I’ll Be Your Sister

Binge and bastard purge.

I’m dead on my feet tonight. This week so far has been played without a pause: 40 hours of pipes so far, more at the weekend; two nights in the hills, a late-evening meeting with a customer, a night in the studio (where if we can’t get a recording slot for the new tunes soon we are going to melt into a bubble of feedback and slaver) and then dinner at my folks tonight where Holly went loopy.
I used to be able to have 18 hours of activity in every 24, day after day and leap out from under the duvet at dawn in Bruce Lee style, ready for more. Well, apart from the time where we all fell asleep in a cooling tower on a factory roof after a very late gig.
The bass player and crew guy worked with me at the time and we were all totally burst from playing ’til after 0200 in an airless sweat hole in Glasgow. By the time we got back to base and unloaded the van it was time to put the tools back in and get going again. The day was doomed from the start, but Davy and I woke up at lunch time and staggered to the canteen while poor Rab got discovered sleeping and got a new hole punched in his arse by Jimmy. We sniggered like schoolboys ‘cos we didn’t get into trouble too.
But aye, youthful energy is wasted on us when we don’t have the perspective which age presents to us to appreciate it, and indeed exploit it properly.

I caught myself doing something very odd tonight. I’ve got some mountain bits and pieces to do in July for a couple of folk, and I was actually planning a route around what side of the ridge the sun would be shining on so I could get the right photies. The heating engineer in me got up, left the room, and flew back through the door a few seconds later with a kitchen stool to break across my teeth.
Aye, that’s better.

The shoe’s on the other foot

I was taking my occasional scan of the outdoor forums when I spotted something interesting on the LFTO pages, a discussion on shoes versus boots. Nothing new there, but the the lack of animosity from the posters who held different viewpoints took me by surprise.
I remember the fights of the old days, simple fingers-in-ears “No no no” stuff. Why folk feel so challenged simply by seeing the possibility of another way I don’t know, if you need your choices validated by others you were never sure of them in the first place. One of our strengths as a race is the ability to learn and adapt, we’d still be swinging in the trees without that. Or chasing mammoths, although that would be pretty cool. Being proved wrong or being shown another, or maybe a better way is a positive thing. I love it.
For too long the “outdoor establishment”, has been a source of outdated misinformation (try and go lightweight at an ML assessment…) and it’s great to see that through the blogs and forums that real-life postive experience is getting out there and being used as a resource. And you know, it’s a bit like the old days. I’m reading a bunch of old books just now and these guys were making it up as they went along, sharing experiences and learning from each other. Magic.
It’s never about who’s right and who’s wrong, there’s no such thing. It’s about all the options being presented equally with accurate information and letting us as adults decide on which choice to make.
Mind you, when I met Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod in Glen Derry last week, I did think her gold strappy heels were taking the freedom of footwear just a little too far.

Might as well be on Mars

I love the Space Shuttle. It’s inspirational, it’s what a spaceship should look like and I think it’s a shame that it’s nearly finished it’s work.
Space capsules stuck on the top of rockets are rubbish, going back to them is no different to knocking down all the road and rail bridges and folk being shot across the river by a trebuchet.
Thisa is a fantastic time-lapse film of Discovery being prepared and launched. Lifting it onto the fuel tank and boosters is pure magic.
Here’s to the future, the one we hoped we’d get, not the one budget cuts are going to give us.

Daniel and the lie-in

The internet is a very small place.

I met a group of Dutch hikers at Derry Lodge, they were kicking back in the afternoon sun with their tents pitched ready for a shot at Ben Macdui in the morning. I said that I might see them there, maybe even with the wheels, a statement which was (rightly) met with much amusement and some mild mocking.
I was tempted to break out the gear and get a cuppa on the go, their relaxed air was drawing me in, but I was still miles away and a fair wee bit of ascent below my target, so I hitched up the wagon again and hit the utterly wonderful trail on the east side of Glen Derry.
It was a breeze with Wheelie, I’ve never known such an easy long walk-in. If I ever do Lurg Mhor from the south again, I’m taking Wheelie.

The water crossings were fine, the biggest one was pretty shallow, and it was only when I was in the upper glen where the Glas Allt Mòr meets the Derry Burn that the wheels stopped spinning. It’s pretty deep, fast, but easy on foot. With Wheelie strapped to my back on the rocks if felt like I was unicycling on the top of a flagpole, so the only option was to head upstream and find another way over. I haven’t walked uphill with so much weight on my back in years, but I found a place and made it over without even a hint of disco-legs on the slightly precarious middle boulder.
I trekked back down the side of the burn with Wheelie’s basic shoulder straps sawing into my collar bones (I’ll be hot-rodding this if it’s going on the WHW) and as I reached the track again I bumped into a fella about to cross in the other direction. He was saying stuff, I was saying stuff, but the roar of the water meant that hand signals were the only understandable options, and his offer of assistance to cross the burn had come a few minutes too late and we parted company in opposite directions.

The next water crossing was on the wee narrow wooden bridge, after which the track was steep and incredibly rough for Wheelie all the way to the Loch Etchachan, save for the wee oasis that’s the Hutchison Hut.
There was a boy in the hut and we shot the breeze for a while, he was taking his time crossing from west to east via the tops. He mentioned a previous caller who’d been bivying on Macdui and he described the bloke at the burn, but he had the hut to himself for the night, well apart from the mouse living in the pile of rubbish inside which caused me much dismay. “Oh, are you meant to take that stuff away?” he said…
I nearly burst a gasket getting Wheelie up from here, it was really difficult for that single km, but oh such a lot of fun.

The walk up to Macdui in the morning was sarcastically easy. I’d packed an Exped Drypack Pro and I threw some bits and pieces in there and headed off. It was a glorious wee trek, dry rock, snow, blue sky with Simpsons clouds and sunshine. The top was completely clear and I headed west to peer down into the Lairig Ghru, a glen full of memories and thoughts of making more.
It was a glorious bimble and boulder-hop back to camp, that little red dot was visible from far distant. I sat in the sun on my Neoair and ate sweet and sour chicken for lunch. A runner and his dug called by to say hello, I think the dug was more interested in the food than the onwards route though.
I was reluctant to leave, here was just perfect if I’d had another day as was the original plan, but the descent to the hut was definitely a diversion. All the way down fighting the very mobile load behind me, it felt like holding back a transit van with a broken handbrake which will roll right over the top me if I tripped. In such instances they say you should lower Wheelie ahead of you, but I could just see it tumbling down the mountainside and bursting inexplicably into flames after I accidentally let it go when I sneezed. So, I stayed clipped and acted as the front brake, and yes the disc knees got awfy hot.

I was soon rolling easier again after I stopped to take some shots, I was now so used to the handling and the width of Wheelie that I could jump gaps or take detours and know what the reaction would be, I really did gel with the wee bugger quite quickly.
However, I was soon at the Glas Allt Mòr again, and I knew that was trouble. As I got close I could see a figure skipping the boulders and heading my way. I got to the water’s edge as he landed on the bank.  Bloody hell, it was the same fella I’d met at the same place yesterday.
“Alright?” Said I.
“Yes, what’s the chances of meeting at the same spot?”
“I know, what are you up to?”
“Camped at Derry Lodge to dry out my gear, I’m heading back in now”
“Are you Pete?”
“Er, aye…”
It was danonthehill, a name I recognised as a poster here and elsewhere. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant.
He’d flown up on his week off and was spending it cruising round the Cairngorms, walking, bivying and getting both soaked and sunburnt. We hung out for a bit, and of course the offer of help to cross the water was gladly accepted. I went to set up the Zipshot tripod and the ballhead was missing. Bastard, it must have come off when I stopped last time. Borrowing Daniel’s Pacerpole/monopod setup I got a shot of the water crossing that I really hope makes the feature.
We swapped good wishes and went our separate ways.

I took the track on the west side of the glen lower down, different views and atmosphere, and just as beautiful. Something landed on my neck and buzzed as I wandered through the trees, I brushed at it and it fell down my t-shirt, and with no pack to stop it, it went right down to my waist, struggling all the way (as Holly said while watching a bee having a fit outside “The bee is having a tantrum”). I unclipped Wheelie and pulled my t-shirt off in 0.666 seconds. Any doubt that if there was an incident I would be trapped inside the Wheelie’s machinery was gone. As was whatever the bloody buzzing thing was.
A cuppa by the river calmed the nerves before the trundle back to reality.

An email from Daniel arrived a few days later (which I had to rescue from the spam bin, why does all the mail from the blog contact form go into the spam bin?). He was home safe after what sounds like an immense trip, more adventure in a week than many who live near the mountains could muster in a year. An outstanding effort, good lad.
He’d met a group of Dutch hikers who’d climbed Macdui (well done them) and they’d got to talking,  a black widget had been spied on the track and Daniel immediately knew what it was and where to find it. He picked up my Zipshot doodah on the walk to Loch Etchachan, took it on his travels and then home.
It arrived back here in the post today, having been on more Cairngorm summits than me.

Coincidence or luck? Maybe, but without good people rowing the boat with Chance painted on the bow, we’re never going to find these wee sunny islands of good fortune at all.

The internet is a very small place.

Screw You Hippy

Hanging on with all their might, regardless of the passage of time, like a 41 year old in a KISS t-shirt, the Scots Pine is a wonder.
It’s an eternal touch of green to diffuse the light and lift your spirits as you take the long walk out or it’s the silent bleached bones of history that speak so plainly of the mistakes of the past.
Outside of the weather, few things can tug on my heart strings so deftly on a hill day as the Scots Pine, be it uplifting or be it melancholy, it’s always a joy to listen.

The walk from Linn of Dee out past Derry Lodge is a joy, so many trees, and so many tall and healthy one too. The distances to the Cairngorm “peaks” from the access points is one of their strengths, you pass through a landscape, not climb immediately out of it.
I’ve been turning the trip over in my head since I got back and at times I’m kicking myself, metaphorically you understand, as I think of how many opportunities or great days I’ve missed east of the A9 in the past few years. But if I’d been there, I suppose I’d have missed the west coast sunsets then?
Maybe it’s just like I always say, it’s awfy big for such a wee country, hard to get round all of it.


Eyenoculars, that’s what Holly calls them. I was having a rummage when I was round at my folks during the week and found these in their little case, as good as new.
They’re pretty old, and the magnification is probably a bit weak compared to whatever’s out there these days, but a combination of peering at stuff in the distance from camp wondering what it is and reading all these old books where carrying Eyenoculars seemed to be standard for bird watching and the like, will see me packing these on the next couple of trips.
If  they’re a good idea and a fun addition to my day I’ll maybe have a look at what’s new and better and lighter.
Hmm, might mean leaving one pastry behind to get these in though.

Highland Days, Tom Weir

Just finished Tom Weir’s Highland Days, another new reprint from Steve Savage Publishers. Just as it was after reading Weir’s Way, it’s got my mind bubbling over.

It’s the story of Tom Weir’s discovery of the mountains as a teenager in the late ’20s to being a more accomplished climber in the ’30s and finally the mad dashes north when he was home on leave during the war.
It’s a compelling read, and some of it is so far removed from what we know about the Highlands today that it seems like another world. The ruined houses we find in remote glens were occupied in Tom’s early days, although he talks about the young folk leaving and the Highlands slowly emptying. He talks about locking horns with keepers and I realise just how far we’ve come in 70 years regarding access. To put any problems we have now into context, this is worth a read.

The use of public transport, of a bike, of distance being no object, of being soaked to the skin and looking for food and shelter, but it all being part of the game really puts into perspective our currently easy outdoor life.
His early adventures with a chancer called Richie, stealing eggs and sneaking into barns as they walk the glens remind me of family tales of relatives during the depression, getting out of the city and making the best of it outside in the countryside. It’s a world which is gone, thankfully for a lot of it, but sadly too. The Highlands aren’t meant to be a theme park, but for 150 years until WW2 that’s exactly what they were being moulded into, the clearances were still active, just in more subtle ways. So, we may decry the hydro schemes and the vast conifer plantations, but as Tom points out it kept people in the Highlands, made jobs and strengthened existing or built new communities. Perhaps without these events, north of Ft Bill would be one vast shooting estate. A sacrifice worth making then?

Tom’s change from enthusiastic youngster, to focused and selfish climber and then standing back a little on his journey to the older and wiser Tom Weir that we’re more familiar with is hearteningly human.
I can identify with some of his little revelations, observations and lessons learned. I think it’s because trips to the mountains stand as little landmarks in time and you can track changes back though them.
I felt that the writing style changed through the book, I think as he wrote he found his rhythm and by the end I could hear the familiar voice narrating the chapters to me.

Historical, inspirational and a joy once again.

Just stuck my bookmark inside the cover of Hamish’s Mountain Walk. New version with colour photies and everything.

Rutger Hauer

I was checking to see if all my old Photobucket stuff was still there and found some photies from the Knoydart trip that I was looking for after some memory prompting on here the other day. The wee beastie with the hitchers below brought a smile and thoughts of the trip came right back.

This week so far has been spent in a crypt. That’s not a expression of dismay for unpleasant surroundings, I’m working in a church crypt installing boilers. The access is via a steep spiral stone staircase and the ceiling is about 5’6″. My head looks like a raw haggis that’s been wire-brushed.
Still it’s actually rather good fun, there has been banter, cuppas, pipework both destroyed and installed, tourists trying to hurt themselves and the surreal experience of talking to Trail on the phone about bivying in the summer when the only light I can see is through an old boarded-up coal chute above me.

Anyway, that’s the knee rested again. back to the crypt.

Reduce time for fan-assisted ovens

It’s been a while since I was on a trip that consisted of more than a brace of campers. In fact, the last time was when a trio of us set off for Glen Affric and came back in the pissing wet after an hour of miserable trudging down the track.
But, as it stands just now, there will four of us heading to Loch Quoich tomorrow to do a thing. There will be some hiking and camping after dark as we’ll be leaving late (not my doing for once, it’s “circumstances”) and hopefully much sitting around with cuppas with banter aplenty.
I don’t want to jinx the trip, but after the last trip I’m kinda looking forward to seeing a sunrise, doesn’t have to be spectacular or clear, just cheerful.
It’s going to be tent-tastic as well, I’m taking a few. Although I’m sorely tempted to take a bivy bag, not the Three-Wire, an old school body-bag type. I’ve got a cave-sleeping thing coming up and I really should re-acquaint myself with the horrors of a bivy, or maybe it’ll just make me sad? Ach, I’ll probably crap out of it and take a tent.
I should be fun, I wonder who snores the loudest?

It’ll be nice to get away from this damned infernal lightbox. I’ve been doing quotations all week and my head it melted.
I hope I get some of the work or I’ll be somewhat disappointed.


What do you want to do today?
“My want er… Daddy’s mountains and build a snowman”

Off we went to Lochgoilhead, quiet trails to walk, down a quiet singletrack road and somewhere where Holly had been when she was just a little baby.
This time she walked a good bit of it, but had great fun in the “Hollypod” as well, although making dad run after mum while she was in it took years off of the old fellas knees…
We had a picnic in the sunshine, saw red squirrels, waterfalls and birdies in a landscape waking up and coming back to life with a flourish.

The Arrochar Alps looked beautiful (and awfy busy) as we passed, snow clinging on as green creeps up to meet it.
We had some unusual sounds in the motor too, the usual mix was there, but Holly has an ear for the pipes and traditional music so I have a few favourites in there like The Mist Covered Mountains, With a Hundred Pipers and of course Macfarlane’s Calling.
I’ve spent a lifetime denying the cliches of the land of my birth, but as I grow older, when I hear the pipes I can now feel something tugging at me deep inside. It’s a wonderful thing.

Holly was knackered by the time we got back to the motor and could hardly keep her eyes open at granny’s when she arrived for dinner all rosy-cheeked and muddy. 
A perfect day.

Due to a change of circumstances this ’97 blog is now for sale.

  • It comes with high mileage on the clock from constant use on the A82 by one haphazard owner
  • A boot full of dog eared outdoor kit, will suit a “size large” when holding belly in for photies
  • Purple seat covers and orange paintwork
  • Cassette deck music system, jammed on metal, a bit like the motor in “Christine” 
  • Will need some work: footwell is full of old Greggs wrappers and empty Irn Bru bottles, will need new tyres as the current ones are bound to wear out really quickly just because they’re “lightweight”
  • Windows are tinted, rose tinted in fact
  • Good fuel economy, 125g of gas per trip
  • Mechanically reasonable, although wear and tear on the older driver is apparently high
  • Has cup holders every six inches around the interior
  • Will hurt your eyes if looked at for more than 90 seconds due to entirely unreasonable contrast

Bidding for this fine used vehicle will close at 1200hrs on April 1st, bids open at 3 denarii.
We invite both tyre kickers and serious investors in miscellaneous bric-a-brac to ignore this opportunity to purchase with extreme prejudice.

Destiny of the Daleks

I squinted into the bright sunlight as the icy air prickled my cheeks and skated over my fillings. The sun was up and picking out the snow capped tops and ridges in pink, the wet snow of last night had shrunk into a carpet of crystals and although the shapes of the landscape were the same as before, the atmosphere was so different I felt like I’d came out of hibernation. And a little early too, as it was bloody freezin’. I pulled on some layers and got the stove on. With a hot cuppa and some grub inside me I felt surprisingly fresh, and with a hint of cloud on the little bit of western horizon that I could see, I decided not to fanny about this time, and get packed and get going.
First I had to check over my feet for wear and tear, it’s not often I wear big muckle boots, but they were looking okay. I hadn’t cut my toenails, which I usually always keep on top of, and my wee toe on my left foot gave me cause to purse my lips. It’s a weird toenail that one. I bust it years ago and now it grows in two bits, like Bugs Bunny’s front teeth. It was rubbing my other toe a little, but “Ach, it’ll be fine…”.

I emptied the tent and started to bag up the gear, leaving my softshell and waterproof over the top of the bits and pieces. The tent was iced up and the pegs frozen into the ground, but it was away in its stuffsack in no time. Much of my gear was iced up, even kit that had been in the tent, my sleepmat was pure white at one end. I think it showed me how much condensation there had been early in proceedings. I lifted the jackets up and was amused to find them both as stiff as boards after sitting there for just ten minutes. It really must have been properly cold.
I finished packing, got kitted up, scanned the campsite for something I might miss later and I was away. The snow above me was now gleaming white against a sky of a dozen shades of blue.
The sight was one of those things that gets me all excited and has me starting off up the trail too fast and getting out of breath. So it was good timing when the track ended abruptly in a very steep slope of unbroken iron-hard snow. I stopped and swapped poles for ice axe and rubber soles for crampons and took the slope straight up the middle. It quickly became so steep, and the snow was so consolidated, that I had to swing the pick into it to get any attachment to the slope at all. I was also glad of having my Grivel Airtech’s on, I would have been sobbing into my Buff had I been wearing Kahtoolas, and the guilty pleasure of an old-school ascent was one which I revelled in.

I broke into the sunshine on the ridge and views down Glen Affric past my old pal Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan, it’s so wild, so beautiful and so familiar in there now. I turned towards the summit of Beinn Fhada, just up and around the corner. Ahead of me was just over 1000m of rock hard snowslope, covered in a few inches of fresh flakes from the previous night, a virgin slope rising only 250m in height from where I stood to the cairn.
Every step was a joy, clouds arced across the sky above in wisps, stripes or cotton wool balls, but none threatened me at all, they briefly visited some of the other tops but my top stayed clear.
The view to the south grew with every step, the Five Sisters, The Saddle, Knoydart and beyond all slid into view and from the summit I was adrift on a choppy sea of white crested waves while the sun beat down on me with a warmth which didn’t belong on this wintery perch, but was oh-so welcome.


I stayed on that top for a long time, hours in fact. I had soup, coffee, some snacks and wandered around with my hands in my pockets in what was a perfect day, a day to absorb, to relish and remember.
When I left it wasn’t because I was cold, or tired, had stuff to do later, or the weather was turning, the cloud bubbled and ebbed at the edges of the scene but came no further. No, it was just time to go home.

The descent down the ridge towards Meall á Bhealaich was a crunch down that same long slope, where now my own tracks had stamped a little bit of humanity into a wilderness scene. I went past my line of ascent and picked a less steep alternative further along the ridge. It had seemed like a good idea, but as the temperature rose, the snow was melting and the hillside was a grass-covered mudslide, where it has to be said I performed some amazing moves several times in a bid to stay upright, which was achieved. Nine times out of ten.

The river crossing was easy, the waters were much lower, and I stopped for a drink and a snack. It felt very much like the time I was here last summer, bright and liovely with the sounds from the water, only the winter camouflage on the scenery gave the game away. It won’t be long ’til it’s alive again, you can see buds on branches, hear birdsong from the trees. In fact, I ‘d heard ptarmigan on the ridge but had seen none, I’d followed the tracks of a mountain hare but I hadn’t found it (I wonder if what looked like a fox had fared better…). Best of all, I saw and heard a golden eagle for the first time in a long time. So long in fact that I had to google the eagle’s call when I got home to check that my memory was working.

My mind was wandering on the last part of the track although a little niggle on my toe was starting to creep into the periphery, not enough to stop me though. I noted that the sky was clouding over a little more, and I felt happy with my lot. Sometimes you can’t wait for the weather, you have to take a chance. I’m glad a found that wee window and fell though it.

I pulled my boot off followed by my big woolly sock, I rolled off my liner but could see there was something amiss as it got towards my toes and stuck. That would be the blood then. I eased the liner off of the sticky mess and watched half of my toenail go with it. It wasn’t sore, and it was my fault for not keeping up with personal maintenance, but I did feel a blow from the hammer of inconvenience land on the back of my head. Keeping it clean and not bursting it any further is going to be annoying for a few days.
However back on the road and heading south was trouble free, empty roads and and sunshine ’til Ft Bill, and from there on increasingly dark and pishy horror until I got home in the midsts of a storm.
Lame adventuring it is, but what joy from something so accessible in this magic wee country.

Woo Ghosties

Tonight’s bedtime stories for Holly were a little different. We had the Cailleach and her magic cow in the legend of Loch Awe and we had the story of how the farmer’s daughters became the Five Sisters of Kintail with a spell.
She loved it just as much as the Doctor Who picnic story, so we’ll be having those again.
I’m going to brush up on my legends, there’s so much stuff from around here and it’ll be great fun, plus I can add in whatever Cbeebies characters I like.
A great resource is Tom Atkinsons “The Lonely Lands” which I lent to someone about two years ago and never saw it again.
Ebay or Amazon…

The Future is Orange

I’ve had a notion for a walk for a wee while and it’s something a little different for me, Fort William to Morar.
It looks like it could be a couple of nights of camping after getting the train up and starting walking from there. There’s a good bit of Great Glen Way towpath to get me to tail of Loch Arkaig, then quite a bit of singletrack road or rough hillside to get me to where I really want to go at the head of the loch; Glen Pean.
I’ve long wanted to walk through the glen, feel the history and savour the emptiness. It’s wild and remote and looking at the map just makes me grin. Leaving the glen isn’t the end, it means a walk along the whole length of Loch Morar to either Morar or Arisaig and hopefully a train home.
I think it’s partly that these days I’m wanting to see the bits in the middle that I’ve been driving past or looking down on from a Munro all these years.

But, as I was writing this, I got an email though, and it’s my commissions through from Trail for my routes for the next year. I don’t really talk about my Trail stuff much, but I’m always in there, there’s my Routes, Used & Abused reviews and I’ve always got other bits and pieces scattered about. I’ve got a great piece lined up for the lightweight issue later in the year that’ll see me in the Cairngorms, and then there’s these new routes.
I am grinning from ear to ear right now as I read through my schedule and see that I’m revisiting old friends and tramping familiar trails, and visiting places in Scotland I’ve never even seen with my own eyes.
I’ll be sleeping in caves, peering down on fjord-like loch, putting my feet up by the fire after climbing my last unvisited peak in one of my favourite areas, repeating the first ever Munro ascent, standing on the first hill where I saw a cloud inversion (with waist length hair!), looking for an airframe in the heather, biking into a remote peak or two, bagging some tops before they lock the gate, losing myself in the Assynt wilderness and more besides.
I am overjoyed. Sometimes I need a nudge to get me moving and this has me falling out of my chair.

My Glen Pean walk will be in there, so will some other stuff I’m sure if I’ve got time.
I’ve said this many times, but Scotland really is awfy big for such a wee country.

Pink Clouds, an Island

We’re not sure where Holly learned some of the questions, but when we got to ask them instead of answering them, this is what we got.
What’s your talent?
“Drawing and painting”.
What’s your name?
“Holly MacScotland”.
What’s that noise?
“It’s the man”
What’s do you want for dinner?
“Chipmunk Box”.

That’s the world I want to live in.