Conic Screwdriver

Sometimes things work out just right, the Trail that’s in the shops has a route I wrote for Conic Hill above Balmaha on Loch Lomond which was the result of a quick schedule change. It was perfect as I know the hill so well, I’d just climbed it again so knew my facts were already up to date and I got to push a proper gem to the front of the queue for a wee while.
Conic almost always pops its head through an inversion and the views from it are epic, nothing less. I was properly enthused writing this one, I suppose I always am really, but this one is special cos it’s local and the route isn’t what most folk do, it’s got my own regular way up, down and around.
Magic, go climb it.

Sandwood Bay

It was our anniversary weekend, it was Joycee’s birthday, the weather looked good and we had no idea Holly was brewing scarlet fever while we were away. Sandwood Bay seems like an awful long time ago.
Luckily we took some photies. Actually we were lucky to have any photies to bring back, my Panasonic Lumix LX5 shat the bed, focus fault, dead in the water. Luckily the old LX3 with its will it work/won’t it work display saved the day. So did the phones, so here we’ve got two cameras and two smartphones snapping away. Too complicated for me. I’m going back to a sketchbook and telling tall tales.

We stopped at the Tain Asda for fuel and matches or a lighter for camp back-up and had a quick cuppa while we were at it. I went back to the motor to sort some kit outwhile Joycee went to the kiosk and she followed me out a minute later with a big grin on here face “They asked me for ID, I need my purse”. Not letting a 37 year old buy a lighter because she didn’t look 21? I’m still hearing all about it now…

The road from there is a pure joy, every mile of it. As you get further west the grin gets wider as the mountain shapes become more defined and wear names that bear witness to a different history to the peaks further south. Then suddenly you’re in heaven at the coast.

It was late when we left Blairmore with a  four and a half mile trek to the beach. The sky was draining of light and colour but the going is good, it was cool and dinner was waiting for us at the end of the line.
The pace was good and we walked as far as we could using our eyes as they adjusted to the darkness. We went to red light and then to full beam as got near the end. We passed dark lochans, tiny dark beaches, silent expanses of heather but all with the beacon on the Cape Wrath lighthouse ahead. It could have been creepy, but it was more bracing for want of a better expression.
We knew we were nearly there because we heard it, the roar of the ocean. We couldn’t see it until it was just a few feet away, but its presence was definitely felt. Dark shapes disguised the cliffs and the wind whipped across the sand as we walked north towards the light.

We picked a spot near the fresh water river at the far end of the main stretch of beach. The dunes aren’t necessarily a great place to camp, but with some long pegs and some rocks the tent was surprisingly secure and we snuggled inside up as sand-free as we could and got the stove on.
Dinner and a wee bottle of red, a little music, layers of down and the sounds of the sea. The lullaby of doom indeed. The wind howled and the tent shook, but it held it’s ground and went nowhere.
The night sky cleared now and again as ships lights passed along the horizon, but it wasn’t a night for taking photies. Sleep called and we already there.

Not a glorious morning, but a pretty one, quite a calm one too. The wind had dropped a little but the waves had grown, they crashed onto the beach and rocks with a constant roar.
We could see now too, Am Buachaille standing proud and solo to the south and sheer cliffs bursting seewards all the way to the cape not too far to the north.

What a place this is.

We knew we weren’t alone, a fire at the far end of the beach when we’d arrived in the dark gave that away. We soon met the firemaker, Duncan and his girlfriend had been camping and Duncan had come to catch the waves as he worked his way through a ticklist of must-do surf spots. Fair play to him, and indeed the other board carriers we met on their way in later on.
It like meeting mountain bikers or paragliders on the hills, there’s always another way and another perspective, I love that.

Breakfast, break camp and head out while have a wee explore was the plan. The tide was going out, the rocks were emerging and we found a message in a bottle in the sand. It was addressed to Holly and had been sent by a mermaid. It was lucky we’d been there at the right time.

The showers that had drifted across cleared to a blue sky as we tred the miles back out. It was a different world we walked through on the way out, snow dusted peaks lined the eastern skyline, colour was all around and the lochans hidden in the heather were now indigo fringed with gold.
The pace was a little slower this time, no hurry to get back in the car seats, it would be along road home.

There were diversions on the way back, it would be a crime not to stop now and again and get out to have a better look. The part of the country pulls at me like no other place, the hills and the land around them hold their mystery no matter how many times I climb or trek them.

There’s also no more appropriate place for the two of us to spend our anniversary. When we got together the first thing we did was throw our gear into my van and head up here and elsewhere. From Ben Hope to Cairngorm we went visiting every tea shop inbetween. Things haven’t changed that much then.

Magical Mystery Tour

If you’ve been watching the news, which we were doing accidentally because Richard Branson screwed up our telly once again leaving us with just socialist TV and no cartoons to watch, that is five channels plus BBC 3&4, you’ll have seen the endless horrors currently unfolding around the world.

It’s no wonder that this news item seems to have slipped under the radar. As down south’s coast takes a pounding unearthing ancient footsteps and fossil forests up here the snows have brought to light their own ancient mysteries.
Below in an undisclosed location in the north west is the site of the slaying of the last real live Highland Tattie-bogle. As you can see it suffered horribly at the hands of the terrified clansmen of the day, its tumshie heid knocked off and its arms dragged off so they could no longer grasp at unsuspecting passers by.

The loss of the wolf and the bear from the Highlands are what people lament and you never hear of Tattie-bogles (other than Jon Pertwee’s historically inaccurate depiction in Worzel Gummidge), Fear Dubhs or any of the sea dwelling cousins such as the Skelpie. These were a great part of our natural heritage and are almost unknown today. But not entirely unseen, but I’ll come back to that.

Down on the Upside

It’s been the ultimate of contrasts the past couple of days and I’ve been thinking about things that I suppose we all know are always there but maybe we pretend they aren’t.

Trail mag came through and I was pleased to see my Mourne Mountain routes are in there. That trip was brilliant in every way and despite only having about half an hour free of cloud or rain the whole time we were there we discovered mountains and places and people that were a total joy. I’d go back in a heartbeat.
It was also the last proper mountains I’ve been near until the last couple of weeks. It feels like a lifetime ago.

Then the news came through, fallen on Bidean, 12 hours injured in a gully, airlifted to Belford at 0300. When it’s friend you feel it in your stomach and then you run through the what-ifs and come up with nothing.
The story’s not over though the ending is looking far better than anyone might have expected, but it’s swept the feet from under me.

Sunshine on a rainy day


It was mid afternoon, I’d nipped out to do a wee job which went well, the girls had finished their kids party mayhem and we were suddenly all in the same place at the same time.
Quick, go somewhere!

Balmaha came up, Arrochar too, but Luss won by default as that’s the road we were on and it was there when we needed cuppas and toilets. It’s good to have these needs line up at the same time on days out, it’s when they space themselves apart things can get a little, atmospheric shall we say. Especially when like me you’ve just home left much later that planned.

Luss was dreich, but that’s not a bad thing.  The cafe in the visitor centre had a warm fire to sit by and home made cake to go with the cuppas.
The snow line hung below the cloud while mist softened the edges of the streaks of white, Loch Lomond was a sheet of rippled grey steel and the ducks and swans were never so pleased to have company as they were when we appeared on the beach.

Grey doesn’t have to be a dull colour.



Little Feat

Music in my ears, my eyes squinting onto the bright swirl of cloud and snow. I had to pull on gloves and was glad of my hood.

It was difficult at first. It felt awkward, I wheezed, I felt stiff, my pack felt unfamiliar on my back and I shifted it around. I sucked air in, sure I was going to burn my throat like I’ve done on so many winter ascents in the past.

Sleet came down the glen in a wave, I could see it coming while it was still minutes away and by the time it hit me I was hidden in my shell. My legs had woken up, my breathing was regular and my good pace was delivered standing up straight.


I was surrounded rather than up top, but my cheeks were tight with the cold air, I swear I could smell the snow in the air and I just grinned at myself, at where I was and at the poor bugger who wandered up to me having expected to see no one in this wee backwater place. Nice to have a bit of banter.

Cloudy tops could not diminish my joy. It was enough to be back in familiar places, joyful places, inspirational places. Places I’ll be back to in a few days.
Let’s see if my shoulder’s ready for an overnight pack.

Parking on the old road

I was picking up Joycee from the train and I was early, I know, I was surprised too, and it looked lovely over the river. It had been misty all day and it was just breaking up as evening took over from the afternoon and I pulled off the M8 to take a couple of photies on my phone.

I might and try to be early for things again.

Pleased to meet you

It was foggy. I had things to do, but it was foggy, what the hell did you think I was going to do?

I could have gone to the Kilpatricks, but I know that Conic Hill’s wee summit usually just pokes through an inversion and it’s not too far away at all. I quickly packed some bits and pieces and I was off.
The lochside was clearing, I could see some islands, I was too late. I pulled into the back of the Balmaha carpark, could I really be arsed now? Ach, I was here, it’s a lovely wee walk. What the hell.

I kept the pace up, it was still pretty thick above after all and the forest was eerie as the tall straight trunks faded to grey high above. I gasped past two girls as panic set in after I realized I had a shot at a view above and my legs pushed past the point my lungs and heart could power them. The weeks of avoiding all the things the physio said I had too has ruined me. I’ve rarely felt so unfit. But, I’m not waking up every half an hour during the night as my shoulder punches me in the face with a mittful of pain so it was worth it. I’ll get it back.

Met a couple of fellas coming down, “Lovely view” they said. I pushed on and walked out of the cloud just below the knobbly summit ridge. Joy, grinning at the scene I know well but thrills and inspires me every time. I through my pack off and rimaged for the camera. I couldn’t feel it, I opened up the pack and looked inside. No camera, no camera bag.
It was back at the car. Well, that’s what I thought, actually is was sitting in the middle of the living room floor back home, so it’s just as well I didn’t go back to the car to get it.

What the hell, the phone will do, all I need is a memory jogger and it’ll manage that just fine.

Met a happy pair slipping down the icy track from the summit and then I had the place to myself. Down jacket, hat gloves, cuppas and sammidges from the garage. Bliss.
I heard the girls voices below me, they were wandering past the summit on the West Highland Way route, I felt like shouting something about how nice it was up here and didn’t they want to see the view, but bloody hell, I know just how bad that would have gone so I went back to my flask and gazed around some more.

The top clouded over a few times, but it was mostly clear to the horizon. There was high level cloud with a sun trying to burst through, so it was all a little muted, an understated beauty rather than the obvious glamour of the blue sky above. It was perfect as it was.
I heard the girls again, they were making for the summit after all and were enjoying the iced track. This time I did shout, “It’s easier after that bit” That seemed to be well received and they were soon with me.

New to the hills and climbing the local peaks for the first time, the joy and enthusiasm from the two of them was wonderful to witness. I remember that feeling, the first times are different and special and they’d done this first in style today. We blethered away, more cuppas all round and I tried and failed to hold back my usual flow of useful information. They were kind and didn’t run away and it was great to have company. Moments like this deserve to have an audience, nature putting on a show and most folks are unavoidably detained under the clouds which carpeted our view as far as we could see in every direction.

It wasn’t long until there were four of us, another pair of experienced feet and accompanying bearded chin arrived to claim a slice of the communal win. More chat, more excuses to stay as if I needed that.
But, Holly needed fetching from school and I had to go. I was still the last to leave the top though, it looked like the sun was breaking through, perfect Brocken Spectre conditions, but it wasn’t to be.
I followed the ridge down into the cloud, so much to enjoy on this wee hill, and caught the girls up in the fog and they were still all smiles. It was an infectious state of mind. What a good idea it was going there today.


Short Term Memory Loss Win

Having a week or so between a trip and really looking through the photies is something I might have to do again. It’s full of surprises and springback action memories.

If someone from another planet  looked through my pages it must look like I live in a world of low light and splashes of colour. The poor buggers must be spinning their globe of the earth wondering where the hell it is I hang out while their mum shouts over her shoulder “He’s either always running late or it’s all ‘shopped”.

Bloody aliens, I’ll show them.

Winter Opening Hours

If you’ve been watching the news over the past few days it’s hard not be stunned by the little chain of occurrences at home and overseas that have brought tragedy to many folks.

After a wee bit of unavoidable admin this morning we decided to get out mid afternoon and made a dash for Aberfoyle. It was beautiful, clear and cool with golden light picking out the hills in amber.
Other families were out playing too, Mrs Santa was at the visitor centre and the hide for bird watching was a perfect place for Holly to draw a picture in the visitor book as the birds tweeted and flapped past her.

Joycee said on the way home that folk really should make the most of what time the can find together. She’s right too.

Picnicasonic LXPies

That camera dial got turned to Film Grain setting in my pocket and I never noticed. Interesting. The LX5 was a worry on the Mournes trip, the wee dial that adjusts the exposure shat the bed and jammed itself on -3 meaning that everything was dark except photies done on Intelligent Auto, that is pale washed out and flat looking setting. Playing with it back at the hotel I managed to persuade it back to zero and a bit of research back home revealed this as a common problem. Solutions seem to be tentative in their application, but after my old LX3 picked up the slack in Northern Ireland after the screen seemed to start working again, I decided to spray some RS Computer Solvent Aerosol (Many years old, the font on it is countdown…) into the wheel and see what happened. Some intensive twiddling, some more spraying and it works again. Yay. Saves me buying a new thing which I’d have to learn how to work.

Picnic day in the Lang Craigs was fun. Holly raced up the hillside including all the wee scrambles like a natural and was much impressed by the clouds below us. This lasted whole seconds before the picnic took priority and the frantic search was on for the perfect spot.
We found this on some rocks sticking out of the heather and had a fine wee time to ourselves with turkey and cranberry wraps in surprisingly warm air. As we got ready to go a visitor arrived, my purple softshell was a giveaway he said, it was Fatwalker who has often commented on here and lives local. One thing was immediately apparent, he isn’t fat at all and also, I can’t believe we haven’t ran into each other sooner. Magic. I’ll be watching for him now I know what he looks like.

More wandering too us past the cup marked stone, or the Fairy Stone as it is now and even back at the car the day was far from done. We went across the river to cut a couple of hundred whips of willow for a project which we did today and as it got dark and then had another picnic by the river. McDonalds made this one for us though. For money, not as a favour, but I think they’re like that with everyone.

Cover Girl

It was nice to see this shot which I took on a fine Easter’s day on Ben Nevis on the cover of Trail’s January 2014 issue which is just out. It fits just fine with Dan Aspel’s nice feature on the CMD/Nevis loop where he was gritting frozen teeth into the weather much more than we were on the same route not so long before him. It was a brilliant day, perfect weather and great company and it’s a day that’ll always stick with me.
It’s been a bit retro on here recently, so why not add a couple from the same trip before I get on with the new stuff. Sometimes repeats are the best thing to watch anyway.

Monday Mourne to Sunday Morn

It’s been a busy week. Me and Joycee spent most of it in County Down enjoying four seasons of weather on some of the finest hills I’ve walked. The Mountains of Mourne have made quite an impression on us, as have the fine folks we met there.  The routes, the best photies and more from the Northern Ireland trip will be in the March issue of Trail.

As soon as we got of the plane I was pulling on steelies to go and wrestle pipework with a quick visit to the physio in the middle of it “Have you been lifting heavy weights?” she says as I look guilty. It’s a rotator cuff tear apparently. Sounds like something they’d pull you for on an MOT that would cost £300 to fix and they’d spot something else while they were under there. Bastards.
Anyway, if I behave it’ll get better. Don’t lift things, FFS.

We finished at 2100, I got home to watch Doctor Who on the V+ Box and belatedly shared the dewy eyed moment with all the other blokes my age when Tom Baker came on at the end.
I loved the 50th anniversary special with all its little faults and it’ll take repeated watching to spot all the references, but I think they did the show proud and John Hurt was excellent. What a Doctor he would be.

This morning was grey and thick and I knew there was an inversion out there ready to be viewed from above. Breakfast and well earned lethargy took an easy win over an early exit, but it didn’t last forever. It was just a wee bit later that planned when we left.


Poses from the past

I was looking through some old photies to try and find something specific for a pal and there’s so much there I’d forgotten about or haven’t seen for years.

Here’s some mountain smiles from a few years ago with friends both old and older than that from the days before Lumix decorated these pages.

Don’t tell the physiotherapist

Maybe I should have been in a tent at dawn rather than the kitchen wearing a down jacket because I was up and about before the heating was on. But, the ongoing shoulder issues mean that’s not happening for mean time and besides, we’d had a fun family day on Saturday which only ended after BBC1’s Atlantis which Holly watches through a cushion as it’s on the scary side for her. The mountains will always be there, I’ll choose these kinds of days first every time.

The girls were still sleeping when I was scraping ice off the windscreen although the sky was starting to show some pale blue in it’s inky depths. Time to run.

The sun was up by the time I was on the track, the snow shone pink and the few clouds that there were burned bright orange in the weak early rays. When I was clear of the trees the sun flooded the hillsides and the day was up and running. I’d been second into the Arrochar car park but I knew on a day like today I wasn’t going to be alone. Quite right too.

I tweeted that photie above with the caption – Confusion reigned today when I found myself on a mountain during daylight hours. It was quite true, early hours ascents that didn’t start in a tent don’t happen often to me and it really was kinda fun. The colours went from warm to start blue and white instead of the other way around. Didn’t know whether I was coming or going. So I just went.

The snow was great, crampons went on first, well, second after the grin and my footprints were the first ones wherever I went until I climbed onto the regular path and met a fella with a dug who was just as happy as I was. We had some banter, they climbed on and I ate some cheese while looking around me. I can’t count how many times I’ve stood here and it still thrills me.
Everyone was going to the Cobbler, I could see them on the track far below, but the easy gullies between Beinn Narnain’s sheer crags were getting their first visitors. Glorious.

The top is a strange place, suddenly flat after the rocky drama on the last pull up. Clouds which had crept from the surface of Loch Long bubbled below the crags and over the top of A’Chrois where I was going to head.
It was already enough, the virgin snow, the clear blue above, but those little clouds brought magic to the day. I made a wee home for myself, lit the stove and sat back in the sun.

Met a couple from Glasgow, you’ll see them in some of the photies. They wore the same grin, I think they must have been handing them out at the Arrochar car park and I was too sleepy to notice taking mine. They proved durable though, the old fella I ended the day with hand’t even scuffed his when he slipped on the descent from The Cobbler.

There was a Broken Spectre floating around below me when the wisps of cloud ribboned across the ridge, a perfect circle when I watched it, in the blink of a camera’s eye just fragments of rainbow.  It’s just enough to spark the memory.

It’s been so long since I’ve been on the ridge to A’Chrois I don’t think it’s been on the blog, shame on me as it’s a cracking stretch to walk, especially with the snow cover. Beinn Ime’s dark coire  looms at you across the glen and as you walk north you feel ever closer to the peaks beyond Ben Vane and Ben Vorlich. Nevis looks like it’s at the end of the street. What joy folks must have been having all over this wee country today.

I wasn’t moving very fast, there was no need. The day overtook me quite easily and the sun had started to sink by the time I left A’Chrois for the twisty descent of its south ridge. Ileft the snow and was back on grass.
Ah, well.
Time for a snack, a wee drink and a sit down. The last views before I got too low to see far turned warm in hue to match the warmer air I was a little dismayed to find as I lost height.

There’s always something else though, the stone belly button, the suspicious standing stones probably left by the 1940’s dam builders and the joys of the horrendously eroded old path that goes straight down to the car park. A few years of the new path and this way has gone all to hell. It’ll either turn completely into a burn or grow over. Given that it was there just to support dam building infrastructure maybe that’s just fine, but I think it’s a wee bit sad.

Half an hour and I was home, the girls were all crazy, dinner was ready and my slippers were soft and fluffy. All my favourite things in one day.

One last thought, I marked 1100hrs and wore my poppy all day. The freedom to do what we do didn’t come without a cost.