Sunday, 28 June 2009

A Dean Castle Tour.(The Lucky Dip Day)

This Sunday I really thought the game was up.Forecast showed thick cloud Scotland wide and predicted it wouldn`t lift until mid afternoon, if at all.Looked out window at 8.00 am to mist and dull leaden skies.

Rain wasn`t a problem, it just looked an uninspiring crap day and I`ve grown used to better.About a dozen rainy days on weekend outings during the last 5 years.
Pottered about the garden,watching my bumble bees (got a wee hive in my cellar) until 10.00 am.

Distinct lack of motivation without a sunny morning to drive to or Alex to go out with.Also didn`t want to miss any sun by leaving too early as this is a trend past few weeks for weather to improve later.

Watched updated forecast on internet at 10.00 am as it can change considerably once current info comes in from people on the ground.A mere suggestion of a hole appearing in the murk mid Ayrshire by 12 oclock.It was enough. Time for a lucky dip day.

I would put my faith and fate in their hands once more.

I didnt think if Alex was here he would approve of this method of jumping into the complete unknown without any sort of plan but I`d done it in the past when faced by a similar forcast and came up trumps.

Chucked bike in car and headed for Castle Semple water park where the cycling is excellent but the weather wasn`t (still crap) then carried on towards Irvine (darker skies, some drizzle) looking upwards for this illusive hole.
Suddenly cut onto the A71 as I could see lighter clouds in this direction and 10 minutes later a thin crack in the gloom appeared and I was there under a small opening of hazy golden light with darker clouds all around.It was like storm chasing ( See Alexs U.S.A. trip) only in reverse.
I found myself near the outskirts of Kilmarnock, only problem was I`d never been here except passing through in a car usually having taking a wrong turning somewhere and ending up lost.
I`d found my hole- now where to go?

Quick study of the map showed Dean Castle Country Park as the most obvious starting off point.Car parking,place to get local maps and info , stop and pick an interesting day out.I suppose most people wouldn`t want to do a day out like this but sometimes its good to be fluid in your plans and get surprised.
Dean Castle Itself was a real surprise. Nice wooded park with streams, ponds and trails ( bike and walk) and a well maintained 14th century castle and courtyard fully furnished and free.It looked good but I wanted to get a move on and enjoy the now improving day with a decent bike ride. After toilets and visitors centre I had a plan.

Thanks to the land reform act (2003) local councils have been busy gathering together a network of local trails and cycletracks and making them known to the public. For £2.00 I obtained a pack of 31 walks, cycle rides and maps (a bargain), my passport to the local area.
Off we go.

About bloody time I hear you say.Take a closer look at the map to see my route cheeky people.
Lucky dip indeed as a network of cycle tracks crisscrossed this park,one going to Eglinton castle park near Irvine via a disused railway line,others heading for Kimaurs,Newmilns and Crosshouse.
I picked the last heading out via Onthank (fairly posh scheme) and Knockinlaw (not so posh.) Knockinlaw was a good laugh as it looked an estate full of character so instead of taking the recommended outer route along the edge I went for a trip through its interior to get a proper feel of it.They certainly like their dugs in Knockinlaw.
I don`t mind teenagers and big dogs on a bike as long as I get a head start and its not up a steep hill.Adds a little spice to a run when youve got a shouty young team to navigate past and the odd huffing hound trying to sink its teeth into your bum. Growing up in Glasgow I,ve been chased and bitten by better.Good fun though.
Soon I was out in pleasant countryside....

.....following minor roads past farms then through Knockentiber and Crosshouse.I`d also found my challenge for today

The only hill within range and an obvious landmark for this area as it had a large mast and Oh, whats this.... A trig! (must be getting the bagging bug, eh Alex?)

Also, looking at the map, it had a hilltop castle at Dundonald so I headed for that and presently it came into view.An Impressive pile.
The day was starting to really hot up ,ribbons of blue sky replacing the grey overhead ,cycling shorts and suncream going on.The hole had arrived in style bang on cue.
Stopped for lunch at the castle after pushing my bike up its large grassy mound to the entrance.(£3.10 entry) .Also found out about the smugglers trail nearby
There`not much in this castle,it being a ruin, but it does have a creepy dungeon and extensive views from the rooftop area.

After lunch cycled up to the trig and mast where I found a couple of hairy pals
Also had a good view down towards Troon and Lady Isle from the highpoint of the pass.
Return was via Symington ,Bogend (great names) and Craigie hills back to Kilmarnock.Good rolling cycling through a nice area.Near the centre of Kilmarnock stopped to admire this fine old church built in a dominant spot with the world busy changing beneath its iconic stare.Shame it was now surrounded by car tyre sales and industrial outlets as it was rather grand in its day.

A cycle trail stumbled on nearby ran along the banks of the river Irvine and took me right through the city centre shopping area (now quiet) then back to the car for 4.30pm.
I had just time to nick in to the castle before it shut but what I did manage to see looked interesting,plenty of weapons, armour and furnishings to explore.Worth a return visit sometime as indeed the whole area looks to be.
There is also a 44 mile source to sea walk down the river Ayr from Glenbuck to Ayr harbour .A gorge section at Failford looks impressive, so plenty to do for other days.
Everytime I think I`ve ran out of new places to explore serendipity lends a hand to prove me wrong.Thanks lucky dip day.

Ps. Took this pic of of the sun looking as if it had just arrived on the descent into Glasgow off the Fenwick moors as there was still a lot of cloud around the city.Happy days.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Oklahoma,Arkansas and Alberta.

More of a vist to relations than a bagging trip so no hill shots or anything like that.I did spot a US benchmark in Arkansas but Bob will be delighted to learn that I forgot to photograph it :)

Some nice views over London on the way in to Heathrow...

The flight from Chicago to Tulsa was enlivened by a lightning storm out east over the plains with some fantastic displays of forked lightning.....a harbinger of things to come.Although it was about 11pm when we got off the plane in Tulsa it was like walking into a furnace as the heat arose from the tarmac.As arranged, a rather expensive car was awaiting our arrival to take us to the Hotel Ambassador,a listed national historic building, in downtown Tulsa.My second cousin Loriann had been the hotel manager here for a while and had negotiated a room rate that would gladden the heart of the most impecunious Scotsman :)

A change from the usual Wild Country Terra Nova or bothy... :)

The time change had ensured that sleep was kept to a minimum and I was up early for a walk downtown.The streets were empty as I searched in vain for a coffee and the few folk I met couldn`t speak English nor I Spanish.Back to the hotel again and passed an hour trying to find something decent to watch on tv but to no avail.The weather channel had news of an impending storm but I didn`t pay it much attention.Footered around a bit,had a shower and decided to go for another walk,but,on looking out the window,noticed that an eerie silence had descended and a few heavy raindrops wre hitting the window.Turned the weather channel back on and was delighted to see that a storm was brewing.Heather the Weather wouldn`t have a look in here,it was all action,high fives,fancy graphics including a rather nifty doppler radar image and updated by the minute by the storm chasers.Never crossed my mind to bag storms....

Pic of the tv....

Video of storm...this is from behind a double glazed was loud..!

Kim was due to drive over from Pryor and pick us up in the lobby at 11am but phoned to say that there was no way she was driving in the storm.The hailstones were falling the size of golf balls and there was a tornado warning in operation by now.One of their neighbours had been drowned in her car a few weeks previous and eight folk killed in a tornado in Siloam Springs a few months ago.Anyway,the excitement duly passed and Kim and her sister Tracy from San Francisco arrived a little later than planned.A quick tour of Tulsa and a stop for something to eat and we were on our way to Pryor for my dad`s cousins surprise 75th birthday party.We were dropped off at our motel on the outskirts to unpack and picked up later to visit Kim`s for dinner.Never having met any of my relations in Oklahoma before I was a bit wary of the good ol` bible belt right wing scenario unfolding followed swiftly by my eviction but I must admit that you couldn`t find a better set of relations if you tried.Beer and wine were duly consumed and when they told me that they had named their daughter India I felt at home...a couple of old hippies I guessed :)

More relations arrived from California and Florida and you will be pleased to know that I don`t intend boring you lot with photos.Gavin would be interested though in my Uncle Don who owns a vineyard in the Napa Valley in California...even more interested to learn that his son Mark is a wine salesman and who had brought along two cases of the finest red with him.None of your Haddows 3 for a tenner stuff either..! An enjoyable weeknd although the humidity tended to restrict my outside smoking visits until Lisa`s boyfriend Dave arrived.

My dad discovers that not only is the wine free but also the beer, much to Kim and Tracy`s concern...Kim stands by in case he falls over in his rush to neck as much as possible :)

On Monday Kim took us over to Arkansas for a trip round the Ozarks and a visit to the Pea Ridge civil war battle site.The Ozarks were rounded gentle tree clad hills and I do mean tree clad..! Loads of little red dirt roads leading off the highway and typical clapperboard style houses tucked away in the trees.I had googled the Arkanas highpoint before I left but as there was no view from it as it is covered in trees didn`t bother with it.Managed to get one view from a hill at the Pea ridge site though....

....and a nice shot of a turkey buzzard on the escarpment,the only bit of rock I seen in Arkansas or Oklahoma...

Back to Tulsa again and an onward connection to Denver.Somewhere along the way I must have passed over Brian and Martina as they walk from Mexico to Canada..

A five hour wait here soon passed as I went in and out of security each time I wanted a smoke :) There was too much haze for a decent view of the Rockies but as they are pretty boring on this side I wasn`t too bothered and anyway,I`d bagged the biggest one on a previous visit :) Another flight northwards for 3 hours with some good views of the badlands and Montana saw us in Edmonton,Alberta where we were picked up by my dad`s cousin Loretta.
The plan had been to hire a car and escape the city for a few days by going to the Jasper area for some quality bagging but foolishly I had forgotten to bring my driving licence.

As my grandfather and his thirteen brothers and sisters had emigrated here in the 1920`s and 30`s there were quite a few folk to visit.First day was going to see Bob who raced drag cars and organised stunts for films.He is now retired and manages a racing team touring North America.Quite a collection of stuf in his garage which I shall never take Jon to visit..!

Irene and one of the cars..

...and another....

Video of the orange one....brings to mind the Ballad of Lucy Jordan :)

Sorry about the video but the beast had a V8 5.something or other engine in it and was off quicker than I expected..!

Up to Donalds ranch outside Whitecourt,about 120 miles away, the next day.

The road up to Donalds...

...a cracking log house he built himself in the middle of nowhere.He had cattle,horses and a herd of alpacas but ongoing ill health has meant that he has had to get rid of the cattle and horses.The cougars assisted by getting rid of the alpacas for him one night :)

Donalds log house....

He is married to the most delightful Cree woman ,Marielle,and has a granddaughter called Autumn Sky.Nice to see old names carried on.Marielle`s dad had just passed away last year and he seemed to be quite a character,a trapper and guide up North.Another cousin up in Fort Providence in the North West Territories is married to a Slavee nation woman also.

For the life of me I couldn`t get a decent shot of the hummingbird on their feeder due to the shutter lag on these compact digital cameras.It would visit every 10 minutes about 6 or 7 feet away as well.Eventually followed it around until I caught it on the telegraph wire although this pic does not do the colours justice...

Various other things done but mainly family orientated so I`ll leave it at that.
Only 2 new states and one province bagged along with quite a few birds but as it was a visit to relations rather than a bagging trip I suppose I`ll just have to be satisfied :)

A bit weird knowing your great grandparents are buried in Canada.Feel it should be the other way round in that I`m in Canada and they are in Scotland.It must have been an epic journey for them at that time and I tip my hat in their direction....

Nice to see Bob keeping things ticking over in my absence..!

Monday, 22 June 2009

Blairskaith Bike Tour.

Thought I`d sneak this one in under the radar while Alex is still in Canada/USA.
Just like he`s a bagging addict and has to get two trigs a week or he gets fidgety,eyes jumping around, looking for his next white concrete fix I freely confess I`ve got a problem with sun addiction when I`m not at work.
I`ve never had much motivation going out if its dull or raining but at the first hint of sun I spring to life like an unthinking windup toy.Don`t have a say in the matter. It just happens.
As I`d booked a precious day off today I felt obliged to do something but didn`t fancy another long drive unless it was going to be good which I already knew it wasn`t.
Dull morning.Stayed in bed re-reading my book as it was a cracking story.The Family by Ed Sanders (the story of Charles Mansons dune buggy attack battalion) which gives a fascinating insight not only into the dark group of the title but also the entire late 1960`s west coast sub culture.I wouldn`t normally plug anything but this is one of the best things I`ve ever read. Still available at if anyones interested.You will not be disappointed.

Anyway,Got up at 11.30am. (Hey! Give me a break, I,m on holiday!) and checked the latest weather update.Hazy sunshine by 1.00 pm, good gaps in cloud opening up just north of Glasgow.
Perfect for my other favourite bike ride near my house.
All the cities in Scotland are well placed for the outdoors but,having cycled them all, I think Glasgow is special for sheer variety of landscapes in every direction in a compact area. (Well, I would say that ,wouldn,t I?)
So,tossed bike in car then parked at main car park in Mugdock country park. ( What! Hey, I`m an old man. No way I`m cycling from Glasgow when I don`t have to.)
From here cycled to Strathblane via twisty Deils Craig dam road
As its usually quiet with set back houses and half hidden small lochans.
Once in Strathblane followed the A 89 out of village past a pub then turned down right at church carpark to pick up the disused railway track which gives flat level cycling on good tarmac with views over pasture, hills and woods.
Approaching Lennoxtown the path veers uphill through a small grey scheme of houses (nice)....

....then on to a farm road which runs slightly downhill to the main challenge of the day.The hill climb up to Blairskaith summit at 218 metres.

This is a beast and if you climb this hill in a oner you are very fit or have an amazing bike.I`m not so got off halfway up and rested my fat arse on a boulder for a while admiring the views.
This is the only real ascent of this trip so it`s not too bad and you can always push the metal nag up the steep bits.
A well earned rest at the summit was my reward for panting in the saddle in low gear.
It was empty and peaceful up here with a much needed cooling breeze.Sitting on heathland ,skylarks trilling overhead,mountains and forest to the north,entire city spread below to the south in the distance. A favourite lunch stop.
Some people envy the lifestyles of the rich and famous (see book I`m reading) but nothing beats days like these in my opinion.Besides, think of all the hassle keeping all those mansions staffed,furnished and free of burglars. No thanks, not for me.
Incidently Alex,you may recall a little car trip last winter where we failed to reach here due to a spot of unfortunate navagational error on my part.Think again good buddy!This is a Classic hard bike tick boy,you only earn this trig if you`ve sweated up in the saddle not ambled up to it
through the secret woods.Ha!

Isn`t it a beauty! What views.
From the summit a rough but ok farm track leads across the open moors to just above the quarry where even better views over the city unfold.
Return is via the high balcony road past North Blochairn and the minor back road (Yellow on map) to Mugdock village and then the car.A classic day out.

The last two weekends have been very funny weather wise to say the least . Dull overcast mornings lasting til 12 noon then slowly brightening up to good afternoons and even better evenings.Still I`ve made the best of them. Still no rain though....hairy wood is best. (sound of head being tapped.)

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Isle of May

Got up at 6.45 am and out the house by 8.00 am. I`d pre- booked the ferry after last weeks disapointment to this famous "Jewel of the Firth" lying 5 miles out to sea so I didn`t want to miss it again. (You just phone up and leave your name).
Didn`t feel guilty about Alex as I got the distinct impression he wouldn`t pay the £18 fare needed ("It doesn`t even have a trig?") and I didn`t want to miss my puffins for another year now I had a better camera this time around.
Easy drive up via the M8,Forth road bridge and Glenrothes listening to stirring themes from Zulu(the film soundtrack) then Atlanta`s finest- Cat Power booming out from my cheap stereo got me to an already vibrant Anstruther 2 hours later and checked in at the kiosk.There was already a queue forming and 2 people who hadn`t pre- booked ahead were turned away.
Can`t believe how popular this little jaunt has become nowadays.
Boat was jampacked but my fellow passengers were a friendly lot,mixed young and old from all over the world and UK wide going by the accents.
As we were heading for a nature reserve there were some serious birdwatchers on board with cameras to match.The usual big zoom guys, a large furry microphone man and assorted giant binoculars you could probably kill anything lumbering across the african plains with.
I was almost ashamed to pull out my own tiny zoom in public.It was such a wee winkle.
It was a flat calm crossing and an hour later,with no puking, we landed on bird central, home to around 200,000 seabirds on a slim blade of rock 2 klms long.Roughly 30,000 guillemots,twice that many puffins, lesser numbers of razorbills,terns,shags and eider ducks plus a large breeding population of grey seals.
I was one of the first off the boat and got busy with my tiny pocket zoom.
Puffins were everywhere, whirring around in the air above our heads like chunky little clockwork toys
The one picture I really wanted though was the beak stuffed with sand eels.The classic shot.
I could bore the ass off you for ages with puffin shots as I took over a hundred so here`s some other birds.According to the handout guide its only shags on the island but I didnt see any crests on some of these.Cormorants perhaps?
Apart from the wildlife there is also a long history (5000 years) of people living here.Monks,pirates,smugglers,lighthouse keepers and even a small village at one time.
Now its only the nature wardens but there is a small bothy in the low lighthouse that you can book for a stay on the rock.
You only get 2 to 3 hours on the island but its enough as its fairly small and keeps the human disruption from impacting on the birds too much.
You have to keep to the marked paths but even at that there were puffins waiting to get near their burrows with beakfuls of sand eels too shy to brave the massed cameras assembled nearby.
Any place like this is a fine balancing act between accomodating wildlife and tourists.
Still, at least they are not getting bombed,eaten or shot at as in times past.
All too soon it was time to go and folk shuffled reluctantly back to the boat with memories and pictures.

Arrived back in a now sunny Anstruther at 3 o,clock. ( It had been dry but dull when we left)
Having driven a good way to get here I was in no hurry to rush back with the day improving so I decided to walk from Anstruther along a section of the Fife coastal path to St Monans around 5 klms away. This is a nice section with sandy beaches, clifftop villages and history thrown in.
Its also nice to walk along the edge of folks back gardens in summer as you never know what you might find on the Costa del Fife.

There was even an old salt works near St Monans.A time when salt was much harder to come by which gives its name to Prestonpans and Saltcoats.
As usual I was too late yet again for the St Monans sea queen festival. (Boo Hoo!) a yearly tradition in this little fishing town I`ve always been curious to see for myself.
Never mind.Somewhat wearily I headed up through the empty harbour filled with fluttering bunting,evidence all around me of a gala day packing up , to arrive here!!
As you can see this had everything you might need in a bus shelter as long as you weren`t looking for a pleasant interior or a seat. Bus shelters nowadays offer little comfort if you are elderly or infirm. (Not talking about myself here)
I flopped down against the outside wall, watching swallows skim over the still green corn fields enjoying the sun until the bus arrived after 20 minutes.
Big crowd of good looking Goth girls got off the bus as I got on.Really cute dark makeup but a bit too worldy wise to be sea queens I`d suspect.Probably been sea queens a few years ago though.They sure do breed `em beautiful in St Monans judging by these fine examples.
No photos as I`m quite fond of my teeth.
Sadly, at my time of life,a big feed is all I`m after at the end of a long hot day so drove home thinking about food in kitchen and what I was going to do to it.
I decided I was going to give it a right good seeing to and here it is............
Boy ! What a feed !! Couldn`t wait to chow down on this masterpiece.Lashings of curry powder and spices and a wee cheeky tin of beans and sausage as a garnish.
Then this ..
Man! What a Day!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!