Green London Way Walk 9: Of Hustings and Huguenots
Five brave EFOGers walked this leg of the Green London Way on Saturday 25th July, risking the threatened rain – which almost got us towards the end.
The walk effectively straddled the River Wandle, with Wandsworth on one side of the valley and Wimbledon on the other. Bob Gilbert (the author of the book of walks we are using) warned us that this is the most dissected part of this route around London – and so it proved. 'Rescuing' the green paths and spaces came later and was more 'patchy' than in other places but it was still possible to find our way through the “towny” bits in a relatively green way.
The route's more industrial past (and present day legacies) was still evident – but often hidden behind thick greenery or buried beneath lakes which which were former gravel pits, now providing a home for flora and fauna. Much of this history, as is often the case, now only lives on in place names such as Garratt Lane. The election of the 'pretend' Mayor of Garret was a festival that in the 18th Century often attracted crowds in excess of 100,000 people to the place – bringing riot, mayhem, frolics and fun! Eventually banned by the political 'elite' in in 1797 – for fear of the French revolution crossing the Channel and all that. Spoilsports I call them.
Before then we visited the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery at Wandsworth. This was a poignant reminder of the tragedies history can bring – seen especially (for me) in the caribou carvings on the grave-stones of the soldiers from Newfoundland (647 men from that regiment of 1000 were killed in just half-an-hour at The Somme) and the Huguenot teardrops (shed because they had to leave their homes or face death because of their beliefs) on the Wandsworth coat of arms . This was seen on a rare monument dedicated to the area's civilian casualties of war (most also 'unknown'). Has the world changed at all since then? It sometimes feels not.
On a lighter theme - some of the more modern graves were fantastical – including one with a statue of the queen in comic pose – these touching, even when 'funny', memorials to loved ones remind us that love can demonstrate itself in very different ways.
I had done the 'trial' walk in April and was very pleasantly surprised by how much nicer it seemed in late June. Apart from anything else, the River Wandle was very 'lively' this time – and seemed bigger. It is hard to believe that as late as 1970 it had been declared a sewer. The grasses were more varied and longer, the trees bushier, greener – and there was a lot of to see. Summer flowers added colour. The Wandle Trail still needs working on – but it is clearly a work still being progressed by volunteer enthusiasts keen to see the 'greenness' grow.
Of course, the company of Amina, Lynne, Fozi and Fred also made my walk 'for real' more convivial than way back in April - but don't tell Robbie I said that.
I didn't get to tell the gang about the shenanigans and bad luck of the Spencer and Churchill families – that was when the rain literally stopped the cricket game taking part in a park towards the end of the walk – and sent us scurrying under the trees for shelter. The prospect of tea and cakes before our journey home somehow seemed more important at that point. So we took advantage of a lull in the rain to sup and munch ...... before our journey home from Wimbledon Station – where the next Green London Way Walk starts – on Saturday August 6th. Where to next? I'll tell you later! Thanks gang.
Pam, 27th June 2016
EFOG trip to Rhyl, North Wales
This was an organised holiday called Great Little Train Journeys of Wales, with a company called David Urquhart. It consisted of a coach journey to the Westminster Hotel in Rhyl, and included two steam-train journeys whilst we were there. The coach was comfortable, and was equipped with hot and cold drink facilities - at least when we were stopped.
The hotel was well placed on the promenade, overlooking the sea and conveniently situated for early morning and evening walks by the group. The hotel fared well, with good service, en suite bedrooms, 3 course breakfasts and dinners, and a bar. Lounge entertainment was fun, with the first night being a comedian/vocalist, rendering popular UK/United States and mostly 1960's hits. The second night there was a keyboard player as well as a vocalist, delivering 60s,70s and 80s hits. Both entertainments encouraged singing, dancing, hand jiving and much laughter. Entertainment had been dropped on the third night due to a certain Welsh football match! Fortunately a bottle of wine, nibbles and table games had come with us to enjoy in our room, with a deal of hilarity, until 11pm.
Following a before-breakfast walk that some of us EFOGers did and then breakfast, our first full-day trip started at 9.30am. The destination was Porthmadog Harbour Station. Several shipyards were built on the quayside in the 1870's, and these were to bring prosperity to the little town. It was estimated that over a thousand vessels used the harbour in any one year, and at its peak in 1873 over 116,000 tons of Blaenau slate left the harbour to be carried to all parts of the world. The present town is not yet 200 years old but stands commemoratively to William Madocks, born in 1773, who envisaged the reclamation of marshland which made this possible.
The station – which was originally opened to passengers in 1805 – has undergone the recent construction of a second platform which makes it possible for Welsh Highland Railway and Ffestiniog Railway trains to be in the station at the same time. We boarded a Ffestiniog train in an observation carriage with comfortable chairs for our 13 mile journey, with panoramic views as the line twist and turns, passing close to remote cottages, waterfalls, beautiful woodland, splendid views across the valleys and the sites of an industrial nature linked to Blaenau Ffestiniog.
Our coach awaited us at Blaenau Ffestiniog Station for our onward journey through the stunning Snowdonia National Park to Betws-y-Coed. The town is built almost entirely of stone quarried from the Hafod Las and Rhiwddolion slate quarries. A shortish break allowed an hour or so for sight-seeing. Some of us went to the artists' colony and the old railway station, which included carriages converted to partisan businesses and a museum as well as a small train journey into woodland. Others sampled some Welsh cooking, with warm bara brith and a Welsh brew, and some slate souvenirs. There was not enough time for the others to walk back the 2 miles to Swallow Falls, but they reached the Pont-y-Pair bridge (Bridge of the Cauldron), built in 1468 and straddling the rapids of the river Llugwy.
Our second full day excursion - following a walk before breakfast - started at 9.30 am. We were taken to the Llanberis, in the beautiful Snowdonia National Park, through breathtaking and inspiring scenery. The steam train journey on the Llanberis Lake Railway fell short of expectation as it only goes along one side of the lake, then stops and returns the same way. It is not as 'grand' as the previous day's train. However, we were able to visit the interesting slate museum near to Elidir - the 'Electric Mountain'.
Our last day was fancy-free travel. Four of us took a train to Bangor, where on arrival we walked into the town for a coffee break and sight-seeing. We then went to the bus stop to catch the ONLY, hourly-timed No.85 bus going to the Electric Mountain – the Dinorwig Power Station. Despite our obvious behaviour in trying to attract the bus...it sailed on by. Thankfully, we had picked up a local cab card and our very amiable driver drove us to and returned us from the power station – a one hour journey. A 70 metre long station building is situated on the west shore of Tan-y-Grisiau, deep into Elidir Mountain. It is constructed to a depth of 35 metres to accommodate massive generating and pumping units. 142,000 tonnes of rock were excavated to build the power station, which is designed with four underground levels: the generator/motor floor, the turbine floor, the pump floor and the pump basement. One third of the complex is above ground and the rest is below ground. We were ferried around this extraordinary labyrinth of shafts, tunnels and pipe lines by a a pre- booked mini bus with a guide, experiencing high security throughout. We had sat eating our lunch in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, within the Eryri Special Area of Conservation and adjacent to Llyn Padarn Site of Special Scientific Interest. It was hard to believe what was beneath us on this UK fault line. Since being built, an ongoing environmental programme has ensured that the power station blends sympathetically with its landscape. This remarkable hydro-electric scheme is a miracle of engineering and a testament to human skill and ingenuity, and we were so pleased to have experienced it.
The weather during our stay in North Wales was a mix of lightening, downpours and beautiful blue sunny skies - but was not cold.....normal!
Jacky, 22nd June 2016
Earth, Fire, Water, Trains and Rhyl
Thanks to Jacky for organising a short holiday to North Wales for seven EFOG members and a friend. This was from Monday 13th to Friday 17th of June.
Seven of us met at Ilford on Monday morning (Fozi joined us later) to board a David Urquhart coach for a holiday entitled “Great Little Train Journeys of Wales”. It's a good start, to begin such a journey in a coach, but we did need to get to Wales. To Rhyl, actually – on the North Wales coast and perhaps favoured by people from the NW of England as Southend is by those (us?) from the SE.
First impressions of Rhyl were – at least for me – not the most favourable, but then I had an idea what to expect from passing by a few times (by train and bus) and the expressions of friends-who-knew-it when I'd said where I was going. The hotel, at which we arrived about 4.30, was fine though – and my room had a sea view. At least, it looked directly across the promenade towards the sea, and the sea was definitely there, although a small bus-station and sea-front complex slightly hindered the view of the beach and crashing waves. It was OK, though – and I am not complaining.
Our first GLTJ of Wales was preceded next day by a visit to a station by means of our coach. That station is the well-known one at Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch which if I have to repeat it I shall call Llanfair PG like what the locals do. In fact, it wasn't really a visit to the station or even the village but more to a Welsh version of a Scotch Wool shop – the type that sells everything a proper coach-tourist needs. Our photo opportunity by the station sign got missed because of importance of shopping and beginning of downpour. Also lack of camera angle.
It was good to arrive at Porthmadog Station and – for me – to see that Welsh Highland Railway trains had finally made it through to the same station as the more famous Ffestiniog Railway. Now there is a Platform 2 as well as a Platform 1 and one is able to change trains to enable a rail route all the way from Caernarfon to Blaenau Ffestiniog. The Welsh Highland train left the station as we waited to board the Ffestiniog train, and the platforms during the time they were both in were nearly as busy as Stratford.
Jacky had paid a bit extra for our seats, which were in the rear observation car – almost a compartment to ourselves. It's a lovely journey from Porthmadog, first crossing the estuary of the Afon Glaslyn by means of the cob built in the early 18th century, and which also carries a road. The route winds up past houses, through trees, across viaducts, through cuttings and tunnels – becoming higher and higher as it travels into the mountains around Blaenau Ffestiniog where the slate was quarried which gave need for the narrow-gauge railway.
We boarded the coach at Blaenau, to the smell of cannabis which the driver explains is always present nowadays with the decline of the slate industry or any other form of employment save – mainly – tourism.
Somewhat after passing the market town of Llanrwst, with its stone circle, pretty bridge and market square large enough for three stalls, we were forced to a stop. Perhaps because of the weather conditions - which were showery if not stormy – at first the column ahead looked like the beginnings of a tornado. It's a shame it wasn't really, because then we could have included that in the holiday. But then we'd have missed out fire, because the terrific column ahead was the smoke from a burning camper van. The somewhat narrow road was blocked in both directions, and the coach had no chance of reversing nor turning, so we sat there for about an hour whilst the fire was dealt with. There was little left of the vehicle as we passed.
So – fire.
That evening we had for our evening hotel entertainment a really good singer who treated us to a non-stop performance of mostly popular songs from the 60s – which not surprisingly almost everyone staying at the hotel was quite familiar with. I waited for a convenient between-songs moment to hurriedly leave the hotel and reach the beach as I could see the beginnings of a beautiful sunset. Apparently, people in nearby Llandudno were lining the prom with their cameras and phones to experience the event, but in Rhyl – which doesn't quite have the class of Llandudno, there was only me.
The following day we were taken to Llanberis, at the foot of Snowdon, to travel on the Llanberis Lake Railway. This is an even narrower narrow-gauge railway, and doesn't have the variety nor length of the previous day. It was mostly a nice sunny day, though, and a visit to the slate museum after the train journey was a worthwhile experience. The coach took us afterwards through the Llanberis Pass and on to Betws-y-Coed where our group split up to take a variety of strolls and shop-visits.
That evening, after dinner and part-way through the entertainment - which was 60s again but louder – Jinan and I went out onto the promenade to experience the sunset. We watched it, but it didn't do much – so we contented ourselves with taking photo-shoot photos of Jinan-by-the-sea in her new jump-suit.
The following day was a train-free day – or at least an organised-train-trip-train-free-day. There was a previous-evening discussion on possibilities and alternatives, and a lot of swaying between one or another. The final arrangement was that some – Jacky, Jinan, Helen and Fozi went to the “Electric Mountain” at Llanberis, Eleanor and Marilyn went to Bangor to meet friends, and Fred and I went to Llandudno to do the town, the promenade the pier and the Great Orme. Doing the town is a bit of an exaggeration, as it consisted of walking through part of it from the railway station (not the train station) to the promenade, where we promenaded along that and the pier, and then proceeded to ascend the Great Orme. The day was beautiful. Llandudno is a lovely town – known as the "Queen of the Welsh Resorts" - with elegant Victorian buildings and set in a beautiful bay. The sky was mostly blue, people were strolling in perfect sunshine along the prom and the Grade 11 listed pier, and lazing about in Happy Valley – the gardens on the slopes of the Great Orme.
We walked through Happy Valley, and upwards with a few seat-stops on the way to enjoy the views and the sun, to reach the artificial ski-slope and toboggan run. That latter took me back to a previous EFOG stay in Llandudno, in 2006 (See Here) when most of us had a toboggan run. Above that, the way became more open with numerous rough tracks across the limestone country that comprises the headland. Sheep graze across it, as well as Kashmir goats though we didn't see any of those, but there were many butterflies and day-flying moths. In fact, the butterflies were present in numbers that it is uncommon to see nowadays, including rare butterflies and ub-species that are only found here. There were also choughs up there – a very uncommon species of crow – as well as other moorland birds.
We walked alongside the Great Orme Tramway for a while, and watched two of the vintage trams pass each other at a loop, then eventually reached the summit complex where we had a cup of tea.
We had an opportunity to return via the tramway, but decided that as it was such a fine day we would walk down using a different route. That route was steep, and indeterminate in places, with some hairy bits. It was also hot, and when we did reach the safety of a paved path we sat down to recover overlooking the town, with Llandudno's two bays to either side.
We reached the railway station after our 5 mile walk (and 600ft ascent) with two minutes to spare to board the train, and had a quick run through to Llandudno Junction with plenty of time to get back for our meal. At the junction we then sat in the train for over an hour as the line ahead was flooded and it was quite possible that we might be returning – eventually – to Rhyl in a taxi provided by the railway company. The flooding – a flash-flood somewhere in Flint-shire – receded enough that the trains could move again, we got a free drink for our imposed wait, and got back to the Westminster Hotel with minutes to spare before dinner.
So – fire and water.
After everybody had returned and eaten - and instead of laid-on entertainment - we had a final evening get-together in one of our rooms, where we drank wine, ate nibbles and played some question-and-answer games Jacky had brought along. Thus we got to bed severely late for an early morning start. Even so, in the morning – after we had seen our luggage put onto the coach and before breakfast – a few of us went for a quick walk along the sea-front. The journey home was uneventful; even as we got closer to London the roads were not too busy considering it was a Friday, and we reached our first dropping-off point at Stratford in good time. Some of our party left there to catch the Central Line, I decided not too because Stratford station can be so crowded. The coach had an easy journey to Manor Park Broadway – where if I'd been allowed I'd have jumped coach and walked home. But from the Broadway to Ilford was just a solid mass of traffic. It was pointless returning from Ilford as I'd planned on the W19 to the end of my road, as the road was bad in both directions.
The problem was a temporary traffic light system due to a hole in the road. Hence the 'earth' aspect of the holiday's hold-ups. But I got home OK, by the train from Ilford to Manor Park, and I was able to narrate the very last part of my holiday to the TFL Questionnaire-man that has just visited asking about my experiences with travelling in London either yesterday(Friday) or the day before.
Apart from early-morning strolls before breakfast that some of us took, and Fred and my Great Orme adventure (5 miles), we didn't do much walking. However, I think maybe a good time was had by all, and we went on some trains. Thanks, Jacky.
Paul Ferris, 18th June 2016
Jacky, Eleanor, Fozi, Fred, Helen, Jinan, Marilyn, Paul
Haslemere and Black Down
The late May Bank Holiday weekend, and on Saturday 28th six EFOG members met at Waterloo Station for a walk, organised by Lynne, from Haslemere.
We crossed the road outside of Haslemere Station and headed up Longdene Road, turning off after a quarter mile or so onto our first public footpath and heading west along the 500ft contour line. I mention the altitude as I have already used the word “up” once. However, we did drop slightly down as we crossed first of all the A287 and then almost immediately a small stream which is one of the sources of the River Wey. A house at the end of the street was called “Weyside”.
We left the outskirts of Haslemere at Camelsdale by means of an uphill footpath leading into Marley Combe and then onto Marley Common. We saw no camels, but there were Belted Galloway cattle roaming around – a sure sign of National Trust property. The common gave us our first taste of the heathland that occurs in these parts – acidic soil with gorse, heather, bilberry and pine trees.
Leaving the common, we strayed into a residential area called Whitehanger by mistake, then retraced slightly to continue upwards to about 700ft through woodlands, then a steep descent down a sunken lane into Fernhurst, which is at about 300ft. The idea of all these heights ASL is that it was quite a hilly walk, and also quite a warm walk as we had a nice sunny day to enjoy.
When there are hills and sunshine and you are walking, then refreshments are sometimes in order, and in this case refreshment was to be found in the pub at Fernhurst. Fozi left us at this point, to catch a bus back to Haslemere Station. Although this was to be our half-way stop, it is in fact just 3.5 miles from the station, so doesn't quite count as halfway.
We discussed options for the rest of the walk, and decided that our objective would be two significant points on Black Down, which is the highest hill in the South Downs National Park. It might be pointed out here that Black Down isn't really on the South Downs, rather is in the Weald, but the park includes it, so that's good. We continued our walk by taking the footpath that leads behind the pub, heading now east rather that south as we had been trending. Soon there were a series of earth-steps down, a bridge across a stream, then earth steps up, then – entering thickening woodland – a footpath that also served as a stream that led up and more up. There are lots of springs in this area, source I believe of some quite major Sussex rivers – for we'd left Surrey somewhere and were now in Sussex. The stream deposited us into a narrow lane, with a small group of houses, and somehow we mis-judged the footpath and walked through someone's garden to exit into a field by means of the gate at the end.
There was nobody to apologise to, and this still looked nearly right for where we wanted to go, for now Black Down was beginning to loom ahead. There was a mown strip at the edge of the field – which looked as though it may be for hay because it was grass and flowers rather than crops – but we realised we were heading to far S.E, and our woodland footpath must be to the north. We headed north up the edge of the field, came into the woods, and had one or two discussions as to which way we should go to regain the public footpath. An O.S. Map, a traditional compass and a smartphone GPS-fix combined with a couple of heads, and we regained the path. Or rather we regained the stream. It is said that there are no wild places left in Britain – save perhaps the tops of such ranges as the Cairngorms and some coastal areas such as the Wash. However, I disagree, for there were gullies, combes and valleys in these woods that quite possibly still harboured wolves let alone badgers and wild boar.
At Reeth we encountered human habitation again, and narrow Fernden Lane (600ft) took us shortly to a National Trust sign indication Black Down. The path onto Black Down was steep, but not a stream, so after a couple of pauses we came to a glorious viewpoint with a useful bench, to sit and look south, with the South Downs cutting off the view of the sea at Bognor Regis. Just a little above that seat was the wonderfully-named 'Temple of the Winds', a high-point (830ft) with views in almost all directions. We were on Black Down.
The long top of Black Down is a Greensand heath, like Marley Common but grander, and with some rare wildlife inhabitants such as nightjar, Dartford warbler, woodlark and all three British snake species. There are pine trees, birches, whitebeam, and – flowering – rowan trees. The soil is sandy and the views are glorious.
We walked north along part of a route called the Serpent Trail, for a good way keeping above 800ft, and then began our descent NW towards Valewood House and then Haslemere. It was a long descent, although gentle, and after a while the soil became less acid and the character of the trees and plants became more familiar. As we dropped down towards a stream-valley, with nearby roads leading into Haslemere, we became aware that the path was trending us in a different direction than we'd intended. A consultation with a dog-walker – the dog of whom wanted to play with my walking-stick – had us re-route yet again, and entailed slightly more road-walking into Haslemere, but along pleasant-enough roads. And just before we left the field at the foot of Black Down we passed through a meadow that was wonderfully endowed with orchids.
Our total mileage to and from Hindhead station was 9 miles, and our total ascent and descent was 1575 feet. It was a lovely walk, on a dry and sunny day. Having been a few weeks ago with EFOG members to the Norfolk Broads, and a couple of weeks ago to the Isle of Arran, the group is maintaining its ability to allow me and other members to experience lots of different aspects of the British countryside, and further afield.
Thanks to Lynne for suggesting the route and leading us, and to Fozi, Fred, Ken, Fritz and Berutta for the company.
Paul Ferris, 29th May 2016
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