A hard days night

Exercise Joint Warrior started yesterday, which is a multi-national military exercise, usually held in Scotland to test the way the UK defence forces react. There is a large, by modern standards naval fleet operating somewhere off the west coast and an interesting collection of aircraft at RAF Lossiemouth and that’s where I was headed yesterday.

It was such a nice day yesterday that I decided that I would take the beemer out for a wee run up to Lossie to see what was doing and get some photo therapy while I’m at it. Well that was the plan, because by the time that I got to the other side of Perth it started raining and I seriously doubted if my trip would be worth while due to bad weather. It cleared up and it was sunshine in the cold wind for the rest of the day.

The in-flight entertainment on the Beemer is none too good either, the radio is a little on the deaf side and it does not have RDS to allow auto-tuning to follow a radio station as I rode northwards and because the radio coverage is so patchy between Pitlochry and Aviemore I decided that I should take the iPod and listen to a recently acquired collection of Beetles music, well that was plan, except that I forgot to sync the iPod and I had to put up with podcasts and random music until the battery gave out.

The scenery along the A9 is fantastic, I have been along it many, many times and there is always something new to see, the 4,000 footers near Aviemore were all covered in snow, Cairngorm, the second highest mountain in Britain has a mixture of snow and a close rippling cloud, nice to look at but lousy to photograph from a distance…. so I kept on going, leaving the A9 at Aviemore, it was time to cut across country for Grantown-on-Spey for a fuel-stop and through the Speyside whisky country all the way to Elgin and Lossiemouth just beyond.

An unexpected bonus presented itself by way of a road side sign pointing the way to a collection of Pictish Stones in the old Ineraven Church.The information boards had a picture of the stones against the wall of the church, so you can imagine my disappointment when I went round the back of the church to see the outlines of three stones against the wall whitewashed church, like something out of a crime scene.  However a chance encounter with a local put me on the right track, the stones had been moved under cover into an old entrance to the church. They were nicely displayed with strategically placed spot lights to cast shadows over the stones so you could see the designs better. The center piece stone had an eagle design, the second one that I have seen, the other at Strathpeffer, which is also well worth seeing. A later design was carved into the stone. The others had the usual crescent z-rod designs and a fragment had the head of a pictish beast, which is always worth looking at. I’m a sucker for these enigmatic stones and to see four was a nice surprise.

Inveraven stone 1

The eagle is the largest carving on this stone, dominating the mirror and comb to its right. Above these, there is a further carving; a mirror case, elaborately decorated. Depictions of a mirror and comb are usually accompanied another pair of larger symbols, as is the case here. Canmore.

Inveraven stone 2

The crescent and V-rod is the most common symbol to be found on Pictish Symbol Stones, and consists of a crescent overlain by what may be an arrow, bent in the middle.

The ‘Elephant’ or ‘Pictish Beast’ is also a common symbol. It may be an abstract depiction of a real animal, but could also represent a mythical beast. Carvings of these creatures rarely vary in form; the animal always has a long snout, with an antenna reaching down the back from the brow, usually terminating in a spiral. The tail also ends in a spiral. Canmore.

Inveraven stone 3

A fragment of a Pictish Symbol Stone is attached to the wall of Inveravon Parish Church. Carved onto the stone is the head of a beast, known as the ‘elephant’ or ‘Pictish beast.’ Canmore

Inveraven stone 4

The topmost depiction is a crescent and V-rod. The origins of this symbol have not been explained. It is a crescent, overlain by what appears to be an arrow, bent in the middle to create the V-shape. Below the crescent and V-rod is a symbol known as the triple ring, which is a large circle, with two smaller ones at either side, with a line drawn across all three rings. The final set of symbols is a mirror and comb. These are almost always depicted alongside another pair of dominant symbols. Canmore.

On the way I did make one big mistake, I was going to stop at Newtonmore, which is just short of the 100 mile mark for a cup of tea and a chance to warm up in the transport cafe, however a last minute change of mind made me keep on keeping on hoping to find somewhere new along the way. Lunch eventually consisted of Lidl’s Pork Pies and a can of Pepsi, there was nothing else in between, or nothing that I saw that was open.

Arriving at Lossiemouth, with a quiet circuit and no other clues to suggest which runway they were using I miss-read the wind sock and went to wrong end of the runway, it did give me the opportunity to photograph a Canadian Orion, which took-off down wind but the photo will be back-lit.  There was nothing left to photograph at the seaward end of the runway, so a quick ride over the the landward end to join the throng of other spectators and aviation enthusiasts milling about, waiting for something to happen.

The thought struck me that it is kind of embarrassing to arrive to see eight anti-submarine maritime patrol aircraft  and none of them are British. The French,  the Canadians and the Americans seemed to be baling the Brits out at a time when an airfield less than 10 miles away at Kinloss, which was closed last year and the last British maritime patrol aircraft based there being scrapped not so long ago. The UK government know how to save money but they lose face by relying on other nations to do their maritime patrolling. It’s a wonder that they did not consider putting that job out to tender, maybe they have…

Orions in the haze

Do not adjust your eyes, there really was a heat haze yesterday. The two dark Canadian Orions, or CP-140 Aurora at the end (one had already departed), three US Navy P-3C orions and the shape of things to come, the Orions’ replacement the Boeing P-8 Poseidon. At the far end of the line are some of the based Tornados, or “Tonkas” The French Atlantic was on the other side of the runway.

One thing that I did do photographically was to shoot in manual mode refining the exposures on the landing Tonkas until I knocked two stops off the first exposure and I remained at 1/1000th @ f.8 for the rest of my time at Lossie… except for the Orion shot, I went down to 1/90th @ f.8 to try and blur the props.

For the rest of the day it was a slow but steady stream of aircraft, not wishing to move and not wishing to cut over the farmers newly planted field I missed out on some very close pictures of a Canadian Hercules.

130332 CC-130H Hercules Canadian Armed Forces

Showing a bit of tail. 130332 CC-130H Hercules Canadian Armed Forces

The star of the afternoon was this US Navy Orion, which back-tracked down the main runway for take off. A larger sized image can be see here

159318 P-3C Orion US Navy

I lasted at Lossie until about four-ish when it was time to head off. My next port of call was to see a Nimrod cockpit section was preserved in what turned out to be a scrap merchants yard near Fochabers on the old RAF airfield at Dallachy, stopping first to photograph the monument to the crews that did not return from the Norwegian anti-shipping strikes. Now there guys were really brave flying in all weathers at very low altitudes in an effort to sink German shipping off Norway during the Second World War. The Nimrods front fuselage was not in a nice place for a photograph, there will be another day… I hope, so I kept on going. This time heading for Aberdeen using the new Fochabers by-pass road, which will take a lot of the traffic away from the villages’ congested center.

Coastal Command memorial RAF Dallachy

The road down to Aberdeen was busy but the Beemer made short work of it all the way to Aberdeen Airport, arriving in time to see three Eastern Jetstreams land along with a couple of helicopters from the rigs. I did not stop for that long as I still had the traffic on Aberdeens’ North Anderson Drive to contend with. The sooner their by-pass is built the better!

Control tower, Aberdeen Airport

And now decision time… where am I going to eat?

There are four of five very good chip shops between Aberdeen and Arbroath, the two in Stonehaven and the one in Arbroath do not have sit-in and I needed a cup of tea and a rest from the bike, so that just left the Bervie Chippy in Inverbervie, which was also the birthplace of Hercules Litton, the designer of the Cutty Sark, which along with its great rival the Thermopylae raced tea to England from China in a break 127 days. The Thermopylae, a making the trip from China in 115 days. The restaurant closed at 7PM and I arrived just after seven, however a party of champion Grampian junior bowlers who arrived just before me meant that I was able to get my fish tea that I had been dreaming about all afternoon… and that much desired rest off the bike.

The next decision with the fading light was which direction to go in. All the way down the coast, through Arbroath to Dundee or cut across country to the A90 and the fast road down to Dundee?

In the end I went down as far as Montrose before cutting the 10 miles inland to the A90 at Breechin and another fuel stop at Forfar, the smashed insects and salt streaks were washed off the visor so I could see better in the dark. After that it was a long trudge the 60 or so miles back home, having to lower the windscreen on the darken stretches of road and raise it and get some shelter on the lit sections.

So total mileage was 365 miles. Not bad for a day’s outing on the Beemer.

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