Sunday 27 March 2016

The Cobbler and The Arrochar Alps.

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It was a fine day last Sunday so myself, Alan, and his faithful hound motored up Loch Lomondside, seen above, to do one of the Arrochar Alps. The original intention was to climb Ben Vane, 915 metres, or Ben Vorlich, 943 metres, two steep hills in this area but as soon as we spotted Ben Arthur, 884 metres or 2946 feet, commonly known as the Cobbler, we decided to go up that peak instead. Although not a Munro (over 3000 feet) it is the most spectacular mountain of the district with its profile horseshoe of rugged cliffs and it was looking at its finest when we arrived.
Another reason for picking this hill was that we had a young dog with us and we were not sure how it would react with pregnant ewes and young lambs running around and this hill being very popular did not have any sheep on it that we could see.
It didn't take us long on a decent path to reach the upper levels of this mountain and start to enjoy the rock architecture that the mountain is justly famous for, with soaring buttresses overhead. Many good rock climbs at all levels start up these cliffs including the classic low grade trio of Ardgarten Arete. Severe, Recess Route. V. Diff, and Punster's Crack, Severe. Alex and myself have climbed all three independently, with different climbing partners over the years. One of the great joys of living in Glasgow is that it's so easy to reach scenic areas on your doorstep and this is only an hours drive away.
Ben Lomond, 974 metres, Scotland's most southerly Munro, seen from The Cobbler. One drawback of the internet is that you have to get here early on a good day if you want to find a parking place, despite a very large car park. We were lucky to get in, filling one of the last slots available. Hundreds of people were climbing up this hill and the surrounding peaks but everyone was friendly and in a good mood.
The summit cliffs had just enough snow on them to make it interesting and we were soon up on the ridge with a view across to the other nearby peaks.
The summit cliffs under Beinn Narnain, 926 metres, another of my favourite peaks in this area with a hill-walker traversing under the rock towers. The best approach to this hill is from Succoth up the Allt Sugach burn to really see the finest features on this hill in its full glory.
A photo of the flat topped but highly enjoyable summit of Beinn Narnain and the main rock climbing peak on the Cobbler.

A close up view. The person on his own in black is standing directly above Punster's Crack, Severe. This is a weaving grandstand of a rock route as the last delicate pitch heads straight up a steep rock wall in full view of the masses watching nearby as you pick your way carefully up a seemingly blank face using bottle and will power alone. Or so it looks to the casual observer. Rock climbing on the Cobbler can be disconcerting as holds are either in sharp finger cracks, little wrinkles, raised quartz pebbles or on downward sloping edges. Comforting enough in dry conditions but after a shower of rain or when still damp the grade feels much harder as the rock surface has little natural friction then and the Cobbler was never my favourite place for attempting the harder grades. Being high up a sudden shower or even snowfall was always a possibility halfway up a climb early in the season.
Ben Ime, at 1011 metres, the highest summit in the Arrochar Alps, a compact region of around a dozen tightly packed peaks. All are exciting venues for day trips, even the ones that are not munros as this area is renowned for its steep glens and rocky nature, home in the past to Clan MacFarlane. An area lovingly covered in Chapter Eight. The High Life, in my first book Autohighography. For people in the Scottish Central Belt, myself included, this was our first real experience of easy to reach higher mountains. Although a small clan they had a fearsome reputation for inter clan warfare and cattle rustling for which they were heavily punished and almost destroyed. Maybe the reason for this was that the steep sided Arrochar Alps district didn't lend itself to cattle grazing, especially in the winter months and even today the hardy highland cattle are few and far between in this area as is green pasture.

A look across at the 'lesser peaks' which always makes a mockery of judging mountains by height alone as The Brack,787 metres, Beinn Donnich, 847 metres and Beinn an Lochain, 901 metres, are below the magic 914 metre limit but superb mountains none the less.
On the north side of the Cobbler a few people were wishing they had carried an ice axe up as this slope had firm snow lying out of sight of the road and it was still icy and dangerous if you slipped without a pole or axe to stop yourself. Luckily, several sets of bucket steps had been cut to follow to the top.

Even a few hardy rock climbers were out doing Ardgarten Arete then the central Cobbler peak, roped up as a pair to climb the longer unfamiliar side of the summit block.
One of Alan heading down past the rock tower, the third of the Cobbler's half circle of peaks and the hardest to reach as a scrambler without a rope. Not recommended unless you have an excellent head for heights and experience at steep exposed down climbing since the descent is the really tricky part here. Being lower and harder this peak has fewer visitors.
A view from the bottom looking up at the route of Ardgarten Arete.
Fox sculpture in Arrochar.
A happy dog glad to be going home after a full day... as were we.
Arrochar from the descent path.
Looking down into Glen Croe and the road leading up to the 'rest and be thankful.'
Sunlight and dark skies over Ben Arthur.

I found this excellent video a while ago and it's a good visual account of climbing Punster's Crack. Takes me back to my own rock climbing days finding an improbable line up this intimidating cliff with many surprises on the way. Disconcertingly, from the bottom of this route the crux top pitch looks overhanging. It's not of course, just very steep. Like the musical tracks as well. This guy must be able to climb harder grades if he's relaxed enough to take his hands off the holds and balance near the top.

Tuesday 22 March 2016

Edinburgh. Craiglockhart. Hermitage of Braid. Blackford Hill. Arthur's Seat.

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Part two of my cycle ride across Edinburgh. I left the Union Canal, seen above, just as the cycling was getting more enjoyable... i.e. I didn't have as many pedestrians to worry about on the tow path, having left the masses behind around the fashionable Edinburgh Quay area and only the more determined walkers and cyclists were left out here.
A strange jigsaw puzzle of a sculpture in the Tollcross district.
At Slateford Bridge I turned off the Union Canal, as I already knew what the rest of it looked like out to the city limits and instead headed through the Craiglockhart district, past Napier University, part of which is shown above, as I knew this was a quiet road leading up over a slope with open land and a golf course on both sides. This meant I could even cycle on the pavements if the road traffic proved detrimental to healthy living. All the Edinburgh Universities have a good reputation and competition for places in any of them can be fierce with top grades required.
During the war Craiglockhart Hospital conducted pioneering experiments with patients suffering from shell shock (see Mike's comment at the end of post) so I've included a link to this here.

Where I was heading now was the summit of Blackford Hill, 539 feet high,(on my map) and the Hermitage of Braid gorge below it. I've been up here before, it's not as popular as Arthur's Seat, as its lower and further away from the city centre but I knew it had fantastic panoramas over the city and the Hermitage of Braid gorge is enjoyable at any time of year. As I've carried my bike up the wooden steps to the summit before and I knew I could cycle through the gorge on a wide path this was the place to be for a photographer as the sun was starting to burn the morning mist away. Blackford Hill summit viewed across the Merchants of Edinburgh Golf Course, and with a name like that you know its going to be rather posh. From my own point of view golf courses in a city are magnets as its all open land with great views, good cycling on empty pavements with no built up areas intruding, and normally quieter roads and traffic. The nearby Braid Hills, also covered in golf courses, are another favourite of mine to explore by bike or foot with a network of unexpected trails around the edges and good scenery.
The Hermitage of Braid gorge is worth a visit with nice walking trails through it and it connects into the grasslands, meadows and volcanic uplands of Blackford Hill Nature Reserve and Park.
Hermitage of Braid Visitor Centre. Link below to Hermitage, Blackford Hill, Braid Hills info, and more  panoramic city views.

Once on the summit I had lunch and a drink of juice gazing out over the capital city of Scotland. The glass and steel elevated luxury apartments of Quartermile were highly visible landmarks in an otherwise stone built old Edinburgh view but they did highlight where I'd cycled through the wide and open 'Meadows' area which could only be seen from here as a thin line of trees in front. Although Edinburgh has majestic city views and iconic skylines in every direction its tightly packed into a relatively small area due to volcanic plugs like Arthur's Seat, Calton Hill, Blackford Hill and The Edinburgh Castle Mound taking up most of the space. Glasgow, although not as scenically attractive overall has many more parks and open spaces within it and from any hill within the city looks like a green forest with occasional urban development sticking out.
Green Glasgow above, A city rising within a forest. The big difference between the two cities lying a mere 30 miles apart on west and east Scottish coastlines is that Edinburgh is built around and flows under bare volcanoes, 400 to 800 foot high, forced into tightly packed clusters, whereas Glasgow sprawls in glorious abandon over a sea of low drumlins 100 to 200 foot high. Both cities have their own special merits but Glasgow from any angle looks as if its being consumed by deciduous forests lapping all around it, even in the roughest housing schemes. It's well named 'the dear green place.' Dear in this instance meaning much loved as Edinburgh is the more expensive city for visitor attractions as Glasgow's museums and many of its galleries and exhibits are still free to enter due to its age old policy of culture being made available for all to visit, which I'm sure they'd like to change in this age of rising costs and seemingly endless austerity and council cut backs.
The lack of trees is not something you notice walking or cycling around, as Edinburgh has plenty of attractive parks and gardens within it but in distant views it does look tightly packed whereas Glasgow's sprawling outer districts especially, with more space to play with, had the luxury of keeping most of the original surrounding woodlands intact or planting new trees on almost every street which are now at full height and maturity. A misty Central Edinburgh here.
Calton Hill monuments from Blackford Hill.
Looking over the city to Holyrood Park and Arthur's Seat. Salisbury Crags being the distinctive line of vertical cliffs rising above steep slopes.The Radical Road walking path runs halfway up, travelling parallel along and below the base of these cliffs. Once, centuries ago, Holyrood Park was a heavily wooded and lawless area inhabited by banished men, kicked out of the young city growing around the Castle and Royal Mile district to fend for themselves on the outskirts of society if they committed foul deeds in an age before prisons. In later centuries they just built large schemes or housing estates instead on the margins of society :o)
Edinburgh Castle sitting on its volcanic plug base dominates the views from Princes Street on the other side. This is a zoom from Blackford Hill, viewing it from the less familiar southern angle.
The cluster of tall spires from churches around West End and Lothian Road district.
An upmarket suburb of Edinburgh below Blackford Hill. This was where I was heading next as posh suburbs usually have quiet wide streets perfect for cycling along and I was able to reach Holyrood Park and Arthur's Seat again by freewheeling down Blackford Avenue into Grange Loan, then Newington and Holyrood Park Road without much traffic getting in the way.
The University of Edinburgh (Pollok Halls) campus must tick every overseas students dream of "Scottish-ness.  "Oh wow, a real castle as a gate house and entrance."
By now Arthur's Seat was heaving with tourists and I was glad I'd arrived here early to get a parking place. Scotland's Munros and more popular attractions seem to get busier year on year, and even in the depths of winter this summit is usually packed every day throughout each season. Rightly so as its an amazing experience and viewpoint and totally unique. In winter or even summer it can be a dangerous place for the unwary as surprisingly steep cliffs surround this 822 foot bare summit of slippy basalt if you stray off the main tourist path, which now has ridiculously thick double chains as a guide running up it.
On the other side from the chains the ground is much steeper and in hard winters I've came down this side with crampons on and been glad of them as hundreds of feet had compacted the snow covered path into sheet ice yet tourists with city shoes and other inappropriate footwear still travelled down this narrow zig-zag, often on hands and knees, once they found out how slippy it was underfoot yet kept coming. Enjoyable for me too on a couple of occasions as attractive unaccompanied girls are usually not so relieved or delighted to see me but on this occasion a few were extremely grateful for any assistance and advice I could offer getting them down safely past the cliffs. Always a bonus to a well equipped mountaineer with a spare walking pole to hand over for additional reassurance. The comprehensive and proud history of Edinburgh, its scenic landmarks, and  its volcanic origins were usually not so well received as a running commentary as attention was often focused on the next ten feet of downward progress rather than the wonderful views I was pointing out at each hairpin bend above the cliffs.They were perfectly safe however with me and I've not lost one yet as an unofficial mountain tour guide :o)
Steep slopes on Arthur's Seat, still one of the world's most studied volcanoes over the longest period of time.
A full view of this magnificent little mountain which often seems far higher than its given height.
Cycling down  through Holyrood Park under Salisbury Crags back to the car. A great circular tour that only took around 4 hours to complete, or 6 with rest stops to explore each highlight properly. Even with my slow level of touring ability and relaxed nature, as I'm not a head down, crack on type, it's amazing how much ground you can cover on a bike in a short period of time. All the hills described have separate car parks for walks under them but you have to get there very early these days to find a space. With numerous apps and internet info this is a major problem now everywhere on a sunny day and makes me appreciate the lesser hills like Corbetts, Grahams, Marilyns and the unfashionable stuff we do even more as we usually avoid any crowds, traffic or parking problems. If we see another car or anyone else on the hill it's a rare event and a cause for celebration.
I like people for photography purposes though. My own little army of matchstick men and women always brings any photograph to life and gives the landscape some scale. The End.
Arthur's Seat history, geology, other photos and further interesting info here.'s_Seat

Saturday 19 March 2016

Edinburgh. Union Canal. The Meadows. Tollcross.

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Inspiration for trips can appear suddenly in many different places. After watching a re-run of the Scottish episode of Great Canal Journeys a few weeks ago which set off from the heart of Edinburgh at the Quay Basin along the Union Canal I realized I'd never visited it. Years ago it was run down and unloved, like many canals, a dead end basin in a mostly industrial semi derelict area that time and new industry had passed by but in 2001 they started to improve it dramatically. Salisbury Crags in Holyrood Park above.
I decided to park my car here and cycle across this popular park past the meadows as I couldn't see an obvious parking spot any closer to the city centre district where free reliable parking in Edinburgh's heart can be difficult to find. Even in Holyrood Park, it's never that easy on a nice sunny day unless you arrive early.
Well, it was sunny in Glasgow when I left in the early morning but once past Wishaw then crossing over the hump of higher ground between the cities the mist and fog thickened into an unforeseen pea- souper that cut visibility down to around 100 yards. I was almost tempted to turn back but as the forecast that morning was for sunshine and clear skies I persevered and through in Edinburgh itself it was misty but was already showing signs it might burn off later. A photograph of a lone jogger in Holyrood Park below Arthur's Seat at that early hour. When it's quiet like this Holyrood Park is an amazing area to find in the middle of a large city. No other place in the UK (probably in all Europe) has an ancient volcano so close to its busy heart.

This wasn't where I was heading though and I soon turned off just before the hexagonal sloping pillars of Samson's Ribs. An obvious volcanic feature similar to the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland on the Antrim Coast, Fingal's Cave on Staffa, and many other places around the world.
From here my objective was to reach 'The Meadows' area by negotiating the maze of streets that makes up the district of Dumbiedykes. I try to avoid cycling in heavy traffic but you can usually find quiet streets in a city to cycle down and this was no different.
The Meadows. A popular grass covered oasis in the heart of a busy inner city ward. Just like sister city Glasgow the multi coloured fingernails of Persephone were bursting out from winter's underworld here. My favourite sign of spring and her re-emergence again.
Mind you compared to less affluent Glasgow where the crocus cover even in the posh west end discreetly covers mere edges and park borders in small tasteful displays, Edinburgh at The Meadows must have taken poor Tinkerbell by the heels and shaken the **** out of her over a mile long ribbon. Maybe that's why this little fairy had only a tiny portion of magic dust left on her person by the time she made it over to Glasgow. Naughty Edinburgh!
The Meadows is a delightful area and I enjoyed cycling through it but I couldn't help comparing the flower displays in both cities and finding my own larger city the poor relation in many ways. "Trainspotting" director Danny Boyle commented recently on the gentrification of Edinburgh over the last couple of decades, a trend I've noticed occurring in  my own city but it's even more pronounced here.
Although at first I really enjoyed the long avenues of carpet thick crocus in splendid lush profusion running as far into the distance as my eyes could discern after a while it felt like they were just taking the piss out of my poor home city. Rubbing our collective Glasgow nose in it so to speak.  A Crocodile Dundee " You call that a knife? This is a knife!" moment for me as a proud Glaswegian. "Hah.You call that a crocus carpet you west coast dole huggers? Nope. This is a crocus carpet."

It was a magnificent display though and The Meadows make a lovely spring walk or cycle. I also noticed some very obvious glass and steel new build apartments that have sprouted up recently and do not really blend in that well with the older buildings around the nearby University of Edinburgh... to my tastes anyway.
A closer view. It turns out they are new luxury apartments, either for very rich students, professional types or top gangsters presumably. It's only my own observation and opinion of course but I have noticed over the past 40 years that whenever a Conservative government gets into power in the UK for any length of time the gap between rich and poor appears to widen dramatically year on year through deliberate political agenda as seen in the latest budget under the timeworn disguise of reducing the deficit. I also noted on Great Canal Journeys when they travelled along the edge of Regents Park in London past a line of White House sized villas and mansions overlooking the canal that looked like Edwardian splendor at its finest that many had actually been built in the 1980s during another so called recession and high unemployment austerity era. A photo link here to the new Meadows apartments at Quartermile. Only £1,920,000 for the penthouse apartment and a lovely view over Edinburgh.

Anyway, where I was heading was Tollcross district and Edinburgh Quay. Above is a carving denoting the entrance gates to the city Meat Market, now long gone. During the canal age,building stone, presumably grain or hops for the nearby Fountain Brewery, now closed, goods and other materials could be floated in almost to the heart of Edinburgh. It's not easy to find this urban basin and start of the Union Canal but eventually I was directed into it not far from the meat market arch.
Edinburgh Basin and the start of the Union Canal. The swans are not real. This area has seen a lot of redevelopment but as I've been visiting similar waterfront districts in the last year they start to look very similar in architectural design. Cardiff, Manchester, Birmingham, London, Belfast Newcastle, Liverpool, and most other UK redeveloped waterfronts look much the same to a well travelled eye.
A typical glass and steel structure of its kind. Apparently, Edinburgh is increasing in population at around 100 new citizens a week but some of the modern apartments built in the last 15 years (not this one) around Port of Leith, Granton and Ocean Terminal have not grown on me with time. Edinburgh is a very elegant city but some of its modern tall apartments fail to reach its own high standards, I think its fair to say.
Anyway, I did enjoy touring round here and seeing the mix of old and new. As usual various upmarket deli's and ubiquitous coffee shops have sprouted up in this vicinity to cater for the discerning visitor. Therefore, my next novel will be titled  "Bondage, Buggery, Anal Sex and Coffee Shops." Being old I'm out the loop but this appears to be four modern pastimes that seem to be increasingly trendy and popular now, although not all at the same time. It's sure to be a best seller going by the latest train station book racks as women seem to like that sort of thing these days and they are the ones that buy then recommend new books to their friends. It's all about judging the market and I think "Bondage, Buggery, Anal Sex and Coffee Shops" will be a winner this year.
Another view of Edinburgh Quay Basin. From here I cycled out along the busy towpath in the direction of Merchiston and solved a long standing mystery. In the film "Young Adam" which was set in the days of Scottish, still working, canals there was a scene in the movie of a curving canal with high tenements on one side I couldn't place as anywhere I'd been before.
A puzzle solved. The Union Canal near Temple Park Crescent in Merchiston.
Looking back towards Edinburgh Quay. A lot of new build construction is still ongoing in this area so it is liable to change further in the next couple of years as more glass and steel apartments get erected along this prime waterfront real estate zone. A nice weekend walk can be had sightseeing along this canal. Slightly more problematic on a busy fine day as cyclists and large numbers of walkers on a sometimes narrow tow path don't always mix well for full enjoyment.
More new buildings along the canal.
This is near Slateford Bridge which is where I cycled to from Wester Hailes along the Union Canal from Edinburgh's outskirts. I bailed out here a few years ago as I was probably parked down at Cramond on the coast and going any further along the canal tow path then would entail busy city centre streets and rush hour traffic to get back to the car. This time I bailed out here again as I'd completed the Union Canal through the city fully over two trips and wanted to do a circular tour of other parts of Edinburgh.
This second half will be in Part Two....
A last look at old Edinburgh from The Meadows district.