Tomorrow’s Dream Vol 13

I was sorting through pages of draft posts and found this rather psychedelic photie with no words attached yet that I must have intended to do something with when lockdown was at its tightest as it’s a Tomorrow’s Dream title that I was using when me and the rest of the world were all getting a little twitchy.

It’s an old scan of a print and it’s somewhere I’ve been around or past but never along since I took the shot an awful long time ago: Sgùrr a’ Mhàim from the start of the Devil’s Ridge in the Mamores.
I’d love to go back because I can’t remember the detail of it too well, but we’re still finding new places to go and exploring to do so when I think about all the places I want to revisit, I wonder if I really will have the time.

I guess the lesson is to make the most of whatever day you’re having and take those photies; make those memories and keep them safe. Because discovering this old photie has made me very glad today.

The Crunch

I woke up yesterday feeling a bit stiff round my neck and shoulder. As I worked around the kitchen getting the coffee pot on and emptying the Simon Howie breakfast pack into the pan the stiffness grew into the Return of the Curse of the Rotator Cuff (of Doom) and by lunchtime I was full of painkillers, covered in lidocaine patches and immobile on the couch.
And the weather was looking great.
It’s Sunday now and the weather is better but i’m not.
Monday is looking brilliant and I don’t know if I’m going to be able to take advantage of it. Haven’t been off the hills the last couple of weeks, guess I was tempting fate a little too hard.

We shall see.

*The Crunch is also the classic single by The Rah Band. Worth seeking out and while you listen remember that everything you hear is guitar and keys, no synths, just effects pedals. It’s genius.

Diary of a Cragman #1

Diary of a madmanWalk the line again todayEntries of confusionDear diary, I’m here to stay

I dunno, is a 43 year old Ozzy song a good point of reference? For me, of course it is.

The Kilpatrick Hills in general and for some years now the Lang Craigs in particular are my home, it’s where I live, it’s where I play and since I’ve been back reviewing outdoor gear it’s where I get consistent testing miles on kit. Random big hill days where I have to travel tell me specifics, but you cannot beat rotating the same gear samples on regular repeated routes in different conditions to get a real understanding and reliable results. I also get good wear and tear, the terrain is rough, the weather is wild and in my time at TGO I have had some brands pissing and moaning because I’ve found that their all weather extreme gear isn’t quite as good as they say it is because of what my sometimes daily use in these hills tells me.

And of course there’s my nearly eleven years as a volunteer ranger (They changed the actual title to warden a while back which just makes me think of Patrick McGoohan in Escape from Alcatraz or Strother Martin in Cool Hand Luke, it’s a shit title and I’ll die before I answer to it. Probably.) for Woodland Trust Scotland. There’s a fine expanded team these days and I continue with my deer fence following and accosting members of the public with banter and/or help as required.
It’s a battle though, neds, dirt bikes, uncontrolled dogs, fires, litter, deer, erosion, time and money are some of the many enemies of our lovely corner of the hills.
The landscape is a continued winner though, the trees’ constant growth has changed the place so much and it feels like that pace of change is accelerating. To see the site alive with actual big trees seemed too far off for me, but just maybe in my lifetime I’ll sit in the shade of something leafy that I helped one of the wonderful waves of folk we had coming here to plant.
It’s a place of contrasting emotions, there’s always hope, there’s always beauty, there’s life all around as the skies and the land attract ever more creatures to take it as their home. It’s still fragile though, and there’s anger when some arsehole breaks, burns or defaces it.

Looking for the sun, or the snow.

I’m there an awful lot, usually late afternoon or night, first thing in the morning if there’s an inversion of course. But I don’t talk about it as much as I used to or should do and I rarely take photies now, just an occasional selfie to accompany a glib social media comment.
That’s changed, I’m having too much fun to risk losing it all in a haze, it’s been stunning up there of late and it’s given me a proper wee shove so photies and stories it’s going to be so I can remember it properly, and just maybe pass some of the joy on if anyone’s still passing through these pages these days.

So: Diary of a Cragman #1

I like meeting folk, even unseasonal ones like this wee guy. It’s still February and spring thinks its had the green light. Frogs coming at us, colour sprouting from the ground everywhere and life in general shaking off the dark nights and getting ready for fun. I just hope it’s not so soon that we lose stuff when the cold comes back like it seems to be doing right now.

The wee fella is also a lesson in watching where you put your feet, there’s much to miss and step on up here if you’re gawping at the view when a few streaks of sun break through the murk and take the bare look off of Dumbarton for a wee while.

I love this path on the edge of the crags, the views are just brilliant, from Beinn Laoigh to Ailsa Craig on a clear day and you can see the whole of the Lang Craigs site, useful for spotting potentially damaging incidents in high ned season (any time the sun shines basically): that which burns never returns.
It’s a joy to walk too, it meanders, goes up and down, and feels airy all the way. Minutes from the car park too if you know the shortcuts. Hey, just ask and I’ll show you.

Rain, sleet? Loch Lomond was being refilled by something. It was dull, but not drab and the sky was moving fast above me so I was keeping my pace up to stay warm. I cut off onto the foresty road and headed for the Black Linn reservoir to swing up onto Donut Hill, maybe it would clear up by the time I climbed up.

It did not clear up by the time I climbed up. I hid behind the rocks and got out my flask for a hot cuppa and watched the forestry machinery wind down for the evening over at Knockupple. Big yellow arms were soon lying still and a white pickup truck swung it’s way north on whatever new dirt road they’ve gouged across the moor.  It’s a helluva mess over there it has to be said.
They’re replacing the clear felled areas across the Kilpatricks with more conifers by the looks of it and putting borders of indigenous tress round the edges so we can’t see them.
That’s going to look great really quickly as birch grows at 0.6m a year and sitka spruce 1.5m. Insert rolling eyes emoji.

No sunset and it was getting really cold. I jogged downhill to the corner gate and its amusing new and surprisingly deep water jump feature to “help” you get through it with thoughts of a hot dinner and well, just hot dinner and other hot stuff like a shower because I couldn’t feel my fingers. I mean at all, I left my Buffalo mitts in my pack way too long.

I should know better. The next day in fact, I did do better and so did the weather.

Oh, My Darling Clementine

Muirshiel continues to draw us in. The hills are the first ones we see every day across the river and I always look forward to whatever they have to tell us on my way to the kettle in the morning, are their eastern flanks sunlit, is there fresh snow, are the hidden in cloud?
So it’s nice to visit, they’re familiar shapes on the skyline, but the ground around them not so much and we’re uncovering that a bit at a time.

A late‐ish start with all we could need on my back, we left the car park at the just‐closing ranger station in lovely sunlight on an easy gravel road with smiles and sunglasses.

There’s a proper bridge a little further on but this rickety looking artifact from the earlier days of the old barytes mine at the far end of today’s proposed loop was far more interesting looking. It’s heavy built and still sturdy looking but runs into the ground on the west side of the river and looks like it always did, how did the get vehicles on and off? We may never know, google did not enlighten me.
There is an old overgrown road beyond the bridge which we picked up and eventually joined the regular track, Big blue skies with scattered clouds and a gentle breeze, perfect walking weather.

The locals looked surprised to see us.

There are a few faint tracks that strike westwards and we took one, as it turned out the wrong one becease someone wasn’t navigating to their fullest abilities due to the lovely views and banter.
This led us into some pretty tough ground for Linda’s lower ground clearance as we had to cross country to get to where we were supposed to be. It’s rough going and the heather is thick and deep. Fun aye, but also tiring.

The views opened up as we climbed which was a nice distraction from struggling to stay upright. Lovely Craig Minnan looked just a quick sprint away and the buildings of the central belt soon spilled across the scenery to the east. To the north the Campsies and the Kilpatricks skirted the views to Ben Lomond, the Arrochar and Cowal hills and more. What a magic viewpoint this place is, there’s a real mountain feel to it.

To everyone’s delight we finally got to Queenside Loch which has a narrow path to and past it, the one we should have been on. Hey ho.
It’s a quiet sheltered spot today, we sat warm out of the breeze in the sun and got to work on the contents of our coolbag and flask. We hadn’t seen a soul since the ranger station which is surprising given this place’s accessibility.
This always surprises me though, we go to so many nearby places to walk and where are all the folk, on the A82? The out of town shopping centres?
At the end of the pandemic and afterwards, everywhere was jammed with folk, now I definitely think it’s tailing off. Are we now seeing more of those who have found a genuine affinity to these wonderful places and will always come to enjoy them rather than it just being a venue to do “something” while everything was closed?
I love meeting folk, I love the banter, but I do like my solitude too. I can live with whatever, but hills just being visited by folk that have grown to love them, that’s got to be good for their future.

Oh, I really need to write up those jackets.

There’s a dam on the wee loch, another fading sign on the previous centuries of industrialisation here, which do lurk all around if you look for them. I ran along this dam the other way in the rain many years ago so it’s nice see it better and be taking my time doing it. Running is a thing I’ll be coming back to, I’ve been spending some time in a selection of the current clown shoes that are passing as trail runners. See a TGO later this year.

Here she decks, not in all the difficult ascent stuff earlier, but on the gentle meander to the mine. That’s a lie, the whole place is a broken knee just waiting to happen and it really was a relief when we cut downhill onto the mine track as it got darker.

Lots to see around here, industrial bones stick out of the ground everywhere, rusty metal, shattered wood, wire, rock shards and warning signs to ward you away from it.
I went through the hole in the fence to see why.

The mines are filled in, or at least capped and I wasn’t stupid enough to take any chances, I only walked where the miners walked. It’s fascinating though and since I was last here the whole place has deteriorated further, there’s even less above ground to identify the pace as an industrial site.
Environmental concerns aside, it’s kinda sad. The local villages used to supply labour to here and other sites with thriving industries, now these places are all just affluent commuter enclaves.

Tired knees were welcome of the mine track and the sky while not firework spectacular put on an enjoyable low key shoe for us as we walked back to the ranger station.

Before we dipped down to the river we stopped and finished the flask with the last of the colours above before fishing out the headtorches and carrying on.

Is it this way? We’d probably been as well asking the spider.

The ranger station is 5km down a single track road, which is lovely by the way as the road sits high on side of the hillside above the river. We were the only folk on it and as soon as we left the car park we came upon a flock of apparently escaped sheep.
The group split up and ran different ways, most finding the field they must have just left, bet they were annoyed. A few others found haven on the other side of the road through a hedge, a couple decided to try and stare me out. I gave them time to reconsider before I moved, they just trotted ahead of us.
Sigh
No amount of “clever” road positioning, stopping, reversing, rolling through the dark or shouting at them out the window did anything. So we trundled along the road behind them at a speed so low it didn’t register on the dial.
I was well aware that this would be stressful for the sheep if it continued, but it was stressful for me too and I was the only one looking for a solution so I was only going to cut them so much slack before the scenario became a scene from a movie that would struggle to gain certification for release.
My nascent darker thoughts hadn’t even risen to the surface as a usable plan when the situation resolved itself.
The road widened and I thought, here’s a chance. It widened because there was a house, oh I thought. They saw the low wall before I did and over they went.
Right into the garden.
We were barely moving and I could see the big kitchen window shining its bright light into the rows of flowers and, oh, that looks like veg too?
The gate was shut so the maverick sheep were safely coraled in the garden, that wall they jumped was about three feet on the other side so they weren’t getting out again. And there was plenty for them to eat.
Plus there were farm buildings on the other side of the road, so the sheep were maybe just going home.

We rolled past the house at the same walking pace with our lights still dim, just in case. I’m sure it turned out just fine.

 

Heading a Cross, a day on Beinn Narnain Part 2

It was cooler out of the sun on the slope down to the ridge. It was banked out with snow, deep enough for me to dig my heels in and make easy progress, easier than it is without the snow for sure, it’s a loose, rocky ramp here most of the time.
There’s no path here, there’s no single obvious point to leave the summit so there’s nothing ever been formed to channel the occasional wayward soul who goes down this way, it’s very a blank sheet to scrawl your own zigzag onto. In fact, in the 30 odd years I’ve been climbing Beinn Narnain I’ve never seen a single soul anywhere on the ground north of the summit unless they were with me already.
I have mixed emotions about that, the walk along Creag Tharsuinn is a delight, it’s an ever changing meander with views to all sides that grab they eye long enough to have your toes over the edge of crag if you’re not careful. It’s up and down, left and right with lochans and sudden drops that have you wondering where to go.
But everyone is climbing the hill I have the best view of, Beinn Ime. Are they happy just bagging that summit, would they be happier here looking at its dark precipitous crags? I’ve long left behind notion of a summit being the goal on a day out, I’ll take the view today thanks.

I have seen footprints over the years, the long scratches of crampons through the snow on the slope, but never the wearer. Good on you though, maybe we’ll meet one day.

As the slope eased onto the ridge there were indeed other fresh footprints today, small and clawed, canine. No human boots had come down that snow before me so it must be a local on its own. Where are you Foxy?

Beinn Ime gets bigger and darker. The sun is low and washes over the high edges casting deep and long shadows. It’s glorious light today, the colours burst out of the ground where the sunlight finds them, dead browns become filled with orange and yellow, the dark rock warms from its grey and even sparkles with silver here and there.

Ben Vane looms, well not large, but it’s always impressively rough and tumble looking from any angle so I suppose it looms up at you maybe. I have never camped on it. Hmm.

The lochans are still frozen this late in the day despite a few hours in the sun and the frost lingers on most of the ground along Creag Tharsuinn, its craggy nature keeping a lot of it in shadow through the day. It did mean that I caught more foxy footprints a few times in the bluey white icy splashes in the grass, the wee bugger had the same eye for a good line as me and we were obviously heading the same way.

Ben Lomond had a full head of steam, I think the safety valves had lifted under the added pressure of so many feet. I bet that looked wonderful standing on the summit. But where wasn’t going to be wonderful right now?
The sun was now very low and I was about to lose it behind the flat top of Beinn Narnain, the sky was clear but for some scattered wisps, the wind was growing colder but I was layered up for that and I was feeling warm, able and completely content, if just a wee bit hungry.
That’s a very important word in there and something that’s really came to me many times recently, especially since lockdown: Content; in a state of peaceful happiness.
In times past I was all about the adventure, maybe I was even ticking a list or two, but now it’s different. And, I think I enjoy it more.
We do a lot of local exploring, lower level paths all over, even wee touristy things now and all of it has deepened my affinity for and appreciation of well, everything beyond the roadside.
I remember reading about someone talking to Tom Weir about big adventures and expeditions and Tom’s reply which you can easily hear and see him cheekily deliver was “Aye, but have you climbed the Campsies?”

Now, I have painted this place as deserted, and so it is. But this here is an enigma, a path (?) that comes from nowhere and goes to where no one would dare to go, the deathslide slopes of A’Chrois into Coiregrogain.

Maybe it’s a join that’s unjoining, maybe an overlap that’s unlapping, maybe everyone uses this path to do something awesome and I’ve been going the wrong way all this time?

I’ll be back to check.

On the last crag before I shinned up A’Chrois I saw some movement ahead. I stopped and watched, a white twitch against the fading green and brown. There he was, wee foxy.
The white ears and face looked at me with emotions that can’t be deciphered with my low res equipment. A wee run, a quick stop and a look back. I stayed still and waved. Dammit said foxy (I swear I could hear it) and ran again before turning back to see if I was still being a pain in the arse. Yes, yes I was. Sorry foxy, I’m coming your way. The bushy tail bounced into the shadow as I clambered down the side of the crag to head up onto the grassy top of A’Chrois for lunch #3.

I was in no hurry to leave, the descent from here is a knee breaker whatever line I took and I just wandered around the top watching the light go and enjoying the change of colour and mood.
It’s a very peaceful time in the hills, very quiet and it focuses the feeling of solitude if you’re on your own. That’s okay though, how often are we really alone these days, not still connected to the world? I still remember the shock of being able to watch a movie on Netflix from a summit camp in Glen Affric a few years back. I never did that again, I still like my music at camp, but I carry it in with me.

Ah Beinn Narnain, what joy that jaggy outline brings to me. I watched the sun dim as the cold watered my eyes and nipped at my cheeks. The breeze had some weight to it and casually pulled the warmth from me as it passed. I pulled my hood up and cinched my drawcords in. I wasn’t ready to go quite yet, a rake in my pack lid pocket found snacks to help delay the decision to leave.
Another wander too, lets go and see what the view north is doing… Oh, beautiful.

The wind changed direction and Ben Lomond was venting straight towards me now. The scenery took on a dull warm glow and the sky a cold, pale emptiness to the north, waiting to be cloaked by the ribbons of cloud rolling slowly from the south.
I left before it was dark so I could route-find beyond my headtorch range, it really is a tricky one this, big crags and big drops all smothered in thick grass with steep slopes inbetween.
The views keep me smiling, Creag Tharsuinn looks darkly wicked and Narnain is a black, jagged wedge. The sky is soon drained of colour and then light and I cross the Allt Sugach by torch beam.

I think I saw a headtorch disappear into the trees on the old route down to the car park following the concrete blocks. Someone just off the straight route to Beinn Narnain no doubt. I subconsciously just followed them, it’s steep and rough but it’s straight down and quick.
My breath billowed in the torchlight and obscured my vision, I slipped in mud and caught myself on branches, I looked for the best way on the now almost unusably eroded path and sometimes missed it, but I saw dew soaked leaves glow like Christmas tree decorations as I illuminated them in my passing and heard birdsong from the trees as my shambolic passing didn’t disturb them from their agendas one wee bit.

I let out an audible laugh as I bounced from the trees onto the path by the gate from the roadside. Ha, that was fun.

I’d left early and I got home late, 12 hours on the hill and it had flashed by. I couldn’t really tell you where the time went, I was exploring, I had walked sideways as much as I’d walked forward and yes, there may have been a nap in the sun on a rock.
I felt great though, maybe surprisingly physically but especially and happily, mentally.

My take on this is don’t save your favourites, enjoy them, listen to that song again, wash and wear that t shirt again and absolutely climb that hill. Again.

Ten years apart.

 

Heading a Cross, a day on Beinn Narnain Part 1

The Arrochar Alps are my first choice when I’m going to the hills for lots of reasons. The hills are just plain awesome being number one, but their closeness is a big winner too as I can usually still get to a summit in winter daylight hours if I’m at home having lunch when I decide to make a run for it.
This relative convenience has built a familiarity over the decades which has only added to their magnetism, I see untrodden possible routes I’d like to try next time, out of the way crags that look interesting and should be visited and oh so many wonderful places to just sit with a cuppa.

So when the weather looked okay the next day it was my favourite hill that was the instant and unquestioned goal. Beinn Narnain in all it’s barely a Munro, steep and rocky wonder. The hill I know best, the hill I love the most, a busy hill that I can always lose myself on. I packed for a long day with a little snow in it.

The car park was dark with a smattering of vehicles, it was cold too. A touch of frost under a clear sky and a wisp of mist on Loch Long. It was a pleasant way to cross the road and start on the the stony track up through the trees.
I had an insulated cup in my hand and it was sipping that that kept me at a reasonable pace despite the nagging feeling I should really be horsing on to catch the inversion that was brewing behind me. The wispy layer on the loch came to nothing through and I avoided throwing coffee all around myself as I just ambled along so I felt quite happy and fresh when I broke out of the trees and onto the path by the Allt a Bhalachain.

The sun was still just below the horizon where I stood but its first rays were hitting the tops ahead of me and they glowed a deep orange above the olive drab murk that still cloaked the glen.
The air was cool now, not cold with alight breeze. Perfect.

A few folk drifted past me, I’d stopped and chatted to a couple on the way up but out here in the clear no one had the time, the summits were calling. Well, the Cobbler was calling them anyway. No one climbs Beinn Narnain this way. I used to despair at this as it’s the best route, but nowadays I’m glad of it, it’s pathless and joyful in the coire above the Narnain Boulders and long may it remain so.

It’s often very hard going in the coire and in particular there are many places to lose a foot down into and get yourself into trouble. I always take my time which isn’t exactly a difficulty on a physical or mental level, if you’re going out to play whey would you rush through it? I should have asked the folk striding past above me on the regular route, but they were long gone by the time I got there. Places to Instagram, people to by liked by no doubt. Says the needy blogger…

It’s a tonic for the eyes in here, the tumbling rocks are delight to see and navigate but when you turn around after gaining height it reveals views out to sea, the Cobbler shows its teeth and Ben Lomond rises above Cruach nam Miseag before you hit the bealach.
I sat in the warm morning sun and took it all in with my breakfast, unseen by the silent, steadily moving dots above and below me on the fast tracks to the summits.

Time passed and I didn’t try to stop it.

I knew I was fighting for the good guys when the first of the ravens found me. I also found some voices above and ahead now that I was in the big crags below the summit. There was a tetchy male who seemed like he wasn’t having his desired amount of control over the group and they weren’t giving in to him “Well, I think we should…”, the others were walking away from the rest of the sentence as I arrived grinning over an easy scrambling move. I’m sure they made up later over lunch, even though he was likely standing looking at his watch eager to complete his mission as one of the group poured another cuppa.

A couple of chatty lassies said hi and headed into the small snowfield beyond and another group of young folks with an accent that suggested a long flight had been taken, stood around and grinned at the view before also to heading to the snow.

It was getting a wee bit busy, time for a detour. There’s a spur to the south of the summit with a rocky bowl separating the two, it had been years since I’d walked along it and today’s relaxed approach meant there was plenty of time to waste.
Waste? What the hell am I saying, there was no better use of my time than walking those extra few hundred metres for the view, for the peace, for the feeling of my boots on that rarely trodden ground.

Amusingly as I got close to the summit on my return I could hear every word of the bloke on the top taking a work call. I’m glad he was shouting into his phone, both me and the poor bastard on the end of the line might have missed a syllable or two of the enthralling discourse otherwise.

People.

I met a friendly wee dug and it’s owner who stopped for banter with a grin that matched my own, what a day, what a place. I could only agree.
I sat on a rock and the flask came out again and another visitor stopped by, it was a wee day off work, he’d been ill for a long time and it was great to be back doing all his stuff again. What a happy fella, his eyes were bright and his face will be aching from yet another grin to add to the list. Brilliant.

A German dad who had just flown in for a few days and his daughter who was at Glasgow Uni were next, that’s the level of detail we soon got to on our conversation. You could see how happy they were to have this time together. I could easily see Holly and me in those two, once she flies free, what days will we get? I hope as good as these lovely folks.

It had turned into a day divided between people and the hill. I’m glad I had so much positivity from both halves of that sandwich, the hills are usually a safe bet, but people?

I met some youngsters at the far end of the plateau. Laughing and joking amongst themselves with a clearly heard “See I told you” comment and easily seen gesture in my direction as the approached. That I was lying flat on my back in the sun on a big raised rock might have triggered some questions: “Has someone lost a tent?”, “Is that a body?”, “Is that old guy asleep?”. We have a winner with the last one. “See I told you”.

The view to Beinn Ime from here is a belter, it’s such an underrated hill and looks so spectacular when the light hits it just right as it did today. That eastern coire is just wild.

I went back to wandering the summit, flat and familiar, I’ve spent a few nights up here too. I thought about where to go next, it was early afternoon and I had supplies and energy for anything else I wanted to do really.
It’s a very long time since I went down the back end, but that’s exactly where everyone else was going. Is it bad to just want to go your favourite way again? Of course not, I walked back towards the cairn past the stone built trig pillar with Ben Lomond tall and proud beyond.
I took a sharp left at the cairn, temporarily dipped  out of the light and onto a long snow slope to the north, time for a wee bit of exploring.