Around Britain: Bellingham

In the Tontine, Peebles, we slept well, though the pillows were too soft. The toiletries provided were rather nice bee potions and lotions, after which we went for a morning stroll by the Tweed, and tried to find a squidgy camping pillow.  Such a thing was not to be found, but I kept with my personal souvenir tradtions and  bought a copper necklace instead. I was struck by the names callants and Gutterbluids, which I had to research later. Callants is a Scottish term for a youth, and there are local Callant associations. Gutterbluid is a term to describe a native of Peebles.
We had breakfast in the Coultham deli – woodland mushrooms on toast, and a poached duck egg with black pudding and pancetta. Gorgeous goodies were available to buy, and I chose some amaretti and pistachietti for later. There was a sickly and overpowering scent from the woman at the next table, who then kept coming closer to us to select a drink from the chill cabinet, and to stand up and complain about some foreign body in her tea. There ought to be a law….

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We bought some cards, a Tweed manbag, Loch Lomond whiskey, and some Peebles pepperies. I enjoyed a ginger ice cream before we set off for Jedburgh. The countryside was beautiful rolling and green, though we encountered a few roadworks along the way. We parked right beside the very substantial remains of the abbey, but our National trust cards wouldn’t cover the £5.50 entrance fee, so we did aimless wandering instead, around the steep streets and little alleyways, closes and wynds. It started to rain, and I bought a puffy gilet before we visited Mary Queen of Scots House, which was free! As was the parking, and wifi throughout the town – they are obviously keen to attract visitors.

Jedburgh Abbey
We crossed the border at Carter Bar, and tried to remember when we’d been here before, from the other direction. I always get confused as the border doesn’t run from east to west, so that parts of England can still be north of you. I noticed each town had different coloured bunting – red and blue in Jedburgh, blue and white in Inner?, and red and black somewhere else. Is it a sporting thing?

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We arrived low on fuel at the Cheviot Hotel, Bellingham (not Hexham, Roger, and yes it does matter.) A lovely little village with a quirky hotel, we had a walk around before settling down with the NT book, maps and satnav to see what might be possible over the next few days. Dinner was sea bass with a pea and tomato risotto – individually quite nice, but I didn’t feel it worked as a whole. But the local cheeses afterwards were marvellous.


The Hotel’s breakfasts are rightly famous and fabulous – fresh fruit and yoghurt with granola, followed by a mountain of smoked salmon and scrambled egg. I managed to pile some salmon into a croissant, and keep that for lunch – Roger did something similar with a sausage and toast. A quick call into Just for Ewe, for darning needles – great little wool and craft shop!

And off we set to find Hadrians Wall. Last time we’d tried to do this we’d been on the bike, the weather had been awful, and I learned that I’d have to both walk some distance, AND pay for the privilege – not something I wanted to do in damp bike gear and heavy boots. This time we were warm and dry in the car, had plenty of time to spare, had decent shoes on, and our NT membership gave us access to Houseteads Fort. We paused en route to admire Broccolitia Temple, though the access to the Temple to Mithras itself wasn’t very clear. Rog threw his leg over a barbed wire fence, while I braved some recumbent cows.


We dutifully paid our £4 parking fee, as that gave us the option to park at a number of other Wall sites around, and left an offering to Mithras as well. Fabulous vistas and lots of walkers.

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Housesteads itself was fascinating – a nicely done visitors centre, reached by a steep climb, lots of goodies in the gift shop, though I resisted the mead and the ginger curd, and I was delighted to finally see a chunky bit of yer actual wall! I loved pottering among the substantial remnants of the fort itself, admiring the sheep (they’re ewes to me by now). We enjoyed our picnic lunch, and decided to spend the Afternoon in Hexham.

We found a space right by the Abbey, and got a car parking disk from the shop, which specialised in many Beatrix Potter items, so I got a few Jemima Puddleduck things for my daughter’s impending 21st birthday.

The church was wonderfully welcoming – a friendly chap in a wheelchair handed out guide leaflets, while a transvestite showed us the crypt. I loved the many little chapels, the new stained glass window, and a well worn staircase.

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We dandered around the cobbled streets, found camping accessories including the essential pillow in Millets, and relaxed in the Wetherspoons near the jail, which was a converted cinema retaining a very art deco feel and decor.

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I’d been planning to have a week off running, but when I discovered that there was a little carved wooden bridge nearby, the next morning I ran. Over lots of lovely wooden bridges, criss-crossing a river with waterfalls dotted along it, and some uneven stone slabs, which slowed me down a bit. So I didn’t get right to the top where bridge #7 is elaborately carved, which means  I’ll have to go back again some time.

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Around Britain: Falkirk

SAMSUNG CSCIn July 2014 we spent a week touring around Britain, visiting some lesser known spots.


Our journey began on the early boat from Belfast to Cairnryan – it was very easy to board, although it was packed with Scottish bands returning after their participation in yesterday’s Twelf parades.  The queue for food seemed unduly long – the system of ordering, paying and acquiring food appeared to be really inefficient.  I only wanted a tea and a coffee – thank goodness they were bottomless cups, so I only had to queue once.  And then had unlimited supplies of tea. Which was nice.



Once docked and disembarked, we stopped at Asda in Girvan for loos and road trip snacks. Though we lifted a pack of Seriously Strong individual portions (Take 2, said Roger!) only to discover that they were spready cheese, not solid, so we needed crackers.



En route to the Kelpies, we decided we had enough time to see the Falkirk Wheel.  Parking was a bit tricky, particularly since we had a top box on, and the 2.1m clearance was just about sufficient.  And many cars were already parked over 2 spaces – they’ll be first up against the wall come the revolution!  But we strolled along the canal and to the visitors centre just in time to see a boat perform its graceful circular descent.  What a marvellous piece of engineering!  And how lovely to see canals being used more, especially by a beautiful swan with her chicks, hissing at passing dogs on the tow path.

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We cut our time short, as the Sat Nav seemed to say it would take an hour to get to the Kelpies.  Actually, they were only a few miles away – the SatNav’s eta was for our final destination, not the stopping off points.

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Helix Park was jam packed, with a line of cars queuing to enter, but the security staff were most helpful when we pointed out that we had reserved tickets for the tour, and we were ushered through gates to a spot right by the statues.


Ah, Duke and Baron.  They really are a thing of beauty.  Created by Andrew Scott based on actual working Clydesdales, standing 30m high, weighing 300 tonnes and costing £5m for the pair, these steel behemoths are a jaw-droppingly gorgeous confluence of rigidity and fluidity, sinewy steel, a riveting and outrageous blend of engineering and art.  They have the appearance of smooth strokable silk, though they’re made of solid cold steel.  They have graceful flowing curves, whilst being constructed of 500 solid metal individual snowflakes of metal.  They constantly change with the light, but have solid foundations extending well below the marshy canal-griddled surface.

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A tour costs £4.95, and includes the experience of stepping inside one, into speckled, freckled light cast by the skeleton and framework, the gaps in the plates giving fragmented glimpses of the world outside.


An hour’s drive took us to Peebles, where we had booked a room in the Tontine Hotel on main street.  Car park space at the rear, and a gold post box in front of this quaint old inn – the Tontine system was an investment scheme which basically amounts to last man standing wins the lot.

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Peebles is Picture-skew with a capital Pic.  The main street is clustered with dinky little independent gift shops and art galleries, a perfect pottering paradise. The town is situated on the River Tweed, with elegant bridges across it, and wide green spaces on either side.


We dined at the Crown, on the recommendation of the Norn Irish barmaid at the Bridge Inn, where I’d supped the Malt of the Moment (Glen Parker) in the beer garden beside the old stone bridge.  Dinner was haggis-stuffed chicken breast, and a pork/ black pudding/ apple burger for £35, incl drinks.


Having been on the fence for some time, I was suddenly convinced that Scotland should vote for independence.  Its own identity and branding are very strong.  But maybe what is good for Scotland isn’t necessarily what is good for the rest of the world.  Tough call.

NI parkruns: Victoria

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Victoria Park in Belfast hosts one of Norn Irn’s oldest parkruns, though it’s had a bit of hiatus recently with ongoing improvements being made to the park.

I only realised on a later visit to the park just how detailed all the improvements are, and that the sign in the shelter is made up of lots of little photos of parkrunners – impressive or what!


20140916_12531520140916_125320Some of my Jog Lisbrun friends like to do a bit of parkrun tourism once a month or so, and I agreed to join them on their jaunt to Victoria. The promise of brownies was an added incentive!

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Access: The park is right beside the runway of George Best Belfast City airport – in fact if the wind is in a certain direction, the taking off and landing planes are so close overhead that it’s impossible not to duck. It’s also across the road from Sydenham station, that “road” being the busy Sydenham bypass, below which an underpass leads you into the park. It’s pretty well sign-posted, though first time visitors can be a little unnerved by the back streets of red brick terraced houses surrounding the route.

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Course: Part of the park’s updating have included new pathways, with parkrun distance signs marked on the way. The course is one complete outer lap, one almost all way round, and then cross the bridge on to the island in the centre for a circuit through the trees. The shade is very welcome, though the gym equipment lurking in various leafy corners was rather spooky. There’s the teeniest of inclines as you turn the corner at the back by the Sam Thompson Bridge, but really, the course is delightfully flat.

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Gear: MapMyRun performed beautifully this morning, but my trainers felt tight, even though I re-tied them 3 times. Perhaps it was the fact that I was still wearing my ankle support. To be honest, there were no niggles at all from my ankle, and I feel I could leave the support bandage off in future.

Crowd: It was a BIG crowd! They often attact 150+, but since the closest parkrun at Ormeau was cancelled today, the numbers had risen to well in excess of 200. The park is able to absorb that capacity, though, there was plenty of car parking, loos on site, and not too bad a queue for scanning barcodes.

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Oddly appropriate song: In the week that my daughter was back home for her 21st birthday, and in the Park where we used to feed the ducks ( we lived in a house quite literally across the road), it was Annie Lennox singing “Precious Little Angel” that prompted a rush of emotion.

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Time: We’d started at the back, as the Run Director had said “dogs and prams start at the rear!” at which Mini barked her displeasure. But it was pretty easy to overtake, slotting into available emptier spots. The paths are nice and wide, with ample grassy verges on either side, so we never felt hemmed in. I quickly got up to a steady pace of around 5:20 per km, which would have been close to PB territory, but I slacked off after km 3, and my legs started to ache. And I’m really going to have to work on my finish – 6 runners must have passed me in the last 200m! But at 29:03 I was comfortably sub-30, and happy enough with that since I’m still not back to full training routine yet.

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Atmosphere: It’s a busy city park. There are still workmen finishing off the improvements, there are lots of dog walkers, and footballers playing on the pitches in the island. The highlight was undoubtedly one of the best bun selections I’ve ever had at a parkrun, including absolutely delicious gluten-free walnut brownies. Yum!

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List of all the parkruns I’ve completed.

NI parkruns: St Andrews

Yes, yes, I know St Andrews isn’t in Norn Irn, but I felt I could include it in my continuing series of parkrun tourism. I happened to be in the town for a week’s Scottish dancing, and I had to skip half a class to get there on time, but I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to try  out a course that awards itself the title of “best parkrun in the world”! 20140809_085509 Access: Various tourist leaflets I had read claimed that Craigtoun Country Park was either 2 or 4 miles out of town.  If it was 2, and I knew exactly where I was going, I’d have jogged.  But given the uncertainty I booked a taxi.  The parkrun page gave directions from the main entrance, so I got the driver to leave me at the big gates by the road (to be honest, the fare was over £6 at this stage, and I only had £5.50 with me.)  As it turned out, I still had a bit of a walk to get to the entrance to the country park proper, but the views along the way were stunning.


Course:  The park is absolutely gorgeous – white castles reflected in a calm duck pond, Japanese gardens, clumps of bright sunflowers, stone follies.  The route is three large laps across a variety of terrains including gravel and grass, with a final leg to the finish sprint across a grassy patch. There’s a slight incline on the way up, and then a gentle slope down on the way back, and the path crosses a minaiture railway track.

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Crowd: The run director asked for anyone who was new to the course to come to one side, and he took us through its key features.  I got chatting to one of the regulars, and asked if anyone might be able to give me lift back to town.  He volunteered his services, and as we were chatting on the way to the car, we discovered that he was related to one of my Dad’s friends!


My kindly chauffeurs Blair, Jane, and neice Emma

My kindly chauffeurs Blair, Jane, and neice Emma


Gear:  I was travelling light, so I didnt have my jacket with me, and even though it was August, it was still rather chilly.  Fine once I started running, though.  I pressed START on MapMyRun too soon, so its time elapsed was about a minute too much, and I spent my run trying to bring down my average pace. As the finish line is in a different place to the start, any water bottles, keys etc can be palced in a fetching bag which is taken to the finish.  Apologies for the terrible photo…



Oddly appropriate tack provided by shuffle: Since I was mitching class, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Freebird made me grin, and it timed itself just right so that the fast section coincided with my final half lap.


Time:  I was aiming for “around 30”, and came in at 30:53.  I did struggle with the final hill, and a few runners overtook me there, and I can always claim I was distracted by so many beautiful views.



Atmosphere:  There was a good bit of friendly standing around chatting afterwards, a few waggy doggies to say hello to, and rice crispie buns!  See you guys again next year 🙂

List of all the parkruns I’ve completed.