Summerwater | Book Review

Summerwater

Sarah Moss

Picador

ISBN: 9781529035438

£14.99

She must turn back. She can hear her children turning in their beds, scent their morning breath, feel on her fingers the roughness of their uncombed hair. There’ll be small bare feet on that carpet, small morning erections in dinosaur pyjamas. She’ll just go to that bay ahead, where the loch laps boulders and tree roots under the fog, a tenderness between water and land that’s almost a beach, and she’ll pause there, a moment’s triumph before she turns back.

Review

I was in Kirkcudbright for the day a few months ago and happened to notice Gallovidia Books, a picturesque little independent bookshop on the main street. As you often find in these places, the staff are immensely knowledgeable, and upon picking up ‘Summerwater’ by Sarah Moss I was informed that it was a clever and absorbing read that the assistant had himself only just finished.

Continue reading “Summerwater | Book Review”

Balmaha to Inverarnan | West Highland Way (curtailed!)

Disaster struck on day three of our journey north up the West Highland Way. We couldn’t have asked for better weather – mist hung low over Loch Lomond as we ate breakfast at a fantastic little B & B at Balmaha. We were confident that it would burn off under the morning sun, and so it proved as we began the hardest day of the walk – twenty-one miles up the east side of the loch.

During preparation for the West Highland Way I had given myself problems with blisters on my feet. I thought I had given myself enough rest time for them to heal up and be ready for the ninety-six miles of the way. Upon the descent from Conic Hill, however, the tell-tale signs of blisters began to appear, not helped by my over-compensating in my stance. Sure enough, the evening removing-of-the-boots revealed the worst (a full description of which I will not sully your day with here). Polysporin was applied liberally overnight, but after three miles of significant pain along a beautiful coastal path, I was forced to abandon the journey.

I was heartbroken at having to stop, and tried to continue several times before coming to the sensible decision. My father and brother went on and completed the walk in unbroken, glorious sunshine over the next five days. I met them in Fort William on the Sunday and was by equal turns pleased for them and green with jealously. My foot has just about healed up and I’m walking with very minimal pain. The WHW will remain an unscratched itch for me meantime, but one that I will attempt again, with slightly better planning! My brother sportingly agreed to write the blog for the journey from Balmaha to Inverarnan below:


Balmaha was deserted as we set off from the village in early morning. The village itself is nestled at the south-eastern tip of the Loch, and the day’s route stretched 20.5 miles up its shore. 

An unseasonably hot sun cut through the soft haze and warmed our backs for the first few miles. A short distance in, though, and we had to stop. 20 miles of friction had turned my brother’s toe into one giant blister, and it became clear that the next 70 were no longer possible. Frantic phone calls were made as his little toe quietly oozed pus at the side of the road until a lift was arranged. My father and I reluctantly left my brother at the side of the road, to hobble his way back to Balmaha. 

It was ten o’clock and only three miles had been covered, so we hardened our hearts and lengthened our stride as the path undulated through native woodland. The canopy provided welcome shelter from the sun, but our t-shirts were stuck to our backs before long.

Seven miles in and we reached Rowardennan, little more than a couple of houses and a hotel. The path rose; the Loch was soon far below and the Arrochar Alps crept towards us on the opposite bank. Beinn Ime, Ben Vane, Ben Vorlich – all were snow-streaked and forbidding, but fell behind us as the afternoon passed.

After 14 miles the path degenerated to a scramble, squeezing between boulders and tree trucks, and we used our hands as often as our feet. 17 miles in and I allowed my mind to drift to our destination, the Drovers Inn, for the first time. But the going was slow, tired legs and feet combined with the punishing path to drive our pace down. 19 miles, and the pleasant Loch Lomond had turned into the Loch That Wouldn’t End. The sun sank below the mountains to our left. Our total mileage for the day, 20.5 miles, came and went without the Inn in sight. The Loch had ended but it was replaced with low bracken-clad hills that hid any view of our progress. The last of the daylight faded, and we were walking into the dusk, contemplating whether we should start using a torch, when the light of the inn appeared in the distance. After 22.5 miles, we stumbled into the Inn and put up our feet, suddenly very cheerful. We never did find out where the extra two miles came from.

*Thanks for reading, folks. Recent stories of mine include ‘Water Memory‘ and ‘Alder, Beech, Hawthorn, and Hazel‘.


Matthew Richardson is a writer of short stories. His work has featured in Gold Dust magazine, Literally Stories, Close to the Bone, McStorytellers, Penny Shorts, Soft Cartel, Whatever Keeps the Lights On, Flashback Fiction, Cafelit, Best MicroFiction 2021, Writer’s Egg, and Shooter magazine. He is a doctoral student at the University of Dundee, a lucky husband, and a proud father. He blogs at www.matthewjrichardson.com and tweets at https://twitter.com/mjrichardso0

Drymen to Balmaha – West Highland Way

Day two of my journey up the West Highland Way, and with the addition of a couple of nasty blisters I headed Northwards after an on-the-go breakfast of a sausage and egg roll from The Drymen Inn – excellent value and they provided it to go.

The journey out of Drymen took us east and then north, through fields and clusters of woodland. Before long, the protagonist of today’s leg took up centre stage on the horizon – the long, humpbacked shape of Conic Hill. The weather had been kind again, and a haze hung low over Loch Lomond in the morning heat. There was not a breath of wind.

Eventually, the climb up Conic began, and it was not long before we were rewarded with views of the still snow-laden Ben Lomond further up the Loch, and Beinn Ime across in the Arrochar Alps. The paths on the West Highland Way have so far been in excellent condition, and Conic Hill saw the first signs of erosion, no doubt due to the high amount of footfall.

There were plenty of places to stop and admire the view, with only the birds of prey wheeling above us having a better view. The path got rather busier as we neared the summit – the route from Balmaha is a popular day trek for many – and upon reaching the top my blisters were starting to nip. Nevertheless, I soldiered on over quite a steep descent. There were plenty of opportunities to turn an ankle in the loose scree, and I had reached the treeline befire I was on safe ground once more.

So it was, then, that with weary feet and sore knees I made my way to our B and B for the night. A lovely meal of fish and chips at the Oak Tree Inn topped the day of nicely. Tomorrow will be a bit of a slog – twenty-one miles up the east side of Loch Lomond…

Milngavie to Drymen – West Highland Way

Following years of idle discussion about walking the West Highland Way, my brother, father and I eventually got organised this year and decided to walk the 96-mile route from lowlands to highlands in Scotland.

Winding its way from suburban Milngavie, via the winding banks of Loch Lomond, over desolate Rannoch Moor, up the Devil’s Staircase, and finally to Fort William in the shadow of Ben Nevis, the WHW is a rite of passage for many Scots. We decided to spare ourselves the ordeal of carrying camping equipment with us, and rather make use of Scotland famous B & B accommodation over the seven-day journey.

Beginning under the underwhelming ‘West Highland Way’ metallic sign in Milngavie, we wound our way through Mugdock Country Park, gradually leaving behind the dog walkers and Monday morning joggers.  We have been exceptionally lucky with weather so far – mid March is right on the boundary of recommended WHW traversing – and the weak spring sun shone down on all all day. Buzzards swung overhead as we walked. The trail really is excellently preserved, with little or no need to use maps to keep on route.

Past Farmhouse and quarry, wishing well and well-kept woodland we walked, until after a quick twelve miles we came to our repose for the night – the Clachan Inn, reputedly the oldest licensed public house in Scotland. Food at the aforementioned was excellent, and the low-slung building very atmospheric, although not as (reputedly) haunted as some of out forthcoming accommodation will be. Tomorrow will be a slightly more sedate wander into Balmaha, before the gruelling twenty-miler up the east Bank of Loch Lomond…

The Wind off the Clyde

Only the cut-glass wind and a cloud-wreathed Christmas Eve moon trouble the dark surface of the Clyde.

In the wee hours, river-cold coils around the destitute, their blankets threadbare and their cardboard ragged. They look northwards not for St. Nicholas but for the Campsies, black against the breaking dawn.

*Thanks for reading, folks. Image courtesy of Wikipedia. Visit Shelter if you can donate anything this Christmas. Recent stories of mine include ‘Something Borrowed, Something New‘ and ‘Alder, Beech, Hawthorn, and Hazel‘.


Matthew Richardson is a writer of short stories. His work has featured in Gold Dust magazine, Literally Stories, Close to the Bone, McStorytellers, Penny Shorts, Soft Cartel, Whatever Keeps the Lights On, Flashback Fiction, Cafelit, Best MicroFiction 2021, Writer’s Egg, and Shooter magazine. He is a doctoral student at the University of Dundee, a lucky husband, and a proud father. He blogs at www.matthewjrichardson.com and tweets at https://twitter.com/mjrichardso0

Bustle and Beat | Haiku

Good morning folks,

I was out in my garden this week when a skein of geese flew overhead. The sight always reminds me of The Book of Merlyn in T. H. White’s The Once and Future King and Lyo-Lyok the goose talking to Wart on the mudflats about freedom and war. White was a passionate bird watcher and his enthusiasm is apparent in what is a beautiful piece of writing. The slim ‘v’ in the sky provided the inspiration for this set of haiku.

Bustle

Bustle, bill, and honk.

Restlessness on the mudflats.

A glance, a stretch, flight.

Beat

A white-fronted front,

Chevroned against the turquoise.

Wings beating northbound.

Things I’ve read this week…

Chris Hall’s ‘The Facility‘ microfiction series is a wonderfully dark and twisted dystopian tale. She is not new to keeping her readers hooked through these series, with each snippet having its own narrative arc within the wider story. She makes us feel the white tiles and dull chrome of the The Facility. She makes us smell the disinfectant and hear the echoes in the long, stark corridors. Wonderful stuff.

Chris Terrell’s commentary on choice of subject for sketching is a lovely insight on an artist’s process. I had a look through Chris’s work and loved it.

*Thanks for reading, folks. Images courtesy of Wikipedia and Pixabay.*


Matthew Richardson is a writer of short stories. His work has featured in Gold Dust magazine, Literally Stories, Close to the Bone, McStorytellers, Penny Shorts, Soft Cartel, Whatever Keeps the Lights On, Flashback Fiction, Cafelit, Best MicroFiction 2021, and Shooter magazine. He is a doctoral student at the University of Dundee, a lucky husband, and a proud father. He blogs at www.matthewjrichardson.com and tweets at https://twitter.com/mjrichardso0

Splay and Spate | Haiku

Good morning folks,

amidst the heat, a couple of waterborne haiku to keep you cool…

Splay

Mist-borne, gully-birthed.

A glance below, a damp breath…

White splayed over grey.

Spate

River-worn and time-scoured.

Cast aside by spates gone by.

Waiting for Fall’s rush.

Things I’ve read this week

One of the benefits of being part of Ayr Writer’s Club over the past year has been being introduced to other authors’ writing. It really is a talented group of people, demonstrated by the awards won at the Scottish Association of Writers 2021. Marion Husband’s ‘Explore Govan‘ is a product of one such writer. I lived within spitting distance of Govan for five years, and there are myriad gems in this little book which surprised me. Marion’s tour takes us from Govan Ferry to the Riverside Museum, from Elder Park Library to Govan Old Parish Church. There are so many things that I drove past on a daily basis with a past, a story. Marion brings these buildings and their history to life. This is a fantastic book for those visiting the area, and indeed for those more au fait with Govan.

E.E.Rhodes’ ‘Self/Less‘ won the Federation of Writers Vernol Equinox competition, and it’s easy to see why. In form and language, it really is a beautiful piece of writing – five minutes of your life well spent.

*Thanks for reading, folks. Images are my own and are taken from near Steall Falls, Glen Nevis. My recent writing includes ‘Night at Kinlochleven‘ and ‘HMS Cleopatra‘.


Matthew Richardson is a writer of short stories. His work has featured in Gold Dust magazine, Literally Stories, Close to the Bone, McStorytellers, Penny Shorts, Soft Cartel, Whatever Keeps the Lights On, Flashback Fiction, Cafelit, and Shooter magazine. He is a doctoral student at the University of Dundee, a lucky husband, and a proud father. He blogs at www.matthewjrichardson.com and tweets at https://twitter.com/mjrichardso0.

Night at Kinlochleven | Short Story

Cheap pitches. Free showers. View of the loch. Save for the omnipresent midge, there seems little reason not to stop at Kinlochleven campsite. Strange then that no-one stays a second night.

Looking west along Loch Leven as the sun dives horizonwards, the summits seem benevolent, cradling the little town in a gnarled embrace. Binnein Mor, Na Gruagaichean, Am Bodach, Sgùrr a’ Mhàim and more lie in wooded repose lochside, benign under the last sideways-slung rays. This dying of the light is picturesque to be sure, reaching up into the loch. Weary trekkers and wellness bloggers snap pictures for their Instagram accounts, their eyes on their phones whilst locals search the gullies, the craggy overhangs.

It is not the dusk that the townsfolk are wary of. At least, not the dusk alone. It is a stillness in the evening air, a sense of heavy dreichness. The villagers can sense it. They close their doors over softly and stuff dishcloths and rags in the loose window frames. Curtains are drawn, lights dimmed.

Continue reading “Night at Kinlochleven | Short Story”