Monday, 6 November 2017

Cat's Back. Cnoc Mor. A Fairy Tale Forest.

                                             ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN
A good night was spent in the hut during our three day trip up North but on our third hill day the weather turned cold, wet, and cloudy so we left the dripping west coast and headed east. One of the great things about a small country like the UK is its range of varied landscapes within a short distance and if it's grim on the west coast... driving under an hour in the car to the flatter, sunnier, east coast often brings high rewards.
The Inverness , Black Isle, Nairn, Elgin and Macduff districts/ coastlines sit well away from the Scottish west coast high mountain ranges which catch most of the rain and as a result have a drier sunnier, climate year round with half the rainfall of the west coast. Above is Cnoc Mor, a small hill lying beside the village of Strathpeffer and Alex's objective for today. Although I had climbed it myself  several times in the past I was keen to do it again as I knew the views were excellent from the ridge.
We were just on the rain- sunshine boundary here as this view shows. Rain and murk over the higher mountains looking west....
Sunshine and hay harvests where we were, a few miles east around Strathpeffer. Most of our hut companions on this trip were Munro baggers so enjoyed a thoroughly wet day by comparison but I've always maintained  that sunny days are completely wasted on the young anyway :o)
On the western edge of Strathpeffer village a signposted side road leads to a car park with forest trails and tracks running up Cat's Back which is the continuation ridge of Cnoc Mor, the highest point. Many of the small hills around this crumpled, rolling ridge area are heavily forested but Cat's Back is unique by being clear and open along its modest spine. Seen above is a fairyland of carved wooden characters but this entire district has that same vibe of slightly surreal dimensions.
Thor at work.
You are being watched.
It didn't take us long to climb a balcony trail up to the pass separating the wooded end of Cat's Back from the open side.
This is a superb little walk to the eastern end of the ridge looking down on the town of Dingwall. I know this area fairly well but I'll explain why in the next  post. This open ridge with fantastic views reminded me strongly of the Malvern Hills around Worcestershire and indeed this entire area has a mixed Highland/ English Lake District feel to it. The reasons for that will also be explained in the next post.
This area is also famous for its autumn colours- some of the best I've seen anywhere.
Castle Leod, Seat of  Clan MacKenzie and in former times Clan MacLeod. (a Lewis branch now defunct) Apparently, this castle was a big inspiration for the Outlander books by Diana Gabaldon but  being an overnight stay, distance wise, from Glasgow and Cumbernauld, where the studios are situated, it would have meant extra additional budgets for film cast and crew in hotels, whereas Doune Castle, much nearer Glasgow, was a better option for daily shoots. Although romantic and chocolate box to look at, this castle does seem a tad fairy tale compared to the more austere and sombre Doune. Although of the right time period it doesn't really fit in with well established preconceived ideas of what Scotland or Scottish castles, should look like. A familiar pattern in places like Scotland, Scandinavia (Vikings with cow horns! ), parts of Africa or Japan with a deep international image already set in stone in film goers imagination. In a word... its too pretty for olden times- even though its real. Probably the reason why William Wallace is seen charging across wild, west coast mountains in Braveheart when he fought mainly in the central Lowlands and never went near the Scottish Highlands if he could avoid them. After all, dangerous strange folk lived there if you came fae Paisley/ Elderslie. Not too be trusted at all. W.W was essentially a flat lands city boy but lowland scenery is not as colourful or dramatic for films. Oh, and he probably never wore a kilt in his life, being a minor noble, but chain mail for fighting in; the Scottish lowlanders of higher rank dressed very similar to the enemy troops he was attacking, as did the common foot soldiers on both sides- also confusing for films. Kilts are crap at stopping arrows and they were brave men... not stupid. Even the Scottish versus English theme is a bit suspect and too complicated to go into here....:o)
Amazing just how many films Doune Castle has appeared in as a 'go to' ye olden times abode. Never knew Elizabeth Taylor had a film here although I knew she stayed in Scotland briefly later on. See info at the end of this link.

Loch Ussie and several islands.
Western edge of Strathpeffer.
Looking down from Cat's Back over rural farmlands to the North.
Looking in the direction of Ben Wyvis, 1046 metres, 3432 feet, a massive and isolated upland plateau covering a sizable chunk of this north east corner ending in a Munro summit surrounded by vast gentle slopes of grass and moss. A mountain most hill-walkers remember well for its individuality and endless tramping, walking across this vast tract of empty waste on a pleasantly deep and shock absorbing green and yellow carpet, high in the air. So different and lush a surface underfoot compared to the bare bones, boulder strewn, steep edged, western ridges.
A view down towards Dingwall on the coast.
Habitation below. A form of rural suburbia by the looks of it.
Cat's Back ridge and a low pass over the spine of this modest little range. At this point we split up- Alex to bag his Cnoc Mor trig - me to head off elsewhere on a journey I was determined not to miss. Hill-walkers tend to be fixated on bagging lists and not much else I've noticed over many years so I knew I had to visit it properly on my own now or not at all. I'd already done the wooded high point before so my new objective was a 40 year old nostalgia splurge... to be continued...

Something very different as a contrast- the wild spectacle of the mighty Atlantic Ocean/ North Sea in frisky mood. One of the world's more turbulent hunting grounds for a fish supper. Impressive stuff in this link, best viewed full screen. Don't think a couple of sea sickness tablets would do much good in this storm somehow. Amazing video.



Carol said...

I have a friend on the outskirts of Strathpeffer and was admiring a hill from her lounge - wonder if that's the one you guys were on? I don't remember her calling it either of those 2 names though. It ran alongside the road between Strathpeffer and Dingwall though.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
It might have been Knockfarrel, another high point along this same ridge.

Carol said...

that's the one! Looks really nice.

Linda W. said...

Love the views and fall colors!

Anonymous said...

A fine open ridge, we have a cats back ridge down where I live, also a fine walk. Great video as well. I often watch aircraft and marvel at how they stay in the air. Similarly I watch videos like this and wonder how they hell those ships stay afloat in seas like that

Anabel Marsh said...

I hardly know this area so it was interesting to find out about (and add to the list). I’m amazed you can ever get to visit Doube Castle at all, what with filming and weddings. The last time we were there, we watched a wedding party totter down that steep cobbled entrance (at least, the female stiletto wearing ones tottered).

Kay G. said...

Just get in the car and drive to where the weather is different! Ah, you folks who live on islands!
Beautiful photos, as always.

Ian Johnston said...

Great stuff Bob, and yet another hill you've highlighted that's gone straight on my "to do" list!

Super video - a brilliant juxaposition of image with soundtrack. I've spent 40 years as a seafarer so far and have had the experience of storms such as that on a number of occasions - including on vessels not dissimilar to one of those featured. Let's just say that one stops being concerned about seasickness when the weather really lets rip like that - a mix of fear, self-reflection and awe are more often the result, as well as trying to avoid being battered by your workplace moving through tens of metres and tens of degrees....

Kind Regards

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Linda W.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Andy,
The hill range and landscape around Strathpeffer reminds me strongly of various small hill ranges in England. Not really typical Scottish scenery at all. The fishing boat Veronika looks suited for rough seas but that last ship being really long and narrow does not look as stable... but I suppose it must be.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Anabel,
You would like it up there. Inverness, Strathpeffer, Dingwall and the Black Isle(reliable dolphin sightings from the shoreline) are all close to each other and interesting. Inverness also has a lovely walk across the Ness Islands and along the river bank lasting a few hours from the town centre.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Kay,
The downside of an island jutting out so far north into the Atlantic is the storms we get each winter... well seen in the video.

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Ian,
I've not had your level of experience of bad weather obviously and no major storms to report as I was only an infrequent island bagger over the years but did have impressive swells going out in a small boat to the Isle of May one spring and Eigg in mid winter.That was excitement enough for me with very large ups and downs but no white horses. Did have one funny sailing trip to the climbing hut from Elgol years ago where the boatman sternly warned us the vertical exit ladder onto the rocks under the Cuillin Ridge was extremely slippy with seaweed then promptly stepped onto it off his boat and disappeared into the water straight over his head when his foot skidded off, fully dressed in oilskins. His wife had to fish him out with a boat hook while we tried really hard not to laugh too much. He was not best pleased.