Friday 26 August 2011

The Carsaig Arches

Some places feel like they are in the middle of nowhere. Carsaig is not like that. It is more profound than that. It is a parallel universe that exists in its own space, separate from the rest of the world. Perhaps it was a place like Carsaig Sorley Maclean had in mind in An Ceann Thall:
An ceum a thug thu mu dheireadh
gu fàsaich an ràin bhaoith,
far nach cluinn thu ach magadh
aig sruthan, eabar agus gaoith.

Seo an t-àite mu dheireadh
an dèidh bòst curanta do spèis,
an ceann thall far nach eil tilleadh
ach bristeadh cridhe ’s uaill gheur.

The path that took you at last
to the wilderness of the foolish cry
where you heard nothing but mockery
from streams and mire and wind;

This is the ultimate place
after the brave boast of your aspiration
the farther end whence there is no return
but broken heart and sharp pride.
It's a long way to Carsaig, up and down a steep hill on a potholed road with parking space for just a half dozen cars at the end, and once you get to Carsaig, you feel you have come out of the world and into a different one. What other kind of place has volcanic rock over fossils?

Carsaig fossils:

What other place has a grey beach of volcanic sand?

Carsaig bay:

Where else would a public telephone box be placed next to a rushing waterfall?


The roadend at the hamlet of Carsaig is the start of one of Mull's best walks, along the coast to the Carsaig Arches. This used to be a little known route for the bearded connoisseur, but the internet has put paid to its obscurity. We saw a Spanish family straight off the ferry, and half a dozen other carloads also doing the walk. It was a lowering, overcast day.

Man on a dyke:

Once round the bay, lush crumbling cliffs of grey basalt and tuff towered above us as we picked a way along the shore, basalt dykes fingering out to sea and the distant Paps of Jura, bridal veil waterfalls tumbling over the cliff edge. I half expected to see pterodactyls soaring along.

Cliff scenery:

Shoreline at Nun's Cave:

The big draw, the terminus of this walk, is the Carsaig Arches. I had attempted to reach these before, years ago, but had to retreat and get my ferry home - the walk takes longer than you might reasonably expect from the map. So I was excited to approach the arches for the first time!

Carsaig arch:

Unfortunately the route over to the second and more picturesque arch is steep and narrow and we were minded to err on the side of safety. But late on a weekend afternoon, it was a fine place to be. One day I will return, perhaps taking the even more adventurous western approach?

Geograph: coast west of Carsaig Arches:

Friday 19 August 2011

My Favourite Half-Day

One of the nice things about living in Scotland is that wherever you live, it is usually possible to find a pleasant walk or cycle of between two and four hours just a stone's throw from your door. These days in Midlothian my favourite half-days are Allermuir Hill from Glencorse, the Water of Leith, or the River Esk from Roslin to Mavisbank. But of all my favourite Scottish half-days, the best must be from Glasgow. It's a triple-dessert of The Whangie, Devil's Pulpit and the Dumpling, showcasing the cool geology and heart-stopping views just a few miles drive from the city. If there isn't time for all three, then just one or two can be visited. (You can also have a great half-day just walking round the city centre and west end, looking at the people, parks and architecture.)

The first stop on this buffet of a tour is the Whangie. This is a feature on the side of little Auchineden Hill, taking no more than three-quarters of an hour to ascend (quicker if you aren't in company), with views across to the stumpy rhinoceros horn of Dumgoyne and distant Loch Lomond (the Whangie car park is called the Queen's View, as this spot on the road provided Queen Victoria with her first view of Loch Lomond). Turn south and you can see the towerblocks of Glasgow gleaming in the sun. But it is not the summit view that this place is famous for: leave the summit, heading west (be careful in mist!) and you will get to the unusual feature of the Whangie. This is a cliff that has peeled away from the parent rockface, forming a deep fissure that can be walked through. Geologists claim ths is a volcanic landslips. People in the olden days knew better though: the cleft was formed by a whip-crack of the devil's tail.

In the Whangie:

The least welcoming of the three short walks is the Devil's Pulpit, just 4km from the Whangie. It's dank, subterranean nature is a world away from the other two sky-walks, and difficult to photograph. But the short (it is barely half a kilometre) walk along Finnich Glen then down rock-cut steps to the bottom of a river gorge, winding walls above you and a rushing river at eye level, is highly atmospheric. Last time I visited the Devil's Pulpit access was not possible as a metal door had gone up over the hole-in-the-wall that previously gave access. However, it wasn't a high door...

Whangie View:

If you follow this itinerary then the best is saved till last. The Dumpling, a small, abrupt volcanic plug above Gartocharn is arguably the best viewpoint in the Lowlands. On the map it is called Duncryne, but I've only ever known it as The Dumpling.

Sign at the bottom of the Dumpling:

Park just south of Gartocharn where the road widens. You will know you are at the right spot because there is a stile with a notice that mentions teddy bears. The walk is short and popular with local families. In fact it was Gartocharn resident Tom Weir's favourite walk.

You approach the Dumpling via a short path through the 'teddy bear' wood, then a short but very steep path takes you right up to the top, where there is a trig point and ancient shielings hidden in the bracken. I recommend you keep your head down as you approach the summit, then lift it on touching the trig point. It is not just the steep ascent that will take your breath away.

View from the Dumpling - summer:

This half-day itinerary can be done over a long summer evening, reaching Duncryne as the sun sets on a golden day. It can also be done as a winter afternoon, taking advantage of any unexpected West Coast sunshine.

View from the Dumpling - winter:

Saturday 13 August 2011

Scottish Films: the Definitive List

Occasionally the subject of Scottish films crops up on the internet, on radio chat shows, in the pub, etc. Not actual films made in Scotland, like Trainspotting: but puns on Hollywood movies. 

I would like to take the opportunity to post a definitive list of these films. I won't include ones that are already implicit in the title, like Crocodile Dundee, or High Plains Drifter. Or Waking Ned. Nor will I include lame ones, like The Belles of St Andrews or Applecross Now, that aren't in some way amusing. All according to my own taste of course!

So here goes:

First we'll warm up with the ones that aren't that great:

The Postman Only Dornochs Twice
It Kaimes from Outer Space
Scotstoun of the Antarctic
The Bellshill of St Trinians
Laurencekirk of Arabia
For a Few Dollars Morar 
101 Dalmellingtons 
Beauly and the Beast 
Loch, Stock and Two Whisky Barrels
Meet Me in St Lewis
Dingwall Street
North by North Uist
Monsters Eriboll
Vanilla Skye 
The Coll of the Wild
Tiree Men and a Baby
The Last Castlemilk
Starship Leuchars 
Leven Las Vegas
The 39 Stepps
Mad Macs
Legally Ginger
Dumb and Dumbarton
To Helensburgh and Back 
Legends of the Falkirk
Eyes Wide Oban
Happy Gilmorehill
The Killin Fields 
A Tay in the Life
Gleneagles Has Landed
The Shawlands Redemption
All Quiet On the Western Isles
Vallay of the Dulls
The Forth Protocol
Brighton Gourock
The Great Eskape
Bonkle And Clyth
Stirling Crazy
Out of Affric
Death Of A Slainsman
Mrs Broon
The Glenbucket List
Annan of Green Gorbals 
I Married a Monster from Outer Hebrides
The Tingwall
Huntly for Red October
Curious Fort George
St Monans Lisa
The Longest Brae
Close Encounters of the Thurso Kind
The Blairgowrie Witch Project
The Tenement Commandments

Getting better:

No Country For Old Menstrie
The Tullibody Snatchers 
Milngavies and Dolls 
The Day the Perth Stood Still
A View to a Killie
A Bridgeton Too Far
The Cruel Seamill
Wean's World
A Clockwork Orangeman
White Men Canna Jump
Perth of a Nation
The Unforgirvan
Hoggansfield's Heroes 
Blazing Saddell
The Rothesay Horror Picture Show
Rhu Grit
Waulk the Lino
The Lost Bhoys
The Sassenach Patient
Priscilla, Quine of the Dysart
Trool Hand Carluke
Con Ayr
American Butey
Shotts in the Dark
Full Methil Jacket 
Callandar Girls
Journey to the Centre of Perth
Robroyston: Men in Fights 
Seven Bridies for Seven Brothers (which has recently been turned into a stage show about Greggs the bakers!)
Love St Story
Of Dyce And Men
Flash Gourdon
Luss Horizon
Uncle Buckfast
The Good, The Bad and The Cludgie

The Tom Hanks selection:

The Greenock Mile
Forres Gump 
Ewe've Got Mail
Neepless in Newbattle
Saving Loch Ryan

Better Still:
The Sconeies
Treasure Burntisland
High Dunoon
Escape From New Lanark
Jurassic Parkheid
Crieff Encounter
Passport to Pitsligo
Croy Story
Night of the Leven Dead
Crouching Tiger, Midden Drongan
To Kill A Mawkit Bird
The Wee Man Wears Prada
Hedwig and the Angry Inchinnan
Barassied Off
Tain Man
The Madness of Kingussie 
Aberlady and the Tramp 
Silence of the Glamis 
Forfar the Maddening Crowd 
It's a Wonderful Fife
Clynder's List
The Leadhills Have Eyes
Och Aye Robot
Moulin Ruchazie
Belle de Jura
Brora! Brora! Brora!

And my favourite:

The Capes of Wrath

Finally the world's biggest grossing film, from just over the border:

Tight Alnwick...

Wednesday 10 August 2011

An Old Town Encounter

"Free comedy! Free stand up!" he said, trying to thrust a leaflet into my hand. 

"Sorry," I replied, "I have no sense of humour."

Thursday 4 August 2011

Festival time!

Rain-swollen gutters, chewing gum and broken glass, drookit beggars by the cash machines, buses washing pavements at the pothole puddles, small herds of tourists in polyethene ponchos, a dripping mass of humanity drenched in rain of West Coast luxuriance; junkie-thin young Londoners in pork-pie hats or sandals, puffy with sleep-deprivation and sallow with booze; peeling comedy posters, collapsing masonry, a wonder the whole city does not dissolve in this rain... such is the now traditional wet first week of August and the spectacle granted to the citizens and festival-goers of Edinburgh.

Given the weather, what better way to while away the time than being holed up indoors and led away into a fantasy land of theatre and comedy? It's Laughing Horse @ the Phoenix Bar on Broughton St for me today to see Bratchpiece and Smith...

Monday 1 August 2011

International Whisky

Think of France, and what comes to mind? Baguettes, small dogs, squeaky bicycles, wine. What probably wouldn't spring to mind is whisky: brandy perhaps, but not whisky. The French are so protective of their own regional produce (to the extent that they had cognac, champagne and bordeaux enshrined in the Treaty of Versailles) that you would not think they would try to steal another country's alcoculture and pass it off as their own. So imagine my surprise to come across a whisky distillery in Lannion!

Armorik whisky and kouign amann on a granite boulder:

Now Lannion is not in France proper - it is in Brittany, and the whisky is marketed as a product 'Celtique' as opposed to 'Francais' - there is a handy map on the back of the bottle with Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall and Brittany highlighted.

And the celtique label has some traction. When the Romans empire collapsed, Britons from south and west Britain fled from the Saxons to Armorica, resulting in the area being renamed Brittany.

How does the whisky taste? As you might expect from a premium French product, very good. It is sweet and warm and slips down easily, not as complicated or characterful as some Scotch whiskies perhaps but more drinkable than most.

Whilst in Brittany, I also discovered the least healthy - but most delicious - snack I have ever come across, Kouign Amann. This consists of a dough supersaturated with butter and caramelised sugar. We heard bagpipes being played at a local music festival, and the rocks along the Côte de Granit Rose are the same pink granite boulders as you'll find in Glencoe. The extremity of Brittany is even named Pointe du Raz after a viking word.

On the pink granite coast:

Whisky, bagpipes, unhealthy food, granite rocks and a headland that sounds like Cape Wrath? Never mind being merely celtique: I reckon the Bretons are going all out for Gaeldom.