Friday, June 30, 2006

A Week On Skye - Rubh' an Dùnain

After yesterday's rest, and the fact that it wasn't raining, it was time to go walking again so we headed down to Bualintur at the bottom of Glen Brittle. I still couldn't persuade Lorna to venture up the Black Cuillin, and it was a bit cloud covered anyway, so we decided to do the seven or eight mile or so trek out along the south side of Loch Brittle to Rubh' an Dùnain (Point of the Dun) and back.

The walk starts for the camp site and is pretty much a straight wander along one of two possible paths, both paralleling the shoreline, until you get to Creag Mhór, a smallish hill. When you get as far as the largest stream and if it's too high to m/66/2cross easily, just wander uphill or downhill, depending on which path you're on and you'll find a handy bridge.

The Black Cuillin from Creag Mhór

We had lunch on the top of Creag Mhór, which gives some good views out over the headland and back towards the Black Cuillin. Also, from up there, you can see the gash across the headland called Slochd Dubh, which runs all the way south to the sea. The next step was to drop down to the wall on the edge of Slochd Dubh and cross over that to reach the path going round Carn Mór and on to Rubh' an Dùnain. It soon gets pretty boggy and the path disappears but if you keep heading for the little Loch na h-Airde, it gets easier. On the way down there, you should come across the ruins of Rhundunan House, once the seat of the MacAskills. It looks to have been a once fine sized house but there's not a lot left now.

At the far side of the loch is a small, neolithic chambered cairn, where the bodies of six adults were excavated in the 1930's. It's not a bad bit of building work for being over 5,000 years old. The point is supposed to be a great place to watch seals, basking sharks and whales but nothing surfaced today. Mind you we did get a view of Rum but it wasn't that clear, being cloudy today. The only wildlife we did see were Small Heath and Meadow Brown butterflies, there were lots of these but the breeze kept them pretty mobile and they were hard to get photos of. Oh, and a Burnet Moth!

The return journey was pretty much a case of retracing our steps but we did vary it by cutting round the edge of Camas a' Mhurain to find the huge stone steps leading up to the top of Carn Mór. From there we headed towards Creag Mhór again and back by the other of the two paths (just to vary things a little).

Rubh' an Dùnain and the Isle of Rum

The round trip is about eight miles and there a welcome shop in the camp site where you can buy some morale boosting chocolate after that.

Home tomorrow, sigh!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

A Week On Skye - Galleries and The Two Churches Walk

We woke up to a slightly duller day. There was low cloud and a quick check of the weather forecast confirmed yesterday's possibility of a little rain so no hill walking today. Anyway, we'd had two days in a row on the hills so a wee rest was welcome. With no great enthusiasm for venturing out, we dragged out heels a bit but after lunch we decided to go and see what a couple of the more out of the way art galleries had to offer.

First on the list was the Orbost Gallery, a little art gallery about three to four miles south of Dunvegan at the end of a little single-track road. They had a reasonable selection of watercolours, wood engravings and etchings but we didn't see anything in our price bracket. It'd be nice if these artists offered more prints of their work instead of fairly high-priced originals, which must be hard to shift to the tourist trade. Lorna's sister and brother-in-law have a little painting and pottery gallery in Carrbridge and they do a small range of prints of Jeff's work, which definitely sell more easily to the passing trade.

Next was a run all the way out to Colbost, on the west side of Loch Dunvegan, to Skye Silver as Lorna fancied a bit of silver jewellery. They had some very nice pieces of work and she eventually, after a lot of umming and aahing, picked a fairly plain looking ingot of silver on a chain - sigh! They had all manner of Celtic designs and some inspired by the Coral Beaches and local seashore life. Still, she's happy with her lump of silver and it didn't cost me an arm and a leg so I'm not complaining.

The Two Churches walk, Dunvegan

Having pretty much ignored the village when we visited the Coral Beaches and the castle earlier in the week, we stopped in at Dunvegan as it wasn't very off of our route coming back from Colbost. We nipped into the local Tourist Information Office and found a leaflet describing a short walk between two churches so we found the first church, Duirinish Parish Church, just across and up the the road a bit and, the drizzle aside, we thought we'd make the best of it and have a short stroll, it only looked to be a couple of miles long.

The path wanders north-east, paralleling the road, through woodland until it gets up almost as far as Dunvegan Castle and you get some decent views of the castle roof over the tree tops. Then it curves round and doubles back, heading out of the woods and onto the hillside, which was appreciated as it was getting a bit steamy in the woods. The path basically continues on until it gets to the old ruined St. Mary's church just off the A850, where five MacLeod chiefs lie buried, and it passes close by the Duirinish Stone, erected by the villagers on the summit of Drum-na Creige to commemorate the Millennium.

Toffee Anyone?

There's not much left too see of the old church and graveyard and I don't really like taking pictures of such places. The dead should be left to rest in peace. The best bit of the day was just at the end of the walk when we ran into a small group of friendly Highland Cattle or toffee coos as we like to call them after their being used on the label for McCowan's Highland Toffee bars for years! I was quite surprised that they were so placid as there were a good few calves in the group and we had no bother wandering through the middle of them. As you can see, they posed for a few shots.

So, a bit of a damp squib today but it gave us a chance to rest and recuperate as I think Lorna fancies a bigger walk tomorrow, assuming the weather is a bit better.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A Week On Skye - The Storr and Portree

The Storr

Still with a bit of the hill walking bug from our adventure into The Cuillin yesterday, we headed up to the Trotternish peninsula in the north of the island with the intention of walking up into the The Sanctuary. That's the area also called Coire Faoin just beneath the cliffs of The Storr and we wanted to see the Old Man of Storr and the other ancient volcanic pinnacles that make the area seem like an almost alien landscape.

There's a good sized parking space on the A855, opposite the north end of Loch Leathan. This is just on the edge of the forest below The Storr and the normal route is by a reasonably good path leading off from to the north east end and which goes straight up through the trees and eventually on to the plateau itself.

However, we didn't fancy plodding up through trees on such a nice day. It's too hot and steamy and there's always the chance of cleg bites in that kind of environment and those can be pretty painful. Anyway, we opted to stay out on the hillside so we took the path leading off south-west which, as our little book suggested, skirted down round the edge of the forest but to be honest, it would have been much simpler just to have walked down the road before heading uphill as both routes enter the hillside at the same point. Once over a stile, there's a pretty good path leading up the western edge of the forest and all the way up into Coire Faoin, The Sanctuary itself, but it's a steep hike all the way up. It basically follows an old drystane dyke bounding the forest - sometime ouside it, sometimes inside.

Looking South From The Sanctuary

Once you get up there though, it's worth it for the views out to the west are stunning, looking out over the islands of Rona and Raasay to Wester Ross and the mountains of Torridon. Look south down Loch Leathan and you can clearly see The Cuillin as well, although the sun was reflecting off the clouds today and making it a bit too bright. Then there's Coire Faoin itself, surrounded by the high cliffs of The Storr and filled with the most amazing looking rock pinnacles. Walking along the path through these eventually leads to one of the island's most famous landmarks, The Old Man Of Storr, a 165 foot high spike of rock that appears in almost every postcard of Skye.

We didn't see the point of continuing on up the path and onto the summit of The Storr as the views wouldn't have been much better with the cloud so bright and the distance just too hazy. So we scrambled about a bit around the pinnacles and then lazed around on a grassy slope, having lunch and listening to someone playing a guitar. Yes, they'd hauled it all the way up the hill! If you're the fidgety kind and can't lie about for long, there's plenty of areas of Coire Faoin to poke around in but take notice of the signs warning you off on the path going around the back of the Old Man as it does look like a pretty unstable area, full of boulders that have fallen off of the cliffside.

The Storr

It was a nice place to just lie in the sun but all good things come to an end and we took the easier and much straighter route back to the car park going back down and it was surpisingly quick to descend.


On the way back down the road, we stopped in at Portree, the island's capital, for a look around and hoping for tea and a scone. It's a fairly bustling little place, full of tourists and with plenty of B&B and hotels.

It's an old place with plenty of history. It used to be known as Kiltraglen until it was invaded by King James V and his fleet of warships in 1540 in an effort to persuade the clans to his cause. Of course they had very little choice in the matter against such a force and henceforth the town was called Port an Righ or King's Port.

There's a nice wee harbour and I'm sure it's fairly photogenic if you're approaching it from the sea but I couldn't see a view I really liked from the shore side. We had a bit of stroll about and got lost trying to follow the signs for the public toilet around Somerled Square as they're completely misleading. Anyway, we eventually found them and then paid a visit to the local supermarket for some supplies. Needless to say, we found somewhere selling tea and scones as well so with those scoffed, we headed back down to Fiskavaig for the evening.

The weather report for tomorrow isn't looking so great so perhaps we'll do a troll round the tourist shops and galleries.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A Week On Skye - The Fairy Pools

The Fairy Pools

The weather was holding up and so, after a lie in and a late breakfast, we headed down Glen Brittle and into The Black Cuillin for an afternoon walk up the Allt Coir' a' Mhadaidh in the Coire na Creiche to see the Fairy Pools, a sequence of waterfalls and deep plunge pools. These are well worth seeing and the walk up to them is very easy. Once there, there were a couple of lads plunging off the high sides of the stream into the deep pools - looked really cool as it was getting warm.

The Fairy Pools, Coire na Creiche, Skye

We continued on up the Allt Coir' a'Tairneilear and further into the head of Coire na Creiche to get a better view of Sgurr an Fheadain and the Waterpipe Gully. It's certainly an impressive bit of scenery as you can pan round to view Bruache na Frithe, Sgurr na Bhairnich, Bidein Druim nan Ramh, Sgurr an Fheadain, Sgurr a' Mhadaidh and Sgurr Thuilm and you get a real sense of being deep within the Black Cuillin without having climbed very far at all. It's definately well worth the little extra effort required to do this and it made the day so much better. A really great place to sit back and enjoy a pack lunch!

From the head of Coir' a' Mhadaidh, we then attempted to traverse round the side of Bruache na Frithe over to the cairn on Bealach a' Mhaim. From there it would be an easy stroll back down to where we parked the car but we lost the path about a third of the way round and Lorna really doesn't like tramping through such rough and boggy country so we cut back downhill to the Allt Coir' a' Mhadaidh and retraced our steps from there.

One of these I'll get back there and climb the ridge but sadly I'll need to do it without Lorna as, while she loves hill walking, she's not one for exposed scrambles of this kind. I'll need to get a good bit fitter than I am now though :(

Having spent a good few hours up on the hillside and with the evening coming on, we'd forgotten about the most feared creature in the Scottish countryside - Culicoides impunctatus, the Highland midge! It's easy to wander around with your shorts on and sleeves rolled up, bearing both arms and legs, and just enjoying the pleasant weather but once the sun goes down a bit these wee blighters rise from the grass like a cloud and attack anything with a bit of blood in'em. Luckily we had some good old Jungle Formula with us, which we started applying on the descent down through the heather slopes. By the time we'd got back to the car park, the air was black with them. There's no way you can protect every square inch of skin while trying to change out of your boots and they got everywhere - up my trousers, up my shirt and even in my hair! We've never moved faster from getting changed, into the car and off as fast as we could go. The car was full of them so we were driving with the windows full open and the blowers on full to try and get rid of them. We eventually got clear of them but when we got back to Fiskavaig and opened the boot, guess what? Yes, more screaming and running around!

Sgurr an Fheadain and Sgurr a' Mhadaidh

If you're particularly sensitive to their bites, then it might be worth having a look at the online midge forecast before venturing out without some repellant. You can even get a forecast on your mobile 'phone by texting MIDGE to 84070, it's only 25p but bear in mind that it's a subscription service so you'd need to cancel it by texting MIDGESTOP to 84070 or you'll keep on getting a daily forecast and a 25p charge.

North tomorrow

Monday, June 26, 2006

A Week On Skye - Coral Beaches and Dunvegan Castle

Coral Beaches

Another sunny day so we decided to head North West to the Coral Beaches just north of Dunvegan. These aren't really made of coral but are in fact the tiny skeletons of a plant algae called Lithothamnium Calcareum. That's the science bit over but the result is a bright white beach and if you look closely it really is made of small bones.

Coral Beaches, SkyeCoral Beaches, Skye

Anyway, after parking the car at Claigan, it's only a short walk out to the beaches and we spent a few hours lazing on the coral. Never one to lie about for too long, I get fidgety, we climbed up the little hill there called Cnoc Mòr a'Ghrobain for an excellent view over the little islands of Isay and Mingay towards Ardmore Point and the island of Harris in the distance.

Dunvegan Castle

Since we'd gone all the way up to Dunvegan, we thought we'd better visit the seat of Clan Macleod, Dunvegan Castle. It was still sunny and getting late on in the afternoon so we declined going into the castle itself, favouring a walk around the gardens, which date back to the 18th century.

Dunvegan Castle, SkyeDunvegan Castle, Skye

I'd have liked to have seen their famous Fairy Flag, which legend says was a gift from the fairies. The story goes like this…

Long ago the clan chief fell in love with a fairy princess and she with him. Seeking permission of her father to wed the chief, the king of the fairies reminded his daughter that the Shining Folk folk live forever and her heart would only be broken when her mortal love grew old and died.

However, seeing how much in love they were he granted her leave to marry but only on the condition that she returned to the land of Faerie after one year and a day, leaving everything of her life in the human world behind. She agreed and it was no suprise when a child was born to the happy couple some months later but it wasn't long before the day arrived when lady MacLeod must return to the land of her father.

When that sad day arrived, she made her husband promise that the boy would never be left alone or given cause to cry or she'd hear his cries in the land of Faerie and that would be too much to bear. With a final hug from both, she ran in tears to join her father waiting at what is now called "The Fairy Bridge". Some months later, with their young chief in low spirits at losing his beloved, the clan arranged a ceilidh to try and raise him from his depression and true enough the music of the pipes lifted his spirits and he soon joined in the dancing and and carousing.

However, the nursemaid assigned to look after his son couldn't resist a peek at the festivities and she slipped out of the nursery for a look at all the fine folk dancing. But while she was away, the child kicked off his covers and started crying in the cold air and, as predicted, his mother heard his wailing and appeared at once by the crib to pick him up and comfort him, wrapping him in her fine silk shawl. She laid him back down again, sang him a lullaby and whispered some words in his ear and then was gone again. The nursemaid returned just as the last haunting sounds of the song were fading and then she found the strange square of silk by the crib and took it straight to the chief and told him what she'd heard.

Years later the boy recounted to his father what he remembered of the night and said that his mother had told him the cloth was a magic talisman that must be kept safe and only taken out if the clan was in mortal danger. In that event, it should be waved like a flag three times and the host of Faerie, the Knights of the Fairie Raide, would ride to the defense of Clan Macleod. This was a special gift from her to him and it could only ever be used three times. It has been used twice so far!

They also run boat trips out to see the seals in Loch Dunvegan but Lorna's no sailor and we've seen loads of seals before so another miss there. The gardens were okay but only just. Maybe I'm failing to appreciate how difficult it is to create such gardens on Skye but they didn't seem anything special to me and, if anything, didn't give that good value for the entry fee.

The Black CuillinThe Black Cuillin, Skye

We got some excellent views of the Black Cuillin on the way back to Fiskavaig in the evening light. Tomorrow, we're hoping to do a bit of walking in those hills.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

A Week On Skye - Fiskavaig Bay and Talisker Bay

Fiskavaig Bay

On our first morning on Skye we thought we'd better explore the local seaside in the form of Fiskavaig Bay, which was but a stroll down the hill from the cottage.

Looking across Fiskavaig Bay towards MacLeod's TablesLooking across Fiskavaig Bay towards MacLeod's Tables

There's a good bit of sand here but it's only exposed at low tide so there's no real sunbathing hotspots. Plenty of pools for kids and us grown up ones to rummage around in though. We went down at the east end of the bay, which was a mistake as it's pretty overgrown no matter how easy the approach looks from afar. Then we went across the sand, which has a fair bit of volcanic material in it giving it a streaked look, towards the western end and the cliffside walk (probably better called a scramble).

We spotted a pair of what looked like eagles soaring and wheeling around the top edge of the cliffs. They had the correct wing markings and were way too big to be buzzards so I'll stick with our identification - definitely eagles. I didn't manage to get a decent photograph though as they were just too far above us and my camera only has a 3x zoom. Best I could get was a seagull - sigh!

Talisker Bay

Talisker BayTalisker Bay, Skye

After lunch we drove round to Carbost and then down the wee single-track road in Gleann Oraid to Talisker House. From there it's only a short walk of about a kilometre through the grounds down to Talisker Bay which, with its rocky pinnacles and cliff dropping waterfall, is wee bit more scenic looking than Fiskavaig Bay. Again the sand is only really exposed at low tide and it seemed to be the same sand and volcanic ash mix as well but there's much more of it. We had a long lie on the sand and passed a relaxing while in the sun.

Preshal More, SkyePreshal More, Skye

There's a very good view from the bay of Preshal More (Great Breeze Hill) rising to just over 1,000 feet high just behind Talisker House.

Eating Out

We'd had a long day and couldn't be bothered cooking so we headed into Portnalong and after seeing the menu in the Taigh Ailean Hotel, we were straight in. We opted for the bar as the footie was on but there was a dining room downstairs. Staff were friendly and the food was good. The only negative was an old local, who had been trying to get me to buy him a drink but I was more interested in the match to bother with him and he seemed to take offense - oh well!

We're off up the north west coast tomorrow.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

A Week On Skye - Getting There and Fiskavaig

Sunset Over Loch Bracadale, Skye

I'm sitting writing this in a cottage on the Isle of Skye, watching the sun going down over Macleod's Tables through a pair of enormous patio doors. Yes, we're on holiday up north yet again and, as usual, we left it to the last minute to organise things.

It was just last Monday that I was given the go-ahead to search for a holiday cottage instead of us trying to book somewhere abroad. I'm quite happy with that as I don't like flying very much and I simply hate all the hastle involved in getting there and back. Airports and I just don't get on - you queue to check in, you queue to pick up your luggage (assuming it's taken the same plane) and then you could have a couple of hours on a bus to look forward to before you reach wherever it is you're staying.

And the travel agents can't understand why they get a hard stare when they try and sell you a holiday flying out from Manchester. No, we live in Glasgow, why on earth would we want to fly from Manchester or the other favourites, Newcastle or Edinburgh. Oh yes, we'd love to spend five hours getting to the airport and then another five coming home again…NOT! But I'm wandering off topic…

So anyway, I fancied Skye as we've never been there before so a root around on the internet found four or five promising looking holiday rentals that were available this week. I noted them all down in a new, public Google Notebook and passed that to Lorna for a final selection. Then a couple of e-mails back and forward, a cheque in the mail and we were all set by Thursday and looking forward to getting away on Saturday to Allt Ribhein in Fiskavaig.

So this morning, with the car all packed, we headed for Fort William, which is about half way so it was a good place for a break and some lunch. Suitably fed and off again, we were soon heading for Kyle of Lochalsh and the Skye Bridge. Did I mention that I hate touring caravans and campers? Our roads simply aren't designed with these mind and it doesn't take long for traffic to start building up behind some slow caravan or camper, wending and weaving its merry way onward and oblivious to the fuming queue of cars behind them. If I had my way I'd ban them off the roads during the hours of daylight!

There was an amusing interlude on the Loch Lomond road, just north of Tarbet, when a huge foreign truck travelling south completely blocked the road. It simply couldn't negotiate the narrow, twisty turny road without using both lanes and then some serious use of the forward and reverse gears. Bet the driver won't ever try using that route again!

Anyway, other than the usual ordeal of caravans and campers and one complete pillock who braked suddenly, causing the enormous truck on his tail to swerve over into our path for a heart-stopping moment, the rest of the journey was uneventful and we started to see signs for places we'd only ever seen before in walking and climbing guides. We were heading for Fiskavaig in the Minginish area, which isn't far from The Cuillin, almost certainly the most challenging hills to climb in the UK.

Eventually, we reached our destination and, once settled in, we had a walk along the road a bit further into Fiskavaig before dinner and then scuttled back fairly rapidly as the dreaded midgies discovered us. Once safely back indoors and after some dinner, we settled down to watch the Argentina vs. Mexico football match in the World Cup.

The tale continues tomorrow…

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

New blog - tech-logg

Having occasionally written about some technology stuff in this blog, I've decided to hive these off to their own blog - tech-logg. I know, the title's a bit rubbish bit it's based on tech(nology) log(g) with a bit of a play by mixing my own surname in there. I'm not sure I like it so it might change. Anyway, here's what it's all about…

Working in I.T. support, most of my day is taken up with things of a technological nature and I'm hoping to share some of my experiences, findings, horror stories, etc. here. Being a bit of a Macintosh fan, most of the stuff I'll waffle about will be biased towards things Apple, Macintosh and Mac OS X but I also use a Windows PC at work and my kids have one too so I'll try to include some things along those lines as well and, where possible, cross-platform compatibility or alternatives may feature here too.

My Life: Gone Fishin' - Beginnings, Mad Scotsman, Wet Feet and Worms

Fishing, or angling as it is more properly known by posher folk than I, was one of my main pastimes as a boy and young man. I've already mentioned how my mum bought me my first fishing rod and reel up in Keith and I pretty much caught the bug after that.

The Equipment

Armed with my new bamboo rod, wee bakelite reel, some hooks and a tin of worms, I'd be off for most of the day wandering up and down the Brandy Burn trying to catch a few trout.

It wasn't too long after that the dad got me a much better, solid fibreglass rod and a decent Daiwa fixed-spool reel and those did me good service for many years. The rod is probably still in use as I'd left it at mum and dad's some years ago and dad used it until only a few years ago when he gave it away to a friend for their son's first rod.

I really got going when my aunt and uncle gave me an ABU Suecia 352 spinning rod as a present. Now that was a serious step up in quality - hollow fibreglass, light as a feather, a lovely yellow gold colour and super sensitive. ABU, a Swedish fishing tackle maker, were one of the best rod and reel manufacturers of the time and I accumulated a few more of their products over the years. They're still on the go, after some mergers and acquisitions, and are now known as ABU Garcia but they're nowhere near as good as they once were.

Anyway, I still that ABU Suecia 352! It's three inches shorter than it should be, courtesy of a van door, but I moved all the rings to suit the new length and it's still an excellent rod for creeping around small burns.

The Quarry

Brown Trout were the main target at first as, being Scottish, we absolutely never fished for what are commonly termed "coarse" fish such as roach, perch, carp or the like. Those were seen as pretty useless since no-one ate them and only mad Englishmen seemed to bother fishing for them. Of course, being allergic to fish myself, I'd have to be categorized as a mad Scotsman since I loved going fishing and couldn't actually eat anything I brought home. Still, the fun was in getting out into the country or to the sea for the day, regardless of the weather, and I didn't much care if I came back with a bag full of fish or just an empty piece box.

What was guaranteed were a pair of sore feet, possibly wet too if I'd gone in over the top of my wellies. It was quite common to be squelching around in water-logged boots for hours and when you got them off later that night, the steam would be rising off of my poor wee wrinkled toes. I'd also have to wring the water out my big boot socks before s

The Bait

For trout bait, we'd go digging for worms the night before and we'd make up a little batch of dough as an alternative. If worms were hard to find, and that wasn't unusual, we have to buy a tub of maggots and we have to hide all of this from mum. I remember once forgetting about a tub of maggots in my bag and later getting some stick from her when we were plagued by a stream of bluebottles emanating from the end cupboard. Serious anglers kept them in the fridge to stop them pupating but we'd never have gotten away with that.

Anyway, earthworms were much better option and there are basically three kinds commonly found in the UK…

  • Lobworms - these are the most commonly found worms in ordinary soil and can be up to six or seven inches long - great for big mouthed fish like salmon but a bit on the large side for trout fishing.
  • Brandlings - these are the elite of worms, the little red and yellow banded variety found mostly in rotted manure and compost heaps. As you might guess finding either a compost heap or manure dump in Glasgow was a pretty rare occurance so brandlings were very rare indeed.
  • Redworms - now these are my favourite trout bait. They're smaller than lobworms and usually have a flat tail but they wriggle very nicely and almost always do the job. Again, they're a bit harder to find than lobworms but when you do, they're treasured.
The Locations

Aside from the Brandy Burn in Keith, most of my early fishing was done around and about Glasgow but I'll get into that later, it's getting late and bed is calling…

Friday, June 16, 2006

La Lanterna, 35 Hope Street, Glasgow

It was another one of those "couldn't be bothered to cook" nights so we headed for an Italian that's literally just around the corner from work - La Lanterna.

The restaurant frontage is a bit dull and dingy looking as the body of the place is downstairs so we'd been passing it by. This time though, we had a look at the menu posted by the door and it looked not bad so down we went for a look at the place. Once downstairs things are much more like what you'd expect an italian restaurant to look like - fairly rustic decor and reasonably busy too. With four waiters on, it must get pretty busy later on and it looked like they were set up for a large party too.

Service was friendly and fast so we were soon drinking Italian wine and beer and scoffing bits of crunchy bread while waiting on the starters coming. The menu is pretty traditional fare of anti-pasti, pasta, carni and pesce dishes (no pizzas here). For those starters, we split a Pate Maison (Smooth chicken liver pate served with toast & oatcakes.) and a Carpaccio con Rucola e Parmigiano (Finely sliced smoked beef fillet with parmesan shavings olive oil & lemon juice). It was early and we didn't fancy the full pasta and carni thing so for main courses we had Penne alla Salsiccia (penne with spicy Italian sausage in a tomato & basil sauce) and Risotto Pancetta Funghi E Piselli (Risotto with smoked ham, mushrooms & peas with fresh parmesan & cream).

The food was excellent and we were too full for a sweet, even though they sounded gorgeous. The restaurant has been succesfully run by the same family for over 30 years so it's obvious that the loss has been ours for never venturing down there before now.

Cuisine: Italian
My Rating: 8/10

Thursday, June 15, 2006

X-Men: The Last Stand

We've been trying to get to see this for ages but given the recent good weather, it's been difficult to justify sitting in a warm and stuffy movie hall and not lying in the sun. Still we got there in the end…

Humans and mutants are getting along a little better, there's even a Department of Mutant Affairs headed up by Dr. Hank McCoy, better known as Beast (Kelsey Grammer). But things start to go bad again when a pharmaceutical company claims it's found a cure for the mutant gene. This may be a spark of hope for some mutants but for the majority it only brings terror.

Magneto (Ian McKellen) and his Brotherhood see this as the perfect chance to raise an army of mutants and to launch a war against a humanity who would force their "cure" on them. On top of all this, Dr. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) returns from the dead but she's most certainly not the same person that Professor Charles Xavier's (Patrick Stewart) school for gifted children knew.

At the end of X2, it was assumed that Dr. Jane Grey had perished in the flood at Alkali Lake but there was a hint right at the end of the film that she or something had survived under the lake surface. Now we find out that she's actually a class five mutant, the strongest ever recorded, and was being mentally held in check by Prof. Xavier as she couldn't control her awsome powers once activated. This isn't really a spoiler as you'll find all this out fairly quickly but it does seem an unlikely plot given the first two installments.

There's a bit of character stability as the main cast from the previous two movies re-appear. Apart from those already mentioned, we get Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Ororo Munroe/Storm (Halle Berry), Marie/Rogue (Anna Paquin), Raven Darkholme/Mystique (Rebecca Romijn), Scott Summers/Cyclops (James Marsden), Bobby Drake/Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), John Allerdyce/Pyro (Aaron Stanford) and Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page). New faces this time round are Dr. Hank McCoy/Beast (Kelsey Grammer), Juggernaut (Vinnie Jones), Callisto (Dania Ramirez), Colossus (Daniel Cudmore), Multiple Man (Eric Dane), Jubilee (Kea Wong) and Angel (Ben Foster). All of those are quite a lot to take in but it helps keep the action going and there's plenty of it.

I quite enjoyed this but it seems a bit lacking when compared to the two earlier movies. With so many characters, some of them seem little used and some of the scenes looked a bit rushed. Still the special effects are the best yet and there's no shortage of them. Best performance points go to Sir Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman.

Billed as the final episode in the trilogy, which is true as it's the third one, but I don't think the story is over yet…

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Science-Fiction.
My Rating: 7/10

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Iron Council - by China Miéville

Iron Council is yet another story set in the world of Bas-Lag. Like his earlier works, Perdido Street Station and The Scar, it's set in and around the city of New Crobuzon. Here's the gist of the story…

It is a time of war and revolution! New Crobuzon is at war with the shadowy state of Tesh, the city of crawling liquid, but it also has to contend with revolution and rebellion from within.

The attempt to build a trailine to Cobsea has ended in revolt, with the workers and enslaved Remade prisoners taking both train and line and forming the Iron Council. Meanwhile the revolutionary Jack Half-a-prayer is dead but a new hero of the downtrodden rises by the name of Toro and the struggle goes on.

While the New Crobuzon militia contests the war with Tesh and pursues the runaway Iron Council across the continent, Toro and his band plot to assassinate the mayor and overthrow the government.

There are three major threads to the story. Cutter and his band of followers leave New Crobuzon in search of the Iron Council, a wandering group of disgruntled ex-railroad workers and Remade prisoners, to warn them that the city intends to attack and destroy them. Judah's tale begins some 20 years earlier when New Crobuzon was trying to build a railroad link to Cobsea, the very railroad that spawned the Iron Council. Ori's story is that of the young rebel who joins up with the revolutionary leader Toro, who's main quest is to assassinate the mayor and bring down the government.

I found it a difficult book to read and it took me much longer than usual to get through. There's too much overt homosexuality in it for me. It detracts from the main plotlines and doesn't seem to add anything other than gratuitous detail. Maybe Miéville is just out to shock or to stretch his readership as there is some aberrant sexual activity in both his previous novels but it didn't work for me.

As for the story itself - I think it's getting too out-there with so many mutant species and ridiculous Remade variations. The basic story is okay and Miéville has a great imagination but I wouldn't have thought any government would waste their time pursuing a band of dissidents while waging a war and trying to control internal unrest. As for the characters, the only captivating one is Judah Low, the golemist. Cutter is unlikable and seems only interested in having sex with men while Ori is basically a terrorist.

I thought Perdido Street Station was a classic piece of work but this just didn't do it for me at all!

Genre: Fantasy, Science-Fiction
ISBN: 0-330-49252-7
My Rating: 6/10

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

I've Got Aristocratic Roots - Scots Wha Hae!

My cousin Jan's into genealogy and has been digging around her dad's side of the family and thinks she's discovered that his and my dad's side of the family has some aristocratic ancestry.

According to her delving around in old records, she thinks we're related to John Gordon of Glenbuchat, more commonly known as "The Old Glenbucket". Gordon was a famous Jacobite supporter who had fought at the Battle of Killiecrankie at age 16, the Battle of Sheriffmuir at 42 and at 72 he was still active in the 1745 rebellion right up to the final defeat at Culloden. This was a man well in with Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) and reputedly present at the raising of the standard at Glenfinnan.

The ancestral "pile" was Glenbuchat Castle in Aberdeenshire, although it has fallen into a bit of disrepair these days but it's in the hands of Historic Scotland now so I assume it'll be well looked after and provide a good historical resource for the nation and visitors.

It's warming thought to be possibly related to such a staunch patriot and particulalry one who supposedly haunted the dreams of King George II.

Scots Wha Hae!

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Plants, A Barbecue And An Almost Built Table

Today was almost just another Sunday. Got up late, watched the Moto GP on TV (Valentino Rossi rules) and then the weather got nice...

First thing we did was to go out to the Greenhead Nursery in Inchinnan as Lorna fancied a few more plants for the garden. Anyway, it was a useful foray and we returned with two nice azalias, a couple of pinks and about four alpines.

I'd bought a barbecue as we'd always fancied having our own one last week so this was a good opportunity to try it out. Luckily, I'd picked up a sack of charcoal and lighter fluid yesterday and we had some chicken breasts and ready made kebabs in the fridge so we were all systems go for a potentially burnt dinner. But first...

We had to build a table for us to eat it off. Don't get me wrong, this wasn't a spontaneous thought as we 'd bought all the wood and screws'n stuff a few weeks ago so now was as good a time as any to get it done. Lorna, being the brains of the outfit, does the design and measuring and I get to do the sawing and putting it all together stuff.

It was all going to plan at first - we had the four top sections cut and fastened together nicely when we came to the difficult bit, the legs. These legs had to be able to fold down flat so we could store the table away so Lorna's design required one pair to be inside the other when folded. It all was all a bit complicated to me and positioning the cross-spares was critical for a flat finish. we must've been getting hungry as it took us about three goes at getting the damn things built and then attached with hinges - there are more holes in the wood than are required and that's all I'm saying. Anyway, the design's not quite right and we'll need to brace the corners as it wobbles and tries to fall over a lot.

So, finished with the table for the day, we started the barbecue. It was a charcoal burning one, a portable Weber Go Anywhere. We thought having a portable one was a good idea as we could take it camping or on picnics. This is the first time either of us had tried to light a barbecue so that provided some amusement for a while and it took a few goes but we got it lit eventually.

So we had a nice dinner of charcoal cooked kebabs and chicken with pitta bread and lots of salad. Oh and a bottle of red wine as well to round off a decent Sunday even if we learned that we're not carpenters.