Sunday, 22 January 2017

The Luck continues...

Part one here...
It might make a little more sense if you read this first.... But your choice; naturally...

This morn dawned; unfeasibly clear...

Skywards that is; interior of skull perhaps not quite so crystalline.

Where next; if anywhere?

Could just sit here; and stare.

Contemplating the onwards journey... There's no going back now....

What is it; with always having to move forwards?

Always restless; incurably curious; having to go exploring; over the next hill...

Its is great to have options. But it also helps to have the energy; and impetus to make full use of those choices...

So perhaps Broadford a few miles up the road, from Camus Croise; might be managed.

At least for provisioning, and a healthy breakfast - Yes really - double helpings of every salad; and vegetable on offer...

The road itself was very broad; beautifully smooth, and almost empty.

A highway such as this can feel slow going; the vanishing point; is always so far distant; are we getting anywhere?

I'd probably not be well suited to flatland touring; across the endless steppes; or plains; of far off somewhere.

How many Co op stores have this kind of backdrop...

Feeling a trifle better now; good food (and coffee) nearly always help;  so mayhap I could make it to Sligachan?

 Midway across this largeish isle. There's a campsite there, and a well appointed hostelry.... Hmmn?

But first, to get there. The main road across Skye isn't at all cyclist friendly.

 The gradients aren't the problem; its a modern road; designed and paid for by the EU.
 Perfectly well constructed .... But on most days heavy lorries; and tour buses; ply the single carriageway. There can be whole flotillas of them; bunched up on the hills.

They quite understandably don't want to have to lose momentum; on the long climbs.
 Tricky to pass; without imperilling a laden cyclist.

I'd cycled this route in reverse; one busy Friday afternoon some years back.

 And by the end of that travail; I had fully exhausted my supply of expressive hand gestures; bestowed upon the drivers of assorted heavy goods vehicles....

 Not very lady-like.

This Sunday morning; the traffic was tolerable, but still not what you'd call fun.

Empty road for now, but not for long... There's only a stony culvert to receive a hapless cyclist.
Plus  I'm  not as heavily laden as some... Quick good folks of Skye apply for funding for a cycle lane before its too late...
Cyclists are good for trade; we're a hungry bunch...

Sligachan - Pit stop for refreshment; but too early to end this days travel.

Leaving aside traffic grumbles; there was clearly no arguing with the weather ... I'm still feeling slightly guilty that I wasn't making the most of it by scampering about on The Red Cullin...

Hopefully many others were... 

Descent towards Portree; blue skies momentarily: having the decency to give it a rest...
the rocky formations of Northern Skye ; Trotternish ridge hazily outlined, faintly showing The Old Man of Storr.
That area also worth a visit ; but better on foot perhaps.

This girl sure knows how to treat herself - Birthday yoghurt by the worryingly slantsome harbour at Portree...

Hope it hasn't emptied itself.

Most marvellous fish and chips available here too.

Very pleasant campsite, up the hill out of town, The best hot showers.

Personally I can't abide a tepid dribble; I'd rather stay stinky...

 And a dryer so I could risk washing my trousers... Waiting for them to dry was the only time my waterproof ones had an outing for the whole trip..... Quite a la mode for that evenings excursion back into town...

Happy Birthday tome; to me... Ms Peaplant, understood the need for a lightweight parcel to port this far...
What could it be,,,,,? The suspenders were killing me.. but first; a brew.

Next day; thoroughly revived by mussels; foraged from the harbour side the previous night.

( Harbour side restaurant - that is... Leaving the hard work to others for a change - this is holidays)

Also took the time to craft some uncharacteristically forward thinking arrangements, re my return trip.

 In addition to giving the bike a treat, of replacement brake blocks, and replenished tubes. There's a freindly, efficient, and well stocked bike shop here...

Finally; all admin attended to; food supplies restocked (theres a Co op here too) off on the road to Uig; another ferry to catch....

Splendid views; leaving Uig. Will this fine clime ever let up...?

I like cows; they are very good listeners; and have comfortingly big; understanding heads.

Still reeling somewhat from the ferry. but this hairy lady came to inspect my 'rig'.

Someone else had similarly approved my propped steed in Portree that morning... Almost made me feel like an actual bikepacker....

Even in the absence of a carefully tended beard.

Pitched out on the end of teensy Scalpay.

Upon enquiring of a freindly fence-painter as to the whereabouts of potable water for that evenings repast ( dried meal at the ready)
 I was cheerily informed that in addition to basic liquid refreshments being available on the fishermans wharf; there was also A - Bistro;  really? This far out ?

But yes bizarrely; and I'm not one to churlishly forego the chance to support a local enterprise..

I know most 'normal' people would have gleaned this kind of information from somewhere like 'trip advisor'. but surely; that takes out half of the surprise factor..

Hake and Scallops... Well what's a girl to do, with an offer such as that?

Be well advised; there is good food to be had here.

Glamour shot next morning....Snapped by a lady jogger on the Scalpay bridge, making my way west again..

A tourers' dream ; clear roads; well surfaced; views sweet enough to make you cry; bright sun; but not too hot to exert oneself.... 

I'd heard that there was a very scenic coastal walk from the Scalpay road out to Rhenigidale.

So secreted velocipede behind a handy hutlet and set out...

Walking any distance felt a tad weird after endless pedalling... I'd been neglecting doing my stretches properly.... Bad Yogi; not exactly practising what I preach.

Not in the least disappointed; by the views though.

 There are some fair pulls up and down, on this path, and my right knee objects strongly to slidey downhills, particularly without walking poles. But then you can't take everything can you?

Beach en route ...

This 2 hr side detour has much to recommend it; if you have the time; and perhaps the sunshine to accompany.

Apparently the children of Rhenigidale used to make this trek weekly to get to school, before an inland road was built. What a walk to school! - on a good day that is.

There's a picturesque; if slightly sad ruined village along the way. These isles were once far more populous than now.

 On a day such as this its hard to imagine why one would wish to live anywhere else.
But I'm sure there are endless drear days of winter; when it feels as if the sun might never return. 

One of my favourite quotes from a certain William Bryson...

 "Living in the UK, in winter, is mostly like living inside Tupperware"

Not today it isn't mate... Further attacks of the Smaug.

Sore ankles get a good soaking. before the next leg.

There is a hostel at Rhenigidale, and a more circular route which could have been taken; to encompass some local hills   ... But time always presses.

I did even have a plan; of sorts....

The main road out of Tarbert heading North; before I veer sharply west; more familiar territory to me.....
 There is an eerie abandoned chimney on this road; a left over from a proposed whaling station. A reminder of more brutal times, when economics prevailed over all..

There is also a bizarrely situated tennis court, defiantly bulldozed out of the moorland...

"We shall play racket sports...Come what may"

The serpentine switchback road to Hushinish.

 Only sixteen miles; but they do go on a bit... Stiff thigh challenging climbs; only to be cast back down to sea level as the road makes its way along this south facing portion of coast. as best it can.

Looking back towards Tarbert; this is one of those classic, hills dropping straight down into the ocean scenarios...

I'd like to come back and walk the tops out to the end north of this route.... And South Harris is definitely worth revisiting....  Another time.

The road passes a primary school with possibly the best playground view in the whole of the UK.
Must be very hard not to stare dreamily out of the window in dull lessons..

My plan was to reach the haven of Hushinish Hamlet before nightfall. I knew there was a good pitch there. and basic facilities in the form of a tap and loo.

But the most pressing part was my desire to stay in one place for two nights, escape the faff of packing and unpacking.

A kind of mini holiday; within a holiday.

A bike computer could have helped here; just to know how much further, there was to go....

From the last visit; I had it in my head that Amhuinnsuidhe Castle was about half way along the whole route...

 Mappage for this route? Not totally certain what happened there. Jettisoned in a fit of overzealous load lightening, perhaps?

Anyway; there's only one road; it would be pretty tricky to get lost...

So after passing said fortification; when the sun was only three inches off the horizon; I had almost resigned myself to camping in a sheep infested bog...

 No great peril there; but a disappointment; to set only one goal; and then fail at that..

Do cattle watch the sun go down; and wonder?
This one was probs a bit too busy admiring my rig....

So imagine my delight; upon rounding this corner; and es-pieing this stretch of pinkish strand....

"Like coming home" 
On a previous trip I had decided to haul the tentage out to here purely on a whimsical whim.... 

To satisfy what some might call a childish love of punnage... You see the Islet in the background is called Scarp ; and so is the tent....

This small island was once the scene of an unsuccessful attempts to introduce mail delivery by rocket...
Just larking about with explosives most likely; but it had to be dignified with serious purpose.

Rather boringly (for you guys) dawn broke clear... Yawn yawn... From me too; turn over and snooze... 
Cos' I dont have to take down the tent... a day off of domestic duties... 
Some exploring on foot to be done, however...

A well defined path follows the coast northwards from here, for the first twenty minutes, then it appears that innovative walkers; or possibly sheep have created about ten different routes. but you'd be hard pushed to get lost; thats the thing with coast paths. kepp the wet stuff to one side its hard to go wrong...

It's mine; all mine I tell you ....... I Can do cartwheels to the horizon and back; and there's no one in sight to look askance at such undignified displays of exuberance from a middle aged woman... 

Just look at the strata in these pebbles....! These are all mine too; by the way...

Some proper grown ups did turn up a bit later (snore) so I felt it necessary to tone things down a bit.... And get the kite out....

Its my beach; and I'll muck about if I want to....

It'll have to do..

Quite pleased with this shot..... Foot prints show that arches of feet are still reasonably well lifted....
 N.B. Don't take any notice of any of that "Picturesque yoga on a sandy beach" malarkey...
It looks pretty in the photos; but soft sand provides a very poor surface for really being aware of your footwork..

Its all rather fine; no sign of hoomankind as far as the eye can see....

Another gratuitous kite shot..

This is not the way up from the beach.... But it is a way.... Gives one a chance to inspect the geology up close...

Making more friends along the way.... Despite their fearsome looks; highland cattle are proper softies.

Pre-dinner sun-downer..... Messing up the beach with my undirected wanderings again..

Tempting to nip over to the Scarps name-sake, but thankfully I'm no boatswoman, nor neither a thief...

The return cycle to Tarbert was somewhat truncated by another puncture.

I had just enough time to fix it, and get to the ferry, but it was rather windy for such an enterprise.

And then a kindly angel happened by. My fee for motorised transportation; with ailing velocipede; to Tarbert; was coffee; and a gossip there in The Harris Hotel.

 The lady in question has been running a croft with accomodation.

Out near Hushinish for the last few years. After upping sticks from her rather more pedestrian life down sout.. A hard but rewarding choice by all accounts.... She wouldn't go back.

Last ferry ride.... A wistful moment... Then I took advantage of less windy conditions and went below deck to fix that puncture in comfort.

Uig to Portree felt much further than  going in the opposite direction.
Due to the hills ? A head wind ?  An aversion to easterly travel?

Another evening at Portree campsite... Lured back by those glorious hot showers.....

I really didn't fancy cycling back to Broadford along that road. So before setting off to Harris I'd arranged for a helpful young man to port me n my bike back by van.

As it turned out, his van wasn't working; but a stand in was as promised at the ready...

David From Portree outdoors shop 'Inside Out' - "Go there; buy nice things" - and receive a warm and helpful welcome.

David expressed a desire to grow some food. An aspiration of his grandfather upon arrival on Skye from the mainland.
And now; he very much felt an urge to act upon it....
I agreed that the time to start growing food is now..

I'll have to go back to check on progress...

Could the wind power be used to extend the season, for covered cropping? Then be combined with a bit of carefully made compost and other fertility...
 Go on have a go. The market is here, on the West Coast and Islands I've done an extensive two week survey...

Spotted from the Skye bridge... A boating friend informed me that they were probably 'just showing off' I couldn't understand why they were spraying the water? Not wet enough already//

Dropped at Broadford; the  mountain rescue pot duly stuffed with notes; as David wouldn't take direct recompense for his troubles...

Then back towards the mainland; hard to leave Skye; but this last day at least was also very kind.

Clouds are great; blue skies too. Both together; even better.

Thankfully I realised just in time; I'd not yet had an ice cream - remedied at picturesque Plockton...
Tisn't really a holibob without ice-cream...

Then headed up the coast to stay at Gerry's Hostel near Acknashellac...
 I hadn't known it was 'legendary' but can now confidently report that after a temporary closure, and refurbishment; it now in the hands of it's namesakes son; continues to be a most welcoming stopping place.

There's even a tiny shoplet, selling one of my guilty pleasures... Tinned potatoes - yes I know - very odd - but if we can't indulge any of our our strange proclivities on holiday...

Teensy Achnashellac station; Seven o'clock dark morning request stop.... Hi' vis jacket and a torch to wave down the train.

After two totally dry weeks, I'm now back on the train towards Inverness first. After an hour it starts to chuck it down..

Changing trains at Inverness... So far so good; then unbeknownst to me; engineering works had put paid to my returning via the planned East Coast line; reticketed through Birmingham instead...

 Made scant difference to me timewise. But reminds one just how unpredictable (some might say unreliable) UK trains can be... 

Foreign visitors be warned... Come armed with flexibilty; a sense of humour; and sandwiches....  You will undoubtedly get somewhere; but just where that is; and when is not totally in your control..

Oh and at time of writing; you have to book the (limited spaces) stowage for your bike seperately to your personal online booked ticket (by phoning  each individual train operator of which there can be several on a journey of this length) ..... its almost like they're trying to put us cyclists off going by train...*

*Counterproductive in my case. I'll just see it as a challenge.

Reaching Devon some time after ten at night; a fellow passenger was also alighting at Exeter with a bicycle... She had her face painted as a cat; off to do some thesping apparently. it somehow seemed appropriate...

She also interviewed me about my trip; and resolved to do something similar.
So don't be surprised at reports of more 'crazy ladies' on Scottish beaches; it could be turning into something of an infestation...

Enthusiastic welcome from 'the ladies'...

Home again; home again...

The farmlet seems to have survived; or even thrived; in my absence..

Left in several pairs of very capable; and willing hands; many thanks due to you; good people of the Vale....

I owe you all - as ever.

October is a just about acceptable time for shimmying off for two weeks from a vegetable farm; there's still plenty to harvest for the veg boxes. And then it's diving straight back into planting the last of the winter salads in the polytunnels,,

And; in addition I have quite literally cycled the rr's out of my t*ouse*s..

I'll spare you that picture.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

New Fashioned Farming...

It  would take weeks to write up, and discuss all the issues raised and impressions gathered from a meeting of over 800 delegates, all of whom are concerned in some way, or involved with land use, ecology, and food sovereignty.

 At the Oxford Real Farming conference

So I will try to highlight a few things things that stood out for me, personally.

 It is increasingly apparent, even to those not directly involved (although everyone eats yes?)

That there is an ongoing, and urgent need for action, and change, if we are to nourish ourselves and future generations, with decent food. in the long term.

Whilst of course at the same time ensuring that food production is done, in such a way that the ecosystems upon which we all depend are not destroyed.

Big; big problems are built into the present system which is driven mainly by short term profits, for a few key players, and which relies heavily on the massive use of fossil fuel resources that by their are nature finite.

Overall productivity shouldn't be a case of just calories produced. Good nutrition is about far more than that; and besides, once you start 'doing the Math' vis a vis calories in terms of diesel in, to get those calories out, then the sums don't look so pretty.

Which results in these heavy handed farming practices being major contributor to climate change, and causing the depletion of our precious soils. the stuff upon which our very lives depend.

So it has to start, and end, with soil care.

The depressing story is. that if we carry on consuming and farming globally as we are, then soil depletion caused by intensive agriculture means we only have 60 harvests left... Scarey stuff.

 Soils properly managed, grow healthy crops and livestock.

 Soil life given a proper amount, of the correct sort of organic matter, and mainly left to get on with its job undisturbed by deep ploughing, or over cultivating, can make available to plants, all the nutrients they need.

Plus any associated animals fed by those plants are in turn healthier and give more nutritious products too..
It could be suggested that even a 'stockless' organic farm, has a massive amount of livestock by way of the micro fauna living in the soil.

I often feel bad that I don't know so much about soil biology. But it turns out that even the experts don't really know the details of how it all works, or what function many of those micro beasts living there perform.

Maybe as practical farmers it doesn't require that we know what everyone is up to, down there.

Perhaps its more important to keep the party in full flow. The private interactions between, and activities of, individual beasties, aren't really so much our business.

Just keep supplying the love, and compost.

Soils properly managed, and relatively undisturbed can also hold and store a tremendous amount of carbon, which it is generally agreed would be good to get out of the atmosphere.

I'm still very interested in the use of 'bio char' as an additional method of locking carbon into soils long term. The science, and practicalities of doing this have been debated for some time. But the technologies and methods are still very much in development.

This soil amendment would also provide extra habitable niches; enabling the micro life to party on.....

I'm wondering if it would be possible to efficiently make, and use, bio char here; given that the hybrid Italian Alders planted as windbreak trees nine years ago, now need reducing in height.
They are starting to be so high, as to shade out adjacent cropping.

 Those prunings could provide plenty of feedstock material for this specific method of charcoal making.

Any excuse to get a fire going really.

Unfortunately; for those of us who appreciate a towering inferno ;
a properly managed bio charring pit won't look anything like this.....

Then there is the ongoing search for best practice around efficient weed control.

 Most growers, and farmers, who eschew the use of synthetic herbicides would agree that this is a very big issue.

How this is approached is a very farm, and crop specific matter, very particular tools and techniques are required if we are to have sustainable farms.
 So we can grow a crop to make a living, but not at the expense of soil health or ecology.

No one ever said it was going to be easy.
But a little extra funding for research and development, even capital investment, wouldn't go amiss.
On farm making do, and adapting kit can be interesting, and stretch the ingenuity, but its always useful to have input from elsewhere.

Which is where farm walks, growers learning exchanges, and events such as this come into their own...

And finally for me personally an issue very close to my heart, is the politics around land ownership, and who gets access to land to grow food for their communities.

This was one of my prime motivators for becoming a core group member of the Land Workers Alliance.
 It really it shouldn't be such an almighty mission to  even get near becoming a farmer or grower in the first place.
There are many many energetic, and inspired good people who can see the value of producing good food for their community, and would like to try making their livelihood from it.

But how 'on earth' do they start?
land prices are at n all time high, pushed up by land speculation and further skewed by pillar 1. Common Agricultural Policy  payments that reward landowners just for owning it.
unless you happen to own less than 5 ha'........ But that's another story....
Payments to farmers perhaps to provide ecological benefits, and land stewardship, such as flood prevention, and habitat creation, might be a way forward.

 The Agricultural land of the UK is owned by 0.25% of the population.
Farm size is increasing, through consolidation, often leading to the associated biggering and intensification of farming methods.

If we are to extricate ourselves from this very deep hole we've dug for ourselves we need in my opinion to repopulate the countryside.

Active 'hands on the land'.
People actually doing things, growing good food, building community, interacting and supporting each other, and providing services locally, in a myriad of ways,but always with an eye on ecological and global impacts.

This blog isn't entitled 'A Broadview' for lack of any other ideas as what to call it....

After all sustainable food systems need to be encouraged and preserved worldwide, not just in our own bucolic back yards.
Which is why policy changes such as possible protection of markets, to allow UK farms to be profitable, has to be balanced against any negative impacts overseas... It's all very complicated, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to keep all these matters in mind, and listen to the quieter voices.

For years the commercial success of a farming operation in this country was measured by how many workers the farm could do without.
Horribly isolating for those few labourers left, and those laid off workers were of course, replaced by heavy machinery with associated hidden costs.

For too long living in the countryside has long been an aspirational lifestyle choice, for commuters, downsizers, and retirees.

All very nice for them, but given the skewed price of land and accommodation, it is nigh on impossible for any new entrants to farming to get going.

Unless they have a city property to sell, in which case its unlikely they've had chance to acquire the skills and knowledge to make a land based living.

So we have the' hidden poor' of the countryside, just about making a living from what they can grow and produce. But at the same time having to sacrifice a lot of the security, and comforts that the average westerner expects to enjoy.

Growing food in an agroecological manner, that can feed us all well and tastily, long term should be seen as a viable, and respected way of making a living.

Not be viewed as a 'niche' activity that requires you sport 'interesting' knitwear, and be regarded as a starry eyed dreamer, with a primitive lifestyle.

County council farms are nearly always sold off on the open market, as soon as the present tenancy expires... Best value for the council taxpayer apparently, but diminishing for rural communities.

So if we are to get more 'hands onto the land' growing decent nourishing food for everybody; we are going to have to have some political change, around more equal access to land, secure tenancies for those renting. Combined with a post Brexit farming policy.- that recognises the value of agroecological enterprises.

Food systems which support, yes, the needs of producers to make a profit, of course.
But that also helping to find ways of feeding ourselves that supply those more intangible, harder to quantify 'goods' such as community, preservation of ecological systems, and the sustainable well being of the landworkers themselves.

So much to do; and think about; and of of course there are times when it would be easier to throw up ones hands with a weary "Oh well its all broken; there's nothing we can do; nothing ever changes"

But to me that's just giving up, giving in to the powers that be, accepting the broken, and iniquitous status quo.
Which ultimately plays into the hands of those who would like to preserve their right to exploit and profiteer unchecked, and unquestioned.

And I'm not quite ready to heed the call of lazy cynicism just yet.

Which to my mind is just trying to look clever, whilst at the same time doing precisely nothing to help.

That would be easier for sure; would leave one less open to charges of idealistic fervour; would even leave more time for other 'fun stuff'...

Such as wandering about in places such as this perhaps?
But really; a balance between all these things should be doable,
 It just requires a bit of forward planning, cooperation, and delegation.
Sharing the load I suppose..

 Events such as ORFC at the very least can re energise, and motivate, by bringing people together who feel they still have some appetite for change.

And to be honest there is some fun to be had there too. Good company with your tribe, to whom you don't have to explain why you do what you do; fabulous food and drink naturally; and some quality eventide entertainment too.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

More forward thinking...

Further train excitement...

Off to another moot of 'hairy farmers'

And not so hairy associates.

Its the diversity of voices, backgrounds, specialisms, and broader views that does it for me.

It certainly wont be the fault of the event if I don't return with some fresh perspectives; and new ideas.

Ultimately we are all interested in land use, food, and the ecology of the planet upon which we reside.

Whether we choose to engage with this topic; or disconnect as if its none of our business is ultimately up to the individual and their inclinations.

But like it or not; this issue concerns us all; unless of course you dont happen to eat food, drink water, or are unconcerned as to whether there is a habitable planet for generations to come.

That might sound a bit preachy; in which case; sorry for that.
But I'm not trying to tell anyone what to do; or think; about any of this.

Its one of those issues that the deeper you go; the more complex it becomes; as it is so fundamental to; and interconnected with all things.

The only thing I'd advocate is at least; to give to it some thought; find stuff out.
If that gives rise to some action, or change of habit, then all to the good.

Everyone has a small vote for change, at least in their shopping habits.

Imagine ... How tasty1

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Too lucky; for words...

It often starts with a train; some of the most interesting people appear to travel that way.

But people generally are interesting; even (or especially?) the most unpromising, at first glance specimens...
Have you ever asked yourself - "Why are they attempting to look so very ordinary?"

Bike was safely hung, fully clothed from the front wheel here;  but nearly every train operator seems to have a favoured stowage position...

 This one is 'Virgin Style'

My touring luggage is designed, and distributed, so as to do away with the need, for debagging the bike before boarding...

 That's a particularly tedious process; under time pressure; on a crowded station platform; under the harassed glare of platform staff, especially if you travel by yourself...

My first table companion; upon leaving Exeter was a water engineer...

I was astonished to find, that up to that point; he'd never been closely interrogated by a fellow traveller, as to the destination of all the lovely sewage sludge, that we collectively create.

So much precious fertility; is it being used to best effect?

It seems we are performing (sic) better, than we were 10 years ago; but there's still much room for improvement...

Penultimate; homegrown tomato... And salad bag, one of the hardships of leaving the farm. 

One should always travel hopefully, but at the same time, realistically.

Its unlikely that produce of this quality, will be available on the refreshments trolley.

So it has to be a case of "Have salad; will travel"

Insert you're own joke here about 'The Fat Controller'.... I'm far too sweet and nice, to indulge in such meanery.

Although in my defence, despite the fact that he could see me taking the shot from multiple angles, this gentleman  declined to move. though who could blame with such a magnificent profile to display.

The temptation to offer him a lift?

Did not arise.

Achieved and traversed Glasgow; with remarkably little incident (by my standards)

 The previous visit-with-a-bicycle to this fine city was unscheduled... Worth noting if you are required to stow your bike in the guards van...

Then onwards up the line to Crianlarich, forgiving, but maybe not altogether forgetting, a proper train controller of more diminutive stature.

Who absolutely insisted that I undress my bicycle, of it's luggage before getting on the train towards Oban.

Despite there being, quite clearly, no need whatsoever.....

It was very much a case of  "My train, my rules" No matter how quixotic those regulations might appear to all others concerned; i had a fair gang on my side.. But -

Sometimes, you just know, by the set of the jaw, that there is really no point in arguing.

So as an alternative, some small victory might be won, by being unnervingly sweet, solicitous, understanding, and polite about it all.

" Shall I put it just here?

 "Like this; yes?"

"Or a touch further forwards perhaps?"

"Is this OK?"

 "Are you sure?"

"Gosh! you must have the most dreadful bother with uncooperative cyclists; poor you; a real challenge to the patience yes?"

Perhaps; the next person got to keep their panniers on?

 Or alternatively, cycles are now banned altogether on 'his' train.

 In which case; very sorreeee people. But really? Who amongst us can resist engaging with a 'jobsworth' for sport?

Simple pleasures... For simple folk.

After an overnighter in the very hospitable hostel abutting Crianlarich station, it was a relatively easy hour and some eastwards, on quiet enough roads to stay by Loch Tay. To spend the weekend indulging in some tecchy small scale, 'hairy farmer' business.
This amazing weather can't possibly last, its October, and the forecast is terrible.

 But make the most of it, between workshop sessions and visit the Loch beach only ten minutes walk across the farm at Tombreck...

An utterly fabulous venue for a shindig such as this...

Honestly; don't go to Scotland, it rains all the time.... So they say.

By late Sunday afternoon, the farmer party was starting to break up.
But I was camping over until Monday morning before heading out west.

 Some of the attendees did a diligent 'lost property sweep' as they left for Edinburgh.

As a result I was now (having foolishly left my waterproof, and a few other items unattended in a bag)  about to set off for the West Coast, and Islands without upper body rain protection.

Even I, despite being a generally optimistic type, would never countenance anything so foolish.

So a very brief halt was made at Killin Outdoor Store, on the return journey to Crianlarich. Under three minutes to try on, and purchase jacket ...

 Because how fortuitous! They were having a sale...

 Pretty speedy shopping, even by standards of someone not, given to agonising over kit decisions.... After all, even the lowest quality goods on offer nowadays, would make a cyclist from a hundred years ago, gape with envy.

FYI the jacket is a pretty blue and manufactured by an outfit called Mountain Hardware. I've had their stuff before, and it taken a good few tears of wear to destroy. Sturdy stuff, as the name suggests..

Oh the thrill; of waiting for a ferry.
Oban; is a cosily well provisioned town, ideal for a traveller who has misplaced some items of toilette, and who also intends to eat well whilst on the road.

I took some very sensible advice from internet friends and hopped on train from Crianlarich to here; to avoid the unpleasantly busy A road.
Exactly Same type of train, on the same route as three days before, curiously there was no mention of removing panniers?

On a previous trip some years back this was my port of departure for Barra, the most southerly of the Western isles, or Outer Hebrides, to start the classic South to North  trip through those strung out, 'other worldly' archipelagos.

And we're off...... Destination  Mull, approaching. Look at all those lovely pointy bits,,. And soo clear.

This surely can't be that same guy from Glasgow? If so, I do hope he has a twin brother; sitting on the other side for balance.... 

Ah me, another glorious sunrise; after first pitch at Craignure on  Mull.
 Is it just me? Or do you ever feel like you've stolen someone else's good weather?

The trusty Scarplet, Reliable home from home; goes up so easily... Even in a high wind. which can be essential trait when camping on the Celtic fringe.

Confession time -  'closet tent nerd alert' .... I did time myself once; and I can get this baby up in just over two minutes.
As to whether ones efforts would pass the critical eye, of a committed  and conscientious 'tautologist', shall remain veiled... 

This is the A 849 heading west towards the Ross of Mull,  One day; in my fantasy world; all A roads will be like this.
The main road west out of Craignure is frequently only single track with passing places, and sees one vehicle, maybe every five minutes. Gently undulating, good surface, and glorious scenery, both near and far.

Cycling heaven, so long as the weather plays nicely. And boy, did it play nicely?

Looking towards Beinn Talaidh....

Shortly before leaving Craignure I was interviewed as to my travelling intentions by some ladies doing the Islands in a campervan.

" Ooo; you are good"

 They opined, upon discovering my plans.

Funny how virtue can be inferred, by mode of transport?

 How did they know for sure; that I didn't hold some malicious intent, towards the innocents of these Isles?? 

Would their assessment of my character have been similar. If  I'd been sporting leopardskin hotpants, and driving a louche, open topped sportscar?

Might try that next time; as a sociological study....  Anyone fancy sponsoring me??

looking back up the loch , past the log loading pontoon, can't resist a bit of heavy lifting gear action...

And welcome refreshment right here with Joy, twice over  on  this day...

Once on the way to Ffianofort, to view, but not visit, the Island of Iona,

I could have hopped on the ferry and visited. but for some reason it wasn't calling.

Maybe best I didn't as I seem to possess, a mischievous streak. which feels almost duty bound; to lighten any very solemn; or earnest occasion with an inappropriately irreverent remark.I wouldn't want to get thrown overboard for impiety, en route to such a holy place.

I did however, managed to establish on my travels there, that Trevor is no longer the proprietor of Burnessan Stores.

I had been detailed to send him salutations from across the pond. He has alas; moved on - geographically speaking only; but the shop is still there; and a fine example of its type....... Absolutely everything crammed in; to such an extent that one dares not take anything off a shelf; for fear of dislodging the rest of the stock; and invoking the Ire of the new(ish) owner.....

 I played safe with a somewhat over priced loose banana. But then why should a banana be cheap here? of all places? Can you imagine the journey it had made? What price a turnip in the Windwards?

Joy runs this, well placed and stocked shop, and tea establishment near the head of Loch Scridain....

We had fine chats about this, and that, and birds of interest viewable from the large plate glass window.

During which, were joined in our conversing, by an older couple who were also enjoying the hospitality.

Then, Joy enquired of the holidaying couple, from where they had come? How was their journey?

(What was she thinking of?)

Because this quite innocent general questioning, rather predictably, resulted in the extensive, nay exhaustive listing of all individual roads taken by the happy couple, en route to Mull.

Plus minutiae of traffic problems encountered. and possible route alternatives that could have been taken.
 Nor did said gentleman omit to inform us, of all those highways which had been used on previous excursions, to this tranquil spot

(I do have details on a spreadsheet if anyone needs to know)

Suffice to say; after approx two minutes of this stuff, the females of the room were giving the front window good competition in the 'glazed over' stakes...

I resisted my temptation to kidnap the wife, and carry her off on my back rack, whilst crying.

"Come with me good lady; we shall flee; and sally forth with good heart and cheer; along picturesque winding roads the numbers of which, we are blissfully unaware..... Stopping at each and every tea shop to eat buns"

pitch 2, on the shores of Loch na Keal. There are plenty of fine places to camp on this southerly shore. And an abundance of clean water streams descending from the slopes of Maol Mhor.............

 However; I didn't come on this trip to rescue damsels from their overly detailed road cataloguing travails...

Candle lit dinner for one. Looking towards Inch Kenneth, another fine sundowner.

 My mug had also gone missing during the agricultural lost property grab. So in Oban I treated myself to one of these satisfyingly collapsible cups. Very pack-able and commodious.

 Lightweight meth stove borrowed from the boyfriend.

( He has an enviably extensive 'gear lair' - extremely useful for 'borrowing' from for trips. I did buy him the next sized up cup as a 'Thank-you' pressie, the tent is his too, although I would appear to be in residence just as often these days)

 And anyhow; who knows? Maybe, the lady secretly loves all that stuff....

 Each; very much; to their own.

Getting over to Loch na Keal from Killichen involved a bit of a hill climb, first through what appears to be productive forage cropping lands on the loch shore.

 Then leaving the mass of Ardmeanach to the West, the subsequent forestry clearance on the higher slopes gives a somewhat desolate air, before achieving the upland grazing at the pass.

Making some headway, against a very strong headwind  today. fantastically fine views but I did get blown off the road  (b8035) once, or perhaps twice... 

The plan for the next day was to ascend (but not 'bag') Ben More. The only Munro on Mull ( I believe) its an easy enough walk up from the road at Dishig.

I stashed my bike alongside the shed of a kindly bungalow resider nearby; and started up properly provisioned.

The wind got windier, as it tends to with height, and the views opened up over north west Mull and the ocean.

Yes, its a big one! (picture) but just look at that view, quite stunning. i know the picture is a tad slanty, but in my defence the winds were gusting towards 70 mph  (according to weather reports - later) 

 The wind was really having some fun with me now.
 I only had a smallish, no too wind catching pack on for carrying lunch, waterproofs, gloves and nav' stuff.

 It's an Alpkit* dry-bag type affair with comfy straps, fine for day walks, or a not overly laden overnighter.

 It also does good service for carrying tent, and sleeping mat strapped to the top of the back rack on the bike, encased in another thick polybag to avoid too much road crud invading, and to prevent the straps getting involved in your wheels....

   * I like the stuff supplied by this online-only shop, quality unfussy gear, produced in the UK quite ethically I understand.
 And they also have a naughty (to my filthy mind) logo; with the strapline "Go nice places; do good things".... Well; who am I to argue; with such instructions?

The weather did have the last laugh in this case. After having been blown over for the seventh time;

 (And that was before gaining the last rockier, and considerably more exposed section to the top)

 I decided that retreat was probably the better option. The hill wasn't going anywhere, I'd captured some amazing views, moreover there wasn't a single soul in sight, to appreciate the full hilarity of my pratfalls.

So now skirting the coast-road around Loch na Keal, not speedily, no rush at all, as my destination intention for that nights pitch had been in full view all day.

And I'd done enough forward planning via local knowledge supplied, to discover that the tiny seven minute ferry ran 'on demand' up til 5pm.

Cycling in Scotshire seems to be almost less onerous, at least hillwise, than in the home county of Devon.
The roads there seem to follow the contours where they can, within reason, which may give for a more convoluted route, but is slightly easier on the thighs...

In the south west the byway is generally dictated by patterns of land ownership, so you can often find yourself taking the shortest, but steepest route.

The Carn Mor Range viewed from the slipway at Ulva Ferry. the properly jovial ferry man was most accommodating.

Once he realised how relatively light my load was, there was no talk of deshabille bikewards.

Another internet informant, had told me this little island was worth a look.

But being 15 miles long, so not totally teeny really.
 And in possession of a satisfying ziggurat style geological arrangement to its rugged coastline.
Further to the west there is semi-detached Gometra,  Reachable on foot at low tide.
I didn't make it there this time.

There is also a rather good boathouse cafe, serving generously filling meals at very low prices; especially reasonable given that their market is captive.

 Another time I might chose to spend a couple of nights here, and explore further.

Parts of inland Ulva are fairly well wooded, and run as a shooting estate. The coastal areas are rockier, and more exposed.

On the way to the south coast.

Main road Ulva... No classification number whatsoever ; and it gets far gnarlier the further west you go. 

I ended up having to push towards my pitch. Maybe a more rugged bike (or rider) would have coped. 

But I've fallen off enough times doing dumb stuff; over the years; to have a little more respect for my poor middle-aged kneecaps.

 It took almost ten years for a forcibly inserted piece of gravel to work its way out, after one particularly painful knee bloodying incident. it still grumbles on steep descents walking.

Another enviable pitch, showing some of the stepped layering of the coastal profile. Ben More - scene of many a tumble, mid horizon.
Two and a half miles or so, from the ferry landing, on the south side, is the site of a ruined village. It seemed like something of interest to head for.

Oh Lord; not another annoying sunset.    Iona  just visible (I think) to the far south (LHS of picture)

 I could have found a much larger, and far more levellised pitch, in the ruined village 50 yds below the spot where I decided to put the tent.

But, despite my claims as to having absolutely no truck whatsoever; with supernatural beliefs; of any sort.
I would still contend that there are very few true rationalists, alone, in a wind flapped tent, at four in the morning.

Especially when the local stags are in full bellow.

My random bag packing meant that I couldn't find the earplugs at two in the morning either.

But on trips such as this I've come to accept that a bit of waking up and thinking, or imagining is par for the course.
Life can take on a different rhythm when travelling; especially if there is no particular goal as such; no one else's acheivement schedule to keep to.

Its more just a case of being out there "doing good things; in nice places"
 So unless there's a timetabled ferry, or train to catch; why not have a lazy sleep in, once the sun is up?

Tent somewhere on the flat bit, just above the chimney.

The village of Ormaig was deserted..... Quite some time back..... If there had been a tea shop, I would have patronised it thoroughly.

And of course the kite came too, she could have had an airing on Ben More, but the wind speeds encountered there might have added to my instability.

Return trip, showing the bosathouse cafe..... "Go there.... eat nice things"

And now North West on the road to Calgary Bay.

 I'd been advised as to the particularly picturesque nature of this road, and in weather such as this, it's hard to imagine a more lovely place to be. the surfacing is a little rougher. It is, after all, a B road. 
There are some short sharp ascents, with a few longer climbs thrown in, but nothing too challenging.

 I did get off a couple of times to pus,h, on the sections where the tarmac is worn to a shine by car tyres struggling to grip and corner at the same time.

I normally try to stay in the saddle when touring laden, it's not so much of an ego thing (unless, of course, there's another cyclist in view), it's just so much harder work pushing even a relatively lightly loaded bike one sided with your upper body.  

Calgary Bay, looking at her best, straight out of that 'Visit Scotland' brochure.
I made some lovely new friends here too; as a result of having suffered a puncture earlier..

Maybe a bramble thorn picked up on Ulva?
 A youngish couple who were sensibly travelling the island with their bicycles attached to the top of thire car - what genius!
Anyway their tyre levers were far more efficacious than mine, and I was also generously supplied with stick on patches, for my shredded tube, instead of having to muck around with glue - risking being accused of 'old fashioned ways' here I know.

And my new helpful mates; as is spookily so often the case; are from just up the road.... in Devon....

Being orthopaedic surgeons, they have both seen the mucky end of more than a few RTA's involving cyclists, and it doesn't appear to have discouraged them.

Not from driving anyhow...

No lycra to see here. A very nice Swiss lady insisted on taking my picture though,.

I tend to favour the 'Mum who has just popped down the shops on her bike' (and forgotten to return home)
look when it comes to riding. mostly just the usual outdoorsy garb that I wear when hillwalking. With the addition of padded shorts under the trews, and biking gloves same.

That way; no one expects anything out of me speed or performance wise.

 And perhaps makes it all the more satisfying on those occasions when I do catch up with the 'properly garbed' pedallers .  

On from Calgary, through Dervaig, towards Tobermory, still on the B8073. I'd been advised that this stretch of road could be described as 'alpine'

Now I know some folks relish the prospect of endless terrifyingly inclined switchbacks; up which they can haul, and down which they can hurl themselves.

 But the reality here is none too daunting.  Devon is a good training ground for hill climbs.

The bright lights of Tobermory, after pitching at the campsite about a mile and a half up the road.
Mmm hot shower, then fish and chips in town, the full luxuries of the road.

This is Odin, a special breed of kittie from Aberdeen. The previous day he had, with his owners, and alsatian hound mate, summitted Ben More.

I have had some trouble convincing sceptical types as to the veracity of this story ( his owners confessed he'd been carried part way, as we shared shelter at breakfast that morn)

 I myself, had no problem, in swallowing the tale. Bested by a cat? A regular occurrence in my experience..

Bikes generally load on and off the boat first...

Back to the mainland now.

 At the ferry port there was a young girl of about three, accompanying her mother on the journey to Ardnamurchan.

 As the boat approached she jumped up and down calling excitedly.

"The ferry is coming; the ferry is coming!"

I feel it's kind of a shame that we so called 'grown ups' have to internalise these feelings; if we're not to risk being seen as totally crazy types.

 Therefore it was nice to have company nearby; to vocalise my feeling of anticipation

"Are you managing the boat?" A sweet young Californian gentleman asked.... As I leant against the upper deck railings, enjoying the breeze, and the light frisson of excitement brought about by new horizons.

 I was somewhat nonplussed, until I realised that he had my mistaken my high-vis gear for a mark of authority..... I could have had fun with that one, but chose to truthfully demure.

Undaunted by my now clear lack of expertise, in all things maritime, he continued

"I'm told that some of these boats are so old as to have been made in the 1960's"

I did then feel duty bound to assure him that many, many other 'quality items' had also been crafted in that era. and that some of us are still going strong..  

Mainland ahoy...... 

The sunny uplands of Ardnamurchen, once again, beautifully empty, with well surfaced roads.
setting out across the wild feeling uplands; after leaving Kilchoan where the ferry from Tobermory makes landfall.

Heading here towards the South side of this little visited peninsula.

Probably made famous most by the soothing* UK shipping forecast; which mentions Ardnamurchen Point, as it poetically circumnavigates by name, the convoluted coast of these isles.

 The extremity of this projection is the most westerly part of the UK mainland; where stands a particularly fine lighthouse.

* Perhaps not so soporific; if one is actually out boating when heavy weather is predicted.

A tiny patch of intensively farmed green sward amongst all the rough grazing.
Faintly astonished to see how much silage had been made from this diminutive patch. Assuming of course, that none of the stacked bales been brought in from elsewhere. I guess the grass growth is enhanced in Summer by the extra day length; and I suspect some bagged nitrogen may also have had some part to play....

Looking over Loch Sunart, towards Morvern. At some point along the way I think I fairly comprehensively annoyed the cohorts of long suffering folks back home, with these pictures on Facebook.

 I did apologise for being so intolerable; in fact I think by now, I was even starting to annoy myself ...

 It turns out it is possible to be so smug; as to try; even ones own tender patience...

Really guys; don't go to Scotland; the weather is truly awful...

Up and down, and over and along. By the time I got there; the road to Salen felt a good deal longer than the 18 miles proposed at Kilchoan.

Then I had to remind myself that I had inadvertently added an extra 6 miles to that distance....

Glenborrodale Castle grounds; where I turned around after three miles and retraced my steps to that very pleasant information centre and cafe; where I had imbibed the regulation afternoon tea and buns.....

 The cause of this route retracing?    Here's the instant karma tale kids; if ever you should be tempted not to tidy up after y'selves.

After consulting mappage, whilst seated outside at my refreshment stop, I had tucked my map print- outs under the tea tray to prevent them from blowing away.
  If I'd done the right thing and taken my tray back inside I would have remembered said items... But it wasn't until I was quite some distance down the road that I realised my ommission.... 

I had originally thought I might find a pitch somewhere on the tops after Loch Sheil, but all the ground there is fenced and lumpy.

However some roadside picnicers did kindly proffer cake along the way.  Never refuse cake people; you really don't know when the next piece is coming from.

I finally found a good flat pitch by a dinky boathouse, looking up towards the mouth of Loch Moidart. The boathouse gave good windbreaking cover for the meths stove.

The following morning brought a stiffish climb first thing, over the toe of Moidart to gain Loch Ailort. This community shop looked promising; but oh no! It doesn't open until 2pm.

 I did steal an itsy bit of their wi fi though to post some more annoying holiday pics, on instagram this time, I think...
 Social media ; isn't it great for both reaching; and alienating; as many of your friends as possible. 

My very favouritest socks... Darn tough - with flowers - proper girly.
Its also darn useful being able to hoist or lower ones legwear to help with temperature regulation. Joins the gap with 3/4 length trews which I find preferable for cycling.

 And again risking consternation in some touring circles, I'm a flat footed pedaller... No cleats; I like to be able to hop on and off at will, without having to remember to unclip; so very easily distracted - " Oh look a pretty cow - crash; tinkle; guffaw; from passing motorist.

I know that being clipped in is more efficient from an energy, and speed point of view.

But I reckon that this way I get to justify a good deal more cake consumption. And if speed is your main driver then don't go by bike at all.

 Staring doggedly at the tarmac; or glaring at your Garmin to check your average speed. Nope; I'm afraid I've not got one of those not neither.... 
Not yet at least, I can see the point from a navigation point of view.... And they allow you to mark the speed of sheep.

Bit of a rush next up the A830 from Lochailort to gain Mallaig for next ferry Rendevous.
great beaches along the way, but no time to stop and admire.

On reflection I wish I had done some portion of that section by train which follows a similar route. It wasn't so much fun being on a heavily used highway: especially after pootling around the byways for days.
 Those laden log lorries aren't so concerned with making room, for holidaymakers.

I know all about asserting ones right to road space; but the moral high-ground isn't much use if one finds oneself under the wheels of such a fearsome pantechnicon.

No matter; back on a ferry again; from Mallaig to Armadale on the most southerly portion of Skye.
I spied three dolphins from the deck.... Some curmudgeonly types; who weren't there suggested they were probably only porpoises, justly jealous, i suppose.

But it was nearly my birthday; and I was there; so they were definitely (defiantly?) dolphins........

The little pink bobbly thing is a foldable sit mat,I seldom manage to return home with such things of comfort from a trip; and I fear this was indeed left somewhere; after dark.

I had a very clear idea about where I wanted to fetch up this evening.

But first I had a couple of hours to kill; so opted for the scenic back road route from Kilbeg to Achnacloich on the western shore of the Sleat peninsula, giving splendid views over the clear topped Black Cuillen.

Then an undulating coastal route to Ord, before recrossing the hills further up; to regain the main road north.

This snap, might be a tad cross making for anyone who has suffered waiting days for the cloud to lift from these hills. In order that they be scaled...

Sooo clear, and yet I wasn't so much as kicking the clitter at their bases. Feeling a bit guilty again; in truth; it really doesn't take much...

Lowering clouds yes; but still dry; and warmish. Approaching Ord. Its a stiffish detour for the end of a day; but scenically rewarding.

The jagged ridge of the Black Cullin, ove Ord.

Back on the eastern edge of Sleat now, scoping out a pitch not very far from this evenings pre birthday sustenance. Camus Croise

Interior shot (plus two more inside) at the most hospitable hostelry at Camus Croise.

 I arrived here very damp one early afternoon in August 2011 having cycled from central Skye in heavy rain; the fire was banked; and clothes were dried. Later that day I was even invited out for an impromptu boat trip; to inspect shrimping pots if I remember correctly...

So this seemed like a good place to aim for; in order to imbibe pre birthday libation....

Fantastic venison casserole; followed by a guided tour of the malts...

With some new friends made. It would have been most rude to refuse.

Knoydart across the still waters; and yes; another whole day older.

Birthday morning; interesting formations skywards...  Ongoing fair weather promised; but nothing is ever certain.

 Somewhat clouded  (fuzzy headed?) vision as to where I was headed next.

 I had some ideas; and indeed many options.
But rather than just rush off for the sake of it; as is often my wont; inclining to bustle myself bossily through inaction.

 I decided to sit; and be still; with the uncertainty; consider the options.... Here? Or there?

The "what if's?" Came crowding in: ferry times; long range forecast; sore achilles: going too far?

Or not going far enough...

The terrible fear of not making the most of the time allowed.
Still another seven days to play with...

Too lucky; for sure; for words.

Back roads of Sleat again.... 
One of the many interesting things, I find, about going it alone, is observing ones own motivation, or lack of, in some cases.
Theres no 'other' to fall back on for reasons; or excuses; for action; or inaction. 

It all has to be 'self driven'.... 

Having no imperative, no concrete goals, as such, can be quite revelatory. 
You go on, just because you can. 

Pulled on by curiosity.
I've always loved not knowing whats round the next corner, where the next nights stop will be....
 It can, I suppose, lead to an unsettling restlessness; some might say. 

But then denying ones own nature; isn't such a healthy exercise either.... 
Part two here....