Mount Washington Wanders

Sometimes you settle in for the night and a thought creeps into your mind, a hill-walking thought, a “mountain itch” if you’d like. And once it’s in there you can’t get it out, no matter what plans you had for the next day. You can rest assured that they won’t happen. You just got a calling from the mountains, and that my friends can’t be ignored.

This was the case for me last Sunday, as I watched the game on TV. For some reason, I started dreaming of the high tops, and before I knew it, I was rummaging about my gear, pulling maps out, and checking weather forecasts to see if I could make an adventure for Monday. BINGO! The weather looked splendid, and the image in my head was mighty Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Whites. It was calling me, and I had to go!

After a long drive north, accompanied by my coffee, I was in Pinkham Notch for an early start. I pulled into the AMC center car-park to be greeted by a handful of already empty, parked cars. A testament to the early birds who probably suffered the same itch I did.

With butterflies tingling in my stomach, I strapped on my boots quickly, and rechecked my pack to make sure I had everything I might need for a long day out on the mountains. The excitement of what lay ahead was giving me a heady buzz. I wandered off through the low lying forests that blanket much of the notches, and pressed on up the trail, stopping briefly to admire the peace that surrounded me. The woodlands were quietly readying themselves for the coming of winter. Not a creature made a sound.

Mount Washington and I had met once before, on the westerly slopes. This time the decision was made to take Boott Spur Trail. Not like the “boot” you wear but like Dr. Francis Boott (1792–1863). Boott Spur stands on the shoulder of Mount Washington, above the south side of the headwall of Tuckerman Ravine.

It proved to be a fine path, steep and rocky. Ascending the summit first through woods and scrub, and then in the open above tree line, providing excellent views. It gave me the opportunity to gaze back down to the notch below me. Each time I emerged from the forest to perch on one of those outlooks I would feel the power of the wind. I almost felt like a mouse peeping out from its hidey hole, only to be sent scurrying back to its cover, as the cold wind snapped at my face. I laughed at the thought. Happy to be here in this wild place, I pressed on.

After covering the first couple of miles, it was time to leave the forest and emerge out onto the exposed flanks of the hillside. I already knew the wind was gusting, so I quickly changed out of my sweat soaked top and into a spare, instantly I felt re-energized. This was a trick I had learned from my hiking chum Les and its worth its weight in gold. Feeling warm and dry now, I marched out in to the wind and headed up to the summit of Boott Spur.

I have always had a fond appreciation for the wind. In the past, I have called it pet names. Some names were friendlier than others, but I have always loved to listen to its stories, and smell the fragrances that it carries. Subtle offerings, beckoning you to faraway places.

Today brother wind was in fine form, screaming at me one minute, and then whispering stories the next. I sighed, and settled into my hike, comforted in the knowledge he would be my companion for the rest of the day

For the remainder of the hike up, Boott Spur was giving me tantalizing views, of Mt.Washington. To the north of me, its massive bulk still looked so far away! My mind started to do what I call mountain math. That’s calculating time, distance, and hours of daylight left. This thought process was definitely killing my hiking high! I decided not to look at it anymore until I was on the Davis Path Ridge above me. With my head down, and determined, I moved on higher aiming for Boott Spur itself.

Once on Boott Spur, the views all around opened up, and the splendor of those mountains was revealed. I never grow tired of those views. Mountain views, any mountain view in fact, is awe-inspiring. The vastness of it astounds me. The snow underfoot was thicker now that I was on the ridge-line, and with it brought an element of rhythmic sound to my journey. The crunching noise I heard with every step, through the brilliant white, frozen ground, kept time with my labored breathing and boisterous brother wind. The ultra-cold air filled my lungs, while I wandered on towards the huge pile of rocks that are the summit of Washington itself.

Keeping to the left of the lip of Tuckerman’s Ravine, I arrived at the bottom of the rock pile. There is usually boulder hopping that’s involved here, that can be a bit tricky, but the snow had gone ahead of me and filled the holes on the uneven trails, making for an easier climb. With an appreciative nod to the mountain, I wandered on, and headed higher to the collection of buildings at the summit, known as the weather observatory.

Having an access road to the top of this mountain can at times turn it into a bit of a tourist attraction. Not today. Today was eerie and desolate. As I leisurely walked past the boarded up man-made structures, complete with snow drifts, a feeling of welcoming isolation crept into my bones. I felt like I belonged here, alone on this mountain. My peaceful solitude didn’t last long.  A loud crash on my right side startled me as I spun around just just in time to see a sheet of ice, from an antenna tower, smash to the ground. Brother wind was up to his old tricks.

I customarily touched the summit cairn and snapped some pictures, before finding a spot to enjoy my flask of hot tea and a cheese sandwich. Iimg_0543 surveyed my lofty “kingdom” and found a sheltered spot with a view. Nearly the very instant I settled down, brother wind decided to take a break as well. He still let out an excited yell occasionally to let me know, he’s there and waiting. I laughed out loud at his daunting behavior and focused on my delicious hot tea.

The bright sun was diminishing faster than I wished. Tinged with sadness to leave this silent beauty, I packed up and headed down from my mountain perch. As reluctant as I was to go, I had no desire to tackle my next trail in fading light.

The sun had already left this corrie, as I retraced my steps down to the top of Tuckerman’s Ravine. Plunging into the cold realm of dark shadows, I knew that my concentration levels would have to be sharp as I started my steep descent on the ice covered trails, into the corrie below.

Picking my way down through the snow and boulders was probably my favorite moment of the hike. With adrenaline pumping, and my ears filled with the music of melting ice and mountain run off, I was faced with a wall of snow that blocks your path to the summit. Staring at it as I made my way down, I swore to myself that I would come back and do battle with this worthy adversary in the future.

Once at the bottom of the ravine, I stopped off at the hermit’s shelter hut and removed my pack to fish out my trusty flask for the last brew of the day. I stood in silence, hot tea in hand, gazing at the huge wall of Tuckerman’s Ravine high above me.

Squinting my eyes, and trying to pick out the trail I had dropped down, I thought to myself, this place is special, a hide away from the hustle of life, deep in the mountains. My day’s solitude was pleasantly interrupted by a young chap who sprang from a shelter door that looked bolted up for the winter. His bright enthusiasm and chirpy questions amused me, and I enjoyed his brief banter before he bid me goodbye, slipping back inside the shelter like a rabbit disappearing down its hole.

Cheered up by my tea, and the brief chat, I strolled off down the trail back towards the Pinkham Notch AMC Center car-park. There were still a few miles to cover, and the sun was setting, so I quickened my pace and cracked on. Stopping only periodically at the magnificent waterfalls that made this last part of my day a delight.

Once back at Pinkham Notch, and my truck, I couldn’t take my eyes of the towering Mount Washington above me. And I couldn’t stop this ear to ear grin, as I basked in the glory of another wonderful day in the White Mountains.

 

 


The Ghosts of Glen Affric

Sometimes when am out walking or climbing in the hills alone, I am reminded of a strange and unsettling encounter I had many years ago while camping on the rugged and beautiful west coast of Scotland in Glen Affric.

It was June and I had agreed to keep my friend company the night before he took part in the daunting Highland cross, a grueling duathlon that involves running and cycling through some pretty remote glens. A race designed to test even the fittest of athletes.

We had agreed to camp the night before in a super little site in the clachan of Morvich which sits quietly at the end of Loch Duich. More importantly for us, it was the entrance to the impressive Glen Affric, the official starting point of the race. This Glen , a place of desolation, is surrounded on each side by intimating rock giants that tower over you like great guardians that have stood silently since the dawn of time.

I had my own reasons for being there of course and that was to climb Beinn Fhada , a massive jutting spine of rock that dominates the mouth of the Glen. I had been there before and vowed to come back and scale that Goliath! This would be the perfect opportunity to do so while getting to camp and hang out with my old friend.

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We spent Friday night relaxing by our tents, chatting with other runners and enjoying the company. We ate well and called it an early night. My friend had a tough day ahead of him and I wanted to be up and on the hill by four am to catch the first light and hopefully have the mountain to myself. We crept off to the comfort of our sleeping bags to dream of the adventures that lay ahead.

I awoke at dawn as planned to a quiet campsite, only the birds were awake with me. They were greeting each other in that magnificent manner, whistling hello to the world and bringing a smile to my face. I had already filled my water bottles the night before and prepared my snacks so after hastily flinging my clothes on and stuffing my feet into my boots I was up and at them.

I snuck  out of the campsite and strode into the Glen. Morning dew glistened on every surface, the early light causing it to sparkle. I hiked hard and fast up the land rover tracks that lead you into the Glen. Staring down the mountain I hoped to standing on top of in a few hours, made my pace quicken I was anxious for the summit! Eager for that feeling that comes when you’re standing alone up top of a mountain surveying the landscape stretched out before you, like your very own kingdom.

About an hour had past and I was already well into the south facing flanks. They were dotted with rough grass and bogs and the occasional pile of rocks here and there. Sweat was already starting to soak through my base layer but I didn’t slow down. I looked ahead and kept focused on a huge Corrie about another thousand feet up. I planted it in my mind that this is where I’d take my first break, drop my pack and find a flat rock to rest my body.

posts-glen-affric2The brief rest would be my reward for getting an early morning rise and keeping a quick pace. I could take in the stunning view of the loch below me stretched out towards the Isle of Skye. The thought helped me onwards and upwards as I pushed towards my goal of reaching the Corrie. It’s about then that I first became aware of someone or something watching me. When out in the wilds, on your own, it is not unusual to feel you’re being watched but generally your admirer turns out to be a sheep.

My eyes scanned the grassy flanks for a hint of their white, wooly coat. In the winter months  you could quite literally step on a sheep if your not careful , their white bodies are one with the snow. However, it was not winter and they would not be easily camouflaged in the green grass. Nothing jumped out at me, no sheep,no deer,no eagle gliding above, just me and the massive mountain.

The Corrie loomed closer and larger as I gained height and closed in on my target. The summit too was looking like it was within my grasp. I could make out the craggy rocks and faint trails on the ridge running north west, deep into the Glen.

My excitement had now begun to become a secondary emotion, overpowered by the eerie sensation of being watched. My logical and experienced hiking mind told me there must be hiker nearby so I’d stop about every 20 feet to scan the hillsides fully expecting to see a fellow hiker picking his way up the rocks or even heading down off the summit.

The thought of running into another hiker ticked me off because I had taken great pride in being on the hill by first light. Had I been outdone by another hiker? I was torn between my greed to have the summit peace all to myself and the need to resolve the mystery of what was lurking about watching me. I wanted to get back to focusing all my attention on getting to the Corrie. Still nothing moved in front of me or behind me…nothing stirred …as far as I could tell it was still just me and the massive mountain.

As I closed in on the Corrie I felt a new feeling, fear. My thoughts were racing ahead of me, my mind was flooding with dark thoughts. My mouth was dry and my heart was beating fast – I was freaking myself out! I knew I had to stop, take a rest and calm down. “There was nothing out there” I told myself. I kept reassuring myself I was going to be fine. I’d just pushed too hard and needed to rest and regroup.

I dropped my pack and took out my water bottle all the time watching for movement in the boulders around me. I stood in the Glen’s eerie silence starring at the Corrie in front of me. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. High up on the mountainside not even the wind making a sound – the silence was deafening.I felt something surrounding me, a presence engulfing me. I wave of impending of doom washed over me. My thoughts turned to vivid images of gore and blood and a dull sense of pain took over my body. I actually felt the urge to smash my face off the rocks around me. The urge to run and jump off the ledge to my left. Images of my teeth dashed against the granite and my own fist pounding my face and being rammed down my throat filled my mind. Anger and rage coursed through my veins, my knees buckled and I hit the ground! What on earth was happening to me? I felt sick to the very core of my stomach, I was scared , scared beyond belief!

As I  sat there the Corrie hung over me, silent and massive it seemed as if it was closing in on me. I felt as if it was going to devour me, swallow me whole and digest me in its earthly belly. In a moment of clarity, I knew that I had to get the heck out of there. I clambered to my feet and grabbed my pack. I stumbled back the way I had came too fearful to look behind me.

I just kept moving forward , running quickly downhill, trying to outpace what was stalking me like a hungry beast up in that Corrie . My heart was still racing, my mind trying hard to clear the images of horror and death  while I concentrated on each footstep. It took all I could muster not to run myself of the edge of the hillside.

I wanted off this mountain! I wanted to be back in the campsite, back in my warm sleeping bag. Was this all a bad dream? I still felt that whatever was up there was snapping at my heels, gnashing its teeth, just waiting for me to trip up so that it could finish what it had started and finish me off. I had to keep moving!

I am not sure how far I stumbled down that hillside, bouncing from rock to hillock, splashing through bogs without caring before I ran out of steam and slumped against a boulder. Gasping for breath, I stared back up at the Corrie now way high above me. Whatever overtook me up there had lost its grip. My mind had cleared. I was trying to sort out what had happened up there high on that mountain side. Did I freak out? Did I imagine this? Had my mind played a mean trick on me?

All I knew was I wanted off the hill! I moved on back down to the stone strewn land rover tracks before I took my pack off and sat down. I laughed at myself and cursed for being so silly. Had I let my imagination get the best of me? My anger flared momentarily at the thought of not getting to the summit…how could I have given up? I promised myself that I’d be back one day to conquer it but for now I was happy to head for the campsite, get a good breakfast and put some distance between me and the seemingly paranormal activity of Glen Affric.

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I didn’t share my experience with my friend that evening. In fact, I kept it to myself for many years, choosing to keep it buried away in the vaults of my memory. Fearing that if entertained this dark presence it would tag along and ruin my future hillwalking adventures.

This strange occurrence was locked away in my mind, until one day while reading about the west coast of Scotland I came across an article that stopped me dead in my tracks.It was about a light aircraft that had flown into some bad weather and had gotten lost. Nothing unusual about that, as every pilot knows the risks involved in low level flying in the glens and mountains. It was the location where the fateful aircraft came down that had me gripped! The type was jumping off the pages… a mountain in Glen Affric!

The hapless pilot had lost his bearings it seemed and flown straight into the side of a mountain. He had crashed into a Corrie high on the hillside, killing himself and his passenger. The wreckage of the small plane was reduced to nothing but scattered scrap metal, burnt and twisted beyond all recognition.

I sat staring at the article. My mind once again swimming in the images of that dark foreboding Corrie. My heart began to race, my palms became sweaty and my mouth was dry. I realized that what I had felt up there in the solitude of the mountain was the terror, the pain, the death and destruction that crash had left on the landscape.

I haven’t been back to the mountain but I think of it often, when the trails I wander are quiet and lonely. I think of that deep, dark Corrie and of the tragic event that happened there many years ago.I will go back one day just as I promised. I will go back for that summit. This time I’ll say a prayer for those who lost their lives that fateful day, maybe lay some thistles, let them know I’m sorry for their loss and try to heal the wounds they left on that mountain. Maybe this time, they will let me pass by in peace.


The Twins

The sun had just broken the edge of darkness when my alarm sounded off, like a cockerel proudly proclaiming the arrival of dawn from the roof of his coop kingdom.

I stumbled downstairs and fumbled about with the coffee maker cursing myself for being too lazy to prepare it the night before. I wanted and badly needed that injection of hot liquid caffeine to speed up the process of departing the house and heading to the hills.

The dawn arrived with a light breeze and a morning chill to the air. I slung my backpack in the car and fired it up. The roar of the engine startled some nearby blue jays out catching their early worm.

My drive north was quiet as I snaked my way through the suburbs and out into the countryside joining the interstate and the other early morning commuters. Looking at them aggressively driving toward their mind numbing corporate meetings, I was feeling lucky to be on my way to the rivers, the mountains and the thin blue skies. I had that sense of freedom and adventure that can only be obtained in the wilderness.

After a couple of hours of tarmac gazing, radio channel surfing and one coffee stop, I pulled into the Trailhead car park to be greeted by my hiking chum for the day, Les.

It had been 5 months since we had hiked together so there was a lot of catching up to be done. But that would have to wait for now, the trusty old boots needed to be strapped on so we could get cracking. We had a long but rewarding day ahead of us in the beautiful white mountains.

Both of us started off at a fast pace, both eager to gain some height and get a good sweat on. You see for me an attraction to climbing any mountain is the work out it gives your body,legs,lungs and mind. You can get a good going over while being surrounded by nature and not the mundane machines that fill up the floor space of your local gym.
Frank viewWe hiked upwards through the vast woodlands that carpet this mountain range. The notable differences in landscape since my last trip up were almost too many to inventory. Thick fern farms stretching as far as the eye could see. The trees sporting their winter look had gone from bare and lonely to thick and full with every possible shade of green represented. From the light lime sunshine tints of the crowns to the deep dark greens of the forest floors we were immersed in brilliant color.

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The air smelled alive with the scent of pine, fiddleheads, decaying bark, boulder moss and the spray from the fast flowing rivers. I breathed in the earthy fragrances of mother nature’s perfume. I stopped periodically, breathing deep and hard to fill my lungs with the crisp clean air, exhaling a happy sigh of contentment.river crossing

The trail up to Galehead AMC hut was steep and hard, joined together in most places by huge rocks and boulders making for good hand holds for pulling yourself up. I couldn’t help but wonder, who had put these rocks here? Who had positioned them? How did they get them up to these heights? What tools did they use? Images of the bearded giant Paul Bunyan and his ox Blue filled my mind. These trail crews must be a hardy bunch I thought.

posts-twins2We arrived at the hut in good time and decided to have a brew break. The hut had just opened the day before from its winter shut down so we ventured inside to fill up our water bottles. I love these AMC huts.

Their pine floor boards have seen a million boots, their benches and tables worn from dings of countless tin mugs and diner plates. Their walls adorned with maps, photos and the occasional piece of vintage hill walking gear. No matter what hut you visit they all have character ingrained into them.

While filling my bottle I was tempted by the freshly baked banana bread that was strategically on offer right next to the water tap. It’s like they knew I was coming. For the measly sum of two dollars I could have tasted this mountain hut delight but to my dismay my pockets resembled that of old Mrs. Hubbard’s cupboards. Empty. Note to self, never hike without money. You never know when you’ll have to make an offering to the God’s of mountain baking!

Water bottles filled and legs rested we dropped our packs and headed off up Mt. Galehead, our first peak of the day. This was an easy climb that didn’t take us too far off our planned route up South Twin mountain. There was not much of a view to be had from the top of the peak but looking back we could see how much higher and by the looks of it a lot steeper South Twin was going to be. We bounced off back down the trail returning to the hut and grabbed our packs to start the trek up South Twin. Sure enough, the path was steep and heavy with boulders. I made a mental note of the trail sign just past the AMC hut which said 0.8 miles to the peak.  I felt good inside.

Soon I would be sitting atop of the mountain with the whole of New Hampshire laid before me! The thought of it was enough to spurn me on, filling my legs with the new fuel they needed to reach the top.

We quickly crested the top of South Twin mountain with the sun blazing in the sky. The cottony clouds that dotted the blue abyss hung stationary and motionless, as if waiting to catch a lift on the wind so they could go about their business of watering the gardens below.

Just enough of a gentle breeze blew to cool the sweat that penetrated my shirt. I took off my pack and sat on the bare rock starring in disbelief at the sheer beauty Ethiopiaof my surroundings. My legs still pulsating from the hike up while my brain struggled to comprehend where I was. Sharp rising mountain ranges and lush green valleys  spread out before me looked like the photos I had seen of the Ethiopian highlands, straight out of a National Geographic magazine. The warm, misty, deep velvety landscape almost appeared like the tropics of a foreign land. My senses were on over load. For a moment I forgot I was in New Hampshire.

I fished around in my pack for my flask and the cheese sandwich I had packed for my lunch. There’s something to be said for finding a resting spot on top of a mountain and cracking open your flask. Some days you don’t get to afford yourself this luxury. Wind, rain, snow, ice or bugs can steal the joy of picnicking under the skies but today I was going to get the chance to sit back, rest my feet and savor it.

posts-twins3I watched as Les stood starring into the vast emptiness of the Pemigewasset wilderness. I felt the smile span my face. I know that feeling, that sense of awe and the satisfaction she was experiencing. Sheer bliss from reaching her goal despite the fatigue of her burning muscles and discomfort of her sweaty clothing. Finally, she too sat down and pulled out her mountain munchies and we began the task of map reading to identify all the peaks near and far while sipping our tea and indulging on chocolate bars – pure bliss!moutain veiw

Our moment of mountain peace didn’t last too long as the breeze heralded the arrival of a group of noisy hikers. Their excited voices being carried before them like a flock of seagulls welcoming a fishing trawler back to the harbor. Each voice trying to be heard over the others clamor.

I transfixed my gaze in the direction of the rabble to see six, gangly unkempt looking youths all carrying tools of different types crest the rocks. I watched intently as they dropped their packs, well worn axes and shovels clattered to the ground as they set about the task of attacking their provisions like a pack of hungry wolves.

posts-twins4It was then that it dawned on me that THIS was the trail crew. No big bearded giant with a massive Ox as his friend. Just six scrawny youths buzzing with the pride of a hard days graft. I listened to their stories of the days adventure and what still lay ahead of them. I watched as they offered each other whatever they had to eat, as they cracked jokes and ranked on each other all the while noting the look of exhaustion etched on their faces.

I must say for a moment that gig seemed appealing to me. Endless days out in the wilderness earning your crust the hard way. The opportunity to enjoy nature while working with a team scampering about, repairing the old path ways and helping to keep them clear for others to enjoy. Yes, indeed I must admit, it seemed very attractive.

We left the South Twin peak and its trail crew behind and started off north west along an easy trail to the summit of our last peak of the day, North Twin.

On reaching it, I was glad we had agreed to leave this till last on our loop. The best of the day was behind us now and this summit didn’t grant you the same glorious views as its southern neighbor . We stopped briefly at a clearing to marvel at the view behind us. Standing proud against the cloud dappled blue sky, South Twin looked beautiful! We could still see the tiny ant like figures of the trail crew sitting up top. Even though they were still in site, luckily their youthful voices and opinions were devoured by the still air of the silent wilderness.

It didn’t take us long to hike back down through the forests to the trail head where we had left the cars. Our post hike tradition has become, to kick off our boots permitting our tired feet some much needed cooling and fresh air, while we chat about our day’s adventure over cold beverages. Les enjoys her ice cold beer while I savor a cold ginger ale before parting ways.

The day had come to an end. The drive home was long but peaceful. I was content and felt as though my balance had returned. I was back in touch with God and nature. I had been to church all day, covered many miles on those rocky trails, gazed into the heavens. I had been to the church of my mountains and I had found salvation in the wild places. The salvation I needed for my soul.


A West Coast Triumph in Scotland

A West Coast Triumph in Scotland – One man’s journey round Scotland on his Triumph motorbike.

By: James Johnston

I guess you could say my fascination with motorbikes or old motorbikes, to be more precise, started when I was a young lad growing up outside of Glasgow. There were a bunch of older lads who had embraced the rocker life style and I would stare at them in wonder as they lurked around in their battered leather jackets, oil stained jeans, long unkempt hair and beards that just looked, well to a young pre-pubescent boy, God like!

I remember plucking up the courage one day to spit out some words as one of these leather clad layabouts walked past me “Hey! You ride a motorbike don’t you?” He turned to me and in a lazy but cool manor said “Triumph wee man, only the best.”

I was star struck. Triumph what a name! I mean it sounded so cool, so victorious and so final. It’s safe to say from that moment on I was bitten by the motorcycle bug, the Triumph motorcycle bug.

Years would roll on past before I finally got my bike license and became a proud biker myself. But I had never forgotten about these glorious machines. In fact I had been reading about them, studying them and hanging out with crazy old bikers who would routinely top up my fantasies with stories of the good old days where there were very little traffic lights to slow you down, when chasing the “ton” was the weekend excitement and camping out with your trusty steed was why summers were created. It was these stories that fueled my imagination and my desire to get my ticket and one day become a biker.

That day came while on the road touring with my band in America. I bought my first bike, a 1979 Triumph Bonneville….750 ccs of pure fun. I still have her and she is still my number one love but I needed a bike for Scotland, my home.

Scotland is the place of grand mountains, sweeping loch side roads and winding passes that guide you through ancient glens. Scotland is a country with over 6000 miles of coastline to explore. I needed to go on this journey that had been simmering in my head since those days of my childhood. I could still hear the words “Triumph wee man, only the best” calling to me.

It so happened on my return home from touring Mick, my producer and friend, was settling down with another child. He decided that roaring around on his bike was better left alone now. He had in his possession a beautiful 3 cylinder Triumph Adventurer 900 cc with burnt orange paint work that just spoke to me. It reminded me of the setting sun. “Jamesie, you still interested in this Triumph? She’s having troubles firing up but yours if you want her.”

The same day I was up in his barn, the two of us trying to figure out what was wrong with his beast. She still wouldn’t start but I didn’t care that she wouldn’t roar for me. I knew that she was coming home with me and that together she and I would sort out her problems and it would be the start of something special.

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I did my homework and found out what was wrong. I tinkered and tinkered, called in some help and with minimal cash spent “Rosie” was alive and purring. Mick had removed the stock mufflers and replaced them with stubby chrome straight-throughs. Let me tell you, when I thundered out of my Mums driveway to give her a proper test run I thought I was riding at the front of a fleet of Lancaster Bombers!

What a noise! What a grumble, a rumble and a roar! I felt ten feet tall as I speed through the neighborhood streets. I could feel the eyes of the neighbors on me, as they tried to figure out what was causing their windows to vibrate.

My best mate Dave “Freddie” Fraser, a lifelong biker himself, was excited at the thought of the adventures that lay before us. Road trips, Saturday blasts and those long dreamt of camping trips up the north of Scotland, were finally going to happen.

After a few weekend rides had past, we decided it was time to go on a weeklong camping trip of the motherland. This would start from Glasgow, take in the west coast highlands, and then move across the wild northern coastline before dropping down the east coast and slicing into the heartlands and back to Glasgow. The route had been planned, campsites had been booked and now all we had to do was saddle up and hope the weather was going to be kind to us. Right! It is Scotland remember?

posts-triumph02We took off on a Saturday morning in typical miserable weekend weather, smirry rain. When you’re riding into it you don’t have a chance of staying remotely dry. Determined not to be put off, we charged off up the west side of Loch Lomond. Even though we were not able to see the sights through the gloomy grey we were still excited at the road ahead.

Our first stop was at the small highland town of Inveraray, home of the Duke of Argyll himself. On this day, I reckoned the duke would have been snuggled up next to his log fire with his trusty deerhounds at his feet with no need to survey his kingdom in the dreary weather.

Despite the rain and cold the town was still busy. Weekenders out for a run in the car were now trying to find an empty seat in one of the few cafes. A place to shrug off their damp coats and enjoy a brew, maybe a cake and a chin wag or sit in that familiar couples silence and listen to the hearty din of others hard at the yacking.

posts-triumph03We too looked for those elusive spare seats and came up short. Instead we had to stand outside and cup our warm teas in our cold hands, staring grimly at the dull waves of sheet rain coming steadily in from Loch Fyne. It was decided then that we would cut our day short and head straight for the youth hostel at Glencoe. Camping didn’t cut it now as we were soaking wet. A warm shower and hot food were all that we wanted.

Our arrival was greeted with sympathy from an English lady who ran the place. Oddly you’ll find that most hostels in Scotland are run by English people, a strange fact that you’ll become aware of if you ever tour this land. We unrolled our sleeping bags and took a hot shower. It’s amazing the wonders of a warm shower. Indeed, things did not seem as bad.

After a good munch and a few cold beers we decided that we would crack on tomorrow up to Applecross and begin our journey into the more remote parts of north-west Scotland, a biker’s paradise.

Sunday I was awoken to Freddie’s snoring and a deserted dorm. I suspect due to his snoring. I crawled out of my warm cocoon and dared to look out of the window. Grey! Grey sheets of rain lashing everything in sight with no mercy, my heart sank. I awoke sleeping beauty and bummed some coffee from a happy go lucky mountain climber who was up celebrating his birthday weekend by himself, seemingly undaunted by the horrid conditions outside.

Grateful for the brew we stood at the door, in silence, looking across at our bikes, both thinking the same thing but not wanting to say it. The trip was over. Neither of us had the want nor drives to carry on up the coast for the weather was not to change. The eternal grey gloom and lashing rain was to reign supreme in the highlands this Sunday. At last I spoke up “Home Freddie, screw this!”

We fueled the bikes up and headed south for home. Rosie had handled the ride in the rain beautifully, gliding through the water logged roads without a problem. She had been a joy to ride and it irked me that I had to cut short this adventure.

We rode down through Glen Falloch, in what can only be described as Poseidon’s fury, as we got slammed by torrential rain and gusting winds. On passing Loch Lomond for the second time in as many days I shuddered at the thought of falling into those icy choppy waters. White horses on the lochs surface seemed to want to race me, putting me in a trance. The rain soon slapped me out of it. Before long we breached the boundaries of Glasgow and headed home defeated and broken.

I showered and ate a hot meal, bringing me back to life. I sat with my feet up feeling depressed that I was home only a day after leaving for my long-awaited ride round Scotland. What a letdown I thought, as I gazed numbly at the TV screen, watching the news.

When the weather report came on I suddenly snapped out of my gloom and paid attention to the forecaster. He was telling of a break in the weather for the next few days. I came alive as if jolted by electricity! The trip was back on! I grabbed the phone and excitedly called Freddie. “Let’s go!” he shouted.

Monday morning we were back out. We were dry, rejuvenated and cruising up through Glencoe where the scene of our defeat had taken place just a day prior. The sun was out and the clouds were gathered in massive formations that towered over the Argyll mountain ranges. The tarmac was dry, the wind was blowing and it was an amazing day to be seeing this haunting glen. My mind wandered to thoughts of the infamous massacre and all the suffering, I wondered how such a beautiful place could harbor such sorrow.

posts-triumph04The route to Applecross in the remote area of Sutherland, our planned stop for the night, took us up over the third highest road on mainland Britain, Bealach na Ba. Translated this means “the pass of the cattle.” Sitting at 2054 ft it’s a single track road that climbs from the loch side and takes you up over the mountain via a series of hairpin bends that conjure up images and thoughts of the Swiss Alps, not Scotland.

Every sense you possess is on full alert as you steer your bike up through this pass taking care not to hit loose gravel or clip the close edge. While all the time trying to take in the grand mountain sides that enclose either side of you. I kept Rosie in low gear and let her low end torque bite deep into the road surface, upward she pulled. We stopped at the top to take some pictures and commented on each other’s Cheshire cat like grins. Both of us were buzzing with the rush of navigating that road. The ride down the other side took just as much concentration as coming up. The camber and tight turns demanding your attention for one slip would have you skidding off the road and getting up close and personal with the heather covered moorland of the mountain top.posts-triumph05

We rumbled into Applecross and found the youth hostel, a converted farm house set by a running river, in green fields, with highland cattle grazing a stone’s throw from the front door. We checked in and found our room. This was perfect. There is only one place to eat at night in Applecross and that’s the Inn. We had come prepared with our own food so we decided on having a wander along the river banks, taking in the peace and quiet of it all, filling our lungs with the smell of the Atlantic being brought to us by a gentle westerly wind. This place really is lost in time I thought as the giddy feeling I had inside began to takeover. We did it! I was finally out in the wilds on my motorbike doing what I had dreamt of for years! Just me, my Triumph and my best mate surrounded by some of the most awe-inspiring scenery the world has to offer.

posts-triumph06We slept well in the still silence that the dark brings in Applecross and were advised that a great breakfast was to be had just down the road in a small tearoom surrounded by a Victorian walled garden. Our appetites were stimulated by the fresh country air as we blasted the few miles along the road. Once we arrived we were treated to a scrumptious breakfast indeed. Surrounded in, what I can only describe as, a café come greenhouse. I left there swearing that I shall endeavor to visit this place at the height of spring or summer when the gardens are in full bloom and a real hive of activity.

Tuesday had us ride the coastal road and divert back onto the mainland all the time being teased with glimpses out to the Atlantic and the Hebridean Isle of Skye. We snaked our way through more mountain passes and single track roads passing other bikers, no doubt chasing their own dreams. We decided that our journey today would be to Durness on the very north western edge of the mainland. It took us past some of the most breath taking sights I have ever seen. The road from the Gairloch to Ullapool reminded me of an image you would see painted on a short-bread tin. It looked picture perfect as we speed past. Caledonian pine forests went by in a blur of reddish brown and green all the time assaulting my sense of smell. The strong pine scent reminded me of a hospital corridor, like a smell of pine disinfectant.posts-triumph07

We pulled into Ullapool for a well-deserved cup of tea. Our destination of choice, once inside, looked like something from a 1950’s TV show. The room was full off quaint gifts and ships in bottles, typical harbor town trinkets. The selection of wonderful deserts presented to us on a vintage silver cake stand made them look all the more appealing, I was sold. But then I’m never one to turn down a tasty biscuit.

The road from Ullapool to Durness is such an amazing experience. The landscape changes and becomes more like the surface of the moon as you tour though glacial retreats, vast swathes of land carved out by the dying ice giants. In some parts it’s hard to think that anyone lives up here, maybe they don’t. Rosie took on a whole new life up in those lonely glens. The straight through pipes I spoke of earlier echoed off the mountain walls terrifying all within earshot. It was music to my ears. Her throaty growl was the perfect soundtrack to this desolate wilderness once inhabited by warring clans and governed by mighty clan Chiefs. That day it lay still and silent like some eerie testament to the wild old days.posts-triumph08

We came upon the small highland village of Durness just before dusk. Finding our B&B took some doing. I had, in my typical forgetful fashion, left the address behind in Applecross. We sailed through the streets looking at every house trying to jog my memory for a name.

At last we found it perched up top of a hill and at the end of the road. It was a beautiful place with stunning views all around. Our land lady advised us that the only restaurant left open was about to stop taking food orders in ten minutes so we dumped our road stained bags and roared off down the farm tracks to the main village. She was not kidding, we just squeaked in. Barely making last orders for grub made us laugh. Although missing this meal would have been no laughing matter. Both of us were famished, the night could have been a long and grumpy one.

After some fine fish and chips we ventured outside into the gloomy semi darkness that haunts the northern parts of Scotland at this time of the year, never really getting too dark in late spring early summer. We found a bench overlooking a windswept beach and sat in silence at the majesty of it all. Sea gulls hung in the air, huge waves crashed onto the sands and all around us the world was peaceful. I almost felt a twinge of guilt at the thought of firing Rosie up again and shattering this serene atmosphere.

The morning had us seated at the land lady’s large farmhouse style breakfast table where she heaped loads of freshly made scrambled eggs onto our plates. This made me happy as I love a good breakie but Freddie, being a light weight in the eating department, looked terrified. The thought of having to devour the lot as not to offend our host had Freddie’s face plastered with fear.

The chat was merry at the table as she asked us about our journey so far and where we still had to go. Her husband would stick his head round the door every now and then and chime in with some words of wisdom of the road. Seems he knew these parts rather well. I finished my eggs and Freddie’s left overs then washed it all down with tea. It was time to leave and time to hit the open road again for John O Groats the official end of Scotland was on the cards today.

We packed our gear, said our goodbyes and headed outside. The dreaded grey had returned. Long, cold, shimmering curtains of rain swept the landscape making sure that nothing escaped its wet miserable watery touch. We throttled out of Durness and headed east along the coastal road not really seeing through the gloom. We were fighting the rain, trying to stay focused on our surroundings. The hardy sheep that live up in these parts tend to have a suicidal want to wander along the middle of the roads. Not even the rumble of the bikes seemed to deter them. It’s almost as if they are saying “This is our land, and we’re prepared to battle until death!”

posts-triumph09One of the highlights of this trip was to visit John O Groats, the very tip of northern Scotland, where for a small sum you can get your picture taken at the official sign post. And if you’re lucky, get to put your own name in letters under the village name. I had dreamed of this picture the whole way up the western coast but in my heart I was starting to realize that today was not going to be that day. The rain had grown stronger, as we headed east, the puddles on the single track roads now resembled small lochans that almost swallowed up the wheels of our bikes.

I pulled in and a dejected Freddie ground to a halt beside me. He flipped his visor up and I shouted over the din “Bugger this Freddie, John O Groats can wait” with that we spun around to the short cut to our much anticipated accommodations for the night. We raced across the open moorlands with no shelter from the elements. We could actually see the next wave of rain looming like a specter in the distance waiting to engulf us in its misery. More than once we had to pull the bikes to a standstill to wipe off our visors and take stock of our surroundings. Finally, after what seemed an endless ride across the vast nothingness, we burst into a lush wooded glen. That’s the amazing thing about motor biking in Scotland you just never know what’s waiting round the bend or up the street. All sorts of beautiful sights await the avid adventurer.

As we entered the glen I rolled off Rosie’s throttle and slowed her down, memorized by the raging river Helmsdale. Helmsdale, famous for its salmon fishing, was on my left and the earthy smelling woodlands were on my right. Just as I was absorbing the landscape, a large stag bounced onto the road and into the woods right in front of me. This stag was a huge beast with an impressive rack of antlers adorning his head like a mighty crown, a crown that only the king of the forest would wear. Once in the woods he turned to watch us ride past. His head was held high, pride radiating from him. What a noble creature, surely a member of the royal court, if not the king of the forest himself!

posts-triumph10Because we had cut our day short due to the weather we had arrived early into our digs for the night. We had arranged to stay at the Helmsdale youth hostel but on arrival found the place locked up. We parked the bikes and sat on the door step, looking rather pathetic I feared, soaked to the bone, with our rolled up bags at our feet. We only broke our silence when a merry border collie, we later learned was named Molly, came bounding round the corner and right up to the doorway in which we sat.

A woman carrying shopping bags was next round the corner and she too came to the door. “Can I help you?” she said in a very commanding fashion. We pointed out that we had booked there for the night and had not anticipated to be there until later but our plans had been derailed by the weather. The woman starred at us for a few seconds then said “Right you’re too early but I’ll let you in anyhow. Once I show you around you’re on your own” and with that she whistled at Molly and vanished off through the large wooden doors into the hostel.

We looked at each other, shrugged and ventured in after Molly and her owner. Once inside it looked to me that the hostel had once been a church or a Boy Scouts hall. Wood paneling lined the walls, both Fred’s and my eyes fixing firmly on the wood burning stove. Irene, the owner, must have seen us starring at it. “I’ll light that stove later, have this place roasting” she said. And with that thought, the Cheshire cat grins returned to our weather beaten faces.

We dumped our road bags and stumbled out the door and down to the village to buy some supplies and have a look around. I hadn’t really looked into Helmsdale and other than the fact it sits conveniently on the east coast, not far south of John O Groats, I didn’t know much about it at all. Once we had grabbed some munchies and a few beers for the room later we took a wander through the streets that were vacant, except for a few locals.

At first appearance, I perceived the place to be just a sleepy little town perched on a hill side looking out to the cold and rough North Sea. No real story to be told here I thought. However, this sleepy little town held a much more interesting past. After further exploration I learned it had played a part in a dark chapter of my homelands history, the Highland clearances. In the late 18th and early 19th century this town had seen thousands of natives come to its shore. Some people chose to stay and tough it out but many with no other choice had to board the immigrant ships and leave for the new world.

posts-triumph11We stood in the rain underneath a huge bronze statue of a highlander and his family. His sculpted face commemorating the clear distress he must have felt. The agony of fear and the unknown were etched perfectly on their faces as they stared out at the very same menacing sea that we now did some 300 years later. As we thought about what it must have felt like to know full well that you’d most likely never set foot on your homestead again, it was a somber moment for both of us.

Once back at Irene’s and Molly’s hostel an enjoyable night was had in the company of them both. A back packing fella from Holland and a brave young English lad had also checked into the hostel. The English lad, having recently lost his mum to cancer, was walking from lands’ end at the very southern tip of England to John O Grouts to raise money for charity. I listened to the tales of his wander so far, blistered feet and twisted ankles, hung over mornings after beer fueled nights in long forgotten towns. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that once my mate Fred started to snore in the dorm he was sharing with us he’d be in for some more misery tonight!

Thursday morn we awoke to overcast skies as we prepared for our days ride south into the whisky heartlands of Spey side, Granton- on -Spey to be precise. We said our goodbyes to Irene and Molly and headed off down the A9 coastal road. With farm lands on one side of us and the rugged crags and ruined castle skyline on the other, even with the dark thunder like clouds above us I was content riding this morning. Rosie purred and seemed to be happy too. Every now and then, in a cat and mouse fashion, I’d pass Fred at high speed and he too looked happy. It wasn’t some age old Celtic magic happening to us but rather simply the joy of the open road. We were far away from the day to day worries, just two bikers out chasing a storm on two steal steeds, tasting the elements, feeling the earth beneath us as we raced on south.

posts-triumph12We pulled off the A9 and stopped at a junction that I’d been at a few time before. The small blink of an eye and you’ll miss it, the town of Carrbridge. There happens to be a bridge there, not a normal bridge, this one dates back to 1717 and is visually prominent due to it’s almost hump back structure. We got off the bikes and took some pictures, each wondering how this bridge would have been used back in its day before the modern bypass. I couldn’t help but think that it looks like the perfect place for jumping off into the cooling waters of the river Dulnain on a hot summer’s day. On this dreary and chilly day it was a comforting daydream.

Back on the bikes we passed through enchanting Caledonian pine forests, the very image of Scotland themselves. We could have been riding through middle earth straight from the pages of a Tolkien book for all we knew. These were old and wise woods with the Cairngorm Mountains reaching from their depths, stubborn snow caps still adorning these rock lords of the east, brown with a flash of white, like the mighty sea eagle who soars

overhead. I was grinning again, I was aware of it. I shouted out to the woodlands, this is why I had come! I was living my dream!

We spent the night in the highland town on Granton-on-spey deep in the heart of whisky country. A mecca for drinkers of Scotland’s finest import, it’s a quaint place with Victorian buildings of grand construction, the likes you’ll not see again unless you have vast amounts of money at your disposal.

We bunked at a local hostel and wandered off into town to treat ourselves to an Indian meal. This we had planned in advance and had been looking forward to since leaving Glasgow. Walking down the high street I felt as if we should have been wearing wax jackets or Barbour pheasant hunting attire. The buildings and shop fronts emanated the grace of highland gentry and a time gone by. It felt good to wander these streets and be a guest in the ancient kingdom of Moray. Our much awaited Indian meal was superb! With the heady aroma of Asian herbs and the sounds of the sitar filling the air we feasted on spicy delights, washed down with cold authentic Indian lager, a perfect end to a perfect days biking.

posts-triumph13Friday morning the sun shone on us as we parted company with Spey side. Our plan was to ride over the high pass of Glenshee and down to Braemar, famed home of the Royal family when they are visiting Scotland. I had never been there before and had only visited Glen Shee once as a young scout on a skiing day out. I had heard from other bikers that the road over the pass was one of the best biking roads to be found in all of Europe.

They weren’t lying. The road snaked up over vast green hillsides, sliced open at the summit by ragged black rocks that seemed to burst free from the mountain like some massive fossilized dinosaur spine. We crested the pass in glorious sunshine and felt alive as a blast of cold mountain air greeted us with chilly open arms. I felt truly blessed this morning, my country and my bike seemed at one with each other treating me to an almost heavenly experience.

We followed the river down through the hills and out across open countryside where nothing but farmlands can be seen as far as the eye can see. I imagined to myself what life must be like out here in the country, living the life of a farmer. Good old honest hard work was the laird out here. The country fresh air was in abundance to fill your lungs and help you sleep the sleep of the righteous at night. I must admit the thought appealed to me. Could I live a quiet life at a slow pace or was I just romanticizing and seeing life up here through the green tinted spectacles of a part-time outdoorsman?

Braemar is beautiful! All the stories I had heard were true. It’s a magical place wrapped up in castles, woodlands and flowing rivers of unrivaled beauty. The Victorian architecture is something to see on its own but paired with this scenery it really is surreal.

I hadn’t booked ahead for this night so on arriving we followed the signs for the Scottish youth hostel building and tried there first. We were politely told there was no room at the Inn and that we might have trouble finding a place due to it being some kind of bank holiday that yours truly hadn’t taken into account.

posts-triumph14We slowly rode back through town eyeing the B&B signs in most windows like a couple of cat burglars only to see “NO VACANCIES” starring back at us. I couldn’t help but think we must have looked a troublesome sight slowly cruising back and forth glaring at the houses, when all we wanted was a bed for the night. At last we pulled into a grand looking hotel and tried our luck and it seemed that it was in! The land lady told me she had just had a cancellation and a double room was indeed available for a very reasonable price. Lady luck was on our side. We plunked our road weary bodies down on our freshly made beds and laughed at our good fortune. Fred clicked the kettle on and after a good brew we took off in search of the local chippy.

There’s a kind of peace to be found wandering the streets of these small highland holiday villages but it’s also mixed with a feeling that you’re almost trespassing on some hallowed ground. Taking in the village sounds I could hear the sound of the blackbird, while the song thrush thrills the early evening atmosphere. Its songful punctuations burst in a top the ambient humming of a lawn mower being pushed along by an elderly gent working off his supper. All the while a prop engine plane flew overhead and the sounds of the river rushing, on its way to wherever rivers seem to rush to, culminated, in what seemed to me to be, the soundtrack for a more simple way of life.

All of these things added to the warm and safe feeling that seeps over you as you sit on a bench and pick at your chips. Chips served in a brown paper bag stained from the vital ingredient of dripping oil that makes the chips so darn tasty. We headed back to the hotel for a night cap in the lobby bar and were happily surprised to find the log fire had been lit and some of the locals were in having chinwag about life in the village. We nursed our pints entranced by the chat of the locals and their lyrical highland accents, every now and then nudging each other if we found a comment interesting or funny. We drained our pints and skulked off to our room. Sleep came easy that night, dreams of pipers and castles, Lochs and ladies. We drifted deep into the highland mist.

posts-triumph15Saturday morning and again the sun favored us! We were both in good spirits as we scooped up our hearty highland breakfasts and chatted. We should have been sad at that thought of the trip coming to end but we weren’t. More than 100 epic miles laid between us and our home town of Glasgow today. The open road fever had us in its grip! After a fuel stop on the outskirts of town we roared off west across the open moors towards the town of Pitlochry and from there we planned to ride down past beautiful Loch Tay , through Rob Roy MacGregor country and back towards the industrial heartlands of Glasgow.

The ride to Pitlochry took us through many remote glens of stunning beauty. Once again, we had to be vigilant due to the defiant and almost suicidal sheep who call these parts home. One thing that I love about biking is the smell in the air. Everything seems to be multiplied ten times when you’re on a bike. Be it a farmer mucking his fields or the road workers laying new tar on a broken pothole section of road, these smells seem all the better when you’re riding in the open air. Through the surrounding glens of Pitlochry, I was reminded of the old saying “only a biker knows why a dog sticks its head out of a car window.”

Passing the small towns of Aberfeldy and Kenmore our minds were now fixed on the next section of road, this the section that will see us ride alongside Loch Tay. Loch Tay is a vast body of water, sapphire blue in color, immersed in myth and charmed with sunbeams dancing on its surface like mischievous spirits. This part of the day was one that stands out in my memory. The lochside farms that we past, the mountains rising high above us on either side, old stone walls separating the long standing green fields that give life to so much around them, it was as if the very earth of Scotland was talking to these two bikers as they crossed its skin.

We passed through the small town of Killin, both remembering a past trip here, where we’d fuel up on chips and cups of tea from one of the many cafes that can be found in this gem of a village. We crossed over the famous falls of Dochart a wondrous sight and headed for Glen Ogle opting for a tea break at the little burger van we knew sat at the top of this ancient pass. This little privately owned burger van is a favorite with the two wheeled tourist and we were not surprised to find other bikers already there enjoying the goods that could be bought there. We furnished ourselves with cups of tea, rolls and cheese and watched this busy little highland eatery serve people, all the while, basking in the smell of sizzling sausage and salty bacon. The savory smells were making even this vegetarian water at the mouth.

Reluctantly leaving Glen Ogle and the burger van behind, we rode down through the pass and into the Trossachs. This is an area of Scotland known for its rich history and beauty and more famously known for one of her sons, the outlaw Rob Roy Macgregor.

posts-triumph16Being a history buff and a fan of this man and his legendry skullduggery it’s always a blessing to travel these parts. Each time I’m there my mind begins wandering to the adventures and escapades of this great highland rogue. As we meandered past the lochs and mountains of his domain I couldn’t help but feel a wee bit jealous that this was where he called home. What a beautiful place to settle, to roam and to conduct business. Yes, I believe he was a lucky man indeed.

As we slowed our pace down to navigate the busy little town of Callander I think we both now felt that feeling of sadness. We were a mere half hour or so from our homes. The journey was drawing to an end and the 900 miles had passed in typical Scottish fashion. We’d endured rain, wind, sun and a blur of some of the best landscapes this world has to offer. But of course I am a wee bit biased.

The sun was dropping to the western hills as we past the Carbeth Inn, a mecca for a biker out on a day run from Glasgow. We nodded in salute to some riders parked up outside enjoying a coffee and a chat. Our bikes were now on auto pilot as they knew each and every turn on this notorious road back to the village of Bearsden.

With the light fading, I pulled in behind Fred who was waiting for me in a lay by. I drew up beside his bike with a heavy heart knowing that this was the end of our adventure. The end of a dream realized. Together we had ridden through storms, watched waves crash down on beaches, sped past countless ruined castles standing silent as a reminder to the days when clansman ruled the glens. We wandered the streets in sleepy highland towns while peat smoke from quaint little houses rose in gloaming. We had met people on their own adventures, eaten fine foods and drank lager from far off lands together. We had ridden around the coast of Scotland sharing and making new memories that will stay with both of us a life time.

posts-triumph17Fred stretched out his gloved hand, flipped up his visor and said his goodbyes and with that he was gone. I watched him blast off down the road before pulling a U-turn and heading for home myself. I pulled into my drive way and switched Rosie off, sitting in silence for a few minutes listening to the slowing but steady ticking noise she made like some resting beast after an exhausting hunt.

I stepped back and thanked her for taking care of me, patted her tank and headed in doors to be greeted by my anxiously awaiting mum. She was looking forward to the details of my monumental adventure. I clicked the kettle on, I needed a brew. Once I began to re-live the details of my journey that Cheshire cat grin was back


Beyond the West Highland Way

posts-whw1The West Highland Way is probably Scotland’s most loved long distance trail. This Ninety-six mile trail from Milngavie, just on the outskirts of Glasgow, runs through the industrial heartland of the country to Fort William, deep in the Western Highlands.

It’s a walk that see’s the hiker pass through country parks, wander along the banks of the longest loch, cross remote wilderness and end up under the watchful eye of the highest peak, Ben Nevis.

Sticking to the clearly marked trail treats the adventurer to some of the best views to be found in this lush green land. If one would take a step off the trail and venture a few miles north just at the northern edge of Rannoch Moor, you would find yourself at the very gates of the mysterious and majestic Glencoe, or as it’s known locally, the Glen of Weeping.

In order to do this, you have to deviate from the official trail and creep alongside the often busy A82. This is the chosen route of the four wheeled sight seer, as they hurtle themselves through a few million years of landscaping, while all the time staring out of a window vandalized by smudges.

If they are lucky and the weather is being kind, they might just get to step outside of their climate controlled man made environment and snap a few pictures to share with the world via their social media device. And just as instantly as the picture posts to Instagram they will move on, never stopping to look past their camera lens to the adventure that awaits them.

posts-whw2But for the two footed traveler the first-hand glories to be discovered when you escape the vast open loneliness of the Rannoch Moor, parting company with the roadside, submerging yourself into this eerie but beautiful glen, are never to be forgotten.

The very air around you seems to silence, like Mother Nature saying “hush” in some ancient outdoor library. Sun, rain, sleet or snow, the same heavy atmosphere commands your attention, as you gaze with wonder high up to the southern side of the glen, while it towers over you from above.

These massive buttresses of rock are known as the three sisters. And many a time I have stood at their feet craning my neck upwards and feeling intimidated as these huge dark ladies of rock glower over me with an almost disapproving look.

The sounds of cars nearby or even jet airliners passing thousands of feet overhead are lost down there in the belly of the glen. It’s just you and the sounds that have been haunting there for longer than man has been present. Wind rushing down through the pass, heavy with  tales from other lands, bestowing them upon you before carrying on north west  to Loch Leven, where it will whip the waters to a frenzy of excitement, making the small fishing boats jump up and down as if dancing to its merry tune.

We dare to glance at the northern side of the glen, where a mighty forbidding wall of rock rising straight up from the glen floor and ending in a rugged sharp looking row of dark decayed teeth, tries to bite the very sky itself. In this world fit for mountaineers and eagles, our minds begin to roam as we think of traversing the pathway up there that runs the length of the glen, the Aonach Eagach ridge. This task, not to be taken lightly, is one that would grant you a thrill beyond measure.

We are brought back to earth with each step we take further and deeper into this remnant of a once powerful glacier. The damp Scottish air grows thicker now, as the streams run riot down the rock faces from high above, as if wanting to extinguish the sorrow and despair cast upon this historic land when the infamous massacre took place in 1692. Countless souls lost their lives in a murderous act of cowardice that destroyed families, burnt crofts to the ground, left children orphaned and a proud country  bearing a scar that will never heal. All in the name of that age old evil that mankind hides behind in order to carry out its self-gratifying deeds, politics.

posts-whw3Still under the stern watch of the three sisters, we pass a long looking gash of a cave high up on the mountainside. This cave was once the home of the Celtic seer and poet Ossian. Looking up at his cold and gloomy abode our imaginations are turned loose as we picture this legend of Celtic folk lore taking refuge high above the pass, writing his stories and receiving offerings from the natives. It’s in this moment we tell ourselves that we will one day scale the bleak rock face and see with our own eyes the hidden interior of this legends lair.

Eight miles later, after we first sneaked entry into the glen, we stumble out onto green pastures fed by the river Coe. Scottish royalty, the red stag, can be found in late spring grazing on the new growth before taking to the wind and disappearing up into the high untamed corries of the mountains, away from the prying eyes of mankind, where he can rule as king alone.

Our wander has passed in what seems the blink of an eye. Only eight miles have gone by but millions of years of evolution have passed under the reassuring soles of our trusted hiking boots. We have wandered through the scattered remains of a once violent volcano, dreamt of high altitude scrambles, smelled the burning of the heather and heard the cry of the innocent, where a bloody massacre once raged on.

We have trodden paths once stalked by the mighty clan chiefs of the all-powerful Clan MacDonald, been guests in the dining room of the four – legged king of Alba and walked the steps many a great man took before us, all because we ventured off the beaten path.  So if you find yourself in Scotland walking the West highland Way, pause at the bottom of the Devils Staircase and listen. Maybe the wind will call your name and invite you to wander the Glen of Weeping.

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Sanibel Island Drifting…

While on the road with my band I am blessed at times to witness amazing moments and venture to parts of the world that most folk can only dream of going. One of those places is Sanibel Island , a small strip of land off the Florida coast that has its own ecosystem.

Whenever I get the chance to visit I always see it as a special treat. It’s a time to relax and get back to my roots, cycle,run and bird watch on Ding Darling nature reserve, or simply sit back and eat well on the fresh fish served nightly in any of the fine dining establishments on the island.

This year I was lucky enough to try my hand at sea kayaking. I was able to follow dolphins as they played in the surf, hearing them breathe through their blowholes and almost feel the expelled air as the sea breeze kissed it and blew it across me like a magical mist gifted to our world from Poseidon’s deep dark realm. I watched pelicans skim the surface mere feet  from where I floated, saluting me like a victorious world war spitfire dipping its wings as it flew past. The tranquility of it all was very humbling indeed. Till next year dear Sanibel….till next year.


A Sanibel Sunrise Banquet

posts-sanibel-feastPitch black ruled the morning air. No stars dared peak through the inky gloom of the still Floridian sky.

I lay on the ground and listened to the surf rhythmically pound the beach, again and again and again, each time washing ashore more particles of shell and stone. Each one a tiny time traveler who’s epic voyage through the turbulent seas and transformation from powerful rock to grain of sand had now come to an end…here on Sanibel Island, home to billions of other washed up rejects spat out from the mighty ocean .
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Around me life was stirring, the dart like Sand piper was awake and moving this way and that, feasting on the morning banquet freshly tossed up by the waves. The sand almost crawled at times seemingly alive with all the little crustaceans desperately trying to bury themselves deeper in the sand, desperately trying to avoid capture and the sharp end of the pipers probing beak. Hundreds of hardy little sea faring creatures battling hard to hang onto life. I lay in silence, in awe of this struggle for life and death. And still the surf pounded ashore ..again and again and again.

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A Muckle Time On Mt. Moosilauke.

Saturday started at 6am and was bitterly cold outdoors making it all the harder to leave the sanctuary of a warm bed but a long drive north was on the cards as I was meeting my hill walking chum Lesley at the trail head for 9am , so no lingering in the  womb like embrace of the down comforter for me… after a quick wash and my flask of tea brewed I was out the door and driving , head filled with adventure and mountain day dreams.

If you’ve been following my wanders you’re now well aware of the fact that I have a love of these White Mountains in New Hampshire, I guess I feel close to my native Scotland when I hike them , the rock , moss and even the trails remind me of days spent scrambling around Glen Coe or spending airy afternoons on a ridge high above Glen Shiel in Kintail….all this should come as no surprise to me considering that a mere few million years ago before the break up of the continents these two lands were once one….fascinating thought and one that I like to ponder upon while drinking hot tea by a loch side with a view to fuel my imagination.

The road to Mt Moosilauke, my chosen hill for today took me through a slice of forgotten America , hidden deep inside New Hampshire by the vast forests and huge mountains these small rural villages that  I was sweeping past looked as though they had been left behind, almost like a Brigadoon , abandoned by modern man and left to smolder in the reek of wood burning hearths, apple-wood tobacco and corn cob pipes…..oh how I love these places , long may they stay hidden and safe from the mayhem of this digital world that we call progress.

posts-moosilauke1Pulling into the busy trail head car parking dirt lot I was greeted by my chum Lesley , a hillwalking , ice climbing outdoor enthusiast …always up for a mountain challenge in any weather ….I often wonder if this girl is married to the fresh air. After exchanging happy new years and strapping on our boots we were off…crunching across frozen snow and ice and into the heavy snow laden trees that would pretty much keep us company the whole way up this 4800 foot hulk of a hill , the snow on the branches sat thick like the pink fiber used to insulate lofts but only this was white or brilliant white with a tinge of sky blue the deeper you peered into the trees. We hiked fast chatting of this and that , stopping every now and then to gaze at the surrounding vista…blissfully unaware of the fellow hikers that we past as we trudged higher and higher,closer to our summit goal.mooslilauke 1

One thing I’d like to mention about meeting fellow hikers on the trail or any trail  for that matter is that considering both parties are complete strangers one can strike up the most pleasant of conversations full of smiles and laughter….try that in a busy street down in city land and I fear the same result will not be forthcoming…..it is simply the magic of the wild places working its ways…reconnecting us with some sort of inner happiness that is blocked out when we travel moosilauke 2the concrete jungles of city land.

posts-moosilauke2We arrived on the summit after a couple of hours of hard hiking , the sweat on my back taking no time at all to chill once I stood in the open without the protection of the trees that lined the trail up…we followed the carriage way to the actual summit cairn where we stood in awe of the surrounding beauty…wind whipped and clear…the mountains laid out before us like ripples on some massive brown carpet laid down by the creator himself, both of us struck silent by the majesty of it all. The summit is large and open and on a cold winters day like this there is no hiding place from the biting winds so after taking some photos a fast retreat was all that I was thinking about…back to the trees at the trail head…where once there I could break out my trusty flask and heat myself up with its delightful contents. Although not as cold as my last White Mountains adventure up Mt. Garfield this was indeed an arctic like feeling and I was so grateful for my charcoal hand warmers that were now working their magic inside my Gore-tex mitts like hot water bottles in your bed on a frosty night…my mind struggling to comprehend  why my hands were sweating on such a cold day….these little pocket furnaces are my new friend.

Our wander down the hillside took more concentration  due to the steepness and it being snow packed with plenty of ice…saying this, it didn’t take us long to arrive back at the cars glowing with the post mountain buzz ….if you climb you’ll know what am talking about….saying that, a day out sauntering the woods, a river bank or a shell covered beach will give you this same buzz….I challenge you to go find this buzz I speak off…find it and enjoy it…find it and hold onto it…place it in your memory so that you can visit it whenever you wish…visit it so many times that you have to go back out to nature and create new memories….and you might find that in finding ” it ” you will find something that you lost a long time ago…try it.


A Colorado Lass Comes Home

posts-ny-picI met Ny a few years back when she expressed an interest on coming on my West highland way wander ,  so began a friendship and one very out going girls adventure home to the motherland.

Spending time on the trail with Ny was interesting in many ways….for one she likes to talk…now this is not a bad thing so hush you if your laughing at me…it gave me a chance to learn who this girl is..was…and what she was looking for. It so happens that she had undertaken the hike to challenge her own fitness levels and connect with her Scottish roots….the first I cant really help with but the latter is something that gets my excitement flowing, any chance to talk about this country I call home is time well spent…so who was talking lots NOW!?!?

At times I would catch up to Ny on the trail and she’d be brimming with energy….pointing this out and that out , at other times id wander up next to her , sit on the heather and just enjoy the silence with her….and at these times I could sense she was back home…at one with her Scottish family in the glen….by the lochside…on the mountain top.

I had the pleasure of guiding Ny twice on the West highland way and both times I think she learned more about Scotland and herself , she recently sent me this magazine clipping from her work..reading it made me smile….brought back memories and confirmed my thoughts….yes…Ny had come home.


Breaking Ice

posts-boat-iceA  pre thanks giving adventure had me wandering around winter bound New Hampshire with my young but trusted friend Stone.

We started our day with a hike around the snow covered hills practicing our orientation skills and cold weather fire building techniques , cold and tiring work which had us trudging through calf deep drifts as we hunted for dry wood and birch bark so that we could get that much needed fire started. Matches or a lighter we not permitted on this challenge only our trusty knives and a flint….eventually with cold fingers but stubborn minds we had a determined flame licking at the dry bark….ahhh the feeling of heat on our icy skin.

Once we had rejoiced in our fire building skills we headed down off the hill to the banks of a lake that was showing the signs of winters freeze that was coming fast , the shore line had a frozen crust reaching out from its edges putting an end to the playful lapping of the waters…hush now …be still it said…time to sleep…the sun shall awaken you next spring.

We headed out in our canoe breaking the shore ice as we went…the smashing noise creating havoc in the still lake air like young vandals breaking windows in an abandoned church yard…I almost felt like an intruder in this perfectly peaceful winter scene. Once free from the ice we glided across the lake to study a flock of ducks who had taken up residence in one corner of the lake…we sat in silence as we appreciated the way our feathered friends went about their work, bobbing and diving without a care for the frigid temperatures. Alas we sailed to close to them and without warning they took to the air and as one they flew gracefully over our heads and out across the waters no doubt in search of a place to call their own , a place where man would leave them to their work and play…undisturbed.

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