Smoking can damage your health.  I have always known this.  On Boxing Day 1968 I was heading south on the old Derby Ring Road, destination Mallory Park for the annual winter race meeting.  I never finished the 180 mile round trip from Altrincham.  Distracted by my attempts to light up while at the wheel, I didn’t see the approaching roundabout until it was too late.  The only route was straight across the middle.  The high kerbs squared off the front wheels of my sky blue Mini (6428 VR), pushed back the subframe and cracked the front windscreen.  My pride and limited reserves were severely damaged.  I was seventeen and lacking the necessary powers of concentration.  Two more lesser incidents the following year finally drilled the message home – keep you mind on your drivin’, keep you hands on the wheel.

Now, ‘older and wiser’, I think nothing of driving 750 miles over a weekend except the incentive has changed; once it was racing circuits, now it is golf courses and in this instance, Sconser on the Isle of Skye followed by Traigh near Arisaig.

The Isle of Skye Golf Club sits next to the sea overlooking Raasay, the island with the haunted bridge and Calum’s Road.  To the north of the course is the Skye to Raasay ferry and at its southern end, Sconser quarry.  I like to imagine explosions from the quarry mid backswing and shrapnel peppering the second green. It has all the right ingredients for Golf in the Wild – the friendly but unpretentious clubhouse, empty fairways, well kept greens, mountains and the salty sea air.  The occasional midge is a price worth paying. Look up the hill from from the first green and the main road disappears; the clubhouse appears to sit alone in a mountainous landscape, the perfect illusion.

The differing filter effects reflect a very changeable day:

The first ... The first ... Towards ... The Raasay Ferry...

The following day’s weather was less mixed, more consistent – rain and wind. Nevertheless, we were determined to enjoy the Traigh Open and in a determined fashion we did. Many thanks to for sharing in the highs and lows of Golf in the Wild at Sconser and Traigh.

The view from ... The view from the 2nd ...

Out and about …

… in Hexham.  It will be September before we start travelling again so the summer months will be based at home: playing golf, putting miles on the motorbikes and keeping up with the endless maintenance tasks that are part and parcel of owning a converted cow byre. This year we are experimenting with changing the colour of the external woodwork, something I may live to regret.

Although we live in the country, almost everything you need is within a few miles drive, in the local towns of Hexham and Corbridge.  Everything else is available on the Internet. The problem is that these last few weeks, Hexham has moved several miles further away.  The main access from north of the Tyne has been severed while essential repairs have been carried out to the railway bridge.  It can be quite pleasant wandering the much less crowded streets but it has done local businesses no favours.  In no particular order, these are some of the images captured around the town over the last week:

Hexham railway bridge...Bridge closure ...The places ...Holy Island House ...Say hello ...Motorcycle ...

To round off, this is the mill at The Linnels, just outside Hexham – it is too easy to pass by familiar places and take them for granted:

The Mill ...

Old friends …

This morning we walked from Wharton’s Lock on the Shropshire Union to base camp at Beeston Castle.  This was somewhere we have been meaning to visit ever since acquiring a share in the narrowboat of the same name in 2006.  In 2010 we changed to narrowboat Winthorpe and finally, in 2014, moved onto narrowboat Oakmere. Within sight of Beeston Castle, Oakmere was moored a few hundred yards from narrowboat Winthorpe – a very tidy set of coincidences.

The ascent of Beeston Castle (remains of) must be saved for another time.  We had both left our money on the boat and didn’t have the required £7.40 demanded by English Heritage to reach the ruin on the hill – I am assuming they have installed high speed escalators with the option of a zip wire descent.

As an alternative form of entertainment, we walked the road that circles the castle hill and discovered a series of well-to-do, beautifully maintained old Cheshire farms – Castlegate, Castleside and The Home.  Classic preserved architecture, there was probably as much to see and  admire than at the castle (remains of).

On a narrowboat my perspective is narrowed by necessity – there is a clear division of labour – the good lady (not dressed in red for fear of cattle – see earlier post) works the locks while I (the high seas Captain) steer the boat – a huge responsibility. This means I am bound to the tiller with my camera – juggling tiller, bow thruster, gears (a push and pull rod just like a 2CV), accelerator wheel and camera shutter is a gift not given to many.  The downside is that there is a certain sameness to the images – A View from the Bridge:

Cruising through ... Cruising through ...Oakmere ...Iron Lock ...Oakmere ...

... below Wharton's Lock

Adios amigos – I must get back to the bridge where there is a complete lack of Internet connectivity.

The lonely sea and the sky …

The first four images were taken on the return from Eilean Glas along the Out End Road. Unlike MacCaig we were not “greeted all the way”, just a hearty hello from one dog walker – he had an English accent.  In the afternoon we drove the road from Tarbert to Leverburgh, following a circular route around South Harris.

Dream home ... Tied up... One of the two ... The road to ... Towards Luskentyre ...

There are only two images from the southern tour; the storm that was gathering over Taransay and Luskentyre broke over Scarista, Leverburgh and the circular road north back to Tarbert.  This only served to instill a desperate urge to return.  South Harris is the most spectacular of the small islands and there is more to see, not least the sandy graveyard at Luskentyre:

She was buckets
and water flouncing into them.
She was winds pouring wetly
round house-ends.
She was brown eggs, black skirts
and a keeper of threepennybits
in a teapot.

Aunt Julia spoke Gaelic
very loud and very fast.
By the time I had learned
a little, she lay
silenced in the absolute black
of a sandy grave
at Luskentyre. But I hear her still, welcoming me
with a seagull’s voice
across a hundred yards
of peatscrapes and lazybeds
and getting angry, getting angry
with so many questions

Norman MacCaig – an extract from his poem Aunt Julia, March 1967.

Then it was north again and the twelve mile road out from near Ardasaigh to Hushinish.

The beach at ...The beach at ...The beach at ...The beach at ...The beach at ...Slipway ...

In this last image, a house on the small island of Scarp is just visible, top left.

In 1934, the island was the location for the launch of Scotland’s first mail rocket.  On July 28th the islanders gathered on the eastern shore of Scarp to witness events. Gerhard Zucker, the inventor of the system, pressed the launch button, there was an explosion, a flash of flame and when the dust settled, all that remained was a shattered launch pad and scattered smouldering letters that never left the island.

A second launch was attempted at Amhuinnsuidhe Castle some weeks later.  This was equally unsuccessful so the islanders of Scarp never got their superfast broadband connection to the mainland.  At one time there were thirty two families living on the island and now there are none – if Zucker had succeeded maybe things would have worked out differently.

A film loosely based on these events was released in 2006.  Directed by Stephen Whittaker and starring Ulrich Thomsen, Shauna Macdonald, Kevin McKidd and Patrick Malahide, the film was given a limited release in Scotland.

Rocket Post-film poster




Following his defeat at Culloden on the 16th April 1746, Bonnie Prince Charlie and his companions headed north, attempting to cross from Skye to Eriskay at the southern tip of South Uist.  His boat was blown off course, landing at Eilean Glas on Scalpay on 30th April where he stayed for four days at the farmhouse of tacksman, Donald Campbell.

Campbell’s farmhouse was demolished in the 1870s and a larger dwelling built on the foundations. The house was at one time a shop, later a manse, and is now home to the Two Harbours guest house, our lodgings for two nights in April. This is the view that the Bonnie Prince would have seen from the farmhouse bedroom window; I suspect not much changed since 1746 – if I were him, I would have stayed longer:

The view from Two Harbours

The day after we arrived we did the Prince’s walk in reverse, taking the Out End road to Kennavay and then the rough track across open moorland to Eilean Glas. In doing so, we were also following in the tracks of Norman MacCaig – these lines from his poem Return to Scalpay:

… We walk the Out End road (no need to invoke
That troublemaker, Memory, she’s everywhere)
To Laggandoan, greeted all the way –
My city eyeballs prickle; it’s hard to bear
With such affection and such gaiety.

Scalpay revisited? – more than Scalpay. I
Have no defence,
For half my thought and half my blood is Scalpay …

His mother, Joan née MacLeod (1879–1959), was born on Scalpay.

This is a wild and glorious landscape and I will publish it’s more attractive side later but Eilean Glas is a sad place – abandoned and forlorn, only the lighthouse tower is pristine, in stark contrast to the surrounding structures.  There is evidence of various failed endeavours, whilst a sign on one window declares, optimistically, the buildings are in the process of renovation:

Abandoned luncheonette... The games room ... Supply valve... The tanks at ...Ancient monument ...To the lighthouse ...

I have been off WordPress for some time so apologies for the many posts I have missed.

The end of roads …

Garry Bridge on the Isle of Lewis was completed in 1921.  It is 15 feet wide with a three feet pavement on each side.  It has a span of 100 feet and a height of fifty with nine arches, the main one having four smaller arches each side.  It is a substantial construction made with reinforced concrete; it goes nowhere.  In Sicily I understand there are whole motorways built to the same principle.

Garry Bridge ...The beach ... Traigh Mohr...

To the south of the peninsula that leads to Garry Bridge is Tiumpanhead and its Stevenson lighthouse, another road to nowhere. It became automatic in 1985 and its outbuildings sold off – they are now home to a kennels and cattery. From lighthouse to doghouse in a generation:

Tiumpanhead lighthouse ...

Tiumpanhead ...

True north …

Tonight we are in Ullapool, ideally placed to catch the 10:30 ferry to Stornoway.  The first image is the view from the B&B window – Waterside House.  The skies are clear, the sunset was spectacular but the temperature remains on the low side of comfortable. Hopefully the isobars will remain well spaced, the winds light and the swell modest. It is 2.5 hours over the sea to Lewis.

Unto the Lord belongs the Earth
And all that it contains
Except the Kyles and Western Isles
For they belong to MacBraynes

Lost in Translation

O, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive.

O, what a tangled web we weave …

This week BBC2 screened Night Train to Lisbon, the film version of Pascal Mercier’s best selling book. The film is good enough for a late night slot on terrestrial TV but would have disappointed in the cinema.  Nevertheless, it was sufficiently thought-provoking that I was tempted to buy the book – it is primarily about an abrupt impulse to leave an old life behind and start a new one.  The catalyst for the unfolding events is a fictional book, A Goldsmith of Words; it contains some wonderful quotes:

We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place. We stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.

I decided against buying the book when I read this review – The translation, though, is lumpy and seems to rob the prose of the lyricism I’m sure is there.  The quote from A Goldsmith of Words gives some hint of this – the repetition of ‘leave’ in the first sentence, the superfluous ‘there’ at its end.  Something has indeed been lost in translation.

All of which puts me in mind of something I left out of Golf in the Wild.  Firstly I considered it too self-indulgent and secondly one of my editors was not entirely convinced by the distinction between the use of ‘will’ and ‘must’, something I derived from my exposure to IT procurement projects 😰 :

Whatever you do, wherever you are,
Even when you can’t see me
You must never renounce me.
The curse from the film Regreso a Moira

Words are intensely important and the use of grammar to ensure precise understanding is ignored at our peril. The quote from the Spanish film at the introduction to this chapter is a case in point. The English subtitles substitute the word “must” for “will” thus diluting the curse to an observation. For English speaking audiences, it undermines the entire structure of the film …

…  This is my turning point. I received a phone call  inviting me for an interview on the understanding that I would be able to start work in ten days. My immediate reaction was despair; I was on four weeks’ notice with my current employer so the telephone conversation ended. It was the strong-willed, freckle-faced force of nature who made me call back, assuring me there was nothing they could do if I just left, and, regardless of the consequences “you will always have me”. And so began my forty with computers, none of them better than those first few years operating large machines. Those five words, “you will always have me”, haunt me. They may have been a curse; possibly I misheard, maybe the will was a must

The following evening I watched Danny Collins, 106 minutes of redemptive hokum only partially saved by Al Pacino.  Again, there is something more interesting at its heart. The story is remotely based on a real event – a lost letter from John Lennon to a young musician on the threshold of fame and fortune.  It took 34 years to arrive at its intended recipient – Steve Tilston:

... when first we practise to deceive.

… when first we practise to deceive.

Borgo Panigale

The last time we were in Bologna we took the train to Modena, the home of Ferrari.  This time passions have realigned and we took the number 13 bus from Via Delle Lame to Borgo Panigale to worship at the shrine of Ducati.  The trip to Modena was about unreachable dreams – a museum, the distant view of a test track and too many souvenir shops.  There was no chance of passing beyond the heavenly portals – the factory gates.

Ducati is about reality and the attainable.  If I didn’t have a strong sense of self-preservation I could probably acquire their top of the range machine which would be more than capable of blowing away the road-going hardware emerging from Modena.  Even my modest 696 will out-gun most ‘performance’ cars.  Pete Lyons, a journalistic hero from my teens, explains it all very succinctly – “certainly there is risk, and that’s part of why riding a bike on the road gives me a sense of adventure that it takes a race track to make me feel in cars … Feel smug about your really fast street car?  If you haven’t clamped your knees around a hyperbike and yanked it open, you have NO IDEA what real acceleration is.” However, the real art of riding is not in a straight line but the ability to corner at speed – when it comes to bends, cars have the advantage if not the balletic style; in this respect at least, four legs good, two legs bad.

The factory tour was the highlight of our trip – nothing staged, this was the real McCoy. Mechanical works of art slowly take glorious shape on production lines where the emphasis of the creation process is the human rather than the robotic.  The finished product surpasses anything we saw the next day in MAMbo – Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna. Umberto Eco may have thought Giorgio Morandi’s art made the dust sing but Ducati’s art makes the heart soar. “Four wheels move the body, two wheels move the soul.”

As I have mentioned elsewhere, I had only two complaints about the factory tour – a) no photographs allowed and b) no free samples 😉  Consequently, all the images are from the museum:

Mike's Bike ... Mike's Bike ... The GP bikes ... The Superbikes ... Ducati Museo ...Mike's Bike ...

Finally, there is a stylistic connection between this bike, the Ducati 750 Imola Desmo, and my 696 Monster:

Ducati 750 Imola Desmo ...Not best suited ...

Another week …

This is a selection of images from Blip over the last seven days.  It has been a quiet week in Lake Wobegone – two rounds of golf, one on the coast and one in Yorkshire (Spring must be around the corner); no rides out on the bikes, too darn cold but the chains have been cleaned and oiled; various walks around Hexham, including one to the station – hence the picture of Les Dawson.  It is a look I have enthusiastically courted all my life – disapproval – reassuring that I can still do it 🙂

I finished reading Adlestrop Revisited by Anne Harvey, an anthology inspired by Edward Thomas’s poem.  It includes this by Martin Newell, an extract from Adlestrop Retrieved:

Bombastic brash and over-prone
To shouting on his mobile ‘phone
He’s cancelling his three o’clock
Or booking tickets for Bangkok
So fellow travellers have no choice
But hear his self-important voice.
“I’ve godda window, Tuesday. Noon.
“Yup. Abso-lootly. Speaktcha soon.”
No sooner has he closed the thing,
His brief-case then begins to ring.
And down it comes from off the rack.
“I’m breaking up, I’ll call you back.”
As fellow travellers wish he’d stow
His mobile phone where phones don’t go.
And so the pompous prat proceeds
From Paddington to Temple Meads.

Have a good week all and may you find life’s silent coach 😜 🚊

Beware the Bull ...I recognise that look ...Anick Grange ...That's the sound of men ...First eighteen ...The road north ...The Monument...