The great stone spine of the land

Out at the weekend with dad, visiting Field of Bannockburn, the memorial to the incredibly pivotal battle which secured Scottish independence against the violent Plantagenet tyranny spreading across the British Isles, and changing the way the history of these islands would play out. The sun came out from behind the clouds and in the distance, looking towards Callendar we could see this magnificent site:

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Where the already impressive hills of Scotland start to rise into majestic mountains, still covered in winter snow but now basking in early spring sunshine, glittering and shining, gateway to the Highlands, the great stone spine of Caledonia and a reminder that our Scotland boasts the most beautiful scenery in the whole of the British Isles.

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Changing light on the landscape

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Out with my dad a few days ago, one of those days where we had bright sunlight, rain, hail and more all within minutes of one another. May make the weather unpredictable for going out but it also means constantly changing quality of light, something I rather love in Scotland, it makes even scenes you’ve seen many times before look different. We had driven up and over the Campsie Hills (a range of extinct volcanoes a little north of Glasgow) and coming down the far side towards Fintry we pulled over to watch a band of sun and rain move along the hills and mountains in the north. Above you can clearly see Ben Lomond, the most southerly of the Scottish Munros – a Munro is a mountain over 3000 feet and hill walkers and climbers who try to do all of them and tick them off are known as Munro Baggers – which is in the Trossachs and Loch Lomond National Park, still snowcapped as you can see even in late April, caught here in shafts of sunlight from gaps in the cloud while dark curtains of rain flicker over the other summits nearby.

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You can see huge areas such as the foreground in deep gloomy shadows from the heavy clouds overhead, some of the peaks in the distance being hammered with rain, others basking in sun (we watched the sun and rain move along the whole range in a few minutes), if you click on the pics to go the larger images on the Woolamaloo Flickr you can even see some smaller, lower clouds floating around below the actual peaks themselves. All this landscape beauty is just a short drive from Scotland’s largest city – it’s one of the reasons I love living in Scotland, even in the middle of a city you are never far from our landscape. Here where I live in Edinburgh I can catch glimpses of the Pentland Hills from the middle of town, or views down to the might river Forth and the hills of Fife on the other side. Best of both worlds.

The iron road to the Highlands

Early yesterday morning I caught the train for Inverness to cover a brand-new comics convention for the FPI blog. Crossing over the mighty Forth Bridge (I can’t remember going over that since I was a kid, usually I’m going over the nearby road bridge) the train went along the Fife coast to begin with, curving around past Burntisland, giving great views right across the Firth of Forth where you could see all of Edinburgh in profile, the Pentland Hills behind the city dusted with snow and an orange glow behind them as the early morning winter sun struggled to rise above the hills. As the train turned further inland the rolling hills of Fife were sprinkled with snow too, while the rich farmland between them was mostly snow (although not ice) free.

(click the pics to see the full size version on the Woolamaloo Flickr stream)

However, as I got further north, heading up past Perth, Pitlochry and further, the snow went from a light sprinkle to deeper, purer, whiter. As we got up into the Highlands proper and the Cairngorms national park it got colder and ever more spectacular. The view from the train window was quite simply spectacular: snowbound forests (fallen trees with their skinny, snow-covered branches looked like the skeletons of some long-spined creature), rivers swollen and fast-running with recent rain and snow runoff from the mountains, except where the water had frozen fast into ice.

Deer ran lightly through the snow; as the train past one field I saw a young buck, couldn’t have been more than two years old, bouncing through the snow and off into the treeline. There were a number of football fans, all loaded up with beer, on the train (I think their match ended up cancelled because of the weather) but even they grew quiet, totally taken in with the astonishing beauty of the Scottish Highlands passing outside their window to the clickety-clack, clickety-clack beat of the train on its rails. You can feel the pressure on your ears as the train begins to climb steeply – it isn’t as clear from the view but your body can feel it as the train pulls you ever higher into the land of mountains.

I haven’t been up that far north in years, not since going on a few ski trips many moons ago and that was driving so you don’t get to appreciate the view quite so much. Sitting on a train with a great big window you could just watch all of this slip past, one of most scenic parts of the whole of Europe just sliding past my window. God we’re so lucky to live in this country – next time any of us moan about our weather we should think about these scenes then realise just how utterly beautiful our mountain kingdom is.