Thursday, 21 November 2013

On cartoons, unclehood and a moose-fish story

I know I haven't been posting a lot, but I do have some fun cartoons to pass on. This one from "Rhymes with orange came out in May, but I kept putting off using it. However, the current November weather has brought it make in my mind.
This one from "Pearls before Swine" rather captures my opinion for professional cycling in general and Lance Armstrong in particular.

This one from Bizarro doesn't have any message but very much amuses me, given the varying definitions of "biker"!

This last one is from Stone Soup. I like as it embodies one of my pet games with various nieces. It also illustrates one of the dangers of the practise! The perils of unclehood.
Finally, there was an interesting moose related fish story on the CBC today. It seems a Greenland shark nearly choked on a moose hide!

P.S. November 22, 2013
According the CBC, the moose eating shark incident has gone viral with others making their comments and images. Some of them are hilarious.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

On how my nieces have grown

I have just got off Skype with Alice and company, direct from their vacation on Salt Spring Island. The short version is, "My God, Anna and Maria have grown tremendously!"  Anna is now talking a mile a minute in long sentences. Maria can now walk with assistance. I now realise I haven't seen them since January.
A screen shot from Skype
Perhaps foolishly, I asked if I might visit them on my winter vacation at the end of February.  Foolishly, as Sioux Lookout is not easy to get to from Montreal.  I can almost say, "Thank God, I don't have a car, or else I might be tempted to drive there!" ;-)  I just checked on Google maps and the distance is about 2000 km!

I was flattered to learn that Anna is mistaking my brother Stephen for me. Apparently, I made a sufficient impression in her mental space that she assumes very large (to her) uncles with dark hair and grey-shot beards are me! Stephen and I are relatively alike in size and shape though I am a bit trimmer. Anna also commented that I had a "pink forehead".  I tried to explain that I was going bald like her Pappy but I don't think the message go through.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

On cute niece photos

Alice posted this wonderful photo of Anna which I am shamelessly reproducing.  It makes perfect sense from Anna's perspective.
If you let a 2 year old help you take the laundry out...
In addition, Kristine sent me this photograph of my niece-cousin Julianne about to run in a Terry Fox event wearing the "speedy" biking shirt I had given her four years ago. Evidently, I had bought a shirt with lots of room to grow.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

On "starting at the top"

Way back in the mists of family lore, that is to say circa 1982, my brother Stephen completed five sections of the Canadian Ski Marathon, a number then unheard of in my immediate family (though not unknown as my aunt Margo had previously secured a certain immortality by doing a Coureur de Bois by skiing all ten sections of the tour.)  Afterwards, he was asked where did it hurt. He coined a family saying (and we have many) by saying "Well, starting at the top..."

I feel a bit like that today.

I participated in the Eastern Township's Challenge, which started in Farnham this year. After meeting my parents at the Belle Province in Ange-Gardien (a.k.a. St-Proche-de l'Autoroute and Kilometer 55) for breakfast, we drove into Farnham for the start. Based on weather reports, standard weather patterns and topographical curves, I concluded that the easiest lengthened version of the tour would be to take the first optional section which added 34 kms to the standard 100 km route.

After passing a string of DOT 111 tanker cars parked on a railway line, doubtless waiting for the MMA to haul them to St-John, New Brunswick via Lac-Mégantic, I headed North along a road that lay next to the Farnham Garrison of the Canadian Army. I picked up a tailwind that alarmed me at a certain level as I knew I would have, not only go against it back to Farnham, but also for the bulk of the ride. Returning to Farnham, I passed a small number of soliders carrying a lot of kit and rifles marching slowly away from the main part of the base. They didn't look very happy. A little later I heard gunfire as I pedalled steadily against the wind.

Fifteen kilometers after rejoing the regular route, I paused at a junction for a break and to decide which way I should go. On the left was the start of the optional section that cut 26 km off the total distance. On the right was the regular route. I haven't done much excursion biking since the Scottish trip. I was very tempted, heck, sorely tempted to opt for the shorter route which would have resulted in a 110 km day. I went right.

This was pretty. Pretty scenery and pretty frustrating as it was in open pastures into a rare South wind. It did take me to Lake Champlain for the first time in about thirty years. However, I wasn't very happy. My back has been giving me issues for the last few weeks and it played up again under the relative strain. Consequently, when I got to the lunch stop in Frelighsburg (after 95 kilometers and up a dirt road) I asked at the First Aid truck if they had any Advil or the like. I was displeased to learn that by law they couldn't give even such basic medicine out!  After lunch, I found a dépanneur which sold me some Tylenol.  After that, it was a slog over some hills and a stop for a bottle of local wine before an illegally rapid (65.6 km/h) descent into Dunham with the wind behind me.

By the time I got back to Farnham, I had covered 139.71 kilometers and was quite tired. The parents had got there somewhat earlier but were waiting for me with chocolate milk.

Between the relative lack of training and other issues, I rather ache right now, despite a nice hot bath and a couple of gin and tonics. Mind you, my average speed was 21.3 km/h which is respectable given the wind.

My mother writes:
Your father and I biked 105 km.  My average speed at lunch (or was it Philipsburg?) was 17.7 km/hr.  After lunch there was the wind behind and lots of downhill.  I felt I was tootling along often at 25 or 30.  And my avg at the end was 17.7 km/hr!!

Did you read the sign on the Anglican church in Philipsburg? That church, the third in Philipsburg, had its cornerstone blessed by Archbishop Bond (my great-great-grandfather).  It was on Montgomery Road. The Montgomerys were second cousins, Bond side, of my mother.  There was a George Montgomery. who was a judge and bird watcher and Enid Montgomery, his sister, I think, who was married to a MacFarlane.  She was character, lived and farmed in Philipsburg, was a vegetarian, which caused my mother much anguish when she came to lunch.  Rather resembled the White Queen (Alice in Wonderland), straggly white hair and vague, is my memory.  There was a son, Hugh.  Still around??  Canada411 has a J R MacFarlane on Montgomery Road.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

On my reputation at my local bike shop

I have been patronising Martin Swiss Cycles for over a decade and I have got to know the people there moderately well. In turn, they know me fairly well and are very fond of Floria dei Fledermoose, or as they call her, "Batmoose", owing to the logo I put on the front stem. Anyway, when I brought her in for an overhaul yesterday, I asked them with no shame if they wouldn't mind also installing the "thumb" bell that Margo had "given Floria". This neat little bell is designed to be attached to Shimano shifter/brake levers on road bikes in such a way that in order to ring the bell, a rider need only lift his or her thumb. The bell came with instructions, but as shifter/brake levers are somewhat complex things (and I don't even pretend to know how they really work) I didn't feel comfortable "shoving" a third party widget into part of the braking system, even if only for the front brakes! These bells can be adjusted for either left or right hand use and I asked the shop that it be installed on the left.  As much as possible, I put my handlebar accessories (bells, bike computer, etc.) on the left in order to leave the right hand on the rear brake lever as much as possible.

I seemed to have digressed somewhat. Anyway, the guy taking Floria from me accepted my request without a fuss.  Indeed, he seemed quite happy to do it.  I like to think I am a slightly exotic and therefore interesting customer at the shop. My take on the place is the bulk of their customers fall into the categories of MAMILs (a.k.a. Middle Aged Men In Lycra or Spandex bikers), Westmount kids, riders of comfort bikes and some wannabe mountain bikers.  While I could be accused of belonging to the first category (I am a middle aged man who has been known to wear Lycra), I defend my "honour" by pointing out that my tires are far too wide and my bikes too heavy and practical for me to be a true MAMIL.  The fact that Floria has a milk crate attached on the back means I would have a hard time being truly accepted by the MAMIL community. ;-)  (Incidentally, I noticed a "factory" version of milk crate bike basket on sale at the Shop!)  All this to say, that I am an outlier among their customers as they don't get all that many hard core cycle commuters or bike tourers. Hence, I like to think that I am memorable.
The "Thumb bell" installed
When I picked Floria up at lunchtime today, the thumb bell was installed as requested. After settling the bill (Martin Swiss isn't cheap but they do good work), I set off on my business of the day. The bell is surprisingly loud given its size and very handy. Almost too handy. ;-)  However, I still haven't got used to its location yet as a couple of times, I found myself reaching for the older bell mounted near the stem rather than the handy one!
The other side for comparison

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

On a saying of mine being proved right

I am known for having stated a number of times in various contexts with regards to pregnancy due dates: "Babies can't read calendars". Before any ardent feminists jump on me, I will freely admit that as a never married male with no background in medicine, I can't say this is based on anything but observations of a less than statistically valid number of pregnancies of women of various ages as well as heresay from various women and doctors.

Having stated that disclaimer, I haven't run into anyone who disagreed with the basic notion as it really is a very basic observation. Furthermore, this article from the BBC website, more or less proves the fundamental accuracy of my statement, as well as reinforcing the notion that science, for all its wonders, still has a lot to learn about how we come into this world.

Monday, 8 July 2013

On the end of the trip

I have an odd affection for Waverley Train Station. For some reason its location in the former Nor'Loch and the sloping access ramps make it appear to disappear into the cityscape. This is evidently nothing more than the exploitation of practical realities yet somehow it strikes me as being an elegant solution to the demands of the situation. As well, the way the platforms are laid to include both terminating and through lines heading both East and West struck me as maximizing the number of platforms that may reached without recourse to stairs, lifts and ramps.

Consequently, I was a trifle disappointed that my train to Wolverhampton was on a platform that required me to use a pair of lifts to get to. This may have been a consequence of it a Virgin Trains service rather than a ScotRail service! ;-) However, it got me to Wolverhampton on a beautiful day and on time so I guess I shouldn't complain.

I made Wolverhampton my jump-off point to get to Izzy and John as I had found Birmingham tricky to get out of on my previous trip to Bromyard. (As discussed in a previous entry.) I correctly surmised that Wolverhampton would be an easier proposition. It did involve a fair distance on the relatively busy A449 (a far cry from the single track "A" road on Mull), but the road was in great shape and there was a tailwind.

Around Kidderminster, I began to encounter an issue that I'd not really had in the Highlands: rural navigation.  Outside of towns, there is rarely the question of which route to take in the Highlands as there is usually only one option. Conversely, there were many roads I could have taken to Bromyard. Not that it challenged me, but it was a change of pace. 

I stopped for 'arf a pint in Great Whitley at the Hundred House Hotel as is traditional. Well, I also did it last time. Just afterwards are a couple of stiff hills. On the second, out of Stanford Bridge, a Toyota Land Cruiser with a license plate that read "KITTY" stopped just past me. A woman of about my age with a posh accent and a toddler in the back seat stated that I must be exhausted and offered to give me a lift. I declined as politely as my breathless state would allow. I didn't say that as I had beat the Highlands, I wasn't going to let Herefordshire beat me!

I got to Bromyard ahead of my ETA. John and Izzy were having a Paralympic tennis player to tea. Mrs. Plum, their Schnauzer greeted me with enthusiasm which was a shade painful as her claws scratched my bare shins! Nice dog though.

John and Izzy were their typical, slightly warped selves and I wouldn't have them any other way.

The next day, I visited Lower Brockhampton, a nearby moated manor house from about the 15th century. The moat was mostly a statement by the owner saying how rich he was! It was very strange to see the ancient woodwork. As well, the handout explained that the exposed half-timbers were limewashed instead of being painted black (as is generally the custom in that part of England) as the limewash allowed the wood to breath and dry thus preventing rot.

When I got back to John and Izzy, John was very interested in what I'd seen as he'd never been there despite it only being 2 miles away. One of his queries was which family had owned it! I couldn't remember as it hadn't interested me. Likewise, I hadn't a clue who owns Scone Palace much to his disappointment. John is highly knowledgeable about the ins and outs of British gentle families. He is also please as Punch to have an entry in Who's Who.

I stopped by the house of their son Ben who is currently not speaking the rest of the family for reasons that I don't have sufficient accurate knowledge of to comment upon. As luck would have it he, his wife Charlotte and Oliver, their youngest son, were there on a weekday. I hadn't been able to contact Ben ahead of time but he was happy to see me. We had a chat and a cuppa. Oliver was born a couple of months after my last visit. At that time, Ben confided in me that he and Charlotte had decided they would name the expected baby Oliver after an older brother of Ben's would died in his twenties having always been a sickly individual (blind among other things). However, as Izzy was pressuring him to do so, he was telling Izzy they were going to name the baby something else in order to tease her.

Izzy insisted on driving me to Worcester in order to catch the train back to Didcot. I accepted as I had acquired a couple of large books in Bromyard. By careful use of National Rail Enquiries website, I'd been able to identify a train that went directly from Worcester to Didcot.

Elly was just walking out the side door as I rolled up.  She greeted me with the news that her brother Justin and family would be having supper there the next evening. This was very good news as I hadn't seen Justin since 1990! Elly's daughter Caddy was back from her term at Oxford. She is frightfully bright and hardworking. Also vaguely embarrassed by her parents which is normal at her age (20).

The next day, I took the train into London and finally managed to see Westminster Abbey after three unsuccessful tries over twenty-three years! It was a strange experience as there are layers and layers of history to the place. It is final resting places of many great kings and queens as well many lesser kings and queens, not to mention a great many lesser men and women. Also memorials to many who weren't buried there. I got the impression of Victorian clutter. As well there was awe at being in the presence of the remains of figures such as Saint King Edward the Confessor, King Richard II, King Edward I (a.k.a. "Longshanks" and "Hammer of the Scots"), Henry's III, V and VII, Queens Mary Tudor and Mary Stuart a.k.a. Mary, Queen of Scots, Queen Elizabeth I and Geoffrey Chaucer.

I wanted to buy a few things in London afterwards, however my progress was grossly slowed by London's Gay Pride Parade. A royal pain in the ass, especially in conjunction with London's somewhat convoluted street plan. I was quite worried about making the train I wanted back, but I made it.

Justin, wife Sophie, and children Anthony, Henry and Charlotte had arrived at Elly's before me. We had a lovely barbecue as the kids lost badminton shuttlecocks in the garden. Caddy was in the uncomfortable position of being the only one in her age range. Even more awkward for her was the fact that it came out that one of her future tutors/professors in Oxford had taught history to Anthony at his middle school or some such. His school is one aimed at the children of boffins or something like that.

I spent this morning packing and disassembled Leonardo. Elly drove me to the station where I caught a stopping train to Hayes & Hatlington where I changed for Heathrow. Along the way, I had Flanders and Swann's "On the slow train" running in my head. Before my next trip to Britain, I should load it into my iPhone. I should also do more in the way of prep work in loading data into the iPhone including the phone plan details. Also, I need to work on the balance of things.

Friday, 28 June 2013

On a crannog

As I approached Pitlochry, I saw a sign announcing "loch/lake" access. I then thought to myself, "I didn't know there was a loch in Pitloch...oh. Boy, do I feel silly."

In Pitlochry, I made phone contact with Tamsyn, the daughter of someone Mummy went skiing with in Norway. She lives in Perth, and been mooted as someone who would be willing to put me up for the night and indeed she was. We made arrangements for the next day.

I also phoned my cousin Donald D. in Edinburgh to see what progress had been in arranging to see him and his family especially his mother, Mary, whom I had not seen since 1996 despite two visits to Edinburgh. It was still a work in progress, so we left it at that.

The weather the next morning was mixed rain and cloud with a stiff wind out of the North West or so. In rain gear, I followed NCN route 7 to Kenmore along quiet if somewhat up-and-down roads against the wind. I made poor time and it was only afternoon that I reached the Scottish Crannog centre.

Crannogs were houses built on stilts in various lochs early in the first Millennium BC. The Crannog Centre had a reconstruction of a crannog to visit with an archaeologist tour guide whom I embarrassed a couple of times. The first time was after a general lecture on what was known about the crannogs and there inhabitants.There seemed to me a curious omission in the diet described by her, so I asked her if they ate fish or shellfish at all. Her answer wasn't very good in my opinion as it amounted to a vague "maybe". On shore, we were shown working examples of various tools thought to be used by these people including a trio of wood lathes. The first of these was a bow driven lathe which she described as inefficient and asked for volunteers to help power the thing. I volunteered along with another man. We pushed and pulled the bow back and forth with such vigor that it turned out that the design could be quite effective, though I did point out that it required a sturdy pair of men to make it work properly!

After lunch, I retraced my steps to Aberfeldy making much better time with the wind now at my back. After stopping at the distillery to buy a bottle of single malt as thank you present for Tamsyn, I took a busier but flatter road back to the the junction of NCN routes 7 and 77. Along the way I could see white water rafters on the River Tay. This reminded me of a case that Donald D.'s father had won on behalf of such people against owners of salmon fishing spots. (Donald later informed me that the case had been on the Spey not the Tay, but I suspect his victory had likely established precedent.

I rolled along through the afternoon, making decent but not terrific time. The NCN took me along the Tay into very manicured grounds beside the river. I felt ever so slightly nervous some ghillie would pop up and either escort roughly off the grounds or charge me £10 for the right to ride across the Duke of Dunrovin's estate. ;-)  It turned out to be the Dunkeld Hydro Hilton. (Dominique D. later told me that "Hydros" were temperance spa-type resorts.).

Shortly thereafter, the NCN took me in front of the Dunkeld railway station. As it was getting a shade late, the day was cold and I was tired I decided to investigate if there was a useful train anytime soon. As it turned out, there would be one in about twenty minutes, so I rang Tamsyn and gave her the train's ETA in Perth. She met me at the station which proved to be a bow-shot from her flat.

I think we got on quite well. After supper, she gave me a short tour of downtown Perth followed by a stop in a pub for a pint.

The next morning, I ran a couple of errands in Perth, including getting a ticket to Edinburgh before setting off to visit the Palace of Scone. In the process, I got lost in Scone. Once I found the Palace, I made a point of having a scone in its coffee shop. Doubtless, many others have done the same play on words.

The Palace of Scone is very much a stately home. Its video history makes a very definite point as to how a great many Scottish kings were crowned there.

It also makes a slightly petulant point that the Stone of Scone should not have been taken to Edinburgh Castle on its return from London to be displayed along with the Scottish Crown Jewels. It instead implies it should have come to the Palace of Scone. As a historian, I disagree as the coronations took place at the Abbey of Scone, which burned down in the 16th century. I need to check my facts but I believe the last coronation of a king there was that of Charles II and wasn't any entirely kosher affair as Cromwell and company were truly the people ruling Britain. The present building is more recent and no longer has the power it had having become a largely private building.

I got back to Perth much more efficiently and caught the train to Edinburgh, arriving mid-afternoon. The trip took me across the fabled Forth Rail Bridge, the painting of which was once synonymous for a Sisyphusian task.

I love Edinburgh. However, I suspect that there will be a day of reckoning for the city planners regarding Princes street as it is clogged with buses and will get worse once the tram system starts running. They have also made the sidewalks too wide. Consequently, I found making a North-South transit somewhat hair-raising. There is a 19th century railway tunnel between the New Town in the vicinity of Scotland Street that might be useful as an additional route for traffic.

I got to my guest house where I deposited much of my clobber before setting out on Edinburgh in search of a book or two before supper. I wasn't particularly successful.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

On a good day

This is a short entry aimed to say that I am now in Bromyard, Herefordshire, chez Izzy and company after taking the train down from Edinburgh to Wolverhampton. Wolverhampton is much easier to get out of than Birmingham.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

On NCN route 7

Today was very much a better day on any number of accounts. For last two days, I have been following the National Cycle Network (NCN) route 7. The NCN is analogous to Quebec's Route Verte, though not exactly the same.

It has provided me with a relatively traffic light route from Inverness taking in the Cairngorms mountains and possibly other mountain ranges. It is a little hard to tell which bunch of snow dappled mountains belongs to what geographic division or subdivision. The general NCN route in this area is something of a confusion of old and new roads. These include the old military roads (a.k.a. General Wade's roads), the old (disused) A9, the new A9(T), "B" roads and some even lesser roads.

Stops today included the Ruthven Barracks where BPC finally admitted to his followers that the jig was up. Ironically, the Barracks had been built to suppress Jacobites. Now it is an empty shell.

I also visited the Dalwhinnie Distillery. My comment in the visitors' book was: "Good, but 'tis nae my wee dram."

Near Blair Atholl, I saw a merganser and four or five chicks swimming in the River Garry.

The weather has been a perverse mix of rain and sun that has me changing clothes several times a day. Tomorrow is my last day of real biking on this trip, though there will be a decent day from Wolverhampton to Bromyard.

Friday, 21 June 2013

On ups and downs

Yesterday saw me cross from the wilds of the West Coast, past Loch Ness to the more "civilized" East Coast of Scotland. It was a long, fairly wet day. The high point was Urqhart Castle. Coming up next was biking along the tow path of the Caledonian Canal between Loch Ness and Inverness. The low point was the lack of coordination between two flag men which might have killed me as one doesn't seem to have said to the other to wait for the cyclist before letting traffic through on the A82.

The A82 answered a question that had been at the back of my mind for awhile, namely why isn't there a railway line through the Great Glen. The answer is that there isn't enough space.

Today was a series of exercises in frustration and stress that I will not relate as I would rather forget them.

I also visited Culloden Moor. Bonnie Prince Charlie should have shown himself a true king and surrendered himself in exchange for clemency for his men or had them retreat to a better position. The Jacobites didn't have a hope in hell on that open ground.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

On a dawdling day

Today was also a designated rest day with only 40 klicks on the card, getting ready for tomorrow's 100 km push to Inverness. As 40 km is nothing of a distance, I dawdled over breakfast chatting with a German cyclist, then rolled on to Kyleakin where I strolled over to the ruins of Castle Moil and perused an otter based museum partly in memory of Gavin Maxwell, author of Ring of Bright Water.

I then walked Leonardo over the Skye Bridge. I tried writing a parody version of the Skye Boat song, of the name the Skye Bridge Song as the locals are still miffed about the way the bridge tolls and related matters. My efforts were hampered by my lack of knowledge of the original lyrics.

I visited the railway museum in Kyle of Lochlash before having a lunch of cold smoked salmon and salad.

Next came a visit to Eilean Donan, a 1920's folly castle/hunting lodge built on the foundations of a castle last used by the Spanish(!) in 1719 during Jacobite unrest and subsequently blown up by the Royal Navy by the captain of HMS Entreprise. This castle has been featured in many second-rate big-budget movies, including Elisabeth the Golden Age, The World is Not Enough and the wretched Braveheart. The place is actually very interesting, though in truth, it represents wealth at an excessive level. It reminds me of a private castle in Spain that Margo, Chris and I had a peak at courtesy of its maintenance man. When Margo asked who owned it, the man shrugged, smiled and rubbed his thumb and fingers together in the symbol of money.

Through some rain, I continued up Loch Duich passing a deer and then stopping to photograph some shaggy and impressively horned feral goats that were grazing on the shoreline next to some penned llamas.

The hostel tonight is in Ratagan, a hamlet of no great significance to my knowledge but great beauty. The name is the same as that voiced by Vincent Price in "The Great Mouse Detective". Price is said to have enjoyed the role immensely, though this probably part promotional hoopla.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

On a dodgy tire

I got up early yesterday and successfully caught the early ferry to Kinloach. After I paid for my ticket, I realised I'd forgotten to return my hostel room key. As the hostel was only a stone's throw from the ferry terminal in Tobermory, I asked one of the ferry employees if he would be so kind as to hand it back after the return trip. He accepted readily.

The road out of Kinloach was a long climb punctuated by working Land Rovers belonging to the Ardnancham Estates with border collies in the back. A few times, a pair of them heading in opposite directions would stop at a passing place for a confab. I was reminded of a passage from one of the Wingfield plays which described the situation as meaning "the meeting is called to order." There was also a considerable herd of red deer stags, along the wild and woolly road. (Yes, there were also sheep.)

A number of the hamlets along the single track road seemed to surrounded by deer proof fencing and deer grates. I wonder if North Hatley might benefit from this idea. ;-)

A little after Salen, I had a flat on my rear tire. Investigating the cause, I noticed there was a tear or near tear in the side wall quite close to the bead and approximately at the location of the hole in the inner tube. This is the same tire that gave me grief in Australia, and one I suspect has manufacturing issues, as the front one hasn't given me any problems. I put a tire boot over the problem area and put I a new inner tube. This seemed to work in that I didn't have another flat but going down a hill, I could feel Leonardo wasn't rolling as smoothly as he should. In short, I lost confidence in that tire.

I rolled on a bit gingerly in sunshine so warm I stripped to bike shorts and a short sleeved jersey. I stopped for a lunch of cullen skink in Glenuig where a couple of cyclists had the same idea. We chatted a fair bit, before they left ahead of me. Once I finished my smoked haddock and potato soup, I rolled on beside the gorgeous Loch Ailort.
On account of the dodgy tire, I contemplated catching a train to Mallaig from Polnish. So I looked in at an unstaffed station. As I would have had to wait a couple of hours, I gave it a miss. Besides, I'd just joined the A830 which has recently been done up a treat thanks to EU funds.

Beside the road was a cairn marking the spot from whence Bonnie Prince Charlie hightailed it off to France. Grandpa was of the opinion that BPC was a bloody fool. Having studied Scottish history, I am inclined to agree. You can call me a Whig.

Mallaig is fairly compact so finding my hostel should have been easier. However it wasn't. I think they should look into advertising.

More predictably but also annoyingly, Mallaig didn't have a bike shop. A little Interneting revealed a bike hire place that did repairs in Broadford on Skye and proper bike shops in Fort William.  Today was supposed to be a rest day with only a ferry boat ride to Skye and a 16 mile ride to Broadford. Looking into ferry and train schedules, I worked out I would able to take train to Fort William, buy a tire and get back to Mallaig in time for a ferry to Skye.

Owing to issues with ScotRail's bike policies, I left Leonardo and several bags in Mallaig before catching the train on the utterly spectacular West Highland Line. I chatted most of the way with a Glaswegian cyclist on his way home.

In Fort William, began my search at the handy Alpine Bikes store. Unfortunately, they are mostly mostly concerned with mountain bikes and were sold out of tires of a suitable size. They pointed me in the direction of Nevis Cycles a mile or so up the road. As time was a trifle short, I phoned ahead to confirm the presence of tires, then caught a cab. The chap at shop had anticipated my arrival and had a suitable tire out for my perusal. It met my specifications with ease so after buying it and a replacement inner tube, I made my way back to the train station and caught the train back to Mallaig.

I gathered up Leonardo and my bags before heading to the ferry terminal where I could find open space to make the tire swap. When I examined the old tire, having removed the tire boot, I found that there was a distinct hole very near the bead. I therefore very glad I now have a new tire.

I took the ferry to Armadale. Some twit in a Peugeot estate wagon left their alarm on. The motion of the ferry kept setting it off. Had I a brick, I'd have heaved it into his windshield.

The road to Broadford took me up over some windswept moors. The old road ran along side the current one. A man was road skiing along accompanied by a black dog.

As I neared to Broadford, I saw the lights of a police car and a police officer in a high-viz vest standing in the road. Thankfully, all it was was that there was a car commercial being filmed (possibly for Porsche) and the road was being temporarily close off. After less time than it took to pull on my soft shell jacket, it was over and I could ride on to Broadford.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

On wild and woolly roads

I had planned to catch the first ferry to Mull this morning but ended up missing it by about 3 minutes. This meant I had to wait more than an hour for the next one.

While waiting, I watched a shore excursion landing from a small cruise ship in Zodiacs. A little while later, I was mistaken for a crew member on account of my high-viz vest. This is the third time this trip this sort of mistake has been made. The second was when some thought I was a postman on account of the colours of my panniers.

I stopped for a light lunch of a cheese toastie and scone at a B&B cum restaurant in Pennyghael. While I ate, I saw a middle-aged couple arrive on sturdy touring bikes. Something about their appearance made me think they were Dutch. They came in to the small dining room and asked if I minded if they joined me at the only table (of two) that had empty chairs. I invited them to join me. As it turned out, they were Dutch and were near the end of an island hopping trip. As they had come the way I was planning on going, I asked them about the road to Tobermory. They said it was beautiful but that she had lost her bike computer along the way. I offered to keep an eye out for it and she typed in her email address into my iPhone.

he route was extremely beautiful going over a craggy pass, followed by a twisty, open descent that led to a section jammed between Loch Na Keal and the cliffs forming the base of Ben More. The single track road had little traffic but lots of sheep. These needed to be approached with a certain caution lest they panic and run over a cliff and fall into the sea!

It was a wild and wooly road. It was also quite beautiful.

On Iona

I caught the early CalMac ferry to Mull, Craignure if you wish to be precise. This involved getting at 6:30 in the morning and having breakfast on the ferry. It was cloudy with patches of rain as I started along the single track road to Fionphart. I made poor time between stops for traffic and to change in and out of raingear. Coming out of a pass, there was a rainbow. As I tried to zoom in with my digital camera, I found the zoom wasn't working. Blast.

On the plus side, the rainbow was the start of some gorgeous weather. Lots of sun.

"Foreign" cars aren't allow on Iona. Consequently, I was the fastest thing on Iona's  one paved road. This was a welcome reversal of the normal situation, only spoilt by the fact that some of the tourists could be a little slow on the uptake about what a bike bell ringing meant.

I made my way to the hostel at the northern end of the island where I stashed most of my panniers and went to visit the abbey founded by Saint Columba in about 513 or so. I need to check my dates but people have been talking about the " anniversary". The celtic abbey itself did not survive the Vikings (and neither did a significant number of monks some of whom were slaughtered in the nearby Martyrs' Bay.) The extant building is an early 20th century restoration of 14th century Augustinian abbey.

There is, alas, precious little to connect with Celtic church aside from some ornate stone crosses. The most interesting of these fell over several times in the 20th century alone and is now indoors with a reproduction outdoors. The modern carvers reproduced the considerable erosion on the cross. This has a logic but I would have liked to see an attempt to show what it would have looked like when it was when it was new.

I also visited the ruins of a 12th century nunnery and a cow pasture cum golf course. As I was leaving said course through a farm gate I saw a truck heading my way so I opened the gate fully to let it through much to the driver's gratitude.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

On an error in map reading and its consequences

One of Murphy's laws of warfare is that battles tend to take place at night, in the rain at the junction of two or more maps. There is a similar rule in cycling, though I can't formulate right now. Certainly, it applied the day I left Arran for Campbeltown.

My main source of information for distances in Scotland were pages cut from a map book. As luck would have it, the road from Clonaig to Campbeltown was on two different pages and consequently hard to read. However, it was clear that the distance was 13 miles as it was so marked on both pages.
There were two female cyclists on the ferry, locals if I remember correctly. When we were landing, we had to time our crossings to avoids the waves breaking across the ramp. These waves were part of the same wind that had prevented John from giving me a lift from Arran.

After a short ride from the ferry, I came to the "main" road to Campbeltown which had a cheerful sign saying "Campbeltown 27 miles".  With a sinking heart I re-checked my maps only to find that the "13 miles" on both pages had been the distances between Clonaig and Carradale and then Carradale to Campbeltown! 
I rang John and Helen to let them know I would be late. They offered to give me a lift which I declined at that time.

I rode down the single track "B" road to Campbeltown making poor time owing any number of factors. There was a contrary wind which blew in rain in fits and starts which lead me to stop too many times to get don or doff rain gear. As well, the road twisted in and out of groves of trees and little valleys making it hard to predict on-coming traffic. 

By the time I got to Carradale, I'd had enough and rang John to ask if I might take him up on the offer of a lift. I found some shelter in the lee of a post office and pulled on another layer of wool while I waited. I was not a happy camper, but I was very glad when John and Helen arrived in their covered pickup truck.

On Arran

Arran is a popular place to bike if I am any judge, based on the evidence. To begin with, there were a pair of other cyclists on the boat train to Ardrossan from Glasgow. They were of the spandex or MAMIL (middle aged men in Lycra) variety with next to nothing in the way of gear. At the ferry terminal, they joined another group of MAMILs. There was also a couple on what appeared to be a folding tandem. They came across as day tourers.

The ferry made its journey with out incident. Midway across, it passed a sister ferry going the other way. Evidently, the run merits two ships. Incidentally, bikes travel for free on Caledonian MacBrayne. On the ferry, I snaffled a map of Arran which had advice for cyclists on it as well as advice to drivers which include how to deal with cyclists. One particular pointer is that drivers should refrain from honking at cyclists unless truly necessary (i.e. the cyclist is doing something stupid). *glares at the paternal unit*

There is an unusually strong food branding on Arran with numerous products being labelled "Arran this" or "Arran that". In no particular order, I have consumed Arran beer, cheese, ice cream, mustard, oatcakes and whiskey. The first experience of the latter was on the ferry where free samples were being offered of the Arran distillery's ten year old. I am afraid I can't recommend it. Among other things, it lacks the complexities of my beloved Springbank as well as tasting a tad of raw spirit.

As the day was young, I thought I would go to Lochranza the long way round. I stopped for lunch in Whiting Bay where I discovered that my decision was based on the dodgy conclusion that I would be able get past the construction South of Blackwaterfoot. As I backtracked, I found that the experience was different due to the change in direction. I therefore adopted the rule that all other factors being equal, if I have to ride a section of my route more than once, then I should try to ride it in the opposite direction if possible. 

After leaving Brodick for the second time, I rode beside the sea for several miles before I came across a Norse longship about to head out to sea. Seriously. There was a reproduction of Norse longship, or a least a knarr which was being prepared to be towed down the coast were it would be picked up by the Discovery Channel in order to be used in the filming of some documentary or other. I learnt this as I stopped to photograph the scene. The preparations seemed somewhat haphazard so I made the comment that they weren't going to get to L'Anse-Aux-Meadows at that rate! ;-)  I chatted for a while as preparations were made. The boat had a carved head which as per Norse tradition was detachable. At the request of the Discovery channel, the head was left behind as presumably, they had their own heads.

The road to Lochranza then took me over a dramatic and beautifully wild pass with high crags across the valley. I dropped into Lochranza's valley and rolled down past the Arran Distillery to the youth hostel. As the reception would only open in more than an hour, I rode back to the distillery to see if a tour was possible. I was in luck, I am afraid that the distillery is far too young to be interesting. In fact, if it were a human, it wouldn't be allowed to drink in the United States! The tour included both a dram of its 14 year old whisky which wasn't that much better than the 10 year old from the ferry and a dram of the cream liqueur derived from the whisky which was very good. I suggested they use it as an ice cream flavor.

Back at the youth hostel, I was assigned a room with two other cyclists. One was a neophyte who was in awe of the other who was 78 and had recently ridden 160 miles in a day that ended somewhere on Islay! That is 160 hilly miles. To put this in perspective, on my best day of biking I only covered 230 kms which translates into 143 miles and those were flat miles with the benefit of a strong tailwind.
I rang John in Campbeltown to enquire as to whether he could give me a lift on his yacht as the possibility had been offered previously. Owning to contrary wind and weather, as well as a malfunctioning engine, the answer was no.

That night, I had supper in the Lochranza Hotel. There was a contingent of yachtsmen from Southern England who were up for some sort of charity yachting event. They were enjoying many a pint and I asked who was the designated rower!

The next morning, I pored over my maps to work out the day's cycling. I opted for a loop around the Northern half of Arran that would take me back over the pass to Brodick and then over another pass to the West Coast of Arran along which I would return to Lochranza where I would retrieve cachéd saddle bags and catch the ferry to Cloanaig on Kintyre from where I would ride the 13 miles which separated it with Campbeltown.

As I left the youth hostel, the elder cyclist was also setting out and was grumbling about the midges. I offered him the use of my Canadian bug dope which he readily accepted.

A little before Brodick, I stopped at a folk museum to learn more about the history of Arran. I then did some shopping for the some of the local food. I also popped into a store selling outdoor equipment to see if there was anything of interest to me. I don't believe I bought anything there, but I was interested to see that products for care of waterproof clothing were displayed quite prominently. Evidently, there was a considerable market for them! 

Lunch seemed to take an inordinately long time. Partly for this reason, I narrowly missed the sailing of the ferry I had planned to take to Kintyre. I had to wait about an hour before it returned.

Friday, 14 June 2013

On the Caledonian Sleeper

I am no longer as agile as I once was. (I should probably invest some time and energy in flexibility exercises.) Consequently, I had booked a lower berth sleeper ticket. I boarded the train relatively early and proceeded to get ready for bed as the compartment was quite small, and doubtless be even smaller once the possible compartment mate showed up. In the event, he only appeared shortly before the train pulled out and then only to sign some piece of paper and to announce he had secured another compartment and therefore I had mine myself.

The train left the station in one direction and proceeded in for unknown time like this as I sought the best position under the duvet. It came to a long stop possibly to divide the train into Glasgow and Edinburgh sections. My section started moving in the other direction than it had.

I fell into a relatively fitful sleep. In the midst of a particularly strange dream which featured a knocking radiator, I was awoken by the train "host" (i.e. porter) who informed me we were an hour out of Glasgow and gave me my coffee and shortbread.

I dressed for biking and packed my panniers, taking great care to search the compartment for any misplaced items. The last time I took a sleeper to Glasgow, I lost my hat.

On my day in London

After bidding adieu to Elly and Collin, I rode Leonardo to the train station. While waiting at the designated bike spot in the platform, I noticed a steam engine at the Didcot Railway Centre been marshaled for the day by a diesel shunting engine with linked wheels. I took up my camera to record the scene in company of another cyclist of about my age. I broke the ice by asking if our photographing the event made us train spotters. He didn't think so. He was on his way with a small group for a day in London. (It was a Sunday.)

They were wearing fairly distinctive cycling jackets, which will be important later.

We travelled to Paddington station where we went our separate ways. I went first to Euston station where I picked up my tickets on the Caledonian Sleeper and dropped off three panniers in the left luggage office. I then proceeded across the Tower Bridge to HMS Belfast.

While on the bridge of the ship, I espied a Thames sailing barge with red sails called Hydrogen across the river. It moved upriver before turning and going under the Tower Bridge which had raised its drawbridge section for the barge's mast!

By the time I finished touring the light cruiser, veteran of the Second World War and the Korean War, it was too late to see another attraction. Consequently, I sought out some supper at Covent Garden. As I was scoping out the options who should emerge but the people from Didcot in their distinctive cycling jackets!

After a supper of Indian food, I headed towards Euston Station, stopping shortly before at the Euston Flyer pub for a pint. As the Montreal Grand Prix was playing on one of the TV screens, I settled in to watch the action with the eye of someone who has ridden the track on a bike. I was suddenly possessed by the giggles when I saw the plethora of "Fly Emirates" signs around the track as I am pretty sure they don't fly into Montreal!

I remarked upon this to people sitting next to me in the pub. This started a chat which one of them commented he had taken me for a railway maintenance worker when I first came in as I was wearing a new lime green high-viz vest and a yellow bike helmet! (I had bought the new vest as my old orange one is fading badly and might bring untoward association with Orange Order idiots. As well, the increased visibility is a comfort on these narrow British roads.)

On Didcot

Elly and and her husband, Collin, live in a rather nice if slightly perplexing house in Didcot with two friendly if undisciplined black labs. They are remarkably bouncy and playful to the point that I asked how old they were as they displayed puppy-like exuberance. Elly laughed at that as Bella, the oldest (and most exuberant) is roughly ten years old!
On Saturday morning, I assembled Leonardo. I then went on a shopping expedition with Elly and Collin. Afterwards, we went to the Barley Mow for lunch. The Barley Mow is a pub on the Thames featured in Jerome K. Jerome "Three men in a boat". It was a nice sunny if slightly cool day so we ate in the beer garden where we could admire the thatched roof of the pub.
After lunch,  I took Leonardo on a short trial run to the Didcot Railway Centre where I rode in not one but two steam trains, including one drawn by a tank engine that might have been Thomas' brother.
The Centre had very large number of old steam engines in various states of repair. It also had a section of pipe from Brunel's failed atmospheric railway. The theory behind this was that the trains would be propelled by a centrally located vacuum. It didn't work well in practise. I'd heard about it on Wallace and Gromit's World of Invention.
The Centre is largely run by steam enthusiasts who are mostly men older than I. It is very much dependent on the love of steam engines.