Without the sun, we don’t get visitors like this.
Without the sun, we don’t get visitors like this.
It was an exciting moment. We lit some candles in the fireplace, the dusty ones that have been neglected for months, sitting randomly on rocks and logs taken from peaks and woods all over this awesome wee country.
It was exciting because it means that the large chrome fan isn’t blowing all the time as the temperature has dropped and that the nights are coming in a little bit earlier every day.
This is good.
I’ve always hated summer. This one didn’t change my perspective. My blood came close to stopping flowing numerous times.
The hills were horrific, I sweated and wheezed up dry tracks and found no joy in it. I abandoned it all as I after have over the years and did other stuff until the good times came back.
It’s not far away now, the trees are tired, there’s gold in those leaves crying to come out, the clouds are dark and full of promise and I can breathe again.
While some evenings out were I hate to say it, near perfect, where the blue skies and the warm rock felt soft rather than angry, I can’t help but think of one message: Autumn, don’t let me down.
There are few things better in life that passing on a spark or joy or enthusiasm or interest and watching it catch in someone else.
The school knew of my outdoor stuff, a parallel career of sorts I accidentally fell into about 11 years ago and when it came to World at Work week they asked if I’d talk to some of the classes about it all. I love the school and the folk in it, it would be a privilege and a joy.
I put together a slide show and I was amazed at how much I’ve done over the years and how varied it’s been. It was easy to put a wee talk together.
Every frame on the screen was a story, an explanation, a joke and possibly a practical demonstration too.
I had the kids as base camp, expedition and summiteers. Their task was to make camp and get their leader to the top. All with a ten second timer on the camera to get the summit shot.
This meant a tent, bag and mat, stove, sarcastically warm down jacket and an ice axe. It also meant moving furniture, we piled chairs and tables and all the classes soon has a mountain to climb. Some summits were on the teachers desks, some were on a cupboard. All were conquered, with a photo to prove it.
I did a couple of classes in the morning and it went so well I ended up staying all day and getting round most of the school. The kids were brilliant, they were interested, full of questions and ideas and I had a total blast.
We broke a pole on the tent and they had to fix it, I let them do it and they made a splint with pencils and tape. It worked fine and it held through two other classes pitching it.
They were wielding an ice axe without rubber or tape on it, I said it was sharp and they were all careful, even the ones climbing the furniture with it to take the summit photie. Kids are young, not daft.
It was funny in Holly’s class, they had no idea that she goes into the hills and the photies of us in action got a good reaction.
Best of all for me though, they all listened. I talked for an hour per class and they never tuned out once.
I think it did me good too. Seeing what I’ve done and explaining the why and how attached to it made me realise how much knowledge and experience I’ve got filed away in my head. I don’t exploit it nearly enough. Just need to acquire some discipline and application to mix in with it.
A fantastic day.
While this hot weather has brought joy to many, its allure rather passes us by and we’ve been hiding. We cheered when it rained for half an hour the other day.
Wee quick jaunts aren’t always enough and Holly wanted to go further north despite the heat. The weather looked to have it wrong again, no rain in sight, so off we went in a blaze of sunshine, ELO’s Discovery album loud on the stereo.
Apparently there is no parking available in Scotland this summer unless you know some secrets, so we used one of those and parked up around a mile from the main road right at the start of the track.
It was a little grey to the north but the blue skies everywhere else were dazzling, and the beasties were biting hard so we didn’t stand around for too long.
It was warm. I’m really not a fan of walking in summer, but once we were clear of the trees there was an occasional breeze to keep sanity in close proximity.
The tadpoles are getting a bit froggy, can’t be far way from them all bursting out of their disguises and croaking it up at the Lang Craigs back home. When the old mill pond is full of frogs you can here them from the edge of the woods and it looks like a soup pot on the boil when you get closer.
A few spots of rain were very welcome. No jackets needed, it just felt delightfully cool as it soaked in and dried off quickly. We were on the edge of the cloud, we were stuck with the sunshine.
“Here”. The girl had decided we were having lunch, right here and right now. I got the stove on, ran in a circle to lose some of the midges, unpacked the mugs, ran in a circle… Everything was ready, just had to wait for the water to boil.
Boof. The rain came down and we pulled out our waterproofs. They were fine for a bout ten seconds when the rained upped the pressure. It was hosing down, the coffee was being bounced back out of my mug, our trousers were instantly saturated and water was running down my legs. I dragged all the gear under a little overhang by the track, including the still-lit stove and then just had to strand there and take it, no shelter nearby at all. Holly stood and ate her pasta with her hood up “Dad, it’s a bit rainy”. Yes thanks for that. I could feel the rain hitting my feet through the mesh on the top of my shoes. Heavy man.
Then it was gone. The sun split the clouds again and we were back on the edge of the action in time for part 2 of lunch, the sugary stuff.
The gear was all manky, there was something in suspension in the rain, sand or dust or ash from somewhere far away, seen it many times over the years. So I stuffed more than packed and we decided to head up the glen, see what was there. We got 20 feet when the first flash went off ahead of us, without a word, we turned and walk back to the trail junction. Let’s get back to the truck, maybe the weather man got it right.
The thunder was loud, overhead loud and the flashes cast a shadow around our feet. It fitted our story very well, The Stone Giant (we’ll come back to this later), as every crack and rumble was a plot point and a took us a few feet nearer the truck.
Long time since I’ve been out in such an active storm and this definitely made up for it, jackets went back on as the sky unloaded on us again. No wind though, so our wide brimmed hats were perfect. The rain ran off our brims as we marched back, laughing at the ridiculousness of it all.
The tadpoles were now swimming in fresh water and a DofE group were hiding in a group shelter as we hurried by, now exposed to the open sky and soaked through but so close to the truck. The biggest flash and loudest crash was just as we crossed the bridge and ran for the doors laughing and screaming.
We weren’t high up at all, but it really felt like being in amongst it. The first day in weeks the weather forecast got it right meteorologically and geographically for where we were going that day. Just a few hours out though. You buggers.
The Cobbler looked menacing on the way back out, there was flash flooding in Arrochar and terrified drivers doing 15mph on the A82.
This was brilliant day, a day to remember too.
Holly won’t let me forget it anyway.
I coexist quite easily with almost everything in life, that which I don’t understand I’ll investigate, that which I don’t like I’ll avoid if I can, that which I enjoy I will obsess over and wear it out like a favourite 7″ single on a cheap turntable.
Virgin Media have conspired to twist these elements into a cocktail of annoyance and inconvenience that has seen me without internet at home for the best part of a month (note to future self, that’s why there are no posts on here before this, you didn’t lose your enthusiasm again or throw yourself on the floor and bang your little fists helplessly shouting “I don’t want to do it anymore” etc).
Virgin are utterly infuriating to deal with, totally garbage on an organisational and corporate level and that’s quite apart from the cheeky call centre operatives, one of which stood out as I could see in my mind that he was leaning back, feet up, trying to show off in front of his friends with his gallus dismissive replies and impressive lack of knowledge.
Going back to my initial thoughts, it must be said that after enjoying something, then having to investigate it, I really don’t like it. Unfortunately I can’t avoid it and now I can say with total certainty that I despise Virgin Media and all they stand for.
I want to keep my landline number, how else will Green Deal call centres fill there day without my number to call, but that means reaching an agreement with Virgin. This is unlikely.
Going to SKY feels like collaborating with Murdoch which leaves BT. Sigh.
I deal with companies and institutions every day at work and occasionally play and never have I felt that the web of society is at full stretch held together only by a pair of crossed fingers and the power of greed.
Adric: It’s very distinctive.
4th Doctor: Yes. I’m not sure we should be distinctive.
I realise that my vintage wheels, a Ford P100, are not everyone’s idea of a classic car, but I love my old pickup truck. Amusingly so do a lot of other folk and as well as teenager’s stares and points (I’m assuming there’s a truck like mine in Fortnite, Overwatch or GTA), I’m forever turning down offers from strangers trying to buy it.
I was waved down in what I thought was a carjacking by an enthusiastic collector, I upset security guards when the lorry leaving the factory was abandoned half way through the gate as the driver jumped from the cab and started talking cash options.
At the queue in a BP garage, the bloke behind leaned over my shoulder “Is it the turbo diesel?”. Yes, with the five speed box. I had to run for it while tightly clutching the keys.
Best still was the group of car modders in a McDonalds car park, pointing at bits of it and looking underneath, they knew what they were looking at, more than me. Apparently the P100 is an excellent base for bigger Cosworth engines and fancy bodywork, and the rear wheel drive which makes life difficult for me in winter is a big hit for track-day drift fans. Who knew.
Mine is all original though, and in decent nick, maybe partly why it sticks out as well as there not being many around now. It’s not even worth a lot of money, just distinctive and fun.
The police liked it too. So when I went by the parked-up bike cop yesterday, he dropped his donut and chased me down with the “follow me” lights and gestures.
Yay, check point full of commercial vehicles. Polis, Driving Standards Agency and Trading Standards. Triple the fun while one mile ahead I had a control engineer and a property convener standing waiting for me to look at a new job.
I engaged them as politely as I could with white knuckles on the steering wheel, if they’re pulling rogue traders and genuinely dangerous vans off the road, it’s a job well done. While I know I’m one of the good guys, they have to find this out for themselves, and that’s not instant.
All my details checked out with the somewhat apologetic police girl, but Trading Standards were instantly annoying. They wanted to make sure I knew about a customers right to cancel. I pointed out the customer I was going to right there and then I had been working for since 1988 and we don’t even issue paperwork other than a final invoice anymore. I asked what the Tradings Standards policy was on trust built through years of delivering, understanding, reliability and cheerfulness under duress. They’re sending me an email on it.
The DSA were next. He eyed my 30 year old wheels. I’ll admit it, doesn’t matter how much I know this truck outside in, how much I constantly check it over as I go, it’s old and I was nervous.
Lights okay, steering tight, tyres good. Press the footbrake again? Once again.
Dammit, the crack in the lens must have let water in the other night in the rain. One brake bulb to change. Got a spare one in the cab.
He seemed unhappy, how could this old truck not have an obvious fault to get it off the road? The police were letting me go, wait he said, he wanted to look further. I could see his legs sticking out from underneath the body in the wing mirror.
Press the brake.
Press it, keep it pressed… You’ve got fluid.
What? I was out of the cab and underneath. He was right. The brake line goes from the caliper to a boss in a chassis member and out the other side towards the front. The nut was leaking under pressure, it was one of the new ones too. Christ. There was a pool of brake fluid on the road now.
This was a defect, this was notifiable, this was a trailered-away job. It was all over.
I dismissed that train of thought instantly and took a small shifting spanner out of my pocket, I’ll just fix it right now.
After some more testing it looked like both sides were weeping. Ah well.
I layed on the road on my back and fixed it, not just get-me-home style, it was repaired permanently and passed by the DSA style fixed. I got a certificate and everything.
By this point I was chatty with the DSA fella and as we washed up (I was covered in brake fluid) at his van I was talking through the possible outcomes. The brake reservoir had been full on Saturday morning, it was now just enough to get me back to base to top up. It had been leaking every time I pressed the brake, in maybe a day or two if I hadn’t caught it, the brake pedal would have gone to the floor and would have been in a vintage torpedo.
So, three things from this experience. Maybe four.
1/ On getting pulled over. As much as it’s an inconvenience, as much as we’re all “the good guy” and innocent of any bad intent, this spot check did its job today. I’m not annoyed at the folk doing their job there*. I am relieved and thankful.
2/ I’ve spent my whole life fixing or creating things and problem solving. A pocketful of tools and the ability to use them is something I got from Jimmy** and for that I am eternally grateful.
3/ Check the fluid levels more than once a week.
Optional 4/ How did the nut loosen suddenly after 6 months? A82 vibration or something more? I do wonder.
*Except Trading Standards
The bluebells are out and fading already, a short wave of glorious colour across flooding across the woodland carpet.
This photie is one I have on the wall. This time of year but becoming a long time ago now.
Where do the days go? If I find them, I’m grabbing them and holding on, there’s some I want to live again. And again.
Life really is too short.
I just realised something today.
I have relatively recently come to properly appreciate the joys of Netflix. Been signed up for years but just saw it as a virtual video rental shop, pretty much ignoring the first selection you see, the “own brand” titles, as low budget nonsense populated by down on their luck actors.
The Good Place, Stranger Things, Star Trek Discovery and a few others have changed my mind as they’re among the best things I’ve ever seen on the telly and I can’t help but see Netflix in the same light as the “regular” channels at their money-no-object creative best.
But, the way we pay for it is taking the piss. We have the licence fee, I mean, it’s the only way to get Doctor Who live on a Saturday without constant threatening letters. Then we have our TV/phone (a landline exclusively for calls about PPI, new windows, solar panels and folk looking for my ex wife)/internet package and then the optional cost of subscription to PS+ or X-Box Live if you swing that way.
It’s like a pyramid scheme or something, Netflix is cheap enough, but christ, you really have to prop it up with other money to get to it. Even on my phone in a tent I’m paying a subscription to access my subscription.
Media folk are just laughing at us all. Give us a taste, get us hooked then bend us over. They’re all in it together.
Can’t wait until Stranger Things Season 3 though “throws money at the screen”.
Too tired last week, didn’t stray far from home. Luckily home is in a nice place.
The green is getting really green, the showers had the leaves bursting with colour and life. Things are flying around and biting me enthusiastically. Summer “yay”.
The beach is awesome. Creatures in rock pools, what seems as many ships passing as there was when I was wee. The river is very much alive.
All this is on my phone, I really need to carry my camera all the time.
We had tents pitched on the lawn, trying them out for size and a wander up the crags never got further than the Overtoun House tea room.
Holly was making sure we weren’t wasting this new day.
There was still time for tattie scones though. I mean, the Russian invaders would have to be visible from the windae before we let that go on a weekend.
We thought we’d try some new socks this time around. Holly got her fancy Wigwam anniversaries on and I found an old pair of Injinji’s that I was probably supposed to review in 1975. She was still laughing at my feet a mile up the road.
We took the Loch Long road, the A82 was choked once again.
Hmm, instant self edit. I just wrote a rant and deleted it. You know what, I actually don’t care what other folk do. We got in the truck to find fun and that lingering air of positivety has sapped my enthusiasm for tearing into Loch Lomond day trippers.
Instead, the most memorable part of the journey is always going to be ELO’s Shine a Little Love with us singing along and doing the clapping part in the chorus high-5 style as we went.
Don’t let the bastards grind you down? Sometimes.
It was a funny sort of a day. At Butterbridge it was was very warm, the sun was splashed on the hills but we were in a patch of gloom that seemed quite keen to follow us.
We got the occasional burst of unedited sunshine and thought about reaching for the sun cream, but then it would slip away once again.
Still warm though, hats were dipped in the burn, chilled Robinson’s lemon was sipped often.
The banter was exceptional and hanging out with Holly like this has reconnected me to the outdoors in subtle ways as well as sharing the “Wow, look at that” moments.
The pace is slower, there’s a lot of looking ahead and looking up. I’m explaining and pointing, recounting old tales from the trail and making up just as much as well.
Volume 2 of the Loch Sloy Trolls was sketched out on this walk. Oh the drama, the tension, the bloodshed. The claws…
I’m looking up and thinking, oh I’d like to go there, even when I’ve been there repeatedly. I’m looking and I’m thinking “Have I got time for this?” and I don’t mean hours of daylight, I mean miles left in my legs and useful years of life past the end of this one.
It’s odd feeling older but also feeling, I suppose, hungry? Am I finally feeling what it is to be 49?
Glen Kinglas isn’t overly glamourous I suppose, it’s a landrover track serving forestry, farming and the arse end on the Loch Sloy hydro scheme. It’s good going underfoot and the views are as awesome as they are unusual. Indeed, the views were also new to me.
As well traveled as I am around here I’ve never been beyond the Abyssinia hut on this track. I’ve walked down to here, climbed up the slopes above the hut and walked to the top of Beinn Choranach and I’ve walked the widely ignored ridge on the other side of the glen from Creag Bhrosgan to Stoban Dubha and down to the hut through the crags. Never beyond though, the next steps were actually kinda exciting.
Beinn an Lochain looks amazing from here, sharp and er, mountainous. Beinn Ime looks unfamiliar, the broken east ridge definitely looks a wee bit racey and Beinn Narnain is a dark, sheer sided ridgeline.
It’s like looking at your best friend from the back in a crowd when they’re wearing a hat they’ve just bought that day.
Met a couple from the Netherlands here, on their last full day before their flight home and looking for the most fun route back before a night at Ardgarten. We chatted, I talked too much and fired too much information at them as usual but they smiled as it hit them like a box of tangerines from the top deck of a multi storey carpark (suspiciously specific?).
Damn me though, as we looked back, they took the route up I suggested. I kept looking back as they wound their way uphill. The ridge cleared and stayed clear, it must have been eye watering up there. Fantastic.
The tail of Loch Sloy was annoyingly invisible. Grassy hillside and forest were the dual inconveniences. Lunch, it is was about 1800, so dinner really, was warm and tasty. Protracted too, we had music and everything. And pastries.
Energy renewed, focus regained, we’d go and find the loch. The map said this was unlikely without a lot of effort possibly mixed with re-ascent and some bog hopping. Ach, we’ll see.
The forest track seemed more fun, it was a better venue for a story as we walked. I mean, that’s a troll bridge if I ever there was.
The riverside was boggy and we stumbled and slopped along it before coming out onto the grass and the sunshine. Here a culvert come aqueduct thing meets the river. It’s very like the one that goes to Blackwater Dam from the top of the pipes, being roofed with concrete strips. It curves around to Gleann Uaine picking up the burns around there to feed them into Loch Sloy.
Never seen it mentioned and it was a complete surprise, not really on a hill approach I suppose. So much of the hydro scheme tendrils to stumble upon in these hills.
We stood on a grassy knoll and finally spied the loch. We looked at each other and knew that was enough, it was nearly 100m vertical descent to the waters edge which we’d have to reverse. Nah.
The water level is very low just now so it looks a bit nasty and bare down there anyway, we can reenact the moon landings another time.
The culvert was fun to follow back, the sound of invisible rushing water was an odd accompaniment, like having a broken radio on in the background all the time.
Holly was tired, I checked when I got back and she did 8 miles all in today. The three miles back were fueled by constant banter and Morrisons Marathon* rip-offs, Sprinters bars.
She did so well, at times it was a roaster before the breeze arrived and she put in the miles in good cheer. I am proud as The Dad, but more than that I am so pleased for The Girl. I can see how these wee adventures are affecting her thinking and her bearing.
We had cows staring at us in an alarming fashion, birdlife swooping and bobbing, lambs displaying unbearable cuteness and then pleasantly cold air that came with a darkening sky.
One lamb had the best face ever with a perfect black metal corpse paint look. It had a wee limp as well. I definitely wasn’t up late worrying about it.
Might go back and see it this week though, you know, just in case.
*Stick your Snickers re-designation Mr Mars
It rains all the time here, little particles of ancient volcanic ash trickle down over the harder basalt layers. The ash dunes are soft and hard to climb but sharp on bare fingertips.
Come back a day later and your footsteps are gone, the rain washes them away again.
There’s a trail to take you here now, a quiet little grassy loop so, it’s not as hidden as it was. The trees on the opposite slope will grow and the long distance view will change, but this corner will become a magical little place.
The trees will bow and swish in the wind, their leaves will be carried away on the peaty water and the black rain will keep falling and carry the little crag a little further north. I’m not worried, it took ten thousand years to get it this far, I know I’ll miss the end of that story.
Always worth looking left or right, especially at the Lang Craigs. While there’s route markers now, they don’t tell you everything. We’ve made it accessible, but there’s still room to explore.
Don’t forget to look down too.
Let me hear your battle cry*
I was sitting with a fresh cuppa and despite an annoying amount of sunlight coming through the window I thinking about video games, it had been a busy and rather stressful week. Holly however was packing her rucksack.
Sometimes you just need a bigger spark when your powder’s damp.
We had talked about taking the stove next time, she was getting into the zone for wild camping and bigger trips so a quick detour to pick up some bits and pieces and we were rumbling north on the A82 again.
The sky was blue from right to left but as we moved onwards, a huge fat pulse of rain rolled slowly across the loch onto Ben Lomond where it seemed to stop dead, both hands round the summit.
We drove into its grey curtain and although the girl was happy enough contemplating a wet walk while sitting in her shiny new test jacket as the windscreen wipers ground the dust across the windscreen and then slung it away along with the fresh rain, I could see it far enough. I’ve paid my weather dues in full, many years ago, I was wanting it to clear up.
Wumph, we drove out the other side, like tripping out of the emergency exit shortcut from the cinema on a summer’s evening (specifically the old ODEON on Glasgow’s Renfield Street, where a manky wee spiral stairwell took you straight into the alley at the back avoiding the jostle of neds at the proper doors), from dark to light in an instant.
The girl kept humming along to the music, I just grinned wider.
Parked the truck and paid for the pleasure of it at Inveruglas where there were a lot of folk milling around and a closed cafe. Welcome to Scotland, bring a packed lunch. Ah, it’s as true as ever.
Holly’s all about stuff, she loves stuff. I’m glad she applies this to what might appear to be boring stuff to many youngsters: her heritage.
This is Macfarlane country we were in, the name belongs here and because we wear it, we can draw a line though time to put ourselves here, regardless of gaps in our family tree.
Names tie everyone to something, often an occupation, but old Scottish names are very definite on the map. It took me until my late 30’s I think to appreciate this stuff and I happily embrace now, there will be a piper at my funeral playing Flowers of the Forest and MacFarlane’s Gathering. Hell yeah.
So, this was a heritage walk, one we’d talked about for years. We look at the castle every time we pass Inveruglas, but she’d never been to see Loch Sloy, the little loch turned hydro storage tank and the origin of the Macfarlane cry Loch Sloidh!
We took the wee detour through the woods just past the railway bridge, the detour seems to be the main route now, the official “We hate Campers” sign has been posted here.
I fell straight on my face too, the moss slipped off the rock when I put my weight on it and took my foot sideways with it. Idiot. I deserved the sore hip I got.
I walked off the embarrassment and pain, explaining the sheep placenta we found to Holly took my mind off it too. Sheep and lambs became a feature of the day actually. I made have taken a blow to the head in the fall, the sheep began looking er, majestic and I took their photies. Often.
The tarmac makes life easy but the sun beat down on us. meaning the cool breeze wasn’t quite enough to keep us cool. Much rolling up of sleeves and legs took place until we got into the shade on Ben Vane later on.
It’s a glorious wee trek this, been around, through and across the meeting of tracks and trails more times that I can count and I still walk along with my head in the air looking at the tops. I love these hills, steep and rocky but so easy to grab a hold of.
Holly was in her stride now, she wasn’t even noticing the distance or the heat. The bridge ahead looked exciting “That’s the dam, look next to it…” Oh, there’s a cave next to the bridge! “It’s a tunnel, it’s… wait for me…”.
She wasn’t keen on going into the big echoey arch in the dam, besides there were more sheep to see. So nice, today’s sheep. So nice.
Nice top see the former water treatment plant site all cleaned up and blended into the terrain now, the photos I took all through it few years back are suddenly historical. I’ll need to dig them out at some point.
The tunnel was funny, Holly all stiff armed and serious. It was properly dark in there, I broke into a run near the far side and she shrieked and ran out into the daylight. Brilliant.
We picked a spot out of the breeze and unpacked the stove, dinner time. Absolutely perfect.
It was getting late, the light changed and Ben Vorlich took on an evening glow. Still no hurry though, there was exploring to be done.
A wander around the construction areas on the west just slowed us down from the main task, getting across the dam. She had no fear at all, straight on she went, standing on tiptoes to peer over the edge and running onwards to find the next likely looking vantage point.
The dam has grown into the landscape, it’s taken on the look of the rock its anchored too as best it can. The moss growing from the concrete doesn’t know any different.
The low water level currently exposes a bleached strip of beach around the loch, it’s hideous looking, but the dam really isn’t, it’s part of the place now.
On the far side we skipped over the gate and clambered down. Holly was now fearless and every arch was to be explored and tested for echo.
The gated entrance showed quite far into the tunnels under the dam, the lights being conveniently left on. Within a minute of leaving we were already into the story of the Sloy Troll, whose home was destroyed by the dam builders and who now lurks, ready to snare and eat any unwary workman… that’s why the lights are on you see. This story will be coming soon.
The walk out in dimming light was pleasant and punctuated by more frankly awesome sheep. I do hope this fresh ovine appreciation subsides again.
When Holly saw Loch Lomond back within easy reach her energy just went. The pace slowed and we played Guess Who and I-Spy to keep us going.
The sounds of geese reached us before the traffic noise and it wasn’t long before we reached the truck in the now empty car park.
The road was empty and the Stranger Things soundtrack’s retro synth sounds smoothed out the bumps on the way back down the road. Holly was quiet, her eyes closing and flicking back open, dead beat but not ready to let the day go just yet.
Not a bad way to look at life.
*All quoted from Saxon’s “Battle Cry” from the ’86 Rock The Nations album. One of the finest songs written about Scotland and it was written by Yorkshiremen. Bless you.
For something that probably doesn’t get used in anger as much as our other outdoor clothing, a waterproof jacket is something that seems to attract the most attention and debate.
A shell jacket as as much a symbol of intent as it is a practical garment, it looks wrong hanging on a peg in your hall. Just like a vintage BSA Gold Star, it shouldn’t be on it’s centre stand, polished up and sitting in the garage, it should be screaming down the A82 getting paint chips.
I made do for a long time, years in army surplus and PU coated nylon cagoules worn over woolly jumpers were actually just fine. Gore Tex was plastic, expensive and to be treated with suspicion.
Until one day in the Arrochar Alps where the sweat between my Peter Storm cagoule and my jumper froze. It was time to change up my clothing a wee bit.
Sprayway was my first call, but the flappy removable hood on the Torridon TL was annoying and although the velcro strips I added helped, it still wasn’t the best. That Gore Tex though, it really worked, especially worn over the assortment of fleeces I soon accumulated.
I kept trading up through the 90s, but my eyes were always drawn to the Karrimor Summit jackets in West Coast Outdoor in Fort William. It was a lot shorter than I was used to, but soft and it felt so light. It was expensive too, it was a proper mountaineers jacket. It had a nice wee multicoloured mountain logo on it. Ach, probably not for me.
Then one day in ’98 I was in West Coast and they had a stack of Summits with £100 off. It was the fancy new colours they said, folk didn’t like it. I tried one on anyway, it felt fine to me.
I pulled up the hood and that was all I needed to know, I was walking to the till.
The standard was set right there and then, my expectations now had a benchmark. Every hood I have ever pulled up since has to measure up that that moment in West Coast (it was up the stairs, on the left just before the shoes) where it was “just right”.
There’s been a lot of membrane’s under my bridge since then and features have changed a lot, weights have come down and styles have changed.
The current retro outdoor trend that is seeing 1990’s The North Face and Berghaus Gore Tex jackets sell for hundreds of pounds has allowed me to wear some of my favourite gear this winter without people pointing and laughing. I was even wearing one today now I think about. Where the hell did that rain come from and why is 20 year old 2-layer GTX ripstop so comfortable?
So, more than the other 20 year old gear I’ve dug out, I’m already very used to old Gore Tex again and you know what, I’m quite happy in it.
I have older Gore Tex, my Phoenix/Karrimor Diamond being a belter and still in good condition and the right size, but it’s just too big and heavy for this time of year. So I’m going with either of the sets below. One made in UK from ’98 and one Chinese from ’99, and Gore’s first proper step into lightweight.
1999 Karrimor Phantom Jacket and Pants, pre-production samples.
Jacket £200, 414g Size Large
Pants £120, 294g Size Large, including bits of duct tape and the two kevlar ankle patches I sewed on after shredding them with crampons.
The Phantoms probably fit with my current wants and needs for waterproofs given the weight and features but it’s not as simple as that.
The design is pretty clean looking, but it’s hiding some interesting stuff.
A lightweight jacket with proper cuffs, wide, big velcro adjusters. Get your gloves under or over these.
The elastic is lasting too, still some bounce left in it and the cuffs will pull up to my elbows. The arm articulation is pretty decent, some elbow shaping and armpit gusseting which gives a good range of movement, scarmbling friendly but not climbing friendly. The jacket is too short anyway, it barely sticks though the bottom of a pack waist belt so it would pop out of a harness all the time unless I’d imagine.
The hood is terrible. It’s a huge shapeless bag (space helmet compatible) with a single ineffectual volume reducing strip of bungee cord running vertically at the back. The peak is okay, not wired but keeps its shape. But just as you’re feeling better about it all the bungee running round your face pulls the hood in and it feels like your falling down a manhole in the street as the circle of light gets smaller in front of your eyes. It doesn’t move with my head either.
However, it rolls up with a velcro tab so you don’t have to deal with it.
The chest pockets are excellent. Nicely angled for stashing gear or warming hands and the inners are mesh which vent very well.
The pocket zips are regular zips which run so smoothly it makes using a current water resistant zip again an instant annoyance. The storm flaps cover the pockets perfectly well with a single velcro tab at the bottom corner to seal them up tight.
The big news here was the Gore Tex Paclite fabric. Lighter, more flexible, more breathable they said. It’s two layer, the PTFE membrane is visible, protected by the little rubbery dots printed on.
There was a great wailing and moaning when this version launched, Paclite I we’ll call it – version II was garbage with an inner coating and the dots, III was better with just an inner coating that does help manage condensation a wee bit.
The complaints came from the inner wetting out, which it does especially if you wear a lot under it or are working hard, over just a base layer it works fine for me at times, but it was always difficult to get a consistent performance.
The other worry was durability and actually that turned out to be okay for me, the membrane has discoloured in places, I’m assuming oils and dirt contaminating the lamination in some way, but it never delaminated or peeled, even on the pants which had some hard use over the years.
The matching pants are excellent in every way other than the weak ankles which had to be patched with the kevlar cut from the knees of some too-small Rohan techy pants.
The lower legs have zips and velcro flaps and the elasticated waist has a drawcord, that’s about it. The real revelation is the cut, these are the best shell trousers I’ve ever had regarding fit and mobility.
Pulling them on is odd as my foot slides down they feel tight, then slack, the same happens on the other leg, then fastened and adjusted they’re suddenly perfect. No stretch at all and I have unrestricted movement due to the clever articulation and gusseting. The clever backside and rear waist means they don’t slip down, no cold kidneys, no readjustment on the move.
I will continue to patch these until there is none of the original fabric left at which point I will send then to someone clever and have them make me another.
1998 Karrimor Summit Jacket and Pants
Jacket £250, 684g Size Large
Pants £200, 630g Size Large, including braces and patches
Clean and simple and maybe a bit boxy too, this is my favourite shell combo of all time.
The cut is relaxed on the jacket and it feels odd compared to the current closer fit we’ve all got used to. Breathable fabrics work better closer to the body but in the worst winter days, being able to coorie into a bigger cut jacket had a great psychological effect. I was winning, the weather was losing.
Articulation is okay, the looser cut helps this although there is some decent forming around the pits and elbows. It’s too short though, it needed an extra couple of inches on the body which they gave it the next year. They changed the rest of the jacket too though, That did not go well at all.
The hood is the work of a pact with satan, it must be. It has the same single vertical volume reducer as the Phantom above, but here it pulls the peak up and the the hood into your head. The face drawcord seals you up and pulls the whole hood in. Slack or tight, it moves with my head and the huge peak kept out blizzards out convincingly for years.
A main zip that literally and figuratively zips up and down, oh I love zips that move so easily. You could also leave the zip half done and touch the velcro together for a little bit of extra venting while still keeping the snow out. Storm flaps, what a clever and useful thing.
The map pocket is huge and useful. I think in more recent years I started using chest pouches because I didn’t have this pocket anymore. Kidding aside, it’s not a vital feature, but the pocket bag is a light fabric so it doesn’t affect breathability too much, so why not.
The chest pockets are excellent. Yes they’re double fabric, but I could and can live with that. The pockets have slick and fast to use regular zips, wide entries placed at 45 degrees and a big capacity. I’m pretty sure Rohan had a very similar pocket design back in the 70’s, innovative in a time when pockets were flapped rectangles.
The pockets are external and are gusseted/bellowed to make them 3D, that meas you can pack them and they don’t overly affect the way the jacket sits. Modern closer cut jackets have waterproof zips and internal pocket bags, packing the pockets affects the way the jacket sits, sometimes raising the hem up. I’ve been A/B-ing this to test the theory, I’m not making it up.
The untaped external seams let water bleed out too, you can stash wet gear in these pockets. Aye.
The fabric is great, the lightweight ripstop was way better than the Taslan I was so used to. Softer, more packable as I started to carry ever smaller rucksacks and I think it breathed better, but maybe not. I could just have been justifying my purchase to myself.
All in all: yes please.
The matching pants tell us that softshell legs were still in the future. These big fellas were to be worn over fleece or powerstretch and at that they excelled.
Braces for stability and being able to have a looser waist, full length zips for quick on/off and internal gaiters for fastening over the big boots that used to give me blisters every time I went out.
They’re nearly the same weight as the jacket and they only went out on days I knew I’d be wearing them, I used to carry cheapos from Millets otherwise until I got the phantoms.
I loved them though, the same tangible level of protection that I got from the jacket made these feel like a fortress. On the worst days, these did make a difference and if I was going back to powerstretch leggings, these would be getting packed in winter once again.
I know nothing is perfect, but I like more features on the Summit Jacket than I do on a current equivalent. It feels ergonomic despite its straight lines and boxiness, it feels utilitarian and accessible and it feels protective.
The only things that feel like they were put there to catch the eye of someone looking for a bit of style on their mountain are the strong colours and the branding.
Its definitely not a traditional Karrimor look, but I really like it and the performance of golden era Karrimor is in there.
Can it be that fabric performance has progressed and design is just going around in circles in a cul-de-sac? Did those two elements pass each other on the way to the present day and not stop to talk?
Well no, but still.
Dammit man, those old pockets.
I’ve used waterproof socks for years but always with mixed results. Gore Tex socks were always a hit and miss affair with the chance of a perfect fit being very remote and the likelihood of taped seams being placed where they would eventually give you blisters being high.
Sealskinz were better but I never liked them for trekking, too slow to dry and just not that comfy, the stretch and form just wasn’t enough for me. However, for winter mountain biking, they were very nice indeed.
So Bridgedale’s press release raised an eyebrow, they can do socks, but can they do waterproof without all the usual drawbacks? Rarely off my feet recently have been the mid-height boot versions.
Seen above they look a bit like socks, what’s not so obvious is the slightly wetsuit-esque texture to them. The construction is a sandwich with nylon outer for abrasion resistance, a HydroTech membrane which gives you your waterproofedness and almost a regular liner sock inner with a bunch of merino in there. You can see below the pattern is pretty familiar with loopstich at the toe, heel and sole.
There’s lycra in there too and along with a big amount of stretch in the membrane this means that the wetsuit feel isn’t overpowering. In fact when I pull them on, the initial gentle compression I get everywhere but the end of my toes is unnoticeable when I get my foot into a shoe. It just feels like a normal, medium weight sock.
These mid heights are perfect for what I’ve been using them for which is bog hopping around the Lang Craigs in mesh trail shoes. The ankle stays up and there’s enough of a seal from that and the elastic cuff that I haven’t had anything running down from wet legs yet, despite a couple of soakings.
The smooth but tough nylon outer works well, I’ve purposely tried to put a hole in these by my choice of terrain. Mud full of tiny heather and grass fragments grinding away in the gap between foot and footwear has been the death of many a Gore Tex boot liner and here that tasty mix has been dried and reapplied without washing several times. Even filling the sock with water from the tap and standing there holding it over the sink, no holes seen as yet.
Actually doing that is probably a bad idea, it must really stress the membrane as there’s a lot of stretch in it, so it takes a lot of filling, which is a lot of weight. Hasn’t burst yet, I’ll keep trying.
Of course they are warmer than regular socks, but not as warm as I’d feared. On long stretches of dry trail (yes, this can actually be found, it’s not a rumour) my feet do heat up, but I’ve not overheated yet. It does make my feet sweat more though, and that’s where the sock has to do the other half of its job, get the sweat out.
I was expecting them to struggle, in a shoe, wet and covered in mud, no way they were breathing. Turns out, they kinda do.
I can’t be scientific about this, I mean, it’s the internet where opinion is presented as fact, so you know, trust me…
But, my feet are keeping an enjoyable level of dryness. The inner sock wicks well and I’m assuming the constant heat source from my feet is trying to pump the sweat further through the sock layers to the outside.
When I’m regularly ankle deep in the bog and the socks are constantly saturated on the outside, taking the sock off, my bare foot feels slick, but not wet. These conditions keep my feet cool too, so the sock should be struggling and it’s still doing its best.
Another thing about being saturated is the squelching in my shoes. I’ve been convinced several times that the socks had burst and were full of water as it felt just like it, but no. What this does tell me though is that despite the apparent thickness and rubustness of the socks there’s still decent sensitivity around my foot, important in trail shoes.
I’ve tried wearing them for days straight, leaving the mud on overnight and rewearing them next day. Partly so see if I could get a hole in them, partly to see how they would smell and also to see how fast they would dry.
No holes yet as the previous disappointment indicated and the smell is good. Well, not good, no sock is ever a good place to go for fun smells. Unless it’s brand new sock just off the loom made from the finest plushest alpaca fibres. Hold it against your cheek, close your eyes, breathe in deeply, feel that warmth, the security, feel the..
Anyway, moving onto drying time. They dry on my feet really fast when walking on dry terrain, taking my shoes off for lunch they dry well, lying ignored in a corner overnight doesn’t work so well. So, for backpacking, they’ll be turned ootsides-in and spend the night in the sleeping bag. They need a heat source to dry.
Washing I have done by hand and by machine, jeez the outer sucks in a lot of dirt. Fully wet like this they take ages to dry naturally. The temptation is to throw them over the top of the radiator but I’m sure that’s going to do them any good, so it’s been a manual squeeze in a towel and onto the clothes horse near a radiator.
Washing and wearing is loosening them up, relaxing them maybe. They came flatpacked, now they kinda keep their tubular foot and ankle shape.
The three striptease photies here show a typical drier day’s run in the Storms. I keep taking the socks off expecting to see a muddy tidemark on my foot, but not yet.
It’s a sock, it is waterproof, it’s comfy.
I know I’ll wear them out at some point, I’ll either hole them or the elastic at the ankle will go, that “when” is the one gap I can’t fill in my assessment.
Until then, I will be wearing these two or three days a week. I think that thought is probably what sums it up.
£32 to £48 for light versions to beefy knee highs.
When talking to some outdoor pr folk over the past couple of weeks, “I knew this would happen” was the first comment I got, “Glad to see you’re doing your own thing again” was the next. I guess gear reviews are back.
So out goes compromise, censorship, and having to pick a winner from a group of almost identical items all of which are “okay” unless one accidentally happens to fit you perfectly which elevates it to “good”.
In comes enthusiasm for random items which I kinda like the look of, have interest in, look unusual or get flagged up and surprise me. There won’t be as much stuff as there used to be, I want to enjoy it and I want to maximise test time too. I’m currently in the hills three or four days a week one way or another, I’m feeling good about doing it again.
This is all partly fueled by my 20 year old gear challenge, I can’t help but get drawn into it all. The mountain man in me loves it as much as the engineer does.
However my perspective has changed, I’m not seeing that much that really excites me. The mountain brands clothing is all largely interchangeable, swap the logos around and no one will notice. I really miss individuality and character.
I’d actually be quite happy to see the old gear I’ve looked out be plundered for ideas, a lot of the thinking back in the day was good and I think aesthetic trends are neutering the designers performance ambitions in some cases. It’s all about sales to the casual bystander.
But there is indeed joy, I have seen it and I am now using it too. Tilley have sent in a LTM6 for test which will replace my assortment of army surplus bush hats this summer. It’s expensive, is it good?
On my feet are Obōz Sawtooth Low’s, a brand that had completely passed me by and which have made an impression on my feet after a few days wear. What impression are they doing? We’ll come back to that.
A familiar name is scrunched in the shoes with some Wigwam Makua Valley Pro Socks. Is that design showing cooling jungle palm leaves or the white feathers of shame?
More on the way, how it will cope being compared with gear 20 years older is a question I’ll enjoy trying to answer too.
In times past I used to drop everything and run, the weather would stick a pin in the map and and I would go straight there, grab it and use it as a tent peg while marveling at the sunset and running around with a tripod and a camera on a 30 second exposure setting.
Times changed, all that stopped and I dropped out of virtual, digital and actual sight because the last 18 months or so I’ve had a more important role, that of single parent (nobody’s dead, still tragic etc) to the awesome girl seen in this post here and all through the ten years worth of pages behind it.
It was an easy adjustment to make, I never even thought about it, randomly disappearing for a few days here and there just wasn’t an option. There was never any frustration, I had no pressure to go anyway after Walkhighlands pulled the plug on the reviews and the desire just wasn’t there, Holly needed me close to home and I wanted to be there.
What we never stopped doing was going into the hills together for a wee gad about, every chance we got we were up the A82, exploring, having lunch and arguing about what music to listen to in the truck.
We’re still doing that, but we both have been finding more energy and enthusiasm the past few months. Holly’s been asking to go, if I say I’m thinking about a trip she’s asking to come along and off we go, whatever the weather. And now of course we’re hitting the trails.
Holly’s been approaching it on her own terms, sorting her kit out, packing a rucksack and then standing at the door telling me to hurry up. She’s even taken over the gear testing, more of which imminently.
So when the plan for taking advantage of yesterday’s stunning weather changed from a solo camp to me and the girl heading north as a team there was nothing but grins from either of us.
The sun did indeed beat down, the cool breeze above the trees was a life saver. Nice to be back in trail shoes and a trekking shirt too.
The returnees from Beinn Laoigh all looked hot and bothered, there were some skis in evidence, strapped to the sides of packs, some mad bastards had been screaming down the coire. Looked awesome from Cononish and I bet it was nice and cool in the shadow of the summit.
A fine hill, I should go back, been a wee while.
We had walked by the riverside on the way in and decided to find our way back as the beaches looked awfy inviting for wasting some time on.
We found a perfect spot where the river was broken by some rocks and then thrown down a little waterfall. We had the last of our snacks and dipped hot feet into the heart-stoppingly cold water, snowmelt straight from Coire Gaothach.
A little rest soon stretched out to an hour and more, it’s amazing how much fun you can have just skipping around rocks in bare feet.
We didn’t want to leave, so we didn’t. My pack made a convincing pillow, which Holly found amusing and caught me rotten with the camera.
The giggling stirred me from my doze, I removed the hat and my freshly dazzled eyes looked straight up at a Golden Eagle, lazily circling high above.
Quick, gimme the camera!
No dad, you’re not deleting it… (runs across the rocks)
But.. Look… There’s an eagle… it’s… quick…
Well, the moon was still there by the time we sorted it out. Holly did get to see it too luckily.
Of course the way memory works, in a year or two the sighting will have developed into a life or death struggle between the bird, the angry badger in its talons and us watching helplessly as we cling onto the icy rocks at the edge of a 100m waterfall as our canoe shatters on the boulders at the bottom.
The West Highland Way was full of folk, and the hillwalker car parks were full and the A82 is now much better between Crianlarich and Tyndrum, smooth, cheap tarmac now thinly carpets the road surface. It’ll be down to the canvas again by winter. Yay.
What a brilliant day.
2001? That’s how much lunch was. Oof.
“I’ll come too”, and with that a dash uphill because a patch of blue sky had appeared became a family affair.
The blue patch proved elusive in location and inconsistent in transparency, which is to say it clouded over a wee bit. So no fancy sunset, but it was all still very pretty if a little windy.
Bats, birds, deer, a falcon and a slug rolled up like a doughnut. It was like being on safari.
The primrose were blossoming in force and we took some unusual route choices to avoid doubling back. Steep slippy slopes brought no panic or gripping onto dad’s arm and the joy of watching Holly skip from mossy boulder to mossy boulder on the handful of burn crossings made me swell with pride. She’s got it, she’s got the head and the feet linked up.