It feels like a Sunday

I’d been out on the bike on Friday and I’d had mixed results. I’d spend hours through the week fannying about with the bike trying to get my obsolete brakes working properly so I didn’t have to buy anything new and I finally seemed to have got things looking and feeling about right after a complete strip down.
I think going for a ride as darkness fell when I was a bit tired was more about testing the brakes and light batteries (which I hadn’t recharged) that for the joy of it and I could feel it as my chest struggled to supply the power to my legs to get me up to speed.
I cut my route short and turned round and found myself pushing against the storm that was to cause so much drama elsewhere in the next few hours. But then I was in the trees and sheltered and found a something of my grin again on the riverside trail by torchlight.
I was glad to be home though, shower, food and telly with the girls.

So it was a long lie the next morning after a welcome chunk of undisturbed sleep. But I’d seen snow the day before on Ben Lomond and beyond and we wanted to get out and find more.
We did go out eventually, obviously it was late when we left but that just gets you the best of the day.

The banks of Loch Lomond were dark, the colours were deep but the sky was somehow bright. The clouds were dark but the sky through the gaps was a luminous pale ice blue that shone.
As the sun sank the pleasant peach bloom in the cloud burned a deep red just as we reached the lochside again. The water was choppy and it was the only sound where we stood and watched other than distant laughter from families playing with each other or their dogs as they made their way back out to the main road and the streetlights.

Back at the car it was night and we had no enthusiasm for cooking so we set a course for the chippy. Which was magic.
I suppose my Monday to Friday burn out had given us a wee unexpected but joyful diversion.



Monday Part #2

I had intended to have a spin on the bike at tea time to test my newly found lights. It had been in my head that “kitchen” was somehow relevant to my lights which I hadn’t seen in years, and actually quite a few of those. I went into all the jars on high shelves, tins, kelly kettles, looked in baking trays, the back of the cutlery drawer and found nothing.
On Sunday morning I decided it was do or die, find the lights today or I was going to have to make alternative arrangements, and given the current cost of direct replacements, it was looking like zip tying candles onto the handlebars.

Sitting cross legged on the kitchen floor, pulling stuff out the back of cupboards I soon shook an old tub of Celebrations that had been hidden under a pile of Holly’s art stuff, and aye, that feels like paint tubes. I cracked the lid and peered in, posted paints and my Exposure Maxx D and Joystick. Oh my goodness.

I’d had the chargers ready to go as they were easy to find in the mighty box of all known chargers (good luck dear visitor) all along so I plugged them in and they lit up as they always did for a charging cycle. These are ten or eleven year old lithium ion batteries, would they go on fire, would they just not charge?
I was cooking round at my folks for family dinner and dominoes night, I’d see how it went later.

I prepped all my dinner stuff and kitted up, I’d get an hour, maybe and hour and a half and the last half of that would be in the dark. Stretch the legs, see how the lights fared, work up and appetite and properly enjoy my dinner.

It was pretty dull, grey with a a hint of warmth from the low sun but it didn’t look like it was going anywhere. Still, I packed a camera in case I could get bike light nonsense later.

I took the riverside trails to the Saltings by which time the clouds were beginning to light up. Oh.

Pack off, camera fished out and hung round my neck. Where will I go? Back to the riverside, I jumped back on the saddle.

This is where pull ons with horizontal zipped chest pockets are perfect, my old Buffalo windshirt being the choice for the ride. I dropped the camera in the pocket and half zipped it, safe and sound and most importantly, handy.

Under the Erskine Bridge the sky was warm and the colour was deepening as the sun slipped down into the thinner cloud at the horizon.
The river was dark and rippling along the black rocks at the banks. I was grinning the entire time, I’m pretty sure I giggled too, I just love this.

It wasn’t far to the old oil terminal, after a wee bit of dog dodging. That’s a point actually, I’ve noticed two things while I’ve been back out on wheels.
The first is that the other cyclists I meet are by and large miserable po−faced bastards. These trails and views are making me smile, but apparently I’m likely the only one on two wheels around here seeing it that way.

Second is dog walkers and there’s a 50/50 split here. I fitted a wee bell as you are supposed to do because i’m on the canal towpath and old railway for a good bit and it’s the right thing to do to keep everyone including me right and safe.
So, there’s a lot of dogs being pulled in with smiles and “thanks” being exchanged which is nice, our brief meeting leaves us both better for the experience.
But there’s a few dicks who will completely ignore the bell and and look me in the eye while their dogs run around on a long lead or free and they themselves stand right in the way.
It’s interesting, since I’ve been away attitudes seem to have hardened for some. I ride by smiling and say thanks anyway.
A more obliging and generally cheerful soul you will rarely find than myself but I’m only half of the equation and I can see potential for incident here. Bummer.

We have to try to get on people.

The oil terminal was maybe not the best viewing spot for the sunset itself with a kinda plain southern bank being my foreground, but I don’t think I have mych cause to complain with the lightshow that unfolded above me. And you if you were oot.

It was glorious in the other direction too, looking away from the sun the clouds were streaked with pink. I actually said “It’s behind you!” to absolutely no one but the ghost of the hundreds of years of forgotten industry that have been and gone where I was standing.

So many birds, flying and calling, it’s as if they’d been rattled by the unexpected display. Here, maybe it was me that upset them? Oops.
They looked nice against the sky, so thanks anyway.



The old jetty has had holes cut in it, likely to test it’s construction for strength as the site is in the early stages of redevelopment. It does mean you have to watch your feet and wheels though, especially when looking at the view.

I probably should have rode around looking for different viewpoints but I just stood and watched. It got colder pretty fast too but it was fine, I knew I’d heat up fast once I got back on the bike.

I wonder if that hotel would pay for a print of this?

The wee submarine clouds from earlier were still there too. Trapped between a psychedelic roof and Boden Boo woodland. Not a bad place to be.

It all faded as quickly as it appeared and I got back on the bike and headed towards Clydebank for a while before turning for home with my lights on.
This was it, would they have a meltdown, would they switch off just as I got that narrow gap in the trees?

960 lumens is rubbish by current standards for a bike light but it was just fine for me and my old legs. I was riding with a wee bit of confidence and I could see the line despite everything being covered in a thick coat of freshly shed leaves. It’s such a lot of fun.
I’ve been riding these trails for over 40 years, biking has always been a thing for me. I was down here in the 70s on my steel singlespeed Curry and I hope I don’t let it slide again like I have these past few years. The bike feeds my soul as much as any of the many things I love but just as importantly it build my fitness and there’s a winter coming to the mountains that I intend to enjoy.

My camera was packed again so I took a few phone photies on the riverside trail. It looks magic, I’ll need to go back. Wednesday probably. Yay.

When I got to the beach back home I had to get the camera back out. It was beautiful with the sky, the distant lights and the dark beach.
So obviously I spoiled all that with messing a round with lights and a 10 second timer.

Ah the fun of it.

The old railway was deserted on the short run home. People really do disappear this time of year and that’s probably a shame, partly because it gives me less folk to grin at and say hello but mostly because the dark months are full of beauty and magic if you take the time to find them, and that’s not hard, just wrap up warm and stay out a little longer.

Thank you autumn, I will miss you. But hello winter, what you planning for us this time around?

 

Monday Part #1

I just don’t remember enjoying an autumn as much as this one for a very long time. It’s lasted so long and we’ve taken every chance we could to be in amongst it.
The hard frost we had overnight feels like the end of it though. The lying leaves are all brown, the trees are so bare and the sun is low, it’s a winter sun now.

There’s still flashes of colour, like paint splashes on overalls. They catch the eye, but not for long, the nights are drawing in.

We walked through it for our lunch break, the morning’s blue sky now washed away by a high blanket of thin cloud. There were lone clouds skittering about underneath it like fluffy submarines, trapped out of the sun, they just seemed to be heading for Glasgow.

The light was golden at times, but soft, and the woods remained dark but for the scattering of leaves that who took that light and threw it back out as far as they could into the gloom.

I was happy as we left if a little melancholy, I have loved this autumn and I am so very sorry it’s going. The frost had welcome, the chill, the scraping of glass, the thoughts of days away when the snow… Aye, we’ll see.

However, the day was not over.

It was like a whole other day

Third time on the bike this week. This time though Linda was joining in so we set our sights on a favourite spot and we dusted off my bike rack that hasn’t seen any adventure in a long time.
Yesterday’s glorious sun was gone and although the weather said cloud and a breeze, we just got rain in various degrees. To be honest that was fine, we were kitted up and had a flask of hot cuppa and the lunch of kings with us.

The trees by Loch Katrine were either bursting with autumn goodness or swirling in mist as we spun down the road. it was pleasant and straightforward riding and the occasional view to the far bank was a bonus, it was perfect just as it was.
We’ve been here many times on foot, we even became a couple here some two and a bit years ago and it was nice to see it a little differently and also with a soundtrack, with Wheeeeeee!!!!!! and Woop Woop Woop accompanying most downhill stretches from behind the basket (oh yes) and handlebars of the wee blue bike behind me.

With light fading we turned and stopped at Brenachoile Point to eat and take out our phones to take some photies. I was careful, but my speaker still has water in it now. Black Sabbath will be gurgling me to sleep tonight.
It is a lovely spot, we even saw the far bank at one point, but I mainly got fixed on the black boulders that stuck out of the crystal clear water.
It was all so grey too, but quite lovely,

The rain stepped up the pace and we got back to the car park in the dark and just in time to here some typical Scottish tourist skills at play. Someone had just arrived to stay in one of the little camping pods just round the corner by the lochside and was asking for some help from the office. In the empty quite car park the advice was plainly heard in it’s tone if not the exact words “Oh piss off, I can’t be arsed helping you, i’m going home”.
I have long despaired at the way visitors from home and further afield can treated here, it seems I need to still be worried.

We left in the dark and the rain, The Stranglers new album on nice and loud and the road almost to ourselves until be got near to Drymen.
Hot showers, hot cuppas and comfy slippers were all that were left to achieve.
Weekend done.

Ach.

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.

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.

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.

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.

MV Captayannis

Linda sent me a screenshot, we had tickets for a wee boatride and lunch straight after too. The first one was in Greenock, the second one was in Inverbeg. That’s 23k away by helicopter but if you’re driving then it’s 54k away. It’s okay though, we made it. The Inn on Loch Lomond, the food’s magic, get a voucher though.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The boatride was with Clyde Charters and we were doing a tour of the MV Captayannis, the Clyde “Sugar Boat” which is a wreck on its side on the sandbank between Greenock and Helensburgh which sunk in storms in 1974 and has been a local talking point even since.
The sinking is a worthy story in itself, the Captayannis dragged it’s anchor in the storm and was holed below the waterline on the anchor chain of a nearby BP oil tanker before she could be powered up and taken to safer waters. The captain beached the ship on the sandbank hoping it would be safe but the storm pushed the Captayannis onto its side and there it remains.
The other notable part of the story is the cargo which was raw sugar from Africa, Greenock having a major sugar refinery until Tate and Lyle pulled the plug in the 90s.

I remember all of this, I remember gazing over the water to see the freshly foundered ship and visiting it in the boat we lived on a year or so later when the Captayannis was still bright with paint on its hull  and with rigging and superstructure intact, but minus some of it’s shinier and easier removed metalwork by then. A mile of open water is no barrier when there’s scrap money to be had.
I worked in Greenock often in the 80s and 90s and remember Tate and Lyle, the shipyards, the life the the place had and of course, The North Face factory shop up the hill.
It’s all gone and James Watt Dock is now a marina and the industry it fed is history.

However, there’s regeneration to see and Clyde Charters’ bright yellow ex navy landing craft called “Tonka” shows enterprise so it was with all these fragments of memories and taking in all the new sights that we set sail into the gloomy grey drizzle and choppy waters of the Tail of the Bank on the Clyde.

The first thing we saw was a seal bobbing in its head just outside the docks and then you see you just how wide the river is here, the land behind gets very far away very quickly and the far bank does not get any closer.
We were bumped around but never enough to lose our footing or feel uncomfortable, we just grinned and pointed as grey shapes loomed in the distance or cormorant infested navigation aided glided past as we motored on.

The Captayannis itself is very atmospheric, probably as much to do with the weather as it’s quietly rusting but beautifully sculpted shape lying half out of the dark water.
We skirted round a couple of times, getting close enough to feel the textures of the corroded hill with our own hands. Skipper Ronnie’s handling was a masterclass of subtlety and confidence as he moved us in and about the wreck and it’s submerged masts without a single jerk to throw us off balance.
There are a lot of birds, which you can smell before you see. Mostly cormorants with a scattering of others which I have no clue about, but none of them were phased by us, our bright yellow hull or our clattering engine.

The sail back felt faster and it seemed to brighten a little too. One of the grey shapes to the west had hardened into a navy vessel and a tug and the low hills could be seen, suddenly there was colour to see again that wasn’t us.
Once back on the dock we found ourselves on the fun side on the locked gates and went exploring. The railway tracks to the quaysides are intact and there are countless other fixtures of the past quietly fading in amongst the yachts and Calmac ferries. Gates and signs, carvings in the stones and huge rusting bolts fastening down nothing but the past.

It was fantastic. Lots to see, lots to think about.

Right, lunch is 54km away, hit it misses.

 

The Wee Spark gets doon and oot, Part 2

The next day it was mostly waiting for the tide. The Wee Spark was looking shiny and oh so bright, but also a little odd swinging gently up in the air still cradled in the boatlift.
But it’s not as if it needs a lot of water under its wee flat arse, so as soon as the Leven was high enough to drive the boatlift down the slip into it, they took us down and dropped us in.
Time to head home.

It was cool out on the water, there was a welcome breeze and the Clyde was empty, all ours. At Dumbarton Rock there’s a huge sandbank to turn round before you can head up river and you find yourself right in the shipping lane a stones throw from the south bank before you take a hard left.

Calm waters, blue skies and my first time at the wheel out on the river. Bill sat in the sun, Jimmy made tea and I found that the channel isn’t as wide as you’d think given the size of the ships I see gliding past on a daily basis. On the canal, a little adjustment can be seen pretty fast in your course direction, out here with not so many reference points it took a minute to dial in the little extra subtlety I needed.

Then I had it, one hand on the wheel, tea in the other, a breeze in the window and the chug chug chug of vintage diesel power. It was glorious.

I was enjoying the surroundings as much as the driving, or is that sailing, seeing all the familiar sights from a different angle, it’s been a while since I was on the river.
Being so close the the Lang Dyke and it’s stone built buoys is a bit of a treat. It was originally built in the 18th Century to speed up the tidal flow and scour the mud from the river bed to deepen it. It worked perfectly and opened Glasgow up to shipping, now it’s crumbling stones are more part of the landscape than an engineering curiosity, but it’s still doing it’s original job.

We were buzzed by a drone, but no one ever got in touch so I don’t know if there’s footage out there somewhere. The Bell Monument and Dunglass Castle is well seen from the river and with work finally starting on the old Esso site around it, the day where folks can visit are maybe not too far away.
At this point Jimmy was just giving me instructions on how to get into the harbour. “Er, are you sure…” was my first thought, but he seemed unfazed, so what the hell.

There are two white markers cleverly hidden in the undergrowth by the railway on the far side of the harbour which you line up with to come in from the river so you follow the channel. We’re not deep in the water, but still, I was concentrating hard.
In we went, I didn’t hit anything “Hard right” says Jimmy, which sounds more dramatic than it actually was given the low revs and sedate pace. That right turn lined my up with the deep sea lock which would lift us back up into the basin.
The Wee Spark really is wee, but the lock looked like a tight fit. Gentle on the wheel, back on the throttle, we glided in perfectly. I was heading for the cill at the far lock gate, so a wee bit of reverse gear to centre us was all I needed and… stalled it. Revs too low, all thumbs on the controls. Ah dammit.

I loved it. Even on that short run from Dumbarton it was the best fun sitting on that chair with the wheel.

We were in the lock with a family of swans which would not be lured away from the gushing waters by bread, Mars Bar or shouting. The did however bask in cheers and applause from the wee gathered crowd when the water level got high enough for the cygnets to unglamorously chuck themselves over the gap at the top of the lock and into the basin. Swans are so graceful on water and in the air, but put them on webbed feet and given them a slippery obstacle to tackle and it’s a Friday night drunk trying to get on a bus in Partick in the 1970’s.

We were home and the boat looked great, all fresh and I didn’t scrape any of the new paint getting it there. I was buzzing, mildly sunburnt and thirsty. Let’s go again.

Morar Ramorra

It’s amazing how having freedom back has meant that I’ve been next to nowhere for weeks. It’s not been for the lack of desire, it’s just stuff getting in the way. Some of it is good stuff and I’ll get to that later.

This trip however was booked and we were going whatever, the Morar Hotel on a Woucher Voucher.

Of course we left just ten minutes late and that mean being stuck behind a police escorted industrial load all the way to the big passing place just at Loch Ba. That was emotional, we should have been digesting lunch and on the last few miles outside of Mallaig by the time we cleared the lorry. But hey ho, it was pleasant enough outside, and oh look, mountains an’ that.

Fed and watered at busy Ft Bill we were then on Linda’s first trip up the A830. Ah what joy, not too busy apart from Glenfinnan and it’s a stunner of a road is this. The hills aren’t as high as some, but they loom close over the road on both sides and it the middle of it in the now gloomy light it felt both oppressive and epic. It’s like Glen Shiel but ramped up in awesomeness. I need into these hills one day.

We caught Morar with the level crossing closed and some dumb bastards crossing on foot regardless. The train horn from a few feet away made them move a little faster. Good grief.

The hotel is basic and looked well prepared for covid friendly use, until we found a packet of crisps had been emptied behind a night stand as we hunted for a lost hair clip.
The manager’s response had an air of disinterest, add that to the 55 minute wait for our pre booked breakfast next morning and you can say that the hotel will not be visited again by us. Bummer, it’s in a fine spot.

We walked the silver sands before dinner in bare feet until there was no more sand to walk on, just open sea ahead. Cthulu was visiting and we were careful not to stand on the poor bugger.
When we got back we both noticed our feet had never been smoother, salt water and exfoliation, I’d recommend it. Just watch out for shells.

After dinner we went back out and headed round the coast a little in the hopes of a sunset. Across the machair and onto the rocks, we got enough colour to keep even us two happy.
There was a warm breeze, kids playing along the beach and nothing more to be done that day but just sit and watch.

After the breakfast adventure we made a last run down to the sands and then up the road to Mallaig for a wee wander around and some fantastic pastries from the bakehouse on the pier. Brought a loaf back too, great wee place.
While we were there the Jacobite steam train arrived which felt like it doubled the population of the village when the passengers disembarked.
We did a nosy at the station and watched while the train swapped ends, a convoluted process for the return journey to Fort William where the 1963 diesel goes to the back and the 1937 steam engine stays at the photogenic front.

The smell of the steam engine gave me flashbacks to when we had steam traction engines, hot oil and grease, burning coal and the sounds of hissing steam and ratting metal. Didn’t know I’d miss that.
The old Class 37 diesel though, I was 12 again as it rumbled past me on the platform. I love the sound of the engines, the personality the 50s and 60s locos had. Aye, I was almost giddy with excitement.
The best bit was when Linda waved at the driver from around three feet away and he completely ignored her with extreme prejudice. We were howling with laughter all the way back down the platform. Some folk take themselves way too seriously.

The gulls have moved into the rarely used right hand platform with newly hatched chicks bobbing away on makeshift nests around the rails.
The parent was giving the eye though, we didn’t hang around.

It was good to get away, even for a mad dash. Saw lots to give us smiles that haven’t worn off.

It was interesting that we spoke to so many random folk through the trip, even for us pair of banter merchants there was a noticeable increase in stranger engagement. People seemed to have time and wanted to talk, is this a legacy of lockdown, are we interested in people again? Oh I hope so, and I hope it lasts.

So, I wonder what’s next.