Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Guest Blog

I've asked my good friend David Weinczok to write a guest blog on his passion of visitng all the castles in Scotland and more admirably hoping to turn this passion into a book. When I heard about the book, I thought it was a brillant idea, but of course was flying the green flag by making suggestions about hints and tips on low-carbon travel to these magnificent castles. David then did one better and offered to write a blog about how riding your bike is so much more satisfying than rocking up in a car.

David works as a Project Manager with the National Trust for Scotland, and is soon to begin training for the role of Battle Coordinator at the Bannockburn Heritage Centre [how cool does that job description sound!?].
As a Canadian, it’s easy to take Scotland for granted. Not its beauty, of course, nor its heritage, both of which are unparalleled in my experience, but rather its size. More than once I am fairly sure that I have been able to see quite literally halfway across the country – from atop Ben Cruachan at the northern head of Loch Awe, for instance, or even from the much more humble Pentland Hills from which you can see the snowy peaks of the Cairngorms on a clear day. Scotland’s accessibility is one of the reasons it is so thoroughly enjoyable. This also drives home for me the necessity of exploring it in the most responsible way possible. Conservation is all the more poignant in small places, for it can be tempting to look out upon the seemingly endless expanse of woodland, prairie or tundra in Canada and think in earnest, ‘gosh, us humans have barely made a mark, haven’t we?’

Of course we have, even in the most wild of places; a point driven home by the fact that the ancient Caledonian forest used to cover up to two-­‐thirds of the area north of the Firths of Clyde and Forth. Empire, from Rome to Britain, ensured that today Scotland is notable precisely for its relative lack of woodland. Over the past two years I have visited 61 castles in nearly every region of this country, and the immense joy that I have experienced on these journeys is balanced by the desire to guarantee that my children and grandchildren will be able to find that same exhilaration in Scotland’s landscapes and history. That’s why I go by bike.

Actually, that’s not entirely true – getting around Scotland by cycle also happens to be quite simply the most enjoyable way to do it. I can vividly recall the tremendous satisfaction of rounding a bend to catch my first glimpse of Dunnottar Castle, just outside Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire, or the feeling of being a knight upon his steed that came with the mere two-­‐mile approach through rambling moorland to Duart Castle on the Isle of Mull. On the other hand, I have distinctly forgotten the few times where I have arrived at a castle by car – suddenly it’s right in front of you, an effect which has its own merit, but that comes with distinctly less satisfaction. Clichés are clichés for a reason, and the idea that it is the journey rather than the destination holds a lot of sway for someone who has seen their fair share of both.

Before you protest about the effort involved in such adventures, I assure you I’m no Lance Armstrong (though perhaps that’s not the most favourable comparison anymore), and my bike does not resemble a rocket ship. I ride an £80 second hand cycle and break a light sweat riding up the hill into central Edinburgh from my flat in Morningside. In combination with the rail network it is possible to access most places in Scotland without nearing marathon distances. My average ride from drop-­‐off point to location of choice is between five to ten miles, just enough to feel like you’ve worked for it but not enough to put off the vast majority of would-­‐be explorers.

The gems that you encounter along the way are also more readily digestible by bike. For instance, though it was good fun, I recall being quite frustrated with a bus tour of the Highlands because all the mountains, glens and castles that I wanted to gallivant around passed by almost before I could really absorb them into the experience. Sure, it can be tough going – I recall a dishearteningly long uphill stretch on the Isle of Arran between Brodick and Lochranza – but once surmounted, the sense of not only accomplishment but of harmony with the landscape is second to none. For those of us who enjoy getting in touch with the past, I can assure you that there is no better way to go about it than to saddle up and spin the spokes towards a castle like a modern highway knight.
When not stravaiging about Scotland on his bicycle, David is developing a book about Scottish castles. The book will journey to the very best of them, providing a 6-8 page account for each of the 30 - 35 castles and fortifications of the ancient, medieval and early modern ages. From Iron Age brochs and Georgian artillery bases to the brooding stone fortresses of the 13th century, David has compiled a collection of the most interesting, historically rich, fun to visit, awe-inspiring and significant castles and fortifications in Scotland. 
If you want to find out more or contribute to the Kickstarter campaign for the book (meant to help him with the costs of travel and research until November 27th 2013) please CLICK HERE and if impressed please don't forget to share with your networks, friends and family. The sooner you support, the more likely it is to succeed!

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