Archive for the ‘Hiking’ Category

Haltwhistle Jubilee v North Shields Athletic, Saturday 30th October 2021, 2.30pm

November 6, 2021

On the way up to Glasgow the previous week Jen and I had driven past Haltwhistle and it struck me as somewhere that would be good to combine a game with a bit of a walk. It didn’t need to stay in my thoughts for long as a fixture in the eleventh tier Northern Alliance Premier League the following week soon brought us back.

We drove a couple of miles outside of town and parked up at Cawfield Quarry, close to Milecastle 42 of Hadrian’s Wall. We had set off later than intended and so only had two hours or so, but an hour walking eastwards along the wall and then another hour back again was a very pleasant pre-match activity.

Jen and I had walked the wall around ten years ago but I’ve no recollection of this particular part. I doubt that it has changed much so it’s more likely my failing memory. I’m tempted to do the walk again as a refresher, but this time in the other direction.

There had been some doubt as to whether Haltwhistle Jubilee’s fixture with North Shields Athletic would take place. There had been heavy rain the day before but the result of a mid-morning pitch inspection at their Burns Field pitch was tweeted to confirm that it was on.

It was free to get in with any revenue for Haltwhistle coming from the sale of programmes at a pound-fifty a pop. I know they sold at least twenty-nine as that was the winning number for a bottle of wine.  Even if that was the full extent of sales that’s not bad from a crowd that I counted as sixty-six people and four dogs. That crowd figure may have included some of the management teams, but I didn’t count the bloke watching from his garden that the beagle kept baying at. After a while that fella very kindly hid behind a tree to keep the noise down.

The Northern Alliance Premier is a diverse league. This setting wasn’t far off Sunday league with no stands whatsoever. In contrast Newcastle Blue Star have been attracting four-figure gates with many of their fans taking tables in hospitality. I doubt that Haltwhistle would meet the necessary ground standards for promotion to the Northern League, but I could see Blue Star moving beyond that level very easily.

Haltwhistle Jubilee were in blue with North Shields Athletic in red. The hosts opened the scoring with a well-worked goal in the first half. That increased the level of abuse from someone that I assumed was associated with Shields and who kept wandering on to the pitch. The ref didn’t have it easy as he was effectively on his own with his linesmen being co-opted from the subs for each team.

In the second half the abuse increased and one bloke was made to go and stand ten yards further along the touchline. He was also the fella that won the bottle of wine in the programme draw, but I doubt that he’d had time to drink it all by then.

Jubilee doubled their lead with a well-planted header. We had a bit of late drama when Athletic subbed their keeper for no apparent reason and he sulkily made his way along the touchline. The new goalie didn’t concede and it finished two-nil to Haltwhilstle.

Whitby Fisherman’s Society v Great Ayton Royals United, Saturday 18th September 2021, 1.45pm

October 3, 2021

Jen and I had stayed in Scarborough overnight for a Duran Duran gig. They are Jen’s band not mine but as she attends so much stuff that’s primarily of interest to me I was happy to go along. As it happens, I had a good time. The open-air theatre works well for gigs on dry days, I had a few drinks and they played their only half-decent song, so fair enough, I’d do it again.

It also meant that we could tick off a bit more of the Cleveland way and we spent the Friday afternoon walking from Scarborough to Cayton Bay and back along the clifftops.

Being over in the Scarborough area meant that we could drive back to Teesside along the coast past Whitby and on to Lythe. Mulgave Community Sports Club in Lythe is where the Whitby Fisherman’s Society play their home games in the North Riding League East, which is the twelfth tier in the pyramid. They had a home game on the Saturday and so I picked that as my game for the weekend.

There was a modern looking cricket pavilion with the football pitch adjoining the fenced off cricket square. Nobody was taking anything for admission as Jen and I arrived a couple of minutes after the quarter to two kick-off. We were just in time to see visitors Great Ayton go one up through a free kick that the home goalie stood little chance with.

I had a chat with a Great Ayton fan and he was able to confirm that Whitby were the team in blue with Great Ayton in black and white. He also reckoned that his team were struggling these days and the quality of the players had slipped in the last year or two. I could see what he meant. Some players had a decent touch but others looked like they had only recently taken up the game, perhaps as an alternative to gym membership.

There was a large grassy bank to one side of the pitch and as there was nowhere to sit on any of the other sides we moved to the top of the hill and sat up there. I wasn’t quite West Stand Upper but we had a view of the sea to our left and countryside in every other direction. I counted up the attendance from our lofted vantage point and I‘d say that there were twenty-two people watching who weren’t there in an official capacity.

Great Ayton were reduced to ten men after twenty minutes when a flying tackle sparked a melee that just about everyone joined at one point. The ref was in a difficult position in that neither linesman was neutral and therefore couldn’t be relied upon. Furthermore, his own fitness wasn’t the best and so he rarely strayed from the centre circle. Whatever the merits of the tackle, order was restored with a red and, I think, a couple of yellows.

Great Ayton reorganized and managed to hold on to their one goal advantage at the break. With the cricket pavilion being a hundred yards or so away most players stayed by the side of the pitch at half-time. One nipped up to the bushes behind us for a piss. There seemed no real reason to drag out the re-start and within five or six minutes of the half-time whistle the second half had commenced.

The second half had the same fractious manner as the first with both teams disputing everything. I think if I’d have been the ref I’d have just cleared off. As the game went on Whitby got more desperate, throwing their goalie up for the last couple of minutes. I love to see that, but on this occasion it didn’t work and the visitors took the points.

Chertanovo Women v Yenisey Women, Saturday 22nd May 2021, 4pm

May 26, 2021

This game came about through the new ground-hopping app which surprisingly revealed that there was a football ground with a match scheduled no more than four kilometres from our apartment.  I think the reason that I hadn’t twigged before is that it was Chertanovo women. I’ve seen their men’s team play a couple of times at Sportivny Gorodok in Luzhniki park and I suppose I had just assumed that the women would play at the same ground.

With the ground being so close it made sense to walk it, particularly as we could follow a route that took us through Serebryanyye Rodniki. I’m always amazed by how many areas of parkland or forest are within the Moscow area. Although I was the same about London when I lived there thirty-five years ago.

Serebryanyye Rodniki didn’t have much wildlife. I caught a glimpse of a squirrel heading up a tree a fair distance ahead and there were a few interesting looking birds, but the combination of the camera auto-focusing on nearby branches and my shaky hands meant that any photos were invariably too blurry to use.

There were plenty of dogs though, mostly on leads. I understood why when we spotted the ‘lost dog’ posters. Perhaps the lure of the forest was too much for them.

We spent a couple of hours walking through the woods. It was longer than I’d planned as I misread the directions on my phone and at the time when we should have been heading for the ground I was confidently striding out in the opposite direction.

One of the things that are fairly common in Moscow parks are home-made bird feeders. Some of them look like school projects and probably won’t last the week but others are more substantial. The squirrels probably have a circuit established for nipping in and scoffing whatever has been left inside.

We arrived at the Chertanovo Arena bang on time for kick-off but were delayed a few minutes by the temperature check, airline-style scanning, pat down and the insistence that we swig the cans of coke that we had with us before going in. It all seemed well over the top to me. I’m not sure what trouble there has been in the Women’s Supreme Division in the past but I doubt that a middle-aged couple would pose much of a threat.

Once inside we found seats in the only available stand which was opposite the dugouts. A further security measure required that we watch the game through netting and with posts and hoardings further restricting the view.

We sat at the back of the three rows of seats in the stand temporarily managing to keep out of the sun. As the half progressed and the sun got lower we found ourselves squinting and the view deteriorating by the minute.

Home side Chertanovo were taking on Yenisey. We’d seen the visitors get a pasting from CSKA last month and on that occasion they’d played in white. This time they had red kit with Chertanovo playing in white.

There were about sixty spectators including a dozen or so making a racket in support of the home side. The drummer missed a beat on one occasion to whack the bloke next to him. I presume it was to encourage him to sing.

Yenisey took an early lead and played some good, fast-passing football. Chertanovo equalized with a shot that went through the visiting keepers legs. I know that commenting on the poor quality of keepers in the women’s game is a bit of a lazy cliché but the Yenisey goalie looked dodgy the last time I saw her and she was equally at sea in this game missing crosses, clattering defenders and generally causing jitters whenever she was called upon. A bit like me when I played. I don’t see her lasting long at this level.

It was one each at the break and with the sun shining directly into our eyes I had little appetite for viewing the remaining 45 minutes. We negotiated security for the second time and caught a cab into town for our tea at a Korean barbecue place. A check the next morning revealed that Yenisey took the points with a 3-2 win.

Berwick Rangers v Caledonian Braves, Saturday 28th December 2019, 3pm

March 15, 2020

Jen and I needed to nip up to Edinburgh to put in a visa application and whilst we could have stayed there, or I suppose, driven straight back, we decided to draw out our journey back to Teesside with a night in Dunbar and another in Berwick.

We didn’t see much of Dunbar on the evening that we arrived, spending the time sampling Belhaven’s products in the bar of our hotel, but next morning we took a hike along the John Muir Way to Barns Ness Lighthouse and back. The route followed the coast and skirted a golf course for a lot of the way. There wasn’t much in the way of wildlife, apart from a goose with a damaged wing, but it was great to be out in the fresh air for a few hours.

It was a short drive from Dunbar to Berwick and after dropping off Jen and the car at our guest house I had a wander up to Shielfield Park for Berwick Rangers’ game with Caledonian Braves. Whilst a year ago I’d have been watching the only English team in the Scottish League, this year I would be watching the only English team in the fifth tier Scottish Lowland League after Berwick’s relegation last season.

Shielfield Park dates back to 1954, when Berwick shifted from their previous stadium on the adjacent land. It is also home to the Berwick Bandits speedway team which makes for a somewhat distant view of the pitch. At least there wasn’t a fence obscuring the view.

After paying a tenner to get in and another pound for a raffle ticket, I got myself a cup of tea and found a spot in the main stand that I think had been bought second hand from Bradford. With the stanchions it wasn’t possible to get an un-obscured view but I managed to find a seat that allowed me to see both goalmouths.

On the other side of the pitch was covered terracing and to my right a small enclosure about the size of a bus stop for travelling fans. There was also a club shop that was selling what I overheard one fan describe as the relegation shirt.

At 2.59 the teams ran on to the pitch. There was none of the pre-match handshaking and they went straight to their positions. The toss took place and within ten seconds of the ref confirming that the players didn’t need to switch ends the game had started. Brilliant. If I’m ever sentenced to be hanged I want the Scottish FA and this ref to officiate. I reckon I’d go from swigging a final diet coke in my cell to being cut down from the gallows before I’d had time to put the top back on my drink. The ref further enhanced his reputation during the afternoon, in my eyes anyway, by booking at least three players for booting the ball away after he’d blown for a foul.

One of the home players went down injured early on prompting the fella behind me to speculate that it might have been with a dislocated shoulder. He related that on noticing previously that the player in question hadn’t been seen for a couple of weeks, either on the pitch or in the Red Lion, he’d phoned him at home to be told from the horse’s mouth about his poorly shoulder.

The teams were wearing the same colours as I’d seen in last week’s game between West Auckland and Penrith, namely yellow and black for Berwick and red for Caledonian Braves. These players looked a bit fuller in figure than their Northern League counterparts but I suppose with one game taking place four days before Christmas and the other three days after then perhaps there’s a good reason for that.

Berwick took the lead ten minutes before half-time when Osei broke down the left and shot powerfully enough for it to squeeze under the visiting keeper. The scorer was from Swaziland, although Berwick had picked him up after he had been released by Raith Rovers, rather than having scouted him themselves playing for Langley Zebras.

At half time I joined the queue at the food place. They’d sold out of pies and burgers before the game having only put on a limited supply due to expectations of a low crowd. They had some soup though, Christmas soup apparently, made of turkey and vegetables put through a blender. It was very nice, athough I did wonder if it had just been made from the scrapings from people’s plates.

There only seemed to be two ball boys and they stood together behind one of the goals. They’d been criticised in the first half by people in the crowd for spending their time looking at their phones. Second half they had found a football and were equally criticised for booting it around. The paused their private game however when a subbed player went past them on his long trek around the pitch perimeter and then got their phones out again to have him pose for a selfie.

There were a few chances at either end but nobody took them and the final whistle blew to a collective cheer from the home fans for the one goal win.

Orihuela v Castellon, Sunday 17th November 2019, 5pm

March 7, 2020

After a few days in Elche, Jen and I headed back to the coast and stayed at a place called La Mata. It appeared to be shut for the winter, with just a couple of bars and cafes catering for ex-pats in fleeces in need of that pre-lunch beer.

We managed to do a bit of walking as one of those long-distance coastal trails took in the beach as part of its route, giving us easy sign-posted options in two directions, with a further option of a trail around a nearby salt lake.

In the absence of eating out options we tended to snack in our apartment. If we’d have been there for a while longer I’d probably have had a crack at the whole pigs that we saw in the freezer section of a nearby hypermarket. We’d shared half of a two-week old suckling pig in Malaysia in the past and had portions of a slightly older one when we’d been in Spain earlier in the year. These ones were just that touch too big though for the time we had available.

The most suitable football option was a third tier Segunda B game an hour or so down the road at Orihuela.  I cut it fine getting there and with no parking in view at the Estadio Municipal Los Arcos we had to put the car in one of those underground car parks some distance away.

We emerged into the daylight and I strode off sharply in what I thought was the direction of the ground. Despite nothing looking familiar I dismissed Jen’s suggestion that I use the map on my phone as unnecessary until I’d taken us a good five minutes in the wrong direction. Eventually I got my phone out as if it had been my own idea, sheepishly did the required U-turn and we arrived at the ground bang on kick-off.  I’d have still been wandering around the town centre were I not a married man.

It was fifteen euros for general admission for the visit of Castellon. If I remember rightly Castellon is the place where I stayed with my daughter when the Boro played Villareal in one of the UEFA Cup seasons. I’ve also got a faint recollection that Mendieta was either from there or turned out for them early in his career. You could always Google it or him if you wanted to be sure.

The main stand was taped off and so everyone was watching from the three rows of terracing that ran around the other three sides of the ground. Every now and then someone would appear on a balcony of the apartments that overlooked the stadium and cast a disinterested eye at the action as they retrieved their washing or drew on a fag. Along that same side was the main home singing section of thirty-odd Orihuela fans.

At the opposite end to us were a few Castellon supporters in front of an impressive mountain backdrop. With the visitors sitting one place off the top of the table and Orihuela rock bottom, I’m sure they were expecting to go home three points better off.

Orihuela, in yellow and blue, took the lead after a quarter of an hour when their right-sided striker was first to a ball over the top and finished well. I missed Castellon’s equaliser ten minutes or so later as I was searching online for the height of Orihuela’s ‘big unit’ Antonio. Turns out that he’s six foot five, but he looked to be taller.

It was still level at the break as I wandered around to the kiosk near the front gate and got myself a pie filled with an unidentified, but tasty enough, reddy-brown substance.

On the hour Orihuela had a chance from a corner that Castellon just couldn’t clear. The ball bobbed up and down on and around the crossbar before the home side eventually turned it in for a two-one lead.

The goal injected some life into the game and a slide tackle by an Orihuela player right in front of the Castellon bench sparked a fracas that, I think, led to a red card for the slidee. One of the away coaches should have picked up one as well, maybe he did, it was hard to tell.

It looked like the ten men of Orihuela would hold on but with the scoreboard showing just the four minutes remaining someone hit a sweet half-volley from the edge of the box that nicked the inside of the post on the way in and levelled the scores. It was two points dropped though for the visitors and a well-deserved draw for relegation-threatened Orihuela. In an added bonus we found our way back to the car without having to resort to the phone map.

Elche v Almeria, Saturday 16th November 2019, 6.30pm

March 2, 2020

The work that I’d been doing in Dubai had reached a lull and so Jen and I took the opportunity to have a couple of weeks in Spain. After a few days in Alicante we moved inland a little to Elche. We were staying on the outskirts and so didn’t see as much of the historic centre as we usually would, but we did manage to get a walk in at a nearby nature reserve where the route took us up past a dam and then alongside the reservoir above.

I’d picked Elche as a place to stay mainly because I knew I’d be able to take in a second division game against Almeria on the Saturday evening. The fixture promised to be a decent contest with visitors Almeria fourth in the table and Elche back in ninth. It was tight though and a win for Elche would have been enough to see them leapfrog their opponents.

The sat nav on my telephone suggested that I park some distance away from the Estadio Manuel Martinez Valero. It was advice that I came to regret when I discovered a couple of enormous free car parks next to the ground.

I joined the short queue at the ticket office and bought myself a twenty euro seat along one of the sides of the ground. I could have had one for ten euros behind the goal, which struck me as great pricing for second tier Spanish football and only about a fifty percent premium on the price of watching games in the Northern League.

After sorting my ticket I did a lap of the perimeter of the stadium. It dates back to a few years before the 1982 World Cup during which it hosted some group stage games including Hungary’s record 10-1 victory over El Salvador.

Once inside I got myself a coke and immediately regretted not taking a spare bottle top, as the original was confiscated in the way that they tend to do at the Riverside. I then had the all too common experience of discovering that my allocated seat didn’t exist, before someone very kindly pointed out that all of the seat numbers were odd on one side of the half-way line and even on the other. It’s something that has confused me ever since I encountered it in my very first Spanish game at Coruna in 2005 and it’s great that someone has finally explained it to me. Whether or not my memory is up to retaining the information remains to be seen.

There was an organised communal singsong before the start, together with fans holding their scarves up above their heads. Similar I suppose to the sort of thing that goes on at the likes of Anfield. I can be a bit cynical about stuff like that, but I suppose it beats that Pigbag nonsense that Mark Page just won’t let go. You just know that he will have it played at his funeral as the coffin is brought into the church. Hopefully, with the altar boys clapping along like seals, it will be the last time that people ever to have to listen to it. Bab-bye now indeed.

I was pleased to see an appropriate lack of respect by the visiting Almeria fans. Despite being tucked away in the upper tier at the end to my right, they made a decent effort at distracting from the Elche anthem by belting out a ditty of their own.

Once the game started it was apparent that the pre-match singing was enough for almost all of the Elche fans. The only active support of their team came from a block of about thirty ‘ultras’ behind the goal to my left.

To be fair, there wasn’t much to sing about with the main talking points in the first half being what I thought were probably some unnecessary bookings.

The game took off after the break when Fidel made some space for himself and put a clever ball through for his full back, Cruz, whose cross was well turned in by Nino to open the scoring for Elche. The applause was muffled, literally, by most of those in the ground wearing gloves on account of the chilly temperature. Maybe club shops would sell gloves suitable for making a clapping noise.

Elche had a good chance to clinch the game when they hit the post and they forced a good save from the Almeria keeper with a few minutes to go. Their failure to add a second proved costly though when they failed to clear a corner and Owona tucked the loose ball into the corner of the net.

At one each both teams pushed for the win and whilst Almeria almost nicked it at the end that’s the way it finished.

Redcar Athletic v Esh Winning, Saturday 21st September 2019, 3pm

January 26, 2020

The main plan for this day was a hike along the cliff tops in the area between Skinningrove and Skelton. Jen and I parked up at Boulby, a place that that surely only exists for parking up, and took my daughter’s beagle up through the fields to join the Cleveland Way.

It was ideal weather for a coastal walk and by doubling back when getting near to anywhere inhabited we managed to spend a few hours in the middle of nowhere.

The downside was that the dog appeared to have a death wish. Or at least minimal understanding of how cliffs work. He got a lot closer to the edge than I was comfortable with and all it would have taken was a bird or a butterfly to have flown by him and he would have jumped off after it without a second thought.

I’d kept in mind the possibility of calling in at Redcar on the way back to take in some football and as we made it back to the car it looked possible that we could make the second half of Redcar Athletic’s Northern League Division Two game with Esh Winning. That was good enough for me. Most ground hoppers have their own rules and mine allow me to tick off a ground if I’ve watched any part of a proper game there. Even if I don’t arrive until the ref is moving his hand towards his mouth to blow the final whistle, it counts.

We didn’t cut it quite that fine, but it was around ten minutes into the second half before we found their Green Lane ground and made our way in. The bloke on the gate had long departed and so we saved at least a fiver a head. Dogs get in for free anyway, regardless of what time they arrive.

I asked how things were going and one fella told me that Redcar were three-nil up. A few moments later I overheard someone else asking the same question only to be told the score was three-one. Somebody wasn’t paying attention. Possibly me. As it was more likely that someone had missed a goal rather than invented one I worked on the basis that Redcar were ahead by two.

There was a small covered seating area that held about fifty and with a few wags in residence. There was also a covered standing area, but with the weather being pretty good most people just lined the perimeter railing for a closer view.

It wasn’t long before Redcar had a chance to kill the game off when one of their strikers ran on to a long ball. It was just out of his reach though and he took an unwarranted tumble in a desperate attempt at picking up a penalty. All he got for his efforts was a volley of abuse from the visiting defence.

The striker had still to get up when Esh Winning broke to the other end and had a penalty shout of their own. This one was given and converted to reduce the deficit to a single goal. The efforts of the visitors to get back on level terms weren’t helped by their lack of discipline. They had a player who I thought had been sin binned but who might have actually just received a second yellow. At that point I noticed that they only had nine players on the pitch so had either suffered an injury after using their subs or had already had someone sent off.

The Esh Winning charge sheet grew in the final minutes after a fracas where the home manager claimed to have been racially abused by an opposition player and one of the players on the visitors bench was subsequently shown a red and sent packing to the changies despite the ref not appearing to be anywhere within earshot.

All the excitement on the sidelines overshadowed the remaining on-field activities with Redcar holding on for the win.

Gosforth v Moor Row, Saturday 7th September 2019, 2pm

November 29, 2019

Ticking off this ground was a bit unexpected in that I’d no idea that there was a game taking place until I noticed the players running around as we drove past on the way to a different match. We had plenty of time though and I pulled in and parked up to take a few photos.

Jen and I were staying down the road at Muncaster for British Sea Power’s Krankenhaus festival and had spent the morning walking up on Muncaster Fell. It’s somewhere that I‘ve been to before and we had decent views both inland and out to sea. Further up the coast we could see Sellafield which was somewhere that I first worked at nearly thirty years ago.

Back in those days I stayed just outside of Gosforth and would regularly drink in all of the three pubs that are within a few feet of each other in the village. Sometimes the sessions would go on a bit longer than I’d consider wise these days and on more than one occasion I ended up going straight to work without ever making it back to my digs.

It wasn’t all drinking though, sometimes we had a kick about after work on the same field as where this game was taking place. Although we would usually then end up in the pub anyway so perhaps it was all about the drinking after all.

I learned from one of the home coaching team that this was a cup game against Moor Row, which is a few miles to the north. I’ve no idea what level the teams play at but it looked to be lower than Wearside League standard so maybe 12th or 13th tier. Anyway, I later found out that the cup was the Conway Cup and despite me hanging about for a good ten minutes I didn’t see any of the seven goals that Gosforth subsequently put past the visitors.

Still, it’s another ground, number three hundred and thirty to be precise, and it gave me a chance to reminisce about the times when concluding an evening at seven o’clock meant the next morning rather than early that same evening.

Memphis Redbirds v Nashville Sounds, Tuesday 25th June 2019, 6.35pm

August 4, 2019

After Lynchburg we headed back into the mountains and along the Blue Ridge Highway. We stayed a couple of nights in a hut at the Fancy Gap campground which was close enough to a music place for us to nip up and listen to old people paying bluegrass on fiddles and banjoes. I doubt that they were paid for their efforts but it seemed a great way of getting them out of their wilderness cabins.

We moved further south along the highway, breaking the journey to Newlands with a stop at some museum. I didn’t really have much interest in its contents but that didn’t matter because we stumbled across a snake on the pathway up to it. It was just crossing from one grassy area to another and so we were able to stalk it. Jen reckoned that the shape of its head meant that it probably wasn’t venomous. It was moving slowly enough for me to have caught it but as I doubt that my medical insurance covers me for Steve Irwin-style mishaps we limited ourselves to photographing it in the undergrowth.

We had three nights at Newlands where it rained for much of the time. It was a decent place to be holed up though and with a creek running by the back of the house I was able to pass some time fishing for trout. I didn’t get as much of a bite with any of the flies that I was using but I didn’t break any rods either. It was enjoyable just being down by the river

Newlands was the last stop on the Blue Ridge Highway before the Smoky Mountains. We camped for three nights inside the national park at Big Creek Campground. Once again we were lucky enough to be next to a river and one afternoon I cooled off after an Appalachian trail hike by sitting up to my shoulders in the fast flowing water. I watched a humming bird hover a foot above the water looking for fish and it occurred to me that life rarely gets much better than this.

One morning I’d been cooking sausages and an orange spider appeared from under the table and started to eat some of the grease that was on the knife I’d used to prick them. I’m not usually scared of spiders but a spider with a knife cranks things up a level. He was a leg short, no doubt due to some past cutlery-related mishap but seemed friendly enough. If I’d known how much he was going to enjoy the sausage fat I’d have saved him some of my breakfast.

Big Creek signalled the end of the camping part of our trip and was followed by a couple of nights in each of Nashville and Memphis. We are heading back to Nashville on the return leg of the journey so I’ll describe that then and move on to Memphis now.

We were staying in an area described as ‘historically hip’ which to me just means ‘likely to be murdered’.  We got away with it though and were able to pay a visit to the Civil Rights museum which is based around the motel where Martin Luther King hadn’t been quite so lucky. We also did a tour of the Sun Studio where we stood in the small room where so many of those early rock’n’roll classics were recorded. It’s not really my kind of music, but I sort of wished it was.

Being in Memphis meant that we could take in a third baseball game of the trip. I think Memphis Redbirds are a triple A team, and so their contest with localish rivals Nashville Sounds was just one tier below the Major League. From what I understand that would mean that most, if not all, of the players involved would be contracted to a top tier team but were currently judged to be not quite up to the top flight and so were farmed out to one of their affiliates. I’m also told that an injury or form crisis in the MLB side means that players turning out for the Redbirds or Sounds can suddenly receive a top-tier call up, with their places at this level then being filled by some fella from a double AA team.

The Uber car that took us to the game had a small hole in the windscreen which I assessed to be about the size of a bullet. However our driver assured us that it had been caused by nothing more serious than someone throwing a rock at the car. That’s ok then.

We had pre-booked tickets at Autozone Park and after a cursory bag search we were up on the second tier beyond third base but not quite beyond the netting. There wasn’t a big crowd though, maybe a thousand in a ten thousand seater ball park and so it was easy enough to move a few seats along for an unobstructed view.

A lot of the people on our tier seemed to be on work trips out and as such many of them had little real interest in the baseball. I did wonder how such a low crowd would make the team viable but I suppose with the amount of money kicking around at the top level, funding an affiliate team is just seen as one more Major League expense.

There were some decent craft beer options at $8.75 which you could pretty much consider to be a tenner once you’d added the tip. Whilst it was cheaper than the Mets it’s still an expensive do. At those prices I doubt many people in the US get shitfaced in the way that I did when I attended baseball games in Korea.

There was a hint of rain in the air and so we moved downstairs after the first couple of innings to increase our chances of staying dry.

Both sides were quickly off the mark and as we reached the end of the third visitors Nashville had an 8-4 lead with the home pitcher having already been hooked for being too easy to hit. It slowed down somewhat after that with the main entertainment coming from a catch that one fella dropped only for a teammate to scoop it up before it it the turf.

Three hours is enough for me at these games and after getting the circulation going doing the seventh innings stretch, we kept moving all the way out of the gate. We didn’t miss much with Nashville adding a further two runs in the ninth for a 10-4 victory.

Lynchburg Hillcats v Wilmington Blue Rocks , Friday 14th June 2019, 6pm

June 24, 2019

After the Mets game it was time to start what I regarded as the proper holiday. The plan was to drive down to Louisiana and Mississippi to see Jen’s family and then get back up to New York for the boat trip back. We had thirty days before embarkation and had plotted a route that took us along the Blue Ridge Highway to the Smoky  Mountains, then on to Nashville and Memphis before heading south for a few days  prior to a mad dash back for the boat.

We started with a couple of nights in Shenandoah National Park, staying in the nineteenth century paymasters cabin. Bedding must have been in short supply in the olden days as we had to use the sleeping bags that we’d brought for the nights when we’d be camping.

The big advantage of the park though was that the Appalachian Trail went past our cabin and so we had easy hiking options that didn’t require us to find a starting point. First day we hiked north and didn’t see very much at all in the woods. Second day we started earlier for the southern option and were rewarded with a deer, a few chipmunks and something in the undergrowth that was probably a groundhog.

After a drive along the skyline we spent the next two nights camping at Big Meadows in Virginia. This was also on the Appalachian trail and we hiked a circular route that detoured to Hollow Falls before rejoining the trail for the last section back to the campground.

Jen was walking in front as we turned a corner to discover a mid-sized black bear stretched out in the sun on a rock no more than about six feet ahead of us. It had probably been asleep but was quickly wide awake, frantically crashing through the bushes to get away from us. I’m not sure which of the three of us got the biggest shock but I now know that Jen’s go to expletive in times of high stress is “Holy Fuck!”.

I’m pleased to say that over the past nine years, I don’t recall doing anything to trigger that particular response. The bear paused briefly about fifteen yards away to stare at us, no doubt muttering something similar to itself, before ambling off into the woods.

Back at the campground we discovered a second bear wandering around close to our tent. This one was much smaller and probably less than two years old. It didn’t seem interested in us, preferring to spend its time digging up roots. If we got close it would move away, occasionally grabbing a tree trunk but never bothering to climb up. At one point it halfheartedly chased a deer that got too close but I think they both knew that the gesture was more for show. After an hour or so a warden turned up with an air horn and what looked like a paintball gun to chase the bear away into the woods.

Our next stop took us out of the mountains for a couple of days and into Lynchburg. This gave us the opportunity to take in a minor league baseball game at the City Stadium.

I’d booked the seats online a few months earlier, opting for the $8 unreserved ‘bleacher’ seating mainly for the flexibility of being able to choose who I sat near to. If I’d wanted, I could have had a seat behind the plate for $15, but I’m not overly keen on looking through netting. It’s like those sensors or what ever in a car windscreen. Once you’ve noticed it, it’s hard to filter it back out again.

Our tickets were easily collected from the ‘Will Call’ line at the ticket office. I didn’t even need to show ID, just told them who I was and the bloke behind the counter readily handed them over.  As we made our way into the stadium we were given pink tee shirts as part of a mammogram awareness campaign and then a bag each for putting them in. It all seemed a lot for an $8 dollar ticket.

Once inside, we chose ‘bleacher’ seats at third base, just beyond the netting and in the shade. Best seats in the house in my opinion. There were plenty of bars selling beer at less than half the price than at the Mets the previous week, but I was driving this time so wasn’t able to take advantage.

Local side Hillcats were supporting the mammogram campaign with one-off pink player jerseys that were being auctioned off after the game. This fixture was the sixth in a run of eight consecutive daily meetings in the Carolina League between the two sides. The visitors, Wilmington Blue Rocks, had been having the better season but had struggled in the recent head-to heads.

A lot of the crowd seemed to know each other, although I’d expect exactly that in the UK at a lower level football game with a smallish attendance. There were a few college kids in who gave the impression that it might have been their first night ever on the drink, but we’ve all been there.

As we reached the sixth innings Jen and I moved around to the seats at first base for a different vantage point. This coincided with the sunning starting to set and for a while, until the full benefit of the floodlights kicked in, I thought the twilight conditions were a significant disadvantage to everyone other than the pitcher.

Our move coincided with the opening of the scoring, with the Blue Rocks scoring two runs in the sixth, before the Hillcats countered with one of their own.  A third run for the visitors in the eighth was enough to clinch the win.

Overall it was a much better evening out than the Mets game had been. Warmer weather, cheaper prices and a smaller, more traditional ground all outweighed the drop in playing standards that I’m not experienced enough to notice anyway.