Crossing the road

We looked in the fridge and weren’t inspired. “Out for breakfast then?” The A82 was under the loose grip of a grey and shifting sky, thoughts of food and a galavant were more inspiring than the weather.
Luss was pretty quiet, it’s the calm time before easter brings with it the first of the summer-long waves of neds that make the place a no-go area at the weekends.
Breakfast was shared with the ducks, who were very insistent today. What’s on their minds, what are their plans? I’ve been watching them a long time, there’s been an ongoing power struggle between the old drake with the faded beak and scar (really, he looks awesome) and the skinny youngster with the bright feathers. The old timer is holding on but the massed feathered minions seem to be hanging back, watching and waiting before they pick a side.
I think if junior stages a successful coup, the Luss car park will be a very different place indeed.

Now well fed and with pockets full of soor plooms and fudge for ongoing refueling we headed a little further north to Firkin Point. To most this is a bog standard car park and toilet facility, somewhere to use and discard a disposable barbecue, somewhere to walk your dog and leave the bags of shite in the undergrowth for someone else to deal with.
But a few feet away on either side is a walk into the past, my own past as well as the lochside’s. Here runs the old road, the original A82 which clung to the water’s edge like the silver trim on the hem of a deep blue ballgown.
There’s 4km of the road left, and it’s just as I remember it when I used to drive it 30 years ago. I suppose it’s not unlike to the road north of Tarbet, but closer to the water here, you really feel you’re by the loch. I loved it then as spun along in my Escort van, I love it now too, especially on a day like this.

The previous grey of Luss was now finding some energy. The wind was getting up and the loch was getting choppy. The colours were drained from the slopes above us and across the loch, the snow line faded up into the lowering cloud as a cold rain pattered down as we walked.
We reached the north end of the road and turned back, the pattering on our hoods was now heavy rain in our faces. It was funny at first then our cheeks were stinging and our glasses were wet, looking up meant we couldn’t see a thing. We marched past the little beaches we had played on on the way there, looking down so we could keep our glasses clear, by the time we got to Firkin Point we were almost running.
I got the truck heating up as quick as I could and my soaking wet jeans pulled every hair out of my legs as I squirmed around trying to find my bag of industrial wipes somewhere behind the drivers’ seat to help dry us a off a bit.
We were soon sitting quite happily though, warming up, snacking once again and waiting for the windscreen to clear so we could hit the road home. Aye, not a bad wee excursion.

Animal House

I gave a talk at Holly’s school last year, the different classes were exploring different subjects of Scottish life, history and environment and when Ben Nevis was mentioned I knew I take them out of classroom theory a wee bit and give them some first hand stuff.

We soon expanded on the plan and we had a crammed classroom full of kids dressed in down gear and ripping the floor up in crampons as well as a virtual walk over Carn Mor Dearg and Nevis I put together from a trip a while back.

I also put a wee photie competition together: spot the wildlife.

At the time and again last night when I was putting the folder for the talk into an external drive I was surprised by just how few shots of wildlife I have.
Every trip I’ve had has in it somewhere a memory of some creature doing something or other that made me laugh or wince or stop and watch. But when it came to finding something to show the youngsters, I ended up having to scan some stuff from old prints.

The eagle and the crow dogfight above Glen Affric? Memories only. Dammit man. I did however snap the line of deer on the corniced ridgeline above a couple of hours later.

The mountain hare on Beinn a Chaorainn was a solo performer, the mass band on Ben Chonzie that skipped around us as we tramped the slopes? In my mind files only.
I actually think I was taking a photie of that stove in the observatory ruins on Nevis below and that wee snow bunting got in the way.

Caught on film on the summit of Ben Hope, a ptarmigan clearly not shocked and stunned by visitiors to its lonely perch.
I love ptarmigans, they should be our national bird, they represent the national psyche more than a golden eagle. But that complex explanation is for another day.
I do actually have a lot of ptarmigan photies, but this old one is my favourite. A happy day that was.

It wasn’t so long back that the bird below was soaring above my camp on Sgurr an lubhair. Is it as buzzard, a raven, a golden eagle? The silhouette can be read as any of those on the full size shot.
I don’t even know if I was snapping the view or the passerby.

No conclusions being made here, no planned changes to the approach, just mermorical (did I just make up a word? awesome) musings.
Anyway, sometimes I do zoom right into the wildlife. Maybe I should do it more often.

There was snow this week.

The truck was going nowhere from Wednesday onwards, school was shut etc, so this week was all about cuppas and walking to Granny’s to have cuppas there as well. There was frequent playing in the snow too, followed by lots of wet clothes and more cuppas.

Walking home was fun. Holly entered into the spirit of the daily trek in a doomed polar expedition fashion which I think she carried off very well.
Hold on, someone’s at the door, I think it’s the council’s child services…

This week will pass into legend, this’ll be the one the kids will quote in years to come as “You think this is bad? You should have seen in back in ’18, I was just ten then…”.
It’s been a nice respite from reality for us, we were prepared and safe at home when it all happened. I know others will have different stories to tell.

The ever muddier looking snow banks will linger for a while, but life will return to normal and now running a week behind on Monday.

I’ll catch up then. Maybe.


Blå Band

I had some Blå Band sample dried meals in the cupboard for review and this week’s trip came along at the right time, the expiry date wasn’t too far away.
Lots of leftover gear from my days at Walkhighlands, I’ll be doing some of it on here when I can be arsed.

The bags I like, a shallow shape that’s easy to fill as you can see the markings inside easy enough, they sit nice and stable with a wide-ish base and you don’t get your gloves covered in dinner as even the shortest of sporks can reach in without receiving a saucy finger. They say the packaging insulates as well, I dunno though, it’s thick with a reflective inner but nothing too fancy in the material or construction that I can see.
Instructions for rehydrating the contents are easy enough, the decilitres water measurement was amusing, don’t think I’ve seen that on anything since I was at school. I stuck to the stated prep times on both meals with the bags wrapped up in my sleeping bag hood and they were indeed fully softened, hydrated and still warm enough to be enjoyed rather than tolerated.

Dinner was Wilderness Stew which is mainly reindeer chunks in rice. This was genuinely tasty, the chunks were big enough to have a wee bit of chewing and small enough to fully hydrate. There was texture all the way through and recognisable bits of veg were evident on my spoon. With McK’s triangle oatcakes, I was rather happy with dinner.
Breakfast was Apple Cinnamon Porridge, soft, warm and tasteless. It had a decent texture, no dry flakes were found after the correct prep time, but despite having all the things I like advertised as being in it, all I could taste were oats. Fine if that’s what you’re after, but on a camp morning I need a little sparkle to get my feet into cold socks.

Prices vary, in the Green Welly we spotted that these could be had for nearly £9, on the distributors site they sell direct for £6.75 for the reindeer and £5.75 for the oats.
It’s a lot of money for convenience, but the weight is good as is the prep results. I would be tempted by the stew again, I really liked that. But Quakers Oats So Simple are a fiver for four pots and they’re awesome, plus the little pot is actually a great rubbish bin at camp in in my pack – something I’ll get back to, meant to talk about this years ago.

Otter 2: Whiskers of Ice

“Meet somewhere in the middle for a camp”. It was that message that made the difference. So long out, so many other things on my mind, a winter peak in a tent looked a little out of my grasp. Not for lack of knowledge or experience, certainly not desire or equipment, but confidence and fitness were like warning signs bolted to the closed gates that led back to my mild adventuring.

“Meet somewhere in the middle for a camp”. The only possible reply to that was “When?”.

Oh, as soon as that? Better get my shit together then.

Getting my gear sorted was pretty straight forward. I just pulled together old favourites, well worn and years old, there was to be no surprises.
I walked the Lang Craigs with a renewed purpose, pushing the footsteps a little harder, seeing what the knee would say, watching what the lungs would answer back. The minor grumblings could be easily drowned out with some whistling or singing. Both a little breathless.

It wasn’t a big route, but it was the best looking of the half dozen possibles we’d thought of, somewhere I hadn’t been near in maybe 20 years and somewhere Gus hadn’t seen. A secluded loch, a ring of mountains and a track all the way there and beyond. And back again we assumed.

The A82 was an obstacle course of potholes and emergency roadworks. I should probably say that if felt homely and familiar like that, but no. Fix it you bastards.

Hadn’t seen Gus in a long time. In fact, I haven’t seen a lot of people in along time, the faces scattered through these pages are very dear to me and I look forward to squinting into sunlight or spindrift with them once again.
Lunch in Tyndrum, banter, catching up on life and bitching about the state of the the outdoor trade. We might have sat there all afternoon, but the sun was getting lower already.

It really was, without even trying, late when we left.

Getting ready in the carpark was funny, we’d both brought the exact same packs and shell jackets, same colours and everything. It’s a Haglöfs thing I suppose, no avoiding it for either of us.
A mum and daughter team appeared from over the little hill that leads to the trail. Junior was on a little bike, suited up and bright red cheeked from the biting cold, mum walking and carrying the kit. The smiling faces were a joy to see.
Banter ensued as they packed their car for a sprint to the chippy, there was even a discussion on the merits of purple outdoor gear as we all had it on. See, it’s not just me.
More returnees with tales of the tops were greeted before we finally hit the trail. Busy for a Monday.

My big-print map I’d printed off made the route look short and sweet, but the same starting feelings were there that I have on any walk. The wee adjustments to my pack as the straps and waist belt settle into me and my clothing over the first few minutes. Starting cold and warming up, pulling down the chest zip to find that happy medium. My heart and breathing settling back down to tickover after the initial high revs from setting off.
By the time we’d cleared the buildings, the signs and the fences, we were both running smoothly into the dusk. A pale moon sneaked out from behind the cloud and the white skyline glowed faintly ahead, now seeming further away.

The trail weaved forward as the light retreated. The river had taken a fresh swing at the bank and the deer fence now hung over a deep pool, capped with ice, the land with the path on it now deep below it somewhere. We retreated and crossed the fence into the boggy forest plantation and kinda lost the thread a bit. Back over the fence further on in the dark Gus fancied some stepping stones, he would in his nice new and still waterproof boots. My idea of tripping over hummocky grass in the dark was much better. There was a bridge a bit further on anyway. It creaked and swayed above the icy river. Very atmospheric I’m sure.

On the south side of the river was easy going, the ruts of the landrover track were dry or iced hard. We climbed a little and the sound of water rushing over rock had us stopping and peering towards it through the dark. Big rocks and trees in there, that would be a fine camp, but the noise?
The moon was casting our shadows in front of us now, it wasn’t quite full, but plenty bright enough to walk without torches. It was cold, it was clearing above us and the peaked skyline ahead was a ribbon of silver as the loch came into view over the last rise on the track.
It wasn’t too much further before we saw what looked like a good spot, if we could get to it. It wasn’t an island, it might be at times by the look of it, but not right now. It’s been lashed by westerlies all it’s life, but the big boulder at it’s middle has held onto some land and kept this rocky spit from being washed away making for an almost perfect camp spot.
The views, excellent water supply, an easily defensible approach from the land side? Honey, we’re home.

I was fighting with the camera. Gone was the second nature adjustment then a point and click, I was peering at the dial and the screen trying to make sense of it and remember what I wanted. Some of it came back, some of it stayed fuzzy, in my mind and on the virtual film. I didn’t get frustrated at the time and I wasn’t annoyed looking through the shots back at home. It’s just images of us having fun, I didn’t need anything else, maybe that’s balance, freedom? Time will tell, it’s not like this is a once off event.

The headtorches came out for the detail of tent pitching. It wasn’t long before the familiar shapes were up and the sound of silence was roughened at the edges by gas stoves jetting our eagerly awaited dinner ever closer.
It was now completely clear above. The brightest stars twinkled through the moon’s silver wash over the indigo sky and the first of the night’s sprinkle of shooting stars scored a pure white vertical line into the mountains to the north.
It was cold, but I couldn’t feel it. A warm dinner, reindeer chunks in rice, and SuperFreak Californian red. Running around with the camera, breaking the ice to pick up water, filling the pot, running back to refill and having to rebreak the ice, it was all go.

It was also perfect. If I had been apprehensive about whether I’d lost my ability to do this stuff, is wasn’t even a whisper of a memory now.
All I felt was joy and contentment. Actually that swapped over with giddy childlike excitement at times, I think I barely stopped to breathe between sentences at some points. I’m both surprised and grateful Gus didn’t knock me unconscious.

We sat in the dark, both chatty and silent, warm as the ice crept across our gear and the scenery. The moon swung slowly across the sky, throwing different shapes across the scenery. Beinn Suidhe beside us rose impressively and far beyond the mere numbers assigned to it on the map, at various times imaginary ski or ice routes passed through our midnight assessment while the mysterious Coire nam Ban was too white to be natural, was it the start of an inversion, was it a trick of the light?
Neither of us wanted to give this up, going to bed would be an end to it. A few ribbons of cloud scudded across the tops, catching on the moon before dispersing after the effort. I could have drank it all in forever.

But tiredness would not be denied. It had been a stiffer walk than expected, we had marched a little to make up for the late start. Hot chocolate was made, eyes were filled to the brim before the flysheets were zipped for the night.

A buffeting woke me, the tent moved and so did I. It was light, a grey light. I unzipped and looked, swirling cloud, a cold wind made my eyes water. I abandoned the attempt and buried my face back into my layer of down.
The second attempt went better as far as I unzipped the whole door and sat up. I looked out and grinned, I could live with this.

It didn’t look like it, but it was still frozen. The ice on the loch had broken up out from the shore in the night as the wind whipped up some waves, but the ice was thicker where we could get to it. “Doiiinnnnggg” was my first attempt to get water for breakfast.

The dull porridge was abandoned in favour of oatcakes and cheese with some running around our little peninsula on the side. Trying to set up a pose for a team photies was a giggle laced farce.

There was no escaping the beauty of the place. The dark had given it a mystery, a softeness and distance, but the early morning light brought life and drama in splashes of glorious colour.

I was cold when I got up at first, but was quickly warmed up despite the occasion light flurries of snow. We were either going that night or Thursday, which is tonight as I write this. The night where I walked to my folks house in snow shoes. I think we chose the right day.

Camp was as magnetic as it had been the night before. Excuses were made for more cuppas, wandering around, exploring, just staring at the view. It was just outstanding.

Looking east made us move. The snow was passing left and right, but looking back at Bridge of Orchy it seemed likely it was coming straight for us now.
Packing was easy, the packs a little smaller and lighter and it was a little easier to get moving. I fact, I felt great. I was fresh, I had energy, I was feeling that feeling, the one you get when you do this stuff and it goes just right.

A nearby hut was full DofE graffiti, or should I say more accurately cries for help and vows to never again venture into the outdoors. Poor wee buggers with their 75L packs and joyless tramping.

Different for us, bright skies and easy walking. The shapes of the night made sense now, the waterfall was much smaller than it sounded and although the creaky bridge looked like it’s been chewed lightly by Godzilla before he realised he wasn’t in Tokyo, it’s probably sturdy enough.

The stepping stones were stepped on, Gus followed my every step on them with his phone just in case I made an arse of it and ended up in the river. But no, not this time.
The sky greyed as we closed in on the car park, light flurries swirled around us and even the deer felt something was in the air as they didn’t flinch as we passed them by.
Back in the motors we were soon Tyndrum bound for hot food and warm cheeks in clean t-shirts and dry socks.

Every trip is the sum of it’s parts and this trip has left more parts in my head than I know what to do with. Everything was right, the time, the place and the company I kept.
Thank you Gus, thank you Loch Dochard, thank you me for not finding a lame excuse to duck out of doing it.

Standing at that lochside in the dark looking up, I felt that flutter inside. Days later I still feel it.

I think it might be addictive.



In a previous life I tested outdoor gear, a subject which I will come back to at some point, an activity which kinda stopped me using my favourite stuff as much as I might have done. So when it came to digging deep in the vault and looking for my comfort blankets, my old red Laser Comp was the thing I wanted most.
My favourite tent of all time, not the model, just that particular tent. A beacon of joy in the dark, a frequent summit home, a reliable companion on many solo wanders, I needed it right now and for some reason when I found it, it was tied in a knot.

Why did I tie it in a knot. I’d obviously dried it after the last trip, it was clean and odour free, so what the hell was I up to. I turned over in my hands, the DIY dyneema guys hanging like tentacles on a skinny unconscious octopus. Perhaps the octopus was drugged. Who know what unsavory characters octopuses attract with their funny eyes and slinky movements.


I held the fly up to the light then tugged at ever cord and every stub of webbing one at a time until the obvious was in my hand. Dammit. An easy repair in my sewing machine, but not tonight. I should have done it at the time. Idiot.
Still, another old favourite was pulled out, the hole in that hadn’t gotten any bigger while it sat there doing nothing, so it’ll be fine. Probably.
Now onto stoves, let’s see… Oh, crap.

Yes, I made it. Holly had awesome stuff in her toybox when she was little.
Ah, if only maintenance was as fun and fannying about with Plasticine.


Looking That Way

It’s like riding a bike, as easy as falling off a log and an elephant never forgets.

None of that’s very helpful right now.

Rummaging through my backpacking kit is an odd experience. Comfortable and familiar but with a little distance to it, like being in the boxes in my folks attic. I keep finding things and going “Ah…” and “Ooh…” so many memories attached to inanimate objects. That old purple Jetboil just made me smile so damn wide.

I’m not in there to reminisce though, this is practice not theory. I know what to take, I know what to take it in, I’m nearly there with what to wear when I’m taking it, but I’m still a little adrift.

The legs and lungs, what are they going to say about it. Is Holly’s latest school plague virus going to take me down before I get to see if next weeks predicted polar vortex (that does sound like a SyFy or Horror Channel B-movie starring Michael Shanks) stops me before I start?

Questions and unknowns, it’s kind of exciting. Even if this ends on the couch, the desire is there and it’s too strong to ignore anymore.

Age Concern

Since I’ve been back on these pages I’ve been doing some admin under the hood and I’ve found 50-odd draft posts that got forgotten, overlooked or pushed down the list so that they were invisible to people like me who know absolutely nothing about how the mechanics of WordPress blogging actually works.
However, I’m now looking at what things do at the back end and fixing things up a bit. I’ve had this place for over ten years now (totally missed that anniversary didn’t I), it’s time I learned.

Some of the draft stuff I said back then is kinda quaint, my opinions have changed over time so posting it now wouldn’t feel right. Life will do that to you.
I can’t bring myself to delete any of it though, it’s still my younger self sending a message forward, wide eyed and optimistic. He wasn’t bad bloke, he just didn’t know as much as I do.

Some of it is pure joy as well, like this below from a draft post dated October 24th 2012. Holly is a giant now, and I have almost now brown hair left anywhere. I also have to wear glasses all the time as my eyes are shite.

Still wear that fleece though.

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.