Saturday 29 January 2011

Heart of Darkness.Part Two.

Of course you don't need to go down rancid, rat infested holes in the ground to shake away the cobwebs in your mind. Fear not. Bleak, forbidding  places can also be found above ground as well if you know where to look. Over the years I've assembled a modest gallery of these places. Take my grubby hand and I will guide you to lands that lie to the East of Eden.
On old maps "Here Be Dragons" could be used for areas unknown or shunned by the general populace. The modern equivalent of this I suppose is the urban housing estates that have acquired a certain, sometimes undeserved, reputation. Unless you live there yourself or know someone they are not the places most people care to visit.

Glasgow, until fairly recently , had some of the most "colourful" housing estates in Europe. We also have some of the best parks and  varied mountain scenery right on our doorstep. But just for once lets visit the dark Mr Hyde instead of sunny Mr Jekyll.
Graffiti has been with us since we lived in caves. It can say the obvious. "This is our place. We live here."
But it can also be more poignant in areas getting knocked down. "We had a life here. This was our area. Will we ever see each other again?" For teenagers too young to have a say in where they are going it may be their only voice. Despite appearances a lot of folk had happy  times in these areas before the community spirit eroded everywhere during the thatcher era. I'm not blaming her entirely its just a fact. It was going downhill before that but she didn't help by throwing so many out of work. Mind you ,that great age of unemployment couldn't happen again, could it? In any case I think its only fair now to capture the last breaths of these stone dragons who have sheltered so many under their care for so many years.

The central belt of Scotland has always had this dual character of great beauty versus gangs and self destruction sitting side by side. Ten minutes walk from this house above are two of the largest and nicest parks in Glasgow with stunning views. Two faces of a coin.
I've been fortunate in my life to experience both having grown up in a fairly "colourful" area perched on a hilltop on the outer edge of the city. Glasgow is built on Drumlins(dozens of small hills) left over from the last ice age.
Luckily for me and my like minded friends though it had an explorers dream country right behind it of busy farms, cow studded meadows, hills, woods, cliffs, dams and deep flooded quarries overlooked by the crumbling towers and ruins of a large estate. This is were we spent most of our free time. It was an enchanted land for us, still is. It saved me from another,much darker life ahead. In life you can go through Mirkwood or Avalon.

Covers on Books can be misleading. Most of the folk around me then were kind, honest  hardworking people just as you can always find a few nasty ones even in the most exclusive and well heeled  suburbs. I had a childhood I would not swap with anyone's full of excitement, danger and sheer adventure in these dragon filled lands.
No computer game could match this world of amazing sights and discoveries around every corner. Obviously these areas did not look like this until much later, at their end. I've always been fond of my dragons so I had to say one last goodbye to them all. Mind you, In those days children could walk many miles from home together over the fields and no one would worry about strangers. Believe it or not even here it was a more innocent time. I could often be found, even on my own, ten miles from my door aged  twelve, jumping some stream or climbing a hill for the view.(Think this looks rough? These days you are  far more likely to be killed by a stressed mum or dad, late for work on the school run.) This more than anything else set me up for a life time of exploring the outdoors, woods and mountains further afield. Its what I've been doing since I could crawl out the back door of the house. This, surprisingly, is where I formed my love of nature.
Update. For the last two years I have been writing a book. It starts off in Pollok/Nitshill, where I grew up, then features chapters on Arrochar, Arran, Loch Lomond, Glencoe, Skye, and many other wild and scenic areas in Scotland. Part autobiography, part novel, part travel guide, part unusual love story it is set around  the humorous adventures of a Glasgow hillwalking club, detailing their relationships, love affairs, falling outs, and weekend trips down caves, visiting islands, climbing mountains and adventures on the high seas over three decades. You can read the first  couple of chapters for free to see if you like it by clicking this link. .
The full book is £1:85 on kindle e books. Cheaper than a scratch card but with better odds of  some excitement and a chance of a laugh.

It is full of unexpected encounters and dark surprises. Just like life itself.

Friday 28 January 2011

Heart of Darkness.Part One.

And now for something different for a change.A Gothic adventure for our jaded Age of Reason.
Like everyone else from time to time I get bored with the tedium of normal day to day existence.Its human nature I suppose to do so no matter what your situation in life.If you live a long,long time these feeling only grow.Who would really desire to live for many hundreds of years.One is bad enough.
In the old days of course you could go up to the nearest cave and call forth a dragon.Nowadays some people have affairs which usually end up just as messy for the tarnished hero...others take up a new hobby or career.....still others,having lost the wonder of life turn to drink or drugs.
For me though its always been straightforward.No dragons now but still caves and dark realms to explore  and other creatures of the night to observe and play with in the shadows.
When I feel the signs of real boredom I know its time to visit my heart of darkness.
Caves have always held a fascination for me.As soon as I was old enough I was off caving.
Some of the best caves are down in England and I,ve spent many happy days far underground in that other realm.That all takes time,preparation and travel though. I was bored now.

So....the caverns of man would have to do.A little trip to the darkest ,strangest and most terrible pit I know.   But first a prelude...A little rainbow of colour spurting a  fountain of crimson  into the night.
Before darkness can arrive however the sun must go down.

Light fades and the shadows crawl across the land like vampire bats creeping towards a nervous goat in a South American field.
In the cities and towns artificial lights click on keeping the darkness at bay.

Folks sit around the fire as they have done since they lived in caves themselves telling tales of all the things that haunt the shadows outside.
At the darkest time of year people seek each other out ,building bigger fires,erecting more lights and colours to ward off the black void gathering around them.
But for some the  attraction at this time of year is the long hours of darkness and a communion with the creatures of the pit.
I first discovered my tunnel when I was twelve.Its still the darkest place I know.Here I came face to face with my true self.That other me,born right there in the tunnel.
 No horrors exist in nature as dark as the beasts that prowl in your own imagination.
But some come close.......
                                                                   Here be Dragons

Saturday 22 January 2011

Port Lincoln.Kimba.Iron Knob.

The last place visited on my epic tour of  South Australia was Port Lincoln.A sea port town on the green but rugged Eyre Peninsula.Its mainly known for its Tuna fishing industry,its massive grain silos......
and its Great White Shark teasing exploits.For a fee you can be lowered down underwater off the coast in sturdy cages to let these bad boys of the ocean nibble and chew the bars.All perfectly safe of course.This area has a lot of small islands perfect for seals and sea lions,the sharks main food.Maybe that's why they have an outdoor swimming pool attached to the Pier.Aussie,s aren't scared of much but even they take sensible precautions.
Port Lincoln has more than its share of millionaires but unlike more refined Victor Harbor this is primarily a working town where the folk have made a good living from farming,fishing,processing and the like.At night it has a different feel to Victor and has more of a wild west atmosphere about it.
Outside of the cities unless they are going out some place special I don't think  most Australians are night folk.There are a number of reasons for this but one of the main ones must be the snakes, bugs and other native wildlife which like to prowl around during the hours of darkness.I went a walk a few times at night in smaller towns but I was always the only one on foot I noticed.Everybody else went to club or restaurant by car or taxi.I must admit it was a bit scary wondering if that was a twig or a snake being stepped on.

Once again my sister was the driver and guide on our journey.And I couldn't leave without visiting this place .I,d heard so much about it over the years.The community of Iron Knob used to be the pulsing heart of the mining industry in the middleback ranges but it is now in decline sadly,the mines played out and Iron Duke and Iron Baron,not that far away,claiming its crown.You can still go on mining tours here though.
Next up was Kimba,halfway across Australia as the sign said.

This fact deserved a big creature,a cherished tradition in Australia to mark something of importance or just for the hell of it.Kimba also had a fine selection of murals dotted around town.

It was a nice wee place surrounded by green rolling fields but this was also on the edge of the settled zone.North from here the real outback started,a place of few reliable roads,where,if your car broke down you might walk for a week off road and not see a living person.That's why you should always stay with your vehicle even if it means a long wait.We had lunch here and I zoomed off for a swift walk in the bush while my sister explored the local area :o) i.e. The shops and the pokie machines.
I couldn't believe the number of sleepy lizards here.Ten within 20 yards.Nice walk though with loads of wildlife and thousands of ants not gobbled up yet by these wee guys.
I gobbled up my lunch as a takeaway.Very nice it was too!  This is a picture Sid and Ann took of their travels outside the main population areas.You can see why a 4 by 4 here is not a luxury but gives you a better chance of getting around the place.Mind you it also pays to know what you are about as it can also get you into unbelievably remote areas as novice tourists hiring one sometimes find out.
Took this one in Port Neill where my sister and her late husband spent many seaside holidays together.It looked amazing with carpets of wild flowers growing after all the recent rains.
Next up was Port Lincoln where for a second time  we stayed in a top hotel instead of camping in the bush with a sleepy lizard as a pillow.(Ah My wallet! Quick medic,its taken a bad turn again!!!)

As usual I was up and off at first light to walk this trail I,d discovered just outside the hotel under some massive fig  trees.What a morning.After 3 hours suberb walking I returned content to join my sister exploring the shops and seafront,happy to do what she fancied.(Hope I wasnt too much of a hyper active pest.)
The next day we drove here.Lincoln National Park where I went for a memorable walk.This is a fantastic place but its also the most remote feeling area I,ve ever been.My sister stayed in the locked car reading a book.No one else around in a vast landscape,200 foot sand dunes above the bay,limestones cliffs plunging into a restless ocean filled with heaving monster waves.And this was a day without much wind.On a wild day......
The map tells its own story around this coast.Anxious Bay,Coffin Bay,Avoid Bay and finally very near here Cape Catastrophe.A special area for those who like nature on a grand scale.Just dont expect company.We seemed to have an area not much smaller than that of Greater Glasgow to ourselfs.All to soon it was time to return home and leave Oz for my own small, cold country floating just south of  the icebergs.This winter it seems to have drifted a bit too far north for me.
A smashing holiday and great company thoughout.Thanks everyone.
One last mention must go to Changi airport.Compared to Heathrow or any other airport I,ve been in this place is a Jewel.So clean you could actually eat your dinner off any floor and filled with amazing features like butterfly gardens with waterfalls and Koi ponds.It made the 30 hours of travel and waiting pass much quicker but its still a long,long haul when you stay awake all that time.Thankfully the entertainment on planes has improved since the old days.
A few birds that I couldnt miss out.
The end..........