Things of Human Interest

hiya

Hiya! It is I, Bruce. Today I am here to tell you about an important difference between Dogs and Humans.

This is where I live.

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It is a good place and there are many things I like about it. My human companions also like this place. But although dogs and humans both can both like a place, it is not often for the same reason. This is one of the many curious but important differences between us.

For example, one of my favourite walks goes past these trees.

oakandstones

I like these trees because they mark the entrance into Good Field, a location where maximum fun is to be had. But Kate likes these trees because they are dead and alive at the same time.

oldoak

Past these trees is Good Field – one of my all-time favourite spots. Whatever the weather, the grass of Good Field is always wet and the ground of Good Field is always squishy and soggy. In Good Field can often be found deer and hare who are fun to chase, and if the cows pass by, they kindly leave an interesting mess behind. In Winter the mud of Good Field grows deep and dank and in the Summer Good Field’s plants grow thick and high. Good Field is a place for bounding, for leaping, for getting wet and dirty, and for gingering oneself up with all kinds of funky smells. In all seasons of the year, then, it is an excellent place to be.

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Now, Kate does not like Good Field for its mud or for its interesting aroma. Nor does she seem particularly happy when she trips into the cow mess, or wades clumsily through the waist high grasses. In fact, the qualities I most admire about Good Field are things Kate merely tolerates, or on occasion actually seems irritated by. I have heard her mutter words such as “ballache” as she stumbles, is bitten by a horsefly, or, as today, gets muddy trousers after falling on her arse. So why on earth does Kate take me to Good Field if she herself does not enjoy the many delights it has to offer? The answer is, of course, that it contains Things of Human Interest.

stonescloser

Good Field’s Things of Human Interest are these Old Stones.

theyarejuststones

Now, I am hardly ever diverted by Things of Human Interest, and I have to say that these Old Stones strike me as rather commonplace. Certainly they carry no significance for a dog like me.

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And yet I am tolerant enough of human foibles to dutifully sit and pose.

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Dear dog comrades, the moral of this tale is to joyfully accompany your companions when they wish to visit Things of Human Interest. That way you are likely to spend time in really excellent places, like Good Field.

Conic Hill

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Tom’s appendix-less state means he can’t run or cycle at the moment, but this has been quite good, as he’s been able to join me on my walks. Yesterday we popped up Conic Hill and it was a grand day for it.

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Conic Hill is just a few miles from where we now live, and though Tom has run here many times in the past year, it occurred to me yesterday that the last time I climbed this hill was nine years ago when we walked the West Highland Way. Here is Tom looking down from the hill across Loch Lomond in 2005:

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And here in a spot slightly further down yesterday:

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A lot has changed since then, but as he says, he looks pretty much the same from behind.

I think of all the lovely views of Loch Lomond – and there are many – that this one is my favourite.

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Its just something about the sense of space up here – the meeting of sky, land, and water, and perhaps especially the way that the Loch Lomond islands stretching away in the distance lend the view a pleasing and very distinctive sense of perspective.

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Dorothy Wordsworth felt similarly about those islands when she saw them in 1803, though her view in this passage is the precise opposite of ours (she’s looking South and East from Inchtavannach and we are looking North and West from Conic Hill)

“We had not climbed far before we were stopped by a sudden burst of prospect, so singular and beautiful that it was like a flash of images from another world. We stood with our backs to the hill of the island, which we were ascending, and which shut out Ben Lomond entirely, and all the upper part of the lake, and we looked towards the foot of the lake, scattered over with islands without beginning and without end. The sun shone, and the distant hills were visible, some through sunny mists, others in gloom with patches of sunshine; the lake was lost under the low and distant hills, and the islands lost in the lake, which was all in motion with travelling fields of light, or dark shadows under rainy clouds. There are many hills, but no commanding eminence at a distance to confine the prospect, so that the land seemed endless as the water.”

I thought of Dorothy Wordsworth yesterday as we looked down toward Inchtavannach, and gave her a mental wave.

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If you are ever in the area and fancy going up Conic Hill, I really think the views are best from this direction, and its a much nicer walk this way too. Park at Milton of Buchanan; walk up the track past Creity Hall, join the West Highland Way as it snakes up the hill; descend into Balmaha; stop for a welcome ice-cream, or pint at the Oak Tree Inn, take a look at the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, and then walk back along the road to Milton. The circuit is 7 miles with around 350m / 1100 ft of ascent.

Highland Fling!

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Today I just want to say a massive CONGRATULATIONS to Tom and his pal Ivor, who yesterday completed The Highland Fling: a 53-mile “ultra” race along the first half of the West Highland Way. The race starts in Milngavie, and passes through Drymen and Balmaha, before traversing the East shore of Loch Lomond, moving up through Crianlarich, and finishing at the By The Way hostel in Tyndrum (a familiar landmark to anyone who knows the West Highlands). It took me three and a half days to walk that distance . . . they were hoping to cover it in less than eleven hours.

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Tom and Ivor have been training for this epic undertaking for months now, running long stretches of the Way every weekend, in all weathers. It was Tom’s first “ultra” run, and also the first time that he has been involved with a race where I could literally walk out of the front door to cheer him on, which in itself was quite exciting. There was a small supporting crowd outside our house at the crack of dawn, complete with a fiddler who played strathspeys and hornpipes as the runners went by.

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The weather was kind and the going was good. Taking it slowly, and consuming large quantities of gels, energy drinks and malt loaf as they went, they did really well. Tom completed the race in 9 hours 45 minutes, and Ivor in 10 hours 30 minutes, both of which are terrific times. And after a few beers, a fish supper, and a good night’s sleep, they are both in remarkably good shape.

congratulations

Congratulations, Tom and Ivor!

garden days

pots

One of the saddest things I had to do in the months following my stroke was to give up our Edinburgh allotment. I simply did not have the strength and energy to maintain a garden, and since then I have rather missed growing things. Our new home has lots of outdoor space, and happily I have more energy and strength (though I have to leave the digging and hauling stuff about to Tom). This is the first time we have had a garden of our own and we are really enjoying it.

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Looking North and West from the top of the garden you can see Ben Lomond. The West Highland Way is just behind us, and you often hear the clink of the gate and the voices of walkers and cyclists as they pass. Away down the garden and past the house to the South there is the loch, and woods, in which, today, the first cuckoo of Spring was singing. It is a grand spot. I am trying not to be too ambitious with the planting this first year, and we are mostly growing things in pots and a couple of raised beds (which Tom is currently digging out). I have also put up a lean-to next to the shed, where I am bringing on the plants I started indoors.

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There will be salad leaves and herbs and tomatoes. I am very fond of sweet peas, and have planted several varieties, the shoots of which are currently colonising the bathroom. The other day, I found a few forget-me-nots behind the shed and potted them on.

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. . . and things in other pots are flowering

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There is blossom on the exciting spiny shrub that I’ve now been told is an ornamental quince (thanks, Lynn and Miriana!)

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Time for tea.

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How very nice it is to be able to grow a few things and have this space to potter about in.

out walking

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One of the very great pleasures of living here is that the West Highland Way is on our doorstep. I walk out of our steading, and about a hundred yards up the way is a glorious landscape, at the far edges of which (on a really clear day) Ben Lomond and the Trossachs and the Arrochar Alps are all visible. I walk here every day, and enjoy these walks tremendously. Today I took my camera so you can see it too.

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g(love)

hiya

Hiya! It is I, Bruce. A while ago, we lived in a tall stone building in a city where there were lots of cars. Now we live here:

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Where there are lots of these:

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And a few of these:

cows

One of the many good things about it round here is that there are many Paths and I get to walk on these Paths with Kate and Tom. Sometimes I get to go swimming, and sometimes I leap about in the long grass, smelling interesting animal smells. But wherever we go, there is generally some water and mud for me to get myself nicely lathered up in. Hurrah!

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This particular Path is known as West Highland Way and is frequented not only by dogs and cows and deer but by many human walkers. Human walkers can be forgetful, and occasionally they discard their belongings along Path. That is OK though, because I sniff out and find these belongings, and then I make them MINE. Without a doubt, the best of these found belongings is GLOVE.

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Now, I first found GLOVE about three weeks ago by Path. Since then I have played with it many times and it is now sodden and chewed and has a delicious bovine odour. GLOVE seems quite robust though: Kate tells me that it is fashioned from acrylic, and is therefore a sort of plastic which refuses to decay. But though GLOVE is indestructible, and now has a very strong smell about it, sometimes I play with it so hard that I actually manage to lose it in the grass. Tom or Kate will insist that GLOVE is finally lost forever, but then, O joy of joys, a few days later I will always find it again, usually in a completely different location. I suspect the cows to have a hand (or hoof) in its unaccountable movements.

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Now, there are many fun things to do with GLOVE but probably the most fun to be had is when the humans throw it for you. Kate describes GLOVE as “a vile object” and is sometimes unwilling to join in the game. But, dear friends, let me tell you a good trick I have discovered: If you present Kate with GLOVE often enough, and stare at her for long enough with your most persuasive expression, she will eventually join in.

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Once Kate has capitulated, and throws GLOVE for you, you can retrieve and prance with GLOVE until you are exhausted.

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F U N!

But, eventually, it is time to leave and – sadly – to leave GLOVE beind, as for some unknown reason, Kate will not allow me to bring GLOVE home.

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This is Gate which leads home off West Highland Way.

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Right by Gate there is Old Wall.

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Kate instructs me to LEAVEIT behind Old Wall. This makes me sad.

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But if I don’t LEAVEIT behind Old Wall we don’t go home.

Well, goodbye, fun GLOVE buddy.

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Probably the only good thing about leaving GLOVE behind Old Wall is that, unlike losing it in the grass, it is always there next time, and I am always surprised and happy to discover it once again!

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See you soon, love Bruce xx

A walk to Dumgoyach

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West of Blanefield, off the West Highland Way . . .

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If you look North across the fields . . .

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You’ll see a path through the grass and sheep’s-bit scabious . . .

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. . . which leads to a field margin, marked by a line of blasted oaks.

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Adjacent, to the West, is the irregular wooded dome of Dumgoyach, and North is Dumgoyne, the volcanic mound that dominates the landscape of the Blane and Endrick valleys.

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And if you look down into the valley, you’ll see Duntreath Castle.

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Cross into the field and the ground rises and flattens to reveal . . .

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. . . these stones.

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Four of the five original stones are now recumbent, and the last one standing is a little shorter than me. Analyses of burnt flint and charcoal found at the site dates the structure to 3650 BC, in the middle Neolithic. Aligned with a notch in the hills to the North East, through which the sun rises at the Spring and Autumn equinoxes, this structure is thought to be a short stone row (used to measure solar events), but it has also been suggested that the long cairns are what remains of the facade of a chambered tomb.* The early date, and the proximity of other chambered cairns in this area makes the latter argument reasonably likely, but I am rather tempted to get up to watch the sun rise at Dumgoyach on September 22nd to make my own astronomical observation.

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(what do you think, Bruce? Row or tomb? Tomb, or row?)

*The first interpretation belongs to E.W. Mackie who carbon-dated the site in 1972, and the latter to Aubrey Burl, From Carnac to Callanish: Prehistoric Stone Rows of Britain, Ireland and Brittany (1993). See also the RCAHMS site record.

Boiler suits
Thanks so much for all your wonderful boiler-suit / coverall / onesie-related comments on the last post. That kind of collective discussion is probably what I love most about blogging, and it makes me particularly excited when the discussion concerns the different meanings and usages of a garment. If you haven’t had a look at the comments already, I encourage you to go and read them.

Refurb update

Last week I finished decorating the bathroom, bedroom, and new studio. Yesterday I painted the downstairs chimney breast, and today we hung the over-mantle mirror. For weeks the house has felt like a sort of giant jigsaw puzzle and it is extremely exciting to see the bigger picture finally emerging. But, having been engaged upon this project for a couple of weeks now, I would say that it is without a doubt the most physically challenging thing I’ve done post-stroke. This is not only due to the relentlessness of the stretching, bending, and movement painting involves, but also to my poor balance and generally wonky left leg. I have to take a two hour snooze in the middle of the day to keep going, and there have been a few dicey moments as I teetered over the bath or tripped on a dust sheet. That said, happily, the closest I’ve got to disaster is getting paint in my mouth and hair. Ick. Anyway, I shall be painting downstairs on half-days only next week, and, now the studio is habitable I can at last get back to some knitting, designing, and email-answering.

Field Notes
Most of the swallows have gone, which is rather sad, but I recently put food in the hanging feeders on the porch and have been astounded by the variety of bird-buddies that are dropping by. More of them anon.

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raincomingin

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Here are a selection of pictures taken (with my phone) over the past few days. Though I’ve been using the camera phone more out of necessity than anything, I have been quite enjoying seeing what I can do with it, and it is particularly useful for capturing fleeting effects of light when I’m out and about on the hill. The light – much like the weather – moves very quickly out here and there is certainly something in the oft-repeated four-seasons-in-one day Scottish stereotype. I met a Dutch couple out on the West Highland Way the other day, and, after enquiring about places to camp the woman asked me rather despondently when it was going to stop raining. I told her that this was Scotland and that it would soon shift. Sure enough, an hour or so later, the landscape was bathed in glorious sunshine.

We are slowly settling in to our new house and its lovely location. We have had our first visitors, and it has been particularly nice to be able to eat outside on these soft end-of-summer days, watching the trees start to turn on the other side of the loch, while the swallows dart about us. Upstairs, I have started decorating (my idea is to turn all of the rooms on the upper floor into one big Hammershøi-inspired interior) while downstairs has a rather temporary and disorganised feel as we await arrival of . . . the components of a new kitchen. Having very recently fitted one in the flat we’ve just left you may think we are totally bonkers to go through it all again . . . but I feel that if we don’t do it now we never shall. Plus, there will be an actual RANGE. I promise there will be pictures when it is all done.

Thankyou so much for all your good wishes and lovely comments, which have really been a joy for us both to read. Now, its time to don my boiler suit again and apply some undercoat. See you soon!

looking forward

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Eight years ago, Tom and I walked the West Highland Way. We had a wonderful time.

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(Tom, on Conic hill, looking over Loch Lomond)

I find that there is a singular sort of clarity about long distance walking. Time slows to the pace of your feet, and is measured in the distance you can cover over six or eight hours. There is nothing for your mind to focus on but the walk ahead, the landscape, and its details. At the end of the day you are exhausted, and, if there is a good meal on offer, food is appreciated in a way it rarely is. You sleep soundly, you get up, and start again. It is a fantastic way of clearing the head. I find that I can recall these walks in unusual detail, fixing particular experiences to specific moments and locales, remembering what the weather was like, what the state of my feet were, what we saw and spoke about. That was the place that you gave the horse the apple; there I devoured a full pack of liquorice allsorts; here, right here, at this curve in the path, was where we saw that incredible rainbow.

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(leaping a stream on the Eastern shore of Loch Lomond)

That walk along the West Highland Way was our first encounter with many amazing Highland places with which we have since become very familiar. Rannoch Moor, The Mamores, Glencoe.

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(cooking an obligatory baked-bean supper in Glencoe. There were lots of deer around our tent that night.)

These happy photographs were taken with the disposable camera we took with us, and they make my heart sing. I am posting them here now because, in a couple of weeks time, we shall be moving to a wee house that sits just off the West Highland Way. I love our new home already, and am looking forward to living there immensely. There is a garden! And a loch! An actual studio with an actual window for me to work in! And somehow it is particularly nice to be moving to a spot which already carries some fond memories for the pair of us. I’ll be able to walk Bruce along a lovely stretch of the Way every day, and perhaps living there will inspire me to build up my stamina and ability to complete the full distance once again.

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(The end of the West Highland Way in Fort William.)

Next week we sell our Edinburgh flat, and we move to our new home the following week. It is very exciting, but there is bound to be a certain amount of disruption. I will have to take a break from trade orders and answering email queries for the next few weeks, but will be sure to let you know how things are going as and when I can.

ONWARD!

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