Bolting for Home

Dear reader — I’ve been marooned by the Beast from the East! I’m just home off the ferry tonight, after one big misadventure on the mainland. I was meant to be away until this coming Tuesday but I made the decision to cut my losses and bolted for home just in case the snow came in again.

I’ve been ‘away’ since Tuesday morning, having left on the 7am ferry. The plan was to spend a few days in Edinburgh for a two-day publishing course — and stay with my brother-in-law and his wife — before heading to Yorkshire for the funeral of a good friend’s father on Monday.

I had seen the forecast before I set off. I knew that it was meant to be the iciest blast we’d had since 1991, etc etc. But I figured that as long as I made it to Edinburgh before the weather blew in, then the rest of the week would go ahead as planned.

It did not go ahead as planned. Like many other folk, I had not taken the forecast seriously enough.

l was starting to realise that by 5pm on Tuesday. I’d stopped off at the big Tiso in Perth for a couple of hours – to write that last blog about the ‘final plea for money for Stornoway Primary’ — because I wanted to get it uploaded ahead of the council meeting the next day.

For those who were following that story, by the way, the vote went against the school so it won’t get any money from the Comhairle’s capital programme for 2018-23. You can read the outcome of it here on the Gazette website (I started working for the Gazette this week part-time as a local democracy reporter).

Hanging about Tiso’s for the best part of that afternoon, though, meant that I did NOT beat the weather. When I got back in the car, the snow had begun. And it was getting dark. And I did not where exactly I was going. It was quite disorientating and Perth to Leith took nearly twice as long as it should have.

The weather had properly hit by the next morning and our course, just off Princes Street, was cut short in the afternoon because the trains were being cancelled. The second day of the course was cancelled completely.

What a complete pain. I’d travelled all this way. AND it won’t even be refunded.

Edinburgh in snow

Edinburgh in snow
Snow problem: Edinburgh on Wednesday just before the weather worsened

There was an upside, though — it did mean I could finally get on with the piece I’d been commissioned to write, about the wind farms, by Bella Caledonia.

There were many points I had to address in that piece, ‘The Wind of Change: Renewables and Self-Determination’, so there was a lot of hard thinking to do.

There was also a pint to have — I was due to meet an old pal in a bar in Leith — but I couldn’t go out until I’d filed my piece. So back our rendezvous went from 5pm to 7pm then 8pm. Eventually I made it to the King’s Wark by 9pm, having headed out on foot and got myself a bit lost along the way.

The streets were eerily quiet and there was inches of snow on the ground. I was slipping and sliding all over the place and the whole atmosphere was quite surreal.

But when one is determined to get to the pub…!

Pints were sunk and a great blether was had, before another surreal wander / taxi ride ‘home’.

Come the next day, travel was still extremely difficult. The snow had a tight hold. We were suspended in an alternative reality and, as I was effectively snowbound miles from home, my sister-in-law took to calling me Nanook of the North.

There have been some extreme stories coming out of the ‘Beast from the East’ — tragically, even lives lost — and almost universal travel disruption on the mainland.

It was only last night that I took the decision to abandon my plans to get to Yorkshire. I figured that with the A1 party closed and no Virgin trains running between Carlisle and Scotland, it was going to be hard to get to my destination in Englandshire. And even if I did manage to get to Leeds, who knew what problems I might have had trying to get back home again!

Time to put the sensible head on (for once).

A quick check of the AA’s website this morning showed that all the roads were clear to Ullapool, so it looked like a good time to make a run for it. Apart from a bit of slush on the outskirts of Edinburgh, the roads were clear. Big relief.

As I went over the Queensferry Crossing, they were discussing the weather on the radio – especially those who had been caught out in it.

“It’s a natural inclination to head for home,” said one. Yep, I thought. I quite agree.

Wintry road sign

Driving onto the ferry
Homeward bound: By road and sea

Fortunately, I had a really good run up the road and I ticked off the usual waypoints with a glad heart. Leaving Perth, 108 miles to Inverness. House of Bruar. Drumochter. Dalwhinnie. Ralia Cafe. Aviemore. Slochd. A stop in Inverness, of course (you have to be in a really extreme hurry to not stop in Inverness).

Then the Kessock Bridge — the biggest waypoint of the lot. Contin. Garve. Aultguish. Corrieshalloch. The signposts that say 12 miles to Ullapool, then nine. Then Ullapool and the sight of the ferry. Yay!

The cove who takes the car tickets has always got banter. I checked the boat was sailing on time. “Yes”, he confirmed. “We didn’t need to grit the Minch.”

My grand plan was to find a quiet corner on the boat and just get on with blogging. But… how often do you get across on the ferry without seeing someone you know?!

I was thwarted by Simon, Kirsteen and Rita — although it was so nice to be able to have a laugh with them (and I hadn’t seen my friend Simon in ages).

Friends on the ferry

Three friends on ferry
Ferry funny: Kirsteen, Rita and Simon

Kirst and Rita had both been in Inverness for the day (only Leodhasachs would go day tripping in this kind of weather) — but they were both adamant they would not be going back on that bus any time soon. I’ll spare you the stories why.

In fact, I wrote this sitting at the table next to Simon and Kirsteen. I’d stuck my headphones in so that I couldn’t hear what (or who) they’re gossiping about.

Occasionally Simon would try to distract me. He’d look over my shoulder, peer at my screen. “Hmmmm,” he nodded. “The ‘Beast from the East’ — topical! I always said you’d be good at this shit…” Thanks, Si!

Five minutes after getting off the ferry and I was home (we’re townies now) — to some very big huggles, particularly from a big dog and a wee boy who’d waited up.

It’s good to be home.


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