Monday 30 May 2011

The Rock Climbing Years.A Pictorial Diary.

Hi Folks.
With Alex being out of order at the moment and my replacement model having done a runner as soon as I let him out the box (.bugger they are starting to learn!) I was on my own again doing low level things.Fear not!Rather than inflict another photographic flower fiesta on you this week I had a surprise when up in the attic clearing junk,finding several  half forgotten boxes of our  old club adventures.The quality in some of these isn`t that great but it gives them a nice retro feel. Like yeah baby!A time when we were hot and our Mojo was in full swing.
Needless to say Alex features heavily in them.....either I wasn't doing any climbing.....or,as usual I`m the one taking most of the pictures.Did find some of me though.
One from the old days way back in 1983.This isn't me either.

Lets face it neither Alex or myself are likely to be doing anything as athletic as this again so I might as well take this opportunity to expose ourselves in public.
It started with Munro enjoyable slog.....then we found we could scramble up some....we liked became a game.Lets see how many hills you can scramble to the top of adding extra miles on to reach remote crags in the process.
As addictions go hillwalking is a pretty good one with a fairly light  monkey on your back(Rucksack).But then we read a book and discovered mountaineering.For this you had to be fitter and climb sharper ridges with  a bigger monkey (pack) gleefully clinging on,shunning the tourist route.
The game changed to getting fitter and building up our mountaineering edge....
We only ever climbed at a easy standard.V.Diff to VS mainly....... but we we very keen.

In those days some rivers didn't have bridges.It would have been easier and drier to wade this but we were now "mountaineers".The easy way was no longer an option!
Alex ended up dangling in the river halfway across this with a soggy bottom then a dripping walk into the bothy.But he did have dry feet.

However we learned by our mistakes.I made sure the next one was a lot higher.
Even before starting the long walk in from the car park "mountaineers" had to toughen themselves up.Danger might lurk round any corner ready to test you and find you wanting.Hand strengtheners in the back seat of any car went without saying , club press ups in  pub car parks on the way back to the tents after a few pints were a given.Five minute finger hangs from  high door lintels a necessary evil to be endured at home.Danger would find us ready and prepared!
All this activity didn,t seem to improve our grades much ....But it was good fun.

In retrospect this is one of the dafter things I`ve done.Not a hard jump but it is midwinter on sloping ,slightly damp ledges.

Next we felt ready for climbing.This demanded an even bigger pack,loaded down with ropes,harness,assorted ironmongery and special sticky shoes which on some routes were sadly not as sticky as we`d hoped.

This is Alex,middle of a rope of three,on the Cioch Slab in Skye in heavy rain.We had a lot to learn.
Sticky shoes didn,t stick as well in the wet we soon found.

One of me in Wales.Cant remember the route.Lets call it grunt and shuffle.My normal climbing style.

Another rope of three.Hope. V diff.Wales again.

Climbing Eastern buttress looking across at climbers on the Cioch slab.Skye.

Good one of Brian leading Spartan Slab.VS.Glen Etive.
We even tried the odd sea stack adventure.

The Old Man of Stoer.VS.220feet (66metres)
Alex was more concerned about the rope traverse at the bottom of this route but his trousers remained dry.On the outside at least :0)

Alex belayed at the base,Brian climbing.Big wave about to pour over the ledge.

They were in a queue and had to wait halfway up for their turn to summit and abseil off. As I didn`t fancy leading this route myself I elected to be the photographer that day.The abseil off the summit looked the hardest part,rope spinning in the air with rotating little climbers silently moaning most of the way down.It put Alex off the Old Man of Hoy anyway which is twice the height and a harder grade of climb.
We decided it was time for a step up in a different direction instead.We`d filled  our rucksacks to bursting ,we`d  rock climbed.....we`d  recently discovered multi day back packing,a great way to let half the contents of your house see the great outdoors from the comfort of your groaning shoulders...

We`d done sea stacks ,sea cliffs and climbs all over the UK.....

We had made the weight on our shoulders as heavy as it could get given the size of the rucksacks...brilliant...but it wasn't enough...There was only one thing left to do then....make the mountains higher.Much higher.
We were off to the alps..........

To be continued.

Tuesday 24 May 2011

The Pineapple,Airth.

Overcast and dull countrywide. (big sigh). Yet more grim weather. What`s a poor boy to do? Tisk tisk.
Should I go up a hill,almost crawling on hands and knees in these windy times to enjoy a grey, cold, soggy  upper world.
Does a puppy eat its own poo? No thanks.That's not me...and I so totally don't go there.
Luckily at this time of year I knew of a place where  sparkling sunlight pours out of the ground., not Iceland...that`s red lava and big bucks just to get there unless you are Julia Bradbury and can fly there for free.
I was off to that other exotic location much nearer to home,though in the distance it did have tongues of flame lighting up the sky. ( Thats Grangemouth and its gas flares :)

I was off to Airth near the Kincardine Bridge and in particular The Pineapple,an extraordinary summerhouse built in the shape of this fruit and now used as unusual (and fairly remote) holiday lets.
It was built in 1761 by the 4th Earl of Dunmore.There is nothing else like it in Scotland,perhaps even the world.He had returned from the Americas where pineapples at that time were given as a welcome.They must have made a big impression,both on him and on the poor craftsmen building it,dutifully trying to replicate his wishes.
Although its good for a trip in itself (small car park,well signposted.Can also visit Callendar House in Falkirk same day) the main reason I was here was to tour the area on my bike as the Pineapple sits bang in the middle of the Golden Lands.The Wizard of Oz brought to life.

A flat fertile carpet lies between the River Forth and the Falkirk uplands.In spring huge fields of oil seed rape (Canola in America and Australia) cover this landscape.Another experience I didn't want to miss.They dont have rape fields in the west.Its too wet. Alex couldn't  have picked a better time to hurt his foot :)  Incidentally, my hopping mad buddy will be saying when he sees this... "No you fool! Not another bloody flower post! Get back to the hills man! " Well, it takes all sorts.....he`s a hill guy through and through.Nothing else matters in his world.
Alex reminds me of a guy I went climbing with in the Vanoise (French Alps) years ago, part of another mountaineering club two week holiday  trip. He was a founding member of the crowd going and a real alpha male type.
"Hey! What gives with all the flower pictures.Are you a soft boy or something?"he asked suspiciously.
I`d taken 200 odd shots of shark fin mountains,crevasses,gorges  ridges and rivers in this superb area and it was just three photographs of an alpine flower meadow that finally caught his attention.
I  looked at him with amusement.You cant really explain to someone if they don't have a feel for what your looking at through the camera.They might as well have been invisible.His eyes were only fixed on the mountains.
Over the next few days he seemed to change his mind though once up on the hills as we were tied together on a rope and I was jumping crevasses with abandon.It still wasn't complementary though....
"That guys a nutter! He`s gonna die soon and he`s gonna take me with him into a crevasse!
I`ve never been that great with heights but on the flat I`m totally fearless.Like totally man  :o)
We got on fine after that.

Anyway a good cycle can be had on the quiet lanes around here,as long or as short a trip as you want.You can also park at Plean Country Park nearby.

I`d timed it just right.Sheltered,warm, lush and bathed in a honeyed shimmering glow with the cloud shrouded Ochils a looming reminder or where not to be today.
The perfume of the flowers hung everywhere in the lanes and fields.My kind of soft fluffy heaven.
That reminds me.....did you know honey is just regurgitated bee sick! Its true! Have fun with that thought as your munching  it next time :o)

Skylarks and yellowhammers trilled in the meadows,two rare birds nowadays.I discovered several off road rights of way  starting near the Pineapple going right through the rape fields so a circular walking tour of the area is also viable from this car park.Best at this time of year though.
All in all a fantastic riot of colour for the eyes.Sit back and rest easy hurt skippy,my limping buddy.....the blog is safe in my week....a tour of homes and gardens in the suburbs.....and  an appreciation of Katy Perry videos......
Only joking...Next week will be back to real adventure....I promise ...a one off spectacular.

I returned via Airth which has some nice old buildings and this church.From the top of this graveyard it was a dirt track canter back to the car. I put a pound in the honesty box (honest) then had a walk around the walled garden .This has a variety of fruit trees in the enclosed central  meadow with numerous old fashioned flowers and shrubs around the interior walls.Not many orchards left in Scotland sadly.
A nice relaxing day out.

As there were road works all the way back along the M80 I opted for the A811 via Stirling and Killearn to get home.Another lucky pick with some great views and smooth  unhurried driving.

This was a nice country garden passed . Another flower picture :)
And a view from the Distillery at Dumgoyne which still had busloads of visitors at 7.00 pm at night.
Well it is a short season.

Fear not adventure week there is plenty of hard action involved.

But will it be about hills?.......Aye theres the rub........keep working in the healing jelly onto that damaged leg Alex....only you back on your own two good  feet can stop me.

Tuesday 17 May 2011

Glasgow.A Parks Tour in May.


With the weather recently being highly unpredictable due to a static jet stream sitting to the north of the UK
drawing in frequent showers then short sunny intervals followed by more showers and a near constant strong wind it was hard to plan any trips in advance as even the overnight forecast changed most days,usually for the worse.Still...Spring was out there, still unfolding in all its beauty so I was determined to capture this magical,fleeting, some years  missed altogether, season.I wait for it all year long.No way I`ll miss it.
I decided to stay low.The lowest point in Glasgow in fact but we will get to that later... first the Parks.
I phoned up Alex and told him my brilliant plan to cycle round  some of my favorite Glasgow parks,picked
for their splendour at this time of year. know as well as I do Alex is mainly interested in bagging his lists of  hills but I keep trying to coax him out to try other things as well. However The man from  Its No Pointy he say Nada! I`d stand a  much better chance impressing Shania Twain with the offer of a lift on a skateboard, a cold bag of chips and a bottle of Buckfast!

The main reason for the parks idea was so I would have loads of handy trees to shelter under during the heavy downpours but still be out and about to capture the sunny moments.
Incidentally,one of the great unheralded  basic pleasures in life is simply sheltering under a tree in summer during a swift heavy splatter of the elements.Everything else shelters in the trees as well and you can hear bees,birds and squirrels zooming, hopping and scampering above you.The entire tree hums with unseen life and just for an instant race collective instinct seems to kick in and you feel totally, strangely alive.
Gurdjieff`s moment of true clarity perhaps...of being suddenly ,completely...." awake."
Who knows.
I do know I`ve always loved the smell  and presence of damp warm nature....from the relative dry comfort of a handy tree or tent of course.
By taking the bike I could link a collection of parks together in a interesting cycle tour. missed another great trip.

First up was the little known Knightswood park,one of the best I`ve found for cherry tree avenues and a lovely but small oasis.This can be made into a much bigger walk or cycle by including the nearby canal,the ribbons beside the golf course and playing fields, and/or Great Western road.In April and May this is the best gateway into the city of Glasgow and its intended to be,over a million daffodils covering the central reservation from the Erskine Bridge right down to Anniesland Cross.The trees are also special here,white and pink cherry blossom  all the way and a dozen other flowering  varieties including bird plum and  crab apple.I often think this long leafy carriageway is a park in itself! Maybe that's why its so popular with joggers.

Across this then up onto Trinley Brae with its panoramic views over Glasgow,Paisley,Clydebank and Drumchapel,the hazy enclosing circle of the Glennifer Braes, Kilpatrick Hills and Campsie Fells beyond.

Trinley used to be just a grassy hill overlooking the city but its been transformed with the sowing of wild flowers on these modest heights.
Next a short canter to Victoria Park and the Fossil Grove in its grounds.This is a vintage building containing the petrified remains of carboniferous period fossilized tree trunks and stumps.A unique find.It was shut at present as they are adding a dry tank to complement the rather grey and sterile but world renowned stumpy forest by making a mini live jungle of bugs and beasties for the kids.Kids love bugs and beasties!
I wasn`t here for the dead trees though but rather the live ones outside.The landscaped quarry area and sunken rock gardens around the Fossil Grove are a delight every spring.

Its a riot of colour and one I didn't want to miss as it only lasts for two short weeks then its gone for another year.

A popular park with family groups  even without the surprise of a giant mobile bouncy castle city touring  most of the big parks this summer.(I was wondering what a twenty foot high monkey was doing peering across at me from the pond area.)  Next a longer canter under the always unnerving  Clyde Tunnel.A subterranean journey into the underworld that always feels like creeping under a sleeping dragons tongue with its threat of gangs and bad behaviour.
Normally its ok but you never know......

This was the first time I`d been down it since the transformation of CCTV and a new gated entry restricted access intercom system.It`s probably a lot safer now but it still feels like entering a maximum security prison on a bike :o)
I remember walking this tunnel with my dad aged ten.It seemed to take ages going down and down  into this concrete winding tube under the river.In those days it was clean, new and pretty safe. I also have a vague memory of going down the old Rotunda tunnel under the Clyde with him ,the original  ancient tunnel ,all dripping stairs and dank walls just before it shut to the public.He was also keen on a spot of  urban exploration. One of my friends used to cycle this way every day to work. How`s that for a Monday morning feeling.Hi  Big J.

Its not really a place you want to linger in but it is an adventure! Next out into the sun again and soon reached Bellahouston Park wherein lies the wonderful walled garden.

And The house for an Art Lover gardens....

And a big wedding with loads of guys in kilts and girls looking very pretty in skimpy dresses.YOU MISSED YOURSELF ALEX!!!!!! :) Its a popular place for wedding pictures.
Next through the green cool tunnel of nearby Pollok Park with its highland cattle,heavy horses and European  Park of the year award.

 A very happy four hours and a dry cycling jacket. Result!
Just time to feed my tadpoles out in the wee pond.

Mind you....even tadpoles have good days and bad days......

Oh dear.....

Monday 9 May 2011

Arran. South Circular.


Bob Again!!! Alex still resting his flipper.
As my knees took a bit of a pounding on Rhyolite Romp I thought I`d give them a rest as well from  the constant downhill grind of hills.
As I`d cycled round the north half of the island of Arran last weekend I couldn`t very well miss out the southern half so a week later still in settled weather I was back on the busy car ferry to Brodick to cycle round the southern end.
Usual crowd of assorted cyclists on board again on this popular road run but also a good example of the Gini Coefficient (gap between rich and poor on the boat).Guess who bought a Times newspaper to pass the journey with longer articles to read :o)
Normally it was the usual mix of average families,golfers,cyclists and such stomping the decks but on this particular occasion there seemed to be a few carloads of sloan ranger types..... folk with very posh accents who,by overheard conversations,where used to more exotic locations overseas.
Maybe it was the prolonged settled weather here and the rising costs abroad but they seemed to be enjoying themselves anyway among the lower ranks.In sunshine Arran is the equal of any place in the world.

Also aboard were a few young teams from the nearby coastal towns on the mainland ( I`m practically an honorary member now I,ve bumped into them that often) keen to soak up the sunshine.Some looked as if they were heading for the campsite and others for the facilities of Brodick beach.
I noticed with some  amusement that although polar opposites both groups seemed to meet around the back somewhere and almost touch shoulders on certain aspects of behaviour.
Both spoke in raised tones attracting the attention of other normal voiced passengers.Both groups surveyed each other with loathing and disdain......and on the way back both groups seemed to have consumed large quantities of alcohol  and found everyday  mundane things very funny.Like the extreme right and left in politics maybe not so different after all.

The first village encountered once up and over the hill  from Brodick was Lamlash.This is where you catch the small ferry to Holy Isle.The entire bay,a tiny part of which is seen here is a no take zone where fishing is not permitted to allow stocks to recover.This community led project seems to have been a big success and they may extend it to other areas in the future.
There are 18 separate villages on the island each pretty and  all different.
Whereas Lamlash was a straight row of buildings clustered around the bay the next village ,Whiting Bay, had a gently twisting look to it as the road followed the natural contours of the coast.

I couldn't choose between them.Both delightful in their own way.
Another  warm, muggy hill climb followed pestered by flies as it was through rolling farmland plump with cattle.My joint favourite village on Arran(tied with Corrie)  soon came into view.

 Its a lovely little place reached by a panoramic descent through carpets of yellow gorse.At this time of year the cloying sweet coconut smell  of its flowers is overwhelming.The very essence of spring in a sniff.
Great views from here over the small lighthouse adorned island of Pladda,the further away Alisa Craig and the dramatic cliffs of Bennan Head.

In the distance offshore a helicopter was busy transporting materials between moored ship and Pladda.Otherwise it was quiet and serene.

The only problem with a village at the bottom of a hill is that its usually another steep climb back out of it again and so it proved here.

Walking time again leading my rubber and metal donkey up between 10 foot high grassy verges covered in a myriad of wildflowers.At the top more green fields and gorse skies and small fluffy clouds above.
Maybe it was the bold vibrant colours all around...or maybe just the intense heat in this windless hollow but my mind suddenly flicked to an old film seen once in childhood in a Paisley cinema with the snow falling outside and a warm honeyed land onscreen. Song of the South. Part real life setting part vivid cartoon.It doesn`t take much to trigger my imagination and I was transported back to zip a dee doo dah land .My head humming with sticky tar babies,whizzing bees,talking bullfrogs and all singing all dancing blue birds.
Well... there were several real life Brer Bunnies  hopping around me......

Even birds perched on  nearby wires seemed to resemble musical notes on a song sheet...or maybe it was just heatstroke.We Scots aren`t used to warm weather.
Having slogged up the String road just the week before I didn't fancy it again so soon so opted for the Ross instead.This also cut across the interior of the island.A new road for me  and an unknown  proposition on a bike.
The first stretch was really nice,a fertile green valley and I thought I`d picked a winner.It was steady paced up a reasonable incline until I reached the last establishment,a remote Buddhist retreat.

At this point I certainly wasn't feeling inconceivably happy,noticing with dismay the long uphill tarmac ribbon snaking beyond.At this point it got tough....whereas the String road (for me) was a no brainer walking affair halfway up due to its steepness, my age and lack of lower gears on my bike this sneaky son of a slippy scoundrel beguiled you into staying  put in the saddle.It was just at the right angle to be able to bike slowly up yet not steep enough to make walking the better option.A real bugger!
I peddled and peddled..... and peddled and peddled.... and eventually arrived at the top of the pass in a sweaty swearing heap,cursing myself for being suckered into its trap.
I actually appeared to be looking down at the summit of Holy Isle from here.Thats Mullach Mor.a rocky 314 metres high.No wonder it was hard work.I`d cycled 1000 feet of relentless uphill in a oner on the hottest days of the year so far......and I only had a sip of water left in my bottle at the hoo!

Cooling glide back into Lamlash though then another joyfilled uphill pant over to Brodick where I treated myself to a can of coke and bag of chips,having a well earned rest beside the pier.
Back over to Ardrossan and a lovely sunset to end the day....then another belated 10.00pm evening meal.
1000 feet in a oner!!!  Went to bed tummy stuffed with a very big head.

1000 feet in a oner!