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Floating Home 

It's been an incredible year! I never would have guessed when I set off from Norfolk in summer 2017 on 'Bluebell's Busking Bonanza Tour', travelling at 10mph by milk float from Norfolk to Land's End to raise money for Cancer Research, that I'd end up doing a Master's Degree in Songwriting at Bath Spa University!

 

The year has flown by, and I've learnt so much about songwriting, surrounded by some fantastic tutors and songwriters, and by simply having the time to devote myself to the study of my craft. It's an exciting time for me - returning to my Norfolk home I have plans to start a social enterprise recording studio and record label, teaching songwriting and making CDs for young and disadvantaged people in the North-Norfolk area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recording at Bath Spa University studios

I've also been busy writing and recording the songs for my new album, which will be released in spring 2019. I feel it's my best work yet, and am really proud of the songwriting and production on the album. I was fortunate to be able to take advantage of the talent on offer at the university, with some amazing musicians performing on the album, including Rob Brian, a Grammy-winning drummer whose credits include playing on Goldfrapp's last album.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gap year!

I'm also pleased to report that Bluebell has now made it safely back to Norfolk, and we will be continuing to slow the traffic down on the Norfolk roads for the foreseeable future!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Mid Summer Night's Cream 

After playing at Radcot Festival of Speed I took the opportunity to get some new batteries fitted to Bluebell, as the company I bought her from, CBL Electric Vehicles, were based just down the road at Bampton. While the batteries were being fitted I caught a bus to Witney, and realised I’d become truly acclimatised to travel by milk float when the bus hit 50mph and my stomach started churning because it felt so fast! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I can’t describe the simple joy I experienced the next day when I managed a whole journey without the battery meter flashing red for the final few miles. My smart new batteries can do up to 50 miles on a charge, and I’m going to need them, as from Oxfordshire onwards the hills have been getting steeper by the day. 

I had a fantastic time the following weekend in Stroud, playing a street party for a friend who’d invited all her neighbours, and then doing an all-day music event outside the Subscription Rooms, where I was joined by some exceptionally talented local performers from the area. Overall, £500 was collected during the weekend, which is an amazing contribution towards my goal of raising £5000 for Cancer Research. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On my way from Stroud towards Glastonbury, I stopped at a beautiful little village called Woodchester to visit a Great-Great-Aunt that I’d never met before, who had recently reached her 100th birthday. It was fascinating to learn some more about my family history, and Aunty Clare (for short!) also thought my fundraising tour was brilliant. From the Cotswolds I made my way to Glastonbury for a Midsummer Night’s gig at The King Arthur pub. It was somewhat of a squeeze fitting Bluebell into the old coaching alley, but she just made it, and I even managed to sleep in there (in the milk float not the alley!) after doing my gig in the pub garden. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I travelled through some incredible countryside on my way to Dorset Midsummer Festival the following weekend, passing lots of quaint thatched cottages, and climbing the biggest hill of my tour so far, Bulbarrow, near where the festival was being held. I was playing Friday and Saturday at the festival, and had some fantastic helpers who went round the whole site collecting with my Cancer Research Bucket. Bluebell proved to be a big hit with the festival goers, and lots of new friends were made as well as money collected for a good cause. 

From Bulbarrow, I backtracked to Wiltshire for a weekend of gigs at the Barge Inn at Honey Street, stopping for a few days on the way at Wookey Hole in Somerset, where I’d lived when I was studying Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. Some much needed rest was taken, and I had a nice time walking in the Mendip Hills as well as doing some busking at Wells Market. AfterThe Barge Inn, I did an impromptu gig at Stone Henge Camp Site, and spent three days travelling cross-country to Charmouth, where I’ve just spent the weekend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hills getting here were much bigger than I’d expected, and I got stuck twice on the way (I had to reverse back down the hills and go another way), and then I got stuck again on the final hill to my campsite. Luckily, the farmer was willing to come and give me a tow the final half mile, but Bluebell and I have even bigger hills to face between here and Land’s End. I’ve just set up a Facebook Group Let’s Get Bluebell to Land’s End – For Cancer Research, so please add yourself to it and share with your friends if you know anybody on our route that might be able to help tow us if we get stuck. All the details of our route and gigs are on the Facebook Page, and also at my gigs calendar, www.paulsmusic.co.uk/calendar.

 

So far a massive £2000 has been donated at gigs for Cancer Research – thank you everybody for your generosity. If you can’t make it to a gig but would still like to donate, you can do so at my JustGiving Page here: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/paulsmusic

Onwards, Upwards, Westwards! 

It’s been an incredible start to the tour, so much has happened since I set off two weeks ago on a rainy Friday afternoon from Sheringham, to go and do my tour launch at the Harnser in Cley-next-the-Sea. Lots of good wishes and farewells from friends and family, and a slight feeling of trepidation the next morning as I left the North-Norfolk coast behind for the long journey to Land’s End. 

My hosts the following night, The Ostrich Inn at Castle Acre, had forgotten I was coming, so it was a good job I phoned ahead to let them know I’d be arriving in a milk float later that day! Rosie, the bar manager, did a fantastic job rallying round some last-minute support, and we had a decent crowd with plenty of donations to Cancer Research, and a booking for me to return at the end of August for their bank holiday beer festival. 

From Castle Acre I made my way through the Cambridgeshire Fens to a gig two nights later at The Blueball Inn, stopping in Cambridge to do a radio interview for Cambridge 105 on the way. I played a song I’d written for my dad ‘A Suitcase Full of Memories’ live on-air, and both myself and the presenter Leigh were having to choke back tears by the end of the song. Afterwards, I went in search of a fancy-dress shop as I thought it would be fun to get a milkman’s outfit. The only thing I could find that I liked was a rasta hat with a dreadlock wig attached, so I bought that and started dreaming up an imaginary roadie who’d be joining me for the tour, Milk Float Rasta

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My next gig was the most unusual so far, in front of some concrete cows at Milton Keynes Museum. I wanted to make a video of me playing a song next to the iconic cows, which the museum had kindly agreed to, and I was soon joined by a large group of schoolchildren who were visiting for the day. After more cross-country travel, I arrived in Oxford two days later for my gig at the Tap Social Brewery, a fantastic brewery that is also a social enterprise helping people back into work. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had a slightly petrifying experience afterwards, when the Sat-Nav guided me from a nice country lane directly onto the A34, with oncoming cars approaching at 80mph. Luckily (but not for the drivers behind me) the road funnelled into a single lane due to road-works, and I drove for another two miles with a massive queue behind me, until I turned off for my campsite, giving the road-workers a big thumbs-up which they found hilarious! 

I was up early the next day to get to my gig at Radcot Festival of Classic Speed (ironic I know!), organised by a friend of mine, Mike, who’d done some of the conversion work on Bluebell when I bought her two years previously. There was a fantastic display of vintage motorbikes and cars at the festival, and after playing some music, Alan the landlord of Ye Old Swan Inn across the river asked if I’d do a gig for them in the pub garden the next day. When I tried to park Bluebell parallel to the garden, Alan decided that we needed to get rid of a couple of bollards in the layby so that Bluebell could get in closer, and produced a chain-saw! Mike’s daughters, and Zoe who was running the BBQ, went round with my Cancer Research bucket, and I raised over £100 in an hour. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve been overwhelmed by the generosity of the people I’ve met so far, from campsite owners returning my fees and putting donations in my bucket, to an elderly man in the queue at the bank who I’d said could go before me, and who then came up to me afterwards and gave me a £20 donation after I’d told him about my mad-cap quest to reach Land’s End at 10mph.

I’ve started doing Facebook Live videos (and so has Milk Float Rasta - send him a song request to play live from Milk Float HQ!!), and if you haven’t already done so I’d really appreciate it if you could like my Facebook Page, and share some of my posts to help spread the word. The fundraising is going really well, with almost £1,000 raised so far, and it should be another great weekend at Stroud, with a street party on Friday, and 'The Bluebell Music Festival' (named in our honour!) at the Subscription Rooms in Stroud on Saturday, where I’ll be joined by some fantastic local singer-songwriters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Out of the Woods Again! 

Travel by milk float is always full of ups and downs (literally!), and the last couple of weeks has been no exception. Bluebell broke down during a long test-run in Norfolk last week, and I had to call out somebody from the company in Oxfordshire where I originally bought her to come and find out what the heck was going on. They were fantastic, and set off at 5am the next day to fit a new accelerator, which meant I was able to go ahead with the photo-shoot I'd arranged in some bluebell woods the day after. 











Needless to say more adventures ensued, with Bluebell getting stuck on a slope in the bluebell woods. A phone call to my friend with a Land Rover later, and Bluebell and I were soon out of the woods again! The photos were taken by Chris Taylor, who is a fantastic North-Norfolk based photographer, and he kindly donated his time for free as the aim of the tour is to raise as much money for Cancer Research as possible. 











Talking of which, I had my first busking session outside Budgens of Holt on Saturday 6th May, which was arranged by Baker’s and Larner’s who own the store. I set off with Bluebell for Holt feeling slightly downhearted as the wind was freezing and there was one of those steady drizzles that seems to permeate everything it touches. After a cup of hot chocolate in town I convinced myself to set my music gear up in the rain, and was soon singing my heart out. Despite my fingers turning a whiter shade of purple due to the icy wind, I raised £80 in an hour and a half, and went home feeling very contented with my first fundraising session. 











My tour launch at The Harnser in Cley on 2nd June is getting frighteningly close, from where I’ll be making my way gradually westwards to Cambridge, Oxford, Stroud, Glastonbury and then onwards to Land’s End in Cornwall by the end of July. If you’re on my tour route, please do come along to support me, and if you can’t make it but would like to donate please visit my JustGiving page here.

Bluebell's Busking Bonanza 2017 - in Aid of Cancer Research 

Bluebell’s Busking Bonanza Tour 2017


Help me raise £5,000 for Cancer Research! 

Bluebell and I are currently planning our next adventure, in aid of Cancer Research. Starting early June 2017, we’ll be touring from Norfolk to Land's End in Cornwall, playing gigs in return for donations to Cancer Research. 

Part of the reason for the tour is in memory of my dad, who sadly passed away from cancer in June 2016. It’s a cruel disease that will affect almost all of us during our lives in one way or another, but incredible progress is being made in research to fight it, and I want to do my bit to help future generations. 

During Bluebell’s Busking Bonanza (great name, hey!), I’ll be playing at festivals, town centres, outdoor spaces, in fact anywhere that will have us! Expect impromptu performances, guest appearances, and generally lots of fun - and one or two traffic jams for good measure!

There will also be a new Guinness World Record attempt, at the 'Bluebell Music and Arts Festival' on 17th June in the Subscription Rooms in Stroud, when I'll be joined by some fantastic performers, who will be attempting a new record for the most people to perform a song inside a milk float - details to be announced soon!

All proceeds from the tour will be donated to Cancer Research, and there are three main ways that you can give, both before, during and after the tour: 

1. Make a donation on my Just Giving Page here: 

2. Text a donation through Vodafone JustTextGiving: Simply text the code MILK62, followed by your chosen amount of £1, £2, £3, £4, £5, or £10 to 70070 

3. Book me to play a gig, or come along and watch. There is no charge for me performing, instead I'm asking for a donation towards Cancer Research from the venue, and will be collecting from the audience during the performance. 
 

If you'd like me to come and play some music for you, or could help get Bluebell charged up for a night then please get in touch. Confirmed dates and our route will be added to my Calendar Page as they come in. 


The Road Home 

I'm happy to report that Bluebell and I made it safely back to Norfolk. We set off from Edinburgh one foggy September evening, reaching the border of England just two days later. It was an emotional moment after three months on the road, and I sat in Bluebell drinking a cup of tea just before crossing into England, watching shafts of light pouring onto the Northumberland hills, which I felt somehow were welcoming me home. 
  








It seemed rude to pass Lindisfarne without popping across the causeway to make a visit to the island, and we had to time our visit so that we wouldn't get submerged by the incoming tide. After that we stopped at Bamburgh Castle for a night and had to take a big detour around Newcastle as it was the weekend of the Great North Run, and we couldn't find any campsites to stay at. 









Our detour took us past Hadrian's Wall, which you may remember we broke down at on our way north, and for the second time on the trip we had to call an AA lorry out as Bluebell's motor overheated again. Luckily, the next day she was fine, and over the next week we drove from Thirsk, past York and over the Humber, before finally reaching Norfolk. Overall, we'd travelled more than 2,000 miles, doing 292 of those by ferry, 267 on the back of lorries, and the rest at an average speed of 10mph! 
  







Since returning home I've been busy writing the book about the tour, which is now completed, and I'm in the process of sending it off to literary agents and publishers for consideration. I'm also hoping to develop the story into a film - there were so many adventures, with inevitable highs and lows, friendships formed, and definitely lots of humour (think tailbacks, breakdowns on mountains in the middle of nowhere, and going slightly potty due to a squeaky break and lack of CD player!), that I think there is huge potential for it to reach the big-screen. 
 








So, busy times ahead - and hopefully a new tour in the pipeline, although that remains top secret for the moment!

To the Fringe and Beyond... 


After leaving the Isle of Skye, Bluebell and I made our way towards Dingwall, near Inverness, where we had several gigs lined up thanks to music promoter Rob Ellen. I'd first made contact with Rob through the European House Concert Hub, which he runs to help connect singer-songwriters with music fans who want to host concerts from their own home. Rob loved the idea of the milk float tour and was really helpful in supplying me with some leads for gigs.
 
As well as playing the Greenhouse in Dingwall, I did a house concert in Strathpeffer, a support slot in Ullapool for Canadian singer-songwriter Kenny Butterill, and a late night gig at the Market Bar in Inverness, famous for being the place where the Proclaimers first built up a following. Rob also presents a radio show once a week on Lochbroom FM with the most amazing green room overlooking mountains, which I sat gazing out at and drinking tea before doing my interview - what a way to relax before going on-air!









 


Next up was Belladrum Festival, one of Scotland's premier music festivals, based on a beautiful farm about 25 miles from Inverness. I'd been booked to perform and also run a music stage from the milk float. This was the first time I'd done a full day of music using power from  just the solar panels, and I was proud of Bluebell who was still pumping the music out into the evening. We had some great acts playing over the weekend, and it has  inspired me to get to more music festivals in the future, using Bluebell as a mobile stage.

 










Belladrum is only about 10 miles from Loch Ness, but the road leading to it also has one of the steepest hills I'd come across on the tour so far. Luckily I didn't have to climb up it as I was going downhill, but it was so steep I had to ram my foot on the brake as hard as I could as the  smell of burning increased as the hill went on and on, and I was thinking surely it must come to an end soon and then it would continue round another bend with smoke rising around me as I went!
 
The traffic along Loch Ness was horrendous and I had a continuous line of irate holidaymakers behind me most of the way. I reached a campsite at the foot of Ben Nevis on the day before my birthday, and decided to climb Britain's highest mountain the next day to celebrate. It felt somehow symbolic of my journey so far, which had been full of ups and downs, but in spite of the odds I'd kept going and made it all the way from Norfolk in my humble milk float Bluebell.












 
I got up the next morning at 5.30am to avoid the holiday traffic and drove up Glen Coe. It's one of the most special areas of Scotland, and I felt privileged to be able to see it in such a unique way. The road through Rannoch Moor is also incredible, with wide expanses of heather-clad moors bordering huge mountains and layer upon layer of lochs as far as the eye can see. I stayed with a friend in Perth for a couple of nights before making the final leg of my official tour, across the Forth Bridge into Edinburgh.
 
The last 2 weeks have flashed by, with performances every day around the George Street area of Edinburgh, where I'd been booked to play as part of the Fringe Festival. I had some great guest acts playing daily, and we would cram into the milk float with all manner of instruments, on one occasion even with a trio who had a double-bass hitting the ceiling of the milk float! I also managed to attract the attention of STV, who were putting on a show every night featuring the best highlights of the Fringe. The producer was quite taken by my story and sent a cameraman out to film and interview me, and I also performed my song 'Flights of Geese'.

 










Although 'Floating to the Fringe 2015' officially ended in Edinburgh, I've applied for a Guinness World Record for the longest journey made by  milk float, and have decided to keep driving back to Norfolk to increase my chances of entering the record books. I'm currently plotting my route back, and am glad to report that I can hopefully make it home in about 2 weeks, taking the flattest route along the east side of the country from Berwick down to Newcastle, and then across the North York Moors towards the Humber Bridge and round the Wash back to Norfolk for a well earned rest.

 
 
 
 
 

Into the Wild Scottish Isles 

My host for the first few days on the Isle of Harris 'Grannie Annie' was a big music fan who had heard about my tour via Facebook and invited me to stay. I was made to feel extremely welcome by Grannie Annie and her husband Rob, who had moved from Wales after falling in love with the place whilst on holiday. Harris has one of the most incredible landscapes I've ever seen, which constantly changes from wide Atlantic vistas with pure white sands, to winding mountain roads lined with macchair (fertile soil with native flowers such as orchids, corn marigolds, Lady's Bedstraw,  and bog cotton), and then it rises up into a totally alien landscape of huge boulders covered in lichen and heather, that look so strange it was used as a filming location for the move '2001: A Space Odyssey'.













After doing a couple of gigs in Leverburgh and Tarbert I dedided to return to Uist to catch a ferry to Skye, as it was a much flatter route for Bluebell.  I still had to climb a really steep road following the cliffs out of Uig, the northern port on Skye, and I just hoped that nothing was coming the other way because if I'd stopped I would never have made it to the top! I had several gigs lined up on Skye, the first at the Flodigarry Hotel, a beautiful old fashioned Scottish Hotel, with modern interior design influenced by the Dutch owners. It was lovely driving back to my campsite after the gig through the mountains, with the silver sea in the moonlight and the occasional light of a boat and lighthouse flashing across the water.














The next day I was due in Portree, where I would be performing at the Aros Centre. I was being joined for the week by Daria Kulesh, a Russian singer-songwriter now living in England. After catching up with Daria and her husband Julian, we set about the monumental task of getting Bluebell onto the stage. Ruaridh the technician / sound engineer at Aros had suggested the idea, as the side doors to the theatre lead directly onto the stage. It took 6 men to move a massive wooden statue off  the forecourt so I could reverse Bluebell in, but all went surprisingly well and she looked fantastic by the time we'd finished with spotlights on her and even pot plants either side to complete the picture!

 











After the gig at Aros I spent a couple of days travelling across Skye to get to Armadale, where my ferry to the Isle of Rum departed. I'd also been joined by my brother, his wife, and my 9 year-old niece Anna, who especially loved riding in the milk float as we climbed on and off our ferries to the Isle of Rum. Vehicles aren't normally allowed on Rum as there are no roads, only winding forest tracks that lead around the edge of the island. I'd received a special permit for Bluebell as I was going there to play music in the village hall, and it was a really  special night, with myself and Daria performing, and a guest appearance by my niece Anna, who is a wonderful singer and did a solo version of a song from the musical 'Annie'.
 
I almost missed my ferry the next morning as I realised just as the ferry was pulling in that I'd left a box with all my music cables back at the village hall. It was too late to get back there in Bluebell, so I managed to get a lift with a local in his pick-up truck and we raced down the forest track to the hall and back. I was already  flustered by the time I tried reversing Bluebell onto the ferry, and she got stuck halfway up the ramp. I had to go back down and take a reverse run-up to get some speed, and my heart was in my mouth as I couldn't see properly in my mirrors at speed, and just hoped that I'd got my line right - otherwise I would have been overboard into the Atlantic!
 
Needless to say I made it onto the ferry back to Skye, where Duncan MacInnes, a local music promoter, was waiting for me with a crowd of about 100 people ready for a music performance on the ferry terminal car park. Daria and I did a great gig that night at an eco camp site-come-forest garden, called Rubha Phoil, playing in the workshop which had been  made into a temporary venue. More and more people kept piling in until it was jam packed, and we had to bring in extra seats in to accommodate everybody.

 











Duncan and his wife Polly were great hosts and kept us well fed during our stay in their beautiful house just outside Armadale, with rambling gardens that led down to a little beach. I did a lunchtime gig the next day in a converted church that was holding an art exhibition, and then returned to Duncan's to play a house concert that night. My final gig in the Skye area was at Kyleakin, just before the Skye bridge, at a back-packers inn called Saucy Mary's. It was Daria's last night on the tour, and we were very well looked after by the staff and had a nice gig.
 
From Kyleakin I made my way over the Skye bridge (which is spectacular and highly recommended at 15mph!), towards Dingwall, near Inverness. I have a few gigs lined up here over the coming week, leading up to a big music festival called Belladrum on 7th and 8th August, where as well as performing I'm going to be running a busking stage. It's going to be a blast!

 


















Anna Thompson with Special Guest 'Polar'!

Hadrian's Wall to the Hebrides 

After losing over a week of tour time due to our breakdown along Hadrian's Wall and having Bluebell's motor re-built, my heart lifted as I arrived at the garage where she was being repaired to see her parked on the forecourt with our lorry waiting to take us to Ardrossan. We were due to be catching a ferry to the Mull of Kintyre that night, but there was still another twist in the tail to the breakdown saga.
 
I didn't have a chance to drive Bluebell properly until we arrived at Ardrossan and unloaded her, and it soon became apparent that all was not right - she was only driving at half speed, and juddering. I was left with no choice but to cancel my ferry and phone the company who'd been doing the repairs, who said they'd come out the next day. I was devastated as I watched my ferry sail away, wondering if this might even be the end of the tour.

I spent a wet and miserable night in the car park of Ardrossan ferry terminal, but the next morning was bright and sunny, and I woke with a positive feeling that everything would be ok. The guys from EVS turned up just after 10am, and changed some settings on the controller, and BINGO, Bluebell was driving perfectly again! I re-arranged my ferry ticket so that I could sail straight to Arran and catch up on my tour dates, and arrived in the port of Brodick a few hours later.
 
Arran is beautiful, with lush vegetation and varied scenery, rocky mountain tops on the east side, and a beautiful green peninsula to the west that looks like a huge dragon's tail. Brodick felt almost Mediterranean, with  everyone walking around in shorts, sailing boats in the harbour and palm trees gently swaying in the breeze. I found a campsite for the night, and the next day headed to the Ormidale Hotel in Brodick where I was due to be playing. I was well looked after, with a lovely evening meal, before performing in an orangery that was attached to the main bar.
 
I had a big mountain to cross the next day on my way to catch my ferry for Islay. The sea was a translucent calm as I followed the road around the side of the island, and the rocky shoreline comes more or less to a stop at the coast road with huge boulders the size of cars lining the road. There are a wide variety of plants and trees on Arran including pine, beech, palms and rhododendrons, and I kept stopping to take photos as I passed the pretty fishing villages of Corrie and Sannox.
 
The road became gradually steeper as we climbed for about 2 miles, and I had to go round a hair-pin bend and just hope there was nothing coming the other way. I could smell burning by the time we reached the top, but we made it. I stopped for half an hour  to let Bluebell cool down, and it  was a strange feeling surrounded by mist on top of mountains in a milk float in the middle of a Scottish island! We freewheeled the rest of the way round the side of the mountain into Lochranza, and managed to get a photo next to the ruins of Lochranza castle before reaching the ferry port.

 I'd always wanted to visit Islay as I'm a big Donovan fan, and he spent time living there writing an album in the 60s. When I arrived in Port Askaig, however, I knew there was no way Bluebell would make it up the steep hill that wound around the cliffs out of the port. I'd planned to travel to the other end of the island that night, and return the next day for my gig at the Port Askaig Hotel. Luckily, I was able to book in an extra night at the hotel in return for playing there, and had a lovely evening meal and then sat upstairs in the old-fashioned residents lounge looking out at the boats arriving in the harbour.
 
After a huge cooked Scottish breakfast in the morning, I caught the bus over to Bowmore, which is the main town on the island. I've never seen such a happy bus, full of laughter and  locals saying hello to each other, and the icing on the cake must have been the driver stopping for 10 minutes to go and buy a newspaper! Bowmore has two main streets, with quaint fishing cottages, a quay, and distillery - a distinctive black and white building with a large tower, and  the air was sweet with the smell of whiskey.
 
I had to be up early the next day to catch my ferry to Colonsay, a small island above Islay with a population of only 130 people. I loved Colonsay the moment I arrived, it had a tiny post office and shop with a boat out the front that children were playing in. I'd been booked to play at the village hall by Donald, who was waiting at the hall for me, and he helped me get set up for the evening performance. I was due to be staying at his house that evening further round the island and was invited for tea, so decided to do some exploring first and wedged my camcorder out of the window so that I could make a video of my tour round the island (I'm going to be writing some music to go with it when I get home).

The single track road around the island was hillier than I'd expected, and I passed a couple of lochs and followed a small road to a remote beach,  with wide rolling waves surrounded by mountains. I made my way round to Donald and Carol's house, a croft which they'd built themselves on Donald's parent's land, a beautiful location up on a hillside overlooking  the sea. I was cooked a lovely meal, and then drove Bluebell back to the hall ready for the evening gig, which had a good turnout of locals and holidaymakers. After a late night coffee back at Donald's I got some well earned rest before setting off again the next day for Oban.
 
I was due to be meeting another singer-songwriter, Jade Cuttle (aka Rrose Selavy, also doing her own blog), who would be joining me on tour for almost 2 weeks. I spent a night on a campsite just outside Oban, and after doing  a few running repairs on Bluebell headed back into town to meet Jade. After a quick stop for a coffee and chat we drove to our gig that night at the Barn Bar in Colgin.  We were soon out into countryside and mountains, following a single track road down to the Barn Bar which is at the end of a road in a fern covered valley. It was a lovely place to play for the night, a wood-cabin type building, with a veranda out the front with an outdoor wood burning stove. We didn't finish playing until past midnight, and after packing away sat outside with Donnie the owner and a few others playing a bit more guitar and chatting.
 
Jade and I were both exhausted by the time we drove off about 1.30am and headed for the ferry port, where we'd decided to park up for the night as our ferry for the Western Isles was leaving at 7am. It was a 6 hour ferry journey to Lochboisdale, on South Uist, and I must confess I spent much of it in the toilet suffering from sea-sickness! On arrival we were pampered at the Lochboisdale hotel, and after a rest and a meal felt much better in time for the evening performance.
 
North Uist is joined to the South island by Benbecula; it's a very rugged place and must be bleak in winter as it has virtually no trees, but it's also very pretty, with little  lochs (known as lochens) full of water lilies, and heather and wild roses growing by the side of the road. Our campsite for the following evening was Moorcroft Farm, just a few miles north of Benbecula, down a track overlooking the sea. After checking in I managed to drive Bluebell into a soft verge because I was looking at the view and got stuck! I had to get the owner to give us a tow after all the people on the camp site had come out and tried pushing her, but we were soon settled in for the night.
 
The next day we continued up the island to catch our ferry ride to Harris. The boat weaves in and out of large buoys through the sound of Harris, which is peppered with large rocks and tiny islands, with spectacular views beyond to the cliffs of Leverburgh and the imposing Harris mountains beyond. I had instructions from Annie, our host for the next few days on how to find her house, which is about 3 miles out of Leverburgh.
 
We followed a deep gorge upwards and I wasn't sure if Bluebell would make it, but she just rallied, and as we came over the top of the hill we were greeted by an amazingly  lush valley looking over the sea with a medieval church on the horizon - Rodel - which reminded me of a scene out of Lord of the Rings with verdant hills and small streams running down the side of mountains into lochs. And this is where my journey so far brings me, all the way from Norfolk to the Outer Hebrides, and what a journey it's been...I'm still only half way through!


Breakdown on Hadrian's Wall 

After a good day's travelling from Barnard Castle, taking the A68 round the east side of the North Pennines, I knew that my next day's route would involve some pretty steep hills. On the advice of the campsite owner where I was staying that night, an ex-dairyman with a booming voice and ruddy cheeks (no cliché there then!), I decided to change my route and to cut across the top of the Pennines, which would involve an extra day's travel to get me to Hexham, but would hopefully avoid the steepest hills.
 
As somebody would later remark 'never trust a milk man!' The A689 across the North Pennines is spectacular, with views for miles across the moors towards Scotland, and I passed meadows full of cow parsley and buttercups with stone farmhouses dotted around. All was going well until I reached a valley just 3 miles short of my campsite. I didn't like the look of the climb up the far side of the valley so pulled over and let Bluebell cool down for a while, but even so she struggled as the hill wound on and upwards, and we finally ground to a halt about 200 yards from the top.

It was an isolated valley and I had no signal on my phone, but I'd spotted a farmhouse further back down the valley so I reversed down to a lay-by and then ran back to the farmhouse. It didn't look promising, as the gates had chains round them with a sign saying 'You Are Being Watched' and guard dogs were barking. A man eventually came out and I explained what had happened. He said he couldn't tow me but would phone the camp site, and left me standing at the gate. In spite of it being almost mid summer there was a bitter wind and I stood shivering, imagining all sorts of things as I waited in the deserted valley for news of my rescue.














The man eventually came out again and said he'd talked to the camp site owner who was coming along with a friend who had a Land Rover. It wasn't long before Pete and Kathy turned up, and Bluebell was towed to the top of the hill, after which I was able to freewheel down to the campsite at the bottom of the next valley. Kathy treated me to several cups of tea and chocolate biscuits and even took me out in her car to check out my possible routes for the next day, and by the next morning Bluebell was fully re-charged and raring to go.















We passed through the pretty cobbled town of Alston (the highest market town in England) on our way into Hexham, and successfully ignored a stream of overtaking motorists on the final stretch of A69 into Hexham. We made it in plenty of time for my afternoon song writing workshop and evening performance at the Forum Cinema. A lovely married couple turned up for the song writing workshop called Jim and Joan who were in their early 70s, and I was treated to a guided tour of Hexham as part of my workshop which involves doing some walking meditation to help tune into the senses.  Jim and Joan said the workshop had been a revelation, and I admired them for having such open minds as they approached their twilight years.




That night found me parked on a street in Hexham, charging Bluebell up through the window of a house. Marianne had kindly offered at short notice to help me out for the night as the only campsite I could find was up a really steep hill out of town. After a late night hot chocolate I fell asleep exhausted in Bluebell, and managed to sleep in until about 9am the next morning in spite of being in the middle of Hexham! I was elated at having crossed the North Pennines, but my joy was about to be short lived.
 
I set off at mid-day for Once Brewed, a Northumberland National Park visitor centre along Hadrian's Wall, where I was due to be playing that evening. Little did I know that I'd chosen the hilliest route possible, following the Roman road from the town of Wall westwards. The Romans in their wisdom  built their roads in a straight line regardless of the terrain, and it wasn't long before Bluebell struggled to a stop halfway up a hill. I managed to get to the top of the hill after letting her cool down for a while, but after speaking to the staff at Once Brewed I was concerned that if I got stuck in a dip further ahead it might be dangerous as they said there were a lot of hidden dips.

I was left with no choice but to phone the AA, and sat waiting for them in a car park feeling pretty miserable. By the time I'd been towed to Once Brewed Bluebell wouldn't start at all, and the AA man had to tow me into position - luckily I was camping the night in the car park anyway, and I was hoping that by the morning Bluebell would have cooled down and be ready to go again. I set up for the evening gig, and the staff at Once Brewed were really kind to me, making plenty of hot drinks. After playing  I watched a film on my small TV in the milk float, and fell asleep hoping that I'd be able to continue the next day.
 




Sadly, there was no sign of life as I switched Bluebell's ignition on in the morning. I'd been given the number of somebody who serviced milk floats in the North East area, and  he said he'd be able to come and look at it later that day. After running some tests, Gary said that it looked like the motor had blown, and that the likely cause was being towed by the AA, which had overheated the motor to the point where it had damaged the coiling inside. The only hope was to take the motor out and have it re-conditioned, which would take 3 days. Bluebell had to be towed to a nearby garage to have the motor removed and I had to quickly remove some belongings so that I could check into the Once Brewed Youth Hostel next door. I was devastated as I watched my home and tour bus being taken away, unsure even if the tour would be able to continue.
 
I had a gig to get to in Moffat in Scotland two days later, so decided to hire a car to enable me to fulfil my booking. The drive through Kielder Forest Park into Scotland was incredible, with huge forests, lakes and rivers winding through practically wilderness. It was a sad feeling crossing the border into Scotland without Bluebell but I was determined to come back for her and do my very best to continue the tour. I was playing a house concert that night at a guy called John Weatherby's house, who as well as being a fantastic host is also a professional sound engineer with his own recording studio, where I played to his friends that evening. I had them in stitches as I told them about my various breakdowns along the way, and felt uplifted at finally seeing the funny side of my troubles over the last few days.

John and his partner Mairi were a very gentle and relaxed couple, and they said I could stay as long as I needed to. It was great to be able to stay in the same place for a few days and re-charge my batteries (not just Bluebell's!). I spent a day with John setting up for a gig in a local village hall, and did some walking and catching up on my tour diary. I set off again the following Monday, back to the garage where Bluebell was being repaired. As I arrived my heart jumped for joy as I saw Gary driving Bluebell around the garage forecourt, but as he pulled her in to park I sensed there was something wrong. She could drive forwards, but not backwards!
 
It turned out that the controller had blown a circuit due to being towed so far, and it would mean another delay of 3 days until the part could be ordered and replaced. So my journey has taken me back to Alston, where I've been staying at a YHA and making the most of the time by catching up on tour planning and also doing some walking along the incredibly beautiful Pennine Way. All being well the controller will be fitted tomorrow morning and I'll be taken with Bluebell on the back of a lorry to Ardrossan, where our adventure to the Western Isles of Scotland will begin.