Musings about wanderings

Month: June 2019

The Importance of Ritual 15JUN19

I’ve been considering getting a record player and joining the vinyl resurgence. Objectively I don’t need one, all my music is ripped to a NAS drive and I listen through out the house on a Sonos. I still buy CDs but usually the only time they end up in a player is to rip them. And although the loudness wars have taken their toll, digital music is more robust and more pristine.

So what is it about a turntable that I want? I’ve thought about this and I believe that what I’m wanting is the ritual of listening to music.

The digital and streaming revolution has made music so ubiquitous that it has become almost meaningless. I “hear” most of my music as background noise almost. I have it on while I’m working or pottering round the house or driving. Music is not the focus of what I’m doing so I’m not concentrating on it that much. Even now, as I write this in a Starbucks, there is music on but it is in the background.

I feel this is a disservice to the music and something that I have lost. Without concentration there is no connection to the music and it loses its power. When younger I remember listening to albums, entranced by them, straining to hear every note and every subtle texture. Taking great joy in little, almost inaudible phrases. Now a track comes on and I hardly hear it at all.

So the turntable comes in here. Selecting a record to play by flipping through a physical collection, removing it from its sleeve and placing it on the player is a statement of intent. It is a ritual to put one in the mindset of wanting to listen to and concentrate on a piece of music. The ritual is a transition from whatever I was doing to being fully present for what art is to come.

This led on to some wider thinking about the importance of ritual in life. It seems to serve two purposes. As mentioned above it is about transitioning to doing some activity that requires focus. Like going to the gym where the warm up serves to becoming ready for work ahead and the cool down is a full stop on the exercise and time to reflect on what has been achieved.

The other use is to remind ourselves of something, to seek transcendence. Meditation is like this as are most religious ceremonies. An act is performed in a mindful way and through this the underlying meaning of the act is revealed. Great insight can be achieved this way.

Of course there is danger in ritual too. It can ossify in to mindless going-through-the-motions. It is like the finger pointing at the moon. We should follow the direction of the finger to see the moon but instead we focus on the finger and it somehow gains meaning on its own. Soon out back is turned on the very reason for the ritual.

So, ritual has its place and an important one at that. But it is important to focus on the deeper meaning and not the superficial act. The rituals we perform throughout the day, whether formalized or not serve to give the day a rhythm and provide places to stop and reflect.

As for the turntable, I’m still considering it but thinking about this has given me an insight in to how better to listen to the music I love. 

Glencoe 24-26MAY19

I’d planned a trip to go walking in Glencoe for the late may bank holiday but the weather wasn’t looking promising. However a wet camping trip is a chance to practice resilience.

I wanted to be on the road as early as possible so prepared the van the night before and thus it was just before 7am I was pulling out of the street and into the rush hour carpark of the bypass.

Once onto the motorways and A roads to Glencoe I made good time. There was a quick stop for a photo on the way into the Glen.

View from entrance to glen

And then I was at the car park at the foot of the walk about 9:15am. The plan was to climb the two peaks that form Buachaille Etive Berg.

I got 1km into the walk before realising that I’d forgotten my walking poles. Given that this was a steep climb I wasn’t about to continue without them so it was back to the van and then a restart.

I was a long uphill slog to the first peak and since the weather wasn’t brilliant (not raining but then entire Glen was in the clag) I didn’t tarry and headed down to the middle of the saddle for some sandwiches.

View up south peak
Cairn between peaks

Then it was on up the north peak on a steep scree filled slope. Again not much to see at the top but as I was coming down it was clearing so I got some photographs.

View down glen from north peak

Back at the van it was time for a quick bite then onto the campsite for the weekend. The weather had really cleared by this point and I was able to pitch up in bright sunshine.

I settled down to make a dent in all the reading I’d brought with me.

Saturday dawned and the weather forecast was really not good. Heavy rain starting in the morning and then on for basically the rest of the week. In anticipation of this, I pulled on the waterproofs and headed out on a walk to the nearby village of Ballachulish. A craft shop, crafts and things was the first stop and a mug was picked up that will do me very nicely for work.

After the village it was back the way and then into the Glencoe visitor centre. I watched the film for a bit then picked up a fridge magnet to add to my collection and a Baby Nessie tea infuser that will go with the mug.

It was raining quite a bit now so back to the van and settled down for more reading and listening to music. One advantage of getting away to places like Glencoe is the limited mobile coverage means Internet surfing is curtailed and you can get peace and quiet to get on with other things. Of course I picked the weekend the Prime Minster quit..

It rained all night and Sunday morning it was still chucking it down so packing up was done in the rain and everything, awning, loo, clothes were damp by the time I set off. Then it was through the clag and mist of the glen and onto the main road home. It did brighten up as I drove south and in an absolute micky take by the weather gods, the sun was out and bright when I reached home. That did mean that I got everything dried quickly.

Bad weather is part and parcel of camping and while I don’t welcome it, it just is and there is no point getting angry or wishing it away. Instead welcome it and treat it as a way to display resilience.

Of course, I’m still hoping for sun on my summer holiday.

Cragside House and River Breamish 4MAY19

I had been wanting to visit Cragside House for some time. As the home of the inventor Armstrong it is claimed to be the place where modern living began. It was the first house to be lit by hydro-electricity.

I decided to make a weekend of it and booked an overnight stay at a nearby Caravan Club site, River Breamish. And with that, it was off early and after a quick pit stop for diesel, I was on the A68 south. The road was pretty much straight there once onto the A697 thought the last few miles were over some very steep (and 3rd gear) hill.

The sun was shining as I pulled up though it was still chilly. I got the hiking boots on and headed for the water wheel and power house. The Powerhouse is a truly impressive piece of Victorian engineering and was obviously built to last as much of it looked used but not old. The powerhouse also had some interesting interactive displays on how it all worked. So there was some entertainment to be had pumping water.

The water wheel wasn’t working so from there it was on through the grounds to the Iron Bridge, rock garden and a wonderful view of the house.

Stone Bridge in the Grounds
Iron Bridge
House from Iron Bridge
Rock Garden and House

The house was open at this point so it was into the interior and a look at how life was lived in the most modern house of its time. One point that grabbed me right off was that this was the most homely stately home I’ve ever been in. Most of them seem very austere and not somewhere you could imagine people living. This on the other hand looked like the people had vacated it and left as is. The reception room and gallery were really the only places with that for-show look. A special mention must be made of the fireplace in the reception room. This was carved into the rock that the house sits on/beside.


The house contains many pieces of fantastic engineering. Besides the electricity, with so much water pressure available, other parts of the house like the lift and kitchen accessories were run hydraulically.

The day was still bright as I left the house so I set off on a lovely 6 mile walk round the estate. There was hail and rain for about five minutes but it was a great way to round off the visit.

Back in the van it was 30mins up the road to River Breamish and my home for the night. The site was pretty full and I ended up on a grass pitch which I’m less fond of but I settled down and got some music going.

The night was cold but I had the heater set to come on in the morning and as the day dawned bright and early I was off home after a lovely trip away. 

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