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Thursday, 31 May 2012


I started researching my mother’s family a good number of years ago, and knowing that the grandmother I am named for came from the Newcastle area, I started my search there.  To my astonishment though I discovered that her grandfather, Alex, had in fact been born in the fishing village of Portknockie in Banffshire, Scotland, but had moved down to the northeast of England.  I still don’t know why and probably never will, as it wasn’t as if the job he was doing couldn’t have been done at home.  Maybe it was just a need on his part to get away.  Anyway, having discovered where his family had come from I was eager to see it.  I had a brief visit a year or two ago with Janet and Ray but wanted to see more, so that was where my adventures took me next.

elgin cathedral I drove out of Inverness eastwards, through Nairn and Elgin (cathedral, left); past Baxter’s canning factory at Fochabers, (FOCHA-bers) and turned onto the Buckie road, passing it and Findochty – Fin ECH ti to the locals; past Hillhead cemetery where there is a stone memorial to my great grandfather, his siblings and parents, and on down to Portknockie, ptk paddling pool quite a large fishing town with the typical narrow vennels running down towards the sea. The town stands mainly at the top of a cliff with the harbour down below.  In the days when my ancestors lived in PTK, its local name - probably from the registration letters of local fishing boats - there were no street names.   You might live at 3, 87, 168 or 202 Portknockie , or any one of the numbered houses.  What I want to find out is what streets the ancestors’ houses were in. To hopefully get that information I have written an email to the local heritage group. (P.S.  Received a reply today, so all’s clear).

ptk old town I drove around the village, taking photos, and generally exploring.ptk lanes       




Along the cliff topptk clifftop houses,


ptk war memorial



round by the war memorial, which gives the names of the sailors and the soldiers who died in the two world wars.  ptk war memorial sailors I was interested to see many of my family’s surnames were listed among the sailors… Wood, Mair, Slater…. In contrast, the list of soldiers had very few of these names. 

the three creeks  Above the rocky shoreline I found a plaque giving  the names of the rocks and caves in the photo on the left.  ptk boat building

This is apparently named the Three Creeks, and it was on this shore that the boats were built, in the 1880s. My great great grandfather was building boats in about the1840s/50s.  I wonder if they were also made here.  I wouldn’t have thought it an easy place to launch boats from. ptk bow fiddle rock  

Before heading down to the harbour I took the cliff top path leading to Cullen to look at the Bow Fiddle Rock.  Hundreds of seabirds were flying round it, screeching at each other and at those birds that were nesting (or resting) on the rock itself.  All along the grassy coastline were clumps of seathrift.  It was almost like the primrose experience in Doune in April, only the seathrift is pink instead of pale yellow!ptk seathrift ptk thrift

ptk seathrift clump 

 ptk harbour2 So, after that exhilarating walk, I came back to the car to drive down the steep twisting road to the harbour.   The paddling pool in the outer harbour must be popular in the summer , although it didn’t look as if it was likely to be under water even at high tide. 

 ptk buckie boat   


This colourful Buckie (BCK)  fishing boat on the outer harbour wall cried out to have its picture taken!

I wish I had had time to call in at the Elgin museum or the Buckie Fishing Heritage Centre to find out more about my ancestors’ lives back in the early 19th century, but maybe another time.  For now it was back to Inverness for me.

Talk again soon.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Now a bit of northern Scotland?

I was originally coming to Inverness to cat sit while Janet and hubbie were off on holiday, but as I told you  before, poor Pickles - at the age of 21 -  went to the great big cattery in the sky a few weeks ago.  However I still came up the A9 to house-sit and water the plants.  The house isn’t the same without Pickly Pussycat.  I miss her little hello-miaow, and her constant purring!

The good weather that we enjoyed last week has held and it has been really warm, around 23 C/73F – too hot for me!!  I’ll say it again – My thermostat just doesn’t work!  Anyway today I took a run down to the northern end of the Caledonian canal  near the canal basin that you could so clearly see in my photo of Inverness from the air taken on my way to Iceland.  cale canal locks What you couldn’t see from so high up was the series of locks that boats have to navigate through before they are finally on their way through the Great Glen at the right level!  cale boatyardFurther on, past the locks is a boat yard, where several boats awaited attention, either in the water or high on blocks – do they call them gantries?  There were some bonnie boats!!!cale boats 

I really wanted to be on the other side of the canal where there’s the old towpath, so had to head for the main road to Fort William and cross the canal by the road bridge, which had just recently been opened to allow a tall-masted boat through, and turn down the next road.cale canal and yacht From the car-park I could walk up to the side of the canalcale canal jacobite cruise boat


cale canal 

and was just in time to see the sight-seeing boat returning from her afternoon cruise to Loch Ness, above.   I wondered if there would be an evening cruise but there was no-one to ask by the time I went round.  Might have been rather pleasant!may blossom2  

The saying goes “Cast ne’er a clout till may be oot.” which basically means don’t take off your winter clothes till either the month of May is over, or the may/hawthorn blossom is out (in bloom).  You can take your pick!  There’s an addition  to that saying, that I only heard some years ago, and it is “Button up tae the chin till June be in!”  That would suggest the month of May for the first part.  Personally I think it’s the may blossom that has to be out before you think winter’s over!  Plenty of it about at the moment! It is flowering all along the sides of the canal. buttercups2I took photos of several wild flowers along the banks.  There were buttercups,(left)forgetmenots forget-me-nots, (right),  speedwells, (below), to name but three! speedwells

Next day I drove over the Kessock Bridge to visit the area they call The Black Isle – strange name as it’s neither an island nor is it black!  The weather was cooler and driving towards the first villages the sky was becoming a bit hazy and grey.  margaret road avoch I stopped first in Avoch, pronounced Auch, ch as in loch, to look at the rows of cottages standing gable ends to the sea, which is very typical in fishing villages – strength against the prevailing wind - bus shelter avoch

and was somewhat amused at the bus shelter on the main street, with a boat for its roof.

Next stop was in Fortrose where I accidentally ended up finding the ruined cathedral.  fortrose cathedralOnly an aisle with old graves exists now.  Apparently it was in a ruinous state as early as the 17th century.

A promontory sticks out into the Moray Firth – that word Firth again – mouth of a river – south of Fortrose, and I headed along it to Chanonry Point, where I seemed to remember there was a memorial to Coinnich Odhar, the Brahan Seer, who was executed for witchcraft at that point.  chanonry point brahan seer plaque Sure enough the plaque was there, and so was a crowd of people all heading past the lighthouse to the very tip of Chanonry Point.chanonry point lighthouse




Suddenly in the distance I saw the reason why, and started following the crowd!  fortrose chanonry point I stood for ages looking to the sea and took loads of photos, chanonry point dolphins

but this was the best one – two dolphins out of maybe four or five playing out there, breaking the surface together.  That was an exciting moment – better than seeing minke whales off Iceland!!  Eventually I tore myself away from the dolphins’ play, Hugh Miller's birthplace and continued my way to Cromarty, birthplace of the 19th century geologist Hugh Miller, and at one time a very busy fishing port. cromarty harbour 





cromarty vennel


cromarty boatsAgain, as in Avoch, the houses in the old fishertown formed rows of little streets, all running away from the sea.  It was interesting to see some large houses like thesecromarty big house,


cromarty st ann's



once merchants’ houses and private homes to this day.cromarty group  I love this little group of cottages, right, and this corner toocromarty corner , below left.

cromarty east church The old East church, once Roman Catholic and later Presbyterian, has recently undergone restoration and is a typical church building of its time, with galleries, and family “boxes” where the richest families would sit together in front of the minister’s nose!cromarty garden

There were some beautiful little gardens outside some of the cottages.  Because I love  Ladies’ or Granny’s bonnets -  Acquilegias – this little plot really caught my eye.acquilegias2

Then there were the clumps of wild flowers

red campion


 growing along the little vennels,

cromarty potters garden




so pretty!  cromarty ice house and school tower


Just one more photo from Cromarty.  Through the gap between the foreground cottages is the spire of the local school and a grass covered building which was the town’s ice house, which I presume was where the ice to preserve fish catches was stored.

So the afternoon passed with me wandering the neuks and crannies of the village, but eventually it was time to return to Inverness. 

Where to next?  Talk again soon.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

A bit of southern Scotland with the cousins

The last time I saw Stephanie was on my last trip to Australia and New Zealand  just a few years ago, when she with her mum and youngest brother came to see me at Melbourne airport between flights I was taking.  We had a lovely time together though it was far too brief.  So it was wonderful when Steph emailed me a few months ago and said “We’re coming to see you!”  Then all of a sudden the time had flown and they were here.  It was just unfortunate that the weather had decided to be wet, cold and generally pretty miserable.

I wanted to show them a bit of the Borders region, so wrapping up well we set off one day to St Mary’s Loch and the inn called Tibbie Shiels.  It was not, I repeat NOT, a day for photos, but if you want to see some superb photos of the loch click here!  It took its name from the church of St Mary that used to stand nearby, but today only the old graveyard is left.  Tibbie Shiels was the original landlady of the small cottage inn.  It has been added to over the years but the original cottage is still the main building.  You can read Tibbie’s story in a nutshell here. There are some more great photos of the loch there too if you explore the site further.

stephsteve 012

This was the only photo I took.  That’s Tibbie’s over the wall, but I was fascinated by what had been done to the old tree root!  It has been planted with saxifrage.  Beautiful!

stephsteve 013



We came back up the road again to visit Traquair House, but instead of doing the tour round the house, they opted for just the walks round the grounds.  On a fine day that’s great, but it wasn’t so brilliant in the rain!  stephsteve 016 However, we saw the maze - from the outside, just opposite the back of the house and then came across some friendly but not very photogenic kune kune pigs!stephsteve 019

Poor things, they’re not very beautiful, but they are rather appealing!

stephsteve 018I didn’t quite catch it – photographically speaking -  in the pen in this photo as it began to run over to see if we had brought any food!  That little lump, bottom left, was as much as I caught, I think!stephsteve 028

Some of the little buildings in the grounds, probably once the estate  workers’ workshops, are now little craft workshops.  The guy in here made all sorts of stuff from driftwood. driftwood duck I loved the driftwood duck with a peacock feather in its beak, but didn’t realise that I was reflected in the mirror behind it!!

After a visit to the house shop and a tasting session of Traquair ales - ale’s not my bag – we carried on down the road to Melrose, to look at the Abbey, and have a cup of tea. melrose abbey

And here’s where I get on my high horse…we went looking for somewhere for tea and a cake, but all the teashops in Melrose were either just closing or already closed!  4.30 in the afternoon,  just when people are finishing their afternoon activities and looking for a cup of tea and a sit down – and all the ******* tea shops have already closed!  Oh it does raise my blood pressure.  We eventually did get a cuppie and a muffin in the Station Hotel, in the bar.

The next day I sent them off up to Edinburgh with lots of suggestions as to what to do and see, but the weather again was just so awful that they managed to walk the length of the Royal Mile, from the Castle to Holyrood before making the decision to come home again.  I didn’t blame them.  However the next day we planned on going to Queensferry to let them see the Forth Bridge, so I took them on a tour around Arthur Seat, the extinct volcano in the centre of Edinburgh.  salisbury crags The road winds round the hill offering views in every direction, but the best view is the one across Salisbury Crags, an ancient quarry, to the castle and the centre of town ---but I’m getting ahead of myself here! 

Before we reached Edinburgh we visited Roslin Chapel, which I am sure readers of Dan Brown’s da Vinci Code will recognise the name of if nothing else.  roslin chapel I was interested to see that the metal “cover” that was erected a good number of years ago to protect the building from the elements, and which I thought was to be permanent, had gone.  It was interesting to go up the steps and walk round the walkway at roof level where lots of normally unseen building detail could be spotted.  Can’t do that now however, as they seem to have dried out the building now and are doing an ongoing rescue of the stonework.  It is now no longer permitted to take photos inside the chapel, but I’m sure they didn’t mind that I took a photo of William, the chapel cat! william He doesn’t belong there but comes every day.  Strange I’ve never seen him before, as he’s been going there for the last ten years apparently!  Anyway to see pictures of the chapel, click here for the official chapel website and here for loads of photos.  It is stunning – a Bible in stone, they say – and has such a history to it.

roslin chapel cottage

I like to think of this old house being the one mentioned in the da Vinci Code, next door to the chapel. 

roslin castle


We did a bit of a walk around the chapel and on to the ruined castle, which has been some size in its day.  Only bits of it remain standing but from the positions of the bits you can tell it’s been pretty huge, and high too, emerging as it does out of the valley.  The bridge there, the entrance to the castle is pretty high above the valley floor.  You can see, behind the ruin, a slate-roofed building.  This is the home of the Earl of Rosslyn of the St Clair family when they come to Scotland.  The present earl, the 7th one, is actually in the London Metropolitan Police Force. roslin castle 2

Here’s another bit of the ruined castle.

So, on we went up to Edinburgh as I said a minute or two ago. edinburgh from the queens park

Zooming in you can see on the skyline, the castle on the left, then the old Highland Kirk (church), the spire being the highest point of the city.  A green domed building is probably the Usher Hall, a lovely concert hall.  while the tall crown topped church is the High Kirk of St. Giles, that most people call St Giles CathedralThere are loads of pictures of the Kirk here.

south queensferry Next stop South Queensferry, named for Queen Margaret of Scotland in the 11th century.  It’s an interesting and ancient little town, with views of the two bridges that now cross the Firth of Forth.  One is the famous railway bridge and the other the over-used road bridge.  We may find ourselves with a third Forth Bridge soon.forth bridge 

When I was a child the road bridge had not been thought of and a ferry transported vehicles and passengers from one side of the Forth to the other.  It came in to South Queensferry at this jetty, a much larger boat than the one in this photo.  This one takes tourists out for sails around the islands of the Forth.  The bridge was completed in 1890 and has carried trains across the river ever since.  It even featured in the film The 39 steps – the original one, in 1935.

hawes inn

The approach to the bridge on the south side of the river almost stands right over the top of the 17th century Hawes Inn.  Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson each mentioned the Inn in one of their novels.

So with the time moving on and a date with my friends Morag and Mike at a restaurant back in Peebles looming we continued on our way back home. 

There are just so many places I’d like to have shown Stephanie and Steven, but three days just wasn’t enough.  Next time… we kept saying!  Next time!

Talk again soon.