A Braw Sunday in the Toon

As much as i like a contemplative wander up a munro and through the glens of Scotland, the man-partner, not so much. After a lengthy discussion, we agree to our mutual interest; food. Combining breakfast with a compromise, we decided on a stroll along the Clyde. A fairly recent find of ours has been The Great Western Sandwich Co where we have been a good few times (and him even more). They offer awesome things to eat. That’s really all you need to know. You may feel the ingredients are not your usual cupboard staple but they work. Don’t dismiss a chilli sauce in your breakfast burrito or a pulled pork in your ‘Dog Father’. They work. Don’t question it. We tend to grab and go, finding a quiet spot to park but the cafe itself provides cosy seating using unusual materials. All that talk’s making me hungry again… Don’t you just hate those food pictures appearing on your Facebook feed…

We eat and head to the Riverside Museum which i still refer to as the ‘transport museum’. In its old location near Kelvingrove Galleries, we have taken the kids there more weekends than i care to count. I was dubious when the new address was announced, but it’s just as accessible offering 4 hours parking for only £1. I have used it a few times before for a walking base up the river and through the town. The last time i parked there i actually walked all the way to Cambuslang along the river. Beautiful in most parts, a bit dubious in some. Anyway, our first stop is the Tall Ship to the rear of the contemporary building and we spend about an hour there admiring the workmanship and history of the beast. Free entry but they do sell informative booklets for £4 which we purchased.wp-1473698032275.jpgwp-1473701029525.jpgwp-1473700920725.jpgwp-1473700920795.jpgwp-1473700920869.jpgwp-1473700920853.jpgAfter a few arty shots through the portholes, we leave the ship with the Riverside Museum to the right and wander down to the Govan Ferry. Again, another free activity with a donation box to contribute to. The journey across the Clyde takes a matter of minutes and we were joined by the crew members very friendly, little black guard dog who safely brought us to dry land and welcomed new passengers on board.wp-1473699326754.jpgA 10 minute walk round (aim roughly to the right) brought us to the very large but quite uninspiring Govan Old Parish Church. The tarmac pathway was quite tatty, the gardens were unkempt but barrier fencing and piles of materials indicated major investment and restoration to the surrounding ground and building.wp-1473698031662.jpgMy blacksmithing man-partner has been commissioned to make a single gate at the newly renovated wall which is why we knew the secrets that the church held. We walked around the grounds, admiring the workmanship on the ancient gravestones then the church doors opened. Lunch time must have finished, they were open for business.wp-1473698031673.jpgWe were greeted by a standing stone and instantly recognised the ‘sun stone’ emblem that was requested to be set into the commissioned gate (the swirly, snake head design near the top of the stone). The very helpful and well informed attendant regaled us with the history which i confess, did not remain in my head. A photographic memory for the visual, not so much for the descriptive.wp-1473698031619.jpgwp-1473698031566.jpgwp-1473698031381.jpgwp-1473698031023.jpgwp-1473698031024.jpg

wp-1473701057043.jpgThe exterior of this building did not give any indication of the beauty inside. Not only were the ceilings endless, the stained glass allowed a beautiful light to enter. Rows and rows, of pews lay empty waiting for visitors of the preached. Walls were decorated with mood lit standing stones, beautifully carved, saved from the of effects of the Scottish elements. A gallery of ministers were on display along with the architectural history of the building and its stages in history and restoration along the years. A small section of this grand building had been set aside for Sunday service and only 25, bible resting seats were counted indicating a sign of the times. I hope the building in its entirety is sometimes used for larger occasions and events. I contemplated the cost of keeping this building alive… The church had become a museum. I liked the idea of the reincarnation but we were still the only visitors on a Sunday…wp-1473698031379.jpgwp-1473698031334.jpgA return ferry back to the Riverside Museum was made and the place had sprung to life. An open ended SkateBoard tent had been set up with large ramps throwing bikes and skate boards criss-crossing their stunt riders from all ages. The sun was shining and a DJ was playing. I’m far to old to be watching this: we stayed 30 minutes enjoying this great resource in Glasgow being utilised.

Everything we did was free (or very cheap) and although encouraging donations, no pressure was made from the Riverside Museum, Tall Ship, Govan Ferry or the Church ‘Museum’. We need to support these places to keep them thriving.

Glasgow’s great when you get out and find it

Sites of interest

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Ben Chonzie

Looking to ‘bag’ another Munro, i perused the very helpful Walk Highlands website and stumbled upon Ben Chonzie (pronunciation is more dramatic than the hill itself). Never heard of it but sounds a gentle amble and chosen day was looking to be a cracker.

Get to Comrie and look out for The Deils Cauldron at a corner. Coming from Crieff, its on the right… and drive up Monument Road (look at me all 100% charged)

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“Ooh” and “ahh” and the beautiful countryside for about 3 miles, pass over 2 cattle grids, keep an eye out for these white cottages… None of those hills you see are Ben Chonzie and to be honest, it’s quite un-spectacular and only the directions make you realise you’ve reached the top! Where i took this picture was where you park (big oak tree to the left standing solitary in the field) at a ‘y’ junction. Unsure if there’s anywhere else to park but i can’t imagine its a hugely popular hill so I doubt you’d have a problem even on the nicest day. Walk along the track towards the cottages and to the right is a double gate. Go through it…

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Over the wooden bridge and follow the wide track up…

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Its a great track, you’d never get lost here. At this point i’d like to say its an ideal family walk and great for kids (could possibly take a *lightweight 4×4 buggy too for the vast majority (then backpack for the spongey heathery bits further up). They wouldn’t even know they were on a mountain. Things to see: Sheep. Burns. A dam. Stones. Trees and majestic scenery

*Disclaimer. Do it without the kids first as I’ve not pushed a buggy in 20 years so my memory may be a tad hazy…

Take the more obvious track to the right and head towards the dam…

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Say hello to the sheep…

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There’s a wee bit of work happening in this area (dam behind us), not sure what the actual aim of this is but this view was quite lovely. Felt like we were in another country and the lack of fellow walkers made it feel we were at the end of the world. A solitary moment to breathe it in… Sometimes its being this far from ‘normality’ that makes you feel you’ve had a holiday. I always feel rested after a session in our stunning countryside, especially when there’s few people about.

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At this wee cairn you have 2 choices. Apparently the ‘harder’ route was to the left. I can’t actually believe that it was any easier or harder than we had done already. We ignored that cairn and continued up the track (we like to take things easy…) 🙂

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A whole lot of awesomeness right there in front… (actually, that was behind us as we walked up) I predicted a fall on our descent. I was wrong…

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Now, if you chose to ignore that wee cairn for the ‘harder’ route keep your eyes open for this big handsome hunk of granite/marble/rock. It looks as though someone has slapped a whitewash on it (they hadn’t) There’s various little paths that will take you up, not particularly well worn paths, but they’re there! Enjoy a spongey, peaty bounce up towards the granite (granite to the right of you) Walk the easiest path until you find a row of metal posts and follow them…

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Continue with the posts to the right. They are a great navigational tool regardless of weather conditions. The ‘fence’ turns at a right angle and continue to follow it. Keep following across flat grassland and wonder whether you are actually on a mountain or not… Lots of little cairns are dotted along the route. We wondered why. I always thought that cairns indicated the top of a hill.

Oh. We suddenly arrive at the shelter spoken about on the Walk Highlands site and it is suddenly ‘blowing a hoolie’! Only one thing for it. Cheese and Onion McCoys, a Mars Bar and water in the shelter. I am pleasantly surprised at the lack of abandoned tissues or overpowering smell of urine which tends to be found in these shelters. I make a half-hearted attempt at map reading to find out the names of the other hills around us. I fail miserably but i do know that that water in front is Loch Turret. I feel quite educated… It has a path around it. Next time. A couple joins us for 60 seconds of polite conversation then continue their journey to the direction of a pointed finger. It’s the kind of terrain you can do that: very welcoming and enticing hills.

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And yes, the new Craghoppers ‘Shock Absorber’ poles did quite well.

Cue “we arrived” picture… Once picture has been seen, vow not to eat so many Cheese and Onion McCoy’s or Mars Bars again but keep up water and walking…

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A wee 37 seconds at the top of a blowy Ben Chonzie

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Ben A’an & the Unwanted Company

The weather forecast was looking great (for a hungry biting insect). Overcast with no wind: just what those infamous Scottish biting residents love.  A colleague was selling Avon products with Skin So Soft reduced to £1.99. “I’ll take 3 bottles, one of each flavour” says I and the delivery of ‘original, water-mint and silk moisture’ arrived in time for my Ben A’an walk… I showered and smothered myself in water-mint (smelled so good) laid my clothes down and sprayed them too (tip of the day). Got dressed then applied to bits that may have been missed like ears, back of neck etc. Would that be enough to gain me a magical shielding cape to fend off those bitey beasties…?

Picking up my walking buddy from a nearby village we arrived at the well marked Ben A’an car park. We’d been tipped off previously that there were now parking meters in force and purchased our all day ticket of £3 (cards not accepted at time of writing) As always, i parked in a spot ideal for a cup of tea and view to enjoy while resting our weary legs post-walk.

I did this hill climb about 6 years ago and i remember it being easy. Often referred to as a ‘great family climb’ I thought it an ideal start for my friend who was recovering from surgery and ready to venture skywards. The original path has been changed and is now a wide steep track to allow for the large tree cutting vehicles to access ‘no entry’ tracks further afield. That short climb was already quite a struggle. oh dear.. I have never professed to being a great hill walker. I can walk on flat for miles but hills, well, they don’t come so easily. See that wee pointy one? Well, that’s it…

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The very well maintained path offered a thoughtless climb, no need for umming and ahhing at the possibility of a wrong turn. Sturdy stones made the stairway quite luxurious with few people descending at this morning hour making the awkward “excuse mes” and the “hope their’s a burger van at the top” exchanges quite rare. Yes, it is me that makes those comments, i apologise but unfortunately, I can’t stop this habit…

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Very shortly in, lush greenery had enticed the unsociable midgie to start raising their families. With the constant walk by dinner to feast upon it was no surprise that the estate agents of the insect world classed this as ‘prime location’. I felt confident that my cloak of Skin So Soft would protect me from all evil predators. Alas, my cocky confidence was short lived… We were swarmed. Trouser legs grew an extra layer with the vicious wee blighters starving for breakfast prepared to gnaw through quick-dry fabric for a tasty bite of my blue tinged Scottish skin. I had foolishly left a few square millimetres of skin un-oiled on my neck and the next morning, i looked like an extra in a Micheal Jackson video.

The majority of the lower land had been drastically chopped back leaving a prehistoric landscape of stumps and skeleton tree trunks extending skywards their spindly limbs offering safety to buzzards and other needy birds seeking rest.

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The midgies hastened our preferred relaxed pace as we climbed higher seeking a breezy opening. The baron landscape changed to beautiful tones of purple heathers and green ferns, trickling burns quietly making their journey to Loch Katrin. Family’s with toddlers and teenagers bounded past and we enjoyed the journey properly taking time to absorb the fine colours of Scotland.

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We arrived at the top. That was quick! A large crowd had gathered before us and insisted on a drone recording and champagne to celebrate someones birthday. We grumbled momentarily about spoiling the serenity and the overuse of technology then appreciated their excitement at climbing a Scottish hill. I did wonder why Ben A’an was the birthday hill of choice when the likes of Ben Lomond would have been a far more impressive story to spin to friends back home. There were many different accents from around England. I wondered how they had all met and agreed to meet here on this wee hill…

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Loch Katrin

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Loch Venachar we think!

Sandwiches eaten. Pictures taken. We descended quickly arriving at the car park where we stayed for an hour drinking tea and people watching. Great spot… A drive along the side Loch Lubnaig and a wander through the forestry completed the day and we headed home happy and full of Coop granola bars and tea. I also saw a helicopter. I do love a helicopter, especially a black shiny one…

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Shenanigans on Schiehallion 

Ever since my dad had ‘done’ Schielhallion a few years back I had been quite keen to attempt it but as I hadn’t done any ‘real’ climbing before this year, I had been hesitant. I could pronounce it so that was a bonus. Spelling it, that was another matter…

I met my walking buddy in Strathblane and off we headed in Harvey RV along the very scenic route via Callander parking at Braes of Foss carpark (£2 a day) The MET office weather forecast showed great conditions on the Saturday for Sunday although this did change Sunday morning. I searched other hills but all forecast the same.  Best stick with plan A.

A helpful chap arrived at the car park in a sign written van asking us if we had done this munro before, we told him we hadn’t and he handed us  a leaflet. As with every instruction leaflet i receive, i don’t look at it until the ‘task’ is done. Washing machines, fridges, mountains. All the same to me. As it turns out it was a great read about the munro and the John Muir Trust. The car park also has loos which is a bonus. I wish more people had taken advantage of these facilities instead of abandoning tissue paper along the way… Why do people litter the hills (or anywhere outside for that matter: country or city) take a plastic bag with you. However, on seeing these white tissue piles, we knew we on the right track of civilisation.

These pictures below are in the correct order… See, visibility not too bad

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Ghostly visions appearing from the mist…

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Two thirds of the path are very clear and beautifully maintained and those same two thirds remained with very good visibility. We couldn’t see the top of Schiehallion but the route up was clear. We climbed, frequently turning around in search of a view. The delicate mist blew across in ghostly sheets leaving us suddenly cold and in awe of this spooky happening. Pictures taken got fewer and fewer with the total lack of the usual stunning panoramas.

The best attempt of a ‘ghostly sheet’ i could get…

wp-1469464215915.jpgThe path ended and rocks happened. Rocks turned into boulders which turned into rocks then back to boulders. What a climb. Now, bearing in mind that Schielhallion is meant to be the easiest Munro, the rocks, as well as the heavy mist should have put a dampener on the journey but everything enhanced each other. I’m sure I’m the only ‘odd ball’ that could have put such a positive slant on a hill climb but I really did enjoy the ascent. And I’m not even a ‘glass half full’ kind of girl usually… Something in the air I’m sure. Many a helpful (but miserable) face descending assisted us in the right direction and at this point, I did feel a little bit foolish for not being better organised. I had my map. I had my compass. I had done a hill navigation course. Hmmm. Should have practised before this mischievous misty mountain… With my knowledge, wisdom and expertise I did know that once there was no more hill to climb, we had arrived at the top…

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The total climb in the mist was actually fab once my half-hearted concerns had passed. It was eerily quiet. I’ve never experienced serenity on a hill before. No vast crowds, no billowing wind. Peace and quiet with the earie landscape of rocks and boulders. It was like walking on another planet. So surreal. So stunningly beautiful. I’m glad my walking buddy knows me well enough to realise I’m not having a breakdown when I recite my emotional thoughts and random artistic  observations. Thank you Jacqueline…

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Obligatory trainer shot…wp-1469464215751.jpg

When does a cairn become a house…? I imagine a very welcome sight when the weather blows across…

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We did eventually run out of climb and arrived safely at the top making our way to the cutest cairn we had seen all day. We ate our lunch, took pictures and avoided even more abandoned tissues.

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At one point a crowd of 6 appeared in the mist and asked ‘is this it?’.  Never had a more genuine and heart felt question been asked but she had a point. There was no flat grassy resting place, no little corner of your own that every other mountain seems to have commissioned as a specification for ‘munro’ status… Just flatter and larger boulders. Also joining us on our dining experience was a father / son / dog trio. The son was walking Munros to total the height of Everest for his football charity. The 8 of us had a whip-round towards his good cause, wished them well and we started the descent. I wanted to keep up with the crowd of 6, safety in numbers and all that but we were quickly separated due to my half-speed-knees. We got a bit lost. I got a bit scared, fell over twice. ‘Tit over arse’ I think is the phrase with no injury except pride. We retraced our steps and the ghostly trio were heading towards us pointing us to the right route. They lead the direction, respectfully keeping a distance staying close enough to ensure we were safely on the path.

Just as we got to the bottom of Schiehallion, the sky’s opened and it poured. Heavily. A big mug of tea in the van helped with the very dull journey home on the A9. Next time I’ll stick with the more scenic route home again.

As much as this walk sounds awful, I loved every minute (apart from the getting lost bit, let’s forget that bit) My lunch was crap, walking pole broke, twisted my ankle, got rained on, was cold.. I can’t wait to do it again but next time Mr Schiehallion, can you provide some blue sky…?

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Feel free to Ramble on down to my Facebook page, Rambling Scotland where i will post videos and other snippets. I also welcome other bloggers and ramblers to share their stories and pictures

 

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Rambling Scotland. But in London…

I lived in London from 1985 – 1992, moving from a sleepy (unexciting) village in Scotland aged 15. I introduced myself to the London suburbs during the birth of rave and acid house parties, somehow managing to land myself the role of floor manager in Next Retail in between the all-nighters and energy drinks.

As my partner is a Londoner and my dad & step-mum, extended family, old school & work friends still live there, we visit fairly frequently doing the usual tourist things in the city and out-with but never realised before how small it is… Ok, a bit unfair to use the word ‘small’ as it does cover 611 square miles but now I’ve actually began to really leave the house, there’s only so much real exploring you can do in a big city. Let me elaborate…

Pete (the partner) is a great one to ‘do’ London with. He was a motorbike courier in his younger day and knew the city intimately: all the lanes, cut throughs, secret lunch time skiving spots etc. He can still fluently recite the A to Z leaving listeners in awe and can take you through the virtual streets once you name a start and finish point. In short, if anyone knows London, it’s this man. Me? I tag along, knowledgeless and happy to be directed either on motorbike, foot, underground train or bus…

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Being based in South East London during our stays, just on the edge of Greenwich, it’s a great part of the city to stay in. A very large green to the front of the houses keeps the main road considerately away providing a convenient bus every 10 minutes. You can walk up to the High Street, visit Eltham Palace, jog or cycle around the various sports fields or walk around the newly regenerated Kidbrook Village taking in Sutcliffe park en-route. This most recent visit we wandered around the grounds and buildings of Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site taking in the stunning museums, painted hall, chapel and Royal Observatory.

There was an open stage with David Gray playing that night. The pre-security atmosphere was relaxed and the venue was stunning with the backdrop of an impressive London skyline running along the Thames.

What I like about walking is not sticking to a detailed plan. Going off route should you wish and discover what’s down that path, at the bottom of that hill or what’s on the other side of that massive rock. Yeh, I’m the one holding up the group and you’d be surprised at what was on the other side of that rock… In London, that doesn’t happen. It can’t happen as so many of the old cobbled lanes have been closed off to squeeze in another overpriced flat with a desired postcode.  That shrinks the experience and the scale of the area. You can see everything, no further exploring necessary or possible.

I would love to momentarily go back to ‘Oliver’ times with the dark mysterious lanes although they did seem to encourage prostitutes, murderers and undesirables. Maybe not…

Don’t get me wrong, I love London: the suburbs and in the thick of it but I realise that I need a different mind-set to appreciate the latter. The beauty I seek in the city is in the architecture, reading historical plaques, looking down at the well walked slabs wondering how many foot-steps it took for that erosion, touching a tree or over-painted cast iron bench while walking along the Thames. Visiting markets, smelling the canals, sampling food from every culture imaginable and finding unique charm in each distinctive underground train station. Alternatively, you can ‘sight-see’:  Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, Tower Bridge and the like. They are all great to see but that’s all you do. See the sight then move on to the next one.

No you won’t see any hills, streams and massive rocks with secrets on the other side and you will feel insignificant. Everything has been ‘discovered’ and you won’t be the first one to touch the old stone wall. You will be stopped by gates, walls and barriers. You can’t say hello to everyone you pass, or spark a conversation with a stranger. You will be surrounded by people yet still feel alone. No one makes eye contact… Few will even notice your existence. They are too busy with the stress of mortgages and overpriced city living. The city boundary is bulging with buildings, shops, people and Tesco Extras…

And all these factors make England’s huge capital seem so small.

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Boats and Bad Weather in Oban…

Despite the wet forecast, I had promised myself that Oban would be next on my to-do list and I headed off early leaving bright Strathblane sunshine behind.

The first stop was the world famous Rest and be Thankful where I bought a cup of tea from the snack van. Not overly lured by the eggs being fried in the bacon and black pudding fat, I settled for the more appetising option of some stale fruity oatcakes I had in Harvey RV… I think I offended the proprietor by asking for chips at 9.30am. I’m a grown up, I can ask for these things although I did sulk when he told me the fryers weren’t on yet…


After reading the sign with the history of the area, I glanced at the mist covered mountains knowing one was The Cobbler I had climbed a few weeks earlier. I didn’t know which one it was but was thankful not to be climbing that day.

A coach turned up in the distance and out spilled tiny 2 legged, excitable creatures, the most confident striding up front with the Saltire. They were on a mission to wave the Scottish flag with a backdrop of a misty mountain. They all took a turn. I wondered what hashtags they’d be using that night and how many Facebook profile pictures would be changed in memory of that coach tour

I took a wrong turn (as I have the habit of doing recently) and took the more picturesque B828 which has clearly been laid by council workers tipsy on midgie repellent. The single lane ribboned narrow and wide with passing places galore taking me through the Argyll Forest. Oh shit. A junction.
I had made the decision to follow an actual paper map that day and left the sat-nav at home. Lets just say I take notice of maps even less than I do of a sat-nav. I took the B839 towards Inveraray. That road was quite an experience in itself but note to self, find the A83 at home time…

Stopping every mile or so to allow traffic to overtake with drivers so close waving a middle finger of appreciation… These stops also allowed me time to discover that the water to the left was Loch Fyne. Yay! Loch Fyne Oyster Bar. Pit stop priorities… Nice loos


Turning right then left I nearly took out 3 cyclists who were drinking tea on the road! On the actual tarmac right at the corner. I threw my best glare face but 3 flashes of glistening lycra catching the sunlight and I was distracted…
Inveraray came and went and I followed the A819 up Loch Awe passing the very beautiful Kinchrackine Castle floating graciously above the surface, shrouded in dewy petticoats. You can access it further around the coast but it looked quite a marshy walk. Will dig out my wellys and return again. Here it is here.

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The A85 brought normality back and I continued North West through the Pass of Brander / River Awe. Reminiscent of Wast Water in the Lake District which took my breath away last year. Pulling over, I found a virtually vertical path and upset the quietness of 3 young fishermen. I apologised and told them to look away as the chances were I would fall. They kept looking but the show never came. They seemed disappointed.

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Passed Cruachan Power Station: “I’ll visit that on the way back” (didn’t)

Continuing through the stunning bridge at Connel. A quick leg stretch, next stop: Oban.

A bright yellow Hotel was the first thing that hit me. No convenient place to stop and my eyes were distorted and sparkly for a while. I thought it was a migraine coming on but no, just an immaculate yellow hotel in view. I can’t even remember the name of it but the building itself was memorable!

As usual, a tour of the area is a must before parking up and an ideal spot was found at the harbour. Not even a pay and display like everywhere else in the area. Result. Fish and chips will be consumed there later after my mammoth hill climb…

Unusually, I visited Tourist Information where a lovely girl advised me how to get up to McCaigs Tower. I did upset things by asking her opinion on the best fish and chip in town. After a quick fumble in the ‘what advice can I give to tourists’ leaflet, she awkwardly told me that she couldn’t give her personal opinion on that. Let me re-phrase. What F&C shops do others tell you are good? “They are mostly the same…” So like I choose wine, I opted for a shop later that day with a nice colour scheme and quirky font…

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A climb up to appropriately nick-named Obans Crown, I entered the quite spectacular McCaigs Tower. Again, I’d seen this on Facebooks ‘Show me Scotland’ site so it was already in my little purple things-to-do book. What I have also discovered is that rain is quite a good thing. It keeps people away and you get to see and do things by yourself. Although the road is quite steep, it’s a short journey from the water and you can drive there if you wish.

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A wee keek through the windows to spot Caledonian MacBrayne Ferry on his jaunts…

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What else is there to do, let me consult my map. Hmmm… a wander around the harbour, mediocre Fish and chips then head back taking in all the things I’d missed on the way there. What I have come to find is that I’m far preferring the journey to the destination. I’m always disappointed by the destination as I expect too much. No doubt Oban has far more to offer: seal spotting boat trips, cinema, distillery, rare breeds farm park and many, many restaurants. I may return for a spot of seal spotting…

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I drove to Dunollie Castle, parked and walked the opposite path finding out about cave dwellers and this big dog stone. As myth would have it, Fingals dog was tied there and the heavy chain he wore, ground the rock away. It’s a sea stack formed by the lava flow from (probably) Beinn Mhor carrying all the bits of rock and stone in its flow. It would have once formed an arch between the cliffs behind me (where the cave dwellers lived)

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Back to the van then carrying on down that road to the end was a wee beach with immaculate new car park. No overnight parking? We’ll see about that next time I visit… Although the new houses nearby may report an intruder disobeying the council rule book. A wet wander; both under foot and from the sky, back to the van and onwards to Dunstaffnage Castle. If you take a trip here, prepare to feel lost as the signs take you through building site and small ‘industrial estate’. Avoid eye contact with office/shop looking for £5.50 (unless you want to go in the castle. I will. One day) and i wander the grounds outwith the walls.

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I stumble upon a little rocky sanctuary and wish it was sunny. No, take that back. If it was sunny it would be busy! I take in the view of either Loch Linnhe or Firth or Lorn depending on which way you look. Here, I found my highlight of the day. Nothingness. It’s the most nothing I have ever seen in my life apart from closing my eyes. See…

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This wee boat came putt-putting closer and closer making me smile. It was the only company I needed all day. I thought this lone waterproofed stranger may have caught his attention but it didn’t. Perhaps he was thinking the same thing…

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The midgies insisted I leave and I apologised for killing 4 with one swift slap

Homeward bound, full of Fish ‘n’ Chips i arrived home to a glass of Prosecco and pondered my next outing…

 

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BLiSS full Monday…

The frequently posted images on Facebook of ‘Still’ led me to read more of this photogenic fella.  While trying to find any connection of his residence in St Fillans to the St Fillans cave in Pittenweem, I fell short of gaining any linking evidence as I was prematurely side tracked by stumbling upon the BLiSS Trail…

The BLiSS trail was the brainchild of LETi (Loch Earn Tourism Information group) and takes you a scenic journey through heart of ‘Rob Roy Country’ to celebrate the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design 2016. The name BLiSS comes from the four villages linked by the trail: Balquidder, Lochearnhead, Strathyre and St Fillans, with the “i” standing for both tourist information and innovation. The villages are currently home to 13 ‘official’ sculptures and creative projects and I was on a mission to meet each and every one.

The plan was to follow the numbered map implicitly… until I took a wrong turn but still, we joyfully ticked off every sculpture enjoying banter and helpful advice from the locals at every turn.

Our first stop was at ‘Sloc nan Sitheanach’ (Faerie Hollow) to see the work of Ruairidh Moir. A tranquil rest and sheltered spot to admire the view of Loch Lubnaig. It was set just to the right at the beautifully maintained north carpark. There are lots of picnic tables and metal stands to fire up your portable bbq and snack ‘shed’ for coffees etc.

Continuing up the A84, on the left you’ll see The Broch Café in Strathyre where the second installation (designed by Jeremy Cunningham) is easily spotted: ‘Ride Out Seats’.

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After a stroke of the smooth, perfectly proportioned steel and oak, a glance ahead uncovered the third piece which we made our way over too. At this stage, I began calling it a treasure hunt as the directions were a bit vague. To be fair, they are probably very helpful if you knew the area. But we didn’t…

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Stirling Council had commissioned installation number 3 to chainsaw carver Iain Chalmers who created ‘A Soaring Eagle’ standing about 7 foot tall in amongst the trees. Handsome brute…

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Airlie-Phant

Moving swiftly onwards (we were doing well by this point) to Airlie House Bed & Breakfast (Strathyre) where we saw ‘Hunting Owl’ and ‘Feeding Time’ (Heather Gray) in the gardens of this beautiful property. One of the neighbours had told us it was ok to go into the garden. So we did… Several minutes later the owner came from the building and I predicted shouts of “gerrofmyland” which never came. Instead we were given a warm welcome and a short tour of the 3 sculptures he had including the very cute elephant.

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This is where ‘we’ (me) took a wrong turn and went from project 4 up to number 9: ‘Bill the Bull’ by Kev Paxton. By short term skipping Balquhidder, we headed east and met this moo-tilful creation (couldn’t resist…) at The Lochearnhead Hotel. He sits tall and handsome in the gardens and his colour entices you to stop and have a ‘pet’. My partner, also a blacksmith, had met the more monochrome bull at the galvanisers some time ago. I wish he’d photographed it then. I think it would look even more stunning in his metally glory with authentic rusty curls but then the children who painted him wouldn’t have had their fun nor would the money raised from the painting have been put towards Kevs favourite charity Ripple Retreat. (That’s a lot of information one sentence!) *Googles Ripple retreat*

Further along the road is number 11: ‘Fraser Briar’, again by Kev Paxton, one of my favourites of this trail. Set in such a stunning and somehow surreal location across from Briar Cottages he stands tall and proud admiring Loch Earn, his body made from components such as roses, leaves, a thistle and there’s a wee mouse with cheese in there too! The garden doubles as a mini golf course and home for ducks, we spent a while there taking everything in.

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Now, here’s the man I wanted to meet and he didn’t disappoint. ‘Still’ by Rob Mulholland. Guarding the water, he stands tall at the jetty of the Four Seasons Hotel in St Fillans.

Watching.. Defending … Hypnotising…

After a pot of hot chocolate at the Four Seasons Hotel, we continued a short walk to Lynne Schroders ‘Fish Out of Water’ at Achray House Hotel. A lovely end to the journey. Although we had missed a bit…

Driving back down the A85, swinging left at Lochearnhead, just as we left the signs we saw ‘Dragon Bike’ by June McEwan made from willow wicker at Mansefield House. This was number 8. It was quite sad to see he had been chained down but due to the first ‘Still’ being stolen and the damage done to ‘Lookout’, I suppose it’s necessary.

Kev Paxton was back on the scene again with his 3rd sculpture on the trail. ‘Sunflowers’ are sprouting out of the car park at The Golden Larches Restaurant in Balquidder Station for installation 7. See, I like this unfinished, galvanised monochrome finish. He could have painted them garish yellow, been even more eye catching but on this grey overcast day, they fitted into nature perfectly. (image below untouched)

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Sunflowers – Kev Paxton on the BLiSS Trail

Continuing the journey down towards Loch Voil, Balquhidder Village Hall holds project 5, ‘Grooming Stag’ by June McEwan. He stands peacefully grooming himself in the serene surrounding sin Rob Roy Country.

The last one to find, 6, was ‘The Lookout’ by Angus Ritchie and Daniel Taylor. This one wasn’t as easy to find although the helpful staff at the stunning Monachyle MHOR Hotel happily pointed us on our way through a field. Midgie hats unfolded, we walked through the field between Loch Voil and Doine. A couple of snaps later, we raced back to Harvey avoiding beastie bites and cow pats!

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Darn those midgies!

A trip of ‘Roy Rob Country’ isn’t complete without a trip to the resting place of the man himself, wife and kids. There’s a vacancy for a new minister if anyone’s interested…

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Read more (or apply for the vacancy) here Balquhidder Church

You may have noticed that I missed out the 10th project (let’s face it, you didn’t notice…) This is still in the construction stages at Lochearnhead. Students from Perth College are creating a ‘Contemporary Art Project’ which I’ll look forward to going back to see.

If this sounds like a trip you’d like to take, I suggest you go soon as the pieces are being taken down to be shown at exhibitions or sold on so I don’t know how long they’ll be there for.

Enjoy!

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