This blog belongs to Alex and Bob,mainly Bob nowadays.We are determined to get out every week and defy the Scottish climate by only going to the areas with a big sunny weather symbol above them. It`s a diary of our days out under sunshine in Scotland.
ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN The Month of June is often the peak period for flowering abundance and colour. Early Summer. After that interlude many plants have flowered already so the countryside by mid summer- July and August- is mostly green.
So I set off on my bike to capture said riches before they disappeared... first to Victoria Park with its Fossil Grove and Quarry Trail...
Then by a winding route through woods from Dumbarton Road to the end of Westland Drive through Scotstoun and Jordanhill- a green, partly subterranean corridor and one fairly new to me, passing the old Scotsoun Showground- now the National Badminton Academy and Sports Complex...
via sinewy trails and snake slithering wonders...
past productive allotments...
Avoiding traffic and busy roads until the path ran out near the northern end of Westland Drive. From there up onto Crow Road then through the quiet grounds of Gartnavel Hospital and Bingham's Pond before Cleveden Drive and the Botanic Gardens. A route I've not cycled before but one I was delighted with as it avoided most of the busy built up streets above via green deep channels and quiet places, weaving a lush snaking path through the West End.
Jordanhill College on it's rising wooded slope, High School of Glasgow playing fields from Crow Road.
Anniesland Cross and Tower.
Glasgow's Botanic Gardens. The entrance gates.
Glasshouses and June splendour in abundance. A myriad of flowering rhododendrons.
Vegetable gardens. Bees on flowering chives... certain flowers attracting specific types of bees and insects I noticed while excluding others. The marvelous interdependent complexity of flying creatures, flowers and plants most people are unaware of. Smaller orange bottomed bees here....
Heavyweight bumble bees next crawling like tanks over their own preferred nectar laden blooms, each banquet laid out to cater for a range of different discerning guests.
Astrantia, I think here. The wonderful complexity of flowers we are only just learning to fully understand and replicate with mathematical precision thanks to computers and 3d advancing imagery.. yet at a point in time.... when we threaten to destroy it all. Will A.I. cyber bees, (currently being developed) along with spy flies, ants and butterflies replace the real thing in time and continue pollination, tiny flying machines unaffected by pollution and pesticides?
Could we eventually replicate all this given time... and if so.. are we living right now in a future simulation?
Being a perfectionist photographer I wish I'd removed that red bin before taking this shot...
Bees on Geraniums. We are made of stars....
and cavalcades of blooms...
with constellations arranged everywhere below our feet...
sinking into a poppy nebula in micro worlds of wonder...deeper and deeper layers the further in you travel...
A galaxy contained within a single bloom in close up detail...
countless millions of bees and other insects grafting hard on a single sunny Sunday afternoon in one large garden alone...
each individual tree an entire Noah's Ark of buzzing, whirring life...
in a world far beyond reality...
in an Eden behind the stars...
where great sunsets arrive like buses... every evening...on time..
and it's all completely real and above board....:o)
ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN. A combined solo cycle then walk from Bowling to Milngavie that took a bit of forward planning. First I cycled (last Autumn it was) from my house out along the Forth and Clyde canal to Bowling then turned inland and back via several small hill-tops and parks to meet up with the Clyde Coastal route.
Titan Crane here.
A view of the Erskine Bridge with Renfrewshire ridges in distance across the river.
Back onto the Forth and Clyde canal.
Another park- I was sticking to green corridors as much as possible- in fact it was mainly grren throughout with great views.
Forth and Clyde canal info sign.
Yet another hill....
and then left the bike at Anne's house :) Next half on foot following the Clyde Coastal Route over the edge of the Kilpatrick Hills which I decided would be better done without the bike as a contrast.
I've walked the higher, unofficial stretch of this route before but this is the signposted lower path which skirts a large sand quarry on Douglas Muir then descends towards Tambowie.
Deer hearing a farm dog barking.
Hi Flats in Springburn.
Looking across at the Campsie Fells from the Kilpatricks.
Passing Milngavie Golf Course- a lovely section of the walk.
And finally Milngavie, a small upscale town/commuter suburb just north of Glasgow's sprawl.
It was around dusk when I reached it. The main shopping centre here- shops just closing up for the evening around 5.00pm and getting cold- hence the empty streets. I also waited to get them free of pedestrians.
A good outing and I was glad I was heading home by bus.
ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN. The day myself and Anne went cycling around the West Lothian uplands we both enjoyed it but it was not that great for photography. The weather was hot, humid and sultry so any distant views tended to be fairly hazy or limited... or washed out grey. Looking at the back archives however I discovered a folder that I'd never been through from 2015 on a solo cycle ride and they really show the true beauty of this wonderful landscape better than the Anne and me day recently. There is much more to West Lothian than the iconic yellow oil-seed fields as this collection now shows.
Deep in the Bathgate Uplands. I was pulling Anne's leg about this area of small gorse encrusted hills by calling them the Bathgate Alps....
But it's not that far off the mark in this photo. Certainly cycling around this upland area can be challenging so I tried to keep to minor roads that stayed mainly flat- i.e. the ones running down gentle valleys or along ridges- west to east. When I was cycling with Anne here I had dozens of previous trips to draw on to pick the best routes, making it as easy as possible to do a circular tour while still seeing the best views this area has to offer. Binny Craig and the distant Pentland Hills in the background, above.
In some ways this area reminds me strongly of Renfrewshire, the part around the Brownside Braes, Castle Semple, and Bridge of Weir as it has a similar landscape of fertile rolling farmland, cow dotted slopes, gentle valleys and wooded ridges. A magical landscape I spent the first 20 years of my life exploring, on foot and with bike. I can't think of any place better to grow up as a child... but this district comes close to it.
When I first visited here, in the 1990s, it was with a similar joy of discovery and even 60 and 30 years later, retrospectively I'm still enthralled with both places. And who wouldn't be... given scenery and views like this one.
Looking across at Fife here and the Firth of Forth.
and over to another of the districts small hills- Cockleroy. Going at an easy pace we managed to bag all four summits in one long day consisting of Cockleroy,278 metres, seen here, Cairnpapple hill, 312 metres (1,023 feet) or thereabouts....
seen here,... or on the way, cycling towards it....
Cairnpapple. The highest point for miles around and an ancient burial ground at the summit for the ruling tribes. A special place indeed. " Look at that incline." I enthused. " A Lothian Glastonbury Tor." ( This was our last hill of the day, late on.)
" Jesus save me- let me die. " was Anne's only take on it. (We ended up walking a stretch of it anyway as the cycling legs had gone for uphill endeavour and pushing the bikes by that stage felt much easier.) I know how to show a women a good time. Unforgettable in fact.
Binny Craig, 220 metres, and...
Greendykes Bing. They may be smaller hills but the height and distance cycled and climbed adds up- ---probably around 3000 feet of ascent and descent in total at a guess or maybe more. Felt like it anyway. No wonder we were fooked by the end :o) But a great trip. Took 8 hours but with plenty of stops, long lunches etc. Did it in 4 hours years ago but I was much fitter and younger then and this time was more fun with good company and laughs all the way round. Thank you.
A cyclist on the minor road network looking across at Greendkyes Bing and Arthur's Seat above Edinburgh.
One I took on a clearer cooler day. Edinburgh's suburbs, Airport and Control Tower/lookout.
Evening light from the bing-lands plateau looking across at Broxburn industrial estate, and the Eastern Pentlands, another of my favourite Central Belt, lesser hill ranges.
Cairnpapple Hill. Cattle herd looking northwards.
West Lothian farmland.
Although full of arable crops, livestock, and field systems it also has plenty of little woods, pretty hamlets, farms and some wild upland areas. Not many lay-bys though and only certain right of way paths lead up prominent summits so best reached by bike or in a car to do them rather than walking long distances on foot between them... but even that is ok given such fantastic scenery. No pavements obviously but cars on the quieter road networks are very few and far between.
Lush vegetation and flowers cover waste ground under the bings.
Tropical Scotland in early summer.
The green lagoon. Big bing country.
Cattle on the open range. Riccarton Hills.
West Lothian and the Kingdom of Fife view. My Gallery of Wonders. The Bathgate Alps. An 'off the beaten track' location. Yet any one of these overlooked landscapes could easily grace a Scottish pictorial calendar and not look out of place.
ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN. Mention the Riccarton or Bathgate Hills and most Scottish/ UK folk, even keen hill- walkers, will look at you blankly. Widen it out to West Lothian and it still might get the same response- "out east somewhere" they mutter vaguely. " That lumpy patch of ground in the way between Glasgow and Edinburgh. Is that it? "
Those of us who know this area intimately however are all too aware it is a real life magical kingdom- a Scottish land of Oz. In both senses of the word. And what are the main colours we think of in May for this fair land? Gold, Red and Green of course.
Gold for the numerous oilseed rape fields that dot this marvelous district with patchwork yellow squares and rectangles contained inside the larger triangle between Bathgate, Falkirk and Kirkliston.
Red for the shale oil bings that rise above the surrounding golden flatlands like ancient stepped pyramids in far distant lands.
Views on top are sensational and unique. Half Scotland- half outback Australia. Even more so on a scorching hot day- and it was. The sweat was lashing off my panting princess beside me ... while I, a sporting demi- god... was completely immune .... or just cycling fit...tee hee. 'She gleamed like a melting ice cream in the sun.' comment from a passing cyclist.
Binny Craig, a volcanic plug. I was introducing Anne into this cycling heaven for the first time and the only way to really see it properly is by bike. It's cycling heaven on this upland plateau studded with distinctive little hills.
Would we manage to ascend them all in one day I wondered?
Or would the swarms of honey bees pollinating the oilseed flowers get us first. The air was alive with buzzing creatures of every description- see previous photo above.
Green. Beecraigs Country Park being one of the few places to park a car to see it. A network of quiet minor roads snake out from here but views are mostly green in this vicinity. The sweet green of a witch perhaps? You really need a bike to explore it properly as any lay- bys are scarce or non existent. Which keeps it quiet and serene.
As always, you have to really work hard for gold- put in some graft and effort - over rolling scenery- on a hunt for scattered yellow veins of precious material.
So it's always a modern day grail quest... and a good excuse to cycle or walk up any hills en route to spot out the best riches ahead.
but not without its distractions and pleasures. Wild Garlic and Pink Campion in showy clusters adorn the hedgerows and deep dark woodlands at this time of year. It had to be done and ticked off. Cool shade and perfume for lunch.. if you like the smell of garlic that is.
Rhododendrons and fresh new leaves bursting forth make the entire kingdom feel new born. Unfurled and as yet unsullied by munching insects and caterpillars. Mint conditions to greet Morrigan, the ancient Celtic enchantress who makes an appearance... and its no surprise. Where else would you find her but here- in enchanted lands, surrounded by the ruins of iron and bronze age hill forts?
The great lady appears... in disguise :o) a giant sized version of the species, landing on an ancient hill fort beside us. Very fitting illusion.
A village in Loth Lothian, a district named after King Loth you know... of ancient hill fort fame.
Belted Galloway cattle at Beecraigs where there are several sizable car parks...but probably full up by lunchtime on a sunny summer weekend unless you arrive early enough to nab a place.
Loth Lothian. The golden lands arrive.
White cottage in the gold.
Rolling ridges in West Lothian.
A big sky country of vast horizons.
and woodland flowers.
Niddry Castle sitting in the green valley between the bings.
in our wonderful realm of Oz. The golden land.
And a colourful meal to end the day. My idea of heaven on earth.
And an equally exquisite modern love song to finish. I'm not normally a cute baby, cute cat, funny dog video, chic flick, type person at all... but this is right up there as a true classic ballad and it should be much better known, along with the album it came from... which is packed with great original songs. Brilliant and very different with a video that matches the sheer beauty of Loth Lothian in May.
ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN. An unusual post this time. Over the last few years I've been buying second hand paperback books in book sales for very little money- often six books for a pound. Not great news if you are an author trying to make money from writing but good if you like reading. Like many folk my age, since childhood, I've been a keen reader and the best books, the most memorable or interesting ones stay friends for life. I still have books I first read in my teens and twenties, often re-reading them at ten year intervals and still enjoying them, finding new depths or greater insights with advancing maturity. So here's a selection of the best books I've enjoyed- and kept- or old favorites devoured again- over the last five years. Although everyone has different tastes these books stand out as excellent, well written, vivid and enjoyable adventures. I still prefer old style paperbacks rather than e-books. Books you can touch, interact with, and store away without ever forgetting they are there- not hidden away in a computer folder or pad index, in all likelihood never to be visited again. Paper books are alive, on show, and always visible.
So here goes.... when writing my own books I went right off reading for pleasure for a few years, simply because I was putting in long hours writing, editing, correcting, learning self publishing, etc etc and getting eyestrain and headaches. After a gap of some years this first book mentioned was my way back in. Sitting in my back garden in the sunshine, reading, drinking soft fizzy drinks and munching crisps or sandwiches. Pure indulgent luxury rather than powering up mountains every weekend. My not so guilty other favourite pleasure in life. Wicked- Gregory Maguire. Everyone thinks of the musical (I've not seen it) but the book is magnificent in its own right. A technicolor kaleidoscope of lyrical invention, playful imagery, slightly adult themes and a reinterpretation of the original stories. Quirky, funny, brilliant... and just a tad wicked. And a great female character in the much misunderstood green witch of the title. One of my all time favourite books and still very underrated. Before The Poison. Peter Robinson. Bestselling crime novel and the finest I've read in its genre. A prosperous and successful musician travels back to his native Yorkshire and buys a remote house in the Dales, gradually becoming obsessed by the former owners and finding a mystery he's compelled to solve. Well written, full of lucid descriptions and a haunting, moving climax. All the books in this list linger long in the memory, to me anyway, and this is no exception. The Memoirs of Cleopatra. Margaret George. Over 1000 pages long but never a dull paragraph as the ancient Queen of Egypt is brought back into vivid, touchable, believable existence. Reads like a bestseller and so it should. After wading into this epic, sprawling, masterpiece you will be convinced you have lived alongside her, felt the same burning sun, sailed down the River Nile, seen the pageants and events- maybe not in the royal palace but in a hut nearby, looking on at the great and the good travelling past the doorstep. A novel but full of accurate factual information retold in a compelling fashion. Another favourite.( This book tends to play down the Queen's undoubted ruthless streak and survival strategy to make her more relatable/likable to a modern audience being the only flaw, but understandable given that the age she lived in had very different rules and values where problem people were simply deleted with little human emotion or regret involved. Different times being a leader then with a long established family tradition of quietly rubbing out your brothers/sisters/ father/mother/cousins, uncles etc without a teardrop spoiling the makeup...)
Strange Shores. Arnaldur Indridason. A crime novel set in Iceland with a detective trying to solve a decades old mystery of a young women who vanished without trace. Haunted by an incident in his own childhood the past slowly unfolds it's secrets. Cleverly crafted Icelandic noir and the bleak unusual setting of icebound fjords gives this story its edge. Station Eleven. Emily St John Mandel. The collapse of modern life through a virus/ plague/ man made incident etc is a familiar theme but this book takes a fresh new perspective on it. Very different and refreshing. Well written, memorable, and all too realistic a scenario but surprisingly not depressing. As much a journey under hope and sunlight as any shade encountered along the way. A classic book. Flood and Fire. Emily Diamand. A winner of the Times Children's Fiction Competition and I can see why. Although in the children's/ young adults category this is just a brilliant read for any age group. Full of adventures, intrigue, changed landscapes and scattered humans, as they navigate through a flooded, half submerged London and England in 2216. A young girl and her cat creep under the radar in a dangerous new world rapidly reverse evolving into savagery and tribalism, carrying the last working computer from that shattered technological past as her furtive guide and salvation. Up there as a true modern classic.
Edge of Dark Water. Joe R. Lansdale. A book set in depression era Texas with shades of Huckleberry Finn as it's setting is a journey down the Sabine River. A region I know very little about but was captivated from the first page to the last in this extraordinary book. A great storyteller and a who done it mystery/ adventure/travel novel gliding past a heightened 3D landscape with characters that jump off the page and stand before you fully formed. Really enjoyable and different. The Snow Child. Eowyn Ivey. Alaska in the 1920's. A hard grim wilderness of short summers and long bitter winters but when a childless couple find an abandoned little girl wandering in the snow they take her in... but who is she and where did she come from? A clever reinterpretation of L'enfant Sauvage/Pinocchio.
Darktown. Thomas Mullen. Atlanta USA. 1948. A novel. In a divided city split down white/black boundaries the first eight negro policemen are enlisted to solve crimes in their own districts, territory previously patrolled/ controlled by corrupt white officers taking bribes. Based on real historical events the black police officers face openly hostile residents, openly hostile white police determined to stamp them out and a landscape outside the city zone they reside in that will kill or jail them without hesitation, given any opportunity, no questions asked. In the Heat of The Night and To Kill a Mockingbird are rightly regarded as classics but this book really digs deep into the corrosive nature of casual ingrained racism more than anything else I've read or watched. A fast paced murder mystery adventure.... well written, gripping and shocking at every turn. Highly topical in a newly refocused populist politics America and UK. Still Life with Crows. Preston and Child. A New York Times best seller and rightly so by these two well known authors working as an effective writing team. The golden cornfields of Kansas but a long way from Dorothy and Toto as a serial killer paints elaborate outdoor art in the growing corn using human victims as his brush strokes. A brilliant psychological thriller/ crime novel with great characters and unusual locations. Funny, disturbing, thrilling and brilliant. The Chalk Man. C.J. Tudor. Set in a small English town this follows a group of young teenagers riding bikes and having adventures in the woods until a chain of strange events alters them forever. A wonderful evocation of life as ordinary schoolchildren in an urban/ rural setting having fun gradually turns darker with twists aplenty before the end. Fascinating and compelling. A great book.
Flightsend. Linda Newbery. As a pleasant change to crime novels, which seem to make up around 70 percent of all books, I picked this one due to its cover art of a young girl lying in a meadow with butterflies dancing around her. I was not disappointed as it was just as nice inside. Sixteen year old Charlie is pulled away from urban familiarity and friends to a new home in the countryside as her mother makes a fresh start. Well written and carefully crafted throughout this is refreshing, magical, sunny and simple all in one dish- like a perfect early morning of golden sunrise or a spectacular ice cream and fruit surprise. Nothing much happens in it... no one dies in a grisly fashion... but it is wonderful nonetheless. A favourite book for cheering me up...just looking at it and knowing what's inside and that it's sitting on my bookcase. Relatable as it also describes my own childhood in part- half urban- half countryside experience, exploring the woods and fields around my house with my dog as a youngster, getting further away with each new journey/adventure. Sometimes isolated and alone from companions- so creating my own internal universe through imagination during solo wanderings. 'What will I find when I eventually reach that far off wood? What's the view going to be like over the next hill?' The basic stuff of life that still keep me interested today.
Runaway. Peter May. Another book I enjoyed for partly personal reasons as I too travelled down to London and met someone there that altered my life journey. Although equally well written I read another of his books recently but it failed to have the same emotional impact as this one. Four friends leave Glasgow to start a band in the capital but it doesn't go quite as planned. A very memorable book, uncannily close in certain chapters to my own life throughout the 1970s, which was a very weird experience indeed as I kept thinking " ****, I've been there/done that/visited that place... as well...!? . Weirdo. Cathi Unsworth. The seedy underbelly of an English coastal resort during the punk era. Not for everyone this novel with madness, prostitution, music, murder and biker gangs but very memorable proving that not all crime and deprivation happens in big cities. Fast paced, lurid, and action packed.
Amazonia James Rollins. An adventure thriller set in the hot steamy heart of the Amazon jungle. A one armed government agent goes missing in remote location only to emerge years later with two working arms before dying. A second expedition sets off to solve this mystery and the stage is set. An enjoyable romp into the deep unknown. Altar of Eden. James Rollins. Same author -equally good tale set around the Mississippi Delta and New Orleans. Abandoned fishing trawler washes up on coastline carrying a cargo of exotic animals. Vet gets called to examine them and finds them strangely altered in certain ways. Combines vivid landscape locations and good story detail with elements of cutting edge science, animal and human genetics research, ethical and moral future dilemmas, 3D fractal imaging etc. into one very interesting novel.
Itch. Simon Mayo. A schoolboy element hunter finds himself drawn into a dangerous adventure. Although a young adult novel/children's book etc... any good book to me is a good book. Period. And this is. Very unusual and original story/subject matter and well written... a page turning classic. Witch World series. Andre Norton. Taken as the first six books in this series it's on a par with Game of Thrones or The Lord of the Rings for fantasy adventure. A 1960s classic and well worth reading in sequence. Still great reading today and highly influential on later works in this genre. Chris Beckett. Mother of Eden. Although set in a future world this novel also looks back at our own origins mythology and examines the process and evolution but in an exciting way by creating a vivid story all its own. The second in the Eden series. A Tap on the Window. Linwood Barclay. A detective thriller murder mystery which takes place around USA's Great Lakes district and the Canadian border towns. Compelling story, well written and interesting throughout. Author of a string of bestselling books so no surprise its a gem of a novel.
The Dune Trilogy. Frank Herbert. Way back in the early 1970s the books where I first discovered the term 'Jihad' or Holy War and the concept of religions fighting continual battles with each other down the centuries. Heady stuff for a teenager then and even more topical now on our divided planet. A science fiction classic... a cracking read today... and like the best imaginary world tales... reflections in a mirror only one small step away from our current reality.
Endurance. Alfred Lansing. The true story of Shackleton's failed Trans-Antarctic expedition and the subsequent incident filled prolonged return across frozen wastes, over city sized icebergs, and towering mountains. An epic sea adventure of survival against all the odds.Aptly named book and beautifully written. A classic. In the Heart of the Sea. Nathaniel Philbrick. The true story of the whaling ship 'The Essex'lost at sea 1000 miles from the nearest landmass after being rammed by a giant whale, presumably enraged by the slaughter of its family group. The survivors cling to tiny rowing boats used to chase whales but, unlike the others, this one is not running away any time soon. The real life incident that later inspired Moby Dick.
ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN. The first bike ride of this year 2019 and I finally persuaded Anne to join me. I promised a cornucopia of riches, a rainbow of colours, sights and sounds.... So off we went. Although it was a cycle ride around our half of Glasgow- the west end- there was no shortage of greenery as I took my usual route through a necklace of parks.
Cherry blossom in May. This riot of pink petals only lasts two short weeks but it's a real fantasia for the senses. The Cream Season.
And after 60 years of devoted worship I know all the best places to greet her entrance when she makes her appearance. Persephone, that is.The Queen of Spring.
Red Hawthorn bush. It was a perfect spring day.
And I wanted to fill it with variety. So a bike run down the Glasgow to Loch Lomond Cycletrack came next, but heading for Glasgow City Centre, past Victoria Park and Partick.
and a short detour here in Partick to find this gable end mural- which I'll call 'the gardener.'
Streets in Partick.
Then a run down through the City Centre district, still on the River Clyde cycle track.
The Clydeside cycle track leading to Glasgow Green. So much... so familiar... to me anyway...
After visiting Glasgow Green however I threw in a surprise move- by abandoning the traffic free cycle tracks for a spot of road cycling. Anne was not too happy with this however, even though I picked the back roads as much as possible. I was keen to see the new Gorbals district and the murals there.
The new Gorbals district. You know you are getting old when you live through three different sets of housing stock. As a young apprentice I worked in the original streets of tenements here that gave birth to the book 'No Mean City' and the 'Razor King'. I then worked in the next phase of redevelopment- the high-rise towers of the 1960s to the 1990s. Now this is the new look today. I like it. A world away from the earlier buildings but holding far less residents in the various districts than in the past.
And the murals we were here to see.
A tribute to Stan Lee, of marvel Comics fame. Although the likes of Spiderman, The Hulk, etc have always been popular, in recent years dozens more Marvel characters have made it onto TV and cinema screens around the world. And seeing this I can't think of a Glasgow mural I didn't like- always high quality and different- world class visual street art and an extra bonus for visitors to the city. There is a Glasgow Mural Trail to see them all.
University of Glasgow looking rather Gothic from this angle. Next up we headed for Festival Park and Govan. To get there I had a carefully worked out plan to use the minor back streets with less traffic on them but it didn't quite work out that way, with busy Tradeston and Ibrox in the way to negotiate through. I soon discovered Anne was not a confident cyclist in city centre traffic with no sense of direction whatsoever on a bike and did not particularly like this section of the route. Especially when we got separated for a while and I had a hunt finding her again in the maze of back streets within a dodgy district- mummy in peril!!!!- hence the Femme Fatal tag. Never mind- even heaven has occasional storms. She did seem delighted to see me when we did eventually meet up again... for about five seconds. Then she did a good impression of thunder and lightening over my sudden disappearance/ re-appearance. Sorry. (I told you right at the start I was mad, bad, and would always lead you into trouble... and excitement....:o) "Glasgow can still be a dangerous place." I scolded her. " We need to stick together when road cycling in the city in traffic." "It certainly is with you as a tour guide." she replied. "You were off around that corner like a bullet. No chance of keeping up, then I had to stop for a phone call." " Ah, so it's your fault then. Glad you owned up to it."
I fancied going to Govan to see a new section of the River Clyde cycle track at Water Row, seen here, where a ferry used to cross the river until they removed it. At one time, when all the shipbuilding yards and factories lined both banks and employed countless thousands up until the late 1960s around a dozen small ferries, (passenger and vehicle), ran across the river. I vaguely remember crossing on a few old ones but Glasgow was a very dark, grim city back then with uniformly black buildings everywhere until they were all stone cleaned back to their original vibrant colours and the chimney soot and grime washed away. The city also had some of the worst housing in Europe back then and the worst/roughest council estates/schemes. Young folk growing up today and seeing the city as it is now would find it hard to believe how different it was 40 years ago. That is the great thing about cities worldwide- they are constantly evolving and transforming year by year.
A new art sculpture in Govan. I really like this one. Very dynamic. A tribute to Mary Barbour and the people of Govan who fought against unscrupulous landlords who raised the rents across the shipbuilding districts forcing people into destitution and homelessness. With Glasgow almost doubling in size every ten years from the late 1800s to the 1950s period, eventually reaching a high-point over one million residents in crowded conditions there was no shortage of customers for any vacated buildings willing to pay inflated rents.
Glasgow Harbour. and then the last remaining streets and parks en route to catch the ferry home. The Renfrew ferry. But it was not over yet! Anne had laid on a sumptuous three course meal. Oh Boy!!!!
Starter. Rock Melon and sprinkled sugar. (this is Glasgow after all- a health-food free zone.)
Five a day on a plate. Orange, grapes, cherry tomatoes, hot cross bun and rainbow cookies. A taste sensation on a budget.
Strawberry trifle to end. An amazing finish to an eventful bike ride. Thanxs.
I've been a fan of Dead Can Dance for many years. They also have some of the finest videos on You Tube. Complex, often astonishing, magical original art in 4 min chunks. This is no different. A visual masterpiece of design and imagination. Best watched full screen. In a class of its own. The level of work to make this is impressive.
ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN. With the blackthorn in bloom on bare branches without a single leaf in sight and spring in the air I received an invite from Alex to go down to the Southern Uplands on a bagging trip. "You can have a fairly easy day or a long hard one..." he offered sportingly. It was a no brainer. These days I will unfailingly pick the easy option.
We therefore passed through the pleasant village of Moffat on our way to the hill. Although England may not have remote empty wilderness outside the Lake District and its National Parks what it does have is history and centuries old riches in abundance with hundreds of picture postcard memorable small towns and villages full of interest and quirky surprises. Over 500 of these communities worth a day trip visit compared to less than 50 worth sufficient tourist interest to last a full day up here. Scotland is often an uncivilized, poor relation, ghost town, by comparison, village and small town wise that is, but Moffat is one of the pretty ones, along with Bigger, Peebles, Melrose, and Strathaven.
Happy pig with an Easter treat. (I think it's an Oxford Sandy and Black breed.) Around 10 miles outside Moffat however we were deep in the rural solitude again that the Southern Uplands are famous for. Nowadays, many parts of the Scottish Highlands are busy with tourists nine months of the year. You can still find empty wilderness aplenty up there, away from the tourist hot spots but it's not that way on the road network or car parks, many of which are crowded in peak season or during any holiday periods.
Alex ( and I ) prefer the Southern Uplands these days due to the always quiet roads and empty landscapes. When we last visited Knoydart ( 'the last great Scottish wilderness' in many guidebooks) it was still spectacular but it did not feel that empty truthfully with dozens of tents, numerous caterpillars of hill-walkers setting off every morning up the hills and sizable, if quiet, beach parties at night. Like Ibiza with midges. (Although it's supposed to be remote, enterprising Londoners with big wallets can get there within one day by plane, train and ferry from the metropolis.) The area and village has featured in numerous Sunday magazine colour supplements over many years as a remote 'bucket list' location so that's no surprise. Being the Easter holidays no two hour tailback queues on the Loch Lomond road for us however and we were also the only car in the car park down here all day. With no Munros and hundreds of hills to climb in this vast coast to coast area that's not surprising. And as you can see it might not have the rugged mountains and cliffs of the Scottish Highlands but it does have, in certain places, a beauty all its own.
In typical bluesky weather conditions we set off for the hill- me not having a clue where I was going due to not finding my Moffat OS map and Alex leading by intuition and baggers scent sniffing guide for a summit trig alone.
For an easy hill it seemed a long way in through a vast wilderness. The 215 mile long distance walking route the Southern Upland Way would be crossing our path at some point and this section is one of the scenic highlights of the entire route. This blue speck, a fellow walker in the distance, was the only other person we came across all day.
S.U.W. Info board halfway in.
It was warm with a heat haze building but a cool breeze kept it pleasant. In my own book, Chapter 13, 'The Borderers' I was calling these hills 'Teddy Bear' summits in that they do feel warm and friendly, cuddly almost, especially in fine weather, with no major cliffs, dangerous hazards, or sharp rocky ridges to negotiate. The slopes are usually covered in lush golden or brown grass and paths to trig points are few and far between so you do feel like ants clambering over a warehouse of discarded soft toys. Even the ground underfoot is bouncy and padded, ankle deep and tender on the toes. Although mainly around the 2000 to 2500 foot mark they still feel hard to ascend, especially as we were still approaching Alex's peak with no clear view of it yet in sight. Mind you, I still had no clue what one it was, trusting to Alex to find it as his only map was phone sized and digital these days on a tiny screen I never gained a look at.
"I'm glad we picked the easy one." I remarked dryly, after walking a fair distance inwards and no sign of a furry belly button or Steiff tag anywhere. "Whatever one that is." He just smiled and carried on.
A lot of Southern Upland scenery can look very like this, especially lower down around the bothies with miles of pine forests, or on the more nondescript uplands, hill after hill of slowly spinning wind turbines but this area was special.
Further in we arrived at a steep ravine with almost vertical scree slopes leading down to a gurgling steam bed.
A narrow path/sheep trail hugged the side of this gorge with a sharp drop of several hundred feet down into the gully on our left. This section did not feel 'teddy bear' friendly in any way and at one point a chunk of the path had fallen away altogether, down into the gorge, maybe marking a luckless sheep of too heavy hoof print, making an quick unwanted exit here at terminal velocity towards the abbyss. Narrow and airy for a good distance it was uncharacteristic for the Southern Uplands in general but they do have their moments.
Gradually the deep gorge ran upwards to meet the traverse path and at the end of it we could finally see our hill. Loch Fell, A Donald, 688 metes or 2258 feet. Hooray!
This path took us up onto Cat Shoulder, seen here, and the official high level route of the Southern Upland Way. Around us at this point we had Capel Fell, Ettrick Pen, Crofthead Hill, and White Shank, all around the 2000 foot mark.
At this point we started going back downhill again. 'Hey, the summit's up there!' I informed my errant companion. 'Secret bagging tick to collect.' he winked. 'Follow me.' I decided secret bagging ticks, when they lost me hard won height, were bad news but we did find a nice hidden bridge then headed up again. Despite wearing shorts I was pleased to report no sheep ticks afterwards. Another bonus.
And this is us... heading up the slopes of Loch Fell.
View near the summit.
Scenic Southern Uplands. If you want real solitude and people free landscapes you will find it here.
Steep cliffs and near vertical forests. Cutting these down when mature will be hard I'd imagine but predicting which direction they will fall might prove easy.
The 'Teddy Bear Wilderness' surrounds Alex in a friendly hug. In many mountain landscape slopes if you fall over unexpectedly or throw yourself down most likely it will hurt via a protruding boulder, rock slab or gravel. Here, nine times out of ten, you just bounce on a soft old paw.
Wild mountain flowers covered the upper slopes, providing splashes of colour. Grass of Parnassus in abundance here, growing in wide carpets on damp soils also aptly named bog- stars. This spring however it was bone dry and the UK has already experienced several large grass and moor fires- very unusual for this early in the season in a normally rain blasted country.
Zig zag path over Cat Shoulder. The official Southern Upland way route. A great day out and thanks to Alex for suggesting it.
Watched this film- Captain Fantastic - a couple of days ago on TV and its, well... very different. A father- Viggo Mortensen in a perfect fit acting role brings up his children in a remote wilderness setting, home schooling them in isolation in an extreme manner. Although loving he is a strict disciplinarian and hard taskmaster with strong, sometimes flawed, views on society. At times not an easy watch but always interesting film throughout as it does raise many questions and illustrates how everyone, to some extent, is a product of conditioning/environment/teaching even in normal households. i.e. driven, high achievers will probably mold/influence/brainwash driven high achieving children, like wise easy going families without push- children will follow, religious parents...strong probability of religious children etc. It seems fairly obvious a concept but this film highlights it even more as it's at the extreme end of that process. I liked it anyway. Very different and unusual. It will probably be on TV again and is worth catching. Great happy scene this. As a family hitting the city they make their own entertainment... and rules. Does not give too much of the film away and good song cover.
ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN. On the road back from the overnight bothy we stopped off at Morrisons in Fort William, seen here. While we were there we looked across at Nevisport and Gavin remarked that he'd not been in it for ages. Just shows you how things change as Nevisport, in my active climbing/hill-walking days in the 1980s and 1990s, early 2000s was always our main port of call on any trip up to Fort William. It was the place to visit. To buy outdoor gear, to visit the pub downstairs, to eat in the restaurant upstairs. A large part of most hill-walkers/rock climbers outdoor life. Must be five years since I've been in for a brief look yet that fact only registered now at this time with something of a jolt. Like a glimpse of an old, sadly neglected, girlfriend from the past where you just drift apart slowly then bump into each other again many years later in the street. The reasons are :- Nevisport was always an expensive shop for gear when it had a monopoly of the outdoor market. I visit Go Outdoors now if I need anything as its handy- five min drive away in a retail park instead of city centre hard to park locations- and cheaper. Same as we always go to Morrisons now in F.W. as that is also handy and fast to get in and out of with sandwiches and a soft drink/newspaper/carry out all in one place. And a free car park. The other reason being we are all older, have different tastes, and visiting Fort William is a rarer experience now whereas we used to be up here at least a dozen times a year as a club. Plus pub nights and a few pints each evening made up the main Highland entertainment back then. But it just shows how you can change your habits and years pass by without even realizing it.
On the way back down the road, more surprises, when we stopped off at the new Kingshouse Hotel on the edge of Rannoch Moor just before it snakes down into the stone trench of Glencoe. I didn't even know it had upgraded so this was my first look at it, roughly on the same spot where James Bond's fictional ancestral mansion in Skyfall resided before it was blown up. Watching that film as someone who knows the area well was funny as most of the lochans are at most waist deep so crashing through ice and fighting under deep water would be hard to achieve in this shallow puddle landscape. As would the usual film cliche that any bog in a movie means sinking chest deep into the mire- at most knee deep here and only if you are really determined or stupid... to sink. You have to really work at it.
I didn't bother going inside but Gavin and John went in while I wandered around the outside. The main thing I noticed was that it was very busy. A huge number of cars filling the large car park, some staying overnight presumably but many arriving and leaving after a drink and a curiosity visit. Just like us. This is looking one way.
And this is looking the other. The white building is part of the original pub/hotel- the wooden extension is the new part.
The back view. Nice wood paneling but it resembles a new Scottish distillery here I thought from this angle. If I didn't know what it was I might guess that option. Slightly industrial in scale and appearance. Hides the mountains. Separate bunkhouse accommodation available from £35 a night.
The front view. I found myself thinking that the best views would be inside the building itself looking out at the surroundings rather than looking at the building from outside which did seem to dominate and even detract from the scale of the moor and mountains it sits in. Handy though as it rains a lot here year round so a large indoor area to stay dry and warm in is a bonus. The majority of tourists travelling around the Highlands are not serious walkers anyway, many like their comforts, and its only ever been a minority that wild camp nearby. This group do not spend a lot of money either, except in the bar.
There are magnificent views looking out the windows. Buachaille Etive Mor here.
And plenty of fine rock peaks surrounding this hotel...
But although the peaks are rugged and dramatic they are only 1000 metres high (3,400feet) not 12,000 feet so its easy to diminish them in size by architecture that's even slightly out of scale. Maybe I just have to get used to it but the old modest white painted hotel seemed to get it right- size wise... making the surrounding moor seem vast and the habitation small and insignificant- a white dot from afar....whereas the new structure feels too large a footprint somehow- shouts in your face- I'm over here!- and introduces a city type development and supermarket style traffic comings and goings into the wilderness. Maybe this is what modern travellers want and expect though and it needs to be big to capture the extra folk visiting Scotland then motoring up for the 500 tour around the popular north coast route. According to the guys it was ok inside but a bit bland and corporate, hotel chain feel, lacking the down at heel spit and sawdust character of the old climbers bar, which was rustic and basic admittedly, but then again the old Kingshouse was never my favourite pub anyway although I've had many memorable nights there camping beside the river... hill-walking and rock climbing- but only in the past...20 to 40 years ago. My favourite memories centre around wild camping on the nearby island in the middle of the river and the strategy involved getting back onto it if ....A. drunk and unsteady, performing half seen boulder jumps in pitch black conditions , B. raining hard and river swollen double sized after a night in the pub. C. replicating the sheer perfection of waking up in a tent with a crystal clear day ahead, no hangover, and great mountains to climb. It was not indoor memories at all, but the general surroundings that made it special.. Some of my favourite pubs in this area have shut anyway so you have to evolve to survive.
Scrambles on the nearest peak to the Kingshouse. Buachaille routes. A rough line only- consult a proper guidebook if attempting them.
Red deer sheltering in the woods near the hotel. If only they knew what was happening inside.
Hinds. Plate them up I'll have them on a sandwich.
John on Crowberry Tower in the 1980s.
Where the tower is on the mountain.
A winter view of the scrambles and rock climbs.
High on Curved Ridge in Summer 1980s.
Alex in Glencoe.
The 5 star Glencoe House Hotel above Glencoe Village. This building is much higher than the new Kingshouse yet it fits in better with the surroundings I think. Several large ponds and forest trails with a car park lie behind this building. One of the few low level sheltered walks in the area so good to remember for a wet day. It's probably because it's so flat and empty at the Kingshouse it stands out more as the dominant feature in that desolate landscape. No woodlands to soften the profile of the building, just surrounding moor.
Or maybe I have too many memories of youthful times invested here around the Kingshouse to give an unbiased opinion and if I had no memory of anything else existing beforehand I might think it was fine as a building in this situation. The curse of age perhaps is falling into the trap of viewing the world as it used to be ( in simpler, more basic, times) and not how it currently is. Younger folk coming up today will probably view this building as perfectly normal for its setting and size to cater for an increase in tourist numbers and greater expectations as to where to stay.. You decide if it fits in. Link below. https://www.kingshousehotel.co.uk/
Funnily enough the other Kingshouse Hotel at Balquhiddder has also gone upmarket as the Mhor 84. Popped in for a drink there a couple of years ago. Not my kind of pub and well out of my price range for meals or to stay in. Mind you, I'm perfectly happy in a shed overnight in my sleeping bag with a tin of meat for dinner so my standards and expectations aren't high.
Whenever I have a strong vocal opinion on something in general my friend Anne says I should take heed of the words of this song. Always! Play it every day on a loop before I open my mouth each morning. So here it is. Cheers for that advice :o) But she is right, as usual. Being young should be an adventure, and any era you grow up in and live through is that golden age for you... or should be.
ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN. Received an invite recently from old friends John and Gavin to go on a weekend bothy trip. As this is not an MBA bothy but an estate one I'll keep the location to myself. Even John, a 50 plus bothy night walk in veteran didn't know of this one which is weird considering Gavin and myself have known about it for decades. We just assumed he knew so never mentioned it.
When I mentioned in my book, Autohighography, that we often used to walk into remote bothies at night, some without a track or path, even mild scrambling and crossing unseen rivers knee deep in the dark, several of my non climbing/hill-walking friends just didn't believe it. They thought I was making it up ... so here we are walking into a Highland bothy at night with head-torches, next to a deep mountain river. Nothing to it really, provided you know where you are going and are aware of any serious rivers, gorges and cliffs en route. We had a few brief snow showers on the way in but they are preferable to rain as snow doesn't soak you the same- in fact it can be fun and a snow covered landscape is often easier to cross at night.
Fine dining was had on arrival....
And a bothy fire is a must. Being old school you cant beat an open fire rather than a sealed off wood burning stove. You really need to sit beside dancing flames and flickering candles to get the full bothy experience.
There was not a lot of snow on the peaks on the way up. Blackmount Hills here near Glen Etive. Snow flurries most of the journey.
Glen Etive ridges.
The next morning John and Gavin went up a hill but I stayed around the bothy as I had climbed it before.
Hill in the distance over the horizon. I waved them off with a grin. Such intrepid mountaineers.
Meanwhile, I prowled around the river, spotting frog spawn in puddles and even a lone frog guarding its spawn from harm.
At least I assumed that was the reason it was sitting on top of the jelly lump and never moved. Laying eggs is hard work for a frog. Maybe it just needed a rest while they hatched into dragonflies. Understanding the complex wonders of nature is my best subject.
Sheep came to visit me as well, then a few folk on a long distance hike from one glen to the next. I sat outside and soaked up the sunshine, reading a book. One long distance walker seemed a bit peeved by my lack of enthusiasm for energetic pursuits. "Where are your mates" he asked, noticing the extra sleeping mats and gear inside the bothy. " Up the hill," says I cheerfully. " How come you're down here then?" He demanded. " Are you injured?" " Nope. Done it all before. A living legend sits before you. A human dormouse now. Only move fast these days if I'm on fire. Mostly I'm asleep. Hibernating through the winter months." By his expression this didn't seem to be a good enough reason for avoiding uphill punishment. "It's a suntrap here." I explained patiently. "Fairly sheltered... but I already know there's a bitterly cold wind up there on the heights so that's why I prefer this cosy option. It was grey, freezing, and dull up there only half an hour ago. I'm a honey and sunlight creature me. Comfort first these days inside the nest box." He seemed to find this idea of sloth inexcusable. " Plenty of other hills to climb. ", He elaborated, waving his arm vaguely around the neighbouring slopes. " Done them as well in my hasty youth." I smiled a winning smile, perfectly content in my chair. " I'm very busy here as you can see." I held up my book. " Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. A modern Gothic classic. Over one thousand pages of English magic to get through and learn. Hard graft and dedication required." I waved him away to his own urgent devices as his friends were keen to move on. " All this"... he turned in a slow circle to demonstrate the wonders of the surrounding upwardly rising scenery... "and you're reading a book!? " he complained. "Yup. It's a free country. Even the flat stuff. " I tried a disappearing spell on him and sure enough he soon vanished from sight... but I can't take any credit for it as he used his legs, catching up with his departing companions, leaving me with peace and sunshine again.
I got my exercise when it dulled right down an hour later... so starting to get cold, I warmed up by hunting around for fallen wood and branches by which time the boys had returned and we tidied up then walked out to the road.
An enjoyable trip.
Fort William ridges on the walk back out to the road. Snow showers on and off all day.
Bitterly cold once in the wind and out of the sun but not much snow for late March. The end. And true beauty and design to finish on. A gift for Catherine the Great.