Munro Post – 03/09/2017 – Meall Chuaich (46)

Friends, collies, sky diving dogs,

Oh jeepers-creepers what a day. It started at 5.00am, if you please. Soon I’ll be getting up before I’ve gone to bed, if you follow my drift. Still, I had a big day in store with just a few hours in the morning to devote to our next Munro. Meall Chuaich sits fairly close to the road and is reported to have a clear path all the way. Speedy Gonzales – alias, Steve Kew – reckons it would take 4 hours. I knew it would take us at least another hour: what… with the age thing and all the minor injuries and the general level of fitness. Even so, we could be up and down by lunch time – bagging number 46 – and ready for my big excitement in the afternoon but… all that is for later.

What had been forecast as a mainly dry but cloudy day, in our parts, started off somewhat better than had been predicted. Sunrise cast a magical glow across the mountains, bringing a sentient awakening to herald the new day.

The first indication of what lay ahead, in our own new day, came when we parked in a lay by on an exposed section of the A9, near Dalwhinnie. B was preparing my breakfast at the back of the van (always her first priority), when suddenly she was face down in the bowl. The howling wind had whacked the door shut against her back adding yet another injury to the litany of physiological ailments that inhabited her five foot frame: hips that wanted oiling; knees that needed an infusion of diazepam; calf muscles, sometimes gripped in a vice and now, a back that was hurting… a lot.

As the wind – in defiant mood – continued to whip and whistle all about us, recommending flight rather than fight, we weighed up the chances of achieving today’s target. Knowing this would be our windiest walk ever we really did consider giving it a miss, but… we had done so well in the last two days – against the odds – and we just didn’t want to go home (like last time), with one route uncompleted. We could just ‘nip’ up this… ‘straight forward’ Munro, even if it meant getting a bit of a battering. And, after all, there were no dangerous ridges to consider.

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When me and B approach the hills it always starts our heart racing and today was no exception. Their spectacular contours, woven around a majestic amphitheatre, entice us on encouraging their closer acquaintance. Today the walk in – as we Munroists say – was long, flat and accompanied by the questionable companion. Mister blowy wind, coming up from the south, was trying to get a tad too pally-wally for my liking. In fact, he was a vicious sort of imposter, assaulting my person and giving me a v. v. v bad hair day indeed. If this was his attitude at 300 metres, what the heck was his frame of mind going to be at over 900 metres.

Before long we came upon a network of tracks with too many choices of direction and, of course, we went off on the wrong one. We knew this when the private wooden bothy (“always locked”), appeared as a newly constructed concrete structure, complete with alarming signature. Seemingly, getting lost in the Munros is the least of our problems.

What on earth, I pondered, is embedded generation? Perhaps there is a whole decade of Munrosa incarcerated within this innocuous building. After a 180o turnaround we were, 25 minutes later, back on track. This is more like it I thought, till a peep in revealed a retreat for hunters with a nationalist passion – a different sort of embedded generation… time for us to go.

Not far ahead we could see our path snaking north up hill, which we duly followed. After consulting our route, downloaded and printed – from the ever wonderful Walk Highlands website – we duly turned east to avoid the top of Stac Meall Chuaich, as instructed. Regretfully, we did this too soon and the path we turned onto eventually petered out. Once again we were in unpleasant – but familiar – territory; trampling over pathless heather to find our true path higher up.

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Back on course, our unwelcome fellow traveller had upped the anti, giving my right flank a clobbering that I confidently predicted would be repeated on the left side when I descended. Of course, had our path meandered up the north side of Meall Chuaich – instead of the south – we would have been nicely tucked in all the way, invisible to our so called friend until he let loose his fury at the very top. Still, at least – when we turned east on the ridge – he wasn’t punching me in the face, stopping me in my tracks and then pushing me down hill with dangerous ferocity on my return. As it was, upon reaching the plateau, just below the summit, I really thought I was going to be swept off my feet and sent flying at a rate of knots, in the direction of Aviemore. It seemed that luggage – in the shape of B’s rucksack – might be coming with me as it was buffeted away from her back pulling at yet more muscles, which joined the company of complainants that inhabited her determinative frame, and who were beginning to crowd our Munro adventures.

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It was such a relief to see a big square summit cairn where we could cuddle on its north side and gain some shelter. I was all for waiting until it was Mr Wind’s bedtime but… sadly, I was reliably informed, this wasn’t going to happen anytime this side of next week. Therefore, within two minutes, and a very truncated Munro summit ceremony, my left haunch was getting the pummelling I had predicted from an increasingly angry beguiler still intent on getting me to Aviemore. Descent was – to say the very least – swift; it was also rather musical with B’s oohing and arring putting up stiff competition against the noise emanating form the wailing beast of Chuaich.

Despite it all, back at my van, we were jubilant. We had kept going though under siege and we had – at the end of this weekend – achieved all we set out to. Everyone, but everyone, that has ever written about hill walking and mountaineering insists that turning back – in adverse conditions – is a sign of strength not weakness. And yet… and yet… me and B know the pull of the hills too well. We suspect that – like us – these writers have all been enticed on when common sense would suggest retreat. If not, there would be no true adventurers. Sometimes – just sometimes – “against my better judgement”, is the best judgement of all.

Coming soon – my afternoon adventure, with no dangers at all and… on the flat, but… oh, so exciting. I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

Lots of love

Ben xx untitled 1

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Munro post – 02/09/2017 – Sgor Gaoith (45)

Friends, collies. art lovers,

The day was announced by bright light peeping through the curtains of my van . This confirmed the forecast from yesterday and a clear blue sky was envisaged. The downside of this was it made my van v. v. v cold and I really didn’t want to be separated from my lovely warm blanket, so we had a lie in. At 5.45am B chimed out those chilling words, “Munros calling”, in a tone that wasn’t up for negotiation. Anyway, I needed to get up and find a tree, not being able to keep all my paws crossed for much longer.

Before we set off, B did some walking about to test out her bad knees and then reported back. It seemed we were giving it a go again today. Although a fairly short walk, Sgor Gaoith was steeper than anything demanded of us yesterday and therefore, it was going to be a good test for the hypothesis we had formulated. Namely, walking the Munros is a sure cure for bad knees. After the summit the route would follow an arching ridge, with little variation in gradient before a short steep return. If we made it to the top the pain on the way down would be accompanied by the satisfaction of having achieved number 45 and, importantly, it wouldn’t last too long.

   

We started off through Inshriach Forest, into the Invereshie and Inshriach Nature Reserve, where native Scots pine trees filtered the early sunlight sparkling about us; filaments of gold created contrasting shadows on the path ahead. Soon though, a build up of cloud compromised the blanket blue coverage we had been promised and – as we got higher – the wind spun up to meet us from the south west, making for a stiff breezy walk. It was dry, the cloud was high above the hills and all was well with the world. Even the knee was holding out as we crossed the Allt a’Chrom alltain and ascended Sgor Gaoith’s western flank.

The Cairngorms seem to divide opinion among walkers. For many the endless, featureless rolling hills are a tedious expedition, which lack the excitement and scenic beauty offered by the North West Highlands. Others are enticed by the mountains that stretch deep into no man’s land, with their vast hinterlands of wilderness. Every now and again though, even the Cairngorms can surprise. Sgor Gaoith is one such mountain. Having reached the summit on good paths, set among the rounded slopes on the west, the view as we approached the summit was sublime. A quick peep over the edge set all those butterflies scampering about my tummy in a frenzy of adrenalin fuelled activity. The landscape fell away, from under my very paws, in a fearful collapse of eroded mountain that plummeted down 500 metres to Loch Eanaich below.

 

It was so dreadful I had to keep looking over the edge, trying to believe my very eyes, much to B’s alarm. Beyond the abyss the dominant presence of Braeriach was resurrected from the depths of water, parading an iconic mixture of geological features: sheer scree slopes, serpentine ridges, and scooped out corries; a dynamic work of art thousands of centuries in the making. Stepping back from the edge safety was resumed on the contrasting plateau, as flat as any pancake that came out of my person’s frying pan on shrove Tuesday. We did a big walk round but found no summit cairn. The ritual took place on a large slab of rock and it was left to our mascot to prove that we had been there.

Our traverse of the ridge was conducted in high spirits, with a second Munro bagged that we couldn’t even have contemplated, when the knees gave way two days ago. And, to add even more bounce to my paws, the sun had finally broken through the cloud, exhibiting the hills all around us in their finest apparel.

 

Nevertheless, I felt the quiver of expectation, that passed through B, as we approached the point of descent. A pathless hike through heather which – rich in burgeoning growth and budding purple – hid the undulations of the terrain below, and wrapped tendril roots around a pair of mucky boots. Meantime, my – flawless paws – fared rather better and I bounded down the hillside. B’s progress was interrupted by much stumbling and frequent flopping onto banks of heather, while she sought respite from the strain. This, of course, worked to my advantage as I ran back to offer sympathy and had my loyalty rewarded with a nice slab of my favourite west country mature cheddar. Needless to say, long before we were back at Inshriach Forest the stumbling and flopping was accompanied by much oohing and aahing, as knees objected heartily to the incline we came down. Then, much like yesterday, almost miraculously, as soon as we hit a decent path the pain evaporated and the remainder of our walk was a joyous amble back through the Scots Pine.

The shorter nature of today’s walk, and the early start, meant we were back at my van with most of the afternoon ahead of us. Excellent, I thought, but – just as I was nestling down for an extended period of shut eye – B had the lead back on, telling me this wasn’t just about doing the Munros; that was news to me. Apparently, it was also a brilliant opportunity to see more and do more in what was, for us, virgin territory. Therefore, we were off on a sculpture trail that led out of our car park, through the Northern fringes of Inshriach Forest.

Well now, I really didn’t know what to make of Frank Bruce’s clever art works. Being a dog my brain isn’t wired up for an aesthetic appreciation of art works but, I had a horrible feeling my slumber was going to be interrupted tonight, with such images swirling around in my headspace. I took comfort from what – possibly – I love best about our whole adventure. It’s when I’m dog tired, after a v. v. v big walk, and B tucks me up in my special blanket as I curl up for sleep. And… do you know something? That night I didn’t even flick open an eyelid one millimetre and then suddenly, it was the next day and time to go Munroing again.

Love Ben xx

A quick tip

Friends, collies, followers

This is a little hint for my fans. Although you can read my posts straight from your e mail you can see the pictures larger, and read an easier text, on the post on my blog site. All you have to do is click your mouse (but don’t hurt her), on the words Munro Ben at the bottom of your e mail.

When the weather is bright some of the pictures come out quite well, so I thought you might like this tip.

Love Ben xx untitled 1

 

Munro post – 01/09/2017 – Geal Charn (44)

Friends, collies, dogs serving of science,

Despite the application of ice cold treatment yesterday evening, B knees had got worse by hour with the left one seizing up completely when rested. Stretching the muscles at all caused spasms of pain that put our plans for this weekend – at the very least – in jeopardy. When I woke up I wondered if I could be a brilliant buddy, running off to put a few more in our bag, keeping the numbers up. However, it was windy and I didn’t think I could manage an anarchic map, with all its flapping about. In the end, I was spared the dilemma because – when B stretched out her leg in the sleeping bag – there was no noise; the pain had gone. After the usual contortions, to get dressed, a walk about the van confirmed the sensation of taut muscles but… the absence of pain.

Me and B had a bit of a con-flab on the subject and decided to give a single, shortish, Munro a go. This would let us know how the land lay. If we made it brilliant and one more for the bag. If we didn’t… well, we wouldn’t have lost more than if we didn’t try at all. To tell you the truth this wasn’t a Munro I was particularly looking forward to. Walk Highlands gave it a bog rating of 4, with 5 being the maximum. Yesterday’s hike only had a rating of 2 and looked what happened to me then; I was going to be watching my paws every step of the way. On the other hand, our guides told us the views were going to be magnificent and I’m a sucker for a bit of the old panorama. Certainly, Gava bridge wasn’t a bad spot to be starting out from, on a lovely clear morning.

The ascent started by the river Feith Talagain and, all things considered, the boggy mess was bearable. However, it did cause us to loose our path, both on the way up and the way down. Going up, while trudging through heather, B took us too far west and it was when we were doing a big arc – to correct the mistake – that I heard the exact moment of B’s knee giving way. I really, really, really wouldn’t want a puppy, such as young Bobby, to hear that moment. At the time we were too far up to consider giving up the climb and the pain was bearable, once the initial twang was over. Thoughts of the extra pressure on the joint during descent were put on the back burner, until we seized victory from the mouth of defeat by bagging Geal Charn. From the summit, the vastness of the land stretching north was awesome and the views in every direction stunning. Sun clothed the hills in their finest colour, picking out the mountain features to their best advantage, in a clarity of light that would make any lover of these highlands weep for joy.

Somehow I don’t think it was joy that accounted for the sobs coming from the mountain lover by my side as we started going down. However, the painful bag – despite being heavier – was much more bearable with another Munro in it. We had done the right thing and we could rest on our laurels tomorrow and see what Sunday brought. It was clearly going to take us sometime to get back to sea level today.

The return route was the reverse of the way up so I was fairly confident of keeping my head above bog level. Obviously, my tummy was a mess but nothing I couldn’t sort with a healthy dollop of self-grooming back at my van. As I was looking forward to this a funny thing happened. Almost as soon as the slope eased so did the moaning and groaning and, unlike yesterday on a similar gradient, there was an increase in speed, with none of that lop-sided hobbling going on. Could B really have corrected the problem by walking a Munro? I thought she should mention it to her doctor, getting him to tell his patients about it. None of this gentle exercise, and not too much pressure on the joint, nonsense. Get out there and walk the odd 3,000 feet up and down a steep sided mountain. How about that? Me and B on the Munros, extending the boundaries of medical science.

Following our walk we drove – without any of the exclamations that punctuated yesterday’s drive – to the phone box at Laggan. Here, in a quick call, B was able to let David know that I was back on terra-ferma. Next, en route to our next overnight stop, we pulled in at Kingussie. The aura of affluence, in this exquisite small town, sent my imagination on a flight of fancy. I pictured the depth of the soft furnishings that lay behind the decorous exteriors of these elegant residences. Meantime, B found other, more prosaic, recommendations for the area. A wonderful hot wash could be had for the very reasonable price of 20p, in the ladies conveniences. In addition, a strong phone signal meant we could check the internet to confirm the forecast for tomorrow. Within 20 minutes B was freshly scrubbed and fully perpendicular – for the first time in over 30 hours. Optimism defined the outlook, a predisposition that was reinforced after the mountain weather information service had been consulted. That day of rest was definitely off the cards.

I was sorry to leave Kingussie because I couldn’t quite get the thought of snuggling up on a golden sofa – stuffed with several centimetres of goose down feathers – out of my head. Yet, when B parked up for the night, the sun – slipping into dreams of it’s own – bathed my van in a radiance that illuminated our achievements. Surely, the best way to end this day.

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And so to bed

Love Ben xx untitled 1

Munro Post – 31/08/2017 – Beinn a Ghlo (43)

Friends, collies, binge walkers,

Rain had been forecast for the afternoon of our first walking day on what was, otherwise, a very promising weekend. One snatched at the last knockings, almost miraculously, from a summer of perpetual Atlantic fronts. To complete the three Munro summits that make up the Beinn a Ghlo range, before the rain set in, we were up and doing at the ungodly hour of 5.30am.

There is a special quality to the light and to the air just after sunrise. Photographs call it the blue hour. Walking into the hills, full of expectation, we feasted our eyes on the brilliance of the environment all around us. We were so lucky to be here, to be together and to be fit enough to even contemplate the 8 – 10 hour walk that constituted today’s challenge.

Munros don’t often do you the kindness of rising in gradual ascent to the top and the first climb today looked as if it was our steepest yet. Then we had to descend and re-ascend another couple of times before reaching the highest point of the day which, standing at 1129 metres, only has 30 Munros that are higher. Following this there was the mere 2 hours of walking as we completed the circuit and got back to my van. But, all that is getting way ahead of myself.

   

Misfortune set in way before we ever got to the first climb. Weaving our way around the boggy mass, that had greeted us as soon as we left the approach track, I unusually misread the solidity of the earth beneath my paws. Suddenly, alarmingly, my shoulders were parallel with the ground on either side of me. This meant I was sinking fast in a squelching mass of liquid peat. Panic set in as I tried to execute a desperate exit strategy, that had as much success as the as the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty. Front legs, leaping for safety, might have done the trick if my rear end wasn’t held back by the weight of muck that engulfed it and was continuing to suck me down. Getting free was like trying to escape from the farewell embrace of an octopus. After half an hour of frantic gyrations I managed to crawl, in a heap, onto a bank of heather. Well OK, it might only have been a couple of moments but, in moments of crisis, time passes in slow motion and it felt a whole lot longer. Despite my sorry state, carrying a coat several centimetres thicker than the one I started out with, B’s response was hysterics which I found rather cruel. I was in no state to see the funny side of anything. So, I went v. v. v close, looking utterly dejected and then… I did a big, big shaking thing, right next to her. Now we both had additional clothing and it smelt rancid.

After this we reached that steep ascending path and I kept running a long way ahead, making a bit of a point. Even for B, steep paths – despite their muscle wrenching properties – get you to the top quickly. Therefore, my photo shot on Carn Liath was at a time of day I don’t usually associate with consciousness.

From here it was a glorious broad ridge that stretched out ahead of us. The Idyllic light, caught in the early morning, wasn’t the only benefit of getting up at the crack of dawn. Being ahead of the Munrosa meant unpopulated hills and this equalled freedom for Ben. Without the distraction of irresistible ankles I could be leadless, roaming free across the vast playground of the mountains. I felt as the Keats had.

                                              

                                             “ I stood tiptoe upon a little hill,                                                      

              … I gazed a while, and felt as light and free

           As though the fanning wings of Mercury

                    Had played upon my heels: I was light hearted

             And many pleasures to my vision started…”

 

Looking ahead, I thought it was about time someone built a bridge that spanned that little bit of air between the edge of where I was now – as I pawsed for thought – and where I wanted to be next. In the absence of such a convenience me and B followed the path down and sinuously wove our way – with much huffing and puffing – up to Braigh Coire Chruinn-bhalgain, which means Height of the Corrie of Round Blisters. At this time, with my 42nd Munro in the bag, the pads on my paws were like leather so I couldn’t complaint about blisters but, I did wish I could shake off that smell of bog.

As the August sun continued to give notice of it’s intention the early morning mist rose to greet the occasion, and bands of wafting cloud engaged in a tango wrapping around – and extinguishing – the blaze of light, in a dance which concluded when the majestic Carn na Gabhar emerged, as if from inside its own eminence.

Once again, in the absence of a convenient Thomas Telford construction, we had to follow the path down to the col and up to our final summit. Smug satisfaction was our guest, on arrival and we gave due timing to our last Munro ritual for the day.

Pride comes before a fall, as another one of those totally incomprehensible human sayings go. Immediately we started the descent B’s Knees (see it’s not only Keats who can pen a pleasing little rhyme) objected to the gradient and so began a very painful journey down hill. Though I was truly tempted to have a laugh, getting my own back for the curious incident earlier, of the dog in a bog (you can’t stop me once I get going), I didn’t. I’m an empathetic little buddy so I kept close, praying with all my paws that we would make it back by my dinner time. It was a long, hobbly trek along Glen Tilt but eventually my van was in sight.

     Looking back along a long painful walk

The completion of three Munros would normally be a cause for celebration but the edge was taken off today’s achievement by the presence of pain, and concern for the hills yet to walk this weekend; to say nothing of the 239 still to go. Silence ensued and I knew it best to keep my head down. After all, we say it best, when we say nothing at all. On the way to our overnight spot zzzs overcame me and I gave way to them, floating deliciously off to sleep.

               And so to bed

Love Ben xx

Munro post – 30th August – Getting there, my last 2017 weekend

Friends, collies, bridge guarding dogs,

The preparations for going away occur as a sequence in ‘Ben’s Munro symphony’. They start in low key, several days before take off and then rise – in a crescendo of activity – till the eve of departure. It begins like the tinkles from percussion instruments, with a gentle suggestion that something is afoot. This is characterised by visits to the back of my van which has been foreign territory since our last Munro trip. In the next piece the strings play in harmony and I like this part very much. Here my food is topped up and my treats made ready. Bottles of beer find their way, mysteriously, into the passenger well. My bowls and B’s crockery are introduced together with, my blanket and B’s sleeping bag. Other assorted twin sets are also assembled. The final movement is a full blown wind section, with trumpet and horn giving it wellie, to salute the night before the big departure. In packing up my van, this means the last minute essentials are squeezed in: maps, routes, rucksack, boots, GPS and all those digital essentials, newly charged. By this time my van is full to the gunwales and I am a nervous wreck.

An overnight sleep settles me a little and, if I’m lucky enough to bump into my pal Oscar – during my morning walk – I can expend all of that pent up energy in play and then my equilibrium is restored. As the year goes by I get more accustomed to the routine and so, when we set off on 30th August, I was more at ease than on the previous two occasions. Unfortunately, I have had to get used to another regular feature of our travel, known as the bottle neck. In my bottle today I was hemmed in by four wheeled things of all persuasions, some of them giants towering over me in a v. v. v frightening fashion. Yet again, none of us were going anywhere soon. The world and his dog were out – en fête – to witness the opening of  the ‘Queensferry Crossing’ – the bridge over the Forth estuary near Edinburgh, newly opened today. This spectacle has been called the biggest infrastructure project in Scotland for a generation.

Initially, the Queensferry Crossing is going to have a 40 mph speed limit and all traffic will  cross it, with cyclists and pedestrians using the much quieter, original, Forth Road Bridge. I can tell you there wasn’t a need for any law enforcers to keep an eye on unruly  motorists today. The idea is that work will take place on the old bridge, that me and B used last year, to complete its transformation into an active travel corridor. Once complete, public transport will use it and the Queensferry Crossing will then become a fully functional motorway with a new speed limit of 70mph. I have this utopian vision of me and B getting to the Munros without a go slow around Edinburgh, every time we venture north; pipe dreams possibly, whatever the heck they are.

I can’t tell you how nervous I was because… the last time I had cast my eyes on this bridge it was incomplete, if you remember. My van would have to complete an Olympic long jump to get across the gaps. Putting my paws together I prayed v. v. v hard, to the  god of modern engineering design called, in this case, Ramboll, that hey had got on with the job. Then, oh my golly gosh, me and B saw this in the Edinburgh Evening News. It told us there was a ‘completely safe’ 14 inch gap in the middle of the bridge such as the one on a modern bridge in Lisborn. Can you even begin to imagine the consternation this caused the butterflies in my tummy, who haven’t got a clue about speed limits.

Blunder leaves gap in the new forth bridge

You can read some of the salient facts below, if you are interested and… did you get to the end of the previous link? Got yah, hee, hee!!

Queensberry Crossing

At this point in our journey, the acquaintance between B’s foot and the accelerator was as rare as the acquaintance between her mouth and a cup of tea, at 8.30pm on a Saturday night. We covered the formidable distance of 7 miles in 1.5 hours. But then, in the next 1.5 hours, we travelled just short of 90 miles and rolled up in the car park at the Bridge of Tilt, close to Blair Athol, which was to act as welcome host for my van that night. The contrast was mind boggling with only five vehicles for company. Their owners came back – sporting walking boots, or riding mountain bikes – after their long day on the hills. This was my sort of place, my sort of people; a place where I could put my head down in tranquillity, before starting on the Munro project tomorrow.

Oh my dog, what a mess my head space was in as I tucked up for the next instalment of our adventure.

“Anon Sir, anon.”

And so to bed

Love Ben xx

 

Base camp

Friends, collies, and hello Bobby,

A big, big welcome to my new cousin who is lucky enough to reside on a narrow boat. I bet a young puppy like you can get into all sorts of trouble of one of those. I can’t wait to meet you Bobby and for us to have fun and games together. Perhaps you might be able to persuade your person to do the Munros with B. Then we could be best buddies together.

We have returned from my last Munro weekend this year and I was very confused because we passed the turn off for home and came straight down to the caravan, which has some v.v.v welcome soft furnishings. Apparently, I’m on holiday here for two weeks. It’s hard for me to get an internet connection here, so I won’t be able to post all my latest adventures until I get home again but, rest assured, I will be busy writing them up in long paw.

What I can tell you for now is that we are back in one piece and did complete Munro routes every day, with 6 more now in the bag, bringing the total to 46. Please touch wood for me now, prior to reading the next sentence. My van did BRILLIANTLY. I now have a nice picture in my head of all my fans touching wood together.

In the meantime, look what Arnold Clark have up on their wall at their head office. It was designed in house by James Speed and then updated by Charlotte Hepworth. Aren’t they very clever artists?

474

In the meantime… zzz

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And so to bed

Love Ben xx untitled 1