Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs
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2008.09.06 : West Highland Way
Day One : Glasgow to Milgavnie
Part i : Gettin' Outta Glasgow
"A sense of warm and sleepy beauty, of enjoyment divorced from activity and the weariness of willing."
- Graham Greene, Journey Without Maps

Morning, tea in our room, and Tim happily moblogging from his bed.

Me: This feels like redemption. I can't tell you how much time on how many trips I've kept people hanging about while I typed, or edited images, or battled net-cafes. Now I get to lounge about while you do it. This feels great.
Tim: I like moblogging. It's good.
Me: And aside from the small matter of us not having walked a single step yet, this long-distance walk is going just gangbusters.

While Tim finished up his latest dispatch – from his phone – I caught up on his postings from last night – on my phone.

Tim: Okay. Now I'm ready to start the day.
Me: Is it weird that you're blogging the trip from your phone while I'm reading about it on my phone? "Hey, I read about your walk today! Sounds like it was really good . . . oh, wait, I was there."

And so then we packed up, paid up – and made like a high-energy particle beam back to the Grassroots Cafe. Soya moccachino for me, coffee for Tim; we were both tempted by the vegan full English breakfast, but finally opted for the whole-wheat pancakes. While ordering, we chatted up the waitress – as cool as, but distinct from, the cool waitress we had the night before. She told us some story about getting drenched in the wicked Glasgow rain which also involved making the vegan pancakes, but which now makes zero sense in my palsied notes. She further reported that she'd worked there since January; left for two months to travel; and after turning up in town again, they had to take her back – "because I know how to make the vegan cakes." Me: "Job security."

When the pancakes came, they came with rashers, maple syrup, and fruit – grapes, raspberries, banana, and strawberries. It was pretty much the best breakfast I've ever had. And it all came to £17.15.

Me: The journey of a thousand miles begins with vegan pancakes.

Our eventual departure was kind of an event – and the cook himself came out to offer us directions to the trailhead. It lay up the "street of a hundred health nut shops", one of which we ducked into for trail food – including, notably, Inca Berries. The trail – which, this bit wasn't actually the WHW proper, but rather just a municipal trail linking Glasgow with Milgavnie to the north – started in Kelvinsgrove Park. Underneath this knight and his horse's ass, specifically. → Tim and I figured this ass was as good as any ass for a commemorative start-of-walk photo. There were a lot of runners there, including, notably, chicks. But as I was balancing the camera on a rock for the old timer shot, a running man stopped and offered to take our photo. I handed him the camera, boggling.

Me: I wouldn't stop running in a million years to take some tourist's photo.
Running Man: I'm due for a rest anyway.
    There was a lovely magpie hopping around; so I tried out my new 18x zoom, which is so enormous when it fully extends it makes me feel priapic. I recited the first line of the old magpie rhyme: "One for sorrow . . ." The charm works because you so very rarely see more than one. On this occasion, though, to my amazement, more started hopping into view.
Me: . . . Two for mirth . . . Three for a wedding . . . Four for a birth. (*)
Tim: So we're going to get married and have a baby.
Me: Yes. Although I note that we still haven't started walking.
Tim: It's nearly midday. We could almost get lunch at the vegan restaurant.

We passed over and under a bridge by one of the two or so Glasgow Underground stations (and improved by some nicely done graffiti); joined a pretty path by a river (passing under further bridges); and finally stopped for a stretch break in a park on the edge of town.

The park is where we started to appreciate the true friendliness of Glaswegians: it was a bit of a dog-walkers mecca – apparently collies are obligatory here in the same way that black labs are de rigeur in Yorkshire – and when one of us made a passing comment to a dog, we ended up in a long conversation with its owner. I'm sure I took a bunch of notes, because she was totally fascinating, but I can't find the damned things.

As best I recall, she was retired as mayor, or head of city council, or some executive gov't job. As such, she had all these brilliant insights on Palin, when I brought her up. She said something about how you go into government thinking you're going to fix everything; but you pretty quickly find out that the permanent civil servants have all the power – because they control all the spending – and they have no interest in allowing anything to get fixed. She seemed disillusioned, but not cynical. She was quiet and articulate and generous and unassuming and (seemingly) wise. She gave us some good tips about the local area before going on her way, at the urging of her dog (and the dog's friends).

We thought we were going to be on our way then; but we somehow ended up in another long conversation with a woman also stretching, before her run. She was called Carol, and she once ran the New York City Marathon – finishing as the fastest Scottish female (out of 39). Not bad! We talked outdoor pursuits for awhile before finally hitting the trail, smiles on our faces.

Tim: These people really are friendly.
Me: Seriously. And not one of them has called either of us a "feckin' English bastard".
Tim: Or a fecking American bastard.
Me: Well, like I said: the Americans never invaded Scotland. Nor subsumed them into a foreign polity.

↓ Tim's moblog post on this one pretty much covered it: "Per wasp?" In other news, the book indicated we'd get our first views of the sorta kinda edges of the Highlands along here. We came across our first trig point – I was tempted to mount it for a better shot of the kinda sorta Highlands; but decided Day 1 wasn't the ideal time to break my neck.

There'd be plenty of time for that later. And much better opportunities . . .

2008.09.06 : West Highland Way
Day One : Glasgow to Milgavnie
Part ii : Moseyin' Into Milgavnie

Milgavnie is pronounced, since you were wondering, 'Mullguy'. It's not nearly as bad as Wales (that's Cymru to you, English bastard), but much in Scotland is not spoken as it seems. Celts! As Tim noted, we had to do this research one day in advance every day, so we'd be prepared to answer, without humiliating ourselves, when people asked us what our next stop was.

    Anyway, as we shook off the soot of Glasgow and hit the trail proper, things started to seem more walky. Like, for instance, these trail-side blackberries ← which were sadly out of reach, but nicely backlit by the sun. (We had sun our first day. And never again.) Also, this horsie:

We hacked through overgrown thickety trail, walked by a slow-moving river, and climbed over stiles into open fields. More middle England than Scottish Highlands, so far . . .

We stopped for lunch in soft grass by the lazy river ← sandwiches, fresh pineapple, ripe nectarine; and the Inca Berries, which we spent the next few days pawning off on each other before finally binning. Tart bastards.

Me: Am I wrong in thinking food tastes better on these walks?
Tim: Yes. (I.e., no.) That is one of the best things about walking. Food tastes great.
Me: And I just noticed how perfect the weather's gotten. It's not even cold anymore – never mind rainy.

However, we weren't going to get to the top of Ben Nevis eating fruit – the path beckoned, following the curve of the river. ← As did the first real mud – the weather hadn't always been good here. ↑

We found ourselves in some more overgrown thickets, with nettles, and plus the wind had picked up – all of it producing an enclosed, creepy, kind of Gothic vibe. I figured I'd be glad when it opened up again. Which it did, anon – and after which it was all open fields . . .

. . . and decent sunlight . . .

. . . and cows!

Speaking of light, I realised somewhere along here that plentiful camera memory – I'd bought an 8 gigbyte HDSC card for my new camera, which holds something north of 2000 images (8-megapixel images) – makes for good photography in the same way that cheap paint makes for good paintball marksmanship. If you can just keep yanking your trigger all day, for free, you'll eventually hit something.

I've already crowed plenty about my 18x zoom (I'll have more to say about my crappy new camera decision – much more), but here's a compelling sample. The aerial speck in the sky in this wide shot to the right is an airplane:
Here's the full-zoom proof ← ← ←.

Here ← was a whole new style of stile. My notes describe it as the "Highway Crash Barrier Stile". But its real distinguishing feature was an ability to crush your fingers to pulp: those iron bars are heavy, and they slam back quickly if you're not paying close attention.

The sunlight had been nice, but intermittent. Here it came out again, blazing – and begging to be shot back.

These here dry black pea pods do rattle just like they look like they will. The last stretch of path into town was on this old towpath by the river. And there were cows.

Oh, boy, were there ever cows.

I Like Cows

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    This field of whatever it was ← was rippling very winningly in the breeze and sunlight. However, it stopped instantly when I tried to capture it in video mode:

I Am Teh Fail

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    Here is the trail behind ← and also before → and in full 360° panorama. ↓

Journey Without (Enough) Cups

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This is a bridge ↓ (into town?). These are some dock leaves ↓ which I thought might be those very clever dock leaves that relieve nettle stings when you rub them on nettle stings; but we tentatively agreed they were actually just some random really big dock leaves.

And at long last (well, not so long) Milgavnie. Whereas in Glasgow we had stayed in pretty much the crappiest hostel I've ever stayed in, this (the Laurel Bank B&B) was just about the nicest B&B I've ever enjoyed. So much so that I was loathe to call Anna (Tim and I both quickly fell into the routine of end-of-walk calls to girlfriends to indicate continued survival, express acute missingness, etc.) and tell her about it. One of the main reasons she declined to come herself was that she's cool on "roughing it".

    Roughing it this was not. Here's ← our bedroom. (With Tim making his call.) Here's → the public sitting room.

    Our bathroom was upstairs; but well worth the climb. Major themes were gleaming porcelain, fluffy towels, and steam. →

    Amongst my new bits of cool kit for this trip (one never gets to the bottom of cool kit, no matter how many times one takes the same trip) was my "knspork" ← a combo knife/spoon/fork, made of unbreakable plastic. Here I use it stirring the lovely tea service.

    The tissues were in . . . well, whatever those flowery Country-Homes-and-Gardens things are they put around tissue boxes.

Me: Head out maybe 6pm [for drinks and dinner]?
Tim: Good, I can finish my chapter.
Me: . . . You mean MY chapter.
Tim: No – it's my book. I paid for it.
Me: And in the transaction paid me personally about . . . 40 pence.

Later Tim would indicate his intention to give his copy to Liz (the prenominate Tim's girlfriend). "Oi!" said I. "You can just buy her another copy! No passing the same one around to everybody!" We finally agreed he could just personally give me 40p, cutting my publisher out entirely, and then pass the book on. Fair dinkum.

    They had, erm, vegan soap – which I had to swear up and down to Tim that I knew nothing about. They also had this stunning sink (in the downstairs half-bathroom) which was so moving that Tim moblogged it.

In the nice pedestrian mall where the food and drink was to be found we also found the obelisk marking the official start of the West Highland Way. Plus the town's touching War Memorial (which all UK towns have).

There was an (open) Marks and Spencer 'Simply Food' where we figured we'd go ahead and procure tomorrow's provisions (in case we wanted to leave in the morning before they opened again, which was conceivable.) But to get into it we first had to negotiate a brooding gang of Milgavnie hooligans. Going into condition yellow, we put our eyes on the ground and our hands in our pockets and tried to sidle through this knot of mixed-gender teenage toughs lounging about on the ground and window ledge. When they started calling out taunts at us, it briefly looked like things might get ugly.

However, it turned out they were shouting taunts – good-natured ones, if we'd bothered to parse them – for the same reason they were brooding, which is that they were bored out of their minds being teenagers living in Milgavnie. We ended up in a long and friendly conversation with them while I tried to get my bum Zippo to strike so as to light a fag for the gang leader. Inside the store, the young woman who rang up our provisions was a dead ringer for my friend Marianne.

On our table in the better pub (of two) was the day's edition of the Daily Record ("Scotland's Paper of the Year") with this article about how Shirley Manson – lead singer of Garbage and native of Edinburgh – has a role in the new season of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. I made a note to check it out on my return. (I've since been following it religiously. A television show!)

Tennents ↓ is the lager of choice in these parts. It's drinkable. This enormous cloud →, hovering over everything when we emerged, was pretty . . . but threatening. Would it be there in the morning when we set out in earnest? And would it still be holding its drink?

Tomorrow: 12 miles to Drymen – To Include Swiss women at our breakfast table; Digital video situation comedy experiments; An infinite ½-mile detour; Whiskey tasting (mid-walk); Scotland's oldest registered pub; and Sheep
Bloody Londoner!         (hide)
Oops - she's reading it now! I owe you 40p!         (hide)

  food     graham greene     humour     photography     tim     travel     veganism     video     walking     west highland way     wildlife  
close photo of Michael Stephen Fuchs

Fuchs is the author of the novels The Manuscript and Pandora's Sisters, both published worldwide by Macmillan in hardback, paperback and all e-book formats (and in translation); the D-Boys series of high-tech, high-concept, spec-ops military adventure novels – D-Boys, Counter-Assault, and Close Quarters Battle (coming in 2016); and is co-author, with Glynn James, of the bestselling Arisen series of special-operations military ZA novels. The second nicest thing anyone has ever said about his work was: "Fuchs seems to operate on the narrative principle of 'when in doubt put in a firefight'." (Kirkus Reviews, more here.)

Fuchs was born in New York; schooled in Virginia (UVa); and later emigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he lived through the dot-com boom. Subsequently he decamped for an extended period of tramping before finally rocking up in London, where he now makes his home. He does a lot of travel blogging, most recently of some very  long  walks around the British Isles. He's been writing and developing for the web since 1994 and shows no particularly hopeful signs of stopping.

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ARISEN : Operators, Volume I - The Fall of the Third Temple by Michael Stephen Fuchs
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