Lismore ended up being nothing like I thought it was going to be. Mainly because I had no idea of what to expect. Appin was one corner of the west coast I hadn't quite ventured to. It's an unassuming island I had passed on the Craignure ferry and more of a low lying rock, even if impressively stretched out, from South to North. The backdrop is bold and impressive, accentuated by the crisp autumn light which is fleeting but powerful at this time of year. As you stand on the pier at Port Appin the land mass of Morvern, both laterally and in elevation, is majestic.
We didn't really see the granite super quarry of Glensanda but the kind of added to the intrigue - it felt like it should be in a Christopher Brookmyre book. Meall na h-Easaiche mountain is certainly visible though and evidence of its existence is seen with boats carrying staff and fuel around the head of the island, behind the chef of the hotel who occasionally goes to check the creels at the end of the pier.
Laura is a relatively immobile 40 weeks pregnant and I've got a fresh gash on my left arm with 12 stitches and a gamy ankle. It's safe to say we're not here for the white water rafting. With no mobile reception, we get a telephone call through the bar - which is pleasantly at odds with city life - and arrange to get picked up by Marlene - a family friend of Laura's - the other side of the short ferry crossing.
We meet an interesting chap in oil skins and end up visiting his new build, turf-roofed home. He knows our connection and we realise that everybody know everybody - literally. We're entrenched in detail during our tour of the island which is satisfyingly rural: the tiny boat the Oban dentist commutes on in all weathers, a poster drop-off for the cinema club they have, we hear about the local politics, of land ownership, of the hardships of island life. We look south to Mull and over to Oban, east toward Glen Etive and the wee surrounding islands. North, as we turn around, to the Nevis Range and finally Morvern, the rock I am so in awe of, to the west. We're deeply content and would be happy to stay for a time. Our last wee foray before we start our new jobs as night-watchmen.
Posted by stupot at 11:07 AM Sunday 9 Nov
Cowal is a place I've been to on quite a few occasions but I've never really been over to the west side which rests on Loch Fyne. The area is incredibly accessible from Glasgow and is why the town's merchants had houses on Dunoon and Rothesay which also explains their period grandness. In miles it is not far but the ascending, descending and new, dramatic landscapes around each corner makes it feel like you could be entering another country, which, I suppose, you are. We were staying at Laura's uncle and Aunt's chalet just by Otter Ferry and arriving on Saturday evening in good weather I unpacked the bike and headed South for Portavadie on the stretch of road I hadn't ever been on. The direct route over the Bealach to Glendaruel is cruel so I thought better of it at the beginning of our break: 'Uncle Jonny' having tipped me off (to cement my decision, I met a cyclist coming the other way the following day who had broken a crank going up it).
There wasn't much chat on the ferry back to Mallaig - the drones of the lone-piper having been long since drowned out by the pulsating hum of the Cal Mac's engines. These had also taken their meditative effect on our sun kissed and tired bodies as people stared at the skyline. It very much reminded you of being in a car as a small child: resistance to relaxation was almost futile. Our eyes were focused on the ridiculous beauty of the Cuillins, Small Isles and Nevis range which were crystal clear, all around: Tiree and Coll south and fading. Some porpoises popped up after the long legged jelly fish were stealing all the limelight and instigated some chattering amongst the humans. It was the way travelling should be: the polar opposite of sitting in an airport lounge. We also hadn't slept much for the past 3 or 4 days, being either wakened by the warmth of summer, talking to interesting and like minded people late into the night or having waited to hear a really good band. The weariness was certainly for good reason.
We are now served on our trains by a retail manager who serves from the retail trolley. This used to be known as the drinks trolley or simply 'the trolley'. Retail feels a little formal doesn't it? Theres an honesty about 'the tea man' or 'the tea lady'. Sure, they sell other shit, but deep down most folks want a tea - maybe with a wee cheeky bit of shortbread on the side. These managers always seem to work alone as well which makes me wonder what they are managing- the crisps? And are they on a managers wage?!
I remember visiting Italy and seeing the kerfuffle that happened at interchange stations on the platforms as overheated passengers angled for cold, fizzy water during summertime. I recall watching guys selling from vast pots of chai in india on Michael Palin's aroud the world. The tea man in India was respected and there was theatre. He was an important part of the journey.
It now seems incredible that we are allowed to buy hot drinks at all given their scalding heat on a rocking carriage. Who could deal with such a balancing act? We are now offered packaged hymogony, probably best described on a thomas cook flight to greece where, having travelled past juicy, fresh watermelons served off a cart by the side of the road, we are offered pot noodles and cup a soups, instant coffee and maltesers.
Bring back theatre and informality to journeys!
Posted by stupot at 08:18 PM Friday 13 Jun
Etape is a French word which has been engrained into my vocabulary for many years. I know various obscure words and phrases with the common theme of cycling: Roleur, Poursuivants, Col, Grimpeur, Parcours, Chute, Domestique, Flame Rouge, Maillot a pois. Etape has now become synonymous with sportif events, the name coming from those who race one stage of the Tour de France each year, and the original closed road event, in the UK, is in Perthshire in Scotland.
I usually do a bit of touring each year as well as some longer one day rides on top of the week to week cycling. Manuela shouted me in November when the organisers get everyone in order - this is why I don't enter these events: Im too busy or unorganised, or both, to plan ahead enough, taking usually only 2 months to organise a holiday or trip in advance. Thankfully I was entered by proxy and even got a hotel room by the start line as a result of having other well organised friends.
I have to say I've found an increase in awareness of cyclists by motorists in the past few years. It's still not universal but then cyclists aren't that perfect either. You could argue that with the amount of bikes on the road these days that it's in your interest to be more aware. Manslaughter is a nasty charge for being lazy with your mirror usage.
In any case, cars are very different to bikes. Notably they go a lot faster, are capable of causing great damage and motorists are surrounded by all manners of protection. It's a safe, sealed environment which adds to issues faced by those on the other side of the windscreen. Ignorance works both ways and just as non-cycling motorists may not understand how exposed you are on two wheels, non-driving cyclists may not understand how many blind spots a motorist has. Empathy and good etiquette are key.
Here are a few things I've noticed, being a driver and a cyclist, that might help us all......
1. MOTORISTS - YOU KNOW WHEN you're overtaking a massive lorry and it's very intimidating and you just want to get past it, and some times it get's a bit too close? That's what it's like having a car go past you too close. So leave a bit more room if you can. In fact - if there is a clear road - just go onto the other side of the road - it's no more expensive.
2. CYCLISTS - YOU KNOW WHEN you're at the traffic lights in your own little box and you sit in the middle of the road? Well, the box is both for lots of cyclists to occupy if it is busy but more so it is a device to keep cars back. This doesn't mean to say that you have to sit in the middle of it if you are alone and hold up traffic. Hold your own and take your space but don't give other road users good reason to get pissed off at you - lot's of us have to share it!
3. MOTORISTS - YOU KNOW WHEN you peep your horn and it doesn't sound THAT loud? Well, for everyone outside your car; pedestrians, cyclists, priests, plumbers, it sounds really loud to the point that it can unsteady you. It certainly fazes you and there's always a chance of a freak out. That's why, you know when the whole street turns around when you peep? That's because you have made a lot of people jump. So shut the fuck up unless its an emergency. Or become a taxi driver. none of these rules apply to them.
4. CYCLISTS - It's not just down to motorists - in order to greet the dawning of the all new shiny Utopia we all need to be a bit nicer to each other. Let cars out, tell them if the road is clear, acknowledge if they wait to pass at a safe place, It's not that hard.
5. MOTORISTS - BE MORE CONFIDENT - If you are going to overtake, OVERTAKE. If you do not have the confidence to make a decision or commit, get Smooth FM on and chill out until you are ready. A nervous driver makes cyclists nervous. And half committing could kill someone.
6. CYCLISTS - If a motorist endangers your life make sure you have a carbohydrate solution in your bottle. When you spray this on the interior of a car it is very hard to remove.
7. MOTORISTS - MOMENTUM, BASIC PHYSICS - Cycling is a healthy way to travel. Some sections of the scientific community are even suggesting that it may be a greener mode of transport to motor cars. Mumbo Jumbo aside, cycling takes a lot of effort. Every pause in the journey means the rider has to push on the pedals and exert great effort to reach the speed at which they was going previously. So when a cyclist is approaching a set of red lights for example, and they are freewheeling, there is a good chance they are doing what's called 'conserving energy'. Instead of trying to get past them at any cost why don't you try to conserve energy in your car? it means you won't burn as much fuel and you will also be able to get in to bed at night knowing you aren't, what's known in the cycling community, an arsehole.
8. CYCLISTS - shut it.
9. MOTORISTS - calm down.
Posted by stupot at 04:46 PM Sunday 25 Aug
Last Thursday I went to the best bar I've been in in a long time.
I'd met up with a fellow sketcher in Malaga (Luis) and received a great tour of the city. I hadn't been doing much reading up as I'd been to the region before so I gladly sucked up all the information. When we drew at the meat market (I chose after I'd seen a sketch of his there), he told me that amongst other things (Original Moorish entrance had been incorporated, fishmongers were not present due to the bank holiday etc) that the coast line used to be just outside the front door. Now this is not Japanese scale but there had nevertheless been a lot of reclaimed land over the past few hundred years - actually it was more reminiscent of Hong Kong.
The bar we went to was just down the lane and another coast line, a few hundred years back. There are stacked, fortified wine barrels and some bench tables in front. in between there are old men in white coats serving a steady stream of customers and scrawling their bill, in chalk, a top the tables. There were other things - a few chest freezers, a glass fronted fridge to another wall with tapas inside - but broadly the basis of the business was that simple. Traditionally a sailors hangout it was now a decent mix of tourists and locals without it feeling that it had lost all its charm.
The point here is that you can pour design and finishes into a hostelry but as long as you have a good product, are welcoming and don't rip people off, you can have as honest and basic an interior as you please.
Posted by stupot at 09:23 PM Monday 6 May
The weather was fairly average when we left Glasgow, for the time of year. With our destination as wild and remote as Tiree there was no-one expecting calm and sunshine though; hiking boots and layers kept us overdressed for what was a quiet International airport but requiring the usual ridiculous security search (I'm tempted to let my trousers drop every time I take off my belt such is my contempt for authority), blast of perfume and hanging about in the ground floor gate which preludes most light aircraft island flights.
Continue reading "Tiree Automatic 3 Partick Thistle 0"
Posted by stupot at 05:05 PM Wednesday 2 Jan
GLEN PROSEN - BRAEMAR
When I planned this trip I didn't actually know that there was a significant climb north before the Lecht. Hazy, non-cycling, teenage memories of Braemar and Blairgowrie did nothing to remind me of Glenshee - all I could remember was a ski hire joint in Blairgowrie - and we didn't even go back to visit. Useless!
The snaking around the outcropping Eastern Cairngorms / Angus Glens was enough of an early morning wake up call and the gels were certainly being being broken out today. The overall height not the issue but the constant steep troughs.
PITLOCHRY - GLEN PROSEN VILLAGE
It was a jolly, coffee and cake, start to our second day at the welcoming CAFE BIBE: the raspberry bakewell was amazing and they were cool about putting another shot in a weak coffee. Oblivious to the weather forecast for the coming few days we dragged ourselves up and over the first climb of the day. This recurring theme is obviously a side-effect of taking quiet B-roads. Like any other modern dilemma, you have to weigh up if the side-effect is worth while to make life more positive. Of course, on roads where sheep out-number motor vehicles, the decision is easy. The road to Kirkmichael was a joy and we rolled down toward the village for more coffee and cake at THE VILLAGE SHOP, eschewing energy bars for the time being.
RANNOCH STATION - PITLOCHRY
I'd had a brief week after our holiday in Turkey with some late nights and weekend working and so was looking forward to getting away again for some physical excertion and spending some time in a part of the country I (realised last year whilst driving through) have sadly neglected from my travels.
I'd mapped and calculated the route 2 months previously, booked the accomodation and then basically gotten back to a very heavy shift of work. As with 2011, there were last minute adjustments to the bike (at Rannoch Station) and also a reminder of the route on the train up. We were only focussed on the fist day and it was to be a pretty straight forward roll to Pitlochry so we got moving along the lochside and headed toward Kinloch Rannoch past silver birch, fern, the first of many serious (victorian) civil engineering projects and toward lunch. I'd been to the village in my childhood but more recently in June to visit Mr Penman so I was confident the hotel would do alright scran.
The pub at the back was closed so we were ushered in to the Hotel proper with it's tired surroundings, tired music and tired staff. They were actually playing bagpipe laments at lunch time - "the older clientele like it". Amongst sporadic chat the visitors looked like suicide might be an agreeable alternative, the saving grace being a baby's gurgling and a stuffed, ginger badger that Ross had found an affinity with. A young Caribbean guy came in with three 50 somethings. I met him outside when we were packing up as he had come out for a macdoobie. Grenadan's certainly show up locals for friendliness and welcome. On the way out the young staff had suggested that playing popular music would be "a tragedy" so I started singing the Bee Gee's classic as we left them to their 1970's tartan take on tourism.
I love to travel but I hate airports: which is one reason I enjoy holidaying in Scotland on the bike.
I'm independent, I don't have to speak to many people and no stranger asks me to take my clothes off. If you think that's a bit harsh try watching an elderly man losing his dignity or another being marched off for travelling with a penknife (in the same queue in late 2001 I saw a young woman revealing her disposable razors and being ushered through without question).
The most interesting thing about going on a package holiday to Turkey is watching some people's reaction to telling them it's a 'package holiday'. A lot of people I know go on city breaks and squirm at the thought of someone organising a trip for them by a beach. I was a bit like that until I went to Fuerteventura 10 years ago and had the most relaxing two weeks of my life. Most people who squirm have never done it or found somewhere good enough. From the beginning, it's been a case of finding a good hotel with a company that chucks in flights pretty much for free, entertaining a rep who may or may not give you some handy local hints and then doing what the fuck you want for the rest of the time. We got a hire car thrown into our deal and had a beautiful, small and quiet hotel away from Daily Mail Central that was the middle of Kalkan.
Everyone talked about how bad the driving and roads were: compared to Britain the roads aren't well marked and aren't built up at the side, and sometimes people don't indicate - but apart from that I found drivers to be courteous and relatively slow (the cost of petrol was probably the main factor).
You can be sceptical of people selling you stuff but the 75 year old fisherman who approached us as we were fresh into town, gave us a great deal and a lovely day on the water. I tipped him with a sketch of his boat.
The guys who chat you up on the street to get you into bars are salesmen, but if you give them a chance and chat to them they can be intelligent, interesting people - far more astute, witty and politically knowledgable than their British counterparts. I had a great education about Ataturk by one guy and, wanting the drawing I'd been working on, in the end let me buy my food and beer with ink and paper.
I actually grew to liking these encounters - more than many places I've been (aside Morocco) drawing was commanding great respect and even worked as a currency.
One day we pulled up to a road side eatery in a very local setting and, with no menus or conversation, ordered 'food'. Our trays of goodies, water and bag of bread came imminently and we ate a feast. The lunch service was finishing and chairs were being loaded into a van. We didn't think anything of it until when we went to pay were told there was no charge - this was a pre-wedding party and lunch was on them. Now that's hospitality.
Posted by stupot at 01:30 PM Wednesday 29 Aug
The Housemartins were my first fascination as far as bands go. I don't think I was overly aware of their socialist / communist opinions when I started listening to them but the lyrics gradually grew on me for their poitical message as much as the music had with the catchy tunes. Record and cassette sleeves were gleaned for information and the NME was fine-tooth-combed for any further reading on their exploits. I followed Beats international (marginally), the Beautiful South and Fat boy slim a bit as well as keeping up with news of ex-members' activity: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugh_Whitaker
It is Paul Heaton though, the voice and writer of the Housemartins, where my appreciation lies the most and so it was with immense excitement that I learnt he was doing a tour by bike around local pubs. It was about 15 years ago when I last saw him with the Beautiful south - at the Barrowlands - and I was tipped off by a man I have not seen win as many years. Ali, an old school friend with whom I shared many interests as a teenager, let me know 'Heato' was playing his local in Pitlochry and so we hatched a plan to meet up, catch up and go see the man.
CARLISLE - CORBRIDGE
There was bunting everywhere between Carlisle and Corbridge: my route didn't really take in many towns but the hamlets I rode through were dripping with Union Jacks in stark contrast to the new summer greenery and subdued hues of Cumbrian stone houses. I thought about what tourists must think about these beautiful little places with ancient oak trees on village greens - it's a long way from Glasgow and I was feeling pretty alien myself. Like being in another country....
We had to travel to Perth to pick up our camper van but the train connection is good, it gave us time to gather our thoughts and crucially, it let the previous nights' weather front move off. The forecast had been watched and optimism was rife but we still brought the gloves, scarf and waterproof jackets to satisfy the Sun God. The drive across to Crieff, Rannoch Moor and Glen Coe was moody - snow was very much visible on the tops of the Bens and clouds were still low (comparatively) but by the time we checked into the Clachaig Inn, the blue skies surrounded us and after food and a brief nap we were good to start our adventure proper.
I'm writing a proposal for a series of programmes for the BBC around Independence. I have confidence that it is a worthwhile venture and I'm busy making inroads into the corporation. I am also positive it would help people understand the subject of Scottish Independence more clearly, driven by conversations on the ground, facts and, crucially, with no hidden agenda.
St Peter's seminary lies just north of Cardross, before Helensburgh on the Dumbartonshire coast. The setting is slightly elevated, amidst woods and by a large burn which acts as the soundtrack to an otherwise lifeless space. I knew of the work of Gillespie Kidd and Coia before I knew of their name, my school in Ardrossan being close to St Peter in Chains Church on the south beach. I've since known of them via St Brides in East Kilbride and the BOAC offices in Sauchiehall street, Glasgow.
Last week I went up to Forres with work I'm doing with the Art School's Centre for Design Innovation. It's a relatively new project and I'm still fully getting my head around it. After meeting the team and being part of a day designed to look at and understand what the Centre is, we headed to Aviemore where there is a live project on-going with a major tourist attraction. Weather continued to be outstanding, but with it came the huge gusts of winds characteristic of the country.
After a spot of work in Aberfeldy I drove to nearby Kenmore and, as surreptitiously as possibly, changed in the car before heading out for a few miles on the pusher. I reckon it's hard to find a bad road in Perthshire but against my usual instinct I asked a local about the best ones. The Glen Quaich road was suggested and duly sampled - I'd been aware of it signposted on the drive from Crieff so I knew two thirds of the route already. It was a peach - although with climbs not for the faint hearted. Literally. I think it could bring on a coronary if not lung collapse. The only problem I encountered was the lack of warm-up, going straight up intensely steep stretches which were so steep the front wheel was lifting if I remained seated. The plus-side was that I knew it would top-out soon and that it was relative flat or downhill left. It really drops off hard down to the glen floor with one or two extremely tight hairpins (with much rubber visible on the tarmac). There was more 'flat' than I had anticipated on the way to Aberfeldy on the A822 but it's a fun descent and bonny ride back to Kenmore. Must spend more time up there.......
Posted by stupot at 01:20 PM Thursday 18 Aug
TOBERMORY - ARISAIG
So the sun finally put on a good show - there had been a suggestion on Monday night that shepherd's were to be delighted on Tuesday but things stayed decidedly average on for our mountain goat trials. Chris had gotten up first and went for a wander shortly followed by me with the SLR - the light and strength of blue in the sky was phenomenal. We bought plentiful supplies for breakfast and had three courses - porridge with strawberries, bacon rolls and pastries with a cafetiere of coffee. I'm sure hostelling didn't used to be like this: it used to be a lot worse.
LOCHRANZA - CRAIGNURE
The guy we shared a room with insisted on sharing his Nescafe with us and couldn't understand why we were packing so early to get our ferry. Thankfully the coffee stop we had planned (less than half a mile away) coincided with the ferry leaving 35 minutes before we thought it would leave and, forcing the gangway back down, we managed to hop aboard. Already we had reached a part of the country where common decency and courtesy prevails over timetables. The moral of the story (aside checking your timetable properly) is being a coffee snob pays off in more ways than the obvious.
YORKHILL - LOCHRANZA
It had been a hectic end to the week which sprawled into Saturday and it's afternoon. The relaxed and satisfying meticulous checks were swapped with a frantic and sweaty dash to the bike shop to rake through old metal jars full of components that had been put into a coma. I resurrected a few and the bike was operational, if not quite finely tuned. Packing is always easy for these trips - the panniers only allow a certain amount and weight or lack of weight is the guiding rule. In retrospect I didn't use my gilet, arm warmers and lock but they aren't heavy and could have been invaluable - infact it's unusual not to need a gilet in Scotland no matter what the season.
There's an advert on TV just now for marmite that has an animated snail and frog discussing haute cuisine. In Brummy accents they talk about their disdain for this kind of food, they jokingly don't understand what 'escargot' is. It ends up them taking out the 'u' and changing the slogan to 'hate cuisine' - which is a very British approach.
Other adverts for food include Richmond sausages, which, apart from being machine made, taste like they're machine made. The advert shows them with some limp mash and peas and a side order of no imagination. Whilst we happily flock to watch Masterchef, the food culture of Britain remains manufactured and bland. I was shocked a few weeks ago in Italy to see the vegetable section of markets and supermarkets filled high with all different shapes and colours of fresh produce. It makes the vegetables here look like they've come from a mould which is deeply worrying. There was a TV show on regional programming the other day - one highlighted Keith Floyd's famous early shows which tried to promote all the seafood we sent abroad - and still do.
We ate at the new 'Strada' restaurant in Edinburgh last week on our return from Italy and despite it being fairly quiet, had to send back all our food: unseasoned, basil-less, uncored tomato and basil salad, chips that weren't fresh, a pizza with dressing we'd asked for without. In most other countries they celebrate food but we seem afraid to fully embrace it. Not so much a chip as a whole fish supper on the shoulder.....
(On the plus side, some good tips for anyone visiting Edinburgh in the up-coming weeks are - Bon Vivant, Hendersons, Central Mosque and Spoon)
Posted by stupot at 10:15 PM Saturday 23 Jul
Another bike and ferry trip coming soon. Again with Mr Third but this time taking on board Ross 'gritted teeth' Davidson. Parcours will be Glasgow - Lochranza - Craignure - Tobermory - Arisaig. Not being massive fans of Oban, and coinciding with a large sailing event, we've been forced into taking accommodation in Mull which is actually very agreeable. It will mean we ride straight onto a ferry from our digs on Arran and straight off the ferry to a bed in Craignure. This gives two options to ride to Tobermory, both taking in Calgary bay and a dip! We've decided to end in Arisaig rather than Mallaig for a bit of serenity. Cannae wait.
Posted by stupot at 11:10 AM Thursday 21 Jul
It had been stressful week brought on by the fact that the surprise bank holiday on Monday combined with Friday off meant a lot had to be crammed in to a few days. Fortunately Tiree, as a destination, is the perfect remedy to anxiety, a full brain and too much time around a computer. As we flew low over the Inner Hebrides and Argyll with perfectly clear views down to inlets of white sand, cliffs and turquoise waters I leapt from one seat to another trying to gather as much of the views as possible. It was a bit like hanging over a huge, intricate, moving map. Jura, Mull then Flotta were highlights as we circled around and descended over Coll to our destination.
After the local bus (which had been briefed by our hosts) picked us up and dropped us off we had a cup of tea, inspected the front garden (the shore) and got the bikes ready for a trip over to the southerly bay around the peninsula. The sky was clear blue, the wind light, so we donned trunks and ran as fast as we could into the Atlantic - like Victorians trying to cure an ailment. in our case, possibly another long winter.
Posted by stupot at 05:03 PM Tuesday 7 Jun
The eternal quest for finding work, for me, always seems to be closely linked to leaving the office / being away from your desk and / or being out on the bike. That could be as much about meeting people sociably, through work or simply not waiting for the phone to ring. Last week I couldn't calculate what others were taking off (it used to more simple) so took a few days off amidst the bank holidays. We meandered to Bute on the non windy Thursday and had a wonderfully sun drenched tour around the island. It was textbook Scotland - friendly ferry staff, good information kiosk, basic breakfast with average coffee, quiet roads, egg roll, ham and tomato roll, map out, deserted beaches, tearoom, chips on the harbour, victorian toilets, a wee bit of sunburn about. And the phone ringing for new work.
Posted by stupot at 12:49 PM Friday 6 May
I like to think I usually write about positive subjects here - or at least try to spin negative things into positives. At the weekend we stayed a night at the worst hotel I've ever stayed in. Someone came to breakfast with bites on their arm. My parents slept directly above the bar celebrating a rugby success. The breakfast was 'alright' which is about the only good I can say. The mock medieval banquet hall with very little natural light for breakfast was 5 star compared to the junkie squat room. I made the mistake of not reading these reviews. I did take some photo's though. And showed the staff. still scrubbing.
Posted by stupot at 12:36 PM Monday 11 Apr
BELLINGHAM - KIELDER - BELLINGHAM
Girlfriends aside, I've been dying to do some cycling in Northumberland for a long time. Some of the roads around Hexham, and the Roman Wall, are exquisite: farm roads that could take a lifetime to explore. Given I knew it would be hilly and only wanting to do 40 - 50 miles, I took the old military road to Chollerford from Corbridge by car and branched off, and up, toward the reservoir.
Advised to stop in Bellingham (by activcylces where newcomer Sol Campbell was in with his groceries) which had better services, I stopped in the old market square with the red and yellow county flag waving in the breeze by the Crown and Rose. It spat with rain as I put on my overshoes but the donning of the anti-raindance jacket seemed to do the job. In fact it was in my back pocket by the 2 mile marker never to be seen again.
The road up was into a stiff breeze which didn't act as a great warm-up for knees still slightly creaky after Thursday's gallop from the off. A nice chat with the bike shop owner had me return to the dam via the north bike path - bearable for a road bike such as mine but only with good concentration. The descent was fast and at one point a Buzzard flew along side at about 40mph checking me out. The knees held up and the bag of cashew's and litre of water at the end, just reward.
Posted by stupot at 03:33 PM Monday 28 Feb
We've had a good amount of early snow this year which partially explains my lack of activity for drawing as well as blogging. Spending Christmas in North England allowed us to visit Hadrians wall - what was the most fortified border in the Roman Empire. The build quality is very impressive given that it is almost 2000 years old. A lot of pride was obviously taken by the work force - stone-cutters initials on show, sporadically, amongst the bricks. Drawing time was reduced to about 5 minutes - my digits don't have much heat in them at the best of time.
Posted by stupot at 11:13 AM Friday 14 Jan
Yesterday the snow properly came to central Scotland after an appetiser on Friday night. After hangover french toast we had cross-road snowball fights with strangers - children and adults alike. Lots of people were smiling and laughing and talking to each other. The park was stunningly up-lit despite the waning winter light. I'm glad snow is still a wonderful thing.
Posted by stupot at 03:38 PM Monday 29 Nov
I downloaded the wallpaper* amsterdam city-guide which I thought was a good idea, and it was - despite all the spelling mistakes and the fact a physical book would have been easier to navigate with: just as a real map beats google in the quick reference stakes. In any case it was easyjet's city guide on the plane which suggested I visit Amersfoort, and based on their pretty good suggestions for Glasgow and Edinburgh bars (Gandolfi and Blue blazer) I thought I'd get on the train on Monday. The place was dead on arrival - it appeared that no-one else was taking the hot tip. Or it was Monday morning. The weekly holiday, as it turned out, didn't make me feel so bad about not wanting to get out of bed on Mondays. I should move there. People started their days slowly as I wandered in the crisp November weather eventually finding the medieval gate to the town and getting a few sketches done. Soon it was populated as normal and I headed back to Amsterdam on my favourite double-decker trains in anticipation of seeing Gorillaz that night.
Posted by stupot at 01:41 PM Thursday 18 Nov
There was an article in the Observer this week about cycling tribes. You can't help but pigeon hole yourself when you're scanning through it, agreeing or at least acknowledging the traits. I'm happy that I belong to a few of them rather than one in particular but am reluctant to own up to some of the characteristics.
I had a debate about office wear versus fluorescent lycra as commuting attire the other week - my view being that, like in Denmark, Japan and the Netherlands, cycling to work (like walking there) is such a standard part of the day - people dress accordingly. I don't like making a song and dance for the sake of a slow paced, generally short, journey to the office. I find it alienates cyclists even more from the motorists - makes us look like a cartoon character more than a normal punter. That's fine - you might say - until you get hit.
My new commute has brought out the issue of 'Shoaling' - the phenomenon of many cyclists congregating at lights. No-one really talks to each other but will generally engage with enthusiasm when offered. It's a benefit of being out a car, people, use it! I think a wee bit of communication on a commute reminds you that you are around other humans and promotes neighbourly behaviour. I ride an old sixties bike to work and dress for the office, not the road, so people presume I'll be slow - it's interesting. I started slipping the roadies who overtake me at lights until one got doored just in front of me. Ouch. The guy at fault got out the car and continued his telephone conversation until I suggested he call back later. Like I was saying - neighbourly behaviour.
Posted by stupot at 02:04 PM Wednesday 27 Oct
I've never really considered Greece as a destination for a holiday and now I can't understand why I would ever have had any reservations. Perhaps snobbery that to get there I would have to go with a tour operator. Perhaps because of the reputation of resorts being full of Brits getting wasted on Ouzo. "Street's like a jungle, so call the police" as Blur once described the 18-30 phenomenon "....following the herds, down to Greece".
After a pretty somber Friday we headed east to the land of Fife. The sun came out and we eventually got to the lovely Craigdene B&B in Colinsburgh and dinner on the front at Elie. With the sun still beating down on Saturday, we secured a couple of seats on the boat to the Isle of May and pottered around Anstruther. The Fence Collective had a shop open in the library, for the week, as part of the Haar Festival in the Neuk with lovely cake stands and iphone covers.
With picnic in bag we bobbed and dipped on the slow chugging boat, with 80 others, over to the nature reserve of May. Immersed in Ornithology and History I would only find out later how much I was also being immersed in sunshine. The boat trip by the cliffs full of Puffins, Fulmars, Manx Shearwaters, Shags (there were no jokes) and the hook-nosed sea pigs that filled the coastal waters was fantastic. We had a few hours on shore amongst the rabbits, lighthouses and other birds before making the slow but calming trip back, sucking on an IPA.
We met Laura's mum and dad in Crail at their lovely wee rented pad in the old maltings and had suppers and a walk by the harbour. The haar had come in the next morning as we headed to Pittenween for the arts festival. If there had been a list it was being ticked off at pace. Some of the artists, in the various garages and gardens, were very highly skilled. Others were charlatans. The ice cream shop and the walk on the harbour in the sun were never going to be let-down's though and we basked with others licking our cones on the front, eyes half closed in the sunshine - staring out to sea.
Posted by stupot at 09:23 AM Tuesday 17 Aug
Ardvourlie - Garenin
We woke from a great sleep and still the trees whipped about outside. We doubled up on porridge and headed out into the elements and Lewis proper. Feeling slightly guilty we trundled along, off the higher ground of Harris with, our now good friend, the sou' western tail wind. Eventually we go to the left turn which would take us to Garenin and we now had to feel more of the wind than either of us wished - the view south, back to the mountains of Harris was recompense enough though, as we glanced sideways trying to keep the bikes upright.
Berneray - Bowglass
The wind is still battering against the small windows of the blackhouses but sun now lights up the white horses in the green sea. As with the night before we make a dash from our sleeping quarters to the living and eating space situated in the next building. We repack after porridge, swap some advice with the others and head off for the ferry. Despite the terminal being only a mile away it takes an eternity and some skill to keep the bikes upright - the head wind buffeting us and occasionally trying to lift our feather-light front wheels.
Castlebay - Bernaray
Finally we made it to the ferry and at last we were on holiday proper - £29 would get us to Barra, over to Eriskay, from Berneray to Harris and from Lewis to Ullapool. The Lord of the Isles didn't command the harbour as much as I had expected and as soon as we passed Ardnamurchan point and literally hit the Minch, the undersized ferry truly didn't come into its own. The ferry was heaving - in both senses and our place in the bar was fortuitous once we realised that we had fiddles and an accordian in our midst. Unfortunately this didn't stop the sea sickness - I lay down when Chris went for a walk which kept down the lager and pork chop I was struggling with. Others weren't so lucky and as the 6 or so hours passed the toilets were not worth bothering with unless you really had no choice. We later heard some real horror stories about the Friday sailing which by some accounts saw passengers vomiting from smelling the vomit. Not a position you want to find yourself in, especially if you were one of the runners in the 'Barrathon' on Saturday.
The sands of Morar is a beautiful spot - 40 miles west of Fort William. The scenery is spectacular as six of us make the trip up to celebrate the longest day. It's a long drive but well worth the winding roads to be met by the natural beauty of the place. It doesn't get fully dark this far north and we were granted good weather, camping on the silver beach itself, soaking up sun, eating from the fire and watching the steam train pass on its way to Mallaig. It's a long winter but trips like this are so much more appreciated as a result.
Posted by stupot at 10:59 PM Monday 21 Jun
So it appears that young Mr Third and I have almost concocted a route for some Outer hebridean cycling. He having the upper hand of a past visit and knowledge of the Topography, it looks like we'll arrive Monday 5th July (not wanting to interupt the Sabbath), do the Uists on Tuesday, an easy exploration of Harris on Wednesday, up to Garenin on Thursday and over to Stornoway on Friday for the ferry, bike bus and train back to where the masses gather. And sod the wind and weather - there's no predicting from where it will come.
Posted by stupot at 04:43 PM Sunday 13 Jun
The drive to and from Tunbridge Wells for Fiona and Rob's Wedding on Saturday was a good reminder of what Britain is to the majority. Drivers who vote Conservative, shop in Bluewater and watch football. whilst I condone that to a degree, it just reminds me why popular culture means so little to me. The wedding, on the other-hand, was a true British classic - a wonderful couple in a stunning, sunlit setting.
Having watched Arran for over a week, in glorious sunshine, I couldn't not go over. I'd shied away on Tuesday with work guilt but the drawing in question was finished so I headed to Ardrossan for the 9.45 crossing. I stand by May being the best time of year in Scotland and this year has been no different. When we got off the ferry in Brodick the wind was uncomfortably blustery though - I headed to the grocers for cashew nuts and lucozade and passed a couple I'd talked to on the ferry - "it's pretty windy, eh?" - an old woman who didn't reveal her face pitched in: "a north wind" she said. I passed her a short while later "unusual to get a north wind" I said - she just cackled with her back still turned in.
We visited Hexham on Sunday - an old market town with traditional brick buildings and the odd flash of Sandstone. It's also an area with a surplus of archaeology - like in Orkney, you stupidly become blazé about what incredible sites surround you. After Hexham we drove into the Toon and on my way back from Gateshead stopped to pen the famous bridge that appears on Newcastle Brown Ale bottles and also in Sydney Harbour. Fulmars or small gulls or whatever they were (loud, white, webbed feet) perched below me on the columns and windowsills of the buildings beneath the bridge, which act as an incredibly accurate man-made cliffs, guano lining the street below.
Posted by stupot at 02:18 PM Tuesday 4 May
Some people are more aware of direction than others. Some people can't read a map or tell you where North is even when they're standing outside on a sunny day. I am one of the people who works it out in almost every new situation, location: office, house, midway through a train journey - even on the ferry on the way back from Orkney (when we had boarded late, in the dark, sleeping in a windowless berth) as soon as I lay my head down I knew north was basically in the direction of the shower.
Usually I can't understand why others would not want to know - which begs the question why I need to know. Certainly - It's usually unnecessary. Direction, or rather orientation, is not something I think much about - like making coffee in the morning or drawing or riding a bike - it's something that, despite initially requiring much thought, just gets done now on auto-pilot. It's a skill of sorts (all be it an irresistible impulse) which, many years from now in a peculiar hostage situation in South America may prove to be useful.
Posted by stupot at 12:01 PM Tuesday 4 May
"What's the name of the Gateshead multistorey?" I ask Laura. "I don't know" she says - "I just know it as the 'Get Carter' car park." A lot of people say the same about Trinity Square, the prominent brutalist structure behind the Tyne Bridge. The site has been Tescos for quite a while now and demolition can be only a matter of months away (they've been saying that for 3 years) so I walked over the bridge from the University in a quite excited frame of mind. The reality is a bit different: Gateshead is not a rich place (The Barbican works well, for example, but isn't it remarkable that so many of these buildings were tested in poorer areas) and you wonder if a high street with a rash of pawn shops benifits from a gap site with an aeriated concrete block shadowing out the sun for yet another three years. I found it mildly depressing on what was a relatively nice day but then there is no life crawling on it - I do think that the cafe on top was a great idea - I would have gladly gone there for a look at the North sea and the Toon. When it was built people thought motor cars were a good idea and concrete was a suitable material for the cladding as well as structures in the north. Hindsight was not available. A bit like getting the public to bang a load of E's in the early nineties and waiting until sometime in around 20 years to see what the effect is.
Posted by stupot at 09:22 AM Tuesday 4 May
It was 2 o'clock on Dumbarton Road and the promise of summer we had seen on Saturday morning was now hiding between a huge veil of drizzle. It was certainly a hangover Sunday. I got on the bus, marvelling at the £1.75 cost and went upstairs where a guy at the back starts shouting me. "houw, big man, how's it going?" He's fidgeting a bit and bangs on the window at one point. Everyone else has white buds in their ears. He comes down and sits behind me for a chat - I'm really fighting the fear and any company isn't that welcome - the guy starts showing me his hand, the thumb was hanging off last week when he went to the Royal to get his machete injury sewn back up.
I'm standing in the middle of Kirkwall and it's deadly quiet - save for the twenty or so crows building their nests above me: a murder if you will. I was never sure about that collective noun but you just have to be around them to understand. It sounds like Punch is murdering Judy. There's a seriousness to them when it's quiet: you're on your own, lunch time in a small town, you might have taken the wrong road. Hitchcock didn't make that scene on the climbing frame just for it's visual appeal. They make you shiver and a bit paranoid. Perhaps it's because I'm near the harbour, but the term 'crows nest' seems well founded - when I look up at the birds they are looking down on everyone else, but I'm glad to see it's just a couple helping each other fix twigs to their nest. You can't choose what accent you're born with I suppose.
Posted by stupot at 02:07 PM Tuesday 20 Apr
My drawings are featured this month, with some others from the Urban Sketching gang, in TAM airlines inflight magazine called RED. The spreads are really nice - it features work from last years Morocco trip.
Post script: Bizarrely, I just got up from the computer and the hard copy arrived from Argentina - unfortunately it's the wrong issue!
Posted by stupot at 08:50 AM Tuesday 20 Apr
Orkney was great fun - I cycled over to Deerness when Laura went to meetings and savoured the early spring weather after having had a day in Kirkwall on Monday. On Wednesday we went to the harbour village of Stromness (Kirkwall is a city thanks to its cathedral) with the house gables pointing to sea, suggesting just how severe the weather can be in Winter. The pier arts centre is a wonderful place with a great collection of Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson work. The rest of the village seems oblivious to the little modern building (hidden within old buildings), instead getting on with mending nets and going to school and delivering letters. Perhaps Stromness is more endearing because of it's proximity to the sea and the backdrop of the great hills and cliffs of Hoy.
Posted by stupot at 01:35 PM Sunday 18 Apr
Posted by stupot at 01:33 PM Sunday 18 Apr
This was drawn in the village of El burgo, over an impressive descent from Ronda in Andalucia. We went to watch the big boys gruelling through a very unseasonally wet tour. The day stayed dry though, and we sat on a roundabout eating a picnic as locals gathered. Finally the peleton sped through and the small village returned to a much more leisurely pace. We returned to ride the mountain 2 days later - a combined ascent that day of 2600m. Emotional.
Posted by stupot at 02:48 PM Thursday 4 Mar
I'm a big advocate of traditions - sometimes it feels like it's in contrast with my (probably-natural-but-not-overpowering) interest in societies advances. I know my heart sits firmly with tradition though; the lack of complication. I'm not one to look back but rather I appreciate those things that work. I suppose as an example is that my head has never been able to understand travel to other planets when things down here are broke. It's like having a cleaner who lives in squalor, double standards. My interest in space travel couldn't be less.
A cold, cold wind runs through Newcastle train station in December. Luckily a warm, quiet coach and a hip flask eased me back to Edinburgh after Christmas. Drawn on the cover of an over used sketchbook with sign pen and white pencil.
Posted by stupot at 01:18 AM Wednesday 30 Dec
Coal fires, whisky, snow, warm pubs, marzipan fruit, stocking, antique bicycle magazines, snow, perfect ham, red wine, sun, warm pubs, lie-ins, films, fox hunt, ice, warm bed, marzipan fruit, turkey and brussels, a pocket watch, neighbours visiting, beer, nap, exploding chestnuts, stretching, a walk, red wine....... a fine Christmas.
Posted by stupot at 08:18 PM Tuesday 29 Dec
When you live in Scotland and the sun shines you get twitchy: you might not see it again for a while so you feel like you should make the most of it. I'd love to live somewhere with predictable weather again. Yesterday John and I went to beautiful Killin to start our loop of Loch Tay via Glen Lyon - the weather was perfect and the leaves have started to change. It's most definitely knee warmer, glove and overshoe weather - extremities are starting to be nipped.
It's the first time I've been to Africa, and despite the European influence Morocco is very much what I thought it would be like: vibrant, magically inconsistent, scooters, incredible food, friendly, constant, noisy, fume filled, markets, beggars, monkeys and dust. I felt a bit out of place to begin with - blonde hair, posh clothes, sunburn - but the sketching soon had me squatting in the street, drawing with kids leaning up against me and having conversations in bad french with cigarette vendors. From being a sales target, sketching was an effective way to meet locals properly - more than anywhere else I've travelled.
Posted by stupot at 11:46 AM Tuesday 29 Sep
Urban Sketcher Liz Steel continues her tour of Europe and popped into Edinburgh for tea and sketching - her book overflowing with drawings, watercolours and tea room paraphernalia. Liz has been prolific - watercolours with bags of character. She was terribly well equipped for stand-up sketching - bag arranged with everything at easy reach. It was lovely to meet a fellow sketcher and share the reekie.
Posted by stupot at 02:45 PM Saturday 26 Sep
Last weekend of the festival included Sunday lunch by Edinburgh's windswept, but none-the-less beautiful, Portobello beach. Heading off to Sweden on Thursday saw still unsettled weather but with a view ahead to cosy nights in with an open fire, a good book and even better company.
Posted by stupot at 10:58 AM Thursday 10 Sep
Long weekend in Britain - I headed off to Pittenweem in Fife with a friend on Friday and had a very relaxing time. Beer and food watching the sun go down.
The wee villages of the East Neuk of Fife, leading around to the comparable hustle and bustle of St. Andrew's, are very pretty indeed. If you go to Legoland in Denmark they choose to portray Scotland by a huge expanse of water (with oil rig) and one of these villages with mountains behind. A literal perspective looking west.
Posted by stupot at 08:07 PM Sunday 24 May
It wasn't my first time but I was quite blown away by the Lake District during my recent visit. It was perfect - like out a film - The dry stone walls of farmland and buildings were stunning. I visited the guy I was best man to when I lived in Osaka, who was there with wife and parents. No cycling but we went to the Pencil museum (of Rexel Derwent). They even had hollowed out pencils with maps of Germany for troops in the war who were behind enemy lines - James Bond-tastic.
Posted by stupot at 06:20 PM Saturday 16 May
Andalucia and Montecorto, near Ronda, was a breath of fresh air after a beautiful if cold Scottish winter. There was a still a chill in the air in the mornings and especially when descending the category 1 climb (1300m). The cycling was at an easy pace but by the end of the week we had ramped up the climbs (thu - sat were all over 1100m) to satisfying altitudes. The coffee stops were civilised of not blissful, sitting in tiny white villages with just the sound of bird song and occasional chatter at the bar. More snaps here.
Posted by stupot at 12:09 AM Saturday 18 Apr
Spent 10 days in rural Andalucia, Spain last week with the following regime each day - bakers for bread, 4 hours cycling, pasta lunch, siesta, drawing, tapas dinner, beer and bed. With the smooth tarmac, warm weather and good company it was almost perfect. Hitting Easter week with the catholics in full celebration mode was a sight as well - from the evening 'death march' and sinister robes of Thursday, to the ultimate drunk bull run on Sunday - it's a far cry from the Church of Scotland festivities! The bull run was in Arcos de la Frontera - the following drawing is from Ronda. Some children played loudly in the lane to the left. There was still a nip in the air so my bum was cold after sitting for a while.
Posted by stupot at 12:07 AM Saturday 18 Apr
My trip to Andalucia was mainly cycling and then eating a lot. We took on a big carbohydrate lunch which we made with local tomatoes and chorizo / black pudding. It was hugely tasty but more function than experience. For that we ate out, and the best place was Bar Vanencia in Ronda - full of locals, big Paella, great tapas and friendly staff (more so after they saw the drawing). Spot the piglet on the counter.
Posted by stupot at 12:04 AM Saturday 18 Apr
A supplier (forbo) took us away to Amsterdam for 3 days and I managed to mix drawing with hangovers. The sun shone, the architecture was great, lovely locals, community feeling with lots of bikes, better English than in Scotland - definitely could live there. After a tiring day at the factory which was also enlightening, we went to the west side of town to some furniture shops on Saturday. The solid cork stools I'd seen in a showroom were 280 euros so stayed where they were. Tired but satisfied. Photos.
Posted by stupot at 10:26 PM Friday 27 Mar
Back to Osaka, I'm afraid - I just found a bunch of sketches I forgot to scan from a month ago. This is down town, south city, in Shinsaibashi - the backstreets east of the Midosuji, a main shopping drag. This type of scene is my favourite because it's a mis-match of signs, cables and couriers. It's a great area to see during the day as everything for the coming nights entertainment is delivered fresh by running men from tiny vans.
Posted by stupot at 05:31 PM Sunday 21 Dec
The most emotional trip of my visit to Japan was cycling to Dorogawa Onsen. I was barely back from Iwate before heading out from Nanba on my way down toward the mountains of south Nara. I went alone as Dan had been inundated with work - a big blow but it meant that I could have his bike and helmet. I stopped in for new brake blocks at Everwin and then headed for the mizukoshi Pass which would take me over to Nara. The weather was perfect and the further I got out of Osaka, the happier I became. Osaka is no city for cycling but the surrounding mountains are ideal.
Whilst in Iwate I decided to go to the famous Jodogahama beach with its rocky outcrops which jut from the sea and create a calm stretch of water. Iwate was freezing but this day was incredibly warm in the sun. I took my jacket off and drew as a few other visitors came to talk. I got the bus back into the edge of Miyako and drew a few of the hundreds of boats as a local eventually asked me what I was drawing and happily told me about the local seafood. The town was quiet and subdued. fishermen mended nets in the sun in their oilskins. Late afternoon I took one of only four (single-carriage) trains a day back over the snowy mountains to Morioka.
Posted by stupot at 11:28 PM Sunday 14 Dec
After being in Kyoto I took the Shinkansen to Morioka - almost at the top of Japan's main island - and stayed with old friends from Glasgow. It was good to get into more rural surroundings and break out the long-johns again. This was the view from their balcony with frozen rice paddies in the fore-ground (apparently deafening with the sound of frogs in spring), shinkansen flying by at high level and ski slopes to the back. The onsen we visited was near these slopes: a magical place.
Posted by stupot at 11:31 PM Tuesday 9 Dec
Despite only having been in Kyoto for two nights, it's a wonderful place to draw - so here's another sketch, this time from the Pontocho area. Behind this lane, the restaurants open up onto stilts over the Kamogawa river which cools diners in the summer. I once went with friends, impromptu, to try to get a table and was given a look like we were trying to get a booking at Dorcia. Again, it was freezing here and even tourists scuttled by, keeping warm. A girl at the bar on the right came out and gave me an orange after I'd checked they didn't mind me loitering. And my cold was indeed kept at bay.
Posted by stupot at 12:52 PM Sunday 7 Dec
After a week in Kansai, I headed for Matt and Chikako's house in Kitakami, Iwate. Not a prefecture overly popular with tourists, Iwate still offers beautiful coasts and mountains. After a few days relaxing around Morioka and Kitakami, Matt and I cycled up to Osawa onsen - about 30kms north west of Kitakami. He needed a break, I needed a break, and we were rewarded with all we could desire. Apart, that is, from beautiful concubines in the outdoor rotenburo bath.
Posted by stupot at 08:39 AM Friday 21 Nov
Back in the jungle once more - Osaka welcomed me back like I'd just gone around the corner for the milk and papers. I think it expected me to go back to work. A slightly odd feeling came over me that must happen in a place that was once home, in another lifetime. Glasgow does the same to me. "Go back to what you were doing!" you can hear it shouting. Thankfully new things are far more interesting and despite the unshakable service, the consistently incredible food and even the cartons of grape juice in Lawsons being just as I had left them, things change and Osaka continues to evolve. The cranes around the station building (still undergoing the gruelling refub) suggest a prosperity lacking in the UK. Dotonbori bridge, in all its neon glory, is finished and can now welcome vistors - along with a new development in south Horie on the river. Dan and Miko's new apartment is council housing like perhaps only the scandanavians know about. My tatami room is luxury and it's lovely to be welcomed back. So it's a week of drawing, shopping, eating and seeing friends. I'm not going to be working here but I'd certainly discuss the prospect!
Posted by stupot at 03:32 AM Friday 21 Nov
Shieldaig - Applecross - Bealach na ba - Shieldaig
Despite the weather getting better as we neared our destination, it would have had to have improved considerably to shake off the wet and mirky conditions which hung over us from the Forth bridges to north Perthshire. In the end we settled for what was not an unpleasant September day on the Applecross peninsula. The views started to take over from conversation and Gregor was keen to swap accelarator for the other, rotating type of pedal. Shieldaig is a lovely wee village with its houses hugging the shore overlooking the nearby island in the cove.
Headed up to the bunk house at Strontian for the weekend with Ross and Calum for fishing in Morven and Coran. The night fishing for Dogfish with toads and Stag enroute was amazing even if the weather was mediocre. Ross' poncho kept us dry though and most of the rain was quick to pass. Calum's expertise allowed us to pick the right spots and at one point Ross had 5 mackarel on his line. We got some polock as well but they're not quite so much fun to reel in.
Posted by stupot at 09:18 PM Monday 25 Aug
I really love trains. Seeing my dad off on the old fossil fuel locomotives with their compartments, the means of escape to the big city as a teenager, the way to travel through Europe by seeing places and meeting people, the disbelief of a shinkansen approaching for the first time, getting on one as you would a plane and seeing the sky when you bank, sitting at a table with an ever changing view and having no-where to go. gradually arriving somewhere and understanding the climate, architecture and agriculture before you meet the people.
a day of trains. a peaceful roll through the countryside. helsingborg. malmo. danmark. turbines. blustery beach houses. grey to sun and back. houses growing out of fields. no roads. different rocks. feminine pylons. off at Kopenhaven. dirty air. white caps on trucks. drunk. hotel in red light district. confusing tourist information prices. beer in 7-11. manic streets. fast bikes. incredible buildings. wide streets. amusement park. timeout. side streets are needed. sit with a beer and people watch. rickshaws scream by with tanned bear chested drivers. best chicken and bacon roll ever. six quid but.
Another Ryanair field. very local. Big port small city. Grey. Eastern block. Clean. Ordered. No yellow lines. steep ramps. expensive. fast police exotic noises. bikes and trams from no where. mopeds on pavements. Italian meal. near the docks. change of clothes. out drinking. most with coffee under a blanket.
ILE - TAIRBEART - TIGNABRUAICH - GLEANNDARUEL Dist: 45miles
After the day off and an early ferry to catch, I wasn't enamoured by the young trees being thrashed about outside the window. If ever it had looked like rain it was now. I had a quiet breakfast and left my food for others before packing well and applying some Ralgex I'd been forced to by at the end of day two. For almost half the journey I kept small and ground round the pedals but by the time I reached Bridgend - a nice wee village at the mouth of the loch - the clouds had lightened and I changed direction to take the high road to Pt Ellen. It was a bit like the never ending road of dips but soon enough, after passing the occasional car with sleeping wean in rear, I was going downhill and heading for the ferry. I was made a roll in the spar by a man who seemed to resent the business but his staff kept me entertained by the young girl, whilst unpacking crates of cheap brandy, asking the time-served one - "so why is it they like this so much?" - "Compared to whisky?........... It's got more of a kick."
And with that I left this whisky mecca and rolled on to the ferry waiting for me just around the corner.
ILE - REST DAY
I woke up to a little bit of wind. The Guiness I thought.
It was also breezy outside - something that was becoming as typical a part of the day as the sun was, breaking though mid to late morning. for the first time on the trip I made my own eggs and bacon in the generous sized kitchen. Pans and crockery were laid out with military precision and after I'd turned out the fluorescent strips in the dining room I could relax and look out the windows to the hypnotic swaying of the trees and rolling waves. A friendly fellow from East Kilbride and a Swedish Chef shared breakfast with me and we discussed our respective days.
MUILL - OBAN - ILE DIST: 31miles
On Wednesday morning more sun was waiting in the morning but with a little more breeze as I headed the 15 or so miles to Craignure. The reason for not staying longer in Mull was to catch the weekly ferry which leaves Oban for Islay via Colonsay. The road is busier on the north west coast of Mull and fairly uneventful but the views across to Morvern and eventually right up to Ben Nevis were a sight for sore legs. I met a man called Willie MacGregor at Craignure who it turned out owned the pub I was having my coffee outside of. We got talking and it turned out he knew Mairi, who I sit beside at work. He shouted over her dad, Archie, and explained. We had a nice wee chat before he went back to checking tickets for the 13:30. Willie told me a little more about Craignurite and I headed off for the ferry.
TOBAR MHOIRE - CALGARY BAIGH- ARDNACROSS DIST: 42 miles
Second day cycling and another morning bathed in sun. I really couldn't believe my luck. There was a lot of whistling going on as I rolled out of the hostel to pick up breakfast from the deli on the front. I popped in to check ferry times and had a good blether with the harbour master who it turned out was a keen road racer. I should have known from the wirey figure and scorched nose. He told me some welcome tales of the fabled Bealach na Ba hill climb of which the guy from the garage won last year. He also filled me in on my days cycle ahead which was useful.
GEARASTAN - TOBAR MHOIRE DIST: 61miles
It's been a long winter. The sun deprivation was getting to me. Scotland's not the first place you might choose for guaranteed rays but if you get it, you get it good. May is always a good bet and it didn't disappoint. I started the Islands tour the day after Jeni and George's Ceilidh in West Kilbride to celebrate the new vets opening - a great time was had by all but it has to be said that young lassies cannae burl no more. The seventy year olds were throwing us 'round the hall!
Jesus - I didn't do anything for the first quarter of the year and now everything seems to be snowballing into a few weeks. I got some new panniers for my road trip which is rapidly approaching with what feels like very little preparation or thought. What with being busy with work and downed by lurgy at the weekend. I've an exhibition opening Thursday and then I'm back to the art school Friday. Ceilidh on Saturday and then it's off to the Islands. The panniers are lovely things - hand made Canadian numbers very generously gifted to me by my mother. I was almost certain I was going to buy the same Ortliebs I had before but the build and accessibility of these Arkels was too much to pass on. They've a lifetime guarantee and the Heath-Robinson device for mounting to your rack may look crude but holds the bags rock solid - no noisy jumping around behind you. So the bags are great - not sure how the legs are though.....
Posted by stupot at 02:17 AM Tuesday 13 May
Route planning for a May excursion up the west coast taking in Ardnamurchan, Mull, Iona, Colonsay, Islay, Tighnabruaich and Dunoon. Any suggestions welcome.
Posted by stupot at 04:26 PM Sunday 6 Apr
Spent a few days at the Museum of Costume last week down in New Abbey, quite near the biking meccas of, the unusually named, Ae and Mabie. The build went well and the scenery on the way down past Moffat was beautiful. Should you be near Dumfries in the summer - do pop in - the home baking is apparently legendary.
Posted by stupot at 12:59 AM Thursday 27 Mar
Waiting for a delayed flight this afternoon I was reminded how much the local airport has changed over the years. It still retains it's 50's charm though - with the hanging, sherical speakers of the PA system and the tall, glazed facade. My lasting memory as a child is seeing off the Canadian contingent of the family in the days when going to the airport really was an event and when Prestwick used to look like something out of 'catch me if you can'. Incredibly the Ryan air hub still lives off Elvis' visit from the sixties and there's even an Elvis bar. I think it's all good fun but you wonder if there's not something about the local area you might try and sell more. When I rode back into ayrshire on the bike yesterday I was reminded that the county's slogan is 'gateway to Arran'. As kind to the island as that is, you feel that being simply a transition point doesn't quite do the place justice!
Posted by stupot at 06:37 PM Monday 29 Oct
Coal certainly seems to have been the running theme over the past few days. With the visiting Japanese, the first half of the week was devoted soley to seeing the west coast. We first visited the mighty Mount Stuart house on Bute (funded largely by coal sales) and then today we headed to Mallaig on the Jacobite Steam Engine also powered by the black stuff - flakes of which are landing on me as I write, through the old slide windows above the table. The type of train is one which I just remember as a child when our local village station still had two functioning platforms, a bridge and a waiting room. We'd see my Dad off to work having his ticket inspected and boarding through a narrow, hinged door with handle, two steps up. Now that everyone drives and our railway stations have become lifeless and trains sterile, it was nice to remember how we used to do it. Some of the best views in Scotland were helped by the rare summers day and after a picnic overlooking the harbour, we headed back to Fort William on the Hogwarts Express.
Posted by stupot at 09:17 AM Wednesday 15 Aug
As Dave finally reached maturity we decided to surprise him by taking him to a cottage on the other side of Arran for the week. The fishing rods were packed, the weather held and fortunately birthday boy remembered his hair straighteners. So no tears. Carradale, between Tarbert and Campbeltown, was a great place to chill out with all of us bringing our respective weights on shoulders but managing to discuss possibilities for a more ideal future. We had a few walks planned with the OS maps at the ready but we found that sitting fishing with a beer and good company was at least on par with a good walk, though perhaps even better. Despite the allergy I can see myself getting down the pier of a sunny eve to catch maw and paw's tea - great meditation. Ross and I managed to get in for a few dips in the sea before dinner on two days - invigorating stuff and partially x-rated. In the evenings we played with alcohol and abused the wii. So Callum didn't manage to work off the beer belly but quality time it certainly was.
Posted by stupot at 08:42 PM Wednesday 25 Jul
I had lunch in one of these nice 21st century places that serves decent food the other day. You know - like Toast or Pret or somewhere like that. Growing in popularity but at complete odds with the traditional British mentality of waxy chocolate and prawn cocktails. I was sitting across from Harrods on Brompton Road and got in a quick drawing with my coffee. I also drew a nice jewellers on Old Bond Street despite being constantly sized up by the well dressed security, who seemed to think I was casing the street. It reminded me of the Blackadder episode where he orchestrates getting an MP blind-drunk and gets him in bed with a prostitute before ordering Baldrick to fetch "the fastest draughtsman in London town" to document the scene for blackmail pruposes. One of the security guys stood across the road eyeing me side on before walking very slowly over, passing me and hanging around behind me like a bad smell. Another came a few minutes later in the calm, slow walk that is surely much less subtle than they believe it to be. The two lingered together behind me before I told them they were making me nervous, smiled and they eventually meandered away to size up a bus party of primary school children.
Posted by stupot at 01:16 PM Tuesday 10 Jul
Last week was spent in Londres at a good friends house, aiding the current work-load. It felt a lot like being at art school again. In more ways than one. As with the general positive feelings of being back in Britain, London was much more refreshing than last I remember it. There was a buzz that the Tour de France, Wimbledon and peak tourist season can't help but make and the rain tried but ultimately failed to dampen the spirits. After an epic studio move on Sunday, I spent Monday and Tuesday taking photographs of the stormy skies and drawing around the city. Wednesday to Friday was fairly solid work before I headed over to the opening ceremony of the Tour in Charing Cross.
The ferry we sailed on from Aberdeen was pretty new so it eased the 'moderate' sea levels for the more weak stomached amongst us as we chased the sun up to Shetland. Mid summer is, after all, only three weeks away. Actually, the lack of darkness has been by far the biggest shock of moving back to summer time. Three years on I still instinctively remember that I have to give the shed door a very well timed kick while locking it yet the nights being light until eleven had just left my system.
The crossing was only a little bumpy but nothing a few pints of eighty and a couple cinnarazine couldn't sort out. When we arrived on Thursday morning the wonderful calm of Island life could already be felt: the loudness of the birds, the wash of the tide, the narrow closs' of Lerwick with fishing nets lying at out to dry, the deserted, white beaches. You can have a peerie peek.
Posted by stupot at 11:05 PM Sunday 3 Jun
Had a blast catching up with the NYC faction of the old Art school crew. I'll try and write up the trip but I've at least gotten around to uploading a flckr set. Hope everyone reading this in Japan is well.
Posted by stupot at 11:53 PM Thursday 17 May
So time is running away at speed yet I'm sitting around inside on a day when the whole Japanese archipelago is dowsed in rain. When you combine that with all the talk about new Scottish leaders north and south of the Border in Britain, and design events happening all over Scotland, I feel like it's an opportune time to be heading back. There's even this happening to one of the local castles.
I've sent off one bike and four boxes of 'stuff' - this time I ended up shipping by Japan post opposed to Nittsu which I'd used before. There were issues with my bike and it was certainly cheaper to Japan than from. If you're using this service just bear in mind weight and dimension constraints. For me this was L+B+B+H+H = <3M and <30kgs. I managed to just get the bike box down to this size without taking the pedals off. The picture shows the bike before I took the derailleur off and spacers between the forks ends. I used this site for tips. I'm taking my good bike with me on the plane. And I'll be crossing my fingers.
Posted by stupot at 02:26 PM Sunday 6 May
you can see some photo's of kyoto here.
Posted by stupot at 03:28 PM Thursday 19 Apr
Happy New Year!
Headed to Kyoto to visit a friend of a friend on new years day. The city centre was heaving so we picked up some omiyage and headed for the bus to take us north. We arrived just before dinner and the house could have been in any country - the 3 generations watching holiday TV almost oblivious to each other - the younger ones sending emails on their cell phone/sleeping under the heated coffee table and a slightly bewildered looking granny wondering where I fitted into the family celebrations. I was kind of thinking the same. It was very nice to have been invited to the new years dinner and the fussing mother, playing her role perfectly, had prepared far too much.
Having heard so many glowing reports I decided to go to the 'illuminarie' event in Sannomiya with a friend. I later found out it's been going every year since the Hanshin earthquake in an attempt to attract business to the once ruined city, and bring people it certainly does. In the middle Saturday of December 600,000 people flocked to see the lights and so I was quite excited about the prospect of seeing such a spectacle on my birthday.
Damp is not a word I often associate with Japan. Glasgow yes, Osaka no. Okay, so August here feels like the inside of a Ugandan greenhouse, but winter is generally the exact opposite - dry to the point of walls creaking. We kind of missed out on early autumn this year instead jumping rather abruptly into a late cold, grey and dreich time of it and not being the biggest fan of the local electric heat sources, I've eschewed the heaters so far but my bloody clothes aren't drying on their own. Yesterday I took the fast train through to Tokyo and it being 12.30, the lunch boxes were broken out immediately. Good looking people ate beautiful but healthy food on the fastest train in the world and I considered I might be coming out my recent Japan slump. Despite the train being full of scowling charcoal (possibly myself included), I was beside an ageing woman who reminded me of a child riding a train in that way that the very elderly do because there's a bloody good chance it'll be their last time. She continually pointed out the colours and (very) low lying mist, which were indeed a beautiful combination. She never tired of it and I wished that I would spare more time to do the same. It rather put things in perspective. I wanted to have a deep discussion with her about life but I settled for pinning her against the window, when her daughter went to the toilet, demanding laundry tips.
Posted by stupot at 07:39 PM Wednesday 22 Nov
We had a relaxing morning on the island before heading back to Okayama via the minimal ferry terminal, a tiny passenger ferry and another dirty wee ramen shop, where Fred got a lesson in how to make gyoza from one of the two old biddies running the place. We made Kyoto on the Nozomi in no time and were beside some very rich kids doing their daily homework routine on the 200km ride to Osaka. Fred and I were going to get their trainers off them, or at least their dinner money, but alas the shinkansen was too fast. We arrived in Higashiyama, just south of Gion, in the dark but the lanes were lit with that glow of a hundred years ago.
If you ask a visitor about Naoshima they'll possibly know of it. If you ask a Japanese the chances are much more slim. It's one of the hundreds of islands between shikoku and honshu and, perhaps typically, is part industrial (recycling centre) and part unspoilt. We were staying at the swanky Bennesse house hotel on the south coast which was just beside the two art galleries also designed by Ando (a treat from my folks). The coast and nearby village has a scattering of installations and sculpture which make the place a wee bit like the set of the prisoner.
Headed south to himeji on monday to check out what all the fuss is about - going to the castle there was the most important visit for my nephew and I'd also always wanted to go. We ambled down from osaka on a semi express and it gave us a chance to see the less industrial coast of hyogo which was looking great in the unseasonably warm weather. The castle jutts out amongst the usual barrage of roof top signs which are colourful enough even when the pluga are out. It was understandable why we couldn't initially see it but soon enough the immense scale becomes obvious.
With the family visiting we decided to go see the inlaws at Taishi. Taishi is a tiny village and historically important for its' namesake (a former prince) but now it's mainly noted because of the two peaks on the skyline behind it, a nearby Ando museum and a large shrine. it is also home to Osaka Geidai. There was a mini carnival yesterday when it opened its huge concrete doors to the public for a peek inside. There was loud, live music and wee stalls selling wares but the competition of food stalls was overwhelming and the lengths people, generally by dressing outrageously, would go to attract your attention certainly worked. I guess it coincided with this weeks national culture holiday on friday.
went to see alastair yesterday, who's been in town to lecture at one of the uni's. his late summer visits have become an annual event and we always find time for a few beers when he gets to kansai. coming to kyoto about twice a year, alastair's pretty well versed on happening spaces and we went to a few great cafes and restaurants.
back for 6 hours after hokkaido and then out again at 4am to head to mie for the shimano road race. fortunately we had booked an airconditioned room behind the pits which, presumably, the teams use when suzuka is used for its better known event. I also got to sleep in the car and had a single room awaiting me at the hotel which were blessings. we arrived early enough for a few laps to get to know the circuit and just after lunch we had the 4 up team time trial (4TTT). having ridden at an easy pace for a week I was raring to go and found myself pacing the other two after we dropped our slow man (we've all been there). we ended about 4 minutes back from the leaders and a third of the way down in the results table which didn't seem too bad. the kit that even the beginner riders have in japan still amazes me - the kids too are decked out with quality frames - bet they don't even have a paper round.
DEST: YACHIYO/CHITOSE DIST: 130KMS
on wednesday the schedule was somewhat shorter than our average getting to our hostel just south of obihiro and the foot of more mountains by 5pm. we made a civilisation stop after the rain started - had a big mac and then went to the flicks. it was great - like a traditional british holiday. we also topped up on our cash before spending a couple of days in the sticks. the hostel turned out to be clean and new if slightly unlived in. the countryside was like east lothian near edinburgh but without the nice farmhouses and their red tiled roofs. everything built is pretty much prefab here, soley to take the weight of the snow each winter. function without form. our hosts were jolly osakans who had left the rat race a few years earlier and it has to be said they now have a sweet little thing up here.
DEST: IKEDA DIST: 120KM'S
leaving kushiro was both a relief and a disappointment. relief we were only passing through, disappointment that the har was only just covering the industrial wasteland that surrounded it. we started singing a bad karaoke version of everyday is like sunday. our daily wrong turning didn't help spirits and with a lack of landscape, quiet roads and sun for 40 km's we decided to jump on the train. there was a lull in the traffic as we drew up to the side of the road to study the map and as we turned to look up a shire type mini valley, a pair of tsuru, long and elegant, flew past.
DEST: MASSHUKO DIST: 150KMS
monday morning. yesterday was a very long day and toward the end, a little scary - we headed down from the national park after climbing for an hour to the pass and descended down through the valley passing more tat and ice cream shops with stuffed bears outside - the vibrant colours couldn't hide the fact that most were dilapidated and the foxes chained up outside really didn't charm us. countryside was nice though - still european but a bit more danish than french. we got the train station just in time for the 1.10 to masshu and managed to waive putting our bikes in the bag hassle. dan reckoned the knee could withstand the gentle climb up from bihiro though so we jumped ship and made our way out of town.
DEST: SOUNKYOU DIST: 112KMS
rest day in the mountains. yesterday was another long one but we managed up to our hostel in the mountains by 6.30, just as the sun was going down. the scenery was lovely - changing from lush tuscan hills in the morning to a dramatic alpine rocky gorge by the evening and we stopped in between for some scolding ramen carbs. thankfully the climb wasn't too steep either as dan's knee was causing him a fair amount of pain. the mist sitting on the river helped to take the edge off the final few kilometres and sounkyou ended up being a lot nicer than the guide books make out but then your perspective is always different when you've had a long day in the saddle. our simple bath and dinner last night was all we yearned for in the world and the woman who showed us to our family sized tatami room, an angel.
DEST: FURANO DIST: 130KMS
Dan's mate junko, and her man, picked us up from the port in otaru and we headed back to their flat in south sapporo. we had a few local beers while we looked over the map and altered our course slightly, choosing a nice campsite for the final night as they glared, initially, open eyed and taking sharp, serious intakes of breath at our route. today we got our bikes together, took the obligatory photo and headed off around 10. the road out was pretty busy but we had a tail wind and made the foot of the mountains at a leisurely pace, taking in all the peculiar sights (local graphics, cows, chimneys, elevated fuel tanks in gardens) and trying to get an initial feel for the place as dan taught me animal words I didn't know - kitsune (fox) and kuma (bear).
both a little weary after a short sleep and not having had a holiday in a while but hoping that arrival in hokkaido will re-energise us. last nights stressful, getting the bikes to the ferry, bit is over and we're happy to relax on deck watching the wake fade into the distance. osaka is slowing being washed out of our systems and we turn to thoughts of big skies and animals skipping around happily, beneath rainbows. the weather on the japan sea is perfectly fine and naps seem to be in order for the rest of the day - the ferry from maizuru, just north of kyoto takes 21 hours.
Continue reading "hokkaido: day 1 - what time is it?"
Posted by stupot at 08:56 PM Wednesday 16 Aug
went to nara on sunday, a short train ride from osaka but, like kyoto, a world away in terms of pace and beauty. I was with some photographers who were going to snap the lantern festival or 'toukae' (light flower event). the afternoon was very, very hot as we roamed the back streets of what feels more like a big town than a city - the sacred deer which roam the streets only helping to compound the feeling. we ducked into a few places for an air-con breather before heading back out for more. gradually we met up with more people, some by chance, some arranged and walked around all the many parks and ponds and temples that were scattered with lamps. my favourite place was just an undulating park at the back of todaiji temple which felt like a dream or heaven, with lights going almost as far as you could see and people slowly making their way around.
dan and I are heading off to hokkaido for ten days from the 15th. we're taking the ferry from maizaru in kyoto, cycling for 9 days and then coming back by plane from chitose. we've been getting out on saturdays to get a feel for distances but we have a feeling that although hokkaido will be a lot less humid, the mountains could give us a shock. most days have been planned in a pretty conservative way though and as it's summer we have a lot of daylight to make use of. we're planning to stay at hostels and the biker houses that hokkaido is famous for. the main reason I'm posting this is to get any idea's from people who have been, so if you have, feel free to tell us about some must-visit places.
Posted by stupot at 02:13 PM Saturday 5 Aug
I met up with benjamin and satoko in kyoto who managed to make it down for the weekend on their visit from NY to kamakura. it's been two years since I saw ben and the first time I met satoko who was, as I'd suspected, just lovely: we had a wonderfully relaxed time being lazy tourists. on saturday we strolled up the west side of town from kiyomizutera, through gion, and watched the live music being played below the stilted, outdoor restaurants on the river. after checking into our ryokan we had the much anticipated hot bath which ben, never one to pass up the opportunity of getting naked, was really getting into during his brief stay in japan.
I had a meeting near shibuya today in daikanyama. nice gaff: all the fashion names (APC, 45rpm etc) seem to have their main shops and headquarters there. as a visitor, the yamanote line was an enjoyable exercise in information graphics and whilst tokyo does it much better than osaka, it's also horrifically busy. to be honest it's the first time I've been squeezed solid against others and hopefully I won't do it again in a while. terribly uncivillised. I did take the advantage of groping some young women as I read it was 'de rigueur' last year. the information is great though - exactly what you need: amoungst other things - tv's telling you how long til your next station and where the exits are relative to your carriage. basic, but so rarely available elsewhere. every design student should visit tokyo.
now I've got the weekend in kyoto which will be a welcome relief.
Posted by stupot at 11:55 PM Friday 21 Jul
the reason I previously blogged about takkyubin was because I was reminded about omiyage (souvenir). just my thought process got a bit diverted as it does. yuka is away in taiwan this weekend (the island the japanese foriegn minister recently described as a 'country' whilst in talks with the chinese foriegn minister) but before she went she got a mail order catalogue from sanyodo who specialise in hassle free souvenirs: basically you don't have to go through the inconvenience of searching for and carrying back a present. as easy as it sounds I always thought the personal touch was half the deal, but no, no the japanese simply order or even pre-order. I guess at t he end of the day you don't really care what you get as long as it's sweet/strong and you can eat/drink it.
checking their site, I was impressed to see some beers from my local brewery on Arran included in the British list as well as tacky-tastic terry's chocolate orange: a thing of wonder from my childhood.
I have my fingers crossed for the panda topped tissue box cover but I'll just have to wait and see.
Posted by stupot at 06:33 PM Saturday 24 Jun
I woke at 4 o'clock to the sound of a local cockerel who liked the sound of his own voice, having woken me twice before during the night. I'm not the heaviest of sleepers and the window being open certainly didn't help. I turned over after the hundredth 'ko-keeko-ko-' (as they say in japan) and woke fairly soon after to the sound of the hotel alarm I'd set and then again 5 minutes later to the sound of my mobile, flashing and gyrating on the side board which resembled a piece of furniture from the same doll's house as my bath, the portable TV hanging over the side precariously. as I took that special five minutes contemplating the day ahead I realised the other noise I was hearing was rain hitting the fire escape and tree leaves outside and then as I sat up and saw my jersey I realised I was here to climb a very big mountain as fast as my legs would allow......
to be perfectly honest, I still get that childhood excitement when I ride the shinkansen. everything about it says air travel opposed to just getting on an ordinary train. the sight of a wingless airplane approaching the platform is like going back in time to when trains were really respected for their engineering and speed with the barriers protecting you from the edge of the platform suggesting you are about to experience something altogether more thrilling and exotic. inside - the roof lights, the windows, the food trays - all of the interior is like a plane. when you bank on one of the few, but long corners you see the ground out of one window and sky out of the other. even the conductors are referred to as crew - it's fairly subtle language which works well.
in the week that saw gary glitter being found guilty of lewd acts in vietnam and tens of thousands protesting against the government in thailand, yuka came back from her week away there, relaxed and none-the-wiser.
the food was, as I'd suspected; exotic; sweet; creamy; hot. her fascination with the seriously sugary vietnamese coffee continues and a trip down the mekong river was as close to a scene out of apocalypse now as we might imagine - the sound of helicopters apparently just out of ear shot.
the sex industry in thailand also lived up to the stereotype and lots of geeky, shady japanese guys were easy to spot around the well known spots in bangkok, salivating over the local product. I have to say it's the reason why I've never been drawn to the country, but yuka loved vietnam and is sure to return although she's not sure how my serious nut and fish allergies would fare. amongst the food brought back was a bag of rambutan, a kind of lychee-like fruit that is opaque in the middle and has a slightly creamy taste.
Posted by stupot at 05:58 PM Sunday 5 Mar
despite the threatened sun, we ended up on top of a mountain in snow and rain. the snow was pretty, the rain pretty shitty. the day out was superb though - a steep learning curve (or remembering curve) and soon we were carving up the slopes with at least a smidgen of grace. or at least not falling over so much. we were also lapping up the ever changing landscape of mist through mountain tops: due to being a part of it all, we went from low visibility to having the whole range revealed in a matter of minutes.
When I came back from my three week trip there was a house in our neighbourhood, just near the train line, where an empty plot of land had been when I left. It takes getting used to - a neighbourhood that metamorphosises as soon as you turn your back - you have no choice but to move with it. Life also seems to get more disposable by the day - Yuka's already discussing a possible change from her three month old mobile phone.
Continue reading "Turn your back for a second......"
Posted by stupot at 11:17 PM Wednesday 18 Jan
thanks to the baggage handling problems at dubai my return to japan was extended by a day in the emirates. a delay in getting home it was but it was also a chance to visit somewhere I might never. when you stay at an airport hotel though it can seem like you are waking up in any city, but the sun being no where near the horizon meant I had definitely said goodbye to the scandinavian winter gloom.
so since food is the great japanese pastime, and since british cuisine is held with such low regard here, it was nice to try and eat some good food while I was in scotland.
on my first day there I visited the ship inn in irvine (pron. irvin) and had, along with my pint of eighty shilling, lamb shank and vegetables. the food there is unpretentious and wholesome - a bit like the food in general. on my second day I had a lamb curry (the lamb theme tailed off a bit after this) in portobello whilst visiting my sister and it was good to try some dry basmati rice for a change. as well as curry with some heat in it.
Posted by stupot at 11:57 AM Monday 26 Dec
christmas is always a great chance to catch up with family, eat a lot and take some time off. this year was certainly no exception whilst visiting scotland. it's nice to see all the traditional decorations - a flashing doraemon climbing up an apartment block in osaka in santa claus outfit is just a bit odd - but then there are no mantlepieces in japan and there really isn't enough room for a real tree.
the temperature in south west scotland was comparable to osaka, which fueled concerned looks by some who didn't realise it could get so cold so near the equator. it doesn't help that japan runs from so far north to so far south, but it's about as near the equator as scotland is the north pole (the popular belief in japan being that scotland is an arctic wasteland).
what was interesting was how dark it got there - if cloudy, it really didn't get particularly light during the day and 9am felt like 7 in japan. a reminder as to why christmas overtook the mid-winter solstice celebrations of old - there's still no escaping the lack of light.
Posted by stupot at 11:56 AM Monday 26 Dec
Posted by stupot at 10:04 PM Friday 23 Dec
when I was visiting edinburgh I took the opportunity to visit the new scottish parliament building. the building wasn't open when we moved to japan and it was a place I'd wanted to visit for what it looked like as much as what it stands for. there's a website in scots for anyone brave enough.
despite having won this years stirling prize for architecture and representing the first parliament in scotland for 300 years, the poor management of the project meant that the budget changed from around 50 million pounds to about 10 times that. the medias almost daily onslaught resulted in the nation being divided over something that was meant to be uniting them. perhaps that says a lot about other issues in scotland too.
having left the bitter controversy behind and viewing the place with fresh eyes the building seemed to be working well - easy to enter, lots of school kids visiting, chance to get into the main chamber to see business suits debating with track suits. it all seemed a world away from even westmister where, a few hundred years ago the same controversy raged over the amount of money it took to build.....
Posted by stupot at 09:43 PM Friday 23 Dec
Posted by stupot at 03:59 PM Thursday 22 Dec
I braved the flight and surprised family and friends coming back to scozia for chrimbo and hogmanay. it's a welcome break and nice to see the wide open spaces I know so well. with the festivities in full swing it is easy to see why people are that bit bigger in the west. the other main oddity is the amount of dog shit everywhere. it takes a keen eye to walk the streets of scotland and remain clean.
I wasn't working up to the visit overly but there was a small list of things to do and try - most of which I've accomplished: many pints of 'heavy' have been downed, many friends and family rooted out and lamb curry had. luckily all have stayed as good as I remember them.
the meetings have been often fleeting but there is much to be said about even the briefest of eye to eye exchanges. the space is a big issue too - I hadn't realised quite how unspoilt the place is, one or two big retail parks remaining the worst of it. houses too blow me away with their high ceilinged, vast rooms.
the main news seems to be same sex marriages becoming legal (with the already infamous headline in one tabloid being 'elton takes david up the aisle') and the impending smoking ban which kicks off in march. luckily, some things change but thankfully the view off the west coast remains unaltered.
Posted by stupot at 03:47 PM Thursday 22 Dec
Posted by stupot at 12:13 AM Thursday 3 Nov
decimalisation was still happening when I grew up - when I was sent for a 'pound' of potatoes it was very confusing. it's still going on in many parts of the UK: supermarkets enjoy the clever con of measuring packaged meat in grams and unpackaged meat in feet and inches. even drugs come in grams and others, ounces: though that, presumably, is a just a consequence of their origin.
when we were at art school our continually dark and greasy metal workshop was still using the kings foot to measure with (it was like glasgow didn't want to let go of it's heavily industrial past) while just a few paces away and not even seperated by a door was the wood workshop - airy and so contemporary and european with its simple metric system. we actually had to pass a test in old money to use the metalshop because no-one had a bloody clue. cut to yuka, the (then) timid japanese student who was justifyably bewildered by the whole thing. I mean - at least we'd had some contact with double sided rulers and stuff when we were growing up: yuka was still trying to grasp the english language never mind the glaswegian accent and this archaic way of counting.
anyway - the point of all this was that when I was out on the bike last week and found myself on that old trail - I discovered 'Ri' - the old japanese system of measuring distance. never heard of it before. the modern sign told me that the ancient signs used this. as I remember it said the Ri is about 3.9 kms but in any case the japanese have gotten over it. a shame the US and the UK can't do the same.......
Posted by stupot at 11:16 PM Wednesday 2 Nov
Posted by stupot at 12:06 AM Thursday 20 Oct
I pass a few industrial concrete buildings on my train ride to work but one sits out on its own, on top of a hill. Sayama pond lies about 30 minutes from Namba station on the Koya line and has been irrigating the land around for 1400 years: it's a very significant place. the museum, a tadao ando creation, is pretty bleak (or magnificent, depending on your stance) in true ando style, but it does have a real section of the levee where you can see all the different stages of growth over the centuries. it seems amazing that the early method of using branches and leaves between layers to prevent landslides is actually pretty close to the modern version of using cloth. the place still felt like a morgue but perhaps that was intentional.
it has to be said though, that I see enough concrete everyday without wishing to see it inside a museum when I'm trying to relax. pesky minimalists.
Posted by stupot at 11:40 PM Wednesday 19 Oct
being away from the big smoke recently meant I could witness manners once again - for one thing, I did a years worth of bowing in three days. in the scottish countryside too, of course, we similarly acknowledge others out of courtesy when there are not many around - but in todays society even this can fall on deaf ears and blind eyes.
the lowered head of a bow is in contrast with the spasm of a nod you receive in scotland - and it's perhaps no coincidence that a fuller and faster version of this can be used, quite successfully, for fighting.
which makes you wonder just how aggressive thrusting a hand in a strangers direction must seem to the japanese. I wondered if the strength of handshake and depth of bow may hold some comparisons but they are very different. the bow is uniform, it conveys a respect and it shows trust in its vulnerability whereas the handshake is quite individual, sometimes secretive and only really conveys levels of confidence. significantly though, the lack of physical contact when bowing describes the less aggressive culture in japan: worlds away from the post-pub, scottish martial art of splitting someones nose open with your forehead. ahhh - the memories.
Posted by stupot at 12:47 AM Thursday 29 Sep
despite my cheap and cheerful minshuku having onsen, the real hot spring was down by the river, in almost full view of the bridge connecting the two halves of this town. the area is meant to have the lowest cancer rates in japan and as a result a lot of people come here for treatment of various ailments. there's also a seriously out-of-scale hospital here that would look at home in a city.
anyway, with darkness falling, things start getting very busy and visitors and locals alike turn up for a share of the free goodness. although the japanese are comfortable about being seen in the buff, it always helps to turn out the lights. it's a great leveller - nakedness. I met some students from shiga, a local programmer, an english teacher and a german engineer but when you're in the scud you could be anyone: your profession or lifestyle doesn't reckon.
although predominantly a male affair, we were joined by some women - washing on the stones around before plunging into a rather hot, natural tub. in fact you could have boiled an egg in the 'source' pool and it was being regularly doused with cold water. the heat and subsequent fatigue reminded me only of sauna.
wandering envigorated but shattered back to my bed, I passed all the visitors in their yukatas - clacking up and down the narrow street in their geta sandals on their way for a stroll as I realised I only got a brief glimpse of mount daisen, which had been my unofficial grail. but then just sitting in a hot tub under the stars and taking in the fresh mountain air was surely enough.
Posted by stupot at 12:18 AM Thursday 29 Sep
my first day in tottori was a little longer in the saddle than I had anticipated and so my second day was a much more civilised affair. I did get around to a 4 hour cycle but only after a leisurely breakfast, long lie and a haircut. I decided, before meeting a very interesting barber, that my room smelled of hazelnut. it had been on my mind for the 24 hours since I had arrived, but finally I managed to concentrate enough to filter out the buckwheat, tatami and incense and focus my nose on exactly that. like a song name you can't remember - it was really getting to me.
I was asked by the barbers wife (who shaved me) if I'd done any bird watching on my ride yesterday and I thought it an odd question until I remembered the amount of birds of prey I'd spotted (it's a funny feeling when you're in the middle of nowhere and you look up and something big is circling you). today, after my cut, I saw a few more as I rode up the valley thinking of glaciers going the other way.
It was a good ride toward daisen - the largest mountain this side of fuji - but with the weather closing and still a little fatigued from yesterday, i headed back for an easy descent to misasa. the pointer sisters 'neutron dance' seemed an odd soundtrack amidst such natural beauty, but at 75kph and with lots of corners, you don't really have much choice.
Posted by stupot at 11:42 PM Wednesday 28 Sep
Posted by stupot at 11:39 PM Wednesday 28 Sep
it took 4 hours to get to misasa from osaka and despite a very laid back train journey, I immediately dumped the bag in search of a climb. I'd been thinking about this for a few weeks now. the road I took was great but my follow-your-nose technique ended up 140kms later........
the pass I chose was being partially resurfaced and despite doing a pretty good job of off-roading on slick tyres and getting over, my route back on the other side was also being repaired. the road was mostly perfectly smooth though and the views up near the clouds, stunning. my bike and I had endured enough vibration though and so we headed on down toward tottori city - the capital of the county. just before reaching the city I headed back west toward my destination, only to find a bunch of more hills in the way which added some valuable time with the sun getting lower and lower. certainly that sinking feeling. eventually deciding on the coast road for the final run in, my legs managed to keep up momentum and I managed to arrive back in daylight. the last 20 were pretty demanding mentally and physically but the ride was a good one and I knew what was waiting.
misasa onsen itself is a nice enough wee town with a quaint street and many fancy 'ryokan' inns and not so fancy 'minshuku' b&b's. being a cheapskate I opted for the latter and had an absolutely adequate stay in ichinoyu for six grand a night - they even throw in onsen and dinner for the price. I didn't need a beer to put me to sleep but I murdered one in any case.
Posted by stupot at 11:00 PM Wednesday 28 Sep
Posted by stupot at 12:49 AM Thursday 16 Jun
Koyasan is the sacred mountain about an hour or so on the train south of Osaka. it's been holy for about 12 centuries, but then since it's a mountain I guess it's always had a fair bit of respect.
Koya is probably the ideal escape from Osaka - it's a dramatic train and funicular ride through the mountains to 800m, just over the border into Wakayama ken. Koya cho has more than 100 monasteries packed into an incredibly small space, and the weather is far, far cooler at this altitude. this is what also makes it a great cycle.
being a wednesday it was dead. so I visited the massive cemetery of Okunoin which seemed apt. it's a really special place - I remember stepping into it when I came in december on the bike and being in awe, but the light was fading and I had to head off. today all I did was wander its meandering paths in virtual solitude. the air was damp and cool with an almost west of scotland drizzle which was masked by the enormous trees. the light is really unusual as a result of being under the shade of these giants and the lanterns came on very early.
It's generally a very very natural place with ancient gravestones, but the more modern part of the graveyard has huge monoliths marking major corporations (dead workers? or just directors?). they're all there - Nissan, Yakult. quite bizzare looking. it looks like sponsorship in a way, which makes it feel quite natural. in a scary kind of a way.
anyway - a very relaxing way to spend a wednesday afternoon. some green tea, a few rice balls and a good sleep on the train home were just what the doctor ordered.
Posted by stupot at 12:48 AM Thursday 16 Jun
Posted by stupot at 12:51 AM Wednesday 1 Jun
I can't remember the bumf but this years world expo uses a theme of sustainability or ecological issues. perhaps thats why it was a tame affair.
not saying tame is bad - oh no. there were beautiful details and it was a good atmosphere. money hadn't been unnecessarily strewn around and people were having fun. thats what everything should be about nowadays - we're just used to having it all bigger, better, higher, faster, newer......
hopefully our generation can rise above all that shite though.
plants and solar panels were constantly in full view but then they should be. some more facts about them all may have helped. or how I could get them for my hoose and sell some of this damn hot sun back to osaka electricity! many Osakans I talked to about expo really weren't all that fussed, and many thought I was refering to osaka '70. but then thats maybe just osakans! I guess it could be likening it to the millenium dome in london except they didn't cut a deep scar in the country side.
the festival site itself is still a good 30 or 40 minutes from Nagoya (it always seems longer on the way back, eh?) and when you think you've arrived (on a typical local commuter line), you are transferred to linmo - a monorail type affair - for the final leg. it seemed a bit convoluted but we got there soon enough. the next port of call was the much discussed in the press, Toyota pavilion. booked all day. okay - the cable car. the queue went relatively quickly and we soon had an unrivalled view of the site. get your bearings.
north europe was probably the most nicely designed area, with the nordic pavilion having a typically minimal but relevant cause. Britain was simple, interactive and had a lovely meadow area to queue in. Austria was chic and included leiderhosen. france and spain were my favourites with colossal projection room and generally captivating exhibition design respectively.
sadly the likes of cambodia, the pacific islands etc were full of plastic trees and tat. even singapore with its fantastic interactive monsoon (they gave you a brolly!) had far too much bling side-by-side plastic herons. quality.
the other let down was the epic queue at the Japan pavilion. grannies ready to duel with parasols for their territory. we weren't hanging around. 2 hours could be better spent. although it didn't work here, the going in the out door trick, much favoured by my father, did work a treat on most occaisions. the gaurd on the japanese pavilion was havin none of it though!
Posted by stupot at 12:49 AM Wednesday 1 Jun
the road trip up to the mountains of gifu prefecture was beautiful on every twist of the road. the world heritage site (as of 1995) consists of around 4 traditional villages with the only examples of gashho-style houses left in japan. some have been moved to the villages, due to the extensive damming in the valley over the last half century. the main highways that now connect the area to the outside world mean that there is certainly a flood of tourists if not water. the roads, highways that they are, are still with incredible inclines which are a reminder of the remoteness and height to which you travel.
As with shikoku the rivers running through the valley are emerald green which are almost a contrast to the deciduous trees which go from river bed to mountain top. because of the height here though, many mountains are stone topped with some remaining snow in may.
the houses are all function. the steep roofs, likened to praying hands and with a heavy thatch, help repel the snow which falls heavily in winter. I believe another reason for unesco stepping in was to help with grants for re-roofing. it really isn't cheap and is required about every 30 years. living below, the upper level at the apex of the building, was used to rear silkworms. the open fire would also help conserve the wood and thatch with open floor boards alowing the smoke to permiate the floors.
Ogimachi-go is the main village which sees streams of tiour buses, but is big enough to allow you escape the main drag and find some of the abundant serenity which this place has in plenty. the back drop is just relaxing and it's nice to see it all working as a real community.
We also travelled to Ainokura-go which is in an even more remote setting and sitting on a plateau high above the river. again the views are stunning and to live there even now would seem like paradise. the hard labour of the land though, reminds you of the tough everyday life - slightly changed now by the tourist economy. Its size though, in comparison to the amount of tourists is a bit scary. perhaps this example of the japanese having their convenience can be put into question. i just felt a bit bad or uncomfortable being there - wondering what the locals made of it all. most were smiley but living beside a building site in central Osaka and only really getting peace at night, I wondered if it was a bit the same for them. our neighbouring building will finish by the end of the year though, but when the snow thaws next march, the community in ainokura will have to open their doors to another load of strangers.
At least though - all eyes are focussed on an endagered area and at least it won't fall into disrepair.....
Posted by stupot at 01:00 PM Friday 20 May
Posted by stupot at 11:23 PM Thursday 19 May
certainly on driving through the mountains of central shikoku it was obvious to see the havoc that last years unusually high amount of typhoons had caused, but the quiet roads made for great bike climbing and the onsens (iya in particular) were a perfect tonic for tired limbs and a busy mind. having to take a funicular railway down the 45 degree gorge at snails pace with equally relaxing music to the riverside hotspring made the experience all the more worthwhile. a mid-week visit nearby the oboke gorge post-goldenweek also meant the amount of fellow travellers was relatively small. the food was really extra-ordinary and allergies were generally catered for (despite the usual russian roulette of unidentifiable soup stock). magic.
Posted by stupot at 11:21 PM Thursday 19 May
Posted by stupot at 10:57 AM Friday 7 Jan
a beautiful place to start the year. with its abundance of shrines it makes for a very peaceful visit.
Posted by stupot at 10:55 AM Friday 7 Jan