Tuesday 19 September 2017

Worcestershire to North Ronaldsay . . . Eventually!

Back to North Ronaldsay

People, fascinating and diverse people make travel constantly . . . fascinating.

Thursday September the 7th

A brush with the British Transport police, which may lead to a problem with the law, started my journey north. I refused to get off a Virgin train in Wolverhampton. I had a ticket for the train. I had a seat reservation. My ticket stated I had paid £105 for both. I was on my way to Aberdeen. This was train number three of a five train combination. If I missed this one I would miss the other two and therefore miss the overnight ferry to Orkney and therefore the daytime ferry to North Ronaldsay.
What I didn't have was a reservation for the bike! Naively, stupidly I didn't even know I needed one. I have never required such a thing before. I needed one today.
I stayed put, politely arguing that surely my little bike, loaded with four very full panniers, a large sleeping bag, a tent, a large projector for future talks and of course, The Lads, could fit in the space behind the driver's door. No chance.
Twenty minutes later I left the train. Details were taken and the ominous words, “we'll be in touch!”
Having missed the first major train connection I decided that instead making my way to Aberdeen, as per my expensive tickets, I would stop at Edinburgh and attend a hastily organised protest at Holyrood, the home of The Scottish Parliament.
A laughing chat with a couple from South Wales, the journey from Wolverhampton to Edinburgh went quickly and soon I was booked into the Edinburgh Youth Hostel.

Friday September the 8th

Next day, at Holyrood, around twenty five of us stood, met a couple of Green Party MSPs, Alison Thomason and Andy Wightman, and protested the fact that yet again another juvenile had been murdered whilst flying over a driven grouse shooting moor. I won't use the word allegedly here. It was murder. After two weeks the satellite tag on Calluna, the juvenile Hen Harrier had stopped working. The grouse shooting proponents have tried to claim that the bird's disappearance is due to a faulty satellite tag. Strange then how two other juvenile Hen Harriers, tagged on The Isle of Man, who each sadly died had their tags found still working even when one of them had died whilst flying towards the Scottish mainland and had landed in the sea. The decaying corpse was found on a distant beach with tag still signalling. Weird how they only stop working over grouse shooting moorland.
The protest attendees including Shirelle, an enthusiastic bird lover and artist from Aberdeen. Shirelle and made a couple of painted banners for people to carry and a few hundred leaflets to give out to passers by. Other people included Caroline, who talked about Fair Isle and her dreams about the fair isle.

The protest finished so back to the hostel to prepare fro another change of direction. An American Redstart, a bird that had been possibly pushed across the Atlantic by the remnants of the Texas hurricane, had been found on Barra, the southern most inhabited island of the Outer Hebrides, west of the Scottish mainland. I wouldn't be able to get to North Ronaldsay before next Tuesday so I had a few days to get over there and see the mega.

Saturday September the 9th

7:15 a.m. I am on a train to Glasgow, ticket is for Oban. I sit with a lovely Norwegian lady, Hanne, who talks about her belief that William didn't do what all think William did but it was indeed a group including Francis and
Shakespeare didn't write his plays, didn't write his sonnets, didn't write his poems. Links to webpage evidence were shared, names of authors explaining the conspiracy were given also.
At Glasgow I had hoped that this conversation would continue but no, the dreaded you can't get on this train with that bike, reared its head again. A kiss on each cheek from Hanne and I was off to try to find out how I could get the next train. Missing this one would mean that I would miss the only ferry to Barra that day. Thomas, the train conductor who refused me access, even, I thought at the time, told me to start peddling! His strong Glaswegian brogue had actually told me that he could get me to Crainglarich and I would have to start peddling from there, around forty miles from Oban but I only was able to discern the last part of that sentence.
Off into Glasgow centre, to explore now that I had two hours before the next train to Oban, I sat down with a homeless woman, Marianne. She told me that she only received £43 as benefits every two weeks! Maybe Ian Duncan Sith, oops I mean Smith, could boast in Parliament that he could live on that.
Onto the train to Oban, I am surrounded by lads on a stag do. Gary, Gary the soon to be bridegroom, Colin, Alan, John, Brian, Mark and Zander were all great company until they left to take a boat trip along the centre of Loch Lomond to a secret island with a pub.
Into Oban and along to yet another Youth Hostel. Greeted at the reception with a “welcome back, Mr Prescott,” it was nice to know that one makes an impression.

Sunday September the 10th

I am on the ferry to Barra on time for a change and am talking to a Father and Daughter cycling pair when Lee Evans, the famous twitcher comes towards me. With him are a few birders unknown to me. Sit and chat for the next hour or so, we all head outside to seawatch once we get past Mull and the Ardnachmurchan Peninsula.
Not many birds to be seen; a few Manx, three passing Whimbrel, four Arctic Skuas, a couple of Bonxies and Gannets and a few auks.
Two birders kindly offer me a carbon lift to the Yankie passerine and so, after hiding bike and possessions behind an office at the harbour, I am soon watching the special one with ten others all leaning gently against a dry stone wall.
UTB with all features scanned and general jizz of the rarity enjoyed, it was time as darkness fell to head back to Castlebay with the hope of a place to bed down.
The first Bed & Breakfast was full but the proprietor phoned a nearby hostel and a bed was found.

Monday September the 11th

A day spent searching the village for birds, clearing plastic to pay my eco dues for the mega and dodging heavy showers. Into the Post Office Cafe, I met Cyril from Stoke. He talked abut how his wife died five years ago and since then he had travelled, mostly in South America, listing of the countries he had visited. Back at the hostel the other guests staying there were mostly cyclists who were heading along the Outer Hebridean islands.

Tuesday September the 12th

I sleep on the floor of the lounge in order not to disturb the other seeping guests in the dormitory. At 2:00 a.m. A very drunk young man comes into the lounge, crashes onto a settee and proceeds to spend the next half hour telling me of his woes as a lobster fisherman on South Uist. He then tells me that he has put some sausages and fish fingers in the oven. He then promptly crashes out and I rush to the kitchen to find smoke coming from within the oven! Removing the charred remains, I open all windows and luckily the smoke alarm doesn't go off and everyone else sleeps on obliviously.
Daylight arrives and I am just in time to catch the ferry. It is close mind as I have to shout at the workers not to raise the drawbridge.
Once the bike is stowed and breakfast is in order, I meet the couple from Chile who arrived at the hostel the previous night. We sit together and I divest myself of my coat and RSPB sweatshirt. The Chilean woman, Camilla, looks at the logo and say that she has a friend who works there. Now the logo is for Dungeness Bird Observatory. To the best of my knowledge only three people work there. What is the chance that a chance meeting with a young woman from Chile would bring about a mutual acquaintance? Three people to my knowledge work there.
Who's that?” I ask.
Lee Gregory.”
It is a good job that I didn't have my mouth full of porridge because the crumbs would have been splattered across the table.
Lee Gregory is one of the major reasons why I broke the European Green Birding Year List (F) last year. Lee is a great friend and Camilla is saying she knows him and not just knows him, she counts him as a close friend also.
Questions pour forth and the answer involves the Fair Isle.
Camilla had carried out research on the island this summer, surveying the plants. Lee had helped her and became good friends.
Cath Mendez is mentioned and we both laugh in celebration at the pending marriage of Lee and Cath this November.
We both talk about our mutual love of Fair Isle and talk about the crofters there with affection.
Camilla's partner has been sitting quietly through all this. Kenny McLoud, a great Chilean name, has his own story to tell. Kenny is a travelling sheep shearer and has just spent the summer sheep shearing in Scotland. Kenny is now on his way to The Falklands Islands for the southern hemisphere summer sheep shearing there. Another amazing coincidence, maybe not quite of the scale of the Dungeness – Lee Gregory – Fair Isle one yet important all the same, especially for a future Biking Birder adventure; Kenny runs a bike business in Chile!
A birder who I had seen at the American Redstart and also had a brief chat with yesterday, joins our table, Daryl from Essex. The conversation gets around to cycling and 'hit me with a peat bog,' Darly used to be a British International cyclist! Unfortunately a heart condition gave him the choice, continue cycling and die or stop cycling. Daryl now uses an electric bike to go birding to his local patch. Now when electricity for such bikes is provided by renewable power sources, will that make them available for Green Birding? I feel a new category coming on and more Green than with my use of ferries last year.
Two trains get me to Aberdeen and an evening push gets me to yet another Youth Hostel for the night. How it has changed though. Recently refurbished, the d├ęcor is contemporary with a clock theme. I am not too enamoured by it as the rooms look more like a Travelodge than a Scottish Youth Hostel. The kitchen and dining room are the same though, and the dormitories are now en suite with excellent showers.

Wednesday September the 13th

A day spent relaxing, washing clothes and washing self.

Thursday September the 14th

The evening ferry to Kirkwall, I sit with around twenty knitters from the US of A. They. All ladies, sit knitting and discuss . . . knitting. They are on the way to Shetland to do things knitting. Lovely ladies with a great sense of humour and you can bet you bottom dollar they know their stuff. Can't pull the wool over their eyes.
A film, Despicable Me 3 is on in the cinema and I see half of I. I fall asleep!
A meal as the crossing isn't too rough and we reach Kirkwall about thirty minutes late. I cycle into Kirkwall centre and find that my usual overnight abode is locked. I sleep somewhere less comfortable.

Friday September the 15th

I watch as the ferry to North Ronaldsay, the one I should be on, leaves the harbour! My record with Orkney Ferries continues. Twit.
Thinking that I won't be able to get to North Ronaldsay until next Tuesday, I go to the Kirkwall Youth Hostel. An Australian visitor lets me in and gives me a warming cup of coffee. Outside heavy rain falls and a strong northerly blows a fine gale. Her name is Sharon and her accompanying friend, Sandy joins us in the kitchen. Both are retired teachers and both have a passion for science and archaeology. We talk about the demise of Cassini into Saturn's clouds due to happen in a few hours. The most incredible un-manned space mission ever is close to coming to a spectacular close.
Reception opens at 8:00 a.m. I prepare to book in for the night thinking about how I can explore the islands.
The nearby noticeboard has a timetable for Loganair.
Wait a minute! I can fly to North Ronaldsay. I am still in the Biking Birder frame of mind. I never even thought of flying there.
I fly out of the hostel. Half an hour later I have placed my bike and possessions in a large shed on the quayside for it all to be ferried to North Ronaldsay and I am enjoying egg on toast in a Kirkwall cafe, The Pamona, flight is booked for 2:30 p.m.
The cafe owner chats but I will be honest and say I can't understand everything he says; his brogue is strong Orcadian.
Off on a local bus to the airport, more carbon transport, the flight low over so many of Orkney's isles is wonderful. Over with a view of the RSPB reserve at and then with yet another RSPB reserve. Over the sea, so shallow that one can see kelp beds on the bottom, to Westray and beyond to land on Papa Westray. Now this airport used to be the home of the World's shortest commercial flight; Papa Westray to Westray with its three minute flight. No longer flying, our plane takes off once more after seat changing for different customers and a short while later we land on North Ronaldsay.
George Gay, the heart of the SpokesFolks (google this for details of the SpokesFolks team's success in the Champions of The Flyways event earlier this year) is there to greet me and take me down in his car to the famous and fabulous North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory.
Erin Gavin and Sam are there, hugs, Bryony also, hug, and new faces; Simon the new assistant warden and two volunteer interns, Harris and Lewis. Yes, two young men sitting next to each other just like the two Outer Hebridean islands of the same name.
Alison and Kevin arrive with their new electric car, very smart too . . . all three of them.
Great to be reunited with the team and the Bird Observatory staff once more, I go birding, looking for a reported Ortolan Bunting from yesterday. I don't find it but do enjoy the close attention of Common Seals and finding six Purple Sandpipers.
A young couple are camping beside a dry stone wall next to the observatory. James and Sarah spend an hour sharing the story of their three year cycle run from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego!

People, fascinating and diverse people make travel constantly . . . fascinating.

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