Friday, 23 September 2016

ON THE TILT

In the mid 1800s the 6th Duke of Atholl, George Murray, resident in Blair Castle in the village of Blair Atholl, attempted to close probably the best glen in Scotland, Glen Tilt, running for 14 miles in a south westerly direction from the Cairngorms.

But thanks to the Scottish Rights of Way Society at the time he was unsuccessful. Just as well, as last weekend Pauline and I set off for a couple of days in that very area.

Normally we use trains to get to our outdoor destinations, but the train company in Scotland is so out of tune that we are rarely able to get our bicycles on the trains due to a lack of available space. Undeterred, we loaded the bikes into my van and headed for Pitlochry, 13 miles south of Blair Atholl and the start of Glen Tilt.

There was the familiar smell of autumn in the air as we set out from Pitlochry, and the temperature was perfect with blue skies overhead. Surprisingly though for this time of year the trees were showing no sign of turning into their autumn hues. Having left the van in Pitlochry, we pootled along on quiet little back roads  the dozen or so miles north west to Blair Atholl. Halfway we passed by the site of the Battle of Killecrankie. In 1689 the Jacobites were victorious over government troops, albeit with great losses on both sides of around 2,000 men.

Soon we were entering Blair Atholl on its southern edge, past Blair Castle and out north east for Glen Tilt. The majority of the route is good quality track, and so the going is easy and fairly quick. The first few miles wind through woods, with the River Tilt always on our right, cascading its way down to join the River Garry.

By the time we stopped for lunch we were already passed the halfway point. The sun shone as we sat and enjoyed our snacks in its warmth beside a small burn, flanked by native Rowan trees, heavy with their bright red berries.


The good quality track now started to deteriorate as we reached the end of the V-shaped glen. A narrow path continues on to the Cairngorm, but we were leaving it here to turn due east.


Right at this point here is an ornate suspension bridge easing the crossing of a fast, wide river coming down off the hills. Though attractive it looks completely out of place, and is known as the Bedford Bridge.


In 1879 an 18 year old lad called Francis John Bedford drowned at this spot. Having fought off the Duke's attempt to close the glen, the Scottish Rights of Way, together with contributions from friends, paid for a bridge to be built to commemorate this boys life, and exactly 130 years ago since it was built, we now used this magnificent structure to safely cross the river.

It was only mid afternoon when we decided to camp. The second section of our route would take us over to the next glen, and as far as we could deduce from the map there would not be many places to camp.


Tents set up and supper on the stove, we were joined by several hundred unwelcome visitors. Midges! They can ruin a camp. By mid September they are usually gone, but the weather has been so unseasonably warm this year that they are still out in force. Unwillingly to allow them to feast on us, we retired to our tents to eat our supper, read and listen to the river bubbling past as the light slowly faded.

On a chilly morning with the moon still visible low in the sky, we were faced with a tough challenge to the start of our second days route. A small hill with a very steep path stood in our way, and with the bikes fully loaded with kit we struggled to push them up the narrow path, at times almost losing balance to teeter over the edge. Pauline of course is more sensible than me, and did the climb in two stages, first the bike, then the kit. I on the other hand took the lazy option, and did it altogether.

It was around 2km before we cycled again, once the narrow footpath reached Fealar Lodge, said to be the highest, permanently inhabited dwelling in Scotland. From here the track we joined was of good quality and the going was fast. Mostly it is downhill and a lot of fun to allow gravity to do its job, with my hands always ready on the brakes of course, as the road twists it's way following the natural course of a river.


It was a striking glen, with large areas of forest regeneration in progress. At one point the track climbs very steeply but you are rewarded with a long fast downhill after. We stopped briefly for snacks before heading down the last few miles of the 12 mile run to join the main road. Turning west it was only 10 miles back to our start point of Pitlochry, with the last half being all downhill. As if that wasn't reward enough there was coffee and cake too.

On the way home Pauline asked me what my favourite part was. It's always hard to pick one above all others, but it dawned on me that it was at that moment. Not because it was over and we were on our way home, but because of the great feeling the Scottish hills leave you with, refreshed and relaxed.




Thursday, 15 September 2016

AND THE WINNER IS . . .

If you are a regular reader of my blog then you'll know that almost every Saturday of the year I teach youngsters how to make movies. They range in age from 6 to 18 and so far there are 152 students in total. Quite a handful but great fun.

I pretty much judge myself how to teach them and  we have a very flexible remit, the bottom line being that I need to improve their ability to act on camera and increase their confidence in front of camera. Throughout the year we achieve this through practical projects, usually just a few weeks long, but last year we embarked on six, high production value short films which we then entered into a film festival.

We started back in September 2015 on a blank sheet of paper. By Christmas they had developed scripts, cast parts and shot a few minutes of screen time. When we returned after the Christmas holidays it was full on production time. Normally I only get 50 minutes with each group, which isn't a lot of time to set up, rehearse, shoot and put everything away, so in January and into February we allocate a 3 hour slot to each group, morning and afternoon, over a three week period, to shoot extensive scenes. The scheduling is a headache, which I do for them in between weeks. By the start of March we were rerecording dialogue, ADR, and at the start of May we had the finished, polished films. It was my responsibility to edit the films, and to ease the pressure I edited the footage each week so that toward then end it was polishing and creating sound effects etc.

Well, we entered the films by the deadline at the start of June and heard nothing else. Until last week.

Astonishingly 252 films had been entered into the festival from the whole of the UK. There were three categories with three age groups and a total of 24 prizes in total. We knew we had produced the very best we could, but that was a big field to compete against.

Out of the six films we submitted, we won best film in three age groups, one in each category! Over 90 academies are operating in the UK, and the academy in Edinburgh won the most prizes. Needless to say I am very pleased and also very proud of the kids.

Here's a link (click on the picture) to one of the kids films on Vimeo, made by one of our teenage groups, called The Door:
 
https://vimeo.com/164349504

Now we are faced with a new challenge. How to get almost 80 kids to London on a Sunday in November for the red carpet event at the Odeon Leicester Square.

Be careful what you wish for, as they say.


Thursday, 8 September 2016

OUTDOOR COMMUNITY

It's great living where I do, right by the sea on the outskirts of Scotland's capital city. Strangely not everyone realises that Edinburgh has a seaside beach. On every hot, sunny summers day the mile-long beach is packed with visitors. But it's not just candy floss, slot machines and coffee shops that are available to entertain the hordes.

There's usually a special event of some description going on every month, and even though the Edinburgh International Festival & Fringe has now passed, Portobello continues to entertain. A couple of weeks ago it was the outdoor venue for The Big Busk, where musicians for all over descended on the promenade to entertain all day long. This past weekend was another gloriously warm and sunny one, and again Portobello played host.

It is well known there is a large creative contingent living in the area, including a great many artists. Almost 50 of these artists ran an open door event over the whole weekend called The Art Walk, where their works were either displayed in their homes, in coffee shops or out in the open along the promenade. I love this sort of event, but especially the outdoor element. As I wandered along, event map in hand, I sought out the different pieces. Some, it has to be said, demanded quite an open mind and imagination, but at the end of the day, even if you shrugged your shoulders and thought, "I could have done that", the fact remains that, maybe so, yes, but you had to have thought of it first.

My favourite was a series drawings on transparencies inside a white frame, presumably mimicking a porthole, nailed to a sea groyne. The best view was to position yourself so the sun was behind each frame. Each one had a scene associated with Portobello, either now or from history, and the one below shows a dredger at work some 35 years ago when the brought sand back onto the beach from offshore. At each different installation along the prom the artists have a description of what it represents, but I think it is in the eye of the beholder to judge for themselves.



An installation that has appeared a number of times is one called the Tidal Octopus. Made of steel and very colourful, it is attached three-quarters of the way up the marker pole at the end of one of the groyns. As the tide comes in the octopus disappears below the water, only to emerge again when the tide recedes.

At one point there was a sea monster made from recycled bits and pieces and further on coloured nylon ropes wrapped around posts depicting the "roads of the sea". But this was definitely one of those works where I couldn't quite agree with the artist in what it was representing, but it was pleasing nonetheless.


At the far end of the prom where two concrete bays look out to sea, a chalk design had been created called The 12 bakers. Based on the race in 1661 from Portobello to the top of Arthur's Seat by 12 bakers wives. Not sure how this represented that race, but back then the prize for the winner was "a hundredweight of cheese along with whisky and rum, which must have been well worth winning in those days.

Having wandered for an hour or so, and refreshed myself with a good coffee, I brought out my bicycle and cycled up to the local Rosefield Park. On this weekend every year the community holds The Village Show, a celebration of all things local, including foods and entertainment. There are games for the kids, prizes to be won and residents can hire a small table to sell off their own home baking, plants from their garden or artworks. Thanks to the sunny warm weather, Portobello was out in force, but I was still surprised to see such a huge gathering. Despite the large numbers it was great to walk around and realise that, if not by name, by sight at least, I knew just about everyone there, partly due to my time as a local business owner 'til 2006.


In a good mood, and as a tip-of-the-hat to the 12 Bakers Race, I rounded off my day with a cycle around that local hill that sits smack in the centre of the city, and the finish line of their race, Arthur's Seat. On my way home I paid one final visit to The Village Show, just to marvel once again at the community of Portobello out in force.




Thursday, 1 September 2016

ONE RANDOM ACT OF KINDNESS

Once a year one of my circle of friends gather on a local beach for a combined family picnic. This year I went along on a glorious summers day.

The beach in question is on the east coast, just south of North Berwick, and roughly a 40 minute drive or less from Edinburgh, and is situated just after Tantallon Castle. Now a ruin, built in the 14th century, it was once home to the Earl of Douglas. Despite several sieges it remained in the family until 1699 when it was sold by the then Marquis of Douglas. Today it is looked after by Historic Scotland.


The arrangement was to meet from 1pm onwards, and having gathered some items for the picnic I made my way down, arriving at the entrance around 2pm. However, I had not read the email properly, and was now confronted by a barrier that required three £1 coins to get through. Having no change I had no choice but to retrace my steps ten minutes back to a supermarket on the edge of the small town of North Berwick. As I reversed the car on the narrow road there was a loud metallic bang from beneath my car. On closer inspection I discovered that the exhaust had collapsed where it meets the silencer box, where two bolts had been slowly rusting away. They chose now to fail.

I rummaged around in the car and found some cable ties, and with a bit of effort, and burnt fingers from the heat of the exhaust, managed to raise it up temporarily. I had passed a farm yard when I turned off the main road, so my plan was to limp back there and see if I couldn't find some wire to make the exhaust more secure to be able to return to Edinburgh.

Sounding like a boy racer that purposely makes their tail pipe loud and farty, I slinked into the farm yard and started my search. As I rounded a large building, there, in the far corner, was a mechanic working on cars! What good luck, I thought, I can maybe get some wire from him. But when I asked he wouldn't hear of it, and duly took my car, jacked it up, and did a thoroughly professional and permanent fix to the damage! This was his hobby and he was delighted to help.

What a wonderful random act of kindness. In all the excitement we forgot to exchange names.

I then went to the supermarket and returned with change for the barrier and made my way down to the beach. The tide was coming in, and by the time I finally made it with a story to tell it was getting late in the day, with barely time remaining to munch my treats.

There was a strong breeze blowing along the beach, and it was all I could do to keep the sand off my salami and goat cheese baguette. As I munched I wandered down to the waters edge. Just off the shore, so close I felt I could touch it, is Bass Rock. A huge volcanic plug some 360 million years old. It would have been ejected from a massive volcano all that time ago, and flown through the air to land at its current spot. From afar the rock appears white in the summer. This is caused by the guano of 150,000 Gannets at the height of the season, the largest northern nesting colony in the world. The air was filled with them as the dived from a great height like arrows into the swell of the sea in search of food. Back on the rock each individual struggled for their right to space among thousands.


After a couple of hours on a busy, wind-blown beach, I set off on my return journey to Edinburgh. As I drove it crossed my mind that despite being surrounded at close quarters by familiar friends, you can still feel entirely alone.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

AN ACCOUNTANT IN A DISTRIBUTION COMPANY

In complete contrast to the past few weeks, I decided to take a short trip by train to London, or as I like to call it (in a Cockney accent), "London Taaaahn". So, on a bright and sunny day, I boarded the Virgin train for the four and a half hour journey.

I'm not a city person really, especially in terms of holidays, preferring to be playing outdoors, but it has been a good six years since my last visit to the UK capital, so I was looking forward to it. The motivation behind going was to catch up with Australian friends John and Linsey, who have lived in London for the past eight years. It was only going to be a two day visit, but I knew it would be a lot of fun, as the two of them have a great sense of humour, mostly with a dry, fun-immature Australian slant.

I've known John for the best part of 16 years, and I first met him by chance on holiday in 2000. This was no run-of-the-mill vacation though. I was on a six-month world backpacking trip, and John, together with his Australian buddy Spiros, were on an adventure trip. We were all trekking in the Himalayas, on a route that led to base camp for those attempting to summit Mount Everest. It had been a lifelong ambition of mine to do this trek, and it seemed an appropriate way to start the new millennium. Just after the Sherpa capital of Namche Bazaar, at the bottom of a hill that led steeply up to the monastery at Tengboche, I plonked myself down for a breather and a water stop, and got chatting to two guys, who, despite the altitude and thin air, were having a ball. This was John and Spiros. More on this encounter later.


We stayed in touch, and a few years later, after I sold my deli in 2006, I set off again on a long break. This time I stayed with John, and his new wife of a few years Linsey, on the northern outskirts of Sydney. A couple of years later and they were in London, transferred by the company John worked for. But that has come to an end, and they have both decided it's time to return to their native land.

They had changed a bit when we finally met up, most definitely used to and loving European life. After a short journey to Putney where their apartment is, John handed me one of his bikes and we went for a run through the enormous Richmond Park. In the evening they had other friends around and in typical Ozzy style they stoked up a barbecue and we enjoyed roast lamb and sweet potatoes for supper.


A late start the next day, and a leisurely journey into "the city", saw us spend a nice amount of time wandering the Egyptian and Greek artifacts in the British Museum.


I do love this place, and I don't think there's ever been a time when I've visited London that I haven't made a stop there. The day passed too fast, and a couple of hours before my train home we enjoyed a drink together in the wonderfully restored St Pancras Station.


But I didn't quite finish my story of when I first met John. As many readers will know my professional life involves filmmaking these days, and back when I was on my backpacking adventure I had just started my first steps into carving out that career. I had always been passionate about everything film, and when the usual, if somewhat boring question, of what we did for a living came up between John and I, sat there in the middle of the Himalaya, I was excited to tell him of my new found vocation. It was only polite to return the question, to which John replied that he was an accountant in a distribution company. There wasn't a whole lot I could ask him about that. It didn't sound that exciting. But we hit it off and enjoyed a week of trekking together, becoming good friends. Back in Khatmandu it was time for them to return home and we posed for a farewell photo with a fellow trekker Sophi from Sweden.



We agreed to stay in touch, so I asked him for his contact details. So he says, why don't I just give you my business card.

Taking the card, vaguely interested in what distribution company he was an accountant for, I read his card:

"John Peachey - Financial Controller - Paramount Pictures".


Thursday, 18 August 2016

THE TARMACHAN RIDGE

They say you learn something new every day. My very first hillwalk that I did with Pauline was on the northern edge of Loch Tay on the 13th August 1995.


In many peoples opinion, including mine, it is the most enjoyable ridge walk in Scotland and is called The Tarmachan Ridge. But for the past 21 years I've always thought it was spelt Ptarmigan, like the Scottish bird. Then, last Saturday, on the 13th August 2016, I returned to walk the ridge again. Only when I parked the car did I spot a sign pointing to the main summit, did I notice its correct spelling.


I had intended to walk the route last August, on the 20th anniversary, but a small thing like a brain haemorrhage got in the way. Then on this attempt I couldn't reach the start point on the 13th, as a serious accident on the only route to Killin, closed the road for several hours. When it eventually opened it was early evening, but I decided to continue on and camp the night. The forecast was to be better the following day anyway.

I awoke the next morning, camped at 500m, to very low cloud and grey skies. This was not the forecast. I sat it out for a while, then around 9am, when it had lifted to the point where it was just shrouding the tops, I packed the tent away and set out for the hill. There are two ways to tackle this mountain. If you're only interested in "bagging" a Munro peak then there's a boring, fairly steep path in a straight line to the summit. A far more enjoyable way is to head west along its base for about 4km along a dirt track, then ascend onto a ridge, turn west and walk to the summit from there.

This is the way Pauline had guided us 21 years ago, so this was always going to be my choice on this day. But I reached the ridge only to be enveloped in cloud. I could see nothing. I waited for a while but it seemed it would not clear, so I headed back down 50m or so, to get out of the chill breeze, to have some food.


My experience since the last ascent has been vast, as has my knowledge and skill in the hills. As I tucked into my carefully balanced packed lunch of high energy foods, I recalled a similar lunch spot there 21 years ago. Back then the choice of foods suited specifically to take hillwalking had not yet evolved, and I liked to take all the elements of my sandwiches separately with me and make them fresh on the hill, as I hated soggy sandwiches. What had also not evolved was my understanding of having everything as super lightweight as possible. To this day it makes Pauline and I laugh when we remember how I pulled from my pack the elements to make my lunch, which included a full pack of butter! Even my camping skills needed a little tweaking as I used to take a full bar of soap . . . in a nice plastic, light blue soap dish holder!

As I sat reminiscing, smiling, I noticed the cloud just above me had cleared. To the east I could make out the shape of one of the craggy sections of the ridge. I also noticed the direction of the light breeze was at right angles to the ridge, thus blowing the cloud away from me. So I opted to go back up and start walking to see how it was. I could always turn back if it didn't improve or got worse.

But half an hour later the low cloud lifted, revealing the ridge in all its glory. All around me in the distance the other mountains were still shrouded, but here, right now, the ridge was clear, and only got better and better as the day went on.


In places the ridge narrows, and I'm not good with exposure. There is only one point that the guides say is a "scramble". From a distance it looks like nothing, but up close, though short, it's a little nerve racking. As you place your feet carefully on the almost vertical craggy section, you keep telling yourself not to look down.

I looked down.

Then the path in front of me vanished. Erosion had taken away a fairly crucial small section. In order to continue I would have had to take a small leap. Thinking that there was a very real possibility of falling, albeit a short distance, the risk of another bash on the head made me turn back. I had no sooner taken that decision than I discovered a less exposed path that I'd missed on the way up, and I was pleased to be able to continue on.

The guides online had advised the whole circular route would take seven hours. Not counting the stop for lunch, I reached the actual summit of the Munro, Meall nan Tarmachan, at 1043m, in around three, with another hour to descend. The final approach to the top is long and gentle, and you are rewarded with a great view back along the ridge, with its path twisting and winding, up and down, through the craggy peaks.

Down below me I could see that in the intervening years the original enormous car park had been removed, together with the visitor centre building for Ben Lawers (the next, higher Munro along), to be replaced by a much more hidden car park. There has also been a great deal of planting of indigenous trees through an ongoing regeneration programme, turning what was had once been a bare barren landscape, back into something of it's original beauty.


And the spelling of the name? Well Meall nan Tarmachan translates from the Gaelic to "Hill of the Ptarmigans", so I don't feel too stupid.

And I didn't carry a whole block of butter either.


Thursday, 11 August 2016

THE MINIATURE MOUNTAIN

Over the past week I have been keeping a close eye on the weather in the Highlands, with a view to getting up one of its mountains. At first I planned to summit Ben Ledi, just outside the town of Callander, but I've done it before, so Pauline suggested a new peak, one she had enjoyed a winter walk on in February. Ben Venue, its Gaelic translation meaning The Miniature Mountain.

The forecast on the BBC at 7am on Wednesday morning looked favourable for the Trossachs area, just on the southern fringes of Callander, with light rain not forecast until early afternoon. So I set off early for the village of Aberfoyle to be able to make and early ascent the mountain Ben Venue before the rain came. It is a short journey to Aberfoyle and by 9am I was parking the car on the edge of Loch Ard.

It was raining.

Thanks BBC, for your ever accurate and reliable forecasting. Not!

Looking up the valley to the mountains beyond was not a welcome sight, with the tops obscured by low cloud. But I was here now, and the rain was light enough, plus the temperature warm enough, to warrant not wearing a waterproof shell, so I set out optimistically, with the thought in my mind, as I walked up the farm road for the turnoff to the hill path, that I can always turn back if it the weather gets too bad.

As described by Pauline, the first part of the route was very pleasant, and sheltered from the light rain, through an indigenous wood. The path was fairly muddy in places and somewhat overgrown, but it was an easy start and the smell of the damp bracken, its colours already changing to Autumn hues, made me happy to be in familiar surroundings.


As I emerged from the wood the river gorge stretched on before me, a gradual uphill toward the crags of Ben Venue, peaking out from the low cloud every so often, teasing me with views of its craggy features.
As a bonus the rain had stopped, albeit temporarily. I was now in open hillside on a very good path, following the river, with the occasional pretty little waterfall. The path takes an arc, turning toward the east, as it skirts round toward the summit, but the ascent is gentle.

The best part of this route appears a little over half way, as you reach the top of the river valley. Suddenly the landscape opens up. Despite the low cloud on the mountain top, to the north, across the mountain slopes carpeted in vibrant purple heather, I had a hazy view of Loch Katrine. It was a shame that it was so damp and murky, as I could imagine in the sunshine this would have looked even more spectacular.


To my east the path hugged the side of the slope to the summit, winding it's way through rocks, narrow in places. With Loch Katrine on my left and the snaking summit path ahead I was in a good mood.

As the path started to steepen visibility dropped to about 20 feet, and with it the air moisture rose. Time to break out the waterproofs. Pauline had prepared me in advance that there were several "summits", but with such low visibility it was hard to know if I was ever at the highest point. I'd be thinking that this must be it, when a darker shape of another peak would come into view feintly through the cloud. Onwards I went, deciding that the path would naturally lead me onto the top, whereas so far it was curving round and through these other peaks.

After just two hours I arrived at the top of Ben Venue at 2,392ft.  This had been an enjoyable walk, despite the weather, and overall I thought the route was easy. Surprising seeing as how its a fair number of years since I've stood on the top of any Scottish mountain.

Visibility was down to a disappointing 10 feet, so I could only imagine what the view must be like. But as I sat for 10 minutes, rewarding myself with a flask of coffee, I set my mind to one day return.

But I'll not be trusting the BBC forecast.