Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Report: Highland Night

Last night I attended "Highland Night" in Pitlochry, Scotland. Although I shot a lot of video, I decided to focus mainly on the bagpipe and drum marching band. I'm not sure exactly why, but I find such bands to be quite remarkable. Perhaps it is because of their inherent contradiction: On the one hand, the bagpipe melodies are so inspiring and the drum rhythms are so moving. On the other hand, the droning of the bagpipes can become very annoying. Perhaps this is why they have been such a famous part of Scottish battle history: They inspired the Scots and drove the enemy crazy! I hope you enjoy this "Highland Night" Report from The Voyage of Macgellan!

Logbook: Highlands Hold

Img_4860When I got back to my hotel room after dropping my Mom off at the airport last Thursday, I found myself sitting on the little desk chair in a bit of a daze. Because I had been so engrossed in our Hadrian’s Wall walk -- and off-line -- for two weeks, I had a lot of catching up to do. The problem was that I didn’t have much energy or concentration going for me, and I found myself trying to triage the email, Skypes, logistics, chores, etc. that lay before me. In typical fashion for me -- and I think most of us do this -- I chose the quickest and easiest first, spending the rest of the day on-line with email and Skype. It felt good to check in with folks and by the end of the day I at least had a sense that I was up to date and ready to tackle the bigger issues.

I got up on Friday and started hustling. I had recently heard from my good friend Captain Adam that our beloved Polar Star had suffered some major mechanical problems and was at anchor in Svaalbard undergoing repairs. I was sorry that he and the crew were basically marooned in that remote Arctic outpost for so long, but there wasn’t -- at the time -- overly much concern about the ship being ready for my upcoming cruise late next month. While I was away, however, the repair efforts were deemed to be ineffective and the ship was towed to a dockyard in mainland Norway for more extensive work. More to the point, during a Skype call the previous day the Captain informed me that he was skeptical about the ship being ready for my cruise after all. I told him that I had planned to spend the next few weeks transiting from Scotland to Norway, and that if the ship was not going to sail I had no compelling reason to go to Norway at this time. He suggested I postpone my transit for a couple of weeks to see if repairs would be effective, and promised to keep me posted. I thanked him for the information -- and his candor -- an we signed off.

At that moment, The Voyage was officially “on hold” and I had to figure out what to do. I spent most of the morning checking out how fast and reliably I could get from here to there and found that there is a three times a week ferry from Newcastle to Stavanger. Doing the math, I concluded that I could postpone my decision to transit until the 14th which would give me three shots at catching the ferry last minute and still make it to Norway on time. This coincided well with the fact that I have been promised a definitive “go/no-go” decision from the company by the 11th, so I figured I had about two weeks of completely unplanned time in Scotland on my hands. One option would be to stay in Edinburgh for a while longer, but as much as I like the city I was ready to get out of it. So, I spent the afternoon making arrangements to rent a car on Monday, got a road map and started thinking about where I might go. With all that logistical stuff behind me, I spent the entire weekend catching up on this website -- it really does take a long time to write and post the Photos and Logbook -- and doing chores like laundry and getting supplies.

By Monday morning I was pretty much caught up, so I packed up, checked out and walked a few blocks to the car rental agency. A little while later I was sitting behind the wheel of a right-hand-drive car, trying to remind myself how to drive on the “wrong” side of the road and burning the mantra “stay left” into my brain. As I was doing this, looking down the street in front of me, I had an especially good chuckle: There I was, in a car with the engine running, with all my worldly possessions stowed in the “boot” and with absolutely not idea where I was going or how I would get there. Another fabulous moment on The Voyage! You see, although I had spent some time looking at the map, I had failed to decide on a destination. I could go west to Glasgow and the Isles, northwest to the moors and the Hebrides, north to the Highlands, northeast to the North Sea coast and the Orkneys or anywhere else in between. It’s a strange but good experience, by the way, and I recommend it.

Img_4864At the moment, however, I had in-city left-hand driving in front of me and I was a little nervous about it. I decided the best thing was to just get out of town, so I started on my way, simply following the path of least resistance in whatever direction seemed to head out of town. With less stress than I had feared, I soon found myself heading north on the M90, across the Firth of Forth and on my way into wide open spaces and beautiful scenery. After an hour or so I pulled into a service area, caught my breath, got a cup of coffee and wandered into the on-site tourist information center. I explained to the nice lady on duty that I had two weeks of unplanned time in Scotland and asked her advice about where to go. She gave me a ton of books, pamphlets, etc. and suggested I continue north on a scenic route to Pitlochry, the “Heart of the Highlands” and a placed where I would be able to find plenty to keep me occupied for a few days. So, off I went on a fabulous two hour drive into the Highlands and arrived in the lovely little town of Pitlochry. I cruised through town to give it a quick glimpse then back-tracked to a nice little inn that had a sign offering rooms available at a reasonable price. The charming woman behind the desk checked me in and showed me to a perfectly good little room and made my day when she explained that I would have free wi-fi internet! Color me happy!

Img_4817To make things all the more perfect, Monday is “Highland Night” in Pitlochry and after a nice dinner I strolled into town and attended the bagpipe, singing and dancing show at the town’s recreation fields. I got some great video that I’ll try to put into a Report, but for now I’ll just say it was a fun show and an excellent welcome to the Highlands. This morning I fired up the car and went for a drive around a nearby Loch, took a hike up to some falls and goofed around in town. I can’t tell you how happy I am to be here, “on hold” in the Highlands. The area is just spectacular and the people are warm, witty and welcoming. There is a lot to do here, so I have informed my hostess that I will be staying for at least a few days and using this as a base of operations for exploration of the Highlands on The Voyage of Macgellan!

Monday, July 30, 2007

Lost In Translation: Edinburgh, Scotland

Noparkingbritspeak_2Car Rental Agency Sign

Edinburgh, Scotland

July 2007

This would be Brit-speak for "No Parking"... Sometimes the fear of being harsh or rude gets in the way of the message, no?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Logbook: Hadrian's Wall IV


Sunday 22nd - Walton to Carlisle

After “it started with a full English breakfast”, I don't really have a lot to say about our seventh day of walking. The fact that I only took ten pictures all day -- and almost all of them were of my Mom -- is significant of its lack of interest. Consisting of an almost mind numbing succession of walks across wet farmlands and through muddy barnyards -- with only the occasional brief transit of some tiny villages -- our trek had pretty much become a slog for distance. I won't say it was bad -- it was still a decent country walk -- but it was nothing compared to what we had just done in the previous week. Plus, as the miles added up, so did our accumulated exhaustion. Thankfully, by early afternoon we entered the city of Carlisle which, while not a big city by any means, struck us as huge, noisy and congested in comparison to where we had been. We were very happy to find our B&B and take a break. One bright spot for the day was that my Mom had been in contact with a guide from a recent walking trip she did in the south of England, and he and his wife joined us for dinner. We had a delightful time with them, and it helped to both clear the day from our minds and postpone our thinking about the final day of walking ahead of us.

Img_1710Monday 23rd - Carlisle to Bowness

Our eighth and final day of walking was a 14 mile endurance test for the mind as much as for the body. We left Carlisle on a five mile riverside path which had nothing much to recommend it and some rather annoying down-up staircases across tributaries to its discredit. After that, we had five miles along a combination of road walks and farm walks. Between the two of us we took only a dozen photos, and almost all of them are of one or the other of us pointing at a sign showing how many miles we had left to walk! As if that wasn't bad enough, the last four miles were along a flat, straight road across a tidal marsh. For almost two hours we could see where we were headed but it never seemed to get any closer. To ward off road-induced dementia I engaged my mom in a rambling discourse on nothing in particular which at least helped to pass the time. By late afternoon we reached our B&B -- still about a half mile from the end of the walk -- and decided to stop and take a break. After a dram, a shower and a quick nap, we headed out for the final half mile push into the town of Bowness that sits at the end of the Wall path. We got drenched by a downpour along the way, but that didn't dampen our spirits as we entered the little hut that marks the official end. We took a number of ceremonial photos, gave each other hearty congratulations then headed straight to the local pub for dinner. We had done it! We had walked the entire 84 mile length of Hadrian's Wall!

Img_1722_2Tuesday 24th - Bowness to Carlisle to Edinburgh

It's hard to describe the physical and emotional collapse one has after completing and endurance activity, but I'm sure many of you know what I mean. So, it was with very little energy or conversation that we got up, had our last full English breakfast, packed up and went to the bus stop to catch a ride back into Carlisle for our connecting train back to Edinburgh. Of course, the bus never showed up. We just sat quietly and looked at each other from time to time with that knowing looks that says, "It's always something, right?" After a while, the husband of our B&B hostess drove up and stopped, surprised that we were still at the bus stop -- he couldn't remember the bus ever failing to show up before -- and offered to give us a lift on his way into town on errands. But for him, we might still be there! Anyway, he dropped us off at the station and within minutes we were on a non-stop train to Edinburgh. Upon arrival, we walked the few blocks to our hotel and dumped our gear then got a bite to eat. In the afternoon we just hung out, even watched a movie on TV. I know this all sounds a bit morose, but it really wasn't. We were very mindful -- and extremely happy -- about our extraordinary and wonderful trip. We were just tired. We commented often on many of the great aspects of our accomplishment, and on how good it felt not to have to walk any more. It was a fabulous trip in every regard, some parts just a little more fabulous than others! But, all things considered, we had set our sights on a very difficult goal and triumphed in the end!

Img_1712Back in Edinburgh...

We spent most of yesterday in iLife, sorting and rating photos then exporting a simple slide show and burning it onto DVDs for my Mom to take back and show her friends. We also caught up on some email, and I spent some time backing up data files onto DVD for my Mom to take back to storage. To say the least, it was a welcome low energy day. This morning we took the shuttle bus to the airport and got my Mom sorted out for her flight. We had a few minutes left for a cup of coffee, sharing more fond recollections of our fabulous walk together, and talking about what we might do next and where. My Mom is welcome on The Voyage anytime! Finally, we said our good-byes and I watched her walk through security before heading outside to catch the shuttle back to the city. After more than two months of sharing The Voyage with friends and family, I am now solo-exploring again. While I have very much enjoyed all the company, it does feel good to be completely dynamic again. Speaking of dynamic, my "plans" for the upcoming Arctic cruise on my beloved Polar Star appear to be in some jeopardy. I'll fill you in on that -- and whatever I come up with going forward -- in the next Logbook entry from The Voyage of Macgellan!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Lost In Translation: Bowness, England

Sanitary_2Toilet Notice

Bowness-on-Solway, England

July 2007

So I'm sitting there, wondering... Does that mean tea bags and nappies are sanitary?

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Logbook: Hadrian's Wall III


Thursday 19th - Chollerford to Once Brewed

We started our fourth day of walking with our usual routine: Full English breakfast, pack up, leave the bags for the mysterious man with the van and start hoofing it. We tried to stop by the Fort ruins in Chollerford, but were too early for it to be open. We decided not to wait and took to the trail in earnest. For the first hour, the path was pretty much the same as it had been: Farm fields, fence stiles and gentle rolling hills. After that, it started changing dramatically. To our delight, we started seeing more remnants of the Wall, both longer and taller, and more ruins of Milecastles and Turrets. We really started to get a feel for how the Romans could watch the frontier uninterrupted from coast to coast, signal each other from post to post and deploy troops as needed in very efficient order. The Wall complex became much more "alive" and even more impressive. The path also veered sufficiently far away from the road that we did not have any "modern" noise and could appreciate the wild remoteness of the frontier. To our dismay, the weather was beastly hot and humid, and the terrain quickly changed from rolling hills and farmlands to steep crags and moors. It became obvious why more of the Wall remains in place in this center section of the path than it does on either end: The sheer remoteness of the Wall has made it difficult -- or at least less easy -- for locals to scavenge it. If you think about it, when the Romans left Britain after four hundred years of occupation, the Wall was like an abandoned building supply depot: Millions of nicely faced stones, tons of roofing timbers and untold amounts of other materials just waiting to be picked up by some local farmer wanting to build a house, a barn or a wall of his own. Such is the doom of great structures, built by imperial masters, left to the devices of the heathens... or something like that. No matter, there is still enough left in this section to get a terrific feeling for the Wall and we really enjoyed having it as our more or less constant companion during this difficult part of the walk. Now, when I say difficult, let me put it in perspective. It is by far not the hardest walk I have ever done nor, for that matter that my Mom has ever done. The Chilkoot Trail in Alaska that we hiked together ten years ago was much, much steeper and harder -- not to mention the fact that we were then carrying our own gear. The Wall is, however, a much longer walk and that makes a difference. So, too, does the fact that we are both ten years older. I would rate the Wall a "moderate" walk on an objective scale for experienced trekkers and would say that it was a good match for me: challenging but not overwhelming. For my Mom -- who will only admit to being "in her seventies" -- it was a "strenuous" walk, bordering on “extreme.” As always, I was immensely impressed by her stamina, fortitude, positive attitude and downright grit. The photo above gives you a pretty good idea of the terrain she conquered for twelve miles over the course of the day. By the time we reached the little town of Once Brewed -- where the Wall and road briefly approach each other -- she had more than earned her dram, a hot pub meal and a long night's sleep!

Hadrianiii1Friday 20th - Once-Brewed to Gilsland

Our fifth walking day started in the usual way, of course, and we were back on the rugged trail pretty early. After an hour of hard walking, we reached the high point of the Wall path, literally and figuratively. Atop a particularly steep section of the crag bluffs is a marker which signifies the highest altitude of the Wall at about 1500 feet. (See inset photo) It is also a point where you can see for miles in all directions and, on a clear day, both from coast to coast and far north into "savage" territory and far south into "occupied" territory. (Note: About the "savages." First of all, keep in mind that the average Roman soldier posted on the Wall was 5' 3" tall and about 120 pounds. They were "auxiliaries", usually conscripts from outlying areas of the Roman Empire and, while they were obviously hard workers, they were generally not experienced fighters. They wore fabric tunics and light, leather armor on duty. When you consider that they were generally from mild climates and moderate terrains you can get an idea of what a hellish posting the Wall was for them. Now, consider that the typical "Highlander" was from Scandinavian descent, was probably a head taller, much larger in stature, wore animal skin clothing and thrived in the harsh weather of the moors, and you might have an idea of why they scared the hell out of the Romans. Clearly, they were "savages" and I can imagine many a poor Roman conscript laying awake at night, fearing that the nine foot thick, eighteen foot high wall was insufficient to keep them out! Now, back to our story...) A little later in the day, we stopped in at the best preserved Fort on the Wall path. With many building foundations clearly evident, we got a very good feeling for how efficiently it was laid out. With an excellent museum on site, we got to see some relics from the time. With an outstanding little cafe on hand, we had a tasty bowl of soup and a fine chicken sandwich! Just beyond that, we passed the tallest remaining section of the wall. For the first time, the Wall was taller than I am and I got to walk next to it without being able to see over it. Frankly, I found it a bit creepy not to be able to see what was on the other side, and I could appreciate the usefulness of the Turrets as vantage points. Besides that, its sheer mass was imposing and intimidating. As the day's hike wound down, so did our connection with the Wall. Slowly but steadily we made our way down off the crags and back onto the rolling hills, back out of the wilderness and onto farmlands, out of the quiet and into the noise of the road. With this transition, we saw less and less of the Wall that had obviously been more heavily scavenged as it became more available to local folks over the centuries. Thus, I would say this day was the high point for us: Literally in terms of altitude and figuratively in terms of our Wall experience. It was also a hard day of walking and we were ready for our dram, dinner and dreams that night.

Img_1692Saturday 2st - Gilsland to Walton

Our sixth day of walking began with the usual full English breakfast and continued with an interesting but not spectacular walk. We had some contact with the Wall now and then, but it was no longer our constant companion. In fact, the detailed trail guide we were using had a special note to point out the last piece of Wall we would see -- a forlorn little overgrown pile of rocks -- and I found myself pouting. Like the first thirty miles from Newcastle, the last thirty miles would be barren from a Wall perspective. We'd had our two days on the spectacular middle twenty five miles of nearly constant Wall sights, now it would just be a walk for the distance. Nevertheless, there were a few highlights such as a "self-serve" refreshment stand where you can brew yourself a cup of coffee, grab a soft drink or bottle of water, and even have a tasty little cake, all on the honor system. Even in the hinterlands, entrepreneurship rocks! Not so much of a highlight was that the weather turned rainy and we started having to slog through mud on a regular basis. I won't say that we were getting depressed, but it wasn't so much fun. At one point my Mom summed it all up by saying, "I feel like a horse that is heading back to the barn." Indeed, to the barn we went, in the form of a working farm B&B where we slept to the sound of cows making whatever sound it is that cows make, and dreamed of still having twenty five more miles to go.

To be continued...

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Logbook: Hadrian's Wall II


Monday 16th - Newcastle to Heddon

Our first "official" day of walking the Hadrian's Wall Path actually began with a Metro ride back into the center of Newcastle, thanks to our "pre-walk" the day before. We retraced our steps to the exact point we had left the path, took a moment to ready ourselves for what we imagined lay ahead and stepped out. By the time we had covered five pretty easy miles continuing along the river, we were well out of the city and into the suburbs. We stopped for a quick coffee and a snack then continued on our way, veering away from the river but still in flat land across some parks and even a couple of major road bridges. So far, the walk had been a very easy and pretty uninteresting -- bordering on boring -- march through civilization, with no sign whatsoever of the Wall that was our main focus and theme. It did, however, give us the chance to begin to accumulate a sense of the total mileage that the Wall would have covered and we were already impressed. Early afternoon we reached a hard right turn in the path, went across a golf course and started to slog our way up a pretty steep hill. We had covered about ten of our twelve miles for the day -- thankfully fewer than the 16 we were originally scheduled for! -- when we reached the little village of Heddon and stopped for a cold drink and a chance to rest. All in all, we had been moving pretty well and it was only early afternoon. On our way out of Heddon we got our first proper glimpse of the Wall in the form of a 200 meter long ruin averaging about 1 meter high. It looked very similar to the segment I had seen twenty years ago and was a powerful reminder of why I was motivated to see it. It was my Mom's first view, and I think her reaction was something along the lines of "Wow!" We spent a few minutes looking it over, commenting on what an ordeal it would have been to build the Wall just to where we were standing -- let alone for another seventy-odd miles! -- then set out on the last two miles of our day's walk to a B&B just down the path. Upon arrival, we were delighted to see our bags waiting for us as promised and had a wee dram before taking showers and having dinner at a local pub. I wouldn't say that the 12 miles wrecked us, but even though it was an "easy" path we were still pretty worn out. It had been a very good idea to "pre-walk" the day before!

Img_1563Tuesday 17 - Heddon-Corbridge

Our second walking day started with a "full English breakfast" of eggs, sausage, bacon, mushrooms, tomato, beans, toast and coffee, a meal that would be our standard throughout the trek. We packed up, left our bags and headed out into the countryside, and I do mean countryside! For the next few hours we tramped through farm field after farm field, up and down countless stiles over farm fences and walls, across grasslands, among fields of wheat, barley, hops and whatnot, all the while paralleling the modern road which runs along the route of the ancient Wall and frequently in the company of livestock. It was a beautiful country walk on a beautiful day, but we saw little sign of the Wall itself along the way. We did, however, see ample signs of Wall-related Roman construction. You see, in order to make the Wall a more formidable defensive boundary, the Romans dug a ditch in front of it, on the North side toward the "savages." Aptly known as the "Roman Ditch" this was a steep sided earthwork some ten feet deep and twenty feet wide that is still visible today, even where the Wall itself no longer exists. In addition, the Romans also did impressive earthwork behind the Wall, on the South side toward "civilization." Hadrianii2This included a wide, leveled area for a "military road" plus two defensive berms and another very large ditch called the Vallum. If you are keeping score, so far we have an immense wall, two huge ditches and two large berms. If you are wondering why there was so much earthwork "behind" the wall, just remember that the Romans were not entirely welcome and needed to keep their personnel, property and livestock safe from locals on their side of the wall. Think of it as a military zone with a wall and ditch toward the enemy and earthwork berms and a ditch toward the occupied population with a military road in between. (Then again, you can probably just look at pictures of US bases in present day Iraq and see that military occupations haven't changed much in two thousand years.) But I digress... After three hours of walking we were ready for a break and stopped at a famous pub along the nearby road. Sadly, the pub was closed so we pushed on until we had covered a total of about eight miles through the constant up and down of farm walking. At that point, we left the wall path and headed about three more miles due south to the town of Corbridge where we found our accommodations -- with bags once again waiting for us! -- and took a little break. With plenty of daylight left, we wandered to the edge of town and checked out the ruins of a large, Wall-era Roman Fort. We took an hour-long audio tour of the site, learning all about Roman Fort construction, layout, buildings, and the life of some three thousand troops who were stationed there. All by itself, the site would have been impressive, but when you realize that this is just one of a dozen large forts the Romans built -- in addition to the 84 mile Wall and earthwork! -- you get an even more astonishing sense of what they invested in defending their occupation of northern Britain! Pretty much worn out from the day, we had an early dinner and crashed.

Img_1666Wednesday 18th - Corbridge to Chollerford

After our full English breakfast on the morning of our third day, we took a local bus to the nearby town of Hexham for a little side-trip to check out a famous church Mom wanted to see, then caught a ride back up to the exact spot on the Wall path where we had deviated the day before. Like deja vu all over again, we spent the next few hours crossing farm fields, going up and down farm stiles, catching glimpses of Wall ruins and in the pretty constant company of Roman earthwork, livestock and traffic noise from the nearby road. We stopped at a delightful little cafe for lunch then continued on, starting to feel ourselves walking up and down some rolling hills. Later in the day, we came across our first examples of the Wall's built-in fortifications: Milecastles -- about twenty feet square -- were built every mile along the wall to house about a dozen soldiers, and Turrets -- about ten feet square -- of which two were built in between each Milecastle to house a few lookouts. Img_1601You can see that by themselves these are not impressive fortifications, but when you start adding them up -- 80 milecastles and 160 turrets -- in addition to the Wall and the dozen Forts, the scope of the construction becomes even more staggering. The Romans truly were masters of military engineering, constructions, infrastructure, communications, etc. I am convinced they were also completely crazy. To have invested what they did in the Wall complex, just to mark the extreme limit of the Empire and keep the "savages" out has to be one of the most immense squanderings of fortune in history. (I will resist making present day comparisons.) Anyway, after what seemed like a pretty short eight miles for the day, we found our night's lodging at a lovely little B&B (with a great dog!) went out for a pub dinner and an early bed time. Three days and thirty-odd miles into the walk, we felt like we had pretty well gotten into the groove and routine. We were wrong.

To be continued...

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Logbook: Hadrian's Wall I

Img_1522(Note: I am actually writing this on Saturday, July 28th. So much has happened over the past two weeks that I have been more than a bit daunted by trying to recap it in this Logbook. Rather than try to cram it all into one immense posting, I have broken it up into a few -- still quite lengthy -- sections. Also, rather than try to write it as one continuous narrative as I normally do, I have decided to present it in a day-by-day format. It would take a book to share all the details, but I have done the best I can to "share the experience." I hope I have been successful.)

Friday 13th - Edinburgh:

I took the airport shuttle from Edinburgh's Waverly Bridge out to the airport and met my Mom's flight which was only slightly more delayed than it had been shown on the airline's website. When she emerged from the arrivals area she looked pretty beat and explained that she'd had a pretty bad flight. I thought about giving her a break by getting a cab back to the city, but decided to get her right into the swing of things on The Voyage instead. I explained that "taxis are for tourists" and steered her to the shuttle bus stand. Half an hour later I ushered her into our hotel room and gave her some time to sort out her gear, take a shower and catch her breath. It was early afternoon by then and she said she was hungry so we walked down the block to a deli for a sandwich. When I was asked what I wanted to drink, I looked at the selection and inquired what an "Irn Bru" was. The clerk replied: "Irn Bru is the other national drink of Scotland, a sugar drink that will give you a buzz and rot your teeth." Pointing to the guy standing next to me she added, "Just ask him, he's a dentist." Img_1492Seizing the opportunity, I turned to the guy and said, "I'm due for a checkup, can I come see you?" He explained that he was booked up, then said "Wait a second..." and asked another guy in the deli if he'd mind giving up his appointment that afternoon. The guy replied that he'd be all too happy to postpone his appointment, so the dentist turned back to me and said "Be in my office around the corner at three o'clock and I'll see you then." Perfect! My mom was still in a bit of a daze, but she caught the gist of what had happened to realize that I'd just made a dental appointment with a guy I met in a deli and said, "I guess that's how it works on The Voyage, eh?" I dropped her off back at the hotel for a nap and went to see my new dentist who gave me an excellent examination, explained that the problem with the tooth that had been bothering me was indeed a slight chip, did just a bit of grinding to smooth it off then gave me a cleaning and a clean bill of health. I thanked him and asked him what I owed him, to which he responded by shaking my hand and saying, "Good luck on The Voyage!" I was stunned. A free dental exam and treatment from a complete stranger... You just can't make this stuff up. Thank you, Martin! I got back to the hotel where my Mom was just waking up and explained what had happened. She shook her head in amazement then pointed to the pile of my gear in the corner of the room and said, "I was just thinking about the fact that everything you own is in that pile on the floor. Between that, the dentist and everything else today, I can really see how things work in your life." Welcome to The Voyage, Mom! In the evening we walked around the neighborhood a little bit, had an early dinner and called it a day.

Img_1494Saturday 14th - Edinburgh:

Since Mom had never been to Edinburgh before and this would be her only day in the city, we decided to combine getting some exercise with doing some sightseeing by walking pretty much all over town. From the hotel we walked to one end of "The Royal Mile" -- the central street of the city -- to visit Holyrood Palace, the Queen's residence in Scotland. It turns out that my Mom has always been a fan of Mary Queen of Scots and that time in British history, so we did the audio tour of the entire Palace and grounds. I have never known much about British history -- and understood even less -- so I enjoyed the overview the tour provided and pretty much exhausted my Mom with questions by the time a couple of hours had gone by. I still don't understand it, but at least I know more than I did. From the Palace we walked the length of The Royal Mile, stopping at Starbucks to enjoy a good cup of coffee (for a change), wandering into a variety of shops (with everything from kilts to bagpipes to shortbread and toffee) and paying our respects at the cathedral of our favorite beverage, the Scotch Whiskey Museum. When we reached the end of The Royal Mile we'd had enough of being tourists and made our way back to the hotel via some of the city's parks and quieter side streets. We spent a little time in the afternoon sorting out our gear for the two weeks of trekking we had in front of us, then had another early dinner and called it a night.

Sunday 15th - Edinburgh to Newcastle:

We began our day with a big breakfast followed by a final packing of our gear, the stashing of my excess gear at the hotel and a walk to the train station. Minutes later we were on our way to Newcastle, the starting point of our "Hadrian's Wall Walk" and the beginning of our adventure...

(Note: This is probably as good a point as any to insert a few comments about "what, how and why" we had planned to "Walk the Wall": For me, it all began over twenty years ago when I was touring Northern England and Scotland and happened to stop at a B&B which featured "Hadrian's Wall" as a local attraction. I had heard about the famous Roman Wall during my studies in college and took a few minutes to walk behind the B&B to check it out. What I saw was an immense pile of rocks about 100 meters long in the shape of a foundation for an extremely large wall. I was amazed by the breadth of it -- about nine feet wide -- and stunned to think that the two foot high pile I was looking at was once 18 feet high! It was inconceivable to me that this Wall once ran uninterrupted for the entire 84 mile width of Britain almost two thousand years ago. I couldn't get my mind around it and decided at that moment I would have to come back some day to check it out. Fast forward to two months ago on The Voyage when I realized I would be in Britain this month and there is no better time to fulfill my destiny! My Mom and I have had so many great walks in places around the world that I emailed her and asked if she wanted to join me. True to form she replied almost immediately with an emphatic "Yes!" She added that she didn't know anything about the Wall so she had done some research on the web and found that it looked like an outstanding walk with an amazing theme. She had also found a company that specializes in supporting "Wall Walkers" with pre-designed itineraries, pre-arranged accommodations along the way and a baggage-forwarding service so we wouldn't have to carry all our gear. Way to go Mom! It all sounded great to me, so we picked our time frame, called the company and set it up: A place to stay each of nine nights with our bags waiting for us when we arrived at each stop. All we would have to do is walk 84 miles in 8 days! Now, back to our story...)

Img_1527Upon arrival in Newcastle around noon, we walked across the train station to the city's Metro and figured it out enough to catch a ride a few stops where we emerged across the street from our first night's accommodations -- a modest but satisfactory little inn -- and checked in. According to our pre-arranged itinerary, our walk the next day was scheduled to be a long, 16 mile segment. Although it was described as "flat and easy" -- mostly along the river through the city of Newcastle and out into the suburbs -- Mom mentioned that she was a little daunted at the prospect of walking 16 miles in one day. Since it was only early afternoon, we decided we could make it a little easier on ourselves by knocking off a few miles that afternoon. So we grabbed our day packs and walked a short way to the official beginning of the Wall at the ruins of the Segendunum Fort. We took a very brief glimpse at the site then posed for a picture at a tiny remnant of the Wall and set off. Because none of the Wall remains in Newcastle -- besides the one where we took our picture -- the walk starts out as just a decent "city walk" and we cruised along the river for a couple of hours until we reached the heart of the city. Having covered almost five miles, we had significantly shortened our walk for the next day and left the path to catch the Metro back to our hotel where we had dinner and hit the rack. As you will soon find out, it was an excellent decision to do our "pre-walk."

To be continued...

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Lost In Translation: Edinburgh, Scotland

EdinburghenglishschoolBuilding Sign

Edinburgh, Scotland

July 2007

My Mom pointed this sign out to me and asked, "What do they normally speak here?"... Little did she know she was destined to find out!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Logbook: Dawlish - Groesfaen

Img_1472I’ve had 48 great weeks so far on The Voyage, but last week was one of the very best! My friend Betty was waiting for me when I arrived at the little train station in Dawlish last Sunday and we made a very quick drive through the heart of town -- a lovely little oasis on the shores of the English Channel -- on our way to her home -- also lovely little oasis! Betty is such a warm and delightful woman that it is really easy to just relax and have fun with her, so we wasted no time picking up where we left off in April -- when we were shipmates on the Polar Star -- and caught up on all our news and gossip since then. For the next three days we had a wonderful time, driving around the area, seeing sights, visiting some of her friends and having a lot of really good laughs.

Img_1430Devonshire is a strikingly beautiful and surprisingly varied place. With coastal influences, charming little towns, tidy farmlands and vast moors, it has just about everything in a relatively small area. There have been many places I’ve been so far on The Voyage where I’ve thought “I could come back here sometime”, but Devon is the first place where I’ve thought “I’ve got to come back and spend some time here!” Of all the good laughs we had together, some of the best were at mealtimes.

Betty has been having great success recently being on a very strict diet, one of those programs where all of your food comes in some form of snack bar, powdered drink or soup. She drinks four liters of water a day and her only “electives” are that she can have as much tea/coffee as she wants. Img_1443So, at mealtimes we would go to a restaurant or pub and I would announce to the server that “I am taking my friend out to lunch/dinner. She can have tea or coffee, and I will have...” usually ending up with some huge plate of food. We were quite a sight and had good laughs, even if others in the restaurant didn’t get the joke! Really, we had a lot of fun, relaxed time together and being with Betty for three days was a real treat for me. On Thursday, she insisted on driving me to my next destination, the little town of Groesfaen in Wales about two hours away. Upon our arrival at the home of my friends -- a Welsh family with whom I had sailed on the Discovery between the Galapagos Islands and Antarctica back in January -- we were warmly and enthusiastically greeted by my next “hosts” before Betty and I bid fond farewells and she headed back to Dawlish.

Jan, Rhian and I had about an hour to catch up before their three lovely young daughters -- Jess, Billie and Poppy -- got home from school. It was the “calm before the storm” because the moment we were all together, a happy whirlwind ensued and rarely paused for the next three days. Jan and I did have some time on Friday while the girls were in school to take a little tour of nearby Cardiff and to visit the Brecon Beacons -- where we hiked/climbed up Pen y Fan, the highest point in Wales -- but most of the time was high quality “family time” and I was both delighted and honored to be included in all of it. Over the weekend went to the waterfront in Cardiff, to a historical park and museum, to the beach, to the movies and even bowling. We had many, many great times, but the best for me was just being in their warm, fun, energetic and loving family.

Img_1468The girls, of course, are simply darling -- as you can see in the Photos and the “Welsh Folk Song” Report -- and I especialy enjoyed being with them. Jan commented several times about how “surreal” it seemed to be in Wales together when we had only met by chance on a ship on the opposite side of the world, and we both agreed that sometimes you just get lucky to meet the right people. I’m determined that we shall meet again! On Monday morning we dropped the girls off at school, then Jan and Rhian dropped me off at the train station in Cardiff for my day-long train ride here to Edinburgh, Scotland.

I have spent the past three days catching up with myself after my two excellent, whirlwind weeks with “new” friends in London, Pangbourne, Dawlish and Groesfaen. I have mostly been bringing this website up to date, catching up with folks on Skype and doing some of the usual “chores” -- haircut, laundry, etc. I have held off doing much exploration of this ancient and attractive city, waiting for my mom to arrive later today. We will have a couple of days here then head down to Newcastle to start our eight day walk along the entire 84 mile length of Hadrian’s Wall, something I have wanted to do since I first saw a piece of the Wall over twenty years ago. I not quite sure why, but I’m sure I find out. So, I will probably be offline again for a couple of weeks, but stay tuned... The Voyage of Macgellan continues!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Musing: EuroTerror

Euroterror2Some of you -- my “Virtual Voyagers” -- have asked me recently about all the terrorist activity you have been hearing about in the United Kingdom. I thought I would put my thoughts into this Musing and share them with everybody. While most of my comments are based on observations in the UK, they also apply -- to a greater or lesser degree which I will try to describe -- to my recent experience in France .

As an overview, although “terror” is a constant topic in all forms of news media in the UK, it doesn’t seem to be a topic of daily conversation among the population. By and large, people seem to just go about their business, more or less unaffected by the constant implications of “threat.” When the subject does arise, people tend to deflect it with a variety of dismissive statements along the lines of “We live in scary times.”

If pressed on the issue -- which I have done only lightly for purposes of this Musing -- the response is pretty much what the media has promulgated: “The terrorists are not going to undermine our British way of life. We survived [the blitz, the war, etc.] and we’re going to get through this!” This may be the “stiff upper lip” stuff of Britain, but it is as good a way as any of not letting something you can’t do anything about ruin your daily life.

In France, I had less of a sense of terror in the media -- or in popular conversation -- but that may be because they had a bigger story going on (i.e. the national election) and/or because, frankly, I didn’t have a good enough grasp of the language to pick it up. My sense, though, is that the French are not as energized about terror as the Brits... At least not yet.

With that said, there are a few aspects of daily life in Britain that I think are worth pointing out and illustrating:

Euroterror3Surveillance: There are cameras simply everywhere in the UK. All along the highways, on virtually every street and intersection, at bus stops and train stations and in many restaurants, bars, hotels and even stores. Ostensibly used for other purposes such as traffic control, personal safety and theft deterrence, they are nevertheless all linked to central monitoring. This may explain why it is that every time you see a story about terror in the UK on your local media there is a plethora of video footage covering every movement of the suspects. They’ve got video everywhere and the amount of digital media they are amassing -- both useful and superfluous -- must be simply staggering.

Euroterror4Police: Only slightly less ubiquitous than surveillance cameras is the presence of police. Never traveling in numbers fewer than two -- and often in threes or fours -- the police are very visible. They are also very “proactive” and almost always seem to be in the process of questioning someone, checking IDs and/or searching belongings. I would not call the police presence “oppressive” or “alarming”, but I would put it at least in the category of “kinda creepy.” I can’t imagine what this police presence is costing -- or how much “good” it is doing -- but I’m sure it is a staggering amount of money and a huge drain on the public coffers.

Euroterror5Trash: That’s right, trash. This photo was actually taken in France where I was surprised to see such unattractive trash receptacles in -- let’s face it -- the land of style. I asked a “Virtual Voyage” who is -- believe it or not -- an expert in “site furnishings” like trash receptacles, and he informed me that the “plastic bag hanging on a ring” is an effort to keep terrorists from putting bombs in trash bins by making them transparent or, in the worst case, by reducing the amount of potential shrapnel which would be provided by traditional bins. Sadly, this made some sense to me, though I had some doubts about how much the transparency of the bag would prevent someone from putting a bomb in, say, a bag or box with no one the wiser. Obviously, the shrapnel reduction theory is the more applicable. This really hit home with me the other day when I had a cup of coffee in London’s busy Euston Station and -- despite a thorough search of the premises -- could not find a single trash receptacle in which to dispose of my empty cup. The number of trash bins in London’s busy public spaces: Zero, zip, zilch, nada, none. They’re gone. “Bomb in the bin” problem solved! The best you can do is hand your trash to the guy who walks around with a clear plastic bag picking up trash. This situation hasn’t taken hold in outlying or rural areas yet, but the trend is pretty clear.

Which brings me to the point of this Musing: Let’s face it, the UK has had to face and deal with terrorism far longer than the rest of the world, including the US. Well before “9/11”, the Brits were the target of all manner of bombs, etc. Although the means they have developed for dealing with terrorism are not guaranteed to be followed by other countries facing their own increased levels of terrorism, it is a pretty good bet that the UK will continue to be looked to for ideas, ways and means going forward. In the absence of some real “original thinking” on the part of the US, for example, I think Americans can expect to see the ubiquitous deployment of video cameras, a vast increase in the number of police and the disappearance of trash bins in public spaces among other trends. The British “stiff upper lip” may make them comfortable with -- or perhaps just resigned to -- these kinds of intrusions and inconveniences in their lives, but I’d like to think that folks in the US won’t accept them as readily or as well. Then again, because terrorism leverages on fear, mindlessness in response to it is rampant. Based on how mindlessly Americans have “gone along” with “Homeland Security” and all the other costs and intrusions of their government’s “War on Terror” I’m not very hopeful about seeing any “original thinking.” Which is too bad, really, because designing your security system based on the British model would be like designing your cars based on the Jaguar. Even my British friends will agree, it may look good but it’s very expensive, it doesn’t work very well and it certainly isn’t very reliable.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Haircut Chronicle: #8 - Edinburgh, Scotland

Img_1484 Img_1482_2 Img_1483

#8 - July 10, 2007, Edinburgh, Scotland. Just a month after my last cut, I was feeling -- and looking -- a bit scruffy. I explained to Janet in Scotch-English that I wanted “A wee bit of a trim” and she was eager to get started. Minutes later my hair was the shortest it’s been in 40 years! (It looks better than in this photo.) Cost: 10 Pounds ($20)

Friday, July 06, 2007

Report: Welsh Folk Song

I was sitting at the kitchen table with two of my young Welsh friends -- talking about how they are fluent in Welsh but their parents don’t speak a word of it -- when their father suggested they sing me a Welsh Folk Song so that I could hear how the language sounds. As soon as they began I knew it would be something to share with you, so I fired up my camera and let the video roll. Whether you are interested in Welsh Folk Songs and how the language sounds or just want to enjoy three minutes of video that are guaranteed to make you smile, this Report is for you! (Note: My favorite moment is about two-thirds of the way through when “sisters will be sisters”... You’ll know it when you see it. Also, don’t miss the proud father in the background... Who can blame him?) Enjoy!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Lost In Translation: Groes-faen, Wales

Greatbritishfood_2Restaurant Sign

Groes-faen, Wales

July 2007

I need to find out how to say “oxymoron” in Welsh.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Logbook: Pangbourne

Pangbourne2Thursday morning I did my usual routine of packing up, checking out and moving on. I took the Victoria Line all the way from Walthamstow/Chingford to Green Park in downtown London then walked a few blocks to the Royal Army and Navy Club where I met my friend Tony for lunch. (You may recall that I crossed paths with Tony in a tiny cafe in the Falkland Islands back in March, and we have kept in contact ever since.) After a grand tour of the prestigious and elegant club, we dined in style then made our way over to Paddington Station and caught a train to Tony’s hometown of Pangbourne in West Berkshire -- more or less in the heart of the Thames River valley.

While enjoying the luxury of watching TV in English back in Chingford, I had caught part of a BBC documentary that featured some footage of an amazing looking set of locks on one of the England’s many famous canals. I asked Tony about it and we figured out that it was the Caen Hill flight of locks on the Kennet & Avon Canal. He had never been there, but agreed that it was worth exploring based on the pictures we saw of it on the web. So, Friday morning we hit the road and cruised westerly through a series of lovely English towns until we reached the town of Devizes in time for lunch, followed by a short drive further on to the Caen Hill locks. It is hard to describe the locks, and even photos don’t really do it justice. With 16 locks placed in a direct line, the canal rises more than 200 feet in a very, very short distance. Although the concept of locks is really quite simple, the concentration of these locks -- and the engineering required to build them -- makes them a stunning sight. What’s more, the canal and locks are still used today by people who make a holiday out of riding in rustic but comfy little barges. Having never heard of Caen Hill until I saw it on TV by chance, it was a fabulous discovery and well worth a visit if you are ever anywhere nearby.

Img_1417We continued our exploration along a circuitous route through more charming English country towns on our way back to Pangbourne. Yesterday we hit the road again, headed east and north -- more or less along the Thames River -- stopping in the very chic and picturesque town of Marlow for lunch then continuing on to the town of Henley, particularly famous for being the home of a very prestigious rowing club. Our route back took us through Tony’s childhood hometown of Cookham where we had a look at one of the many, many locks on the Thames. All in all we had two very fine days of exploration, and many hours of fine conversation along the way. Thanks Tony! This morning I checked out of the little inn I had stayed in and walked to the local train station to catch my ongoing train, only to find that the station was closed for “Works.” No worries, a “replacement bus” showed up a few minutes later to take me to Reading where I was able to catch the train I am on now.

Img_1425After two hours of riding through absolutely lovely countryside, I am now looking out over what I assume is the English Channel as I approach Dawlish in Devon. Here I will meet Betty -- who you may recall was my shipmate on the Polar Star sailing up from Ushuaia and across the Atlantic -- and spend a few days with her exploring the area. I am very happy to be back in the countryside, and thrilled to be back near the water. Visiting new friends made along the way is a new experience that I am very much enjoying on The Voyage of Macgellan!