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.

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!

Davaar

Many of the places I want to go are all Tom Weir’s fault. He was a man who saw and appreciated the bigger view of Scotland, it was never just the hills. It was the landscape in all its forms, the people in it and where they lived. Weir’s Way has sent me many places I’d never have thought of and Davaar Island where he filmed back in ’86 as part of wander around Kintyre has long been a place of fascination.
The fascination came with many miles to cover to get there though and to the eternal shame of my younger mind, no big hills, so it was always a “one day” destination. That attitude is long dead of course and for years now we’ve had so much joy off the hills and exploring near and far, so when the work trip to Kintyre came around last month, Davaar was the #1 must see for the two of us.

Davaar is a tidal island with a shingle causeway called the Dhorlin that can be walked or driven over (if you own the island) outside of high tide. The causeway separates the sheltered Campbletown Loch and Kiladalloig Bay which is wide open to the Kilbrannan Sound and the Irish Sea beyond. That exposed nature was felt in a wind that didn’t let up the whole walk across to the island the from the handy layby on the shore.

 

It was low tide as we walked which I thought was a shame, I fancied the waves lapping at our ankles as we hurried across, but as my feet had covered a great many miles already on this trip, I think a saunter in the sunshine was probably a better idea. It’s a cracking walk anyway with well worn tyre tracks to follow if you get tired of stumbling along the pebbles and seaweed.
There’s an excellent feeling of space as you walk further from the shore and at the furthest point where you turn right at a wee navigation light you really are just in the middle of the loch.
Arran (oh, I need to write that trip up too…) is right across the sound, Campbeltown feels suddenly far away and Davaar is a short, straight stroll ahead with Ailsa Craig now bobbing around on the horizon to the right. It’s all familiar stuff, it’s just all in a different place than in the views from the hills of home.

The shingle soon meets the grassy fringes of Davaar and there’s a sign pointing us to the caves where the painting that’s part of the draw for the place lives.
Still windy but lovely and bright so Linda though she’d sit on a handy log and take some photies.
You know what’s coming.
As soon as she sat on it, it rolled backwards with her still attached to it and deposited her flat on her back on the grass. I ran over quickly to help, after getting a couple of shots.
Still laughing now. Although no, no it’s not really funny*

Past a ruined cottage the grass starts to thin as the caves start cutting into the cliffs, with some dramatic shapes and depths you can walk into. Concentration had to shift between the sights and our feet though, it was soon a boulder hopping adventure which continued all the way around to our final cave.
No mishaps this time, we took it easy.

The cave is split with two entrances and I wandered in the first one, marveling at the dark rock until I could walk no further. I came back out and then in the next cave entrance where Linda was already and I saw I’d been standing right below the painting and never saw it. Hard to explain, it’s probably best to visit it this weekend and it’ll make sense then.

It’s quite something: The crucifixion painted in 1887 by Archibald MacKinnon, a local artist who had a vision that had compelled him to paint.
He himself returned to touch it up years later and it’s been maintained by artists over the years.
It was defaced by some stupid who made a statement by painting Che Guevara over it in the 90’s, what actual statement that was we’ll never know as the courage to communicate it to the world was not in the vandals kit bag along with the red and black paint they used.
Currently it looks just as Tom Weir saw it and that makes me glad.

Some will visit this as a curiosity, as a tourist stop off, but looking around the cave at the mementos, some visitors are seeking the spiritual too. Maybe they they come to communicate to the intangible, maybe to remember, maybe to find hope. Whatever their needs and whatever one’s beliefs, these folks made some effort to get here and I hope they found something of what they needed. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if everyone had a little more peace of mind.

The reverse boulder hopping was the same in that it was troubled free but protracted. We found a corner out of the wind and had some lunch as the waves rolled into Kiladalloig Bay a little faster and a little higher than we saw them on the way out.
We still beat the tide by hours although the mussel beds were starting to flood. And it’s not a tick off a list, it’s an update. Still to see the lighthouse, still to climb the hill.

Still to finish the Kintyre Way for that matter. Ah, what a wonderful wee part of the world.

*yes, yes it is.

(a wee bit of) The Kintyre Way

Prologue

Linda’s new job has her covering a large part of Scotland, everything south of the Great Glen in fact and it will mean occasional multi day stays anywhere from Arran to Ardnamurchan. This is magic of course but having spent many nights of my working life in hotels as an engineer or in a tent when I was trying to keep to a schedule doing monthly mountain routes for Trail mag when Holly was wee, I totally got Linda’s worries about the downsides. Every adventure is time away from loved ones and home comforts.
So the obvious answer is that I’d go too, the joys of being an freelancer, my work is where I am. Sort of?

The Kintyre peninsula was the first destination, as the crow flies not so far at all, but by the winding west coast road it’s a three hour drive to the hotel in Campbletown. Linda worked out her meetings schedule and I got to researching what to do over the three days I’ve have to myself.
There are a lot of places that catch the eye on the map, so much coastline to explore, but a lot of miles to cover and getting there and back from Campbeltown (no tents on the the trail here, dinner with my girl by the seaside was a big part of the plan) on public transport was going to be a problem as buses are few and far between and bus stops an endangered species.
The Kintyre Way kept coming up and it seemed the logical option to walk parts of it if I could link up the transport. I got my plan pretty well set with times, distance and gear in mind, I was ready to go.

The drive was lovely, quiet roads and familiar sights until Ardrishaig where familiarity faded into exploration. I haven’t been down here in many years and it was all brand new for Linda.
The sun setting beautifully over Islay and Jura was the perfect welcome. The hotel wasn’t far behind the view, friendly and helpful, in Scotland?

Clean white sheets, an open window, the sound of gulls and an early start after along drive. Night night.

We were up in plenty time so there was no rush and plenty time to wander down for a hot breakfast. I was packed to go apart from my pieces which the nice lady at reception had arranged for me with the kitchen when we’d got in the night before. The cheese and ham on white bread they made for me would taste like the food of the gods a few hours and some miles later.
There was a bus at five to eight and one at eight, I’d get a seat on one of them surely? I’d figured on the first bus being the busiest so I was aiming for the second.
Breakfast was lovely, it was bright and calm in Campbeltown and I skipped to the bus terminus with a grin, a flutter of excitement at heading into adventure and a wee kiss from across the breakfast table lingered on too. The bus terminus was empty, I checked my watch, had I missed it? I walked across the tarmac as a bus pulled in “444 Southend” it said. All was well.

“Morning, thought I’d missed you there. Where’s the queue?”
“Naw, no queues on this one pal” he chuckled.

He was right, we picked up one old fella in Campletown and that was it all the way to Southend. Southend, did a committee come up with name?
The journey was an experience in itself, ten miles of undulating countryside and twisting roads and I’n picked one of the high seats at the back axle so I could get a view. It was somewhere between being on a roller coaster without being strapped and standing drunk in the crows nest on a north Atlantic whaler. Hilarious.
As the ten mile journey came into the suburbs of Southend I wandered down to the driver as my sole fellow passenger got off at the post office and ran for his life. He was a chatty, friendly young fella and he filled me in on a bunch of local info. He took me along the road a bit and set me in the right direction before he swung around to collect his real passengers, the high school kids heading back to Campbeltown. The little black clad figures appeared from all over and scuttled to the bus. Hold on tight kids, scream if you wanna go faster…

It’s a lovely spot, maybe a bit desolate in the cool grey light and actually rather chilly breeze. It was only half eight though and it would warm up at some point, we were in the middle of a heat wave after all. Still, I rolled my sleeves back down.
I checked the map, looked around and headed along the edge of the road. It’s a cliche I know, but you do know when someone is watching you. I stopped and looked around. There were eyes on me indeed, many eyes.

I wandered a little closer, not enough to make them shift their blubbery butts, just enough for a whisker twitch or two. Lovely to see, maybe ten or so seals on the mini island just off the beach.

I carried on through the village past some ruins and the art deco hotel which is now wind and watertight with plans for a full restoration. back in the day the rich and famous played tennis and swam here. No reason why it couldn’t be full once again, you can fly here for as cheap as driving. And there are buses of course to link you up.
The driver had said he’d probably catch me later as he was on the Machrihanish run in the evening, which is where the airport is. It occured to me that I was a great many miles from that and I was literally fannying around in Southend and eating into my walking time.

I’d better get going, oh wait what’s this?

I love old hand painted signs, it’s almost mandatory to investigate where they point to. Here it’s deep Scottish history, St Columba’s footprints carved into the stone, his well and the church built on the site.
You can see Ireland from here, even on this hazy morning and it would have been a fine boat journey on a good day to land on this shore in 563CE and from that moment the future of this land changed course. Christianity would spread and a new name would come with it as the Scoti displaced the picts with religion and sword over the centuries to follow.

The ruined church is centuries later, the graves later still, but it’s an eternal pivot from which this nation still swings dramatically. The streets of Glasgow this July bear witness to that.

I could have spend more time here, lost in thought, but I was getting nowhere, fast or slow, I had to get moving.

I think I got 100m before I was over another fence and all excited to explore.

The Keil Caves are excellent. Dark, accessible and full of pigeons who flutter and coo spookily above you in the rock.

I walked out slowly, trying to ignore the overwhelming aroma of pigeon shit and looked at the map, I really had to get on with this. I zoomed out and realised I was something like 60 miles south of home. It’s odd after all that driving into the hills and not being in the Highlands at all. But it’s glorious and I’m thankful that we turned our sights to “anywhere” rather than always north on the A82, this wee country has wonders in all its corners.

For some reason I thought I was walking along the beach, but the route goes sharp right inland. Bummer. It was still cool and I kept a good pace to keep warm. I was on tarmac B roads so as straightforward as that seems, I quickly got achy in my hips. I was distracted by the inhabitants of the fields which kept me amused though. Daisy here recommended some fine Kintyre cheeses from both her and her friend Mrs Goat down the road.

It’s a pleasant walk through farmland and traffic was very light, a couple of cars and the occasional farm machine whose size and demeanor kinda demands you dive for cover rather than step onto the verge.
The lovely carved blue way markers came and went and they’re marked for distance for travelers in both directions so I was ticking off the miles at a decent pace.
I won’t lie though, when it came time to turn off the road at Amod Farm I was really feeling it in my joints: hip, knee and ankle. Not sure why I was feeling the strain, it was still cool, I was packed light and I do a lot of miles on similar terrain so there were no surprises. Maybe the drive up?

I covered a couple of hundred metres on a grassy path and felt so much better, the more random and softer surface loosened me back up and when I hit the grassy ascent of Amod Hill over the stile I was all smiles again.

I had my map in hand, phone map that is, I use the OMN3 from Anquet app now which is normally fantastic for me, but later on my downloaded maps weren’t loading leaving me slightly annoyed. I only remembered this just now as I was writing, I’ll need to follow up on that later.
Anyway, map in hand… some navigation is needed on the route as the markers are a little sparse or missing or in unexpected places, all of which is fine by me, nice be putting a little thought into my progress along with leg power. It also gets this initial ascent out of the way fast and I found myself on a rouded ridge spattered with cottontails. It was lovely.

The picnic bench was something of a surprise but I took full advantage of it and had a cuppa, some of my pieces and a bit of a time out gazing south across the sea. That was a good bit of distance covered already, I could see the route from here. They grey was lingering but I wasn’t unhappy, it was keeping it cool and that was okay.

The map showed me interesting things lay ahead and it was lighter feeling legs that set off to find them.

It’s a grassy ridge with a glen on one side, plantation on the other. It’s very quiet too, there’s really nothing and nobody around here and the gate that marks the perimeter of the Largiebann wildlife reserve is fading to blend in with the local style very nicely.
Are the piles of posts on the other side an unfinished new fence or the remains of an old one? The hill is slowly claiming the wood back so we’ll probably never know.

It was a shock to the system landing back on a track after a long descent though the heather. “Like jumping in the van, turning on the ignition and dance music coming on full blast from the radio” was the comment I made later.
The tracks was worn and little sued though, so it was okay and I made quick time on it, the coast was finally getting closer. I met a few natives on the way, two horses, a dappled grey which wandered off disinterested and this rock star who just wanted to have its photie taken. They must have a home somewhere near I suppose, it’s a helluva garden to play in whatever.

Finally I was clear of the trees, the horizon was changing, now the heather dipped towards a hazy line of white, grey and blue where the sky met the sea and the air was different too. The fresh spring in my step was heard before I was seen no doubt and the locals didn’t know quite which way to run.

The girls milled around waiting to see what was happening but Billy? He just ran for it, straight over the fence and away down the edge of the cliffs “See you later girls” I heard him mutter as put self preservation ahead of family and social ties and niceties. Smooth Billy, very smooth.

Don’t try and do a cool pose, no one is impressed, least of all everyone you left behind.

I reached the cliff edge and a coire like crag ringed bowl lay below my toes, Steep heather and grass with deep blue and green water far below. The water lost it’s colour as I followed it westwards where it joined the sky invisibly and above it pure white cloud blossomed lazily over a bright blue sky trying to burst through to the north.
The sun was now fining gaps and patches of light flitted across the cliffs. It was stunningly beautiful and my single though was to chase that patch of light as it ran north over the rock and heather.

It got brighter as I climbed the edge and I found myself stepping from one world to another. On Binnein Fithich I stood at the edge of the curtain that was drawn from the Irish Sea up and over the Mull of Kintyre. Ahead were clear blue skies and sunshine, behind the grey haze. I’ve seen weather fronts moving from the hills in ways you never see at sea level many times, but never have I seen quite such a static yin and yang oddness.
As I left the cliff edge after some exploring I walked from my misty, cool, grey morning into a hot, sunny summer afternoon.

The next few K’s on the steep, broken cliffs surrounded by insects, flowers and the occasional goat were some of the nicest trails I’ve ever walked. The views are incredible, but the trail twists around the terrain, up and down, out and around in ways that are just pure fun to be on. I could have spent all day on that section and I would have been sad to come out onto flat grass if there hadn’t been more stuff to catch my and imagination

The way to the cove has a very steep descent indeed and in the dry conditions there was some skating on the dusty track through the bracken.
However I arrived at the bottom mishap free to the sound of waves crashing onto the beach and a sea breeze cooling my skin under what was now a blazing sun.

This shipwreck isn’t on anything I saw in my pre trip research. The contents are sorted out on the shore but the hull is pretty much Ben Gardner’s boat from Jaws, so I did approach the hole in the hull with the caution of my ten year old self. No head and googly eye, ah well, the sheep skull on a stick will have to do for atmosphere.

The water was cold and glorious on my warm feet. I ate the rest of my pieces, had a cuppa and a pastry and sat. Then I sat some more with just the diversion of sun cream application.

A rumble in the rocks revealed some sheep but they were my only company. There is no one here, no one anywhere, if it’s a quiet walk you want, this is it. Imagine this cove being near a road? No, I don’t want to. Praise be that some wonderful places will remain hard to access for the motorised wave of stupidity that now visits our outdoors.

I stayed a very long time. It was complete peace here and whatever worries were waiting for me back in the real world had no weight. Even now a few weeks later I can feel it.
One of my favourite places now.

Linda was with with me, always is, but it’s nice to get a photie to prove it too.

Innean Bay also has a somber side. There is a grave on the foreshore in which lies the body of a sailor washed ashore in 1917. The sailor’s identity remains unknown but the grave is tended and has seen several crosses erected over the years as the Atlantic winds wear them down. There is a simple inscripltion: “God Knows”.

The rock scenery is beautiful but the ascent up the glen side is as steep as it was coming down and there were many rests on the way up. It was now also searingly hot. The light shirt and wide brimmed hat were the perfect choice, however chilly I’d been in the early morning.

The trail meandered through the heathery hills and took me away from the cliffs. The blue posts scattered along the faint path and the mile markers now showing numbers that were getting close to home.

I was warm, but had plenty to drink, I’d done a good distance but I was feeling strong. The trail was good and I was content. A feeling that I think is worth its weight in gold and the hardest one to achieve. I can get you wonder, excitement, awe, even fear five minutes from my door, but contentment? The rarest and most precious of feelings. Hold its sources close to your heart.

Near to Ballygroggan after a little bridge there’s a metal box on a stand that just needed opened. What joy there was when I saw a visitors book full of stories and quotes from Way walkers or cove visitors. I looked and looked again, no pen and no pencil. These words will have to do. I’ll remember next time.

I was getting there now, I could see the wind turbines, soon a mast above the trees, the beach to the north and then the sound of aircraft. Machrihanish.

My phone rang. I frowned rather than answer it, the spell was broken, I’m back. But that’s okay, and I was a happy voice on the line anyway.
I’m just walking down to Machrihanish, want to meet me there?
“How long will you be?”
An hour at most, bring cold juice!
“Okay honey, see you soon”

I was back on old broken tarmac but there was no grumbles from my legs, I was in good working order, I could have just keep walking. I even laughed out loud as a deer hid in a sheep flock, I mean it was actually ducking so I wouldn’t see it.

The hour at most went by pleasantly and quicker than expected, and downhill in the evening sunshine all the way.
Sorry bus driver, I missed the return trip, I just could get leave that cove.

Epilogue

Linda met me at the seabird observatory building and we drove round the corner to play on the beach for a wee while and cool our feet down. We’d both had a good day and now we were thinking about food.

Back in Campbeltown we ended up getting take away from the lovely Taj Mahal and sitting on a bench by the harbour in the evening sun eating and enjoying some banter. It was lovely.

Also, I really couldn’t have kept walking. After a sarcastically soapy bath at the hotel I think I was asleep before my head hit that cool, cool pillow.

Open up and say A’an

I’d had a return to Ben A’an in mind since a pal had been and his photies inspired me to go back despite misgivings around the gentrification of the access.
While I can’t quite remember “when this was all fields”, before this wee peak became one of the first places to open up after the foot and mouth epidemic of 2001 there was only some average erosion on a well defined single path to the top. Once literally everyone and their dog descended on it, the now familiar deep trenches that have also become water courses soon appeared and it broke my heart.

This was a place to run to after work, a quiet corner, a mountain you always had enough time to touch the summit of and get home at a decent hour. Maybe that’s the very attitude that doomed it, it’s accessibility and genuine loveliness are like a magnet to many of us.

My last visit was years ago now, before any of the forestry and path building had been done. I’d driven past many times though and cast a wary eye up the slopes, it was time to go and see.

The car park used to be a muddy gap in the trees, now it’s extended, surfaced after a fashion and you pay for using it. No problems with that as long as the money is going to where we’d hope it would.

Crossing the road is the same, the first ascent by the wall is the same and then where you would chose to walk to the left on the muddy path through the big trees or to the right above the burn through an odd avenue of young birches it is unrecognisable.

The new paths are nice enough and carried me uphill easily and quickly but I just didn’t know this place anymore. Higher up what used to be forest and mud is now treeless scrub, the huge domed rock sitting high above the burn now lies in plane sight, no longer a secret side mission. Nothing of the old path remains, it’s darkness, the branches laid across the stretches of bog to tiptoe across, it’s scattered hints of the fine wee rocky peak above.

It was lovely to be there in the evening light, there’s no denying just how fine a walk this is, but I was still sad for what once was. It was dirty, awkward and fun, the new access is a soulless garden path and this wonderful wee hill deserved better.
But when I reached the little coll with the big boulders is was 30 years ago, the trees were still here, the path was the same and the view was just as I used to see it. The grin was back.

The erosion is worse than it was but I was expecting that so I really wasn’t any more disappointed. So much soil and loose rock has been washed away that even more of the path is on bare rock now. Just look up and around instead?

Near the top there’s some broken fences and torn signs trying to guide visitors in certain directions, obviously to let some sections of path heal a little. But these things have to be maintained to be useful and I had no idea what a sign pointing up at my face wanted me to do so I carried on in the direction I always would. Maybe the should charge more at the car park and they could afford better signs.

It was gorgeous in the rocks and cold too. The views are fantastic for the modest height and I soaked it all in with a cuppa in a nook in the summit rocks.
While I couldn’t ignore everything I’d been taking in on the way up it didn’t diminish the joy of being here again. It’s a magic wee peak and I’m kinda sorry I left it so long.

I could hear some voices somewhere behind me and then footsteps carried the voices downhill. I popped out of cover to see what the light was doing and found one other like minded soul remained and was doing the same. The poor bugger had no escape and the banter ensued. This was Beth and as I found out later she takes a magic mountain photie.
We chatted hills, gear and weather until it was plain to see that the light was going, there wasn’t to be anything spectacular to snap and it was also getting properly cold. Beth packed to go and in a clear moment of situational awareness I said I’d hang back for a while in case the stars came out and I’d still get some shots.
This was rubbish of course, I was freezing and wanted to get home but I didn’t want a lone woman to feel uncomfortable walking down into the dark with a strange chatty bloke that had appeared from behind a rock.
It makes me as sad as it does angry that we have to think this way. Mankind, and I do mean mankind has such a long way to go. So many stupid bastards out there and I have a teenage daughter going into the world who has to deal with them too.

I enjoyed we wander down in the dark, actually is was more of a skip as I tried to heat myself up with a quick pace.

I think when I read this back to halfheartedly “edit” it, it might look a little negative in tone. I don’t mean it to be, new feet on Ben A’an will find it as it is and they love it.
Change can be a difficult one to deal with, destructive change more so. But now we’re reacquainted, I’ll be back, there’s still lots to love on Ben A’an.

 

Unfinished business on the Ben

You never really know
If its going right or wrong, good or bad
Until its all over
And your socks are balled up, damp and warm
The kettle’s on, your face feels tight
As the warm indoor air softens the sting of night
All the batteries will be flat
That bottle should be rinsed
But tired legs will just leave it in the sink
I’ve made some colourful memories
But tired eyes will look at them tomorrow

I have no idea how many times I’ve climbed Ben Lomond over the years but I know actually getting to the summit has happened on probably only half of those visits. This includes my trip earlier in the year where I just wasn’t feeling it in the conditions while wearing a kilt. It never matters, it’s always fun or if not fun, interesting. This time though, the weather was clear, there had a been a dump of snow, I was wanting it today.

The problem was it was lunchtime and I was still at home. Still, it’s amazing what I can do when I actually find some focus and I was scooting down the road soon enough under lovely blue skies.

From the Rowardennan car park the road round to the youth hostel, cottages and WHW is covered in signs with no access, closed, forestry machinery etc all over them. Given that there is absolutely no bypass option I ignored them and walked along the road anyway. Machinery was seen, but no actual works. Who knows what they’re doing, or not doing. It’s easter ffs, great time to be doing this. Mind you the head ranger was recently quoted as saying that folk in trainers were responsible for the erosion of the paths on the Ben, so anything’s possible here I suppose.

It was warm on the climb up but very pleasant and I was feeling pretty good on the move. A few folk trickled down past me, North Face hoodies and water bottles in hand with no pack seemed to be a popular outfit on this sunny day. “It’s icy near the top…” was the common advice.

As I neared the top of the fenced woodland regeneration area I could hear frantic bird calls above me so I stopped to look and see what the ruckus was.

This has two parts to it, one of which was many hours later where I posted the three photies above on my socials to see if anyone could help me with identifying the birds.
I assumed the big brown bird was a buzzard although the call was different, the wing’s leading edge was very straight and the colouring was different, plus it was huge. So basically I was thinking buzzard because I don’t know many birds. The three others were peregrine falcons, I know them to see from many sightings at the crags, including close ups. The size difference was very marked though, the falcons looked tiny.

The big brown bird was apparently scouting for dinner, it’s giant wings making lazy arcs above the upper edge of the woodland as it peered down looking for movement. The falcons weren’t liking this and were frantically diving at it singly or in pairs while shrieking at it. Browny occasionally flinched or lifted a wingtip but it really wasn’t giving a shit as the nuisance continued. It even carried on with it’s own unhurried call when the falcons withdrew to regroup.
I watched this for several minutes as the birds arced, cried and dived above my head.
It was simply stunning to see.

Eventually they disappeared to the north and I walked on hoping that I’d caught some shots without the camera having much to autofocus on.
The somewhat blurry subjects were very plain to many of my outdoors friends though. I’d been watching a very rare white tailed eagle.
The size then made sense as its wingspan could have been approaching two metres and I’m so very chuffed to have seen this. It was a moment of privilege that I won’t forget and that was before I knew what I was looking at.

Then half an hour later ravens or maybe crows were tussling with the peregrines on Ptarmigan Ridge. Good grief, my timing was perfect today.

Ben Lomond is a wonderful hill, full on interest that rewards a slow pace and a willingness to step off the path. Today it felt not unfamiliar as such, but had a sheen of newness that pulled me left and right constantly. I was walking round lochans, enjoying new views from old outcrops and all under afternoon spring sunshine.

They’d been right, it was icy. The ground was largely frozen, all the water had glass clear ice over dark, clear water and there looked to be enough snow up high to be able to enjoy it.

I met a couple who had either Aussie or Kiwi accents who asked if I knew where the summit was. There were on the WHW and the Ben was one of the goals en route while they were staying overnight below.
I explained the situation as I saw it including pointing at stuff, explaining the snow conditions which I was expecting on the west ridge to the top and pointing out that the sun was low but leaving out that I was having a brilliant day and didn’t want to spoil it by walking them down in the dark.

They called it a day and headed down, you can see them below. It was the best call.

My hands had been getting cold but sitting on a rock in the low sun was surprisingly warm and I enjoyed yet another deluxe home made roll with a cuppa before the steep bit.

The ridge to the summit really is a gem. It’s not narrow as such, but has a gently sweeping zigzag that has plenty or air around it that feels mountainous and high. That’s amplified by the pack of anything of a similar height anywhere nearby. It really is a beacon, an island of a hill.

The snow was hard in places and the ground was iced, I was happy with my spikes and ski touring lightweight axe. I was also pleased with my advice to the couple earlier. They would have struggled.

I like both of these shots of my axe. Above is from my phone and you can see the nice wee shadow on the snow, below is the camera and is a bit higher res. Maybe I’ll edit one out later if I pick a favourite.

This is evidence of possible Hive infestation in the area. You’ll know exactly what I mean if you play Destiny too.

The views just got better with every zig or zag ascended. The lowering sun flowed golden over the southern highlands and to the lowlands towards home.
The hill was deserted now, the tourist attraction had closed for the day and the fine Munro that is the real Ben Lomond stood proud and steep in the chill evening. It’s dark crags streaked with white and it’s rusty slopes glowing as the sun now set behind me. What an absolutely wonderful time and place to be.

I do hope they did that on purpose.

The sun was right down by the time I was at the trig pillar. It was deep into the cloud over the ocean and although someting of it’s light remained any warmth was filtered out and I pulled on my down jacket as soon as I got to the top.

Warm, a cuppa poured and view to fill the soul. It was so good to be back on the actual top of this lovely lump.

The sun threw out what was a parhelion I guess? It’s to the right in the above shot by Ben Ime. The colours in the sky were fantastic with the remaining snow shining out of the darkness like shreds of silver.

To the east I could see the shadow of the summit reaching far out across the landscape. The pyramidal shadow is touching the Ochils by Bridge of Allan some 48km away. That’s practically the other side of the country. What a wee place we live in. You’d think that would mean it was easy to fix.

I didn’t take the path, I followed the edge of the northern coire where Ben Lomond bares its teeth. Folk walk past this every day and are none the wiser.
Phil and I walked across the lower coire years back and climbed up the NE ridge which was fantastic. Need to do that again one day.

I did find the tourist path again by which time it was nearly dark. I stopped for a while and let darkness fall completely as I always do. I’ll burn my headtorch  batteries when it’s pitch black not before. Dusk is cuppa time. It’s become something of a ritual in recent years, a wee quiet time before the walk out. it’s nice, I’d recommend it.

Back in January I did a very unusual thing I walked out with music on, not in my earbuds, but from my phone in my chest pocket and had a wee singalong to myself. It was rather joyful thing and I was compelled to do it again. Can’t explain it, but a fantastic day maybe needs a send off or something. There’ll be a deep psychological reason which we’ll get to later maybe. Whatever, sing I did.

As I hit the trees near the car park, Black’s Sabbath’s eponymous signature track started and I just had to smile widely at the timing as the scene of darkness and doom was painted by a young Ozzy as I walked through the set of a 70s Hammer film.

When I got home much later than planned the girls had a cuppa and a hot bath ready. All this on a school night too.

 

Z&Co

I have friends who have been, are, vital to my very existence. I have been saved, put right, fixed, inspired and felt grateful more times than I can count and I hope these good people know something of my endless appreciation.
Z is one of these vital people. My friend, my brother whose limitless energy, enthusiasm and drive changed my life and I simply wouldn’t be tapping these two fingers on this keyboard is we hadn’t met over the counter of the long gone Nature Bound outdoor store in Glasgow.
From that Woodlands Road start we adventured far and wide with many victories and glorious failures, both in the hills and in engineering, and often in the ever shifting company of a group of wonderful liked minded folks, all of whom are now scattered across the map.
Some of our adventures are on the early pages of this place but life takes us all in different directions and Z went to the US to make a new life.

“We’re in Glen Coe on Saturday”
See you at the car park china.

I was wandering around looking at the misty crags having had an easy drive up when their hire car pulled up with a familiar grinning face at the wheel.
What joy there was.
I hugged Steph with, I believe, the exclamation of “Mrs China!”
The banter started there and didn’t stop.

They were on a spin round the country to show Steph some our best places, reacquaint Z with the sights and sounds of home and catch up with family and friends. Along for the ride was their pal Claudette who was already primed to understand my accent by time spent with Z so comms were pretty good through the day.
Glen Coe is a must see, popularity has not diminished its wonders, every flowery word written about it is well deserved. The lost valley is accessible and gives a fine mountain flavour so we set off all hats and laughter.

It was like no time had passed, we just picked up where we left off. This was last summer and I’m grinning ear to ear finally writing about in April ’23.
I’d never met Steph, she and Z met and married on the other side of the world, but she was family to me before we’d spoken a word and it was just magic to chat as we wound uphill into the mist.

I was just so overwhelmingly happy for them both, in this big world finding the perfect partner has the slimmest of chances.

This was happening back in the early days of my physical reworking after my wee fun health scare and my legs went before I even got to the lost valley. Literally nothing left in the tank. I think it’s why I’ve taken so long to write this up, the mixture of feelings looking at the photies hits pretty hard, even today.
My photies aren’t great either, the cold sweat and shaky hands must have been putting me off. It would get better (body and photies), but back then it really didn’t feel like it was likely.

However, a wee rest and wander on the flat of the coire to look at the view and I felt good again pretty quickly. And what a place to see, the mist on the tops just adds to the atmosphere and grandeur of the place. Glorious.

We took the scenic route down through the crags and trees which led to a couple of mishaps, amusing rather than injurious thankfully. The team made it down safe and in good humour as you’ll see in the photie I stole from Steph below.
It was still early in the day when we got down so we headed round to Kinlochleven for lunch at the Ice Factor (RIP) and decided that the adventure wasn’t over, where could be go next?
Plenty options of course given where we were and a quick shin up Inchree Falls was decided upon. There were signs up saying path diversions because of foresty or somesuch but we didn’t really look too closely and headed up. It was warm and bright, the banter was still plentiful and the falls are lovely.

Some of my favourite words came next “Let’s try this way…”. A new forest road going er, somewhere. Z and I up front chatting about stuff a million miles away soon turned the subject back to whether or not we were going to have to reascend to find the way back down or just crash into the forest to find the car park again. Maybe the signs had useful information after all. It was just like the old days.
We did eventually find a track and ended our day with a pot of tea in the sun on the hotel patio.

In the months its taken me to write this up some of the detail will have faded for sure, but nothing of the ball of joy that surrounded the day has faded as I look back.
Z’s company is a catalyst for adventure, mischief and possibility. He’s also a voice and an ear that I trust and miss being close to home.

But what’s better than seeing someone dear doing so well? Very few things indeed. Be far, but be well and come back again some time (you cunt).

Door to door delivery

It’s been quite a productive week. I hit a lot of markers for work, we had a cracking day out to enjoy a lunch that had been bought for us in Stirling (note to future self, do a post on that, mind the Loch Katrine part) and by Friday lunch time there was no way I was achieving anything else of note beyond someone actually paying me so I decided to throw some kit in my pack and head out into the glorious bright day.
Most of the kit was actually still there from a couple of days back, but some new bits and pieces had arrived for TGO reviews so I swapped out the regular for the unknown and made myself an absolutely stunning roll with chicken strips, home mixed spicy mayo, crumbly cheese, beetroot, tomato, some herbs and spices and fresh leaves from the windowsill. I was thinking about it the whole way up.

The way up was still unknown though, but I had been thinking about climbing the Kilpatrick Braes again for a while. As much as I’m always in the Kilpatricks, I never climb them from Old Kilpatrick itself. It’s become very busy on the way up from Station Road in OK including the usual SUV’s on every verge at any angle you can think of but there’s also the mess the forestry made at the top of the climb with the environmental vandalism of wrecking some old crags to make a marshaling are for their tree ripper vehicles. I could have cried or punched a lumberjack the last time I was there and that emotion has lingered so I’ve just avoided stoking it and haven’t really felt I’d been missing out. I can get everywhere from the Lang Craigs if i’m prepared to put the miles in.

But, if you don’t go you don’t know and enough had passed for me to update myself in a less emotional state. So I thought I’d just walk out my door, skip along the canal, shin up the hill at Old Kilpatrick, cross country to Overtoun and home via the cycle track. A decent loop and plenty of light to do it in.

However, Linda was just passing and I got to knock a few hundred metres of tarmac off the distance as she dropped me off along the road a wee bit.
As the day extended beyond its initial premise, those saved minutes were something of a gift.

Tarmac gives way to gravel quite quickly and folk pass me coming downhill, many smiling, most with a hello and then the usual smattering of stony faced bastards. I greet them all with enthusiasm.
I stopped for a breather at the high corner, it’s a long and unvarying ascent and always feels more than it is. The views are great, I can almost see my back windows above and it was warm but not too much so, I wasn’t breaking sweat, I was just cruising along, quite happy with my lot. Plus my sunglasses were on, oh that bright, bright sky.

My first potential stumbling block was round the next corner. I walked head down, arms straight with clenched fists like I was reporting to the headmasters office until I was right there and I looked up. It was different, the old quarry was still filled in but the huge marshaling ramps built from freshly quarried stone that had buried the ridgeline were away and the natural look of the skyline had been restored, a bit, it’s not what it was but it is better.
I suppose I was sort of glad, maybe even pleasantly surprised, both in a muted fashion, but I still have that lingering sense of sadness for what once was.

A little further on the large grassy area that was kept cropped short by grazing sheep had changed once again. When the sheep were taken off the grass grew wild and the migrating geese I saw there each year never came back again. Now the grass is short again because its under the shadow of a freshly planted conifer plantation. I hope the geese like their new pitstop wherever it is.

Loch Humphrey was another km ahead and was a deep dark choppy blue set into the golden fuzz of the moorland that spread like a carpet to the horizon. The wind was sharper on the more exposed track high point but by the water was warm and calm again. I lingered, but this was supposed to be my half way point, I should be heading home.
No chance, I was feeling fresh, it was a beautiful day to be out and the KP’s were all mine.

The going was dry and firm, much of the ground was still frozen although the dusting of snow was largely gone. It made for pleasant and sprightly walking to the trio of volcanic plugs that are Little Duncolm, the imaginatively named Middle and the boss itself, Duncolm. I’m pretty sure folk only climb Middle Duncolm because that’s where the path goes and they think it’s the highest point. While it’s nice enough the first thing you see once up there is the next highest top along blocking the view and then you have to descend and reascend steeply to get there. The path down from Middle to the coll to it’s big pal has deeply dug steps like they’ve been huffily stamped in during countless bad tempered descents. Ha.

There is another way up for the locals though. A barely visible path winds around the side and takes a rising traverse on the west of Duncolm to pop you out just at the trig pillar. This path splits lower down and takes you to the Whangie too. Oh, another day.

There was snow on the horizon, to the south and east more than the north surprisingly but fresh falls across the Arrochar Alps and Ben Lomond were trying to set that straight.
Looking straight west a very familiar shape pokes up in front of the Cowal skyline. Little Donut Hill right there, soaking up the sun.

It was windy and cold up here so I found a corner to hide and finally break out my gorgeous chicken roll. I poured a cuppa, pulled on some insulation and sat.
It was glorious. The passing clouds chased shadows across the Campsies, ravens played in the breeze and I was alone for the whole time I was here.
Complete peace. Ah, if only you cold hold onto that, keep in a wee bottle and let some out now and then, just when you needed it.

I stood up and wandered around and then my phone went. My bubble was a little burst, until I saw who was phoning and I was happy again until I realised how cold my hands were and the phone didn’t recognise my finger as a living thing with enough electrical activity to operate the answer call icon. Time to go.

I jogged down, hands balled up inside my gloves to speed their reanimation. Out of the wind and the sun I warmed and the flutter of anguish was soon gone. I saw fluttering to my left and two raptors were looking for take away. I saw one swift swoop to the ground and then a second attempt before a wee rest on an outcrop as something had obviously got away. I was so close and they didn’t care at all.

Dumgoyne rarely shows it’s shape from the south as it’s set so low against the plateau behind but a lucky passing cloud stuck it’s wee nose right out for me to see it.
There was a lovely basalt er, I don’t want to say snotter but it seems to be the right words for it. It’s growing a pointy moss beard. Gallus.

You could say it’s desolate, but on a day like to day where the ground glows with the warm winter light, the sky is full of movement and colours and your eyes are wide open it’s wonderful. My heart was glad to be there.

I carried that positivity back down to Loch Humphrey where I had thought maybe to descent to OK and get the train that one stop home that I probably wouldn’t have to pay for, but without breaking stride with still fresh legs I took a hard right to follow the bank of the loch into terrain that hadn’t seem my feet in a few years.

We used to walk, run and ride here, me and the old team, years back. It’s almost unrecognisable now. The rough singletrack has given way to gravel paths and that too has now given way to the grinding of forestry’s steel tracks.
The further west you go along Loch Humphrey you go the worse it gets, the ravaged remains of the plantations are painful but the missing pockets of natural growth hurt more.

Where this quarry is was a less densely planted area which was thickly carpeted in moss which would come up to your knees on your way through to find the 376m top of Darnycaip. I’m sure this is much better though. For someone.

I can see the old trails in my head. So many happy times and so many faces that were with me that are now so far away. This trek has cemented those wonderful times into history, nothing now remains but memories.
If ever there was a lesson in why doing stuff is good it’s been this. do stuff, make memories. Aye.

Here and there little bits remain, literally now off the beaten track and left to overgrow. I think I’ll detour to find these when I’m back, it’ll make me smile.

It was nearly at the Black Linn reservoir and Ben Lomond loomed serenely ahead. I’d climb the track to the crag edge and head down from there.
Snow flakes started to drift down and golden light was slipping past the crags onto the Luss Hills and catching Donut Hill too. I saw geese by the Black Linn and went for a closer look.
They waddled off as I pulled out my shell jacket and slipped it on to deflect the snow and rising wind. When I slung my pack back onto my shoulders it wasn’t even a conscious decision, I just headed straight for Donut Hill.

“Loving the kilt!” was the warm and cheery welcome on the cold and windy top. From there the chat went on in every direction as the sun slipped down.
The light was gentle, warm and subtle tones as snow fell to the north and the sky above absorbed any heat that remained from the sunny day we’d been enjoying.

It was cold and there would be no glorious sunset, a muted splash of gold as the sun hit the clouds just above the horizon was a sign to descend rather than wait hopefully and just get even colder.
The angle was downhill but the mood was not, there was enough light for easy walking and once on the familiar tracks of the crags it was warmer again and banter smoothed the way to the gates.

At the car park it was pitch black and the stars popped out one by one. My new pal was safely in her car and away on her way home and I walked downhill from Overtoun with a pool of LED light to follow through the darkness.

Friday night is normally cooking night but Linda was on a special mission tonight at a try out in Glasgow with Sheboom, the fantastic all female drum group so it didn’t matter if I was a bit later back and Holly was eating at Granny’s so all was well.
…phone rings…
Ah, so Holly’s at home waiting for dinner now?
Luckily I was walking pass the M&S Food at the BP garage in Milton at the bottom of the hills before the sprint home on the flat of the cycletrack so a meal deal for two plus accessories it was.

Me and Holly dined like microwave kings, Linda came in after 9 needing toast, enthused and deaf from 3 hours of drumming and I had done 22km with nearly 700m of ascent walking from door to door.

This was a good day.

Craig Minnan, where the hell is that?

I can see this from my window, well the ridgeline behind it formed by Misty Law and Hill of Stake anyway. The trail’s origin lies on a bit of a nowhere land called Ladymuir on the edge of Clydemuirshiel Park and although it looks unremarkable on the map, if you google for it there a few walk suggestions come up.

In our ongoing quest to make the most of the local area, we set off, and set off a wee bit late of course, to see if we could #1 find it on the Renfrewshire backroads and #2 have some fun exploring.

There’s a wee carpark off the B786 and we bagged the last space. There’s a faded interpretation board and a path leading off into the trees. You don’t really need more than that to get moving. We had a map of sorts saved from the Clydemuirshiel website but as it lacked clear direction, grid refs or any real correlation to what we were seeing on the ground we decided just to head west–ish and see what happened.
There were plenty of trails and it looks like locals do shorter loops around the woodland and there’s lots of pleasant trees, a burn curving through them and a little stone crossing that brought a smile.

The trail eventually rose clear of the thickest woodland to what looked like an old road, elevated into the hillside and walled. The wall was mossy and crumbling, the road surface hidden under grass, leaves and twigs. It was also at right angles tour our arrival upon it, the most left or right decision it was possible to make. Right felt like the adventurous option. The map confirmed it, of course I checked.

Hidden in the trees further on were some ancient concrete channels, obviously part of Ladymuir Reservoir which we’d been expecting to be quite industrial if and when we found ir, but once on it’s banks it felt anything but a man-made construct. This was every bit a lovely wee loch to sit and have a cuppa by.

Fish bubbled nearby, the sun cast shadows the floated past and we sat and watched nothing much at all. Perfect. We could loop back, but there’s a forest road up by the end of the reservoir, will we go and see? Yes, of course we will.
It was lovely walking, not much ascent, and no views as such, just a pleasant, lush and maybe even calming environment. It’s a state you could just cruise through endless miles in.

We walked on, soon rising slowly through the plantation. The sky got wider and we had our first proper views, Misty Law was right ahead, the deep dark brown bulk that’s so familiar from the living room window. It’s like meeting a pal in person that you’ve only talked to on the phone for ages.

The trees stop and you have choices. A muddy path going somewhere “that way” into some trees or the gravelly forest road that swung left and looked like going back to base. The “that way” path nipped in and out of some young trees and ended at a stile. Here was the big view. Ben Lomond, Arrochar Alps, Kilpatricks, Campsies, Cowal, Lions and Tigers and Bears. Oh my.

Will we go and climb that?
Aye looks nice, what is it?
Er…
I thought you were an expert Peetah…
The sarcasm cut me deeply as I looked at the map: Its called Craig Minnan Linda, c’mon. But she was already swinging her poles through the heather towards our newly discovered destination.

It’s a gorgeous place is this. The crag is a little over 300m and doesn’t stick up above the surrounding moor very much at all, but it’s full of atmosphere and interest. Some hills pull you onwards because you want to be in amongst it, not just detached on the top, and there were nothing but grins being in the grassy strips between the bare rock.

The top is a cracking viewpoint with so many familiar distant shapes to the north. It was warm and clear, the rock was dry and we had no choice but to sit down and take out the flasks again.

A cool breeze slipped in, jackets were worn and a little cloud drew up between us and the sun. Evening wasn’t too far away now. Still we sat, with banter and smiles and happy with our lot.
That mountain feeling isn’t just for the big mountains, that freedom, that space and contentment, the air you can feel filling your lungs and your soul, it can be this close to home.

It turns out this is a destination for bouldering and I can see what, lots of rock to play on for your reasonably long walk in. I guess you could shin up from the Muirshiel visitor centre to the south, we thought about visiting the next little top that exact way but the fading light had us heading back to that gravel road, night wasn’t too far away.

Oh, there was a sign. Pointing the wrong way, serves us right for going anticlockwise. there was also an abundance of abandoned forestry gear. Clean your shit up, guardians of the land my arse.

The dullness brought us to a stop to get headtorches into pockets along with hats and gloves. The temperature dipped along with the sun’s highbeams as we headed slowly downhill and a few early lights twinkled in the distance from Paisley’s direction.
It was very quiet so the croak of a raven was easy to pinpoint to its source and we found it doing an odd dance on a stump in a clear felled area. I don’t know if it needed privacy or an audience to fulfill its ambitions for whatever it was doing, but it got frustrated with us not understanding it and few off anyway. Sorry.

Just a little bit of gold to the west before the sun let go altogether. Not complaining, the day had been fine and the calm cool evening was a fitting contrast as we walked out on a road that stopped unexpectedly.

Timing is everything and hitting the muddy, partially flooded and unmarked trails through the southern half of the woods just as it became pitch dark wasn’t necessarily what we’d have chosen as our first option.
But by headtorch and Anquet’s OMN3 app we found our way with much laughter and twigs in our hair. Linda’s hair lets’s be honest, my hair these days can be described as basic or budget at best.

Just before we found ourselves in someones garden near the car park we found something that the forestry guys really should have remembers.

Jimmy, you got the keys of the JCB?
Naw, still they’re in the ignition.
Where is that than?
You trying to be funny, it’s just by the levers on the dash.
Naw, naw, where the JCB?
It’s parked in the trees.
Head in hands, Andy walks back to the hut to phone the office…

Go out to play local, it’s magic.

Nothing new under the sun

The crags were in very good form, the evening light can bring the best out of them. The ground glows deep orange and brown as spring although threatening hasn’t arrived with its green flood of colour. Maybe it’s waiting for winter? We all are.

Flasks and wraps, gloves and hats, dinner with a view. We couldn’t count the number of times we’ve been at the crags but I remember the first time Linda and I held hands here. It was a natural gesture for us, an unconscious affirmation of that easy flow across from friends to where were are and always will be.
If ever a place was the perfect venue for something so small and so big, it’s here.

The sun had a little warmth in it, and when it sank away the cold had been waiting and pounced on us. Winter is till holding onto the night. Try harder, I know you can do it.

It’s been a joy tracking Jupiter and Venus as the spin across the sky ever closer. I downloaded another app to help with saying what we see. My poor battery.

Cold hands, not due to the fine array of gloves I’ve just written up, but I’d let them chill too much before I layered up. But we were home soon and the kettle was on.

Nothing new. But that’s just fine.

 

Red Alert

I’ve long been a subscriber to aurora alerts and I roll my eyes constantly when they come in at lunch time or when it’s pissing down with rain. This one though, it came in was just as the girls had their pyjamas on and it was clear and overhead on a Sunday night.

Come on! Come on! I wasn’t expecting enthusisam, but I wasn’t expecting the staggering and mumbling I got either. Still, they got ready and we got out the door in record time. The record threshold being we got out the door before I lost the will to live.

We went down to Balloch and parked at Lomond shores with a quick run round in the dark to the slip with the Maid of the Loch on it where a few others had gathered with tripods and down jackets.

You could see the bands of green with the naked eye and we all got something on our various devices. Lots of folk have got spectacular images that are worthy of scientific journals and news reports, but this one below is my favourite because we were there together and saw it together. But lean close to the screen can you hear it… “Stop laughing, only five more seconds…”
The McDonalds drive thru was still open when we left, I think they deserved it after the trauma.

Of course it went all over social media and the news, so when the alerts went out the next night rather than finding the usual quiet roads, every SUV from the off road adventure lands of Glasgow’s suburbs had decided to go to Balloch. The A82 was a car park from Dumbarton to Luss.

But no one from out of town had thought to check the weather. It was forecast to be solid cloud cover half way up the loch so everyone that jammed into Balloch, Duck Bay, Luss and Firkin Point were going to see nothing. But still they came, half informed and half arsed and every layby, lane and verge was filled at any angle the drivers could find. As I passed the countless skyward pointed faces at 5mph I could hear the refrain again and again: “What are we supposed to be seeing?”

I’m not particularly taking any kind of high ground here, I was doing the same as everyone else, I’d just read the weather forecast and knew I was heading to Tarbet at least where the road north was shut anyway for overnight repairs.
But, the cloud wasn’t thinning when I got to Tarbet. No point in going to Arrochar, no desire to drive any further at all really. I parked up and crossed the road into the trees by the loch and hunted for a spot with a clear view north. I found some easy angled mossy rocks and sat down. I set my tripod up in the water and poured a cuppa from my flask (test kit, flask tech has moved on…) as the waves slapped over my dangling feet in the dark. I was warm enough, this was actually quite nice and the traffic was quiet somewhere above and behind. I’ll wait and see what happens.

Well, nothing really happened. Some flashes of aurora colour through a few gaps in the cloud, some out of focus long exposure gambles and a litre of coffee drunk.
I gave it a couple of hours, that was plenty.  I headed home and the road was still mobbed, all due to Duck Bay visitors filtering out slowly and reducing the flow to a crawl. Can’t blame folk, it’s been a once in a lifetime couple of nights for the aurora and making memories is a joy.

 

Tyndrum Minor

 

Here, it’s looking quite nice after all. Will we head out and grab a cuppa somewhere?
Aye, we won’t need any gear.

And with that we were on the road with no particular plan other than going a wee bit north. It was pleasant and with banter and tunes on we accidentally ended up in Tyndrum and the Green Welly.
Fed and watered with a spin round the shops it was looking like a wander back down the road might be the only option as it was getting late in the day. But we were feeling fresh and a wee quick walk somewhere close would be ideal.

Hmm, I think if we park at the station we can get that track that goes to Dalrigh and the lochan with the sword in it, mind from Weir’s Way.
We jumped in the motor and hopped across to the station where there is actually a few parking spaces which I did not know, never having been the last few meters up the road to the platform.
There’s a level crossing and forest tracks heading left and right across it which I was looking at over my shoulder as we went back down the road on foot, never been over there I was thinking… But a wooden signpost immediately distracted us, WHW and Cattle Creep Trail it said. Oh, let’s explore that.

As we discovered later it’s a short trail that branches off the WHW at Clifton at the west end of Tyndrum where local folks and kids have been doing some tree planting to encourage natural regeneration. It’s a wee corner that’s suffered over the centuries from the lead mining on the hillside above and still bears obvious scars as you can see from the road so some fresh greenery is maybe a good idea.
And as pleased as we all might be that the nearby gold mine seems to be working out, there’s a lesson to be learned here for their future. Let’s hope they get it right for the environment this time.

It’s a pleasant trail by the burn, up and down and left and right as it follows the north bank. The railway is very present in the view ahead and the cattle creep under it that the path leads to is obvious and oh so inviting. Before that though there’s an old ruined weir with a little wooden bridge crossing the outflow below it. I climbed up onto the broken concrete (because in my head I’m still five years old) to wave at Linda and nearly fell backwards off it into the deep pool behind.
What a view. I’ve never seen the Crianlarich hills framed quite so perfectly and with a dusting of overnight snow surviving the mild day to cap it off beautifully.

The paved cattle creep carried the burn one way and our feet the other. Once under the railway it was a different world altogether. We had only really seen the sun hitting the tops of hills so far, we had been in shadow since we got here, but through here it was darker still, and very quiet indeed.
Leafless and lichen covered trees, thick moss carpeting the ground and a path that wound curiously into the unknown. Magic.

The signs are there early on, the crumpled remains of an abutment over the burn for a passageway that went somewhere sometime, then dark moldering brick walls sinking into the moss and further still the modern touches of barbed wire and already fading warning signs, Danger, Mine Shaft.

You can see the remains of the Tyndrum lead mines very clearly from the road on both sides of the village but up close is so much more fun.  Yet again we’d ended up somewhere I should have been years ago instead of driving by it on my way to an “important” mountain.

There’s a lot of remains here, buildings, metal and wooden remains sticking up everywhere and so much bare grey earth too, due to the soil being poisoned by the lead over so may years of mining works.
Around the edges it’s so green, the trees around here are lovely, but from the top of the mine area on the hill above to the railway is a strip of lifelessness. Not a blade of grass to be seen. It’s probably a cliche to say that it looks like a WW1 battlefield or a scifi movie set, but that’s what it is and it’s oddly attractive in its own way.
And silent. That was the strangest thing. The occasional car on the A85 across the river was light an aural searchlight through the blanket of darkness.

We explored the whole place, but the shafts high on the hillside will have to wait for next time. It was getting darker and we thought we’d better head back. We were slow to leave, this was fascinating stuff.

The walk back was quick enough and the sky was darkening with every step. It was also pulling out its crayons and doing some off the cuff colouring too.
It was obvious that the path that followed what looked like an old mine railway led to the station where I’d been wondering about the level crossing, so we followed that instead of cutting back through the cattle creep.
The sky was glorious and the air cooled quickly. We did have some gear, pockets full of test gloves for an upcoming TGO review and they quickly become handy as my fingertips numbed.
Ha. Do I leave that in or not?

We reached the level crossing. It was still kinda light and we still had energy and we dithered as the path ahead climbed invitingly into the trees.
We’d catch a glimpse of this sunset up there and round the corner, it’ll be lovely, won’t take us long.

Maybe round this corner we’ll see it, will I run ahead?
No, this is fine, it’s lovely.

Neither of us had a camera, we had no snacks or drinks and no headtorches. But still the ever changing colours in the rapidly darkening patch of sky above it pulled us on, we would find a gap soon.

I knew where we were and I knew roughly how far were were from the Cononish River. I hadn’t seen an tree felling in there, I wasn’t convinced there actually would be a gap to see the horizon, but we were having fun and, well this is a big easy track to follow back… isn’t it?

There’s Ben Lui! It slid into view through the gap in the trees like we’d opened a pair of heavy velvet curtains, still holding snow and looking epic. We were so close to the edge of the forest now, we padded out of the trees and onto the road to the gold mine in the darkness.

Water was rushing past us in the dark, the river was near but unseen, lights at the mine twinkled warmly just down the road. The sky had held onto some colour just for us as we chuckled away in the clear air of Cononish Glen. It was quite lovely.

The walk back was a jaunty affair, the pace was snappy and my eyes had some good use of their surprisingly good night vision powers until we finally gave in and used our phone torches on the last kilometre for additional trip avoidance. battery power was in abundance despite taking so many photies over the previous couple of hours.

Over the level crossing Linda’s new wee purple car (Alright!) had snacks and a bottle of juice for us to enjoy as we heated ourselves up and demisted the windscreen.
While not planning might sometimes get you into trouble, sometimes it’s gets you the best times too.

But maybe always just throw a Petzl e+LITE into my pocket. My kilt has big pockets, it’ll be fine.

Devils in Skirts, Part 1

Linda had threatened me with one for a while, “You’ll love it” and “You’ll suit it” being the  most common bait to lure me in. But as much as I have grown to fully love and embrace my culture and heritage, I was kind of ambivalent about wearing a kilt, it was very much in the I’ll get to it one day file.
Linda is tenacious though and also loves a bargain, so here we are, standing in front of the mirror in a black Sabbath t shirt, Converse and a kilt with a nice amount of purple through it.

I’ve never been one to do anything half hearted. I’ll beat the simplest or most minor distraction to death with enthusiasm and this one was easy: it’s going to be nice, I’m wearing this to the hills.
You go honey she said.
That was all the encouragement I needed, in fact that was an endorsement if ever I heard one.

The first task was a kilt pin, need to add a little weight and stability which I was sure would be needed if I ended up in any weather and mother found my Granny’s silver celtic cross after a good bit of rummaging. Strong pin and clasp, good weight to it and it looks magic, a wee bit of family history to help me on the way.
What to wear with it was something that needed a play around with. The longest socks I have are all very old, either Karrimor’s or Terra Firma’s, both from the 90’s but serviceable. I went with the cream Karrimor’s with some Coolmax liners to pack out the worn spots inside. The Terra Firma’s are far better socks but they’re also bright red and I looked like either a childrens’ TV presenter from the 80’s or a stripper, there was absolutely no Tom Weir sartorial flavour coming off them at all. Dammit.

Underwear was next, 3/4’s, shorts or full length longjons were the choices. The going like a “true Scotsman” and being bare arsed under the kilt is both historically inaccurate and would likely see me in hospital given the temperatures. Long legged shorts like I wear most of the time were fine but left a gap of bare skin to the top of the socks, 3/4 filled the gap at my knees well enough but full length gave me a double layer with my socks which seemed like a good idea and that’s what i went with.
I went with an old pair of well shaped Smartwool’s with a fly (so double thickness crotch) that could be folded up above my knees and didn’t fall down again while I was moving.
Everything else was regular kit, easy peasy.

Driving to Rowardennan was a a lovely new experience too, summer driving in a kilt will be a joy. But although the sky was a beautiful, the loch was very dark and choppy and the trees were swaying. I was chilled as I walked to the ticket machine in the carpark. I had my old Kimmlite Kamleika pants packed but it did have a definite Is this really a good idea... moment. It’s me though and any of my successes in life are fueled by bravado and optimism backed by an average amount of ability. So off I went.

Into the the toilet block. My first pee in the mountains in a kilt was in rather unsavoury surrounds at just above seas level, but the technique was straightforward and is yet another joy of kilt wearing.
Straight out and onto the trail I went, warming as I walked on this so very familiar path to the broad shoulders of Ben Lomond. It was quiet on the this wintry Tuesday but as it was late when I left I did start meeting folks coming downhill as I climbed and these interactions are making me chuckle still, a week or so later.
Hi I threw out with a grin “Oh, er…” came the reply as she looked up and saw me and hurried on.
The two football fans (club scarves, no rucksacks) grimaced as they passed me, gazes fixed ahead like I was a beggar and they had spare change.
“A real Scotsman!” smiled the older lady, Thank you misses, safe down.
“I’m from Australia, can I take your picture, they’ll never believe me”. As the snow beat into from the side I did my best Monarch of the Glen pose.

The wind did indeed get up, the blue above was gone and the temperature dropped sharply. I had my shell on and the hood was up, big gloves were on too. The snow began to coat my left side, socks, bare knees, kilt and Gore Tex. Never felt a thing.

Two young fellas were a little ahead of me, one banging his mate’s arm “Look at this idiot coming towards us” as they both subtly readied their phones to get a photie of the coming evenings’ mountain rescue subject as I passed them.
Oh, it wasn’t looking great up there, we turned back said the concerned and very well equipped mountaineer heading downwards. “Aye? Ach, we’ll see how it goes”.
I’ve been turned off Ben Lomond so many times by the conditions, I know this hill very well and I know it’s not really the tourists easy Munro unless it’s a fine, calm day. I was ready for it, equipment wise and mentally, the physical is still catching up again.
So I was thankful for that fact that advice was offered, I would later give out the same sort of thing to a fella just below the summit track in jeans, directing him to a nice view spot and how to get back quick before it got dark. Instructions he followed to the letter.

It’s always worth the risk to help.

The sky cleared in patches although the air was moving no less swiftly past me and I did roll down my longjons which warmed me up instantly. Ventilation, temperature control, it’s so easy, so instant and so much better than zipped thigh vents. I did not expect this, this was all for fun, mischief and photies, something to send to Linda while she was stuck in the office and I was discovering something that had functional elements that were better than the cutting edge of current outdoor design.
Interesting.

I dug in a little for a break. There was maybe forty five minutes of light left and I just wasn’t feeling it for the summit. I could feel the cold creep in when I sat, I was still comfy enough, but the summit was dark under a wreath of icy wind blown cloud and I knew it wouldn’t be as pleasant as I’d want it to be on my first visit in a wee while.
I wandered over to the little crags and out onto the ridge above Coire a Bhathaich. North it was angry looking and the light was fading. I was content and I was going home.

After finding evidence of the path repair team I wrote about a while back my crampons crunched and squeaked me below the snowline where I sat with a cuppa until it got dark enough to need to walk with the headtorch.
A jaunty wander down with a head full of new stuff rattling around it. An empty car park and a slow drive out to Drymen on a very icy road.
It had been business as usual in many ways, me and a favourite local hill in winter. But, the new element made it also something very different.

I will really have to try this again. You can never make your mind up properly the first time about anything.