cruises by the bus drivers and guides staying here, It was basic but friendly.

What had appeared to be a day on lanes turned very pleasant and interesting.

*****

JOHN O’GROATS TRAIL. 1. Inverness to North Kessock.

The beginning of how to avoid the A9.

As part of my ongoing Lands End to John O’Groats exploits another week was looming. We are having such hot weather down here i thought Scotland could give some relief. A few weeks ago JD and I filled the gap in the Scottish Lowlands leaving me only a section north from Inverness. I had heard horror stories of people walking on the A9 and was determined to avoid it if at all possible. A little eleventh hour research came up with the John O’Groats Trail, a coastal route from Inverness.  This was a new venture and is only just being plotted and waymarked. There were warnings of navigational difficulties and awkward terrain particularly in summer when the vegetation is high and dense. There was however a website, http://www.jogt.org.uk/  and I was able to  download some route descriptions from https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/john-o-groats-trail.shtml before I left. Before I knew it, most of my trips are last-minute decisions, I was stepping off the train in Inverness. I was not impressed by the city – too many tourists, too many drunks and beggars, too many cheap high street shops. I was therefore glad I had booked a B and B across the river for the first night, this gave me an easy 4 miles evening walk to help me on the way and escape the city. I didn’t even stop for a coffee.

The official start of the trail is outside the castle where there is a fine statue of the Jacobite heroine Flora MacDonald, the one of Bonnie Prince Charlie fame. I did find a waymark for the JO’G Trail. Pleasant walking initially alongside the River Ness led into industrial estates where the only building of interest was Cromwell’s Tower – this is all that remains of a great fort here completed in 1682, It seemed incongruous in the industrial setting.

Once alongside the Beauly Firth the massive Kessock Bridge carrying the A9 made itself present. A scramble up the banking onto the pathway felt illegal. The way across was scary up close to thundering traffic which seemed to be ignoring the 50mph limit. It was a long way down to the water and my search for dolphins was futile.

Thankfully off onto quieter lanes at the far side life became tranquil once more. My B and B on this north side was a haven of peace overlooking the Beauly Firth. I slept well anticipating some interesting explorative walking.

*****

THE BRONTE WAY five.

Bailiff Bridge to Oakwell Hall.

The final day of our walk on the Bronte Way. By more good luck than management there was a bus stop outside the hotel to take us back to Bailiff Bridge. After some steep uphill road and lane walking we were once more in amazing rural areas. We had joined The Kirklees Way and a Brighouse Boundary Walk. There were some vicious dogs penned up in some of the properties we passed some on a running chain which is quite scary as they charge at you. We postulated what could happen if the chain snapped!

Some time was passed in a large pristine golf course, there’s always one on any long distance walk. Fortunately no fairways had to be crossed on this one. After crossing a motorway, M62, little lanes led into Liversedge where first we came across a quaker grave yard. Way back a man, who was a Quaker, had been refused a burial at Hartshead church, so he bought a piece of land for burials of his family. This is still being used today and there are four 17th century graves. It was on Hartshead Common that Luddites congregated in early 19th century to march on Arkwright’s Mill at Rawfolds with disastrous results. Could something similar happen in the future as robots take over workers jobs?   We are also sharing The Luddite Trail now, oh and did I mention The Spen Valley Trail. there must be a lot of keen walkers hereabouts.

A little further was a plant hire depot with some interesting old tractors, two looked as though they had come straight off the American prairie. And another aggressive guard dog going nuts as we stopped to take pictures.

We were now in the Spen Valley area which was the backdrop to Charlotte’s novel Shirley enacted at the time of the Luddites. This novel sounds interesting and will get a copy for holiday reading. On our route was a farm cafe which turned out to be an excellent stop for coffee and toasted tea cakes. The waitress was interested in our route and was clearly enthusiastic about Oakwell Hall. On leaving the cafe we spotted the resident cat waiting patiently on the back step.

Up the road was an old house, Clough House, bearing a plaque to the Rev. Patrick Bronte who lived here before moving to Thornton.

Some rather messy navigating through lanes and parks, all very rural though, brought us into the honest looking Shirley Estate, Gomersal. We wandered into the local church bazar hoping to find an old copy of The Bronte Way guidebook. On mentioning we were on the Bronte Way we were escorted to the grave of Mary Taylor a lifelong friend of Charlotte. Mary apparently was a Women’s Rights advocate who incidentally led a women’s group to climb Mont Blanc in 1875.

Open fields should have led us down to an entrance to Orwell Hall but probably distracted by females we took the wrong field. All was not lost and I think we had a better way into the grounds of this beautiful and obviously popular property. Oakwell Hall may have been the inspiration for ‘Fieldhead’  in Charlotte’s novel Shirley. This is the last of our Bronte associations but I wonder how many we have missed. We came out on the way we should have gone in, a far inferior way. A bus stop was on the main road and eventually a bus full of friendly locals delivered us to the efficient Bradford Interchange.

The end to a really varied and interesting five days of walking.  Sir Hugh’s new knee just about stood up to the whole trial.  We’ve seen a lot and learnt a lot.

Sign in the cafe.

*****