Kingdom of Mongo

I don’t think I can remember such a cavalcade of colour as we’ve enjoyed this past wee while.
Every evening has been a blazing display of felt tip pen tones drawn onto blue gel paper placed onto an overhead projector with a 1000W bulb in it.
It stops me in my tracks, and on some occasions, in mid sentence.
It’s like living in the 1980 Flash Gordon Movie and I absolutely love it.
Freaks my camera out too.

Left unattended

I’m in all on my own, and I should really be packing my bags for tomorrow’s trip down to the Lakes, but I find myself sitting with a cuppa and getting all wistful instead.
I’ve been looking at maps which have been sparking as many memories as they have moments of inspiration. I’ve had a DVD on of the old West Highland Railway Line, engines toiling up Glen Almond or arriving at Ballachulish Station, and now I’m working my way through Weir’s Way.
It’s a timely reminder of where my heart lies and where my inspiration comes from.
In these days where everything is engineered to look like a super sexy product or lifestyle choice that’ll make you better than you were before, be it a simple day’s hillwalking or a £400 jacket, watching an old bloke in a hand-knitted woolly bunnet wandering around Scotland telling a wee story, reaches into me and plucks a perfect note that makes my heart sing.
That’s something that no sponsored athlete exploits, advertising campaign imperatives or completed tick-list will ever bring to me.
It’s just the same feeling as I find when I’m sitting by my tent with the steam rising from the mug in my hand, simple joy. Hold onto it.

Bastard Inconvenience featuring Feeble (courtesy of Atco Records)

I just knew the week was cooked on Monday when I went up the hills. I’ve spend every night since on the couch, wrapped in thedog blanket (that’s what I call the “guest duvet”, is that wrong?) coughing unabated along to garbage telly until 0400 where I pass out for a couple of blissful hours and gradually choke of snotters.

I’ve had a rucksack packed for days to no avail, and I am now totally stir crazy. I’ve been out, met up with Bobinson for lunch (which included an interesting proposition from an older lady, ask me later), and met up with the spark who does my panels and controls to give him some overdue payments. See, it’s a domino effect when you don’t get paid by a customers right away or contracts run askew due to ” a reason”. You have to pass on the misfortune down the line which affects other jobs, trade accounts, goodwill is eroded and the spindly scaffold which holds up the apparently innocently smiley advertising hoarding of daily life that motorists absent-mindedly gaze at while planning to beat the other guy away from the lights, but which actually covers the precariously worn gear wheels of society, takes another hit at its wee flat feet.
I don’t bring the banks into my worry bubble of payments here, they deserve all they get for preying on people’s weaknesses. They’re drug dealers selling credit hits, and damn the consequences because it’s all legal.

Joycee is away with the camera, so I am mercifully spared the option of photographing more unused gear indoors. I have been wearing the Chocolate Fish merino hoody every day though, it’s bloody marvellous. It’s not going on a hill though, the hood’s definitely casual in it’s approach, even a little Emperor Palpatine you might say. Cool.

So Monday’s imminent again. Will it be new opportunities with new energy? New ailments and new excuses? Will I get my thumb out of mY ass and get on with stuff?
Whatever, lets hope for a dismal day tomorrow so the week starts the right way up.

Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan IV Reprise

Pit it apt at at atap it apat tat… the rain was still falling, and with my eyes still shut I was warm and I didn’t want to move. I knew it was brighter, and no screwing up of my eyes could shut it out completely. Putting my head into the sleeping bag just made me want to pass out from lack air or heat stroke. I pulled my arm out and found my watch in the pouch above the door, 0836 it said. I’d had at least six and a half hours of completely undisturbed sleep. Outstanding.
I unzipped the doors and made a face at the world outside because it was rubbish looking. I lit the stove and lay on my front watching the rain gather on the long grass outside and run down the stalks when the drops got to heavy. The wind was from behind, I was sheltered and really quite happy as had a cuppa and some porridge.
I thought about my options as this weather was now the deciding factor. I could descend again and be back in the motor in a couple of hours, carry on and retrace my similarly cloud-covered steps of a couple of months back or find something else that was new and would be fun, maybe descend NW and circle around Sgurr Gaorsaic to find the other end of the Loch?
At 1000 I finally got out of the tent for a pee and a stretch of the legs, feeling under no pressure. I even thought about just sitting there and waiting for something to happen, for the weather to either get better or worse and give me a nudge, I had plenty food to sit it out.
The nudge came, and it was like walking along a darkened corridor, opening a door and stepping into a brightly lit room and finding a table with Irn Bru and doughnuts on it. This would also be accompanied by an audible “Boof!”.
A hole in the cloud appeared, I saw the summit, the ridges and into the coire to the north. I just got the camera set up to get a shot as it filled itself back in. This gave me as much a dilemma as the constant rain, what would happen now, would the cloud lift? 

I packed slowly, constantly watching all around. Once, the sun burned fiercely and briefly through just thin cloud cover, the corries on both side revealed themselves occasionaly, light playing on their boulder strewn slopes as the sun penetrated elsewhere unseen from my high campsite. I was grinning with optimism as I set off towards the summit over the wonderful knobbly ridge in an ever brighter atmosphere, I could see detail, distance and a chance of doing what I came here for.

Standing on the top this time was fantastic. I could see the north top where I’d just camped and I could see the ridge leading to Mullach na Dheiragain. Too far, too late, not enough water. Right now, I was still walking away from the motor, day two even without the Mullach was twice the distance as day one. I did give several second glances that way as I descended eastwards, I thought about contouring over there via a lochan to pick up water, but as patches of blue appeared and distant slopes and peaks became sharp and clear, I decided not to push my improving luck and just set off with the renewed purpose of finishing a route that had been on my mind for months.

It was still a little windy, still cool, so I kept on my waterproof. The air was fresh, the light was clear. The ground felt good under my feet. These are the hills at their best, standing tall, chest out, hands on hips, very much alive, and today, feeling benevolent. Every footfall was a total joy.

The summit clouded over again, just a wee wispy toupee. But the broken cloud added scale, the notion of the mountains touching the sky, of all nature feeling as one, even I felt part of that for once. Not a visitor or a viewer, but a participant as the day unfolded around me without another human in sight. Spend the night up there and you’ll never see the hills the same again, I hope this never wears off.


It was getting warm as I descended towards the youth hostel, I stowed my jacket and filled my bottle at a little waterfall. The path here is clear and well maintained, but still narrow and unobtrusive. A good model for elsewhere.
I met the hostel warden out for a wander and spoke my first words for 24 hours, always interesting as I feel like I’m shouting.
I looked south at hills I’ve climbed and actually saw them, rather than cloud for the first time from these slopes.

I stopped for lunch by the river, well in the river I suppose as I sat on the warm rocks and had soup as the cool dark water flowed and gurgled around me. I sat for a while and soaked it up, mountains all around me, empty land, miles to go and everything I needed right at hand.  Do folk know accessible this stuff is? How easy it is to get into these places, how safe and enjoyable it can be? I wonder how many folk get put off trying by TGO making it look dull and Trail trying to sex it up? As ever the truth is in the middle somewhere.

Not far from Alltbeith you find Camban bothy, and a cracker it is too. Two big rooms with two-level bunks and I found it in a pretty clean condition. No sign of folks having been there and the fireplaces were empty, but in its wonderful position between Beinn Fhada and the north Cluanie hills it must be well frequented.

The track from Camban to Gleann Lichd is wonderful, and the very reason I wanted to do this route. There’s a gap in there that I’d never walked, only seen from the summits and walking through there on its lovely, twisting track surrounded by high tops, I found myself also surrounded by memories of trips and friends now long distant, of a younger man exploring the highlands for the first time, and also an older man who’s found that his love and simple joy of placing one foot in front of the other in this beautiful country has never faded.
The mists of time and the misty eyes of a sentimental auld eejit? Maybe, maybe. But my heart swelled just to be there, and to be there on a such a day as this where nature never rested, never stopped trying new ways to set itself in a new light, and with every attempt found something just a little more special.

I’d never seen the waterfall. The path contours round the deep gorge, and I kept looking around to say to someone “Isn’t this just stunning?”. But this was a very solitary trip, I think it had to be. Unfinished business, not with the mountains, but with myself. The mountains don’t care, they just are. You can’t expect or demand, but what you come away with is all the better for it.

The walk out behind the Five Sisters of KIntail is long and on a landrover track. The further you get the more the land changes its character from wilderness to countryside.
I stuck my iPod on, and the first track that shuffle mode found was Slayer’s Jesus Saves. I laughed out loud at the surprise of its genius choice and immediately started playing air-guitar on my trekking poles. It was on good form and fed me one cracker after another and I slipped out of the glen in into the motor on the crest of a metal wave, beaming from ear to ear.

I stopped in Ft Bill, and a MacDonald’s never tasted so good. And an ice cream with a flake in it was never so appreciated.
The sun sank behind the Ardnamurchan hills and bathed the Glen Coe hills in a pink light, the traffic was light late on a Monday night and I sped through the velvet landscape, eager to get home and see the girls.
My one stop was to get the camera out near Loch Ba. A wonderful spot which never fails to surprise me with how many moods and colours it can find.

This was a trip that I will hold dear in my memory. The hills, the trail, the weather, my head, it was all right.


The house across the road has a pure white, thickly frosted roof. My first thought is “Hey, good loft insulation”, my second thought is that with the council’s hastily fairylightened tree looming large between us it does actually look a bit like a wee Christmas card scene. And is accordingly quite nice. Holly is of course unmoved by this, concentrating instead on the secret conversations she has with Mr Panda. I’m being increasingly overlooked in favour of a stuffed toy. Them’s the breaks.

The warm sunlit ascents and cool clear nights of the trips earlier in the year seem a distant memory. It’ll be cold fingers making the cuppa and frozen breath caught in a headtorch beam obscuring the view from now on. Pitching in the dark and frozen footwear in the morning.

Seasons, what an invention. Keeps you on your toes, sorts the wheat from the chaff.

Ben Lomond

A much maligned hill. And yet some of my finest hill days have been spent on it. Like Ben Nevis it has a tourist track and also another way, a rougher, steeper way. Ptarmigan ridge is no CMD Arete, but on a clear midweek winters day, making the first set of footprints up the steep clamber from Ptarmigan to the summit brings joy to match that of any other ascent of a “grander” hill.


The summit ridge is a fine view point, the horizon to the south lies far in the distance. Look to the other points of the compass and your eye is pulled in all directions by the tumbling rocky waves of the Highlands.

The northern coire of Ben Lomond is another hidden gem. A dark and lonely place, holding late snow and summer shadows, any approach from this side is a labour of love and a test of resolve.

So decry this fine hill if you will. It suffers only from accessability and good looks, a popularity that makes it simple to dismiss it as a tourist trap. State your misgivings all you want, but rather I think you might look to yourself for the reasons that you can find no place in your heart for this beautiful Ben.

Old News

I took this about eight months ago, the photies have been all over the place since. But I thought I’d try to embed a YouTube thing and see how it went.

The camera battery was dead, I got tons of photies but by the time I realised I could have filmed it I had seven seconds of power left.

It’s from Carn Dearg on the East of Rannoch Moor. One of my finest mountains days ever.


Diesel power

Mechanical cross section as art?

This a section of a Napier Deltic diesel engine. They were originally in Navy torpedo boats and lattery as a pair in the Deltic or Class 55 diesel-electric railway locomotives which ran on British Railways until the early 80s. At it’s intoduction, the most powerful locomotive in the world.

I love the drawing, the detail. It looks too complicated to build or maintain, yet it’s obsolete technology.

Aye, we were good once.

I’ve been trying again.

I seem to have a surprising amount of time on my hands for someone who is moving house and has a new baby. This time seems to be up to 0300 but still, better doing something useful than wasting it on sleep.

So, I was scanning my old prints some more last night. I took a bit more time over it but the results are still patchy. I’ve been looking at negative scanners and the like, so I’ll maybe see about one of them. The pro service/send away option might well be the way to go though.

As always, these are all on Flickr if you want a better look.

Looking SW down the ridge of Buachille Etvie Mor. You never get this view, everybody is to busy being stunned by the view the other way :o)


Looking towards Ben Cruachan. It was a searingly cold day. That wee cloud on the summit looked like someone pulling a silk sheet over a pile of crystal vases. Nice.

I love this one. Frozen snowmelt on Ben Lomond.


The karrimor Alpiniste 45+10. It was the finest rucksack of it’s time. In fact, it still kicks the arse of many sacks around now. Counting against it are weight and storage for hydration, bottles or bladders. And that’s it. The harness is still the most comfortable I’ve ever used.

Mike Parsons the man behind it, is now the man of OMM, and still creating many works of wonder. I use OMM packs almost exclusively, the Villain being my lightweight backpacking sack. It’s essentially an update of the old 45+10, but with all the stuff it was missing like bottle pockets and external storage capacity.

It’s a workhorse. I rate it, I trust it, I will use it until it’s dyneema unravels. It hasn’t found a place in my heart like the old purple alpiniste though. It was something I aspired too when it came out, and having one was as good as I’d imagined. I mean, how often does that happen?


There it is on Aonach Mor, on it’s last day out.

Or was it? In order to know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been. Maybe when the snow comes I should have a retro day?

Point and Click

I’m forever switching off the business and disappearing midweek if the weather is looking good for a high camp. This was one of those, last year, June-ish I think? I climbed Sron a Choire Ghairbh and Meall Na Teanga late in the day and camped on Meall Na Teanga, west of the summit on the ridge. I’d had my dinner and was sitting in the tent looking in the opposite direction to this sunset and nearly missed it.

I ended up sitting on a rock with the camera watching it change shape and colour until it was dark. I was bloody freezin’. Lovely misty morning next day too.

Ah yes, the point. I really should get a grown ups camera instead of a point and click to make the most of these moments. Still, they make me smile.