Saturday 27 September 2014

Skye. The Storr. Hartaval. Trotternish Ridge

Our second day on Skye saw us heading over to the main town of Portree which has everything you need as a hillwalker... shops, banks, pubs etc.
The destination today was two Grahams. The Storr, 719 metres and Hartaval, 668 metres, both of which were on the southern end of the Trotternish escarpment. Such was the lure of the Black Cuillin years ago that the only time we ever visited this area in our youth was as a wet weather alternative. Normally arriving here the mist was right down over the mountains and it was usually raining. The familiar image of the Old Man gradually looming out the murk was the best it ever got and the actual summit of the Graham cliffs remained invisible.
What a change therefore to see the hill in its full glory. It's a belter. Must be one of the best Graham's there is.

The path up from the car park to the cliffs was extremely busy with tourists but we soon left them behind.
Alex under the pinnacles.

The Old Man Of Storr and admiring walkers below it. There are a couple of rock routes up it to the top but they are pretty hard technically and are made worse by the loose and crumbly nature of the rock here. Very dangerous even for top climbers.

We were more than happy to walk past it. The route to the summit of the Storr and Hartaval skirts round to the right of the main cliffs then follows an obvious path up Coire Scamadal between these two Graham summits. It's just an easy grass path with no exposure but fantastic views.
The Storr summit cliffs side on from the path.
We headed for Hartaval first and any mist soon cleared to give us better views of the ridgeline. It looked a long walk to reach the Quiraing at the northern end.
Alex admires his summit. Hartaval was a nice hill in its own right.
We met a  young German guy who had walked from the Quiraing and then a couple of older folk. Other than that it was an empty landscape up here.
Coming back again to start up the Storr.

Once you are up there the view over the edge of these cliffs is mind-blowing. Dolomitic in scale.
A view of the pinnacles from the ridge coming off The Storr.

Another of the Old Man. We descended via an easy gully further along the ridge at the Bealach Beag  then contoured back round to the main path and the car. A 7 hour walking day and a magnificent outing. As we had dropped the tents and packed up from Uig our new campsite was going to be at Sligachan. Again good value at £6 and all the midges you could handle.

A view of Marsco, 742 metres, in soft evening light. The queen of the Red Cuillin despite being a lowly Graham.
Glamaig and the Red Cuillin from our tents in Sligachan campsite.

A fine view was had of the Black Cuillin as we walked down to the pub after eating our grub in the tents.
One thing that did annoy me greatly was the sight of so many false cairns everywhere near the river. This seems to be a growing trend recently and should be stopped. It's not nice and it's not clever to pile up stones! In my day we used to have manly cairns on the mountains just to denote summits but now its all this arty farty girly stuff and a trend towards expressionism and slim-line cairns! It must be stopped! Topple them I say! Attack, attack, attack... them all! Put your foot through them at every opportunity!!!
You would never get me altering the natural landscape in this fashion for my own amusement as it just detracts from the beauty of the surrounding mountains which need no adornment whatsoever. Bah and Humbug!
See photo below!

Video this week is another film as there seems to be an absence of good ones recently in the cinemas.
You can pick this up for £3 in most supermarkets and it's a cracker. Throughout human history rich and power hungry individuals have routinely used those less fortunate for their own ends. This film asks the question if you were ruthless enough and had money to spare would you take the back up opportunity that genetics offer in the modern era with the DNA genie already out the bottle or would a moral conscience prevail? One for our near future in cold reality. A smashing story simply told and great acting from the three leads make this a compelling watch and a real emotional journey. A five hankie job at the end and even stone hearted me had a lump in my throat and man grit in both eyes as the end titles rolled. Unforgettable, haunting and beautiful throughout. Wah!

Thursday 25 September 2014

Uig. Skye. Clisham. Tarbet. Harris Trip.

Strange but beautiful light conditions on this three day trip to Skye and Harris. Alex was keen to bag some more Corbetts and I was keen to see Harris and Skye again.

The mountain scenery on the drive up resembled a Japanese watercolour ... full of subdued pastel light that made the surroundings seem even higher and more impressive passing under the Five Sisters of Kintail near Clunie Inn on the way to Skye.

The Forcan Ridge on The Saddle looked amazing. I always like conditions when soft ridge after ridge fades into the distance yet it's still warm and dry. An Indian Summer. Two weeks of sun kissed autumnal luxury wasn't to be scorned in Scotland, land of the dripping sun, so we headed north quickly before the rain came back.
Uig Campsite on Skye. £6  per tent a night and good toilet facilities,with free showers which was great value. We even managed a couple of pints each in the pub. Two pints and a packet of crisps. £8. No wonder folk drink at home these days. You can buy an eight pack of discount cooking lager for that... and a six pack of assorted crisps.

We stayed out of the pub long enough to see a memorable sunset which wouldn't have looked out of place after a desert dust storm due to the hazy light.

We also found time to wander round the metropolis of Uig. It's where the ferry leaves to cross to Tarbet on Harris, which is why we were there.

The other half of Uig from the pier.
In the morning it was still hazy but fairly warm with nice reflections and a complete lack of wind. Cue Midges. God, they were bad... and as we hadn't camped since the spring we both forgot midge repellent and midge nets. I had a £3 pound head hood sitting unused in the house from Go outdoors ( product placement- where's my fee?) and a full bottle of " "zap em hard" sitting in the same cupboard. I'd also forgotten my fold up cutlery set and had to eat all my meals with a tent peg.
A plate of spaghetti, mince and peas on the first night proved time consuming but rewarding.
Tarbet on Harris in the Outer Hebrides. I'd climbed Clisham before around 20 years ago, also during a mainland summer heat wave and it had snowed on the summit ridge while the rest of Scotland boiled. Harris is like that. Fickle weather this far north.
Tarbet itself seemed much cleaner and nicer than I remembered it. A new distillery is being built on the outskirts which might give the locals some extra income.
We jumped on the bus round to Clisham, Alex free bus pass, me £2:70 pence one way. Got off at second car park at the top of the pass and headed up the ridge. The weather this time was warmer but still misty near the summit. The midges must have got the same bus as us as they were present at every step up the hillside.
The summit of Clisham came first then the ridge to Mullach- Fo Dheas and Hartaval.
Partial views of a hazy but nice looking ridgeline. Very impressed with the mountains on Harris. First time I've seen them dry.
Only met two other walkers. A young couple.
Returned off the back end of the ridge making for the path leading out to the old whaling station chimney.
 9:40 am departed Uig on Ferry. 11:40am get bus in Tarbet. 12:00 noon start walking up hill. Midge must have been on bus with us. Step- bite- step all the way up. Six hour hill walk. No stops without tiny teeth attack. Bus back to Tarbet. Ferry back to Uig. In Tent by 10:00pm. Midge follow us back.Waiting for us inside tent. Kill! Kill! Kill! with spare socks rubbed frantically on fabric. No midge. No Biting. Happy at last. No pub. Tent peg cold beans and sausage into open mouth straight from tin. Toilet duties and clean teeth. Scratch assorted bites. Dark. Fall asleep. Alex snore from his tent. Me snore back from mine.
Alex on the minor road back from Clisham. A happy man gets his Corbett tick.
Video today is a memorable mood creation from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Although one of the greatest books and film adaptations of modern times a lot of people have still not seen it due to it being "a fantasy film."
The First and Second World War, Medieval life and battles throughout Britain and Europe, Norse and Anglo Saxon myths and sagas. Hitler, Mussolini, and Churchill. Nazi storm troopers and the Blitzkrieg. Greed and Addiction. Concentration camp victims. It's all in there under the surface... just transported to "Middle Earth" and a different setting.
Same with Game of Thrones which seems to be an American reimagining of Medieval Britain and Hadrian's Wall with added dragons. That is based initially on real events as well with an extra twist. 
Anyone who has watched someone close to them slowly pass away with a wasting illness will recognise that look at the end of their life when they just give up eventually, in Gollum's eyes, surely one of fantasy literatures greatest characters. Just a fantasy film? I think not.
Beautiful Lyrics and Music to this melancholy song which sums up the essence of the conflicted individual perfectly in a few words...

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Ireland. Donegal. Last Day. Malin Head. Wild Atlantic Way.

On the way to Prestwick Airport via Glasgow Central Station I popped into the Goma to see what was on and was pleased to see the statue outside now had two traffic cone hats. A smaller summer themed one for the horse and the usual model for "The Dook". The generosity of Glasgow folk knows no bounds.
If you think this is no way to treat The Duke of Wellington and his faithful galloper the other statues in nearby George Square may disagree.

"Damn! Here's that dirty one legged shitehawk back again. Wish I was Wellington!"
Over in Donegal the murals are somewhat different from Glasgow. Bobby Sands and Che Guevara. I've seen the film "The Motorcycle Diaries" which was very interesting, scenery and culture wise , all about Che Guevara's early life. (He came from a politically minded family of Basque and Irish descent)
As those who read this blog will realise I'm not politically minded myself and with only one day to go to the big Scottish decision I have carefully weighted up all the evidence presented and decided I'm back to being undecided again. I prefer the feeling of being undecided instead of knowing who to vote for as people that come to the door ask you more questions if you sit on the fence. Between the strident shouty Yes's and the doom and gloom negative No's the quiet dignity of the undecided campaign shines out like a beacon of light yet their numbers are shrinking every day so I thought I would give them my full support. I don't get out much midweek and people are not usually this concerned, coming to the door asking for my views and opinions. In fact I've often been told in the past to keep my views and opinions to myself so its refreshing to give them an airing to passing strangers. I even had a guy from southern England, judging by the accent, canvasing round our scheme for some reason. He looked a bit jumpy when his mates left him to go indoors across the street into a block of flats but I soon had him occupied showing him my serial killer photo album and WWII commando dagger collection.
It pays to be polite and it was the same tactic I used to use when the Mormons  came around years ago to save my soul for Jesus. I'd usually tell them I felt compelled to embrace the dark side instead and was drawn to the plight of the fallen angels in the bible as everyone likes to root for an underdog.
" I already like spending time with fallen women a lot so I'll probably like fallen angels as well."
It was an honest, considered opinion but sadly, they didn't see the world through my eyes.
Anyway, Malin Head is on the shipping forecast and is the most northerly point on the Irish Mainland at the tip of Donegal. It was Graeme's idea to go here which worked in well for the forecast as it was still unsettled and murky over the mountains though the wind had dropped. Malin Head, being out on a low peninsula jutting into the Atlantic Ocean, is one of the sunniest places in Ireland.
Some of the beaches facing west around here are unusual in that they are not made of sand but uniform fist sized pebbles, and semi precious stones like Jasper, quartz and agate can occasionally be found among them. This serrated peninsula also boasts some of Europe's largest sand dunes although we didn't explore them on this trip.
A large tower sits on the headland, built during the Napoleonic war to defend the coastline from invasion. Beside this the main car park is found up a narrow winding road to the tower. A coffee and soft drinks van and a tourist souvenir stall complete the picture. Views from here are panoramic but once again most folk did not stray far from their vehicles. After a long drive to get here a half hour stop was enough for most then it was back in the car for the long drive back again.
Despite an obvious well made easy trail and a glimpse of rugged coastline from the car park most folk spent an average of 20 minutes here and stayed near the tower as if trapped by magnets.
If they had children an obvious draw was to write your name on the grass in pebbles before you left. An earlier non internet version of a selfie.
It was a lovely day, warm and sunny but only around 5% per cent of visitors could be bothered doing the half hour easy walk to the real Malin Head. The same thing happens in most countries worldwide yet the same folk probably spend money on exercise equipment or Gym membership to get fit then lapse after a few weeks because it's boring. Maybe nature is boring to them also? It's certainly a mystery to me why so many never explore further.
Anyway, here's what 95% of visitors to Malin Head miss out on. Maybe if they know it's out there they might be tempted to walk that extra half hour. Marion, Graeme's girlfriend, was with us today on her day off and she was right up for exploring around here, forging into the lead along the path.
Cattle on a hilltop near the sea cliffs.
Graeme and amazing cliff scenery ten minutes walk from the car along the white path.
A large sheltered cove.
The real Malin Head. The furthest point north in mainland Ireland. Marion and Nathan admire the view.
The Great Stack at Malin Head. An amazing sight. Probably the most impressive sea stacks of the trip. Spotted a few gannets flying around this area so maybe it has gannets nesting nearby in spring.
Easy walking across short grass to get here. 30 minutes from car park.
On the plus side we had it all to ourselves apart from a few other folk. So much of life these days is merely following the herd, even walking seems to be about fashion and how "in" it is perceived. Music has been largely tamed and wrapped into neat packages with little of the bold experimental approach of the 1960s - 1990s. artists. The Scottish Munros are packed out in good weather with rapidly eroding paths yet you hardly see a soul or any evidence of footprints just one hill away on a Corbett or Graham. Still the preserve of bearded weirdo loners and donkey molesters. Selfies, ice bath challenges and other daft crazes come and go while some of us just groan and scratch our heads in bewilderment. If I even get a whiff of a craze starting my natural instinct is to move up the grass in the opposite direction. This little black sheep has always avoided what the main flock are up to at any given moment.
A scramble over the limestone knife edged extremity got us within touching distance of the true limit of Malin Head.
The jaggy end of the mainland.
or is it?  Always a little further.
Limestone erodes into shark fin splendour here.
A great place.

Malin Head is also the start point (or end if travelling south to north) of the Wild Atlantic Way. A 2,500km (1,500 mile) drive along Ireland's wildly indented west coast from Donegal to Kinsale, County Cork. The longest defined ocean coastal drive in the world , the newly erected road signs of which (WW) had puzzled us last year when they suddenly popped up around Donegal.
This video is a bit Tourist Board orientated  but still spectacular and really highlights the full power of the North Atlantic Ocean rollers crashing against Ireland in the winter months. As it's brand new few folk are bagging it yet. Just the way I like it :o)