Saturday, 25 July 2009

Coran of Portmark, Rhinns of Kells

Down to Galloway again today.It`s one of my favourite hillwalking areas in Scotland.It`s not as striking as Assynt or Fisherfield for example.....

Old scanned photo from Bob of John B.in Assynt....



Old slide of mine with Big George in Fisherfield with An Teallach in the distance..



It`s hard to describe exactly..it`s just "diferent". The Loch Enoch and Awful Hand areas are every bit as good as anything in the Highlands and you can still find solitude here.Very few paths,fantastic hill lochs with sandy beaches,great granite pavements littered with erratics and some of the weirdest names in Scotland.
Rig of the Jarkness,the Wolf Slock,Rig of Munshalloch,Little Spear and Neive of the Spit.The only other place that I can think of offhand that comes close is Pendicles of Collymoon.Google it and see where it is :)

We usually go out on a Sunday as this gives Bob all day Saturday to recover from his hard graft as an electrician during the week.the forecast for Sunday however was dire so Saturday it had to be.I had fancied the long walk in to Mulwharchar via Loch Enoch but Bob didn`t really fancy an early start so it was agreed I`d be picked up at 9am.This meant that we would have to find a shorter hill day probably in the northern Galloway area.I had 4 Donalds to tidy up in the northern Rhinns of Kells starting with Coran of Portmark and finishing with Cairnsgarroch and that made a nice circular walk that would fit the bill.

Parked the car at Green Well of Scotland,the usual jumping of point for the nearby Corbett of Cairnsmore of Carsphairn.A word of warning for access to Cairnsmore of Carsphairn here.There were access problems in the past which seem to have been resolved.The path after the farmyard though has been covered in 6 inch deep mud for a substantial length on two previous visits.I wonder why :)

Today however we took the road west to past Holm of Daltallochan and on to the old lead mines at Garryhorn.



There are substantial remains of the old mine buildings here but I was surprised to read that it was home in the past to 300 people,complete with it`s own school.



From the ruins we headed up an ATV track which snaked it`s way up to the col between Knockower and our first hill of the day,Coran of Portmark.We spied a cairn of to the north that looked like it would give a better view over Loch Doon and this proved to be the case.A fine spot for lunch.



Although a bit hazy the views to the north and west were excellent.The Arran hills and Holy Island,Cowal,Arrochar,Ben Lomond and various other hills of the southern highlands,the Ochils and surprisingly,The Lomond Hills in Fife.I had to take a bearing on them check when I got back home to confirm this.The usual culprit,Criffel,was prominent to the south and in the background the Lake District looked as if it also was enjoying a bit of sunshine.Off along the ridge we quickly passed over the second hill of the day,Bow.Carried on with a momentary stop to bag the summit cairn and continued south towards the days high point of Meaul.

Bob heading up Meaul with the Merrick as a backdrop...



For only the second time this year we met someone else on the hill,a father and daughter from Ayr who also expressed their surprise at meeting other folk on these hills.I hadn`t looked at the map all day so I had a great big smile on my face when a nice trig point was waiting on the summit to greet me.Only my second one this month but the 66th of the year so far.Still hoping to hit a 100 new ones before the end of the year :)



We hung around looking over to the inner sanctum of Galloway and back up to Loch Doon....



Gavin is the only person I know to have done a rock route in the heart of these hills and it was an epic day both in terms of hours out and route finding :) The Silver Flowe,a man eating bog,exists in the fold between these two ridges.It`s a listed UNESCO site of scientific interest and home to some rare butterflies and dragonflies.Golden Eagles are usually seen here as well hence the rock climbing ban during the nesting season.Didn`t see one today however,just ravens kawking all day.There is a hilarious photo of a couple of guys negotiating the tussocks and bogs on the excellent John Biggar`s Galloway rock climbing site.Scroll down to the last photo on the page...believe me,it`s worth it :)

Click here for Tussock fest


We pushed off eastwards for the days last summit of Cairnsgarroch......





..... which seemed to be a party venue for all the flies in Galloway....just the stupid annoying type of fly.We didn`t pause at the summit but continued down the surprisingly steep nose aiming for the Garryhorn Burn and the ruined mine.Mistake..! The lower section and the continuation to the mine was some of the worst going underfoot we have experienced and we`ve had a lot of experience..! Real ankle snapping territory,waist high vegetation concealing deep holes,awkward tussocks and hidden streams and bogs.Not only that, but to add insult to injury, the clegs had now zeroed in on us drawing blood .It might be better to continue over the outlier of Craighit if you venture this way although it looked just as bad thereabouts albeit for a shorter distance.I`d ran out of swearwords long before reaching the mine.We had a root around the old mine spoil heap looking for some examples of galena but if there ever had been any decent ones they had been taken a long time ago.We found the old adits.I would have expected them to have collapsed by now but they had just been covered in old logs and branches.I didn`t have the energy left to lift them and see alas.Back along the road to the car with the sun now beating down strongly :)



Bob wanted to climb the old pit bing outside Dalmellington on the way home.If you think I`m mad bagging trig points...he bags pit bings :) Must admit having done the odd one myself they do have good views.! We compromised and settled on the Scottish Wildlife Trust`s Knockshinnoch Lagoons near New Cumnock.If this is New Cumnock I`d hate to see what Old Cumnock looked like...! ( that`s this entries gratuitous insult folks :) ). We wandered round to the hide but with no binoculars we were reduced to guessing mostly as to what was what.



Arrived home at 7.00pm just in time to cap off an excellent day by watching the penultimate stage of the Tour de France and the awesome Mount Ventoux.The Tour has got to be the finest sporting spectacle on the planet....an estimated 700,000 people lining the slopes today..!

Edit: Some pics just in from Bob.

Myself approaching Meaul with Loch doon in the background....


The road back out to the car....Cairnsmore of Carsphairn ahead..




Reaching the car with 3 of the 4 hills in the background....


Coming off Cairnsgarroch.....

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Sunshine Superman.A Solo Weeks Holiday.

Blackhope Scar.Yup, It was a stinker alright. (I changed into shorts by the way for this hill,not what Alex implied)
Anyway,I`d booked a weeks holiday from the treadmill of work so I was determined to make the most of it but the weather ahead was the worst forecast yet.There would be sun alright but no long blue sky windows without heavy downpours sweeping past as well. This would take my best effort yet as I intended going out most days.We had planned big trips to a few west coast islands but after looking at the days ahead this was swiftly changed as I didn`t want every day off to be like Blackhope Scar again.It was time for some new adventures.I did ask Alex but he`s only really interested in hills but I`ll have a go at most things outdoors as long as its in the sun.
So,here`s a brief look at my solo week.

TUESDAY.14/07.DUNDEE.

Used to know this city well but hadn`t been in it for years and had heard it was changing fast so fancied a visit.Parked in the City centre car park and cycled the Green circular route which goes right around outer rim then along the coastline.
A purpose built cycling/walking corridor linking parks,riverways and urban green spaces in a loop.Headed past the city centre up steep hills until it levelled out and I could make for the western edge of the city.This part of the route was still interesting but a lot of the rough schemes had been knocked down or tarted up so for me its lost its zing a bit as I like a good wild ramble on a bike.However the flat easy coastline stretch from Broughty Ferry (a lovely place) back to the centre is still smashing.

It was a typical Scottish July day with heavy downpours and bright sunshine sharing the same mile.Here`s the view looking the other way.


I was still in shorts and tee shirt and stayed dry all day but did have to shelter under a tree in Caird park for 15 minutes during a downpour.
If I`d done a hill this day I`m sure I would have been soaked as the high points around took a few real batterings.

I ended the trip by touring around the docklands area.Like Glasgow and Edinburgh this was getting the usual glass and steel makeover,boring and very bland once you have visited a few as they all look pretty much the same with no individual character.
However I did spot two friends from former days stuck down here among the trendy new apartments like a pair of bewildered crusty old sea dogs who have suddenly found themselves in a posh wine bar by mistake.

And his bigger pal

The unicorn. All in all the best day given the conditions.It was a start.

WEDNESDAY.15/07.CASTLE SEMPLE TOUR.

Luckily I love this area and it has plenty going for it.Weather was poor until after 12 noon (AGAIN!)
A long drive was out so this area looked the best option given a 3 to 5 hour window
Set off from water park at Lochwinnoch along disused railway line now a flat cycle route. No views but bags of flowers.

Used this as a fast path then climbed minor road to Dalry with good views opening up but still on cycle route.

Then paid a wee headtorch visit to Cleeves Cove a muddy cave system which has had a few cave ins since the last time we crawled through it Alex. Returned via the B707 and Cockinhead moss
past Barrhill to Barcraigs and the Belltree hills.


What is it about bullocks?


Think you`re hard enough you magnificent eleven?


Or maybe not?


Other wildlife.

Although the weather thus far had been excellent something big was brewing up in the near distance.


Would I get back to the car still dry?


You betcha! Was really delighted when a thunderstorm hit once I was back in the house.Went out to dance in the downpour.Yippee!!!

THURSDAY.16/07

Spent all day hacking down the jungle that was my garden .Cleaning house and painting fences.Ho Hum!

FRIDAY.17.07.PORTPATRICK.

Haven`t been here since I was a kid but the weather window she say yes! Arrived with bike ,boots and new cheap wet suit and, as soon as I`d seen the cliffs, pulled on the last and went for a swim round the headland.Good fun under the cliffs was had.
Came out after a couple of hours and went a walk along the Southern upland Way.


This is the view looking across at it. Slendid walk with cliffs ,sandy beaches and rugged outcrops in a few miles of winding path that lead to the lighthouse.


Where, I retraced my steps then went inland through Dunskey Glen and Gardens back to Portpatrick.Great day out. Lucky with the camera too.


Very lucky!


And it wasn`t over yet.Due to the Open golf traffic at Turnberry decided to head inland and bag a new road. The B741 via Dailly,Straiton,Dalmellington,New Cumnock and back to Kilmarnock. This is a fantastic road or maybe it was just the light conditions but it seemed wonderful.Straight, empty and beautiful.

With a real wild west frontier feel to it.Open cast coal mines dotted some of the hillsides, old coal bings and former mining towns lay in the valleys with interesting hills all around.


A real gem of a road in good light.

And yet again the heavens opened when I was safe in the house.

SATURDAY.18/07.ST ABBS.

Phoned Alex.I had a "plan" He was not bothered.Solo again (wee sigh!)
Went to St Abbs area and swam under the vast cliffs in wet suit and flotation jacket but it was very cold with a swell though a bit sunny. Picked a quiet spot away from any folk as I didn`t want anyone to think I might need rescued.Was ok but being on my own had an unnerving feeling that there might be something lurking beneath me in the deeper areas which stopped me really getting into it this time.Don`t think it`s really for me this sea swimming lark but a change of outdoor action. Didn`t enjoy it as much as the other days.Must mean its time to go back to work. Ah Well!

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Blackhope Scar.

I was going to miss out on posting this trip because it was the first time I`ve ever been bored on a hill and I couldn`t think of anything positive to write on it.Usually there`s always some plus factor about this pastime, even if it`s only the masochistic pleasure of being up high in foul weather.


As usual it started of with a phone call from Bob and,as always,he had a "plan". I still haven`t got back into the routine after my holiday and needed a bit of cajoling from the man."I`ll just pick you up" he says, "you`ll enjoy it". I couldn`t be bothered arguing.... :)


A wee bit later than usual he pulls up."Bring your binoculars and get in the car" the order rang out. Once on the M8 heading east the "plan" was revealed.Apparently we were heading to Benarty Hill in Fife.Bob wanted to see some of the bands playing T in the Park and decided that we could watch them for free from the summit with the aid of binoculars :) I breathed a secret sigh of relief when the Fife hills appeared over to the north shrouded in cloud. I`m more of an acoustic music fan so I was grateful that the weather Gods had intervened and saved me from having to listen to Death by Tinnitus and Massive Eardrum Assault and rubbish of that order :)


A 90 degree turn was quickly executed when Bob spotted a patch of blue sky to the south hanging over the Moorfoots.This is one of Bob`s favourite cycling spots and as we drove through the back roads I could see why.Another one of these areas that look boring on the map but in reality are quite delightful.Nice quiet roads with little in the way of traffic,secluded houses,old stone walls from a bygone age and lots of native woodland.


Gladstone reservoir was our destination and we parked at NT 291 528 on the southern fringes of the loch.Blackhope Scar had to wait a half hour or so as we sat out a couple of squalls and passed the time swapping sections of the newspaper and having an early lunch.You can`t put it off for ever though and as soon as there was a weather gap we headed off towards Moorfoot farm.Passing through the farmyard ( dog free ) we headed southwards up the glen towards the path that heads up the Kipps.

Track heading south from the farm....




It was drizzling on and off but nothing that required a jacket.We made our way up to the plateau and it was all downhill from there so to speak.The rain came on quite heavily.I put on my trusty Rab overtrousers ( best money I have ever spent on a piece of hill gear apart from a Thermarest ) whilst Bob annnounced that he was not one to be intimidated by the Scottish weather and was "going commando".Two sheep and myself put on a sprint at this moment :)

As we usually do,we split up and meandered uphill each finding our own different lines and met up at the summit.Thankfully Bob had donned a mid thigh length goretex jacket by this time :)There were views over the Firth of Forth to Fife and out east to Bass Rock but the going underfoot had been dreadful.Deep heather,hidden tussocks,spongy sphagnum moss and bogs.I`d so lost interest that I took one desultory photo and that was it.

Desultory zoomed photo showing Arthur`s Seat and Salisbury Crags.Firth of Forth and Kirkcaldy in the background seemingly the only sunny place in Scotland that day.Still wouldn`t park my car there for more than a few minutes though :)



Bob wanted to head back in the same direction and continue along the escarpment to Torfichen Hill.I did not fancy repeating the route.Browbeat Hill wasn`t far away to the west and at least there was a trace of a path in that direction.It was also a Donald tick for meself,albeit one that had been desecrated by a windfarm.We toddled off and it soon became apparent that neither of us were enjoying this at all.A quick stop for something to eat at the col and Bob headed northwards down the glen and I continued on to bag the summit.

View on the way back down the ridge...




We met up just before the hut marked on the map having disturbed a peregrine on the way down.After that we took our time walking down the glen back to the car.Loads of bird life in the glen today,wheatears,pippits,wagtails,skylarks etc;



Anyway,that was that.Bob has promised some decent pics and I`ll bung them up when I get them and take these down.
On a brighter bagging note Blackhope Scar is a Graham,Donald,Marilyn,Hump and had a nice trig for me to bag also :)

Friday, 10 July 2009

Rock climbing at Loudon Hill.

I spent a nice relaxing day at Loudon Hill in Ayrshire yesterday while poor old Bob was at work.

I made my own way down to meet up with Gavin and a colleague of his.Arrived at the crag at lunch time just as they were finishing Pulpit Arete on the pinnacle.Fraser,Gavin`s colleague,only had time for one more route.As he`s young, and has only ever climbed outdoors a few times, we thought it would only be proper to introduce him to the classic climb of the crag...the Edge.
Here`s a grainy old scan of the route taken by Bob years ago....





We soloed up the easy first pitch with Gavin leading the way.Ha...we had landed on the wrong side of the flake :) Not being in the least faint hearted,Gavin offered to try a new variation start.He traversed out left trying to get onto the bottom of the flake but gave up reluctantly after a fruitless 5 minutes.Here he is trying to lead us all to our doom...



That left two other options for our escape upwards.The Splits at E1 5b and Foxglove Chimney at Severe. I`m old enough to know that any route in which the word "chimney" appears is bound to be a desperate thrutch.However as Gavin was leading, it was his choice and we were doomed to grunt and curse upwards in the confines of Foxglove Chimney.It`s a lovely name for a climb and you would expect at least one redeeming feature.I suppose reaching the top would count as one :)
No pictures I`m afraid as I took my camera off my harness for safety`s sake and planted it deep inside the bowels of Fraser`s rucksack :) Interesting guy is Fraser.He composes music for a living and was rushing home to meet a deadline for the musical score for a documentary about puffins..

Anyway,when the young buck Fraser headed off,Gavin and I wandered up to the summit, myself on wobbly legs as it`s the first route I`d climbed in 3 years or so.It`s a fantastic wee viewpoint and we had lunch and looked over to the Arran peaks and the wonderfully named Distinkhorn.See below if you don`t believe me..!!

Click here for the mighty Distinkhorn


No rest for the wicked though....our pleasant little interlude was rudely interrupted by the arrival of Nicky who had driven down on hearing there was some rock climbing in the offing...and she was keen..!!
Quick thinking on my part to volunteer to take some photos meant that poor Gavin had to get geared up again :) Pulpit Crack,Epitaph and the awkward Cave Crack fell to them whilst I caught up on my tan,took the odd photo and done a bit of birdwatching and generally lazed around :)

Nicky leading Cave Crack...




A couple of videos...Nicky making short work of the overhanging at the top of Cave Crack..




Gavin on the crux move of Epitaph...

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Dunoon.The North Clyde Estuary Tour.

Much better day today.Sunshine Scotland apart from a few thundery downpours.Needless to say I`d keep clear of them but for once there was no need to let the weather window pick the location.
Alex was away trying to buy a car to replace his van.I was under instructions not to go anywhere he`d want to go. Bossy or what!
Given the choice, if it`s hot, I prefer cycling anyway.Its much cooler and seems to leave you less tired next day.
This route is one from the top drawer though.A real five star classic,hugging the coastline for miles then a climb up into the high mountains before a flat freewheel along a Scottish fiord.
Maybe its far fetched but I`ve always thought of it as Scotlands very own Amalfi coast (Italy) as the grand villas climb the hills in the same fashion although the roads are far quieter which is no bad thing on a bike.
This is the route taken.
So. Car to Gourock.Parked in large free car park next to open air swimming pool.Took bike on ferry and had very pleasant crossing over to Dunoon.

This town was fairly jumping.It was 11.45am and full of life thanks to the Argyll Hillbillies Motorcycle Club with loud rock music, market tents and big collection of static bikes and bikers milling around the promenade for their annual charity day bash.
Great sunny day it turned out as well.As usual these past few weeks I`d left it late just to give the weather a chance to stabilise and cloud to burn off. No point cycling in dull conditions when I didn`t have to.

Although it was the other side of the street where all the biz and bike action was just took this to show the difference in the 10 minutes it took to dock.Its now a sunny day after a dullish morning.
The stalls, tourists and bikers looked interesting but I was off round the coast while it was nice so I swept past intending to see them when I returned.
Years ago I`d read a cracking book I`d got from my local library.The North Clyde Estuary.An Illustrated Architectural Guide By Frank Walker and Fiona Sinclair.
It was an real eye opener giving something of the history of this area and its many buildings,ancient and modern.Fasinating stuff and I was soon off exploring it on my bike many times in the years that followed.
This would be a wee tour of an old favorite then.
If you are into wild scenery and grand gothic revival villas hugging the steep hillsides this is the place for you.
Flat cycling took me round the first headland into the Holy Loch so named as a ship carrying a cargo of sacred soil from Jerusalem bound for Glasgow Cathedral was wrecked in the bay and the loch became blessed as a result.An early version of spin perhaps , trying to make the best of a bad situation.
There is a wide assortment of houses around this coastline, big and small, but I was pleased to see that many of the larger houses which on prevous visits had a negleged but sad charm had been given much needed love and attention as if some new money had rediscovered this beautiful corner of Scotland.
At one time ,before cheap safe air travel, the rich families of the central belt built these villas and mansions to get away from the noise and grime of the factories and smoke of the cities.
This was their Eden and they created a long string of pearls (Houses) from Dunoon right round to Ardentinny where I was headed.
The variety of styles seemed endless.Scottish Baronial villas,modest but pretty council cottages, turreted castles , modern suburban plots,wooden holiday homes and alpine style chalets.Like an Architects box of liquorice allsorts set in stone.I took a few pics but if you want to see them you`ll need to go there yourself .This isn`t a property page.Besides I wouldn`t like a picture of my house on here.Its a tad intrusive.
I had lunch in Ardentinny then set off for the big challenge of the trip, the pull up Glen Finart over the pass to reach Loch Eck.I remember this as being slow and easy to start off with then getting steep and twisty near the top. I also remember doing it in a oner without getting off.....
Ah for those young pup days again!
It was easy to start with and I felt fine.
But it went on.......
And on.......
And I had to admit I was getting old and got off well before this bit for a spot of footwork.
Still I had the great freewheel down to Loch Eck to look forward to (would have stopped for a pint at Whistlefield Inn if Alex was here) but sped down instead to the picnic bay halfway down Loch Eck.
Luckily I`d missed any downpours in this vicinity.
An easy run down this narrow loch past the Benmore Botanic Gardens (well worth a visit) with the giant redwoods towering above the bike then up over the wee hill on the back road into Dunoon again.Just had time to catch the ferry at 4.00pm along with a friend I bumped into from Glasgow.
A final word must be said about Greenock.It can get a bad press at times mainly by folk who don`t really know it.

Back in the car it was a fine evening so I went out to capture the glory of one of my favourite towns. As a keen snapper I like any town or city that throws itself up hillsides with gusto.I love this place.

Sure it has its rough areas but it also has its fair share of large villas and amazing buildings.The grand Mount Olympus mansions and the tough schemes climbing up the hillsides together,hand in hand, each with a stunning view over the Firth of Clyde.
And so to bed.