Monday 27 April 2015

Lockerbie. Eskdalemuir Forest Trip. Bothy nights.

As Alex and John had planned a weekend away together bagging hills the initial west coast Corbett pilgrimage into the mountains was switched at the last minute to the Scottish Border region in the hope of better weather. It was forecast for heavy rain all up the north west side of the country but dull and mainly dry in the Borders all weekend. I always love Scottish Baronial style old town halls like this one with a high four sided viewing platform that you can stride across, looking important and distinguished as you pee over the side onto the heads of the peasants below. These high balconies seldom receive a prestigious visit anymore. Very Rapunsel and Brothers Grimm though.
Lockerbie itself is a pleasant place with a hint of fairy tale about it as it has a scattered collection of stone sheep trotting down the main street, a beautiful example of a dark Angel holding an upturned raised sword on the war memorial  and a Tibetan Buddhist monastery not far away. David Bowie and Leonard Cohan both studied here during the 1960s and Billy Connolly has also visited it frequently. There has been a Buddhist presence here since the late 1960s and it is still one of the most important Buddhist sites in Europe. Worth viewing the slide show in here.

As we don't get down here that often I was keen to have a walk around Lockerbie and was drawn to the idea of a visit to the Samye Ling Centre and surrounding gardens. I had my tourist head on and was looking forward to some good photos, if permitted to take them. As a big L. Cohan fan I think Alex has been here to the centre but it was all new to me. Sadly, life with others can be a compromise sometimes, on trips away, so we stopped briefly at a retail park instead for coal, kindling and food supplies. They had timed it to perfection, in that we only had enough time left for a cycle run into a remote bothy before nightfall and we had no time for sightseeing. ( "Better make it a mid day pick up... that''ll stop that mad bugger dragging us off to all the points of interest along the way".... usual instructions I suspect from various club members over many, many years. " It's supposed to be a hillwalking club. If you want to go off on a sightseeing tour you've joined the wrong outfit pal. What is it with you and visiting gardens!!!, flowers!!!, statues!!, and unusual buildings?? anyway!   I'd like to take that camera and stick it up your....................... It's a distraction from the mountains.... so it is." Quote- unquote from the early 2000s. Just one of many!!!
Eskdalemuir is a region noted for its sheep and wool trade (Hence the stone sheep in Lockerbie as it has held a well known lamb market here for hundreds of years, and the town itself has Viking and Roman roots. As we were packing up the bikes about a dozen of these big aggressive sheep made their presence felt in an adjoining field. Aggressive is not a word commonly associated with sheep but these big brutes roared instead of "baaaad" and were not intimidated in the slightest even when I walked over to see what all the racket was about. Maybe they had just been separated from their lambs and recognized the three of us as potential lamb eaters.
This big beast was also a startling sight in the wild. Dead of course but pretty impressive clicked full screen. The heavyweight division of UK frog-toad. com.
Primrose on hillside. The sunny Butter Petals of a Scottish Highland Spring.
The first part of our journey was fairly scenic with typical borders open landscape but we soon climbed higher and entered one of the largest blanket conifer plantations in Europe, comprising Eskdalemuir Forest and two other massive plantations connecting into it nearby.  Kielder Forest, just over the English Border is a similar empty region of rolling moorland covered in monoculture forest with a few scattered bothies hidden deep inside a dark green sea flowing over hill ranges.
The last beautiful open valley before the desolation to come.
Bikes heavy with fat old men, overnight gear and coal, we set off. It was an 8 mile cycle into this bothy and my companions set a fast pace.... until the first major hill arrived....upwards.
The strange thing about Alex is that he's always up for this sort of cycling, which was hard, but has seemingly no interest in cycling flatter areas with  much nicer scenery involved... like canals or minor road networks . He always walks up hills these days anyway, even with a bike, to savour each incline  and there were a few more steep ones for him to enjoy and get his shop bought new plastic teeth into on the long haul in.
John managed to stay in the saddle most of the way as he's determined and younger and I was somewhere in between... in a cycling sense of course........ I didn't wasn't that kind of outdoor trip........
Just real hard men staying together in bothies. Bloke culture. Drinking... big fire... tales of yesteryear, the Witches Tower and Rapunzel... well, it was supposed to be a remote high prison in a deep dark forest she was held in after all by the cruel and devious Dame Gothel.......... who probably tricked her away from the bright lights and safe twinkling sparkles of city life to that remote and empty stone prison.... with few home comforts.... no electricity..... no sockets............ no internet!!!.
And we had it all to our-self's......... except for half a dozen or so MBA guys up for a team area meeting, some of whom we had bumped into occasionally over the decades. Alex here is talking to one of them.

We entered the other room... Still no sign of Rapunzel with her unfeasibly long hair. How did she walk with 40 feet of hair trailing behind her? Swimming would be very tricky too I'd imagine... and as for the weekly shopping trip out to Lockerbie. Nightmare!
The bothy floors looked nice and clean though as if we'd just missed her tiding up. Maybe she cleaned all the bothies up just by visiting each room. Like a hairy living duster wandering the landscape. Sweet girl and very useful.
The room already had occupants however. It was suitably dark and gothic inside.. like all bothies are when eventually reached in the dark after a cold damp evening. This area holds many UK weather records for dire conditions apparently, and often clocks up as the most sunless place in Scotland in summer...moss and murk-laden.... dampest forest.... heaviest rainfall etc..... A family used to live happily in this cottage in the early 1900s however, in a sheltered, more open glen, before the surrounding ocean of dark, tightly packed trees grew up to swallow down the surroundings.  Hey, it even sounds like a fairy tale world.

With Rapunzel gone it was the usual bear cave scenario in action but this time with no thieving Goldilocks stealing plates of porridge from hard working earners. Sitting on her bum all day... entering other people's property...smashing up chairs...falling asleep on someone else's bed then doing a runner without payment or apology. We know your sort, Blondie! Get an Asbo served on her sorry cheating body right away magistrate!
Innocent little Lady Gulp Gulp scoffing all our grub then ruining our nice home. Good riddance shorty! Shave her head then lock her up in that empty tower room.Try the same hair trick twice?... I think not... Baldy-locks.
Can you spot the owl in the fire embers children? And a hooded bird creature with cold dark eyes just above it?  I can. And two people having a conversation?  Fire embers always have faces in their depths.

That window needs a proper set of bright curtains though. Lemon or cream flowers with a pattern perhaps?
 Maybe that's why you don't get many women in bothies.. and very rarely visiting on their own.... as it's still the Wild West out here.. far beyond the reach of any town sheriff, wandering law man or bounty hunter. The preserve of hard men doing hard remote locations......without girls........or curtains!.........just other hard mountain men........................................... who didn't want to visit a colourful golden temple, see ornate gardens and spring bulbs or scenic town architecture on the way home either!!!!   Baa!.........  And I got a back wheel puncture and a wet soggy saddle for the ride back as it poured down overnight.

And so to this....
This time it's a remarkable selection from German performance Artist, Composer, Dancer, Ballet Director, and renowned Modern Dance Choreographer Pina Bausch who pushed the boundaries of performance art over several decades and this video is a small celebration of her work and life. Starts with interest then quickly builds into some stunning and original sets, dance moves and ideas. Dead Can Dance have some of the most intriguing and beautifully different videos on you tube and this is one.


Monday 20 April 2015

Dumbarton to Balloch. The River Leven Swamp.

                                                 ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN
As I had several other things to do on Sunday in the morning it was after 1:00 o clock in the afternoon before I was free to go out. Normally this would be too late for an adventurous day but the great thing about a bike is that 3 or 4 hours can give you a cracking ride through a variety of scenery in a short space of time. Not even stopping for lunch, as it was a great sunny day I tossed the bike in the car and 30 minutes later I was parked at Dumbarton. Mallard drake above.
Although I've been in Dumbarton and Balloch many times it's been at least ten years since I walked the River Leven between the two towns. Under 10km as the crow flies The River Leven as it snakes through the Vale of Leven indulges in some mighty bends, two loops containing an acreage of ground the size of small to medium city parks. This river drains the entire volume of the 23 mile long Loch Lomond, and is the second fastest river in Scotland, after the Spey.
Unless you have walked or cycled along its length, or live in the area, most people will not have heard of the Lomond Swamp, an extensive marshland habitat that spreads over the floodplain between Renton and Dumbarton and most winters gets a new influx of water across it when Loch Lomond receives heavy rainfall or the sea floods in during storms or high spring tides.It's brackish enough for seals to swim right up the Leven and into Loch Lomond, though they can only stay a week to so before they become ill and swim back to the sea. Who knows what other sea creatures from Neptune's Dungeon lurk in the swamp? Sometimes the adjacent walkway/Cycle-track (Route 7 again folks, see last post) disappears under several feet of water and the river struggles to cope with rainwater draining from the steep mountainsides that line this large loch. On a fine sunny day however it's a beautiful place.
According to the information boards along the route, most of which are sadly smashed and hard to read, Robert the Bruce spent his last years near here at Mains of Cardross. A canal, which may have been originally dug out to get the building blocks of stone delivered for his manor house, ran from that into the Leven and there is some evidence that he had a small dock with boats, that being the best way to get around fast in medieval times, as rivers were the highways of the age. As a celebrated veteran of the often vicious Wars of Independence and eventually the liberator of Scotland and King of Scots he spent his free time hunting, fishing and wild fowling in the marshes near here until his death. When he died his last wishes were carried out and his heart was taken by his loyal comrades in arms in a silver casket to fight in the holy lands as he'd always vowed to do when alive. Full story here.
In busy places like Dumbarton the traffic free walkway/cycle-track is divided in two, in outlying areas it's more informal. It goes through a mix of environments from quiet rural countryside to running along the edge of post industrial, semi built up areas, but is never less than interesting throughout and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Around 2 and a half to 3 hours walk one way at a reasonable pace, more if you stop to explore the many points of interest slightly off route. For instance, Levengrove Park in Dumbarton, down beside the Firth of Clyde, is worth a visit by bike or foot.
Main road bridge across the river at Dumbarton.
Dumbarton was looking pretty in the afternoon sunlight with a full display of spring daffodils on show.
Not used to the weather being so good in Scotland.We normally get a few good days here and there but two full weeks of sunshine without any rain is slightly unusual.
The church at Bonhill on the River.
One of the loops on the River Leven. These days the river has several beautiful secluded areas but in the past it was an important industrial base for textiles, printing factories and dyeing works and led the world for many years as the centre of the Turkey Red technique. a secret method of permanent cloth dyeing as red was a notorious colour at that time for running and this area had perfected the method of fixing the colour onto cloth and fabric before anyone else in the UK and most of Europe. The river used to run red into the sea on occasions and was heavily polluted. By the 1960s most of the heavy industry along both banks had disappeared and unemployment and decline took hold. Like many UK post industrial towns in the 1970s,1980s and 1990s the vale had serious problems with slum housing, poor job prospects, alcohol dependency, gangs and drugs.Good industrial history here when this sleepy backwater was a powerhouse and driving light of commerce before London and the south east became the new economy hub of Britain with most other districts of the UK picking up the leftover scraps.The sheer number of different factories lining the banks of this short modest river is astounding.  Pictures in here of all the various works and samples of coloured fabrics.

                                                                Stencil on cycle-track.
Although it has improved a lot in the past 10 years, both in terms of new housing stock and in the natural quality of the surroundings, drugs, drink, gangs and poor employment prospects still blight this area and the current austerity drive certainly isn't helping with over one million now depending regularly on food bank handouts in this country thanks to government sanctions and a massive increase in low paid or zero hours contract jobs. Ironically, some if not all of the political parties that are currently campaigning for an end to these types of jobs have been found to be using them themselves, and even the Queen has given them the royal stamp of approval. Cake for some... crumbs for others. This world will never change. Suicide is the biggest killer of young people in the UK today, many times higher than knife crime, cancer or drug deaths. That's got to tell you something.
A view of the Lang Craigs from the River.
The central section of the Leven is very fast flowing,with powerful currents, particularly after heavy rain or snow-melt in the mountains and gallops along faster than a person running flat out. Swimming is not an option here unless you want to get to Helensburgh faster than the bus or train service. In medieval times a ferry used to carry passengers across from bank to bank near this spot where the river is slightly wider and calmer. A chain ferry connected the later works and you can still see the stone supports of an old railway bridge.
I spotted this mallard in the distance upstream, trying to swim across the river and even he was soon in trouble, paddling hard but making little headway except downstream in the swift current. Exhausted, he took to the air and landed a few feet from where I was having lunch. His reward was half an almond slice and he seemed quite happy he'd crossed the river after that. Beautiful colours and green sheen.
Nearing Balloch and the start of the moored boats.
Lomond Shores and hire kayaks and canoes. Being Easter it was mobbed with tourists. They even had Segway Scooters, mountain bikes and small boats for hire and seemed to be doing a reasonable trade here in the fine weather but for me personally if you were enterprising enough you could look around and pick up a cheap second hand model for the price they were charging per day.
My main aim was to get a view of Loch Lomond to complete my river trip then head back to Dumbarton again and this was achieved without fuss. A very enjoyable 3 to 4 hours at an easy pace.
Well worth doing. By bike or on foot. If walking, regular trains take you back from Balloch or walk downstream to Dumbarton.
Loch Lomond. Birthplace of the River Leven.

Smashing video here. Mountain  and volcano scenery in majestic full screen HD  then a collage of different and fast disappearing cultures around the world. The planet is the same size it always was but the difference now is any conflict or war zone seems to impact directly and immediately around the world thanks to ease of travel and instant communications. Trouble or instability in parts of Africa or the Middle East used to be too far flung to be relevant to Europe but now any conflict around the world is up close and personal the next day in all our lives.

Saturday 11 April 2015

Balloch to Drymen. Route 7 Loch Lomondside.Duncryne.

                                                ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN.
Spring has arrived once more in Scotland. Easily my favourite season by a mile. The only season.
First come Snowdrops, still in the grey depths of winter... the pure hearted first born children...
........................................................then Crocus Lawn...arrives........... then...
A Handful of Daffodils....
Then Marsh Marigolds....
Then Wood Anenomes....
..........Then Summer.........................................
So a bike ride was called for.... Balloch to Drymen via route 7 and Duncryne. This route appears as a dotted green line on modern OS Landranger maps Sheet 56 Loch Lomond and also covers the same area on Sheet 64 Glasgow. The Drymen section is on Sheet 57 Stirling and the Trossachs so its a tricky one as it requires two maps to see the full route. Sheet 56, 64 and sheet 57 will never go wrong anyway as they cover loads of other fine walks and open up years of outdoor discovery. This route can either be cycled or walked. Buses run from Glasgow to Drymen or bus or train to Balloch then bus back to Glasgow from Drymen at this end of walk. Around 16 kilometers one way but you could half that distance by getting off at Gartocharn for the walk up nearby Duncryne then walk back along quiet minor roads to Balloch.  Loch Lomond view above.
The minor roads network covering the south east banks of Loch Lomond between Balloch and Drymen then Balfron form a triangle of many opportunities and different routes with no major inclines. Flat or slightly rolling farm landscapes with great views make up for walking mainly on tarmac but cars are few and far between except on the busy A811 which you can easily avoid.
My companion again was Alan as Alex and any other friends only cycle to reach a faraway summit or get the head down to do major distances without stops whereas Alan is open to most suggestions and happy to stop for breaks at interesting viewpoints. This is a view of Ben Lomond which dominates the Route 7 view but changes shape as you travel.
Not much snow left on the hills now although we may yet get another dump before April ends. Just depends what direction the four way weather pattern over the UK comes from. Winds from Russia or the Arctic usually brings cold weather... West or south = warm conditions. I believe the fine Easter weather we enjoyed comes courtesy of the "Spanish Plume" with temperatures up to 22 degrees in early April.
Great for all the kids off school for the holiday break. " Suffer the little children" is not just a biblical quote but a grim reality for holidays in Scotland sometimes but this one was most welcome for families. We parked at the large car park in Balloch beside Balloch Country Park and lost no time in heading off through this to Balloch Castle.
View from Balloch Castle towards Loch Lomond and Cameron House.
The Maid of the Loch moored at Lomond Shores. Free admission to wander around this old static paddle steamer which has a cafe and gift shop inside during the tourist season. Easter to Sep/Oct usually. One of the reasons I can get away most weekends for adventures is the fact that I don't spend any money on trips. I,m not rich, far from it, so I watch my petrol, cut down severely on heating during the winter months as I have a good sleeping bag and rarely buy anything from the shops except food. There is nothing I need anyway when I have all this on the doorstep.
Loch Lomond and the Luss Hills.
The Cobbler and Loch Lomond's Islands. Many a trip out here by second hand kayak £30 and Aldi/ lidl cheap rubber boat (£20 if I remember correctly. Decades of fun to be had with either type of craft) as described in Autohighography.  Balloch can be an expensive honeypot for families but you can have fun for free...anywhere. The modern world seems all about parting you from your hard earned cash nowadays and many people buy into that illusion.
Geese over the Fintry Hills.
A few more geese this time over Duncryne.
We took the minor road leading down to Ross Priory for the views as it's a nice scenic horseshoe. More geese over Duncryne " The Dumpling" to locals. Gartocharn below, where the late Tom Weir and his wife Rhona lived happily for many years. 
The good lady herself is still going strong, has been a prominent hill walker/climber and outdoor lover since childhood and still campaigns for issues she believes in. Good link above.
We then cycled to the lay by under Duncryne, chained the bikes,then climbed to the modest summit in under 30 minutes. Although not high, 142 metres, this has amazing panoramic views over Loch Lomond, its many islands... The River Endrick (seen above in flood conditions.. swollen by rain and snowmelt)...and the surrounding mountains.
River Endrick again just where it flows into Loch Lomond.
The Islands. Inchcailloch. Clairinsh.
Even caught the sea plane coming in to land on Loch Lomond beside Cameron House/ Duck Bay.
A zoom of the sea plane.
Cracking day out. 4 to 6 hour day depending on speed. Total money spent. Around £5 for fuel costs or bus// train ticket from Glasgow.You could also do a circular walk, one of several around the network of lanes, beyond Balloch park.

Found this great video recently and a song I'd never heard before from Kate Bush. Best watched and enjoyed full screen in HD. This fan made video is one of a collection by the enterprising MrMARRS who blends appropriate images together to make stunning visual art. Even if you are not a fan of her music the video is warm and funny in turns. Spent my first long hot summer down in London and the Home Counties as a teenager and this brings it all back. Apples, pears and even grapes growing outdoors in the fields, gardens and orchards of Kent, giant pelicans swallowing pigeons down whole in the city parks, then drinking merrydown cider on the beaches at night in Ilfracombe, Lynton and Padstow with southern friends. A warmer, lush, slightly exotic, evergreen world compared to cold damp Scotland. Apples dangled above the tables from overhanging trees in semi tropical beer gardens and pushy peacocks paraded across the neatly trimmed lawns. I lived all summer in T shirts down there and rarely needed a coat. Some teenagers have gap years but I had a memorable "geas year" and found my own particular grail at the end of it. Enjoy.