The Mourne Mountains

The weather is rubbish, the rain is hitting the window so hard I can’t see how bad it is outside, I can hear it though. Seems like a good time to catch up with a trip whose anniversary is coming round pretty soon.
Joyce and I saw the first snows of the winter last year in the Mourne Mountains of Northern Ireland. It was a fantastic trip where we packed in as much as we could in a few days and the whole place made such an impression on me that it’s still fresh in my mind now.

We flew to Belfast from Glasgow which took minutes, it took longer to sign out the hire car than it took to get here.
The road south was a joy once clear of Belfast and the school run madness but we made the big mistake of putting on Radio Ulster which is a window onto some aspects of daily life here that we only hear about on the news occasionally.
That stuff is there, I’m from west central Scotland so I know the story only too well, but when that radio was clicked onto another channel that was the end of it and we were left with wonderful people and a beautiful country who welcomed us like family. That’s what I brought home and that’s why I’d go back in a heartbeat.

We had an itinerary of sorts arranged by Outdoor Recreation NI with places to visit but the hills and walks were left to us which I would write up for Trail Mag back at home.
The days were short so getting to Castlewellan  and checking into the wonderful Hillyard House where the boss Domnic was both an endless source of information and cheerful banter left us only a few hours of daylight to make the best of.

With that in mind we went for a walk based on The Murlough Nature Trail which took us around the ancient dunes and along the beach to Newcastle where a cafe was a welcome shelter from the cool wind, don’t let the photie of Joycee hoping along a line of poles in the sunshine fool you.
Sarah from the tourist office joined us on the walk and chatting to her helped make up our minds about the next couple of days, we’d avoid the obvious and head for the interesting.

In County Down there’s no escape fro the Mournes, they’re like an island rising from the rolling countryside. It’s fantastic.

We took a trip around the coast down a dead end road to visit a lighthouse. Deserted, atmospheric and bloody freezing, we shot back to Castewellan to have dinner at Maginns on the main street.
This was an odd experience, it was midweek, well out of season in late November and the place was huge with just a couple of other tables dining with us sitting happily have an early Christmas dinner. A great start to the trip.

The morning was a surprise, there was blue sky and snow. As the breakfast was cooking I ran out into the street to look, if was freezing and the Slieve Donard , the highest here, and the other hills were wreathed in a blanket of cloud. That would burn off I was sure. It was glorious.

I little car park above the sea was where we started on the farm track. The sun shone but ahead was grey, the clouds seethed and the gaps between them showed a decent dump of snow had fallen overnight.
We were well wrapped up and with fresh legs after just a short drive we strode towards it.

Sea and mountain is always a perfect mix and with the reds and browns of autumn pushing back the green, it was feast for the eyes.
I felt instantly at home here, it’s not like the hills home but it has flavours of the familiar shapes and forms cooked into something altogether different. I was in love already.

The Mourne Wall is everywhere, literaly. It rings the hills to keep cattle out of the reservoirs inbetween the hills that give Belfast its water supply. It’s a proper civil engineering endevour built between 1904 and 1922 and you can walk the whole 22 miles length taking in 15 tops while you’re at it. That would be fun with a high camp in the middle.

We walked into the cloud which shrouded the summit tors of Slieve Binnian. Everything was iced hard, hoods were pulled up and cuffs cinched. The crest of the ridge was like an alien landscape, white with the black tors and total silence. It felt like we’d just left the car and already we were in a perfect mountain landscape.

We came across a pair of grinning locals who were equally well wrapped and but still found time to stop and banter. Every body on this trip had time to banter. As I said in a tweet I sent at the time “Highlands Hospitality is alive and well, it’s living in Northern Ireland.”

The cloud broke up and lifted or drifted away. The sun had no heat in it but we were still pleased to see it and hid behind a tor for lunch.
We could see around us now, the mountains, the sea and Ireland, flat and misty, disappearing to the south.

The last set of tors were the most impressive yet and a scramble to the top to watch the sun set was gravy on a decidedly pie shaped day.
The rock is grippy, there was no exposure and the top was flat, just grooved lightly by the last glacier to pass this way.
It was cold though, we both had down jackets on with no question of taking them off. Winter really had arrived.

I wanted to be here longer, I wanted to visit the other hills, I wanted to be unpacking the tent. I was gripped by this landscape and I still am.

The light left and the descent was rocky and frozen. The track out in the dark was easy to follow with half hidden distant crags and tracks branching off that tugged at me.
But the cold and hunger tugged a little more and the two miles back to the car were efficiently despatched.

Still one of my finest hill days of recent times. The hill, the weather, the company, everything combined to make it perfect.

The fun wasn’t over though. Dinner was at the Maghera Inn which was to be found in utter blackness, seriously I didn’t think it was possible to have a village with so little light emanating from it, it was Hammer Horror perfection.
But inside a warm fire, smiles and amazing food was a perfect end to the day.

The weather wasn’t good. We tried to get into Bearnagh and Meelmore but the wind and rain through the pass was going to make the climb joyless and photies impossible, so we tried our plan B option which to be honest we had really wanted to do all along, Hen, Rock and Pigeon Rock.
The road there is awesome, it’s not about the hills here, it’s just the same as at home, the bits inbetween can be just as good.

It’s at the fringes of the Mournes where the grassy slopes flatten into the patchwork quilt of farmland the rolls to the west. But there’s a fantastic crown of tors on Hen Mountain which is just minutes from the road and delivers the biggest mountain hot for the least effort I’ve ever seen.

We played for a while, probably too long, and while we did do the weather which had lightened cam back in full force. We headed for the rest of the tops in high winds and heavy rain, heads-down and camera’s packed. It was misery.

Staring at wet grass and the drips coming off your hood brim is only amusing for so long. We swooped around the ridges, into the glen and took the train back to the road.
Wet through, hungry and daylight to burn.

A look at the map showed possibilities. The rain had stopped (timing is everything) and we wanted to do a circle right around the hills which would take us past where we’d been the day before, but with time to explore.
We decided to visit the Silent Valley Reservoir.

We sat in the car and ate our packed lunch as the rain ran down the windscreen. Then, the rain stopped, we ventured out and had alook around.

It’s lovely, there’s a wee visitor centre, lots of interpretation and plenty of trails to follow. The views are also incredible, Slieve Binnian dominates with peaks to the horizon circleing the dark waters of the loch.
The walk across the dam would be worth the price of admission had the gatekeeper actually charged us, he was happy with a bit of banter on a slow day.
If you come here for the mountains make sure you have  day off and come here.

A visit to a Annalong harbour was our last diversion before getting back to Hillyard House for showeers and clean clothes for our last dinner date at the Vanilla Restaurant.

This was the fanciest place in town and we were too tired for it. We walked the seafront in the dark and just wanted a bag of chips and an early night. But, they were very nice, the food was gorgeous and it wasn’t as pretentious we’d feared.
Mind you I still have a wee chortle when Joyce when asked how the sweet was replied in her surprisingly loud voice “The sorbet was like jam”.

Great hills, wonderful people, amazing food every time we ate and a bag of memories to bring home. There’s a nice wee outdoor shop in Newcastle and we found that even so far out of season everything was open and the town and villages were busy.

I can’t recommend coming here enough, the hospitality shown to us shames many places I know at home and the hills are something else. There’s no great heights to climb, but there’s the essence of the epic and of wilderness that the hills cling onto as their own no matter how close the roads are or how many peaks that big wall crosses.

October 26th, 2014 by PTC* | 2 Comments »

Ghost – A song by me.

I wrote and recorded this ages back as a back story to Princess Louise’s haunted dress which is in a glass case in Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow and I use to tell scary stories to Holly.
She comes alive at night and possesses the unwary to try and make her escape, but is always stopped when she can’t leave the building before dawn.
I did all the instruments myself, it’s a bit of fun but it’s got some good bits in it too.
The artwork I edited up out of a photo I took in Kelvingrove and a Victorian ballet dancer I stole from the internet.
Too much time on my hands? I wish.

October 20th, 2014 by PTC* | 2 Comments »

Damnation Alley

I was writing a route for Trail, somewhere I knew well and I thought I’d have a trip around it again to see how the new access point was working and write it into my planned directions.
I met Gus at Spean Bridge and after some fine dining at The Bridge Cafe by slalomed the road around the end of Loch Lochy, through the wonderful Mile Dorcha and into the midge death zone – the Eas Chia-eag waterfall car park to get kitted and changed.
It was then it all take a sinister turn. The track up by the waterfall was barred by half arsed fences and felled trees, so the new signposted route was the only one right enough, so off we went down the road. The banter was good, the weather was pleasant, the plan was for a fine overnighter on a lovely route. The forest roads were very fresh, well used, easy underfoot. The deserted construction village at the top rang bells but nothing prepared for the total destruction which lay beyond.

I’d been telling Gus how picturesque it was, the track winding through the trees as the burn disappears below. The track is gone, the trees are gone, christ, the whole hillside is gone.
Dynamited, bulldozed, destroyed. I’ve never seen such an act of total vandalism in the hills in all my years of walking and camping.
Soon there will be a hydro scheme, just a few feet above the waterfall that draws tourists too, one curtain of trees will separate the lower station from view. It’s horrendous, we were stunned and speechless.
Bastards.

Maybe I took it badly because of my emotional attachment to the place, rainy hillwalks, fine summit camps and a particular weekend on these slopes where JYC and I went from “something funny going on here” to “oh look, we’re having a baby”. Or maybe it’s just because it’s act of unconscionable destruction.
Both.

It doesn’t end there either, the trail of destruction drags itself high into Gleann Cia-eag to the intake for the pipeline and then you can escape into the short remains of the forest where it finally feels just as it should but the memories of what you’ve just walked through can’t be left at the treeline.

It was clouding over and getting dull, a few spits of rain dampened out enthusiasm for a high camp as much as the boggy ground pulled at our shoes.We carried on until we reached Fedden cottage where the short grass was too hard to resist.
It sits just short of 400m and there’s plenty to see of the building but not much to read about when you search. I wonder who was here last and why they left? A recent visit to Auchindrain has broadened my understanding of these places and the people who lived and worked there a little.

We snacked happily and a wee beverage kept the smiles fueled. There was a breeze, but it wasn’t angry and there was neither amidge nor a tick to be found. A fine bivy was had.

The morning was cool and bright, perfect for porridge, a cuppa and not so much hurrying. The route ahead could be seen but didn’t pull at us enough to leave quite yet.
It’s worth a visit this spot rater than cutting the corner as I have before, there’s an odd sense of emptiness looking north as the ground slips away into nothingness towards Glen Garry while everywhere else are mountains. I want to go back and walk north at some point.

It’s trackless and boggy, peaty and heathery and soon warm and sunny. The track on the far side of the glen is farther away and higher up than you think and we reached it just before the bealach where the dismal Lochy-side approach can be seen snaking away downhill.
The track from here is excellent, easy to follow, easy to walk and the views get better all the time. We did see a few folk which was heartening, but they were all in a hurry. Very odd behaviour.

There were stops for snacks and looking at stuff, there was after all lots to look at and many snacks to eat.
There’s some airy spots but there’s never any exposure, a flavour or rock here and there in amongst the sweeping grassy slopes. The views north are like a sawblade, one tooth after another with names to fire memories an launch plans.
What a place to be.

Nevis & Co presence is felt once you’re on the tops, but they’re just far enough away not to dominate and let the hills breathe a bit. Summit and sea, short grass underfoot and still no thoughts of hurrying.

There was no way around it, the descent was fine by a tumbling burn but the forest beyond was just a gateway to horror.
We decided to explore the earthworks and found the last remaining stretch of the old path on an island on the hillside where each Scots Pine tree was marked to be protected. As you can see a combination of no one caring about that anyway and taking so much earth away around the trees to make it impossible for them to survive means they’ve had it. If I hadn’t been so angry I would have cried.

We went for dinner and on the way home I passed many favourite sights. It really was a joy, a great camp and fine hills but the image of that destruction lingers on.
The word “reinstated” is bandied around in the documents regarding these works, but we all know it’ll never be the same. Surely there could have been a better way?

 

October 15th, 2014 by PTC* | 5 Comments »

TwoMetresDeep Live at the Glasgow Cathouse

I don’t know how we ended up with a metric themed name, that’s probably always going to annoy me, but I like the music we’re writing so I’ll live with it.

My absence from these pages hasn’t meant inactivity, just the opposite, bust times, hard times and joy inbetween. Some of that has been with the band and it’s always a welcome escape.
Playing live is great fun, but it wears me out as I can’t stand still. All the youngsters all just mill about with their guitars and look if I’m trying to avoid being netted by a mounted gorrila patrol in Planet Of The Apes. Ah well.

The first one is heavier than we’ve been heard playing up to now and second one is er, don’t ask me but it’s wort sticking with it for the jazz at the end.

October 13th, 2014 by PTC* | No Comments »

Walkhighlands Lightweight Insulation Review

My latest grouptest is up on Walkhighlands, it’s a diverse selection of lightweight insulation. I had expected everyone to submit samples of mini-baffled down jackets but I got a bunch of far more interesting stuff. It just shows what is now regarded as insulation, I remember when it was either an extra jumper or a big down jacket if you had money.
I’ll be coming back to some of this kit on here as winter goes on, some crackers in there.

16

October 13th, 2014 by PTC* | No Comments »

Black September

I don’t want to talk about it anymore, but I have to mark the moment here so that years from now when I look back through these pages I’ll know where that lingering feeling started.

10257457_10152572718534384_5497165920815738311_o

October 13th, 2014 by PTC* | 3 Comments »

Run To The Light (On Walkhighlands)

My mighty group test of head torches is upon Walkhighlands here. I’ve been impressed by the quality of the current crop of headtorches, there really isn’t a bad one amongst them.
Special thanks to fellow Kilpatricks ranger Jo who had to keep wearing ans swapping headtorches for me so I could do A/B comparisons every time we were out doing bat surveys. Got great results though, pacing the same after dark hill routes showed the torches different strengths very well. Next month’s grouptest will be some rather nice autumn clothing.

Talking of light, was wrestling victorian cast iron in a church today when the sun shot through it’s window. Nice.

seat

September 4th, 2014 by PTC* | 2 Comments »

I Am Here

Me Vee Wee

Partly why I’ve been missing from here is because I’ve been doing a lot of this stuff, music that is. My band twometresdeep (which isn’t a grave pun, it’s water related) has been taking a good bit of my free time which has been a joy for the most part.
There’s few things more rewarding than creating stuff, writing and performing original music is something that I’ve always loved and I’m really getting the chance to stretch myself just now. I’ve tried playing in covers bands, tried it again earlier this year and it’s rubbish. The first time I play the songs is fine, the second time I’m bored, the third time I’m making shit up rather than play it straight again. I think I’d rather leave my guitar in its case than play the same songs as every other pub band in the country is playing. But, those are the folks making money, so what the hell do I know.

We’ve just played two big Glasgow venues, the Garage and the ABC which was fun and next week sees something a bit different as we’re the opening band at an all-dayer celebrating 25 years of Clydebank’s Red Eye Studios, details below.
It’ll be a little surreal playing at lunchtime to a venue containing only staff and other bands, but what the hell. After that it’s tweaking the songs and making an EP and I’ll enjoy it all while it lasts, after all at 45 I probably shouldn’t be doing this stuff.
Ha.

Thanks to Jo for the photie above. Nice one misses.

LB Gig

August 31st, 2014 by PTC* | No Comments »

Walkhighlands Gear Review #1 – Haglöfs L.I.M

I’m very pleased to announce the publication of my first review as Walkhighlands new gear editor. It looks at Haglöfs L.I.M concept and it’s right here.

This will mean a change in what gear I put on here but there’ll still be plenty gear, including some extra L.I.M kit that didn’t make the review.
I’ve got next months test well under way and the month after that is looking good too. Organization? Me?

22

 

August 15th, 2014 by PTC* | 4 Comments »

US TOUR ’78

It seems like that was when I last wrote a post. Don’t even know where to begin, so much has been happening.
Most importantly, my band TwoMetresDeep are playing the Glasgow ABC this Friday. I’m going, so should you.

Once that’s done, on with other stuff. I’m scared of it to be honest, too big, gear, mountains, environmental disaster, nudity, guitars, the news of being the new gear editor at WalkHighlands.
It’ll be good to be back.

In the meantime, don’y worry, he’s been watching all the time.

pilot

August 14th, 2014 by PTC* | No Comments »

Doctor Who Trailer

Help ma boab, this is exciting.

July 15th, 2014 by PTC* | No Comments »

The Munro Show

Other than the many companions I’ve spent time with in the hills only two people have ever inspired or engaged me when talking about the Scottish Mountains*, one is Tom Weir and the other is Muriel Gray.

I’ve spoken about Tom Weir many times, his books and Weir’s Way TV show are an endless source of joy to me and while Muriel Gray’s contribution to my bubble of mountain consciousness is a smaller body of work it is no less important. It’s also suddenly to the front of my mind with the new 2 x DVD set of the complete Munro Show series from the early 90s which is currently playing on my telly having arrived today ( it pays to pre-order).

I’ve always been outdoors. I was bivying under tree branches and brushing mountain snow off my nylon cagoule in the 70s, but it wasn’t until the mid 80s I really thought about mountains as goals to achieve and it was the early 90s before climbing Munros as a collection seemed like a good idea. That’s when the Munro Show came along.

I’ve always had the VHS tapes and later the DVD releases but they only had a small edited selection from the show so there’s a huge amount of material I haven’t seen for 20 odd years. I’ve watched a few episodes already and it’s an absolute joy which the passage of time and accumulation of experience hasn’t diminished but instead enhanced.
There’s few footsteps she makes that I can’t recall making myself now but there’s a pleasantly tangible reality to it, no filtering, no overly arty framing, the mountains look real in it, I could be standing right there beside her despite the cheap STV video tape it was made on.

The music is of its age and Sorley MacLean is timeless but I love them both. The issues discussed are both historic and relevant, erosion is worse than ever but the No Access signs are gone (mostly and/or forever?). Mountain biking has been the saving of many hill or forest areas and the midges are still clouds of ravenous misery.
So while some of the points of discussion are as historic as the fashions on display, the hills and the words about them from Muriel are timeless. She has a cheeky irreverence which is the perfect contrast to the weighty, sincere, ponderous. thesaurus-fueled prose which did my head in back then just as much as it did now. Smile people, you’re on a mountain.

Outdoor media has changed out of all recognition since The Munro Show was on, readers and viewers are scattered and mobile which makes this old show almost perfect. It’s a snapshot of time, presented as a complete chunk of fun and inspiration that won’t lose readers, have to chase advertising revenue or constantly have to recycle or repeat itself.
Just like Tom Weirs work in fact and that’s why it’s just as important to me.
Plus, it takes me back to when there were still some places I hadn’t been, summits I hadn’t seen and things were a lot bloody simpler.

It’s a joy, buy it. The book too, it fills in some background to the show as well as plenty other good stories.

ms

*I reserve the right to add other sources of joy as they come to mind, Scotland’s Mountains Before the Mountaineers by
Ian R. Mitchell being the obvious one. But modern guidebooks? Don’t start me on that.

July 14th, 2014 by PTC* | 4 Comments »

Legend of the Jellyfish

Just back from a cracking wee trip where we were enraged by environmental vandalism, eaten by many many flying and crawling insects, had some quality hill time and slept in very clever lightweight sleeping bags that will get launched in Friedrichshafen in a couple of weeks.

Plenty to talk about, so I’ll start with the Legend of the Jellyfish. The Jellyfish was originally a real fish, but with legs, and this is truncated as much as possible, it was tricked by the dragon king in going to the jungle to bring back a monkey so that the dragon queen could eat its liver because she was “sad”.
The monkey wasn’t daft, it got out of the deal and the Jellyfish went home monkeyless. The dragon king was raging and ordered his men to beat the Jelly fish and break every bone in his body, which they did.
The Jellyfish was horribly mutilated, right down to DNA level and that’s where the present jellyfish come from. They gloss over the whole initial breeding partner bit.
The good news was that the dragon queen was much amused by all this and felt much better.

This is from one of my fairytale books which we found at my folks and now terrify Holly with. The tone of the stories are a little different to current versions, possibly due to being written by someone fresh back from a tour in ‘Nam.
The illustrations are brilliant and fit the publishing date of 1969 very well. The whole thing makes current kids stuff look like the beige adventure it really is.

jelly

July 1st, 2014 by PTC* | No Comments »

People in glass houses

My working day takes me to a lot of old buildings of which many are churches. They’re probably my favourite places to work, quiet, mostly empty and with kitchens full of tea bags and biscuits.
They’re also lovely places to look at, even the post war concrete horrors have their charms because of their quirky designs and all the older elements that creep into them, from a beaten up piano or a carved chair taken from the old demolished or bombed-out original. War is never far from a church.

One of my favourite elements are the windows, stained glass is a wonderful art form and one that still survives. If you think of modern stained glass you might think of the angular, simplified designs that often just seem to be coloured patterns rather than a depiction of a story or an event. That’s down to style and cost, not a lack of talent or that the medium is a lost art.
I’ve seen 40 foot high impossibly intricate 150 year old windows removed to be taken apart and rebuilt with new lead as big windows collapse and stretch over time. clever stuff and very expensive to do.

The glass is indeed stained but it’s painted too and getting up close reveals the details. No doubt the bible-aware will know what it all means but to the neutral observer it’s just a joy to look at. Earnest faces, fantastic creatures and landscapes to inspire, reassure and no doubt remind customers of why they’re there.

This last one earns and  extra grin for the viewer. It has to be the campest walk I’ve ever seen as the figure cuts across the Italian countryside themed fashion show catwalk displaying the next season’s velvet creation for the flamboyant man about town.

 

June 21st, 2014 by PTC* | 4 Comments »

Taxi

CBS Action have been rerunning Taxi, the classic US sitcom that ran from ’78 to ’83. I’ve been taping the whole lot and watching episodes when I can and while I’m always a bit retro-minded, this has been carrying some unexpected extra resonance.

It’s a brilliant show. The old-school presentation might look dated to younger eyes but beyond that are performances that got better show by show, or in the case of Jeff Conaway his performance became almost bearable. The writing also got better although there was often a misogynistic tone which doesn’t sit so well with the older me, but Elaine Nardo and any other female characters were strongly written and performed, so maybe it’s something of the flavour of the age that rising to the surface.

There’s three standout turns. The first comes from Danny DeVito who makes the cartoon garage adversary Louie De Palma both the meanest and funniest thing in the room. You can tell he relishes playing the character, the energy is high and he can overplay as hard as he wants and it doesn’t matter as he stays in character. He gets all the best lines and it’s a work of genius.

DeVito plays off Andy Kaufman’s foreign mechanic Latka Gravas all the time and the two of them can be seen just holding it together many scenes as they trade lines with each other.
Kaufman’s funny voice and gibberish language should probably grate but they don’t and his character is allowed to progress so the comedy evolves. In the Man in The Moon bio-pic Kaufman was make to look like he hated Taxi but the showrunners recently came out and said that he was issue free and quite happy. Truth is never so interesting as legend is it?

Christopher Lloyd played Reverend Jim ‘Iggy’ Ignatowski as a one-off in season one and was a such a hit they worked him back in as a regular in season two where he steals second place in the best lines competition. The character quickly finds its groove and you wonder how the show worked without it. He’s remembered as the acid casualty with the wacky answers but he also had the heart of the show, often deeper emotional story content was often given to him to deal with as the rest of the cast didn’t have the depth or believability to carry it and show lead Judd Hirsch as Alex Rieger always had the middle ground to hold.

I haven’t seen the show for 30 years but it’s making me laugh again today, some episodes don’t stand so well because of the passage of time and change of attitudes up but most do and it’s a joy to see it again. It’s odd as well though, I can remember every episode like it was yesterday and kinda know what’s coming. I watched Taxi at my grandparents every week during its first run and it’s taking me back there to the younger me, the sounds, the faces and so much more.
The music, Angela by Bob James which is always on my iPod, is gentle jazz, a little melancholy in places and uplifting in others and the credit sequence of the never ending bridge crossing can be seen as a clever bit of editing to fill in the time they needed to run the title or as an allegory of the journey of life.
It was actually the first thing therein reality, but what the hell.

I like when I rediscover things from my past and they neither disappoint nor embarrass. It means that while maybe I’ve never been going in the right direction, I’ve been going in my direction and I went to the right places along the way.

Ibi da indeed.

Taxi

June 21st, 2014 by PTC* | 3 Comments »

Charley Pride: The Country Way

Was out on another bat survey at the Lang Craigs with fellow ranger Jo. The summer nights mean a late start to try and get some darkness around us so it was about half ten before we started to look for any bats. I say look for bats, I mean stand still and wait for bat voices to pop up on the batatron.
Happy to be at 1000ft under clear skies as you might imagine but the warm windless night soon brought with it the ultimate horror – clouds of ravenous midges. And bastard clegs.

I got eaten alive. My ring finger got multiple bites and it swelled so much back at home it started to turn purple and I had to get my wedding ring off sharpish. That wasn’t easy to do and it now feels bloody strange not wearing it, it’s a part of me and a reminder that I was very lucky 14 years ago.

Bats were found and it was a lovely night to be out with good banter to keep me the right side of insane. The crags looked great under the low sun and the sky was fine and colourful. We also saw one of the deer that’s been eating the new tress and all I had to shoot with was my old camera.
I took lots of photies, mostly on random settings as I stood on the edge of midge induced panic until we finished up at half one under a full moon. Didn’t even know there was a black and white setting on the wee wheel. Nice.

Nice to play at home.

 

June 17th, 2014 by PTC* | No Comments »

Rub of the green

It was sunny and warm when the wee shop in Cannich proved to much to resist and I sat outside it with my too-hot-to-drink coffee feeling quite happy about it all. I had been packed the night before, ready to go, away early and up the road like a bullet.
I had planned a wandery route, missing the familiar and visiting the bits inbetween and I’d packed as light as I could to give me a chance of keep my mind on the view and not my breathing.
I put my still boiling cuppa in the cup holder and got back on the road.

Glen Affric was a riot of green, the dark hue of the ancient pines spattered by the fresh bright leaves of the birch. The pine forest is what defines the glen most times you read about it, but it’s what else is living all through it that gives it its natural air, a living landscape rather than a glen in a bottle.

The road swoops (swooping was available once I’d cleared the 15mph Fiat 500) and meanders and every foot of it is a joy. Just having a picnic here would be worth the drive.

The end of the road costs £2 which is fine as it’s nicely presented and looked after with a toilet block. No midges either. Imagine that.
The road into the lodge has been well worn in recent times, the lodge and its surroundings having been converted into a rich folks hotel hideaway. It looks very nice, clean and tidy with white horses running around the garden and the signs for walkers are polite, but.
But what? I don’t know exactly, empty glens I’m used to, ruined cottages, abandoned shielings, homes converted to bothies, it’s all very picturesque but the glens should be living places, not abandoned or made exclusive.
It’s always good to see investment anywhere outside the central belt, but how much is helping the local economy to fly in your kitchen staff from abroad when there’s guests to feed.
I’m not naysaying, I’m not being reactionary, I’m just not sure about stuff. I was probably still thinking about all the Balfour Beatty signs and earthworks I had to pass on the way here.

My line of thought was broken by a dogfight. An aerial dogfight. The big brown bird made big circles, the smaller black one seemed to be taking shots at it, nipping in towards it, turning quick and darting away. The big brown bird seemed not to want to engage its tormentor, but if a wee dug pulls are your trouser leg enough at some point it’s going to get launched into the garden and not necessarily politely. The big brown bird wheeled fast and took the black bird out of its flight path. The two spun out of the sky, spinning into the heather out of sight.
I’m saying it was an eagle and a raven. And, there was only going to be one outcome.

Past the lodge compound it quickly feels wilder and I was just getting in the zone when I was passed by a film crew on a wee buggy, those things that are half way between a quad bike and a tank. They were a delightful mix of posh voices accompanied by pointing index fingers and a pissed off Glaswegian cameraman who had had enough by the time I caught them back up.
Then, I was free.

The trees thinned but what was there bore witness to long years in the glen in every twisted bough or broken branch. The mountain shapes around me are dramatic but feel to me like a comfort blanket. To the west ahead are the shapes I know very well after 30 years of visits, to my left peaks I’ve woken on to find my tent an island on a golden sea as a lazy sun rose over an unexpected inversion, to my right I was reaching my junction, a branch onto to a track I’d never walked.
It was a nice track too, pleasant walking and there was a nice spot to sit for a snack. Ridges towered over me, gurgling water was the only sound and the sun felt warmer here, the high ground kept the wind to itself. It would have been so easy to snooze after my early start.
Maybe I did.

Higher in the coire there’s still huge chunks of snow. The burn disappeared under it at one point and I was nearly under it too when I slipped trying to get a better look at the snow tunnel that has formed.
Always a good test for the heart that stuff. But the snow was also banking out my route out of the coire and I decided to take the safer option this time and climb onto the ridge. It was a good call, I sat on some rocks high up and watch some psychotic deer trace a line across a steep coire and over the cornice onto the ridge. Good effort, I wouldn’t have done it.

Arriving on the ridge opened up a new world, like pulling down the hood of a duffle coat, everything was suddenly clear. The trek to the top put the last just sharpened it up a little. What a place this is.
The tops are mostly rounded, the ridges are long so the drama is in the scale and the details are hidden here and there like it was natures sculpture park where the best mountain features are placed on the longest route around the park before you get back to the gift shop.
Mam Sodhail’s top was windy, too windy to stay the night which meant Carn Eige next door would be the same. Dinner was creeping into my mind now and I started turning over my options in my mind. Far to go, not so much time to do it and get camped where I wanted to. Exploring the inside of the huge cairn on the summit gave me some thinking time out of the wind.
Aye, there’s an inside, bet you wish you’d looked now.

Sgurr na Ceathreamhnan looms large now. It still pulls at me, the hill it look me longest to get to know and left the clearest memories. Maybe I should go back.
The terrain up here is nice, just pleasant walking, nothing too much or too little and it give you time to enjoy it. I sat on Carn Eige where the stone shelter had a little memorial inside for a son who left a family too soon. I picked it up and read it then put it back safe where it was.
It was a melancholy moment. Folk piss and moan about memorials on hills without taking a moment to try and empathise with the heartbreak that puts them there.
I felt alone, hungry and a little tired now. I had to cut a day from this trip as it was and there was no way I was hitting all the marks. It was time to find camp.

Off the beaten track, where there are no pink lines on the guide books I felt my energy return. The height stayed the same, it’s a land at 1000m here and there was no escape from the wind. The ground was rocky, the roughest it had been and I was having fun. I was also starving, all I could thing about was food and that there was no where to set up the stove.
I reached a rocky top with a big deep cleft below it full of snow, I climbed past the cairn and peered down, a grassy shelf just below the ridge line.
The sun was getting lower, time was getting on, it was here or descent.

Perfect, absolutely bloody perfect. The wind was broken by the rocky crest right behind me, I had uninterrupted views from my door and a snow bank a few feet away. I could have been persuaded to change my address details if I knew what the postcode was.
Dinner was a joy. Macaroni and cheese, fruit pastries and cuppas. I watched the full moon rise and chase the sun towards the far horizon. I walked the rocky slopes until the colours had drained from the sky and I was too tired to stand.
It had been a long day and I was so happy as I slipped into my sleeping bag, the temperature had dropped and I snuggled down into the bag, pulling the drawcord in around my head.
Then I just got colder and colder.

My music was on, the moon was shining bright through the skin of the tent as it climbed higher above me. I was wide awake and shivering.
I had two light insulating jackets with me, one I wrapped around my legs, one I spread over my torso and I started to feel a bit better. Then I shifted my position and the cold cut through like I’d opened a door. I put the jackets back and I started to dose until I moved again and shifted the jackets.
I puled the bags drawcord tight as I could to trap air but it was no good. I lay there cold listening to my music. Hopefully I’d either get to sleep or dawn would arrive.

Dawn won the slowest race I’d ever watched, like every lap was a safety car lap where the safety car was a toddlers big wheel. With flat tyres.
I crawled out of the tent, it was icy cold. The snow bank had re-frozen solid in the night and I had to hack my cuppa out of it in chunks.
Bleary eyes, wandering footfalls, but at least I was warming up. “Zero degree” bag my arse, there was more down fill in my socks than there was in some of the baffles of that sleeping bag.

When the sky lit up all the pain went away. I felt fresh and awake, breakfast stoked the boiler and it didn’t matter that is was just after 4am. Right here right now is why I do this.

I could have stayed, but the flashes of magic that make dusk and dawn special sparkle briefly, it’s nature’s way of telling you to get your shit together and move on.
That’s what I did. Nice it was to, I headed west and found another frozen snow bank that made for a 150 descent to bypass rather than the potential slide down it on my face.
The bealach is where the change is, Glen Affric turns into Kintail. It’s a subtle thing at first but past An Socach it’s pretty stark and I was now torn between one of my favourite places and having to be in Glasgow later that day.

I met some young folks just before I hit the main track, they were heading for a peak bagging day from they wee circle of tents by the river. I said there was plenty of snow patches for melting for a brew, but they wouldn’t have time. Jeez, I was young once, but there was always time for a brew.
I hope they had a good day.

I was really far from the carpark, but with easy walking all the way I wasn’t worried. The scenery, the thin layer of cloud that kept the sun off me and a long chat with the local ranger all helped me onwards.
The trees on the south side of the loch are fantastic, some very grand and twisted pines cling on here and I met a few folk heading west, some on bikes which looks like fun. It’s part of the Affric Kintail Way which has some lovely signage and in principal sounds great but like most of the newer long distance paths in Scotland it’s needing some work to make it viable and attractive to pull in the punters I think. What a walk though, it knocks the nearby Great Glen Way flat on its arse.

I started to jog on the flat and on the downhills, time was getting tight but not desperate yet and it felt like the thing to do anyway. My pack was light and my k**e felt good and it was fun.
Ah, how many times have I thought about running again. I need discipline though, not just good intentions.

The Ka was where I’d left it, a quick change and I was gone. The road was clear and I made my meeting in town. After that I wasn’t much use, I need my sleep.
The downless culprit is still compressed in a stuffsack and lying in the garage. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it.

It won’t be pretty whatever.

 

June 13th, 2014 by PTC* | 6 Comments »