Am Bodach

Harris 1891 : The old man rose slowly from his chair, walked stiffly towards the door of the blackhouse. He was accustomed to the gloom, the air thick with peat smoke, but still he fumbled with the door latch. He muttered to himself in gaelic.

Outside the morning sunlight blinded him and he raised his arm to shield his eyes. Several hens scattered from under his feet , only to return expectantly. He dug into the pocket of his tweed jacket and scattered some oats on the bare earth, then sat down heavily on the stone bench, leaning his back against the stone wall of the blackhouse. He had built this house himself, with the help of others, 45 years ago now.

He breathed in. The stiff sea breeze was refreshing after the stale air of the blackhouse interior. They said that peat smoke prevented the plague but it couldn’t be good for your lungs. He chuckled to himself.

Across the glen a shepherd waved to him and he nodded in reply. From his vantage point he could see the whole village, the blackhouses huddled around the millpool, the church, school and post office. Beyond that was the Sound of Harris, glittering in the sun, islands scattered in her midst.

One island sat prominent though, a focal point almost on the horizon. Pabaigh, the priests island, the island of his birth. That wasn’t yesterday, he reflected, yet he could remember the village houses, the school, the church and he could remember the fields of barley that they played in as children, despite dire warnings from their elders.

For it was the barley that they exported in boats, to trade with other islanders. And it was the barley that helped produce uisge beatha, the water of life. He remembers that most of all, the men sitting around the peat fire, drinking whisky, stories galore, laughter and tears as the storyteller held them in his hand.

They were evicted in 1846.

The old man was woken by the first raindrops. He had fallen asleep. Auld fool, he muttered to himself. As he rose to go inside he saw that Pabaigh had disappeared from view.

Harris 2021: The Range Rover Discovery climbs up the track to the holiday house, a converted ruin it says on the website. The car speaks ‘You have arrived at your destination’. ‘Thank goodness’ mutters the man driving, ‘these bloody roads’. A woman jumps out, followed by two teenaged girls. She looks across the glen. ‘Oh my God’ she cries,’I think that man is waving to us’.

Inside the house, they unpack their bags, fill the fridge, switch on the tv. The woman goes upstairs, walks onto the balcony and looks out. A strange pyramid shaped island catches her eye. How queer, she thinks but just then theres a cry from downstairs- ‘Mum, whats the code for the wifi?’

10k a day in January

I’m trying to walk 10km a day during lockdown. This should be achieved in two walks, each comprising of one hour. The problem this weekend (in lockdown), I have discovered, is that literally every man and their dug are out and about, resulting in delays due to avoidance tactics (social distancing) and blethering.

Despite this,when I dropped the car off for Elaine today, I had no plan at all other than to make my walk home last a minimum of 3km (I’d done a 7km walk at Brucefields earlier). When I popped into Tilli Tearoom Elaine looked stressed. ‘Hows it been today?’ I said, standing well back. Its difficult to tell a persons emotions when they’re wearing a face covering but rolling your eyes is unmistakable. It translates as ‘how the fuck d’you think its been?’. Dropping the keys on the counter I ran away, escaping down the wee lane that leads to The Tappit.

Ah The Tappit. At a virtual Burns Supper the night before, I listened rivetted to Tam O’ Shanter (Kings may be blest, but Tam was glorious, o’er all the ills of life victorious) and I pictured Tam and Souter Johnny in The Tappit having a rare time. Sadly The Tappit sits in darkness.

In contrast the Cathedral looked stunning in the winter sunshine and I headed along Kirk Street and then The Haining towards the Lechills (Laighills). As I walked down to the railway bridge a wee lad ran uphill past me carrying a scooter saying ‘wait til you see this!’ As I was digesting this I saw a wee girl throwing a large stone up at the icicles hanging down from the bridges arches. Ha, I can remember doing that I thought.

As I was walking under the railway bridge (holding my breath as is traditional), the Wee Lad whizzed past me then slalomed between shocked walkers. It was brilliant. ‘Gaun yersel wee man’ I wanted to shout.

The Lechills wiz rammed. Weans on the swings and seesaws and whirlygig things whilst the mums and dads stood blethering. I took the path up to the right to avoid folk and five minutes later I’m up on high looking down on the crowded playpark. There was still plenty snow on the paths and rabbits darted away to hide as I climbed on to the hills beyond the top pitch.

Even up here there were couples and families walking about. I detected weegie accents. Youse shouldnae be here… but I cannae blame ye. Everyones broke the rules during lockdown I reckon, and we’ve all managed to justify it to ourselves as legitimate.

Back down now, down the track from the top pitch. Theres an auld dear walking up the track. Just then I hear a shout. I turn round and its the wee lad again, tanking doon the track on his scooter. He whizzes past me, wobbling furiously, eyes flashing. The auld dear ‘stood, right sair astonished’, glaring at him.

By the river, folk were working out at the new outdoor gym. It was down in the shade and by 3pm in January the temperature was already below freezing. Sod this for a gemme of sodgers, I thought , time to get home for a hot chocolate.

Loch Ossian Camping

The train stopped just before noon at a remote spot. Corrour Station is high up on a moor, 1350 feet above sea level, in the middle of nowhere. I got off along with two cyclists, leaving just one other traveller on the train and we watched as the train crawled towards a gap in the hills to the north before starting its descent to Loch Treig, Roy Bridge and finally Fort William at sea level.

Once the train had disappeared out of sight there was total silence. I walked down off the platform and across the track, stopping to take a photograph. Normally you would be lifted for standing on a railway track taking photographs but not here at Corrour Station, a dot on the map, in the middle of nowhere.

I strode off along the dirt track in the direction of Loch Ossian with my rucksack full of camping gear, meeting two campers who were catching the 1230 train south. They assured me that there were no midges around which was a relief.

I pitched the tent on the south slopes of Beinn na Lap, just below a huge boulder. The view down Loch Ossian was tremendous. The loch itself was a mirror with tiny wooded islands where herons were nesting and the mountains beyond still had snow patches.

It was getting hot as I climbed up Beinn na Lap and upon reaching the broad ridge it was ‘taps aff’, despite there being snow fields I had to cross. On the summit I met a guy from Airdrie who had cycled from Rannoch. ‘Its taken me four hours to get here’ he exclaimed, perhaps just realising he would not be back in Airdrie in time for his tea.

I ,on the other hand, had all the time in the world and was back at the tent for 5pm. Mission accomplished. It was almost too easy, Beinn na Lap is known as the easiest munro after all. I read a book, ate my tea then decided to follow the track to Loch Treig alongside the railway line.

It was a lovely walk, looking across the glen towards a snow capped Ben Nevis. A goods train trundled past, heading for Fort William, the sun glinting off its roof as it snaked around the hill before disappearing. A red fox ran across the track ahead of me.

There was a ruin beside a burn, Allt Luib Ruaridh, a stone memorial to a time when people lived here. Their view would have been amazing until the railway was built in 1880s and a huge embankment blocked that view. Progress eh. I wandered around it, the familiar 4 foot thick stone walls now reduced to 4 foot high.

After 4km, I spied Loch Trieg below and headed back towards the tent, the sun setting behind me, casting my long shadow ahead of me. I slept on and off through the night, listening to the harsh ‘kraak’ of the herons on the loch and the soft trilling of the black grouse. Popped my head out the tent to see a big moon and lots of stars. At 6am the sun was hitting the tent and a weird mist forming across the moor and the loch below.

I got up at 7am, the tussocky grass was crunchy with frost as I dropped the tent in jig time. By 8am I had walked the 1.5km to the station and sat on a bench, eating a melted/frozen mars bar. It was warm already and the blue skies persuaded me watch the 0830 Glasgow train arrive and leave.

I decided to try and climb Leum Uilleum (Williams Leap), better known as the mountain in that scene in Trainspotting. Yes thats right, Corrour is the station where they filmed that classic scene. I even found the wooden bridge where Renton sat, swigging a hauf bottle of Grants vodka and launched into the classic tirade “its shite being Scottish”.

Well, I almost made the top of Leum Uilleum but I was worried I may miss the last train back to Crianlarich at 1230. I did climb high enough to be in the snow again and got some cracking views west across to Ben Nevis and east looking down on Corrour Station and Loch Ossian beyond.

Back down near the station, I was eating my piece, sat on a rock whilst my tent was spread out drying in the sun. The 1130 train for Fort William arrived and one walker got off. The train headed past me and I waved to the driver who tooted the horn. This filled me with a childlike happiness. The walker meanwhile headed off in the direction of Leum Uilleum and the wooden bridge, perhaps he had a hauf bottle of Grants vodka in his rucksack?

I read a book until the 1230 arrived and looked out the window as the train crossed the moors to Rannoch Station and then sped downhill past Caledonian pine forests to Bridge of Orchy. What a train journey, over horseshoe viaducts, bridges over waterfalls, stags on the moor and buzzards gliding below, wee lambs running scared to the mammies as the train hurtled past. Down we went, stopping at Upper Tyndrum before the final descent and final viaduct at Crianlarich where my car was parked.

It had only been 27 hours since I left Crianlarich but it felt like I had been away abroad. A reconnect with nature anyway. Tired but happy.

As I drove down Glen Ogle I was thinking I could fair go a cold drink when I suddenly remembered the cans I’d put in the boot. And I can tell you, happiness is stopping in Lochearnhead, putting all your rubbish in a bin before draining an ice cold Irn Bru.

*Note : This is/was just as Covid-19 restrictions were being lifted. Travel was allowed again but no pubs open (yet).

Windfarm Walk

This lockdown, I’ve set myself daily targets for walking. January was 10km and now, as the days grow longer, February is 12km. The plan is to be ready for the hills in the spring, maybe a little camping too.

I’ve kept the walks local obviously and discovered some good ones. The Bannockburn Heritage Trail from Ladywell Park up to Mill Bridge and back was excellent (6km). Its a steep sided glen following the fast flowing Bannock Burn, past derelict tartan weaver mills (hence the name of the local pub, Tartan Arms).

Dunblane to Doune is a favourite, heading out on the Old Doune Road past Greenyards Farm before heading down to Argaty and continuing along the old railway line to Doune. Its all tarmac now but watch out as the railway track has a 1:50 incline down to Doune. So what seems an easy walk with little breeze actually becomes an uphill trudge into a cold easterly wind on the way back (11 km).

This happened to auld Jackie when he fae Doune tae Dunblane ane night did canter. It was late and upon leaving the Highland, he was glorious (o’er aw the ills o’ life victorious probably). Stopping halfway home to light a cigarette, he turned his back to the easterly. Satisfied he had lit his smoke, he walked on…straight back to Doune!

Anyway, I got fed up wi the local walks and decided to head up to the windfarm. It was built in 2007 and is very prominent on the hills to the north of Dunblane. I like them but some folks get raging about them, Trump included. And thats good enough for me.

So, I parked the car just after Buchany at Home Farm and headed up past a few farms and alot of sheep and then the forestry plantations. Once thru that we past Severie farmhouses and took the ancient track towards legendary Calziebohalzie (dont ask me to pronounce it). This track fords two burns and crosses moorlands with skylarks tweeting (no Trump jokes please) above in a huge sky.

The windfarm road crossed this ancient track (before we reached Calziebohalzie sadly) and we followed it up to the huge wind turbines. Theres about 34 in total. Standing underneath one and looking up is a bit of an unnerving , vertigo inducing experience.

I looked for The Bird Graveyard. In yet another infamous Trump ramble, he claimed there’s a Bird Graveyard at every windfarm, but it was nowhere to be found. I didn’t hang about and the walk back down past snowbanks was amazing as you are looking back across the lowlands to the Carse of Stirling with the Gargunnock Hills beyond. Dunblane stands out too, with Dumyat, Wallace Monument and Stirling Castle behind.

I followed the windfarm road all the way back thru forestry plantations to Home Farm, a total of 20km which left Shitzu puggled. Calziebohalzie will have to wait for another day !

Stay safe everyone, we are getting there!

Bannockburn

Dunblane Primary School 1977 : The Boy sat bored at the back of the class. It was too hot in the classhut, a prefab unit for the Primary 5s. He remembered when they once had class in the school field. They had sat on the grass in the shade of the trees. That was fun. He’d liked that teacher.

One day, she wore a yellow and red top and he had called her Mrs Partick Thistle. She had laughed at that. But that was Primary 2. Today, in Primary 5, his teacher was strict. She’d given all of the boys the belt for spitting (in ’77 the punk era had taken Dunblane by storm).

Today it was poetry. Boring he thought. Why couldn’t they just play rounders in the field ? (it was almost the summer holidays anyway). Last week they had a lesson on the wars of independence now that was cool. Not as cool as dinosaurs mind you. He pictured a T Rex running across the school field, his classmates running away screaming. He had decided long ago that in this situation the best place was the bike sheds. No way could a T Rex get you if you hid at the back of the bike sheds. They had these stupid wee arms you see.

The teacher was reading the poem to the classroom. He looked out the window at the blue skies and drifted away, 663 years away to be precise….

On a warm summers evening in 1314, The Boy was filling the pail above the ford when he first noticed them. Across the river he could see hundreds of men streaming down the Braeport and past the Dunblane Cathedral. There were horses too, and ponies pulling carts. He watched with astonishment as they gathered at the The Cross, then he turned and ran home, spilling water from his pail as he went.

His father was emerging from their stone house. He hushed The Boy and, staring at the scene, muttered almost to himself ‘chan ann a-rithist’ – not again !

17 years earlier the clans had come from the north to fight the English at Stirling Bridge and again the following year to fight at Falkirk. After Falkirk, not many had returned north to their homelands. Grimly nodding, his father ducked back into the house. In the half-light of the blackhouse, he found his sgian dhu and felt better. He would retrieve his sword from the thatched roof in the morning.

The English were sending a huge army to crush the Scots, he’d heard. They had already been in Dunblane ten years before: the soldiers had stolen the lead from the cathedral roof to provide ammunition for their siege engines. They had taken Stirling Castle shortly after.

That night The Boy watched as the Highlanders sat around camp fires, laughter and songs drifting across the river. The men had set camp on the drying green below the Bishops Palace. As he watched, a bearded man walked down to the river directly across from him and stood, urinating. The Boy turned and ran, the mans laughter in his ears.

On the morning of 23 June 1314, the Highlanders forded the river heading south to Stirling, a seemingly endless line of wild looking men, following carts loaded with long wooden spears and pulled by ponies. The mood was sombre. The Boy watched as they headed along the ancient drove road, he watched until he couldn’t see them anymore and he wondered if his Father would ever return.

Going to Dunblane Primary School

In 1972, The Boy went to Dunblane Primary School for the first time. Wearing hand-me-down grey shorts that were too big for him and an uncomfortable shirt and tie, he walked from his house in Murdoch Terrace each day to the school. It was a five minute walk and his mum had decided early on that he was big enough to walk to school on his own. He was almost five years old after all.

He liked his teacher, Mrs Carmichael, she was nice. The classroom was huge with big windows all along one side. He sat behind his desk, swinging his legs, as the teacher wrote her name on the blackboard. His classmates, he noticed, were all taller than him. He didn’t realise until years later, it was because he was one of the youngest in the class.

Perhaps being so small was why he made pals with another wee boy. At playtime they could play tig or British bulldogs with the others on the concrete playground or, if it was raining, they played in the bikesheds. His wee pal said he lived down behind the school. He talked about going to Jean’s to buy sweeties. Jean’s must be a shop, The Boy thought, a shop with lots of sweetie jars. Imagine that!

The Boy had never been beyond his own street, although sometimes they played in the field behind his house. That was ok as long as you didn’t wear red, because there was a bull in the field and bulls hate red. Thats what his big brothers told him anyway. The Boy pointed across the school field. “Thats my house there” he said “that big house”. His pal looked doubtful. “Aye, right!” he said. The Boy was insistent, his pride was at stake here. “I’ll show you at lunchtime” he said “then you’ll believe me”.

At lunchtime they sneaked out the school gate and walked quickly round to The Boys house. At the back door, The Boy struggled to move the heavy black bin. There was no key underneath. Disappointed, he tried to salvage the situation. “Lets play on the clothes line!” he shouted and ran over to the drying green which was a square with four metal poles in each corner. He jumped several times before he managed to grab the clothes line with both hands and soon he was swinging back and forward. His pal was impressed and joined in, the two wee boys laughing as they swung higher and higher.

The fun ended abruptly as there was a loud crack and both boys fell to the ground. The Boy scrambled to his feet and looked at the broken metal pole lying on the ground. “Shite!” he said. It was the only swear word he knew. The two boys stared at each other then, without a word, they both ran back towards the school.

That night at the dinner table, The Boy sat quiet as his mum and dad discussed the mystery of the broken clothes line…and why the bin had been moved. It was a mystery which remained unsolved until today when you, dear reader, came across this strange story !

PS I think it was Mrs Carmichael in P1 and Mrs Currie in P2. Definitely Mrs McFarlane in P4 and Mrs Angus in P6. Cannae mind the others tho.

Dunblane in Lockdown January 2021

This is my third winter as pharmacy delivery driver in Dunblane and, after two mild winters, finally the snow has arrived. Its not been as bad as I feared : any areas where the snowplough had not been I parked nearby and walked in (Dargai Terrace, Buchan Drive, Keir Street and Balmoral Court spring to mind). It actually improved my drive up to one isolated farm near Braco as the snow filled in the potholes, making it a smoother drive up and down the mile long track. In fact that afternoon the temperature had plummeted to minus 9 which weirdly reminded me that one day in June it was 29 degrees in Braco.

The first snowfall coincided with the new lockdown, resulting in more home deliveries as people couldn’t get to the pharmacy to collect. This made for a busy spell but, as ever, folks were very appreciative when I appeared at their door. Its a tough time for the elderly and January has been a very long month for them. The fact that most of them now have been vaccinated is brilliant. A few have told me excitedly that they are getting the jag in the Vicky Hall that afternoon and one auld boy, who had received the jag, told me its great having an end in sight. He is already planning having a dram with his neighbour in mid May !

Sadly, we have lost a few people in Dunblane in January. Several times I have had to deliver prescriptions to the bereaved families and make a point of passing on my condolences. Some admittedly I barely knew but others I have had a blether with and hope they enjoyed my chat (these days its mostly an update on where the snowplough has been with a parting shot of ‘you’re better staying inside nice and warm’). Not that they have much choice but maybe by mid May that will change. The auld yins deserve a break and I’ll tell you why.

Firstly, they are almost always cheerful, despite the pandemic. Some haven’t crossed the threshold in ten months now. They would be entitled to complain but no they prefer a wee blether. Again this week one auld dear said they never had to endure this during the war. I assume she meant the isolation, not being able to chat to your friends and neighbours, visit the shops, give someone a hug. She also claimed there was a bomb dropped in Dunblane which never exploded !

Secondly, they still give me wee presents. One woman passes me a funsize Mars bar every time I deliver, another gave me some books by an author we had previously spoken about and an elderly Dutch lady gave me a late Christmas present of lovely chocolates beautifully wrapped in paper depicting people ice skating in Netherlands. There is a story behind this : before Christmas I was wearing a Santa type face covering and this lady loved it. So next time I delivered I managed to get her a fresh Santa face covering to wear when her family visited on Christmas Day. Her chocolates were a wee thank you.

The third and final reason the auld yins deserve a break ? They call me son. They say things like ‘thats gid o’ ye, son’ and ‘take care, son’. One guy says ‘thank you, young man’ and another auld boy always says a brisk ‘well done’ when I deliver. I reckon he was an officer in the army.

Anyway, thats January oot the way and the days are getting longer. Hopefully things will open up for the summer and I can get out and up the hills (though I’m not holding my breath for Wembley). Stay safe everyone !

1966 train to Dunblane

In spring 1966, Dunblane Railway station was quiet. The previous November, the line to Callander had been closed for good, after over 100 years of service. It was mid morning when the Aberdeen train arrived at platform 2. The Man got off it, then walked over the Victorian footbridge to platform 1 and out onto Stirling Road.

The Man asked a local for directions. The local shook his head, didn’t recognise the street name. The Man persisted, it was near the new school he said. ‘Ah the new hooses’ the local said and pointed to another bridge that crossed the railway line further up.

The Man strode off, noting the post office, newsagents and confectionery shop in Stirling Road, the old tenement flats above. He walked along Station Road before climbing up the steep path to the bridge. At the top he could see the river far below and beyond it, Dunblane Cathedral which looked impressive. Not so nice was the gasworks across the river.

Over the bridge, The Man recognised the cobblers where the local had said to turn left. He went between the cobblers and an air raid shelter which was covered in graffiti. Hopefully they wouldn’t be needing the air raid shelter in the future, he thought to himself.

There was a bus depot and a petrol station ahead but he turned right onto the Old Doune Road, as instructed. He chuckled to himself as he noticed there was a George Street: his own name. Maybe it was a good sign? The council houses in George Street looked fairly new, probably built just after the war.

The wide road went uphill, old stone villas above him to the right and new brick built bungalows on his left. He was soon breathing hard, he wasn’t used to this. Bloody hilly town Dunblane, he thought. He turned into Cawdor Cresent , another wide street and more climbing before a steep downhill. At the bottom were the school gates with the modern two storey school beyond. The man nodded to himself: his eldest son was now 5 years old so this would be perfect.

As he continued along Kinnoul Avenue he could see green hillside beyond. And coos ! He laughed at that because there were nae coos in the Gorbals where he was brought up. Finally, there it was. Murdoch Terrace! It looked a long street, all the pristine houses on the left and a wide grass verge with the school fence on the right.

He started to walk along the street,which was devoid of cars. The gardens were big, neat and empty: a blank canvas for the new residents who would settle in over the next year or two. Workmen were hammering away in one house, raised voices and laughter above the radio, which was blaring out ‘Substitute’ by The Who. A man with a clipboard was standing out on the pavement halfway along the street. He smiled. ‘You must be Mr Campbell’, he said ‘ allow me to show you the property’.

Half an hour later the two men reappeared on the pavement, shook hands and headed in opposite directions. The Man looked back at the house with the hillside beyond, then turned to look across the school field to the school with the Ochil hills in the distance. So much space. If they were going to raise three weans, maybe four who knows, they could do worse.

Satisfied, he lit his pipe and started walking back towards the railway station.

*’The Man’ was my dad and the story is part truth, part fiction but he definitely viewed 28 Murdoch Terrace in 1966 and I was told he caught the train up from Stirling where they were staying in Linden Avenue. The house cost £3300 and I was number four wean, born in November 1967.

The Skinny Woods

I’m walking down a cobbled lane. I can hear the sea, smell it, taste it even but where is it…

Suddenly, a surge of saltwater across the cobbles in front of me, blocking the lane before slowly it recedes and my path is clear again. Wow that was unexpected I say to myself. I drop to the ground, just in time as a tram trundles harmlessly over my head. That too, I say, was unexpected. I get to my feet and walk on. Two women are mending the nets on fishing creels on the pier.

I wake up. That was one weird dream, I think to myself. Shitzu must sense that I’m awake and starts licking my arm. You can let me out now, shes saying. This is an improvement on, say, two years ago when she would have relayed this message by climbing on my head and licking my face at 6am.

But that dream wtf !! I sample it like I’m at a whisky tasting. Mmm, hints of Harris there, yes and maybe Crail and a longing to be by the sea. Fixing the nets for the spring that lies ahead. That tram tho….

Ten minutes later we’re out on the road, literally. The pavements are sheer ice still, despite it being mild for the first time in a week. The road is the safest option. At the bottom of Braemar Avenue, we go left then turn on Wallace Road. I dont know where I’m heading but suddenly I remember the field behind Anchorscross, no’ been there in ages.

But theres a problem. We have a problem. Shitzu is in someones garden running about frantically in circles. Aw naw, shes gonnae do a jobby on someones lawn, shes gonnae do a jobby…and I can see them looking out the window. Shitzu, I hiss, Shitzu !! Shes shoots across the grass/snow only to stop in the next garden. Too late now, she crouches down.

At least theres nobody awake in this house I think to myself, getting a poop scoop out my pocket. Someones walking past tho and I make a show of preparing to scoop up Shitzus jobby, smiling apologetically. Shitzu, yer a wee dick, I hiss at her. Shitzu cares not a jot, and runs off and along the pavement, skidding occasionally.

In the field there is strange raised ribbon of ice stretching into the distance. This is ‘the path’. We walk parallel to ‘the path’, crunching thru the snow and ice to the soft tussocks of grass beneath. This is safer although it does increase your chances of standing on a jobby.

We reach and enter the skinny woods and immediately the ground is nice and springy, grassy with pine needles under my boots. We wander down through the trees, past the BMX bike track the kids have made for themselves. Its impressive, some crazy jumps they’ve created, good on them.

At the bottom, the pond is frozen solid. This confuses the Shitzu. A sad looking heron stands on the far side, looking forlornly at the ice. This is unexpected, it seems to be saying. Its like some kind of weird dream.

We head back across the field. I check my phone. I must have done a million steps surely. My phone says Ive done 664 steps. I stop, stand and stare. Wtf! Fekkin technology, useless app. Noo am ragin’. Noo I’ll need to go out in the ice later to achieve my target of 12000 steps.

Shitzu looks up at me, laughing. Shut it Shitzu, I shout, and stop crapping in folks gardens.

Stirling City Walk

“Here, take that son” said an auld dear, as she handed me a card on Christmas Eve. I’m not meant to accept gifts but if someone hands you a Christmas card you cannae exactly say no. Kinda defeats the purpose ae Christmas.

When I got home I opened the card and there was a fiver inside and a wee note saying Merry Christmas. I put the money in a wee box on the shelf, alongside the other notes. A decision would be required soon.

Christmas came and went in a blur of presents and turkey and cold walks and chocolate. I went back to work for two days, glad to have a purpose and wee bit chat wi some auld yins. Then it was Hogmanay, a surreal experience where we went out on the street and shouted happy new year to our neighbours.

There were several different bagpipers playing and I could see the fireworks from the huge display at the Wallace Monument. I didn’t venture any further, I didn’t trust people fu’ of the keg not to hug me or worse so I went back in. I even left my Irn Bru on the wee garden wall and only discovered it two days later, frozen solid.

On Sunday 3 January I dropped our Amy off at her work as a carer and headed to Upper Craigs, Stirling. I’d decided to give the money to Stirling Community Food. There was a queue outside, folk standing in freezing temperatures, needing a bit help. That done, I was driving along Dumbarton Road when I saw the Albert Halls looking braw in the morning sun.

Five minutes later, me and the Shitzu are striding up the back walk in the sunshine, looking down on the Albert Halls and across to the Kings Park. Its baltic but clear as a bell. I’ll say one thing for the pandemic, its cleared up our air and the sunsets have been incredible.

I cut through the courtyard at Stirling Highland Hotel. We used to go the gym there when we lived in Cowane Street in the 90s. Elaines graduation ball was there in the summer of 1991. Today its deid. I step carefully across the frozen car park and head up Spittal Street (as in hospital, which is where I’ll be if I don’t watch my footing).

I head up past the Youth Hostel, Old Town Jail, the Tolbooth, Stirling Boys Club, the gothic Holy Rude Church (built in the 1400s) and Mars Wark(1572). Some history here: its ancient no wonder the Americans and Chinese come here in their thousands. Well, they used to come here in their thousands. Today, its deid. A woman walks past me, face covering on. Silence.

Looking across Broad Street, theres Hermanns restaurant (very poash) and then up past the Portcullis. I’m sure we had a big family meal there years ago. I picture faces that are no longer with us: Faither saying no, we’re paying for this!… whilst Uncle Ian tries to get the bill.

Onwards… up the steps and onto the completely deserted esplanade, the Castle ahead. On the right, the visitors centre where Elaine worked for two summers in the 90s. We watched Runrig here, a filmed gig on the esplanade in 1997, pints in a packed Settle Inn beforehand ( 3 years earlier we had watched the Runrig gig from the graveyard wi a cairry oot before the polis chased us- I preferred that gig).

There were many concerts on the castle esplanade in the 90s (a strange mix: Chris de Burgh, Ocean Colour Scene, Wet Wet Wet, Dylan and REM) and we could hear them all from our tenement flat. Living in Cowane Street, we also got free entry to the castle and when Sean was born in 1997 we would visit the Queen Anne gardens alot.

After looking across to the Wallace Monument, we dropped back down to the Back Walk and past the graveyard (lots of celtic crosses) where they used to do the Ghost Walk. It was excellent, spooky as, especially on a misty night.

And so carefully we walked downhill to the Corn Exchange and back to the car at the Albert Halls. Its a nice wee walk especially wi no tourists and I heartily commend it when youse are allowed back oot to play.

PS In writing this, I had a weird flashback of walking hungover into Stirling Tesco one Sunday morning. The newspapers were all “Princess Di is Deid” or similar headlines. No social media back then. Sure enough, I checked it and Runrig played Stirling Castle on Saturday 30th August 1997 and just hours after they left the stage, Princess Di was killed in a car crash in Paris. Weird eh.