Cooper Rose

Last year I agreed to attend a works night out for the first time in years. I met up with my colleagues in the Cooper Rose in Sunderland, and we had the most fantastic night. I met some new staff who I’d not seen before so that was nice, and met some I hadn’t seen for a while.

The chat was good, the beer was flowing, and by about 10 pm my feet would not stay still, so I had to get up and dance. Now, I can’t dance, I probably look like a victim of some awful disease but….I LOVE dancing! And I dance to anything, be it popsicle mush, old house, rave or a nice ballad, I can dance to it. Mind you I only have 4 moves but I know how to mix and match them well 🙂

So, some time ago I agreed to go to the works meet tonight too, in the same venue. I’m back in the north east anyway seeing friends and family, so may as well catch up with my colleagues who I rarely see. I’ve even bought some new jeans. Only cos it was pay day yesterday 🙂  So have a lovely weekend all of you and I’m off to do something with my hair….

Trojan batteries update

Last August I got my new Trojan batteries, you might have read about it here. It’s coming toward the end of April now so I thought I’d give an update on them.

Trojan J185 H-AC monoblock 12v deep cycle battery
Trojan J185 H-AC monoblock 12v deep cycle battery

When first installed I was told it may take as many as 100 cycles for them to achieve max capacity. A cycle is where the battery is discharged then charged fully again. It’s possible that I am nowhere near my 100 cycles yet. I’ve had them about 9 months, that’s less than 40 weeks, and they will be recharged perhaps 3 times every 2 weeks. So very roughly they may have experienced 60 cycles so far.

At any rate what I can say is that all the other batteries I’ve had have started to deteriorate within weeks of being used. The Trojans don’t seem to have deteriorated at all in 9 months.

I did borrow a Smartgauge off a friend. This little device measures the voltage and current of the batteries and tries to gauge accurately how much ‘life’ is left in them. Life as measured in amp hours (ahrs). I found that the Smartgauge has not even a clue when the battery is fully charged, and inaccurately reports when it is discharged. So it’s now been disconnected. I’m glad I had the chance to borrow one as they cost about £160 new. The only truly reliable method of testing a battery’s state is to use a specific gravity or SG meter, or hydrometer as they’re also known as, about £3 from auto parts stores. I dream of owning an electronic one but they’re about £3,000!!

Anyway, in use, and regular checks with a hydrometer show that these batteries are performing flawlessly. Finally I’ve solved my battery problems and I am a very happy bunny indeed. 🙂

Every picture tells a story

When I write my blog I’m telling my story, but I’m also showing my story, and everyone has a love of pictures, which have supported story telling since before even languages were formed. The Rosetta stone is testament to this but also cave paintings by primitive humanids, some which are easily read,  hieroglyphics by ancient Egyptians and even the most beautifully artistic artworks in stained glass windows. All of these are ancient methods of telling stories to the extent we can go into most churches now and follow a simple story by the pictures offered.

The Bayeux Tapestry
A section of the Bayeux Tapestry

The Bayeux tapestry is a famous example of story telling through pictures, and if you ever visit Bayeux, you’ll see how simple it is to read the story by interpreting the pictures. The link given here shows how you can very quickly pick up the story. You’re not supposed to photograph the tapestry for some reason. Not even without flash, although that’s exactly what I did. I figured since their bloke came over here, killed Harold, made himself King and took our country, taking a photo of the their account of it wasn’t such a bad thing 🙂

The Sistine Chapel
The Sistine Chapel, Rome

Even in modern times most books have illustrations, and indeed the plethora of popular magazines on sale today sell themselves by their pictures, usually of celebrities, rather than by their editorial content. Some say there is a lack of morality and lack of education in people wanting such publications, however all newspapers sell themselves by using pictures, most in colour now, and there are prestigious awards for the top illustrators every year. In the art world pictures sell for scores of millions of £’s, and who hasn’t heard of the Mona Lisa? The painting has been discussed for centuries.
Perhaps just as well known are the frescos of the Sistine chapel, seen at left.

Therefore the moral argument for me is not about the use of photographs in magazines, but their content which is divisive.

As I am a very keen hobbyist photographer, and as I believe very much in the power of using pictures to enhance and support the stories I write on my blog, I was very disappointed when WordPress failed me and I couldn’t upload pictures to my posts anymore. 6 weeks of asking for help from the WordPress support forum didn’t help, but finally the techies from the company who host my site, Hosting Zoom, resolved the problem within 24 hours, despite it not really being their remit.
So now I am back to photo blogging and I am absolutely delighted to add some photos to this post 🙂

Ice age landscape

I was driving back down to the north east when I spotted a sing saying Ice Age Landscape. You know, one of those brown ones that indicates an item or area of interest. So I quickly turned off the road onto a narrow, single track road and followed it along  a valley until I came to a viewpoint. After parking I read an info board which said that this was Glen Roy, and was virtually unchanged since being formed by glaciers during our last ice age.

Glenroy - Ice Age Landscape
Glenroy – Ice Age Landscape

You can clearly see the parallel lines going around the valley walls, where the different levels of water had been when it was a lake, and the scouring effect the ice had as it washed slowly along the ground carving out the glen itself.

I’m not a frustrated geologist, but I find all this stuff fascinating and spent an afternoon in Glenroy just marveling at the landscape and how it had been formed.

 

Beach but no sea?

Loch Morlich beach
Loch Morlich beach

I think I’ve already mentioned the lovely beach at Loch Morlich in the Cairngorms, although it’s not a littoral one, the nearest sea is miles away. However this sandy beach is as good as most beaches you’ll find by the sea.

There’s some ancient Caledonian Pine trees along this stretch too so it’s very picturesque. That’s Cairngorm in the background, still covered in loads of snow.

Jack stalking ducks
Jack stalking ducks

Jack of course loves it because there’s ducks there, and one of his favourite  pastimes is chasing them, even though he doesn’t even come close to catching any.

You can see in the photo how unconcerned all the ducks are that he’s 2 feet from them hahah I think they all know him now and know he can’t fly!

 

Morlich beach
Morlich beach

It’s quite popular too even though for this time of year there isn’t that many people around.  Yet the weather has been fantastic. It’s rained some days, but there have been plenty like this one with blazing sunshine most of the day.

I think maybe it’s a bit of an undiscovered place. I was chatting to work colleagues about Glenmore Forest Park and no-one had heard of it.

Swamp monster

Jack playing at Swamp Monsters
Jack playing at Swamp Monsters

It was really warm today, so jack was chasing ducks more than usual. He decided to follow these two into the lake through the marsh at the shore. He was definitely game for it!

Odd that until he was two he wasn’t keen on water but he doesn’t care now. He often goes in to cool off, or as here, to chase ducks! Yet another gorgeous day in Glenmore Forest Park and we walked round Loch Morlich which takes about 3 hours if you stroll, play in the woods and chase ducks…

 

Glenmore Forest Park

One of the best forest parks, or parks of any type for that matter, Is Glenmore Forest Park in the Cairngorms. Cairngorm itself rises right out of the park, and it’s a wilderness and wonderness of trails and activities and trees and lochs and everything you could want in the outdoors. In the heart of the forest is Loch Morlich, seen below at dusk.

Loch Morlich
Loch Morlich

I’ve been here a couple of times over the years but forgotten just how good it was. Drive into Aviemore itself and you get the standard small town shops, with noisy silly cars driven by swaggering teens. It’s not the nicest place I know of and I only venture in to go to the shops for food then I come straight back out and into the glen.

I’ve spent may hours walking around the loch itself, it’s only about 3 miles around the shoreline, but there is plenty of fun to be had at the shoreline and in the forest. There are still some ancient Caledonian Pines by the north shore, a tangled twist of clearly ancient wood and yet on a sunny day you could easily by on a tropical island.

 

Loch MorlichThe shores are shallow and sandy in parts so it’s easy to wade in and swim, or simply paddle. My dog loves chasing ducks onto the loch: I think it’s juts an excuse to go swimming.

It was here beside the shores of Loch Morlich that the Heroes of Telemark trained. They were the Norwegians who eventually went back to destroy the plant where the Nazi’s were making heavy water, thereby ensuring that they weren’t the first to develop the hydrogen bomb. Can you imagine a world now if the Nazi’s had succeeded in that?

Nowadays it’s home to kayaking, fishing, cycling, snowboarding, camping, hiking and of course skiing. It became a major ski resort as the Heroes of Telemark and other who had trained there, enjoyed the skiing so much that they wanted to come back and continue.

Double rainbowAlmost all car parks are only £2 a day, some allow camping overnight, and there are a myriad trails to follow both on foot and on bikes.  I absolutely love this place so I’m staying for a few days despite the fact the weather is awful.

 

No gas

In fact Orkney has no autogas at all! No worries, despite the gauge saying it’s empty I’ve checked the tank using the only reliable method known: tap it gently with a screwdriver. You can tell by the tone where the gas level starts. I’ve got about a half a tank so more than enough.

Getting to Stromness was a bit smelly, the fields are full of slurry yuk. Still, the farmers have to do their jobs. The main street in Stromness is odd. It’s about 8 feet wide in parts, and is flagged rather than tarmacked. It’s very pretty but I will from now on avoid it in the camper!

Kirkwall is just a town, nothing else. It may have hidden gems, I didn’t spend a whole lot of time exploring. I passed the Italian Chapel today though so I want to go back and have a  look at that. It’s very peaceful here!

I’m back

I finally got the ferry back yesterday. It’s telling that I went down to St Margaret’s Hope office to book the ferry at 10 am, and stayed parked at the terminal until 4:50 when the ferry sailed.

Orkney island is nice enough, and the people seem friendly enough, but once I’d seen the peculiar main street in Stromness and took some photos by the harbour, there didn’t seem much to do there.

Stromness high street
Stromness high street

The main street is flagged rather than paved, and most of it’s length barely exceeds 8 feet. My camper is 7′ 6″ wide so it was slightly hairy getting through. And no before you ask, there were no signs warning me of the width.

The harbour is very busy and I stood for a while watching boats come in and out. I was amazed by how easy they made it seem, especially one large fishing boat called the Jean Elaine, who could have been parking a mini rather than a 50 foot boat.

Stromness ferry terminal
Stromness ferry terminal

I found  a nice lighthouse later, but that was after driving through the featureless, smelly farmland that is a feature of Orkney mainland. I’m sure someone will say “but they need to farm!” Quite. Ever since I entered Scotland in December at Dumfries I’ve been smelling the stink of slurry on fields. Oh wait, lemme check my shoes…

The lighthouse was lovely, and so was the Italian chapel, which was also interesting to read about.  After that, there just wasn’t anything else to take my fancy. You can eat out anywhere in the world so restaurants don’t do it for me, same with cafes and pubs. I’ve driven the length and breadth of Orkney and whilst it’s peaceful and friendly, it just holds no fascination for me. The lure of seeing whales was taken away when the lady in the Post Office told me she’d lived there 35 years and still not seen one.

Stromness harbour
Stromness harbour

The fare to the Shetland Islands was a staggering £232, which took it way beyond any trip I was likely to think of. So that’s what led me to return to the Scottish mainland. I’m now in Bonar Bridge, if only Orkney had scenery like this!

In conclusion, if you love peacefulness and can make your own fun, you will love Orkney. Lots of remote spots to camp too.

If you like climbing, hiking, ‘doing’ things, or have a dog that you want to let off the lead, forget it. And contrary to public opinion there are hardly any beaches with sand on and the few there are are tiny.

Ps: I had to drive all the way to Dornoch to get autogas for the cooker so bear in mind that between Skye and Durness, and between Dornoch and Dunnet head, that entire part of northern Scotland has NO autogas stations. I managed reasonably easily on the two tanks that I’d filled in Skye, but it’s worth bearing in mind if you use a lot of gas or only have one small bottle.

Orkney view

This is my last day in Orkney. I’m not enamoured of the place, but neither do I dislike it. I am totally ambivalent about it. Some people rave it to the eyeballs so here’s my take.

The island is farmland. That’s probably their main industry after tourism, although they still have a fish industry and I have no idea how big that is. However, farmland is farmland. There isn’t much to see except fields full of cattle sheep or grass. Large parts of it stink of slurry too which didn’t make me smile. 🙁

There is  craft trail, where you drive around the main island and pop into potters, weavers, painters and jewelry makers etc and see craft type industries. I don’t think these are traditional island crafts, just tourist ones, but I’m sure some people will find that a very interesting thing to do. It’s not my bag though thanks. There is also an island museum but it was shut when I went.

If you’re into history, it’s interesting to see the Churchill barriers. These were simply concrete causeways built between islands to block enemy sea transport through Scapa Flow. As you can see below they are simply concrete blocks with a road built on top.

Churchill barrier
Churchill barrier

Some of the concrete was used to make the Italian chapel which is probably the most interesting thing on Orkney and I am glad to have found it.

I found virtually no beaches, which disappointed me. Perhaps I didn’t know where to look, but I only found either tiny sand beaches, or rocky ones. I love my beaches and Orkney being an island I assumed it would be full of great, long sandy ones.

There are other things to see and do, but because of my negativity I didn’t really have the motivation to find them. I think there’s some ancient stones to view and an eagle centre, although as I was out of season I’m not sure how much will be open. I would not be averse to visiting again, in season, to find out what else is there, and to link it with a trip to the Shetlands. But I did check the ferry to the Shetlands and at £232 it was wayyyyy out of my pay packet.

So, booked on the ferry at 4:50 pm, heading for Glenmore forest park, one of my favourite places in Scotland.

 

The Italian Chapel, Orkney

I came across this on my way to Stromness and came back later when the sun was out. The story goes that during the second world war, there was a large prisoner of war camp on Orkney with many Italians.  Many of the Italians were put to work constructing the Churchill barriers, which were designed to restrict access to the islands.

Father Giacobazzi, the Italian camps priest, had approached the British asking for a place of worship. British Major T P Buckland, the commandant of the POW camp helped them achieve that by making available two Nissen huts.

The Italian Chapel
The Italian Chapel

The Italians joined the two huts together, lined them with plasterboard and constructed a portico around the front entrance using concrete left over from the barriers. It is very much like a church entrance when seen directly from the front.

 

The Italian chapel ceiling
The Italian chapel ceiling

They then painted inside almost after the fashion of the Sistine chapel in Rome. A font was made, and so the story goes, the soldier making it declined to be shipped back to mainland Britain ready for release, as he wanted to finish off the font.

It was not completed until after the end of the war, and was restored in the 1960s, with the help of one of the original Italian soldiers who’d helped build it. It was restored again in the 1990s and is now a popular tourist attraction, and a category A listed building. It’s also one of the most interesting things to visit on Orkney, best viewed on a sunny day.

Chancel and Altar of the Italian Chapel
Chancel and Altar of the Italian Chapel

I’m here!

After a mad rush I finally got the ferry and I’m now in Stromness. Ferry crossing was rough but not that bad, and I think I have some good photos. I may post one later if I have.

I believe Stromness holds the only LPG filling station in the Orkneys, I bloody hope so cos I am out of gas! No cooking, heating, not even a cuppa now.
I have a cunning plan though…

When I installed the bulk tanks, I kept the old hoses and fittings for normal Calor bottles. So although I have to pay an exorbitant £20 for a 6kg bottle, I’ll only need a max of 2 til I get back to Inverness. So all is not lost.

Later I’ll be taking a photo of my hairy fat arse. Calor, kiss it!

Orf to the Orkneys!!

Haven’t been posting much as I’ve been so busy on this Scotland tour. However, after work tomorrow I’m taking  a ferry to Kirkwall, in the Orkney islands! I’ve been wanting to do this for years so I’m quite excited.
I’ve even taken next week off work to enjoy it! Usually I never have a day off til November lol

I’m also going to explore the Shetlands whilst there, so look forward to some nice photos when I get back.

They say if you’re really lucky, you might get to spot a dolphin, or porpoise or even a whale! God I hope I’m lucky lol

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