Monday, 27 July 2009

Wickerman Festival

A rather different type of outdoor activity this weekend. To celebrate the occasion of Mearnsey Boy's stag doo we journeyed to sunny Dumfries-shire to enjoy the Wickerman Festival. The famed southwest microclimate didn't disappoint, dispensing bright sunshine from a blue sky.
I was most impressed by the festival itself. It was a good size, yet it was never uncomfortably busy. We were not jostled or pushed, nobody spilled any drinks on us, there were no fights or disagreements. I think one of the things that made the crowd so agreeable was a distinct lack of those in the 20 – 30 age group.

Perhaps they were discouraged from attending by the lineup, which didn't look particularly inspiring on paper. In the flesh however it was a different matter – the festival exceeded all my expectations. The Saturday evening kicked off with Candi Staton, the woman who, with the Source, recorded the first piece of electronic music that I ever enjoyed, 'You got the love'. At the time I was a died in the wool rocker and couldn't admit that I liked it, not even to myself. Now, a quite incredible 23 years later, I had no qualms about throwing my hands up in the air as instructed.

Sometimes I feel like throwing my hands up in the air....

At the perimeter of the arena a large sign proclaimed the presence of a urinal. This was the most civilised urinal I had ever seen – you simply urinated through the fence into the thicket beyond. On my second visit I noticed that I had been mistaken. The urinal sign was actually the wall of a urinal enclosure. As I watched, a reveler even more confused than I by the toilet etiquette let rip on the exterior of the hoardings, hosing down the feet and legs of those who had actually taken the trouble to use the facilities properly.

An easy mistake to make

Next up was Dreadzone, an act that I hadn't previously heard of. Their best work was a delightful fusion of reggae and techno with a thumping bass. At times a slightly rocky undertone crept in completing the holy trinity - all the best elements of Linton Kwesi Johnson, Slam and AC/DC rolled into one. The effect was one of revelation. I knew immediately that this was the music that I had been searching for, that my life up to that point had been no more than a prelude to my discovery of Dreadzone.
I find the rabbit on the right rather disturbing
The Wickerman stood atop a knoll to the left of the stage, holding aloft a book. I am told that it was an effigy of Rabbie Burns but I could not make out his trademark sideburns from my viewpoint. He was burned, to an accompaniment of fireworks, around midnight, after which we retired to the dance music tents.

The Wickerman burns

Morning brought a stiff wind and driving rain, decimating the campsite. When we rose round midday a scene of absolute devastation. awaited. Empty beer cans rattled past. Abandoned tents slumped in every direction, their sodden flaps fluttering in the wind. On occasion whole tents cartwheeled past, racing with other festival debris - inflatable sofas, sleeping mats and carrier bags - to the perimeter fence. Most were trapped against the wire but one plucky tent vaulted the fence and became lodged atop a caravan. I thought what a waste of the world's resources it is to manufacture such low quality tents. Not only the oil and aluminium, also the lives of the Chinese factory workers who assemble these shoddy tents in satanic oriental sweatshops, working long hours for low pay, living miserable, homesick existences in the farflung dormitories of vile industrial cities where pollution hides the sun.
Morning devastation
We surveyed the pile of cans in the centre of our disassembled camp, then cast our eyes over the litter strewn site. To remove a few dozen cans would make no difference whatsoever. Shamefacedly we skulked off to the carpark, feeling sullied by having lowered ourselves to an act of littering. I imagined the wind whipping a plume of litter from the festival site out over the surrounding countryside – perhaps sufficiently large that it may be visible from outer space.

Not one of our party had to subject themselves to the ordeal of the festival toilet, that vile game of Jenga where, rather than placing a his wooden stick on a swaying tower, the player has to balance a log atop a teetering mound of Mister Whippy. I was not to escape unscathed, for at Hamilton services a huge toly awaited me, peeping from within a tangled nest of twin-ply. No attempt had been made to flush it away. I knew ahead of us on the road was a carload of my associates, each incubating a foul brown cargo. This bore all the hallmarks of their handiwork.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Lewis and Harris now a viable weekend venue!

I was delighted to learn that last Sunday, the 19th of July 2009, marked the first Sunday sailing between Stornoway and Ullapool.
My friend Kris and I spent a Sunday in Stornoway during a hitching trip round Scotland in 1993. There was little to do and had there been a ferry we would have left the island. In those days the swings were padlocked and there were no pubs that officially opened their doors. Fortunately we had been tipped off by a local that the Crown Hotel unofficially opened its back doors between the hours of 1100 and 1300. As we walked through the deserted streets to the securely bolted front door we felt sure that we had been spun a line, but on turning into the car park at the rear of the premises a faint noise of revelry reached our ears: the chink of glasses; the muffled roar of barroom chat. We entered through a fire exit which lay ajar and passed through the gents’ toilets to the packed main bar. The fun came to an end on schedule at 1300, but the locals left with bulging carrier bags, beer cans straining at the sides, to continue their celidh elsewhere. I realised there and then that Sabbath Observance is not the will of the people; it is a reflection of the fact that in our supposedly secular society an unacceptable amount of power still rests in the hands of the church.
I returned to the Long Isle of Lewis and Harris in the spring of 2007 while cycling the length of the Outer Hebrides northwards from Barra. The sanctity of the Sabbath was being threatened by Sunday ferries and we saw notices advertising a protest that had been planned by the Lord's Day Observance Society. Protesting the proposed Sunday ferry presented the Society with a terrible conundrum. They could hardly form a picket line on the Sabbath. Accordingly their protest would pass unnoticed, consisting as it did of indoor prayer and sermonising. Was this an echo of the past, destined to grow fainter with every funeral, or were the ranks of the Sabbath Observance Society swollen with earnest young suit-wearing men like Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses?

Those island residents who were in favour of Sunday sailings were quick to point out the double standards of the Lord's Day Observers. They reported that the very same people who were so vigorously opposed to Sunday ferry sailings had no qualms about using other forms of public transport on the Sabbath, conveying themselves to church by bus and taxi.

I welcome sunday sailings. Not only does it make Lewis and Harris a viable weekend venue from Inverness, it is a sign that democracy is gaining ground over hypocrisy in the Outer Hebrides.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Monday, 20 July 2009

Isle of Erraid

Caught in my torch beam, a tiny plover chick crouched low to the sand and froze. All the colours of its adult plumage were mirrored in its coat of fluffy down. The thin golden ring round its neck sparkled like tinsel. I looked up to prospect the much anticipated midnight wade across the sound of Erraid and was mildly disappointed to find the channel completely dry, as though the the waters had been parted.

Night marches with heavy pack are normally the preserve of the winter season. We had been served up an opportunity to enjoy one in the height of summer courtesy of the 2230 ferry from Oban and the best part of forty miles of Mull single track from Craignure. To make the walk a bit more sporting Donald and I were carrying a case of lager between us in a Tesco bag-for-life. As we crossed the hinterland of Erraid towards Traigh Gheal, the white beach, heather and dwarf willow tugged at the bag, impeding our progress across the moor. The night was moonless. Above the lurking shadows of the craggy granite hillsides stars began to sparkle.
It is always a great pleasure to emerge into a beautiful landscape from a tent pitched in the dark. The campsite was pristine, short grass beside a beach of whitest sand. Litter was conspicuous by its absence, there was not even the usual flotsam – no fishing nets, floats, rubber gloves or shampoo bottles. Orange and yellow lichen complimented the feldspar pink of the granite domes.
An otter hunted for crabs amid submerged broken blocks. As he enjoyed his catch he floated on a fringe of seaweed, its spaghetti strands pressed by the wind onto the surface of the turquoise water. A warm sunny day was dawning, perfect for a morning's climbing on the clean granite crags that had drawn us here.
The area is featured much more prominently in Gary Latter's new Scottish Rock guidebook than in it was in the old SMC guide so it is bound to grow in popularity. I hope it remains unspoiled. The rock is excellent, the location peerless.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Is shandy a sports drink?

The idea of loading of loading my bike up and setting off on an adventure directly from home has always appealed to me. Last weekend I had the opportunity to indulge myself - my friends Paul and Robin have been working on a project to cycle the north and west coasts in a series of long weekends, relying solely on public transport to get to and from each section. Their itinerary would take them by the morning Bike Bus to Braemore junction and onto the coast road south, overnighting in Kinlochewe and Lochcarron before travelling onwards to Mallaig via Skye. I was unable to depart until after lunch so cycled from my house to meet them in Kinlochewe. Next day I accompanied them round the coast road to Lochcarron via Applecross.

There is something tremendously satisfying about undertaking a journey under one's own steam that would normally necessitate the use of a motor vehicle. The 55 miles from my home outside Inverness to Kinlochewe took a mere 3'15" in the saddle. I also spent an hour out of the saddle, including a surreal visit to Contin Stores. The shop was in darkness due to a powercut. I had to borrow a torch from the proprietor in order to locate the biscuits in the gloom at back of the shop. As I paid for my sugary purchases of sweets, biscuits and energy drinks it occured to me that cycling may not actually be any cheaper than driving when you take into account the amount of food required to maintain an average speed of 17 mph on an fully laden bike. I was however being extravagant, a bag of oat meal would have supplied flapjacks and mealy water that would have sustained me every bit as well for a fraction of the cost.

As I cycled away my mind wandered from the financial cost of bike fuel versus car fuel to the amount of energy required by each mode of transportation. In terms of the actual energy expended per mile the bicycle beats the car hands down. But what of the total energy cost of manufacturing, packaging and shipping those Licquorice Allsorts, Tangfastics, Sport Mixtures and Lucozade Sport to Contin? It all adds up.
After the long haul up Strathbran the final descent from the Viewpoint to Kinlchewe was a wide, smooth delight. I settled in the hotel bar. Presently Paul and Robin arrived. In an effort to rehydrate I gradually decreased the amount of lemonade added to my cooking lager, shifting to tops after a couple of shandies and ending the night drinking neat lager.
It is a curious feature of Germanic culture that shandy, or Radler as they call it, is regarded as a sports drink. Judging by the labelling it is particularly appropriate for cycling applications. I ingested a couple after our perfectly timed 1100 arrival in Shieldaig on saturday and can can vouch for its effectiveness. I found that it alleviated the sore head that had been afflicting me on the morning's climbs. I am not so sure, however, that the trio of Radlers that accompanied my lunch at the Applecross Inn did anything for my performance on the climb up the mighty 620 m Bealach na Ba.
I became increasingly flatulent as we crept up towards the summit, undigested fish and chips thrashing in a sea of shandy within, and was glad of the opportunity to pause and savour one of my favourite views, out to the Cuillin of Skye and Rum.

It was a tremendous relief to roll into the Wee Campsite in Lochcarron, lie down and let my lunch digest and my wind dissipate. If I'd had one of those charcoal dog biscuits I'd have eaten it. Had the chance presented itself, I might even have gone so far as to steal one from a dog.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Pioneering Puffins on Handa Island

Back in June we took a trip to the Handa Island nature reserve. It is located off the northwest coast, near to the village of Scourie. Access is granted by a small motorboat capable of carrying ten or so passengers. It was the prospect of viewing puffins that drew us there. I am very glad that puffins exist. Viewing them cheers me. I view with suspicion anyone not uplifted by their presence.

There puffins do not nest on the island itself, but on top of the Great Stack of Handa (above). The stack is very close to the island so the birds are still easy to observe. The main island is was previously infested with rats who would eat the eggs and young, so the puffins wisely retreated to the sanctuary of the stack. The pamphlet provided by the warden reported that although the rats were exterminated in 1997, the puffins have yet to recolonise the main island .

We did see one pair of pioneering puffins on the main island, nesting in a burrow among the thrift flowers (above). The twelve year gap shows that being born after the extermination of the rats was not in itself sufficient to encourage the puffins to recolonise the main island. Perhaps the puffins stayed put until the last of their number who could remember the rats had passed away, and the association between nesting on the main island and the threat of predation by rats began to fade from the folk memory of the puffins.

Labels: , , , , ,


The banner photo above was taken when descending from Ben Cruachan after a day's winter climbing. For a few moments we stood transfixed as the alpenglow turned our world a deep, vivid pink. As the weak February sun sank lower the colour faded away as suddenly as it had appeared.

Among the purple shadows and glinting ice crystals lies something truly ethereal - the essence of the time and place in which the photo was taken. My intention for this blog is to capture such transience using the written word; to save and to share experiences that may otherwise trickle away unnoticed.

This Page

has moved to a new address:

Sorry for the inconvenience…

Redirection provided by Blogger to WordPress Migration Service