Wednesday, 9 June 2021

Still standing...

 The pier at Loch Skippprt, South Uist, that is! I looked back at our past years holiday notebooks the other day - and reminded myself quite how many years this remarkable old structure had been “just” hanging in there as far as we are concerned - nearly 20 years now!

So there we are - another Hebrides trip done and dusted. We had the usual mixed weather, everything from freezing cold temperatures and howling wind through to several days warm enough for short sleeves and, for MrEH at least, shorts.  Just the one day of pouring rain thankfully - and obviously we chose a walk right round the RSPB reserve that day and got back soaked in spite of full waterproofs! Hebridean rain does have a way of driving in through any gaps or slightly less well proofed points in jackets! 

Some highlights to be found as ever in the astonishing array of wildlife, and particularly birds. Our best year ever for total sightings topping out at a quite astonishing 114 different species across the bit-over-a fortnight. Best sightings would be the largest - great views of White Tailed Eagles from a boat trip - with Nick on the Lady Anne, we’ve done his trips before and they never disappoint - through to two of the smallest - some time spent watching Red Necked Phalaropes, plus one of those oddity sightings that turns up over there from time to time in the shape of a Red-Spotted Bluethroat. 

Yes - a little brown job that’s been let loose with the poster paint, to all intents and purposes! The Hebrides is one of those places where you never really know what birds might show up - stuff gets blown off course on migration and ends up where, really, it shouldn't - the 2016 Black Billed Cuckoo is a great example of that! It certainly adds an element of excitement to things! 


Sunday, 9 May 2021

Hebrides Countdown...


Not done one of these for a few years...I used to do one a week in the run up - back when I also blogged regularly while we we were up there. I love looking back at those posts now, but equally don’t feel a massive drive to go back to blogging daily while we’re there. Back when I first started doing it it was before all the cottages had WiFi, and the signal across the islands was generally still really poor, so actually finding somewhere I could post from was often an issue - there were a few cafes with WiFi that were happy for me to take a laptop in, and I knew a few spots in the right place to get a decent data signal via the 3 broadband dongle that I had - I’d load it up with enough credit ahead of the trip to allow for whatever internet we planned to use. 

So - to this year’s plans then. Did I already mention that yet again our trip across is to be affected by ferry issues? It’s hardly unexpected these days - with an ageing CalMac fleet usually to blame, this time round it is the turn of one of the newer vessels to have suffered a catastrophic engine failure (that is Calmac’s wording, too!) taking it off the Ullapool > Stornoway run and into dry dock. But how does that affect us? I hear you ask....! Well....*takes a deep breath* this means that the MV Isle of Lewis - the boat that usually serves Barra (confused yet?) has been returned to her old route serving, possibly not unexpectedly, the Isle of Lewis. With no spare boat available, this in turn means that dear old MV Lord of the Isles now not only has to serve South Uist (our crossing of choice going over) but also needs to visit Barra on the way - this means a change of departure port from Mallaig to Oban (not altogether bad as Oban is a lot closer than Mallaig) but also a change of time to three hours earlier - and yes, you’ve guessed it, Oban isn’t THAT much closer! Thankfully we’ve managed to sort things out via an Airbnb booking rather further north than our usual overnight stop, and a planned early start from there to get us on our way in time. 

Accommodation wise we are back in the same location as the past few years “summer” visits - a now familiar little cottage on a wind blown headland. It’s such a fantastic spot we had no hesitation in booking there again - our third time staying there. Many of the “usual” things are planned too - some walks, possibly some hills although that might depend on how my poorly foot holds up. Lots of nice food (and beer!) and hopefully some good wildlife spotting. We also have our eyes on a boat trip - either with Nick who we’ve been out with before on the Lady Anne, or possibly in the rather faster vessels of the newer Uist Sea Tours guys.  All in all it is safe to say that we’re looking forward to getting back across quite as much as always! 


Wednesday, 5 May 2021

2021 Airshow season is GO!

I'm pretty much still smiling after a fabulous day at Shuttleworth's opening airshow of the season on Sunday. Shuttleworth is a gorgeous venue - a real favourite of mine as you are always guaranteed an array of wonderful old aircraft including the warbirds I love so much. Also, quite often, you're guaranteed great company as well - and this time was no exception. Normally it's a case of rock up there and meet people, but because of the current restrictions around Covid-19 this time was a drive-in airshow so a little more logistically challenging, which is why 9am on Sunday morning saw myself, Max, Kevin & Sven, Richard, Mark and his Mrs (Wendy I think?) and Adam gathering in a car park on the outskirts of Biggleswade to travel in convoy to the show. 

The organisation at the Shuttleworth estate was superb - a large holding area for those arriving ahead of the official gates open time, then well managed queues to the ticket gates and a special convoy system for groups of vehicles wanting to be placed together. People were also being very conscious about giving others space in food queues, and while generally wandering about.  

Opening the show was the Consolidated Catalina in the photograph at the top - a stunningly beautiful aircraft. She'd flown in ahead of displaying so seeing her powering up and taking off was an additional treat. Next up was a series of flypasts by two of the Spitfires of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight - one of the two flown by my pal Andy, who managed to multi-task what might be described as a "sporty" entrance, a cracking topside view of the aircraft AND a wave, all at the one time - impressive! 

Shuttleworth has a big collection of resident aircraft ranging from vintage biplanes like this Gloster Gladiator...

...through to classic racers - including the immaculate DeHavilland DH.88 Comet...

If ever an aircraft looked like it simply belonged in the sky, flirting with the clouds, then this is it. This particular example also has an illustrious history - winner of many air races in the 1930's, it also appeared as a static exhibit at the Festival of Great Britain in 1951. Above all it is just stunningly beautiful and a joy to see fly. THIS is what the Shuttleworth Collection does so well - taking classic aircraft and putting them where they belong - up in the sky. 

Sunday was a brilliant day - great company, great aircraft, lots of banter...and if driving into the show and having to stay in our own little allocated areas by our vehicles is currently the way we can actually have airshows, then that's worth it to me. It was fantastic to spend time with good friends, and catch up with others who I'd not seen in ages. Max and I have already booked for another Shuttleworth show in a few weeks time - and it just feels brilliant to have airshows to look forward to again! 


Saturday, 1 May 2021

A tiny bit normal...


This week has felt like something approaching a bit of normality is beginning to creep back in. Firstly, I’m looking forward to my first airshow of the year at lovely Shuttleworth tomorrow - there will be brilliant people, and good banter, and biscuits (always biscuits!) and above all lots of fabulous warbirds to watch and to photograph. Bliss! Not the rather wonderful old girl above though, no, that shot was taken earlier in the week up at RAF Coningsby when I ventured up for a trip which I knew would include not only some BBMF flying in the shape of the Dakota pictured above, but also something rather faster, noisier and altogether whizzier...

Yes - that’s the 2021 display pilot practising his display routine - and a first watch suggests that it is QUITE the routine, too! I was lucky with this sky too - the weather forecast said grey and overcast, but when I arrived in Lincolnshire there was a nice little patch of blue in not far off the right place, and sure enough it lingered around with some attendant sunshine for just long enough! 

I’ve got a soft spot for the Dakota - often overlooked in favour of her more famous BBMF hangar-mate the wonderful Avro Lancaster, and I am nothing if not a keen supporter of the underdog as those who remember my speedway days will be all too aware of! The Dak is a beauty of an aircraft though, and with a fantastic history too both in military and domestic service. 

That blue sky came into its own when it came to perfectly showcasing the Typhoon’s exit from the display, too - the traditional exit when the conditions allow is a fast vertical spiralling climb - as you can see from the photos above this looks great when seen from almost directly underneath, and the blast from the reheat looks fantastic against that vivid blue sky, too! 

Also in an aviation vein but slightly earlier in the week, we had an unexpected and very local visit from the East Anglian Air Ambulance too. 

Sitting in the front room after eating our tea, we heard a helicopter passing over somewhat lower than we are used to, so I opened the tracking app to take a look - and sure enough confirmed that it very much appeared that the Eurocopter EC145 had just landed in a nearby playing field. We threw on shoes and jackets and walked through the woods to go and take a look. Thankfully soon after we arrived the pilot confirmed that they had been stood down as the incident was deemed not serious enough to require their team’s skills. We quite often see the Herts & Essex machine locally but very rarely this one - it was called upon because it was already in the air returning from a previous shout when the call came through for this one. 

As if a LOT of photos from the Coningsby trip weren’t enough to be working on, I also ventured to Imperial War Museum Duxford for a brief visit yesterday afternoon. I have taken a year’s membership to the museum - in part because it includes free entry to the “flying days” they have planned and in part because it’s been such a difficult years for museums generally, and in particular those who rely on big events like airshows. It felt like an easy way of doing something - and gives me some benefits also of course, including the ability to just pop up there for an hour or so as I did yesterday. 

That is the Aircraft Restoration Company Hispano Buchon taxiing out ready for a run through of the display it will be performing at Shuttleworth - it’s a fantastic although slightly odd looking aircraft, but all those blurred edges on the camo pattern make it an absolute devil to photograph! There were also several Spitfires up and about so my trip up was very much worthwhile! 

All in all, it has felt like a rather aviation-filled week, and with more yet to come! 


Friday, 30 April 2021

Frugal Friday...

 ...the (hopefully!) final lockdown summary!

It’s been a strange old year hasn’t it - for many, a really stressful one on the money front, with job loss or furlough hitting hard. For others, income has remained stable but spending has dropped drastically as there has simply been little to spend on. We have, perhaps somewhat unusually, seen both sides of this - the first lockdown saw MrEH switched to a three day week for a while with accompanying drop in salary, and me furloughed. Although my furlough has continued, thankfully MrEH’s working hours and money went back to usual a few months down the line. (I say thankfully, that was about the money, less so about the hours!)

On a personal level because I’m still putting the same contribution to our joint account each month, my own disposable income has taken a significant drop. It hasn’t been a major problem as yet because as said, there has been little to spend on - in fact I’ve mostly managed to continue to save at least some money each month, but with things now opening up and even some airshows re-starting, money is going to start feeling rather tighter. I’m hopeful that I might be back working before too long though so fingers crossed there. 

In terms of household spending, most of our essential spending categories have either stayed much  the same (gas bill, council tax, service charge & garage rent, water rates, broadband & phone), increased somewhat (electricity - which we use for heating - and food) or dropped substantially - commuting. Discretionary spending - “fun” money, both joint and personal, and the money we set aside for random weekends away - has dropped hugely, not surprisingly. We set aside money each month to pay towards holidays, and also ongoing car costs, and have continued with this as usual, meaning that quite a surplus has build up in the car account now - this will be used as a lump sum to go towards a replacement car for MrEH as his 55 plate Citroen won’t work for our commute come later in the year. 

One of the things I struggled the most with early last year when the pandemic first hit was the increase in food costs - with our usual £175 per month budget increasing by anything up to £100. Two significant factors to this though - one was shopping more regularly because we switched to mainly making shopping trips on foot rather than using the car, and the other was undoubtedly buying beer for home drinking in the supermarket, as well as placing online orders direct with breweries we wanted to support on an occasional basis also. It was inevitable it was going to happen - we’d usually eat out at least once a week, often more if we had a beer festival meeting or a day out with friends, but of course usually that money would be taken from either the “fun” spending budget or from our personal accounts. Similarly with beers - we would usually drink at the rugby club at least once over a weekend, and if not that, then chances are we’ll be off somewhere with friends. 

As a  Household, we fall roundly into the section of the U.K. that has actually managed to stash extra into savings over the period of the pandemic. During those first months when we were on a really reduced income, had we still had a mortgage it would however have been a very different picture - I’ll not be apologising for THAT though because we worked hard and went without things previously to pay it off early - this recent period of time more than any other goes to truly prove the benefit of that decision too. Personally I’ve unsurprisingly not been able to continue with my usual savings - although I have managed to continue to save some amounts here and there. The one area of my savings that does currently look quite healthy is my airshow savings account as I have managed to keep feeding a bit of money here and there to that, and of course it’s seen a lot less ticket purchases, accommodation bookings etc as well. The unusually high monthly surplus from the joint account will gradually start to reduce again now as things ease back towards normality though - but the extra money in savings and the fact that we’ve been able to do things like a rather longer Christmas Hebrides trip, and our recent week away in Cornwall as an “extra” trip is at least some consolation for all the things we’ve had cancelled because of the Covid situation. 

We made a couple of large purchases in the year, but both already had the money set aside for them and have been balance transferred onto 0% cards to keep the money sitting in our accounts for as long as possible - for what THAT’s worth. There are however some early signs that interest rates for savings might be beginning to creep back up slightly - fingers crossed. The refunded money for our cancelled Lundy trip from last year has also been safely stashed away ready to cover the costs when we need to pay out for the rebooked date. 

Hopefully you are also in the category of feeling financially, if not mentally better off after the last year. Maybe you’ve managed to pay off some additional debt, or knock a bit extra off a mortgage, or perhaps like us you’re just feeling an added degree of security from a bit extra in savings. If not, and you are feeling the pinch, then please do remember that help always just a click away at the Money Saving Expert forums, or from the various free debt advice charities. 


Thursday, 22 April 2021

Good news!


A highlight of our week away was centred on some news from rather a long way away from Cornwall - in fact rather than the extreme south-west of England, this referred to the extreme north west of Scotland. With lockdown easing happening across the UK, many in the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland among others had been bitterly unhappy that while everywhere else was being given at least a rough “roadmap” around what was predicted to happen with travel in their areas, on the subject of travel to Scottish Islands all that was being heard was a deafening silence. t one stage the suggestion was made that the islands could have an earlier relaxation of restrictions around the hospitality industry in exchange for a delayed return to travel - unsurprisingly it was somewhat sarcastically pointed out that there is precious little point in being able to open hotels etc if nobody is allowed to travel to use them... Many island accommodation providers were experiencing existing bookings cancelling in their droves as people, unsure whether they were going to be able to travel, opted for a mainland holiday instead. We were facing similar uncertainty, but fortunately were in the lucky position of being able to book the Cornish trip in part in case our planned Hebrides visit was unable to go ahead - many others aren’t in that position. 

Finally, last week, an announcement was made by the First Minister that on 26th April all travel restrictions would be removed - between Scotland and England AND between mainland Scotland and the Islands - a huge relief not only to us and many others with trips booked, but also to the huge number of islanders who rely on visitors being able to actually visit to keep their heads above water. 

From our perspective, having just returned from one holiday we’re now in the slightly odd position of preparing for another one! It feels rather decadent, but we’re refusing to feel guilty about it - booking the Cornish trip was absolutely the right thing to do, and we had a fabulous time. The last year has been ludicrously tough for almost everyone, and us as much as anyone else, and it definitely feels like the right thing to do to ensure that we grab chances to do stuff now while we can, in part to make up for all the disappointments of so much being cancelled previously. In other “things to look forward to” plans, I have also started getting some more airshows booked - Max and I are teaming up to do another Shuttleworth show, and I have also booked an event at Duxford as well as taking out a years membership there. I’ve got a few more shows in mind to book too, although it does seem unlikely that many of the big seafront shows will go ahead this year. 

Here’s to future plans then - at this rate I’ll need to buy a diary! 


Wednesday, 21 April 2021


Saturday was inevitably always going to be a slightly odd day. With the funeral for the Duke of Edinburgh happening in the mid afternoon, and us both not exactly “wanting” to watch it, but feeling as though it was too historically significant not to, as well as being somehow respectful, we took the decision to get out fairly early to be able to pack as much into the earlier part of the day as possible. 

First stop was a favourite spot - the Basset Monument at Carn Brea. We tend to park down just outside Carnkie village and walk up - it’s a nice, if uneven walk, and a fairly gentle way to cover the 300ft of climb to the top. It also has truly stunning views almost all the way up, but when you get to the top you can see fully to the sea across Redruth and Camborne, just beautiful! 

 From there, we headed to Ponsanooth, where, in a little unit tucked away behind a rather impressive railway viaduct the Dynamite Valley Brewery can be found. During our week we’d made efforts to track down plenty of good Cornish beer from various different breweries, but the Dynamite Valley Black Charge that we bought a bottle of from the village shop in Coverack stood out as something rather special. It also came with a voucher for a free half pint of beer at the “Beer cafe” at the brewery, which just happened to have its first day reopened since lockdown on Saturday...! 

So we had some beer - just the half pint for me because I was driving, but MrEH sampled one of each of the three beers they were serving. And then, because we needed to eat somewhere, and the offerings from “The Aussie Smoker” on site sounded rather outstanding...

As you can see, they didn’t disappoint, either! That is chicken, cheese, bacon, spinach, and some rather incredible barbecue sauce stuffed into a tasty roll, with truly excellent seasoned fries. Well worth the £10 price tag, and I for one was completely stuffed when I (finally!) managed to finish mine! We also left the brewery having purchased two cases of their beer, which will help to keep us going for a while back at home. 

From there it was back to the house to turn on the TV and be ready for the National minute’s silence at 3pm. It was strange, honouring that while looking out over a beach with children and adults playing happily, although I was pleased to see that it did quieten down noticeably in the run up to the silence. In common with the majority of the country I found the sight of Queen Elizabeth sitting alone in the chapel heartbreaking - it’s impossible for almost any of us to really understand quite how bereft she must have been feeling, with the man she had loved for over 80 years no longer by her side. Sad also that she was unable to receive the comfort that her children in particular must have been quite desperate to give, due to the restrictions still in place around Covid. I’m sure though that she would be the first to say that it is no more than so many others across the country have gone through in the past year.