Tuesday 25 March 2008

Walking the Fife Coast

Last week, we took a few days off and walked the 90-odd miles of the Fife coastal path from Dundee. It is a good walk - with only a few dull sections, especially around Methil - but mainly low seacliffs, sandy beaches, fossils and interesting rock formations, castles, postcard-pretty fishing villages in crow-stepped, white-painted Fife vernacular, and (for us) friendly people and weather. Nothing spectacular or hairy-chested, but a fine few days out of the office getting the wind in our hair and sea air in our nostrils.

Did I say nothing spectacular? The Fife coast does have one of the best kept secrets in Scotland, the Elie chain walk - although you have to divert from the coastal path, which keeps to the clifftop, to find it...

St Andrews and The Maiden from the Fife Coastal Path:

Saturday 15 March 2008

The Easiest Munro

The guidebooks say that the easiest of all the Munros is the Cairnwell. The road at the base of the hill rises to 665m at the Glenshee ski station, which makes the ascent to the Cairnwell less than 300m. But in my opinion, Cairnwell's neighbour, Carn Aosda, is even easier. It has a track all the way to the top, and is marginally lower. It also has an uninterrupted view north to the Cairngorms. Yesterday it was sunny and snowy and I was in the area, so I decided to pop up, feel the snow crunching underfoot, get some fresh air, and enjoy the views.

The Cairnwell and Glenshee ski slopes:

Being a week day, there were only two skiers on the whole hillside - the slopes were covered instead in grouse, ptarmigan, and mountain hare, whose fur turns white in winter. There is one in the picture below - I didn't see him until I'd taken the picture. Can you?

Snowy landscape with hare from Carn Aosda:

Quite a contrast with the daffodils, skylarks, peewit, and toads spawning further down the glen. Spring has come.

Thursday 13 March 2008

Caledonia Road Church

Now that it looks like Glasgow's tower blocks are being demolished at the rate of one per month, I thought I'd stop whilst passing through the city to see one of its more intriguing skylines before it disappears for good.

This is the derelict Caledonia Road Church - one of 'Greek' Thomson's ecclesiastical masterpieces, sadly destroyed by fire with just the shell remaining. Surrounded by tower blocks, wasteland, arterial roads and new medium-density housing, this area still has considerable potential for improvement. On a chilly spring day of driving rain and hail interspersed with bursts of glorious sunshine, I was glad to pause my journey for a few minutes to take these photos.

Caledonia Road Church:

Tuesday 11 March 2008

The Orkney Inter-island Air Service

The only place in Scotland with a cheap, frequent air bus service is Orkney. The outlying islands of North Ronaldsay, Sanday, Stronsay, Westray, Papa Westray, Eday, (and Britain!), are connected to Kirkwall by Loganair's fleet of tiny but sturdy planes. For these communities, the plane provides a useful alternative to the ferry, increasing the choice of timetable and, especially for the furthest flung islands, making a trip to Kirkwall a fairly quick and simple process. There is no doubt the inter island air service helps keep people on these islands.

It also attracts tourists to them: jumping on and off an island is not the best way to see one, but one flight in particular must be experienced - that between Westray and Papa Westray. At 2 minutes (shorter with a following wind), it is the shortest scheduled flight in the world. On the way out you can see seals, reefs, sandbanks, the hills and fields of Orkney, and maybe have a chat with the pilot.

And Kirkwall airport is the nicest I've ever visited - the airports of Barra and Papa Westray are mere huts, staffed part-time only when a plane is due, but Kirkwall is a proper little airport with a destination board, a check in desk, an x-ray machine, and a shop. Heathrow it isn't - and that's a good thing! A man on Rousay once told me he could leave his croft, get the ferry to the mainland, the bus to the airport, and be landing in London two hours after leaving his front door. The key to this is Orkney's integrated public transport and small, friendly airport.

If, like me, you spent a childhood fascinated by aeroplanes, you will love Orkney's inter island air service, and a flight to one of the islands will be a must-do. You can read more about the airport here.

An ayre from the Papa Westray plane:

Wednesday 5 March 2008

Poem: The Impossible City

This poem was inspired by Momus' tribute to MC Escher, Mr Don and Mr George, the Hajj, Dark City, The City of Literature, and the fact that it is impossible to go anywhere in Edinburgh without going uphill at some point.

the impossible city
always uphill
even downhill

I walk up and down, up and down through
kaleidescopes of grey stone closes of
the shifting patterns in this dark dark city of
Edinburgh, the impossible city
always uphill
even downhill

on the bicycle I pedal hard
over cobblestones without a bearing
in a straight line down folded round on itself in
Edinburgh, the impossible city
always uphill
even downhill

Meeting friends in their two-storey flat
I walk down and down the stair and back up
look six stories in this strange strange flat in
Edinburgh, the impossible city
always uphill
even downhill

When Mr Don meets Mr George in
the cafe at the bottom of the sea
in Edinburgh Castle;

the whirling starts round this black black rock
at the centre of every word that's written in
Edinburgh, the impossible city
always uphill
even downhill

From mediaeval black
to classical grey
the lines of Reekie twist and sway
and Edina dark, whispers to me
I won't be known by your geometry
Oh Edinburgh, impossible city
always uphill
even downhill