Setting Sail on the Yangtse

January 29, 2018

After the adorable pandas of Chengdu it was a fairly short, two hours,  bullet train ride to the sprawling commercial city of Chongqing on the banks of the great Yangtse river.  Not a luxury hotel this time but three nights aboard the very smart Sanctuary Yangtse Explorer as we traversed the Three Gorges.  All the travel and transfer arrangements went very smoothly and I was hugely impressed when, at the dockside, the baggage porter slung our two suitcases at each end of a long pole, hoisted it over his shoulder and trotted off in front of us – only about 40 kilos!

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Chongqing 

Perhaps not the prettiest of waterfronts but it looked much better late in the evening when we set off downriver towards the Great Yangtse Dam.

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The still photograph does not show how the lights were moving in patterns and colours or the laser lightshow on some buildings, notably the ultra modern opera house.

We have never taken a ‘cruise’ as such before because it does not really appeal, and this mini venture confirmed our suspicions – excellent in parts and cringe worthy in others.  This was summed up at dinner on the first night – a delightful English couple on one side (who became good companions for the trip) and on the other a large group of screeching, raucous Americans.

Our first shore excursion was to the ‘re-located’ town of Fengdu where we were herded around the streets in large groups to visit a food market and a children’s nursery.

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The market was very clean and well organised but I still don’t fancy chicken feet.  Nor did I relish the thought of a visit to the dentist.

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Most of the food in the market was recognisable with the exception of some vegetables – it was all very colourful and beautifully displayed.

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Mounds of beansprouts

The narrow streets we wandered through were crowded with people – mainly older people and a few babies and toddlers clearly being minded by grandparents.  It was the middle of the working / school day but the guide did admit that most people had to go away to the cities (sometimes considerable distances) to find work.

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Next we made a slightly odd visit to a children’s nursery.  The 15 western tourists in our group (there were 120 on the cruise) were marched into a narrow classroom of  about thirty of the cutest wee Chinese you could imagine.  These were ‘tourist wise’ kids – they stayed in their seats but bounced about, smiling, laughing, high fives, waves, and the ubiquitous Instagram posing of two wide fingers on each side of their faces.

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The children and staff all seemed very happy but I was slightly uncomfortable that we were ‘viewing’ these kids.

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I have often taken photographs in back streets in various countries showing a more ‘relaxed’ attitude to health and safety, particularly obvious with macrame style tangles of electricity cables dangling from overladen telegraph poles.  The photograph above raised my horror to new heights when we realised that these are not electricity or telephone cables but are in fact gas pipes.

Normally we always ask permission if we want to take photographs of people but this next shot was a ‘snatch’ as the ladies gambling at mahjong were not overjoyed at the prospect.

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After a short coach ride we were next taken to a home visit with a ‘happy farmer relocated to the new perfect town of Fengdu’.  Another surreal experience.  What I was seeing with my eyes and my pre China research into the story of the building of the Great Dam, the flooding of the Gorges, and the relocation of 1.4 million people just didn’t tie up with the ‘facts’ being spouted by the guides.

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The above photograph is a corner of the shop where we visited the owner.  The stock looked very ancient and dusty, there were no customers about, indeed there was no-one to be seen in the surrounding streets.  All fifteen of us in the group sat upstairs in this 65 year old ‘ex-farmer’s’ sitting room to ask him questions.  There were discrepancies between the guide’s and the farmer’s stories even although the former was translating – he was a farmer but had travelled widely over China in the building trade, he lived there with his wife and two sons but one son was very wealthy from running a restaurant in the city, when asked what he missed from his life as a farmer he, predictably, said he ‘missed nothing, everything here was far, far superior’.

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The only people we saw nearby.

In a quieter setting later we challenged the guide about all the protests, riots and forcible evictions we had read about in the western press and she totally denied these stories – all relocated people were deliriously happy.

It had been a slightly confusing although totally fascinating few hours ashore.  Over all I found the constant diktat of our various Chinese guides to be quite disturbing – they skated over any references to the recent past, leaving a void in the story.  They were happy to talk of the history up to the end of the Imperial Dynasties (c 1920) and then nothing until the CCP beat Chang Kai Shek in the 1970s, with only grudging references to Mao Tse Tung.  Earlier, the guide here referred to the severe bombing some places got from the Japanese in WWII and the fact that Chongqin’s underground is presently being built by joining up the bomb shelters excavated during the war.

Our little ship with its charming and ever helpful staff could not be a bigger contrast.  The food on board was delicious – mostly Chinese with a slightly Western slant at times.

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The Sanctuary Yangtse Explorer

As you can see above the weather was often quite grey but fortunately not too cold.  We spent time every day outside on deck just watching the scenery go by and particularly the myriad of other river users.  I have chosen just four examples from the hundred or so boats we photographed.

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Most of the commercial shipping was these low, wide barges transporting building materials.  They all had accommodation at the back – washing hanging out to dry and a few vegetables growing.

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The river was clearly polluted, with a noticeable scum of plastic and polystyrene floating on the surface.  The boat above was fighting a losing battle in scooping this up.

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Designed by Heath Robinson – no idea what it was meant to do.

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A Chinese Tourist boat.

The pretty scenery was to follow over the next two days when we entered the Three Gorges.

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The Gulf Stream Doesn’t Always Protect Us

January 22, 2018

We don’t often get snow here on Bute and the child in me has been a bit envious of all the   recent news footage of everyone else very prettily blanketed – apologies, of course, to all folks who have been ‘disrupted’ by the stormy weather.

It snowed for a few hours on Sunday morning and I couldn’t resist taking my camera to church with me.

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Hardy worshippers arrive at the United Church of Bute.

This carving was removed from St John’s church before it was demolished – I think it represents the baptism of John the Baptist.

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The ancient monumental stones in the surrounding graveyard look bleak and pretty at the same time.

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The wee birds in the garden were appreciative of the food we always put out for them but the daffodils will have to take their chance against the weather.

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Of course, all the snow was gone again within a few hours!


Was That Summer Then

October 5, 2017

It is two months since I last wrote a post and when I look back and sift through the hundreds of photographs I get a feeling that time is definitely speeding up.  Is this a sign of impending old age (not there yet, although see the next blog).  Life has been busy, Rothesay has been busy – unfortunately a disproportionate amount of time was spent dodging rain.  The summer weather was …. unkind.  After the glorious fortnight way back in May we haven’t had two really good days in a row – the pattern was more a lovely warm, sunny day sandwiched between two dreich wet ones.  Life went on, of course.

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On many days we watched the Waverley paddling past with a small handful of cagoule clad aficionados huddled together around the funnels for warmth.  Fortunately the day we chose for our annual trip was bright with a stiff breeze.

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Leaving Arran

I watch the Waverley from our house so it was a change to watch our house from the Waverley.

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Since the beginning of ‘summer’, as the tide recedes, this amazing creature crawls onto the shore a hundred yards along from us – so far he hasn’t managed to get up and over the bank (where’s yer Nessie noo).

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The Butefest Festival at the end of July was very successful and brought a lot of happy, appreciative visitors to the island – but it also suffered from the dreaded precipitation.  The resultant quagmire conditions left at the Public Park, mostly caused by the heavy lorries used to dismantle all the marquees, stages, fencing etc, had a serious knock on effect.

To everyone’s horror the Cattle Show (Agricultural Society) a few weeks later had to be ‘cancelled’ because yet more incessant rain meant no drying out of the ground together with a forecast of yet more rain on he day.  This decision caused much despondency and disappointment.  Later the Society managed to reschedule a much truncated version of the Show, more of which later.

A week later the Highland Games committee were still faced with weather related problems, but with some judicial rearranging of the positioning of individual events they went ahead.  The day was blustery with occasional vicious squalls!!!!  The crowds were noticeably thinner, but everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, as did I.

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It was a bit of a struggle to raise the games flag.

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Normally I love to wander around the area where the Highland Dancing competitors gather.  A hundred or so, tinies to teenagers, mostly girls but with a sprinkling of boys, complete with their entourages of teachers, Mums and Grannies all chatting, practising, doing stretching exercises.  This year the adults were squeezed into the wee grandstand and the dancers were clad in long waterproof coats and wellies and the normally colourful ‘encampment’ looked like this –

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– but they kept dancing under those leaden skies.

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The new much larger dancing platforms meant the dancers were under cover and the floor dry and safe but the poor judges sat there in the rain with their hoods up.

Both the competitor and visitor numbers were way down on previous years but there were participants in every event.

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Dancing or wrestling?

The weather didn’t seem to faze the large turn out of runners for the 10K race.  Within minutes of starting, still within the ‘stadium’, they were running into the most spectacular of the afternoon’s horizontal downpours.  When they started to return to the Park about 45 minutes later I was helping hand out the medals and goodie bags.

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The weel kent face of Tommy the Clown

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Another weel kent face.

Not every runner got a great big hug as well as a medal.

Sorry to go on so much about the weather but it did have a great impact – the Highland Games committee are much to be congratulated for soldiering on.  I have to confess we eventually wimped out and didn’t stay for the Grand March down through Rothesay.

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The many shades of green.

The Cattle Show was rescheduled for the second last Saturday in September – again a hard working committee did their best.  What have the weather gods got against Rothesay this year.  Another day of drizzle, downpours and mud, glorious, mud.  I enjoyed myself.  Not so many photographs this time as I struggled to keep the camera dry and from slipping in the glaur.

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At long last I can name some of the colourful sheep breeds.

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Glad he was fenced in.

The next photograph is quite dark but it does give a glimpse of the heavy grey sky and a hint of the muddy ground – the worst areas were fenced off because if you strayed into the very deep parts a tractor would have been the only way to escape again.

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It was dry inside the show tents but surprisingly if anything the mud underfoot was worse – none of the following ‘creatures’ were at all bothered.

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Add your own caption!

As at the Highland Games the numbers attending the Cattle Show were very small compared to ‘normal’ years but, again, congratulations to all involved.

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Even in a steady drizzle you can look good.


Bute Highland Games 2016

August 26, 2016

Before starting to type up this post I have had a read through the words I chose in previous years to describe this wonderful event – this is the eighth time we have visited.  The thing that strikes me instantly is the weather – this is the first year we have been wet! It rained off and on nearly all day, only clearing up in the late afternoon.

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Coats on.

Sadly the pipe bands lose a lot of their spectacle when their colourful tartans are carefully protected from the downpours.  Another sad consequence was that the competition for the hundreds of beautiful Highland dancers had to be moved up to the gym hall at the school for safety – it was too slippy on the dancing platforms.

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But our hardy visitors stuck it out ……

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The competitors stuck it out too, and showed their usual determination and skill in the various competitions.

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From young teenage girls sprinting …

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… to the all age groups starting off on the 10K Road Run.

I did a double take when I heard that we were moving into the 21st century and that the runners were being ‘micro chipped’ for the first time this year.  Instant vision of the local vet being seconded to attend the Games with his little ‘gun’.  Turns out that it was only the runner’s official vest numbers which were to be tagged, allowing everyone to get an accurate personal race time.

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Race officials getting the medals lined up.

We enjoyed very tasty burgers or steak rolls from the Kingarth food tent and were very grateful to have access to the Patrons’ tent for a seat.  While there, our visitors, two Americans and one English (not counting family) were thrilled to meet our friend Len Scoular, Lord Provost of Argyle and Bute, and have a close look at his magnificent chain of office.

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Presented with a special ‘wee dram’.

All the time the dancers, throwers, pipers, wrestlers, etc  were beavering away at winning medals and trophies and sometimes small amounts of money.  Mostly they were just having fun and enjoying something they loved doing.

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Pipe Major’s Competition

The youngest competitor in the Pipe Major’s competition looked so tiny in the middle of the great space of the arena but she was strutting her stuff with great aplomb.  At the same time some bigger girls were throwing their weight about – and trying to toss the caber.

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Wet grass, slippery tree trunk but no disasters.

There is one person who never minds being last – the gentleman from Greenock, who, dressed as a clown, raises large amounts of money for charity as he ambles around the 10K route.

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‘Tommy Frae Greenock’

The weather did improve later in the afternoon and by the time of the Grand March down through Rothesay most of the pipers were able to discard their waterproofs and show a welcome splash of colour.

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This row of beautiful wee girls from one of the local dance schools got a great cheer as they launched into a sequence of ‘pas de bas’  as they swung round the corner.

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You can wait all day for a Pipe Major to come along when all of a sudden you get four in a row.

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Kilsyth Thistle Pipe Band

If your Mummy or Daddy plays in a pipe band there is always the chance that you will get to carry a trophy in the Grand March – They take their proud duties very seriously.

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This is the second of our two local schools of dancing – they are privileged to have a wee boy in their ranks.  We watched some of the dance competition up at the school earlier and saw a couple of teenage boys – handsome, immaculately turned out and twinkle toed.

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The host Pipe Band always comes last in the Grand march – Rothesay and District Pipe Band.

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A fast twirling mace.


Rothesay Raft Race 2016

August 18, 2016

On Sunday we had another of the Island’s fun filled charity events.  No rain at this one but a lot of people got wet anyway.  The Sailing Club organise this race of home made rafts from the beach at Children’s Corner to in front of the Yacht Club.  Nine teams entered on this overcast but warm, calm day.

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There are strict rules about wearing life jackets plus official encouragement of sabotage equipment – flour, eggs and pump action water pistols.

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They’re off.

Teams of more than four adults have a one minute time delay so the hardy folks from Stand Up to Cancer had a bit of catching up to do.

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Ballerinas tentatively tiptoeing through the seaweed. 

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The Co-op being not quite so elegant.

A lot of effort had gone into the building of the rafts, decorating them and creating the costumes.

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A wetsuit, a lifejacket and then a bikini on top.

The sea conditions and the weather were so benign that the safety boat took to zooming very fast through the fleet to create waves.

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Man made waves.

I think it was gravity and balance that did for this team rather than waves.

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They look as though they are chasing after the ferry.

I wonder if any of the paddlers will make the GB Team for the next Olympics.  According to the Buteman report all nine teams finished the course although the last home, with only two oarsmen remaining, took two hours – that’s the kind of grit and determination that wins gold medals (all they would get would be a beer and a beef burger).  A great afternoon’s entertainment.


Bute Agricultural Show 2016

August 12, 2016

Unfortunately the Cattle Show on Wednesday drew the short straw as far as weather was concerned – damp, light drizzle to start and getting wetter as the day progressed.  The previous two weekends had both had good weather which was much appreciated by the hoards of visitors attending ButeFest and the inaugural Bute Noir crime writers event.  If you have time to read a very funny description of the crime ‘scene’ in Rothesay last weekend click here.

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Happy campers enjoying breakfast at UCB

For the three days of ButeFest the cordon bleu chefs at the United Church of Bute cooked bacon and sausage rolls for breakfast – the campers from the field below the church very much appreciated the good food, warm welcome and especially our nice clean toilets!

Rothesay is a very busy place when visitors are involved but  ‘home grown’ events have a place in all Brandanes’ (and incomers like us) hearts too – and one of the most special events is the annual Cattle Show.  I love the mix of people, animals and the feeling of friendly rivalry on the day.  This year the weather was not entirely kind.

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Even some horses had their coats on.

Some hairdos coped with the dampness better than others –

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I liked how these sheep had a banner of their own fields to make them feel at home.

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A fluffy fringe looking a bit damp.

The entrants in the ‘young handlers’ class seemed even younger than usual this year ….

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…. and sometimes resorted to brute force rather than persuasion ….

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There were other uses for wellies apart from keeping your feet dry.

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Every year I try to work out what exactly the judges are looking for when picking the winners in each class but find it impossible, for example the only difference I can see in the three below is a slight variation in size and colour.

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It is even harder with the milking cows – they are all nearly identical, some brown and white, some black and white and all with perfectly straight backs.

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The next photograph shows a very unusual distinctive animal.  I love it but have a small reservation about how much adult ‘support’ this ‘under 6 years’ artist had.

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I find it funny that the donkeys are always held in a pen as far away from the other livestock, especially the horses, as possible.  I’ve been told that the young elegant ponies get very skittered by their equine cousins.

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Looking very innocent.

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Looking elegantly in control.

Inside the marquee some of the most fiercely contested competitions of the day took place  – on this island baking is taken very seriously.  I admire all the mouth watering entries and find it frustrating that they are destroyed after being on open display all day, for food hygiene reasons.  because we are down to only two ‘Rurals’ here now we no longer compete against each other but instead prepare a joint display of our combined talents.

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Ballianlay and Port Bannatyne Rurals on display.

The rain got a bit heavier in the afternoon but that did not deter the hardy dog owners of Bute – as usual there was a large entry for the various classes in the dog show.

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I love how the dog on the right is carefully sitting on his owner’s feet and not on the wet grass.

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My favourite.

The rain started in earnest on Wednesday afternoon and has continued incessantly now for 72 hours – I think I’ll check on that half built ark we have in the basement.


Just a Load of Pretty Pictures

May 23, 2016

Life goes on.  The weather has been mixed – a beautiful ten day spell, some heavy rain and sometimes quite cold.  Hey, it is Spring on the West Coast of Scotland.  During May, VIC 32 drops into Rothesay nearly every week.  We always try to visit and when possible help with the rope catching.  Three weeks ago the Harbour Master allocated them a berth right on the end of the pier, never seen them there before.

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They were allowed to stay here overnight and after the Argyle and the Bute were tied up after the last crossing, the crew and passengers from the VIC 32 were given a guided tour of the bridge and engine room of the ferry.  We heard that the next day when at Garvald Dock  it was the Waverley they were allowed to inspect while she was in dry dock.  Two special experiences for that week’s VIC passengers.

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Some of the SAS walks this spring have been on quite cold overcast evenings but the recent trip to Kilmichael Burial Ground was absolutely gorgeous.

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The West Kyles

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Others Enjoying the Evening Sunshine

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Looking for Relatives

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Arran in the Background

We had a fun filled evening at the Church Centre taking part in a Fund raising Quiz Night – the questions weren’t too hard but lots of good food, wine, excellent company and much laughter.  It was a hot evening and the fire escape door was open for ventilation, I took these photographs from there.

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Looking down over the playing fields to the Bay

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The Oldest Part of the Graveyard and the Stuart Mausoleum