Saturday, 1 August 2015

Loch Lomond Island Adventure.

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For some reason I wasn't looking forward to this summer, even before July turned out to be the wettest on record for parts of Scotland. Probably because Alex has only a few Corbetts left in remote areas and doing the same familiar local hills over again didn't appeal. I've always been someone who enjoyed a wide range of sports outdoors and I'll try anything that comes along. I love new sensations. Live for them, and I've always been out of step with the various clubs I've been in because of that. Kayaking in a hillwalking club... coastal walking in a mountaineering club... Cycling in a running club...etc etc.
So I bought two inflatable kayaks, seen here. Nine foot long, two separate blow up chambers consisting of the floor in black tough plastic (which is the most likely to get holed) and a green upper section( which may keep you afloat if the bottom gets punctured, even if its just long enough to get you to shore and make repairs.
I have to thank Alan for this as he mentioned that Lidl or Aldi had them in stock for under £50 quid so I rushed down but they were all gone. I had thought of buying kayaks again but I have nowhere to store them and the inflatable models I'd seen were a few hundred pounds in price. Too much for an occasional venture on my limited budget. These were just under £70 quid each from Amazon online.
I've always believed a sense of purpose in life is the greatest gift you can give someone.
We parked at Luss and had them up and ready to go in 15 minutes. A beautiful day as usual. Saturday last week in fact. Alan already had a wetsuit and buoyancy jacket as he likes snorkeling in rivers and sea lochs and has a small motorized dinghy. I used to have two kayaks and still have all the gear gathering dust in my bedroom. Not any more. As it was a lovely hot day we didn't bother with the wetsuits but obviously life jackets or suitable buoyancy jackets are a must although these kayaks are pretty stable overall in calm conditions.
We lost no time getting out on the water and Alan soon got the hang of maneuvering about. Although not as fast as the 12 foot fiberglass kayaks I used to have these are much easier to store in the house and still get you adventurous places. They have a small detachable fin (skeg) on the bottom to keep you in a straight line. A foot pump, paddle, repair kit and instructions are included with the craft.
As the Luss Water was just around the corner we had an exploration of this quiet river system first. You can travel up as far as the wooden bridge on the edge of the village until it gets too shallow.
Used to be one of my favourites this place. Like a mini Scottish everglades.
Canada Geese overhead.
The statue of Wee Peter and Alan in a sheltered Bay.
One of Loch Lomond's many islands. There are 23 in all and everyone is a gem. I've been out here many times over the decades and they are still beautiful. A kayak is the best way to explore them as you have such freedom and can cover sizable chunks at a time. Six inches of water is all you need to get around allowing you access to some surprising places that even boats can't reach.
Getting in and out of a kayak is the hardest part however, requiring technique, and Alan soon found this out the hard way. Early days yet :o)
It didn't put him off though and he was soon back in the saddle after a quick change to dry gear. He soon swapped his "Tigger" bounce in tail first then push off approach for a more cautious entry and exit from the craft. 
Considering it was mid summer and the school holidays, Scotland's largest loch was surprisingly quiet until mid afternoon. Maybe the normal run of poor weather put people off until they realized it was turning into a great day. Light rain or drizzle never bothers most kayakers and even mist or fog can be exciting and beautiful, unlike a mountain excursion. Island hills looming out the mist can appear huge and mysterious. Wind and choppy conditions are the main drawbacks for inflatables as the speed goes right down and it's hard work.
Alan and Ben Lomond, 974 metres, Scotland's most southerly Munro. Incidentally, "The islands of Loch Lomond" by Clair Calder and Lynn Lindsay is an excellent island by island guide, I've had for decades giving the history of each individual island on the loch for anyone interested. We visited three islands during this trip, the cluster of Inchtavannach, Inchconnachan, and Inchmoan. It's no coincidence these are the three islands mentioned in the Loch Auchenfuffle chapter of my book Autohighography as I've had many great camping weekends out here before it was a National Park. I'm also pleased to report that certain exotic furry creatures, mentioned in the book, are still alive and thriving and you can still camp around the shores of these islands... at the moment.
 I've met a few people over the last few weeks that have read my book and enjoyed it so I'll plug it again. If you are interested in a slightly comical offbeat view of Scotland it may be to your taste.
Sadly the old summerhouse, which was still intact and infrequently used in the book, is now a ruin in a poor state of repair. I'm surprised it's still standing to be honest. One of the reasons for mentioning it in the book and making it a centre point in the chapter is that we experienced it right at the end of an era when it was still in good condition yet lying empty. Spooky and magical in the moonlight doing gymnastics on the lawn when I hung around with people that could still bend. The National Park did have plans to adapt it into a water headquarters at one point but must have decided it was impractical for some reason. Even in this state it still provides some shelter for island animals in grim weather when the tourists go home.
Other groups of kayaks were out, some with inflatables, which are increasingly popular, and traditional sea kayakers with their faster streamlined craft. You only really see the true beauty of Loch Lomond by boat and visiting the islands. A fact I realized only when I had a kayak the first time.
Hard framed kayaks gliding under Inchtavannach through the "Narrows."
The Narrows and old boat with trees sprouting in it. Most of the 23 islands have lovely woodlands.
Fallow deer swim from island to island occasionally. Is this Paradise? It can be when it's quiet and silent. I used to come over here in the depths of winter and have the entire loch to myself 30 years ago. It's probably just the same today out of season.
Beach stroll on Inchmoan. The sandy island mentioned in the book.
Self propulsion has a magical effect on humans. It just feel right somehow. Cycling, walking, running, kayaking, seems to hit the spot emotionally and enjoyment is almost guaranteed as a result. Well worth £70 pounds.
Great to be back in a kayak again.
Fantastic trip and company.

Heard this song decades ago on a folk compilation and it was a highlight. Still like it and the words are truer than ever today. A vastly underrated classic.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Drumelzier Highs. A Glen of Beauty and Mystery.

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On this Borders Weekend we climbed two hills on the one day,(Saturday) as we already knew bad weather and rain was forecast to arrive Sunday morning and we wanted to squeeze all the juice and the pips out of the good day. This hill doesn't even merit a name on the OS Landranger map 72, Upper Clyde Valley. It lies immediately west of Drumelzier, just above the River Tweed, at a spot height of 316 (318) metres, with an ancient fort marked on the summit. A photo taken halfway up looking northwards. It probably has a name but life is too short to spend time looking it up so let's just call it "Merlin's Triangle" for reasons which are obvious on the map. It was on Alex's list of hill ticks.
A Dolores,Dominique,Marjorie,Sereny,Wallace, Mary, Gibbons, Nesbit, Cuthbert, Evelyn or Caleb no doubt. What's really in a name anyway? It's just a convenient label to hang on things.

Somewhat wearily we pulled our boots on again for the second outing of the day. Luckily, there was a path straight up the hillside from the lay-by just where the 7 in B712 resides. (or thereabouts)
Alex had promised good views for this extra effort and they did not disappoint with the larger hills rising up all around. For reasons I have yet to fully understand Edinburgh and this section of the borders boasts many place names and references relating to  Arthur  and Merlin.
Like all things in life that may be hidden or obscured the solution can often be an easy one. Why not try a sweep? :o)
Looking in the direction of Broughton.
 Maybe these simply date from Scott, the good Sir Walter, the Scottish Enlightenment, and all things Romantic, in a deliberate copy of the old legends but the scenery does lend itself to images of a former golden age. It does have a special quality about it. Things are never quite what they seem.

Passing through Peebles on a gala day. (or other special occasion.)
Descending our second hill of the day.
It was turning into a perfect summer evening and we were looking forward to seeing our bothy accommodation, which neither of us had been to yet. A new bothy still holds a little thrill of anticipation.
It did not disappoint. Maybe it was simply the weather combined with a better than expected hut and good company but I thoroughly enjoyed it. A fantastic high sided glen on the way in with an approach road that would not look out of place in the more scenic parts of the Cairngorms was followed by an excellent bothy and a great evening of the basics. The true treasures in life. No mobile phone or cyber distractions for once when out in company,( a rare thing these days) just wildlife all around, a good mellow BBQ and simple conversations, unbroken by irritating gadgets constantly cutting in with beeps and ringtones and a consequent removal of any interest from the person involved taking the call or message. A modern equivalent for casting an instant invisibility spell over anyone else present.
My traditional healthy option BBQ munch sticks, and yes I did eat it all.
Mike was actually staying in a borders hotel with his wife for the weekend but popped in to see us for a couple of hours and brought in a portable BBQ. For a bothy this felt like 5 star luxury with room service included.
Hotels would be wasted on me compared to a 5 star man cave like this one.What more do you need?
Graham, Mike and Alex relaxing at the bothy.
Seating and drinks table. Swallows danced around the bothy all evening catching insects as they had nests with chicks under the eves.Yellow wagtails and dippers bobbed on boulders in the middle of the nearby stream, buzzards mewed in the blue heavens above and fat little lambs "gambled" around the pool/ table/emerald carpet of short grass.

This is living at it's finest.The best things in life are free... or a fiver on this occasion. Cliche sayings evolve that way for a reason. Cos they are usually true and don't date with time.

Inside was just as entertaining. A nostalgia trip in places. We even had our own attendant mouse making a surprise guest appearance. A trip like the old days that took me back 30 years to a time when I bagged new bothies and new people on a regular basis. Over 100 now, including many outside Scotland in other parts of the world. Hello all.
Thanks to Mike and the BBA for a great weekend. It did rain in the morning so we just packed up and headed slowly home under grey skies. When you have travelled in Arcadia, looking down on lowly Paradise then tasted Ambrosia (not the pudding on this occasion) nothing else will do.
Sunset from Tower Hill.
Chimney-pot on rooftops in Arcadia.

Deceptively simple bothy song from yesteryear I've always liked. From the north east farmland around rural Aberdeenshire and Buchan. Bothy ballads were often composed and sung by farm hands working the land as a way of entertaining themselves, documenting their hard existence, or capturing moments in time. This is one of the best. Nicky Tams were two lengths of string or other material tied around trouser legs to keep trouser bottoms free of muck and animal manure and also handy for stopping rats diving for cover, crawling into unwanted places. A very real danger working around farms, and moving materials stored in barns.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Dundreich, 622metres, Portmore Loch, Moorfoot Hills.

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July, as usual, has been an unpredictable month so far but sometimes magical weekends do occur and this is one. We had been invited by our friend Mike to a private bothy run by the BBA. As it was bang in the middle of an area I love and good weather was forecast I was keen to go on this weekend trip.
Left early on Saturday morning on what turned out to be a glorious day with the intention of bagging a hill first.
As usual I left it to Alex to pick the hill as I know he wouldn't like my choices. Hills for Alex and most other walkers are divided into Munros, Corbetts, Grahams, Donalds, Marilyns, then Furths, Nuttalls, Hewitts,Wainwrights, Birketts, Deweys, Hardys, Humps, Tumps, County High Points etc. etc... the list goes on. I think Dundreich, at 622 metres,  is a Donald but I'm not 100 percent on that.
Hills for me these days are divided into boring hill/ interesting hill to make things much simpler. To his credit Alex knows this and tries to pick interesting hills from the lists. Dundreich, on this day of sunny skies and light winds was an interesting hill. As it sits on the steep western edge of the Moorfoots, not far from Peebles, I was expecting reasonable scenery, having cycled though the Gladhouse Reservoir area a few times on the minor road network and enjoyed views of this high grassy escarpment.
The walk in starts from a small layby on the yellow minor road at Westloch with the farm track into Portmore Loch. You can also do this hill from the village of Eddleston, which is equally scenic, both routes are on Landranger Map 73. Peebles. 10 to 12 km, 4 to 5 hours depending on pace. We took around 4 and a half at an easy pace.
Although not well known this is a delightful circular walk and we both enjoyed it. That doesn't always happen. Round the east side of Portmore Loch then straight up Loch Hill to Dundreich summit on a faint grass path.
Cotton grass or bog cotton was everywhere on this hill, giving it a magical feel and we soon gained the summit despite it being higher than the neighbouring Pentland Hills which mostly top out at 500 plus metres.
As we climbed higher views opened out onto typical borders scenery for this region. The Peebles map is one of my favourites as this area is special, scenery wise.
It has a great blend of rolling hill tops, arable farmland, woods and meadows, with higher 2000 plus summits off in the distance.
We spent a good half hour on the warm summit having something to eat then headed down the south ridge to Northshield Rings, an ancient fort and settlement, the circular remains of which can still be seen under the heather.
Really enjoyable walking throughout with constantly changing views and nice pastel light. Portmore Loch below.
A few Scots pine before the track round the loch. Alex looking back up the hill here.
A busy farmer, is there any other kind, working the land.
The road into our bothy accommodation. Not a secret one as you can book it for around £5 quid a night which gets you the key but I'll not name it here.
A very special bothy it turned out in a great area and a cracking night was to follow...
To be continued....

Good quirky song and great vocals. Heard this around 5 year ago and instantly liked it. Very different.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Early years. 1980s 1990s Rock Climbs.

As I'm photographing close to 700 old photos taken over the last 50 years for a new book project I thought I'd put a few on here. In my puppy prime I was fairly active, having been in half a dozen or more clubs over the years. A group of us got into rock climbing during our Munro bagging decades and this is the result. I have posted some of these before but as I've put posts up in various club websites over the years I'm not sure if these have been on here before.
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Alex and John, two of my oldest friends, at the Finnieston railway wall next to the Glasgow expressway. With indoor climbing walls opening up in most cities this way of finger strength training died out around the late 1990s but folk had some good times here. It was free, outdoors, easy to get to in a car on warm summer evenings and I've even climbed here during a spring hail storm, brushing slush off the holds to get a grip. We were really keen then but it came in useful on the higher peaks, knowing how long you can endure cold fingers and testing your abilities.
Winter traverse of the Aonach Eagach ridge. Glencoe. 1980s scramble. No ropes allowed. We were now mountaineers!
Alistair testing out his sticky climbing boots on a boulder. Not that sticky it turned out.
Climbers relaxing on the top of the Rosa Pinnacle on Arran after rock climbing on the vertical front face.
Climbing up one of the lower chimneys on Labyrinth, an enjoyable, partly subterranean rock route on Arran. You can see both climbers here if you look full screen.
Higher up on Labyrinth, near the direct finish, a right sloping ramp just slightly to the right of the obvious middle corner/crack line. Small hole in chock stone visible. Exit route just right of the highest climber here if memory serves me still. An exposed HS although there is also a V.Diff line. An amazing route of great variety.
A rare one of me climbing on Arran. Even in those days I usually took most of the photographs!
The superb granite cliffs of the Rosa Pinnacle on Arran.
Me again ( my ego knows no bounds) shamelessly posing on the famous hanging stone in Wales. I think we must have been rock climbing on Tryfan, probably Grooved Arete, a great committing climb up a brilliant mountain. V.Diff. We were never high end climbers but we got around.
 Good video of the crux pitch here once the camera stops jumping around at the start. Brings back memories this as I remember doing this route in the rain which started once we were off the ground 2 pitches up. I did this pitch soaking wet with Alex or Julian. I think I led the Knight's move pitch as I remember using my hanky to dry the crux moves in advance, something I would not have done, protected as a second.

This is worth a watch. Steep climb but with good protection. Polished in places but a classic.
Brian and Roger on Dream of White Horses. Gogarth sea cliffs. Wales.
Me again! Alligator Crawl. Meikle Ross Sea Cliffs. Galloway coast. VS. Photo by Alex?
Paul, I think, on Mellow Yellow. VS. Meikleross Sea Cliffs. A great open route following an obvious long crack through two small overhangs up the yellow coloured cliff face.
Brian looking for a runner on the Edge. VS. Loudoun Hill.
Mountain route somewhere in Wales I think.
Wales again probably. We used to go there every September weekend as the rock climbing was usually better with a half chance of decent weather being further south. One year we climbed a few routes in snow and hailstones, which started halfway up the climb. Didn't like that as much, funnily enough.We climbed in Cornwall after that. Always chasing the sun, even then.
Hope. V.Diff. Wales. As well as bagging Munros we were also ticking our way through Classic Rock which featured the best easy grade climbs  across the UK. Ticked off quite a few as well but never finished them sadly on our limited budgets for fuel and getting free weekends away. Great fun trying though.

Cioch Nose. Applecross. 450 feet V.Diff. This photo gives no idea of how high up this belay stance was. Very airy climb and a lucky one as the rough sandstone dried out quickly after rain a couple of hours before. Hope, above, dried out quickly after heavy rain as well. One of the reasons we went to Wales at the end of the climbing season as we needed loads of bare clean rock that might dry quickly in autumn winds. Didn't always work though.
Eric high up on Creagh Dhu Wall. Tremadog.Wales. HS. The toenail traverse I seem to recall.
Somewhere in the Lakes or Wales, judging by the scenery. Cant remember the  route :o) It might be Gimmer Crag as we did a few routes there over the years.
The Inn Pin on Skye. Not me sadly. Nobody thought to take my photo when I did it :o(       B*^%**$
Where's a very long selfie stick when you need one!
Scrambling on Gran Paradiso. Italian Alps. A 13,323 foot Inn Pin. Highest peak within Italy and an "Ultra." Still the most beautiful summit I've been up for views and I cant believe I scrambled up here without a rope when you see where it is on the mountain summit and the angle it's leaning at. First photo in this link here. I was either brave... or just really stupid... in those days. Ye Gods!
 Obviously, if you are into mountaineering, like us then, you don't need ropes and guides. Just a postcard with a dotted line showing the way up. Worked for us anyway in the alps :o)

The Munro bagging days. Early 1980s. George and Alex near Loch Quoich. Lovely winter day.

Little Chamonix. Borrowdale climbing. Lake District.
Alex on Railway Pillar Climb. The End.

Anyone wanting a glimpse into that era when we did Rock Climbing, Kayaking, Skiing, Caving, Cycling, Munro bagging, Back packing, Bothying and Island bagging it's all in this book.
Autohighography. Bob Law. £1:14 pence on kindle A humorous account of the early years from the 1960s to the 1990s. Set in Glasgow, Scotland and Europe. Part Autobiography, Part love story, Part travel guide, Part hidden novel. First three chapters free to read here.