These wee buggers were swimming around in the loch in a tiny wee layer of water between the thick ice and gravel. I guess fish don’t get claustrophobic.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The school run and the commute home should never be underestimated.
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.
I was in the Cairngorms last autumn with the good folks from Rosker, Spring PR and Skookum to try out some new kit. It was fun to put some names to faces and to catch up with some familiar well worn faces that I haven’t seen for a wee while.
It was a great trip, we got perfect weather, had a lot of fun and as Stan Marsh might say, I think we all learned something today.
The bushcraft guides had us eating leaves and bugs scavenged from scenery during the walk in from Glenmore. Some stuff I know, some stuff I hadn’t thought of, some stuff I didn’t want to know because it was still moving and I wasn’t go to eat it with a days food in my rucksack. Still, nice to have possibilities,
The walk into Utzi’s Hut in the Rothiemurchus Forest was very pleasant indeed. So often the forest is an inconvenience to pass on your way to the hills, here I was just enjoying it. The hut is near the edge of the trees to light floods in, but its surroundings lush, plush and a fine pace to spend an afternoon.
There were a bunch pf activities related to some of the kit that we were using and just some stuff for fun. It was all about food initially so we looked at some stoves and cookwear.
Three mega fancy Primus stoves were demoed. Above is the Kinjia with the Campfire Cookset and awesome wooden utensil set. There’s wood all through these stoves, proper old school feel to that which I like.
The Kinjia runs off a regular canaister that we would carry for a mini stove, so although it looks like it’ll be set up on the tailgate of a Range Rover, it’s as portable as you’ll get for this size of twin burner stove.
The Tupike above is a different design of twin burner. There’s a nice lid with wind flaps to the side and legs to give a bit of height if you’re using it on the ground.
The Onja is a quirky design, it folds out to make it’s own stand, has a chopping board as a lid and has a strap for carrying it. Madness, I loved it.
There’s a bunch of textile extras here, all of which come made from Fjallraven fabrics, which shows a bit of commitment from Primus, they could have gone in cheap with the carrying cases and covers.
These are expensive bits of kit and market for these is car campers and day trippers, I’ll never need anything like this but it’s nice to see this kind of kit done well.
I remember nearly slicing my fingers off on a badly finished edge of a bright blue twin burner I used to take on trips to camp sites up north before I took the tent into the hills with me.
The bushcraft folks demonstrated they ways to do it and then had us lighting fires and cooking with just what we cold find in the forest.
There were mixed results from the teams, but we all had a hot lunch and a hot cuppa. And the forest remained safe at all times.
Nothing beats a fresh made cuppa outdoors.
Then we had some visitors and all the jaded journo’s all tured into a bunch of kids. Well, how often does a reindeer herd come over for lunch?
A fantastic band of big beasties, and one wee cutie there too.
Had a preview of some of the new Fjallraven tents. The Keb Dome is a fine bit of kit, designed in Scandinavian fashion so there is weight to deal with there but strength when pitched and space inside to compensate for the effort carrying it.
Some headed on for a night in the heather, some were too scared of the reindeer. Well, you just never know.
Had a long day around the Lang Craigs and surrounding hills. There was a few things to be done and more were discovered along the way. It was chilly, the mist was down and I left my camera behind because I wouldn’t be needing that. Idiot.
In mist and rain you do notice the wee stuff around your feet more so the pellet full of chewed bones and tiny feathers had the three of us (Roy site manager and Jo fellow ranger and wildlife fan) pondering. It was quite big, so what coughed it up? They said buzzard and other sensible things, my imagination says other things. The wee furry guy nearby says nothing except that springs’s on its way.
One of the wilder parts of the site is where the Black Burn has made itself a little waterfall. It’s actually a lovely spot, if it were closer to the road end it would be a popular spot for picnics. Maybe the fact its in a steep sided grassy gorge is as much of an issue.
We were checking the water gate here, unfortunately the site boundary line is right on the edge of the waterfall so the fence ruins the aesthetics and also it means the water gate hangs over a drop. Do deer get in here? They’re bloody brave if they do and deserve a seedling or two. Don’t tell them I said that.
Across the northern end is a favourite place, easy in snow shoes when the conditions are right, a triparama when the grass grabs your ankles after every second step the rest of the year. It’s where ooh views start and this time it’s where the temperature shot up and the cloud cleared. Dammit.
The light was getting lower and it picked out perfectly the prehistoric dyke that runs over the hills and climbs into the crags. One survey puts a Roman road up here too, there’s a lot of unexcavated and uninspected up here. Maybe one day we’ll have some proof and some finds to show? But then again its nice just having stories to tell, possibility can fire the imagination more than fact.
The Arrochar Alps were hazy and still streaked with white, and beyond the powers of my phone to record them. The pines of Black Wood were as wonderful as ever and soon to be free of the rhoddy blight around their feet. It’s a magical place this wood, it feels separate from the rest of the site with an atmosphere all of its own and the rhododendron growth has choked its heart to the extant it’s not worth the grief to try and get through it any more.
The site is still evolving, change can be difficult to watch at times and always it’s either too fast or too slow. Just got to hang on though, it can be worth it, for example the old quarry is looking great now it’s been cleared giving us a new little rocky outcrop viewpoint with new paths slowly growing around it. You should go and see it.
Had a quick run up the hills to try and catch the sunset and catch it I did. The joy of this stuff.
Not the first creature you associated with the hills maybe, but last night we were tiptoeing through them all the way. Awesome wee guys and gals.
Conic Hill is always a safe bet for getting a bit of height before it’s dark and I’ve always got enough kit in the motor for wee jaunts like that.
Balmaha feels more like a tourist spot than ever, it’s getting ever shinier and flashier, but Tom Weir’s there keeping his eye on it. I just hope he doesn’t see the same horrors unfolding as his friend and contemporary Bob Grieve does in the national park board room in Balloch as his portrait gazes down on the madness those folk in there put together.
The whole east side of the loch is seeing changes, Sallochy, Milarrochy and elsewhere have been developed and the hit and at the miss destination of Rowardennan I could see lots of folk eating and drinking through the lounge windows which was rather nice to see.
Not too far away Glen Finglas is now very visitor friendly, the Woodland Trust who I volunteer with at the Lang Craigs has put their corporate stamp there and made it accessible and pleasant.
I’m always going to have an inner battle with any of this stuff. I miss finding all these places I’ve mentioned unkempt and forgotten when I first got my driving license 30 years ago. Its selfish though, people bring money and possibilities for the future with them when places can be visited and enjoyed.
But as age grips me I am see things differently, I’m not going to be bitter and resentful as change chases me up the A82. I’ll just remember a comment from Tom Weir when he felt the changes that my generation brought to the hills when we mobilised in our cars back in the 70’s and 80’s. He said that he used his knowledge of the hills to find them as he used to know them. I’ve realised that I’ve been doing that with route choice and even my time of day. You can put as many tourist information signs up as you like, charge for parking, restrict this or that, but you can still slip past it all and the hills are waiting, same as always.
When I’m away from the hills this is what comes to mind first, a path leading on to “something”. I can think back 20 years and remember seeing myself put one foot in front of another as the sun shines on me or the rain falls on me and I have no idea where the path is.
It must be something about just getting there, the chase is better than the catch? Unlikely, given some of the places I’ve caught over the years. Maybe it’s just the forward movement that us humans embrace as an evolving species, the looking and hoping, secretly desiring but not wanting to demand in fear of somehow jinxing ourselves. Maybe that’s just mountain folk looking for a blue sky?
Hell no that’s all pretentious bollocks, it’s just me looking for an excuse to be glaikit.
Ben Lomond has seen my feet one in front of the other more times than I can remember but I always look forward to repeating the process. It’s a hill that is aging with me, Ptarmigan has a track nearly as ground-in as the tourist path and I can remember when it was just a ribbon of light wear winding up the ridge. Or is that old guy memory tricks? Revisionist memory is probably unavoidable as you grow older but with every breath we take these days being digitised the truth will be hard to hide from in the future.
It was a good way to end a week where I’d got stuff done. Plus Friday is the weekend apparently, I heard someone say it in the queue in the local shop, so it must be true. By the time I’m 60 I’ll remember it as an EU directive. See, memory revisionism.
Mind you, I’m fairly certain stuff I learned in the 70’s is a lot of rubbish, but for the sake of continuity in arguments I stick with it. Another old guy memory trick, things were better in my day regardless of any evidence presented to the contrary.
Not warm, not cool, not clear but not cloudy, bright and breezy too. I think the word would be pleasant. Setting off was a joy.
But here today there were more important things unfolding than I’d had in mind. A poor soul was on the summit and had apparently lost their life the previous day or during the night.
As hill goers tragedy is something we have at the back of our minds or sometimes at our fingertips, but here, so close to help on the busiest of hills and on such a beautiful day, it just didn’t seem possible.
As the sun sank it pulled a blanket of clouds over itself. It was saying good night, a clear message to anyone still out there.
I’ll be back to the Ben sometime soon.
It was such a beautiful day.
I’ve had a lot of luck chasing blue sky over the years, to the point where getting stuck in pishy wet rainy days at the bottom of a slope looking up without any drive to carry on can feel like a personal attack. But it’s never dented my optimism, a look out of the window in the morning still has me changing plans and hitting the road.
The road is often the problem though, especially on short winter days. A couple of weeks back it was perfect, blue above and white underneath and my first thought was Ben Lomond as I hadn’t been up this winter yet.
All the way to Drymen was at 25mph behind a cavalcade of stoopids as the sun seemed to be setting faster than usual and when I misread the first signs by the road as I was finally moving faster I had no idea until I got there that the road was completely shut at Balmaha. My bubble was burst, I could climb Conic Hill, I could maybe make the Luss Hills, but my heart wasn’t in it. Home, tea and biscuits.
I did get to Ben Lomond in the end, last Friday, but that was another unusual day which I’ll come back to.
A couple of days later it was blue skies again, it looked clear up the loch and although time was getting on I wasn’t wasting it again. The road was fine, the Greggs latte only spilled a wee bit on the centre console as we drove and I was in the hills fast. The wispy clouds looked nice, the blue sky sucked me out of my seat, into my boots and I was off.
It was hard going as it was steep from the roadside, damn that heavy milky coffee (a convenient scapegoat). The weather also hadn’t seen that lassie with the dark hair and glasses on the Reporting Scotland forecast who’d said it would be clear until late on when a front would slowly move in. Maybe this was the prefront, the forefront? Whatever, it was misting up. And snowing, now it was snowing. I climbed on but now the wind was coating me on one side with crust of white so I stopped to pull on my shell.
It was lovely though. The cloud was just prowling the tops and rolling through the glens and I know that it was clear above. I was just not high enough here to see it.
It was dark at the top, cold and windy too. I was surrounded by indistinct shapes, above, below and to every side. I didn’t feel overly welcomed. something I’m not used to, I like to dig in, get the stove on and take in the atmosphere but for now I was just thinking about descent. Nothing fancy either, a straight line out of the cloud and back to the motor.
I made an arse of that of course and in the pitch black I found the road a good k and a half from where I’d planned to. I finally got the stove on in the layby and it was okay even if there were no stars above, I still had the gurgle and slapping of the loch next to me.
I had a camera full of photies too, and now that I see them, I should remember the less than perfect days.
It was all fine, I’d climbed out of the shadows and the broken sunlight had just enough heat in it to keep the chill off but not enough to make me sweat. Well, sweat hard anyway. The light was already golden in the later afternoon, it was gearing up for sunset although it was still a couple hours away. I wasn’t complaining, the colours were rich and dark with the snow stark against it and the sky was too blue for this late in the day.
The spring in my step gave me enough energy to fanny around with the camera and timer. I’ve gotten out of the habit of doing that, but today it didn’t feel like an effort to run back and forwards, in fact there was a real joy in it. I was grinning at every trip and slip that saw me fall on my arse while trying to look windswept and interesting.
It was all fine.
But with my eye off the ball and on the scenery I was suddenly on a long steep slope where my next footswing bounced off the snow rather than go into it.
“Oh” I said.
It was steep enough to look down between my legs and see the rocks waving back at me from the bottom of the slope.
“Bugger” I said.
Poles and good intentions were all I had so I sawed away at the solid snow with the side of my boots, sometimes stiff boots are indeed okay, until both feet were more secure and I could swing my rucksack off and get to my ice axe. The forgotten art of step cutting was paid some hasty and sloppy tribute until I got to broken patch of ground where I could get my crampons on and be a bit more suave in my approach to the rest of the slope.
I should know better, and I do know better which is why I wasn’t stuck. But it was a wee reminder of how easy it is to go from happy stroll to be being out of your depth.
My spikes bit deep and securely and the ground was now more broken and less steep anyway, the last part of the ascent was a joy. Patches of sunlight drifted across the hills and the clouds were now growing a fringe of colour as the sun slipped through their layers far out to sea.
I like coming here, it’s an unpopular hill which suits me fine. I also take a route that I’ve never seen another soul on and every step I took was in virgin snow until I was 20 feet from the summit. The summit is rocky and broken, it fits perfectly with it’s neighbours and the views are both awesome and odd, with familiar faces smiling at you from another angle.
It was getting dark and it was cold but I couldn’t feel it. I was skipping around as the light changed from blue to flashes of pink on the snow slopes around me. I laughed out loud. More than once.
The sun lit a gentle fire on the horizon. It burned slowly, catching the edges of the ribbons of cloud and then the flame passed lazily along this wispy chain until it reached the ridgeline to my west where it took hold and found fuel to burn brighter. I pulled on my down jacket and took it all in. If I’d been needing a reminder, I’d found it.
The descent was on more untrodden snow on an unloved ridge, not unloved by me, even though it’s a ridge which has turned me back before. Tonight its craggy tumble and steep snow made me welcome, even if it made me think hard and question my route choice a couple of times.
Two ravens circled and croaked, the only hello I had all day.
Further down a bowl ringed by large boulders cut the wind dead so I set up the stove and let darkness find it’s proper depth. I could see headlights on the road but they were silent, I was still in the hills for a little while yet.
My fingers were finally thawing after I took too long to put on my big gloves and my hot cuppa steamed my glasses as I watched the stars peep through one at a time.
Crampons and axes stowed, I set off on rubber soles and torchlight into the black.
I think I’d been a little lost. But to know where you should be, maybe you have to get a little lost sometimes. It’s good to be home.