Sunday 27 January 2013

Meall Mor.Glen Gyle. Rob Roy's Mountain.

If any mountain can be called Rob Roy Macgregor's mountain it is this one, Meall Mor 747 metres, as it sits directly above the head of Loch Katrine and the site of the stone cottage he was born in. The house seen in the photograph above was built slightly later and dates from 1707. Rob Roy was born in 1671.Died 1734.
A good history of the house, modern dodgy dealings surrounding it, and the Clan Gregor connected to it is contained in here. Click on Glengyle House htm, to see it.
The photograph above is the route we took following a faint path around the back of the buildings starting near the old graveyard. By the look of it this mountain does not get many ascents. I know from previous outings with Alex on the hills surrounding Loch Katrine that these hills give tough walking and this one was no exception.
A dawn start was called for and we met up just in time for sunrise above Glasgow. Walkers today were Myself, Alex, Graeme, Alan and Sandra.
We parked at Stronachlachar which only really exists nowadays as a community due to the water board maintenance for Loch Katrine which supplies Glasgow with its drinking water ,as a summer tourist destination for the famous loch steamer, The Sir Walter Scott, which departs from the far end and visits here, and the holiday accommodation on the estate in this beautiful location. On a bitter winters day like this one though people were few and far between. The forecast was for 30 mile an hour winds on the summits and day time temperatures a few degrees below freezing.
Plenty of ice around even on the walk along the private water board road to the head of Glen Gyle itself. Once on the hill we picked a line through ankle deep snow into knee deep snow, occasionally falling into water filled holes as the surface ground layer under the snow was still saturated from heavy rainfalls during previous months. Not a good combination for all those little creatures that depend on surviving the winter months insulated under the snow, building a network of tunnels through the grass. Voles, mice, shrews etc...
This is us getting nearer our mountain. The rocky shoulder of Meall Na Boineide above seen from the water board road. Meall Mor was Graeme's choice of hill and a good adventurous one it was. Would not have thought of it myself even though I've cycled along here in summer.
Halfway up the hill in the deeper snow.
Alex being Alex he decided on a spot of gully climbing. This is him nearing his gully of choice as this hill is ringed with impressive crags although there are easier ways to the summit.
The snow was soft and slippery underfoot and the wind chill factor was below minus twenty. As soon as you removed a glove to take a photograph your hands grew numb and even with double insulated gloves and full face balaclavas on it was unpleasant. Hands had to be brought back to life occasionally by removing gloves and placing them under clothing next to bare warm skin to keep the blood circulating round the fingers.
The view inside a small ice cave on the way up the mountain.
Alan nearing the top of the gully. Didn't need crampons which was lucky as putting them on would have been murder on already frozen fingers.
Great views from the summit. On a nice windless day we might have walked along the ridge over Stob  An Duibhe  and An Garadh but given the conditions, High spindrift and bone numbing wind speeds, we wanted  back off  by the shortest route. No wonder the Vikings just laughed when the early missionary's said they would burn in hell if they remained heathens. The warmth of a wall of flame held no dread for them, only salvation.

Views northwards were impressive though.

This is Graeme and Sandra descending.
A great day out but easily the coldest day on the hills I've had for several years. Even the walk back to the car along the low level water board road  with a strong headwind blowing off the loch was full face balaclava time with jacket hood up and freezing, watering eyeballs.

Video is Catherine Destivelle in a classic from Mali. Its nine minutes long but a real gem with local cultural interest throughout as she solos a vertical cliff with a trumpet playing witch doctor blasting jazz at her as she hangs off overhangs.
I remember seeing this  many years ago as she's a real legend in climbing circles. In her early 50s now. Also the first women to solo the north face of the Eiger in winter taking 15 hours. Makes our day out seem rather tame :0)

Wednesday 23 January 2013

Pentlands.Scald Law.East Kip.West Kip.

 Left Glasgow in darkness on a cold but wind free day heading for Pentland hills and motored past Grangemouth just in time for sunrise over gas flares and towers..
Never seen it look so beautiful. Mind you I always think it looks stunning :)
Just myself and Ron today. Alan was going to come too but he was busy. Alex wasn't interested as he'd already bagged these hills. Set off from that car park below Easter Bavelaw, seen here, heading for Scald Law, which at 579 metres is the highest peak in  Pentlands.
Ron going through the gorge near The Howe. A bitter day well below freezing and full thermals on for these hills. Not much wind-chill though thankfully.
Not many folk on the hill today but we did meet a couple of enterprising young females who were doing the full circular round of ten (I think that's right) peaks in a 21 kilometre day starting off from near Hillend ski centre. They were in training for a big charity event up a well known African mountain and this round would certainly get them fit. I was glad we were only doing three peaks ourselves though as that was just nice for the short winter days.

Near the top of Scald Law. Great views over the whole range,then across to the Moorfoots, the Broughton heights and the Lomonds. As soon as nearby Edinburgh fades from sight here it feels really remote and isolated, especially in winter.
View looking towards the Western Pentlands where some of my favourite, quieter hills, lie.
Passing over the summits of East Kip and West Kip with their modest rocky arĂȘtes.
Heading down the  tree lined avenue at Bavelaw back to the car. A smashing day and a new set of hills for Ron.
Usual winter sunset to end with near Glasgow. The two girls we'd met on the hills might still be walking back to their car at this point. A long day for them.
I'm just happy it wasn't me :)

Todays video. Two today highlighting the contrasting qualities of the Dark Angel of Atlanta herself, Chan Marshall. This girl can nail a whole range of different styles from Indie to rock to grunge to jazz to blues to  melancholy southern gothic.
I've been a big fan of hers for years and her back catalogue has introduced me to so many different artists I would never have found myself.
As soon as I watched two of her videos I knew I'd crossed a great frontier in music and she has never let me down yet. The first is pure southern gothic.. the second some may find extreme but it has a haunting intensity. Her songs have an edge and a dark ambiguity I find compelling as I'm not too keen on middle of the road music or bland, overfamiliar subject matter in songs usually.
These are certainly not that.

'Forgiveness? I pray the ground trembles under the impact of their falling bodies'... New York city female multiple abuse victim.


Saturday 19 January 2013

The Ochil Escarpment.

The great southern wall of the Ochil escarpment drops steeply towards the wide plain of the Forth. Several villages and small towns sit at the foot of this great wall of rock and steep rising grass making this an enjoyable outing for photography. I've been here many times but on this occasion I decided to think out the box, concentrating not only on the obvious views but also on the little, mostly ignored, creatures underfoot as they too provide much wonder and interest when they are not getting stepped on.
 This is an end to end tour taking in three different trips over the summer months exploring the deep glens and high ridges along the escarpment edge many of you will know well if you live in the central belt of Scotland but hopefully a few new sights too.
Both these views are from Dumyat, the lowest of the central chain but also the hill with the most dramatic south facing cliffs.
Another view from Dumyat looking down on Stirling University campus. Pine martins have been reported here recently. The university grounds make a great walk. I've got a collection of photos taken on this campus ready for posting somewhere but  I've not got around to them yet.
The Lomond hills seen from the Skythorn area in hazy sunshine.
The 'Green Man' tree stump at Dollar. Well crafted modern nature art.
A sexton beetle. These are unusual beetles as they can smell a corpse from several miles distant and home in to find it. They then lay their young beside the corpse, usually a small bird or mammal which they also cloak with an anti bacterial agent to stop decay after burying it underground. Unless these are unrelated parasites this one appears to have several young sitting on its head. Never seen that before. A whole range of them here in this link below. I think this one here is a Nicrophorus Investigator which is a great name for a corpse finder.
Due to the highland cattle up on the Ochils  I soon came across these little guys also making a living out of decay and animal waste. Dung flies. Most people don't bother with them or think them dirty or a pest but they are fascinating in their own way and fight really hard to keep their hard won lump of dung, seeing off anything else that would steal it, including me.
 They calmed down once they knew I wasn't a threat sitting beside them and allowed me to capture them at close quarters.
I suppose the majority of folk would be drawn more to this. An argent and sable moth.Very pretty.
One of the great delights of the Ochils is the deep, tree filled glens that dissect the steep escarpment wall before climbing out onto bare upper heights of smooth golden grasslands. The Ochils are unique in Scotland but even here there are signs of erosion on all the footpaths caused by high summer rainfall then people  inevitably waking on them.
Good for the waterfalls I suppose but anyone with eyes going around the countryside this summer cant help notice the sheer number of topped trees everywhere caused by landslips, all the dead animals that didn't make it,caught out by months of rain and the damage to every footpath Scotland wide. Our world is changing rapidly and I cant help thinking outdoor blogs like these will soon be just a curious photographic time capsule of the way things used to look. I hope I'm proved wrong but I can honestly see a future where the wonderful deep shady glens of the Ochils are mostly bare of trees if the increasing trend for landslips and wet cold summers continues at its present rate of acceleration.
Do people know when they live through a golden age or when it comes to an end?
The good news for future generations is that they will probably not miss it when its gone as they will have an entire virtual graphene bendy friendly kaleidoscopic world to live in instead. I wonder what Kim Kardashian is having for breakfast today? I love bendy twitter. Touring my local computer retailer I'm comforted to see its the really important things that matter most on modern Windows Eight displays. As a great modern philosopher once said...Be careful what you wish for cos you just might get it.(Pussycat Dolls I think it were?)
Me? I'm  unchangeably old fashioned  in my tastes so I still prefer the high street version of nature in the raw for now. Like watching a long line of dominos falling isn't it Mary? Ah well, you tried your best. Maybe we could turn them all into cut rate licenced sex,drug and party zones instead. That might work. One way to pull money from punters pockets even during a recession. I cant see the supermarkets putting that on the shelf's just yet but you never know.
Or maybe I'll  raise a whole  new society of Sexton beetles when my corpse topples over on a remote hillside someday. As I've discovered there's a hidden world of wonder in corpses and crap if you go looking for it. Now that's a happy thought to end with. Kim, eat your heart out! Lets hear it for international burying beetles. A real growth industry.

Todays video is a cracking live action extravaganza of Starlings going through their nightly winter display. Once a common sight in towns and cities throughout Britain. I used to watch these displays at the bottom of my local hill growing up but didn't see as fine an example as this.


Wednesday 9 January 2013

Biggar.Western Pentlands Bike Run.

I've got a slight backlog of trips at the moment as I never posted a few from the summer when I was putting up multi day long weekends first.
Biggar, seen above is one of my favourite small towns. There's a lot more to it than you think with lovely walks and  a collection of moderately priced museums. This is the old bridge on the west side of town. The type of  urban landscape rural English villages have in abundance but Its as scare as chocolate fireguards up in these parts. No village pond but you could sneak Biggar into Kent, the Cotswolds or Dorset and it wouldn't look out of place.
All around are the shapely hills of the southern uplands at their finest with Goseland Hill and White hill on one side, Tinto and Dungavel Hill to the west and the back of the lesser known and emptier Pentland Hills to the east.
It was this that attracted me as I hadn't cycled the minor yellow roads to the north of Biggar for over ten years but I remembered them as being special and unique .

OS Map 72. Upper Clyde Valley.    Just follow the yellow brick road.
As you can see here its a network of quiet highways that takes you into some superb cycling country with huge skies  and flat plains one minute, mountains the next.
My route left Biggar travelling North past Elsrickle and Walston then round by Dunsyre under the Black Mount, circling the South Medwin valley before skirting the unfrequented western slopes of the Pentlands.
Really enjoyable touring with great landscapes and few cars. Fairly flat as well with any hills being smooth and not too brutal. This is Black Mount above. Around twenty five miles or so in distance but I wasn't in any hurry, just taking it easy,  enjoying the views.
It was a warm lazy hazy day in October. Frost in the mornings high up but hot sunny afternoons in the valleys.
The autumn butterflies were out in force, aware their short fast life's would soon be over.
It felt like a lush fertile garden of Eden and there have been precious few outings I 've had those feelings this year with all the rain and chilly conditions summer long.
A great year for slugs and snails...not so terrific for everything else.
At Newbigging those wanting a longer bike tour can include the minor roads out to Auchengray, Forth and Carstairs but as I'd already done that section earlier in the summer(Wilsontown Post) I went back via Libberton, Quothquan  and West Lindsaylands.
Amazing what you find on your travels. In places this area  could be taken for the prairie and the animals roaming it are equally exotic. This is a Rhea, a South American bird.
It had company to make it feel at home.
Free grazing cattle.(Well, almost.) Just like being on the open range with a bike.
I just got back in time for a tour of the gas works before they shut for the night. Due to funny opening hours, 2pm to 4pm I think, Its the one museum in Biggar left I hadn't been into yet. Another ambition realised. Very interesting.
As the towns proverb proudly and cheekily says. London's London but Biggar's Biggar.

A blast of modern blues now by a young man with an old soul. Cracking band playing up a storm.

Wednesday 2 January 2013

Beinn Lochain.Beinn Tharsuinn.Mullach Coire A Chuir.

This is one from a few weeks ago just before the first winter snows arrived. Two car loads of walkers arrived in Lochgoilhead which is a small village just over the rest and be thankful from Arrochar. Its a place I really like but the hills are tough going around here and these three made an exhausting day.
The well made track above was the only one we managed to find and we were only on it for a short distance
A sizable group outing this time. It was our friend Graeme's suggestion and he picked up Alex, Alan and David. Despite being a small village we managed to park in separate places so missed each other starting off. Both parties went up different ways, Myself and Ron going up via the old Lettermay Burn path which was now overgrown, boggy and  tough. As we met up at the same time however, just above in the first photo, the route they picked, which was the new official one didn't appear much better. Yet another new long distance path cuts across here. The Cowal Way is a 57 mile walk from Portavadie on Loch Fyne to Inveruglas on Loch Lomondside and travels through some wild, rugged and lesser known scenery. Its probably an area that gets less visitors than most of the highlands as it still lies under many walkers radar as a place to go.
Although dry there was a large amount of water already on the hills and boots were soon sinking up to ankle depth with every step away from the path. The journey across these hills is completely trackless. a rare event nowadays.
Steep little mountains and very rugged throughout. This whole area could give the rough bounds of Knoydart a run for their money. Just across from here lies Argyll's Bowling Green ,a sarcastic term for the Loch Goil/Loch Long peninsula which is equally rugged underfoot.
Dogs have been lost in this area falling down fissures and there were plenty scattered around the vicinity. Deep pits that is not dogs.
Halfway across these triple summits we came across the plane wreckage of an American Super fortress which crashed here in 1949 killing everyone aboard. Twenty crew members lost.You can still see the intact tail gun section and it covers a sizable area on the edge of a conifer forest. Apart from a small memorial it lies untouched as this area is remote.
This looked like it might be part of an original Pepsi bottle which had been placed on the cairn. A poignant touch which made an instant connection somehow turning a long ago event into sharp focus. Its always the little everyday things that make it real.
From here we continued on to the last hill then cut down a steep ridge before counouring back round towards Lettermay.
It was so steep and fractured here I got separated from everyone else as I descended a gully into a cliff selection box which pushed me further and further away from the direction I wanted to go.
It was slimy, tussock filled slopes pouring with mud and water but I eventually made my way to the bottom then caught up the others near the road.
A tiny island of dry rock in a sea of bog can provide a haven for a micro world of colour however.
This was the size of a couple of thumbnails.
 Part of the forest destroyed by winter storms.
We reached the road just as the light was fading and walked back to the car in the village.
Everyone agreed it had been a great but tough day out. We enjoyed it once back in the house, dry and warm after a hot shower. No rain but soaking wet from the knees down most of the time as soon as we left the car. It was this trip that made me invest in decent winter boots.
The Sensational Alex Harvey Band at the Ragnarock festival. A brilliant band way ahead of their time who blended Alex's love of comic book characters and a real air of menace to create something unique. As usual KISS went on to make all the money but it started here. They were very big in Cleveland in the United States and headlined that city several times. The Scandinavians here don't seem to know what to make of them but they were a very influential and popular band in the 1970's.