Sunday, January 28, 2007

Roslin Glen

The weather looked like it was going to be better over on the East side of the country so, after thumbing though a few walk books and maps, we decided to walk up Roslin Glen over in Midlothian. Roslin, or Rosslyn as it is sometimes spelled, is where the famous Rosslyn Chapel of The Da Vinci Code fame lies and it's also the site of a famous battle between the Scots and the English (we won) so we thought it might be an interesting walk.

Roslin CastleRoslin Castle

The walk is a five mile round trip that starts in Roslin Glen Country Park and from there we walked up to the old ruined Roslin Castle, which dates back to the 14th century. While it's mostly ruined, the upper floor at the road level appears to be in decent condition and occupied but the thought of having three dark, dank and empty floors below would certainly put us off living there.

Going though the castle arch below leads on to a path that follows the River North Esk up the glen but it has to be said that the path is in woeful condition. Mud, mud and more mud made it a very squelchy walk and in a few cases we had to detour off the path to get round completely impassible stretches. Of course, I ended up with a muddy backside when my feet started to slide on a slope and no amount of windmilling, shouting or scrabbling at branches stopped me going down into it - urgh!

The path pretty much follows the glen upstream and, while there are a few options for high or low paths, you'll end up at the Hewan Bank near the village of Polton. On the way, if you're observant, you'll see Wallace's Cave high up on the other side of the glen near to the picturesque Hawthornden Castle.

Hawthornden CastleHawthornden Castle

As I mentioned earlier, the glen was the site of a battle, the Battle of Rosslyn, which took place in 1303 when just 8,000 Scots successfully defended their homeland against a host of 30,000 English. This invasion force was sent by Edward I in response to the possible alliance between Scotland and France that might result from the marriage of Sir Henry St. Clair of Rosslyn and Lady Margaret Ramsay of Dalhousie. A more detailed story of the battle can be read on the Clan Sinclair site and it makes pretty interesting reading.

We had lunch on the sandy ridge top at Hewan Bank, which gives good views over Polton and down the glen but the ridge itself was suffering from some erosion and we couldn't get very far along it for a better view. From there, it's a fairly straightforward stroll back along the path to an old roadway that leads back down to Roslin village. On the way, you'll pass the Roslin Institute, best known for having been the home of Dolly the Sheep, the first mammal to be successfully cloned.

Once in the village, you can go up and visit the Rosslyn Chapel but we didn't see the point as it was covered in scaffolding and had a tin roof on as well - very un-scenic. All that's left then is a wander back through to Roslin castle and from there to the country park.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Night At The Museum

We hadn't seen a movie for a few weeks and fancied seeing something that didn't require much in the way of hard work so a light comedy like Night At The Museum seemed to fit the bill, especially as Eragon was getting such poor reviews and there was nothing else that appealed. It's pretty much a popcorn, no-brainer, light-hearted comedy so here's a brief summary…
To avoid moving house again and perhaps losing parental access to his son, would be inventor Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) takes a job at the Museum of Natural History as a night watchman. Budget cuts are forcing the museum administration to retire the current watchmen Cecil, Gus and Reginald (Dick Van Dyke, Micky Rooney and Bill Cobbs) and replace them with a younger and obviously cheaper man.

However, what Larry doesn't know is that, every night after sundown. the museum exhibits all come to life. That's everything from stuffed animals, statues, wax models, miniatures and a gigantic Tyrannosaurus skeleton. There's also the fact that Cecil, Gus and Reginald, somewhat aggrieved at their forced retirement, are planning to rob the museum and point all the blame on the new guy.

Can Larry survive the savage lions, rampaging dinosaur, miniature Mayan warriors, Attila The Hun and his band and manage to foil the robbery and keep both his job and access to his kid?

Night At The Museum
Ben Stiller doesn't normally fit into my idea of playing a caring parent role but he's actually very good in this and has some excellent support from veteran actors Van Dyke, Rooney and Cobbs as well as a screen giant like Robin Williams. However, I've never been a fan of Owen Wilson (too whiney) and Ricky Gervais and Steve Coogan are hopelessly miscast. Gervais plays a more annoying variant of his David Brent character, which I never liked anyway, and Coogan flounders as a Roman general with a British accent. Kids'll blank the performances by Gervais and Coogan as they're not very integral to the comedy so they'll get away with it while the rest of us just cringe.

Anyway comedy is what this is all about and, as a family comedy movie, it hits all the buttons and kids will certainly like it as there are some very funny scenes. The special effects are excellent - from the Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton running amok, the miniature Wild West and Roman exhibits battling each other, the mini-Mayans trying to kill everyone, the gigantic Egyptian tomb guardians to the wild animals. The monkey is hilarious and some of the scenes with it and Stiller are classic.

There are couple of romantic storylines as well but they're not overplayed. Larry fancies Rebecca the research student (Carla Gugino) and Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams) is hankering after Sacajawea, although I doubt if many non-Americans would have a clue as to who Sacajawea or Lewis and Clark were so some of that may go over the kids heads and probably most adults as well. I'd heard of Lewis and Clark but I've no idea who Sacajawhodji was at all.

All in all, it translates to a pretty funny movie that is well suited for all the family.

Genre: Action, Comedy, Family, Fantasy
My Rating: 7/10

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Cardross and Ardmore Point

Yet another Sunday and we missed the best of the weather by sleeping on too late. It was nice and clear in the morning but by the time we'd had lunch and set off for a walk, it had started raining - sigh!

Ardmore PointOn the way to Ardmore Point

Anyway, we were off to Cardross for a stroll along the shorefront to Ardmore Point, a nature reserve on the Firth of Clyde. I used to do a bit of sea angling around here as a lad and it was a pretty popular spot. You'd get cod and flounders in the Winter and sea trout and coalfish later in the Spring and Summer. We often spent all night on the beach here, sometimes waking up covered in snow, and the fishing was always pretty good. Still, that was when I was young and fit. I dread to think what I'd be like now if I tried that again.

Undaunted by the weather, we parked in Cardross and headed down to the sea front via Station Road. From there it's a fairly straightforward walk along the shoreline to Ardmore Point and, if you're feeling fit, you can continue on to Craigendoran and Helensburgh but I've only ever done that once. Ardmore Point was the usual target for a days fishing.

From Cardross shore, you can see over the Firth to Port Glasgow and down the water to Greenock and all the way across to Dunoon, which is backdropped by some excellent mountains and this time they had some snow on top as well. Also along the way, you'll likely see a diverse range of birdlife. We spotted flocks of Oystercatchers, various duck, a Red-breasted Merganser, a Grey Heron and lots of gulls and terns, although the light wasn't great and the photographs I did get could have been better. We've seen seals basking on the rocks here in the summer as well so it's a great place to see some wildlife and so close to Glasgow too. I remember that we used to find lots of shotgun shells around Ardmore as it used to be pretty popular with wildfowlers out shooting these pretty looking birds.

The light was getting so bad that we aborted the walk about three quarters of the way around for fear of having to retrace our steps over the rocks and boulders in the dark. This is something I've had to do before here and it's no fun at all, I had cuts and bruises for weeks afterwards. Given the current state of the shoreline, which is cluttered with storm debris and rubbish, we didn't fancy falling over into goodness knows what so we headed back before it got too dark.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The World According To Clarkson - by Jeremy Clarkson

I quite like watching Top Gear, not just for drooling over the cars that I'll never be able to afford, but for the quality and humour of the presenters of which Clarkson is one. So, Lorna bought me this book as a stocking filler at Christmas and I've been reading it off and on since then. I This book basically consists of excerpts from Jeremy's column in the Sunday Times newspaper from January 2001 to December 2003.

In his travels as a journalist and presenter on Top Gear, he gets around quite a bit and has accumulated a wealth of experiences, some good, some bad and some just plain weird. He quite clearly shows that there's more to him than a love a cars and he delivers each chapter in a witty and thought provoking manner. He's a large, opinionated man with some very clear likes and dislikes that he's happy to share with us and, if you of an age like I am where you can empathize with his views, then you may well find yourself agreeing with many of his points. Things like not being ashamed of liking '70s rock music and not quite understanding why anyone likes cricket certainly had me nodding.

This is the kind of book you can pick and read a few chapters of and then put it down again without worrying about losing the plot if you it leave alone for a while. It makes for some very amusing reading and, if you like Clarkson's sharp wit and presentation style, then you'll probably enjoy this as well - and there's no mention of cars.

Genre: Autobiography, Comedy, Drama.
ISBN: 0-141-01789-9
My Rating: 7/10

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Lunderston Bay

It was another wet and windy Sunday but we just had to get out for a few hours so we donned the waterproofs and headed along the M8 to Lunderston Bay, which is just a few miles past Gourock and the Cloch Lighthouse.

Lunderston Bay

Lunderston Bay is credited as Glasgow's nearest sandy beach but that's a load of tourist waffle. Both Dumbarton and Cardross have much more sandy stretches of beach than this and they're much closer to Glasgow. That's not to say it isn't worth visiting though - it has a kids adventure playground, toilets and picnic tables for when the weather's nicer. It seems very popular with the locals walking their dogs as well.

The beach, from what we could see through the rain and wind, was mostly shingle and shells so I assume that it's sandier on a lower tide. There were a few rock pools at either end of the bay as well so I expect kids would enjoy pottering around in those and there were plenty of shells on the beach to collect as well.

Inverkip Power Station

We had a brisk walk up and down the length of the bay and we got some good views of the abandoned Inverkip Power Station to the South with its enormous, 700 foot-high chimney and jetty. That was enough of being battered by the wind and rain though and we retreated into the Cardwell Garden Centre, which is just over the road, for some hot tea and a cake.

We'll maybe come back in the Summer!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Pay-Per-Mile? I Seriously Hope Not!

There's a petition available to try and persuade the government to scrap their planned vehicle tracking and road pricing policy that would see drivers having to pay for every mile driven and at a variable cost depending on time of day and location. Satellite tracking would be used with charges varying from 2p a mile on rural roads to £1.30 in congested areas.

What a terrible idea! We already pay through the nose for fuel duty and then there's road tax. While the Transport Secretary has stated that the scheme could replace road tax and fuel duty, it'll have a knock-on effect by raising bus and taxi transport prices for everyone. Any business that relies heavily on road use is obviously going to have to pass any increase in costs on as well. The scheme doesn't take into account the environmental impact of vehicle weight or fuel consumption either so someone driving a behemoth monster truck would be charged the same as one driving a mini.

Okay, I agree that road congestion is getting worse and something needs to be done but pricing cars and people off the roads isn't the answer. On top of that, the very fact that the government will be able to track the movements of every vehicle 24/7 isn't going to go down very well with anyone concerned about their personal privacy.

The wording of the petition, created by Peter Roberts, is as follows…

The idea of tracking every vehicle at all times is sinister and wrong. Road pricing is already here with the high level of taxation on fuel. The more you travel - the more tax you pay.

It will be an unfair tax on those who live apart from families and poorer people who will not be able to afford the high monthly costs.

Please Mr Blair - forget about road pricing and concentrate on improving our roads to reduce congestion.

Please consider adding your name to the list, which at the time of writing was standing at over 187,000 names. You can sign up at the 10 Downing Street site on TravelTax E-Petition.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Upper Stoneymollan Road

With the weather taking a turn for the better today, we thought we'd better get out and try and walk off some of the food we've been gorging ouselves on over the past week or so. The weather has been pretty awful, with lots of rain and high winds, and it's been difficult to muster any enthusiasm for venturing out in it.

The days are short at this time of year and we're very lazy so it had to somewhere close by and not too strenuous. We opted to head for Balloch at the foot of Loch Lomond with the intention of wandering up the Stoneymollan Road, an old cart track running from Balloch over the hill to Cardross on the Firth of Clyde.

Parking in Old Luss Road, it's a very straightforward walk. Just take the path signed "Footpath to Cardross" on the Lower Stoneymollan Road and keep going until you want to stop or hit the Firth of Clyde at Cardross. It's a five mile long walk if you go from end to end (10 if you don't have a spare car in Cardross).

The first stage of the walk leads you up Lower Stoneymollan Road, past Drumkinnon Farm and Glendale Kennels (you'll easily recognise this by the noise of dogs barking) and onto a little bridge over the A82. Once you're over the bridge, you're on Upper Stoneymollan Road so just keep going up. There are a few good views over Loch Lomond and Drumkinnon Bay on the way up the road.

Loch LomondBen Lomond and Loch Lomond from Upper Stoneymollan Road

Once past the gate at Upper Stoneymollan Farm, you get onto the old cart track which leads on up the hill and onto open moorland beside a roaring burn. Again, there are some very good views of Ben Lomond and Loch Lomond from up here and looking back, you'll get some good views east over Balloch and beyond.

At the top of the moor, there's another gate leading the track through a conifer plantation for about half a mile. The going is pretty reasonable here and not too soggy underfoot as can be the case on forest tracks. As you emerge from the forest at the other end of the track, there's yet another gate and a fine view out over the Firth of Clyde to Port Glasgow on the other side. From there, the track wanders on down to Cardross but we decided to turn back, having had enough exercise for one day. If you're going on to Cardross, then take the left fork on the way down or you'll end up at the crematorium, almost a mile northwest of the village.

efore we headed back home we dropped in to Loch Lomond Shores in Drumkinnon Bay at the foot of the loch as we thought we might get a few good photos of the Ben as the sunlight was starting to fade. I'm always amazed at the number of people here as it was pretty busy. I expect the good weather had everyone out for a few hours.

Loch Lomond Shores is a tourist abomination that they have the nerve to call the gateway to the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park. The National Park does have its Gateway Centre here but all the rest has spawned around that and basically, it's a collection of seriously overpriced shops, stores and restaurants aimed squarely at lightening the pockets of any tourists gullible enough to venture in. There was even a carnival merry-go-round blaring out music! I mean, how does that fit in with the image of a national park?

Maid of the LochThe Maid of the Loch

That said, if you avoid the tourist traps, it's a nice enough location to wander around the foot of the loch and up to the pier where you might see some boats or the "Maid of the Loch", the last paddle steamer built in Britain. The views up the loch towards Ben Lomond are excellent as well.