Category Archives: RLS

Peaks and Troughs (mostly the former)

It’s a couple of days since I resuscitated the blog and quite a bit has happened, nearly all of it good.

Sonia gave Laurie and me a lift to the bus station and the trip began on a Megabus to Edinburgh Airport. The journey was mostly uneventful, but we both enjoyed crossing the Firth of Forth via the new Queensferry Crossing: it is a truly beautiful structure, the Moire patterns made by the cables changing as our viewing angle did. Halbeath Park and Ride / coach junction is – to be honest – somewhat less visually appealing but our half hour there passed reasonably well and we sped to the airport (the driver was running late) as if the future of mankind hung in the balance and the bus was in reality the 747 its route number suggested.

Baggage drop and security went smoothly, then we sat down to fish pie in Weatherspoons.

The flight to Bilbao was also uneventful, followed by a smooth transfer to the Holiday Inn Express where I had booked to spend the night. These places are much of a muchness, but the room was comfortable with air conditioning Laurie was able to switch off. We landed at 22:20, so it was after eleven before we were in our room.

Thursday started early – as Laurie is learning to say, ‘earlier than was strictly necessary’. There were a number of connections we had to make to reach our destination and some of them were going to be a bit tight unless everything fell into place…

Breakfast started at 5am and we tucked into coffee, croissants etc., then got the hotel’s shuttle service back to the airport to take the bus /into town. Despite some angst over times, the purchase of tickets and the like, we eventually got a bus to the Bilbao bus station, where we had a short time to find the coach to Santander.

Coach found – not a simple task due to the way Spaniards point when giving directions – we were told by the driver that we couldn’t buy a ticket on board and had to remove our luggage from the hold and then go to the ticket office. He added by way of encouragement that he’d be away by the time we got back. So we hurried. When we got back to the coach triumphantly waving our tickets he took one look at them and refused us entry on the basis the ticket said the 7:30 bus. This seemed to be a serious problem, as we needed to get this bus to make our next connection which would lead to the Picos. Tears didn’t seem to work, so we sat down and waited. Laurie fiddled with his phone and then announced triumphantly that there was another connection at 10:15 (he later pointed out I’d known this all along), so spirits rose again.

Eventually we arrived in Santander’s underground bus station and, after a wait, were transferred to Aliezo. Aliezo is a little one-man-and-his-dog sort of village a few hundred yards off the main road, though none the less pretty for that. Steeply up the hill from there is Casa Gustavo, the home of Mike and Lisa who are organising the day to day details of accommodation etc.

(Four years ago, I spent 10 days or so walking in the area with another friend – Brian Macgill – and we had used Mike & Lisa for their services then.)

It turned out that Lisa was in the UK on family business and Mike was alone looking after Lisa’s mum, who suffers from dementia. It was interesting to note that she could speak a few words of Spanish to the local cook and played a tolerable game of Scrabble, but asked every five minutes where Lisa was, was surprised and concerned when told she was in England, then repeated the process a few minutes later.

The house Mike and Lisa have is a charming old building with beams, squint floors and quirky doors. After a cup of tea, we took a wander into Potes, which is a nice wee town, and had a beer. Whilst indulging in Bacchus’initiation rites, we watched a Spanish News channel and they are certainly getting their bragas in a twist over the Catalonia Independence question: it will be interesting to see how this develops: Mike says the Spanish Government have sent naval vessels to Catalonian ports and there certainly seems to be a standoff at the moment.

I had been to Potes before, and was naturally hoping Laurie would like it, which he seemed to do. Back at Casa Gustavo, we had a separate room each and an evening meal which put me in mind of a week of chicken-related meals from ‘The Pauper’s Cookbook’ when Sonia and I were first married and finding life expensive. Funnily enough, I’ve not been a great fan of boiled hen ever since.

After a good night’s sleep and breakfast, L and I started our first day’s walking.

The total distance we walked was 16km, not a lot, as Laurie says, but steep at times with about 1100m of ascent. This latter number is due to a misjudgement on my part. Mr C. has been muttering on and off about having been feeling under the weather and not being very fit. So when, in this safe and secure knowledge, I suggested nipping up a nearby peak I felt on fairly safe ground. Blow me, did he not only agree but enthuse and we toiled up Pico Agero, adding 300m onto our daily climb. To be fair to L and me, I did enjoy the climb and the satisfaction of reaching the top at 1352m. After that, it was a steep descent from the col, most of it on ridged concrete, to the village of Bejes. Mike takes a rather relaxed view of information provision and we had some difficulty locating the albergue we are staying in. This is a Youth Hostel type place: we’re in a dormitory and expecting another seven Spaniards (4 in our dorm) who will be here to look at the wildlife.

Anyway that’s us about up to date. The weather has been warm (not to say hot) and dry, but we expect rain and thunder tomorrow. C’est la vie, as they say a bit North of here.


Just one more sleep…

I’ve been looking forward to tomorrow, Wed 27th, since it was months away and now it is – indeed – tomorrow. It seems a long time ago since Laurie and I first settled on the idea of the Picos de Europa as a destination for a walking trip. I do know it was me who suggested it: it will be my third trip to the area and I love it. So it’s particularly important to me that we get a good trip weatherwise so  Laurie doesn’t sigh resignedly every few minutes as we trudge through low cloud in the rain; or even round on me for suggesting it in the first place. My opportunity for come-back will be limited to pointing out that if it wasn’t for the golf we could have come earlier in the year.

Our journey starts on the 11:10 coach from Inverness to Edinburgh Airport and then the great leap forward by Easyjet to Bilbao lands at 22:20. We will be spending Wednesday night in an hotel near the airport and aim for a quick getaway on Thursday morning.

The next part of the journey involves a hotel transfer back to the airport, followed by a shuttle bus into Bilbao, transfer by coach to Santander, then bus into the Picos ending our journey at Aliezo, a few kilometres short of the local small town, Potes.

Sorry this table is so clumsy: it looked lovely in Word and I can’t see how to change it inWordpress.

Day Date Route Accomm
Wed 27-Sep Inverness – EDI – BIO Holiday Inn Express
Thu 28-Sep BIO-Santander – Aliezo Casa Gustavo
Fri 29-Sep Aliezo – Bejes Hotel
Sat 30-Sep Bejes – Sotres Hotel
Sun 01-Oct Sotres – Urrielu Refuge
Mon 02-Oct Urrielu – Poncebos Hotel
Tue 03-Oct Poncebos – Pos de Vald Hotel
Wed 04-Oct Pos de Vald – Col Jerm Refuge
Thu 05-Oct Col Jerm – Espinama Hotel
Fri 06-Oct Espinama – Mogrovejo Hotel
Sat 07-Oct Mogrovejo – Unquera – BIO Holiday Inn Express
Sun 08-Oct BIO – EDI – Inverness Home


As you’ll see, we have eight days’ walking, with two of the nights spent in mountain refuges, the rest in small local hotels, generally family-run. The refuges are quite a bit more sophisticated than the term implies: we should have a twin bedded-room, there will be a bar and meals. If the weather is good, we should get some superb views.

If you want to know more about the area, there is a good article in Wikipedia and you can never beat Google Earth can you?

I hope to knock out a few words over the next fortnight so you can keep up to date if you wish.


Pleasure Seeking

I’ve not been out on the hills since 21st June when – as my many fans will recall – Dave Smith and I “enjoyed” three seasons in one day. I have a number of pathetic excuses: summer holidays with Sonia, poor weather and fence maintenance being three, not counting laziness, apathy and inertia.

As I have a walking holiday coming up and the fence is finished, I felt emboldened to ignore the weather and go out today. Given the meteorological conditions and the not entirely dissipated inertia, I chose to go to Glen More and Meall a Bhuachaille, a tiddler of just over 800m with a starting point of 400m for the admittedly steepish ascent.

The best laid plans…

It took a considerable amount of willpower even to get out of bed this morning, so I was quite pleased with myself for starting walking from the Reindeer Centre at a couple of minutes before ten. For the first twenty minutes or so it was dry, then the rain started and I wisely opted to put the full waterproof gear on as it was clear this would be the order of the day from then on.

In many places the track was flooded either by standing water or rapid surges of overspill from hillside streams. The normally pretty Lochan Uaine, verdant and nestling between wooded slopes, struggled to look even vaguely attractive and the higher reaches of the surrounding hills were invisible in the lowering cloud. At Ryvoan bothy there was a small herd of reindeer nibbling the grass round a Quechua tent:  the latter a sure sign, I thought, of French campers. I was chuffed that I had seen the reindeer without having to visit the Reindeer Centre and buy a ticket in order to see some in a paddock.

It’s the rain, dear

At this point the path veers off to the left and starts to climb, at times steeply, to the summit. There has been some good path-making work done on the ascent and what might otherwise have been a muddy river cum quagmire was fairly dry underfoot, if not overhead. It wasn’t dry in my waterproofs either as, however much one spends on Goretex™ or similar materials, perspiration is trapped to compensate for the rain being kept out.

I coped better with the ascent than I had feared I might and kept up a good pace, which was encouraging. Another small source of satisfaction was that my phone, with geo-location and mapping software, served very well for route finding. My GPS unit, whilst working adequately, has been charging unreliably so I wanted to try out the phone which also has a larger screen.

As I approached the summit, the rain stopped coming down vertically and moved into the horizontal, driven by an increasingly disagreeable wind which nevertheless failed to dispel the low cloud. My plan had been to walk along the top of the wide ridge and drop down in a SW direction from the top of Craiggowrie, but I’m afraid I wimped out, turned round and came down the way I’d gone up. My concept of pleasure didn’t include trudging damply through boggy ground whilst being lashed by windswept rain in a bank of all-encompassing cloud.

Another superb view

The descent back to the bothy was very much faster than the outward route and I nipped inside to get out of the rain whilst I ate a sandwich. Two Belgians and a Glaswegian were inside and apparently there had also been four Poles, a couple of English and a Scot or two overnight. Along with quite a lot of whisky by the sound of it. I wasn’t quite right about the French campers, but the Belgians did admit they’d bought the tent in France. Given that one of the Belgian lads was – according to him, and I can quite believe it – 2 metres tall, he must have slept in the foetal position.

Sandwich and Mars bar finished, I headed back out and walked – as fast as I could, for the exercise – back to the car. I needed all the blowers on full belt to stop steaming up all the windows.

At the end of this month, Laurie Chancellor and I are going out to the Picos de Europa for a walking holiday. This will be my third visit to the area, which is full of dramatic limestone peaks: my first was in 2001, when I hit a half century, then Brian Macgill and I had ten days walking in 2013. The latter trip was good – organised by a small company based in the area and owned by two Brits – but we tended to walk round, rather than through, the mountains. This trip should help to rectify that by including two nights in mountain refuges. It’s a bit later in the year than I’m used to (one of us – it’s not me – is a golfing fanatic), but I can’t imagine the weather will be anywhere near as bad as today’s! I’ll try to keep you informed.

On the right track…

Some folk have shown an interest in what I’m doing with my model railway, so here’s a bit of information.

Last year, probably in November, I must have reminisced to Sonia about having a clockwork train set as a kid: fast forward to Christmas and I was given two Hornby electric starter kits, a selection of carriages and a few other bits and bobs. I enjoyed playing with it on the living room floor, but my knees were less than happy and it did rather take over the whole room. I suppose running the trains appealed to my inner megalomaniac.

On this basis, and with daughter number one safely married off, I decided to create a permanent layout in her bedroom upstairs and to make a platform or table for it. Note: although I have dismantled her bed to give space during construction, it will be reinstated and both she and Ben are always welcome and I’ve no plans to hijack Sarah’s room: at least, not so far!

As this was going to be a long-term project, I researched model railway layouts at and settled on a 6ft by 6ft design apparently based on Ayr station: to my mind the similarity is faint and irrelevant but it suited my purpose.

In the diagram, the shaded areas relate to phase 2 and are not currently being implemented: they may well be varied in the meantime. The left hand of the board will house the “town” and its station whilst on the right, but not shown in the diagram, will be a small rural station. I’m currently thinking of setting the whole thing in Scotland in the latter part of the 20th century. More specifically, I think it’ll be spring, with Highlands type scenery, particularly in the top right quadrant. The access hole, necessary during construction and for rescuing derailments etc. may well have its cover re-inserted as a removable item.

Phase 1 layout nailed down – I forgot to include the level crossing Sonia gave me. Phase 2 perhaps?

The base is made of three sheets of 9mm ply, reinforced underneath with battens. My original plan to make legs seemed like too much trouble, so the whole thing is supported by two pairs of trestles / sawhorses from B&Q.

The track – based on what was in the two starter kits, but significantly augmented – was carefully loose-laid to check the position of the access hole and then nailed down.

If you had a model electric railway as a kid, you’ll know the power to the engines is transmitted via the rails. With “permanent” layouts it’s normal not to rely on the metal “fish plates” (which link the rails) to make a good connection, but to solder each rail of each piece of track to a circuit underneath the table. Thus – even with not linking in some of the shortest pieces – I had about a hundred joints to solder and connect to “chocolate blocks” linked in to the main circuit. It is this stage I am finishing now.

Note the soldered joints: these should more or less disappear once the ballast is laid.

A small section with ballast and a few trees etc. Just for fun!

Linking the rails to a “ring main” (only low voltage!) with “chocolate blocks”

Once this job, which involves a lot of lying on the floor and working above my head, is finished and tested, all engines on the track will either be powered or not, all at the same time. In other words, it will not be possible to start one engine whilst another is stopped.

This is an obviously serious flaw which I may get round by temporarily disconnecting one or two of the chocolate blocks or by adding a non-wired siding. However, it will disappear once I make the leap to a digital system. In this brave new non-analogue world, each engine – plus points – can be controlled individually with commands which in effect say things like “engine number 3 move forward at half speed”. The commands are sent to the various engines as a digital signal “on top” of the power transmitted through the track / wiring circuit: hence my current task. As indicated above, points can be switched remotely in a similar way. If I get sufficiently carried away, I will also be able to control lights on engines, carriages, stations etc., as well as all the sound effects of a railway engine on the move.

I have been looking at ways of making scenery: whilst it is possible to buy almost anything recreated to OO scale (1:76) there will be plenty to create from scratch, the only restriction being my limited creative talents.

I’m not planning on including a nudist beach, nor these interchangeable toilet users, but you can buy almost anything to add life and detail!

So far it’s fun, despite a lot of lying on the laminate floor.





Down South

Dateline Tangalle 23rd Feb.

I’d really appreciate being able to have a long lie. I never seem tired in the evening and end up going to bed about midnight, but I still wake up about 5:30. I planned a leisurely start today, but was still on the go by 6. I must have a guilty conscience, but I wish I could remember what I did!

I meant to mention that some thieving b@stard pinched my breakfast cereal: the theft was discovered by me yesterday when I went to have my daily dose of iron shakti, mango pulp and – for all I know – genetically modified maize flakes. I have been keeping it in the fridge so the ants can’t carry it off, so that removes several million suspects in one go. On top of that, my latest carton of UHT milk has lumps in it: it’s not off, but the lumps of cream make my coffee less than appealing,

But let’s put my troubles to one side, or at least leave them until later.

After a non-breakfast consisting of flecked coffee, I pottered around as I didn’t want to start my trip too early.

About 10am, I began the first of three bus journeys – just to the bus station this time. A brief stop to stock up on the readies and then the second  bus: an hour and half to do the 45km to Matara. I think the laws of mathematics – and possibly physics – are suspended in SL as I can’t see how a bus that travels at such breakneck speed can only average 30kph. Anyway, I got a seat for the whole journey, I was next to a breeze-providing window and rarely had anyone sitting next to me, so I had no complaints. Now, I’m not slow in moaning if I feel the need but I really think the SL bus service is pretty good, if one ignores the execrable driving standards, which are not much worse than the rest of SL road users. You can get anywhere in SL by bus: every single village, hamlet or steading seems to be served and my journey to Matara cost about 40p. Matara is a main transport hub for the Southern Province of SL and has its very own Fort area, which I didn’t visit: maybe on the way back…

Not only is it possible to go anywhere cheaply, you can also do it frequently. I had hardly finished the Galle-Matara leg and hopped on to the Matara-Tangalle bus (40km, about 90mins) than we lurched off. Once again a seat, but as primary schools seem to finish out here about midday, there were lots of mums collecting their kids and just going a few stops, before being replaced by their counterparts in the next village.

I felt it was time for some music to drown out the horn section from the front of the bus, so on with the earphones and Pink Floyd. In my experience, Pink Floyd (and specifically Dark Side of the Moon) is the right music for any journey: I’ve lost count of the number of bus trips, flights, airport delays and so forth that have been ameliorated by the album.

Having done this journey last year, I remembered the bus station in Tangalle pretty well, also the two or three kilometre walk to the Ibis, so it was ‘No thank you’ to the importuning tuk-tuk drivers and I strode out.

Attentive readers will have noticed a lack of food so far and I admit to having been hungry by the time I’d left Tangalle town behind me. Having passed both Seanic Villa and Wavy Ocean Restaurent, I stopped at a beach-side place and succumbed to a very acceptable seafood-based lunch before continuing to the Ibis, my final destination. Well, I suppose death is the final destination, but I hope I’m speaking shorter term than that.

I won’t repeat lots of stuff about the Ibis as a quick search (see the “search” link on the right) will give you the background. Ranjith recognised me (good people skills but not a very clever trick, as he knew a repeat customer was coming) and I found my room.

SLankans seem to favour dark wood furniture. I see the benefit of rattan in this climate and I suppose the dark wood is local but, along with the mosquito nets, there is a tendency for the whole place to take on a Dickensian feel: think Miss Havisham. I almost feel the lack of antimacassars. That aside, my room is adequate, the shower has water – sometimes warm – and the beer is cold, so I’ve little to complain about.

Angelika, Ranjith’s wife and prime mover in the Ibis / Orphanage setup, is German, which explains the ‘Swiss Roesti’ on the menu; an option I was glad to take at my evening meal, followed by distinctly disappointing Pineapple Pancakes and Honey. The pineapple had either been forgotten or specially selected so as to be devoid of flavour. The honey is nice, but – unless this is different from previous experiences – does not involve bees; instead it is the sweet sap of a tree, but none the worse for that.

There’s a constant – and very welcome – breeze here, but you can just feel the humidity: bedding, towels, cushions etc. are all damp. In the UK ‘damp’ implies ‘cold’ but not here: damp is just damp. I slept on my my damp mattress and under my damp sheet like a damp log.

Despite there not being a Fur Elise-playing tuk-tuk in the vicinity, I still awoke at just before 6am, though I lay in bed and finished the latest ‘Rebus’ novel which I downloaded a day or two back.

A day or two back, possibly whilst eating Nasi Goreng in the Fort, I must have been aattacked by some malevolent blood-sucking insects. Less ‘artistic’ than the attack a few weeks back, these show in the form of blisters on my legs, clustered round where my shorts stop. Needless to say, they are itchy to the point of distraction, but my antihistamine is coming into its own again and everything is under control.

Anyway, that’s it for now: it’s Friday about 1:30pm and, having tucked into ‘toast’ (the peely-wally kind) and tea, I’m giving lunch a miss, but am already looking forforward to my evening meal. Ciao for now.

A Few Photos


Part of he Visitor Centre at Sinharajah


Swimming Pool in Gin Ganga


Sweet Potato plants




Kangaroo Lizard (with one bound he was free)




Trump without his wig?




General View


Giant squirrel makes its escape




Doctor Snail


Dilshan shins up a liana


Dilshan and millipede


Langurs still at the Jack Fruit in Sera’s garden


February starts

Two days’ worth as I missed Tuesday and apologies for the uninspired title of today’s posting.

After school on Tuesday we had another staff meeting: I think it’s more or less a weekly event, though not all will be relevant to me. Once again, Rick had those of us who were on time draw lots to win various goodies: a kitchen timer, a couple of glass serving dishes, a small wicker basket etc. I didn’t win anything, but quickly got over my disappointment when I manned up.


Some of the Lottery Prizes


A Lucky Winner

The only topic that might be of interest to some of you was feedback on the Christmas Concert (referred to as the “Holiday Program”). In a break from past practice, the Concert was held in the Chamber of Commerce rather than the school and Rick had invited feedback, which he carefully collated into a closely-typed A4 sheet with Pros and Cons as well as the survey results. Most of the sheet dealt with organisational matters: seating of children, management of kids during Staff items etc., but I thought “Some performances too long, consider timing next year” might ring a bell with some teachers I know! There were also calls for Santa to visit.

As the meeting continued, I occasionally found my mind wandering and watched a troupe of monkeys use the school rooftops as a passage way from one clump of trees to the next. Later, at Sera’s I watched a young monitor lizard scurrying – no, that’s the wrong word, lumbering, plodding, wading? – across the short grass. Young monitors, whilst no doubt endearing in their way, don’t have the “aaah” factor of kittens. It must be the lack of fur, the darting tongue and beady eyes or the curious gait.

Sera and family came back in the evening and by all accounts the wedding went well. It was held in Kandy at the Golf Club and tonight I saw some footage of the auspiciously-timed nuptials. Whilst the greens might not be up to scratch in a Scottish context, they looked good and provided an attractive background to the proceedings. Sera offered me a rambutan to eat: if these are unfamiliar to you, then the photos will give some idea. I had seen them often enough, but not knowingly eaten one. The taste and texture is akin to a lychee: Wikipedia confirms they are closely related. The fearsome looking spines are completely harmless, having a rubber texture. The flesh surrounds a sizeable stone. I like rambutan.


Rambutan – a Still Life


Partly opened


Anyone fancy a zombie’s eyeball?

Today, Wednesday, was a big day. The new new IT teacher started work. The original new person turned down the job at the last minute and Yasendri is no more: instead we have Fathima. She is a young woman, mother of a two and a half year old, with British Computing Society qualifications. I think she has done some teaching before, but I’m not positive. She is very pleasant and seems eminently capable, with good English. Rick wants her partly to shadow me over the next month and a bit, gradually taking over entirely. She smiles and does that charming head wobble so common in Sri Lanka, a cross between “yes”, “uh-uh” and “maybe”: a sort of polite acceptance of what you’re saying without necessarily committing to agreeing. On top of her, metaphorically speaking, I also had Hajira – a young classroom-assistant in training. Her course takes a year and involves six months’ college and six months in schools. Given that I had suggested to Rick that we needed the services of an external  network technician to fix a problem (two turned up) and that an electrician had been summoned to replace a faulty socket, supervised by Zulfa from the school office, there were at times more adults in the IT room than there are kids in the primary section.

This evening Vanushka and I spent some time on MS Access again: I confessed to him that whilst Access is no doubt very useful and powerful I find it deadly boring, but we worked through some of it anyway.

img_20170201_202223Sera has just received a plaque from attesting to the 9/10 rating Sera Villa has been awarded. It is thoroughly deserved. The rooms are adequately equipped – though an armchair would make a welcome addition to augment the patio chair and table. The kitchen is also fine: I suspect most of the quirks are cultural, or just the local way of doing things. The grounds have been prettied up and are nicely-lit. The location out of town may have disadvantages, but there is a good local service into town for 6p, with the bus stopping opposite the house. Amjit is almost constantly on duty, certainly in the early mornings, mid afternoons and evenings: he keeps the place clean, provides tea or coffee if requested, runs errands and chats to residents where language allows. He also showed me the plaque with pride. Sera is generally around in the evenings to welcome guests, some of whom arrive quite late. Though my stay is quite understandably more firmly on a business footing this year, the whole family are kind and generous. Poornima provides cups of tea at the drop of a hat and, whilst I was with Vanushka, a pineapple from a place whose name I’ve forgotten but is synonymous with the best Sri Lankan pineapples. I like pineapples.

Tomorrow, Thursday, will be yet another different day. I am accompanying the primary school swimming. The little ones went on Tuesday, but that didn’t involve me. We are going in the school bus, so I’ll get a chance to see that, to a hotel’s swimming pool, I think. Rick – who is a PE teacher – will already be there in the pool and there is a swimming coach. I may or may not decide to go in the water.

After school I’m going to Colombo and on Friday I’m going to see about extending my visa to cover the rest of my stay. I’m staying the two nights in City Beds or whatever it’s called, where I stayed after my flight. Due to the frustrations of “typing” on my Kindle, I suspect any blog will be short. It’s also, just this minute, dawned on me that Saturday is National Day, the anniversary of the country’s independence. I don’t know how, if at all, that will affect my trip to Colombo: not much with any luck.