Friday, March 31, 2006


Just back from another quick trip. This time it was down to London, flying from Edinburgh.

A business trip, sounds glamourous but believe me it wasn't! An early start, and an early finish. With a good few hours of people-watching thrown in.

The design of Gatwick Airport means that people waiting to be called for flights are forced to congregate in an almightly temple to capitalism - it felt like the central square in the Metrocentre, except perhaps with more seats. There are large signs telling the public that beyond the doors to the gates there are few facilities and to take advantage of the ones on offer here. I bet the shopowners are very grateful.

I had two very heavy bags with me, which were delightfully light when I had to kid-on to get them in as hand luggage... that meant I couldn't do much shopping, which was a good thing really. Instead, I got to sit with Joe and Jeanette Public.

I decided I didn't need another newspaper. I had enough to entertain me, really. The two middle-aged gentlemen had me eavesdropping, trying to identify which language they were speaking (Dutch I think, but certainly European).

There was a group of young Jewish men, teenagers really, Orthodox to a point but one was wearing a "hoody" which I don't suppose would be approved dress...

There was a youngish woman sitting close to me, dressed very neatly but revealing some bright red cartoon socks inside her expensive boots. She was studying some pages printed from her computer. I was trying secretly to zoom in to identify what they were when she very helpfully told the world by having a conversation with her mother about them, in an incredibly loud American voice. Turns out she was on her way to Prague and was trying to organise a weekend break in Frankfurt, but could Mom write down the details (with spelled-out email addresses and websites) or she could send a text, just to send them an email to reserve the dinner cruise for her and Andre (presumably the boyfriend). Blimey.

Mine was the only flight not delayed last night, the French were on strike again. I hope all those people weren't there to long - I landed just before 9, then had a 2-hour drive home in the rain.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Rain, rain go away... please!

Last night we visited the in-laws in Dumfries (for Mothers' Day) and it never stopped raining! Quite apart from all the puddles making driving a bit hazardous, I'm always reminded of the time it rained so much it drowned Carlisle...

BBC Record of the floods in Jan 2005

My flood pictures on BBC Website

Every time I pass over the Eden via the motorway I check it to see how full it is!

There are still homes and businesses which haven't recovered from the floods. Some areas of town have shuttered shop-fronts, and there are still a few skips lined up. I can't imagine how bad it would have been to see my home or possessions being engulfed by muddy river water. How utterly miserable.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Springtime bursting out

We went for a drive in Dumfries and Galloway today, primarily to find a stone circle, but we were scuppered by the presence of cows and calves in the field, not something we were going to argue with!

So we head off back down the hill, and decided to seek out some crannogs and prehistoric stuff elsewhere.

On our wanderings we drove past a field with three pairs of Highland coos mothers and calves.. and had to stop to take a closer look! I know I know, they are built for winters up in snowy climates but me being the sap I am I just look at their long red floopy fringes and say "awwwwww!"

They performed for us, suckling and nuzzling and mooing... very cute!!

We then visited a Peel Tower which was actually still part of an active farm - complete with brand new lambs, a pair had just been born. We got a good view of them from the top of the Tower, and right above our heads there was a busy rookery with lots of nest-building going on.


Friday, March 24, 2006

The Cumberland Gap

Anyone living near the western fringe of the Scottish border knows about the A74. It's the road between Carlisle and Gretna, a major gateway route.

The A74 is a lifeline. Geography and topology means that there are only three main roads crossing the border between Scotland and England (the A74, A68 and A1). The eastern point of the Solway estuary has two major rivers entering it, the Eden and the Esk. To get from Gretna to Carlisle there are only two routes over these rivers; the A74/M6 and the longer A7 route inland by Longtown, which crosses the Esk via an old, narrow bridge and the Eden at a bottle-neck within Carlisle city centre itself.

Early one morning during bad weather in December 2004, just before Christmas, a man and his son were killed when their lorry overturned on the narrow raised section of the A74 which crosses the marshes near the Esk (Mossband). This bridged section only has room for four lanes - no hardshoulder or middle buffer zone - and is also very exposed to the sidewinds being funneled in from the coast. One big gust caused death and chaos, halting everything for the next 29 hours.

Anyone who has travelled the so-called Cumberland Gap can see that a dual-carriageway with no hard-shoulder and many lay-bys is a dangerous place. There are bus-stops, cyclists, even pedestrians. I have regularly seen people risking their lives to climb over barriers - legally, this is all acceptable, a fact which never fails to amaze me.

Upgrading of the route has just been approved, planned for starting in July. There will be a proper motorway extension built, and also an alternative road for non-motorway traffic alongside.

But there are in my opinion things that can be done now to help the matter, and inform the driver of hazards. I wrote last year to the Cumberland News, something I've never done before, I felt so strongly. I asked for the immediate closure of all lay-bys between Gretna and Carlisle. Every single time I approach this part of the road I slow down, and observe ahead whether or not there are any lorrys in the lay-by, identified by the leaning angle caused by the fact they have to park on the curb because the bays aren't wide enough. The parked lorries are far too close to the traffic and there are services at Gretna and easy access to rest areas in Carlisle.

I wanted a speed limit of 50mph imposed on this stretch (especially on the bridge over the estuary where it is extra narrow) . Controversially, I asked people to consider closing the services and garages along this stretch, where the entrance/exits are very short into fast-moving traffic (obviously the businesses would not agree with me - but I dread to think what would be the situation if ever an accident happened there). Lastly, I called for the closure of all on- and off-ramps to junctions between Gretna and Carlisle - this has already happened at some junctions, presumably after similar concerns were raised.

I was one of the unfortunate people who were stuck in the traffic that December. Information was scarce, the authorities and media gave false hope, promising the route would be cleared by 9pm, they lied! I got home at 2am after finding a route which got me on the Longtown road. People who didn't know the area probably had another 2 hours to wait.

I frequently travel the route for work and leisure and I don't suggest restrictions lightly.

But for safety's sake, this can't continue and needs dealt with earlier than the promised upgrade.

BBC News article

Cumberland News article

Thursday, March 23, 2006

How green is your valley?

I feel so guilty. Every time I drive the car, run a bath, leave the TV on stand-by, throw a can in the dustbin rather than recycle it, buy fruit that has travelled the globe or cheap meat or clothes, or anything cheap for that matter (I presume it's all come from sweatshops).

I drive as part of my job, mounting up over 25,000 miles a year for business use alone. My employer would love it if I did a lot more (although I could stay in one place and probably call twenty times more people on the phone). Anyway, I also feel guilty that I am not out on the road every single day.

At least I wash my car by hand, rather than go through a carwash, my god they must use loads of resources. Should I also be washing my clothes by hand? (draws a line...)

Tell you what I couldn't do. I couldn't drive a Chelsea tractor. I couldn't throw lots of food away. I couldn't throw out good clothes rather than donate them to charity. So why do I love taking cheap holidays? Take flights that guzzle enough fuel to outweigh any savings I make by over means?

Aagggrrrrr!!! I blame the government!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


I am in prime urban dogwalking territory. From my window here I regularly see the same people walk their various pooches on a route through the estate.

Marked on old Ordnance Survey maps as a recognised pathway, the 21st century builders were obliged to keep the route open so had to include it in the design of the open-plan, modern streets. As a result, a track of tarmac now runs past my house, marking the path taken by unknown ancient travellers heading into town. It's not that long ago that this was all fields. Quite boggy, waterlogged fields as far as I can remember, and it's perfectly possible that the same dogs and the same walkers still come this way.

There's the striding bloke with his Welsh terrier, sometimes his wife takes a turn but rarely they walk together. Then there are the golden retrievers: one owned by the woman with long silver hair with the green nurse's tunic peeking under her jacket, and the other by the man in the wellies (#1). The man in the wellies (#2) is either unemployed or retired; his stubby little Border Terrier cuts over the gardens so he does, too. The guy with the pushchair takes no prisoners - I've known him since childhood, he walks with the same storming attitude as when we were at school together, but I presume it's a different Border Collie he walks now.

New puppies this year, the pair of Dalmations are usually walked by a tall man with a red waterproof, although today he wore a blue fleece. I saw a wolf puppy the other day.

Now that's sad - a Doberman, quite young, but there's a problem with his legs, he's tripping up over his feet and swinging his limbs out wide at every step. His owner is very patient.

A sight to see are the two Afghan hounds, complete with matching long-haired owners, I even saw them in four matching waxed jackets once (but never again, not even they could pull it off)

All these dogs and not a poo bin in sight. You can usually tell if it's an outgoing or incoming walk by whether or not there's a poobag in tow. Of course, you can also tell the size of the dog by the size of the poobag. I saw a dog the other day carrying its own little bag, now that's disgusting.

Oh! That Jack Russell is new! The guy must be a painter, by the state of his trousers.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Aren't Oystercatchers Fantastic?

I bet they don't just eat oysters, though.

Saw some nice ones poking about near the waves' edge today, the tide was on its way out. Was surprised to see that they are almost as big as the seagulls nearby.

We were at a beach just east of the Southerness lighthouse (the second oldest in Scotland, apparently). A nice quiet beach, especially at this time of year! Lovely views over to the lake district, when it's clear (fells were snowy, what we could see of them under the cloud)

The beach has has no signposts to it, you have to know it's here (in the summer it's packed with locals). It's one of those beaches with loads of shells, white cockles and blue mussels and those little pink ones that look like fingernails. They are found here because of the large rocky outcrops - I suppose that's why the oystercatchers love it.

Was very surprised to see 5 ducks walking along the beach too.

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