I’m dead on my feet tonight. This week so far has been played without a pause: 40 hours of pipes so far, more at the weekend; two nights in the hills, a late-evening meeting with a customer, a night in the studio (where if we can’t get a recording slot for the new tunes soon we are going to melt into a bubble of feedback and slaver) and then dinner at my folks tonight where Holly went loopy.
I used to be able to have 18 hours of activity in every 24, day after day and leap out from under the duvet at dawn in Bruce Lee style, ready for more. Well, apart from the time where we all fell asleep in a cooling tower on a factory roof after a very late gig.
The bass player and crew guy worked with me at the time and we were all totally burst from playing ’til after 0200 in an airless sweat hole in Glasgow. By the time we got back to base and unloaded the van it was time to put the tools back in and get going again. The day was doomed from the start, but Davy and I woke up at lunch time and staggered to the canteen while poor Rab got discovered sleeping and got a new hole punched in his arse by Jimmy. We sniggered like schoolboys ‘cos we didn’t get into trouble too.
But aye, youthful energy is wasted on us when we don’t have the perspective which age presents to us to appreciate it, and indeed exploit it properly.
I caught myself doing something very odd tonight. I’ve got some mountain bits and pieces to do in July for a couple of folk, and I was actually planning a route around what side of the ridge the sun would be shining on so I could get the right photies. The heating engineer in me got up, left the room, and flew back through the door a few seconds later with a kitchen stool to break across my teeth.
Aye, that’s better.
My one worry was where to park for this, but I phoned the girls at the Inveruglas Visitor Centre and they said to stick the motor out of sight in the long-stay parking and that’s what I did. It was dinner time, so a BabyBel and a Pepperami were used as leverage against the tide as midges circled and dived while I got my kit together. This is my first bad experience with the wee bastards this year. Oh joy.
I walked by the Sloy Power Station as the rain pattered down, the cars fleeing by my left ear. Do I drive that fast here? It doesn’t seem right when you’re on the pavement.
It was wet but, as I climbed the hydro road I was definitely overheating, gulping in lungfuls of muggy air to try and cool down. It didn’t work, and felt like I was going to burst until I got into clear air and was distracted by the lambs, now a bit bigger, but still shiny white. I wanted to throw a stick for one that stood looking at me, but I have no idea if lambs fetch sticks. I mean, they’re just like dogs but with horns, so they might. You might scorn me, but you don’t know do you, because you’ve never tried it either.Imagine if proper dogs had horns, how scary would that be.
Ben Vorlich is a marvel, it’s the ugly sister of the Arrochar Alps, less defined in shape than the others from most viewpoints, but when you’re walking it’s flanks it commands both your attention and concentration. It’s a mass of crags, tumbling waters, steep grass and dark jagged shapes all around you. You have to make your own route through it and any sense of it being an accessible wee hill just off the A82 is quickly lost if you lose yourself in the drama-filled eastern corries. Maybe not ugly sister then, Twisted Sister.
The hydro road is a blessing, you gain so much height so quickly using it. When you see how steep and rough the ground is around it any thoughts of cheating are easily beaten down with a broom of smugness, because like a rocket, it launches you into the wilds of Coire nan Each.
I love this place, it looks too rugged to be this close to home, huge faces of rock, some stark, some split and some crumbling at their own feet. A torn blanket of green thrown over it soften just a corner or two here and there. I just stood there watching the clouds chasing each other through the jagged teeth on the skyline. Glorious.
Behind me, the east side of the loch is rugged too, crag and natural woodland, it’s colours surging out from under a blanket of indifferent grey.
I’ve walked these hills uncountable times over the years, but this time I was completely caught unawares, I could see the beauty, I always do, but this time as I just stood there and lost mysself in the scenery I could feel it right inside me too.
After breaking my little reverie I turned back to the coire to search for my home for the night, I knew what I was looking for, but not necessarily where it was. So, I zigzagged my way higher and higher, crossing the coire until I found what looked like the grassy mount that hid a cave inside, formed by rock fall debris from what must be thousands of years ago. The shape looked right, but the front was a mess of freshly moved earth and rock. “Oh crap, where am I going to go now?
As ever, I’m running late with a Trail Route, the cave was the plan, but now there was Plan B making an unexpected appearance. I had bivi gear and it was raining, so unless I wanted misery for supper, at midnight, at 1am, at 2am… I had to get inside or at least under something, I was looking for a howff.
The coire is howff central, there’s plenty of free-standing boulders that I could get under, there were shelters between rocks, big indentations in crags where chunks had fallen out, but nothing had me phoning the estate agents for a schedule. Looking for bits of pure blackness is a good policy, it means depth, and that means cooking out of the rain.
I was in the rain clouds now at around 600m, in every billowy gap that passed I’d hopefully scan the crags, as I’ll be honest, it was getting late and I was hungry and tired. Everything was running with water too, many likely candidates turned out to be a cherub short of a garden water feature and I had an awful feeling I was going to have to scramble up that wet crag to get to that good looking one on the left or, oh what’s that over there, halfway up that wide gully? Big dark cleft, looks nice. I traversed the slopes and climbed the gully. I took my pack off and eyed it, it was big enough, but a little low. There’s some water in the back, but enough room to get all of me and my gear in.
I thought about putting an offer in, but I took some cooling-off time. Leaving the gear (Surely I sign that I already aad one foot inside the door?), I climbed the gully and surveyed the other side, a steeper drop, harsher crags, but with two big boulders at the bottom. I could get under that one at the left, I’ll go back down and see.
I got back to my kit and never left again, enough with the fannying about I said to myself.
After using packs with zipped bottom compartments, I’ve changed the way I pack. The Macpac Amp had the camp gear at the bottom in stuffsacks, bivi bag, mat and sleeping bag. Everything else goes in an Exped liner that I can pull out and it can sit in the rain if it likes while I set up camp. Works well, perfect for this trip in fact and I got everything set-up and inside the howff without getting it wet.
The mat was the new Alpkit Airo 120, and I split the difference at each end with my head on my rucksack, a little gap with my waterproof trousers underneath and my feet only overshot the end when I stretched out. magic. My cooking gear went into the roomy interior, which was a little swampy right inside, but between me and that was a big flat stone which took bottles, stove, and even my lamp. I took that Alpkit hanging lamp which would have been nice in the cave, but in here it was just as good and I never used a headtorch all night.
I got my boots well inside in the dry, slipped into my bag and lay back. Comfy. I was completely out of the weather, it wasn’t claustrophobic at all, everything was to hand and I was cozy. The stove went on. This was the Vango Ultralite’s first trip, and it’s a cracker. Smooth control and a mighty flame to delight seekers of hot beverages.
I stuck my iPod on and cooried in as it got dark. Between songs I could still hear the roar of the water cascading over crags, through rocks and under the ground. Nature’s symphony, not so much of the melody, but a bottom end to frighten any metal band. The rain got heavier and over a couple of hours the roar got louder and a little erratic as the water got heavier and a growing wind tried to blow it back uphill.
My howff wasn’t immune to this and around the edges water began to creep in and drip down, just in a few places at the edge, so not a problem. I just shuffled a little further in and the water was miles away. That rock I can feel won’t annoy me unless I lie right on it. Well no, that rock is what my ship ran aground on, and as I watched the restless natives of Coire nan Each ransacked my cargo hold and escaped with every barrel of joy I had carefully packed for that night.
Why am I cold, I’m uncomfortable too. I rolled over one way, another way, up and then down. Checked the zips and drawcords. After a good deal of faffing about it occurred to me to check the mat, and it was indeed flat, Stupid bugger, I must have left the valve loose. I blew it up (always have the valve where you can get to it from inside your bag), feeling the comfort return beneath me. I tightened the valve properly this time and relaxed back in near darkness.
No, my arse is frozen, what the hell is going on with this thing. I blew it up again, now sans iPod, tttsssssssspppppprrrrrrsssssttttttt… No, no, I switched on my lamp, slid over and peeled the mat back to see the water on the lower skin being bubbled by air escaping through the tear made by the rock I’d moved on top of and had been using as a saw with every body movement. I wasn’t fixing this in the wet, but I was getting cold, and this would make me colder. I was already damp, the hot ascent in humid air had seen me sweaty indeed, the Montane Meteor DT had done its best but I had layered dry clothing onto damp baselayers and lying in my bag hadn’t seen the sweat fly out through all the technical fabrics, everything had just gotten damp now. In fact, the inside face of the bivi bag was wringing and the Quantum fabric of the Rab Neutrino bag was doing just as you’d expect, it was licking condensation off the bivi and chucking it straight into the down. I zipped up my Primaloft pull-on, pulled down my hat and thought warm thoughts. Warm and dry thoughts.
I did sleep, several times in fact. When I looked at my watch I was always surprised by the time, so I was slipping away from time to time. I saw the sun rise as point of red under the rain in the distance and I saw the coire bathed in soft golden light through thinning cloud. When I decided to put the stove on after 7, it was a little greyer, but still dry. Outside.
Everything was wringing inside, the top of the bivi was like a wash basin, the hood of the bag was transparent with moisture, rivulets of condensation ran around looking for something to soak into as I shifted around.
I filled the howff with steam from myself and the pot on the stove and thought about it, maybe less clothes would have kept the moisture down, but the mat had the insulative qualities of wallpaper in that state and I was trying to stay warm. maybe it was all just my breath? If I’d had enough room to put the mat inside the bivi maybe the whole thing could have been avoided? Who knows. It was a bunch of new kit on it’s first trip, something was bound to go a little sideways.
My feet and the socks on them were dry, praise be. I slipped them into my mids, strapped on my mini gaiters and stood up for the first time in ages. A few spits of rain.
I took a few shots and packed up. My sleeping bag gurgled as I compressed it into its stuffsack. That’s wet.
My best pals just now are those Klean Kanteen bottles, they are just so nice to use, big lids, the wide mouth is great to drink from, and I can see that yellow one in the dark. I swigged from it and stowed it in my side pocket as I left.
I contoured around the way I came last night, checking out the other options I’d looked at for diggs, I think I got the best deal. I looked back at the little crack I’d slept in, the context it lay in; high in a mountain landscape the measure of any in Scotland.
What the hell was I moaning about, a damp sleeping bag? Eejit, just learn from it, sleeping in the howff was a great experience. Especially so, as I was looking for somewhere against the clock and found something that was pretty much ideal.
The wander down was a joy, I felt light of foot and of heart. The hills were clearing and the sun was spilling through in ever bigger patches. Summits be damned, wander the corries, they don’t have to be passageways or somewhere we look down into and think “Ooh, that’s nice”. Go and see it up close.
The Sloy pipes are a familiar sight from the road and elsewhere, and I decided to make a detour and visit the other end on my way back. The top station is built like a wartime bunker, well that’s late 40’s utilitarianism for you, and it’s awfy steep looking down those pipes from the side of it. It’s fascinating though, the water comes from Loch Sloy in two huge underground tunnels which er, externalise themselves here from the hillside and go into the building to be channeled into the pipes. It’s interesting stuff, and the whole place is a mix of well maintained and new, and the hasn’t-been-touched-since -1949. Must take a kicking from the weather up there.
The hydro road down was even better than the day before, less rain, better views and the last bit with the little shortcut next to the gorge is lovely.
The visitor centre was open, there was cuppas, rolls on bacon, banter with the girls and tourists milling about looking for refuge from the midges. Nae chance.
I’m wrestling with this bloody book.
It pulls me in close so it can land blows inside my guard, I know they’re coming and shutting one eye and making a “trying to crack a brazil nut with my teeth” face doesn’t help at all.
Despite everything I keep admiring the moves, but then I force myself to remember that I know at least two people who think that the moon landings were faked which is just like the strongest of smelling salts to me and I snap back into the chair. Or more likely pillow, as that’s where the majority of the book is being viewed. Although snapping back into a pillow is more metaphorical than physical unless you hover over your pillow. Which is tiring, although being in bed already means that it looks liked you’ve planned for that possibility. So who looks stupid now eh?
I don’t work too many weekends or late nights these days, but both have been forced upon me by circumstances outwith my control, but well within others, making the whole thing avoidable. Other folks’ mistakes, sloppiness and corner cutting always feel personal somehow.
Besides our own electrical problems in the old church we’re working in, the previous heating engineers had hidden an open ended pipe behind the old lath and plaster wall, meaning that every time I pressurised the upgraded system, water could be heard jetting off “somewhere”. A lengthy process of elimination was satisfyingly resolved when I finally lost patience and launched a steel toe though the wall to find the pipe in question right there in front of me. Capped, sorted.
But, some of that teeth-clenching frustration was offset by Jimmy and I having a Chinese takeaway in the church late last night, which was kinda fun, and then turning up today to find that the heating was running okay and there was a jumble sale on with cuppas and cakes in abundance. So the place was warm for the wedding, I got fed, and everyone was happy.
But, I was supposed to be oot doing stuff this weekend, in fact, I should have been doing other stuff the past two days. I’ll revist that in a few weeks I hope, a wee trip to see outdoor gear getting made in the UK, imagine that?!
Right now though, I should be settling into a cave for the night and rediscovering the “joys” of a bivy bag. That might have to be midweek now I think, I’m going to see KISS next weekend. Well, two of KISS and two real musicians in makeup picking up the slack if we’re being honest.
I’ve got two other trips in May that are on my mind. One is to the Cairngorms, where I’ll be spending two or three days out and about. I’m really looking forward to that, I’ve hardly been over there the past few years. It’ll all feel new and exciting again.
Next is something that I’ll be making a bit of a fuss about (hush now), in three weeks I’ll be taking some of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park folk out wild camping in the park. The consultation on the Drymen to Rowardennan camping ban ends in just a few days, and whatever way it goes, we’ll be demonstrating that wild camping within the park is business as usual. I’ve got a fantastic route in mind, I’ll be supplying gear, we’ll be looking at where to pitch, how to make your stay low-impact and environmentally sound.
It’s an opportunity to publicly differentiate what we do to what the neds do, wild versus informal. Most importantly it’ll show that The Park is still encouraging wild camping.
It’s been a while since I was on a trip that consisted of more than a brace of campers. In fact, the last time was when a trio of us set off for Glen Affric and came back in the pissing wet after an hour of miserable trudging down the track.
But, as it stands just now, there will four of us heading to Loch Quoich tomorrow to do a thing. There will be some hiking and camping after dark as we’ll be leaving late (not my doing for once, it’s “circumstances”) and hopefully much sitting around with cuppas with banter aplenty.
I don’t want to jinx the trip, but after the last trip I’m kinda looking forward to seeing a sunrise, doesn’t have to be spectacular or clear, just cheerful.
It’s going to be tent-tastic as well, I’m taking a few. Although I’m sorely tempted to take a bivy bag, not the Three-Wire, an old school body-bag type. I’ve got a cave-sleeping thing coming up and I really should re-acquaint myself with the horrors of a bivy, or maybe it’ll just make me sad? Ach, I’ll probably crap out of it and take a tent.
I should be fun, I wonder who snores the loudest?
It’ll be nice to get away from this damned infernal lightbox. I’ve been doing quotations all week and my head it melted.
I hope I get some of the work or I’ll be somewhat disappointed.
I think it’s good thing when you know yourself well, forewarned is forearmed. I’m very aware of my weaknesses, and all my character flaws have that yellow and black industrial warning tape around the edges so that if I’m going to reverse into them I’ve got a half a chance of stopping in time.
So when I decided to stop packing my rucksack and actually take the day to sit back and look at my toes wiggling in front of the telly, I knew there was a good chance of me slipping into some kind of obsessive and time consuming behaviour.
Aye, spent the entire day with the curtains shut playing the remake of the first Silent Hill game on my rather dusty PS2.
The first thing I knew of the real world was when the girls came back in the early evening and I was still in my shorts with a selection of empty mugs within easy reach of my bean bag. “No, I can’t have my dinner until I’ve reached a decent save-point…”.
I wonder how many steps away any of as are from being a crazy, shouting at the telly, yellow net curtains, bodily functions in a poly bag, overcoat that smells of milk, wearing tartan slippers to the shop to buy dog food when you don’t have a dog, loner.
Hopefully more than one or two anyway.
Well, I got my answers: “Normal”. I kind of expected that, but it’s still something of a relief.
Maybe I have to accept that I am a little older, I can’t fit more than 24hrs worth of stuff into day. I need to sleep sometimes, I have to let injuries heal at their own pace, not mine, and pause between things, just for a minute.
So like the man told me to, I have taken some time off, and I was even in my bed at 2130 the other night with a book. Magic.
Hell, it’s been a few years since I last took my last kamikaze flight, this time though I missed the target and landed an an allied airfield. I’m learning.
It’s a big day tomorrow. Joycee has biggest of the bigness though, it’s the unveiling of her sculpture of St Kessog in Luss on Loch Lomondside. There’s a whole day of events leading up to it, and she’ll be burst by the end of it. We dropped him into his hole earlier tonight, he’s looking good for a 1500-year-old. Both Holly and I shall be waving and grinning as Mummy does her stuff.
Me? I’m expecting answers, although to be fair I might have to wait until Thursday for them. Whatever those answers are will mean I’ll have to do one thing or another. It’s a bugger not being able to bluff my way through everything I do.
The Loch Lomond Wild Camping er, demonstration(?) is now confirmed, we’re just looking at A and B dates, April or May.
A couple of folks from the Park HQ will be joining me on a wild camping trip on Loch Lomondside, we’ll be looking at where and how to pitch, water, waste, and all the ways to make wild camping low-impact and responsible, and maybe most importantly possible. That of course is the easiect thing in the world to do, we all do it, but with good coverage it’s a chance to show the man in the street what the difference is between wild campers and informal campers.
Maybe the difficulty will be scaling that difference down enough to fit it onto even the biggest wide-screen TV?
A working week trapped in a whirlpool of coincidence and stupidity has reached the deceleration zone.
Meeting new folk all the time gives me a sometimes amusing, always enlightening and often frightening insight into the wide range of people whose lives, when woven together form the manky dog blanket of society.
It was one of those weeks when I felt like a visitor to the blanket, perhaps a flea, maybe even a moth, probably a big brown one, more times than I felt like a stitch in the weave.
Thank Jimmy for my fellow fleas and moths.
Let’s wash the dog blanket on Sunday if it’s a nice day. Or better still, let’s beat it with one of this big wicker things that you see in the Broons. Looks like a Ace of Clubs.
Legislation and regulations are always formed in reaction to something. These people are never clever enough to see what’s coming. Or, they do see and are fingering their purses thinkng “Hmm, not today”.
So, it’s with mixed emotions that I’ve been fielding calls from near and far by people reporting water dripping from their boilers. And you what it is? Condensing boilers with their condense drains freezing up, the water backing up, filling the boiler and running out through the screw-holes or whatever.
I know that most of these installations have been fitted to regulation standard or beyond, so I fully expect a reaction to this from “The Powers That Cost Us Money” that will mean more retraining and cost to the industry, ie me and others like me, and also from the manufacturers who will have some quick fixes and arse covering because, they know exactly what could happen and were banking on us never having such protracted low temperatures again. Well, not in the guarantee period anyway.
Wouldn’t it be better to devise practices that exceed the limited view of having to operate within “normal parameters”. Why can’t we use the information at hand (-25°C at Braemar 15 years ago) and get it right the first time?
Still, as inconvenient as some aspect of the current situation may be, the daily light-show out of the living room window is soothing my housebound mind.
Tomorrow regardless, I’m back at work. I’ve got a meeting with one of my favourite customers to look at pipes that look pre-war and may contain water, gas, or nothing at all… That’s the kind of thing that I like.
You know if I were a religious or superstitious man I might be a little nervous.
Since I climbed Ben A’an a while back and found a Raven waiting for me on the top, or even back as far as Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan where I found one waiting on the ridge east of the summit, there has been a raven waiting for me on every top I’ve climbed. That includes the four tops of the Grey Corries.
I don’t know whether this always happens and I’m noticing it more, or the minions of satan are gathering to take me kicking and screaming out my fantasy world of rainbow colours and into reality, I just don’t know.
But, it there’s one at the next top I visit, it’ll either be fast off its mark or it’ll be assisting me in a pirate impression on the way back to the motor when I zip-tie its feet onto my rucksack shoulder strap. I show them.
Talking of the motor, its MOT test is on Thursday. I paid £450 for it a year ago and it’s been hammered at work and play all year. Hmm, d’you think something of a fail-able nature might be worn out… ?
Anyway, I have a couple of things that I have to get off my chest before age or the ravens take me.
Where does a 40 plus year old bloke shop for clothes? I’m nowhere near ready to abandon the clothes I like and move into M&S or outdoor gear full-time. My recent experience of trying to wedge my shoulders in to a size large shirt which I’m sure would only have fitted a 23 year old Brian May has given me food for thought.
It’s become increasingly unsettling going into some shops (there’ll be a graph plotting the curve of age increase against discomfort in front of shop assistants somewhere), 16 year old neds and wee lassies that look like X Factor contestants versus the old guy is dirty working clothes?
Some are fine though, H&M is like a jumble sale just before it opens, myriad colours and designs, but still tidy. Although some of the particularly “fashionable” stuff is hysterical and will date before it reaches the outside door and the staff often appear to be on a slightly different psychological plane to the rest of Buchanan Galleries.
My new best friend is American Apparel though. For blokes it’s mainly just t-shirts an’ that in there, but the cut is good, the fabric is good and the colours available are all the colours. Price is fine, and there’s pants to match your mood too.
No doubt the next few years will be a transitional time, with a departure from clothes shops, a movement through the department stores and eventually into mail ordered 38″ waist cords.
It’s mayhem, it’s panic, it’s armageddon. It’s Christmas.
I dropped into the city centre in between despairing customers for a quick cuppa with a pal and the masses were in free flight, madness in their eyes, crashing from shop to shop, queuing at the cash machines while fidgeting and shuffling nervously. It’s like the population of Glasgow were fleeing as one from an unseen enemy, but in different directions all at the same time.
As far as I know we’ve been expecting Christmas for oh, a year or so, and yet it seems to have caught everyone by complete surprise. Again.
I like walking through it all at normal pace, like a mobile chicane, a bollard in the middle of the skating rink of chaos.
As for the food shortage that will hit us from Friday to er, Saturday, leading to great suffering in the land, well that memo seems to have missed me, but at least that important news is out and folk are wisely stockpiling….
I’ve searched through the archives for many years, and in this 1943 shot above, taken over occupied France from a high altitude Spitfire XI you can plainly can see it there, it’s sleek rounded shape clearly visible under the black mesh fabric of it’s temporary field housing.
Unknown at the time, its smooth surface was combining with it’s heavy but precious contents to break the grip of the single elastic retention cord and allow its passage to freedom. A freedom which would quickly result in a cold and lonely fate. It would lie unseen and undiscovered, and despite a thorough search from a nearby outpost, its circumstances would remain unknown.
Photographic evidence narrowed down its point of ejection to the east of the shot above, but no tracks were seen on the ground and further aerial passes were deemed too hazardous, would interfere with lunch plans, and it felt best to let the matter drop. Like a hot potato. Although I think that a hot boiled egg would be much more painful to hold, and if you dropped it there would be more mess (depending on how long it had been boiled of course), so the saying should probably be “Dropped like a boiled egg”. Mind you, catching a hot rivet in your bare hands would trump both of those, to the point of rendering you unconscious. But I suppose not so many folk know what the hell rivets are other than seeing them on footage of the Titanic wreck, so that’s maybe not the best reference. Like me and 1950’s films, nobody gets my ancient movie quotes, but I kinda like that. Oddly enough I’ve riveted a steam locomotive’s boiler in my time as well.
But I digress. Amazon had the purple Nalgene bottle listed, so some button pushing with funds supplied by the Bank of NeverNeverLand has resulted in a new bottle sitting in front of me as we speak.
It’s awfy new looking though, the other one was all scraped to hell. See, it’s not just Sigg’s that get beat up and “tell a story”, or it could be that the Tritan they’re using now instead of the apparently toxic polycarbonate is piss poor and will wear out really quick. I guess if I just intermittently throw them off mountains I’ll never know, never get disappointed and just keep buying new ones.
Now, I don’t think I’ve still got it in this shot…
It would be too easy to put my head back under the duvet. I could put this now empty coffee mug in the basin, switch off the lights and sleep for a few more hours in blissful ignorance.
I’m used to running late after all, but a sunset at something like 1530 where I’m going means I have to get dressed and move with some sort of purpose or waste the day.
That’s not so easy.