The De-Arseing of Darren.

Sometimes you’re going about your business or pleasure, and you just look up and stop breathing for a second. Maybe something strikes you a certain beautiful way and it takes you a second to recover, or you’re stupefied for a moment as you marvel at the majesty of nature, in stunned appreciation for just being alive and being exposed to certain elements or visions. Surely we all do it, and look forward to those brief moments of splendour where all your senses are overloaded with input and exhilaration.

Now imagine an entire day of constant jaw-dropping and audible gasps of amazement. I had the pleasure this weekend of going on a massive bike ride with some good friends. Twelve hours, just over 40 miles, three Cannondales, and anonymouseth and gingiber. Oh, and then there’s the small matter of the Central Highlands. We beat them just the other day. And still I am in awe.

The route was simple enough to imagine, but I wasn’t expecting such a workout. Understanding the topography of the Highlands is a challenge in itself, and this ride really helped me to grasp the geological patterns of this rugged land. In short (for those that aren’t locals or familiar with the Highlands), ancient glacial activity carved huge rents in the West-Central and North-Western areas of the country, leaving long valleys (glens) between mountainous ranges on either side. Most of these glens have rivers still running along their centers, and some of these rivers are connected to lochs in lower sections of land. Since the onomastics are pretty straightforward in most places, it’s easy to pick out the names of the hydrofeatures in a given setting. Sometimes there will be passes connecting parallel glens, which is often the only way into or out of a given stretch of Highland valley, and being within really highlights the historical importance of these access points through such a drastic landscape.

Arriving by car in Killin, we got some provisions and suited up before heading up a fairly easy road along the expanse of Ben Lawers, above Loch Tay. The day was pretty much perfect weather-wise, and the toasty sunshine was offset by patches of thick white and grey clouds and cool breezes being shuttled along the glens. The first part of the journey was masked by foliage and farmlands, but as soon as we took a side road through the trees to navigate the Lawers Dam, everything got incredibly picturesque and incredibly steep.

After huffing and puffing and trying to acclimate to the grade, I stopped to chide myself and snap some photo goodness.

Like some futuristic behemoth, Lawers Dam juts out from the cavernous pass. Any sign of human occupation appears tremendously futuristic here.

A couple of Dam Fools, who were virtually inhuman in their tenacity and endurance. I thought I was sort of in shape, and I was wrong. Bananas helped.

After another few miles of blasting down the other side of what we just climbed up, we took a short lunch break by a secluded waterfall that was absolutely majestic. Bits of slippery stones beneath the crisp water glittered in the sun, proudly showing off bits of ore, quartz, and gold pyrite within. We took our shoes off and carefully navigated the watery place. I threatened not to continue on and to stay here forever, but they outnumbered me. And it’s their bike, after all.

I mean, would you dare to leave?

The going was quite treacherous, and on more than one occasion the water tried to pull me in. At one point, I laughed until I cried, it was so perfect.

A few more miles mostly downhill and we arrived at the idyllic Bridge of Balgie, near the eastern end of Glenlyon. Yes, it’s Campbell country, but what are you gonna do? I could easily live here and be content, such was the calm beauty and lush surroundings. We slowed down a bit to take it all in.

The River Lyon, in a wooded glade that was one of my favourite spots on the escapade. I love the layers upon layers of thick foliage, colours, and textures.

Oddly enough, directly across the road in the middle of the glen was a pair of llamas. I took my chances of being unceremoniously spat upon to capture a regal profile. I don’t think that llamas are indigenous to the Highlands, but I could be wrong…

Not to be too sporty or barbaric, we put aside some time for tea and scones in Bridge of Balgie, in one of the best teahouses/gift shops/post offices I’ve ever been to. Might as well be in Hobbiton, know what I mean?

After that lovely break, we made a serious decision whether to take a fairly short and previously-explored route around the eastern end of Loch Tay or another further out to the west, much longer and with no real idea of the terrain between us and the car. Always up for a challenge (yeah, right – I vacillated on it for some time – we set off down Glenlyon, home to the ancestral lairds of Breadalbane and not a few murdering bastards of the Macdonalds of Glencoe. Even murdering bastards have spectacular homes, as we quickly found.

The greenery went on and on, and we followed a Golden Eagle circling the trees for some time, marveling at its Spitfire-like appearance.

Everything is totally open, with only small drystane enclosures partitioning off grazing lands. Sheep and cows, breeze and pine on all sides.

Some of the massive Highland mounds, veined with corries from centuries of cascading water. The River Lyon runs along their base.

The lonely western end of Glenlyon, where Loch Lyon signals the approach to the wilds of Rannoch and the true Western Highlands.

Since the road didn’t cut through to the west, we decided to head southward and navigate a steep pass to reach the parallel Glen Lochay and a scenic route back to Killin. On the planned path, our map mentioned a bunch of ancient archaeological features, and we made sure to keep our eyes open for those. The ride was murder heading up and adrenaline-inducing coming down. Gravel patches made me nearly pee as we shot down at over 30 mph. Strangely, I found a good bit of energy to pump myself up through the pass, but nowhere near that of my companions. The scenery kept unfolding before us, totally reminiscent of the previous glen, but completely different, as well. We stopped a few times to check the map for standing stones and burial cairns.

The River Lochay was very quiet and sweet, and the mountains around it were wooded with thick forests.

Armed with a trusty Ordnance Survey map, we tried our best to suss out some of the archaeological features well-hidden by time and foliage. We stumbled over remnants of enclosure walls and dodged rotting sheep carcasses to find our monolithic quarry, which we almost gave up on until one well-placed hop over a fence yielded a wonderful cup-marked stone on a huge mound virtually in someone’s backyard.

The view from the side of the hill was great, and I took a break from looking down at stones to look up for a moment or two.

Some of it doesn’t even look real.

Still very light after eight or so, we wound our way back to Killin and wanted to check out a known circle of standing stones in someone’s grazing field, so that became our final destination. And in good time, as well, for I really couldn’t go any further. My body just said “no more!” and I trundled over the last dirt road of the day, sore buttocks avoiding bouncing bike seat like it was on fire and covered in acid.

It was obviously worth it.

And then we headed back, after a well-planned-for cup of tea in the parking lot and some fervent scraping of sheep dung off the bike tires. I didn’t last more than ten minutes in the car before sleep overtook me, and the events of the day played about like perfect film footage in my head as it bounced softly against the glass of the car window.

Y’know, there’s a certain understanding that I get when I’m out there. I don’t want to sound like a weepy fool here, but all the years of studying history and hearing Highland ballads and thinking about what went on through the ages all converges and coagulates when I’m standing immersed in it, and sometimes it suddenly all makes sense to me. Sometimes it just hits me when I’m picking my way over corries and stones, crawling along the side of an old enclosure overlooking a cavernous glen or a winding river โ€“ a sort of empathetic bolt โ€“ and it’s all I can do to keep myself composed. The names of the towns and the glens and the farms evoke dates and happenings, and I feel exposed to privileged information. I sometimes forget these things living in Edinburgh, though there’s plenty of temporal manifestation there, as well.

Truthfully, I’ve never been so absolutely positive that this country is the most beautiful and resonant place I’ve ever been. I’ve never been so sure that I can’t be away from it for the rest of my life, and that I’ll find a way back. Quite simply, once you’ve seen and felt perfection, there’s no reason to keep looking, though my eyes are always open to beauty wherever it lies. I’m trying not to overdo it here; there was no preconception that this might happen when I moved here. But I feel nothing but deep-seated amazement, overwhelming connection, and total and absolute joy when I’m running around the wilds of this place. For someone who has firmly set out to deconstruct elements of a nationalist myth in the throes of romantic sensationalism, it sometimes feels like I’m fighting a losing battle.

So be it. I surrender.

Just don’t tell my professors.

23 Responses to “The De-Arseing of Darren.”

  1. viscera Says:
    May 31st, 2004 at 11:12 am

    The only trouble I have going through your photo posts is that it's nigh impossible to resist the wanderlust they bring out.
    Therefore, I shake my fist at you. Lots.
    And then I make plans ๐Ÿ˜›

  2. FunkyPlaid Says:
    May 31st, 2004 at 7:54 pm

    Oh, plans are good. Very good.
    You should wander over here and tumble down some glens with me some time.
    Pictures of tumbling are funny.

  3. viscera Says:
    June 2nd, 2004 at 5:12 pm

    I'd love to, but I lack the funds. Cursing and shaking of fists happens quite regularly regarding this.

  4. rachel_eurydice Says:
    May 31st, 2004 at 11:30 am

    Oh. my. god.
    Those are truly amazing pics…I've always wanted to explore rural Scotland.
    Dam fools….BAHAHA!
    And hey, don't feel too bad about surrendering to romanticism..we have to keep scholarly distance when working, but giving up and appreciating beauty has its place too–It keeps our interest in/passion for these things alive and forces us to remember why we love them so much in the first place.
    Glad you had such a great time!

  5. FunkyPlaid Says:
    May 31st, 2004 at 7:57 pm

    Thanks for saying so, Rache. Moreso, thanks for laughing at my terrible humour.
    You're absolutely right in what you say about romanticism. I mean, if we don't know one, we can't articulate our expression of both sides in a more sober manner.
    Sometimes, though, I just want to be drunk from it, y'know?

  6. seolta Says:
    May 31st, 2004 at 6:31 pm

    Cool trip hon. God it's been years since i was up there. I grew up around there so those pics touch my heart like a familiar song… imagine all that jaw-dropping beauty and childhood nostalgia!!!!(God, i'm welling up and i'm sitting in a training session right now :)… will read the story properly this afternoon)
    I’ve never been so sure that I can’t be away from it for the rest of my life, and that I’ll find a way back
    Darren, i'm so glad you love it as much as i do…. i get a such a kick out of hearing you enjoy it ๐Ÿ˜€

  7. FunkyPlaid Says:
    May 31st, 2004 at 8:00 pm

    I can't imagine seeing it every day as you grew up, and feeling SO DAMN SMALL as a wee child juxtaposed against that massive backdrop. It must have changed you inherently as a person.
    And thank you for your honest support of my habit. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Let's use that car, baby!

  8. seolta Says:
    May 31st, 2004 at 8:35 pm

    You do not have to tell me twice… car will be MOT'd and made long journey ready next week ๐Ÿ˜€

  9. Anonymous Says:
    May 31st, 2004 at 6:50 pm

    here's a page that shows the actual route we took…
    and here's a pic showing the dam at the end of loch lyon, and that horrible road on the left ๐Ÿ™‚
    a coupla slight amendments – when we got to the bridge of balgie and had a choice, the previously explored route was the longer of the two, and would clock in at about 50 miles. it might've been easier though ๐Ÿ™‚
    also – we only cycled for about four and quarter hours, and were out for about eight, including paddling time.
    btw – the stone circle we visited was the wrong one ๐Ÿ™‚ i'd previously seen pix of croft moraig and thought it was at the killin end of loch tay, but it's actually at the kenmore end. here's a link with pix…
    check out the rest of that site, too. there's some good stuff. we stayed next to this when we camped in the lake district…
    where next ? ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. FunkyPlaid Says:
    May 31st, 2004 at 8:08 pm

    Excellent. Thanks for these links and amendments.
    Yep, that's the horrible road waaaay up there on the left, all right. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Didn't the Ginge say that she wanted to take the western route because it was longer and harder, in anticipation of doing Corrieyarrick later on? I got confuzzled at that one, I guess. But I'm glad that we took the one we did. Then again, just put me in any given glen and let me start pedaling, man. ๐Ÿ™‚
    The stone site is great.
    As for where next, honestly – I'll go *anywhere*. Just call it, and tell me when, and I'll make the time and push through it to the best of my ability.

  11. Anonymous Says:
    May 31st, 2004 at 9:04 pm

    > Didn't the Ginge say that she wanted to take the western route
    > because it was longer and harder, in anticipation of doing
    > Corrieyarrick later on? I got confuzzled at that one, I guess.
    > But I'm glad that we took the one we did. Then again, just put
    > me in any given glen and let me start pedaling, man. ๐Ÿ™‚

    nah – she just wanted to do it cos it was so-far unknown. she just mentioned that it would be a bit harder out of fairness ๐Ÿ™‚
    corrieyairack is 900m ascent over about 9miles. ben lawers was about 300m over 3miles, so we need to be able to do the ben lawers climb 3 times over. oh – and without the pleasures of tarmac. or tearooms ๐Ÿ™‚
    considering how much you liked the bridge of balgie, we should go back there some time and go down glen lyon, instead of up, and head towards fortingall [and the 5000yr old yew tree]. the glen is a lot more tree-ey and lush downstream from balgie.
    if we make an early start – and don't get waylaid by waterfalls too often – we should be able to get some grub in kenmore, and make it round to the crannog centre before it closes, and make it back to the car before without having to race the setting sun.
    i'll wait til some of yer arse-skin regrows before we do that though ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. FunkyPlaid Says:
    May 31st, 2004 at 10:01 pm

    …we should go back there some time and go down glenlyon…
    Okay. See how easy I am?
    i'll wait til some of yer arse-skin regrows before we do that though
    *currently seeking donors for a brisk arse-replacement surgery*

  13. mxhaunted Says:
    May 31st, 2004 at 9:36 pm

    ya' lucky bugger!

  14. noire_blanche Says:
    June 1st, 2004 at 3:06 am

    Moments of splendour
    What a wonderfully wondrous journey you've been on. The first paragraph of this entry sums it up perfectly I think.
    Standing stones, sheep, hills, greenness, the powers and splendours of nature right in front of you… There's no shame in letting the sublime or the picturesque get the better of you, from time to time- to in a way just feel your surroundings. I understand perfectly. : ) Ahh, to be on holiday again, to immerse oneself in nature and history…
    Thank you for sharing these amazing pictures!

  15. FunkyPlaid Says:
    June 1st, 2004 at 8:12 am

    Re: Moments of splendour
    And my thanks to you for taking the time to look and engage.
    I'm a fool for sublimity, that I will admit. I can tell we share that quality…idiosyncracy…characteristic.
    It does feel like a holiday sometimes, though an extended one with lots of reading and writing in between. ๐Ÿ™‚ But don't we do that anyway? The greatest part is that all this is right in my backyard, and the country is small enough to explore, traverse, and seek out on any given day or weekend.
    We should trade locales for a week and then compare and contrast experiences. I'll make the tea if you draw the pictures…

  16. dangerine Says:
    June 1st, 2004 at 6:51 am

    The llama is a quadruped which lives in the big rivers like the Amazon. It has two ears, a heart, a forehead, and a beak for eating honey. But it is provided with fins for swimming.
    Llamas are larger than frogs.
    Llamas are dangerous, so if you see one where people are swimming, you shout…

  17. FunkyPlaid Says:
    June 1st, 2004 at 8:01 am

    Re: LLAMAS
    Sometimes you thrill me, and sometimes you touch me.
    And sometimes – though fairly rare – you perplex me.

  18. dangerine Says:
    June 1st, 2004 at 8:04 am

    Re: LLAMAS
    Monty Python song..LLAMAS…sung by three Englishmen dressed as Mariachis…singing Spanish….above is a translation of PART of the magnificent song. ๐Ÿ˜€ By far my favorite Python skit….and finding llamas in the middle of Scotland is indeed very VERY fitting of such strange creatures deserving musical praise.

  19. FunkyPlaid Says:
    June 1st, 2004 at 8:07 am

    Re: LLAMAS
    You are SO right.
    Y'know Doune Castle, where they filmed parts of Holy Grail? We went there the other week and the staff offered to give us coconuts to clomp around with.
    Strange lot, these Britons.

  20. Anonymous Says:
    June 1st, 2004 at 3:24 pm

    The weepy fool is not alone
    Dear Darren,
    *Thank you* for all the sharing you do, but especially for this trip on the bike! I hope your rear is recovering. Not sure I'm going to recover from reading this — having never actually been on the soil, I can't partake *exactly* of your sentiments, but…Maybe it's a little like the way I feel when the waulking goes just right, or when something I've read for years in a favorite book is suddenly mentioned in a song on some new CD. At any rate, I'm glad you feel those things too!
    Speaking of which, in the current vernacular, *you rat*!! ๐Ÿ™‚ Talk about tugging heartstrings! Talk about relevant images! You realize what *I* was thinking when reading those photo captions, don't you?? Lawers Dam: "..And I look upon Ben Lawers, Where the afterglory glows, And I think on two bright eyes, And a melting mouth below." Glenlyon: "'S iomadh oidhche fhliuch is thioram, Side nan seachd sian.." (Lament for MacGregor of Glenlyon — it belonged to the MacGregors before the m.b.'s took over) Doune Castle: "Long may his lady Look o'er frae Castle Doune, ere she see the Earl o' Murray Come soundin' through the toon." The whole landscape is littered with songs, just as for you it's covered in battlefields! Sniff….
    …and, of course, hugs,

  21. FunkyPlaid Says:
    June 1st, 2004 at 10:28 pm

    Re: The weepy fool is not alone
    You clearly need to come over very soon and affix all your accrued knowledge to these places. I can assure you that a whole mess of songs were floating about through my head on the ride, some of which I've surely heard you and the ol' gang going through, many years ago. 'Loch Tay Boat Song' was on repeat as I wrote this entry, so you can bet there was a good inspiration even days after I returned! ๐Ÿ™‚
    You must have an extensive understanding of Scotland's culture and history from all your years of working with traditional music, and really it's just as relevant as any archival evidence that we have. It's just that academia doesn't appreciate them as the indicative sources that they are.
    Surely you've seen Hogg's epitomal ballad gazeteer Jacobite Relics of Scotland? Now with a new introduction by my man, Murray Pittock! (Who gets, sadly, a ration of shit for taking an interdisciplinary approach to Scottish history.)
    As always, thanks for your comments and your understanding.

  22. zoo_music_girl Says:
    June 1st, 2004 at 10:05 pm

    You've made me homesick. Great pictures, wonderful descriptions.

  23. FunkyPlaid Says:
    June 1st, 2004 at 10:17 pm

    I'm so glad that you enjoyed them.

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