Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Drum Maw. 445 metres.Hag Law 446 metres. Wether Law 479 metres. Pentlands Gallery.

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A day out with Alex to do a spot of bagging over three small but shapely hills. The view above is of The Pentlands , a hill range running inland from the coastal city of  Edinburgh 15 miles west towards the Upper Clyde Valley region. A high broad valley sits between the Pentlands and the much higher uplands around Pykestone Hill, 737 metres and Dollar Law, 817 metres.
It's a favourite area of mine as it has a quiet pastoral beauty of small villages, large farms and secluded mansions. Alex here at the start of our walk.

 It also has the long distance rolling views and wide open skies of an upland plateau. Locals we met told us the snowdrifts were six to eight foot deep in this region  a couple of weeks ago when Glasgow and Edinburgh had two foot city centre drifts in the public parks. Although still knee deep in pockets the snow had turned into a sugar like softness under the March sunshine and was melting fast.

Breeding frogs in a pond.
The open road. Smashing empty driving on good unfrequented roads make this area a scenic joy to travel through.
The heart of The Pentlands.
Black Mount.516 metres.  Hills in the western Pentlands tend to be spaced further apart and have a more individual character as separate mountains.
Mendick Hill, 451 metres, a modest grassy sided sugarloaf from some angles.

Looking down on West Linton.
The higher peaks remained buried under clouds all day but we stayed in sunshine- one benefit of the lower peaks.
Even some blue sky.
We were both glad to be in sunshine instead of slogging up through deep snowdrifts towards invisible summits.
Another secluded large house.
And we still had a snowy descent of 500 feet or so to end with.
So a spot of snow fun thrown in. A great day out.
And a Kestrel  on its hunting perch to end.

Speaking of wildlife here's a truly fantastic video compilation of exotic creatures around the world and an underrated fine band who have produced some excellent music over the years to go with it. Animal magic of the highest order and a sweeping epic that really grows on you. Both video and song get better as they go on. Best watched full screen.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Beinn Dubh. Luss Hills. Loch Lomond Islands Photo Gallery.

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A beautiful afternoon one weekend in autumn just gone (early November 2017) enticed me out after a morning of dull conditions and light drizzle. With only a few hours to play with I picked the easy option of Beinn Dubh, 643 metres, above the village of Luss, as this hill has unrivaled views over Loch Lomond's Islands.
This is the hill from the pretty village of Luss. The summit is unseen from here further on so not that easy but it is a straightforward incline all the way with a distinct if boggy in places path to follow and no real difficulties over a broad ridge - which is another reason why it's so popular. Many tourists visiting Luss never get to the top but if you're not bagging hill summits that doesn't matter as the views over the islands are already superb lower down.
And a view of the surrounding Luss Hills is equally scenic.
One of Ben Lomond- Scotland's most southerly Munro. (mountains over 3000 feet, or 914 metres high.)
And one of the Fintry Hills across Loch Lomond- see Stronend post from two weeks ago for that walk.
This inland archipelago of distinctly individual islands dotted around the 23 mile long, 5 mile wide Loch Lomond have always been a sparkling extra addition to Scotland's outdoor crown jewels.
And Beinn Dubh is a popular hill to see them from. Eleven separate islands in this photo.
Carved osprey in Luss. These birds along with buzzards and golden eagles are occasional visitors to the loch. It's a perfect habitat for them but a touch too popular with tourists to be a regular haunt for ospreys or golden eagles due to all the boat traffic and visitors each spring/ summer.
Conic Hill, viewed across the bay. The long distance West Highland Way travels over here on its journey from Milngavie, near Glasgow to Fort William.
Some fellow walkers admiring the islands.
Rowan Berries.
A lovely period house.
The view of Luss village from Beinn Dubh. A popular tourist haunt where you can jump on small tour boats for a round the islands cruise. The village pier visible here.
Tall trees in the vicinity on a shoreline walk from Luss village along the loch.
Luss Hills back country. Delightful remote walking only a short 30 minute drive from Glasgow.
Deep Blue. Loch Lomond's island kingdom.

For those interested in a more in depth exploration of Loch Lomond's islands in detail my book Autohighography has a full chapter on them during an action packed weekend camping trip visiting them by small boat, water wings, and kayak with a host of diverse characters. It also has another chapter detailing an equally exciting and hopefully humorous backpacking trip over the high Pyrenees in summer weaving a delicate high level line between France and Spain, taking in several notable mountain summits and dimly lit booze boutiques on the way. This journey ended by traversing the magnificent Ordesa Canyon, one of Europe's deepest gorges, then a climb up the slopes of Monte Perdido ( the lost mountain) 3,355 metres or 11,007 feet, during a memorable continental romp of scorching sunshine and violent thunderstorms, ending spectacularly on one of the limestone giants of Spain before returning to France over a high mountain pass.
Simply click Autohighography: 'A Tale of Summits and Sinners' book link on side bar of this blog for the usual free fun filled first chapters intro.

Which is where this stunning video comes in. A magnificent winter ascent of the same area/gorge/mountain giant and well worth a look full screen.   Breathtaking scenery, frozen waterfalls and world class summit views that really deserves an audience and much more acclaim. Only eight minutes long but skillfully edited and far better than most things on TV recently.

Monday, 5 March 2018

Snowstorm UK. A Glasgow Gallery. From Russia With Love. Book Review.

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Over the past week much of the UK has been experiencing Arctic/ Siberian weather conditions.  In previous Scottish winters I can remember lower temperatures- down to minus 20+ below- when the River Clyde froze solid right into the heart of the city centre but I'd have to go right back to the 1970s and 1980s to recall the last time we have had such intense prolonged snowfalls in the Central Belt that lasted so long on the low level roads and pavements
As driving conditions were fairly horrendous with a 50/50 chance of getting completely stuck somewhere I decided, after a bit of path clearing duties, to get out at some point both days of the big snowstorms- by bus- to view the conditions for myself.  This is the normally busy Dumbarton Road near Yoker in Glasgow around 3:00pm.  I learned later, from the news, that 1000 plus vehicles- HGVs, vans and cars, had been trapped overnight on massive static tailbacks on Scotland's roads. No surprise there as over 24 inches  of snow, driven by strong winds, fell within a 24 hour period and no amount of grit or snow ploughs can cope with that in this country where we are not geared up for full arctic conditions every year.
Even now, a full week later, many of Glasgow's side roads are still covered in snow with cars stuck and un-moving outside houses although, most trains, buses and taxis are back on. A week later most suburban pavements still have knee deep snow covering them, which is unusual. It just show how quickly any modern city can grind to a complete halt given the right circumstances as many shops also had bare shelves after a few days with food deliveries unable to get through. Without cars to drive in folk reverted to walking everywhere through the snowdrifts, thigh deep in a few places I soon discovered, and messages were restricted to what you could carry home in bags or a rucksack.  Civilization is a fairly thin membrane at times.
Even in the city centre the streets were soon buried in a foot or more of the white stuff that lasted for many days. Miserable for anyone sleeping rough in the UK's towns and cities (over 5000 homeless people just in Scotland alone according to latest estimated figures for 2018 and 300,000 in the UK as a whole but the true amount I'm sure is usually far higher than that with these statistic table figures. For instance-  most ordinary UK workers will never, ever earn the oft quoted "average annual wage" in their lifetime or anything close to it. Calculated at £27,600 in 2015. I certainly never have at any point and I didn't consider myself particularly low paid.)
This is around Pitt Street/ Bath Street district. With much of this area built over drumlins (small glacial moraine hill deposits) any cars brave enough to tackle these conditions were having a hard time and I gave several drivers a helping hand to get home with a push. Although it was forecast in the news to occur many workers felt compelled to show up and brave the elements to get into work or face disciplinary measures in some cases only to find (in the case of shops) that few other people were around to serve.
This is approaching Garnethill in the heart of Glasgow's city centre. Conditions and visibility here were similar to a mountain summit with fierce winds, heavy snow and iced up eyelashes. I had the full mountaineering gear on so was well equipped and toasty but anyone in normal city clothes wouldn't last very long without shelter.
A view back down towards Sauchiehall Street from Garnethill. Even Glasgow's main shopping streets were reduced to one narrow ribbon of single lane traffic. A nightmare for any bus and train drivers unlucky enough to be caught within it with passengers to worry about- never mind their own safety and vehicle to consider.
The Anderston Centre complex.
Three local characters in Anderston. Engineer and Inventor James Watt, Trade Union Activist, Politician, and Journalist, Jimmy Reid, (with hand up in the middle) and mountaineering author and broadcaster Tom Weir. All tough guys used to being outdoors but Tom's the best equipped for the conditions and looks right in his element here.
I was walking on foot of course, having left my borrowed skis behind this time. Not so handy for hopping on buses.... or going up here onto the elevated concrete ribbons soaring above the M8 Motorway and the Clydeside Expressway.
Clydeside expressway seen here.
The 'bridge to somewhere' connecting Anderston District to the City Centre district.
The cage.
Old Habitat building near Bothwell Street. Normally busy but a near ghost town in these conditions.
Bothwell Street/Wateroo Street district. City centre office land.

Enough snow in outlying areas to build igloos and snow tunnels in a city park.
The Renfrew Ferry looking like an arctic crossing.
And a desperate time for any wildlife, Redwing thrushes here sheltering under a hedge and searching for food in the few green areas left exposed. Roughly half of all wildlife die in very harsh winters, especially smaller birds and animals, although predators do well as there's plenty to eat for them. In a milder winter they go hungry instead. Given help they do bounce back though, having bigger families in favourable conditions with enough food available and a stable breeding season. It can take five to ten years though for numbers to fully recover.
Park Circus Towers.
Park Circus from Garnethill.
Almost whiteout conditions in Kelvingrove Park failed to put families off sledging and skiing down the grassy slopes there.  By this time it was a full blown blizzard but Scottish skiers are well used to these conditions on the slopes and very few headed for home.
The folk skiing had the best of it here as they could turn in time with far more control to avoid people emerging suddenly in front of them out the murk.
I did have to head for home however, as the intense cold was really starting to penetrate now, even with full mountain gear, and with the increased levels of snow falling continuously without letup the threat of buses being  pulled off the roads was a certainty. Luckily, I was just in time to get one of the last buses back to my home district on the outskirts of the city where the snow was lying two feet deep in the roads and on pavements by nightfall everywhere. Eight to ten foot drifts in the surrounding countryside and upland villages. 'Beast from the East' for some undoubtedly- for the infirm, the elderly, stranded drivers, isolated communities, the wildlife, anyone living on a hill, but 'From Russia with Love' for many others.

 We do not get this much snow very often in the UK, being a thin country surrounded by water, so it was a very memorable and exciting outing.

As was this. Runaway by Peter May. I bought this best selling book at a book sale recently and devoured it within a few days. Many books I read- best sellers or not- I might enjoy or find interesting at the time but fail to remember a month or two later, but a rare few make a real lasting impression. Before The Poison by Peter Robinson. A Place Called Freedom by Ken Follett. Edge of Dark Water by  Joe R Lansdale all fall into this limited category of books I'll remember many decades later and that most readers will enjoy.  Maybe not the authors name or even the title but the general story will remain in my mind, even 50 years later. I know this as I still remember a few from 50 odd years ago in primary school- even the titles like The Green Bunyip by Judith Whitlock from the early 1960s. I read it that one time only and it stuck with me forever, for some reason, despite never hearing or seeing it again. Couldn't tell you if it's aged well or if it's still a classic- or not.  Runaway is in that same class of stickability for certain reasons I'll keep to myself and I enjoyed it vividly. Either due to the skill of the writer to tell a believable compelling story with great characters (his own largely autobiographical account of a journey set in Glasgow, Leeds and London in the mid 1960s with a group of teenage friends) or even as a result of my own life story uncannily mirroring aspects of the book in several key places... but I found myself on an uncharacteristic roller-coaster of conflicting and different emotions all the way through with never a dull page encountered. Few books have moved me as emotionally or as intensely as this one. Like the author (and many of that era, 1960s to 1980s ) I often felt an overwhelming and almost primitive compulsion to fly the nest and head off down to London during my teenage years, despite coming from a large city myself.
London was where all my favourite bands, music artists, painters, writers, etc seemed to hail from and I apparently had a lemming like inbuilt desire to make that journey myself when I reached a certain age, almost instinctively, like so many others throughout the UK, without any knowledge of what I would do or where I would stay once I got there. I wasn't unhappy at home but for several generations in Britain it seemed to be almost programmed into the youth mentality of that period that it was the right thing to do and the place to be. I don't think it's as strong as that now as a collective urge affecting young people in the UK today but for me, very fortunately as it happened, on my own tentative solo visits in the 1970s, the streets were paved with gold, yielding a precious lone gift/ nugget to take back over the border, like an old time raiding party.

 'Most reviews I've read praise this book highly but a few (there's always a few no matter how good) said it was 'cliched and predictable with convenient coincidences.' Which is true- it is in certain places- but cliches in general can also be universal truths pertinent to any culture or time reguarding humanity and I was immediately sucked into this book from the first page to the last. Landscapes and urban settings I was very familiar with on a daily basis mixed in with interesting social history I could also research/check easily enough online where required, youthful excitement, on the road adventures, romance and a strong feeling of loss and melancholy surged up in several places/ chapters so it was certainly never dull. A book I'll remember and cherish in my bookcase for what remains of my life and well worth a read. I've also read countless clever, intellectual, critically acclaimed books over the years that proved a real struggle to get through and finish yet faded from memory almost overnight after all the effort. This was very easy to read, understand, like, and identify with. A modern classic.

And an appropriate video for the weather.