Tuesday 30 November 2010

St Andrew's Day Snow

Whilst some lucky folk this week have been experiencing some of the finest sunsets they will ever see in their lives, from the likes of Rois-bheinn's summit or wee Meall an Fheadan, I have been convalescing at home with a bad cold then struggling in to work.

Waiting for a bus that is't coming:


Even with a cold I had to get out and see a bit of the surroundings, changed utterly by the thick blanket of snow. Everything looks cleaner, simpler, more jolly, and on Monday welly-booted commuters walked down the middle of the road and gathered in knots to discuss the cancelled bus services.

Dalhousie Castle:


Since these pictures were taken at the weekend, the snow has only got deeper, with 18 inches on our garden table. But hopefully I'll feel better by the coming weekend. Perhaps it will reveal another sunset of our lives?

Rum from Rois Bheinn:

Thursday 25 November 2010

Four Lochs of Argyll

A trip to visit my grandma's old house in Innellan.

From Helensburgh the road immediately crosses into the Highlands at Loch Lomond, famed in song. Ben Lomond's bald frosted head rises above knobbled moor and skirts of forest, reflected in the still waters.

Two miles from Tarbet on Loch Lomond, the road skirts the head of Loch Long, a canoeist breaking the mirror-smooth surface.

Loch Long:

Over the Rest and Be Thankful pass, crowded round by rugged hills, tiny Loch Restil cupped in their bosom; and down to the shores of Loch Fyne, the distant white houses of Inveraray, the Campbell Camelot, glinting in the sun.

A stop at Loch Eck to admire the reflections, ducks and a shag flying low over the waters, round kisses of fish breaking the surface amongst the smell of fallen leaves.

Still Loch Eck:

Finally, the sea again and Holy Loch at Dunoon. The destination is just a few miles from Helensburgh in a straight line, but the road is six times as far as it is forced round the heads of the lochs. Reading this back I just counted six lochs too, not four. Away from the forests and hillsides the sea is choppy, and we stop near Toward Point to breathe in the sharp tang of rotting seaweed and ozone as the childhood memories come flooding back.

Sea at Innellan:

Sunday 21 November 2010

Ascending Shalloch on Minnoch

A solo trip to South Ayrshire for another rehabilitation walk. This time to my last Corbett in Southern Scotland, Shalloch on Minnoch. This is an unfrequented and desolate part of the country, the hills lacking the tourist-attracting character of the Highlands, the damp streets of former mining villages threading steep hillsides.

The village of Straiton is the exception, with plenty signposted walks and a welcoming cafe, where a number of cyclists were refuelling. This must be popular with local ramblers in summer.

Straiton main street:

Once in the Galloway Forest Park (we are still in Ayrshire though) the vistas open up to present an air of space and majesty. This is, after all, the remotest part of Southern Scotland. The hills are of pathless and tussocky granite, with some beautiful rivers threading between lochs. Those who come here to fish have the place largely to themselves.

Snowy Rhinns of Kells and Loch Riecawr:

Carrick Lane, a river:

The views start to open up on battling up the thick shaggy vegetation on the hill, a buzzard above and a pair of geese flapping along languidly at eye level.

Unfortunately there was no view on top: the clouds were down, bullied by a biting northeasterly wind, and the compass had to come out. I startled a white mountain hare and watched it disappear into the mist.

It is easy to find the atmosphere of this area oppressively lonely, especially on a dull day of low cloud and threatening rain. But I returned to the car in high spirits, flushed with exercise and delighted that my dodgy knee had held up to the walk.

Monday 8 November 2010

Loch Katrine and the Trossachs

I'd always found the Trossachs a disappointment. Long trumpeted as a beautiful area, this was the earliest tourist spot in Scotland. Victorian entrepreneur Thomas Cook brought his first Scottish tours to the Trossachs. People clamoured to see the area that Walter Scott wrote about in The Lady of the Lake, one of the seminal works of the romantic movement. All across Europe the rationalism of the Enlightenment was replaced by a preference for emotion, for the gothic, for the natural world. The land of the Scottish Highlanders, who had only recently been declawed by the British army (or rather, reclawed in the service of the Empire), was ripe for rebranding as a thrillingly - yet safely so - wild natural wonder. The tourists came in droves, and handsome facilities were built for them in the middle of this wilderness.

The Trossachs Hotel:

Today the Trossachs is an area that your granny might come for a bus trip but not one, Ben Ledi aside, your hardy Scottish mountaineer would want to be seen frequenting. The reason for this is that it is right on the edge of the Highlands. For the Victorians, this was novel enough. But for us today, the area is known as the Highlands in miniature. With the full size Highlands just another half hour's drive away - why not go there instead?

Perhaps I'd been disappointed because I too had read a dusty volume of The Lady of the Lake in the uni library before visiting:
The western waves of ebbing day
Rolled o'er the glen their level way;
Each purple peak, each flinty spire,
Was bathed in floods of living fire.
and had been to more spectacular hill ranges - like Glencoe and my home peaks of the Arrochar Alps - before visiting the Trossachs. I was sure there was something special here, but despite a number of visits, I couldn't quite find it. You don't see it from the roadside, nor from climbing Ben Venue or Ben Ledi, nor from strolling to the falls of Leny or Bracklinn, or from visiting the Rob Roy Experience in Callander. The compelling essence of the Trossachs was hidden. Until recently. A trip to Ben A'an was to open my eyes.

Ben A'an, a miniature peak, easily accessible from the road, was to be my first hill since damaging my knee at the end of this May. The steep path through the forest is carpeted in leaves, of beech, oak, alder. We stopped to listen to the creaking of the slender trunks, the swaying of the crowns in the wind, the larch needles drifting down like snowflakes.

Path carpeted with larch needles:

Shortly, Ben A'an reveals itself: a seemingly intimidating peak, it is smaller and easier than it looks, the path going round the back:

Unfortunately a cloudburst took it upon itself to arrive, and views were largely obliterated by the rain. This would be a magical viewpoint on a sunny autumn day.

Loch Katrine from Ben A'an:

My knee felt OK, some clicking apart, after this small hill. I wanted more! Why not wander the shores of dark Loch Katrine, with its well-made hydro road?

Loch Katrine:

In the cold and rainy weather this felt like a wild spot, the Victorian railings by the side of the road incongruously park-like, information boards placed every kilometre or so. We learned about squirrels, pixies, Loch Katrine's use as a reservoir, and the impact this area had on the romantic artists. They were all here, Scott, Ruskin, Wordsworth, McCulloch, a second Lake District...

Looking across Loch Katrine:

Our walk terminated at a point called Ruinn Dubh Aird, where the view opens up and you can see up and down the loch. A discrete circle of inscribed slates invites you to stand in the footsteps of the poets, and to contemplate your own response to the landscape, make your own romantic art.

Ruinn Dubh Aird:

I had never walked along Loch Katrine before, and this place was a revelation. The pictures don't do justice to the area, surely best in autumn sunshine. I felt moved by the beauties of nature. Finally, I had caught a feel for the essence of the Trossachs.

Friday 5 November 2010

The Meadows

November, and the leaves lie thick along the avenues of the Meadows, the park between Edinburgh Uni and the upmarket tenements of Marchmont and Bruntsfield. Students in scarves and dark vintage coats, breath hanging in the dull daylight, walk from class to digs. An enticing steam puffs from the porridge vendor, young people on bikes glide silently past on the cycleways, barely raising a sweat. It is an evocative scene for many Edinburgh students. Come spring, the Meadows burst into life, impromptu games of football, frisbee, and touch rugby are played amongst the cherry blossom, tai chi classes in the dew of early morning. No matter how many people throng the Meadows on sunny days, there always seems to be enough space for all.

The Meadows have the distinction, like other Edinburgh parks, of being used at night. Streelights along the avenues and constant foot traffic make it feel safe. Nobody would wander in, for example, a Glasgow park after dark, for fear of rapists and junkies. It is a boon to Edinburgh that its citizens do not feel the need to abandon their parks after dark.