Thursday, 20 April 2017

Landscape Photography. Perthshire. Central Highlands. Inverness. Laggan. A Bothy

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A last view of Loch Maree looking like an old Bible painting of the promised land. Certainly a beautiful loch and one of my three top favourites.
For the last three days in the far north however it had been very misty with poor John slogging up Corbetts on his own and me attempting to stay clear of the murk enveloping this area and take decent landscape photos.
Pitlochry in the mist and a notable upmarket hotel sitting on its prominent elevated ridge. Only 200 feet high or so but everything above this height was invisible so we both decided it was time to move to a new area, although we liked our borrowed cabin accommodation.
The Kessock Bridge just emerging from the mist linking the City of Inverness to the Black Isle. I have fond memories of the Black Isle as I've been on summer holidays here in the past in the days when a  busy ferry used to run across the Moray/Beauly Firth before the bridge was built and the Black Isle felt much more like an island. (It's not, just a long 20 mile fertile peninsula jutting out into dolphin inhabited waters of the Moray Firth.) As this large pod stays local to this area and can be easily viewed at the tip of the peninsula at Chanonry Point they are a popular tourist attraction. Killer whales and various types of cold water shark, some growing well over 20 foot long, swim around the Scottish coast but are rarely seen or heard about. Swimming in Scotland, even in summer with a wet suit on, is a minority sport as your body temperature soon drops in the freezing North Sea and surrounding waters.
Excellent short compilation HD film here that must have taken a lot of hours and camera/video work. Great facts on this unusual large pod living so far north in very cold water.

Even into the afternoon it was still hazy here and it took a long time to fully clear then it was back to early morning fog the next day. Probably the temperature difference between warmer land and cold sea causing it.
A morning view over the Inverness area. Normally this region is renowned for it's fresh clean air and sunshine but it's just the luck of the draw with any trip planned in advance as Scottish weather is notoriously fickle. The main thing for us though, being outside all day, is that it didn't rain.
We decided however that a change of scenery was in order and in the Central Highlands between Inverness and Pitlochry, well away from the fog inducing coastline, we found the sunshine again. Train running through the Central Highlands. i.e.- this is in the middle part of Highland Scotland.
A Perthshire Landscape. Forestry.
A very different green upland in Perthshire. Sheep country here.
And another different aspect of the Central Highlands.
Unlike the highly dramatic and steep sided mountains of west coast Torridon featured two posts ago on this blog the Central Highlands have a very different look. More moorland in nature but equally wild and empty with many of the summits rising between 3,000 to 4000 feet but they don't appear higher than Torridon because the hills there start straight from sea level and rise vertically whereas here they tend to be hidden back and gently rolling upwards from an already higher inland plateau. With nothing much to look at however in often featureless uplands and usually longer walks in to reach the hills these hills often feel harder without the adrenaline rush of fear in exposed places. In winter or grim weather however these hills can easily kill the unwary as habitation and shelter can be spaced far apart.
They also tend to hang on to snowfalls longer than the coastal regions. I remember one Easter wading over the hills here through waist deep snowdrifts on a three day bothy tour situated in different glens/valleys that was pretty tough going underfoot but certainly lingered long in the memory afterwards as a real backpacking adventure.

John's hill of choice was another Corbett in this area and happened to be close to a bothy we both knew well. This is one of the very few bothies you can actually drive in to, within half a mile or so of, so we were really cheating here to avoid the usual long walk in normally associated with peaks within this district.
Pleased to report it was still in cracking nick. As usual I won't name it here. Rio Tinto Alcan seem to be the owners of the estate it sits within, an international aluminum producing mining company with long standing interests around Lochaber and Fort William.
A rest inside the bothy before John headed off to go up his Corbett of choice. As it looked a long boring slog over uninspiring slopes it was not my choice however so I stayed behind and became a hut bunny.
A rare selfie of my inner soul. Sums me up perfectly I think. This is where not bagging the Corbetts comes in very handy. If I don't fancy the hill much or the weather is grim I never feel obliged to go up and instead can pick something more interesting to suit my own tastes. On this occasion it was collecting water from the stream, gathering firewood from fallen timber in a nearby wood then reading a paper in a deck chair outside the bothy, enjoying the spring sunshine.
And what a view it was. Dramatic scenery in weather like this but also an area that can appear really bleak, open and desolate within a short space of time in grim conditions.
Very open and exposed during the frequent rain storms that lash Scotland off the wild North Atlantic Ocean.
Looking down the glen from the bothy door.
Mountain views near Kingussie/ Laggan area.
Near Jock's Spot, a popular climbing hut we've booked in the past.
Approaching the bothy.
And a good fire at night thanks to my gathered wood supply.
Sheep munching turnips or 'neeps' before lambing, provided by the farmer to give them extra vitamins and goodness for producing healthy little lambs. A common sight in early spring in the countryside just like daffodils and tulips are in the parks. A great trip, good company, and just a shame Alex didn't make it along as well.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Highland Landscapes, Caledonian Forests, Rivers and Wildlife.

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Part Two of a Northern Highland Trip.We were very lucky with the weather on this trip as it didn't rain at all except for a couple of showers during the night when we were indoors. What we did have was a lot of thick mist. This is us dropping down into Inverness which is invisible under a mist inversion. A pea-souper awaited us in the capital of the north.
Our accommodation for the next few nights was a little cabin in the woods, kindly lent to Alex and John by a friend in our club specially for the trip. It reminded me of the But and Ben in the Broons comic strip but more room inside and more palatial obviously. This was situated out in the countryside in a lovely spot surrounded by deciduous open forests.
After a relaxing night at the cabin/hut, reading books, papers,and the Corbett Baggers Bible, John was keen to bag another of his Corbetts, this time not in Torridon, but travelling through Easter Ross into Strathcarron where rolling mountains and several splashing rivers pour down through remote hinterland between west and east coasts. This is an area of grand sporting estates, set up mainly in Victorian and Edwardian times after the original inhabitants of the glens had been cleared out, replaced by more profitable sheep, deer and salmon rights. A fine tree house network here.
A grinning Lion. Don't see that many with this facial pose.
A salt or mineral lick block for the deer and other livestock. Pheasants were around the vicinity as well.
This is us heading for John's Corbett. The mist level was fairly uniform at around the 1000 foot mark and unlike the day before it was not predicted to lift. I'd already mentioned to John I wouldn't be joining him up his Corbett if the weather was poor at height so I turned back here- much more interested in staying around the estate and exploring the native Caledonian pine forest. Judging by his photos later taken up the hill I didn't miss much and the gallery would end here if I'd disappeared up into the gloom with him.
As it was I found an interesting river walk between all the grand estates that was not only clear but filled with fishing pools, wooden walkways, steps and ladders leading paying guests down to the best deep pools.
I presumed salmon judging by the level of infrastructure and work required to lay out all these pathways.
A deep fishing pool with steps down to it.
A female goosander, a type of fast moving diving duck.
An old wooden bench with lichen growth.
The single track road through the estate and forest. This provided an enjoyable walk heading back the way we had driven in then after a few miles I cut down to find the path beside the river (near the obvious old monument/ grave) where five of the above photos were taken. Strathcarron would also be fine for a scenic cycle trip as few cars travel up and down this wild glen covered in native woodlands.
Red Squirrels made an appearance and chattered a greeting to me.  'Go away!' they said.
The normal greeting from animals. I'm rather good with wildlife and was a qualified pussy whisperer once upon a time. Felines, with or without tails, on four, three or two legs, adored me then.
So....I soon made a little friend.
But not as wild as it appears as it was after the nut container.
In places the sun almost burst through the gloom but not quite.
A bench beside the river. I enjoyed this peaceful path along the right hand bank that ran for several miles past all the fishing beats, obviously out of season, as I didn't see a soul and paying guests would always have priority here.
Trees covered in lichen and hanging moss. Due to the high levels of rainfall in these northern highland glens many of the deciduous trees look a sickly pea green colour and most of the branches would break off or crumble easily if you touched them, even large deciduous trees wouldn't take much to push them over.

 By contrast the Caledonian pines are rock solid and much better adapted to this environment.
Tree bark on an older pine.
The great wood of Caledonia. Much of Highland Scotland was once covered in forests like these - a fact that helped to save Scotland from the relentless push of the Roman Army northwards during the conquest of Britain. It's normally too wet here to burn well and the knee and thigh deep heather and swamps underfoot would make the usual tactics of fighting in tight formations against lightning fast guerrilla raids by the native tribes difficult to carry out.
The rivers are also too shallow and rock strewn to penetrate far by boat from the sea into the mountains of the west.
Cloud level still hanging over the mountains. We both had an entertaining time. John getting his Corbett without a soaking- me enjoying a river and forest walk, good wildlife, and clear photography.
Excellent result that left us both happy with our day.
Red squirrel heading back up to the tree tops.

One 'road movie' long hike film that did work for me was The Way Back. Loved this from start to finish and caught it on Film 4 on TV without any hype or foreknowledge of what it was about.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Beinn Eighe. Ruadh Stac Beag. Liathach. Torridon.

Another blip on the interconnected super highway but hopefully back online now. I was also away on a week long holiday up north so here's the first installment. I started this trip in Alex's car who had thoughtfully arranged our accommodation and planned his remaining Corbetts  around it. Halfway up Loch Lomondside however his car developed mechanical problems which meant he had to call it off and return to Glasgow to get it repaired.  As this ended up taking several days he unfortunately missed bagging his last four remaining corbetts but I, being fickle, got a lift up with John who was also coming along with his own list of remote northern corbetts to bag and his own separate transport. It can be a lonely life being a long distance corbett bagger but on this occasion it proved beneficial for me as we had another car in hand.
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Totem poles in the Caledonian pine forest under Beinn Eighe. Normally I like public art and these are good as part of a mini sculpture trail but I found myself wondering about their relevance here in such majestic untamed surroundings.They seemed a bit like those padlocks on bridges or all the different names written with pebbles on grassy pastures or the dozens of false cairns that litter the landscape in any highland beauty spot these days. Normally I'm all for creative artists but here it just seemed slightly wrong as if nature itself is so boring it needs tarted up and large amounts of money flung at it to make it more interesting. It's something I've noticed in outdoor films as well with Wild, A Walk in the Woods, and The Way all featuring long distance hikes but 'enhanced' by added 'periods of excitement' as if nature isn't interesting enough in itself to engage the cinema going public's attention without frequent added embellishments like falling off crumbing cliffs, wading through man eating swamps, meeting irritating unlikable nutters en route every five minutes or disappearing down deep holes in often preposterous and highly unrealistic situations. Ironically, these extra segments spoiled all three films for me but The Way made the best attempt at a realistic outdoor depiction of a hike without interference and unnecessary add ons which leaves The Last of Us (a computer game that also works brilliantly as an online film) as still the best 'road movie' I've seen in recent years- full of beauty, wonder, great characters and an absolute gem of a story-line full of unexpected twists and turns. And it's free to watch on You Tube at the moment in handy 30 minute chunks.
The Last of Us- Cimematic Playthrough for anyone interested in a good outdoor movie full of believable likable characters, situations and plot twists.
If this was in a monotonous stretch of man made pine forest somewhere I might be singing it's praises but this is Torridon- one of the UK's most impressive mountain landscapes surrounded by original native pine forests. Surely that should be enough in itself? What next in the future- A fast food brand outlet beside the visitor centre here perhaps, sponsoring the local wildlife, and a small retail park for that all round mountaineering and day out 'wild shopping experience' in a driver-less electric car which also takes you up the summits in comfort in hover car mode on the new North West 'Mountain Highway'? I hope not but who knows what the future holds for wild places. Too far-fetched? Well, a shopping centre near me has recently acquired three new large fast food outlets that were not there before although it had two others of different eating brands there already- turning it from an easy to enter and visit shopping joy of a retail park into an over- congested nightmare of a place at weekends.
A red squirrel in the forest. Hey- nature can be interesting... on it's own terms ... without any additions. Mc Squirrel- why not try one on a burger soon?
John just leaving the pine forest behind for the upper slopes which were invisible under a thick blanket of mist and clag.
As this is Torridon however, and one of the most scenic districts in Scotland for steep wild mountains and jagged ridge lines we carried on, hopeful that the forecast was correct that it would burn off under the sun's warmth as the day progressed. The serrated ridge of Beinn Eighe, above, appearing out the murk.
As we climbed higher the great pyramid shape of Liathach gradually loomed out of the surrounding murk, for any hill-walker one of the finest mountains in the UK and a formidable proposition under full winter conditions to complete the full traverse end to end. I've climbed this hill around 6 or 7 times over the years, including two full winter traverses years ago with ropes, ice axes, head torches and crampons under deep snow and ice but after a few years absence and around a decade away at high level under snow- the power of this hill at close quarters still fires up the imagination.
I found myself thinking   'God. I've missed these jaggy places so much!' This is where I should be more often!'
Although I've had many great adventures with friends, bagging hills on a list you do get dragged up some nondescript forgettable lumps from time to time with few redeeming features- certainly nothing on this scale for excitement and pleasure.
As a keen photographer this was nirvana for me and the weather soon improved with the mist burning off by lunch time. This is John climbing the rugged slopes of  Ruadh Stac Beag, 896 metres, and a cracker of a Corbett with stunning views across to Beinn Eighe, seen here, Liathach, Beinn Alligin, and the Fisherfield range of mountains... all spectacular peaks without a dud in sight.
Our mountain was a typical Torridonian peak, guarded by steep vertical cliffs, with only one viable weak spot in it's defenses. This was via the south facing ridge, luckily sunlit all day and so free of snow which was just as well given it was a steep ridge made up of large boulders- completely pathless and disconcertingly unstable.
Most of the landscape here was stone and scree with few paths across it. Ruadh Stac Beag, seen here, and reaching the start of the ridge after a long climb to get to this point.
Making our way up a rock pavement beside a stream as the best route upwards in an area largely free of connected paths.
Our hill of choice with the mist burning off its dome shaped summit.
Other hills with mist moving away.
Maybe Beinn Alligin, going by the profile, but I'm not sure as we could only see brief opening glimpses of surrounding hills in this direction at this point then they were obscured again minutes later like an old style fan and face act.
A view across Loch Maree in the direction of Fisherfield and mighty Munro number 285 -Slioch.
The impressive cliffs on Beinn Eighe, probably the edge of Coire Mhic Fherchair, the famous triple buttress of vertical walls dropping down in one long horseshoe plunge into a scenic lochan at its base and one of the finest mountain features in Britain.
The Full Monty  Liathach shows off the full long ridge traverse in all its glory. So lucky to be climbing the right hill at the right time as many other hill groups around stubbornly held onto mist blankets all day long.
John negotiating the boulder field to the summit. This wasn't particularly hard, just very awkward as every second step shifted a boulder sightly, some table sized and very heavy, so that you could never be sure if it would bear your full weight without tilting off at a weird unexpected angle or falling over completely. Being a Corbett it gets relatively few ascents and the terrain is still unstable and pathless.
Going back down was even trickier but no complaints from us with such amazing surroundings.
We noticed what looked like bubbles in many of the rocks here- a geological oddity but probably due to intense heat then cooling during volcanic activity as Torridon is well known for having some of the oldest rock formations on planet earth visible on the surface. Link here with location map and a few extra photos.
What looks like a tiny hill-walker (on the snowy skyline to the left of the summits) climbing the ridges on Beinn Eighe, another cracking Munro I've done a few times but not for 20 odd years.  In my Munro bagging days we always made a point of doing all the tops at the same time as the main summits -so I'd also done Ruadh Stac Beag on a previous outing but I never have a problem doing hills again if they are as much fun as this one.
Pinnacles on Beinn Eighe. This is a stunning hill as well, not as jaw dropping as steep vertical sided Liathach but still interesting once you gain the ridge line for its roller coaster sweep of summits, its numerous shattered cliffs and heavily eroded pinnacles. Slopes of shifting loose scree cover much of this mountain, making it appear very moon- like in places due to an absence of vegetation- just miles of dry rock and sky above.
A shattered cliff on Beinn Eighe... just one of many along the varied up and down ridge. Another memorable traverse to savour- winter or summer.
Never a dull day in Torridon when you get weather and conditions like this. Around 10 miles round trip walking and 5 to 9 hours to complete - the time difference depending how fast you move over rough pathless terrain, loose scree and boulder slopes. Although it's Alex and Bob in the blog title I did most of my early hill-walking, rock climbing and alpine backpacking tours with John, Brian, and others in various clubs as Alex always followed and still follows his own interests regarding hills and has always had periods when he's happy doing other things. Anyway, it was good to catch up with an old friend I don't see that often these days due to the normal family commitments and poor Alex missed a great holiday he'd arranged and planned in an excellent manner although, as usual, he would have been focused on his own remaining Corbetts elsewhere. I believe he's only got four to do now... Is there life after that... or will he just retire then to the sofa and the latest box sets of quality TV series?  I hope not  :o)
A Link To A Previous Torridon adventure in June 2013. There are three posts from the same trip in that month on the blog all for June.

Video this week is a lovely cover of a modern classic most folk will not have heard before. Some of the best songs are deceptively simple yet go straight to the heart in their universal appeal -like this one of life, love, loss and loneliness that most humans will have experience of at some point.