The Greenock Cut

The Greenock Cut is a 14km–ish trail that follows an aqueduct that was built to serve the thirsty machinery and workers of industrial revolution era Greenock. The circular route takes in the whole of the aqueduct and skirts its feeder lochs with only the briefest of road crossings to pull you away from what feels like a wonderfully remote walk despite never being too far from or high above the urban blanket laid along the Clyde coast.
As well as the hills and coastal scenery, the whole route is an engineering marvel with less than 200 metres ascent recorded from our starting point, so lots to enjoy.
We’d been talking about doing this for ages, and now we’ve been.

The closest we’ve been is going “Oh look, there’s the visitor centre up that road…” when we’re coming back the coast road and now when we were going for real the visitor centre was the planned starting point, but as we got into Greenock a mix of local knowledge and a desire to burn as little fuel as possible sent us up the hill to Overtoun instead. There was proper parking next to some houses, handy and hopefully safe*.

*Spoiler alert, it was indeed fine.

You’re straight onto the track and round the first corner you get the views. Jeezo, why has it taken so long to get here? This is magic.
The track averages out at 160m elevation but the views are so extensive it feels so much higher. We stood and picked out some favourite places, the distinctive tops of the Arrochar Alps being easy to spot and were feeling very close.

The walking is easy and full of wee places to explore, ducts and overspills, workmen’s huts with long cold fireplaces, gates and bridges built to access the central hills which have been made an island of sorts by the aqueduct.
The heather is in full bloom in shades of pink, purple and white, yellow flowers still shine and frantic insects buzz around all of them, scooping up the last of the summer harvest.
The distance passes easily as the weather shifts from grey and windy to warm and bright with every turn as the track flows sharply left and right as it clings to its designated contour line.

We walked anticlockwise, just because. It turns out this was the right way as anyone else we saw on foot or saddle was going the other way. We liked the views this way too, walking out to sea towards Arran and Cowal.

We were starving and hid from the stronger wind on one of the stone bridges to have lunch, well dinner I suppose, because it was late when we left.

Lots of ships to spot, cargo coming and going, a ferry over there, a few yachts and the familiar silhouette of the PS Waverley lolled past as we munched away. The fastest vessel on the Clyde which rockets past our window twice a day and it looked like it was standing still.

Btw, I’ll be talking about that Haglöfs L.I.M Mimic Hood I’m wearing in a wee bit.

As you curve away from Inverkip there’s a little stone building almost buried in greenery, not unlike many along the trail, but this one has some overgrown steps down one side which obviously just had to be explored. I mean why have a red button if you’re not allowed to press it?

Walking onto the slightly shoogly gantry you can see below, a heavy gate protects what we found out later is a restored version of an aqueduct overflow management mechanism.
It’s genius in its simplicity. If the water level in the aqueduct rises to a certain point water will flow down the overflow pipe and into the large bucket which will fill and drop down, opening the cast iron sluice gate which is counterweighted by the second bucket to stop it opening too quickly. The water runs out of the sluice, the aqueduct level drops and the bucket drains through the holes drilled in it, resetting the mechanism to its normal state.
Brilliant. Who needs electricity.

Linda, its a mechanical sluice gate, not a bench… Lots to see at the Cornalees Bridge vistor centre, probably, it was all shut as we were so late in the day. We will go back though, the wee cafe look nice and here’s where you get to find out the history and technical stuff.

The aqueduct stops here as this is where the reservoirs that feed it are, so past the unexpectedly remote feeling Loch Thom is the day’s only real ascent across a pass of around 250m.
Before we tackled this unexpected technical section we sat by the loch and finished our flask and had cake.

This cake was from the wee shop in Duntocher and came from McGhees and in a box too. I’ll probably get into this stuff properly at some point, but a wee health scare earlier in the year has seen me change a lot of what I do and eat and I’ve shed a load of weight through doing well, what I should have been doing all along.
But, I’m not becoming a fitness and food fascist, the cake on that day was one of the finest of joys. But I earn my cakes properly now.

There are minor roads hidden in the hills as well as tracks and there are plenty signposts to keep you right. I’ve crisscrossed Scotland my whole life and this area is probably where I know the least and I can actually see it from my window.
Since me and Linda got together we’ve been setting that right, hardly a week goes by without is setting foot on something somewhere and so much of that has been close to home. There’s so much around us other than the Kilpatricks, it’s all adding more joy and more possibility.

The last run down to Overtoun brings the views straight to the north. It fills my heart so it does.

It was getting late and the skies were darkening but flashes of pale blue could still be seen and the yellowing sun shone beams through the broken cloud to make even the intrusive infrastructure of civilization look soft and maybe even pretty.

We could see the buildings at Overtoun, we were nearly there. But we were still having fun, still had energy, there was still daylight, but there was the car.
We’d been out for hours, walking and just sitting. The time had just evaporated, the best sign of how well you have spent your day.

As we reluctantly skipped down the last gravelly stretch to the edge of town, a familiar sound reached our ears, a dog barking and an incoherent ned shouting at it. The little group sat on the knoll as the sunset geared up to the west, hoods up, their carry–oot in a poly bag ready to blur the last rays of the sun before the western mist could do it for them. Urban poetry in motion.

What a magic day. What a winter trail this would be, what a great bike ride. We’ll be back, but first…

 

 

 

Walking before I can run, metaphorically

I haven’t been out this much in years. I’ve been walking or biking almost every day for weeks and I can see and feel that it’s doing me good.
From early starts for Glen Coe to finding new paths near home with Linda it’s been a joy.

I really hope I can sustain it, I want so much to be as physically ready for winter as I can be.

1496 photies on the memory card. Better look at that too.

A walk in sunset

I miss the bluebells. They were everywhere this year and it was glorious while it lasted. I’ve never been keen on summer, it gets in the way of stuff I want to do, like big days in the hills or breathing and whatnot. But I am enjoying the green this year. Still, I could happily have had the bluebells for longer.

I do miss the darker nights, as much as I like being out and about after the sun goes down, the light nights disturb my sleep. In saying that, it’s grey and pissing down as I write this so maybe we’re done for the year and we can… Oh wait, it’s not even July yet. The horror continues.

The crags are busy now, but not as busy as last summer. Now that the pandemic is “over” folk aren’t as born again outdoorsy as they thought and have gravitated back to beer gardens and airports.

Good.

 

A walk in silence

If you’re an outdoor person and you’re on social media you likely have a lot of outdoor friends on there too. This is brilliant for comparing notes, seeking answers to questions, reliving memories and finding inspiration.
However, of late I’ve found the barrage of stunning images, joyful tales and beyond has overloaded me and things that should have brought a mist to my eyes have been a swipe past onto the next thing to swipe last. Too much of a good thing maybe?

It’s seeped into my own joy of sharing stuff despite being out and about all the time and enjoying some magic days. It’s always been like this for me though, just more so this time, the ebb and flow of enthusiasm and indeed the nature of that enthusiasm and how it manifests itself changes constantly.
I think the new camera has somehow been a part of that too, I really don’t like it at all and happy snapping has always been a part of my days out and about, I hate fiddling with the bloody thing to take a photie, it’s intrusive.

Planning, scrapping plans and then making last minute half arsed attempts at having fun due to the frankly horrific review sample supply situation (thank you Tory Bastards, Brexit Bastards, Covid Bastards and Bastard Putin) has had a big part in it too.

That’s okay though, the love of being out there is for always, maybe I just don’t bring it flowers and chocolates all the time. It has meant not posting memories for my older self… wait, I think I might actually be becoming my older self now, how long has the place been alive now? Aw, man.
So I’m going to rewind and hit a few spots that make me smile when I find them.

This being one, a lovely early summer sunset with Linda and supper. It was cold and breezy at 1000ft, but the view was warm and we were together.

Aye, this makes me smile.

If you have ghosts, you have everything

Linda was finished for the day, I was nearly finished for the day. Lunch we said, the where was the thing, let’s go and see some snow? So flasks were filled, our fridges were examined for useful content and we threw together a lunch of sorts so we only needed some sweeties from the garage on the way.
The road was as quiet as you can get in the afternoon but the big surprise was that the falls of Falloch car park only had one other car in it. There’s something you won’t likely see again this side of November.

We were ready to go so it was packs onto shoulders and a dash across the road to try and find something a wee bit special on the north side of the glen, the Clach na Briton.

It’s 15 years since I was last up here when there was a team handed sprint up the lochside after work to find the stone when we’d all been inspired by Tom Weir’s enthusiastic description of it in an episode of Weir’s Way.
That’s long enough for the hillside to feel brand new again and as soon as we crossed under the railway we were definitely exploring with a vague “It’s kinda that way I think…” as a route guide.

Ben Oss and Beinn Dubhchraig feel very close here once you gain a bit of height, close and very tempting. Later on we kinda cursed ourselves for not packing more food for more miles but that’s okay, there’ll be other days.
The grass can be hard going, it’s basically fuzz covered footballs underfoot everywhere and as soon as you take you eye from the next step up to the scenery you’re sideways or down.

It was lovely though. A bit windy but not so cold, broken cloud over blue sky and an already low sun beaming light and shade in equal measure. Perfect for being out.

It wasn’t long before the smooth grassy skyline was interrupted by a very obvious pointy thing, our pin point navigation has led us straight here. Clach na Brritaaaaaaannnn as Tom had said. With grins wide and maybe a wee bit of excitement we picked up the pace to get there and throw down our packs for lunch, or dinner, it was getting on.

It’s an impressive place, so much history must have been witnessed by the stones over the centuries but so few hard facts are known about it.
Clach na Briton, stone of the Britons, so called as it’s said to have marked the meating of three ancient Scottish kingdoms, Dalriada, the Picts and the Scots.

Its age, which is unknown, might have blended it into the landscape but this is at least partly the work of many ancient hands. There’s a wide rocky base, piles of huge stones on top and the giant spearhead dragged onto the top.

Maybe they found an outcrop which is the visible on part on the downhill side to give them a start, but whatever, their hard work has endured.

There are matching named stone mounds to the west, perhaps marking a very definite border. Ah, if only the Romans had came here as visitors and not invaders we might have some written records. All we have is 500 year old words on a battle fought here near the Minvircc, the stones’ old name.

We sat in the sun, it was warm while the cool but gentle breeze had us pulling in our down jackets. We are our pieces, drank from our flasks and then just sat. I’m very much for just being when I’m in the hills, the drive to achieve goals and reach summits is long gone and I’m so glad Linda is the same, so we just sat.

Actually we reclined, heads back onto the grass by the rocks, knees relaxed, sun on our faces, eyes closed, no chat, happy just to be.

I though I heard voices, or was it a radio? There’s a fence line close by, it could be someone working. I sat up and looked and with a field of view hundreds of metres in scope, there was nothing. Ach, I put my head back down. I could still hear, something though.

Linda was soon fidgeting, “What’s up, I’m trying to sleep…” I murmured. Hmm, the singing had distracted her too. I sat up and looked again, I stood up, climbed the rock to see nothing, no-one at all. It was quiet too now I was up. The breeze had dipped and the air was drifting by rather than blowing, it wasn’t wind whistling through the rocks I was sure. I put an ear to the ground, it’ll be water inning below the surface, snowmelt heading to the river… nothing but my own heartbeat.

We looked at each other with no answers to share and lay back down to watch the clouds slip by as lazy as we were ourselves.

The singing was still there too. No instruments, it was layered voices, mostly female, light and melodic but melancholy too mixed with sweet. We lay there and listened and the song remained until we sat up to go when the light dimmed a little more.

We talked about it, we still do weeks later. I still have no explanation. I am all about science and dinosaurs, but my mind is always open. Once on Ben Macdui I had an experience that still lives with me. I think this might be another.

Whatever it was, it was welcoming, that I know.

We left cheerful with a spring in our step and no desire to head back, we were heading up the glen.

Now Linda is the love of my life, where my heart has found its home, but dear god she can’t walk ten feet outdoors without decking it.

The terrain was tough, and when you’re four foot eleven the obstacle clearance options aren’t great so I’m not mocking here at all. Just gently enjoying it with a generous side salad of concern.

Fionn Gleann is fantastic and it’s a first time visit for both of us. The terrain does improve higher up on the rocky knolls we headed over and it was a lot of fun just exploring.

There are broken walls high up, shielings and a cottage by the looks of it, but here we had to plan a way back. Bummer really, we had headtorches but no food left, the will to keep exploring was strong,we just hadn’t planned for it.

We descended to the deep gorge which was an unexpected gem. Black rocks and tumbling water with unfamiliar views of familiar places.

We sat by the water as it rushed and gurgled over our quickly dipped and removed bare feet then finished our flasks as the sun dropped out of sight.

A wonderful spot, an absolute joy that I had never even known existed.

Oh, get off that beaten track.

The evening light was beautiful as the brown winter slopes glowed orange as we walked down the hideous hydro scheme road on the other side of the glen.

Our knees we’re glad of the assistance after the trials of the walk in, but it’s still s blight on this lovely place

The bigger hills looked magic, so close but just a little far. We’d had such a good day we were happy enough to have them as our wallpaper.

We cut off the road and headed for the cattle creep above the hydro house as it got dark. We found it but the bastards who did the hydro scheme have wired it up so you can’t slip through. This left us with some choices, none if which I was happy having to take Linda into.

We couldn’t cross the river, the gorge here is very deep indeed, and we weren’t reascending to look for a safe crossing point either, so the railway line it was. If I’d been solo I’d have walked the railway line back across the river to the ascent route, but a quick shin across the tracks was safer. We also had to climb four fences to do this.

I was livid. The cattle creep is still on the map. How the hell did they get away with this?

Once over the A82 were onto a stretch of the old road hidden in the trees with its crumbling stone arched bridge and tarmac. Nature is taking it back.

We followed this back to the car park with banter flowing and talk of what hot food we were getting on the way home.

It’s a day full of joy that even the railway crossing couldn’t info, a wee day that had everything. And thinking back to the singing by the stones if you have ghosts, you really do have everything.

 

Hydrostatic Head

The pandemic has made the fun things of life a little tricky and our little overnighters all over the country all but stopped dead. So it was with a mix of excitement and maybe apprehension we hit the road to the Pitlochry Hydro. Amazingly it was late when we left because I had to go to work, so rather than a leisurely wander up with the hope of dropping by to see friends it was as much of a mad dash as the average speed cameras on the A9 would allow.

But we got there in the end and the Hydro is actually pretty nice, clean and warm inside with friendly staff and the food later on was great. Although the bar tender couldn’t catch his amazement in time when I wanted a pink gin cocktail the same as Linda’s after dinner when I should maybe have been ordering something more er, manly?
Before that though we walked into town and had a little poke around as the shops and cafes hurriedly pulled down their shutters as we approached. Hey, it’s Scotland I’m used to that, I remember with fondness and amusement the fallout I had with Visit Scotland when I suggested their new slogan should either be “Welcome to Scotland, bring a packed lunch” or “Welcome to Scotland, ye’ll have had yer tea?”.
However we found lights on, coffee machine steaming, cakes on display and a warm welcome at Mackenzies, the last cafe standing in the town. And of course it’s run by a Yorshireman. Good lad, and thanks for sending us into the woods to look for the waterfall next day.

The woods were under a very grey sky and rain was threatening but the dampness seem to brighten the colours of everything, dead or alive and it was a very pleasant want to the rather impressive Black Spout waterfall. It’s really, scary high. So it was with some relief I got Linda away from the edge and we found some endless snowdrops spouting by the burn which she didn’t fall into either. Which is probably a shame, the photies would have been magic.

We had intended to climb Schiehallion but the weather was minging and I have never seen a view from the top, never mind Linda never having climbed it so we’ve save that for another time and decided on some general exploring. The road and trees make any journey around here a joy so we headed west in vaguely homeward direction.
We had cuppas and pastries so we weren’t intending to go too far at first so the cuppas were still warm and I pulled up into a little forest car park which I’d never noticed before, Allean Forest it said.

One of the best accidental decisions ever. The signs said there was stuff hidden in the woods, trails to follow and things to see. Off we went. In jeans and Converse.
It was mainly good forest roads so the going was good and I’ve rarely been somewhere this accessible but yet so quiet. We came upon the pictish homestead first, a large stone circle that used to be roofed when occupied and latterly they think used for storage or housing animals. The trail goes up and on through the trees which swayed, creaked and swished as a strong wind tried to get to us but they trees didn’t let it. I think it gets to nearly 400m before it snakes down again and takes you too another abandoned settlement, this time it was occupied in living memory despite the rather medieval look and feel of the place.
We explored fully and it was fascinating. A little group of building where workers lived, families grew up and now there’s nothing but stones, not even real memories to find and absorb. The main building has been re-roofed to give you a flavour of living conditions. Hmm, maybe we’ll just visit rather than move in.

 

 

The two historic sites we saw here are very well maintained with good access and not a single sign of litter or vandalism. It’s joy to witness.
We found a mysterious sculpture in the woofs at a viewpoint, that lets you view the tops of other trees. Is majestic Schiehallion lurking in that grey? We never know.
The rain started spitting, that wind was getting its way, so the weather took a two pronged attack. Back at the motor, we shot along to the cafe at Kinloch Rannoch for hot soup and a view down the loch. Still lots of grey, but lively nonetheless.

From hear to home were roads familiar but wet though happily quiet. The mountains stayed hidden the whole trip but that’s okay, it made us look elsewhere and that was the best thing that could have happened.

The day the camera died

It would be disingenuous to say I know nothing about taking photies, at times both me and others have said “Oh, that’s nice” at something I’ve taken and I have sold stuff many times over the years.
But it is absolutely true to say I know nothing about photography, like at all. I have no idea what the manual settings do, I have no idea what the terms describing the settings or their effects on what I see mean. I still use the idiots presets for everything, AI, landscape, night stuff, sunset etc.
When I went to my LX7 it didn’t have any preset long exposure settings for stars and camping lights and I didn’t take any night shots for years because I couldn’t get it to work on manual.
It’s not that I’m stupid, I’ve been running an engineering business for 30 years, I can do technical stuff while I’m sleeping in the truck, but when it comes to camera manuals and settings, I tune out instantly.

So point and click it is and I absolutely love it, this place has illustrated more than 15 years of my life with the power of point and click at low res intensity.
But this little trip to a favourite spot on Loch Lomondside finally killed the LX7, so I may have reached a turning point.
The Beinn an Dothaidh trip below this post was all taken on my LX5 (not my original, Linda got me this one a couple of years back so I could take night photies again…) so it looks great on small screens, but the camera itself is well worn and is probably functioning by luck and the power of positive thinking more than anything else.

We sat by the lapping water after trudging around the swampy woodland for an hour trying to find a spot with the water level still staying so high this winter. We had a lovely three course picnic dinner as we watched the sky go pink and we were menaced by swans who really liked the look of the tarts we had for dessert.
I tried to take photies but the same problem that’s been intermittent for months became the default setting, the lens would jam half way in or out and the camera would have a meltdown.
I’ve researched and acted on advice and the tapping it upside down when the lens motor engages thing worked for long enough, but now there’a a grinding noise as well. Yay.

I eventually got the lens out and to keep it that way I hung it around my neck and kept the camera on, pressing the shutter button now and again to keep it from attempting to retract.
But there’s more happening inside it than is obvious, almost everything was out of focus and had odd colours, I think the gubbins are misaligned now with all the shaking, slapping, knocking and er, throwing and dropping.

With dinner done and the light gone we headed into the woods under torchlight to work our way back to the road. I put the camera in my pocket, now ironically jammed completely in the on/lens out position.

Poor Linda, I shrieked so loudly and unexpectedly she stopped and dropped into a crash landing position with her hands up to her ears.
I thought it was a boat or something but the deep orange light I’d spied was the moon that had just slipped over the horizon as we’d reached a clearing by the bank of the loch.
It was absolutely a stop in your tracks moment.

I pulled the camera back out and the rear screen was lighting up at least, so I pointed and clicked and hoped for the best.
It was gorgeous and glorious and if we’d been further into the trees we wouldn’t have seen any of it.

With a fully functional camera it would look less like Minecraft up close, but ah what the hell.
The camera died after this water level shot below, the battery was drained after being constantly on for so long and as it tried to turn off the lens jammed half way shut with a squeak. And so it remains a week later.

I swapped the memory card into the LX5 to get the photies out and now that old timer is my only functional camera. I’d be quite happy at that actually, it’s like a camera for kids it’s so simple, but we’ll see.

Anyway, it’s all about making bookmarks for the memories later, you know when we’re old… er.

 

Always take a left

But that’s getting ahead of myself. I had laid everything out the night before, before we headed into Glasgow to see 80’s NWOBHM legends Demon play a fantastic and insanely loud set at Ivory Blacks.
We got back and I was out before my head hit the pillow, so much going on recently I think the blowout that was the gig reset my dials and I just shut down for some re-calibration.
This did mean that when I was woken up by a lovely surprise breakfast that I was at first confused and then really rather demotivated for heading out, despite the weather being eyewatering through the gap in the curtains.

Linda was having none of it, she pushes me when I need it (whether I like it or not) and this time the push i needed was to be abandoned while she went off the park with here maw (Hey Babs!).
I initially sat with a cuppa with the music loud, the pile of gear in my peripheral vision not being ignored as such, just a little overlooked. I put the kettle on for another cuppa, but this time I absent mindedly filled the flask.

Ah, I guess I am going then. I was ready fast but oh so appropriately, so very righteously, so completely joyfully, it was late when I left.

There were two places left at the Bridge of Orchy car park which I was glad of, and was happy to reduce that number by one. I stuck an old pair of winter Keens on and I was away. As I walked up to and crossed the road I could hear something, machinery, rumbling, maybe a generator? As I got near the station I could smell that sooty diesel perfume of vintage joy at the same time I spotted the freshly burgundy painted Class 37 sitting at the platform.
I speeded up in case I missed it and leaned over the level crossing gate with my camera to catch it leave.

“My camera” being a now almost vintage Panasonic Lumix LX5. It’s the only functional camera I have now and as it turned out, I’m quite happy with that.

However, leaving was apparently not on its agenda given that there was no one in sight anywhere on the train or in the station.
“Is it possible to steal a vintage train” and “Would it be worth the hassle when they got me for the absolute joy of tearing up the track to Fort William with English Electric power roaring behind me…” were two things that absolutely did not come to mind as I walking along the platform to find another vintage joy, a Class 47 pushing from the back.
I really could have sat and waited all day, the sounds, the smells, those happy 1950s locomotive faces smiling at me, but no. Those streaks of snow high above me were calling. Loud and clear too. It was with lightness of foot and heart I skipped down the station stairs and onto the path into the coire.

It was bright and breezy but I was warm and didn’t need gloves yet, there’s a rare pleasure. I soon started to run into folk coming down (yes, it was that late in the day) and almost everyone was happy faced and wanted to chat in the passing, I didn’t have to trap them or anything.
It became a welcome punctuation of my ascent for the next couple of hours, a chance of a wee rest, a good few laughs and many words of caution. Was I kitted for ice and snow was a common concern and did I know how to get down in the dark was one inquiry from an older gent wearing gaiters and a raised eyebrow.
I found this heartening. So much of life post lockdown (I use that with caveats obviously) has me seeing angry ignorant people everywhere, but in our hills I’m finding the best side of folks, especially today. It was a real highlight and it’s making smile again writing this.

So aye, ask me if I know what I’m doing, I’m not offended at all. Looking out for each other is maybe the finest of human qualities and I wish it was all pervading in our lives.

I loved these guys. The wee dug had got sore paws on the ice and was hitching a ride back down. I hope you’re good folks, thanks for the banter.

Using the old camera again was a lot of fun. It is more limited in it’s scope, terrible zoom, no automatic lens cap, but I think it takes a nicer looking photie than its replacement.
The timer is a wee step back, I’m running around counting out the seconds for the single shot at the count of ten. I got it wrong so many times, never seen myself girning into the lens trying to figure out of the shutter’s gone so much as I have tonight looking through them all. Loving it.

This boy wasn’t hanging around.

I could see some coloured dots coming down towards me (they are in the shot, oh yes) and by the time we got close I knew what was wrong, I put my hands up to stops them “Guys, you’re walking in the wrong order. It’s red, amber, green…” They looked at each others jackets and when the penny dropped I got laughs rather than abuse. Okay, they said we’ll walk in proper traffic light order until we’re out of sight. Good, some things have to be done right you know.

Coire an Dòthaidh is a fantastic place. Crags rise high on either side and a few boulders sit proud above the grass and bog to give you targets and leaning posts as you tackle either the slippery peat or mobile gravel paths. It has got more eroded around here since I was last this way.
At its head the coll gives nothing away at all until you stand on it with the little lochan and the sudden wonderful views.

It was cold here though, the wind was coming straight for me now. I pulled on my windshirt and beefy gloves and I was just right again.

I looked to my right, beautiful Beinn Dorain, the iconic and shapely beacon that welcomes us as we climb the road to the central highlands. It’s much photographed, much visited and in my early days it was high on my must do list. But now I think that the best looking hills aren’t the ones you should climb, it’s the ones next to them that deserve your attention. For one, you get to look at the calndar stars from an unusual angle, and also they ugly sisters are always quieter. I mean my best day with Buachaille Etive Mor was probably my winter camp on the summit of Beinn a Chrùlaiste about 100 year ago.

So, I turned left onto the rocky path to the wide shallow hollow that tries to be the southern coire of Beinn an Dòthaidh.

I chose wisely. The back end of Beinn Dorain looks mighty from here and I saw one other person from leaving the coll until I passed car on the way home hours later.
The wind was whipping across the whole time but I was still cosy enough in my light layers and I was moving at a moderate pace to keep my vitals on the right side of the line. It was unbroken snow for hundreds of metres ahead and it was soft after hours of sun, I wasn’t fighting that. I’ve got plenty of time, I’ll get to the ridge when I get there.
A friendly youngster caught me up on his way to grab the summit before shinning it back down to catch up with his girlfriend. I pointed it out, I suggested he take a line around the head of the burn as I could see the snow over the water there was many feet deep and he could catch the path easy enough on the other side. He followed my advice, took a safe line and he moved fast, but he missed the summit. I won’t tell a soul, it’s just between us.

I got to the edge and it reminded me why Beinn an Dòthaidh is actually a brilliant hill and in no way in the shadow of its fancy neighbour. For a start there’s the views to Beinn Achaladair’s fine flank and beyond, but right in front of you are fantastically steep and rugged cliffs and today they were wonderfully corniced.
I was quite happy where i was to be honest. I’ve been here since, but i haven’t actually stood on the proper summit since the RAF had Jaguars in active service. This is because I looked down on a Hercules and two Jaguars up to something warlike in the glen below while I had my lunch.
Wait, going to check Wikipedia…
Okay, so they were retired in 2007. Nah, it was way before that, 90s probably.

Anyway.

I was quite prepared to hang out where I was but the summit looked really rather pretty, a snow crusted fin sticking up only a few hundred metres away. Off I went.

Now I forgot to mention that I’d already lost my sunglasses, my good clip–ons too. The last ever made in the Scottish Polaroid factory. That’s okay though, I rarely lose or break stuff and it’s bound to happen from time to time so I can’t complain and I was having so much fun that it didn’t damped my joy at all.
The camera and tripod spinning through the air as I tried to take some timer shots did upset me though. I saw it hit the rocks and when I got close I saw it hadn’t landed on the lens which was still extended, I lifted it and turned it over, deep cuts in the screen like a tigers claws or something… oh dear god, that’s it.
Off, on, off , on, press, click… Bloody hell, it still works. I need spare of this model. I was more careful from there and the summit visit was joyous. The light had faded and warmed, a haze had settled and broken clouds were skittering over me and trying and failing to block all of the sun.
This was perfect.

Back on the slightly lower top I found a painted rock that had placed there recently. Whatever your views on memorials and the like being left on the hills, if you have a soul you can’t argue with the message on this one.

I headed round to a familiar spot, a small crag where Phil and I had camped a few years back. I put my down jacket on and cooried down out of the wind with a hot coffee and just watched the sky as the wind whistled over my head.

There’s an odd mix of calm contentment and bubbling excitement at moments like this. I grin so hard my face hurts, I jump up, run around with the camera laughing and sit back down out the wind and clench my hands like a five year old who’s just seen their birthday cake. Then I sit and stare at the dying sun as my cheeks chill, my breathing slows and I can’t hear the wind anymore, I’m just there. Perfect peace and perfect joy.
I used to say we’re all just dressing up to go out and play and I’ve never felt that to be truer, but it’s so much more besides too.

I stayed where I was, why would I want to leave? I wasn’t cold, I was wrapped up and had plenty left in my flask and the sky was beautiful. There was thicker weather coming from the east but i wold just descend out of that, I had a plan for that. Me and Phil took a steep but very doable line straight down from where I was down to the station, I’d do that. I had plenty of time.

I sat back down and let it all go in front of me.

When the sun went so did I. I packed up and followed the edge of the crags down to the wide shelf below. With all the colour now gone with sun the rock and snow were stark monochrome opposites and the realities of their danger felt almost oppressive as it grew steadily darker. I took a safe line onto the grass and pointed towards home. The mountain world is indeed one of contrasts and you need to sample all the flavours to try and make sense of it, not just your favourites.

It was pleasant walking. The snow patches glowed against the deepening black of the hillsides and the horizon glowed wearily as low cloud rolled in and shut out the last of the days’ light.
I got to where we descended the last time and I did not like the look of it in the dark one little bit. A damp band of black rocks with nothing visible beyond. I checked the GPS, I was exactly where I was supposed to be but was I about to take a leap, or possible slide and roll of faith? No, of course I wasn’t.

Back uphill it was. The mist was fully in now and the light was completely gone, I walked through the haze of my headtorch beam in a lazy arc that would take me on an easy–ish line for my now tired legs over the lowest part of the ridge above and into the shallow bowl behind where I’d find my way back down to the coll.

It was fine, I knew where I was, I knew where I was going and at no point did I waver. I think I needed this, a wee challenge for my mountain brain after possibly too long having it easy.
I swung round south once I got onto a big snow patch and I eventually caught up with some footprints and then the path as the snow started to break up. Within minutes of reaching the lochan and the coll the mist cleared and the stars came out to cheer me on as I slipped my way down the eroded path. Aye, thanks for that, half an hour earlier would have been better.

The stars twinkled as the lights of the station and the hotel floated in the black ahead of me but grew ever closer. I was hungry again, the diversion was done at a slow pace and I’d been out a lot longer than planned, but I wanted to get down before I ate, I was too close now.

I could smell it before I heard it and I could hear it before I could see it in the dark. the Class 37 was sitting where I’d left it, engine running. As I got to the station underpass the driver put the cab lights out and shut the door.

Wait, can train drivers read minds…?

 

Dinner Can Wait

Another late dash. It starts with spring over the wall and follows with as much of a sprint as my lungs will allow across the field to get to the trees and onto the giants staircase before the light fades.
This time, the lungs weren’t so wheezy, my stomach was on a slower spin cycle, is the post covid shite finally lessening it’s grip? Time will tell.

As beautiful as ever. The evening light brings this place alive and it’s a joy every single time. I was already feeling better than I’d expected and this despite having both boots and a rucksack that I’d just taken the labels off of.
My feet were wanting to go and I let them, I just them followed along. I like when someone else drives, I get to look at the view.

The brown scar of a recent rockfall stuck out quite obviously. The debris was no where near any of the paths, but it’s a worry. I’ve never seen one this big before.
The plateau is now almost devoid of trees as the 60 year old plantation has been made into flatpack furniture and LFT boxes, is more water now running faster to the edges of the plateau and increasing erosion where it’s not obvious? It’s a wee bit of a worry.

It’s stunning though, what a place to be, especially as dusk.

I had come prepared with flask and pieces. I descended into a wide rocky cleft just off the crags where i haven’t been in ages and jammed myself out of the wind with a down jacket and a grin to watch the dark take over.
Bliss, peace and contentment.

I pushed on until it was black around me, but not above. Stars blinked as half a moon shone optimistically but too weakly to light my way home, so I followed my own light back down to Overtoun.

The boots I hadn’t even thought about, that’s always a good sign, and the pack was forgotten about too it just “was”. I think gear has evolved a wee bit more than I’d expected in the past couple of years.

Epilogue.
My increasing amounts of “out” time have increased the amount of outdoor washing constantly hanging drying. I think I’m going back to gaiters. Hmm…

Valentines Day

All we needed was each other, the road, somewhere to eat and this to look at. After the greyest of weekends this light and shade and colour brought joy to our hearts.

Well, more joy I should say. The unlikeliness of our original meeting and windy road to our joining has own forever joy.

It’s never too late, for love, for hope, for life for putting things right and yes, making new mistakes to try and fix.
I sometimes feel like I’m walking a path of largely undeserved second chances, but I will take every gladly one offered and try to make the most of it. For me and for you, the kind soul who offered it.

By the way, Saint Valentine’s skull is on display in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin in Rome. It’s got missing teeth and is crowned with flowers. That’s got to be the most heavy metal thing I’ve heard for a wee while.

Here’s to love (picture a parma violet gin and diet lemonade held aloft in a jaunty fashion).

Half an inch too short

Let’s face it, if anyone I know is going to spontaneously create a rainbow from their fingertips, it’s going to be Linda.

It didn’t start as a wee trip to the lochside, I was in fact just down the road starting to fit a replacemnt pump in a church. Due to Brexit screwing me, my suppliers and the manufacturers over so that Tories can wallow in baths of cash while misty eyed over the dreams of empire, the pump was difficult to get and after paying nearly £1K up front for it, I was very keen indeed to see if I could get the thing hooked up, Saturday or not.

It had gone well, it will fit and it will work, but a pipework alteration would be necessary on the 2″ header and I’d have to get to that on Monday at the workshop then fit it, refill the system, test it and bill the bastard.
Linda had come along for morale support and as we were kinda there anyway, a wee trip to the Bonnie Banks seemed in order.

Good grief it was windy. I had work pants on, but hill gear on my top half and I was still feeling it. the wind cut through us like 5G through your unconscious mind to make you invest in cryptocurrencies and NFT’s. I hate conspiracy theorists, but it does give me a rare chance to be meta. Ha, see what I did there.

Sorry, it was the cold.

But crivvens, it was lovely.

In the woods there was welcome shelter but the sunstreaked flanks of Ben Lomond and even Conic Hill glowed through the bare black limbs of the tree around Luss’s Glebe.

The water was deep dark blue with white horse racing to the shore, the clouds caught an evening glow and out feet were staying alarmingly dry on the well worn but today deserted path.
We had only one pair of gloves, but holding hands solved that, and that’s also something you should never grow out of.

Cuppas were had, ducks were marveled and strangers were photographed. Sorry, but you were just so well positioned.

All this and The Stranglers at the O2 Acedemy last night where they played a stunner of a nearly two hour show. Give me snow, someone pay me and have it all I tell. All.

By all obviously I’m including a girlfriend who can make rainbows.

Can you sing it for me?

I really wanted to go out on the bike this week but energy and time weren’t quite as plentiful as I needed. Next week. Aye, next week.

However, the crags I can theoretically tackle at an easier pace. However as I wheezed up the giant’s staircase to try and catch the last of the light I did think that the bike would have been easier.

It was lovely though. A cool breeze, some colour in the sky as the sun went down somewhere around Arran by the looks of it and I sat with a wee flask as Ben Lomond caught a cloud full of rain and held onto it. Good job big yin.

I did a long loop and returned in darkness happily singing out loud. I had the whole place to myself, kinda like the old days.

Also, there is test kit in that photie below. Unusual brands on my usual trails. Going to be a lot of that.

Beach Bums

I was on the laptop at half seven this morning. I didn’t look up until ten to eleven when the phone went at which point I realised I hadn’t had breakfast yet.

It was a productive time and after a couple of rolls on beef and cheese (both of whose use by dates hurried them out of the fridge and onto my rolls) and a fresh cuppa I was back on. Then the phone went again and it was two hours later. It’s like a black hole or a time vortex or some bloody thing been in front of that screen.

Fancy a wee walk to catch the last of the light said Linda. I put the kettle on to fill a flask. Enough, I’d done my bit and was pleased with myself. Not the frequent event you might imagine. I like earning my time out, I always have. Every time I dived away midweek for a summit camp because the weather was good is because I’d worked for those free hours or knew I’d sweat them out as soon as I got back.
I like having a purpose, I like having goals. Having the focus to do them, that’s the hard bit at times.

It was bright enough but the light was soft and warm, even if the air drifting off Loch Lomond was chill. Through the trees, through the mud, under that branch, over that log and finally a crunch of pebbles on the beach.
Conic Hill looks so small from here, bet it was lovely there today, especially for anyone who saw the sun go down just a wee bit later on.

A bimble and a blether took us through the trees and over swollen burns to the gravelly point that was still hidden by the high waters of the loch.
It was still a fine spot anyway, we sat and poured a cup each and watched the sun sink as the water rippled in suspicious but hypnotic ways just a few feet away.

As it got even colder we took to our feet and into the trees to find more mud and the lovely twisting trail back the the gates. It’s lovely in here, in a 1971 British horror film way.
The car park was close when the sky lit up properly, all the colours all at once we got. And for our cameras we had a potholed car park. We made the best of it.

Local adventures. Yes please.

Road to nowhere, and back again

As fatigue’s leaden grip slackens on both my feet and my enthusiasm I find myself looking at the weather forecast several times a day. It’s always been my first thought when the vapours rise from my adventurous spirit to be lit once again.
Then I’d have a wee shufty at Geograph to see if anyone’s caught a shot of the unlikely spot where I might stick a tent.

I did all that. but this was for a wee bit of a lesser challenge, we just wanted to get to the mountains, but without having to climb one. Not just yet.
When mountain rescue comes for me I want my explanation to be better than “Sorry, I’m still gubbed, thought I’d be fine though, can you carry me a bit more gently thanks”.

I thought along the roads north, visualizing branches off to either side and the many laybys where we might start our wee adventure. Getting a loop to walk was turning out to be difficult without hilarious distance or actually going over a summit, so then I went for out and backs and a wee trail I’d never set foot on came up.
From the A82 at Loch Ba there’s an unmarked and unfrequented track that leads straight westwards into the West Highland Way not far from Ba Bridge which means it’s a track to the very foot of the mountains.

Wardrobes coordinated, food sorted, we were up and away at a frighteningly early mid morning the next day. Yay for going places.

We missed the track completely and started out day wandering around the heather until I actually looked at the map. Ah, it’s there I said looking up, and indeed it was on the other side of the wee lochan by the road. Reverse gear…
It’s very subtle at the start for such an accessible path but does become more worn into the landscape as you go. It’s Rannock Moor here still, so it’s also very wet in places and it wasn’t long before feet were wet. Didn’t dent those grins one wee bit.

The last glacier was a messy bugger, there are the boulders it dropped everywhere you look. It’s a subtly beautiful landscape and completely empty of people. that’s not something you get much in the hills these days.

The Black Mount is always ahead though, snow flecked ridges that grow closer every minute. I had a little flutter inside as I walked and looked up, oh this is the stuff.
A little cloud started to drift in and catch the tops and ridges. It just gave an added air of drama. I could feel myself standing there, the chill as the mist enveloped me and cut off the sun and check on my ice axe leash on my wrist before I stepped into it.

Before that our own little real life drama was a river crossing of sorts. There was once a bridge here, maybe an access to Ba Cottage if it was still occupied after the old road shot in the 1930’s. Now it’s just fallen timbers and some remarkably intact stonework.
Linda’s not a natural water crosser and these times are always a source of fun, well for me they are. We did it though, and lets face it, feet can only get so wet.

We stopped on the bridge just short of the cottage on the WHW. It was out of the cool breeze and was a brilliant sun trap. We sat on folded out OMM Duomats (55cm, the one they don’t make any more, glad I stocked up, they only make gear for short and skinny folk now apparently) and had soup, cuppas and pieces on cheese and ham.

As moments in time go, this could easy be described as perfect.

We saw people too, tow on mountain bikes, two on foot. As West Highland Way traffic goes, that was very light. It’s not far to Ba Bridge, a familiar place but one I haven’t seen in a long time.
I tried to redo my stitched together photie from the post below, we marveled at the water below and watched the clouds come in heaver as the temperature dropped enough for Linda to hide in her down jacket.
I’m sure my historical lesson about the Telford cobbles that start here and lead on to Inveroran was just as valuable though.

The cottage walls are thick and strong, it looks like it was deroofed rather than it being a victim of natural decay. How much have I seen that in the Highlands.
There’s not much I can find written about Ba Cottage, it seems that it might have been a travelers rest, by design or opportunity taken by the occupants is unknown. There’s plenty flat, short grass round it now, it would be a great camping spot.

It’s sad though. Mind you, I’d probably rather it was like this than the unoccupied holiday home of a wealthy Londoner.

I’ll use my poles to cross the river again. Wait where’s my poles… ? No idea Linda, where did you put them?

1km from the road is where it turned out. That’s a happy ending I think.

We sat down to have the last of our cuppas and see what the sky did. It was threatening some colour as we lost the light but the cloud was thickening and it was definitely getting colder.
The landscape was flattening with the lack of light, we were both tired and I’ll admit sore too, my feet haven’t work this hard in weeks.
It was nice to be in the car with the heater on.

We sat twitching our toes as the heat built up inside. Cars flew past at alarming speeds and the the dark clouds occasionally split to reveal beautifully lit lenticular clouds of pink and orange.
That one below, I really should have go out of the car to line the tree up better with the cloud but it was too warm inside to risk it.

This is all on my phone camera too. My proper camera chucked it on the walk in, the lens wants to stay in now. I think it might curtains for it this time. Bummer.

We stopped for some Black Rooster takeaway close to home and sat at home happy after our wee excursion.

I’m definitely improving, I can feel it. Just in the nick of time too, I’ll be testing gear shortly, I’m going to be back in print later in the year. We’ll get to that though.

Linda’s getting very fancy with that phone camera.

Not so fast now, probably not so light either.

I took these two photies in April 2008. I was looking for something else over a cuppa this morning and found them them using my 2022 head I made them into one photie.
I think that was still in the days of borrowed cameras too.

I’ve never had the desire to walk another long distance path, but I’d do the West Highland Way again anytime. I took this photie at Ba Bridge when I walked it over a weekend back in ’08 and even now I can remember the whole route in detail.

I think I’ve only been there in daylight once since. Checks the weather…

A Stunning Red Head

I was excited and scared. I haven’t set a foot on a hill since what, November? I know I’ve lost fitness, but the lingering tiredness from my bout of covid and also my ragged mental state from what might be the most stressful weeks of my life made the simple and oh so regular task of shooting up the crags feel like an almost impossible task.

I was was encouraged by the brightness of both the day through the window and the words coming at me through my phone, go everything said.
Once I was packing and getting dressed I was focused (a rare state for me at any time) and in the end it was okay getting there and getting out of my old ladies car (I currently have a VW Polo which was mother’s until the truck gets new steering, and various other bits and pieces…), it was when I had to negotiate the groups of unmasked, living breathing people that I stated to waver a little.

Everyone got space, and very few got a nod never mind my usually grinning and uninvited welcome. It was uncomfortable.
I took a right to take the track to the steps, the sun was playing on the crags and splashes of glowing white below the blue sky and ribbons on cloud.
That pulled me on as I started to feel the incline, first in my legs and then my chest. I kept the pace even and low, I breathed in deeply and took in the view behind me many times and I got the the highest point in better nick than I’d expected.

I think maybe anxiety had tightened my chest as much as the weeks of inactivity because from here on I felt better. My head cleared a little as I felt calmer, my legs seemed to be working fine and my lungs took me up the zigzag gully to the crag edge without issue.
On the edge was just glorious. Snow on the peaks, snow in the glens, snow under my feet. Snow up to my ankles actually.

Sometimes you get that fleeting moment of newness, your eyes forget, your brain is working on other business and it feels like the first time all over again, just for a moment before the internal processing catches up and tells you to put on your windshirt and hat because you’ve done this your whole life and you should know better than stand about misty eyed and getting cold.
Well screw you brain, I had my wee moment and I loved it.

It was late when I left and the sun was already low and the light was already colouring the snow gold and pink. I stopped at the far end of the ridge to break out my flask, take some photies and soak it all in.
I must having been feeling myself by then too because I caught two passersby and gave them all the banter I’d been saving during my downtime.
Liam is a local snapper and Lowe Alpine ambassador, and is younger than the Lowe Alpine Mountain Cap I was wearing. He’s in the early days of his adventuring and I could sense his enthusiasm and energy. Be interesting to see where he ends up, good luck young yin.
Jim is a few years ahead of me, another local, long finished his Scottish rounds and now looking to visiting all the islands. We chatted 2m apart about life, engineering and local history as we descended into the evening.
These were joyful meetings, thank you both.

Two things stick with me as I write this on a Saturday morning. Lowe Alpine Mountain Caps are excellent and I’m glad I stopped wearing mine because it’s in mint condition despite being bought I think in ’97 or maybe ’96.
Second is that I am absolutely wrecked today, everything hurts.

Still, I’m thankful to be moving again, there are many that won’t have that chance.

Any Given Sunday

The sky was blue and clear as our vintage coffee percolator defied the odds once again and gurgled a pot of Taylors Lazy Sunday ground into life.
The sky didn’t change even after the dishes were done but the day was getting old and energy had been low since one eye was reluctantly opened a few hours before to peer from under the duvet.

But ah what the hell. Let’s hit the road, at the very worst we can grab a cuppa and enjoy the view.

As plans go, it’s not complex and there’s only one road to follow, so with music loud and heating up full, we went to see what everyone else had been tweeting about since early doors.

Cuppas, soup, a scone and just a wee walk to get us a bit closer. Yes please.