“Holly, did you hear that?” he called as he blinked into the low winter sun.
There was no reply, but he got on with lining up that important selfie anyway.
“Holly, did you hear that?” he called as he blinked into the low winter sun.
There was no reply, but he got on with lining up that important selfie anyway.
I have got into the habit of sticking a camera in the truck most days and it’s good in that I can take photies, but bad in that I take photies when I should be doing something else.
I’ll live with it for the time being, the sun comes up at the perfect time around the school run which won’t last, so what the hell.
I love this spot by the river, the light, the birds, the water and currently the fact that everything is frozen solid, from the sand to the seaweed.
What a place to watch the sun rise.
The tide was coming in, the river every so gently flowing into the frozen depressions in the sand, circling the rocks and creeping up the blades of the seaweed melting the frost and turning them from sparkling white to glossy green. It was like watching a timelapse film, silent and hypnotic.
Retreating from the water towards breakfast there’s still things to see and I wander through the frozen trees like a schoolkid on a daytrip to the museum, swinging arms and head to the sky.
After all the stress and turmoil of the past few years I’m increasingly finding more of the me that I remember.
And, holding onto it.
As much as I like running up the hills when I run out of things to do/abandon my responsibilities I couldn’t be arsed going home and getting changed this afternoon, so it was either cotton polo shirt versus the snowy crags or a wander down the harbour.
I made the right choice, bloody hell it was cold.
Maybe not the grandest of skies, but worth viewing and soaking in. The wrecks looked lovely in the fading light too, one side dark and frosty, the sunny side warm and orange until the sun hit the wrong side of the horizon.
A few other folk were out taking it in too. I love that, it gives me hope when folk just enjoy the world for no reason other that it’s awesome.
I went back to my folks for home made steak pie. This ended up being a good day.
I am sitting in front of the laptop looking at numbers that make no sense, shuffling through paperwork with my name on it that doesn’t look familiar.
The good part of that is that I have a desk of sorts again and the laptop is on it rather than in a bag all the time or on my er, lap.
However, I have a friend right now constantly sending me photies from the Lang Craigs and it looks exactly like it does above and below.
The top one is the first photie I ever posted on the blog. Aw.
Typing and counting like a bastard now, I will get there today.
I’m quoting this important information from part #1
Now, the lighting in the new shed is horrible, so we have bunch of out of focus and oddly coloured photies coming up.
My co-stars Gus and MT have never looked quite so strange.
Even when I had proper hair I loved hats. In good weather, a cap is likely, in the cold I put a beanie on as soon as I get out from under the duvet. Above looks like the accessory dumping area at my front door.
We have an interesting selection here in a bunch of different and blended materials and styles from “brilliant for the hills” to “look at my logo”.
Some come in different sizes, some are one size fits all. Amazingly my planet sized head fits in those just fine. It’s a miracle, it’s miracle.
Above MT has the Stipe Beanie in 50/50 merino/acrylic and I’ve got the Lava in the same mix. Chunky, yes please.
Below are Whooly Beanies in a polyester, nylon and recycled wool* blend. Now, I picked that because of the colour but now I read the workbook and see the materials this might actually be a cracker for the hills because of that mix. Close fit too, good for under a shell hood.
They have a
Lowe Alpine Mountain Cap, ear flaps, brim, waterproof and fleece lined but the photies of it were too bad even for here. I’m sorry for this, because it’s a good take on the classic format. I’ll go to the kitchen for a while, put the kettle on and think about what I’ve done.
*I’m back with a coffee and have moved on from the cap remorse, what I’m wondering about now is the recycled wool. Where does it come from? Is is the tufts recovered from fences that we all know so well? Old jumpers from charity shops? WW2 army blankets? I should have asked, I’ll be up all night worrying about it.
Which is a proper point isn’t it, we’re so used to seeing “recycled” now, we really should be asking from what and where from.
For a while it looked like Haglöfs couldn’t be arsed with gloves which was frustrating because they had made some of the best gloves I’ve ever used.
The Helix winter gloves, insulated and mostly leather and the genius Paclite mitts are two of my favourites which are still in use, had them both out this week.
These new models are all out around September this year and there’s a chance I’ll get the names wrong as it’s a bunch of black gloves and the tiny workbook pictures aren’t helping at all.
Above and below are the Nengal Gloves. Leather, Gore-Tex, stretch nylon, QuadFusion insulation, velcro wrist, microfleece liner, it’s the replacement the grym glove, but it kinda feels like a new Helix to me.
The fit and feel are excellent, the materials should make them durable and the dexterity was good with the precurving and outseam construction. Love them.
Niva Glove and Mitten above and below. Ski they say, mountain I say, the reinforcing works for axes and poles whatever your feet are attached to.
Leather, nylon faced Proof waterproof shell, microfleece lining, wrist adjusters and long cuffs.
Great fit, good dexterity, room for a liner for me so a good “system” component glove.
That’s the Touring Glove below. FlexAble soft shell, leather palm, microfleece backer.
Same excellent fit and dexterity and lightweight. It’s a go-to general use glove, much improved of the last version of this format they had.
Can’t remember the name, but the internal seams were huge and the fit helped suck the heat out of my fingers. It looks like the downtime away from making gloves was spent with their thinking caps on.
Oh. My. God.
This is the Bow Glove in Gore-Tex Infinium. Close fitting, soft, completely dexterous, warm, windproof and I want them.
I’ve always loved Powerstretch gloves and the Bow’s take all the reasons for that and extend them a little bit.
Haglöfs have got a lot right here in the glove range, the fit and features are excellent, but the colourways have the range looking all very similar unless you’re comparing A to B in your hands, I’d be worried that some the the magic here will slip past the shoppers eye in the ocean of black gloves already out there.
Essen’s Leftover Mimic Moccasins and Mittens.
I carry insulated feet and hands to every camp and can recommend that stuff to anyone. The story here is a good one, the fill is synthetic QuadFusion and the shell is Pertex Quantum off cuts left over from making other stuff.
Practical lightweight kit (65g for a pair of mitts) keeping material out of the bins.
The footwear has changed a lot since I last saw it. The Skuta Mid and Low here have a Proof waterproof inner, that’s the white thing above from the shoe version.
Interesting, I wonder how the durability is compared to a Gore liner, it’s tested to the same standards and used to the same construction standards, just need to rub some of the killer grit/heather fibre mix into it and flex that toe on the trails.
The Mid has mesh where it’ll help breathability with suede elsewhere and synthetic randing on both. It’s all a bit old school looking, I like that.
Nice flex to both, good looking sole units too.
Proof liner and suede again on the Kummel’s above. It’s a jeans compatible outdoor shoe, something which I have grown an appreciation of in recent times.
At the other end of the spectrum we have the Vertigo. The first thing I was expecting was a stupid flat scrambling outsole, but no, it’s got a grippy Vibram unit on there which makes it a proper usable trail shoe.
Nice looking upper, lacing to the toe, flexy suede and a stiffish sole. I wish they didn’t make samples in a UK 8 or I’d have tried this one on.
Proof waterproof liner, 510g for pair of UK8’s.
Above are the Trail Fuse variants, GTX version on the left. 325g for a pair of UK8’s for that one and 290g for the unlined version.
They feel good, flexy, good shape, nice big areas of mesh on the unlined one.
That’s the Gram Trail below, narrower more racy version.
The Grevbo Proof Eco. Suede, Proof liner, fur, fur, fur, synthetic fur!!!!
It’s got a wool footbed too. Sigh.
Haglöfs first ever product was a rucksack and it’s something that gets a little overlooked now in favour of the clothing I think which is a bit of a shame as there’s individuality and some clever thinking in there.
I’ve used a lot of Haglöfs packs over the years, the fit and comfort has always been good which is the deal maker or breaker, beyond that there’s the practical and the quirky, sometime both on the same pack.
The Roc Summit 40 is above, a beefy mountaineering pack and the the Spiri 20 daypack below, a whole kilo lighter at 575g.
I like the Spiri’s layout, good options for storage and attaching gear with webbing and hidden loops. Nice big hip fin pockets.
Below is the Spiri 33. the format is the same as above and Haglöfs expand it across six different capacities, sizes and back lengths. The harness was done at a Uni in Sweden, so it should fit well and have beer can shaped pockets.
The sizing variations are a good idea if a store has them in a line, you can try them on with a climbing rope or a tent in it to see what one fits best.
I mean, we all still do that don’t we, who the hell would buy a rucksack without trying it on first, right?
I like retro and the Torsång above brings me joy. My laptop (dare I say urban as well?) bag for the past few years has been a Haglöfs Vike 25 and this carries on that tradition with smooth lines, metal buckles and leather detailing.
The ShoSho below has some of this old schoolness, it’s based on an original 70’s model so it’s in a more hill friendly format with regular buckles. Both packs have a beefy polyamide fabric, so the looks are just that, they’ll be tough and usable.
These packs are like slices of cucumber on my eyes. The arms race of modern design tires them out, these packs soothe them.
It’s like Formula 1 cars, currently hideous, complicated and efficient and everyone misses the inefficient, sleek, sexy designs of the old days.
Humans, we’re an odd bunch.
A trio of Tight packs below. Haglöfs make a bunch of them, all different sizes, specs and colours including some vintage reissues.
Unassuming and practical, and I love the logo on that first one.
So, what did I learn? Well, I liked some of what I saw a lot and I know there’s more to come because of the work being done just now. In a year’s time the grins will be wide.
Maybe Haglöfs had a crisis of confidence or identity which I think they’ve got over, those little painted wooden horses speak to me more than a generic alpine climber hanging off a rope ever would.
The biggest thing for me though is from the text in the workbook and I touched on it a few times, the environmental aspect. So much of the small print is about the sourcing, manufacturing, recycling and the chemical impact aspects of the gear.
If big business really is taking this on and not just paying it lip service, maybe there’s hope. It’s the only way forward for all of us.
It was nice to see some other daft bugger catching the sunrise this morning.
I had the camera in the truck and I shot down to the shore after the school run.
It was cold, the seaweed was frosted but the sun was bright and warm as it rose, peeling off the layer frost as it crept past the deck of the Erskine Bridge.
What a lovely start to the day.
It’s just nature I said. Nature had been busy though, nature had a lot of teeth, nature was very hungry.
Nature took the head home with it.
I’m going to be very, very careful around nature this year.
I had the place tidy, not a dirty mug nor a balled up sock to be seen anywhere.
I hit the road with a clear conscience and a dirty windscreen on my way to get the Girl in time for the new year.
We were meeting at Stirling, it was as good a place as any as she traveled back from here other grandfolks in Fraserburgh where she’d been for a few days.
Holly’s spent every Hogmany since she was wee up north, this year she wanted back home in time for the bells. Happy dad is happy.
I arrived really early, imagine that, and parked up at Kings Knot just below the castle, seemed like a good place to see the fireworks which had concided with our meet up. I was right too, within half an hour the locals were jammed into every parking space and gap on the kerb.
The Girl and Joyce arrived just a bit after the nick of time, but we jumped into the back of the truck to get some shelter from the wind and we had juice, snacks and fireworks.
The redneck look fits us well, but it was cold and there were a few miles to go.
The back road was dark, deserted and drizzly, the year was grinding out its last hours determinedly.
Ah, but you can touch me any more you bastard. The truck stuck to the narrow, windy and wet road despite its natural propensity to stick its arse out sideways in this situation.
We were soon home.
Jimmy however had decided to take the Wee Spark out to sound a whistle at midnight in the spirit of the old days of shipping on the Clyde.
I got my boots back on and walked out into the dark.
I stepped on board as the year died. 2019 started out to the beat of antique diesel engines and the clink of glasses, and of course the shrill, breathy howl of a steam whistle.
A day of joy, but maybe not for all
Counting my blessings, some have none at all
Another year survived, and another to greet
Family and friends have kept me on my feet
I love you all, in my chaos you save me
Is there enough time to repay what you’ve given me?
I know I forget, in my bluster and hurry, to say the things that you should all hear
But know that inside, I’m happy it’s you who helps me keep moving.
Every word, message and thought I will forever hold dear.
Plans changed and I found myself with a wee window of opportunity.
I managed to see, speak to or narrowly miss so many folk that are dear to me this week it was probably destined to be that on my “big day” I’d wander the Lang Craigs, the place that too, is dear to me.
My phone pinged with messages and kind words so while I was alone I was with friends the whole time too.
The calm and quiet has lingered on and I’m really quite content tonight.
Happy? Imagine that.
I am fifty today.
I had planned a serious post that spoke of my journey, my disappointments, my joy and more and I tried to take two photies to illustrate this in a very grand fashion.
The first would be serious and dour, the weight of the world and experience creasing my brow.
The second light and smiling, to show that I might win out after all and that I’m all about the joy of things, that would go at the end of the post.
As I struggled with the practical part of this, the camera on the tripod in the bathroom where the light is brightest including one tripod leg in the sink with me leaning over it from the front, faffing with the settings with no glasses on taking useless shot after useless shot on the timer I realised that this whole process kinda summed me up.
And that’s at fifty I’m actually no different than I’ve ever been.
So that’s what I think this is, the final photie I took, it’s me realising how ridiculous it all is, how ridiculous I am, and making my peace with it.
I’m saying blacking out the badly placed bathroom curtain is a metaphor.
A metaphor for what I don’t know yet, but my enthusiasm for whatever it is will be mighty. Onwards.
My head isn’t always in the right place, but my heart is.
Never been a big fan. It’s stuff in a bowl at someone else’s house at festive times that’s probably been there for ages gathering dust and is probably as unhygienic as it is tasteless.
However, the festive packaging of the Twiglets lured me in unawares and I was immediately captivated by the dryness of the snack, the texture of brittle twig (irony?) fresh from the forest floor and the taste of peppery burnt rubber.
I love them. This tube even fits my hand perfectly. Do they make them all year round? I don’t think I could wait until next Christmas.
The last time. The best school in the world will be Macfarlane-free next Christmas, the Girl will be in high school.
The panto was brilliant, just as it’s always been the past few years.
I will miss this place, the care, the help, the enthusiasm, the joy that’s allowed to run free because the kids have worked to earn it.
Peter, the other Peter, who does the controls and electrics for me was working on the panel while I made faces at the pump. It’s single phase, but still big. I’d priced a replacement a while back and it was around a grand just for the pump in a box, so we decided to leave it until it died.
It’s grinding a bit but running although the enamel coating was peeling off badly which took me by surprise. It looked as if it had been under water, which this boiler house has known in its time, but not to this height.
The wall was wet looking, I put a hand out and snatched back as a got a sharp pain on my wrist. “What the hell…?”
Torch on, I looked for bare wire or something, easy to miss something in this dark, cellar boiler house, built in Georgian times for a coal furnace.
Instead I saw and then felt warm vapour at the back of a valve. Closer in, a needle thin jet of 88degC water was making a straight line from the valve to the wall. Not making it wet enough to run, just to be wet.
How long had that been happening? It was the system isolation valve, can’t dismantle that without draining the system, can you? I can, and did.
I was in late last night ( see below…), still holding.
How? Send a work order, some secrets are chargeable.
The ante room is a jumble of gear used for frequent jumble sales (irony #2). Bags of hangers and clothes rails of various designs and vintages jammed in together.
One base had slipped onto the floor and it caught my eye, a vintage design I think? Can’t quite place it.
I spend a lot of time in churches and although it usually remains unspoken due to professional as well as personal courtesy, my opinions on faith are never discussed at work. And so it shall remain.
However, the occasional noob will still ask me as I lie on a damp, manky boiler house floor wrestling with rotten Victorian pipework “What church do you go to? and my answer is always “I’m on my knees in a church most Mondays to Fridays, you want me to go at weekends as well?”
Never had a comeback to that.
I opened the door and walked inside with footsteps which felt too loud however softly I landed them.
I was alone in a very old, creaky church in complete darkness. The wind moved softly through the gaps in the roof, a whisper, a whistle, a voice?
A door opened and a shaft of soft yellow light crept towards me across the empty pews and worn carpet.
Walk into the light says the voice in my head, walk into the light.
I did, the light was at the top of the stairs going to the boiler house, I switched it on when I came in.
Home has been an escape this week. Been back late every night and the first thing we’ve done is put on all the wee lights and candles.
Within a few minutes it’s cozy and itchy eyes are looking at cartoons over the top of a fresh cuppa.
The mornings have been tricky. Even if we can’t get moving very fast, never missed the school bell once.
Been a couple of absolute stunners at dawn this week too. Camera’s aren’t here though are they? Fixing that today.
The invasion has begun. That’s what it felt like when I was picking up some mortar from B&Q at the back of Clydebank.
Lots of contrails and my first thought was “Steady on, it’s not a race” until something large and military sounding flew slowly over the roof of the truck.
I still remember when they tested the four minute warning siren back around 1980. That was scary enough and this had shades of that for a second or two.
How many poor bastards are living it for real this very second.
It was Saturday tea time but I still wasn’t done. I knew the weather, I heard the advice, trust me I know what I’m doing.
Fragile buildings with problems on this night of all nights? Of course I was still going out to do my checks.
I got to Balloch and the snow was getting heavy and was lying quite thickly. I could feel the rear wheels being a little more playful that I’d like, but as long as I trundled on, I’d be fine.
How to take driving into the snow photies.
Buy a flip case, park in layby, stand phone up on the dash, jam with set of small stilsons if needs be, select ten second timer, wait for gap in passing traffic press go on phone and on truck, hope for the best, be smart arse and get it first time.
I did soon realise my route choice wasn’t the best though. A lot of hills and lots of folk still out who have never driven on snow.
I’d be fine as long as I didn’t have to stop, I left plenty distance and trundled on, up and down the hills, it was going okay. I was doing better that the folk going the other way, that abandoned sideways look wasn’t working for them.
I wasn’t confident by any means, the music was down low, I was concentrating, listening to the engine, feeling the wheels, one more big uphill.
I’d be fine as long as I didn’t have to stop.
The blue lights were bright through the trees before I got there, my heart sank.
A road maintenance pickup was parked on my side, the police were off to the side and cars were coming down the hill. I slowed, I slowed some more, the other side just had to be clear and I’d motor by, easy.
No, police on the road, waving arms. I stopped.
I was amazed to see the pickup drive away, the police get into their car, everything apparently fine and I was now stuck on the hill.
Rear wheel drive with no weight on the axle. I love my truck, I love the snow, but together they are horrific.
But, the police were struggling, I leaned out “I’ll give you a push if I can borrow your shovel”.
That’s what happened.
Mind you, as is the way. One was cheerful and helpful, one was sour faced and arrogant.
The good guy helped me dig wheel tracks for the truck and told me they’d stopped for the car on it’s roof behind the hedge (no injuries, girl away and fine), bad cop ignored me as I pushed their motor onto the road and got them underway.
It didn’t work of course. I was still spinning on ice, now alone in the dark etc
I looked around and found the corner of a broken bumper from the upside down car and stated digging long tyre tracks down to the tarmac with it, enough for me to roll back a good few feet.
This worked, I had the run-up I needed and I was on the road again, a little floaty, but moving forwards.
I got to the job, it was okay, made a couple of adjustments, watched it for a bit and checked my messages. It looked like I wasn’t done yet.
The riverside road was okay, still snowy but flat and I was headed to urban areas this time.
I pulled into the car park, the place was silent and deserted, even the houses seemed devoid of lights in the windows. It was late I suppose, but where is Christmas people?
A quick check and I was locking up again. I stood by the truck, fishing out the keys and a single loud, sharp, crack followed by a boom bounced of the high buildings and on through the dark before it was silent again.
Was that a gunshot?
I was on the road again as fast as I could, including a rather nice fishtail on the snow in the carpark on my way to the gate.
I checked their local news this morning, nothing. Good.
I just had slush to deal with over the bridge and into Renfrewshire, it was cold, blowy and wet. Miserable.
One last check to make, needed tools on this one though, but not difficult at all.
Happy with what I saw, I put the lights out, the alarm on and locked up, I was done for the night. It was almost Sunday.
It was an entirely surreal night. By the time I got home the snow incident felt like ancient news and I was like a burst couch, I just wanted a cuppa and a duvet.
I’m 50 in a week, either life is telling me to not be stupid or to keep being stupid so I know that I’m not quite done yet.
I’m going with the latter.
It’s now a frantic rush.
I think over the course of the year different bits of myself have been reconnected one after another and although it’s been a sporadic and random process, my work head is very much fully functional at the moment.
It’s been years since I’ve done 12 hour days, saw customer after customer in the same day and although there are a few still aren’t exactly ecstatic about the progress of their job, in a week’s time anything that really needs done will be done. Mostly likely.
I’m tired though. Sore as well. Quite right, as my much missed buddy Z told me: pain is just weakness leaving the body. Well, that and old knees.
If anyone actually pays me in the next week, the pain will subside for a wee bit.
Saturday evening, winter depths of darkness, the worst weather in ages and I am truck-bound with a folder full of paperwork to deliver.
The metal will be loud for the next few hours.
I wrote a feature for the current National Trust for Scotland magazine covering the work of their Path Repair Team who were working on Ben Lomond at the time. The time in question was the height of summer, one of the hottest days of the year, or indeed since records began and I felt it on every step of the ascent.
Ciaran and Nan who I were meeting had climbed up at dawn to miss the midges and get to their work site before the sun caught them. Good call.
It was a good day though, great company and excellent banter and I came home with hours of recorded conversation to sift through. I learned new stuff and will forever view paths a little differently.
I’ve some thoughts on it all below, some banter from Ciaran and Nan that never made the pages and an amazing coincidence at the end.
Just to confirm that the feature seen below is indeed written by me, it’s just that they spelled my name wrong.
I fully expect Holly to have to take a sharpie to my gravestone to add the “a”.
I’ve no idea how many times I’ve climbed Ben Lomond, been wandering it’s ridges since I had hair and no camera. It’s familiar and approachable but it’s never a pushover; been on my knees in the wind wishing I was elsewhere and on the north side on snow wishing I’d thought it through better.
The days of joy up there I can’t count however. It’s close enough that I can drop everything and run to it and over the years I’ve caught some golden moments when I had no right to be there.
It’s a bigger hill than the regular route suggests, it has secrets, it has dark corners and it has my heart. I love this hill.
I know I’m not alone, the paths show it. Many years ago I could climb Ptarmigan Ridge to the top and see no one else there, the path there was easily followable for most of the way but it wasn’t overly worn. Nowadays the path is as ground down as the tourist route up Sron Aonach.
It’s not like this is the work of “someone else” though, it’s our feet that’s doing it. We tread on the grass, the grass dies away. We tread on the earth, it breaks up and washes away. We tread on the rock. And then it’s too late.
You could say we should all take different routes. I remember someone on an outdoor forum somewhere on their high horse about always walking off track. Oh aye, my hero. Every hill has a summit or a ridge we have to take, we’re all walking on the same ground at some point.
Besides, hills have obvious lines of ascent, we are going to gravitate to certain routes from the start. It’s human nature, we’re pack animals, we will follow.
I remember a group following my footsteps high on Ben Lomond years back, footsteps in fresh snow which were obviously going in the completely wrong direction just so I could get out of sight for a pee on the pristine white hillside. I mean, really?
So what are the options? Don’t climb hills so they don’t get eroded. Good luck with that. Ignore it and hope it goes away? See too much of that walking through feet deep trenches on the the lower slopes nation wide.
Fix it? Aye, we broke it, I suppose we have to fix it. Yes it’s going to be visually intrusive and the hand of man will be seen in nature, yes it’s going to ease the way for perhaps the inexperienced and the unwary, but what choice do we have?
I saw the lovely little Ben A’an in the Trossachs destroyed when it became one of the first hills reopened after the foot and mouth epidemic of 2001. The little tracks became trenches in a matter of weeks and the whole approach route was ruined forever when the weather got it and washed it all away.
There’s a middle ground to be found where you can do the best job possible if you apply skill, time and money. That’s where the feature comes in. I found the folks with the skills out on the hill, they just don’t have any time or money and NTS are currently making a push for funding.
When you’re looking at the view it’s easy to miss the ground underneath you. The ultimate contrast isn’t, the Cobbler at sunset and the multi-lane highway on the Ben’s lower slopes.
The approach has changed dramatically in recent year with the tree felling above Rowardennan and the non NTS path has seen a lot of changes to match the increased traffic. You can see a difference in the maintenance approach, down here it’s all about feeding folk through, on the open hillside it’s a bit more involved.
I spied Nan first, clearing out the drains on the path. I didn’t announce myself, so I must have looked like a weirdo. Still, action shot etc
These familiar drains stop paths turning into burns and need cleared and repaired. The stones are dug in and set, the drain channels dug and formed then and checked every spring after the snow melts. Not just here, but Glen Coe, Torridon, Ben Lawers, Arran, The Cairngorms and Kintail. That’s a lot of paths, a lot of miles and all of it done by a team of four in a pickup truck.
They stay in local accommodation or NTS sites and get back home most weekends. I worked away from home a lot when I was younger, it can be fun, but it does grind after a while. I could also leave all my gear on site, walk a few feet to my truck and go back to my digs. These guys are carrying tools and gear up a mountain to get to their work and it’s not just the access paths, it’s the final pulls to the summits too.
Ciaran: “We do maintenance runs, walk the paths to see what needs done and see their general state which allows us to prioritise. Sometimes on site staff will have something they need us to do, but mostly we just go looking for trouble.”
Nan: “People do see to appreciate what we do. Even the old-school old-timers might huff and puff at what they see, but they talk to us and they do appreciate the effort, and of course set off for the summit on the path we just repaired”.
Ciaran: “People will show you what’s wrong with your path, they’ll leave it and go their own way”.
That’s the crux isn’t it. Making it usable but not sanitise the experience. Ben Lomond’s paths are mostly a happy medium I think, you have to watch where you put your feet, the stone looks like it should be there and on ascent it blends in well visually.
They use interesting techniques to keep folks on the paths, for example,a few boulders placed here and there with some turf soon turns into a natural feature that folk will avoid.
Once you know they’re there you go “Ah…” to yourself, as much as I know this hill, I’d never spotted them. Have you?
Nan: “We build a path smooth in the knowledge that it will wear and get rougher over time. No path is ever perfect or finished, we’re always doing the worst bits, leaving it to do the worst bits somewhere else and coming back here to do the worst bits again“.
We looked in detail at some of the construction methods. How and why stones are placed or angled, how anticipated future wear or erosion influences what and how they build now.
It’s really not straightforward and I like it when something is based on a mix of technical knowledge, feel and experience like this is.
“We’re stretched very thin, we could do with a whole other team!”
A couple of months later on a #microadventure with Gus I saw an NTS pickup truck parked at the bottom of the hill, looked up and saw big white rubble sacks on the hillside. Who else could it be?
We found the full squad of four in the sleet digging foundations and placing stone for a new path before the increased traffic here made a trench up the face of Meall nan Tarmachan.
Ciaran: “In the years I’ve been doing this we’ve had stone dropped by helicopter twice.” He got his third here. Big bags of stone had just been dropped all the way up the path for ongoing works which will carry on next year once the snow comes and goes.
Me and Gus were cozy and comfy in our fancy new gear after a fine night at the top, so when we caught up with the team the next day, gear was on our minds.
They have an annual kit budget and luckily they have duct tape too for patching when they quickly wreck the gear they get from spending that. These guys are so hard on kit and they’re high in the hills hard at it in gear I’d keep for the garden.
Jeez us hill tourists are so soft.
Lunch is out in the open too regardless of weather, so what do you do I asked, have you got a bothy bag or group shelter?
No says Nan. Best thing is when those rubble bags are empty, if it’s raining, I can crawl inside one and it’s just my feet that are left out in the rain. Quite cozy.
Go to a building site these days and the portacabins are like mobile hotels. These guys are still living the definition of roughing it. Someone somewhere in the outdoor trade brand up some kit and send them it ffs.
Still, they do it all with humour and passion. I got smiles and banter every time.
I asked Nan and Ciaran what their biggest problems on the paths were and I was surprised when they answered as one; “Litter!” Erosion they can deal with, walking for miles to look for stone is acceptable, but crushed cans and bottles jammed between the stones on their steps is too much. “If you can carry it in full, is it too much to ask to carry it out empty?” I can’t argue with that. Dog poo bags hidden in corners of the stonework is a part of the same problem, “It’s the attitude that someone else will get it, I mean, who is this someone else?!”
Minor vandalism can occur, stones dislodged and rolled down hill for fun can be dispiriting as well as damaging, every missing stone allows water to pool and run and that’s where the erosion starts.
The team can cope with the natural elements of the path as it ages. The large stones or bedrock are at the bottom, the bed of medium and small stones give it shape and the dust and gravel on top which give a walking surface washes away or is blown away by the stronger mountain winds. They go to repair that and they need all the time that have to do it. Let’s help them out and take our little home.
There will always be a debate about path repair and rightly so. I’m saying it has to be done as long as we’re wearing them down with our feet, it’s the way that it’s done is what’s important.
People with passion and sensitivity will do a different job from contractors payed by the metre. The people who care for the land will chose which of these to apply based on funds more than anything.
I suppose it’s up to us where we are with this in the future.
I was so close today. Right at the end of the loch, sitting in the truck with a bag of tools in the back but no rucksack.
The cloud was in thick streaks low over the water with patches of sunlight playing on the slopes above. It was gorgeous.
I could have gone home, got my gear and made a run for it, but it would have been dark by the time I got anywhere.
I was a little frustrated, but that’s okay, there’ll be other times. It’s when I don’t look up or don’t care when I do that I should be worried.