Saturday, 2 June 2018

Beinn Mheadhonach 714 metres, 2344 feet. A trip to Benderloch. The pros and cons of Heatwaves.

                                                ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN
Now that my leg has finally improved enough to attempt serious hill-walking again after a two month plus recovery period to mend itself I set off with Alex for a day trip to Benderloch- a scenic area of mountains, sea lochs, and islands just north of Oban. With the gorse in full bloom and skylarks singing we motored up through the Scottish Highlands in what is proving to be a sustained UK heatwave. In Scotland hardly a drop of rain has fallen in over a month and bogs, gardens and hillsides are bone dry, crying out for moisture. In some places forest fires have started sweeping across hillsides/woods/ moorlands and in urban areas glass bottles, dis-guarded cigarettes, untended barbecues or deliberate arson is always a threat to surrounding grasslands. Empty winter beaches and car parks are full to bursting as folk head for the coast ( judging by the online photos I've seen) and beauty spots get their annual influx of humanity with some inevitably leaving all their rubbish behind when they depart. Being a contrary bugger I've usually had enough of heatwaves after the first week  and when I start to see the hillsides burning around me, swarms of flies, clegs, ticks, and assorted biblical beasts increasing in numbers or society breaking down altogether I too get down on my knees under the sunshine and pray for rain. The UK and Scotland needs rain and cool weather to keep some kind of order. I firmly believe this. Here's what I mean.
Kelvingrove Park. Glasgow. photographed recently. People are social creatures and like to band together in large numbers. Most just enjoy themselves as on this day I passed during a recent bike ride but as the forces of law and order know only too well it only takes one flash point for things to turn ugly wherever you find like minded humans in sizable quantities. Years ago they used to have a colourful annual street parade every June ending their walk at this park. Various bands played live music and everyone had a great time, including normally anti social me. Most families headed home satisfied with their day out around six or seven pm but just like the 1960s Flower Power movement in San Francisco when it got too popular and well known, darker elements began creeping in. On a couple of occasions, late on, as the bands packed up and stopped playing you could feel the mood changing after 7:00pm when families left the scene and groups that had been drinking alcohol all day had the grassy slopes to themselves. Police had the unenviable job of moving them all on before dark but on at least one occasion I remember it started raining heavily at just the right time, forcing people to disperse naturally and averting any conflict. Rain in that instance totally saved the day.
Here's what happened when it didn't rain. A shame as I really miss that annual street parade. There used to be a few big free events in Glasgow in the early 2000s. The River Clyde Festival, West End Festival etc ...However, big happy events involving thousands seem somehow destined to end badly at some point in the cycle if they continue too long and get too popular. It's classic chaos theory in action. The West End Festival still happens- just not the same large street parade or open air activities.
Worth a look at this link to see what I mean.

Anyway, we avoided the masses on the beaches, beauty spots, and city parks by heading to a part of the Highlands and a hill well off most peoples radar. Alex's choice of Beinn Mheadhonach, a 2344 foot Graham on the edge of Benderloch District sitting beside Loch Etive proved a winner as it was both secluded and scenic.
A view across Loch Etive to the mountains. Not a single car in the layby and very few tourists around.

Surprisingly colourful as well as the Scottish Highlands in late May usually have a less varied palette than city parks. As a general rule you really need steady money, dedication and upscale gardens over a long period of time in any area to introduce a vivid range of colours in the landscape. Which is why the Lake District or similar affluent areas ( The Golden Bubble Syndrome) look as wonderful as they do. Nature, left to itself, is usually just green with occasional random splashes of difference.
and nothing like this carefully planned spurge of late spring glory side by side. Two different gardens near Connel Bridge.
Gorse is usually the most vibrant natural coating for UK hillsides and is one of my favourites. The smell is amazing- a spicy, sweet, semi coconut perfume that invokes so many summer memories of childhood holidays down the British coast for most people. For any outdoor playing generation in times past wandering off exploring and getting lost alone or with similar aged friends in a tangled gorse thicket covering half a hillside with no obvious way out and that almost cloying, pungent smell of flowers in May/ June was a first maze to never forget. Half joy-half panic, especially wearing shorts and bare limbs in another age. Pleasure and sharp pain combined if you tried to crawl out on hands and knees through bushy tunnels and received an early brutal lesson in the power of thorns.
As experienced veterans in the outdoors a way up was soon found through an open gate into fields, passing this hawthorn tree in full flourish following a faint path onto the open hillsides above. From there a steady slope gained the first level platform to look down on our surroundings.
It turned out to be a hill of many level platforms and many false summits as we reached one hidden rise then another. Luckily, a strong breeze gave us relief as otherwise it would have been a stifling ascent during this current  prolonged heatwave. Any midges were blown away and for once no sheep ticks, clegs, or biting insects had a free festival feast on my body. A first in the Highlands at this time of year when I usually come back covered in tiny teeth marks or bloodsucking probes. Insects love me apparently as I always have more bite marks than anyone else. Same as animals...can't get enough of me...  but sadly my powers never extended to females I liked. I 've always had no problems batting them away without even working at it. :o(
A fish farm in Loch Etive seen from our hill. Sea food is another no go zone for me these days.

As the nearest Munro was mighty Ben Cruachan, 1126 metres, still boasting snow on its north facing slopes, we had the hill to ourselves and any paths were few and far between, mainly created by red deer and sheep movements for their own ends so no paths visible leading to the summit. Just the way we like it nowadays- the way many remote Munros used to be in previous decades.
As we climbed higher, a full 2344 foot ascent unfolded from an almost sea level start and the higher ranges around us started to appear. Alex also started to get tiny in the landscape. I've always thought he was tiny anyway. A mere Corbett against my soaring Munro.  I'm at least three inches taller than he is. I wouldn't mention this normally but size always matters in the hill walking world  :o)
Buachaillie Etive Mor, 1022 metres, and Buachaillie Etive Beag, 958 metres, two fine Munros viewed from Benderloch direction.
Bidean nam Bian, 1150 metres, viewed from this less familiar, people empty, side rather than the  always busy Glencoe. Even with a strong summit wind the heat haze made photography tricky for distant views but I gave it my best attempt.
Alex reaching the summit cairn with Ben Starav, 1078 metres, in the distance. A popular and classic Munro at the head of Loch Etive.
Summit view across to the island of Lismore, a fertile limestone farm friendly oasis sitting in Loch Linnhe, itself an island dotted sea inlet carving a deep channel into the west coast interior to end at Fort William.
Connel Bridge and the Falls of Lora. The 'falls' are created each new tide by the sea rushing in and out through this narrow channel draining then filling the substantial mass of Loch Etive behind. At certain peak times experienced kayakers and divers flock here to sample the often powerful ebb and flow through the gap. Obviously, this can be dangerous if you lack the skill level required or get into difficulties without support.
A closer view of the bridge.
Golden Chain or Flowering Laburnum. Many people in urban areas have removed these beautiful trees from their gardens over decades in case they get sued by families with poisoned children but nicotine is apparently far more poisonous as a substance and you'd have to eat a lot of this plant to be seriously affected. Very few cases of anyone dying, children or otherwise, have been recorded in the last hundred years or so yet gardens and suburbs are loaded with far more toxic species that no one bothers about. A classic case of perceived guilt by public opinion, urban myth to some extent, and various media outlets joining in to identify a scapegoat rather than any hard concrete evidence of fatal poisoning over the years. Why this particular tree in the firing line? Think of the millions killed by drugs over the same time period. Or children accidentally poisoned every day by a range of common household products like perfume, washing machine capsules, bleach, prescription drugs etc. Do we get rid of them or is it just an easier target? This selective witch hunt happens with people as well all the time. Crowds love a scapegoat as much as insects love me.  Lesson is....never trust an angry mob carrying a rope. It might well be for you.
The joy of empty Scottish roads. Not always a certainly in fine weather with several mile long slow moving tailbacks down Loch Lomond practically guaranteed in good weather, especially during spring/ summer heatwaves, for the last few decades.  Knowing this we planned ahead and took an alternative way back.

I discovered Gemma Hayes a while ago and this is a brilliant acoustic cover of a classic KB song.
Appropriate lyrics as thunder is getting closer as I type. Very warm conditions recently for a good nights sleep. 


Andy said...

Coastal mountains are the best and Loch Etive and its surrounding mountains always deliver. There is a perfect sweet spot for warmer summer weather. Warm enough to walk in shorts and sit down for a break without needing to wrap up with a breeze to keep the biters away. Any hotter and its time to find something else to do. Winter walking is much better :)

Rosemary said...

I am like you Bob - at first I love the hot sunny weather, and then I start thinking that some rain to freshen and cool everything down would be rather pleasant.
I was in north Oxfordshire walking around a lake a week ago, and returned home bitten to death with about 40 bites on my legs which are very itchy. It is the first time that I have ever been biten in this country apart from some midge bites in Scotland one summer.

Kay G. said...

Gorgeous photos, as always!
I do know the Laburnum tree and I when I see it in bloom when I am in England, I always take photos of it! Shame that people have to cut it down! There are lots of plants that are poisonous, we should make sure that kids know not to eat them!

Linda W. said...

Glad you are back out hiking again. What a beautiful hike!

Mark said...

This looks like a perfect choice for a return to the hills, especially since the weather was kinder then you had feared too.

Anabel Marsh said...

Beautiful walk! I think the reason they don’t have the parade anymore is that they can’t afford it. I remember going to one of the first ones, watching it set off from the Botanics then hurrying ahead to University Avenue to see it again. And there was hardly anybody else there! The last time I went I could hardly see it for the crowds.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Andy,
Yes, I usually take to the bike when it gets too hot for hill-walking.

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Rosemary,
Lucky you :) I get bitten to bits every time I do a Scottish Hill in spring or summer. Counted eighty different sheep ticks on me once after a four day trip up north. Too many to take off individually so I lay submerged in a bath until they floated off. Counted them out of curiosity. Normally I get hammered by clegs (horse flies) as well after every walk in summer.

blueskyscotland said...

Thanks Kay,
There used to be several mature Laburnum trees close to me that were an absolute delight every spring. All cut down now. That got me thinking- just how poisonous are they and how many deaths have they caused? I know they were removed as the owners didn't want to take any chances with local children around. From what I could find out online there has not been any accidental deaths in the UK.

blueskyscotland said...

It's nice to be back Linda although luckily I also enjoy other things equally well so wasn't too put out doing easier stuff lower down.

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Mark,
I must be getting old as hot weather never bothered me years ago. Now I prefer it cooler for walking up anything high.

blueskyscotland said...

Thanks Anabel,
Read an article tonight online by the New York Times about how 'Austerity is changing Britain Forever.' Agreed with every word in it. Pure ideology rather than necessity being the driving force as it stands to reason if people have less to spend in the local economy, year on year, entire cities, towns and districts get progressively poorer. Being the 5th richest country in the world is a sick joke when public parks, museums, libraries, schools etc are all sold off for upmarket housing developments so councils can afford next year's budget cuts. No need for it at all-
just political robbery and social cleansing under the thin disguise that 'everyone' needs to tighten their belts. Bunch of thieving bandits. Makes me sick as we will never get them back once they are gone and sold off.

Neil said...

I fully agree with you Bob about walking in summer, it has been too hot for me recently. I struggled earlier this week on a couple of hills either side of the Devil's Staircase. And the midges have arrived although I have avoided the clegs and the ticks so far. That looks a good hill that you and Alex climbed, haven't really done much in that area. But what with insects and tourists, I guess that the west will have to wait now until autumn!

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Neil.
Yeah, Really hot and five weeks now without any proper day long rain. Landscape had a quick downpour this evening but it was very brief and a couple of hours later the ground was bone dry again. We really need a sustained soak for the trees and plants plus some of the wildlife that depend on moist ground- badgers, frogs, toads,newts, tadpoles, river fish, etc.

Carol said...

I'm loving the drought but my leg isn't loving the hard, rough ground and is deteriorating markedly! I think it should rain at night and then be lovely again every day - that would be my kind of summer!

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
I seem to recall Camelot was supposed to exist like that, probably a half remembered line from a poem describing that mythical land. I'm not surprised as most gardens are like concrete here. I bet badgers are suffering as well as worms will be off the menu until it rains properly. Are you getting it done soon- cant be long now? (Don't say an actual date-internet ears open empty houses and all that)

Carol said...

ah but they wouldn't know which house! ;-) No date yet - I keep ringing them up for one as I need one in order to comply with a completion date should one come along. I'm also trying to avoid moving house on the day! They've just said 'not June' so far. Doesn't help I've done something severe (possibly a minor break) to my good ankle though :-(