Monday, 4 June 2012

Back to the top of the map.

               I can wholeheartedly recommend the Travelodge at Lancaster. The rooms are basic in the extreme, not to be confused with 'in extremis', but considering that thousands of vehicles were hammering past on the M6, it was like I’d stepped into Narnia. Indeed, it was so quiet and comfortable that I overslept. Not a good start for the longest leg of my journey home. I realised that I wouldn’t have made it to my usual petrol stop in Gretna, so I drove into Lancaster itself. Almost immediately I wished I hadn’t, but I did quite accidentally find a Sainsbury petrol station so cheap fuel and nectar points were a real bonus. The route back toward the M6 would have taken me South so I headed up the A6 towards Carnforth instead and was rewarded with some fantastic views over Morecombe Bay.

                A longs days’ drive, interrupted only by an impromptu visit to a branch of HSBC in Perth, concluded at my overnight stop at ‘The Weigh Inn’ in Scrabster near Thurso. Here I was again surprised by my accommodation. Guests parked in a square surrounded by what looked like storage containers on four sides. Each ‘container’ had four doors in it. I was not confident of what I would find inside. Despite my doubts, the rooms were absolutely fine. I was knackered and not wanting a repeat of the previous night I asked Gail to phone me in the morning. I didn’t want to miss the ferry but mostly I didn’t want to miss breakfast. I don’t get to enjoy kippers and poached eggs much.

                The Pentland Firth that morning bore little resemblance to the body of water I had crossed only six days previously. Again I assumed that the captain would head for Scapa, but au contraire! I faced a wobbly spectacle of the Old Man of Hoy from a bucking deck. I couldn’t help thinking of how Gail would have fared, so I captured the view on her phone for her to enjoy. I would have to ensure that I had a bucket on standby when I showed it to her. Having reached Stromness, I took a stroll to get my land-legs back. The town always looks closed to me so I explored the harbour instead and found the ferry to Hoy, which I am determined one day soon to take to the Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum at Lyness. I also found the RNLI shop and museum. It was even open!

                I had five hours to wait before my final ferry crossing from Kirkwall to Loth Pier. Whilst in Kirkwall, I went to the Library and registered. A mobile library visits all the islands in the group so books can be returned without getting your feet wet. I borrowed two books and spent half an hour on the internet . After lunch, I couldn’t help having a stroll around the branch of Didldidi. It was intended to be a perusal, but there was so much interesting stuff around for not much loot I had to grab a basket and go mad. The prize find was a box of chocolate covered marshmallow in a ‘Super Dickmanns’ stylie. (If you don’t know then you haven’t lived!) I still got change of a tenner for a basket full. Perhaps if I’d given in to temptation and got the electric drill set then it might have been worth breaking out the plastic.
They probably have them up in every library, but it made me laugh.
(Courtesy of those nice people at Calm-o-matic.)

                Needless to say I had plenty of unloading to do when I got home. From garden shredder to tins of paint, the shed and stables filled up with stuff. It was good to be able to fit the rear seats back in the car to make it look less like a van. The starlings were glad to see the Skoda back, too. Within four days they’d built another nest in the engine bay and laid two more little blue eggs.

                As the temperature reached double figures, Gail was keen to get into the water at Bay of Lopness. Sooner or later we would have to try the kayaks out but I’d be reluctant to do so without experience of just how chilly the North Sea was. I donned my wetsuit and carried snorkel, goggles and fins over the dunes and onto the beach. Together, we waded out, Gail just in her cozzy. It was brass monkeys out there, but after a while, I could catch my breath and swam out. After only a few minutes, I headed back to the sand and found Gail cackling hysterically. She was having a wonderful time in the breaking waves, oblivious to the chill. I put on my snorkelling gear and headed back out into deeper water, where it got even colder. I kept on finding myself being spun around, but as it’s such a wide bay that there is land about three quarters of the way round. I guess it was therefore kind of inevitable that I’d be facing land whenever I lifted my head above the surface. It’s better than the alternative, I suppose. I could follow my progress by watching my shadow on the sea bed and had the feeling, at times, that I had company. Although I could see no other signs of life, occasionally it appeared that other shadows would dance around my own. It was disconcerting to say the least, as Gail was playing in the wake many yards away. Soon, I looked up to see her getting out of the water so I headed back before she caught a chill. It was all brilliant fun. Next time I’m out I’ll try to find somewhere to place my lobster pot.

                Back in a gardening frame of mind, I sowed some dwarf pea seeds indoors, planted out a box of mixed vegetables that  my little sister had bought for us quite a while ago now, thinned out some leek and cabbage seedlings and planted out a couple of squash plants in a raised bed away from the house. They turned out to be sacrificial lambs, however, as the rabbits munched all the secondary leaves off them and then kicked soil up all over them. When I checked on them a day later I scared off a rabbit, which scared two more, that each scared off two more. The exodus continued to escalate as I made my way through the garden until it began to resemble a helicopter view of a huge herd of wildebeest crossing the Serengeti. The ground practically shook. I exaggerate of course but if there was any justice in the world it certainly would have done.

                The next morning, after reading in bed for quite a long time, there followed a profound sense of guilt at letting a sunny morning pass me by, so I got up to find that it was not even seven am. I decided to take my frustrations out on an old sofa that the previous occupant of the house had left behind, with a heavy lump-hammer. I went around the stable block to get the hammer and woke up a slumbering Siamese-like cat lying in one of the doorways. It was pleasing that our guest stayed for a fussing before stalking off toward some rabbit holes to find its breakfast. Upon arriving back indoors I heard a bee in distress in the goat room. At the risk of sounding like a coward I will admit that the glorious, industrious and beautiful beasties frighten the bejesus out of me. After getting over a period of running around, shrieking and general panic, I resolved to rescue the poor chap. When I placed it on the grass outside, it seemed to be on its last legs, so I smeared some of Gail’s Sanday honey on a small dish in front of it. When the little tongue came out to lap up the sweetness, my optimism grew. It was amazing how quickly the peedie thing became energised. Within minutes it had enough get up and go to get up and went, while I adopted a very smug and self-satisfied air. Me and Dolittle could have been twins. After that it was an effort to get fired up to give that ragged bit of furniture a good, old-fashioned tonking.

Redefining 'cute'.

I can do destruction. It’s creation that I have trouble with. At present, everything I’ve planted in my garden has died. In order to be able to keep a closer eye on things, I created six more raised beds right outside the door, where I hope the local wildlife will be too afraid to come. I even got into the Jubilee spirit by pairing up two red fishing crates, then two white ones and finally two blue ones out of the stock of them that had been lying about the garden. It’s true that they look a lot like the French tricolour, but any resemblance is purely coincidental. Each bed is the correct size to be covered by a pane of the windows that Everest will be removing in late June. Perhaps then something will make it to maturity. It’d be nice if something around here did. ;-) 

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