Monday, 28 July 2014

Travelling Scotland: Around Oban

This blog follows Travelling Scotland: The Town of Oban 

Whilst staying in Oban, Laura and I spent a couple of days exploring the area around the town - a drive south to Kilmartin and Crinan and walking around the island of Kererra.

Kilmartin & Crinan 

Kilmartin Glen is one of the most important archeological sites in Europe with evidence of humans moving there after the last ice age. There are over 800 ancient monuments within 6 miles of Kilmartin. 

We visited the site of some stone circles which are believed to be 5000 years old and connected people to the heavens. 

Closeby, we visited some standing stones, believed to be 3,200 years old. The stones line up with he rising and setting of the moon and sun and certain times of the year.

Further south is the tiny picturesque village of Crinan, complete with locks as it sits at the end of the Crinan Canal. 


Located directly in front of Oban, Kererra is an island that is often overlooked by visitors but is highly rated as a great destination to hike by those who do manage to get across on the ferry. I can also agree that Kerrera is well worth a visit. It is stunning. 
There are a two main routes to walk on the island, a circular walk and the northern walk which takes you to Hutcheson's Monument. 

While many visitors will head to Gylen Castle and then the tea room (1 hour each way from ferry), we decided to walk the circular path anti-clockwise (3 hours). A friendly local also suggested this was the better way to go as the inclines are easier that way. It also meant that the tea room would be toward the end of our hike...and when we would need it most.

The walk around Kerrera was fantastic.

Next up... The Isle of Mull

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Travelling Scotland: The Town of Oban

Oban, on the west coast of Scotland was the first stop on our three week journey around Scotland and a perfect place to start. 

It's a big town in comparison to those nearby with plenty to do in the town and in the surrounding area.


Oban is overlooked by what looks like a Roman amphitheatre, it is instead McCaig's Tower commissioned by John McCaig and built between 1897 & 1902 when McCaig himself died. Only the outer walls were finished. It houses gardens and is well worth a walk up the hill to visit. The tower offers wonderful views of Oban's harbour. 

There are many boat trips available from Oban which visit islands or wildlife. Laura decided to do the full day "swim with basking sharks" which we believe is only available from Oban ( 

Sadly, this was the only day that week that they didn't find any sharks (in 2013 75% of trips out saw the sharks). Despite the disappointment, the group swam with seals and saw sea eagles in addition to experiencing beautiful scenery, white sand beaches and clear blue water. 

While Laura was living it up with seals, I took the short drive to Oban airport and had my first flying lesson ( was amazing. It also counts towards a pilots licence if I wish to pursue that.

Two more top tips of must-do's in Oban are a visit to the distillery to see how the famous single malt whisky is made and a night at Skipinnish Ceiledh. At the distillery for the entry fee of £7.50 you get a whisky glass and £3 off a bottle of Oban. The distillery is right on the harbour and impossible to miss. 

Finally if you fancy a night of music, dancing and Scottish culture The Skipinnish Ceiledh bar is definitely worth a visit. I would also advise getting there early to get a table. Doors open at 8.30pm and entry is £9.50.  

And finally - don't miss the sunsets.  

Next Blog: Around Oban 

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

My Father: Derek Frederick Cook 1945-2014

At my masters graduation - 2009

Dad was born in Brentford on 1st October 1945, to Fred and Betsy Cook. He had an older sister, Daphne and enjoyed his childhood, particularly the beach holidays they went on to Chesil Beach with his aunts uncles and cousins. 

Cousins Dave & Ray with Dad in 2013
Dad grew up with a large extended family around him in West London and in his teenage years was very close with his cousins Dave and Ray. All three were keen athletes and all joined Thames Valley Harriers. Dad was a quick sprinter and his personal best for the 100 yards was an impressive 10.2 seconds * which he told me on many occasions, was “faster than any woman could run Steve” at the time. Why he was trying to run away from women is unknown. I’ll never forget how he leapt from his chair once when Linford Christie’s coach Ron Roddan was being interviewed on the television. Ron had also been dad’s coach.

Dad was a very intelligent man and earned a place at Grammar school where he performed well in his ‘O’ Levels. After school he started working in accountancy, a profession that he continued in until his retirement in 2010. 

On a night out at The Byron in Greenford when he was 19 years old he was approached by a mysterious 17 year old young lady who asked him for the time. Mum reports that his reply was a typical Derek response of “well if you have the inclination”. According to mum she had told her friend she was going to “speak to the next bloke who came around the corner”. The formidable partnership of Chris and Del and later Mum and Dad was formed. They courted for two years, were engaged for two years and in 1969 got married in Ruislip Methodist Church.

Mum & Dad 2012

Soon after they relocated to Shoeburyness and settled in Raphael Drive. I was born in 1973 and Debbie arrived in 1976. Dad worked hard to support mum, Debbie and I and was incredibly proud of Debbie and my achievements. Dad was always there for us with advice or help with anything. He also loved our friends and I remember Christmases so fondly especially Dad polishing off a bottle of whiskey with my mate Ricki when the rest of us had gone to bed. 

Mullets 'r' Us

He travelled the ‘misery line’ for nearly 40 years working for various companies in London. His final job was at ABTA – The Travel Association. For a while Debbie and Dad travelled together to London which they both loved and Dad was very handy when it came to tube strikes – he knew London inside out. Mum said he could probably have gone on mastermind with a specialist subject of bus routes in London, as could cousins Dave, Ray & Michael. On his retirement day I was able to arrange for him to sit in the drivers cab for his last day of work. C2C presented him with some flowers too.

In Spain 2001
Dad loved his holidays and was able to visit Australia with mum on a couple of occasions as well as a couple of family holidays with Jackie, Steve and Michael in Spain and in recent years Turkey and Centre Parcs. He also loved most sports but with the ankylosing spondylitis in his back in later years, he was purely an armchair fan. Before his back condition became too severe dad and I were able to watch an England rugby game at Twickenham and even walked on the pitch afterwards. I will always treasure that memory. As a family we watched numerous Olympics, World Championship Athletics and World Cups around the television. He also loved a quiz night and I remember team Cook being champions in many pubs from Southend to Leeds. 

Dad loved his music and in his youth played the piano. I understand the cousin’s had a band for family parties. I don’t think the Beatles were too worried though. Debbie and I remember a childhood of music, normally Cliff Richard or the Beatles. 

Debbie and I are so pleased that he was able to see us both get married in 2008. He revelled in his role as father of the bride for Debbie and was bursting with pride as he walked her down the aisle and gave her away. He also delivered a brilliant speech. 

In 2009 Mum and Dad celebrated their Ruby Wedding anniversary with a fantastic black tie do at the golf club. It is a great testament to their love that they celebrated nearly 45 years of marriage – something so rare nowadays. 

Ruby Wedding Party - 2009

In 2010 Dad became Granddad to Thomas and last year to Maisie. He idolised the children and was so proud to be their granddad. Dad loved doing puzzles & playing with lego with Thomas and reveled in his starring role as Father Christmas a few years back. 

With Thomas - 2010
With Maisie - 2013

Dad was a Christian and was strong in his faith. He was baptised at Shoeburyness & Thorpe Bay Baptist Church in 1987. While in hospital Laura and I were able to speak to him about his faith and I was so pleased that I was able to tell him that Laura and I will be a missionaries from September. 

Sadly, the last couple of years were not kind to him in terms of his health and if we are honest, 50 years of smoking caught up with him. He fractured his spine in a fall in May and although that surgery went well and he was talking positively about the future, unbeknownst to any of us, he had more serious health problems which ultimately defeated him. Thankfully it was quick and he didn’t know anything about it. It is so comforting to know that he is in a better place with our Lord. 

We have been overwhelmed with the love shown by our friends and family in the last few weeks. In his tributes the same words keep coming up, KIND – GENEROUS & FUNNY. Dad was a joker until the end. When he left for the hospital in May in great pain he still managed to joke “it’s a fair cop boys” as he was was helped to the car by neighbours Roger & Sean. When recovering from the spinal surgery he was so excited at the prospect of having mobility scooter grand prix’s with Brian from next door around the close. And on the way to intensive care just before his last operation he carried on joking on the way. 

As a family we are so blessed to have such great family and friends and I know you will all support mum and show her the enormous love you have for her in the coming days, weeks months and years. They were best friends for the best part of fifty years sharing a wonderful life together. 

But there are two more things that we should all learn from dad as well as being kind and generous to everybody he ever met. He never complained about his unfortunate health problems and also he never had a bad word to say about anyone. 

He really was a true gentleman until the end. As my mate Mike wrote on his facebook wall. 

We'll miss you terribly Dad. Until we meet again.

Derek Frederick Cook 1945 - 2014

* According to Dave and Ray, Dad was yanking my chain about 10.2 for the 100 yrds dash. A joker 'til the end. Good old Del-Boy!