Saturday, 31 July 2010

North Coast Cycle Day 2: Stoer to Durness

The weather was kinder today, the steep grinding climbs and exhilarating descents through cnoc and lochan scenery that comprise the rollercoaster coast road to Kylesku were completed in substantially dry conditions. The photo is of shifting cloud on the summit of Quinaig, not quite to the same standard as yesterday's stolen image of Suilven.

Kylesku teemed with bejacketed southern europeans, enjoying a cool, moist respite from their oppressively hot and sunny summer. Refreshed by lager and fish pie we headed onwards, sheltering from a passing shower in the bar of the Rhiconich Hotel before the long slow ascent to Guilan House and a splendid 10 mile descent to the Kyle of Durness.

Durness is mobbed, the Highland Games having attracted punters from far and wide. The crowds detract slightly from the feeling of being on the edge that the place evokes in its more familiar out of season guise.

Note to self - there is no need to carry tonnes of rations when cycle touring through the northwest, far better to take on provisions one or all of the 4 shops en route.

Friday, 30 July 2010

North coast cycle day 1: Ullapool to Stoer

By bike bus to Ullapool and on into a day of contrasts; a delightful dry sweep through Coigach, remembering hill days past and plotting hill days still to come, then a soggy slog round the coast road to Lochinver. Food stops ended hurriedly, pedalling into the drizzle, fumbling bars with midge-blackened hands. When Suilven appeared briefly it was as a half shadow against the mist.

Beer and pies in Lochinver provided a welcome chance to dry off, only to become soaked once again on the short ride to Stoer. We watched the diving gannets until the mist started to permeate the tent, forcing us to batten down the hatches.

The photo is of the only good view of Suilven we got all day - on a placemat in the Lochinver Pie Shop.

Hopefully a drier day awaits tomorrow.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Turned down in Melbourne

Not being accustomed to luxurious living I was, until very recently, blissfully unaware of the existence of 'turn down' services. The first I heard about it was on the flight to Melbourne when I watched Michael MacIntyre's standup show. In his words, it is when rich people pay poor people to fold back their duvet for them before they get into bed.

Little did I suspect that when I answered a knock on my door on monday evening I was going to be offered just such a service. With MacIntyre's mockery of this absurd activity fresh in my mind I declined, turning down the turn down service.

After a closer examination of my bed I regretted my decision. The service had clearly been provided without my knowledge on previous days and I was quite shocked to see that my bed was in a distinctly un-turned down state.  At some point during the day an intruder had entered my room and supplemented my already entirely adequate pillow collection, festooning the bed  with an array of enormous square units.

Feeling daunted by the prospect of finding a location in which to stow these unwanted fridge-sized cushions, I came within a whisker of ripping the door open and sprinting down the hall after the char lady, pleading with her to return and relieve me of this unexpectedly onerous duty.

I had no hesitation in accepting the offer of a turn down service tonight.

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Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Ben Bhraggie, Golspie

From the village of Golspie Ben Bhraggie appears to be a tiny hill, yet on climbing it I found that it is actually a respectable 1300 ft. It is dwarfed by the whopping 100 ft statue of the Duke of Sutherland that graces (or defaces) its summit. Someone has sprayed 'Monster' across the base of the plinth, a reference to the Duke's role in the Highland Clearances.

A more appropriate tribute to the injustices of the Clearances than this monstrous statue is to be found in the gents toilets of Glasgow's Lismore pub, where each of the urinals are emblazoned with the names of villains of this period, Patrick Sellar, George Granville and Colonel Fell. A plaque on the wall invites the visitor to pay their respects to these reviled individuals by hosing their names down with pish.

As far as I know this form of memorial is unique. It is surprising that more recent personalities have not been commemorated in this way, Maggie Thatcher being an obvious candidate. Now I think about it an obvious extension would be to glaze a likeness of her face onto the porcelain.

In fact why stop there? Why not enamel a picture of Thatcher's face on the back of a toilet pan instead? With a traditional toilet one would have to take careful aim in the hope of decorating her face with a skidmark, so one of the perverted Dutch toilets with a raised, waterless inspection platform would be best for this application. It would then be a relatively simple matter to deposit one's steaming load directly onto the target area.

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Monday, 5 July 2010

Cairngorms: Carn A'Mhaim from Lin of Dee

The southern approaches to the Cairngorms have a charm all of their own, the crunch of granite gravel under the mountain bike tyre, camping amid great stands of Scots pine. All in all a more leisurely and dignified experience than rushing towards the ski infrastructure from the Coire Cas car park to the north.

A fresh perspective on a familiar hill. Ben Macdui from Carn A'Mhaim.

Heading east was the only sensible option given the weekend's weather forecast and what a treat it was, a chance to spend time on some previously unseen country and to catch up with some old friends at the same time. A pleasant change from last weekend's solo trip, and my first visit to the Cairngorms since the last ski trip of the year in May - it seemed incredible in the cooler days of spring that such as vast quantity of snow would simply melt away, but melt it has in this particularly warm and dry summer. 

Campsite in Glen Derry, more reminiscent of North America than of Scotland 

There is something wonderfully subversive about drinking in the great outdoors, free from the roving eyes of CCTV cameras and the influence of authority figures. When you strip away the commercialism and regulation of city fleshpots – the queues, the curfews, the dress codes, the cover charges - all that remains is a raw, primal drinking experience. 

Or so we thought. Imagine our surprise when our camp was visited not once but twice by just such an authority figure, a representative of the National Trust for Scotland, owners of the Mar Lodge Estate. On his first round of the various campsites scattered round the glen he passed on his employer's objection to campfires. On his second visit, an hour or so later, he was armed - almost unbelievably - with a bright yellow bucket full of special ember-dousing water. It must have been special water for it to have been worth his effort to carry his full bucket several hundred metres from his Landrover, rather than using the water from the burn adjacent to our camp.

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