MarySmith’sPlace – The Scottish Riviera

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I thought I’d take you on one of my favourite circular walks. Even on a grey day it’s a great walk which takes in coastline and woodland and an ancient hill fort. It’s a short walk (3.25 miles/5.25 km) although, if the tide is out you can add a bit extra by walking to Rough Island over the causeway which is exposed at low tide.

The walk starts at either Kippford or Rockcliffe, two villages on the East Stewartry Coast, a National Scenic Area in Dumfries & Galloway. The area is known for its turbulent history, smugglers, wonderful scenery, wildlife, birdlife and wild flowers. In fact, the Victorians, who discovered its delights as a holiday resort, named it The Scottish Riviera.

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Marina at Kippford

Starting at Kippford there’s car parking by the village hall and from there you walk past the marina (dreaming of the yacht a lottery win would buy) and through the village, past the lifeboat station and The Ark shop and tearoom (cakes to die for when you return) and along a private road (choosing which of the very desirable houses that lottery win would buy) along the shoreline.

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Rough Island at low tide with the causeway on the right.

Rough Island is soon in view. It’s owned by National Trust for Scotland and is a bird sanctuary. Visitors are discouraged in May and June to avoid disturbing nesting oystercatchers and ringed plovers. It’s small but nice to visit and you can take a stone from the beach to place on the cairn on top of the hill.

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Loved the ferns growing out of this moss-covered tree

A track leads up from the shoreline into the woodland. Follow the path for Rockcliffe. You come out of the woodland, cross a meadow, through a kissing gate, past the entrance to a house and through a second gate.

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The track takes you out onto Rockcliffe bay with its lovely mixture of rocks, sand and rock pools. There are public loos and often a Mr Whippy van parked nearby, an information board tells visitors about the area – and more lovely houses overlooking the sea.

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To return to Kippford, follow the signs for the Jubilee Path (to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee) and head back up, past the Baron’s Craig Hotel, into the woods. At a crossroads, signposts direct you to the Mote of Mark, the hilltop fort which overlooks the Urr estuary.

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Mote of Mark

It was the court of a Dark Age chieftain, possibly one of the princes of Rheged, and was occupied from the 5th to 7th centuries. The main defences consisted of stone and timber walls with a timber gate at the main entrance. It may have been destroyed by fire in the 7th century as the outer wall shows evidence that heat caused stones to fuse together. This could have been due to the Angles attacking and burning the place (Angle runic inscriptions were found at the site) though it’s possible the walls were deliberately vitrified to strengthen them.

Excavations in 1913 and 1973 unearthed a large, circular timber hut and evidence of metalworking. Iron was brought from the Lake District and jet from York. Pottery imported from Bordeaux and glass from the Rhineland, were also found.

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Rough Island from the Mote of Mark with Hestan Island in the background

Back at the crossroads another detour can be made to Mark Hill – okay so these detours add a bit more to the length of the walk but that coffee and cake at the end will be worth the extra effort. The path, through managed woodland, climbs up and round the hill and offers spectacular views of the Solway from the view point.

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This stone is on the path up to the top of the hill fort. I don’t know if the pattern is the result of weathering or man-made. Any ideas?

Head down the hill, re-join the path and carry on back to Kippford – and coffee and cake. I had a banana and chocolate brownie. I’d eaten before I thought to take a photo of it!


The Annual Bloggers Bash Awards 2019 Vote is LIVE!

Here’s your chance to vote for your favourite blogger. Voting is now open and anyone can vote.

The Annual Bloggers Bash

It’s that time of year again… The 2019 Annual Bloggers Bash Awards are now open. As always, we had a huge number of nominations. So let me thank everyone who took the time to nominate their fellow bloggers. Without you guys nominating, there would be no bash awards. To the awards:

Winners will be announced at the Bloggers Bash in London on June 15th. The winners post will go live here at 6pm on the same day. If you haven’t bought your ticket yet, please click the link below:

Buy your bash ticket
Voting is open until 21:00 (BST) on the 24th April 2019

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#SpringSale One Week ONLY! All #WakeRobinRidge and #Riverbend Books Just $.99

Marcia Meara is having a 99p/99c sale of all her Riverbend and Wake Robin Ridge novels. I’ve read and loved them all. Recommended!

The Write Stuff

Starting Today!

All of my novels are on sale for the crazy low price of $.99, today through next Sunday, April 14!

Yep, now’s the time to grab any of these books you’ve missed out on. Find out what’s hidden in the kudzu behind Sarah Gray’s cabin. Meet Rabbit, the little boy who changes the world for everyone around him. See why a huge Viking of a man like Gunnar Wolfe is afraid of falling into the dark St. Johns River. And exactly what kind of deadly secrets does the Painter family farmhouse hide? 

Inquiring minds want to know!

And now, the answers to these questions–and so many more–are available for a mere pittance. You’ll save between $2.00 and $4.00 per book while the sale lasts! 

Don’t miss out! Download your copies today!

All of my books can be downloaded HERE

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Sally’s Cafe and Bookstore – Author Update – #Reviews – D.Wallace Peach, Barb Taub and Mary Smith

Absolutely delighted Sally Cronin has included a lovely review of No More Mulberries in her post today – and I’m honoured to share the post with two wonderful writers, D Wallace Peach and Barb Taub.

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

Welcome to the first of the Cafe and Bookstore updates for the week and the first author with a recent review is D.Wallace Peach for the first book in the Rose Shield Series – Catling’s Bane

About the book

Catling – She’s a weapon desired by those who reign and those who rebel.

In the tiered cities of Ellegeance, the elite Influencers’ Guild holds the power to manipulate emotions. Love and fear, pleasure and pain mark the extremes of their sway. But it’s the subtle blends that hook their victims’ hearts. They hide behind oaths of loyalty and rule the world.

Until Catling discovers the gift that will be her bane. She is the shield that disrupts the influencer’s sway.

Born in the grim warrens beneath the city, Catling rues the rose birthmark encircling her eye. Yet, it grants her a unique ability, the means to remake a civilization. To…

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MarySmith’sPlace – Mountains, magic lakes and fairies

The remote Kaghan Valley, in northern Pakistan, is one of the country’s, if not the world’s, most beautiful valleys. The lush vegetation of the terraced lower slopes is superseded by great forests of pine and fir which, in turn, give way to magnificent mountain peaks.

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A morning’s steady driving from Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, brings the traveller to the small village of Balakot. From here, the Kaghan Valley stretches ahead for 160 kilometres.  It was along this route the Moghul emperors travelled to their summer residence in Kashmir.  In 1898 the road became the main route to Gilgit, via Chilas on the far side of the Babusar Pass, 4146 metres above sea level.

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David’s first dandelion clock

The Pathans marched through here to their jihad (Holy War) in an attempt to save Kashmir from Indian rule in 1947. The construction of the mighty Karakoram Highway led to the Kaghan route falling into disuse – one reason for its continuing isolation.


Our journey took us along a narrow, twisting road with steep cliffs on one side, a hair-raising drop on the other. Far below, the Kunhar River – sometimes a brown, foaming torrent, sometimes a startling green, thunders along its rocky bed.

In the 1920s, the British, who never allowed postings to far flung corners of the Empire to interrupt their sporting pursuits, stocked three of the Kaghan Valley’s lakes – Dudupatsar, Lulusar and Saif-ul-Muluk – with eggs from Scotland’s best brown trout.

I had come to the valley with a friend from dry, dusty Karachi who had never ventured to this part of his country before. Drinking in the glorious views, he declared:  “This can’t be Pakistan, I must be in Switzerland.”

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There was a distinctly alpine feel about it. Surrounded by mountains, the high plateau’s meadows were strewn with wild flowers. No yodellers to be sure, but, on the still, clear air the distant tinkling of bells could be heard from goats, grazing on the rich pasture.

At the northern end of the valley, at an elevation of 3,224 m (10,578 feet) above sea level is the glorious, enchanted, magical Lake Saif-ul-Muluk.

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We hired a jeep as far as the glacier, which we crossed on foot (disappointingly dirty) rather than putting our trust in the rather thin, hungry looking horses for hire. On the far side, drivers wait to transport passengers up the final rough stretch – a bone shaking, spine jarring experience which made walking seem a delightful idea.

Saif-ul-Muluk was spectacularly beautiful.  At over 5000 metres, Malika Parbat – the Queen of Mountains – stood proudly above the circle of white peaks, their mirror image reflected in the brilliant blue waters.

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There was an ethereal quality to such startling beauty, conjuring up images of magical fairy tales. Indeed, there is a legend that Prince Saif-ul-Muluk fell in love with a fairy bathing in the lake. To tease her, he stole her clothes and she, to preserve her modesty, agreed to marry the handsome prince. The fairy’s demon lover, enraged at seeing his beloved happily wed a mortal, wreaked revenge by flooding the valley. The fairies still visit at night, when the moon is full, dancing on the flower spangled meadow and bathing in the lake.

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When I was putting this blog post together I Googled Lake Saif-ul-Muluk and found many entries on TripAdvisor, which hadn’t been invented when I visited the Kaghan Valley. It sounds as though my beautiful, magical place has become commercialised with eating places,  (though no toilets), touts offering horse rides and boat trips, and polluted by the crowds who leave their rubbish behind. At least I have happy memories of my visit. And, given the chance, I would go again.




MarySmith’sPlace – what is this monster?

When I bought this plant in Woolworths

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– that tells you it was a long time ago – it was a tiny thing, not even six inches tall. It was being sold off in a sale. I assumed it was some kind of cactus or succulent which would grow upright.

Instead, it seems to grow horizontally. In fact, it looks like it’s trying to escape its pot. I’ve staked it and tied it up but this is as upright as it gets. I moved it, to make way for our Chritmas tree a couple of years ago. It seems happy in its present position on the wndowsill half way up the stairs. Which is fine but it keeps growing and its becoming harder to find bigger pots.

What is it?

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Will it eventually climb out of its pot and murder us all in our beds?


MarySmith’sPlace – #Buzkashi

I came across some photos from my years in Afghanistan and felt such a pang of nostalgia for my winter and early spring Friday afternoons watching buzkashi – Afghanistan’s national equestrian sport. Apologies for the poor quality images, which do not do the sport justice. I have others, transparencies, which I hope one day to convert.

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And they’re off

It’s a sport which makes polo look like a game for children. Instead of a ball, it is played with a headless carcass of a goat – the name means, literally, grabbing the goat – or a calf. The goat is killed the day before the match, its head cut off and the guts removed. The torso is soaked in water for twenty four hours to toughen up the hide. By the end of the match the meat must be beautifully tender, which can’t always be said for goat meat.

It’s the fastest, most exciting, exhilarating sport in the world and I became addicted to it when I lived in Mazar-i-Sharif.

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The high saddles are wooden, padded underneath and often covered with small Afghan rugs

The carcass is placed in the centre of a circle and surrounded by the riders. At the games I watched there was always upwards of a hundred horses, the riders paying as individuals rather than in teams. The teamwork is between horse and rider, where the incredible level of trust and co-operation makes it seem as though there a single entity.

As the signal to begin is given, the riders urge their horses into a furious scrum. When one, leaning at an impossible angle succeeds in grabbing, he has to haul the dead weigh onto his saddle and break free of the melee. He has to gallop round the playing area and return to drop the carcass into the scoring area. Of course, as soon as one buzkashi player grabs the goat all the others try to wrest it from him.

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Somewhere on the ground is the fiercely contested carcass

The game, although played over all of Central Asia, belongs to Afghanistan. Its origins are hazy though it is a legacy from the days when the plains of Central Asia were populated by nomadic tribes. Over two thousand years ago, the traveller and geographer, Herodotus, remarked on how the horse provided not only food, fuel, clothing and shelter for the tribes but was also vital for herding flocks, hunting and raiding expeditions.

Battles were fought on horseback even before Genghis Khan swept across the plains, conquering all before him. Legend has it that in the earliest days of buzkashi it was not a goat which was used but prisoners of war. Today it is still played by mostly by those tribes – Uzbek, Turkoman, Kazakh and Hazara – who claim Turkic/Mongolian descent. There were stories, not necessarily apocryphal, of captured Russian soldiers suffering the same gristly fate during the not so distant years of the Soviet invasion.

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The goat or calf carcass can be seen on the ground beside the hooves of the horse in the foreground

Competition is fierce. The chapandazan (master buzkashi players) look magnificent on horseback, from their traditional round fur hats, chapan (a loose, padded overcoat, tied round the waist), which provide some protection against other players’ whips. The knee-length leather boots have high heels, which allow the rider to hook his feet into the stirrups while he leans down to grab the goat. When requiring two hands to haul the goat off the ground, the rider holds his whip between his teeth.

These incredibly skilled horsemen have trained for years, spending many games riding on the edges, observing and learning. Very few achieve the kind of success which leads to being invited to ride the best horses. Not all the riders on the field get anywhere near trying to grab the goat. Only the most skilled form the inner group circling the carcass; the remainder of the field is made up of novice riders, horses under training, spare horses ridden by grooms and other riders who, although not chapandazan, simply enjoy the high level of excitement – and danger – at being so close to the centre of activity.

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The horses, bred specifically for the sport, undergo an average of five years training. They are well looked after and fed well on barley, melons in season and raw eggs and butter.  A chapandaz teaches a horse never to trample a fallen rider. I remember a pagal, mad man, wandering onto the playing area, where he sat in the path of over a hundred horses galloping towards him – not one touched him. The horses will rear on their hind legs, push and shove the other horses to get their rider into position to try to grab the goat. While he is leaning over, the horse remains perfectly still.

It is not a game for sissies. I think as long as a chapandaz doesn’t deliberately knock another rider off his horse or intentionally slash someone with his whip, pretty much anything goes. The Afghan Olympic Committee has now established a set of official rules but they are really only for games in Kabul – and the Olympics if that dream ever comes true. In Mazar-i-Sharif they played old style.

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At the end of the match – around two hours and two carcasses – the spectators drift off, still hotly debating the quality of the play, favourite chapandazan and referee’s (yes there is one) decisions. And they walk tall and proud, for they have not only watched a tremendously exciting game – they have witnessed a re-enactment of the ‘old ways’. Buzkashi awakens a collective memory of their nomadic ancestry, their fierce independence, their victories in battle and their incredible affinity to the horse.

I’ll end with a poem; published in my collection Thousands Pass Here Every Day, which I hope gives a flavour of the excitement of the game.


Rearing, wheeling, plunging,
urged by leather-booted heels –
a rugby scrum of horses.
Whips and hooves, knife sharp,
slice frozen winter air as rising dust
meets sweat and steaming breath.
Laws of gravity ignored, a horseman leans,
crazy-angled, reins between clenched teeth,
and grabs the goat.

Men and animals scream defiance,
the maelstrom melts, dissolves –
a tidal wave of horses.
Thundering hooves become
thudding heartbeats, spectators roar approval,
ancestral memories stirred
by sounds and scents of victory.
No longer taxi drivers, labourers, shopkeepers,
they are Genghis Khan’s army streaming –
invincible – across Asia’s plains.

Tomorrow, the sound and the fury gone,
they’ll be shopkeepers again.

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Tug of war


MarySmith’sPlace #Awards: The Sunshine Blogger Award


I’m delighted to say I received the Sunshine Blogger Award in in February 2019 from Rob Goldstein at Art by Rob Goldstein.

Rob started his blog in 2013 to advocate for himself and other people with trauma related mental health problems. He is informative, writing with honesty and clarity and inspirational. Over the years his blog has evolved and includes his own poetry and other writing, digital art and photography.

The Sunshine Blogger Award is a peer appreciation award given to bloggers who are creative, positive, and inspiring, while spreading sunshine to the blogging community.

Thank you to Rob

The Rules:

Thank the blogger who nominated you in a blog post and make a link back to their blog.

Answer the 11 questions sent to you by the person who nominated you.

Nominate up to 11 new blogs to receive the award, and then write them 11 new questions – or cheat like I did and use the same questions 🙂

List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo in your post and/or your blog

Here are the questions I received and my answers:

What was the driving force behind the creation of your blog?

I have two blogs: My Dad’s a Goldfish and MarySmith’sPlace  I started the Goldfish blog when I moved in with my father who had dementia. I began it as a way of recording and processing what was happening in Dad’s life and my own. It was also a way of being able to keep my writing muscle working when I found I had no time nor creativity for my own writing. I started MarySmith’sPlace because I wanted somewhere to blog about non-dementia related things – exploring the countryside around me, holidays, stories from when I worked overseas.

What was your vision for your future in blogging/writing when you first started this blog? How has that vision evolved?

I don’t think I had any particular vision when I started the Goldfish blog other than recording the ups and down of living with someone with dementia – and maybe to connect with others in a similar situation. It was quite a lonely place to be. I was delighted when it came apparent the blog resonated with many people who were affected by dementia, either going through the same process as I was (often with a spouse rather than a parent) told me they found my stories helpful. Their comments made me realise I was not on my own in this situation and feel it was worth continuing.

MarySmith’sPlace is a baby still. I’ve only been blogging on it for a year. It’s still settling in and deciding what it wants to be.

What age were you when you realized you loved writing?

About ten, scribbling stories in notebooks. Probably plagiarised from authors such as Enid Blyton.

How has your life changed as a result of the electronic age? Is it better/worse/the same?

Better. I love being able to connect with people all over the world, some of whom have become real friends.

What was the very last website you visited today?

HughsViewsandNews  He reposted a post he wrote some time ago on keeping blogging fun and not feeling guilty when you can’t manage to read and comment on the blog posts of bloggers you follow – or not posting as often as you think you should. Sometimes, the guilt threatens to overwhelm me so I need a reminder from Hugh that blogging should be fun!

What was the first website you visited when you woke up four days ago?

I don’t remember.

If you could change one thing about your past, what would it be?

My lack of self-confidence.

How would your life be different today if that one thing from your past were to change?

I would have achieved more.

If you have children, tell me…how did your parenting change from the time you had your first child until the time you had your last?

I’ve only had one child so I don’t know how my parenting would have changed.

Tell me about the funniest experience you’ve had in the past month.

Getting ready for bed one night, sitting on the loo still swishing mouthwash round my mouth – bulging cheeks, contorted mouth, loud swishing noises – when the cat wandered in, took one look and fled as though confronted by the world’s scariest monster. Of course, I laughed. Have you any idea how far mouthwash can spray across a bathroom floor?

What do you have planned for the upcoming holiday season?

We always have our first picnic of the year at Easter. Anything from a dozen to twenty of us, all ages from babies to nonagenarian meet up at a local beach. We roll our painted eggs down a hill seeing whose lasts the longest before it cracks, collect wood, light a fire, toast marshmallows and catch up with each other’s news.

If I nominate you and you have an award free blog, please view the nomination as a compliment: you are under no obligation to respond. My questions are the same as those posed to me.

My eleven nominees:

Sally Cronin

Darlene Foster

Barb Taub

Shelley Wilson

Lucinda Clarke

D.G. Kaye

Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo

Beetley Pete

Brigid Gallacher

Cathy at Between the Lines Book Blog

Lizanne at Lost in a Good Book