Sunday, 20 April 2014

Pentlands. The Empty Quarter. Mendick Hill. Spring Lambs. The First Religion.

All photographs click full size.
Like all creatures on earth I wait for the beauty and radiance of  "Spring" each year, looking for the first signs that she's stirring- a signal to show she's finally leaving her winter bedroom and rising up to enjoy the sun's rays coming closer to earth once again. Like every women getting ready to go out, sometimes you can have a false start and you think she's getting dressed, but it's only a quick appearance -a toilet dash perhaps- then she shivers and dives under the covers again and the snow falls once more. Sweet Persephone. The First Religion on Planet Earth.
I am a follower of Kore.  Eostre -(Who gave her name to Easter)- The Dawn Goddess. Call her what you like. Without her and her mother Demeter there would be No Life. No Nature. Why do you think the Resurrection of Jesus takes place at the start of "Spring." Each new religion superimposes itself on the bones of the past- The pagan growth and harvest festivals that have existed since the birth of crops. Yet P will never die. Long after the dominant species has destroyed itself once again- P will simply evolve into other forms and go on. Even Snowball Earth couldn't kill her off completely.
If "Spring" doesn't gladden the heart of every living thing then nothing will. Even people who have lost someone close to them, after a natural grieving period, take some comfort from this burst of new life and activity around them. A world resurrection- even in deserts.
The modern icons of Spring in the UK. The Snowdrop. The Crocus. The Daffodil. The Tulip. Her golden gown and the gems stitched upon it. Every girl likes a new dress when the fine weather starts.
Blackthorn blooms. Flowers before any leaves appear. How can Demeter be the mother of P when "Spring" comes before "Harvest?" As always, nature explains by example.
Cherry blossom? Even an eternal goddess likes pink and a makeover after a long sleep. "Spring clean" again to greet the world and her fans. The one true celebrity none of us can survive without.
Red Currant display along the canal. She rises and we adore. She is my religion.


On a fine spring morning recently I headed over to Ron's house and we then headed for Peebles where we intended to do a walk. On the way we passed Andy Scott's equine sculptures once again at the Helix near Falkirk/Grangemouth. This well known artist in metal has built up an impressive collection of iconic sculptures over the years and I'm a big fan. A slide show of his many amazing installations  and commissions here.

I like this angle as it reminds me of my first sight of giraffes at a zoo and two huge heads, long necks and even longer rough tongues coming to get me over the barrier. Sandpaper kisses. No health and safety in those happy days. They even gave you monkeys to hold dressed in woollen jumpers at the front gates with inch long canine teeth on display when they yawned. Honest! I've still got the photo. Bitten children didn't sue in those days- they just got Dettol rubbed in the wound and a telling off.
A different angle, passing in the car.
Real animals. Fallow deer in the Pentland hills.
Another angle. Without Spring- no harvest. Without a harvest- no food. Without food- no life. The first religion keeps things simple, which I like. In this modern age however we tend to take everything for granted as if it's always going to be there for us- even if we muck it up- and get bogged down in the numerous complexities we have created for ourselves instead. For humans, P's arrival each year at this time, on this month, is a privilege- not an unending, un-shifting right. We should cherish her more for what she is-  the greatest gift we will ever receive- but many have grown so accustomed to her beauty we treasure her less as a result.
Eventually, we passed Edinburgh then travelled south west along the A702 which runs along the eastern edge of the Pentland Hills. As I said, we were intending to walk near Peebles but a heavy curtain of dark clouds still clung to that region whereas it was sunny and bright around Carlops. Easy choice to make as I do treasure my eternal princess and I like to see her smiling every time I'm in her company. Stay in sunshine then and so we parked the car near the golf course at West Linton for an ascent of Mendick Hill.

Mendick hill is a beautiful, symmetrical little peak that sits to the south west of West Linton.
Many rights of way and ancient drove roads pass through this part of the Pentland Hills as they tend to be more open here, with individual peaks and valleys instead of  a continuous range. They also tend to be quieter, with less visitors, which always appeals to me, although I don't mind large crowds where I expect to find them.
Sign post information at the start of our walk. We found out a Roman road used to pass through here and other remains (a roman fort) lie buried nearby.
This stone bridge dates to 1620. That's really old. Think about it. The same date as the Mayflower.  Mendick hill in the distance. A few years ago I came here with Alex so I didn't bother asking him this time as it's crossed off his list now and he'd climbed the Peebles hill I'd fancied already as well. Congratulations to him by the way on reaching his 200th Corbett and a belter of a recent post on Madeira- See Scotland's Mountains on Blogs List.
We found a lot of squashed amphibians on the minor road, which they have to cross to reach their breeding ponds. Over a dozen unlucky hoppers crushed by cars and tractors here yet this small track is seldom used. Multiply that by the number of roads throughout the UK and it's an animal holocaust that happens every year.
(I'll do a separate post on how we can all give them some help, very cheaply, with little effort, and for our own benefit and well being, later.)

It wasn't long before views were opening up as we climbed our hill of choice. It was the right decision stopping here as bad weather and lingering drizzle plagued the Peebles area throughout the day. We were just on the edge of it all and enjoyed a mixture of sunshine and the occasional dull interlude but no rain. Thank you P for your smiling countenance and warm personality once again.
 A view from the summit looking south west towards Lanark. This is a part of the Pentland chain that a lot of casual hill-walkers and tourists never bother with but I've grown to enjoy it here. Big skies and wide, empty horizons to play in and stride through.
We picked a great view for our lunch stop and Ron ( who'd never walked in this part of the Pentlands
before) said he would be happy to explore this region again. He loves Meikle Bin and the Campsies as he lives in the shadow of this well known west coast range but could see the attraction of these hills too.
It's only now it's stuck me how much these two modest hill ranges resemble the cities beneath them and how lucky we all are to have them on the doorstep. It may be far fetched but looking at these pictures in detail the Pentlands are elegant and refined with graceful sweeping lines.( the heart of Edinburgh city centre with its history and grandeur) yet past Mendick hill they grow wilder, more isolated, and much more untamed ( think Wester Hailes, Pilton, and Muirhouse :o)
The Campsies as a whole are much rougher, with a covering of long tussocky grass and rough outcrops- with deep, dark, hidden gullies like Finnich Glen.( the most popular post on this blog by the way with over 3000 hits but South Nitshill -then and now, will pass it soon. Who would have predicted that.) The Campsies- in your face, more direct, yet honest in manner. Look closer though and the Campsie Fells are equally beautiful with many tranquil beauty spots round unexpected corners. Personifications of Glaswegians and Edinburgh folk perhaps?
Most of my posts have an underlying theme so this is it.
Another view from Mendick Summit and another isolated shapely hill. No doubt about it. The Pentlands have the better figure with superb curves in all the right places. Posh city - better diet?
Always like the girls on Princes Street under Edinburgh Castle. Both are pricy attractions though!
Even the lambs are sexy here!
Mind you I soon put them through their paces. Young 6-66 here looked a bit flabby and I like my lamb chops without any fat on them. Fresh asparagus, lamb chops, and slow stewed apples are one spring luxury I do splash out on but I like my meat to be in prime shape when I buy it.
"Hit the deck solider! Give me 40 press ups at the double!"
 As you can see, the meat complied. I have a way with animals :o) Yum yum. Come to Daddy. Ah, yes, spring is a wonderful time.

Staying with the themes of beauty, grace, and the quest for unobtainable goals here's a suitable video.
European females on sun kissed golden beaches or perched on roof tops but done in the best possible taste, of course. (I  would not try jumping off though with those wings.).No wonder we go on holiday abroad and leave rain lashed Saltcoats, Ayr, Musselburgh and Portobello behind!

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Cowal Peninsula Weekend.Clach Bheinn. Lochgoilhead. My New Novel.

About a month ago I was invited along on an old pals outing when someone had the idea of a trip into a Cowal bothy which is situated in an isolated area of the Argyll Forest Park . I'm not going to name it on here as the internet has largely stripped away the mystery and allure of these often remote unlocked mountain huts. In the old days of my youth it was hard to find these places as their locations seem to operate on a "need to know" basis and we obviously weren't in the loop starting out so didn't need to know. Now most of the MBA ones are published on the internet which makes them far easier to find but takes a little of the sense of discovery away. Mark my words. Those who know where this is keep it to yourselves :o)
As John's car could only hold three bikes on its rack Alex ,myself and driver John headed up to Arrochar then continued on to the road end into deepest Argyll for the cycle in. This is Alex just disappearing round a corner. Every time I stopped for a photograph these two buggers belted ahead which meant I was left well behind all the way into the bothy. Being an action photographer is hard work on a bike as the action keeps going whenever you stop, hence the one bike photo as I never caught them again to capture any more. It's a good track for cycling though as it is not too up and down with good freewheels on occasion and great views over the forest to the Luss Hills.
This is Doune hill and Cruach an t- Sidhein, I think, which we climbed and posted a few weeks ago on the blog. It was looking down from here into Argyll that gave Alex the idea for this trip. Gavin and Scott also decided to join us on this adventure, coming up separately in another car, but at the last minute they chose to walk in as Gavin is not that keen on cycling.

The bothy with bikes outside. We travelled in on Saturday afternoon and this was a bothy we'd never been to before. This peninsula sticks out into Loch long and Loch Goil and is surrounded by pine forest at low levels but has an interior spine of rocky uplands with Beinn Reithe, 663 metres, The Brack, 787metres, and Beinn Donich, 847, being the highest peaks on the triangle. The weather was mixed with sunny periods and occasional heavy showers of sleet and snow but in the main we were lucky with the weather.

A sleet shower passing by travelling up Loch Long, Faslane in the distance. Alex of course was here to bag Clach Bheinn, the hill at the very end of the peninsula surrounded by pine forest but boasting fantastic views in all directions This is Alex enjoying the storm which passed by quickly over the Luss Hills but missed us.
Sunshine and blue skies followed but, as ever, the higher Munros were the last to clear of clag. A view over to Beinn Bhuidhe 948metres and a well known much loved Munro.

 Incidentally, after two long but enjoyable years hard graft writing a book about my hasty youth and  many intrepid adventures across Scotland and Europe the fruits of my labours are now complete and available on E-book Amazon kindle book shelf. Although it is an autobiography of sorts I didn't want to burden people with a dull read so it is very different from the normal type... part autobiography- part novel- part traveller's tale- part unusual love story.... and 100% original. It's a tongue in cheek comedy set in Scotland about a "fictional" hillwalking/ other sports club packed with (hopefully) interesting characters, funny stories, superb photographs, which illustrate each chapter and is similar to the style of this blog but totally different too as it's on a far bigger scale. All the chapters will be new to Blue Sky Scotland  readers- some may shock you- some may surprise you- some may offend you- but it will not be a dull read- Well...hopefully. Fingers crossed.

You can read the first couple of chapters for free and see how you like it although the really good stuff is further in as the characters and plot develop. If you enjoy it please give it a review- if not don't bother. If you hate it- please don't comment :o) Putting a book out must be like sending your child off to school on the first day, wondering if it will be embraced, loved, and taken care of or if will come back with teeth and hair and ears missing having been enticed to "play" with the bad kids beyond the CCTV camera range. Creative writing must also be one of the slim list of professions where you can work 4 to 7 hour days, every night and weekends, and not know if you are going to earn a single penny at the end of it. Two years, 1000 hours, and over 20 rewrites has gone into this book along with my heart, soul, sanity, and burnt out eyeballs, compared to a day ( 4 to 6 hours usually) for each blog post, so it should be good.  It's only £1.85 (UK pounds) or $2.99 (US dollars) anyway for 500+ action packed pages ( only 350 pages on Microsoft word) so well worth a punt. Cheaper than a scratch card although hopefully it will not go in the bin afterwards! You will not win any money but you may have a laugh. If you want to know what I got up to when I wasn't a decrepit old fart shuffling over pimples and was 100 times more adventurous and completely bonkers this is the book for you. Link Here.

Click "view inside" on kindle  link photo for the free chapters preview. I will get around to a proper link afterwards on the blog and print on demand paper copies hopefully- if it sells!
PS. there is not a mention of politics in it as I was more interested in Munros then although chapters on kayaking, rock-climbing, caving, island hopping, skiing and backpacking across Scotland and Europe form a backdrop for various relationships, love affairs, desperate measures, unrequited hope,occasional back stabbing obsession, loads of stupidity and intrigue within the club.

I've known this particular group of characters above for decades so they should not be surprised by the contents as they feature in some of the later chapters and they already know I'm mad as a hatter anyway- though it's meant to be "fictional" of course.
Scott, Gavin, John and Alex enjoying a swally or two in the bothy.
 Hundreds of nights over the years have been spent in places like this. "The rest I've just squandered." to quote George Best.
Highland cattle enjoying the soft 'moist' highland landscape. "Is this summer now mummy?" The little calf asks ,up to its tail in mud.
 " Yes, the rains slightly warmer." she replies "It must be summertime on the Scottish West Coast."
Traversing back from Clach Bheinn. The snow in places was thigh deep, yet melted completely in other areas under a strong spring sun.
View over Faslane.
View down towards Lochgoilhead area.
Wider view of the district from Clach Bheinn.
Portincaple from above

Gavin and Scott walking back out to the car.
Tearoom to end the day.The Green Kettle where we had a refreshing "cup of tea" (or other beverages on offer.) Cracking bothy and the first for ages. In the old days we used to collect them like Munros and we would travel all over Scotland to bag them. We even went on far north bothy tours for several winters at New Year and had multi day epics wading through deep snow or over wild empty moors just to stay in a series of bare little cottages deep in the wilderness. Strange the weird things you get addicted to in life.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Around Donegal. Derry-Londonderry. Scotland Independance Thoughts. Last Day in Ireland.

This last post on Ireland is a mixture of photographs from our recent trip there, out and about in Donegal.
Some funny, and some that had me contemplating what Scotland would look like if the country voted for Independence in September, which is not that far away so needs to be thought about. I have to confess I'm as confused as I suspect  many of Scotland's citizens still are. I'm not the brightest bulb in the showroom by any means but sometimes it helps to see another island (Republic of Ireland- Northern Ireland in this case) and compare them as they are as close to us as you will get. A large percentage of Scotland's inhabitants came originally as settlers from there anyway.

This is an impressive sculpture called "The workers" at the dry arch bridge roundabout in Letterkenny, a good piece of public art, but nearly every major roundabout in Donegal has one.   Many are really creative and outstanding examples as you can see here.
This is the three coins roundabout at Lifford. One of my personal favourites here.

 Another roundabout on the way to central Donegal. Pole Star. This one changes shape dramatically as you circle it.
 The Matrimony Tree
Fish climbing a stone waterfall on another roundabout.
A famous set of giant musicians we always pass on the way to Derry airport in Northern Ireland. The Irish are a clever and talented race but I refuse to believe the Scots cant shine creatively and in business as well given our shared DNA. There seems to be a huge amount of pride both in Donegal and in Northern Ireland that seems to be missing in Scotland at present. As a nation we still seem to live on our allotted hand-outs from Westminster and have done since the 1980s This is just my personal opinion from being over here and travelling around a bit but it may be wrong.

An eye-catching store near Lifford. I also noticed that houses in Donegal seem to favour garden ornaments more that Scottish ones and nearly everybody had an example in the garden somewhere.
Every time I've passed here though it seems to be shut so maybe that's one sign of the recession as many of the products are well made, whatever your tastes on garden extras.
Farmer and happy pigs.
Shameless hussy's flaunt themselves bare breasted on the sidewalk.( Having met Cleopatra in a former life however that is an accurate depiction of her dress sense, if not her colour.  She wasn't as small as that though so this must be young Arsinoe getting ready for an Egyptian night club as Berenice was on the heavy side and older.( how come everyone that's had a former life knows someone famous in it when every person I've ever met in this one has been refreshingly anonymous? Ah, the past. I was always tripping over well known figures from history there. Unknown nonentities never seem to exist in previous century's :o)
Fort Dunree. We visited here on a wet day as you can tell from the moisture on the camera lens.
The guns on show as this headland fortress is now a museum.
The centre of Letterkenny one of the main towns in Donegal and a prosperous looking place. As I mentioned in the last post I've been pleasantly surprised by my visits here at the number of new buildings and housing developments throughout the Republic of Ireland built during the Celtic Tiger years when the economy was booming in the 1990s.
Examples of this vibrant architecture are everywhere in Ireland, North and South, but especially in the Republic.

Even in rural areas examples of housing stock like these are not uncommon in what was (according to online research ) one of the poorest countries in Western Europe before Independence. Indeed I would go further and say that the number of properties like the houses above, scattered across Donegal, are far more in evidence here than similar sized rural areas in Scotland where only top footballers wife's and high paid directors can afford them. This is just an average street here and not a posh enclave like say Bearsden or Kilmacolm in Scotland where mainly wealthy people live so the money seems to be distributed slightly more evenly among  the general population in the Republic although a lot of people were hit hard by the financial collapse. Not being a local I don't know if they are all holiday homes for the wealthy who just like Donegal but I don't think so as the number of independent small businesses here seem far larger than our own. There's more of them in rural areas I mean. I also noticed every town and village we passed through seems to have shops with some local service to offer, like hairdressers, chemists, florists etc. Local people having the backing and drive to start their own business obviously. Also the pubs in these areas seem to be still open and doing far more trade than in Scotland where large numbers have closed already. I know property prices have dropped through the floor here and there are examples of " ghost estates" throughout Ireland where houses have been build and are lying empty as no one can afford to buy them but visible evidence of a recent property boom is all around as well. Many young people have had to leave their families and go abroad to find work during the recession but that's also true for Scotland as well. I'm sure some aspects of Independence have a negative input as well but being a casual visitor I can only go on what I can observe around me without an in-depth understanding. Mind you I don't understand Scottish politics either half the time :o)

As a visitor I cant help comparing Donegal to many corresponding areas in Scotland of similar size I've been in ( like Burntisland say) where the main street last year, with its many fine old fashioned buildings, had several lying boarded up and abandoned in an appalling state of falling down, not likely to attract many tourists to the area. Which is a shame as it's a lovely place with great tourist potential given a boost. Too many places in Scotland I've visited in my travels over the past five years just seem to be clinging on and even during periods of prosperity when the economy has been booming I've honestly never noticed much difference to my neighbourhood and I suspect Northern England down to Birmingham  and working class parts of London are much the same. Boom or bust in the UK we're still in the same leaky boat paddling hard just to stay afloat.
    St Mary's Oratory with an impressive frontage.
Maybe that's the real lesson of Independence Ireland can teach us. It may be a risky strategy going alone, and it may all go pear shaped as no-one can see into the future but the rewards as well as any drawbacks are greater and any wealth created through hard graft, if it comes, makes a more visible difference to that society. In many parts of the UK over the last 30 years it always seems to be Austerity Britain.
Also, that's twice in Scotland's recent history that we have been saddled with a government that the majority didn't want or vote for up here yet have had to suffer the consequences with many years of cut backs and more austerity still to come. According to the view of Boris ( The Mayor of London) Johnson's own sister, Rachel, a journalist, on a recent programme for Sport's Relief, Britain is divided into two different worlds. (This fact seemed to come as a surprise to her but certainly not to many). Worlds that never normally meet and ignore each other when they do. Those who need to watch every penny and those who do not need to bother how much it costs for any items they buy. This gap is widening every year and under the current system it can only get worse. I applaud her honesty though as I've seen too many politicians who have been on similar programmes over the years and always brush it off at the end of their stay by stating. "It's meant to hurt- Get a job."  In this programme however, many of the participants already had jobs but thanks to the price of food and fuel, bills, low pay, zero hours contracts, and exorbitant interest rates charged on pay day loans which are ubiquitous on our television screens nowadays they were still earning buttons. Some were living on a pound a day and skipping meals as they could only afford to feed any children in the house but not themselves. Five fruit or veg a day ( up to 7 now) is just a joke for many people, including myself and I consider myself one of the lucky ones as I eat three meals a day. A single turnip or two grapefruit is £1 now and I would rather eat beans and toast or pasta and mince anyway when I'm wanting a main meal. Fruit and certain veg are luxury items these days. I was glad they showed this programme as at least it's a Britain I recognise more than the usual collection of  misfits, alcoholics and drug addicts the media put together when depicting the lower rungs of society. This was ordinary people trying their best to bring up families and still struggling which is more like the reality I've observed around me. After all, I should know what they look like as I've perched beside them on the same rungs all my life happily enough, although, being single, I'm still lucky to get around on a tight budget so far. The Guardian with its take on it.

A view of the peace bridge and River Foyle coming into Derry-Londonderry.
Another view of this fine city which is well worth a visit. 2014 is Music Year here with a wide range of events planned all summer and autumn.
Taken from the plane somewhere over the Firth of Clyde. From up here it was obvious how the cloud mass in every area seemed to hug the land under it as a few miles offshore from this peninsula the skies and seas were clear and blue again.
Alisa Craig seen from the plane.
Prestwick Airport and a fine afternoon in Ayrshire.

I thought I'd end with another of Gerry McVeigh's brilliant short videos on Donegal, this time a coastal walk from the village of Port with world class scenery throughout. Sea stacks, natural arches, and cliff top footpaths aplenty. Great camera work as well. Five minutes of visual bliss.