Post 29 - 2015 Biking Adventure

by Fred Schlomka -

Day 62, 63, 64 & 65 - Scotland
2nd - 5th July - Arran - Ardrossan - Barnbrock Farm campsite, near Bridge of Weir - Gartocharn, Loch Lomond
Total biked - 1,685 kilometres ( 1,053 miles)

It was so nice of Heather to drive us in the van to the port with the bike and all the gear. That saved us quite a bit of time.

It was a quick ferry ride from Arran to Ardrossen. We had to backtrack a few kilometres to Saltcoats in order to pickup the bike path again. It went through some beautiful countryside along reconditioned railway tracks, a few back-country roads, and other dedicated bike trails.

The stretch along Kilbirnie Loch and Barr Loch was particularly nice, with the trail weaving along the water. However the incline turned sharply upward after leaving the lochs.

Once again we saw these unusual cast metal trail markers by artist Andrew Rowe (http://www.dar-design.com/). I have emailed Mr. Rowe an requested that he elaborate on the symbolism of the apparently fictitious alphabet used in the sculpture.

We pitched camp in the rain at Barnbrock Farm campsite near Bridge of Weir and huddled down in a tiny lean-to shed to cook our dinner. We met a fellow there who was also using a wood-burning camp stove, heating a miserable-looking bit of packaged soup. We offer to share our plentiful dinner with him but he declines.

Apparently he is visiting from England to attend a scaffolding-building class in Glasgow in order to become a qualified ‘Scaffolding Erector’. It seemed to us to be an obscure trade, but on reflection a necessary one. Better to certify the tradespeople erecting the scaffolds than be bonked on the head by a steel rod plummeting down the side of a building because the workers were underpaid, unqualified labourers - as is often the case where we come from in Israel.

No-one was at the campsite office to take our cash in the evening or the morning so the foreman of a work crew told us to depart without paying. I assured him we would pass on the favour to someone else, but he just rolled his eyes at the notion.

The next section was blessedly downhill and then flat until the town of Balloch where we had to climb hills to our destination.

Sunita had been commenting along the Ayrshire coast that Scotland seemed grey and a little grim. To be sure the Scottish Whinstone ( mostly igneous basalt and dolerite) used for most homes in the area can seem a bit dull at times, but as we circled away from the coast through more rural settings, the broad and bonny range of the Scots natural landscape became apparent. Red sandstone also became increasingly used for building so the visual mosaic became more pleasing, especially with the huge variety of wildflowers which were in full bloom.

Just before the Erskine Bridge over the river Clyde we took a little short cut which led to an amazing dead end at ‘Mar Hall’, a formidable 19th century mansion that was now a hotel. A gardener told us that it was purpose-built as a hospital but we found out that it was originally built as a private mansion in the early 19th century.

As we enter this posh establishment, Sunita is nervous that we look a bit too scruffy. However we breezed past the reception desk to seat ourselves next to the grand piano in a sumptuous hall. Tea is served along with one of the finest scones I have tasted.

We cross the Erskine Bridge then head north along the tow path along the Forth & Clyde Canal before it disgorges into the River Clyde at Bowling harbour. We pass a foot-bridge with an ingenious hand-cranked mechanism to open it. I chat with a fellow from the Scottish Canals who tells me that whenever one of these bridges needs repair, new cast iron parts need to be custom made at great expense. Apparently the canal is subsidised by the Scottish government since it takes a group of 4 canal workers to guide boats through the locks and bridges and operate the mechanisms.

After reaching the southern edge of Loch Lomond we stop for tea at the Corries Cafe in Balloch, before heading up to the village of Gartocharn where our friends Ken & Linsey live. We depart Balloch through a former estate, now a public park, where some very ancient trees have been preserved - the first we see in the UK. Scotland is looking better and better.

Ken & Linsey are musicians who live in a Scottish paradise, a few acres on the shores of Loch Lomond with its own tiny private beach, managed wilderness, and extensive cultivated gardens. The house was extended and renovated by the previous owner, an eccentric expat from the USA. We settle in to the warm embrace of their welcome.

I had met Ken and his daughter Annie when they visited Israel/Palestine earlier this year. This time we met another daughter, Virginia who was just finished with her school year and was enjoying some free time after her rigorous exams.

During our two days there we were able to catch up on necessary admin work both for Sunita’s upcoming working trip to the USA and my Green Olive duties. I also began a macrame project, practiced a little guitar, and wandered through the peaceful woodlands to the water.

The flowers were blooming, and the grasses and woods were teeming with life including our host’s rambunctious dog, and a host of tiny frogs that were everywhere underfoot in a boggy section. The chickens, grapevines, and driftwood collection added to the plethora of experience at the homestead. Linsey presented me with a fine piece of driftwood upon which I began the macrame art project.

We toured the area by car. Among the places visited was the Bronze sculpture of Scots broadcaster Tom Weir at Balmaha Bay. Linsey has been involved in the festivities surrounding the unveiling last year.

Visiting the old paddle steamer, ‘Maid of the Loch’, was a highlight. Ken, in his former life as a property broker, was instrumental in the process to save the old girl from the scrap yard. Today it is restored with a cadre of dedicated volunteers who maintain the boat. However they need to raise another 3 million UK-pound in order to replace the boiler and bring the ship back to full functionality. Details at www.maidoftheloch.org .

I found out later that my mother was a frequent passenger on the Maid of the Loch back in the 1970s when it was still taking passengers around the loch. I just made an on-line remembrance donation to the Loch Lomond Steamship Company in her name, Hannah Schlomka.

Ken and Linsey are keen to come again to Israel and Palestine and contribute their talents. We are helping them figure out the best way to do so and hope to see them in Jaffa again before long. Check out their music at http://www.linskenscotland.scot/

On our last evening Sunita, Ken, and Linsey had a music session while I packed. It was lovely to hear these seasoned musicians weave their magic around each other’s tunes.

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