Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Garlieston & Cruggleton

The photo above shows how relaxed people are in Scotland. There is a big sign on the righthand side that says "NO BOATS OR TRAILERS" obviously the tranquil setting is good for those with a laid back sort of nature. If a sign like that was disregarded down south the consequences would be grim. At best you'd get away with having your trailer clamped but most likely you'd return to find that your boat had been made into a cube. Still that's enough of that let's get on with nicer things.

Hi and welcome back to my tour of Scotland; it's guaranteed to be free from tartan, bagpipes and there won't be even a hint of monster Lochness or otherwise.

Last week we arrived on the Isle of Whithorn and made ourselves comfortable in a lovely cottage a good caber toss from Whithorn harbour. It's a feature of our holidays that my wife and I spend very little time relaxing in our accommodation because we like to be out and about exploring. I think if you've driven over 200 miles to get somewhere you need to see as much as possible. Terry Anne says that having a holiday with me is like going on army maneuvers, but she's just as as bad as me. We once visited two stately homes and gardens in the same day and ended up literally crawling to bed.

Every night after a good day out we would usually drag ourselves back to our cottage and be fit for nothing but a bit of telly, reading and sleep. In fact we'd be so tired that we'd probably be in bed by 10 every night. I know that's not what most people do when on holiday but it suits us. Anyway the Isle of Whithorn has so many attractions that we found it easy to achieve our usual state of absolute exhaustion.

On the Sunday we thought a leisurely look at Whithorn Harbour would be a pleasant way to start the day
and that was how it turned out. We wondered along the harbour walls looking at the boats and and then had a stroll out across the headland to see where the Wicker Man was burned, and had a stroll around the ruins of St Ninian's Chapel which was built in 1300. We also came across a lovely seat that had been carved out of granite as a memorial to the seven local fishermen who where tragically lost when the Solway Harvester sank off the Isle-of-Man, in January 2000.

Although it was a sunny June day when we visited the harbour the wind was coming from the north and it had quite a bite to it. We decided that we'd have our lunch in the Steam Packet Inn that overlooks Whithorn Harbour and we had a lovely meal.
With or stomaches full of lovely grub and our bones warmed up, we decided to a take a drive along the east coast of the Isle of Whithorn and have a look at the coastal village of Garlieston and also visit Galloway House Gardens.
Do you ever have one of those moments when a word triggers off a song? Well after looking at the map to check the directions for Garlieston I couldn't help but keep singing, "Garlieston, oh Garlieston" to the tune of Galveston as sung by Glen Campbell. Every time the word came up I'd find myself breaking into song, that was until my wife told me to stop it, whilst giving me one of her looks. Anyway,I didn't want to end up like Lot's wife, so I shut up and concentarted on the lovely scenery.

After about thirty minutes of tootling along minor roads we arrived in Garlieston and found it o be a beautiful and quiet place even though we had arrived on a Sunday afternoon in mid-summer. The harbour is big and very pretty with lots of pleasure craft at their moorings. Beyond the harbour wall there is a vast pebble beach and a nice coastal walk can be taken to Cruggleton Castle.

The harbour at Garlieston was used during the second world war for the sea trials of the Mulberry Harbours that were used in the successful landings in Normandy. We walked around the village and spent a while watching the unusual sight of a flock of swans frolicking in the sea water.
Whilst at Garlieston we carried on with our original intention of taking a look at Galloway House Gardens. The car park was just outside the village and we enjoyed a lovely peaceful walk through the trees and shrubs down to the beach. While we were disappointed with the lack of flowers, this was more than made up for by the level of serenity which we enjoyed during our visit. We paid to go in via an honesty box and never saw another soul during the two hours that we spent there. Blow you can see a photo of the deserted beach that can be found at the end of the woodland walk.

By now we'd had enough for one day and decided to head back to the cottage. However, we had to stop on the way back when we saw a curiously positioned church in the middle of a field. It was surrounded by small trees and encircled by a stone wall. A photo can be seen on the right.

Our curiosity got the better of us and even though our legs were already complaining we walked across the field to take a closer look.

Our walk was in vain as the gate was securely locked so we took some photos and left.
I found out later that the church was built in the 12th century and was used by the Lords of Galloway who lived in the nearby Cruggleton Castle.

I leave you with another view of Whithorn Harbour to enjoy until next time.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Essays and Harbours

A picture of me on the harbour wall in beautiful Garlieston.

Hi all
Before we get stuck into our tour of the Isle of Whithorn, I thought we'd take a look at a writing issue that came up this week.

A couple of days ago I got an e-mail inviting me to become part of an essay writing team and this cheered me up a bit because invites are usually good, especially those that include nice food and drink. That wasn't the case here though and when I read that they would be pleased to pay me less than 50% of the value of each essay I wrote for them, my heart began to sink. Well to be honest ice burghs and a certain ship of the White Star Line would be more like it.

To add insult to nausea the requirements weren't for any old essay, these needed to be academic essays fit for university students. Therefore each essay would require a considerable amount of research to ensure that it met the standards required. While the normal half of my brain was reading the e-mail, the cynical half was trying to work out what was actually going on here. Suddenly the mist cleared and it was like a ship coming out of the fog.

What these people wanted, was for me to spend my time researching and writing essays for students who can't be bothered to do it for themselves. Shame on them. Why is it that so many people would rather take any rotten short cut than gain the satisfaction that only comes from knowing that you've worked hard and done a good job?

This company made out that the essays would not be passed off as the students own work and that they'd be used for reference purposes only. Give me a break, if they wanted it to aid their studies they could get the same information from the same places that I did and for free. To assume that they wouldn't pass them off as their own work is like like thinking Billy the Kid only bought his guns to shoot at empty bottles that he'd perched on the top of some fence posts.

I guess this sounds as if I've got on my soapbox. Well I'm sorry about that because I was looking forward to going to the Isle of Whithorn and telling you about lovely places like Garlieston, but I don't fancy it now. A journey like that needs to be enjoyed and savoured. Perhaps we can go there tomorrow and in the meanwhile I'll tell you what I think about the upper end of our education system.

Let me make a clear statement. I think education is a great thing and our universities are doing a great job educating thousands of hard working students. However, I also believe that the university system is now as much to do with money as it is with with providing knowledge.

There are universities popping up everywhere and even my own town has produced one. There's nothing wrong with that of course as long as it and others are providing courses that are really needed.It seems to me now that university education is a bit like the chicken and egg scenario.

I'll qualify that by saying that many students seem to look at the university prospectus and then plumb for courses they think they will either enjoy or will be easy when compared with the others (this is especially so if they can buy ready written essays to help them along the way). So they pick a course that suits them and then when they've completed it, they start to look for work. The trouble is they soon discover that there is little call for Bohemian, toe-nail painters in Stoke-on-Trent, so they either languish about on benefits or take a job in the local chippy.

Now before you berate me, I'll tell you that I'm not making it up, that is what happened to three people I actually know. Let's be truthful, many people became students and attended universities with mixed motivations. Now some of you may expect that the main driver would be to increase their knowledge and make it easier for them to get a well paid job in a profession they have chosen. The reality is that they will take any course as long as it means that they can postpone the day when they have to get off their bums and work for a living. The problem is we have too many universities offering Micky-Mouse courses and too many students looking for an easy ride.

Real students do it the other way round and this is the way the system should operate.

The would be student has a proper career in their mind. They find out what qualifications are required to attain a position in this line of work. They then seek out a university who will provide them with the education necessary to achieve their goals. After they leave university they find a well paid job as a reward for all of their hard work and go on to live happily ever after in a nice house with a nice car.

This is how it is for many hard working students and the way it used to be before providing university places turned into a money spinning opportunity.

Anyway that's enough of me beating my gums but you can be assure that this is one writer who won't be providing essays for students either bone idle or otherwise working their balls off.

My next post will be just about the Isle of Whithorn and there won't be a student or univerity in sight. My normal pleasant demeaner will be restored as soon as possible.

By the way if you want to see some of the short stories I have on my website please click on this link to go straight there. You will find several short stories to make comment on and a free sample download of my fishing book.
Click here to go to my website

I couldn't go without letting you see another photo of Garlieston there will be more about this quaint village in my next post.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Fishing and Marmite

Hi all,
The drawing on the left is from my angling book and more information can be found at the end of this post.

It's been a very busy week but my eldest son popped by the other day and we talked a lot about work. He and his brother for that matter both take after me in so much as they are very hard working. However, there the similarity stops, because unlike them, I always found time for my hobby. I would, weather permitting, fish at least once during most weeks of the year and more than likely it would be twice a week in the summer.

Okay you can call me a male chauvinist pig but I believe that if a man's been working hard all week just to get a box of coco-pops on the breakfast table, he should be entitled to some relaxation. And when it comes to relaxation, fishing has got to be a whole lot better than gambling and kerb crawling. I tried the latter once and it played havoc with my knees.

You don't have to get your violin out at this point unless you really want to, but in those days it wasn't enough to just put four and a half days in as most do now. I'm talking five full days, Saturday mornings and three nights overtime during the week.

Who could blame me if I wanted to go fishing on a Sunday morning with a bunch of my mates. Some weeks it would be a pleasure session whilst on others we would take part in a fishing match. We all lived for those few hours when we could sit in the fresh air and take in some pleasant scenery.

Chuck in a bit of friendly banter and a few fish and one's batteries would be refreshed and be ready to do another week at the grindstone.

My first wife understood my needs, well I thought she did until one night when I came home from graft-city to find she'd done a runner.

Anyway, neither of my lads have followed in my footsteps when it comes to hobbies. It's a shame really because I would have liked to have seen them put a few trophies on their shelves and doing something other than work.

I suppose the reason they never took up fishing is because I took them with me several times when they were very young and impressionable. These weren't proper week-end fishing sessions but events that were crammed into a summer's evening when I was on babysitting duty. They weren't actually babies of course they were a bit older than that but still a handful on the canal towpath especially for a man like me who must've been awol when they were dishing out the patience.

The truth is that when my wife was working a twilight shift in a local factory I would take my lads with me down the canal to go fishing. Trouble is it wasn't a pleasure session I was actually using these outings to practice for the local championship which was fished over a series of matches during the summer.

Anyway, I suppose they were bored and I was bad tempered through having to look after them and that was it, they were turned off the best sport in the world for life. Fishing I suppose is a bit like marmite you either love it or hate it and they definitely didn't love it.

It's a shame they'll never know the pleasures of the rod but every cloud has a silvery lining, I did manage to go on and win that championship for two years in succession. Here you can see me being presented with the championship trophy. I'm the fellow on the right sucking on the pipe. Fishing apart it's only after having a heart attack and being forced to give up smoking that I have realised how silly it was. In almost every photo of me that I can find, I've got that stupid thing hanging out of my face. I obviously wasn't as clever then as I thought I was.
To see more information about my fishing book or download a sample click here.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Isle Of Whithorn

Isle of Whithorn. A lovely view of Whithorn Harbour.
Hi All,
I'm going to have to ask the writers and anglers to be patient because this post is all about the Isle Of Whithorn. If you do read on I might be able to whet your appetite for a break in a beautiful part of the world.

You won't have to worry about delays at the airport, air crews going on strike or even whether some old volcano is going to blow its top. There is another thing too, you won't see a scene like this anywhere in Greece or the Costa-del-packet

There is so much to see in and around the area of Whithorn that it will be the focus for my Scotland posts for many weeks to come. Anglers and writers will be catered for in between.

I don't know about you, but when I'm booking a holiday cottage I'm always wondering what I can't see on the picture that they present. The people who do the brochures are experts in making some places look far better than they are. They must go to the same school as the ones used by estate agents. Anyway, I always have this horrible feeling that when I reach my destination that the cottage that looked sweet and peaceful in the brochure will turn out to be a nightmare because it has happened before. One place I booked was a rat infested barn conversion and another turned out to be nothing better than a nissen hut. Neither of these were in Scotland I hasten to add, but sadly in my own country. I can honestly say that all of the accommodation we have booked in Scotland so far has been tip top.

Still the days of deceit will soon be over in England thanks to google street map. Using this lovely bit of technology you can soon find out if the cottage you are thinking of booking is a dump and located between a chippy and a youth club.

We had a long but pleasant journey to Whithorn especially after we'd left the motorway. The A75 which takes the traveller to catch the ferry at Stranraer can be busy but the scenery is nice to drive through and it is possible to drive for over sixty miles without seeing a single traffic light so that can't be bad can it. So far I've yet to encounter any of those humps they call "Sleeping Policemen" anywhere in Scotland. Stafford the town where I live is a disgrace when it comes to traffic jams, speed humps and pot holes. The council is telling us how short of money it is and can't afford the people and tarmac to fill in the pot holes, yet it is still building more speed humps using the very same material and manpower.

Okay that's enough of that negativity, let's get back to Whithorn. As we got closer to the cottage my level of anxiety went higher; would it be as good as it looked on the photo and would the location be as expected? Well I needn't have worried it was even better than I'd hoped. It was in a nice secluded spot with views of the Galloway Hills and surrounding countryside.

The location was ideal too, being half way between the Village of Whithorn and Whithorn Harbour. St Ninian's Cave was also within walking distance of the property but we didn't bother going to see it. If you've seen one cave you've seen them all. A cave is just a bit of tunnel in a rock face that is probably full of bat crap. Not interesting and certainly not pretty.

I'll leave you with a picture of a boat taken in Whithorn. It may not make much sense to start off with but it made us laugh because our visit was in the same year that the drama programme "Das Boot" was shown on telly. It followed the progress of a German submarine and its crew through several weeks of the second-world-war. Those of you who saw this compelling drama will no doubt recall the the frantic shouts of "Alarm, Alarm," as the submarine and its anxious sailors dived for safety on a regular basis.

I guess there must be a German living in Whithorn and perhaps they do have a sense of humour after all.

Now we have arrived in Whithorn and you've seen where I'm staying, in my next Scotland post we can start exploring it together.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Seven Spiders

Hi all,
I'll tell you about the painting above shortly, but before I do that I'd like to touch on the subject of writing. For those of you who are inquisitive I've put another story on my website for you to read at your leisure. If you are a writer use it as a benchmark to judge the quality of your own writing. It's one of my early but sad efforts and it fails to do the business. I suppose it's biggest problem is that it lacks focus, it isn't a story but it isn't an article either, so it's no wonder it came back quicker then a greased boomerang.

Anyway, it was a few years ago and one of my first attempts at writing funny stuff. When I read it back for the first time today I thought it was like my home town, only good in places. I qualify that by saying I live in Stafford and although the park is good, the hospital's reputation has been tarnished. To be honest though, it's better than it was.

If you go to my website you will see the story or monologue called "Seven Spiders Before You Die," please give it a whirl and let me know what you think. On a scale of 1-10 with 1 being as joyful as a squirrel with a nut alergy, whereas a 10 can only be achieved if you laugh so much that all the loose change falls out of your pockets.

Okay, let's get back to the painting that I opened the post with.
Last week my birthday came round again just like it does every year. Since suffering a heart attack I have mixed emotions about my birthdays and this year was no exception. Part of me was sad that another year had flown by and although I won't give my age away, I'm now closer to 60 than I am to 58. However, I can still rejoice in the fact that the aspirins are still doing their job and I've survived for another year.

Anyway, this year most of the presents I received were books so that's got to be a good thing, but what really cheered me up was a birthday card. It was painted especially for me by my second wife Terry and that is the painting at the top of this page. The remarkable thing is that she'd never done any art until she met me. I guess I must just ooze with inspiration, well that's what I like to call it.

It's a long story, but after my first wife scarpered for no apparent reason leaving me as lonely as a lighthouse, I was so desperate for company that I put an advert in the paper and Terry answered it. Like I said, she couldn't paint at the time but now she's knocking stuff out that's of gallery quality. In fact, I think she could give Van Gogh a run for his money and she's still got both of her ears.

If you want to see some more of her brilliant paintings and a few of my modest efforts, please take a look at our painting website.
Our paintings

I'll leave you with a portrait Terry painted of me from the photo as seen. I reckon it's pretty good, but what do you think?

Saturday, 10 April 2010

A Fishy Menu

Could you eat this lovely fish?
Hi all,
Coincidences are funny things, they always seem to come together. Earlier this week I was reading a report on the Internet about some immigrants that were tucking into our native coarse fish. Not a nice thing I know but I didn't give it a second thought until the same subject came up in a book about canals that I was reading last night.

I was just on the verge of putting it down and slipping under the duvet when the author mentioned that some immigrants were fishing near to where he was moored. Being the inquisitive type he had a little chat with them and apparently, any fish they caught were sold to some fancy restaurants that put them on the menu.

Well I don't know about you but roach risotto isn't for me and I'm not fussed about carp curry either. I like my fish to come out of a big blue ocean not the grand union canal.

And yes, I have tried eating freshwater fish but I wasn't impressed. I ate a trout that I'd caught in a Welsh lake and to be honest it tasted so earthy I'd have been better off grilling a farmer's sock. Just think about it, if a fish that's lived all it's life in gin clear water has the same flavour as mud, what's a gudgeon out of the cut going to taste like?

Anyway, I don't blame the immigrants because it's all down to culture they probably think we are mad for sitting there fishing for hours on end and then throwing back what we catch.

My father gave up coarse fishing when it became non-pc to eat what you caught. He was a great lover of pike and also had an appetite for perch which he skinned like a rabbit. He once caught a lot of skimmer bream but when he found them to be full of bones and a bit thin in the meat department, I had to help him bury them at the bottom of the garden. It may have been a bit of a disgrace, but we had a bumper crop of spuds on the same patch the following year, so those lovely fish didn't go entirely to waste.

This all seems so barbaric now but you have to remember that in my father's time there was a measuring rule on the side of the Severn Trent Water Authority fishing licence, the enabled the angler to measure every fish he caught. There was also a list telling the angler what size each species of fish had to be before it could be taken for the pot. If I remember correctly a roach had to be at least 8 inches when measured from the tip of it's snout to the fork of it's tail.

So I don't suppose my dad was doing to badly even though it would be frowned upon now. He was spurred on by the fact that he liked a drink (anything with alcohol in it)so any money he saved on food would go into the fund that helped him slake his thirst. This takes me neatly to the Jack Pike that he simmered slowly in a full bottle of Harvey's Bristol Cream. "The pike," he said, "was no better than average but the gravy was absolutely delicious."

In my next fishing post I will tell you about a friend of mine and the carp he took home for his dinner.

My book "Fishing:Learn from the Tips & Laught at the Tales contains lots of true tales. A free sample download is available from my website at

Click here for free sample download

Friday, 2 April 2010

The Pirate & The Heavy Treader

This week we are still in the area around Rose cottage which is delightfully situated right beside the water at the end of a long lane near Kircudbright. The scenery is fantastic and in May the place is really brightened up with woods that absolutely tumble with blue bells and white ramsoms. The subtle colours of these two plants are then contrasted by the vivid yellow of the gorse as it lines the coast for mile upon mile.

I said last week that there is so much to do in this part of the world and one cannot fit everything into one week.
If you do visit the area I would suggest that one thing not to miss is a drive up to Clatteringhshaw's Loch. Here you can walk the banks of the Loch and see one of the many Bruce's stones that seem to be scattered about this part of the world. You can also enjoy the charms of the Forrest and Wildlife centre, but the best bit can be savoured for the journey back.

If you take the A712 from Clatteringshaw's loch towards Newton Stewart you will shortly come across "Raiders Road" Forest drive. This is a lovely drive through scenic countryside that is almost devoid of other traffic. If you like peace and quite this is a lovely place to go for a picnic. The drive is 10 miles long so there are plenty of opportunities to just pull over and have a cuppa. For part of the journey the track follows the Black Water of Dee as it races over rocks and forms magical pools. You will find that it is probably the best 10 miles you will ever drive in your life and all to soon you will be popping out onto the A762 where you can rejoin the real world.

I have driven this twice and although the surface isn't metalled it is wide and at the time I went it was smoother than the roads in my county town. A small toll is paid via a machine to go on the road but it is money well spent. For the record the track was used to drive cattle and was used as the basis for a book called "Raiders" written by S R Crocket in 1894. The book was about rustling and so that is how the Forrest drive got its name.

Aren't digital cameras amazing things. I bought one of the first ones that came out with some bonus money I got from work. It was an Olympus model, boasted 1.3 million pixels and cost me a whopping £250. Since then the prices have dropped dramatically and the pixel count has rocketed so that has got to be good for everybody.

I am sure you've all experienced the joy of being able to take as many shots as you like without worrying about the cost of buying and having your film developed. The only downside is that I sometimes take pictures of something and when I look back later I haven't got a clue where it was taken.

When I was looking through one of my galleries the other day I came across the curios photo of a sculpture that cam be seen above. At some time I had edited the photo and called it Heavy Treader but beyond that in the words of that great Spanish waiter Manuel, "I know nothing." If anybody can tell where I took it I would be pleased to know some details.

Whilst in this part of Dumfries and Galloway we also went to Shambellie house to see the costume museum, a photo of which can be seen on the left. We also went to the small village of Arbigland which had two distinctively different attractions. The first was Arbigland House gardens which consisted of a delightful walk through some lovely wooded gardens down to the shore of the Solway Firth.

However, the attraction we enjoyed most and one we still talk about years later was a visit to the John Paul Jones museum. John Paul Jones who was born locally was the founder of the American Navy and came back years later to terrorise his homeland. He was born in a small cottage in Arbigland and this can be seen at the attraction along with other interesting artifacts. However the star of the show for us was the video that was shown which chronicled the life of this navy commander, cum pirate. The video was shown in the back end of the replica of an galleon and as the video rolled so did the ship. My wife and I were almost seasick by the time the credits went up, but we also had a good laugh. Never had we had so much fun in the name of education.

I leave you with a picture of some cattle enjoying a pleasant ray of sunshine and look forward to writing my next Scottish post which will come from the stunning Isle of Whithorn. Meanwhile if you want to see some more of my photos Click Here