Monday 8 August 2016

Beinn a' Ghlo in the Pissing Rain

It would be the height of folly to climb the Aonach Eagach in Glencoe whilst drunk. This isn't the aim of the Glencoe Pub to Pub Traverse - just one pint in the Kingshouse, which should be sweated sober well before tackling the Aggy Ridge's scary bits, then a final triumphal pint in the Clachaig - a fun challenge combining Glencoe's two famous hostelries plus her most notorious ridge traverse.

The Aonach Eagach on a dry day:

So doing the Aonach Eagach drunk is not the purpose of the Glencoe Pub to Pub Traverse at all. But there are safety limits. And they have more to do with the weather than the booze. The height of folly is attempting the Aonach Eagach at all - whatever your state of sobriety - with rain and gales forecast.

Between showers:

And that's how we ended up on Beinn a'Ghlo in Perthshire in high winds and pissing rain.

Beinn a'Ghlo is one of the best-known hills in Scotland, familiar to anyone who has driven up the A9. Its rounded bulks dominate the view of Blair Castle and the Pass of Killicrankie. Its access path forms a distinctive white scar from a distance, as thousands of boots over the years have worn the dark peaty moorland away to expose the quartzite bedrock beneath.

Fungal flora of the moor:

The path is so obvious from afar I assumed we would see it from near to hand. However low clouds caused confusion and we marched right past the traditional start of the walk, followed by a couple who had perhaps been fooled by our confident manner. We walked the hill anti-clockwise, the long bash through heather tackled first, rather than last.

But this was no hardship: I am sure the last time I was here (twenty three years ago!) there was no such path as this, and the going was easy, rather than the scratchy heather slog I vaguely remember from my youth. Today the heather was in full bloom.

I did recall the delicious tasting water, and we thirstily drank our fill from the stream. Soft and fresh, running through peat over granite, the very waters of life.

Fresh waters, source of whisky:

As we started on the climb, the rain stopped. Might we be in luck? Would there be a view from the summit?

Graham contemplates more ascent:

It started to clear. We could nearly see the top!

But no. We were being toyed with. The clouds closed in again and the rain came on, the wind rising.

Summit selfie:

Beinn a'Ghlo is not just one hill but a small massif, containing three Munros, a number of smaller tops, and a great deal of flowing, rounded ridges. A random fact that has stuck in my head is that Beinn a'Ghlo has nineteen corries, and a gun fired in any cannot be heard in any other. Now there's a sporting fact!

En-route to the second Munro:

The weather had turned foul but there was plenty to see close by as Perthshire is richer in wildlife than Glencoe. Through the mists we saw raven, mountain hare, ptarmigan, deer, wheatears. A grouse in its panic exploded at my feet and flew straight into me, before flapping off in a flurry of squawking and feathers.

Before the steep descent back to the access track we were treated to a final visual treat as a brief break in the clouds brought a rainbow.

It had been a grand day out in good company, a satisfying exertion over three Munros - the first time I'd been over more than one in a single walk since the Crianlarich hills in May 2014. Would the Glencoe Pub to Pub Traverse have been as enjoyable? I would have to try again another time to find out!

Wednesday 3 August 2016

Puffin Island

Thousands of Puffins. Thousands of them! And they are right there in front of you. Literally at your feet.

You approach Skomer hoping that you might see a puffin or two. A dozen maybe would be quite a result. They start appearing before you even land.

Out at sea, fishing, returning to their burrows...

And then you realise just how many of them there are...


Skomer is internationally important for its Manx Shearwater population. 'So what?' is the general reaction. When there are so many puffins on the island to see instead!

If you compare ease with reward, a trip to Skomer is about the best wildlife trip you can do in Britain. A ferry takes you to the island from the Pembrokeshire mainland, with the instruction that you have to be back five hours later. Will this be too much time on the island, which is only two and a half kilometres across? In fact, it is nowhere near enough time.

Because there are ten thousand puffins to watch.


There's seals, and seagulls, and gannets, and various other creatures too. But there is just one star for 90-odd percent of visitors.

I have a confession. On my site is a picture of a puffin. But it wasn't taken in Scotland. It was taken on Skomer. A puffin's a puffin, right? But there is nowhere in Scotland I know of that combines the accessibility of Skomer with the sheer wonder of THOUSANDS OF PUFFINS JUST FEET AWAY!!!!

Yes the puffins come this close: