Ben Nevis – conquered

Top of Ben nevis

Top of Ben nevis

[Full set of images available on Flickr]

Well, that’s another one of those nice things ticked off a list. I’ve been to the northernmost point of mainland Britain, the eastern-most & southernmost parts of Australia, the southernmost part of continental Asia, the highest point in IndoChina (although I believe that claim’s disputed)… and now I’ve been to the highest point in Britain as well.

Thank you to all those who sponsored me and helped raise money for the St Andrew’s Hospice – a genuinely good cause, with lovely staff who did a great job in organising today’s fundraiser. With 200+ schoolchildren and staff scrambling up the mountain they made sure everyone was accounted for, shepherded and got home safe. Obviously, the Ben Nevis mountain staff also deserve thanks, as do the St John’s Ambulance staff and everyone at the Ben Nevis Hotel who fed and accommodated us at the end of it all. And even let the staff have a free shower!

To paraphrase the great Douglas Adams – the first 1000 feet were the worst. And the second 1000 feet. They were the worst too. The next 1000 were no fun at all. After that I went into a bit of a decline.

Then it started to snow.

Only a slight dusting, but enough to make the stuff which had already been lying somewhat more slippery and the last couple of hundred feet more of a challenge. Up until then, I’d be taking a layer of clothing off every half hour. The sun was out, my balding pate was getting redder and sweat was running down my face.

That last little hike was probably the hardest purely as I had to spend as much time looking for footprints to stand in as I did making sure I didn’t slip backwards more than I walked forwards.

There isn’t a whole lot at the top other than a pair of stone… somethings and a tiny shack. And a great sense of achievement. Oh, and a corking view.

I made it up early enough that the clouds were only just coming in, so managed to see in all directions. The snaps (link at the top) should give you an idea of the incredible scenery on the way up and from the peak.

The journey down was no cakewalk either. As well as the skiddy snow, my legs were somewhat achey. The muscles I used on the way up were very different from the ones I needed on the way down! This was partly a good thing as I had developed a hell of a pain at the top of my left leg – something I’d not had for many years, but that’s because I don’t exercise enough. Going downhill stopped this particular pain, but allowed many others the chance to surface. Joy.

Still, I made it up and back again in a little under 5 1/2 hours, which I’m quite pleased with. The nice staff at the bottom gave me a little medal and – more importantly at that point in time – juice, energy bars and a banana.

A shuttle was taking people back to the hotel where we got to freshen up and fill up on “proper” food before the journey home.

A very hard slog, but all the best things are worth the effort.

If you feel the need to donate to the charity, by all means drop me a quick email or contact them directly via the web link above. I’m sure they’ll be happy to take your money!

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Ben Nevis walk – sponsors please!

Ben Nevis, in Scotland, is the highest point i...

Ben Nevis, in Scotland, is the highest point in the British Isles (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s not often I’ll ask for cash, but I’m doing a sponsored walk up Ben Nevis on May 6th and I need to raise £90 before then. If anyone would be kind enough to sponsor me a few quid, please let me know and we’ll work out how to get the dosh to me.

Obviously, if you’re local then I can just get the cash. Anyone else can probably get it to me via bank transfer or *spit* PayPal. If you’re a UK taxpayer, make sure I get your postcode and house number as well so we can claw more back off the government!

Oh, the cause – it’s St Andrew’s Hospice. Not one I’ve been associated with in the past, but one that the school I currently work at raises a fair bit of money for.

Thanks in advance, folks.

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Limited travel

Again, a quick post so that the blog doesn’t look like it’s completely lying fallow. I had “kind of” plans to travel over xmas, but they fell through for a variety of reasons. One was price, another was that I’ve started seeing someone who lives in Glasgow and I’d much rather spend the holiday season with her and her kids than travelling.

Given the “travel chaos” (i.e. Heathrow being rubbish) that hit around the time I would have been hoping to get a flight, this is perhaps for the best!

I may look at going somewhere for Easter. After watching the Top Gear Christmas special, I’m once again drawn to the Middle East. A shame that, unlike famous people, I ‘d struggle to get into Iraq. On the other hand, I don’t work for the BBC so Iran is permissible. Last year’s plan was for Syria, Lebanon and Jordan – I may resurrect that plan. Kind of apt for Easter.

Summer will be another call. I have “permission” to go away for a long break if I want to. It would be strange, what with the kids, but I do still miss the backpacking and I’m as ever drawn towards Vietnam. Having said that, I’ve still not managed to make it to South America. Or if I fancy staying closer to home, I still want to do Sweden, Norway, Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania and Bulgaria. Oh, and Liechtenstein. And more of Italy. And Germany.

Sometimes it’s a pain living in a world with so many interesting and exciting destinations!

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Sonisphere Day 3



And onto the final day. Despite an early first act, I decided to scarper into Stevenage on the free bus for a McDonalds‘ breakfast. I got back in plenty of time for Henry Rollins “stand up” routine which was simply staggering. From a metal/punk singer to a one-man troublemaking human rights machine, the guy has been to so many places and done so many things that it’s hard not to be in awe of him.

Without doubt a highlight of the weekend and he didn’t even sing any songs.

Another large gap ensued where I just chilled at the tent and worked through my book. Despite the cloud it was still warm and I actually nodded off for an hour, waking with a start and realising I had only thirty minutes to get somewhere near the front of the stage for the mighty Slayer! I ambled like hell…

It was obvious from the size of the crowd that this was a huge draw for an enormous number of people. Frankly, I’m surprised Tom Araya and company were so far down the bill and given only 45 minutes but such is the state of affairs with large festivals. They didn’t mess around and launched through a brutal set including Reign in Blood, South of Heaven, Mandatory Suicide, Dead Skin Mask, War Ensemble, and of course Angel of Death.

Thankfully, my aging and aching frame was then granted a further rest (and time to head through to the train station for a burger) as there was very little else that interested me until the festival headliners took to the stage.

Those headliners, of course, were Iron Maiden. Legends in their own lunchtimes and several other people’s they rarely disappoint… only this time they did. A little. I know I was shouted down for this after the performance by Sandy and Dave, but I just wasn’t hugely impressed. Far too many recent tracks (which Bruce did justify during the set) and not enough classics. For me, anyway.

Iron Maiden

Janick Gers and Eddie

I know almost everyone lived the show, but I just didn’t get to sing along enough as I’m not as big a fan of the newer material as I am of the old stuff. Also, I was hoping for a huge finale which could perhaps give Rammsteins’ stage show a 2-minute run for its money. But no. A perambulating Eddie – one of the best I’ve seen, but still just a guy on stilts – was the only “extra” we got.

Now don’t get me wrong. I really enjoyed the show. The band were as musically spot on as always, Bruce is a wonderful front man and the lighting and sound were superb. I’ve just come to expect something amazing from Maiden – and I only got something really, really, really good.

In fairness with a near 30-year history and 14 studio albums (number 15 out this month) they’d struggle to fill even a 2-hour set with everyone’s favourites, but I still feel they have too many classics to worry about pushing new stuff. At the end of the day, if a new Maiden album comes out everyone will buy it anyway.

But, hey. Not to take the gloss off another excellent performance. However, on balance I enjoyed Rammstein more simply for the spectacle. In fairness, I’ve seen Maiden around 20 times, at a guess and Rammstein only once. So far!

Tidying up

An empty festival

Overall, a fantastic festival and well organised. They need more shuttle buses and more campsite toilets for next year (20+ mins queue for a poo at times!), but otherwise a great three days. Roll on 2011. Due to work commitments I don’t think I could manage Download or Graspop next year anyway so Sonisphere better have a good lineup!

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Sonisphere Day 2



Saturday promised many goodies and was definitely the busiest day in terms of bands I wanted to see. Thankfully across the three main stages, the times had been choreographed so that there – theoretically at least – would be no clashes. Only one stage at a time was “live” and with five minutes to get from stage to stage it was possible (with a little hurrying) to finish one band and run to catch the next.

I had the morning free so used the shuttle bus service to get me back to the train station where I gobbled a KFC for brunch. I’m glad I gave myself plenty of time as a lot of people had had a similar thought and the bus queues were pretty long. Worth the trip, though. Clean loos, good food and less than half the price of the rip-off joints in the festival grounds.

I’d originally planned on watching Soulfly, but I bumped into two girls I’d first met last year at Graspop. The benefits of always wearing the same (Newcastle United) shirt at festivals! Instead, I caught a couple of songs by Heaven’s Basement, and then a few minutes of Soulfly (still trying to be classic Sepultura, still failing) before wandering over to the Apollo stage to get a good position.

The next two hours or so were a blur. A violent, jumping, moshpit of a blur.

Anthrax were the first “must see” of the day and they didn’t disappoint – do they ever? With Joey Belladonna back in the fold, the band ploughed through a 40-minute set consisting completely of classics. Metal Thrashing Mad, Antisocial, Indians… and closing with the utterly geek-tastic I Am The Law. My only issue? Well, apart from it being too short? That most of the kids in the audience only knew the first verse and chorus of the Dredd-inspired masterpiece. What are they teaching kids in schools these days? Oh, wait. That’s my job.

Anyway, Scott Ian and company take their bow and I leg it across the field scattering all and sundry to make it to Fear Factory on the Saturn Stage. I get there just as the band are announced and jump into another pit. Much thumping and violence ensues. As ever, the highest bounces and hardest hits are reserves for Replica. Fear Factory, as I stated when I saw them back in February, still definitely have it – especially since Dino Cazares rejoined.

Papa Roach

Papa Roach

Battered and starting to bruise, I turned 180 and ran back to the Apollo stage and managed to crush my way near the front for Papa Roach. Again, a great set but why on earth did they feel that they had to try and squeeze in a new song? Granted it was OK, but with 45 minutes of stage time they really could have stuck to songs the crowd knew.

Dribbling with perspiration (mine and others’, I’m sure), I ambled gingerly back to the Saturn Stage to watch Apocalyptica but gave up after 3 tracks as the sound was awful. Back at the campsite, I ate a lot of junk food and read my book as Good Charlotte wafted down from the Apollo. They sounded surprisingly good and I almost wish I’d stayed up to watch them.

Out of curiosity I walked up to see Corey Taylor doing his acoustic set in the early evening and just managed to squeeze into a packed tent. For those who don’t know, Corey plays with Slipknot so the obvious assumption is that he just hits things, makes noise and has no talent at all (not my opinion, but hey).

That couldn’t be further from the truth. As well as acoustic versions of Slipknot and Stone Sour songs, there was Johnny Cash played and sung with incredible passion. Seriously, this guy was superb. You could buy an album of his stuff and give it to your gran as a present. She’d love it. As did I.

Concrete proof that heavy metal produces musicians, not just noise makers.

Next up on the Saturn Stage were Motley Crue. So I walked down to the Jagermeister tent instead. After their abysmal performance at Graspop the other year I didn’t want to waste my time with them. I met up with Jane and Jason to watch Earthtone9. I thought I recognised the name and it turns out this was their first gig in 8 years. I think I’ve got an album somewhere from the old days when I used to DJ!

My next choice was a toughie – go and watch Pendulum or head into town and get a reasonably-priced dinner. OK, no competition. Pendulum suck more than a high-end Dyson so off to KFC I went. The buses were much emptier and swifter this time and I spent an enjoyable return trip chatting to some of the festival staff. Definitely preferable to listening to a vocalist pretend he’s a black gang-star rapper. Muppet.



Prior to the carnival that was to be Rammstein, I caught up with Moni and Flo for a quick natter but decided I wanted to be a little further forward than they were sitting. Definitely worth the effort though I wish I could have got even closer, even at risk of losing my eyebrows.

I will go no further with describing Rammstein’s set. There aren’t enough superlatives to describe how much I enjoyed it anyway. I’d still not buy their albums but I’m interested in knowing what the best live DVD they’ve released it – it’s on my list as soon as I get an informed opinion.

In short, roll over Alice Cooper. Marilyn Manson can take a seat. Even Maiden with their huge animated stage sets may as well just stick to using nothing but lights any more. Rammstein are without doubt the most impressive entertainers in the rock/metal world. I have never seen a band interact so little with their audience during their set. Never have I cared less. The only disappointment was that they finished with half an hour of their allotted time remaining. I guess this was just a scheduling thing, but it did leave a huge crowd milling around expecting even more!

The final act of the evening was to be Therapy? playing their “Troublegum” album right through. However, after two false starts where the sound and lights died, I gave up. At least I can say I’ve seen them even if they only got as far as the first chorus of Knives. Twice.

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