Saturday 17 May 2014

Creag Meagaidh

The normal route up Creag Meagaidh is from Aberarder - a walk through beautiful native forestry gradually reveals the awesome cliffs of Coire Ardair, which can be safely turned on the side via The Window. It would be crazy to ascend from Glen Roy to the north, twice as far from the road and several trackless miles across featureless bog and tundra. Only an idiot would climb Creag Meagaidh from this direction.

Parallel Roads of Glen Roy:

We arrived at the road end in Glen Roy at 7am after sleeping rough en route, cold and glad to get moving. But this glen has features of subtle interest, chief of which are the Parallel Roads - ancient shorelines from the ice age. Once up on one, you barely notice it - they are best appreciated from a distance. But a trip along the Parallel Roads makes a great low-level walk in bad weather, looking at the various waterfalls in the glen, one of which runs under one of the Roads, forming a natural bridge.

Upper Glen Roy:

The flat bed of the ancient lake has been steeply carved by the Rivers Roy and Turret at Brae Roy Lodge, bridged by an 18th century military bridge (the strategic Corrieyairack Pass is not far away). Imagine being a redcoat trudging through the glen in the picture above, believing the provenance of the Parallel Roads to be classical-era hunting aids created by Fingalian warriors, nervously looking up at the hillsides for Fingal's claymore-wielding descendants.

Spiderweb on the path:

A rough path with only deer tracks and spider webs leads up to the Parallel Roads, and beyond to a beautiful series of cascades marked on the map as Dog Falls. A perfect skinny dipping spot. We looked enviously at the waters. "I hear folk hike topless in Norway?" I asked my companion who had lived several years in Trondheim, but he had never seen such a thing. Another cherished myth busted.

Pool on the Dog Falls:

I dearly wanted to tarry at one pool but it was too early for lunch.

Above the Dog Falls:

We stopped instead above the falls, where the snowfields of Meagaidh became visible for the first time.

Creag Meagaidh from the north:

A steady trudge across the bog took us to steeper slopes and sun-softened snowfields, views opening up with each step. To the north and west the hills of Affric and Knoydart, Sgurr na Ciche and Sgurr Fhuran prominent, Ben Wyvis just visible in a haze. To the south an unfamiliar aspect of Glencoe and the Grey Corries - Creag Meagaidh's position as a large hill away from the two big massifs of the Cairngorms and Lochaber makes for unfamiliar views. It took a while to orientate ourselves and realise we were looking at Loch Treig.

Summit view towards Aonachs and Ben Nevis:

Dirty old avalanche debris streaked Beinn a' Chaorainn and mighty Ben Nevis heaved above the Aonachs. Then the summit dome and suddenly, having seen nobody all day, a score of people: small groups in 2s and 3s processing across the snowfield from the common-sense direction of Aberarder.

Creag Meagaidh summit:

We headed as close to the cliffs of Coire Ardair as we dared: joined the bank holiday crowds as far as The Window, and left them again for the solitude of our unconventional route back to Glen Roy, only wheatears for company.

Coire Ardair:

It was a long way back, our feet tired after their long confinement in boots. But this side of Creag Meagaidh had shown us Parallel Roads, secret swimming pools, and an approach Scandinavian in scale. This route less travelled is one for the connoisseur.

Avalanche above Lochan Uaine:

Friday 9 May 2014

Walking from Iona to Lindisfarne

Exciting news! A while ago I mused on a wonderful long distance walk, in the footsteps of St Aidan from Iona to Lindisfarne. Well somebody has decided to have a go at it! Robin Trew is a rector at Allesley Church, Coventry. He is doing it as a proper pilgrimage, and raising money for the Laura Centre, a Leicester-based charity that helps bereaved children and parents. They've got a donations page - have a look if you are feeling generous.

Robin has a page at Check out his progress there!

Wednesday 7 May 2014

Temple of War

Midlothian, like Lanarkshire, is a county of two halves. The northern coalbelt skirts Edinburgh, post-industrial towns congealing into one solid mass of commuter suburb. The southern half is different: discreet, attractive villages set in rolling, well-wooded farmland, rising gradually to uplands and the steep escarpment of the Moorfoot Hills.

South Midlothian countryside:

Guess in which half of Midlothian the sleepy village of Temple lies?

Temple consists of a single street rising steeply above the banks of the River South Esk. But this is new Temple, built in the 18th century. The interesting part of the village sits in the bottom of a gorge at the bridge, clustered round a ruined mediaeval chapel.

This was the Scottish headquarters of the Knights Templar. It is a beautiful, tranquil spot in spring sunshine, if unimpressive compared to Templar sites in the Mediterranean. But the order was formed to keep the pilgrimage and crusading routes open between France and the Holy Land. For the Templars, Scotland was a backwater.

The Templars' last battle in the Med was at Acre in 1291. Palestine and Syria became Islamic lands, and the Templars lost their purpose. They fell foul of powerful interests, and after a series of outrageous show trials begun in 1307 were disbanded by the Pope in 1312, under pressure from Phillipe IV of France, who was deep in debt to the order.

Gravestone in Old Temple graveyard:

An aura of age and legend clings to this sleepy village. In 1312 Christendom had two excommunicated kings - in Portugal and in Scotland. Only one knight, Peter de Boulogne, is known to have fled to Scotland, yet a story persists that the Knights Templar exchanged sanctuary for crucial help to Robert the Bruce. Although there is no evidence, it is not impossible that a small amount of assistance might have been given, but the idea of a whole order of excommunicated knights fighting alongside Bruce at Bannockburn is false. (Ironically, there is solid evidence that the Templars in Scotland fought against William Wallace at Falkirk in 1298.)

But people love a good Templar mystery, and the Wars of Independence came at just the right time to be woven into the legends of the Templars. And if whilst poking around the primroses and old gravestones you find insufficient evidence of the Holy Grail at Temple, you might have more luck a few miles down the road at Rosslyn Chapel, scene of the climax to Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code...

Temple from above:

Thursday 1 May 2014

Cherry Blossom Death

I love all spring flowers, and especially cherry blossom. It is a bittersweet moment when it falls from the from the trees. It signals the start of summer, but at the price of the loss of spring beauty.

It looks like confetti - especially outside a church.

Did this couple have confetti at their wedding? Did they live a happy life?

I know this chap didn't. He is Robert Fergusson, modestly described by Robert Burns as "my elder brother in misfortune, by far my elder brother in the muse." His jaunty poetry chronicled life in Enlightenment Edinburgh, but he died in Edinburgh bedlam in 1774 at the age of 24.

I think he would like his statue. It is a big hit with tourists, especially younger ones. Not a day goes by without a group striding down Canongate behind him, Abbey Road style, while a friend takes their picture.

On Sunday here, an alter'd scene
O' men an' manners meets our een.
Ane wad maist trow, some people chose
To change their faces wi' their clo'es,
An' fain wad gar ilk neebour think
They thirst for gudeness as for drink;
But there's an unco dearth o' grace,
That has nae mansion but the face,
An' never can obtain a part
In benmost corner o' the heart.
Robert Fergusson - Auld Reekie