Monday 26 October 2009

100 Best Walks: Loch Faskally

Somebody like myself, used to the obvious, the explicit, the big hills and clear lines, has driven past Pitlochry perhaps a hundred times, zooming along the A9 bypass, thinking that perhaps it would be worth having a look at Loch Faskally, but being seduced instead by those hills towering above the road - Beinn a'Ghlo, the Cairngorms further north: the explicit, the obvious. But this was a walk I had fancied doing for a while - along Loch Faskally at Pitlochry, up the riverside to Killicrankie, round the Linn of Tummel, and back, along an unclassified road, to Pitlochry. I'd had an intimation earlier this year of how beautiful this hidden area was, paddling down the River Tummel on my stag do.

Looking across Loch Faskally (from Faskally House area):

Yet this walk was still a revelation. Dog walkers, young families, ramblers - the path was as busy as Shiehallion on a Sunday, yet these people knew a secret, it seemed to my hillwalking mind, that I had only just been let in on - the beauty of the area around Pitlochry. The reason this was a surprise, I suspect, is that the hillforms around here are no match for those of Glencoe or other areas in the Highlands, and therefore I had dismissed it out of hand. But there is more to the outdoors than hilltops, and the autumn colours and watery reflections around the rivers Tummel and Garry are, in the words of Louis Stott about the The Waterfalls of Scotland 'worth gaun a mile tae see'.

River Garry:

The forecast had been for sunshine and showers - and it was half right! But the rain wasn't too bad once we set off; the area around Faskally House and Clunie power station, a masterpiece in the mould of St Andrew's House, is especially beautiful. The sun even came out briefly as we crossed the footbridge over the Garry, and we saw a red squirrel near the Linn of Tummel.

The Linn of Tummel:

Rowan Berries:

I'd been given a copy of Cameron McNeish's Scotland's 100 Best Walks a while back and was gratified I'd already done most of the walks. This was one of the few I hadn't, though ours also included the dam at Loch Faskally, where at the right time of year, you can watch salmon climb the salmon ladder. I'd recommend this extension, and would have this walk in my own personal top 100.

Above Clunie Power Station:

I wonder what that full list would be?

What would be in your top 100?

Monday 19 October 2009

Landscape Photographer of the Year

I've been sworn to secrecy until now, but now that the feature in yesterday's Sunday Times is out, I can tell you - I've been commended for a picture in this year's Landscape Photographer of the Year competition. Being commended means I don't get any prize money. I do get my picture in Landscape Photographer of the Year - Collection 3, but no money from the sales of that book. The honour of being featured is supposed to be reward enough. There's also to be an exhibition of the pictures in London's National Theatre from 5 December this year to 24 January.

My entry to the competition:

The competition mainly revolves around English National Parks - the park authorities are the main sponsors, and there are special prizes for best pictures taken in each of them. What is interesting therefore is how many of the pictures chosen represent Highland landscapes - the obvious place to look, perhaps, for a landscape photography prize, but I liked very much some of the less obvious and subtle entries. Mine was taken above the Cairnwell near Braemar, and features Billy battling against spindrift on a winter's day. It's not the best quality of picture - taken on 35mm film and scanned a while ago for my website, it could have been scanned better. Compare it in sharpness and detail to the technical quality of the winning picture:

The winning entry:

I don't like obviously faked landscapes, and confess I presumed a heavily photoshopped entry might win; but the processing in this enhances, rather than detracts from, the picture. I like it very much, and it encourages me that such a normal looking, albeit spectacular (and well composed - look how the rays of sun hit the Old Man), landscape won the competition. Perhaps next year??

Billy - if you'd entered the pic of me and Dave on Beinn Mhic Mhonaidh, you might have won something!

Tuesday 13 October 2009

A Great Glen Adventure

The rain stopped before dawn, mountains still wrapped in cloud blankets as the sun rose red across Rannoch Moor. Reflections of sky and boulder dotted the moor, the water glass-still, and two deer crossed the road in front of my car. A monumental atmosphere entering Glencoe. A primevally perfect day for a paddle.

Lunch stop, Loch Lochy:

The aim was to travel from Banavie locks to Fort Augustus along the Caledonian Canal, taking two days, staying on the side of Loch Lochy on Saturday night. We had sea kayaks hired from Snowgoose Mountain Centre in Corpach, and enough gear to take care of ourselves.

Weather closes in:

The Caledonian Canal was a revelation. I had always previously considered the area from Fort William to Invergarry to be dull, a lull on the road to Skye between the crescendoes of Glencoe and Kintail. The reason for this is that the car-bound hillwalker doesn't see much except trees on either side of the road. From the water, and at a slower pace, far more is revealed.

Put in next day, Loch Lochy:

The paddlers:

I was especially impressed with Loch Oich. This is a place I want to return to again. Oak, birch, scots pine and other trees are turning for autumn, the water full of fallen leaves, a romantic ruined castle perched on a crag above the loch, one whose existence I never even knew of.

Old Invergarry Castle, Loch Oich:

There had been a couple of hairy moments crossing Loch Lochy, with squalls and a building swell that threw us onto our last beach of Saturday. But the canal itself was beautiful and quiet, and we glided past swans, dippers, and ducks, unconcerned with our passage through their territory, brambles bushes fat with fruit hanging over the sides of the broad handsome canal, acessible only to canoeists.

Caledonian Canal:

This was my first canoe trip, but I hope it won't be my last.

Monday 12 October 2009

To Inverness

It has been many years since I've stopped in Inverness, rather than just passing through, so I was curious to see what the town* - which has supposedly been one of the fastest growing in Britain - is like today. There were certainly signs of change - the Polish delis that are in all large British towns, and a huge shopping centre squatting over a couple of roads. Not to mention the Kessock Bridge, which has been built since I last stopped in Inverness! It feels larger than Stirling - perhaps, if Inverness keeps growing, it will overtake Paisley in population size, if it has not already done so? It's certainly a nice area to live if you like outdoor sports, with a dry east-coast climate situated very close to some of the best west coast scenery, with biking, hiking, rafting, skiing and most other things well catered for nearby. In fact the only thing that marks it down as a place to live is the short hours of winter daylight. It could also do with a university campus, but the University of the Highlands and Islands is a unique, decentralised organisation with offices scattered across the north and west.

St Andrew's Cathedral from Inverness Castle:

Although there has been change in Inverness, some things have remained as I remembered. The outlook from the castle is beautiful, as is the walk up the island-studded River Ness. Unfortunately there wasn't time to go up Creag Phadraig where the Pictish kings held court, as I was in Inverness on business.

The reason I was in Inverness was to talk about my book. (I promise not to make too many more posts on this subject!) It was good to meet John Allen, author of Cairngorm John, and John Davidson, an outdoor journalist who chaired our talk. Both Johns live in Inverness/Invernesshire. Cameron McNeish lives in the next-door village to John Allen. It's the place to be, it seems, if you are going to write about the outdoors.

At the book festival:

*Inverness is officially now a city, but there's really only one proper city in Scotland, and that's Glasgow.

Sunday 4 October 2009

Inverness Book Festival - Thursday 8 Oct

This is just a quick note to let you know about the Inverness Book Festival - I'll be appearing with John Allen (who wrote Cairngorm John and was leader of Cairngorm Mountain Rescue like, for ever) to talk about hills in some way or another. It's on Thursday 8 October - the same day as Claire Grogan and Brian Wilson!! (No, not that Brian Wilson - this Brian Wilson.

So, if you've got nothing better to do, and you are in Inverness on Thursday, and you like hillwalking, why not pop along and join in the fun.