Help ma boab, this is exciting.July 15th, 2014 by PTC* | No Comments »
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.
*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.
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.
July 1st, 2014 by PTC* | No Comments »
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* | 2 Comments »
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.
June 21st, 2014 by PTC* | 3 Comments »
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 »
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 »
It was an incredibly peaceful night. Gus told me this was the case as my snoring had been echoing around the coire. I was warm, comfortable and lying out in the fresh air instead of in a tent. You can’t beat that if you get above the midges and have a calm night.
But dawn came early and there was no hiding from it. The sunrise was somewhere beyond the circle of rock that had suddenly appeared but the new day was no less dramatic for it. Climbing up in the dark had meant that the views were all brand new and it was one of the finest mornings I’ve ever had in the mountains. Warm, calm, water lapping a few feet away with rock spearing towards a blue sky all around us expect for the south where the glacier-worn edge just invited some exploring to find the view beyond.
All that had to wait for breakfast of course. Porridge, cuppas and banter. The sun was getting higher and light started to hit the ridge tops and peaks then creep down towards us.
In a moment of perfect timing, positioning and luck, the sun shone straight through the rock window at the bealach above. I took that as a good omen. Ha.
Relaxed is the only way to describe our demeanor. We wandered around as the day grew ever more confident in it’s abilities, it got brighter and warmer while we gazed out to sea or down over the slabs trying to retrace our route from the night before.
We scrambled on the velcro-sticky boulders, playing like a big pair of weans. Time just slipped by.
Coir a Ghrunnda is a place where the heart both rests and soars. Both benign and dramatic, it’s a perfect place to camp, a perfect place to linger and it’s worth every step to get there and walk back without ever climbing a top. That was something we really had to be getting on with though.
Back at camp a little breeze meant we kept an extra layer on, it also showed how lights Gus’ sleeping bag was is it dipped it’s big toe into the loch with its assistance.
With some reluctance we packed and left for higher ground.
We met two folks heading to the crags on the Sgurr Alasdair then circled the idyllic loch to find ourselves in the tumble of boulders on the far side. The boulder are big, grippy for scrambling over but often precariously balanced and occasionally more mobile that you’d hope. It made for an increasingly exciting ascent as we moved as fast as we could to get onto the regular line up the gully to the bealach.
There were many cries of Woo! Haaa! and Mmfffff! until be clambered onto more solid ground for a rest and a chuckle. It was getting airy, looking back the loch seemed suddenly far away and the tops were suddenly at eye level.
Some more easy handwork took us up to and through the rock window. Beyond is just awesome, and in the way the word was originally designed, not the current meaning that means it can be applied to almost anything that is even slightly positive in nature. I blame parents. Like me.
An Garbh-choire is a riot of crag and boulders hemmed by broken ridges with Loch Coruisk and Bla Bheinn as the backdrop. It’s mountainscape to delight the eye and ask questions as you begin to see the detail of movement across its jagged shapes.
We stopped and took it all in.
We weren’t sure about what to do next. Gus was sure he’s come to grief on the crags to the left, neither of us wanted to carry overnight packs up the crest so we went right. Turned out to be a good idea. It was still scrambly and the views were eyewatering. It’s so full of contrasts, beautiful, deadly, accessible, forbidding – all that the mountains should be. The detail grabs you too, we spend so much time looking at the rocks like amateur geologists. Finding shapes and clues in the rock to who knows what. Not us, but we made stuff up anyway.
We stopped to cool off, get down to shorts sleeves and have a drink. That’s when I spotted a disposable barbecue stuffed under some rocks. Who the hell takes one of these onto the Cuillin ridge and leaves it? What kind of arsehole feels the spiritual draw of this place and then defiles it?
The scrambling was fun, it was a glorious day and Sgurr nan Eag’s summit ridge was warm to the touch. Progress had been slow, we kept stopping to look, savouring the day, taking the fun way rather that the straight way. This is the way mountains should be climbed of course, but the clock is unemotional and the rest of the world doesn’t really know or care about this stuff. “Hmm, look at the time, we’re going to have to start thinking about heading back if we’re going to catch that ferry”.
There wasn’t any pressure on us, we could do it fine. Neither of us wanted to retrace our steps, the boulders had already taken most of the soles off my trainers and between us the amount of combined sleep hours we’d accumulated between us over the past two nights didn’t hit double figures. So a bit tired, so a nice slope down to the sea and a brisk march back along the track to Glenbrittle.
It looked a bit craggy and uncertain direct from the summit, which it isn’t but it was when we were standing there, so we decided to descend to the next bealach and take it from there. It was rocky and loose and the coire was a steeper version of the last one, the same tiers of rounded-off slabs with sheer faces, just no obvious weaknesses to exploit.
But, there seemed to be a possibility. A grassy shelf, angular rakes that could be linked up, there was a way…
I headed across and started to pick my way down. It was properly hot now, I really just wanted to sit for a while but the £100 Ka was just across the water and I needed to get there.
It was getting a little more exposed, I was watching my footing, trying to fix the line ahead into my head and I heard Gus behind me “Eh…”
He was behind me, but he was right above me at the same time. We were on what suddenly felt like almost vertical terrain and we both knew we had got it wrong.
It was suddenly all calm steady voices and uphill motion to match. It really was steep and annoyingly grassy in places to make it the least grippy place we’d been since the deck of the ferry the day before.
I knew we had to keep moving, when rattled, stopping lets the simmer reach a boil, like a car radiator low on coolant. I chatted, pointed out the route, filled the gaps with shite until we pulled ourselves onto the ridge well past the bealach.
All that extra work for nothing and all the time spend on it. What was a need for a reasonably direct return to base was now a dash and a dash on shaky knees. The trouble was we now had to stay on the ridge and keep onto the end of the ridge to find ground we could safely descend.
The ridge was airy and grassy with a couple of little outcrops to negotiate. Looking back it was a fantastic place to be, but at the time much of it was overheating, thirst and suppressed panic.
When I got to the last of the many low circular shelters built on the ridge I threw my pack off and flattened myself into what shade I could get from the low stone ring. Gus followed suit and suddenly all we knew was the blue sky and our little garden wall that shut everything else out.
My head cooled down and I felt better. More sun block went round and we sat for a while. We’d gained height again but it was at least straight forward from here.
I don’t know how long we sat there, I think it was quite a while. The views back over the Cuillin and out to sea were sublime, we were a dinghy being towed behind a mighty ship, bobbing away at the tail end of the action, our tow rope a narrow ridge snaking away from us to a vessel whose deck we’d abandoned full of confidence and optimism what seemed like days ago.
My watch laughed at me. The boat would sail whatever time it said and wherever we were.
We got ready to go. Gus has the focus of a man who knew where he wanted to be and wanted to be there now – the grassy bit at the bottom of 500m of scree. I was feeling better, a little spring was back in my step and a took to the scree with trainers that were already trashed and decided to make the most of it.
Ground was covered quickly, too quickly at one point. Gus was in front of me, moving at a nice even pace on the highly mobile scree. I was keeping pace when the stones under one foot just disappeared, my leg folded under me and started motoring down the slope. I hit Gus on the crest of a scree wave and he’s shouting at me to stop pushing and slow down and I was just as much a passenger as he was.
We had the weight advantage and eventually ground to a halt like the worst prepared two-man bob team you ever saw. I was relieved to find that my arse wasn’t now sticking through huge holes in my trousers and there was nothing to be done but carry on.
My eyes were focused on a burn with small waterfalls and I could see it get closer and closer. The easy angled grassy ground felt odd and was slow going but at the water all the pain went away.
Feet and heads were steeped, bottles refilled, heads and hears repaired and everything seemed all right. No way we were making the ferry.
Shellshocked and dazed we wandered well off the track and picked it back up near the slopes to Coir a Ghrunnda where we marveled at the view to the venue of so much fun the night before. The light was fading now as well. Bloody hell.
Tired eyes worked with maps trying to pick up the track, it was simple nav but we were both shot. The solid surface of the path was an utter joy and we picked up the pace as well as we could. The last dregs were soon gone from our bottle and the little bay by the camp site waved to us from the platform as out train slowly pulled into the station. A blast of steam from the cylinders as slowed for the signal and were were there.
The rain came on 100m from the camp site and I found myself in a shell jacket as I tramped to the toilet block for a wee wash and change. We both freshened up as well as we could be arsed doing and sat in the car. It rained, it was dark, the ferry had gone hours ago.
Now, I had to be somewhere the next day, I can’t remember where that was now, but in both our minds the fact was that I had to be back. Have a look at the map, Glenbrittle to Mallaig by road. Tears and despair would be the normal reaction, but we were too tired, dehydrated, emotional and not thinking properly at all.
We hit the road.
Thirsty, hungry, everything we nneded in our rucksacks but rain, darkness and clouds of midges meant that a roadside picnic was a no-go. Broadford was shut, Kyle of Lochalsh was in darkness, the garages were closed, the Cluanie Inn was open and some sort of Porsche owners club filled the bar and the car park trying to impress the bar maid by daring each other to try the most expensive single malts on the shelf. Cans of ginger* and packets of crisps were fine for us and we sat in the car feeling revived enough to light the low battery indicator in both of us. Better than nothing.
I love this road, I know every corner, every peak on the horizon and it was now just a blur off darkness and endless curves for the next 17 hours. How Gus managed this I have no idea.
The BP garage outside Fort bill shone brightly in the night. It was open and had sammidges, coffee, tasty things, Lucozade and more besides. We could have cried.
Maybe we did.
The layby picnic recharged us to one bar and Mallaig was less than an hour or torture for Gus away. There we threw kit from car to car, said our good byes and fell asleep in out cars.
I woke up a couple of hours later and still gripped by the need to get home I hit the road. The road was empty and barely nudged that deer at Glenfinnan. I was tempted to stop at the BP for a coffee again, but it was just because I could have, so I stayed on course. Which put me in front of the cop car which tailed me for a while.
Now the Ka’s speedo doesn’t always work and this is one of those times it stuck at zero. I drove at what I think is 40, then I drove what I think is 30 and then I saw the blue lights behins me. I pulled in at the next spot and rolled down my window.
“Hi, nothing to worry about, just wondering where you’re going at this time of the morning”
I told him my story as his partner surveyed my £100 supercar, where of course she found no fault.
“Oh, nae luck” Was the response to the missed ferry story.
“Safe home” Off I went.
I got home in time for breakfast and I have no idea what happened for 24 hours after that. Bugger, why the hell did I have to get home?
So we compared notes later and we both agreed that it had been an epic, classic and unforgettable experience. It’s taken me a while to write part two and it’s like it was the other day it’s still so vivid.
It’s always a gamble going on a trip with a new partner but through some very trying moments, some acute pressure and all under the strain of sleeplessness and more there were no cross words, no blaming, just banter and a focus of getting there.
Gus is now tagged for my post apocalypse action team. And other hills days before that.
Less Is More? It was indeed, almost all the kit we used was from Haglöfs 2104 LIM range. I’ve been using it more since Skye and I’m going to have some detailed stuff on it soon.
The most important lesson learned from this whole experience is this : I can tell what speed I’m driving at without the speedo working in the car. Nice.
June 11th, 2014 by PTC* | 7 Comments »
If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? Well Montague in the white vest thinks she head something but since she didn’t see it she’s not sure what to make of it.
Giles didn’t hear a thing, she’s too busy trying to identify the species of ladyburd she’s found on the bracken. There’s no use peering at like that, wear your glasses, there’s no shame it. It happens to the best of us.
Anyway. I’ll take pointless philosophy by it’s smug sideburns and plant some trees in this recently unfrequented vitual forest of random nonsense. After lunch.
June 11th, 2014 by PTC* | No Comments »
This was recorded back in 2012 for a tribute album where all the tracks from the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind The Bollocks were covered in a diverse bunch of styles.
The project dragged on and ground to a halt inches from the finish line and it looks like it’ll never get released.
So here’s my rewrite of No Feelings. It’s far too long because I kept all the original lyrics, it probably needed a bit more work, especially on the mix, but for a handful of hours in the studio by me and my mate Craig who played the drums on it, it’s a nice wee bit of fun.
Bonus points for anyone that makes it to the psychedelic bit.
It’s been busy one way or another. Where the hell have the last two weeks gone? Some of it was in Glen Affric which was, well, hurried. But I’ll get to that soon. We had an epic day at the Lang Craigs with the final community tree planting day and two family members in hospital. One of whom is still there with a new knee having been applied.
Maybe it’s age that makes time slip away from me, maybe it’s just piss poor application to the tasks in hand.
Still, I’d rather be confused than running under capacity.
This was the first face I saw at work today. Can’t beat a Monday morning smile.
May 19th, 2014 by PTC* | No Comments »
I was supposed to be heading to Sweden for Haglöfs 100th anniversary celebrations but some family stuff came up at the same time and the trip got canned. But talking to Gus brought about a sort of consolation idea, we’d head out with a bunch of new season Haglöfs kit to test, have a bit of a laugh and take some photies.
I was heading to Skye anyway, it all seemed like a good fit. I’ve known Gus for years and for all the outdoor talk and gear we’d never managed onto a hill. Good plan, easy and straightforward.
In the run up to the trip the weather looked good for Sunday – Monday – Tuesday with some last minute doubts over Tuesday. So, with little or no thought as to the consequences, a Sunday start was decided upon. Gus was at the Highlander race based at Glenfinnan all weekend and that was where I headed. Mallaig is not too far up the road, getting the ferry across to Skye would save time. fuel and be fun.
The road up was slow, the strange human subspecies of folk that only drive their cars during holiday weekends still lurked around every corner from the easter break, eager to find a burrow to hide in until the next bank holiday, but dangerous when cornered too, so quite likely to unleash an unpredictable attack of swerving or sudden braking causing chaos and mayhem.
However, the skies cleared as I went north and by Ft Bill it was glorious. I stopped off for some camp food and headed up to Glenfinnan.
I parked at the race village with the confidence of someone who was supposed to be there or didn’t know that they weren’t supposed to be there and wandered down to the finish line to see what was happening. The winners were in, you could tell that by the amount of limping skinny people around and bless them all I say. I know the hills beyond well and tackling the slopes at any time can be a task, but chasing a prize while the sun was beating down and ticks are chewing at your ankles deserves our consideration.
I shot the breeze with some familiar faces while working on a venison burger and the prizes were awarded. The local laird was one of the speakers at the prize giving, I’ve met him a couple of times and he’s a proper character, all tweedy and Victorian but cheery and seems to have a realistic and forward thinking approach to the land and it’s various uses by “them and us”.
There was no pressure, but an eye cast on my watch said that time was getting on. I decided to shoot up to Mallaig and sort out the ferry, phone back down the road and take it from there.
The road up does its job. The old single track horrorama is gone and replaced by a fast but largely bland thoroughfare that misses out all the lovely spots at Arisaig and Morar. However, it gets you to the picturesque hamlet of Mallaig in good time. I kept a straight face there, where’s my cheque Visit Scotland?
I went to the ferry office where the folks were all dead helpful and booked us onto the next and last ferry which left at 6. It was well after 5. Hmm.
I shot back to the car park and phoned Gus. He was standing hands in pockets in the sunshine gabbing with the teams and whatnot.
Ah He said.
Indeed I replied.
I’ll leave now.
I’ll be ready.
I unpacked the £100 Ka (I love this car, it is the mountain rollerskate of ultimate joy) and stood on a rock at the seafront counting down the minutes and watching for Gus. I talked to the girls which distracted me, as did the stunning views, but when I looked back at my watch it was leaving quarter to six. I texted Gus 15… 14… 13… I know he knew the time, I just wanted to share the stress a little.
Five-to he shot into view and then into the car park. Hysterical giggling took over as we crammed my kit into the car and raced for the ferry. The same young fella from earlier was waiting for us at the still open ramp. He smiled at my distress as I just handed him the sheaf of tickets and looked helpless. We parked up, the ramp closed and we laughed away the cold sweat as we climbed up to the rather nice lounge for the half hour sail across the Sound of Sleat.
Hearts beat slower as the boat reversed and then leisurely cruised to Armadale. All was well.
The cloud that had been moving in stayed on the mainland as we twisted the slow road towards Broadford. Skye looks very different without pissing rain, wind and cloud. I was enjoying this.
Fuel, sun cream and some extra bits and pieces at the co-op and a quick stop at Sligachan for the views were all that was between us and Glenbrittle campsite, a place where I really must take the girls.
The sun was going down and we still had to pack. I needed a rucksack and clothes as well, so it was all a little improvised, but as Haglöfs sample size large fits me perfectly I just picked the colours that I liked. All of them at the same time. Nice.
The tops above us were burning red and orange as the sun slipped away, how glorious that would have been from the track to the coire. We compressed, rolled, folded and squashed, then we were ready to go.
The sky and the land had become blue-grey and our rainbow coloured figures worked our way into the middle of it. The going was good on a fine path and the Cuillin although softened by the dusk still presented a dark jagged outline before the rounded bulk of Sron na Ciche and then darkness left us standing alone in a pool of torchlight.
It was here things changed for us. The moonless sky, the hazy memories of the terrain, the GPS at odds with the superior Harvey map and the suddenly steep, loose and rocky terrain, it has us discussing and thinking.
We back/side/downtracked a little and found ourselves on the edge of a huge slab which curved away and down into the darkness. It didn’t seem right, but there was signs of use at its edge where it butted into the crag which rose sheer to our left.
It felt exposed, our two spots of light floated in a darkness where it felt like the light was flowing past our feet into an abyss. I’ve spend a lot of time on night ascents, but this was different.
It was warm and a little waterfall distracted and cooled after the previous ascent on a mineral vein which was the safest apparent route across the another iffy section of polished slab. The glaciers had no thought for future visitors when they carved this place up.
Next in our torchbeams were sheer rock walls streaked by black, water run-off that sprang from nowhere and disappeared back there. It was unnerving. We took our time and looked for routes as best we could in the torchlight.
The rock was good and we clung to it with both hands. The scree slope was invitingly easy looking, but we didn’t want to climb Sgurr Sgumain tonight so we stuck to the rock. It was late, very late and we were getting hungry and tired. Every climb upwards was topped with another wall of rock and route finding problems and the following scramble.
It was fantastic.
There was no question of stopping, no suggestion that we were in trouble, we just bantered away, working through the endless scrambling with the perfect mix of humour and experience. It was clear from the start that Gus was good company on the hill, he’s able, knows his stuff and knows how to laugh.
The last scramble took us to a broken crag with steep scree and the GPS said we were nearly at the loch. We climbed again while the sound of water fell away below us. We stopped and shone into the darkness below. A ribbon of dark grey then a black void beyond. We’d climbed quite high above the loch. Oh, the irony.
We tumbled down the boulder field to the side of Loch Coir a Ghrunnda. It was well past midnight and we were shot, it was time to relax a little and the realities of the time and effort spent getting there overtook us.
We walked the banks of the loch and picked a spot for the night. We found some nice big grooves in the rock to keep us put, we were bivying – it’s no place for a tent up here, and got to unpacking and setting up camp.
It wasn’t too cold, just nice with some light insulation on and a cuppa and some soup was just enough, it was too late for a big dinner. I pitched a tarp over the cooking spot and where our heads were, just for a little extra protection. As clear and windless as it was with stars sparkling above us, you just never know.
We settled down, the sky had lightened, Bloody hell, 3am. Aye, time for bed.
Who knows what the day would bring.
May 4th, 2014 by PTC* | 8 Comments »
Timing is everything. The sun was shining all through easter and I wasn’t anywhere near being able to take advantage of it which was a bit frustrating given the nice places I have to be going.
But going out to play ’round the back kept me in a good mood. I’m getting used to the old camera again, it feels a bit clunky and it’s way more contrasty than its replacement at the same settings, but I’m happy enough for now.
That’s Jo my fellow ranger below. We did a bit of extra exploring, the Lang Craigs is only a wee part of the Kilpatricks and it’s good to see it in context with a bit of height and distance. We also saw and heard bats, yes heard, via the magical powers of a bat detector which picks up their wee voices and can be used to unnerve the wary and terrify the nervous.
The other good news is that the weather means I’m back in an outdoor shirt rather than a baselayer. Happy, and more on that at some point.
April 23rd, 2014 by PTC* | 2 Comments »
The last thing I expected to be doing this week was doing a close orbit around the sun to watch for signs of coronal mass ejection. But, when the phone rings, you have to go. Lucky I took my phone to take some photies out of a porthole, no one would believe me otherwise.
The sun followed me all the way home and it’s been glorious. Had to sit and wait for a truck to come and take away the abandoned and unrepaired hearse (rewind two years or so to see what the hell that’s all about) which has lain in the workshop yard for a long time. There was a little breeze and I sat on a wall and swung my feet as I waited. I can’t remember the last time I did that and I felt stress free and relaxed, time just stopped for a little while.
I’m going to have to make sure I remember how to do that, it did me good.
My bubble soon got burst but I was ready and able for it. Maybe the good things in life aren’t there just to be enjoyed, maybe they’re fuel too.
April 15th, 2014 by PTC* | No Comments »
There’s a lot of music around me just now which is stirring my pal’s memories as well as my own. My buddy Chris posted a couple of old tapes on Facebook from the band I was in 20 years ago – Trinity.
I had a rummage and found a CD of the last thing we done from ’94 – a song called After You. It’s a three piece band and I’m on guitar and vocals. It’s so long ago I just don’t care who hears it now, they were happy days.
Davy, Stevie, I hope you’re well wherever the hell you are.
I can’t remember that last time I took a shot of the evening sky oot the windae. Old camera, same view and a new set of colours to delight my weary eyes.
Bloody marvellous. Why does a step backwards feel like the right thing to do?
April 14th, 2014 by PTC* | No Comments »
In a new band. I tried with the rock covers band I really did, but I just can’t do it like folk are expecting me too. I’m on the edge of snapping the entire time, just desperate to play a different chord or use a wah pedal or something. They knew it too. So whether I jumped or was pushed, the splash was just the same.
So, within minutes I had another band, it’s amazing how many musicians there are standing around when you need them. I wonder if the ratio is higher or lower than that of pilots travelling as passengers on board flights with ill crew members. I bet you could get funding to study that.
The band is twometresdeep and the best analogy I could come up with is Joni Mitchell jamming with Black Sabbath. We’ve been writing and arranging which has been with a mix of bits of songs brought in by the various folks and new stuff written as we played.
I am enthused. Normally I work with just my drummer buddy Craig, but this is very different indeed. There’s going to be a very diverse mix of sweet harmonies and acoustic passages to my usual grinding guitar and big beat drums. Real light and dark. I love it.
A couple of short clips from the first sessions. The songs are called one and two, or that one and the other one.
April 14th, 2014 by PTC* | 11 Comments »