Africa, Caribbean, Countries, UK

Counting crows and other feathered friends

And there my knowledge of the San Fran rockers ends and my knowledge of birdwatching begins as I go counting crows and other feathered friends.

The weekend that’s in it is the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch.

And so twitchers up and down Britain and those who flock (sorry) or nest (soz again) here from abroad have been getting their binos out.

The ornithologist in our family is, of course, the tweet Mrs M.

And she has spotted, and chronicled, more birdies than I’ve had hot dinners – not that I’m advising eating any of them.

Apart from maybe pigeons, it’s the only way to shut the ‘rats with wings’ up.

Save our birds

There is though a very serious side to this weekend.

Shockingly 38 million birds have been lost from British skies in the last 50 years,

And no feather-brains our twitchers with last year almost 700,000 people taking part in Big Garden Birdwatch.

If you’ve not already done so you have until 9pm tonight to spend just one hour to twitch.

Probably best in the morning but if you haven’t already then you can always pop outside after the football.

Centre of featherness

Bird group: It’s child’s play

Where then is best? Well, here where we are is probably as good a place as any, North Berwick, east of Edinburgh.

Where golf (maybe it’s the birdies) and gulls are put on pedestals.

And an everyman twitcher takes pride of place by the Seabird Centre, looking out through his binos to Bass Rock.

Where once Robert Louis Stevenson, who would holiday in North Berwick, would look out to the lighthouse his brother David designed.

Bass Rock, only housing the Northern gannet colony in the world.

Twitch away: On the binos

Once home to a hermit, a castle and a prison now the gannets have marked their territory.

In a very distinctive manner, the smell of which hots you in the back of the throat as you near the rock.

Not that that should put you off, the spectacle more than making up for the odour.

Bass class

Puffin thrilly: Seabird Centre tours

The Seabird Centre offers a Bass Rock trip for £140pp including landing fee.

The east coast of Scotland is, of course, a long long way from the East Cape of South Africa.

But just as choppy (no pain, no gain) and best not negotiated after a night on the booze.

Not a problem, of course, for the furry kind with this Raggy Charters mascot leading from the front on their tours out.

To the hub for blue-finned dolphins and penguins in the Southern Hemisphere.

I’ve not been back on such choppy waters since but am requisitioned by my own tweet ornithologist for Bass Rock this year.

Wagtail hour

Birdwatching then can be as sedentary or as adventurous as you like.

And I do prefer the birdies to come to me like they did in Tobago.

Maybe just start with an hour chronicling today and then recording your findings on the RSPB website.

Me, I’ll start by counting crows and other feathered friends.

And leave the big stuff to the happy snappy Mrs M.


Caribbean, Countries

Be a Rum Master in St Lucia

What’s the ingredient… well, you’ll just have to go out to the Caribbean if you want to be a rum master in St Lucia.

For me, I caught the rum punches bug myself in the West Indies and made Saturdays my cocktail-making day.

And that skill I learned at the hands of my Bajan pals and took back here with me I’m happy to say I passed onto the Son and Heir.

Not that I come anywhere near the rumaristas of the Caribbean.

All of which brings us to our Kittitian (their denonym) friends.

And they have only put together a special rumarista (mine) package for those who pay them a visit.

Out on a wing

Roll out the barrel: Rum tasting

So to the first part of the tour which will take you to Wingfield Estate distillery.

And that’s where rum expert Jack Widdowson (Founder of Old Road RumCompany) will teach rum theory and the history of rum production.

While there it’s worth considering too who might have come before you.

And the recently excavated distillery is found on the 18th-century sugar cane plantation owned by a direct ancestor of Thomas Jefferson.

And yes, you’ll be sipping Old Road Rum and learning the history.

While there will be a chance to see a preserved aqueduct, chimney, mill house, boiling house, and lime kiln and learn how to label their own rum bottle.

Spice it up

Rum time: With Caribbean chums Jevan and Donna

Now onto the second course which takes place at the lively Spice Mill Restaurant on Cockleshell Bay.

Run by rum expert Roger Brisbane this course will showcase spiced rum creation methodology,  rum-blending techniques, and cocktail creations. 

So a key part of the whole rum experience is of course the Hibiscus that you’ll see around every Caribbean island.

And which Roger curates with Hibiscus Spirits

Carnival time: St Lucia

It is created by infusing handpicked and locally grown Roselle Hibiscus calyx, known as sorrel, to flavour the rum and create a natural red colour.  

And, of course, you’ll get a certificate to show your friends at the end of it all…

To take pride of place alongside others I’ve passed over the years.

Such as the Guinness pouring scroll from Las Vegas ,

So just a notch on the Neon City tour.

Stay the course

Limin’: Easy times on St Lucia

And we’ll get started with a visit to Wingfield Estate – home of Old Road Rum, and the oldest surviving rum distillery in the Caribbean:

  • Introduction of Rum
  • History of Rum in St. Kitts
  • Rum production methods
  • Learning How to Taste + Identify Flavour Profiles
  • Tour the estate
  • Label your own rum bottle

And visit Spice Mill – home of Hibiscus Spirits:

  • Learn how to create spiced rum
  • Methodology of creating classic rum drinks
  • Learn nuances of creating rum cocktails
  • Rum appreciation methods

So get your bookings in for the Kittitian RumMaster programme cost $150 per person.  For booking information, visit Our Stories | St Kitts Tourism

St. Kitts can be easily reached from the UK via twice weekly (Wednesday & Saturday) direct flights from London Gatwick with British Airways.

And come back with a new skill when you’ll be a Rum Master in St Lucia.


Caribbean, Countries, Culture

Benedict, Barbados, reparations

Sometimes you find yourself going off track on a Caribbean ceilidh tour and become immersed in all things Benedict, Barbados and reparations.

St Nicholas Abbey and Steam Railway sits inland in the north-east of the island in the St Peter region.

And little about this tranquil location betrays its links to an Oscar winning actor other than the framed painting of Joshua Cumberbatch, his seventh great-grandfather.

Something which on our visit there they wanted to play down… naturally.

And particularly because the Cumberbatch/Caves no longer own the former plantation and its grounds.

That responsibility is now Bajan architect Larry Warren and his wife Anna’s who bought it in 2006.

Brave Bajan

Thoughtful: Benedict Cumberbatch

And their sons Simon and Shae who have overseen a meticulous restoration of the property as an operating sugar plantation.  

You’ll likely see Simon at the climax of the tour when you sample the rum.

The St Nicholas Abbey rum may take you by surprise, or the one I imbibed did… more of a liqueur but a glorious addition to the range.

Simon is as warming as the rum and delightfully self-deprecating.

Simon says: Our host Simon, Michael, Corrie and your Bandanaman

Joking to groups that he doesn’t blame us for thinking from the sound of his voice that he’s pissed.

The truth though, as he’ll tell you, is truly heartening as he was in a coma for months after a driving accident and which you can read on his alma mater’s home page.  

Back on track

I’ll drink to that: St Nicholas Abbey

If the St Nicholas rum has whetted your appetite then you can wind down in the Terrace Cafe after your visit to the house.

And refresh yourself with rum punches and a fish cutter (my fave, but the menu is extensive).

In the sanctum of the overhanging trees overlooking the plantation’s lush tropical gullie.

We’re all working on this: The St Nicholas Abbey railway

St Nicholas Abbey is a hell of an addition to Barbados’s visitor experiences… 

And as you wend your way up to the house your mind may drift to Benedict Cumberbatch‘s forebears.

And think too about the sweat and toil of those working here.

Cat’s the way: The St Nicholas Abbey house

They still are on the steam train, but it’s refreshing to see that today’s staff will be heading for a beach bar at the end of their shift.

The house is a charm too, only one of three Jacobean-style mansions still in the Western Hemisphere.  

We can point too about the history of the house, Benedict, Barbados and reparations.

But anyone who has visited will know who has the real claim on the house…

The cat, whose name I didn’t get but I’m thinking maybe, Nicholas.



America, Caribbean, Countries, Europe

Party in 2023

Thank you 2022, old friends and new so now let’s party in 2023.

As is tradition at this time of year it’s fun to look back on what we all did over the past 365 days.

Of course even the most travelled of us will spend most of our time at home.

And we’re blessed to live by the sea near one of the great cities, Edinburgh, which is why we have been fortunate to receive visitors from around the world.

Swish Swiss

Put them on a podium: With Fran and Myriam

Auld Reekie’s winds and bends have long captivated the most imaginative which is why it’s oft-used for film locations.

And that’s part of the fun of it all as even those who thought they knew Edinburgh’s streets found themself taking detours around building works.

Before alighting on the charming Ondine on George IV Bridge, in between St Giles’ Cathedral and the Camera Obscura.

Royal watchers, of course, would become acquainted with the historic Royal Mile and St Giles Cathedral.

With Queen Elizabeth taking up residence there in September (but more of that later).

Brigitte too far: With the inestimable Brigitte

We were around this locale earlier in the year to meet our amis from Switzerland.

To recall scary Swiss hoteliers, taking the highest train journey in Europe, the Jungfrau, up the Eiger.

And yodelling in the valleys with Brigitte, a supersonic septuagenarian.

And hearing about what Switzerland has in store for us for the coming year.

Which, of course, Switzerland’s most famous and knowledgeable man (my new amie Myriam I discovered is its most clued-up woman) Roger Federer will be happy to share with you.

We rounded off the afternoon warming ourselves with Scottish drink in the institution that is the Greyfriars Bobby pub which like Bobby we always come back to.

As we will Switzerland, and had, earlier in the year when we tarried as long as we could in Zurich airport and the Montreaux Jazz Cafe Geneva which does exactly what it says on the tin.

Ski and easy in Val D’Isere

Way to go Jo: In Val D’Isere

There was dancing in ski boots on the slopes of Val D’Isere too as skiing got back on the slopes after Covid.

It’s safe to say that I’m more comfortable at the apres than the ski as I raved at La Folie Douce.

And fell on the magic carpet up to the slopes.

With the help of my new amis I managed to stay upright on the mountains.

Although flat on my back in the ice pool.

Back in Barbados

Ri Ri and me me: At Rihanna’ childhood house

Now I think we’d all agree that five years is too long to stay away from the ultimate party island.

But I’m glad to say that they allowed me back, Crop Over high jinks aside, and this time they even put on a Scottish party for me.

The Barbados Celtic Festival is a celebration of all things Celtic but with a heavily tartan tinge.

All of which means dancing Gay Gordons, Eightsome Reels and Dashing White Sergeants on the baking-hot Boardwalk.

A big difference from cold church halls in the Heelans of Scotland.

Whisky was taken with well-versed Bajan pals and rum, of course.

We reversed that later in the summer with my buddy Shane, Barbados’s man on the ground in Scotland, and new travel trade pals here.

Wending our way down an Edinburgh canal on a rum-tasting tour before well-deserved nightcaps in the city’s Princes Street.

My cup of tea

Of course, it wasn’t all boozy days and nights (OK, it was) but there was more civilised libations taken… tea, and lots of it.

On my long-anticipated return to Boston, scene of my summer of love after university in 1987.

The one missing experience from those months in Beantown was the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum because it wasn’t there then.

But it was now and beckoning me on from my Envoy Hotel window.

As was a return to my old haunt, the Irish Black Rose pub and Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market.

And a trek on the tracks to other wonders of New England in arty Providence in Rhode Island and kooky Connecticut with its academia and culinary pizza and hamburger heritage.

More America

Don’t forget the Motor City: Detroit

I wasn’t finished with the Oo Es of Eh, and it hadn’t had it with me either, and while we weren’t dancing in the streets of Detroit we were singing its praises.

Albeit in Glasgow with old friends from the Motor City and the Great Lake State.

Detroit has long been the one that got away when I commissioned a colleague to enjoy its charms only for her to return with nary a tale.

Either of Stevie Wonder‘s sweetie machine and the dimes laid out for him to eat his favourite peanut candy.

Or the historical wonder of Ford’s museum and the JFK cavalcade from his assassination in Dallas, Texas.

The Lone Star State will hopefully be the next destination in 2023 when I hope to reconnect with the American travel fair, IPW. And also Michigan.

I might even get time to see Favourite Cousin in Washington DC in 2023.

And while I’m rhymin’ a happy new year to you all and let’s party in 2023.






Caribbean, Countries, Deals

Dive into honeymoon St Lucia

It’s the first dip into marital waters and where better than if you take a dive into honeymoon St Lucia.

Splashing around in the water is one of the joys of your first holiday as a married couple.

When you’re floating on air and think you can walk on water.

But you end up swallowing half of the Aegean Sea… or whichever water you choose.

All of which you’re reminded of when you catch up with the old Caribbean friends you have met over the years.

And they dangle a competition over your head if you’ve been paying attention and remember how many dive sites there are on the island.

Which one unambitious entrant (no, not me) had it pegged at just five.

Dip your toe in

Peak performance: The Pitons

There are, in fact, more than 22 on an island of 617 square kilometres.

And so you’ll near enough have the Caribbean or Atlantic waters to yourself.

Now it may be that your partner takes to the water like, well a water babe, and is a snorkelling natural.

All of which will mean your honeymoon will go off like a splash.

And it is guaranteed to in St Lucia which has been named the world’s leading honeymoon destination for the fifth year running.

Sanctum sanctuary

View to a thrill: The Sol Sanctum

Should you be ahead of us already you and your loved one might be in St Lucia now.

And if so you’ll witness a veritable fleet, of 200 boats, descend on the island.

With the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, the world’s biggest trans-ocean sailing event set to arrive on Sunday.

Helpfully, our St Lucian hosts recommend Sol Sanctum as their hotel of the month.

Sail away: The Atlantic Rally

Sol Sanctum is a multi-purpose wellness space.

It offers meditation, breathwork, yoga, pilates and tai chi classes as well as energy healing and other practices.

Sol Sanctum look Iin the heart of Rodney Bay Village in the north of the island is just five . minutes from Reduit Beach.

We found five days from January 15-19for $1,000.

I’ll live to regret that as someone angles after a second honeymoon.

If she sees me flagging up a dive into honeymoon St Lucia.



Caribbean, Countries

A year of the Barbados republic

And while my fellow Scots wallow in the nostalgia of their national day my focus is on a year of the Barbados republic.

Because this is the only Scotland, the Highland region of the Caribbean island, where the King doesn’t reign over us.

Back when he was only a prince last November, Charles wriggled uncomfortably as he had to give the island back to the Bajans.

St Andrew’s Day 2022 is a beacon of hope for what Scotland could be.

The Bajan march

The northern part of Britain and the southern Caribbean island have more than just the national day in comm

And depending on when you visit you might even see a clan of Bajan Scots come marching through Bridgetown.

The swirl of the pipes filling the hot Bajan air.

All for the Celtic Festival Barbados which this year runs from May 18-23.

And will likely include again the ceilidh rock band Bahookie who have become quite the fixture on the island.

Harbour delights

They will entertain you royally (or republicanally which I may just have invented) at the Harbour Lights Bajan cultural night.

And maybe you too can befriend them in the Coconut Court Beach Hotel.

They’re a lively bunch which you’ll get an early swatch of on the British Airways flight over.

With the Scottish band naturally being where the party is.

In with the bricks

Me-me and Ri-Ri

Of course when you land your favourite Travel blogger is where the party is…

He’s the one whose name is on the Building of Barbados Wall near to Rihanna.

And who you can find at a rum bar, or doing the Gay Gordons on the Boardwalk.

After sampling the best Scotch whiskies at a brands fair.

With the sun splitting the heavens in Barbados today at 28C why would you want to be a subject of the King in chilly Scotland.

When you could be limin’ and jumping and celebrating a year of the republic in Barbados.

Caribbean, Cruising

The paradise capers

I have certain writing rules built up over years of scribbling about Travel, one of which is never to use the cliche ‘paradise’ but every rule has an exception and that applies to Grand Cayman and the paradise capers.

The story begins, as so many do on a foreign shore.

And a Travel fair, the American IPW, when an invitation came through to visit Grand Cayman.

Which, alas, I was unable to attend because there were still parts of America I had to explore.

Lie back and think… Of the Eastern Caribbean

Fortunately though I was in a position to share the love.

And I knew exactly the person who would do such a trip to the Eastern Caribbean justice, my fellow award-winner Melanie May.

And so I went about my travels and Melanie got her passport out and scribbling pad for the Caribbean.

Come what May

Tree-mendous: Fort Lauderdale

Of course she returned with a headful of ideas, pictures and honeyed phrases to do the island justice.

And all that was left for me to do was to design it into my award-winning Travel section.

And put an eye-catching headline on it… Grand Cayman the paradise capers.

All of which I was reminded of when my old friends at Platinum Travel got in touch to promote their 10-night Eastern Caribbean cruise with Celebrity Cruises.

A seven port, three sea days trip around the fabulous Caribbean with the sumptuous ocean liner is just the sort of pick-me-up.

If you’re trying to get through the cold, dark, winter months.

So get on board Celebrity Silhouette departing from Fort Lauderdale on March 13.

And soon you’ll be lounging on Aruba‘s impeccable white-sand beaches.

Coral singing

Lapping it up: In Bonaire

And dive in the vibrant waters of Bonaire, full of pristine coral reefs.

Now, I’m sure you’re all naturals with the scuba-diving.

So you won’t make the mistake of the amateur who stands on and kills the reef in, say the Maldives.

You’ll visit Curacao too which, of course, my own Scary One has visited.

On her well-told voyage around the world from when she came back from Australia as a child.

She usually reminds me after I get the Blue Curacao out for our Saturday cocktails.

For those of you who like to tick off continents too.

Colombia is a picture

All the colours: Cartagena in Colombia

Then you’ll be pleased to know that you get time too in the cathedral city of Cartagena in Colombia.

And when you’re in the south Caribbean then the urge is to mark South America on your map.

As was the case when we visited Tobago on the doorstep of Venezuela.

Deal us in

If you’ve been saving, or if you can put it on the long finger then the 10-night cruise comes in  at from €2,6999pp including flights from Dublin, drinks, wi-fi and tips.

And $400 on board spend per person.

Now go ahead book before December 5 for up ot 75% for a second guest and up to $800 onboard credit per stateroom.

And drink in the Eastern Caribbean and Grand Cayman and the paradise capers.



Caribbean, Countries

Where is the Bounty island?

It’s been a cause for desolation rather than celebration that everybody’s favourite mini-chocolate is being cut from your Christmas box, and it’s prompted us to ask where is the Bounty island of the iconic advert?

Well, unsurprisingly it was the Caribbean where the actors sizzled and sensualised to the backdrop of Try A Little Tenderness.

And all with the payoff tagline A Taste of Paradise.

It was a natural location, of course, with coconuts aplenty all across the Caribbean.

Dom rule

Now you would be forgiven for thinking that the Dominican Republic on the east of the island of Hispaniola is a relatively recent tourist discovery.

With Boris and Carrie Johnson and their brood of little blondies the latest celebs to grace the island with their presence.

Following in the sandsteps of the Bill and Hillary Clintons of this world.

But the location managers looking for the taste of paradise plumped for Saona beach from all of the idyllic options throughout the Caribbean and the world.

Now we’ve been over BoJo’s Casa de Campo retreat in these pages over the Isla Saona.

Isla Saona

Room with a view: Dom Rep

So today we’re focusing on the Bounty Island, or Bounty Isla, or Isla Saona.

Saona Beach House tell us that they have cosy houses that offer the opportunity to enjoy virgin nature.

On an almost deserted island where you will have the chance to relax on beaches just for you.

So if you want the con vista la mar, that’s seaside view to you and me, but always better in Spanish then it’s from $79 a night.

And it’ll be pure peace apart, of course, for the beautiful people posing out front.

A coconut falling from a tree. And somebody out of shot singing Try A Little Tenderness.




Caribbean, Countries

Pub Creole in Saint Lucia

Who wants to go bar hopping in Novembrrrr in Brrritain when you can go on a pub Creole in Saint Lucia?

Saint Lucia may be in the Windward Islands but there’s little breeze around the Pitons.

And that’s why you’ll only need your boardies or shorts when you’re downing rum on Saint Lucia.

Saint Lucians have been celebrating its Creole culture over October but, in truth, that heritage is visible all year around.

Shiny hoppy people

Here’s to Saint Lucia: The Village Gate

Since 1981, the island’s French Creole roots have been marked in a month of music, dance, cuisine and art.

All of which culminated in the celebration of Creole Day (Jounen Kweyol) across the island.

You want to know though about the best places to drink.

And I’ll give the Saint Lucia tourist board ‘Bar Creole’ for nothing.

Who needs a glass: Drinking on Saint Lucia

And they’ll point me in the direction of the Lucian Bar Hop Experience in the capital Castries.

Where you’ll be joined by your own personal party maker, bartender and marshal to keep you partying,

And take in Rodney Bay hopping from the Boardwalk Bar to the Irie Bar to the Village Gate Bar and back.

Four hours of fun starts from $86pp.

And Turbo Turtle too

Up on the boardwalk: That’s where I’ll be

You’ll only be 5km too south of our recommended 5* billet for you, the Royalton Saint Lucia.

The Autograph Collection All-Inclusive resort boasts eight different restaurant options and seven bars.

And a Diamond Club with comped hydrotherapy, butler service and premium drinks, as well as an exclusive beach and swimming pool.

You’ll be treated like a VIP, and just as well as the Royalton’s most pampered guest…

Rock’n’Creole: St Lucians

Turbo the Turtle was born right there on the beaches of the resort and is a star of the Kids Club and the adults too.

So the kids are looked after, it’s time for a pub creole in Saint Lucia.






The CaribBorisean

It’s the question on everyone’s lips which West Indian island is The CaribBorisean on?

With the king over the water planning a return to take power, editors will have dispatched journos to the Windies to get BoJo.

We know, of course, that the former PM is a big fan of the Caribbean.

And he has been known to visit St Vincent and the Grenadines and Mustique in particular.

A Scot’s Mustique

Mags to riches: Mustique fan Margaret

Mustique we know, of course, as being Princess Margaret’s favourite getaway.

And she had a Scot, entrepreneur Colin Tennant to thank, the businessman buying the island in 1958.

And turning it into a playground for the rich and famous.

Which is where Boris Johnson comes in.

And with $100,000 in his pocket from his speaking engagement in Colorado Springs in the US.

It’s where you might expect him to be now.

Mia Casa, tua Casa

No place like Dom: Casa de Campo

Only the smart money as to his whereabouts seems to be is the ‘in’ Caribbean resort Casa de Campo

The Dominican Republic resort has been the go-to destination of Presidents and politicians for years.

And if you found yourself sitting cradling a rum punch across from Bill and Hill and BoJo and Carrie you wouldn’t be surprised.

You’d maybe want the Premier Club then.

Dom from home

Life’s a pitch: Best golf on Dom Rep

Our Dom friends from the Caribbean Road Show tell us:

It is a place for guests to gather in their own exclusive bar and lounge area.

And enjoy best beverages and a unique selection of complimentary canapes and appetisers from their executive chef.

We expect, of course, that BoJo, whose childhood ambition was to be world king, would want to stay in the Presidential suite.

Feast for the senses: The best dining

A three-bedroom suite with a private office area and full kitchen.

There’s a separate staff entrance, full dining room table for up to eight and a spacious family room for his spacious family.

Located on the second floor, guests also have the option to have two additional rooms and enjoy the entire floor in privacy.

And the rooms are on sale now for arrivals from 21 December through to December 2024.

Stay where you are

Toast to Tobago: Nylon Pool, Tobago

As fans of the Caribbean ourselves and having trod on the same Nylon Beach as Princess Margaret partied in Tobago.

We can see why he would want to take off for the Windies.

And wonder why he would want to swap T-shirts and Bermuda shorts for Aran sweaters and tweed troosers on this cold, drizzly isle.

Whether Britain goes for a new old PM in Boris Johnson or A.N. Other then one thing is for sure.

The CaribBorisean won’t be a stranger to the Casa de Campo in the Dom Rep in the future.

While Rishi Sunak and his wife Ashkanta Murty (she’s disclaimed me somewhere along the line) won’t be welcome.

Despite their hundreds of millions.

Ashkanta is a non-Dom you see.