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Sunday, September 30, 2007

Cumbria – The Energy Coast

On Friday I discovered a piece of Cumbria where you cannot see a windmill. It's in a dip in the road surrounded by high hedges. The road is a lane really between Pica and Rowrah (more on pronunciation of these place names later*).

It has just struck me that on the drive down the coast from Carlisle to Whitehaven there isn't a place (apart from the Rowrah Pica interchange) where windmills are not visible.

I'm all in favour of energy from the wind so I suppose I will just have to put up with the high visual impact. I quite like the look of windmills though, there's something quite pleasing about them compared to a coal fired power station or a nuclear one for that matter. In fact compared to the mining scars of the villages that are Rowrah and Pica they are positively beautiful.

*Pica – pronounced: PIE – KUH
Rowrah - pronounced: ROW (as in having an argument – not Boat) – RUH

I recently discovered that the PICA environs has decoy buildings dating back to the 2nd World War designed to trick enemy bombers in to not dropping their loads on Workington. Pity!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

This Kevin Bacon thing continues - at least between RW and WIR.

The WIR informs me that to get a Kevin Bacon number you have to have appeared in a film with the associate(s). Hence Paxman: Thingie: Bacon for WIR. The James Garner number that I have brought up, from where I do not know, has nowt to do with film it's just how far separated, by having met someone, is a person from James Garner or from anybody else for that matter. I remember reading somewhere that there are only a maximum of 6 degrees of separation to everybody.
So on that basis:
  1. I met David Jacobs once on Euston Station (had a sandwich and a chat about Pete Murray..)
  2. David Jacobs hosted Top of the Pops in the 60s and Samantha Just was the 'disc girl' for a while.
  3. Samantha Just married Mickey Dolenz (of the monkees) in 1968
  4. Mickey Dolenz was Circus Boy and Noah beery was his uncle (Joey the clown?)
  5. Noah Beery was James Garner's (Jim Rockford's) dad in Rockford Files

Does that give me a James Garner number of 5? Does anybody really care?

RW met Tony Blair once! Now that gives us all a problem. She has a TB number of 1. Do I want to admit to a TB number of 2? I think I may stop this line of thought once I have published. It's starting to oppress me.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

James Garner: My Kevin Bacon Alternative:

Mickey Dolenz (The Monkees)-(Circus Boy): Noah Beery (Joey the Clown)-(Jim Rockdord's Dad): James Garner. Degrees of Separation: 2.

Cher (I Got You Babe): Mike Post (Guitarist on I Got You babe) (Writer Rockford Files Theme Song): James Garner. Degrees of Separation: 2.

Herb Pedersen (Neil Diamond 1994 Christmas Album backing vocals) also (Banjo Player Rockford Files Theme Song): Neil Diamond (Writer of I'm a believer for the Monkees): Mickey Dolenz (The Monkees)-(Circus Boy): Noah Beery (Joey the Clown)-(Jim Rockdord's Dad): James Garner. Degrees of Separation: 4 or 2 ? Hey I can't work this one out.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Scotland by Microwave - and a bit of Northumbria

Last weekend the Scouse African and his Guardian Angel and Mrs RW and me set off for 2 days in Northumbria. We left the house at 10.10 Saturday morning intending to find lodgings near Alnwick and spend 2 nights (3 days (an in joke- sorry)) exploring the surrounding castles, beaches and breathtaking coastline.

We stopped for late breakfast at 10.30 at a farm café and ice cream shop on our side of Carlisle. Orton Grange farm shop to be precise. It's one of the many farm diversification projects since the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak. There's a whole blog or two to be written on the art and craft galleries, farm-shops, ice cream parlours and petting zoos that now pepper Cumbria. Orton Grange was a good thing but it meant it was afternoon before we turned off the A69 at Greenhead on to the military road alongside Hadrian's Wall. We slowed to view Sycamore Gap (Robin Hood's Tree) and then sped passed Housesteads Fort ('cos it was full of people in cardigans and hats). We pointed out the wall walkers to SA and GA (I bet you could pass a bucket from one end of the wall to the other in under an hour) and arrived at Chesters Fort.

We paid what seemed a small fortune to an intense young man with an intense fringe to enter the museum of stone and metal things and then promenade with some difficulty over the foundations of the fort. I really enjoy the feeling of history in these places BUT I prefer to be in less of a crowd and to explore and work things out for myself. Instead - whenever we were seen to be puzzled - staring at a plan and a piece of masonry, some cardiganed Smartus Arsus would move into view and be interesting:

"I think you'll find that bathhouse is 200 metres in that direction … that piece of foundation is the commandants latrine" ……………….." ah here you are again … that's not the bathhouse .. Mrs Gardiganus Maximus made that mistake … you should have turned left at Biggus Dickus.."

We left just as the choir was assembling in the foundations of the bath house though I think Samartus Arsus was on his way to point out the anachronisms in their repertoire and replace the keystone that the soprano's motorised wheelchair had taken out. A choir?

So we left without trying out the roman hotdogs at the Snackus Shedibus and headed to Wallington at Cambo .

Wallington was free entry for the day (a stroke of luck- saved us 30quid it did). It was full of families sort of wandering aimlessly and shouting at their children. One shout of 'Kylie' had 22 kids, 5 single mothers and a grandmother of 32 (years!) looking worried.

We had a late lunch – a bad thing. SA has to eat every couple of hours to keep up his blood sugar(?). The pie was very dry and not substantial. So far the good meal-bad meal score was 1:1. Wallington had changed a bit since my last visit in 1983 – no rare cattle but the farm shop was good -well at least as good as the Orton Grange one. We bought some more honey. Can't have too much post 2001 foot and mouth organic honey can you?

So - we headed for Alnwick and Bamburgh 'cos we still had to find some accommodation and a camera battery charger. It seems that we had picked the 'festival weekend' in Northumbria and it was full. We tried the 'Al 'n' Val' recommended hotels guest houses and B&Bs – must have tried over 30 and by 5.30 we were starting to panic… and had to find a charger for the mobile phone too. Bamburgh, though fabulous was full. It seems we had arrived at the weekend of Bamburgh Festival!! Never mind. We, RW and me, had spent the day at Alnwick only a month back and so could vouch that the food is good, the experience excellent and the farm shop worth a tour. However it was getting late and we needed somewhere to stay so SA and GA had to forgo the personal experience and take our word for it. The castle at Bamburgh is something special…. restored in the late 19th century by Lord Armstrong and now houses an excellent collection of arms and artwork as well as a tea room and gift shop. I detect a theme running here.

"Let's head for Berwick get accommodation and then do Holy Island and Alnwick from there tomorrow and then maybe head back via Newcastle" says Mrs RW. I like Holy Island and the little castle on Lindisfarne is one of my favourite places. Not sure what post 2001 foot and mouth has done for it so would like to investigate.

"I need to eat" says SA " Seahouses is supposed to be good and have the best fish and chips in the world"

Seahouses ……. Hah ….. well … what can I say… The, by now obligatory, festival was packing up, the fish and chips were not good, but we saw a seal from our viewing area on the starling shit encrusted benches overlooking the harbour. So far our only wildlife sighting. We left the tattooed retiring festival goers and fish and chip eaters and headed to Berwick.

Berwick (looks good - must go back) was full and so was Coldstream.. and Kelso BUT eventually 10 miles from Edinburgh at a place called Pathhead we found the Stair Inn.

Look – it was fine – (and SA was hungry again) – clean (but thin pillows) and it was dark by now, so we can't even tell you if the countryside was pleasant or even if there was a festival. Edinburgh was full by the way – there had been a festival of some sorts.

Mrs RW had now decided that we were not going to leave Sunday to chance and that instead of going back via Northumbria we should go to Glasgow and then on to Strachur on Loch Fyne and stay at a decent hotel that we knew for at least one night of the SA-GA visit (Scouse African - Guardian Angel – NOT SAGA you understand).

So at crack of just after the Full Scottish breakfast we set off for Glasgow. Arriving at Princes Square carpark at 11:10 to find that Glasgow was shut until 12. En route I had been trying to educate SA on the finer points of the Glasgow School – Charles Rennie-Mackintosh and his peers. It was lost. He didn't quite see the design benefit of a door push- plate cut on the taper instead of the square. I gave up trying to point out the different size windows and eccentric design of the Scotland Street school as we sped past. I have no idea why CRM designed windows of different sizes …yes I know he would have been cheaper. He was more impressed by the Artist Blacksmith's work in Princes Square though, and we had a good hour or so looking round, consumed some milky coffee (but no food!). We tried to find a farm shop to stock up on honey and then headed for the 2.30 ferry to Dunoon. SA and GA wanted to see this bit of Scotland and although the drive along the old shipbuilding yards of the Clyde was moody and depressing however there were no farm shops and only the occasional suicidal drunk falling out of a fortified bar.

30 mins beyond Dunoon we arrived at the Creggans Inn on the banks of Strachur, checked in, checked out the pillows (to GA's satisfaction) and were next to be found sheltering from the rain in the Loch Fyne Oyster Bar having a late lunch.

The Loch Fyne Oyster Bar and the Creggans were a hit. Excellent food, good service and friendly engaging staff. It's worth noting at this point that in Scotland and Northumbria it is very rare to be served by a local. Mostly Polish, Canadian and Asian. The Chinese I noted all have broad Scottish or Scouse accents wherever you are in the world.

We reminisced, over dinner, on the difference between Bamburgh and Seahouses: 3.2 miles by road but a million miles in culture. There wasn't a chip shop in Bamburgh.

Monday morning and time to head back with another change of plan. The original idea being to go the long way round to Glasgow and then South to Cumbria. But NO - SA has some strange traits and one of them being 'never to go back over the same tracks'. So after the Full Scottish (again) we did go part way back to the Oyster Bar and farmshop (yes there is a (fish) farm shop) and a milky coffee and then headed down the other side of Loch Fyne to Inverary. It's a fabulous piece of undiscovered Scotland or so it says in the guide books. It was pretty full. I'd tried to be interesting – white and black cottages, symmetry of design, Adams brothers, Para Handy – but SA was having none of it. He should have been an architect.

Whilst the rest of the party explored the town (no doubt in search of honey), I managed to queue jump in the Tourist Information Office and held back some highly cardiganned tourists, with pencils and scotty dogs in kilts to buy, for 30 mins or more arranging ferry tickets from Skipness to Lochranza on Arran and then from Arran to Ardrossan. It meant catching the 3 o'clock ferry and then the 7.15 ferry but we reckoned we could do it and probably get a decent meal in Brodick and maybe even take in a farm shop if we could get the clog down.

Arran, is often referred to as Scotland in Miniature (so it says everywhere): The Isle of Arran, is the most southerly Scottish island and sits in the Firth of Clyde between Ayrshire and Kintyre. Arran is 19 miles long by 10 miles wide but has a remarkable diversity of landscapes and seascapes. We needn't have bothered the 800 mile round trip if we'd thought about it we could have come straight to Arran booked in to an upmarket guest house and done some serious sight seeing. It would have done our carbon footprint a power of good too and saved a pile of money.

Arran is a good place and, I feel not too touristed. Maybe hitting it between 5 pm and 7pm on a Monday at the beginning of September isn't a good time to make a judgment. The Arran Aromatics shop and Arran farm cheese shop were both open and able to sell us some shampoo and garlic cheese (it's the future).

Dinner at the Auchranie Spa and lodge was good. The maitre d' – one of the wee Scottish types – white(ish) ill fitting shirt and some very large spectacles held together with elastoplast would not let us to our table until 5.30. He was at least Scottish and not totally unpleasant.

In Lochranza, on the golf course we had our second wildlife sighting – a red deer. We didn't see a single thing going through the glen – but on the golf course in the middle of town grazing like a tame red cow with elastoplasted antlers was a deer. We need to go to a petting zoo to see wildlife?

Luckily we landed at Ardrossan in darkness so the true ugliness was more or less unnoticed. It says something about the place that the website has a picture of the advertising balloon that flew over the new ASDA store. Keep looking up is my advice.

The drive back to Aspatria was more or less uneventful. We had to stop for fuel and a dark chocolate kit kat to keep SA's blood sugar sorted but we arrived safely at home at 11.10pm: 61 hrs; 800 miles; 2hrs on ferries; 2 full Scottish breakfasts; 7 pints of milky coffee; 6 farm shops; 1 seal; 1 deer; 35 starlings;1 meal of fish and chips; a critique of the Art Nouveau movement in Glasgow; an appreciation of the size of the mountains on Arran; a vow never to visit Seahouses again; take pillows on the next trip; do something to stop Britain turning into a craft gallery and farmshop theme park; plan a route next time or only do Arran.