Thursday, 29 October 2015


Over the Rhine, St Giles in the Fields

Many of Over the Rhine's songs either make direct reference to old hymns or sound like they would sit comfortably in a hymnbook. That's not to say that they frequently tackle faith head-on, but rather blow it a kiss from across the room.

over-the-rhine.jpgIt's fitting then that for their first UK date in eight years Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist are here in a beautiful church in London's West End. The setting nods to the literary (it's a street away from Charing Cross Road) and musical too (that street is Tin Pan Alley — Denmark Street).

I'm never going to be able to review Over the Rhine without bias. I've loved these people and their music for over twenty years. Too many songs hold too many memories for me to be impartial.

This was a truly special evening. There's no doubting the talent in the room.

But don't take it from me. Take it from the stage manager. "Not another band," she told us was her pre-show thought. Afterwards was a different story. "They were amazing," she said as she sprinted to the merchandise table to buy her first OtR CD.

Posted by pab at 23:09 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Thames Path

Shillingford → Reading

autumn-colours.jpg Distance: 21.39 miles
Ascent: 166 metres
Duration: 6 hours 16 minutes

Racing the sun
« Not walked | Not walked »

We've been racing the sun today. It didn't help that the clocks went forward this morning with the end of summer time. After getting the first bus from Reading to Shillingford it was always going to be a push to make it all the way back before sunset, but we just sneaked in with half an hour to spare.

For the first third of the walk the path was sticky and slippery after recent rain. We thought it unlikely we'd make it to the end in time, but after Streatley conditions improved and we were able to enjoy the crisp, autumnal air.

Posted by pab at 19:33 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Thames Path

Oxford → Shillingford

Distance: 19.88 miles
Ascent: 43 metres
Duration: 5 hours 41 minutes

Through villages and towns
« Not walked | Not walked »

Eight years was too long last time; so this time we've returned to the Thames a fortnight after our previous outing.

rowing.jpgOxford was a horrible town to walk through. Early on a Saturday morning the river was teeming with rowing boats, and cyclists did their best to dominate the narrow towpath.

Downstream of Sandford Lock we had the towpath to ourselves, but this is no longer the lonely Thames of last week. We've seen the last of the isolated riverside pubs: all now come with villages and towns attached, although the word "charming" is still an appropriate adjective. Looking at the map of the route ahead, I don't think that will be hold true for long.

Posted by pab at 18:46 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Tuesday, 13 October 2015


Bruce Cockburn

A last minute decision took me to The Stables in Wavendon tonight to see Bruce Cockburn.

bruce-cockburn.jpgI was disappointed last time I saw Cockburn. At Greenbelt it felt as though he was just going through the motions. However, tonight he redeemed himself. His seventy year-old lungs don't quite have the power to drive his voice as they once did, but the dexterity of his fingers mean his guitar-playing as as good as ever.

It was a bit of a Greatest Hits show, and even then he didn't play my favourite (See How I Miss You) but that's OK. Over the years Cockburn's been prolific; he'd need to play a five hour show to cover everyone's choice. (Indeed, the number of songs requested as he prepared to play an encore was verging on ridiculous.)

Unsurprisingly Wondering Where the Lions Are was in the set though I doubt it made anyone else in the audience think of barn dancing on a farm just outside Perth. (For yes, somehow that song fitted in perfectly to the Hallenshankers ceilidh that closed Solas 2015).

If I don't ever get to see Cockburn play again, tonight's gig has created more than enough memories.

Posted by pab at 23:55 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Monday, 12 October 2015


... and we're back!

Finally, the blog is fully caught up.

Latest additions are all walks:

Posted by pab at 14:13 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Thames Path

Newbridge → Oxford

swinford-bridge.jpg Distance: 13.82 miles
Ascent: 35 metres
Duration: 4 hours

An English Sunday
« Not walked | Not walked »

A thin mist veiled the landscape around the Oxfordshire Thames this morning. The main signs of civilisation on this stretch are the isolated riverside pubs. We started at the Rose Revived, passed the Ferryman and stopped for lunch at the Trout. Between the pubs was a sequence of wide open meadows stretching to from the embankment to the horizon, heavily laden trees marking the water's edge. (We've come home with a bagful of jewel-like sloes.)

em-trout-wolvercote.jpgStopping for a pub lunch is a rare luxury for us, but the Trout Inn at Godstow couldn't be passed. Sitting on their terrace in the warm afternoon sun, with ducks and the occasional peacock coming to inspect our plates of Sunday roast, felt decadent but quintessentially English.

Beyond the pub the path suddenly grew busier, and before long we were being bumped into by cyclists as the centre of Oxford approached. It's a cliché to refer to the weather, but today felt like a midsummer's day rather than early autumn, and we're delighted we took the opportunity to come out and enjoy it.

Posted by pab at 17:21 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Thames Path

Lechlade → Newbridge

old-father-thames.jpg Distance: 16.36 miles
Ascent: 41 metres
Duration: 5 hours 7 minutes

The lonely river
« Not walked | Not walked »

It's been too long! We really meant to walk the entire Thames Path over the course of one year, but here we are eight years later having hardly started. Time to rectify that!

The stretch from Lechlade to Newbridge is perhaps the most remote, and the least well served by public transport so its logistical difficulties have hung over us somewhat. Curiously it wasn't until last night that we realised that the problem could be solved by staying with a friend overnight just a few miles from Newbridge.

So this write-up comes while we wait for the bus in the garden of the Rose Revived, a charming pub that no doubt is packed to the rafters in the height of summer but today provides a wonderfully relaxing spot to look back over the walk.

radcot-bridge.jpgToday's stretch of Thames is quite unlike the legs we know so well. Whereas the Thames between Windsor and Marlow feels somewhat rural, it never escapes from the expensive houses, posh shops and boatyards that occur every mile or so. Here though, the river is really out in the countryside. Vast fields stretch away from the banks, doubling as lush grazing and a flood plain. Brambles have been left unharvested, and wild flowers are in abundance.

But the signs that this is an important waterway are already present in the occasional bridge and the navigation channels and locks.

The river will transform itself as we head further downstream. If we don't wait another eight years it'll be fascinating to see the changes.

Posted by pab at 16:36 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Friday, 2 October 2015


A few more

I'm getting there; back in April I had my first encounter with an Apple Watch. Sadly I didn't quite get a Watch app ready for Greenbelt, but there was something else to be excited about at the festival.

Up next: completing the London Outer Orbital Path (LOOP) in the Spring, and an early Autumn week north of the border.

Posted by pab at 21:06 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Wednesday, 30 September 2015



It has come to my attention that I've left the blog abandoned for some time. Over the next week or so I'll be updating it with the past six months' activities.

There's more to come yet: Greenbelt, the London LOOP and a fantastic week in Aberdeenshire and Angus. Keep coming back!

Posted by pab at 14:07 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Saturday, 26 September 2015


Newburgh → Cruden Bay

st-catharines-path.jpg Distance: 12.38 miles
Ascent: 247 metres
Duration: 4 hours 4 minutes

One more church
« Bridge of Don | Not walked »

We've already walked further than we'd planned this week, but there was still time for one more outing, one more abandoned church.

forvie-church.jpgLocal legend is rife with tales of how the medieval village of Forvie came to be buried in the sand. All that remains now are the forlorn four walls of the church. It's a haunting spot, but there's little here to indicate that the building was a place of worship. I prefer the churchyards we've seen elsewhere this week.

At the church the sandy interlude that began in Aberdeen comes to an end. Before we reached the village of Collieston, the rocky terrain had asserted itself against any attempts to tame it with a straightforward path. The way out of the village started with a clamber up a steep rock face.

whinnyfold.jpgThough a formal path at this point, it was of poor quality and so when we reached Old Slains Castle we switched to the backroads despite a sign indicating that the path ("Sponsored by Energetica") would continue to Whinnyfold.

jellyfish.jpgWe were racing against the clock: the map suggested that the beach at the Bay of Cruden might be tricky at high tide so we were hoping to get there early. In the end we reached the beach more-or-less bang on high tide, and didn't have any difficulties - other than dodging the jellyfish that had been washed onto the sand.


We've had a great week here in the north-east of Scotland. Next time we'll turn the corner towards Inverness, and from there John O'Groats seems only a short hop away.

Notes for future walkers:

  • We followed the well-marked track across Forvie National Nature Reserve from the car park at NK 004 270 through NK 004 268 and NK 011 269 to Forvie Church at NK 020 265.
  • From Forvie Church a good clifftop path leads to Collieston.
  • In Collieston drop down to the harbour as soon as possible; a path leads through the Low town to the car park on St Catharine's Dub
  • A well marked path starts at the car park heading for Old Slains Castle but begins by clambering up the rock.
  • From Old Slains Castle (NK 051 300) another signposted path claimed to follow the coast to Whinnyfold but we were pushed for time so stuck to the roads (NK 048 301, NK 045 305, NK 047 308, NK 068 325, NK 069 325, NK 077 334, NK 081 332).
  • At Whinnyfold we rejoined the clifftops, soon dropping to the beach at the southern end of Cruden Bay (NK 083 338).
  • It looks as through the beach at the Bay of Cruden can be walked at all states of the tide; despite planning to the contrary we reached it near high tide and didn't have any trouble.
Posted by pab at 18:33 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Friday, 25 September 2015


Aberdeen → Bridge of Don

fittie-butandben.jpg Distance: unknown
Ascent: unknown

The Fittie Squares
« Muchalls | Newburgh »

Last year I saw a BBC documentary about the "Fittie Squares": a two-hundred year-old purpose-built fishing community at the mouth of the River Dee (the area's official name is Footdee), built as three inward-looking squares of small stone houses with a Mission Hall at their heart.

Since then I've been looking forward to this, the second of two walks today.

fittie-mission-hall.jpgThe Squares were everything I'd hoped they'd be: beautiful, charming and functional. We were keen not to hang around too long: they're not a tourist attraction, they're people's homes.

The documentary also tells the story of how Big Business in the form of oil resulted in the destruction of Fittie's twin village at Old Torry. ("Global oil giant Shell, already leasing a plot nearby, had threatened to leave Aberdeen if the land at Old Torry was not made available to them".)

The parallels with Trump's demands on the land and sea near his golf course seem all too clear.

After Footdee we were on the prom the rest of the way round to Bridge of Don where we started this morning's walk. Halfway we passed a man in hiking boots and a kilt. If the squares wanted to be left alone by the tourists, I got the feeling that this gentleman didn't.

Posted by pab at 19:11 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!


Bridge of Don → Newburgh

sunrise-with-dog.jpg Distance: 11.16 miles
Ascent: 29 metres
Duration: 3 hours 1 minute

Where the Ythan meets the ocean
« Aberdeen | Cruden Bay »

em-balmedie.jpg(In order to fit in with the tides and public transport logistics, we've split today's walk into two parts and walked them "out of order". This is the more northerly of the two walks, but the one we did first.)

There can be few walks better than this morning's.

ythan-seals.jpgWe were on the beach within metres of leaving the car, stayed on the sand for ten linear miles, passed only one other person, watched the sun rise over ships at sea then finished by a seal colony at a river mouth. (When the seals noticed that we'd stopped to watch them they splashed into the water a dozen at a time to get a closer look at us.)

But there was a catch.
(There's always a catch.)

Behind the dunes in recent years a struggle has been going on, and of late it seems the vandals have won. From the beach it's visible in one place, where the subtle tones of the marram grass are rudely interrupted by a garish green.

balmedie.jpgIf you don't know the story of the bulldozing of the Menie Links by an egotistical American businessman, watch Antony Baxter's films You've Been Trumped and A Dangerous Game. Or read our friend Alistair McIntosh's bardic declamation, O Donald Trump, Woe Donald Trump or relevant posts on land expert Andy Wightman's blog.

We just hope that Karine Polwart's vision comes true, that natural forces will cause the dunes to reclaim the greens:

The tide still ebbs and flows
where the Ythan meets the ocean.
Not even God himself
could stop the northerlies from blowing.
You can tear these dunes asunder,
pound this wonder into dust
with your cruel hands and crooked hearts
laden with lust and expensive lies
but the haar will stumble in to cover your eyes.
The haar will stumble in

Karine Polwart - Cover Your Eyes

Notes for future walkers:

  • We saw no indication that the beach beneath Blackdog Ranges is ever closed.
  • Leave the River Ythan by the boathouse to find the golf club road.
  • Where the road bears left (NK 000 249), pick up a path running north to a bridge over the Foveran Burn at NK 000 252. (The footbridge further to the north seemed to be closed.)
Posted by pab at 19:11 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Thursday, 24 September 2015


Muchalls → Aberdeen

em-mapreading.jpg Distance: 15.41 miles
Ascent: 397 metres
Duration: 5 hours 16 minutes

Granite City
« Inverbervie | Bridge of Don »

Aberdeen is our target for this year's walking, so we're delighted to have reached Granite City with a few days left in the week.

The city simultaneously impressed and disappointed, much as the whole of today's walk has.

life-vessels.jpgThick cloud foiled this morning's attempt to watch the sun rise over the North Sea, so our early start was in vain. This was no bad thing though: there was nowhere on the early part of the walk that gave a suitable vantage point to the east. Instead we found ourselves alternating between farm track and roads until we finally reached the boundary between Aberdeenshire and the City of Aberdeen. Almost surreal was the moment we found ourselves amongst hundreds of life vessels that were being serviced before redeployment on rigs at sea.

cove-bay.jpgAt this point (Cove Bay) a good quality coast path began. Clearly the City council's attitude towards coast walkers is more welcoming than the county council's. (Or is it just that they have only ten miles of coastline while the county has more than ten times that distance?)

The path wound its way past the comically-horned animals of a rare breeds farm and finally reached the open sweep of Nigg Bay. On the map this looked charming: soft sand, obligatory disused church, and a lighthouse at the far side. In reality it was messy and smelly, with a refuse tip and industrial works dominating one end.

aberdeen-docks.jpgThe lighthouse marked the start of Aberdeen Docks and as we turned the corner the city revealed itself. Or rather, it would have except that it seemed to be hiding behind huge ships and dock buildings.

What about the granite? We certainly saw plenty — every building here seems to be made of it, from the lowliest bungalow to the grandest of civic centres. (One wonders whether affluent locals are proud of brick kitchen work surfaces the way granite is prized in the south!) But as interesting as the uniform material is, it lends everything a dull greyness as if the whole town is weeping.

I won't let that be my lasting memory of the city though. Instead, let me remember the fingerpost sign I saw by the docks: "Ferry to Northern Isles"; we really are a long way north.

Notes for future walkers:

  • A good track north from Muchalls via Mains of Monduff leads to Newtonhill.
  • Cross the railway in Newtonhill and follow Skateraw Road to its end where a path to the left runs down to the bridge at the back of Newtonhill Bay.
  • Cross the bridge and continue in the same direction up a steep path to join the track that contours around Cran Hill at NO 916 938.
  • Farm tracks lead on from NO 918 944 to cross the Burn of Daff (NO 920 946) and reach Downies (NO 923 951), then from NO 925 950 through NO 928 960, NO 929 959 to Porthlethen Village (NO 930 962).
  • From the end of the road in Porthlethen (NO 935 963) we followed field-edge paths to the life-vessel refitter (NO 936 969).
  • Through Findon and Cove Bay we were back on roads: NO 937 973, NO 938 974, NO 938 977, NO 939 984, NJ 939 002, NJ 952 008, NJ 952 013 to NJ 953 015.
  • At NJ 953 015 a good path runs back to the clifftops and then north all the way to Nigg Bay. (A signpost suggests that this path might in fact begin further south at Cove Bay Harbour.)
  • We stayed beneath the road around Girdle Ness most of the way to the breakwater, but felt that the road would've been a better choice.
Posted by pab at 17:30 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Wednesday, 23 September 2015


Inverbervie → Muchalls

a92.jpg Distance: 17.93 miles
Ascent: 451 metres
Duration: 5 hours 37 minutes

« Montrose | Aberdeen »

The research we did before heading out this week always suggested that today would be tedious. It certainly was. We should have been celebrating our most northerly coast walk so far, but instead found ourselves trudging mile upon mile of road, ranging from quiet back streets to a busy dual carriageway.

wire-boat.jpgSo let's instead consider some local births.

The street signs welcoming you to Inverbervie declare it to be the birthplace of Hercules Linton, the designer of the Cutty Sark. Beside the Bervie Chipper a replica of the ship's figurehead regards the A92 with suspicion.

stonehaven.jpgNot to be beaten, Stonehaven's signs lay claim to the birth of R.W. Thomson, "inventor of the pneumatic tyre". I think the town council would rather that contribution to modern life be remembered more than the one declared on a banner hanging from the side of one of the town's chippies, for it was the Carron Fish Bar that's said to have originated the Deep Fried Mars Bar.

dunnotar-castle.jpg(If you're ever in the area, don't miss Stonehaven. It's the nearest town to where we're staying this week and we've come to really appreciate its large market square full of independent shops and cafés. The Tolbooth Museum — where the staff urged us to come and live north of the border — is also worth a visit, as is Dunnotar Castle. And of course at Hogmanay there's the fireballs.)

To the north of Stonehaven is Cowie. This village seems to be mainly caravans, but it was here ten years ago that a fossil of the world's oldest living creature was found. At 428 million years I don't much fancy putting the candles on this millipede's cake!

Notes for future walkers:

  • We didn't even try to find a coast path out of Inverbervie but instead followed the A92 north, leaving it at NO 838 742 where we began to follow Sustrans route 1 through NO 854 751, NO 857 763, NO 856 772, NO 860 782, NO 865 786 and NO 868 785 to NO 871 799 where the cycle path heads inland to cross the A92. At this point we stayed on the unclassified road through NO 876 805 and rejoined the A92 from NO 873 810 to the next unclassified road at NO 874 834.
  • From the car park (NO 875 837) for Dunnotar Castle an excellent path leads back to the coast and then north to the outskirts of Stonehaven.
  • From behind the Tolbooth Museum in Stonehaven harbour a good board walk then promenade runs along the back of the beach as far as Cowie.
  • At Cowie we picked up a clifftop path to the abandoned chapel at the southern end of the golf course (NO 884 873).
  • From the golf club access road (NO 883 873) we stayed on the road to join the A90 at 889 885)
  • There is a pavement alongside the A90 but it doesn't make for pleasant walking.
  • overgrown-path.jpg
  • We left the A90 at NO 897 913 (signposted Mill of Muchalls) but don't advise this; after walking in a loop around Doonie Point we eventually found the path north from Easter of Muchalls but it was incredibly overgrown. Better to stay on the A90 to Walker Drive (NO 899 919).
Posted by pab at 19:19 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Tuesday, 22 September 2015


Montrose → Inverbervie

viaduct.jpg Distance: 18.80 miles
Ascent: 242 metres
Duration: 6 hours

A tale of two counties
« Braehead of Lunan | Muchalls »

One third of the way through today's walk we finished the Angus Coastal Trail and started on Aberdeenshire. Angus benefits from a published guide book, but the best Aberdeenshire can rustle up is the promise of work yet to come. I suspect the council priorities are elsewhere right now.

bamse.jpgWe'd get to Aberdeenshire in good time, but first we had to leave Montrose. On the quayside there's a huge statue of a dog. Bamse seems to have become a local hero during the second world war, and his statue certainly supports that, but his grave is tucked away in sand by the corner of a high security fence. It's a curious sight, as if the council don't quite know what to do with it.

derelict-farmstead-kinnaber.jpgOur remaining time in Angus was along the wide sands of Montrose Bay, eventually cutting inland past a derelict bothy to a pair of beautiful viaducts that led us into Aberdeenshire.

st-cyrus-cemetery.jpgAbandoned churchyards seem to be a regular feature of the east coast of Scotland. Today's was beneath the village of St Cyrus and in the dank air its isolation and sorrow were very potent.

Overgrown paths and muddy fields with no exits slowed us down so we were pleased when we finally found the cycle path that runs through a few of the coastal communities here. If today's route-finding is anything to go by, Aberdeenshire will be a challenge.

Notes for future walkers:

  • The way to the shore on the River North Esk is relatively easy to find — follow the signs to Bamse's grave.
  • At high tide the beach is impassable alongside Traill Drive but the road provides a quiet alternative. Drop onto the sand where the road bears inland at NO 727 582.
  • We left the beach at NO 738 617; there's an abandoned farmstead here just behind an obvious gap in the dunes. We then followed the track west north-west to the edge of the plantation at NO 734 618, then north — staying outside of the trees — until meeting the river. Running west from NO 734 621 a track, then a narrow path, follows the river to the viaducts of Lower North Water Bridge.
  • Cross the old railway viaduct, then circle down left to the road running to the visitor centre at Cocklem Bents.
  • We left the track that runs at the foot of the Heughs of St Cyrus by the zig-zag path that climbs from NO 753 646, although there appears to be another exit from the beach further to the north that meets the clifftops at Woodston Fishery (NO 756 649).
  • We failed to find a way across the Woodston Burn gully and ended up rejoining the road through Nether Woodston to the A92.
  • Rejoin the coast at Tangleha' Cottages (NO 771 650) by taking the road that leaves the A92 at NO 759 657.
  • Between Tangleha' and Milton of Mathers, follow the foreshore initially but keep an eye out for a path that eventually becomes distinct at the back of the beach.
  • Beyond Milton of Mathers a decent coast path and eventually cycle path leads the rest of the way to Inverbervie.
Posted by pab at 20:00 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!