Friday, 23 November 2018

EXPANSION

Back in 2015 a need arose for more storage space in the apartment I live in, and need that was mirrored by Pauline who would soon live in the apartment below mine. The obvious solution was a large shed in the garden.

One traditional shed already existed down there, since around 2008, and had evolved to become my office space/edit suite after a renovation in 2012 to insulate it and make it wind and watertight.

Over the course of one month in 2014, with the help of a friend of Pauline's Bart, we set about creating the new shed. At four metres by almost two metres it was a substantial construction as sheds go, and within "permitted build" regulations, so need for planning permission etc.

Key to it's success was to raise it off the ground and cover the roof with a rubber membrane called EPDM, which carried a 25 year guarantee.

 
Fast forward to 2018, and the growth of my new Film Academy for kids has required new investment in technology, and the result is I have outgrown the old "shed" come office. Pauline and I deliberated for a long time about me taking over the big shed, which is an ideal size and shape, but for various reasons the logistics of using it were just not going to work out.

Solution? Expand the old shed.

This is not a large expansion. At present it measures roughly 2m x 2.5m, and when finished it will measure 2.6m x 3.2m.


First phase was to empty the interior, decanting my office into my kitchen in the apartment.

Phase two required a concrete foundation to be mixed and poured, but not before a section of root system was cut away. I took advice from George Anderson, a friend of mine and whom some will recognise from the Beach Grove Garden series on TV.
 
Phase three is now complete, which was to lay a course of breeze block around the outer perimeter to keep the timber frame off the floor. Ideally it would have been great to elevate the entire structure, just like the big shed, but as I am reusing most of the existing structure this is just not feasible.

The big shed was built in a four week run of sunny warm weather in September.  It is now November, and this week in particular has been very wet. Thankfully the foundation and bricks were in place during a dry spell.

The next phase is to paint bitumen on the outside of the breeze block. I used what are called aerated blocks, which have high thermal mass, but it does mean they are quite porous, hence the bitumen to seal them.

That should happen this weekend, and from then on it will be dismantling two existing walls and moving them outwards.

Hopefully in a months time the shed will be wind and watertight, leaving only the interior to reinstate.

If my academy grows anymore then I guess I'm "gonna need a bigger hut".




Thursday, 8 November 2018

THE GREAT GLEN CYCLE - PART 2

Dry weather, and thus dry tents, greeted us in the morning on the side of the canal at Inverness, to begin our return journey toward Fort William.

However, because of rail engineering works the approaching weekend, we knew we would be unable to get our bikes on the train home, delaying our return, so there was little point in heading straight back to Fort William, as we'd be there in about three days, even if we dawdled.

So a side trip was needed.

We left Inverness along the canal for a short stretch, before following the Great Glen Way up a steep path into forest above Inverness to the north west. Once it leveled out the track was a good two metres wide, through dense, autumnal forest toward Arbriachan.



Eventually we were back on single track road for a short distance before the route passed back into a native woodland, some 12 miles after leaving Inverness. On the gate at the start of the narrow path was information on an eco-campsite and cafe.

In the middle of the woods.

Pauline had been here before, and was keen for me to experience it. As we wound our way along the narrow path, through pine and birch trees, I wasn't sure quite what to expect. Then, suddenly, a small clearing appeared, with signs beckoning you up a small side path for, what else, but coffee and cake!

It needed say no more.

Just a few yards in was an eclectic mix of tables and benches, and an area to one side for camping. A sign informed you to order at the house, and as I approached a small bell, that I surmised you should ring, a tall gentleman with scraggly greying beard appeared. He politely but enthusiastically took our order for a cafetiere of coffee and lemon cake.

Whilst he was away preparing we were kept company by free roaming chickens. A noisy cockerel turned up to add to the entertainment, by which time coffee and cake arrived.

And the bill.

£4 for a cup of cafetiere coffee, £5 for a slice of cake!


My own fault. I hadn't asked the price in advance, but to be fair it was almost quarter of a whole cake. And homemade. It was a quirky treat and a unique experience, and so well worth it.

After he had taken our photograph for his Facebook page, we bid him and his chickens farewell, as two other walkers arrived. Even in chilly autumn he seemed to be doing a brisk trade.

We now left the Great Glen Way and headed directly west toward Glen Strathfarrar. The entrance to the glen at Struy, is restricted to a restricted quota of motorised vehicles per day, but cyclists and walkers can come and go as they please.


Since the rebellion of 1745, when land usage in Scotland started to change, Glen Strathfarrar has been used predominantly for rearing sheep. And so it would seem it is today. Keen to get away from the sheep and find uncontaminated water, we pushed on 9 miles up into the glen before we found our camp spot for the night, a cattle grid beyond the sheep grazing area. Glen Strathfarrar is part of the Affric-Beauly hydro power scheme, and we passed two on the way, both underground with subterranean tunnels leading off the track.


Our campsite was one that Pauline had used previously, and as rutting stags bellowed on the other side of the river from us as the sun set, we fell asleep looking forward to the next leg tomorrow.

Our next day was very short and would see us double back on ourselves. Leaving the Glen at Struy we turned south west and headed along a beautifully quiet single track road to Cannich, a favourite place of Pauline's, and we pitched our tents at the village's campground, spending a lazy afternoon shopping for groceries, showering, drinking coffee, eating cake and planning.

We decided to stay at Cannich a second night. The following morning was very wet, so we sat it out with bacon rolls and tea at the campgrounds cafe, until in the afternoon, leaving all our kit behind, we headed off to the second waterfall of the adventure, Plodda Falls, just 7 miles away.

The falls sit at the top of a beautiful forested hillside, populated by enormous Douglas Fir trees. Back in the late 1800s an arched footbridge was built right over the point where the water drops over the edge down the 46m cliff face. That bridge lasted 125 years, until, in 2009, it was replaced with a viewing platform that now juts out over the edge.




On the way back, in hunt of coffee and cake, we stopped at the Coach House coffee shop, within the old Post Office in Tomich, it's walls adorned with old GPO posters from the 1930s.


The following morning a massive climb took us east out of Cannich toward Drumnadrochit some 12 miles away. But just five miles on Pauline detoured off to Corrimony Chambered Cairn.


Surrounded by 11 standing stones, the 60ft cairn is a passage grave dating back some 4,000 years, and it was a fun wee historic treat.


But Pauline's main treat for the day was to come in Drumnadrochit, by way of a fantastic full breakfast! I would spend the next few miles burning it off, walking, not cycling, as I pushed my heavily laden bicycle up a narrow single track road heading toward Fort Augustus. Near the start of the push a very helpful chap asked; "shouldn't I be sat on the bike?", to which I replied; "do you really want me to answer that?".

Soon we were back into forest and the Great Glen Way, along undulating forest track following above the shore of Loch Ness. By the time we reached Invermoriston it was raining lightly, but persistently. Stopping for a coffee at a local cafe, we decided we were not going to make the proposed camp spot south of Fort Augustus on the shores of Loch Oich, and we would now have to keep a look out for a suitable place for the night on the next stretch of forest track.


If there's one thing Pauline is very good at, and that's finding a good camp spot.

Usually.

With the light fading, and the rain never ending, halfway to Fort Augustus we stopped at a mossy grassy verge deep in the forest. We were happy just to have found a 'usable' spot, and with plentiful water nearby we settled down for a damp night.

The next day, having packed away sopping wet tents, we set off late around 10.30, and rejoined the route we had cycled north on a few days ago, at Fort Augustus. After a much needed coffee we were back on easy cycling now, following the canal to Loch Oich.


Here was the memorable stretch of the route from earlier in the adventure, that followed the old railway line, which was also the line of General Wade's military road, taking us some five miles to Invergarry along the shore of Loch Oich.


Halfway we reached the camp spot where we had intended to stay the night before. We stopped and took out the sopping wet tents and ate lunch while they dried in the sun and the breeze.




One more forest track to follow, along the shores of Loch Lochy, would bring us to Gairlochy, the site of our first camp, and now the last camp.



And there, on the ground for the past seven days, was the small cloth I used for wiping down my tent, which I thought I had lost forever right at the start.

A moon just a couple of days short of its full phase, rose over nearby hills, as a bat flitted about once again and we reflected on our adventure. As Pauline had said for the past few months, it had been a tough cycle at times, but the experiences and astonishing beauty of the countryside more than made up for that, and I was satisfied this had been a 'holiday' after all.

Ten miles on the next day, and we were loading our bikes onto the train for the journey home. It had seemed so much longer than eight days, our cycle in autumn of The Great Glen Way.


Saturday, 27 October 2018

THE GREAT GLEN CYCLE - PART 1

When Pauline asked me back in April if, come October, I fancied cycling the Great Glen, a route that follows the Caledonian Canal, starting in Fort William and ending in Inverness, I didn't hesitate to say yes.

Did I fancy cycling it both ways?

Err . . . OK . . . I think.

It's a tough, physical ride mind you.

She wasn't particularly selling it to me. When it comes to "holidays" per se, I imagine sipping Italian coffee, in the sunshine, in a Florence piazza, people watching, not struggling up steep ascents with a fully laden bicycle for miles, to then camp in the rain with a re-hydrated ready meal for supper.

But I'm a sucker for adventure, so training for this was going to be key.

That was April, and October seemed so far away. Piece of cake.

But too many pieces of cake later, and very little training, I found myself on the train bound for Fort William, one heavily laden bicycle in tow.

When I say train, what I mean is, train to Glasgow and then two bus replacements, courtesy of the efficient train company Scotrail. But let's not go into that. Though one could be forgiven for thinking someone was trying to send me a message.

Completed in 1822 by Thomas Telford, and stretching 97km connecting the Atlantic to the North Sea, the Caledonian Canal is an impressive piece of engineering.


With Ben Nevis in the background we started on the first part of our journey out of Fort William to Gairlochy, following the canal north, hemmed in on both sides by the varied rusty colours of Autumn.


A slight tail wind gave us a quick run, and being late in the day we camped at the free campground next to Gairlochy canal locks, with access to showers, toilets and laundry. A short day on the bike, flat and easy. Maybe this was a holiday afterall.


As dusk fell, a bat flitted about near the tents, and a star-filled sky led into a chilly night.

I awoke to a sopping wet tent from condensation, having wiped them down with a small cloth, we gave the early warm sunshine a chance to dry them out slightly before packing up and heading off.

The next set of locks after Gairlochy is Laggan, roughly 11 miles on, and the route is mostly on undulating forest track, with constant displays of every shade of autumn colour you could imagine. 


After Laggan most of the route to Fort Augustus is along a perfect, straight old railway track, with views across Loch Oich to a ruined castle.


We passed a small area two thirds along that was designated as an "informal campground", a place where Pauline had camped before, and we decided this would be a camp spot during our return leg. 


Another easy, quick stretch along the canal, brought us into Fort Augustus and the southern shore of Loch Ness of monster fame. We stocked up on groceries for the next leg, and then it was time for lunch. I could smell chips cooking nearby, and thought this would be very satisfying. Until that is I discovered it wasn't far off £3 for one bag of chips! "Aye, it's a tourist trap mate", came the honest reply from the owner. I settled on a coffee from a nearby van, with hot soup and a roll, and sat people watching as I tucked in. A Florentine piazza it may not have been, but the coffee, setting and company were just as satisfying.

Pauline had warned me about the steep road out of Fort Augustus to our next days end of Foyers. I made a valiant effort to cycle this thing, and felt a little smug passing two other cyclists. OK, so they had full panniers front and back, but hey, I'm 55 and haven't trained for this.

Boy how I wished I'd trained for this.

Before long I was off the bike and pushing. Like many of these occasions, the end of the hill you see ahead, isn't.

But once we were up it was a glorious ride, with a wind at our backs, the sun shining, and great views far and wide.

We didn't have an actual camp spot in mind, and with it getting late in the day we chose a wild spot next to the River Foyers.


Previous campers had left a large log near their attempts at a fire, and together with some discarded rope I fashioned a seat for us between two trees. Feeling very Bear Grylls, I settled down for a restful night.

The following morning we zipped down the road to stop at a small cafe opposite the trail to Foyers Falls.


With a decent amount of rain recently the Falls were in full flow, and by the time we had returned from the short walk the cafe was open. A second breakfast was calling. From the outside we weren't too sure of what it would be like, but the bacon roll and coffee were first class. In Pauline's opinion, the best she's ever had.


Our day had a few more ascents, but none as severe as the day before, and a high road across open moors, with a strong wind behind, helped us zip along.

We took a small detour down a single track, steep road, stopping part way down to visit a quirky memorial to the Clan McBain, complete with quirky wildcat sculptures, before rejoining the cycle route and down into Inverness by late afternoon.


Loaded up with lots of yummy food out of a local supermarket, we headed out to the sea lock where the Caledonian Canal delivers seafarers out to the North Sea. Here, within the boundary fence of the marina, we had another free night of camping with showers and toilets nearby. Though it was brightly lit from security lighting, and a little noisy from traffic nearby, earplugs ensured a restful night.


Tomorrow we would turn south, and with a few detours planned, head back toward Fort William.

But that is a story for the next blog.


Saturday, 13 October 2018

PINK FOOTED GEESE AT ABERLADY BAY

I have walked Aberlady Bay, the UKs first Local Nature Reserve, designated in 1952, a number of times with Pauline, but always from the same start point, on the outskirts of the coastal village of Aberlady.

On this particular day we opted to complete a circular route, and as such we headed out along the John Muir Way to the neighbouring town of Gullane, famous for its golf connections.

This meant a tedious first mile along a very busy road, but soon after we were on the John Muir Way footpath, cutting across fields and skirting the golf course, with views to Berwick Law to the east, to eventually pop out on the outskirts of Gullane.


But the real treat on this short section was the start of the main reason we had ventured out; skeins of geese in formation flying overhead, some as many as 100 in number, gliding in to the Bay for the night, calling out their presence as they approached.



It always pleasantly surprises me how often I can walk an area and yet repeatedly find new routes, and today was no exception. The path rose steeply beside expensive detached mansions, then followed a boundary wall, curving round to the north to rise to a vantage point with views in all directions. To the west was the skyline of Edinburgh, whilst to the east was Bass Rock, home during breeding season to millions of Gannets, and still bright white with the icing of guano deposited by the nesting birds, now all departed.


We dropped down to the shoreline and wandered the beach as it curved slowly back round to Aberlady. The sun was starting to dip, and in the far distance the three bridges spanning the Firth of Forth were silhouetted against the glow of an early evening setting sun.


Another first this day was a field test for my new compact camera, and I was not disappointed by the first images, capturing the distant bridges perfectly with its powerful zoom.

We hopped across the sea-beaten rocks, with Eider Ducks resting on their edges and Red Shanks wading in the shallows, as the sun dipped lower and lower, casting its golden-hour light across the sands.

Beneath our feet were trillions of shell remains, all at different stages of being ground down for a future beach by the unstoppable tides.


Soon we were skirting below the high dunes on the longest stretch of beach, and in the last of the light Pauline scanned the horizon with binoculars toward the distant calls of Curlews.



There was one more treat in store as we followed the path away from the beach back toward our start point. Just to our right, perched on a large piece of drift wood, sat a Short-Eared Owl, something I had never seen before. It sat patiently looking out toward the last of the setting sun, soon to start the hunt for food.


Further on a young Roe Deer stood motionless and watched our progress along the path. The last of the geese approached overhead, collapsing their wings and tumbling down to rapidly lose altitude as they found their preferred landing site, then splayed their wings like an aircraft's aerofoils, to brake and land gently on the mud flats left by the receded tide. In the distance, lost in the failing light, hundreds of geese were greeting each other noisily as we wandered back to the village of Aberlady, reflecting on what had been a spectacular day.