Friday, May 30, 2014

Cycling Edinburgh's Grassmarket

The Grassmarket in Edinburgh has seen many things over the years! On Thursday though, it was the venue for a series of cycle events as the Pearl Izumi Tour Series visited the city for the first time.

Sir Chris Hoy was in town, launching his range of children's bikes. Some fifty cyclists had won a competition to join him in a fun ride round the competition circuit, and it was great to see Sir Chris encouraging this youngster on the climb up the cobbled West Bow.

It was interesting to see the media hard at work, and to watch all that was going on live, and then see it made into the highlights programme on ITV4 the following evening. Here Ned Boulting interviews Helen Wyman prior to the start of the women's race, the third round of the Matrix Fitness Grand Prix Series.

For the record Jon Mould won the men's race and Raleigh were team winners on the night, see here.

But as women's cycling never gets as much coverage as the men, I've just a few photos of their race below.

Seconds to go before the start.

A tight turn at the bottom end of the Grassmarket was a good place to watch the action. It was a brutal course though, and the race fragmented very early on. Here Helen Wyman leads with Eileen Roe, the series leader, on the right and Katie Archibald in third wheel.

Following the race live is somewhat difficult out on the course if you are away from the commentary going out from the start line. But at least you know that the camera motor bike is always with the leader!

Katie Archibald is a twenty year old, from Milngavie, already with World and European cycling titles to her name, see here.

The one positive was that at least the cobbled course was dry!

Hard going uphill, Katie lapping other riders!

Fast and scary downhill! Eileen Roe, in the centre, is another Scot, from Fife.

What comes over when seeing the race live, as compared to watching on the box, is the effort the competitors are putting in. Here's Katie again, Thursday's pain well rewarded with a convincing win on the evening.

That's Katie Archibald, on the left, with the others of the Pearl Izumi Sports Tours International team on the podium. This team is riding the Matrix Fitness GP series to raise funds and awareness for the Boot Out Breast Cancer charity, which aims to ensure everyone knows about the importance of early diagnosis of that disease. Read more about the team here.

The winner has time and a smile for a reporter. What a star!

The list of finishing positions and more on the race is here. And if you want to see the GB women's pursuit team win the gold at the 2014 Track Championships in Colombia, there's a video here.

Photos © Skip Cottage

Thursday, May 22, 2014


The new First Transpennine Class 350 EMUs are now in use on the West Coast Main Line. I joined this one last week at Lockerbie for a regular shopping excursion into Carlisle, as I've done many times since coming to live in Annandale. The new colourful livery of the train, and the blue skies, set a cheerful mood for the day, even though my thoughts were on a terrible accident that occurred in 1915. It had been bright and sunny that morning too.

There has been much interest on the television and in newspapers recently about the Great War, this year marking 100 years since the beginning of that conflict. The First World War claimed the lives of more than 100,000 Scots. Some of these Scottish soldiers didn't even make it to the battlefield.

Last week, on the train to Carlisle, I made a point of looking out the window on the east side of the carriage to catch sight of a sign which marks the place where, ninety-nine years ago today, May 22, some 230 people died. Quintinshill. The story should be better known than it is.

A few days later I stood in the field beside the railway to take this photo. There used to be a signal box here, now long gone. But the main line still has passing loops here, as there was back in 1915.

The sky was overcast on the day of this visit, but the birds were singing. The ghosts of the dead may not even have noted my presence as I reflected on what had happened in the morning of May 22, 1915, but in such a peaceful place, it seemed the right way and the right time, just to tell them that they had not been forgotten.

The Quintinshill rail disaster is the worst rail accident, in terms of loss of life, in the history of railways in this country. The crash occurred when a troop train travelling from Larbert to Liverpool collided with a local passenger train that had been shunted on to the main line and was stationary it its path. The wreckage was then hit by an express heading towards Glasgow. Then fire engulfed the wrecked coaches. Horrific.

On the troop train there were some 500 Territorial soldiers of the 7th Battalion of the Royal Scots, who were based in Leith, part of the 52nd Lowland Division. They were heading to join the war in Gallipoli. 

Others lost their lives in the accident, railwaymen and passengers on the local train and on the express. A recent book about the accident, 'The Quintinshill Conspiracy' by Jack Richards and Adrian Searle, puts the death toll at 230. This figure varies in different reports. The roll of the regiment was destroyed in the fire, and many of the bodies were never identified given the ferocity of the fire.
This is how the line, now electified, looked when I first visited in August 2012. The Quintinshill signal box would have been on the left of this photo, as I'm facing south from my vantage point on the Blacksyke bridge which crosses the line here. It was not lost on me that the first train that passed the spot then was a rake of coal empties heading north. Back in 1912, it was the loop on the left that was occupied by empty coal wagons. So, as the loop on the right was also occupied by a goods train, the local passenger train, coming north in the same direction to that in the photo above, was reversed over onto the other main line, to let a northward bound express 'overtake'. The local train with its engine facing north, was hit by the south bound troop train.

As good a place as any to start in understanding what happened that morning ninety-nine years ago is on the Wikipedia page here, where there is a little animation showing the sequence of events involving the various trains. It is almost unbelievable that the signalmen in the box 'forgot' that a train was standing on track that had been signalled as clear for the troop train to progress.

Of course, that last sentence is an oversimplification. When I first learned of the accident, I had difficulty in believing the story, and so read as much as I could about the disaster. I wondered too why 'Quintinshill' was not more widely known about. Often the accident is called the 'Gretna Rail Disaster'.

Richards and Searle have answered some of my questions, and raised new ones, more of which in future blog posts. In addition, 'The Ill-fated Battalion' by Peter Sain ley Berry, also published last year, contains a lot of information about what happened to those who survived the crash (only sixty or so who were uninjured were mustered at the end of the day). The other half of the battalion, who were travelling on a separate train, joined the war in Gallipoli.

One of the first things I had to do was find out how the disaster had been remembered, and if there were memorials to those who had died.
Many of the Royal Scots' dead are buried together in Leith's Rosebank Cemetery, where this Celtic cross of Peterhead granite was unveiled in May 1916. The site is well tended and a service is held there every year.

214 names of soldiers who died are listed on the wall at Rosebank, in two panels like this. Check the list here, for the names. So many! Closeups of the names on the actual panels are here.

Not far away from Rosebank is a mural on a tenement gable in Leith. It was painted by Tim Chalk, Paul Grime and David Wilkinson in 1986, to show the essence of the town. The story of the mural is in Clare Carswell's article here.

One of the panels depicts the day of the public funeral of many of the soldiers, May 26. There's an actual photo here. It took three hours for the mile long funeral procession to pass the silent crowds which lined the streets from the batallion's Dalmeny Street headquarters.

In 1995 this memorial was unveiled in the car park of the Old Blacksmith's Shop at Gretna Green.

This is the plaque on the top of that memorial.

In 2010, this plaque was unveiled on Blacksyke bridge.

I hope to post more Quintinshill stories in the months ahead.

Photos © Skip Cottage

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Weeds

One has to admire the tenacity of weeds. This dandelion has survived my hand weeding and weedkiller application over the little piece of ground that I use for sitting on and admiring my efforts in the long hot days of summer.

I wish!

Still, at this time of year I do spend a fair bit of time weeding, on the principle that if you get on top of this job early, it pays dividends later.

It hasn't been too cold this month (touch wood), and I've already planted out some of my containers with plants grown on from plugs. Needless to say, the fleece is ready and waiting should a frost be forecast.

It's a few years ago when I bought a selection of hedge plants, as small plugs, to try to get a wild hedge established, and protect one area of the garden from north winds. Hasn't it done well!

Other parts of the garden look well established. 'Elizabeth' always gives a good show, albeit for a short time.

Rhododendron Cunningham's White just coming into flower.

Somewhat subdued by comparison to the Rhoddies, this quince has been flowering for months.

Dicentra spectabilis always makes me smile at this time of year.

Alpine time again.

Lithospermum 'Heavenly Blue' used to be my favourite alpine. It's name changed to Lithodora diffusa 'Heavenly Blue'. I made the mistake of buying the variety Lithodora 'Blue Star' last year, and although it seems to be establishing itself OK (above), I wish I had stuck to 'Heavenly Blue'!

This year's Bishop's Children are already hardening off outside. Grown again from seed. So easy and reliable. Actually, the mild a winter we've had, some of the plants I had in containers last year have started to regrow. Now, if only I had identified the ones with good colour that I wanted to keep.

The newly planted shrub border has overwintered OK.

See where we were in the garden at this time last year, here. Or go back a couple of years to May 2012, here, and here. Or even to 2009 when I first began blogging - this post even has a photo of what the garden was like when I took it over in 2003! The years go by.

Photos © Skip Cottage

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Happy Curling

The 'Year of Nostalgia' continues. Above is the cover of 'Happy Curling', a magazine for the sport in Japan which ran for ten issues back in the 1980s when curling was just becoming established in that country. More on this below.

This past week has seen the World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship, and the World Seniors Curling Championships, taking place at the Ice Bowl in Dumfries. And what a great success it all was. Many congratulations to all involved.

Living close by, I was able to attend most days, and saw some great curling. It was somewhat strange for me not to have a role behind the scenes in the event itself, or being involved as a member of the media. But retirement had the advantage of being able to meet lots of people, with a good wallow in nostalgia at times, and of course I got to watch some great curling.

Olympic champion Rhona Martin threw the first stone at the opening ceremony which had representative teams from thirty-four countries on the ice - there was barely room for them all!

As I write this, Rhona's Olympic gold medal, a star attraction at the Curling Connections exhibition and stolen in a break in at the Dumfries Museum, has still not been recovered. As I have already posted, I have been extremely upset by this. I had applauded Rhona's generosity in allowing her medal to go on show, to be seen by all the foreign visitors as well and hundreds of local schoolchildren. The real world can be a vile place at times. I have my fingers crossed that the local police will be able to find the culprits and that Rhona's medal, and the other stolen items, will be returned.

Kenny Thomson, a well kent young curler at Greenacres back in the day, was representing New Zealand in the Mixed Doubles. His team partner Waverley Taylor is not named after the Sir Walter Scott novels, nor indeed the paddle steamer, but must have been surprised at the interest her name generated. It was great to meet them, and watch them play this new curling discipline.

A team from Brazil competed in the MDs event. Aline Lima is currently working in the Yukon, and Marcelo Mello in Quebec. It was just wonderful to see this country compete at a world championship, and indeed win a game! You can find all the results here.

Aside from Scotland, my support was with the Italian senior women! You see, Fiona Simpson, the skip on the left of the photo and originally from Uplawmoor, was one of the first youngsters I coached when the rink at Greenacres opened in 1979. How can she possibly be old enough to be playing in the seniors! Where have the years gone?

Back in the 1980s, in the days before laptop computers or tablets, coaching courses usually had a introduction based around showing some 35mm slides, on a big screen, to explain to the beginners what to expect. I used a couple of photos of Fiona. The one above ...

... and this one, where Fiona was demonstrating that, for a right-hander player, a full length teflon slider goes on the left foot.

And here is Fiona in action at Dumfries last week, the right way up, and skipping her team in the World Seniors. Great stuff!

The Upper Nithsdale Youth Pipe Band played at the opening and closing ceremonies. Seriously good they are too. They made sure there was a Scottish stamp to the occasions. I liked this pic of the drummers warming up.

On the wall behind the bar in the tent was this poster. Aviemore in the 1970s! More nostalgia.

There was not a seat to be had in the curling rink for the final of the Senior Women's Championship. Here, Scotland's Margaret Richardson, Janet Lindsay and Isobel Hannen look after Christine Cannon's last stone to lie three shots in the final end against Canada. One down without, and needing to steal, they could not have placed it better, and they were the victors on the day!

It was a great sight to see the Saltire at the top at the presentation ceremony. Well done to Team Scotland. Photos of all the medal-winning teams in all three competitions can be found here. And all the results from the seniors' events can be found here.

My personal highlight of the week was meeting Hisashi Urashima who had been the editor of 'Happy Curling' in the 1980s. Here he is presenting me with a copy of the first issue. When I wrote an article for this magazine I had no inclination that one day I would be editor of a curling magazine too! Hisashi was lead on the Japanese Senior Men's team at Dumfries, and is the president of the Joy English Academy in Obihiro, Hokkaido.

Hisashi is a keen amateur photographer and I really enjoyed looking at some of his work.

Here's a page from my 1984 article, with a photo of two young curlers competing at Greenacres. (The photographer was John Elder, if I remember correctly.) Marion Miller (now MacDonald) is delivering the stone and Jane McConnell (now Marshall) is ready to sweep. I think their own children might smile at this now!

The photo of Hisashi and me is by Hugh Stewart, the other photos are © Skip Cottage.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Theft of Olympic Medals

I was set today to blog about the wonderful last week of curling at Dumfries, and how successful the historical exhibition in the Dumfries Museum had been. And how much credit has come to Dumfries and Galloway.

But I've just learned that both Olympic Gold medals from 1924 and 2002, the star attractions of the exhibition and loaned by Rhona Martin and the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, have been stolen.

I have rarely felt so upset. I can only speculate how Rhona must feel about the loss of her medal. We can but hope that the police will be able to recover these, and the other articles that were stolen from the museum last night.

I'm too upset to say anything more tonight.