Monday 28 December 2009

Edinburgh.The White Volcano.

Phoned up Alex.He`s still on night shift at work but had the day off and had said he might be up for going out if he felt OK.Not surprised to find he was knackered and had a cold.Having seen the forecast and set my sights on a snowy Arthur`s Seat I was not too disappointed at this as I did not want to miss my window of opportunity for another year and knew he wouldn`t go.His attitude is typical of most people in the climbing clubs however that dismiss hills under a 1000 feet especially if its in the middle of a city.That misses the point as this hill is certainly worth every inch of its height and is up there with the classic mountains of Scotland for views and exposure.
Knowing Alex he`d probably talk me into walking miles up a deep snowy featureless doorknob to bag his 100th trig. I do miss his input for interesting hills as we complement each other being into different aspects of the outdoors but on this occasion I was happy. No wind,blue skies,Loads of wee matchstick models unknowingly running around for photos.

However I`m getting ahead of myself as first I cut off the M8 to go up the Glasgow Necropolis when I noticed an inversion burning off GlasgowGgreen and the Gorbals area.A stroll through the tombs and crypts led me to the top just in time to catch the mist boiling off the high flats.

Worth the detour up this ancient graveyard just to watch this for 30 minutes along with a group of Japanese tourists.
Because of this delay I arrived in Edinburgh around twelve noon but that was plenty of time.Parked at Duddingson car park beside a frozen loch (poor wee birds) and marched up the hill.I was soon on the ridge line with fantastic views opening up over the city.
Don't laugh but I put my crampons on at this point and kept them on my feet for the next four hours back to the car. It was really icy up here, thousands of eager feet turning every path into a burnished mirror of glass.How more people aren't hurt or killed up here in winter conditions is a mystery to me.Its harder than most Munro's as you would not get this level of ice anywhere else bar a waterfall.A large percentage of the folk going up were tourists with street shoes,happily struggling upwards to the slippery summit with nothing to stop them if they went over. At least I had a trekking pole.

Came off the summit down the steep zig zags which were not far off a grade one ice climb still seeing folk clinging to every frozen grass handhold as they made their way up. Amazing stuff.

Having descended here before in winter I was very glad for my jaggy feet, every steep step downwards plastered in ice.
Salisbury Crags came next following the very edge of the ridge along the line of cliffs looking down on the Radical Road below.

Even this was covered in ice and hard going.Great views over the capital on what was my best ever day up here.This ancient volcano always seems a lot higher than its 800 feet suggests.
Before it was banned folk used to climb on this cliff escarpment. A great photo in an old climbing book always inspired me of gentlemen climbers roped together on Great buttress with the tenements of Edinburgh far below. Magic stuff.

Met loads of people from all over the world up here and stopped frequently for a chat so it was quite sociable.A full traverse of all the satellite peaks followed taking in the views from the best positions.It was such a great day I just didn't want to go down yet climbing back up towards the summit again.

But eventually it started to get dark and the last of the folk headed down towards a warm home.

Back at the car headed home myself towards Glasgow, mood music drifting from the speakers. On a whim I went up the Necropolis again in the creepy dark for the views of the city lights but it wasn't what I expected. OK but not that great.Got far better lights in my local car park getting my messages.

Getting right into night shots now.But wont bore you with too many.

And so to bed.

P.S. Alex had the cheek on the phone to say this blog`s gone right downhill in his absence.Three weeks without an interesting summit trig or fundamental bench mark in sight.Far too many pictures taken above housing schemes and monuments for his liking.What`s wrong with that boy!Ah well I try my best.Besides I`ve promised not to bag any more trigs he`d like to do so my venues are somewhat limited.

Thursday 24 December 2009

A West Coast Christmas Tour.

Christmas Eve actually.My birthday.Hip Hip Ho hum.Another year nearer the soil.Would I stay in today and tidy the house,do the dishes or fix the garden gate? (Get real!)
Didn`t fancy a big day though but it looked good again,thick mist and icy outside.My kind of day for a west coast bimble, trying to capture the magic of the festive season.Stayed fairly local at first heading for the Gleniffer Braes,all the favourite areas in my tick list popping into my head as being good for a snap or two.
Saucel hill above the centre of Paisley however looked so good as I passed I stopped off there first for a run up to the trig.I know this hill well as its on two of my favourite bike runs from my house,cycle tracks to Greenock and Irvine pass here.Always good on a summers day walking the bike up here for a view over the home of St Mirrins bairns.

There is also an interesting old town trail on the hill right above the town.Paisley has always suffered in some ways by being too close to Glasgow to really shine out in its own right though I suppose it also has an upside.

Next stop was the" car park in the sky".There are good walks from here.The best being east along balcony trails through Robertson and Glen park with its surprising little necklace of mill ponds then over the Brownside braes to Barrhead and back.Return higher up via the two reservoirs.

Didn't stop here long as the inversion was a bit on the skimpy side and I had another bright idea.

Off to Barcraigs, where else, for a walk round the reservoir in the snow.Was not the only one out as a young fox was looking for its lunch in front of me.

Plenty of bird life out on the water.

Most people don't know about this place but for views its a wee treasure.Few places to park though.
Thick cloud was building up over the Glasgow area when I got back to the car so it was time to head further west.

This was the biggest surprise.Never seen Castle Semple loch look like this before.Plenty of families out on the ice near the edge but only a few brave skaters in the middle. In the old days, before health and safety, they pushed something big and heavy out ....if it and they sank it was not thick enough for a bonspeil yet.Happy days!

Had a good time here as it was the first place that really said" festive season" out loud to me.
Perked up and headed for Castle Hill above Largs, one of the best viewpoints on the west coast and really easy to reach.

Stayed up here quite a time talking to a local walker and watching as the sunset turned from yellow to red as it sank lower.Nice chat with a fellow enthusiast of the outdoors.Told him about a hill walking club in Largs he hadn`t heard of before.Its good to help :)

Took the coast road back as I thought it would have less snow in the dark than the way I`d come,skirting past Wemyss Bay and Greenock.Getting really dark by now.
As a last treat to myself on my birthday drove up Lyle hill above the town.

Years since I`d been up here after dark with the locals.Favourite spot in days of yore for night time activites of one sort and another.Forgot how good it was,Truly stunning with boats big and small out in the Firth of Clyde.

Also where the Free French sailed from during world war two.Fantastic monument.Always liked it.
Its a bit dodgy up here sometimes.Its a shame because its one of the best night time views in Scotland.If this was abroad it would be a major tourist attraction at night.It`s not even lit and is black as pitch for anyone brave enough to leave the car here for any length of time at night.Spent a good while up here but always within sight of me trusty motor.
A grand birthday present to myself.

Sunday 20 December 2009

The BInn Ridge Traverse.Burntisland.

I was out on the 20th December but most of that Sunday was taken up dropping off some stuff at Alex`s house,Christmas shopping in Edinburgh ( just for a change) then a quick late afternoon sprint up an icy Blackford hill and snowy Braid hills.Maybe save those pics and other favourite snaps for a Christmas /New Year Photo gallery.
As I knew Alex was going to be working nights up until Christmas in the best Blue Peter tradition here's one I made earlier and saved just for today.
Although on the map (O.S.66.Edinburgh) this looks a nothing walk on a sunny day its one of the most enjoyable outings you can have in central Scotland.I can`t praise this walk highly enough. It`s got everything which is why I kept it back as a special delivery if required.
For a Friday in early December the weather was perfect.No wind,cloudless blue skies,and t-shirt warm even on the summit!
Parked in the main large free car park next to the toilets in the centre of town.

Burntisland is a funny place.It`s main shopping street has more than its fair share of empty lots and has clearly seen better times but the people are friendly,it has many interesting buildings and churches,and several good walks the best of which is this beauty described now.
From town centre walk back uphill through streets to the obvious low point of the ridge,heading west on A909 until you reach signpost past the last houses which leads up through trees.(Silverbarton on map). Public path to Standing Stanes road is the message given.
Follow this easily up to a tiny lochan then east up the ridge until you reach the summit,great views as you climb higher opening up over much of rural Fife.Although not high by mountain standards the views are exceptional.Sparkling sea and islands.

Rolling fields,farms and wooded ridges and the Fife towns looking like something plucked from the Mediterranean.I`ve never seen Kirkcaldy and Leven look so lovely.Honest!

The summit is surprisingly steep and rocky ,almost gabbro like though the path is still easy but if you go right to the edge and look down you could be on a mini skye peak with a similar feeling of vertigo.

Although admittedly none of the Skye guys have a nice seat to take your lunch.

From here you can see the way ahead leading down the ridge towards Kinghorn and the Pettycur holiday park clinging to the side of the hill.
After descending to where it flattens level take middle path along a lane between green wire fences.

This is lower but still good past a former shale oil community of 700 souls (High and Low Binn End) which had its own school and shop in the late 1800s.Hardly any trace of it exists now just trees and wild flowers and a very discrete chemical works hidden in the woods.When you come out at the minor road another signpost is visible nearby(left) which leads inland past farms(Grangehill) and a few large detached houses down through the golf course on the edge of the Holiday park still with tremendous views out to sea.

Kinghorn`s quiet streets lead down to Pettycur bay itself where at low tide a stretch of golden sand can be followed all the way back to Burntisland.At high tide as it was now its still possible to follow this beach then cut round the base of some cliffs to another beach.

It was an amazing evening,felt like a day in summer,and I followed this ever narrowing sand until I was level with a monument and the end of the holiday park.So far so brilliant.
The only fly in the soup is you have to go back to the nearest path at the cliffs (seen in first beach pic) or boulder jump for 2 kilometers with the waves crashing under your toes.. Having done it years ago in near darkness I don`t recommend the boulders.
At the roadside monument to the last Celtic king of Scotland,Alexander III, who was killed by accident at this very spot (boulder hopping maybe?) I joined the tarmac again and headed for Burntisland. .Back at the car I had my own tasty treat with a fish supper scoffed in the dark on the front seat with handy head torch.A fitting end to a very special day out.

This walk really is a little gem.One of the best kept secrets in Scotland.......until now.

When I was young I used to enjoy going into the mountains in winter with my club but as my working life has always included a fair share of jobs outside in all conditions I`ve grown less fond of this idea.
I`d gladly go into hibernation around now,curl up in a ball and wake up in spring.To live a life time of summers must be an awfully big adventure!Instead I do the next best thing,passing my evenings in a warm sunny room with the music and video images of the American deep south and southern Europe flickering on the walls.
For the past couple of years now my Wendy of choice has been Chan Marshall.I can get lost in the dark imagery of the songs she sings,lying down in a heat drenched swampy hollow,nothing but the night crawlers and water moccasins for company,drinking moonshine from a still and hearing the last of the stricken cows floating down river after the floods.That`s a landscape I can get my mental teeth into.Hibernation fodder for the mind.Praise be to Youtube for Black Snake Moan,the Black Keys ,Chan and the deepest sultry south.My late entry into the delta blues(better late than never!)Kiss my bottom snow!!! I`m a creature of honey and sunlight me.

Sunday 13 December 2009

Islands in the sun.An epic inversion tour.

Alex was working night shifts this week including Saturday.Aw Shame. Building up his Christmas fund no doubt. A solo venture then.Where to go and what to do?
Watched forecast on Saturday night hoping it would inspire me.Inspiration arrived.
Twice now we`d shot right past great inversions to bag a trig.Nothing to stop me now though.
The great Inversion picture hunt was on.
Up in the morning and off in the grey light of dawn,heading for the car park above Lennoxtown.
A spur of the moment detour gave me a real fright on the back roads above the Blairskaith quarry area. Not high enough alas to give me views of Glasgow`s tower blocks soaring out the mist but plenty of unlooked for black ice and interesting, trouser filling steep descents back to the safety of the gritted main roads.Thankfully God`s great grey paw was on my shoulder and I survived to learn my lesson.Keep off the minor roads until later on in the day to give the ice a chance to melt.

Only a few cars in the car park when I arrived (this was taken on the descent).The mist line just below the parking bay.The road up to here was fine but I had some trouble standing up in the ungritted car park and everytime I put my waterbottle and map on the ground to change into boots they slid off down the slope on a magic carpet of ice.Good fun though.
Raced up Cort Ma Law(531m) for the first hill viewpoint of the day.

There were a few other folk on the hill and I said hello and stopped for a quick chat with the lone walkers mainly.Couples and younger folk in groups tend to stick to their own agenda on the hills.
I felt privileged.We, the lucky few, having knowledge of inversions had one up on the rest of humanity down below who, unless they were into hillwalking, would have no idea of this golden chain of islands in the sun floating above them.The Campsies, the northern Munro's ,the Kilpatrick's and the Inverclyde hills were the only ones poking out of a massive sea of fog.It seemed to stretch right round the Firth of Clyde out towards Arran.

I was pleased to see that the long wooded ridge of Blairskaith was just peeping out,scene of my solo cycle ascent in this blog and a cracking day out on two wheels.
Took a dozen pictures then noticed with alarm as my battery darkened a notch.Damn, I`d thought it was fully charged! Would it last the pace.
Off down the hill at a run as a new idea hit me.I would try to climb as many separate island groups as I could before nightfall.A worthy challenge for a glorious day like this.

Up and over to Fintry where I took this then stopped at the high point of the B822 at Kippen Muir where I was blown away by the frost covered landscape. This has always been a favourite viewpoint.

Incidentally Stronend and Carleatheran are two cracking hill days done from Fintry and Gargunock. There was another full inversion filling the valley trench between the Fintry hills and the northern wall of the snow covered distant Munro's.

Had a quick look at the map before I dropped into the fog again and picked the Whangie and Auchineden Hill as it would be an easy climb to bag another island.Driving along the cotton wool trench was the hardest part and I would pass five crashes before the day was out.
Parked at Queens View car park and raced up the path til I got to the famous slit in the hillside.

Met the Clyde valley club up here enjoying the views then raced to the summit of the hill as I just had the perfect ending to my trip.A sudden vision of what sunset would look like from the Largs hills looking over to Arran.It was getting on.2.30pm already.Would I have the time!

Bounded back down to the car and headed for the Erskine bridge and Paisley.This was my downfall as Paisley had a hell of a pea souper going.Busy roads and nervous drivers.As I gradually realised I wouldn't make it in time I swerved off up the B775 to my old childhood backyard ,the Gleniffer Braes,where I wouldn`t need a map if it was dark and mist bound coming back down on minor roads.
Turned off at Lapwing lodge and up the Mid Hartfeild road towards Walls Hill which I knew to be a high point of the area, tyres crunching through the ice filled puddles.
The orange ball of the sun appeared through the mist and I knew I`d called it right coming here.
Followed minor roads like a kid going home to the best spot for views.

A spiders web of minor roads led me to Lochlands hill where I parked in a layby and climbed my third and best little hill range of the day.No wind up here so it wasn`t that cold.

I wasn`t lonely in the gathering darkness and stayed up on the ridges of this area until the last gleam of sun faded and the stars and farm lights came on like a living advent calendar all over the high valley.

Just me and my God,tail twitching and blazing eyes reflecting the orange sun as we watched the sheep move away downhill.
A day snatched from heaven to land here for us.

A starry night saw a creep down to the road in darkness and another icy slide past Belltrees,Howwood and the motorway home.
A unique and spectacular day out.
What a pity Alex missed it!