Day 5: Fisherman’s Mass

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I had a surprisingly peaceful sleep. Normally my first night in the tent is a very restless, uncomfortable one as my body has to adjust from mattress to the ground. When I awoke I could hear Jim and Brian rustling about and having a blether. They offered me some porridge, but I decided to settle with some pasta as I had to use up the sauce. I was asked to put radio campsite on. When I go backpacking, I take my trusty Creative Zen Touch mp3 player with me. It’s a bulky, solid built thing that holds over 2,000 songs and the battery lasts for 24 hours play time before needing to be charged. I also take some small foldup speakers with me too. Over the years, this combination has been affectionately nicknamed “Radio Campsite”, being the source of many a campsite ceilidh.

A little after 1pm, I decided to head into Castlebay. I needed to get bus times to the ferry terminal for the next day, so I nipped into the Tourist information centre. I was surprised that it was open on a Sunday. I got a bus timetable and had a wee wander around the harbour. This particular Sunday was a special one in Barra, the day of the annual Fisherman’s Mass and Blessing of the Boats. A Barratlantic trailer was set up with mass stuff and there were flags from all different countries hanging all over the pier. I was standing looking into the water, watching some small fish swimming about. They were like stars in the night sky: the more you look, the more you see. I was startled by someone grabbing me by the sides. I turned round to be face to face by a bearded, bunneted Barrach, drunk. He asked me how I was doing, so I told him I was fine and asked how he was. He said he was absolutely gassed. He had been setting up for the Mass all morning so had a few drams when he finished. He asked me my name so I told him. He shook my hand and said “Paul.”. Then I was presented with the most random question. “Do you have any pockets?”. I was standing there with outdoor trousers, and North Face jacket, so had loads of pockets! So I told him I did and he put a can of lager into my hand and said “you hang onto that for a wee while, just a wee while” and then he wandered off. I stood there staring at the can, bewildered at the bizarre conversation I had just had with this maverick.

I laughed to myself and decided to head to the pub. As I walked up the busying street I could see Paul randomly chatting to every person and car he saw. Only in Barra! When I got to the pub, I was glad to see my friends Ian, Toots and Paul (not the Paul I had just met) there. I felt like we hadn’t had a proper chance to catch up. I started to regret sacrificing a day in Barra to go to Mull; my time in Barra had been too short.

I went down to the pier just after the Mass commenced. I’m not a religious guy, well not in the god, Jesus and Mary sense, but there is something nice about the Fisherman’s Mass. Hearing the hymns sung in gaelic is great, but for me I like how different the whole ceremony is from what I expect a typical Mass is like. The focus of the Mass is the sea and keeping believers safe. Thanks is given for keeping our fishermen and anyone that works on or around the sea safe, but it is also acknowledged that “the storm will come.” The boats in the harbour are then blessed to keep them safe for another year and people go up to take communion. Then the fun begins! Fresh herring is cooked on the pier and free to anyone who wants some. All of the boats are dressed up like an oceanic fancy dress party and people are invited to take a ride on one during the procession. Apparently, they used to have a boat race, but because of health and safety they now have a procession.

I met Brian, who was catching some rays on the grass next to the pier. He said we he had booked us a table at Café Kisimul for dinner…score! From the name of the place, you would expect it to be just a normal typical cafe. Not Café Kisimul! It serves the tastiest curries I have ever had. They also serve Italian food but I’ve yet to try it.20110729-173047.jpg I headed back to the bar and watched the boats playing in the bay. There were a few hairy moments when I thought some boats were gonna crash into each other, but all was fine. Brian and Jim joined me in the bar and decided to have a spontaneous HitchHop raffle in the bar, so a poster was put up saying it would be drawn at 7pm.

5pm came and it was time for dinner. We got ourselves down to Café Kisimul and ordered. Instead of my usual korma I decided to try the bhoona instead. After some poppadoms, dinner was served. Absolutely delicious! I think I’ve found a new favourite Indian dish. Over dinner, we discussed plans for the next day. I had been thinking about staying in Barra for an extra day and only go to Berneray for one night. However, i decided not to so was gonna get the morning ferry over to Eriskay. Brian and Jim told me they are planning to try to hitch for the late morning ferry. I decided to do the same; it would be nice not to have to get up mega early to get the bus to Aird Mhor.

We returned to the good old Castlebay Bar, and had plenty of time to sell raffle tickets. I was watching the magic of HitchHop happening before my very eyes as an extra £50 had been raised by selling raffle tickets. There was a whole host of prizes, from RNLI dish towels, to CDs to whisky! The draw was a great laugh, with one table being particularly lucky, winning CDs, some other goodies and one of the top prizes: a bottle of Bunnahabhain single malt!

After the raffle, I headed down to the school for the ceilidh. The Fisherman’s Mass family ceilidh is always a great laugh. It is usually held in the assembly hall, but this year it was in the bigger games hall. I arrived to the Vatersay Boys playing the “Hokey Cokey”, always a good laugh. I met Brian and Jim and we got the drinks inn. I realise now that I didn’t actually dance…very unusual for me at a ceilidh. I don’t know why I didn’t dance to any of the sets. I did enjoy watching the madness of the Orcadian Strip the Willow and wish now I had taken part. After the set dances, the Vatersay Boys piped up with their legendary “Oidhche Bha” and that was me switched to dancing mode. We were all dancing about like mad, then they ended the night with their brilliant rendition of Mark Knopfler’s “Going Home”.

Back to the Castlebay and it was busy 20110729-173131.jpgagain. We stayed for a pint and then headed back to our camp in the still, still night. My last night in Barra.

Sean McCann is a member of my favourite Canadian band, Great Big Sea. “Rather Be a Sailor” is my favourite song from his second album, “Son of a Sailor” and I think it deserves a wee mention in this post.

If you’ve never worked on water
If you’ve never sailed the sea
You still have a lot to learn
Of living strong and free
With your face to the bow
And your back to the breeze
There’s nothing like a sou’west wind
To set your mind at ease

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Day 4: Heaval

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I woke up to glorious sunshine. Then, as the memories of the previous night started to come together, I remembered I had agreed to walk up the largest hill on Barra: Heaval. I checked my phone to check the time, but it was dead. I was due to meet Ian at the square at 9am and I hadn’t a clue what time it was. Luckily, Michael had just woken up too and told me it was only 8:15. Phew. I gathered my things together and Michael said he would come too, so we left our bags in the hostel living room and would get them later. After a quick wash and tidy up, we were walking to the square.

I nipped into the grocers on the main street and got some juice for the walk. We met Ian just after 9am and we were all in fine form, ready to climb Heaval. Coincidentally, later that day was the Heaval hill race. We had previously learnt that the record for the race is around 26 minutes to run all the way up and back down again. We just hoped we could make it to the top! As we started to walk up the glen, we eventually found a good place to cross the fence onto the hill. We also met Wynne and Scott, who I had met on the ferry the previous day and who Ian already knew. We were happy that we had a larger group than expected so we started our trek up Heaval.

We took our time going up, as some of us (me included) weren’t the fittest and we didn’t need to rush. It was brilliant, we had a right good blether on the way up. Everytime we turned around, we could see Castlebay getting smaller and smaller, and could see further and further out to other islands. I started to wonder how many islands Brian and Jim would get to that day, and every time I saw a small boat I wondered if they were on it. About halfway up we sat down for a rest and took in the amazing view before us.

We continued upwards, and after walking for about 45 minutes, I started to wonder how on earth someone was able to run up and down the hill in just 26 minutes. They must be superhuman! From then on it got a little steeper and I could start to feel the pain of exercise. I really must get fitter. About 3/4 the way up, we stopped again and could see the summit. However, having been up hills before and been misled by false summits, we had our doubts as to whether or not it was the summit. We continued and the hill was steeper again. Michael stayed where we had rested and we thought he would keep on going and catch us up. When we were on the last climb, we kept looking around the hill to see if we could see Michael. Not a trace. I yelled to him, but no answer. We started to get worried that he had got lost, but we also wondered if he had maybe turned back. The four of us continued to the summit.

There was a drastic change in the temperature before we reached the summit. It had been really warm and still all the way up, but all of a sudden it had gotten colder and windy. We reached the summit and were surrounded by cloud. We celebrate, shouting out “Mountain high!” in a Tennessee accent and took some photos at the trig point. It was amazing when the clouds would open and let us see down…you could see around the entire island from the top. Ian had a can of McEwan’s Export with him (Dr McEwan) which we all shared to celebrate reaching the top. After a few photos and a break, we decided to start heading back down and see if we could see Michael.

As we headed down, immediately the wind dropped and it got warm again. Still no trace of Michael. We walked out to the statue of Our Lady, Star of the Sea and took more photos. We looked out over the hillside and could still see no trace of Mi20110722-184313.jpgchael. I’m not the most confident person when it comes to walking downhill, and after my experience on Clisham a few years back, I developed a quicker, and much more fun, way of getting downhill…sliding down on my waterproof trousers! It’s just like sledging and if the terrain is all grass and moss, it’s plain sailing! We all had a great laugh at me zooming down the hillside, and Wynne got a great pic of me in the act, but I’ve not seen it online yet. We realised we had taken a different route down, walking further east than where we started, but we also realised that this was probably the most common way up the hill as it had a clear track. It was a bit boggier than the way we went up, but it was definitely much quicker. We probably made it down in half the time it took to walk up.

At the bottom, we had another look up the hill to see if there was any sign of Michael. Any dark shape we saw, we wondered if it was him, so the binoculars were out to get a better look. All of a sudden, we realised he was sitting on a picnic bench behind us! What a laugh! Wynne drove us back to Castlebay and the five of us nipped into the bar for a wee pint. I was keen to get out to Ledaig to pitch my tent, and I also wanted to walk out to Tangasdale to see one of my favourite spots on the island….2 hours later I was still in the pub!

I decided enough was enough, so I nipped along to the hostel to gather my stuff and walked out to Ledaig. Brian and Jim were already pitched there, and we have fond (!) memories of camping there last year. It was at Ledaig that a storm came and claimed my tent and our friend Jules’ tent. But it didn’t deter us! It was still a sunny day and by the time I got to the camping spot I was a bit tired. I had planned to pitch my tent as quick as I could and then head back to Castlebay to watch the Heaval hill race. I ended up falling asleep in my tent and missed it! When I awoke, I decided I had to crack on if I still wanted to go to Tangasdale and make a trip to the Co-op.

When I got out of Castlebay, the sky started to cloud over, so I wasn’t gonna see the beach there in all it’s glory, but my visit to Barra would not be complete if I didn’t go there, so I kept on walking. When I got there, I looked out over the machair and couldn’t believe the sheer number of wild flowers there. There’s usually a lot, but there were definitely much more than usual. I didn’t see the cows and sheep that usually live in the machair, so thought maybe they were being kept elsewhere and that’s why there was this boom in flower20110722-184354.jpgs. I sat on the bench on top of one of the dunes on the machair. It may have been cloudy, but the beach was still beautiful and the sea was probably the calmest I had ever seen it at Tangasdale too. There is a rocky island just off the beach and when the tide is right out you can walk onto it. I was laughing whilst watching some kids exploring the rock and getting dive-bombed by terns. I continued down to the beach and walked along the shoreline up to the Isle of Barra hotel. It was getting a bit late, so I thought I would just get something to eat there before heading to the Castlebay bar for the madness of the Vatersay Boys.

After some fish and chips (not the best I’ve ever had), I walked back to Castlebay. The clouds were thickening and I’m sure I felt a spit of rain. I got to the Castlebay bar and it was already getting very busy. It wasn’t long before the place was packed full of folk, then I saw Brian and Jim appear in the corner. I had a blether with them and they posed the question “guess how many islands we got to today? You get 5 chances and if you can’t guess, you but the first round.” Fair enough! I gave my first guess, maybe the early teens I really can’t remember…higher. I gave a 2nd guess…higher. I gave a third guess…higher. Fourth…higher. Fifth…lower. I failed to guess correctly but I was absolutely gobsmacked when they told me they had made it to 27 islands in that one day! This brought their total up to 55 islands since they had left a week ago. Madness. So I got the drinks in.

The band started and the bar just got busier and busier. After a wee while of playing, two other pipers joined the band…they were from Manran! The band picked up the pace and the bar was jumping. I went up to the bar to order another drink and got chatting to a guy, Clive, who informed me he was also heading to HebCelt. We got chatting then I introduced him to Brian and Jim. The bar was getting too busy, so we headed outside for a bit of fresh air. We ended up spending most of the rest of the night outside as the bar was just way too busy. The band ended and myself and Brian decided to head back to the tents, leaving Jim carousing with people. We were amazed to walk past a burger van in the square so late at night in Barra. I waited ages in the queue and finally got a munch and we walked round to the campsite. The clouds had cleared a bit and the sea was a total flat calm. Despite still being able to hear the racket from the pub, it was really peacefully. We heard a few corncraiks just before we got back to the tents, always a pleasure to drift to sleep to the sound of them.

There’s only one track to describe today: The Vatersay Boy’s chaotic “Oidhche Bha”!

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Day 3: Mishnish, Minch and Madness

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After the Tobermory distillery, I headed back to the hostel. You can’t check in until 5pm, so I was glad I had timed the whisky tour perfectly. After checking in, I headed up to my room- a typical hostel bunk room, but nicer than some others. I was glad to get a bottom bunk. When making my bed I discovered that the bunks were the creakiest I’ve ever heard and they looked like they were just thrown together: not the most stable looking things in the world!

After a short nap, somehow blocking out the tractor-like snoring of one of my roomies, I decided it was time for some food before heading to the Mishnish with the guitar. The last time I was there I did the same and had a brilliant night of music. I had missed the timescale for a bar dinner at the pub, so I went to the fish van on the pier and had a rather nice fish supper. It was only after I had eaten it I noticed the scallop supper…damn.

Full of chips, I headed to the pub. I asked the guy at the bar if it was ok to play a few songs and he said it was fine, but there would be a Gaelic choir singing in the bar later and I would have to stop. This was fine by me so ordered a pint and sang some songs; I am playing at a wedding the week after I get home, so it was a good chance to get some practise in. The pub was relatively quiet, but the people that were in seemed to enjoy my singing…never a bad thing! I’m always worried that the bar-goers are just in for a quiet night so I was glad people were happy.

After a few hours, there was no sign of the choir, but i decided to pack up and sit up at the bar. I got chatting to the bar staff, who were having a bar tray polishing competition. They told me they had seen the HitchHop guys and that they helped them get out to a few more islands. I also got chatting to Stevie, a fellow solo-traveller. It turns out he only lives a few towns away from me, and also it turned out he was the phantom snorer from the hostel! It’s a small world in many ways.

One thing I love about pubs like the Mishnish is all of the random stuff they have on the walls. The girl behind the bar said if I point to any of the objects she could tell me the story behind it. I pointed to a trophy and she told me it was for the yearly mince and tatties competition…only in the islands! I pointed to a penny with a name written under it and she told me that one of the regulars was a notoriously tight-fisted guy. He had bought something, possibly a pint, but the day after he realised he had got 1p too much change, so handed it back. It was the first time he had ever given anyone anything, so the legend goes!

I finished my drink and went back to the hostel (it had a midnight curfew). After a wee chill out on a couch I went to bed, I had a long day of travelling ahead.

After a rather sleepless night due to the constant snoring and creaking of the beds anytime anyone so much as breathed, I awoke to a beautiful sunny morning in Tobermory. After packing up I realised i had burst a shoe lace on my boots, but had plenty of time before the bus to goon the hunt for a new pair. I went to the outdoor shop but they were all out of bootlaces!

I met Stevie at the bus stop and after a wee blether he told me he always carries a spare pair of bootlaces…sorted! We sat in the sun, chatting about travelling. The sun was so strong I could feel it burning my skin, time for suncream.

Our bus came, and after a fair bit of waiting while a load of tourists got on, we were on our way to Craignure. The coach was very busy, so I just shoved on my earphones and watched as Mull flew past my eyes.

The sun kept shining as myself and Stevie crossed the Sound of Mull. We had a right good laugh and chatted about our hosteling and backpacking adventures. When we embarked at Oban, we parted ways and I discovered the lockers at the train station. Bliss! Many a time I have been confined to the ferry terminal, having to carry my rucksack with me everywhere I go, so this was a true godsend. After locking my stuff up I decided to go grab some lunch before the long ferry trip to Barra. As I crossed the road I bumped into my Swedish friend Michael, who was also travelling up to HebCelt, so we went for lunch together. I had planned to go to Tesco too, but the service at the restaurant was so slow there wasn’t enough time, so we headed to the ferry terminal, picking up my gear on the way.

After a short wait at the terminal, we were re-united with the HitchHop guys. I was amazed to hear that their island count was now up in the high twenties…what an effort! We hopped on board the good ship Clansman and found a seat in the bar. I was glad to be back on the Clansman again. Last year it had broken down, so my travel across the stormy Minch was on the Lord of the Isles, a smaller boat. I remember the trip well, as everyone was thrown from side to side and for the first time in my life I felt seasick. Clansman, please don’t ever break down again! The crossing this year was the calmest I’ve ever experienced and the sun shone all the way to Barra. A ceilidh band were playing in the bar and were doing a great job of keeping everyone entertained. When they stopped for a break, I decided to get the guitar out and sing a few songs, to a surprisingly good reception. It was then I got chatting to Wynne and Scott, who were also island hopping up to HebCelt.

20110721-175253.jpgAs we passed Tobermory, Brian and Jim were pointing out islands they had been to. They pointed out their favourite so far, Big Stirk, which is little more than a rock in the middle of the sea! I thought this was brilliant. I could just imagine them standing on this rock, waving there arms as a CalMac ferry sails by. I love the ferry trip to Barra, especially on a sunny day. You can see so many distinctive islands once you get out onto the Minch, and I am always taken aback when I see just how beautiful Eigg, Muck and Rum are against the backdrop of Skye.

We arrived in Barra and Michael and I headed to the Dunard hostel, where we were both staying. I was delighted when I was shown my room, a wee wooden cabin with two single beds. Bliss! I was half expecting to be stuck in a room with 9 other snorers. I heard voices and then saw Michael walking up the steps: he was my room mate! We stood for a while taking in the beauty of Castlebay. The sands of Vatersay were shining like white gold in the early evening sun. It was good to be back!

We headed to the mighty Castlebay bar where I was delighted to see friends from previous years in the bar. This was my 5th time in Barra and I noticed a new feeling of familiarity as I stood at the bar. It didn’t feel so much like going to a new place anymore, more like walking into my local. The strangest thing about it was it felt like I’d never left. Everything just seemed to carry on from when I left last year. I noticed a poster at the entrance saying the Robert Nairn ceilidh band were playing that night…that was the band from the boat. Then I knew it was gonna be a messy night. Even better: there was also a poster saying the Vatersay Boys will be playing Saturday night…

Later on, Brian and Jim joined us in the bar. The bar was getting busy and the band stirred up a brilliant party atmosphere. Then I spotted an unopened bottle of my favourite whisky, Caol Ila, sitting at the bar. Beer and whiskies all around. Then again. And again…

As the night went on, the band called me over and asked if I wanted to do a few songs. So I ran back to the hostel, picked up the guitar and hurried back to the bar. This bit is a bit hazy, but I remember singing “In the Reek” as the band joined in. Everything after that is a blank.

The track for this post is Mark Knopfler’s epic track “Going Home”. “Going Home” is most well known from being the theme to the brilliant Scottish film “Local Hero”. However, this film always makes me think about crossing the Minch over to Barra, as a gig by The Vatersay Boys was the first time I can remember hearing it.

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No Mod-Cons

I had decided to do a blog post everyday and was getting into the swing of it. Then I left Oban and my 3G signal behind. After 6 days of being unable to post a blog, mixed with the chaos of HebCelt, I decided to continue when I got home, so I will continue with Day 3 later tonight.

Apologies to any of you that were looking forward to reading about my travels as they happened, but unfortunately it was just not possible.

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Day 2: Quiet Please, Whisky Sleeping!

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I arrived In Glasgow and headed straight for the Euro Hostel. I was delighted to be upgraded from a 14 bed dorm to a 4 bed dorm. I’d much rather put up with sharing a room with 3 strangers than 13, especially in a big city hostel.

After a quick bite to eat at the closest wetherspoons, I headed onto the subway to get out to the west end. I’m not a fan of the subway, but it is by far the quickest way to get around the city. I saw the funniest thing on the subway: a guy got on the train laden with a heavy rucksack, a pillow under one arm and carrying a memory foam matress topper in the other. That’s what I call luxurious camping!

I got off the subway at Kelvinhall and started to walk towards the Park Bar. I passed the Islay Inn and there didn’t seem to be much happening. I continued passed the Park Bar, again, not much happening. I came upon the Ben Nevis and found that half of the Treacherous Orchestra were having a session…score! I stated there until closing time, then headed back to the hostel. What a brilliant way to start my trip! When I got back to hostel, the two French guys I was sharing with told me they had seen the HitchHop guys when they were on Islay. It’s a small world.

In the morning, I headed to the bus station to catch my bus to Oban. There were loads of people with rucksacks, presumably heading to T in the Park. People often presume I’m going to T in the Park, but to be honest I don’t fancy it at all. For one, mist of the bands that play don’t really interest me, plus I’ve also heard too many camping horror stories from people that have been. The journey to Oban was stunning, even though it rained most of the way. There’s something about the journey to Oban, and also any journey through Glencoe, that is simply breathtaking. No matter what the wheather, the scenery always manages to take my breath away.

When I arrived in Oban, I had an hour or do to wait for the ferry, but because I was fully laden with stuff, I decided just to wait at the ferry terminal. It was reasonable clear when I arrived, but within a matter of minutes the wheather came in. There was even some lightning out at sea, so I was quite happy as I like to watch it. The sea was a flag calm the whole journey. Despite the rain, it was still a pleasant journey. I’m always on the lookout for wildlife, in particular basking sharks. Everytime they are spotted, I always miss them. Maybe on the trip to Barra tomorrow.

After a hilarious bus journey to Tobermory, I opened the doors of the hostel only to be greeted by the HitchHop guys. They told me they had set foot on a grand total of 24 islands since they left Glasgow almost a week ago! That’s impressive. I was amazed at the sheer amount of support they have received from everyone they have met. We went a wee walk around Tobermory main street, with Brian and Jim nipping into every shop looking for raffle prizes. They told be they had gaffs great night in the pub the night before and that they had a big spontaneous raffle in the pub! They see keen to get going, so I walked them round to the harbour where they were gonna find a hitch to the ferry terminal: one of the rules of HitchHop is that they can’t take the bus. We parted ways and I got myself booked onto 4pm tour of the whisky distillery. I gas an hour or do til then, so I took the chance to grab a late lunch.

The tour around the distillery was brilliant. I’ve been to a few distilleries, but the Tobermory one was one of the best tours. I almost died laughing when we were taken into the cask room, where the whisky lies to mature, and found a sign saying “quiet please, whisky sleeping”! I thought that was clever. At the end of the tour we were taken into the tasting room, where we got to try Tobermory 10 year old and Ledaig. Both were nice, of course, but I much preferred the peaty Ledaig. Yum yum!

Today’s track is “Running to Mull/Kent to Kincail” be Session A9. This is a lively track with a cracking story behind it. Adam Sutherland, the composer, woke up to a phonecall from Peter Morrison, piper from Peatbog Faeries. Adam was asked where he was, to which he replied that he was at home, only to remember he had a gig with the Peatbogs in Mull they night! He grabbed his fiddle and literally ran from the highlands and by some miracle managed to make it to the gig. I thought this was an appropriate track seeing as I was heading to Mull and has just been in a pub where Adam was playing in a session.

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Day 1: Parting

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Well, I am sitting on the train from Alloa to Glasgow, starting my trip! Woohoo! So freaking’ excited. The tent arrived yesterday too and it turns out it’s the latest version of the one I had, with a few nice improvements.

I finished work at 3pm today so that I could squeeze in wee bit more prep time and also so I can spend a wee bit more time in Glasgow. Everything is packed (I hope!) and all of my “gadgets”, as Brian likes to call them, are charged. I’ve recently just invested in a solar powered charger made by Powertraveller. Should definitely come in handy! Even if it’s not sunny, the charger can still be charged from a socket, and the battery can be used for loads of things. I tried it the other day and was able to give my iPhone a full charge and the battery on the solar thing was still half full.

It’s so good to be heading out west again. I will miss Kit and my family and my wee dog Dolci while I’m away, but it’s gonna be yet another brilliant trip. I’m hoping to post a blog every day, but it all depends on the signal.

I’d like to mention two songs today that are very appropriate for today and that are getting me psyched up for the journey: Skerryvore’s “Good To Go” from there self-titled third album, and COAST’s “Road Outta This Town” from their new album “The Turning Stone”.

“Good To Go” by Scottish folk rockers Skerryvore is one of those great feel good songs that immediately makes me smile. I think Its basically about just getting out there and just going for it. It makes me think about gigs, the excitement of both playing a gig and being in the crowd; to me there’s not really much in this world that is as exciting as performing to a great crowd, or jumping around in the crowd to a great band. Skerryvore are a band that I have jumped around to many times, but this year I had the chance to support them too, so this song really means a lot to me.

“it’s good to go
Along the highway, down the path
Oh it’s good to go
Through the teardrops and the laughs
Yes it’s good to go
Only seconds left
It’s good to”

Southampton’s COAST’s song “A Road Outta This Town” is choc full of catchy riffs and upbeat happiness. The same happiness I have right now, heading on “a road outta this town”. Again, it’s about getting away from it all and enjoying yourself. We all have those days when everything just gets on top of you and you want to run away. Funnily enough, the workplace is often where a lot of our troubles arise, and it’s there they should stay. This song reminds us that even when times get tough, something good is just around the corner.

“One day the world will sing your song
But first the world will do you wrong
I’ve soldiered on, sang my way through hell
Still sleeping rough on a bed of nails
On a road
Oh I’m on a road
On a road
Oh I’m on a road
Road outta this town”

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A Weekend of Surprise

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As I sit here on the bus home, melting to a puddle (what a world, what a world), I’m refreshed by thought of ferry trips, machair, amazing beaches and pints outside the Castlebay Bar. Only another two days until I finish up at work and head to Glasgow. Still no sign of my tent…Meanwhile, my friends Brian and Jim (the HitchHop boys) are conquering islands faster than the hatch rate of midges. I’m enjoying reading their posts, each one increasing the anticipation of my impending trip.

The summer arrived over the weekend, and I’m glad that it is still sunny today. I’m not enjoying the heat in this bus though. The sun does strange things to people. The slightest glimmer of sunshine and the local neds cast off their tracksuit tops in the hope of a tan (or to show off). Girls jump out into the sun-loungers, not bothering with suncream, a natural tan being far more important than protecting themselves from skin cancer. I don’t know if this just a Scottish thing, seeing as our typical summer weather consists of the odd sunny week shining from the usual cloudy day. I think some people think that because they live in Scotland, they are out of harms way, that the sun isn’t strong enough to cause them any lasting damage.

Me and my girlfriend, Kit, went ten pin bowling on Friday night. Bowling is always a good laugh, despite my inferior bowling skills. Something must have been in the air that night, as I actually won for a change. I didn’t just win at bowling, I also succeeded in winning two kilo bars of Dairy Milk…score! Then it was Kit’s turn to win, beating me at motorbike racing, basketball and dancing.

Saturday was a good day. I had decided to go into Stirling to buy some last minute bits and bobs for going away. I generally hate shopping centres, especially when it’s sunny, add the crowdedness of the mall combined with the heat makes me crabbit. However, on this occasion I was feeling in fine spirits. Maybe it was because I was wearing shorts; it’s not often that my pins are exposed to the unsuspecting world!

I had found out that my mate from work was playing at Nicky Tam’s, Stirling’s most haunted pub, that afternoon. I decided to take wander up and have a wee pint or two. Andrew (my mate) played a good mixture of rock and indie songs, to the delight of a group of guys who had just arrived. They literally woke the resting spirits of the pub, singing out to their favourite songs. I got chatting to an older guy, Tam, and was delighted to find he was a folkie! It’s not often I stumble across a fellow folkie in Stirling, so it was good to have someone to talk to about folk music. I learned that Tam played guitars, mandolin and banjo and that he was taught banjo by none other than Billy Connolly! After Andrew had finished playing, we sat down and had a few pints and a bit of a jam. I realised then that my shopping trip was gonna turn into a full blown night out.

After a quick bite to eat, myself, Andrew and his friends headed out to Porters. Not one of the best pubs in the world, but none the less we were on a night out. Well known in Stirling as a karaoke pub, it wasn’t long before I had signed myself up for my trademark karaoke song “I Useta Luv Her” by the Saw Doctors. After my wee stint, I was chatting to my friends and what did I see on the wall? None other than a poster for the Hebridean Celtic Festival! It seems the closer I get to my trip, the more I feel I should already be on it.

Having missed the last train home, I slept on Andrew’s couch. Needless to say, the next morning I was rough. Alcohol is bad. Everyone else was still asleep, but I decided to head home and ventured back into Stirling to get the train. Walking through the shopping centre, I noticed something strange. An old lady sitting in the middle of a busy shopping centre…knitting. Like I said earlier, the sun does funny things to people. I got home and started printing off my tickets and stuff for going away. I also printed off some lyrics, as I like to try to learn a few new songs when I’m away.

Today’s song is “I Met Her on the Shap” by Rankinfile. This is the only song I have of them, and it comes from a compilation album “Bar Edinburgh.” I’ve chosen this song because it is about a guy who picks up a hitchhiker, so it is dedicated to my hitchhopping friends, who mention in their blog that they picked up a couple of hitchhikers before they started on their trip.

“I met her on the shap, nap sack and a sign sayin’ you goin’ my way?”

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