Sunday 30 March 2014

Donegal Town. Donegal Bay. Murvagh Beach.St John's Point Walk. Ireland Part One.

Back in Ireland once again at the kind invitation of Graeme who likes a full carload sometimes to share the cost of car hire for travelling around Donegal and his collection of friends are always happy to oblige, the passengers this time being myself, another Bob, and Sandra. Flight out from Prestwick to Derry- Londonderry then car to Donegal where Graeme has a house. Flights worked out at under £50 return- under £10 train fares from Glasgow and £25 in Sainsbury's for a weekends food and drink. Car hire each under £20. Total cost around £100 pounds for everything. Pretty good for four days exploring Ireland. This is The Blue Stack Mountains under snow seen from Murvagh Beach. As usual only one small day sack on plane via Ryanair without crampons or ice axes.( costs extra to carry them in cargo hold of plane)
Marion, Graeme's girlfriend, met us at the house next day and took us on a guided tour of the Donegal Bay area as she knows Ireland extremely well having lived in Donegal a long time. This isn't us but four dog walkers, the only other people to brave the elements as the wind here would have cut you in half. We didn't stay long due to wind strength and intense cold but it looks a great area for exploring as Murvagh Beach is part of the huge Donegal Bay Estuary with sand dunes, numerous islands, complex deep water channels and sand banks. At low tide the sands stretch for miles with great views of the surrounding mountains and the Slieve League sea cliffs, some of the highest sea cliffs in Europe which we climbed on our first visit trip to Donegal back in November 2012 also featured on this blog.
Handy zoom in map here of the area. St John's Point is the long thin peninsula just to the east of Killybegs where it says North Atlantic on the zoom in. The best headland cliffs and walk are near the Lighthouse at the tip which is almost an island in itself. Murvagh Beach is east of this, a curving arm of land which encloses the islands in  Donegal Bay near Donegal town itself.

Murvagh beach had a few Ringed Plovers hunkered down in the sands. Just shows you how tough these little birds and others have to be as the sands were like a sandpaper storm near the ground and the wind-chill here was below freezing.
Oystercatcher looking for things to eat. They don't actually favour oysters much so the name is slightly misleading.
After our brief visit here Marion and Graeme suggested going out to St John's Point, a  seven mile long peninsula that sticks out into Donegal Bay on its Northern coastline near Killybegs, which is the largest deep water fishing port, not only in Donegal but in Ireland.   Killybegs is also famous for its tapestries and carpets.
St John's Point was a good choice as the weather had been a mixed bag so far of strong winds, sunny intervals, hailstone and sleet showers. Most of the peninsula cliffs around the headland are composed of Karst limestone beds lying at various tilted angles and exposed to the full force of the wild Atlantic Ocean as the nearest land mass out to sea is either South Greenland or Newfoundland and the North East coast of Canada. The waves here have a long way to travel across the ocean and they build up a decent swell. The last time I observed an ocean swell and waves this impressive was in South Australia off Cape Catastrophe visiting my sister. Luckily the weather did us proud and the sun came out for a couple of hours allowing us to do this excellent coastal walk around the headland in fine conditions.

A good omen was spotting this small flock of Brent Geese. I had to look these up as I cant remember seeing them before. They breed in the high arctic, Greenland and Siberia but winter here in estuaries and coastal margins. A hardy bird of the real tundra. This was taken at Coral Beach which was a lovely spot and very popular with sub aqua divers as St Johns point has some of the clearest coastal waters anywhere in Europe.
This is the Coral Beach and dive boats. It was very sheltered here out the wind and this is where you park but where we were going was out to the headland and past the lighthouse which is a great walk with world class scenery . Another advantage of this walk in conditions like this is that you can actually see the bad weather storms approaching from a long way off out to sea.
Some of the huge rolling waves crashing into St John's Peninsula.
A view from the tip of the headland.
Another giant roller approaching- Slieve League in the distance. In some parts of Australia they'd have folk out here surfing between the great white sharks, I kid you not as I watched in amazement as young teenagers jumped off the harbour in Adelaide with a couple of sharks nearby. They chased them away by dropping bricks on them from the pier. If you grow up with dangers every day you become immune to them.
Graeme and Bob near the lighthouse. Marion and Sandra had turned back by this stage as it was still fairly windy and we had all enjoyed a brief but frisky hailstone storm which dampened their enthusiasm somewhat so they headed back to the comforts of the car and the more sheltered beach.
The men were still keen however and completed the full traverse.
Not being familiar with the area I didn't have a clue what I was looking at here through the zoom but I thought I recognised Benbulben in the distance which we climbed on a previous trip during a visit to County Sligo. (February 2013 on this blog). The light was pretty hazy but Graeme thought he could pick out Mountbatten's castle on its promontory which came as a surprise to me. I knew of course he died in Ireland as it was in all the papers but I couldn't have told you the location or the County after this length of time. I didn't even know it was in this part of Ireland it  happened. Everywhere you travel here however the past is not far away. I found this interesting article link which gives you a local point of view on an event which made headlines around the world.
The tip of the headland facing the Atlantic. Only a few hours walk but an absolute cracker on easy grass cliff tops with stunning scenery, especially if its a bit wild. On the last stage back it was a bit too wild however as we got caught at the end in a savage hailstone deluge that swept towards us with real ferocity and we were very grateful when Marion and Sandra appeared in the car to rescue us from further onslaught by the elements.
 A distant view of Killybegs.
The limestone bedding plane tilted at an angle into the sea.
On the way back we visited Donegal Town which is worth a visit if you are in the area. Donegal Castle is very impressive as it sits above the river in the middle of the town.   History and good photos here.
A view looking upriver at Donegal town itself.
Old Castle Bar on the main street beside the castle.
And a sunset to end the day. What more could you ask for.
Another video from Australian brother- sister duo Angus and Julia Stone. This is almost jazzy folk with a experimental scat feel to it and the one handed trumpet solo halfway in is extraordinary. Fantastic musicianship from all concerned and so different from the usual predictable fodder that passes for music in the current charts. This song grows on you as well after a couple of plays.

Thursday 20 March 2014

Beinn Nan Imirean.844 metres. Scottish Mountain Views

A surprise phone call from Alex who had just seen a good weather window at the last moment prompted this walk last week. He arrived to pick me up, keen to bag a new Corbett near Crianlarich.

Beinn nan Imirean lies just left of Meall Glas and Sgiath Chuil in Glen Dochart. Os Map 51 Loch Tay.

'Might be a boring ascent but it will have interesting views.' He assured me. He always says that but in this instance he was spot on. Crack of dawn start as usual. 3 hours sleep for poor me!
We picked a hitchhiker up who was bagging Munros and had completed an impressive number already. Nancy from Belgium (who was now living in Scotland) and had Meall Glas and Sgiath Chuil in her sights so was delighted at the lift as we were starting at the same place. This is it. The track leading to Auchessan farm where the route to the hills is signposted round the back. Parking is either near the start of this track or at a main road layby a short distance away.
Once past the farm Nancy shot off up her Munro of choice. We would have given her a lift back down Loch Lomondside as well but it was a much longer day for her as she was doing both Munros and the snow was deep on the higher summits.
Perfect weather and the hills were looking at their best. A very impressive Ben More which always looks a real monster of a mountain seen from Crianlarich village.
The north face of Cruach Ardrain with Y gully looking like a death trap as the snow was soft and melting fast in the warm sunshine. (I have no idea why the blue sky on some of these pictures looks mottled as I have posted them three times now in different formats and sizes yet on my own computer I can enlarge them to fill the entire screen without a visible blemish in sight- pre post. An annoying mystery.)
Getting higher up Alex's hill of choice and a different view over towards Ben More.1174 Metres high.
Our hill was not too bad for snow and an easy ascent. On the Munros it would be much harder underfoot as the snow was waist deep in places and looked primed for avalanches.
 A deep crack just waiting to be triggered into a slide on Beinn Nam Imirean near the summit.
Soft peeps alerted us to what looked like a nesting Golden Plover as the wildlife had already decided it was "Spring" and it was warm even at the summit. If a sudden cold snap returned however these high slopes would be covered in snow again, which looks likely to happen this weekend. Nature is always balanced on a knife edge.
A view down towards the Loch Lomond hills and the Caledonian Pines.

Ben Lui. 1130 metres high. The Queen of the Southern Highlands with its Central Buttress looking truly Alpine. Red Deer hinds framed in the foreground.
Ben Challum 1025 metres, with the signs of small avalanche debris on its slopes. A lot of mountaineers find blue sky days boring but I love them personally. I like the sun on my back.

So do the animals. Sheep at the farm on the way down.
Inversaid and it's waterfall from the Loch Lomond road. Spring at it's finest. Mountain days that come as a complete surprise are the best.

Sunday 16 March 2014

I am Dorothy and I live in Oz. Springtime comes to Renfrewshire

Munchkins on Parade. Renfrewshire cycle track
All photos best viewed full screen to get full Technicolor impact

To film the Wizard of Oz MGM went to extraordinary lengths to create the magical land of L.Frank Baum's imagination drafting in hundreds of animals, oddball characters, wicked humans, little people and a road of yellow bricks. It was a very expensive film and was a commercial flop when released in the cinema. The public and critics at the time didn't know what to make of it. Now it's a classic and is in most children's DNA of a certain age due to being a Christmas favourite for generations of families on TV.
Dorothy reached the emerald city by travelling along a painted golden highway to find her wizard and return home. It cost a fortune to assemble the cast of thousands and was a complete fantasy. For instance- the "snow" that saved Dorothy and Toto from the evil poppies was actually composed of 100% industrial grade asbestos flakes that the actors unknowingly rolled around in. The "wicked witch" was set on fire accidently during the film and was badly burned, ending up in hospital: even her stand in was blown up and burned during one scene. The original actor playing the "Tin Man" was poisoned with the toxic metal powder that he had to wear on set and was replaced when he fell ill. It was a busy hospital as fantasy was a dangerous business in those days.

                              I am the real Dorothy and I live close to the real land of Oz.
                                                              Flying monkeys
    Total cost of my golden realm- zero. Time taken for production- 4 hours.
   Tic-tok machines

             I arrive at my magic kingdom by cycling across a curving bridge that spans the sea
                                Witches quarry above. I can also walk on water here as you know
                                                           A hidden spy of the wizard
              The animals arrive as soon as I do and introduce themselves with little fuss.
The flying monkeys were double booked so I had to settle for geese- several thousand geese.
                                               They had a captain in charge to keep order
                                                             and he also had his spies
                                    The magical kingdom had towns and villages within it
                                   Mine does as well. Ben Lomond seen from Kilmacolm
                                   Quarrier's village and Luss hills behind. The Spirelands
                                                            A native of the Quadlings
                                                              Carpets of snowdrops
                                                                   Birdland Empire
                                                  Mount Zion. The Children's cathedral
                                                      Quarrier's picture postcard landscape
                                                           Geese on set having lunch
                                                            Greenhill country.Inverclyde
                                       The Green Water Landscape. Cycling heaven on earth
                                          Pastel ridges. Renfrewshire- Inverclyde heights
                                  The edge of the settled kingdom before the wild uplands begin
 A stargazy pie made by my good friend the witch composed of enchanted Prince's turned into frogs.
   Very tasty meal. She's a good cook but I don't like the way she spits out the eyeballs on the floor.
                                 That's not very genteel behaviour with a guest at the table
                                                      More geese arrive- (flying monkeys)
                                         And yet more arrive. my cast of thousands is here
                                    The Witches Castle. Dumbarton Rock and Ben Lomond
              The ridge lands of the "shire" My personal magic kingdom- and it's all free
                                                    My life is a fantasy sometimes
                                                        yet it costs next to nothing

                                             My name is Dorothy Gale and I do live in Oz

As it's a Wizard of Oz theme it's only right to have this song to complement the post. Two great musicians and a ballad that deserves to be up there along with Hey Jude, Maggie May, Hotel California, and all the other timeless classics. Yes it is that good. A modern wonder that should last as long as music is produced. A cautionary tale about the dangers of entering any magic kingdom. As I've not seen this number until now I never realised it was Julia playing the electric guitar
accompaniment as well as piano. Stunning live performance.