BLOG: ANDY JONES
Andy Jones is Cycling Weekly's race photographer, and is based in Sheffield
The week started relatively quietly with just catching up on a few things domestically and with work related things. My week ended with a busy few days up in Scotland for the Girvan 3-Day race and I involved driving over 700 miles from setting out on Friday morning to getting back on Sunday night.
After clearing up a few loose ends with work on Monday morning, I ventured out on the bike in the afternoon. Just as I was filling my bottles before setting out, I saw my resident female blackbird making the most of the bird bath in the back. It’s the first time I’ve seen any bird having a good old splash about in there and I’ve had it there nearly two years now.
It was a pleasant afternoon, cooler but with bright intervals and a noticeable drop in the wind speeds of late. Riding wise it was less so. I started out on my Matlock run feeling ok but by Froggatt I was feeling totally drained for some reason. It has been a while since I’ve crept up Froggatt like I did on Monday. Still, I managed to take in a few things along the route which included seeing my first lambs of spring. It’s nice to see and you know that the year is on the turn. Pedalling past the river towards Calver I spotted a Sparrowhawk just gliding through the riverside trees on the lookout for prey. Late afternoon, as it was, is always a good time to see birds of prey.
Felt absolutely drained and lethargic all evening after my pedalling exploits.
As I opened the blind to my kitchen window on Tuesday morning, I saw the female blackbird vigorously pulling up the dried grassy bits to the lawn edges in the back. The beak full of nest building material was quite incredible. I’m sure she could hardly see to fly, hence a quick run across the grassy bank towards the Mahonia nest site below my kitchen window. Very amusing to watch.
During the morning I sorted another copy of the Race Bike images to a DVD for the office. They wanted to start thinking about the layout for the feature. I took the DVD package up to the post along with some cheques to bank.
While washing the car in the afternoon I took a call from the office with a request to cover a couple of days of the Girvan 3-Day over the weekend. I then set about sorting a couple of nights accommodation in the evening. I went for the Rhins of Galloway B&B on the shores of Loch Ryan. More of that later.
It was a pleasant morning on Wednesday and I was up and out on the bike before nine o’clock. Just wanted to turn the pedals while I had chance as I now knew I would be away over the weekend up in Scotland. I did my old faithful Matlock run once again and felt much better than I’d done on Monday.
The weather on Thursday was not the best. Drizzle and a building wind set the scene. Spent the morning sorting a few details in preparation for my Girvan trip. It included purchasing a few OS maps so as to be able to navigate around the stages and make the most of my trip. I pulled off all the stage routes from the race website and started to plan with the aid of the OS maps as to where I’d be able to catch the race during the weekend.
Decided I’d venture out on the bike in the afternoon, despite the inclement weather conditions. Thought I’d do my Miller’s Dale run for a change. By the time I got over to Burbage and across the tops the wind was getting pretty strong. Not good. With the light drizzle in the air too it was not making for a good combination. By the time I got to Foolow, the wind had increased a few more knots and I thought I’d best alter my route for self preservation. Cut down to Stoney Middleton and down to Calver so as to cut back up Froggatt. Got about thirty wet and wind swept miles in.
Spent the evening getting the bags packed ready for my planned Friday morning departure to Girvan. Also rescued my neighbours wheelie bin (for the umpteenth time) which was on it’s way across the road in the high winds.
There were clear blue skies over Sheffield on Friday morning. I set off at nine o’clock, a bit later than I’d planned. My route took me over the A57 Snake to Glossop, Tintwhistle, Mottram and on to the M67 to join the M60, M61 and on to the M6 to Carlisle. From there it was the A75 to Dumfries to pick up the A77 to my Rhins of Galloway B&B at Cairnryan between Stranraer and Girvan.
The light was fantastic over the Snake but as I got steadily further north the cloud cover increased. By the Lake District area it was looking really grey and there were high winds. The car was taking a real buffeting.
It’s long been an aim of mine to get to Caerlaverock WWT on the northern side of the Solway Firth. A short detour off my A75 route meant I could break the journey a little and stretch the legs at this important wildlife site. It’s famed for it’s wintering Barnacle Geese and Whooper Swans and I wasn‘t disappointed. It‘s getting late to see the best of the hundreds, even thousands of birds that come in from Iceland and Scandinavia to over winter there. Anyway, I parked up and went over to the Old Granary Visitor building and the entrance to the site. The whole place felt welcoming and the staff were most pleasant. I decided to subscribe to the WWT as I plan to visit a few of their other sites this year. Signed up and ready to explore, it was suggested my first stop on the site should be the Peter Scott Observatory as the swans there were about to be feed at two o’clock. I wandered over and went in to the well appointed hide. Large glass windows over looking the pond gave good close views of the Whooper swans. They are true wild swans and return from their breeding grounds in Iceland and Scandinavia to the safety of these kinds of sites ever winter. One bird there I noticed had a radio tracking devise attached to it’s back. This kind of devise perhaps looks a bit unattractive and intrusive but supplies detailed knowledge of how these birds migrate every winter. They are long lived birds and individuals can be identified through unique bill markings as coming back over 10’s of years.
I grabbed a few pictures through the glass windows as the birds were fed with grain. Mute Swans along with Tufted Ducks and Widgeon got in on the act too. Yellow Hammers and a Reed Bunting also nipped in to the grain that had spilled along the edge of the pond.
Feeding over, I wandered up the pleasant tree lined paths to the other hides. The weather was kind really. Bright intervals accompanied by an ever stiffening wind. The Avenue Tower hide at the far end of the site proved to be the most fruitful. A large gathering of Barnacle Geese were feeding in the surrounding fields against a backdrop of the northern Lakeland fells across the Solway Firth. A fantastic wild place. Spotted a few Roe deer just resting along the dyke and fence lines. A large flock of Golden Plover were in the field further round along with a good number of Curlew.
Time was moving on and so I started to head back to the car. A snow flurry breezed over on my walk back. Just had chance to go up the Tower House hide behind the centre’s Visitor building before I left. Saw some Whooper Swans coming in to land in the Folly pond below and managed to grab some pictures as they did. All the shots I took were with my 80-200 mm lens with a 1.7x converter on. Most of the shots were taken at the top end of the range making it equivalent to around a 500mm lens.
I got back on the road and arrived at my B&B at about six thirty. Dropped my bags off in my well appointed room and decided to head straight in to Cairnryan for a bite to eat. I was recommended the Merchants’ Inn restaurant and B&B close to the P&O Irish Seas ferry terminal. The high winds had caused the cancellation of many of the sailings so the small B&B’s and hotels were finding extra custom that evening, so I had a short wait to get seated in the restaurant. I sat in the small adjacent bar enjoying the warmth of the open wood burning fire while I waited.
I got chatting with the owner who it turned out was originally from Castleford.
The meal was great simple home cooked food. The steak and kidney pie was the order of the day. Very tasty.
Set off back for my B&B and was nearly cut in two by the icy wind coming down the loch on my walk to the entrance.
Saturday morning and I was up early. Had a quick wander to the loch side beach across from the B&B before breakfast. Watched a few male Eider ducks just bobbing about off-shore in the swell.
After breakfast I got back to my room to find a male Chaffinch perched on the window sill outside. It was tapping at the window and fluttered about appearing as though it wanted to get in. I also noticed a Roe deer wander across the field to the back of the B&B.
I set out north for Girvan along the A77 just before nine o‘clock. A great driving road with dramatic coastal views. Spotted a Red Breasted Merganser close to shore as I left Cairnryan. It’s from the same family of ducks that includes the Goosander I’ve mentioned before.
Aisle Craig is one of the most dramatic and striking features of this part of the Ayrshire coastline. The large domed granite island off Girvan is famed for being the source of many a prized curling stone. The island is then set against the distant snowed capped fells of the Isle of Arran. Fabulous.
The race HQ was near Victory Park in Girvan and I parked up and grabbed shots as riders readied themselves. Russ Downing was keeping out the chill with a red silk ‘Rocky’ boxing gown along with a pair of boxing gloves. He was later to but in the killer punch by taking the sprint for stage one.
The stage headed out of Girvan via Byne Hill, offering great views to Aisle Craig and Arran, before heading north to Kirkmichael and Crosshill. After a couple of laps of the Crosshill circuit the race retraced back to Girvan with a second ascent of Byne Hill before winding back to Victory Park for the finish.
The race stayed together with a few attempted attacks, notably by Simon Richardson, Simon Gaywood and Tom Southam on the second ascent of Byne Hill. As they came in to the finish they were all together again with Russ Downing have a fine lead out from Malcolm Elliott to burst out of the pack to take the stage and race lead.
Spent the afternoon sitting in the car downloading my pictures and sorting a few of them before the evening’s second stage criterium. That kicked off at five thirty. The 15 lap race run over a 1.1 mile circuit based around Victory Park was rapid. The forty or so minutes of racing ended with Russ Downing once again showing a blistering turn of speed to take the sprint for the line.
Headed back to Cairnryan and stopped off at the Merchant’s Inn once again for my evening meal. Most enjoyable once again. Good food and good company.
Sunday and I was up early again. Speaking to the owner of the B&B he told me that B&B had once been a school in it’s time as well as a YMCA during the war when it was used as a catering and entertaining venue for the troops. Cairnryan was an important port back in the Second World War when it became No.2 military port and key to the movement of supplies. A vast military railway built by the troops linked the village with nearby Stranraer. The site of the B&B was just yards from the railway station and vast military railway yards. Cairnryan was also the place where the Atlantic U-boat fleet anchored after they surrendered in Loch Ryan. To see old pictures of how it was then, you could not imagine it as you see it today.
Stage 3 started in Newton Stewart and took in the New Galloway Forest before tracking back to Girvan for the finish. Over night snow could be seen on the high ground around Newton Stewart but fortunately the stage roads were free of snow.
The race around the New Galloway area stayed together pretty much and it wasn’t until the approaches of Pinmore, as the race neared Girvan, that I got to see the deciding race moves. I’d already seen the race at Creetown, Gatehouse and on the road from New Galloway. By the time I saw the race at Pinmore near the railway viaduct, Tony Gibb had but in a solo attack and was followed just a few seconds behind by a group of around 18 riders that included the yellow jersey. The rest of the field were several minutes behind at that point and out of contention.
While the race looped round the back of Girvan I was able to take a direct route to the finish. Got there in time to witness a spectacular crash in a group of five riders that had slipped off the front of the yellow jersey led group behind. Dale Appleby and Matt Higgins touched and were catapulted sideways, one either side of the road. It left Rob Partridge to burst from the melee to take the stage from Simon Richardson and Matt Cronshaw. Dale unfortunately came off the worse with a broken right collar bone.
Straight after the stage is was back on the road home. I stopped off at the Westmorland Services on the M6 and grabbed something to eat. There was snow about over this highest part of the M6 close to Shap summit at 1036m. I’d heard the overnight snow had made driving tricky earlier in the day along this stretch. The roads dried as I tracked south and only saw bits of snow again over the final leg up Snake Pass. I finally got home at nine forty five.
Well, that was my week. We will see what the coming week brings. I know it is going to busy as I will be covering all the action from the World Track Championships in Manchester.
All that and more next week.