Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Portencross.Storm Aftermath.

Due to the three Braemar posts this one is a tad delayed.No matter.A few days after the big storm that hit the central belt with winds well in excess of one hundred miles an hour I set off late on the Sunday to see what damage it had inflicted on the countryside.My fence,which has survived many winter storms, was smashed in several places so I knew this had been a big event even in sheltered Glasgow.
As I,d already posted two storms hitting the west coast in previous trips I thought I,d visit something different this time.I wanted to see for myself how the more exposed headlands beyond the beaches and cliffs had coped with increased levels  of wind speed as stronger storms seem to be a yearly occurrence now.

I arrived at the car park in Portencross around lunchtime,after a tasty plate of ham,eggs,Black pudding, fried potatoes, fried bread and tomatoes.(Hey! How did so much fruit get in there?).The reason for the late start was the grim morning.It had now brightened up into a cold, dull afternoon with a raw feel to it.There is not much to do in Portencross unless you are into walking but it just has a nice feel about it even in winter that,s hard to explain.
The hamlet consists of this restored Castle,a ribbon of houses, a few farms and a tiny harbour isolated under the cliffs,sitting on the rocky stump of Farland Head, part of a square, rugged peninsula.The wall of steep wooded cliffs above would provide a bit of shelter I reasoned and also make for good photos.
Sometimes luck comes into the equation however.This group of kayakers were also looking for a sheltered place to enjoy their own Sunday pursuit.It was still choppy however and not a day for visiting the Firth of Clyde Islands.On a calm day this is a good spot for doing just that.The sea equivalent of a bike Its amazing the distance you can travel in a kayak given flat smooth water.
Whenever I see someone in a kayak I  naturally think back to my own trips.Nearly fifteen years ago now a club member(Dave) joined who had a couple of kayaks and equipment gathering dust in his family garage.He was now into climbing full time and was happy to sell them to any club members who wanted them for a knock down price.Alex wasn,t interested.Its always been hills for him.Myself and another club friend Alistair collected them and over the next couple of years had great adventures on calm days exploring the islands of inland lochs,offshore islands,river systems,inlets and coastlines.It was one outdoor sport you could happily enjoy in mist,drizzle and light rain as long as the water was calm.Sometimes this made it even more magical....Loch lomond,s islands and certain west coast sea inlets appearing like vertical terraced kingdoms through the mist.Surreal and magnified, profound shifting glimpses of half guessed locations appearing at random through the murk.Or a large Inhabitant of the deep surfacing close by,sometimes unseen,sometimes visible...then relief if its a seal or a porpoise.(Much larger creatures have been known to glide along under the west coast waters...killer whales and over a dozen species of shark.....Mako, Blue, Porbeagle, Greenland ,Basking...a surprisingly long list.)http://www.wildlifeonline.me.uk/uk_elasmobranch.html  A very Interesting site about UK wildlife this link also details several sightings of great white sharks in Scottish waters though none are confirmed by photos.Some of the largest great white sharks in the world however  have been caught in the  Mediterranean and  unlike there we have an abundance of  juicy seal pups.
It was a brave new realm and I was thrilled to be a part of it sitting in my thin lump of fibreglass above immense depths.Out at sea,sometimes,you could just feel deep channels sink below similar to exposure  felt on a large cliff face when climbing.It felt like being a long way from your last runner. A totally different feeling to being in a boat,even a small one.Mind you,at times it reminded me of a  fallen fly on a trout pond.

This is one place that had that effect on me years ago.Imagine a still,silent day with a low blanket of cotton wool hugging the land for miles around.On a midweek day off I paddled alone out to sea  ,turned round and was suddenly confronted by this ancient sea cliff ,at one time battered by waves and storms before the sea level fell to its present state.The ground below the cliffs remained hidden, a vertical wall just seemed to drop straight into the depths,jackdaws and buzzards voices clearly heard from half a mile out as I sat resting on the surface.
After some memorable outings Alistair moved up north when a better job offer came up.I continued solo kayaking for a while but unless you are very experienced at that game and I wasn,t, its a high risk sport. Solo kayakers bagging islands don,t seem to last too long from what I,ve seen and after a couple of  timely reality checks out in the middle of nowhere I packed it in and went back to hillwalking and climbing .I,d already done most of the stuff I could comfortably reach anyway.Adios Kayaks.
The plan was to walk along the bottom of these cliffs and then go round and up near the skyline onto Golden berry hill then come down past Thirdpart farm back to the car.When I came under the Three Sisters however the thought suddenly occurred that I could maybe scramble up the central gully here for a bit of sport.
Although never a stylish scrambler by any means I can, on occasion, creep, shuffle and grunt my way up the odd rock outcrop if the notion takes me....by any means..ie ...knees, elbows, bottom.
On closer inspection however  the start of this promising gully was steep, dripping and tangled.Not a pleasant place to be at all.Thankfully these daft notions of adventure occur less and less as I get older.
I soon reached the Goldenberry Woods but was not prepared for what I discovered there.This is a favourite  deciduous woodland walk of mine but roughly one fifth of all the mature trees had either toppled or snapped.Even in the more sheltered city parks in Glasgow several large trees had been uprooted overnight but in this exposed headland wood fallen trees lay in long rows like tipped lines of domino's.It does not take an expert to work out if storms of this magnitude become the norm we will not have many woods left.
In this year alone storms have cleaned out successive pockets of large healthy trees.Even If you plant new ones  the woods get thinner every year this happens reducing the shelter belt provided for the rest.My local park,Dawsholm, set on a hill,has a skyline in places of snapped off mature beech trunks 30 feet up just where the first branches should start.
I,ve seen a few woodland birds in my time but here you could almost feel the stillness.Hundreds of corvids flew above the wood in total silence.Very unusual for this garrulous species.Not one "caw caw"..Maybe fanciful but It reminded me of humans after a major event wandering round looking at their surroundings in shock.No doubt many of these birds had lost roosting trees and annual nest sites.Corvids are one of the most intelligent bird groups.An event like this would be a major event in their life's. It,s been discovered in recent years that Ravens meet up in large numbers to share information.There are far more birds here above this small wood than I,d normally expect for a local population.This is only one end of a so called "super flock" that covered the area above the trees.Mainly rooks I think but other birds seemed to be mixed in as well.....crows,wood pigeons , even jackdaws whose cliff cavity sites were presumably safe from harm.Were they all viewing the aftermath of the storm.? They certainly circled around for long enough.
All I know is that it was quite sad seeing so many hundred year old  giants snuffed out in one day.Lots of work for foresters and tree surgeons though. Even the sunset over Arran seemed subdued.
Scotland,at the moment,finds itself in a fairly stable part of the world weather wise.We just get rain.Lots of it.
Other countries are experiencing more extreme conditions than us as we move into a new age of change.From the early years of this century large sections of the population have been able to distance themselves from the natural world around them like never before.
Mother Nature is still out there though,beyond the city limits,becoming a little wilder and more fickle with each passing decade.Surely we cant ignore her when she taps us on the shoulder like this.
Maybe I,ll live to see the great waves crash against the Portencross cliffs once more.
Forests and mountains rise and fall...sea levels move up and down...living things multiply then die.
May Nature survive,evolving, til the last star falls from these dark heavens.
If humanity is brushed aside in the future new forms of life will spring up to take our place in myriad,radiant abundance.That,s just the way its always been.
Now that,s a happy thought to end with....Is it not :)


Anonymous said...

Cracking post Bob. Really is a shame when an area gets savaged by nature but that I suppose is the natural order of things. Like you say mother nature sometimes sends us a reminder that she is in charge. I often think that she will find a way to remove man from the landscape if we continue to ruin it like we seem hell bent on!

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Andy.
Didn,t realise til now you were into caving.
Some fantastic underground world,s
right on your doorstep.Great photos on your blog of Long Churn.

The Glebe Blog said...

It's a shame about the trees Bob, but as surfnslide says it's nature and It's nature that's shaped our beautiful country.

Have you made your own calendar again this year.

Hope the healing's coming along, my gluteus maximus bruising has taken nearly ten weeks to completely heal.
Merry Christmas

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Jim.
Nature with the helping hand of man methinks.Just watched 4 guys row in a boat to the north pole tonight,something that could not have happened ten years ago.
That,s a No to a calendar this year.Never got around to it.
Healing is slow and painful at the moment.Feels like I,ve been beaten with iron bars all over my body and legs.I can limp about the house to the kitchen and back for food and drink but thats it.I think if it had happened to an older person 70 plus say bones would have snapped as I was thrown through the air then bounced off the kerb.
Back on the hills by the new year hopefully.It could have been much worse.He,ll be charged with running through a red light at a pedestrian crossing hopefully as other people were walking across it at the time.