Sunday, 23 December 2012

Glen Clova Weekend. Edzell. River North Esk Walk.

Sunday dawned at the Clova hut and again we set off with a carload of four to bag the hills.
Myself, Alex, John and Graeme. We were heading for Edzell and Glen Esk which is a lovely Angus glen surrounded by a fine range of hills. John wanted a shot at Mount Buttocks as that was new to him. (I think that's what he said but I wasn't really paying attention.). I didn't fancy any of that so when Alex suggested an alternative in the River North Esk Walk I jumped at the chance to get out at Edzell.
This is a lovely little town that you approach through an arch with some nice period shops and architecture on show. In the middle of the main street, between the Post Office and a garage is a signposted lane that leads down to the river. I was on foot but there is a large car park in town on the far side from the arch near the church which is easy to find.
I'd never heard of this walk before but I've since learned its a classic of its kind. I wasn't expecting much but it started well and improved with each mile covered. I didn't even have a map of this area and was too mean to buy one for just a weekend visit but I thought there was little chance of me getting lost following a riverbank and this proved to be the case. Its well signposted throughout.
One big advantage of this walk is that it was warm, sheltered and sunny throughout. I didn't have a clue where I was going but just headed upstream along the left hand bank. Sometimes its better that way as everything you see comes as a complete surprise. I think the entire round trip was around six or seven miles but it took me about five hours as I was in no hurry and kept dropping down little paths and stairways to explore the river at low level. All along the North Esk these stairs drop down, some obviously carved in Victorian or Edwardian Times. Salmon beats are everywhere and they are all named.
As I walked further upstream the river turned into a true gorge and became steeper and deeper.
This is looking down from the path.

Further up at the first stone bridge it became very impressive and scenic. It was still below freezing but almost tee shirt time down here. Just the way I like it.
I was just thinking it was looking very like 'Deliverance' a classic film set in a deep gorge about a group of city folks in kayaks who come to a sticky end in North Georgia and was wondering how the guys were doing climbing Mount Buttocks when this happened...
Spooky Eh? Its seemingly a popular river to kayak down as it has easy access and bail out points.
Some good rapids though and some nice easy sections.
This is near the Coffin pool. Further up, near the Rocks Of Solitude, the gorge gets much deeper and higher at around 150 feet but I couldn't see an easy way down into that part so just stayed on the path above the ravine.
This is a lower section which has the remains of an old fishing bridge across it suggesting that this estate was a much bigger draw for the salmon season in the past like most of the grand sporting estates.
On the way back I returned along the other bank of the River which also has a path though it is slightly wilder and harder to negotiate in places, coming back to Edzell via the green suspension bridge. A great low level river walk with plenty to see. Well worth it if anyone is in the area.
Thanks to Alex for suggesting it.
A real treat this week seeing as its Christmas. A stunning video and song. My angel Gabriel by Lamb. The video is The Lovely Bones, a great film by Peter Jackson about a very dark subject indeed but which has some truly stunning images of a child's idea of Heaven in it. ( I was only joking about the Baby Jesus supper obviously in the last post before anyone rushes off to Kirriemuir to buy one. Maybe I should Patent that idea though. It might be a good seller!
Merry Christmas everyone. Best wishes to you all for 2013.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Glen Clova Weekend. Kirriemuir.Cairngorms.

I thought I'd Post out of sequence here as this post looks more festive for Christmas. A few weeks ago now during the last dump of heavy snow and below freezing temperatures our club went up to Glen Clova on the eastern edge of the Cairngorms Near Kirriemuir ,the birth place of Peter Pan author J. M. Barrie. At first I wasn't too keen but then I was coaxed along.
Naturally The Cairngorms were plastered in snow. Leaving on Friday night we reached Kirriemuir a couple of hours later and set about finding a chip shop.
It was the first time I can remember being in Kirriemuir and for a small town it had a nice display of lights. Alex asked a guy staggering out a pub where the nearest chip shop was and he promptly and unsteadily led us to the door of a Chinese restaurant. A second inhabitant of this fair town pointed down a lane and this proved to be a better choice
I had a tasty Baby Jesus in batter with fritters just because it was festive.(Like a mock chop only with fish finger arms and legs and a pickle for a head.) Amazing the wonderful meals you find out in the country. There's good eating in a baby Jesus.
We were staying in the depths of Glen Clova in the Carn Dearg Hut. Quite a cosy wee place with a good wood burning stove in the middle of the room. We needed it too as the temperature was around minus -10 overnight.
A poor wee expired mouse was found by someone and someone else had the nifty thought of placing it on Alex's hat to see how long it would take him to notice. He only clocked on when the tail started to slide down into his mouth but luckily he'd had his tea by then.
Next morning the club including John and Alex, both seen above along with Graeme drove round to the Linn Of Dee car park to do the usual collection of mountains baggers bag. As it was not that great a day up high with a bitter wind I opted for a low level alternative. It was freezing and cold on the heights so I walked into Bob Scott's Bothy thinking I could sit beside a roaring fire and have a chat with anyone inside. Nowadays my motto in winter is... go an interesting walk and take good photographs but stay as warm and comfortable as possible while doing it. Even in the snow try to make Scotland tropical! A fire to fire stroll sounded smashing and I was well motivated and keen for that.
Took this photo above from the spot where I jumped the Linn of Dee, again in winter, many years ago when I was still mad and reckless. Lord Byron nearly drowned here and the period climber Menlove Edwards swam down it. Don't try this at home children.
It's an easy land rover track into Bob Scott's and I was passed by several  mountain bikes with walkers doing the hills on them. We used to come in here a lot in the days when we were bagging Munro's and we had many good times in this bothy with various clubs. We usually met the WAHADS in here, a mad bunch of guys from Aberdeen. (Women and Hash and Drink Squad or so they said. I never saw any sign of women though despite them having top billing!)
This was their local bothy.
Just shows you what a small world climbing/walking still is. There was indeed a good fire going and a guy from Aberdeen in residence who knew said group and a few other guys I mentioned. Spent a cosy time in here until the short daylight hours meant it was time to head back before it got dark.
Walked back out with a nice sunset over the Caledonian forest and got back to the car in the dark.
I timed it perfectly to meet up with Alex and John at the car and we drove down the road, heater on full, to pick up Graeme who had started his hill from the Spittal of Glenshee area.
Then it was back to another cosy fire and more heat. A fine toasty day considering the time of year.
What! Hey, I'm just acclimatizing myself for my eventual destination. already booked a place down below as Heaven looks far too drafty and cold an environment for me to ever exist in. All that space and a howling wind from all those bloody angels flapping about everywhere. No Chance! Bring on the fiery furnace! Bags me the hot seat between Satan's slippers!

Music now. I've been a fan of this guy and his band for years, ever since the classic 'Our shadows will remain' and 'Redemption's Son' era. This is the new Velvet Underground right here. Totally under-rated singer songwriter with a huge back catalogue of great songs and acclaimed CD,s under his belt. New York Based as well, just like they were.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Galloway Forest Park.White Laggan.Millfore.

This is one from mid October I've not got around to posting until now. Seeing a good weather window of two days Alex fancied a bothy he'd never been into, White Laggan , in the middle of Galloway forest park.This is the largest area of wild land in Britain south of the Scottish Highlands but you could say the same for the whole of the southern uplands. Having no Munro's this region tends to be much quieter than the highlands nowadays, particularly in the peak summer months.
The view above was taken on the track to the bothy looking towards the Silver flow and Craignaw.
Alex suggested taking the bikes and cycling in from Clatteringshaws Loch so this is what we did.
It was almost dark by the time we arrived and I took this picture of the moon. Quite impressed with a pocket camera just braced against a tree that I managed to get a good zoom of the craters on the moon so clearly but it was huge and vast, an autumnal giant hanging above the forest. This is of course a dark skies park.
White Laggan is a bothy I've been into before a couple of times. Its well situated for the surrounding hills and is basic but has everything you need for a few nights in the wilds. Its also just off the Southern Upland Way making it a handy stopover for backpackers. On the cycle in I soon discovered I didn't have any brakes at all on my mountain bike for some reason but I got by using my feet either side of the pedals as emergency stops which didn't do the soles of my boots any favours on the rough land rover track but kept me from picking up too much speed on the downhill's. Luckily the gradients were not that steep.
In the bothy we met Jordan and Kate, a young couple from Manchester who were exploring the district. This couple we shared the bothy with and one other girl we met on the hill were the only people we spotted in the area over two days. Not bad. Must have been a mad rush towards the area on those two days.

In ancient times this area had a much bigger population when it was even wilder and more remote than it is today. No land rover tracks and few paths ran across it when the tribes of Galloway occupied it and they had a deserved reputation for being even fiercer fighters than the highland clans. I tried to find a good link to this but couldn't find one that gave all the information needed in one article so here's my half remembered version instead.
They demanded and received the dubious right to be first into battle during every war fought and old accounts tell of near naked Galwegians running into battle with a collection of arrows sticking from their torsos yet still actively hacking arms, heads, and legs off the enemy until they eventually succumbed to blood loss. The word berserker comes to mind. The King of Galloway (Fergus if I remember it correctly)  was also reputed to have once chewed the nose off a messenger sent by the King of Norway who demanded that Galloway fall under his control or he would send a thousand long ships to decimate the area. The unlucky emissary, minus his nose, was sent back with the message that it would be just as easy for Galloway to muster a thousand ships then raid Norway. In other words bring it on big man. The King of Norway declined as he quite liked his subjects without teeth marks and missing facial parts. The Romans ,after a few costly skirmishes, simply ringed it off then by passed the region as they pressed further north, deciding it wasn't worth the effort trying to subdue such an unruly population with such an unproductive upland as the prize.
 This long lasting reputation over the centuries may have given rise to the story of Sawney Bean ( which simply translates as Alexander the killer)  and his family who reputedly lived in a cave under Bennane head and supposedly  killed and ate  hundreds of travellers before the males were executed and the women and children burned alive. There is no record that this family ever existed however though several isolated tales of starvation and cannibalism around this region by unfortunate individuals in the distant past are probably nearer the truth .If you were faced with a life or death choice in the middle ages its not inconceivable you would be tempted. But that is more to do with desperation than any wilful act.
There is a legend of a hairy tree  however that was planted in Girvan by Sawney bean's eldest daughter who escaped the fate of her family. Many years later the townspeople discovered who she was and hanged her from her own tree bringing an end to her deception. This tree has not been found either but the legend persists as several attempts have been made locally to find it.
The next morning we set off on foot to climb Millfore. The proper path sets off behind and uphill from the bothy but we  took a mans route straight up through the forest to reach Cairnbaber then the line of crags ,the strangely named Buckdas of Cairnbaber. Alex didn't care for this forest much but it was an adventurous way up the hill with much crawling and thrashing involved. Good fun.
This is an easier section of  the forest where we could walk upright. I like that thrill you get when you are not sure if you are going to find a way through to the other side and the days trip hangs in the balance then you find a little streambed  twisting under the tightly packed trees and crawl up it to freedom, Shawshank Redemption style. Alex prefers to stay upright however and did not savour this section much. He doesn't like getting dirty.
We soon reached the top  of Millfore and looked down on our fellow blogger Jims house. Howdy! :0)
We also met a girl up here who knew a friend of ours and worked in the same office in Inverness as he did. Hi BD. Its a small world in outdoor circles. Three random folk in a vast area and one of them knows one of our friends.
Alex went on to climb Curleywee but as it was a sizable descent then re-ascent up this I only did the first bit, watched him slogging upwards then went down to the bothy to pack up and read my paper in front of the fire. So glad I'm no longer a bagger! Happy days.
When he returned we packed up and cycled out. This is one of Alex cycling out. When I took this photo of him he got a bit narked. 'Why do you always post photos of me walking uphill with the bike?' He wanted to know. 'That gives a bad impression to our readers as if we are not fit and we are just two old tramps shuffling around Scotland. I'm super fit for my age.'
'Its not intentional.' I replied. 'Its just anytime I turn round on a hill you're always walking up it.'
'Don't you dare post that photo of me walking. Take one of me cycling up it instead.'
As requested here's one of Alex cycling up the next hill. I have to point out however as a truthful blogger as soon as this photo was taken it was back to walking power again. Mind you he was knackered from doing that extra hill. He had the satisfaction of beating me on the downhill sections however as I was still without brakes and was concerned about picking up too much velocity.
Which reminds me of a true Gordon Strachan quote when he was asked by a sports reporter if he had time for a quick word after a match in which his players had failed to shine presumably.
'Yeah. Velocity.' He replied, quickly shooting out the door to his car. Now that's style!
On the way back to Glasgow we were treated to a stunning view of the Lowther hills washed with the last rays of the setting sun before we dropped down into Thornhill for a well earned takeaway at the chip shop. Steak pie and chips for me. Sausage supper for Alex I think.
Then back to Glasgow in the dark along the motorway. A fine trip.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Errigal.Gweedore.Bloody Foreland.

Above is Errigal or An Earagail in Gaelic.This wild and beautiful  region is full of traditional Irish language users and some well known bands grew up or still live here.Enya, Clannad, Altan to name but a few. Errigal is the highest mountain In Donegal and one of the most Iconic with its serrated knife edged ridge and distinctive cloak of shattered screes covering its flanks. 751 metres (752 on my map) or 2,464 feet high.
Luckily the next day was a good one and we set off early to climb it without hesitation.
It lies in the wonderful Glenveagh National park which reminded me of Torridon....
This is the  nearby Poison Glen and its steep cliffs hold many popular rock climbs on 800 foot slabs of  clean Granite. Its also reminiscent of  the Fisherfield area around Loch Maree. Not that much of a surprise when you look at a map as these three areas run in a south north line, being connected geologically in the distant past.
In the other Direction Muckish mountain is more reminiscent of the Caringorms with its vast sweeping Plateau and scooped sides.It has a cross at the far end.This too would make a great hill day.
So many fantastic peaks here.This is the view from Errigal looking east along the line of mountains to Muckish.
After a very boggy start(wet summer here too by the looks of it) from the car park the going became easier and drier following a well trod path to the summit.
We met a couple of girls from Darwin ,Australia up here. Kim and Peta and a handful of locals including a bunch of local guys in training for Hurling. The shinty/hurling Scottish /Irish final happened a few weeks previously with Ireland winning so no doubt they were spurred on by that.(Its a bit like hockey only far more physical and cavalier with the stick action)A heavy stick or ball smashed into your face ,head  or teeth is an occupational hazard :) Being young fit guys they also showed us a clean pair of heels though Alan gave them more of a challenge racing up and down in record time.
We preferred to take our time and savour the ridge which was steep but easy for a short section near the summit. This would be a really dramatic ridge covered in deep snow as it is steep sided and narrow. Great views from the summit with clouds being dragged off the surrounding summits as the wind picked up. You can see a large chunk of Donegal from here.

Looking Towards The Derry Veagh Range.
Easy descent back to the car park with Kim and Peta telling us they were on a month long adventure exploring Ireland.Hope the weather stayed good for them.

From here we visited Gweedore, or Gaoth Dobhair to give it is proper name, to the north which lays claim to being one of the most populated rural areas of Western Europe.Thousands of people live in this small area in  seemingly random individual houses on a wild  but beautiful headland.Most of them still speak Gaelic.Unlike normal populations this size (4000 souls in this parish)which grows up at a slow pace around a central core there does not seem to be any real distinct hub serving the area just a collection of individual spread out shops and a post office.To find out why this is click here. A fascinating place with a scattered collection of offshore islands.This is a zoom of part of Tory island,the furthest out with massive sea stacks and rugged cliffs,full of spectacular views.The St Kilda of Donegal. Tory still has a viable population living on it though being much closer to mainland services.It even has its own king and an incredible history of its own which you can find out about through the same link highlighted above.

We have Graeme to thank for this tour as he sat patiently in the car reading while we climbed Errigal (he'd been up it before) then selflessly took us on a tour round the north west coast and was a gracious and informative host throughout our trip.
We visited Bloody Foreland next ,a coastal peninsula with good views of sea stacks,this natural arch and all the islands off the coast.Tory,Gola, and Aran.Some deserted and small ,others, like Tory with a population still living on this lovely but wild location. Bloody Foreland gets its name not from any battle but from the red granite cliffs seen at sunset.
The seas here were impressive with huge  breaking waves and rollers.On the beach nearby we spotted some surfers who'd been out.Its one of the best spots for this sport anywhere in Ireland but like Tiree (Far flung Island off western Scotland) you would need a really good wet suit or anti freeze in your blood.
This photo gives an idea of how cold it was.We met a shivering polar bear here asking it he could borrow a jacket until the wind died down.
Coldest day of the trip but so lucky with the weather.Still no rain on the fabric.
We also passed a couple of  the new upmarket 'Ghost estates' on the way back, lying mostly empty, built in the days of the Celtic Tiger when people still had the money to buy them.These may eventually have to be knocked down if the economy doesn't pick up as only one or two out of every 30 were occupied.A real shame because they looked very well constructed houses with quality design features.
A surprise came that night as Marion,Graeme's girlfriend, took us on a quick unexpected tour of her local radio building where we informally met some of the presenters of Ireland's No 1 independent  radio station.
Alan looking at some of the radio's cd collection.
We then went to Bonners corner bar in Ballybofey were we sampled a few cosy pints (Tennant's lager seemed to be in most of the pubs over here as well as the Guinness.) A great night in good company with a cracking local band in the pub playing all the local favourites many of which I knew...Raggle taggle Gypsies,Spancil hill etc.

All too soon it was time to go home but it was a great trip and we packed a lot in even in the short daylight hours of November.If these photos in themselves don't convince you I'd recommend Ireland and Donegal to anyone.Friendly people,stunning scenery,great beaches,great pubs.
Don't know why it took me so long to go there.

Special treat. Two videos today.
The noble sport of Hurling and two very talented girls from sussex with a fantastic guitar sound.Returning some new folk music to Ireland.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Donegal.Slieve League.Glenties.

Friday night was spent in Graeme's lovely house overlooking a broad river valley in the middle of Donegal with views of distant low hills and small villages.After our main meal we then sampled the delights of a real peat fire thoughtfully prepared by his girlfriend Marion who had popped in earlier to set it all up for us arriving. We then relaxed and sampled a few of the local brews before Alex was spirited away to spend the night in Glenties,a small town near the west coast of Donegal where he has relatives he hadn,t seen for many years.Back at the house we relaxed some more and sampled some more local alcohol watching the flames dance merrily in the grate.
I,ve only been in a room that had a peat fire on two or three occasions  and was less than impressed as it just smoldered away with not much visible flame but this time it was constructed by an expert.The whole of Donegal seems powered by peat and a stack of black gold sits in neat piles outside almost every house.
This one was a cracker with bone dry peat stacked vertical in the grate which seemed to make all the difference as it gave out bags of flames and heat.A great night passed quickly.
The photo above taken from inside the car sums up the weather and our heads the next morning.Blurred,distorted and out of focus.
We had arranged to pick up Alex and travelled the twenty miles to Glenties along narrow twisting roads through great unfamiliar scenery and heavy frequent showers of rain. The Blue Stack Mountains were passed but we could only see enough of them to know it wouldn,t be pleasant up there,rain and low cloud obscuring  much of this wild, extremely rugged range.
Glenties,when we arrived,looked as if it had just won the world cup, the main street covered in flags and bunting.In a way it had as Donegal had just won the All Ireland Football Champions 2012 title for the first time in many years and a celebration party was in full swing.Alex when we picked him up said the place had been jumping last night with loads of people crossing between the main street bars.
The man himself looked far from jumping though as he'd been plied with 60% proof best Finnish vodka until it finished him off in the early hours.He was sitting in the empty street waiting patiently with his head in his hands.
We drove off with our full team of four.Graeme,Alan,Alex and Myself.
Every village we passed had decorations of some sort up but Glenties definitely won the prize for the biggest show of bunting and flags.

Our next port of call was the famous Cliffs at Slieve League.This is the road leading into it.At 1900 foot high I was wrongly informed these are the highest cliffs in Western Europe and the fifth highest in the world.( Correction. As of 2015 info I later learned they are lower than Achill Island's Croaghaun in Mayo which tops out at  688 metres or 2,257 feet. According to Wikipedia these are the highest sea cliffs in the Republic and the 3rd highest in Europe. Traditional rival in the highest cliff competition, Donegal, is less than happy about it. and are not giving up yet.) Being out on a peninsula past Killybegs the weather was better here but a fierce wind howling into us as soon as we got out the car meant we lost our hangover pretty sharpish.
This was just as well for what followed.A truly beautiful area with stunning scenery right on the edge of Europe. One of many superb waterfalls pouring into the sea.This is only a quarter of the height of these cliffs as I couldn't fit them all in yet keep the detail. If you click on this waterfall picture suicidal sheep are munching grass just above it.
The wind was so wild in places a large piece of orange peel I found lying on the path refused to go over the cliff edge,flying up into the air to land on the grass behind us every time I tried to fling it off.
A view of Alan and Alex with Donegal Bay below.

Getting higher.From here the nearest land mass out to sea is Iceland,Greenland or Newfoundland in a north to south arc. It felt like it as well.

Pretty cold but at least it was not raining.
Getter higher again.My three companions with the car park just below the small body of water in the distance.
Of course some people are not content with the normal path and have to make things even more exciting.This arete that Alan and Alex went up had a 1200 foot drop straight into the sea on the other side.
A hands and knees job for the steep initial moves as the rock was still greasy from overnight rain.
Graeme and I had a look at it then took the normal route round the side,preferring to be live cowards rather than dead heroes.
The great thing about a zoom is that you don't have to be as mad as they are to get a good close up shot of the action.
Even higher yet.This is close to the summit at around 2000 feet high.Alex and Alan carried on from here to traverse the one man path out to the other top but I had noticed a dark front moving in so Graeme and I wandered back down and just managed to find shelter in a small cave below the summit before a ferocious hailstone shower exploded over us covering the ground in a brief white blanket. Alan and Alex had a more exposed experience as they were on their way back on the traverse when it struck.
We met up again further down the Pilgrims track when it had abated.
This meant a fair walk back round to the car on minor roads but we did feel we had seen a sizable chunk of this part of Donegal.
It was sunset by the time we reached the car.A grand day as they say in this part of the world.
Driving back in the dark.
Given the amount of strong drink consumed on this trip the video just has to be this one.