Thursday, 27 August 2015

Balkan Roots

I have not a long story. Really a few snatched memories that I hope I have in the right order. My words might help you learn a little about me. I apologise for my limited English. I was innocent of that language in my early years and only picked it up, as best I could, once taken away from my roots. So where do I begin?

My memory is that I was cold a lot, it was worst when it was wet. Sometimes I was warm. I think sometimes it is easier to remember things you did not like, maybe even easier than memories of the not so bad. Not that I am to say that my early days were so bad, sometimes they were good. Helping with the sheep and goats was I think, a good memory. But I’m getting in front of myself.

Growing up in Mirdita Mat, close to Tirana was a sheltered, safe experience and although I had nothing to measure my thoughts against, I felt it was a poor area and families had to work hard fill their bellies. I had a not very loud early life and I don't think a lot of things happened to me. There was a lot of other things going on and I was good at not being noticed and I was good at listening and looking like I was not listening. I did not know what a lot of the things going on were, but I stayed quiet and listened anyway. People would often share my spot, not even noticing I was there. Nothing I would do would alter that state. In this fashion I learned so much about the past and present of my homeland.

Tirana, must have been near where I grew up because I heard that word a lot. I do know exactly where it is. It must be near the Balkans because I heard that being spoken as well. From my safe spot I heard that the area had a colourful and unsettled history, tragic some may say. Over the centuries, I heard all this as well, because I was good at listening, the Balkans has seen shifting frontiers, wars, battles, assassinations, claim, counter-claim, avarice and the pursuit of power, much based on myth and legend. Serb has fought Croat, Croat has betrayed Serb and both have wreaked terrible vengeance on the other, age and gender being no barrier to barbarous acts often carried out in the name of religion and honour. I can tell you I don't understand what all that means but it must be something that went on because I heard a lot about it.

Anyway, I will stop explaining myself and just tell you what I can tell you, because this is what I could hear.

I heard about Albanians, Montenegrians, Kosovans the Ottoman Empire, German attempts at creating an empire, Russia, not to mention the influence of England and I think for a very long time, probably before many of the old branches of my family, there has been a lot of fighting and falling out and I think everybody had suffered.

Not that I lived through these times, as I said, keep your counsel, listen and all will be revealed. Not that all that was revealed was about such grand historical events and influences, I happily took any snippet of information as worthy of logging. Pjeter Bogdani and Branka Zymberi provided me with a totally different experience. They often came near my secret place and obviously not aware of me talked about far away places, strange names, well to me anyway, dreams of escaping this place, of going to Italy, Paris, London and other names that I cannot recall. They always talked about Durres and getting a boat across the Adriatic. I had no idea what these words meant but I was still fascinated. I had no idea then that one day I would experience the Adriatic and a lot more. They talked of marriage, of love, children and of a better life, I could only listen and wonder. I would never know how they would fare because I was soon to move into another phase of my own existence.

It was early on a warm morning, a band of Gypsies had camped near my spot. I was not familiar with their tongue, they stayed up late and sang until the cold or something else overcame them. Early that morning just as they were heading on, two came upon me, one seemed very old and the other was young, with a donkey. I was helpless as they snatched me from my secret place. I would never return to that place and I would never hear or see any of the things I grew up with again.

The gypsies talked differently from the people I had been amongst, it was difficult to know the meaning of the words. I did get to know some in time and here are three phrases I remember;
'Ando gav bi zhuklesko shai piravel o manush bi destesko', 'bengesko niamso' and the other one was, 'I chatski tsinuda de tehara vai de haino khal tut.' I think that was how the gypsies spoke. It was not easy to know what they were saying. The first bit is something about if there are not dogs in a place, village? Then a man does not need a stick. There were a lot of dogs where my gyspies went and they did need sticks. The middle one is about swearing at Germans. I don't know what they are and I do not know why we should swear at them. The last one is that a real nettle stings right away. I think that is what these words mean. But I was struggling with most of the noises they made. When they got a chance my gypsies laughed a lot and they danced and sung songs and they made noises with strings on wood and other things. It was noisy sometimes.

I was soon at work for the old man and the young boy. My job was to control the donkey, although I sometimes worked among the sheep and goats. My life after that was all travel and we moved on through places I had never heard of. We spent the rest of the summer crossing the Proklethje Mountains, going through Kosova, Serbia and into Bulgaria and sometimes back again, passing such places as Kukes, Pec, Leskovac before arriving at the start of Autumn in a place I think they called Topli Do. On the way there were many detours and camps as the Gypsies earned a living by fortune telling, mending and sharpening farm tools and household implements. There were also lots of scrapes they got into and I was pressed into service on many an occasion to see off an assailant. My experience of life was growing and one thing I learned was that Gypsies seemed to have a lot of enemies and to this day I never understood why.

Something was different and one day my gypsies moved away. They stayed in quiet places a lot of the time. They were always following paths in the forests and seemed reluctant to move on the roads or busy tracks. It would not be unusual if they suddenly hid themselves in the deepest bits of the forest if they thought other people were coming along. I do not know why they were like this. Something was making them hide. Were they frightened about something? Sometimes they moved about in the dark, even with no moon.

I saw them talking to a group one time, I think they might be gypsies as well. They were wearing yellow cloth things on their arms. A word, zigeuner, was on the yellow cloth. That is a word I heard my gypsies say a lot. I think it might be a word for gipsy. They did look and dress like my gypsies. As time passed I saw more and more of the yellow cloth 'gypsies'. I know that my gypsies were moving in the same direction now, they were not criss crossing and they were not doing a lot of mending and the kind of work they did when they took me away. They were catching small animals and fish. I was helping a lot. Once I heard them talking quietly beside their fire one night, there was not a moon that night. I heard a word I never heard before, it was porajmos. I did not know about that word, but we moved quicker after that. I did not know where we were going, I was lost.

Then we were down out of the hills and forests and we were beside water. A place called Loviste. We were in that place for some nights and some of my gypsies stayed very quiet and the other ones wandered about near the water. I did not know what they were doing. Then we all got in a boat and we went onto the water. I was helping them get fish. We were a lot of nights on the water and we were at the side of it again. My gypsies talked about Adriatic and I think that was the big water we were on. I heard Pescara, something like that. I did not know what it was. The voices hear were difficult and I had no idea what was happening. All the time the boy gypsy, the same one who was with the old gypsy when they took me away, kept me safe and I was with him all the time.

Then we were away again and into strange land and forests. I think my gypsies were happy now and they played and sung and danced again. I think they got more things to eat, but in the woods I always helped them.

We were into high ground and it was cold and there was white stuff on the trees and on the tracks. But we kept moving. We were at a place called Sovicille and it was nice. We went up more high land and forest and we came to a small place called Simignano and we never moved again. My gypsies seemed very happy and when it was dark they sat in a place with all the buildings round about and they talked and smoked and danced and sung. They wanted to stay here for all the time I think. I was not so very helpful now. Sometimes I would help and would go with them when they were catching little pig things. I think that is what they were and they were very loud and grunted and squeaked. A lot of the time I was on my own. The boy gypsy was doing a lot of things and he did not need my help. I did help move snakes away from the place they were one night.

It was very cold and the white stuff was deep. I was helping again one night without a moon we were going up high in the forest. The gypsy boy fell and we tumbled down a steep bit and we got separate and I was covered in the forest and the white stuff.

I never saw my gypsy after that and I was alone in that place in the forest. And it got warm and the sun was out and the moon was out and it was dark and their was not any light and it was like that many times and I was on my own and I did not know where I was or what I would do. I heard gypsies somewhere and I heard them singing and making noise but I never ever saw them ever again and I just stayed myself in the forest for a long long time and lots of moons.

One time it was hot and I heard voices but I did not know what they were saying and one of them found me and took me with him. He was not a gypsy, well he did not sound like a gypsy.He had a very different sound.

Then he took me with him and we travelled very far and I have travelled very far before but I was in something I think was not a cart. I heard car but that was new. I am always hearing new things. And I was in an aeroplane, and I heard that as well but it did not mean anything, but I was in one.

Now I am in Scotland and I hear things about England and Ireland and America and something called the Middle East and terror and I am lost again. I hear about battles and wars and religion and honour and oil and clans and Bannockburn and William Wallace and I think I am back where I started, although I still have real trouble understanding any of the people. I am not very useful now. I get to go out when a dog is there but I do not go out a lot.

I was with these new strange sounding people the other day and we were near a lot of trees and the one who found me in the forest said my skin looked like walnut.

And you know, he was right, I am from a proud family that has lived through all sorts of bad and good times and not tried to take sides or hurt anybody, just be useful. My family is the Balkan branch of the juglans regia and I am happy about that.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

recent isle of harris sights

Friday 3 July 2015 was a glorious day in the Hebrides. I spent it wandering about on the hills behind Borve and a bit further afield. Here is a few of the sights and things I stumbled upon.

flooded area in dunes at scarista

A sundew hunting for lunch in boggy ground at Borve.

A noisy and angry oystercatcher directs me down the hill away from it's offspring

Jetty at Rodel Hotel

Then it was time for bed.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

aliens in the undergrowth

I was strolling with my wee dog, Finn, through a local wood, probably more accurate to call it a copse. It is not a big wood.

It was a pleasant early evening and as I wandered, so did my mind, it does that. At the same time
my wee dog was also wandering and looking for things to chew, sniff, pee on, bark at or
snarl at. Mind you he is a terrier, nothing new there. He scuttled out of my sight, round a corner and behind some undergrowth and bushes. Sniffing out another rabbit I mused. Then I heard a low growl from deep in his throat. Hmmm I thought, this sounds serious what has he found?

I skipped, perhaps skipped is the wrong word, around the corner after him and stopped dead in my tracks a few steps behind him. He was growling deeply, hackles up and in the crouched, ready to pounce position that terriers take up. A few feet in front of him was the reason for the stand off and his particularly terrier like behaviour.

A family of aliens was stealthily moving through the undergrowth, led by an adult, the mother perhaps. Difficult to tell with aliens which is the mother or father, perhaps, like the Aspidoscelis genus of lizard, the Whiptal Lizard for instance, these aliens have no need for a male as they reproduce without the need for male fertilisation. Maybe they are of the parthenogenetic species and are genetically isolated? Or is this distentifolium? I cannot think, what to do next. Well, I sneak a photograph, no, not a self y.

Then I came to my senses. Who cares how they breed, what are they. We might be surrounded, I might have stumbled into an alien invasion, 'Independence Day'. No can't be, that was last September. Should I contact Roswell, they will know what to do. I sensed a world changing moment and only my brave terrier was on hand to save the world. Where is he?

Then, behind me, I hear more rustling in the undergrowth. I turn slowly, trying not to make a quick movement. Oh no! Another one, a BIG one. Where did it come from?

I am surrounded. I look back to the first group. They are nowhere to be seen. Just melted into the undergrowth. I quickly look round. The big one, where is it. Gone. Got to get out of here. Where is that dog? I frantically look about for him. Nowhere to be seen. Oh, he has been abducted by aliens. How will I explain that to my wife.

Then more rustling behind bushes to my left. My fear of another alien encounter is replaced by the even bigger fear of arriving home and telling my wife her dog has been abducted by aliens. I gingerly edge forward and peek over the bush.

Agh! Too late. There he is rolling about in fox shit. Bastard.

I get the lead back on him, carefully.

Back home I telephone the only obvious authority on aliens I know. However the UKIP person I spoke to was of little help and kept blaming the Europeans and going on about how much benefits they would claim.

I couldn't get through to Roswell and by the time I had hosed the dog down it seemed not that important.

A Whiptail Lizard. This might be an alien in the UK, but not to the planet as they are found in the grassland deserts of New Mexico, Arizona and parts of Texas. Hmmm, nearly alien then.

Friday, 8 May 2015

grey heron

The Grey Heron, is a wading bird of the heron family Ardeidae. You will see them throughout the United Kingdom, usually with there feet in rivers, ponds, any stretch of water where they are likely to catch a fish. They will also feed on small mammals, frogs and even grubs. They are tall slender birds with extra long legs and have a graceful, slow flight. They generally nest and roost high in trees, where, due to their size and long legs they can look quite ungainly.

I was lucky today, I was able to observe one fishing in the river Allan at Bridge of Allan, totally oblivious to my attentions and the passing traffic. I took the photographs from the bridge.

After the series of photographs I have added an old Scot's poem about a frog (puddock) in which a grey heron takes a leading role.   (The poem is in old Scot's and may be difficult to read, even for a Scot)
take off

not far

ease back

landing gear down

The Puddock

A puddock sat by the lochan's brim,
An' thocht there wis never a puddock like him.
He sat oan his hurdies, he waggled his legs
an' cockit his heid as he glowered thro' the seggs.
The bigsy wee cratur' wis feeling that prood,
he gapit his mou' an' he croakit oot lood:
Gin ye'd a' like tae see a richt puddock', quo' he,
ye'll never I'll sweer, get a better nor me.
I've fem'lies an' wives an' a weel plenished hame,
wi' drinks fur ma thrapple, an' meat fur me wane.
The lassies aye thocht me a fine strapp'n chiel,
An' I ken I'm a rale boony singer as weel.
I'm nae gaun tae blaw, but th' truth a maun tell,
I believe I'm the verra MacPuddock himsel'.
back on the lookout

A heron was hungry an' needin' tae sup,
sae he nabbit th' puddock an' gollup't him up;
Syne runkled his feathers: 'A peer thing', quo' he,
'but puddocks is nae fat they eesed tae be.' 

J M Caie

Sunday, 4 January 2015

cycle from inverness to durness

another milestone in our life or is it a millstone?

Dave and Ian have participated in a few odysseys over the years. On mountains, down straths over rivers, through blizzards, sluicing downpours, sheltering in bothies, tents, under overhanging outcrops in snow holes, wherever. Mostly on foot and sometimes on bikes. This particular trip, 'the Scotland north auld git cycle odyssey' was designed to be anything but an 'odyssey'. No it was a cycling for softies trip with warm duvets and cooked breakfasts. We are pensioners and Dave got a new knee a few months back.

So on a blustery, though sunny day, Friday 19 September 2014 we set out from Inverness. That's right, the day after the Referendum. Whether we cycled in joy or despair is our business. After wending through the city centre taking a few detours as flood prevention work blocks off some of the cycle route we ascend the ramp onto the Kessock Bridge where a cycle charity run heading towards us momentarily impedes our crossing on the narrow cycle way. Then we are over and pulling up the south flank of Ardmeanach as we meander through minor roads to Munlochy. Our route continues to climb steadily up past the fertile Rosskill estate. We are now on the spine of the peninsula as we head east through Killen before leaving the approved route and left onto the B9160.

A long downhill leads us to the south shore of the Cromarty Firth and through the quaintly named hamlet of Jemimaville. It is not far from there to Cromarty and the jetty. We do not have long to wait for the small ramshackle ferry and after parting with a crisp five pound note we are carried to the Easter Ross shore at Nigg Ferry, overshadowed by a huge oil rig being refurbished in the old Highlands Fabricator's, Brown Root and Wimpey construction yard. An Haliburton concern. The firth has various rigs queued up in the bay, no doubt waiting there turn?

Cromarty ferry

old police house, Fearn
My head floods with memories. Between 1974 and 1978 I was the Hamish McBeth of this area of Easter Ross, from Portmahomack at its north east tip, taking in the villages of Inver, Hill of Fearn, Hilton, Balintore and Shandwick right through to the jetty I am now cycling from. The lone police officer. A Utopian existence steeped in community service and by far the best time in my career. So far removed from the centralised controlling force that we endure today. The eyesore that is Nigg Ferry with it's rig construction yard is soon behind us as we peddle into a blustery head wind along the shore of Nigg Bay to Arabella where we turn right, to pass the interestingly named Clay of Allan farm and into the village of Fearn. We follow Rhynie road through the village, passing the house I lived in all these years before, just up from the birth place of Peter Fraser a past Prime Minster of New Zealand. It is no longer a police house as budget cuts and changes to police policy have rendered single station police officers redundant, so it is now a private house.

We are soon past Rhynie farm and a frenzy of 'tattie houkin', past Loch Eye and over onto the flat, past the bombing range and into Tain after 41 miles of good cycling. We billet at Ross Villa. No tents or bothies this trip.

Struie RAC box
Dave is waiting on a call
Sunday 21st and we are off from Tain on a dull, cold, but mostly windless day. After a short distance on the busy A9 to the Meikle Ferry bridge we turn onto the cycle route to Ardgay along the south side of the Dornoch Firth. It is an enjoyable route through Edderton. A couple of photographs of the ancient RAC box at the north end of the Struie Hill road. 

Dave crosses the Kyle of Sutherland on the meccano bridge
that's him, the wee distant yellow blob
Adjacent to the revitalised garage in Ardgay is a glorious wee cafe, no frills but wholesome food and baking. Just the job. By the way, the garage also boasts a bike shop. Note that. We are soon in conversation with an even older traveller than our good selves. He, like most highland west coasters, sits quietly with his pot of tea, nothing passing his notice. He is Willie Elliot, aka 'Willie the Ghillie' and he hales from a remote spot north of Scourie. He knows Cathel McLeod who will be our host further into the trip. Small world. Then off again following the cycle route on quite backroads to cross the river Carron and on to cross the Kyle of Sutherland by a walkway bolted to the side of the railway viaduct and directly under Carbisdale Castle youth hostel, now closed.

We leave the main Lairg road and go via Falls of Shin, passing a car parking area surrounded by what is left of the Harrods of the north, flat concrete. At Lairg we grab a bite at the Pier Cafe, a nice spot on Loch Shin. Thereafter follows a long uphill drag, not steep, but unrelenting, as we cross bleak moorland for a few miles before alighting at the Crask Inn.

After partaking of a half a pint of delicious real ale we are off on the last few miles, nine or so, into Altnaharra. Most is thankfully downhill so we skud along in anticipation of rest and food. We are not disappointed. Lindsay and Mandy are five star hosts and tea and biscuits are produced on our arrival, shared by a couple from Inverurie who are also on a cycling odyssey of their own. Mandy makes dinner and all guests eat at the same communal table. Good food and pleasant company and all for £25 pounds. We clock up 49 miles today.

Monday morning has sun and misty low cloud in the valley. We are soon dragging ourselves up another long uphill section on our way to Durness via Tongue. In no time on a sunny, if coolish day we are over the high point of the Tongue section and scudding down towards Loch Loyal, a silver curved shimmer in the distance. At the bottom of the glen we cross Lon Achadh na h-Aibhne at Inchkinloch, then along the shore of Loyal with the slopes of Ben Loyal on our left. Refreshment is taken at an idyllic spot, Lettermore; whitewashed cottage beside a strand of trees over arched bridge that must have been part of the old road.

Lettermore by Ben Loyal

Soon we are above Tongue and a breakneck downward section takes us into the village. Provisions at a shop followed by tea and a rather large bacon roll follow in the Tongue hotel with views over to Castle Varrich, now a roofless ruin thought to go back to the 16th century and perhaps to Norse times.

Castle Varrich 

Dave on the long pull up from River Hope
We mount again and get on the last leg of today's journey, the roughest part, both terrain and weather. We stop on the causeway and don warmer clothing then we are striking up a three mile section of hill, not steep but unrelenting. At the top there is a long gradual downhill before a serious 1 in 8 last section drops down to the river at Hope. My fingers hurt from pulling on the brakes. I should have allowed myself to enjoy that section because now comes a steeper ascent as we go up and over the large hump of a hill separating the Hope river from Loch Eribol. At the top we get lovely views over the loch and down onto the small Ard Neachie peninsula.

Ard Neachie in Loch Eribol

The weather is worsening with rain in the air and breeze freshening as we scoot down and along the south side of the loch. The breeze is in our faces as we pull into the lee of Eribol church to have a snack. As we eventually swing around the head of the loch we see a huge tract of wilderness area. This is really out of the way. Along the north side of the loch we are aided by the breeze. We pass what looks like a couple of 'hippy' communities, probably millionaire 'hippies', who knows? There is a lot of work going on to lay fibre optic cable. Even a hippie can be, 'only so far away from civilisation'.

After what seems like an age from departing Altnaharra we enter the scattered township that is Durness. The rain has decided to get real by now and we are getting a soaking as we drag ourselves up and down the 'hills' of Durness. At the very end we pech' up the last long drag past the Caravan site and round the last corner to our digs for that night, Glengolly Guest House. We have completed 49 miles today.

The room is, well, a room. Not a lot of drying points for our sodden gear. We spread it about as best we can, then down to the Sango Sands camp site cafe for fish and chips and a bottle of beer. It is quite a forlorn place in the cold wind and rain, complete with a few locals and bedraggled tourists.

Breakfast on Tuesday is 'whisky porrage'. Wise choice? Time will tell. Then it's the south road on a dull damp morning with scudding clouds and a brisk and gusting south westerly impeding our progress. Skirting the Kyle of Durness was a battle into a healthy gust.

Dave, teeth gritted, battles into wind by Kyle of Durness

We cycle along the strath that is followed by the River Dionard as it exits into the Kyle. Our way is blocked at the far end of the strath by the modest Farmmheall hill and its radio mast. I look for where our road will obviously swing low past this impediment. It is then I see what looks like a vehicle high on it's flank. Ah! We do go over it. Hmmm! At least we are in the lee of the hill and protected from the wind. Find a gear and turn the peddles and grind on from sea level to about 250 meters. I can taste whisky, I knew it was a mistake. At the top we stop for a breather near Gualin House, the views down Strath Dionard past a cloud shrouded Fionaven are spectacular, even in the rain. Then it is into the wind again over an undulating plateau before plunging down the long descent to Rhiconich. We press on and are soon going over steep ascents and descents to Laxford Bridge. Refreshment pause as we hang over the bridge to intimidate, I don't think so, a tweed bedecked lady casting for salmon. The protective ghillie assures us there are no fish moving. Then away we speed along a windy switchback of a road in anticipation of our first serious stop of the day at Scourie, still a bit ahead of us. We are lucky with the traffic, quite sparse; time of year? The last couple of miles is down a scary ski slope section of road that swings us into the village. We dismount and leave our bikes to the mercy of the blustery wet afternoon as we head into the warm innards of the Scourie Hotel for lunch. We meet a group of the Cycle Touring Club heading for Durness, wind assisted. In what seems like no time at all we are mounted and back onto the switchback, twisty road south over the Scourie More peninsula and heading for the crux pitch of the day. That being the hill that bars our way between Kylesku and Assynt, known locally as the Skaig. By the time we get to the shapely Kylesku bridge our blustery day off occasional showers has settled into a gloomy day of persistent, heavy rain.

Kylesku bridge in gathering gloom

We switch our lights on and set out over the Skaig which involves dragging our sodden selves from sea level to over 250 metres in a shortish zig zag torture routine. There is a short flattish section at the summit. A couple cars occupy the parking area. I assume their occupiers are somewhere on clag covered Quinag to my right, lucky them! Then back to breakneck descent time as the road snakes down to Loch Assynt. I glimpse Dave hurtling away from me in the distance. Has he not got brakes? I have got brakes and my hands are sore applying them. On the last downhill section before the junction at Loch Assynt, in heavy rain, I stop to converse with a lady heading up hill. She is pushing a mountain bike and both her and the bike are laden with gear. She is hoping to find a place to eat and get a bed on the other side of the hill. I do not envy her trip, particularly if she intends to descend on the bike, with all that gear. I get the the Assynt junction with relief, just eleven miles of reasonable normal cycling left. I engage top gear for the first time that day as I speed along Loch Assynt side. That changes as I near Lochinver as the switchback nature of road cycling in the north west is once more upon me. The last five miles seems like an eternity, but then I am again hurtling down the ubiquitous steep hill into the village. Destination for that night, Cathel McLeod's great wee guest house, Polcraig. Cathel, an old colleague of mine and someone who obviously has gleaned a smattering of knowledge off me over the years is soon by my side with a two large drams, the other one for Dave. We are dripping on his reception floor as we down the welcome refreshment. We had just cycled 54 brutal miles. After a shower and change of clobber we hang our wet gear in the drying room and head for the Lochinver Larder to eat. It is also the home of the famous Lochinver Pie.

We leave Cathel's place early on a dry, calmish morning. The hill on our exit from the village is steep and catches our breath a bit. We retrace our route back the eleven miles to the junction of the Skaig and onto roads anew to Inchnadamph. Photographs of Ardvreck Castle and Calda house at the east end of the loch mandatory.

Gable of Calda House with Loch Assynt and corner of Ardvreck Castle 

The castle was the stronghold of the McLeod clan of Assynt from 1590. For a time during their tenure they held James Graham, Marquess of Montrose, captive before transportation to Edinburgh for trial and subsequent execution. Clan McKenzie routed the McLeods and in 1672 took over the castle, although after a while they moved out to the more comfortable Calda House which they had constructed nearby. In 1737 Calda house was destroyed in a mysterious blaze. It was never rebuilt and it and the castle descended to the ruins they are today. The castle is said to be haunted by the ghost of Montrose.

Our next stop is Elphin. It is off our route. Signs by the side of the road lured us to that spot with the promise of tea and fresh baking at the community hall craft day. The baker has not surfaced, so no cakes. We make ourselves a cup of tea and dine on a couple of dry digestives. The power of advertising. Back to Ledmore Junction and a right turn with Bonar Bridge our destination. We are on single track road and soon pass Loch Borralan. We do not spot the Crannog at it's west end, no matter. The day is brightening up as we head east and the road is turning into a pleasure. We stop for more photographs at the bridge over Allt Eileag then it is Loch Craggie before the long gentle descent down Strath Oykel in lovely autumn sunshine. It is a beautiful cycle route with long views to the distant east. A short, abortive stop in the village of Rosehall at the 'closed' hotel means no afternoon tea for us. We get on and are soon meandering beside the Kyle of Sutherland before emerging onto the busy Lairg - Bonar Bridge road at Invershin. At Bonar Bridge we receive a warm welcome at the Dunroamin Hotel by our hosts Lesley and Iain. A good meal is followed by good real ale. A second 54 mile day, not as brutal as yesterday.
west face of Edderton Stone

On our way back now as we head over the bridge and through Ardgay to retrace our earlier route back to Tain via Edderton. A couple of photographs of the Edderton stone.

We are treated to tea and home baking by Christine and Richard MacKenzie in Tain. Then off down the Scotsburn Road on our way to a final 'overnighter' at Dingwall. After Alness we get to Evanton and stop for scones at a fine wee church run cafe in Evanton. You will notice the importance of calorie intake on such journeys. We take the old Evanton Road, the first section out of the village being a long uphill drag that levels out into a particularly pleasant cycle route to Dingwall.

old ferry area of Dingwall from Old Evanton road

Then into Dingwall and down Ferry road to our bed and breakfast stop. In Ferry road we pass the Ross Memorial Hospital, birth place of my middle son and also 'birthplace' of my Ross and Sutherland police service. We clock up a pleasant 42 miles. Ann and Flavel are mighty fine hosts. After a delicious and filling dinner at the guest house, courtesy of Ann, we manage an hour or two in the Caledonian Bar where we meet 'Whitey' a retired highland league football star, of a year or two back. A pleasant evening.

A great breakfast and we set out on the final short hop to the end of our mini cycling odyssey. It is a fresh, sunny morning with clouds scudding across the sky, thankfully accompanying us. We swing past the location of the old ferry then out of Dingwall on the cycle route which swings left over the river Conon and up onto the top of Ardmeanach to swing right at Tore.

old shop at Artafallie on old A9 near Tore

We are still on the old road, before a tunnel takes us under the very busy, present A9 adjacent to North Kessock. We detour into the village and stop at the old ferry jetty.

Dave in front of Kessock Hotel
The tide is high and moving against the gale force wind that is breaking up the surface into white horses with fleck spumes adding to the visual drama.

The route back up to the cycle route at Kessock Bridge level is seriously steep. Crossing the bridge is an adventure. Negotiating the narrow cycle track takes care in any circumstances, however a gale coming out of the west causes us some balance difficulty. In fact my helmet is nearly blown from my head.

Kessock bridge

Then it is down and into Inverness for the traffic dodging leg through the centre before arriving back at the car in good order after a final 18 relaxing miles.

So our trip is at an end and after a welcome cup of tea it is bikes on the car and an easy run down the A9.

A great trip, made all the better by the brilliant scenery, the freedom, the brutal fifty four miles from Durness to Lochinver, the easy fifty four miles from Lochinver to Bonar Bridge and last but not least, the friendship, coupled with meeting some old colleagues and friends en route.

Sincere thanks to Hamish, Cathel and Iain.

And Dave's knee got stronger.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Radicondoli street art

The streets of the Tuscan hilltop town of Radicondoli are enhanced by bronze figures - this one seems to be listening for something.

I sometimes slip out of Scotland for a wee meander and when I do, Tuscany is up there in my places of choice.

Friday, 21 November 2014

loch cluanie

It was a misty morning last week as we headed to Skye from the south. As we meandered along the north shore of Loch Cluanie the mist rolled back to allow the rays of the morning sun to spotlight, on the far shore, the isolated Cluanie Lodge, nestling in a protective copse of timber.

A must stop rummage and point moment. With a camera I must add.

cluanie lodge