Variety Pack

When I started this blog, the trips were so far and few between, I think the posts were a way of prolonging the enjoyment, holding on to the experience.  Now, I can't keep up.  Since we moved north of the border we are out every week, day hikes or overnighters, one thing or another.  Life has changed, my relationship to the outdoors has too.   I think the blog will have to follow, but I'm not sure how as yet.  I've grown quite attached to the secular confessional.  In the meantime, a quick flypast to some of the more memorable moments of the last few months...

The trips to Aberlady Bay continue.  I've grown very fond of it there, and will continue to go back and learn more.

Schiehallion is an interesting walk that took me a little by surprise.  It begins on a broad track, so broad and well built I was unsure how to feel about it.  Is this the future for Scotland - motorways on mountains, like parts of the Lake District?  I understand the reasons for substantial pathwork - footfall on popular hills causes real damage to mountain ecology, and organisations like the National Trust and the John Muir Trust are leading practical action and research in protection... but I don't like conveyor belts.  So, I started out warily, but slowly changed my mind.  It's ingeniously done.  About half way up, the main path peters out, and the last 200ms are a mess of boulders left in their natural state.

We went up after lunch, and met so many coming down who were having a real adventure, a proper challenge - it's a popular hill which draws all abilities, but the carefully constructed route had held their hand in just the right way until the mountain top began in earnest, where they learnt not to wobble on their own two feet.  There's just enough path to prevent damage from footfall, and no more.  What's more it follows the long line of the hill, rather than sitting as previously on broad (northern) flank, minimising both erosion and any visual impact.  Very clever stuff.

It's also a deceptively long ascent - don't take it for granted.  Finally, there's the mountaineering history, which for those who understand the attraction makes this Munro pretty much an essential visit.

On our way back we saw the Beuly Denny construction in full effect.  Are we 'in deep symbiosis' with our environment when we do this, as I saw someone comment recently in a newspaper article about wild land industrialisation?  Another person commented that these things shouldn't be done in wild places, but since we'd already trashed it all it didn't really matter....  I'm not a Luddite - I have an issue with the infrastructure, not the technology - with a centralised grid and volume, not with electricity, climate change science or renewables.

For me, it's a problem of capital - and yes I know what happened to Trotsky - but some are just brought up to think they can keep all the sweets in the jar to themselves.  Money, not the environment is the driving force in the Scottish countryside - historically and now, from the clearances for sheep, then deer, to forestry and hydro, to nuclear and the current industrialisation by wind.  Money has crow-barred human identity from its rightful place grounded in the physical reality of earth, to the point that even some wild land advocates unwittingly use the language of misanthropy - the tongue of the oppressor!  Divorce land from identity and language will reflect the schism.  Note the huge growth in food growing and allotments in recent years: people are endeavouring to find a connection with the soil again, on a smaller scale.  Scale is a money problem, and the answer is local.  There is very little nature in the picture below - instead there are layers of industrialised extraction required by a centralised grid.  The picture could be so different. 

Meanwhile, we went on holiday.  Holy Island is not in Scotland, but near enough to the border and chock full of history.  A weekend with my parents, September sun, a trip to the islands on a boat surrounded by Seals and Ganets.  Lindisfarne got alot more commercial in the 20 odd years since last we visited, but the landscape and it's position in the bay is still something else.  I like the borders alot, it's where my grandad was from.

The lighthouse at St. Abbs head was built by the Stevenson family (of 'kidnapped' fame), perched on the very edge of high cliffs backed by odd swirling mounds and lots of nosey sheep.  You can rent a cottage here, apparently. 

Oh yeah, and my mum brought her new dog along, who strained at the leash under herringbone skies.  It was cute.

The Disenchanted Forest  Generally speaking I try to keep things positive here (unless I'm whinging about the environment) but this warrants a special mention.  The Enchanted Forest is run by Highland Perthshire as a tourist exercise, and it works.  Truly vast numbers of visitors are bused into the 'venue' (a small loch near Pitlochry) throughout October to complete a circuit of pretty lights, sounds and other distractions for the princely sum of £15 per head.

Gangly, tongue tied teenagers in Druidic getup fell over their scripts to tell us about types of wood and their uses in 'ancient' times - I felt bad for them, the pseudo mysticism was toecurlingly awkward.  They stood in front of bastardised 'celtic' symbols which represented the language of trees, apparently.  Are you thinking what I'm thinking?  There is no art here, just artifice - for this to be art it would have to be about something more than pretty lights.  We consulted the leaflet given to us on the coach for assistance - what we are seeing seems to have something to do with... trees.  Though what, we are not exactly sure.  Dawn, dusk, and the 'pulse' of nature?  Why not just go into the woods and enjoy what's there?

We also had real questions about how much energy is used lighting all those trees.  This felt like a really wasteful experience, nature mediated, rendered through electronic viewing goggles.  Complicated, not simplified.  The final slap in the face for me was the musak, which was plain awful, switching between balafon loops at home in an elevator or endlessly uplifting major chord pomposity.  If this was going to be like a rave without the stimulants, pretty but vacuous, at least the tunes had better be good.  Instead, it was like one giant O2 advert, or those William Wallace tea towels I saw in Stirling with Mel Gibson's face on them - sickly, slickly disturbing.  This was about money, not about art and not about nature.  Will the last person to leave the forest please switch off the lights...

Loch of the Lowes is mostly great.  The Scottish Wildlife Trust run a fantastic visitor centre near Dunkeld, with large viewing window, a good hide and lots of information.  There are otters, red squirrels and ospreys here.  I'm not at all happy about the branding though... is it just me?

Ben Vrackie is another fairly local one for us, and a really enjoyable hill with great views of some hills we'd walked earlier in the year.  Busy with people on a Sunday morning, but none the worse for that.  It's steep too, the last bit anyway.

It's not the de rigeur position for an outdoors blog to take, but I love seeing people enjoying themselves out for a walk, connecting in their own way.  All shapes, ages and sizes, a kid questioning me if I only did Corbetts or did I do Munro's as well?  Oh, so young people are all stuck inside on their Nintendos are they?  Mmm. The lake below is just stunning as well, wild swans and jumping fish, a fine spot for a wild camp within striking distance of town.

I was just at the TGO Awards for work, and managed an overnighter and a damp trip to Great Gable.  This was supposed to be a 4 day trip but I bailed after 1 night - partly the weather, partly a case of manflu made worse by the weather, and partly because I missed my girlfriend!  You know you're an old hand when you are going in when everyone else is coming out, and when you are so complacent you make a 45degree wrong turn but keep going knowing you can correct it later (that is not a boast!)  The light was ferric, and the weather promised to improve in a day's time, but my heart just wasn't in it.

After 12 hours of sleep, I went up to the Westmoreland Cairn in heavy clag, paid my respects at a poppy covered memorial (a crying shame, a bloody waste - the liberals prayer) and dropped out at Windy gap.  Instead of the main path I jumped across the river and found a thin track leaning out precariously high above the falls - still some fun and excitement to be found in the Lakes.

Last but definitely not least in this little roundup, beloved Skye.  We managed an overnighter either side of our trip to Harris in October, and were blessed with good weather, great camps and fine walks.  When you get off the boat from Harris it feels like the mainland, so built up in comparison, but it's hard not to love it there, and I enjoy taking T to different areas, some I know and some I  don't.  Glenbrittle was new, and the golden hour was golden indeed.

This time, we took a tiny, spiny track that threaded its way up an incredibly good value Munro in the east of the Cuillin, which allowed us to lean over the alpine abyss and finally access the main ridge at last!  Each time I go back I'll be chipping away at this project now, who knows if I'll ever do the whole ridge, much of it looks terrifying, but it's an awesome sight on top, really.  This was a good day, a really good one, it allowed us to get up close and demystify just enough to make other things possible in the future...

On the way out, something more gentle.  A really beautiful coastal wild camp near the point of Sleat under the watchful gaze of Rum and Eigg.  The lighthouse has been rebuilt since I last went 10 years ago.  Steel girders and solar panels are more efficient I know, but I wish they had built it round and not square.  The MLD Supermid continues to impress, more than stable enough and a luxurious amount of space, footprint not really any bigger than the Trailstar.  Gusts in a rain storm on the Cuillin camp did yank a corner stake out of boggy ground, but the beauty of these tarps is no stretched fabric or damaged poles - just repeg and all's well.  Otherwise, rock solid, even in coastal winds - a really enjoyable and functional unit for 2-4 people.

We drove home out over moorland to tiny crofting townships on the north side of the Sleat Peninsula, with incredible views over both ranges on Skye, both the red and the black mountains, which made them appear almost as one range, which was a geological education in itself.  Days like these, the west is the best.