Remembering

None of us can really remember where this day of remembrance started, they’re all gone now. But I wish we would learn from their experiences, their stories and their losses.

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Walkhighlands Winter Waterproof Review

My latest Walkhighlands review is live here. I had fun with this one, torturing these jackets on rangering duties on the Kilpatrick Hills. I was pleasantly surprised by most of them, the big names didn’t drop the ball, Sprayway have made a strong comeback and the budget names did the job just fine.
There’s a couple of stragglers which were too late to test which might crop up in next months winter monster gear special. That’s something I’m really excited about, oh the kit that’s going in there…

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A year and a day.

It’s been a year and a day since I last climbed Ben Lomond. Bloody hell, a year and a day. I see it every day, it’s near enough just around the corner from me, it’s not a good record to be creating.
It was flashing its white dusted summit ridge at me yesterday and nothing was stopping getting there today.

Of course the snow had gone, but it was still glorious. I love this hill and when I got onto Sron Aonach and saw the tower rising ahead of me I got a little flutter inside. A flutter of excitement, maybe the break had done us good. It look dramatic, it looked different, had it aged so much in a year, have I?

There were a lot of smiling faces coming down and two mountain bikers with plans for a quick descent. I saw one go but he had to keep stopping to let his dog catch up, that’s what I call planning “Yeah, couldn’t do justice to the descent with the dog in tow you know. Next time though…” Aye, right.

The cloud came in quick and the life got sucked out of the scenery, a grey ooze flowed through everything as I sat on my favourite perch and lit the stove.
50 feet from the runway cutting its way below me to the trig point and no one comes up here. 50 feet for the single best viewpoint on the summit ridge and not even the echo of a path to it.
Magic.

The moon rose and the temperature dropped. I didn’t feel like hanging around for once, I’d said hello and that seemed enough. Besides I’d been far too slow putting my mitts on and my hands were burning. Time to get the heart pumping hotter sauce back round the system.

I walked as far as I could without a torch, the nearly-full moon was a fine if slightly diffused searchlight. The hills of home need visited more often.

 

Woo Who!

I’ve really enjoyed watching Peter Capaldi making the role of the doctor his own. He’s more like the Doctors of my childhood, unpredicable, odd, alien.
I thought Matt Smith was going the same way but they pushed him into a much softer portrayal, all zany waving arms instead of using the mad steely eyes he started out with.

The Master is now a burd which is brilliant, she knew that painful to watch kiss she gave the Doctor would mess with his head even more when he realised who she really was, and that is just what kind of mind games the Master of the old days would have played.
Doctor Who feels like it’s gone full circle, darker and stranger and as much as I’ve enjoyed it since it came back, this current series (even with its faults) has made me realise what I’d been missing.
Magic.

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A Familiar Face

Optimus are being distributed by Lyon here in the UK new and when I met Si recently I got an up to date version of an old favourite to try out.
There’s a joy in the familiar, especially when it does what it’s supposed to. There’s a lot of kit rumbled under my bridge since the the original Crux Lite was one of the first things I ever reviewed on here and the news is that there’s no news – the Crux Lite is the same as it ever was. Awesome big wide and fast burner, grippy pot supports with a good reach for bigger pots and a nice long handle on the valve.
This is a bit of kit that gets it right, it could be lighter and smaller, but it won’t be as stable or it would be fiddly. Good on them for not doing updates for the sake of it.

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Ooh, the rain’s off.

I made a quick mid-afternoon dash. I had enough kit for a bigger hill but maybe not enough time or energy to really enjoy it, a tramp around the lovely Luss horseshoe was a thought, Ben Lomond was the perfect but the cloud clung to the tops of every one of them. It might clear, there was blue above, but a descent in darkness and cloud while good for the concentration isn’t worth busting my arse on an ascent for.
What the hell, Conic Hill.

It was busy, busy with folk coming down anyway, not so many heading up as the sun raced them laconically towards dusk. There were hellos in several exotic accents, including my own, and some grunts from the locals. Welcome to Scotland.
The tops had folk sitting and looking, who could blame them, and the pathless top at the back had me.

There was the sound of a stove and not much else. The weather was sitting silently, and I was now alone as the golden light sucked the last of the warmth over the horizon with it as it burned out and left just a pale glow to light my way down.
The Heilan Coos I passed earlier were waiting for me, tearing surprisingly loudly at the scrubby grass. Our national  symbols make me smile. As does doing this stuff, it was just enough to keep me going.

Woo!

It’s Halloween and of course Holly is at ramming speed levels of madness. The table was set for Halloween dinner last night and we we warned not to touch it.

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And her dressing up? A Victorian ghost. With shades of Alice Cooper. Awesome.

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The Mourne Mountains

The weather is rubbish, the rain is hitting the window so hard I can’t see how bad it is outside, I can hear it though. Seems like a good time to catch up with a trip whose anniversary is coming round pretty soon.
Joyce and I saw the first snows of the winter last year in the Mourne Mountains of Northern Ireland. It was a fantastic trip where we packed in as much as we could in a few days and the whole place made such an impression on me that it’s still fresh in my mind now.

We flew to Belfast from Glasgow which took minutes, it took longer to sign out the hire car than it took to get here.
The road south was a joy once clear of Belfast and the school run madness but we made the big mistake of putting on Radio Ulster which is a window onto some aspects of daily life here that we only hear about on the news occasionally.
That stuff is there, I’m from west central Scotland so I know the story only too well, but when that radio was clicked onto another channel that was the end of it and we were left with wonderful people and a beautiful country who welcomed us like family. That’s what I brought home and that’s why I’d go back in a heartbeat.

We had an itinerary of sorts arranged by Outdoor Recreation NI with places to visit but the hills and walks were left to us which I would write up for Trail Mag back at home.
The days were short so getting to Castlewellan  and checking into the wonderful Hillyard House where the boss Domnic was both an endless source of information and cheerful banter left us only a few hours of daylight to make the best of.

With that in mind we went for a walk based on The Murlough Nature Trail which took us around the ancient dunes and along the beach to Newcastle where a cafe was a welcome shelter from the cool wind, don’t let the photie of Joycee hoping along a line of poles in the sunshine fool you.
Sarah from the tourist office joined us on the walk and chatting to her helped make up our minds about the next couple of days, we’d avoid the obvious and head for the interesting.

In County Down there’s no escape fro the Mournes, they’re like an island rising from the rolling countryside. It’s fantastic.

We took a trip around the coast down a dead end road to visit a lighthouse. Deserted, atmospheric and bloody freezing, we shot back to Castewellan to have dinner at Maginns on the main street.
This was an odd experience, it was midweek, well out of season in late November and the place was huge with just a couple of other tables dining with us sitting happily have an early Christmas dinner. A great start to the trip.

The morning was a surprise, there was blue sky and snow. As the breakfast was cooking I ran out into the street to look, if was freezing and the Slieve Donard , the highest here, and the other hills were wreathed in a blanket of cloud. That would burn off I was sure. It was glorious.

I little car park above the sea was where we started on the farm track. The sun shone but ahead was grey, the clouds seethed and the gaps between them showed a decent dump of snow had fallen overnight.
We were well wrapped up and with fresh legs after just a short drive we strode towards it.

Sea and mountain is always a perfect mix and with the reds and browns of autumn pushing back the green, it was feast for the eyes.
I felt instantly at home here, it’s not like the hills home but it has flavours of the familiar shapes and forms cooked into something altogether different. I was in love already.

The Mourne Wall is everywhere, literaly. It rings the hills to keep cattle out of the reservoirs inbetween the hills that give Belfast its water supply. It’s a proper civil engineering endevour built between 1904 and 1922 and you can walk the whole 22 miles length taking in 15 tops while you’re at it. That would be fun with a high camp in the middle.

We walked into the cloud which shrouded the summit tors of Slieve Binnian. Everything was iced hard, hoods were pulled up and cuffs cinched. The crest of the ridge was like an alien landscape, white with the black tors and total silence. It felt like we’d just left the car and already we were in a perfect mountain landscape.

We came across a pair of grinning locals who were equally well wrapped and but still found time to stop and banter. Every body on this trip had time to banter. As I said in a tweet I sent at the time “Highlands Hospitality is alive and well, it’s living in Northern Ireland.”

The cloud broke up and lifted or drifted away. The sun had no heat in it but we were still pleased to see it and hid behind a tor for lunch.
We could see around us now, the mountains, the sea and Ireland, flat and misty, disappearing to the south.

The last set of tors were the most impressive yet and a scramble to the top to watch the sun set was gravy on a decidedly pie shaped day.
The rock is grippy, there was no exposure and the top was flat, just grooved lightly by the last glacier to pass this way.
It was cold though, we both had down jackets on with no question of taking them off. Winter really had arrived.

I wanted to be here longer, I wanted to visit the other hills, I wanted to be unpacking the tent. I was gripped by this landscape and I still am.

The light left and the descent was rocky and frozen. The track out in the dark was easy to follow with half hidden distant crags and tracks branching off that tugged at me.
But the cold and hunger tugged a little more and the two miles back to the car were efficiently despatched.

Still one of my finest hill days of recent times. The hill, the weather, the company, everything combined to make it perfect.

The fun wasn’t over though. Dinner was at the Maghera Inn which was to be found in utter blackness, seriously I didn’t think it was possible to have a village with so little light emanating from it, it was Hammer Horror perfection.
But inside a warm fire, smiles and amazing food was a perfect end to the day.

The weather wasn’t good. We tried to get into Bearnagh and Meelmore but the wind and rain through the pass was going to make the climb joyless and photies impossible, so we tried our plan B option which to be honest we had really wanted to do all along, Hen, Rock and Pigeon Rock.
The road there is awesome, it’s not about the hills here, it’s just the same as at home, the bits inbetween can be just as good.

It’s at the fringes of the Mournes where the grassy slopes flatten into the patchwork quilt of farmland the rolls to the west. But there’s a fantastic crown of tors on Hen Mountain which is just minutes from the road and delivers the biggest mountain hot for the least effort I’ve ever seen.

We played for a while, probably too long, and while we did do the weather which had lightened cam back in full force. We headed for the rest of the tops in high winds and heavy rain, heads-down and camera’s packed. It was misery.

Staring at wet grass and the drips coming off your hood brim is only amusing for so long. We swooped around the ridges, into the glen and took the train back to the road.
Wet through, hungry and daylight to burn.

A look at the map showed possibilities. The rain had stopped (timing is everything) and we wanted to do a circle right around the hills which would take us past where we’d been the day before, but with time to explore.
We decided to visit the Silent Valley Reservoir.

We sat in the car and ate our packed lunch as the rain ran down the windscreen. Then, the rain stopped, we ventured out and had alook around.

It’s lovely, there’s a wee visitor centre, lots of interpretation and plenty of trails to follow. The views are also incredible, Slieve Binnian dominates with peaks to the horizon circleing the dark waters of the loch.
The walk across the dam would be worth the price of admission had the gatekeeper actually charged us, he was happy with a bit of banter on a slow day.
If you come here for the mountains make sure you have  day off and come here.

A visit to a Annalong harbour was our last diversion before getting back to Hillyard House for showeers and clean clothes for our last dinner date at the Vanilla Restaurant.

This was the fanciest place in town and we were too tired for it. We walked the seafront in the dark and just wanted a bag of chips and an early night. But, they were very nice, the food was gorgeous and it wasn’t as pretentious we’d feared.
Mind you I still have a wee chortle when Joyce when asked how the sweet was replied in her surprisingly loud voice “The sorbet was like jam”.

Great hills, wonderful people, amazing food every time we ate and a bag of memories to bring home. There’s a nice wee outdoor shop in Newcastle and we found that even so far out of season everything was open and the town and villages were busy.

I can’t recommend coming here enough, the hospitality shown to us shames many places I know at home and the hills are something else. There’s no great heights to climb, but there’s the essence of the epic and of wilderness that the hills cling onto as their own no matter how close the roads are or how many peaks that big wall crosses.

Ghost – A song by me.

I wrote and recorded this ages back as a back story to Princess Louise’s haunted dress which is in a glass case in Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow and I use to tell scary stories to Holly.
She comes alive at night and possesses the unwary to try and make her escape, but is always stopped when she can’t leave the building before dawn.
I did all the instruments myself, it’s a bit of fun but it’s got some good bits in it too.
The artwork I edited up out of a photo I took in Kelvingrove and a Victorian ballet dancer I stole from the internet.
Too much time on my hands? I wish.

Damnation Alley

I was writing a route for Trail, somewhere I knew well and I thought I’d have a trip around it again to see how the new access point was working and write it into my planned directions.
I met Gus at Spean Bridge and after some fine dining at The Bridge Cafe by slalomed the road around the end of Loch Lochy, through the wonderful Mile Dorcha and into the midge death zone – the Eas Chia-eag waterfall car park to get kitted and changed.
It was then it all take a sinister turn. The track up by the waterfall was barred by half arsed fences and felled trees, so the new signposted route was the only one right enough, so off we went down the road. The banter was good, the weather was pleasant, the plan was for a fine overnighter on a lovely route. The forest roads were very fresh, well used, easy underfoot. The deserted construction village at the top rang bells but nothing prepared for the total destruction which lay beyond.

I’d been telling Gus how picturesque it was, the track winding through the trees as the burn disappears below. The track is gone, the trees are gone, christ, the whole hillside is gone.
Dynamited, bulldozed, destroyed. I’ve never seen such an act of total vandalism in the hills in all my years of walking and camping.
Soon there will be a hydro scheme, just a few feet above the waterfall that draws tourists too, one curtain of trees will separate the lower station from view. It’s horrendous, we were stunned and speechless.
Bastards.

Maybe I took it badly because of my emotional attachment to the place, rainy hillwalks, fine summit camps and a particular weekend on these slopes where JYC and I went from “something funny going on here” to “oh look, we’re having a baby”. Or maybe it’s just because it’s act of unconscionable destruction.
Both.

It doesn’t end there either, the trail of destruction drags itself high into Gleann Cia-eag to the intake for the pipeline and then you can escape into the short remains of the forest where it finally feels just as it should but the memories of what you’ve just walked through can’t be left at the treeline.

It was clouding over and getting dull, a few spits of rain dampened out enthusiasm for a high camp as much as the boggy ground pulled at our shoes.We carried on until we reached Fedden cottage where the short grass was too hard to resist.
It sits just short of 400m and there’s plenty to see of the building but not much to read about when you search. I wonder who was here last and why they left? A recent visit to Auchindrain has broadened my understanding of these places and the people who lived and worked there a little.

We snacked happily and a wee beverage kept the smiles fueled. There was a breeze, but it wasn’t angry and there was neither amidge nor a tick to be found. A fine bivy was had.

The morning was cool and bright, perfect for porridge, a cuppa and not so much hurrying. The route ahead could be seen but didn’t pull at us enough to leave quite yet.
It’s worth a visit this spot rater than cutting the corner as I have before, there’s an odd sense of emptiness looking north as the ground slips away into nothingness towards Glen Garry while everywhere else are mountains. I want to go back and walk north at some point.

It’s trackless and boggy, peaty and heathery and soon warm and sunny. The track on the far side of the glen is farther away and higher up than you think and we reached it just before the bealach where the dismal Lochy-side approach can be seen snaking away downhill.
The track from here is excellent, easy to follow, easy to walk and the views get better all the time. We did see a few folk which was heartening, but they were all in a hurry. Very odd behaviour.

There were stops for snacks and looking at stuff, there was after all lots to look at and many snacks to eat.
There’s some airy spots but there’s never any exposure, a flavour or rock here and there in amongst the sweeping grassy slopes. The views north are like a sawblade, one tooth after another with names to fire memories an launch plans.
What a place to be.

Nevis & Co presence is felt once you’re on the tops, but they’re just far enough away not to dominate and let the hills breathe a bit. Summit and sea, short grass underfoot and still no thoughts of hurrying.

There was no way around it, the descent was fine by a tumbling burn but the forest beyond was just a gateway to horror.
We decided to explore the earthworks and found the last remaining stretch of the old path on an island on the hillside where each Scots Pine tree was marked to be protected. As you can see a combination of no one caring about that anyway and taking so much earth away around the trees to make it impossible for them to survive means they’ve had it. If I hadn’t been so angry I would have cried.

We went for dinner and on the way home I passed many favourite sights. It really was a joy, a great camp and fine hills but the image of that destruction lingers on.
The word “reinstated” is bandied around in the documents regarding these works, but we all know it’ll never be the same. Surely there could have been a better way?

 

TwoMetresDeep Live at the Glasgow Cathouse

I don’t know how we ended up with a metric themed name, that’s probably always going to annoy me, but I like the music we’re writing so I’ll live with it.

My absence from these pages hasn’t meant inactivity, just the opposite, bust times, hard times and joy inbetween. Some of that has been with the band and it’s always a welcome escape.
Playing live is great fun, but it wears me out as I can’t stand still. All the youngsters all just mill about with their guitars and look if I’m trying to avoid being netted by a mounted gorrila patrol in Planet Of The Apes. Ah well.

The first one is heavier than we’ve been heard playing up to now and second one is er, don’t ask me but it’s wort sticking with it for the jazz at the end.

Walkhighlands Lightweight Insulation Review

My latest grouptest is up on Walkhighlands, it’s a diverse selection of lightweight insulation. I had expected everyone to submit samples of mini-baffled down jackets but I got a bunch of far more interesting stuff. It just shows what is now regarded as insulation, I remember when it was either an extra jumper or a big down jacket if you had money.
I’ll be coming back to some of this kit on here as winter goes on, some crackers in there.

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Black September

I don’t want to talk about it anymore, but I have to mark the moment here so that years from now when I look back through these pages I’ll know where that lingering feeling started.

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Run To The Light (On Walkhighlands)

My mighty group test of head torches is upon Walkhighlands here. I’ve been impressed by the quality of the current crop of headtorches, there really isn’t a bad one amongst them.
Special thanks to fellow Kilpatricks ranger Jo who had to keep wearing ans swapping headtorches for me so I could do A/B comparisons every time we were out doing bat surveys. Got great results though, pacing the same after dark hill routes showed the torches different strengths very well. Next month’s grouptest will be some rather nice autumn clothing.

Talking of light, was wrestling victorian cast iron in a church today when the sun shot through it’s window. Nice.

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I Am Here

Me Vee Wee

Partly why I’ve been missing from here is because I’ve been doing a lot of this stuff, music that is. My band twometresdeep (which isn’t a grave pun, it’s water related) has been taking a good bit of my free time which has been a joy for the most part.
There’s few things more rewarding than creating stuff, writing and performing original music is something that I’ve always loved and I’m really getting the chance to stretch myself just now. I’ve tried playing in covers bands, tried it again earlier this year and it’s rubbish. The first time I play the songs is fine, the second time I’m bored, the third time I’m making shit up rather than play it straight again. I think I’d rather leave my guitar in its case than play the same songs as every other pub band in the country is playing. But, those are the folks making money, so what the hell do I know.

We’ve just played two big Glasgow venues, the Garage and the ABC which was fun and next week sees something a bit different as we’re the opening band at an all-dayer celebrating 25 years of Clydebank’s Red Eye Studios, details below.
It’ll be a little surreal playing at lunchtime to a venue containing only staff and other bands, but what the hell. After that it’s tweaking the songs and making an EP and I’ll enjoy it all while it lasts, after all at 45 I probably shouldn’t be doing this stuff.
Ha.

Thanks to Jo for the photie above. Nice one misses.

LB Gig

Walkhighlands Gear Review #1 – Haglöfs L.I.M

I’m very pleased to announce the publication of my first review as Walkhighlands new gear editor. It looks at Haglöfs L.I.M concept and it’s right here.

This will mean a change in what gear I put on here but there’ll still be plenty gear, including some extra L.I.M kit that didn’t make the review.
I’ve got next months test well under way and the month after that is looking good too. Organization? Me?

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