Saturday, 24 July 2010


I'm very lucky to live just a few feet from the two-mile-long sands of Portobello beach, and enjoy watching it's different moods at all times of year. Occasionally, on the rare occasion that the sun is out in a cloudless blue sky, it will be covered in day-trippers roasting themselves to a luminous lobster-shade of red while trying to keep the sand out of their sandwiches. Then there are the quieter days when it's only the dog walkers or beachcombers wandering along its length.

Today though was a bit more unusual. For the first time since the 70's Portobello held a rowing regatta. Teams from all over brought they're hand-made wooden crafts to take part, from as far afield as Eyemouth, Anstruther and Achiltibuie. Twenty teams in all took part with four rowers and a skipper on the tiller. Each one rowed out to a marker buoy and back, with four skiffs racing at once. It all became quite exciting and the crowds cheered enthusiastically as each team raced home.

There was a Portobello community boat entry, that had been built locally. Surrounding primary schools had a competition to name the completed skiff, which is called Icebreaker, which did pretty well on the day. The Scottish Coastal Rowing Project supplied the design for the boat, which is a "St Ayles Skiff" and a local group called Row Porty built it for the community. A grant has been given to the group to build a second boat which anyone from the local community will be able to use.

The event was well supported and the activity centered around a local coffee shop called the Beach House, which last year had fenced off a large area adjacent in order to start up Portobello Sailing and Kayaking club. The regatta, run over two days, seems a natural extension of the club. It reminded me of the days when I ran a deli and coffee shop and over the summer we would have regular live jazz outside. It created a real community feeling and the regatta had pretty much the same feel about it today, with everyone smiling and chatting, and generally having a good time.

It is now their hope to run it every year. Judging by the attendance today, even under heavy laden steel-coloured skies, I'm pretty sure it will. And not a beach lobster in sight!

Thursday, 15 July 2010

The garden

As a kid I used to enjoy a great stop-animation programme on the BBC called The Herb Garden. My favourite characters were Dill the Dog and Parsley the Lion, who occupied a walled garden. To enter The Herb Garden you had to spin a bit of magic and say the magic word "herbidacious".

No magic word needed to enter my walled garden, just sleeves rolled up and protective gloves on, I got to work destroying . . . err, sorry, "redesigning" parts of it on Monday.

I've also been kept busy between times as base camp manager for my friend Pauline on her world cycle expedition, mainly solving a technical issue over a faulty stove. She's currently in France and has posted a couple of blogs. Hopefully I'll be joining her in Spain around September.

Back to the garden: I've been meaning to create more storage space in the garden for a while, and this is the week I set my mind to start toward that goal. My intention is to create a new, small, garden tool shed first, about a metre wide by a metre and a half high, and then an extension to the existing shed to create a self-contained bike shed. Finally the inside of the existing large shed will be reorganised and made more damproof so I can use it as storage.

Now you'd think that sounds straight forward enough, but little did I anticipate just how much work would be involved! I've been at it now for three days and I'm still nowhere near building the first one! In order to build the new bike shed, I decided to lay a new concrete base. First I had to move the rain-water barrel, which meant emptying it one watering can at a time! Then I had to remove all the gravel from the two square metres I wanted to use. This, however, presented a problem. Over the years the busy worms had created a layer of soil under the stones, so this had to be sieved out as I went. On top of this I had to relocate the bird bath! A full day, five bags of cement and a sore back later, said concrete base was laid. Then I thought the new position of the barrel looked a bit odd, so not having enough to do I created a new raised border. Another days work!

Finally I turned my attention to the small area of decking which is to be the location of the new tool shed. On closer inspection however the decking is past it's best and so the next task, once it stops raining, is to now replace the decking!

I've also increased the height of the fencing surrounding my garden, firstly in what will probably be a futile attempt to keep out my arch nemesis of the neighbours cat, who has recently returned, for some reason, after an absence of a few months. Secondly I am training a climbing plant through the new mesh of the fence. I may get the sheds built this side of christmas!

Recently the garden has had a new resident enter it in the shape of a frog, which my neighbour has named Henry. We have no idea how Henry got into the totally enclosed garden.

Maybe like The Herb Garden it was a little bit of magic.

Friday, 9 July 2010


This has been a week of journeys.

I've been working on a friend's bathroom for what seems a lifetime, and I'm sure they probably feel the same. It was quite a challenge. I must say though that the journey has been a big learning curve and the end result is very satisfying. Towards the end there were many small things to sort out and finish, things that each needed only an hour or so to do. However, because they couldn't all be done at the same time this meant a fifty mile round trip each day, which was a bit frustrating.

So I decided to build in other things to do on the same days. On Wednesday I took Trigger, my trusty motorcycle, out of mothballs and we had the first run of the year. After I had completed the first of the two small jobs in the bathroom we journeyed together to Comrie, about an hour and a half on the back roads from where I was working. Friends of mine, Sarah and Roger, and their kids, Emily and Robbie, were staying in a wigwam half way between Crief and Comrie and I popped in to see them. We visited a wildlife park of small animals that is geared superbely well towards families. Robbie, however, found far more entertainment with the toy tractors and pedal police cars than any of the meerkats or macaque monkees! The journey back was a little unerving, crossing the Forth Road Bridge in a howling gale!

Small job number two was yesterday, which was also the day that I had to meet a midday deadline to submit an application for a film contract working with youths in Buckhaven. Once again I incorporated it into the same journey as the bathroom job. I am now pleased to say that the job is complete. Whether I am awarded the contract for the film position or not we shall see over the next few weeks.

These journeys pale in comparison however, to the start of a major expedition on Tuesday. As readers will know from the end of my last blog, my closest friend Pauline began her adventure this week. There had been delays, but finally, at 5pm on 6 July, her ship set sail from Rosyth to Zeebrugge. It was a blustery and later wet, day and after a pack lunch sat in the not-too-picturesque port entry, she finally got away successfully. I made it back to Portobello in time to watch the ship sail over the horizon.

If, like me, you want to follow her adventure over the next 18 months or so, then log in to her blog by following this link:

The Bicycle Diaries

Posts won't appear very often as it depends on her access to the internet, but persevere, as when they do I'm sure we'll all be very jealous. There will also be a link to her Flickr site where you can see photos from the trip as she goes. I'll post the odd update now and again, together with the link each time.

So, first stage is a loop through Europe, taking in Germany, France, Spain and Portugal. Then in November she sets sail once again and travels by giant cargo ship to South America.

Now that's a journey!

Friday, 2 July 2010


If you've never seen dolphins close up, then there's a place in Scotland that allows you to do just that: Chanonry Point, fifteen miles east of Inverness on the northern coast, is a peninsula that juts out into the Moray Firth.

This past week Pauline and I spent three days there, camping in the small campsite at Rosemarkie, a small village that is an extension of Fortrose. We were blessed with good weather for our main "dolphin-watching" day on the Wednesday, and they did not disappoint.

We journeyed by train, as is our favourite mode of transport, from Edinburgh to Inverness in a little over three hours, then cycled the remaining fifteen miles, in glorious sunshine to Fortrose, past fields of barley in different stages of growth, waving in the wind like seaweed beneath a vast ocean.

The Whale & Dolphin Conservation Society, WDCS, estimate that there are around 130 dolphins in the firth, resident all year round. The best times to see them at Chanonry Point are between June and September. The Point had been a well kept sercet for many years, until two years ago, when Simon King broadcast from there during the BBC's Springwatch. Now everyone and their brother knows about it! That said, during Simon's visit he hardly saw any at all, so the crowds that gather are not too large, thankfully.

Now, when I say you can see dolphins close up, I really mean, "close" up. At times they were just five metres from the shore! We counted around twenty on our visit, and, try as I might, it was difficult to catch a photograph of them. There were those more succesful than I mind you, their cameras clicking and whirring away at the slightest hint of surface disturbance.

As the waters start to reach high tide, the sea begins to rough up. Right at the Point itself there are shallow waters over sandbanks, and it is here that the incoming sea meets the calmer waters of the firth. The fish are then caught in this stirring up of waters, and are trapped in great concentrations. The dolphins know this better than we and meet at exactly the right time each day to feast on the fresh seafood offering and entertain us into the bargain. Occasionally we would be treated to a dolphin or two actually breaching and leaping high into the air. I have been a number of times to see them, but this was by far the best sightings I have ever witnessed.

The rest of the day was spent relaxing in the sun, reading and dog-watching. At one point I took a run into Rosemarkie and discovered to my great delight that a delicatessen had opened last year. Thus, what to have for lunch the next day was solved, with wild boar pate and Gruyere cheese. Fab!

Our final day was somewhat windier, and had been forecast to rain. However, though it was hard cycling into the wind on our return to Inverness, it stayed dry. Thus ended Pauline and I's final trip together for quite some time. Next week she sets of on a circumnavigation of the world, all by bicycle. If, like me, you are super-impressed with this undertaking, you can keep up to date with her travels as she goes on her very own blog. Just follow this link:

Pauline's Bicycle Diaries

There will also be a link on her blog that will take you to her Flickr site so you can see the photographs of the expedition. If the link above doesn't work, type this link into your browser:

In November Pauline will travel by giant container ship from Spain to Argentina. I'm sure at some point there will dolphin-watching when they surf the bow wave of the ship as it crosses the Atlantic.