The Pakora Pirates

A wee family trip as far as the first lock was our Sunday adventure. We put four packs of Mrs Unis’s pakora in the oven when we left the basin and by the time we got to the end of the line they were almost ready.

The sun was setting and the temperature was dropping but we were roasting inside with a well stoked log fire. The dim light and the wood paneling added to the coziness and it was sleepy eyes that cast off for the meander back to the basin.

Of course it being Scottish Canals who do absolutely no maintenance on anything on the Forth and Clyde Canal, given that that think they run a property letting agency with an inconvenient waterway running through it so they have sat on their hands so long the canal is now closed to coast to coast navigation, the prop got choked with uncut weed and we had to pull the Wee Spark into its berth with ropes in the dark.

Still, it was a fun end to the day for the three generations of Macfarlanes. The best of times and just on our doorstep too.

The Adventures of Ken, Chapter XIII – The Pelloby Conundrum

Heading for the hills is something people say when they’re referencing an avoidance technique. I guess then me and the girl were playing hide and seek.

The Lost Valley was always going to be our first stop on the way up. The truck got spotted in the car park by a buddy passing through Glen Coe.
My first thought was that I’ll never be a secret agent driving something so identifiable. But then, James Bond wasn’t running around in Vauxhall* Cavalier was he.

*Spellcheck just wanted me to change that to Valhalla. What the hell man.

It was spitting a bit but still really busy. The car parks were mobbed and the hills full of the colour spots of jackets going up, down and along.
It’s a nice wee wander up, haven’t been for a while. Don’t remember the rope banister up the rocks on the south side of the bridge, it was deep snow last time so maybe I missed it.

I also forgot how close the path is to the gorge, in fact there is no distance at all between the two in places. Holly did well but I was a little rattled at times watching her.
We got into the tumble of rocks and trees and stopped for a drink and a snack. It was humid and grey and felt like it was getting duller all the time.
Our hearts weren’t in it, dinner seemed like a better option. So after some fanning about we headed back down, home was just up the road a wee bit.

Tourist trap and calendar cliche it may be, but this was my first Munro and this place really is just awesome.

Invercoe was quiet and Holly loved the hobbit hut. Clean and basic, it’s good fun and had everything we needed. She did roll off the bunk in the night, but she does that, so it’s fine.

The nights’ expedition was a headtorch walk to the Ballachulish Coop for pastries. This place really is a life saver for trips up here. We saw a bat on the ground by the path. I told Holly it had been stunned in a life or death fight with an extra large moth and was now resting.
Aye.

Breakfast was in the cafe and the bad news over the patchy wifi was that the Gondola at Nevis Range was off due to high winds with an update at 1200.
We headed up anyway, got to be optimistic.

Optimism doesn’t drop wind speed and we were in Ft Bill when the gondola shut for the day. Treasures of the Earth maybe? We swung left. It might be windy but it was gorgeous, the cloud was broken and was too bright a day for a museum. We’ll keep going.

Ended up at Glenfinnan and did the whole tourist bit, exhibition, monument and cafe. Yes, we bought wooden swords. We still fight with them nightly, the furniture isn’t happy.

There can be only one?

Further on was the only way to go. The road to Mallaig is fast and easy now but takes you past all the good stuff. Not today.

My first trips up here were on the old road through Arisaig and Morar and seeing them again now the bypass was vital now that all the freight is off the rails and on the road. Has made the villages a little desolate feeling though. Doesn’t help being out of season I suppose.

The beaches are beautiful and we stopped at more than one. There were plenty of art materials for mermaid sculptures which the tide crept towards constantly, but it totally wasn’t a race to see who finished first.
It was me.

So many shells and the sea crushes them into the cracks in the rock all along the beach.

Miles from worries and hassle with blue skies, snacks and laughter. I think part me is still there.

How long did that take to wear away and how much longer will it last?

Mallaig has mixed memories for me, fun times heading for the ferry and also being chased by the locals for having long hair. Today it was kinda quaint, a sleepy fishing village where there’s a gap between the shops shutting and the chippy opening.

It gave us extra time to explore and watch the sky. It was cooking something up, a sundog shimmered briefly as the sun sank towards the Sound of Rum.
It was cold, we wrapped up and ate our (very tasty) chippy on the rocks as we watched the day slip away.

I dropped the tailgate to make a table and got the stove on, we had hot cuppas in our hands as the sky burst into flame.

I don’t know if anything can every really be perfect, but there are moments, or even days that are just right and maybe that’s as close to perfect as you need.

Every day we spend doing this stuff I will treasure. High school isn’t so far away now and I feel time is passing ever quicker.
For now though I have a best pal who laughs with me as much as at me and wants to do the same daft stuff as I do and in that ridiculous old truck too.

Ach, maybe can things can sometimes be perfect.

Dark Descent

With clocks and the seasons changing night time is right there when you least expect it.
Nice to be back in the Kilpatricks by headtorch and it’s the first time in months there’s no one else there.

I wonder if someone down there in Dumbarton is looking up thinking “I’m sure I saw a light up there…”.

Slayer

I saw Slayer were doing a farewell tour. Getting used to seeing that now as the bands of my youth get old, lose interest or members and make albums that no one buys or wants to hear at the shows.
I first saw them in ’86 and then plenty more times over the next few years then sporadically after that as they changed drummers and made what felt like recycled music. Maybe other stuff was just more appealing at the time.
I saw the reformed original line up a few years back and they were as good as ever, but I never really stuck to them again.

However, Gus said, want a Slayer ticket for Glasgow? Well, okay.

Best decision I’ve made in a while.

Missed Autopsy and Anthrax (haven’t seen either since the 90s, Monday night traffic, early show etc) but Lamb of God were surprisingly good, they had the full light show and played at headliner volume.
The singer had been driven to Glen Coe the day before on a break in the dates and now loves our wee country he says.

Slayer upped the ante though. Jeez. Taped intro and lights projected on a screen followed by endless pyro, glorious lighting and the loudest PA I’ve heard at an indoor venue for, I don’t know, for ever? Motorhead at the Barras in ’84 maybe?
I know it’s only two of the original four members (one deceased, one in the huff), but it was just epic. I’d forgotten just how intense Slayer can be but also that there’s moments of subtlety scattered through the waves of mayhem that let you catch your breath so they can crush you again.

I absolutely loved it. My ears were trashed, my knees were gone and my voice still isn’t back. It was an 80s metal show from start to stop.
The old CD’s are out and new ones have been bought, this was in the nick of time, I nearly missed it. Thanks Gus.

The Price of Freedom

I had the ultimate contrast this week. As a freelancer I depend on the phone ringing to pay the bills, and it’s a never a casual enquiry, it’s always life and death on the other end of the line. So, I do my best with that.

I did a job a while back and submitted my invoice. Now, it’s rare these days I have to wait more than a week for a regular to pay, but as it was a new client I let it run 28 days. As soon as that was done I sent a wee nudging email, I got a reply to that. Still no money though.
The next couple of emails went unanswered so I made plans to get to a landline with a little time to spare and make my feelings and intentions known over and sandwich and a cuppa.
“In a meeting…”, “not at their desk…”.
Aye.
I wasn’t going away though and I did eventually get a call back which saved me going to their door after I’d finished that last coffee. Hesitant and a little sheepish was the tone. I do have some sympathy, it’s not always the person you deal with, it’s sometimes a faceless arsehole in accounts that won’t ever have to speak to you. So never lose your temper, just be assertive and plain: here’s what’s happened, and here’s what’s going to happen next depending on whether I get paid or not.

I got paid within an hour of that call. Didn’t have to be so difficult did it? I don’t remember being so angry for a long time as I was that day.

As Jimmy says, I don’t mind working for my money but I don’t want to fight for it.

And the contrast?
“Goannae get your bill in!”
I’ll drop it off
“I’ll get it signed on Sunday, mind and leave it”
I ran out of time and ran over this morning and caught the folks arriving.
I got smiles, hello’s, thank you’s, a cheque, shake of the hand and “We appreciate what you do for us”.

I could have cried or hugged him, both probably.

This is why my beard is a different colour to what it was on the early pages of this place.
But I was reminded today that the bad guys aren’t winning, not just yet.

Willie Rodger 1930-2018

I was supposed to be an artist, I suppose I could have been many things. But my trouble is I have unlimited enthusiasm and passion for stuff, but a total lack of focus and discipline.

Willie Rodger was my art teacher for 6 years, all through high school, and he read me, my strengths and weaknesses right away. I think, more than anyone probably has.
He tried and succeeded to coax good work out of me for years and although he could see as I found other distractions over the years that I was losing my application to the task more than a wee bit, he never lessened his support and encouragement.

His latter advice was just to be creative and that it didn’t matter whatever I did, music, art, words. I always had great support from my folks, still do bless them, but to hear words of support to be non conformist from outside the family bubble feels somehow different, not greater or better, just different and maybe emboldening.
I met him by accident years later after he’d retired back to full time art and I was an engineer and we chatted about way back then and where to next. I was glad of that, leaving school is one of those final moments, so many full stops and dead ends and Willie’s affect on me went beyond that.
I wish we’d met again, I’ve done so much more stuff since that he’d have appreciated, music, art, words.

I think I’d have liked him to know that his advice is still a voice in my head to this day that helps me have the freedom to do the creative stuff I do, lining up a shot in the mountains, flattening out a blank sheet of paper, opening up Word or plugging in a guitar.

Thanks Willie, for way back then and for where to next.

One knee in the mud

Dalmuir Park fireworks is where we always end up, it’s usually very good and I can’t remember a night where it wasn’t clear and cold for the display.
Tonight it was pissing down and as they counted down to launch I swear it got defiantly heavier.
However, due to the power of positive thinking, or a rising cloud of ned sweat, or tory cuts affecting weather reliability, the rain fizzled out until the end of the display.
Nice.

Peter Hutchinson

Peter Hutchinson, founder of Mountain Equipment and PHD died aged 81 on Friday last week.

PHD had been very much on my mind last week. I’d been using two of the sleeping bags and other bits and pieces last week as I work on a long overdue review and then the winter sale post popped up on Facebook, complete with a purple Yukon jacket which had to be commented on of course. Then the news of Peter’s passing.
I only met Peter once when Phil and I went down to the factory for a visit. I was struck by the no nonsense, practicality of the man and the company as well as a joyful geekiness in his approach to the gear they made. He and Peter Elliott made a great double act and it was enlightening, educational and best of all, fun.

A workshop in a Victorian mill seemed the perfect place to find Peter and it took me back to my early years spent in similar environments where I watched blokes of a certain age weaving magic out of nothing. Steel stock or goose down, doesn’t matter, apply imagination and skill to either and I still think it’s a kind of magic when something good comes out the other side.

PHD has been a constant in my life for ten years or so and it’s part of a handful of elements that have made all the things I’ve done in the mountains not only more enjoyable that they might have been otherwise, but just possible. That’s thinking at work, not marketing.
Here’s to Peter and his generation of fellow innovators, the ones that did it all first.

Where the hell are you going? Said Gus, visibly amused.

Still this photie.

We were going to meet in the middle, the middle of a sort anyway, Loch Tay is sort of the middle, a middle which is probably anything south of the Great Glen.
A quick run up to the ridge, a camp by that big lochan and a jog back down and back to reality before we were missed.
However I was missed before I even headed north and had to visit some broken museum heating. I was already packed, I was ready, prepaired and repaired (old Laser Comp had been sewn) and oh my god, it was still late when I left.

Gus was in the same boat, that is a rudderless boat full of gear and running late. I got to the NTS car park on the road over the pass to Glen Lyon first.
The cloud was broken but moving pretty fast and it was cold when I opened and then quickly shut the door. Nice bit of snow, nice to actually see it face to face after a weekend of seeing it all on facebook.
“I have arrived” read my message. After a wee gap, he was driving after all, a lovely picture of a unicorn and a rainbow came through from Gus.
I appreciated this effort and mulled over it’s meaning before another attempt came through pretty quickly, “Grandtully!” this read. Not too far away then, back to worrying about the implications of the unicorn while I waited.

Soon enough there was banter and prepping in the car park, we were losing the light, but what the hell.

We wandered up the road, the sun already behind the ridges tumbling south from the Tarmachan Ridge. Showers roaming around but stayed away from us until we were higher and in the darkness.
Showers are just minging inconveniences at sea level, with a bit of height it’s like watching a dancer swish across the landscape, the layered skirts of rain or snow flowing softly across the hillsides. When the dancer turns your way though the spell breaks and it’s hoods up, get a move on. And we did.

Met some familiar faces on the way up, the NTS Path Repair Team. I’d interviewed the team back in July for the current members magazine and having a catch up was perfect for a companion piece that I’ll do on here.
Last time was on one of the hottest days of the year, now they’re in snow and rain with mud up to their necks. Heroes.

Meall nan Tarmachan gets pretty steep towards the top and we got wind driven snow, or it was more like micro hailstones I should say, to sting the cheeks and confuse the mind.
We’d rushed a bit and I was tired anyway, plus hungry and when we got to the ridge I confidently matched off towards the crags over the reservoir with Gus rightly saying “Er, no…”.

Turning round took us in the right direction. Jagged edged white shapes flashing in and out of sight as we trudged on through the dark. It felt further than the map suggested, that’s the hunger factor at work.
Been a wee while since I was in this situation, at 1000m at night in winter conditions looking for somewhere to sleep. It felt right, it felt good, it felt normal.

It helped that I was very comfy and warm. I was just right, even though I had a bunch of new kit on. I hadn’t sweated myself into a state or blistered into a stumble.
The ground slipped away to the north, this looked like it, the big lochan was down there, not too far. We found it, it was the big flat part with snow on it. Hmm, looks frozen.
Clang
Hmm, that’s very frozen.

“How much water you got?”
Er, a litre I think?
“Make it last…”

I could pitch this old  tent blindfolded and home was soon ready for residence with mat fattened and bags quietly lofting.
We made a cooking shelf on the bank behind us and the sound of gas burners cut through the unexpected silence as dinner bubbled ever closer.
Boiled in the bag chicken tikka, McK oatcakes and a wee Cabernet Sauvignon as the clouds cleared and stars twinkled above us ever so briefly.

This, I like this.

There was no night time ridge exploring, the lochan was circumnavigated to an extent, just enough to discover we’d found the best spot.
It got colder, the weather closed in and the only option was bed.

I was warm, in my old winter set up of PHD combi and liner, I was warm. I watched the frost grow up the inside of the tent as I kicked my socks off inside the bag.
In the early hours I actually woke up and had to pull down the liner bag as the temperature shot up, I lay there breathing in the cool air as the wind picked up and the tent started to shake. The spattering sound of frozen precipitation cut through the music in my earbuds. The temperature dropped again, I cooried in to my fat down layers as the red LED light showed the tent moving above me.
This old red flysheet had seen far worse than this, I didn’t give it a thought. Torch back off, I shut my eyes and nudged the volume up a little.

It was bright, not sunshine bright, diffused bright. It was half 7 or so, no way we were getting anything dramatic to look at over that ridge which was confirmed with a peer under the flysheet. A couple of inches of fresh snow had fallen and we were still in the clouds that had brought it.

Muffled coughing confirmed Gus was up too. Breakfast was now a priority, porridge and coffee. I had some water left and plenty fresh snow around to waste gas melting in the pot. The day was saved.

It was cold, but we were fine. A hot breakfast at camp is vital for me, it’s psychological as well as physical, I feel ready, even if that fades during the first steps of ascent after breaking camp, at least I started fresh.
We stayed for a while, one more cuppa is always welcome. Our patience was repaid with a few patches of blue sky and ever so brief views across to Meall Ghaordaidh and Glen Lyon. Never had views on the Tarmachan Ridge, this is the closest I’ve got I think. Ah well.

The creatures whose eyes we saw shining back at us and whose cries we heard in the night left its mark on the lochan’s fresh snow, not on us I’m glad to report.

We packed, wrapped up and headed for Meall Garbh. It was windy with a bit of snow carried in the gusts, fresh I would say.
That was as far as we went as we suspected would be the case. It looked awesome that narrow stretch heading west from the top, but not in big packs with a dump of fresh powder on it.

Back we went but this time we could at least see more than out pools of light. It’s proper winter and I wasn’t expecting that. Just awesome.

Under the cloud we saw colours again and the world was still there, just like we’d left it, maybe just with a lower snow line since the day before.
We met the paths team again, getting ready for lunch hiding in the helicopter rubble sacks for shelter. Really.

The plan was to grab some water at the burn and cook something hot at the car park, but it started raining and that idea soon washed away.
Dry t-shirts and socks and we were Killin bound.

Reading menus and peering through windows brought no transpiration until we got to the Falls of Dochart Inn over the bridge where a log fire and Halloweeen pumpkins had us pulling back chairs without hesitation.
The haggis was a joy as my cheeks burned and my suddenly gritty eyes looked ahead at the drive home.

A little bit #microadventure, a little bit hanging out with a china, all of it joy. New gear too, get around to that soon.

Lost Sector

I wonder how much of our time spent pursuing a passion is trying to find that feeling we had the first time we did it, saw it, felt it… ate it?

Familiarity has never taken the wow moments away from anything I love, the grin is always as wide when I hit that first chord, the giggling at the colours when the sun sets is just as giddy.

But it can never be the first time again, can it?

Maybe it’s a product of age, but I get flashbacks of a sort, moments of time travel where then and now meet and I swear I can feel “it”, whatever that may be.

This photie gives me “it”. I took it on Tuesday morning. The ridge had been hidden by darkness or cloud until the descent and now I couldn’t take my eyes off it on the way down. The nights’ fresh snow had given it a texture and a glow that went beyond pretty. I was partly, I dunno, 20 or 30 years ago, swinging Grivel climbing axes with enthusiastic incompetence with heels shredded in rigid boots as well as 21st Century Schizoid Man needing a hot lunch.

They say smells have the strongest memory triggers. Nah, these folk have never spent a lifetime in the mountains.

The joy and the melancholy mixed together in that moment was a strong brew indeed.

If I keep getting those moments, I am alive, obviously, but I’m still me too. As strange as that might sound, it’s good to know.

The bits inbetween

I’ve sort of gotten into the way of carrying a camera again, but I still find myself without it when I’m in places I could have been pointing it and pressing GO optimistically.
The phone saves the moments as best as it can, which is fine when it’s bright and clear, but why Sony of all people can’t make a decent low light camera for their current phones I don’t understand.

So, I get some wacky stuff that looks borderline psychedelic or animation still. I can live with that.

This one of Holly reminds me of something, movie poster or book cover that might have been briefly visible around the place a few years back?
Kilpatricks in the dark, love it.

Low tide at the beach is magic in the winter months.

The keys though, is it a youth culture thing, a remembrance thing? I kinda like not knowing the answers sometimes.

Camera strap in there. Ha.

I’m more of a kid that Holly is. She has advanced vocabulary* and uses it to put me in my place while I just laugh and do stupid voices to get her to keep running up and down in front of the old railway arch lights.

*Direct quote from teacher, I am proud. Proud.

 

No Photography Allowed

A wee spin out for lunch turned into a longer galavant. It’s often the way of it.

The big surprise was Kilchurn Castle being unlocked and accessible which I hadn’t been for years when we’d been here. There’s some closed areas, some fenced off bits and works are a little half heartedly underway. It’s a great place, I hope they fix it rather than forget it because it just exists and does not pay for itself.

Not far away is Strone Hill, a compact and very pretty forest walk. Two loops with benches by a burn, a waterfall and ancient spirits manifesting through the moss.
We’re suckers for these things, park, run, whoop and make up a story on the way back to the truck.

The most “Scottish” thing about this trip was this coo. Well, not so much the coo itself, but the story woven around it.

The big beastie is sitting on the path the Kilchurn Castle, it’s obviously where it hangs out when it’s not walking around slowly looking vacant.
However, after stepping over its tail, we were greeted by this first sign.

Then this one, because you totally took the first one on board.

Then there’s this one so they can find you and kill you for taking photies of the coo and not paying.

And then for bonus fun there’s the barbed wire protecting the photography business’s garden shed.

This whole thing is annoying and kinda distasteful. Normally I can just think “Fannies…” and wander on, but this all grated on me a bit.

Welcome to Scotland.