Sunday 27 July 2014

Dun Rig. The Glen. Tennant Estate. Peebles.

When Graeme suggested a border bagging trip near Pebbles I didn't need a second invitation as the scenery is beautiful in that district at any time of year. This is Neidpath Castle just outside Peebles.
A post from springtime when a carload consisting of Graeme, David, Sandra and myself descended on Innerleithen then Traquair for a walk up Dun Rig, 742 metres. We opted to park in "The Glen", the Tennant Estate, as it's a fabulous start to any hill if you manage to include a walk through the landscaped grounds of a grand mansion.

I visited here a couple of years back for the first time with Alex but I'm always happy to go back to areas I really enjoyed and this is one of them. We parked near Orchard Mains then set off on foot. It's a perfect backdrop for film locations or just for a wander around the estate. Tennant History Here.,_Scottish_Borders
This time we were able to explore the full length of this amazing landscape enhanced paradise.
Looking into the steep ravine containing Loch Eddy, a purpose built fishing pond complete with substantial wooden boathouse. Early morning mist just rising from the dew covered fields. The last visit was in the autumn so it was nice to see it from a different angle in spring.
Young swallow balancing on a wire in fairly breezy conditions.
Older, more practiced, swallows around the farm buildings.
Flowers on the estate.
The patchwork quilt scenery of the Border landscape. So different from the Highlands further north.
A typical Border view, with mixed woodland and rolling grassy slopes.
Yellow poppy, bright even in the shade of a large tree.
Water Aven. A beautiful lantern like plant that grows in wet areas, along clear running streams and ponds.
Walking back to the car with Sandra through the estate after climbing Dun Rig. Photographing the  estate was the fun part of the day obviously, for me, as I only took one photograph on the climb up the hillside. On foot, we were able to continue up this farm track until the last farm marked on the OS map, where a path ( marked on map) allowed us access up onto Dun Rig. Unlike the sheltered glen below, the upper slopes of Dun Rig provided us with a bleak, exposed summit so we didn't stay long up there in the wind and hailstones, admiring the views on the move as we hurried back down into warmer climes. In football terms it was a walk of two halves. Spring just turning slowly into early summer in the glorious depths of "The Glen" .... yet still a taste of winters icy breath up on the higher tops. A great day I really enjoyed.
A link here to the official Glen web site which has some great photographs taken within the grounds of this 5000 acre estate.

Video is one Alex found a while ago of the infamous El Chorro Gorge and its crumbling, vertigo inducing, walkway in Spain. It's meant to be closed and off limits until a new, safer path can be built along it but folk still attempt it even in its current condition. Sensational when watched full screen.  
Reputedly, one of the most dangerous walkways in the world now so a big tick on adrenalin junkies lists. I think I'll give it a miss until the new path is constructed. Best watched with the music turned down very low at it tends to irritate rather than enhance. Astonishing achievement to build this concrete ribbon in the first place when most of it travels across vertical walls of rock held in place by rusting metal supports and occasionally, wooden posts hammered hopefully into deep cracks.

Saturday 19 July 2014

Beinn na h -Uamha. In Wildest Ardgour with a Committed Bagger.

A perfect morning a few weeks ago saw us set off for another of Alex's epic Corbetts. Luckily, it was another fine day with high temperatures and hardly any wind forecast. This time it was Beinn na h- Uamha in the Ardgour heartland he was after. No one else seemed particularly keen to climb this one so it was just Alex and his long suffering friend - Fat Boab. As in the Ben Aden trip he could only fit one other person in the car anyway as both back seats had to be flattened for boat then bikes to be loaded inside. This view above of the Big Buachaille breaking out the clouds was only one in a long line of superb views of mountains looking at their finest with the early morning mist lingering in the valleys and the peaks in all directions soaring through this cloud base.

The Blackmount near Bridge of Orchy. It's a dirty job but someone's got to do it.

Seeing the cracks and lines on the Glencoe peaks so clearly put me in mind of the scrambles on the various cliffs a group of us used to do when we were working our way through " Scrambles in Lochaber", Noel Williams brilliant guidebook to easy rock routes in this area, climbable without a rope.
Some of them are roughly outlined here in this photo of the Buachaille Etive Mor. This guide still seems to be available from Cicerone and Amazon and it certainly opened our eyes to the routes you can climb on a mountain provided you have a good head for heights and decent balance, as well as the ability to follow the proper route in the guidebook as it took us into some amazing natural rock architecture with soaring pinnacles, caves and buttresses all around. You wouldn't want to stray off line mind you on some of them as they take you into some serious territory. Better to start off with the easy grades first and then build up your confidence in scrambling. This was our bible for over 20 years.

Our route and hill of choice led us over the Corran Ferry, near Fort William and Ben Nevis, but Alex's plan (he's always got a cunning one up his sleeve) was to dump the car this side thus avoiding the ferry fare and cycle in towards the hill. I didn't realise passengers and bikes go free across this ferry until he told me. Garbh Bheinn, 885 metres or 2903 feet. The second highest mountain in Ardgour after Sgurr Dhombnuill, 888 metres, 2914 feet. The only map I have of this area is an OS classic, well over 20 years old as it cost 44 pence brand new. They are up to £6:50 now with a Go discount card, which is still pretty good, and I see you can buy digital memory maps for the most popular hill areas now as well for around £70. Computer and 3 D interactive probably. This is for the super rich hill walker or gear freak obviously as I cant see it adding that  much to actually being there on the ground but I've not seen one in action yet and for £70 its got to be fairly impressive. Many modern cameras now have a built in GPS and Compass so no one should ever get lost anymore. Bit of a shame that as being lost, if only temporarily, is one of the biggest unsung thrills the great outdoors have to offer.

This is us cycling up the mainly traffic free main road from Corran to Sallachan where you turn off  up a farm track into the interior of Ardgour. One of our friends, who is also a Corbett bagger (they are breeding !!) had claimed this one recently, without telling Alex, until afterwards, which probably
 spurred him on. (Good ploy Mr B.)

 It is a beautiful run in over an old daisy covered bridge then down the south side of Loch Nan Gabhar on a rough track which the mountain bikes just about managed.(Incidentally, I watched the Tour de France bike race recently, (the Yorkshire section was amazing with big crowds, fantastic scenery and great support) but it was interesting to see a few in the crowd standing with their back to the race so that they can get a good selfie with the bike race a mere backdrop. It is something that is going to happen more and more as people now live in a virtual world with the real one becoming less important or less interesting. I've read plenty of science fiction books that predicted many of the things happing now 30 years ago and that was one of them. A lot of intelligent science fiction become science fact somewhere down the line. Young people will be able to do a multitude of tasks at one time but concentration levels and attention span focused on just one event will disappear. Roger Daltry of the Who said recently that people come to the shows now then either blog it back live, take endless selfies, or experience the whole event through a smart phone sending it out to other parties elsewhere. It's already a strange new world we live in now that is half real life and half virtual.

Meanwhile, back in the real world of Ardgour we were getting attacked by hundreds of biting clegs who call this boggy waste their home. Not for the first time in mid summer in the west highlands did I hear myself commenting - "how can something this beautiful be so grim."
It was around this point I got a puncture in my back tire but there was no way I was stopping to change it and get eaten alive by clegs.( a type of large determined cattle and horse fly that sucks blood and is probably the main reason, as well as midges, that highland cattle have a thick coat and a fringe hanging down in front of their face as without this they would be driven completely mad.

Our old friends the dragonflies were out in force as well, but they didn't seem to be eating enough clegs for our liking as there were still plenty around. Can't have one without the other I suppose.
I think this might be a  rather scruffy Redstart and a noisy one, kicking up a real racket for a small thing. (misplaced my bird book somewhere for the moment so it's just a guess.) In bird language it seemed to be saying
" What are you doing here. This is my area.    **** off! Think you're hard! C'mon ahead then! I'll peck your ******* eyes out pal!
It was not a happy little bird but maybe it was being hit by clegs as well and was just trying to get its own aggression out on someone else in the vicinity. No wonder I prefer spring to summer.

After about 4 kilometres of bumpy but stay in saddle track we locked up the bikes behind a tree just after the second ruined house and set off across a dry river on foot. The whole area seemed to be bone dry and windless with a lot of frogs and toads out searching for the last remaining few puddles. An unusual situation for west coast Scotland. Luckily, it rained two days later up here giving the poor amphibians some comfort.
Alex in wildest Ardgour, halfway up the hill. It was almost a carbon copy of the Ben Aden ridge but with a little less scrambling involved. Scorchio today though with a lighter breeze.
View back towards Glencoe.
Alex on the summit drinking orange. We nearly ran out of liquid up here as there was no drinkable water anywhere around, except back down in the lochs. Must have been close to 30c all afternoon. A hard day and a long one under a burning sun.
 The Great Ridge of Garbh Bheinn. I climbed this V Diff rock climb ridge years ago with Alex and others in big boots with packs on and on one occasion the midges were that bad we un-roped and scrambled the last part, preferring to fall off rather than suffer any more. We all wanted to do the classic rock route of the crag, the imposing Butterknife VS, but that was one dream that never happened and now we are all too old to shuffle up it. Such is life.

Great zoom into Rhyolite Romp on Aonach dubh (one of the Three Sisters cliffs on Bidean nan Bian)
which highlights this monster traverse line which is not particularly difficult but takes you across some serious and very exposed scenery high on the vertical walls of this impressive cliff guarding the western entrance into Glencoe. A route we last waked on this blog here.
Zig zags on Bidean's Gearr Anoach face near to the Lost Valley. Another good but easy scramble which is just really a walk up several twisting ramp lines to the top. Good in winter or summer at very little change in grade provided you have ice axe and crampons with you. Grade 1 only. One of the first scrambles we attempted in Noel Williams book.
Another cracking day out with uncle Alex. This is the hospital above Glencoe with the Mamore peaks behind it. I think he has 20 Corbetts to go now.
Although I enjoyed this walk, in retrospect, (I always do) the sheer effort involved, the relentless heat, the hordes of biting bugs, especially fixing the puncture on the return when they had a static victim for 20 minutes to get tore into, and the puzzling obsession of my fellow hill walker, which I refuse to share, to only enjoy things marked down on a list instead of a pleasant cycle ride around a cleg and midge free environment started to get on my nerves a little. "Why  the **** cant you enjoy easier pursuits?" I wondered, as I also like cycling and walking well away from the west coast hills, especially in the summer months when they are not that pleasant even to a dedicated masochist. I'm normally mild mannered but I started to crack up on this trip at his inflexibility as I always enjoy my solo bike trips in summer. To me enjoyment is what the outdoors is all about. The video below is my comment on what makes us tick.

Video this week is Donnie Darko and the song Mad World. A cult film which is memorable for the giant sinister rabbit that predicts the main characters death. A complex movie about time travel, worm holes, mental illness in teenagers and the large amount of powerful prescribed drugs routinely used in America then to control various mood swings and disorders in that group. Quite an influential film that introduced most of the general public to talented young brother and sister Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal and love interest in this film Jena Malone who have all gone on to carve out successful careers in the film industry. The long freewheeling bike ride down the mountains (seen only for a second in this clip) at the start of this film is one of  my favourite introductions to a movie ever as it just captures the sheer joy of cycling. The pedal bike. Still one of mankind's greatest inventions ever.
Well, on a tarmac road, when you can pedal fast enough to get away from the clegs.

Friday 11 July 2014

Ben Aden. An Epic Trip. Shriekback. Cloud Atlas Review.

Usual weather for the blue sky team saw us motoring up past Glencoe with fine views of the surroundings. This is Creise, just before Glen Etive, a mountain I've always fancied doing again. When you are bagging Munros, unless you are really keen, many only get one solitary ascent, and I fancied having a scramble up this mountain one last time as I remember it being good up the Glen Etive/ Glen Coe facing ridge.( route seen on the right hand side, above)

Ben Nevis north facing cliffs in bright sunlight. Not often you can say that. Looks spectacular in this light but the three hour walk into the base of the cliffs with a heavy climbing rucksack, (ropes, harness, rock shoes, etc.) always flattened my enthusiasm for summer rock climbs up here.
One of the mountains on Alex wish list was Ben Aden, 887 metres, or Beinn  an Aodainn to give it its proper title. This is reputed to be one of the hardest mountains to reach in the British isles as it lies in a remote part of Knoydart, deep in the interior, guarded and surrounded by lochs, empty peat bogs and largely trackless terrain. The last time we visited Knoydart, via Inverie, I was slightly disappointed how busy it had become in the intervening years with Munro bagging such a mainstream sport these days. (Many modern playgrounds have a miniature climbing wall that is rarely used by children)
I was also disappointed by the way Alex's tent is all erect and tidy in this photograph  and mine's always sags in the middle no matter which way I adjust the guy lines. Life is like that sometimes.
Alex always takes a good photograph from any angle... I don't. I used to know someone that was a mean, nasty, bad tempered, individual yet she always looked amazing in photographs, all sweetness and smiles, like a gorgeous Mary Poppins. She was a cat kicker as a child in secret.

After pitching the tents in the early evening we wandered down to the rocky shoreline of Loch Cuaich for a small fire among the boulders as the midges and bloodsucking clegs were bad. Alex had a bag of wood for burning so we didn't have to burn any bog wood. Some of it looked alive, like this poor skeleton creature above who seems in pain.
If you stare at any fire for long enough you can always see visions and then the flame creatures appear. Can you spot the woman in the top hat (the cat stamper grown up perhaps) or my unsuspecting little pussy above her head. (This is an unaltered photograph by the way.) Flame creatures are everywhere if you slow your life to find them. The history of our ancestors, all the great stories and sagas grew from flame watching. Beowulf was born in the flames of a fire age.
                                                             The landscape near Loch Cuaich.
In the morning, with hangovers from copious gurgling's of the water of life the night before we readied the boat as we were intending to glide down Loch Cuaich from our improvised campsite under Leac nan Gaidhseich all the way into the twin Dams at the far end, a distance of around 9 kilometres (18 return) and a considerable saving as the headland around Sron Lice na Fearna looked trackless and hard to walk around.
I was not impressed by our boats name as this creature spends as much time under water as it does floating on the surface. A bad omen in my opinion. In case of repercussions it shall remain nameless however.

It was a perfect morning, as usual, and even the appearance last night of the long forgotten cat stamper and baby throttler in the flames ( Cruella de Vil's evil daughter) couldn't dampen the spirits. It seemed a long way, even in Alex's magical flying carpet of a boat.

At the end of the loch, Ben Aden loomed above the blue waters, its summit appearing through a doughnut hole of early morning mist. This would be an exciting trip down the loch in windy conditions however as it's very exposed to the elements.
We picked a landing spot and disembarked into a low level forest of cotton grass, a lover of bog land environments.
Also plenty of these plants... the carnivorous alpine sundew which gets extra nutrients from it's surroundings in the shape of little flying creatures caught in its sticky dew drops. You can see some here.
As it was a magical environment we were in.... a dragon duly appeared. Another catcher and avid devourer of small flying things. I hoped a cleg would fly by and I could watch it being eaten alive slowly the way they were chewing into me all the way up the hill.
The wild lands at the head of Loch Cuaich. Still a true wilderness area... for now.
Slabby sums up Ben Aden. Exposed bare rock flourishes on this mountain, like the alpine sundews thrive on the bogs below.
A nice arĂȘte, at around grade one scrambling level if you keep to the rocky crest, led us eventually to the summit. The yellow x marks our start point just above the remote, sandy beach beautiful, and little visited Lochan nam Breac.
An entertaining ascent and as we climbed higher the breeze picked up and the clegs, the curse of summer in the Scottish west coast hills every bit as much as the midge for hillwalkers, fell away.
A view back to our wild campsite at the other end of Loch Cuaich.
The summit and an inversion over the Knoydart peaks. We met one other walker and fellow Corbett bagger who arrived on the summit having walked the full way in from close to our camping spot. He still looked remarkably fresh and it turned out he was a long distance hiker. The 26 kilometres round trip over mainly trackless ground was a mere stroll in the park for him. And he was older than us!! We met two other retired hill walkers at Loch Cuaich on the way back and they were notching up long hard days on the surrounding summits with a spring still in their step as well.
How come everyone we meet these days seems to be older yet fitter than us? It's not fair!
Mind you, I couldn't give up my fizzy drink, sugar drenched snacks, vodka, whisky, crisps and cheap meat based diet plan any more than Alex could give up cigarettes. One has standards on the hills to maintain!

The route down was the same as the route up, except steeper. " You wont like this next bit very much Bob. " Alex informed me looking down at a tricky steep wall with a rock pavement far below his feet for a landing    . He was right.
A great trip in a fantastic area. Could do with a wind farm though. I've got so used to seeing them from every summit these days I missed them dreadfully.
Video this time is a real stunner. I first heard of the band Shriekback when I watched the film Manhunter, the first in the Red Dragon series, and thought it was as good as the more famous Silence of the Lambs that followed it. Shriekback do moody and dark instrumental scores for films occasionally and "Coelacanth" was the standout track for me on Manhunter as it really matched the action onscreen. Great music can really enhance films but it doesn't happen as often as it should. 
The HD art work in this video is amazing. Probably the best images I've seen in this genre.
Should be watched full screen from the start.

Which brings me to Cloud Atlas. Against my better judgement, I purchased Cloud Altas (only £3 for a new film which says everything about the internet crushing fair prices for books and movies)
The book gets very good reviews online but anything that has six different stories taking place in different centuries is going to be hard to covert into a coherent film and so it proved. At three hours long and irritating switches between centuries, sometimes as short as six, minute long segments, spliced together, I lost the will to live long before the end. Especially with a gobbledygook language to learn thrown in for good measure. This is true, true! One of the reasons for watching it was the fact that Overtoun House above Dumbarton, setting for a recent post on this blog, was a star throughout the film.
The other was the fact that I'd actually watched Halle Berry, briefly, making her chunk in Glasgow around the same time that Brad Pitt was filming World War Z in George Square.(That's not a half bad film, as summer blockbuster zombie apocalypses go) 
See post on that day here
As it was filmed in several different countries with a big name cast it must have cost a packet to make which , when you watch the above video, only goes to show throwing money at a film doesn't necessarily make it a success. This vision above of a spectacular alternative world, similar yet different from our own, beats Cloud Atlas hands down.  Some of the best films I've seen have been small indie productions with a simple but great central idea.. like Juno.

Friday 4 July 2014

Ben Lui. Carol's Last Munro.

A few weeks ago I promised to meet up with Carol, a fellow blogger, at Dalrigh, just outside Tyndrum for her last Munro. As it was Ben Lui, 1130 metres, one of the great Scottish mountains of the Southern Highlands I hoped it would be a nice day. I was prepared to walk in the rain however with gritted teeth but it turned out far better than that... it was a spectacular day with just enough snow left on the mountain to make it interesting. Carol and Richard, her hillwalking pal on most Munro adventures,  had bikes in the car as did I. The three of us cycled in past Cononish Farm on a decent land rover track to eat up around 10 kilometres of route, there and back, which makes a big difference as I always remember it being a long slog on foot from this direction.
It is definitely the best way in though for views as the great central gully on the mountain with its twin horns, (the ridges either side of this) are seen to best effect all the way in. At the ruin of a farm just past Cononish we met Alan, another of Carol's friends who had walked in and was waiting for us to arrive. By this stage we'd left the bikes behind, chained to a fence just past the gold mine.

My vague intention was to attempt an easy scramble somewhere on the left hand ridge of the gully leading up to the summit and as luck would have it a band of lingering snow forced all four of us to take this line.
It turned out to be a good choice as it made a sporting though still easy scramble (around grade one) and the steep headwall and cornice topping the snow band looked a bit dodgy in the heat as we had no ice axes or crampons with us.
This is it seen from the ridge. I was surprised at the amount still remaining as most of the other hills had lost their snow weeks ago. Ben Lui is one of the higher peaks in the area though and the central gully is north east facing.
Loads of snow just past the cornice and a considerable crevasse behind that which looked around six to eight foot deep. The sort of natural feature you expect to see in the Alps not in springtime Scotland.
The plan was to hit the ridge lower down for a canter over to bag Beinn a Chleibh 916 metres. Only Carol and Alan did this while Richard and I headed for the summit of Ben Lui to await their return.
You can see our route of ascent and descent in the photo above.
There was plenty of interest on the summit to keep us occupied as it was crawling with what looked like crane flies. These insects have a remarkable life cycle living most of the time underground and only emerging for a brief period. Good short video here.

This looks very much like a cranefly although they are meant to emerge in the autumn for a few weeks but maybe different types have different life cycles. Always learning about nature which makes it such a fascinating subject. A right back leg seems to be missing here.

This tiny fly the size of my pinkie nail caught my attention on my sleeve. Looks almost wasp like in body shape but couldn't find it on the internet after a brief run though. Inspecting pages of creepy crawlies late at night though always give me the heebie jeebies as there are some really nasty specimens out there that see humans as nothing more than a  handy incubator for their young.
Nice patch of Moss Campion on the way up. This small plant used to carpet large parts of the Cairngorm plateau decades ago in spring but it is not so common  now up there as the moss cushions are easily damaged and it's harder to spot where they are under a layer of thin ice or snow. When Carol and Alan returned and bagged Ben Lui they were shattered but a few celebration  chocolates from Richard soon perked them up.
It was Carol's own choice to descend by the other ridge but I don't think she liked the drop much as the faint path weaved its way down through various bands of steep rock. Good for photos though :o) Alan stormed ahead at this point as he had to walk back out again and it was a long way.
The X in this photo shows exactly how far it was and I for one was glad we had the bikes. A great day with, thankfully, the sort of weather I'm accustomed to these days, and fine companions.
Congratulations to Carol for finishing the Munros in style with an excellent peak.

On a different matter my paperback book is finally out in the big bad world on create space and Amazon bookstore for £10.99. This is as low a price as I could make it at 500 pages and 50 plus photographs (black and white in paperback form) as I only get 79 pence a copy.( in case you think I'm raking it in at that price) Ideal weapon when dropped on unsuspecting spiders or clegs from waist height as a humane pest control and I've tested it yesterday.  Also makes a fine doorstop or table leveller. At a push you could even read it.
Video this week is a relaxing short ballad featuring two time world champion longboard surfer Daize Shayne. Elite sportsmen and women usually have a fluid grace about them that makes what they do seem easy and effortless. " Poetry in motion" could describe this. Sometimes its actually harder to surf well on a calm sea but not for this woman obviously.