Guiding Light

Still a ranger at the Lang Craigs and you’ll find me there often. Well maybe, I’m rarely on the paths, so look for a garishly coloured shape on the skyline somewhere.
The trees are growing, the landscape is morphing ever so slightly, ever so slowly. Lower down there’s natural play and accessible paths, higher up the slopes park benches now wait for the more intrepid visitor in slacks and sensible shoes.

It can still be wild if you know it like I do though. So when I do guided walks on the site, that’s what folks get to see.

I can call one or two of this group in the photies friends having known them for years, but most didn’t know what to expect and I didn’t give them time to wonder either as the “informative banter” started immediately. I had another group with some French folk in it, amazingly they tuned in to every word, maybe there’s something in the Auld Alliance right enough.

It was cool not cold, not too bright but not too dull and good grief we got an unexpected eyeful. The Craigs never get routine for me, but now and then they splash an extra wide grin on my face that wasn’t feeling likely when I got out of bed that morning.

There was happy chatter over lunch above the clouds from a group largely looking at retirement as a fond memory. They could move with a purpose though on so many replacement knees, even when I took them on the scenic, somewhat scrambly descent.
Sharing this place with good folks like this lot really is a joy.

Get your group booked in.

Tenement Funster

In my quest on a return to fitness I walk a lot, the extra couple of miles a day nipping over the my folks’ house and back all adds up I’m sure.
I pass this old tenement and it’s become a thing for me, seeing what lights are on. It’s mostly kitchens and bedrooms on this side so sometimes it’s in darkness but sometimes everyone has had the same idea and is making supper or getting ready for bed.

I assume. Maybe there’s a child who won’t go to bed that’s making PlayDoh Marvel figures in the kitchen while mum watches Call the Midwife (that’s not a gender stereotype btw, Midwife is the second best thing on the telly after Casualty) and in the bedrooms are middle aged men with train sets desperately seeking youth before reality pulls them back under on Monday morning.

Every window has a story. Mainly made up ones obviously.

Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon

We’re too close to the hills to not take a run into them at the slightest excuse. It was pissing down and everything out there was sodden, but that just gave the snowballs a bit of bite when they hit the back of your neck.
Hot chocolate steaming up our glasses, wet gear misting up the truck windscreen, laughter louder than the CDs we fight over to see who chooses next one as we rolled home for dry socks and mindless prime time telly.
Been just the two of us for a year now, it’s just as well we get on so well.

Still Savage

I can’t think of many bands that I got into back in the day that still impress or inspire me when they make new music. As much as I love Black Sabbath, their world #1 comeback album “13” is something I’ll probably never listen to again. Alice Cooper’s recent Paranormal album is actually the best thing he’s done in many years but I still skip to the two tracks at the end where the original 70’s band are performing some new stuff.

The original Alice Cooper Group played a short set at the end of every show on Alice’s UK tour last year and it was emotional. I’ve heard those songs played by the hired hands in Alice’s touring bands dozens of times over the past 30 odd years and for the first time they sounded just right. A bunch of rusty 70 year olds crushed a bunch of fast fingered young pros.
I don’t know if there’s a future for the originals as a unit, but being in the room with that handful of classic songs played by the hands that wrote them lit a little flame inside me somewhere.

I digressed myself again.

Success seems to suck the inspiration out of musicians, you’d think the widespread free downloading that has made recorded music almost worthless would fire them up and have them wreaking a terrible vengeance etc, but all they do is charge more money for concert tickets and t-shirts. I think I should get all that stuff half price because I still buy the CD, I’m not part of the problem, give me a break you bastards.

The one glaring exception in my musical world is Gary Numan. In the mid 80’s he lost his way, while there were still tracks that shone and the live shows were mostly fun (other than the tuneless backing vocalists he took along for a few years) I was buying the new music from habit, or probably from fan loyalty. Something that doesn’t apply across the spectrum of music I like, I abandoned Judas Priest a few years ago when their reunion derailed in a pileup of Strictly Come Dancing costumes and cliched video game soundtrack metal.

I’m glad I stuck with Numan because he eventually pulled himself back. From the mid 90’s he made music again that I wanted to listen to, there were still misfires here and there but the new world of social media showed the man behind the erratic journey and made it a little more understandable.
Forward to 2013 and the Splinter album was very strong, all the threads of promise shown in the preceding years had finally joined together and here was an almsot complete album, a belter of a Numan album.

Then last year he released Savage. I wasn’t ready at my age for music to impact me the way this album has. I watch Holly enthuse over Panic! at the Disco albums and stuff and then I look back at myself holding the Savage CD booklet (see, told you) in my hands as the music pours into my head through my headphones. It’s gripped me the way music first did 40 years ago and I don’t know why.
Taking an as objective step back as I can manage, it’s his best work since Telekon. In fact it stands side by side with that album, Replicas and The Pleasure Principle. Five months on and I haven’t wavered on that thought, turns out there was no novelty to wear off.
The Glasgow live show was as good as any I can remember ever seeing, that synths are heavier than guitars in the live arena I can live with, metal doesn’t have a monopoly on heavy.

I’m taking something from this: that getting older means nothing. If a man in his 50’s can still create something new and inspire with it then there’s hope for us all. If a man nearly 50 can be inspired and still find that inner fanboy alive and well, then there’s hope for him.

Best Day Ever

As I have failed to find an amusing Alpaca related title I’m with Holly’s assessment of the event: “Best Day Ever”.

She’s like me, forever finding new things to add to the list of topics to enthuse about, research and explore. Llamas and alpacas has been #1 for a while so some sort of trek was always going to happen, when birthday time came around it was the obvious choice.
There are quite a few folk doing this now, but Bobcat Alpacas in the Pentlands south of Edinburgh was accessible, they looked friendly and it was easy to get home from if it didn’t go as well as I’d hoped.

Holly shrieked and whooped in a key Michael Jackson couldn’t have reached when she found out and getting out of school a little early to get there didn’t hurt my official dad rating either.
It was however a freezing cold, damp, windy, miserable day and all I could hear in my head as the truck rumbled east on the M8 was “Dad I want to go home” when the furriness of the alpaca became less attractive than staving off hypothermia as we wandered through the hills. However, the warm welcome we got when we arrived and also dressing for the weather (it turns out we have a good bit of warm outdoor clothing around the place) meant that the furriness was enough to keep the smiles on for the rest of the day.

It was always in the back of my mind that I might be participating in an exercise in exploitation, dragging animals around against their will as a leisure activity. The worries were quickly gone when I found that the alpacas were just like you seen on the telly; friendly, quirky, inquisitive, cuddly and very hungry. It turns out these walks are doing as much good for the alpacas as it does for the walkers (walkees?).
They just loved being out, seeking out snacks in the scenery, having a wee scratch on a jaggy bush and pretty much doing what they liked, luckily mostly in the general direction that we were supposed to be going in.

We both led, followed and accompanied our own alpaca, I had Milo and Holly had Amadeus, they both had distinct personalities. Amadeus was mostly calm unless he saw something very tasty and dragged Holly off here feet to get to it while Milo was a little mental and through himself into the undergrowth unexpectedly a couple of times. That works for me.
One of the others sang the whole time, one wanted to run, one was just little and stayed by the owner Bob, a hell of nice fella who’d retired from the civil service and started Bobcat with his lump sum. He’s got the right manner for this, loves the animals and happily fields stupid questions from the likes of us. How many times a week does he hear “Is this not a llama then?”

It was maybe like the kids let off the bus on a school trip, there was a plan for when they got there and everyone got back on the bus safe and on time, but the chaos and hilarity inbetween is what made the trip special.

We had a fine wee trek on the edge of the Pentlands. The alpacas were great company, the rumours about the calming effect are true, the exude peace and contentment through their miraculously thick and plush furriness. Whatever is going on in their heads is pure genius and gold plated. I reckon they’re waiting for humanity to wipe itself out and they’ll replace us at the top of the food chain with a different message to give to the other species “Okay, a fresh start. We’re just going to chill okay? Yeah man, just like that”.

Back at the farm we visited the rest of the flock/herd/pack and did some feeding just as it got dark and the sleet started to bite. We got a ball of Milo’s wool and I had to prise Holly off of Amadeus and drag her back to the truck to thaw out. It was over far too soon and we will go back. It was indeed the best day ever.



Needing a restring

Music is never far from my ears or fingers but I have to wonder if it’s worth the effort sometimes. Years ago I learned that doing stuff all by yourself can be a good idea. Mistakes have to be fully owned and although a success not shared with others can feel a little underwhelming the fact that it’s all hassle free can definitely outweigh that.

I went into the studio late last year to record an album with one of my old bands, twometersdeep. I was pretty reluctant at first, some of the personalities at play were often too complex to work with and me being the only engine running in a forward gear all the time burned me out when we were together the last time.
But jamming again showed how easy it was for us to create music we all loved and I got pulled straight in. A handful of rehearsals with my old mate Stevie from my other band Trinity on drums and we decided to give it a go.

The first week we were all in there to record guide tracks but by the third week I was in the studio by myself laying down guitar tracks with Stevie having finished the drums sitting in the control room being in turns encouraging and sarcastic. I was in my element, I felt inspired, I was winging it the entire time and I put down some of the best guitar I’ve ever done.

And that’s where it ends. The next sound heard by the studio engineer was the sound of the toys thrown from the pram hitting the studio floor.
I’m disappointed. Not in anyone else, but in myself for not knowing it was going to happen and I’d been stuck with a job half done and no one but me to finish it. Again.

I just want to play.

Karrimor Whillan’s Alpiniste Redux

A while back Karrimor started making some heritage themed gear, some vintage looking clothing and gear that probably fits the legacy of the name better than the generic tat filling a Sports Direct near you at low, low prices.
The heritage gear is still aimed at the high street though, it looks every inch like the wardrobe of a mountaineer or adventurer from back in the day*, but it’s fine fabrics will be rubbing against the seats of a Range Rover Evoque, not the wooden bench of a bothy.

There’s disdain in my tone of course but also a grudging respect. As much as you might expect the designers to look at a few old photies and fudge together some gear that looks the part, they didn’t, they went to the source material for some of it.
The “Karrimor K100 Whillan’s Alpiniste by Nigel Cabourn” pack that turned up in stores I’ve never been through the door of such as Van Mildert with a RRP of around £700 (good grief) was done right, exactly right. I know this because they used my original 60’s Whillan’s pack as the pattern for it.

I trusted the man I sent it to, he had made it himself back in the 60’s after all so I wasn’t worried when my Whillans was gone for a good wee while to be poked, prodded and mostly likely stretched a wee bit.
Thread counts, exact dimensions, textures, materials, construction detailing, everything was inspected and modern equivalents were sourced, sampled and tested to make the reissue as close to the original as possible. In same cases they found the obscure original manufacturers, look at the studs that attach the lid.

They did all this in a Glasgow workshop too, itself as historic as the goods being recreated inside.

Metal, leather and cotton. It speaks to me more than any synthetic.

The geekiness that comes off the depth of rightness that the redux exudes is totally joyful. It’s the joy of me getting to play a song on stage with Black Sabbath, the joy of Brunel coming back to life and seeing the Millau Viaduct, the joy of Holly already knowing all the facts in their new Victorian class topic because she’s got a head full of Horrible Histories.

The redux will wear in like the original, the construction and fabrics are right. You’d need to work on those leather straps to get them form-fitting like mine, but they’ll do it eventually. You’d have to use it though, it needs dirt, sweat and spilled flasks to season it. Leaving it on the back seat of your Range Rover would be a travesty.

*I’m saying “back in the day” is anywhere from the mid 70’s back to 1745.


We all live in the same museum, we all rearrange the same old song.

Caspar David Friedrich was first though with Wanderer above the Sea of Fog in 1818.

200 years later we’re all still doing the same bloody pose.

Take out the papers and the trash

I told stories. The room was full of faces waiting for something worth their time, I had no notes and no real plan, but I did have a head full of words.

I always have a head full of words. Big ones, small ones, funny ones, sad ones, totally made up ones and this was the first time in a long time I’d loaded them up and fired them.

90 minutes without a pause or a prompt and with only the slightest of trip-ups (I’m pretty sure I got away with it, but for next time I must remember that the sun rises in the “East” not “Eh… er… that way”) in front of the harshest of critics and the most unforgiving of audiences. Holly’s primary 6 class.

I had my jacket in my hand, but we had one more tale instead of the prep they were supposed to be doing for the exam next day, so it was late when I left. Joyfully late.

Keeping words to yourself would on the face it appear to be a good idea. I don’t know though.

I’ve missed my words.



Gimme Fire


Summer has arrived in the Kilpatrick Hills. The flooers are blooming, the wee creatures are crawling, jumping and biting and the neds are setting fire to it all.
In amongst my fun at running around the perimeter deer fence looking for any holes in it, I have been doing my wildlife logging which has meant seeing lots of new bird varieties arrive at the Lang Craigs. No idea what they are, but they are very pretty. Seems that with quickly growing and budding trees, new things arrive to perch on them and eat them. Yay, go nature!

However, accessible and lovely hillsides are also a magnet for stoopids, when the phone went on Saturday tea time I wasn’t expecting to be pulling on my hill gear again and running up the hillside to a fire, which I am indeed blaming on neds.
Pastor Bob who runs Overtoun House had already opened the gates for the fire brigade and the two tenders were there ahead of me. By the time I got to the site of the fire some already burst looking firefighters were beating out the flames. They’d had a good bit of a climb with their heavy gear, and it was bloody warm in the evening sun without the flames.


Losing the young trees would have been a disaster, singeing a visitor wouldn’t have been so handy either but the light breeze had blown the flames around and past a lot of the trees from the initial heavily burned area. It could have been worse. So, the helicopter wasn’t needed, I was glad of this as I was the only Woodland Trust representative on site and I would have had to pay for it.

Once the fire fighters had gone I had the site to myself, the ground hissed and popped, smoke occasionally puffed up energetically and then died away for a lack of any more fuel. Soon it was silent but for the burn running below me at the bend where it scoops out a chunk of the steep opposite bank, exposing the layers of rock and ash from this once volcanic area.

I walked around, the fire was dead, I heard birds again, I saw walkers. How quickly normality resumed. Only 250m of black ground to tell the earlier tale.



Walkhighlands Review

This month’s review is live here. This one was a breeze to do (did you see what I did there?), the fabrics were all good, and some of the fits fitted me very well.
Adidas was a dark horse, Arc’teryx were, well, no point in writing a review and then giving the game away I suppose.

I did the photies on the Lang Craigs. I’m sure Walkhighlands readers think the gear shots I do are really just stock press shots rather than ones actually I take, so this month I did it a little differently.
However, as we can see below, I can’t tell if the timer light is flashing in bright sunlight leading to many shots of me staring glaikitly at the camera.

Windproofs caterpillar (121)


My latest review is up here and is backpacking rucksacks. I suppose given my predisposition for wanting not-heavy and having pockets the winners were never in doubt but the big beasts in there still had their good points.

More than that is the fact that I am now desperate to get out into the hills for the night after finishing the write up. I missed my chances with the recent fantastic weather and it’s pish out there just now.


The Windae Still Lives

When nature does straight lines, it does them right.

A flick through these pages shows some of the Highland sunsets I’ve seen in the past few years, but I’m sure the best of all might be the ones seen from this window.

Wherever I go in future years, this window is coming with me.