Stage dates: Thursday April 30th to Wednesday May 6th
Number of sessions: 3
Distance covered this week: 73.38 km
Distance covered in 2015: 971.40 km
Target distance after Stage 18: 943.96 km
Distance ahead of/behind schedule: 27.44 km ahead
I and a bunch of friends rode up a local hill – Blackstone Edge – and then partly down another, Cragg Vale, last year, in order to get into a good position to be able to view the cycling spectacle that was the Tour de France, as the peloton went on its way through the slightly less gallic countryside of Yorkshire. It was a cracking day too – a good sense of camaraderie from the assembled masses by the roadside, the pre-race procession chucking out mini-treats, and then watching two hundred riders pass at about double my normal pace, all within the width of a wheel or an elbow flick. It really was something to behold. Even if it did only last about twenty seconds.
As everybody is well aware, the whole event was a tremendous success, and is in part responsible for the follow-on standalone Tour de Yorkshire race that took place during this week of my 2015 challenge. I didn’t make it to a stage this time, but I at least made it my mission to get out on my own bike this week, which I managed three times over the Bank Holiday weekend.
My three ‘stages’ were but a small fraction of the distance covered by eventual winner Lars-Petter Nordhaug and the other 122 riders, but it did ensure I added another 73 km to the total for the year. Like most cyclists I know, I use Strava to log my rides, and more importantly, use it to manically focus on both improving my ride times and trying to move up segment leaderboards. The beauty of Strava is that you can follow professional cyclists on there too, which in one sense is great, as you get to comprehend the rather incredible speed and fitness of these chaps, and in another rather brings you back down to earth when considering your own, rather more sedate efforts.
For example, here’s David Lopez of Team Sky’s efforts on Stage 1 of the TdY this year:
Yes, that is almost 10,000 feet of climbing in four and a half hours, whilst still averaging almost 25 miles per hour, and reaching over 50mph at one point. Gulp. And even when pointing wheels downhill, when I am slightly less aerobically challenged, our descent speeds are, shall we say, poles apart. I’ve ridden the Cragg Vale descent that Lopez and the rest of the riders did on Stage 3 of the TdY, so here’s where Strava can show you how relatively serene your descent was in comparison, even if it did feel like you were hanging on to the brakes for dear life. Which I was, a bit.
Putting aside all notions of being anything other than a below average amateur cyclist then, let’s instead focus on my virtual tour progress, which starts this week still on the Scottish mainland, but due to our requirement to visit the most easterly settlement within the UK (which turns out to be Belleek, County Fermanagh), ends somewhere in the Irish Sea.
First stopping point this week is Ardwell. In the village are the ruins of Killaser Castle, once the ancestral home of the Clan MacCulloch, who are now known as an armigerous clan as they no longer have a chief. May I suggest erstwhile post-punk crooner and Echo and the Bunnymen frontman Ian McCulloch as new clan leader to bring back better times for his fellow named? He’d certainly make them feel like they were world beaters, if his opinions of himself are anything to go by:
“When you’ve got the greatest songs in the history of time, the greatest band in the world and the greatest singer, you’re obviously talking about it as a masterpiece.”
Sod William Wallace, a gobby scouser is what you need in your clan chief these days.
Along the A77 we go then, finding ourselves next in Lendalfoot, which is a village in South Ayrshire, and not a reference to the lower appendage of a Czech tennis player. There’s clearly not a huge amount to keep the residents of Czechtennisplayerappendage occupied, as the only two stories of note I could find when researching the area were the massive upset caused by changes to the bus timetables, meaning the number 358 would arrive ten minutes later in future, and the fact that 93.4% of the electorate voted in the independence referendum.
To the east of Lendalfoot however, there’s a little more afoot, with plans for a new windfarm to the south of Turnberry golf resort. Bizarrely thatched tycoon Donald Trump has propelled himself to the NIMBY forefront of those against the turbines, suggesting that they are a terrible blight, obsolete technology, and ultimately responsible for higher local taxes and ornithological massacre. Isn’t it great when somebody in the public eye stands up for a cause to bring more attention to it, for no personal gain? What was that? Trump owns Turnberry golf course, from where you would see the turbines? I’m sure his reticence is purely coincidental, and to be fair, his barnet does find it rather difficult to cope in blowy conditions.
Obviously power generated from renewables is tantamount to fuelling the fires of hell, and should be avoided at all costs. It’s not even as if energy firms are also funding community projects to the tune of a couple of million quid from the operation of local wind farms. What, they are? Clearly that’s hush money to silence the populace to ensure this obsolete carbuncles can continue to provide their demonic supply to their iPhone chargers.
Just down the road from the devil’s draught-driven power plant is a town by the beach named Ballantrae, which seems appropriate as the name comes from the Gaelic Baile na Tràgha, meaning ‘town by the beach’. Ballantrae was the location of the arrest of the Reverend Alexander Peden, one of the leaders of the Scottish Presbyterian Covenanter movement, whilst he was holding a conventicle in 1673. This resulted in four years in lockup, which seems a bit harsh when you realise that a conventicle is pretty much just having tea with the local vicar.
Glenapp Castle, also in the village, was owned by the P&O owning Inchcape family from 1917 until the early 80s. An interesting resident in the early years of the castle’s ownership was Elsie Mackay, daughter of the first Earl of Inchcape. Elsie certainly had a diverse career, which included acting, interior design, and being a pioneering aviator. She also seemed to be a bit of a black sheep – having been disinherited after eloping with a fellow actor, before making an ultimately fatal attempt to fly across the Atlantic in 1928, having promised the family that she wouldn’t undertake the journey. “Crossing the Atlantic? Moi? Nah, just popping out for some milk.”
At Auchencrosh, you won’t find the Moyle Interconnector, a link between the village and Ballycronan More in Country Antrim, as it’s mainly in the Irish Sea. Its function is to export electricity to the good people of Northern Ireland, as Scotland patently has too much, it supplying Beelzebub as well as the rank and file of South Ayrshire, as we already know. Maybe Satan isn’t too happy with this arrangement, as the connections have suffered a number of ‘faults’ over the past few years.
After following alongside the Water of App for a while, we eventually cross it and hit Mark, a small and evidently unremarkable village. I couldn’t even discover the etymology of the place, my Googling of combinations of ‘Mark’, ‘Ayrshire’, and ‘Dumfries and Galloway’ only turning up a local scandal involving a Dumfries headmaster named Mark and the deputy head of another school, who were cautioned after being caught in possession of cocaine in a pub in Carlisle. What kids these days will drive you to, eh?
We next reach what turns out to be my final stop in Scotland as part of my 2015 virtual tour, Cairnryan, which has two ferry terminals linking Scotland with the ports of Belfast and Larne.
During World War II, Cairnryan was an important military port, and the base for thousands of troops. It was also the place where the Atlantic U-boat fleet surrendered at the end of the war, before 116 of them were towed out to sea and scuttled by the navy as part of Operation Deadlight. It being the end of war and all, code names were evidently in short supply, as the areas used for the dismantling a hundred miles north-west of Ireland were codified as XX, YY and ZZ. Somebody really couldn’t be arsed that day, could they?
Somebody who could be slightly more bothered was the Cairnryan ferry worker who recently tried to rescue a seal pup who was unable to get back into the sea. After trying unsuccessfully to coax the pup back into the water, he was placed into a car boot to keep him safe, and the Scottish SCPA was called. Smartie the seal obviously heard the car owner talking earlier about the fact the he had a leak in his dashboard, and that he’d have to put some seal on it. So he crawled through a back seat and did just that. Nice one, Smartie.
Taking the ferry to Larne then, we see Kirkcolm on the coast, and our way is illuminated by Corsewall Lighthouse. It was first lit in 1817, but the first lighthouse keeper to have the job was sacked that year, after falling asleep on duty just when the revolving light mechanism stopped working. Definitely not a keeper that one, then. See what I did there? Oh, never mind.
177 years later the light was automated and is now managed from a control centre in Edinburgh. And – surprise, surprise – the lighthouse itself was converted into the 4-star Corsewall Lighthouse Hotel. Gift vouchers are available.
Kirkcolm’s most famous son is Admiral Sir John Ross, renowned for his Arctic expeditions in the early nineteenth century. His first ended in controversy, and somewhat tarnished Ross’s reputation, which meant his second needed to be financed privately, by gin magnate Felix Booth. This four year voyage was more successful, resulting in Ross being the first European to reach the North Magnetic Pole, and his subsequent knighthood.
I’m not sure what Mr Booth was getting out of the deal, given that I’m pretty sure ice was also freely available in Scotland at the time, for the chilling of one’s G&T. Maybe financing expeditions was the football club ownership of the day. Seems like the egos involved, and returns are pretty similar.
Next time I believe we’ll have made it to the Emerald Isle so, Slán go fóill.