Thursday, 21 May 2015

Back to England

Eyemouth proved a little frustrating last night. The only pub with food also had football at loud volume from multiple screens. Chicken salad and over priced Peroni in a wine bar was the unsatisfactory result. Nevertheless the room I stayed in was private and comfortable.
Eyemouth is an old fishing port which still has a lively harbour.

And like so many of its kind, a strong religious tradition evidenced by a landmark church.
I crossed into England just North of Berwick on Tweed at about 10am. I promise this is the last selfie, it was raining and there were no obliging passers by.

Altogether I have spent nine days riding round the Scottish coast. It's a huge country, for which I have developed a great affection.

The three bridges of Berwick are impressive and in a different way the massive castle at Bamburgh demonstrates the historic importance of the Northumberland coastal region.

The sands of Alnmouth are a good example of the largely undeveloped grandeur of this coast, if sunshine could be guaranteed this would have hotels at every turn.
It's not far then to the industrial domination of Newcastle, Sunderland, Hartlepool and Middlesborough, where water fronts are often controlled by giant machinery.
I came over the river Tees into Middlesborough on the Transporter bridge, a huge gondola suspended from a Steel frame carrying up to 12 cars at a time serenely over the river. It's an ingenious solution to the conflicting demands of tall ships and vehicle crossing.
Just north of the river before getting to the transporter, the skyline is filled with images of the petrochemical industry, piles, storage vessels, condensers, essential artefacts of our modern lifestyle, and surrounded by a huge nature reserve.
The coast is a dangerous place and lighthouses are reminders of the risks.

Souter lighthouse  near Marsden in Sunderland is a classic example of the strength and shape of an iconic lighthouse.
An older less obvious is Blyth High Light constructed in 1788, and no longer in use it no doubt served its purpose by saving lives and cargo.,_Northumberland

I have a couple of days off now, then the final leg back to the Humber Bridge on Sunday

Today's route is here

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

A day of two halves

HThis trip has not been a great journey of self discovery, but there have been some illuminations, reminders rather than revelations.
The first and most critical is that I don't like dormitory living. Sharing with the odd ageing outdoor type in a rural hostel is ok  for the odd night, staying in an urban hostel with the beds all full is not the same. I was up at 6 this morning because that's when all the alarms went off. The other guys were not noisy, just THERE. All of the people I spoke to in Aberdeen were in the hostel because they were working locally (a couple of bricklayers from Fife), looking for work (a young woman from Hong Kong) or training (a young man originally from South Africa now working in St Andrews). He was in his late teens, working as a chef. He had financed his own offshore training course with he hope of getting work catering on one of the North Sea oil platforms.
Aberdeen is closely linked to the oil business and the view back over the town this morning shows some of the ships servicing the industry.

It was taken from a golf course, because it's difficult to move in this part of the world without crossing a fairway. Later in the day I was at St Andrews where they are preparing for the Open. I walked across a fairway (actually I rode my bike as well, it's a public road) and took this photo which shows the stands in place for the big event.

There were people playing and being interviewed, someone who knows golf may recognise them

It was in St Andrews that my second piece of self understanding came to fruition. I have referred to my inadequacy with the selfie stick in previous posts. There is evidence of growing competence, but no great leaps of skill. A correspondent whose opinion I value has suggested I take the radical approach and ditch the selfie stick. Well today I offer, by way of comparison, a photo taken at the "Chariots of Fire" beach at St Andrews, it was procured in the old fashioned way by chatting to a passing American.
Just as a reference point, the American was one of a family of four who, before taking this pic of me, had been using a selfie stick to capture themselves.

Arbroath, the home of the Smokie, is a pretty town, well worth a cappuccino and a wander. They do actually Smoke the Smokies right by the harbour

And the harbour itself is worth a look or three

One last look back at the Highland mountains, you might just make out snow on the peaks
After following the coast closely to Dundee - no photos see previous comments about iPhone battery life, and St Andrews it was the motorway round Edinburgh and the A1 south. Some welcome cruise control time with Annie Lennox providing an appropriate soundtrack (until inexplicably the audio system decided it didn't want to play my iPod again - another minor irritation for the dealer on 2 June)
Eyemouth is on the coast a few miles east of the A1. Seems a pleasant little town and the guest house I am in is right on the front. 
I'm off to find some food

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Wet and windy (again)

A gentle start from Inverness, with no one else to wake I had a leisurely shower and coffee, then set off in the sunshine. That lasted until Culloden battle field just outside Inverness. Here the rain started and never really stopped, when it waos dry for a while, the wind persisted. This is a picture of the harbour at Burghead which gives some idea of the waves.

Looking away from the harbour one can see the small town of Burghead
Dominated by a gigantic industrial building. That is a maltings owned by Diageo the giant multinational alcohol conglomerate.just along the road is another similarly attractive building probably two or three times larger, that is a whiskey store.
According to Wickipaedis Diageo is the wilds largest whiskey producer and owns 30 distilleries 

This blog
Although maybe a little older describes well the concentration of the whiskey production into a few multinational hands. It is for this reason that I refuse to be seduced by the wee stories about the flavours of particular malts and how this relates to the water, the peat and the loving care of generations of distillers. It may have been true, now it's a marketing lie. Last year I visited a distillery it has one of the last remaining maltings. They produce malt for distilleries all over Scotland, including those on Islay. For these the malt is smoked to produce the the distinctive smoked peat flavour, said to be a result of the "terroir " but now a product of the industrial chemist. Whiskey is a pleasant drink, but if you believe all the romantic nonsense you may be inclined to think Ferero Roche are classy chocolates.
This is where I took s break, it's Lossiemouth, can you guess why I stopped here?
Lossiemouth has an RAF base and while eating my Gelato I watched three fighters come over flying in close formation, peel away, turn and land one after the other, real classy piloting skills.
I passed through the village of Crimmond famous for the most well known musical setting of the 23rd psalm, which  was written here.
Gives the history and controversy associated with the tune and there is a link to listen to it as well. By odd coincide just a couple of days ago I was listening on the radio to an episode of "Soul Music" which told the story of setting the 23rd psalm to music, probably the most recent setting was written as the theme to "the vicar of Dibley" I don't know how long the programme is available but this link was live when I wrote this

Another titbit: did you know that Peterhead is twinned with Allesund in Norway? Presumably because of the oil exploration links. I am sharing a room tonight with a young chef who is in Aberdeen on a course preparing him for working offshore on the oil rigs, it's big business round here.
And this was the history a lot of small fishing villages, low housing sheltered against the harsh north west winds
With the Church of Scotland playing a dominant role. This one is Portnokie.

Monday, 18 May 2015

To the extreme,

I like Inverness Youth Hostel. That's probably because I had the unexpected foresight to book a single en suite room, so I am writing this while lying on my private bed, having freshened up in my own shower, and mane a cup of coffee using my own kettle. Luxury!

Tongue looked lovely this morning

The weather stayed dry all day, with the exception of a sharp shower about ten miles out of Inverness.

Driving East from Tongue. the coast road became flatter and less dramatic. Long sweeping curves and gentle undulations replacing the mountainous terrain of yesterday.
In the distance in this photo you can just make out the white Sphere of Dounraey nuclear power plant.

I had just ridden past the plant when a police car came towards me with lights flashing. I slowed and the car drew onto my side of the road., driving directly at me. I tried to imagine what sort of crime I had committed. , or was there a nuclear emergency which meant I wasn't going to be allowed to leave the area because I was contaminated!
The police car stopped directly in front of me. The driver signalled me into a gate entrance off the roadthen drove off I was left sitting on my bike when another police car came along this one stopped, the driver wound his window down and said in a soft highland accent "Wide load coming ". And around the corner came three large lorries carrying giant pipes
No emergency, no contamination .
In my ignorance I thought John O'Groats was the most Northerly point on mainland UK, it's not, it is the most northerly settlement, but the point is actually Durness Head which is ten miles west of John O'Groats.
It's a spectacular place with no pretensions, and loads of birds.

And a lighthouse

And at least one idiot with a selfie stick

By contrast J O'G had more going on. But it was much more restrained than Lands End

But you get idiots everywhere

Just up the road is Dunnet Head, the most North Easterly point on mainland UK. Again understated with a lighthouse and a complete lack of selfie sticks.
As the plaque explains these wares are where british naval vessels have sheltered and re provisioned .

Down the coast now and driving through Wick I realise that it must be at least three days since I saw a retail park with obligatory DIY store and carpet warehouse, a real measure of solitude .

Down the fast and relatively uninspiring A9 there are a number of little towns, which the main road has bypassed. I dropped into a few. Dunbeath has a lot of  seabirds and a private castle, 

Down the coast is pretty Helmsdale, where my battery ran out so no pictures.
Monday rant: I use an iPhone 5. Each morning on this trip I have it fully charged, I use mapmyride a tracking app that uses the phones gps. I take a few photos and send a few messages, by lunchtime I am getting low battery warnings. I am fortunate enough to have the capacity to charge my phone on my motorbike via a power socket. Apple and Samsung et al listen up: thin phones, curved screens, millions of pixels ARE NO GOOD WHEN THE BATTERY IS DEAD. Focus on the essentials 24 full hours of use between charges even if it means the phone is a tad thicker and a tiny bit heavier. End of rant

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Now the words

Tongue Youth Hostel has WiFi so I am relaxing in front of a lovely fire writing this.
Applecross last night was wet. The pass was windy but no less spectacular for that. This morning I managed to lock myself out of my pod at about 6.30am!
As I went to the toilet I shut the door behind me realising as it clicked, that the key was inside. I eventually found where the warden lived, and half a cold hour later I was back inside.
The isolation of the ride from Applecross to Tongue is astounding, there is really only one town of size on the route Ullapool with a population of 1541 apparently
About 50% of the route was on single track roads, but they are well maintained and it was possible to keep up a good speed. I went long distances without meeting another vehicle, and was constantly amazed to come across tiny settlements of maybe had s dozen houses. 
The size of the wilderness is something that must be experienced. Mountains, many with fresh snow, were dominant, with lochs and ponds of all sizes, and magnificent waterfalls. All this clearly visible from the road. Imagine what is beyond.
It is easy in the isolation to see how ancient people attributed human attributes to the physical landscape. It has power, and presence which demand attention.
A word about the bike, I am very happy with it, minor niggles with the audio system may be down to my need to read the handbook, but are not helped by some fiddly controls that are effectively useless while wearing thick gloves. I am going to try some sticky bumps, used by people with reduced vision, which I think will improve feelability (is that a word?).

The headlight attracts attention for the wrong reason, I can't adjust it. I have read the handbook, I have done what it says, and it won't adjust, so sorry to all those drivers who signal to me to turn it down- it's booked into the dealer on 2 June.
The other thing I am very pleased with id my back. I have a condition called Spinal Stenosis
 From time to time this can give pain, and sitting on a bike has been painful after a couple of hours. A few years ago I fought a back support called back-a-line
They come from America but can be posted to UK and presumably other countries. I have worn my Back-a-Line all the time I have been on the bike during this trip, and can honestly say I have not had any serious back pain. 

What can I say

Wifi and 3G are not universally available in North West Scotland, so I am writing this in a splendid little cafe in Durness, about 30 miles from day's end in Tongue.
Words are not enough to describe the views today, so I am just going to post the photos while I can, and catch up with the text later. In chronological order from Applecross this morning to Durness this afternoon: