31 March 2012

Government Advice?

From the BBC:

"Fuel strike: Advice to drivers changed after panic buying
Closed petrol pumps  
Supplies of petrol have been diminished after panic buying by motorists

Related Stories

The government has changed its advice to motorists to top up petrol tanks after two days of panic buying."

Either our government is losing the plot - or is engaging in some very clever behaviour manipulation...

There is going to be a fuel tanker driver strike.  2000 drivers will hold the country to ransom.   The threat was to do this over the Easter W/E when the there will be lots of folks traveling and the drivers would quite like a few days off.

Government minister says "no need to panic but please fill your tanks and stockpile fuel at home"

So folks do this - and the pumps run dry.  Fuel companies struggle to meet 170% increase in demand and rapidly restock the petrol stations.

So we have a nation with full tanks and 8000 stations with full tanks as we head into easter - and funny - drivers' union now says "no strike over Easter"

All this being said - I bought myself a jerry-can after the last lot of strikes - and, using my standard rule of "do the opposite" - filled it up this morning.  Looking at planned travel I have enough now to take me well into May - including any unplanned dash down to Winchester or whatever.  Probably being too careful - but it lowers my stress level.

Be Prepared!

30 March 2012

All my pension worries are over

Several colleagues are retiring this month - and they have done all the research - all I have to do it follow this diagram and...

All my worries are over (note values shown are for example purposed only!)

23 March 2012

Six Go to Islay

Here I am at the Holy-Of-Holies.  First in the car park - an hour before the first tour ( I had to get on the first ferry off Jura - along with the school kids and teacher -Jura is a friendly island - they all waved "hello" as I sped past (not hitching - as I could see the school bus in my rear view mirror)

Shortly to be joined by a second bearded middle aged balding bloke also sporting a black fleece, jeans and Canon SLR (he was from Italy). 

Eventually we were six - four more Italians - this time, with wonderfully clear diction (Air traffic controllers all)

Here is where the peat comes from - good for a few hundred more years it is believed
Transport for the sacred peat

This gentleman is a senior specialist at Laphroaig.
With his wife cutting peat, to dry over the summer for use as winter heating fuel.  It used to be that you slipped the farmer a couple of bottles of malt - but now the cost is ca. £40 a year - and you have to do all the work yourselves
They have been busy

Hen Harrier - Male - at the RSPB reserve "The Oa" - no choughs though, not here nor at Loch Gruinart
Calm seas in Loch an t-Sailein
Remarkably buoyant seals in Loch an t-Sailen.  In the top right you can see a falling stick - I guess dropped by a passing bird?
I ran out of time to experience Loch Finlaggan properly

No its not The Tardis - just the MV Finlaggan - built in Gdansk in 2010

Once in Kennacraig everybody screams off the ferry and attempts to overtake while the road is straight (why do slow drivers never ever pull over and let you past)

There were several lorries and they let them off first - and it was a long twisty road to Glasgow.

I took a risk and followed "Audi Driver" - who had overtaken me and a slow French registered car all whilst going at a fair fraction of the speed of sound through the pitch black of the highland night - onto a single track road bypass round Tarbert - with my big 3 litre silver Vorsprung-durch-Technik crumple zone 100m in front we made dangerously good time and managed to get past all the lorries.

The B8024 racetrack around Tarbert - it is a shame the Portavadie-Tarbert ferry does not synchronise with the Islay-Kennacraig - means you have to go the long way round to Glasgow.
It was then one long variable-speed queue on the A83 all the way to Loch Lomond - apart from screaming ascent and descent of "Rest And Be Thankful" - where there are straights with good visibility.

Why is it always this mad rush from ferry ports? - Fishguard is even worse.  Surely they could disembark cars before caravans and both before lorries.

22 March 2012

On Golden Pap or Eccentrica* here I am

It does not get much better than this - a whole mountain range to myself for the day - The Paps of Jura - no other tourists in the hotel, no other cars in the hikers car park and just one set of other tracks in the mud (a few days old - looked like Walsh fell running shoes)

Beinn An Or (Golden Mountain) is on the right - in cloud

It was 3 degrees on top - but with winds at over 50mph I was not staying long (wind chill -6 or -15, depending on which calculator you believe)

Looking South toward Beinn a' Chaolais
East to Small Isles Bay

North into total wilderness - no roads, no settlements, just moorland and 5000 red deer

Islay in the background - in the foreground Sgriob na Cailliche (track of the old woman) the two lines of boulders were deposited under ice sheets - and not a disused mineral tramway as I first thought

Beinn Shiantaidh

If the views were not enough there was a reward waiting for me back at the Jura Hotel:

A glass of 16 yo Jura Malt Whisky

13 different whiskies - and all Jura and all from 10m across the road

*It's a Hitchhikers reference: http://hitchhikers.wikia.com/wiki/Eccentrica_Gallumbits Pap is Viking for breast.

21 March 2012


Up very early to catch the ferry - this is the Knap Guesthouse in Tarbert - the entrance is the white door left of The Harbour Gallery - no wonder I missed it yesterday.

MV Hebridean Isles

First close up view of Jura - the middle mountain is where I am going tomorrow

The throbbing metropolis that is Port Askaig.  The little blue ferry runs between Islay and Jura - at over £8 for 800m it must be one of the most expensive routes in the world.
So much for 'remote support' - the man in the Astra has come all the way from Glasgow to fix an IT problem at the distillery.

In the trailer: malted barley. In the ugly shed: a lot of Jura Whisky.  Why are bonded warehouses all so ugly - those in Dumbarton particularly so...
An Ugly Whisky Warehouse in Dumbarton.  There are very many like this. This image copyright Google

There is only one proper road in Jura - A846 - it runs up the East shore.  Once you leave the the road - nothing but wilderness

There are 5000 Red Deer on Jura.  This is where some of them end up (16% culled each season - which is much lower than Fallow Deer in the Wyre Forest - where the figure is more like 30%).  Surprisingly the "Estates" struggle to make money through stalking and the export of venison. The Jura economy is described at length here

There is a doctor on Jura (normally):

GP Vacancy: Isle of Jura - fewer than 200 patients - typical ratios being between 1000 and 3000 per GP.
 There is no permanent GP at present - so cover is provided from neighbouring islands:

4 day journey for a 4 hour shift

The Jura Hotel - the important word is THE.
The new owners have put a lot of effort into refreshing the building (still in progress which I was there) - it is going to be very nice indeed.  The previous owner has only moved a few metres and is operating a seasonal restaurant (in midsummer I understand what with hotel guests, holiday lets, campers, day trippers and locals the hotel restaurant is put under serious strain).  Note the RBS Bank-In-A-Van - not doing much business - as neither was the island shop - it was closed every time I paid a visit - even when I timed it to walk down with locals-carrying-shopping-bags (in the expectation they would not plan to a wasted trip)

The view from my bedroom window - that is the distillery - which periodically emits interesting, if not fully explained, noises (I think it might be boiler blowdown)

View from the hotel carpark - is this really the Inner Hebrides in March?  Looks and feels more like Tenerife

In the evening I went for a jog - up past the bonded warehouse, toward the ferry and back:

It was too dark to get a photo - this is from Google Streetview
I was watched all the way by a giant stag standing motionless on the skyline crag.  It was dusk and I thought it might have been a statue or sign placed there by the tourist board to welcome new arrivals - but no - I am informed it must have been living - and supremely confident it was not going to get shot.

20 March 2012

Of Ringmarks and Smoked Haddock (its Gary Rhodes Recipe)

View North from the guest house - bleak and windy, lots of authentic howling noises but it is toasty warm inside as I wait for my 1500 calorie breakfast.  And good news - the ferry left Oban so there must be some chance that it will be able to dock.

View South from the guest house - even bleaker

At least these boys and girls appear the be enjoying the view

To much time spent over breakfast - so I decide to leave the "ringmarks" for my next visit.  The Rockvale Guest House is very nice

Just time to pay my respects at the war memorial - are there any "Williams"?

No - but there are a lot of names in total - and when you think this is such a small island* and the names of the fallen go right around the other side.  *Current population: ~800 with a peak of 4500 in the 1830s

Where do all the young islanders live?  With so many incomers, shortage of salaried work and so much property aimed at retirees and holiday lets - its here by the port where some "social" housing has been recently constructed.

They are filming an advert for ?Internet Dating?  I met the main driver/fixer on the ferry from Oban.  Lots of stories - Monarch of the Glen,  Fresh Mango and Organic Yoghurt for Brian Cox (for breakfast, in rural Scotland, at short notice) and going to acting school with Robert Carlyle.  It takes about 30 folks to film ad advert - island hotels full, flights booked out and so on.
I think its the church at Gott - but I can't get the photo to line up with the OS map.

Hooray - here comes the boat!

This is Coll - foreshore with kelp, then a bare ecological no-mans-land and then bracken and heath.  Kelp was a big industry - fertiliser and a source of soda & potash & Iodine & charcoal & lamp gas.  Some of the species are edible.

Ferry terminal at Coll - school children waiting for a big trip to see the Scottish National Opera in Oban.  On balance i think I would prefer to live on Coll than Tiree - Tiree is half+half but Coll is proper island living.

First off the boat in Oban - welcoming committee look pretty cheesed off.

I did manage to fit in "ringmarks" after all.  These are at Cairnbaan - got a blue symbol on my roadmap - so I thought I would break my journey down to Tarbert (careful there are several Tarberts and Tarbets - all in the same sort of geographical location)

After a very pretty walk up the hillside I came to the special stones - frankly a bit disapointing "is this it?"  I struggled to work out which of several stones matched the two shown on the diagram but then...

What is beyond this tastefully painted gate (appears to be Historic Scotland house colour as everything was painted the same)
Hooray - that is more like it.  Strange feeling - folks were here 5000 years ago.

On the way back to the main road - what is this - looks like a wee fortification

and here is a 'holloway' - so it is old and it got a lot of traffic in the past.

and this perfect viewing platform - clear oversight of the strategic routes through the valleys - and without being seen yourself - and someone has even built a little campfire.

The view from my room in Tarbet.  You can just about see the castle on the hill (right side of loch) - behind which is a great place for a run (no photos - it was dark by the time I got on the hillside)
This image copyright: Forestry Commission Scotland (the full PDF is here)

We have some excellent chefs at work - at least one ex-Jamie Oliver who tells me that the Haddock-Mash-Poached Egg combination comes from Gary Rhodes* - you can get it for £3.01 in the company canteen.  *I can't prove this but he has haddock form

Sea Bed or Seabank - the latter I think.  As I discovered last year the fish dishes at several noted Scottish restaurants are sadly limited in variety - I am guessing I am too early in the season and perhaps there is not yet the necessary gastro-infrastructure in place.   It should be noted that the total bill at the Seabed in £ came to less than one main course at the Seabank in €.

The spectacular and original stained glass doorway at Knap House, Tarbert
If you are catching the ferry from Kennacraig - this is a good place to stay.  OK - it is a pretty excellent place to stay full stop