Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Wigtown and Bladnoch

Hi all, I hope you like the photograph above. It was taken from the side of the A712 a little way north east of Newton Stewart. He obviously fancied himself as The Goat of the Glen.

If you remember my last post regarding our holiday on the Isle of Whithorn, we had a full Sunday and came back knackered. On the Monday we decided we'd slow down a bit and take life at a gentler pace. We managed it, but only just.

Our first problem was that we needed to do some shopping, nothing serious, (we don't do that shop till you drop sort of nonsense)just day to day stuff like milk, bread and some other provisions that one needs to keep one's strength up. We had a choice, we could either go into Newton Stewart, which is the only town in the area big enough to have a proper supermarket, or we could use the local shop in the village of Whithorn. I'm pleased to say that common sense prevailed and we turned down the 36 mile round trip to the superstore in favour of the local shop.

It was quite interesting to go back to the old way of living when you could stand in a shop and tell the shopkeeper what you wanted. My wife stood there and reeled off the items that she had on her shopping list while the grocer went from shelf to shelf finding and bagging up the goods. The service was relaxed and friendly and the price difference when compared with the supermarket was not as big as I expected. The extra we paid for our groceries I expect was less than the cost of the fuel we would have used if we'd gone to Newton Stewart. If the experience had a down side it was just the lack of choice, but I suppose we've all been spoilt in that direction.

Anyway, we soon dropped our shopping off back at the cottage and we were off on our travels again. Our first port of call was Wigtown which is Scotland's book town and modelled on the original secondhand bookshop town, Hay-on-Wye, in mid Wales.
We walked around the town and visited all of the bookshops and found them very pleasant although there were few in number than can be found in Wales. However, that is more than made up for by the relaxed atmosphere that surrounds this lovely place. We purchased several books including George Orwell's 1984 which turned out to be a very good read.

The photo above was taken across the meadows below Wigtown.
By the time we'd done the books shops we needed to find some food so we left Wigtown and went to a pub that we saw on the way to the book town. It was in the village of Bladnoch which was only about a mile from Wigtown and we chose this because we hadn't finished with the book town yet.

We had a lovely meal in the pub which cooked delicious food. It was also ideally situated by the river Bladnoch which boasts a good head of salmon. In fact the pub also hired out fishing tackle for those who fancied a go and at least two sets of kit were taken out while we were there. Across the road from the pub is Bladnoch whisky distillery which is open to the public. We didn't bother going in because my wife is tee total and I've given up drinking for England.

Suitably refreshed we went back into Wigtown and visited the town hall to see some ospreys. They weren't actually in the building of course, but on the top floor there was an exhibition dedicated to this rare bird of prey. There was also live coverage being shown of some ospreys that were nesting somewhere in remotest Scotland.

Having seen enough of the birds we took off down to Wigtown old harbour to have a look at the Martry's Post. This was a sad tale, apparently two women covenanters were tied to posts here and left to drown as the tide came in down the Solway Firth. How people could stand by and watch others drown is beyond me, thankfully we now live in better times.

It was now mid-afternoon and we decided to finish the day off by taking the dog for a walk along the estuary. That's me with Buzby in the photo on the right. Here we enjoyed some fresh air and some of the most beautiful scenery in the British Isles. There is one thing for sure, Wigtown has more to offer than just books.

I'll leave you with a photo taken by Wigtown old harbour looking north towards Newton Stewart.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Writing letters

Hi All,
Sorry about this post being a bit late in coming and sad as it is, I've got to blame it on the weather. My problem is that my study is in the attic part of a dormer bungalow. This is fine in the winter but it isn't the place to be when the sun is burning down outside. So while the sun's had its hat on I've followed suit and put on my gardening hat and started to catch up with the weeds.

I will be keeping this post short because the sun is already beaming in at me so I'm going to go out again shortly and have a tug-o-war with some dandelion roots. Before I do that I'd just like to mention that I got a nice £50 cheque the other day from a daily newspaper. The reason I'm talking about writing letters again is because I'm now able to provide proof that letter writing is not only the easiest way to get published it's also a way of getting some nice little pay cheques.

The thing is, when I started writing my book about becoming a freelance writer, which will be available soon, I said that writing letters was the best way to get started in freelance writing and that anybody who took my advice would soon be getting some cheques through the post. Anyway, I thought I'd give it a go myself and following my own advice, I have during the last three months managed to write 9 letters. I wish it could have been more but time's been very tight with other writing commitments. The results from writing those nine letters is that 3 of them were published and I picked up a total of £125 for my efforts. I am pleased with this result because wrinting those letters wasn't half as taxing as most writing projects.

I used the information that I put in my book to make the letter writing process very easy and quick and I guess I spent less than 2 hours writing and sending those letters. You can do the sums as well as me and it meant that my hourly rate for writing letters was over £62.50 per hour. Now that's not a bad hourly rate by any stretch of the imagination. All the details about how to go about writing quick letters that will get published and you will get paid for, are in my book
For details about its publication, please keep an eye on my website where all the details will be posted. Click here to go to my website.

That's its for now I've got to go because I can hear those weeds growing so I'm going to sort them out. I want to make sure my plot stays looking like it does in the photo above.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Dora Sprake & Bottle Tops

Hi All,
I don't quite know how I got into match fishing, it certainly wasn't a conscious decision on my part. My father took me coarse fishing for the first time when I was about eight years old, and I carried on fishing for pleasure only until I was in my early twenties. At that time I was working in a large factory that made electricity meters and angling was a very popular pastime amongst my co-workers. So much so that the company had its own fishing club and the rights to some waters. These consisted of a pool which housed about thirty pegs and a stretch of canal at Shirleywitch, near Weston in Staffordshire. The odd thing about the rights that were held on this canal was that it was the opposite side to the towpath. We fished it from the field side and although it didn't seem strange to me at the time, I can't recall any other clubs having the fishing rights to a non-towpath side of the canal.

It wasn't a problem until the club that held the rights to the towpath side staged a match on the same day as us. It was quite a thing to see anglers sitting opposite each other all the way down the canal and tossing groundbait at each other's wellies. Everytime a boat came through it looked like a military wedding.

Because there were so many anglers in the factory, an annual fishing competition was held every year to win a big cup called the Dora Sprake trophy. The competition was held on four separate Saturday afternoons during the summer and fished on an inter-departmental basis. Five anglers were required for each team and I guess this is where I got roped in. The first year I fished it I hadn't got a clue about match fishing so our team failed to take the cup. However, I was learning fast and soon began taking part in club matches and going off on fishing outings to various venues around the Midlands.

I guess most anglers can remember when they had their first success in a fishing match and I'm no exception. Mine came after finishing eighth in the annual fur and feather match that was held on the River Trent at Farndon, near Newark. One of the reasons that this day was unforgettable was because it was my first time on a ferry. I still tremble when I think of how a coach load of anglers and all their tackle managed to get onto a flimsy vessel that wasn't much bigger than a park rowing boat. It was a November morning and strictly standing room only as we swayed our way across that swollen and icey cold river.

Anyway, we fished the match and due to coming eighth I won six bottles of Manns' brown ale. It's a shame that last roach came off at the net because I'd have got half-a-dozen bottles of Guinness if I'd managed to net it.
Ah well you can't have everything, to win something was nice and a glimpse of the success that would later come my way. On the right you can see a photo of me and two of the trophies I won in one year.

Now you can call me a sad wart if you like, but after I drank the contents of those bottles I kept one of the bottle tops as a memento. I put it into the little box where I keep all my little mementos of special occasions and that's where it still is today keeping a farthing and a set of worry beads company.

In fact it's quite ironic that I've still got that bottle top while all the other trophies I won during my fishing career have long gone. Fifty six I had in total, on four shelves in my living room. Well they were until I married my second wife, she reckoned they looked cheap and tacky so they all went to the tip. Ah well, she's damn good cook.

Anyway during that first year of match fishing I improved quite quickly and helped our team win the Dora Sprake Trophy at our second attempt. If you take a look at the photo at the top of this post you can see me in the middle wearing a funny seventies jacket. To my immediate right is one of my oldest friends and fishing companions Paul Burton and to his right is Neil Dale. It was Neil who taught me a lot about fishing and a few year later I was pleased when he had the good sense and balls to get out of the factory and follow his dream. He now runs the very successful and excellent Heronbrook Fisheries nr Eccleshall. This is probably one of the finest fishing venues in the country and I can recommed it to anybody. If you want to find out moreClick here to go to the heronbrook website
The fellow immediately to my left is a chap called John Hallsworth or "Irish John" as he was known to his mates. He did a runner to Ilfracombe with somebody else's mrs and was last known be living in Cheltenham. I did bump into him briefly around 1980 when I saw him during the interval at a Harry Chapin concert we were both attending in Birmingham. I haven't clapped eyes on him since but if anybody knows of his whereabouts I'd love to hear from them. Now it might just be old age but to my embarrassment I can't recall the name of the other member of the team. If anybody knows his name perhaps they'll get in touch and I can put the record straight.

My book on fishing, titled "Fishing: Learn from the Tips & Laugh at the Tales" contains lots of tips that are useful for match or pleasure fishing. It also includes many funny true stories from the real angling world. If you want more details including a free download click on the link below.Click here to go to my website

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Glasserton and foxgloves

I'd like to carry on the tour of the Isle of Whithorn from where we left off last time. You will remember that the holidays my wife and I take, turn into active affairs because while we are in a location we like to see as much as we can and hence we always return to our cottage well and truly knackered.

This holiday on the Isle of whithorn was no exception and I'll just recap how we started off the week and what we both thought was going to be a leisurely Sunday.

In the morning we visited Whithorn Harbour and had a walk around the headland taking in some ruins before retiring to the Steam Packet Inn for lunch. Following a lovely meal we took a ride to Garlieston and after walking around the harbour and village we visited Galloway House gardens and took the woodland walk down to the beach.

We had by now both had enough and with weary legs we got in the car and set off back to the cottage. However, on the way back we saw a strange church in the middle of a field and couldn't resist going to visit it. It was locked but we found out later that it was Cruggleton church and was built for the family that lived in the now ruined Cruggleton Castle.

By now as you can imagine we were getting very tired so we drove through the lovely countryside looking at the amazing flora and forna which included some gorgeous newly born calves and a long legged pony.
Anyway feeling reasonably exhausted, I guess we were only about 2 miles from our cottage and looking forward to a cup of tea when we entered the small village of Glasserton.

There we saw a home made sign by an entrance lodge that said, "Glasserton Gardens open this Sunday." My wife and I looked at each other and both new instinctively what the other was thinking. Because the sign said that it was open on Sunday, it meant that it was probably closed for the rest of the week. So I turned in and went down the long drive way and parked by a lovely old church that must have belonged to the Glasserton estate.

We walked through the churchyard and were greeted by a lovely couple from Yorkshire. They had taken over the gardens and were restoring them to their former glory. I can't recall the couple's name but they said that although Yorkshire was a very nice county they absolutely loved the Isle of Whithorn because of its quiet beauty. I had to agree, especially when one of them pointed out that it was over 60 miles to the nearest traffic light. Coming from Stafford this rang very true because here we have a traffic light on every corner. Our highways department seem hell bent on putting as many obstacles in front of the motorist as possible. We have to suffer: humps, chicanes, traffic lights, speed cameras, pedestrian crossings, cycle and bus lanes all within the same mile. Right that's enough of Stafford and its woeful traffic; don't get me started on why they have to keep digging up and messing about with the Newport road.

The gardens were an absolute delight and I've never seen so many foxgloves in one place. They came in every shade and being in a walled garden they were protected from the wind. I started this post with a photo of the foxgloves so now you know what it was you may want to pop back to the top and have another look at it. Sorry about the quality, it was taken with my first digital camera and it only had 1.3 million pixels and I was so tired(It's alright don't bother getting the violin out)I could have noddeed off standing up. Thankfully it wasn't a big garden but it was none the worse for that. We had the whole place to ourselves and Glasserton will linger long in our memories. But I think that was enough for one Sunday. we returned to the cottage to get a bit of sleep no doubt another full day would be ahead of us come the morn.
Click her to see more photos or our paintings.Click here to go to my freelance writing site and see my free download offer.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Proofreading & Bluebells

Hi all,

The photo above is just a reminder of how beautiful bluebells are and how lucky we are to be able to see this wonderful flower every year. They are in bloom at the moment, but they will only be here for a couple of weeks, so do yourself a favour and get out there and have a look at some if you possibly can. While you are there you can also take some photos to look back on in those dark winter days that will be with us all too soon. This one was taken last year in south west Scotland at the back of Logan House Gardens.

I thought I'd just give you an update about the book that I've just written which explains how to become a freelance writer. The book which include details of six, self-publishing options that are available to authors is now in the proofreading stage. This for me is where the really hard work starts.

One of the reasons that it is hard work is that when I write, I like to get the information down while it's fresh in my mind. I also seem to have dizzy fingers because although I know how to spell most words but the letters come out in the wrong order. I know that some writers advocate rewriting and proofreading the previous days work before they start again but that's not for me. If I tried doing that I don't think I'd get anything done.

Stephen King is one of many authors who think that it's better to write the whole thing and sort the details out later. Well if it's good enough for Stephen King then it's good enough for me.

I remember the joy that came from finishing the writing stage of my first book. I also remember how proud I felt when after proofreading the whole manuscript I gave it to my wife so that she could give it one last check. I of course thought it was perfect and almost dared her to find a single mistake. To my horror she found a mistake on almost every page. This was a revelation to me and I knew straight away that this meant that proofreading was obviously going to be harder than expected.

Now you can call me a nerd if you want, but I worked out the percentage of errors and found that in a manuscript that I thought was ready to go to the printers my wife had revealed a 98% error rate. This was almost as shocking as finding out that there ain't no Santa Claus (sorry if I've burst your bubble but if you're clever enough to read this, then you should know that big fat fellows can't get down no skinny chimneys) and that life doesn't start at forty. There was only one thing for it, I fixed the mistakes and put my proofreading glasses on again. Once more I read the book from cover to cover whilst expecting to find that it was almost perfect but it wasn't. This proofreading exercise revealed an error rate of 68% which is pretty poor. Now you might at this stage think that I was a crap proofreader and perhaps I wasn't the best but I thought I had a good eye for detail.

Anyway, I'll let you into a secret, I read that book fifteen times before I was happy that I'd eliminated every error. It took several weeks and wasn't a task that I'd relish doing again. I certainly won't be proofreading the book I've just written fifteen times and you can find out why in my next writing post.

The moral of this story by the way is don't just check your work once. Leave it for a while and then check it again, you will be surprised what you find.

If you want more details about my first book, "Fishing: Learn from the Tips & Laugh at the Tales" they can be found at my website. You can also download for free some sample pages.Click here for details

While you are there you might want to check out the book Stephen King wrote about writing; whilst recovering from a near fatal road accident. It is called "On Writing" by Stephen King and it is well worth a read.

If you want to see more photos of Scotland or some of my wife's paintings, pop along to our joint website which can be found here.
click here to see our paintings and more.
I'll leave you with a painterly picture of some more bluebells for you to enjoy.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

otters & hungry critters

Hi all,
why is that whenever I'm enjoying a bit of something pleasant, some news comes along to spoil it. I, like many hundreds of other sports lovers had been enjoying the snooker for the best part of a fortnight when it was spoilt by stories of suspected wrong doing. To be honest I didn't watch much of the final because the sport had been tainted.

But it isn't just snooker and other sports like cycling that are affected by the rumour mill. Fishing has been under siege for years from one threat or another and it's a minor miracle that we aren't all having to take a couple of Valium before we wet a line.

We've had threats from the anti-blood sports brigade, who, once they'd sorted out the nasty fox hunters were going to move on and fix the naughty anglers.

We've had the threat from Mink who having been freed from fur farms were going to devour our fish stocks. Then if there were any fish left after the mink had done its worst they'd all be eaten by the dreaded zander.

When the ferocious zander had filled itself up to bursting the cormorant would take over and there wouldn't be a fish left in the British Isles. And if there were any small pockets of our finned friends anywhere that were contemplating having a few fry to secure the future of the species, they needn't bother because the dreaded signal crayfish from America would eat all the eggs before they hatched.

I don't know about you but the area I come from must be a no go zone for all of these critters that are supposedly going to ruin our sport. Let me tell you how many of these horror boxes I've seen during the fifty odd years I've been wetting a line.

Mink, I saw one about ten years ago.
Zander, I've never seen a zander in my life let alone caught one.
Cormorants, I've seen one or two flying and one or two drying their wings but I could go for months without encountering one at all.
Signal Crayfish, I've seen just one and I think it must have been a vegitarian because it took a single grain of sweetcorn on a size fourteen.

Now don't get me wrong I'm sure there are places in the country where these beasties are running amok and I feel sympathy for those involved in trying to control them. But frightening people and making wild exaggerations has always been a good way to sell news.

Now you may wonder where this post is going, well stick with it because I'm coming to the point right now.

I have recently read several reports that otters are going to be the ruination of our course fisheries. According to some experts our sport only has 5 years left and then it will be wiped out by these furry little creatures. One labour MP has already said that the otter is responsible for a decline in angling. I won't get all political here but he ought to ask himself if it was the otter or the increased cost of living. My rod licence fee seems to go up by 8% every year, not exactly in line with inflation, and the cost of getting to a water to actually do some fishing is getting silly because of the tax on fuel.

Anyway, let's get back to the threat that comes in the shape of Tarka the Otter. Before you start worrying yourself grey and begin thinking about taking up a new sport like canyon jumping, ask yourself what happened to all the threats I've already mentioned.
You can also ask yourself this question. How may otters have you seen recently? I guess the answer is a big fat zero. The reason for this is because there are still very few otters about, I've seen several but I had to travel to Loch Sween in Scotland to do it. And even if the number of otters was to increase rapidly they would still have to follow the laws of nature. Think of it this way. If Tarka and co had thousands of cubs and their cubs had thousands of cubs and they ate all of our fish, what the hell are they going to eat next, our lettuce crops?

Nature isn't daft, as soon as the population of any animal becomes balanced, its rate of breeding is kept in check by the availability of food for it to eat. If this wasn't true we'd have been overrun by lots of other hungry fellows before now. Quite simply, nature will not allow the otter to eat all of the fish and wipe itself out.

At the top of this post you will have seen a picture from the front of a book written by Gavin Maxwell. It is called "Ring of Bright Water" and is the story of a man who takes an otter as a pet. It is very touching and an absolute classic. Anyway, If you get really upset about these otter stories in the press, try reading this book, I can guarantee you that if you then ever come face to face with an otter, you won't want to kill it you will probably just feel a need to kiss it.

Just a reminder that a free download of a sample of my book Fishing: Learn from the Tips & Laugh at the Tales can be found on my website.Click here to go to my website You can also find here a link to buy Gavin Maxell's book, it's well worth reading.