Sunday, 1 May 2016

Ben Rinnes. Braes of Glenlivet. Moray. Spring Flowers.

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Spring takes roughly a month to travel at sea level from the south coast of England to the north of Scotland, a mainland distance of roughly 600 miles but with more time added on for every 500 feet of height.
Back in sheltered parts of Glasgow it was in full swing with a variety of blooms growing in the parks and gardens near me. A lovely red tulip above.
A nice border display that caught my eye.
This was in a raised tub on the street outside the entrance of a Glasgow park. No goddess can match Persephone at her best. The Eleusinian Mysteries indeed as I've just spent an hour on google image search trying to work out every variety shown here. An incredibly rich and complex display and one of the best I've seen in such a small area.
Usual cascade of scented blossom in the parks.
Meanwhile three amigos were heading north, passing under the cliffs of Kinnoull Hill beside Perth at an ungodly hour of the morning.
As we approached Glenshee the higher peaks sported snow but the ski area itself was bare of substantial runs, a situation that is probably reversed now with sizable dumps of the white stuff since then over the various resorts.
Lochnagar, 1155 metres, 3,789 feet, was still plastered however and it's steep frowning glories beloved of poet Lord Byron was still firmly locked in winters grip.
Our destination this time was the wide open vastness of  Moray and Ben Rinnes, a Corbett in this Grampian region and one of the highest peaks in the district at 841 metres, 2,759 feet.
A small car park and several layby spots reached along the minor road through Glen Rinnes soon had us at the start and an easy but strenuous ascent followed up a good, well maintained track.
The summit in view halfway up.
Blue mountain hares could be spotted among the boulders and the ground conditions up here on the north east coast is much drier than the soggy western seaboard which gets twice the annual rainfall.
Although Moray is fairly fertile low down in the glens and straths, the underlying granite bedrock is never far from the surface and you really get a feel for that once up on the heights as many of the mountains in the north east have summits composed of granite tors. The team this time consisted of myself, David and Alex. They were unintentionally colour coordinated for this trip in matching attire and reminded me of Tweedledum and Tweedledee which must make me Alice in the middle, I suppose. Well, I'd rather be Alice than the Red Queen.
Ben Rinnes is a case in point with an easy tor on its high point.

And another, more substantial, example further down the ridge-line.
A view over to the Cairngorms, a high mountain plateau containing most of Scotland's 4000 foot plus peaks with Ben Nevis, the highest prominence in the UK at 1,346 meres, 4,414 feet being the only west coast example to make that elite summit list.
The dry climate and bare slopes seems to suit this small game bird, which was originally imported from around the Mediterranean region and the well drained golden granite landscape here appears to be to its liking. It's a red legged partridge and a beautifully marked little creature. Exotic and mysterious, perfectly summed up by the well known Christmas list of luxury items .. "and a partridge in a pear tree."
You can see here why it's the last to be sung about. In 40 years of hill tramping and exploring this is the best photo I've managed to get of this quiet shy enigma as it's well known but rarely seen, silently bobbing around between the heather clumps, largely unknown to the general public except in a shop window, hanging upside down, or as a posh meal on a plate.
I think you will agree it's as colourful and wonderful as any parrot or bird of paradise.

As it's a colourful post here's a very colourful video.
This Alice is not the one from the book however. She is much darker having been unjustly committed to 'the hospital for the criminally insane' as a child and when she eventually gets out it's 'no more miss nice girl' as she is determined to seek revenge on the people who left her there to rot. An unusual, more adult, twist on the familiar children's story but fantastic graphics and superbly detailed artwork in a range of different styles. Worth a watch full screen to visit the beautiful kingdom and characters created within. Short (trailer) but not so sweet. More psychosis- less sugar.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

The Fara 911 Metres. Dalwhinnie. Ben Alder Big Six.

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Another bagging trip with Alex and the boys. This time it was the turn of The Fara, a Corbett situated on a long ridge line above the remote and lofty village of Dalwhinnie. Dalwhinnie sits in the centre of Scotland as far away from the coast as you can get in this country and away from the warming influence of the gulf stream which keeps the UK in a hot spot. This part of Scotland sits at the same latitude as the middle of Hudson Bay in Canada, the southern arm of Alaska, and further north than the frozen Lake Baikal in Siberia. Dalwhinnie sits at an altitude of around 350 metres or 1148 feet, which might not seem much by world mountain standards but sitting on a high empty plain, exposed to any wind and surrounded by sizable bulky mountains it is one of the highest and coldest villages in the British Isles and also holds records for the lack of sunshine year round. As you can see our path up The Fara started via an old right of way, a rough mountain pass for cattle drovers between  Kinloch Laggan and Dalwhinnie on the A889 where there is a small lay-by beside the Allt an t -Sluic river. This was followed for just under a mile then we crossed the river via a ford to reach a track leading up our hill of choice.
The team consisted of Alex, Graeme, David, Bob R and myself. At this point we split up, the back three heading off to bag Meall Nan Eagan and us two The Fara. Easy but long slopes followed and any snow could be avoided on the ridge. No exposure whatsoever and grassy walking underfoot without any path once on the main ridge-line.
A large skein of geese passed overhead, probably heading for Greenland, Canada or Alaska to start another breeding season in the far north as many of them only overwinter here in our milder climes.
It didn't feel like that to us however and we were well wrapped up against a biting wind and general chill in the air.
A view of our hill above Dalwhinnie, although the summit is out of sight. When I was collecting Munros I spent a full week camping here, climbing the surrounding hills, and I can honestly report there's not a lot to do in Dalwhinnie apart from outdoor sports. A spartan railway station, a strung out collection of houses in small clusters scattered far apart, a transport style cafe, a reasonable pub and a local distillery were all visited in due course back then.
Due to the climate up here not much grows even in summer and the main colour palette is shades of grey, black, white, faded yellow and dark green year round. Being spring the rabbits were dancing and courting among the sheep on the meadow, the snipe were drumming and a couple of raised flower boxes held a few daffodils and spring blooms, carefully tended and nourished to give a splash of multi colour energy inside small wooden rectangles.. Even then Dalwhinnie looks bleak and barren to my eyes, like similar villages in Russia, Canada or the tundra regions. A frontier town situated in a barely habitable place. It's got that same feel about it although the locals seem cheery enough to outsiders but you definitely have to possess a love for remote and austere landscape to live here for any length of time.
I would find it hard mentally as I've always relished bright primary colours, lush vegetation appearing every spring and the vivid contrasts between distinctive seasons. I'd also miss natural deciduous woodlands growing on my doorstep but I suppose if you enjoy living here it's under an hour by train, bus or car into Inverness or Perth for a taste of city life. 
We were soon up above the snow line but this could be avoided to reach the summit if desired. Unlike the larger hills around we stayed mainly in the sunshine while they were buried in cloud most of the time we were on the ridge.
Alex soon reached the summit and was a happy man as The Fara had been on his tick list for some time.
As luck would have it the sun arrived just as we were having lunch and the neighbouring 1000 metre plus peaks cleared at last from under the grey blanket of cloud, long enough for us to take photos.
We could now look across at Ben Alder, 1146 metres or 3759 feet,  Beinn Bheoil, 1019 metres, Carn Dearg, 1034 metres, Geal Charn, 1132 metres Aonach Beag, 1114 metres and Beinn Eibhinn, 1100, sometimes known as the 'Big Six.'
Many years ago, in my 30s, I met a girl who had a catalyst effect on my nature. Normally, I'm not that keen on long distance hill marathons but she was and for a while we clocked up large walking distances across multiple Munros together.  I think we were staying at Loch Ossian Youth Hostel and we set off around dawn on one of the longest daylight periods of the year, probably early May, to climb these six hills and tops in one day. She only had a weekend free so wanted to make the most of it and I tagged along, inspired by her enthusiasm. It was a step up from the average pace of one or two Munros in a day outing.
Luckily, there was not as much snow on the hills as this but it was still around 19 hours of solid walking, god knows how many miles and metres of ascent and descent and we were both staggering at the end of it on the track back. For a while I was captivated by her drive, good looks, and relentless energy but going out with a nymphomaniac munro bagger  proved very draining after a while as I didn't really share her sustained appetite for the Skye Ridge in one go, Arran Ridge in a day, The Mamore Circuit, various 14 hour multi munro epics, and getting zero views or soaked frequently at height. It was a purely platonic relationship of course so after a while my enthusiasm for her undoubted sparkle on the hills dimmed somewhat and I went back to being a less driven but happier and much drier individual. Like a personality vampire I still get attracted to driven individuals with seemingly endless amounts of energy but I've learned over time how to control the invisible magnets snapping us together. Sadly, I haven't yet learned how to transfer some of that abundant energy into me for the future without suffering the blow torch personality directly attached to it so I have to be there in person to get any energy boost by proxy. A situation and an annoying chemical puzzle I'm still working on. 
Plenty of snow over the high summits. I still remember the train journey back the next day and the intense pain in my legs for several days afterwards, going up inclines or stairs, as we were ignorant then of ice baths and cold water dips to get rid of lactic acid build up or the folly of not exercising properly to wind down gradually. Luckily, I'm too old for that nonsense now but it all came back to me watching Eddie Izzard's incredible 27 marathons in 27 days across South Africa in punishing heat. Having an outdoor background myself I watch some of these charity fund raisers and think I could do it successfully no bother with a bit of training beforehand but that's one endurance epic I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy having had a tiny taste of it. The levels of pain and the determination to keep on running through it must have required enormous mental reserves well beyond most individuals.
Lancet Edge, a narrow sharp ridge that drops from the top of Sgor Iutharn, seen here. Ben Alder bothy rather than Culra was our usual destination for these hills as it's a more interesting walk in than the long march down the shores of Loch Ericht. We had a small taste of this tedious track on the return as we dropped straight off the summit of The Fara to a gap between forestry plantations rather than go back the same way as both of us prefer circular outings and new views.
Alex passing a shooting lodge on the walk down Loch Ericht. Mountain bikes make this remote set of mountains much easier to reach these days but back then we never thought of any other means of doing the Munros other than walking into them.
Both of these buildings look brand new and in good condition. A lot of money seems to have been poured into this estate since my last visit. We arrived back in Dalwhinnie and spent a fruitful hour watching the rabbits humping in the meadows next to the plastic bus shelter as this was the only place to get a seat out of the biting wind.  The others eventually arrived from a successful bag of Meall Nan Eagan and we motored back to Glasgow happy men.

Can't believe some of the stupid comments attached to these marathon videos along the lines of  " I could do that if I had his support team and people watching me on telly."
There are far easier ways to get attention or money than a 54 year old running hundreds of miles across South Africa in 40 degree heat. No wonder I avoid Twit-er or Self- book with folk like these on it. Normally, I'm not a fan of corporate charity events which encourage mass hikes or cycles into wilderness areas, as they can trash paths completely if it's wet underfoot but this is exceptional for his age and as a non professional ultra runner. I'm sure most of the dafter comments are from people with no experience of multiple marathon events or long distance walking whatsoever yet they are still happy to give disheartening, very negative opinions on a subject they know nothing about. Only putting this on because I watched the full hour long documentary recently and personally I at least was impressed by it.

He's a comedian in his normal day job.  Both videos are short. Some swearing in second one but
very funny.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

New Glasgow. Collegelands. High Street. George Street.University of Strathclyde.

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I thought I would do a double post to highlight the contrast between the old and new Glasgow which is evolving at pace around the High Street and George Street area. A stone's throw from George Square, seen in the last post, is the thoroughly new Glasgow of glass and steel. A mix of buildings from different time periods make up the University of Strathclyde but that diversity is even more pronounced now with the latest additions to the campus. This is the new look Albion Street which has been totally transformed.
Right beside it the old Herald Newspaper building has been given a makeover and is now the Herald Apartments, Still on Albion Street.
Every university needs student apartments and building them seems to be one of the major growth industries in the city right now. Collegelands is one of the largest building projects in Europe at the moment and it really shows here as Glasgow is being radically updated overnight after years of staying much the same apart from a few new buildings here and there. Parts of this university district five minutes walk east from George Square in the city centre is almost unrecognizable now from five years ago. All three universities in the city are being drastically upgraded as I type with building work still going on at nearby Glasgow Caledonian and the old Western Infirmary site earmarked for redevelopment very soon on behalf of Glasgow University.
George Street still retains the old style infrastructure when grey concrete was king. A spooky character had followed me down here from the Necropolis graveyard in the last post, as you can see in this photo. I kept my stake handy.
Also part of the old style Strathclyde University buildings.
Murals pop up here as well.
A space theme.
Part of Strathclyde University Collegelands district.
Looking down a transformed Duke Street from the High Street.
Murals on older university buildings.
Same extended mural.
One high up on the wall nearby.
I've been wondering about this red wrapped design for a while as it's visible from almost every district of the city and beyond. Although students still study in here the top levels must be empty presumably as the new college-lands fill up with students switching over into the updated buildings. I also found myself thinking this might be a way of 'future proofing' Glasgow City Centre for generations to come. Both Partick and  this area are large traditional shopping districts, under threat from out of town retail parks and online shopping. With a constant influx of students living right in the heart of these old shopping districts, spending money in the bars, restaurants and clubs at night then buying food and other products during the day it's a good way to insure a thriving retail sector which doesn't just depend on Glaswegian's arriving from outlying areas to spend money. The newly built student flats cover sizable chunks of these districts so it should be an important stable part of the economy as it has everything they need on the doorstep without going anywhere else for entertainment or other products.
Cine World. A high rise multi screen cinema complex near Strathclyde University campus and Caledonian University Campus. Great views over Glasgow at night from the upper levels as it sits on a hill. Seen the Lord of the Rings trilogy in here, which is why I know this.

Old Glasgow. High Steet. Glasgow Cathedral. Necropolis. Murals. Part One.

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I have a backlog of posts at the moment so here's a gallery of some well known Glasgow attractions and buildings. George Square and Glasgow City Chambers. You can get guided tours inside this magnificent building every weekday at 10:30am and 2:30pm Mon to Fri. Tours are free, they last an hour, and there is no need to book unless you are intending to arrive with a large group. Very worthwhile and interesting interior with period architecture, huge marble staircases, and furnishings on a grand scale. Normally, you just turn up five or ten minutes before the tour starts then tag along behind the guide.
Glasgow Cathedral on a sparkling winter's day. The finest medieval cathedral in Scotland dating from the 1100s this sits at the top of the High Street surrounded by a cluster of ancient attractions and gives you a genuine feel of old Glasgow as this was where the city started. Like many of Glasgow's public buildings of interest to tourists most of the attractions here are free to visit.
The grand entrance gates of the Necropolis, Glasgow's ancient burial ground full of tombs to the great and good. I've been up here before of course but as a keen amateur photographer you are always chasing that classic shot, just like a surfer after the perfect wave to ride or a stamp collector hunting the most sought after rarity. It's what keeps any obsessive going... the hunt.. rather than the capture... and we always think we can do better next time.
In a large ever changing city there is always something new to see. The latest addition to Glasgow's murals halfway up the High Street. A talented group of street artists have been sprinkling these around the city in the last few years and they are fast becoming a tourist attraction in their own right. Superb artwork that could hang in any gallery. The council publish a mural map online and you can have a fun half-day out collecting them as well as seeing the City Centre district on foot or by bike. Link and official council mural map below.

Murals on Mitchell Street. The Lighthouse is also found up here in a side lane running through to Buchanan Street, which is a multi floored building and features innovative architecture and design, runs gallery exhibits, and has a rooftop viewing platform.
Another colourful mural on Argyle Street. Some of the murals are of a temporary nature and can be removed if the shop or site gets redeveloped with others presumably taking their place elsewhere in the city. It's a great idea
The Necropolis sits just behind Glasgow Cathedral. "The City of the Dead." Very Gothic but no vampires on show when I was there. What a waste of a sharpened stake and that big hammer was heavy dragging it around all day! It's not easy being a vampire hunter when they don't show up.
More tombs adorn the summit with great views over the city.
Provand's Lordship. Glasgow's oldest house circa 1471, which sits on the High Street beside the cathedral.
The Necropolis is a five minute walk away situated on a grassy hill above the city.
The High Street. Old red sandstone tenements catching the afternoon sun.
The bottom of the High Street and the Tolbooth Steeple. A blend of old and new buildings.
Looking down the High Street towards the same area.
The always busy Renfield Street in the heart of the city shopping district. The electronic billboard on the rooftops has been there in one form or another since the 1960s or even earlier as I remember looking up at it as a child and it displayed adverts for products back then as well. The Regent Cinema stood near here and seemed to go in mainly for children's films. I was only in it occasionally and it was always cartoons we watched although I might have seen "Born Free" here also.
A few streets away in the business district with the distinctive silver outline of the Spectrum Building.
Glasgow Cathedral and the Royal Infirmary. There is a reason for this post which will be revealed in Part Two. The old Glasgow then the new...surprisingly close to each other.
Another view of the High Street with modern apartments that try to match the traditional street colours and frontage.
The other side of the High Street and traditional period tenement buildings.