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.

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.

Highland Wildlife Park

We love alpacas and llamas. who knew that we could add vicunas to that wee list? It was one the surprises on our trip to the Highland Wildlife Park.

With broken truck suspension courtesy of the A82 and the lure of Ben Cruachan, we left for the A9 in Granny’s wee VW. I will say it has a better stereo, but that’s as far as I’ll go.
We got to Kingussie early but the park was already busy, we were straight into the overflow car park. Scotland used to shut in the autumn, these signs of life were unexpected. I soon learned it was polar cub related, but whatever the novelty, it’s nice to see stuff open and being visited.

We needed food more than anything else and the track from where we parked the motor went straight past the monkeys to the in-house cafe. This was disappointing though, it’s a – remove from the packet, heat and serve – affair. Friendly enough but just, well, rubbish.
If we’d walked just a little further we’d have seen the snack van with home made stovies in the main car park and went there instead.

Dammit.

Still, we were at the park long enough to need refueled and went to the van later and had chips at a picnic bench in the passing swish of sunshine. But there was a lot of other stuff before that…

When the tigers run you can feel the vibrations through the ground, but the paw prints smeared down the glass kinda confirmed that this isn’t a static exhibit, for all their vulnerability in the wider view, these beautiful creatures are missiles of muscle and teeth wrapped in a fur coat.

It’s quite a place this, on the fringes of the Cairngorms on a hillside which has views to inspire and crags within it big enough for the snow leopards to climb, play and hide if they want to.
Here’s a thing, you might not see what you came for, the animals aren’t poked and prodded into view, my lack of good photies of the inhabitants is evidence of that.
We were lucky and had feeding time at the Snow Leopard, but it was made into a problem solving exercise rather than just throwing them a bone. Fast and smooth, they leapt from ground the treetop and away again before I could point and click as I was still oohing and aahing.
Those big tails too. Beautiful.

The big draw is the polar bear cub. The birth was a special event, it doesn’t happen too much and any doubts I had that it was going to be a circus style sideshow slipped away when we saw the mum and cub at play in the water. Magical, mesmerising and muddy. You can’t fake fun like that.
The video shows an unannounced snack break and those voices aren’t ours.

I wonder what the future holds for these wonderful cuddly monsters.

Concentrate, you’re in the bear’s den… Close your eyes, hear the bear, feel the bear, be the bear….

The the residents all seem suited to the terrain and climate here, I suppose the clue is in the name of the place. I wonder how the horrific summer was for them, I wonder how the winter before it was? Got to come back in winter.

We love wolves and Holly’s never seen one. She was so excited going into the forest and when she got to see them it was kind of an emotional moment for both of us.
It’s fairy tales come to life, it’s a legend walking into reality on four carefully placed and silent paws.

The pups played, hiding the bones the grown ups were chewing when they got the chance to steal them. They were calm and lazy in the autumn sunshine, but those skinny bodies with the plush looking fur have weightlifter shoulders and necks with a face full of long sharp teeth. But here’s the thing, the eyes of a poet and dreamer too?
Magnificent creatures.

They have a wood to hide in so you might not see them. the viewing platform is raised out of their eyeline which is clever, they can be close to you but you’re not intruding too much.

I think it’s all about balance. My memories of animals and zoos from the 70’s is the cliche of them being knee deep in their own shite in a tiny enclosure. We are a world away from that now and I hope we never go too far and give into those who would ban animal captivity altogether.
As much as all these wonderful beast should be free, if we are to connect to them as living beings rather than seeing just a cute face attached to a television appeal I think we have to really see them, be near them, we have to know that they are real, living beings that we have to help and protect.
Me and Holly were inspired by being so close, it reaches right into the heart and soul. I really think that contact makes the difference between disposable pity and enduring empathy when you see another telly story about shrinking ice caps or bulldozed habitat.

We were the last round the safari drive part. We had to run to catch it before they shut the gate. the ranger was never far away, I think those brushes were to shoo us if we got too slow.

All day we spent here, so many wonderful burds and beasts. Loved it.

Yes, of course we went to the gift shop. Have you seen our plush polar bear cub?

It would have been rude not to visit Ruthven Barracks on the way back. Holly had never been and it’s been years since I’d last been.
So exposed here and still in such good nick.
We ran around reenacting an instantly made up story. The poor sod below had no idea he’d been cast as a plague victim and was about to be crushed by a loose stone from the parapet above. Well, if we’d have got up there in time.

Freezing though, winter is coming in 5… 4… 3…

RSPB Loch Lomond

The weather was a bit crap on Sunday morning and we were lounging around with snacks and Steven Universe reruns.
“Want to go out?” I asked halfheartedly.
Nah, I’m good.

However, the window seemed to be getting brighter. Hmm, look… ?
Hmm, maybe…
I pulled up the map on my phone. Where could we go wasn’t the question, where haven’t we been was the tricky thing. Every quickly accessible track and trail has been well worn by us in recent times.
“Here, what about the RSPB thing at Gartocharn, burds an’ that? We’ve actually never been.”
A flurry of thrown pyjamas, a filling of water bottles and we were on the road.

In my mind I’d assumed their car park was a muddy layby that the truck would get stuck in, but to our surprise there’s a nice car park not too far from the main road with a wooden ranger station and a pop up marquee complete with a ranger and a volunteer ready to greet us.
We stopped for banter and information. Holly signed up once again having lapsed for a year and immediately found herself with arms full of RSPB stuff, which I later discovered is all really rather useful and interesting.

Armed with a leaf checklist and a big marker, we headed onto the first trail, detouring into the den building area first of course. This was a theme through the site, get involved, reach out and touch, leave the path, all messages that visitors might find unusual and it shows how things are changing for the better, “Keep off the Grass” is definitely a thing of the past.

The little trail reaches a lookout point that’s in the photie right at the top, a plywood hut that frames the view, will no doubt shelter a pensioner or two and provide kids with hide and seek opportunities.
The view is outstanding of course looking north to the Loch, Conic Hill, Ben Lomond and beyond, But it’s all a little far away. Some folks will love that, it just makes me want to get closer, and you can do that if you want to. The RSPB site extends right down to the lochside and it’s just asking to be explored.
We weren’t kitted out for that and it was getting late, the ranger station was locked by the time we got back, but we’ll be back sooner rather than later.

There’s some dry stone stumps here and there and some beautifully carved benches as well as some hidden sculptures in the woods, just keep your eyes open.
The signage is home made feeling, very unpretentious which I like. Everything feels new and shiny, the structures and the path, but it’s not obtrusive and it’ll weather quickly here.

The little pond had Holly whooping with joy as she ran out on the boardwalk. You can kneel and pond dip with bug identifiers posted nearby and there’s open edges by the water, they’re relying on people to get it right. I absolutely love that attitude.

We sat in the little shelter and had lunch. We did indeed see some of the creatures on the guide, in fact that really is another theme here. The place is bursting with life.
Birds swoop down to a feeder by the hut, all colours and shapes, songs in every key. You really could just sit here and spend your time just sitting.

It was getting grey again and was that a few spots of rain? But we headed into the open country to see what was doing and within a couple of minutes you’ve left the path and huts behind and your in the wilds. All it really takes is a step or two off the surfaced path, do it people, you’ll love it.

A little group of trees had the wackiest fungal infection I’ve seen with this clump home to some spiders. Just so sci-fi.
The ground dweller below was colourful but likely deadly? I might be a Woodland Trust ranger, but I do the fence, don’t ask me about the greenery.

This longer loop through the woods and past the pond is excellent, accessible and atmospheric, it subtlety feeds you the feeling of the wilds and lets you escape to them if you just step off that path.

We loved it. The short trails will be great for folks looking for their country park fix, but I think it’ll plant a seed of wanting more, because of where it is and how they’ve set it up. For us though, the possibilities for going further are actually kinda exciting. Rucksacks packed for next time.

I’ll tell you though, we never did find a chessie tree, I think it’s a trick question on the checklist so you can’t win the prize.

Angus and The Stone Giant

While this hot weather has brought joy to many, its allure rather passes us by and we’ve been hiding. We cheered when it rained for half an hour the other day.

Wee quick jaunts aren’t always enough and Holly wanted to go further north despite the heat. The weather looked to have it wrong again, no rain in sight, so off we went in a blaze of sunshine, ELO’s Discovery album loud on the stereo.
Apparently there is no parking available in Scotland this summer unless you know some secrets, so we used one of those and parked up around a mile from the main road right at the start of the track.

It was a little grey to the north but the blue skies everywhere else were dazzling, and the beasties were biting hard so we didn’t stand around for too long.
It was warm. I’m really not a fan of walking in summer, but once we were clear of the trees there was an occasional breeze to keep sanity in close proximity.
The tadpoles are getting a bit froggy, can’t be far way from them all bursting out of their disguises and croaking it up at the Lang Craigs back home. When the old mill pond is full of frogs you can here them from the edge of the woods and it looks like a soup pot on the boil when you get closer.

A few spots of rain were very welcome. No jackets needed, it just felt delightfully cool as it soaked in and dried off quickly. We were on the edge of the cloud, we were stuck with the sunshine.
“Here”. The girl had decided we were having lunch, right here and right now. I got the stove on, ran in a circle to lose some of the midges, unpacked the mugs, ran in a circle… Everything was ready, just had to wait for the water to boil.

Boof. The rain came down and we pulled out our waterproofs. They were fine for a bout ten seconds when the rained upped the pressure. It was hosing down, the coffee was being bounced back out of my mug, our trousers were instantly saturated and water was running down my legs. I dragged all the gear under a little overhang by the track, including the still-lit stove and then just had to strand there and take it, no shelter nearby at all. Holly stood and ate her pasta with her hood up “Dad, it’s a bit rainy”. Yes thanks for that. I could feel the rain hitting my feet through the mesh on the top of my shoes. Heavy man.

Then it was gone. The sun split the clouds again and we were back on the edge of the action in time for part 2 of lunch, the sugary stuff.
The gear was all manky, there was something in suspension in the rain, sand or dust or ash from somewhere far away, seen it many times over the years. So I stuffed more than packed and we decided to head up the glen, see what was there. We got 20 feet when the first flash went off ahead of us, without a word, we turned and walk back to the trail junction. Let’s get back to the truck, maybe the weather man got it right.

The thunder was loud, overhead loud and the flashes cast a shadow around our feet. It fitted our story very well, The Stone Giant (we’ll come back to this later), as every crack and rumble was a plot point and a took us a few feet nearer the truck.
Long time since I’ve been out in such an active storm and this definitely made up for it, jackets went back on as the sky unloaded on us again. No wind though, so our wide brimmed hats were perfect. The rain ran off our brims as we marched back, laughing at the ridiculousness of it all.

The tadpoles were now swimming in fresh water and a DofE group were hiding in a group shelter as we hurried by, now exposed to the open sky and soaked through but so close to the truck. The biggest flash and loudest crash was just as we crossed the bridge and ran for the doors laughing and screaming.
We weren’t high up at all, but it really felt like being in amongst it. The first day in weeks the weather forecast got it right meteorologically and geographically for where we were going that day. Just a few hours out though. You buggers.

The Cobbler looked menacing on the way back out, there was flash flooding in Arrochar and terrified drivers doing 15mph on the A82.
This was brilliant day, a day to remember too.
Holly won’t let me forget it anyway.

Slow Traffic

I just realised something today.

I have relatively recently come to properly appreciate the joys of Netflix. Been signed up for years but just saw it as a virtual video rental shop, pretty much ignoring the first selection you see, the “own brand” titles, as low budget nonsense populated by down on their luck actors.
The Good Place, Stranger Things, Star Trek Discovery and a few others have changed my mind as they’re among the best things I’ve ever seen on the telly and I can’t help but see Netflix in the same light as the “regular” channels at their money-no-object creative best.

But, the way we pay for it is taking the piss. We have the licence fee, I mean, it’s the only way to get Doctor Who live on a Saturday without constant threatening letters. Then we have our TV/phone (a landline exclusively for calls about PPI, new windows, solar panels and folk looking for my ex wife)/internet package and then the optional cost of subscription to PS+ or X-Box Live if you swing that way.

It’s like a pyramid scheme or something, Netflix is cheap enough, but christ, you really have to prop it up with other money to get to it. Even on my phone in a tent I’m paying a subscription to access my subscription.

Media folk are just laughing at us all. Give us a taste, get us hooked then bend us over. They’re all in it together.

Can’t wait until Stranger Things Season 3 though “throws money at the screen”.

Too tired last week, didn’t stray far from home. Luckily home is in a nice place.

The green is getting really green, the showers had the leaves bursting with colour and life. Things are flying around and biting me enthusiastically. Summer “yay”.

The beach is awesome. Creatures in rock pools, what seems as many ships passing as there was when I was wee. The river is very much alive.

All this is on my phone, I really need to carry my camera all the time.

Mair wanders wi’ the wean

We had tents pitched on the lawn, trying them out for size and a wander up the crags never got further than the Overtoun House tea room.
Holly was making sure we weren’t wasting this new day.
There was still time for tattie scones though. I mean, the Russian invaders would have to be visible from the windae before we let that go on a weekend.

We thought we’d try some new socks this time around. Holly got her fancy Wigwam anniversaries on and I found an old pair of Injinji’s that I was probably supposed to review in 1975. She was still laughing at my feet a mile up the road.

We took the Loch Long road, the A82 was choked once again.
Hmm, instant self edit. I just wrote a rant and deleted it. You know what, I actually don’t care what other folk do. We got in the truck to find fun and that lingering air of positivety has sapped my enthusiasm for tearing into Loch Lomond day trippers.
Instead, the most memorable part of the journey is always going to be ELO’s Shine a Little Love with us singing along and doing the clapping part in the chorus high-5 style as we went.
Don’t let the bastards grind you down? Sometimes.

It was a funny sort of a day. At Butterbridge it was was very warm, the sun was splashed on the hills but we were in a patch of gloom that seemed quite keen to follow us.
We got the occasional burst of unedited sunshine and thought about reaching for the sun cream, but then it would slip away once again.
Still warm though, hats were dipped in the burn, chilled Robinson’s lemon was sipped often.

The banter was exceptional and hanging out with Holly like this has reconnected me to the outdoors in subtle ways as well as sharing the “Wow, look at that” moments.
The pace is slower, there’s a lot of looking ahead and looking up. I’m explaining and pointing, recounting old tales from the trail and making up just as much as well.
Volume 2 of the Loch Sloy Trolls was sketched out on this walk. Oh the drama, the tension, the bloodshed. The claws

I’m looking up and thinking, oh I’d like to go there, even when I’ve been there repeatedly. I’m looking and I’m thinking “Have I got time for this?” and I don’t mean hours of daylight, I mean miles left in my legs and useful years of life past the end of this one.
It’s odd feeling older but also feeling, I suppose, hungry? Am I finally feeling what it is to be 49?

Glen Kinglas isn’t overly glamourous I suppose, it’s a landrover track serving forestry, farming and the arse end on the Loch Sloy hydro scheme. It’s good going underfoot and the views are as awesome as they are unusual. Indeed, the views were also new to me.
As well traveled as I am around here I’ve never been beyond the Abyssinia hut on this track. I’ve walked down to here, climbed up the slopes above the hut and walked to the top of Beinn Choranach and I’ve walked the widely ignored ridge on the other side of the glen from Creag Bhrosgan to Stoban Dubha and down to the hut through the crags. Never beyond though, the next steps were actually kinda exciting.

Beinn an Lochain looks amazing from here, sharp and er, mountainous. Beinn Ime looks unfamiliar, the broken east ridge definitely looks a wee bit racey and Beinn Narnain is a dark, sheer sided ridgeline.
It’s like looking at your best friend from the back in a crowd when they’re wearing a hat they’ve just bought that day.

Met a couple from the Netherlands here, on their last full day before their flight home and looking for the most fun route back before a night at Ardgarten. We chatted, I talked too much and fired too much information at them as usual but they smiled as it hit them like a box of tangerines from the top deck of a multi storey carpark (suspiciously specific?).
Damn me though, as we looked back, they took the route up I suggested. I kept looking back as they wound their way uphill. The ridge cleared and stayed clear, it must have been eye watering up there. Fantastic.

The tail of Loch Sloy was annoyingly invisible. Grassy hillside and forest were the dual inconveniences. Lunch, it is was about 1800, so dinner really, was warm and tasty. Protracted too, we had music and everything. And pastries.
Energy renewed, focus regained, we’d go and find the loch. The map said this was unlikely without a lot of effort possibly mixed with re-ascent and some bog hopping. Ach, we’ll see.

The forest track seemed more fun, it was a better venue for a story as we walked. I mean, that’s a troll bridge if I ever there was.
The riverside was boggy and we stumbled and slopped along it before coming out onto the grass and the sunshine. Here a culvert come aqueduct thing meets the river. It’s very like the one that goes to Blackwater Dam from the top of the pipes, being roofed with concrete strips. It curves around to Gleann Uaine picking up the burns around there to feed them into Loch Sloy.
Never seen it mentioned and it was a complete surprise, not really on a hill approach I suppose. So much of the hydro scheme tendrils to stumble upon in these hills.

We stood on a grassy knoll and finally spied the loch. We looked at each other and knew that was enough, it was nearly 100m vertical descent to the waters edge which we’d have to reverse. Nah.
The water level is very low just now so it looks a bit nasty and bare down there anyway, we can reenact the moon landings another time.

The culvert was fun to follow back, the sound of invisible rushing water was an odd accompaniment, like having a broken radio on in the background all the time.

Holly was tired, I checked when I got back and she did 8 miles all in today. The three miles back were fueled by constant banter and Morrisons Marathon* rip-offs, Sprinters bars.
She did so well, at times it was a roaster before the breeze arrived and she put in the miles in good cheer. I am proud as The Dad, but more than that I am so pleased for The Girl. I can see how these wee adventures are affecting her thinking and her bearing.

We had cows staring at us in an alarming fashion, birdlife swooping and bobbing, lambs displaying unbearable cuteness and then pleasantly cold air that came with a darkening sky.
One lamb had the best face ever with a perfect black metal corpse paint look. It had a wee limp as well. I definitely wasn’t up late worrying about it.

Might go back and see it this week though, you know, just in case.

*Stick your Snickers re-designation Mr Mars

NS433775

It rains all the time here, little particles of ancient volcanic ash trickle down over the harder basalt layers. The ash dunes are soft and hard to climb but sharp on bare fingertips.
Come back a day later and your footsteps are gone, the rain washes them away again.

There’s a trail to take you here now, a quiet little grassy loop so, it’s not as hidden as it was. The trees on the opposite slope will grow and the long distance view will change, but this corner will become a magical little place.
The trees will bow and swish in the wind, their leaves will be carried away on the peaty water and the black rain will keep falling and carry the little crag a little further north. I’m not worried, it took ten thousand years to get it this far, I know I’ll miss the end of that story.

Always worth looking left or right, especially at the Lang Craigs. While there’s route markers now, they don’t tell you everything. We’ve made it accessible, but there’s still room to explore.

Don’t forget to look down too.

 

They came to hear the story, They came to sing the song*

Let me hear your battle cry*

Loch Sloidh!

I was sitting with a fresh cuppa and despite an annoying amount of sunlight coming through the window I thinking about video games, it had been a busy and rather stressful week. Holly however was packing her rucksack.
Sometimes you just need a bigger spark when your powder’s damp.

We had talked about taking the stove next time, she was getting into the zone for wild camping and bigger trips so a quick detour to pick up some bits and pieces and we were rumbling north on the A82 again.
The sky was blue from right to left but as we moved onwards, a huge fat pulse of rain rolled slowly across the loch onto Ben Lomond where it seemed to stop dead, both hands round the summit.
We drove into its grey curtain and although the girl was happy enough contemplating a wet walk while sitting in her shiny new test jacket as the windscreen wipers ground the dust across the windscreen and then slung it away along with the fresh rain, I could see it far enough. I’ve paid my weather dues in full, many years ago, I was wanting it to clear up.

Wumph, we drove out the other side, like tripping out of the emergency exit shortcut from the cinema on a summer’s evening (specifically the old ODEON on Glasgow’s Renfield Street, where a manky wee spiral  stairwell took you straight into the alley at the back avoiding the jostle of neds at the proper doors), from dark to light in an instant.
The girl kept humming along to the music, I just grinned wider.

Parked the truck and paid for the pleasure of it at Inveruglas where there were a lot of folk milling around and a closed cafe. Welcome to Scotland, bring a packed lunch. Ah, it’s as true as ever.

Holly’s all about stuff, she loves stuff. I’m glad she applies this to what might appear to be boring stuff to many youngsters: her heritage.
This is Macfarlane country we were in, the name belongs here and because we wear it, we can draw a line though time to put ourselves here, regardless of gaps in our family tree.
Names tie everyone to something, often an occupation, but old Scottish names are very definite on the map. It took me until my late 30’s I think to appreciate this stuff and I happily embrace now, there will be a piper at my funeral playing Flowers of the Forest and MacFarlane’s Gathering. Hell yeah.
So, this was a heritage walk, one we’d talked about for years. We look at the castle every time we pass Inveruglas, but she’d never been to see Loch Sloy, the little loch turned hydro storage tank and the origin of the Macfarlane cry Loch Sloidh!

We took the wee detour through the woods just past the railway bridge, the detour seems to be the main route now, the official “We hate Campers” sign has been posted here.
I fell straight on my face too, the moss slipped off the rock when I put my weight on it and took my foot sideways with it. Idiot. I deserved the sore hip I got.
I walked off the embarrassment and pain, explaining the sheep placenta we found to Holly took my mind off it too. Sheep and lambs became a feature of the day actually. I made have taken a blow to the head in the fall, the sheep began looking er, majestic and I took their photies. Often.

The tarmac makes life easy but the sun beat down on us. meaning the cool breeze wasn’t quite enough to keep us cool. Much rolling up of sleeves and legs took place until we got into the shade on Ben Vane later on.
It’s a glorious wee trek this, been around, through and across the meeting of tracks and trails more times that I can count and I still walk along with my head in the air looking at the tops. I love these hills, steep and rocky but so easy to grab a hold of.

Holly was in her stride now, she wasn’t even noticing the distance or the heat. The bridge ahead looked exciting “That’s the dam, look next to it…” Oh, there’s a cave next to the bridge! “It’s a tunnel, it’s… wait for me…”.

She wasn’t keen on going into the big echoey arch in the dam, besides there were more sheep to see. So nice, today’s sheep. So nice.
Nice top see the former water treatment plant site all cleaned up and blended into the terrain now, the photos I took all through it few years back are suddenly historical. I’ll need to dig them out at some point.

The tunnel was funny, Holly all stiff armed and serious. It was properly dark in there, I broke into a run near the far side and she shrieked and ran out into the daylight. Brilliant.
We picked a spot out of the breeze and unpacked the stove, dinner time. Absolutely perfect.

It was getting late, the light changed and Ben Vorlich took on an evening glow. Still no hurry though, there was exploring to be done.
A wander around the construction areas on the west just slowed us down from the main task, getting across the dam. She had no fear at all, straight on she went, standing on tiptoes to peer over the edge and running onwards to find the next likely looking vantage point.
The dam has grown into the landscape, it’s taken on the look of the rock its anchored too as best it can. The moss growing from the concrete doesn’t know any different.
The low water level currently exposes a bleached strip of beach around the loch, it’s hideous looking, but the dam really isn’t, it’s part of the place now.

On the far side we skipped over the gate and clambered down. Holly was now fearless and every arch was to be explored and tested for echo.
The gated entrance showed quite far into the tunnels under the dam, the lights being conveniently left on. Within a minute of leaving we were already into the story of the Sloy Troll, whose home was destroyed by the dam builders and who now lurks, ready to snare and eat any unwary workman… that’s why the lights are on you see. This story will be coming soon.

The walk out in dimming light was pleasant and punctuated by more frankly awesome sheep. I do hope this fresh ovine appreciation subsides again.

When Holly saw Loch Lomond back within easy reach her energy just went. The pace slowed and we played Guess Who and I-Spy to keep us going.
The sounds of geese reached us before the traffic noise and it wasn’t long before we reached the truck in the now empty car park.

The road was empty and the Stranger Things soundtrack’s retro synth sounds smoothed out the bumps on the way back down the road. Holly was quiet, her eyes closing and flicking back open, dead beat but not ready to let the day go just yet.

Not a bad way to look at life.

*All quoted from Saxon’s “Battle Cry” from the ’86 Rock The Nations album. One of the finest songs written about Scotland and it was written by Yorkshiremen. Bless you.

2001: A Lunch Odyssey

In times past I used to drop everything and run, the weather would stick a pin in the map and and I would go straight there, grab it and use it as a tent peg while marveling at the sunset and running around with a tripod and a camera on a 30 second exposure setting.
Times changed, all that stopped and I dropped out of virtual, digital and actual sight because the last 18 months or so I’ve had a more important role, that of single parent (nobody’s dead, still tragic etc) to the awesome girl seen in this post here and all through the ten years worth of pages behind it.
It was an easy adjustment to make, I never even thought about it, randomly disappearing for a few days here and there just wasn’t an option. There was never any frustration, I had no pressure to go anyway after Walkhighlands pulled the plug on the reviews and the desire just wasn’t there, Holly needed me close to home and I wanted to be there.

What we never stopped doing was going into the hills together for a wee gad about, every chance we got we were up the A82, exploring, having lunch and arguing about what music to listen to in the truck.
We’re still doing that, but we both have been finding more energy and enthusiasm the past few months. Holly’s been asking to go, if I say I’m thinking about a trip she’s asking to come along and off we go, whatever the weather. And now of course we’re hitting the trails.
Holly’s been approaching it on her own terms, sorting her kit out, packing a rucksack and then standing at the door telling me to hurry up. She’s even taken over the gear testing, more of which imminently.

So when the plan for taking advantage of yesterday’s stunning weather changed from a solo camp to me and the girl heading north as a team there was nothing but grins from either of us.

The sun did indeed beat down, the cool breeze above the trees was a life saver. Nice to be back in trail shoes and a trekking shirt too.

The returnees from Beinn Laoigh all looked hot and bothered, there were some skis in evidence, strapped to the sides of packs, some mad bastards had been screaming down the coire. Looked awesome from Cononish and I bet it was nice and cool in the shadow of the summit.
A fine hill, I should go back, been a wee while.

We had walked by the riverside on the way in and decided to find our way back as the beaches looked awfy inviting for wasting some time on.

We found a perfect spot where the river was broken by some rocks and then thrown down a little waterfall. We had the last of our snacks and dipped hot feet into the heart-stoppingly cold water, snowmelt straight from Coire Gaothach.
A little rest soon stretched out to an hour and more, it’s amazing how much fun you can have just skipping around rocks in bare feet.

We didn’t want to leave, so we didn’t. My pack made a convincing pillow, which Holly found amusing and caught me rotten with the camera.
The giggling stirred me from my doze, I removed the hat and my freshly dazzled eyes looked straight up at a Golden Eagle, lazily circling high above.
Quick, gimme the camera!
No dad, you’re not deleting it… (runs across the rocks)
But.. Look… There’s an eagle… it’s… quick…
Huh?

Well, the moon was still there by the time we sorted it out. Holly did get to see it too luckily.
Of course the way memory works, in a year or two the sighting will have developed into a life or death struggle between the bird, the angry badger in its talons and us watching helplessly as we cling onto the icy rocks at the edge of a 100m waterfall as our canoe shatters on the boulders at the bottom.

The West Highland Way was full of folk, and the hillwalker car parks were full and the A82 is now much better between Crianlarich and Tyndrum, smooth, cheap tarmac now thinly carpets the road surface. It’ll be down to the canvas again by winter. Yay.

What a brilliant day.

2001? That’s how much lunch was. Oof.

 

Only one apple pie

“I’ll come too”, and with that a dash uphill because a patch of blue sky had appeared became a family affair.

The blue patch proved elusive in location and inconsistent in transparency, which is to say it clouded over a wee bit. So no fancy sunset, but it was all still very pretty if a little windy.
Bats, birds, deer, a falcon and a slug rolled up like a doughnut. It was like being on safari.

The primrose were blossoming in force and we took some unusual route choices to avoid doubling back. Steep slippy slopes brought no panic or gripping onto dad’s arm and the joy of watching Holly skip from mossy boulder to mossy boulder on the handful of burn crossings made me swell with pride. She’s got it, she’s got the head and the feet linked up.

Roky Erickson

I knew it was going to rain, it was just a question of when, so I was thinking quick even if I couldn’t actually do quick the justice it deserved.
I jumped over the wall and crossed the field, heading for the giant’s staircase, the broken buttress at the southern end of the Lang Craigs that hides a steep, fun and quick way to get a bit of height.
I was panting a wee bit, I’m out and about a lot just now, but bloody hell it’s a tough road back to fitness.

Grey, a bit misty and pretty windy. No view to speak of, but that just focuses the eyes on the nearby. The nearby looked quite interesting so I thought I’d get my camera out and point it in the interesting direction.
The little rectangle flashed red, dammit I’ll change the battery. The little rectangle flashed red again. Oh, come on idiot. The third battery brought with it no little red triangle, just a message – NO BATTERY POWER REMAINS. Then the lens retracted.

My Sony somethingorother phone’s camera is rubbish in low light, but it went in my chest pocket anyway and I went back to looking around me and stepping in every puddle, mudbath and burn to try and break these new Bridgedale waterproof socks. It’s nice to have a purpose.
The edge of the crags has a very nice symmetry to it from certain points, like big saw teeth. Looking at that kept me from looking at the recently reprieved  Forestry Commission Scotland’s utter mess and destruction of their part of the Kilpatricks. I avoid the ascent from Old Kilpatrick now, it’s even worse there and it’s a total disgrace what they’ve done at the top of the track. I still get angry thinking about it never mind walking or biking through it.

I decided on Doughnot Hill and to keep to a circular route I took to the forest roads. We used to run and ride the singletrack here, now log piles line the wide gravel truck highway. It’s depressing. I know it’s good that the plantations are coming out and “real trees” are going in, but it’s still hideous.

The thick carpet of moss that clung to the soft curves of the previously forgotten and neglected plateau has been torn up and replaced by a thatch of dead, bleached twigs, cast away like empty shell casings from the rapid fire of the machine saw ripping up the trees.

I escaped to the dammed edge of the black Linn Reservoir where a pair of taiga bean geese honked towards me from the gloom and landed on the grassy path running along the dam. They waddled slowly towards the water and sailed off either unworried by my presence or oblivious despite my large bright orangeyness.
It’s an easy curve uphill to the trig pillar on Doughnot. I usually skirt just below the little summit dome while following the deer fence so I hadn’t been here in a wee while and it was, unexpectedly, a little strange coming back. There’s ghosts here.
You won’t see them though, they’re my ghosts.
I was alone as the wind picked up and the rain started to ping off my hood, but I was surrounded too. There were laughs and shouts, banter and mock surprise, a stove being lit and the slap of a chain on an alloy stay, there was even a kiss followed by a smile with a glow as golden as the sunset that followed it.

I sat on a rock and watched the murk flop off the lip of the crags and then close in around me as the ghosts faded into silence and I started on a gluten-free oat and chocolate protein bar. I think it only tasted so nice because everything else was now grey.
I looked back at the trig pillar before I left. I love this spot, I always have. A few rocks, some tufts of grass and a worn concrete block with time spent in the company of friends woven though all of it.

I might be getting to be a sentimental old fool, but I’ll tell you something, despite all my efforts over that day, my feet were dry when I got home. I like these socks.

Loch Lomond Faerie Trail

We parked at Luss, had our lunch on the bench and were wandering up the track towards Beinn Dubh when we noticed lots of kids and parents heading up towards the old quarry. There were booklets in hands, pink wings strapped onto little shoulders and much shouting from the woods. The signs on the trees had the answer “Faerie Trail this way…”. Holly nearly exploded with excitement.

I asked the next family was saw what we were supposed to do, here they said take one of our books, and here’s a pencil too. Thanks you very much we said. Wasn’t til later we found out you have to pay for the book and pencil. In the unlikely event that nice family sees this, properly thank you.

There’s clues, there’s a trail, The Loch Lomond Faerie Trail, and it takes you from Luss to the quarry and down along the river back to Luss near the church.
All along there are hidden fairy doors, houses in the trees, signs and boards with clues, stories and rhymes. Just be wary of the troll…
Everyone we saw was enjoying it, everyone was chatting, kids were laughing and playing with new friends and the woods were full of people and voices.

It’s a lot of fun, it’s well put together with lovely work on the installations and the distance is enough to make it a real activity rather than a distraction. The route I know well anyway and the views it brings are fantastic, from the Luss hills through the birch canopy to Ben Lomond looming over the village as you near the end.
We both had a ball.

When I read up on it back at home I saw some varied opinions. One said that the trail had ruined a wild area and lovely walk. I think the quarry we’re all still walking through probably ruined that little corner of wilderness first, time healed that, it would hope it will heal this too one day.
This lovely little corner has been changed though, not just by the faerie world that’s been added to the trees. Fences and muddy trails have replaced the mossy carpet and rocky drops to the river. It’s going to take a lot of maintenance to keep some parts of the trail usuable.
There’s laughing kids though, laughing kids covered in mud and families together having fun in the woods. You can’t knock that.
Me, my extra hope is that it chases away the tree-cutting, log burning, plastic bottle dropping neds that usually congregate there. We’ll see.

Take the kids, even if you think they’re too big for it. Magic fun.

Top tip? Don’t forget #5.

You go first!

No getting away anywhere for me this easter, however the Lang Craigs have seen me what feels like every other day. Probably because it has been every other day.
Been solo, been with friends, been in the rain, went in the surprise snow of last week too and then made it up there last night with Holly under quickly fading clear blue skies.

We had as much fun as always and I got her into my current retro gear thing by strapping an ancient Jack Wolfskin bumbag on her. Turns out she really likes it and I’m not getting it back.

The tracks higher up are currently a mudbath, red sticky mud that clings to you like a strip of 2″ velcro and we both got it bad. But back down, close to the truck a double dare saw us both jump into a burn to try and wash it off.
Turns out my 20 year old boots are way more waterproof that Holly’s new ones. The screams as the ice cold water hit her feet made me laugh so hard I’m starting to crack up again thinking about it 24 hours later.

Screaming and laughing in turns we ran back to the truck and rattled home for tea, toast and dry feet.
Magic.

Inscribe 50 Colouring Pencils Made in Holland

It was an interesting week, work was convoluted and happily constant. I do enjoy the ultimate contrasting experience of being busy and skint.
I’d also been to the hills, had an unexpected breakfast with a pal, ran around, rummaged and pretty much used up all my waking hours doing something or other.
I got home at tea time on Friday and sat in my chair. Nice.

However my chair looks across the Clyde to a row of wee tops and those remaining white streaks were catching a little evening sun. I stood back up,went to the window and looked right to the tail of the bank. It was hazy, was that rain? It was a golden fuzz of some sort anyway. It was mostly clear above though and the sun would be down in about half an hour. That’ll be nice I thought to myself.

Aye. Telly back off, gear packed and out. The best thing about being “back” is that my gear is sitting there ready to go, no hassle, no hunting for stuff, just grab and go. Funny how that arrangement only seems obvious now, note to self etc…

I marched up the track, figuring it might be marginally faster than unlocking the gates and driving up. I was racing the sun the whole time, as I gained height, it slipped a little further into the bands of cloud on the horizon.
On the steep track to the bench on the ridge I slipped into the lead while the sun fumbled a gear change and lost momentum. Yes please.

The place was all mine, mine and the sky’s, time and space to just stop and wait for nothing to happen.
I bimbled the grassy ridge to Round Wood Hill as the colours bled through every hue of orange, red, gold and purple that you could find in the bumper coloured pencil box you got from santa in 1973.
The cool blues and browns eventually took it all away as I reached the top of the track and I headed down with thoughts of dinner while pulling on a beanie and zipping my top up to my chin. The sun is actually warm when you can see it, science is a wonderful thing.

 

The Man In Black

Gateway to adventure? Ha.

The blue sky was no less alluring when viewed through my dirty windscreen as I spun around the bustling metropolis of Dumbarton.
Mother’s car wouldn’t start, Holly was having a home lunch, there was a control engineer on his way to meet me on the other side of Glasgow. It was a nice day for everything to go wrong.
An hour later, it was all fine. Jump leads, truck redirection, phone calls and lunch. It was all resolved too quickly, I now had an afternoon where what I was supposed to have been doing I was now doing the day after.

That blue sky though.

I got the last space at the side of the road, even this late in the afternoon folk were still up there. On a Monday too. Good effort people.
I got ready nice and fast, more familiar kit, no chances were to be taken. My pack was light, it was comfy, every drawcord was where I’d left it, my bottle was just where my hand went to find it. Oh yes, this is the way to do it.
I stuck my camera and tripod on my front pouch, in recent times this had felt like an inconvenience, not anymore, it was time to play.

The sun was a little lower than I expected, the softer light was draining a little of the blue from above and it felt warm, in tone and in temperature. I sweated up the track on a wide, windless ridge.
I paced myself, I rested and sipped from my old oval Sigg, I examined every footstep for a twinge from a knee which never came. I just took it easy, I stopped worrying, I stopped overthinking and I just looked around me as I climbed, step after step, breath after breath.
Walking is just a simple mechanical motion, so why was I feeling brighter with every step? I could feel my lack of hill fitness with every vertical metre claimed but it didn’t hurt at all.

A paraglider arced above the loch to land in a field at Luss. Silent and slow, over too quick, it must have been beautiful enough to not feel the long climb to the launch.

It got a little colder, a little darker and the air was now moving past me fast enough to be noticed and it was going through my top as well, so I pulled on a windshirt and beanie.
The snow was creeping slowly from white to something else, a wash of pink and gold, a hint of sunset. The frozen grass sparkled in jagged shapes all around me, I think if I’d kicked through it as I walked the air would have been full of chimes as the long iced blades swung against each other.

The summit was cold. The sun was nearly down and the eastern horizon was a strip of pink fading into indigo. Ben Lomond was showing me it’s widest aspect, a block of shining pink reflecting the last of the day back across the loch. A scattering of lenticular clouds formed and hovered, sucking up the last of the light and sending the sun over the ridge to the west.
I was late when I left, but I’d still caught it. The grin was wide, the little voice inside was shouting at me. Yes, yes, I hear you, I know, I know.

I’d descended north to find shelter, hunger had suddenly moved past the view in order or priorities, I need a hot drink. A hot drink, insulation and bigger gloves. The temperature dropped sharply.
My dear old mother had thrown me together some pieces (sammidges, for google translate) as I’d passed through and as the stove came to the boil I tore into my cheese, ham, apple and stawberry jam on bread. The utter joy of it.

My little corner was good, out of the wind with a view north to the Arrochar Alps. There were some northern lights a bit further north the night before and I know there’s a chance this far south but the sky went to black and stayed that way. All this was enough anyway.
I could feel the gap between my 3/4 longjons and my rolled down socks, it was getting really cold. I pulled up my socks. So that’s what lower leg zips are for.
I pulled down my hood to have a proper look around and instantly regretted it, the cold felt like a solid, physical object as it hit my head. I put my hood back up and it stayed there until I took my down jacket off when I was nearly back at the truck.

Another cuppa was made and the ridge was paced in circles to keep the heat in my toes. The wind was strong but not strong enough to push me, it felt calm and quiet, it was peaceful here in the dark.
I packed up and I still lingered. I looked at the dim horizon, a jagged line from west to east, a line I have walked every uneven angle of, every top I could just make out has personal bookmark, a memory, a face or a moment in time long past and it drifted back on faded waves of joy and melancholy as I stood there in the dark.
As my crampons crunched me homewards over the last rounded top before the long descent I found my head fuller than it was when I started.
They say you can go to the mountains to lose yourself, but then they also say you can go to the mountains to find yourself. It’s also been said that “The soul of the gael is on the summit of the mountain“. Maybe it’s a little of each.

My headtorch cut out, the little flash had warned me and I was ready for it but I wasn’t ready for the way the sky picked up the slack. The crescent moon and riot of stars in crystal clear air was stunning. I looked up and spun slowly around until I was dizzy.
So close to home but so far from worry and oh, look at the time, Holly would be coming home from guides. I smiled at that as I picked up the downhill pace. I’d showed her my base layer before I left, she looked at the orange and purple stripes for a while and issued her statement “Hmm. Dad, never wear that in front of me again”.
The ultimate parental superpower, the power of embarrassment. Awesome.