Monday, 15 December 2014

Prestwick. Ayrshire Coastal Path. Part Two.

                                               ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN

Although my intention was to walk from Saltcoats along the beaches towards Irvine Bay I soon realized this would be a miserable outing as frequent and violent squalls started coming in at regular intervals and the sky turned black. A particularly nasty hailstone shower, seen above, convinced me to turn back after I'd taken this photograph of assorted birds.Mainly starlings. For wildlife, finding food in winter overrides staying dry and big storms like this one throw up a lot of little sea beasties caught in the waves that would normally be inaccessible under the sea.
With the wind chill it started to feel very cold on the bits of my body that hadn't stayed dry so I took a few more wave shots here then cut my losses and headed back to the car.
Another big wave.
One with seaweed and bits of wood in it which can be a real hazard if you stand too close and get hit  in the face with something hard like a small stone.
More of the seashore lands on the esplanade. I found out later the wind speeds off St Kilda, an isolated island past the Hebrides, hit 144 miles an hour. Electricity was also knocked out on Orkney which experienced colossal waves even by the standard of islands well used to rough weather. Luckily, it didn't cause much structural damage on the mainland or elsewhere but with warming seas we could yet experience hurricanes in the UK at some point in the future according to the programme on Britain's extreme weather I watched tonight as we already get mini tornado's occurring here now.
It's only a short hop in the car further down the coast to Prestwick but when I arrived I couldn't believe the difference in the sea conditions. It was maximum high tide here and a different seabed surface near the shoreline which changed the sea. Normally this is a sandy beach, popular in summer, so maybe for that reason the waves didn't have anything hard to smash against and instead had turned into a foot deep blanket of foamy lather that hid the edge of pavements and anything sitting on them.I found out later the foam is created during severe storms by millions of dead tiny sea creatures getting mashed up by the waves and the fatty residue left mixing with sea water to create this effect.
The wind was also getting stronger and the seas wilder, probably because they didn't have the full shelter of the outlying island of Arran anymore and the waves were able to travel further unimpaired.
This town was a whole different ball game as the spray was more or less continuous where there was a sea wall and they were all "punching" waves, traveling a good way inland in a solid front almost a kilometer long. Getting any decent photographs here would be far harder if I wanted to protect my camera as there seemed to be very few places you could stand without getting a torrent of spray in your face. Once again observation was the key although at times it was hard to see anything and a shower of freezing sleet started to come on. The normal easily defined boundary between land and sea no longer applied.
I persevered through and started walking along the promenade which is lovely on a sunny summers day but was really grim on this occasion. It was hard at times to stay upright in the wind.
The wind increased even more until it did indeed feel like a "weather bomb."
Huge seas at Prestwick.
There was a lot more ocean coming on land here and even with boots and full waterproofs on I began to get soaked and started to get cold. With my experience of winter mountains I usually know how far I can push this chill as my core temperature drops and I did have a change of warm clothing in the car.
A brief lull allowed me to do a section of beach walk further on where more deep form obscured any obstacles underfoot and made progress tricky in the gusts.
 You only really see the full power and grace of seabirds in conditions like these as the gulls were completely at ease in 70mile and hour winds and were actually swooping down occasionally to pick off small sea creatures from the tops of the wave crests if they spotted an opportunistic meal. Shortly after this it turned very dark and the town lights came on although it was barely 2:30pm in the afternoon and more hailstones, sheet lightning, and thunder made an unwelcome appearance.
At this point I threw in the towel and started heading back towards the car as I'd tempted fate long enough and was feeling really cold. When I reached the car I was so frozen my hands could barely grip my keys (actually a flat card reader device) and I was so weak finger wise it took me ages to push the button, open the boot, then get my boots off. Many people die on the hills in winter just because of this fact and they may even have something in their rucksacks or they find some sort of basic shelter that would save them but their hands are completely incapable of opening anything by that time, even with gloves to protect them.. I've actually had to use my teeth on a few occasions on mountains in the past to pull up the zip on my jacket tight to the top, even with winter gloves on, due to frozen fingers. I,m not that keen on winter mountaineering these days in grim weather. It's just too bloody miserable.
Anyway, the really dangerous part of the day was driving back on the A77 from Kilmarnock to Glasgow as it was dark by this time and the highest section across Fenwick Moor had ice and frozen snow on the road yet people still insisted on driving far too fast for the conditions and I witnessed three separate crashes on the journey home which took ages because of tailbacks and holdups. Nature I can usually predict and avoid real danger points most of the time but the sheer unpredictability of humans in cars (as everyone unfailingly thinks they are the best driver to ever past a test) is another matter. I was very glad to arrive back unscathed.
The end.

Another performance video from Beats Antique with a completely different theme highlighting how versatile and different this unusual group are.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Saltcoats. Ayrshire Coastal Path Versus "Hurricane Bawbag". Part One.

I had a free day off midweek so decided to head down in the car to the nearest Clyde Coastal resort to me, which happens to be Saltcoats, as a perfect storm was expected to roll in from America all the way across the wild Atlantic then hit the west coast of Ireland and Scotland over two days. In a term borrowed from American forecasters they were calling it a "Weather bomb" in the UK Media. Weather forecasting seems to be changing and has now got "Sexy" "Dynamic" and "Entertaining" presumably so folk will pay more attention to it. They are still haunted to some extent by the Michael Fish unfortunate comment from 1987 where he predicted " There is no hurricane coming across the Atlantic." only to be proved wrong when a larger storm than expected caused considerable disruption to the South of England and brought down a massive amount of trees which blocked roads over a wide chunk of the UK.
Now they seem to always err on the side of overstatement with approaching storms, just it case it is a whopper and we are all caught unprepared with our pants down.Weather forecasting is not an easy job these days.
                                                ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN
Saltcoats was once a popular working class coastal resort but like a lot of British seaside holiday towns has suffered badly from cheap flights to sunnier climes and no longer gets large numbers of visitors most of the year and as a consequence can look fairy run down, especially on a bleak winter's day. I've always liked the place though as it has bags of character, and more importantly for me, is a good base for several walks and cycle rides which start from its large seafront car park.These are all described in my new book available on Kindle bookstore here for £1.99 which has over 80 enjoyable walks and cycle rides described in it from Lanark to Girvan along the river and is illustrated with 146 original colour photographs. For anyone that likes walking, cycling or just a visual journey down this famous river then around the Firth of Clyde  this may be a worthwhile addition to the Christmas stocking. Blah, blah, blah. Plug over. 
As usual I looked up the Met office tide tables before setting off to make sure I would arrive a couple of hours before maximum high tide. I was not disappointed when I arrived as huge waves were already battering into the harbour and sea defenses with the gusts predicted to be between 60 to 80 miles an hour.
During the winter season Britain usually gets high rainfall, raging seas and extensive flooding as the country juts out into the North Atlantic Ocean and four different weather systems come together and fight for dominance over the UK. Scotland is already one of the windiest countries in Europe and these winds and storms seem to be increasing year by year.
We don't have hurricanes in this country of course... just frisky weather and the Ferry was still running from Ardrossan to Arran although by the way it was bobbing up and down a few passengers were no doubt turning green on board.

I put my boots on, locked the car, and had a stroll round the harbour, seen above. It was fairly breezy with good wave action on show. I,m not a thrill seeker as such and I,m very careful about putting myself into dangerous situations but I had a quick assessment and decided it was safe enough to walk around and up the tower seen in the second photograph. If I experienced any danger I would turn back. One of the benefits of being a mountaineer is that you do get fairly good at risk assessment of natural features once you have done it for a while. Careful observation before you do anything is usually the key to safety.
As on previous trips down the coast in wild weather I was surprised by the number of car drivers willing to drive through salt water spray in their vehicles as any inside the engine, electrics or bearings will soon turn into problems once it starts to rust.  My own car was parked well away from any spray.
The old esplanade to the south of Saltcoats is one of the best places to see good wave action as the shoreline here is rocky and uneven, producing "jumpy" seas. (a technical weather term :o) Although it was midweek this place has been on the television news several times as you can drive a vehicle close to the seafront here and both BBC and STV usually send a weather person to this location to jump out the car briefly and report on the storm and advise people not to come. Of course this has the opposite effect and quite a few photographers were already here and most of them had much better camera equipment than mine, many with shoebox sized zooms or several different expensive cameras slung around their neck. The last time I observed so much gathered Canon and Nikon equipment together in one place was photographing puffins on the Isle of May. I found this quite comical then as some of the zooms were massive and yet the puffins were only 20 feet away most of the time.
I had a few secret weapons of my own however that might give me the edge. A. I was willing to get wet. B. I had a full set of waterproofs and boots on. C. My camera was inexpensive and pocket sized and I was willing to risk it getting damp with some spray although I would try to keep it safe. D. I was not static and intended to walk part of the Ayrshire Coastal Path towards Stevenson just for the fun of getting out as I love wild conditions like these.
As I've sussed this place out before in previous years I already knew the electricity to the overhead railway lines in the above photograph might well be turned off during the storm and I made sure by asking a nearby line engineer examining the track for damage. A tiny portion of beach is usually exposed even with raging seas all around it so this is where I stood for this photograph. Perfectly safe as long as you are aware of the risks with an incoming tide although when I jumped off the seawall and disappeared I did notice some strange concerned looks as where the other photographers were standing (well back from the railings) they couldn't see this tiny patch of beach below.
Being a boy of very little brain I like simple plans and my next move was to stand right beside the incoming waves to take photographs as I,d already observed all the waves were breaking against the sea wall with the same action, which was straight up. Obviously, if it had been a different type of "punching" wave with a pushing then sucking action I would have stayed clear, although with my body shape these days it would take King Neptune himself to pull me through the railings. (Sadly, the last time I squeezed into a wet suit I looked like an apple in a sock :o(
Got a wet foot with this one though. Poor Bobby.
Saltcoats Harbour from the Esplanade.
Very pleased with this photograph and my new camera was still dry.
A large standing wave.
Some more. Two wet socks now and an elbow :o(
Saltcoats from the esplanade. Pleased with my efforts so far and still largely dry I pulled out my trusty storm bunnet, stuck it on my head, then trotted off down the coast to the next location..... To be continued.

Seen this music group last year and couldn't believe my eyes as they are so completely different, both visually and musically, to anything else out there. Worth watching. Totally unique. They are not so much a group as performance artists.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Black Rainbow. A journey through Glasgow's North West Frontier.

Something very different this time. The result of several mountain bike runs in the dark from Anniesland to Drumchapel, often in the wee small hours, taking in the hi- rise flats of Knightswood and Scotstoun, two areas which have some of the largest concentrations of multi-story flats left in Glasgow.
This post is best viewed with the lights off throughout to create the right atmosphere. Some photos are sharp, others are muted with abstract filters until they resemble the night time paintings we are so fond of creating.......
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                                                 Call us Legion... for we are many

In the beginning there was darkness... and then a light appeared. The first alter rises. When witch was witch and not potential wife...
"C" came into being.
This "I" formed on the edge of a large city. Blood on blood, flesh on flesh, life piled above life.
Inside these illuminated leviathans of  the modern age, rising from black depths in tandem together..... From London to Glasgow... the sprawling metropolis of Babel goes to bed. Tiny squares extinguished across the land, one by one. Like living Advent Calendars. Even these great cubes eventually sleep.
Tower on tower, level on level, tribe on tribe, bone on bone. The "Henge" culture of this era.

To explore it... but not as a human knows it, but as a 'something else'. A fox view, a  fossa view... my wolverine within.
A photo "painting" using the abstract setting.
Someone's lair.... perhaps. Eeyore's gloomy place no doubt, or some other pitiful beast of burden?
Is this the next step after food banks? People living in tunnels and caves again? Couldn't happen here? Well, 20 years ago no one had heard of food banks in the UK- now it's perfectly normal. We usually take our cue from America in these matters and tens of thousands already live in underground tunnels there. New York City is full of underground tunnels and sewers and at 20 below in winter it's the best place to be if you are homeless and desperate. The gap between the have and have not's in western culture has never been greater in modern times than now and it is still accelerating yet we are constantly told the economy is recovering. For who exactly? This current government seems determined to privatize the NHS and we might well find we end up with a situation in the future where if you haven't got private medical insurance you are up shit creek.
Welcome to the mostly hidden world of the tent cities and the mole people. This makes interesting and worrying reading when you know that most of America's solutions to social problems eventually get adopted here.

Christmas approaches fast in the city.
It's dark by 3:30pm now on dull overcast days. Grey, mist ridden, and uniformly unappealing for most of November and early December the streets and landscape around me seem far more colorful and interesting in the dark. I take to legs and bike to explore.
People head home to warm caves and tenements stacked high on the tops of hills.Christmas presents are carefully wrapped. Glasgow is after all "The Drumlin City of my Dreams."
The dark allure takes hold.
The city is locked up behind doors and safe. Plane landing from a journey to find the sun.
A half born emerges. So many long hours to kill in darkness at this time of year. Witch upon witch, blood upon blood, star upon star, furry mound upon furry mound, life against life. Moon takes the stars away from a lonely, tortured"Caliban" who slinks into the shadows of the golf course, seen above.
Sparkle memories appear.
Keen to keep to shadows, the dark margins of the city engulf your shy and wary companion... always half revealed, ever formless and indistinct. An edge of vision
Skirting the perimeter of a park.
Always staying in the black ink corners.
Prowling the lanes yet leaving no paw print.... no blood left to seep for hungry Caliban to find.
Always on the other side of that wall.
Centuries ago many cities were once gated and guarded at night for safety. Now it's open season again away from the CCTV cameras.
One trusting swan not fast enough this time.
The ancient city provides sustenance yet again. Bird within beast, wall beyond wall...Bold Caliban creeps anew.
A Dark Tower ringed apart.
Daylight shows why.

Glasgow. My beautiful city of twinkling lights and gleaming Leviathans. Drumlins and soaring towers combined.
                                              Where streets are always lined with gold.

Many years ago I stayed in the Cotswolds but cycled through the Mendips, the North Downs and the Gog Magog hills exploring everywhere, often cycling back to the rented cottage late at night. The beauty and appeal of these small hill ranges, often sheltering little patchwork pockets of bright neon in deep valleys within them and the sea of dark lands all around made a big impression on me cycling across empty and pitch black minor roads between scattered pin pricks of habitation. Scenic and safe feeling during the day these upland places changed completely after dark and even the main streets in tourist villages then (late 1970's) had little in the way of adequate street lighting with ancient lamp posts far apart and ill lit. Some of the smaller villages seemed to be illuminated by glow worms such was the output of generated light between warm pubs and pints of delicious scrumpy. Beyond these picture postcard settings however the dark was absolute and unfamiliar places visited in the hours of darkness are always slightly menacing and strange.
 My reward was a meeting with a pure light - a rare find in a southern plot to be nurtured and tended before transplanting into a different garden altogether in the colder north. I was a collector of things back then you should know.

Another daughter of Kent and a similar nocturnal inspired theme... Some of the fan made videos are better than the official offerings nowadays and this is a case in point. Memorable. A good night time driving tune with a slight jazz rhythm underneath.