Broke Christmas – A Hanging Bandits’ Christmas song — The Hanging Bandits

It’s been a long time since I checked in here, I have a new job and it takes up an  inordinate amount of time. I mean to check in and post some new material toward the end of this year when I get a little time off. In the meanwhile though, I wanted to share my band’s Christmas song. If you like it, I’d appreciate the shares. We’re a very new band and literally every view means something. All love. Check in with you all again soon.

Luke

It’s been a busy year for the Hanging Bandits, this winter especially so. Besides hitting up several end of year gigs, one of which saw us make the semi-finals of a battle of the bands, we’ve also been working on writing, recording and making a video for our Christmas song. Writing a Christmas tune […]

via Broke Christmas – A Hanging Bandits’ Christmas song — The Hanging Bandits

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The Struggle and The Stars – A stargazing adventure in the Lake District – 3 – The District

12.4.18

12:10

On the clear morning of the 11th, drunk on whisky and high, we started a walk up the Struggle. It was 2:30 am. This road, also known as the Kirkstone Pass, is the highest mountain pass in the Lake District. It picked up it’s nickname for fairly obvious reasons. Walking it is a bitch. Cycling, I imagine, is worse.

There are almost no lights on the Struggle, no buildings or houses and after a ten minute walk you’re in pitch blackness, only a few distant town lights and the dark outlines of the hills around. The stars create a sense of awe at home but when they’re thick in the night sky and it feels as if you can see the distances between them and the curve of the earth in their positions, they are breathtaking. That isn’t something you get when you’re looking at the stars from the backstreets of a satellite town.

We veered off the lane and into some of the surrounding farm fields through a stiff rusted gate. Ben bounded up hill but I slowed him down, ‘We don’t know what animals are in here, be chill. Don’t want to startle a cow in the dark.’

Our torches suggested we were alone. The only other animals here were probably a few sheep far uphill. A little further and we turned our attention from the muddy ground to the sky. It was an incredible spot. Constellations were so many that the familiar ones were hard to distinguish. Lines of dotted stars seemed to overlap the Big Dipper, Orion the Hunter had more details; freckles you’d never noticed before.

We’d been smoking and staring at the sky for about fifteen minutes when I heard a loud exhalation nearby. It definitely wasn’t Ben. On instinct, I took up the ready-to-sprint position and froze on the spot, waiting.

Whatever animal it was, it sounded large.

Ben noticed the sound too and he sensed my shifted stance and decided, without hesitation, to flee the area, to charge down hill at top speed, toward the invisible gate somewhere in the bottom wall.

At this point, I’d pretty much settled on the idea it was probably a sheep or a ram but given that Ben had started running, I figured it were a bigger, more dangerous, more pissed off animal—a bull, say—Ben’s sudden flight could have sent it into a dash in my direction. When one thing runs, it seems a natural reaction for the other to chase. So I ran too, little care for my trainers in the mud, worrying only for foot placement in the grass and crud. Nothing was pursuing us. There may have been a surprised and amused sheep watching nearby.

I slowed as I reached the gate—in view more as a break in the wall than anything else—but Ben didn’t, instead he slammed into and through it, barely breaking his stride, and slicing his palm in the process.

We walked back under the same blinking stars, Ben ahead of me, keeping his bloody hand elevated, leaving drops like breadcrumbs to the stars behind us. I felt bad for Ben but I also couldn’t help but laugh, so while he padded back to the apartment with his injured hand, I hung ten or so paces behind and chuckled quietly until the feeling the past.

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Risks in high places – 2 – The District

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10.4.18

Ambleside

It seems to be a universal. The locals here have about as much interest in the fells and lakes as you do in your local heritage museum. The best tips come from people that have moved to the area. Locals describe the place as, ‘like anywhere,’ which isn’t strictly true, but I think what they mean is that the place is boring, same as everywhere else.

Boredom is what we pay for civilisation and comfort with.

Personally, I’d be at least willing to consider a trade back. Comfort is barely worth the eye socket aching pain of a dull work day.

The tourists here dress in two ways generally. First, they look like they want to protect themselves from the hills. Bright waterproofs and carbon fibre walking sticks, a look of sullen perseverance and multiple hats and hoodies for each possible eventuality. Not just here but in all parallel futures. The second type dress to let the lakes know their status. Those are concentrated in town, the further out the more blue and red rain macs you see. It’s quite possible that these two groups are populated by the same people.

The District has a less dramatic charm than either Snowdonia or the Highlands, in Ambleside you don’t feel as far from the civilised world. You aren’t as far.

Good walking routes are all around. As always, pick a direction, a peak or a river and follow. Leave the trails behind, light a joint, let that primate energy back in, play some Dylan and try not to think about your legs. Let meeting someone be a genuine surprise. Be daring and celebrate your life and your heart rate with adrenaline spikes. Improvise.

I try my best to follow my own advice. Let me describe two scenes.

The first thing we did on arrival was head to Ambleside waterfall and start up the trail next to it. At the end of the trail, the river goes on but is cut off by a tall wire mesh fence. We couldn’t stop following it, so we had to find a way around.

There was an eight or ten foot drop to the river bed below. The fence itself was unclimbable but there was a barbed wire protected and flimsy looking fence pole at the river edge. We tested it’s stability. It spun in the earth precariously. A few pieces of mud crumbled and fell into the water below. Still, there was no other way to pass the fence and so we swung ourselves around the pole to the other side where our nervous feet felt for solid ground. For about two seconds we were suspended over the river. We made it there and back with minimal issues, only a little clothing wire tangle. I tried this same technique once over a Highland river and ended up wet.

All this stops your heart flatlining.

That’s the goal, right?

Keep going.

The second scene is better though. In numerous parallel worlds we didn’t make it.

I say make choices that shave off your alternate selves, be the last you left in the cosmos, the only you in the entire multi-verse. The only you that reaches the finish line.

I think we shed a few of our counterparts the day after the fence pole incident. We were descending a fell to the west of Ambleside, when we stumbled upon a large, empty quarry. We’d come out above the sheer walls of the place, the granite floor was maybe 40 or 50 feet below with a small shelf breaking the fall about ten feet down. Stumbling here could have been very final. Extremely final. Met with a decisive full stop.

We wanted to explore the quarry. They’re stark and brutal places, gashes in the fells and mountains and the centre points for human interaction and exploitation of the world. There was a stone wall around the grounds too high to climb down, which left only a steep, wet slice of rock that we could use to cross from the ledge we were on to a descending hillside that would lead to the quarry floor. It was angled and had the appearance of a slide leading to a fifty foot deathdrop. A slip would have sent us skidding or rolling off and by the time we realised what was happening, our hands would be grabbing at empty space and our hearts would have jumped into our mouths and be trying to fight past our teeth to escape the fall.

There were no pieces of rock or thick tufts of grass to clasp onto to halt your descent. The exposed rock was slick with running water and lime moss made parts of it more slippy than ice. It was almost a water slide. Very carefully and with slow, deliberate breaths, we made it over in a low crouch, fingers in the wet and slimy moss for balance, boots wedged in a crack for purchase and when we made it across, we rested, looked at the death slide and figured our way into the quarry.

Sometimes it’s good to be a footstep away from death. It is a powerful reminder, one we often try to disguise in our bored and comfortable daily routines.

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Arriving in Ambleside – 1 – The District

The Lake District

7.4.18

13:16

The mission statement is the same as ever; find something beautiful, have an adventure.

The journey starts earlier than I’d like it to. Our train leaves Euston a bit after nine. There’s nothing much to be concerned with in terms of travel, two trains and a taxi ride gets us to Ambleside. Then a little luck will guide us to the office with our apartment keys and we’re good to go. This is always a more tense undertaking when you’re carrying a bit of weed through Kings Cross. It’s not necessary for a big adventure but it does help. The bitch of it is, if you get stopped and they find the weed, they’ll try and do you for something more. The cops will trump up any charge they can, even when the officers themselves know that what you’re getting charged with won’t stick.

‘Seems a bit much for a hiking trip, wouldn’t you say?’

Absolutely not.

Once we’re in the train at Euston most of the paranoia fades. The expectation is that the somewhat less bustling metropolis of Oxenholme, won’t have a bunch of armed police milling around. On arrival, we’re gratified to learn that we hadn’t miscalculated and could enjoy a comfortable stroll to the taxi rank and then on to Ambleside.

We get dropped off at a recommended pub, haul our bags inside—it’s still too early to pick up our keys from the office—and sort out drinks and lunch. The town is washed out and it looks as if the rain has been here most of the day. Globes collect on benches and eventually drop to the ground under their own weight. The narrow streets are filled with people, they overflow onto the roads and step back onto the pavement when there’s a break in the clusters of tourists.

Is this an omen?

Our mission gets a little harder to carry out each year. I can already feel a nostalgic and probably partially fictional golden age forming in my mind around the summers of 2015 and 2016, not long after I started going on these journeys and when it seemed liked no one else had come to the idea yet. At least, no one from my generation. And rarely anyone went to the places we went. Now our spots are busier and the adventures more cramped. Still, being here now, even with the throngs of damp people wandering through town, all I want to do is abandon the bags and sprint into the fells.

Luke Smith on Twitter

Journeys Through Pre-World War Britain on Facebook.

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From Home to End Complete – Adventures in the Highlands

 

scotlandyes

This photo sums up my feelings about Scotland: “Scotland. Yes.”

This was a formative roadtrip for myself and my friends. Since visiting the Highlands a year previously, the place had captured our imagination like nowhere else. I couldn’t wait to go back and get into the wilderness again. Ben hadn’t visited yet, we’d told him about it but he only had an abstract sense of the Highlands. He hadn’t felt the place yet. This trip would be a chance to show him. And if it grabbed him like it did us, then I guess that would mean the Highlands really is as special as we thought and that those long trips down destitution roads, past lochs and mountains and scattered stone buildings left empty since the clearances, were powerful and touching.

The Highlands has started to feel like a distant and rugged home. I feel like a better and healthier human being when I spend time there. The truth of it is, I fell so in love with the Highlands that it quickly became a priority to return and daydreams about epic backpacking adventures in faraway lands were almost entirely binned. I’d discovered a place of immense beauty on my own landmass and going to others wasn’t nearly as appealing. It felt like I had already found the place I was looking for and so continuing the search would have been foolish.

This is a land where you can see the effect of time everywhere you look, where the landscape is in constant flux. Each weather front is a new dress for the mountains and valleys. This adventure bought us closest to the land and helped me solidify a lot of my personal philosophy on life and travel.

You’ll find all the entries for this particular roadtrip compiled here, so that you can check them out in order or direct yourself to any which catch your eye.

From Home To End: 

01 – Prologue. A snapshot of the journey beginning. Rolling living room on the motorways.

02 – A walk in a falling castle. Exploring abandoned Birkwood Hospital. Lesmahagow.

03 – An art gallery in a derelict school. Lesmahagow still.

04 – Escape from Loch Maree. The journey so far.

05 – Stranded in a cloud. Exploring Durness, Laid and Tongue

06 – Sleeping in the car. Thinking about time.

07 – Driving in Sutherland. Cutting through the clouded valleys.

08 –  Advertising. Smoo Cave and Indiana Jones.

09 – A phone call from the edge of this land. Documenting dialects and the importance of syntax to character.

10 – Camping on Ceannabeinne beach. Money and time running down. Meeting a generous six year old.

The Skye Chronicles:

11 – Poor kids in the rich part of Skye. Thoughts on Portree. Don’t go chasing waterfalls.

 12 – Running out of petrol in Skye. The Gods got our back.

13 – A ruckus on the streets of Portree.

14 – Racing a seagull. Our final joint. Watching the waves. Financial defeat.

Heading Home:

15 – Detour to Loch Long. Abandoned missile testing facility. Meeting our Glaswegian doubles. Fishing. Gangstas.

16 – Exploring derelict Camelot theme park. Encounter with a security guard. The melancholy reality of home.

What pieces have you been enjoying? What do you want me to cover more or less of in the future?

If you did enjoy this series, I’d appreciate any shares or comments. For future updates outside of this blog you can follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by,

Luke

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Exploring Abandoned Camelot Themepark – Journey Concludes, Regular Life Resumes – The Home to End – 16

camelotpark

That night, my spine met a mattress for the first time in fourteen days. Maybe my back felt better but my spirit was a little deflated. Ben was asleep most of the journey and fell asleep again almost immediately on our arrival in Preston. Me and Yuri talked late into the night. I guess the two of us hadn’t really had a conversation since the start of the journey. You’re in such close proximity at all times there’s a tendency when not all discussing things together to just be quiet and take some time. Neither of us were happy to be heading home. After a while, he went to bed and I finished the Pearl and wrote a little.

In the morning, the adventure was over. Back in England. Later that day I’d see the local shopping centre, that ugly spaceship of a building, and I’d know I was truly home and not just home but returned to my life. One of the few things that can be yours regardless of whether you want it. Still, on the way back, and it’s almost a beautiful metaphor for the trip, we explored another abandoned castle. This castle though, was part of a derelict theme park.

camelotentrance

On the way into the Highlands, we felt the real; walked through a Victorian castle whose floorboards were gnawed by bugs and whose wallpaper was curled and stained from leaks, where we could feel the cold expressed from the stones that made up the staircase walls. On the way home, we walked through disused turnstiles, crossed a short bridge over a shallow, mostly dried up moat and entered a plywood and plaster castle, painted white and greyish blue like fresh stone. The walls of this castle were rotten and soft and flaking in places and this was only partially disguised by the paint and spots of graffiti. We entered into a courtyard that still had queuing etiquette signs on stands and was littered with coloured plastic balls.

camelotcourtyardbetter

It was a big place; boarded up rooms and attractions and half forgotten buildings everywhere. If you were a local kid you could make a lifetime of memories in this place. Inside the walls of the castle were several other structures and marquees, most of them accessible one way or another. There were medieval style buildings with fake thatched roofs that would have been games stalls or vendors once. They stood incongruously next to modern overhead notices that read Food Court or Toilets. The whole place is evidently one big, failed money making endeavour. So unprofitable it was left to decay.

camelotinterior

camelottunnel

We climbed into one building via a smashed window, using a wooden handrail for support. It was weak with age and moisture and using it was a dodgy business.  Once you clambered through you came into a fairly large open area with benches and stalls around the edges where people would have got food and drink and probably entry tickets. On the other side of a partition were the remains of a partially de-constructed multi-level kids play area. We went inside immediately. This was a good find. There were still parts to climb and an old enclosed rope bridge across the second level. There were holes in the floor and large spaces in the walls on the upper story where funnel slides used to be. Everything was designed with the medieval theme in mind, at least vaguely, using the same painted stone walls as most the rest of the place.

camelotwandering

After getting out of there we wandered a few of the faux-olde streets, keeping the rusted loops and arches at the back of the park in sight. There wasn’t too much in the surrounding buildings; a few carnival mirrors, a yard with a couple of old rollarcoaster cars sat in an old shed, mannequins sad side by side in the seats as if anticipating a ride. There were a lot of raised wood platforms and walkways which had been eaten away and were very brittle. On the surface, even up close, they looked find but the beams were severely compromised and required caution and avoidance in some place.

camelotbuildingsroofs

At one point, still following the horizon for the orange-tracked, abandoned rollercoaster, Ben stopped. ‘There’s a car,’ he said.

What?’ But a few steps later and I saw what he was talking about. It was parked in a secluded corner that you had to pass to get to the rusted ride.

What do we do?’ he asked. ‘Keep going? Run?’

Keep going,’ I told him. ‘It’s done now.’

There were a few possibilities here, one was that nothing would happen and no one would be in it. Running was still an option. A moment later a small man in a suit got out the car and demanded to know what we were doing on the site.

Just looking around,’ I said.

Come on,’ said Ben, irritated by the guy’s hostile approach and expression. ‘We’re not doing any harm. We haven’t broken in. We just walked in. What’s the problem?’

It’s private property,’ said the man.

Who owns it?’ I asked.

The man looked slightly taken aback. He searched his memory but found nothing decisive in response.

It’s abandoned,’ said Yuri. ‘Look at it,’ his tone a little less calming than ours. Rather than talk to the security guard further he ignored him and walked on while me and Ben negotiated. That was fine. His reaction was perfectly reasonable. Why should he trouble himself over an aggravated man that harasses him simply for walking?

We were just looking around,’ I repeated. ‘It’s an interesting looking place, isn’t it? You must admit.’

He didn’t. He tutted.

Don’t tut. That’s rude. Why are you being rude?’ I asked. ‘There’s no need is there? What am I doing wrong?’

The man’s manner changed slightly, he seemed smaller; the power dynamic was shifting, he was on the back foot and had started to feel a little self conscious for approaching the situation like an asshole. This was probably made all the worse as it became clear that a polite conversation would have done fine, that his brief adrenaline rush was misplaced and that he had very little to assert himself with once the initial barrage of stern facing and security guard swagger had failed.

We’re not doing anybody any harm. We’re just walking around. We’ll be gone soon, no harm. Why don’t you let us wander around for another five minutes then we’ll be off.’

He permitted the five minutes but asked us not to exceed it or else he’d be punished. We thanked him and then walked around the rusted coils, the rising and falling metal of the old rollercoaster. Not long after that we started a slow walk out. On the way past, we spoke to him briefly. He’d warmed to us significantly since our first meeting and we chatted a little about the situation. He laughed with us. We complimented his job; basically sitting in a car, chilling, watching movies on his phone, providing ‘security’ for an empty theme park that was falling apart.

camelotcoaster

Funny that an abandoned place needs security at all. One of those base contradictions. Let people do what people are going to do. If they’re going to explore an abandoned theme park, let them. They only want to demolish it for flats anyway. Surprise. So, what difference does it make? Let fools explore if they want and if during the course of that exploration they hurt themselves, so be it. Monkeys have been getting themselves into capers like this since the dawn of time. It’s a risk you accept on entry. Nature of the game.

We walked across the pot marked car park, the white plywood spires behind us—more like an imitation Disney Land than an imitation castle—and on the way to the car we knew our last adventure was past.

Ahead of us nothing but parallel lines and miles and miles of road, nothing but money calculations, job searches and unanswered application forms. The sheer soul crushing boredom of it all. It can be hard just to keep above the rising ocean of general anxiety and malaise. It’s hard to shake the sense that everything is mediocre and banal.

We’d just travelled back from a place where we had sat on a cliff side watching a lighthouse while the pulses of other lighthouses lit on islands  in the distance, where we’d gone on a drive and crossed under the arches of five separate rainbows. Rainbows that looked like bridges between mountains.  Waterfalls gurgled down hillsides and off mountains on the dry days and rushed on rainy ones and if you were there long enough you could see the living land change in front of you.

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Familiar Strangers in an Abandoned Missile Testing Site – Loch Long – From Home to End – 15

 

lochlongsite

On the way out of the Highlands we decided to detour to Long Loch to visit the abandoned missile testing ground. It served us well again. As the Highland Gods demand sacrifices they also bestow gifts of experience. Loch Long was a spur of the moment long shot we decided to explore first time around and it paid off with a concrete pier over the water, the orange remains of the rusted frame that once covered it still visible; burnt out walls, struts covered with mussels. A structure like we hadn’t seen before. That time we expected nothing and this time we expected nothing. In a sense, it was a detour for Ben to see a sick exploration site, dissimilar to the others we’d checked out together.

Me and Yuri walked along to the end of the pier while Ben took a slower look around taking photos. When we turned around we saw that someone had approached him and as we came closer we heard their conversation.

‘So you boys have come all the way from England, aye?’

‘Yeah,’ said Ben.

‘Where you been?’

‘All the way up. All through the Highlands and that. All the way to the top.’

‘No! We haven’t even done that,’ and the stranger called to his friend. ‘These lads have been all the way North. They been road tripping through the Highlands.’

His friend, carrying a bag and a fishing rod, popped round the corner, ‘Oh aye?’

‘Aye,’ said the guy.

‘We haven’t even done that.’

lochlongwalkway

The guy who first introduced himself to Ben was the more talkative of the two. He was Scott and his friend was Connor. Together they were an intriguing double; Scott, the extrovert, curious about people, very enthusiastic, a story-teller and then Connor, quiet, laidback, not in the least intense, but a funny presence. Scott asked us, ‘So, you boys just been driving around, wild camping and that?’

‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘Couple of campsites but mostly just wherever we end up.’

‘That’s great, aye. That’s great.’

‘What you driving?’

‘Nissan Micra,’ Yuri said.

They burst out laughing. So did we.

‘Around these hills,’ asked Scott, ‘cramped up in a Nissan Micra?’

‘Yeah.’

‘You fight over who rides shotgun all the time?’

‘It’s ok. We’ve all pretty well found our place. Each seat has its perks,’ I told them.

‘So what, just the three of you—no parents or anything?’ Scott asked.

‘Yep.’

‘Nice. You boys bring a bit of green?’

That there, amongst a certain people, in a certain generation—amongst these people, and during this generation—is the ultimate ice breaker. Now both parties, previously strangers, have their suspicions about the others confirmed. At least marginally. Now the jam can begin. And maybe that seems strange, but really, in that exchange a lot is transmitted. In answering yes some of your character is revealed; you are most probably anti-authority, certainly you have a unique will and won’t be cowed from a thing simply because of its legality. In this way it shows independence of thought. Beyond that a bunch of other guesses can reasonably be surmised.

I grinned. ‘Yeah,’ I said, ‘Of course.’

Scott smiled too, ‘What you got?’

‘Just some cheese.’

‘Aye, that’s nice. I’ve just got some bog standard stuff. It doesn’t smell like much but it gets the job done.’

‘That’s all you need.’

‘Aye. Well, why don’t you stay while we fish. We got music—what music do you boys like? Bob Marley?—got this boombox here,’ he motioned to a fat, battery powered speaker with his foot, ‘We’ll have a smoke, have a chat.’

And so we smoked our last joint while Scott and Connor smoked their’s. We watched Connor cast a line and a minute later reel in five mackerel. I’d never seen anything like it. He cast again and almost without fail, 30 seconds or a minute later he’d pull in another few.

lochlonggraf

Scott talked about the bears that once lived in the woods around here, talked about what it must have been like in Scotland when Robert the Bruce was alive, how plentiful the fish must have been here, the abundance of wildlife and the true state of wilderness. He talked about life in Glasgow, where he said, ‘See, thing about Scotland is, you walk out your door and there’s a pretty good chance some cunt’s gonna stab ya.’

He described the fake gangstas and the real ones, about how every so often someone goes missing—they’ve been blagging too much, hyping themselves up too much, driving around in the tinted window four by fours, wandering around with the big chains. They end up somewhere out in the Highlands in a shallow grave. Barely a two hour drive. Convenience.

‘What about the real gangstas?’

‘They’re probably driving around in a Nissan Micra.’

Jump cut to a blue Nissan Micra bouncing through Portree, three skinny guys bumping Tupac inside loud enough to shake you in your seat.

Asked about Scottish independence he said, ‘Ach, I don’t know. I don’t know about that sort of thing. I don’t know what Scotland would do on its own though.’

‘Aye. We got the oil at least,’ said Connor.

‘True,’ I said. ‘But it’s the English that financed all the equipment and shit. And you know how we get about oil. We ain’t gonna let you keep all that. You might have an invasion going down before long.’

lochlonggrafeye

They asked us what made us go on this trip. ‘People,’ I said. ‘Mostly we just wanted to be away from people.’

‘What, like, pals back home, family?’ asked Scott.

‘Nah, nah. I mean, not specific people. People as a whole. Civilisation.’

‘Ah,’ he said. Now he understood. ‘The dream. We’re the same really. Keep a low profile back home, stay lowkey, avoid all the cunts, then come out here to recharge whenever we can. How old are you boys?’

We told them.

‘Aye, same as us really. It’s funny how you meet the same types of people as you all around.’

That was the most striking thing. In this way it was heart warming. It was as if we’d bumped into our Glaswegian counterparts. Their philosophy on life was very similar, how they spent their leisure time, their desire for peace, to avoid the chaos and the nonsense, their preference for marijuana, their love of nature and the land.

We left having met two people who we shared a strange connection with for a while. Surreal, almost. We didn’t shake hands. They’d caught such an abundance of mackerel they were throwing them back and consequently had fish-slimed fingers. We fist bumped and went on our way. As we left Loch Long we beeped the horn a few times in honour of our meeting and departure. What are the chances of meeting those people? Honestly, I don’t know if it is the Highland Gods or if it’s the Gods of the Road, but whatever the case, they pull the strings together and tune serendipity as well as misfortune.

lochlongview

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