Tuesday 18 October 2016

Lake District Trip. Patterdale Hut. Grasmoor Horseshoe. 852 metres.

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Day one of a club weekend trip to the English Lake District saw us driving down early on Friday morning to Keswick where Alex decided to bag the lower peaks around Buttermere as that looked the best area to visit with the weather forecast predicting dull weather and showers most of the day.
Our first sight of Cumbria was not too encouraging, buried as it appeared under heavy cloud from overnight rain but it soon smartened itself up into a dry if dull day. Personally, I always enjoy coming down here for the difference but I have met many hill-walkers over the years that dismiss the Lake District as too twee, tourist ridden, or lesser in some way compared to Scotland. A view even held by many English folk I've met. As you can see from the first photo Cumbria has many fine ridges that I think compare with anything in mainland Scotland but it also has other attractions, like civilized villages everywhere, cracking little towns, decent pubs and chip shops and more life about it in general.
 Keswick, Ambleside, Penrith and Cockermouth all have interesting histories attached and a more vibrant buzz about them, day or night, within a short distance of each other and only the likes of Pitlochry, Oban or Ullapool can match them up north in a mountain setting- but all the Scottish towns are spaced far apart so no pick and mix alternative destinations available over a normal weekend.
Always plenty to do in wet weather down here but fortunately it stayed dry so we went up the hills, picking the Grasmoor horseshoe and it proved a good choice. Two free car parks at the bottom of Lad Hows with no one else around soon had us climbing lovely grass paths towards a clearing summit ridge line.
It definitely felt like October with a cutting wind at times but not a bad day overall. Looking back towards the car park through golden bracken. Is it just my imagination or are the Lakeland Hills more colourful year round, scenery wise, than the Scottish equivalent? It's something I've always noticed since the first visit in my teens.
A view of Crummock Water and Loweswater.
Atmospheric lighting and clouds over the higher Lakeland peaks in the direction of Great Gable and Ska Fell. This area bore the brunt of any passing showers and rain while we stayed dry on the margins.
Higher up and still few folk around. It did feel as wild and remote as any of our other trips with around five people seen all day.
The scenery down here always impresses with its grandeur and elegant ridge lines. Still to do a dull hill down here- climbed plenty of boring doorknobs in Scotland.
And low level views are not too shabby either. This is the village of Hartsop in Patterdale near where we were staying in a climbing hut. Great low level walks around this area yet it is one of the least path friendly districts in the Lakes being in a steep sided valley with mountains all around.
Another view of Patterdale and its lush green meadows. Here again it's a small but lovely area enclosed by the hills. Herdwick sheep.
I've never considered adult Scottish sheep pretty in any way but down here many are. Sexy even! I need help :o) But its true. This one is adorable and that's not often a word I use for animals or people.
Certain breeds of Lakeland sheep have a way of relaxing on hillsides like supermodels gathered around a pool that you never see exhibited in sheep further north. There they just grimly graze on their allotted rain soaked acres without looking up much until they keel over and die but down here they seem to pay attention to everything and watch your progress up the hill not only without concern but with a friendly smile of welcome.They seem to have a lot more time at their disposal somehow and can indulge in sightseeing and sunbathing on a regular basis.
 Patterdale is not the best or most obvious place for a low level walk network as it only possesses a small strip of flat land but even here the few walks that do exist are stunning examples through picture postcard scenery. Highland Scotland just can't compete with this lush texture being far wilder, more barren and open plus its a country stripped long ago of its people, trees and inland villages- something you only really notice when you visit here or Ireland and compare the difference in the landscape and similar populations living in mountain districts.
Enjoyed our first day but it would get even better....
Driving under a  rainbow heading for the hut.
Moss Force waterfall and the high road pass through the Derwent Fells between Buttermere and Keswick from Grasmoor. Despite a potentially fatal drop into the gorge below, this minor road was completely devoid of safety barriers to stop you going over the edge- just a thin ribbon of tarmac then a few feet of smooth flat grass. Something I can't remember seeing in Scotland and the minor road passes here really do climb over mountains to a surprisingly high level. Yep. It's a tame place alright. I would not fancy travelling this minor road in winter or in the dark during heavy rain. A real eye opener.

A cracking film, in German (subtitled) about the last days of the Third Reich and Hitler's growing paranoia and insanity. I'm not a particular fan of war films but this is a gripping depiction of a period that up until it came out had not been covered by the west or Hollywood.

Wednesday 12 October 2016

Fort William Mystery Trip. Ben Nevis. Mamores. Ardgour.

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Another trip up north to bag a hill and a bothy in the Fort William area but as it's a relatively unknown bothy and hill we will play a little game and not name it here. Those who know- will know where it is. The above photo was taken in the car travelling up Loch Lomondside where the higher mountains around the Arrochar Alps start to make an appearance.
As usual on these 5:00am trips early morning mist is a feature, particularly in October, autumn being the season of mists, the appearance of the first frosts, changing colours on trees and ripe berries.
The first leaf litter starts to fall from tree to ground. The paintbrush palette of the 'little death.'
A view of Ben More, 1174 metres, crisply soaring above inversion mist cloaking the moisture soaked valleys below. A photo taken at Tyndrum looking back along the A82 towards Crianlarich.
Lochan na h-Achlaise on the western edge of Rannoch Moor.
Curved Ridge and North Buttress- two fine scrambles on Stob Dearg, 1022 metres, merely a sunlit section of the south and east facing front wall of the Buachaille Etive Mor, gatekeeper to the entrance slot via a tarmac twisting ribbon leading down between steep cliffs of rock towards Glencoe.
A closer look at North Buttress, Grade 3 Scramble... Curved Ridge Grade 2 and Crowberry Tower. My days of climbing these routes winter and summer, with and without a rope, are firmly behind me. At times most individual's journey though life fits into neat chapters... the years of a marriage...happy or otherwise.... years or even decades spent in a job with a certain set of colleagues.... children growing up before leaving home....friends in clubs long gone but not forgotten...the collecting years, the bothy years, the climbing years, magical times spent with a certain girlfriend who slipped through your careless fingers eventually, the retirement years ....or simply different hobbies, thoughts, and lifestyle choices as you get older. All well defined chapters making up the human book. In hindsight, looking back on those earlier years they can often seem like a window into someone else's life- a stranger...clearly seen for the most part but bearing no relation to the way things are now in advancing footsteps towards old age... at least for me anyway. I was a different person back then.
Ossian's Cave sitting high on the cliffs above Glencoe. It used to be a place of mysterious natural wonder as a child on my first Highland bus trips but now I know it's a damp unpleasant slot not worth the effort, danger and possible death required to reach it when far better, much safer caves can be explored at lower levels.
Wonder and mystery will always be attractive though as they can act as a powerful catalyst on the imagination and senses, but as you get older they can be harder to find.
An overnight stop in a highland bothy.
Sunset over Ardgour.
Ben Nevis and Distillery. Fort William.
On our mystery hill looking over at Ben Nevis, highest summit in the UK at 1346 metres, or 4,416 feet.
A glimpse of Fort William's upper suburbs and the higher parts of this popular highland town that most passing tourists will never visit or explore.
A close up of Ben Nevis, the zig- zag tourist path and the cliffs of Tower Ridge and Gap. You can just make out the summit cairns.
Sgurr a' Mhaim in the Mamores, looking like a dormant volcano with its cone summit made up of sparkling quartzite blocks. 1099 metres high.
Shifting light over the western seaboard from our mystery hill. Sometimes you do not need labels on everything.
David on the walk out.
Mystery hill-top viewpoint with bubbling clouds rising.
North Ballachuilsh viewpoint with Loch Leven and the Pap of Glencoe in the distance, washed with evening sunlight.
Garbh Bheinn showing the mighty Great Ridge, a V Diff rock climb in a still remote area.
And a Rannoch Moor sunset to end on the way home.

My new photo book -  'A Scottish Outdoor Kaleidoscope' by Bob Law is now available on Kindle. With 452 original colour photographs and over 30 separate trips described all over Scotland and even into England covering kayaking, cycling, hill-walking, urban adventures, island hopping, bothy visits, and easy but scenic day trips it should appeal to anyone interested in Scotland, nature, mountains or the great outdoors. If it was published in hardback or magazine form on paper it would retail between £15 to £30 pounds making it impractical in that medium. An ideal Christmas present for £2:49 on kindle. All my books are now suitable to read on computers with a free download app.
First couple of chapters free to read in this link.

A cracking little gem that captures the essence of childhood, nostalgic memories, and a simpler way of life. Now and again a rare film comes along that is so different, unusual, yet brilliant, it will stay with you for decades as a new all time favourite. This is one of mine. Quirky and slow at first it takes off like a rocket 20 minutes in when the children meet in the meadow.  A modern classic.

Monday 3 October 2016

Dunoon. The Holy Loch. Strone Point Views.

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The next outing after the post last week was a bike trip to Dunoon, probably because during the kayak day paddling around Gourock I was always looking across at it and thinking "not been over there for a while- must go again." So on my next free day off I loaded the bike into the car and drove down to Gorouck but this time just by-passed the seafront car park with its stupid three hour only restrictions ( see previous post on Gourock) and made straight for the esplanade nearest the ferry. For bikes the red western ferry seemed best to me although that drops you off at Hunter's Quay 2.5km from Dunoon's town centre but I was intending to cycle around the nearby Holy Loch first anyway.
Above is a photo of Dunoon's splendid little castle which has a museum in it and is surrounded by ornamental gardens, seen here, covering a delightfully arranged rocky slope in the centre of town.
Next to the castle is a small landscaped hill and viewpoint over the town and surrounding Firth of Clyde with a network of nicely laid out paths snaking through the gardens below then up the hillside via steps. Robert Burn's Highland Mary is the obvious statue in this photo, on the far left, looking out to sea, presumably awaiting his return (although maybe looking out at her own grave) as she is buried on a similar hilltop in Greenock cemetery. They met and had a very brief affair in his native Ayrshire which nowadays might be called a 'holiday romance' which may have left her pregnant. Although the Cowal peninsula is part of the mainland it does feel like an island in many ways as it's surrounded and cut off by sea lochs. Burn's 'sweetheart' was probably an exotic and foreign dish/ interlude for him as she spoke Gaelic and no doubt thought differently about the world compared to the rural customs of his native lowland Ayrshire. She grew up in Dunoon but moved around Scotland as a servant during her brief life then died aged 23 in Greenock of an illness so a brush with fame didn't do her any favours apart from immortality and remembrance. A 'romantic tragedy' or a naive young girl used and cast aside by a married man and known womanizer who just happened to write poetry. Take your pick. Her grave in Greenock is located in beautiful woodland surroundings  though so it is a fitting resting place and she is 'Queen Bee' on the summit along with 'King' James Watt. For me this modest mound here is the finest natural feature within Dunoon as I always love urban areas with hills and history within them. It may be tiny but views are brilliant from the summit and young children still love exploring geological features like this one that stimulate their inherent sense of wonder and imagination.
I'm still enjoying that sensation 50 odd years later within myself and get a kick of pleasure even now when I come across interesting twisting paths like this one. It was nice to see some young enthusiastic children climbing up here, free of gadgets, with their parents following behind, guiding and encouraging them to the top, as they will soon be locked into their own desperate modern race towards computer games, smart phones, and the modern educational grind to spend their entire existence in study, constant upgrades, and staring into screens twelve inches or three inches across. Technology and computers can be helpful and interesting in many ways but they can also gradually dominate every aspect of thought and impulse with addictive and corrosive results. A recent report highlighted the fact that almost a quarter of all teenagers had feelings of depression, suicide, mental health problems and low self esteem, particularly among girls. Although these feelings can be a normal part of growing up, which is in itself a confusing time, it's no surprise under a constant bombardment of mainly negative or conflicting media information 24/7, internet peer pressures and restrictive society goalposts to squeeze between, standards of behaviour mainly dreamed up by idiots, porn stars and celebrities... is it any wonder they are ****** up?

The only surprise should be how the other three quarters are still able to cope as anytime I get buses or drive around these days humans under 40, especially girls/ women rarely look at the world around them anymore but just focus intently on hand held devices/ machines/addictions instead to gain dubious levels of reward/ advice/ companionship/sex/security/or enlightenment. We don't need to worry about the 'age of robots' waiting around the corner in the very near future as it's already here by the back door. Implants will surely come next with chips inside our bodies so that we can't switch off- a marketing person/ retail seller/ state government/ law enforcement's dream. They already know our interests, work, friend and family connections, political affiliations, where we go to on holiday, where we live,who we meet and correspond with in great detail anyway so that's just the next logical step.
A timber yard on the edge of the Holy Loch. There is a terrific and very scenic cycle ride from Dunoon around the Holy Loch past Strone Point to Ardentinny then up over Glen Finnart to Loch Eck, returning to Dunoon on the A 815 then the A 885. It's a route using mainly low traffic minor roads, although like everywhere else in the last five years I've noticed an increase in cars even here, especially large square tanks with black tinted windows that are increasing popular around the world as you really need huge 4 by 4 off road hummer style vehicles to drive along on miles of smooth quiet tarmac and through city streets.
Lazaretto Point and Dunselma lodge sticking up behind on the hillside.
Dunselma used to be the Coats family sailing lodge and is built in a grand elaborate Scottish style. This family dynasty earned their fortune in the town of Paisley, through thread manufacture in the 1800s, at first local then expanding world wide and they also donated many fine buildings, including a hilltop observatory in that town. Dunselma also had a spell as a youth hostel until the 1960s. It was built by the original founder's grandson who had a real passion for sailing around the Firth of Clyde and Scottish waters in general and owned many fine large yachts not just one- like a billionaires classic car collection today. Although the Firth of Clyde boasts many beautiful buildings, castles and elaborate properties this is the jewel in the crown and my personal favourite.
Typical Firth of Clyde properties built in an age before airline travel when trips overseas took weeks instead of hours and stay at home holidays for one or two brief periods a year off work was still a novel privilege and experience for many. Here the rich and privileged could build grand mansions and escape the grime and squalor of the cities and towns, especially nearby Glasgow, Paisley and Dumbarton. It is still a stunning location today even if it is punctuated at times with massive 4 by 4s blasting out rap music from an unseen blacked out interior driving along the seafront road.
To get well away from this modern irritation disturbing my enchanted realm I turned off the main coastal road at Ardnadam and cycled uphill through a beautiful manicured estate, seen here, filled in its upper reaches with holiday timeshare style wooden chalets and caravans. I wasn't sure if I could get through here but at least it was quiet and peaceful, away from the annoying increase in road traffic below at the seafront in what I assume was a former grand estate as I could see a castle buried in the woods. It was also a new area to explore I hadn't been to yet and there's always a great delight/thrill involved in finding new places and possibly unknown interesting features. It was a complete off grid mystery tour for me and I was fully prepared to turn back if asked but I was in luck this time following the tarmac ribbon up past the chalet reception area then turning left of that building to continue on through empty mature woodland on a broad track and when that ended getting off to roll my bike along a narrow trail through yet deeper woodland until I came out at a green on the edge of a golf course. As a veteran of these mystery tours into unknown territory on the edge of populated zones I knew to trust my instincts and just follow the most used trail running in the general direction I wanted to go as however faint or overgrown they must lead somewhere if locals used them as shortcuts. There is a tendency nowadays to signpost everything to death and make trails obvious and popular but I for one enjoy the anticipation of exploring rarely frequented new ground and having mini adventures where the outcome of a journey is never certain. On this occasion I almost turned back here but another faint path skirted the edge of the green then seemed to continue downhill again in the direction of distant houses where I could perceive a small gap. Most of these unofficial trails are generations old, not down on any map, but are still maintained by local children's feet or dog-walkers and I much prefer them to routes like the official Bishop's Glen mountain bike circuit a few miles above Dunoon through monotonous pine woodlands  popular with tourists but shunned by contrary folk like me. I don't like it too easy all the time and don't mind thrashing through forests, across swamps, or lifting the bike over fences if I eventually get to where I'm going. It's all part of the fun.

I ended up coming out in a beguiling Dunoon suburb I'd never explored before but recognized the district name from an old Victorian sign pointing uphill on the esplanade that I'd observed on previous trips and thought worth investigating at a later date, which in turn led me into a switchback canyon land of elegant grand mansions half hidden by large tree adorned gardens that were still well kept in many cases but spoke of a different golden age. This was a part of Dunoon I was completely unfamiliar with until now and I really enjoyed exploring  this sprawling network of hillside properties draped over a high rolling landscape that must have been owned by the elite of Victorian and Edwardian society but were now showing signs of age and wear and tear- and no doubt their owners were aging inside as well as half the buildings up here looked as if serious money and maintenance was required but not always forthcoming. A money pit situation well known around the planet where large substantial properties needing constant attention and grooming collide with reduced incomes and advanced years. It had that feel about it but was still very impressive. Faded radiance in all its glory. A Scottish Xanadu I suppose. The above photo is from the castle mound viewpoint looking in the direction of Dunoon's residential suburbs climbing the outlying slopes and roughly the area I was cycling through. Many unexpected and interesting things to see up here in the back streets of the town that only locals and postal workers know about. Although Dunoon is only a short ferry ride away from Gourock and Greenock... reached by car on the road network it sits isolated on a sizable peninsula of land and off the main traffic route north from the central belt so it's probably less connected now than it was during the age of frequent paddle steamers and deliveries by sea.

Campbeltown and Tarbet on the far flung Kintyre peninsula are two further centres of civilization up the serrated western seaboard of Scotland that were just as easy to reach from Glasgow 100 years ago... maybe more so. For instance, I've only visited Dunoon by road on four occasions over the last 40 years as the ferry just seems an easier, faster and cheaper option.Around eight ferries operate in the Firth now but it used to be close to one hundred in its heyday if you include steamers, passenger carrying puffers and cluthas. Practically every dot of habitation had its own pier.

A large US navy Polaris submarine base used to be stationed near here in the Holy Loch and provided a great deal of employment and income for the town but that's been gone since the early 1990s and any tourist income generated is a fraction of that wealth. You can see that loss of income around Dunoon today with a still busy high street but like most urban UK towns it has several closed up shops and offices with to let signs above them. The Queen's Hall complex is lying empty at the moment, awaiting major refurbishment, and several sets of reinforced concrete steps leading down to the beach are blocked off due to storm damage tearing them apart like cardboard. On my visit the local church near the castle had several holes in the roof patched up with blue tarpaulin as the upper level took a direct hit in a recent lightning storm. Like everywhere else extreme weather events seem to be on the increase. Despite this I still had a cracking time here.. as I always do.
The Gantocks light just offshore from the pier at Dunoon, highlighting this flat rock shipping hazard which would be completely submerged and invisible during wild weather conditions otherwise. The home of seabirds, including gulls, eider ducks, cormorants, and shags.
And a last one of the pier with the surrounding hills behind. Incidentally, to give you a better idea of my bike route imagine yours truly cycling up this hill behind the pier on the left of the photo then skirting the golf course in a secretive manner, carrying the bike when necessary, to come down again into another suburban area on the extreme right of the picture. Different hill and golf course above Dunoon of course but you get the general idea of my bike/hike earlier.

Very interesting article. Also enlightening is the 'Syrian refugees said they wanted to leave' inside this item as most papers are only interested in selling copy in a very cut throat business and usually have their own agenda and spin to put out.

An excellent video today giving you a real idea of what the best of Scotland's mountains look like, including Torridon and Glencoe.  Well worth watching full screen. Stunning drone compilation.