Saturday 24 September 2016

Gourock And The Cowal Peninsula. Ships, Planes, Landscapes.

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Inspired by the Dear Frankie film featured on the blog last week I decided to go kayaking in the Firth of Clyde around the Lunderston Bay/ Gourock and Cloch Point Lighthouse area. This is a photograph of the Cloch Lighthouse with the mountainous island of Arran in the background. Although in the morning it was calm enough for kayaking near the shoreline the wind picked up in the early afternoon, creating choppy conditions so I stayed local and kept well back from the shipping lanes. I only had a few hours paddling then it got too rough so I turned back to be on the safe side when the waves increased in size and the photos are a mixture of ones taken on the water then later on dry land. As I expected, being a wide open body of water it's not that sheltered for kayaks but I struck it lucky once again with a wide range of shipping passing down the River Clyde then into the largest and most complex enclosed estuary anywhere in the British Isles, which is the Firth Of Clyde.
Gourock is a lovely place for tourists to visit, great for adults, families and children alike with a choice of ferry destinations from the town and as you can see here it has a lovely flat esplanade along the seafront, a small scenic hill to climb that offers magnificent world class views and numerous interesting walks. Unlike many seaside towns throughout Britain that look forlorn and empty, waiting for better days and the golden years of stay at home holidays to return it still has a prosperous feel about it. Which is why it's totally baffling to me that they should change the seafront car park from one where you were always guaranteed a free space anytime I visited to a monstrosity that is now split into two different sections. One half was free for an unlimited time and was jammed solid with parked cars and according to locals I asked it's always that way now... the other side which tellingly was three quarters empty was also free but had a three hour time limit and you had to get a ticket from the shops otherwise you got a fine. To me this is a crazy set up. As I was planning to be away longer than three hours I had to leave and park further down the esplanade where luckily I managed to squeeze in next to some toilets, well away from the shops.
This suited me as I was near the water for getting the kayak in but if I was intending on coming here for a day trip and going on a ferry it meant I couldn't use the car park with its stupid three hour rule unless I wanted a fine. They have had a similar set up in central Ayr for decades and its been decades since I visited any of those three hour limit car parks down there. Maybe they think the three hour ticket scheme will encourage folk to use the shops more or reserve them for locals but I think it will also chase away a lot of tourists who might spend money in the town. When my parents were still alive I used to take them down to Gourock all the time, sometimes with other friends included, on day trips. They would happily spend an entire sunny day wandering around the shops, going for flat walks then come back to the car, buy snacks and sit in it if it turned cold or rained. Meanwhile, I would be off walking or cycling all day either myself or with friends, having got a ferry somewhere, happy in the knowledge that they had the car to shelter in or drive away whenever they wished if anything went wrong. With this three hour rule, that puts a stop to parking there as a full day visitor so maybe they want folk to use the pay and display ones around the ferry terminals which are a fair distance away from this one and the shops. I noticed over in Dunoon recently it was all pay and display car parks there at £1 an hour so maybe this is a way for councils to get extra cash. I'm convinced pay and display will come in everywhere in the future. It's too big a cash cow not to bring it in.
I will go back to Gourock for day trips but it just means I'll have to find somewhere else to park, away from the shops and that seafront car park and arrive early elsewhere to get a spot. I can't understand why they changed a perfectly good system but they obviously have their reasons. Just makes it more inconvenient for me when planing trips from there and it speaks for itself that the 3 hour car park section was almost empty when I arrived with a few drivers entering, reading the rules, then leaving again whereas the unlimited section was packed solid with no spaces available. In effect what they've done is half the car park park size for day trippers. Seems like madness to me but maybe I'm wrong. I know councils countrywide are getting squeezed tight and have to find cash somewhere but as usual it's the ordinary punters who pay for it all.
A photo of the Western Ferry service which runs from Gourock at McInroy's Point over to Hunter's Quay at Dunoon. A passenger and vehicle ferry, both ends of this service are around a three km walk from both town centres which is nothing by bike or car but an extra 5 or 6 km on foot to reach Gourock or Dunoon's main shopping districts. In the background are the Cowal hills of Argyll.
The other service is this one which is the Ali Cat Argyll Ferries, a passenger service which does run between Gourock and Dunoon town centres but according to locals I spoke to it is affected more often by strong winds or rough seas whereas the red Western Ferries are more able to run unaffected through bad weather conditions. The Argyll Ferries replaced the much missed Cal Mac boat which was a very large vessel but probably ran at a loss for the company. When I'm on a bike I just tend to use the Western Ferries as it looks easier to roll on and off but that's just a guess as I've not been on the other one yet.
In the distance I could see a large boat approaching. This is the Clyde Fisher, a chemical/oil tanker which had an escort of a Tug, the SD Reliable, and a fast police boat.
This is them here with what might be the small Greenock to Kilcreggan Ferry in front. Not sure if it is that ferry as my attention was elsewhere at that moment but it is roughly that size. Obviously this is a zoom as I kept well clear of any boats and ferries.
What captured my attention even more was the distant drone of a large Hercules plane getting closer then passing straight over the tanker I was looking at.
A close up. I think this is a Hercules transport plane from the Second World War period. I assume it was off to a air show somewhere as another one soon appeared following an identical flight path a safe distance behind. Opps wrong... Update- One of my friends, Graeme, found this info on it online. Thank you smarter man that me :o) 
Great video in this link showing the true size of this beast. Here's me thinking it was just one guy with a ladder and a spray can :o)

As you can see this one had all the markings of an air show event commemorating 50 years of  being in the skies. A lucky day indeed for interesting photography.
One of the Tug, the SD Reliable, with the Cowal peaks as a backdrop.
And one of the Kingdom of Fife, a larger offshore tug/ supply boat, crashing through the waves with the wind really picking up.
One of the Skog, a medium sized cargo ship, passing Gallow Hill, 128 metres, near the peninsula village of Kilcreggan. A nice walk runs from Kilcreggan along the scenic shoreline through the Portkil Estate grounds to Roseneath point, as highlighted in my walking and cycling guide book to the Firth of Clyde.
A lone heron wondering what all the fuss was about.
A view of Gourock from the water.
On the drive back I had to stop to photograph this ship as it was so eye-catching and unusual sitting in Greenock's Dockland area. It's a modern deep water pipe-laying ship capable of putting pipes on the seabed up to 3000 metres down and valued around £200 million build cost. A lucky day all round for spotting rare things at sea.

On a different topic here's an excellent short video of someone lucky enough to capture the big three on Suilven, a spectacular mountain in the far north of Scotland. A nice first sunrise, a sunset, then some faint Aurora Borealis then an absolutely stunning west coast second sunrise of the type I know and love but doesn't happen very often with this quality.This is a brilliant video and well worth watching until the end in full screen. The best big three combination I've seen in Scotland.

Saturday 17 September 2016

Greenock and The Cut. Central Scotland's Best Balcony Trail?

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At Alan's suggestion we decided to go to Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park in Inverclyde, above Greenock, to walk 'The Cut', a flat balcony trail offering magnificent views over the sparkling Firth of Clyde. Above is a photograph of the soaring Victoria Tower, a small part of the larger municipal building underneath, and at a height of 245 feet, 75 metres tall, slightly higher than the tower on Glasgow City Chambers, both buildings completed within two years of each other in the late 1880s. As the largest of the three Inverclyde seaside towns clustered together in this vicinity, consisting of Gourock, Greenock and Port Glasgow it was a very wealthy place once as seen in it's wonderful architecture, church spires, and grand mansions rising up the hillsides from the coastline.
Another view from Well Park, a flat three football pitch sized oasis offering great close up views over the town reached from the central district by an interesting and steep flight of stairs. Although a small park it's worth a visit if in the area as it has a few unusual features and sculptures to admire. It can also be reached by car from the streets above giving a perfectly flat walk without inclines, although parking near the higher entrance is limited.
Where we started our walk however was from the main visitor centre car park at Cornalees Bridge next to Loch Thom, a massive reservoir, and the reason for the Cut's existence. The Cut starts from here and flows in a narrow open channel, slightly descending although it looks flat, from the higher moorlands above, carefully using this contour line at roughly 560 feet, 170 metres, round the side of the hills to end up above Greenock's factories and warehouses, giving the town a much needed and reliable steady supply of clean water for industry.
Robert Thom was an intrepid civil engineer from Bute in the early 1800s who had already pioneered a successful aqueduct system for the town of Rothesay and it's cotton mills and was invited to the mainland to work on this larger project, namely providing year round fresh water for the numerous mills, people and rapidly growing industry in this part of Inverclyde. The finished waterworks did the job nicely and Loch Thom was named in his honour. 'The Cut' is now a Scheduled Ancient Monument and an extremely popular walk these days. I'm in two minds about creating National Parks and putting labels on natural features and landscapes. On the one hand it does save certain areas from development but on the other it dramatically increases the number of visitors into small areas that are now deemed 'fashionable' and the 'acceptable' thing to do, which in turn can erode the very essence of 'wilderness' they are meant to be protecting. As I've noticed with Loch Lomond National Park over the years not all visitors can be trusted to behave themselves correctly with such large numbers appearing, resulting in far more regulations and restrictions, so naturally, to me anyway, the archipelago of marvellous islands in the middle of Loch Lomond do not have the same quality of freedom and remote isolation they used to have 30 years ago. Mind you, few popular places do.
The first half of the Cut has views over rural farmland with mountains in the distance and we soon found we'd picked the right location as several sharp showers and much duller weather could be observed sweeping over the nearby peaks, which remained gloomy and overcast during our visit. This is a walk from a few weeks ago.
A zoom of what looks like the Cobbler, 2,900 feet, 884 metres, in the Arrochar Alps region seen from the Cut. Once again we were in sunshine all day whereas many regions experienced sharp sudden downpours of high intensity in very contained locations. With the humid summer temperatures still continuing we ran into several semi flooded roads on the way back yet we stayed dry and were only treated to a few rainbows over the surrounding hills.
A partial rainbow over the golf course.
A photo showing the aqueduct channel of the Cut. As we progressed further different urban views opened up across Gourock and Greenock.
One of Greenock Cemetery. This large wooded area is an interesting destination in its own right with many fine obelisks, tombs and gravestones on show as well as a network of lovely paths through a cornucopia of assorted tree types, including more monkey puzzle trees than any other location I've visited in Scotland. You also get fine views from the more modern part of this cemetery and it can be combined with other hilltops ( like Lyle Hill and adjacent small reservoirs ) to make a larger varied walking tour within the town.
Inverclyde Hospital and Central Greenock showing a small corner of the colourful modern school. One of the older, recently redundant, schools in this area was used as the location for Waterloo Road, a fictionalized BBC TV drama set in a modern comprehensive school with a mainly English cast of teachers and pupils. Not so far fetched as it sounds however as I've noticed an increasing number of English folk living and working in Scottish cities over the last decade.The Scottish Highlands have always been a magnet for rich incomers to kill the wildlife and play at big game hunters but now it seems there's a big switch into cities as well, and not just Edinburgh. The general consensus when asked seems to be that 'England has changed' and 'not for the better'... so they are all abandoning it to its fate and arriving up here in numbers. Mainly white and middle class it has to be said. Makes sense when you can sell a house in some areas down there and either retire on a large nest egg or start up a business with a sizable pot of money left over. Maybe the south of France is full up, too dangerous, or house prices are cheaper here now. From a strictly Scottish point of view though I have to say that 'Scotland has changed.'  My God! If this trend keeps up we may even start voting Conservative again in elections for the first time since the1950s! An unthinkable notion for any self respecting urban Scot even though Labour appears to be eating itself alive faster than a self catering cannibal. Immigrants out I say :o) Keep Scotland Scottish!
Obviously, New England is already taken but 'Albion' has also been suggested as a more forward thinking, less patriotic, future name for the country instead of Bonnie Scotland to reflect the recent demographic spread more accurately. New Poland also proved a popular choice and came in second.

A view of Greenock Docks with a cruise ship and a container ship moored at rest. Cruise ships are a regular sight here now in Albion, sorry Scotland, and this is a popular stop over to let visitors see the area. I've always said the Firth of Clyde and it's islands have world class scenery and the cruise ship owners seem to agree. As you can see a haggis is grazing in the field here above the town, unafraid and looking at the camera. Yum Yum.
A helicopter spotted on the way back.
Rain clouds building over the moors. A 12 km circular walk in total with one strenuous uphill section from Overtoun back over the hillside to the car park and the three reservoirs there. Allow 3 to 5 hours depending on pace and stops. Still a great varied walk.
And the usual glorious west coast seaboard sunset to end the day.

Here's another excellent film about a young deaf boy and his mother set in Gourock and filmed around the town and up on The Cut. Easily as good as Local Hero, The Full Monty, or Gregory's Girl but less well known. It gets a score of 70 to 90 out of 100 in most film reviews I've seen and is beautifully filmed and acted. A modern and clever fairy-tale of sorts and well worth watching. P.S. the mother is English of course (damn, they get everywhere) but it's still a great enjoyable film about childhood :o)

Friday 9 September 2016

River Clyde and Glasgow Gallery. Ships. Towers. Megastructures.

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This is a gallery of photos taken over the summer months during several cycle tours around the Glasgow area and along the River Clyde. One thing about any large river flowing through a city port is that you are always likely to see ships and other river traffic on it, even though in Glasgow's case it's a tiny fraction of the water traffic that used to pass up and down the river in its prime. (Think a quiet minor road compared to a motorway at rush hour for a comparison)
Even with that being the case I was excited to see this large ship berthed at Govan Docks as it's one of the biggest to travel this far up the river in recent years. According to AIS shipfinder, a really useful free site for identifying international shipping worldwide and where they are in the world in current time. It's the AURILIA, a 9 year old bulk carrier weighting in around 40,000 tons and a mighty 225 metres or 738 feet in length with a bridge taller than the height of a ten storey building.. or love song... and if you placed it in a standing position, on its propellers, it would almost reach the summit  of Edinburgh's mountain Arthur's Seat which is 822 feet high- but that's the mountain's height from sea level so there's not much in it at all.
It seemed to be unloading sand from its massive hold. Maybe for roads, concrete manufacture, or other uses. It can certainly carry a lot and it was excess sand I could observe tricking out the large metal grabs seen here. There also appears to be wind turbine blades beside the sand. It's a ship that travels the world and as of this post on the 9th September 2016 was sailing around the Hong Kong area. Gave me an idea of what the giant liners like the QE2 launched at John Brown's at Clydebank in this month of 1967 must have looked like going down the river. In September 1967 I had other things to worry about however. Forty nine years ago exactly in eleven days time the QE2 launched 20th September 1967, the last of the great Clyde built passenger ships to sail down the River.
A very green view of Govan from the other bank of the River Clyde. Govan certainly does not look as green as this when you are in it although Elder Park is a welcome oasis in a mainly built up area.
Like many of its citizens in this 'colourful' area this poor wee local bear has been in the wars, having had its paws, nose and ear sliced off. It is also chained to the pole to stop it running away to a more salubrious district. Like Bear's Den. Nae luck wee guy.
The great wood of the Bear's Den in all its glory.Not to be confused with the home of Rangers FC... or the forum.
Further up the river at the city centre I happened to notice this little craft puttering about under the bridges of Glasgow's Central Station. It's a lifeboat that can be launched from height into the water and is usually seen suspended above the river beside the City of Glasgow college. Until a few years ago this was formally the site of the old nautical college built in 1967 beside the river and resembling a concrete ship but recently revamped into two large gleaming glass and steel cubes beside the waterfront as part of a £228 million super-campus with three old individual Glasgow colleges transferred into one behemoth which seems to be how all colleges are going now. It's the same type of craft the Somali pirates used to escape in the recent and excellent Tom Hanks film- Captain Phillips- although in this instance it's used to train students who might have to escape from an oil rig platform in the North Sea or other vessel in the North Atlantic. Although slow it's designed to stand up to rough sea punishment and keep people safe.
Another mega structure of sorts is this- The Cineworld complex on Renfrew Street. Glasgow City Centre. Opened in the early 2000s with multiple screens on many levels  and over 200 feet high it can seat over 4000 cinema goers every night making it one of the busiest in the UK and reputedly the tallest cinema complex on the planet at the moment. Although not the biggest city in the world by any means Glasgow does seem to have a long tradition of firsts. Like many American cities most of Glasgow's central district follows the grid plan system. For instance, the grid system of streets here where the city centre and new town mansions had to be built over small but steep hills (drumlins) with the main shopping streets laid out flat for easy walking where possible and minor interconnecting back streets rising steeply up or down the hills was copied by several others, who used a similar grid layout to get around the same geological problems. The grid system was not a new invention of course as that dates back to the earliest civilizations but in a modern context the entire city centre laid out into neat squares and rectangles lined with shops made a big impression in the UK and abroad at a time when it was a large and rapidly expanding metropolis and one of the few European cities of that era to reach and then surpass a million citizens. In many ways, just as all eyes are turned towards China's booming economic growth and skyscraper towers now. Architecture and many of Glasgow's innovative building ideas also made it across the pond, usually scaled up bigger there, and there's always been a shared communication that works both ways with ideas flowing back and forwards constantly.
Another view of it from the opposite side. Being a glass frontage it has great views over the city day and night.
Another bulk cargo ship at Bowling Harbour. The AASFJORD out of Gibraltar.  At 114 metres length and 4000 tons its under half the size of the AURILIA but still an impressive ship. Currently sailing near the Dartford Tunnel up the River Thames in London. These hardworking ships certainly get around. You can see where the orange survival craft fits on runners at the back of this ship for a quick exit which is why students going to sea have to practice the safety drill at the college and be familiar with it.
Another view of it sailing down the deep water channel towards the much wider Firth of Clyde then out into the Irish Sea.

The MEDAL collecting chopped up scrap cars at Renfrew around a month ago. Comes in at 90metres length, almost 3000 tons, and currently sailing off the coast of Portugal.
A fast tourist rib taking visitors up the River Clyde past Glasgow Harbour. It might be exciting for young folk but you pay for speed and it's not as cheap as a conventional ferry or as long lasting. I prefer the wee boat plying between Renfrew and Yoker as I can get my bike on that for under two quid.
A selection of bright weeds along the river near Braehead Shopping Centre.
 One of Glasgow Tower from a grassy hilltop in Yoker looking towards Scotstoun.

Same Glasgow Tower close up. Still never been up this as it might be an anti climax as a hill-walker but I will one day.
The free views over Glasgow and Clydebank I can get from the Kilpatrick Hills.

And a bike view heading for Renfrew and the ferry crossing there, taking the minor road past Barshaw Park in Paisley up over this open ridge before dropping down towards the Disney- like Renfrew town hall. Built around 1873 in the Scottish baronial style of architecture that was in vogue then. Evening sunlight catching the stonework on the spires and the Campsie Fells behind.

Glasgow tower and the giant wind turbine on the Cathkin Braes.  This was built to power 20 percent of Glasgow's street lights. It's certainly visible from every part of the city and rises 125 meters or 410 feet tall on what is already one of the highest summits within Glasgow. Glasgow tower itself incidentally, has had a troubled past and has been out of commission for long periods but seems to be working fine now during the summer months.

In a short run of lesser known films I thought I'd highlight great original movies that, unlike many mediocre blockbusters which seem to be on all the time,every year, rarely get a screening but are genuine classics and well worth a watch. This first one is quite brutal and not for everyone as it shows the dark side of the American dream but it made an international star out of Jennifer Lawrence and it is a stunning tour de force. Great acting- great story. Every second tense and thrilling from start to finish.

Saturday 3 September 2016

Beinn Mheadhoin. Kingairloch. Glensanda Superquarry.

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Another 5:00am rise in Glasgow at the invitation of Graeme, David and Alex to bag Beinn Mheadhoin, a remote Graham across the Corran ferry and not the higher more well known one in the Cairngorms. We have been picking off Corbetts, Grahams and Donalds over the past few years in Ardgour, Sunart and Moidart but this was our first trip, or certainly mine, into the region known as Kingairloch.          Beinn Dorain, 1076 metres, above, taken from Graeme's car.
One of the advantages of not driving for an opportunist photographer is that you are free to take photos, albeit  from a moving car travelling up the A82 towards Fort William at speed. This is Loch Tulla just above Bridge of Orchy.
The great rock dome of the Buachaille Etive Mor, 1022 metres, came next, seen through a ribbon of static cloud and heralding the entrance to  Glencoe.
Another fine hill, and a favourite one for me is Creise, 1100 metres, with the famous nose, seen here on the right hand edge, making a fine easy scramble just following a line up the skyline ridge which can be grade 1 or 3 depending on conditions and which route you take up the rock. Having perfect conditions like here helps to see where you are going. If in doubt stick to the shallow gullies running up this rib.
An atmospheric one of the big Buachaille showing the amount of bare clean rock on its slopes and a fine mountain for all grades of rock climb on its near vertical walls of grey andesite and pink rhyolite which usually provides good reassuring grip and holds, particularly important on highly exposed scrambles and rock climbs around the summit. (See video at the end.)
Corran Ferry across Loch Linnhe came next and we left the busy A82 and 95 percent of the tourist traffic behind by crossing over here into Ardgour, one of the wildest regions in modern Scotland, mainly because it is free of Munros and therefore invisible to most of the walking fraternity.
That's not to say it's not spectacular, as it is, just empty of most walkers.
Cattle on the minor road to Kingairloch. The B8043. It was a lovely morning which would soon turn warm.
A track was followed from the small lay- by downhill past the big estate of Kingairloch House and I found out later, searching online for info, a previous owner here holds the record for shooting more stags, around 2000 before her own death, than any other woman in Great Britain. A fine collection, just like bagging Munros or any other addiction. They would make a sizable mountain of their own placed together in a big heap. Our mountain of choice seen in the distance, above. The summit is placed well behind this ridge and it seemed never-ending. Not for the first time we remarked to each other that the lesser hills can be just as hard as the Munros to climb.
Low flying jet passing, looking towards Benderloch region. Full info on the area including this bizarre snippet about stags, in here.

Another view of the ridge we intended to climb. Purple heather blooming on the slopes.
Although trackless once we left the main estate path and slogged through a small bog and tussock filled wood it wasn't too bad underfoot with short grass higher up on the ridge. A view looking down to Loch a' Choire. There was supposed to be an easy scramble on this ridge higher up but it didn't amount to much at all and would only be sporting under snow or severe winds. Our main hindrance here was the heat and humidity but once we reached the horseshoe ridge we got a welcome sea breeze. Quite a steep unrelenting ascent, although mainly a grassy one.
Graeme and fish farms on Loch a' Choire/ Loch Linnhe.
After passing the summit  at 2424 feet or 738 metres we continued down the ridge to visit the edge of Glensanda superquarry. This massive hole in the ground is one of the remotest large quarries in Europe with access only from a deep water dock and the sea. It has grinding and crushing devices to smash the rock into fragments before moving it down a mile long tunnel to the waiting cargo ships. See info link above. You get some idea of the scale here from this jeep on the internal road system. All the little black squares around the building are roughly family car sized.
Another view of the larger quarry. Although well hidden from most angles at ground level six million tons of granite aggregates are shipped out each year around the world and its estimated there's enough left to last 100 years. Probably make a good landfill site by then as we are fast running out of holes to dump our rubbish in.
The islands of Lismore and Eilean Dubh from the quarry. It is cleverly constructed to minimize visual impact and you can't even see it from most low lying locations. Usual summer heat haze obscuring the distant views here.
Looking back into Ardgour.
Coming down the ridge of Meall an Doire Doire Dhuibh and missing out Sgurr a Bhuic at 1866 feet as time was pressing and we were worried about missing the last ferry back. A 8 hour walk, mainly due to the heat and our advancing years. Over 3000 foot of ascent due to the up and down horseshoe ridge we followed and roughly around 14km or 9 miles. Felt a lot more though and were very glad and footsore reaching the car again.
Got the last ferry back just in time and witnessed a lovely sunset looking back towards Ardgour.
One of the Three Sisters and the Lost Valley in Glencoe on the drive up. A full 17 hour day once back in the house around 10:00pm.

In past years of youth I did a lot of rock climbing on the Buachaille Etive Mor as it's a hot spot among climbers for steep, highly exposed routes at all levels of difficulty. A great video here giving a real feel of this and also the camaraderie of climbing together as a close knit team. Worth a watch in full screen.