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

Tuesday, 12 October 2010


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.

Monday, 4 October 2010

A Portobello Day

A rare scene of cloudless blue sky greeted me this morning as I opened the blinds and it beckoned me out to play.

First things first I served the garden birds with their daily dose of seeds, pellets and dried mealworms. Yum. My breakfast consisted of something rather more tasty in the form of creamy porridge with honey, followed by a deliciously ripe peach, a fruit that has become my first choice since riding the Camino last month.

I headed out for a good walk and as I turned the corner toward the local park I could hear the buzz of a large grass mower, munching its way across the park for the last time this year. I admired the trees as if for the first time, marveling at their multi-coloured coats as they turn from their summer display to their autumn, through many shades of brown, yellow and red, occasionally releasing a leaf for it to fall, carpeting the ground in a pleasant, crunchy-under-foot, coating.

Fifteen minutes later I arrived at the Figgate Park. At the start of the year the council had funded the creation of a wild flower meadow and had cleared a large area ready for seeding. Months later and there is now a field of bright little flowers, dancing in a slight breeze, bathed in autumn sunshine. It was a pleasure just to stand for a while and stare. 

Below this area is a wooden walkway that snakes along one bank of the pond, which was built in an inspired move by the council last year. In the centre of the pond is a small island that visiting birds nest upon but which was all but deserted now. The occasional laughing duck and scavenging seagul were still busily swimming around, but other than that the pond was slowing down for it's winter hibernation. I wandered further along, greeting fellow meanderers as I went, greeting each other with a warm hello, but secretly paying more attention to the various dogs they had with them.

By noon I was sitting snugly at the window of the Beach House coffee shop, coveting their delicious cakes and scones while spooning the creamy froth of an excellent cappuccino into my mouth. I had with me a copy of Bill Bryson's book, The Thunderbolt Kid, which is all about his childhood in Des Moines, Iowa. As all of his books do, it made me smile and sometimes laugh out loud. It had been a recent purchase and I was drawn to it by the footnote to the title: This book will appeal to anyone who has ever been a child.

Refreshed and energised I headed home via the beach itself. By now a low level breeze had picked up, whipping up a thin, ghostly layer of sand, blowing it in a hurry toward the sea. The waves were gently breaking, like surfers waves in miniature and the retreating sea had carved a long pool of stranded water. I wandered back to the house to spend the remainder of the day tinkering with my old bicycle while pondering my next travel adventure.

No matter where that will take me though, I will always return to enjoy another Portobello Day.