Sunday 30 May 2010

Arran. Holy Island.Mullach Mor and Clauchlands Ridge.

I`ve wanted to go to Holy Island for as long as I can remember.As it was a Sunday and the first ferry of the morning was not until 9:45am getting into Brodick around 10:40 the Arran ridge seemed like too much of a rush,especially as we were still feeling the effects of our long Galloway day.
By mutual consent the ridge was off the menu ,so an easier excursion was agreed to bag the summit of Mullach Mor the highest point on Holy Island, and a trig, then a wander back, on Arran, along the coastline ridge over Dun Fionn,also a trig,direct to the ferry.It was still a fair distance.

After seeing the pictures of Bute Alex was determined not to miss out this time. Thank God I thought,I wouldn't be tempted to take the bike over any hills this week.
Parked at Ardrossan.Paid our £2 parking fee in the terminal car park and jumped aboard.Soon struck up a conversation with a guy whose breakfast consisted of a few thick slices of spam washed down by a discreet full bottle of buckfast tonic wine.We were impressed.Anyone that munches raw spam for breakfast is hard core.
Docking we now had 15 minutes to catch the other ferry across to Holy Island.Not a lot of time.First off down the gangplank We raced for the bus then spent the rest of that time going nowhere as it slowly filled up with folk with dogs,rucksacks and golf clubs till it was crammed to bursting point with us jammed in right at the back.
By the time we reached Lamlash we had time on our hands as we watched our ferry disappear.No matter.Lamlash is a pleasant place to pass 30 minutes til the next one.

It was soon our turn.Holy Island has a long and varied history.Various Saints, Vikings,Dukes of Hamilton and now Buddhist's have all left their mark on this steep sided island.After being on the market at £1 million and remaining unsold it was eventually offered to the Buddhist centre of Samye Ling Monastery in Dumfrieshire at a reduced price.
After managing to raise the cash the Abbot of the Samye Ling founded the Holy Isle project which continues to this day.Fortunately they allow visitors on the island which is where we come in.

After wandering with the ferry group up the beach we were met by a guy and had a brief greeting and explanation of the rules and goals of the island surrounded by a gleaming ring of Stupa`s.We were then wished good luck and we could explore on our own.
The path up Mullach Mor was straightforward and easy,views opening up across to the Alisa Craig.

Which seemed close and the backdrop of Arran`s mountains.

At the top it turns into a fairly narrow ridge but still easy hands in pockets stuff.

Wouldn't like to roll down the eastern side though.
On the descent we bagged the square lighthouse,a type rare in Scotland,then skirted the womens retreat where some undertake a vow of silence for a year.That must be hard.No fights though!The path back was very attractive,great scenery and wildlife.
Painted boulders at regular intervals of inspirational Buddhist figures.This I think is Green Tara, similar to a mother nature figure.

Also Saanen goats, Soay sheep and Eriskay ponies wander around.

I`m not religious,the beauty of the natural world has always been enough for me,but this area felt a bit special.

Symbols and paintings added a dash of the exotic to the landscape.
We managed to swap with a couple we`d met earlier on the hill (thank you) allowing us to get the early ferry back so we could walk from Lamlash over the Clauchlands ridge to Brodick.Even on this smaller walk time is ruled by the ferry timetable and we did not want to miss the last one back.

Back in Lamlash,we marched along the tarmac past a ribbon of posh houses until Clauchlands point then up the grassy incline gaining height towards Dun Fionn. A smashing viewpoint.Another ancient hill fort and more importantly a trig for Alex.

It was still an enjoyable 3 kilometre walk back to Brodick from here but the views kept us going past farms and isolated cottages,tree hung lanes filled with honeysuckle, bluebells ,wild garlic and yellow poppies.

You can see the route back from here.Brodick is in the dip where the sea turns inland.

Back in Brodick we hit the chip shop.£2.60 for a single hamburger(no roll) or £1.60 for a buttered roll and hamburger.Stunned into greed by this logic Alex bought two burgers and buns.I munched all my single meat and bun but the seagulls enjoyed Alex`s second roll and burger with noisy flapping gusto.
A perfect end was getting the last ferry back with the evening sunlight spilling like molten gold over the decks, the contented bank holiday travellers, and the dazzling waters of the Firth of Clyde.

Best day of the year so far.So many great memories of past camping trips here in Glen Rosa with various clubs and mad youthful exploits in the mountains and bars.
When the suns shines here this truly is heaven on earth.

Great day. Great company.

Friday 28 May 2010

Mullwharchar and Loch Enoch.

A Bank Holiday and all day on the hills and see nobody....has to be Galloway.!We pulled in to the car park at Glen Trool beside the only other occupants...a couple from Cheshire up on holiday.After 30 years of visiting the highlands this was their first visit to Galloway and they were astounded at how beautiful an area it was.The sun was out as we took our leave and headed directly up Buchan Hill on our way to Mulwharchar.We had toyed with the idea of biking in from Loch Doon to the north but the prospect of a return visit to see the sands of Loch Enoch proved irresistable.

The idea was to make good use of the Rig of Loch Enoch and enjoy a high level route towards Mulwharchar,avoiding the tussocks and bogs lower down.The Rig proved a great way out with gentle ups and downs and traces of a path in places.

Makes a change having views down both sides for such a long time.
Loch Valley below us...

Just before we crested the final rise to Loch Enoch a quick detour was made to pay our respects to the Grey Man of the Merrick....

A quick pull up and the loch was in front of us and our hill appeared in the distance...

We took it easy as we had all day before us and walked around the sandy shore when possible.Who would believe this is 1,600 feet avove sea level...

A stop for a spot of lunch and some photos....

...and then a quick flog up the slope via granite slabs to the summit of Mulwharchar.
Good views of Arran and down south to the Mull of Galloway but it was just a bit too hazy to make out the Isle of Man.

The Merrick from Mulwharchar.

Next up was Dungeon Hill to the south...

...which without a doubt was my hardest remaing Donald.It`s a long way from anywhere.We made our way down to the col under Mulwharchar.Loads of granite erratics all over this area.

An easy pull up and we were at the top in no time.

The man eating bog of the Silver Flowe is in the valley at the bottom of the pic above.See the link at the end of the page :)

There are some impressive cliffs on this hill but the only person I know who has actually made the effort to do a route there is our friend Gavin.I`ll see if he has any pics to put up.The weather was now becoming a tad on the parky side so we kept going.We had hummed and hawed about adding on Craignaw....

...but the weather was closing in and we had been up it long ago in December 1992 so we traversed around Craignairny to the Wolf Slock and down to Loch Neldricken.More sandy beaches to walk round here.

As luck would have it the weather brightened up again as we worked our way round the loch.Looking back Loch Neldricken and Black Gairy before heading down the Gairland Burn..

The Gairland is usually a bit of a bogfest but it was behaving itself today and we emerged at the foot with dry feet.A bit of tar work and a quick detour up to Bruce`s Stone...

....and it was back to the car and back home over by Rowantree Toll to Straiton.Good day out it was.I even think Bob enjoyed it :)

PS: To see what Galloway can ofer in the shape of tussocks and bog go to the excellent John Biggar site and look at the picture at the bottom of this page.

Monday 24 May 2010

Monte Cassino.

We`re accumulating a bit of a backlog of reports including two brilliant days out over the holiday weekend so here`s a quick scribble and pics of a trip to Italy earlier this month.

I went out to Italy a few weeks ago with my dad and fellow veterans of the Italian campaign of World War Two.They are all getting on a bit nowadays and it looks like this will be their last visit.There were 26 altogether in the group comprised of the veterans themselves,helpers and a a woman from Invergarry who was paying her first visit to her brothers grave out there.A couple of the old boys had even ignored medical advice in order to travel.

The Northern Scottish and Glasgow contingents along with a couple of Geordies met up in Schipol airport in Amsterdam to catch a mid afternoon flight to Rome.The first section of the tour was based in Anzio where everything had been organised by a lovely Italian woman,Giuliana,who gives freely of her time to organise these Scottish visits.A coach,paid for by the Anzio council, met us at the airport and whisked us off to our hotel.

Next day most of us set off for Monte Cassino about 80 miles to the south.The hilltop here had been the site of some of the most bitter fighting of the war,on a par with Stalingrad and more
reminiscent of the battles of World War One.A United Nations of nationalities fought here....British,American,Polish,French,Indian,New Zealanders,Canadians,Portugese,Moroccan and even Brazilian units. By a stroke of luck my dad and I got talking to a guy in the local hotel who turned out to be a battlefield tour guide and hopped on the bus with us.First stop was the Commonwealth cemetary in Cassino itself.

Major Willie McArdle in the cemetary.....

...where there was a short wreath laying service and Stewart the piper played a lament on the

Cassino Abbey on the hilltop....

I`d read about the battle for Monte Cassino in the past and formed a picture of it in my mind but
when the bus stoppped midway up the hill I was astounded to see how difficult the assault up this flank must have been.If I was out for a days hillwalking then I`d go looking for another way up.A few shrubs and small trees exist nowadays but 66 years ago there was no cover at all.Next stop was the Polish cemetary situated just below the monastery.

A short history here.

My dad in the Polish cemetary with the abbey behind.....

Stewart plays again...thanks to Michele di Lonardo.The full video is at the end and worth watching right through.

My dad had a stroke of luck here in 1944 ( or so he thought at the time ) when he contracted malaria and was taken out of the front at Cassino.It was a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire though as on recovery he was sent to the beachhead at Anzio where he sat in a foxhole while the German artillery lobbed shells on him for weeks on end..!

I`ve never been on an organised trip like this before and it took a bit of getting used to the fact
that I couldn`t just wander off at will.Sunday at 11am there was a special service in the Church of Scotland in Rome for my dad and his friends.I managed a quick walk around for an hour before entering bang on the start of the service.I think this is the first time I have been inside a church for something other than a wedding or funeral :) The church has one of the few roof gardens in Rome and we all repaired up here for lunch and admired the views over the city including the Vatican.
Simonetta,an old friend of my dads who lives in Rome came along to meet him.Giuliana on the left and Simonetta on the right...always had time for the ladies my dad....

Kiss for Simonetta whilst Jack Doig hopefully awaits a turn....

A few hours in the afternoon were spent wandering around Rome.

The Colosseum is in the background above.Price is up to 18€ nowadays so I thanked my lucky stars I had visited it years ago :)

Back to Anzio for a formal(ish) dinner with the mayor,British miltary attache and a few other dignitaries which wasn`t as boring or as formal as I`d feared. Monday included a trip to meet the local mayor at his chambers for a short ceremony and exchange of gifts,a visit to the museum housing exhibits from the allied landings in 1944,a few more cemetaries,lunch at Giuliana`s, and a memorial to the Gordons down by the beach where they landed.

Having a break at the Beach Head cemetary.....

My dad and Jack Doig get interviwed for the local newspaper...

Across the spine of the Appenines now via the L`Aquila area which was devasted by an earthquake last year with many fatalities.My father and his friends had sent off a cheque for around £1500 to help out with the relief effort but this had apparently "gone missing".....a local official has been charged.

We went to Fossa,a small hillside village, to vist the local primary school.Earthquakes appear frequently in the newspapers along with casualty numbers but here,meeting kids who lost their parents and siblings, the statistics bite home hard.A couple of hours were spent visiting and Stewarts bagpipes were a huge hit with the kids :) Ian who organised the trip has decided to raise some cash again only this time send it directly to the school at Xmas time.Feel free to dip into your pockets and I`ll give you his address..! There`s already a couple of hundred quid in the kitty.

Fossa...everything looks normal...

Zoomed in...

The ruins of the village stand as they are.Nobody is allowed back in by government order.There are now rows of endless prefabs down in the valley below where the population have been rehoused,a bit like a trailer park.

On a brighter note there were some cracking mountains nearbyI think this is Gran Sasso....if only....

Onwards up the Adriatic coast to Cervia for the next five days now.I hadn`t been looking forward to this part too much as it was just a beach resort and not having any transport I was guessing I`d be more or less stuck there most of the time.Fortunately the hotel had free bikes for the residents though not the type you would be seen dead with back in Glasgow :) The first day I walked through the town to the outskirts where there was a cracking bird reserve at the salt pans.Entry was only possible if accompanied by a guide and I had missed the last tour.On asking if I could get in at 6am the next day I was told that it didn`t open until 10am.! Anyway,I tried walking along the edge of the motorway and getting in further along the boundary only to be defeated by a bloody canal.Alisdair and I cycled over two days later and failed to get in again,too late again apparently.We tried without success to get in at the other side....I was a bit miffed to say the least.

Still,managed to see stilts,avocets,egrets,loads of terns.Another cycling jaunt through the pine
forests produced a hoopoe and a golden oriole both clocked by Alisdair and some weird sounding bird in the rushes which neither of us had a clue about.

A trip to San Marino was a washout with torrential monsoon like rain putting paid to my attempt to bag the country high point to my list.The downpour also put paid to the battlefield at Gemmano which was a pity as I`d been looking forward to that.Next up was the cemetary at Coriano Ridge where my uncle is buried.Marigold,from Invergarry,was making her first visit to the grave of her brother who coincidentally was killed on the same day as my uncle and is buried a few yards away.

My uncle Hamish`s grave with flowers placed by my dad.....

Marigold by her brothers grave and Stewart playing the pipes...

Coriano Ridge cemetary...

A trip on the train up to Ravenna with Irene,Frances and Marigold to see Dante`s tomb and a tour of the Basilicas.

The only photo of me on the entire trip...

Basilica di San Vitale was a bit special but almost impossible to do it justice with a compact
camera.The sheer scale of the place is almost beyond belief.
This Youtube clip will give you a good idea of what it`s like inside.

Walking through Ravenna...

From Bologna to Amsterdam where we were stuck for two days by the volcanic ash.We managed to wangle two nights in a top class hotel with all meals included . Might have been something to do with us telling them that the veterans were reurning from Arnhem after visiting the graves of their friends who were killed in the liberation of Holland :) Other folk were given camp beds in the airport ..!

Managed a few short walks along the canals when not in the airport....

Some more pics...
He never stops dad and Camilla in the hotel in Cervia....

Thanks to Giuliana,Michele di Lonardo from Cassino who put this video together..

Stewart for his piping over the trip and Ian Leslie ( 2nd from the left) who took so much trouble to organise it...

...and all the women of Italy ,like Claudia above,who kept my dad occupied :)