That first shakedown run.


Another fine day, very autumnal, with skies clear and chilled, then the sun rises, boy, was it beautiful, my kind of day. The leaves that had hung limp on the trees here in town are now torn free in a strong southern wind, now they dance unrehearsed across the lawn, and the holy tree outside my window is massed with bright red berries.

Trees devoid of leaves looking rather forlorn,

Casualties of frost and autumn storm,

But one remains to delight,

Leaved green as emeralds,

Berries red,

Berries bright.

I had spent the morning preparing the van, for my trip, Eva Cassidy for company.

I planed to passing through Cupar then Scotland Wells, before travelled up through Glenfarg and on to Methven.

It was in mid-June when Bruce approached Perth a heavily walled town at that time and challenged Valence, come out and fight or surrender the town. Valence replied that being Sunday lets leave the fighting until tomorrow, Bruce taking him at his word moved to Methven a few miles west of Perth and set up camp. Valence men burst into their camp without warning and it turned into all but a rout Bruce managed to escape with his life but lost many good men. This was a low point for Bruce. There is nothing to see here now but if you listen hard you can still hear echoes of the past. Bruce and those that had survived made their way to Inchaffray where he found sanctuary with Abbot Maurice.

At Gilmerton I headed up into the Sma’ Glen and set up camp in this beautiful glen by the crystal waters of the Almond.

The Sma’ Glen has been used since the earliest days of man’s understanding as a highway linking the highlands with the lowlands, the main road from Inverness to Edinburgh, at that time and used much by drovers to bring their cattle to the markets at Crieff and all places south. They tell of the times when thirty thousand cattle would pass through this glen each year, and how the lowing of the beasts could be heard for miles around, a strong aroma too I wouldn’t wonder. The two large hotels that once serviced the passing trade have been redeveloped one now a modern art gallery. There was an information board in the car park, tells how the inhabitants went off to find a better life, many Scottish historians would take issue with that.

In truth the inhabitants were driven from their ancestral lands by greedy corrupt chieftains who stole the land. This was the time of the Napoleonic wars with food need to feed vast armies, these greedy men could smell profit. The rents they gained from crofters hardly covered their gambling losses, mutton would bring better reward. The time was known as the Highland Clearances but was Ethnic Cleansing by any other name. With many young men seconded into the army, doing their bit for the British Empire, a euphemism for cannon fodder for French guns, and with only old men, women and children remaining it was easy work now to drive them off their crofts and burn them out so they would not be able to return. This was done under the legally under the guise of ‘Estate Improvement’ many given eviction notices only had the Gaelic so would not have been able to read or understand the request and stayed put, this left them open to forceful and harsh eviction.

September, Thursday.

The weather still held and it was a short journey up to Aberfeldy, a beautiful little town on the banks of the River Tay. I parked up alongside the Black Watch Memorial and went for a wander around the town. The old cinema has been converted into a café leisure centre still retaining an auditorium and outside a board announced a film that would be showing that day. Much more interesting, however, was a small notice announcing an open music night.

Back at base, I made lunch then set off to cycle up to the Birks of Aberfeldy, a glen with picnic area and footpaths throughout the wood and following the burn that cascades down a number of falls. I was surprised to see so many folks out, then again, the weather was very pleasant.

The music night was very special; fiddlers and accordion players, like stepping back in time to the Fiddlers Rally days, that once graced our television screens. Then we had folk songs, old favourites such as the Streets of London, a flute solo, vocalists gave us everything from Burns to Dundee folk. One young girl played Beethoven and Brahms on the electronic piano, set to sound like a harpsichord. Most played two or thee instruments and one very dexterity player, the fiddle, guitar, mandolin, and superbly, the banjo. We all joined in singing along to his medley of banjo music including his interpretation of ‘Grandfather’s Clock’. Real talent personified.

Friday and another sort journey up over the hill and down into Tummel Bridge, named after the old Wade Bridge that crosses the river at this point.

I made camp in the Forestry Commission car park and set off for the dam that feeds the hydropower station near to the bridge.

It is an easy climb up the forestry track and onto the metal road that follows the aqueduct carries water from the dam to the turbine hall. The aqueduct snakes it way rather than a straight flow, possibly to stop a surge of water.

Reversing my footsteps at the dam I passed my entry point and followed the aqueduct to its conclusion where it enters huge pipes that carry the water down to the turbine hall. The water in the canal seems genteel enough but when you see it exit at the turbine hall and back into the river you get some idea of the volumes of water involved.


I was slow to get moving, after breakfast I started packing my case with bedding and clothes and cleaning up the van for the homeward journey. Travelling over by the Queen’s View

Then Pitlochry where I stopped and cycled up to the fish ladder and theatre, taking time out there for lunch.

 In the stairwell of the theatre hangs a tapestry, it was created by a young lass who lived in Pebbles at the time of its making. She also received a commission for a large tapestry for the Bank of Scotland building in London. Her loom was so large for her home, a small roadman’s cottage just outside Pebbles. I saw her often working away in the old dilapidated water mill, on the other side of Pebbles. A barn of a place, the holes where the windows should have been covered over with polythene sheets. There she sat day after day in the depth of winter, her newborn baby wrapped up in a cot by her side, a suffering artist right enough.

I was privileged to see some of her painting, that would be used in the design of finished tapestries, each one a work of art in its own right. 

Then onto Kindrogan, Bridge of Cally, Blairgowrie, Rattray and on down into Perth. I had chosen to go via Blairgowrie hoping to seen the Beech Hedges moving into autumn colour

But alas I was too early but impressive enough in any season.

The van never missed a beat and I am finding it a pleasure to drive, even the kerbs don’t jump out at my back wheels any more. It was never cold enough to light the stove in earnest but I loved to kindle it at night and lie on my bunk crooning away to myself, as I watched the flames dance their way around bulkhead and cabin roof. There is something magical about a living fire, flames roaring up the lum and wood crackling, with stove pipe glowing cherry red in the darkness. And the smell of hot cast iron, that assaults you’r nostrils and dwells in you’r mind as a life long memory.

Travelling home there was a strong smell of diesel in the cab, I pulled into a lay by and found one of the return pipes from the injectors was spraying diesel everywhere, I tried unsuccessfully to stop it, finally wrapping it in insulation tape but the diesel simply dissolved the glue, still, I did manage to stop much of the flow. Cleaning down the engine and fixing the return pipe, one more job to add to an overgrowing list of to-do jobs. One other modification I have in mind, the small stove is so efficient at burning wood that it would take a full-time stoker along with a small sawmill to keep it going. I found an old paint tin lid and put it over the bars in the bottom of the stove, this helped reduce the airflow and put a heart in the fire, at home, I will make a heavy plate to replace the paint tin lid, but then this is what shakedown runs are about.

Home once more, I switched on the television for the news and I found I was not ready for the world just yet. Afternoon television must be the best cure for insomnia known to man, for I was quickly asleep in the big chair, long before the news was over.

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