Sunday, 31 August 2008

Chance meeting on a train.

This happened a short while back. This incident occurred when I was returning from the far north west of Scotland. My journey had started that morning. Firstly by post bus and then a series of trains. One to Inverness and from there another to Edinburgh. Another change to the London train. Surprisingly the London train had not been that that busy. In fact I had managed to find myself a seat with a table. Just as the train was pulling out a disheveled, shabby dressed guy, roughly middle aged, shuffled down the carriage. He nodded at the seats at the other side of the table. " May I?" Certainly I had no objection as such. However, I do have problems with social interactions. That is a complex issue that I do not need to go in to here. It became obvious the man wanted to talk though. The first thing that struck me was his accent. His manner of speech, the way he spoke belied his dress. His voice was cultured, polished and softly modulated. On long journeys I try and pick up some food to eat on the way. Having already taken my knife out of the rucksack it had been my intention to have some cheese and tomato rolls. He watched as I cut open a roll and added the tomato and cheese. It would have been mean not to have passed over one to him. he ate it hungrily and took little persuading to have a second one. The guy gestured at my knife "Do you always carry a knife?" I explained that on the hill a knife was part of my equipment. He nodded and a smile flitted across his face. Cocking his head to one side, he nodded. "Yes, I saw you just before you got on the train. Your rucksack suggested you are a serious hill walker." The man began to talk. telling me how he had been drifting around Scotland for the last few months. Giving a deep sigh, he paused and then went on. "I had it all you know!" he gave a shake of his head. "Pointless, all pointless." Looking at me directly he went on. "Money, managerial position in a big firm. Wife, family, good house, expensive cars, the lot." He shrugged his shoulders. "Probably you think I'm nuts?" Quietly I assured him that was not the case. It was obvious the guy had gone through some traumatic times. "Maybe it was all my fault. I was working long hours, not at home as much as ought to have been. But I was earning top dollar and we where doing well." His voice caught for a moment, he paused for a moment and the rushed on. "My wife wanted a divorce. Non compatible and all that stuff. I didn't contest it. The kids where well provided for and that was my main concern." He gave a deep sigh. "The day the final papers where signed I just gave her the house, everything. Just walked away from it all. Even left the cars. walked out of her life for ever." He have a wry grin. "In all probability I have broken the law somewhere." My curiosity was aroused and I asked him what he meant. "As I say, the day the divorce was finalised I just walked away from everything. Left a few things with an old school chum, rang my office to say I would not be coming in, ever. I was supposed to be under contract to the company and I broke it. Just got a taxi and hopped on a train to Scotland." I asked him why Scotland? "Old family connections, I used to stay up there on my university breaks." He went on to tell me how he had just been drifting around Scotland for the last few months. As we chatted he told me a little about his degree in history. In fact, from what he said, an MA in European history as well as various degrees in business studies, finance and so on. Some of what he said sounded a tad out of kilter, but not that far. He was convinced America was on the wane as a super power. He got quite animated as he spoke. "America is finished. Only it doesn't realise it yet. The Uk is set to become a third world country. There's going to be an energy crisis. Rising food bills, fuel bills. Gas and electric are going to increase sharply." He glanced at me. "People like yourself will survive. outdoor types are usually practical people." He spoke urgently. "Ok, fine, it all sounds crazy. mark my words though. Respect for law and order is already being undermined. Life is becoming cheap. Look at history, all the great civilizations that have risen and fallen. They have collapsed from within. It's going to happen here too." He continued on in that vain for a while. Pausing for a moment, gathering his thoughts, the guy shook his head. "I have to travel south. A funeral that I am obliged to attend. Then I'm on the next train north again. " The man gave a wry smile. "You're lucky, I bet you can turn your hand to many practical things. You know, working with tools and everything. Me, I'm bloody useless at such things." He leaned forward in his seat. "Things have to change. They must. So much of our material world is futile, transient. Once I get back to Scotland I'm joining up with a small commune." From what he told me, they where a small group of people scattered over a fairly wide area and mainly self supporting. My mind still goes back to that man. A sad, lonely figure. Was he just some crazy guy looking for someone to spout his mad ideas at? To be honest, a lot of what he said, made sense. Certainly he knew his history. Me, well I am keeping an open mind.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

More travels on public transport.

This incident happened a few years back on the Fort William to Glasgow train. It had been around the January period. At that time I was working. Managing to wangle a winter break I had headed north. For the best part of a week I had been up on the grey Corries and the Mamores. Snow conditions had been excellent. It had been hard going though. Coming off the main Grey Corrie ridge had been steep and tricky.Even more so than the ridge itself. A few times I had scared myself. It had been the same on the Mamores. At night the tent had regularly frozen solid. The weather had been relentlessly cold too. On the last day, as I headed out to the fort, my thoughts where on a hot shower and a fish supper before catching the Glasgow train. At that time it was possible to nip in to the leisure centre at the Fort, pay a pound and have a hot shower. A facility I used many times. On a Sunday there was only one train from the fort down to Glasgow. It left somewhere around six in the evening. Sitting waiting for the train was a cold business. The station empty and seemingly forlorn. It was with a sigh of relief that when I finally boarded the train. However, I had no sooner sat down when a boisterous group of youngsters also boarded the train. Coils of rope, tatty rucksacks and scruffy clothing, denoted them as climbers. Creagh Dhu boys from Glasgow. In earlier years they had a fearsome reputation as hard men. They had been climbing on the Ben. Sinking in my seat, I felt apprehensive. One of the guys glanced at me, his eyes taking in my rucksack, ice axe and crampons. He grinned. "Been on the hill then?" When I had told where I had been and what I had been doing, his smile widened. "Och, ye'll have had good snaw conditions then. My but it must have been mighty cold at night. Ye've done well." High praise indeed. As we pulled out of Fort William it soon became apparent that something was wrong with the train. It was freezing. The conductor came around, all apologetic. The heating had broken down and there would be none until we joined up with the Oban train at Crianlairich. Jeers and rumbles of dissent echoed around the carriage. The conductor looked worried, as well he might. One of the lads went and had a quiet word with him and the pair headed off to the front of the train. Shortly he was back. Of all things, he was carrying a boxful of bottled water. Where he had wangled them from no one asked. He dumped the box on one of the small tables. "Am goin' ta mak' a brew." Soon kit was strewn in all directions as people burrowed in rucksacks to dig out their stoves and cooking pots. One lad, appropriately nicknamed 'Tiny' at some six feet plus and solidly built, wrapped his faded and stained duvet jacket gently around an old lady who had been sitting quietly in one of the seats. "There ye are hen, thon, 'll keep ye a wee bittie warmer" Soon she was sitting regally wrapped in the old duvet jacket, sipping tea from a battered tin cup. Several of the stoves where multi fuel. Forget health and safety rules. Mine was too and well, after all I had been accepted as one of the crowd. Having a bit of fuel left, I joined in. Soon my stove was roaring away with the rest. A couple of Canadian backpackers where sitting wide eyed. "Is this legal?" One whispered as I handed her a cook pot of tea. "No dear, probably totally illegal. Just a spot of anarchy though." I explained. The conductor had wisely made himself scarce although one of the lads had kindly taken him a brew. There was a party like atmosphere as folk from the other carriage where invited through for a brew. Biscuits where found from somewhere and soon everyone was supping away. This was all a few years a back. In all probability no one would get away with it these days.
On a night run recently by coach out of Victoria coach station. A guy, rather disheveled and a bit worse for wear went to board the coach. The driver doing the tickets eyed him up, warning him that he could be refused on the coach because he had been drinking. However, with a warning to behave himself, get his head down and sleep it off, he was allowed to board. Unfortunately the man had also smuggled drink on board and as we pulled on to the motorway he became vociferous and abusive to all around him. The relief driver went back to remonstrate with to be met with a torrent of swear words. Enough was enough. The driver pulled in to the first motorway service station. Stopping the coach and angrily pulling on the hand break, he stood up. The relief driver looked at him. "Shall I call the police?" The driver shook his head. "Forget the polis, I'll deal wi' it!" he was a big strapping Glaswegian guy. Marching down the coach, he confronted the drunk. "Right Jimmi, you wus warned. Noo y're aff the coach. You've twa choices, walk off or I'll pitt ye aff " The guy saw sense and meekly shambled off the coach, his head hung low. As we pulled away again he stood forlornly by his suitcase, a sad and lonely figure in a deserted car park.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Island return

roadside flowers
Port Ellen
superb view
from the sleeping bag

view from the tent
The way ahead
Islay coast

natural arches

Wild weather
wild places
Low tide Islay
kettle on?


Islay, remotebeach

Wednesday 13th August 08. camped OS map LR60 GR 426 794.
Did the overnight shuffle up from the south last night. Once more changing at Glasgow to head up the west coast. The bus heading out from Glasgow was delayed by twenty minutes. This was a bit worriesome because of the ferry connection. the bus is due at the ferry terminal at twelve twenty and the ferry leaves promptly at 13 00hrs. The time gap is narrow. Amazingly we not only made it, we still managed the driver's compulsory 15 minute break at Inverarary. We arrived only five minutes late. Unfortunately the police where running a speed trap and the driver was cautioned. Poor bloke, yep, he certainly was at times driving fast, however, not recklessly. he was well aware that a lot of folk on the bus where heading for the ferry and he pulled out the stops to get us there. Treated myself to a plate of chips on the ferry and a cuppa. Breakfast at Glasgow had been a roll and a cuppa and I knew I was going to need some nourishment before the day was over. The weather forecast had been for bad weather but we arrived at Islay in patchy sunshine.Once off the ferry I headed north. The first four miles or so of road walking up to Bunnahabhain and from there another four miles across country to the lighthouse. There was a rough path and atv's had also been trundling back and forward as well. At times I followed their tracks but when they veered of in all directions to avoid the worst of the bogs I just kept heading north. Wet, boggy ground it was too. My intended goal had not actually been the lighthouse but a bay further around. The lighthouse though was the easier option and I am camped close to it. The lighthouse is covered in scaffolding, so is obviously under repair. While the main stuff comes in by sea it is obvious that the workmen are coming across country on the atv's. Tired tonight, a breeze is keeping the midges down a bit.

Thursday 14th August. Camped OS map LR60. GR 408791. Bagh an Da Dhoruis.
A very easy day. Was late in getting away. Time though meant very little, there was no hurry. Packed up this morning and moved up the coast a few miles following deer trails.Noticed fresh boots prints in places and so was aware that there was a guy somewhere in front of me. Met him as I descended down the cliff to the beach. He had walked in from the road end and was surprised to see someone else in the area. As he headed back I was left with the whole bay to myself. It was fun, boots off and in for a paddle, shorts soaked but it was warm and they would soon dry. This whole bay is large. As I walked down the beach to the far end it was quite amazing how far inland the cliffs are. At the far end of the main bay is finger of rock stretching out in to the sea. Seals just off shore are hauled out on some of them. By this rocky promontory is a grassy area and another smaller bay and beyond is an even smaller one. The grassy area offered a superb place for the tent. Spent the rest of the afternoon foraging for mussels, amazingly, none to found, made do with limpets The tiny bay has a plentiful supply of drift wood, collected a bundle and got a fire going on the beach and soon had the pot simmering nicely. Once done emptied the water out, discarded the shells, added some fresh water, some rice and a stock cube and soon had supper cooked. Just in the nick of time, thick, heavy, blue, black clouds like massive bruises had been building all afternoon. As I heated water for coffee in my other pot spots of rain gradually became more persistent. Fat drops of water making the fire hiss. Doused the fire and filled in the fire pit, legging it swiftly back to the tent. Sitting in the tent eating supper and drinking coffee, I was snug. Suddenly it went from just rain to an absolute deluge. The water hitting the tent made it sound as if I sitting under a waterfall. The sound was mind numbing. Had stuck the cooking pots just be the edge of the tent to wash them out, they filled almost immediately. The rain now has subsided a little, the seals seem to enjoy it though. They are quite vociferous this evening.

Friday 15th August. Same place as last night. Took the day off, just wanted time to potter and explore. Maybe to a time to reflect on recent personal problems too. The rain eased off during the night and I opened the front of the tent in the early hours to let things air off a tad. Just dropping off to sleep again when something woke me. It was deer grazing all around the tent. Standing right in front of the tent was a hind standing out in bold relief against the dark sky. her ears twitched like twin radars as she nibbled, paused and gazed at me suspiciously and grazed a bit more. Ideally I would have liked a photo but the flash from the camera would have startled them and it would have seemed rude to interrupt their grazing. So I lay on my stomach just watching. There are wonderful caves all around here. Some dank and dripping, each with there own pool of clear water. Others are comparatively dry, most of these caves are fairly small but one is big. a quick dip, the water was fairly chilly. Not having my cossy it meant going au'natural. Spotted curlews, oyster catchers and buzzards. Sitting watching the seals. They are so vocal. The big bulls with their deep bellowing, the females snarling, hissing and groaning, squabbling for the best haul out spot. if anyone did know how noisy they are, I imagine they would find it rather spooky at night. Despite the wood being damp from last night's rain, I managed to get a fire going. Surprising what can be done with feather sticks and Vaseline! Tried whelks with the limpets. preferably I would have had mussels but have failed to find any. Limpets are a tad tasteless and are chewy, nutritious though. Whelks are fine but fiddly. Currently it is raining once more. The midges are bad tonight, dense clouds of them.
Saturday 16th August. Camped OS map LR 60. GR 372772. Roughly.
Well, the seals left last night and it made me wonder why? Certainly I missed their noisy clamouring. Maybe they knew something that I did not? Sporadic rain during the night. Managed to pack up before it started again. However, by the time I got going I was in full waterproofs. As I reached the cliff tops the wind was quite noticeable. It was coming in from the east south east. White caps where to be seen further out to sea. This country has no defined paths, it is a case of following one's own nose and deer tracks. Actually, deer tracks are the easier option. They avoid the worst of the bogs. Huge great inland bays indent this coast line and often it was easier to drop down to cross them. In one was a series of huge caves. At some time in the past it had been used as a summer sheiling. Old, crumbling dry stone walls enclosed one big cave system. The temptation was to explore. In fact I went in a fair way until the cave turned a corner and all was gloomy darkness. The weather was worsening and I wanted to push on a bit so left exploration for a future date. Up on the cliffs the weather was turning foul. Walking was becoming difficult in the buffeting wind and the rain was now tearing across the landscape in a great sweeping grey curtain. For safety it was prudent to stop. Finding another bay I scrambled down on a steep goat track. A nasty, tricky river crossing and wow, what a bay. In fact it was a series of coves joined by narrow passageways. More dodgy river crossing. Waterfalls where plummeting off the cliffs in foaming brown torrents. One was especially spectacular. It plunged in to a deep pool in a thunderous, boiling tumult. and then the river running from it bore off to one side, roaring through a natural rocky tunnel. Got the tent up in a hurry, filled the water container and dived in, battening down the hatches. Just in time. Shortly after the rain turned in to a thundering deluge. Strong winds buffeted the tent. It made me glad I had pegged down the extra peg points. Well, I wanted to put this tent through it's paces a bit before the winter. The hex had needed seam sealing and I had been wondering up about the shangri. Apart from a few minor drips it has proved fine though. Saw a group of stags silhouetted on a ridge line. Currently they are still mainly in velvet, but soon they will be sporting their antlers in all their glory. The Autumn rut is not far away. Unfortunately with the rain I did not want to get the camera wet. Having said that, the rain eased off for short time after the torrential deluge and I risked dashing out with the camera to get a couple of photos. Saw a couple of swans in one of the bays and more curlews. Possibly too an eagle. Due to the weather I could not use the binoculars. A pity, by its size I am fairly confident it was one.
Sunday 17th August. camped OS map LR 60 GR308721.
Rain on and off during the night. Dry by morning and fairly warm. Lingered a bit to allow the tent to dry off. Just around the corner from where I was camped there was a trail of sorts heading up a steep slope. it looked as if it would get me up out of the bay. When I climbed up though I found I was actually on the crest of a deep hollow. Obviously some time in the past a large cave had collapsed. The slope I had come up had been part of the detritus. The side I was on sloped fairly gently down in to the this large bowl. The other three sides where a lot steeper, The back, under the cliff being almost sheer. Turning right I headed over to a high fin of rock. cautiously scrambling up, I peered over. The ridge was knife edge with a sheer drop. Headed back over to the other side. There was some indication that this was the way the goats came. Another bit of scramble and I was on a very narrow ridge. About a boot wide, just about doable. Gingerly edged my way across it to the main cliff. Scrambling with a loaded rucksack is not recommended. This whole coast line is really fascinating. Somewhere way back in time the sea levels had obviously been much higher. There are great bays with land bound, isolated rock stacks, caves, arches and cliffs. All some distance from the present shore line. This is excellent coastal walking. No man made paths, one picks their own route through. The only paths in the area are goat and deer trails. Mind, at times I do wish they would not walk so close to the edge of the cliffs. On the map the distance around this stretch of the coast looks small. In actual fact though it is a meandering walk, dodging in and out of coves, detouring to get around steep gullies. Sometimes these animal trails meander. Following them through dense bracken is interesting. In places I found bracken higher than me and yet trails wound through it. Taking a break to have a map check, a group of goats came ambling along. They stopped when they saw me. Eyeing me up suspiciously, they edged closer. What strange, glassy eyes goats have. Honestly, I swear the large billy goat was cross eyed! More tricky river crossing and then I hit the Doodilmore river. Near the sea edge it plunged, roaring in a thunderous torrent, down a narrow gully. Awesome but uncrossable. Looking at the map I could see a track marked a bit further inland. It finished at the river. Detoured across to have a look. Fantastic, there was an old bridge. Once across headed back to the coast across some very boggy ground. Picking my across was interesting, the ground, being saturated, actually quaked under me. It was like tip toeing across a giant water bed. Just before reaching the trig point marked on the map I came across an old rickety deer fence. Getting over that was challenging. My main concern was that the whole thing would collapse under me. Standing on Gortantaoid point looking at the bay I had been heading, it was surprising not to see anyone. A couple of miles of pristine beach and not a soul in sight. Boots off and an amble along the shore. Not wanting to to follow the bay all the way around, I made my way across country to the track leading to Killinallan. On the map the farm is marked as occupied but it is now just a series of buildings. Although still early, I decided to stop. There where some pleasant places to stop near the shore edge. Mainly though I wanted to have a chance to air things out a bit and allow footwear to dry. Have seen choughs today as well deer in the distance. It is interesting to observe the different types of insect life one gets in the tent. Spiders are regularly to be found. Ants too, some of them nip. A variety of strange creepy crawlies, one bit me on the arm. it hurt and drew blood. Several varieties of beetles. Slugs often come visiting. The only problem with them is the slimy trails they leave everywhere. Also, it pays to check the cooking pot, often they favour a snooze in there. Midges are the worst beasts, voracious, tiny insects. What they lack in size they make up for in sheer weight of numbers. This evening the wind is picking up and I have just lowered the tent a bit and pegged out the spare peg points.
Monday 18th August. Camped OS map LR60. GR 292554.
Heavy rain during the night with the temperature down a bit. Early this morning the sky was vivid, streaked in fiery reds and glowing orange. Soon though thick dark clouds began to move ominously across the sky. The temptation was just snuggle down in the sleeping bag for another hour or so. With some distance to cover I really wanted to be away quite early. Managed to actually pack up before the rain returned. Once more though I was soon back in waterproofs. Fortunately the rain was not that heavy, thin rain! My first goal was Bridgend. Some seven or eight miles away. Mainly just to pick up a few supplies as I was running low. the majority of walking was on track and minor roads until I reached Carnain. From there it was a case of plodding up a stretch of main road to the village. Picked up a few bits in the shop and nipped over to the handy bus shelter.Nibbling on a Scotch pie I studied the map. What to do? There was little choice but to continue on to Bowmore and then get back on to the coast again. So, a tad more road walking. At least the rain had eased off. Beyond Bowmore I headed over to Laggan point. My perseverance was rewarded. Right beside the mouth of the Laggan river I found a superb spot to camp. Right on the edge of the beach. It is awesome. A heavy swell is running., That is contributing to waves pounding on the beach. Sitting here on the edge of the action with a mug of coffee is exhilarating. The tide is coming in, sweeping all before it. What with the roar of the surf, the boom and crash of breaking waves and the growl of shifting pebbles. Gulls scream overhead, a skein of geese moving swiftly, low over the water. Turnstones rush back and forward, feeding right on the water's edge. Exciting and mesmerizing. The indications are that this is going to be a particularly high tide. There was a seaweed covered gravel bar just off the beach. Waves pounded at it, carrying away the seaweed and soon the gravel spit was demolished. A large section of tree trunk had been cast up on the former high tide line. That has now gone. What a place to camp, only yards from all the action. High enough to avoid even the highest tide but only yards from all the action. Mother nature is busy rearranging the scenery a tad, fantastic. A light rain is falling but I refuse to close the front of the tent and miss the action. Scotch pies do not travel well. had one in the sack and it is flat packed.
Tuesday19th August. OS Map LR 60. Kintra camp site.
Still a bit blustery this morning but no rain. Serendipity, according to the map it looked like I would have to walk out to the main road to cross the river Laggan. However, as I headed for a small track, low and behold a bridge across the river. It was a small wire suspension type of thing. A notice warned that it was there for estate workers and they would accept no liability if anyone else used it. Fair enough, actually it was a nice little bridge, shoogly, swaying gently over the turgid river below. From there it ws just a case of heading back to the beach. Laggan bay sweeps around in a huge crescent. Pristine sands that go on for over seven miles and narry yet a soul to be seen. Boots off, it was a delightful wander along the shore. Splashing in and out of the waves. Examining the tide line. The Machrie river proved interesting. Being in spate it was flowing quite deep and fast. Using a trekking pole for extra support, I eased across. The current was fairly strong in the middle with the water thigh deep. No real problem though. Ambled on to the camp site. As camp sites go, this one was fine. No posh caravans or serried ranks of tents. The lady at the farmhouse just waved at the dunes and told me to go pitch and let her know rougly the area had I pitched in. A few stand pipes for water, showers and toilets at the farmhouse and not much more. It was quite funny, the lady warned that the water would probably be a bit brown. The water I have been using recently has been the colour of strong tea before the milk was added. There are a few camper vans dotted around the place and and tents too but it is not crowded. Kintra is at the end of a track and has a small car park. It is strange in a a way. There are miles and miles of beach and yet people drive down the track, park the car and congregate on one small area. There seems to a be a fear to stray too far from the safety and security of their little mobile havens. One couple I spoke to where aghast that I was on foot and had been camping out alone for a week. In their view that was far too dangerous. Why? The only thing that worries me are other human beings.

Wednesday 20th August. Port Ellen.
Just a stroll down to the village today. It was tempting to camp nearby. Tomorrow morning I am heading out on the ferry. The problem is that I prefer to get cleaned up and put on fresh clothes for travelling. In the end managed a good b&b. Generally lazed for the bulk of the day. had a long soak in a hot bath and nipped out to buy a couple of rolls and a bit of cheese. There are no chippies in the village. It has been a good week though. The tent came through ok. Footwear, my Inov8s are in a parlous condition and I was not prepared to risk using them. my old Brasher hillmasters where dug out of retirement. They too are showing distinct signs of wear. Battle scarred old warriors. With goretex booties similar to seal skins my feet actually remained fairly dry.

Friday, 8 August 2008

Travels on public transport

Over the course of many years of being in the outdoors, I have spent as much time and effort getting there as I actually do on the hill. Possibly these days I am a minority, that is because I predominately use public transport. It is a different life style. There is that frisson of excitement, of going places. Counter balancing that is the dread of long hours cooped up in a cramped seat with limited leg room. Coach stations, they all have a familiarity about them. Metal, uncomfortable seats, cold, drafty. When travelling, I usually make do with snacks. At Victoria coach station I have spent many hours waiting for coaches to transport me to far off places. At all hours there are milling crowds of people. Families with kids, excited, sometimes tearful, stressed. People with great lumbering suitcases being dragged behind them. Early mornings with folk bleary eyed after travelling on the night buses. Students and young people off on their own adventures. Their belongings in bulging, huge rucksacks, often with bulky sleeping bags tied on underneath; A plethora of odds and ends dangling from various straps and string. The concourse with coaches heading off to destinations country wide. The long haul European coaches with strange destinations marked up. They evoke thoughts of exotic places in the farther reaches of Europe. Buchanan street bus station in Glasgow. The times I have had to wait some six hours and more for the night bus south. Since Scottish city link split away from National coaches,City link was taken over by Stagecoach. The differences where noticeable. No longer could one buy a ticket from London to Skye as I had done a few times in the past. Cooperation between the bus companies ceased. This meant if a bus heading down from Fort William ran late, the connecting service would no longer wait. Many the time when I travelled almost every other weekend I ended up sitting in the bus station with a bag of chips and a book. In the winter it meant wearing all possible cold weather clothing.

One of my difficulties is that I can be extremely uncomfortable around people. On the modern coaches the centre arm rest has been removed. That little barrier between yourself and your fellow passenger could make a world of difference. What a strange, weird and wonderful mixture of folk travel on these journeys. My mind recalls for example a time I was coming down on a morning bus from Inverness. There is always a scramble for seats, despite the fact there are enough for everyone, (usually). Me, I too have this foible, preferring a seat up near the front and on the aisle side so that I can stick my legs out a bit. Sometimes things work out well and an empty seat is left beside me. On this occasion though every seat was taken. A stout lady plonked herself down next to me. She wriggled in her seat to maximise the amount of room possible. Unfortunately she was also talkative, very, chattering away nineteen to the dozen the moment she sat down. As we pulled out of Inverness she opened a large shopping bag that was carrying, pulled out a large bag of crisps and proceeded to munch. This was quite something, her conversation flowed non stop except when she paused to swig down large gulps of soft drink from several bottles she carried. At any service stop she would dash off to replenish supplies. by the time we reached london my head spinning. By then I knew the history of her cats, one apparently terrorised the next door dog, nipping over the garden fence to chase it up the garden path. the poor dog fleeing in terror. Her failed attempt to run a B&B, she was unable to cook the breakfast and would regularly burn the toast. The lady also told me about her various illnesses, bemoaning the fact that she had been discharged from hospital far too soon etc. On a rough average I would say she had consumed at least fifteen large bags of crisps by then and at least three large bottles of coke.It made me feel queasy just to see that lot going down the hatch. On a night bus from Glasgow I had the misfortune to have a very large guy next to me. He stank of B O and all night he sniffed, snuffled, snored and wriggled.

Sometimes too there are quiet fascinating people. On one occasion I had this dear, little old lady next to me. She was amazing. One of those old ladies that seem to have a core of steel in them. She took me very much by surprise, asking me if I was lesbian. That was not the sort of question you would expect from someones granny. Gradually though as we chatted things became clearer. it turned out that she had been a land girl during the last war. From what she told me, it her first time away from home. Her father had been somewhat scandalised that his daughter was actually wearing trousers. he considered it improper and saw no reason that she should not wear a skirt while working on the land! Apparently she shared digs in an old stable with another couple of land girls. Somewhere along the way a relationship developed between herself and one of the other girls. In those years it was obviously a taboo subject and yet somehow this lady had never looked back from that moment and was currently living with a female partner.

Sometimes too there are the upsetting and crazy moments. Once, at Victoria coach station, not long before we where due to pull out a woman dashed across. As the relief driver put her case in the luggage compartment she got on the coach and stopped in the aisle. The driver asked her to sit down.. She snapped at him, complaining that there where no seats. The driver pointed to the empty seat next to me. She glared at me, "I am not sitting next to that." her voice was vitriolic, she spat pure hatred. Me, well, I refuse to retaliate, it normally only worsens things. That is not to say I did not feel angry, both angry and humiliated. However, she then made a bad mistake of arguing with the driver. At that point she was given the ultimatum of either leaving the coach or being removed by the police. When we pulled out she was still on the concourse screaming at an inspector.

Over the years I have seen the weird, the wild and the wonderful travelling on the coaches. Maybe sometime I will post a few more things that have occured at different times.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

When things go wrong.

My original intention had been to be away this week. Some time had been spent in plotting the trip, maps had been poured over, timetables, ferry connections, bus times, food sorted, all the things that make up the segments of a trip. Being on a very tight budget means travelling on the long distance coaches. Thus it was last Wednesday night I was at the coach station good and early for the 2300hrs coach to Glasgow. People never line up for the coaches, it can be a complete scrum at times. Forget genteel British politeness. As soon as boarding begins there can be a stampede worthy of any John Wayne western. A rucksack on one shoulder makes a good riot shield. Normally I never sleep on these night runs but can manage to doze a bit. This time though it was hell on legs. A mum with a toddler of around four or five sat next to me. As the kid began to bounce around, arms and legs waving in all directions I inwardly groaned. As we pulled out he settled down and I chided myself for misjudging the little lad. What followed next was amazing; he began to snore. It was incredible, the sheer decibels of volume he was putting out. It was like a low fly past of a jumbo jet. The relief driver looked back in amazement, passengers further back commented on the racket. Gradually the noise subsided a little. His next party piece was when he began to wriggle. Arms, legs and head thrashing in all directions. Bang, a boot in the ribs, a head butt followed by a swipe across the face. Enough was enough, I growled at his mum, she looked apathetic, said there was nothing she could do. The relief driver was was sympathetic but there where no spare seat. Things eased off a little but never really ceased. By the time we reached Glasgow I was a tired and a tad cross bunny. As we went to get off the coach the boy's mum looked at me, her lip curled in disdain. "What's your problem, don't you like kids or somethin'?" That was too good to resist. "Yes dear, kids are fine, slow roasted. The trouble is I can never manage a whole one these days!" A two hour wait at Glasgow coach and a couple of cups of coffee and then on to the next coach for the three and a half hour run down to the ferry at Kennacraig. it is roughly a two hour run on the ferry to Askaig on the top end of Islay. Rain was coming in as I set off down to Bunnahabhain. At first just light rain but soon it was a steady downpour which had me hastily donning waterproofs. Stopped on a track just by the village. had to thrash about a bit to find water. A roe deer buck barked at me as I filled the water bag. Standing as still as possible I watched as he scented the air, his nose twitching, trying to get the measure of me. Finally he gave another high pitched bark and bounded off. The midges where dense as got the tent up and where in a total feeding frenzy with me as the main menu. That was the reason I had taken this tent. A Henry Shire's rainbow, a light, roomy tarp tent that offered full midge protection. it is a tent I have used regularly in milder conditions, simple, easy to erect and light. Too tired to bother cooking, I made do with a badly battered cheese roll that I had been intending to eat on the journey up. The rain by now was intense, so where the midges. A couple of hours after getting my head down I was woken by water dripping from somewhere. A quick check showed a couple of leaks in the tent. This was not good. my first concern was the sleeping bag, Although wet in places it was not soaked. Quickly it was packed in to the rucksack to stop it getting any wetter. This was worrying, what to do? It was obvious the tent had sprung a couple of leaks at the seams, what was more disconcerting was that I found a couple more leaks too. There was no choice but to pack everything and sit it out until morning. Putting on wet clothing was a bind but there was no sense in putting on my spare dry stuff. The rest of the night was spent sitting in waterproofs trying to doze as water pooled around me. By morning the tent was obviously leaking badly. The rain hammering down was filtering through in several places. The midges had amassed in a grey, seething cloud, so, rather than bother opening the tent I just sat the stove in the middle of the floor to make a brew. The matches where damp but that was no problem, I had a fire steel. The question was what to do for the best? If it had been winter I could have managed by using some of the caves marked on the map. After packing up I did in fact take a wander to have a look at one with the idea of setting up the tent inside. It was far too small. A midge net was crucial, without it the midges would have made life hell. Deciding there was no option, I headed back to Port Askaig. Asking at the local shop I was told there was no camping shop on the island. My idea had been to try and buy a tarp and use it as a fly to keep the worst of the weather off. There is only really the shop and a small hotel at the ferry terminal. Common sense said I had to cut my losses and get in somewhere for the night. Struck lucky with the hotel. Wandered in, looking, what would be termed in Scots as 'fair drooked', water streaming off my waterproofs and dripping everywhere. In fact I was fairly comfortable, damp but not cold. The girl at reception, ditto barmaid, waitress etc, said there was a small single room and I could have it for the night with ten pounds off. Toilet, shower and everything was separate and there was no heating. However, it was a dry bed for the night. Went out for a wander, there was some building work going and I wondered if I may have found a large sheet of plastic. No luck, a couple of guys offered me a large piece of canvas, it was so heavy though I would never have carried it. The idea crossed my mind that I could have made a bivi with it but the sheer weight was too much. My tiny hotel room looked like a disaster zone as I emptied everything out, wet gear everywhere. Probably I could have sorted something out if I had had the cash to do so. Nipping back to Tarbet, or even Glasgow to either get a cheap tent or a tarp. My cheapest option though was to head back south and get sorted out from there. That was what I finally opted for. It took a bit of juggling and blarney but I managed it without any major cash outlay. A great pity, if anyone out there wants a Henry Shires Rainbow and is prepared to spend time sorting it out, it is theirs. It is a tent I will never use again. Ok seams can be sealed but having had a problem with it I shall never use it again. If no one takes it off my hands it probably will be be binned. This is the first time it has caused a problem and I have used it in worse conditions. This has been a wasted trip, a shame really, ok, there was heavy rain at times but it was not that bad. The midges where hell but that is a normal hazard. In reality I need to get away, still do. Problems are starting to crowd in, difficulties dealing with people and social interaction has always been a stumbling block for me. Recently things have worsened once more.