This piece comes with a warning! You might say it is a reflective tale, its focus (or lack of it) on where your brain might choose to wander when out for what you thought was a very ordinary stroll in the countryside. It has taken me 3 years of head scratching trying to figure out how to introduce this brief half day excursion in the way I wanted to portray it. Almost 9 weeks of “groundhog day” lockdown has proved to be the clincher…my brain has melted to the point where all has become become clear…although, in this case, “clear” might not be the appropriate term.
I don’t know about you but there are times when I come across something that triggers a memory from my past; sometimes from my very dim and very distant past. But it doesn’t stop there…oh no! Before I know where I am I have a “chain” of places/objects/events/times etc. that all relate back to that initial thought. So if I told you that one of my “chains” involved a dam/neatly cut grass in an out of the way place/a jigsaw/illustrations in books and magazine articles/the 1950s/travels with my parents you might see where I am heading. Or, alternatively, you might see how deranged I have become when left alone to think too much.
It was a pretty conventional start to the walk. Drive to the forestry commission car park in Glen Devon a few hundred metres past Glendevon Castle – check I had all my kit as it had been a while since I’d been out – then head along the forestry road at the foot of Black Hill to Glensherup Reservoir. I had decided to tackle a simple little hill in the Ochils leaving behind the two hairy millstones whose antics had heralded the end of my more adventurous hillwalking days. I had set out to conquer the mighty Ben Shee (516m). All very straight forward.
Now…those of you who have been paying attention will be thinking “I know what’s coming next!” And you would be correct. Reservoir = a dam. As I popped out of the trees to cross to the valley’s north side the first thing I came across was a dam with neatly cut grass in an out of the way place. (You will be pleased to know I won’t be keeping this up for the rest of the story…I think I’ve now laboured the red ink point to its maximum tedium level.)
As I paused and looked across the dam at the end of the reservoir reality left the building and my brain auto-transferred itself to the end of the 1950s/start of the 1960s. I remembered trips/walks with my parents and coming across such places in the middle of nowhere with beautifully manicured lawns and gardens usually surrounding impressive well-maintained stone buildings with massive windows. Looking back I realise that most of these buildings were probably something to do with water supply. I know of one only a few miles away from where I live which is now run down and derelict; something that saddens me to see. In my memory these places were so well kept and so out of character with their surroundings they looked like illustrations from magazines and books of the period where the countryside appeared airbrushed of every blemish. I remember having a jigsaw of what I think was a stylized interpretation of a 1940s coach trip around the Trossachs, the highland scenery having that same pristine picture postcard feel. As my brain refocussed I began to see the day with a period, storybook, feel.
(Click on photos to go full screen)
In the past I have tended to put in a music link as a postscript to the post however, on this occasion, I reckon this is probably the most appropriate spot. I give you the amazing Tony McManus. I’ve seen him play a couple of times in folk clubs and he is the most incredible guitar player. There’s a fair bit of chat at the start of the video so I would recommend starting about 2.30 into the clip if you just want the music. I reckon it suits the photos rather well.
Having crossed the dam I headed north along the access road to find the start of the trail that I follow westwards up The Shank, the long spur that would take me to the summit of Ben Shee. Even the reservoir access road appeared to have that heavily romanticised Maurice Walsh quality although I’m not convinced that the nearby wind farm would have appeared in any publication pre-1960s.
And so I plodded onwards and upwards my head still stuck in a period from 60 years before.
I hope you enjoyed my somewhat clumsy attempt to drift back in time. I’m sure that as we get older somewhere in all of our heads these little connections pop off at various times leading us in strange mental detours bending our present reality. In these strange times of countries locked down and the future uncertain it’s good to do something just that wee bit different.
However, given we’ve just popped back to the 1950’s I’m positive I should have looked a lot younger than this photo suggests!
Stay safe everyone.