Tuesday, 24 October 2017

A Saturday in Northumberland

Woefully short of both walking and holidays in 2017 I took the opportunity to meet up with some very old friends at Bamburgh on 1 October for a coastal walk Southwards to Boulmer.  I had forgotten how truly beautiful this part of the world but was rewarded with fine weather (mostly), some fine beers at pubs along the way and of course excellent company.



South of Seahouses

And on Sunday back at Edinburgh Airport a chance to see Mark Beaumont's bike (I think this is the Africa rahter than around the world one)

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Journey to Ardmore by John Ridgway; read 4 October 2017

For someone who, by his own admission, struggled to get O levels, Ridgway is a superb writer – even as early as 1971 when he wrote ‘Journey to Ardmore’.  In some ways, this is a book from a different age.  A time when a rugby centre was called a centre three quarter and a time when 2 ex paratroopers could set up and run an adventure school without formal qualifications or background checks.  All they needed was some cash to get going, hard work and actual experience in the tasks rather than tick box “competences”.   It was also a time that Ridgway could not feel comfortable in saying that he was adopted, a fact later to be acknowledged in “Floodtide” (itself still my favourite book although “Journey to Ardmore” is not a bad second).

The origin of this book lies in Ridgway’s failed attempt in the 1968 race to become the first man to sail alone non-stop round the world (see “The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst” ).  With a publisher having commissioned a book about this attempt (no doubt based upon his and Chay Blyth’s successful rowing of the Atlantic in 1966) but now without a story of the voyage to tell he decided to write this excellent autobiography telling of his early life, the finding of a croft at Ardmore in the far North West of Scotland, and the dream to settle there. 

After opening with the finding of an empty croft in Ardmore and his 1st attempt to find a way of living there. Newly married, having resigned his commission and taking a job in Kinlochbervie’s small fishing industry he found that his plans to live in the highlands were not sufficient to make ends meet.  By 1964 he was doing traffic surveys in London to avoid the dole.  Yet just a couple of years later he would be famous without being, by his own admission, a changed person. 

After this opening Ridgway goes back in time to cover his childhood, without mentioning that he was adopted – as I say above, 1971 was a different world to a modern reader. At Nautical College in Pangbourne Ridgway managed only 1 O level (History) 1st time around he would go onto get more but was clearly more interested in physical than cerebral activities -  though the quality of his writing in this book certainly belies this.  From Pangbourne a short stint in the Merchant Navy (1 trip to Capetown was enough to make him realise this was not the career for him) before joining the army as a soldier where he would apply for and gain a Regular Commission (considered easier to get than a National Service one) he would be the 1st officer to go directly to 3 Bttn the Parachute Regiment directly from Sandhurst.  His tenacity and ‘best loser’ label having been recognised whilst he was captain of boxing at RMA.  Always physical and adventurous, Ridgway led teams in the annual Devizes to Westminster canoe races (won, incidentally in 1962 by Paddy Ashdown) and tells of exciting and sometimes fraught training and racing in 2 man Kayaks.  When the regiment was slated for duty in Cyprus he and 4 others bought a yacht (English Rose 2) to sail there rather than go by RAF transport.  The journey ended in Cherbourg, scuppered not by a lack of sailing ability but by a crisis in the Middle East changing the deployment plans and by the boat turning out to be less seaworthy than expected. It was whilst flying in an RAF Transport that Ridgway fell for the Highlands and on discovering Ardmore  he would resign his commission to live permanently in the highlands.

Ridgway re-joined the Parachute Regiment in 1964 and, reunited with the Blyth who was one of the youngest Sgts in the regiment (who as a Lance Cpl Ridgway had tried to remove from the Battalion – not a great advert it turned out for Ridgway’s judgement of people).  Reading of Johnson and Hoare’s plans to row the Atlantic, the 2 set out to do the same thereby turning it into a race.  The rest is history and Sadly Johnson and Hoare died in their attempt whereas Ridgway and Blyth succeeded.  The whole story of that row is told in ‘A Fighting Chance’ but is précised very well here.  Here is told the aftermath of lecturing, on behalf of the army and the social whirl that fame brought, along with enough extra cash to fund the next adventure (and as it turned out just enough left over to make plans for the setting up of the John Ridgway adventure school at Ardmore).
In 1967 Ridgway passed selection for the SAS before I suspect trying the patience of his superiors in entering the 1968 round the world race.  Buying and fitting out English Rose IV , Ridgeway was the 1st of the competitors to set out, on 1 June 1968, but also the 1st to retire with the boat having been damaged in a collision with a Press boat at the start and with increasing loneliness and unease about is abilities to survive the Southern Ocean he would retire to Recife in Brazil.  It was at this point that he and his friend, and fellow SAS Officer Rod Liddon would workover the winter of 1968/9 to build the Adventure School, opening it in the summer of 1970 to youngsters and later to his Businessmen’s courses.

As with ‘Floodtide’ I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  Ridgway is obviously a self-reliant sort though he receives huge support from his Wife Marie Christine  (a woman to whom cooking fish pie for 50 on a single stove seems to be a normal thing to do) who is willing to follow and join in with her obsessive husband’s plans.  Chay Blyth and Rod Liddon also get due credit in this book as Ridgway acknowledges the need for teamwork in success but for me there are 2 big takeaways.  Firstly that persistence is as important as talent in achieving one’s goals.  Secondly to quote Ridgway directly ‘living means NOW not tomorrow or yesterday’

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Returning from Koge on Sunday Afternoon


As I am working in Denmark all summer on a short term contract, I have been unable to get out into the hills as I would have liked, especially as Scotland is having one of its warmest summers in living memory.  This year I had to pull out of the TGO challenge (hope to give it a go again next year) so my concept of outdoors fun has had to change to match circumstances.  

Denmark does not possess any wilderness, nevertheless it does have an excellent cycling network and culture plus plenty of history worth seeing.  So it was that on Sunday I took the Brompton down to Koge - which has Denmark's oldest house.  I was out all day stopping off for the odd ice cream and Coffee and pastry as well as replenishing my water supplies in the 25C heat.  I ended the day back in Copenhagen with a Beer in the picturesque Nyhavn

Copenhagen to Koge and Back - Photos

Nyhavn for a Beer after a long day

Woodhenge at Amager
 Crossing the Bridge en route back to Copenhagen

Approaching Ishoj

Koge Square
 Koge Museum
Arrival at Koge

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

No Place Like Home, Thank God: A 22,000 Mile Bicycle Ride Around Europe by Steven Primrose-Smith; read 19 August 2016 and some very wise words - see last paragraph

“… we're sold a lie. Work hard, save for your pension and reap your reward when you retire. You've earned it! But even if you reach retirement age – hardly a given – your body is unlikely to manage the things it could in its twenties, thirties and forties. We see advertisements for retirement plans with silver foxes and foxettes engaged in something mildly adventurous, perhaps trekking up a little hill in the Lake District and beaming radiantly at each other in pastel knitwear. Look, folks, we got there. We're having the time of our lives. Buy our plan. But the things you'd ideally do today if only you'd more time might not be possible decades down the line. One dodgy knee and any physical plans are buggered.” Writes Steven Primrose-Smith near the beginning of this wonderful book. 

After a near fatal brain haemorrhage (3 in fact), with high blood pressure and as a result of long-term hypertension with kidneys functioning at only 60%,  Steven Primrose-Smith decided that there was a better way to recovery than taking pills for the rest of his life – instead he would spend the next 3 summers cycling 22,000 miles visiting every capital city in Europe – including the ones that aren’t really capitals (Douglas IOM; Cardiff; Monaco etc).  At the same time he would do 3 OU degrees (and the OU network would be crucial in providing support on his travels) as well as in each country he visits try a food that he has never before tasted – the worst of which is very early on when in France he just about manages to hold down a ‘poo sausage’, other delicacies included instant donkey milk and even fried insects.  His primary objective is to confirm, or otherwise, that there is nowhere worse in Europe e than his home town of Blackburn.

The book is a delight to read as Stephen succeeds in his objectives (except for reaching Moscow – which he wisely decides isn’t worth dying for given the nature of Russia’s roads and the competence of her drivers).  The tales of his travels are well written and full of humour that had me laughing out loud – who for example would have known that the ‘Kunsthaus was an art gallery and not the Swiss parliament’ or that ‘Some lives seem to be defined by a single moment: Caesar's crossing of the Rubicon, Einstein's imagining of special relativity, Josef Fritzl's first visit to The Ideal Home Exhibition’.  These or just 2 of the vignettes that appealed to my particular sense of humour but there is plenty here for everyone.  This is a great travel book in which the bike is important – particularly when in the final year it seems to struggle to keep spokes from breaking, but the cycling is not the story here – it is the places and the people along with Primrose-Smith’s story-telling that stand out.

The book is also something else.  At the end Primrose-Smith realises that Blackburn isn’t that bad a place after all but that it is familiarity that breeds contempt. So instead of seeing this book as a travelogue it should also be used as an inspiration to get out there and do something yourself.  Surely Primrose-Smith  is right when he says “What I planned to do was the sanest thing ever. The nutty ones are those who say they'd love to do an adventure but never get around to it”.  And to prove that his OU Maths course didn’t go to waste his final words on probability are worth repeating:

As Primrose-Smith says in his epilogue:

“The chance of your winning the jackpot of the UK lottery is extremely low, 1 in 13,983,816 to be precise (or 49!/43!6! if you want the calculation). You'd consider yourself very fortunate indeed if you won but you've already defeated much longer odds than those. You won life. For the sake of round numbers later down the line, let's assume the average woman is fertile from age nineteen to forty and has two and a half children that make it to sexual maturity. With one egg per month there's only a one in a hundred chance that… any particular egg will grow up and have children of its own. Let's also assume … the average length of a human generation, is 33 years….We can now go back to any given year and work out the odds of your being here from that date. Let's choose the year 1600. Since that time you have had about twelve ancestors, each with a one in a hundred chance of being born, meaning that, given the situation in 1600, the likelihood of your existing was one in 10012 or, … a bit less likely than winning the lottery jackpot three times in a row. If you want to calculate the odds of your being here from the year 300 AD – the year of Bruce Forsyth's birth – my scientific calculator gives up, but the odds are massive, something like one in 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. And that was only 1,700 years ago. Modern humans are believed to have been around for 200,000 years and so your chance of being here since then is one in 1006000, which is one followed by 12,000 zeroes. Probability-wise that's roughly the same as winning the lottery jackpot every single Saturday from its launch in 1994 until the year 2027. But this is only a tiny fraction of the real calculation. You also have to consider all the evolution, with its random mutations, that had to occur exactly as it did over billions of years for humankind to come about in the first place, all the tectonic plate movements that isolated some populations and enabled others to be wiped out by predators, the geological make-up of the Earth and its composition as a result of condensing gases from the remnants of the early Solar System, but also the cloud from which the Solar System emerged and the earlier stars that burned their hydrogen and helium to form the heavier elements within that cloud that were eventually necessary to make you exactly as you are. The chance of your being here is so infinitesimally small as to be zero, or no chance whatsoever. You, me, any of us, shouldn't really be here at all. Make the most of it (my emphasis).

I loved this book!

Thursday, 16 March 2017



Having been brought up in Lincolnshire one would have thought that I would have visited Leicester – just 50 odd miles from my home town before I was 52 years old. In fact, I never had the need to go there until last October when my father was in the city’s hospital. I was then back just 2 months later for as my son was representing the Open University at a ‘Moot’ at Leicester University.

Richard's Tomb


I don’t know when I shall next be back but I did enjoy 2 short visits to the town. On the 1st I took the opportunity to visit the Cathedral where in 2015 Richard III was laid to rest, after the discovery of his body in a car park nearby in 2012. The Cathedral is actually rather small as it was in fact originally just a parish church and consecrated as a Cathedral only in 1927. Having said that it is a delightful building with very helpful volunteers willing to answer questions. The highlight of course is the tomb of the King – polished Swaledale Limestone containing many fossilised sea creatures - but there is also plenty of interest around the whole building including the shroud that covered the kings coffin during the re-interment. Nearby there is a visitor centre but I shall have to leave this for another visit – mum was with me and no way was she entertaining the ‘steep’ (actually very reasonable) entry fee.

Cover used at re-interment


Firstly, there was the graveyard, which has a visitor centre though as the site is well signposted this is superfluous for most visitors. I wandered around here for a while. One particularly interesting feature was the site of a church -now gone but where the memorial stones within had once been were place metal replacements that marked the outline of the church. The characters memorialised were a distinguished bunch indeed but I was particularly interested to see the memorial to Albert Walter Harris (1874-97) who must have been one of the 1st professional racing cyclists. 

Albert Walter Harris - Pro Cyclist Memorial


After wandering around the graveyard for some time I tramped over to the War Memorial behind the University and then to nearby streets which provided some very interesting building and ghost adverts from years gone by.

War Memorial - Surely Lutyens?


I would say that although Leicester is not really a tourist destination it is definitely worth stopping by for a look around there was certainly plenty of interest on my 2 visits.

Street Views