CTC Swallows and Amazons Five Ferries Expedition
Ardrossan – Tarbert – Ardrossan, 27 & 28 June 2018
All winter Captain Peter ‘Bluetooth’ Valente had been dreaming of leading an expedition of CTC Swallows and Amazons on a Five Ferries Expedition. His plan was to explore the unknown islands of Arran and Bute and the mini-fjords of Kintyre. Night after night he had sat in his first-floor eyrie, scouring the maps, wondering whether to go north from Brodick, under the towering heights of Goat’s Fell, or south around the gentler coasts and dally on the way to Lochranza.
Mother, aka Dame Iron Sides, had given permission for the expedition in a telegram. “Better crashed than old buffers, if not old buffers won’t crash.”
The large crew recruited to fill the ferries all assembled as arranged at Ardrossan Harbour, some by car, some by rail. But where were the two Amazons, Bosun Fairydust and Ship’s Navigator, Heather ‘Pooch’ Porteous? Frantic phone calls to Able Sea Person Sue ‘Skylark’ established they were doing an unscheduled tour of North Lanarkshire and even Ms Google had stopped talking to them. Luckily they resumed their journey to North Ayrshire and arrived just in time to catch the ferry.
The Ship’s Cat, Liz ‘Hipster’ Sutherland was purring a welcome to everyone when we discovered to our delight we had a stowaway. Yvonne had smuggled herself aboard and was trying to pass as the young Cabin Boy. Bosun Fairydust announced sadly that Ship’s Artist-in-Residence, Jude ‘the Guid’ was indisposed and would not be joining us. Ship’s Purser, Joan, quickly altered the registrations of these members of the expedition.
The anchor was raised, the painter untied from the dock and the good ship MV Isle of Arran sailed smoothly from Ardrossan setting her course for Brodick. The sea was like glass and the sky blue, with only the faintest breeze from the north, as we made good time of the crossing. Cap’n Bluetooth gave us his orders; “Slather yourselves with sun-tan lotion as we don’t want to call on the Ship’s Sawbones, ‘Smiley’ Riley, to relieve any sunburn. And set your electronic navigation devices beforehand as we want to leave promptly as soon as the ship docks.” “Aye, aye cap’n” we all chorused.
1st Mate Davie-boy ‘Red Card’ Lambie took charge of the disembarkation of the expedition’s equipment of bicycles, stores, luggage and stuffed bumbags, as sported by Bosun. This was quickly distributed among the expedition members and we set off south to Lamlash. It was soon apparent that ‘Hills’ Hilary should be appointed as Ship’s Lookout, as the call went up “look out, Hills coming past” on every descent, closely followed by her side-kick Able Sea Person Mo and pursued by 2nd Mate, Colin ‘Shakin’ Stevenson.
The expedition continued smoothly through the sea-side towns of Lamlash, with its fine views of the mysterious Holy Island, and Whiting Bay, round the south of the island to Laggs Hotel. Here the Cooks’ Collective of Bosun Fairydust, and Able Sea Persons Jan ‘Wee Midge’ Ure and Skylark organised great slabs of Italian ciabatta filled rolls, piping bowls of hot soup, followed by slabs of lemon drizzle cake and all washed down with lashings of lemon San Pellegrino fizz and cappuccino coffee. The expedition took an ethnographic interest in a native priest and his ritual use of alcohol with his parishioners. It mostly seemed to involve a chant of “your round, Jimmy”.
After luncheon, Ship’s Blogger ‘Nosewipe’ volunteered to be back-marker. The peloton had crested the first steep hill when Ship’s Engineer, Ian ‘Beanie’ Robertson was called upon to earn his keep; by fixing his own puncture. This was tricky to do and so the two lost touch with the main expedition. While working hard to catch up they kept being overtaken and then slowed down by an annoying ‘Dog-Trotters’ red camper van. Rushing through Blackwaterfoot, without so much as getting their feet wet, they managed to regain touch with the Ship’s Cat and the expedition’s Chief Botanist, Phyto-Phil Rankin.
The laggards wearily drew into Lochranza to discover an advance party, led by 1st Mate Red Card, had taken an earlier ferry to Claonaig to prepare the expedition’s camping grounds and feeding arrangements at Tarbert. The remoaners sat participating in the native ritual of imbibing cool and fortifying glasses of Arran Blonde, Purser Joan flexed her quads, and the Ship’s Cat, who unusually loves water, and Able Sea Person Skylark enjoyed a wee douk, before all embarked on the next ferry.
As they disembarked at Claonaig and wound up the hill along the narrow single track road, the ‘Dog Trotter’ camper van pushed rudely past them. There was much muttering about the dangers of such driving and the antagonism shown towards cyclists. Nevertheless good time was made over the hill and down the main road to food and lodgings.
“Be washed and scrubbed and ready to eat by 7.30” called Cap’n Bluetooth. The Cooks’ Collective had laid a groaning table of haddock, chips and peas, lamb shank and steak pie, with foaming pints of ale to wash it down. “Be at the ferry terminal at 9.00 tomorrow” were the last orders from the 1st Mate. After a short turn along the harbour, we crawled tired and happy into our own beds and fell fast asleep.
Next morning there was porridge, kippers and a full Scottish breakfast with thick slices of toast and marmalade washed down with pots of tea and coffee. It was another day of bright, strong sunshine and we all assembled cheerily to catch our third ferry to Portavadie on the Cowal Peninsula. As we made the crossing the friendly native boatman pointed out a dolphin jumping in the bay.
We climbed steadily out of Portavadie into the wooded hills until we came to a crossroads. “Decision time” said Cap’n Peter, “either over the hill to Tighnabruaich or the longer and flatter road round the peninsula. I can’t promise you any wildebeest on these empty plains, but some fine South Devons and dolphins in the bay.” Only the Cabin Boy wanted to go over the hill and promptly stowed away somewhere else, never to be seen again on this expedition. The rest of us grumbled round the peninsula, “we thought you said this was flat” but were rewarded with stunning views of Arran floating over the water in the haze.
Cooks’ Collective managed to rustle us up some coffee and scones in a small, expedition-friendly cafe in Tighnabruaich. “You’ll need to take on board some provisions now” they warned, “Navigator says there’s a long hill to climb and no more food for 17 miles.”
The hill lay lang and steep and all in the village, it seemed, decided to drive it as we puffed up the narrow track. We were soon spread out and although the road widened, we still had a long way to the viewpoint at the top. Able Sea Person Skylark had a mechanical and she and Navigator Pooch had to stop.
The rest reached the viewpoint and crossed the road into the lay-by. We admired the view down the Kyles of Bute and waited for the back-markers. As they appeared over the brow of the hill, there was suddenly a stream of on-coming traffic and they had to wait in the road before crossing safely. To our horror, coming over the brow, we saw the dreaded ‘Dog Trotter’ camper van. “Jump in the ditch” yelled the Ship’s Sculptor Dougie as the van roared past, with the driver’s face in the windscreen contorted in an evil grin. “OMG he was about to mow you down” said Nosewipe, “we came very close to having a horrible end to our expedition”. (Dramatic license has been taken here.)
Nothing daunted, we caught our breath, layered on more sun-tan lotion and insect repellent and scooted down the hill, with the tarmac melting beneath our tyres. Not even another long climb to our next hostelry and ferry at Colintraive was going to spoil our day. We shared this most hospitable stop with a band of natives on e-bikes, and felt envious and uppity in equal measure.
At this point Cap’n Bluetooth decided to split the expedition. Those who were cycling from Wemyss Bay back to Ardrossan would press ahead. Along the way Cooks’ Collective seem to have whipped up frothings of ice-cream in Rothesay and fish and chips when they safely arrived tired and hungry in Ardrossan.
Those who were catching a train home from Wemyss Bay – Ship’s Cat, Botanist, Engineer and Blogger – dawdled along through Bute to Rothesay. Even Lookout and Able Sea Person Mo were taking it easy. The Cat and Blogger went for another douk, while the Botanist was stung by rare marine plants swirling round his ankles. They arrived in Rothesay and were straight onto the ferry – no time even to enjoy an ice-cream – then the train, to swelter through a long, hot journey home to Edinburgh with the rail-tracks melting beneath their wheels.
It was a tiring end to what we all agreed had been a most excellent adventure (although there was nobody called Bob or Ted on it). Nobody there could now say the islands of Arran or Bute or the mini-fjords of Kintyre were unexplored. In some it re-kindled their love of islands; for others their love of continental cycling on melting tarmac in the heat. And for all it was the joy of cycling in sharing, considerate and happy company. While we’re sure those who were with him at the end heartily thanked Cap’n Bluetooth for all his efforts, we all echo, “Swallows and Amazons, Five Ferries, Three Cheers for Peter”.
From an idea by Fairydust
A Cyclist’s Playlist – Kirkcudbright away trip, 12th and 13th June 2018
As organised, meticulously as always, by Dame Iron Sides, we met in the grounds of St Cuthbert’s church for an obligatory photo showing off everyone’s new red tops. There were a few recalcitrant members still in blue.
As we set off this song, On The Road Again by Willie Nelson cycled onto the list.https://streamable.com/9l7fb
Cycling along I realised we had Brian ‘Sunny Orange’ Curtis with us and I thought, in his honour, should be on the list: https://streamable.com/4ooun
Unfortunately the playlist doesn’t include anything for Keith, our new person, who spotted our first red kite.
On the main hill of the day Jo-Jo was back marking, so she can’t be included in this, but there were others, who we might loosely call Fairydust and the Fandangos doing this: https://streamable.com/46mk7
At the bottom of the hill, at a crossroads, the Rev D Ross, Iain and Jill ‘the Plank’ McBain left us to take a shorter route home.https://streamable.com/yf6zh
We had lunch at New Galloway and Janet and Gordon were comparing notes on the relative merits of bridies from Dundee and Glasgow and other delights of the mean streets from which they hail. So this seemed appropriate: https://streamable.com/hxq9r
And while on the subject of the Boss, many of us had attended Doug ‘the Sculpture’s degree show, so this played in his honour. https://streamable.com/f6cr4
At Rhonestone, 10 miles from home and looking for our coffee stop, the road was blocked for re-gritting, so we had to find an alt route to Threave and then home, at which the route planners excelled. https://streamable.com/yf6zh
Finally, I had thought this would be me, but we had no stragglers coming back into Kirkcudbright. Still, it’s a nice way to sign off: https://streamable.com/c448r
I hope this works for some of you.
Thank you to Barbara Darcy and Peter Martin for passing on this link which might be of interest to our members. It shows a 90 second animation showing 188 years of railway building, closure and re-opening in Edinburgh.
Wind Resistance – Fala Moor, 30 May 2018
There is no blog from me today. The story of Fala Moor and Soutra Aisle has been written and sung and performed much better than I could ever dream of. Karine Polwart’s ‘A Pocket of Wind Resistance’ has been a hit since its first performance at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2016. It has toured across Scotland and the UK and is on at the Leith Theatre on 16 August. Folk Radio’s review says; “This is far more than an album, it’s a journey. Karine Polwart’s ‘A Pocket Of Wind Resistance’ is theatre for the ears”.
We didn’t suffer wind resistance today, more like cold from the haar, but you can listen to our journey by streaming or downloading the disc here;
If you want to listen to the tracks individually, pay particular attention to:
All on a Summer’s Evening
The Moor Speaks. “In the moor where the wind sings, I am earth and I am water, I am sedge and I am sky, I am old dead things, I am alive.”…”Do not hold your breath in your fist. Open your hands.”
Lark in the Clear Air, “And my soul it soars enchanted as I hear the sweet lark sing in the clear air of the day.”
Labouring and Resting
“In September the geese snaking across the Firth of Forth from their summer nests in Iceland and the coastal cliffs of Greenland, clattering and honking in their ever shifting skein. My garden is a flight path, I watch, I listen. The outstretched wing-tips of each migrating goose create an up-wash, a pocket of wind resistance, for the bird tucked in behind and below. These nooks of ease, these aero-dynamic sanctuaries, cut the drag by up to 65%.
“It’s a wonder; it’s also a gale-bitten struggle to sustain co-operation. Every goose takes a turn, stepping up, falling back, labouring and resting. Like sky-born socialists, no lone bird bears the brunt… Stepping up, falling back, labouring and resting.”
A Place to Rest and Mend
“A priest works his magic on Soutra…The wintering geese settle in down below, in the cool lochan waters of Fala Flow, while here in this place to rest and mend the friars and midwives attend to the sick, the infirm and the aged, the pilgrims, the poor…Here on this wind-battered fell-side that flanks Fala Moor, the kindness of plants and the kindness of hands.”
Remember the Geese
“Miles and miles and miles and miles…I watch and wonder at the geese as they fly up the Salter’s Road to Fala Moor each autumn, stepping up, falling back, labouring and resting. The skein is their refuge and so is the moor itself.”
Molly Sime’s Welcome to Salter’s Road
“She was waiting for a boy…
driving on a Clydesdale like her father once had done
from Mutton Hole to Preston Hall thro all the dells and ditches
and an avenue of burly beeches that reached towards the sun.
For miles and miles and miles she rode
down Salter’s Road to Fala Dam and all the way home,
for miles and miles and miles she rode.”
Explore, enjoy and let the songs and stories resonate.
Summer Cycling Chums – Callendar Park, Falkirk. 2 May 2018
We pricked up our handlebars as we heard someone opening the bike shed. “I wonder who’ll be going out today” said Orange MB. Then we realised it’s Wednesday.
“It’ll be you, Black Specialised Tri-cross, off on one of your epics. Be sure to tell us all about it in one of your blogs” the others jeered at me.
We met up outside the dead Blue Goose – no vodka there then – and not the most convivial of spots, with the traffic rushing by. Poor old Dawes of Sir Bill was squeaking and groaning away as usual. “Oh, my joints hurt, my chain’s rusted, my brakes are clogged, my gears need indexing, my cables need greasing, I need a good bath.” We knew he’d be going on and on like this all day. “Hey Dawes, I hear you’ve got some new companions” piped up Tripster of Sparkly.
“Don’t get me started on those” grunted Dawes. “Abominations; little wheels, fold-ups, with delivery baskets on the front. And pink for him and blue for her, I ask you. At least they can be packed up in a box, so I don’t have to listen to their silly chitter-chatter all day.”
We all crowded round Genesis of Colin Shakin’ Stevenson, to welcome him back on the rides. (We call Genesis bikes the Creationists). “Glad to see you back mate” we chorused. “I hope you don’t start giving Colin the shakes again” I thought.
We were introduced to new Specialised of Sue ‘Skylark’ Robertson. We were really upset to hear the story of how our friend, Falcon Explorer, a bit overweight but still a really good, steady chap, had been stolen from his home. “That’s a fate worse than being given away to the Bike Station” said Revolution of Krol. “Imagine, you could be used to ram-raid some kid, or as a getaway bike after a bank heist, or have your tyres slashed and your wheels kicked in in a gang fight.” “His imagination does run away with him a bit sometimes” I thought.
I was looking forward to seeing Specialised of Posterboy again. She is transgender – flat handlebars and duck-egg blue paint job. But instead a bike I’d never met before, a Van Nicholson, turned up and explained he was Posterboy’s summer bike.
I looked with admiration at the sleek lines, light frames, perfect geometry and slim wheels of Giant (at least I think that’s who it is) of Marion, Avail of Heather ‘Pooch’ Porteous and Spa of Smiley. I knew, sadly, I’d never be able to keep up with them. Actually, it turned out that Spa was back-marking and the others were malingering. So, I got a chance to chat about their titanium frames and flared mud-guards.
Cannonball of Dame Iron Sides was leading and just before we left Tripster announced it was Dame’s birthday yesterday. Between you and me, Cannonball can be a bit vicious; she gets up and bites the Dame every time she hops off her pedals.
As we headed onto the canal the Creationist of Shakin’ commented on my new back wheel and drive train and front ring and new tyres. I was dead chuffed that someone had noticed.
We were all getting very wet when we got to Ratho. Trike of Dave ‘Strictly Come Triking’ Stokes went off to get a coffee and then went home, which was a shame because I wanted to talk to him about his cornering technique. We were however joined by Specialised of Fiona ‘Fairy-dust’ Owen. She’s a lovely looker, all in white, but suffering a bit with arthritis in her handle-bars and headset.
It was nice to chat to Lady Hewitt of the Hipster about her trip with Specialised of Kool Kristine to Colonsay, where they enjoyed wall-to-wall sunshine and cycled all over the island. There were lots of famous authors there for a Book Festival, including Bella Bathurst, who wrote a book about us.
We were going up the hill to Ecclesmachan when I realised everyone had turned round and was coming down again. There had been an accident involving one of those motorised, four-wheel things and the road was closed. (Ecc’ll smack her one). So, Cannonball had to do some quick thinking to find an alternative route and decided we needed some more training and took us up Binny Hill instead and on to Linlithgow.
We had lunch at Callendar Park where we looked at birds and water and trees; Skylark liked that. Sparkly gave out cake and we all sang ‘Happy Birthday to you’ and tinkled our bells and blew our horns. Sir Bill played on a swing. Under all the dirt you could see old Dawes blush in embarrassment for him.
After lunch we passed through Grangemouth and Bo’ness and then Fairy-dust and the Specials started up a chorus:
“We’re rolling, rolling along
From Bo’ness and through to Blackness
With the wind on our backs awfy strong
We’re gliding, gliding along no stress”.
I think it was to the tune of Rawhide, but I might be wrong.
As we climbed out of Blackness and on to Mannerston, our cranks began to hurt, and our drive trains felt the strain. We were glad to stop at the garden centre for a rest and to take on board some liquid and cake.
At Cramond Brig the Dame offered to guide people back to the start through Cammo. I just wanted to go the way I know; I can do it on auto-pilot, don’t even need one of those Garmin gadgets that get stuck on us. But others took up the Dame’s offer and I could see Cannonball thinking; “oh no, why did she offer? I’ve got to keep going now while all I want to do is go back to my nice comfy shed and put my wheels up.”
As we got home, after another 65 miles, John opened the shed and slid me back into my place next to old Silverback Reebok. “Where have you been?” the others all twittered and chirped. “Who did you meet, what did you see, were you all right, were there any accidents, did you carry John OK?”
“Oh, hush your weesht” I groaned, “I’m so tired; my tyres are blistered, my saddle’s sore, my chain is stretched, my gears are aching; I just need to rest. I’ll tell you all about it in the morning.” And with that I leant in against Silverback, closed my eyes and went to sleep.