Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Wednesday 29 June

After yesterday's excitement, the weather started grey and breezy and a lot cooler than the last few days. It was only 16C / 60F this afternoon, when I went to the village cemetery to visit my mother's grave. As we came back, the skies slowly started to break.

This is a young blackbird, which crashed down into those leaves and started to scurry round in them to look for food. Nothing there. He was quite gormless, and didn't know what he was doing. He did know he was scared of me, being about fifteen times his size and made off - clumsily flying through the bushes.

In the early hours of this morning, armed robbers blew down a wall of a money handling centre in Amsterdam and made off with an amount of cash. As the police arrived, they were met with a hail of bullets. Fortunately, nobody was hurt. The robbers hijacked a car and sped south down the A2 motorway at speeds of up to 150 mph. Between Utrecht and Den Bosch, their vehicle crashed and burned into flames. The culprits hijacked another vehicle and continued their high speed flight. At Eindhoven, 50 miles south of Utrecht, they once more threatened the cops with their automatic fire-arms, upon which the police decided to abandon the chase. The robbers got away, their whereabouts currently unknown.

Although all Dutch police are routinely armed, extremely violent robberies of this sort are fortunately virtually unheard of in this country. Automatic fire-arms are strictly licensed and not commonly or easily available.

Tomorrow, I am returning to Stornoway by air, and once more, my travelplans look set to be thrown into disarray. The public sector trades union PCS is mounting a strike, involving customs staff at immigration points, such as the London airports through which I am passing tomorrow morning. I'll have to wait and see how it all goes.

The Shell Gallery will once again be going under wraps, until my next visit to Holland later in the year.

Tuesday 28 June - picture post

Images from the Amsterdam Water Filtration Dunes [Amsterdamse Waterleiding Duinen], southwest of the city of Haarlem, about 18 miles from the Dutch capital.

Enough foxes.

Here is the heron that couldn't cope with the heat (32C / 90F)

Some other creatures:



A canal

Tuesday 28 June

Well, that was quite a day. I owe you the photos, which I shall put up in a separate entry. I went to visit my sister, who lives a few miles from Schiphol Airport, near Amsterdam. The forecast had been for a thundery breakdown of the hot weather. As a result, Dutch Railways (NS) announced they would be running according to a reduced timetable after midday, and passengers should expect disruption. We reached our destination amidst some drips of rain, but nothing major. In fact, after lunch, the sun came out. The mercury quickly ratcheted back up to 32C / 90F as we went for a walk in an area of dunes west of Haarlem. These are used to filter water for use in the general drinking water supply. It is also a nature reserve, and we saw deer, foxes and herons. One heron was so taken by the heat that it just stood there on the path, panting and gasping for breath. The deer too were sheltering under trees. Foxes too had a spot of bother with the heat, but one family of adult foxes came within touching distance.

Upon returning to my sister's house, the cloud came across the sky and a thunderstorm came crashing by. It downed the mercury quite efficiently, so that it had become pleasant, about 20C / 68F. As we joined our train east, the thunder was moving slowly east, lighting up the sky in the distance with the lightning. Things started to go wrong as early as Amsterdam Zuid station, only a few miles from the airport. The connecting train to Utrecht was 10-15 minutes late, meaning we'd lose our onward connection to Arnhem. On arrival at Utrecht, at 9.30pm, we found out that major parts of the Dutch rail network had been knocked out by lightning strikes. There was to be no direct train to Arnhem, a distance of 40 miles, and we were advised to divert to Amersfoort and Deventer, then head south towards Arnhem. Well, with a few more delays along the way, we got ourselves to Deventer, 50 miles east of Utrecht, at a quarter past midnight. I walked up to an NS employee and asked if there was going to be a connection calling at Velp station, which is closest to my dad's house. He immediately rang up and arranged for the fast train to Arnhem to stop at Velp, and at another stop as well.

I have to say, it is a national pastime to knock NS at times of adverse weather, and some times they really have gone belly-up in the worst possible fashion. But on this occasion, I cannot fault them one bit. We were advised a day ahead of any potential problems, and of the adjusted timetable and potential for problems. Moreover, staff went out of their way to help, so I'll be writing a letter of compliment to the railways.

Monday, 27 June 2011

In Glacier Country

I have started posting on the In Glacier Country blog, about my recent trip to Switzerland. Hope you enjoy

Evening notes 27 June

A hot day in Holland, with the mercury reaching 90F in the south and east of the country. Even as I type this at 8.40pm, we're still on 30C (86F), with the sun going down in about 80 minutes' time. The workmen have been digging up the street all day, and repairing broken drains. This part of the village was built more than 50 years ago, and things tend to give up the ghost in that time.

I should add that my village hosts a baronial castle, although the last baron passed away in 1962. Anyone who worked at the castle felt a tad above the plebs who did not, and everybody felt a tad above anyone who dared to come in from outside. I'm talking about the 1950s/60s. However, things have changed since a large influx of people in the 1960s and 70s; and the advent of the daily commute has certainly worked its levelling powers. The only thing that this place prides itself on is the fact that it houses the largest numbers of millionaires in any Dutch municipalities.

Monday 27 June

Good morning all and it's going to be a hot day in eastern Holland. It will get up to 35C here (95F) with no cloud and having to wait until tomorrow evening before a thundery breakdown puts the mercury back where it belongs: at around 20C. I am awake early as the workmen, digging up the road, are already at work. It is Monday morning, meaning that shops in town have a late opening today. So, I'm going on the bus into Arnhem at 11 for some shopping. Bearing in mind the temps on offer today, that'll be a scorcher. Anyway, will stop moaning now and get going. Have a good one.

Sunday, 26 June 2011


It is Sunday evening, and a whole 24 hours have passed since I returned, with my dad, from holiday in Switzerland. Had a great time with, mostly good weather and at times quite warm. Did some great walks and ran into my feriously bad physical condition. However, after a while, I managed to get into my stride and proper pace for ascents. The scenery is breathtaking and the mountain environment downright scary at times. However, it was good to be back in a place I last visited 26 years ago. Over the next few days, I shall endeavour to put up a separate blog about my trip to the Alps. It is called In Glacier Country. At present, it is only blank and I have not worked on it at all. I hope to have it complete over the next week or so.

Saturday, 11 June 2011


When this post goes up, I should be on a train, heading south towards Switzerland. I shall be near the Rhone Valley for a fortnight, and not have access to the Internet. Although I passed through the area in 1998, on a train between Geneva and Milan, I haven't visited the small Alpine resort north of Brig since 1985. 

I shall close this post with some old photographs of the area, and look forward to updating this blog upon my return, from 26 June onwards.

Feel free to email, but you'll get an away message. Neither will I update Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Friday 10 June

Quite an early post today. The weather is wet this afternoon, so no outside foray today. As I'm off on a two week holiday in Switzerland tomorrow, I'm making preparations for that. (That's what I needed the Factor 50 for) Tomorrow morning, I shall be publishing a scheduled post with more information. Keep well, and I'll return to posting in 16 days' time.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Thursday 9 June

A day of sunshine and cumulus clouds bubbling up. There appears to have been a few loose showers about, but not in my vicinity. Did a bit of reading out before lunch, but the sun was very warm. Mercury made it to 18C. Today's 6 mile walk took us into the Heathlands as far as the Watchtower. Previous readers will recognise these landmarks (names given in translation). Although my father's house stands 130 feet above sealevel, the watchtower is at 350 feet. However, when you see the pictures, it actually stands on quite a level plain. The watchtower is maintained as a piece of industrial heritage. Planes took over its use as a firewatch from 1960 onwards. It was restored in 1992.

Goslings of Egyptian Geese

The Watchtower

Another area of sandblow

The Heathlands

My old school

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

89 years ago this month

Few people know that on 24 June 1922, the German Foreign Minister, Walther Rathenau, was assassinated in Berlin. As he was driven along a street in the city, another motorcar pulled alongside. One occupant stood up, shouldered a machinegun and fired five rounds into Rathenau, followed by a grenade. The minister died a few minutes later. His murderers made off towards Rostock on the Baltic Sea, but had to abandon their plans to escape across the water on account of bad weather. They cycled south, threatened a ferryman with firearms to take them across the River Elbe, and made their way halfway to Munich. Police traced them to a castle, where one was shot and the other committed suicide.

Who were the murderers? They were opposed to Rathenau's ideas of democracy, and keeping Germany together in the wake of the crippling Treaty of Versailles. This had laid the full blame for WW1 on Germany, an assertion that is at best unfair. Rathenau had wanted to stick to Versailles, whilst renegotiating its terms. This course of action made him the enemy of the far right in Germany, which wanted to shred Versailles. If Rathenau had survived is one of the great 'ifs' of history. What if Corporal Adolf Hitler had been asphyxiated by a mustard gas attack in WW1? What if Winston Churchill had been killed by a New York taxicab? What if?

The graves of the culprits of the Rathenau murder are still a shrine to Germany's far right to date. It's not pretty, but the reality of Europe today, and confirmation that the future is a function of the past, with the present as an operator.

I'm endebted to Dutch broadcaster VPRO for airing a documentary on this matter tonight.

No museum

Over the past six years, plans have been afoot to established a Museum of National History in the Netherlands. The idea was good. Its implementation was so excruciatingly and humiliatingly imcompetent that there will now not be such a museum in Holland. It all started with a good idea in 2005, but the Ministry for Culture decided to turn it into a competition. Which city will host such a museum? Amsterdam, The Hague or Arnhem? Well, the latter city, only 3 miles from my location, got the award, much to the chagrin of the other two places. However, the location in Arnhem, the carpark of the Open Air Museum, turned into a moneypit. Even a novel location, on the banks of the River Rhine, turned out to be a non-starter. And today, the plug was pulled on the whole project.

I have not been following Dutch politics closely for more than a decade, but the previous government took the biscuit for sheer incompetence. This was another demonstration of that, and I know one thing, having involved myself in history over the past 6 years: this would never have happened in Scotland, which is much more aware of its history. However, that is a bit too harsh on my fellow countrymen - see my next post.

Wednesday 8 June

The day commenced overcast, but as the overnight rain moved away northeast into Germany and Denmark, the sun came out and the mercury crept up to about 18C / 64F. After catching up on things Internet before lunch, we headed out for a 5-mile jaunt afterwards. For new readers to this blog, I am currently in a relatively hilly area, which rises to all of 370 feet above sealevel. So, off we went through the forests to the Emma Pyramid, a local viewpoint. The only problem is that it is surrounded by trees, which have grown quite tall and are currently in full leaf. So you can't see a thing from the viewpoint! Anyway, went off back towards the Heathlands and followed the cycletrack that leads towards the Koningsweg, only to turn off halfway down and return home via the village cemetery and the Castle.

One of the village ponds

In the woods

Emma Pyramid viewpoint



Orangerie by the Castle

New Blogger format

Just want to air a gripe about the new Blogger format that I found on my blogs on Monday. The Dashboard has been turned upside down, with my list of blogs squashed into the left sidebar, and the remainder of the page taken over by the blogs I follow. Well, I don't really use Blogger for following blogs, I use Google Reader for that. And as many of you know, I keep a large number of blogs (more than 50), and keep several of them updated on a regular basis. My switch between Atlantic Lines and the Shell Gallery is a case in point. However, I have kept my feedback to Blogger constructive, and advised them to give users an option to switch between their own blogs and other people's blogs in full screen. Whether they'll do anything with that is another matter; I'm probably an exception in this instance.

Tuesday 7 June

A bit of an overcast day, and not particularly warm - by Dutch standards. However, as the afternoon progressed, the sun came out and the mercury made it up to 20C / 68F, which I would expect here in June. After lunch, I went on a walk through the nearby forests with my dad. It stretched for 5½ miles and took 2 hours. There were not many other walkers about. We started off by going to a roadbridge across the nearby A12 motorway (Utrecht - Arnhem - Germany). The motorway will be widened to three lanes each direction over the next 3 years, meaning the roadbridges that cross the A12 will have to be replaced with longer spans. The bridge in the Schelmseweg (Velp - Oosterbeek) is one of those. After a spot of sightseeing around the works, we headed into the woods.

I am closing this post with a selection of pictures. Those of you who have read this blog in the past will be familiar with the scenery. It is a sharp contrast to my imagery from the Hebrides.

The church (AD 1758)

Egyptian goose with goslings

Forest track

Recycling in progress

On the motorway bridge

In the garden

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Monday 6 June

Left Stornoway at 7.30 on Monday morning to catch the 8.30 plane to Glasgow. This left in good time and touched down in Glasgow at 9.30. The sun was trying to come through, but did not quite succeed. Had to wait for the 1.25pm flight down to London Gatwick. It was not busy at the airport, and it was a tad boring there. I was called forward to have my passport rechecked.

Once on board the plane, a baggage handler came to my seat to tell me that my bag had actually made it onto the flight. Thanks very much, that was a great relief to hear. Using the GPS, I was able to note that the plane took off as it was going down the runway at 135 mph. Once up in the air, speed increased until we were cruising along at up to 495 mph at an altitude of 35,000 feet. I could see the Ayrshire coastline stretching down to Stranraer, as well as the southern coast of Galloway and the Isle of Man in the distance. Northern England was also more or less clear, but once past Liverpool it was cloud all the way.

We landed at Gatwick at 2.45pm, on schedule. Cue a very long wait. I cannot properly focus on a book when I'm sitting at an airport. My flight was due off at 6.45pm, but I had had a text from the travel agent's to say it was delayed by more than an hour - something already known at midday! Droves of people passed through the departure lounge, heading for their holidays in the sun around the Med. I had something to eat by about 6pm. Looked at the Internet for about 15 minutes, but towards 7pm I stood by the departures board until flight 8119 to Amsterdam was called to gate 53. Well, got to gate 53, but then it was suddenly changed to 54. Even as we were called forward to embark, the stewardess was still talking about gate 53. Until somebody mentioned something. We took off at 8pm, into more cloud.

Moving the clock forward an hour, we landed at Amsterdam just after 10pm. Luggage materialised at 10.20, and I was able to get to my train on time. It left at 10.44, and with a change at Utrecht, I got into Arnhem at midnight. From there, a taxi took me home.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Opening once more

If my journey has gone according to schedule, this post will be published just as my plane touches down in Amsterdam, Holland. Since May 2008, I have kept this blog for my sojourns with my dad in eastern Holland. This time round, there will be a two-week interruption in updates in the middle of my stay, as I am joining my father for a trip down to Switzerland. I have bought a new paper notepad for writing things down (the old-fashioned way), although I shall probably bring the laptop to process walking routes off the GPS, and to copy pictures onto the harddisk drive.

It has been five months since my last visit, and winter has made way for summer.