Saturday, 9 December 2017

A winter morning's walk

Two days of snow showers borne on cold north westerly winds in the wake of a deep Atlantic low pressure system have turned the landscapes of northern Scotland back to winter.  A morning walk in sub zero air was a bracing affair, but at least the wind has dropped.  The pre-dawn colour in the sky was delicate rather than blazing, and matched the scene really well. 

  Trees have become outlines of themselves, the snow frozen hard against trunks and branches.

The sun at this time of year doesn't rise until after 0830 and sets again before 1530, but there's beauty in the short daylight.  As the sky in the south east flushed pink, a trace of the shade was projected onto the snowy scene, the most delicate shade in the air.

The moon was still well up as the sun began to rise, but no longer the supermoon of some days ago.

As I turned for home on the last part of my walk, the sun rose above the hills across the Howe of Alford in a brief and brilliant flare of light.  Bright it may have been but there's little heat in the sun at these latitudes as we approach the winter solstice - it would stay below freezing for the whole day.

With scenery on a morning walk like this, it's impossible to dismiss winter as dull and dark......

Monday, 4 December 2017

A Supermoon morning

The full moon of 3rd December was a "supermoon", the only one of 2017. A supermoon occurs when the moon's elliptical orbit brings it to the closest point (perigee) of an elliptical orbit. At perigee, the full moon can appear 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter than a "regular" full moon.  The night had been clear and certainly well illuminated, but perhaps the most striking view we got was when the moon was setting beyond the hills behind our house.

The proximity to ground objects made the moon seem even larger as it appeared to rest in the crowns of a stand of larch trees, we could clearly see the movement as it passed the trees to drop below the ridge at 0748.  Shining through a corona in the cold air close to the ground in a beautiful wash of light, it was quite a spectacular, if perhaps not quite as stunning as the "blood moon" during the lunar eclipse on the winter solstice of  2010 - what a sight that was!

Meanwhile, at our backs the eastern sky was washed with pre-dawn pinks and golds.  What a super supermoon morning, another virtuoso natural performance!

Friday, 1 December 2017

A pale and fleeting beauty

 November snowfalls are often fleeting events; deep snow disappears more quickly than might be thought.  Well after sunset and under a waxing gibbous moon the snow was a pale, marble white - what little colour there was in the landscape lay in the golden stubble in the fields and a delicate pink wash to the tops of the clouds.  It was to be a cold night with temperatures well below freezing.

 The sharp, frosty morning air was a real pleasure, the clean freshness mirrored in the pale shades just before the sun rose sufficiently to light he lower ground.


 When the sun did rise above the hills beyond the Howe of Alford, it was with a searing intensity which was in sharp contrast to the cool blues of the snowy fields.

The whole landscape was briefly lit with pink shades before the sun climbed higher and the light hardened.  Truly, winter has its own beauties.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Winter arrives

 Winter has well and truly arrived in Aberdeenshire; overnight falls of snow borne on a blustery north wind have swept across the landscape.

 A morning walk was somewhat more challenging than usual in whirling showers of snow, visibility reducing as they passed through.  Travelling today was tricky......

 As each shower passed through, the snow cover has got deeper and more complete......

 ...and by late morning there's an even cover of some 10cms (6 inches) of fresh snow.  The overnight change in the landscape from the muted colours of late November to the cool blues and shades of white is really striking.

The view from our house is transformed to dazzling brilliance - and more snow is forecast to fall.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Granite noir

The summit tor of Lochnagar is a great viewpoint.  Looking to the south west past the Ordnance Survey trig point you look straight into the "other" corrie of the mountain which contains another dark lochan - Loch nan Eun (loch of the birds).  The prominent ridge just to the right of the lochan leads straight to one of the "tops", known as the Stuic (pronounced Stoo-ee).  Although I've been to the Stuic several times, I've yet to reach it via this there's a good excuse to climb the hill again!

Crouched out of the wind amongst the summit rocks, I could see the next batch of snow showers building to the north.  Rime ice on the boulders showed how cold it had been up here, perhaps a good omen for a proper winter season to come?

Across the valley of the River Dee the view was closed off completely by the approaching weather - it was time to take bearings for two descents and make a start.

I decided to head down the bold ridge which bounds Lochan na Gair, partly to get the best view of the crags and partly because it's a good line on the mountain.  A little way below the summit, at the head of the ridge, there's a super view along the crags - though your gaze may well be drawn downward......

...into one of the branches of Black Spout gully!

The views continue as the ridge is descended.  This is "granite noir"; seen in close proximity the line of 1000ft crags are an impressive sight; massive and slightly menacing .  This is Byron's "Dark Lochnagar" and also one of the great winter climbing arenas of Scotland.

You get well down the ridge towards the lochan before the steep rocks relent and there's gentler ground on which to rest.  I've done this ridge in both directions, and rate it both as an ascent and a descent. 

On the floor of the corrie the crags dominate the view  - my compact camera didn't got to a sufficiently wide angle to image the whole scene!

Rather than contour around the base of the Meikle Pap to regain the track back to Glen Muick I decided to cross the corrie and climb back out over the bealach between the Pap and the Ladder.  My advice to anyone thinking of doing likewise is...don't!  The going is very difficult through moraines of house sized granite boulders with deep gaps between them - especially tricky with snow on most surfaces.  It took an inordinate amount of time and effort to get to the slope beneath the bealach and I several times reminded myself that a fall here would be serious as it's an unfrequented part of the mountain.

I plodded up towards the bealach in a stinging snow shower and  a whirling wind, fortunately blowing from behind me.  The back edge of the shower passed through as I reached the bealach to leave blue sky......

...and the descent back to the track took me, it seemed, out of winter and back into autumn.  I stopped to rest and eat below the snowline on the boundary of Balmoral estate in what seemed relatively warm conditions.  All that remained was to retrace my outward route down the track back to Glen Muick whilst reflecting that Lochnagar, once again, had given a superb day out - and the first winter day of the season.