Tuesday 30 April 2013

Beinn Narnain Walk. Blue Remembered Hills.

At long last Spring is finally here, forcing her triumphant and much loved body out of the frozen earth to face a gantlet of bitter daytime winds and shivering icy nights which isn't doing much for her complexion I have to say. Her rosy cheeks ( cherry blossom trees) have been stripped of colour almost instantly as soon as they've burst out on the branches, stripped off with gale force ferocity. Her amazing saffron and white coloured eyes ( each a crocus iris surrounded by a bed of simple snowdrops) have been obscured all too often this year under a falling curtain of real snow. Incidentally, ever wondered where saffron comes from? Now you know. Iranian variety mostly nowadays. The original Stigmata as the yellow/ orange central stigma can leave a long lasting stain. Picked by hand for over 4000 years and used in decorative cave art by early humans since the dawn of recorded history.
Finally, at last, the Daffodils have arrived. A full month later than last year. All hail the jet stream and its fickle, wicked ways.

As I've been writing my memoirs recently my thoughts turn back to the beginning. Where it all started. Sweet Springtime and  my first visit up Ben Narnain. Last of my original three Munro's.
 Slioch and Beinn Eighe were my first two but Beinn Narnain was my third and I've since been up this mountain over thirty times although the last was 15 years ago when JB and myself squeezed into the depths of Jam-Block Chimney and Engine Room Crack in a buttress below the summit to find ourselves being led up these fine subterranean rock climbs by a heavily pregnant female. As our bold leader thrashed and grappled in this vertical slot above our heads I had visions of her waters breaking with the effort involved  and us drowning in this latter day parting of the red sea but she completed them in good style then hauled us up the routes. This was very early on in our rock climbing career and she was our most experienced leader. The baby was nothing to do with us I hasten to add. We found her like that. Honest!    In time little Moses was delivered safely into the radiant sunshine within a climbing harness, not a basket in sight.

Above is the summit of Beinn Narnain with the wonderful Spearhead Buttress in profile. Both rock climbs can be found deep inside the base of this cliff so I can truthfully say I've not only been up Beinn Narnain but through it as well. No other Munro has had anything like this many ascents from me so it must have some strange, intangible power that draws me back.
Most of the hillwalking guide books suggest tackling this Munro from the col between the Cobbler and Narnain  by following the well used tourist path up to the Narnain Boulders under the Cobbler then heading right from the Bealach a Mhaim. Good. That keeps the masses away from the real prize. This is a very boring route to the summit which is why Beinn Narnain is unjustly underrated. Its actually a fantastic hill when you climb it direct from Succoth by following the right hand side of the Allt Sugach burn on a faint, steep path  beside, and sometimes actually in the trees, which leads you up into a superb hidden corrie nestled between Cruach nam Misseag and A' Chrios. If you climb Beinn Narnain from this direction you will treasure its ascent and mountain pedigree every bit  as much as I do.

Once clear of the deep minty smell of the pine forests lower down a small dam is reached then you follow this connecting stream up past waterfalls and alpine meadows filled with tiny perfect flowers like dog violet and water forget me not's.
The long lasting snow fields have recently melted leaving behind the usual comical passageways of furry mice and voles as silent evidence of their yearly struggles for life under the insulating blanket of the pack above, eating, sleeping and carrying out daily trips for food under a metre or more of snow and ice. You can see in this photograph some neatly chewed ends of grass nibbled to keep them alive until the snows departed.
One of Ron above the corrie with Ben Lomond behind.
Substantial waterfalls on the journey up the corrie between Cruachnam Miseag and A' Chrois. This was Narnain at its finest with all the melting snow pouring off the hillsides.
Usual crap day in blue-sky-scot-land. Signs and portents in the azure sky above our heads.
One of Beinn Ime from the upper slopes of Narnain. There were several para gliders flying above here. The children of Icarus reborn. A perfect day for it with a warm sun and light winds in the upper thermals above the mountains.
 They must have had two cars as they took off near here then drifted away into the far horizon over Loch Lomondside until they disappeared from sight roughly 6000 feet up. Beautiful to watch. Omens of the end of days flying towards the sun? So high I couldn't get a clear shot even with a zoom as there was nothing for the camera to focus on apart from sky and tiny shrinking dots. Were they consumed by solar flares or did they land over the rainbow... or maybe just in Callandar village?
One of the summit cairn with the familiar great pyramid of Ben Lomond behind. Egypt or Scotland?
A zoom of the Cobbler and the central summit block which I always think resembles an elephant  pushing a log, seen from this angle. India perhaps? In contrast to the hordes on this popular favourite Beinn Narnain was its usual quiet self with only two folk met on the entire round trip. We returned via the summit of A' Chrois  by way of the connecting ridge then back down easy slopes to re-join the dam and the same empty path we came up. By the lack of footsteps this path gets rarely used nowadays and hasn't changed its character in 45 years since I wandered up here as a teenager with my very first outdoor club. The Golden Dawn. How many times can you say that about a path up a Munro these days? That it hasn't changed in 45 years. The 'discoverie of witchcraft' perhaps.... Or 'Frazer's Golden bough'... or  just one of Scotland's best kept secrets... Until now.
 Beinn Narnain.   Its a magic mountain. Enjoy.

In keeping with the nostalgic theme here's another man looking back at life. A great reworking of an already classic song about love, redemption and regret for failures in the past. When this video was recorded both Johnny and his wife June knew they were ill. Its their epitaph. They both died a short time later.
Written by nine inch nails, singer/songwriter- Trent Reznor.

Saturday 20 April 2013

A Largs Hill Walk. Arran. Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park.

A large scale  panorama of the Arran peaks seen from the Heights Of Clyde Muirshiel. This is a very underrated area and the largest regional park in Scotland. It also has exceptional views but only if you enter it from its western border,in the seaside town of Largs, which we did. This was the last trip of Easter and the place was jumping with holiday makers.
After Ron picked me up at my house in his car we parked near Largs Academy, which was closed for the Easter holiday. The tenement building in the above photograph used to have a name plate called GoGo Street on it, which I thought was a great name for a street and made it really stand out. It was memorable. I was disappointed therefore not to find it. Maybe I missed it or its fallen off.
This street is where the Gogo Water enters the sea from its journey high in the moors of Clyde Muirshiel. From the Academy, halfway up the hill in Largs, follow the same road upwards until you come to a farm and a track leading uphill through scattered trees. This is the easy, fast way into the park and takes you past the farm on a good landrover track without difficulties until it reaches Greeto Bridge not far from where the Greeto and Gogo waters meet and merge.

A different option however lies to the right of this farm where the last of the houses end. We took this. A descending track runs down through woods in a deep gorge until it meets the Gogo water then runs along beside it, still on the left bank, past a green iron bridge, into the hills. Although a good broad track at first it gradually becomes harder to follow and turns into a grassy path with fallen trees, large boulders and some muddy bits to negotiate. Its very wild and scenic though which is why we went this way.
Keep following the river until you leave the woods behind and come out into a rocky open meadow area which often has sheep grazing on it. Here there is a faint path leading diagonally upwards across grass slopes on the side of the gorge until you come to the meeting of the Greeto and Gogo waters. Follow the Greeto water upwards past tumbling waterfalls, deep pools and smooth waterslides, many of which resemble well known beauty spots in the Peak district and Yorkshire dales. Although only half a kilometre long this tumbling area of falls is a beautiful and exiting section. Quiet and peaceful usually as is the entire walk.
Away from the outdoor centres at Cornalees and the Castle Semple and Muirshiel hill HQ above Lochwinnoch this must be one of the least visited areas in the UK which is why I like it. An empty jewel of lonely, remote summits hidden in full view.
http://www.clydemuirshiel.co.uk/  Bags more information here on the official site including maps, videos and pictures of the area.
This walk has long been a favourite of mine and I've been coming here for  many decades. Since I was a teenager.
Crossing the ancient and ramshackle Greeto Bridge which spans the river at this point follow a faint track across the moors to the deep rift of the Chasm, marked on the map as a waterfall. Here the Gogo has found a weakness /fault line and carves deep into the hillside. Its a short steep sided rock ravine that is very difficult and dangerous to enter but you can get a taste of it further upsteam where you can get down onto the river bed itself.
Upsteam from here the energetic can continue across the moors seen in the above photo to the distant and lofty Hill of Stake. At 1712 feet or 522 metres its the highest summit in the entire park and a Marilyn and a hump. After two consecutive hard days out however I wanted a far easier day this time so we cut down to the lower summit of Castle Hill where there is a seat, this small cairn, and a large circular 'Mountain and landmark finder' telling you what it is you're looking at.
This is surely got to be one of the best views in the central belt of Scotland with an incredible  panorama over the Firth of Clyde and the islands of Arran, Great and Little Cumbrae, Bute and the mountains of Cowal. Bit hazy today although we had the usual day long sunshine. Naturally, I take that for granted. No rain on a hill now for five years apart from an occasional light shower once a year just to wet parched lips. You  need to click on these photos to reduce the haze more. I've made most of them a larger size as this place is something special.
A zoom of the Arran peaks with Great Cumbrae in the foreground.
The hardest part of the day was coming off Castle hill on what is usually the tourist route up. Normally there is a flight of wooden steps under here but deep, fairly icy, hard packed snow was a surprise as we had left our ice axes in the car. There was very little left on the heights, melted off under a strong sun.
Incidentally a week of rain has cleared most of the snow off Scotland's Munro's and they are now in prime walking condition.
Milder weather and rain has done wonders for the Spring flowers as well. This is the small park directly below Castle hill Looking towards the Robert Burns Memorial Garden where we went next.
A small replica of Ayrshire in Largs, with miniature Alloway graveyard and old bridge (brig o doon).
Nice spot, sadly looking a bit run down probably due to the usual teenage nightly escapades of bad behaviour under cover of darkness and council budget cutbacks. Flowers were stunning here though.
Maybe they need a few of these to keep the peace. Nothing like a pair of sharp fangs in the darkness I find to keep folk under control. Always works for me.
A church gargoyle.

A couple of you long time viewers may have already seen this video before but its one of my favourites so I'm posting it on here for the first time. The stunning Coco-Rosie. A sister act not afraid of original ideas in music. Cant see them ever being hugely successful but they are certainly very different from the pack.
Putting creative ability before commercial appeal they will probably be highly influential some day and another act will make a lot of money out of their ideas.
Head David Bowie's new Album. Unimpressed by it. Meanwhile the stunning, earlier 'Heathen' is still vastly under rated and jam packed with great songs. Hype, a long absence, and a 'living legend' tag will get you to Number one it seems . Be interesting to see what the reviews are for his latest CD five years down the line though.

Anyway I've always thought this video might be inspired, in part, by the Bronte sisters and their troubled brother Branwell who incidentally died standing up at the family fireplace I believe. He was heavily addicted to alcohol, married ladies and small bottles of laudanum. An unusual way to go but I'm sure he had fun. They created an imaginary world for themselves as children where terrible adventures happened but it had a strict set of rules, which, if crossed, merited punishment. A south seas mythical kingdom of two warring islands. Gondal.and Gaaldine

Thursday 11 April 2013

Beinn Each. The Incredible Magic Of Spring.

The beautiful Simplicity of Snowdrops. The first born of Spring. January/February
 Easter Saturday. I'd just returned from my energy sapping trip up Beinn Luibhean, had my dinner and was snoring happily in my sleeping bag in front of a habitually turned off electric fire.(It's not that I cant afford it it's just I really grudge giving those price hiking ******** any money when I don't need to if I can save it for extra trips away instead.) Anyway, I digress. The phone rang waking me up. It was my good mate John asking if I wanted to go up a Corbett in ten hours time. On Easter Sunday. I was knackered but as I don't see him that often these days (family man and all that.) I said I would go.
'Which one.' I asked.
'Beinn Luibhean is handy for me.'
When he rang back again and asked why I'd put the phone down I explained the reasons.
'Pick another handy one.' I asked. 'Make it something easy.'
He said he'd phone back after he'd consulted his dreaded Oracle. The Corbett Book.
Everyone I know these days seems to be addicted to Corbett's... apart from me.
The phone rang some time later, waking me up; causing me to wriggle out of my warm cocoon. An irate caterpillar.
'Beinn Each.' He proclaimed. A happy man.
'Count me out then.' I answered. 'I was only going up a hill to keep you company. I cant be arsed doing one myself.'
'No there's a Corbett called Beinn Each.'
'There is. Silly me.'
'I'll pick you up early.' He said. 'Be ready.'
' I was born ready.' I informed him. 'My minds a coiled spring.'.... I hung up....  and immediately  went back to sleep. (Jungle training. Mark of a solider. Reserve energy until its called for.)
In my Dreams I was still active though, using a part of my brain I never usually bother with. The thinking part.
                                           Crocus Display. Second born. February/March/ April

In my dreams I would create a post of stunning photographs capturing the true Magic of Spring in all its glory, full of dazzling large scale images in radiant colour, back lit by a winter sun. Images so hyper clear you could spill your juice in wonder at such splendour taken with only a bog standard camera. I would then splice it with images of frozen winter on the heights the same day to portray what a strange chaotic season its been and a portent of more extreme seasons yet to come.
   Oh yes. I would be a majestic, hypnotic, online Cassandra for my eager audience to climax under as I foretell an age of ever increasing, apocalyptic occurrence and a biblical scale, tsunami wave of spectacular singularities and unfolding Black Swan events under Dark Lightning. The new unforeseen nemesis of the modern age I'm told.
Feel free to indulge Sweet Readers in a sumptuous psychedelic spurge of sublime synchronicity to stun and stupefy the subliminal and visual cortex in a triumphant, titillating  tribute to a 'better late than never' Spring. (Pity I missed the Victorian music halls.)

Then I woke up and couldn't be arsed with all the effort involved for such scant reward........ so I posted these images instead. ( Note to self. Must cut down on stilton cheese gluttony and Stormin Norman's 30%  battle battalion cider intake late at night.) 

                                           Third Born. Daffodils. March/ April /May.
John picked me up early morning and we headed for  Beinn Each which is above Loch Lubnaig near the scenic town of Callander.
The snow level started in the forest almost as soon as we left the car. It was almost a carbon copy of the day before except my legs had far less energy and va va voom in them on the steep bits. He then refused point blank to carry me. Boo hoo.
Unfortunately for me the path up Beinn Each is unremittingly steep but at least its a short day. Under two hours to the summit for fit young things.( Incidentally if anyone has the address of a fit young thing keen on bagging Corbett's I want to apply to get a lift on his/ her shoulders for future mountain endeavours. No money need change hands but invaluable  on the job training would be forthcoming. Would suit a work experience candidate admirably. Full on board instruction given on avoiding avalanches,  best routes up the snowfields, advanced crevasse rescue technique adapted to prusiking out of a chasm with a fat old man lashed to your back, when to stop for dietary intake etc.
Stob Binnien. As far as the eye could see every Munro was still white.
The descent. This was even worse than the route up and involved thigh deep crawling at one point.
A great day out.
Although they are adapted for a life underwater I cant imagine how cold a winter its been for Dippers. Fast running water in mountain streams is always far colder than the sea around our coasts.
Must be a really long grim winter for this wee guy. Endurance. Hardest bird in Britain?
                                             Hybrid primula's. March /April/ May.

A world of colour in the parks below. Spring finally arrives along with British summer time.
Ah Spring. The greatest natural show on earth?
The wildlife certainly think so. The reason for the sequence of Month,s next to the flowers? Well, in certain parts of Scotland Spring seemed to be one week long this year with everything erupting together at one time instead of being staggered over the course of a few weeks. Snowdrops and primula's sharing the earth. I've got snowdrops, crocus, daffodils and primroses  flowering at the same time this week in my garden.  That's unusual. All sharing a limited good weather window. Hope this summer is longer than that...but who knows these days?

If you're lucky, every so often a film will come along that is unique, original, and hauntingly memorable. This Swedish film is one.
Three qualities totally lacking, incidentally, in the English language remake and all the other teen angst dross that's followed in its wonderful wake. This film not only revived a forgotten genre single- handedly it reinvented it yet managed to also weave in a believable and unexpectedly tender love story... with a few shocking moments of darkness and horror.
If you haven't seen this film. Its a real gem.

Thursday 4 April 2013

Beinn Luibhean. Arrochar.

A view of Bearsden and the Campsie's from Glasgow. I didn't go away for the Easter weekend but with a good forecast for Saturday and Sunday I fancied going somewhere. Alex found himself free on the Saterday and suggested Beinn Ime near Arrochar so we went there, setting off from the Butterbridge car park in the early morning.
On the way we passed this fine mountain which was plastered with sparkling snow and looked like a true Alpine peak. The steep rock buttress in the foreground without much snow has a classic severe rock climb running up it called Ardgarten Arete which I climbed with either Alex or John in the Summer of 1993 according to the date in my guide book. Recess route VD and Punsters Crack S on the same mountain are much better routes though. Any guesses as to where this is yet?
We parked at the Butterbridge and set off, already aware that we were in for deep snow conditions underfoot.

The snow was very sporadic, probably due to high winds when it fell. Ten foot deep in one area, bare slopes further on.
Luckily for us it was solid enough to walk on without sinking in too much. The first time this year we have been able to walk over the top of the snowfields rather than wading through them, knee or waist deep. Best underfoot conditions all winter. Still hard graft though.
This was why, when we reached the col, we didn't go up our intended hill of Beinn Ime, the highest peak in the Arrochar Alps at 1011 metres. It looked a boring slog to be honest, just an uninspiring trudge up a long incline to the summit from this direction. A baggers mountain, though we enjoyed it well enough when we were addicted to doing Munro's ourselves.
Although only a Corbett at 859 metres, Beinn Luibhean looked as if it had far more character to it when approached from this direction with several small ice falls and short cliffs to negotiate. We worked our way through a line of easy ramps and chimneys towards the summit. We thought at one point we might need crampons but our boots had just enough grip to get us up as neither of us fancied faffing about putting them on with a bitter east wind already numbing the fingers. In sheltered places on the mountain it did feel like spring though with some warmth in the sun at last.

From my own experience I think one of the reasons we have had so many avalanches this year is that heavy, deep snow has landed on already wet, saturated slopes and the freezing level at night has stayed comparatively high below the top layer. Frozen, cold to cold surface bonding has not really  occurred much this year despite the perception that its been a harsh winter as its not really been that cold for most of the winter period except for the easterly wind making it feel bitter on the slopes. Anytime I've been out the hill snow has not consolidated as in other years and has usually had the consistency of heavy wet porridge or deep,soft sugar. When it does avalanche it sets even more like concrete due to a much higher moisture content in the pack. That's my theory anyway.
Lower hills also tend to get better views as you are not looking down at everything else. Some of the views from Europe's  highest mountains are slightly disappointing as everything appears much flatter gazing down from above. No problems with that here. Three quarters of the way up this is looking across at the summit of Beinn an Lochain, a fine steep Corbett above Loch Restil near the Rest and be thankful.
Hanging curtains of ice on Beinn Luibhean.
A view from the summit looking south towards the Loch lomondside hills.
The Luss hills looking like a high Arctic region. This winter has been weird for several reasons. The snow has fallen heavily in some areas lower down like here and Arran and Kintyre which had ten foot deep snowdrifts at the road; yet Ben Nevis, Scotland's Highest mountain at 1344metres has bags of ice but not much snow below 700metres. Most of the north west coast above Fort William is the same with drought and wildfires a real problem due to a year long dry spell up there. The West of Scotland suffering its own version of a year long drought!!! That's Global Weirding in action right there. A  mini Black Swan event on our own shores but just possibly the new normal in years to come. Or, if the ocean currents keep shifting, we could look back at this winter as one of the better, warmer ones from the past. Its certainly been warmer than the two, back to back, winters posted here around 2009/2010.  Anyway....happy times ahead for hillgoers whatever happens. 'A change is as good as a vest' as my old mum used to say waving me off on the three mile walk to school. (no wonder I don't feel the cold much...I wore a freshly changed Tee shirt to School winter and summer. You would get beaten up for being really soft if you wore a jumper there. We was well hard in South Pollok in them days :0)
As promised... the hill. Did you all get top marks?  That's right folks ...Its our old friend 'The Gobbler.'  I've also heard Conic hill referred to as Chronic Hill, Liathach as Lia-class and the Pap of Glencoe as the Breast of Ballachulish. All genuine mistakes incidentally so the average city dweller has no chance at getting the more intricate Gaelic pronunciations spot on without help. Good fun trying though.
This bit was prompted by an article I read recently suggesting we should simplify the more awkward Gaelic names of mountains for tourists to make it easier for them. Personally I've always enjoyed mangling the language of my ancestors and take pride in just how far away from the real pronunciation I've always achieved without even trying. It's a gift!

Todays video is one to warm you up if you are feeling cold after the photographs. Soul singer James Brown had the title 'Hardest working man in Show Business.' This influential and artistically  creative group could give him a run for his money though. Great video and if you know of a rock group working the stage harder than this front line did I'd like to see it. More sweat than a very sweaty thing. Brilliant stuff.

Bet Tina really loved jogging and playing bass guitar at the same time during this :) Capital idea  David. That'll teach her to form her own group.