Monday, 21 April 2014

New Loveofscotland.com

Last month I told you about the update to my main website. It is now complete. A fair amount of time has gone into it. So why not have a look?



Pictures, impressions, history - all at http://www.loveofscotland.com.

A fun addition is the google map. You can see each place I've blogged about so far in a map - and even centre the map on the nearest blog post to your own location!



So take a look - before I put ads on in a bid to recoup some costs...

Monday, 14 April 2014

Sgurr Dhomhnuill's Hillwalking Lesson

What hill is that? I used to wonder of the prominent peak somewhere in the jumbled mass of Lochaber in my early Munro-bagging days. I would go to the library and look it up but couldn't find it in any of the Munro books. It was only after repeated trips that the penny dropped. It was Sgurr Dhomhnuill, highest peak in Ardgour. And it wasn't in any Munro book because it was a Corbett - but one of those special ones, a rough, west-coast Corbett that had to be climbed from sea-level and had views to match any Munro.

Summit view:


We arrived in light spirits after a night camping at the Kingshouse, my ice hammer a £3.50 loan from Glencoe Mountain Sports as I'd forgotten to pack my axe. The primroses were out and birds singing in the forest at Strontian, but it was still winter on the summits. Spring is my favourite time of year. Snow, sunshine, long hours of daylight - and no midges!

Sgurr Dhomnuill from below:


On exiting the forest a north wind hit us hard, but as we climbed higher the views improved - Garbh Bheinn, Beinn Resipol, Ben More on Mull; and east, Glencoe, Cruachan and Lochaber - an unaccustomed aspect for most people, the quick ferry ride at Corran being enough to ensure Ardgour is little frequented.

Ascending in high sprits:


The summit was uncomfortably windy, and as we had come up a bit of mixed snow/rock scrambling, we decided not to return the same way. We headed down virgin snow to make a circuit of the hill, our route ending at a cliff face. Dave went round it, the snow disturbed - presumably someone else had already come this way. This was of some comfort. A fierce gust of wind pinned us down, crouching and grasping the hired axe for dear life. When I was able to look up again, Dave had disappeared. The snow seemed less stable now. Hard to tell where the feet were going with a face full of spindrift and ears full of screaming wind, and as far as I could tell, the slope I was standing on ended in nothing. I didn't want to slip. But where had Dave gone? My nerves tingled. I suddenly realised the disturbed snow wasn't footprints. It was avalanche debris! Billy came into view behind me.

"I'm shitting myself," I shouted.

I wasn't going to go on, but where was Dave? "Dave!" shouted Billy. He had spotted him. A second later I saw his axe battering at the edge of the precipice, and he hove slowly into view. 'Back up?' I pointed. 'Back to the top,' Dave signed.

Billy led the way, making sure of each slow step. Much of the snow was sugary, and would provide no purchase for arrest in the event of a fall. Once on higher, safer ground, Billy and I laughed in relief. Dave had cramp, and didn’t feel like laughing.

"It was icy, sheer rock. Terraced cliffs. I was slipping... not a good descent route."

We descended the way we had come up - which was easy, nothing compared to what we had just foolishly attempted.

Once safely back in the forest our spirits revived, though we were humbled by the lesson a mere Corbett had taught us. Despite our combined experience, we were still capable of finding our boundaries suddenly and uncomfortably stretched. Respect your mountain, whatever its height.

"Well Craig," said Billy, "at least we know what your life is worth!"

"What?"

"Three pounds fifty!" he said, remembering my hired ice axe.

Dark shapes of deer flitted silently through the trees.

Monday, 31 March 2014

New Site Update

Things have been quiet here, with a reason - but now it is time to reveal why. I've had loveofscotland.com for quite a while but neglected it for several years for this blog. But no more! The core of the site is a tour of Scotland, which my contemporary eye found stale, my decade-old assumptions clunky and poor style glaringly obvious. It is better now - but I'd be very interested in what improvements you think could be made!




At the moment there are only seven pages of the tour available, from Stirling to Galloway - but there is also a googlemap of the blog. Googlemaps can have layers - and that leads to a fun thought. What other blogs would like to be included on the googlemap? Imagine a situation where multiple outdoor blogs, say, are linked from one location, the traffic of each easily available to all. Worth a shot?

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Hidden Door Festival

There's been little activity recently, for reasons that will soon become apparent! But in the meantime, let me tell you about an event in Edinburgh coming up on Friday 4 April. The Hidden Door Festival is a week-long emergent culture festival in one of Edinburgh's many mysterious vaults. Friday includes plenty goodies including local indie band Meursault, fresh from Texas' SXSW festival.

Preparing the vaults:


But I'm not posting because of the music. An interesting project I had a *very* small part in (as a kung-fu zombie...) - a crowdfunded supernatural webcom called Godhammer - is being premiered in Vault 17 at 3pm.




I've no idea what Godhammer will be like - but if it is anything like the director's previous films, Sockzilla, Zombie Asockalypse, or my music video Dance Disco Robot, it should be fun!

Dance Disco Robot:

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Best Viewpoint in the Lake District?

What is the best viewpoint in the Lake District? I have heard many spots praised. Recently, I fancied taking a look. Would it be Blea Tarn? Catbells? Ashness Bridge? Somewhere else?

My first visit was to Blea Tarn. This lochan has a view across to the knobbly Langdale Pikes, the most photogenic hills in the Lakes. It wasn't bad - but the view from Lingmoor Fell, a Marilyn above the Tarn, is in my mind superior. The time to be here would be an hour before sunset on a fine autumn or winter's day, the shadows picking out every wrinkle in the hills opposite.

Langdale Pikes from Lingmoor Fell:


Tarn Hows is another small lake that garners praise. Unfortunately the day I visited was just one of the many wet days this winter, the surrounding hills hidden in mists, the tarn itself not exactly at its scenic best, as you can see:

Tarn Hows:


Quite a lot of the other well-known viewpoints have one thing in common - they are near Derwentwater. We took a walk around the perimeter of the lake, checking out Ashness Bridge, Castlstead Hill, and others - though not Catbells, as the rain had set in for the day by then.

Derwentwater from Castlestead Hill:


Ashness Bridge:


But my own favourite? It must be the midsummer sunrise from Scafell, rolling waves of golden hills breaking as far as the Pennines, the summit shared with nobody except a young couple who had hunkered down in a neuk for the previous night's sunset over the coast. Now that was a view - I obviously need to go back to these other ones in better weather...

Friday, 28 February 2014

Dove Cottage

What do you do in the Lake District on a wet weekend in February? You might go up a hill in the rain. You might, as I wrote in my book The Weekend Fix, 'clack-clack your twin walking poles round the Beatrix Potter nik-naks' of Coniston's tourist shops - or trial and buy outdoor gear, the Lake District having more outdoor shops in a greater concentration than anywhere else in the UK. Or you might take advantage of the Lake District's great literary connections and visit Hilltop - Potter's house, or Wordsworth's Dove Cottage.

Wordsworth is most famous for Daffodils. Personally I don't think that much of it when he has lines like:
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
          But to be young was very heaven
Now that is poetry! Wordsworth and Coleridge helped to launch the Romantic Age in English literature with their 1798 joint publication Lyrical Ballads. Along with their contemporaries Blake, Keats, Bryon and Shelley they were famed for taking English language poetry to a new level, away from the mannered Augustan verse of Pope and Dryden and into the realms of fancy. At the same time, and in the same way that Beethoven almost single-handedly redefined the image of the classical composer as a troubled, willful genius, Wordsworth and his contemporaries remoulded the image of the poet from an urbane dispenser of epigrams to the image still dominant today: a sensitive fop, musing over flowers in the rolling English countryside. They were the Beatles, Stones, Kinks and Who of poetry, moulding the genre forever in their image.

Dove Cottage:


But Wordsworth and his sister were no fey dandies. They were robust outdoorsy types, walking impressive mileages each day. It would have been easy for Wordsworth to be lazy as he'd been fortunate to discover early on a rich patron, whose generosity allowed him to buy Dove Cottage and concentrate on writing. But his friend Thomas de Quincey (who moved into Dove Cottage after the Wordsworths moved out) estimated that Wordsworth walked 175,000 miles, or an average of eight miles a day, every single day of his long adult life.

He could hardly have chosen a better place to walk. Hills in every direction, wooded lake shores to explore, quiet, yet with basic roads and facilities already in place. The only problem would have been the weather. We took a short walk from Dove Cottage to a knoll between Grasmere and Rydal Water, deciding that on a day of rain and sleet, when cars had their headlights on at 1pm, that this was far enough for us today.

Rydal Water:


Wordsworth would have hardly got into his stride at this point.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

The Wallace Monument

Head for Stirling Castle on its rock and you may find your eye drawn instead to Abbey Craig and its striking tower. The tower is topped by an unusual stone crown, the like of which is seen only in Aberdeen's Kings College and St Giles' Cathedral in Edinburgh. This is the National Wallace Monument, opened in 1869, the construction funded by public subscription.

Stirling Castle with the Wallace Monument left and behind:


Inside are displays from the medieval period, 'Wallace's Sword', a gallery of modern heroes, and from the top, fantastic views of Stirling, the Carse of Forth, and the Ochils.

William Wallace is Scotland's national hero. In an age when submission to Edward I of England was the sensible thing to do, Wallace's uncompromising attitude provided inspiration to his countrymen. He defeated an English force in 1297 but was betrayed and martyred, and it was to be Robert the Bruce who wrested the crown of Scotland from English control. But like Joan of Arc after him, it was Wallace the ordinary people wanted to hear tales about.

(Monuments to Robert the Bruce are much thinner on the ground. At the same time as the National Wallace Monument was inundated with subcribers, a Bruce monument planned for central Edinburgh was canned due to lack of public interest.)

Wallace Monument on Abbey Craig from the Ochils:


The Wallace monument was constructed at the height of the British Empire. Why would the Scots want to remind themselves of a time when they were engaged in damaging warfare with England? A clue is given in Graeme Morton's fascinating book Unionist Nationalism. At its time of construction, Scots played a major part in the empire. Yet the United Kingdom itself was a looser-run affair than it was to become in the 20th century, the spirit of laissez-faire entrenched, the ever-tightening tentacles of central state control decades away. Provided they sent tax revenues to London and men to fight the empire's wars, the Scottish establishment largely ran its own affairs. This happy circumstance (grumbles over the amount of tax sent to London without benefit to Scotland notwithstanding) led to an argument that sounds unusual to modern ears, but made sense at the time. Unionist nationalists argued that it was only thanks to the Wars of Independence and continued resistance to English domination, that Scotland finally gained its position as an equal partner to England in the 1707 union. Scotland's hard-fought independence meant that come the union, her trading rights were enhanced and her legal, educational, ecclesiastical and local government establishments preserved, as opposed to the sorry state in 1542 and 1801 of Wales and Ireland, which were incorporated into England's establishment whole. The synthesis of philosophical opposites allowed Victorian Scots to retain their national identity without it threatening the British state.

The Dryburgh monument:


There are several other Wallace Monuments. Off the top of my head I can think of a statue in Aberdeen, one at Dryburgh, a monument in Elderslie, a striking modern scupture at Loudon Hill, a plaque at the site of Dundee Castle, a cross at Robroyston where Wallace was captured, and a plaque at Spitalfields where he was killed. The list-ticking geek in me wants to visit them all...