239. A goddess amidst the gorse — South Deeside, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

gorse in flower may morning banchory devenick aberdeenshire scotland by roadsofstoneThe hotel may be still asleep, but by six o’clock a Scottish May morning is already in full swing.

Outside the sky is clear and blue, the lawns still dew-swept and the rhododendron in full flower.

At the end of the driveway, I turn right, and set course hard along the kerb. Any Aberdonian knows that the lethally fast South Deeside road is no place to play in traffic, but for now it’s quiet and a gentle mile is all I need.

rhododendron at ardoe house aberdeen scotland by roadsofstoneA few minutes go by as I ponder the wonders of travel and the rewards of rising early. A long day in meeting rooms will pass more swiftly with an hour of energy spent before the taxi calls to find me.

On the other side of the road, the trees are opening up a longer view, and I step gingerly across the highway to take in the morning glory of the River Dee and the open farmland stretching far beyond.

The river is tranquil here, in the later reaches of its 87-mile journey from the Cairngorm Mountains to reach the sea at Footdee beside Aberdeen harbour.

river dee gorse view from south deeside road aberdeenshire scotland by roadsofstoneThe Celts worshipped the Dee as a goddess, and today she is blessed with diverse riches. Upstream from here lie some of the most scenic salmon fishing grounds in Britain, whilst downstream the waters flow into the busiest oil port in Europe.

This peaceful view alone has more than repaid my early alarm call, but the fast cars won’t be long in coming, and so I hit the road again and gratefully turn right, uphill and full on into the face of rural Aberdeenshire.
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238. Guildford is Olympic – torch relay 2012

The Olympic torch is coming to Guildford in 2012 as its last stop before London.

stoke park london road gate guildford england by roadsofstoneThe grass running track in Stoke Park was laid out again recently. It’s from here in Guildford that the Olympic torch will begin the the final leg of its journey into London for the 2012 games.

There’ll be an evening celebration in Stoke Park on Friday, 20th July next year.
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237. Travels in Asia Minor – Cappadocia, Turkey

balloon flight above the mosque cappadocia turkey by roadsofstoneThe golden autumn grasslands looked benign enough in sunshine from our balloon flight at dawn today, but 600 kilometres into Asia Minor, and 1,600 years ago, life was hard here. So hard, in fact, that an entire civilisation went underground. Literally.

underground church cappadocia turkey by roadsofstoneCut up to 85 m deep in soft volcanic layers within Miocene to Holocene tuffs and ignimbrites, the underground cities of Cappadocia serve testament to how difficult life was for early Christians on these high and open plains.

Dangerous enough for whole communities of fifty thousand souls to seek refuge beneath the earth — at several places scattered around this part of northern central Turkey.

afternoon at the cafe in avanos cappadocia turkey by roadsofstoneLife here is easier now than it was back then, but maybe not that much.

Avanos is a one horse town if ever I’ve seen one, and it’s clear the horse left quite some time ago.
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236. The price of oil: 6 – Libya and the Last Oil Shock

jack-up oil rig derrick by roadsofstone‘Paradoxically, the very worst outcome [for oil prices] might not be a sudden shock, but a milder recession. If this were to create some temporary spare oil production capacity by depressing demand, … the urgency of the need to prepare for the impending peak could easily be forced off the policy agenda…

As the global peak approaches and the market tightens, any sudden interruption of oil production could [then] spark the last oil shock.’
David Strahan (2007) — The Last Oil Shock (p. 177)

* * * * *

In early 2009, I described the dramatic rise and fall of the oil price associated with the financial crisis of 2008, and looked at the future oil price trends which might follow recovery through into 2010.

transocean rather deepwater semisubmersible oil rig cromarty firth scotland by roadsofstoneTwo years on, economic uncertainty remains, and a return to growth is far from guaranteed. Yet across this time, the oil price has risen steadily. From a low of $40 in February 2009, Brent crude stands at well over $120 today.

The last time when the oil price was above $100, back in 2008, the economy was still booming. Three years later, during the long aftermath of the deepest global recession for eighty years, the oil price remains close to historic highs. How can this be possible?
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235. Libya and the Arab Spring

harsh morning Libya by akefaisal flickrIt was always tense at the Libyan border.

It took a couple of hours to get through the melée at the best of times. All humanity was there. Migrant workers, goat herds, farmers, businessmen. And secret police, too.

Once, on the way in, we were questioned by a mysterious officer with Carlos the Jackal sunglasses and a pistol beneath his leather jacket.

Libya road by duimdog at flickrdotcomIt was hard to feel comfortable under interrogation with $5,000 in cash stashed secretly inside my socks — the only way to pay a Tripoli hotel bill back then, in those days of the UN embargo.

Another time across the frontier at Ras Ajdir, the driver went the wrong way around an oil drum and we had to go right back to the start of the queue and start our two hour wait all over again.

abandoned car Libya one of many by Miles 78 flickrAnd getting into the country was just the beginnning. The five hour drive from Tunisia to Tripoli was easily the most dangerous trip I ever made.
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234. Fukushima, Japan and nuclear power in the UK

hinkley point nuclear power station somerset england by me'nthedogs flickrThe triple shock of a huge earthquake, a devastating tsunami and an unfolding nuclear accident rocked Japan in March, and my condolences go out to all the many thousands affected.

Luckily, none of this could never happen here in Britain. Or could it?

Despite public disquiet over the safety of the industry since Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, nuclear power has regained political favour in recent years.

Amidst desperately slow progress in investing in renewables to fill a looming energy gap in the UK, successive governments have presented nuclear as a clean, cheap and proven solution which also offers zero carbon emissions.

protest at sizewell b nuclear power station suffolk uk 2002 greenpeaceFaced with public concerns after Fukushima, ministers have maintained that the UK is unlike Japan because there are no appreciable seismic risks. We do have earthquakes, but mostly they are minor.

But low seismic risk falls far short of guaranteeing safety. The more important question is whether there are risks from geological or meteorological events which could threaten the safety of our existing and future nuclear power plants. And I’m afraid the answer is a resounding yes.
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233. Isle of Wight 1: On Tennyson Down

freshwater-bay-isle-of-wight-england-by-roadsofstone
No rock so hard but that a little wave
May beat admission in a thousand years

Alfred, Lord Tennyson — The Princess (1847)

* * * * *

freshwater-footpath-dusk-isle-of-wight-england-by-roadsofstoneThe fog is hanging low across the Chalk Downs as ahead of me the village of Freshwater huddles deep between the trees. The first streetlights of a November evening flicker weakly above the street.

As inspiring landscapes go, perhaps this drizzly valley wouldn’t rate that high. But five miles run before the autumn daylight fades is precious, shrunken time, expanded on the trail.

The village street is empty. A fine mist of rain would keep most folk inside, but in truth it’s almost perfect running weather.

the-abyss-cliffs-tennyson-down-isle-of-wight-england-foggy-dusk-roadsofstoneI loop around to find the path, cut into steps above the road through dense gorse and bramble. It climbs relentlessly between the trees, emerging breathlessly onto a chalky, flinty track under a darkening canopy of woods — branches of yew holding up grey clouds just a metre or so above.

At last the path emerges from the underworld and in just a second my feet burst out into a longer stride across wide and grey-lit grassland, rising evenly towards a lurking hill unseen beyond.

The evening silence is different here — wider, more expansive and with a distant, threatening edge. I skulk onwards more cautiously now — for all the firm, smooth ground beneath my feet, there’s a clifftop not all that far away.

Open, yawning space fills the sky, as the empty horizon closes out direction and up or down. It’s unsettling, nauseating — yet an elemental elation fills my throat.

This is fear.

tennyson-memorial-in-fog-isle-of-wight-england-by-roadsofstoneA minute further through the void, I’m a mile or more from anyone who would hear me scream when a dark grey mass rears itself tall and high from unlikely, empty fog.

Atop this wild, forsaken hill there stands a cross.
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