Girly road trip: Scotland’s tropics, epic pics

Last summer I stopped by the set of Indiana Jones and went to the southernmost point of Scotland. And, yes, changed my dress along the way for the sake of variety.

Glasgow city centre had been remade as New York in 1969(?), so I plumped for my short, retro minidress. It was about 7am on a Sunday morning, and I managed to sweet-talk the bemused and baffled security people into letting me slip past the gates for a couple of minutes to get some shots in – I didn’t chance my luck by walking onto the main set, but I think I did well enough.

This is the face of someone who got up way too early.

I think the guards took it well – I mean, they’re paid a pittance, and they’re not expecting a crossdresser turning up first thing on a Sunday to prance about in heels around their workplace. As for the film, I’m kinda shrugface about seeing it; I’m pretty much done with seeing my childhood heroes return to TV or cinemas looking and acting all old, sad, and tired.

Ailsa Craig: Imagine the screeching of car tyres, me hopping out, a quick photo being taken, then leaping back into the car and driving off with squealing tyres and a roaring engine.

We stopped off for an impromptu shot of the island of Ailsa Craig just off the Ayshire coast before arriving at Logan Botanical Garden on the Mull of Galloway. I gather it’s in some sort of microclimate, and on a good summer’s day resembles the Isles of Scilly rather than Scotland…

This is the front gate…
Hello there!
Wonderwall?

My dress was rather short. I’d try to pull the hem down a bit, but there’s not actually any more hem to pull down. So I have to walk and pose carefully, lest I flash my knickers at unsuspecting passers-by. Reader, I flashed my knickers at unsuspecting passers-by. And because this was a botanic garden in the middle of nowhere on a Sunday, the others were all pensioners: goggle-eyed old men and their disapproving wives ushering them away from the brazen hussy in the slutty dress (“This way, Gerald! It’s more civilised over here!”)

Left: this is what I look like when I’m chasing Jeff Goldblum in a jeep. Right: FILTH, sheer filth, and I’d do it again.

The gardens featured a few novelties, like a tyrannosaurus made out of growing tree branches, and large phallic-shaped flowers that were begging for suggestive photos. I have to say, photos aside, that it was the perfect day to visit and I’d go there again – it’s got all the tropical appeal of a foreign holiday, yet it’s all within a morning’s drive from Edinburgh…

Got wood?
Sploosh
I see London, I see France…

Just a little bit further south (and one change of dress later) is the Mull of Galloway lighthouse, the southernmost tip of the Scottish mainland. It’s characterised by steep cliffs and a touristy cafe which might have steep prices, but I can’t honestly tell you (for these trips we bring picnic lunches…).

I’ve got this thing about great heights and steep drops: it’s not vertigo, it’s more a sense that I love the view but a fucked-up little voice in my head keeps saying “jump… just jump.. do it… wheee! end it…. splat.. go on… jump…” and I find myself staying well away from the edge.

My other worry was gusts of wind threatening to make my dress lift up and make me Marilyn Monroe in front of everyone else.

Just the tip: the Mull of Galloway

Otherwise, it’s not a place you’re likely to spend a huge amount of time. We headed back up to Castle Kennedy, a ruin with fabulous gardens. Fabulous gardens you say? Time to strike some fabulous poses and ignore the families on their day out from Glasgow…

Wrecked

There’s a lot to explore in the estate: colourful walled gardens, a lake, art features, bridges and walking paths all over the place. We could stroll about at a gentle pace. It wasn’t hugely busy, and it made for a relaxing end to the day out. (The journey home was enlivened by a prick in a sports car being chased by the police along the M74 and pulled over – seeing that kind of quick karma was the cherry on the cake of a great day out!)

Adding a bit of colour
Fucking roasting
Wish you were here?

Girly road trip: what’s in for you at Inverewe

I like to get around a bit. Travelling, I mean. So one challenge I occasionally give myself is to see how far I can travel in a day in girly mode before a combination of tiredness and beard growth ruins the effect.

I fucking love an exciting road trip.

Last year I figured we could get to Inverewe garden, which is way up in the remote north-west of Scotland, and stop off at any scenic points of interest along the way. To get this done in a single day, we had to leave at sparrowfart, aka “silly o’clock”, aka “what the hell time do you call this?” We had a picnic breakfast halfway up the A9 between Edinburgh and Inverness. You don’t do a trip like this for the glamour…

Gorge-ous.

Our first scenic stop was Corrieshalloch Gorge, where I found out two things:

  • it was impossible to get a photo that showed both me and the sheer depth of the gorge in the same shot; and
  • other people were dressed in sturdy hiking boots and waterproof gear – I was the only one who’s chosen to wear a cardigan and fabulous dress (which nicely hid my struggle with lockdown flab).
An Teallach is a mountain whose name makes English-speakers sound like they’re talking with their mouth full.

The only other scenic stop was an impromptu pause at the roadside to get a view of proper highland wilderness. I figured this trip was likely to be a one-and-only-chance to get photos at these places, so I became more vigilant for epic views.

Yes, I always check the weather before risking a long road trip…

Inverewe garden takes advantage of a microclimate just off the Gulf Stream, so it has a whole load of tropical plants growing there. We’d been there a few years earlier when the ‘North Coast 500‘ had just been established, and we could now see hints that over the pandemic some parts of the garden’s upkeep must’ve been less of a priority (we explored the whole lot). That’s not to say it was overgrown or ruined – far from it! – simply that a few bits simply weren’t as pristine as they used to be.

Yes, this is the north-west coast of Scotland. No, I can’t believe it either.

Naturally, I can’t do photos without acting like a daft arse, so here you go:

Aw man that’s some good shit right there, BRING THE POLLEN! BRING THE HAYFEVER!!!
I’m all about boobs and plants, yo.
Apparently it is easy being green after all

It took hours to get there, so with the knowledge that it’d take hours to get back home we had to head back after lunchtime and take advantage of whatever scenic views we could get on the way. We’d also been incredibly fortunate with the weather. Not bad for the first girly road trip since before Covid-19!

Gairloch: I’m sure there are gayer lochs, but I don’t know where they are.
Loch Bad an Sgalaig is another challenge for people who don’t speak Gaelic… (Google Translate says it means “patch the scalp” which leaves me none the wiser)
Loch Maree: I don’t think I was supposed to be here.

Our last stop was at Loch Maree where I’d spotted a pier at a scenic viewpoint on the online maps. When we got there we found the short driveway down to the lochside was barred by a locked gate. Yet another car was parked there and a family swimming in the loch.

We went down to take photos, and the family group all got out of the water, flustered, and in a hurry to leave. I suspect they – like us – were chancing it, and we were all tresspassing.

What the hell. I got the photo I was after. But in a moment of stupidity I left my sunglasses on the pier. They’re probably still there for all I know.

So much for “take only photos, leave only memories”!

Girly road trip: Dumbarton rocks?

A couple of years back I went on a day trip with one of my friends to Dumbarton, on the grounds that I hadn’t been there before and I also wanted to get some photos from around the west of Scotland for a change.

I have mastered the single entendre.

I wear my history nerdishness lightly, but I’ve long been interested in Dumbarton Rock, which was the last northern stronghold of the ancient Britons to fall to the Vikings in the eighth century (welcome to my blog; come for the crossdressing, stay for the history!).

It was a good day for it, and we could see for miles all around from Glasgow to Holy Loch and Benmore. It’s easy to see why there’s always been one castle or another here over the centuries (the name comes from Gaelic ‘Dùn Breatann‘, or ‘Fort of the Britons’). It had a garrison of soldiers until World War 2, but now most of it’s a mishmash of fortifications, old storage buildings, and ruins.

Inspired by the Greek myth of Andromeda. And bondage.

Aside from cannons serving purely decorative purposes, there are still mysterious remnants, like large metal rings embedded in the rockface. were they used for ropes to haul ammo and food around? Or flags? Or to anchor things in place? (I found my own uses.)

Flagging a bit in the high winds…

The top of the rock was exposed to high winds blowing off the Atlantic, so I’m glad I had a hair band clasping my wig to my head. Fortunately my friend was a photographer and worked out how to get the best shots…

The only spot on Dumbarton Rock without wind…

We had a short picnic in the sun on one of the battlements and pottered about the surviving buildings. The place works well for a short blast of fresh air and exercise!

Getting carried away?

At this pandemic-y moment in 2022 (in Scotland at least), most of my friends are still wary about travelling and mingling too much, but when things improve, you’d better believe I’ll be posting more travels around the country!
(Edited to add: HOLY SHIT THIS IS MY BLOG’S TENTH ANNIVERSARY POST!)

Dumbarton rocks!

Strange new worlds 2: morning star

First thing in the morning is a great time for photography for all sorts of reasons. For one thing, there’s the ‘golden hour’ after sunrise when the light is just perfect. For another, there are fewer people around to stare at you prancing about in a silver catsuit.

I’ve written previously about cosplaying as a retro astronaut, and there are a whole bunch of places where I could – with minimal photoshopping – make places in Scotland look like they were on another planet. I’m pretty sure the people who witnessed me wondered what planet I was on, too…

Sometimes the weird shit requires quite a tightly-focused angle. I ventured to Edinburgh’s Sheraton Hotel early on a Saturday morning to twitch my bumcheeks at guests having breakfast, posing beside artistic stone spheres and a hemisphere covered in shiny tiles. (These had seen better days; the trick was to find an angle where the gaps wouldn’t be seen, and to hide the abandoned fencing where posters had been hung to advertise shows during the recently-completed summer Festivals.)

The location in the city centre meant parking the car where I probably shouldn’t (just as well the traffic was light at sunrise on a Saturday morning!) And being in the city centre, it meant pulling on my go-go boots whilst weekend workers ambled past on their way to their workplaces. You can see why I don’t do this sort of thing at rush hour…

Another thing I sometimes have to pay attention to is the tide. (I’ve done this for various swimsuit shoots at Dunbar, for a Baywatch-themed shoot, and at a ruined lido in Fife.) If there’s one thing this has taught me – balancing tides with weather conditions – it’s patience and making the most of whatever you’re presented with.

For the spacey shots, the causeway to Cramond Island in the Firth of Forth resembled – to my feverish, teenage-geek-brain – the ruins of a long lost civilisation. (In reality, anti-submarine defences from the last century.) On this morning, there were a few more people walking about but the tide had only just receded far enough to make the causeway passable, so I had it to myself.

Some mornings you just have to take a chance. When it’s misty or foggy, you might get ‘moody’ or ‘atmospheric’ shots. And by happy chance you might get some epic, backlit clouds. At Arthur’s Seat (also in Edinburgh’s city centre), I got a few mountainous-looking photos in fog lit by the dawn sun. There was one old guy out walking his dog who asked if I was taking these photos for a Festival Fringe show.

I lied and said yes. (I’ve used this lie before.)

Sometimes, if it’s harmless and lets you get on with your day, it’s best to let people believe what they want to believe.

Of course, I’ve done a bunch of night-time photoshoots too (but that’s something for a whole ‘nother blog!)…

This is actually right outside a hotel’s breakfast room…
Pew! Pew!
Minimal photoshopping required…
Some days you get lucky with the view…
A water treatment plant. The smile is forced.

Girly road trip: Getting old rocks!

Now that more of us are getting fully vaccinated, the small pocket of the world I’m living in is opening up a bit more (at least, In July 2021; nothing is guaranteed these days!). For the first time in far, far too long, I’ve been on a road trip with friends.

Everyone I know has had their own heavy shit to deal with, on top of living through a pandemic: jobs; income; living situation; giving or receiving care; bereavement. It’s been constant disruption and ongoing feeling of impermanence about everything. (I went through a lot of disruption a couple of years back; in some ways, it helped prepare me emotionally for life in the age of Covid.)

So when I had the chance to go on a fossil-hunting girly road trip, you’re damn right I took it!

Why yes, my pasty arms and legs *did* get burnt to fuck.

We went to Eyemouth to potter about the beach and cliffs and have a picnic in the sun and try to ignore the noise of young families playing on the sand (because nothing wrecks a day out like the sound of small children enjoying themselves, am I right? No? Just me? Okay then, moving on…).

I wasn’t sure what my fossil-hunting outfit should be, so I raided my wardrobe’s recesses for stuff I haven’t worn much (but can still fit into), which had a summery, casual vibe. My pallid legs are a goddamn battlefield of ingrown hairs, but there wasn’t much I could do about that.

Getting my rocks off…

Eyemouth is next door to St Abbs (where I visited on a girly road trip before). It’s pretty small: an old fishing village with a harbour, an abandoned fort, and a museum. It can make for a pleasant place to stop by and take in the views from the clifftops.

Every time I go somewhere with a cannon I must mount it suggestively IT IS THE LAW

Further back up the coast, at Barns Ness lighthouse by Dunbar, is a geologist’s wonderland of ancient rocks, layered and eroded by time. These rocks were last on the surface about 300-350 million years ago (give or take, but what’s a few million years between friends?). My travelling companions knew what to look for and pointed out the fossils that could be found here.

Forget trilobites and ammonites; forget mundane Tyrannosaur footprints or Liopleurodon bones – this is the opening of the gates to Carboniferous Park! [cue John Williams music] What you can find here are trace fossils – the remnants of trails made by tiny slithering things in ancient mud. And maybe imprints left behind by shells. But you know what, sod it: I found my own fossils and had a great day out with friends.

Eat your heart out, Laura Dern…

Catching up with people again after we’d all been frozen in social carbonite during lockdown was a funny experience: we’d all grown a bit older, but the time apart hadn’t changed the friendships and we had a great time catching up.

In 2021, I think I’m less bothered about things than I used to be. Maybe it’s an age thing; maybe it’s a result of the times we’re living through.

I’ve started growing my hair out (complete with funky grey streaks, like I’m about to fight in the Thunderdome). Partly because I’ve never had long hair and I want to see what it’s like (before it inevitably thins out and leaves my scalp looking like a cue ball); but also because just as I’m getting older, so’s my Twist stuff. The wig is starting to come apart a little bit more each time I take it out (I’ve had it since 2009!), and it might not be too long before I have to go out in Twist mode with my natural hair (I’m gonna dye that sucker; don’t expect to see Twist as a little old lady with grey hair any time soon!).

My workmates on video meetings have seen me grow my hair through various stages:

  • rakish “Harrison Ford circa 1980”
  • Frodo Baggins
  • washed-up 1970s rock singer
  • currently at Will Turner in Pirates of the Carribean length (“Ugh! Ponytail!”)
  • give it a few months and it’ll be interchangeable between boy mode and girl mode
  • if I get to 1980s-hair-metal-band length, I will have acheived my final form and will sing the song that ends the world (which could be any song, given my singing voice…)

Video meetings are also great because during the heatwave I’ve been able to work in my baking hot room in a skirt and nobody’s been any the wiser (or, in colder months, sporty leggings and pink hoodie). I don’t think I’d’ve had the confidence to do any of that when I was younger. I guess age helps me adopt a more laid-back attitude – a better perspective on what matters, what doesn’t, and when to just go with your sense of whimsy.

I’m slowly and steadily shedding my lockdown flab. I’m fully vaccinated. I’m making plans to go on more day trips and picnics with people. I have a garden with a firepit, and I’ve had friends around for food, drink, and toasted marshmallows. Everyone who’s important in my life is still in it. I’m going to carry on switching into ‘Twist mode’. Looking at what I’ve got, instead of what I might be missing, I can’t complain!

Where things go from here is anybody’s guess, but I’ve got a pretty decent starting point. I’m a 44-year-old guy and I reckon I’m having the bestest midlife crisis ever.

As David Bowie put it:
“Aging is an extraordinary process whereby you become the person you always should have been.”

“The sun has got his hat on…” (I take my hat off to him.)