Monday, 27 June 2011
Another club trip to the Alps saw us,one or two years later,head to the Vanoise area of France.It was an all male team this time...seven guys out for an adventure.The Vanoise National Park backs on to the Paradiso Park in Italy and was also set up to protect these guys,the Alpine Ibex, approx 2000 of whom wander seasonally over the mountains between both countries going where the best pastures and sheltered mountain hollows winter and summer are.
Even getting there from Glasgow was an epic.Night bus down to London...flight to Geneva in Switzerland...train to Annecy in France where we stayed overnight.There was,according to my guide a youth hostel just out of town.It didn`t look far away on the contour free town map I had so we had a couple of pints near the train station first.Annecy is a very scenic town with a large open lake and several streets covered in baskets of flowers overhanging canal like rivers.Like a mini Venice.
The youth hostel was indeed just out of town,only a mile walk away....straight up! It sat on top of a large hill near an amazing cathedral with magnificent views over the entire valley.What more could you ask?
The team struggled up a steep lane,stair after stair after stair,lugging our rucksacks stuffed with ropes,climbing harness,gear racks , tents,sleeping bags, and food.It was hard going as some of us had not packed light.Muttered accusations and curses were heard at first aimed towards the travel arranger but they soon faded away in the distance as I sprinted ahead keen to see the cathedral :o)
It was an OK youth hostel and the next day saw us on the train then a bus to Pralognan La Vanoise,our base for climbing the mountains.
Myself,still in contact friends Brian and John,another two Johns,Stevie and Russell who have scattered and gone their own separate ways in life made up the team.Unfortunately for once the weather throughout this trip was poor.It can happen,even in the alps in summer.
The day we arrived it was bright sunshine and we were keen to get up the hills,but the travel then getting the tents pitched and gear sorted out meant we didn`t have time for anything other than a walk around the village.The next day .... low cloud and rain. Second day.... rain. Third day...rain...and so it went on.
I ended up doing a lot of balcony trails and visiting other hamlets within walking distance of the campsite while the others preferred bolted routes on low down cliffs near the campsite.I was still relatively happy exploring new areas (and taking flower pictures) but for the guys only focused on climbs and big hills it was hard to take.There was a lot of night time snowfall high up and thunder and lightning boomed around the valley.Because of the extra height involved ,unknown serious mountains and risk of stonefall or lightning strike none of us fancied the idea of going up anything high in bad weather.That was just asking for trouble in
alpine regions. Besides there,s no view so whats the point?
After four days however a good morning dawned at last and we set off to bag the Aiguille De La Vanoise.At around (2796 metres) 9000 feet this was an arresting sharks fin of rock sticking up above the valley.It looked impressive and eye catching to say the least.The great needle of the region. For much better photos of the vanoise massif and the scale and shape of the aiguille de la vanoise click on here....Vanoise.A gallery on Flickr......its the second picture down.Some stunning photographs here.
Due to the work of glaciers and the strange geology of this place it had many of these knife edged or fin shaped mountain spires.It was certainly a step up from the range of easier peaks on offer in the Paradiso area.Le Grand Marchet was another fine peak across the valley but that side looked even harder.It looked wild! Brown trouser mountains for most folk..
This was taken during a lightning storm,something we were to grow very familiar with over the two weeks of our trip.
Anyway, off we climbed up our own needle of choice.Brian and myself,John and John.Two ropes of two up cracked slabs for several pitches.It wasn't that bad.Easy V diff climbing throughout and we reached the ridge.Although we knew it would be steep on top this was mind zapping stuff..Imagine a great white sharks fin tilted slightly over to one side at the top as they sometimes are.Imagine us perched near the summit.We looked over the edge.It was a 3000 foot ,slightly overhanging it seemed to us, drop on the hidden side....the steep slabby face we had just climbed on the other.The summit was not far away along a narrow shattered ridge.We swallowed,dry mouthed all of a sudden and carried on.
This is us reaching the top.A memorable moment in our lives.We hoped it wouldn`t be the last moment though! La Grande Casse, one of the classic high peaks of France loomed nearby.Its central Glacier gleaming with a dusting of new snow.
The Guide book called the Aiguille De La Vanoise a useful training climb for aspiring alpine mountaineers.It probably was once you got used to the exposure up here.Creeping along this thin blade we reached the summit which was about the size of a sofa and got out said guidebook.It recommended carrying on off the other side of this arete.Continue without incident was all the information given.Easy stuff.
Our two bold leaders,Brian and John looked over the edge when we shortly arrived at a drop off just past the summit.
Unless we were off route, a hard thing to achieve on a knife edge,it was a blind abseil straight into space.Too much of this mountain seemed to be vertical or overhanging for me to really warm to it as a hill with good intentions towards us.
There might have been an easy ledge leading off it down there somewhere but no one was particularly keen to find out.Although we had prussik loops with us this was mega balls territory and ours had just shrunk to raisins with one peer over that abyss.
We looked at Brian,our best climber but still an alpine novice then like the rest of us,expectantly.
"Cheers guys" he said.
.It was like volunteering someone for the firing squad.
There was a long pause while he consulted with John, our other bold leader who had worryingly managed to get a dollop of suncream in one eye halfway up the route and was blinking like a strobe light, then both read the guide book description again intently.
"We think we should abseil back down the way we came up" they decided.The wave of relief could have filled a swimming pool.
"Good call. lets get off this bugger!".Its ticked!
This is me on the sofa summit.This is as far away as Brian could stand to take the photo without falling over the edge.A bag of chips could be scoffed by the others before anyone hit the deck if they fell off
from this point :0) Anyway we,d climbed it and gave ourselves a wee pat on the back.
Undaunted, we had a go a few days later,after more bad weather, at the towering La Grande Casse.3855 metres(12,900 feet approx) This was technically quiet straightforward but harder than Gran Paradiso requiring proper glacier work and a sharp snow ridge traverse to reach the summit.The weather was not kind to us though, loads of falling rock and melting ice off the cliffs above us started tumbling down and we decided to beat a reluctant retreat.Being serious,a certain degree of cowardice is actually a good thing to possess on mountains anywhere.Folk without any fear at all or those with little regard for the consequences involved in pushing on don`t tend to last very long usually.Simple as that.
This is us turning back.In hindsight just as well as the weather deteriorated further and we would have been caught out high up on the exposed ridge. It was a shame though.La Grande Casse looked a fine hill on the way in.
The last mountain in the area we attempted was a peak reached across the expanse of the Vanoise Snowfields,The second largest all year round snow plateau in the Alps.Its a popular high level ski mountaineering area but today, after only an hour or so of stepping on it the weather closed right in again turning it into a freezing unseen windswept white hell.Once again we retreated beaten back by the elements.
Here`s one I took just below the mist on the edge of the snowfields looking down at the much lower Aiguille De La Vanoise which changes its shape with each new angle you look at it.Pralognan and the tents lie below the second layer of mist deep in the valley.
At the end of our two weeks three of the guys had to go home again.A disappointing end to their holiday.To make matters worse it was a rare two week heatwave back in Glasgow all the time we were out in France.Maybe the weather systems meant for each country got swapped around.
Myself, Brian and two Johns had an extra third week spare.Would our luck change in a new area?
We`d walked up and down the same ancient salt track to the Vanoise col over nine times now.A great scenic area but unlike the variety of walking routes up hills in Paradiso from the campsite most of the main peaks here seemed to be reached up the one central path.There is a spectacular 5 day backpacking trip from Pralognan through the Vanoise massif which looks amazing and I always fancied doing that.Its one of the classic walks of Europe.
But we all felt it was time for a change.When the raw elements of nature are crashing down on your head on an almost daily basis.... well... you can have two many sharks fins circling around you.
Tuesday, 21 June 2011
Yes I know.I`ve been here before.But the last time I visited the Ayrshire coastal path I was able to cycle parts of it on a bike although very windy but it was hardly the biggest storm to hit Scotlands coast.A mere dress rehearsal but it did give me a chance to find the best places for sea hitting land and places where I could stand without going under the waves or getting hit in the face by half the seabed.The report card would have read.Ach! Could do better! So I waited patiently for that perfect storm to arrive and one came when I least expected it,in our normally calm and tranquil spring a few weeks ago which has been a real brute this year.
This time wind speeds were predicted to reach above eighty miles an hour,structural damage warnings were out in advance on television and peak high tide times matched in during the day for a change.Luckily I had a free day so off I trundled down the coast, camera and two elastic bungee cords (for clipping me against poles and railings to keep the camera steady ) stuffed in the rucksack.No bike this time.This was the real deal.
A playful Armageddon.I felt sorry for the poor suffering wildlife as this storm hit in the middle of the breeding season and I,m sure casualties were high with nests torn from trees and chicks and eggs smashed countrywide.Even disgruntled badgers would be tossed about in their holes wondering whats going on above.
Mind you they would never call it a hurricane up here in Scotland....Just a bit gusty...A leave your brolly at home folks kind of day.You wonder how much more of a kicking some species can take though.This one storm with the trees top heavy in full leaf must have been devastating to tree nesting birds.Can,t have been a picnic for the wee rock pool creatures either.
Anyway it was here so off I went in search of it.This is my soggy tale of being bent over in a big wind.
First place I arrived at was the rugged little hamlet of Dunure clinging to the Ayrshire cliffs where the local kids like everywhere else in the world amuse themselves by altering road signs.I had a good laugh at this.If I`ve learned one thing by middle age its that one of the greatest gifts you can have or be born with is a sense of purpose, that if your very lucky stays with you throughout your life.Money,happiness,relationships all that might add to it of course but if you have a genuine driving sense of purpose that stays with you that's all you really need in life.It doesn`t even matter if you achieve what your goal is,as long as you keep trying to capture whatever it is you are attempting as its the quest that's the important part.Even on a minor level these local children or child obviously spent a fair bit of effort rubbing out the missing letters and derived satisfaction from the result.For that short time he or she was totally focused and had a purpose.
The secret to a happy life contained in a road sign :o) Oh dear.... I sound like Professor Yaffle from Bagpuss now!
Although windy It wasn`t that impressive at Dunure.True I was struggling to get out the car and keep the door from being ripped out my hands but I could still stand without getting blown over ( very disappointed by that!) and the waves when I reached them were dramatic without being spectacular.I`m never happy me!
It was enough for this poor cormorant though.It had clearly had enough on this coast and was flying inland to a more sheltered river to feed. It probably knew the worst was yet to come.
Next stop was the industrial sea front at Ayr.Now this was more like it.Much wilder, bigger waves and a flooded road still being used by cars.In the case of the bus depot they didn`t seem to have a choice as buses arrived and left from here to service the town.Suppose its just a way of life down the coast,most folk just see it in good weather.
I climbed over a wall and staggered up a small mound of industrial bricks and rubble,the highest point I was willing to climb given the conditions to capture the views around me.
I don't know if they make cars and buses differently nowadays but I would imagine this would do them some damage due to salt water penetration.It was certainly penetrating me but at least it was fairly warm.
Here`s one of the bus turning into the depot.A cracking day for the beach,bucket and spade :o) Back at the car,even though I`d parked it well away from the seafront the windows were so badly streaked with salt spray and blown lumps of sand I could hardly see out and had to find a puddle to splash over the glass before I could drive off.
I couldn`t believe this road was still open to traffic and that cars were still prepared to use it.Took a few videos which Alex is busy converting to a more suitable format hopefully.Cheers good buddy!Next time you should come along.Its not boring after all.And its easy on the foot :)
Next up was Prestwick,just a short distance away.Another struggle to get out the car then a stagger down to the sea front.Now this was spectacular! Waves and spray hitting the concrete embankment and leaping 40 feet into the air.The best yet.The wind here made an audible howl as it hit the coast and I could hardly keep the camera still long enough to take a clear picture.It also kept getting covered in spray which wouldn,t do it much good. I found a safe place to sit down and admired the view ignoring the spray and seaweed falling around me..This was the same day,a few weeks ago now, a little dog (dead ringer for Toto ) was out with its owner and was lifted clean into the air near Glasgow by the wind then was found days later wandering miles away.It had a happy ending as the owner got it back unhurt.
Yet unbelievably the seagulls were still able to fly in this.Perfectly adapted to cope with a storm lashed coastline.Anyone who
just thinks of them as greedy flying dustbins should see them soaring effortlessly here.Respect.
Didn`t matter where I moved hereabouts that pesky spray still managed to find me but it was all good clean fun.
Not many folk were out watching nature at its finest which surprised me.All you tourists out there....The Ayrshire Coastal Path doesn,t get any better than when its fine walking conditions like these.A big storm is the time to see the Ayrshire coast at its best.As dramatic in its own way as a mountain range.
Got wet feet here but a good video.
Next in my leapfrog up the coast towards home was Saltcoats.I thought once high tide was over the sea would die down a bit but the wind actually increased as the day wore on.Driving though some of streets in Ayr and Prestwick overhung with mature trees was like being in a green war zone, road and pavements covered in fallen leaves and branches several inches thick in places.When I got back to Glasgow I read the winds topped 114 miles an hour during the day and in this city alone 300 matures trees were either toppled or badly damaged.Happy hand rubbing times if you are a tree surgeon though.( Hi Jules!) Every cloud etc.....
Found myself wondering how any electric lines on the railway cope with this level of battering.I was just taking a video of this when a wee car suddenly appeared crawling along this dead end road,waves smashing around it.Priceless.It stayed for a few minutes then decided against further progress,inching back between giant lumps of water.
I was getting cold by this time so the final stop was Largs.
Although less dramatic it was the worst of all in terms of a soaking.I couldn,t stand anywhere near the railings and avoid the spray so just had to put up with it.Even the main road here was partly flooded despite being set well back from the beach front.Cant imagine any ferries sailing in this.Be an adventure though.
See! You can have plenty of excitement away from the hills you just have to pick the right day.
I¬m never happy though.Back in the house I was wondering what it would be like in 150+ miles an hour winds and if it would be possible to capture that properly on film.
A sense of purpose....that's the key :o)
Video to follow......
Alex thinks I should shorten this video for the fast forward, 10 seconds then elsewhere generation out there.I don't.Its fine as it is building up bigger and wilder scene by scene.If it was shorter there wouldn't have been any point taking it at all.See what you think.I doubt I`ll take a better one.In a greater storm than this one I`d never hold the camera steady and upright long enough unless it and I were bolted down..........................................
.....hang on .. now there`s a thought!.
Monday, 13 June 2011
Next one from the archives folks.The first proper club trip I went on was to Gran Paradiso. A stunningly beautiful area of the Italian Alps,smack up against the French and Swiss borders right at the top of the country.The massive Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn and Monte Rosa all share summit borders sloping into Italy but only Gran Paradiso sits entirely within Italy itself making it the highest peak in the country at 4061 metres.
The Aosta Valley,reached in our case by a hired coach through the deep burrowing Mont Blanc tunnel sits in a grand position surrounded by these giants of the Alps.
Paradiso is the oldest national park in Italy.A royal hunting reserve since 1856 and one of the last strongholds of the Alpine Ibex,a heavy set powerful antelope that could really do you a mischief with its massive horns.Luckily its fairly indifferent towards humans but you wouldn't want to annoy them when you see the way the males crash into each other in the mating season.
Gran Paradiso together with the neighbouring (French) Vanoise National Park form one of the largest protected areas in Western Europe.Fifty seven separate glaciers sit within the Italian Park boundaries alone.Mixed woodland covers the lower slopes,alpine meadows hold an abundance of flowers in spring and summer and ermine,weasel,badger,chamois and even the very rare wolf and lynx are rumoured to hide in its more remote corners.In short its a cornucopia of natural wonders.
This is a family of chamois.They used to hunt these for their hides,the wonderfully supple shammy leather.beloved of housewives cleaning windows.,
It's a very popular holiday destination with Italians themselves and with their close neighbours.When we were there over 20 years ago now,few locals spoke English but both French and Italian are used everywhere.In the peak summer months its just like any other mountain honeypot with occasional traffic problems,hordes of tourist cars and buses on the narrow dead end road to Cogne and big business trying to nibble away at the edges with proposed ski and hotel developments, not all of which are turned down.The Vanoise has the popular winter Three Valleys network plus Val Thorens and Val D`Isere ,names familiar to any downhill skier so its under even more pressure to new development.
Our destination was the campsite at Epinel,a small village with a bar, restaurant and a couple of shops one a mini market.It wasn't as large as Cogne a few miles further down at the road end but the club had read the right books and did its homework well in the still word of mouth days before instant internet pictures of everywhere and detailed coverage and reviews of far off places.There was still a lot of mystery then and you never knew for sure what it would be like til you got there.
We were a mixed group of walkers and easy grade climbers,some older with young families in tow,a small as yet unmarried younger crowd and assorted mountaineers in between.Epinel was more peaceful than mountain tourist and rock climber driven Cogne so the children with us could explore the quieter campsite and leafy streams without getting lost in a crowd.It also had a network of easy to reach paths and balcony trails snaking up through the woods to the summits beyond.Both rock towers and higher snow and ice peaks surrounded the village and the local men came out at night to play "boules" in the cool of the evening on a patch of flattened ground nearby.It felt like the real Italy though of course this region has a strong French influence as well having been attached to that country in the distant past before boundaries changed.Hence the dual language still spoken by most locals.
Being around the same age,fitness level and ability with no children to worry about four of us teamed up to bag the surrounding peaks once the tents were up.Myself, old friend John,Brian and Fiona.We had all walked together in Scotland before so we already knew we got on OK. Incidentally,Alex normally didn't go on any trips abroad then with the various clubs we moved through over the years.He`s always had his periods of high activity then low activity ,just like now I suppose :o) I was out with him at the weekend in Glencoe, of which more later.
Relatively easy mountains surrounded the tents,a few jagged rock peaks similar to the Cobbler in grade only 10,000 feet in height were the ones we fancied first.Above this 12,000 foot (3500metre) snow peaks appeared.Then the two "biggies", Gran Parasido (4061 metres) and La Grivola ( 3969 metres).In my opinion and having been there its a brilliant area for first timers to the alps that are mainly hill walkers in the UK as a range of varied rock, snow and easy glacier peaks can be bagged without much technical skill involved.
Even Paradiso itself is one of the easiest 4000 metre peaks in the alps,though any hill that size in bad weather can turn deadly serious.
The only hill we didn't plan to have a shot at was this one here...La Grivola,protected by its ring of fractured glaciers and steep loose walls.It was severe grade mixed rock and snow/ice climbing to
reach the summit and the guide book warned of parties finding said loose rock and a few going off route halfway up.Bit too hard for us just yet.
With so many other 10,000 foot rock towers around, 12,000 foot snow peaks,Paradiso itself and only 2 weeks to cram it all in we had more than enough on our plate anyway.
Punta Pousset fell to our eager feet then Punta Del Trajo.
At the head of the valley above Cogne Punta Fenilla caught the eye with its long soaring ridge of slabs at an unroped (we hoped) looking angle. This ridge in the background is the one we climbed.This is a part of it.Several thousand feet of it later we reached the slightly steeper head wall of the summit.A fantastic route, very unusual to find such long easy but superb scrambling without a hidden sting in the tail.Think of the Dubhs ridge on Skye.Only at 10,000 feet.A stunningly vivid day. and after all these years have passed I`ve still never climbed anything quite like it again.
Gran Paradiso itself came next.The four of us sharing a very sardine like tent halfway up,camped on a grassy meadow just below the snow line.There was a large hut nearby but we preferred to camp and cook for ourselves,both to save money but also for the freedom involved.Most huts are crowded,chaotic places,good in bad weather but I`ve rarely had much sleep in them.Hot airless rooms with at least one bad snorer in the same dorm.No thanks.
This is us at the summit,an alpine mountain guide casually sitting on a sloping rock over the abyss,admiring the view.With Italy still being a deeply religious country,many Italians make a special pilgrimage to climb Gran Paradiso,often hiring guides as they are not mountaineers themselves.Bit like folk doing Ben Nevis or West Highland Way for charity, some may not do anything else outdoors after that. This person looks as if they are praying to the Madonna,erected for just this purpose.I think the new one has chimes!
Although this side of Paradiso is an easy if long snow plod the other side of the mountain drops away in spectacular fashion.I don't think I`ve ever had a more beautiful high mountain view,made even better by stormy over night rain which flattened our tent,leaving four damp bumps cursing under a puddle heavy canvas pancake.No matter...In the alps the sun normally appears and by early morning everything dries rapidly in 80 degree heat..In Bonnie Scotland sadly, most days if you get wet ...you stay wet!
After seeing an Italian guy doing it I was determined to scramble up the vertical rock tower seen in the summit picture two above.I don't climb many pinnacles normally ( I climb like an enthusiastic sea lion truth be told) but this was a once in a lifetime experience.And what a pinnacle!Half of Italy below your trembling toes.(you can see the summit tower shot and others if you go to this blogs "the greater ranges" back posting from April last year.2010.
We even had a Sightseeing rest day in Turin,Like all Italy,s larger towns and cities,jam packed with history and sculpture on the grandest scale.
Mind you for a rest day we must have walked about ten miles but at least it was flat.We calculated in two weeks we,d ascended the equivalent of Mount Everest at least twice. That's almost 60,000 feet.
I could never manage a third of that now.It would kill me.
Like normal folk might go on annual holidays to the Spanish Costas or rest happily on Turkish beaches or even visit Florida for us then, if we saved up and went abroad once each year, it was always only about one thing....big peaks,bigger packs and two weeks of sun, sweat,blood,guts,stumbles,curses and tears.Would I change any of it.....What do you think?
Monday, 6 June 2011
Yup ! Good to be back on the sunshine coast again.After a month of mixed weather on the west coast of Scotland I got fed up with endless dull drab clouds and headed off to sunnier climes.A visit to the east was a breath of fresh air,even if that air was coming at me at 60 miles an hour.
I was here for four reasons.I fancied seeing how the gannets were coping in this unseasonal windy weather...I wanted to do the traverse at low tide from Seacliff to under Tantallon Castle.....I`d picked a day of high tides and high winds on purpose for big seas....and lastly I simply fancied a walk along nice sunny beaches without the rain coming on all the time.All four would be excellent...even two I`d be happy with.
First stop over in East Lothian was Belhaven Bay,one of my favourite beaches in Scotland.Despite a gale blowing and myriad rivers of sand snaking in unison all along this coast off the dunes making seeing anything in the direction of the approaching wind difficult there were a few hardy folk walking along at an angle.Not much in the way of big rollers( needs an east to west wind I now know and this was west to east) but the attraction here was the gannets diving ,hitting speeds of 60mph (100kmph) as they plunged after fish.Due to wave action further out they were diving close to the shore as they need to be able to spot the fish from the air.
Even at that my camera still wasn`t fast enough to catch them mid plunge but I did get the splash.The John Muir Way passes near here as it runs along the coast from Musselburgh to Cocksburnpath.He grew up in Dunbar before finding fame in America as one of the founding fathers of conservation.The way passes through some interesting and lovely country but to see it at its best you` ve really got go off route slightly and walk along the various beaches nearby.I tried to cycle it once years ago by using all the beaches at low tide from Dunbar right round to Gullane.An epic tussle involving a fair bit of portage and occasional cliff scrambling, bike tied to my back.The perfect section is from North Berwick to Marine Villa which is just smooth hard flat sand bike skimming along near the waves.
Dunbar came next with its quaint harbour, its palm trees and clifftop path.I started off at the large car park beside the harbour,getting blown down the grass slopes to the sheltered enclosure below.Even though there was a wind roaring past the high walls of the harbour the water inside was flat calm.
Different tale past the entrance slot though which looks tricky to find if you don't know the layout in high seas.
Dunbar harbour at this time of year is something of a bird reserve in its own right.Every ledge of the ruined castle had a kittiwake bottom sticking out from it......
....and any unlucky latecomers had to make do with the more exposed outer walls beyond this harbour.
Where they really had to cling on with beak ,claws and feathers.
Had a scramble along the base of these cliffs at Dunbar,smashing outcrops of old red sandstone all along this coast.Even here the eider ducks were hunkered down waiting for better weather conditions.
Seacliff came next,through the £2 gate entry to the bay then a very windy exposed traverse along the bottom of the cliffs to the waterfall under Tantallon Castle.Always wanted to do this but never got the tide right.Actually got blown right over twice but at least it was sunny on an other wise dull drab month.
The only thing still in the air by now were the gannets and an occasional low flying gull.It surprised me how little wave action there was considering the wild conditions.Now I`ve done it there are very easy ways up the cliffs here so escape if the tide comes in is not any problem.
Out here is the best place to see Bass Rock from if you don't want the bother of booking a seat in a boat in advance,which is great but can be cancelled by adverse weather conditions.Even Sir David Attenborough had his fair share of problems getting out to the rock but when he eventually made it he described seeing it in spring as one of the twelve wildlife wonders of the world....and who better to know?
Its the largest single gannet colony in the world , home to approx 150,000 Atlantic gannets.
In the days before health and safety I took a round the rock tour on an over sized rowing boat with a normal outboard engine.The captain preformed brilliantly in the notorious east coast swell as we bounced about like a cork under the massive cliffs.It was almost like being in a giant snowdome,the air above thick with whirling gannets and their droppings.A few folk were sick over the side before we got back and one wee girl held her nose and said "Bye Bye smelly birdies!"
In the days of sailing ships you could smell if you were close to the Bass Rock in thick mist.A handy survival tip for sailors before more sophisticated navigational aids.
Trips in a modern big RIB nowadays from Dunbar cost £22 for adults..£17 for children (round island no landing) or £98 a head landing.This is from North Berwick 12 places connected with the seabird centre as you need this permission to land.£300 for a complete group booking with extras.Approx five hours on island depending on conditions.
For the first time on the way back to the car I was delighted to see a little fishing boat in the fantastic carved harbour at Seacliff.Even though its sandstone.... what an effort required to cut this out of solid rock! There was even a little rock carved fish and lobster keep beside it by the looks of it for sticking caught items in still alive and fresh.One of the jewels of the east coast this place.
Last up was the island of Fidra and the fabulous chain of beaches beside it,miles of golden sands with great views across to the four main islands off shore.Historical novelist Nigel Tranter lived in Aberlady and knew this region well using East Lothian in several of his books.For a lot of folk including myself he really made Scottish history come alive without the ordeal at school of endless pointless dates to remember and dry lists of long dead monarchs nobody cared about.In his books they were suddenly vivid and interesting.
Another writer who loved this coastline was Robert Louis Stevenson who spent his early holidays here.His map of Treasure Island in the famous book of that name is said to be inspired by the shape of Fidra.
All that remains on uninhabited Fidra now however are the ruins of a chapel and castle and loads and loads of gulls.Its a RSPB reserve and you can watch the birds there at the sealife centre via remote cameras. The lighthouse is also fully automated but you can still imagine this mysterious looking island on quiet moonlit nights to be the haunt of pirates.
Far fetched? Only a few years ago I met a sailor holding court at the bar in a Dunbar pub with a metal hook for a hand.He preferred it to a more up to date model when working on the boats.It was useful for cutting things.And that is a true story...