Friday, 7 August 2020

Levengrove Park. River Leven. Dumbarton to Balloch Walk.


A day out with my friend Anne and the first time we had managed to visit each other since the Covid 19 lockdown. This is Levengrove Park in Dumbarton which always has beautiful flower displays that change with the seasons. It also has a surreal quality to it, like a Roald Dahl film set, with its exotic mix of palm trees, different shaped pines and  multi coloured flowers.
A flower throne fit for any queen.
Colour mix. Poppy, Cornflower, Daisy.
Over the past few years a big impact addition to most parks has been wildflower strips to help the bees and other flying insects as numbers have dropped alarmingly. So we were surprised and delighted to find long strips of giant Ox-eye daisies in Levengrove Park, a recent new arrival. I have noticed though that previous wildflower plantings only last one season in full, rich condition- by the second yearly flowering other weeds have succeeded in smothering most of the flowers and by the third year most have disappeared. So you really have to sow new beds/strips every year to get the full benefit sadly.
By contrast weeds that grow naturally, year on year, without any human help, and despite eradication attempts by those same humans, usually thrive and hold their own- like this roadside verge of colourful yellow ragwort and rosebay willow herb- both poisonous to livestock but loved by flying insects and bees just the same. 
Clover is another flower that bees adore, it even smells like honey, yet it can be a vigorous hard to eradicate weed if you want a perfect green lawn. I love them all.
Ants on a child's discarded orange here. Natural recycling.
Cornflower and bumble bee.
Dumbarton Rock and Castle.
A Garden of Delights. Levengrove Park. One of the real gems of Dumbarton.
Dumbarton to Balloch cycletrack and walkway. River Leven View.
Looking in the other direction, towards the Clyde Estuary and Dumbarton Rock.
Levengrove Park in full summer flourish.
A grove of many different hues.
Beauty in abundance. In any walk I am drawn to perfection... and colour... and sparkle... in this world.
But I did remember to keep a three metre distance from my companion at all times.....even though it was hard :)  Not on my part though... a fully extended walking pole held at arms length made a convenient prodding device  if Anne or anyone else came too close, needing a gentle reminder, and I was more than happy to use it.
( I had an inexplicable bruised foot resulting in a painful limp yet no idea how it occurred, almost overnight. In fact it's so inexplicable and weirdly sudden one might suspect someone else to be sticking pins in a doppelganger doll with carefree abandon.... and who would fashion such a tiny creature of evil intent one wonders!!?? Obviously a miscreant versed in the dark arts and illicit alchemy as in 2020 on this good flat earth mere scientific advancement or informed medical suggestions as to a cause or possible remedy for any illness are never to be trusted)
Such a lovely place. One of my favourite local parks to limp about in. 
But enough of that... on-wards up the walkway towards Balloch following the River Leven.  Forward painful foot and heed no smirking female advice to rest up! Very occasionally seals swim up here from the sea until they find themselves in Loch Lomond. They have to return after a few days however as they can't live in freshwater for very long and get sick if they stay.
Further upstream you come to the Leven Swamp, a brackish marshy area and flood plain. This is a water safety valve. Even though it meanders in loops the River Leven is the only outlet for the vast Loch Lomond. It is one of the shortest rivers in Scotland but also one of the fastest in spate with very powerful currents after flooding. When this happens this outlying marsh fills out to capacity and even the walkway/ cycle-track is underwater and impassable.
In calm conditions though it is beautiful and fairly wild. Freedom fighter ( or terrorist, depending on nationality/ political interests/ point of view)...Robert the Bruce spent the last three years of his life here in a purpose built mansion house with its own small dock and canal near Renton, a retirement gift. In calm weather you could go duck hunting, fishing, boating, or visit friends.. as the river, at high tide, leads out to the Clyde Coast and the open sea. Not a bad place to end up after years of fighting to free Scotland from English rule.
As it's a colourful post here's a colourful video to match it. One of the most spectacular and poetic wildlife compilations you will see anywhere and a classic six minute song The Beatles would have been very pleased to write and prize highly in their own back catalogue. Best watched full screen... for full effect of course.

Monday, 3 August 2020

Conic Hill Trip. Loch Lomond. Always Far From The Madding Crowd.

                                                     ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN
With the gradual easing of restrictions and recent permission to go further afield I decided a day out on Conic Hill would suit me fine. At only 361 metres or 1,184 feet it's not a particularly big hill but it was an overcast murky day in the Scottish Highlands and the higher peaks were in the clouds.. There was also a chance it would rain as the two month long sunny weather of Spring had been replaced  by a similar long run of cooler unsettled conditions.

                                                    Raindrops on a leaf. Natural Jewels.
Conic Hill sits on the edge of the Scottish Highlands at Balmaha with fine views over the southern half of Loch Lomond and its 23 islands. Another reason for picking it was that I'd checked online first to see if it was open after recent reports of traffic jams and police moving visitors on in the nearby crowded Trossachs area so I did not want a longer drive only to find the car park full... or out of bounds... or visitors unwelcome. The car park at Balmaha is also very large, with space for almost one hundred cars at a guess so a safe bet for getting parked as one thing I have noticed is a steady year on year increase in tourists with car parks increasingly full earlier on in the day.

Out on the water Loch Lomond at Balmaha was fairly quiet and serene, just a few private boats moving on the surface and a few privately owned kayaks paddling around as I do not think the hire places were open yet by the looks of it.

By contrast the hill and village appeared totally packed with visitors. like a closer to home Skye, and I was lucky to get a space in the car park, despite its size, by 10:00am - only half a dozen vacant spots remaining. I set off up the hill with 1000 others- almost like an Irish religious pilgrimage mountain. I enjoyed the crowds for a while but the novelty soon wore off so I found my own less frequented path up the hill, away from the mass ascent.

One benefit of following this less trodden route was the variety of alpine plants still thriving on the more deserted slopes. Moss Campion here.

Purple Bell Heather. After the initial early Covid 19 experience of a much quieter world with most folk staying indoors the reverse seems to have happened throughout the last month. Probably with families not fully at work or school yet, no holiday breaks abroad, and a pent up release of energy plus a somewhat false feeling that the worst might be over.... means there's more people than ever out and about. That's what I've noticed anyway. Cycle tracks and canal paths are far busier than pre covid levels, twice as many joggers, cyclists, and folk walking than ever before and roads and car parks back to being really busy. I almost miss the first two months of  Covid when you could glide through a silent, near empty cityscape or parkland setting and feel like you were living in a post apocalyptic world. The last few humans left alive. A unique experience I have to admit, as a sometimes natural loner, I secretly enjoyed.  Nature was and always has been my main 'support bubble' in life so I was scarcely affected by the pandemic or not seeing anyone for months on end.

And nature did seem to thrive... so I did as well...

It's the getting back to normal thing I can't handle very well :o)
A microlight over Conic Hill.                                      Far from the Madding Crowd.

Microlight Pilot.

 Crowds ascending Conic Hill. Loch Lomond Islands below.

For me, still proudly keeping my 50 metre distance well apart from humanity, I was remembering another past era.... one where I first explored the twenty three islands of Loch Lomond in my newly purchased kayak. A wonderful archipelago that was as captivating to me then as any Greek island tour. Each new trip by myself or with friends opening up a little more of this secret world every time. Islands full of wonder and mystery... discoveries of fallow deer herds swimming between islands, Australian wallabies, an island pub, (Oh, joy of joys!) , feral goats living like smelly outlaws, a mail boat, a deserted summerhouse, fantastic, mature deciduous woodlands, various game trails, sandy beaches, a nudist colony,  a prison island, an island with a dungeon on it, a castle island, ancient crannogs, occasional ospreys, buzzards and golden eagles spotted overhead , an inquisitive seal at one point...far from the nearest salt water habitat, and a dozen fondly remembered camping trips long before the National Park took it over and put restrictions down. Even free diving occasionally on my own with a mask, snorkel, and wet-suit in my hasty ill advised youth, discovering yet another realm under the surface of caves, secret fish movements, and deep currents.

Tour boats like this one here are fine but with your own kayak or boat you can explore anywhere, or could then, and the sheer joy of discovery on each new trip was a great feeling. Easily the equal of any exotic trip abroad yet only an hours drive away from Glasgow and £40 paid for the kayak. The long distilled chapter in Autohighography about these islands was fun and very easy to write about as I had so much material to draw on in reality and so many great trips to look back on. Just wish I could discover them all again, anew, with fresh eyes, or capture that youthful innocent zest and energy for life a second time round but that would be asking far too much. I've had my slice of heaven already and cannot complain. 

The start of the magical archipelago of islands from Balmaha.

Some of the island chain seen from Conic Hill.

Cruise Boat on Loch Lomond.

Blue Hydrangea.

Kayakers setting off to explore the islands.

The first and original service industry at work. When you study nature closely it also operates with mathematical precision at every turn.

Tom Weir at Balmaha. Outdoor TV presenter, Writer, Rock Climber, Scottish and Greater Ranges Mountaineer and Naturalist.     1914- 2006.

A beautiful song and stunning video that seems to capture my feelings perfectly. A true modern classic that deserves to be far better known than it is.

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Moments of Pleasure. Selected Scottish Central Belt Snapshots.

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A herd of cows near Clachan of Campsie. Looking at the OS Landranger Glasgow map one day years ago, having done most of the best and more obvious walks on it I spotted a circular route running under the high wall of the Campsie Fells then up via Maiden's Castle and onto Cort-ma Law. It turned out to be a cracker of a route. A highly enjoyable and very varied outing- which is where the post title comes in. Often day long 'moments of pleasure' are reflected in these photos.
A lightning storm over the Garleton Hills in this one. I'd not long discovered the wide open beauty of the Garleton Hills, a small insignificant range of grassy knolls east of Edinburgh and after my initial brief visit to climb the Hopetoun Monument with friends as an add on to a bigger hill day we'd already had.... I fancied going back myself to do the full range. I did not intend to traverse this little known, low level range during a summer thunder and lightning storm but that's exactly what happened. Luckily the surrounding and higher Moorfoots and Lammermuir summits captured the brunt of the lightning strikes and flashes leaving me untouched, completely dry and able to enjoy the show. The majesty of nature at its finest is always best if you are not soaked and freezing cold under it as I had very little shelter nearby to escape any rain if it came my way. I'd rolled my bike over the hills as it was part of a day long cycle tour of East Lothian and a couple of hours later I was cycling along a vast open beach in bright sunshine. Another great day out.
The beach in question was at Gullane then onto this place, cycling across Aberlady Bay. Garleton Hills now firmly in the distance. One thing I have found post social media and Instagram is how busy most beaches have become in the last 10 years.
Here's another east coast beach not that far away from Gullane. The aptly named 'Broad Sands.' Again on a bike and again deserted ... which is a big part of the fun for me... like being the only person on the planet in your imagination as you bomb along at speed over the hard packed surface. ( obviously avoiding any birds ahead and giving them plenty of space to co- exist and stay still sitting on the sand. It's a wide beach -you can easily do that.) A desert island drifter with Fidra in the background here. Inspiration for R. L. Stevenson's Treasure Island. I used to walk or cycle regularly along numerous Central Belt Scottish east and west coast beaches and hardly see anyone else around but now they are frequently busy, even mid week. Call me elitist but for me it's not the same vibe as before. I don't mind crowds just not in the wilderness. But I've had my allotted time on an emptier planet already so I can't complain.
Alex is not usually a morning person after a night in the pub. A racing snake greets the new day in a climbing hut years ago.... or maybe a slow worm on this occasion. The right colour of bag anyway.

A club trip further north. Julian? demonstrates his new fireproof trousers. That boulder seat looks very uncomfortable.
A solo day out on the Arran Ridge years ago. Early 2000s. Very quiet for most of it with only these two other hill-walkers encountered.
The Arran Ridge from Great Cumbrae in mid winter.
Minor road covered in sheet ice so no cars on it to trouble our walk. It's rarely frequented anyway this minor road, even in summer.
Walkers descending Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh. The easy side of this extinct volcano has excellent views over the Firth of Forth and its handful of islands.
Many tourists are surprised however just how steep the other side is and this harder end of vertical cliffs can catch many folk out, especially under snow and ice when walkers go up it under equipped in street shoes and limited warm clothing. For its modest size- 800 foot high and in the middle of a city- it can occasionally bite the unwary. A proper little mountain.
Beach cricket at Earlsferry in Fife. Afternoon summer thunderclouds arriving after a hot, sultry morning. Beach walking again for me. The era of 'Captain Coastwalk' when I was bagging new Scottish  beaches and remote clifftop walks most weekends in the 1990s, usually on my own. A somewhat derogatory and condescending title by those still addicted to mountains and hill-walking to the exclusion of anything else. I didn't mind one bit as I got to know Fife really well- an extraordinary and ancient kingdom filled with surprises round every corner.... including village cricket teams and sea queens, more unusual sights here and a richer visual tapestry of settlements and long traditions than on the west coast, where many of the original inhabitants of the various districts and Highland glens were moved elsewhere or emigrated abroad.
A waterfall jump. River Etive.
Caterpillar and a dedicated photographer.
Not bad but here's one I made earlier.... roped then tamed them into a line. That's real action photography, small scale. Yeehaaa cowboy!

A mystery girl on the shore.....  but who is she? My 'princess of suburbia' perhaps?
Waiting and watching. Feeding time at the children's zoo many years ago. This girl is now a responsible young adult in the world of work. The guinea pigs have sadly passed away. Sniff sniff.....
                                                Calton Hill in Edinburgh from Arthur's Seat.

As I'm in a playful mood here's a playful little number. A horse race through a city. Fantastic modern artwork done with great style and imagination. Best watched full screen. This is worth looking at. The distilled essence of 'cool' in visual form.