Thursday, 28 May 2015

Lochend Park. Meadowfield Park. Our Divided Kingdom? Edinburgh.

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As I don't get the chance to visit Edinburgh all that often these days (it's an 80 mile round trip and uses up half a tank of precious fuel) I decided to pack a lot in during my solo day visit. Teddy Bear Moon above.
Calton Hill. This folly adorned hilltop is well known to tourists and is plainly visible from the higher Arthur's Seat and Holyrood Park but it was another less well known landscape that captured my attention off the tourist trail. From the summit of Arthur's Seat I could see a fairly large open green area filled with trees and a pond with islands and a ruined castle. I suddenly realized with a familiar,  but less frequent these days, thrill of the unknown, that this area close to South Leith was one I'd never visited before and it looked within walking distance.
The brutal architecture of St Andrew's House under Calton Hill. Although it has art deco embellishments it still reminds me of state buildings in Berlin and Russia. Statement architecture very much in vogue during the Hitler and Stalin era which is not that surprising as it was constructed from 1935 to 1939. Although rightly portrayed as the bad guys of history now, many high society types in Britain, Europe and the United States had a lot of admiration for Hitler and his achievements in turning the country around after economic recession and a lack of political vision. Over 1000 civil servants and government officials toil away in here
Although not the brightest bulb in the box long walks always get me thinking and I had plenty of inspiration and strange thoughts during this trip. Having not visited Central Edinburgh for a few years except for a wedding at Cramond last summer I was amazed at the amount of new building projects taking place. Tall cranes were everywhere and new build apartments were springing up in an already tightly packed central district. It looked like a Scottish Hong Kong in places.
In many ways Edinburgh is much richer than the, larger for now, post industrial Glasgow, being the capital of Scotland but also its financial and business hub, which is where the top jobs,wages and real money tends to get concentrated in today's economy. Edinburgh is Scotland's London, full of business people, top university graduates and intellectuals which was fairly obvious just walking around the streets, listening to snippets of conversation in passing. The subliminal direction of Modern art works, where to go for lunch with an eastern theme menu , debates about the best wine and coffee haunts, Westminster insider trading and support for David Cameron are not usually subjects discussed on the streets of Glasgow where most of the new build projects are student accommodation or new University buildings. Glasgow does have its own strong intellectual and university base which is probably larger than Edinburgh's but the capital has always given the impression of being more stylish, sophisticated and ever so slightly up itself whereas the general surrounding mass of working class Glaswegian's, like Liverpool and Manchester, tend to deter any pretentious conversation  or intellectual flights of fancy in public. Here it is given centre stage and applauded. Edinburgh is also much more cosmopolitan judging by the rainbow of different accents but even here they seem to differ between cities with Edinburgh attracting more of the cream and Glasgow the ordinary multi culture milk beneath.
Too much cream can be sickening though if you are not used to drinking such a rich diet and my bullshit and twaddle detector was working in overdrive. Most of the conversations I overheard seemed to be centered around money, spending, acquiring or what you could buy with it and I was not paying particular attention to any one group just mingling on busy pavements or waiting at lights to cross main roads.
Rooftop gardens just seemed to emphasize the growing divisions in modern society between the have and have nots as last week I was visiting a friend at the new super hospital in south Glasgow then had a wander around nearby Govan to check out some details for my forthcoming new book. The last time I observed it looking so shabby and depressed was during the Thatcher era and you could tell a lot of people were suffering badly.
Desperate people tend to commit desperate acts and a polarized society is not a particularly healthy one. Unfortunately, it is the poor and disadvantaged who always seem to suffer at these times and central Govan resembled the cast of The Walking Dead with many limping or shuffling around from cut price shop to discount market and I'm not a stranger to this area. Is this the future of our divided kingdom? A polite and not so subtle ethnic cleansing and segregation, not of race, but between rich and poor.
Lion at Holyrood Palace. Interesting info at the end of this board description. Talk about getting your pound of flesh in a court of law!

It was actually a relief therefore to reach what turned out to be Lochend Park and get back to ordinary folk who, paradoxically, although they probably didn't have much, were less obsessed with money issues and competitive one-upmanship. The conversations here seemed to be more about football, what was on the telly, friends and family, and the park's youthful wildlife.
This park has a castle, a good path around a pond, a strangely submerged central island covered in water drowned trees and more wildlife than you can shake a hungry badger at.
Young coot.
Lochend Park Pond with Arthur's Seat in the distance.
Lochend Park and South Leith. An interesting oasis. Well worth a visit.

Being handy with wildlife and knowing Canada Geese and their feisty reputations inside out I cunningly imitated a large and rather fat boa constrictor to put them at ease. slithering closer across the short grass towards the young gooselings... geeselings... whatever. As an expert wildlife photographer well used to calming a multitude of beasts and other feathered reptiles and amphibians I was wondering why they suddenly appeared agitated and started displaying threat postures. Was my snake camouflage not working? Would a Komodo Dragon impression get me closer to this young brood and get them relaxed again? It was while I was pondering this option that I felt a sticky tongue lick my head and the hot breath and nose of a large Rottweiler enter my ear. It was higher than me as I was lying on the grass by this time to get a professional wildlife angle of the various wildfowl assembled. It's doggie pal, an equally large Alsatian investigated my horizontal body from the other side with its boisterous but slippy tongue. My head and face seemed to be a curiosity magnet for these two hounds with their wet intrusive implements but I held my nerve and position and concentrated on the shot.
The mutt's owner, a local lad, seemed equally curious about me.

"Whit ye dain tae aw thae wee ducks like?" Crawling aboot among them like a maddie! Ken, ah'll caw the polis if ye hurt them, ya muky pervert!"
I thanked him for his help then explained I was a renowned wildlife photographer of some standing, but was currently lying down to get a better angle.
"Dae ye dae requests?"
I looked suitably puzzled.
"Ma dug's coupons. " He explained. "fur a photie. A double dug selfie wi the wife in the middle, Ken."

I was not amused. " Firstly, my name's not Lichfield. Secondly, I don't do selfies. I'm above all that herd mentality fashion trend stuff." I replied sniffily..... "although I'm currently below it as you can observe." By this time certain liberties were being taken and I was no longer comfortable with my prone position. "Thirdly, your dog is romancing my shoulder sir! Vigorously!! Kindly call it away."
"Suit yerself." He muttered, calling off his hounds who were still tonguing me with vigor and other unwholesome secretions. "Diaper! Mattress! leave the man alone. "
Not for the first time I wondered about the number of strange people I always seemed to run into when walking or crawling through the various districts of  Edinburgh. The place is stuffed to the gunnels with nutters!

My next port of call was Meadowfield Park which perfectly described it. A large open meadow on a rising slope under Holyrood Park and Arthur's Seat. The views from here were panoramic over large sections of Edinburgh East and I was pleased to discover many districts here I've yet to explore. No tourists at all just local folk out walking dogs with unusual names.
From the park I identified three separate and fairly large woodland areas that I'd never been in and that same excitement of unknown lands and discoveries gripped me again and made my heart beat faster. New people to meet and new opportunities perhaps? I love exploring new places and having modest mini adventures... so you don't need large amounts of money to enjoy life. Just a zest for living and enough coinage to pay bills. Most ordinary folk don't require massive pay packets and competitive bonus structures and can get by fairly happily on modest amounts of income for a working week. It's not much to ask but even that is being slowly stripped away. Regular buses run from Glasgow to Edinburgh and this entire 4 to 5 hour easy walk can be done straight from Edinburgh bus station.
Meadowfield Park info board.
The old heart of Edinburgh. The Royal Mile District.
A view over the city.
 A second view of Auld Reekie or Edinburgh.
Heard this song a while ago but the video just seemed to sum up my gloomy mood when I found out the results of the election and another five years of Conservative cuts, more cuts, and persecution aimed mainly at certain sections of society. I'm not a rabid independence supporter as I think it's a can of worms yet to be opened and I don't trust any political party that much but hopefully the SNP can do better than Labour regarding the dismantling of public services under the illusion/delusion of reducing the deficit and growing the economy. Tax payers are already paying out for the banks and bonus culture, most charities and the renewable sector, what next? This video reminds me of the last time "robust negotiations" happened between Scotland and England during the Wars of Independence. As I've said before, having a Tory Government for a sustained length of time, given its previous history in Scotland, is just one more incentive for an independent country. Facing straight into the wind again without any shelter for another five years.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Arthur's Seat. Salisbury Crags. Edinburgh Skyline.

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A solo day trip through to Edinburgh, Scotland's capital city, and one sometimes referred to as the "Athens of the North", mainly due to its cultural achievements, the monument on Calton Hill resembling the Acropolis,, but also because Edinburgh is blessed with a city centre of steep braes topped by plugs and ancient vents with a roller coaster skyline of steep basalt cliffs culminating in an 822 foot much studied volcano.
It's a great city for photography and I've been coming here for 50 years. I love the place.
Calton Hill.
Duddingston Loch.
Decided to go up Arthur's Seat, the ancient volcano that dominates the city around it in practically every view. Not only was the hill busy Edinburgh seemed to be heaving as well. Loads of tourists enjoying a beautiful sunny day.
The summit of Arthur's Seat,. 251 metres, but it seems much higher due to the vertical cliffs around the mountain. In some ways it is similar to Cave Hill near Belfast which is slightly higher but further from the city centre. Two great cities boasting basalt peaks with fantastic views from each summit.

A side on view of the summit.
One from the other side looking down to the halfway meadows.
More tourists climbing up from the Gutted Haddie. A lot more wear and tear on the mountain since the last time I was here a couple of years ago but I usually arrive when it's under snow or covered in ice in the depths of winter.
Met this guy on a bike who was rolling it determinedly to the top. A man after my own heart as a few years ago I'd have done the same just for the hell of it. Quite a few posts in here feature me carrying a bike to the summits of rocky hills under 1000 feet.
These two girls also provided me with some scale as I always like to get little figures in my photo's for a bit of perspective. Painting pictures with a camera.
Same girls with Ocean Terminal district.
Edinburgh Castle and church spires.
St James Shopping centre and St Andrew's House. Two massive brutal feeling structures that complement each other nicely from this angle.
A view down one of the gullies on Salisbury Crags, a vertical escarpment boasting steep cliffs falling hundreds of feet to the road below.
The view looking over the edge.
Holyrood Palace, One of the Queen's houses when she is in Scotland although she usually stays at highland Balmoral.
Whinny Hill. A quieter part of Arthur's Seat away from the tourists.
St Margaret's Loch and the yellow carpet of spring flowering gorse bushes.
Easter Road, Home of Hibernian Football Club, one of the two main teams in the city, the other being Hearts.
A guy walking his dog high above the city. Only recommended if your pooch is very well trained. This is not an area to go over the edge into space unless you are teaching it sky diving. One of several Edinburgh posts.... to be continued.....

An appropriate matching video from Kate Bush and the talented MrMarrs reaching equally spectacular heights in the mountains.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Doughnot Hill. Lang Craigs. Overtoun House. Dumbuck. Anti- Social Behaviour.

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A view of Arran from Bute and a photo left over from the Bute trip that was too good to miss out.
The post today however takes place in the hills above Dumbarton where a cracking walk of a few hours can be had along the Lang Craigs Escarpment, (ancient lavas flows) then up the gentle slopes of Doughnot Hill to return down the beautiful Overtoun Glen and House back to the car. Alex and Alan had never been along the Lang Craigs escarpment before, despite much urging from me, but they finally succumbed and agreed to join me. Mainly because Doughnot Hill had a new trig for Alex although Alan seems more open to going anywhere interesting.
We arrived via the minor road at Milton off the A82 and parked in the car park at Overtoun House. I used to be on my own parking here ten years ago and you would rarely meet anyone else but now its firmly on people's radar. Cloud Altas was filmed here (the old folks home sections) and several other films. In the last 10 years I've noticed a huge increase in the number of cars going to places like this and on good sunny weekends it's becoming increasingly harder to get parked at beauty spots, Munros, country parks etc unless you arrive early. One of the drawbacks of everything being easily accessible in minutes on the internet I suppose. Another drawback of this I will highlight later. I suppose I'm as much to blame as anyone by doing this blog but I,m sure if I didn't someone else would take my place as there are hundreds of books, magazines, blogs, and accounts about the great outdoors nowadays. Changed days since Tom Weir, Hamish Brown and a few others had it to themselves as outdoor writers spreading the word about still remote and almost unheard of areas up north.
Immediately above Overtoun House, next to the suicide bridge for dogs, the Lang Craigs escarpment rises in a wall of shattered cliffs two kilometers long. Just to the right of the car park a stile leads over a wall and a faint grass path is followed to an obvious grassy ramp splitting the line of cliffs near the right hand end. A large detached curved finger of rock should be obvious sticking out from the cliff on the right once you climb higher on this grassy ramp. This leads you to the top of the escarpment then head left along the edge on a faint grass path.( well, it's still grass at the moment)
Alex and Alan near the top of the escarpment. This entire area is a jumbled mass of volcanic plugs, lava flows, geological oddities like the tiny Lot's Wife,and signs of glaciation.
Good and interesting link to the Clyde Plateau Lavas below. There are over 60 volcanic plugs between Dumbarton and the Scottish Riviera sunshine coast at Dunbar. Many of them were used as hill forts by the most powerful tribe in the area, the Damnonii, who ruled this district and much of the central belt when the Romans came and the remains of their defensive walls are easily seen in this great area for geologists and interested visitors. Many of them are photographed here which includes much more info than Dumbarton Castle itself. I love the title Gates of Sodom!
This is Dumbarton Castle from the Lang Craigs escarpment. Stronghold of the Damnonii then later the Britons. It may be no coincidence that the Roman advance up west coast Scotland halted at Old Kilpatrick just before they came in sight of the main seat of power -Dumbarton Rock. Reading accounts The Romans seem to have treated the Damnonii much like the Gurkhas today. Fierce and committed fighters so better to have them on your side rather than as an enemy.
I was also saddened to notice that the carpet of Rhododendrons that covered the ground below the escarpment has been halved in size to make way for deciduous woodland trees by a conservation body. I,m normally all for woodland trees but in this area I think it will obscure the open aspect of the glen once they get taller and the magnificent carpet of Rhododendrons was a sight to behold that attracted thousands of bumble bees and insects when in flower.
This is the area which has been burned and cleared. Photographed last year. The black marks are bumble bees.
Thankfully, some of the remaining rhododendrons sit higher up on the escarpment on rough, shattered ground and hopefully they will be left alone to continue.
This is the higher band. Please ...LEAVE THEM ALONE!
Normally, I'm on the side of conservation bodies but sometimes official policy should be relaxed in certain cases. Rhododendrons are seen as a pest nowadays but I can think of far greater plant species that pose much more of a threat. Indian Balsam and Japanese Knotweed to name a couple that spread far more aggressively than Rhododendrons.
Drinker Moth Caterpillar in the open grasslands. The adult moth of this UK species looks like a little furry teddy bear when its wings are folded. Check it out online if interested.
Think these are wood anemones though they are flourishing in open grasslands under Doughnot Hill every spring.
Doughnot Hill trig. 374 metres, with extensive views.
This is a lovely area as is Scotland as a whole but it is in danger of being swamped by a far greater threat than Rhododendrons. There is a small reservoir and dam just below this hill and it seems to have become a magnet for the outdoor drink and drug crowd. I don't actually mind that as it means they will die much faster than healthy people:o) What I cant understand is why, if they carry all their drink and rubbish up full and heavy... they cant carry it back down again when its five times lighter and empty. Many of my friends in the various clubs I've been in over the years liked a drink and a party but they still tidied up after them and carried any rubbish back to bins or house.
On the path up to the dam we followed a teasing trail of empty two litre cider bottles, the usual tossed away empty MD 20/ 20 and old favourite Buckfast and found this pile at the end of it in a modern day treasure hunt with an  all too familiar outcome. Several large scorch marks had been burned on the short grass which used to be a favourite for picnics years ago and the remains of disposable barbeques were left lying around. I've seen this before at this spot and according to Saturday's Record the Bonnie Banks around Loch Lomond are in an even worse state with frequent stag parties and groups going up to get pissed on the cheap with cases of supermarket drink and park rangers threatened. I used to enjoy a good swally myself when I was younger on weekends away into bothies and camping but I always put any rubbish in bins afterwards and never caused any trouble. Mentality is one problem but another is really cheap tents, sleeping bags, camping gear and alcohol. Years ago tents and sleeping bags were far too expensive to leave them behind, even if you were that way inclined.
A typical roadside verge last week. Beauty spot UK anywhere. Rubbish just flung out of cars when driving along minor roads which you really notice cycling on a bike. Empty bins and lay-bys easily available nearby. I'm glad I,m the age I am and will die fairly soon. The human race needs help... or extermination.
From what I've read and the pictures I've seen recently Glen Etive has gone the same way every summer and the Loch Lomond park authority is talking about strict new regulations which is yet another case of the minority spoiling it for the rest of us as they will simply move the problem elsewhere. Meanwhile, over at the Hamilton Mausoleum the massive sleeping lions that generations of children enjoyed getting their photographs taken beside are now locked up behind high railings after vandalism to the monument. During the last prolonged summer heatwave we had a few years ago most of the grasslands surrounding Glasgow were set on fire deliberately which at least burned the mountains of fast food takeaway rubbish left scattered in the grass as well as all the wildlife too slow to escape the inferno. I, the fire brigade, the landowners, and most nature lovers I,d imagine, were very relieved when it started raining again after almost a month of dry weather.Truth is, a warm dry summer is not in the the United Kingdom's best interests. We need all the rainy days we can get to deter certain groups going into the outdoors who seem to treat nature as a toilet or a rock festival where someone else will clear up the mess left behind. No wonder a sizable percentage of the planet's wildlife is facing extinction in around 50 years time, kept alive only in zoos. The dirtiest, litter dropping nation in Europe? Shithole Britain. What's the answer? When will the culprits stop? When it's knee deep? Waist deep? Over their heads and they have to toss it upwards to get rid of it? When we are all swimming through lakes of human waste to reach the hills?
And the main summer season hasn't even started yet.

I normally try to highlight what's good about this country but the amount of litter I've seen recently this spring is already reaching epidemic proportions and Scotland and the UK rely on the tourism industry for a major slice of income.

Dropping down the glen after doing the hill. The second summit we climbed is above Alex's head. Another volcanic vent: Dumbuck, which is still a working quarry.

Mr bagger here decided to climb the other volcanic plug, a small hill beside Dumbuck quarry and we were quite happy to join him. Gorse bushes and other scented shrubs making it feel like full spring here while snow still wrapped the high peaks in a chilly blanket. I,m never in any rush these days to go back up to winter again on the mountains as it will come soon enough and spring is such a brief season before the annual disappointment of a Scottish Highland summer.

Dumbuck arete from an unusual angle.
Looking down into the working quarry. On the way back we witnessed a freak vehicle accident that could have easily killed the person involved and it could have been any of us if we'd been a few minutes ahead. Don,t want to go into details too much but it was one of these random events that could be totally life changing and came out of nowhere. Much like the van that ploughed into me at speed a few years ago when it went straight through a red light. "What's for you will not go by you." my granny used to  say. How true. The only time I wonder fleetingly if there is a God is moments like these. Luckily, the person involved was OK.

Video this week is one I promised to post a couple of weeks ago about anti- social behaviour. I like this band and it's a great classic song from the 1990s that's had almost 40 million hits but as soon as I watched this one on Top of the Pops years ago I thought "some nutter is going to copy this for real" and sure enough a few weeks later there was a spate of similar incidents with gangs running over a parked line of cars for fun. Not so funny if you had a repair bill to pay afterwards. I also remember a certain well known gang doing this with swords and knives in a busy city centre street at lunchtime with shoppers scattering for cover but they paid the price and got long jail sentences. Hope it was worth it. Not picking on this band as such as I like their music and the lyrics are good but this video did seem to raise the bar on extreme behaviour and many other "Rebel bands" hold similar anti establishment, F*** you attitudes. I know it's all part of the game with rock bands  since  the 1950s but I wonder if they would feel the same way if someone smashed their property up and had a bigger more threatening approach than they did and raised the bar even higher as has happened frequently with gangster rappers getting shot.Is this the world they want for their own children? Does that encourage ordinary people in the street to follow suit? There are enough nutters in society already without media endorsement and I seem to have encountered more than my fair share of them over the years. I,m not suggesting a Cliff Richard approach as I like edgy subversive music myself but what happened to being decent and reasonably polite in real life and more importantly, being creatively subversive rather than in your face aggression all the time?