Monday, 25 July 2011

The Far North of Scotland.

Some pics form a wee trip up north at the beginning of the month.Broke off the long drive up by stopping off at Fortrose for a spot of dolphin watching but the tides weren`t in our favour and the dolphins obviously had better places to have lunch.Martina lives a few hundred yards away from Chanonry Point so we called in to see her.We never got lunch either, only a cup of tea :)

Continued up the A9 to Helmsdale and then up the Strath of Kildonan stopping off at Baille an Oir for a while to
see the site of the goldrush village.Over then to the lonely outpost of Kinbrace before turning north to the coast at Melvich.Some stunning views of Beinn Griam Beag from this road.

There`s a wee campsite attached to the Halladale Inn here for £5 a night.It`s right next to the road but as there is next to no traffic here it`s not really a concern.Sparkling clean toilets as well.I was sorely tempted by the pub quiz that started a t 9pm but the weather was stunning and,being Scotland,it would have been daft to spend the evening inside so we headed down to the beach for a walk.

This pic was taken around 10pm....

Next morning it was puffin hunt :) I`d heard about a nearby sea stack which was home to a colony so headed off over the moor and out to the coast.They were there alright...hundreds of them.I walked out on to the tip of the promontory on the left.The puffins nest on the sea stack on the right.

It was a perfect vantage point for watching them fly in to feed the young ones.They seemed to have perfected a dambusters style of return by flying in fast and low into the gap between the seaward cliff and the stack in order to avoid the black headed gulls and skuas harassing them.I thought I might get a better view a bit lower down so climbed down the cliff on the opposite side for about 30 feet to a ledge I could see.Maybe about Mod or Diff.Surprise,surprise,they were nesting on the landward side as well about 10 feet away from me . I got an odd glance off the occasional one but they didn`t seem bothered at all.

Cheeky puffin...

Sat there for half an hour watching them come and go. Fish supper....

The whole point of the trip was that Mrs.Blue Sky had read that the sculptor,Lotte Glob,was opening her sculpture trail on the shores of Loch Erribol for a few weeks and was desperate to pay a visit so off we headed in a westerly direction.I`d much rather have pottered about though but did manage to disappear into the heather to bag a few fundamental bench marks on the way :) Coldbackie beach is one of my favourites but I didn`t have time for a paddle alas.Down the road from Coldbackie and Ben Loyal appeared....

I would have liked to potter around the Kyles of Tongue for an hour or two in the hope of an osprey putting in an appearance but was under pressure from Mrs.Blue Sky.I did have time for a chat with a German cycle tourer by the name of Tio.Tio had been all over the world cycling but swore blind he had never seen such stunning scenery as the north west. Anyway,I dropped her off at Lotte`s and went for a walk from Sangobeag to Rispond.More cracking`s Sangobeag..

Back to up the road and had a quick word with Lotte about a few of the local bothies before Mrs.Blue sky put in an appearance.Camped round at Durness for the night.
View from the tent...

I got up at 5am the next morning and set off Beinn Ceannabeinne via the nearby Marilyn of Meall Meadhonach.I was glad of the early start as it was getting too warm by the time I reached the summit.The foot wasn`t giving me too much trouble and I even managed to cross the bogs dryshod in my trainers.Great views to the south towards Ben Hope and the Foinaven massif .

Cranstackie and Foinaven.

Self timer at the trig point...

Back down at the tent before 10am.There were no real plans for today so we went for a tootle around the coast down towards Scourie.went over to Tarbet to try and get the ferry out to Handa Island but alas,`twas the Sabbath :)

Ben Stack on the way back from Scourie...

Beach at Oldshoremore...

Foinaven,Arkle and Ben Stack from near Kinlochbervie....

Went for a walk along Balnakiel beach in the evening...

The old church at Balnakiel with Cranstackie in the background...

The evening light on the Maidens sea stacks where the one and only Tom Patey lost his life in a climbing accident..

I wanted to visit the old graveyard where some of my ancestors were buried so took the road back south via Tongue again.No apologies for yet more pics of Ben of my top ten mountains.

A bunch of poppies on the banks of the Kyle...

I take this chair everywhere in the hope that the Scottish Tourist Board will buy a few prints off me :)

Pottered about Loch Loyal on the way down to was a gorgeous day.I think only 2 cars passed by in 16 miles.Eventually got to the graveyard after asking an old crofter for directions.It was pretty hard to find as there is no road into it but what a stunning location to be buried.

View from the graveyard bench...

Had a look around to see if I recognised any names but all the old ones were illegible due to weathering.I don`t suppose they would have had what we call gravestones anyway,just a marker stone.Given my miserly tendencies ( according to Mrs.Blue Sky that is ) she was beside herself with laughter when she found a gravestone for someone by the name of Ebeneezer whom she was adamant must be one of my relations.

Spent a pleasant hour here watching the salmon jump in the river below...

Paid a visit to the old family house nearby which was sold about 20 years ago after being in the family since the mid 1800`s at least.The new owner has added an extension to the side.Funnily enough,being a local, he shares the same surname as me :)

The ancestral pile..

Monday, 18 July 2011

Stob Na Broige. Alistair`s last Munro.


Sat 11th June 2011.

A group of eleven of us turned up on a Friday night a few weeks ago at Blackrock Cottage,looking over Rannoch Moor  not far from the entrance down into Glencoe. We were there to celebrate our  friend Alistairs last Munro.It was fairly exciting driving up.Some folk  arriving there we still see on a regular basis,others we hadn`t seen for many years.Would they have lost all their marbles,teeth and energy and be driving caravans pulled by 4 by 4 square black tanks.Or would they all  arrive in green wellies with numerous toy dogs in tow.
No.Thankfully it was like a school reunion only with people you still have a lot in common with.What we all started with in fact......a love of the great outdoors.It was good to catch up and hear how everyone was getting on in their lives.

This beautiful scene belies the fact that after a fine night supping the usual beer, whisky and wine  it was not so peaceful inside.Around midnight most of the  assembled bodies went to bed.At ten past twelve some of them discovered an entire Siberian forest that needed to be felled urgently and set about it with gusto.It was just like the alpine huts I have such fond memories of.I was keen to be one of them.
Being an innocent happy bachelor I refuse to believe that the two girls in the hut would be a party to this tonsil mayhem going on.Its a well known fact among we confirmed bachelors that the only things rising  from females during the night are exotic butterflies,rose petals ,golden fireflies, tiny winged teddy bears and Chanel No 5.
Of course,tired by these productions every evening they awake with troubled  dreams of  new kitchen units, must buy furniture,clothes, carpets and accessories.Women love accessories.I try to keep away from both and I`m normally successful.
That first night I just wasn't tired enough though..I was only drinking coke which certainly didn't help.Around four `o`clock I`d had enough of the billy buzz saw choir performing around me as I lay awake and set off over the old drove road,now part of the West Highland Way to Victoria Bridge and Loch Tulla.At this time of year although the sun sets it never really gets dark.It was a lucky moment.An hour later at the top of the track I came across a herd of  red deer.Mist hung over every loch on Rannoch Moor and the deer just stood and watched  unconcerned as I got closer to them.Much closer than I normally would have got at this time of year.

I got to within fifty feet of them before they leisurely made their way downhill,not running even then, just slowly ambling off.Must have been the early hour.We were all in that half asleep,dream like mode.

I made it back down just in time for breakfast then the group set off up the last Munro,all except Alex who didn't think he was up for anything major yet with his foot and settled for views from Beinn Sgluich instead.

This is us setting off.As everyone no doubt knows Stob na Broige is a separate Munro at the other end of the long ridge on the Buachille Etive Mor.Its a good  interesting walk in  itself with a dry path leading to a small waterfall then easy sloping slabs to reach the top.

Here's  another one from a side angle this time.

The bottle of sparking stuff was duly produced along with glasses and a round of applause.A good Munro to end on and fairly easy to  reach.Thank god it wasn`t a really remote bugger.Some of us would need to be wheel barrowed in these days.

This is the assembled cast. Dougie,Alison,Jules,Scott,Graeme,Alan,Dawn,Alistair and John.I`m taking the photo.Out of eleven of us there that weekend we had seven who had completed all the Munros.Not bad for a small club like ours.If the rest get a move on  before the old ones snuff it we might become the only club to have everyone complete them.Fame at last!

On the way back down we had a split.Most of the others went happily back  via the same route they had taken going up.Myself ,Scott and Jules carried on up the ridge,keen to see the summit of the big Buachaille again.I had fond memories of dancing down the scree slopes of the central corrie.Views were excellent all along the ridge.

I think this is Stob Ban in the Mamores.A couple of  brief heavy showers didn`t dampen spirits as the sun quickly came out again. The central corrie did though.Of  all that lovely scree there was no sign.Instead we were presented with an awkward steep bare head wall then a  2000 foot man made staircase of no give giant boulders most of the way to the bottom.As my younger companions sprinted off ahead I took it easy, zig zagging down the ledges as I wanted to be able to still walk at the end.Very sore on the knees and I`m glad I`m not starting out on the Munros now although I played my part in joyfully and unthinkingly dancing those same screes into  the history books.
My bad, my bad :)
It was an unforgiving descent and I for one was glad to reach the Kingshouse and a seat in that splendid pub.Three golden pints flowed over three dry tongues one after the other before life seemed fair again.

And now I feel a  fable coming on.....
Like a rare white stag that every few generations or so is born deep in the mountain hollows so...once in a clear full moon.... there appears among us a white guitar.This  one was pupped in a birthing den at three am in an empty alleyway damp and dark,the gutters running with old blues,folk and soul.It was treasured by the lucky finder who took it home and fed it on milk,badgers blood,beer and honey.
We have in our ranks at the cottage two fine musicians who can produce tunes from this magical instrument.Tunes so sublime they could have been torn from the lips of a wooden unicorn.
In the brown envelope is the usual vulgar  folding stuff for the artist to trouser at the end of his performance when his fickle  muse has departed for the day..The tinkling notes of Carrickfergus linger on the breeze...or it may have been Ace of Spades by Motorhead they are very similar tunes.Almost twins in fact.
Soon our other musical maestro and rightful owner of the guitar makes a belated appearance,lured by  the vibe and  immediately composes a  powerful lament for the lost screes of the Munro's.Aw.

Blackrock on Sunday morning....

Monday, 11 July 2011

Beinn Sgluich.


Saturday 11th June

This was the weekend of Alistair`s final munro in Glencoe.We`ll  fill you in on that one later.My continuing foot problem forced me to miss out on the hill and seek out a low level alternative.
I set out towards Loch Linnhe with no particular idea of what I was going to do.Parked at Dalnatrat and noticed a new cycle track on the shores of the loch...just the thing I thought.It was a lovely morning.....

Followed it down the lochside only to find out that it crossed the road after a few hundred yards and continued through the trees with no views to be had.Had a quick look at the map to see what else was on offer and noticed there was an old right of way marked going from Salachan Glen to Glen Stockdale.I`ll see how it goes I thought to myself.To tell the truth it was as boring as the map suggested.Up a landrover track surrounded by sitka plantations before  a hunt around for the start of the path where fortunately some kind soul had tied a ribbon to a tree or it would have proved hard to find.Small Rights of Way markers were pinned to the odd tree ...

Nice easy going found me at the edge of the forest with no complaint from the foot so I decided to take a right turn and head up to Beinn Sgluich which looked like it must have a good view :) An added advantage was that I wouldn`t have to hitch a lift back to the car

Kerrera from high up on the slopes of Sgluich....

Quite a few golden plovers around...

The ground was bone dry and I continued in my trainers with the boots in my rucksack in case of boggy ground.The ground looked as if I should be sinking into it but the area is limestone and as such was well drained.Didn`t take long to get onto the summit ridge where I wandered along to the south west top for the views....

The northern tip of Lismore and the south west top of Beinn Sgluich...

Down the Firth of Lorne...

Zoomed shot of the houses at Port Ramsay on the northern tip of the island of Lismore.....

Sat around for an hour or so enjoying the sunshine before heading back north to the summit.A bank of cloud had been building up to the west but it quickly passed but not before hitting Lismore with a squall or two.....

A bit of a surprise to me was the view of the Aonach Eagach which I wasn`t expecting to see from down here.....

The view northards over Ardsheal Hill and the Corran narrows.....

Took my time going downhill and pottered about looking for some of the Stockdale caves but only found a huge cavern formed by a landslip.The decomposing sheep at the bottom dissuaded me from going down though I suspect Martina would have been made of sterner stuff if she was there :o)
The foot gradually got sorer and more tiresome on the way back down the track but it was worth it.
A bottle of wine back at the Blackrock party helped as well :)

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Mont Blanc.Chamonix.

After the two weeks of poor weather experienced in the Vanoise we took a chance around the corner,heading by train to the biggest mountain draw of all for a bagger in this area.Mont Blanc,the highest mountain in western Europe at 4810 metres(15,782 feet )
We arrived in Chamonix in bright sunshine and found a pleasant campsite on the outskirts,paying our fees up front, erecting the tents and settling in. By the looks of some of the bigger tents left here they too had seen their share of bad weather recently.
The rest of the day we shopped,rested,washed dirty gear, munched food and drank gallons of cheap fizzy orange that turned our lips the same lurid colour as the stuff inside the bottle despite much scrubbing.It eventually faded a couple of days later along with the embarassment factor.
Brian had a music and film magazine which was much coveted by the rest of us.It was the only thing we had with us to read in English apart from guide books and had loads of long articles and great pictures which helped  pass the time.During the three weeks every time he went to wash his socks,needed the toilet or went shopping in town one of us other three,(two Johns and myself) would sneak over to his tent and grab it to read.He ended up having to hide it away somewhere.Small things mean a lot on an extended camping trip,getting amplified as the days increase,in particular food.I remember seeing John each evening on a walking tour bringing out a small tin of fruit after the main meal which was usually some tasteless backpacking crap in my case..And each evening I beat myself up mentally for not thinking of that as well.Back at home I`m only an occasional tinned fruit person but I really wanted those little tinned pears and peaches to pop out of my own rucksack so badly it hurt.Your entire mind and body seems to crave sweet sugary items after a while.
In those days it didn't take long for us to recover our energy though ...a day was enough.
The next morning was wonderful.We could actually see the hills for a change so we phoned the warden of the Grand Mulets hut high on the slopes of Mont Blanc and in very bad French booked four beds for that evening.We packed up,leaving empty tents standing and caught the telepherique (cable car) up to the Aiguille de Midi..Even from here it was still a long hike over the glacier to reach this hut.

After reading our guide book down in the valley the twisting route through the Bossons glacier was picked.It wouldn't be as busy or as exposed to the wind as the main tourist route up the ridge and in the couple of grainy photographs we had it looked fantastic.

The Bossons glacier is the fastest glacier in the Alps due to its steepness and the underlying terrain. A fractured, crumpled mass of ice slipping down the mountain,full of  deep crevasses,leaning serac towers (unstable walls of ice) and melting snow holes caused by a very strong summer sun.It was really hot  on the glacier.You could get frostbite and sunstroke at the same time if you dropped into a crevasse  leaving  just your head and arms sticking out.

Due to the popularity of Mont Blanc there was a good path though the maze of seracs and holes.This changed year by year as ice walls collapsed or new crevasses opened up,the biggest marked with  poles and sometimes narrow planks of wood.

It was a very impressive landscape and a step up again from Gran Paradiso though not as intimidating as  the steep heights of Aiguille de la Vanoise.Mind you its all relative of course.

This is a picture taken from the Italian side.A windy wild day with spindrift flying off the summits.
Alex had also climbed Mont Blanc many years ago travelling days on the back of a motor bike to reach the Italian side from Glasgow with his biker climbing friend Brian.They climbed it via Mont Blanc du Tacul and Mont Maudit,returned the same way then headed off to visit Chamonix.While there they met a guy whose friend had died the day before, pancaked by a serac.A climbing helmet is no protection against several tons of collapsing ice wall landing on top of you.
We reached the hut, perched in a spectacular position on a cliff high above the glacier by late afternoon and grabbed our bunks,placing our gear on them.If you are not fast you come in  dead last  in most busy alpine huts and we were learning the rules required!.Views from the cliffs around and above the  hut were sensational and we scrambled about on them having a ball.

Food and wine were ordered later and a happy night passed.This was a view of the route up the glacier from a position near the hut. We were too excited to sleep so stayed up late at the bar and were some of the last to leave.Everyone else went to bed ridiculously early compared to Scotland. I had picked up a chest infection and had a slight fever but nothing that couldn't wait until I got back home to a doctor.Around eleven or twelve I think our heads finally hit the pillow.I kept having to sip water to stop myself from coughing.That ... the altitude just kicking in and the packed airless, snoring hut meant it was well after one o clock before I drifted off with dreams of  falling seracs and  endless deep crevasses.
Sweet Oblivion.
Around two or three o clock(cant remember  the exact time all these years later) a loud bell went off all over the hut.It sounded like and probably was a school bell.This shocked us numb with disbelief.Was it a fire!
Our more savvy continental companions around us simply groaned,got up  and started to dress themselves in the dark.We could hear the clink of crampons and ice axes being moved and rucksacks clicking open.
The truth finally dawned on us...this was the stampede for the summit.
Outside the hut  it was still night time of course.The surrounding cliffs now looked large and menacing in the dark as we roped up, put on crampons and set off across the gleaming glacier in a long line of bobbing head torches.It all felt very surreal,we could  even see the nightclub crowds spilling out onto the neon lit streets of Chamonix far below.A full moon shone down from a clear  night sky painting the heights above.

It was a big glacier.When dawn arrived the line of hut  climbers were well spread out over the slopes.At this stage we were still enjoying ourselves,admiring ice towers and happily  jumping crevasses.Some of these photos were taken on the way down,It being too dark on the way upwards for pictures.

Sunrise saw us reaching the upper ridge and the wind instantly picked up,temperatures dropped below freezing and we needed  every bit of extra clothing we had.A small metal bivi hut was used briefly to pull on gloves and jackets.There were a few folk in it who looked as though they'd spent a night or more in there.It smelled rank and they looked like it was really time for them to head down again.Slow moving and apathetic they seemed to us,just arrived still fresh.It was my first glimpse of altitude sickness and pretty soon I felt it creep across me as well  made even worse by my chest infection.
Everyone was feeling it by now,that extra couple of thousand feet making all the difference.John chewed down a mars bar for  some energy then threw it back up again minutes later.Every 20 steps you had to stop for a while to catch your breath...then it went down to ten.We kept going upwards in the right direction though and eventually made it to the summit.
I don't know what I was expecting but I for one was slightly disappointed by the actual highest point in Europe.
Everything seemed flat.A flat broad summit,a flattish view with even the mighty Matterhorn looking somehow small and insignificant.Good weather though.The view from Ben Nevis,Scotland and Britain's highest mountain is much the same as it looks down on everything else around.I was also feeling pretty bad by this time,bringing up loads of yellow and green slime in between sucking in huge gasps of thin air so I wasn't too bothered about the views.Can`t beat altitude for clearing  out the lungs.
I do remember a client climber with a guide.The client had a small oxygen bottle and a mask with him,which I thought was a bit over the top even in my knackered state.He was having the more enjoyable summit though,no doubt about it..The guide looked attentive but slightly bored.Safe to say this wasn`t his first time up here.
We didn't stay long ,everyone keen to get back down again.A few thousand feet lower we started to feel  much better and a bigger sense of achievement took over.We`d done it and saved our holiday into the bargain.Hooray for that extra week off.
Back down in Chamonix we dressed in our best gear,a newly washed tee shirt and socks,then hit the town.You could get "un grande beer",about four pints in one giant glass tankard.We ordered one each.
They were so heavy the  barmaid could only carry two at a time,probably cursing daft tourists under her breath as her legs buckled walking towards us.

It was a great night and we staggered back to the tents with a different kind of influence hampering our progress. .Back down here at low altitude the gravity seemed  suddenly fierce and some of us sustained more cuts and bruises reaching the campsite than anything the hill could throw at us.

                                               CULTURE SHOCK
Finally a word must be said about culture shock.One of the great delights of going anywhere abroad is the difference.Its a big part of why we travel... to experience new and different aspects of life far from home.Large numbers of tourists though tend to change the very places they go to by their attitude towards the places and objects around them.Too many want them exactly the same as they are used to where they live.It happens all over the world and erodes the very things that make different cultures so exiting.

I was both secertly delighted and appalled travelling though France and Italy  years ago at the number of hole in the floor toilets both in campsites and fancy restaurants. Some campsites had a few token UK style sit up toilets but you could never get on them.The continentals seemed to love them with a passion.These flat models are perfectly ok if you are fit and healthy but anyone elderly ,obese or disabled must find them a nightmare.I think they are for the most part getting replaced now but for a long time these were standard issue over most of Europe.The only thing we had against them was the lack of any handholds, just polished slippy tiles all round the cubicle walls if you lost your awkward squatting position suddenly after a few cheeky pints. The French and Italians may have great food ,wines, perfumes and fashion but we at least have the better toilets I  believe.Mind you....Could this simple thing be the reason why most continentals have a less excessive drinking pattern than the UK Perhaps?.That , the price of alcohol and  usually much smaller glasses in restaurants.
Culture shock number 2 was our expressions hanging round the open air swimming pool in Chamonix.We discovered this oasis after Mont Blanc and went in a few times.For young guys brought up in a cold  northern climate where our women  even in summer  normally wear tee shirts and waterproofs outdoors this was like Valhalla for four returning  heroes
Topless mums and even grown up adult daughters sat round the sides of the pool on sunbeds,reading books and enjoying the rays.To them it was completely normal  all this.Meanwhile we tried and failed to look the part of nonchalant and uninterested  men of the world while swimming or splashing about.For their part, when they acknowledged  our presence at all it was with a dismissive haughty sigh.No one can do superior  rejection better than a French female.I may be wrong here but I don't think four tiny, smelly backpacking tents would impress them much as nighttime  surprise accommodation so we thought it pointless to even try.We didn,t care if they all looked down at us.Climbing Mont Blanc was enough. Good views of the surrounding  mountains though from down in the pool  :o)
Govan public baths were never this much fun.