Saturday, October 27, 2012

Scotland for a night

Trials of our SBR (synthetic rubber) through our sister plant's granulator at Grangemouth necessitated an overnight visit to Scotland earlier this week.  The trials went well, the half a tonne of rubber we previously sent up was annihilated by the rotating knives ("Did you say knives?", "Rotating knives - yes.").  That left enough time to see around the rest of the plant, quite a different process to ours - solvent rather than emulsion based polymerisation.

Shaun & I popped in to Edinburgh that night, it wasn't far & I was disgusted that Shaun hadn't been before.  The grey day had given way to a very misty night with a light rain falling.  After a great dinner (mmm, haggis) catching up with family-friend Thomas, whom I stayed with on my last visit three years ago, we went up & found the castle entrance looming out of the mist.

After more time discussing granulators, balers & general Finishing Plant issues the following day it was time to head off to the airport.  Misjudging the time it would take, we were well early & popped down to the Forth to check out the bridges.  We managed to get closest to the rail bridge (on land anyway), & it is by far the more photogenic - thankfully the weather was much better on Wednesday.

An all-too-brief return to Scotland, I must get up there again soon - it's beautiful & I'd forgotten how much I missed the accent.  Black pudding isn't too bad either.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Corfe Castle & Swanage Railway

Somewhere reasonably local that I meant to go all summer was Corfe Castle, Swanage & the Purbecks.  Not being around for a single summer weekend kind of killed that plan, so with the sun shining brightly Saturday last I finally made the relatively short drive west past Poole.

A short leisurely walk from the Swanage Railway (more later) Park & Ride had me circling the base of the hill that the castle stands on.  Having been built by William the Conqueror, its a thousand or so years old, but was ruined during the Civil War when, as one of the last southern Royalist strongholds, it finally fell to the Parliamentarians.   As one would expect from a defensive position, the castle affords really good views of the picturesque Purbeck countryside.

With the castle such a ruin, although some of the walls still stand quite tall, there was plenty of space to wander around & explore - & avoid people, it's quite a popular place to visit.  Apparently this is Famous Five country & the castle inspired the one on Kirrin Island - I was disappointed that I didn't discover any dungeons, tunnels or bearded smugglers.

The other attraction around the village is the Swanage Railway that runs various steam locos down to the seaside at Swanage.  A much bigger operation than the Watercress Railway, I was surprised at just how popular it was - difficult to find a seat on one of the six carriages.  The Pullman Observation car looked pretty impressive too - alas, I didn't have the pound coin needed to upgrade.

Down at Swanage it was time to finally visit the bikeshop I order quite a bit of stuff from - bit of a 29er, singlespeed, cargo bike haven.  I was quite surprised that they had Avanti bikes as their rentals - all the way from NZ.  Wandering down to the shore it was time for a late & large lunch - not much dinner needed that night.

Workmate Henry thought that eight o'clock on Sunday morning was a good time to meet on the other side of the Forest for a ride - he managed to choose the coldest morning of the season so far.  At least that meant it was clear again.  Driving out towards Burley in the mist from Brockenhurst I found all sorts of deer and longhorn cattle.  If it had have been a bit colder the ground may not have been so wet - however, we had a nice little pootle around before the others had to leave. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


Last weekend I had set aside to be the first in over three months that I didn't travel anywhere & instead stayed at home & did very little.  However, one can't take brilliantly clear & sunny days for granted in this country. So shortly after waking up Saturday morning with no plans, I was joining that 170 year tradition of days out - a day-trip to the Brighton seaside by train.  It would seem many others had that idea as the train was crammed by the end of the two hour all-stops journey.

I headed straight for the seaside & the famous pier.  As expected, the beach is overly stoney - but it was all very pleasant with plenty of people out & about and many restaurants and cafes to choose from (many built in to the bottom, sea-side of the promenade).  West Pier has many similarities to the third Swamp Castle - disused for many years, it burnt down, fell over & (mostly) sank into the sea.

There's a tiny museum devoted to the local fishing trade, & seaside attractions to some extent, tucked under the promenade as well - that gave me a bit of local history. With plenty more chances of food from enticing stalls, I strolled around the historic pier looking at the various funfair attractions and gazing back to the beach and further along to the white cliffs.

Hungry by now, I was easily tempted to shell out a few quid for a ride on the oldest electric railway still operating (Volks Railway) - it's about a ten minute ride along the edge of the shore to Brighton Marina. That area started out looking rather shabby, but eventually I found plenty of restaurants beside the moorings - I just had to get past the encamped gypsies, a huge boarded up lot, an ASDA, a parking building and a McDonald's.  Having had so much pasta & pizza recently, I was keen to give British Italian a miss & ended up in a small chain (there is one other in Newcastle) of American restaurants.  It was not over the top (so not really American in that respect), but I was well thrilled to be having a proper large burger with plenty of blue cheese, pickles, onion rings & sweet potato fries.  For a southwest touch, they even served pink lemonade; just as well I was wearing my Stetson in the bright sunshine.

The main thing I wanted to see in Brighton was the Royal Pavilion - the Prince Regent's residence that he had built either side of the turn of the nineteenth century.  I was well prepared that it would look a little odd on the outside - it was built in the Indo-Saracenic style, a strange mix of Indian styles and those favoured in Britain at the time - Gothic & neo-Classical.

I was taken aback by the extent and the grandeur of the interior - I was not expecting such a Chinese influence.  The pavilion is the greatest example of the chinoiserie (French - Chinese-esque) style in Britain.  With large dragons, palm leaves & all manner of other Chinese decorations, it really was quite something.  Unfortunately, no photos inside - so an image search will have to satisfy any curiosity you may have.

I had a bit more time to wander the extremely narrow-streeted Lanes area, there are many curious looking shops - with a big student population and a being the foremost LGBT centre in the UK, it does have quite a different feel to the place than most old towns & small cities in the country.

Back home at a reasonable hour, the next day I headed out for my first mountain-bike club ride in six or seven months.  Pretty flat out on the other side of the Forest, it was pleasing to have more than half of the fast group riding singlespeed.  I may need to get a smaller cog at the back as I was frequently spinning out on the flat sections & struggling to keep up - 32:16 is very achievable around here, in fact 32:18 borders on the silly.  Still, I've only just started singlespeeding again, so at least I didn't have to push up the hills.