Friday 27 November 2015

Luing. Seil, Easdale.The Slate Islands and Oban Trip.

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November tends to be a dull soggy month of rain, mist, poor visibility, flooding, occasional snow showers... and on grey overcast days it can be too dark to see indoors by 2:30 pm in the afternoon. I don't like November much. Usually, a month to be suffered rather than enjoyed.
Alex had been busy for weeks planing an old pal's bothy weekend trip but with families, work commitments, social obligations and a whole host of other things getting in the way, trying to organize a date everyone could agree on was proving difficult.
Eventually, we settled on last weekend and luckily the weather gods were on our side. It turned out to be a spectacular event and one of the best trips of this year, people and photography wise.
As the Saturday morning was grey, overcast and cloudy when we arrived in the Oban area, after an early rise and sunny drive up from Glasgow, Alex suggested exploring the Island of Luing (pronounced Ling) just south of Oban and reached via the "Bridge over the Atlantic" onto Seil Island. At the far end of Seil lies the narrow Cuan Sound, seen here, and the Luing Ferry. Room for passengers and about 5 to 6 cars for the short trip over. Around £13:50 to cross with car and 3 passengers in 2015. So we did.
This cute friendly dog with its squeaky toy is a familiar local sight. It loves that wee blue bird and enjoys chasing after it when you throw it. It's also intelligent and drops it at your feet then backs off calmly, waiting to retrieve it. I don't enjoy throwing objects for over eager excitable dogs that dive in and almost bite your fingers off as soon as you bend down to pick up any dropped object. This dog is not like that. Smart cookie. A perfect mutt for me. Mind you, maybe it's completely addicted to this simple pleasure and on busy days it's run ragged with well meaning folk throwing its toy around.
The Cuan Sound and Seil-Luing Ferry from our hill. Obviously, the reason Alex suggested this island was to bag the high point on it at 306 feet above the village of Cullipool. Not a lofty summit but one with great  panoramic views over dozens of west coast islands. It was a grey cold day but we could still see a fair distance from the summit.
One of Alex at the top with a view over to the high, rugged and remote island of Scarba. With no regular ferry service and only a private lodge and very limited facilities on this island, ie none, few people ever get to visit Scarba unless they have a kayak or boat. Still a truly remote location in this modern age.
One of Belnahau and The Garvellachs, famous for their hard to reach ancient bee hive cells built for monastic hermits escaping the harsh realities of mainland life for another kind of spiritual spartan existence on the fringes of society. Yet occupied at a time when travel by boat was the fastest method to get around.
 Belnahau is one of the four Slate Islands consisting of Seil, Easdale and Luing, heart of the Scottish slate industry for around 200 years, exporting roof slates to all corners of the globe during the 18th and 19th centuries and a source of employment on the islands up until the 1950s-1960s. A massive storm swamped the quarries on Belnahua which was then abandoned as demand for slate declined, and another small island is no longer visible as it was dug into so much the remaining perimeter edges collapsed and it drowned forever under the waves.
One of a ship (Ferguson) passing Fladda Lighthouse. Many years ago I explored this area by kayak during dead calm conditions but it can be a dangerous area with several strong tidal rips between the islands which will easily pull you under if inexperienced and you go out too far into the main channels. Ferry and large boat wakes can also travel long distances and hit you without much warning, as I found out crossing to Inch Island. As I was usually on my own during these trips (solo kayaking is never a good idea for anyone and I don't recommend it) I mainly explored the nearest islands close to the mainland or hopped short stretches between island groups. Looking back at my own level of ability then I'm lucky to still be here but as always I was caught up in the passion of a new sport and health and safety was not as prominent an issue as it is today. Exploration and excitement first- safety and staying alive last. Don't  recommend that either. I did have a life jacket but no phone or boat radio to call for help in those far off days of innocence and heartbreak. Lack of funds and stupidity were my constant companions.
Easdale and Inch island. One with a village community- one uninhabited.
The steep cliffs and mountains on Mull, one of the largest west coast Scottish islands along with Skye, Harris and Lewis, Islay and Arran. Melting patches of snow on the higher slopes here.
We also managed a walk along the coastal path north of Cullipool to see the abandoned slate quarries. In places this path has been eroded away by the sea and some mild scrambling is required now. Slate in this area was once sediment on the sea floor 500 million years ago then changed by enormous continental plate pressures into sandstone or mudstone then raised above the waves to form compacted beds easily split by hammer and chisel into thin layers. It's an interesting coastline for geology with many different rock types on show.
Wandering under the quarry cliffs. Myself, Alex and John on this trip.
A collection of beach pebbles on slate bedding.
A sea eroded dyke still remaining near the beach.
The dyke from a different angle.
Looking across at Seil Island from Luing. Noticed a few owls here out hunting in daylight due to dull skies and heavy rain cutting short their night time opportunities. The same abilities that make silent flight possible means their feathers are not waterproof and the owls chill quickly once soaked. They can only fly properly in dry conditions and will hunt in daylight if pushed to do so and it's not sunny.
No decent photos though as too far away or too fast to capture clearly though I did get a few blurred images.
Looking down at the islands around Poll Gorm and Glas Eilean.
Descending into Cullipool, one of the main villages on Luing with a good cafe/ restaurant/ visitors centre complex where we ended up for lunch. It's the building reflected in the flooded slate quarry seen here.
A village street on Luing. Presumably, originally slate miners cottages.
Walking in the direction of Easdale along the coast. A cold raw day.
Old Jetty at Easdale island. A small passenger ferry takes you out to visit this community. Popular with visitors in the summer months. Princess Diana's mother, Frances Shand Kydd made her home on Seil island for several decades from the late 1960s until the early 2000s when she died, aged 68.
A last view of Scarba. It was now time to visit Oban then walk into our bothy to meet the rest of our companions.

Here's a great short video of a micro-lite flight over Seil island, the flooded slate quarries, Atlantic Bridge, Luing and Easdale. Fantastic views watched in full screen.

Friday 20 November 2015

Light from Stars. Sunsets. Painting with photography.

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Something different this week as I like variety. In my own small way I try to stretch the boundaries of photography. Not in a technical sense as I'm not that way inclined and haven't the money for sophisticated equipment or the patience and ability to set up complicated engineering projects to capture unusual images. I'm more of a be there in the moment person and just try to capture that.
Painting with photography is something I've had a go at over the last year so here's a small collection of my efforts.
Letters in the clouds. A real one that formed as we watched. With spectacular sunsets throughout October and November I've been visiting small hills within the city when I think the sunsets or lighting effects will be at their best. Often it's after a rain storm, just at nightfall, when the moist air, dark clouds and clear patches combine.
To cover the ground I use a bike or take my car around the north west of the city to reach my usual set of viewpoint drumlins. Cycling in the dark, even in semi familiar areas is exciting but also dangerous as it's harder to see the potholes and hidden dips in the road. I find November is generally a very grey, dark and depressing month anyway and sometimes leaving the house at dusk for a couple of hours is the most colourful time.
A photo taken near Trinley's house. Like me she grew up on a hill with great views across the city.
The romance of starlight. The greatest free slow-motion fireworks display as each tiny square across the city is illuminated one by one.
And planes pass overhead cycling along the canal.
Ra descending. For girls who love the dark and all the creatures that live within it.
R.I.P. Leviathans of the modern age.
Mirror image.
Masters of the sky. But which one?
Sad moon.
Painting with photography.
Glasgow Street after rain storm.
The shadow lands. The time of day when objects are seen or half seen... or only imagined.
In the half life of shadows.

Had this interesting and unusual film in my collection for years and watched it again recently. Enjoyed it even more the second time around. Great wildlife footage shot by Timothy Treadwell, a young eccentric who lived uninvited every summer in the wilds of Alaska with untamed grizzly bears in the Kodiak Island region, sleeping in a small tent next to them, usually alone for months at a time with just a pointed finger for protection. Surprisingly, he lasted over a decade before he was eventually eaten, along with his girlfriend, by an unfamiliar and hungry bear and the German film maker, Werner Herzog decided to make a documentary about his remarkable life. Werner Herzog films tend to be extraordinary and very different anyway ( Fitzcarraldo, Aquirre, the Wrath of God ) and this is no exception. As much a fascinating look at human phychology, psychiatric behaviour ( unlike most people he had no fear of bears or much else in nature) and what drives certain individuals to do unbelievable things, previously considered impossible, as most experienced veterans in the area didn't think he'd last a year without a gun. Also just predates the internet age by a few years and the modern trend for anyone to be the star of their own production online but shows what can happen if you take any obsession for anything too far. Here's a short clip from the film.
PS... The internet being what it is his death tape appears to have made it online but I've never heard it or been interested in watching anything like that as it's meant to be very gruesome indeed. You've been warned. 
 The film and this clip just celebrates the beauty he observed and captured when he was alive. The Herzog film, which is well worth viewing, seems to be available on You Tube. Some beautiful footage of Alaska's wildlife and a glimpse into our own multifaceted perception and sometimes tragically false understanding of the world around us...

Tuesday 17 November 2015

Mermaids and Angels. Clyde Coastal Path. Erskine. New Book.

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As I haven't cycled along the Forth and Clyde Canal then across the Erskine Bridge for a while, and it's one of my favourite bike rides, I picked a beautiful day during our Indian Autumn in October to reacquaint myself with its box of treasures. As you can see here, the canal at Clydebank was looking at its finest, with great autumn reflections in the still morning air. It is a beautiful and very varied cycle run which is why I like it and included it in my Firth of Clyde guide book.
Forth and Clyde Canal colours.
Swan reflections.
The Beardmore Sculpture denoting Clydebank, the River Clyde, and its strong links to Steel and Shipbuilding. A large percentage of the world's ships were built along the Clyde during the golden years of heavy industry.
Radnor Flats, built after the bombing of Clydebank during the Second World War when large parts of the town were destroyed by German planes targeting the shipyards and other nearby factories.
A Dutch plane, only dropping passengers these days at the nearby Glasgow airport, which is actually beside Paisley, another post industrial town close to the River Clyde.
Erskine Bridge. A view through the suicide barrier of the Forth and Clyde canal. Suicide is the No 1 cause of death in young Scottish men these days and has been for decades, hence the high barriers which do restrict views. I have to admit it does save folk from using this particular method of easily ending themselves but I did like the open plan low railing of old as the new restrictions do feel like cycling into a high level maximum security prison for bikes and walkers.
Photographers now have to be very ingenious indeed to get an unrestricted shot without mesh or railings getting in the way but what really saves a lot of people from depression and despair is having an all consuming passion that is highly addictive but healthy. Unfortunately, too many start out at a young age with self destructive addictions or learned attitudes to life that spiral out of control as they get older. I do speak from personal experience here. It's never too late to change your life around however and it doesn't cost anything, only your free will, your motivation, and some imagination. Sometimes, the best method is simply to swap one powerful addiction for another less destructive :o)
An old abandoned Navy service dock in the foreground and Clydebank's blue Titan crane on the River Clyde behind.
Looking down the Clyde from Erskine Bridge with the old Erskine ferry slipway today. The nearest sandy beach to Glasgow. Great for a cycle trip destination along the Loch Lomond cycle-track. So much to do... a lifetime to do it in. Don't let circumstances grind you down.
The golf course from the bridge. Finding new opportunities and keeping motivated is what it's all about. I recently found out that if you have two clubs, an iron and a putter plus some golf balls you can get on the pitch and putt course for very little money so over the summer and autumn I took up pitch and putt and golf. A new interest. It can be an expensive game but it doesn't have to be.
A new passion. It's what life is all about. And in doing that I unexpectedly found a friend to share it.
Ah, the pleasures of the open road. The "newly created" Clyde Coastal Path runs from Milngavie near Glasgow via Clydebank to Wemyss Bay and is well worth a visit. It has always been there of course but it's now official, and so presumably "fashionable" for walkers. i.e. they put signage up on a track I've always used, walking or cycling. Luckily, pitch and putt in Glasgow's parks is out of fashion these days... which is great news as myself and "Trinley" stepped out on many of them for free...presumably to encourage other people to join us... all  summer and autumn long. M.S of L  :o)

Anyway, I eventually took her out to see the Angels and Mermaids at the edge of the land.
To introduce her to the Tower Lands over the water. Lapwing display overhead.
Like all females she was slightly jealous of my Greenock mermaids... and they of her. Utopia never lasts alas... not in the real world.
A tower and an angel.
Bindweed and fly. Simple and pure delights.
The Clyde Coastal Path from the air. Angel viewpoint..
The Bridge.
Sunset and A Knowledge of Angels.

My latest 4th book is now out on Kindle bookstore for £2:50. The Best of Blue Sky Scotland ( Adventures off the Beaten Track) by Bob Law. It does what is says on the cover. A collection of the best posts over the last 6 years of the blog concentrating on remote but spectacular Corbett trips, lesser known Scottish islands like Islay, Harris, Skye (away from the Cuillin Ridge) Jura, Rum, Eigg, Canna, Sanday, and the Isle of May: as well as a range of easy but exciting and varied day walks in the Central Belt, easily reached from Glasgow and Edinburgh.
With over 500 original colour photos and a lighthearted and sunny outlook it should make a good, at times humorous, armchair read or Christmas guidebook for anyone interested in the Scottish outdoors, well away from the usual places people normally visit. As a hardback coffee table book it would probably cost between £30 to £60 to bring out in large paper form as it must be one of the most elaborate, varied, and well illustrated books covering Scotland in one volume, away from the Munros.
First four posts free to read in here to give you a taste of what's on offer inside in one hopefully easy to read and quick to navigate collection. (thus correcting one of the main drawbacks of a weekly blog. Finding good back archives immediately.)
Direct link to book below.

Why not surprise someone this Christmas with an unexpected gift? For £2:50 it's worth it for the photographs alone. Also includes several poems and stories between the various trips.