Saturday, 30 August 2014

Having a Whale of a time

 Day three of THA and we had a break in the weather, the rain stopped but the north wind continued to keep the temperature in single digits but kept the midges grounded. Early doors saw us clamber aboard Moby
 for a guided tour and photocall. When you get aboard you realise quite how big this whale ship really is. Tom intends to take it across the Atlantic so anyone with a lump of spare cash fancying a unique adventure give him a call.
 One of us wasn't able to get aboard but he alerted us to how fast the tide was coming in. With my capacity for self harm involving ladders Rocky sat waiting to help pick up the pieces should I do another faster than intended descent. Once we were safe back on terra firma the rest of the day was spent pretty much like the previous day but drier and warmer, half went fishing while the others learned how to cook ration packs.
 The latter part of the day involved more camp craft, some were more successful than others at the fire lighting task, essential as the fires were needed for cooking the evening meal.
 A cookery demo led by yours truly showed the victims volunteers how to cook
 a balanced meal of meat and two veg with garlic, lemon and olive oil in the ash of a camp fire.
 45 minutes later those who had listened and managed to get their fires going got to eat a lovely hot meal (despite the sunshine the wind persisted!)
 The backdrop to the day was pretty spectacular, as the weather cleared further the target mountain appeared.
 Then it changed back to rain again
 but unable to make its mind up it soon changed back again so we retired to our tents for the night.
Which was when I discovered the joy of sharing small tent with a very large dog.

Friday, 29 August 2014

The Rhythm of Life

Taking a break from updating you all about the Highland Adventure as yours truly has been across several counties celebrating the wedding of Sam and Kat. This did mean that we were unable to head further north to meet up with Andy without his bike who is over from Germany a fantastic shambles of diary planning and geography I was unable to get to see him after he managed to get himself and others across several countries for a UK holiday. Final kit check of the morning found a stowaway, within Ruby's cavernous interior its quite easy to lose a 50kg dog.
Wedding car at the ready.
The very happy couple. Sam has foolishly agreed to be Godparent to rug rat mkII and thankfully RRMkII did not barf on the wedding suit or dress when they gave him a cuddle.
The apprentice was not happy at wedding, apparently yours truly's rendition of Jerusalem is not an X factor winner but even I was surprised that my singing reduced him to tears. Once free from the Church he wanted to engage in the activity every three year old finds irresistible at weddings, running across the dance floor and sliding on his knees. We managed to keep hold of him just long enough to get a family photo.
With the arrival of the bride and groom the festivities commenced. Self censorship means that photos of me dressed as Supergirl will not be published
and this very civilised interior was soon full of lots of people old enough to know better than to dress in illfitting fancy dress and get amongst the free beers. As I was designated driver this meant watching others drinking vast quantities of real ale and merlot whilst cheerfully sipping elderflower presse.
Among the many highlights of a lovely day was the apprentice taking a break from putting holes in the knee of his trousers and being given a drum lesson by the very nice band drummer. Little t seemed to get as grip of what was required very quickly and so impressed was very nice band drummer that he gave little t a set of drumsticks. Little t then demonstrated how much like his older sister who is also a drummer he can be by running out into the car park to practice with new favourite toys by beating out an impressive rhythm on assembled Aston Martins, Range Rovers and BMW's. 

Attack of the Mutant Peahen

A classic B movie title.
Attack of the Mutant Peahen!

Six legs!

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Virtual camping

Day two of the Highland Adventure saw a complete change in the weather, sun as well as torrential rain but this only served to make the day more interesting as it was a day set aside for camp craft. In other words how to find a good site to pitch your tent and survive the night in the "wilderness"
Before we left we were treated to a guided tour of the worlds smallest yacht to cross the Atlantic by it's intrepid skipper. As the boat is only around 8 and half feet long it didnt take long and soon we were suitably inspired and on our soggy way.
The weather cleared slightly revealing the target mountain at the end of Loch Nevis, but for today we settled for a coast route to a practice camp site.
Terrain was difficult and one of my team had a bit of trouble finding the gate.
The beach was busier than we expected with boatmen from the nearby fish farm trying to recover the pontoon of equipment that had broken free from its moorings the night before.
I chose a pitch away from the main group thus ensuring peace and quiet, level dry ground and a handy bank/rock formation as a wind break. The rest of the group formed a rough huddle of tents similar to a rock festival campsite in a confusion of colour and guyropes. Those unlucky enough to pitch on bracken soon found it did not go as flat as they hoped.
Rocky stood guard while I cooked dinner on an open fire, hot dogs and bacon rolls followed by baked bananas stuffed with chocolate. Inevitably he got his share of the bacon and sausages.
The sun began to set and a decision had to be made as to whether to stay out overnight or take a short hike back to base and warm bunks with waterproof surroundings. This might seem like a no brainer but we were there to get a feel for life outdoors.
As the wind picked up and the clouds gathered I decided the group should head back, leave the tents pitched to test their weather worthiness, and spend a further night at base thus keeping kit and people dry. There was a bit of disappointment amongst the teams who wanted to tough it out but once we got back to hot chocolate and biscuits in the lodge while outdoors rain hammered down and temperatures plummeted in a relentless north wind it was definitely the right move. He who pitches and walks away lives to camp another day...or something like that.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Home by the sea

Day one of the Highland Adventure was marked by its appaling winter weather in August. Despite that we got on with leadership tasks and
under the everwatchful eye of Rocky
and a 68,000 ton sperm whale called Moby

we had our own boat race where two teams prepared their rubber dinghy for launch, then once the bluffers Cockle Shell Heroes pic had been taken the boats were squared away and repacked. This seemingly pointless exercise proved useful in so far as one boat was missing a vital valve, either dropped during the race or lost in transit (hence strange attempt to stop air escaping going on in the pic)and helped those who were brave enough later in the week to prep their boat for a sea launch get familiar with the equipment.
several team building exercises later, mostly centered around crossing the chasm of doom we grabbed a bite to eat and set off on a short hike to Tarbert. Progress was noted by a sturdy highland pony.

Tarbert had not changed much since my last visit, save for the old man who lived in the cottage who always came out to greet anyone passing has passed on and has been replaced by a recluse who hides and avoids passersby like the plague.

Another change was this little cottage built by a stonemason from the Isle of Skye, he pops over now and then by boat and is intrinsic to the construction of a palace for theatre royalty around the corner. I suppose he threw this up in the odd break or lunch hour as a bolt hole.

Victims Volunteers took a few moments to contemplate life the universe and everything sat on the porch of stone shack before the weather closed in again which

then turned the trek back into a nightmare.
We all made it back in one peice to a full sunday roast cooked by yours truly along with a home made bread and butter pudding. Rocky had his share then spent the evening guarding the breakfast cereals.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Setting the scene

The weather followed me south so today was spent confined to barracks and getting used to life that entails more than the contents of your rucksack and pockets. Before any tales of the Highland Adventure 2014 are shared the scene needs to be set hence the pic above of the very relaxed Tom MacClean, an inspirational character who owns a peice of paradise on the southern shore of Loch Nevis, basically go to Mallaig, turn left when you hit the sea, keep the coast on your right and his is the house with the life sized sperm whale on the doorstep.

Now in days when lanky bike riders get Knighthoods for cycling around the countryside being chased by a bunch of cheese eating surrender monkeys, this man is the current world record holder for solo rowing across the atlantic, was also the first person to ever row the atlantic (hes done it twice the hard way from North America and back)Sailed the Atlantic in the worlds smallest yacht, twice, the first time he did it someone else crossed in a boat smaller than his by 3 inches so he lopped off two feet with a chainsaw, glued it back together and did the whole thing again. He has also served his country in the paras, is the only civilian to have joined the SAS (basically he left the paras, hated being out, thought he would join the SAS and camped outside the gate until the commander got so fed up with him being there they let him have a go, he passed)and is the first civilian to live on Rockall, a lonely peice of rock in the Atlantic Ocean, and by doing so got the UK 200 miles around it of fish, oil, minerals and anything else to be found, all this (and more) and not so much as a mention in the honours. Scandalous really. Not that Tom would think that, he is the most modest self effacing man I know.

I first met him in 1996 when the Navy sent me to his adventure centre to ferry wet squaddies up and down the coast. I was also sat next to him when he drew a plan on a napkin to build Moby, a large whale shaped ship. It was no surprise to return a year or so later and see the plan had come to fruition and that MOby had been sything masts down in marinas up and down the Scottish Coast as Tom sought sponsorhip to get Moby to New York. .

Nothing phases this man, the fishing boat behind him in this picture sank one morning so he waited until a very low tide, dived in, filled the boat with bags, pumped it full of air and when she surfaced towed her to the beach and repaired her. Meeting him makes you think you could walk to to the moon if you put your mind to it. So what better place to go than his adventure centre to get back to basics and test a small group of victims volunteers.

So a big thank you to Tom and his lovely wife Jill for putting up with 12 soft southerners (ok one was from Scotland) as we battled against the hostile elements, flora and fauna. We all survived and want to go back for round two next year. Anyone can hire his centre, the tag line as tough or as tame as you like is very fitting. Details of his website will be posted later, meantime Google him.
Oh yeah did I tell you he crossed the Atlantic in a bottle?

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Back in the real world

I got a phone call from my parents today asking where I was as the blog was down, so I ommitted to tell them the boring stuff like saying goodbye to Miranda and replacing her with Ruby, or tell them that Portsmouth University are going to allow me to carry on studying as I have passed the first year. Instead I concentrated on boring them to death with details of where in the world I had just got back from as clearly I was at Rock HQ as they had just phoned me there.

This is Moby, more of him later, but he sits like a......erm...beached whale on the shore of Loch Nevis on the west coast of Scotland.

The reason for being there, yours trulys not Moby's, more of which later, not this posting but a later one, was to do some adventure training and pass on some skills to a bunch of victims volunteers that involved camping, mountain walking, field cooking and water based activities. We survived the worst August weather in living memory, broken down boats, over grown paths, my cooking and a slight navigation error that meant some happy campers had to endure an extra 400 metre walk after an arduous 3 kilometres.
So stay tuned to hear tales of Moby, solo atlantic crossings, Columbian drug smugglers, theatre royalty, campfires, rain, more rain, heavy rain, horizontal rain and an unceasing North wind.

Thursday, 14 August 2014