family

Team Heavy reprise

With the book finally submitted (bar edits, of which there will no doubt be 'some') and child 1 freed from nursery for the summer, it was time to venture forth once again on our trusty steel steeds, and attempt the full circuit through the woods that we'd trialed a month or two back. 

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A little sketchy hike-a-bike-and-cart over roots, under branches, through heather and bracken, plenty of forestry tracks, relaying kit over the Cairngorm Club footbridge, some flow, some sweat and some push, a little drizzle, some rain and some sun. We made it through to Loch Garten, and a camp so utterly quiet I woke up the family from a half sleep to wonder out loud what the hum was. It was the hum of insects, the sound of the forest. It's hard to explain that sensation to those who haven't experienced it, to express why it's important to have places we can engage with on that level... I think so, anyway. What's the big deal, why should they care? We all should, though, we definitely should.

Our eldest ran alongside the bikes laughing, our youngest crawled around on a pine needled floor, occasionally taking a header. It was only 3 camps and 3 days ride over 4, but we all got dirty and smelly and a little feral, a welcome respite from the end of days atmosphere of the news at the moment. With the kids we camp early, leave late and there plenty of variables other than the environment to factor - naps, feeds, cooking and bed times. Surprisingly full days, even hard - physically and mentally - given that we're not only looking out for ourselves now... one of the touchstones of the outdoors narrative, isn't it, that self reliance, until you go with others. And then you go with your own kids, and realise you didn't know you were born. With our eldest, I'm making an effort not to say 'be careful' as much, but rather say 'be aware' - it's not an easy habit to break.

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I was pleased the circular route came together, although some of it clearly isn't meant to have a bike buggy dragged around it. The Speyside way was a really pleasant surprise and a nice, straightforward finish - it's quite lovely from Boat of Garten to Aviemore in particular. Then there were the tiny joys of exploration - trusting in an old narrow gauge horse and cart trail that hugged the contour, tracing the eskers on a dusky Badenoch Way, the bigger pieces beginning to jigsaw with the smaller ones. I'm joining the dots, the stuff I missed when I came for the mountains only, and am glad and grateful to have the chance to know it better. 

There's been a little interest in how all this works, as far as it does, so as for the practicalities, we use Alpkit and Wildcat Gear frame bags - the former being cheaper and the latter being better made and more rigid... but both work well. I also use a bit of Revelate Designs kit - the patagucci of bikepacking stuff - super durable, large capacity and beautifully made - handy for hauling everyone's sleep kit on my handlebars. I wrote about some of the other gear here, and I wrote about the test run for this trip, here

It wasn't a priority - I was too busy trying to eat enough to haul the bike and buggy - but here's a few more photos to finish up the tale (click to make biggerer).

 

 

Travelogue/Travelodge

Travelogue to Travelodge, we took the road to little England, a land that has gone quite to seed, a land of smiles and good intentions, but sadly low on willpower. A land with heart disease.

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England; no country for old men, but we've travelled south to see one. Oh how you've let yourself go, but then, weren't it ever so? Ours is not a city of dreaming spires and genteel similes shared, it's a city of creosote, concrete and dogshit, lazy racism, casual homophobia and maccy d's. We were always overfed and undernourished, we were always here. We've always wanted someone else to blame, we've always been held to ransom by the same elites. Nothing has changed. The only difference is Russian 'bots and a Waitrose. 

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We pass Pray for Tommy Robinson graffiti in a blur, marvel at her faux-leopard-skin covered crutches, and eat an airless breakfast surrounded by massive, tattooed men with tiny hands clutching smartphones tightly. England sizzles in it's juices. We keep on driving, now on the Dorking road, along mellow sun-streaked ghost holloways, once arteries through a forest that stretched from Essex to the great chalk plains, fragile leather soles swapped for black liquid bones, already half auto-maton.

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Finally, we reach the coast, and a little corner of a foreign field. This is where my stepfather lies. I water a thirsty shrub and clear away some brambles. Forever England, just off the bypass and in-between the housing estates. On the Monarch's Way, widely spaced beech trees hang from chalky Downs, flinty drove roads meander through coppiced woods. A shotgun rings out, spooking the dog. Piles of aggregate stir slightly in the heat haze. The traffic churns on and on, around the roundabouts. England burns. 

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But back on the road, people are unfailingly kind. And in London too, there's a kindness in the crush that doesn't fit the narrative at all. Jan from upstairs offers to lend a hand, Mike and Debbie from across the road have noticed that Dave hasn't been around lately. Our parents might not take your help - they live in fear - but help is there. Dave has delirium; not only a metaphor but a real medical condition. He doesn't recognise his own home, his own fate. The meek can and will get fucked. England waits, ready to wake.

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Taps aff west

Continuing the family theme, a few snapshots from three days on the west coast of Scotland between deadlines, staying on a formal campsite with the pack; a new camera (not entirely convinced), chronic hay fever, an eagle ignored as punters checked their phones, cuckoos and midges at dusk, ice cream at lunch, ridiculous beaches and ridiculous weather. Just as we were due to leave, we figured out the best thing to do was as little as possible. Hoping we'll remember that for next time.

Ship of These/us

This is my grandfather’s axe. My father replaced the head and I replaced the shaft. This is my grandfather’s axe.

Three weeks ago we moved to Kingussie in the Cairngorm National Park. It’s been a busy time. It’s not insignificant to me that my family has returned to the Highlands a lifetime after war took my grandparents south. I have little time for essentialism and I'm staking no claim by mentioning this, simply acknowledging something mysterious to me. Sometimes life moves in circles and cycles that aren’t easily rationalised. I’ve become a civic Scot by dint of choice, defined in celebration of possible futures for my family, not just a flight from an ethnic English death cult. For those that need some escape from that, though, Karma dictates that our door will always be open. You’ll be welcome if you come knocking.

It’s also seven years since I began writing here. A big change affords the chance to look back over one’s shoulder, and I notice that a constant preoccupation has been the relationship between edge and centre, people and place. What you see is where you’re at, and of course the reverse is also true. What this relocation means for me is to finally dissolve those spurious distinctions once and for all, and I guess we’ll see how that goes. I also see reflected in the mirror someone more determined than I expected to be, someone who willed himself closer to the hills and trees and somehow it came true. I don’t expect that to mean anything to you; maybe I had low expectations, but he’s surprised me.

...

Last Sunday, my partner hemorrhaged and was rushed to Raigmore hospital in Inverness. I drove a drowsy three year old into an apocalyptic sunset over the Slochd pass knowing without doubt that we’d lost the baby. Within 24 hours I was driving south again for a night bag while she went under the knife. I couldn’t be in theatre because in haste we had no-one near to take care of our daughter. The baby boy was born six weeks early by Cesarean. My Mum flew up late in the evening, circling over her old home town in the dark almost three score years and ten after she left as an infant herself.

A tiny life hung in the balance for the next two days, miniature lungs not ready to breathe on their own. When not grinding out the practicalities I dry sobbed in the men’s bogs, my partner came to, shouldered and soldiered, and our daughter took the upheaval hard. Mostly we held the jumble and jangle of it all together for each other. Just.

Both mother and baby are much stronger now. The coming months will be challenging, and naturally moments like this are existential and sort the wheat from the chaff. What matters? What is important? As parents, teachers, learners and citizens, we'd better know. Dipping back in to 'reality', the online world seems ever more flimsy and vainglorious, politics a sham and a theatre. By contrast, the people of the Strath have already been so welcoming, and we are lucky and grateful. Now that we’re in the right place for us, our time here has already been more full of people than I could possibly have predicted. Edge and centre? Like I say, it’s been a busy time, and if the last week or so has reaffirmed anything, it’s that timing is everything. Scotland’s future is in the glens, and that future is now.