2008 - Mission accomplished

Well, we’re back, in one piece and with all objectives achieved. Weather could have been better, but then again could have been worse. We are now all officially certified, if only with regard to completing the route of the world’s shortest scheduled flight. It was the main highlight of the trip, others being seeing the Old Man of Hoy close up, experiencing the deep peace of a Thurso shoreline on a fine afternoon, and glimpsing otters on two occasions (in the harbour of said Thurso and in Loch Alsh between Kyle of that Ilk and Skye). The breakfast at Miller’s House, Stromness was very fine too, and the walk along the main street unique. I could go on, and will do in due course on the main sleeper pages.

I’ll quit this log while I’m winning, or at least on a scoring draw. If you’re interested, the smart money is on Ireland next year. Watch this space...

here to go to the main text.

The final (I hope) adjustment

The final piece in the jigsaw clicked into place today, with the ferry amendment made and my fellow-travellers placed in lock-down regarding any further deviations from The Plan. Demands for payments have been made from several quarters, underlining that we are green for go. Changing the ferry booking for the first early departee should have been straightforward. However, it was complicated first by my inability to recall the booking reference number and then by telling the unfortunate customer service agent that we were travelling in July rather than June.

Eventually everything was sorted out, and promises made to ensure every traveller not only had photographic proof of identity but also said reference number committed to memory, preferably by means of a small, discrete tattoo somewhere about their person.

I start to wonder - what shall we do in 2009? Ireland? Uist? The South Col?

I think I need a (railway) holiday...

PS, our honorary physician has just rejoined the full schedule. Not enough potential diners, apparently. A rebooking fee is surely payable.

Flying tonight

Some positive developments on the plane charter today, with bookings and times confirmed. Captain Mac will await our pleasure at 11.00 precisely, so the Orkney buses need to perform to schedule.

It’s a forty-minute trip, so not much time for the fly-bys, loop-the-loops and other aerobatics some of the team were hoping for. Some also fondly imagine they will get to steer the plane, at least sideways if not up and down. I shall recommend Loganair apply appropriate sedation (and if necessary restraint) to selected passengers before take-off.

Advance notice of the names of all charterers has been requested, no doubt to run through the assorted computers of MI5, MI6, the CIA, the CAA, the DVLA, the Inland Revenue, the TV Licensing Office, etc., etc.

All change for the deep south

Yet another flaker. Our medical consultant, without whom one or two of our more senior travellers feel distinctly vulnerable, also wishes to withdraw southwards after the Orkney sector of the expedition. An urgent need to make small-talk about stethoscopes and sinuses to fellow physicians at some medical dinner, apparently. Not even a railway-related excuse.

The draconian penalty clauses in the pre-sleeper agreement he signed several months ago have failed to dissuade him. Perhaps the threat of a dunking in the Pentland Firth might. But then he has swum in the chilly waters of Loch Alsh, and voluntarily at that, so it may not be much of a deterrent.

Going the long way round

Deputies, who needs 'em? No real power like the chairman, but still likes to make an impact. Ours just has, in a big way. Wants to combine the sleeper trip to the far north of the UK with a steam trip to the far south. Try this for a GPS-buster: Southport - Bury - London - Penzance - London - Inverness - Thurso - Orkney - Thurso - Inverness - London - Penzance - Bury -Southport.

We didn't believe it either. Something to do with being a 'responsible person' for a main-line steam loco. The one who provides the sharp intake of breath when a signal is passed at danger, or the steam pressure goes past the red line and stays there, or rivets start pinging off the boiler. Normally a position to be coveted, hence the attempt to merge both expeditions. Whether he will get steam-miles is not clear, but at least it eases the accommodation arrangements for the latter half of the trip.

Identifying the ferry

Booked the ferries tonight, by phone after learning that Northlink's internet booking service was not sufficiently clever to acknowledge that two of our number are senior citizens. Total cost for seven of us for the Scrabster - Stromness round trip was a tad over £200. Time to collect some deposits methinks. The lady indicated that a mere reference number would suffice instead of tickets, but we would need photo-ID to successfully negotiate the boarding procedure.

Just how many of our passport/driving licence/credit card photos will actually resemble the pale, haggard faces which will present themselves for boarding on the 24th of June is anyone's guess. Still if it makes them happy, and reduces the risk of Kirkwall being added to the list of terror targets it may all be worthwhile. Just don't any of the party forget to bring theirs, that's all.

Sleeping together - at a distance

Talking of accommodation, getting seven adult males settled in to Scottish B&Bs has the potential to be a minefield of disorganisation. Divide and rule seems to be the only way, particularly in Inverness for some reason. Fortunately Fairfield Road has numerous establishments to choose from, and we managed a 5-2 split fairly easily. A suggestion that two of the snoring persuasion be billeted together drew an accusation of snorism, and a claim that such rythmical sounds are therapeutic, and beneficial to both snorer and snoree. Not in my experience they aren't....

In Stromness, the Miller's House seemed to be a guest house of both considerable age and considerable size. It swallowed our party with ease. And as for Kyle of Lochalsh, the only place to stay (apart from the others, that is) is the capacious Lochalsh Hotel, complete with Skye views. Unfortunately it charges a premium for such landscape, but I booked it anyway. What is the purpose of SMRS senior management but to negotiate a discount on arrival, in person? I shall be watching with interest.

Flying a la carte

Mid-March, and we're ahead of schedule, with all the accomodation booked and the timetable sorted, at least based on winter timings. The bus times to Kirkwall airport may not quite suit us, but with one adventurous bound we have, potentially at least, dodged the problem by securing a quote for an air charter.

Apparently Loganair supplement their government subsidy for running a flying bus service around Orkney's many and varied islands by allowing their planes to be hired by the hour. They even provide a pilot. Unfortunately the (unsubsidised) price is more than double the scheduled air fare, so the novelty and prestige factors have to play heavily to make it worthwhile. Not to mention the opportunity to prod the captain in the back with a deep-fried Mars bar and demand to be taken to Cuba. For the sugar-cane trains, of course.

Provisional soundings with the team have produced a range of responses from enthusiastic to not bothered. Democracy can be a real pain sometimes.

2008 - Flight to Orcadia

Well strictly, flight in Orcadia, specifically the world's shortest flight from Westray to Papa Westray. Why? Because (a) the chairman wanted to do it and (b) he's the chairman. Not surprisingly the proposal was accepted with alacrity amongst the other potential sleepertrippers, no doubt mindful of the committee elections at the forthcoming AGM, and keen to establish a position of advantage.

Logistically it looks as challenging as any we have been on, with a multitude of multimodal transport options to arrange in the appropriate order. To add complication the membership has arranged for seven potential participants to present themselves for candidature at the selection hustings. This at a stroke has denied the organisers the convenience of an even number, and also ensured them of a record number of participants to be fed, watered and transported. And just how big is the Loganair aircraft that does the round-Orkney bus trip twice, and sometimes thrice, a day? Will we have to impose strict dietary controls on the candidates to ensure weight limits are adhered to?

The draft itinerary is