Tuesday, 29 May 2012

23 May Cumbrae Again

Allan, Andy, Davie C, Jimmy, Paul, Peter, Robert & Ronnie
Of all the Clyde islands probably our most visited is the isle of Great Cumbrae, partly for ease of access and partly for the easy walking along its ten miles of flat shore road or the short, four hundred foot climb to the Glaidstone at the top of island. So it was something of a surprise when only eight of us turned up at the pier in Largs for the short ferry ride to the island. (To be fair to the missing ones, this is the holiday season for us old folks; the schools are still in and the low prices match our pensions.) Still the eight that did turn up were in for a superb day.
It was one of those bright May mornings when the sun blazed in a pale blue sky and a haze hung over the landscape, not such a strong haze that we couldn’t see for miles but one that stopped the landscape being sharply defined and the far hills melted into the blue distance.  And already the day was warming up nicely.
Contrary to our usual way, and in our new spirit of adventure, we turned northward from the ferry terminus to circumnavigate the island in an anticlockwise direction. That this was to be a relaxed walk in the May sun became obvious when, barely a mile into the walk there was a call for coffee and at the war memorial on Tormont we sat down for our first stop of the day. May flowers – sea pinks, spring squill and birds-foot trefoil - decked the turf where we sat, orange and grey lichens stained the shore rocks and black and white eider ducks swam just off shore. And we had a view, a view of the northern extremity of God’s county, that part north of Largs, the Clyde turning round the tail of the bank and the hills of Cowal. We watched the Dunoon ferry ply its route over a calm, blue sea. This was a great place for our morning coffee and some of us might have spent the day here lazing in the sun but the itchy-footed among us were already straining at the leash and too soon we were on the road again.
Not too far along the road we were stopped again. This time it wasn’t coffee that took our attention but five or six feral geese. These white geese roam wild but are always to be found in the same area on the island. And we soon found the reason for this. As Robert and Davie made a cautious approach and a nervous retreat from the hissing geese, a car drew up and a woman got out clutching a bulging bread wrapper. Her name is Nessie and she comes twice a day to feed the geese with a treat of bread. Nessie had no qualms about approaching the geese, hissing or not, and they followed her, honking and hissing, as she led them away from the road nearer the shore. They obviously know where their bread is buttered (or not in this case). When Nessie left the geese, so did we.
Now that our ornithological consciousness had been raised by the geese, other birds were spotted – oystercatcher, shelduck, cormorant, ringed plover and even wren and willow warbler. (We had to take the word of our birder on this last one as most of us can’t yet tell one wee broon burd from another.) Other ‘birds’ of a different nature pedalled up behind us on a variety of bicycles. ‘You’re no’ gaun very fast.’ said one of our number to them as they pedalled casually by us. ‘We’re just enjoying the view’, came the rejoinder. ‘So are we from this angle’ responded one of our number as they pedalled slowly in front of us. There was no answer from the ladies.
The ice cream was welcome. We had walked on another mile or so in the sun and were sorely in need of another sit down. At Fintry Bay tea-room we found the perfect place, sat down at one of their picnic tables and enjoyed the ice cream served by the young ladies of the tea-room. The cooling cones were most welcome for now the sun was getting hot and there was no shade out on the road. And, once again we might have stayed longer but the itchy-footed wouldn’t let us linger and too soon we were off again.
Arran was now in our view but the haze hanging over the sea prevented us from seeing it too clearly, though this didn’t prevent Allan trying to capture a good picture of it. And more pictures were taken when we left the road just south of Fintry Bay and took to a footpath up into the fields. Now we seemed to rise above the haze and the high hills of Arran were clearer and appeared to float on it. Cameras clicked often as we crossed the open field towards the golf course club-house.
There was some suggestion of a pint in the club-house but it was felt that it was too early yet even for Ooters for it was just approaching midday. So, when we gained tarmac here, we kept to it down the hill into Millport. The town was busy with folk in summer clothes taking advantage of the summery weather, so busy that we had problems finding a seat to sit down (Again? Ed) for a spot of lunch. Eventually we found a place beside the Garrison. The peece was taken sitting on a bench or lying on the grass watching the summer-clad sun-worshippers coming and going. Even the itchy-footed among us took their time over lunch but that time came again when we moved on.
We turned inland again and started the climb towards the top of the island at the Glaidstone. Once again we climbed above the sea-haze and the views over to Arran were spectacular. View stops were called as the afternoon sun and the slope took their toll. And the stops were welcome for the views over to Arran from this wee road really are special. Cameras clicked again and we look forward to seeing the photos.
The four hundred and odd foot summit of the island was gained at the Glaidstone and another sit down was called for as we took in the view. From Arran in the south-west through Bute and Cowal and the Loch Lomond Hills in the north, the Renfrew Heights and the Largs hills in the east to the plains of Ayrshire and the high Galloways in the south, this is a superb viewpoint. And we lingered there for a wee while enjoying such views and the heat of the afternoon sun.
From the Glaidstone the way was all downhill. Firstly we headed back towards Millport for that’s the way the road went. Then we found another wee road that cut back towards the ferry terminus. This brought us down to the coast again close to the National Water-sports Centre. Some instructors in full wetsuits were instructing similarly clad youngsters in the subtleties of windsurfing. We watched them in the passing and thanked our stars that such things are behind us now. Isn’t it great to be retired? But, retired or not, the ferry waits for no-one. And we could see the ferry leaving Largs. Still we only had a few yards to the terminus and we had to wait for a wee while for the ferry to come in and dock. Then it was back to the mainland having had another fabulous day on Cumbrae, easily the hottest of the year – so far.
A welcome FRT was taken in McCabe’s beer garden in Largs before each went his own way to his own part of the county.

3 Oban holiday walks

We took the wee ferry to Kerrera, and to the tiny island of Easdale and walked along the canal from Crinan basin.

Gylen Castle on Kerrera

sunset over Mull from Oban Esplanade

Easdale island, slate quarry

Crinan basin

river Add on other side of towpath

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Here are a couple of pictures from the Millport walk -a very laid back affair. We walked a different way round and the opposite way back to the ferry for a change.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

West Kilbride to Largs 16 May

Allan, Andy, Davie, Davie C, Malcolm, Paul, Rex

Seven ooters met at West Kilbride station in bright, dry but ‘fresh’ conditions for the now familiar walk to Largs via Blaeloch Hill. The route has been described previously so no great detail will be made here but suffice it to say that coffee was taken at the usual stones overlooking the fishery before any serious climbing was done.
It has to be mentioned that Holly was kept on her lead for those parts of the walk where we were in any close proximity to sheep. Well done to Davie who couldn’t accept our congratulations as he had been gagged before we set off – gaffer tape is a great thing.
One change to the route took place when we reached the path leading to the top of Kaim Hill. We couldn’t remember whether to take the right hand path or the left and despite his better judgement Paul was persuaded to take the left. This was not the route to the top but allowed us to skirt Kaim Hill and approach the ‘bog’ further down than we usually do. This was a good move as underfoot conditions were much better than encountered previously. Before we knew it we were climbing towards the cairn on Blaeloch Hill where lunch was taken in the lea of the hill as the wind had a certain edge to it. When we did this walk a couple of years back there were no windmills, last year there were some and this year the Kelburn Windfarm was all around us.
The views today were excellent as Arran, Bute, Cumbrae, the Argyll Hills could be seen to the west whilst we could see over beyond Dalry and up to Glasgow to the east and north.
We didn’t wait long for lunch due to the snell wind.  In fact hats, jackets and gloves were retrieved from rucksacks before setting off on the downward trek past the remains of the air crash and down the windfarm road before crossing over towards the burn (past a group of RAMblers who were looking rather sheepish) and making our way through Kelburn Estate towards the Haylie Brae.
Having weighed up our options a decision was made to walk down to Scott’s at the Yacht Haven for FRT, and very pleasant it was too sitting in the sit-ootery* sheltered from the wind. It had taken us a full 5 hours to get there and having rested our weary bones we got the 4.45pm bus back to West Kilbride – at least it would have been the 4.45 if it had been on time, 5 o’clock more like!
*Not to be confused with a shit-ootery which is an outside toilet!

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Retirement project Kirkcowan - continues

These 5 pics show work done last weekend in May

temporary sheeting to protect build

A new day a new hole in the wall.
A door closes another opens.
Helen happy - more space in the temp kitchen.
Livingroom a bit drafty but again door only a temporary feature.
A nice set of 'french' doors perhaps in the fullness of time.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Mosset 2012

Tues 17th April : Arrival and escape from Barcelona

It was a smaller than usual group that gathered at Prestwick Airport for our annual trip to Robert’s house in Mosset, partly due to Robert having planned another big trip to see New England in the fall which was when the Ooters normally went to Mosset. And so it was that Davie C, Ian, Johnny, Rex and Robert took the 10.15 flight to El Prat Airport, Barcelona, a new experience for all as we normally use Girona but Mr O’Leary has cancelled all flights there at the moment from Prestwick over a dispute about landing fees and so has added about 90k and 1hr to our journey to Mosset. The name El Prat did not inspire confidence as  our readers will learn later!

We arrived at El Prat 25mins earlier than scheduled due to a tail wind and set about trying to find the Car Hire Company. After phoning the Company, a courtesy bus would be sent to pick us up which arrived 30 mins later. Robert assured us that the Depot was only 5 mins away. After an interesting drive through the back streets of Barcelona, we arrived at the depot  which appeared to be in an industrial estate. The plan was for Robert to hire the car for 2 weeks (Kate was coming out the second week) and have Ian as a second driver for the first week so that Robert could take us to a wine tasting event where Ian would be the nominated driver that day. However the man wanted to charge us an extra 4 euros per day for the full 14 day hire period. Robert gave him the usual Ooters reply and Robert would remain as the sole driver for the week. Needless to say we never got to try the wine tasting!

At last we were on our way and all we had to do was find our way out of Barcelona which we did after only one miss turn on to waste ground. We soon picked up the signs to Gerona and there was no stopping us now (so we thought).

Swift progress was made until just before the French border when all three lanes ground to a halt and then short bursts of stop go. A large crane ahead soon indicated the problem. Two artic lorries had collided shedding both loads over the road, thousands of oranges from one matched by thousands of onions from the other. Johnny thought we could save some money by gathering up what we could while stopped but Robert didn’t want to lose his place in the queue.

Finally at about 8.00 PM, we arrived safely at the house after stocking up with wine and beer at Super U and of course some food to tide us over. The weather was warm and sunny. The Canigou looked magnificent as usual with a heavy covering of snow on top which had just fallen at the weekend.

Rex provided us with a lovely meal of chicken fajitas followed by the premiere viewing of his latest DVD production to the accompaniment of a few wines, beers and cider for Johnny and so we slipped to bed well satisfied by another adventure.

Wed 18th April : Col de Jau in the snaw

The day dawned bright and sunny but with a chill wind blowing down the valley. We decided to take the car to the head of the Col and walk through the forest on the route to the Pic del Madres. Just before we left, we met Robert’s neighbours, Letti and Ludo who told us that the road over the Col had been blocked by a heavy fall of snow but they thought it had just opened today. Undeterred we pressed on with the original plan. We did pass some large banks of snow on the way up but the road was now clear and open. At the top, we donned all the warm gear as the wind was very chilling and headed up the path which had a light covering of snow. Once in the trees , the wind dropped,the temperature rose and so did the depth of the snow. Very soon, Davie was up to his knees in it and walking became very much like doogalling ( this term was derived from the process of lifting legs high over tall grassy mounds which look like Doogall from the Magic Round About) back home. About 2 hours later, we arrived at the refuge and stopped for lunch in bright sunshine,warm air and beautiful views. In fact it was so warm, Johnny stripped down to his semmit and posed for a macho photograph in wild country. He is now referred to as Vladimir ( as in Putin). For once we decided to be sensible and go no further but just sit in the sun and have a relaxed lunch and then return to the car.

Johnny prepared a lovely beef risotto while the other played dominoes. Robert and Davie won the first game 4-3 but Ian and Rex thrashed them 3-0 in the second. The remainder of the evening was spent watching Barcelona play Chelsea in the European Cup. Rex won the predicted final score result at 1-0 for Barca.

Thurs 19th April: Vernet le Bain, Fillols and  the 2012 Boules Competion.

Went to local market at Vernet, had coffee in usual café and then walked to small village of Fillols over the Col de Juell - a lovely spring walk with apple blossom just breaking out. Had lunch in the  town square along with local chien looking for titbits. Davie conversed with the dog in French and was able to get it to “sit” before getting a bit of piece. Ian was impressed by the dog whisperer and he had a go. Unfortunately, he got the wrong verb and and shouted assiette at the dog who was confused as he only wanted a small bit of food, not a plateful! On our return to Vernet, we proceeded to the Place de l'Entente Cordiale for the annual Ooters boules competition.
 As usual, Johnny devised a set of rules to decide the Championship with everybody playing the best of 5 games with each other. Ian was the only one to win 4 of his 5 games with  Davie being the only person to take a game from him. Does this make Ian the Mosset Boule Master having now won it for a third time. When the result was relayed back to the Ooters at home, they responded with a text to say the result was invalid as we did not have a quorum of 6. We replied that we did have a quorum of six due to the presence of a very large bull mastiff (or should that be a boule mastiff) who prowled around to make sure no one cheated.

We returned to Mosset for a suitable celebration ( at least Ian did) and Robert made a meal of Catalan sausage to much abuse about the need to skin the sausages but the end result was delicious.

Fri 19th April: Eus, Perpignan, and le Barcares.

After two days of walking, we decided to have an easy day and do touristy things today and visit Perpignan. On the way, Robert took us on a short detour to the very picturesque village of Eus, allegedly the sunniest village in the whole of France. The village clings to a steep hillside which made the drive up to it “interesting”. We soon parked and continued climbing on foot up narrow cobbled alley ways until we reached the church tower which dominates the whole village. Superb views all round in glorious sunshine made the detour worthwhile but we were too early to sample any goodies in the coffee shop son off we set to Perpignan. Without too much trouble we found a multi story car park in the centre of town where Robert decorated the front of the car with three go-faster blue stripes as he parked in a very tight spot which normal drivers had obviously avoided( fortunately the stripes were easily removed with a wee greenie and some elbow grease back at the house). We left the car and had a gentle saunter through the streets and after a few directions from the locals, we reached the Palais des Rois de Majorque. This was a massive fortified palace which dominated the town and was constructed from millions of very narrow red bricks which must have taken may brickworks to produce ( where’s Peter when you need him). Being the Ooters, we decided not to pay the 4 euro entrance fee to enter the inner palace itself which probably only contained some arty farty stuff and descended to the town to seek out a suitable venue for morning coffee.

Rex led us down through the town using a map for a change and we settled in a pleasant pavement café for morning coffee. We were soon disturbed by the sound of car horns blasting away continuously. The noise grew until a procession of taxis carrying flags with the message “Right to Work” complete with police outriders came along the narrow street. According to our waitress they were on strike and soon all the traffic ground to a halt. A lot of the public were not happy about this as they got stuck in the jam including the wee postwoman who got out of her van and hurled dog’s abuse at the taxi drivers. Then the TV cameras and crew arrived to do interviews. Ian thought of offering them an interview about winning the Boules tournament so that it would make the evening news bulletin but was persuaded to sit down lest he be abused by the other Ooters. It was suggested that Rex offered his well known negotiating skills ( ref. to Dollar visit and the Harbour Bar in Girvan) but this might cause a fight. At least it wasn’t the French farmers on strike as they have a habit of setting fire to old tyres and spraying surrounding buildings with slurry. But if Davie M had been here he would have seen them off as he has a special rapport with farmers!

We finished our coffees and returned to the car. The plan now was to travel North and have lunch at the beach at a place called Le Barcares. Even Johnny agreed to this as he had been warned by his wife before we left not to be Mr Grumpy on the trip. The resort has a lovely sandy beach which stretches for miles and is very popular in the summer for campers and caravaners. We soon found a suitable restaurant with a wonderful Plat du Jour. Johnny declared that his lamb steak with frites was the best piece of steak he had ever tasted. Praise indeed! After lunch we watch some local experts play boules to get some tips on how to beat Ian next time. The best tip we got was a smart device which allowed you to pick up your boules without having to bend down. It was very simple but effective. A powerful magnet on the end of a string. Robert has been tasked to find a source for these devices before next year’s competition. We left the locals to their games and took a stroll along the sandy beach. Despite the cool breeze, there were several families out for the day with the usual brave souls having a dip in the Med.

We returned to Mosset where Ian made carrot and coriander soup followed by a bolognaise sauce with tagliatelle.

Sat 21st April : Lost on the Pic de Roussillon

To give Robert a wee break from all the driving, we decided to do Johnny’s favourite walk, the Pic de Roussillon which rises steeply from the village of Mosset . We have done this walk several times and no longer get lost on the high plateau so no maps required here! Robert led the way up the main path from the road which gradually leads you to the main climb. The day was warm and sunny and soon we had fabulous views of the snow topped Pyrenees. We wandered through the high pastures where the cattle were now grazing with their calves. First we heard a cuckoo and then spotted it perched on a rock. Rex snapped a photie of it with max zoom on his super dooper camera and electronically magnified the image to confirm it was a cuckoo, but the camera failed to tell us its name. We reached the shepherd’s hut and settled down for a lazy lunch. Suddenly, a great big bird of prey stopped overhead only 30 ft up and absolutely motionless. This caused a panic among the photographers as they dived into their bags for cameras. But the sun was behind it and all struggled to capture a suitable image. It had a light brown underside with a dark head. Robert said it had feathers on its wings (now there’s a surprise).  We think it was a large buzzard or a griffin vulture ( where’s Jimmy when you need him). It scanned the Ooters and decided we were not worth eating and glided silently down the valley looking for better pickings. As planned, we reached the high road and followed it although we had to walk round some deep snow drifts. A small diversion off the road brought us to the weather station at the summit where we paused to admire the distant views to the Med.

Having completed all the climbing for the day, we strolled down the road past the horse farm, the hippie van and the numerous abandoned Lada Riva jeeps ( we counted about 15) scattered across the fields.

We all thought this would be a truly perfect day to remember until we reached a bend in the road about 2 miles short of Mosset where Robert suggested a” wee” detour to visit the commune la Coume where Pablo Casals amongst others took refuge after the Spanish Civil War. Johnny, having known Robert for a long time, decided that he did not want to spoil his perfect day and said he would walk slowly back to the house while we explored the commune. So off the rest of us tramped with Robert depending on his local knowledge rather than the map which was back at the house.  About a mile along this wee road, Robert decided we had reached the turn off for the commune and we descended down through the woods until we reached a rather clatty farm steading with a small herd of cattle guarded by a very large Pyrenees mountain dog on a chain. We negotiated our way through the herd thinking that the road would continue down to the commune. But the road just dwindled to a path through the now thickening jaggy bushes and brambles. On we pressed until a large burn and steep ravine blocked our way. Robert now admitted we were lost and apologised profusely for leading us astray and promised to buy us a beer from his own pocket in recompense. We deduced that he road we had left was running parallel to or path further up the hill and so we struck up the 45 degree slope in that direction now fighting our way through the jaggiest, thorniest bushes, brambles and dog roses we had ever encountered. It was a good job neither Johnny or Allan Sim were here to verbally abuse Robert. After several breathers to discuss issues of sanity and the attributes of maps, Rex took the lead and eventually with cries of jubilation he led us out of this god forsaken wilderness on to the road to salvation. We followed the road back to where we had left Johnny one hour forty mins ago!

Seven and a half hours after leaving the house, we arrived back to find a concerned Johnny who was wondering who to phone if we had not returned or whether to consume several bottles of cider as he had confidence that we would find our way home for tea. He had obviously decided on the latter and had a good laugh at our exploits. During the telling of the tales, Robert sloped off to the shop and returned with a box of beer for the boys.

The day was concluded by Rex making a Roulade and Spaetzle for tea while the others composed, rehearsed, recorded and sent a song for Ian’s new grandson, Ethan whose head was being wetted back in Kilmarnock that night. The song was based on Rex’s Aussie drinking song called “I like to have a drink with Ethan ‘cos Ethan’s me mate”.
(to be continued)

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Mosset Trip 2012

Vladamir and KGB  pal

Davie up to his knees in it.

Fillols lunch break.

Ian informing the world media about his triumph in the boules.

Canigou in winter plumage.

It was his fault!

Creatures of habit-usual rest spot.
Here are a few more pictures from Mosset .

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Mosset Trip Apr. 2012

Just a few pictures from last week's trip.

Busy with the Kirkcowan project so will not see you all for a few weeks.