The Spookiest Castle you’ve never heard about

It was a particularly gloomy evening as we made our way towards Dufftown in Leah’s yellow corsa. The bright colours of the car contrasted with the dull greys of the sky above Speyside as we navigated the wet roads.

This was a perfect example of a cheaper and shortened version of a good old road trip. One which had started in nearby Keith and would preferably end up somewhere within a 15 mile radius. Still an enjoyable adventure, but one which lacked the mileage of a Route 66 trip or the Scottish equalivent, the North Coast 500.

My fellow traveller wanted to see another castle, inspired by our visit to the dramatic Slains Castle during the previous week. Stopping in Dufftown, a small village surrounded by hills and several whisky distilleries, we had a look to see which historic sites were within our reach.

It didn’t take long for Leah’s beady eyes to spot Auchindoun Castle, an innocuous place name found on Google Maps. The digital generation’s version of a reliable coffee marked AA road atlas.

I recognised the name and swore I’d visited the site when passing down the nearby Cabrach road (A941) in years gone by. This undulating and winding road takes the traveller through a pretty barren and desolate landscape, linking Dufftown with Rhynie. It’s a road I know well from childhood visits to the Moray Coast when travelling over the hills from Deeside.

From the clock tower in Dufftown’s small square, it took us little over five minutes to reach the castle. The only hurdle along the way being a deeply eroded and steep track up onto the hillside from the road. I imagine this would be likely impassable in the wintery conditions which will often grace this area in the colder months.

A corsa or similar make of car isn’t likely an ideal vehicle for this track, but thankfully the makeshift road doesn’t last too long. Parking is supplied for visitors on your right when you reach the top of the short hill.

On this occasion no other visitors were apparently brave enough to visit the eerie ruin at 7.30 on a Thursday evening and we found the car park empty. Walking past fields of cows we first sighted the castle’s highest tower, peaking above the nearby trees.

Leaving the corsa there was a 10 minute stroll to the castle itself. This involved traversing a grassy and slippy path through a sheep field. If visiting its especially important to close every gate which you pass through. The local farmer will probably not take kindly to one of his woolly friends going for a jaunt in search of greener grass.

There are seemingly two or three entrances to the ruin, with a larger one on the North facing side of the castle. From this side there are good views down to the River Fiddich and beyond, although care should be taken not to fall into what remains of the moat.

The 15th century fortification was most likely built by Thomas Cochrane, an ally and architect of King James III. Cochrane received the Earldom of Mar in 1479 as reward for his hard work, but the castle was more infamously owned by Sir Adam Gordon.

The Gordons likely occupied the castle from the mid 1500s onwards and Sir Adam wasn’t a man you’d want to come up against. In 1571 he launched an awful attack on the nearby Corgarff Castle, burning 29 of its occupants to death following a feud with the Forbes of Towie. Corgarff was heavily affiliated with the Mackintosh clan and this slight overreaction didn’t go down too well with them.

Diplomacy was obviously quite sparse back then and Auchindoun Castle faced a similar fate when William Mackintosh took it upon himself to seek revenge. He taking it upon himself to burn the Gordon owned castle down several years later.

Some historical accounts suggest Mackintosh was later beheaded at Auchindoun for this crime. This being one of numerous harrowing unlisted incidents at the spooky site, which unsurprisingly played host to even more brutal clan warfare.

In its heyday the castle would have stood at three stories high, but the site has actually sat derelict for almost three centuries. The Oglivy family left the site in the 1720s before materials were removed en masse from the tower house to construct a house for William Duff of Braco.

Despite the distint lack of human activity at Auchindoun in recent years, there’s something which sends a chill down the spine when standing inside the ruin’s ancient walls. As a cynic of ghost related spirituality there is something about the castle which I just couldn’t quite put my finger on.

Maybe the low light helped create this atmosphere of mystic . Whatever the case, I won’t be returning at night anytime soon, but would highly recommend a visit to this rather atmospheric remote (and free!) castle.

 

 

 

 

 

Searching for Dracula

In the midst of an overcast Scottish summer there are wonderful days where this country is literally shown in it’s best light. I think us Scots quite often deliberately forget about these days, feigning for some average conversation starter about how the weather is always rubbish.

Thursday was definitely one of those days, the type you dream about while out in a sleet storm in the darkest depths of a diet failing January.

Waking to wall to wall sunshine in Leah’s new Aberdeen flat, I knew the opportunity of getting out into the Shire was too good to miss. Though Cruden Bay maybe wouldn’t have such an adventurous or large hobbit population.

We set out in the Mitsubishi for Ellon at around lunchtime in search of some fish and chips by the seaside. My morning had involved a dehydrated run in the 21c heat. Maybe not the best running conditions for a Scotsman with poor temperature control.

It took all but 25 minutes to reach the market town where we found a one way system implemented in the name of social distancing. Passing the Tolbooth pub, we found the Bridge Street chippy closed, perhaps a sign of the lasting impact of Cornonavirus on small businesses.

I had last visited the Tolbooth in March, sharing pints with my Dad and Grandad as we watched Scotland overcome Italy in the Six Nations. This must have been amongst the last days of recent normality for most in this country. Although a Scottish away victory was pretty abnormal.

And so we tried nearby Cruden Bay for some greasy, salty, heart stopping battered cod. Having visited the coastal village several times with both grandparents as a child, the village was smaller than I remembered.

With no chippy in sight, we eventually settled for a chicken sandwich and an ice cream from the newsagents. I happily gobbled on my Feast after my trademark poor attempt at parking.

Our destination by foot was Slains Castle, a 16th century ruin 3/4 miles north of Cruden Bay. Not the old church transformed into a dimly lit watering hole on Belmont Street in Aberdeen.

Emerging from a pathway surrounded by woods and into the piercing sunlight we had our first sighting of Slains Castle.

Often referred to as New Slains Castle due to the Old Slains castle which formerly existed south of Cruden Bay, this one was built in 1597. It was lived in by the Errol family until the early 20th century, this surname being a namesake for the nearby primary school.

The castle itself sits impressively upon some sheer cliffs, almost jutting out into the North Sea. Even on a windless Thursday afternoon it is easy to imagine this spot on a dark and stormy night with slight fear and intrigue. The sound of the waves mercilessly pounding the rocks below in the pitch darkness.

Wondering around the roof less ruins it’s not difficult to understand where Bram Stoker’s apparent inspiration for a setting of Dracula came from. During an 1890s visit to the North-East, the Irishmen apparently imagined the vampire taking flight from the castle’s dramatic surroundings, perhaps sailing to the location from the far off Transylvania.

Our stay was far less dramatic as we enjoyed our chicken sandwiches in peace, before carefully strolling around the building’s remains. At one point it would have housed 14 bedrooms, although I didn’t quite trust the structural integrity of the building to venture upstairs.

The inherent lack of any roof makes Slains Castle look more weathered than it perhaps would have otherwise. Though apparently the roof was removed for economical reasons, the second owners of the castle being unable to pay their taxes in the 1920s.

In one room facing the North Sea is a huge gap where a window would have once been. Not daring to go to close I admired the view, trying to consider just how far it really was to Norway and how long it would have taken the Vikings to get to Scotland’s shores.

On the other side of the castle there are also impressive views, with a patchwork of fields giving way to the distant humble beginnings of the Grampian Mountains. With grandparents in Ellon and formerly in Newburgh, this is a scene I grew accustomed to in my childhood. Bennachie and its distinctive shape being the standout feature in a landscape of farms and wind turbines.

It was therefore with a bittersweet feeling that we wondered back to the faithful Mitibushi and travelled back into the Granite City. It’s no secret that I love this part of the world, Aberdeenshire that is.

It’s no surprise then that I’d highly recommend a trip to Slains Castle. From Aberdeen it takes less than 30 minutes to reach by car and if travelling on public transport there are usually buses to Cruden Bay on an hourly basis.

And if you do find yourself at the precarious yet impressive ruin, do mind the drop and don’t expect to sight Dracula. I hear he holidays around these parts at Christmas time and isn’t the sociable type. Though maybe the prospect of a potentially hard Brexit has put him off from visiting this winter.

Disclaimer: I’ve never actually read Dracula, but its definitely on my reading list now!

 

 

 

A Crash Related Ramble

Never do I feel so confident as when I’m going great guns on a bike or tearing down a technical hill side like an ungraceful mountain goat, just about managing to keep my balance. Those moments are blissfully rare insights into a fantasy life which could resemble total self-belief while anxiety remains absent.

Reality does however bite when I dismount my bike or fling of my trail shoes. With this in mind, I hold those blissful moments before with added value. Only now as I relapse through a period of being anxious about those very activities do I realise how significant a role they play in my quality of life.

A wide spectrum of situations will undoubtedly make different individuals anxious and for me personally there are many. Public speaking, meeting strangers, driving in the city and visiting the dentist to name just a few.

Many of my anxieties need to be overcome if I’m serious in the long term about becoming a journalist or to indeed enjoy a good quality of life. And in truth many of them have been overcome several times. But life isn’t that simple unfortunately. So often its a case of one step backwards to make two steps forward and I’ve come to accept that.

Feeling anxious about an activity you’ve held as a remedy to detrimental mental health though? That’s a bit tougher to accept.

For so long riding a bike has been the love hate relationship which I’ve always enjoyed coming back to. I can’t exactly pinpoint my first experience on two wheels, but I can almost create the images in my head of a chubby blonde haired four-year-old on a bike with oversized stabilisers.

Likely pushed along gently by an incredibly patient parent or grandparent until eventually reaching that pleasing moment when I could ride unassisted. Sounds of encouragement coming thick and fast as I wobbled along at a snail’s pace.

Fast forward 20 years and the bowl haircut is gone, replaced by an even more horrendous hair style. This time inflicted by yours truly in a late night cider fuelled haircut session with some full sized scissors and a sink full of damp hair.

On a more serious note, that came last week when my anxiety felt as out of control as my ever growing lockdown mullet. Cutting my hair, however poorly, felt like one of the only things I could control on a visual level.

My legs are also thankfully stronger nowadays and I’m able to propel myself along at a much faster pace, thanks in part to getting rid of the stabilisers. Unfortunately however, in another addition to a comedy of errors I discovered I maybe still needed them.

It had been a surprisingly warm June day after the week previous had proved there isn’t really a Scottish Spring weather wise. It just seems to jump straight from winter to summer. Must be a baptism of fire for those poor calves and lambs.

Anyway, on a pretty depressingly unproductive day last week I decided to brush of the cobwebs, aiming for a wee spin out to Linn O’Dee. I wanted to add a few mild evening miles to the cyclometer. I wanted something, however small, to show for when I lay my head on my pillow later that evening.

I sped up to the Linn O’Dee Bridge, brushing past a father and son with an arrogant greeting as I sped past. I felt like Bradley Wiggins if he had a shit hairdo and no side burns.

I felt so good I decided to extend my ride slightly to the Linn O’Quoich. A car park further down the road heading back east where the tarmac comes to an end.

The road was unsurprisingly devoid of traffic and pedestrians until I glanced a couple leaning on their grey vovlo after reaching the brow of a slight hill. On seeing a potential crowd to my incredible Tour de France cycling skills, I decided my gratification levels needed an unnecessary boost.

As an inconsistent user of Strava and social media in general, I feel like I don’t look for that gratification and justification quite enough. Even if I guiltily concluded recently that this very blog is also seemingly often geared towards lazily gaining those two elements.

And so I hit the accelerator, pummelling my way down the other side of the slight incline, imagining I was time trialling.

Suddenly I wasn’t peddling anymore. There was no saddle beneath my lycra cladded buttocks. I lay sprawled on the tarmac, my long suffering bike slightly mangled beside me as a sat like a startled ugly deer for a split second. I had crashed good and proper.

Regaining some sense quickly, I leapt to my feet praying that the nearby couple hadn’t seen my wee incident. There prayers weren’t answered.

“Are you alright?”, asked the woman as I followed her voice to see the concerned Volvo owners giving me discerning looks from a safe distance. Fuck.

My go to response was nervous humour as I tried to mount my poor bicycle with some urgency. I joked about the number one rule of crashing being to always crash with an audience, before quickly realising my front brakes were jammed.

While fixing it I noticed the blood pouring profusely from my left knee and found some solace in my right knee’s rare avoidance of harm in an accident. I was likely fairly lucky not to break anything. Especially after coming down at some speed.

Instead of the fulfilment I’d hoped I would have felt after my ride, I spent the rest of that evening cleaning my wounds and trying to figure out why I’d so unexpectedly ended up on the tarmac.

Only once previously had I bailed from a road bike. That occasion being seven years ago and occurring in an almost comically controlled and deliberate manner. A swinging tractor’s trailer resulting from a mistimed overtaking attempt forced me to fall into a soft verge in slow motion.

There hadn’t even been any bruises that day and it hadn’t at all discouraged me from going out and doing the same the next day. This time however, was different.

This time there had been no obvious risks. I was sure I hadn’t pulled my brakes and the accident had taken place on a fairly straightforward section of road. Perhaps a pine cone laid by an evil squirrel had been the culprit. Maybe my front brake had jammed before the crash, but this seemed difficult to explain if I hadn’t touched the lever.

A week on and my bruises are now healing well and I’ve realised this crash shouldn’t have really been that big a deal. Yet, I also realised I’m now worrying about my recurring cure for worry. That in itself is worrying!

Forgivable confusion from that last statement aside and I’ve now suitably recovered from my bruising encounter with the tarmac. I’ve left the bike and its buckled wheel alone for the moment and am focusing on the running.

After saying I would, I eventually made it up the mighty Morrone on Tuesday and plan to do the same tomorrow after laying low for the last few days.

Hopefully I’ll be back on the bike soon. Able to banish any nervousness which comes with riding it. Wish me luck!

 

 

Weekly Ramblings

Issue 9 – Wednesday 10th June

The Good

A slightly late Weekly Ramblings comes to you from a fifth week of lockdown spent in a slightly colder and cloudier Braemar. Later this morning I’ll be leaving the village to perform a socially distant visit of my Granny with my brother.

Armed with muffins, I’ll be taking Dad’s diesel Mitsibushi on a proper spin for the first time after embarrassingly being unable to figure out how to pop the fuel cap open earlier last week.

Apparently the car itself is slightly top heavy, meaning I’ll have to take the many corners between here and Ballater with care. This week it was finally given its MOT and is now road ready. I just need to remember it takes unleaded? No, diesel!

This week has also seen less lycra action out with a weetabix fuelled ride over Glenshee on Thursday in unseasonably cold temperatures. That ride definitely doesn’t rank as being one of the more enjoyable ones.

Indeed, neither was it one of my finest moments as I often loudly cursed the existence of a moderate North-Westerly wind all the way home.

As always though, there was a recognisable overriding feeling of achievement after completing a Rule Five ride for the first time in a while. More obviously enjoyable at the  however, has been my strive to find my hill running legs again.

Starting of relatively small, I’ve started going further and finding some more challenging climbs to test myself on. The Morrone Birkwood and forest beyond it has proved a good testing ground, with a multitude of climbs amidst colourful heather providing a strong backdrop to several outings now.

Next week I’ll be targeting a rare attempt at Morrone Hill itself and lets hope the Old Women of Winter doesn’t leave me needing temporary stitches in my knee this time. I’ll also be attempting once again to improve my poor diet habits in the hope of making the load I need to carry with me up the Corbett a bit lighter.

The Bad

In order to avoid making this segment a weekly rant, I’ll try and cut to the chase as quick as possible. As the title of this segment suggests that alone can be difficult for me at times.

On Thursday evening I sent a letter to the MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, Andrew Bowie. Within the short-ish (for me anyway) essay I asked Mr Bowie about his views on: (a) The Black Lives Matter Movement and its significance in his constituency.

(b) What he thought about Donald Trump’s dangerous and perverse reaction to George Floyd’s death and the ongoing protests in his country.

(c) Whether he would be willing to call out cases of institutionalised racism in the House of Commons.

Now there has yet to be a reply, but I want to give my local Westminster representative the benefit of the doubt on this one. Maybe he’s been flooded by similar letters and is replying to them when he can. Maybe my email landed in his spam folder.

I also realise he’s likely been heavily involved in the political response to the Covid-19 outbreak, amongst other localised and national issues. It is therefore unfair to locate Mr Bowie in this week’s bad section purely for his failure to reply to my email.

Although, I would be interested to find out how many of those who have written to their local MPs have received a reply. Perhaps an Instagram poll later in the week will provide a vague idea of their response to those who did put pen to paper.

That being said, I have been slightly irked by the general response amongst Conservative Mps (and others) to the growing movement behind Black Lives Matter. This response from some MPs local to Aberdeenshire seems to be either pretty meagre or actually focused on choosing a different issue of the here and now.

This issue being the violence which has been perceived as marring the UK based protests. Protests which have been largely peaceful, with the tearing down of statutes and defacing of others being widely reported.

At this point let’s be clear. In no way I’m I defending the vandalising of the Cenotaph, an important war memorial to those who bravely fought and died for this country.

Instead, I’d suggest that many who have a political platform and a clear voice aren’t doing enough to back this pivotal movement and the toxic rhetoric and behaviour of those who still base suppression on a person’s skin colour.

Its arguably easier to discuss violence on the streets and protest related social disorder rather than attempting to tackle an ugly racist undercurrent within our society. I just feel this isn’t a time to pick and choose issues.

Some have clearly decided to give more airtime to the unfortunate and indeed, unforgivable incidents where British police officers have been harmed. They seem to have given this issue prominence over the systematic killing of black people at the hands of American police for generations. This to me seems slightly puzzling, if not a tad inconsistent.

The Ugly

My hair is pretty ugly right now, floating between a poor attempt at a surfer dude and a 1980’s lower league footballer. Getting a haircut is definitely one of the items on the post-lockdown priorities list.

A slightly ugly scenario also played out on Tuesday’s run when an oyster catcher became anxious about the threat a bedraggled bandanna sporting runner poised to its nearby nest.

Running down towards the Games Park I was suddenly bombarded by a flood of bird shit. This being accompanied by several rounds of good old fashioned dive bombing.

Although, this was an unnerving run in, my similar experience with a buzzard in a field a few years ago was definitely more intimidating. During that encounter I could feel the bird of prey breathing down my neck as I breathlessly sprinted towards the nearby trees. I will however, consider an alternative route next time for the angry oyster catcher’s benefit.

Hoping that this relatively harmless bird anecdote has distracted you from the slightly politicised section beforehand its time to go and fill up the car. I realise I’ve broken my unwritten rule of not being political on this blog, but I hope you realise these are unprecedented times. Stay safe everyone.

 

Like Riding Through Treacle

It’s always difficult to get out of bed when you can actually hear the rain and wind battering your bedroom windows. Friday morning was no exception to this rule. Awaking early for my planned ride I thought, ‘it’s June, it can’t be that cold outside.’ Spoiler alert: it was pretty cold.

Not only was it unseasonably chilly, but cycling the strong northerly wind forecasted was also an ominous sign. I would be heading northwards back to Braemar after being dropped off in rural Perthshire.

Eventually hauling myself outside and into the car later than planned, my raynaud’s was already starting to kick in. On reaching the summit of Britain’s highest A-road I noticed with some anxiety that the temperature reading was hovering around a balmy 3 °C.

After being dropped off I was soon on my way. The first section of the 30 mile ride was deceptively easy. Me and my sexy lycra were sheltered from the wind with a kindly gradient to boot.

Even the first climb was relatively simple. I started to convince myself that it was going to take no time at all to cycle home as I powered up the incline like a heavy set Nairo Quintana. That being if the Colombian regularly barely digested three soggy Weetabix before a Tour de France stage. This was going to be a piece of piss.

On reaching a less sheltered section of the road this arrogance was deservedly dashed by a strong northerly wind rearing which finally reared its ugly head. I enjoy a cool breeze on a hot June day as much as the next guy. When its cold and I’m trying to ride a bike however, I’m not as much of a fan.

The long and winding road to Spittal of Glenshee ascends and descends repetitively and it was on these small bumps that I realised I should of sorted my lazy lockdown sleep pattern out. For all intent and purpose my legs felt like they were still snoozing.

Passing the remote village across the modern looking McThomas Bridge the ride became tougher still. On the approach to the steep Cairnwell Pass, a section of road known locally as the ‘Slide’ for the direct route it takes to the valley floor, there was now no shelter at all from the incessant headwind.

The road over this hill used to be infamous for being one of the toughest routes in Britain. The now retired Devil’s Elbow included a double hairpin which unsurprisingly  proved a challenge for many motorists before a newer road was completed in the 1960s.

Looking down at the hillside below where this sensational road formerly lay, I grinded away in my smallest ring like a persistent snail, trying to ignore the lactate acid screaming murder in my cold legs.

It was on this pain inducing incline that I began to do some thinking. Not an unusual pastime for me, but not a particular strong point of mine when there is a distraction such as palpable lower leg pain.

I started to draw some clumsy comparisons between life and my sudden realisation at that precise moment there was only one objective which I wanted to achieve. All I wanted to do in that moment was to keep turning the pedals. That was of a crucial importance if I wanted to reach the Ski Centre two kilometres up the road without coming to an anti- climatic halt. 

Keeping it relatively brief, there are two clear trains of thought which entered my head as I traversed the hillside in the rain and wind. The first is that life can be a real grind.

That patience and a persistent effort is likely to be key in achieving personal goals and finding a fulfilling happiness in your lifestyle, even if the process towards succeeding in these areas can be slow.  This can also definitely be discovered in another person’s happiness.

Secondly, I considered how it takes a sustained and often slowly building effort to change your views. To educate yourself or others. To constantly bat away any ignorant or outdated views that you may have held for a while, perhaps years.

As an individual and a wider society we should always aim to make progress. Even if that progress is difficult, painful and slow, perhaps often frustratingly so. There is always progress to be made.

Weaving across the now 10% gradient road I considered this second point especially and thought about how weak the old arguments of ‘how it wasn’t like that in my day’ are. Similar worn-out excuses equating to the mentality that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

Everyone, no matter their age or experiences has the ability to change their views. Everyone should have the ability to arrive at a different less thought out conclusion than they have previously reached. Even a huge amount of patience, humility and effort.

Bike on the bike, it took me all but 17 minutes to reach the summit. My reward? The king of all eye hurting headwinds combined with icy rain. Cycling past the empty chairlifts of the ski centre I could barely keep my eyes open as icy rain blasted my frozen facial features.

Eventually I completed the descent into Braemar and this was where I experienced my highlight of the day, maybe the week. Earlier in the ride I’d been passed by a Co-op lorry and before entering the village I met the same green vehicle again, heading southbound this time.

The driver promptly flashed his lights at me, giving me a heart warming thumbs up as he sped past. This gesture was the perfect remedy to a life which has often recently felt similar to being in a social bubble, sporadically interrupted by a pandemonic social media feed.

During the current events an innocuous glance at my multiple digital feeds presents many voices in favour of positive change. However, many others seem to enjoy disregarding or shutting down the important debate and issues which have almost became all encompassing right now.

Obviously, these negative voices can often drown out the helpful and pragmatic voices of the moment. I guess, perhaps naively, that driver’s simple gesture helped restore some faith on humanity on a visual level. If that makes sense?

Black Lives Matter https://blacklivesmatter.com/

 

Weekly Ramblings Returns

Issue 8 – Tuesday 2 June 2020

Introduction

Its been a long time since I tried to keep a weekly blog and in hindsight its confusing why I didn’t start my ramblings back up earlier in this long-lasting lockdown. Maybe I naively considered the comings and goings of life at home to be uninteresting or maybe there is a more prevalent unwillingness to delve into my personal exploits.

This when there are so pressing matters in the public sphere. In fairness, there are always more pressing matters, but this week’s media and social media coverage is arguably all encompassing in its significance.

Whatever the reason, when writing I did feel anxious about delving into the news of the last several weeks and the one particular story which has rightfully been circulating this past week.

Alternatively, I think the terrifying, but important events of last week should be mentioned on this platform. Unfortunately these most definitely belong in the darkest recesses of The Bad and The Ugly sections of this week’s ramblings.

I want to however, begin on the good which I’ve experienced on a personal level in a world which feels unequally depressing at the moment. I don’t want to avoid the more global societal issues which should involve everyone, but have decided to conclude the following ramblings with them.

The Good

As we pass the 70 day mark of this unprecedented lockdown there are some positives to be found on a personal level.  One of these being that my wild haired and physically stronger stay at home comrade hasn’t yet murdered me as I sleep restlessly.

Indeed, I don’t think its too much of a stretch to boldly my brother and I have almost enjoyed each other’s company, despite the numerous bad habits which he has to put up with.

With the slight easing of restrictions we have manged to kick a ball around in the park this week. This to our neighbours relief as they have had to put up with endless rounds of garden cricket. We’ve also provided good company for each other on cycle runs. I slowly becoming accustomed to the uncomfortable combination of wearing tight Lycra on an incredibly solid saddle.

Taking it in turns to cook meals, I have also managed to avoid food poisoning any of my current housemates. Perhaps even improving on the little cooking skills in my locker before Covid-19 arrived and eating slightly healthier. You quickly realise when eating an orange for a cheeky afternoon snack feels unusual that you’re lazy student induced diet was likely pretty appalling.

My gradual re-introduction into the world of road cycling has also been of benefit to my physical and mental health. Last week’s sunshine and balmy temperatures have been advantageous to achieving 200 kilometres over the seven days, most of these miles being collected in the short ride out to Linn O’Dee.

At a time when the guidance is to stay local the ‘Linn Loop’ is a solid ride which ordinarily takes 40-45 minutes to complete. With a small hill on the return to Braemar I’ve tentatively taken up Strava again in the search for my best time. Frustratingly, I have now equalled my best time twice, one measly second needed to get a personal record. Its motivation to keep plugging away at it I guess.

During lockdown I have also discovered Netflix Party, a tool which has been useful for binge watching Orange is the New Black with my girlfriend while she isolates in Aberdeen. There is some comfort in being able to relay your impressions of the show while watching it together. Although, patchy WiFi and a six-year-old acer laptop can make this is a frustrating process.

A final re-discovery has been in reading and last week I managed to eventually finish Ned Boulting’s On the Road Bike. I found this very readable account of the anecdotes and more outlandish characters of the British cycling scene to be both honest and insightful. Inspiring also to a part-time cyclist with some of the gear and no idea.

My current read is now The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, a book which unsurprisingly can prove complex and heavy reading. The author goes in hard on Facebook and Google, with some of the developments within sharing similarities to an episode of the dark yet brilliant Black Mirror. 

The Bad and the Ugly 

As the aftershocks of the horrific actions of a thoroughly isolated police officer in the United States and the Coronavirus death rate grows, it seems shamefully churlish to complain about my current circumstances.

The United States of America. A country which I think similarly to the UK enjoys seeing itself as exceptional and an effective practitioner of equal human rights. Unless you are living under a rock you have likely seen the evil and horrendous footage of a Minneapolis police officer unashamedly suffocating a unarmed black man.

You could say this has a detrimental on a country which prides itself on personal liberty and human rights. But the man in the White House is more focused on photo opportunities and holding a Bible uncomfortably like someone who claims to be Christian while having very non-christian values.

Personally, I was shocked by my lack of surprise at the video of the original incident. The footage itself was harrowing and shocking in how avoidable the tragic outcome of those 8 minutes, 46 seconds where George Floyd was pinned to the ground by his neck was.

But this is frighteningly not a rare occurrence. Mr Floyd didn’t deserve this. No one deserves this.

As someone who has undoubtedly benefited from white privilege, it is a sharp reminder I need to educate myself on where I’ve benefited from inherent racism. A racism which is likely less distinct than the unnecessary deaths of black men at the hands of merciless police officers or disgusting racial slurs.

Great Britain as a whole, urgently needs to discuss its colonial and imperial past and far from perfect present. This island nation is no beacon of shining light when discussing global inequality. Indeed, Scots who have seemingly enjoyed the tag of being viewed as a more liberal counter-balance to an England arguably struggling to find its identify need to do the same.

A lack of personal action against racism witnessed at school or in other sociable areas is likely linked to an anxious response to potential conflict or confrontation. It is shameful and fallible that it has taken this to spark this thinking process for myself on a personal level. This needs to go further than a shared hashtag on Instagram or a brief moment heart searching thinking.

Finally, the widely shared row of houses analogy which has been used to deligitimise the philosophy of the All Lives Matter movement in comparison to the Black Lives Matter movement is an important one.

If one house on a street of several houses is obviously on fire it makes little sense to aim a fire hose at the neighbouring properties. When it comes to racial inequality, and the in depth effects which this can have on an individual’s lifestyle, my house isn’t on fire. This isn’t about me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Up eh Road

Before setting out on my long-suffering Cannondale bicycle last week I first delved into my inconsistent Strava history. Strava for those unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately out of the loop, is an app which provides a relatively detailed account of how far or fast you have gone on a ride or a run.

According to my run-dominated profile, my lonely steed hadn’t been ridden for at least seven months, which is likely a long time in bike years. So, when considering how to keep my restless legs entertained during lockdown I decided to boldly go where my legs hadn’t been for a while.

The first two ventures on my bike didn’t take me far from home. This was partly due to the lockdown restrictions, but mostly because my runner legs weren’t pleased with this foreign activity. My backside was also displeased at taking an unacquainted battering from a hard road bike saddle.

Pressing on from unfortunate innuendos however, and I want to put a positive spin (see what I did there) on these two 30-mile cycles. Despite some unfortunate gearing issues and the incessant wind which seemingly blows down the two valleys which define Braemar’s environs, I could still ride a bike. That in itself was pleasing.

Next on the agenda was to discover whether yours truly and a mistreated 2014 Cannondale could tackle a good old-fashioned hill. Setting out on another planned local ride to Fraser’s Bridge and around to the Linn of Quoich, I climbed carefully out of the village and towards Glenshee Ski Centre. My unambitious plan was to turn off well before the climb at the top of the valley, taking a U-turn along the rough and bumpy golf course road and back into the village.

After riding for ten minutes into a slight headwind, the crossing over the 18th century crossing over the River Clunie came into sight. I looked up from my unprofessional position on my bike and caught a glimpse of wild lands which lay beyond. It was mild yet dull morning and low cloud enveloped the summits of munros such as Cairn an Tuirc, amongst others which I knew surrounded the nearby ski centre.

The right turn never came, and I could almost hear my brain arguing with my legs. If I wanted an insight into any leftover climbing resolve from last summer this was a primary opportunity. Though in all honesty, the climb up to the popular snow sports destination wasn’t actually that steep. I reckon it must average a 5-6% gradient from the Sean Spittal Bridge and its non-descript layby.

That is where I’d argue the climb begins good and proper for just over two kilometres. This is where you say goodbye to the valley floor and your hopes and dreams. It is a lesser climb from Fraser’s Bridge up until that point and can be a struggle in the prevailing south-westerly which consistently blows down Glen Clunie.

Passing through the barren landscape of very few trees and an occasional uninterested sheep, I finally reached the bottom of the climb. The wind dropped as a shifted down the gears. This was the moment of truth. Could I still climb?

The answer is complicated. Breathlessly slugging my way past the desolate ski centre with its deserted café and chairlifts, I eventually reached the ‘Welcome to Perth & Kinross’ sign (pictured).

The last stretch of the hill had been the most challenging, as I struggled to find a suitable gear on my worn-out chain set. Perhaps its worth pointing out here there often isn’t a correct gear. Climbing in granny gear is still unlikely to be an enjoyable affair for the mere cider guzzling student amateur.

I had however, survived the dreaded climb, also avoiding any serious incident on the steep descent back into the valley. Now I just need to pluck up the courage to tackle the other side as well. But’s that can be for another week…or month.

Two Different Types of Lockdown

It was 17 days ago that I dragged the last item of my student belongings through the door of my Aberdeen flat. My mood was rather sombre as I carried my annoying elephant costume, which I regret ever purchasing, and placed it beside the dusty staircase. Having said my final goodbyes to my Jamaica Street accommodation, I turned the keys in the door for the final time.

The nine months I spent there had been for the most part enjoyable, but with the semester coming to an abrupt close and the other complicated outcomes of a global pandemic to consider, I realised it was time to move on.

Indeed, I hadn’t actually inhabited my flat since the nationwide lockdown began following Boris Johnson’s 8pm speech on the 16th March. I watched the announcement in my girlfriend’s flat and decided to stay there, being fortunate enough to isolate with company. A luxury many haven’t been so lucky to enjoy over the last 57 days.

During the first five weeks of the unprecedented restrictions I spent a ludicrous amount of time watching boats manoeuvre in the nearby harbour. This rather than focusing on a challenging, but doable web design project. I even became excited about witnessing the Northern Isles ferry’s arrival and departure on its reduced Covid-19 timetable. Sometimes the small things in life can keep you mildly entertained.

Throughout those first few weeks I lived for my daily opportunity to experience the outdoors, predominantly taking a liberating run down to the often-blustery beach. Often the limited exercise would be reduced to a short trip to the shops to buy essentials and cider. The cider likely negating much of the good work being done through the regular running.

Journeys to the supermarket where anxious affairs with many audible sighs being heard as customers grumbled at other customer’s apparent lack of adherence to the new social distancing precautions. At first, I was disappointed by the absence of patience, before quickly realising that some of these aggrieved customers were likely key workers, experiencing high stress in their jobs.

I was also admittedly irked by a gentleman in the queue one day who was standing so unnaturally close to me that I could feel him breathing down my neck.

Out with the organised chaos of Morrisons and days of warm spells were spent cooped up inside, with no garden to inhabit. The lack of a green area is of course a common feature of most Aberdeen flats and therefore, an extremely minor issue.

When it comes down to it, I know I have been fortunate to have company and to lead a lifestyle in relative safety. These considerations are likely why I hated myself for beginning to become jaded with my city surroundings by the start of the fourth week of pandemic restrictions.

My longing for a bit of greenery was fulfilled by runs around to the Girdle Ness lighthouse at Nigg Bay, gaining a picturesque view back across Aberdeen. This accompanied by short but breathless efforts up the steep Broad Hill beside Pittodrie Stadium.

I guiltily missed the countryside which lay just outside mu current concrete jungle surroundings. Again, this being offset by the company I was enjoying.

Though ironically, I now find myself in the countryside again, returning to Braemar after my girlfriend and her flatmate opted in for the NHS as students. With the tables turned I realised I should move-out, wanting to decrease the risk of cross-infection for her. I also realised that I would likely not see my girlfriend in the flesh for another several weeks.

It was also time to depart the flat as the unpredictability of the future effects of Covid-19 made me hesitant in agreeing to a lease into next semester and beyond. It was a Friday evening when I gathered all of my belongings into an overladen Vauxhall Corsa and made my way back up the valley.

I would be joining my family in lockdown and hoping that I wasn’t breaking lockdown rules by moving to a new house. I had already set out a two-week self-isolation period which meant avoiding the village.

The journey along the length of Deeside was dark and uneventful. I happened across a couple of buses and five police cars travelling eastwards, but otherwise the roads were spookily quiet. I remained convinced until I reached the confides of the Pass of Ballater that I would be pulled over by a rightfully inquisitive bobby.

Resting up that evening and considering my new quieter surroundings without the pleasant company of my girlfriend, I awoke the next morning to the almost foreign sound of birds singing. Having inhabited rural village settings for around 18 of my 21 unproductive years on this planet I’ve been lucky enjoy this sound of nature along with the eerie hoots of owls in recent nights.

Indeed, it didn’t take me long to conclude that a rural lockdown and an urban lockdown are two quite different prospects. The day after my return to village life I went for a run in the nearby woods, uninterrupted by vehicles or over socially distant pedestrians. It was hugely enjoyable despite the missing presence of some who I hold closest.

There are of course many who don’t experience living in the countryside are prefer inhabiting a concrete jungle. For me, gaining a taste of lockdown in the city made me realise how much of a luxury sitting in a garden at a time like this is.

Aberdeen Caley Coaches Disappointed but Understanding of Decision to Call the Season Void

Posted – 24/03/20

It would be naïve to suggest rugby is on anyone’s priorities list as the globe battles a devastating pandemic.

Nevertheless, a decision had to be made by Scottish Rugby about how to finish the domestic season following the suspension of all rugby in Scotland on the 13th March.

On Tuesday a decision was reached to null and void the league season, preventing any form of automatic promotion or relegation.

An SRU statement detailed this outcome had been delivered as part of a wide-ranging consultation period which involved every club in Scotland, although at least Northern Caledonia side has claimed they weren’t consulted.

The governing body provided five different options to the clubs and noted that around half of them had opted to call the season as null and void.

The second most popular option was to finish the season with the current positions of each club, while another was to award two points to each team for any outstanding fixtures.

Other options involved calculating an average of points over the season and counting earlier fixtures as double headers.

However, Orkney claim they weren’t consulted and despite the difficult circumstances, can be forgiven for feeling hard done by after they looked certain to be promoted to the National Leagues.

The Islanders were eight points clear with two games in hand at the top of Caledonia One when the season was suspended last month.

In Caley Two, Aberdeenshire also saw their promotion hopes being quelled having already gained a place in Caley One next season.

Shire’s Head Coach, Barny Henderson believes a different outcome would have perhaps been preferable.

He said: “The option of awarding two league points for each remaining game would have been fairer.”

“For us its disappointing because we’ve played all our games and gained every point we need to get promoted.”

“I feel very bad for Orkney and Marr who were likely to win their first Premiership title this season.”

“The club has worked hard to return to Caley One which is where I believe Aberdeenshire belong, but in the wider sense this outcome won’t be that important in a few years and we now have an added incentive to be successful again next season.”

Henderson isn’t overly critical of the SRU but does register some frustration at past scheduling decisions and the unseen impact which they are having now.

He adds: “In hindsight its frustrating that the clubs agreed to play through the international games this season, but the SRU didn’t want them to.”

There is a recognition that those weekends lost to international fixtures could have made significant inroads into any matches which hadn’t been fulfilled across the leagues when the Covid-19 outbreak stopped play.

Aberdeen Wanderers aren’t likely to have felt as aggrieved by the null and void outcome as they sat fourth in Caley One when the season ended, unable to realistically challenge for silverware.

Director of Rugby, Russell Arthur said: “It’s an unprecedented situation we are in at the moment and I’m comfortable with the way the SRU went about the decision in asking the clubs what they thought should happen.”

“We can’t expose anyone involved with the club to any unnecessary risks but is it disappointing to lose that momentum that Wanderers have built across all facets of the club this season.”

Meanwhile, RAF Lossiemouth and Aberdeen University Medics had already wrapped up the Caley Three and Four titles respectively before Tuesday’s announcement.

However, the decision does favour Gordonians in National Two who were in the midst of a difficult battle for survival near the bottom end of the table.

The reality is that a difficult decision has been made at a time when rugby isn’t at the forefront of discussion.

There is a shared recognition of the unprecedented situation we as a society now face and it has been heartening to see ongoing community work which countless teams have have initiated during this global crisis.

Caledonia Two: Aberdeenshire leave it late to beat resilient Ross Sutherland

Aberdeenshire 29 (14)

Ross Sutherland 26 (12)

Aberdeenshire finished off a successful season with the narrowest of wins against a tough Ross Sutherland side. 

This game was always in the balance, with Paul Harrow’s penalty at the death proving the difference in a tight encounter.

Harrow had opened the scoring for Aberdeenshire early on and both teams claimed try scoring bonus points, sharing eight tries between them at Wooside.

Scrappy start feeds into running rugby

 

The hosts’s stand-off opened the scoring on ten minutes from close range after a slightly hectic opening period which saw several handling errors in muddy conditions.

Ross Sutherland then responded almost instantly through Chris Watt who found a gaping whole in the hosts’ defence to score.

The hosts then hit the front again through Andy Forman who latched onto a Jamie Stephen pass, the Full-back doing well to set Forman on his way for the score.

Watt then added his second for Ross just before the break to make it a two point game again as the flanker made a good break to leave a disorganised Aberdeenshire defence behind.

Indeed, the Invergordon side started the second-half brightly as well, with centre, Ali Kennedy finishing of a good team try.

John Mann’s conversion made it 14-19 and it briefly looked like there might be a shock on the cards at Woodside if Ross Sutherland could maintain this momentum.

There was a momentum shift on 50 minutes, but it was in the hosts’ favour instead when Aberdeenshire centre, Malcolm White finished off a superb try in the corner.

Harrow then did brilliantly to add the extras from the tightest of angles and the hosts had the lead once again.

This try seemed to relight Shire’s attacking firepower and seven minutes later, Keiran Fulton did well to finish in the other corner for his team’s fourth try.

The tough conversion was missed this time round, but it looked as though the hosts could start to regain some control from that point.

Ross Sutherland wouldn’t give in though and Matthew Robinson’s converted try set up a scintillating finish as the sides drew level.

On 74 minutes the visitors had the opportunity to go ahead, but Mann’s penalty kick was just wide and it was Aberdeenshire who sealed the victory when Harrow’s kick sailed through the posts at the death.

The hosts had sealed their promotion to Caley One last week when they defeated Mackie Academy FP, but the withdrawal of their 2nds from Caley Four has proved a slight dampener on their successful season.

It was perhaps important for their confidence that they were able to grind out a win on Saturday, before their National Bowl Semi-final encounter with Dalkeith.

Meanwhile, Ross Sutherland have three games of their season left, but are unlikely to avoid relegation after results elsewhere didn’t go their way. They travel to Highland 2nds next week needing a win.

Aberdeenshire Head Coach, Barny Henderson: “It was good to get the win even if we didn’t perform as well as we can. We were missing a few key players, but we now have three weeks for the guys to recover from any injuries before we go into the semi-final. Its been difficult losing the 2nds team, but the hope is we can rebuild one for next year. I’ve been on the other side of teams pulling out a couple of days before games and we don’t enjoy doing that.”

Aberdeenshire: Stephen, MacLugash, Watson, White, Fulton, Harrow, Morris; Shrewsbury, Mackie, Littlejohn, Watson, S.Lafferty, Penman, Forman, Burton

Replacements: G.Lafferty, Davies, Carr, Dagaga, Falconer, Stuart, El Hidane

Ross Sutherland: Team sheet not available.