Countries, Sustainable Tourism, UK

Tree cheers

Now we’d always put the Dark Hedges from Game of Thrones No.1 but as the Woodland Trust reveals its tips for top timber we say tree cheers to these wooden wonders.

The Trust’s panel has shortlisted 12 contenders from across Britain and Northern Ireland for Tree of the Year 2023.

And they’re concentrating on urban which is probably why the Dark Hedges don’t get on it.

It’s strange, of course, that we take for granted the rich landscape under our noses or above our heads.

The cherry blossom whose pink leaves would shed onto our garage roof and driveway in our family home in Glasgow.

Or the Botanical Gardens in our cities.

Ulster says trees

Branch management: The Dark Hedges

And when we would routinely drive through the Dark Hedges en route to my Aunt Breid’s in Ballymoney, Co. Antrim.

So it is important that our green-fingered friends keep feeding the earth and our souls by flagging up trees’ place in our world.

Of course, it was never more timely as the climate change crisis reminds us that without our sustainable rain forests we have no world.

Rain forests, of course, are increasingly sought out for travellers for their itineraries particularly the sustainable adventurer.

By hook or by crook: In Tenerife

And so we have had the wood fortune of trekking through the trees of Tobago and Tenerife and all points in between and around the Eden of Ireland, Powerscourt.

But you can escape to a forested funderland in your own backyard.

Now the Woodland Trust has identified 13 trees for the Great British and Northern Irish public to vote on.

But we’re leafing through a few of them to give you a firry four and let you do the rest of the work.

Green Greenwich

Mighty oak: Greenwich Park

It helps if you’ve got large royal parks to let your trees breathe.

And the 6m sweet chestnut in Greenwich Park, London, has been inhaling for 360 years.

Since Charles II’s gardeners had it built for him.

Its put on the timber over the years and now has a 6m girth.

While its contorted, decomposing trunks have their use for wildlife habitats including invertebrates and fungi.

The Elizabethean Age

Lizzy’s picnic: Surrey

Addlestone in Surrey, south of London (no, us neither) smirks at quite such a young tree… their 7.3m crouch oak is 800 years old.

This giant is also known as the Queen Elizabeth I picnic tree after Good Queen Bess was said to have dined under its great boughs.

John Wycliff gave sermons under the tree in the 1800s, earning it the moniker Wycliff’s Oak.

And popular baptist Victorian baptist Charles Spurgeon preached there in 1872 adding ‘Speakers Corner’ to the list of aliases.

Surviving the Blitz

Cream of Devon: In Exeter

Now you can mess with the people of the West Country in England but they will prevail.

And England’s green and pleasant land stood up to the might of the Luftwaffe in the Second World War.

When 20 bombers hit Exeter and destroyed many a building, among them the Southernhay United Reformed Church on Dix’s Field in the city centre.

But the oak tee, mere feet from the front door somehow survived and still stands strong today as a symbol of hope and strength.

Tree Scotland

Made of Perth: Their pride and joy

Scotland is rightly proud of its rich forests and wildlife but our urban landscapes also boast towering trees.

The Highland Gateway Walnut in the car park of Inveralmond Retail Park on the A9 at Perth is an oasis amid the concrete.

And is at its best in the summer when its boughs offer shade and relief from the hustle and bustle as well as the sun’s rays.




Countries, Ireland

Farewell and travel well, Mum

Farewell and travel well, Mum.. and you’ll have got to your destination straightaway seeing I’m not navigating you.

I’ve had a lifetime of trips to her homestead of Co. Donegal.

Starting from when I was still waiting to come a-blinking out into the world.

When she would take the ferry from Glasgow to Derry, the nearest town to her hamlet of Brockagh.

Easter arising

The gang: Teasy, third from right, Ronnie, second from right

She would regale us in later life of how she wouldn’t sleep for weeks ahead at the prospect of getting back to see her family.

And then when she would take me over to Brockagh at Easters.

When my brothers would stay at home with my Dad to study.

And then when I had relocated for my 13 years in Ireland when I’d take her up on an annual trip from Greystones in Co. Wicklow.

A trip through the ages in Ireland

Life’s a beach: Travel buddies

There were many adventures along the way with me, my brothers, Dad and a swathe of Irish family.

And there was double trouble the year we took her wee sister Ronnie with us with me driving her automatic sports stars.

Of course, no quicker were we out of the driveway than my Mum started pressing random buttons on the dashboard.

Avoiding the temptation to look out at every house and field along the way the real drama started around the border.

When Teasy gave up the cry: ‘We’re in Bandit Country, Ronnie, tell him Ronnie.’

All along the border

Love ya: With Mum and Sadie

By the time we’d got past Monaghan and their country roads we were back on track and the gabby grannies were back in full voice.

And pointing out the various villages and who they knew who had lived there and passed through their lives.

There would be other journeys and stories, to our American family in New York and around Britain and to Europe.

While she enthralled everyone she met on her travels around the world with my Dear Old Dad after they had empty-nested.

Rest easy, Teasy

Home girl: Teasy and her parents

But we’ll take that final journey to the family plot in Brockagh, Co. Donegal.

And should I hear an echo of a familiar Irish voice in the car then I’ll just do what I did then and turn the radio up.

Farewell and travel well, Mum.

Teasy McNulty Murty (1928-2023), the last of the McNultys of Brockagh, Co. Donegal.




Scottish Macnana island time

When you’re on Scottish Macnana island time four people in a queue for the grocery van is rush hour.

It’s the Caledonian version of Manana… Macnana if you like.

The very thing, of a local holding up the queue to buy her bread and milk and eggs from the grocery van off the ferry, happened to this Scottish mainlander.

And a city boy at that from Scotland’s biggest conurbation, Glasgow.

Agnes, of course, was sharing the gossip with the van driver.

And commenting on ‘the beautiful weather for this time of the year.’ It was blowing a gale.

Berneray breeze

What time does the boat leave? Berneray

The island was Berneray which was popularised by the soon-to-be-crowned King Charles who spent time there farming with Scottish journalist Selena Scott back in the day.

You do, of course, get drawn into the pace of life on the island.

And strolling along the expansive beach with the besotted future Mrs M it’s easy to lose track of time.

Until the one ferry on to the bigger island Northern Uist docked and us half a mile away with 10 minutes to get there.

All of which Hebridean (that’s Western to the rest) Island Odyssey memories come flooding back as our old pals at VisitScotland come a-calling.

With a suggestion for all you fit and fab funsters who love to cycle.

Ride on

Flat out: And perfect for cycling on South Uist

The six-day Hebridean Way Cycling Route is a 185-mile (297km) route, crossing ten islands in the archipelago.

Now, we’ve crossed off South Uist and North Uist with Benbecula in the middle.

And Harris and Lewis who share the same island.

All on a number of changeable boats, the biggest and most trust Caledonian MacBrayne, or CalMac to the locals.

Now biking sounds the bang-on thing to do, particularly as the Hebrides have their distinctive quirks.

Such as all but shutting down on the Sunday for religious reasons.

Which despite being alerted to the fact by numerous Hebridean pals over my uni days I quickly forgot.

When we were hitching through the islands and got stuck in Harris on the Sunday.

Taxi for Bandanaman

Room at the inn? Eriskay

Only to be saved by an incredulous fellow Glaswegian, a part-time taxi driver who just happened to be passing.

And amusingly told us that we would still be by the roadside right into the Monday had he not passed by.

It’s just another example of Scottish Macnana island time.

But there are few places on Earth that you would rather be stranded in for an evening.

As long as the rains don’t lash you and the midges bite you!




Countries, Europe, UK

Dear Green Places

When St Mungo witnessed what would become my home city he hailed it Glasgow, but what of the other Dear Green Places?

It’s not recorded why Mungo didn’t venture eastwards to Edinburgh, perhaps Glaswegians were more in need of saving.

But he’d have found an even greener place.

And it had a name already, Edwin’s Fort, after King Edwin of Northumberland.

Some would say it’s still populated by Geordies… on the stag do’s.

Green Paree

Tree bien: Jardin des Tuileries

Green as they are, alas, our cities aren’t as verdant as our friends around Europe.

And some researchers even believe England’s green and pleasant land is merde compared to France’s vert.

Paris for Fiftysomethings and above was oft-called Gay Paree before its meaning changed and maybe now it should be called Green Paree .

A study by Drinking Straw analysed the number of parks, gardens, wildlife areas, forests, playgrounds and bodies of water compared to the size of the population.

To see which areas have the most green spaces per 100,000 people.

Paris is the greenest of any capital, with 325 total green spaces made up of 171 parks, 127 gardens, one wildlife area, 16 playgrounds and ten bodies of water.

Their Lux in

When accounting for population, it has 7.62 parks and 5.66 gardens per 100,000 people.

Little Luxembourg City comes in second with 13 green spaces despite its smaller population, comprised of eight parks, one garden and four playgrounds.

There were 8.51 parks per 100,000 people, the highest of any city in the study.

Rare oul’ limes

Feast of Stephen: St Stephen’s Green

And our own fave capital, Dublin takes third on the list.

With 66 green spaces comprised of 34 parks, 15 gardens, seven nature and wildlife areas, three playgrounds, one forest and six bodies of water.

The study found it to have 6.47 parks and 2.86 gardens per 100,000 people when population was accounted for.

London’s falling

Princes among princes: Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh

My own nearest city, Edinburgh, comes in 17th with a total of 31 green spaces when adjusting for population.

The Big Smoke London comes in 24th place with 356 in total, but when taking into account the city’s population it falls out of the top ten.

The final straw

So who are Drinking Straw?

Well, they are a distributor, wholesaler, and supplier of drinking straws in Europe, offering flexible, eco-friendly and plastic-free wholesale stock.

And they are right to keep on at us.

And they are ably supported by our airlines, cruises and hotels and the Mother Turtles, my old friend Ingrid out in the Maldives.

It’s the final straw what’s been happening all around us.

Let’s hang onto our Dear Green Places before we lose them altogether.



America, Countries, Oceania

Don’t shake the Cook coconut tree

We all want to conserve our favourite destinations’ USP so as we don’t shake the Cook coconut tree.

And that’s why we leave the minutiae of building committee meetings to spreadsheet junkies.

While we fill in the colour of why our landscapes can grow so far but no further.

Climb the tree

The deep blue sea: And you’ll have a devil of a good time

Deep in the Pacific Ocean they understandably measure their growth against their most widespread feature.

And so developers on The Cook Islands are limited to how high they can build.

Against the measuring rod of coconut trees.

Brand new

Party time: In the Cook Islands

All of which builds up a picture of an island removed of modern branding.

And, you’d be right.

Its 15 islands are free of global brand hotels, chain restaurants, mass market fast-food outlets and traffic lights!

And people… with only 17,500 scattered across the isles.

Ready, steady Cook

Hands up: Tranquil evenings

You interested? Then you’ll be glad to hear that you can fly to the Cook Islands direct from Auckland with Air New Zealand and from next month Jetstar.

News on the return of direct flights from Sydney and Los Angeles will be released later this year.

And you’ll be good to go with a double vaccination, and without the need for a PCR or Antigen requirement.

News of which I hope to share with you for other travels I am planning and tearing my hair out trying to get over the line.

Back to quirky planning regulations and tales of keeping the skyscrapers down.

Philly steam ahead

Rocky and Jocky: In Philadelphia

Now proud Philadelphia doesn’t defer to its more celebrated east coast neighbour New York on anything.

Except on the size of its buildings… and with good reason.

Because their founder, William Penn, is keeping a watchful eye on his descendants.

The convention in the City of Brotherly Love is never to build higher than the peak of Billy Penn’s hat.

But somebody in the committee obviously had forgotten to read the memo.

Because with the 1987 construction of the One Liberty Place skyscraper they exceeded the height of Billy’s statue atop Philly City Hall.

And they lived to regret it when their sports teams failed to win a title until 2008 when the Phillies took the World Series.

Quirky buildings

Philly high: And the city skyline

So how did they do it?

Well, a year and four months before a statuette of the William Penn figure atop City Hall was affixed to the final beam of the Comcast Center.

And this made it the highest William Penn figure in the city at the time.

All good to know for when I come to be immortalised in my home city of Glasgow.

Tell us too about your destination’s quirky buildings superstitions and we’ll get this conversation going.

For now I’m back to these pre-departure tests and thinking how stressless the Cook Islands and others are making it.

And I’m happy to promote them because you don’t shake the Cook coconut tree.




Countries, Deals, Europe, Flying, Ireland

Ryanwhere is Scotland?

Ryanwhere is Scotland? A question asked by one of its staff to a Polish family returning to Scotland from Portugal.

It was all to do with different Covid regulations applying to Scotland and England.

And fair’s fair because it’s complicated too for those of us who share this island of Britain.

It is of course an occupational hazard of being one of Jock Tamson’s Bairns (that’s being a Scot).

And on my first visit to America nearly 40 years ago the young people I’d meet would ask me if Scotland was in England.

The capital of North Dakota

Sign of the times: Ryanair staff

It irked me then until my American History tutor I learned under when I got back and studied in Aberdeen asked me what the capital of North Dakota was?

And like all lessons in life it’s stuck: Bismarck.

All of which ramblings brings us to Ryanair‘s flash sale which ends tomorrow, midnight, Sunday, January 30.

Michael O’Leary’s empire, of course, is built on a model of flying to out-of-the-way destinations to cut down on prices for the punters.

And so Scots (and non-Scots) have had to become educated in towns we’d never heard of before.

Some of them are also in the same country as the destination we want to visit.

Some out-of-the-way places

Suits you sir: Legoland

For our Ryanair pal Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland, which is the northern country of the island of Britain.

And it, and Scotland’s largest city Glasgow, is €9.99, from my old stomping ground of Dublin (Ireland that is, not Ohio).

But like Geography Gio we had to look up the map to find some of these others.

Billund in Denmark is the cheapest destination on offer at €7.99.

The good news for kids (and big kids alike) is that Billund is Legoland.

The bad news is that if you wanted to see Copenhagen then you’d have to island hop and it’s 261kms away.

Eindhoven, 122kms south of Amsterdam, too comes in at €7.99.

And while I’m sure that Eindhoveners are very friendly, their centrepiece the Philips Electronic Museum is always going to be a hard sell.

Do you know these cities?

A Star in Hamburg

Happy Hamburg is in the same price bracket and is instantly recognisable for anybody who has seen the map of Europe more than once.

Now I’ve had the good fortune to attend the German Travel Mart in Dresden and stay abreast of most of what is going on in Deutschland but Memmingen? Sorry.

Well, the old Roman fortress town is 116kms west of Munich and is clearly a smaller airport than the Bavarian capital which you can get lost in (trust me).

Pole star: Lublin

We dare say too that in Lublin‘s fair city the girls are so pretty.

Only it’s pronounced Looblin and is in Poland, 170kms south-west of capital Warsaw.

And you can get there for €12.99 where film buffs may recognise if from the film The Reader.

So the next time an airline worker asks you Ryanwhere is Scotland (insert your own country) then take five.

And reflect on the fact that we don’t all know where each other live.

And it’s all the more exciting when we find out.