Three (giant) steps to heaven*

The sun was breaking through off and on all day and it was a little distracting. I was taking calls and I really was trying to be where folk needed me while keeping Holly on track with school stuff as she drifts into browsing online fashion shopping every time she thinks I’m not looking.

I can’t complain, she’s done so well considering all the stuff she’s had to deal with and her work completion rate is very high. It’s not always correct (she has my maths brain), but she’s trying. Best girl.

I got some work done eventually, but I went dressed for the crags. I’m no’ daft.

The sun was still there, way over there actually and the rain swept in just as I got onto the edge of the crags. It was very windy too, definitely shell jacket and hood time. It was just magic.

I had another old jacket on and I was very comfy, I remember saying years ago that Gore Tex Paclite was fine, folk were just using it wrong. It’s true, with brand new Polartec 100 weight fleece under it and a couple of hours of constant sweat, it was fine, excellent in fact. The rain was intermittent so the jacket never wet out completely which I know would have accelerated the condensation build up inside, but still, happy.

I tried some timer and tripod photies, although most of the shots in this post are from my phone. I used to be so quick setting up for doing shots as I was doing them all the time for on here or for my actual outdoor work stuff back in the day, now it was a faff with unfamiliar buttons and gangly tripod legs.
Most photies have me looking directly into the lens to see if the timer’s gone off. Jeezo. I’ll get there again.

It was lovely light though, the cloud was broken and fast moving and I did get to see some glorious blue between the showers. The land just glows when the low winter sun hits it and the horizon is snow streaked and familiar but unreachable peaks. Beautiful to see as always but it wasn’t tugging at me today, I was happy enough with the buffeting from the weather and playing with the camera. It was quiet too, hardly saw a soul, I hate to say it given my propensity for random banter with strangers, but I think I enjoyed today’s mini adventure even more because of the solitude.

I’ll need to watch that.

I nipped into see the cup marked stone and check on the other possibles nearby. One is now buried under moss and the favourite one with the dice style five indentations is also looking very mossy. That’s good, nature will protect them better than we can

A march downhill and home to warmth and dinner and dealing with being caked in red mud. I love being out but I love being back home more, glad that’s not changed.

*the giants step reference is about the ascent route, the steep and quite craggy feeling giants staircase. I’ll take you sometime.

 

Sgurr na Cladach

In summer, beating the first rays without being in a tent at height is a thankless task with tired eyes behind the steering wheel and joyless miles before setting foot on the ground that had drawn you so far.
Better to see the low sun warm the slopes across the glen with a fresh cuppa sitting on a cool rock or a dry patch of grass if you’re lucky with a rainless night. The slopes are thrown into relief in a different and more subtle way than under snow, but it’s no less grand.
Dawn gold slides into fresh green as the new day’s warmth reaches your face and evaporates any thoughts of another wee kip before setting off on day two of a leisurely and most likely unnecessary mini adventure. But what hill isn’t worth two days of your time, one is never enough.

The pack is lighter with food eaten and water drank and it sits easy on shoulders that are soon damp under the straps as the sun climbs towards a warm noon.
A bead of sweat escapes my hat’s soaked brim, day two was warm and the ascent was maybe more than I was expecting. It was longer certainly and my pace was slow as much to subconsciously stretch the day out than the usual tired legs and burst lungs.
Slowing down your steps means that the end of the day is yours too, long after the day trippers are back on the road I’ll be watching the sun slipping away again. Just enough left to drink to get me smiling before I get downhill to a burn to fill a bottle, just enough snacks will be found after a rucksack rummage to keep the rumbling at bay until I get close to home.

Close your eyes, you can feel it too can’t you.

Sugar Ring and The Jam

We had a wee window of opportunity and it was early enough that the stupids would not be present in great numbers, we packed and ran.

We know this place well, as a couple as well as on our own separate adventures but we’ve not had good winter days here together, I think we knew this was going to make up for that as we rushed the two minute drive there.

The views were simply spectacular. The hills pure white with cloud cast shadows flowing over them throwing their contours into focus but also showing just how windy it was going to get a little higher up.

Ben Lomond just looked epic. I’ve rarely seen it look so, yes I’m going to say it without a hint of irony, Majestic.

We had spikes on early, the turf was frozen and the snow was thin over ice and every step was a pleasing rip of teeth digging in.
We talked options, I’d taken the gully a couple of days earlier, but Linda was keen on the view from the crag edge, so we’d go that way.

Conditions had changed a lot since then and the snow had been blown or melted away except for the top where a cornice of sorts had fallen down and made it all feel rather mountainy. Linda took a moment or to think this through, because believe me, it is steep. But the cursing soon gave way to giggling once she was up and over .

A few mountain bikers appeared from the east. Shouting and whooping away, they were having a blast. They stopped at the lip of the crags for photies and swapped stories of the trail to this point and the way ahead.
Good effort in these conditions, I haven’t ridden on snow in years, don’t think I’d have the balls for this stuff now. I’d just think of the recovery time from any crashes.
That’s not getting old, it’s being pragmatic.

We slipped away the way they came through the coldest wind I’ve felt in a long, long time, even at just over 1000ft. I had my big insulated winter gloves on and my hands were still frozen by the time we crossed the Black Linn reservoir to find some glorious sunlit and windless shelter for lunch.

Home made pieces and a flask in the sun without a whisper of wind reaching us. It was just perfect.
I like being part of a team, I’ve spent so much time out here on my own and now I have banter and laughter and it makes the day better. Aye.

It’s going to be interesting when lockdown is behind us and I can head for the far away peaks with a tent. A lot has changed for me in the past few years, I’ve either been in the hills with a pal or exploring with Linda or Holly, or both.
I think the lone mountain man is still there outside somewhere, but I don’t if he’s very high on the guest list for getting in.

It’s not a big climb from the Black Linn, it’s swing across an undulation the moor, or should I say arctic tundra today, before it rounds a little in outline to swell into the little rocky outcrop that is Donut Hill’s top.

The view though is just, I don’t know, what would the thesaurus say? All the words that go with awesome.
Hitting this top with it’s tiny wee crags and familiar trig point is like going into your local pub and finding 70s Black Sabbath playing up the back. It’s a “No way, this can’t be right” moment. It’s that much of a surprise and that big a reward.

The photie below does kinda show it, it just doesn’t show it big enough. I’m typing this on my laptop (hang in there old boy, you can make it, another few months if you can…) and I can see it big on the screen and it makes me all giddy and happy, but I know on my phone it won’t be the same. Damn you modern life.

But still. Happy, happy, happy.

His and hers?

Saying When

I had to get out for a bit, even if was just for a round of golf with the girls. No, that’s Sybil from Faulty Towers isn’t it. Crags it was.

The new snow had been taunting me, not a directly personal way, but in a passive aggressive dismissive way, it didn’t care if I could get there or not, but it was enjoying my pacing and clock watching I’m sure.

I was already packed, all my favorites were right there to be grabbed, I just needed a wee flask and getting from front door to the Overtoun gate wasn’t even long enough to hear a single song on the stereo en route.

It was pretty grey lower down, I was initially a bit disappointed thinking I might have missed the best part of the day where the snow clouds were mixed with startling blue sky patches.
There were groups of people happily breathing germs on each other all around the accessible lower grassy bits so I just motored on, even if my chassis wasn’t ready for it.

The ascent was fast and occasionally breathless but I did hit my stride after a while and I felt actually, surprisingly rather good. The paths were powder on ice and I had my spikes on pretty early on which made the going even better. I had a warning from one gingerly descending pair and funny looks from another lot on their way down.
Don’t care, good luck to ye, I’m all about solo uphill today.

I took a shortcut from the top of the crags, which as always were looking fine, into the nasty cleared forest area to get to the reservoir and onto the plateau so I could sneak up on Donut Hill from the back. It was here the sky started to mix things up a bit and I thought: Oh, I’d better hurry up.

I charged on as patches of light skittered across the moor, picking out the rounded tops to the east as well as the little rocky crown of Donut. The sky was split so many ways, deep and dark, clear splashes of blue, shards of pink and orange and always the fuzz tones of the snow streaming from the clouds which were distant, then definitely getting nearer. Aye, they were racing me to the top.

Naw, ya bugger. This is mine.

I won. And the reward was light like I’ve never seen up here. The textures and contrasts over what I will admit is not the most dramatic of landscapes had me open mouthed and laughing, even saying “Look!” to absolutely no one.

The wind was strong here too and I pulled on my down jacket (review later this week…), hid in a rocky corner and poured some 3in1 Kenco latte from my flask.
The snow flew at me horizontally while the sun burned through as best it could. I was caught between the elements and the machinery of nature but it was fine, as engines go, it’s a smooth runner and an easy ride.

I was warm, I was comfy, my eyes were wide and my head was light. I really needed this. This wasn’t making do, this wasn’t an alternative or a replacement, I was full up.
I could even happily say when and leave before it was completely dark.

Epilogue.

I was in a fine eclectic mix of gear which did make me think several times as I walked. ’98 shell, ’94 rucksack, ten year old repaired trousers and a brand new fleece and test down jacket.
It all works together perfectly.
I’ve got a better perspective on this stuff that ever since I’m up here so often at the moment. How far has gear actually come in the past 30 years? I mean, really, design, not fabric and construction.

I’m enjoying fit and features on clothing that are clunky to look at but perfect to use. My pack is not very user friendly from a storage and accessibility perspective but it’s more comfortable and stable that anything new I’ve used in years.

I know what I’d like to do with this, but I don’t think I can. Well, it’s been done once with my Karrimor Whillans pack right enough, but I want to do more.
Who will make me old gear from new fabrics? Anyone? Contact form at the top or the side depending on what your screen is, give me a shout.

You’re just copying me

I occasionally dig out my piles of old photies and leaf through the packets wondering what to do with them as well marveling at my original hair colour.

I took some shots of them, just to try and copy them on the cheap in a half arsed way. Of course it didn’t work apart from these two which threw up a couple of rather lovely surprises.

Above is the Five Sisters of Kintail ridge looking westish around ’95 to ’97 I think. I camped at Morvich with my old mate Jimi and did the round up the Glen and back along the ridge to come down to camp in the dark tired and hungry.
It was a monster day and remember it well and fondly. The memories are on paper though, I wish I had the oomph to digitize all this stuff, but it’s the sheer volume of it all that I can’t face.
Eventually my misguided enthusiasm for unlikely and pointless endeavours or a desire to relive my youth etc will probably overcome that. Until then, I’ll take occasional half arsed shots in the kitchen like these two where I put the print against the wall on the worktop and took a photie of the photie.

Above it worked out well, it’s somewhere between a Horatio McCulloch painting and a colour plate from an old guide book. I actually really like the accidental effect.
Below is an early indication of the obsession to come  and I have no idea what hill I’m on. Deary me.

 

One Way or Another

I have my favourite spots on the crags, some on the track, some hidden away for those who know or for those with a little adventure in mind.
So it’s bound to happen that I get a few photies that repeat themselves.

Don’t think I could have done this any better if I’d tried and I just realised what I’d done as I was deleting the folders from the laptop now tat they’re all safe on a hard drive.

Before and after, late autumn and in the midst of this winter, the wonderful Lang Craigs.

Norwegian Blue

I could’ve skipped a stone and hit the shore of that far off land, a land of winter wonder, mountains, sunshine and cold air to nip my cheeks above my face covering.
Well, I could’ve if I didn’t have that damned rotator cuff tear. I miss skimming stones, I was actually really good at it. It comes from living on a boat in Bowling harbour in the 70’s with plenty of open water around and an endless supply of old broken slates from the then recent industrial past to hone my skills.
The last time I skipped a stone was near Luss about five years ago and it undone months of ultrasonic treatment, physiotherapy and home exercise. Oh the tears, the anguish and regret etc
I really don’t care if I never rock climb again, but I really missed skimming stones.

The man in the kayak looked happy and rightly so, the swans flew past him low and graceful, the ducks floated in front of him and we chatted as he passed, the poor bugger actually said “I’m local!”. Good lad.
There must have been nothing but peace out on the water, no engines were heard all the time we were in Balloch Park. It was simply glorious.

The Ben was better seen this weekend, not sure that helped my mental state any.

We put in few hours walking, stopping once to chat to a elderly lady who had a lovely lyrical old school local accent and stories to tell. The pace of life now seems to be slow enough to really enjoy moments like this, nowhere else to be, nothing to hurry to. We only left her because my toes were getting cold in my Converse, that sun might be bright but warm it was not.

Across the burn and through the fence away from the trails is where we found peace to enjoy the views. It’s an amazing place to be on a day like today and although just minutes from my door we’d overlooked it because I just thought it would always be mobbed. It is near the carparks right enough, but just a little further on, where it’s muddier, it’s quiet, almost deserted.

It felt, good.

Linda sent me this from here phone with the words “Look, you’re pining”. Aye maybe, but today we got so close.

Chicken Burger

Ohemgee. Going through the old unpublished drafts to clean up the blogs’ cupboards I found this which I’d started writing on 10th February 2018.

Other than misting up seeing my brilliant girl Holly aged 10 and also seeing her as a wee teenager through the kitchen door as I type this, I’m struck by how today looked exactly the same as this day did.
The Ben stark white and the air cold, the broken cloud and strips of pink in the evening light.
But today we can’t be at Luss, on the beach and eating a chicken burger. Not yet, one day though.

Oh, I miss these days.

 

Nor a lender…

I didn’t own the camera I took this with, it was borrowed. I didn’t own a camera at all at the time.

The red LaserComp was a loan from the manufacturer, as was the experimental carbon pole holding it up and Brian was in my own green LaserLite version.
That was thirteen years ago. I think we’ve probably reached an unspoken understanding.

I suppose blogger and blagger is only one letter different.

That red tent is currently optimistically packed and ready, as is that experimental pole (aye, go to production…). And they said lightweight gear wouldn’t last.

Places Everyone

I do video now. Maybe.

Linda got me a wee action camera for Christmas and on my first crag trip with it I failed comprehensively and recorded a bunch of blurred silent film.
Luckily YouTube has plenty of throw away soundtrack you can stitch on so it doesn’t feel as awkward as it might.
So, here’s a minute of the Lang Craigs. It brings me joy, even in lo-fi lo-def lo-brow format.

I’ll do better next time. Maybe.

The Black Knight*

I’m thinking getting this phone one of my better 2020 experiences. I was coming back from a wee church heating callout and while the road was clear all the way when I turned into the village I was straight into a wall of fog, proper horror movie style.
I could see the sun fade in and out of thinner fog patches and it looked magic, dead atmospheric. I knew I wanted to take some photies.
But it was nearly tea time, it was baltic and I knew if I went home for a camera I’d put the kettle on and be sucked into the couch with it being particularly heavy centre of comfy gravity whose pull any orbiting object is too weak to resist.

I was dressed warm and bright, one is as important as the other. Where to go was the next puddle to jump. I’m always at the beach, I didn’t have the keys of the Wee Spark on me so I couldn’t get into the harbour so the derelict Scotts of Bowling shipyard was an obvious choice. I hadn’t been in there for months, so it was worth a wee explore anyway if I didn’t get any photies.

Ice and snow everywhere but a lot of footprints too once I’d slipped through the gap in the fence. Mostly left by neds I think, it’s an accessible but still out of the way place for ne’erdowells, but there’s folk come in for fishing too as there’s deep water by the piers and it’s still a decent venue for urban explorers although there’s less and less evidence of it’s previous life now, more birch trees than steel and concrete now.

It was lovely. The river had a blanket of fog although looking behind me a hint of blue sky and the outline of the hills could be seen. Some hibernating butterfly bushes sat like they were ready to pounce, their once violet tipped arms reaching out into the frosty atmosphere for my wallet and phone.

The skeleton of Frisky Wharf was fuzzy and indistinct, with no horizon and no southern shore the timbers just floated in the grey. The grey warmed though, the sun pressed through as it got lower and while the light felt warm in colour if not sensation, the shipyard faded to black under my feet.
It was eerie. And utterly joyful.

 

I clambered onto the slip over snow crusted trees and debris to get to the waters edge. The concrete block I had my eye on pulled me onwards and over the ankle breaking terrain like it was, well a summit. Or a pot of fresh coffee. Or an unexpected vintage Karrimor Ebay listing. Odd that, I think I just get excited at stuff. Nice to know that although I might be broken I’m not one dimensional.

It was magic, I loved watching the sun sink away like a torch on a frozen windscreen. The water was rippling but quiet, the only sounds were the occasional burble as a bird dipped or surfaced nearby.

I eventually headed to the west side as the sun faded, just in case something esle was happening. I’d seen the best of it though and I was striding back home with a phone full of shots and frozen fingers. Aye, the camera’s got proper buttons.

I love getting distracted. Weather is awesome.

*amusingly, it’s actually purple.

Dawn Patrol

But I haven’t even had a sip of my cuppa…
I’ll make you another one, come on!
Right, right…

Lockdown isn’t locked in, so we headed for frozen sands and the ebbing tide, hoping to catch the sun.

We had plenty company. The herons ignored us as long as they could, the ducks played races on the fast departing tide, grebes and I think moorhens put in guest appearances as we padded around on the solid sand waiting for the sun to crack the horizon.
It was gloriously cold, but we were well wrapped up and the smiles were warm.

Even when I kinda know what’s coming it still takes me by surprise, I laugh, giggle and grin like a maniac. How could this not be exciting, how could this not be a rush of sensation and emotion. Yes it’s just another day, but it’s like the Star Wars scrolling titles, it’s just an epic way of beginning it.

There was much photie taking, much wandering to look for better spots, but there was no where wrong to be standing, except at home probably, most likely staring at the kettle boiling or looking disapprovingly at the face squinting back at me in the bathroom mirror.
Aye, this was better.

It’s a quick show, like a US telly series on Netflix, with no adverts to pad it out to nearly half an hour it’s there and gone in a flash.
It stayed beautiful though, the horizon held onto its colours as the sun slipped up into its lazy winter southern loop towards the Cowal hills.

We thought we’d have a wee bit more wandering and it turns out the smells from the workies socially distanced cafe were too much to resist.
Rolls on sausage and cuppas as the light warmed the rising haze with a golden sheen for the rest of the morning.

Work to be done though. Time to head back.

I never remember any long lies I’ve had, I never remember when I had another cuppas and sat looking my my phone before I left in a rush.

This though, I’ll remember. Getting your arse is to be recommended.

 

Waters of Mars

This feels like a lifetime away. We found ourselves in Arbroath with a little time on our hands and weather that was keeping everyone else in their cars on the seafront looking at the waves crashing over their windscreens from the restless North Sea.

The clifftop path was pretty exciting at times, wind and spray were constant and there was so much noise we had to shout at each other to be heard.
It was glorious.

The red rock, the leaden skies. Looking back from here and now, we might as well be on Mars.

Run Deep

Still just playing at home. But that’s okay.

Covid was started in mystery, spread by ignorance and now perpetuated by stupidity.
I’m not playing a part of that last phase and staying off of outdoor social media helps me keep my cool as dumb bastards gad about the countryside regardless because “we’ll be fine, and we don’t have the virus anyway”.
Aye, until they slip and mountain rescue comes out, the police come out, then people are out of place without choice and that’s when there’s unnecessary contact and the associated risk.
If you have kids at school or you’ve been to any shop in the last ten days you’re an infection risk and should just suck it up and stay home.
If folk had wore masks, washing their hands and not been arseholes nine months ago we wouldn’t be where we are now. Makes me mad.

Still, just playing at home isn’t too bad. West coast skies are the best, and it’s cold now, dark so early too.

It’s getting popular here, cameras and drones are here most nights when I had the place to myself a year ago. How did folk not know all this stuff was here already, that every setting sun was a potential breath taker? 2020, it’s changed so much.

I had to run down the waters edge waiting for the floating balls to line up just right. I was so pleased when I caught it and I did a wee Whoop. I got looks from the proper photographers. So many humourless bastards out there.

The mist never really formed properly, it stayed just a haze and the lighting was subtle. You don’t always need the fireworks though, I liked the quiet mystery of it, the softness and the calm.

I like this phone, the Xperia 5 II camera does okay in low light. It doesn’t bear up on laptop screen size, but blog size smooths it out just nice.

Aye, still just playing at home.

And Baby Makes Three

Perhaps not a classic sea of cloud vista, but the possibility of just that had me diverting to the crags on my way somewhere else.
I wasn’t disappointed at all, it was cool with bright blue skies and some of last week’s snow still lingering here and there.

It was frozen underfoot too and I had a well worn pair of old Keens on, now entirely gripless but very comfy. There was frequent unexpected, speedy and barely controlled lateral and horizontal movement throughout the journey.

I met a couple on the crag edge who had often wondered how to get up here having seen the silhouettes of the few stravaigers who take the high road to avoid the increasingly busy trails below.
When they asked about it, I tried to explain how to get down from various points in the direction they were heading and of the three options I would usually take myself, two were steep, frozen and a long roll to the bottom and the other one was about three miles extra walking. I think they went back the way they had came after I was out of sight.
Which was a long wait with that jumper I was wearing.

Met a crumbo* of runners doing a route I used to run on the early pages of this place, up The Slacks from Old Kilpatrick, round Loch Humphrey, down through the crags and along the cycle track to the start. Every version of this is 20km± and it’s a lot of fun, what a glorious day for it.

Then I sat in a frozen church hall for two hours waiting for an inspector. I think that’s what they call paying the piper.

*That’s the imperial measurement of a group of three runners.

A Tale of Two Donuts

I had taken some time out. A niggle in a tooth early in lockdown had turned into pulsating agony from the top of my head to my neck. I was advised to take painkillers until my emergency appointment, over two weeks later.
I was close to a bottle of whisky and pliers. I have never know the like of this, and I’ve been blown up and set on fire in my career.

Then suddenly five days before my appointment, the pain ebbed away overnight. Oh aye, we were heading out while the sun shone and I was smiling.

No looking at council borders, no counting five miles on the map, just turn a corner and we were there. A different goal in mind, for all the time we’ve been up here together, we’d never climbed Donut Hill.
Low winter afternoon sun, a chill wind and a joy in our steps. And a flask full of Kenco 3in1.

It’s scary muddy on the main, so many folk are coming up the crags now. Lockdown has brought people outdoors somewhat paradoxically.
I don’t know quite how to process that, folk should be out there seeing what I’ve spent my life being enriched by, but ffs, is basic stuff like not dropping litter or leaving shitty hankies by the track not something you learn in a city, do you have to be told not to down in the outdoors?

My eternal love/hate relationship with humanity has entered a critical phase of negotiation.

Wind stinging our cheeks the wee summit was an island of joy.
The views from here more than you paid for, the loch stretches north to the oh so familiar tops I increasingly long for.
But this grassy lump isn’t second best, it’s not just enough, it’s glorious. Smiles, cuppas and cake before a descent where arse touched mud on more that one occasion.
Aye, that path is ruined. So much dried red mud in the porch now.

Four days, still nearly pain free. I looked across the rover at the Hill of Stake, there was snow, quite even looking snow too.

Of course I was going.

The arrow points to adventure after all…

The sky was so blue, eyewateringly so in fact. But it wasn’t clear, snow clouds moved across the plateau and caught the wee tops and the ridges bring an atmosphere that takes the crags into another level.

I love it when it’s like this, it does feel wild, it’s instant accessible winter mountain fun and it’s round the corner. Rarely have I been so pleased to be trapped in West Dunbartonshire.

I never went to Donut again, I took a right onto the edge of the crags as it disappeared under the cloud again. Only the fence reminds you that you’re almost urban exploring.

A few conifers cling onto the crag edge. They’re a few feet inside the Woodland Trust border so they survived the onslaught of the Forestry Commission on the other side of the fence. Christmas tree, ooh Christmas tree.

I lingered, the pace was slow and the level of joy remained high. Linda should have been here I think, that would have book ended our week just nice.

I write this after the first dental work installment. There will be more to come on that.

But how so I know this wee corner of the world is for me? Because it smiles at me. And you.