Sunday 24 November 2013

Upper Clyde Valley. Crossford. Rosebank. The warm,sheltered Kingdom.

On an early October morning of bitter, freezing winds on the heights I was in no rush to gallop towards winter with autumn still to savour ahead. The trees were just beginning to change colour yet snow was predicted to fall briefly on the highest mountain tops in Scotland over the weekend.
Bugger that I thought. Let's run to the sun instead and visit the warm valley.
I like to look for the magic and beauty in everyday life around me.  Can you see the happy penguin yet? No? Click on the bloody picture then :)

This is the garden valley. An area of wooded slopes and fertile meadows carved out by the mighty River Clyde in its upper reaches where its waters in the distant past have been broad and fierce enough to bite deep into the surrounding landscape creating a sheltered, warm, oasis. A deep winding, trench running for many miles through the soft geology of this part of Lanarkshire.

 Monks were the first to realise the potential of this area, growing apples, plums, soft fruits and berries on the warm, usually frost free banks during the short Scottish summer. Orchards were planted and thrived. Later arrivals grew strawberries and tomatoes here on a large commercial scale, and it earned several new names. The 'Glass Gorge', the 'Fruit Basket of the Central Belt, The Garden Valley. A good link here with a brief history of the produce and new blood continuing the tradition.

One of the most remarkable facts about this fruit growing trench is that it lies at the same latitude as Hudson Bay in Canada and is further north than Newfoundland, and the frozen Lake Baikal in Siberia. In summer it can get hot and humid down here with lush vegetation, including bizarre meadows of  wild course rhubarb coating the riverbanks and in winter the gulf stream ensures its temperate climate.
Taking the M74 out of Glasgow, then the scenic A70 as it follows the river along the floor of the trench I soon arrived and parked the car in the village of Crossford, where there is a medium sized car park, public toilets and a handy information board/map of walking paths in the area.
The Clyde walkway runs through here and follows the far (left )bank of the River back towards Motherwell and Glasgow, though they both seem very distant from here. From the car park walk up the main street until you can cross the bridge seen above ( B7056 Braidwood Road ) From here a pleasant walk takes you along the flat embankment in a north westerly direction then climbs gently to offer superb views over the district.
Higher still the surrounding mountains are glimpsed, looking cold, bare and bleak yet it remains sunny and lush down here with a distinct otherworldly feel in places.
This beautiful meadow dotted with different coloured trees wouldn't look out of place in 'Teletubbie land' or the magical confection that is 'In the night garden'
In the hard world of adulthood anyone who still holds onto a flicker of that inner child when they grow up is lucky indeed as the world will always seem a wonderful, unexpected place viewed through their eyes.
'In a hole in the ground there lived a.....
What! Expecting a hobbit? If a hobbit arrived outside this hole it would be quickly skinned, eaten, stored for later and used as a cushion. Stoats and weasels line their underground apartments with the soft fur of their victims, including, rabbits, voles, mice, even occasional rats, shrews, and moles. For their size the weasel family contain some of the fiercest predators on the planet and this one didn't show any fear of me when I was kneeling down beside it. Going by its size and the fact that its brown pelt appears to be turning white I think this is a stoat but it wouldn't be tempted out far enough to see its black tail and I certainly wasn't going to put my fingers near it to find out. Who says you cant talk to the animals? Have you ever tried apart from dogs, cats and caged birds? All wild creatures respond to soft persuasion. Hug a honey badger. See what happens next :)
After walking along beside the river for a while I decided to  cut uphill on a minor signposted track near Overton farm heading for the birthplace and memorial to General Roy. A quiet and surprisingly out of the way spot for this map maker extraordinaire and father of the Ordnance Survey.
No doubt growing up on the edge of this deep trench with a birds eye view of the sliced landscape below him cut by the river and its numerous tributaries running off the surrounding uplands inspired him to take an interest in geology and the formation of natural features from an early age.
After visiting his marker and having lunch beside it on a sheltered bench in the sun I continued past Carluke, sitting high on its 1000 foot pedestal of land. ( one of the highest market towns anywhere in the country)   and famous for its jam. Great tale in here under another notable resident Thomas Weir, the Warlock of West Bow, reputed to be one of the inspirations for Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde after his self confessed spectacular fall from grace.
Even here I was still climbing until I didn't feel that far off the level of Tinto, viewed in the distance.
With a zoom the distinctive tower blocks in Motherwell could be picked out along with Ben Lomond in the distance. What a view. What a bloody cold wind through! I soon decided to take the Lanark Road past a few remaining glasshouses then cut down onto the twisting B7056 past Braidwood which has a great position high up on its shelf of earth overlooking the high ridges around Lesmahagow.
This road incidentally, although commanding great views, is not for the fainthearted as it can be busy with cars and vans using it as a fast short cut at certain times of day. Below Braidwood it has no pavements, high hedges adorn each side, it is twisty and narrow and you have to really squeeze in against the bank to avoid any vehicles passing. I would suggest it isn't a road to walk down with children or dogs at a busy time of day if you want to see them again. There are a few zig zag paths marked on the OS map going through woods and subsidiary dells off road in the vicinity but they looked longer and harder to discover for a casual outsider to link up. I was getting tired by this stage and just wanted a straightforward descent back to the car. I met a real hard guy at this point, cycling up this steep tortuous ribbon of tarmac on his bike, upright, determined and panting visibly with the effort. Keen cyclists need to be really committed to pedal up and down the walls of this green canyon if they live locally. A good training ground for the Tour de France.
Wondrous things in the sheltered woods below. A tiny fairy forest of silver mushrooms growing from a crack in a tree a metre long. A world within a world. A sheltered spot within a sheltered spot. New life springing from death. Mycelium sisters, as usual, working hard behind the scenes to convert dead wood back into something useful. The real recyclers. We are only playing at it for the present time compared to nature's super efficient system of waste conversion.
Passing by the village of Rosebank  and the quaintly named Popinjay Hotel on the way home. I could have channelled my inner diva here at the wedding Fayre by trying on a wedding dress but decided to imitate sleeping beauty back at the house instead as I was completely knackered after this walk. As tough as any mountain Munro day.

Just watched 'Nina Conti- A Ventriloquist's Story: Her Master's voice' on BBC4. I already knew Nina was talented with bags of sparkle as I've seen her act a few times over the years but this was a different level again. A worthy winner of best documentary as it explores the strange love/hate partnership that exists between ventriloquist and dummy/creation at a deep level. Heart warming, moving and watchable it gets better and more bizarre the longer it goes on. Well worth catching on i player  in this link or whatever medium you can see it on and should do her career no harm at all in an age when ventriloquists are not seen as 'cool or radical' enough. After this unusual insight into the realms of the psyche she could get a side job as a director. Never thought I'd have a lump in my throat over a puppet's fate. The two minute video in here with granny swimming underwater( The OAP nightdress clad dummy) should give you a taste of it. The i player repeat has now ended but the five minute video 'N.C at the Edinburgh fringe' is still there.

There's only one music video that's a perfect fit for this post. I've been a fan of Kate Bush since 1978 but my favourite song of hers is this highly personal offering which I don't think she'd write nowadays as you become more guarded in your outlook due to the intrusive nature of fame. Perfectly combined with a poignantly sweet video that should remind adults everywhere of that inner child buried deep but still alive in their soul, squashed down under the painful realities and practical struggles of everyday life. A garden( song) for a garden( film) for a garden (blog post). Perfect ending.

Sunday 17 November 2013

The Million Mile Rainbow. Nature's Great Gift to the World.

                                        Somewhere, under the rainbow, way down low
                         There lies my lady's promised land, to which I'm destined each Spring to go.
                                       A world of colour, abundance, sunshine and heat

                                 Where dull skies are banished, as they cannot possibly compete
                                 With the sheer wonder and endless variety in her eternal soul

                                      Each shimmering, transforming, sweet scented heart-beat
           Fills the air with Jasmine, Lime, Musk and Mint  :  or Lilac, Pine, Lavender and Rose
                            then a thousand more sights, scents and sensations- summer long
                                            Until she reaches the tapestry of autumn days
Her final flourish. A million mile rainbow stretching across the globe
Before the fall.
To sink and dream unseen, in caverns quiet- safe and deep- below
Protected inside a ring of slumbering bears- a wall of sleeping hedgehogs- a moat of poisonous reptiles twisted together in black and gold- they all keep her secure.
                              There she lies, as the little death in the world above takes hold
                                           Leaving the earth to grieve in her absence
                                          And the dark days of 'Winter' to creep in the door
                                          Until the only scent left in the air.......... is snow.

Joseph Arthur. A smile that explodes. A very underrated and talented singer songwriter. If music and album sales world wide were anything like they were 20 years ago this guy would be a household name by now. His back catalogue of great albums and original songs over the last ten years speak for themselves. 'Our shadows will remain' is a classic CD, named album of the year in his home country many times over.
 Lou Reed, David Bowie, Neil Young, Rod Stewart, Elton John, The Stones, Hendrix, The Beatles, Dylan, The Doors. Just as well they are already legends because if they were starting out again today they would need to wear a meat dress or swing naked from a wrecking ball to grab any attention in a world where original, creative music can sometimes be an inconvenient afterthought that's irrelevant to selling records. If they were starting out today I think they would struggle to make the same impact.
As the album documents the breakup of a relationship the 'smile' is probably the same sweet one girls often produce to soften the blow before announcing the bad news that they're leaving.

Friday 15 November 2013

The Barras. Barrowland.Argyll Street. River Clyde Walkway.

I certainly had a lot of mileage out of this years Doors Open Day in late September. After wandering around the city centre to visit all the new murals and buildings open to the public I then headed east along Argyll Street and through the Merchant City District.
Although the nearby Merchant City is a posh enclave of old warehouses and squares that have been transformed from near dereliction into upmarket apartments, bars, restaurants and shops this part of Argyll Street always has more of an edge to it and even tourists to the city must feel that they are leaving the more cosmopolitan shopping streets behind. The Kirk Steeple and Tron Theatre mark the boundary between east and west. The Steeple dates from the early 1630s making it one of the oldest buildings remaining in the city centre.
The sculpture outside the Tron theatre. Says it all really. X factor art for a modern generation.
More to my taste.. and not because of the half naked females either. It's just better quality combined with beauty of concept and design. I may lie in the gutter but I always stare up at the stars.
Passing Glasgow Cross, still heading east you enter the Calton and the world famous Barras Market.
That's what it says on the faded sign anyway. In reality I wonder how long this place can keep going
as pound shops, charity outlets, cheap discount supermarkets and a shrinking number of visitors  mean that profits must be slim and new ways of earning money are increasingly limited for the shrewd entrepreneur. I found myself wondering what a modern stall holder looked like and was surprised by the answer. A good link here. Well worth watching both videos inside. The Billy Connolly video has some great archive footage at the start filmed in the streets around the market.

I just happened to be passing by around closing time which is never a good time to see any market at its best, especially on a dull rainy day. It's fair to say its glory days are behind it for the moment though you can still get good deals here if you know where to look. Like most of his generation my dad used to love this place and dragged me round the various stalls and covered lanes on a Sunday looking for bargains, old books and household items many times during the swinging sixties. Then it was a thriving busy place, full of entertaining noisy traders making a decent living selling carpets, furniture, fancy goods, dishes, and anything else that could turn a coin. The popular seafood stall selling mussels soaked in vinegar, whelks, clappy doos ( a large black mussel.) and crabs always seemed to get a visit on our rounds. After a large bag of whelks aged around six I was violently sick for several days afterwards and never touched seafood again, probably due to stuffing myself with an oversized helping of an unfamiliar shell dwelling creature rather than anything sinister. They certainly got me back for stabbing them all in their shells with a pin.
Even looking at it today it still feels very Oliver twist and Fagin like with many old Dickensian buildings still standing, though in need of repair and restoration. Maybe this area has the potential to be redeveloped in some fashion, like the merchant city. There are many unique buildings in the Calton area and it is slowly transforming itself with new projects though this current recession certainly hasn't helped.
When you watch the news about the continued growth and investment in the nations capital and big banking sector its like messages from a different planet as in many parts of the UK, in its cities and towns, its always been austerity Britain.

The tall building above dates from the late 1800s and was originally used as White's Clay Pipe Factory and Tobacco works. It's currently a studio for art projects, mainly to keep it occupied. As a youngster wandering around the crowded lanes here in the 1960s I met more than a few Artful Dodgers my own age who called this place home and they always seemed to be wilder, harder, faster and more street wise than I was used to, living as a country bumpkin on the outskirts of the city. Maybe for that reason alone I always viewed this place with distrust and suspicion from the outset and had a slightly claustrophobic attitude towards the covered in lanes and maze of corridors between stalls where you could easily get separated from parental guidance and become a victim of fast feet and young hands. While the adults searched for bargains above our heads in the packed stalls the 'what's yours is mine' policy seemed to be popular among smaller mortals fending for themselves below and I always breathed a sigh of relief when we headed for the exit to brave the night time streets and the bus home. Union Street in winter, after dark, in those days hummed with  thousands of starlings crowded onto the street lights and wires above the bus stops and their whistles and calls were a highlight of any night-time trip to see the Christmas lights in George Square. Half a million birds huddled above our heads at their peak. Deemed a building fouling pest by the city authorities however they were driven out of the city centre many years ago.

A tranquil scene on the nearby River Clyde looking across the water at the Glasgow Central Mosque.
Built in 1983 on a four acre site this view could be anywhere in the world. Who needs the Taj Mahal
when you have autumn reflections as good as this on your doorstep in leafy Glasgow?
Suddenly the old familiar city doesn't seem so familiar anymore. Everywhere in large cities like Glasgow the strange and exotic wait to be found. A face appears from a wall.

Weird creatures settle on buildings.

Symbols appear. Be they signs of good or evil?
 Inside Barrowland. First opened in the 1930s. Burnt down in 1958. Rebuilt in 1960. Couldn't resist a visit to the old ballroom and music venue during Doors Open Day. Over the years I've seen a fair number of cracking bands and artists in here, folk , rock, punk, and indie bands mainly. Still an atmospheric place and repeatedly voted the best music venue in the UK by many international groups, not just home grown talent. With a capacity of only 2000 approx., great acoustics and a unique atmosphere it can generate a buzz many larger, more modern venues must envy which is why it features on numerous records by groups wanting to capture a great live sound in an intimate setting. People of my generation largely know it for its musical pedigree but it was once a popular and lively dance hall. When you stand in it alone you can feel that history seeping through the walls and almost hear that ballroom sound with ghostly feet sliding across the polished floor. Although it has enjoyed a long proud musical history I suppose it will always be partly remembered for the series of events that happened in the late nineteen sixties. The appearance of a polite young man named 'Bible John'.
The speculation involving the true identity of this notorious uncaught serial killer at the end of this link is  interesting.
A back lane near the old Paddy's Market site. Slide show of the market in here.
If the Barras were the place to visit for cheap bargains then Paddy's market was another level down again. In its heyday this was yet another treasure trove for my father to explore on a Sunday with a reluctant me in tow. Call me a snob but I disliked it intensely as the less perishable goods for sale were often just placed along the walls of the lane in the pouring rain if the tables were full. I remember being mortified when my dad, who was unemployed at that point after the factory he worked in closed down, bought a coat which had been placed flat on the ground and had acquired a few lumps of dog dirt on it thanks to a stray mutt with loose bowels. He haggled a bit and got it even cheaper due to this fact. 'That's nothing. It will wash off.' he explained when I complained.' Got a real bargain there.'
He had to wash it in the river then wring it out by hand, placing it in a bag before carrying it onto the bus. On the up side, with the money he saved on the coat, I did get a bike for Christmas. From the Barras of course. A bargain!
                                      And finally.....a wee stroll home along the River Clyde.

Wednesday 6 November 2013

The Lonely Mountain. Stob Na Cruaiche. Rannoch Moor.

A fine day dawned after a few days of rain so I happily accepted the offer of a lift from Graeme, along with Alex, David and Sandra to head off to the wilds of Rannoch Moor. We parked at Rannoch Station, the isolated outpost on the eastern edge of the moor. On a grim day Rannoch Moor is grim indeed with 50 square miles of loch, bog and peat hag sitting at an elevation of around 1000 feet with little shelter to be had anywhere. Rannoch Station in conditions of  high wind, snow, hail or rain just described can seem like a life giving bubble of sheltered 21st century civilisation even though its just a station waiting room, a few scattered cottages and a stubbornly tenacious handful of trees. Oasis come in all shapes and sizes.
After a long drive in from Pitlochry and the east, via Kinloch Rannoch we arrived at the road end beside the station and parked up. It's amazing the things you find out when you go to a new place. Our hill of choice today was a Graham. Stob Na Cruaiche. 739 metres or 2425 feet approx.. Although the flat basin of  Rannoch Moor is surrounded by Munros (914 metres plus mountains) if any hill can lay claim to being inside Rannoch moor itself it is this one, situated as it is between Loch Laidon and the Blackwater Reservoir.
Views on a clear day are exceptional with vistas across to Beinn Achaladair 1039 metres and Beinn a' Chreachain 1081 metres. Two of my favourite Munros with a truly wild feel, especially in the depths of winter. A long hard day with several hours slogging back through deep snow in the dark at minus -15 degrees. I used to enjoy that kind of thing years ago. Changed days now :0) Good link to the Great Moor of Rannoch and what it contains here.
One thing I didn't know about this place was that it was the home of Donald Duck and also, his nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie plus old Scrooge McDuck himself. Rannoch moor is Dismal Downs in the Disney cartoons!
You couldn't make it up! It was also the setting for part of Robert Louis Stevenson's  much loved novel 'Kidnapped'.
Could this be the track to Dismal Downs, Home of Clan McDuck? Plenty of wild mallards about.  Bizarre. In the words of Sir Michael Caine." Not a lot of people know that." An actor incidentally who also has played Scrooge.
Zoom of Curved Ridge on the Buachaille Etive Mor From Stob Na Cruaiche.
The path up to the summit with wooden fence tracks laid flat to help an ATV get up here, probably for the purpose of deer stalking. This gives you some idea of how the railway line across Rannoch Moor was constructed using timber, brushwood and turf to stabilise the route first before placing the sleepers and metal rails on top, floating the railway on a raft of dense material on top of the existing bog in places where the ground was too soft to take the weight of the train.
View of my companions looking towards the west and the Glencoe hills.
View of the watery expanse of moor surrounding this isolated hill. Hence the title- The Lonely Mountain. Peak of the Peat Stack indeed. A mountain surrounded on all sides by an empty desolation. The dried up bed of the Blackwater Reservoir looking like a soda lake.

Not a hard days hill walk though at around 4 to 5 hours, around 14 km in distance, with a good path up to the summit. You could also do it from the west if you like more of a challenge.
A view of the Blackmount from the edge of Rannoch Moor.
I believe this is a Slippery Jack Mushroom. Also known as a Sticky Bun for obvious reasons. Luckily I don't like mushrooms so I'm never tempted to try them as I hate the texture and flavour of even the white supermarket variety. Don't mind admiring them though as wonderful aspects of nature.
With the news that they may have solved the mystery of the Yeti at long last using DNA testing of hair and skin fibres ( It may be a hybrid type of ancient bear, like a high altitude polar bear if any still remain in the world unaffected by global warming.) its good to know that wonders still remain on the planet. This is a Rannoch Moor Moss Bear. I did see it move- Honest! It feeds on Slippery Jacks and the occasional lone backpacker.
 How a St Andrews Cross is made. I bet sky pilots love creating these although they are not supposed to deviate from the flight plan :0)
A great day out and a cracking hill walk. Save it for a clear day.

Few modern pop videos can claim to be haunting, beautiful, poetic, hypnotic and exquisite, all at the same time but this is one. Filmed around the stunning Lake Ioannina (Pamvotis) in northern Greece which lies at an elevation of 470 metres or one and a half thousand feet high this song is a musical interpretation of Edgar Allan Poe's classic poem 'The Lake'.
If you like this artist I can highly recommend the album 'I am a Bird Now.' Released in 2005. A mercury music prize winner and one of the most extraordinary CDs of the last twenty years featuring fantastic arrangements of piano, saxophone, violin and cello around the themes of transformation and duality. Best watched full screen. A fan video and an excellent one. Some of these are better than the expensive official variety I often find. Crafted with real love and devotion over a longer period of time.