Monday, 11 November 2019

The Barrhead Alps. Fereneze Hills. Brownside Braes, Duncarnock. Neilston.

                                             ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN

On the same day I took a bus ride back to my old haunts in South Nitshill  then walked across the lanes and several fields into Barrhead, described in an earlier post a few weeks ago, my final destination was always going to be this place. The Barrhead Alps. or more precisely and accurately... The Fereneze Hills, seen here, above, from the Asda supermarket in Barrhead, The Brownside Braes and The Gleniffer Braes which all run into each other without any noticeable boundaries or change in character. The hills of my childhood walks but also great hills to explore today for any age. The first set of hills I ever climbed, first with my mum, my aunt and her children, us three youngsters aged six to eight or so,  then later on my own or with same aged friends. It seemed amazing then, on long summer days, that you could walk from here right across the hills to Paisley- at that age, to us, 12 or so by that point, an unbelievable distance away. This was 'Adventure' with a capital A.

In many ways it still is and I felt the same old thrill of anticipation seeing this signpost. I'd already followed  the thin tarmac ribbon of the Levern Walkway through Barrhead and past the large Asda superstore to reach this point. If you get off the 57 bus in South Nitshill then walk across the fields described in the last post a month ago you have already completed an interesting ramble and retraced my childhood footsteps. Next you follow these signs and good tarmac paths along the Levern Water, to Barrhead Railway Station.(walkers can also alight here for the hills.)
Autumn colours outside Barrhead Railway Station.
The pathway to the braes. At the railway station turn right under the bridge and you will immediately see this tenement.

This is Hillside Road, and you follow this street, up to the left, past upmarket properties and our path to the hills. A signposted lower level cycle track running to Neilston in one direction and Paisley in the other can also be accessed here, This cycle track is found to the left of this same tenement just up out of shot. ( I mention this as it's not that obvious for first time visitors.)
Once you climb higher the views start to open out across the landscape and it is already a fine walk.
A view across Barrhead towards the Barrhead Dams woodlands, my early playground for twenty five happy years and still full of wonder and mystery to this day. Still finding out new things about the district.
A view across to one of the distinctive little hills in this area. Duncarnock, 204 metres or 670 feet. A surprisingly rocky volcanic plug, the hilltop location of a substantial pre-Roman fort and iron age tribe, and a superb viewpoint over half of Renfrewshire.
At the last house, just before the summit of this dead end road dips down towards the farm, a footpath leads up the slope on the right hand side. An awkward gate and a long flight of broken wooden stairs hinders mountain bike entry at this point which is probably the only reason for the paths here remaining green.
Most of the paths across the Central Belt hills and through the parks, back trails, etc used to look like this one but it's much rarer to find any in this condition now. Although I use mountain bikes myself, mainly on suitable hard tracks... on grass paths like this one they do tend to trash it completely if it gets popular in any way  so I always walk it up routes like these rather than ride when I'm on grass. Otherwise you soon end up with a muddy ditch.
At this point it's much easier and better as a walking route anyway. A view back towards Barrhead and Renfrewshire. Vast and open panoramas.
Neilston Pad, Neilston itself, and one of several new housing developments in this area. Given the rate of building projects here Barrhead and Neilston will soon run into each other. For the moment though they are still separate communities. This upland area is only a few hundred feet above the Clyde Valley but feels very different in character. The landscape, as I've said before, is unique in Scotland.
Once you get higher views get even better. The entire city of Glasgow unfolds below this modest escarpment and although only 500 to 700 feet high it provides stunning views. Finnieston and Anderston seen here,  going by the Finnieston Crane and Clyde Arc Bridge. On a clear day you can see as far away as Hamilton, Motherwell, Coatbridge, Wishaw, Paisley etc, the great urban sprawl of the Greater Glasgow Conurbation... an area of city and surrounding large towns containing well over 2 million people, and a large chunk of Scotland's total 5.4 million population.

 It is a truly breathtaking sight to see it all spread below you, like a living map, building after building, street after street, town after town, stretching away from your toes to the far horizon eastwards.  The Great Metropolis of Central Scotland. Beat that Edinburgh!
I have to say, as a proud Glaswegian, it's a stunner of a view and gives you a far better understanding of where you reside on the planet- not a tiny insignificant dot either... but a living ancient demi-god.. gazing down kindly on scurrying, scrabbling humanity with a certain detached affection.  Several golf courses dot the uplands here but the path weaves around them happily enough. A circular walking tour of all the connecting braes is also possible. View above looking north over Drumchapel (white row of tenements, white water tower behind) and the Loch Lomond Hills.
Several different herds of cattle adorn the Brownside Braes... and a few large reservoirs.
Including Highland Cattle. A gentle breed luckily, but better not to get too close to those sharp horns, especially if you have a dog with you. Cows do not like dogs much. With or without calves. Farmers in the Scottish Highlands tend to leave this breed with a long thick fringe over both eyes to protect against midge attack but not as big a problem in this district so the cows here can see fine.

A zoom of Glasgow's Queen Elizabeth Hospital, helicopter landing pad on the roof, situated in sunny downtown Govan.
Ibrox and Rangers Football Stadium in a shard of sunlight.
Moss Height Flats with the Campsie Fells behind. The City of Glasgow sits in a river valley bowl surrounded by hills.
Nitshill. There's a lot of smaller hills within Glasgow, 100 to 200 foot high, as befits 'The Drumlin City.' The white tower is Nitshill, my childhood hunting ground, with Pollok behind. Told you I grew up in a forest! Deer, foxes, badgers, knights with swords, knaves with pikes, pretty maidens...all the trimmings for a happy life. You can see my walking route to Barrhead in this photo- across the berry field on the right ( hawthorn bushes) then follow the country lane left past the farm, below the tower.

And a reverse view looking from Pollok  over Nitshill up towards Neilston Pad and the start of the high moors.

Eventually, following the path network over the hills, I ended up above Paisley, once the largest and richest town in Scotland, thanks to its thread, bobbin, and textile industry selling its products worldwide. Since the 1970s, like a lot of post industrial districts it's been in decline, but here it looks like fairy-land. By this time I was fairly knackered so very glad to see the potential end of my walk.
A closer view. Coats Observatory and Memorial Church prominent. Thanks to its past wealth and history Paisley has many outstanding period buildings and a fine heritage trail on the hill just above the town centre. You can get into the observatory and church at certain times.
On this occasion though I did not fancy walking an extra few miles into the town centre so cut off early down a beautiful grass track, aiming for Glenburn, a large sprawling housing estate, seen above. A row of local shops placed under the tenements just visable.
October snow over the Scottish Highland Munro 3000 foot summits further north.
Dropping lower into the woods I passed Upper Glen Dam, one of a handful of smaller reservoirs that grace these steep hillsides and add charm. The Barrhead to Paisley cycle track runs past here with a variety of trails snaking through the woods. Since leaving Barrhead I hadn't seen a soul over the higher ground so it's not exactly a busy walk. A nice change.
Twenty minutes later I was down in Glenburn, Paisley, and managed to get a local bus here back into Glasgow. I'm standing at the bus stop. McGill's No 26 bus route into Glasgow for anyone interested as the journey itself was a trip into wonderland. (Local buses go into places I had never seen before... and may never see again :o)
A good hour and many twisting streets later we arrived in Glasgow from an unaccustomed direction, ie via Renfrew Village and X-scape/Intu, dropping me off near the river in Stygian gloom.  It gets dark by 5:00pm now and the crowded bus had steamed up windows so I had to guess where I wanted to get off within the city.
"What foul place is this!!?? I thought to myself, stepping off my metal chariot into an empty wasteland, a few well scattered ancient buildings the only visible structures, giving off a dim, sickly light in an otherwise black landscape.  I was temporarily discombobulated, cold, damp, and tired by this stage. Temperature dropping below zero now the sun had vanished. " Satan save me." I whispered, looking around as the safety and illumination of the bus disappeared.
It turned out to be Tradeston. Not an area to linger in after sunset unless you are a hungry, rather desperate, un-fussy vampire.  Therefore, I made a speedy exit to the brighter waterfront to hide among the humans.
The River Clyde and the M8 Kingston Bridge.
Clyde Waterfront at night.
Everyone heading home for the evening.
And so was I.  Yet another bus ride home.  An epic walk and trip. What an adventure... it really was back then as a 12 year old boy explorer finding out about the world beyond his doorstep .... and it still is today. I give you.... The Barrhead Alps.

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Skye. Beinn Na Caillich. Beinn Dearg Mhor.Beinn Dearg Bheag. Red Cuillin and Black Cuillin Gallery.

                                              ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN.
Our last morning on Skye, the Sunday, dawned bright and clear, and we could finally  see the Black Cuillin ridge free of rain and clag.
With a good weather forecast a big day was planned- a horseshoe round of Beinn na Caillich, 732 metres, Beinn Dearg Mhor, 709 metres, and Beinn Dearg Bheag so we motored around to Broadford and parked in Strath Suardal near the chambered cairn.  A faint path from here leads up the deep heather slopes towards the mountain.
It had been raining most of the night and for a few days previously so the ground underfoot was saturated and slippy, as shown here. In places... half path/half stream bed as draining water always takes the easiest, quickest line off the slopes.
Anyone who thinks the Red Cuillin are going to be much easier game than the jaggy Black Cuillin may be in for a shock. Although this slope and ridge line ascent looks gentle stuff- in reality it was desperate. For a start the Black Cuillin peaks sport good paths, being extremely popular, whereas our path soon disappeared a quarter of the way in, leaving a tangle of boulders, deep holes, thick heather and loose scree to negotiate.
It soon became a battle up a giant Jenga set of massive boulders, some of them rocking and loose when you stepped on them, requiring constant vigilance and awareness. Progress was slow and we were soon knackered.
Alex in silhouette against the morning sun.
Mist burning off the damp forests below and a view of the small Skye town of Broadford.
If this basalt dyke was on the summit  it would form a distinctive tor but it was situated lower down the hillside so just one more obstacle to negotiate around as it proved too steep and wet to climb over.
This section had to be climbed however and proved harder than it looks here as the grass was sodden and unreliable as footholds, unless you got your boots deep into a firm flat placement. Part of the problem may have been our advancing years however and diminishing energy as a twenty something local girl passed us on the ridge line shortly after with her farm collie dog in tow and made cheerful short work of any slope or scramble encountered. She did look like an experienced  fell runner though, running up slopes and charging down the scree as if her house was on fire in the valley below, soon disappearing into the distance. Oh, to be young again with that largely taken for granted level of energy and commitment. Elastic legs and thin bodies no more alas for us.
Another round on the great Jenga game of boulders followed before we finally gained the upper slopes and easier ground.
All our efforts proved worthwhile however when we eventually reached the summit of Beinn Na Caillich, 732 metres or 2,401 feet, and were rewarded with world class clear views over all the other mountain ranges in the vicinity. John taking in the view here.
A close up view of the Bla Bheinn traverse, 'The great blue mountain' and one of the finest scrambling outings in the UK, negotiating numerous pinnacles, sheer drops, plunging exposure, and thankfully grippy rock. Not a place to suddenly learn you have no head for heights however as downward escape from the ridge, once committed to the traverse, is problematic. This long demanding traverse, Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis, and Italy's Monte Pelmo rank highly as my finest moments in non roped scrambling- any harder and I would have been wetting my nappy and crying for my mammy... and a rope. Real mountains have that effect on people.
Due to the severity of the jagged ridge lines here and the often serious, unforgiving nature of the terrain many accidents and several deaths occur each year on these peaks, keeping the mountain rescue teams busy. Helicopter here over the Black Cuillin, either on a training run or an actual call out to a casualty. If you fall off these peaks you will be very lucky to survive it, with ridge lines in places no wider than both arms outstretched and long vertical drops either side.
Another section of the Bla Bheinn traverse ridge line.
Nowadays, in our late 50s and mid 60s, we three mature hill walkers were just content to take it all in from the relatively easier ground of the Red Cuillin peaks. Where once any knifed edge ridges were immediately pounced on eagerly as a challenge to virile manhood- now they seem too much of an effort most of the time if we have climbed them already in our springy prime. But still superb to look at.
Looking across at the isolated small peak on the separate island of Raasay, Dun Caan, 443 metres high, and a longer walk in than expected when we scaled it years ago. A little cracker though, and like any remote island high point- a treasured gem to look back on.
A view of Plockton- (so I'm told by Alex who knows these things. Mr Memory Map for distant summit views)
The Skye Bridge.
The continuation ridge walk around Beinn na Caillich, Beinn Dearg Mhor, and Beinn Dearg Bheag, a natural horseshoe round of three summits and thankfully much easier walking up here. This is the enjoyable bit of the day and steep and narrow enough to be interesting but never threatening, exposure wise.
A Red Cuillin panorama- still several fine peaks left to bag here in this deceptively easy looking hill range. If they are anything like Glamaig or Beinn na Caillich however, we will have steeply inclined loose scree slopes and plenty of pathless boulder problems to look forward to solving here as well.
Looking back towards Beinn na Caillich summit from the ridge.
The start of a steep scree descent after the trio of peaks.
This one here, above, seen on the way down.
Looking over to the rugged Trotternish Escarpment, successive rising folds and cliffs here revealed to be ancient lava flows and then subsidence, cracking, and erosion to leave large detached flakes and pinnacles around the world famous Storr and Quiraing- memorably featured in the Sci Fi film Prometheus, among several other candidates, using this otherworldly landscape to good effect.
A more complete view of Bla Bheinn, 'the great blue mountain,' and large and complex enough to be a single hill range of different switchback summits in its own right, detached and isolated across the bare sided glen/valley- regal, supreme and haughtily majestic- situated on its own merits, away from the rest of the Black Cuillin ridge.
The descent was almost as taxing as the way up- again largely pathless underfoot, and each of us slipped over at some point due to the waterlogged uneven ground and deep vegetation hiding holes and swampy tussocks but at last we reached the car and salvation. A great day- a cracking trip and smashing company.
Next week- the equally excellent, rugged, but nearer to home- Barrhead Alps. Another great blog post to look forward to...

This sublime short clip sums up perfectly the power, wonder, mystery, strength, danger, and inherent majesty of all great mountain ranges. Glad to see it back again.