Sunday, October 29, 2006

Callander Crags and Bracklinn Falls

Another decent Sunday and walk was on the cards again. This time we thought we'd head up to the Trossachs and walk up into the hills above the Pass of Leny. However, we drove up to Callander and then headed up the A84 as there's a car park just opposite the route down to the Falls of Leny. Well, there was a car park but by the time we reached Loch Lubnaig, we realised that we must've somehow passed it. Backtracking, we eventually found it but discovered that it had been closed off. No explanation, just no access.

Loch LubnaigLoch Lubnaig

Still, we were up here so we headed back into Callander with the intention of climbing over the crags behind the town. We've done it before and it's a fairly strenuous climb but the views are pretty good.

Callander Crags

We parked in the main car park in Callander and, after getting lured into a local farmer's market with thoughts of cheese and fudge, we headed off. Walking to the very rear of the car park, the route to the crags lies just a little along the road to the left. It's not very well signed but a wee lane leads up to back of the houses and at the end you'll see a sign for the Crags as it meets a path running east to west.

Callander CraigOn Callander Craig

You can take either route but the usual way, and I think the driest, is to head west and just plod on up almost 900 feet to the top where there's an enormous cairn. The views from up there are pretty good. There's the obvious, almost aerial view of Callander town itself and to the west, there's Loch Venachar with Ben Lomond beyond. To the east there's the Braes of Doune with its wind farm and to the south lies Flanders Moss and the long road heading towards Aberfoyle.

Continue along the path on the top of the crags to the northeast and you'll start to head down again and eventually you'll reach a small road, which would eventually take you all the way down into Callander again. However, after about half a mile, you'll come to a car park and a path leading off east, signed for Bracklinn Falls…

Bracklinn Falls

Bracklinn FallsIf the weather's nice, then this is a pleasant detour to see the falls on the way down. The path is fairly level for about half a mile and then drops down some steps towards Brackland Glen and the Keltie Water on which lie the falls.

The water here rushes down over the falls and through a very picturesque gorge and the drop in height from top to bottom is quite impressive. There was once a bridge over the gorge, the Bridge of Brackland, and it was there when we were last here but some ferocious storm in 2004 swept it away. It's a pity as the walk up the other side of the Keltie Water is nice too.

When we were just about to leave, a couple of guys appeared with canoes and began checking the gorge out for a possible run down it. Having just clambered around quite a bit trying to get some photographs of the falls, I wasn't convinced there was enough water on the upper falls so we hung about to see if they'd have a go (bloodthirsty we are). They were of the same mind but thought they'd get a run down from a little lower down but we gave up waiting and headed back along the path.

Back on the road, you could continue all the way down into Callander but there's a route back through the woods that will get you back to the start just behind the car park and that's a much more pleasant walk then on any road. Mind you, we got a little lost at one point but soon found our way again and then it was home for that cheese and what was left of the fudge.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Open Season

I'd quite fancied seeing this ever since I watched the trailer some months ago. Those rabbits juts looked so funny. Any, here's the gist of the plot…
When Boog (Martin Lawrence), a 900lb Grizzly bear working in a ranger sideshow, saves a mule deer called Elliot (Ashton Kutcher) from the gun-happy, thoroughly nasty hunter Shaw (Gary Sinise), he becomes the target for both Shaw and Elliot, who wants him to be free.

However, Boog likes his domesticated life and wants nothing to do with Elliot but events and Elliot conspire against him and the pair soon find themselves released into the wild only a few days before the start of open season.

The hapless pair soon become lost and the brunt of ridicule from the native wildlife, mainly in the form of McSquizzy (Billy Connolly) and his cone chucking squirrel clan. Things are made worse when Boog, still trying to get home to the comfort of his garage den, wrecks the beaver dam and dumps the lot of them right in the middle of the hunting ground. So Boog and Elliot have to team up to survive and, with the help of the locals, make their way back to the high ground and safety.

I quite liked this although it got off to a slow start and I wasn't convinced about Martin Lawrence as a North American Grizzly. His voice was just a little too much Boyz'n'the'Hood for me.

That aside, the movie works quite well and it should a hit with the kids. There's plenty of humour and laughs for both kid and adults and what they do with those rabbits is hilarious. On top of that you've got mad Scottish squirrels, a couple of bitchin' skunks, a troop of disgruntled beavers, a herd of macho deer and a very strange porcupine.

Then there's the hunters and a sorry lot they are once they get involved with Boog, Elliot and the troops. It all makes for a pretty fun and enjoyable movie with plenty of laughs. One of the guys at work took his kid to see it in IMAX 3D and he really liked it. The CG animation is stylised to be more cartoon-like and isn't trying for the kind of near-realistic fur and feather like effects found in other animated movies but it works very well. Ashton Kutcher is extremely funny as the fast-talking Elliot and Connolly is...well, Connolly and very funny he is too f you like the idea of a Glaswegian squirrel.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family
My Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Ashoka Shak, Phoenix Leisure Park, Linwood

We nipped into the Ashoka Shak in the Phoenix Leisure Park before going in to see Open Season at the movies. We've been a few times before and the food's always been good, even if the presentation and ambience were a little on the "fast-food" side. I mean they used to serve the pakora dips in sauce bottles!

However, it's been recently revamped with a new indotapas theme and the decor is decidely on the contemporary side. The food's still as good but portions were a bit on the small side and prices a bit higher than we'd normally pay for a quick pre-cinema meal. And that decor, it doesn't really sit well with an Indian restaurant theme - too bright and sparse.

The Ashoka on Argyll Street, from which this offshoot derives its name, has been one of the most popular Indian restaurants in Glasgow's west-end since 1982 and I've had many a good curry in there in my youth. However, I think it's lost a lot of its original appeal since it became part of the Harlequin Group and expanded the name into a chain.

Cuisine: Indian
My Rating: 7/10

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Loch Thom And Shielhill Glen

We got up late on Sunday and, since the weather was pretty reasonable, headed off for a small walk. After our visit to Muirshiel Country Park last month we thought we'd venture further into Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park and have a wander around the Cornalees Centre just south of Greenock to see what was there. The Centre is a good starting point with a decent sized car park and a small café for that hot cup of tea.

Loch Thom

This area is littered with lochs and reservoirs and the main attraction for walkers has to be the Greenock Cut walk, which is a roughly seven-mile, circular walk following a good length of the old Greenock Cut aqueduct that used to used to supply water from Loch Thom to Greenock. The aqueduct, built around 1825, was designated an Ancient Monument in 1972 but sadly, little seems to have been done to maintain or restore it and it looks more like an old ditch now. That's a real pity as the scenery and views around the area are pretty good and well worth taking in.

Loch ThomLoch Thom

However, seven miles was a bit more than we fancied walking so we wandered up past the Compensation Reservoir to Loch Thom cottage and then walked along the rim of the loch for a ways and returned back down to the Centre. There were quite a few anglers out on the little Compensation Reservoir but we didn't see anyone catch anything.

Shielhill Glen

Then we walked out along the Kelly Cut and down Shielhill Glen. The Kelly Cut is another 19th century aqueduct but this time one supplying water into Loch Thom. Shielhill Glen is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest as it's the best example of mixed deciduous woodland in Inverclyde, with Oak, Ash and Wych Elm dominant in the lower section grading into Silver Birch and Rowan in the upper section. This walk is circular again and less than two miles long but there's a fair drop and rise in altitude involved.

Afternoon On The Kelly CutAfternoon On The Kelly Cut

The path follows the Kelly Cut out over the moorland for quite a way until you come across a wooden boardwalk leading steeply down into the glen and towards the Kip Water. However, we kept on going along the cut for a while as we were a bit nosy and wanted to see where it came from. There are some very good views out over the Firth of Clyde from here and after wandering for a while and not really seeing where it was leading, we gave up and returned to the designated route.

The boardwalk drops down into the glen very steeply and there only really room for one person a time on it so passing others as they come the other way is interesting, especially as no-one wants to step off into the boggy ground surrounding it. We passed a few groups along the way but the maddest had to be the ones with buggies and toddlers, as they had to negotiate the path steps up a fairly long way.

Once down by the stream, the path returns up to Cornalees Bridge between the Kip Water and Greenock cut and it's quite a pleasant stroll up along the riverbank. That was enough for the day though and we headed home after a hot cup of tea and a bun at the café.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Departed

We went to see The Departed, Martin Scorsese's latest movie, last weekend and, even though I'm not a great fan of gangster movies, we thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

In essence it's a remake of the hit Hong Kong movie Infernal Affairs for the Western audience and the scriptwriters and Scorsese have given it a truly gritty and explosive storyline. As you'd expect for a Scorsese movie, it sports a serious big-name cast with the leads being played by Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Jack Nicholson with solid support from Martin Sheen, Mark Wahlberg, Ray Winstone and Alec Baldwin. Here's a summary of the plot…
Set in the South Boston territory of Irish-American gang boss Frank Costello (Nicholson), this is story of two young men and their conflicting roles in the ongoing war between the gangs and the Massachusetts State Police. Both have grown up on the hard streets of Boston and now, graduates of the Police Training Academy, they join the force with very different goals in life.

Sullivan Graduating
While Colin Sullivan (Damon) has grown up as a favoured confident of Costello and has been groomed to become one of his inside men on the force, Billy Costigan (DiCaprio) has had a rougher ride, being the son of a man who deliberately walked a straighter, if much poorer line through life. When they join up, Sullivan fits easily into a role within the Special Investigations Unit and is ideally placed to help further the aims of crime boss Costello while Costigan is immediately recruited by Sheen and Wahlberg as a member of their undercover team. His mission is to infiltrate and become a trusted member of Costello's gang in order to provide information and evidence in the ongoing investigation.

While Costello has engineered the theft of some serious military microprocessors and intends to sell them to the Chinese, it becomes obvious to both Sullivan and Costigan that there's a rat in each other's respective camp. What follows is a violent and bloody race to discover the rats' identities before the goods can be exchanged but who will triumph first? If Costigan wins, the Police stand a chance of arresting Costello and his mob red-handed but if Sullivan wins…

Costello and Costigan
This is probably the best gangster movie to come of Hollywood for years! It's way up there with the likes of Goodfellas and The Godfather. Scorsese's direction is superb and there's hardly a minute to hang to your seat while the action and tension drives through a high speed. The casting and acting are also of an extraordinarily high quality and, while the gold star has to go to DiCaprio for his best performance to date, both Damon and Nicholson deliver performances of equally high merit. And, even though their roles are smaller, Sheen, Wahlberg, Winstone and Baldwin are powerful presences when on screen.

As you'd expect of a Scorsese gangster movie, this is a very violent, profane and gory film but it's done with such gritty realism and conviction that it's all used to great effect in portraying the characters as they were meant to be. Only a few minutes into the movie and we're left in no doubt that Costello and his sidekick Mr. French (Winstone) are a pair of ice-cold killers.

I've been known to doze off in a darkened and warm cinema after a decent meal but my attention was riveted to the screen all the way through with this one. The Departed is destined to become a classic of the American cinema so go see it now while it's on the big screen.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
My Rating: 9/10

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Dino's, 39-41 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow

We went to the movies the other night and, fancying a pizza beforehand, opted for Dino's on Sauchiehall Street. It's one of those places that been there for years and years and we've been in a few times before but it gets bypassed a bit these days simply because of that search for something new.

Anyway, it was pretty busy but the head waiter let us have a table on the understanding that we'd be done before eight as he was trying to get ready for some bookings. Since we were going to the movies and didn't want a full multi-course meal, that wasn't going to be a problem. A few other couples were in the same boat but we all got seated.

Service was fast and I mean fast. The guy wasn't kidding when he said he needed the tables later and he was going to make sure his staff didn't keep us there any longer than necessary but I wouldn't say we were rushed at all though.

Since all we wanted were a couple of pizzas and beers, I can hardly comment on the more traditional Italian fare but we've been before and it was always pretty good and the pizzas were tasty too.

Cuisine: Italian
My Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Magician's Guild - by Trudi Canavan

The first installement in The Black Magician trilogy, this is Trudi Canavan's first novel. Here's a short synopsis…
Each year, just before Winter sets in, Imardin's king orders the magician's guild to purge the city streets of vagrants and other undesirables. The magicians gather behind an impenetrable shield and herd the unfortunate poor towards the city gates and expel them.

This year however, they are in for a shock. A young girl, furious with rage at the magicians for their treatment of her friends and family, hurls a stone at the magic shield and, to everyone's amazement, it passes through and strikes a magician down.

The purge is abandoned as the guild focus all their attempts at capturing the girl as an untrained magician poses an enormous threat to the city. Without the proper training, her powers will soon escalate beyond her control and unleash forces that could easily destroy the entire city.

The theory on magicians here is that, while magical powers can develop naturally, it's very unusual and they normally need to be "turned" on by another magician. Obviously this means that the guild only really ever looks for budding magical talent among the ruling class families and the poorer inhabitants and never given the chance to join.

Untrained magicians cannot control the powers they have within them and, if allowed to build up, these forces could easily destroy huge areas of the city. So, the main plot of the The Magician's Guild is for the magicians to find the girl and train her to control her powers before the inevitable catastrophe occurs. Trouble is, she hates magicians and all they stand for and will do anything to avoid being found.

As a first novel it's not bad and, while it's enjoyable enough, that fact shows throughout the story. The story lacks any real depth, character development is minimal, the plot is extremely predictable and the dialogue very stilted. I get the impression that Ms. Canavan has done a bit of Dungeons and Dragons playing as it comes close to such an adventure - all surface, single-layer action and no deep storyline. There is a little hint of a darker story in there but we don't get to see much of it here - perhaps the second novel will be a bit more gripping.

Don't let all that put you off though as younger readers will probably find it quite satisfying. If all you fancy is something simple for a change instead of the normally over 800 page jobs with more sub-plots going than you can cope with, it'll do the job nicely.

ISBN: 1-84149-313-9
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy
My Rating: 6/10

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


We're not long back from a couple of weeks on the Greek island of Rhodes, the largest of the Dodecanese Islands, off the south west coast of Turkey.

We'd been to Rhodes before, over 10 years ago, and enjoyed it - the weather is usually warm and the nightlife is pretty good. This time, we went in the last week of September that, according to the holiday rep, is prone to some rain and thunderstorms on almost the same few days every year. Sure enough, we had a couple of storms on the first few days but it soon cleared and the weather was pretty warm for most of the rest of the fortnight.

Officially the sunniest place in Europe, it was said to have been born of the union of Helios the sun god and the nymph Rhode. It's a place full of history with plenty of places to see or you could just lie in that warm sun.

Mandraki HarbourMandraki Harbour and the Palace Of The Grand Masters


We stayed in Ixia, which lies on the northwest coast just a few kilometres from Rhodes Town, in the Solemar Apartments. I can't really fault the place at all as it was pretty much what we expected.

We had a one-room apartment, which had a little kitchen alcove by the door but that had everything we needed - sink, kettle, fridge, two-ring cooker, coffee maker and a microwave along with all the usual pots, dishes and cutlery. The room had twin beds and a telly and it was cleaned and changed every day so, given that we didn't plan on spending a lot of time indoors, it was fine. The TV was pretty basic; with BBC World being the only English channel among about 12 of various languages so don't count on keeping up with any UK soaps.

The bathroom was of the standard Greek "wet room" type where the hand-held shower can get a bit manic and always soaks the place, regardless of the meagre shower curtain. Doesn't matter though as there's a drain in the middle of the floor and it soon dries up.

Air conditioning is available for an added charge but it always gives me a cold so we passed and just left the balcony door open at night, which kept the place cool enough. The only downside to that was the noise. Not from the road as I've mentioned in a couple of reviews of the place, that wasn't actually that bad as the hotel is one street back from the main road, but some eejit across the road had two cockerels. Once one started crowing, the other piped in and they tried to out crow each other until they got hoarse and they did this several times a day, usually starting at about five in the morning.


Ixia basically exists to accommodate the tourist overspill from Rhodes Town as it consists of a strip of some of the largest hotels on the island. That said it's very handy for popping in and out of Rhodes Town for shopping, sightseeing or nightlife as it only a short bus or taxi ride.

Other than hotels and apartments, there's a decent array of restaurants and bars to keep you fed and watered. For food, the Alexandros, Coconut, Dimitrios and Jason II are all good but the best place we found was the Napoli Pizzeria, which was just opposite where the road splits to go down to Ialyssos beach. One we missed, which got good reviews, was Le Gourmet but it's quite a ways off the main road and one we avoided like the plague was the Poseidonias, as it seemed to encourage the diners to have a dance but if that's your thing…

All of the bars were much the same with numerous large screens showing a range of football or rugby matches from some the most obscure and piddling leagues around the world and you're really unlucky, the British TV soaps. I can't understand why anyone watches that rubbish at all. There were a few good international football matches on but most of the rest was pretty dire stuff.

The beach in Ixia and in fact on most of the northwest coast of the island consists of pebbles. No sand just pebbles so if you like a sandy beach then this isn't the place for you. It's also much windier than the other side of the island and the Aegean Sea here is about 4°C colder than the Mediterranean on the other side too. But if you're into water sports like windsurfing or sailing, then this is an ideal place.

Rhodes Town

Rhodes Town is the capital of the island and well worth a visit. This where the Colossus of Rhodes, a giant statue of the god Helios and one of the Seven Wonders of the World, once stood. It consists of a modern city, a medieval old town built by the Hospitallar Knights of St. John during the Crusades and an ancient Hellenic Acropolis above them both.

The modern city is good for nightlife and shopping and Mandraki Harbour is worth a visit as it's always bustling with people and boats. There also seemed to be a different cluster of giant cruise ships berthed there every day, offloading their hordes of day-tripping passengers. We got the bus in quite a lot and, just where you get off at the end of the run, there's a busy market with a row of cafés at the front, looking out over the harbour. It's amusing trying to get past the waiters who are pretty serious about trying to get you sit at their little bit of territory but it's also a nice place to sit and have a coffee or a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and one of those enormous cakes on display. It's not cheap though but worth the occasional indulgence.

Rhodes Old TownThe Old Town, Rhodes

The jewel of the place has to be the medieval town. Surrounded by 4km of massive Byzantine walls, it contains a mix of ancient Greek archaeological sites, museums, churches, Turkish mosques, shops, restaurants and cafés and above all of these is the magnificent Palace Of The Grand Masters.

Over several visits, we had a walk around part of one the moats, visited most of the museums and the palace, wandered through the maze of little streets looking for some of the older sites and spent a fair bit in the shops for souvenirs. Beware the restaurants and cafés around the main squares though as you pay through the nose for the privilege of sitting there.

Getting Around

We hired a car for a couple of days to see some more of island and, if you cope with roads full of maniac drivers hell bent on running you off the road, it's worth the trouble. Speed limits seem to be optional and if you try to stick close to them you'll soon have a taxi at your back literally trying to edge you off the road. Driving on Rhodes is not for those of a nervous disposition. We got a taxi back from town one night and he drove at 100kph along a stretch of road that was supposed to be 50kph and he was laughing as he edged other cars out of the way and then he ended by driving the wrong way up a one-way street to our hotel. God help anyone mad enough to hire a scooter, they treat those like targets just to see how many they can scare.

That aside, it's worth getting out and about to see the rest of the island. Here's where we got to…

The Valley Of The Butterflies (Petaloudes)

This is a narrow, heavily wooded gorge of pine and storax trees where huge swarms of Tiger Moths gather each year between June and September to breed. Yes, these are actually moths and not butterflies but just try selling a day trip to the Valley of the Moths.

We got there just too late in the season and all of the moths had had their fun and then dropped dead so if you want to be swarmed by hordes of flapping moths, then get there before late September. We saw a couple but they were pretty done and only saw one flying. The moths feed on the tree resin, which is also used locally to make frankincense.

Valley of the ButterfliesValley Of The Butterflies

That aside, the walk up the narrow gorge path beside the tumbling stream is quite pleasant and when you get to top you can visit Kalopetra Monastery where a little wrinkled old lady will sell you a glass of freshly squeezed orange or a bowl of yoghourt with honey and almonds. There are some great views down to the coast from up there too. You can go into the monastery and see the gold and silver treasure in there but be aware that you're expected to cover any bare arms and shoulders before entering and there are garments by the door for just that purpose.


Further down the north west coast is the ancient Dorian city of Kameiros, discovered in 1928 and, along with Lindos and Ialysos, was one of the three main city-states on the island.

KameirosThe Ancient City Of Kameiros

It's been destroyed twice by earthquakes over the centuries but there's still quite a lot to see like the Acropolis, the Temple of Athena and the fountain square. They've even done some restoration work on some of the more important buildings.


We kept going south until we reached the impressive castle of Monolithos, a Venetian castle perched atop a massive jagged rock by the edge of the sea. There a little café there and there are also some stalls selling honey and suma, a fairly strong local spirit.

MonolithosMonolithos, Rhodes

You can climb up onto the top of the rock and the castle for some excellent views out over the sea and smaller islands. There's a small white church dedicated to St. Panteleimon on top now and it looks a bit out of place among the ruins of the castle.

I should say at this point that we'd intended on going down to Glyfada Beach before reaching Monolithos but the map was definitely wrong and we missed the road down. On top of that, there were some serious road works just beyond Sianna and by the time we'd gotten past them, we were at Monolithos.

We carried on along the road past Monolithos for a few kilometres, where we found the little pebbly Fourni Beach and we settled down among the pebbles to watch the sun going down before heading back to Ixia.

Seven Springs (Epta Piges)

Seven SpringsOver on the east coast is a little valley of plane and pine trees where seven springs burst out of the ground. We could only see about three springs but they've got them numbered and signposted for your enjoyment. There's also a café to help relieve you of any heavy money you might have in your pockets. It only seemed to sell beer or chilled coffee though so if you fancied having lunch there, take your own.

It's a nice place to visit in the heat of the day as you can walk up the valley for quite a distance in the shadow of the trees until you get to an olive grove at the top.

Massari and Haraki Beach

We drove south to Massari, which has an enormous, if somewhat shingly beach and we had a nice lunch in a small restaurant by the sea. The beach there seemed to go on forever and it was completely deserted.

From there we walked along the road to Haraki, which is a bit more tourist oriented. It has a nice little shingle bay surrounded by bars and cafés. There were some little fishing boats pulled up on the shore and quite a few people sunbathing but not too many so it looked fine for a quiet kind a seaside break. There were no large hotels here so I imagine it's mostly rented rooms and apartments.

Feraklos CastleFeraklos Castle, Rhodes

The village is overlooked by the impressive ruins of Feraklos Castle, another Knights of St. John fort and the last one on the island to fall to the Ottoman Empire.

Tsambika Beach

Driving back north again, we stopped in at Tsambika Beach for a swim and a laze in the sun. Tsambika is a long, golden sandy beach - real sand at last and no pebbles. It can get quite busy but the water is clear and shallow so it's ideal for families. There are loads of small fish in the water too just swimming around you as you wade or swim in the crystal clear water.

Tsambika BeachTsambika Beach, Rhodes

There's not much else here though - a W.C., a mini-market and a few catering shacks along the beach so don't expect a restaurant lunch.


We took a coach trip to Lindos for the day. It saved the driving and didn't cost much more than a day's car hire. Well it didn't as we booked the trip in a local travel agents in Ixia as they're always much cheaper than doing it through the holiday rep. Same with the car hire, get it yourself and save a lot of money.

Lindos is another of the ancient cities of Rhodes and the main attraction is the Acropolis, high above the little village of white sugar-cube houses. We came here last time we were in Rhodes but we came on a boat trip then, which was really tedious as it takes ages to cruise down all the way from Rhodes Town and then back again.

LindosLindos from St. Paul's Bay

There are 300 steps up from the village square to the Acropolis so take care if you're not as fit as you should be. Take plenty of water with you too; it's hot climb up and if you're getting there by boat then you can double that climb, as you need to get there from the beach. It's worth it though as the views from the top are very good.

The sandy beach in Lindos is horrendous. It's overcrowded and far too narrow to accommodate the huge number of sun beds crammed onto it. If you want some space, then go for a paddle or a swim - the water's shallow and clear and there's plenty of fish again.

Well, that was it - a couple of weeks holiday on Rhodes. The whole set of pictures can be seen here.