Monday, 15 October 2018

The way back from Carn Bhac

Climbing onto the broad ridge which leads up to Carn Bhac (cairn of the peat banks) a wide view opens up to the Perthshire hills, with Beinn a'Ghlo prominent.

The first top reached is called Geal Charn - the white cairn - and although it didn't appear so under lowering cloud, the quartzite rock here appears very pale under most conditions.

From Geal Charn there's a gun-barrel view down the remarkably straight trench of Glen Tilt, one of the great through routes of the Highlands, and part of the path from Blair Atholl to Braemar.

It's easy going and pleasant walking from Geal Charn to the main summit of Carn Bhac, which is the highest point of the dome of scree in this image.

At the summit cairn the view towards the main Cairngorms ws rapidly disappearing under cloud and what looked suspiciously like falling snow.  As the wind was in the north this lot would be heading my way, so I didn't hang around too long.

My way back from Carn Bhac was via the usual route of ascent.  This has little to commend it other than being a logical route if you want to include the nearby Munro of Beinn Iutharn Mhor (which is, in my view, better climbed separately anyway).  In descent this "normal" route is a long drag of wet moor and peat bog - I came this way the first time I climbed Carn Bhac but the "back" route I'd used is a much more pleasant way up.  This is looking back at the hill from about half way down.

Eventually the route meets an estate track along a stony ridge with good views into the head of Glen Ey, a pleasant glen for a low level walk with a ruined shooting lodge in the upper reaches.

Arriving back at Inverey, a late blink of warm sunlight lit up the nearby hillsides - but it didn't last as the rain was starting just as I reached the car.  Carn Bhac isn't the most popular of Munros, perhaps because it's stuck a bit in the background, and perhaps a little because of the normal route of ascent.  It does have splendid isolation though, and some great views if you're lucky enough to have a clear day.  My route was 22 kilometres with about 650m/2130ft of ascent; the route is all on OS Landranger sheet 43 (Braemar and Blair Atholl). 

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

At the back of Carn Bhac

Carn Bhac (rocky hill of the peat banks) is one of the less visited of the Munros, requiring a fairly long walk.  The usual route is to combine the hill with another Munro, Beinn Iutharn Mhor, from Inverey on Deeside.  With a full day in early September to spare, I decided on a walk from Inverey which would take me to Carn Bhac by a round-the-back sort of route.

The track heading south from the war memorial in Inverey passes a couple of fine traditional buildings, one a shooting lodge.  One of the estate garrons - sturdy, strong hill ponies often used to bring deer carcasses down from the hill - eyed me up speculatively but obviously decided I didn't look like I had a spare apple since it soon went back to grazing.

Across a patch of level ground another track can be seen angling up the edge of a pine plantation.  This was the path I intended to take, but had walked out on the main path to visit a pleasant spot.

A small rapid on the Ey Burn drops into rich brown pools of peaty water, edged with gently sloping slabs - a picnic spot for a future visit.

I crossed the burn to pick up the track to the west of the Ey Burn (you can also get to this point by walking along the road from Inverey and crossing a small bridge then taking the track leading south).  Ahead, the track climbs steadily up a small valley holding the tiny burn of the Allt Cristie. The angle of climb seems perfect for that steady rhythm of walking which gradually ticks off height gain with little effort.

The track emerges onto a slightly boggy bealach (col) with a nice view back down the glen.  A distant speck resolved itself into a Golden Eagle working along the steep slope, but too far away for a photograph.

To the south, a broad undulating ridge of wind-clipped heather gives easy walking with a real feeling of space and super views.  The jaws of the great pass of the Lairig Ghru were sunlit, but roofed in with summit clouds.

To the north a series of ridgelines marched away in alternating light and shade, one of the features of these great spaces in the sky is the breadth of ground for such plays of light.

At the end of the broad ridge, a view opens up to Carn Bhac, my objective for the walk.  From this angle the hill appears as a breaking wave of scree.  A low intervening ridge was scabbed with the peat banks from which the hill takes its name.  In the whole time I'd been out I'd seen just one other person; it's grand and lonely country at the back of Carn Bhac.

Monday, 1 October 2018

Roll out the barrel (s)

On a recent visit to Speyside we called by a cooperage serving the many whisky distilleries in the area.  There were some nice images to photograph, whether quite plain.......

...or full of vibrant colour.  It's possible, with a little knowledge, to guess the origin of some of these barrels - Glen Grant, Glenlivet, The Macallan and many more from Speyside, as well as examples from far and wide such as Islay's Laphroaig.

I liked this image with the end of a huge stack of barrels lit by sunshine with the backdrop of a storm-black rain cloud.

There are so may barrels here and in other cooperages they seem almost uncountable - and these are just the ones not in curent use; there will be many times more maturing in bonded warehouses throughout Scotland.  This seemingly endless supply is a good thing.....

.......or for enjoying the products of the barrels.  Looks like we'll not be running out of the raw materials any time soon!

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Knockando colours

Autumn in Scotland can be a riot of colour, and Speyside is one of the best places to experience the change from summer's green to autumn gold.

We visited the Knockando Woolmill last weekend on a bright and sunny afternoon when the colours were fairly "zinging".  There's been a mill here since 1784;  the present buildings have been renovated and the mill is now manufacturing fine designer tweeds and wool using machinery from the 1870's.

Water power is still utilised via a restored wheel fed by water piped from the nearby stream, though the waterwheel was originally augmented by a paraffin engine and now by electric power.

The restoration of the site has been sympathetic and has recreated a piece of industrial history along with a restored wool dealers shop and workers cottage.  There's a small tearoom and a stylish shop as well as a small interpretative display with a film.  Knockando Woolmill isn't a swish "visitor experience" or sterile museum; it's a working, living business and all the better for that.  Off the beaten track (again, a good thing I think) it's well worth seeking out, but check opening times as the visitor facilities shut for much of the winter.

In the surrounding trees, autumn's glory is beginning; Sycamores glowing in rich shades of plum and amber.

Some of these colours are actually reflected in the tweeds the mill produces, a true representation of place

Above us, green and gold against a stunningly blue sky - truly autumn can be the most dazzling of seasons.

Monday, 24 September 2018

Creatures great and small, the Mark of a good day

Shielin of Mark is maintained by the Mountain Bothies Association, and is the essence of the organisation's ethos "To maintain simple shelters in remote country for the use of all who love wild and lonely places".  Although you can walk to it in less than two hours, there's a feeling of real remoteness to the place.

A basic single room stone building with a couple of benches, two small sleeping platforms and an open fireplace, it can be a very welcoming sight in poor weather.

A recent visitor had left a paperback; appropriately given that the bothy is in Angus, it was "Flemington and Tales from Angus" by Violet Jacob, herself Angus-born.  I know Violet Jacob for her iconic poem "The Wild Geese" (sometimes known as "Norland Wind") but haven't read any of  her books; one to try by a bothy fire maybe.....

The view from the bothy door is a sweep of gently undulating moorland leading to Mount Keen, the easternmost of the Munros.  I was idly thinking about the routes that could be done from Glen Tanar across the Mounth Road to here and then to Glen Muick, a long loop south starting and finishing on Deeside, then I suddenly had a realisation of where I was.

Shielin of Mark, as the name suggests, lies at the head of the Water of Mark which winds down Glen Mark and so to Glen Esk.  To walk between roadheads from Spittal Glenmuick to Invermark in Glen Esk would be approximately 18km by the shortest route; the distance by road is close to 100km!  Now there's a route for the future.....

Back in the bothy, I heard a rustling sound from a polythene bag of sticks which had been placed in a bucket by the fireplace.  A glance inside revealed a small visitor...

A Field Vole (Microtus agrestis) had somehow got itself into the bag of sticks, but it clearly couldn't get out of the bucket.  I took the bucket outside and laid it on one side; after a short while the vole emerged and looked around.  Despite me standing right next to it, the little creature didn't run and hide but immediately started feeding on grass - it must have been really hungry.

I closed up the bothy and climbed back up onto the moor.  For my return route I planned to go over the low summit of Fasheilach and down the Scouble to Glen Muick.  Gloriously lonely country this, but not devoid of interest.  Near the summit (really just a gentle swell of heather on a broad ridge) A couple of Grouse burst from close by, but unusually didn't fly off - they landed quickly and scarpered into the heather.  I wondered why they'd behave like this, and looked up.....

Two huge shapes banked around overhead, eagles for sure, against the great backdrop of Lochnagar

As soon as the birds circled back towards me, I knew exactly what they were.  Golden Eagles will fly straight away from a human - but White Tailed Eagles (Haliaeetus albicilla) tend not to fly away.  As the larger bird banked around the unmistakeable silhouettes confirmed it.  I watched the great birds for over twenty minutes, and this was a pair - the smaller male bird was carrying a prey item which looked like the hindquarters of a Mountain Hare.

Circling, gliding and parallel flying, the eagles put on a fantastic aerial display.  I think that these two may well be two of the three birds I saw in the Angus Glens in November 2015; the locations are a few minutes apart as the eagle flies and these birds need large territories.  This is the first White Tailed Eagles I've seen over the hills of Aberdeenshire - I hope it's a sign that they're expanding into the area.

From a Vole to Eagles - creatures great and small and the Mark of a good day!