Door to door delivery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This was a good day.

Craig Minnan, where the hell is that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go out to play local, it’s magic.

Nothing new under the sun

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing new. But that’s just fine.

 

Red Alert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tyndrum Minor

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Devils in Skirts, Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s always worth the risk to help.

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

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

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

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

Devils in Skirts, Part 2

I’d been out earlier in the week, it was late when I left so the day was always going to be short and as seems to be a seasonal norm now my unexpectedly post covid legs and lungs just weren’t where I thought they were going to be. 2022 had been a year of physically rebuilding for me with weight, diet and fitness all addressed, so many miles me and Linda put in. I was coming into winter the readiest I’d been in years until the two red lines changed that plan.
But as fun as it was being out, my pace was slow and as conditions and darkness pressed down on me I stopped short of the summit and wandered back down below the snowline to sit with a cuppa and ponder.

I wasn’t despondent, but I wasn’t exactly resolute in going forward either. It was a “is this it now?” moment. A mental limbo of sorts maybe. I had however just marched up Ben Lomond in a kilt and crampons which as a mixture of mischief and research had perfectly hit all my spots and I’m still smiling about it now having worn a kilt on three days out of last weeks’ seven.

A couple of days on and I was feeling okay, I had some fresh review kit in and the weather was looking excellent. There was no doubt I was going to go but as I packed and piled some clothes on the bed I eyed the kilt again and it made me smile. I had enjoyed the experience of wearing it and there was less wind forecast, so what the hell.

The hills of home dressed like a native? The Arrochar Alps it was.

I swapped around destinations as I went by them. A sea level start was out, I wasn’t wanting to push hard because daylight was short twice in a row so I headed towards the Rest and Be Thankful and ever evolving, permanent and reality defying roadworks. Ben Donich hmm, Beinn an Lochan err, Beinn Luibhean aye, it’s an old favourite. I parked up and looked at the shiny new deer fence half way up the NW slope I like to shin up. Was I in the mood to cross a deer fence and trip across the plantation in a kilt and slightly tired legs. No is the obvious answer.

Butterbridge was the next stop and the delightfully rough and overlooked Stob Coire Creagach is just across the A83 racetrack. Brown and yellow grass, bare birches then dark grey crags with pure white fingers reaching through and around them from above.
I had a little flutter in my chest: caffeine, excitement and I’m admitting to a wee bit apprehension too. It’s not a tall hill, but it’s steep and it looked simple awesome, every inch the winter mountain.

There was a spring in my step as I left the tarmac and headed up the side of the burn.

It’s hard work. There’s no path, no obvious easy line and the happiness of your ascent is very much down to your eyes, your judgement and your map. It’s steep all around, plenty of dead ends and unending fun because of it all.
The views are pure magic too. Unusual angles of familiar peaks and the broken Arrochar Alp terrain all around you too. Add to that you will likely see no one else all day and this is a hill to treasure.
Seriously, in my life I have met one other person up here.

It was getting constantly icy underfoot, the snow was firming up as I got higher so I found a sun trap for a cuppa break and gear rotation. I’m not an idiot so I’ve got merino longjons under my kilt. I messed with a few different ideas and this seemed like it would be the best and after two trips I’m liking it. I have them folded up above me knee when it’s warm lower down and this hasn’t proved uncomfortable, restrictive or annoying yet. When the wind has picked up or the temperature is low enough for me to really feel it I’ll roll them down to the the top of my socks or down to my ankle under my socks if I need to. I had mini gaiters too which works great with my steel Kahtoolas, sealing up the boots and keeping the snow out.

Rolling your pants up and down might look like I’m paddling at the beach in the 50s in my slacks but it’s been a revelation how comfy it is. Uphill in a kilt on rough ground is less restrictive than in any trousers I’ve even worn, temperature control is quicker, better and easier too. It’s just an incredibly pleasant thing to be doing.
I know it has limitations, especially in the wet and high wind and I definitely was approaching my low temperature limit eariler in the week, but still, I can’t deny the facts from actually doing it.

Anyway, if it all went wrong my OMM Kamelika’s were in my pack. Aye, I’m no’ daft.

2023 Gore-Tex and Victorian clan culture redux highland wear? Yes please.

The way up was round the left of that crag and onto a lovely smooth snow slope. It was crunchy most of the way from there, even with the modest altitude. You might even say it was perfect.

He’s a happy looking bastard that guy anyway.

I was already losing the light, despite probably making good time in jumble of crags. I probably made as many genuine stopping to look at the view moments as I did stopping to look at the view to actually catch my breath moments.
Time wasn’t important, I was loving every step. Every whisper of wind was a word of encouragement, every crackle as ice crumbled from the rock after a day in the sun a musical note, every drip from the end my nose was, well, wiped on my glove. But if I’m doing it there and not on a paper hankie while I’m at home I must be winning right?

The show and ice was sculpted and formed by the weather and changeable conditions. My footsteps were the only ones other than occasional animal tracks. It was all new, fresh and clean. Quite beautiful.

The rock’s grey took on some of the lowering sun to maybe grudgingly shine a little golden brown out towards me. It’s okay, you don’t have to wear black all the time, if anyone’s on your side it’s me. Shine away.

I did think about walking the ridge and descending to Glen Kinglas for a nice wander back up next to the river but that would have blocked out the sunset and although you can never presume to get that splash of colour, it’s okay to hope and I was definitely but quietly hoping so I stayed on course around the rocks, stitching together the short steep snow slopes.

It was the best way to go as it tuns out. The west was hazing out to see and the sun was sinking into it, diffusing it’s beams into a golden wintry glow. I stood on the summit and soaked it in with a grin so wide.

The snow took on the sun’s new hues of pink and gold and the wind rose a little to see the sights, not enough to chill me, just cool but calm fitting the mood perfectly.

I wandered the chain of tops that make Binnein an Fhidhleir. Snow broken only by now black rock and visited only my my own footprints. The herd of deer by the Eas Riachain to the north saw me or sniffed me out and oh so begrudgingly moved a little further on every time I moved west until the gave up and ignored me.

I had the best fun on the ascent and my legs and lungs were okay. Maybe the stretch out they had on Ben Lomond had been a good thing. Whatever, as the sun went down and I had the summits to my self I was feeling good.
No, I was feeling great.

I wanted to look in every direction at once, I wanted to go over there, no I’ll go there first and stand on that crag and see what’s… Oh, I might descend this gully instead.

I’ve often said we’re just dressing up to go out and play and it rarely feels more accurate than times like this. Joy from finger tip to toe, just to be there.

The scenery just kept on giving. The forms of the frozen summits, the colours of the sky, every step along there was something else to make me stop and stare and maybe take a photie with latest vintage Panasonic. I think that’s shots from my fourth LX5 we’re looking at here. Where would I be without eBay.

As the sun sank away the snow seemed to glow a little brighter once again and the sky and the land were washed over with a pale soft blue streaked distantly with pink.
Other than a lone raven coughing in the coire it was utterly silent. I caught and held my breath and listened. Nothing, absolutely nothing. So close to home, but standing here in these two footprints I was very much on my own.
It wasn’t a lonely feeling though because I know what that’s like, to be busy, to be surrounded but to feel alone. And while I might still get overwhelmed, find myself stuck, be looking for help, I haven’t felt alone in years.
No, this was a moment of solitary contentment.

The gully was steep but the ribbon of snow down it’s length looked like fun and skipped down it with a grin that hadn’t shifted in what felt like hours.
All hill days have something, a memory will be made or a maybe a lesson learned. But some hill days have a sparkle, the little day on a wee local hill will keep shining bright for me.

Such was my mood that when I took a call just at the snowline (what are we doing about dinner? yes, I’m on my way) I put music on, something I never do and I stood playing air guitar on my ice axe to the first song that played (Ghost’s Kaisarion, in case my aging brain forgets) because it just hit the spot perfectly and the joy that I had absorbed all day had a wee safety valve release to let some of the extra go into the world and hopefully find a new home.

The car was frozen in the Butterbridge car park and while it was thawing we made plans for dinner. I picked up Linda on the way to Sainsbury’s in Drumchapel where we would pick up the makings of a nice steak stir fry. I did still have my hill gear on though so the first thing that happened was people were staring at the man in the skirt which just kept my grin fuelled and then an old fella came up and started talking to us about the telly show Outlander. He was so cheery and thought it was awesome I was wearing a kilt. In a day that had already been made, I think it had just been gilded by that chance encounter.

Shower, lovely dinner with the girls and an early night.

The best day.

Sunday’s here too quick.

It’s been quite the week of trials, discovery and maybe more questions than answers too. The rain came in yesterday and it’s miserable ootside once again but it’s came too late to spoil my fun or dampen my enthusiasm.

Lots to think about, lots to say. 2023 has started very unsteadily but this week was like a being at a gig of a band you don’t really know, when they finally play the singles it’s a breathe out and praise be moment, the energy is there to get through what’s coming next.

Which is… ?

Run away screaming

I seem to be spending a lot of time stressed out of my nut at the moment which makes every joyous moment found and held a wee bit bigger. When I was caught by the electronic snare on Monday all I could see was a washed out and clear winter sky reflected in the screen. It was a question of when not if I was going to break.

We’re out so much just now I just dressed from the drying pulley out the back and the pile on the chair. A flask, some pieces wrapped up and I was away.
The A82 before the Balloch roundabout was the decider. Conic Hill is close, but I was a little early maybe, I’d be frozen waiting for the sunset of down when it was still light. Ben Lomond, it’s been a while, was I ready for the longer ascent today which I would have to be quick at to catch the best of the evening? Or Luss with its middle-sized bowl of porridge, not too much, not too little and just a few minutes down the road. Aye, that’ll do.

I parked in Luss Estates new and shiny car park which used to be a field where migrating geese used to rest, hundreds of them. I guess money talks and the geese can walk. I hope they enjoy my £6.
Over the footbridge and onto the track with a now uncertain sky all around me, some cloud, a weak sun but some patches of warm light. Gloves on, fleece unzipped, I took to the endless grass slope at the jauntiest pace I could manage.

I was fairly warming up, the slope is consistent and is always very boggy anyway, but after so much rain it was grabbing onto every footfall and it felt like progress was slow. The views here always keep me cheerful though, one side the empty gloomy glen which is actually very pleasant to walk down, the other Loch Lomond with its islands, mountains, roads, people and ach, I’ll keep my eyes higher up.

My wee vintage LX5 camera was struggling today. It just wasn’t focusing so I juggled its constant beeps at not being able to latch onto something to wiping condensation off my phone’s lens to use that instead. This has meant I brought home a joyfully eclectic selection of photies in both content and quality. They’re making me smile as I scribble this inbetween them.

Ben Lomond was catching a bit of cloud although Conic was clear. The Ben’s summit looked awesome as the pale ribbons streaked over and around it. I chose my destination wisely, it was glorious to watch.

The angle doesn’t change much and the path is pretty straight, just because of the terrain which is a rounded ridge of sorts. It was getting dull above me and I was running out of steam.
There’s a break in the uniformity not too far from the top. The way ahead narrows to the flat summit and to the right is a little ridge that heads out towards the loch. I generally don’t care about summits anymore, I just wanted a comfy spot to get fed and watered and this looked likely.
I took the hard right turn and set off to find some complex topography that I had no idea existed on this hill. The ground fell away steeply to my left as the views opened up over the loch and to the north. I could feel my grin widening as I saw bare broken rock and then a deep black lochan that I had no idea even existed. It’s not on any map I’ve got. And I’ve got a lot of maps.
So, I’m claiming it and shall name it at a later date.

A herd of deer scattered northwards just below me and I had a definite spring in my step now as I explored this new secret world. The sky seemed brighter too and I was contouring upwards as I wandered north. Aye okay, I’ll see what’s happening on the top.

A lot of the cloud had cleared by the time the western horizon was back in view. The colours were lovely and the natives were friendly if mildly surprised. I could feel the temperature dropping as fast as the light was fading and as sprightly as I was now feeling with the lochan discovery second wind syndrome, my plan of sauntering round the horseshoe and walking back along the glen was dropped in favour of layering up, breaking out dinner and fannying about the summit for a while.

I am completely at home here. The darkness comes quickly and even if it nips at my fingers it warms my heart and soothes my soul. You’re never really away from the troubles of life but you can fill your senses so that they are very much pushed to the edges and out of sight for a while.

I sat on a rock, wrapped up warm with a cuppa in my hand looking at the day disappearing and all I could see, all I could hear, all I could feel in that moment was happy.

I did get a bit excited about this fence as well though and I took many photies. It’s so wonderfully and pointlessly situated cross the hill and has an air of going somewhere but nowhere. It’s a bit like an arrow pointing to the Arrochar Alps, the familiar shapes of the Cobbler, Ben Ime and Beinn Narnain lying dead ahead.

Fog was forming in the glens and streaks of cloud crept from nowhere onto slopes and summits around me and although I was thinking “inversion in the morning!” it all came to nothing.
That’s okay, there’s always next time.

et

Complete darkness was only two coffees away, aye that’s fast. I got to see some stars as I wandered down towards Luss, wet to my knees on this grassy waterslide. Didn’t land on my arse once though which is a miracle.

Night time descents are so very pleasant. Well, if the terrain is good I suppose, so many near misses in the past. Now though it’s easy mode and the lights in the distance aren’t houses and streets and shouting, they’re just pretty.

The moon wasn’t the only other inhabitant of the hilltop night, I saw flares going up at the military base over by Loch Long. Wargames?

Ach, the fence was better, I like this fence. One day, we’re going to follow it to the last post.

Which might be in that military base. That’s ironic or something maybe.

Craigmore, Aberfoyle

I don’t know where this path goes, but we’ll get to see the top of the waterfall going this way at least. The rain pattered onto my hood as I ran ahead a wee distance after the very hard to actually see top of the waterfall bit. Aye, it just goes to the road I think. My phone was already wet, the speaker was gurgling with every sound coming through it, I wasn’t checking any closer.

Two weeks later…
Ooh, mind that path that went up to the road? It goes somewhere. Want to go somewhere? Yes, yes we did.

However, it doesn’t matter if you’ve booked a day off, shit happens and gets in the way and then with the clocks back, it was definitely too late when we left. Especially when we had to get cuppas on the way which was definitely for both mental and physical nutrition.

A fiver was paid to the emotionless parking robot at David Marshall Lodge and we took to the trail from a couple of weeks ago, this time in unexpected but oh so very welcome fine weather.

The most colourful days of autumn passed us by too quickly under too many grey skies but the leaves that are left might shine a little brighter because of the bare gaps between them.
It was a pleasant climb away from the regular visitor circuits past the top of the waterfall, you can see it on your tiptoes, and below the road to very sudden crossing at a fast corner.
A corner I know so well from the tarmac side. I’ve been driving past here for what, 35 years, and now I know what the wee gates are for. I shake my head at no one but myself all the time now while we’re out, all these local adventures are such a joy and show me what I’ve missed all these years. So much to make up for, and time is not on our side is it.

The road crossing changes everything as the views suddenly appear. The Campsies and Meikle Bin being a fine sight for such a little effort spent so far.
The colours stay strong all around us, the rusty bracken and golden leaves, flashes of apple green and more blue sky than we would have asked for without feeling cheeky. What a glorious day for such a lovely trail.

The path winds its well maintained course onto the bed of the tramway that brought slate from the mines to the north round to the railhead at Aberfoyle below. I think it’s walkable right round to the mines and I also think we’ll back for that another day. For now though, someone’s left a bench here. Oh well.

The lodge looks like something we should be viewing through binoculars while wearing camoflage and counting troop numbers as they jump off of half-tracks in the car park. Yes, them theme from Where Eagle Dare was in my head the rest of the day.

The path from here is a proper hill path, it’s rough, boggy and steep in places and the views keep opening up. And not a single soul to be seen but us. From the car park back to the car park on a clear day and on an accessible hill we saw no one. is it always like this here? I’m not telling anyone, I like it like this, it’s just between us right?

The light had been beautiful the whole walk but as we got near to what felt like the highest contours the sun was getting caught in thin layers of cloud out to the west and the golden rays were throttled back. But the views were not diminished by this because all of a sudden, there were the mountains. I saw the Crainlarich twins first then started picking out the rest. Ben Lomond I could probably had skimmed a bit of the old slate on the loch and landed it on its eastern flanks and there was the Cobbler too.
I laughed out loud and grinned and pointed as Linda uttered those immortal lines: “Woop Woop!”

Again, we’re just thinking “Where’s the people?” Maybe on Ben Venue which felt so close ahead, but the path while easy to follow isn’t eroded as such, it’s just not busy. Ah what joy.

I’m still on a fleece wearing crusade and this 100 weight Berghaus Ascent went out to play totally because of fit and performance, not because of the colour of the trim.
Berghaus might say ’91 on the label of this fleece, but that silver beard I’m wearing is pure ’22.

I think my first ever proper fleece was a black Berghaus Sangar IA, so I’m back home here in some ways. More on fleece at some point, probably a mild rant of some sort.

It looked like the light had gone and the colour drained from the sky and the hills. We hid from the strengthening wind behind a random conifer on the wee summit plateau and had cuppas and pieces.
It was as lovely a spot as it was unlikely, it’s not like nature to leave you a random shelter so near to the top and it stopped us descending to find somewhere out of the wind to eat which was lucky because the sun found some gaps again and in it’s final half hour is brought the whole landscape to life which shots of lazy, hazy, honey hued evening light.

I’ve spend a lot of dusks and dawns standing on a hill waiting to see what would happen in this was straight into the best sellers list. Simply glorious.

We only left when the sun sank over the edge, the cold bit a little deeper into out fingers and we knew we would have to have headtorches on for some of the descent. Linda as you know likes to meet the scenery and personal and horizontal fashion and this just wasn’t the day to be relearning technical night time maneuvers.

But we did leave with full hearts, heads and tummies too. Summit (aye I’m claiming Craigmore as a summit, fight me) dinners are always the best.

 

There was one incident. One of our party went knee deep in some mud, and I do mean knee deep. There was some laughter, some swearing, some grunting and I don’t think that boot is ever going to be quite the same again.

The moon saw us home and our headtorch beams were diffused by breath that was clouding in the cold air. Noses and cheeks were nipped but fingers were coming back to life inside my gloves. Ach, you can never get it quite right.

Oh wait, that’s rubbish. Today was exactly right.

There was no need to run. See, I told you it would be fine.

I don’t think I’ve ever drunk out of a flask as much as I have these past few months. Normally I’d pack a wee stove but the flasks have become a quick and easy solution for unexpected dashes like this one. The current main one is nearly 20 years old and has outlived every piece of test kit that has came in after I bought it in Ambleside one day when I was er, young. That’s the only thing you really can’t put onto review gear, years.

Flasks always go at the seal, it either breaks from getting dropped or expansion during immersion. You don’t notice until you have a cold cuppa five miles into a walk though.
We’ll see how we get on with this old dented Thermos for now. Another winter maybe?

That winter isn’t too far away either. Gloves and hats have been worn for weeks now and my windshirt sometimes has more than just a baselayer under it.
I have mixed emotions about the imminent arrival of short days and tall ideas. I don’t think I’m physically as ready as I’d hoped, I am slim but not necessarily racey, I’ve been putting in the miles, but not so much ascent. So I guess we’ll see.

We’re having fun though, whatever the pace is, and whatever the place is. Local exploring has taken us to even more new places but sometimes it’s just as good to stay right at home and play.

There’s nowhere to beat the crags when the light is right.

This was a reminder to look down when there’s a sunset, the trees were sparkling in the dying light in lazy golden waves. I now wonder if I’ve been missing this stuff all the time, surely I would have noticed…

The Arrochar Alps and Ben Lomond are always so close and always so far. When was my last afternoon dash up one of these? Could I still do that? Should I?

We made a new friend on Round Wood Hill. Alex, just moved up here for a new job and he was finding his way around the local points of interest and had started strong indeed standing up here in such a lovely evening.
The poor bugger went home with a phone full of notes and a head full of nonsense after hanging out with us. I think Linda wanted to adopt him.

What joy there is to be found in the world, probably just enough to keep us on our feet as the current tide of chaos runs past our legs.

Rossdhu

We have a few local favourites and over the last couple of years this stretch of the genuinely Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond has seen us exploring many times. It’s always rucksack and snacks though, don’t think we’ve ever just ran round. You’ve got to sit down, I mean what’s the point of going anywhere if you don’t stop to take in?

We could hardly believe our luck when the island was deserted and the water was low enough to let us sit on our wee mats and have dinner. The water was choppy, there was enough breeze to have us put on our jackets depsite the still warm sun.
The sound of the water and the rustling leaves was all we could hear until a wee boat passed us by with a family waving at us. They seemed amazed are where we were sitting, from a distance we must have been walking on water.

We went for a paddle, us and the Lego us. The water was warmer than the air that whistled past out bare knees. The pebbles are worn and round, the sand soft and the sensation on tired Friday feet is sublime.

The constantly changing water level gives nature opportunities and then takes them away. There are many tree stumps beyond the waters edge and the rotting wood is always home to something willing to take a chance.

The sun was low when we headed back and what clouds there were caught the warm peachy light lazily flowing from the west. No wild swimmers tonight which is unusual, it’s a favourite for these guys too.

The brash green is softening, there’s yellow and brown in there. I love autumn, but the arrival of the cold months this year brings worries to us all at home, but out here we’ll welcome it with open arms and buttoned jackets.

“It’s alright for you!” Linda often says when I’ve put something useful or commonly used on a high shelf and my usual reply is something about everything has its advantages, you can get into the bottom of the fridge easier than I can etc
Here though I think I can finally see what it’s like to be four foot eleven and following me through the scenery.

Poor wee bugger.

Whitelee Windfarm

One or our recent last minute excursions to explore more local places was an afternoon dash down the A77 to Whitelee Windfarm. It’s maybe half an hour from the door but I’d never even been beyond the gate of the place. Did I have it right or wrong all this time?

I wasn’t sure what to expect, we didn’t exactly research it other than to see what the parking was like and that “Oh look, there’s a cafe…” so we dressed on the casual side so as not to look like we were tackling the ascent of Compston Road in Ambleside. It was after all a well signposted and maintained visitor attraction, it would be like visiting the Botanic Gardens in town.

It wasn’t too busy and we got the motor right in at the visitor centre. Despite subconsciously probably trying to play it cool, we were already oohing and aahing at the view. The “farm” part of the name is suddenly obvious when you’re at the very edge of it. As far as the eye can see, shining in the sun or dark grey in the shade, blades as high as the sky spinning hypnotically in unison. Wow.

We went inside, grabbed a map and went to the cafe. The folks were very nice indeed as was our lunch and I’m glad we didn’t miss it, leaving late does have it’s potential drawbacks.
We sat on the breezy verandah and gazed over at it all, trying to pick the routes out from the map. Jeezo, there’s more than we thought.
Itchy feet and eager eyes had us down the path to the first whispering giant. A whisper which is almost a roar when you stand right under the blades.

The grins were wide as we wandering the tracks which still had a good scattering of folks of all shapes, sizes and ages in the late afternoon. You can explore or follow designated routes and you really can spend a day here if you wanted with miles to to walk or ride. We had just started and we were talking about coming back better prepared.

We drifted off to the side to Dunwan Hill past an alarmingly rattle Turbine 55. There’s a bit of a path up the hill but you can tell most folk like the wide gravel of the main drag. The view from this wee hump is fantastic and it stretches from the Kilpatricks to the Campsies with Ben Lomond sitting distant but obvious inbetween.
The moor is never much higher than 300m but it makes the most its altitude today with low well broken cloud flowing past for our whole visit. This brought scale and texture to the wide landscape with bright patched of light being chases eastwards by grey patched of cloud shadow. Weather is glorious, nothing is quite so dull to look at then nothing much happening, be it clear blue or thick grey.

The next viewpoint is bit more official feeling with the brass viewfinder thing as seen at the start of this post and a wee round walled enclosure to sit on or shelter behind depending on the conditions on day you visit.
None of this is hard to get to either, but the payback for the effort, the feeling of being out and even up is quite remarkable.

I’ve always been suspicious of wind turbines. I don’t like that their installation remodels the landscape so extensively and the talk of their effect on wildlife has always really worried me. It’s probably why I never thought of coming here before, it was off the list by default in the same way that Weatherspoons is.

However. Having spent a few hours here we’ve seen some stuff that’s changed that. Flocks of birds weaving in and out of the spinning blades and raptors hovering close to the turbines looking for something furry for dinner.
The birds seem to have adapted and there’s obviously food for them meaning there’s a viable eco system here after the upheaval of the invasive installation.

I think I expected a barren industrial landscape and what there seems to be is a blend of human necessity and nature doing what it does best, evolving to make the most it.
It’s really made me think.

Bottom line though, this is a great place to visit. I think it’ll be a perfect place to visit as the seasons change and the colours of the landscape with it. Imagine it under snow cover?

I wonder of the cafe is open all year…

Seaside B Side

It’s only August but I can see the evening creeping towards the day, just a wee bit.

So it was into that gloaming we went with a callout to investigate in Rhu and an ice cream shot to visit just down the road in Helensburgh. I took the old camera in case there was a sunset.

There was a sunset.

The birds leave you alone of you don’t have chips. We’ll now have to experiment with what accompanies your chips to see what effect it has on the birds. Does curry sauce repel or attract, does a pickle confuse them, does a sausage intimidate them, does a chicken supper send them into grief stricken rage?

These two were saying this…
“I’m telling you it’s on fire!”
Nah, there’s no smoke…
“Look, look below”
Why would I, them down there don’t have chips.

Linda caught a wee golden moment with me and Holly too. Might be an all-time favourite photie.

The moon was getting up by the time we got back, a super moon indeed. A nice wee colourful trip.

My ice cream was a Scottish tablet and banana tub with a flake btw. Awesome.

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.