Across Continents

Ken's Blog

Towards Glencoe

May 14th, 2009
Unspoilt vista

Unspoilt vistas

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North to the Highlands

May 14th, 2009

Riding up the A82 along the western shores of Loch Lomond the miles fly by, as do the lorries.  Soon, a brief stop at one of my favourite hostelries, familiar to many who have walked the West Highland Way.  Priding itself in its Highland authenticity, it was last decorated during the Clearances.  Probably.  It also seemed to me that a previous owner was an enthusiastic, but quite untalented, amateur taxidermist.  Either that or the various dusty creatures died very unnatural deaths.  I duly pressed north under clear skies and bright sun.  By lunchtime it was getting decidely warm in the Trossachs…

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A sense of proportion

May 12th, 2009

large-cycle

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Thelma and ….. Billy

May 12th, 2009

I’ve great admiration for Scotland and its people.  A recognisable nation state with a very distinct feel to it.  Or put it another way, you know you’ve entered what used to be a separate country in its own right.  You can name Kings and Queens of just Scotland, or at least I could this morning if the chap in the next room hadn’t snored so loudly.  But you get the picture.

I also like Glasgow.  A lot.  But I suspect even its residents would grudingly admit that the district of Scotstown (pronouned ‘Scotstun’ I understand) won’t be appearing in any tourist brochures anytime soon.  It does, however, feature on National Cycle Network Route 7 from Glasgow to the southern shores of Loch Lomond.  You’d be forgiven for thinking that you’d be best avoiding the place.  True, the local shipyards are unlikely to win any awards for industrial archaelogy, but in even the most deprived of areas you often find something heartening.  And I don’t just mean no discarded syringes on the cycle path.  Which makes a change from Merthyr Tydvil a few years back.

Back to Scotstown.  Thelma and her daughter Billy own and run the ‘Golden Grill’ burger van, a short walk along from what used to be Yarrows shipyard.  They tow away their concession before dusk each evening, and that’s probably not to avoid the midges.  What I liked was the friendly welcome and dry humour – the polystyrene cup on the counter marked ‘Thelma’s divorce fund.  House leaks.  No TV’, or, for example, the story behind the ‘Empire’ biscuits by the tea urn.  Turns out the latter were known as ‘German’ biscuits until sales began to drop off in autumn 1939….  Her son, Thelma told me,  was away training, getting ready to raise funds for a local hospital charity by cycling from Glasgow to the Isle of Skye.  I made a small donation to the divorce fund and then continued my journey towards Loch Lomond Youth Hostel.

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New Lanark looked decidely old

May 12th, 2009

It had been a cold, wet ride following the M74 from Gretna to New Lanark, south-east of Glasgow.  Even by Scottish standards.  I was glad to reach New Lanark Youth Hostel down on the banks of the Clyde below, errr, Lanark.  I hesitate because New Lanark looked decidely older than Lanark itself.

I’d met Steve from Derbyshire earlier in the day as he hacked north towards John O’Groats on a rather faster machine than mine.  And it was he who introduced me to Maggie, support team for her daughter Jasmin.  Now, I don’t exactly recall what I was doing when I was eighteen, but I do know I wasn’t cycling from John O’Groats to Lands End.  I was reminded in a way of the exploits of cycling author Josie Dew who’s talk I’d listened to some months ago in Winchester.  Conditions in Scotland had been tough for Jasmin, but she’d stuck with it.  I was impressed by her quiet under-statedness.  It’s an English thing, just getting on with it.  Do hope Maggie or Jasmin get in touch and let me know when they have reached the finish.

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Feedback – your help sought!

May 12th, 2009

Over the next few months you will see a few changes to the website, be they structural tweaks or just content.  And this is where you come in.  Your feedback will be a big help, shaping how it develops over the coming months.  Do be very honest – whilst it would be great to hear what you like, it’s equally useful to know what didn’t quite work for you.  Help me avoid using a plethora of over-wrought frivilous adjectives….

Feedback can be left as ‘Comments’ on the blog, or by e-mailing them to me via the ‘Contact’ page.  If having your comments published makes you reluctant to do this, just say and I won’t put them on the website.

I am often asked if I’ll write a book when I get back from the expedition.  That rather depends, I say.  As part of my research I’ve read a great many travel and cycling books, some I thoroughly enjoyed (Al Humphrey, Pam Goodall and Steve Lord), but a good number where what would have been fine for friends or immediate family of the author had been cruelly inflicted on the wider populace.  So then, whether I write a book or not rather depends on whether  I believe I can write something of broader appeal.  The blog would inevitably be the source material, so do let me know what you think, perhaps even help me refine my style.  And do be very honest.  I have a thick skin.

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Emma

May 12th, 2009

emma5

I’ve been mulling over names for my trusty stead for a while – Thorn eXp doesn’t really roll off the tongue, or, I suspect, translate easily into Swahili.  So I’ve settled on ‘Emma’.  Very English.  But, as yet, I’m unsure of the personality – a tough northern lass perhaps, or an altogether more delicate lady?  Polite, witty suggestions most welcome, and I’ll publish the best ones!

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Road signs

May 11th, 2009

gaelic-road-sign

Road signs feature large in the photograph albums of many a cyclist.  Presumably this is to give some credence to their claims of epic adventure.  Forgive me for mentioning this, but if this is the motivation, there’s a flaw.  You see, I could do the same – with a car and a camera.  And if I ever actually need photographs to convince my friends – and I don’t – I’d be taking a long hard look at those around me.  So why the photograph?  Well, you know you are in the Highlands proper when the signs become bilingual.  Incidentally, ‘Gaelic’ is actually, I’m assured, pronouned just like the stuff you use to ward off French people.  Something like that anyway.  And don’t get me wrong, we have much to thank the French for – words like ‘collaborator‘.

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Wherever I lay my hat…..

May 11th, 2009

bridal-suite

It’s been a while since I spent the night in a bridal suite, so when the chance arose to do so again in Gretna I just couldn’t resist.  And in this instance, the way to a man’s heart was an attractive single occupancy rate.

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Beware the honey monster

May 6th, 2009

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the most feared creature in Africa is probably the lion, maybe the crocodile, or conceivably the hippo.  But you’d be wrong.  It’s actually the honey badger.  Lions avoid them.  The size of a British badger, it knows no fear, is born grumpy and will attack on a whim.  Not clear if it carries TB, but there again that’s probably the least of your worries if you encounter one.  You see, this rather cuddly sounding creature knows just where to attack, the mere thought of which brings tears to the eyes of the average African chap….   Fortunately I didn’t have to go to Africa to learn all this – the relative comfort of Ulverston in the Lake District sufficed – all part of  an intensive two day course in field skills for the tropics, savannah and desert.

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