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.


Random titles just aren’t coming to me this week

We missed the Dumbarton fireworks on Monday because one of us was on Ben Lomond and another one of us forgot they were on that night anyway. But, just up the road Clydebank were having their fireworks in Dalmuir Park actually on the 5th which seems to be a little unusual, so we set our sights on that.
Amazingly for us we were on time, early enough to get chips and juice from the chippy then wander into the park and pick a good spot. It was well attended, the rain started and then changed its mind and we had clear dark skies for the show.
I had the camera on it’s tripod pointed at the flashy bit above the park and absent mindedly clicked away without even looking as the three of us gazed upwards with accompanying oohs and ahs. A visit to the ice cream van on the way back for tubs with a flake for the girls and a nougat for dad rounded out a lovely wee night.
Can’t pick a favourite, so here’s most of them. Bless my wee camera and it’s happiness in the dark.

Prologue to a monologue

This is Jo. Jo is my fellow ranger at the Lang Craigs and we were out checking the visitor counters on Sunday, the first dry day we both make it up there at the same time.
Going team handed was a good plan, this is only the second time I’ve done the visitor counters and the mix of digging, electronics and having to follow a set of instructions all works better when someone is keeping you right and a clean pair of hands is holding the instructions.

Job done at both main gates and we still had time to take a wander through some of the recent planting where there was evidence of deer, some furry creature ran out of its burrow as my foot was going down and I nearly shat myself and landed on my back, the Scots Pines were found to be looking good and then there was the not so distant vision of a white capped Ben Lomond.

It was stunning. I know it so well after a lifetime of ascents but it can always through me a curve ball either visually or often by defying the weather fairies and making it up all by itself.
This was one of those times. I wanted to be watching the sun go down from that glowing ridge. This is another joy of rangering, heading up to the crags feeling inspired and finding something else to fire your motor while you’re there. Brilliant.

I checked the weather when I went home. Oh, look at that… I thought to myself. 24hrs later I was looking back at where I was standing on Sunday. But, we’ll come back to that in a minute or two. Once my hands have heated up.
Winter is here.


Bombin’ the L (Live at Budokan)

That’s the fifth different stuff I’ve tried on the graffiti on the top entry sign at the Lang Craigs and it’s finally fading. I think it’s more giving up with boredom up that being chemically removed.
I was up there late again, the sun was hitting the skyline before I was at the crags and it was bloody cold. I’m going to have to start wearing long sleeved base layers again. I need warmer bike gloves as well ice climbing gloves might stave off the frost but I can’t feel the brake levers. Couldn’t feel the ground either, it was so wet on the descent that I had both wheels drifting which is quite er, exciting in the dark.

Although the sunset was a mere 3 out of 10, a wee while after the sun fell over the scenery there was a shot of pink on a what clouds there were high up and it lit up a vapour trail like it was a strip of neon.
Looking to the northern made me smile too, the winter skirting of pink, purple and blue is here. I was supposed to be at 920m right now, but being a one car family just now means some last minute adjustments as we go through the week.
Can’t complain about any of it at all. Sitting in the saddle heating my hands up before the final run down to the gate the world was a wonderful place. When I shot down the silent hill to the A82 roadside it was like suddenly waking up in a revolving tumble drier full of headtorches, it was a shock to my system after the previous serenity.

Reality is a noisy aggravating bastard at times.

Fright Night 6

I think my camera is still in my rucksack. Well, “a rucksack”, I have more than one. How Bohemian. So since Tuesday I’ve been finding out just how pish the battery is in my phone by snapping away as I merrily deny the reality of missing deadlines brought about by the inability of this country’s industrial supply infrastructure to deliver unto me that which I need to finish works in progress and hence forward invoices with which to earn monies.

Greenock’s roads have been decimated by pin the tail on the donkey style traffic maanagement, trying to get back to Glasgow from James Watt College (now renamed something lame which I refuse to write) saw my on Lyle Hill and on my way to Amazon’s missile base in the hills beyond. The double rainbow was real after all and not just grease on my glasses. Yay.

I don’y know whether the face on the pie granny made was meant to scare or amuse Holly, but she ate it fast enough whatever.

Saturday was a long day. We were up at school/work time, listened to a recording of the radio show in the post below on the V+ box and shot off to meet my folks for breakfast at Dobbies. The place horrifies me, yet still we go. Christmas is here, there it is anyway and Joycee was happy to model the new furry Christmas door wreaths. Why Dobbies think this is a good idea I don’t know, a big hairy hole hanging on your door does not look very Christmassy to me.
However, totally abandoning any pretence of taking some sort of high ground when it comes to taste, a new friend was brought home. Hamish McHaggis is his name and rarely have I chuckled so much at something so tacky. Holly hugged its neck with such force I actually expected a body and legs to spontaneously pop out.
A finer highland ornament I have never seen and he now lives on the wall. I love our house.
PS It’s actually pretty big. Genius.

All this actually had a purpose which was to get the rest of the stuff we needed for Holly’s 6th birthday party, which is two weeks early. At the recent Lang Craigs tree planting day we spotted a flyer in a Forestry Commission truck for an event at Boden Boo woodland. Some investigation later, and despite my doubts about luck letting the weather being any good on the night, we booked in bunch of places in the hope that Holly’s pals would share her vision of the perfect birthday party: Halloween in the woods.

It was raining hard, the access road was awash. I bet no one has turned up. We were all cross with each other in the car. We parked in the last space and met a crown of kids dressed up in Halloween gear and a bunch of parents who didn’t know what the hell to expect. Then the rain stopped.

The kids were wound up tight as darkness fell and the torches lit around the spooky woodland trail. They made spiders webs in the art tent, had juice and sweeties and spoke braver than they felt as they started the trek on the tail on the witch.
In the woods there was a witch hunter, a wizard and zombies (who looked remarkably like Slipknot) who rose from a graveyard to may screams from the younger members of the audience, and maybe some older ones too. Giant spiders hung from trees, ghouls lurked and screams echoed in the darkness. The day was saved though, the witch was a good witch and fell in love with the witch hunter and the bad wizard ended up talking to Holly all the way down the hill to the story telling tree. The Wizard did well handling the curve balls Holly’s banter was throwing his way.

The storyteller in highland garb held the audience well with a telling of The Ghost of Ticonderoga, a tale of murder from the Campbells of Inverawe. We stood or sat in a circle under the darkness of canopy of autumn leaves on low, widely spreading branches. Youngsters climbed the branches above to creep closer to the story as the flames on the fire flickered across all of our faces. Magical.
Back to the tent, more juice and cakes and it was all over. Most of the kids made it all the way around the trail and all we could see were happy wee faces. Most painted like vampires, zombies or monsters.

I spoke about the Birthday Party Arms Race before, this one took a side step from that as it cost very little and delivered some fun for all as far as we could see. How many birthday parties have all the dads there from start to finish?
Full marks to the forestry folks for organising this and putting on a great show, there were activities at the start like dooking for apples and the art stuff, they dressed the woodland like a film set and everybody there gave it their all, including the cub scouts how played the zombies.
The Erskine Bridge with its endless roadworks even added to the spookiness as it was a high gantry of lights that matched all the pumpkins and flaming torches.

On The Way with BBC Scotland’s Out of Doors

Had a nice wee adventure this week making a piece for BBC Radio Scotland’s Out of Doors. It’s part of the One Place I’ve Never Been series and here we were doing the West Highland Way with Gary Robertson from Good Morning Scotland.
Chris Sleight the producer and I looked at the options as a day walk section was the plan and something accessible would be best, it’s always good to put the outdoors into easy reach. The east side of Loch Lomond was the obvious choice, at first south from Inversnaid looked good, but heading north was always going to be better. So that was the plan, Inversnaid to, well, there was talk of getting into the mountains in Glen Falloch and seeing Clach na Briton at the end.

The scene was set on a ferry trip across the loch from Tarbet, the tops in cloud with mist lingering on slopes bursting with autumn colours. It’s gorgeous, I’ll be back on that boat.
Inversnaid was drowned out by the sound of the falls. Water was the theme of the day, sometimes lightly from above, but always to our left and frequently around out feet. Burns and waterfalls feed the loch at every turn of the path, of which there are many on this stretch.
I know The Way very well, and this is the hardest section. I was expecting 1000ft+ of ascent today and hands would be placed on rock. If you want to inspire, dispel the myth that The Way is a soft tourist option and see some wild country on the doorstep of the central belt, this is where to go.

Gary set off at a brisk pace, the banter was good and there was plenty to see. Including an interview with a goat. By the time we sat in Doune bothy where I watched my stove bubbling over from the comfort of the rocking chair, hours had passed and much had been seen, said and learned. The weather had it’s little moods, the Way had it’s miles and it’s countless joys to soften them.
Gary was up for the challenge and just how well we did and what happened on The Way, we’ll just have to listen in and see. Tomorrow sometime between 0700 and 0800 and Sunday 1100 to 1200.

Whoa there cowboy

Just had a skim down the page and it’s almost all gear. Let’s not go down that road again, time to break it up a little.

The photie below was taken at 0836 on the 27th of February this year by a widely grinning bearded man. As views over a pot of porridge go, it’s not a kick in the arse away from perfect. I wonder what this winter holds for us all?
I’ve got plenty to look forward to during the season, the Mournes of Northern Ireland, a few days in Glen Coe, another trip to Skye (it’ll be raining with sea level cloud), Torridon and camping on an Atlantic beach amongst other stuff which I’ll make up as I go along.
First though is tomorrow, not winter coloured at all, in fact the weather looks bloody awful and the first thing I’ll be doing is catching a ferry across Loch Lomond. I’m holding onto the hope that the trek north will be through a magical canopy of golden and red leaves. I suppose we’ll see. I bet I get bitten by a goat.


I sat through a fashion show on Saturday

Shite weather is built  to be enjoyed if approached in certain ways. A family day out saw me hit the couch at 2100hrs like a Fallschirmjäger crashing through a chicken coop roof  which contrasted well with the quickly following Sunday morning where the girls buggered off to a kids party and left me all lonely with the rain running down the living room window. Even an episode of Kojak and my Spongebob lounge pants failed to brighten the new day.

The rain came and went with the whims of wind that carried it. I could either see the hills on the horizon or I could see no further than my side of the river. Perfect for going out to play in the Kilpatricks and the bike was needing to stretch its legs after the wheel repair.
I like trail running or mountain biking in the rain. Moving that bit faster I can cope with the conditions better, wet-through and muddy doesn’t seem so bad when I’m working hard, warmed up and concentrating.
There’s an added aspect of pure joy too, playing so close to home I don’t care how manky or wet I get, there’s a hot shower, a boiling kettle and woolly slippers waiting. Camp never has that stuff, so I tend to approach it with less enthusiastic gay abandon on my way there. I like a clean tent.

I met a family staying at the holiday cottages high on the hillside, three weans with maw and paw venturing up the track in the gathering dusk. The Kilpatricks are a proper tourist destination now, imagine that.
The wee bit of banter by the gate gave me a timely rest, it’s a climb I can’t complete in the saddle in one take, but I’m working on it again.
I stopped again only once by the reservoir. It was silent, driech and dreary. I chilled quickly in my sodden clothes but it was silent, deserted and windless, the hills were all mine this evening. I breathed out and sighed in unison and then sat for a minute drinking some Robinsons’s orange. Magic. And, time for a photie.

The descent was fast and loose, the track was swimming. I’m relearning the trail, so I can relax and bit and keep the brake levers covered but not pulled.
Holly shrieked at the muddy man who appeared at the door. Apparently my legs were scary.
I’m tired tonight, but it’s an honest tired which I don’t mind at all, I earned it.

What the hell would I do without hills at my door?

UNIQLO Ultra Light Down Parka

Ha, I get to do the fun stuff with this one. UNIQLO are running a competition here. Send them an online photie, not necessarily with their kit in it you’ll be pleased to hear, with a #ULD (Ultra Light Down) namecheck and win £300 to spend on their kit, which as well as the ULD stuff, has some lovely t shirts, jumpers and flannel shirts.
I’ve got all the outdoor gear I need, so sign me up for this.

I’d planned a shot of a wistful crag top gaze into the sunset while wearing my test jacket but after I trashed my rear wheel I actually had to use the jacket properly as I sat on the increasingly cold hillside in shorts trying to straighten my spokes and kinked brake disc.
So it’s all very well having a bit of promotional fun, but is UNIQLO’s down gear actually any good?

290g for a size large, they’re right, it is light. And looking at the photie below doesn’t show any great differences between the Parka and any other number of down jackets from your obvious technical brands. The devil will be in the detail. Or under my bed, but this isn’t the time or place for that.

The layout is plain and simple, but there’s been thought put into the design. The baffles are all narrow except for the hood where they’re a little wider and shaped to give the hood a proper shape without compressing the down when it’s worn. The side baffles are vertical which means the down has settled downhill a little leaving the underarm with very little insulation in it. Not a problem as down usually gets crushed here anyway and the arm insulation picks up the slack when your arms are down. There’s good articulation built into the shoulders too, a decent amount of armlift is possible without belly or kidney exposure.
The down in these baffles is 90/10 and I’ve been searching for those ten percent of feathers, they’re soft if you can find them and I’ve had no wee feather quills poking through the fabric or the seams. The fill power can be found in the small print on the hang tags, 640 or higher. Doesn’t seem a lot by today’s 900 standard, but I suppose you have to judge it on performance, not numbers.
And price.

The fabric shell is a very fine nylon, could be Toray or Pertex in a blind touch test, but I’ve no problem with own-brand fabric, it works just as well without the burden of branding. The shell is soft, compressible and to my surprise very water resistant. I tested the same-fabric stuff sack first and water ran straight off, even with the tap on for 30 seconds. Turns out the sleeve’s just the same. The stitching will suck some water in of course, but it’s good to know a shower won’t kill the jacket.
The main zip  is one-way with a nice big pull tag and a fine toothed type so runs smooth but there’s no baffle behind it so there’s going to be a little heat loss here.

There’s two external zipped pockets with tiny wee zip pulls, big gloves will be a fumble, but they’re smooth and the pockets are big and deep, going behind the down baffles to warm my fingers when trying to fix my wheel. Inside the pocket bags are stitched up the right way to give you two big poachers pockets, good call.
The hood is a good size with a gently elasticated opening which matches it up to the hem and the cuffs. The hood has no adjustment, but a hat or a buff makes it stick to your head so you don’t have to look at the inside of the hood when you look left or right. My head’s huge, so this adjustment-free trend on down jacket hoods doesn’t affect me so much, I just fill the gaps naturally.
The chin’s interesting. It’s quite loose, obviously so casual wearers won’t feel locked-in, but mountain folk like to hide from the cold so my first thought was that it was a weak spot, but it means that the Parka layers well over other stuff and still zips right up. Nice.

So, I’m on the hill, my bike’s grinding and “pinking”, those who have stressed their spokes will know the sound and I’m trying straighten it all out so I can get back down. The Parka went on and I got on with it as it got dark and the temperature dropped. I sat cross legged on the grass until it was done as well as could be, the disc was still going to grind on the brake caliper, but I really needed dinner, time to go. I took off the Parka and did that Ooooh thing with the clenches fists, it was bloody freezing. I pulled on my shell and got on the move.
Not scientific in anyway, but I wasn’t working hard and pumping heat into the jacket, it is actually quite a warm jacket. It’ll have it’s limits but I’m going to test it along with new tech down gear into winter and see how I get on with it.
One important point is the fit, the Parka’s slightly oversized, I could have got away with a medium no problem. But I have slim fit down vest that fits under it, so I’m good to go on my favourite camp insulation combo.


Bombin’ the L

Rangering at the Lang Craigs is the gift that keeps on giving. I filled my pack with chemicals and industrial wipes and pedaled up to the top of the site to try and get the graffiti off of the welcome sign.
Never understood the need to write your name in a public place. I already know my name and people that don’t know it probably aren’t that fussed by what it is, so writing it on a wall somewhere isn’t going to act as reminder for myself and it’s just going to give folk the first impression that the bearer of the name is an arsehole. I’m not seeing any of  that as motivation for doing it.
But, it was graffiti that got me out into the hills last night. The scrawl on the sign proved as hard to shift as my feet, or should I say wheels, as I took in the glorious evening. It was silent and cold, the site was empty but for me, even the birds were sleeping.
The trees are growing, the hillside is changing, one day my favourite clump of pines will be swallowed up by sprouting brothers and sisters. I wonder how high they’ll grow in my lifetime?

I’d charged by bike and helmet lights which was lucky, by the time I’d reached the bottom gate the trees were a tunnel of blackness and I needed them. My hands were also freezin’, I could barely curl my fingers. That’s partly because I’d been delayed by stupidity.
I’d taken some tripod shots on the way up, and I decided to keep riding with the tripod across the handlebars as I wanted a bit more height to catch the setting sun again. What actually happened was I put the tripod legs into my back wheel, mangled them and pulled four spokes in my wheel. Christ.
My descent was slowed considerably, but the bike was perfectly rideable. And fixable, but lesson learned I think. It did mean I got my UNIQLO down jacket photie for the competition/review thing, not the one I planned, but at least a genuine one.

I made a few safety stops on the way down, the wheel wasn’t deforming, the rear suspension was saving the rim, but being careful from 300m to sea level is just so damned depressing. However, waiting just along the road at my folks house was home made curry and a pair of slippers under the radiator.
On balance, with a full belly and a downloaded memory card, the evening was a win.

Overtoun House looks so creepy at night, I love it.

Tree Planting Day

The day went well. There was a wee bit of setting up still to do by the time I arrived and then I spent the day around the planting area which suited me perfectly.
The weather was up and down, a flash of sun and a few light showers to break up the general greyness. The punters arrived early and in good numbers too, meaning there was a bit of a dash to get enough canes into the ground to mark the planting spots. By afternoon the planting area was full of folk, and folk of all types too. We had ages from 3 to 93, from locals to crag visitors who knew nothing about the event and got roped in and everybody got muddy, wet and I saw many smiling faces.

The motivation everyone has is different. Parents with weans making something to come back to and visit in days to come, people remembering someone gone already, those with environmental concerns and those who are just enjoying playing in the outdoors. And, everything  inbetween.
I love it, they’re good folks and it’s a pleasure to blether all day, makes standing in calf deep mud a joy.

In the photies are the base camp where there was visitor information and the catering folks, who are brilliant and make awesome soup. Next door there was a drummer who got the kids sounding like a mix between a Highland army marching to battle and smooth jazz club combo and an environmental artist got kids to make autumn leave swirls through the trees, including a lovely spiral up a tree.
Lots to do, it certainly looked busy where we were and there must have been 700+ trees went in. Great day, wee frogs everywhere too.

PS Long time listeners might spot Wheelie lying outside the tent. It’s perfect for this stuff, takes a dozen shovels and whatnot it’s also portable waterproof storage.

I ain’t no bubble blowing jellyfisher

2013 started off with a flush of mountain colour and splashes of camping joy but it wasn’t long before I found myself cramming in hill days between work trips up north and being able to pick the best days turned into desperate dashes to try and catch patches of blue sky. My lasting memories of the summer are going to be two specific things. A return trip to Kintail to get clear photies and instead sitting in the car in the pissing rain for hours hoping the cloud would lift higher than the fence. Then there’s Skye which was just endless days of misery. Repeat trips onto viewless wet rock on what should be an inspirational beautiful place. And I’m going back too.

I was close to losing my sense of joy, I was burning tank after tank of fuel, burning up days up as fast and coming home with nothing but frustration never mind a head full of memories or a memory card full of joy. Great for finding out that most gear is entirely adequate, but I’m not buying the reverse psychology that bad weather mountains are somehow better or make you some sort of hero, that’s just bollocks, a view from the top and a cuppa under a calm star-filled sky win every time.
My time in the Kilpatricks was something else though, a wee island of escape regardless of weather or mood. I owe that place more than ever. But, something had to give one way or another.

Being back on the bike seems to have sparked something, an unexpected shout for a flyaway mountain job later in the year had me looking for new maps, renewing my passport and feeling enthused, then there was the arrival of autumn. It’s almost like being brought back to the surface.
The forecast was good, Holly wanted a sleepover at Granny’s, we rummaged, packed and hit the A82. Joycee chuckled as she looked at the clock on the dashboard, it was the best possible omen, “Look, it was late when we left…”

Sticking to my well used format, the road needs a mention. We were behind a Ford Mondeo that drove between 15 and 25mph up the lochside and stopped dead every time there was oncoming traffic. I was directly behind them and was getting twitchy but the ever lengthening queue behind me was getting dangerous. The road was busy on the other side, no chance of overtaking, but I could see someone was going to chance it. Mrs Mondeo finally saw sense, reason, or just gave into the fear of a road narrower than a motorway and pulled over. We were gone.
Only as far as Tyndrum mind you, no pressure was felt this day, we had all the time in the world. The Green Welly has upped its game, the food is way better than it used to be, pressure from the Real Food Cafe’s rising success and matching prices? Soup, homemade this and that, dinner for our rucksacks and the sunkissed highway took our aging wheels once again.

The last time I was down Glen Etive was when I was away on the Garmin press trip last winter. What a place it is. Its dead end status keeps it quieter than it might be, there’s still a bunch of informal car campers shitting in the grass along the roadside of course, but it’s still beautiful from one end to the other. You just don’t have to be clever to enjoy it.
Lots of cars around the Ben Starav access point, we got the last space. Mind you, it was so late in the day, some folks came back and started the drive home while we were still deciding what snacks to pack.
We got our shit together and wandered down the road towards the river. It was warm, the breeze carried only a hint of autumnal cool and the light was golden. It was heart swelling.

When I go somewhere with Joycee that we haven’t been before I get away with pulling out new/old stories and the wooden bridge ahead was cause for one. Years back when LED’s were moving in saying that my Petzl Zoom was old hat I was up here solo in the middle of winter. I was descending in the pitch black with a brand new Petzl Tikka (I think) on ground that was frozen hard and legs that were tired out. I missed the bridge, and ended up at the lochside, tired, confused and cold, For some reason rather than retrace my steps and look for the bridge I decided to cross the river where I was. The torch had already proven inadequate on the descent, the grassy hillside was a slope of water ice from days of freeze/thaw cycles which a pale pool of light had made into a baby stepping epic. I now crossed the river on well spaced out iced rocks with the same pishy grey splodge of light that meant I could only see a few feet around me.  Idiot.
I went right off LED’s for ages after that.

Red dragonflies pattered around us, hawthorn berries burst with a matching hue and the white rocks littering the path traced our way ahead like the easiest game of join the dots you ever saw.
It’s a wonderful place this, perfect mountain shapes with autumn slowly wearing away summers green cloak. More stories came back to me, the ptarmigan attack on Glas Bheinn Mhor, the waist deep snow on Beinn nan Aighenan, the day under blues skies wearing ski goggles on Stob Coir an Albannaich, the deer incident on Beinn Fhionnlaidh, I’m sure Joycee enjoyed them all, but maybe just because her iPhone had no signal.

The pace was good, we wanted the sunset at the top and we had plenty of time. There were cuppas, rests, fannying around with cameras, talking to folks on their way down and looking at the view. On the ascent you can only see north, but it’s not like it’s a second prize. What’s fun is that Glen Coe looks a little small and insignificant from here, maybe even a little utilitarian, like the loading zone at the back of a shopping mall. Ben Starav stands tall here in so many ways.
It was windy, the grass shimmered or rippled in mini Mexican waves as the sharper gusts rolled across it, but I was still warm and my new hat was staying on. Rock was ever more present as was the feeling of height, the ridge is wide but it’s pretty steep so you do have a feeling of isolation on the way up as the occasional leveling-out makes the slopes below it disappear.

We sat on a rocky shelf, had a cuppa and looked at the world below. It was suddenly all back, the joy, the motivation, it had been here all the time I suppose, I just had to go and find where I’d left it.
My initial reaction was to want to lie back on the rock and go for a wee kip, done that many times over the years. It just means I feel at home. And that I might be feeling a wee bit knackered. Not today though, we both wanted to climb on. I finally pulled on my windshirt and gloves, we were were more exposed now, both to the wind and to the height, the last stretch to the summit is a little rougher.

I’d kinda forgotten what the last ascent section was really like, a well defined boulder field – ridge sort of thing. Joycee did well, it’s been a while since she’d tackled anything even close to that, pre-Holly days, she scrambled up the boulders like wean looking for sea creatures in rock pools at the beach.
The summit is a joy, a viewpoint with that magical mix of mountain and sea and all things inbetween. The sun was going down slowly, we were in time and then there was something a little strange. If you know me you’ll know that nearly every summit I’ve visited in recent years has had a raven waiting for me, it initially got a little freaky but in recent months there’s been no raven and with it no views, and no joy at times either. As Joycee and I took in the very real joy of the cairn a raven swooped up beside us, carried up on the wind, it hovered there and then it was joined by a friend. Two ravens, one each. They arced and swooped around the top, having fun, ignoring, or maybe just enjoying the human company. The devil’s carrion my arse, the raven is a mountain dweller and brings me as big a smile as the two ptarmigan we set flying into the night later on. Bless them all.

Just off the summit is a meadow of sorts with a little lochan, a perfect place to amble in the sunset or pitch a tent. We both asked the same question: Why aren’t we camping? Next time.
The next descent takes you away from the horizon and the sun sinking into it, but the ridge ahead is a bit scrambly and I wanted to make sure we were in a good place when darkness fell. It was so good to be back in the mountains with the misses, I didn’t want to blow it by pushing my luck.
It worked out well, the cloud behind us caught the colours and set the sky aflame as we took our different routes along the ridge, the rocky highroad was the most fun, but the contouring path was a wise twilight choice.
It got darker by the minute and we got slower but at the bealach we finished our still warm flasks and had our dinner, more than a little later than planned. By the time we were ready to move we were fitting out headtorches to the sounds of rutting stags in the glen below.

The stars came out and the sound of rushing water drowned out the stags. The pace was slow as our legs got a little more tired, the drops into the gorge were black and almost magnetic. Again, we wished we were camping. But the wind was strong, we had stuff to do the next day. The day had been won whatever.
Joycee had stretched herself, I saw her do what she’d forgotten she could do and also discover what I see and feel in the twilight of the mountains at the same time as I remembered it myself.

The road home was empty and dark. Home was odd without a crazy five year old to put back into bed the right way up. We were tired out, it had been a day to remember, and for me especially a mountain day I wanted to write about for the first time in a long time.
Joycee was under the duvet just before me, my head was buzzing with the thoughts and emotions of the day, but I swear to you I was asleep before that busy head hit the pillow.

Where are my new brakes Mr Postman?

I saw a brand new gritter being delivered to a council depot. I did make me smile. As colourful as summer is, I won’t miss it. In a perverse sort of way I suppose, gritting my teeth into the recent high winds on the tops and pulling on gloves too late to stop my fingers getting numb was kinda fun.

I need more new music. The motor’s full of bags of CD’s that have worn down to the canvas over the many miles this summer. Buying the new Ministry album in the wee indie record shop by Queen Street Station was a step in the right direction, it’s a great album and the joy of buying it in a proper record shop cannot be overstated.
HMV’s resurgence is welcome, it’s nice to visit it now, full of stuff and things it is, but an old manky record shop covered from floor to lightbulb in old flyers and posters is the real home of music and it’s heartening to see them getting a new release into the racks the morning its out, and before HMV too.

It’s like the hills knew I was coming.

Frivolous weirdness, that’s our life in my house and its nice to see that other folk indulge in the same sort of thing.