Wednesday 27 February 2013

Newtonmore Walk. Cat Trail.Craig Dhubh.An Arctic Nightmare.

Club weekend up to Newtonmore saw us drive up on Friday night to The Cabin. Its the JMC OF S club hut (Edinburgh division) Very nice it is too. Its not far from Cluny's Castle and Cave. The estate owned for generations by the MacPherson's who have a long and distinguished career serving abroad with the British Army. This was one way open to clan chiefs and their men to gain back ancestral home lands confiscated or lost after the disastrous battle of Culloden and the break up of the clan system. The Macpherson/Clan Chattan family graveyard sits on the A86 with numerous clan chiefs headstones and most seem to have served with the army in India and elsewhere.
Fairly ironic that it was the 'recently dispossessed' fighting the 'just about to be dispossessed' in many cases.
The story of the remarkable Cluny is told in the above Link along with a brief history of the Clan.
Very cosy inside with a wood burning stove at one end and a fully equipped kitchen. An all male group this time which is quite unusual for us these days.

When we woke on Saturday morning it was to find the hills clagged in. Graeme dropped off Alex and Andy to do their Corbett of choice, the young fit members of our club went off Munro bagging or Ice climbing and I stayed in the cosy comfort of the hut then car as long as possible watching them all depart.

I was unceremoniously dumped out in this godforsaken spot however which was the last parking layby on the minor road up Glenballoch where Mike and Graeme intended doing a Munro. A Chailleach I think.
Having a five hour wait ahead of me in this below freezing hell hole I decided I might as well walk back to The Cabin (The fire, oh the warm fire. Stove of my dreams.) using the signposted right of way up Glen Banchor then over the Strath an Eilich.
I met a couple of locals from the farm walking their dogs.
'You'll never make it.' They informed me cheerfully. 'Its not pleasant up there once you leave road end.'
'Don't worry I'm used to tough terrain.' I replied confidently. 'I'm a mountaineer you know.'
An hour later they had the satisfaction of observing me walking back past the farm, soaked almost to the waist and covered in mud.
'Boggy up that way isn't it? The farmer asked.
'I've seen worse. I offered back. 'Just remembered I left something important in the car.'
This turned out to be my enthusiasm as I decided to walk down the minor road into Newtonmore instead to buy a paper  at the garage. Now that was mountaineering! All the weeks TV in one Saturday edition. Hard Core Entertainment.
In summer this right of way looks a splendid idea but in slushy winter conditions, with  thigh deep soft snow and no visible track to follow, the numerous river crossings and water filled  marshlands and ditches gave me the hump. Never in my puff have I walked across such unadulterated soggy crap.
Now...This was a much better idea. I would go Pussy Hunting in Newtonmore instead.
On the way down the tarmac ( Sweet tarmac I'll never leave you again!) another local dog walker had given me a much better idea to keep warm in this frozen sink hole of a place. A Pussy Trail!
It started with one....
Then another...

Then some more....
I found out that Newtonmore has roughly 100 of these hand decorated animals scattered around the town. There is a shop in the main street where you can buy a Cat Trail map and young kids and visitors alike can go off Hunting Some Prime Highland Pussy. What a marvellous tourist attraction I'm sure you'll agree.
In Ireland it was Muff Diving this week its Newtonmore Pussy. I visit all the hot spots. Surely perfect candidates for twin town status.
Of course when you have a great idea other animals want to join in as well.
Long Tailed Tits anyone?  Blue Tits I've seen when its cold. Great Tits I've seen on occasion. But Long Tailed Tits take the biscuit or on this example the Balls.
(I'm anticipating thousands of extra hits from porn site search engines for this post. I'll reach 100,000 visitors yet by fair means or foul. :0)
Young Fresh Bambi. Snapped from the Rear. Cottontail Female.

Anyway enough fun. Sunday was a better day so Alex and I decided to go up Creag Dhubh from Auchmore. This fine wee hill passes above Cluny's cave which is situated next to one of the scariest rock climbing Crags in Scotland. Creag Dubh.
This offers steep wall climbing on nasty sloping holds. Only climbed here once. King Bee VS 5a. 135 metres.450 feet. 4 pitches.
Great exposed route but once was enough as I found myself lacking in the Big Balls department here.  Inside this link have a look at the list of climbs on all the walls  here for a laugh. I was inspired by them when writing this post. This crag is notorious for its bold routes and bolder names. Photos at the bottom are good too. Use 'Click on all 57 photos' to view them.

The hill itself was lovely though and a good viewpoint overlooking the area.
Alex approaching his prize. The cairn awaits its fate with trepidation. Saddest wee cairn I've seen.
Post Coital Depression hits the bagger after giving the cairn A Good Seeing To.
Walking back to The Cabin without a backward glance.  Treat Them Mean, Keep Them Keen. Its the
mountaineers way.

After watching last nights excellent programme on Iraq. Ten years on, and finding out both it and Afghanistan don't appear to be much better off after 10 long years of hardship and conflict with possible civil war and terrorist threats still looming large around the corner I though immediately of this video. Cat Power. Rockets. Her lyrics are subtle and ambiguous at the best of times and can lend themselves to myriad interpretations which is why fans love to put their own spin on her songs.
Is this a good fit? You decide. Thought provoking stuff though.

A visual treat of a compilation road trip across America and Europe. Love the Racoon standing up on the highway in the middle of this. A unique artist that never fails to amaze, frustrate, embarrass ,excite and inspire her long suffering fans. One of her finest songs.
 Best watched full screen for some stunning landscapes.

Sunday 17 February 2013

Benbulben.Benwisken.Dartry Mountains.Ireland Part Two.

We were so lucky with the weather over in Ireland. A week before the trip heavy snowfalls had covered most of Ireland and the mountains but by the time we arrived sans ice axes, crampons, and walking poles it had melted again. According to Graeme, Ireland does seem to get a milder winter climate than Scotland whose  high mountains were still blanketed with snow and ice. Worth noting if you are thinking of coming here.
Our second day in Ireland saw us wake early to a beautiful morning and we packed quickly then shot off on good wide roads towards the Dartry Mountains which span the borders of County Lettrim and County Sligo. This was only an hour's car journey away from where we were based in Donegal.
The two photographs above are Graeme and Handsome Bob(not me, sniff sniff) heading up the slopes to one of the most spectacular and eye-catching peaks in the country. Benwisken, with its extraordinary, never forgotten once seen, breaking wave cliffs.
 We went up this by driving up a minor tarmac road leading into the central basin between Benwisken and Benbulben. There is a circular layby just before a small bridge on an upper slope. Do not block the road here as it is used regularly by peat cutters.(turf in Ireland.)
Some of the Dartry Mountains have access problems as most sit on private land and its up to individual farmers and landowners to grant permission. Benwisken in particular  has suffered from this in the past.
Having walked in Scotland and abroad for many years I thought I knew the mountain regions of Europe fairly well but Ireland might as well have a 'Here be dragons' and a blank space drawn over most of it. I vaguely knew the names of the Irish 3000's footers but anything else was a complete mystery to me. I suspect a lot of hill folk outside Ireland are the same. Apart from Paddy Dillon's excellent book there does not seem to be much out there in the way of  mountain guide books.
(There may be more locally but I,m just not aware of it, being a novice to the area.)
The white blob on the pinnacle above is a death defying sheep, of which more later.
This is handsome bob standing dutifully on the very edge of the breaking wave cliffs just below the summit. Extremely exposed on the edge, looking down, as you can imagine. Even the slope behind him in this photo is grass set at a ridiculously steep angle. He is standing out on a narrow rib here. I didn't stay out there long myself. The Dartry Mountains are made up of layers of limestone  on top of mudstones and look pretty friable. Not good for Rock Climbing on this peak anyway.
This is a cracking link for  great photos, myths and history of the area by folk who know its secrets intimately. Well worth a look. Beautifully created. The 5 min video of the ascent of Ben bulben is brilliant and it features a good looking young man. (Well ,better looking and younger than me anyway. Photos are much better than mine as well. Sniff Sniff. Ah well I suppose he's got more time to pick his viewpoints being a local. Only fair. At the bottom of this  remarkable link's first page is a stunning photo of Benwisken and a gateway portal of a journey into the highest caves in Ireland.
Wonderful images inside a limestone treasure. We had a drive under them but it was almost dark by that time
Looking into the wild interior of the Dartry Mountains. Ireland has been such a joy for me as its like turning back time 40 years to my first sight of Suilven, Stac Polly, An Teallach, Liathach and Slioch in Scotland.
Every new view is a surprising wonder here. Fresh and exciting.

A view of our approach route up Benwisken and the deep layers of peat encountered all along the plateau. Some of these peat beds were ten to fifteen feet deep. Not only Donegal has a thriving industry in turf  for home fires it seems as the entire basin below the mountain had folk busy digging. .
Not snow but bags of turf bagged and ready for collection. Benwisken was enough for Graeme and Bob but I was fired with excitement for a new area and wanted to carry on to do Benbulben, the bookend companion on the other side of this huge corrie. With the peat bags below looking like tents it reminded me of  the film Zulu Dawn and the horns of the Buffalo surrounding the soldiers as both Benwisken and Benbulben rear up at either end of a curving central basin. Benbulben is Irelands very own Table mountain incidentally so I might have been influenced by that.
Benbulben was reputed to be the home of the Fianna, The half mythical bands of fighting outcasts, inspiration for many plays and stories. This is also Yeats country, as the poet,writer  and Nobel prize winner grew up in Sligo and knew this area well.
I jogged across most of this escarpment edge, something I haven't done for many years, certainly not uphill anyway but I was inspired that day and ran for miles. In places it resembled the Trotternish ridge on Skye. Took just over an hour to reach the summit of Benbulben and the ground in places between the peaks looked as if it had been subjected to battlefield mortar fire. Hundreds of green sink holes where the earth had collapsed inwards dotted the plateau, some of them twenty feet deep and steep sided with snow still in the bottom away from any sunlight.
Benbulben itself was just a flat broad summit but it did have extensive views. You don't tend to meet many hill walkers on the lesser Irish peaks, even one's as noticeable as these. Only a faint path to the summit where a small plaque informed me that someone had died up here recently. Australian guy I think attracted by the pull of walking across mountains on Europe's furthest shoreline. As it faces the full force of the Atlantic storms coming in it can get savage up here in winter I'd imagine.
View from the summit over Sligo Bay.
Benbulben summit from the minor road.
I took this close up of the uniform cliffs under the summit but it was only when I uploaded it I saw the sheep grazing halfway up the cliffs. It doesn't look like snow but if you look closely it does appear to be sheep on an almost impossible angle of slope.
Maybe over generations of grazing flocks on this mountain the sheep here have developed mountain goat like characteristics.
This is the roughly same area seen side on during my descent as the light was fading.
Ireland. It is indeed a remarkable place.

Video is another one from the archives. Marsha Hunt singing Dr John's Classic about voodoo,  half seen things creeping through the darkness, and yellow belted joy zombies coming to steal your eyes. Brilliant version.

Thursday 14 February 2013

Derry/Londonderry. Part One.

Back in Ireland again at Graeme's invitation. We managed to get flights for £30 quid return for a four day trip which is pretty good value. Slightly risky at this time of year with all the snow as you can only take a day sack to fit in with Ryanair's baggage limits. No ice axes, crampons or walking poles allowed. 10kg limit so we were also wearing most of our winter clothes boarding the plane along with boots.
Great views going over and a smooth touchdown with fine views of a pretty Muff appearing below us in the sunshine. Derry airport must be the only airport where you can say that. Its a nearby village
 with its own diving centre and a much coveted  souvenir tee shirt.
Yep. It does say what you think it does!
Second time in Derry/Londonderry. You can see why some local radio guys  have started calling it stroke city. I'll just call it LegenDerry from now on as I really like the place and that's its City of Culture 2013 tag. Saves typing as I'm still a single digit blogger. Its a fast wee finger though.
This was taken outside the Sainsbury cafeteria and commemorates all the passengers who sailed to America and overseas down the River Foyle from this spot. The last of the large sailing ships to leave from here carrying passenger cargos was the Minnehaha, known in America as the Green Yacht from Derry.
I learn this while Graeme and Bob (Yes, another one, known in this blog  now as handsome Bob)
had a large fried breakfast. I'll be ugly Bob then I suppose.
We were still in time to catch this menu as we arrived at Glasgow's Central station around seven am. I was up at five am, an early rise. Ryan air are the only company to fly out of Prestwick now. Long may they continue.
Colourful street just up from the restaurant. There is a smashing walk along the River front from Sainsbury's to the city Centre, part of the walkway/ cycle track network. I had a spicy chicken slice I'd bought back in Glasgow so that was my breakfast, eaten on the move.
This is the famous peace bridge which leads to parkland and Erbington Square, a large complex and the City of Culture headquarters. As I've said before on my last trip there's plenty to do and see here and we've only just scratched the surface on two trips. It wasn't a great day hill wise with low cloud and showers of drizzle high up so a sightseeing day like this is a great option.
The Guildhall which is getting a makeover ready for Spring visitors. Very ornate building even from the outside. Its close to the city walls and the nearby Tower Museum.
The Diamond. A central square next where we saw this  heavily reinforced Land Rover Tangi. I believe they are also called Saracens. They still have a fleet on the roads.  Fascinating history of its development here as it evolved to cope with increasing levels of attack.
A famous city landmark ,visible from a wide area as it sits on a hill right in the middle of the shopping district on one corner of The Diamond. This is Austin's. Its the oldest surviving independent department store in Europe. Fantastic building so here's hoping it can hang on in this age of rampant high street closure's.
Come to think of it its probably survived this long due to being situated in Northern Ireland only recently coming into competition with the multi national giant superstore outlets that are gradually flattening everything else in their path. Think the prices will stay low if any single chain wins the battle to gain overall control of the market place?
I was told it has a smashing interior and restaurant but we didn't have time for a visit.
This is the Hand's Across The Divide Sculpture next to the Craigavon double deck bridge, another unique structure we drove across later in our hired car. Two sets of traffic can access this at the same time driving on top of each other. Pretty daunting for motorists if they don't know the right lane to get into but Graeme's almost a local here now.
As promised in the last post on Ireland when we visited the Bogside murals we were now heading across to the west bank as according to the visitor map other murals around Kennedy place and The Fountain could be seen. Love the colourful pubs throughout Ireland. They seem to be bucking the trend here as every street corner or village still seems to have two or three. In Scotland they are closing all over the place, leaving many communities without a heart and focal point.
Some of this area around Wapping lane looked derelict and was either getting a facelift or getting pulled down. It was hard to tell as builders were working nearby. This is one of the oldest streets, featured on some of the murals. I'm used to wandering around dodgy areas on my own so I was in my element here. Graeme was fine too but our other Bob hung back a bit when it looked like we were walking into a large cul de sac. We were but that was the best area to be in.
Some good murals started to appear with an interesting history. I think the skeleton refers to the 8000 to 10,000 people that died during the Siege of Derry which lasted 105 days. One of the information boards said ten thousand out of thirty thousand trapped inside the walls died before relief arrived. There were more of these little skeletons on other walls nearby. A  short history here.
Another mural showing the relief ship. This was a Protestant stronghold we were in now. The West Bank I believe.
I'd never have guessed. I suppose the red ,white and blue pavements are a bit of a giveaway.
As anyone who reads this blog knows I love going to places then finding out about their history. Plenty of that here for the visitor. We never encountered any trouble but common-sense has to be used when wandering around any area in an unfamiliar city. Basically don't ask daft questions in the wrong part. You'll not find me doing that :)
It was nice to see some other forms of artwork on the walls as well. This is an ad for a Pharmacy.
This city is a very colourful and an exciting place for a visit. For anyone wanting to see Part One its  posted here on November 2012, two months back.  LegenDerry sums this city up. Great place for a visit.
 Part two in a few days time is an account of the mountains we climbed over in the west. To be continued....

On a completely different topic its a classic video from the sixties now. Arthur Brown and his Iconic headgear. A real showman and a rock pioneer this sight has inspired so many bands and singers. Alice Cooper and Peter Gabriel come to mind. He even does an early version of robotic dancing! In 1968! Coincidentally the Rolling Stones came out with Jumping Jack Flash and the quintessential Mick Jagger prancing image the same year. Arthur Brown's hit is listed as May 1968. The stones JJF was written sometime in the same year. No month given.
Anyone know which came first. Just a thought :)

Screaming Jay Hawkins. I put a spell on you. This is so over the top its unreal. And mind zapping!

Wednesday 6 February 2013

Carn Aosda. The Cairnwell. Glen Shee

Took a trip up to Glen Shee with the intention of doing An Socach, an isolated whale backed Munro  west of the A93 on the sheet 43 Braemar map. As this was a major trek for a day trip we filled two cars. I travelled up with Grant and Doris, Graeme took Sandra and Sean.
Watching the weather forecast the night before there had been heavy dumps of recent snow so it was doubtful if we would manage such an out of the way hill under these conditions.
The snow had drifted into head high drifts in places and the snowploughs  were still clearing the road into the ski resort when we arrived. We had timed it perfectly as we only had to wait 20 minutes before they had scooped out the car parks ready for traffic. Most of the other high pass roads on the east remained closed but with 1000 plus cars full of skiers waiting to spend big bucks for day tickets there was a major incentive to open this one.

Perfect conditions and all the four wheel drive skiers cars had helped carve a safe path down to the tarmac which was covered over in places. We followed behind a family sized Porche, not the type of convoy or situation I'm used to but fun for a photographer.
From the hill the car parks looked like man made glaciers sliding down the glen. Perfect skiing conditions. The Cairnwell and Carn Aosda pair of Munros  made a fine day out as given the conditions it would have been a struggle to get up most other Munro's that day.
In places, in the drifts, it was waist deep. Luckily we tagged onto the back of another group walking up to dig snow holes.
Some folk took the easier but more expensive option.
The last time, over twenty years ago, I did this pair ( the mountains folks, the mountains, not the chair lift occupants) it looked like a Lowry painting as well. Loads of brightly coloured little figures having fun on the slopes.
Going up....
And coming down... More snowboarders than skiers, some as young as six years old by the looks of them yet still proficient skiers, able to bunny hop with the best of them.
We did it the hard way but were rewarded with fantastic views. Grant and Doris had snow shoes which I've never used in Scotland but they definitely helped that day.
We were sinking knee deep over the same ground.
One of Sean on Carn Aosda looking across to the Cairnwell. Very atmospheric conditions up here on both these mountains. Light winds and a high artic plateau feel. The metal towers on the Cairnwell had over a foot of frost and snow covering them from top to bottom. Ice Station Zebra look.
A distant view of Beinn Iutharn Mhor, the highest mountain in the Mounth between Beinn a' Ghlo and Glas Maol. Away from the ski resort the hills were empty, even cross country skiers sticking to more familiar, closer, terrain until the soft snow compacted further. Avalanche risk would be very high on the steeper slopes, heavy snow lying on unfrozen, sodden ground.

The hard plod up to the Cairnwell followed then a fast decent down the front run beside the ski tow to reach the car. No one was on it as that lift was still shut.A tough but highly enjoyable day out in a fantastic area.

Keeping to the snowy theme here's a short video of a  very lucky guy climbing an ice route. In spite of the fact he's facing a fall he stays remarkably calm and composed throughout.  Never loses his smile at any point! Worth watching all the way through.