Sunday, 25 January 2015

Meall Dearg. A Graham near Aberfeldy.

                                               ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN
A Saturday trip up north this time saw myself, Alex, Graeme, Grant and David head up as a carload of hill walkers to the Graham just south of Aberfeldy, Meall Dearg, 690 metres or 2263 feet, and its outlying top Creag an Loch, 663 metres. The snow was deep and crisp and uneven up here with a forecast of clear skies but a windchill factor of -20 below on the heights, once on the snowfields. About a 20 miles an hour wind blowing steadily in exposed places so we had full thermal gear on all day. Graham: a Scottish  mountain between 2000 and 2500 feet high.
The track in was sheet ice covered in a few inches of snow, where I managed to do the full banana skin fall, heels in the air, landing flat on my back on the ice. Luckily, my rucksack took most of the impact but it was a sore one. Saved the camera as I had it out at the time but a keen photographer never drops his guard.... or grip:o) These hills and this high upland road through Glen Cochill (A826) seems to be a popular skiing destination in winter as a few other cars with cross country skiers arrived to take advantage of the network of forestry and upland tracks leading onto the surrounding mountains. We parked near Loch na Craige to take advantage of a track through the forest leading towards our hill.
Away from the track, see photo above, snow covered the landscape, where deep hidden holes lurked to trap the unwary. Graeme sinking up to his thigh in this one. At least it was a dry hollow.
Falling into this other one would be like dropping into a waist deep, half frozen, slush puppy. Not pleasant and potentially dangerous at the start of the day.
As we climbed higher onto the plateau the frozen snow held our weight more often and we didn't crash through it so much, which can be very draining, energy wise. Scotland lies at the same latitude as parts of Alaska and Hudson Bay in Canada and away from the effects of the coast and Gulf Stream temperatures the weather conditions can be brutal. Low winter sunlight didn't provide much heat and you wouldn't last long up here in the event of an accident. Every time I took my gloves off to take a quick photograph it took at least ten minutes to heat them back up again.
Climbing ever higher. Cute ice crystals sparkling in this one.
Nice wind blown snow patterns in this shallow gully filled with deeper waist high drifts. The secret is to avoid these areas altogether and walk up the firm ridges and sections where the snow will take your weight. Easier said than done in some cases.
Avoiding frozen bodies of water is also advisable as many folk have crashed through into snow covered lochans in the past during white out conditions and not even realized they had water beneath their boots. A lot of ancient "Coffin Roads" lost a body or two and some of the bearers this way giving you an idea of how brutal life was in the Scotland of old. Wolves were feared and hated then mainly because they dug up fresh bodies and left them for scavengers after they had eaten their fill so clans often buried their dead on islands in lochs to avoid this fate and would travel miles carrying coffins over the hill passes to do so. Loch Fender, seen here, with mini ice bergs in it, still half frozen.
Very interesting article here on the last of the roaming wolf packs in Scotland, the demise of the great wood of Caledon that stopped the Roman Army in its tracks and the gradual change to the desolate barren wasteland we think of as "natural Scottish wilderness" today. Only a lonely handful of ancient yew trees scattered in otherwise bleak, empty glens are old enough to "remember" the lynx, the brown bear, the wild boar, the elk and the wolf running or sheltering under their branches.
 Graeme and David with what looks like Schiehallion, a popular Munro at 1083 metres, looming in the background. Several large wind farms now ring this empty quarter but one in particular annoyed me as it stood in the way of superb wild views to the Northern Munros. The Beinn a Ghlo range and several others in the distance.
I've always suspected large wind farms are just another license to print money and a tax dodge, like the blanket forestry plantations over the flow country or the shares issue, both several decades ago. If they are, doubtless the tax payer will pick up the bill to remove them ... or even worse... they prove too costly to remove and we are stuck with them forever, once they break down, as permanent eyesores in the environment. I,m not scientific enough to know the full truth of whether we require them or not... few are outside of the scientific community itself. Here's an interesting short link however with a few details folk might not be aware of about "Harmless Green Energy."
It's a complicated topic with strong opinions on all sides and hard for any non academic to understand. Personally, I don't mind them in bleak, desolate areas that are scenically uninteresting anyway, or land covered in man made blanket conifer plantations already devoid of most forms of wildlife. However, most of these obvious areas have been grabbed by turbines already so they are now starting to intrude on the types of landscapes that tourists and UK visitors pay good money to see.
If they are not harmful to birds flying into the blades in poor visibility... why the legal challenge?
 From my own point of view, as a frequent hill walker around Scotland, mainly south of Glencoe (Truth is, I cant afford the petrol these days to go further north in my own country :o) there are very few occasions now when wind farms do not spoil the view, often in two directions at once. It's getting increasingly harder to take a photograph showing Scotland's beauty without a wind farm in the picture somewhere.
Three short articles from one newspaper in the space of a five minute search under "Scottish wind farms" so people are increasingly concerned over this issue. Given the speed of construction and the sheer number of applications (which is why I suspect a rat regarding value for money over the long term) it may already be too late.

Nearing the summit slopes of Meall Dearg after a canter across the windswept upland plateau. Brutal winds and freezing conditions meant we were all glad we had avoided the higher Munro summits today.
Getting there....
Coming back down, descending icy slopes.
Canter out to the road and looking forward to being warm again.
A last hurdle. As we came down by a circular route we had a burn to cross at the end. Far better to have wet feet at the end of the day rather than at the start. A grand energetic outing. Winter has definitely arrived in Scotland.

Still continuing the traditional folk music theme here's a suitable video. In the 1980s I was a big fan of east coast social rebel Dick Gaughan, went through to see him perform in Edinburgh pubs and venues, and still have all his early albums. Powerful singer and magical guitar player. This is from his classic Handful of Earth album. LP of the year way back in 1981. My own favourite though is his first album from the early 1970s  No More Forever, which is less political, just full of great traditional folk songs.


Neil said...

That looks like a great winter walk Bob. I managed to do this hill just before they started putting the wind farm in. It was a great view to Schiehallion then, not so good now by the looks of it. Another wild bit of land ruined.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Neil,
Yes, the snow really made a difference as I like scenically dynamic hills normally and I,m not too keen on forestry plantations but given the depth of snow an easy track leading halfway up the hill was a bonus to follow.
Wind farms are getting out of hand. There will soon be no views left in the country without one visible in it.

The Glebe Blog said...

I know what it's like to fall through snow covered ice Bob. I was young and fit so never came to grief but it was scary.
My last climb in the snow was Benyellery and I never even made the top.
Fabulous winter pictures on this post.
On your 'Yew Tree' memories of long gone animals you missed out the Beaver. Even now it's limited comeback is causing some heated debates.
Regarding renewable energy, I'm not against progress, but It's like you say it's all to do with the money.
Maybe we should take heed of Joni Mitchell when she says "Got to get back to the land, set my soul free.
We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon,
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden."
I only got to know of Dick Gaughan through my dad who was a big Boys of the Lough fan.
I got two of his later Boys of the Lough albums after Dick had left.
I think I'd like to listen to him on the Songs of Ewan Maccoll, I remember Tony Capstick singing back in the 80's on local radio talikng about the album

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Jim.
See they have some beavers in England now but I cant see the wolf, bear or Lynx making a return to the UK with sheep and cattle around.
"Woodstock" I used to have all Joni M's early albums on tape and a few of Ewan MacColl's as well. Ironically, I prefer the old folk ballads to the more modern political stuff as they usually have more interesting lyrics and stronger tunes.
Some yew trees are believed to be over 1000 years old. What sights they must have witnessed.

Carol said...

I like windfarms actually - unpopular as it makes me!

Great photos there. You're right about falling in the 'slush puppy' hole - so many people don't realise how serious it is to get cold and wet at the start of a mountain day - or lose a glove or something!

I had a fall with my SLR camera yesterday too - I slipped and upended into a deep ditch - I think the camera's okay. Of course, I won't know until I get my next film processed after I've taken more photos.

Carol said...

I'm amazed they're re-introduced beavers to Scotland with the current problems with lack of natural trees. That will ensure they never return!

blueskyscotland said...

Hello Carol.
"Nukes! Nukes are the future! Nuke em all to hell!!" Dr Strangelove.

Yes, I always carry two pairs of gloves and two hats in winter just in case I lose or soak one set. You can never have enough fingers. Useful things to keep on your wrists at all times.
Knapdale is the one area of Scotland with loads of forestry but I cant see the beaver in the long term being too popular with landowners as they change the landscape too much.

Carol said...

There was a TV programme on fairly recently from somewhere in eastern Scotland - could have been Cairngorms/Monadhliath I think - that said there had been some beavers re-introduced there and they'd completely altered the floodplain. The farmers weren't happy about it!

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
Could be the River Tay as I know there are well over 100 living along Scotland's longest river. No one knows how they got there... or no ones telling anyway :o)
They have been there for years now living under the radar until recently.