Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Mourne Wall Challenge: Bested by a Wall

I was excited at undertaking and defeating the Mourne Wall Challenge; unfortunately, the weather had other ideas. It was my second day in Northern Ireland and the sun had barely dawned when I beaved my way out of tent. Heavy rain, high winds, limited visibility set me up for a real test of character. I loaded myself up with all my wet weather gear and set off. My camera suffered water damage after 5 minutes and I met three other intrepid adventures all who had turned back on the national park and strongly advised I do the same (the phrase idiot came up a lot). 
My first view of the wall. Admittedly, the weather also gave me lots of warnings not to partake this particular adventure which I dutifully ignored!
I alternated sides of the wall to best protect myself from wind as well as walking on the wall of the ground became to marshy. I soon learnt that slippery/greasy grass had a hidden bonus, and it was much easier to slide down the slopes on my bum then actually run the downhills. Admittedly, I probably slid through a load of sheep poo, but the rain washed that right off. My brief meal breaks were spent hunkering down in the wall corners for the best protection from the elements. All in all, the challenge, despite the exteme conditions, seemed achievable. I got to the top if Slieve Donard, traipsed through Silent Valley, and clambered through forest. 
Silent Valley was surprisingly quiet.
Then I hit the river. I do not know what it is called, and I cannot remember exactly where it was, but it seemed as though all the rain was collecting in one place and been forced down the one waterway. Ohhh, I tried crossing. I tried crossing four times; yet four times I was nearly washed away like president-masked bank robber on a surfboard. It was here that I had to concede defeat, and with a heavy, waterlogged heart I trudged to the nearest service station and called for a taxi. He also thought I was an idiot.

The reservoir at Silent Valley. From my expereince this area was in no need of conserving water.
I do not have many photos. The rain destroyed my camera as shown by the fuzzy photo from the start of the trek. It randomly started working again in Silent Valley (which was remarkably silent and free of bad weather!) but ceased functioning once I had returned to camp. And, to add a little bit of stinging salt to my open wound, I lost my pocket watch while trying to cross the river. Ultimartely is was this that sent me home. Without a watch to keep track of the time, I did not feel confident completeing the run/trek.There was a vast chunk of trek which was a bit too far from civilisation that I did not want to get stuck in come sun down, and my watch was the only methof I had of keeping time and ensuring I was not out after dark.
The night day before my challenge looking up at the mountains; eerily calm and dry. Oh, how that was to change.

Summer Holiday: Northern Ireland

So, in the summer of 2015 I went on my first European motorcyle tour. My recently purchased Bandit was loaded up and one Friday evening in July I slogged through a deluge that is the archetype of British weather and the jammed motorways which is quintessential to any British holiday to catch a ferry from Liverpool to Belfast (kinda hoping that the ferry wasn't made in Belfast if you know what i mean), and thus my adventure began...
Another adventurer I met in my hostel in Derry.
Now, if there is anything I leant from this little jaunt across the Irish sea is that law-maker Murphy was, indeed, right on the nose with his adage about fortunes and timings and that the stereotypical British climate is not really sympathetic to the poor motorcyclist. Especially when a tiny tent is one's evenings abode.

Baiky in Belfast at the Titanic Museum.
You see, even though I carefully planned my trip for the height of summer I seemed to have hit upon a, well, let's call it a wetspell. I had even carefully checked historical weather reports for added security but not even this could save me from Murphy's pervasive law.

A fine sunnt day! This was the first day and the last I saw of the sun.
The first day dawned delightfully. I puttered off the ferry into Belfast and cruised along the coast of of Ards peninsula through Comber and their titanic memorials, past Donaghadee and a left-of-centre kids festival, and across to the monastic ruins of Mahee Island.

Snake charming in Donaghadee.
The Portaferry ferry ferried me across Strangford Lough and I followed the Antrim Coast road towards Newcastle and the Morne Mountains for my first night camping. Yes, it was truly delighful. I set up my tent and prepared for my next day, the Mourne Wall Challenge; 12 hours to follow the 22 mile loop of the Mourne Wall. It was cold, it was wet, it was incredibly fun, but ultimately I was defeated by the weather gods - perhaps this is a short story for another time...
Just a tittle in of rain in Ireland!
I briefly pottered into Republic of Ireland to visit the Hill of Tara (and by pottered I mean raced 100 kms through driving rain), the seat of the High King of Ireland. It was a landmark missed on my previous vist to Ireland, Following this I spent a couple days riding up to Derry by circling Lower Lough Erne and visiting for St Patricks Cathedral in Amargh and St Patricks Cathedral in Amargh. Nope that's not a typo and yes there are two, about a half mile from each other. I am sure purists would tell you things like one is catholic and one is anglican, but all I can say is that as an outsider this is hilarious.
St Patricks Cathedral.
The hilarity, of course, tapers pretty quickly once I got to Derry and Belfast and began to understand the significance of religious conflict in the area (which I know was not between Anglicans and Catholics but is representative of the segregration caused through religious beliefs can fortify political conflict). 
As typified by the Bloody Sunday memorial in Derry.
I also took the challenge of sussing out St Paticks Chair and St Patricks Well, conveneintly located next to each other in Altadeven Wood, but still not particularly easy to find.
Baiky sitting in St Patrick's Chair, not too sure of the detour and hunt through the forest was worth it...
I arrived in Derry and the weather had started to improve. Derry; it was, by far, my favourite part of the trip (although the Chair and Well were pretty hard to beat), but it was here that I finally began to understand the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
The Peace Bridge in Derry; some rude tourist told the locals just to huild a bridge to get over it...so they did!
I then spent a couple of days following the Causeway Coast stopping off at places like the Giant's Causeway, Musseden Temple, and the Old Bushmill's Brewery (I broke my free sample taster in my bag; tears were shed but my clothes now had a hint of honey whiskey). 
The Musseden Temple as seen from the coast.
It was a spectacular ride, but I admittedly found the Giant's Causeway disappointing. I then wandered off the beaten path to visit the Dunlop memorial and the Dark Hedges in Ballymoney, ran around the Glens of Atrim, and strolled through Cushendun Caves. 
The Joey Dunlop Memorial in Balleymoney.
All in time to arrive in Belfast just as the heavens once again opened up, just to remind that I was in Ireland, and if I was not wet, then clearly I was not having fun.
The Musseden temple from cliff. 
I think after Derry, the impact of the conflict in Belfast did not have the same impact factor. I spent half a day in a black cab tour, which was excellent, and we spent quite a bit of time visiting significant murals and the Peace Wall as well as looking at other ways in which the population have chosen to remember the conflict. 
The Peace Wall in Belfast.
I also managed to find the time to drop by the Titanic musem, Donegall Quay, City Hall, and go on an organised bar crawl, which, in tru Gatt fashion turned out to be much much more, as all the other participants were having a going away party for a mate of theirs who was moving toooooooo......Australia. I didn't want to, but felt obliged to honor the Irish tradition of getting outrageously drunk.
Baiky sneking my whiskey at Bushmill's.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Edinburgh Fringe Festival

I arrived in Edinburgh late on a Thursday evening and so I found the closest bar that did 2 meals for

£10 (that's a thing in the UK) and proceeded to replace a truckload of lost calories through hotdogs and burgers. This was supplemented with enough pints to get me beyond tipsy before retiring hurt (but not out) to bed ready for a long weekend of Edinburgh!
I was super glad to see this sign!
Now before we get started I want to make one thing abundantly clear - I have travelled to many places on this fair planet and Edinburgh is my favourite city. Granted, I was there in summer and not winter which I reckon would have a significant impact my outlook but I loved all of it.

Baiky, straight to the grog of course.
Now, Edinburgh was not just a favourite place for me but also for philosophers, artists, and authors alike. JK Rowling found insipration for Harry Potter and wrote her early books there and philosopher David Hume, did, uh, philosophy there. It even has artistic theives who stole the Stone of Scone from Westminster Abbey in a daring robbery and food artisans that deep fry Mars Bars (although, strictly speaking, this is more of a Scottish thing than Edinburgh thing)
It has a castle and a church with a dog mascot (GreyFriars Bobby); Arthur's seat, a massive cliff; and lets not forget the Grassmarket, currently filled with pubs but was also used for public hangings back in the day. It was here Maggie Dickson died and came back to life after being hung for allegedly killing a baby. See, its a lovely place!

View showing a 'lovely place'; old town, from Greyfriars.
Of course, I was there for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the largest arts festival in the world. Gemma and I indulged (Gemma joined me by plane, I called cheating!). We saw a show about the history of the Blues; a crazy mix of ballet and juggling; a story telling of the the Book of Love performed by one women completely in mime; a British bloke telling his favourites stories about Australia and zombies (same bloke, separate acts); an act focused fully on video games; and, the hidden gem, the Card Ninja.



Baiky: beer ninja.
Now, if all of that isn't enought to whet your appetite for a bit of Scottish love I will top it off with the best bar ever that really, just ties the city together. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

My Epic Jouney: Leicester to Edinburgh

So, a year ago (yup,  have been lazy with keeping up to date). I decided it would be fun to go to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. So I threw a tent and sleeping bag on my bike and started an epic journey north in search of adventure and comedy.
This should be easy, shouldn't it?
My journey saw me heading through Loughborough (of course) before angling slightly more easterly through the barley fields of Lincolnshire to Hull where I took the bridge over Humber.

Humber Bridge in Hull
Once on the other side of the Estuary I hit the coast and pretty much followed it north, passing through Scarbarough before ascending into the North Yourshire moors and descending into Sunderland and Newcastle.

Scarborough - clearly a popular place. The line of cars trying to get into town stretched back for miles and miles and I got to glide past all of them suckers!
A ferry ride saw me across the Tyne and I soon found myself exploring the Northumberland Coast Area of Natural Beauty. I continued North with a brief detour to Holy Island before striking inland at Bewick Upon Tweed. My westerly path through Northumberland took me to the Scottish Border, where I again turned north and I slugged my way through hilly East Lothaine until I once again reached the North Sea. From here I meandered to Edinburgh, where after 6 days and about 500 miles I had finally reached my destination!
Sunrise in Sproatley.
While the short description above makes it simple, it wasn't without its trials. Almost immediatly after leaving Loughborugh I had tube troubles that saw me arrrive at my first destination at 11pm at night (6 hours late) without any spare tubes left. By this time I had deduced I needed to replace my tyre, but the nearest bike store was 30 miles away. Sure enough ten miles in to the next day Gemma had to meet me with a new tire and tubes...

One day in and I'm out of tubes, out of patches, and out of luck.
Another time, just in Scotland I flew down the bottom of great big hill and realised Baiky had jumped ship! Pretty certain I scared all the nearby grazing sheep with my curses as I slugged my back up and over the hill to Foulden where Baiky was resting casually on the side of the road.
 Baiky taking a rest in Foulden. Bloody free loader.
But, without a doubt, the good times were worth it. With the exception of some heavy rain on the first day and some more on my second night the weather was spot on. On the second day the sun rising as I passed through Sproatly followed by the clouds rolling on over the North Sea as I passed through Mapleton was spectacular.

Mapleton looking over the North Sea.
The odd farmer and sheep sculpture on Reighton's roundabout and the random row boat in a public garden in Cresswell were among the highlights of sculptures as well as the memorial to fallen soldiers in Seaham.
Reighton's Roundabout. Nearly left Baiky here too.
While the North York Moors weren't to my liking, Scarborough was stunning as were the beaches by Sandsend. Crossing the tidal causeway to Holy Island during sunrise was breathtaking, which ony improved when I stumbled across the stone stacks on the beach overlooking Lindisfarne Castle.
Stone stack's and Lindisfarne Castle on Holy Island.
And, of course, I met a slew of interesting people on the way. Two fellow cyclists who ahd never really cycled before, but quit there jobs and decided to cycle around Europe for 6 months (the were about 5 hours into the journey when I met them).
Weirdos!
The generous owners of various camping grounds I styaed in offering me spare tyres (none fit) or introducing me to their turkeys (or were they geese, I can't remember). The retired bloke living on a caravan park in South Shields who gets up every morning in summer to watch the sun rise (admittedly summer is pretty short in the county of Durham).
Eleven O one sculpture in Seaham.
But I guess the real question is this. I spent six days slogging through rain, sun, sand, up hills, on major roads I shouldn't have been, got lost a couple of times, and had to back track looking for wayward seals. Gemma spent 40 minutes on a plane...
 But then again, I got to visit Brandy Wharf.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Yup, I am scared of heights




I have finally had my first balloon flights, and they well and truly confirmed what I already was pretty certain of; I am not a fan of heights.

Huw tests a Hopper.
My first experience floating hundreds of feet in the air in a wicker basket was when Huw, a pilot in training, needed some...uh...training. I am man enough to admit I was a little nervous and struggled to climb into the basket, but, before I had time to gather my senses the balloon was lifting off.
Farmland in Leicestershire.
And up we went. Quickly. Very quickly. So quick I didn't even have enough time to be concerned about the flight. I stood in the basket, transfixed by the view as we rose up higher and higher. Well, transfixed because of the view, and because moving around didn't seem like a salubrious activity at that particular time. Yup, I was perfectly content gripping onto one of the poles as tightly as possible.
A farmhouse way down below - these farmers waved, but the dog seemed  a little unhappy at our presence.
I did relax after a bit and got to enjoy some the finer aspects of ballooning over stockfarms. Cows were the funniest. Contrary to expectations the cows run towards the balloon and not away from. Kids would wave and dogs would bark. At one point we were able to spot our retrieve vehicle (the car that comes and picks you up when you land) waiting patiently for us to land.
Pretending not to be scared.
We spotted a likely field/landing spot but on our way down the owners of the property politley requested we find an alternate landing space (don't you dare land that fucking thing here). So yeah, pretty much got to experience everything a good balloon flight requires.
Flying in Bristol.
Stupidly, after all my fears from Huw's test flight I went up(!) again at the Bristol balloon festival. For some reason, this time I was absolutely pertrified. I jumped in the basket because I wanted the experience 100 000 spectators waving and cheering is we flew, but wowee, I stood stockstill for most of the flight; to scared to even tremble in my boots. Got some good photos still...
View over River Servern.
Like last year, it was super being part of a crew: access to the pilot's bar, on the ground at nightglow, etc. This time I was even given an important role in the setup of my flight managing the crown line, which in itself brought about its own set of anxiousness...

Plus, it was awesome taking off absolutely surrounded by balloons and crowds.

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Land of the Midnight Sun


Our near-death encounter with the Stalos was quite close to the Norwegian Border, and it wasn't long before we had crossed the peaks of a mountain range into Norway. After a brief stop for some fuel, a quick run up a mountain and an ice cream we continued on to our next haven, Bodø.
 
Not this mountain, this mountain is not for running.
Bodø is a town of about 50 000 people and is just north of the Arctic circle. We were to truly experience the midnight sun and we made it all the way to 1am before accidentally falling asleep.









Midnight - this was pretty much as dark as it got for the entire trip (except Trondheim). 
We spent a couple of nights in Bodø, so on our second day we went explorin'; and what did we find? Saltstraumen, a massive maelstrom, which has the strongest tidal currents in the world!
 
My strength vs Saltstraumen.
Admittedly it wasn't as visually epic as I was hoping, but there were some brave souls boating around and it was funny to see them shoot off when caught in the currents.
 
Gemma with the maelstrom.
But, the real epic of this journey was Kystrikveien, otherwise known as Route 17. This is the Great Ocean Road of Norway, and sorry Victoria, you have a lot of work to do. The full route is 650 kms and runs from Bodø to Steinkje.

One of the many, many fjords.
We took it as far as Trondheim, stopping off at Sandnessjøen and Namsos on the way. the coastal route crosses spectacular fjords, passes huge cliffs, and even a glacier (there's only a few sample pictures in this blog, but photos just can't do it justice).

Gemma and I at Svartisen; Norway's second biggest glacier.
Fortunately, we were blessed with sunshine and blue skies, which accentuated the blue in the water features, and ensuring we saw it its best. Unfortunately, I am pretty certain I have seen the most gorgeous landscapes Earth can conjure so I may as well not travel anymore (we also got to too swim in the Norwegian Sea).

By swimming I mean paddling...well, barely paddling. It turns out the Norwegian Sea is really, really, really, really cold. Even in summer.
To add a bit more fun to the trip, there are SIX ferry crossings littered throughout just so you can cross the larger fjords.

This monument marks the Arctic Circle, it showed us we had finally left the arctic circle and the midnight sun.
The ferry interruptions were kinda fun, because it meant you were stuck in a little convoy, with all the other travellers who were enjoying the route. No matter how fast someone went, you would always meet them at the next ferry crossing waiting to board.
 
The perfectly still waters perfectly reflected everything.
After a full day of driving and ferry catching we ended up in Sandnessjøen. Now, Sandnessjøen is not a big town, but it sits on a gorgeous isle on the west coast of Norway which means a you need a bridge to get there. And Sandnessjøen is known for its bridge! (apparently).

This massive bridge connected Sandnessjøen to the mainland, unfortunately Gemma was driving and is somewhat terrified of driving on bridges.
On our penultimate day we jumped back on Kystrikveien and headed for Trondheim. I was really keen to stop by and see the seven sisters mountain range, but unfortunately we encountered our first fog for the trip. Much to my disappointment even at the base of the range, couldn't even see the slope of the mountain, let alone the range of peaks.
Baiky and an itty bitty Gemma all the way back in the cave.
Not to be discouraged we soldiered on towards Torghatten. Torghatten is a mountain with a hole in it; and not just an itty bitty hole either, but a massive tunnel straight through the centre of it. We finished off with a night in Namsos, the Rock city before flying home. Then I had to relearn how to drive on the left side of the road.
Gemma blending in with the local fauna.