Cycling Tour of Ireland – 1978

Eire tour 1978
Eire tour 1978

After being at University for a year money was really tight so in 1978 we could only afford a short tour of Ireland. The original plan was to cycle to the ferry at Stranraer but this was going to take too long so we jumped on a train at Perth. We caught the ferry to Larne then a train to Belfast and then another train to Dundalk where we really started our tour.

We headed West through some very rural areas and beautiful countryside. I remember at one point cycle down a country road to see one of the biggest bulls ever coming towards us followed quickly by a little old lady, who looked about 90 waiving a stick at the bull and screaming at it. We quickly dismounted as the bull and it’s pursuer passed.

The most eventful episode of this trip has to be our time in Westport, a small village on the West coast. We found a really nice campsite then headed on into the town for something to eat and, more importantly something to drink. We spent most of that day and night in and out of bars and got very..very drunk. It seemed like a good idea to ride our bike back to the campsite but there was one small problem, we couldn’t actually get on them. I remember falling and trying to pick up my bike which for some reason was really difficult and Magnus racing past me standing on hips pedal and running straight into a wall. We got back to the campsite and I spent some time, in the dark, drunk trying to get my bike chain back on…with no luck. I woke the next morning with my hands covered in oil and slowly the events of the night before started to come back to us. I rushed outside the tent to find my bike upside down and the rear wheel buckled, well almost bent at a right angle really. It slowly dawned on me that the reason my bike was so difficult to pick up the night before was because I was standing on the rear wheel whilst trying to lift it. I needed a new wheel but this was Sunday and no shops were open so we wandered around and somehow found an open air music festival at Westport House with the headline act of Colm C.T. Wilkinson, who it turns out was Ireland’s entry into the Eurovision Song Contest that year coming in 5th place, (I only just found this out).

We also met a young lad who seemed to know us and as we struggled with his accent in our still fragile hung over state it became apparent that he’d helped us with our bikes the other night commenting that we were a bit the worse for wear and he had a great laugh at the state we were in. The next day I had to borrow money from Magnus to buy a new wheel, then we were on our way again heading eventually to Dublin.

We parted company there with Magnus heading South towards Cork and me heading North for the long trip home. I caught the train to Belfast and had to change stations to get the train to Larne for the ferry. I managed to get horribly lost in Belfast at one point queuing up at the cordoned off central part of the city and being ordered to empty my panniers on the pavement by a British soldier. The army presence was still high at that time and there was a great feeling of edginess in the air, certainly after I’d been told to unpack my bags I felt a little uneasy. These delays meant I missed my train to Larne and had to hang around the station for a good two hours or so. This made me feel much more uneasy with every passer-by watching me. I needed the toilet but couldn’t find one in the station so I went to the bar round the corner, it had a steel door with a sliding hatch. I knocked on the door and a guy with a very broad Belfast accent asked what I wanted, I told him I was looking for a toilet, he took one look at me with my denim cut-off jeans and plastic bag in hand and told me “we used to have a toilet but they blew it up” then slammed closed the hatch. I eventually found a quite alley to relieve myself but by now I was really feeling very jumpy.

Finally the train arrived and whisked me off back to reality, the ferry and the long ride home.

Cycling Tour of Europe – 1977

Europe tour 1977
Europe tour 1977

In 1977 Magnus and I decided to tour Europe. We had left school and needed to find work to finance the trip. We both got jobs at a local meat processing factory (Lawsons of Dyce). It wasn’t the worst job I’ve ever had but it came close. We initially applied for jobs as cleaners, which were full time posts not summer jobs and we put down all our exam results from school. The manager called us into his office and asked why, with all these qualifications we were applying for jobs as cleaners, we really didn’t expect this. He decided the post of cleaner was not for us and gave us jobs in other areas, I was put on supplying the bacon for the packing lines and I think Magnus worked in the sausage section. We worked all the overtime we could to save as much money for the trip which was the only reason I think I could stand working there, I knew I would leave soon.

When we’d saved enough we bought a small two man ridge tent and we were all set. Magnus’ father gave us a lift to the ferry terminal in Hull where we caught the overnight ferry to Zeebrugge in Belgium. We had no beds, just what they called couchetes (a large reclining chair) but we spent so long in the bar that night we didn’t even get one of then and ended up sleeping on the floor, after we’d eventually found where the blankets were stored. The North sea was pretty rough that night and all I can remember is hearing the engines as the ship rose and fell, needless to say I don’t think either of us got much sleep that night.

We arrived in Belgium the next morning a little worse for wear with no real plan other than cycle as far from the port as possible. We cycled through Brugge, on through Gent towards Brussels finally coming to a stop in a farming area with field of maize somewhere near Geraardsbergen. I seem to remember just camping at the side of the road, we we simply knackered and needed to get some sleep.

Our plan, such as it was was just to cycle all day and stop at a camp site towards the end of the day. This was sometimes problematic as we had as we had only one road map and didn’t know where the sites were. So occasionally we come to a site at around 15:00 and have to decide whether we’d find another site further on before night fall or stay there, some days we cycled till very late, too late. We had a couple more stops in Belgium near Namur and Rochefort before heading into Luxembourg staying for a couple of nights just outside the city.

Our stops were just over the German border near Saarlouis then over into France near Phalsburg then back into Germany near Freiburg then over the mountains to Lake Konstanz. We stayed in Lonstanz for a couple of nights then headed off towards Luzern via Zurich. For most of the trip we’d managed to stay off the main highways but for some reason not in Zurich and before we knew it we were riding straight through the centre on what was in effect a motorway. Just before entering a long, very log tunnel I saw a sign saying ‘no cycling’ but it was too late, we were committed and spent the next 10mins riding through a 6 lane tunnel with cars travelling at over 60mph. Quite frankly I was shitting myself and got off the road as soon as we could on the other side.

We spent five days in total in Luzern, not that we liked it that much but the weather was really bad and each morning we awoke to rain and decided to stay. Whilst we wre there we visited a local attraction, a cable car up a mountain called

Pilatus, it wasn't like this when I was there.

Pilatus. Although the weather was pretty bad we took a chance that the top of the mountain was above the clouds…it wasn’t. In fact it was a total grey-out up there you could hardly see 10 feet in front of you but some tourist still took photographs though !! There was ‘traditional’ Swiss music at the top with guys in lederhossen playing alpine horns, the whole show, it was straight off a chocolate wrapper. On the way down we caught the cable car with one of the alpine horn players who it turned out was in the middle of his national service in the Swiss Army, (I didn’t ask if he had a knife!) I didn’t even realise Switzerland had an Army, let alone a Navy, yes a Navy.

After Switzerland we headed back into France on our way to Paris with a few stops along the way.  We didn’t want to cycle all the way into Paris and found a really nice camp site at Neuilly-sur-Marne a short want from the Metro station into the centre. We spend 4 night in Paris and did all the usual stuff, Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Monmarte, Pigalle. My biggest regret of this trip is that I have no photographs at all, neither of us had brought a camera.

After Paris we headed North to the coast and stayed at what I can only describe as the camp site from Hell. Magnus got food poisoning from a can of ravioli and the toilets ! well they remain to this day the worst I have ever seen. I felt sorry for Magnus having to use them so much, I felt OK and I could barely bring myself to use them. We spent two nights there and left before Magnus was better, I think I forced him to leave, poor guy. He did however get his revenge as a day or so later I got the food poisoning…not nice I can tell you, having to go to the toilet so often and forcing ourselves onto our bike.

The next few days were spent just riding up the coast towards Rotterdam where we intended to catch the ferry back to Hull. We spent five nights outside Rotterdam near Rockanje. In retrospect I can think of a few places that would have been nicer to spend that much time at. The only thing I remember about Rotterdam is the fast, clean and efficient rail link into the city. It’s pretty boring place as it was totally rebuilt after the war.

On our ride along the coast Magnus had been having trouble with his gears and by the time we landed in Hull I think he only had about three left that worked. The plan was to ride home from Hull to Aberdeen. We spent the first night back in a field somewhere near Scotch Corner, but the next day Magnus had had enough of his bike problems and was down to only one working gear. He decided to ditch his bike in a lay-bye and hitch-hike home. Years later we found out his bike was actually worth quite a bit of money and toyed with the idea of going back to look for it, but never did.

Magnus headed off carrying his panniers and handlebars (which he quite liked) and stuck out his thumb, I wouldn’t see him again till Aberdeen. I set off in the wrong frame of mind, I felt as if the holiday was over and all that was left was to get home as quickly as possible. I don’t think I fully appreciated the splendid countryside in the Yorkshire Dales, the hills were both magnificent and a real pain at the same time. I just kept cycling only stopping once or twice to eat. That night I got as far as Jedburgh. In fact I went past Jedburgh but decided to go back as it was getting late and I knew there was a youth hostel there so I’d get a bed for the night. Ferniehirst Castle is no longer used as a hostel but it was a really nice place to stay.

The next day I headed off with the sole intent of getting home that day and just kept going as long as I could, stopping briefly in Arbroath for fish and chips and finally calling it a day just outside Montrose as I couldn’t see the road. The battery in my light was almost dead and it was getting rather dangerous. Exhausted I pitched the tent (stupidly) at the side of the road which in those days was the main N-S road from Aberdeen. I awoke, very early with the tent being blown about by the trucks as they thundered by, as I said a stupid place to pitch a tent. After breakfast of a tin of baked beans I set off and eventually reached Aberdeen I think around 15:00. I rode past Magnus’ house and popped in to see if he’d arrived, turned out he’d only beaten me by about three hours. I went up to my mus and spent the next two hours soaking in a warm bath….what a trip around 1740 miles in total.

Second Cycling Tour of Scotland – 1976

tour route 1976
Cycle tour 1976

Following our successful tour in 1975 Magnus and I decided to do the same the following year only following a different route. We again planned to stay at SYHA youth hostels which as before we had to pre-book. The route took us from Aberdeen to Braemar, Perth, Edinburgh, Wanlockhead (Scotlands highest village), Ayr, Glasgow, Stirling, Glen Nevis, Inverness, Aviemore and finally back to Aberdeen. A total of around 591 miles (google maps).

The year before had been pretty exciting and we had no accidents or any mishaps, except for one puncture on the first day. 1976 however was very different, on route from Glasgow to Crianlarach (I think) we had a very nasty accident. We came speeding round a corner, Magnus in front and me with my front wheel only inches from his bike, when suddenly this woman jumped right out in front of him waving her arms. Magnus swerved and braked but I didn’t have enough time to react and my front wheel wedged between his pannier rack and wheel. The next few seconds seemed to go in slow motion as I remember my front wheel getting jammed and veering off to the right whilst I carried straight on and the rest of the bike followed me. I flew forward and started to tumble and hoping like hell there wasn’t any on coming traffic as I was heading for the middle of the road. I saw Magnus come to a stop as I landed heavily on my left shoulder with my bike following behind me. I thought at the time, “this is going to hurt because I don’t have a shirt on” . When we all finally came to a stop all I could think about was my bike lying in a tangled mess in the middle of the road. I had a few cuts an grazes but nothing broken.

The woman had been driving an old mini van which had broken down, after we had assessed the damage to my bike (a badly buckled rear wheel) we agreed to  try and jump start it. She agreed if we got it going she’d give us a lift to the nearest town to to get my wheel repaired. Well, we got her car going all right after pushing it for about 50 yards but then off she drove leaving us behind.We were left totally amazed that anyone could do that. We got ourselves together and walked a couple of miles and found a garage but they couldn’t help, but they did tell us the nearest bike shop was in Stirling.

I tried to adjust my wheel and tried to cycle but this was impossible so after walking a few miles more we left our bikes at a farm and hitch-hiked to Stirling, getting to the bike shop half an hour after it closed. This was turning out to be a very bad day. We headed up to the hostel near the castle in Stirling checked in and called the Crianlarach hostel to say we couldn’t make it. I those days you had to do chores when you booked out of the hostel so we asked if we could do ours the night before so we could leave early in the morning. We then made a bee line for the nearest pub because today of all days we needed a drink.

I don’t remember the name of the pub but it was not exactly a high class establishment, Magnus got involved in a game of cards and won quite a bit of money. Just when we thought our luck had changed and tried to leave with the winnings it was made very clear by the locals that we couldn’t leave until they’d won their money back, which they did…fairly quickly. We returned to the hostel and in a very drunk state tried to brush the hallway and stairs, in the dark whilst trying to be quite.

Next day, bright and early we headed to the repair shop and the guy kindly straightened my wheel for free. We then hitch-hiked all the way back to the farm where we left our bikes, which was somewhere near Thornhill I think. It was now nearly 13:00 and we had to get to Fort William. That was a very hard days ride sustained by mars bars and crisps we made it to Glen Nevis hostel at about 21:00 just in time to claim our beds, the place was really busy that night with people even sleeping in the hallway.

First Cycling Tour of Scotland – 1975

my first 2 wheeled bike
my first two wheeler

I have been cycling almost as long as I can remember, my first bike was a three wheeler at the age of three or four, I can still picture it. At the age of five I had an accident falling off a neighbours bike whilst messing about and badly grazed my face. As a sort of get well present my mother bought me my first ‘real’ two wheeler from Halfords in Aberdeen, they only did bikes in those days. I had this bike for years in fact it was handed down to both my sisters then brother and it was still around being used at my mother’s when I was in my late twenties. The next bike I got was second hand and had no gears and was nothing special. I spent a lot of time trying to make it look better but nothing worked and my mother wouldn’t even let me put drop handlebars on it.

At secondary school I met Magnus, still a close friend who shared my interest in cycling. We got talking about going for a tour of Scotland which I showed great enthusiasm for even though I didn’t own a bike at that point. We agreed to do a few training runs from Aberdeen to Braemar (about 60 miles), but first I had to get a bike. I scoured the local paper and picked up a Raleigh with five gears for £20 and that weekend we set off for Braemar. By the time we got to the youth hostel it was evident, in many ways that this bike was far too small for me, I was in a lot of pain and had blisters where you should never get blisters. It was clear that I could not tour Scotland on this bike so I had to get another but with less than two weeks till the school holidays time was running out. I sold the Raleigh and bought another (proper sized) bike which I had for a couple of days before I rode into the back of a parked car and bent the frame.

carlton corsa
Carlton Corsa

We were due to head off on our first tour of Scotland in less than a week and I couldn’t use the damaged bike. My mother, once again bought me a bike form Halfords, this time a full sized Carlton Corsa. This image is from an old catalogue but my Corsa was exactly the same as this, even the colour. I found out years later that my mother had to take out a loan to pay for this bike which was £65 but she realised how important this trip was to me.

cycle tour 1
cycle tour 1975

So Magnus and I headed off on Thursday 3rd July 1975 on our first cycling tour of  Scotland which would follow a route through Inverness, Carbisdale Castle, Ullapool, Torridon, Ratagan, Glen Nevis, Oban, Aberfeldy, Perth, Aviemore then back to Aberdeen. The total distance (according to Google maps) is 697 miles, although we never measured it at the time. We Stayed at Youth Hostels all the way which in those days had very limited opening times and some were very basic indeed. I remember Torridon (Glen Cottage)

Glen Cottage Torridon
Glen Cottage Torridon

in particular which was a temporary hostel whilst they were building the new grade 1 hostel. We basically slept in a shed with a canoe slung in the rafters and a chemical toilet out the back. The most impressive hostel by far was Carbisdale Castle which was, and still is a magnificently impressive building. I remember the warden used to waken you at around 06:30 by playing bagpipe music on an old record player in the great hall. The Inverness hostel we stayed in which was near the Castle is no more and there doesn’t appear to be an SYHA hostel in Perth any more.

This was a fantastic trip for a sixteen year old I think it was our first real taste of freedom, no parents, no school and it was up to us what we did. The first day however, didn’t go that well if I remember I had a puncture outside of Elgin and although I had a repair kit I couldn’t find the leak, I even tried using a nearby burn. In the end Magnus remembered a friend of his fathers lived in Elgin so we went there and begged the use of a basin of water and had a welcome cup of tea.

I remember that summer being extremely hot in fact there were forest fires up around Aviemore and the tar on the road melted and stuck to our tyres. In those days I hadn’t even heard of sun screen except for the old zinc past our mothers used on us as kids, so consequently we both got very sunburned, me in particular. I remember stopping at almost every burn and using the water to cool us down we even tried cycling with no shoes, but this was too painful. Somewhere along the line I bought some calamine lotion to soothe the sunburn and at Ratagan hostel I covered my arms in the stuff. This proved to be even more unbearable then the sunburn itself so I spent the next hour or so trying to get the stuff off (very gingerly) using water from the loch, a sight which Magnus found highly amusing.

Cycling in Scotland: Links to on-line information

I have been gathering information relating to cycling in Scotland for some time now and I thought it was about time I compiled a list of some of the sites and what they offer.


I may add to this as sites come and go.

How to: Get Thunderbird to work with MS-Exchange server in Ububtu

Ever since Ubuntu 7.06 I’ve been using it on my companies corporate LAN and managed, after some digging around to get Evolution to connect to MS-Exchange server and manage all my mail, calendar and contacts. I am now using Ubuntu 8.04 and all was well until a couple of days ago, all of a sudden Evolution started crashing and even crashed X-server. Next thing I knew I could not get Evolution to connect to MS-Exchange at all it kept returning an error Could not authenticate to server (password incorrect?)“. At first I put this down to a recent update for Evolution and did some digging around the forums, I found that many others had the same problem but there were no apparent solutions. I then read a few posts which suggested that Evolution did not work with Exchange server 2007, a quick check via web access to my mail and it certainly appeared that my company had updated from Exchange 2003 to 2007.

I had tried to use Thunderbird in the past but it connects to MS-Exchange server using IMAP and this was not available, so I was left with Evolution which connects using Outlook Web Access (OWA) and this was working fine…till now.

I tried everything with Evolution but eventually gave up, I did however discover an open source alternative in development called OpenChange which has an Evolution plug-in due for release in Gnome 2.24 so I might go back to this.

I thought it was a long shot to try Thunderbird again but if the Exchange server had been upgraded then perhaps IMAP connections were now possible, so here’s what I did.

There is a good explanations of the basics at, and McGill university. some of which I’d followed the last time I tried to use Thunderbird.

In Thunderbird select File>New>Account (if it hasn’t already prompted you to do so) and select new Email account, fill in your name (I used my LAN user name here) and email address. Next select IMAP as the server typeserver type, you only have the choice of POP or IMAP anyway. That’s the basic account set up, now you have to configure the server settings etc. Click on the account name in the left pane then select view settings for this account in the right pane. This gives you a whole load of things you can configure for your mail account but first thing to do is select server settings. Here make sure your server name is correct, usually something like Under security settings the settingsguides I’d read previously recommended setting this to ‘Never‘ but this just didn’t work for me so I tried ‘TLS, if available‘ and bingo, it worked. All the other settings are up to you. You’ll also need to input the correct address for the outgoing SMTP server. In my case I got this by going back into MS-Outlook and in the mail account properties you’ll see the server name. Also in my case this requires a user name in the security and authentication section and again I chose ‘TLS, if available‘. That is the basics of the account set up now I had to select which folders on my Exchange account I wanted to view. I did this by right clicking on the account name in the left pane of Thunderbird  and selecting ‘subscribe‘ all being well this should open up a window showing all the folders available, just check those you want and click OK. I now had access to my Exchange inbox, sent and deleted folders.

The next stage was to get the global address book connection. In Thunderbird click on Address book then select File>New>LDAP Directory. global address bookThen fill in the details, I called mine ‘global address list’ the host name is usually the server name where your global address book (gab) is located, again this can be found out by going back to Outlook in Windows and looking at the properties of the global address book. So for example if the address was then put gabserver in the Hostname box. In the Base DN box the rest of the address is added in the following format dc=ad, dc=company, dc=com The Bind DN is your DOMAIN\username and the port number defaults to 389 but this did not work for me, on they suggest port 3268 which did work for me. You should now be able to search the global address book and you’ll be asked for your password. You should also set up the global address book in the auto complete section in Edit>Prefernces>Addressing check the Directory Server box and you should see the address book you created before in the list. This means that as soon as you start to type a name in an email address bar Thunderbird will search your global address book for possible matches to auto complete.

Because I’d been using Evolution for some time I’d backed up a lot of email locally (~8000) as we have mailbox limits here so now I needed to get those into Thunderbird. I thought I’d just have to import but it wasn’t quite that simple. Thunderbird needs a plugin called MboxImport to be able to import emails in the Mbox format. Once this is installed it’s fairly simple though, select Tools>Import/Export in Mbox/eml format then point to the local directory where Evolution stores your mail (usually Home/Name/.evolution/mail/local), that’s it.

But what about the calendar? I here you ask, good question and so far it has me stumped. Thunderbird has a good calendar available as an Add-on called Lightning lightningbut getting this to connect to the calendar on MS-Exchange is another matter and one I’m still struggling with. There is a solution posted at but this involves direct access to the mail server which I don’t have. I tried a few things like logging onto my mail through Firefox (OWA) right clicking on the link for the calendar looking at properties and using this address to set up a new calendar in Thunderbird. Click the Calendar icon in the bottom left then right click in the left pane and select New Calendar>On My Network>Next. There are three options ICS, CalDav and WCAP, none of which worked for me at all, but  you may have more luck. I’ll keep looking and maybe I’ll find a solution or maybe if the Evolution plug-in is finished soon I may go back to Evolution. I have to say that given a choice I’d go for Thunderbird over Evolution but the fact is whichever one I can get to work with MS-Exchange is the one I’ll go for and for the time being that is Thunderbird, albeit without a calendar connection.

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How to Transfer Thunderbird Profile from Windows to Ubuntu

One of the tasks I faced in moving completely from Windows to Ubuntu was to transfer all my saved emails and my profile from Thunderbird. In Windows locate your Thunderbird profile, this will usually be in Documents and Settings>YourName>Application Data>Thunderbird>Profiles. The profile folder will be named with a random 8 character name and a .default extension (e.g. htg34gtd.default). You should be able to access your Windows partition from Ubuntu so once you’ve located the profile folder just copy it across to your Ubuntu partition.

Now go to your home folder in Ubuntu and select View>Show Hidden Files look for a folder named .mozilla-thunderbird. This may already have a .default folder in it, if it has then delete it then move the folder you copied from Windows here. Last thing you have to do is create a profiles.ini file in the .mozilla-thunderbird folder, in my case Thunderbird had already created this file so all I had to do was replace the text with below with the correct .default name;


Where oooooooo = the 8 character name of your folder.
Now run Thunderbird, all being well you should now see all your emails etc as they were in Windows. This was not the case for me however, Thunderbird decided to create a new profile .default folder but all I had to do was delete it and rename the one I copied across to the one Thunderbird created…voila!

How to record streaming audio with Audacity in Ubuntu 8.04 (Hardy Heron)

I’ve been transferring everything I do with computers both at home and at work from Windows to Ubuntu Linux. Volume ControlOne of the things I did regularly in Windows was to record either streaming audio or audio from a device plugged directly into my sound card. I have a long term project to get all my old cassette tapes digitized. In Ubuntu 8.04 I installed Audacity from Synaptic, then selected each input device in turn under Edit>Preferences>Recording but none of them worked or produced an error.
The solution was however quite simple and not with Audacity at all. I opened up the master volume control on the Ubuntu panel by right clicking on the icon and selecting Open Volume Control then selected Edit>Preferences.Volume Control Preferences Next make sure the boxes marked Mix and Mix Mono are checked then Close. SwitchesClose the Volume Control and then re-open it and select the Switches tab and check the box for Mix and close again. Finally in Audacity in Edit>Preferences set the Playback and Recording devices to ALSA:default. That’s it, now anything playing through the sound card be it streaming music or from an external device such as a tape player can be recorded.

Politicians break the law they made

In August 2005 it became illegal to demonstrate in and around Parliament Square without prior police permission under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA). So far Maya Evans has been prosecuted and a number of others have been threatened with legal action. The law states that it only takes one person to constitute a demonstration, so the question arises , if every time a politician (including the PM) gives an interview in Parliament Square are the breaking the law? Mark Thomson the political comedian thinks so and has written to the Director of Public Prosecutions calling for an urgent investigation. Mark has also written an article in the Guardian (13th Dec) explaining.

This is an absolutely crazy law which was used to get rid of Brian Haw, Maya Evans was prosecuted for reading the names of British and Iraqi dead at the cenotaph and people have been threatened with prosecution for displaying a cake with the word PEACE on it. Mark Thomas even had to get permission to where a red nose on Red Nose Day.

If you want to help, you can. If you live, work or are visiting London and
walk past College Green (opposite the House of Lords entrance) and you see an MP giving an interview then: