Tuesday 26 April 2016

The Fara 911 Metres. Dalwhinnie. Ben Alder Big Six.

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Another bagging trip with Alex and the boys. This time it was the turn of The Fara, a Corbett situated on a long ridge line above the remote and lofty village of Dalwhinnie. Dalwhinnie sits in the centre of Scotland as far away from the coast as you can get in this country and away from the warming influence of the gulf stream which keeps the UK in a hot spot. This part of Scotland sits at the same latitude as the middle of Hudson Bay in Canada, the southern arm of Alaska, and further north than the frozen Lake Baikal in Siberia. Dalwhinnie sits at an altitude of around 350 metres or 1148 feet, which might not seem much by world mountain standards but sitting on a high empty plain, exposed to any wind and surrounded by sizable bulky mountains it is one of the highest and coldest villages in the British Isles and also holds records for the lack of sunshine year round. As you can see our path up The Fara started via an old right of way, a rough mountain pass for cattle drovers between  Kinloch Laggan and Dalwhinnie on the A889 where there is a small lay-by beside the Allt an t -Sluic river. This was followed for just under a mile then we crossed the river via a ford to reach a track leading up our hill of choice.
The team consisted of Alex, Graeme, David, Bob R and myself. At this point we split up, the back three heading off to bag Meall Nan Eagan and us two The Fara. Easy but long slopes followed and any snow could be avoided on the ridge. No exposure whatsoever and grassy walking underfoot without any path once on the main ridge-line.
A large skein of geese passed overhead, probably heading for Greenland, Canada or Alaska to start another breeding season in the far north as many of them only overwinter here in our milder climes.
It didn't feel like that to us however and we were well wrapped up against a biting wind and general chill in the air.
A view of our hill above Dalwhinnie, although the summit is out of sight. When I was collecting Munros I spent a full week camping here, climbing the surrounding hills, and I can honestly report there's not a lot to do in Dalwhinnie apart from outdoor sports. A spartan railway station, a strung out collection of houses in small clusters scattered far apart, a transport style cafe, a reasonable pub and a local distillery were all visited in due course back then.
Due to the climate up here not much grows even in summer and the main colour palette is shades of grey, black, white, faded yellow and dark green year round. Being spring the rabbits were dancing and courting among the sheep on the meadow, the snipe were drumming and a couple of raised flower boxes held a few daffodils and spring blooms, carefully tended and nourished to give a splash of multi colour energy inside small wooden rectangles.. Even then Dalwhinnie looks bleak and barren to my eyes, like similar villages in Russia, Canada or the tundra regions. A frontier town situated in a barely habitable place. It's got that same feel about it although the locals seem cheery enough to outsiders but you definitely have to possess a love for remote and austere landscape to live here for any length of time.
I would find it hard mentally as I've always relished bright primary colours, lush vegetation appearing every spring and the vivid contrasts between distinctive seasons. I'd also miss natural deciduous woodlands growing on my doorstep but I suppose if you enjoy living here it's under an hour by train, bus or car into Inverness or Perth for a taste of city life. 
We were soon up above the snow line but this could be avoided to reach the summit if desired. Unlike the larger hills around we stayed mainly in the sunshine while they were buried in cloud most of the time we were on the ridge.
Alex soon reached the summit and was a happy man as The Fara had been on his tick list for some time.
As luck would have it the sun arrived just as we were having lunch and the neighbouring 1000 metre plus peaks cleared at last from under the grey blanket of cloud, long enough for us to take photos.
We could now look across at Ben Alder, 1146 metres or 3759 feet,  Beinn Bheoil, 1019 metres, Carn Dearg, 1034 metres, Geal Charn, 1132 metres Aonach Beag, 1114 metres and Beinn Eibhinn, 1100, sometimes known as the 'Big Six.'
Many years ago, in my 30s, I met a girl who had a catalyst effect on my nature. Normally, I'm not that keen on long distance hill marathons but she was and for a while we clocked up large walking distances across multiple Munros together.  I think we were staying at Loch Ossian Youth Hostel and we set off around dawn on one of the longest daylight periods of the year, probably early May, to climb these six hills and tops in one day. She only had a weekend free so wanted to make the most of it and I tagged along, inspired by her enthusiasm. It was a step up from the average pace of one or two Munros in a day outing.
Luckily, there was not as much snow on the hills as this but it was still around 19 hours of solid walking, god knows how many miles and metres of ascent and descent and we were both staggering at the end of it on the track back. For a while I was captivated by her drive, good looks, and relentless energy but going out with a nymphomaniac munro bagger  proved very draining after a while as I didn't really share her sustained appetite for the Skye Ridge in one go, Arran Ridge in a day, The Mamore Circuit, various 14 hour multi munro epics, and getting zero views or soaked frequently at height. It was a purely platonic relationship of course so after a while my enthusiasm for her undoubted sparkle on the hills dimmed somewhat and I went back to being a less driven but happier and much drier individual. Like a personality vampire I still get attracted to driven individuals with seemingly endless amounts of energy but I've learned over time how to control the invisible magnets snapping us together. Sadly, I haven't yet learned how to transfer some of that abundant energy into me for the future without suffering the blow torch personality directly attached to it so I have to be there in person to get any energy boost by proxy. A situation and an annoying chemical puzzle I'm still working on. 
Plenty of snow over the high summits. I still remember the train journey back the next day and the intense pain in my legs for several days afterwards, going up inclines or stairs, as we were ignorant then of ice baths and cold water dips to get rid of lactic acid build up or the folly of not exercising properly to wind down gradually. Luckily, I'm too old for that nonsense now but it all came back to me watching Eddie Izzard's incredible 27 marathons in 27 days across South Africa in punishing heat. Having an outdoor background myself I watch some of these charity fund raisers and think I could do it successfully no bother with a bit of training beforehand but that's one endurance epic I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy having had a tiny taste of it. The levels of pain and the determination to keep on running through it must have required enormous mental reserves well beyond most individuals.
Lancet Edge, a narrow sharp ridge that drops from the top of Sgor Iutharn, seen here. Ben Alder bothy rather than Culra was our usual destination for these hills as it's a more interesting walk in than the long march down the shores of Loch Ericht. We had a small taste of this tedious track on the return as we dropped straight off the summit of The Fara to a gap between forestry plantations rather than go back the same way as both of us prefer circular outings and new views.
Alex passing a shooting lodge on the walk down Loch Ericht. Mountain bikes make this remote set of mountains much easier to reach these days but back then we never thought of any other means of doing the Munros other than walking into them.
Both of these buildings look brand new and in good condition. A lot of money seems to have been poured into this estate since my last visit. We arrived back in Dalwhinnie and spent a fruitful hour watching the rabbits humping in the meadows next to the plastic bus shelter as this was the only place to get a seat out of the biting wind.  The others eventually arrived from a successful bag of Meall Nan Eagan and we motored back to Glasgow happy men.

Can't believe some of the stupid comments attached to these marathon videos along the lines of  " I could do that if I had his support team and people watching me on telly."
There are far easier ways to get attention or money than a 54 year old running hundreds of miles across South Africa in 40 degree heat. No wonder I avoid Twit-er or Self- book with folk like these on it. Normally, I'm not a fan of corporate charity events which encourage mass hikes or cycles into wilderness areas, as they can trash paths completely if it's wet underfoot but this is exceptional for his age and as a non professional ultra runner. I'm sure most of the dafter comments are from people with no experience of multiple marathon events or long distance walking whatsoever yet they are still happy to give disheartening, very negative opinions on a subject they know nothing about. Only putting this on because I watched the full hour long documentary recently and personally I at least was impressed by it.

He's a comedian in his normal day job.  Both videos are short. Some swearing in second one but
very funny.

Thursday 21 April 2016

New Glasgow. Collegelands. High Street. George Street.University of Strathclyde.

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I thought I would do a double post to highlight the contrast between the old and new Glasgow which is evolving at pace around the High Street and George Street area. A stone's throw from George Square, seen in the last post, is the thoroughly new Glasgow of glass and steel. A mix of buildings from different time periods make up the University of Strathclyde but that diversity is even more pronounced now with the latest additions to the campus. This is the new look Albion Street which has been totally transformed.
Right beside it the old Herald Newspaper building has been given a makeover and is now the Herald Apartments, Still on Albion Street.
Every university needs student apartments and building them seems to be one of the major growth industries in the city right now. Collegelands is one of the largest building projects in Europe at the moment and it really shows here as Glasgow is being radically updated overnight after years of staying much the same apart from a few new buildings here and there. Parts of this university district five minutes walk east from George Square in the city centre is almost unrecognizable now from five years ago. All three universities in the city are being drastically upgraded as I type with building work still going on at nearby Glasgow Caledonian and the old Western Infirmary site earmarked for redevelopment very soon on behalf of Glasgow University.
George Street still retains the old style infrastructure when grey concrete was king. A spooky character had followed me down here from the Necropolis graveyard in the last post, as you can see in this photo. I kept my stake handy.
Also part of the old style Strathclyde University buildings.
Murals pop up here as well.
A space theme.
Part of Strathclyde University Collegelands district.
Looking down a transformed Duke Street from the High Street.
Murals on older university buildings.
Same extended mural.
One high up on the wall nearby.
I've been wondering about this red wrapped design for a while as it's visible from almost every district of the city and beyond. Although students still study in here the top levels must be empty presumably as the new college-lands fill up with students switching over into the updated buildings. I also found myself thinking this might be a way of 'future proofing' Glasgow City Centre for generations to come. Both Partick and  this area are large traditional shopping districts, under threat from out of town retail parks and online shopping. With a constant influx of students living right in the heart of these old shopping districts, spending money in the bars, restaurants and clubs at night then buying food and other products during the day it's a good way to insure a thriving retail sector which doesn't just depend on Glaswegian's arriving from outlying areas to spend money. The newly built student flats cover sizable chunks of these districts so it should be an important stable part of the economy as it has everything they need on the doorstep without going anywhere else for entertainment or other products.
Cine World. A high rise multi screen cinema complex near Strathclyde University campus and Caledonian University Campus. Great views over Glasgow at night from the upper levels as it sits on a hill. Seen the Lord of the Rings trilogy in here, which is why I know this.

Old Glasgow. High Steet. Glasgow Cathedral. Necropolis. Murals. Part One.

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I have a backlog of posts at the moment so here's a gallery of some well known Glasgow attractions and buildings. George Square and Glasgow City Chambers. You can get guided tours inside this magnificent building every weekday at 10:30am and 2:30pm Mon to Fri. Tours are free, they last an hour, and there is no need to book unless you are intending to arrive with a large group. Very worthwhile and interesting interior with period architecture, huge marble staircases, and furnishings on a grand scale. Normally, you just turn up five or ten minutes before the tour starts then tag along behind the guide.
Glasgow Cathedral on a sparkling winter's day. The finest medieval cathedral in Scotland dating from the 1100s this sits at the top of the High Street surrounded by a cluster of ancient attractions and gives you a genuine feel of old Glasgow as this was where the city started. Like many of Glasgow's public buildings of interest to tourists most of the attractions here are free to visit.
The grand entrance gates of the Necropolis, Glasgow's ancient burial ground full of tombs to the great and good. I've been up here before of course but as a keen amateur photographer you are always chasing that classic shot, just like a surfer after the perfect wave to ride or a stamp collector hunting the most sought after rarity. It's what keeps any obsessive going... the hunt.. rather than the capture... and we always think we can do better next time.
In a large ever changing city there is always something new to see. The latest addition to Glasgow's murals halfway up the High Street. A talented group of street artists have been sprinkling these around the city in the last few years and they are fast becoming a tourist attraction in their own right. Superb artwork that could hang in any gallery. The council publish a mural map online and you can have a fun half-day out collecting them as well as seeing the City Centre district on foot or by bike. Link and official council mural map below.

Murals on Mitchell Street. The Lighthouse is also found up here in a side lane running through to Buchanan Street, which is a multi floored building and features innovative architecture and design, runs gallery exhibits, and has a rooftop viewing platform.
Another colourful mural on Argyle Street. Some of the murals are of a temporary nature and can be removed if the shop or site gets redeveloped with others presumably taking their place elsewhere in the city. It's a great idea
The Necropolis sits just behind Glasgow Cathedral. "The City of the Dead." Very Gothic but no vampires on show when I was there. What a waste of a sharpened stake and that big hammer was heavy dragging it around all day! It's not easy being a vampire hunter when they don't show up.
More tombs adorn the summit with great views over the city.
Provand's Lordship. Glasgow's oldest house circa 1471, which sits on the High Street beside the cathedral.
The Necropolis is a five minute walk away situated on a grassy hill above the city.
The High Street. Old red sandstone tenements catching the afternoon sun.
The bottom of the High Street and the Tolbooth Steeple. A blend of old and new buildings.
Looking down the High Street towards the same area.
The always busy Renfield Street in the heart of the city shopping district. The electronic billboard on the rooftops has been there in one form or another since the 1960s or even earlier as I remember looking up at it as a child and it displayed adverts for products back then as well. The Regent Cinema stood near here and seemed to go in mainly for children's films. I was only in it occasionally and it was always cartoons we watched although I might have seen "Born Free" here also.
A few streets away in the business district with the distinctive silver outline of the Spectrum Building.
Glasgow Cathedral and the Royal Infirmary. There is a reason for this post which will be revealed in Part Two. The old Glasgow then the new...surprisingly close to each other.
Another view of the High Street with modern apartments that try to match the traditional street colours and frontage.
The other side of the High Street and traditional period tenement buildings.

Tuesday 12 April 2016

Ayrshire Coastal Path. Doonfoot to Dunure via Heads of Ayr. A Five Star Coastal Walk.

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As it was a lovely day last Sunday, but only south of Glasgow in the morning, myself and Alan decided to head down to Ayrshire to walk one of the best sections of the Ayrshire Coastal Path, a 100 mile, multi day, long distance hike from Glenapp to Skelmorlie with some lovely varied scenery contained in its length. Alex received an invite as well but he's always been more interested in mountains than coastal walks and had other things to do.
Above is a low tide view of the clifftop ruins of Greenan Castle and in the distance the Heads of Ayr, where the Carrick Hills end abruptly by plunging in eroded volcanic cliffs straight into the sea.
The start of this section of the walk is the car park at Longhill Point at Doonfoot on the southern outskirts of Ayr. This is a view of the sizable town of Ayr from the car park start. It's a walk where Tide Tables for Ayr or Girvan have to be looked up beforehand but this is easy to do... just type into a search engine  BBC WEATHER. TIDE TABLES then click on Coast and Sea then Tide Tables then Scotland and then click on the nearest named town beside the walk. In this instance it's Ayr or Girvan.
Ayrshire is famous for its miles of sandy beaches and as the home of Robert Burns. You pass the distinctive thatched cottage where he grew up in Alloway on the drive to this beach front car park. A visit around his old haunts there can also be included as it's only 2 km away or five minutes run in the car.
Tide Times are important here because this is the same view as the first photo but taken at high tide with the sea right up under the castle cliffs and the flat sandy beaches flooded. You can still scramble around the coast here but it's a far harder proposition and may involve waist deep wading along the bottom of the cliffs in a few places unless you head inland to find the upper path across the fields.
Having looked up the Tide Tables the night before and clicked on Sunday, low tide was around 6:00am and high tide was around 3:00pm. As we arrived fairly late deliberately just in time for the predicted early morning rain showers to clear away northwards we had a sunny day yet setting off on this walk around 10:30am from the Doonfot car park still found easy flat sands to walk over and get round the Heads of Ayr before the tide came in fully and cut off the route. So there is plenty of leeway here and you don't need to arrive at maximum low tide early in the morning to find easy flat sands to walk on. 1:00pm to 5:00 pm in this instance, on that particular day, is the tricky time for a low level traverse. Alan and his faithful hound just approaching the start of the Heads of Ayr.
When the sands are exposed like this it's a five star adventure classic and is covered in my book "A Guide to Walking and Cycling Around the River Clyde and the Firth of Clyde" which has over 80 walks and/or cycle rides from Lanark to Givan including the Firth of Clyde Islands in one handy volume plus 146 original colour photos similar to this one for £1:99 on kindle. The link to all my books can now be found down the blog side bar in alphabetical order but here it is again. A worthwhile photographic journey down the length of the Clyde packed with interesting walks and cycle rides suitable for beginners or experienced hikers, many little known but worthwhile.

The Heads of Ayr cliffs with the tide coming in. Luckily for us we had traversed this section by now and were at the stage of climbing uphill and slightly inland where beaches and rock pools are replaced by high level views, green fields, yellow flowering gorse bushes and spring lambs.  A marked path of white cairns and stiles runs parallel to the coast at this point over fences and across fields then open meadows but dogs must be kept on a lead at all times on this section to keep the livestock safe.
This is what happens when you don't as any dog's natural instinct, as a predator, is to chase sheep and cows if it's free to roam off the lead. Even the fluffy ones that  "wouldn't hurt a fly." There are warning signs up on this inland stretch but one section has already been permanently closed off on this long distance path due to irresponsible dog owners ignoring the many signs. Full details in here halfway down the page and several other incidents which could have been fatal for livestock.. or out of control dogs. The photo above incidentally looks like the work of a fox or possibly even a badger if the lamb was already dead in the field as dogs tend to rip lambs apart more messily than this and rarely eat them for survival, especially as cleanly as this one has been picked for the best parts of the body.
Although the beaches looked clean and fresh they didn't get that way without a lot of effort as detailed in this link. Even in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, remote coral atolls thousands of miles from the nearest land have beaches covered in washed up junk and a percentage of it will stay there for eternity unless removed by hand. A sad reflection on our fad driven society that produces millions of useless items every day that will be tossed out weeks later when the novelty wears off... only to be replaced with another useless piece of crap, possibly shipped from the other side of the world. Why should we care? Well, Armageddon might not be the big bang quick event beloved of action films but the more mundane ending of a world slowly smothered to death by stupidity, greed and advertising. We need saving alright... from ourselves.
Think recycling is the answer? Often many of the materials carefully sorted into our bins get dumped together in the hold of large ships then travel back to the other side of the world again where it's simply tossed into big holes, sometimes right next to beautiful scenic places, where it remains buried forever ten feet down if its plastic based. This way of thinking doesn't make any sense to me. Like sweeping dust under the carpet for future generations to clean up. Watching "Back in time for the Weekend" put things into perspective as this rapid acceleration of disposable junk only happened in the 1980s and 1990s which wasn't that long ago yet the world economy is now dependent on it making a few people very rich but trashing the planet for the rest of us.Surely the answer is not to produce so much unnecessary rubbish in the first place?
Death is a common occurrence on any nature walk, especially at the end of a stormy winter. This gannet could have died of illness, starvation, injury or through accidentally swallowing rubbish, like fishing tackle or lures then been unable to pass it out again.
Death and great beauty often sit side by side however and this pretty little crocus patch was discovered growing inland not far from the unlucky gannet.
A tennis sized ball that someone has put a face on.  This made us laugh and has probably cheered up hundreds of walkers passing by on the route. Several caravan parks line this route inland with paths leading down to the sea and I've had holidays on this Ayrshire coastline myself as a child including a very special one at an early age that introduced me to someone who shaped the rest of my life and thinking from that point to this day.
The sweet evocative smell of flowering gorse and summer heat never fails to bring me back to that special enchanted time as the sights, sounds, smells and experiences of childhood mark and define the rest of your life no matter how hard you try to brush them away, like any stick of seaside rock with the letters of a particular holiday resort running inside its core.
Dog safely on the lead now, travelling through sheep and lamb country on the higher level path.
The rich coconut smell of gorse all around was intoxicating and really defines "spring" every year. Snowdrops and crocus are her fingernails sticking out still cold ground into often frigid air but gorse in abundance like this heralds her full arrival when the temperatures rise to T-shirt warm- the best it usually gets in Scotland. Why a "she?" Mother Nature, Isis, Luna, Diana, Demeter, Aurora... "Spring" is always female....the rebirth... just as " he"- male- is blood, death and war.
This was the warmest part of the walk as it was gently uphill and sheltered from any sea breeze by a long avenue of gorse. At the top we stripped off down to T-shirts for the remainder of the day and I was in my element, soaking up the heat.

Sunshine is my Shepherd
I shall not want
"She" maketh me lie down in green pastures,
beside the still waters.
And I will dwell in that house
 all the days of my life
for ever and ever.

Yes. It was an eventful holiday so long ago when I was stamped to the core with letters from another soul like an unsuspecting stick of rock.
At the end of this colourful tunnel of childhood memories and shivers by the sea we arrived out at Dunure, a pleasant little harbour surrounded by a rocky shoreline with another ruined castle perched on a clifftop.
This is a popular destination in good weather for day trippers with an elevated grassy adventure playground area for families, an assortment of hidden little coves to find, an attractive harbour, pub, cafe, and ice cream shop. As parking is adequate but not abundant it's preferable to get here early on in the day to be sure of a parking spot. Although busy in season a short walk in any direction from the harbour gets you away from the crowds, like most tourist haunts, as 90 percent of folk tend to stick within a twenty minute walk of their car.
The  unmistakable"Neptune's Bunnet"- "Desert Island" shape of Ailsa Craig looming through the usual sea distortion effect, similar to heat haze or a mirage when taken with a zoom at a low angle to the water. The most mysterious and illusive of the larger Firth of Clyde islands as it's uninhabited and few holiday makers have been there with it being well off the normal tourist trail. Private boat hire or owning a sea going craft yourself being the only way to arrive on its steep sided shoreline.
We had an excellent ice cream and a seat at the harbour before catching the bus (£3 one way every hour) back to Doonfoot, Ayr and the car. Allow 4 to 5 hours at an easy pace. Around 8 to 10 km depending on route or you can just explore around the Heads of Ayr on foot without continuing on to Dunure. A classic five star outing all three of us enjoyed as Alan's dug loved the seaside and the sandy beaches as well.

My long time favourite summer video. A repeat but it captures the essential essence of lazy summer days and goes with this seaside post like strawberries and cream. If it happens in Scotland (a summer heatwave that is) it's regarded as a miracle. We might have blue skies here but not the extended dry summer heat of the English south coast to go with it.