Thursday 29 January 2015

History Book - Wordle Visualisations

Just heard this week that my hillwalking book, The Weekend Fix, has gone out of print. There won't be a second print run. So if you want a copy, you had better be fast!

Of course, it will always be available for Kindle here.

So what of my next book?

This may be of only passing interest to others, but to paraphrase someone who probably isn't Maya Angelou despite her name being lodged in my head as the generator of the quote: "I can't do the job a want, I'd be a damn fool not to blog what I want!"

I have about 400,000 words that I am currently wrestling into a history of Britain. There is a twist - it is a history of Britain from a Scottish perspective. The first section covers Prehistory to Pictland:

The second, the formation of Alba to the 'Golden Age' of Alexander III:

The third volume, the Wars of Independence and the Stewarts:

The fourth, Religion and Union. (It is interesting to note that most histories of Britain, invariably written from a Metropolitan perspective, get by comfortably without mentioning Scotland at all. The history of Britain from a Scottish perspective meanwhile, still has plenty to say about England. The same, however, does not seem to be the case for Wales.)

The fifth part, Industry and Empire:

The sixth and final, Decline and Regeneration:

These visualisations are purely for my own curiosity. It will be interesting to see how they compare with the finished book. Normal service resumed in the next post :)

Friday 16 January 2015

Circumnavigation of Holy Island

Lindisfarne Castle:

There's something special about an island that you can walk to from the mainland, one that you can entirely circumnavigate on foot, and return across acres of corrugated sand in the gloaming.

Frozen sand approaching Lindisfarne:

Especially when the island is Lindisfarne, the Holy Island, the Iona of the East, the St Michael's Mount of the North.

Crossing the sands, we saw another group of walkers looking at something in the near distance. As we passed we saw it was a seal, hauled out onto the sands and eyeing the distant humans warily.

A bigger surprise was a little egret, a beautiful, small white heron. I had no idea they lived here!

Approaching the end of the beach leading to Lindisfarne:

We arrived on Holy Island at Primrose Bank, or more accurately, kept Holy Island to our right, circumnavigating clockwise (as in The Sea on Our Left, a classic account of walking the British coastline). The sands stretch expansively between Berwick and Lindisfarne, and it is possible to keep Holy Island's shore at quite a distance. Surf pounds the sands edge, but walk closer to Holy Island and the beach dips slightly towards shore, creating an odd effect - the surf still audible, but no longer visible, as if the end of the sand bank falls off the edge of the world.

Looking back beyond the surf towards Berwick:

When the beach narrows at the north eastern end of Holy Island, two surprises - first a short cliff above a beach, backed by dunes and frozen sand.

Coves Haven:

Second, beyond lumpy links land, a pyramidal beacon marking the turn south, where the Farne Islands, Lindisfarne and Bamburgh Castles came into view as we turned south for the village.

These castles are both iconic. It is safe to use that overused word in this context. This view of Lindisfarne Castle is a well-known symbol of the National Trust.

The classic view:

At the castle, suddenly, crowds. We had seen a surprising number of people on our circumnavigation, but they had numbered in their tens. Here was the real thing, on the short stretch between car park and castle to which 90% of island daytrippers confine themselves.

Looking back to Lindisfarne, crossing the sands:

Sun was now setting. The tide would stay out for another couple of hours, but we had to hurry to cross in the remaining daylight. (A situation that reminded me of Cata Sand.) The car park emptied in a steady stream, lights across the causeway. Lindisfarne village would be a good place to stay the night, the tourists gone, the island back in the possession of its inhabitants, ensconced in the snug of a pub with the clanking of boat sheets in the evening breeze.

Route marker poles across the sands:

Thursday 8 January 2015

Neither Here nor There

I like the area around Biggar. This wasn't always the case. It's not anywhere in particular. But now I find that part of its attraction. It is a liminal area - not quite west, not quite east. Not fully lowland, nor upland. Peeblesshire, Lanarkshire and Lothian all meet at the southern end of the Pentlands. Tinto, Little Sparta, Skirling with its wrought iron animals and Habbie's Howe. A short drive from Edinburgh but a world away in spirit.

Cloud-capped Tinto:

How lucky those of us who like the outdoors are to live in Central Scotland!

South from Broomy Law:

The Pentlands are at their quietest and most interesting here. A cluster of Marilyns give panoramic views. The pictures on this post are from modest Broomy Law, 426m high on the county boundary between Lanark and Peebles. Hard against the opposite slopes of the hills in the picture below is the capital of Scotland and its congealing mass of satellite towns. In this place, near Biggar - which is not really any place in particular - it is hard to believe a conurbation is only twenty miles distant.

Pentlands from Broomy Law:

Friday 2 January 2015

Ben Lomond via Ptarmigan Ridge

View from the top:

Day broke as we motored up the M9 past Stirling and turned off for the country roads that would take us west. Pastoral fields roll down to the Forth with the Highland hills a backdrop frieze. I had never stopped, until now, to take a photo. Here's Ben Lomond from the south-east.

It was going to be an absolute cracker of a day. Knowing how fine the sunset is from Ben Lomond, I didn't want to finish the hill too soon. Delaying tactics were required. My companion Dave had never been to Duncryne, Tom Weir's daily walk and perhaps the finest viewpoint in the Lowlands. It certainly is part of my favourite half day out. It somehow seemed appropriate to make a pilgrimage to Tom's favourite spot, the day his statue was unveiled at Balmaha.

Loch Lomond from the Dumpling:

Before we knew it is was lunchtime and time to climb a hill! Dave wanted to ascend via the Ptarmigan Ridge, which I had never been up. A well-made - if icy - path took us quickly up the sides of Loch Lomond, a more intimate route than the tourist path.

Above us, across frost dappled slopes of an Ochil-y hue, a silhouetted ant-procession of walkers on the tourist path. Below, boats cavorted in the loch, making road-shaped bends in their wake.

For all the cars in the car park, we met only one other fellow on the way up the hill. The only route to beat this, I felt, was an ascent of the corrie from Comer farm to the north-east. Followed by a descent of Ptarmigan. Because you have to include Ptarmigan in your Ben Lomond itinerary. Because it contains places like this:

View west from Ptarmigan:

I stood for a long time, soaking in the atmosphere as the last of the day's other walkers passed us heading down Ptarmigan. So close and familiar, Ben Lomond. It is easy to forget what a fucking awesome hill it is.

View north from Ptarmigan Ridge:

The ridge joins the summit cone and narrows and steepens satisfyingly, views north-east into perpetual shade, south-west to the loch, and above to the summit.

Summit rocks from Ptarmigan approach:

The summit of Ben Lomond at the end of a fine winter's day:

Descent was made on icy paths in darkness. A fair price to pay for being taken, just for the moment, out of our own world and into the breathtaking otherworldliness of a Highland hill on a fine winter's day.