Tuesday, 27 May 2014

West Lothian Rapture Part Two. Winchburgh, Broxburn, and the Big Bing Country

                                                ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN

The same day as Beecraigs (see previous post) I was still on the bike gliding through the Oilseed
 fields when I noticed a bulky land mass in the distance. The heat haze was increasing along with the temperature as morning drifted into afternoon. Maybe it was the beestings... or the pollen over the rape fields...or the perfume from all the flowers in the hedgerows but my mind started to drift as well.
Long before oilseed fields this area had been famous for another kind of oil. Shale oil and the Paraffin extracted from the rocks under this area had helped drive the industrial revolution. Some of the old shafts go down 3000 feet and the used shale after burning to extract  the oil was dumped in giant mounds or Bings around this area. The towns of Winchburgh and Broxburn are both dominated by massive Bings so a new idea formed. It had been a while since I'd explored the canyon lands of "Shaleopolis" and I knew these pink-red waste tips would be an interesting ecosystem in spring.
Maybe I would lose all the flies and honeybees by climbing up these slopes ( flies and bees clearly seen in this photo) so exploring  Greendykes and Niddry Bing landscapes became the new quest. I was getting slightly disenchanted with my role as "Lord of the Flies" and had swallowed enough for one day. This range of bings are unique in Scotland and are a lasting reminder of the industry that took place here.
It also has a very modern legacy as "Fracking" has been in the news over the past decade and is a major issue in many areas with pros and cons debated as conventional sources of oil decline.
 I don't know what the local view is on these bings and it's probably varied depending on who you ask but I think they are magnificent as there is nothing else like them in Scotland. They are being gradually eaten into for roads and building material but if I was a youngster here I'd want to save them for future generations to play on. They are a major recreational asset to the area as everywhere else is productive farmland locally so this is like a high level man made country park for locals (and occasional visitors.)

And it is truly beautiful up here with a completely different landscape and a mixed range of plants, wildlife, and insects.
The wondrous Canyon lands of Greendykes Bing.
A view from the summit plateau. This is Scotland's Uluru right here.... It's Red Centre.... The Heartland... and I for one think it should be treasured as a national asset. Not in any formal way with numerous restrictions but just left as it is right now as a lasting monument to the generations who worked here and built these massive mounds and for nature to decide what it becomes as it is being slowly colonised by the surrounding environment. Is it an eyesore or a treasure? 
Where else in Scotland can you get views like this?
Beetle and flower display
View of Niddry Castle and Niddry Bing
Panorama from the summit Plateau
                                                                        A low level view
                                                            Exploring the canyonlands
                                                                    Amazing views
Still had the bike with me up here as I didn't fancy leaving it below. Easy job to roll it across the plateau and I wasn't tempted to try any of the "Big Dipper" trail bike runs up here this time as I'm quite fond of my remaining teeth and need them for chewing dead lumps of animal.
                                 At the top of the "Big Dipper" looking down. Never Again!
Distant panorama looking back at the bing on the way back to Beecraigs and the car. What a magnificent day!
Back in the house I decided to cook a tasty meal but it seems to be all the rage now on telly to cook with someone watching you who can critique what your doing and offer advice on ingredients. You cant cook without someone watching you these days. It's uncool!
As Gordon Ramsay and the Master chef guys were all busy doing other projects ( G R swears too much anyway and I'd just end up fighting with him) I decided to go on Skype with my good friend and up and coming Mediterranean pop star "Smiley Cyprus" and her older relative/ godmother "Dimple Darling" who is the wise old owl in the kitchen just like Mary Berry in the UK.

The first course I prepared seemed to go down well  and they both enjoyed it. Baby potatoes, butter beans, cherry tomatoes, boiled egg, a dash of salad cream and horsenfurthfur sauce mixed together and  pork medallions with a drizzle of butter. "Dimple Darling" had to perform at a city down the road from her home town as she's always working and likes to keep busy so that left me with Smiley on her own.

It was a two course meal as I'd already had my starter of flying insects earlier. This was where the trouble started. Left to her own devices Smiley must have been at the cooking sherry as she was not happy with my filling of Apple and Rhubarb. Like all young stars she can be a bit of a diva at times but I'm sure she'll mature with age.

                                               " Hey, Mother******r What's that in that pie?"

                                                           "Apple and Rhubarb." I replied.

Apple and f****** Rhubarb ! Are you f******* shitting me!! That's soooo old School gramps. Get with it! We need more mother******g fibre in there. Get rid of those wimpy apples and that slimy red stuff. Are you trying to poison me!?

                               I was baffled "How? What should I put in? "

Weed man! Mother******g weed. Loads of it! Shovel it right in there! That's brain food!

                                                        "Are you sure?" I asked.

Listen here c********r. I'm on tour in the USA just now and its legal in certain states here. Shove in in. It's one of my mother*****g five a day! Damn good fibre! Keeps you regular! It's in my contract!

Me.  " Doesn't heavy long term use lead to depression, memory loss and mental health issues?

"So what! Dumb is the new smart! Get with the programme! Albert Einstein was only famous because of his crazy hair and stick out tongue on tee shirts. Image man image! That's what counts. Intelligence is over rated!

I was beginning to think maybe Gordon Ramsay wasn't so bad after all. "I haven't got any." I confessed.

" You  lame  D*****d. M***** F****** S*** for brains. That stuff should be in every *******  ****** kitchen! I'll send some over. Express Courier!!!" ********  ***** ***** Brits!
Twelve hours later I made another pie.

             " Man, That's what I'm talking about! Did you get all those nasty apples out of there?"


                                                                         "Good boy!"

                                 "Now that's what you call a pie. Can you email me the recipe?"

Dimple Darling returns from her gig. "What a night I'm shattered. Good audience though. What's in the oven Smiley? That sure do smell pretty good."

"It's a special pie recipe sent by a fan in England by E mail".

Me. "I live in Scotland actually".

Smiley. " Same place isn't it?"

Me.  "No"

Smiley.  "Whatever."

Me  "It's actually a different country".

Smiley. "Is it near London?"

Me.     "Not really"

Smiley. " It's not important then, is it gramps!."

Dimple Darling. "Wow, that sure is a tasty pie Smiley. Best I ever ate!" What was the filling?

Me and Smiley together.   "Nooooooooooo!! You didn't!!!

Me. " Only Kidding! I live in London!  England ! Get a doctor!

(Thought I'd have a change from the usual music video. Must have been all the bee venom inside me that cooked this idea up)

Monday, 26 May 2014

West Lothian Rapture.Beecraigs. Binny Craig Bike Tour. Part One.

It's not often I set off from the house on a quest but this was one. After watching several programmes on TV recently where they had images of "Spring," rapeseed fields featured occasionally as a vivid emblem of that season which got me remembering my post from a couple of years ago when I cycled around the sunshine drenched fields around Arith and The Pineapple Monument.
I hadn't been back in spring since to that area so I thought it was time for a return visit. A cycle trip round the Oilseed fields to drink in their glorious colour and perfume and capture their vivid glory.
Alas when I got there all that awaited me was dull green fields. No rapeseed anywhere. No Mellow Yellow to lift my heart. I was crestfallen when I remembered that farmers have to rotate crops and can only use fields for one variety for a certain length of time before they have to change the yield to something else. Everywhere I looked no Oilseed fields in sight. It became a quest for the sun on planet earth as I knew they had to be hiding somewhere in this region. This is Scotland's Golden Triangle after all- the country between Glasgow and Edinburgh hemmed in by the modern boundaries of the great loop of the M9 and the M8 always has these vibrant yellow fields in spring. They never grow on the west coast in Scotland but only on the drier uplands and the eastern side of the country which gets half the rainfall. But where were they this year?
As I drove around the Falkirk and Airth area not one spot of yellow winked back at me apart from one small field which was hard to reach with no available parking anywhere near. I was wasting precious petrol on my quest and my meanness chip could only take so much before it melted as I circled back and forth across roads and landscape that stayed stubbornly green.
Disgusted, I cut my losses and headed for Beecraigs Country Park where I knew at least there was good cycling to be had in a rolling upland landscape.

                                          ALL PHOTOS BEST VIEWED FULL SCREEN
Beecraigs is one of my favourite areas for cycling with its latticework of quiet minor roads, good parking and interesting scenery with farms, rolling hills and the occasional volcanic plug sticking up. (An ancient vent from erupting lava that is made of far harder material than the ground around it so they tend to remain after everything around them has been eroded.) Edinburgh Castle sits on one and the east coast of Scotland is famous for them with many fine examples scattered about.
 A short guide to Volcanic Edinburgh here when lava flows covered the land around for miles in every direction.
Cheered up by being in a good area I parked the car in one of the many car parking spots here beside the large restaurant at the top of the hill then got out the bike.
It was warm, humid and murky with the threat of a thunderstorm hanging in the air and visibility was down to a couple of miles in the gloom yet it was only 10:30am.
Beecraigs is a typical Country Park with animal enclosures and a raised platform for families to let them see various rare breeds and wildlife. Belted Galloway cattle with their distinctive two tone colour scheme.

A view across the meadows of Beecraigs towards Binny Craig. Highland Cattle here.
Cockleroy, Cairnpapple, The Riccarton Hills, and the Knock make up some of the summits of the area and all are interesting in a geological sense as well as a visual one. What caught my eye however was a distant glimpse of gold sparkling in the landscape and my original quest was back on. Like any prospector after treasure I was back under the spell of Gold Fever! After giving up all hope of finding them I had stumbled across my oilseed fields. Serendipity has been a good friend of mine since early childhood and she always comes to the rescue when you least expect her to make an appearance.

 Oilseed rape fields sparkling in the late May heat haze. I was glad I was cycling as it was sweltering and muggy despite being early in the day but at least I was generating my own breeze. I think in the USA, Canada and Australia this stuff is called Canola and is a familiar sight there as well. As its a good cash crop in the UK there has been an increase this year as crops in parts of Europe have failed due to bad weather making our own fields more valuable. Good article on that here.
I know it's a monoculture crop and is not that beneficial to most wildlife but just the sight of it always fills me with a childlike happiness.(Like the smiley face on speed restriction signs if you drop under the limit- it's an instant mood enhancer. Feel good fields) Part of me wondered how far they stretched so I cycled in the direction of Binny Craig, seen above, a prominent quartz- dolerite sill in the West Lothian landscape which boasts a large vertical cliff on its western edge and is a good example of a "Dyke" or "Sill" formation where lava has formed in a weakness or crack line within a volcano leaving a hard band of resistant rock after the surrounding softer terrain has been scraped away by glaciers.
Tractor under Binny Craig. There are various climbs on this face but I've always avoided them as they are rumoured to be notoriously loose with few runners as protection available . An amusing guide to a few of the routes here with a witty line in dry understatement :o) If you don't mind loose rock it's a pleasant place to climb. Classic! Quartz -dolerite cliffs have been known to shed substantial rock falls without warning in other parts of the world. Maybe on this crag the worst stuff has already dropped off though. On the west coast near Strathblane , just North of Glasgow, the steep volcanic plug of Dunglass offers a similar challenge on dodgy rock. I've climbed there once.... never again!

A farm cottage in the oilseed rape fields.
Beautiful flower bedecked hedgerows under Binny Craig. Red Campion is always a star at this time of year.
I left my bike chained up below and climbed Binny Craig for the view. Rapeseed fields stretched away into the distance in an unbroken yellow sea. An amazing sight. You'd pay good money and queue for hours in the heat with moaning kids at Disneyworld for this kind of experience and I had it all for free. Yippee- de- doo- da- dee! A bluebird of happiness settled on my shoulder.
Or maybe it was a ladybird instead.
My next ambition was to cycle through this wonderland of golden meadows on the network of minor roads... so I did. Superb!
I was enjoying myself so much that I didn't use my brain when I noticed a commercial beekeeper at work up a farm track. My first thought was Boy- that would make a good photograph! I then noticed he seemed to be gathering the honey out of the hives and that he was fully suited and booted and I wasn't... in just a tee shirt and cycling shorts. My next thought was... Shit!!!- that sure is a lot of angry honey bees buzzing around in that field !!!. I was cycling past about a stones throw away and luckily didn't slow down but I was still chased by a few irate bees looking for someone unprotected to blame
and got stung about six or seven times before I managed to outrun them with superior pedal power.( In all seriousness I wouldn't have liked to have been walking past with young children as there was no way to avoid this blizzard of bees.) Travelling through a visual wonderland has its own special dangers it seems. Certainly puts the Bee in Beecraigs.
I found another collection of hives later on as there were many groups of hives dotted around the rapeseed fields and these beehives hadn't been harvested yet and were less annoyed at humans but it's a cautionary tale for anyone reading this. An unexpected starring role in the "The Secret Life of Bees" can be painful without the right equipment. It didn't hurt as much as I remembered though and the stings faded away fairly quickly although I still have the lumps on my neck and head after a week . Just call me "bumpy" as that's a suitable Disney character.
A fellow cyclist on the track down towards Winchburgh.
Passing under the Riccarton Hills with gorse thickets in full bloom.
Happy cows in the pasturelands around Ochiltree.
Superb landscape for bees making honey and chasing fat old cyclists uphill away from hives.
It was a day for every type of flying insect to be airborne and I was very glad I had my cycling glasses with me as a deluge of winged beasties of every size and description kept flying straight into my face or down my tee-shirt at regular intervals. If I was a swallow or swift I'd have been stuffed full to bursting after an hour. Rare breeds sheep look on, unconcerned by my plight.
A landscape to die for... or spit out if you swallow it accidently. After a few flies went down the wrong way I developed the knack of cycling along with clenched teeth. Paradise is a buzzing busy place for a cyclist on a hot day.
                                                       West Lothian- The Golden Realm

To be continued.....

Video this week is a vintage classic from Alex Harvey. It's an old Jerry Reed standard called "Amos Moses" and a beguiling tale of a one armed alligator hunter in the deep swamps of Louisiana. What I liked about Alex Harvey was his background in blues, musical theatre, rock, his love of cartoon and comic book characters and his ability to blend all that together in a stage act with a great band of top musicians that could play in any style required.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Saddleback or Blencathra. Sharp Edge Traverse. Lake District.

David contemplating Sharp Edge on Blencathra. ( I had intended to post another Glasgow walk next but changed my mind as this will be easier and quicker.) With a poor forecast of wind and rain for Scotland we decided to head to the Lake District on Sunday where it was predicted to be sunny but still windy. We left Glasgow at 7:00am from Alex's house (or gaff) and motored down with a full carload to do Saddleback (or Blencathra) on OS maps, which sounds Welsh and is one of the Brythonic (or ancient Celtic Briton) languages which gave Cumbria its name. "Saddleback" (the shape of the mountain) and "Lake District" are modern inventions, probably Victorian,who had a habit of changing everything around to suit their own tastes. Cumbric, which was spoken throughout this district before English took hold, and Blencathra date right back to the middle ages presumably and some of the mountain names here and in Scotland can trace their origins back even further than that into pre-history. After all, iconic mountains would be important landmarks for hunter gatherers- turn left at (name of mountain) and you will find... deer... my village... water and shelter in trees. It would be important to name them all for easy navigation and finding food if nothing else in the days before roads and proper tracks through them. Much better than... turn left at first high lump, right at second high lump...
We parked at Scales next to the White Horse pub after the usual brief hunt for a free car parking space then quickly made our way, via Mousthwaite Comb to Scales Tarn, seen above. Although a brilliant sunny day it was blowing a gale up on the ridges so Graeme and David opted to go up the normal path rather than Sharp Edge as a few folk had already turned back due to the wind strength on the arête.

Alex and I carried on and were soon established at the start of the route. It's only a grade one scramble but that's hard enough nowadays given our advanced years and the conditions on the day.
Being the Lake District we were not alone and a steady stream of people joined us for this famous ridge walk along the knife edged arête. A lot of folk I know turn their noses up at the Lakes for being too busy during the summer months but I just enjoy the novelty of being down here and the crowds are excellent for photography. We also had some good conversations with folk from Liverpool, Manchester, Bolton, and elsewhere in England.
Walkers crossing the pinnacles. You could avoid these, and the worst of the wind, by several paths snaking under them. In truth,with the enormous popularity of hillwalking nowadays very few really committing arêtes remain on the British mainland mountains and you can usually find an alternative path around any obstacles on ridges.

Looking down the ridge at a stream of fellow hill walkers coming up behind. It was a short route but highly enjoyable.
To reach the flat plateau above you had to cross an inclined slab, seen here in the photo above. (or go up a gully)
This was good fun as well and fairly easy scrambling although highly polished with generations of feet rubbing the edges smooth. Sharp Edge would be a different proposition in wet weather or in full winter conditions when it would be quite sporting and have an alpine feel.
We re-joined Graeme and David on the main path up to the summit of Blencathra. There were walkers appearing everywhere we looked but they made good models set against stunning backdrops of mountains. I'm always impressed by the Lake District peaks as they manage to pack in a great deal of variety into a small area.
A view across in the direction of the Derwent Fells District from Knowe Crags.
Graeme descending the summit of Blencathra, (or Saddleback) busy on his mobile phone. An essential business call in his case but I've lost count of the number of times I've seen people using devices like iPods, smart phones, various games etc. outdoors. Many have music playing on headphones while walking, cycling, or running along country lanes, completely indifferent to the birdsong and the sheer aural glory of spring time or range of things they are missing, including cars, pedestrians or other bikes coming up fast behind them. Any children I know switch on computers or phones as soon as they jump into cars and would rather watch a film or talk to friends than see what's actually happening around them outside. It does seem at times as if we are already dependant, connected, and fully plugged in (like the Borg in Star Trek) to our self created cyber world. The disturbing thing is... we don't seem to miss our past lives much when we communed with nature in a simpler fashion without all the extra interference we have now.
On a similar topic many times during the past decade on urban walks I've noticed girls in dodgy areas walking or jogging along with headphones covering their ears, (like deserted canals or river banks near cities) when it seems prudent to be aware of what's around you as a matter of basic common sense. (From a childhood spent outdoors in the schemes I look behind me instinctively in these places as a perfectly natural defensive gesture as I like to be aware or what's going on behind me in deserted urban areas but this too seems to be an outdated but important learning skill these days.) Ironically, group events in the outdoors seem to be a growing trend which I have mixed views on as they seem to promote and suggest that nature is there be used... as just  another commodity to be exploited for profit... that can be switched on and off at will.
A couple of folk approaching up another ridge.
Looking down from the summit at the ridge on Hallsfell Top (I think) which looked another fine way up. With the wind on these peaks I didn't get the map out much until I was well down the hillside again.

We returned via Bannerdale Crags which gave us a view looking across at Sharp Edge from the opposite, north side where it looked very impressive.
Walkers on the pinnacle section of Sharp Edge. We returned via White Horse Bent (a steep sloping hillside) and everyone agreed it had been a cracking trip for £9 quid each in petrol money. I like the Lakes!

On the subject of mass public events a recent cycle along the canal bank to pick up a couple of cheap  OS maps at Go Outdoors in Clydebank had me shocked and astonished at this. Overflowing bins all along the Forth and Clyde canal from the city centre to Loch Lomond. I'm used to litter everywhere as everyone in Europe knows the UK to be a throwaway country with a long history of paper and garbage strewn streets ( it's one of the most common complaints from tourists abroad visiting Britain) but this was on an epic scale. I'd never seen it as bad as this before on the canal.
  Every single bin was overflowing with rubbish but I soon noticed it was all used oranges and empty bottled water containers of the same brand... a sure giveaway that some sort of sponsored charity event had taken place. I'm not going to name the event as they probably raised a lot of money for a good cause but events like this seem to be on the rise in recent years and I have mixed views about them. They encourage hundreds of people who wouldn't normally be in the outdoors to visit a certain area en mass and if it's raining or saturated ground that number of folk on muddy long distance walks say, can totally trash the path by sheer numbers marching along sensitive corridors at one time. I have witnessed this happening on several sodden paths during poor weather when the difference between a grassy trail (before) and a mud filled trench (afterwards) was very apparent. In this case nobody seemed to be clearing up the mess left afterwards and it was still lying here in every bin along the cycle track three days later (I did check on another run into Dumbarton as I'm bike training at the moment) which would not give any tourists passing by a very good impression of the area.
  As spring was at its height then hundreds of folk on bikes and on foot were passing these bins daily. Not a good advert for the Commonwealth Games 2014. Just a thought. As I haven't been back on the cycle track since then (around a month ago) some of the rubbish may still be there, having been scattered around by birds, rats and foxes. Who knows, but it sums up why I have mixed views about mass events of this kind.