Monday, January 19, 2015

Snowy heights

When you think of an exciting winter day on the hills, you probably don't think of the Broughton Heights. These are the group of modestly sized hills above the village of Broughton in the Scottish borders. However a good fall of snow and an overnight freeze work wonders in making you feel you are somewhere much more adventurous.  As with my Ben Lomond trip, I am spoiled for good pictures, but here are some good ones.

A mixture of man-made and natural features from Penvalla:
 On top of Trahenna Hill with the wind stirring up the spindrift:
 Looking towards Culter Fell, with the sun beginning to set:
Some sheep caught in the sun, laying in their central heating:
The whole day was spent walking on snow, from roadside to roadside. It's a good while since I can remember that happening.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Ben Lomond

Winter days can often be rubbish: short, cold and cheerless. How lovely then to find that your plan to do a hill over the holidays lines up with some high pressure.

As with quite a few of my best walks, this one only took form on the day. To start with, there was quite a bit of impromptu photography, including the view from Tom Weir's favourite hill:

Coincidently, a statue of Tom was unveiled the next day.

By this point we had decided on Ben Lomond via the Ptarmigan ridge (to the right of the loch in the picture above). This is a somewhat more exclusive and interesting route than the tourist path. I also have a bit of a personal connection with it, as some time ago (20 years, gulp) I worked on the path.

At this point, I am a bit lost for how to continue, as I have almost an embarrassment of fine pictures taken in the winter sun. Let's just go through some nice images:
That classic down-the-loch view. The viewpoint of the first picture is on the far side of the loch. My companion of the day is trotting down the bump in the middle.
A panorama of the Southern Highlands from the base of the summit cone. I reckon there are at least 17 Munros in here. Distant smudges could take it higher.
  Our summit awaits.  This is why we do this.
On top with sunset approaching. Don't try this at home, kids. We are sensible really: we had headtorches and enough sense to get down safely via the tourist path.  Some refreshments and a read of the Sunday Post in Stirling completed a splendid day out.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Ben Vorlich

I went for a walk up Ben Vorlich (the Loch Earn one) on Sunday with some friends. Like a lot of the best walks, it was rather ad hoc and all the better for it. The destination was only chosen at about 10 am while standing in the main street in Callander.  We had all done the hill before, but the fine weather turned it into a memorable day. We started in the sunny area on the lochside in the picture below.

I thought my camera had plenty of charge, but it quickly started warning of low battery. I tried placing it under my fleece as body heat can revive things, but on the summit the camera decided it was done and turned itself off. A pity, since there was a 360 degree view from Ben Nevis down to the Pentlands. Here is what I did manage to take, looking south towards the Ochils.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

A Mike Leigh experience

I saw Mr Turner on Friday and enjoyed it very much. As ever, Mike Leigh gives you something to chew on. It's partly an examination of genius and how a fat grunting man could be one of the few world class painters that Britain ever produced and partly a celebration of the beauty and power of the natural world. I particularly enjoyed Turner's amusement at seeing work by the pre-Raphaelites for the first time.

The whole trip felt like an improvisation exercise with a film in the middle. Waiting on the stairs to go into the busy cinema, I got caught in the crossfire of some braying middle class people and their too-loud talk of holidays, retirement and what terrific culture vultures they were.  At the end of the film, one of the womem sitting along from me told everybody how overlong, tedious and pointless she thought the film was. I thought I had let the crowd clear before leaving, but again got stuck on the stairs. And who was behind me but my mouthy friends? I managed to shut out the matter of their discussion.

Sunday, September 21, 2014


Warning: may contain hobbits.

I first read The Hobbit when I was about 10. A while back it occured to me (probably while watching the last slice of Peter Jackson CGI) that I had never reread it. Finding an nice Allen and Unwin edition (see above) in a charity shop a few weeks ago pushed me over the edge.

The first thing I noticed was how good Tolkien is at landscapes. This is a story with many changes of scene, and in a way the landscape of Middle Earth is the subject. There is a sense of real observation in his descriptions: they are not generic. The approach to Rivendell made little sense to me as a child:

They were growing anxious, for they saw now that the house might be hidden almost anywhere between them and the mountains.

How can you lose a valley? But after walking in the Alps I can believe the sudden transition:

They came to the edge of a steep fall in the ground so suddenly that Gandalf's horse nearly slipped down the slope.

Likewise, where our heroes are trying to get away from the Misty Mountains they slide down a steep slope of loose rock debris and are saved by the pines on the fringes of a wood. This reminds me irresistably of parts of the Cairngorms.
If the journey struck me strongly, the supposed excuse for it (lost treasure, the Lonely Mountain etc.) takes a long time to arrive and is dealt with rather speedily when it does. However if the climactic battle is briefly described, ex-Lieutenant Tolkien knows what he is talking about.

The book is also the journey of Bilbo from timidity to responsibility. I notice that a key scene where he takes charge of a difficult river crossing is at the exact midpoint of the book. I've no idea if this is deliberate or not.

I'm sure I will end up watching the third part of Peter Jackson's film version. Given what I've said, it may be no error for him to take so long over the journey. But the meaning for me is in the reality of the landscape and not in a lot of fantasy violence made with an eye for a video-game spin-off.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Still here

I know. It's been ages.

I could give a long and rambling attempt to justify my absence, but it comes down to not really feeling like it.

What a gloomy day to start communicating with people again.

Monday, June 10, 2013

RIP: Iain (M) Banks

I was very saddened to learn that Iain Banks died yesterday. I came to his books late, as I often seem to, not wanting to trust received opinion and waiting until other snuck him under my radar: a climbing friend told me the surprise ending of The Wasp Factory in the Partick Tavern one evening; a fellow PhD student talked of a gambler in a book he'd read who had his face removed and replaced with a metal plate so that he kept a good poker face (from Consider Phlebas); another climbing acquaintance keeping to himself in the Smiddy in Dundonnell, with just a copy of Use of Weapons projecting from his sleeping bag.

Sneak in he did, and reading a new Banksie novel became a special treat reserved for holidays. I still associate certain passages with where I first read them. The Bridge was read in Peanmeanach bothy and Against a Dark Background on Crete.

I am very grateful to him for starting me to read Science Fiction again. I had been a keen reader in my teens, but lapsed for years until I found his tales of the Culture. This may be his lasting monument: a wonderful counterblast to all those dystopias that I read in the 70s. In it, you can live (almost) forever, enhance your body, safely alter your mind as you think fit, change sex and generally have a lot of fun. He makes this all sound plausible and consistent, but none of it is taken too seriously. One thing that turned me away from a lot of Sci-fi was the po-faced bland seriousness of it. No fear of that with Banksie. One favourite moment has the protagonist (probably one of his very convincing female ones) entering a Ship when they are having a bit of a knees-up. The Ship's avatar advances in the form of a Teddy bear and announces "I need a hug!".