Beallach or Bust

I had laid a very easy to follow path over the years with various industrial and mountain biking accidents, but when the click came and my knee went, this time I was an innocent victim. I wasn’t angry, or even vaguely annoyed, I could just have easily have sneezed and did it to myself, but I was definitely greatly inconvenienced. The whole of the Christmas holidays were spend in a chair or limping to another chair or hovering around the cooker which always brings me joy. And a little weight gain due to inaction. Working on that now.

We had the Historic Sunday at Tantallon Castle (big story of that when we’ve done the last of the six free days) which was okay, painkillers and a limp just seemed like normal already. Then both of the girls and me walked the Darn Road which is an ancient right of way from Bridge of Allan to Dunblane through some lovely scenery then also along an eroded trench between high walls and by the edge a golf course where only my throbbing knee and an uphill run to the target saved some posh bastard in slacks from a punch in the head when he sliced a ball a bit to close to us as we passed.

Results from the activities were inconclusive, I was less limpy but I was also getting very twitchy and there was snow. I’d also just bought a pair of 90’s Karrimor Alpiniste Pants on Vinted for £3.50 and was desperate to try them.
Ah, what the hell.
After the school run I nipped into a client, did a few calls, there was nothing on that I couldn’t easily dodge. I scurried around and finished packing my always ready Mystery Ranch Scree 32 (discontinued for ’24 btw, ffs, no one but me seems to “get” this pack) and got changed. I would have been on the road in minutes if I hadn’t ripped the crotch on the Alpinistes doing a test lunge on my knee. Sewing machine out, square of matching 90’s dark navy Karisma fleece (I have so much stuff…) cut and installed.
The fifteen minutes I spent on that was an acceptable loss so I could wear the pants, I was completely happy as I belted up the A82 to climb something familiar and close.

Ben Lomond was white and cloud free and I was sorely tempted but as much as I love it, I’d just been there and then at Tarbet I kept straight on towards Arrochar. The craggy skyline was white with wisps of cloud coming in from the west and the car park had plenty of space. Time was getting on though and if I could steal some height at my starting point I would. The Rest and Be Thankful is free of cones and Hi Viz vests, I’d forgotten how that looked. The hillside is also like a dumping ground for an old Meccano set. How much money have they pointlessly pissed away on this and it still won’t stop Beinn Luibhean sliding onto the road whenever it feels like it.
I enjoyed the wee drive so much I was round the corner at the top before I knew it and just decided on Beinn Ime. It had been a while anyway.

I parked the van at the gate to the forestry plantation and found that the whole place was black ice and I got ready to go very carefully indeed. The tops around me were all catching some cloud and in a very picturesque fashion. I love these hills, every one a steep and craggy stunner. This does mean they’re pretty much all hard work, just what my knee needs: a proper test.
Into the frozen trees I went.

It was a graceful hop, slip and trip technique I used to follow the burn. I would have been easier using the zigzag road cut into the hillside to the right, but I didn’t know that limits of that since I hadn’t been here in a while but with height I could see where it went it very clearly and that was booked in as the descent line. Going this way did take me by some lovely frozen falls so it was a definite winner.

It was very dull, by which I mean I wasn’t in sunlight very much, but there were patches of bright sun all around catching the fresh snow and black crags. It was just beautiful and the wispy shifting clouds added drama and mystery as they hid or revealed the tops and ridges with every chilling gust of wind.
Underfoot was okay, clumpy grass and snow after I crossed the burn higher up. The snow became firmer as I went on and started to fill in the gullies and soon became unavoidable.
I stopped for a break out of the wind, pulled on another top and fitted my crampons. It was steeper from here, and windier too. I ate a spicy chicken wrap, sipped my cuppa and waited for the sun to come my way as snow lightly fell around me.

28 year old fleece trousers and gaiters that are maybe just a couple of years younger. The trousers were great to wear, the fabric at the crotch had perished and my quick repair would be redone at home to become a permanent upgrade which I will cover in detail later. The next day I would wear nearly new trousers that cost 60 times as much as these did and I tore them easily on brambles. This has really had me thinking.
The gaiters were brilliant too, OG Mountain Hardwear Gore-Tex Ventigaiters. I always get mud up to my knees so I don’t know why I don’t wear gaiters more. A happy reunion for sure.

It was steeper hard snow from here and the short spiked aluminium Kahtoolas immediately felt like a poor choice as I frequently slipped down father than I had just stepped up. I cut a few steps here and there, switched up my direction constantly and stitched together the frozen clumps of grass and rock.
It was a lot of fun though and my knee wasn’t complaining at all.

I hit the Glas Beallach as the light was fading and the cloud seemed to sink down to meet me. I crossed east to peer down into the wild coire below where a rogue patch of light scuffed to lowest slopes of Ben Vane and was gone again. I wasn’t making the summit of Beinn Ime before dark and I wasn’t fussed about that, I turned left onto the rocky ridge of the lower Beinn Chorranach.
The wind now whipped around me, spindrift stung what bare skin it could find and I could feel my mustache tighten up as my breath froze on the hairs. the temperature was racing the sun down towards night time.

Ach, that’ll do I think. I swung left to pick my way through the big crags and was soon out of the cloud again. The wind remained but seemed to lose some of its sting as I worked may down the bluey-grey frozen jumble.

I was much further north than I’d thought and found myself at the foot of a wonderfully frozen crag I’d spied in the distance on the way up. The icicles were thick and had been curved by the wind as they’d formed. I felt like it was lunging at me and some kind cailleach had frozen it mid leap to save me. A wonderful wee find and a perfect cuppa spot.
There were tantalising breaks in the cloud and then colours bled in and out of the haze. A sunset was happening somewhere, just not here. I was happy though, sheltered from the wind, warm and enjoying being back in the hills for the first time in weeks oh so much.

I descended into the gloom singing away to myself with a pole, axe and crampons, then after a while two poles and crampons. Even when I crossed the burn to reach the forest track on the flank of Beinn Liubhean the kit remained that way I stayed until I reached the van. It was frozen hard the whole way.

I finished my flask as the van warmed up in the blackness of Butterbridge. The descent had lit up my knee somewhat but it was okay, plus the few hours of crampon use too, I really couldn’t complain.

As I drove home I had two main thoughts, about how any lingering ache in my knee would be cured by a wee lie in a hot bath with a chilled rhubarb flavoured Crabbies and how to make a diamond crotch gusset for my Alpiniste Pants.
I achieved both of these things, photies and words on one of them later.


It’s on Amazon, Bandcamp and iTunes too.

I should probably just let the music speak for itself, but releasing this song bursts a dam that’s been holding back so many emotions, bad decisions, frustrations and so much more besides.

I enjoy playing bass in They Theory immensely and we’ve got some cracking gigs booked this year. They took me in as I was, they didn’t ask for anything really, I played bass like I do and they just smiled and went with it. It’s a heavier band now because of that but they seem happy enough. This all makes me glad and was one of things that kept me playing and shook me out of my dwam last year.

In The Violet Signs it was a different story. The band grew from a time that was a musical limbo for me, confidence and creativity were at an all-time low and I was just happy to still be playing. Through time my chops came back a little and I found myself writing some nice melodic parts, although the glacial pace we worked at saw so many good ideas fall by the wayside. Still, three songs were recorded and although disquiet grew in the band throughout this time for various reasons, it was the last song we did though that finally snapped me out of the daze.

The Violets played a gig in Glasgow and it was okay, I was happy enough on the night. It wasn’t without issue but I’m not throwing anyone under a bus lest I deservedly join them there. Afterwards though there was some lingering weirdness in my mind and when I heard back the many videos that emerged later I couldn’t believe how weak it all sounded. I’d cut back on the fatness of the guitar to suit the nature of the music and on all but one song it sounded awful. I didn’t recognise the man on stage with that Flying V at all.

What the hell was I doing there?

Recording was booked, recording was cancelled, recording was rebooked elsewhere. I had already quietly signed out of all the bands social media accounts, I had one foot out of the door when the booking process was happening but these folks were my friends (I think?) and I went into the studio to lay down my guitar tracks with optimism.

Loved the recording day, great studio, great engineer and we played pretty well. There was the usual occasions of frustrating oddness but as we sat with takeaway on the control room floor listening back I was happy.

Then the mixing came and I went. Just one step at a time then I eventually said “whatever” and just muted everything and pretended it wasn’t happening.

“We need to mix it so people will like it on their phones”.

The engineer ran out of patience with the ever more ludicrous requests, handed the files over and shut the door. That was embarrassing.

The recording was saved by an old friend of mine and Stevie’s who finished the song at his home studio where he is a low key multinstrumentalist darkwave globally successful artist. The song was released.

There was relief. And I refused to do a video for it. We were done.

I looked at my guitar setup and it just wasn’t mine. eBay fixed that fast and Stevie and I were back in jamming on whatever came out of us. Happiness mostly.

The song you’ll find from the advert above, EightyThree, grew from a regularly visited riff and became the front runner quite fast. We have pretty much a full album worth of songs in various states of completion now, might get to some of that too.

We recorded the song on the afternoon of the 28th of December ’23. I did some rhythm guitars live in the room with Stevie’s drums and then I layered more guitars, the bass and vocals while Diane the engineer and Stevie cajoled and encouraged me through the control room window. All the lead guitar licks and solos are from one take, and that was the first take too. No structure, no melody, just fuzz, wah and a big grin. It really is like coming home.

Have I learned anything from all this? Oh I think so.