Monday 28 September 2020

The Pentlands. Part Two. A Gallery of The Seasons.


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Looking something up recently for the previous Pentland Hills post I discovered I had enough photos, taken in all the different seasons of the year, with various companions, for an overall scenic gallery or two. Enough to truly capture this much loved Edinburgh hill range in all its unique glory. A sweeping and majestic viewpoint here of The Pentlands from the moors above Carlops. A week of heavy snowfalls over the east coast landscape a month previously was now rapidly melting under a strong Spring sun.

 A walk of great beauty unfolded, most of it undertaken over grass slopes with Alex chasing targets on his hill bagging list at the time but when we did hit any snow patches they were sometimes ankle to thigh deep to cross. Wading downwards was fine... wading up slope much harder. On a few occasions however snow firm enough in certain places to permit very enjoyable and lengthy standing glissades down the slopes occured. Once a common experience for me on the mountains but a rare treat these days.

A lone buzzard looking for a meal.

The Pentlands run from Edinburgh's suburban outskirts heading south west and inland for around 20km before they fade out into lower grassland near the town of Lanark. This is the hill range starting to drop lower here near the Black Mount region. Still scenic but sheltered enough for green pastures and livestock to thrive.

You can come across unexpected sights on the lower slopes. Fallow deer here.

A sideways view. Happy lawnmowers in action. Young animals by the look of them.

I wonder what chickens think when rabbits suddenly pop out of holes in their midst?

The joy of Spring sunshine and young lambs doing push ups on the grass. Give me twenty more solider. Feel the burn!

And the opposite side of the coin. Hungry adults looking for a handout after several weeks of deep snow and minus 12 overnight temperatures. 

Although the Pentland summits sit below 2000 feet, in winter they can provide challenging but fun conditions. Waist deep snow sometimes or hard packed slopes where you need crampons to climb to the top. Enjoyable in every season.

Even in lush summer conditions they provide walks to think about. An old stone bridge on a right of way path to Mendick Hill. Constructed in 1620 apparently so the same age as the Mayflower and the Pilgrim Fathers sailing to North America. Makes you wonder about the dramatic changes in the USA since- the industrial revolution- the railroads across the plains- cowboys- Indian wars- farming dustbowls- depression era gangsters- the skyscraper cities emerging slowly from virgin swamps or forests... yet this view here has hardly changed in all that time period. A kind of landscape immortality that's very rare in the modern world so close to settled lands.

Arthur's Seat and the Pentlands from the middle of the Firth of Forth shipping lanes. Diffuse sun in winter.

Climbing up Scald Law.  579 metres  or 1,899 feet. Feels higher on a raw winter day.

Think this is Ron on the walk in to Scald Law from the Bavelaw Castle side of the ridge. 

Cutler Fell in early morning winter sunshine. One of the delights of the Pentland Hills nearer Lanark is views like this looking south and further inland towards the higher mountains of the Southern Uplands. Cutler Fell, a remote and wild summit is 748 metres, 2,457 feet high and feels every inch of that bulk in winter, plodding along across extensive upward slopes and false summits as I can testify on another of Alex's hill bags. But an exciting outing.

This quieter end of the Pentland Hills lends itself to great lightning effects as well throughout the year.

Small woods and mist pockets. Sheet 72 Upper Clyde Valley is a fantastic OS Landranger map to have on your person, offering dozens of beautiful, and very quiet days out.

Misty Day. Sheep in Winter.

Sunset on the Pentlands.

An evening with Anne in Edinburgh. The Pentlands rising behind the illuminated city with Hillend Ski Slope lit up... to be continued....

Monday 21 September 2020

The Pentlands. Swanston Village to Bonaly Country Park. Edinburgh's Hills and Suburbs. Part one.


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Another post from the winter months I never got around to putting up until now. Arthur's Seat from the Edinburgh suburbs showing its steep western summit edge of vertical cliffs. I had decided to visit the Pentland Hills on Edinburgh's outskirts and an area I'd not walked before. Normally in the past I'd always visited the Pentlands, a shapely hill range of grassy peaks running from Edinburgh's south western suburban edge to the higher Border Hills around Biggar, by car. Most hill-walkers stick to the 20 or so summits closest to Edinburgh, and these are the most popular, but hanging around with Alex, a lifetime bagger and list ticker, I also got to know the other hills further away that few walkers frequent. These might not be as visually dramatic as the Pentlands closer to the capital city but these separate, more individually distant, much quieter, wilder peaks have their own distinct charm, especially in winter. (that will be part two.) 

To get there by bus meant three separate bus rides. One from my house to Glasgow City Centre. One from Glasgow to Haymarket in Edinburgh. One from Haymarket up to Hillfoot and the edge of the Pentlands. Around six hours total travel time there and back so an early start and a late finish during the shorter daylight hours of winter. I hoped it would be worth all the effort. I had a good book, Syndrome E by French writer Franck Thilliez to pass the time during the boring middle section of the trip, city to city. (On local city buses I'm always interested in my surroundings, as big cities always change so fast, year on year.) Swanston Village, seen above, is where I got off the local bus and I've been keen on visiting this place for decades as it occasionally popped up in photographs looking very pretty each time. You should never meet your heroes though... Maybe at one time in the past I might have liked it, with a different, more old fashioned ambiance, but nowadays, I have to confess, I was very disappointed in it. Maybe it was the day, or the long travel ride, or too high expectations beforehand but there was not much to it at all and it was now an upmarket enclave of the type I,m very familiar with all too well. Trendy in fact, with all the usual accoutrements of that genre. So no pleasant surprises awaited me apart from an ice covered road as there was a hard morning frost and no sun to melt it.

Swanston was just a posh restaurant, a riding stables, a couple of rows of admittedly quaint cottages,   but with modern upmarket cars parked outside so it was very hard to avoid the current reality of the situation. In my imagination beforehand it should have been a rustic hay cart and an old horse as transport. (some creative photography was required to get these shots without automobile intrusion occurring and give it some period charm that it didn't actually have. I'd imagine the other photographers did the same, missing things out, which took me in as the viewer, years ago. Similar in some ways to  old walled towns in the remote desert regions..., romantic and timeless structures only if you can ignore the often brand new spaghetti rivers of silver air conditioning/ central heating pipes and ducts running into the various homes. Probably bought with tourist money or scenic big film location revenue. A curse for visiting cameras to try and avoid but a modern necessity and boon for locals who have to live there.)

And that was about it.

This set of cottages seemed to be getting a makeover with loads of banging and hammering inside.

With nothing to keep me in Swanston I headed out along the right of way path to Bonaly along the bottom of Allermuir Hill. I had enjoyed the various bus rides and scenery from the windows but part of the reason for my current downer is that I hate grey days with a vengeance. The title of the blog is fitting as I've never subscribed to the view  "there's no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes."

My mood has always been linked to the weather since birth. I rarely enjoy myself on grey listless days. I always enjoy myself on sunny days... in thunderstorms, wild seas, big weather events. Colour- excitement- forces of nature. .. and this wasn't it. Walking along here I was really bored. Listless. What was forecast originally as being sunny all day long when I set off had changed by the time I arrived here to dull, gloomy, grey, and cold. And so was I.

Arthur's Seat and Blackford Hill (metal tower on top) from above Dreghorn. The temperature stayed around freezing and this side of the Pentlands happened to be in a winter frost hollow- so any sign of the sun and blue skies would remain hidden on the other side of the range as long as I stayed here. I had not intended to go up any hills but I was so despondent I thought I should shake off this listless ennui with a blast of hard uphill exercise. As ever, the hills in my thinking were just obstacles in the way. As ever the real prize for me here was a re-acquaintance with Ra. The sun god. 

Away with the dreary grey of Edinburgh skies... upwards and over to the sunshine. I took out my map, took off my woolly hat ( as my ears were freezing when walking fast) and had a drink and something to eat. My new plan was to go up the Howden Burn by a steep uphill track, then over the summits of Woodhouselee Hill, Castlelaw Hill 466 metres, Capelaw Hill 464 metres, Harbour Hill 421 metres and Bell's Hill 406 metres. In doing so I hoped to shock myself out of lethargy.. or die trying. 

Halfway up the track, and 2/3rds of the way up the hillside I looked back down, gratified to see I'd done the steepest part of the incline... and was puzzled to see a small black dot on the grass beside my lunch spot. It was with sudden horror that I realized it was my best black mountain bunnet, the one I'd used to keep my ears warm. Any other bunnet (hat) I'd leave behind but this one was special and I'd never get another one like it. ( I had two inferior spares already, left in the house.) So with a heavy heart and a curse I trudged back down to retrieve it... losing almost a km of hard won uphill track in the process....

Then all of a sudden some weird alchemy occurred. A Gurdjieff moment. Slogging up the same track and incline a second time I started to enjoy myself.... and that coincided, moments later, with a weak sun appearing. I was happy again. The shapely peaks of West Kip 551 metres, East Kip, 534 metres and Scald Law 579 metres (1,899 feet) appeared across the central plateau.  Did the sun appear because I was happy or was I happy because the sun arrived? Do you believe in magical thinking? I am a demigod after all :o)

 Open views and a touch of honeyed sunshine was all it took. Western Pentlands here in this one.....- individual separate broad summits, Caringorm like, instead of the multi peak switchback ridge lines of the eastern group. No more grey lands.

Off I went, battering over the named summits as if height and distance seemed a nonsensical concept. Not applicable in any way. I had regained a sense of purpose again. Rocket fuel for any brain.

Pre- Covid 19 days so on this occasion I enjoyed empty hills and summits, only two other hill-walkers encountered the entire day. Sweet solitude was mine to savour.

And the company of savage beasts enjoyed.

An un-frozen Bonaly dam on the long descent.

Wandering down to Bonaly Country Park off the Pentland summits I encountered a mountain biker coming up the track, Wester Hailes and Sighthill in the background. I was impressed as the track gradient was relentless, covered in ice in places, and didn't even have a logical easy through route to anywhere else. Requiring Tour De France levels of energy and commitment. Even walking up it would be hard... on a bike... desperate. Yet just as tricky on the descent with all that ice to avoid.

 Yet there appeared two of them... Even at my physical peak on a bike I would never dream of cycling up this track ( this was an easy section, most of it was really steep)

Bonaly Country Park was nice though. a series of scenic paths through rugged little hills and several dams. A place to come back to sometime. I didn't realise until I looked closely at these photos that what I thought was ordinary farm livestock in sheds was Llamas or Alpacas. Too far away to tell and I was getting tired by this time. I also wanted to get back into Edinburgh City Centre before it got dark with three bus trips still to negotiate back to my house.

George Street Edinburgh. These days I don't mind wandering about in the dark in areas I know but I've found in totally unfamiliar parts of cities I've never been in before it's just an extra level of navigational stress I can do without. I always carry a torch now as sometimes extra lighting just to see bus stops, numbers, maps, or street names is often required in the dark. I got lost at night in Perth several years ago and went round in circles, almost missing the last bus back to Glasgow as the bus station there was well out from the city centre. I quite like getting lost... but not at night when I'm really tired with a long journey still to come. 

St Andrew Square. Central Edinburgh.

Illuminated Gardens. Edinburgh at night.

Multrees Walk and Edinburgh Bus Station in sight at last.

And over an hour and a half later back in Glasgow city centre. George Square in the rain. Christmas lights. Six different buses in total.

Royal Exchange Square in freezing winter rain. Glasgow at Christmas. A bit of an epic but a trip that should live long in the memory.

The colours, the night-time wanderings through strange darkened streets and alleys in that far east coastal city...then back here.... the pleasure of coming home and resting up at last. Warm and fed after a 14 hour winter journey.

And if you want to experience the tropical version in a few brief minutes then here it is. Another world of colour and strange allure.

Saturday 12 September 2020

Kelvingrove- University of Glasgow- Night Walks. Nocturnal Elements.


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This is part of a night walk I did with Anne in the winter months 2019-2020 before  Covid 19 restrictions arrived that I never got around to posting until now. We had tickets to see something at the Oran Mor, a venue at the top of Byres Road next to the Botanic Gardens, but as Anne had not explored the University of Glasgow grounds at night and an event called Elfingrove was on at the nearby Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum we decided to go there first. We got off the bus at the Barclay Curle Crane at Scotstoun. Only a dozen or so of these massive cantilever cranes still exist around the world, most capable of lifting well over 100 tons ( the weight of an early 1900s steam locomotive say, built in Springburn then exported around the planet via the River Clyde) which might explain why the Clyde has four of the last survivors. One at Finnieston, this one at Scotstoun, The Titan at Clydebank and another Titan at Greenock Docks.

We then walked up to Argyle Street just as it was getting dark. The Kevingrove Art Gallery and Museum plus the University of Glasgow, on its hill, is just to the left of this photo.

By the time we walked up to the University of Glasgow it was fully dark. Inside the courtyard square.

A view of the University Tower, the extra lights in the sky are coming from the Elfingrove display.

Church and Christmas Tree. University Avenue.

The towers of Kelvingrove seen from the University of Glasgow flagpole viewpoint.

The Cloisters area at Christmas, situated under the University of Glasgow tower.  

Front view of the University of Glasgow. Founded in 1451 so the 4th oldest university in the English speaking world apparently. Originally situated in the city centre this current building on its West End hilltop was constructed in the 1870s. It dominates the Glasgow skyline seen from the west and south side.

A day time view of it from the woodlands of Nitshill (nuts-hill) showing the tower (right) and the grey modern section (left) containing the University's Gallery of Modern Art and the University Library. The Campsie Fells behind. The white flagpole in the middle is probably the summit of Ruchill Park.

One showing how close the mountains are to the university. 30 minutes drive away. Naturally, it has its own mountaineering club.

And so the darkness... back within the university grounds.

Christmas Light Display. Elfingrove.

A distance view. Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. The interior was open at night for a ticketed walk through but it seemed to be mainly geared for children after the popularity of  the 'night at the museum' films so we didn't go in having other, more adult, events on offer. We did like the light-show though and it was free to view.

The back entrance. More of a Disney vibe rather than the edgy darkness of True Blood so we gave it a miss, surrounded by eager little breadsnappers as we were. It did get mixed reviews over the interior set up.

The lighting displays of the exterior though could not be faulted. Very spectacular. Linda McCartney's photographic exhibition still on as you can see. That ended in January 2020.

Snowflake Display.  Then on to the Oran Mor....

Then Glasgow City Centre.... A great night out.

Normally not my taste in music but this is brilliant and clever. For Anne. Amazing what you can create with a few sugar cubes.