Sunday, 14 October 2012

The Gargunnock Escarpment.Spout of Ballochleam.

One of the least frequented hill ranges in Scotland is also, ironically, one of the closest to Glasgow,a mere 20 miles away.The Gargunnock Escarpment,a fourteen kilometre,thousand foot high line of  near vertical cliffs that stretch from the Endrick Water to the River Forth is a truly memorable walk in itself but few people are even aware of its existence,yet its very obvious from the flat plain of the Carse of Stirling as a high, black,usually dripping and dank, north facing wall.About 10 years ago I walked this end to end passing Tulmore craig, Carleatheran,black craig,Standmilane craig,Lees hill then Stronend.Faint boggy paths run along the edge of this massive natural barrier.Its one of the great landmarks in the central belt but few people ever go up there.To do the full walk is an epic long adventure but not easy to acheive without two cars.I did it solo during a long summers day.By public transport (bus)you start from a hard to reach spot,walk a long way over tough ground and end in a place that's even worse.I had to hitch back to Glasgow from Fintry which was not easy.It was however an unforgettable day and I was knackered at the end.
This time there were three of  us going. Alex,myself and our friend Ron.A beautiful autumnal morning to be wandering through this lovely Capability Brown style landscape heading up towards the square block of the castle/hotel hidden in the trees.We set off of course from an old favourite starting point,Culcreuch Castle Estate,parking at a layby next to the playing fields in Fintry.On the way up through the gap between the Double Craigs and the main two tier head wall I was asked by Ron how these cliffs were formed.I had to confess I wasn't really sure.This escarpment is very distinctive black basalt ,visible from a large area.There are obvious signs of glaciation as the ground below the double tier line of cliffs has moraine like features,a network of small rolling grassy mounds similar to the valley of a thousand hills in Torridon ,the fairy glen at Uig on Skye and many other places.
This is one of the grassy mounds.Mini drumlins in effect but smaller than the ones covering Glasgow.No eskers visible that I could see. When I returned I had a look on the Internet.It was not that easy to find.Very little information exists on these overlooked hills,most of it buried in the middle of long geology extracts or history papers written by people far more academic than me.It was however an interesting quest which answered a few questions I,ve always had myself about this area.
I,m not a geologist or a historian so if any information is incorrect here please feel free to comment.Here goes.
This double tier escarpment is the remains of successive flows of lava from volcanoes.Also evident in this area are Tuffs,a type of heat welded volcanic ash that is relatively easy to carve using basic tools.The Easter Island Statues are carved out of  basaltic Tuff and similar material was used to build the Servian wall around Rome to repel Hannibal's army of elephants which obviously inspired that Iconic scene in The Lord of the Rings film.
Another question I had was why the nearby summit, Carleatheran ,is so different from most other Scottish hill names and whats its meaning.
It sounds Welsh so that's where I started. Caer as in Caernarfron meaning fortress. The other half could mean grey.Grey fortress.Both Stronend and Carleatheran have stars and the word cairn beside the summit on OS maps denoting a site of earthwork antiquity.
Why does it sound Welsh? Well ,before the Roman occupation a large part of Scotland spoke a language similar to an early form of Welsh.The Damnonii were one of the dominant tribes in Southern Scotland at that time and built many forts on prominant hilltops as it was easier to defend them.Clyde may also be a word derived from this early welsh language meaning 'Loud or warm valley'.Clywwd.I used this in the 'Greenhill country 'post you might remember.'The lords of the warm valley.'
Anyway we had a great time walking along the top of this ancient, north facing, lava flow past Stronend heading for the Spout of Ballochleam.This is Alex and Ron.Panoramic views now open up over the Carse of Stirling,the vast flood plain  of the River Forth which in former times before it was drained and made fertile by the Moss Lords who tamed the great labyrinthine swamp of Flanders moss was a place to be feared.A desolate wasteland of bog and water,the home of banished men who had been expelled from settled society where  an inexperienced horse and rider could easily disappear without trace,either from bog or attack.
This shows the double tier of successive lava flows very clearly.

This helicopter certainly gets around.Either that or its got several cousins.It was flying level with the escarpment.Not often you can look down onto a helicopter.We also disturbed a large bird of prey from these cliffs.It didn't look like a buzzard.There was a upturned sheep lying nearby,fallen over,unable to walk.By the look of its many attempts to right itself  it had been lying alive on this hillside for several days and they were both now waiting patiently for death.Bird and animal.A natural,age old, cycle.We had a go at getting it back on its feet ourselves but  it just fell over again when held upright.It didn't appear to have broken or damaged limbs.just past the point where it could stand. In this remote,sometimes harsh, unfrequented area the game of nature plays out mostly unseen.
Moved by compassion most hill walkers try to play god and superimpose their own judgement on events like this.Sheep and wildlife do not go down easy though.There's usually a reason if an animal goes over on its side like this.Or maybe it just became fed up with a summer of rain.People are naturally temped to intervene but it can sometimes cause even more distress and suffering than if left alone.Different if its stuck in a bog or in a fence and a solution to free it is obvious.Some aspects of Nature can be hard to watch but the simple truth is wildlife thrives without any help from humans.We are the ones who  usually mess it up as we cant stop interfering  in everything thinking we know best.When I was young I once drowned a pigeon with a broken back in a bucket thinking I was doing it a kindness as it had lain in a neighbours back garden for two days during cold weather.The neighbour said I should drown it to put it out its misery.What she actually meant was she couldn,t bear to watch it anymore and it would put her out her own misery.Even weak as it was it struggled so hard to live I knew I should have just left it alone.Holding it under It took ages to die and it suffered more as a result.Drowning is a hard way to end.I realised then people can superimpose their own emotions on wild animals,trying to take away their own feelings of suffering.Out of sight out of mind is a cliche for a reason.She was happy and at peace with herself once I'd drowned it but it taught me a valuable lesson,both about wildlife and humans.
Two lucky woolies not destined for a birds sharp beak.The great drop off wall behind.A dead sheep or deer may mean the difference between  life or death for scavengers that depend on this to get them through the winter.Save one maybe kill the other.Nothngs ever simple.
Lees Hill and the deep trench of  cliffs leading to the Spout of Ballochleam.
A view across to Meikle Bin,highest summit in the Campsies.Some people like this hill surounded by its dead ,dark carpet of pine trees.
Looking down on Fintry again from the top of the escarpment.
A garden in Fintry that reminded me of a chalk stream.Also took this because it reminded me of Willy Wonka land.This is obviously a highly sculpted,well tended cherished vision by the owner of this property and I,m always drawn myself to places and people that seem not of this world.In art ,architecture,film, music.Little bubbles of wonder, beauty,exotic appeal or just unusual strangeness in an ordinary everyday humdrum existence.Its what has always appealed to me.That other world.That landscape beyond the normal.Better 'A company of Wolves' than any number of forgettable blockbusters.That striving for enchantment rather than settling for the mundane.
A really varied day.We didn't manage all of the escarpment as that would have taken us too far from the car,turning back when we'd had enough of the surprisingly tough walking.As hard as most Munro days and a good six hour walk with only one short break.

As its almost the end of autumn now and the start of winter the video this week is very topical.
On one level it could just be taken as a comment on the pointless nature of bullfighting.
Dead can Dance. Persephone. A unique and hauntingly memorable video.
The ancient Greeks tried to make sense of the world around them through myth.Persephone was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter who later became the queen of the underworld after she was abducted by her uncle,Hades to live in darkness underground as his wife and companion.Her mother came after her,cursing the land to create the first autumn  and a deal was the result.Persephone could live with Hades for six months of the year as his wife if she was allowed to rise above ground for the other six.This gave us the seasons we know today.In spring she bursts out as new vegetation,flourishes and delights in sunlight then descends once more into the underworld leaving the surface a dark,empty place til her rebirth takes place again each year.Humans mourn her presence.I certainly do and wait for her appearance with longing during her underground period.
The Eleusinian Mysteries were founded around her and her mother Demeter.They are both connected to the golden harvest,one of the most important events of  the ancient world as each year success or failure could mean food in plenty or starvation.Sometimes she drops below far too quickly other years she lingers longer ,and has to be persuaded by Hades to return to his side.This video should make perfect sense now :)   Or maybe not.


Unknown said...

Sounds like a good day on the hills I'll give Gargunnock a visit sometime maybe good for a shorter winter day...

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Kellan.
Both Stronend and Carleatheran are great hills.There is a scenic path up the latter from Gargunnock village marked on the OS map that take in a waterfall and skirts Tulmore crag.All this area is part of the Clyde Plateau lavas which contains around 70 seperate vents and volcanic plugs.My next post will probably be about them.Best of luck with the book.

Carol said...

In that first photo, is that an animal track or are people supposed to walk along it? :-o Looks very scary indeed!

I pretty much know what happened to the sheep I think. It got 'rigged', i.e. rolled onto it's back (they quite often do that) and, as they have pretty square backs, they often can't right themselves again. The reason it probably couldn't stand up is 'cos it had gone for days on it's back with no food and was probably too weak to stand up any more. I generally get them the right way up and, if they don't run off, go and tell the nearest farm, usually trying to see what markings are on it so he'll know who it belongs to.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol.
Its either an animal track or the start of a landslip.The cliffs are really loose and fractured all along here.
We could tell the sheep had been lying out for days as there were several brown hollows nearby where it had been obviously lying for a long time in each.Got to it too late.Few people every go there.Nearest farm was miles downhill in the opposite direction to the way we went back.Doubt if they,d go all that way up there anyway.I,ve found loads of dead or dying sheep on remote hills.Found another two today.Dead.Very ripe.

Carol said...

You'll have to start taking a wheelbarrow in case you find any dead ones that aren't ripe yet! ;-)