Thursday 31 May 2012

Sgurr Coire Choinnichean.Knoydart.Last Part.

Saturday dawned at the campsite and at last there was a morning breeze around the tents.We were up very early having noticed that the bottom steepest part of Sgurr Coire Choinnichean,the Corbett directly above the village ,was in shade early on.As it was closer than the other two and I thought I would actually enjoy this one I surprised Alex by tagging along as he wearily pulled on his boots for a third time.
At this point I have to say huge respect to Alex.He doesn,t relish the heat and to do three tough Corbetts one after the other was impressive stuff.
We managed to get a fair way up before the sun hit us like a blow torch but by then the breeze had picked up and it was just like a normal hill day.
Superb views from this hill over to the Islands of Eigg and Rum and a good chunk of the western seaboard.I was storming up this hill.Motivation gushing out my pores.It was a peice of pee this hill.
As you near the summit a sharp but easy ridge unfolds then you top out onto a grassy platform.My kind of hill this one.
Alex did say it had the best views of the three but I think he was just relieved his pain had at last ended.
The man himself lying in the shade after descending the hill.He confessed there was even a thin trickle of blood coming out his bottom by this stage.
(Not me honest,separate tents, separate toothbrush!) It was caused by three days of sweaty rubbing and friction between his bum cheeks  and his soaked trouser material apparently. (Hey! Too much detail! ALEX.)
We walked back to the tents via the lush,damp and cool Knoydart in a Knutshell walk. This is a cracking wee route through the woodlands and fields surrounding the village and is well worth doing.Its in the shade for much of the time which was a slice of heaven during weather like this.
All that was left was to pack up and catch the 3.00 pm ferry back to Mallaig.£10 each single trip one way on the landing craft.£4 a night for the campsite.Compostable toilet which was a novelty.A wee shed with a deep hole.A fantastic trip which we both enjoyed and great to visit here at long last.Alex gets his motivation for going up hills from his lists of trigs and the satisfaction of being able to mark them up afterwards.I get mine from dreaming about a range of topics as I climb upwards.Yesterday I,d read in the paper that sweet Keira Knightley had announced her engagement to the Klaxons rock group.Any pain in my feet was replaced by a pain in my heart.Approaching 60, ugly and skint I always thought I was in with a  real chance there due to my superior life experience and endearing habits like scoffing cold beans straight from the tin in the tent with a spoon.
And the fact that she was going out with them all...well..I always suspected she  might be a bold one.
( A,hem. I think you will find out she,s only getting engaged to one guy from that popular beat combo. ALEX.)
Really! Damn those dropped beans! That bit was tricky to read.Another treasured male fantasy shattered and that one had wings.Never mind Just the  thought of that  misread article got me to the summit of Sgurr Coire Choinnichean in jig time.I must drop baked beans onto the daily newspapers more often.Makes the headlines more interesting.Almost beat the guidebook time despite the heat and lack of a decent path.

Just one last thought.This next bit is not a complaint just an observation.Admittedly we arrived here during a spell of fantastic weather on the west coast but considering its tags of "Isolated community ,Hard to reach.Cut off .A true wilderness" etc. I felt I should voice the impressions I had of the place on our visit.The village is lovely with some nice quirky touches.The hills are as wild,untamed and high as ever.
The villagers are friendly and keen to help make your stay a good one but on this visit at least I for one was surprised by just how many folk ( ie tourists) were milling around here.I suppose any place as stunning as this one with the reputation it has is bound sooner or later to become That  "in place" to go to.I certainly noticed a big increase in footfall around the village in Rum though not on the hills when we were there recently.
MV Lord of the Glens. A luxury mini cruise ship which cruises the highlands and islands.A beautiful boat built to travel the Caledonian canal as well as the seas around here.This berthed here overnight. It has 27 high class cabins.During each day several ferries pulled in to unload their cargo of passengers to be transported to the various bed and breakfasts,bunkhouse and pub accommodation.The pub itself was always busy each night with up to thirty people,many off yachts moored nearby,tucking into platters of seafood.I don't know if its like this all summer but Inverie and its surroundings didn't feel that remote if I,m honest and reminded me more of the trendy Ubiquitous Chip in Ashton lane, a fashionable restaurant /bar in Glasgow's west end with a similar clientele.Upmarket high flyers a fair percentage of them. Most highland pubs I,ve been in don,t have that mix or that turnover.In fact a lot of Glasgow pubs would struggle to match those numbers mid week in summer.Obviously tourism is the main income for a community like this and a lot of people depend on it for a living.Its good to see a success story in the highlands.Its not as if its going to disappear either by me writing this as the hills behind will always be a big draw for visitors wanting to climb the Munro,s and yachts will always pull in here overnight for the scenery and food alone.Its just the newspaper tags I have a problem with.Maybe fifteen years ago it felt remote here or in bad weather or winter when I imagine it reverts to its colour supplement image of being off the beaten track.  But like a lot of places around the world nowadays when travel is so quick and easy and information instant at the click of a button it definitely seems to be on people,s radar now and not just the outdoor type.
Campsite beach.These folk were very well behaved by the way with teenagers and children and went to bed at a reasonable hour.They didn,t cause any trouble and were a professional disciplined organisation.The only reason I took this photo was to illustrate a point. They were just one of several large groups around the village with a wedding party of 70 walkers booked in for the Saturday we left.All great trade for the locals of course for what is a short season.Everyone we spoke to during the three days had a great time and I never heard any complaints except about the heat and lack of a cool breeze.But the much vaunted "one of the  last great mainland wildernesses in Scotland" or "A remote isolated community"as the papers roll out routinely every so often? Well I,d be interested to hear from anyone that,s been in Inverie recently in summer.Was this just a one off? Inland from the coast  its still as wild as ever though Munro bagging has taken off in a big way and shows no signs of slowing down.

They still exist of course...those completely empty places....they are not admittedly as dramatic or as scenic as this place and tend to be away from the magnetic draw of Munro's and Corbett,s.You can still walk in Scotland for days without seeing anyone and camp for months without anyone knowing about it .
But I for one am never going to write about those rare places on here .Trust me...Its much better that way :)
Too many are going or gone already.
Whenever you put " The last great wilderness" down  on paper anywhere expect a rush.

Wednesday 30 May 2012

The Coastal Road.Knoydart.Part Two.

I only go up hills if I,m going to find them enjoyable.My feet were still a wee bit tender from an epic a week before when I,d done a long wild walk  near Glasgow on top of blisters and received more blisters.Although they were healing nicely this plus the intense heat and lack of wind in Knoydart on the first two days and the fact I,m not a determined bagger of Corbetts preferring to do a  variety of things outdoors at heights and low levels meant I was not super keen to go up Alex,s hill of choice.
When he said he was quite happy going up it himself as he could set his own pace that let me off the hook to do something I,d always fancied and was more keen on.
There is a tarmac single track road on Knoydart that leaves the village and hugs the coastline and several little bays,passing a scattered collection of ruins,holiday homes and remote crofts before fading out into a rough track then eventually a path to the very last house at Croulin and it was this I wanted to explore by bike.Neither of us had ever been to Inverie before or explored this road  as we,d bagged all the Munro,s in the area separately with other people from Barrisdale and the East.It would also rest my feet and I was hoping for some much needed wind near the coast.(The hill would have been no problem feet wise though if I,d been motivated enough.)
This is the view looking back towards the village from one of the many rollercoaster hills on the road.It was beautiful smooth tarmac but it was so hot the tar was actually starting to melt and form little sweat bubbles on the surface and you could press your fingers into the road and leave an impression.Not often that we got back home we found out a new temperature record that been set for the month of May in Scotland. 29.3 degrees.  Poor Polar bears in the Highland wildlife Park.
It was more up and down than I,d hoped for and hard work in the heat but at least on the downhills a self created breeze gave me some relief.That and sticking my head into the few streams still running.Views over to Skye started to open up and the Cuillin ridge made a splendid backdrop against the road.The number of cars, land rovers and walkers along this road surprised me as I naively thought I,d have it all to myself but I suppose It was perfect weather and almost a hundred people were in the village area itself not counting locals who numbered around 80 in total I,d guess.That,s far more than most remote areas I,ve visited in Scotland and the truth was starting to dawn on me that maybe people wise Knoydart was not going to be as quiet and empty as I,d imagined.
Bla Bheinn From The Road Highpoint near Doune.Although hazy I was able to zoom in and capture this image of one of the finest single mountains in Scotland.
The Cuillin Ridge Itself with  Pinnacle ridge on Sgurr nan Gillean (peak of the young men)showing its serrated profile and the Basteir Tooth sticking out just visible in the middle.I abseiled off one of these mighty overhangs once on Pinnacle ridge into thick mist and had no idea how far the ground was below me.Luckily the rope was just long enough.Also stupidly smashed my ribs up climbing near Am Basteir by falling into a rock wall  while slipping down a chimney and Alex ended up  lying on a board for a spell when we drove ourselves back to Glasgow.Soon healed though. Happy days when we were young and bones had more rubber in them than now.Brings back memories.
There are loads of little bays to visit during this section but you have to go off the tarmac road to visit them and all are downhill then back up again.I explored the first two but here again each had a holiday home tucked away and they didn,t really have the wild empty feel I would have expected. More like an intrusion into someone else,s private kingdom.Other folk seemed to find nothing amiss though so maybe that,s just me or the heat or my expectations of the place were too high.For views and Scenery and a great cycle ride I,d give this tarmac stretch a 7 out of ten.I turned back at Airor which had a nice little bay and a huge ex navy landing craft sitting in it and returned the way I,d come.I too had a cunning plan up my sleeve.

The next morning I accompanied Alex on the bikes over the scorching hot and barren Mam Uidhe track.He was heading for his second Corbett in the area,Beinn Na Caillich, another long hill day while I was intent on cycling the track then path round to Croulin,that fabled spot I,d dreamed of visiting for so long.See....I have motivation.... just towards my own objectives.
Alex,s first view of his hill.Its not as close as it looks from here.Tee hee!
Alex struggling with the heat and incline climbing the Mam Uidhe.

Meanwhile I,d split off and discovered this beautiful pool where I sat in the shade for over an hour and played with the tiny fish,taping my finger on the water surface in imitation of a downed fly  to get them over to where I was sitting.I also prodded my motivational angel to see if he was still alive. He was just alseep,knacked from stuggling to break free of his bonds.
You can see why in warm countries like the Arab states they have taken water gardens to an advanced level of culture and art.In this heat the sheer joy of deep pools and sound of water refreshed me without getting in, just to be near it was a joy.It just reinforced my determination though never to get sucked into lists of things to complete again.I,d rather have a choice of what to do.Cant be arsed angel nodded his little horned head in agreement and lay beside me on the grass.I wondered if Alex was feeling this happy :)
After a spot of second breakfast (Cinnamon spiced sponge slices and  large sticky dates.How appropriate is that! ) I set off  for Inverguseran and the sea.
I don't know what I was expecting here.A spectacular hidden paradise perhaps? It was OK.A perfectly pleasant place to live but if you remove the views over to Skye the coastline here was nothing special though there was a nice raised beach but it had none of the wow factor I,m used to on my travels.No dramatic rock sculptures or photographic highlights.I was slightly disappointed to be honest.3 out of ten scenery wise given the effort involved to reach here.
I was even more disappointed when rolling my bike across the grass near Croulin I discovered I had a puncture in my back wheel.Its always the back wheel!!
On pulling out my repair kit I discovered I had all the gear for a repair except a proper lock spanner for the nuts which were on so tight I couldn,t free them with the pliers on my leatherman knife which usually does the trick.I wasn,t that bothered to be honest.Even here 15 kilometres from the village it didn't feel that remote.More like an episode of Location Location with holiday homes or farms every few kilometres apart.I was walking most of it anyway by this point.Instead of taking that heat soaked bumpy bugger of a road over the hill,which had probably caused the puncture in the first place I opted for the coast road instead.That way I might get a sea breeze and bag the entire lenght of the track.
Around 16 sweaty kilometres later and a good few head duckings in the sea and streams I reached the tent where a very kind fellow camper lent me a decent lock spanner (thank you) to take off and change the inner tube.It was now about 5.00pm. Alex was just back from the hill and said I,d made the right choice as the hill was grim in the heat with little wind even on the heights.We consoled ourselves with a cold can of coke for me and fanta for him which I,d bought in the village in passing.Incidentally,a standard tin of this varied in price from £1 pound in the post office shop to £1.50 in the pub.In all I spent £12 just on cans over 3 days as there was no big 2 litre bottles here.I also drank gallons of water of course from the tap and streams.If you are coming here in a heatwave though might be an idea to bring any Juice with you if you can carry it.

Tuesday 29 May 2012

Knoydart.Inverie.A Remote Wilderness? Part One.

After a very cold wet start to Spring  that rare thing happened on the west coast  of Scotland.A much predicted week long heatwave with temperatures hitting 28 degrees Celsius (80 plus Fahrenheit) which was tipped to build day by day.Wall to wall sunshine except for the poor east coast which sometimes has its famous haar drift in created by the temperature difference between the deep,cold north sea offshore and the inland heat bringing summer sea mists that can roll inland many miles and affects the coast occasionally from Aberdeen down past Edinburgh.Same thing happens in San Francisco and other cold/ hot places around the world.
Knowing there would be a rush into the countryside at the weekend by the masses we formed a cunning plan and set off midweek for Knoydart.This is Alex packing his gear for the trip on the ferry.Its Wednesday afternoon and its sweltering.The large car park at Mallaig was already full up and we were lucky to get a space.The reason for the late start was to fit in with the ferry timetables.Four ferries run per day mid week.You have to book in advance as its a popular destination nowadays.
Any shade was welcome.This is Alex sitting under the Old Forge Pub sign in Mallaig harbour,in the Guinness book of records for being the UK,s remotest mainland pub and famous for its seafood. Knoydart itself is often billed  in quality newspaper colour supplements as one of the remotest corners of mainland Britain and Inverie as the isolated village with no road into it.
In reality though,with regular low cost airlines to Glasgow you can reach Inverie from London in a day.
Everyone else seemed to have the same cunning plan and Mallaig was busy with holiday makers.
Our Landing Craft arrived stuffed with Sea Kayaks.This turned out to be an adventure company back from a trip.When they had unloaded we boarded with our bikes and gear and set off intending to return to Mallaig on Saturday night.Only two other folk,a couple, shared this ferry with us.Alex had already booked the trip both ways by phone.Its called the Sea Bridge this company and has a number of different sized ferries to cater for different cargo.
Its a lovely trip in on a calm day like this one and passes under the steep walls of Aonach Mor and Sgurr An Eilein Ghiubhais,This latter hill being particularly impressive seen from the campsite beach.We were very glad of the sea breeze.
The view in the photo above is  the village of Inverie sitting below Sgurr Coire Choinnichean,a steep impressive peak and one of Alex,s three Corbetts he was hoping to do on this trip.The others being Beinn Na Caillich and Beinn Bhuidhe.
The campsite was in a nice location a ten minute walk from the village situated on a flat grassy plain beside a long beach of white sand.With our tents erected that made 17 in total dotted along the grass.
Nightfall came and we cycled along to the pub for a couple of cheeky pints and to get away from the midges which were noticeable but not too bad.It was really warm without any breeze so the heat was probably keeping them at bay.
The bar staff were mainly from New Zealand and Australia and Nat,a cheery guy from Queensland told us a great story about teenagers there catching  the big cane toads  then attaching empty beer cans to their legs with string before tossing them onto neighbours roofs to hop around all night annoying the hell out of the inhabitants living inside.
That made us laugh but when we got back to the tents after a pleasant evening with the amber liquid we soon found out that Inverie had its own version of cane toads in the shape of the resident peacock and a visiting orchestra of cuckoos.
As soon as dusk descended this bold individual flew up onto a nearby roof  in the village and gave voice in its distinctive elegant scream.The cuckoos responded and  battle commenced for several hours each night.The cuckoos always won though as they never stopped.Cuck and oohing right though the night though I was always asleep long before then.Sleeping bags were not necessary inside the tents and lying on the carrymat without a stitch  on was  often enough over the next three nights.Seperate tents I might add.
Pretty bird when it was quiet though.    I,ve  known a few like that  in my time :)
In the morning another great day dawned and we woke early,well before 7am with the sun hitting the tents.After an hour it was like being cooked in an oven inside so it was no problem getting up.
Alex had his three cups of coffee breakfast ritual in here,a log cabin similar to the more basic rain shelter on Rum while I prefered to dine in front of the tent eating my usual spaghetti ,beans and midge surprise.Alan and Beryl a couple of equal or slightly older age to ourselves got on well with Alex as they had a lot in common.Much talk of Corbetts, Grahams,Marilyns, Munros and long distance walks no doubt took place in this hut. Little motivational angels on both shoulders all three had.
This post could be subtitled " Driving A Driven Man" as he was determined to get his bag of three Corbetts done.Alex doesn,t normally like it too hot.And this was boil in a bag time.Alan and Beryl were even more motivated  than Alex if possible.A stifling hot windless day seemed not to bother them at all and Alan was Corbett and tick list driven too.The same hill As Alex today.Beinn Bhuidhe.
This was a long I was told.It did not start well when we set off along the track on foot North,in the opposite direction from the hill we intended to climb then headed East parallel to the beast which seemed to grow in height and get even further away as we sank down onto the Inverie River track.It was hot.Airless.Still.And not even nine in the morning.
Sgurr Na Ciche peeping up seen from the Inverie river track.I have the usual  two little angels on each shoulder as well.Fortunately on stifling hot days like this one my motivational angel sometimes gets bullied and tied up by my cant be arsed angel.Today after an hour of sweaty walking and no nearer the base of the hill my cant be arsed angel won the day.He,s the more intelligent angel after all except when it come to advice like "Yes boy, take those two extra pints down your neck,you know it makes sense.  Go On , it wont hurt!"
I also passed below this. A Monument !!!! .I was smitten and waved a happy goodbye to Corbett bound Alex. Alan And Beryl also came up to see this,a large impressive structure with a cool dark chamber inside  that could sleep one comfortably,two at a push.It is on estate land though.
At first I thought it was built to commemorate the seven men of Knoydart but sadly it turned out to have been erected by their adversary Lord Brocket as a tribute to his mother,father, wife and children.For that  highly interesting history see here This also has a picture link to the Knoydart Foundation and maps of the area....

After a look around Alan went off after Alex. Beryl headed up to the heights of the Mam Barrisdale pass and I visited Loch an Dubh Lochan , watched sand martins and wheatears flying around its shores then went back to the tent for my bike.It was time for plan B.
Cant be arsed angel rubbed his hands and jumped up and down on my shoulder laughing while motivational angel struggled  hard and cursed  him and me to no avail, his wee body well wrapped up in bondage...... ......................................
                                               be continued.....

Friday 18 May 2012

Knapps Loch.Glen Moss.Knockmountain.Kilmacolm.

Maps to any outdoor person should be a window into the landscape around you. I,ve been fascinated by  OS Maps since primary school.When you know how to read features and information on maps its like flying above the ground sitting in a house.No broomstick required.Mountain ranges,cliffs,gorges,sandbars,moors,gravel,mud and sand dunes. .....Its all there.
Normally you can tell how good area  is for walking just by looking at a map.Its how I find most of mine.
Some areas however lie under the map radar and this is one of them.Its a rural gem.A lush oasis in an area only locals normally frequent but it has some of the best scenery for photographers anywhere in the Central belt.Its also a fantastic walk with stunning views yet I only discovered it a year ago after driving past it in the car for decades.I,ve been back four times since then in every season.Says it all really.
The photo above is Knapps Loch and its low semi wooded escarpment behind.There are a couple of lay bys beside this on the A761 just south of Kilmacolm,an upmarket country town in Inverclyde that is one of the most sought after locations in the country for folk with a few million to spend on a property.
You can tell a town is upmarket when most of it is hidden under its own forest.Large spacious gardens full of mature trees and the occasional  tennis court.It would also boast many swimming pools in gardens if only  the weather in Scotland would allow that.Very few days when its warm enough for swimming outdoors in any comfort though.
Spotted this pair of Greylags as soon as I got out the car.There is something almost fairytale about this area.Vast mansions,many hidden down lanes,obscured by trees of every variety,height and shape.
What a way to start a walk.
The Walk itself.
Park in one of the two laybys.Knapps loch has a fishing hut,three small rowing boats on it,several wooded islands and is popular with local dog walkers.Most of them just go round the loch which is why I,ve always
passed by it in the car considering it too short for a decent walk in the past.I have parked here to start a cycle ride though.(The first layby right beside the loch is also beside a fast road so watch when driving out and keep animals and children safe)
How wrong can you be?   Its actually a fantastic and varied walk of several hours duration if you link the low escarpment, nearby Glen moss,and Knockmountain together.A stunning tour de force combination.
Bridge of Weir and the Renfrewshire ridges from the Knapps escarpment.
I already know what a joy is is to cycle across this landscape,each ridge a real prize on a bike,as big a buzz to reach the top as any mountain summit.Now I,ve also found a walk to do this remarkable landscape justice.A cornucopia of different habitats,terrain and creatures in a surprisingly wild upland area.

The walk starts from the car park layby,seen here, travels clockwise(north side) round Knapps loch but on this higher balcony trail at the top of these sloping fields to reach the north end of the escarpment.Stay high for the best views.
It  then takes this left hand skyline ridge up through the trees and follows a faint path along this rocky crest. Few dog walkers reach this far.(Dogs I dont mind.People shouting at their dogs for doing what dogs simply do best(eating dead stuff,Rolling on shit,Sniffing balls and bums,chasing loads of  things,fighting or humping other dogs etc) can be irritating after a spell.If you want to shout a lot outdoors and not get arrested for it get a dog :)
I find dogs and people very funny normally but I much prefer them Lowry sized in the landscape,like bagpipes.Happily seen and admired from afar rather than played right in my ear. Good for photos too.

Although Just over 100 metres( 300feet) above sea level this escarpment and the open moor behind it boast panoramic views over  the Heights of Inverclyde and Muirshiel Regional Park.
Views across to Glasgow and Paisley.City views from hilltops I never tire of but this is a completely new angle for me.Shows you how close the city is to such dramatic landscape on its doorstep.
Looking the other way towards the rising hill farms above the Green Water in Inverclyde.This photograph really highlights the difference a few hundred feet of height can make between lush  pasture lands and more exposed,emptier hill slopes.Sunshine or shadow.The difference between life and death for lambs this season as this May has been the coldest and wettest anyone can remember up here.
Once the escarpment has been traversed the path runs down along the south side of Knapps loch.From the fishing hut go back across the dam then cross open meadows to reach Kilmacolm itself.There is a walkers access gate near the first houses  beside the Kilmacolm signs on the A761.This keeps you off the road.
From here going along the main road  into town take the 2nd street on the right (Houston Road) a quiet serene gem with wood pigeons cooing in the garden canopy above.Glimpses into a different world of opulent luxury on a grand scale.I love the trees and shrubs here.Many rare types from all around the world.On a sunny day this walk is so close to heaven you can sometimes hear the angels sing in these woods over the sound of lawnmowers and strimmers.
This particular sweet angel stopped signing and asked me if I,d come to fix the drains but I replied no and passed through her world like a visiting ghost. Great houses often require great money and maintainance alas. She was also a visitor.A singing Nanny.A  young,very attractive Mary Poppins.Told you this was a land of fairytales.
The road continues up towards a golf course.Once past the houses keep your eyes peeled for a signposted path on the left which takes you across this golf course protected by a screen of silver birch trees on both sides.You then come to a deep, dark fir wood with orange dots on tree trucks highlighting the way (Hansel and Gretel anyone) down to Glen Moss.A nature reserve and one of the few places left in central Scotland that has true elephant swallowing bog.

Its a traquil oasis in a sheltered bowl much loved by dragonflies,flittermice,rainbow pond skimmers, furry
floating reed munchers and  other fairy folk.There are duckboards and several paths around the reserve though you can,t complete a full circle of this body of water.Not without wet feet and good slithering ability anyway.
After exploring follow the duck boards back to a lane with several grand houses scattered around. (tiny car space for wildlife enthusiasts here) Its a dead end cul de sac but you take a rough rustic track that leads down a wooded semi gorge with railings past two sets of open golden gates. ( It is a fairy tale after all.Can,t not have golden gates in it,can we?) This takes you out near the town centre where you can still get a good impression  of the old  country village of Kilmacolm before the serious money moved in around it.
Knapps loch is man made along with the golf courses.Glen Moss ,a sunken relic of the last ice age used to be drained and managed every winter as a curling pond in years gone by but now its been left to revert to its wild state.
Like a little chunk of Louisiana swampland  only without any Alligators.

Around this sheltered bowl is an abundance of wild land.Perfect, near empty cycling roads as you weave between the glorious border separating Inverclyde from Renfrewshire.Most folk will find this walk enough and will head back to the car.((I recommend Glencairn road rather than the main street as a return as its quiet and rather special)
For those with energy left however there is a path marked on the map that leads up over Knockmountain towards Langbank with views over the Firth Of Clyde.

The summit of Knockmountain is only 191 metres(  626 feet) but worth it for the views.Its also possible to do this as a solo walk in itself,continuing down to Langbank for lunch beside the Clyde(hotel pub,carvery, shop) then walking up through the Finlaystone Estate(beautiful mature woods and gardens) then  up past the Auchendores Reservoir road(path across fields marked on map here) back to Kilmacolm.A long and varied walk through different landscapes with sea views.

A  pretty Pandora's box of  visual treasures few outside the local area know about.If this was a blog that thousands looked at I would never post this on here as its not an area that can take too many people. .But I know only a handful reading this will ever  bother to visit.
To those that do though.... Keep it secret.Keep it safe.I know you will.There are wonders here on the very edge of imagination.A landscape of the mind.
A sudden Spring hailstone shower batters Glasgow seen from the Knapps Escarpment.I know its hailstones as I had the pleasure of their company up here first.The size of marrowfat peas they be!
To die for.....My wonderful Magic Kingdom.My Real Life land of Oz.

Sunday 13 May 2012

Callander.Doune Castle.Deanston.An Easy But Interesting Outing

I think this area above looks a lot like the peak district or the limestone heights of central England. Its actually the slopes around Uamh Bheag near the Braes Of Doune a few miles from Callander.
A week or so before the trip to Rum a lovely forecast was predicted for Sunday.Out came the maps and an hour went by the night before, looking for somewhere to go.One area that stood out on the Stirling and the Trossachs Map Sheet 57 was a bike ride I,d only done once as part of a longer epic day when I,d zoomed though the first few places at speed without stopping, intent on eating up the miles.They had struck me as interesting places to spend more time in though so I,d always planned to return.Scotland has so many wonderful areas to visit though and time passes and you  soon forget.....................................So... Ten Years Later..... :o )  
This time I wanted to take it easy and stop whenever I spotted a good photo or point of interest on route.

A new born lamb.There were a lot of them about. I parked in Callander, which is a lovely tourist town, in the large central car park near the river and got out the bike then set off.There is a bike trail that starts from near this car park and runs east along a disused railway parallel to the A84 to Dalvorich. From here it climbs up over the quiet minor road past Upper Drumbane and Milton of Cambus.  It gets you away from the traffic fast and views soon open up over the moors and mountains.
This is looking across at Stuc A Chroin.  Ben Vorlich ,The Glen Artney Hills and Ben Ledi can also be seen near here.Once down at Burn of Cambus the main and rather busy A 84 is rejoined but you can avoid this road by cycling along the quiet, normally people free,  open pavement past fields a kilometer or so til you reach Doune itself.
Ten years ago I,d raced through here on the bypass road without stopping.Now I had my explorers head on and cycled into the town centre.Most people know Callander well as its a tourist hot spot popular with coaches and cars.
Doune by comparison is less well known but it has much to offer the visitor.By bike, car or foot.The tourist information centre is halfway down the main street.( 9.00am til 4.00 pm opening )
Its the white building opposite the church.Its a mine of information about the area, full of local walks beside the River Teith and beyond.  Long distance walk maps that pass though here are inside and facts about the district. I,ll certainly be back again to walk here as I noticed what looked like a council visitor and shopping car park nearby. As the morning was forecast to be cold and misty I,d left it til 11.00oclock to set off from my house.It was now almost 2.30 pm but the sun as predicted had burned off any mist and it was now pastel perfection time everywhere. A soft shimmering pale blue. No point leaving early and not enjoying it as much.
Doune itself has several  interesting old buildings and looked a nice wee place.I stepped into the information centre  to get a map of the  local trails and was out again shortly, having been told there was a red kite feeding session just about to start.At half past two.
Although I knew they had been reintroduced into Scotland since the 1990s from Mid Wales where they had clung on in pockets I,d never seen one.
Argaty was where it was taking place,only a few kilometers from Doune up a minor  farm road. I jumped back in the saddle for a wheezing full pelt race uphill thinking to myself I,d never make it in time.
I didn't see the actual feeding.Although they catch some live prey these birds are mainly scavengers which is surprising considering how acrobatic they are in the air.Everyone was just coming back down from the hide having seen the feeding but the farmer/guide was good enough to let me stay on in the hide, telling me that they were always searching  the fields for lambing afterbirth and dead young lambs at this time of year.
Sure enough, after a  hopeful lunch break to stuff food into myself, there were half a dozen right above the hide.Beautiful birds of prey and a real treat for £4 pounds. A real privilege to watch them wheel and glide effortlessly on the thermals. I suppose they are the northern European version of a vulture. Great to see them back. May be a common sight again one day all over Scotland.
It was a lucky road up to Argaty and the bike meant I could stop anywhere I liked.This was a field with several pig sheds spaced out in it. I couldn't believe the number of animals attracted to this one field.Pigs are great cultivators and diggers with hooves, tusks and snout and most green fields they are placed in end up looking like this.The pheasants,jackdaws,crows,rooks and oyster catchers were all here looking for spiders worms and grubs flushed out by the busy pigs.A wonderful sight seeing so much wildlife in one small area. Pigs are often used to clear ground that is a tangled mess of bracken or other unwanted undergrowth.
Mind you it's hard graft digging. Some had obviously put in a shift earlier and were now relaxing... loudly! That's what I love about pigs though. When they do something they really enjoy like scratching an itchy bum crack on a post they show how much pleasure they get by their expressions. I laughed out loud when one proceeded to do just that vigorously, right in front of me,giving little grunts and sighs of happy content. I,m sure it was smiling.
It was certainly worth the effort to get up here.
Back down in Doune I visited the nearby castle which was famously used in a Monty Python Film.It,s an imposing structure but more importantly from my point of view I discovered a network of scenic short walks around here,one of which runs just under the castle and along the riverbank.You could have an enjoyable half day here just exploring this path network and the town.I,m always on the lookout for new walking areas. Doune Castle is now famous all over again as the castle in popular series Outlander.
When I,d had my fill of this I cycled back up to the main road and crossed this bridge on foot to reach the quiet road leading into Deanston. This used to be a purpose build model village and still retains many features from that time. It's very pretty as its reached by a curving road beside the river. The main building that dominates the view is this.
It's Deanston Distillery which produces Scottish leader finest blend and Deanston malt. It was formally a cotton mill which provided work for the area and contained the largest waterwheels in Europe at one time.The mighty Samson and Hercules.
The village itself is picturesque with its workers clock tower visible from every row of houses so the workers were never late in an age before cheap wrist watches and clocks.Like a mini, two story high, New Lanark. Not surprising as that was also a  purpose built cotton village. The Rows are called divisions. It's the correct time. A lovely evening, warm and light til well after eight o clock pm.
A water filled lade and cherry trees make it a nice place to cycle through and the heady smell of the "angels share"  as you pass by the open windows of the distillery makes heavy breathing good fun. I had a spring in my step as I followed this quiet minor road though open countryside. It's one of my favourite  B roads (B8032) as there is normally very little traffic on it. (only two cars in nine kilometers of cycling).
This gently rolling  tarmac ribbon takes you out to meet the A81 with views towards Ben Ledi in the distance. This is the only road with any volume of traffic on it you cant avoid but its flat, straight, slightly downhill, and is over in under five minutes as you bomb  back into Callander.
Anyone wishing a longer version of this tour can add  in minor roads past Gargunnock, Kippen Thornhill or Port of Menteith but I was happy with my half day easy adventure.What,s not to like? A great way to pass 3 to 5 hours on a bike or car journey.