Tall Ships and Fast Cars

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed that for the month of July I will be living, working and playing on the Isle of Arran, a

One of the impressive Tall Ships which called in on Arran this week

place which I never tire of visiting. Already this week I have made some small gains in the fitness stakes by getting back on my bike and taking to the hills, we have been barbecuing on the beach every other night, the Tall Ships have looked in on their way to Greenock from Wexford in Ireland, and the Lamlash Maritime Festival gave me the chance to try my hand at sea kayaking, something which has been on my ‘to do’ list for some time. All this among some of the most magnificent scenery in Western Europe.

To make sure we don’t miss out on what might be happening across the island I picked up a copy of The Arran Banner, which indeed provided a wealth of information – and the most bizarre editorial in a week of bizarre happenings in the press. OK, it wasn’t on the scale of the crash at News International, but the intemperate language might have been straight out of the Murdoch school of journalism. It began:

“Summer finally arrived at the weekend and with it came a swarm – not of midges – but of that other dreaded multitude, the cyclists. I think most island motorists will admit that, apart from the blood-sucking insects that plague Arran in the summer months, their other most reviled horde is cyclists.”

Now, I’m not entirely convinced that there is a group of people whose identity can be so easily encapsulated in the phrase ‘Arran motorist’, but if there is, I would have thought that tourists – a large percentage of whom are cyclists – provide much of their income, and that far from being reviled, they should be welcomed with open arms.

Arran is almost the perfect place for cycling: the roads are still relatively quiet; there are some excellent off-road tracks; the hills provide enough challenge for even the most competitive riders and it is easily accessible from the mainland.

However, in my own travels round the island this week I did notice that the number of cars on the roads is increasing, especially those massively fashionable 4 x 4s, and many of them are being driven too fast for roads which are narrow and twisting and full of blind summits and bends. They are wider than half the width of the roads, and for many of their drivers the white line down the middle serves only as a rough guide to the best racing line.

So I would like to offer an alternative manifesto for those looking to build the economy of Arran while preserving its unique beauty and tranquillity, which is what most of those tourist hordes are looking for:

Arran - a cyclists' paradise

  • Prohibit the movement of motor cars, apart from emergency vehicles, between the hours of 10.00am and 4.00pm in the summer months
  • Provide a more regular bus service, but limit their speed to 30 mph on all roads
  • Invest in re-surfacing the 56 miles of main road round the perimeter of the island
  • Promote the island as a Mecca for cyclists and encourage all cycling-related businesses with preferential business rates.
  • Encourage hotels to offer cycling packages for large groups or clubs looking for that special cycling experience.

With few exceptions, we are all motorists, but how on earth did we get to a situation where the motor car was so revered that there are people who define themselves as ‘motorists’ first and above all else, and where drivers expect to have right of way over cyclists and pedestrians. It isn’t so on mainland Europe, and it doesn’t have to be that way here.

Amble GPX: Project-Based Learning

Last-minute team briefing

This week I dropped in on the Amble GPX Project in Northumberland to see how they were progressing ahead of the official launch in July. When I arrived they were busy preparing to take their place the following day at the Alnwick Tourism Fair, a perfect opportunity to market their product and explain to the wider community exactly what a ‘geolocation treasure hunt’ is. Great progress had been made since my last visit in August 2010, and despite a number of frustrations with the software, the website has been

Some of the team prepare to meet the public at the Alnwick Tourism Fair

well and truly established. Next week a number of trails are being piloted, with invited guests of all ages being used as guinea pigs over the routes. Their feedback will be invaluable as the final routes and clues are put in place over the coming months. As the official ‘literacy adviser’ to the project, what struck me was how much the young people have matured since my first visit way back in December 2009. As Anna, the project leader, described it so aptly, they have now taken control of the project and are demonstrating leadership skills. Where, in the beginning, people would wait to be told what to do, they are now taking the initiative and doing it their way, because they know how they want it to turn out and they all have a vested interest in its success. There is no better argument than that for project-based learning!

Amble GPX

A mean-looking Amble GPX Project Team

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of returning to the beautiful Northumberland coast to check up on the progress of the young people of Amble and their highly ambitious GPX project.The aim of the project is to create an online community-based game, using GPS technology and geocaching techniques: a very sophisticated treasure-hunt to you and me! The game will be designed to encourage local people and visitors to discover a bit more about the history of this area of outstanding natural beauty. Although played via the web, players will actually follow a trail through Amble and the surrounding countryside as well as exploring the vibrant coastline, finding answers to the clues they are given through cryptic photos, video clips and puzzles accessed from their computer. Answers are then typed in or photo-evidence uploaded via computer or mobile phone, making the game not only active but highly interactive as well.

Facing a barrage of questions from The Literacy Adviser

For the past twelve months the young people have been expanding their own knowledge of the local area, while at the same time developing their interviewing techniques and coming to grips with new technologies such as digital photography, video editing and sound recording: A number of experts, both amateur and professional, have been enlisted to guide and advise the group.  The project has reached an exciting stage, with plans in place to release a pilot version very soon, and discussions are already taking place about future mini-games and mobile apps. The official launch of the full version is scheduled for July 2011.

A flyer designed to promote Amble GPX

Just under a year ago I was contacted by the project’s manager Anna Williams, and asked if I would interview the youngsters and monitor the effect of the project on their literacy skills, a requirement of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation who are funding the project. At that point I spoke to them about what they hoped to gain from their involvement in the project and some of them were less certain than others. Watching them make a group presentation on the project this week, and listening to the way in which they handled a barrage of questions, it was clear that any of the earlier doubts or uncertainties had all but vanished. I’m looking forward to my next visit already!

If you would like more information about the Amble GPX project please contact Anna Williams at the Amble Development Trust (editor@theambler.co.uk)