Friday, 12 June 2015

West Church, Rothesay

The West Church in the town of Rothesay on the island of Bute was built in 1846-7 and remained in use until 1978.  It is considered a fine example of a three by six bay Victorian Romanesque kirk; since 1978 there have been several applications to demolish the building but all have so far been refused.

There's no doubt that the fabric of the kirk is in decline - it couldn't yet be described as totally derelict but perhaps well on the way.  While the arguments about the future of the building rumble on, nature has found a remarkable use for the sunny south facing walls........

......which have become a vertical garden of ivy and flowering plants.

In early summer the walls surrounding the empty window apertures bloom into a carpet of brilliant purple flowers.  It's not so easy to get close enough to ell which species, but the effect is undeniably beautiful, transforming a run-down building on the edge of a car park into something more attractive entirely.

Ironically, the builders use of sandstone rubble to incorporate into some of the detail of the building has probably created the conditions in which this vertical garden has flourished.

There's a sort of symbolism in the decline of a church building giving rise to such an outpouring of natural energy - but aside from that, on its own merit this is a lovely and colourful display.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

The wrinkles of Ben Rinnes

Ben Rinnes is one of those really popular hills which inspire affection in folk.  It has all the right attributes in having a prominent character, being visible from a wide area and being relatively easy to climb. It's also a very well-trodden hill; the path to the summit is very noticeable from a distance.

A brief visit home from working away with a forecast of good weather in the morning followed by gales and squally showers in the afternoon had me looking at where I could go to get a good hillwalk before the poor weather arrived - Ben Rinnes fitted the bill perfectly.

I started out from the minor road which leaves the B9009 Glen Rinnes road - there's parking for several cars by a gate giving access to the start of the track which climbs Round Hill.

The fact that Ben Rinnes is visible from such a wide area means of course that it has a correspondingly wide view.  Almost from the start of the walk there is a great view down the length of broad Glen Rinnes to the distant Cairngorms, still bearing substantial snow patches in the first half of May.

As the appropriately domed top of Round Hill is reached the view ahead is dominated by the summit cone of Ben Rinnes.  The broad scar of the old path stretches straight up the hill, with the less direct line of a path constructed by the Friends of Ben Rinnes.  In time the scar of the older path will fade and the less obtrusive and robust new path will be far less of a scar.

It takes little more than an hour's steady climbing to reach the granite tor which marks the summit of the hill, and bears the resounding name of "Scurran of Lochterlandoch" (Scurran is an anglicisation of the Gaelic Sgurran - little pointed peak).  At 840 metres/2756 feet Ben Rinnes is one of Scotland's 220 Corbetts, a classification of lower height than the more famous Munros, but which give nothing away in quality to their higher brethren.

The vast majority of folk seem to descend Ben Rinnes by the route of ascent.  I prefer to make some kind of traverse or circular route whenever possible and I felt that walking north west from the summit across the broad ridge to another tor - Scurran of Well (which can be seen on the high ground to the far right in the first image of this post) - would give the possibility of returning on a lower level track below the northern slopes of the hill.

Getting off the main track was rewarded almost straight away with a nice close view of a hen Ptarmigan (Lagopus mutus), and then, thrillingly, two Dotterel (Charadrius morinellus) another avian mountain specialist, but much less common than the Ptarmigan with an estimated population in Scotland of only 500-750 breeding pairs and a real treat to see here.

Crossing a broad and peaty bealach (saddle or col) brought me to the Scurran of Well.  I've seen this place many times from below on the road and from the summit of Ben Rinnes on a previous winter ascent, but hadn't appreciated that what appears from a distance to be a single rock formation is in fact a whole group of contorted granite outcrops.

The distinctive appearance of granite tors (there are other great examples on Beinn a'Bhuird, Ben Avon and Bein a'Mheadoin in the Cairngorms to name but a few) has been a subject of debate among geologists and geographers......

...but the general consensus is this: granite is a hard, crystalline igneous rock formed of three main constituent minerals; quartz, feldspar and mica in varying proportion.  In areas where tors are found the granite has been intruded into the surrounding rocks as a batholith.  Because the batholith formed deep in the earth's crust it cooled very slowly to produce a rock with large crystals.  Over geological time the rock above was eroded away and the reduction in pressure caused the granite to crack, creating joints and bedding planes.

As the granite (harder than the rock into which it was intruded) was exposed it has been weathered, mainly by freeze-thaw action, along the joints and planes.  Where the joints were closest together the most rapid weathering occurred and the rock eroded away; where the joints were furthest apart the weathering has been much slower and.......

.....a granite tor is the result, although of course the weathering process continues to shape the rock.  I really like granite tors; they're a striking and unusual landform as well as being surprisingly difficult to climb!  The view between this pair northwards extends across Moray and Speyside all the way to the Moray Firth coast.

My route of descent went steeply down to get below Scurran of Well and then across rough ground to pick up the track on the north side of Ben Rinnes.  This made for a nice circular route, though the track, even in a dry spell of weather, was very wet.

 It's well worth the diversion over to these wrinkles on Ben Rinnes, even if intending to descend back down the main path, they are great features to explore.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Narrow places - exploring the geos of the Angus coast

The delights of the Angus coast from Auchmithie to Arbroath weren't over by any means.  We left the beach on which we'd taken luncheon and almost immediately passed the prominent sandstone stack known as the Deil's Heid (Devil's Head).

There are some great rockhopping opportunities here too, and with the sun high in the sky the pools inside the geos we paddled were lit with a lovely and luminous light; almost as if the light was shining from below rather than above.

There's a perception that the North Sea is always grey and devoid of the colours of the west coast, but this is a long way from the truth; in fact the red sandstone against the water on this part of the coast is one of the most colourful sights anywhere.

In the calm conditions we were able to thread some narrow channels which wouldn't be advisable with any swell running......

...including one which narrowed to just about shoulder width and required us to propel ourselves through using hands on the rock.  The slant of the rock and the narrow nature of this particular slot put Douglas and I in mind of the angled sea cave which cuts through beneath the island of Dun in St Kilda, except here there was light from above!

Next comes Dickmont's Den, a geo formed by an enormous cave collapse which will be the eventual fate of Gaylet Pot further north.  It's possible to paddle around a central ridge of rock here, so several of the party did a couple of laps , one each way :o)

The rock architecture continues almost to the edge of the town of Arbroath itself, ending suddenly as the bay is reached; guarded by shelves of rock which make it a long way from the low tide mark to the seafront promenade near Whiting Ness.  This has its attractions too in the shape of an ice-cream van which we took full advantage of!

Whilst eating our ice creams we heard a call to Aberdeen Coastguard from a yacht which had become entangled on a creel float line.   Douglas and I spoke to the yacht skipper and established that we could see him about  a mile offshore.  We offered to try and help by either passing the rope up or, if we couldn't manage that, to cut it away.  We headed out but were overtaken by the Arbroath Lifeboat on its way to the yacht - the RNLI lifeboatmen are much better trained and equipped for the job than we are, so we were very happy to see how quickly they had responded; only 10 minutes from the original VHF call.

As our group reconvened on the water it was clear that the weather had (as forecast) come up a couple of notches.  A wind swell against the tide was being complicated by clapotis from the cliffs and the combined effect made for a jopply sea and an engaging paddle back up to Auchmithie.  We were certainly glad that we'd fully explored all the great rock architecture on the way south as the narrow channels and caves would have been a very different on the way back!

We rounded our day off having fun with some balance exercises, rolls and self-rescue practice just outside Auchmithie harbour, the chilly water reminding us that summer is not quite here yet.

Once again the Angus coast had given us a day of superb sea kayaking; and its noticeable that our paddling group grows a little every time we visit - the word is out!

You can follow this trip in "Sea kayaking TriVision" by reading Duncan & Joan's blog here and here and Douglas' blog here

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Luncheon in a lost world

After enjoying the passage of Gaylet Pot we emerged back into the bright sunshine and continued south, following the shore around Carlingheugh Bay. Whilst not quite as dramatic a coast as the cliffs and caves to both north and south, there are some great rock formations along the shore of the bay; definitely not a place to paddle "headland to headland"!

Image by Joan Barwise

Duncan knew of a  good luncheon spot, a pebble beach which could be approached by a channel through rocky skerries and shelves.  We lingered over first luncheon, just enjoying the place, the welcome sunshine and the company - why rush on a day like this?!  

The grassy slope at the back of the beach was awash with wildflowers; Spring's flourish on the coast.  Prominent amongst the flowers were Red Campion (Silene dioica), a favourite of mine to the point of having planted some in my garden.  It's reliable and colourful ground-cover with hairy stems which catch the morning and evening light wonderfully, but it does tend to spread quite profusely in a garden!

Our corner of the bay was sheltered and would be quite tricky to access from inland; it felt a little apart from the world.  We explored a bit of the shore on foot and what a marvellous place it is....

Image by Douglas Wilcox

Douglas took this stunning image which captures the colourful scene to perfection, from the vibrant green of the shoreline weed to the pale pebble beach, the startling red of the sandstone cliffs and the flawless blue of a Spring sky - a real riot of colour.

The geology of the Angus coast is complex and fascinating.  A great little trail guide leaflet about the geology and features of the coast between Arbroath and Auchmithie can be downloaded from here 


Looking a bit closer at the sandstone reveals a record of a very different world of some 400 million years ago, when this part of Scotland lay south of the equator in a desert belt.  Periodic and catastrophic floods caused two river systems to deposit huge quantities of waterworn pebbles carried from an ancient mountain range.  The rocks are classified as Devonian Sandstones, and both Upper and Lower Devonian are represented along the coast in close contact.  The dry periods can be clearly made out in the rock together with the flood deposits. 

Subsequent tectonic movement and severe weathering have resulted in desert rocks appearing here at the northwest of Europe, leaving marvellous rock formations and a window to a lost world, as well as the fertile red soils of the Mearns farmland.

You can even hold a part of this lost world - some of the material carried from high mountains and down across a desert landscape by a raging river are loosely embedded. This is the first time this pebble has been free from the sandstone in nearly 400 million years.....

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Sea kayaking under the farmland of Angus

Immediately south of Lud Castle there are a couple of large caves; the first has a dog-leg entrance which opens into a large interior.........

...which contains seven sea kayakers with ease. A rake of light from the side of the cave indicated a second entrance.......

......which opened out on the southern side and enabled us to paddle right through underneath the headland itself.

The most spectacular of the caves hereabouts is Gaylet Pot.  The seaward entrance to the cave is square-cut and lowers towards a chink of light at the back.  Appearances are deceptive though, once inside the cave is the size of a church and some 150 metres long.

On one of our previous visits to Gaylet Pot we were at the point where the cave narrows towards the back when two slightly larger swells arrived.  The swells ramped up alarmingly as they passed along the constricting tunnel - by the time they reached us there was a metre and a half of snarling white water breaking at the crest.  Both Douglas and I "enjoyed" some impromtu air-time as we paddled hard into the oncoming water.

On this occasion things were a little more predictable and we were able to land on the beach of coloured pebbles at the back of the cave.  Landing and moving the boats up the beach required a bit of coordination, but what a truly brilliant place to land!  There's no flash in use in this image, because despite being some 150 metres in from the entrance of the cave we were in bright sunlight...... the base of a huge "gloup" or collapsed cave.  This aerial image shows the extent of the collapse, caused by hydraulic pressure from storm swells filling the cave and exerting unimaginable forces along the faultlines of the comparatively soft red rock.  Eventually the explosive force tore away sufficient rock from the roof to cause a complete collapse leaving a huge crater over 40 metres in diameter and some 30 metres deep.  Incongruously, the gloup is located within a field containing crops - usually Brussel Sprouts - and so access from landward is often not possible.

It's a really impressive place to visit  and one of those unique situations which sea kayaking occasionally offers.  Caution is needed here though; any slight swell from seaward is greatly magnified in the length of the cave - indeed during winter storms the sea can sometimes "blow" into the air from the inner entrance.

Launching from the steep pebble beach required a bit of teamwork but we were soon safely afloat and heading back out to open water.  These were the first caves one member of our group had paddled in - and they'll be hard to better!