Friday, 31 December 2010

The dreaded lurgy!

How was your festive season? Not over yet I suppose with 2011 just a few hours away. Will it be a party with thousands of people in the streets of some rain swept city, or a friends house with copious quantities of good food and wine, or high on a mountain pass in the Andes? Well for me it will be snuggled down tight under my duvet in my bed.

A friend of mine married a lovely American girl this year and moved across to live in Alberta. This new year he's bringing her over to Edinburgh to sample the delights of the now world famous Hogmanay street party. Frankly, I think she'll be disappointed. Thousands of drunken people all trying to tell you their life story and passing the time until a bunch of fireworks go off in low cloud and pissing rain at midnight. Great! What a night.

I am disappointed though not to be joining my friends tonight in a gathering at one fo their houses. On Boxing Day I contracted what I can only assume is flu and as a result for the past 6 days I have only ventured out of bed for the postie and to answer nature's call. In fact I am writing this today from that very bed.

But that disappointment pales in comparison to my festive experience with a certain courier company. I apologise if you have ever had a similar experience with this same courier company and are about to scream at the very mention of their name . . . CityLink Express Couriers. A subsidiary of Rentokil I think they should exterminate themselves!

Over the last couple of years they have gone through 3 changes at the top and slashed staff to an unprecedented level. So much so that the combined effect has reduced their ability to deliver, no pun intended, to virtually useless.

I had ordered a product online form southern England on the 7 December. Their first attempt to deliver was 24 December! They gave me a handy time slot of 7.30am to 5.30pm, for which I remained in all day, to then change their mind at 4pm and reschedule it for the 29th!

And yes, the same handy delivery slot, the same waiting in all day, the same no show! Finally, on the 30th, they decide they feel like fulfilling their obligation and turn up! The company who sold me the item were marvelous, offering all sorts of compensation. Though generous I don't feel it's fair they are penalised for the inabilty of said courier. In contrast a box was sent to me from Buenos Aires by normal mail and took just 8 days to get to me!

Maybe with the cutbacks of course they don't have vans anymore and had walked from down south. I hadn't thought of that.

There, end the year on a damn good rant!

That aside 2011 holds some potentially exciting adventures of which I am already very excited about and will tell you more about that on the other side.

It just remains for me to wish you all peace, health, prosperity and happiness in 2011. The adventure continues.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Attaboy Clarence

As many people tend to say at this time of year, It doesn't feel like Christmas to me, though watching through the window of my cozy flat as the fluffy flakes of snow gently float down once again, it certainly looks like Christmas. Last year was the first white Christmas in many years in Edinburgh, and this year has been no exception with the first falls arriving late November. It had all but disappeared by last weekend, then during the night on Saturday it came back with a vengeance. Ever since it's stayed well below freezing and it still looks as fresh as the day it fell.

I've done my fair share of wandering the shops, and noticed just how much we seem to rise to the will of the advertisers; buying more food than we can possibly consume, though some give it a good try; pushing and shoving our way through endless crowds to obtain that must-have-but-will-be-broken-in two-days present; then queuing endlessly to part with our hard earned money. Isn't it so much more than this? I'm was on the search for the answer.

One big effect of all this snow and freezing temperatures, and worth remembering when we're buying all that food in excess, is our garden birds. These poor creatures are now struggling to find food and just as importantly, water. I put food in my garden every day, and defrost the bird bath twice a day. I always get regular visitors, such as starlings, sparrows and the occasional robin, but I think the word has gotten out in the neighbourhood that its party time in Graham's tiny 4m by 5m garden! The variety of birds now coming to the garden every day has astonished me, and confirmed just how desperate they are for food. In fact no sooner have I reached the back door after putting food out than they are down, scoffing away. For the record here's the list with the most numerous first. And this was just this morning:
Starlings
Sparrows
Blue tits
Robins
Blackbirds
Wood pigeon
s
Long tailed tit
Magpie
Redwings
Song thrush
Wren
I'm no Twitcher (the nickname for avid bird watchers) but I spent over an hour at the kitchen window, with a warming gingerbread latte, just watching all my feathered friends enjoying themselves.

Some of my other friends of the human variety, assembled last weekend at Andrew's house and enjoyed our annual viewing of James Stewart in It's A Wonderful Life, accompanied by vats of mulled wine and mince pies. No matter how many times I see that film it always makes me cry at the end, always at the same moment when James Stewart's character George Bailey opens the book Clarence left behind. Inside the inscription reads: "No man is a failure who has friends".

My closest friend is far away this year, currently basking in quite the opposite climate in south west Argentina, and I know she will be delighted at the list of visitors to the garden.

This time of year for me always reminds me of the value of friends, be that human or feathered, and the joy and love they bring to your life. I suppose that's what Christmas really feels like to me, and the answer to my search. Above all I miss those that are far away more than I can describe.

I found a nice friendship quote the other day: "True friends are never apart, maybe in distance, but not in heart"

Merry Christmas everybody.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Spark of genius

Over the past six weeks I have been teaching film making to a small group of 13 year old boys at my local Boys’ Brigade company, and was pleasantly surprised at their eagerness.

About fifteen years I used to run the BB company, the 25th Edinburgh, and I had been involved for over seventeen years. During the latter ten years I would write a comedy show for their end of year presentation, the parents night. Not necessarily original material, mostly borrowing from the greats of Peter Cook and Monty Python.

The age range of the boys started from as young as 11 and all the way up to 18. It always amazed me that at age 11 every boy would do anything possible not to participate in the show in a lead role. However, let a few years pass and by the time they were 16 or older they were literally fighting each other over the parts! Overall the entire idea was to build their confidence in being able to speak in front of an audience. This was achieved in spades, as they say and many I’m sure have benefited in this boost to their confidence. Maybe some have even gone on to a stage or screen career.

So these past six weeks were a return to a similar idea, and though fifteen years have passed the boys are no different now than they were then, apart from maybe a little more bold. What had changed of course was their knowledge and available references to events past. For instance none of them knew very much at all about princess Diana, and 9/11 was a subject they were a little vague on.

Each week I introduced them to another piece of knowledge in the process of film making. We started by watching a few film clips, making sure they understood the structure of story telling, then went on to develop characters and only three weeks later they were asked to come up with a two-minute story.

Their imagination knew no bounds, to put it politely, but through the inevitable innuendo and gore-ridden ideas, one supernatural story came forward. I was impressed. It had a beginning, middle and end and four very identifiable characters.

Last Saturday, much to their surprise, having gathered them together, I provided them with a small film crew for four hours in order that they could act in, and film their story. The boy who had created the idea for the film directed it and the other boys took turns in either acting a part, filming or recording sound.

The end result, though no Miramax production, is quite fun, and with a few additional editing tricks they have a nice little production I’m sure they will want to show off.

As the production came to an end I did stop to wonder if at some distant time in the future, one or more of the boys would go on to become a successful film maker, the spark of genius being ignited in these past few weeks.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Country paralised!

Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be some doom and gloom blog, but the title is how the tabloids like to describe our current spate of wintry weather. Never are we expected to think that it is wondrous, exciting and magical. Well, my past week was just that.

As a small child, more years ago now than I care to remember, I would trudge through feet of fluffy snow on my way to school. In fact getting to school and coming home were the best parts of the day in winter. It seems nowadays if the family’s four wheel drive can’t get out of the suburbia paved driveway, then junior cannot possibly make it the eight hundred yards to school. Not that it matters though, because today there are three inches of snow in the playground and the school has been shut!

I arrived in Aviemore in the highlands late afternoon on Sunday. All around was quite still and the temperature was several degrees below freezing, the snow glistening in the glow of the sodium street lights. I had opted to stay at the youth hostel on the outskirts of the town, now wrapped in billows of fluffy powdery snow.

Monday. Cloudless blue skies. Not a breath of wind. Minus ten degrees.

Seven miles out of town, heading toward the Cairngorm mountain range, is a small settlement called Glenmore. Here is Scotland’s national outdoor training centre, full of tough outdoorsy instructors, rugged, who stand with one foot on a rock as they tell you of their exploits. Also in Glenmore is the Glenmore café, right on the edge of the campsite, now buried in half a metre of snow. The café is my number one stop when I come to play in this area. A great start to the day with lashings of hot tea and bulging bacon rolls, with a backdrop of the forest birds coming down to feeders at the windows, chased away occasionally by marauding red squirrels, arguably the cutest creatures in the world.

I hired bright yellow snow-shoes and headed out into the sea of snow for the day. The large loch nearby, Loch Morlich, was frozen over and the beach was covered in two feet of fresh snow. The snow-shoes still sank in, bringing the snow almost up to my knees, but try and walk through this landscape without them and very quickly you would be telling the rest of the party to leave you there to die, struggle as you would to make any progress.

Today though, I was alone, and fortunate that I knew the area very well. Every path and recognisable feature was invisible under the white blanket with not a single track breaking the surface.

At one point I stopped and held my breath.

Not a sound. Perfectly still.

A few deer were surprised by my approach and pranced off, leaping through the snow like dolphins breaking the surface waters. Snow flakes started to float gently to the ground and the suns rays, breaking through the snow covered branches of giant Scots Pine trees, caught the flakes as they fell, illuminating them like millions of little light bulbs.

By early afternoon the landscape was at it’s most glorious and I stopped to eat my lunch on a snowy log pile. I was alone and by now far from the main road, deep in Rothiemurcus forest, tucking into my cheese and ham filled baguette. A puffed up robin came to say hello and we shared a bit of mature cheddar cheese.

By 4pm the last of the suns light was fading as I emerged from the forest, back onto the main road near Coylumbridge, then made my way down to the Ord Ban café for thick, frothy hot chocolate and mulled wine. Bliss.

Tuesday and Wednesday I traded in my snow-shoes for cross-country skis and pottered around the same forest, retracing my snow-shoe tracks from Monday. They were still the first lines through the snow and it felt very much like this was my forest, at least for the day. At times I felt I could have be hundreds of miles into a wild mountainous country, all alone except for the deer and birds. Nearby a stream was battling to keep its course open as the falling temperatures crystallised the clear waters. As the stream tumbled over rocks, water vapour rose and instantly froze into a thin fog, picking up the suns rays like smoke from a fire.

My final day was spent skiing downhill on the nearby mountains. This was such a contrast to the peace and sincerity of the forest far below. Here was noise and fierce commercial enterprise, with the focus on squeezing every last buck out of you. I felt very disappointed and ripped off, the centre charging high season full price for equipment and lift passes, with only a third of the area open. The runs were glorious though, I have to admit, with perfect conditions and the sun illuminating every run. Three thousand feet below the valley was filled with low cloud and looking down on the clouds at that point made me feel I was at far higher altitudes.

On reflection, though the downhill skiing was a slightly disappointing experience, it put everything into perspective. For the first time I found myself longing to be back on cross country skis or snow shoes, exploring my way through virgin powder snow. This from someone who would thrive on the thrill of the red and black downhill runs of smoothly pisted mountain sides.

I will still enjoy those moments but nothing will ever beat the thrill of using my own power to glide through pristine wilderness on cross country skis, or trudging through on snow shoes, with only the forest and its permanent residents for company.

That headline? Country Paralised! Sub heading - "Graham has wilderness to himself".

More pictures on my Flickr site

A short video of the adventure is now viewable on YouTube

Friday, 26 November 2010

Rather tasty

I have just spent a delightful few days with two friends of mine at their homes on the east coast of Scotland, one in Arbroath the other in Newport-on-Tay.

A number of years ago a good friend of mine, Judy, bought a little place in the historic town of Arbroath, as a getaway-from-it-all retreat. It sits right on the edge of the beach looking out across the North Sea, with occasional fishing boats ploughing their way in and out of harbour in what were fairly rough seas, the swell of the water and the breaking waves making for a dramatic framed picture through the French windows.

Arbroath is the largest town in the area of Angus and lies just north of Dundee. During the industrial revolution Arbroath boasted 34 mills making jute and sailcloth and was also prominent in the making of lawnmowers, supplying the nearby St Andrews Old Course. Today its best known export is the Arbroath Smokie.

The Smokie actually originates from a small fishing village just north, Auchmithie. Legend has it that the Smokie was born when a barrel of haddock preserved in salt caught fire one night and the cooked haddock found the next morning was found to be “rather tasty”. Typically it takes less than an hour of smoking and having tried it in a cream sauce wrapped up in a thin pancake, I can confidently agree that it is rather tasty.

It was bitterly cold the following day but we ventured a little further north to Montrose to visit the statue of Bamse, a St Bernard dog that belonged to a captain of the Norwegian Navy during WWII. Bamse lived with the crew on board the ship, even sporting his very own tin helmet. He performed many acts of heroism, rescuing fellow crewman that were attacked or drowning overboard and would even break up fights between crewmen. He was also well known for escorting crew back to the ship when in port in time for their duty. To round up his crew he would travel on buses and so they bought him his own bus pass. A truly remarkable dog, he died in July 1944 and was buried with full military honours in Montrose and in 2006 HRH Prince Andrew unveiled a bronze statue of him on Wharf Street.

Further up the coast is a fabulous long beach called St Cyrus, with the North Sea on one side and high dunes on the other. It was so bitterly cold and near the end of the day that unfortunately we had only a fleeting visit, but I vowed to return one day.

On my final day, as I headed back in the direction of Edinburgh, I stopped off in Newport-on-Tay to see another friend of mine, Louise. Having met at the train station in Dundee we headed off to the picturesque university town of St Andrews. It is estimated that it has been a place of importance since its earliest churches in the 8th century and today it can boast having the third oldest university in the English-speaking world. Of course its most famous institution is that of golf. Founded in 1754 it is the ruling authority on the game of golf everywhere, except for Mexico and the USA, though they work together to form the rules.

Louise is an excellent cook and that evening she dished up venison in a lovely sauce with roasty-veg and made the whole thing look effortless. Just like the Arbroath Smokie pancake it was another supreme meal that was “rather tasty”.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Change

It’s the enemy of progress but a regular event in all our lives. Sadly the biggest changes that we notice are when we lose someone close to us through death or a breakdown in friendship. Sometimes though the opposite happens and a new life is born, or someone new comes into our lives. This past few weeks have seen all of these events take place.

A close friend of mine very recently had to make a difficult decision about his beloved pet dog Arca, a beautiful male Weimaraner, who had been ill for some time. He will be missed.

The breed we have today appeared around the 19th century but originally they were bred for hunting lions and were originally black in colour. The modern day breed is an all round family friendly dog, capable of guarding the home while at the same time being a loving and loyal friend. Arca was testament to this fact. I remember when I first saw him as a puppy ten years ago. Back then he had a body about the size of a spaniel but very silly gangly long legs that seemed to want to go in a different direction to the rest of him. He was very excited most of the time and would bound about all over the place, As he grew he lost none of his appeal and would always give you a welcome nudge with his snout when visiting his home. To own a dog is to appreciate just how important a part they can play in your family and how much happiness they contribute. They need just as much care and attention as a new born child.

A new life came into the world recently for two friends of mine. A baby boy called Matthew. It is nothing short of a miracle that we have the ability to nurture another life within us and bring this little person into the world. Who knows what great adventures lay before him. Maybe he’ll become prime minister, or journey into the stars. A new dawn awaits him.

In the ancient world of the Aztecs, fear surrounded the setting of the sun in that maybe the new dawn would never come. It was considered that the sun was a God and having served the people of that day sacrificed itself at the end. Mayan sacrifices were made as an answer and a strong sense of indebtedness. Thankfully we no longer sacrifice ourselves, for the event is as sure as another crash in the housing market. But to sit and watch the glory of a sunrise, with it’s golden rays and the first of its warmth touching your skin, is truly something wonderful to behold. At that moment the world is free from troubles and a truly peaceful place.

Scotland is in the final throes of autumn, with its coat of many colours and piles of crunchy leaves that young and old alike enjoy kicking their way through. Crisp chilly mornings, with cloudless blue skies and the occasional jewels of frost on the grass, are typical of the joy that autumn brings. Beyond this beauty though lies the passing of many a beautiful thing in nature, together with increasing grey skies that will lead us through to the cold and colourless time of winter. But it is a short journey to spring, when new life will blossom and beauty will return in all its glory.

Given time the blue skies will return.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Wondeful seasons

What a great week it has been: autumn sunshine, gardening, wildlife, cycling, satsumas and gingerbread syrup.

On the first Saturday of every month, Portobello plays host to a market, which takes place in the local Brighton Park. This was the fourth such market, but it was the first for me. How wonderful it was. Little blue and white striped roofs sheltering tables selling all manner of interesting, curious and occasionally, edible, goods. 

This wasn’t some eclectic mix of bric-a-brac of unwanted items from someone's dusty attic. No, far from it. Big names were there, including Real Foods. Some stalls sold home made candles and jewellery, while others had a more farmers market feel to them. From mouth watering venison pies and organic soups, to my old deli, with the new owners, selling some great cheeses, the variety was terrific, and I'm already looking forward to December's one. All the locals were out, wandering in the sunshine, and it was very pleasant to often stop for a friendly little chat with people I know.

The blue skies and the diminishing colours of autumn just had to be further enjoyed and I took off on my bicycle, through the royal park and on to the far side of the Meadows in the centre of the city. Turning for home I decided a reward had been earned for my efforts and a latte at Starbucks sufficed nicely. This was not just any latte though. As if you didn’t know from the annoying TV commercials already on our screen, Christmas is coming. However, some things show a welcome return in the lead up, such as satsumas in the shops and individual christmas puddings. On this occasion it was the return of Starbuck's gingerbread syrup flavouring for my latte. Bliss.

On the subject of food, I was very disappointed recently to discover Patersons have stopped making their bran oatcakes. This was serious. I have a veritable dairy-load of cheese in my fridge, and nothing to put it on. So it was that this weekend I experimented with making my own. Guessing at the ingredients and quantities, I threw together a little wholemeal flour with oatbran, wheatgerm and butter. First attempt was a disaster. Second attempt was getting close but still too dry and fragile. A slight adjustment and I am proud to say that I now have oatcakes for my cheesy comestibles that are even better than Patersons. Wallace and Gromit would be proud.

Something I’ve been putting off for a few weeks now is to clear the leaf litter in the garden. I don’t normally bother and just let the worms get on with it, however, the level of soil they have produced over the years is slowly starting to turn the gravel into a lawn. I have been putting it off, not out of laziness, but because the leaves from the Rowan, Birch and Honeysuckle had created a wondrous golden carpet and it was a pleasure to behold. 

But it is past its best, and this afternoon I set to work, on my hands and knees, picking up the leaves by hand, for two hours. It was very therapeutic and all the more enjoyable as I was not alone. Occasionally the Robin popped down to have a look and see how I was getting on, curiously cocking his head to one side, most probably thinking I was quite mad.

To round off my week just nicely, my friend Pauline was in touch to say she’s reached Brazil on the container ship and all is well. Between the two of us we were able to update her blog with news and maps of the crossing. If you’ve lost the link take a look here:

Pauline’s blog

The autumn colours are now past their best, but it has been an autumn to remember. I noticed on the BBC weather forecast last night that snow was to fall over the mountain tops this weekend. We are about to enter another wondrous time of year in Scotland and instead of gathering piles of leaves I will be gathering piles of snow to build a snowman.

I love Scotland's seasons.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Fall back

This week marked the end of British summer time as the clocks went back one hour, representing for some an extra hour in bed. The practice of changing our clocks back in autumn and forward in spring dates back to 1916 at the suggestion of William Willet, an English builder and tireless promoter of British Summer Time.

This week also marked the farewell to Trigger, my trusty steed, the Suzuki Intruder motorcycle.

I only took possession of the bike in February 2009 but for a number of months now I have considered selling it, mainly because I wasn’t riding it and it is definitely a machine that should be ridden. The summer had not lived up to its title and high winds combined with rain virtually every day meant the bike remained in it’s garage.

At the end of my Scottish west coast tour in July 2009, as you will know from my daily travel blog at the time, I crashed the machine in the town of Stonehaven. I recall at the time being surprised at the extent of damage resulting from the 5mph crash, and wondered what would have happened at ten times that speed! That thought never really left my head.

But I couldn’t decide. Then a few weeks ago an opportunity arose for a new travel adventure next summer. This raised two questions: how to fund it and what to do with the motorbike while I would be away. At the end of October it always goes into winter storage until April, but next May I would be beginning this new adventure and by the time of my return we would be once again on the cusp of winter. Therefore the bike was about to be stored for over a year and a half, dropping its value dramatically.

So decision made. Adventure funding raised and bike now in the hands of someone who will appreciate and ride it. But it was still a wrench. Friends were mostly supportive and understood what the bike meant to me and how difficult it was to let it go. It is after all, just a machine and at the end of the day it was my decision. Nevertheless, it was sad to see it drive away.

I’m sure you are asking the question: what is this new adventure next summer I speak of? For that, you will have to wait until nearer the time.

Trigger and I parted on Thursday just gone and today I was out in glorious autumn sunshine on my pedal powered bike. It was a joy to be passing underneath canopies of red, orange and yellow leaves as I powered along the cycle path called the Innocent Railway. The air was cool and fresh and there was a faint scent in the air of damp decaying leaves, a very recognisable autumnal smell. I changed my normal route and cycled round the lower road of Arthurs Seat, as on a Sunday the park is closed to motor vehicles. It was so beautiful. Blue sky above, not a breath of wind and everyone out enjoying a brisk walk, a smile on their faces. An early morning cycle has become my daily routine, mostly in order to improve and maintain my fitness, something that motorcycling does not do, but beautiful days like today make it very special.

I’m sure one day I’ll buy another motorbike, maybe even my dream machine of a Harley Davidson. I have enjoyed owning the bike, but for now Trigger has helped me achieve a new adventure.

Thanks Trigger.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Close Encounters

The distant sight I’d had of the village of Inverie and its bay as I walked in from Kinlochourn, through to Barrisdale Bay and Sourlies on a previous trip to Knoydart, provided my excuse for a long weekend away for a closer look.  Inverie can only be accessed on foot or by sea and I opted for the “Western Isles” ferry from Mallaig.  A 45 minute crossing, in choppy waters and heavy rain showers, added to the air of outdoor adventure I was ready for after being city bound for the past few weeks.  

Arriving at Inverie mid-afternoon on Friday, I found the Knoydart Foundation bunkhouse and set out for a wander along the beach where the campsite is located. As I was heading back something caught my eye in the sky. Fifteen metres from the shore and the same above the waves, was a sea eagle! I was transfixed by the bird’s beauty and its sheer size amazed me, being so much larger than any golden eagle I’ve seen.  No photo or TV clip I’ve ever seen prepared me for my first sight of this mighty bird of prey. I can only describe its size as that of a flying door! It was unmistakably a sea eagle.

As I wandered back to the bunkhouse, I passed a newly built log cabin structure and I could see a small robin inside banging up against the window, trying to get out. I opened the door but it kept hitting the window. It was a simple joy to then be able to gently pick it up in my hand and after staring at each other for a short while, releasing it back outside.

That evening I shared my news of the sea eagle at the lively local pub, where I enjoyed a locally made venison burger.

The first part of my route on Saturday took me through Glen Meadail and up and over the bealach that would take me down to the river Carnach, then south toward Sourlies. There was not a breath of wind nor a cloud in the sky as I walked the thirteen kilometres, and for the middle of October I was surprised that it was hot enough to be down to a t-shirt.

Alone I may have been but quiet it certainly wasn’t.  The surrounding hills form a natural amphitheatre for rutting stags to strut their stuff.  Majestic and haunting, the sound of stags bellowing echoed around the valley walls.  The short video below, although low resolution, provides a flavour of their unique sound.  

As the sun set in the distance the last of the days heat melted away and the stags seemed to become even more vocal.  Not the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had.  Venturing outside my tent late on, I saw an enormous stag just 4 or 5 metres away.  He had a good look at me and, realising I was neither stag nor hind, quickly lost interest.  But he stayed close by all night bellowing and I finally had to resort to earplugs to get some sleep.  I must have camped on his favourite rutting spot.   

Sunday could not have been more different weather wise. The cloud was low and a steady drizzle had started as I set out from Sourlies to pass over into Glen Dessary. Two hours later I was on the long crest of the pass and thoroughly soaked. My waterproofs by this point were anything but. The wet summer meant the path was not in great shape and made for a muddy slow crossing.  A colourful frog, which I just managed to avoid stepping on, was making the most of the conditions.  

Wet through, I stopped at A'quil bothy in Glen Dessary to recover and shelter in the hope the rain would pass.  One hour on I noted a slight improvement and headed back out through a forest before turning south west up Glen Chagrain.  A level piece of ground halfway up the glen persuaded me I’d found my campsite for the night so I cooked dinner and settled down for some much needed sleep.  But it wasn’t to be.  A wild night of rain and wind followed, topped by my stumbling around at 3am looking for large rocks to replace the tent pegs ripped out by the elements that threatened to blow the tent away.  The stags incessant bellowing now sounded more like laughter at my predicament.  

Sunday morning broke and the wind had eased slightly. I knew it was under four hours from the end of my planned route at Glenfinnan, but decided to set off early. Every river was swollen and each crossing was a challenge, once again making progress slow. There were frequent, but brief, heavy showers as I approached the bealach, until that was, I rose the last few metres onto it. To say it was wet and windy is like saying the Atacama is slighty dry and sunny. The only way I can describe it to you is it was like sticking your head out of a car window at 100mph and being hit in the face by the full force of water from a firemans hose! I could feel at one point that I was walking at a steep angle, leaning into the wind, the rain driving down the inside of my jacket and soaking me through.  Battered by the elements and dripping wet I just stood for a while in a slight state of shock before going on.  The Rough Bounds is a term used for Knoydart and I certainly attest to the rough part.  

The final part of the route passes down Glen Finnan on good landrover track, then under the famous viaduct. As a welcome relief and a appropriate end to my four days the sun broke through and the dark rain clouds subsided to leave a picturesque blue sky looking back up the glen.

Journeys end was the Dining Car tea room at Glenfinnan station, which is an actual piece of running stock from the west highland line, rescued and converted into a tea room. As I tucked into soup and toasties the Jacobite steam train pulled into the station on its way from Mallaig to Fort William filled with tourists enjoying the beauty that the west highland line has to offer.

Part of the joy for me in these adventures is the journey home on the train. You sit there in the warmth and comfort of the train, reading your book and enjoying a hot cup of tea, and no one around you is aware of the great adventure you have just had.

Only I knew of the close encounters I had experienced of sea eagles, stags and robins.

Photos of my adventure can be found on my Flickr site

video

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Convenience

This past week has seen me organising a number of items that I am disposing of, to sell on eBay. I had never done this before and I was pleasantly surprised how easy it was. I took a few photographs, composed a blurb, then posted the whole lot onto eBay. The first item sold within one hour to someone in Cornwall!

As a kid I lived in the country in various regions of Scotland. Some were very remote with the nearest town or village being some miles distant. To go to school would be either a three or four mile walk, in all weathers, or, if it was available, a school bus would trundle by and pick all the country bumpkins up and drop us off at the end of the school day.

In 1970 I lived near Glencoe and my primary school was in Ballachulish. Each morning I would walk from the forestry commission house I lived in along a disused railway and into the village. I recall many a time that it would snow so heavily that it became impossible to get out of the house, let alone get to school. These were of course days that you longed for.

Around this time the coinage in the UK was changing from pounds, shillings and pence to what we have today. My first experience of this “new money” was when a boy brought a 50p piece into school. What a wonder it was as it was handed round the class for everyone to see. To me it represented a small fortune. At that point I used to come to school with a penny, roughly the same size as a 50p. This would be equivalent now to less than half a pence. But this penny I had was also divisible into two halfpenny bits. For this princely sum one could buy a pie at play time and some sweets from the mobile van that would come every day. So fifty new pence is equivalent to 120 pennies!

In order for my mother to fill the kitchen cupboards with food we would rely heavily on various mobile shops that would come round each week. There would be the general grocer, which was my favourite as it always had cream cakes on board, a fish van and of course the postman every day, who would take your letters for posting as well as deliver. There was nothing the likes of Asda or Tesco. They just didn’t exist in the form we know them today. The closest supermarket as such would more than likely be either the Coop or the Spar. My mother would always take a list of telephone numbers with her on a visit to “town” where she would use the telephone box there, as we didn’t have a phone in the house.

What a contrast to today. Phoning anyone now, is, well, just a tad more convenient. I can call anyone in the world, at anytime, from almost anywhere, whenever the fancy takes me, on my mobile. In just forty years shopping has also changed beyond all recognition. Mobile grocery vans are now more likely to be an Asda delivery truck delivering shopping you bought at the click of your mouse on your computer while watching Homes Under the Hammer on TV. That letter you’re writing to your cousin in Australia will be with them before the kettle has boiled due to email. And instead of making a postcard that you would pin up in the local paper shop for something you want to sell, in the hope that there is someone locally who wants that item, you can now reach a third of the entire planet! It is also fast becoming a world of no paper money. The proceeds of the sale of my first item on eBay went to PayPal and from there straight into my bank account.

My selling activities are centered around getting rid of my motorcycle. Yes, Trigger is destined for a new home. It was about to go into storage for the winter and potentially would not emerge again until summer 2012 due to some major plans for next year, that may see me away a great deal. On top of that I’ve hardly ridden it at all this year so it was time to say goodbye.

I have an incredible variety of ways to sell the bike. Ebay has been my initial choice, but there are online magazines, Gumtree and a myriad of other websites all offering a service to sell your items. But I’m also creating a colour postcard in a tip-of-the-hat to the old days.

I’m about to wander along and pin it up on the notice board of my local Coop.