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.

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.
Magic.

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.

WinterSons

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.

 

Ben Lomond, topping an tailing ’23

I was desperate to catch one of these sunny days that seemed to be happening all around me and that I was watching through the grilles in boilerhouse doors.
The forecast looked okay, at least worth a gamble for somewhere “away from the coast and in the Loch Lomond NP” according to MWIS. Thing is, that really just say Ben Lomond to me. That’s fine though, it’s just up the road and as I was leaving early enough to catch the sunrise from somewhere high up it felt very easy and convenient.

I went to bed, I shut my eyes and slowly sighed out the troubles of the day. Then the alarm went off immediately and I staggered back into the living room to slip into the gear I’d carefully left arranged from a sleepy me to find and put on in the right order.
I was away happy and grinning into the pitch dark with everything but food as the fridge did not give me what I was wanting the night before, this meant a detour back into Dumbarton because the Lomondgate Esso had no sandwiches. Not one and its Greggs concession wasn’t open til 6am.

It was still stupid early so I wasn’t worried about the lost time, the cloud cover concerned me more. The full moon shone brightly through the cracks, but it was a blanket up there. But I was out, I now had pieces on chicken and stuffing, I’d see what the rest of the morning would bring anyway.

The road to Rowardennan and was empty and I drove carefree on the resurfaced sections and caustiously in the middle of the road on the pitted gravel tracks in-between. This was good idea it turned out later as on the way back I spotted a pothole that I would have left my wheel in.
Out slow slide to third world status may be accelerating.

Not a single soul from Dumbarton to the car park at Rowardennan and the empty car park meant I could claim the rarest or prizes, one of the free spaces by the loch side.
Should I feel bad depriving the National Trust of a few quid? No, I did a job for them a few years back and only got paid when I had the debt collectors on the way. Suck it up buttercup.

It was early when I’d left but I’d wasted a bit of time looking for pieces so the tourist route onto Sron Aonach was the best choice. I actually like this way as much as the fun scrabble up Ptarmigam, the low path is a bit nondescript but once at height the views ahead to the summit ridge are lovely and it’s a vista so deeply affected by the seasons too. In winter it seems like it’s miles away and ten times as high, in summer it’s a stroll with the promise of a breeze at the top.
Ben Lomond needs revisiting, you can’t know it in a day. It’s accessibility is its saving and its undoing. It’s reputation as a beginners hill, as a poly bag carriers day out is because of where it is, not because of who it is. Stick Ben Lomond in the Lakes there would be poetry and paintings, stick it far from a road here and there would be pilgrimages to it.
It’s also the hill that’s turned me back from the summit more than any other. Today though is benign, a light breeze, cold air and I think the sky is clearing?
An orange glow spread across the southern horizon, the morning was catching up with me although the moon hung bright ahead of me, holding the night to the north.
I turned and walked on, the path icy, my headtorch now in my pocket, the whole hill all to myself.

Ben Lomond hides everything until you get half way up. The Luss Hills are easily seen on the way but don’t throw their best shapes you way, anything to the south that has height is too far away to feel epic but when the Arrochar Alps finally break cover you know what side of the Highland Fault Line you are.
The pink sky showed off the row of familiar dark shapes so well. The cloud was breaking although is was still thick to the south. It was very cold too, big gloves and hat were on. I was standing right here a few months ago in a kilt in the snow. Looking forward to doing that again.

There was an inversion in the Blane Valley, I’d hoped for that here today but it was never looking likely. From a distance was all I was going to get. I did see a few patches and ribbons of rogue low cloud below me and that was pretty enough. You can’t have it all at, but over time you might me get enough to keep you going back again to fill in the gaps.

*Spoiler Alert: You never fill in the gaps, isn’t that lucky.

I’m assuming this sign is stood up on a daily basis by a Trust Vendor who validates your parking and checks you have the proper footwear on. According to the head ranger here, trainers are eroding the path faster than ever. Aye, google it.

The zig zag path up to the summit ridge is where it’s hard to keep the pace steady because the views north open up at the first sharp left. And what a view on this morning.

The thick bands of cloud to the south were slicing up the suns’ dawn light into golden beams that picked out the contours of the hills beyond me while missing Ben Lomond which stayed dark all the time I was on the top.

It’s some of the most beautiful light I’ve even seen in the hills and it stopped me dead in my tracks. I stood so long I had to get my hand warmers out and dance around until my blood flowed again.

I was mesmerised by it. This is why I come back again and again, the surprises, the joy.

The scenery changed constantly, the light and shadow flowed across the landscape as the sun and cloud pulled across each other on their different paths. Distant peaks were stark and dark then pastel and warm. The taller tops caught a few wisps of cloud on their snow dusted slopes and I stared until my eyes watered with the cold.

Of course there were ravens, two of them. They saw me early on and watched me, grudgingly bouncing along the frozen crags and eventually winging away if I got too close. The circled me, close above me head and sailed the breeze close enough that I could see the feathers on their noses ruffle as the dark eyes took me from head to toe to what opinion or conclusion I’ll never know.

They swooped to the summit and I followed as the morning yawned awake around me and my belly reminded me that breakfast was still to be discovered. Too cold up here though, I’d head to the sanctuary just off the summit.
Soon.
Ish.

The summit has an oddly pleasing symmetricality about it, the path mirrors the edge of the turf which clings to the eroded bare rock on the last pull to the bare top. The frozen grass brought out the texture and I don’t know why I’d never noticed it before.

The last breakers of the inversion lapped against Dumgoyne and Dumgoyach some miles down the road. Half my family is from the countryside under that cloud, the other half from tenements of Glasgow in the haze beyond. Both have changed so much since my folks were born and as much again since I was young. How much have we lost and what have we gained in all that time I wonder.

There was a rose on the trig pillar, frozen and bright. No card, no memorial, just an frozen and unknown thought or memory.

Please keep off the grass? Yes, please keep off the grass. It’s a miracle all the thin layer of turf hasn’t peeled off the summit with the traffic grinding away its edges and letting the weather in.

I remember when there was at least some dirt and gravel up here, now it literally bare, clean rock. It’s lovely to stand here though, always. The views are epic, I look north and just want to open my arms and fly to it.

Cold and very hungry now though, it was time to eat. I dropped off the top onto the twisting path to the rocky hollow that’s built for wind for eating.

It’s a brilliant wee route the easy scramble/clamber down to Ptarmigan and a proper joy in winter where it’s steepness and gives it a wee flush of excitement that the summer summit queues should come back and discover.
Once down on the flat curved ridge the Loch Sloy dam was well seen from Ptarmigam being just across the loch and the sky was now a beautiful clear blue. The summit was in sunshine and I could see figures making their way along the crest, I wasn’t alone any more.

The lochans were frozen hard, enough to take my weight, and it was while testing this theory I met my first person of the descent, an earnest traveler concerned about the equipment seen on others lower down. He eyed my lack of ice axe and odd buttoned shirt with a raised eyebrow but nodded approvingly at my brown Meindls. Oh I wish I’d had on some of the trail shoes I’m doing for next year. He’s the wee figure below, I hope he had a nice day.

Then I met a young fella on his way up who had time for a wee bit of chat, which was nice, and then I decided to get off the track for a cuppa and take in the views as I would be home by lunchtime at this pace.
Stretching this out was no hardship, it was warming up, it was bright and I felt good upstairs and down. That’s head and heart, not like a bowel related thing. I guess an analogy isn’t great if you have to explain it, taking the narrative off the story and into the stage directions if you will. I should work on that, but with Christmas coming etc do I have the time or energy? No, no I don’t.

Then I met Johnny who was a grinning chatty man and we stopped for ages and swapped stories and plans and the whole encounter just upped the joy level for me. It’s really not all lockdown refugees looking for a recreational venue who are in the hills now, the passion and joy still runs deep in the young folk.

 

I stopped to take some layers off and put my sunglasses on and one of the ravens swung by for a croak and a sarcastic turn of its head. Aye, okay wee man.

Luckily I came across some red flags lower on the ridge or I’d have got lost and would likely still be up there now.

The views linger on this route until you’re very low. The golden colours all around me contrast with the dark slopes across the loch, it’s winter but its just so pleasant. 100 metres of descent and it’s a different world.
It’s nice here, the little copse with its walls of forgotten purpose. I found a carved step in the stone that I don’t think I’d noticed before. What kind soul did that I wonder.

Rowardennan was colourful and calm, the van was yellow and parked where I left it and I was very happy indeed with my lot.
The early start was totally worth it, I didn’t have time for an overnight and this wasn’t a second best. A glorious day on and underrated hill where I ate chicken and stuffing in the sun.

Yes, that’s how I’m ending this, the pieces were magic. Aye, so were the views.

Happy International Mountain Day 2023. Love them and protect them, they can’t do it by themselves.

 

 

I thought it was curtains

I can see the Kilpatricks from the back window and the Clyde from the front. Out the front can be thick with fog and there’ll be blue sky out the back, but on the days when there’s nothing but fuzzy grey on both sides it’s time to pack and get moving.
I don’t have to move far, a verse and a chorus of something in the van and I’m back out and crossing the field towards the giant’s staircase opposite the Overtoun car park. I’ve always used this track and it’s evolved in recent times, the burn crossing isn’t a leap and the muddy zig zag under the big tree has nearly eroded away to the bare rock which is much easier to traverse but it’s still a wee bit sad.

The mist was thinning here and the sun was stronger with every footstep of height gained and that’s fine, inversions don’t run to a schedule and it was a fine day to on the site anyway. I had a flask and pieces, I was here for the day and happy with it whatever.

There was plenty of blue sky but the sun was quickly veiled by a thin blanket of cloud moving north which took what little heat there was out of it and ruined what was a very promising brocken spectre below me. I chased that spectre along the edeg of the crags for the next hour but the colours in it stayed a bit muted. Hey, not complaining, it was glorious to be up there.

The fog was thick. The quarry was invisible and the tops of the pylons came and went as the level ebbed a flowed like a woolly tide. The Luss hills were dark ribbon of surprisingly pointed looking peaks and Ben Lomond sat with a cloud on its shoulder like a pirate with parakeet which had just been tumble dried.

The cloud bank moved over my head in a slow ripple. It was bright but somehow dull too, the sun was low and weak but my eyes were watering until I dug out my sunglasses.

I walked north along the edge ignoring the path for a chance of a sharp brocken spectra and just to see the tops of the trees bob in and out of the mist. I could hear voices far below me, the occasion dog barking. Ach, youse need to get up here!

 

 

The landscape changes around you on these rare and wonderful mornings, it’s liquid, the cloud pouring into the glens and gullies, through the gaps in trees and lapping at a shore of it’s own invention below your feet.

The crags are the perfect height for this, nature looked at the numbers and decided to give us a break, they don’t have to sprint for the Arrochar Alps for the best days every time it said.

The light dulled again even as the sun rose higher and I realised I was hungry. It’s not as if there’s anywhere bad to stop up here, but there are a few perfect spots. I had a wee outcrop in mind to pour a cuppa while dangling my feet into the sea below. I headed along.

 

 

Vintage pack, vintage views, vintage knees and the perfect breakfast stop. I saw fellow ranger John below with his dugs, a wee wave and he was into the mist below me.
I sat for a while and then I sat some more. The mist was retreating now after some waves broke high from its surface like hands reaching up and the autumn tinged land below caught the weak sunlight which made the fading green even more tired looking. The site looks fantastic, the trees are growing and changing the contours and flow of the land. So many new visitors won’t have seen what it was like before, yes it was wild and empty of folk, but even with all the drawbacks of people knowing where it is now, this just has to be better.

I carried on into clear air to eyeball the deer fence down to the watergate at Donut Hill and remembered that there’s as much to catch the eye if you look down as there is where you look to the horizon.

I came back over Round Wood Hill and the high track to the Best Bench in the World™ where I finished my flask and sat some more.

What a day and what a place to be to enjoy it.

I think may have grinned all the way back to the van.

An old friend was here.

It’s good to be busy, but time does fly away from me. I missed the anniversary of this place, it was 16 years of sporadic nonsense and memories last month.

Stories to tell though, this week for several of them and autumn is here so we’re oot and aboot with renewed urgency.

Woop woop.

Grace

Linda was on the phone to Grace, her lassie who lives just up the road. There was chat about the new job starting in a couple of weeks and free time until then.

“Ask her if she wants to come with me on Wednesday…”

She did, so loose plans were formed, but even as we stood in the kitchen filling flasks and buttering rolls early on Wednesday morning the changeable weather meant we hadn’t decided on the actual where just yet. We’d get to that up the road, cuppas were finished, Grace’s manky car was loaded with us and rucksacks and off we went northwards.

Grace is out and about all the time, we’ve walked many of the same trails, just not at the same time. It’s always an unknown how it’s going to go walking with someone new, there’s pace, expectations, fitness, temperament, resilience and the ability to remain calm at my incessant live narration of the days events to consider.

Banter was good on the way and the road was quiet, the weather was still undecided though and the tops were catching the cloud as rain pulses drifted across the glens in the distance. How about a nice long trail through the hills? Maybe not end up in the cloud all day then.

We parked up in Arrochar and crossed the road to pick up the Glen Loin Trail. It’s an old favourite, it’s got views and good variety, but it’s pretty long and the rain is definitely coming.

And I’d just taken the boots I was wearing out of their box.

The wander through Succoth’s wee housing scheme and into the snooker table-flat fields that once would have been Loch Longs’ northern extremity is nice way to warm your legs up. The air was pleasant too, a just-nice flat walking temperature with my now mandatory Alpkit shirt on. The quiet was punctuated by industrial clanking and a revving diesel from the woods to our left, just where we were heading. It’s midweek, were the forestry works going to screw us up? No, a tractor and trailer rumbled erratically out of the tees and we squeezed into the fence  as much as we could as it passed. There were indeed works underway behind him, but abandoned for the moment, just some signage and brutally torn up hillsides as evidence of activity.

Oh, it’s like a field of bones said Grace. Maybe she’s more heavy metal that I thought?

The slope had been cleared of conifers who were just desperate to be IKEA furniture, they’re on their way to the promised land, hallelujah. It’s also an unholy mess with stumps, shredded wood and caterpillar track troughs dug over it. At the top was something far nicer, a crag which was almost invisible when the trees were there, a shattered crag thick with moss and with very dark looking gaps between it’s big grey splinters.

I stood on my tiptoes on a cut log trying to see better. That clear felled ground looked rough and steep, it wasn’t far though. Will we… ?

Yes, we will.

My initial caution must have looked like scaremongering. I’ve crossed felled areas many times and my outdoor slacks have been snagged on a spiky tree shard many times but today the branch strewn boneyard was soft and easy going. We were in amongst the rocks in a flash and before I could say something like “Let’s survey this with a careful eye…” Grace was in the cave grinning back up at me like a maddie. She has the adventurers heart of her mother for sure.

There’s a few deeper areas you can get into, all formed by the typical shattered Arrochar Alp rock, here on the slopes of a’Chrois. But the main cave was a cracker, high and narrow, it tapered backwards and upwards to a Y shaped chimney with light peeping through where the giant schist flakes rested on each other high above us.
Grace scrambled around after dropping down from the mossy boulders at the entrance before realising getting out was going to be the real trick. There was then a wee while of both of us crawling over boulders, along very dead and rotting trees and through obviously too tight gaps under big fallen rocks. It was fun. And spoiler alert, we got out just fine.

What a fantastic corner this is and I wonder just how long has it been hidden, 50 years behind a thick conifer screen? What else might be revealed as the forestry trundles destructively along the glen.

We ended up traversing to the nearby still stranding trees and picking our way down to the track through them which avoided the loose ground of the cleared area. Going up was fine, but I could see going down turning into a jagged arse slide back to the bottom.

The track has been reinforced with new stone here and there, some culverts have been replaced or repaired but on the whole, the forest track along the west side of the glen is pretty much just as it was when we were last here despite the added heavy traffic. I don’t think that can last as works spread further but right now by the track edges there are frequent moss bordered waterfalls rushing from the still dark woods, wild flowers exploding, the scurrying of wildlife and heather blooming in more shades of purple that even I knew existed.

The sun came out a little more forcefully and the temperature shot up pretty quickly. There was a wardrobe adjustment stop and a handy waterfall. A damp hat is always a good soother and fresh running water is generally the best thing for a quick cool down. I don’t think my explanation of holding your wrist under the running water method had sufficient detail though, Grace seemed to be doing a charades impression of a bear catching a leaping salmon. At least it was warm, she’d dry off on the trail. Plenty time, still a long way to go.

Then the views started. Ben Vane’s broken crest was a wall at the end of our road. This really is a walk into the mountains.

The rain came on and quite heavily for a time so we had to put our shells on. It was still pleasant walking weather though and I never got too hot or cold despite wearing an old favourite, well worn and much washed jacket. I have to do this, after months of rotating review samples, once my copy is submitted I go straight back to my favourites. But then again sometimes those samples become favourites too. Wait and see this winter.

Another clear felled patch brought a long hidden view to the Loch Sloy dam crushed between Bens’ Vane and Vorlich. It’s my duty as a Macfarlane to tell new ears the story of this loch, how its name is our battle cry, how we hid “our” cattle here and how ever senseless it might seem, it feels like home.
What’s in a name? More than the younger me would think.

The rain pattered off and on as we neared the weir at the head of the glen and we sat hoods up with cuppas, lovely home made rolls and some quiet contemplation.
The new boots were doing great, I’d forgotten I’d put them on. A re-tighten of the laces and I wouldn’t think about them again until we were back at the car park.

The water rushed by, frothing and brown with peat as the heather nodded to the passing raindrops. It was very peaceful and welcomingly restful to sit and well, just sit.

It was however not even half way round which I didn’t say out loud, you know, just in case there was disappointment and some casual violence along with it. But it was with smiles and renewed banter we eventually stood up, packed our gear and headed down the rocky path to cross the river for the return trek.

The trail this side is rougher and treeless for a long way. It’s also right on the flank of Ben Vane which looms above you in an alarming manner with a notched skyline of broken crags. Behind us Beinn Ime was shedding the crown of cloud and the sky was brightening once again.
Tunnels were peered into, waterworks explored, access ladders definitely weren’t climbed and the Loch Sloy hydro scheme it all supports gave me yet another topic of conversation. Yay.

The cows were lovely, they fluttered an eyelash or two and kept on chewing as we pondered the old quarry and it’s gate which has long lost its purpose.

It’s excellent mountain atmosphere here. It’s a long slow climb from Arrochar but it gets you high enough to feel you’re in there rather than just looking up at it all. So nice to be back.

Ben Vorlich is round the corner and fills the view ahead. The track here is steep and brilliant fun on the bike, it was sunny and warm and we were past the half way point.
That didn’t really matter though, the mood was still good and the energy was there. That was lucky because once back in the forest as we left the hills behind the sky grew darker and the cloud slipped down towards us again. We stopped for a last cuppa and had to pull on our shells again as the spots turned to a shower which turned to rain.

It just rained constantly now and as the trail cut through the bracken and trees, that rain found us from above and from the sides as the leaves dried themselves on our trousers, and then soon it found us from the ground too as the puddles filled slowly and muddily.
It was fine though, with hoods up and still cheery chat the straight rocky trail had us back on the old farm road and into Arrochar at just the right time to think about dinner.

We didn’t know quite yet but that dinner was cooking back at base in the hands of a girl very important to both of us and very soon we were sitting round the table in dry gear with hot food, cold drinks and warm smiles.

That would probably the perfect end to a story of a brilliant walk in brilliant company.

But…

Epilogue.

Phone signal was intermittent all the way round, but luckily Grace had a sliver of it when we needed it.

We both heard the call, a high broken chirp, no, was that a whistle? Both? We stopped and listened, there it was again. We looked in the calls’ direction, into the high crags, there… big dark wings, then that call again.
Bird calls, RSPB have them I think, you got signal?
Let’s aim high, start with a golden eagle…
Got it
Grace’s phone then repeated the call we were listening to. We looked at each other, at the phone, then at the wings high above us which seemed to be talking back to the phone.
Another voice joined, another pair of wings. We watched and we listened as the three voices sang the same song. We watched the wings whirl and search the rocky slopes and land on a shelf on a sheltered high crag they must call home.

No certainties, certainly no location, but there’s a little lingering joy at a close encounter with something special, what ever it might have been.

Thanks to Grace’s phone; Look, I was there too!

3/3

Thirty years ago, the three of us played our somewhat doomy metal in every toilet in the central belt as well as in some of the nice venues too. We all went on our separate life paths after a few years of this and after a few fleeting coincidental meetings we ended up in a rehearsal room nearly ten years ago with a view of doing “something”. This was short lived, big upheavals in our personal lives shut that down and there was radio silence for a long time.

I kept in comms with Stevie and we both ended up playing in The Violet Signs. It was before the gig TVS did back in February I fired a flare into the digital darkness to see if Davy would spot it and come and hang out with us for the evening. He did.
Comms were reestablished and banter ensued, nights out in town with the three of us were arranged and enjoyed. The subject of playing music again just never came up, not by avoidance, it just didn’t. I had my pals, that’s plenty.

However, after a few drinks at the most recent get together the “what if” was suddenly right there and I couldn’t duck it. It’s hard to describe why this can be awkward, music is hard work if you’re creating it from nothing, it relies on skill and application, inspiration that may or may not arrive, it’s investment from your heart and soul too so it can all be deeply and unreasonably personal. Share those various elements amongst a group of people and it’s a potential minefield of problems with artistic differences (it’s a real thing, not just an excuse to dump a band member that you read about) and personality clashes. I had my pals, we were having laughs, I didn’t want to ruin it. Again.

But when everyone is older, wiser, open and honest, that makes anything possible.
With a little prep time we got back in a rehearsal room and what a glorious noise it was.

There no real agenda, no pressure, maybe we’ll do some stuff that folk can hear. Time will tell.

On a separate personal note, I can’t tell you the joy I have at hitting the guitar and hearing “me” coming out of the amp again.
After so long of pulling back, toning down, understating, being listener friendly and “oh, don’t use too much gain” I am now detuned, turned up, fuzzed out and my grin is wide.

Home to stay.

They Theory

I have have been the bass player in They Theory for a wee while now. It went from a jam with an old pal to recording a live EP in 666 seconds.
We’ve played a couple of gigs which were a lot of fun, maybe especially the second one at the Flying Duck in Glasgow. The seconds of silence before the applause broke out showed me that it’s actually still possible to stun an audience in the space year 2023.

I’m loving playing the bass, I play it like I play the guitar, with more bravado and optimism than talent, but also with fuzz and a wah pedal. I’m getting better too. I played the whole set with a pick when I joined, I now play finger style unless the tone of the songs calls for that sharper pick attack. 54 and still learning.
My proudest bass moment so far was at the soundcheck for our gig at the 13th Note in Glasgow where my first note had the other assembled band members and staff diving for cover like someone had shouted “grenade”. The soundman said “oof”.

Lovely people, great times, the biggest of noises. Yes please.

Here’s Dream Flight, live at the T Room.