Recent outings and activities...
The Island of Arran in May
A weeks visit to the Isle of Arran from 16th to 23rd May, staying at the Scottish YHA Lochranza hostel, was suggested some time ago by Ian Greer.
My friends Roger and David – whom some of you may have met as they've helped us out at the Rodings Rally – have always said how nice the island is. However, as the chosen accommodation was in a youth hostel, and that available was in a dormitory, I decided not to go. Then Graham - who'd booked and paid - was unable to go and as a last-minute decision I went instead.
My journey entailed travelling to Glasgow by plane, which I am not inclined to do unless necessary, but Jinan was also flying so it was nice to be able to travel together. Amazingly, the total cost of my return transport from home to Lochranza was a few pence over £90 – less than the train fare some of the others paid only as far as Ardrossan. There is a wrongness in that!
Jinan and I missed the local train the others were on between Glasgow and Ardrossan - the ferry terminal for Arran - by just a few minutes. That was mostly because the bus we caught from the airport got held up with so many road-humps, walking sticks, crutches, prams, incorrect change, dropped tickets and traffic lights. We had time for lunch before the next train, and when we arrived at Ardrossan we found that the next scheduled ferry was out of action, so had a two-hour wait in an almost empty waiting room. Not really a problem – pleasant company and no real hurry to arrive.
It is a lovely journey between Brodick - the port and main town of Arran - to Lochranza on the north-west side of the island. Leaving Brodick we passed the beautiful wooded grounds of the castle, then along a sea-front road, passing little villages that face out across the Firth of Clyde to the mainland. Then up and over moorland through Glen Chalmadale, with the rugged heights of the the mountains to the left. Dropping down into Lochranza is beautiful, with views of Lochranza Castle and the peninsula of Kintyre in the distance beyond.
The bus driver dropped us at the hostel where we deposited our luggage and then made our way along the road by the shore of Loch Ranza (Loch of the Rowan Tree) to the hotel to join the others for our evening meal.
The hostel has been modernised so is easy enough that families can stay there, with good kitchen facilities and comfortable rooms. If you look in the comments book the main moan is poor internet access; the same goes for phone signals, too.
On Tuesday morning (our holiday was Monday to Monday) we caught the bus back to Brodick to stock up with food. The only eating facility at Lochranza other than the hostel was the hotel, or – with restricted opening times – the Field Study Centre. No cafes, no shops, no ice-cream vans.
There are cafes and shops in Brodick of course, the main store being the Co-op, but before buying we walked along the promenade, then along a lovely sand beach, across the Cnochan Burn and up through woods to Brodick Castle. This is a Victorian Scottish Baronial-style building, beautifully situated above the town and with lovely gardens and grounds. After our visit and tea-shoppe stoppe, we walked back to the Co-op to stock up, then caught the bus back to the hostel.
Next day we did a local walk, crossing the river that flows into Loch Ranza, and then followed the coast north-east around the headland opposite the main part of the village. Just before stopping to look at a view-point marker at Newton Point, we'd spotted our first seal, watching us watching it. It is mostly an easy walk as far as the Fairy Dell, but beyond that not only becomes more difficult but also means either a long round-trek to return or back the same way from further along. Lynne and Ken elected to continue to do the round trip, whilst the rest of us took an easier slightly higher-level track back to Lochranza. The previous day on the bus we'd spotted red deer in the distance, but on this walk we began to realise just how approachable the deer are on the island. Thy hardly budge if you pass them nearby, and they casually wander onto golf-courses and into grounds and gardens. Those four of us who took the easier route enjoyed watching grey wagtails fly-catching over the burn, then discovered that the Field Study Centre just up the road from the hostel was doing afternoon snacks. That is a nice, easy-going, good value for money place, and one or two of our number, I reckon, also thought that Nick looked a nice bloke!
Before our evening meal - again at the hotel - some of us made a visit to Lochranza Castle, which is the remains of a 16th Century Tower House - built to live in as well as for defence. All that lives there now is a flock of jackdaws, it would seem.
Ian had to leave the next day, so our original party of eight was down to seven. We had bought a weekly bus-pass so it was easy to get on and off buses to visit other parts of the island. However, saying that – because of the island's mountainous interior – buses only go right around the coast-line, with one bus-route across the island on a road called the String Road. We caught the bus going anti-clockwise, travelling alongside Kilbrannan Sound, which separates the island from Kintyre. There are some pretty villages along here – Catacol (home to the rarest tree-species in Britain), Pirnmill, Machrie, Blackwaterfoot, Kilmory – and all of the time the Sound with Kintyre in the distance. Then – nearing the southern tip of the island, the Mull of Kintyre with Sanda Island beyond. Off the village of Kildonan is little Pladda Island and, way out, the strange cone of Ailsa Craig – home to all the gannets we'd been seeing plunging as we travelled along the coast.
Our bus-destination was the village of Lamlash, on the east coast, and our objective for the day was Holy Island. This island – just off Arran – has been purchased by Buddhists and is now a retreat and a nature reserve, although day-visitors are allowed. We were stymied, though; the ferryman had taken some earlier visitors across, and was going to pick them up, but he wouldn't take us as he predicted rough weather. His prediction was right, by the time we'd reached the cafe at the beginning of the jetty, it poured. It is a nice little cafe – The Old Pier Tearoom - just right for sheltering from the rain and/or having a snack. However, the owner was just about the only misery we met on the island. Even I can't reach that standard. One of our group suggested she may have had a bad day, but I reckon her notice saying “Any complaints must be made yesterday” says otherwise.
That evening we ate in the hostel, with a variety of meals amongst us cooked up from our shopping trip. As we were eating, just outside the window three red deer were having a laze-around.
Our target for Friday was in the direction of the highest peak on Arran – Goat Fell. That entailed taking the bus towards Brodick and striking up Glen Rosa. It is a nice name and it is a nice glen, with pleasant farming country (sheep and cattle-type farming) at the foot of the glen. We spoke to a local planting sweet peas as we passed, although it appeared that some of the nice little cottages we passed might well have been holiday homes. Past a camp site on the shores of the meandering Glenrosa Water a well-made path took us into gradually wilder country, all the while quite close to the burn. It was a nice day, warm in the sunshine but with a chill to the wind when the Sun was occluded. Lynne and Ken had decided to try to reach at least the saddle below Goat Fell summit, so the rest of us let them push on and we took it more easily. Taking it more easily included sitting by the river and having a snack, reaching a point on the path where the mountains loomed ahead but in the distance, then strolling back the way we'd come to where the bus had dropped us. Nearby was the Isle of Arran Heritage Centre, to which we paid a visit which included lunch and a short chat with a lovely young German woman serving in the cafe. She gladly showed us the Dream-catcher she'd had tattooed on her back, and we congratulated her on her almost impeccable Scottish accent.
After visiting a nearby cheese factory and aromatics centre – disguises for an attempt at tourist-trapping of course – we chatted to another woman who told us that she'd be playing in the pipe-band at the beginning of the annual Goat Fell Race on the morrow. Lynne and Ken came slightly panting up to the bus-stop just before the bus did (less pantily). They'd made the Saddle, but elected to return by the same route rather than risk the steep descent down the other side.
On the morrow – being Saturday morning - we returned to Brodick to see the fell runners depart to the sound of pipes and drums. We also saw the first of the fell runners return, in a time of 1hr 23mins. It had taken Fred, Fozi, Jenny and myself longer to do the first two miles up and two miles back along the glen – let alone go to the summit and back!
On Sunday morning Fozi had to get up early to catch the 7am bus. She's had a message which informed her of the need to return home. That left six of us. Our proposed trip to Holy Island had been curtailed because of the weather, but Sunday was fine. Lynne had arranged to go with another group staying at the hostel on a hike to the summit of Goat Fell, so that left five of us to arrange a visit somewhere. The weather would have been perfect for Holy Island, but the Sunday bus-times made that impossible. We decided (much because I wanted to) to visit another holy site – the standing stones and circles at Machrie. Our friendly lady bus-driver dropped us off at the appropriate point and we headed inland along an easy track, to the sound of a cuckoo, towards the neolithic remains of what over thousands of years had been a settlement and burial grounds. The settlement may have moved because of changing weather conditions and the circles and standing stones abandoned because of changing religious practises - who knows? The weather was the best we'd had, and as we sat on the stones of Fingal's Cauldron we received a message from Lynne that she was at the cairn on the summit of Goat Fell. We waved, but apparently she couldn't see us because there was so much else of a view from up there.
To catch the important and rare bus back to Lochranza, we departed the stones early and made our way to the cafe by the golf-course, overlooking the Sound of Kilbrannan, watching gannets diving for their food as we had tea and scones. We hailed the bus and returned along the beautiful coast to Lochranza. Just before our meal at the hostel in the evening, I watched a golden eagle soaring over the mountainside across Loch Ranza. I could still occasionally see it as a distant speck as we ate our meal.
Monday morning, and our travel plans meant that we were all up before 6am to catch the 7am bus to the ferry terminal at Brodick. I was pleased to spot a pair of dolphins (or were they porpoise?) as we crossed to Ardrossan - a nice natural farewell, I thought. We travelled together to Glasgow Central, although Jinan and my flight was not until after 5pm. At Glasgow Central, we said goodbye to the others and had a walk around central Glasgow – including a few charity shops, a snack by the Clyde and a sunshine sit-down in George Square, the city's equivalent of Trafalgar Square - although in this case the column supports a poet rather than a military personage.
Our flight was easy; Jinan's daughter picked us up at Stansted, and I was home by 8.30. For a holiday that I had not intended to go on, I had a lovely time and with great company. Thanks to Ian for suggesting it and the others for being there.
Paul Ferris, 25th May 2016
A week on the Norfolk Broads - 30th April to 7th May
Well, that was a good trip. And it was almost all good weather. Even the day that was forecast to be wet (Monday) was little more than overcast. The little more was a few specks of rain. And it got hotter as the week went on – building up the nose-tan bit by bit.
Trevor as been organising this annual Norfolk Broads cruising holiday for the 18+ Group for many a year, apparently – and like last year, EFOG members were invited to join them. So, apart from Trevor who is a member of both groups, four of us travelled to Potter Heigham on Saturday 30th April and boarded two Norfolk hire-boats.
Trevor runs a tight ship – or boat, more precisely - as far as control of the vessel is concerned; he ensured that we all took care with our handling and manoeuvring - at least of the boats. We were fortunate that all of the 18+ members had greater or lesser degrees of experience in such things, and were able to help us new-crew get things more-or-less right. Outside of the controls of the moving or mooring of the boats, maybe the ship was a little less tight, so a grand time was had by all.
I'm OK with narrow boats and canals, but fibreglass cruisers and tidal waters are another matter. They've got steering wheels, too – not proper tillers – though I do prefer my cars with the former. Hence although I was fine with the general steering of the boat, the intricacies of dealing with sailing boats cutting across our bows or mooring stern-on in a narrow gap between other boats were more than my experience was comfortable with – so others did the moorings.
Our cruising on Saturday from Potter Heigham took us first of all down the Thurne. Or maybe it was up – I was often unsure with the Broads rivers as it is quite confusing where they are from or going to and are tidal. Anyway, we joined the Bure, passing the iconic remains of St. Benet's Abbey, then went up the Ant, mooring for our first overnight stay at Stalham. After a nice pub meal, making our way back to the boat, the night was clear and cold, and the stars were glorious.
Mentioning that the night was cold leads to the fact that our first night on board the boats was cold. Cold cold. Apparently -1°C. cold. And probably that cold inside as well as outside. The supplied duvets were see-through, and a number of purchases of extra duvets were made in Stalham's awful-but-convenient superstore the following morning.
Back down the Ant the following day, and onto the Bure again, towards Wroxham and an overnight mooring at Salhouse Broad. We hired two Canadian-style canoes here in the late afternoon, and six of us went exploring, coming across wrecked wherries, pirate-laden Broads-cruisers, overhanging willow branches and eventually a lot of mud.
The following day – Monday 2nd May - we made our way back down the Bure and then the Thurne towards Ludham. The country around the River Bure between Wroxham - including Salhouse Broad where we had moored - is pretty and well-wooded, but as it meets the River Ant coming in from the north becomes much more open, reed-edged with big skys. We moored for the night at Ludham.
On Tuesday we had to travel back to Potter Heigham to return one of the boats and allow Chris, Fozi and Jacqueline to return home. We said our goodbyes, and I transferred to the other boat to continue the holiday. We then headed south again on the long trek towards Great Yarmouth and Breydon Water. At one point on this journey I spotted the wake of a creature crossing our bow some way ahead. I called the others jst in time that we all could see the head of an otter heading towards the shore, and then the glorious sight of a gleaming black body emerging onto the bank as we passed.
Breydon Water is a large expanse of tidal water and mud flats, an outlet for several of the Broads rivers into the sea through Great Yarmouth. It is very exposed and really requires some experience to cross safely. We had that, and did so, turning into the River Waveney past Burgh Castle and down past St. Olaves and Somerleyton. The southern Broads aren't so busy as the northern sections, a bit wilder, and with plenty of wildlife. There was almost continually an accompaniment sound of Sedge or Reed Warblers and Reed Buntings, and often the sight of Marsh Harriers – or harsh marriers, as one boat-wit termed them. We moored for the night at Oulton Broad near Lowestoft, went for a pub meal as usual, took part in the pub quiz, won two bottles of wine, and went to bed on board.
Wednesday was a return up the Waveney to Haddiscoe, and then through the New Cut, which is a long straight section somewhat like a canal rather than river. Along here I spotted a sheep in dire distress – legs in the air and crows-a-pecking. Not much to be done until we reached Reedham where I tried various options to get a report to the sheep-farmer before a boatyard managed to phone the message through. From Reedham we proceeded upstream along the Yare, past the sugar-factory at Cantley, heading west and inland towards Norwich. It was just past Cantley and hence about 10 miles (as the crow flies) from the nearest sea, where we ha wonderful view of a seal – who pursued us with intent for a short way.
Our overnight stop on Wednesday was at Surlingham, moored right next to a lovely pub for our meal and within sound – we think – of Norwich Cathedral bells, probably practising.
It was a long trek back from Surlingham along the Yare, and we made an excursion into the little River Chet towards Loddon. Along this narrow meandering river we were accompanied for some way by a Cuckoo, who quickly became known as Kevin. We were also preceded by Sally the Sandpiper, but I realised after – when things got silly – that Colin the Cow didn't make a lot of sense. Our destination of Loddon was an important one, for there was a particular hostelry that the others were keen to visit. This wasn't a pub, but Rosy Lee's tiny tea-room, with the most welcoming owner. She recognised the crew (but not me) from previous years, and supplies a fine breakfast or other delights. After leaving the Chet and crossing Breydon Water and out of Suffolk back into Norfolk, we travelled along the Bure again, and moored overnight at Stokesby.
The following day we were passing places that I recognised from the outward journey, including St. Benet's Abbey where we moored for lunch and visited the ruins. Then on to Ranworth, where Trevor and I visited the nature reserve. They seemed surprised that we'd only seen one otter because apparently otters play around the visitor centre. The heat of the day meant that at least Trevor and I had to have two ice creams.
Ranworth was a nice overnight mooring – convenient for ice-creams, an evening pub meal and public conveniences. It was also an easy departure for an early getaway. At 7.30 we pulled away, as we needed to get the boat back to Potter Heigham by 9.30. We did that on another beautiful sunny and warm day – indeed temperatures in East Anglia got up to 25°C that day. After returning the boat - Caribbean Light 2 - to its owners we went by car, kindly provided by crewman Steve, from Potter Heigham to Acle Station, thence to get the Wherry Line train to to Norwich and from there the Greater Anglia service to Stratford.
Thanks to Trevor for organising this trip. It takes a lot of organising to hire two boats for different lengths of time, to plan a route which enabled us to see so much of the Broads and with moorings every night with such good provisions. It also takes a lot of patience to deal with the numbers of people involved - nine in all, with three leaving earlier than the others, and from two different groups. There were also those of us that were inexperienced with the Broads and the cruisers, and the instructions from Trevor - and others - was invaluable. Thanks too to the rest of the 18+ Group who invited EFOG members to join them on their annual Norfolk Broads holiday.
Paul Ferris, 10th May 2016
A May Day walk in Epping Forest
Seven of us met at High Beach visitor centre at 2 pm. The weather was brilliant but numbers were low; several members were away on a holiday on the Norfolk Broads. The weather meant that it was a struggle to park but we managed.
Off we went along the Up and Down Ride and then through a slightly muddy patch to see us stopping at High Beach parish church for a very pleasant tea and cake, consumed in the grounds under a large copper beech tree.
Out to the forest again and Fred promptly did his impression of The Hound of the Baskervilles by sinking in a mud patch up to his knees. He refused to stay there while we took photos so there is no record for us to laugh at. On to Pepper Alley where a hard surface deteriorated into a muddy mess, requiring some nifty footwork. We all watched carefully but Fred avoided all our suggested routes.
After this it seemed only reasonable to stop at The Owl pub for some refreshment. We then walked across Fairmead Bottom, over Epping New Road and up to an unnamed oak which stood alone in a glade with bluebells all around. Very pretty. Up the Green Ride past Strawberry Hills pond and Earls Path pond and on to Loughton Camp. We had been dawdling and the distance was mounting so a quick show of hands decided that we would not walk round Loughton Camp but would stay on Green Ride. We didn’t even detour to the Lost Pond but that is at its best later this month and in June.
Back across Epping New Road and to the visitor centre by 6 pm where the car owners looked slightly shocked as some very muddy boots and trousers (Fred!) spread their contents over the seats and carpets. A pleasant afternoon.
Brian Unwin, 1st May 2016
Rochford and the Roach Valley Way
On Sunday 10th April a group of eleven EFOG members made the most of a lovely sunny day on an 8 mile walk that started in the small market town of Rochford, so called after Sir Guy Rochefort who was Lord of the manor way back in 1257.
Having made our way through the tiny town centre and across a number of fields we were soon walking along the raised grassy riverbank path of the River Roach.
On our left side we could see in the distance the Saxon Tower of a church at Great Stambridge (which we visited later in the walk), and on the right side the mudflats of the peninsula of Bartonhall Creek which are a popular feasting ground for a number of migrating birds, not much action today but lovely to look at just the same.
We passed some very ancient Essex barns and then proceeded to negotiate two stiles to cross the land of some stables with several paddocks grazing some rather large horses - which we did very respectfully. Not a problem really, but they seem so big up close and you felt that you were intruding in their space.
From here we made our way along the road towards Stambridge, where we made a brief detour to see St Mary and All Saints Church which had the Saxon tower we had seen in the distance earlier on in the walk. We were hoping to go inside and see a renowned memorial stained glass window, placed in the church by the descendants of local resident John Winthrope who sailed to America in 1630 and became the first Governor of Boston.
Unfortunately the church was closed as is the case so often these days.
By now it was time for lunch and we quickly found The Royal Oak where we happily tucked in EFOG style to lunch and liquid refreshment.
Duly fortified, a further 2 miles or so took us across fields back to Rochford.
I think we were very lucky with the weather and although windy in places it was bright and sunny all the way.
Thanks to Eileen for organising a great walk.
Article by Val S., 10th April 2016
Photo by Brian U.
A circular walk in the Rochford area.
Eleven of us met at Rochford on Sunday 10th April 2016 to go on a walk arranged by Eileen. It was a sunny day but the wind bit into you and we were all wrapped up.
A walk through fields led us to the dyke on the River Roach. We followed the dyke, noticing scenes which would look beautiful in a photo album, perhaps in black and white, but were briefly noticed as we cowered from the wind. The tide was out and the usual detritus was visible on the river edges.
A turn to the left put the wind on our backs – much more comfortable – and we progressed on to the Royal Oak pub in Stambridge where we stopped for a bite and drink. The service was excellent despite the fact that they were fully booked for Sunday lunch. Most of us sat outside but some managed to blag a table inside.
Then on through more fields, including a couple occupied by horses that were quite inquisitive. Lynne was in her element here. Then on to an old church with a Saxon tower in Great Stambridge but it was closed so we occupied ourselves looking at the gravestones. Back down the road to the Cherry Tree pub for a warming drink and then on to our cars in Rochford.
Article and photo by Brian U., 10th April 2016
A Sunday stroll by the Lea
Seven of us met at Fishers Green car park on Sunday 3rd April to begin a walk organised and led by Jenny.
Almost immediately as we left the car park we were greeted by the sound of a chiffchaff, presumably recently arrived from Africa, followed by the more tuneful song of a blackcap – perhaps another long-distance arrival although maybe one that had decided to stay on after overwintering? Anyway, it was to distinct sounds of Spring that we began the walk.
Much of the walk to Broxbourne was along the Lea Navigation towpath, so we were treated to the traditional sounds of bicycle bells (or not) coming from behind, and sometimes accompanied by that well-known cry “bike” and sometimes “Oi – slow down”. The latter – it should be clear – was not aimed at us, but more usually by us at them.
At one point on our walk, we could not fail to see two craft moored to the bank. Most peculiar, they were, of orange colour and a somewhat unflattering shape which reminded me very much of that craft which was discovered at Hobbs Lane underground station. You'll doubtless remember that (or not)... the Central Line was being extended and the excavations at the station revealed what at first was thought to be an unexploded World War 11 device. Turned out – of course – to be a Martian spacecraft which over the millennia had unleashed all manner of psychological horrors on the local inhabitants (some of whom were – or had been - Neanderthals).
Well, to get back to the walk. We moved on from the spacecraft moored on the Lea and eventually reached Broxbourne where we stopped at a busy little cafe for refreshments and a bit of a laugh at some youths who hadn't worked out that if you both paddle on the same side of the boat you go round in circles – or bash into the bank, in this case. Their girl-friends in the other boat got the hang of it a lot quicker.
On the return journey we stopped at the spacecraft again and spoke to its owner. He wasn't a Martian at all, but simply a chap who'd bought a life-boat from an oil-rig and converted it for on board living, rather than space-travel or simply survival. That cleared THAT up.
So there we have it, a good six-mile walk (being three miles there and the equivalent back) Quite an easy pace where we stopped to look at things a few time and listen a couple, and a nice time was had by all.
It appears there is no imminent threat of an invasion by things that look like locusts - even aquatic ones let alone those that reside in pits - and Quatermass wasn't involved in any way.
Paul Ferris, 5th April 2016
Page 9 of 43