Monday, 23 April 2018

The Spectaular Firth of Clyde. Art of Darkness.A Night Gallery. Final Act.

                                               ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN.
After a wee wander around the main shopping street in Saltcoats and a takeaway lunch eaten in the car we timed it just right to arrive back in Gourock as dusk was falling. The three Inverclyde towns of Greenock, population around 42,000,  Port Glasgow, 14,000, and Gourock, 10,000 or thereabouts run into and merge with each other along a coastal strip- comprising roughly 65,000 residents in total. The first two are mainly working class, post industrial settlements, with decades long falling numbers presumably due to a lack of jobs and other opportunities in the area although they still have a surprising variety of upmarket Victorian streets and grand houses, especially Greenock, built at a time when both towns had a number of flourishing shipyards- and other local businesses, thriving as a legacy of being a sizable sea port community taking full advantage of the Industrial Revolution.

Gourock, with just as long a history of providing a quieter residential suburb to live in, yet still a popular seaside resort is much the same as it always was back when I was a teenager. Like Glasgow and its often notorious schemes/ estates, Greenock and Port Glasgow used to have some fairly colourful deprived areas but on the surface at least they look much better than of old with most of that 1930s to 1960s dilapidated, run down council housing stock either renovated or more often cleared away. As with Glasgow and other west coast post- industrial urban areas these estates, often containing thousands of people, are usually replaced with far fewer properties, many of them housing association or private developers, so mainly for sale, rather than council stock. Not a criticism- just an interested observation on cycling trips around the urban west trying to make sense of it all and wondering where all the displaced people go. Obviously, if less housing exists you get less residents living there but what arrived first? The missing people in an area leaving of their own accord or a lack of affordable houses to live in- the chicken or the egg scenario as this is and always has been a scenically beautiful area....but you probably need a cushion of money or a steady source of income to live here nowadays and enjoy the experience. Gourock in above photo seen from Greenock.
Gourock seafront promenade. As Anne and Belinda traditionally arrived here in summer for day trips over the years but always left again well before nightfall which occurs around 9:00pm or 10:00pm then it would be a new experience for them in winter to stay on after dark. For me however it was very familiar territory, my 'dark utopia' for the last 45 years.
One of the reasons I enjoyed the book Runaway by Peter May so much was that it followed a group of teenagers having various adventures in urban areas- Leeds and London in that instance, that mirrored my own teenage years in many ways. I too felt the pull of London but only for short exploratory visits- it was this place that grabbed my full teenage curiousity and imagination with a much stronger magnetic click than the UK capital with the added bonus that it was far easier to reach. For three or four years I was down here exploring at weekends whenever I could manage it and I loved the way all three towns climbed up the rolling slopes from the waters edge. Back then it also held other fatal femme attractions for the teenage me.
Although A and B had previously enjoyed our nighttime walks along the River Clyde and a dark descent of Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh I still had to sell this new walk as "The Beverly Hills of Scotland" to a frankly dubious audience as neither of them knew Greenock or Port Glasgow that well- only by reputation... and Gourock was known... but during the day. Admittedly, Port Glasgow and Greenock are not really tourist resorts in the accepted sense- especially at night...
but as I already knew- they can be spectacular places to behold of an evening. Greenock and Port Glasgow seen here.
I enjoyed Inverclyde back then and still love it today. It's always been a very exciting place for me in so many different ways. You can't beat three towns built over hillsides with extensive sea views... and a certain edge at night.

Three different night walks followed. First a wee tour of Gourock's steep back lanes to set the mood.
I liked this as it was a challenge to photograph them properly to do the atmosphere some justice yet still keep up with my friends as they showed no signs of slowing down to fully savour their surroundings . The salt splashed air... the smell of damp moss and mold everywhere, growing on the high surrounding walls....the creepy claustrophobic green gloom, narrow inclines and hidden corners and bends where anyone could be lurking... brilliant stuff. Classic horror noir of the highest order. If only they would slow down slightly as I still had a dodgy knee from the Corrour bothy trip and rough ground coal carrying contest.
Up we climbed.. me humming 'When you go up into the woods today' etc.. which was not appreciated much.
"Drink in that atmosphere girls. Slow down and soak up that menace." I implored. " Sniff those steps one by one. Hey! Don't speed up as soon as you leave the lights. That's cheating! Get back here. Surf those darkness fear vibes like an incoming wave."
"Shut up you nutter!" I was told. "Back in your basket, limpy teddy bear."

"When's this Beverly Hills bit going to appear?" Anne asked.
"It's more like Deliverance." quipped her daughter. "twang a twang twang twang twang- twang twang twang."
And another even darker lane followed after that. I was in my element here despite my injury. "Spooky or what!? C,mon, don't you dare turn back. Safety in numbers. Wooooooooh! "

Then the Greenock Docklands arrived. The Beacon lit up by green light.They always use green in horror films I've noticed. Mainly green and............. red.
No need to spice things up by this stage- it was well creepy already- and pitch black- very easy to step over the edge of the unguarded, sheer sided dock, blinded by distant neon in every direction, fall into deep water and drown. I had my health and safety hat on at all times here, watching them very closely. " Docks are dangerous places and can be really unsavory at night. You could easily get tossed off here by a gang of ruffians and no one would be any the wiser."

"Yes, thank you Kenneth Williams." Anne didn't appreciate my attempt at humour but Belinda was having fun exploring, almost by touch, while still being careful where she walked.
A proper lighted walkway was also discovered nearby and a docked ship.

which led us round to Greenock's soaring 300 foot high Victoria Tower which dominates the town.
We then visited the seafront promenade.

Several ships moving out on the water cast unusual profiles, gliding past us silently like illuminated ghosts in a black mirror. It was a very different experience at night beside the waters edge- slightly intimidating but thrilling. At this point it was pitch black again.
It's perfectly normal to locals here of course, dog walkers, late night shoppers etc, but if you come from a well lit inland city environment to any coastal resort at night it can feel strange, dangerous and exotic- until you get used to it...especially the jet black sea- not the friendly blue stuff of daytime but an uncaring, distinctly unfriendly looking freezing void- exactly why I like it.  But I wouldn't fancy falling in with below zero air temperatures and away from the town centres certain areas had zero visibility without a city sized background glow Central Belt folk take for granted even in unlit areas. Total darkness here seemed really dark.
" You certainly take us to some unusual locations." Anne admitted. " A proper mystery tour tonight."

"Ah, but are you ever bored?" I inquired.
No, I'll give you that. Any walk with you is always an adventure........ or a nightmare.

"Can you be scared and bored at the same time? Belle asked sardonically.
"Watch it bunny boiler." I countered. " I know some really heavy people in these here parts."
She was unperturbed. "Oh yeah,,,I'm sure you do- at least 30 stone."
" Size doesn't matter." I replied.  "They could make you disappear quick enough."
"Only if I was sitting on a sofa in the same room." she shot back. "and I'd fallen asleep between the cushions"
" There you go then. It's still a disappearance"  We climbed up to Lyle Hill at night. A stunning viewpoint over the three different towns awaited and the wide open Firth dotted with the tiny twinkling lights of various communities and distant boats. (You can easily drive up here for the views, by the way.) I should point out at this point that we had Belinda's faithful hound 'Snapper' with us on the trip, which, although only medium sized was toothy, streetwise and thick set enough to deter most folk wishing us harm... probably the main reason I managed to persuade them up here at night on foot, giving them extra confidence.

"It's a smashing view right enough....but let's go home now. Beverly hills is stretching it some and I'm completely knackered. That's enough for me." Anne was already on the way back down.
" If you're tired you can wait up here, enjoy the views, and we'll run down and get the car... then drive back up in under ten minutes." I joked, indicating the deserted and lonely dark hilltop with nobody else around. "What can possibly go wrong?"
" OK then. On you go. Leave me the dog. " Anne called my bluff immediately, sitting down on a bench as we passed. " I'll wait up here for you. Women are just as brave as men you know."
"I do know," I admitted cheerfully. "Braver even. Men have been standing on you lot for centuries- keeping you down and in your place."
"Like a carpet." Belinda added helpfully with a bright smile. She had diligently watched the same historical programme I had recently. Anne had not bothered... probably busy in the kitchen as usual, chained to sink and oven- shoveling out tasty meals :o)
"and mothers always carry the weight of the world on their broad shoulders." I agreed, warming to my subject. "Everyone knows that,"
"Like an elephant!" her daughter chipped in, earning a glare. "the ones with a people basket tied on them for sightseeing is what I meant." She elaborated. "doing all the work."
"Yes, Thank You! Off you go."
We walked down the hill for 30 steps then turned back to find her catching up rapidly, Snapper pulling on the lead to reach us quicker.
"I've had a rest now. I feel much better............................ It's not me." she insisted. "that dog's a complete coward. It wouldn't stay put up there. "
B was unconvinced. " Poor Snapper.  Bad Mummy blaming you."
" Wear proper walking boots next time. Very comfy on feet." I recommended. " and good for kicking convicts and assorted ghouls in the dark."
" No-one can really see what you wear at night anyway." A fashion conscious Belinda added. " so you can dress anyway you like up here and it doesn't matter."
" Now you're talking. Unrepentant after the last time. I like that! "  
"Ho, what do you mean you lot? " Anne demanded, pulling me up for my earlier quip with a prodded finger in the back.
"I've got to say that." I protested." It's expected of me as a man. Otherwise I loose my bearded brethren membership rights. It's a male bonding thing. Sausage solidarity. "

 and so we walked down as a trio... plus four grossly insulted paws.
Shops passed in Gourock on the way back.
Night Town memories.
Heading towards Port Glasgow.
Last view of Port Glasgow to round it up.

Another memorable and interesting trip.

It was only after watching the Walter Mitty film remake that I discovered the sport of long-boarding existed as an offshoot of the more familiar skateboarding. That is going down steep twisting roads at speed for as long as possible. Iceland and Norway seem to be popular for this, having the right roads but also, crucially, not much traffic driving up towards the descending boarder. I also like the attitude and optimism in this video. For each new generation growing up it should be a golden age of discovery and hope for them and enjoyed as such if at all possible. Nice scenery in this and it reminds me of my own carefree 20 something years in various outdoor clubs.

Monday, 16 April 2018

The Spectacular Firth of Clyde. Saltcoats and Arran. Act Two. The Death of Celebrity?

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West Kilbride beach near Farland Head. This is the continuation of our trip along the Clyde Coastal resorts. The weather was fantastic with crisp clear light and great views.
A dump of snow made each hill stand out in profile, even ones under 3000 feet that wouldn't normally get a second glance.
Although not Munros the Cowal and Argyll hills are still hard to ascend- many of them rugged, steep, wild ground underfoot, with few paths to summits.
And Queen above them all the Island of Arran- the crown jewel in the Firth of Clyde.
One of the Arran ridge. Entertaining and narrow in summer conditions with several scrambling sections along it- in winter, under snow or ice, a more serious proposition.
Not being hill-walkers my two companions were happy just to sight-see from the car although we did get out briefly in selected places to walk around. After a long spell of poor weather- rain, snow, endless grey days etc, this was a rare beauty of a day, forecast in advance, so several yacht races were taking place out on the water.
It made for excellent photo opportunities on the day- especially as my companions always seem less than keen to appear on the blog- which I find both annoying as a photographer yet also very refreshing as I have the exact same attitude towards myself appearing, just by natural inclination so I can't really complain. I'd rather take landscapes instead anyway. As Boy George sagely noted recently in an excellent and funny TV programme I watched.... pre- internet it used to be fans were just pleased to see celebrities as famous individuals- but now it's fans photographing themselves with some celebrity or other as mere background wallpaper to be seen beside. Much harder to be a genuine celebrity and star these days when every other bugger normal considers themselves one as well. The focus has shifted entirely in the 2000s and switched right around...  now everyone on the planet has the potential for a diva sized ego and the seductive means to promote, encourage and increase their profile every day online. Can that really be healthy for society in the long run though, especially for youngsters who think that's normality and can't remember any kind of life without living online and being judged and valued through it ? Obviously, I know myself how seductive that can be (as a major online star since 2009... and I'm still a star... it's the blogs and the Mars Bars that have got smaller! ) and I'd imagine that's very addictive for most folk but not so good for real stars although people are still willing to pay cash for live concerts thankfully. Mind you, with proper nine to five traditional jobs going down the toilet you need something to feel good about.
The Cal Mac ferry with the sun hitting  it.
A lone white house on the Ardmore Peninsula.
A large service ship off Arran- one used for erecting wind turbines and bound for Greenock docks- its previous port of call being Liverpool.
Another view of the Arran Ridge.
And another. Being so cold visibility was excellent.
Another yacht race taking place off Largs- this one lining up for the start presumably.
Next up came Saltcoats and Ardrossan beach where we did park to go for a proper walk along the sands. Arran behind.
It was a real surprise to find Saltcoats so busy on a winter's day and the large seafront car-park here was almost full. We just managed to get a space. Of course I was one of the original divas of the internet darling, having had a well known blog for the last ten years promoting places in the Central Belt that people wouldn't normally think to go... so I can honestly claim sole credit for this unexpected winter tourist boom in such an unlikely spot. No need to thank me. Perversely, I wasn't best pleased by this new situation as it's only ever been all about me... and only me  normally:)  What if I couldn't get parked at all or parked in any other favourite resort if this alarming trend/ influx continues? Would visual documented history and great photography die out on the west coast!? It doesn't bear thinking about....Admittedly we arrived fashionably late in the day, around 3:00pm- but that was all part of our splendid plan.
Day trippers enjoying Saltcoats promenade. By this time the sun was fully out.
The wide expanse of Saltcoats beach. For a winter's day it was busy and popular here but I preferred an empty sands photo the good old days wondering why nobody else ever came here anymore. Be careful what you wish for....  Besides, why should I promote someone else on my blog! A mere stranger in my ointment.... A non famous interloper... on my beach.  Take your own pictures you johnny come lately gatecrashers!
Probably due to stagnant wages, food prices rising in the shops, families watching their money...  more info online etc,...  the more traditional no frills holiday resorts like this one seem to be enjoying something of a limited revival.... like vinyl records. Six year ago Saltcoats in winter would never have been this busy I don't think even on a sunny day.... and it is after all a  monkey see- monkey do world we live in.

 My God, I've just realized how very important I am to the Scottish economy! I caused this seaside rush to the beach all by myself...A true trendsetter! Somebody should hire me for tourism purposes right away..... but never forget dear readers if I'm ever headhunted away from these shores to far more elegant locations abroad for glamorous photo shoots.... I was showcasing these areas first!  Me- all me!!!!!! Me, Me, Me!!!!! and I'll not change one bit as I've always been a natural born narcissist with the solar system spinning around my pram linked to every smile,, laugh, or frown since birth- but now there's trillions of me out there ... it's so annoying and unfair.   Follow my world online ... '# Me @ why I'm so completely special... but every other ********* is too these days apparently' :o(

After the delights of the beach- (Alas, although sunny it was too cold and windy for sunbathing so I still don't know how many secret tattoos Anne and Belinda have or haven't got under their jackets.) Damn Scottish cold wet summers.  A lifetime spent in a shapeless cagoule is no fun at all. Nine long years without a sun kissed naked body glimpsed, apart from my own sad carcass reflected in the mirror after my yearly bath and tidy up.
Anyway, after a bracing beach walk along the sands we walked in the other direction to here- which is the newly restored southern walkway leading to Stevenston and Ardeer. This used to be heavily broken up, full of holes, and prone to flooding and giant waves during winter storms hitting the railway line, stopping trains running but last year they restored it as it's part of Route 73 National bike trail and also the multi day long distance Ayrshire Coastal Path. It's now a beautiful cycle ride or walk but from a photography point of view it's been drastically tamed as people used to get huge breaking waves here captured on camera 30 feet high and now they don't.
Hundreds of boulders dumped into the sea below the wall diffuse the big waves before they hit full force against it so no more great crashing wave action at this hot spot. Wah!!!! Nice railings though.
To be continued- the last part.
PS. Naturally, I have a gallery of the best and highest waves ever photographed at this spot...well, I would do, wouldn't I?.... but luckily I have very little ego so I will not mention a link to that earlier fantastic post as I'm the modest, self effacing type.

But's a brilliant one of me, and only one of me.... on Gran Paradiso ( High Paradise) 4,061 metres, 13,323 feet.
Aren't I brave and handsome? :o) A mountaineering colossus staring over the vertical edge in disgust at the 10,000 foot pimples scattered below :o) No ropes required as usual for me and hands casually placed in pockets caressing my mighty balls of steel. No crawling about on my knees and ass here. Although it's one of the easiest 4000 metre peaks in the Alps to climb it has fantastic views from the summit as it sits alone on an offshoot from the main alpine chain yet close enough to the surrounding giants to appreciate them properly. This is not the official summit but a free standing tower/ pinnacle nearby...that looked suspiciously higher from some angles so had to be bagged just in case.  "Top of the World. Ma... it's yer wee boy!" Undoubtedly, one of the highlights of my life this trip.
This excellent and atmospheric video link of the Aosta region and ascent up Gran Paradiso really captures the beauty and essence of this memorable area. Takes me right back to a very special holiday and moment in time. Fleet footed Chamois and heavy horned Ibex grace the slopes below the snowline in summer. Although an easy snow plod this Italian giant has a knife edged summit ridge of shattered, tottering pinnacles and is one of the most beautiful mountains I've ever climbed. This video also shows my pinnacle near the end, immediately before and right after the Madonna summit statue close up- rock climbing and scrambling is never easy with crampons on and this tower is balanced right on the very edge of the cliff at a worrying angle. The views from Mont Blanc summit were not that special as everything else around seemed rather flat and unassuming below, even the Matterhorn-... on Paradiso however ridge after ridge, peak after peak, soared high above or far below our feet, and some peaks close by were on the same eye level but super enhanced somehow so it's well named and the highest mountain sitting completely within Italy. ( all the other large Alpine Italian peaks straddle the border with summits shared with another neighbouring country.)
Even if you are not into climbing hills this is an excellent short travelogue and visual extravaganza of the entire region and well worth seeing.


Tuesday, 10 April 2018

The Spectacular Firth of Clyde. A Day Gallery. Act One.

                                                  ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN.
A compilation gallery of three different trips around the Firth of Clyde Estuary, coastal towns and villages over the winter period. Two undertaken by myself solo and one more recently with friends Anne and Belinda. As Easter just past was something of a washout- cold, windy, rain and snow- and they didn't bother going anywhere I decided to show them some of the best highlights the Firth of Clyde has to offer as a consolation prize- turning their trip into a scenic extravaganza of well known spots but also some secret places. This is Dumbarton Rock and Castle with yellow gorse in full spring bloom. A closer inspection however reveals a black dragon lurking on the rock- which I can only assume is some kind of wayward tarpaulin as they have had scaffolding up here all year to do repairs. That's the obvious simple answer as dragons don't exist in Scotland, not around the River Clyde anyway. A logical explanation every time.
A small lighthouse near Port Glasgow and an even smaller low tide island. In a new budget strapped reality TV programme two groups of unlucky/plucky individuals may be stranded here- one party from a local run down council housing estate and one from a posh neighborhood forced to fend for themselves, live off the land, hunt animals, and explore the surroundings working together as a team. Too far fetched an idea?
A beautiful and brightly coloured Shelduck nearby, one of the UK's largest ducks and my favourite meal along with oven chips. Even stranded on a tiny island food can be had. The sea will provide.
The equally beautiful Eider ducks- very tasty in thin slices- both species having feathers and colours  resembling painted silk on the plate, up close and personal. Good eating in a duck I'm told if you can hunt one down dressed in a loincloth and carrying a makeshift spear.
Harder to catch but a meaty mouthful all the same- Sandpipers and a lone Redshank. On reflection maybe it's better sending the stranded group to a tropical island instead to eat the wildlife there for entertainment purposes as it's exotic and no-one will complain as much. Nature is after all there for our entertainment, apparently. It's a funny old world at times. I mention this as I wonder how we will look back on this decade 35 years from now as we currently compare the strange old, quaintly dated, 1980s programmes on TV recently with the much more enlightened TV version today? During the 1980s it just felt completely normal, mostly, living through it... or in modern parlance- "it was what it was" back then. Now that we are living in a far more enlightened, supposedly equal environment era, we would never screen a period middle ages drama (competing with the internet mainly- TV's major threat these days) where most of the women portrayed in it routinely strip down naked almost every episode apart from an old women and a young girl while the male actors get to keep their clothes on mostly. You couldn't possibly get away with that sort of rampant gender inequality today without complete outrage happening surely :o)
What? It's an extremely popular show worldwide !? Who would have guessed that!
Meanwhile, the Cowal and Argyll hills unfold in full winter splendour...demurely covered up.
Seen after heavy snowfalls over the mountains just past the Easter break.
A container ship in the Firth of Clyde off Greenock.
Glasgow tower blocks seen from Greenock. The red and white one -possibly Anniesland Tower.
 It seems to me that we are fighting wars on all fronts at the moment- not only a new, fast evolving, cold war but technology and innovation wars and what they will bring to society... the various complex internet addictions plaguing humankind, introduced fairly recently...leading to potential cyborgs in a few decades time once internal IT implants develop fully?.... increased narcissism/ and loss of self directly related to number of likes/ dislikes/notion of  self-worth online etc /.... identity and complete personality theft via modern 3D graphics, home control gadgets, and data advances in the near future...where you could potentially copy anyone with perfect recognizable mannerisms and looks as already seen in certain games today... increasingly unstoppable fake news with the death of conventional media outlets...artificially manufactured wars to make the super rich even richer, get rid of overcrowding problems, or grab vital assets like oil reserves and minerals... the ever growing divide between rich and poor worldwide...blah, blah blah.....ah, these are always exciting times to be alive in----usually looking back in nostalgic hindsight- Hey...just like the 1960s were....and with all that distraction going on who can be bothered with boring wildlife, leaving the EU, and general planet health I wonder?
Gourock in mid-winter. I was pulling out all the stops on this trip for scenic delights. Always seize the day by the throat is my motto and squeeze really hard! Fiddle merrily away while Rome burns regardless.  Hedonism above virtue and self sacrifice! :o)  A and B usually visit these places in summer so a deep midwinter trip was a complete novelty for them- as were the ribbons of mist hanging over the mountains.
Evening sunlight hits Brucehill in Dumbarton with the Lang Crags behind.
Football match observed from Lyle Hill.
Gourock as night descends over the town.
Two forms of flight. We invented it of course- birds just copied us- a well known, well documented fact in 2040 in an era after paper news has ceased altogether and we really lose the plot.
Sea kayakers off Gourock. Hardy people given the freezing conditions and the inevitable wave spray in choppy seas.
A ship in the Firth.
Dumbuck Quarry and Rock. Like Dumbarton Castle rock another volcanic plug in a hot bed area with over 50 other examples of volcanic ancient eruptions existing between here and Edinburgh to a geologists experienced eye.
 Dumbarton again in this one with Doughnot hill 374 metres, under snow. A volcanic lava escarpment frozen in time. It makes perfect sense for me nowadays to use the car less and take the bus more as I can save between £10 to £30 in petrol each time by doing so but it's also nice on trips to stop anywhere that takes your fancy so all three of us thoroughly enjoyed this scenic car ride... and the best was yet to come.... to be continued.

A cracker of a video now. The first mountain we climbed on our backpacking trip across the French/ Spanish Pyrenees many years ago, the 11,000 foot high mountain chain creating a physical and geographical border between these two countries was a holiday to remember and it gets a full chapter in my novel 'Autohighography'.
 The Pic du Midi D' Ossau was the first major rock peak we climbed on that trip, - a 2884 metre, 9461 foot soaring spire with the easiest line being an entertaining scramble not unlike Curved Ridge on the Buachaille Etive Mor, 1022 metres- only higher. We had a rope with us but never used it once as we had been intensively scrambling and rock-climbing in Scotland beforehand in preparation for this trip. I must have been not too shabby then in my prime as I wouldn't attempt it today without a rope I don't think..Camped at the Pombie Hut on the first day, then experienced a full scale biblical thunderstorm, sheet lightning, and floods overnight then climbed the peak in the morning as the mists cleared and the vultures took to the skies. A good link here to a superb video giving you a real taste of what the Pyrenees have to offer the adventurous visitor.  Professionally put together, gripping stuff and better than most things on mainstream TV recently, although I did like the history prog shown a few days ago about Jesus' Female Disciples: The New Evidence-  key woman getting erased from history (nothing new there)  in a now male dominated church. Well worth seeing.