A little light relief

This blog’s been getting a bit intense lately… a lot of the last few entries have been long rants in response to things that have annoyed me.That’s fair enough, one of the reasons I started the blog was so I’d have somewhere to post those, but it was also to give me somewhere to write about more light-hearted and fun stuff that interests me. So here’s a post about my walk today. Look, this one even has pictures!

View from Almond Aqueduct

I couldn’t decide what to do with myself today. Laura’s out at her hen do (much more of an event than my “stag do” was, it would seem!) and Alex is through in Glasgow editing, so I couldn’t do anything with them. I’ve been exhausted all week and I’m away in Sweden most of next week so I didn’t want to overdo things, but at the same time I felt like getting outside and taking some photos, something I haven’t done enough of lately. In fact I sort of felt like doing an explore, only I wasn’t in the mood to drive far or to risk a confrontation if things went wrong, which ruled out most of the sites on my list.

Then I remembered about this walk I’d been meaning to do again for a while, from the Almond Aqueduct on the Union Canal, down the river to the next couple of bridges. Alex, Gavin and I did it about five years ago (I’m not sure why, I think we were just bored and looking for something to do) and I enjoyed it a lot. It felt surprisingly adventurous considering how close to home it was – although that was before I started clambering into derelict hospital buildings and railway tunnels for fun, so my threshold for what constitutes “adventurous” has probably gone up somewhat in the meantime. But anyway. I decided it would be worth trying it again. I might get some better shots of the bridges now I had an SLR, at least.

Canal Feeder

After stress testing my new car’s suspension on the impressive collection of potholes on the access road, I reached the start of my walk: the Almond Aqueduct. Back when I first got interested in bridges and canals and stuff, this used to be my favourite bridge. Although the Avon Aqueduct on the other side of West Lothian is much bigger and more impressive, there’s something very nice about the setting of the Almond one, and it’s also impressive in its own right (though annoyingly hard to get good photos of, I discovered!).

Almond Aqueduct top

As I went down underneath to cross to the north side of the canal where the towpath is, I noticed that the access gate into the interior of the structure was open. I probably would have had a peek inside if I could, but it’s pretty high off the ground so I wouldn’t be able to get in there without some sort of equipment. This video, on one of the best YouTube channels ever, gives a pretty good impression of what it’s like in there.

Almond Aqueduct Access Gate

At the far side of the aqueduct, I turned off into the trees, along a rough track which may or may not actually be a path. (One of the nice things about Scotland is that thanks to the right to roam, you don’t need to worry too much about whether something is or isn’t a path – as long as you don’t damage anything or walk into a live military or transport site, you can pretty much go wherever you want). The first part of the walk was a gentle, quite picturesque stroll through the trees, with the river down a steep bank to my right.

Woodland stream

The last time we were here, I actually saw a deer cross the path ahead of us and then swim across the river. Unfortunately I couldn’t get my phone camera ready in time, but it was amazing even just to see it – I normally think of deer as being something you get up in the Highlands rather than something you can see while walking through a narrow strip of woodland only a few miles from home. I didn’t think I’d be so lucky a second time, and indeed I wasn’t. I did see quite a large bird of prey, but it had disappeared into the woods before I even had time to get my lens cap off.

(Speaking of last time, I’m sure we also had an orange helium balloon with us when we did this walk before. I think Gavin had insisted on stopping for ice cream at the Newbridge McDonalds on the way and had somehow acquired it in there. As you can probably guess, it didn’t survive the walk).

Mill lade entrance

The path got narrower, more hilly and more muddy as I walked further from the canal. I seemed more difficult going than I’d remembered, but maybe that’s just because I was on my own this time. About halfway along was a feature I remembered: an old mill lade, now so full of earth and vegetation that the water wasn’t high enough to get into it anymore. Next to it was a very rough, but still clearly manmade, weir in the river itself. I was curious about this so I checked an old map when I got home… the lade used to run for quite a distance, powering a mill called Bird’s Mill, roughly where the viaduct of that name stands today (more on that later).

Old Mill Lade

Part of the lade, though, has been obliterated by construction of the M8, which crosses the river on a high concrete bridge. The area around this bridge always feels curiously desolate to me, I guess because it’s quite difficult to get to, and the quiet and stillness down below contrasts nicely with the traffic constantly thundering over the top. Thousands of vehicles a day pass overhead, but I wonder how many people have stood underneath since I was last here five years ago?

Under the M8

There’s only one bit of graffiti on the bridge (that I noticed, anyway), and it hasn’t changed in the five years since I was last here. I remember we found it strangely unnerving. There is a lot of rubbish either side of the bridge, but none at all actually underneath, indicating that it’s all been thrown down from the road above rather than dropped by anyone on foot.

Graffiti

Just beyond the M8 bridge is an older, slightly nicer looking bridge: the Bird’s Mill Viaduct. Until recently this carried a fairly minor single track branch line from the main Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway to Bathgate; but in late 2010, the previously-closed line was reopened from Bathgate to Airdrie, and the whole route was electrified and double tracked at the same time, creating a new line between Edinburgh and Glasgow, so frequent electric trains now pass over the viaduct.

Birds Mill Viaduct

It was annoyingly difficult to get decent photos of the viaduct due to all the surrounding trees. This was about the best I could do.

At this point I retraced my steps back to the car, not wanting to overdo things. As I picked my way slowly up a slightly precarious slope, with the river quite a way down a steep bank to my left, it struck me that this walk is probably actually more dangerous than some of the urban explores I’ve done (you’d have to try quite hard to come to any significant harm in Kelvindale Tunnel, for example), Yet if you tell people you’re going for a walk by the river they go “Ooh, that’s nice”, but if you tell them you’re going in an abandoned rail tunnel they look horrified!

I enjoyed my day out and I’m glad I decided to do this walk again. I didn’t get as good photos as I’d hoped, though; too many trees in the way of the bridges. This was the best shot I could get of the Almond Aqueduct from my path.

Almond Aqueduct

On the way home, I stopped off to do something I’d been meaning to do for a while: namely, take photos of the new Edinburgh Gateway station that’s currently under construction at Gogar. (My interest in railways is starting to get out of control now. Yesterday I spent a whole 20 minutes watching a YouTube documentary about the Intercity 125 on our new Chromecast – this one, if you’re interested).

Edinburgh Gateway Station

The works currently underway to build an underpass so that people can safely cross the road to get to the station made it nearly impossible for me to safely cross the road to get to the station.

 

Geocaching!

I’d been meaning to try Geocaching for a while… the combination of exploring places close to home that you wouldn’t normally go and messing around with technology in the process really appealed to me right from when I first heard about it. So when, during a late-night discussion of what we were going to do the next day, Gavin suggested we try geocaching, I was very excited.

Big sticks are essential geocaching equipment.

We decided to meet at Tesco at 1pm to buy supplies, then head off to Cammo for a walk and see if there were any caches near there. I think we all assumed someone else would take care of signing up for an account on geocaching.com and looking for caches in the right area and finding the GPS co-ordinates and all that stuff. But when we met up no-one actually had. One smart phone to the rescue, and soon we were on our way.

Gavin thought the geocache might be in there. It wasn't.

After getting parked and eating my sandwiches, I fired up the phone again and checked for caches nearby. There were several, more than we’d expected. Initially we were going to go for one at a nearby bridge as I knew roughly where it was, but we were tempted by a slightly further away one that was apparently full of CDs and DVDs instead. (Gavin was excited by the prospect of possibly finding a Nutty Professor DVD so we had to give him that chance).

First part of the route was straightforward enough… just down to the river and along. I hadn’t been that way in a long time so it was nice just to see it again. As we walked I messed around with my phone trying to find a good way of downloading the geocache’s co-ordinates. In the end I settled for just memorising them and then staring at the GPS app as our location gradually closed in on the cache’s. There’s probably a more high tech way of doing it but this way was quite fun.

Past Cramond Brig we took a wrong turn or two and the geocache web page decided to choose the worst moment to stop responding so we couldn’t check where we were supposed to have gone. But after retracing our steps and walking another few minutes we were looking at exactly the view in the photo on the web page. We knew we were close! I charged off into the trees, watching the GPS intently as the numbers counted down to the ones fixed in my head. Once again I made the mistake of paying too much attention to my phone and not enough to the real world, and walked straight past the cache without seeing it. But Alex had no phone to distract him… and he found it!

Alex finds the cache!

It was a big metal ammunition box. It reminded me slightly of the ammo dumps in an old board game I used to like (“Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs”), except those didn’t have “Geocache” written on the side in big white letters. Excitedly we pulled it open as Laura and Gavin, who’d been waiting to see if we were actually in the right place before getting too muddy, joined us. Sure enough, there was a big stack of CDs in there! We wrote our names in the log book and had a flick through the previous entries. This cache has been there quite a while, with log entries going back nearly 3 years. No Nutty Professor DVD sadly, but Gavin did pick out a CD (“This can be our geocaching CD!”) and we rummaged through our pockets and bags for something suitable to leave in exchange, but couldn’t find anything. (The general rules say you’re supposed to leave something of equal or better value, but this cache specifically said there was no need to because it’s usually so full of discs anyway, so we didn’t feel too bad. Though I still intend to go back and put something in there at some point).

What's inside?

We packed away the cache and put it back where we found it. All in all this was a pretty successful and fun start to the world of geocaching… I think I could easily get hooked on this, especially as everywhere I search there seem to be loads nearby! We were tempted to go and look for another one straight away but we were running out of daylight and out of time. We had to go and help Gavin’s Dad move his pool table instead, which is a long story (involving brittle slate tops that weigh as much as 3 people, one lift that the table would fit into with less than an inch to spare, a second lift that we discovered too late was an inch smaller than the first one, a garage door that stubbornly refused to open when we needed it most, and a long diversion route around the streets and up fifteen flights of stairs. Yes, fifteen… in fact, thirty if you count the little half-flights individually). On the plus side I did get some amazing pictures from his balcony, if I can manage to get them together into a panorama I might post it.

MoleThrower records his visit for posterity

Update: went again today (11/2/2012), found 4 this time, around north east Edinburgh, and found lots of little corners of the city we never knew existed. Also found a very nice Android app (c:geo) that helped for finding them.

 

End of January update

Well, we’re already into the second month of 2012, and once again I can’t believe how fast it’s going :O

I’m going to try and regularly track my progress on my vague-sort-of-resolutions that I made earlier.

Goal setting: has been going ok. I’ve been setting myself weekly and monthly ones and mostly been keeping to them. I am generally much more organised and on top of things than I used to be even a few months ago. Maybe I’ll write about the things that helped me get here sometime. (I’m still a bit worried that my goals are a bit aimless and not really leading up to anything coherent, but I have some longer term ideas forming in my mind. Maybe I need to give them a bit more time to form).

Meditation: good, have been doing it a few times a week, will hopefully gradually increase it over time. Some days it really does seem to help.

Weight loss: not good… still slowly gaining 🙁 but I feel it’s low-ish on my priorities right now. I guess January is the best time of year for getting exercise if you prefer outdoor activities (which I do).

Concentrate on the people who are worth it: check 🙂

Piano playing: very pleased with this. It’s going better than it has in ages and I’m enjoying it a lot. I can play the Fugue in A Minor from Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier book 1 reasonably well now, which I always thought would be beyond me. Also started on something else, but it maybe deserves its own post in a bit. And I have an interesting idea for a piano-computer hybrid project which I might get onto soon.

Dancing: another positive thing. Been back to dance class not once, not twice, but three times so far in 2012. Have also booked myself on two weekends away with the dance society, both in the next few weeks. So that’s something to look forward to.

Walking and photography: it’s not really the best time of year for it at the moment. But we did have our Stirling weekend, and planning a Glasgow museum visit tomorrow.

Creativity: paid work projects are going pretty well (though very busy – I now have 3 separate things to work on, where I previously had only one. It’s lucky the two new ones are both things I can get really excited about). Spare time programming projects are going ok, though I’ve possibly bitten off more than I can chew with the latest one. On the minus side I haven’t written as much (or as interesting) stuff as I wanted on here. I do have a list of ideas though, so maybe I’ll get round to putting up something more substantial soon.

Gigs: got two gigs booked so far (Fascinating Aida and Derren Brown) and about to book another one (Ross Noble, without a doubt my favourite stand-up comedian of all time). Still want to do a festival this year as well.

Other stuff: I’ve been cooking a lot more food from scratch, partly thanks to being in a relationship with someone who does it all the time, partly thanks to the lovely recipe books I got for my last birthday and Christmas from several people, and partly just because I’ve been meaning to for ages. I’m not sure it’s actually any cheaper or healthier than my previous diet, but it’s certainly more fun and tastes a lot nicer.

(On the subject of new year and resolutions and all that, I found this post on one of the blogs I like to read very inspiring. Plus I can always get behind anything that encourages me to act like a big kid 😉 ).

The Bonny Banks of Loch Lomond

Been a busy weekend. Last night was Gavin’s 21st birthday party. (His actual birthday was over 2 months ago but I’m sure you’ll all agree, that’s no excuse for not having a party). I managed to keep to my resolve not to drink for the moment, and I feel it would be unfair of me to recount the drinking games from the point of view of a sober person. So I won’t.

Handily, staying over at Gavin’s meant I was much closer to Loch Lomond for my walk today than I would have been at home. Not so handily, I only managed to get about 3 hours of sleep… but I felt surprisingly OK. The weather looked promising as I set out towards the Erskine Bridge. I soon found I’d massively overestimated how long it would take to get there – only 9 miles remaining to Balloch and still an hour til the meeting time. So I tried not to think longingly of the precious extra minutes of sleep I could have had, and instead turned off into Bowling to have a wander round the western terminal of the Forth and Clyde Canal and take some pics.


Looking up the Clyde to the Erskine Bridge, which I’d just crossed.


The canal basin itself. Bowling is sort of special to me, in a bittersweet kind of way. Some of my favourite days out ever were when I walked the whole of the canal with my uncle and auntie as a teenager, and Bowling was where we started one crisp November morning. (I say bittersweet because my uncle died suddenly at a young age a few years ago. Coming to Bowling always reminds me of him and the best of the time we spent together. So far every time I come it seems quiet and still and cold and bright just as it was that day, and makes me feel happy and sad at the same time. Rest in peace Ian).


Looking down the Clyde now. Looking like a good day for a walk.

After I’d passed enough time wandering round the basin and finding somewhere to get a coffee, I got back in my car and headed to Balloch. I didn’t remember much of the place, which maybe wasn’t surprising since I think it was 1991 when I was last there, and Lomond Shores hadn’t even been built. But the loch was still the same.

(Ben Lomond in the distance looks much clearer than it was when we climbed it back in June and I took this photograph from the summit. Yes, that is a real photo. I have a similar one taken from the top of Ben Nevis as well).

After meeting the others (small group today… only 4 of us) our first stop was the cafe, then we went for a wander along the shore. I’m more or less over my swan phobia now, which is a good thing considering I like walking by water so much.

We decided to head up to the castle we could see in the distance and have a closer look at it. That meant walking down the River Leven to cross it at the bridge in Balloch, then back up the other side. There were loads of boats of all shapes, sizes and states of repair moored there, though not many actually moving at this time of year.

The castle was all closed up and fenced off, looking as if it needs some work. For some reason that made me really want to get inside and explore it, whereas if it had been open to the public I probably wouldn’t have been all that bothered. That’s the way my contrary mind seems to work.

But I contented myself with photographing its features from the outside. A bright sunny morning with lots of families walking past is no time for exploring semi-derelict buildings, anyway.

Finally, on our way back towards Balloch itself, we saw the walled garden.

We were very lucky indeed with the weather… it was actually warm enough to sit outside for a while.

The walk was rounded off nicely with a snack in The Tullie Inn, then I decided it was time to leave before last night caught up with me and I got too sleepy to drive. It was a good day. Thanks Charlene for organising :).

(The car seems to be enjoying its new spark plugs. It got 56 miles per gallon on the way home from Balloch which is more than usual and not bad at all for a petrol car of its age and size. Unfortunately though the passenger door is now resolutely refusing to open so maybe I’ll be posting about car maintenance again sooner than planned).