Saturday, 28 March 2020

Mathew 23.3

Social Distance Demonstration 
"So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach." Mathew 23.3
Ever wondered why we are in such a mess? Well three out the four leaders of the coronavirus pandemic are now infected despite urging the country to keep a social distance of two metres apart at numerous press conferences. 

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Not Making America Great Again

The trials of the UK government to provide any consistent leadership as we grapple with Coronavirus have been evident from the initial slow response by government. It is following rather than leading the actions taken by other countries, including the devolved governments of the UK, local Councils who have closed schools, facilities and parks and many companies and businesses who have run down, refocused or closed their operations.

At last, we appear to be in lockdown although there are still too many confusing messages. The slow progress on obtaining personal protection equipment for frontline care and NHS staff, ordering ventilators and vaccines is not absolved by the PM and ministers constantly praising "our wonderful doctors and nurses." Where is the concern for the delivery drivers, transport and utility workers, the supermarket and shop assistants and the food producers who are essential to maintaining a country in lockdown. However, there are finally signs that the hard measures adopted by China, South Korea and already being deployed by the more progressive European countries are now being adopted in the UK. The public is being given messages that restrict their freedoms for the greater good of the vulnerable.

This looks comparatively positive compared to the absence of planning to cope with the virus in the USA. The President first denied the likelihood of the China virus taking hold in the States and called it a "hoax" perpetrated by the Democrats. He is now exclaiming that "I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter"..." a beautiful timeline". He is seeing all his hunches come a cropper.

The wealthy are reported as paying as much as $30,000 for a coronavirus test, meanwhile, there are no tests available for the vast majority of the population. Even the cautious World Health Organisation have called out the USA for failing to prepare. The US leading expert in infectious disease control is being eased out because he is not delivering the message the President wants. The individual States are now taking control and 17 have introduced lockdowns. They are visceral in their critique of the federal government and its failure to tackle the crisis. As well as the private healthcare infrastructure not having the capacity to cope, the majority of people do not have sufficient or, in many cases, any health insurance to cover the cost of treatment.

The great American dream was founded on opportunity, not collective responsibility. The President has pushed this to the limits with his tax concessions for the rich and corporations. Vital institutions that were established to research and prepare for pandemics have been closed down. Refusing entry to Europeans was a reflex action by the President, but most European countries will be relieved to have this in place because looking at things now, the last country anyone would wish to visit is the United States. The only event that seems to have ignited any sense of responsibility from the President is stock markets dropping to a level below that when he took office. This has prompted a massive stimulus package of $1.8tn but largely focused on the economy with limited protection for workers.

The President is in danger of self-isolation. He has already broken the bond of mutual support with Europe. The GDP of the Asian Tiger economies are rapidly overhauling the United States. China is now the largest provider and the go-to nation for aid and investment in developing countries. Many global institutions from the UN to WHO are expressing their disdain for the way the USA conducts itself. If you then add the collapse of air travel and the impact on the Boeing Corporation, the fall of oil prices and its impact on the big oil companies, it is difficult to see how America is going to cope with the closedown of its economy. It is far more dependent upon private corporations and there is less capacity in the public sector to provide the universal services that are needed in the time of coronavirus. This is the economic and social advantage that the more social-democratic countries enjoy where state control of public services is more balanced.

South Korea and China are already in recovery and firing up their economies, by the time the USA is in recovery it may be too late to make it great again by this President. But Trump will deflect the blame on any country, institution, expert opinion or political opponent he can fire at. And experience tells us that the intransigent supporters of 'Making America Great Again' are not for changing their belief but hopefully, wiser counsels will prevail when the Trump years are put to the electorate. Leaving aside the USA, which the world is increasingly doing, the eventual outcome of the coronavirus pandemic should be a world that collaborates more, tackles climate change, rejects populism and reverts to localism as the driving force for community well being.

Saturday, 21 March 2020

In Search of the Muir Dam

Muir Dam
Nestled between conifer plantations and farmland above Thornhill lies the Muir Dam. An isolated sheet of water, visited by few but home to many water birds. It had become a bit of an obsession to get there as it is protected by a high fence from the B822 road that runs to Callander. There is a footpath that follows the beautiful Cessintully Burn upstream from Thornhill, passing alongside the mysteriously named Nelly's Glen and over a wonderful hill, marked 127m on the OS map, that provides a sentry-like viewpoint down the Teith valley to Stirling, across to the Doune Hills and more spectacularly to the munros of Stuc a' Chroin and Ben Vorlich as well as the ever dominating profile of Ben Ledi.

I had walked there on a dreich day in February and felt a strange compulsion to revive the path that had been assiduously negotiated with three farmers eight years ago. Three volunteers from the village had built stiles over the fences but there were few takers for the walk. It had fallen into disuse with stretches of bog, broken stiles and furrowed fields. I persuaded the local paths officer to fund the materials to replace the stiles and along with one of the original volunteers, we set out to audit the state of the path. We were both captivated by the walk and the views but we measured up and hopefully, coronavirus notwithstanding, we will source the materials for replacing the stiles and bridges. Then its time for hammers, saws, wrecking bars and a lot of sherpa like activity to get the materials and tools onsite.

Entrance to the path from the North Common

Gate to Nelly's Glen
Nelly's Glen
Nelly's Glen
East towards Stirling
South to the Campsies

Stuc a' Chroin and Ben Vorlich
Over the birchwood to Doune Hill
The pathmaker

Friday, 20 March 2020

Social Distancing on Ben Ledi

Ben Ledi summit
Ascent:      835 metres
Distance:   6 kilometres
Time:         2 hours 26 minutes

c    Ben Ledi    879m     1hr 26mins

It had been a strange few days, Boris Johnson had finally realised that being PM wasn't just for Brexit and began to take some decisions, making sure that any future blame would be shunted onto his experts. They could and should have been taken several weeks ago. As an over 70. or as a friend emailed me yesterday "a fellow coffin dodger", I was supposed to be practising social distancing. The government had issued a list of things to avoid, most of which were self-evident but too readily trumped by the ascendency of the selfish gene over any sense of social responsibility that is promoted by most marketing strategies and the popular press in the UK

I had spent the day in the garden, digging, planting and path building and was feeling tired. I checked the Met Office forecast that said we were to get clear skies and excellent visibility by 6pm. So Gregor and I set out for a late evening scurry up Ben Ledi. It was 4:35pm before I started walking the hill, I had dropped Gregor at Callander so he could run the 4 miles to the start of the ascent.

The hill was deserted until I reached 500 metres when two young women were descending the path. They were mature students from Glasgow, one German and one Portuguese. I was keen to keep a good social distance but they seemed anxious to talk. After being told it was a bit late to be heading up the hill, they let loose their feelings about the UK's feeble response to coronavirus. The Portuguese girl explaining that her country was notorious for being laid back but they had taken prompt and strong action to prevent the spread of coronavirus and she was proud of them. The German girl explained how many German cities had been closed down and there had been extensive testing to prevent the spread of the virus. They asked why did the UK always think it could stumble through things? I agreed.

Gregor caught me at 700 metres and continued his run over Ben Ledi with a descent to the north. The snow level was at 700 metres but it was freezing over as the sun dropped in the west so there was a reassuring grip when climbing the snow slopes. I was beguiled by the spectacular evening light at the summit. It was crystal clear to the west but moody clouds were hanging over Ben Lawers and hills to the north. Ben Ledi is a hill that I have been up more than any other, but I had been surprised at the amount of new path building since my last visit in the dark five years ago. I spent 10 minutes admiring the views and picking out all the landmarks that have been the staging points of my life for the past 40 years. Life was good and if social distancing means more of this, then bring it on.

Approaching the summit
Callander and the Ochils
Looking north west to the Ben More group
North Ridge
Beinn Each to the north east
Ben Ledi memorial 
Sunset over the Arrochar Alps

Sunday, 15 March 2020

Last Race before Covid 19 ban

The start or is this a Herd Immunity exercise - Ready

Flying at 8 miles
The Balloch to Clydebank half marathon is one of the long established classics and today it incorporated the Renfrewshire, West of Scotland and Scottish Universities championships. I was a chauffeur and spectator for Gregor and it brought back memories of running the race in 1987. Much had changed but not the weather, it was still foul. The race quota of 500 had been achieved although only 405 started, the rain and strong winds, flooding on parts of the course, and runners avoiding mass events as a result of coronavirus were all plausible excuses, although £27 to enter a race seems a bit steep compared to the fees in my days of competing.

Gregor had already put in 750 miles of training this year in mainly atrocious conditions as preparation for the London Marathon, so his stamina was good at the expense of sacrificing some speed. He had hoped to set a new pb and break 70 minutes but missed by 6 seconds and came fourth. It had still been an excellent run in the conditions and the hope now is that the training can be put to use in the week's ahead but the prospects of races are ever slimmer. The starter of the race had wished the assembled runners a good run as it might be the last as sporting events are eliminated in the weeks and months ahead.

We stayed on for the prize giving in the splendid new Clydebank Sports Centre.  It has been built on the banks of the Clyde on the old John Brown shipbuilding yard next to a very impressive new Further Education College. The slipway that fired the liners into the White Cart as it enters from the opposite banks of the Clyde is a reminder of Clydebank's days as the world's most celebrated shipbuilding town. Clyde built has been transformed into Clyde learnt.

The slipway for launching the Queen liners at the John Brown Yard

Friday, 13 March 2020

Glen Finglas

John Ruskin was here
Millais painting of John Ruskin
Brig o' Turk is a place where we have spent a lot of time. We married here at the Trossachs church, the Brig o' Turk Tearoom was our local bistro for many years after walks, cycle rides or when we were too lazy to cook. Above Brig o' Turk is the Glen Finglas Dam built in 1965 as a means of creating a reservoir to top up Loch Katrine, the main supply of water for Glasgow and its environs. Just below the massive 35 metre high dam the river Turk snakes its way through a raw highland landscape of rocks, sessile oaks, scots pine and birch trees. It is where Walter Scott, John Ruskin and other Victorian luminaries spent time communing with nature.

There is an easy walk up to the dam from Brig o' Turk and the Woodland Trust,who own the Glen Finglas Estate, have a small car park halfway up to the dam. On a rare sunny morning it provided an easy and attractive walk. The scale of the dam and the placid waters of the reservoir were the foreground to the snow covered hills to the north. It revived our spirits at a time when coranavirus, declarations of global catastrophe, collapse of the finanacial markets and Donald Trump's ever more imbecilic Tweets were all threatening the will to live. We decided against a birthday lunch although it looked as if the nearby cafe had not opened as the public begin to self isolate. We returned home to enjoy a simple lunch and a few hours hard work in the garden to take advantage of the dry weather.

Finglas dam overflow in full spate
Geese on the Finglas Reservoir
Loch Finglas from the dam
River Turk below the dam

Concrete Gravity Dam with steep side

Valve house and Generating house next to spillway and steps

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

Creag Mhor Balquidder

Creag Mhor from Clach Mhor
Wednesday, 4 March 2020

Ascent:      575 metres
Distance:   8 kilomotres
Time:         3 hours 3 minutes

Creag Mhor     687m   1hr 39mins

February served us more wind and rain than ever before so it was with some relief that a second dry day on the run was forecast. I had made four or five excursions up my local hills, Lime Craig and Ben Gullipen, in foul weather but they take only an hour. I needed to ease myself back into some proper hill walking. The snow at the weekend had left the hills glazed like meringues so it would be hard going but sweet. I headed for Creag Mhor, a Graham, overlooking Loch Voil and Balquidder. The walk starts from Ballimore in Glen Buckie, I had not been here since 1984 when training for the Glasgow Marathon on a 20 mile circular training run from Brig O' Turk. 

I made a late start and it was 10:30am when I parked half a mile before Ballimore where a broad track climbs to the right and there is a large bellmouth capable of taking half a dozen vehicles. I climbed the track to a high point above Ballimore from where another track arrives by an enormous dump of tyres and timber. There is a gap in the high deer fence here and I began the long climb through the sodden grassy ground aiming for the corner of the tree plantation to the north. I was going well until I reached the snow level at 400 metres after which the double jeopardy of steepening slopes and soft snow put a brake on progress. There is another deer fence to breech and I managed to squeeze between wires. The snow thickened so each step was an exerise in hole punching. It looked like a pleasant ridge on the map, so I had decided to take in all the tops along the ridge but it meant a lot of extra effort up and down through deep banks of snow.

The compensation was the splendid weather, there was only a slight breeze and the visibility was improving all the time. Creag Mhor summit was tantalisingly close and a lode stone but you had to punch your way through every bank of pristine snow to get there and who would have thought that sun glasses were necessary in 2020 when any brightness of vision has been absent I arrived at the summit, it was warm enough to sit down for ten minutes, drink my flask of coffee and admire the surrounding hills that were beginning to dispense with their cloud cover. Ben Vorlich and Stuc a' Chroin appeared, as did Cruach Ardrain but Ben More and Stob Binnein remained reclusive.

I continued westwards along the ridge for a while but then decided to head down to the Allt Fathan Glinne and the large cattle shed next to a conifer plantation. I followed some fox tracks until the snow became too soft and I fell waist deep into the snow on a few occasions. I eventually arrived at the cattle shed and decided to follow the 2 mile long seriously wide track that lies to the north of the river in Gleann Dubh. It provides access to the cattle shed and is the sort of road built by a man with no money, lots of time, a bulldozer and a shed load of red diesel. Who needs engineers, surveyors, accountants and other hangers on? The man could probably build the HS2 line in a couple of years, there would be no tunnels, culverts rather than bridges and the government would have change from £10 million.

The guide books tell you not to use this track, which does have two 10 feet high gates and a high deer fence but compared to the extra 2 kilometres to cross two bridges and return via the path from Glen Finglas, it seemed a good option. It had been a good outing and I was back at the car for 1:30pm

The track above Ballimore

South east slope of Creag Mhor

Looking down on Ballimore and Glen Buckie

Creag Mhor summit from Clach Mhor

Snowfield just below summit
North-west towards Ben More and Stob Binnein
Ben Vorlich and Stuc a' Chroin from summit
South towards Benvane and Loch Drunkie

Thursday, 27 February 2020

A Taste of Winter

View from the top towards Ben Venue
The weather has been almost as miserable as the politics this year. After two months of perpetual rain, grey skies, regular storms of high winds and torrential rain, we were served a brief taste of winter this morning. The mercury had dropped and the hills were snow capped. I relished the return of winters as they used to be and set off for an early morning walk from Braeval. I had not been up Lime Craig for three months and in the early morning light the views were extensive. Ten minutes later I was in a heavy snow storm and within minutes the frozen ground was covered in an inch or so of soft snow. The snow was getting heavier and I briefly thought of turning back as I had only a worn out down jacket for protection. The lady who walks up Lime Craig every day with her two dogs appeared out of the snow on her way down. She was snuggled in a fur hooded jacket but exhibited her usual good cheer. She had seen the storm approaching and thought it would quickly pass.

Another ten minutes and I made the summit, the snow had passed and blue skies had magically appeared. Had I run up this morning it would have been my 200th run up Lime Craig but that will have to wait. I made a descent by the same route, the footsteps of the woman and her dogs had  been obliterated by the snow. My footprints were deep and the snow allowed a fast walk back to Braeval. I dropped below the snow level at 100 metres. It was warm in the sun and another three groups were starting out on the climb. Winter was over, it is more wind and rain this weekend.

The track from Braeval

Summit ahead
Ben Ledi in cloud

Scots Pine

Monday, 24 February 2020

Bad News

Storm Dennis hides missing PM and fends off coronavirus

If 2020 was meant to be about vision then it has been a total failure so far. As Storm Dennis blasts its way across Britain leaving floods, damaged properties and further dilapidated infrastructure in its wake, we can only dream of progress. The UK has chronic myopia.
  • We are unprepared to cope with Coronavirus according to 98% of NHS staff interviewed, and UK nationals were left on the badly infected cruise ship off Japan, when most other countries had arranged flights home for their citizens. 
  • Meanwhile stock markets around the world have lost 3-4% of their value today with much more likely to come as manufacturing in China, tourism and travel have seen massive drops with the fear of a pandemic being declared.
  • Progress on re-establishing government in Northern Ireland has been stymied by the sacking of Julian Smith, the first Northern Ireland minister since 2010 who has earned the respect of the province. 
  • The government's Fair Funding Review for council funding could see massive cuts for northern towns and cities. Liverpool -16%, Manchester -14%, Newcastle -12% are northern cities amongst the biggest losers whilst Windsor+20%, Buckinghamshire +17%, Gloucestershire +15% and Surrey +13% are the biggest winners. So much for the government's fabled commitment to the northern powerhouse.
  • The UK has been accused of failing to prepare for the 2020 climate change conference (COP26) in Glasgow.  The UK government  having sacked the chair and fallen out with the Scottish Government over funding is now considering whether to change the location, I would suggest Norway.
  • HS2 has been given the go ahead as far as Birmingham, and maybe Crewe but decisions on that will have to wait as will the extension to the northern cities of Manchester and Leeds. As for the 50% of the total track length to Glasgow and Edinburgh on which the trains are at their slowest and there is the greatest scope for reducing travel times, well that will have to wait for Godot.  
  • Meanwhile we are still on course to expand Heathrow despite its serious impact on air pollution and climate change and huge costs that will in part be publicly funded, diverting even more funds from the north and disunited kingdoms. Heathrow is already the airport most people outside the south east avoid as a hub because it is so much less efficient and customer friendly than Frankfurt, Amsterdam or even Paris.
  • Death rates in the UK are now increasing, there is a mumps epidemic and NHS waiting times have reached their all time low.
  • Priti Patel has introduced an immigration policy that is so fundamentally flawed that even some of tabloids have taken umbrage. Her bungled attempts to dismiss and undermine her civil servants merely confirms that she is totally unsuited to be a minister, let alone the Home Secretary.
  • Meanwhile PM Johnson has gone AWOL during the floods, cabinet reshuffle and coronavirus pandemic. His government's lamentable decisions on HS2, Council funding, immigration, COP26 and negotiations on future trade agreements are a harbinger of the future past .
  • Even the the UK's most elite establishment institutions are in free fall, with the Royal family furiously defending its entitlement by sacrificing its loose cannons, namely the sixth and seventh in line to the throne. Harry has volunteered for the colonies and the randy old Duke of York has generously deferred his promotion to Admiral as his 60th birthday present. And at the very time we desperately need some leadership laced with uninhibited entitlement, bombast, pomp and ceremony!