Alternative Tentacles

We should have been many miles away in amongst hills I have climbed and written of many times but haven’t seen in two years. We had a cabin booked, I had old stories to tell and we had so much to see.
But it wasn’t to be, Linda’s knee wanted to go to A&E more than it wanted to go to Kintail and so here we will stay for now. Am I upset? Not at all, we have all the time in the world for more adventures.

So when checking in on Linda (who is trapped at the top of many stairs for the time being) on yesterdays’s unexpectedly bright morning, her boy and my mate Greg was in and at a loose end we decided to head to the crags and have a wee wander.
We’d get ourselves sorted, grab some gear and food and meet at lunchtime.

This was a good idea. Even the heart pounding quick ascent from the car park up the giant’s staircase was worth it to find ourselves launched into the most glorious afternoon as we steeped onto the crag edge.
There was clear blue sky, billowing white clouds, dark masses hiding the landscape under heavy showers and all of it being dragged across from the west by a fresh and flighty wind.
Aye, glorious.

We had our shells on before too long as the first heavy short caught up with us. Cold and stinging on my cheeks but unnoticed everywhere else, the joy of being wrapped up and comfy.
The view morphed with the weather, so much darkness, so much light, none of it static. We watched a searchlight beam from an unseen holes in the clouds trace across the glen and disappear, half rainbows teased and faded and we grinned our way to a sheltered lunch spot to take it all in over pieces and flasks.

 

We took a swing east to find the reservoir and sneak up the side of Donut Hill. Here the wind was at its highest and the camera luckily stopped sliding under it’s pressure while taking this selfie just in time at the rocky edge. I think if it had been on a tripod it would still be up in the air just now.

On the descent the last chilled rain cleared to late afternoon sun, low warm and golden. The landscape came alive in classic autumn tones and the sky to the north deepened to a deep azure. Spinning around it was like we were at the junction of different days. I’m saying glorious again. Yes.

Black Wood’s pines remain defiantly green in contrast to the dead bracken and pastel slopes of the Luss Hills beyond.
I love this view, always have and I don’t know why it pulls at me so much. The pines, the hills, the loch and the Highlands beyonds, all in one frame. Maybe it’s that the world really is on my doorstep, maybe it’s the total lack of symmetry pleases my oddball mind, maybe it’s just pretty and I should stop overthinking and just shut up.
I’ll have another look later in week, see what I can come up with.

The walk out was warm, we could feel that low sun and the trees shone brightly. It is their last hurrah after all.

This wasn’t a consolation prize, this was hours of awesomeness. I just can’t be sad about Kintail, when this is at the back door.

Gothic Portal

Holly had shut the side curtains so she could get the sun’s glare off the telly this afternoon. When we came home tonight it had gone all gothic.

Halloween every day for us apparently, all you need are velvet curtains and a plastic skull.

Falling for it all over again

I love autumn, and for so many reasons.

It’s the death of summer, it’s a reason to wear a jumper but it’s the ultimate seasons of contrasts. Spring is the time that’s supposed to be all about life but I see autumn as more so, everything is frantically throwing it’s arms in the air and shouting before it withers in a flash of colour, tries to take someone down with them like the last wasp at the window or just waves goodbye before it slinks away to hide til next year.

I love the colours of course, but the autumn sun is what makes it all really sparkle. The trees are still full and many are still green although all are fading a little, so the light must find gaps to shine through and as the sun sinks lower day by day.

Those gaps become doorways for sideways sunbeams to scan through the trunks and branches and it lights up every gold and crimson leaf, every moss covered stone and every wonderfully coloured companion.

Light, dark and colour, wind, cloud and blue skies, warm low sun and cold shadows. Ah, this is how to feel alive, all this filling your senses at once.
And it changes every day. Colours bleeding from one extreme to another, the unmoving rounded shapes of summer thinning to reveal and new skyline in the woods, jagged but no less glorious to my eyes.

The birds are either grouping and swooping as one before leaving for southern lands or eyeing everything edible very carefully before having tough it out the season yet to come. Their song is still loud, there are branches bursting with berries and furry little creatures scurrying home with less and less cover the hide them every day.

I’ve missed too many autumns, but not this time, we’re out there breathing it all in. The car parks are emptier than they’ve been in six months but our grins are wider and out footsteps more eager than in along time. A season of contrasts indeed.

Time Stand Still

We’ve all been robbed these past two years and it’s difficult to know how to claim back the time, the missed opportunities, the laughter, the love, all the things we’ve missed.
The truth is we can’t do it, what could have been is gone forever. The important thing I think is not miss anything ever again if I can help it.

The perfect Friday evening on Helensburgh waterfront sitting on a blanket with a chippy and ice cream in the freezing cold with the folks I love.

MV Captayannis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

I was harbouring an epilogue all along

It’s not all wacky night time nonsense of course. The wildlife has taken a wee grip over recent these post industrial years, even more so during lockdown and the joy of watching occasional seals in the harbour doesn’t diminish the daily bird displays.

I don’t know what the hell the cormorants are doing when they do this wavy wing thing, but I could watch all day when they do it in pairs, it’s like frantic flamenco.

The man made is no intrusion, the shipping is frequent and varied, although I hope this monster goes into quarantine at the docks with that runny nose.

The view from the shallow end

My home has a very varied history; financially, emotionally, structurally, mental healthily etc and as much as I often might have been happy to be rid of the burden, some of the memories and all of the hassle we’ve been stuck here, but you know, it’s not too bad.
We’ve filled the rooms with new and happy memories among the old Sabbath shirts, worn out Converse and dog eared teddy bears that we’ll always have.

One thing that’s been a constant, literal as well as figurative, is the living room window. The river, the sky, the hills and the seasons passing as the sun sets a few degrees differently every day has kept me, I don’t want to say sane, but the view out of it has often lifted me, inspired my and fueled me when the chair’s grip might have been too fierce to fight.

This is not my forever home, my life has changed so much this past handful of years and if I have enough time left in me, I will leave for I hope a happy ever after.
That window though, that’ll be with me forever.

Percy Hid

We’d been looking forward to the Perseid Meteorites for ages and it looked like we were getting solid cloud until it miraculously cleared for a few hours, just a the right time.
So off we went down to the beach at 1am to see what we could see. Turns out we could see more than the camera, there’s one very light streak and a few possibles but my wee old Panasonics just weren’t up to it.

Still it was nice to watch the flashes and zooms over our heads, light pollution where I am isn’t too bad at all.
It got cold and the lens fogged several times and the bridge below is the amusing result.
Top is full fog, next is through a sleeve wiped lens and the last is thumb wiped lens. Happy times.

Fire and Water

I do love my west coast skies, from the tops, the water or my living room window.

I was flicking through the local news before bed and saw that the last covid stranded Azamara cruise ship was leaving Glasgow on the high tide just before midnight. It would be passing me at some point so I found a live boat tracker and watched it progress surprisingly fast up river. When it got to Clydebank I threw my clothes back on, grabbed the camera and tripod and bolted for the shore.

Been a while since I ran and I probably should have grabbed any jacket but the down one that had been hanging on the back on the door since last winter.
However while I sputtered and wheezed, I managed to catch a few shots of the silent giant as it slipped towards Inverclyde to restock with square sausage and buckie for its voyage home.

The Wee Spark gets doon and oot, Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wee Spark gets doon and oot, Part 1

Boats sit in the water and that water wants to get in and so does the plant life swirling around in it, so your hull need cleaned and repainted to keep things watertight and rot free. But your boat sits in the water.
So, you if you want to get into it you’ve got to get out of it. That’s where a trip down the Clyde come sin, a sail down to Dumbarton to Sandpoint Marina to get lifted out and onto shore for a frantic couple of days work. We were hoping the sun would shine.

The crew for the day was Jimmy, Bill and John, the usual suspects. The Wee Spark was in the canal so had to come down through the lock into the top basin, drop the mast and funnel to get under the broken and therefor unopenable bascule bridge then get prepped for going through the sea lock into the harbour and the river beyond.
This prep was putting the mast and funnel back up and waiting for the tide while enjoin tea and pieces on the deck while waiting for the tide.

 

We had a wee bunch of well wishers to send us off when we got into the sea lock. The Wee Spark draws folk in and just makes them smile, it’s quite something.  Even water in the air pipe going to the whistle meaning the cheery toot as they sailed into the harbour was actually a gurgley squeak was endearing.
Off the went with me waving a white hankie as the chugged away onto the Clyde.

I swapped the hankie for my phone pretty quick though “Can you see that coming up river, huge bow wave?”
They did and were getting ready for it, but the speeding tug threw on the brakes and passed the Spark safely. That would have not been fun.
Fair play to the tug captain and good observation spotting them, but they shouldn’t have been horsing on like that.
However, it was back to the motor and down to Dumbarton to wait for them.
I didn’t have too long and they made quite an entrance, that wee splash of colour stands out well on the crags of Dumbarton Rock.

The boat lift is quite a machine. It drives into the Leven, cradles the boat and drives back out with it swinging inside the frame. The Spark is surprisingly beefy at eight tons but the lift has a forty ton rating so this thing is strong enough not to notice us and it has no cross bracing except at the drive end. I’m always dead impressed by it.
More impressive is the convenience of it as they leave is hanging at a good working height to get into the flat bottom and get it prepped for painting. We were all scrapers and wire brushes until Frank who was working on his yacht offered his pressure washer. Oh happy day, hours saved, knees saved and never was a bottle so well deserved. Bless you sir.

The intense heat dried the hull fast and by the time dusk came we had two coats of black on. We sat by the Leven with fish suppers raided from the High Street, tea in dirty old mugs, faces dirty and a just a little sunburnt.
Job nearly done, just got to get back in the water tomorrow and race for home.

Blink and you’ll miss it

I’ll knew the eclipse was coming but I still forgot a camera. It was cloudy too, maybe that was a subconscious gremlin in my pocket filling routine for the day ahead.

Whatever, when it broke through the gloom I was having a fly cuppa with Linda and was many miles away from base and any camera.

I didn’t want to miss it so I snapped away on my phone and got several shots over bright blurry disappointment. I sat in the motor ready to leave and saw my clip-on Polaroid shades. Oh, says I.

Scratched sunglasses over phone camera lens. Day saved.

Morar Ramorra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, I wonder what’s next.

Jumping back in time

My old pal Rab from School scanned a bunch of old photies and shared them online with most of the folks in them, including me, mostly with a guitar.
I haven’t seen or heard of some of the folk in there since the 80’s. So many memories and also so many things I just do not remember at all.

From pals to nothing, how does that happen. Glad to say I regularly bump into some of them along at the old folks social club, Facebook that is.

One thing is for sure though, I was a skinny hairy bugger in my late teens. While I wouldn’t mind being lighter and maybe having some extra living follicles up top, I like the man I became better than that daft boy.

Oh, the stupid things he is about to do and say. For years to come. Don’t do it Peter… Too late.