A series of captions

On the road to the west stood an old dead tree. A landmark, a gateway, a point of no return, because there was no other McDonalds until Fort William.

 

The whole area was a volcanic landscape scoured deeply by the last glacier in Scotland over ten thousand years ago. Fossils emerged, even neolithic tools, but this? This would change everything.

 

The waters are rising with the heavy rain. What will we do when it’s permanent.
That’s excellent DWR is that, I may cover my vintage Gore Tex in leaves.
Fresh water waves rippled and popped around the flooded trees as we walked the bonnie banks.
One, two, buckle my shoe…
I’m sure we can get these shadows so that we look the same height. What? It’s fine, it’s fine.
He felt sorry for everyone who had climbed Ben Lomond that day to find the summit locked in cloud.
I can’t remember an autumn as glorious as this one. The colours seem brighter, it’s lasting longer that I could have hoped and just being out in it has brought me such joy. Oh, for some hard frost and fog before the leaves are all brown or gone. But I won’t bitch if I don’t get it, I mean how could I.

 

I mean, I could have flipped it upside down.
Next day, the dawn was a brilliant fiery red and I wandered though the weird and lurid landscape of another planet; for the vegetation which gives Mars its red appearance had taken root on Earth. As Man had succumbed to the Martians, so our land now succumbed to the Red Weed…
The light was going and as the trail took us into the single remaining beam as it cut through the woods there was something other than the trees and bracken sparking in the autumn glow.
It was a tunnel of spider webs, from our feet to the setting sun. We’d never have seen it in normal light. Lovely.
Nature makes very well, but when it brakes it often does it with just as much flair.

Do the dirty Dawg

Sometimes I hit a wall. I suppose you might say it’s stress, but I know now when I have to step out of regular operations because I’m going to achieve nothing at best and do something stupid at worst.
I’m not being cryptic there, I mean like lifting a customer off the floor by his neck because they tried to avoid paying me one time too many.
Aye, that Christmas Eve in Govan is one for Tales from the Toolbox.

I am being serious here, I have learned that mental health is something fluid, precious and unpredictable. So rather than stare at a screen or fret about this job, that job or the lack of numbers coming in compared to the ones going out, I’ve learned to take five so I don’t just stop in my tracks.
I’m lucky in that I do lots of different things, I can head to the hills and be there in minutes, I can pick up a guitar, I can turn on the PlayStation and play with folks I’ve known for years or just open a book to read or sketch in.

But today I needed to burn energy, or should I maybe say transfer it.
I had important paperwork to do and the screen was white noise, I’d been putting it off and now I had a barrier to all reasonable thoughts or approaches towards it.
I swung by my folks for a cuppa, and while looking for something else I found myself looking at my long neglected mountain bikes. Dusty, handlebars loose and turned flat so they could be stored easily in the garage. They were a sorry state and I felt a mixture of sadness and guilt as I tried to separate the hack hardtail I’d sprayed matt black to hide on hike*a*bikes from my Kona Dawg full susser that I’d ridden down the West Highland Way years back.
Hoses and cables caught on levers, pedals scraped on frames and flat tyres flubbed along the tiled floor. Oh deary me.

The hardtail seemed the best option but one of the brake levers was properly broken and fixing it even if the part could be had wasn’t something that I was looking for in my life right now. Bleeding 1st gen Formula hydraulic disc brakes is no fun at all my memory told me very plainly.
The Dawg is more complicated, more to go wrong, more to adjust, suspension to have to set up again, oh but the brakes feel good, here now, the chain is running smooth, hmm, the tyres are holding air.
I put flat pedals on the Dawg and went hunting for clothes.

Old Karrimor bike pants in Epic fabric, remember that? The next best thing in waterproofing that actually wasn’t. Great fitting trousers with perfect articulation though, if now a little tight… A Karrimor windshirt which would be fine in the rain over what’s this in this old rucksack… a Woolpower long sleeve zipneck. Are they still in the UK? It’s the weirdest top, but it felt great on even though it and everything else was definitely on the fusty side.
I topped off with a definitely out of date Giro helmet and bottomed out with old Salomon XA’s that I fully expected to lose the soles of while I was out.
On my back, a pre production Terra Nova Laser race pack. Which was and is brilliant.

I was wobbly, no other word for it, but I did tune in pretty quick, it was literally just like riding a bike.
The joy was instant, as was the rain in my face, the smell of leaves and the sound of passing air as I swooshed through the wet autumn afternoon.
I flicked through the gears, I raced through puddles and enjoyed the fluttering in my chest as I slithered though mud and leaves that snatched at the grip of my tyres.

I was a few miles up the road before I knew it. I felt okay, no, I felt great. My legs had tightened, my arse knew it had just been in the saddle, but my grin had command of the situation.
I checked over the bike. the rear suspension had lost pressure, or as it turned out later I hadn’t set it properly. I faffed with that as I drank my water. I have missed this.

But today I needed to burn energy, or should I maybe say transfer it.
This was the plan all along and it worked, I knew it probably would. I tore through the riverside trails, a little emboldened after a few incident free miles on the easy paths. I lost the back end and caught it, ducked under a branch as another tore at my sleeve and spat out mud as I reached the tarmac at the trails end.
My legs had tightened, but so had my head. I spun the tarmac back home, much happier and not tired at all, I felt and still feel as it approaches midnight: good.
That’s not a permanent state, I don’t think it can or should be.

I saw some fun stuff while I was out, I enjoyed the ride on it’s own merits, I have a bunch of drying washing and I now have a bike ready to go again.
I can’t see me hurling down the crags like I used to, but I’ll be out when I can.

Paperwork finished and submitted.

Silence is Golden (hour)

We were both at work, hadn’t seen each other all week and were passing the road to the crags at exactly the same time but in opposite directions.

So it would have been rude, nay a tragedy even if we hadn’t made time for a cuppa and just a wee bit of time together in our special place.

Make time we did, McDonalds coffee, which by the way are just as nice as other ostensibly fancy nonsense four times the price and I’m a coffee snob mind and a wee walk in the evening light.

But oh, what light it was. I only had my phone, but I don’t think it mattered. It was glorious, the warm low light, the sky, the leaves blanketed ground, the cool evening air and of course the company.
The most golden of hours.

But then it was to work. I was grinning wide though, wide I tell you.

PS, bless this phone and the careless thumbs it has to contend with.

Folks

Maw and paw in the 60s. I found this when I nipped in for a cuppa in an old frame by the hall window with yellowed plastic hiding the photie.

I was by the hall window as I was watching for them. They weren’t in, they were at Morrison’s. In their van.

Nearly sixty years later, they’re really just the same.

So glad and so lucky to have them.

Second day dinner tastes just as good

It was flickering in the clouds all night. It’s just amazing, it seems as likely as getting a brocken spectre from the top deck of a bus. We can see the aurora borealis from a well lit street in central Scotland.

I jumped down to the beach, got some ropey video, took some shoddy photies and grinned my face warm as the frost crept out of the shadows.
I can see the green glow over the Cowal hills, it’s right there and I can see the spots of the flickers above the bridge against the urban glow.

I might never see this again in my life but I’ll try and remember these two nights, this’ll help with that I hope.

Aurora Borealissed

I’ve had red alerts from Aurora Watch before but they’ve either been during the day, during rain storms or when the cloud’s thicker than a self cut slice of bread.
Not this time, I had a clear sky with spreading frost and no reason not to do something about it.

I ran outside, zipping up my down jacket and cramming cameras and batteries into my pockets as I went. I stopped dead in the road, it was happening right there in front of me. The scattered cloud above the Erskine Bridge was flickering with flashes of light in spots and curves of pale green. Oh my god.
I was mesmerized by it until I was gripped by the desire to get out from under the streetlights and see more.

I phoned my folks “Get into the garden…” and bolted for the crags, the height and lack of light pollution would give me a chance. I fumbled a battery into a now very old camera after a sweaty and precarious jog uphill in a pair of Converse (no idea why, everything else I’d pulled on was hill gear), but it’s one with a handy 60 second preset exposure, my old LX5.

I saw it, I pointed and clicked at it and have the grainy memories here to marvel at. My folks enjoyed the flickering longer than I saw it, I got the green horizon, I think anyone who was out tonight got a win.

53 next month and that’s the first time I’ve seen the Northern Lights on my own door step. Fantastic.

Rainbow Warrior

Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior was going up the Clyde to Glasgow to COP26 whether the authorities were letting it or not. They had young folks on board with a message to share to the well fed and well dressed delegates at the SEC and if whaling harpoons don’t stop them, I don’t think a wee polis launch would’ve either.

The third ship to bear the name, let’s not forget the fate of the first which was mined and sunk in Auckland Harbour with the loss of a life by the French who were annoyed at them interfering with their nuclear bomb tests in the Pacific, it’s an iconic presence that’s very hard to put into words or even explain to younger folks who didn’t see the news footage of the previous ships getting in the line of fire and putting their own lives very much in front of what they were trying to protect.

Rainbow Warrior is a symbol of hope, of defiance, it’s showing that even when the bad guys are winning the good guys haven’t given up. These folks do what so many wish we could but feel powerless to.

It was a joy to see the ship on the Clyde, passing my home. The shores were lined with people waving and cheering and the ship responded in kind until it was out of sight.
It was very emotional, I watched it leave with tears in my eyes. Symbols are very powerful things, a banner, a flag, a name, a place, a ship. It’s a focus, a rallying point, a reminder that maybe you’re not alone or powerless.

Hope is a powerful but fragile thing. Just like the world around us and the people on it.

Time and Tide

The beach has become something of a gathering place for villagers and folk with cameras and drones in recent times. It hasn’t put me off vising regularly at all, I’m always the only one there for sunrises and usually the last one there at sunset because folk just walk off after any big colour splash rather than enjoy it unfolding.
I tend to be there until I can’t feel my fingers, just in case something happens. Sometimes something does happen, other than the view being relentlessly awesome whatever the weather.
In the past few months I’ve seen folk walk away from deer slinking out of the trees and foraging by the water’s edge and what appears to be a now local seal playing a few feet rocks and snorting its nostrils as me as well as the usual variety of burds doing interesting and amusing stuff.
So am I obsessed or has everyone else got a low attention span?

Prepayment Plan

It’s a story as old as this place, which is not exactly “time” but if I see how young I was in the early pages, it might be getting on for that kind of distance.
Man wakes up, man sees fog on the River Clyde, man gets daughter to school, man spills coffee on himself as he rushes to get out of the door and up the Lang Craigs and above the fog.

The fog is rarely uniformly thick, it ebbs and flows, seeing through the top always powers the legs a little more.

Ben Lomond, sitting above the blanket.

test

Every time I get to the edge of the crags I have the same collection of emotions. These include but are not limited to joy, wonder, awe, nausea and a pounding in my chest which is related to the hasty ascent immediately after breakfast and not to the view, that’s what brings the heart and lungs back to normal.

The path up, or sometimes down, is well hidden from passers–by, the view is harder to miss.

It’s utterly glorious and I have never tired of it. I feel the tingle of anticipation if there’s a whisper of mist on the water at bed time and I feel the instant pull in my heart and soul if there’s nothing but a blanket of grey outside when I open the curtains.
It’s good for the soul, it’s good for the legs and good for everyone that knows me because it cites a better mood than might have been otherwise anticipated.

Precious and rare hours. A flask and snack with my feet over the edge, Ben Lomond sitting high and tantalisingly close, divebombed by Housemartins (thanks Matt) and still back at work before lunchtime.
I don’t think I could be anywhere else, I think I need this close.

A Brocken Spectre is often waiting for me here on days like this, it’s a change from the raven. Wait, where’s the raven…

Maybe we all do. I’ve never been so aware of the flood of internal positives that come from stepping out as I have this past couple of years.
I don’t yearn for the distant peaks, but I do need the sky, ground that answers back to my feet, the air and whatever nature brings that day. Because although mornings like this are the ones to treasure, our waterproofs seem to be hanging up and drying off every other day at the moment.
I’ve said it many times, that’s paying for days like this in advance and there’s no lack of joy in any of the process.

Chinese Apple Perambulation

Linda is now insisting that her knee is on the mend and that yes, we can go for a walk. But, on a proper path, obviously.

Balloch Castle Country Park is just what we needed. Proper paths, trees in autumnal glory, views of loch and mountain, it’s just round the corner and there was some unexpectedly blue sky.
But by the time wed have this great idea it was less than an hour to sunset so it was definitely late when we left.

 

The trees are tall and the park is as big and empty as the sky above it while Ben Lomond is the northern wall of this golden garden
As the warm and piercing light finally sunk beyond the greedy grasp of the shimmer of multicolored leaves across the park and cold air with decidedly wintry teeth nipped at our cheeks and fingers I was rarely so glad that we’d loosened the grip of the couch on our stationary arses.

The park was emptying as it grew darker, a few stragglers meandered out towards the road and then most likely one of the chippies. One family’s dog decided now was the time to jump into the loch to much screaming from the kids. This just got the dog excited and it was soon leaping in and running back out, shaking off the water before diving back in once more.
They got a wee crowd and including us and it was a nice to be part of such a simple little moment that’s been impossible to find in nearly two years.

There were ducks and geese and deep water swirled around the tree trunks by the loch. Little boats hurried home from the darkening waters with fishing rods waving from the stern and laughter rippling to the shore.
It wasn’t long before we were on the road home with takeaway food in our hearts and tummies and the threatening rain had surrendered to the stars instead.

Alternative Tentacles

We should have been many miles away in amongst hills I have climbed and written of many times but haven’t seen in two years. We had a cabin booked, I had old stories to tell and we had so much to see.
But it wasn’t to be, Linda’s knee wanted to go to A&E more than it wanted to go to Kintail and so here we will stay for now. Am I upset? Not at all, we have all the time in the world for more adventures.

So when checking in on Linda (who is trapped at the top of many stairs for the time being) on yesterdays’s unexpectedly bright morning, her boy and my mate Greg was in and at a loose end we decided to head to the crags and have a wee wander.
We’d get ourselves sorted, grab some gear and food and meet at lunchtime.

This was a good idea. Even the heart pounding quick ascent from the car park up the giant’s staircase was worth it to find ourselves launched into the most glorious afternoon as we steeped onto the crag edge.
There was clear blue sky, billowing white clouds, dark masses hiding the landscape under heavy showers and all of it being dragged across from the west by a fresh and flighty wind.
Aye, glorious.

We had our shells on before too long as the first heavy short caught up with us. Cold and stinging on my cheeks but unnoticed everywhere else, the joy of being wrapped up and comfy.
The view morphed with the weather, so much darkness, so much light, none of it static. We watched a searchlight beam from an unseen holes in the clouds trace across the glen and disappear, half rainbows teased and faded and we grinned our way to a sheltered lunch spot to take it all in over pieces and flasks.

 

We took a swing east to find the reservoir and sneak up the side of Donut Hill. Here the wind was at its highest and the camera luckily stopped sliding under it’s pressure while taking this selfie just in time at the rocky edge. I think if it had been on a tripod it would still be up in the air just now.

On the descent the last chilled rain cleared to late afternoon sun, low warm and golden. The landscape came alive in classic autumn tones and the sky to the north deepened to a deep azure. Spinning around it was like we were at the junction of different days. I’m saying glorious again. Yes.

Black Wood’s pines remain defiantly green in contrast to the dead bracken and pastel slopes of the Luss Hills beyond.
I love this view, always have and I don’t know why it pulls at me so much. The pines, the hills, the loch and the Highlands beyonds, all in one frame. Maybe it’s that the world really is on my doorstep, maybe it’s the total lack of symmetry pleases my oddball mind, maybe it’s just pretty and I should stop overthinking and just shut up.
I’ll have another look later in week, see what I can come up with.

The walk out was warm, we could feel that low sun and the trees shone brightly. It is their last hurrah after all.

This wasn’t a consolation prize, this was hours of awesomeness. I just can’t be sad about Kintail, when this is at the back door.

Gothic Portal

Holly had shut the side curtains so she could get the sun’s glare off the telly this afternoon. When we came home tonight it had gone all gothic.

Halloween every day for us apparently, all you need are velvet curtains and a plastic skull.

Falling for it all over again

I love autumn, and for so many reasons.

It’s the death of summer, it’s a reason to wear a jumper but it’s the ultimate seasons of contrasts. Spring is the time that’s supposed to be all about life but I see autumn as more so, everything is frantically throwing it’s arms in the air and shouting before it withers in a flash of colour, tries to take someone down with them like the last wasp at the window or just waves goodbye before it slinks away to hide til next year.

I love the colours of course, but the autumn sun is what makes it all really sparkle. The trees are still full and many are still green although all are fading a little, so the light must find gaps to shine through and as the sun sinks lower day by day.

Those gaps become doorways for sideways sunbeams to scan through the trunks and branches and it lights up every gold and crimson leaf, every moss covered stone and every wonderfully coloured companion.

Light, dark and colour, wind, cloud and blue skies, warm low sun and cold shadows. Ah, this is how to feel alive, all this filling your senses at once.
And it changes every day. Colours bleeding from one extreme to another, the unmoving rounded shapes of summer thinning to reveal and new skyline in the woods, jagged but no less glorious to my eyes.

The birds are either grouping and swooping as one before leaving for southern lands or eyeing everything edible very carefully before having tough it out the season yet to come. Their song is still loud, there are branches bursting with berries and furry little creatures scurrying home with less and less cover the hide them every day.

I’ve missed too many autumns, but not this time, we’re out there breathing it all in. The car parks are emptier than they’ve been in six months but our grins are wider and out footsteps more eager than in along time. A season of contrasts indeed.