Sunday 30 June 2013

Islay. Pap of Jura Trip.

Alex phoned me up a week ago with an idea. How do you fancy going to Jura for a day trip?
He had it all planned out. He would pick me up in Glasgow at 4:45 am in time to catch the early ferry from Kennacraig to Port Askaig on Islay. ( Port Askaig and Jura Ferry seen in the picture above from the top deck of larger ferry. MV Finlaggan) We would then cycle in by cunning means to bag the summit of Beinn An Oir then cycle back  to get the ferry and drive back to Glasgow, returning around 1:00am. A long day but a fine wee adventure.

I had walked over the Paps of Jura years ago with the club we were in at that time but Alex had missed that trip back then. Now he was keen to bag his Corbett and I was more than happy to revisit both islands again  A shot of  one of the Paps from the ferry heading for Islay. Looks like a pastel or watercolour here due to the diffuse light. It's a two hour trip to reach Port Askaig then a ten minute hop over to Jura on the smaller boat. The strength of the current pouring through the narrow gap between the two islands through the Sound of Islay is impressive and we hit it in full flow. If you fell in off the pier you would be sucked out to sea in minutes when it's at its wildest.

This wee ferry requires big engines for its short crossing.

We arrived on Jura shortly before 11:00 am and set off on the bikes, heading for the western slopes of Beinn An Oir (Mountain of Gold) near a long trail of scree and erratic boulders called 'The Witches Pavement.' Alex was a driven man as usual. No time to stop for photographs. He was off into the distance in a flash. Dumping the bikes at the end of the track we took to the slopes and came across a variety of animals.
A heavily pregnant lizard in the grass.
Then a frog dropped onto Alex's foot. Was it the work of the Cailleach or Carlin. Was the witch still using her pavement to get around?
Next we came across a nest. Wildlife was flinging itself under our feet. This is either a Skylark's nest or a meadow pipit's. The eggs look identical to my untrained eyes.
Likewise the bird. 'Which twins got the Toni?' An old American advert some of you might remember from the days when a home perm had just arrived. The skylark has a crest but it can flatten this down to look just like a meadow pipit. I think the latter bird here but I can only tell these two apart when they take to the air as they have completely different flight patterns but this one stayed grounded on the orders of the witch. Must have been that as it's normally hard to get so close to a skylark/meadow pipit. This one was only a few feet away. The eggs, lizard, frog and little brown bird omelette barely filled a hole and we stopped for lunch soon after. (I would have to eat both of them side by side on the same plate to tell if they taste identical.)
'How much food have you got with you? Alex asked me.
Not that it was any of his business but I had a packet of six pork and pickle pies, a Cornish pasty, three packets of ready salted crisps, a six pack of Bakewell slices, a slab of cheese, a large well known brand of smoked sausage and four king sized mars bars.
'I don't want to run short.' I informed him. 'It's going to be a long day. How? What have you got?'
'Packet of fags and two sausage rolls.' He looked at me in expectation.
'Well you cant have any of mine.' I protested. 'I'm down to one Mars Bar and a Bakewell Slice here. You should have asked earlier.'
We've hardly started walking!'
'Getting up early makes me hungry. I don't smoke so I have to eat food instead.'
'You fat greedy bastard.' Throw me a crumb here!'
'No! I need to ration myself now. Have another cigarette if you're hungry. All the fashion models swear by them so they must work.'
He settled for that.
Our mountain of choice loomed into view and we soon made it onto the ridge via easy slopes without too much scree. Scree seems to pour down the major gullies like lava on this island.
Checking our watches we realised we wouldn't have time to do the other two peaks that made up the classic traverse. Our descent route off Beinn An  Oir was the normal route up. Nice narrow arête then the infamous scree which was as bad as I remembered it. Too large to run down easily yet too loose underfoot to relax on. Very hard on the old knees as you had to brace yourself for a potential slide every step.. Glad we didn't go up this way.

  Not doing the full traverse didn't bother me as I'd bagged them years ago and Alex was focused only on Corbett's for the moment. Even at that we didn't have that much spare time left to catch the ferry. On the mad downhill dash back along the track Alex's front brake stopped working which made the brilliant kilometres long freewheel at a steep angle even more exciting for him.

One of the walk back. Alex a happy man with a new Corbett under his belt.
Deer on the witches pavement.
The Caol lla Distillery on Islay. One of many on this island famed for its whisky, it's flocks of wintering geese and its fertile landscape.
Ringed plover seen on the shore waiting for the Jura ferry. Saved us waiting for bar snacks on the MV Finlaggan. A plateful of these cute little birds are not so easy to catch however. Fairly worked up an appetite all over again! Tastes just like chicken in a sauce of melted bars bar.
We got back just after one o clock in the morning. A long but enjoyable day.

Video this week is one I found when searching for images of the Aiguille De La Vanoise.  The iconic needle of the Vanoise National Park. A 9000 foot blade of rock in the French Alps that I climbed years ago with three friends from my old club.
It was my first proper rock climb in the alps and my last. Scared the bejesus out of me so much that I decided to just walk up the Alpine peaks after that.
It was down in the guide book as a useful training climb for more serious alpine ascents. After bagging the sofa sized summit on this shark fin arête with massive exposure on both sides of the foot wide ridge I decided the serious stuff would have to manage without me. Worth a watch. Spectacular in full screen and 480 definition. These guys make it look easy though. We bailed out after the summit when we came to a hanging abseil into space. 'Continue without incident' was all the guide book said at this point. Useful training for what! Flying? I've climbed harder stuff technically in the UK but never with this level of screaming exposure on each side. Imagine a 9000 foot high INN Pin ( long side way up) on Skye and that's close in feel to this narrow blade of rock.' Mammy- daddy' was muttered several times on this. I last used that phrase when I was five years old. What a tick though! Thanks to Brian and JB and JT.

Sunday 23 June 2013

Glasgow's West End.Botanic Gardens.University Campus. Kelvingrove Park.

My favourite time of year has always been Spring and early Summer. April, May and June. The Kaleidoscope season when Tinkerbell  finally allows herself to be caught and that little fairy is shaken playfully over the drab grey lands of the north to produce an incredible abundance of colour and lush vegetation. The season of cream after a diet of watered down muddy milk all winter. Maybe it was the late Spring but this year has been astounding for the riot of colour her golden dust has given us.
In the Botanic Gardens lies one of the most impressive examples of Glasgow's Coat of Arms.
For those who don't know the story this University explanation is the most interesting one I could find. I will be covering the University campus later. This is the official site.
The Botanic Gardens are twinned with Oceania which is a perfect combination and must be one of the best twins for a place to have. Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. Even their names sound like exotic relations of our own fickle Tinkerbell. Oceania also includes New Zealand, Australia and a huge chunk of New Guinea of course. It makes perfect sense from a botanical specimen angle but also on a senses level. If I had to pick the most colourful and lush area of Glasgow it would have to be here in the West End. Not only do you have the wonders of the Botanic Gardens with their outdoor splendour and range of Victorian glasshouses...only a short distance away you descend into the leafy confines of the River Kelvin walkway with its deep gorge and hanging gardens of mature woodland climbing steeply above the river.
If you follow this walkway down river you end up here. Kelvingrove Park with its lush slopes spreading out on a hill overlooking the city with Glasgow University Campus nearby.
A few minutes walk from that you have the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and the Kelvin Hall. Here's the great man himself. Lord Kelvin. Not so well known now to the general public but his CV is bloody impressive. Check out what he's known for under the picture of him in here. He was a very busy chap.
 These two buildings are inspired by the exotic east and would not look out of place rising from the jungles of the Indian Subcontinent built when all things Indian completely fascinated the west.
Instead of a seagull just imagine flying foxes in the photograph below. Very like a temple.
An iconic building famous for hosting some world title boxing events, the annual Kelvin Hall Circus with its acrobats, clowns, peeing elephants and its athletics track. Do you know how much pee an elephant has in it? A lot when it sprays onto you. Trust me. Put me right off the circus that did. (There's no glamour in a backstage pass) Now getting a new lease of life yet again as it's revamped for the upcoming Commonwealth Games in 2014.

A very happy heron. Don't know why though as a new intruder has taken up residence in the pond.
This looks like a Red Eared Terrapin, originally from the swamps of the Southern United States. Invasive species are a real pest these days and while they may be cute a few of these things will strip a pond of all its animal life. This one is the size of a dinner plate. Give it a score of years and you may have hundreds of them invading every waterway in the city. I can see why folk do it as they don't want to kill them in front of their kids and think it's a good idea to set them free in the wild but they do not belong here. DO YOU WANT TO KILL A BRITISH FAIRY! DO YOU WANT TINKERBELL AND THE NATIVE WILDLIFE TO DIE!
 Going by the small dent in its shell in the first photo someone has either taken a shot at it with an air rifle or the heron has tried to stab it. These things are very hard to get rid of however as this article demonstrates vividly.

On a lighter note the West End Festival Parade was on a couple of weeks ago so I went along. This sets off every Mid June from the Botanic Gardens then goes down the length of Byres Road and past the Glasgow/Kelvingrove Art Gallery to end in Kelvingrove Park. Very pink theme this year.
Liked this toothy dragon.
A shot of the Lanes area off Byres Road. There are several of these and they run parallel to the main shopping street on both sides with boutique's, bars, restaurants, a cinema and trendy student coffee shops. This is Ashton Lane which leads to the University campus. One of the main reasons this area thrives is the large student population on its doorstep.
Three minutes walk from the noise and bustle of Byres Road/ Ashton lane you come to this tranquil spot. The peaceful walkways and buildings of Glasgow University and The Cloisters. The views from up here are stunning over most of Glasgow.( the first photograph at the start of this entry is from here beside the flagpole.)  Apart from its academic record that's one of the reasons Glasgow University is so popular with overseas students as it has a heady mix of city life and parkland settings so close to each other.
The University Café and Takeaway in Byres Road. Not all students are always up for a few cheeky beers and this is a good alternative. Especially when the head hurts next morning or you just need food to wash down the drink. Happy days. Being an old timer and thick I started work at sixteen. My gap year was thoughtfully supplied however by the Scottish workers best friend Maggie Thatcher. Several years in fact. She gave a lot of people gap years in Northern Britain..

Shake a fairy. See if any golden dust falls out on your life.        My post for Tinkerbell.

On the video front here's a very different kind of Tinkerbell. Just for the terrapin a visual and aural explosion of Southern Delta Blues to remind it of the heat and swamps of Louisiana. No cotton mouths or other swamp snakes slithering along on Byres Road although there maybe a few night crawlers from time to time. I first discovered the music of The Black Keys due to this underrated and largely misunderstood  film. It's an interesting modern fable about betrayal, salvation, redemption and love. Aw!  Black Snake Moan.
Maybe this is what Tinkerbell looks like in the modern age :) Samuel L Jackson learned to play guitar for this film (assisted by a lot of blues greats in the background). Great song and a film which really captures the atmosphere and sweltering humidity of the deep dark southern lands. Sweet home Alamama indeed.

Blistering song that introduced me to The Black Keys before they hit the big time.

Friday 14 June 2013

Fisherfield. Loch Maree. Day Three. Meall a' Ghiubhais

With another early start we packed up the tents and set off for Alex's third mountain of the trip. Meall a' Ghiubhais. This is a view of Aultbea and Mellon Charles. Not a breath of wind at sea level.
This Corbett turned out to be the best of the trip for me. Not only was it shorter at around 10 kilometres uphill but it also started by using the Beinn Eighe Mountain Trail which is a beautiful circular path of great variety and interest. It is steep and rugged in places but well made. If anyone is in this area with adventurous teenage children used to walking in the outdoors this is a great summer route even in dull weather. It would be tricky in snow or ice due to sections of bare quartz rock.  Beinn Eighe was Britain's first national nature reserve established in the 1950's and a lot of time and effort has obviously gone into this trail to make a viable path through some stunning terrain and natural native woodland habitats.
It was still early when we parked in the purpose built car park on the shores of Loch Maree a few kilometres west of Kinlochewe. This is early morning mist burning off the summit cliffs of Slioch, the iconic cube shaped Munro regally isolated at the  eastern end of the loch.
Next to the wooden visitor information shelter  in the car park you follow a quiet underpass beside a stream flowing into the loch which then leads uphill climbing through rugged terrain.

As you climb higher through the Caledonian pine woods, home to red squirrels and pine martins, the views open out over Loch Maree and its surrounding mountains. It felt nice to be climbing in the shade of the trees in the crisp cool of morning as it was shaping up to be another hot day.
A zoom of A Mhaighdean with the sun just burning off the mist from its summit cliffs.
The shores around Loch Maree  contain a range of seasonal insects that have found a living here since the retreat of the last ice age allowed them to return. As a life form they are almost as old as the surrounding rocks themselves yet only live for a brief fleeting period in a continuous cycle of  autumn death and spring rebirth. Makes you think of how we as a species fit in to the natural landscape when we have the Godlike power to destroy or save this miracle of evolution along with the rest of nature.
The whole of human evolution compared against a dragonfly is measured in the same brief time span we judge their short existence to be. They may live fast, short individual life's on the wing after an underwater stage but their time line history is on an impressive scale. Over 300 million years.
 This modern example is a four spotted chaser, a fast flying predator that catches other insects on the wing. Looks like some sort of fly is on the menu here as a pair of small wings seem to be sticking out its mouth. Hope its a cleg.
 Loch Maree has a fascinating archipelago of wooded islands. One island even has a loch in its centre with small islands within it making it unique in Scotland for this feature. It also has numerous sandy beaches but access to the islands is now firmly controlled as they are home to a variety of rare birds and animals. I 've only visited them once in the early 1970's and access is much tighter now. There is a telescopic observation visitor centre where you can view the islands from a safe distance.
Isle Maree has a long and fascinating history being home in its day to Vikings, Druids, and Saint Maelruba who reputedly lived as a hermit in the ruined chapel here. Queen Victoria visited the famous tree filled with hammered in coins and unfortunate folk were rowed out here in a misguided but well meaning attempt to cure them of lunacy.
 Another of the islands in the loch. this one has inlets and lochans of its own. I've always considered it a unique place and a world set apart.
After the trail led us up through woodlands and amazing slabs of gleaming white quartz we reached a lumpy plateau area filled with stunning blue lochans which hasn't changed greatly since glaciers roamed across it. This is Alex putting on a spurt now that his prize is in sight. Around this point the mountains of Torridon, Fisherfield and the main ridge of Beinn Eighe itself  catches the visitors eye.
A superb panorama.
The summit of Meall a' Ghiubhais itself ( I notice it's down as Ghiuthais on my other sheet 19 map for Gairloch and Ullapool) is a great viewpoint with views over a wide area.
 With a noticeable whirr of wings this flying beetle landed in our laps as we sat at the summit cairn. It's a two banded Longhorn beetle and didn't seem afraid of us in the slightest. Being good weather the air was full of flying, buzzing, biting things. This large beetle prefers wood instead and bores into trees to brood its young. Luckily my fine head of hair repulsed its attack but Alex with his bare dome kept a concerned eye on its movements. Being a mountain surrounded by forest Pinocchio is this post's theme.
On the way down we descended via the Cnoc na Gaoithe and a dramatic deep gorge which felt very similar to Alligator Gorge in the Flinder's Range area of South Australia. All red soaring cliffs and  almost eucalyptus like vegetation. There is a viewpoint here that looks out over Loch Maree and this is it.
The first time I visited this area I was knocked out by the mouth of the Kinlochewe River where it enters Loch Maree. In sunshine in spring and early summer its a fantastic mix of yellow gorse bushes, white sand and blue water. A very special place.
A last view of Beinn Alligin and its horns seen on the left.
Travelling back down the road I've always wanted to capture this view of  Pitlochry seen from the car.
When I arrived back at the house I had a look at my poor feet. Over seventy kilometres of rugged terrain in three days had left the sole of each foot bruised and tender. Funnily enough my toes felt fine even when I seemed to be in danger of losing  both toe nails.
Sorry to put you off your dinner. I'm away now for mine. In the words of a popular carrot muncher. That's all folks!

Might as well end with a final Emilie Simon video. Best known for her skills sitting behind a piano here she straps on an electric guitar to play live in a very different interpretation of the old Iggy Pop Classic.
'I Wanna be your Dog.' Moody and very atmospheric. Beauty, elegant grace, Belle Epoque flair and Rock and Roll. Not often that happens together at the one time.

Tuesday 11 June 2013

Fisherfield Letterewe Day Two. Beinn Lair.

To beat the heat on our second day at Poolewe Alex suggested another 5:00 am start. Poolewe is a lovely little village, especially in Spring when its seen at its best with all the gorse bushes in flower.
This photograph was taken from the tiny but beautiful park sandwiched between the sea loch and the River Ewe.
Although it feels serene and remote now during World War Two Loch Ewe was a busy place.
It was codenamed 'Port A' and was a secret base for the Arctic Convoys helping to support Russia with much needed supplies and equipment, sailing to Archangel and Murmansk from here. Nineteen Arctic Convoys in total braved German U boats and air attacks and almost six hundred ships made the hazardous crossing. Merchant craft being escorted and protected by a guard of Naval warships.
Convoy PQ 17 was one of the hardest hit during that time with only 11 out of 36 merchant ships reaching Archangel.
I learned this from the Information boards and Memorial to all the sailors that died in the freezing waters of the North Atlantic.
By the time Alex had his three cups of coffee for breakfast and I had skinned and toasted Bugs Bunny
for a starter before munching a tasty sandpiper sandwich it was 6:00am. A wash and much needed outflow at the Poolewe toilets saw us reaching the car park at the start of the track beside the River Ewe just before 7:00am.
Even the swift act of getting the bikes ready and pulling on boots saw us covered in midge. After an application of midge cream over arms, hair and head they simply changed tactics biting me on the eyeballs, inside the ears and around the lips instead. I wanted to round them all up and put them on the naughty step but the driven man beside me was keen to tackle his mountain for today.
Beinn Lair.
As you can see from the reflections it was a still morning and midge friendly. The great thing about bikes and why I usually switch to cycling during the height of summer in Scotland is that you can create your own breeze and escape the heat and flying hordes around you.
A zoom of An Teallach from the previous day. Fantastic mountain. Got to be in most folks list of the Top Ten  Munros in Scotland.
Our route today started from Poolewe then followed the landrover track along the north bank of the River Ewe past Kernsary then along the base of three peaks. Beinn Airigh Charr, Meall Mheinnidh and finally Beinn Lair Itself. A 30 kilometre round trip today. Yippee!
This is Beinn Lair in the distance. Yippee as I'd already done Beinn Lair and had no intention of doing it again. We cycled in part of the way then left the bikes at the point where the landrover track ended and it turned into a narrow ribbon of track.
The driven man took the lead, pleased he could actually see his carrot/Oops sorry Corbett, in sight most of the way.
As we approached the path leading round to the causeway and Carnmore Crag I hatched a cunning plan for my more enjoyable day out. I was going to take off my socks and boots and then paddle my feet in the cool waters of the Fionn Loch then sit around eating exceedingly fine Apple Tarts while watching Alex sweat up the pass to the start of his hill. That sounded a smashing plan to me but Alex didn't like it much.
' Are you not going to keep me company? It's a wonderful view from the top. We might get a breeze up there. It's getting really hot now. Even hotter than yesterday.'
I handed him my lucky rabbits foot as there was very little meat left on it after our last rest stop.
'There will be a breeze at the beach.' Ta Ta. Have a good day up your lump.'
With that I left him to it and headed here instead. The wonderful expanse of inland sand/golden gravel beside the causeway separating Fionn Loch from Dubh Loch. With the cuckoos yodelling in the background, the skylarks trilling overhead, and the tiny fish jumping in  the nearby stream I soaked my feet and enjoyed the full rigors of Corbett bagging. Its a hard life in the wilds. Maybe another trusting rabbit would hop by. They are very moreish once you get over the numerous bones.
Many years ago in my puppy prime I had climbed Beinn Lair via Wisdom Buttress, V Diff. An esoteric and spectacular rock climb which has scant protection on its 700 foot of slabby verticality. I seem to remember Brian, our bold lead climber in a rope of three, resorting to several body belays on ledges as normal protection on this rock route was conspicuous by its absence. I think we got eight runners in 700 feet and most of them were small wires. Size one or two.
It was almost a solo with a rope on. Real adventurous stuff. A tenuous line weaving a path up, around and under overhangs. It's the classic of this crag and is arguably the remotest climb of its grade in Britain. I see it's up to Severe grade now probably due to the lack of protection and its isolation.
 Above is a photograph of the cliffs on Beinn Lair. Wisdom Buttress is a slender cigar shaped buttress. Nearby is the deep chasm of Bat's Gash , a subterranean route running the full length of the cliff inside a deep narrow crack line at V.Diff/Severe Grade. I've always wanted to slide into a Bat's Gash but it's not happened yet sadly. They keep flying away :(
Had a good chuckle watching Alex toil up this skyline to his hard won prize.
On the other side is the rock climbing jewel of the area. Carnmore Crag. On the same long ago trip Brian was keen to tackle this cliff. Seen here are Fionn Buttress. a classic VS.  Dragon HVS and Gob VS. Unfortunately he was the only one of the party happy to climb at these grades in this setting on such an intimidating cliff so he had to settle for Wisdom Buttress instead then come back a few years later with someone with more ability and less fear. Sorry Brian but at least you shared these great climbs with the right person on your return visit so it worked out well in the end. His wife, who is ten rungs higher than me  if I'm climbing well and she's asleep.
The climbers Barn under Carnmore Crag. Basic but welcome relief from midges or bad weather. Only provided as an overnight shelter thanks to the kindness of the Letterewe Estate. The private Carnmore Lodge is nearby.
The view into Fisherfield from yesterday's Corbett. Ruadh Stac Mor and A Mhaighdean.
The Great Hound that guards the north western slopes of A Mhaighdean, The Maiden, another mountain high on most peoples lists of favourite Munros.
There are bands of Lewisian Gneiss running through the Torridonian sandstone and other material like Cambrian Quartzite in this area which is probably responsible for this startling effect. Very unusual. The rocks in this area are some of the oldest found anywhere in the world.
After visiting here I stayed on the path system and visited the heights above Letterewe reached via the low pass of the Stathan Buidhe as I fancied looking down on the islands in Loch Maree. I'll keep that for Part Three though.
Eventually Alex returned from Beinn Lair and we walked back to the bikes together. An eleven and a half hour day during which I covered as much ground as Alex, just less vertical height. Seen nine other walkers over two days. This still feels like a remote area where anything can take place.
Alex charging towards a stream on the track back to the car.
The scenic River Ewe as it carries the waters of Loch Maree to the sea. We stopped off for a few pints before returning to the campsite at Firemore and the welcoming embrace of the midge.
Really weird pink flamingo sunset over the tents.
Might as well include another gem from Emilie Simon off the same flower themed album 'Vegatal'
Stunning artwork throughout.