On a wet and windy March day we hopped on the bus to Alloa and then (after having lunch at D’nisi) caught the train directly through to Glasgow Queen Street. We headed through the rain soaked streets to Central Station and just down the street from the entrance found the Grasshoppers hotel where we would be staying the night.
After checking out our room we headed straight back out to the Lighthouse, Scotland’s Centre for Design and Architecture which was just a couple of streets away. Housed in the former Glasgow Herald building, designed by Mackintosh, there are a range of permanent and temporary exhibitions.
We headed up the illuminated escalators to a small exhibition on the use of wood and other traditional construction materials and techniques that are being used for a range of structures across Scotland.
Besides the Mackintosh exhibit we found a delightful series of paintings and sculptures by Scottish artist Siobhan Healy whose work explored glass and light.
We then headed up the magnificent spiral staircase that winds up the main tower to a viewing platform high above the Glasgow rooftops.
Although it was murky in the rain it was still a good spot and we made our way around the whole tower to get views in different directions.
We descended the stairs and made our way back down exiting through the giftshop into the rainy evening streets.
On the walk back to the hotel we picked up beer and then spotted a new doughnut shop (Tantrum Doughnuts) that was opening for the first time to customers. We picked up a couple of delicious items and took our spoils back to our room where we were very glad to dry out
That evening we ventured back out for dinner, going to The Spiritualist on Miller Street. The atmosphere was excellent, service good and the food sublime. For starters we shared a mixed Scottish seafood platter that had smoked salmon, rolled herrings, soft shell crab, mussels and prawns. Served with sourdough bread it was almost enough for a meal in and of itself!
Walking back to the hotel we got to enjoy some Glasgow Saturday night atmosphere with a boisterous crowd around a busker who was belting out Ed Sheeran, and enjoying the lights strung above the Royal Exchange.
After all of the rain it was pleasant to wake up to sunshine the next morning. We checked out of the hotel and headed around to Bill’s for a hearty breakfast. Unfortunately we hadn’t taken into account the fact that it was Mothering Sunday so it was busy and service was a little slow but it was fun seeing the Mum’s enjoy their complimentary prosecco.
Our destination for the day was the People's Palace and Winter Gardens located on Glasgow Green. We walked through the city centre and then out towards the river. We walked in to the Green past the Commonwealth Games sculpture and then got caught up in the very end of a charity run. Beyond all this were the Winter Gardens which we were glad to enter - despite the weak sunshine it was still a cold morning with a biting wind.
It was pleasantly humid inside the Gardens. It is a single, large glasshouse with beautiful architectural details and a pleasant, light feel. We wandered the walkways and then sat down on a bench in the large central space under towering palms. It is a delight.
Next we headed into the People’s Palace itself, a museum dedicated to the history and lives of Glasgow residents taking you from housing, to jails, to work in the shipyards, to holidays along the Clyde. It is packed with great exhibits and lots of information.
From the upper floor there is also an excellent viewing area out over the Winter Gardens and beyond to Glasgow Green itself which looked better under the brightening sun.
After exploring the upper floor we headed outside and made our way back towards the city centre, Queen Street Station and the train back to Alloa.
Glasgow Science Centre
We had an excuse to have a day out in Glasgow thanks to a Gumtree furniture pick-up scheduled for later in the day. Although originally intending to go to the Riverside Museum, after a little Satnav faux-pas we parked up at the Glasgow Science Centre on the south bank of the Clyde, right next to BBC Scotland's headquarters.
The sun was shining brightly on what felt like one of the first truly pleasant days of spring.
We wandered past the IMAX cinema and Science Centre itself before briefly venturing out onto the pedestrian bridge which spans the River Clyde. This gives an excellent view of the Centre, the constellations visible in the near end window and clouds reflecting off the impressive expanse of glass.
Back in the Science Centre we bought our tickets, both for admission as well as for one of the planetarium shows later in the day. We had a quick lunch in the cafe and then enjoyed a wander around most areas of the centre which is packed full of interesting, informative and interactive exhibits. The most engaging aspect was the area on new and developing technologies for generating and managing power.
Eventually we headed down to the space area where the planetarium is located, soon being shown into the spectacular domed auditorium. The show featured stunning images from the Astrophotographer of the Year Award and combined photos themselves with fantastic visuals of the night sky.
Back outside we finished off the last couple of areas before heading off having thoroughly enjoyed our few hours spent in the Centre.
With an early moonset and clear conditions forecast for the evening ahead, the aurora alert I received at around 19:00 got me moving pretty quickly. After some internal debate I decided to go to my usual spot above Midmar kirk, a drive of some 40 minutes or so. I arrived at around 20:30 and could immediately see that there was a strong green wash across the northwestern sky, visible to the naked eye. Disappointingly there was some cloud around but this was low to the horizon and confined mostly to the north.
I got the camera and tripod set up and soon was firing off a few shots. Even with a short 10 second exposure the aurora was bright green on the screen. A short while later I noticed a faint ray or two creeping into view.
Throughout the evening I tracked activity using Andy Stables excellent app. It seemed that after an initial strong burst it was tailing off. I took a couple of panoramic shots and then as the display waned slightly, decided to pack up and head off - the temperature was close to freezing and I was slowly losing feeling in my fingers.
I headed off at around 21:40, having enjoyed more than an hour under the lights. Although the display was not particularly bright to the naked eye, it was rewarding to be out there under a starry sky, the occasional set of headlights on a distant road the only signs of movement on an otherwise calm night.
Back at home it seemed like the activity picked up again and between around 22:30 and 23:00 photographers caught some excellent photos of a much more active display. Graeme Whipps has posted this excellent photo on Flickr.
National Museum of Flight
On the way down to Newcastle for an overnight stay a dreich weather forecast had us looking around for something indoorsy to break up the journey. Scotland's National Museum of Flight is just a short drive away from the A1 between Haddington and Dunbar and provided just what we needed.
After buying our tickets we parked up next to Hangar 4 where the star attraction, Concorde, is housed. We took a quick peek in before going next door for lunch at the Aviator Cafe where a sandwich and a coffee were enjoyed amongst old posters and other flying paraphernalia. Returning to Hangar 4 we spent much more time wandering below this incredible machine before taking the walk through the cramped and utilitarian cabin.
We moved onto the commercial plane hangar where there is a delightful plethora of machines representing various eras and aspects of air travel.
The final main hangar is that containing examples of military aviation from a Supermarine Spitfire to a Harrier Jump Jet. There were also some more intriguing aircraft, including the de Havilland Sea Venom which looks like it was lifted right out of an episode of Thunderbirds.
The museum seems a little on the expensive side but seeing Concorde up close was worth the entry price alone for me.
Evening at South Queensferry
After a brilliant day out in Edinburgh I decided to vary my drive home with a stop at South Queensferry, a village strung out along the southern bank of the Firth of Forth below the famous bridges.
Earlier in the day thick fog had shrouded the bridges but now the clouds were higher and I had a clear view across the Firth to the lights along the Fife shore.
The view from the waterfront at South Queensferry is a famous one, and rightly so. To the right of me the magnificent Forth Rail Bridge was lit up, its iron girders glowing orange. Amazingly the lights were reflecting off the low cloud above and back down onto the water below. Every so often there would be a clickity-clack in the distance as a train traversed the bridge. The following photo captures the lights of one such crossing.
To the left of me I could see the new and old Forth Road Bridges. The original Forth Road Bridge now looks quite diminutive next to the bigger, brighter Queensferry Crossing which is now only a few months from opening.
I wandered up and down the shoreline and drove through the village, stopping off at a few different points to set-up the tripod and camera and take advantage of the changing angles onto the bridges.
It was a mild, still evening for mid-February and there were quite a few folk out. It was a pleasure to finally see this view in person and I'm looking forward to returning for future photo opportunities.
For the second year Spectra, a festival of light, took over venues across the centre of Aberdeen providing a welcome respite from the dark days of early February.
I visited the festival on Thursday evening, arriving just as the gates to Union Terrace Gardens opened at 6:30. There was already a good crowd despite the very wintry weather which offered up the occassional snow shower
I wandered around the excellent collection of exhibits in Union Terrace Gardens. Hot Heads were popular with the crowd on this cold night whilst Wave Garden provided some of the most interesting results when I turned my camera that way. Cloud brought with it the most audience interaction as people turned bulbs on and off to give an ever changing level of illumination.
Over at the kirk of St Nicholas there were various exhibits scattered around the cemetary. Inside the mesmerising Pentatono proved difficult to photoagrpah.
Outside Marischal College the laser light synths drew a few people but it was the spectacular projection onto the Mitchell Tower, Obhar Deathain, which was a clear favourite. It presented a history of Aberdeen from illuminated manuscripts through to travel posters.
Inside the entrance to Marischal College 9 Months Rebirth was an intriguing installation mixing visual and aural elements.
I had one final visit to Union Terrace Gardens before the cold got the better of me and I headed off.
There are more photos in this album on Flickr.
An Evening with Dawes
Dawes coming to the UK for a short tour was the perfect excuse for my first evening venture into Glasgow using the train from Stirling. They played to a packed crowd at King Tut's Wah Wah Hut. Hailing from Los Angeles I've been a fan since hearing their second album, Nothing Is Wrong. Since then they've released three further LPs. The set heavily skewed towards their latest, We're All Gonna Die, but they played a good selection of highlights from other albums. A highlight was the acoustic rendition of Time Spent In Los Angeles - Taylor played just the first verse and chorus to appease the crowd.
It was a fantastic gig: the crowd very enthusiastic and the band really enjoying the atmosphere of this pretty intimate venue. Hearng the new songs performed live and with less of the layered production gave me a new appreciation for the music.
Dawes were ably supported by Indiana sisters Lily & Madeline who performed a very enjoyable half hour of down-tempo heart-felt electro-folk.
Dawes have since released a streaming-only live album titled We're All Gonna Live which nicely captures the sound of this current tour.
Three Weeks in Haugesund
For three weeks in late April and early May I was working and staying the Norweigan town of Haugesund, down in the southwest corner of the country amongst the spectacular landscapes of fjordland. I spent much of the time working on the small island of Risoya, home to a large industrial complex. Thankfully it was just a short walk across a bridge back to Haugesund itself with its bustling waterfront and Norweigan charm.
This post has a few images from around Haugesund itself, as well as from some of the walks and hikes I managed to squeeze in during my time in town.
With long work shifts I wasn’t ever able to do a great deal of exploring, but did make a point of getting out for walks or runs on several of the evenings when the weather was particularly good.
One of my earliest walks took me north of the town to Haraldshaugen, Norway’s National Monument The stone obelisk is covered in images of viking kings and provided an excellent viewpoint on a sunny evening.
From Haraldshaugen I followed the undulating coastal path that wound its way around the bay to Kvalen lighthouse, sitting on the edge of a rocky promontory jutting out into the mouth of the sound. The views from here, looking out into the shimmering waters of the North Sea, were stunning.
One evening, whilst waiting for a load of laundry to complete I decided to walk up to Djupadalen, a recreational outdoor area set around a wooded lake with myriad hiking and running trails.
My next wander took me along to Hasseloya, the next island north along the sound. Reached by another road bridge there were views down into the stunningly clear waters of Haugesund marina.
With the weather improving I decided to see how far into the hills I could get. I headed up to Djupadalen and then took a winding narrow rocky staircase up to the southern end of Krokavatnet lake. The path was dramatic, hugging the steep and rocky shoreline. Near the dam a side trail piqued my curiosity and I followed the red splashes on rocks and tree trunks up until I came out on a rocky ridge with fabulous views to Haugesund and a distant pool of golden sunlight on the North Sea.
I returned by one of the town’s smaller lakes, Skeisvatnet.
The next time I returned to Djupadalen, just a few days later, spring had sprung; temperatures had soared into the mid-twenties and suddenly everything was green and pleasant. In the park people splashed around in the calm waters of Eivindsvatnet and I decided it was finally time to climb up to the top of Steinsfjellet, the hill with the distinctive tower on top that can be seen from most places in downtown Haugesund. The views from the top were worth the effort of climbing up a steep but enjoyable path.
The great weather continued into the final full day of my time in Haugesund. Near the top of Steinsfjellet I spotted a map and description for a trail that would take me to the summit of Krokavassnuten, at 249m the highest of the Haugesund hills. The trail led me through the narrow valley of Trolladalen and then up the rocky shoulder to Krokavassnuten where I enjoyed a magnificent 360 degree panorama of lakes, fjords and hills whilst eating my dinner. I returned via the northern end of Krokavatnet lake, the sun disappearing beyond the trees in a fiery blaze.
Leslie and I had spent the day out in Glen Tanar enjoying a sunny but cold walk out in the hills. Though cloud had come and gone during the day, by the evening it was a chill night with the stars steady in an inky sky. With a rapid substorm developing I kept an eye on various aurora services during the evening until it became apparent that the Northern Lights were being seen all across the UK. Even from our kitchen window in central Aberdeen it was apparent that there was a bright green glow in the northern sky. We barely hesitated, grabbing warm clothing and camera gear before driving out to our usual spot near Midmar in Aberdeenshire.
There were flurries of snow as we headed west and we briefly wondered whether we had made a mistake in not driving out to the coast. However, we were committed and soon pulled up in the parking spot to find that, since my last visit, the forestry had been logged and there was now an even better northern horizon.
Stepping out of the car it was apparent that a pale green glow filled most of the northern sky. I quickly had the camera set up and fired off a few test shots at various exposure lengths, quickly finding that the pale green belied more complex colours at the fringes.
We didn't have to wait long before this ethereal glow suddenly shimmered and crystallised into a bright and complex structure with rays and curtains hanging in the sky. With a whoop we watched as the whole sky suddenly erupted in colour and shape as the display intensified before our eyes.
After this initial period the aurora died down to a pale green arc; some structure continued to be revealed by photography. We only had to wait a few more minutes though before the activity picked up once again, this time a brightening along the lower edge of the arc signaled a period of rays and curtains that extended far to the south.
It was strange to be looking behind us to see activity but this tallied with reports of the Northern Lights seen as far south as Norfolk during the course of the evening.
We finally noticed that a large snow storm was rapidly approaching us, swallowing the aurora and the stars as it advanced. We reluctantly packed up and headed back towards Aberdeen. Just before the snow hit there was a chance to get a final view and so I pulled the car safely off the road and took a final set of photos as the clouds continued their march southward.
A Note On Alert Services
This winter I have started using the Aurora Alert service provided by Andy Stables who is based on the Isle of Skye. This has proved to be both accurate and timely and combines both data and crowd-sourced obervations to give a good idea of what is visible and where from. It is a Chrome app so can be used on both Apple and Android devices, as well as from any desktop computer. I recommend checking it out if you are at all interested in catching the Northern Lights.
Dundee Mountain Film Festival
This was my second year in succession attending the Dundee Mountain Film Festival. I travelled down to Dundee by train on what proved to be a very miserable and wet Friday afternoon. Dinner was a delicious pint and burger at Tonic, right next door to Bonar Hall, and by 6:45 I was sitting in the auditorium itself whilst the Friday evening session audience slowly filled the room.
The five films shown were an eclectic selection from stunt paragliding in France to the Golden Age of big wall climbing in Yosemite. The highlight for me was the film Forgotten Dirt; mountain biking remote footpaths in the remote Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan including a visit to the high plateau.
After the interval mountaineer John Porter gave a brilliant illustrated talk focusing on his experience climbing in the Greater Ranges in the 70s and 80s at a time when alpine style climbing was being introduced to the Himalayas by talented European mountaineers. His talk focused around the climber Alexander Macintyre but also featured famous names like Chris Bonnington, Dougal Haston and Don Whillans. The photography was absolutely breathtaking and the routes were bold. With nothing in the way of sponsorship expeditions were on a shoe string budget and even just getting to the Himalayas was an adventure in itself. The talk was also very sobering with John describing how his generation almost "climbed themselves into extinction". It was truly superb though and I picked up a copy of his book One Day As A Tiger at the end.
I stayed overnight down by the waterfront and it was a cold Saturday morning. I wandered along past Discovery just as the sun was lighting up the clouds and then went along to the Parlour Café on West Port for a delicious breakfast of poached eggs and a cappuccino.
The Saturday morning session showcased four films from a Scottish perspective. “Deano” Dunbar had gone on another adventure, this time paddle boarding the length of the Caledonian Canal. There were then two excellent hill running films from Nadir Khan, one focussed on the Black Cuillin and the other on An Teallach. The final film was amongst my favourite of the weekend, Transition debuted last week at the Kendal Mountain Film Festival and it was a pleasure to see the whole thing here. Natalie Berry is a talented indoor climber (and an editor at UKClimbing.com) and in Transition, starts to take her ability and skills outdoors to the crags and cliffs of Scotland. The film is beautifully photographed and sees her tackling everything from sea cliffs on Lewis to winter climbs on the Ben culminating with an incredible climb on the nose of the Cobbler above Arrochar. Trad climbers Dave Macleod and Lucy Creamer provided reassurance and encouragement throughout Natalie’s adventures.
After the interval historian David Munro presented an illustrated talk on the “forgotten” Scottish polar explorer William Spiers Bruce who participated and later led many expeditions to both the north and south polar regions. The talk was complemented by numerous illustrations, photographs and maps from various expedition diaries and provided an excellent overview of an amazing career.
After a delicious lunch at Jute in the Dundee Contemporary Arts Centre I made my way back for the afternoon session. The seven films were a real mix with the highlights for me both being set in the desert south-west of the USA. Desert Ice featured ice climbers dropping into remote canyons to climb ice routes whose existence wasn’t even known about until recently. The filmmaking was tense and exhilarating. The final film of the set was Sufferfest 2 in which climbers Alex Honnold and Cedar Wright cycled between and then climbed up 45 of the desert’s most interesting and iconic rock towers. This featured some incredible scenery and the film was full of both humour and hardships as the miles, weather and ascents started to take their toll.
After the interval filmmaker Jen Randall gave an excellent talk featuring a number of her short films as well as her most recent work, Operation Moffat. Jen was a very modest speaker but her filmmaking is superb and Operation Moffat in particular was great. It profiles the life of Gwen Moffat, the first female mountain guide in the UK who stravaiged across the country during the 60s and 70s in search of adventure. The interviews conducted with Gwen (who is now in her 90s) were both hilarious and heart-warming and the idea of a young female climber (Claire Carter) following in the footsteps of Gwen was beautifully realised. The film is excellent.
It was a shame not to have time to attend the evening session but I needed to be back in Aberdeen and so with the dreich weather continuing I headed back to the station and the journey north.