Monday 30 September 2013

A Walk In Glen Artney. Beinn Dearg Horseshoe.

Map. OS Sheet 57. Stirling and the Trossachs.
Four of us headed off from Glasgow to the wilds of Glen Artney to do the Beinn Dearg horseshoe. It's a Graham that lies in the wild lands between Crieff and the well known Munros of Stuc a Chroin and Ben Vorlich. I had not explored Glen Artney before and had no expectations of great scenery lurking in its depths but in its own fashion it's a highly enjoyable and scenic day out. A wild one though with few paths.
Straight out the car I spotted this buzzard landing in a nearby tree. A good omen.
This is the horseshoe we intended to do from the left spur to the summit on the right. Myself, Alex, Graeme and David. It turned out to be a longer day than intended and was hard going in places through knee deep summer grass and vegetation.

We parked in the ample car park marked on the OS map near the head of this very scenic glen then crossed the lovely Water of Ruchill via the minor road past Dalchruin then turned down left through a gate just before the large farm which took us over a bridge across this river. This stretch was a beautiful and unexpected treat.

From here we followed a land rover track up towards Dalclathick where it petered out, then we took to the open hillsides just above this spot where this photograph was taken. From this point onwards the walk was completely pathless but fairly easy to follow through long grass and vegetation. South facing and warmed by a golden autumnal sun these slopes were alive with flies, bugs, butterflies and reptiles. A wildlife treasure of a hill.
Halfway up we discovered two large adders sunbathing in the grass. This one was easily the biggest I've seen yet and was obviously enjoying this great summer of 2013. As it didn't appear threatened by our arrival I had bags of time to bend down to take this photograph. Adders aren't aggressive snakes and will only bite if stepped on or if they are handled or cornered but I maintained a respectful distance just the same, alert for any change in its behaviour.
A chirping cricket. Prey item for young snakes. There were loads of these around as well. Not so welcome was the usual summer gauntlet of clegs, biting flies and midges but you cant have one without the other I suppose. I'll miss their tiny kisses of blood when they are gone for the winter :0) It was not too bad a way up with plenty of interesting activity underfoot.
Higher up the grass was much shorter and the impressive array of surrounding peaks captured our attention instead.
Beinn Odhar, Uamh Bheag and Meall Odhar all looked wild and untamed encircling the head of the glen. The vanes of a wind farm could just be seen peeping up on the other side of the col between these first two peaks but thankfully they do not feel that intrusive. Hopefully Glen Artney will stay the remote and tranquil glen that it is. In some ways it's good to get better known because if it's threatened with development more people that love the wild places can fight its corner. It already has a large out of bounds 'Danger Area' cordoned off around Ben Clach at the start of the glen but this doesn't affect the area from a scenic point of view the same as the drastic 'right in your face' impact of a wind farm.
If it's a local project benefitting the community around it I'm all for a few turbines but too many wild areas have already been lost to this creeping blanket menace while the same rich profit hunters that attempted to cover the flow country in commercial pine forests as a tax dodge a couple of decades ago yet again hide under the green eco banner pretending it's an environmental solution. It's all just spin and greed dressed up in a new costume with the same old purring fat cats beneath. . tp://
In twenty years time will the ordinary punters yet again be expected to remove these eyesores, like the conifers before them.
 A view of Stuc a Chroin and Ben Vorlich from the Beinn Dearg Horseshoe.

The wild lands around the summit ridge.

A zoom to the summit of Ben Vorlich.

A small moth that jumped out the grass onto my hand. A great walk in an area alive with nature.
When I got back to my house I discovered this fox asleep in my garden. 
This fox was probably sleeping because it had gobbled up most of the young frogs that had been happily hopping around the garden until its arrival. 

Wednesday 25 September 2013

Glasgow Street Art. Vivid New Murals. A Warning From Detroit.

I was in Glasgow City Centre at the weekend for the annual Doors Open Day when many of the cities public buildings, some normally out of bounds to ordinary citizens, are free to enter and explore.
The last time I went into the city centre properly for a walk around, other than to catch a train or bus straight out again to a destination elsewhere, was probably the last doors open day I attended, two years ago in September 2011.
There is a good reason why I mention this.
It was a day of mixed emotions, some surprising highs and some unexpected lows with everything thrown in for good measure in-between which is why this post will be a schizophrenic hybrid, just like the day itself.
                               The photographs are large and all are worth clicking full screen.
 The first discovery was a low. I phoned up to book a tour through the tunnels under the main Central Station only to find all the places for both Saturday and Sunday were already gone. Bugger!  I noticed from this years free guide booklet many of the new building additions to the list were advance booking only, an annoying trend that seems to be creeping in more as the event gains popularity.
The first high came ironically at near enough the same place. This is the Central Station as well but taken in the underpass tunnel called the Broomielaw where the stations trains run over the road creating a dark wide cavern beside the River Clyde between the King George the V bridge and Glasgow Bridge. It is busy with rush hour traffic during the day and empty at night.
A good spooky place to have a collection of  eye-catching individuals.
An unexpected array of street art and something that cheered me up after the disappointment of the tunnel knockback.
  I used to travel back this way to the bus stop and kebab shop when the club I was in frequented the city centre pubs and I can imagine this row of heads being fairly creepy late at night in what is usually a dark, isolated area in the evenings. Art imitating life. I've met more than my fair share of similar looking folk travelling back on the late night bus from the city. I probably looked like that myself with spicy doner kebab sauce dripping from a half munched meal as I weaved happily up to the stop. I normally had time to finish it before the bus arrived. If not I saved it for the house and watched the New Avengers on TV, which was usually on around midnight for some reason.
 I soon discovered this was not a lone project as just around the corner I noticed this mural in nearby Mitchell Street (lane). I began to suspect something was afoot and this was confirmed in Ingram street further up near George Square where parts of Brad Pitt's World war Z was filmed. At the same time Halle Berry was filming Cloud Atlas a few streets away and Scarlett Johansson was freezing her calories off up in Glencoe, Greenock and Wishaw. Early reviews I've read of all three suggest that Scarlett may have produced the most critically acclaimed film of the bunch although I've not seen any of these films myself yet. (Under the Skin.)
  I posted about that visit on  Open Doors, Churches and Mad Actresses.  22 March 2012 on this blog. Well worth a read if only for a laugh. Sorry S. I never doubted you for a moment :)
Ingram Street was even better. A large Four Seasons mural in a car park taking up one large back wall. I wasn't even in town for the art work and knew nothing about it so this was a real surprise and a delight. I was actually in Ingram street to visit the Ramshorn Church nearby as part of the Doors Open Day. This looks like Summer above.
Spring.(bluebells and opening flowers)
Winter. Yes, I know, but they are not in sequential order on the wall either.
Superb stuff.
There were more  new murals down on the Clydeside near Stockwell Street. A diver under the Clyde.
This is maybe a souvenir Dalek that fell out of Karen Gillian's suitcase into the river as she packed her bags and waved goodbye to TV here before jetting off to Hollywood stardom and bigger budgets. (What do you mean you didn't know they were only three inches tall.)
Swimming elephants catching fish in the clear waters of the Clyde. And why not?

Now the schizophrenic bit. Although I  really enjoyed my walk around the city centre due to all these fantastic new murals and some old favourites like the one above I couldn't help notice the difference from when I did a similar walk two September's ago. Then the Europe wide recession didn't seem to mean much as it was a sunny day, several Hollywood A listers were making major movies in Glasgow and it was all rather exciting and fresh.

Two years on it may have been just the fact that it was a dull day but the vibe seemed entirely different somehow.
Away from the colourful murals, which are great and a real improvement, outside the famous network of streets that make up the so called Style Mile of shops: Buchanan Street; Argyle Street and Sauchiehall Street etc., Glasgow city centre seemed tired, sordid and neglected. Wandering around the lesser shopping streets I lost count of the number of small business units lying empty with 'to let' signs up. It was mainly shops whose goods could be just as easily purchased over the internet. Many of the buildings themselves in the city centre looked shabby and unmaintained. Some were getting knocked down. New ones were springing up but the place still looked dejected. The government's Austerity Programme is definitely working as Glasgow that day to me felt undeniably austere and I initially arrived off the bus in a positive mood and frame of mind. A corpse with bright make up on came unbidden into my thoughts. Not exactly the image you want for the Commonwealth Games 2014 but that was my honest impression of the place. I normally see the best in cities as I like living in one but I would be interested to hear anyone else's impression of Britain's city centres recently, and in particular, Glasgow. Just from a visual point of view the on-going recession and changing shopping methods seems to be biting hard. If there are any green shoots visible here they are in the murals. I could now understand the reason for so many scattered around. There are others I haven't had room for here. Same idea as with empty shops in malls. Paint a picture on the hoarding then maybe it will not look so bad. Nothing against the artists or the murals. They look fantastic and I'm all for more. Like changing wallpaper in a house they help to lift the spirits and freshen things up. Maybe it's just me and the result of a strange surreal day but after I'd wandered around for a few hours I was quite glad to get back to my clean suburban bubble again. Compared to the city centre a council scheme on the outskirts suddenly seemed upmarket.

Ironically, the only outlets off the main shopping grid that seemed to be still doing well (i.e. Open, at least) is what I would term 'The Hedonistic Sector.' Pubs, bars, restaurants, nail bars, beauty parlours, hair stylists, Games and graphic models shops, tattoo parlours and legal high shops. Hard to tell with these how well they are doing with so many fighting for custom. Some people obviously have money to spend but I also noticed a sizable chunk of the central district floating population seemed to be, for want of a better word, the underclass. A lot of folk begging in the streets, several with razor slashes on their faces from recent attacks, a teenage girl throwing up copiously, out of her face on something or other and obviously burdened with mental problems as well. In fact a lot of folk seemed to have troubles of one sort or another. Even on the bus in and out of the city centre on a Saturday late morning and again late afternoon I was aware it was mainly old folk that couldn't drive, still clinging to the old routines of yesteryear by going into town on a Saturday; folk that didn't have a car for one reason or another; and ethnic minorities who would probably get a car as soon as they could.
I know this is a sweeping statement but it's formed from a dozen similar journeys over the last year on buses bound for the city centre to go somewhere else.
Unless you work in the centre of Glasgow, or go in Fri Sat night for the nightlife and venues, there is no real reason nowadays to ever go near the place. Most families have cars, rarely use buses, and have little cause to go near the central district during the day. They do their weekend shopping mostly in out of town retail parks on the outskirts where they live and where they can get everything under one roof. It's easier and quicker so why not.? Why does this even matter I hear you ask?
Which brings us to Detroit.  I watched Julien Temple's fascinating documentary recently 'Requiem For Detroit?' and it held some interesting clues about the future growth of all western cities. Could the same thing happen here?
Obviously Detroit was a special case, being so dependant on the prosperity of the American car industry for its own continued success. When it failed Detroit failed with it but what struck me was that large areas of that city, once the 4th largest in America and the jewel of the Midwest, were unaware for a long time of how bad things really were. They never went into the city centre district unless they had to. They did all their shopping in outlying retail parks and stayed in their suburban bubble on the outskirts most of the time. Sound familiar?    America has always been roughly 20 years ahead of us in living trends.
 This isn't Detroit by the way. This is a neglected part of Glasgow in 2013. One not easily seen by a large section of the public but it's there. If you let British city centres die because we no longer value them who knows what might happen to the outskirts after they are gone. Can a large city survive without a beating heart at its core? Probably. Detroit looks as if it's slowly, painfully, evolving into several smaller, more manageable communities not reliant on one industry. As the countryside reclaims areas of the city some have taken up farming and crop production again. Just a cautionary thought then.
Incidentally, I was far happier and uplifted in this environment, my urban explorer kicking in. Tellingly, maybe that was because there were no people around. Only ruins and nature slowly reclaiming the city. Surprising amount of birdlife here, none of them throwing up near me.
( I ain't afraid of no Ghosts, only the living.)
Here's hoping the Commonwealth Games brings a bit of magic and sparkle back into Glasgow's inner districts. We need a boost of feel good factor here as judging from my experience of Saturday's visit a lot of people are finding it tough out there.
By the way I've got rid of some of the older, no longer updated, blogs on my blogs list and added two
new ones I've followed for a while. Andamento and Street Art Utopia. Both are full of colourful photography and creative artistic ideas. Worth a visit.
Update. After two years hard graft in a locked room I have completed my new novel. Autohighography by Bob Law. It is part autohighography, part novel, part travel guide, and part unusual love story. A humorous tale set in Glasgow and stunning areas of Scotland including Arran, Arrochar, Loch Lomond, Skye, and many others well off the beaten track. A tale of a Glasgow hill walking club and their exploits, love affairs ( or lack of them) holidays and adventures on the high seas, in caves and tunnels, crossing mountains and exploring remote islands. you can read the first  couple of chapters for free by clicking on this link.
All chapters are fully illustrated with colour photographs of Scottish landscapes and mountains described in the book which is available in full for £1.85 to download. Cheaper than a scratch card but better odds of a surprise or a laugh once opened.

Monday 23 September 2013

Beinn Mheadhonach.Old Blair. Glen Tilt Walk.

A phone call from Alex, who is still keen to bag his remaining Corbetts when he gets an opportunity, saw us head up past Pitlochry and Blair Atholl to the nearby hamlet of Old Blair where there is a large car park hidden in the woods. Nowadays, this is one of the lesser known gateways into the Cairngorms National Park which covers a larger area than most people think, including me. Going by the Park Map I think it's increased in size to include the Tilt and Atholl Ranges now using the A9 as a convenient boundary marker. Certainly it's not this size on my old AA road map Atlas.2008 edition which shows the boundary ending at An Sgarsoch, 1006 metres, Carn an Fhidhleir 994metres and the headwaters of the River Feshie and River Dee unless this is an error. My Pitlochry OS map seems to have disappeared from my collection. I never pay too much attention to these boundary changes anyway. It's only ever a line drawn on paper to me. These two Munros are so remote and featureless I have no memory whatsoever of bagging them although I do remember walking past the 'Tarf Hotel' to get there. A long trek in. Be bikes now I suppose.
Glen Tilt, up which we were heading, lies on the southern boundaries of this vast area of high rolling uplands, grassy summits and tundra like wastes, at least on the highest Munros over 1000 metres in height.
Some of this high ground can be a bit on the monotonous side in certain areas for a keen amateur photographer looking for variety, soft warmth and texture in landscapes but the area around Blair Atholl, Pitlochry and Glen Tilt is full of beauty and colour with the subtle shades of autumn just starting to creep in on a warm, end of summers day, like this one.
Plenty of wildlife to observe at lower levels and a very scenic glen to follow in Glen Tilt. A Peacock Butterfly feeding.
As a good land rover track snakes into these hills following the left (west) bank of the River Tilt we decided to use the bikes to cut down on the walking. It's around  23/24 kilometres round trip to do this Corbett and it's one of the higher ones, just 40 odd feet short of the magic 914 metres, 3000 foot, Munro height. About a 7 hour day, taking it fairly easy at a relaxed pace. The gorge at this point is a long way down though not quite the rocky chasm depicted on the board. Alex is walking on this early stage because an estate land rover has just past and he likes a talk with the locals. Although you cant tell from the photo it is also slightly uphill, hence the footwork.

After a few useful kilometres on the bike a track on the left is followed over a stone bridge then this diamond shaped hobbit hole in a deer fence is entered. We left the bikes chained up here. Note the super soft comfy slip on gel saddle. What a difference this makes on any bike run.
A side tributary is followed with the hill now almost in sight. Needless to say, being a Corbett, we never saw any other hill walkers once away from the car park area.
We did see this however. At first we thought it was a polar bear on an adjoining summit as it was too big to be a lone sheep or dog. Viewed through the camera zoom however it turned out to be the stalker and his pony out tracking the movements of the deer wandering the hills. This is the heartland  of Scotland's large game estates, where rich clients pay to shoot deer, grouse, pheasants, and other unlucky forms of life roaming the landscape. I prefer to pick my food up from the supermarket personally and open my wallet very carefully each time to let only a trickle of money slip out.
For that reason I'm never likely to trouble this place with my presence even if I hit the lottery millions jackpot. Mind you it is only £100 pounds a night for a single room here. That's not bad value nowadays when its £30 quid to stay in a motor inn. I'm a tenner a night man myself and I even grudge that these days :0) This hotel is in nearby Pitlochry by the way. It's not encountered on the walk in.
Back to the hill. This is the kind of grassy path that used to adorn most of the outlying Munros 20 to 30 years ago. A decent sized path for a Corbett when most are still fairly trackless ascents but the reason it's here is that it leads to an ancient stone bridge over the stream, a hundred plus years old judging by the stonework on the arch. The path peters out past that and it's back to the usual weaving game trails of deer and sheep contouring the hillsides. If you are very lucky one actually meanders in the direction you wish to travel.
One of Alex scratching off the midges and numerous flies enjoying the presence of a rare human to bite. The wilds of the Atholl ridges behind.

Getting nearer the summit now and the views are opening up over the Tilt and Tarf water uplands.
A fox moth caterpillar spotted on the way down.

It wouldn't be an Alex mountain bike post without a photo of him walking up a slight gradient on the long road back to the car. Anyone who says doing Corbetts this way is cheating, rest assured.... the way Alex bags them by bike its really not :)
A great day out which I enjoyed far more than I thought I would at the start. I think the Corbett bagger enjoyed himself too.
Stumbled on this list of mountain groups for those that like the ticking and measuring of all things outdoors.
Sadly I've heard of most of these sub groups and have done a fair few on each list but so far the addiction factor hasn't taken hold. Long may that continue.

Sunday 15 September 2013

Beinn Dorain.Bridge of Orchy. A questionable path?

It must be twenty years since my feet and I tramped up the grassy path from Bridge of Orchy Station to climb Beinn Dorain. I have fond memories of the place as I've camped and stayed here with various clubs during my Munro bagging days. Must be over 30 times at least, sometimes camping beside the stone bridge near the Inveroran Hotel, at one time my favourite highland pub. Many musical evenings spent in there. I've been up Beinn Dorain at least five times but the last was two decades ago.
It was not the best of days as the forecast had changed from sun to mist and drizzle overnight but both myself and Ron decided to go up it anyway. It was a new hill for him. Nowadays most of my hill-walks take place on Corbetts, Grahams, and Marilyns so I'm used to faint tracks up mountains or, in most cases, none at all. Thirty years ago all but the most popular Munros like Ben Lomond,  Ben Nevis or Schiehallion  had the same faint paths up them. The majority of the more remote summits had no obvious signs of any previous visitors except for a modest summit cairn. Couldn't tell you what they are like now though.

Beinn Dorain is a popular hill and twenty years can bring about some radical changes but I was not prepared for the damage we encountered underfoot. The path in places in 2013 resembles the hillsides you see on the news from South America where they power wash gold and precious metals from the ground using giant hoses leaving only spoil heaps in their wake.. Same effect here using booted feet and the west coast's abundant year round rainfall. I'm as guilty as anyone else obviously with five ascents.

This is one path that needs some form of maintenance badly however as it can only get worse. It also brings, to my mind at least, the question of numbers on the Munros versus income generated for the economy against the cost of path maintenance. Certainly when I was bagging Munro summits we camped, brought food with us and contributed very little to the local economy other than tent fees and a substantial pub drinks bill. We liked a good swally then and still had money in our pockets when petrol was cheap. I'm aware some folk do far more as regards accommodation and sit in meals when they arrive. As I wandered up here however I found myself wondering how much the actual profit and loss measured up when placed on the scales side by side. Obviously it's a range of different bodies paying out for different things so it's too hard for poor old simple me to work out.
A number of new long distance walking routes have sprang up recently and some are already showing signs of wear and tear. Although they bring in some business for local hotels, B and B's and the like I often wonder what the real pros and cons of such 'concentration highways' on mainly grassy path networks are, given our climate. The cost of renewing this Beinn Dorain path professionally from railway station to col with a staircase of large stones and slabs; drainage ditches;maybe helicopter drops and a work party, is going to be considerable. A recent survey on the drier east coast was quoted at a quarter of a million pounds for two paths.
I'd imagine this example is only one of many needing attention.
Places like the Lake District of course, which I like for its dry clean paths, faced these problems years ago and most of the mountains there already have purpose built walkways running from roadside to summit. They also have £8 pound car parks, double yellow lines in almost every village and private land restrictions due to the numbers of visitors going there.
In another twenty years we will probably have much the same thing here in places like Glencoe as I've noticed an abundance of signs springing up with some amusement in places like Knoydart and Fisherfeild advising the visitor that... 'you are now entering a remote and uninhabited area'. (I know that's why I'm here.) In fact it's getting harder in Scotland  to walk into a 'remote uninhabited area' without a large sign informing you of that fact.  It felt even more secluded and uninhabited before all the large signs went up pointing at destinations in every direction. I  naively thought hill walkers knew where they were at any location in the UK now thanks to GPS and smart phones but apparently not.
Anyway, once over the spoil heaps and onto the ridge the mist and drizzle made an appearance. Usual summer weather on the 3000 footers. Luckily there was no wind to speak of so it was fairly pleasant.
Mist, rain and ridges for those that like that sort of thing. I'll not bother with a route description as it's almost impossible to get lost on this hill. Just follow the gravel and boulder highway to the top.
Young toad. Bet it was him causing all the upheaval and soil erosion! Bloody reptiles and amphibians crawling and hopping everywhere.
Loch Tulla from the hill.
Back down after an invisible clagged in summit we ended up here which brought back loads of flashbacks from yesteryear, sheltering from the rain. Some things never change.
Bridge of Orchy railway station.
On the walk back down from train station to car park I was sad to see the primary school and the old village hall lying empty. Had a few memorable ceilidhs and other social meetings in that wooden hall over the years, bouncing up and down with boots on.
As usual it dried up once we were back in Glasgow. A sunset shot of  parting rainclouds.
I enjoyed the walk but mainly for the memories. A real novelty nowadays having a hill day out in the rain but I still prefer the sunshine on the mountains so normal service will be resumed.

The news that bats lungs and internal organs may collapse flying close to wind farms and that pods of dolphins and whales might just have serious navigation problems with the undersea version (tidal turbines) highlights that this modern age can seem to throw up more problems than solutions every time we think we have invented a good idea. Not that I think wind farms are a good idea but it makes a point. The complexity of modern life....or maybe it was always complex but we were too unenlightened or uninformed to notice and just ignored it.
With the civil war in Syria raging on and the powers that be reluctant to get involved for one reason or another I thought I'd include this video by the only artist to have won the Mercury Music Prize twice. This song seems more topical than ever now with its open question at the end. I also like the fact that she includes the mistake on the autoharp, leaving it in. Very few artists would. The ever evolving PJ Harvey.