Sunday, 25 January 2015

Meall Dearg. A Graham near Aberfeldy.

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A Saturday trip up north this time saw myself, Alex, Graeme, Grant and David head up as a carload of hill walkers to the Graham just south of Aberfeldy, Meall Dearg, 690 metres or 2263 feet, and its outlying top Creag an Loch, 663 metres. The snow was deep and crisp and uneven up here with a forecast of clear skies but a windchill factor of -20 below on the heights, once on the snowfields. About a 20 miles an hour wind blowing steadily in exposed places so we had full thermal gear on all day. Graham: a Scottish  mountain between 2000 and 2500 feet high.
The track in was sheet ice covered in a few inches of snow, where I managed to do the full banana skin fall, heels in the air, landing flat on my back on the ice. Luckily, my rucksack took most of the impact but it was a sore one. Saved the camera as I had it out at the time but a keen photographer never drops his guard.... or grip:o) These hills and this high upland road through Glen Cochill (A826) seems to be a popular skiing destination in winter as a few other cars with cross country skiers arrived to take advantage of the network of forestry and upland tracks leading onto the surrounding mountains. We parked near Loch na Craige to take advantage of a track through the forest leading towards our hill.
Away from the track, see photo above, snow covered the landscape, where deep hidden holes lurked to trap the unwary. Graeme sinking up to his thigh in this one. At least it was a dry hollow.
Falling into this other one would be like dropping into a waist deep, half frozen, slush puppy. Not pleasant and potentially dangerous at the start of the day.
As we climbed higher onto the plateau the frozen snow held our weight more often and we didn't crash through it so much, which can be very draining, energy wise. Scotland lies at the same latitude as parts of Alaska and Hudson Bay in Canada and away from the effects of the coast and Gulf Stream temperatures the weather conditions can be brutal. Low winter sunlight didn't provide much heat and you wouldn't last long up here in the event of an accident. Every time I took my gloves off to take a quick photograph it took at least ten minutes to heat them back up again.
Climbing ever higher. Cute ice crystals sparkling in this one.
Nice wind blown snow patterns in this shallow gully filled with deeper waist high drifts. The secret is to avoid these areas altogether and walk up the firm ridges and sections where the snow will take your weight. Easier said than done in some cases.
Avoiding frozen bodies of water is also advisable as many folk have crashed through into snow covered lochans in the past during white out conditions and not even realized they had water beneath their boots. A lot of ancient "Coffin Roads" lost a body or two and some of the bearers this way giving you an idea of how brutal life was in the Scotland of old. Wolves were feared and hated then mainly because they dug up fresh bodies and left them for scavengers after they had eaten their fill so clans often buried their dead on islands in lochs to avoid this fate and would travel miles carrying coffins over the hill passes to do so. Loch Fender, seen here, with mini ice bergs in it, still half frozen.
Very interesting article here on the last of the roaming wolf packs in Scotland, the demise of the great wood of Caledon that stopped the Roman Army in its tracks and the gradual change to the desolate barren wasteland we think of as "natural Scottish wilderness" today. Only a lonely handful of ancient yew trees scattered in otherwise bleak, empty glens are old enough to "remember" the lynx, the brown bear, the wild boar, the elk and the wolf running or sheltering under their branches.
 Graeme and David with what looks like Schiehallion, a popular Munro at 1083 metres, looming in the background. Several large wind farms now ring this empty quarter but one in particular annoyed me as it stood in the way of superb wild views to the Northern Munros. The Beinn a Ghlo range and several others in the distance.
I've always suspected large wind farms are just another license to print money and a tax dodge, like the blanket forestry plantations over the flow country or the shares issue, both several decades ago. If they are, doubtless the tax payer will pick up the bill to remove them ... or even worse... they prove too costly to remove and we are stuck with them forever, once they break down, as permanent eyesores in the environment. I,m not scientific enough to know the full truth of whether we require them or not... few are outside of the scientific community itself. Here's an interesting short link however with a few details folk might not be aware of about "Harmless Green Energy."
It's a complicated topic with strong opinions on all sides and hard for any non academic to understand. Personally, I don't mind them in bleak, desolate areas that are scenically uninteresting anyway, or land covered in man made blanket conifer plantations already devoid of most forms of wildlife. However, most of these obvious areas have been grabbed by turbines already so they are now starting to intrude on the types of landscapes that tourists and UK visitors pay good money to see.
If they are not harmful to birds flying into the blades in poor visibility... why the legal challenge?
 From my own point of view, as a frequent hill walker around Scotland, mainly south of Glencoe (Truth is, I cant afford the petrol these days to go further north in my own country :o) there are very few occasions now when wind farms do not spoil the view, often in two directions at once. It's getting increasingly harder to take a photograph showing Scotland's beauty without a wind farm in the picture somewhere.
Three short articles from one newspaper in the space of a five minute search under "Scottish wind farms" so people are increasingly concerned over this issue. Given the speed of construction and the sheer number of applications (which is why I suspect a rat regarding value for money over the long term) it may already be too late.

Nearing the summit slopes of Meall Dearg after a canter across the windswept upland plateau. Brutal winds and freezing conditions meant we were all glad we had avoided the higher Munro summits today.
Getting there....
Coming back down, descending icy slopes.
Canter out to the road and looking forward to being warm again.
A last hurdle. As we came down by a circular route we had a burn to cross at the end. Far better to have wet feet at the end of the day rather than at the start. A grand energetic outing. Winter has definitely arrived in Scotland.

Still continuing the traditional folk music theme here's a suitable video. In the 1980s I was a big fan of east coast social rebel Dick Gaughan, went through to see him perform in Edinburgh pubs and venues, and still have all his early albums. Powerful singer and magical guitar player. This is from his classic Handful of Earth album. LP of the year way back in 1981. My own favourite though is his first album from the early 1970s  No More Forever, which is less political, just full of great traditional folk songs.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Loch Lomondside in Winter. Who are the real Crooks and Spongers?

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Although I slept in and missed Graeme, Alex, and David's trip to the mountains of the east coast in deep snow (sorry guys) I did manage to get out the next day, Sunday, as the weather was too good to miss. Full winter conditions come to  Ben Lomond, see photo above, with the Island of Inchmurrin in front.
Luss Church and graveyard looking fairly snowy as well.
 The Luss hills above the village of the same name. Popular Scottish TV series Take the High Road was filmed here over many years and it still draws in loads of visitors, even in winter. The Paps, Cruach Dhubh and Beinn Ruiag direction.
Probably Fieldfares but might be Redwings. Thrushes anyway. Covers all the options :o)
Assorted Geese and Ben Lomond.
Luss, Hill walkers and Islands in Loch Lomond.
Navy helicopter over the Firth of Clyde.
There used to be a boat that sailed from Derry/Londonderry nicknamed "The little green boat from Derry." This plane flies in most days to Glasgow airport (might be every day) and I always look up and think there's that little green plane again but I,m always too slow to photograph it on the zoom as it's a fast wee bugger and hard to locate in a wide sky. Nailed it at last with a decent image. Usually get a tail shot or a blur.
Luss was a busy place despite the snow but it's free parking in winter, in a large car park. (80 pence an hour in summer which mounts up if you're out for a full day on the hills)
 An eventful trip to these islands takes place in Chapter Four of my book Autohighography, which is a comedy about a fictional Glasgow hillwalking club. The underlying clues and some of the secrets contained throughout this book will be revealed at a later date as it does have hidden complexities you might not be aware of. It is not just "another hillwalking book" as that was never my intention when writing it. No politics in it at all as I wanted to create a fun book folk might actually read.

 Any opinions I hold are mostly triggered by the sheer hypocrisy of statements like ... 'we will create "The Big Society" together' when it's blatantly obvious most of the new jobs created for ordinary people they always bang on about are either Part time, Zero Hours Contracts or Self Employed (E-bay sellers, Internet couriers, Dog walkers etc, many of whom barely scratch a living wage and most fold after a year because they cant earn enough to feed a family but it keeps them off job seekers allowance for a while, who probably suggested it in the first place)  I,m on none of these thankfully... and not on benefits either... but it's all a con I've seen before throughout the 1980s and I have a low tolerance for lies after that, especially when certain sections of the media seem in on the act. Also, from my surface level viewpoint on planet UK I don't see any signs of a " Big Society" forming around me, just a corrosive dismantling of everything our parents fought hard to win. It seems, from recent articles, public parks may be next in line ... determined to take away our last remaining "freebies" by stealth. Once everything is in private hands nothing will be a free "perk" anymore and you will probably have to pay to walk outdoors in rural parts of cities in the future. Although I don't drink alcohol these days there are very few traditional pubs left in Glasgow to go into anyway, replaced by a select handful catering for expensive meals.
I finished the day on the return leg by heading for Dumbarton and sunset over the River Clyde at low tide and a stroll along the sands/mud flats. A magical experience and you could almost hear the mermaids sing.
The edge of the deep water channel near Langbank. A fine free walk.

Who are the real Crooks and Spongers?

Recent headlines from newspapers.2012/2013.... 1500 disabled workers thrown onto the scrapheap by the coalition as Remploy factories close. None left in Scotland. Assured there will be jobs for them by the government as it costs too much to leave things as they are.... 2015... 733 disabled former workers of Remploy still out of work. ( I actually know someone who used to work there but did get a job. He is deeply unhappy, struggles to fit in, gets little support, often suffers ridicule for being slow by equally under pressure workmates and has turned to drink for the first time in his life due to the stress of constantly meeting targets and deadlines.Welcome to the real world, my friend :o)
2015... Workers in low paid or zero hours contract jobs outnumber benefits stopped claimants for the first time in food banks. Also a record high for numbers visiting them. Up 11 % on last year.

Watched Benefits Britain on TV, although I,d rather watch paint dry than see someone squander their life away drinking all day long in a house with bare floorboards and no doors or Dawn of the Dead candidates.Poverty porn at its finest. Around a dozen different programs on this subject now. Sponsored perhaps to create division and outrage between those grafting hard in work and those without? That would not surprise me. A tried and tested colonial trick that's worked for centuries. Turn the classes against each other then rule from above. Didn't work so well for the Belgians in Rwanda though.  I was puzzled and outraged to find out EU workers in this country that are low paid not only qualify for benefits but also register umpteen children living abroad for even more benefits then use the money flowing in to improve their houses and standard of living back in said EU countries. EU countries even complain about that fact as it's showing them up as paupers but not generous British Government it seems.
Meanwhile, another friend I know in England suffered a brain injury after a fall at work from a ladder (after decades of paying taxes I might add) which left him with severe memory loss and seizures yet he has to suffer repeated Atos tests to prove he is still unfit for work.) Why is it every time they change the system it's the decent ones who suffer while the rest who abuse the system just find new ways to exploit it. Why not leave it the way it was and just punish the crooks more when you catch them. This other EU guy is on TV admitting what he's doing! Is that not evidence enough!

Newsflash.... Just watched Exposure: Britain's Secret Slaves STV 11:05pm tonight before going to bed. Same old story. Government changed the employment rules recently for migrant workers and made it even worse. Fake passports and false visas fluttering around like confetti and illegal workers held captive in houses to do manual jobs for buttons or no pay at all. What country do we live in again? Thrilling winter choice between TV Chefs, House Makeovers, Reality Shows or Poverty Porn. Yippee!

On a different but related topic we now find out they knew all along there was going to be a world wide crash and recession and did bugger all about it. Against my better judgement I watched the Super Rich and Us, although I enjoyed the surprisingly wonderful  Mapp and Lucia and Penelope Keith's Hidden Villages far more. ( I,m not against the wealthy just for the sake of it in a class war type scenario but the growing gap between rich and poor in this country is even starting to worry the ones at the top and senior police officials who will have to deal with the fall out when the bottom rungs decide there's nothing in it for them anymore and stop playing the game. Madame Guillotine? Anyone for head football? History has a way of turning savage in situations where the divide is widest and the sheer unfairness of it all starts to grate. Even the middle classes will soon be an endangered species with the growth of Apps, 3D printing and other internet related innovations which will further kill regular jobs. If this current trend for part time and zero hours contract jobs continues half the country will never qualify for a pension of any kind but maybe that's the plan all along. Is this their sick idea of a "Big Society"

Turns out after the winter of discontent and all the strikes for better conditions in the late 1970s /early 80s it was decided that it was a great idea to actually encourage people to get into debt as they find it  much harder to strike. (I,m lucky I never have been in debt as I,m far too mean to pay someone back triple what I borrowed in the first place but some folk don't have that luxury of ready money when you need it... and there's big cash in exploiting other people's poverty and desperation. Even money lending is legit big business now instead of the local heavy at the end of the street)
Anyway, as everyone knows, they started off selling bundles of mortgages, but there wasn't enough real money in that for power and riches addicted types so they dumped all the toxic mortgages owned by debt ridden folk in there too. High stakes- high rewards.Then the wheels came off and we had to bail out the banks. Trillions of tax payers money. Where did all this bail out money go. 90% percent of it went straight back into big business and the pockets of the Super Rich. Fact.
All the ongoing austerity cuts as we tighten our belts and services are cut to the bone or dismantled altogether in the case of the NHS and the Welfare State? Where does the money saved by the majority of the population tightening their collective belts go? Why that goes straight to the Super Rich as well, of course. Silly me! Nearly 9 billion in perks and pay over the last year, just to Goldman Sachs alone. A company incidentally which persuaded their pals, (the government) to off-load Royal Mail for buttons,robbing the taxpayer of £1billion, thus allowing the super rich to make another £12 million clear profit from its sale. A nice little earner. Fact. Luckily, M. Thacher had sold off most of the UK's other assets for peanuts decades ago for which we must breathe a collective sigh of relief. Flogging the entire contents of House UK in a car boot sale twice would be too much to bear.

I suspect, like the majority of average people, I don't envy the super rich their life styles or money one bit as I,m fairly happy with my lot and I have simple tastes I prefer to indulge in. Hillwalking, photography, enough to eat and pay bills etc.... I,m content with that and have a reasonably comfortable existence but when the richest in society routinely steal money from the poorest and laugh about it when they're doing it that's when I get annoyed and pissed off. We are patently not "all in this together" but maybe your ocean going ships that can stay at sea for months at a time will not save you in the long run. Being a respectable, honest,fair minded citizen however I,ll watch from the shoreline and give any survivors a decent burial... once I've cleaned my wet spade on the grass. The Super Rich and Us. Worth a watch.
Not being the brightest bulb in the box I had decided to wipe this political part of the post as it was too long and it detracted from the photos but then I watched Low Pay Britain tonight and thought **** it. Every word is true. They are F****** us at every opportunity. And we just smile and take it up the arse. Maybe the guys that lie around getting drunk all day have the right idea after all. I've never been that keen on Russell Brand but after watching Low Pay Britain maybe "Revolution" is not so far off the mark. ( Never read it... just like the idea. Besides, why should I give an already rich celebrity my hard earned money :o)
The same culture of greed and amoral recklessness that caused the crash in the first place is alive and thriving in banks and big business so it could all happen again in some other way. Maybe then we will eventually get our turn when we are living in tunnels and eating rats in the street. And they wonder why people are becoming radicalized? Just a suggestion....Give them an alternative future and a society they can believe in. I.m white, old, easy going, honest, non threatening... and even I think modern Britain and all political parties are crap.

This was intended to be a cheery post until I got sidetracked so I,ll end with this upbeat cheery video. Amazing song and harmonica playing combined. Felix the Cat was the first big superstar of animation in the 1920s until the change from silent to talkies came in. Maybe a coincidence but the early Mickey Mouse cartoons, which came later and took over, bears a resemblance to Felix in shape and design.
Of course Disney went on to conquer the world market but they do seem similar. It's never stuck me how much until now.

Autohighography. First three chapters free to read here.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

This Island Earth. Selfie at the World's End?

A post inspired by the headlines and ever increasing storm force winds of the first month of 2015.
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 Do we still believe the world is flat?    The majority of us...No.
Have we learned anything since we discovered we actually live on a ball? Deep down.As humans.No
Do we still kill,smash each others temples,and make constant war in the name of invisible gods? Yes.
Do we use up the world's ever dwindling resources, making millions of frivolous products we do not actually require? Yes.
Do we continue to destroy and destabilize the climate, the forests,the vegetation, and the oceans that we all rely on to survive and which may yet prove our one true salvation? Sadly... Yes.
Are we continually sidetracked by distractions?               All the time. It's in our nature.
Will we take a selfie of each other, fighting, squabbling, praying, or cheerfully dying, thumbs up, at the world's end, after we have wiped out everything else on earth first? Probably.
 This small crowded ball we live on is the only tangible reality and always has been.
If an alien race came to this shabby corner of the universe, at some point in the future....
will they study the empty ruins around our depleted planet and conclude that we all suffered from
a collective madness that eventually eradicated us in the end?
Well... that will be for them to decide.
as we will be long gone and scattered, by the unstable forces of nature we helped to create.
Then the long slow painful miracle of single cell life can start again... with us safety removed from the picture.
The End.

A song I always liked with topical lyrics. Decades old now but more relevant than ever. A cautionary tale for our increasingly uncertain future?

Photos in sequence from top..... Anniesland Tower.Glasgow..... Christmas Tree at Anniesland Cross..... Stag at Lomondgate. Dumbarton... Cairngorms Sunset.... Loch Leven Cliffs..... Mist Inversion on Ochils..... Black Alcove. My House..... Winter in the Trossachs..... Kilmacolm view.....Anderston District in Glasgow..... Slow-Mo Christmas Lights..... Herd Mentality in Renfrewshire...... Sun Ball on Skye..... Hydro in Glasgow..... Fairy Pool in Buchan.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Glasgow In Late December. The Art Of Darkness

An obvious pun on a classic book but it suits this post. Much of the month has been either rain or grey murky weather so I've had little inclination to go up hills and get soaked. However two days over the holiday period stand out, as perfect inversions occurred over Glasgow and the surroundings and I just happened to be there to capture it all.
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Cycle ride along the Forth and Clyde canal at Blairdardie to get something in Clydebank. As soon as the sun dropped the temperature did as well and it felt well below zero. Bike is in the cellar now for the winter probably. Me no like icy roads and hard falls on tarmac these days.
As there was an inversion over Glasgow's low lying districts I knew from previous winters Mugdock Country Park had a chance of being clear as it sits on a ridge between the Campsie Fells and Glasgow. Same area as last weeks post but very different conditions.
Craigmaddie Muir and a hidden Glasgow lying under the murk. It was a murky and fairly surreal mist-land over most of the city.
Maryhill Hi Rise Flats sticking up above the clouds.Wyndford district and the colourful gable mural on Maryhill Road. Fairly hazy as the mist was swirling  around Mugdock which was just above the layer by only a couple of hundred feet. Dawsholm Park is the wooded area left of the Hi Rise Flats.
More sheep grazing above Glasgow.Kyber Pass area.
The weird thing was in the other direction the hills slightly to the north, like Dumgoyne here, were clear.
Paisley and the Gleniffer Braes. You can see the Coats Observatory and Church Spire sticking up here.
Looking North West from the flagpole summit towards Anniesland Tower. As I could see Ruchill Park was just clear of the murk I decided to go there for the sunset. Ruchill park at night used to get a pretty grim reputation for gangs after dark but as it was around minus five degrees I thought it would be safe enough and so it proved. Parking available on Murano Street, near the park gates and new flats. It has great panoramas over the city which is why it is included in my latest book... yet to be published on Kindle.


A misty Port Dundas.
Park Circus Towers.
What I was really here for was the sunset and misty conditions often produce good ones because of the frozen moisture in the air distorting the spectrum. A fiery red or orange sunset is common at this time of year. University of Glasgow.
The Sun dropping lower. Ra Descending.(I usually say at this point I,m a follower of Isis (ancient Egyptian sun worshipers) but folk might get the wrong idea.
On the way back home I stopped off at Knightswood Park as I already knew it had great night time potential from previous visits here in the dark. I wanted to get beak to beak close ups this time so I sat down at the pond edge and waited for them to come to me. Judging by the plaintive pecks they seemed to be hungry as folk probably haven't got as much spare cash these days. Mind you mouldy or constant white bread is probably as bad for them than no bread at all as it makes them sick after a while. The wildlife islands that they recently built in the pond, presumably in part for nesting on or so they wouldn't get frozen into the ice in hard winters are hidden under water thanks to all the rain. If they keep paddling around constantly all night it usually stays partly ice free.
A spooky scene. Personally, I like wandering around on a dark misty night. Very surreal and atmospheric and you can hear anyone coming long before they see you.Altered sound and movement changes the game to a whole new level. Great conditions for creepy crawl work.
And so to bed. (There is something very weird happening with the photos here in this post as they have perfect definition and clarity full screen on my computer before I post them on the blog then they get all mottled in places on here, even when reduced in size. Mist on the lens doesn't help as the air is constantly damp below the murk.
As I put a lot of time and effort into my photographs and wanted this post to be special I've now exchanged the bad, mottled photos for a better updated set.
Sheep in Amber Light.
Milngavie Reservoirs.
Dog walker under the murk layer.
More mist effects.
Knightswood Pond at Christmas. Swans, Geese, Mallards, Tufted Ducks, and a little Grebe.

Found another great video of Catherine the Great. Most top climbers still regard an ascent of The Old Man of Hoy as a climbing partnership, (with ropes up each pitch), a massive achievement. La Belle Destivelle- three months pregnant and a virtual solo outing with a sizable back pack. This is ten years on from the Mali Video and seems to be a year after she fell over 60 feet on a mountain in Antarctica, fracturing her leg. Age here is around 37 years old. She cut back on soloing after this to become a wife and mum. Worth watching full screen.

My comedy novel about a Glasgow outdoor club featuring chapters on Hillwalking, Kayaking, Caving,Rock Climbing, Island bagging, back packing across Europe and many other adventures is available now on kindle. The first couple of chapters can be read for free here. I also have a photo heavy guide book out. A Guide to Walking and Cycling around the River Clyde and the Firth of Clyde which has over 80 walks and cycles in it from Glasgow to Girvan and all points in between.