Sunday 28 June 2015

Grisedale Pike.Hopegill Head.Ladyside Pike.Lake District. Lockerbie.

                                               ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN.
Although I didn't know it on the day, this turned out to be a sheep themed post. The herd of sheep in the main street running through Lockerbie, a town with a long history as a livestock market, particularly the lamb and sheep trade, hence these individuals taking pride of place near the town centre. Lockerbie is a small Scottish borders town around 30 kilometers from the border with England.
Lockerbie also has a beautiful Black Angel, in the shape of the town's war memorial. The reason why we were in Lockerbie I'll reveal at the end of the post.
It was a Lake District trip to climb the scenic horseshoe of Grisedale Pike, Hobcarton Crag, Hopegill Head and Ladyside Pike, a compact half circle of peaks between Cockermouth and Keswick. We had watched the usual forecast the night before but on this rare occasion Carol at the Met office let us down. Normally reliable for the last six years the BBC forecast promised no rain and sunshine all day but when we arrived at the car park in Whinlatter Forest near the top of Whinlatter Pass it was dull and cloudy, despite a noticeable breeze. Oh well, cant win every round with the weather. On the plus side the car park meter had been vandalized and was out of action, as this is normally a paying car park, but maybe someone had taken exception to the fact it's not in a town or village but in the middle of a upland pine forest with nothing else around it. I notice online the pay for parking in this particular area has a lively debate centered around it. I was here with Graeme, Alex, David and Bob R squeezed into a carload of five for this round of hills. As mean Scot's we were glad we didn't have to pay, which is normally an untrue lazy stereotype if you look at UK wide charity donations over the years, but in this case was a welcome surprise. I think it's £7 quid for an all day ticket. For a single person that is quite a financial hit- not so bad split between a carload. Part of the reason for that must be the mountain bike trails and various other modern attempts to turn the wilderness into a paying theme park which seems to be an increasing trend.
Off we headed uphill and soon reached the end of the forest and the start of the cloud level base.
Although not raining the air up here was damp. With heavy hearts used to constant sunshine on trips away we carried on, hoping it would clear. A small pine tree was passed, covered in Christmas decorations, a few of which had been blown off by the wind and were scattered untidily over the hillside. Another modern tradition it seems and an incongruous sight on a windswept misty hillside.
Alex sporting a colourful pair of trainers. The man has style!?  Not having looked up the route online, which would tend to spoil any sense of the unknown for me, I left it to Alex and Graeme to learn the route and any obstacles involved. For me the surprise element was the best thing about the day.
Grisedale Pike,791 metres, was duly climbed in thick mist then we carried on along the ridge, buffeted by an ever increasing wind to Hopegilll Head, 770 metres.
Although you couldn't see much we could sense a  large void on the right passing Hobcarton Crag. Doing the round of Munros so many days were passed like this, leading to a determination, in me at least, to only go up interesting summits in good conditions once I'd finished them and not get sucked into list ticking again just for the sake of it. Graeme is on his third round of Munros which I find hard to get my head around. A woman has just completed seven rounds, all accomplished since the first in 2005, at roughly one round per year which is some achievement. I confess I was bored with mist and rain just past halfway on my first and only round and got sidetracked into other sports for years but my ongoing interest in aiding, abetting, or rescuing stray butterflies and other creatures has never dimmed. Single minded in that at least. Windows into the soul they say, if you stare at them for long enough.
Graeme and David were not bothered in these conditions about doing the full round and turned back before the scramble leaving Alex, Bob R and myself to tackle the greasy slabs alone in playful winds. It is an easy scramble normally in good conditions at a sedate angle but provided good sport here as the slabs were damp with mist and polished and the breeze howling over the edge was bracing.
Bob R taking the lead. Oldest guy in the group going first, showing us the way.
As we couldn't see much and didn't know what was below us, drop wise, this was the most entertaining part of the ridge and the section we enjoyed the most. What horrors would we find buried in the gloom ready to...

Think this sheep got a bigger fright at the bottom judging by its expression. (On second thoughts I might rephrase that.)
Mountain slug.
A view across the valley/dale.
A view of the scramble down the ridge. We finished with a steep heather and grass descent into Hobcarton Gill off Ladyside Pike that was a knee buster and leg killer but got us down fast to pick up the path back to the car. Around 5 hours for the horseshoe.
These must be the cutest lambs ever. I believe these are Herdwick sheep and lambs. A famous and tough mountain breed used in the Lake District on mountain farms. The writer Beatrix Potter kept this breed on her farms locally and was a big champion of these sheep and you can see why.
Two bandits together. Like pandas in reverse colours. The lambs are born black and gradually turn white/grey as they get older, starting with the face. When the adults are completely buried under snowdrifts in winter they can still survive for several days giving them an endurance advantage in the upland regions here. The wool on the adults is tough and hard wearing so is usually turned into carpets rather than clothing.
We stopped off in Lockerbie on the way back for chip suppers.
Good chip shop seen here next to town hall, built in the late 1800s I believe. A great day out, despite the conditions. Still prefer sunny days and panoramic views though. At least it stayed dry.
When I returned to the house it was to find snails happily munching my green young plants, seeded in springtime for summer colour in the garden. After taking this photo it was thrown over the fence to feast elsewhere. Even a wildlife garden has its limits.

A Guide to Glasgow Outdoors by Bob Law just released on kindle bookstore for £1:99. Over 60 walks and cycle rides around the Greater Glasgow area. (most of the walks can also be done on a bike, as I did last year to make sure the details were accurate and had not changed.) City parks, country parks, riverside and gorge walks, upland routes and every other day out I've enjoyed on the OS Landranger Glasgow map Sheet 64 which covers a wide area around the city. Packed with 165 original colour photographs through the various seasons, many never seen on the blog, this is also a love letter to Glasgow and the surrounding towns and rural areas. Link here. The first section of this guide is free to view.

Video this time is a mommy bear climbing a near vertical canyon wall leaving baby bear to fend for itself. You can see one reason why bears need claws right here. No wonder they are endangered. Filmed by a kayaker going down a river system and finding this happening round a corner. Best watched full screen for the drama. I pinched this from Graeme :o)

Monday 22 June 2015

Kingdom of the Sun. Beecraigs.Rape Fields.Bing Country.The Big Four Captured.

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I'm always trying to push the envelope with my photography as far as my limited budget will allow for camera equipment and the surprise addition of a new camera after my old Lumix model developed a fault and I got a new free replacement might mean a jump in quality. See what you think with this one? I'm pleased with the increase in clarity and colour definition anyway. It has a couple of drawbacks, one being it's not as good in low light or sunset shots which the other model excelled at but seems better at straight landscape shots. Still getting used to it and managed to ruin an entire set taken in the Lake District recently as I just used my old photo card in the new one which didn't capture onto computer properly for some reason. Had to buy a new card before it worked.
Feral cat in my local park. Up close and personal.
Anyway, back to the old model of camera for these. At this time of year I always go on a solo cycling trip to visit the oil seed rape fields in the golden triangle between Falkirk, Bathgate and Kirkliston neatly defined on a map by the enclosing blue oval wall  of the M9 and M8 motorways. This is my Kingdom of the Sun, full of humid heat, vivid primary colours and wide open blue skies. At least it is anytime I visit it as I always pick sunny days and I will never grow tired of attempting to turn Scotland into my own personal version of a Mediterranean or tropical style climate. It can be done.
The sheer amount of bees and other insects in this rape field was impressive.
"Satan's slippers! That's a lot of bees." I  remarked to myself, edging cautiously along the edge of this yellow field for the above photo, all too aware of being stung half a dozen times last year cycling past opened up hives that a beekeeper was working on.

Although some folk may not believe it (G C for one.) it is well over six years outdoors in Scotland with only a handful of days out when heavy rain actually fell on us. Two wet days I can remember of persistent rain lasting more than an hour and a couple when a light shower made an brief appearance. This year, despite large amounts of snow falling on the greater ranges I have successfully avoided that as well except for a couple of dry but snow covered winter outings. It's been a good spring and summer for me personally and I've been in a tee shirt most of the day on numerous occasions already. Yellow gorse on the hills around Torphichen captured in above photo. I've had primary colour addiction all my life and still get an enormous buzz out of blue skies, sunshine, and a kaleidoscope of bold colours surrounding me. Instant and totally free feel good factor every time. This wizard's accessible and easy to reach OZ. These uplands are the only landscape in Scotland that can match Renfrewshire for glorious rolling scenery in a lowland pastoral environment. Arcadia in the here and now.
Rolling farmland with the Ochil range of hills rising up behind.
Hard work on a bike though as I intended doing all four hill summits between cycling bouts on the minor road network. This is a view of Cairnpapple Hill, 312 metres, seen from the largest bing at Winchburgh. As usual I parked at Beecraigs Country Park, which sits on a hill roughly in the centre of this mini kingdom with great views, near this mast. Car park is near the right hand edge of this picture.
Cockleroy summit, 278 metres, was next on my shopping list, locking up the bike at the car park under it before running up its rocky dome.
Binny Craig next at 220 metres. They might be small summits but taken together along with a 30km cycle ride they were enough to knacker this old duffer on a hot day. What keeps me going nowadays is the quest for great photographs rather than the thought of great hill ticks. We each have obsessions and motivations that keep us feeling alive and make the everyday struggle of life worth the effort. For me it's photography these days although I still enjoy my summits if I get a decent view from them.
Back on the bike and heading for big bing country near Winchburgh, with the volcanic shark's fin of Binny Craig fading in the distance.
This was where most of the oil seed rape fields clustered this year. As they have to rotate these crops you never know where they will turn up season after season and it's almost like a grail quest to find the yellow gold. Quite appropriate really as we are not that far from Roslin Chapel here and the ending of the Da Vinci Code.
Although I suffer from hayfever myself, and these fields can increase this supposedly, one benefit of getting older is a lessening of this debilitating condition which used to blight all my teenage summers as a wheezing, nose running, eye streaming child. I hardly get it at all now and learned long ago never to touch or rub my eyes if it does flare up occasionally. Not a joke condition for anyone seriously affected and I used to get a course of injections every year from the doctor to attempt to build up some resistance to grass pollen.
Bad news if bees get it as well as they are having enough problems on their own. Long ago the "Seduction of Flowers" captured them as pollen spreading slaves in exchange for nectar and pollen grains, perfectly seen here with this bumble bee forced to sit on its well placed cushion of pollen in order to get a nectar drink, then repeating the process many thousands of times during its short tiny life. I have a thriving bumble bee hive in my cellar at present and enjoy sunny evenings as a deck chair planet next to the flight path with a steady stream of bees whizzing past my nose in the garden. Bumble bees are the gentle giants of the bee kingdom and occasionally investigate me in my seat at close range circling my head like mini moons around Jupiter but have never showed any inclination to sting me although the cellar is off limits until the autumn and I took out all my grass cutting equipment when I first noticed them going in.They will sting you if you disturb them or accidentally breathe on the hive, which is not a good idea. This is my second year as an unofficial bumble bee keeper and I turned my garden into a wildlife oasis long ago, although there's not much room left in it for me these days, hence sitting so close to the cellar in my humble deck chair.
This spring my blog pals Alan and then Alex have followed suit with an impressive pond and waterfall each in their own gardens and a subsequent increase in wildlife visiting. Very important for our increasingly under pressure wildlife and a great asset to any garden if you have an enclosed space where young children can't enter. Drowning possibility in an unfenced garden for very young children or toddlers wandering in.
I of course have been a close friend of Persephone since childhood and she often trusts me with her fairy helpers. Damselflies seen here. Tiny dancers all. Graceful in flight beyond the reach of any human gymnast. 
Another of my bees.
Riccarton Hills in spring. Tee shirt and shorts by this time. Very hot and sticky cycling.
Fellow cyclist just ahead of me on minor road network. The City of Edinburgh, Winchburgh bing and Arthur's Seat in the distance.
Approaching the biggest bing in the central belt of Scotland, the waste product of many decades of shale oil extraction. With underground coal layers and a suitable geological profile this area is in the front line once again for potential fracking investment. Some of the old mines and tunnels however go down thousands of feet underground already and Scotland is a small populated country if things don't go to plan, regarding unforeseen water contamination or potential earthquakes. One for the local inhabitants to decide.
I love the big bing country. Unless I win the lottery cant see me getting to Australia or the USA again so this is my desert landscape. I've always had a fertile imagination and I never need a plane up here, just the ability to soar mentally on a sunny warm day.
Canyon Lands. Big bing country with a view of Broxburn.
The pea green/yellow lagoon. A favourite spot for gulls. Probably toxic for humans though. Breaking Bad Landscape.
Niddry Castle and Niddry Bing.
And a burning sunset to end the day. What an epic.

My third book is now out on kindle bookstore. A Guide to Glasgow Outdoors. £1:99 pence digital.
This contains every enjoyable walk and cycle ride I've done over the years on the OS Landranger Glasgow map Sheet 64. It has over 60 routes described from a couple of hours easy stroll to full day adventures and is probably the most comprehensive list of things to do outdoors in Glasgow ever assembled in one volume for that knock down price. City parks, country parks, riverside walks, hill trips and rural adventures from Balloch to Cumbernauld, Airdrie, East Kilbride, Larkhall to Stewarton and all points in between. Illustrated with 165 colour photographs, many of which have never been seen before as they were taken for the book only and not for the blog, if you like walking or cycling around this large area covered on the map this guide should prove a life long companion. No maps are included in the guide as the intention is you spend half a day with the OS paper map of Glasgow sheet 64 and mark them all in with pencil or pen yourself then the guide becomes a reminder and photo album/inspiration and the map alone gets taken whenever you go out. It's that simple and once done should last for decades. Younger folk can use GPS or smart phone technology but the simplest, cheapest and easiest method is this one and is all you need for many years of enjoyment. Most of the routes described can be walked or cycled and many are little known, except to locals living nearby. Put it this way... I wish I'd had this guide 40 years ago as it would have saved me years of solo exploration, wasted trips to poor walking areas and a great deal of money on magazines, other guides and untold handfuls of free leaflets lying around the house gathering dust and long forgotten.
Also good for folk who have lived in this area or are interested in Scotland as its packed with Scottish wildlife, city parks and countryside looking at its best throughout the seasons with some brief history added in.
Link here.

Friday 12 June 2015

Arran. Lochranza.King's Cave,Drumadoon Point. Skipness. Geocaching Day.

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Day two of our Arran Trip, after our day on the Arran Ridge, was a family affair. See previous post. Gail is a keen geocacher with over 6000 cache discoveries in Scotland and abroad and while I think its fair to say, husband John, seen here, and long time friend, myself, the invisible man ( Nae selfie. nae arrest in 5 countries) are not so committed to geocaching, it was a good way to explore Arran. Indeed on this trip we visited a few interesting places we'd never been before purely because there were geocaches hidden in out of the way places that we had no reason to explore on previous trips.
A geocache is usually a small waterproof box of metal or plastic hidden in the landscape with various trinkets or objects inside. Co- ordinates are then given to find them or you can plant your own. Locations can be as hard or as easy as you are capable of from mountain tops and caves to steep gullies, under bridges or remote islands. There is even one on the space station I'm informed.
Next day we had a trip over to the west side of the island to visit King's Cave near Blackwaterfoot. A 7 to 8 km interesting walk can be had here from the car park near Crochandoon with good views over to the isolated summit of Beinn Bharrain and Mullach Buidhe, 721 metres, seen here. There are around 7 caves on the coast at this point, sitting back a stones throw from the sea as they were formed when sea levels and the tide reached much higher in the past.
The entrance through to King's Cave. This has historical carvings in it, hence the metal gate in front, and may have sheltered Robert the Bruce, but a large number of caves in Scotland seem to be a magnet for famous refugees from persecution.
Inside King's Cave which is fairly large.
King's cave again, looking at the carvings of crosses, symbols and animals.
Flow stone in another cave nearby.
Yet another cave. Loads on this stretch of coast and several families with children were exploring here.
Drumadoon Point which has some good examples of columnar basalt, similar to Fingal's Cave on Staffa. We visited this area as well on the same walk following part of the newly created multi day coastal path round Arran.
Indeed our geocaching tour seemed to involve some of the highlights of this coastal route.
Sea pink or thrift.
Large armoured beetle. Many ground beetles have intricate layers of body parts that mesh together and are fascinating. I'm right into them these days as they are like dinosaurs in miniature or battle tanks with protective shields and plates and some have T Rex style predator jaws, alpha creatures in a mini kingdom of terror.
My favourite Arran village of Corrie came next where we visited Sculptor/Wood Carver Marvin Elliott and had a look at his workshop next to the small harbour. A great variety of interesting designs and carvings here in a range of styles using material washed up on the beach or found around Arran. 
Link here. Well worth a look at his collection and photos of previous art works.  I particularly like the real seal photos  happily relaxing beside the carved one at Corrie.
 With its beautiful little harbour containing a replica Scottish/Viking longboat and some quirky features, ie : pier bollards painted to look like sheep, Corrie has long been my first stop on bike tours round the island.
Glen Sannox next and a secret location.
More geocaching, this time exploring a deeper network of caves. Table and chairs in this one.
Gail banged her head off a low projection of rock in this one but was commendably restrained in  manner and vocal outburst as she had another box to show for her efforts and was more interested in that.
Deep part of the cave I'd crawled down into with a line to lead you back out again. Ever since I watched "The Descent" film years ago I always imagine creepy creatures sneaking up on me when I put the torch out in dark caves. Thank you for that image horror directors as I never had it before. A ghost Chalky for Jennifer Love Hewitt to whisper to in the dark. Or a supernatural Paris Hilton handbag dog. Take your pick. Creepy creatures all.
Tea with John and Gail. This looks suspiciously like "glamping" to my eyes. Poor Bobby's tent was very spartan by comparison. Only a sleeping bag, a carry mat, and rigorous self denial for a pillow. They had Danish pastries for breakfast, wine, bread and multi flavoured goodies for main meal while poor Bobby had to settle for a tin of European donkey chunks, blood and brains. 55 pence a tin. A bargain so I bought a crate!
Lochranza Beach.
Usual pink flamingo sunset we always seem to get at this time of year. Around £10 a head camping fees with good toilets, showers etc and no wild anti social behavior. It was a noisy campsite however as the F*** Y** bird was in fine voice right outside our tents from dawn around 3am until 9:00am when it probably went off to stuff its face with local caterpillars. Our cuckoo was joined by a nesting pair of hooded crows in the trees above the tent who cawed incessantly the rest of the time, taking it in shifts. The peace of the countryside in action but it did give me plenty of free time to read my Marc Bolan Book. Also found out my collection of early Tyrannosaurus Rex folk albums before the glam rock T Rex days may be worth something as vinyl records seem to be making a comeback.
Other meals consumed on this trip by the glamping pair were as follows. Fish and chips in the Lochranza Hotel 2nd night.
Me 2nd night. European Donkey chunks, blood and brains scoffed in the tent before pub. No alcohol either. It's the Devil's brew! A healthy lifestyle like my ancestors of old.

Last afternoon. Skipness Castle Area. Seafood delight each.
Me. Nothing apart from nature!
Bluebell woods around Skipness Castle.
Local news story. Lochranza rascal and village tearaway apprehended at last. The dog that is.
Skipness Castle visit.
Return via Loch Fyne.
A great holiday weekend. Only three more boxes of donkey chunks to get through. Happy days.

Something a little different for a change. Surprisingly catchy tune for an eco group I stumbled across a few weeks ago and an interesting video.