Sunday 30 November 2014

Firth of Clyde Estuary. Pillar Bank. Of Ships, Mermaids and Madmen.

I've not quite given up the idea of writing books just yet and have started my third one so this is both an account of an unusual walk across the floor of the Clyde Estuary at Dumbarton and also a plug for my new photo littered guidebook A Guide to Walking and Cycling around the River Clyde and the Firth of Clyde. The sunken Sugar Boat from Roseneath Point. I have left out the usual small maps common in most guidebooks and just used inspiring photos and detailed descriptions of routes instead as the maps require a lot of effort and space when you should always have the relevant OS Map with you anyway. In this case it is Sheet 63 Firth of Clyde. Due to this omission I have over 80 routes described instead of the usual 20 to 30. Therefore, it is probably the most comprehensive guide to walks and cycle rides around the River Clyde and the Firth of Clyde as I threw the kitchen sink at it in terms of number of enjoyable walks and easy bike runs.
It is hard with so many guidebooks and free online routes out there already to come up with something different or new but fortunately I have been different my entire life so it shouldn't be a problem for me :o) I have included the Pillar Bank walk in the book but it is always a fine line between revealing new, lesser known walks or cycles and the very real possibility of them gaining popularity to such an extent that they ruin the very thing that made them special in the first place. The only photos I could find on the internet of anyone ever being out onto Pillar Bank were my own so I don't know if that's a good or a bad thing. Obviously, local folk must have ventured out here for generations and just haven't talked about it online before but I've still got some reservations as the few times I've been out here there hasn't been a single soul in sight on the sands and part of me would like to keep it that way for my own personal pilgrimage to these areas. I was so disappointed with Knoydart the last time I was there as it was heaving with people and seemed to have lost its "Last Great Wilderness" tag a long time ago. So different from my first visit there and the original guide book writers description of the place. Any social media site these days is a double edged sword as it gives you a voice but you have to give a piece of yourself away every time to make any impact and I don't really like doing that. I have deliberately left a few short but treasured places out the book as they are far too valuable to me or are sensitive to more visitors impacting on them and would get ruined easily as anything that gets posted online now becomes common knowledge and is liable to get replicated elsewhere. There should still be some secret places left in the world.
Maybe the surface covering of thick mud near the shoreline puts most people off trying to walk over it, something similar to the "Flat Earth" view held in earlier centuries until someone actually sailed over the edge of the known world and proved it wasn't an edge after all... just more sea.
When you walk over this landscape at first your initial impulse is that you are just going to sink up to your waist in mud but apart from a few deep pockets it is perfectly safe as firm sand lies under a thin surface coating of sticky mud. Boots are required. I have only found evidence of quicksand in a few places around the mouth of the River Leven but these are obvious danger areas anyway to any seasoned mud skipper and the rest of it seems perfectly safe.
                                                                          Happy Face
I set off on my own from Dumbarton as I was researching this walk for the guidebook and had never been over the track inland from Dalmoak to Cardross which looked as if it might have good views.

The beautiful ornamental gardens at Levengrove Park, Dumbarton and the start of the walk.
A tractor climbing a steep hill in the fields near Cardross.
I bet farmers love the company of gulls as these ones were making a constant jarring racket around his cab when they should have been looking for grubs and worms, like the crows.
After a jaunt up and over the hill to Cardross with good views over the River Clyde Estuary I found I had timed it to perfection as the tide was receding to its lowest limit leaving the huge immensity of mud and sand that makes up Pillar bank, dry, safe and exposed. The first time I came out here was a couple of winters ago after I had been knocked down by a van at Christmas and I could only do flat walks at a limping crawl. The pain was so bad then some days on the return journey if I attempted too much, even with full strength painkillers, that I briefly entertained the notion of just waiting out here until the tide came in and covered me up. At some point in everyone's life they wish that the sea or land would just swallow them up as fertilizer.
 No doubt the roaming mermaids, as sweet daughters of Phorcys, would find me half buried in the sand and suck out then swallow down my eyes as they are a delicacy in these parts much savoured by sea creatures. Similar to dying or dead sheep's eyes are for hooded crows on land and packed with vitamin C. I don't know about you but I've always fancied being inside a mermaid.... one way or another. Think of the secrets you could find with them as a guide under the waves. I already knew the area could be walked on as I came out here on the mud with a companion, briefly, 30 years ago so it's strange, to my mind at least, that it's still so empty of people. I hope I haven't let the cat out the bag for the bird life on the estuary but as I say, to get noticed you have to swing on a wrecking ball at some point.
creating a Mud trail on a bike.
To save time on the jump over from Dalmoak to Cardross I'd taken my bike for the farm tracks but it didn't prove so helpful out on the mud flats and time in the saddle was limited. It felt good though racing across the flats and jumping pools on the edge of the ocean a full mile out from the land on a bike.( smooth tyres on a hybrid as mountain bike chunky tyres would not work here) Anyone who knows me well has always maintained I,m slightly mad at the best of times and they are probably correct. Even I think I'm mad at times but you should see my world from the inside looking out. That's really scary.
Greenock with what looks like a cruise ship and a container ship at the docks.
The container ship Jana leaving Greenock and the free French memorial on Lyle Hill. Cross of Lorraine. Most of the goods arriving come by container ship these days so this is the real Santa delivering Christmas and not a reindeer in sight. I'd hitched a lift on a mermaid's back for these two taken near Kilcreggan on a previous visit. You can also walk at low tide well out into the sands from Dumbarton to Helensburgh via Pillar Bank which is another walk in the book as is the Kilcreggan walk or cycle.( Like most of the walks in the book I actually completed them by bike to check they were still OK detail wise and it saved me a lot of time, so I know they can be cycled, with some off the saddle sections.) Pillar Bank is as far out into the Firth of Clyde Estuary as you can probably go without a boat so it had to be included in the guidebook as the sense of huge skies, remoteness and scale of this place is impressive but I hope I haven't given any secrets away and ruined it's isolation for future visits. The Firth of Clyde estuary is the largest and deepest enclosed estuary in the British Isles and this is as far as you can travel into it's bare immensity on foot. Scotland doesn't have many completely flat kilometres so this is a special walk with Netherlands or Kansas like skies and views.
Approaching Dumbarton and a distant view of Dumbarton Rock from a mile out into the estuary. Obviously, when the tide comes in you don't want to be here as it's all submerged.
The Inverclyde and Renfrewshire shoreline is actually much closer at this point than the Dumbartonshire one which is just visible in the distance but a deep dangerous channel cuts it off, seen here. You would probably stick in the mud and drown if you tried to swim across to Renfrewshire as there is quicksand here on the sloping banks under the surface and my madness has its limits.
Swans, terns and gulls came over to say hello.

Approaching Levengrove Park across the mud flats. A beautiful sunny day and not another person in sight yet the park was busy and very hot and airless, it being mid summer. Maybe they are scared of mud and dirty boots these days as the estuary had a nice refreshing breeze wafting down it.?
Near the mouth of the River Leven. This area does have some steeply sloping banks into the river but you would need to deliberately walk into the current to get into trouble here. Cycling in any city or town is far more dangerous than this mud walk if you have any shred of common sense. It's a great feeling being so far out from the land but as a previous companion on another estuary trip remarked...

" Not everyone would want to do a walk like this one anyway so go ahead and publish it before some other person beats you to it and then you will kick yourself for not putting it out first." I have never seen this enjoyable and unique walk in any another guidebook but I don't read any current guide books anyway these days and just did a basic check online before posting so I may be wrong about that. I am prepared to stand corrected... yet again :o)

The lovely but derelict shell of Cardross Church. I think this was bombed during the Second World War and has never been restored although the graveyard is lovely. Brambles are a problem here.
Dumbarton Rock and castle, famous climbing area with overhanging cliff face and the scattered bouldering boulders, both of which contain some of the hardest graded climbs in the UK.
And journey's end back in Dumbarton.  My guidebook has over 80 walks and cycle rides in it, many lesser known like this one, along with 146 colour photographs like these and at £1:99 on Kindle should be of interest to anyone who likes walking and cycling around the Glasgow, Paisley, Motherwell, Hamilton or Firth of Clyde area. Or anyone who is feeling nostalgic to take a visual journey around these areas from the comfort of an armchair if you live overseas... or just don't fancy the mucky reality in person. (Not me!... the mud walk) I know you can get printed walks free online these days which is another reason for using photos rather than maps and I may be biased here but it's a good cheap extra Christmas present if you have a colour image kindle kicking around the house and if I had this guide years ago highlighting the best routes over a wide area it would have saved me numerous other expensive guidebooks and many years of half aborted journeys into the unknown trying to find the best walks in my local district to suit my tastes.
I dedicate this post to my "DID." muse in the last chapter of my novel "Autohighography" by Bob Law. also available on kindle. The last chapter seems to baffle people slightly judging by feedback, hence this extra clue...but who exactly is it?
" I am legion... for we are many." quote- unquote.
Type 45 Destroyer HMS Duncan and escort on the River Clyde at Partick for the recent Commonwealth Games.
Side view of HMS Duncan returning to Glasgow for the first time since her departure down the Clyde in early 2013 as she was built at BAE systems yard in Scotsoun. Her home port is now Portsmouth Naval Base, the last of six new warships completed for the MOD.

Sunday 23 November 2014

Glen Etive Weekend. Big Buachaillie. Bidean Nam Bian.

A view of Beinn Dorain. 1076 metres.
A weekend away with our club and a return to Glen Etive saw us heading up on the Friday evening to stay in a mountaineering hut halfway down this atmospheric glen. For once on a winter club outing the weather was superb with changing light conditions and rivers full to bursting after a full day of heavy rainfall.  Rainbows and pots of gold were everywhere in the landscape, just waiting to be mined if you knew the places and contacts to find their precise location... just like in the corridors of Westminster and large international business corporations if you believe the latest headline scandal to emerge. A new one every month now. Yet another indication of the routine abuse of power at the highest levels but I could have picked from a dozen different stories this week on different subjects.
.And these are the people that make the rules that tell the rest of us how we should behave.

 Loch Tulla and the Orchy Hills resplendent in late evening sunshine. read more than a few articles now stating that large wind farms are just a convenient license to print money for those with  cash to invest and are of little long term gain to solve our green energy problems. Even covering the UK from one end to the other in wind farms will not provide enough reliable energy... and wave power is awash with problems as well. No pun intended. Once there is no milk left in the turbine cash cow we will probably go back to building a new generation of nuclear power stations anyway and the tax payer will doubtless pick up the bill to remove most of these tax dodge eyesores from the landscape. If I was a conspiracy theorist type I'd begin to wonder if the global recession was not orchestrated deliberately and a culture of amoral greed and feral recklessness purposely fostered in banks and large corporations.
Very conveniently, the gap between the elite world wide and the rest of society has increased dramatically during this so called "recession." Few things get me really annoyed these days but the sheer hypocrisy involved in this blatant  rip off  proves that we are most definitely not "all in this together." I'm not particularly bothered to find out who killed JFK or Marilyn but if it's a genuine recession I would like to know why the USA, Canada, and Europe are all showing the same traits of the rich getting richer, climbing the ladder at a great rate of knots while the poorest find themselves sliding down the snakes yet again into food banks, zero hours contacts, and the loss of hard won earnings, work place benefits and future pensions for the majority. In the words of a well known song.
 "If you tolerate this then your children will be next."
Thankfully, I don't have any and two periods of a right wing, Robin Hood in reverse, government is more than enough during this lifetime with no sign of a Richard the Lionheart to save us from the bad Sheriff of Nottingham in sight... although the crusades still rumble on in an updated form. History does repeat itself... over and over and over. Poverty, desperation, and years of hopeless struggle are a proven recipe that can mould some childhoods into adult monsters and we've enough of them already to go around.
 The part of this short article I'm interested in is not the praise for Gordon Brown, though he probably deserves it for keeping the union intact, but the section halfway down where the Lib Con government deliberately stalled a recovering economy in 2010 by needlessly introducing severe cuts and an crippling austerity drive that plunged us straight backwards into the pit again. As I noticed during the 1980,s where they flogged everything off for a rock bottom price, recessions are actually great news where people who have piles of spare money can really make a killing and build private incomes that wouldn't be possible under normal stable financial conditions.

Another thing that irritates me... is although the relevant headlines are there to read in all the newspapers there is a complete lack of serious opposition to this goal in any meaningful form. I have seen it all before of course during the Thatcher years in power when all our nationwide assets were sold off for buttons or shut down and a London-centric based economy took its place but I read recently that this present Lib CON government has managed to exceed even the Iron Lady's accomplishments in creating an even wider gulf between the have and have not's and completely divided society on two separate levels.  It is just as well Downton Abbey is so popular on television as the days of great stately homes and a servant class to provide for them is returning in all its glory once more, only in a new form. It's good to see as my mum started her life as a servant in a big house and I'd like to carry on the family tradition.

 Rant over. I was going to forget about the headlines of the past week and just do a subdued normal post...  but then I thought....well... someone's got to speak up if the so called opposition stays silent for so long. It's a sad day when the church, local community groups and ordinary people have to become the social conscience of a nation and we are constantly bombarded with TV series showing what a depraved, alcoholic, junkie underclass anyone without a job in Britain undoubtedly is. Surely there must be some normal decent people out there in the UK without work but eager to have some? But no, we just get a steady diet of scroungers or MP's appearing on reality TV shows highlighting what great fun personalities they have. Something isn't right somewhere and it all seems carefully orchestrated. It used to be called "spin". The demonization of the poorest in society, the disabled and the plain unlucky are old familiar tricks which they always trot out whenever they are in power, and which, I admit, I despise them for.

Back to mountains. The Buachaillie Etive Mor sits at the Devil's Crossroads between Glen Etive and Glencoe and has many fine scrambles up its south facing ramparts. I'm well acquainted with the Great Herdsman of Etive and have scaled his craggy jaws onto his weather-beaten head over a dozen times by many different routes. January Jigsaw (Severe) and Agag's Groove (V. diff) are fantastic airy climbing routes up an almost vertical cliff at an easy grade and I've also enjoyed soloing without a rope both winter and summer up North Buttress and Curved Ridge. North Buttress is a serious climb however under snow or ice but Curved Ridge makes a great day out with an alpine exposure in full winter conditions. The middle route, Crowberry Ridge, is much harder, even in summer, and should only be attempted by experienced scramblers well used to extreme exposure and small committing holds as it weaves through vertical cliff territory normally reserved for roped climbers. Some experience of climbing is useful. Sadly or thankfully, I'm beyond all that now but if anyone fancies it you should obviously consult the relevant current scrambling guide as it's not an area to wander off route and the dotted lines are just to show a rough position only.
Last of the sunset from the hut with Ben Starav topped by slow moving cloud cushions.
A nice night followed with food, chat and drink.
Next morning saw myself and Alan motor round to Bidean Nam Bian, 1150 metres, as I fancied jaggy stuff for photographs and Alan hadn't been to the summit of the highest peak in Argyll yet, having attempted it from the Lost Valley only to be repulsed by adverse weather conditions. Although the Lost valley is nice my favorite route is up Coire Nan Lochan via the excellent peak of Stob Coire Nan Lochan, seen below.
Always an atmospheric path.      Alex and the rest of the baggers at the hut were off doing either Corbetts or Munros in Glen Etive, Glencoe, or further north.

Like pied pipers we soon picked up two other hill walkers near the start of the route and they continued with us the rest of the way so our conversation couldn't have been that bad.

A few Ptarmigan were spotted in the boulders fields with their half winter- half summer colors blending in well with the similarly mottled landscape.  
A view near the summit of Bidean Nam Bian, in swirling cloud, scene of a book chapter in my comedic novel (plug, plug, and plug again )     Autohighography,Available on kindle reader 0:98 pence for 500 plus fun filled pages, where I got stuck in a deep hole (Crypt Route) trying to exit through the mountain by the infamous bucket sized opening which then leads onto a vertical cliff face.
All of us returned safety by the path leading over Stob Coire Nam Beith then down to meet the Clachaig Hotel road, seen here. A very nice man in a van spared our weary legs by picking us up here and dropping us off at our vehicles, saving us much glen walking effort in the process. Thank you kind Samaritan.
 On the Sunday I should have captured Rannoch Moor under near perfect conditions but a dodgy on off switch on my new camera meant that the battery was completely drained as it had switched on at some point during the night unnoticed and I didn't have a spare. A design feature which is a big improvement from the last model which never switched on unless you meant it. So much of modern life these days seems to be a backward step instead of true progression and I for one am totally sick of it. My cooker is over 40 years old and still functions perfectly which is why I hang on to many gadgets made in the past without an inbuilt deliberately short life span attached as they are the only ******* things in my house at the moment that work consistently without any problems. These days the cardboard box it comes in lasts longer than the contents inside. ( You can tell I,m having a bad week with computer problems and several things going AWOL on me at once after a disgustingly short lifespan :o) The life cycle of a flea lasts longer!
Anyway, I was gutted as it's not many weekends you get perfect conditions and mirror reflections over Rannoch Moor on club weekends. No photos therefore from Sunday which I,m actually glad about now with the amount of sheer hassle and set backs I've had just trying to post this one entry online. If I did become rich by winning the lottery you wouldn't see me for ******* dust as I,d be off to a better life than the totally frustrating, ********* god awful one I have at the moment. (deep breath.)

Anyway, musically I always prefer to look forward to find new groups rather than old and these two girls are really cooking now, song wise. An electric number in a different style by an Indy pair that really deserve to hit the big time. Unfortunately, there is so much out there it's harder than ever to get noticed and an original new David Bowie, Kate Bush or traditional singer song writer tends to get lost in an unrelenting  tidal wave of regurgitated mediocrity. I wanna play Scrooge at Christmas and take ordinary folks money and happiness away.... I think I'd be good at it if the position wasn't already filled by the current government and the EU. Nuff said.... over and out.

Thursday 13 November 2014

Glamaig. Red Cuillin. Skye Trip.

This is the final third day from our Skye trip a couple of months ago when my camera bit the dust and I had to borrow a spare camera from Alex. A view looking across at Ben Tianavaig which looks like a great little hill with the Storr summit behind. It was a fairly hazy day but dry with light winds.
The route Alex picked for his ascent up Glamaig, just above the sliggy campsite was from the road not far past the Sconser House Hotel and the ferry pier for Raasay. A very faint path led up through thick heather to the start of the scree runs which cover the slopes of this mountain. Although a fast way up it was pretty brutal and unrelenting although it looked all right from the bottom looking up. It was so steep in a few places through numerous small bands of rock I was considering descending by another line but eventually we reached a level shelf and could take time to recover.
Even from the Loch Sligachan side it looked steep and unrelenting, peering down.
The Head of Loch Sligachan.

Great if slightly misty views started to open up by the halfway stage.
Dun Caan and Raasay from Glamaig.
Looking towards the Red Cuillin and Bla Bheinn behind that.
Alex on the ridge.
The summit ridge of Glamaig, the best bit of the day.

Heading for the summit. A nice panoramic ridge walk.
On the way back down we knew the forecast was for another day of reasonably good weather on Skye. "Do you fancy staying up and doing Ben Tianavaig tomorrow? Alex asked.
"I'll do it if you want to stay up here but my legs are telling me otherwise. I replied honestly. The descent was twice as bad as the route up which really hammered our toes, legs and creaking knees.
"How about just going home then? He inquired.
" Best news all day. How do you feel.?
"Knackered. The hills seem much higher than in the past. How did we manage to do this stuff every day for a week then hit the pub every night years ago on holiday.
"Is that not a line from a Roxy song? We were young and keen then."
" I'm still keen." He replied. "Just sore and broken.... temporarily."
So we did.... go home that is.

The Roxy song by another old guy who is still soldiering on manfully despite the years. Mind you if we had Aussie multi instrumentalist Jorja Chalmers with us on Skye we would probably have managed Ben Tianavaig no problem. Sax or no sax....
Ah, to be young again.........great song.

Wednesday 12 November 2014

Peebles. Border Beauty Captured. Bothy X weekend.

                                                  ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN

"Like leaves changing colour then falling from trees over a span of autumn days, you only see the ones in front of you that make the most impression; either in vibrancy of colour, special mood you were in, or the magical place in which they fell. Taken as a whole they blur together and this often holds true for memory. Our club over the years had many trips together, some good, some indifferent, some bad. The ones in this book are selected highlights, that for one reason or another, stand out vividly and neither time nor old age will erase them from my soul. " Extract from The Borderers. A.

                                                          Two views taken in Peebles.

An invitation to go to a very special bothy in a beautiful area was not one to be turned down. So it was that a group of us, led by custodian Mike and his friend Paul, agreed to visit what is easily my favourite part of the Scottish Borders. The wide lands between Dalself then the river gorge to Lanark... The Pentlands down through Black Barony... Cairn Table... Tinto... Peebles down to Melrose- take in some of the finest rolling landscapes in Britain but it is often not that easy to capture this area's unique and varied charm. The light, the shifting air, and the shadows over the mountains continually change and sometimes it's pure luck if you capture it properly. This time I hope I have done the landscape here justice.
When it came to writing a full chapter about it in a book- describing a border October and walking into a bothy in full autumn colours  it was a challenge I really enjoyed to see if I could project vivid pictures from my own memory into someone's else's imagination. This time the photographs will have to take the place of descriptive writing however.
Scenery near Peebles. John Buchan Way.
On the way down to bothy X on the Saturday morning Alex had his usual hill tick planned. Even he admitted this might be a boring one for me to tag along so he offered to drop me off near Peebles instead where I could walk a section of the John Buchan Way from The Glack and the Black Dwarf's Cottage then over Cademuir Hill and round to Manor Sware where I could pick up the riverside path along the River Tweed back into Peebles. This walk, although modest, has magnificent views and you are following in the footsteps of Richard Hanney, Buchan's most recognised spy story to the general public. "The 39 Steps" Much of the book is set in the landscape Buchan was very familiar with and he spent many childhood holidays in Broughton, another lovely village. OS Land Ranger maps. Sheet 72 and 73.
The John Buchan Way was created in 2003 and is a modest example of its genre as it can be done in a day and it is only 13 miles long from Peebles to Broughton. Although short it does pack in some magnificent scenery throughout its length. It is no coincidence that the border chapter to the secret bothy in my own book is chapter 13 as I have packed it full to the gunnels with oblique references to well known art, famous novels, music, and loads of other stuff that people will never get, even if they bother to read it. There's a reason it took two long years to write :o)
This is an area I have loved since my first visit here in my teens and it is one of the few places which seems to remain timeless, although this is obviously not the case. Fisherman on the River Tweed, above.
The view from Cademuir Hill. Horses and cyclists. It is also one of the great areas for landscape cycling although many seem content these days, even in good weather, to hide themselves away in the twisting stygian depths of Glentress Forest. I've cycled there once. Nice meals in the cafĂ©. Found the actual "cycling" along hairpin fixed trails with zero views of the surroundings very puzzling. An ambulance arrived while we were there to take someone who had missed a steep turn and crashed into a tree to hospital. Similar to the graded runs you get in downhill skiing. Different strokes for different folks.
I prefer to see around me and admire the wide open views when I take to the bike. Glen Tress is like an outdoor gym to me and I just don't see the point of it although it always seems to pack them in as it's fashionable at the moment to cycle deep within forestry plantations. Rain or shine. Glad they have found a use for them at last. Given the number of crashes I have had on smooth wide tarmac I would need full body armour just to reach the finish line in one peice. Cyclists going over Cademuir hill.
A view looking down in the other direction.
The stunning beauty of the borders landscape in these next photographs. I doubt I will take better ones than these of this area.
Love the soft pastel colours and the way the hills recede one after another into a distant milky haze.
A special area. My favourite photo of the pack. The pick of the litter.
The walk along the River Tweed is also scenic and just round this bend the outline of Neidpath Castle dominates the valley.
Peebles was soon reached again after a memorable few hours and Alex arrived from his hill a short time later.
The walk into the bothy, which isn't too far away, was also one of enjoyment. This is a private one run by the BBA for youth and community groups and shall remain nameless. There's far too much information already on bothy locations on the net and this information never goes away. If you know where it is keep it to yourself :o) Hush hush., need to know basis protocol involved.
Inside the bothy. Joining us were Radek and Gordon, who had cycled in all the way from Edinburgh, John, nearest fire, and Scott, another keen cyclist. Gavin, Mike, Paul and Alex are also present, just not in this picture. I'm surprised Scott didn't cycle there and back from Glasgow as 100 miles in an outing is small beans to him these days :o) Check out that fluffy white carpet. A different class of bothy experience altogether.
Getting ready to leave the bothy the next day.
Secret procedure for locking up that is so undercover the participant has to remain blindfolded while securing the door in case he accidently sees the code.
What we got up to on the Sunday is also covered under the official secrets act and cannot be divulged either. Many thanks to Mike for a great and unusual weekend.
         The River Tweed. Scottish Borders. The number 13 is significant here in other ways.