Wednesday, 28 January 2015

In the bleak midwinter - drinking in the view

We were really glad to paddle from shade into bright sunshine, although the temperature remained stubbornly below zero it just felt a bit warmer.  The view across to the Glencoe hills began to open up, Bidean nam Bian on the right of this image is almost a miniature mountain range complete with ridges, summits, spurs and corries.

To the north of Loch Leven the Corbett of Mam na Gualainn rises almost from the shore and was in brilliant sunshine - it was a marvellous morning to be on the water!

My own view ahead had an unaccustomed element in the shape of a Flat Earth Kayak Sail neatly furled along the foredeck - of which more in future posts......

The prominent peak of the Pap of Glencoe ("pap" indicating a breast-like shape; the Gaelic names are very descriptive!) is one of those hills which has a presence much greater than its size would suggest.  At 742 metres/2434 ft it's really an outlier of the grand ridge of the Aonach Eagach which walls in the north side of Glencoe, but it has views to equal most of the higher mountains and is one of the most recognisable of Scottish hills.

After a couple of hours of paddling in this amazing scenery we spotted a shingle beach with some convenient rocks in full sun - the vote for first luncheon was unanimous!  As luncheon stops go, this one ranks in the first division for the superb view back across the loch to Beinn a'Bheithir......

.....we drank in the view as we drank our coffee; all of us so glad to be out paddling on this cracker of a day.  We weren't the only kayakers to be enjoying a fine winter day either; our friends Duncan and Joan had been unable to join us at Ballachulish but had siezed the chance for a paddle on Loch Tay amongst some simply beautiful mountain scenery.

We packed away and left the beach, heading up the loch with dazzling views on either side.  We knew that we'd paddle back into the freezing shade later on, but right now we just enjoyed the sunshine.

Monday, 26 January 2015

In the bleak midwinter - a warm-up

After a very comfortable night in the Ballachulish Hotel we woke to a cold and frosty morning.  The routine for this and subsequent mornings was to be breakfast at 0730 and then get ready to be on the water around 0830.  At first light it was clear that the night had been cold, our boats and cars had a heavy covering of frost.

We unloaded the boats and packed ready for the day, a chilly job.  One of the advantages of staying at the Ballachulish Hotel is that we could launch almost straight from the front of the hotel on a slipway.  Despite the cold we occasionally stopped to look up..... the morning sun began to touch the hills of Ardgour across Loch Linnhe.

Prominent in the view is Garbh Bheinn (rough mountain), a really fine hill which gives superb hillwalking and climbing with soaring ridges, buttresses and gullies.  The "Great Ridge" and immediately right the "Great Gully" are the chief climbing features, both pioneered by W.H. (Bill) Murray.

As the sun crept a little higher the Ardgour skyline began to glow brilliantly.  At Ballachulish, screened from the rising sun by the the bulk of Beinn a'Bheithir (hill of the thunderbolt) we were in deep shade, but about to get a lot warmer.

Our launch point was the slipway formerly used by a ferry prior to construction of the Ballachulish Bridge in 1975.  Not the most elegant of bridges, it is however an important crossing point and greatly aided road communication when it replaced the ferry.  The ebb tide was pouring through the narrows under the bridge at over 5 knots (10 km/h) and we needed to get up past the narrows into the wider Loch Leven where the tidal stream is much less. 

My first attempt at ferry gliding across wasn't successful as I just couldn't make headway.  I returned to the slipway and used an eddy under the bridge support to gain some ground then made a ferry-glide across to the north side - a strenuous paddle first thing in the morning but at least we were now all warmed up!

Once we were clear of the narrows the tidal stream became almost unnoticeable and we could take time to look back to the bridge silhouetted against the backdrop of Garbh Bheinn.

Ahead, the sunlight streamed down lower Glencoe around the flank of Beinn a' Bheithir and we paddled on towards the warmth and light.

Friday, 23 January 2015

In the bleak midwinter - getting there

"In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
 Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago....."

Weeks of gales, one frontal system after another piling in bringing stormy and cold conditions and giving no opportunities for sea kayaking. Walking days had been restricted to the lower hills whilst the high tops were swept by 100mph winds on an almost daily basis; all very frustrating. But then, a forecast of a lull for a few days, not perfect weather but suitable for a winter kayaking trip. The residual Atlantic swell would make any trip on an exposed coast uncomfortable, so we looked for sheltered options. A couple of emails and phone calls later, Douglas, Mike and I were heading west...

But first we had to get there. Often in winter getting to the put-in is one of the trickiest parts of the venture....

...and it proved to be the case on this occasion.  Snow and then a deep frost gave very tricky road conditions as I crossed the spine of Scotland on my way west.

Many found the going more than tricky, cars stuck at various places on the infamous Lecht road, a regular feature on traffic bulletins throughout every winter.  With care I got through safely.

A brief stop at the Lecht ski area drew some puzzled glances - had I maybe packed the wrong choice of toys?!  I met up with Douglas and Mike at the very comfortable Ballachulish Hotel which was to be our base for the trip - it's not always necessary to "rough it" on a paddling venture!

We had arranged to meet early afternoon so that we could do a short hillwalk before dark, and it was to be a hill of some considerable significance

We chose to climb Ardsheal Hill, a "Marilyn" situated on the shore of Loch Linnhe.  At 263 metres/863 feet it gives a short climb with a view out of all proportion to height.  But the significance of this hill to us was neither the height nor the view.  After a series of major operations on both knees and on a shoulder, any one of which would have finished the outdoor adventures of someone with less determination, this was the first hill walk  Douglas has managed in a few years.  His smile was as wide as the view at achieving a return to the hills - he's most definitely "getting there"! Mike and I were absolutely delighted in being able share his successful ascent.

The view west from the summit of the hill along Loch Linnhe was superb, the forecast for the following day was great and we had a fine dinner ahead of us at the hotel - we were definitely getting there :o)

You will be able to follow our trip in "sea kayaking stereovision" (and with much better photographs than mine!) by reading Douglas' blog, starting here

Saturday, 17 January 2015

A Fare day

A cold day with an even colder wind - it's been the way of things in the north-east of Scotland for the last few weeks.  Too windy for kayaking, too windy for practical days on the higher hills but perfect for days out on the lower hills.

The Hill of Fare is a sprawling, rolling area of heather moorland overlooking Banchory on Deeside.  The "normal" route goes up from Raemoir to the south of the hill and is quite short; the far longer but (in my opinion) far finer route goes from the east of the hill near Echt, offering a spacious feel and wide views for almost the entire way.

On setting out from the road I found that I'd left my camera at home.  The I did have my smartphone though, a Samsung Galaxy S5 and so I took the images on that - and on the whole I was quite impressed with how they turned out - it is a phone after all!  This view shows the ever-present Mither Tap of Bennachie on the right, and Cairn William with good snow cover on the left.

Emerging from the forest one is straight away onto the broad shoulder of the hill.  There are good tracks right across the high ground and with good snow cover this may well make a good ski tour.

Pausing for breath in the frigid cold air, I looked back to a super view right over the city of Aberdeen and out to the North Sea - I could clearly make out ships anchored off the harbour.

Although less than in most years, the snow cover enhanced the landscape enormously and the all-round views  were really good.

To the west the higher Deeside hills were intermittently under sweeping snow-showers, emerging each time a little bit whiter than before.

The summit of Hill of Fare (a "Marilyn" and 471 metres/1545 feet high) is not where the name appears on the map but about 2 kilometres to the south-west.  The actual top is marked only by a boulder and a couple of smaller stones; in poor visibility or under deep snow it would be a challenge to find.  The outward route is a full 10 kilometres, as would be my return, but the views more than made up for the distance - a hill to save for a "Fare" day.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Grabbing the chance, grabbing the planks

Winter in the north east of Scotland thus far has been characterised by rapid weather changes as deep Atlantic low pressure systems sweep across the country from west to east. There hasn't been the rain and damaging storm gusts which the western seaboard and Northern Isles have endured, it's just been cold, windy and very changeable. So when an overnight fall of snow seemed to have offered just enough snow.......

...the opportunity of a couple of hours on ski wasn't to be missed!   The forest tracks locally can be very good for XC skiing, having nice easy gradients and a good surface.

There was just enough snow, and it was just cold enough to allow a reasonable kick-and-glide, though the snow cover was thinner in parts exposed to the wind and required a few hundred metres of walking.

The view down to home showed that this was just a light snowfall and it was forecast to disappear as the air warmed above freezing during yet another frontal passage.

It was good to be able to grab the chance even though it was a pretty short trip - and on the way back down my outward tracks made for a reasonably quick and aerobic run :o)