Archive for April, 2009



Postcards from far away part 7

Right. Last one you’ll be glad to hear.

Woke in Glenbrittle for the last glorious time and tried to pack up the tent in the howling gale. It didn’t go well. Will have to re-pack the whole thing when I get home.

You can get off (or indeed on) Skye via the bridge or the ferry. Coming from the north of Scotland we’d come across on the bridge. For the sake of completion we figures the ferry off would be good.

At 30 mins it’s hardly an odyssey but worth it for the photos I think. I think if it wasn’t for the tourists it would be hard to see it as viable.

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We bypassed Mallaig for the scenic route to Fort William. Which was all camp-sites and little beaches.

The weather held off long enough for a decent view of Nevis as we drove in to fort William. Just enough time for us to decided that “yes of course… just not enough time left to climb it old chap, otherwise we’d be up it like a rat up a spout old boy. Yes spiffing, pass the brandy…”

Physical activity avoided we dandered round fort William and found that they’ve finally closed down the really dodgy cinema that we used to go to. To be honest that was all we were in Fort William for.

Farther down the road we stopped at the Bridge of Orchy for the night. Despite the rather odd name it’s set in spectacular countryside and on the path of the west highland way – the track that runs through the highlands and seems popular with the ageing slightly overweight walker. Which is rich coming from the young skinny kid who drove there and didn’t even walk…

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Two nights of “sleeping” in the tent had caught up with me and I was asleep shortly after Chelsea finally put Liverpool to rest for the evening.

Despite having effectively all day to get from the bridge of orchy we still got into Stranraer just 30 mins before the boat sailed.

I’m almost looking forward to going to work tomorrow. And it’s been quite a while since I’ve been able to say that. Maybe I needed the distance, the time away from the place, the sunshine and the altitude and the craic. Maybe I just needed the holiday.

Not that I’m quite that naive. Me feeling generally miserable about life is not so easily blamed on work (as much as I would like to), nor even on dad dying (which was most inconsiderate of him).

There are no sound byte answers. There is no “know it all”, slightly self righteous and arrogant so and so (like me for instance) just round the corner who will say “you know what your problem is…”

The only single common denominator that I can find in it all is me. What a surprise that all this narcissistic naval gazing would come up with such an answer.

Back to the real world I think.

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Postcards from far way part 6

We pitched the tent for maximum view though it is unfortunately a tad exposed to the wind.

At 2am the wind was blowing a gale and the slightly loose bit of the tent was flapping almost loudly enough to completely drown out sparky’s snoring. Though only almost, he still broke through on occasion.

This would never have happened if simy was here – he knows how to put a tent up proper. it’s all rectilinear and even tension on the guy ropes.

I got a crap night’s sleep. That about covers it.

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Woke to a blustery cold morning but still barely a cloud in sight. After a leisurely cuppa and an improvised brekkie we headed for the hills up the highest peak in the Cuillins on the advice of the bloke in the shop who said it “wasn’t too bad”.

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I figured that directions up a mountain aren’t quite the same as those you need to find the nearest filling station and so I bought a map just to be sure. I’m always more comfortable when I have a map.

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We rocketed through the first 500m to the loch at the base of the ridge and enjoyed a lovely lunch of churizo and stale bread.

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The next bit is known as the great chute which is basically an exceptionally slow river of shale that the mountain slowly ejects from the split rock through the repeated process of freezing and melting.

Climbing up this is 2 forward and 1 back which is all a bit discouraging and a little bit disconcerting when it’s at a 45 degree angle.

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The view was worth it. The view is always worth it. The ridge itself was simply petrifying. It has been literally years since I’ve done any ridge walking and I’d forgotten the dizzying sense of scale it gives you.

Sgurr alisdair (could be a sigur ros song) stands at 993m and looks across to the appropriately named inaccessible pinnacle which we could see nutters with ropes attempting to scale.

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It was now that we realized that getting up is less than half the battle getting down is where the tricky bit really comes.

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Ridges start as shale slopes that become increasingly steep as you ascend. To become near vertical just at the ridge itself. It makes them relatively straightforward to traverse but a real nightmare to get off.

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We (wisely) laid up and descended down the way we came. Which turned out to be a lot more fun than we thought cause when you’re descending it doesn’t really matter if the ground you’re standing on gives way. In fact that’s just what you want. It ends up as a (less than) controlled slide down the mountain. Lots of fun.

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By the time we reached sea level again the legs were like jelly. Bring on the endorphins.

There is still something wonderful about a good shower when you haven’t had one for a few days. When your face and hands are a bit burnt from the exposure and all your muscles ache.

Tucked up in the tent full of BBQ and chocolate, listening to sparky chortle intermittently to Puckoon. I’m ready for a night of blissful unconsciousness listening to the new Anathallo.

Here’s hoping.

Postcards from far away part 5

Woke to the view of the harbour in Portree and a quality brekkie and a sit on the pier reading Volf.

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Drove to the north west of the island (yesterday was the north east) stopping for photos of the sweeping moors and old churches while listening to page cxvi.

Skye is a pretty big place, geographically anyhow, despite the fact that all the people seem to live in Broadford or Portree.

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The north west seems to be one of the more deserted areas and more than anywhere seems to remind me of NZ – and let’s face it all this is an attempt to get back there.

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We stopped at Dunvegan where the Mcleods had murdered the Macdonalds in huge numbers in 1550. They attacked by surprise while they were all in church. Not that one group were heathen and the other Christian. Both were Christian be they still murdered each other. Maybe there’s a common denominator that’s not religion running through all these. We seem to be able to do horrible things to each other no matter what our creed.

There are memorials to all this on the penninsula. A reminder that whole communities once inhabited this place before it became the dominion of the sheep.

People lived and died here on the western most parts of civilisation. They lived and brought up their kids overlooking the western isles knowing that the clan divisions may bring their downfall at any point.

What would they think of us?

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Me and sparky sat in the ruins of one of their houses and held our own communion service. Here at the end of the world we broke bread and wine (or biscuit and whisky) and had a few readings from the gospels and declared the joy and hope of the resurrection. CHRIST is risen, hallelujah.

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Here at the end of the world I recommit myself to the faith, the hope and the glory. To the great story that I find myself in but yet do no comprehend. I do not often know why I stick with it. I keep thinking of the quote from the disciples that “where else o lord would we go”.

Here at the end of the world I acknowledge my brokenness and struggles, the immense sense of loss that accompanies everything I do these days.

Here at the end of the world I find the tears and the laughter that will take me home.

Anyhow.

By this stage the sun was out and determined to make up for it’s absence over the past few days. The windows were wound down. The sun roof was open, the sunny tunes (unsurprisingly I only have about an hour or so of these on the iPod) were on. I was stopping every 5 mind or so for photos of the rapidly approaching mountains.

The Cuillins are truly spectacular. Huge, ridged, stony mountains that seen to explode from the earth.

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They fill me with me with awe and fear in equal measure.

At the base of the mountains beside a gravelly beach lies Glenbrittle camp-site. Which has jumped to number one in my all time favourite camp site list.

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Huge soaring mountains in the background, a sweeping sun lit bay in the foreground. Camp Volvo was established. We didn’t even need the awning I’d designed for the car. When I planned this trip this type of campsite was what I had in mind.

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I finally got to try the portable BBQ that Morsies had bought me for Christmas. Despite needing 4 firelighters to get it started (the consequence of leaving my charcoal sitting out the back of at john’s all winter) it cooked up a storm accompanied by some coffee, some red and the chorizo sausage I bought in Inverness.

By now it was only 7pm and I hadn’t even started the Sunday times.

The sun sets and leaves us campers surviving by the glow of propane and the shelter of the nylon. This may be British summer time but I am currently wearing a hat and 7 layers on top and 3 pair of trousers. I am exceptionally cosy it must be said. That in itself is kind of satisfying.

The Cuillins raise their intimidating profile in the background. Weather permitting we’ll have a go.

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Postcards from far away part 4

Most of what you do on an island like this is largely weather dependant.

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And the weather has not exactly been great. The west of Scotland is famous for rain and it is not prone to disappoint.

We woke to a wet, rainy day. With a bit of cold thrown in for good measure.

I left Spuddy down to the port to catch a ferry over to Mallaig. In order to reach home he has a 13 hour journey ahead. First I leave him to the ferry for a 25 min journey to the mainland. From here he gets a 5 hour train that runs from Mallaig to Glasgow. He texted and told us it was like Northern Ireland railway back in the bad old days.

At present he should be in Glasgow waiting for a bus to the airport for a flight to Belfast. He has a full iPod and a laptop and a few books. He’ll be fine I’m sure.

You could get to Capetown in less time but to get the the short distance between west Scotland and Ireland takes 13 hours.

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Anyhow. That leaves be and sparky up to our own devices with a Volvo and a full tank.

We drove north east through countryside that was virtually identical to Donegal with weather to match. Some quality driving. And to be fair to Skye it finally stopped raining long enough for us to get out of the car an explore a bit.

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The wind did it’s best to deter us but we weren’t to be tired. I figure if Mcdowell got blown over the cliff then I could just live off the insurance money.

We even climbed a mountain. 500 meters of mud and heather and wind. Great bant. Good photos.

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Skye continues to amaze me. If I was a Celt in the 5th century I’d move back to the Mediterranean and open a casino in a principality, not move to Skye.

But it seems that they did. And they built houses and castles and farmed and subsisted and survived.

Like most things before the 18th century I’m not really sure it happened. Stranger things happen though eh?

History aside it’s a pretty place when covered in microfleece and gortex.

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Now I’m in portree in a pub with no reception for the phone and every word of the Saturday Guardian. It’s the type of pub where the hairy wanderer in the corner can bring his dog too.

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All good.

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Postcards from far away part 3

Sitting in a hotel on the isle of Skye with a working wi-fi connection. Catching up on the whole blogging thing.

Lots of driving today. From Perth to Inverness in one run through some of the most pleasant and unpleasant weather I’ve ever seen in one day. Good scenery. Good tunes. Good times.

In Inverness we were in t-shirts in the sun. 20 mins up the road alongside Loch Ness we were fully wrapped up. The joys of Scottish weather.

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The Loch Ness monster is an odd kind of myth. Though it seems to make a lot of money from the looks of things.

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One of the great joys of road trip is the actual driving. I have always loved driving for the sake of driving. Not the speed or anything just the bant and the tunes and the scenery.

The standard iPod rules are as follows. Everyone gets to choose 3 songs at a time. No same day repeats.

Humerous place names of note
– Wick
– and a B&B ran by a guy called William Dick. Just imagine the nicknames.

Ended up on Skye. Which was the whole point of the trip in the first place. Skye is just as fantastic as I thought it would be. This is somewhere I have always wanted to come.

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The weather on the way in was a bit dubious and scared us out of camping so we ended up in a lovely wee b&b overlooking the Scottish coastline. It’s kind of like Donegal on a good day.

Good feed. Good ale. A cornetto sitting on the pier watching the sun set. This is about as good as it gets. Apart from the cold. Having driven 500 slightly zig zagged miles across Scotland I think we’ll probably find ourselves ensconsed here for the rest of the trip. Bring it on.

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Postcards from far away part 2

Last post was on the ferry right?

Lost of driving to Edinburgh. Lots of sleeping done by the boys in between choosing songs.

We have a fairly standard system in place. Everyone chooses 3 songs in the ‘on the go’ play list on the iPod. 3 songs. No more no less.

Generally no repeats in the same day allowed. Spuddy always tries to get as much as possible by choosing obscure U2, 10 minute b-sides.

Passes the time at least and keeps the bitching to a minimum.

Edinburgh is a simply lovely city. On only my second time there I love the place. Good buildings. Good parks. It has a bug hill in the middle and a castle with a few of the sea. What more could one ask for.

Cities like Edinburgh make me want to live in a city.

Good restaurants with pretty waitresses and nice parks and a functioning (though debatable) public transport system.

We went to the royal college of surgeons museum to look at brutal dental instruments and stare at obscure bits of pathology before penicillin and CT scanners and the germ theory. Fascinating stuff. Highly recommended.

Met up with young Miss Quinn who kindly fed us and provided us with profiteroles and a walk along the beach.

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Stayed the night with the Orrs in their wonderful almost Dickensian house with the great old grandfather clock and the mice (who failed to make an appearance).

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The hospitality was of course exquisite. I am always amazed by the way people will go out of their way to provide for us bums in the midst of busyness and jobs and all that. Rest assured it was much assured.

Bed was taken to with great gusto.

Today was originally intended to be a day in the hills helping Dave bag another Munro. Unfortunately the Scottish weather had other ideas and made us give up at Crianlarich and sit in the restaurant trying to come up with a plan B.

Plan B was drive back down the road to Perth to go to the cinema and watch gran turino. There were limited options.

Going to matinees always makes the day feel much later than it really is.

Found ourselves a B&B and a decent Italian restaurant to fill the bellies. Poor sparky had been struggling all day with a good old man-flu but managed to have a good go at a steak and crawl off to bed.

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Dave made his way back to Edinburgh and me and spud headed out to see what Perth had to offer.

Turned out that was a pub ran by a guy from Newry. All very pleasant really

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So far road trip has been most productive and positively social having managed to catch up and put the world to rights with two very good friends who I don’t see nearly enough of.

However there has been a distinct lack of reading with the feet up and a very definite lack of sunshine. The former at least is soon to be corrected.

Postcards from far away part 1

(As this is now the third time I’ve had to write this it will be understandably brief. The other two drafts have been lost into the ether. The joys of mobile blogging)

We got an early boat to Scotland for road trip. Me, sparky and spuddy. Everyone very tired.

Looking forward to it. More to follow.

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