Trainspotting …

The Irvine Welsh book title is derived from a scene where two of the main characters, Begbie and Renton, meet an old drunk in the disused Leith Central Station which they are using as a toilet. The drunk asks the two boys if they are “trainspotting”. I guess this is meant to be amusing on several levels, the prime one being that that there are no trains. The station closed to passenger traffic in 1952 and although it was retained as a diesel maintenance depot, this too ceased in 1972. The station has been demolished but the frontage retained. These sorts of facts appeal to an ex-trainspotter. I have never got beyond the first twenty minutes of the film and have never felt inclined to read the book – not so much a soap opera, more a dope opera.  I mention this only because I have found myself hanging around Mallaig station waiting for steam trains to arrive these last couple of days. It takes me back.

A trip to the local Heritage Centre provided some more appealing facts. The station was originally much grander. The platforms were covered, a turntable was located in a siding, roughly on the site of the current seashore car park and, a separate line used to run down to the quay to enable loading direct from the fishing boats. Without the turntable, the Jacobite must swap ends at Mallaig and reverse back to Fort William.

Mallaig still thrives but it has much less to do with fish. There is a constant supply of through traffic/people on the ferries to/from Skye and twice a day in the summer, the steam trains disgorge carriage loads of visitors. This must work wonders for the local traders, at least in the summer months:

K1 Class Locomotive 62005

62005 swapping ends at Mallaig

Black 5 45212 arriving at Mallaig

A mixed-traffic locomotive designed by Sir William Stanier in 1934

Keeping a clean machine

Black 5’s, as they were known by enthusiasts, totalled 842 by the time the last was built in 1951.

45212 about to swap ends

 

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The Jim Clark Museum

The trip to Duns has become an annual pilgrimage.  Last year in April, to commemorate fifty years since Jim Clark’s death at Hockenheim in 1968 and, this year, for the opening of the extended and much enhanced museum. Last year in the Elise, this year, 167 miles on the F850 GS on a perfect day for riding.

The displays include a new commemorative film, his trophies, a walk-around time-line of memorabilia and two of his iconic vehicles:  the Lotus 25 R6 on loan from the Tinguely Museum Switzerland and a Lotus Cortina on loan from Dario Franchitti – perfect choices.  Clark was stunning in any Lotus but for real entertainment, there was no better sight than Jim flying the Ford at ten tenths through the apex on three wheels.

The Power of One

The Lotus 25 R6

The Lotus Cortina “in flight”

The interior

Lotus Cortina – close up

Looking at the Cortina more closely, I was reminded that they were originally badged under the Consul brand. My parents belonged to the ‘Ford family’ owning three consecutive Consuls throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. They have appeared at various times in this blog, including the original MK1. Just at the time they might have gone down the Cortina road, they chose the Corsair – a big mistake, the first being so unreliable, it was quickly replaced by another. I can only assume at a significant discount.

The primary difference between the two Corsairs was that the first’s crunchy column-change was finally replaced with a standard floor-change in the second. Mother had learned with a column-change and in her usual determined fashion, she was sticking to it, long after it was a good idea. When they returned from working abroad in the mid 1970s they remained loyal to Ford, finally acquiring a Mk III Cortina. After that it was a Volvo 343 followed by a series of pedestrian Vauxhalls. As with many other aspects of their later years, automotively they had lost their way.

Witches’ knickers …

… and other monochromes, from a walk between Portmahomack and Tarbat Ness lighthouse.  To get here, head for Inverness, cross the Kessock and Cromarty Bridges, follow the A9 north, by-passing Invergordon, until a turning right is signposted Fearn and beyond.  We are here because of golf, a ‘research’ trip for Golf in the Wild – Going Home – golf doesn’t get much wilder than this.

It is also a fine place to stay regardless of the golf: Known in Gaelic as ‘Port MoCholmaig’ or St Colman’s Port, Portmahomack can trace its roots back to 800 AD. Today, this pretty fishing village is well-known locally for its picturesque setting. The only village on the east coast of Scotland that faces due west, Portmahomack can enjoy spectacular sunsets. And because it is situated in an area of the Highlands renowned for its low rainfall, the village doesn’t suffer with those pesky West Coast midges! – http://www.portmahomack.org/

A remarkably flat landscape for much of the road towards the tip of the peninsular, the landscape was purpose-built for aerodromes.  More than seventy years after the end of World War II, there is much evidence of the decaying infrastructure that supported RAF Tain.  It is also prime farmland, more reminiscent of the Great Plains than a land steeped in ancient Pictish history.  There are the inevitable too-yellow fields of oil seed rape but also, acres given over to potato crops, much of which ends up in crackly packets of Walkers Crisps.

Once you reach the coastal village Portmahomack, the landscape roughens up such that the golf course is anything but flat which makes for a thoroughly entertaining 10-hole layout at the top of the village. Golf was first played here in 1894 and the current club established in 1909.

Portmahomack even has its own Carnegie Hall which, by happy coincidence, was playing host to Lizabett Russo on the night we arrived.

These photos ignore the golf as I am honour-bound to occasionally entertain the Good Wife/part-time caddie with walks that don’t include greens and fairways:

Witches’ knickers

A shed

Wide open spaces

Oil seed rape.

Tarbat Ness Lighthouse.

Tarbat Ness Lighthouse.

Kyle of Lochalsh

My room is beneath the first ‘L’ in Lochalsh and I am sat at the adjacent window, to the front, looking out on the Kyle as I type this post. If this was a postcard, I would scratch “I am here” in BIC biro.

The Lochalsh Hotel

It is now all too easy to pass by this hotel – once adjacent to the Isle of Skye ferry, it was at the centre of things as all vehicles bound for the island queued for anything up to five hours, but never on a Sunday. This little gem from Alan Whicker and the BBC Tonight programme, November 1964:

Sat at this window on April 24th 1973, I would have seen a dark blue Mitchell Van Hire, 18cwt Bedford CF, board the Skye ferry. The driver, dressed in a too-long purple jumper knitted by an earlier girlfriend, a pair of too-wide flared jeans, a straw hat and Mexican sandals made from old car tyres, we were heading for Glen Brittle and perfect Spring sunshine. How things have changed. The road now sweeps across the Skye Bridge, I have arrived by train, it is February and it is wet and very windy. It is an odd time of year to come to the Highlands.

Inverness Station – the Kyle of Lochalsh train

Arriving at Kyle of Lochalsh

I have always wanted to travel the Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh railway, along with the Mallaig and Wick lines, some of the world’s most scenic railways. Up to end March it is possible to travel anywhere in Scotland on ScotRail for £17 return once you have purchased a £15 Club 50 card.

There was one slight flaw to my cunning plan – the journey north from Inverness was in complete darkness. I might as well have been travelling on the London Underground. Nevertheless, the journey south, tomorrow, starts at 12:08 so the landscape will be revealed in all its glory – assuming there is no mist.

To fill in time on a damp day, I took the bus from Kyle of Lochalsh to Elgol and Glasnakille, on the west coast of Skye. I was one of three passengers throughout the entire trip. The bus stops at Elgol for tea with the driver, Gordon, and immediately the BBC news comes on the radio at 1pm, we must get back on board and head for Glasnakille. It is timed like an Apollo launch.

Gordon

It was at Glasnakille that I was joined by a local lady bound for Broadford – she described it as a ‘course’ day. The conversation flowed from there, covering such diverse topics as Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull who once lived in nearby Strathaird House; the clearances; education – up to eleven there is a local school but thereafter children must board at Portree, the only secondary school on the island; the high volume of traffic in the summer; midges – you just have to out up with them and, the dreaded camper vans. By the time we reached Broadford, I felt like a local. Gordon would be back at 15:22, on the dot, to take her home.

Kippford

According to Wiki:  Kippford is a small village along the Solway coast, in the historical county of Kirkcudbrightshire in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland.

It is home to the most expensive properties in Dumfries & Galloway and is known as the Solway Riviera.  Well that’s news to me.  Riviera or not, it was surprisingly quiet even during Scottish schools’ half-term week.

Spend a few years on WordPress and there is the risk that posts become repetitive – the last time I was here was August 2014, staying overnight for golf at Colvend.  Four years on not much has changed – I am staying for two nights for three rounds of golf at Lochmaben, Cally Palace and Dumfries & Galloway.  More of the same sums up everything.

This time however, it was later in the year and the sun lower in the early evening sky.  The ‘Riviera‘ was lit with a golden light, captured on a Fuji X100F – last time it was the X100S – like I say, more of the same:

Staring into the light

On the jetty

The jetty, Kippford

Mudflats, Kippford

Reflected light, Kippford

From the far end of Kippford

Gemini at low tide

Danger – do not proceed …

Owning a motorcycle is like owning a dog, you can get into long conversations with people who would ordinarily pass you by.

The stop at Bellingham was planned – the Yamaha has a fuel gauge but its advice is at best vague.  It always pays to independently keep track of mileage and expected range – about 150 miles maximum.  This is particularly so when heading north up the A68 – without diversions there are no petrol pumps between Hexham and Jedburgh.  Hence the plan to fill up at Bellingham – a scenic diversion which worked well except my arrival coincided with a tanker delivery.  Within minutes the driver had expressed an interest in my bike and so the fifteen minute wait was filled with conversation.  The same thing happened later in the day when I made a brief detour to the Holy Island causeway; an elderly chap was keen to tell me all about the Vincent he once owned and wished he still did

I was heading for Haddington to the east of Edinburgh – first to collect some copies of David Shaw Stewart’s excellent Views from the Tee and then to meet my eldest for lunch.  Rather than retrace my steps I returned via the A1.  This is a longer route home but the northern stretches near the coast can be spectacular and the dual carriageway allows the cobwebs to be air-blasted from the Yamaha.  These are just some images from the day – a splendid 220 mile ride out in perfect autumnal weather:

Filling up the filling station, Bellingham

Haddington in autumnal sunshine

Robert Ferguson of Raith memorial – Haddington

From the causeway to Holy Island

You have been warned

On the causeway bridge

Another view from the causeway bridge

A summer with Joan …

The White AlbumWhere I Was FromSlouching Towards Bethlehem – all stories of distant places in a distant time – scattered with searing observation that make place, time and distance irrelevant.  Joan Didion has the capacity to invade your thoughts, for days on end:

Notes from a Native Daughter (Slouching Towards Bethlehem)
Perhaps in retrospect this has been a story not about Sacramento at all, but about the things we lose and the promises we break as we grow older; perhaps I have been playing out unawares the Margaret in the poem (Spring and Fall – Gerard Manley Hopkins):

Margaret are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving? …
It is the blight man was born for
It is Margaret you mourn for.

Where I was From – Part Four
Flying to Monterey I had a sharp apprehension of the many times before when I had, like Lincoln Steffens, “come back”, flown west, followed the sun, each time experiencing a lightening of spirit as the land below opened up, the checkerboards of the midwestern plains giving way to the vast empty reach between the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada; then home, there, where I was from, me, California.  It would be a while before I realized that “me” is what we think when our parents die, even at my age, who will look out for me now, who will remember me as I was, who will know what happens to me now, where will I be from.

…  We kissed, we had a drink together, we promised to keep in touch.  A few months later Nancy was dead, of cancer, at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.  I sent the recital program to Nancy’s brother, to send on to her daughter.  I had my grandmother’s watercolor framed and sent it to the next oldest of her three daughters, my cousin Brenda in Sacramento.
I closed the box and put it in a closet.
There is no real way to deal with everything we lose.

It has been an obsessive and busy summer.  When thoughts jostle for space, I escape – two wheels at speed empties the head, concentrates the mind and lifts the spirit.  I seek out empty and abandoned places – I want no distractions.

Border Park Services

Abandoned years ago

Where the fuel prices are frozen in time

Before departing I had worked out a circular route going north along the A68, into Scotland towards Selkirk and then south to Kielder. Not for the first time, I was thwarted by road closures, this time the B6357. When did this become the norm rather than the exception – much to my annoyance, I was briefly distracted 😉