Thursday, December 17, 2020

and you will know us by the trail of deadly toxins

You will of course remember this post from 2012 and my breathless excitement at having spotted an interesting Google Maps anomaly, something it turns out some people spend just about all their waking hours searching out and cataloguing. 

For those of you who don't remember, or can't be arsed to follow the link, the interesting anomaly was an aeroplane passing between what I referred to at the time as "the Googlecopter" (but would of course have actually been a satellite) and the ground just at the moment an image was captured, and thereby appearing to be parked rather inconveniently on the outfield at Bagshot Cricket Club. Google Maps' commendable desire to keep satellite imagery up-to-date means that the plane no longer appears (and nor does the one in Russell Square in central London).

Anyway, I was noodling around looking for some stuff up in the west Glasgow area the other day - a section of old railway path that I'd walked 20-odd years ago which turned out to be the section of National Cycle Route 7 running roughly west from Paisley Canal railway station - and my attention was drawn to what at first appeared to be a long straight section of motorway heading roughly north-west and culminating in what appeared to be an impressively long bridge to nowhere in particular. It didn't seem to be possible to drop the little yellow StreetView man onto it, though, so I zoomed in for a closer look.

So as you can see it's another aeroplane; I don't have the in-depth knowledge to say what type but it's a 4-engined type which means it can't be a Boeing 777 like the Bagshot one; I suspect it may be a 747. The extra info on the second image is the result of me trying to measure the length of the visible vapour trail - it's a little over 8 miles, but it would be a fair bit longer it if wasn't abruptly cut off at its south-eastern end by a transition in the satellite imaging. Of course the abrupt transition could also indicate the point at which the captain turned over the queen of diamonds and threw the switch to release the mind-altering chemicals in order to sap and impurify our precious bodily fluids.

It would be a spectacular but largely pointless feat of engineering to build a bridge to span the western reaches of the Firth of Clyde at this point (a distance of about 4 kilometres), since the Cowal peninsula on the eastern side is a pretty sparsely populated place. Scotland has quite a few of these places along its eastern coast, usually knobbly peninsulas which are poorly connected to the main UK transport system: Knoydart, Applecross and Ardnamurchan are a few other examples.

I have a couple of low-key sort-of Ardnamurchan anecdotes for you: we nearly-but-not-quite went there in September 2011 as part of our last pre-kids Scottish distillery-and-Munro-bagging holiday. This was the holiday when we managed to bag precisely zero Munros as the weather was unrelentingly shitty throughout, but we did get to the Tobermory distillery. We did this by taking the smaller and less-frequented Lochaline-Fishnish ferry (the main riute goes from Oban to Craignure), which, it turned out, required a longish drive from where we were staying (at the western end of Glen Coe) along some tiny winding roads which skirt the vicinity of the Ardnamurchan peninsula before turning off south just short of the village of Strontian, after which the chemical element strontium was named (the element was first isolated from minerals mined in the vicinity). Anyway, the weather was rotten but the ferry was still running, but clearly the locals knew something we didn't, as you can see from the photograph below (that's our car).

Sure enough, after we'd done the distillery tour we made our way back to Fishnish only to discover that all ferry crossings for the rest of the day had been cancelled and we'd have to spend the night in Tobermory. Luckily we were able to find a B&B to book into, whereupon we went and got pissed. Every cloud, and all that. A small selection of photos from the trip can be found here - no mountain summits for obvious reasons but a few more amusingly windswept ferry pictures.

My reference to Strontian above inspired me to go and look at other chemical elements named after places and see how many I'd been to: there are some obvious ones like Americium, Francium (and Gallium, also named for France), Californium, Polonium (Poland) and Lutetium (Paris). It would be a stretch for me to claim Strontian, really, as we turned off a couple of miles short of it. The secret to bagging stuff in this list is of course to take a trip to Ytterby in Sweden, after which four elements are directly named and another four more indirectly. I expect there's a Wallander mystery set there whereby a succession of victims are dispatched with lumps of scandium, ytterbium, etc., or if there isn't, there should be.

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