Thursday 31 July 2014

Bonnie banks of Loch Lomond

Left Glasgow this morning, heading north. Not too far though as we have stopped overnight at Balloch on the southern shore of Loch Lomond.
The weather was forecast to be bad, but we arrived to sunshine, so set off to explore.
Balloch has a pretty waterfront, with surprising numbers of people paddling and swimming in the loch.
Decided not to join them, and instead follow the cycle route along the western shore up to Luss. Very disappointing as rather than hug the loch, it hugged the main road and was actually only a narrow pavement for most of the route. We didn't see the loch again until we reached Luss, but it was worth the journey as it had a nice pier with great views of Ben Lomond.
We bought ice creams and watched as people jumped off the pier, right next to the sign that said 'no swimming'.
The village was full of cute little bungalows, most of them with beautiful gardens. We noticed a sign saying that the judging of the best kept village garden was tomorrow - if I was in charge picture three would be the clear winner.

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Badminton claim to fame

We have spent the last couple of days watching badminton at the Commonwealth Games.
Yesterday we saw the first round and watched a guy from the Norfolk Islands play the Scottish number one.
Apparently, only about 1,000 people live in the Norfolk Islands and only six of them play badminton, so it was not surprising that he struggled. I am sure that Darren could easily beat him, but he had a lovely time, diving headfirst all over the court and politely applauding when he opponent played a good shot - which was obviously all of the time.
Fortunately, the standard was better today and we had good seats to watch the number one seeds, Chris and Gabby Adcock win their game.
Here comes our claim to fame - Chris is from Ravenshead, which is just north of Nottingham, and when he was still a little boy, Darren and I played a team match against him and his mum. It would sound better if we had won, but unfortunately not.
Ps, he seems to look a bit orangutan like when he hits his overhead shots, but then, what do I know.

Monday 28 July 2014

Up close to the medallists

We were sitting quietly on the train making our way to the squash this morning,  when suddenly we were surrounded by lively Kiwis. It was the New Zealand track cycling team and they were going to Kiwi House for a celebration.
The gang were lovely and posed for a photo. The guy on the right is Eddie Dawkins who won a gold and a bronze medal, and sitting on his knee is Marc Ryan who got two bronzes. The girls were also on the team but hadn't won any medals.  Eddie was keen to get back to the House as he went there last night and managed to leave his medals behind, so I think he was celebrating then as well.
Arrived at the squash for finals day, and it was looking really good for England as we had five players competing.
In the ladies playoff for the bronze medal, a Kiwi beat Alison Waters from England, and then in the final Nicole David from Malaysia beat another English player, Laura Massaro. So silver and fourth places - not bad.
On to the mens and bronze place was won by Peter Barker from England. All that remained was an all English final between James Wilstrop and Nick Matthew, so we weren't sure who to support.
It was an epic five set final, but eventually Nick clinched it for Sheffield and England.
We were right next to the flags for the medal ceremony, and stood to attention for the national anthem.  Then came the best bit,  a photo with the friendly and charming James Wilstrop and his silver medal.

Sunday 27 July 2014

Best in the world at the squash

Had an interesting time getting to the squash today.  We stood on the train station and less than five minutes before the train was due, they announced that it had been cancelled!
We waited half an hour for another one, then once we got to the centre of Glasgow, the women's marathon meant that all of the bus stops had been relocated and the timetable abandoned.
We arrived at the squash with eight minutes to spare and settled down to an amazing sight - five cleaners simultaneously polishing every angle of the glass court ready for the action to begin.
Firstly we saw Nicole David, world number one from Malaysia get through to the ladies final tomorrow by beating a New Zealander. The other ladies semi final takes place tonight.
The mens semi final in our session was an all English affair, Peter Barker the current world number eight against Nick Matthew, the best player in the world. It was a very bad tempered match in places, but it was great to see Nick get through.
Finally, we had to battle our way back home through the bizarre public transport system that is in operation during the Commonwealth Games.

Saturday 26 July 2014

Rugby Sevens at Ibrox

Cycled from our campsite to Ibrox, Glasgow Rangers ground, to see the Rugby Sevens.
Had a bit of excitement en route as we joined two Scottish and two Nimbian female competitor cyclists in a mini peloton through the Glasgow streets. The Scots were giving a guided tour to the visitors and weren't in a hurry, so we managed to stay with them for a while, until they dropped us on an incline.
Arrived at the stadium to find a fantastic atmosphere, as 40,000 mainly Scottish fans cheered almost everyone. We were there for the first rounds of the round robin, so we saw all of the teams. Each game only lasted 14 minutes in total,  and there was a wide range of ability amongst the different teams, so the games were fast and furious.
Australia were very strong and by the time they played their second match, the crowd was getting rowdy. Uganda was Australia's second opponents and once again, Australia quickly went into a huge lead. The crowd started a chant of U Gan Da, and were booing every time Australia scored. Suddenly Uganda headed down the pitch and the whole stadium were on their feet cheering them on. When they scored a try, the whole place exploded!
England played a few games later and had a good win against Sri Lanka, and then came the key match - Scotland v New Zealand.
Huge and deafening crowd support followed every Scottish move and they finished a close second, but apparently New Zealand have never been beaten.
Brilliant audience, great spectacle and looking forward to watching the later rounds, but unfortunately only on the telly.

Friday 25 July 2014

Roasting in Glasgow

Spent the red hot day checking out the cycling options for our upcoming events in Glasgow.
We started at the Celtic football ground, (transformed for games to the athletics stadium) which is right opposite the Sir Chris Hoy velodrome.
We took photos of a mascot (pic 1), and a friendly volunteer told us that there are 25 of them around the city, so we started our photo collection.
After that it got even hotter as we cycled to Rangers football ground which is now masquerading as the Rugby Sevens stadium - sorry no picture.
Then we found our way to Glasgow city centre to try to match the views seen from the Breakfast TV studio. It was amazingly busy, but got the shot of the armadillo building and the big crany thing.
Central Glasgow again, this time the older part and we found another mascot, unfortunately accompanied by a very loud piper.
Last city port of call was George Square for a quick sandwich break  - pic 4.
All that was left was a 20 kilometre blast home on the bikes, followed by four massive glasses of cold water and a very long shower.
Ps, finally we went out for dinner and sat on the next table to the England triathlon team who are racing tomorrow. Best photo of the day - Alistair and Johnnie Brownlee, Vicky Holland, Elaine and Mark!

Thursday 24 July 2014

Triathlon at the Commonwealth Games

First day of the Commonwealth Games and we are on a campsite at Strathclyde Country Park, which happens to be the venue for the Triathlon.
The weather was beautiful as we strolled down to the course and found ourselves a good viewing spot. Elaine and Mark have joined us, and we had a lovely day, along with other enthusiastic supporters. The swan family were segregated on the opposite side of the railings, but they also seemed to enjoy the festivities.
Team England were in fantastic form and came first and third in the ladies race.
The Brownlee brothers dominated in the mens, staying at the front in the swim, breaking away on the bike section - although a young Scottish athlete stayed with them - much to the delight of the crowd.
By the start of the run they were out on their own, and won the gold and silver medals. Hurrah!!

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Top golf course at Troon

Set off today, in blazing sunshine, for a mainly off road cycle along the coast from Ayr to Troon.
We managed to find a little road that ran parallel to the Royal Troon course and saw how beautifully manicured the greens were. Also, fantastic views across the sea to the Isle of Arran.
All along the coast it was golf course after golf course, and we stopped to watch four ladies play at Prestwick. It was a bit of an eye opener as I assumed that anyone playing along this coastline must be skilled at the game.
We watched for quite a while as they individually looked for their missing balls. They all dressed the part, though I think they might be 'all the gear, no idears', as when one lady eventually played a shot, it was truly terrible.
I really liked their single white gloves and the sun umbrellas attached to their golf trollies, so I suppose if you are going to be rubbish, you might as well do it stylishly.

Monday 21 July 2014

Ayr races

We arrived in Ayr at lunchtime and our campsite is very near to the racecourse. We found out that today was a race day so headed along.
The place was completely packed, and lots of the ladies were wearing their best outfits.
There was acres of pink skin on show, that turned redder as the sun shone all afternoon. I was disappointed that I hadn't dressed up too, but I thought people only made an effort for Ascot and the Grand National. Also, it seemed compulsory to wear a fascinator and seven inch high platform sandals. If I bought shoes that high, then I would be able to rest my elbow on top of Darrens head, which wouldn't be a good look for either of us.
There was seven races in total and we were both confident of doing well. I made a beginners mistake of picking the first horse based on his name - Spirit of the Sea.
Daz picked a big lively horse and we placed our bets then stood expectantly at the finish line.
Glenalmond romped home in first place and Darren had his first win of the day.
For the rest of the day I tried out different strategies, big horse, pretty horse with a plaited tail, favourite in the programme, etc, etc, but still no luck.
By the final race I was so disappointed that Daz and I pooled our stakes and went for a good name - Grand Diamond - ridden by a lady jockey called Rachel.
The race started and Rachel quickly got into last place, with the announcer even saying that she was riding well at the back.  We were resigned to another loss, but suddenly, on the final bend she started to speed up and overtook the back markers.
She shot past us at full speed and headed for the finishing line as we screamed and jumped up and down. She left it a little bit too late though and only made it to third, but that was my best finish of the day.

Sunday 20 July 2014

Cycling in Galloway

Garlieston is in Galloway, as in Dumfries and Galloway, and the rain stopped overnight, so we set off to explore the area today.
At first our journey was almost mystical, as the land was swirly and misty, with quiet fields full of cows and low cloud that left a tiny space for us to cycle through.
We hardly saw any traffic all day and the roads were lovely, smooth and slightly undulating. It seemed as if there were optical allusions along the way as sometimes it looked as if the road was heading downhill, yet I had to pedal hard, and at other times I almost seemed to be freewheeling uphill.
Our first stop was at the Isle of Whithorn, which is a little village on the mainland with pretty painted houses and a cute harbour.
We then carried on to the tiny seaside village of Monreith where the sun came out and we sat on rocks on the beach eating our picnic.
Finally, we cycled back to Garlieston, the sun was shining, and the whole place looked so different from yesterday that it was difficult to believe that we were in the same place.

Saturday 19 July 2014

Welcome to Scotland

Apparently, England is in the middle of a heatwave, but we arrived to torrential rain today in Scotland. We are planning on spending about six weeks here, although I think we will have to add a disclaimer - weather permitting.
We have driven to Garlieston, which is in the far south western corner of Scotland.
There was a lull in the rain as we arrived and the place looked lively, with the two harbourside bowling greens packed with keen bowlers, all dressed in white.
The campsite was full and it all looked promising.
Before we had time to explore, the rain started up again in earnest and we were confined to our van for about six hours.
It has just stopped now and I have been for a quick wander along the drenched and deserted main street.
The street reminds me of a painting in one of our friends houses, where a long terrace of houses twists around a corner and a scary looking man is walking away.
Hopefully it will all look brighter again tomorrow.

Friday 18 July 2014

Keswick by bike

Got the bikes out today for a ride to Keswick. We followed the Sustrans route, joining it about two kilometres from our campsite. Firstly we cycled along a completely straight Roman road that stretched ahead of us like a curly ribbon. It didn't go far though, and it did seem a bit of a crazy idea on such hilly terrain.
Next we rode up one side of a valley for a very long way, then turned an unbelievably sharp corner and headed back on a parallel road on the other side of a stream. It was very pretty, but we cycled a very long way to avoid a few hundred metres of busy main road.
Then we climbed up amongst the sheep, stopping frequently to open and close gates.
Finally, we followed a disused railway track, complete with many bridges over a lovely stream, and a couple of tunnels through rocky outcrops.
Arrived in Keswick at lunch time, so had a lengthy stop in this pretty town.
On the way back we took a very hilly route and passed some standing stones. They were about 4,500 years old and the site that the ancient builders chose was superb - a beautiful level grassy area with panoramic views of the mountains.
After a quick stop we cycled towards  home on a route called The Old Coach Road. It took an almost Roman style direct route up a huge hill and I felt sorry for the old horses that would have pulled the old coaches.
It was also very gravelly with a massive headwind, and was a hill too high for me.  In the end, we admitted defeat, retraced our steps and slowly slogged back along a more modern route home.

Thursday 17 July 2014

Human traffic jam at Helvellyn

Darren spent ages this morning plotting our third ridge walk on his phone. This one was called Helvellyn by Striding Edge, and descent via Swirral Edge and Catstye Cam. Quite a mouthful and actually, quite a trip.
Firstly, it was totally different to our last walk in that there was lots of other people about, and the path was really obvious - in fact we didn't need a map all day.
All started well with the usual endless uphill stretch and then a long fairly easy bit where we strode along quite quickly. Gradually we could see in the distance a rocky outcrop on the top of the hill, and lots of little brightly coloured people clambering along the top of it.  (Zoom in on pic one if you don't believe me.)
This is actually Striding Edge and there was no striding along this section. Instead we gingerly inched to the highest point of it and joined a group of people,  which eventually totalled at least 100.
We all had to wait while the National Park staff used a helicopter to transport rocks up on to the side of the mountain to try to stop a section eroding.
It was very interesting and dramatic, and we also watched while an air ambulance helicopter landed far below us to collect an injured hiker.
After a long wait everyone was getting fidgety and we were then allowed to climb down a really steep ridge and then there was a group charge up the side of Helvellyn. It was a bit chaotic but we both cambered up quite quickly and arrived safely at the top.
Here the group gradually dispersed and we climbed down (mostly on my bottom) the Swirral Edge, (see pic three) then up the final climb of Catstye Cam. This one was not scary, but at the top there was a perfect cone mountain top, with 360 degree views.
After all the excitement we marched down to the pub for a quick pint, and then back on our bikes for the painful uphill climb back to our campsite.

Tuesday 15 July 2014

Wetherlam ridge walk

After the success of our previous ridge walk, we thought we would try a second one from the same book.
It was slightly more complicated as the start was 7k from our campsite, so we needed transport there and back. We decided to cycle and set off on our bikes. The main road was fairly flat, but then we turned off towards Low Tilberthwaite and it was steep uphill for the rest of the way.
Still tired from the exertions yesterday, we were both very tired before we even set off. We consoled ourselves with the thought that we could turn off before the going got tough, and set off up a steep set of steps past a ruined quarry.
The scenery was beautiful, and we could see the top of the hills today, so we gradually made our way upwards.
We had a picnic with us and Darren opened his can of Diet Coke and offered it to me. I must have been thirstier than I thought as I completely emptied it, and gave him back the empty can. He was a bit miffed, and I can sort of see his point, but I thought he was being gentlemanly, and he thought I was a greedy guts.
Fortunately, it didn't spoil my day (Daz mentioned it a few times though) and we were enjoying the views so much that we did the whole circuit.
If you know the area then we walked over Wetherlam, Swirl How, Great Carrs, Little Cars, and Wet Side Edge - if you don't then you ought to come and see it as it is amazing - and there are loads of walks along more level ground.
We got back to our bikes after 13.5k and it was fantastic to freewheel most of the way back down to Coniston.
Back home now and quite shattered, so we are definitely having a lazy day tomorrow.

Monday 14 July 2014

Rainy Ambleside

We checked the weather forecast this morning and it was due to be fine until 4pm. Strangely, it started raining just after 9, so we delayed the start of our bike ride.
A couple of hours later  it was dry and bright so we set off, then lost each other so we wasted even more time riding in circles looking for each other.
Eventually we were reunited and set off on a testing ride from Coniston, via Hawkshead, then along Lake Windermere towards Ambleside. Fortunately I took a few photos quite early on as it then started to rain gently.
We stopped to warm up and dry out a bit in a lovely coffee shop in Ambleside before continuing on our journey.
The route back was probably beautiful, but we couldn't see it through the torrential downpour. We were soaked to the skin, but pedalling hard up and down the hills. 
I noticed a strange phenomenon happening that I have only rarely seen before - my jeans started to go frothy around the knees. I think it is because there must have been a tiny bit of washing powder that hasn't been rinsed out fully, and they were so wet that I was 'washing' them again as we travelled along. Weird but true.
Ps, the second photo highlights the huge amount of moss growing in the forests, probably an indication that it is pretty damp around here.