Wednesday 31 March 2010

The Lost Community of Loch Torridon

The rocky point on the north shore of the kyle between Upper Loch Torridon and Loch Shieldaig is called Rubha na h-Airde Glaise (point of the grey height). It has a small flat area right on the edge, formed from glaciated slabs with a skin of turf. Here there was a community; the walls of several houses are visible and a larger enclosure which may have been either a small animal enclosure or a larger building.

I've been told that it may have been a fishing station, and I've also read that there may have been a Inn here.

On the pebble beach, a boat "noust" has been made from large boulders. It must have taken quite an effort to make, as I'm sure some of the boulders will have been washed away in stormy weather. This community was clearly a going concern, but like so many up and down this coast is now just an echo in a "ruckle o' stanes".

This ruin is on a slab right on the very tip of the point. It has a wide view out to sea, and up Loch Torridon, but must have been a windy place to live.

I'm always intrigued by these visible marks of past lives; who were the people who lived, laughed loved and died here? How did they come to be living on this exposed point, was it by choice or necessity? So many questions from a few old walls.

Some of the information about this place was kindly provided by Steve Carter, who runs a website about Torridon and Shieldaig with loads of information and some stunning photographs.

Having contemplated times past, it was time to move on; out into Loch Torridon proper and the next community.

Tuesday 30 March 2010

Loch Torridon Communities - the Upper Loch

On the one day of predicted good weather in the week prior to Easter, I left home at 0545 and arrived at Torridon mid morning. The plan was to explore the area using first the ebb tide to get out to Loch Shieldaig, then the flood on the return run.

Loch Torridon is divided into three parts. From seaward they are Loch Torridon, Loch Shieldaig and Upper Loch Torridon. The upper loch is surrounded by some iconic mountains; Liathach, Beinn Dearg and Beinn Alligin.

I started out from Torridon village and headed along in heavy rain showers to the first community - Inveralligin.

This painting of a Puffin was on a rocky point - perhaps painted by a tour boat's crew so they could guarantee a sighting to their passengers?!

Nearby, a band of feral goats were eating the seaweed exposed towards the Spring low tide.

They clearly do well here as there were several kids amongst the group.

Upper Loch Torridon is separated from Loch Shieldaig by a narrow kyle, through which the ebb, now in it's last two hours, carried me swiftly.

The next community I was to visit was one I'd not known about before, a lost community.

Sunday 28 March 2010

Late Winter on Sgor Mor

Sgor Mor (821m) is an unremarkable Corbett near Linn of Dee in the eastern Cairngorms. Like many smaller hills surrounded by higher ground, it offers superb views. It made a perfect first hill after four months working away.

Late March is most definitely late winter rather than early spring in the Cairngorms. The vegetation is still seared and flattened after the winter's snow and wind.

There are some subtle hints of Spring though. Here at Chest of Dee where the infant River Dee falls over a series of rock ledges, a Skylark was singing, Meadow Pipits were chasing each other in courtship and a solitary Oystercatcher (a shorebird in the winter) was prospecting for territory.

It's a charming spot - and if you look in the clear water below one of the ledges, there's a perfect saltire in quartzite set in the schisty bedrock.

It's only 400 metres of climbing to the summit of Sgor Mor, but the reward is wide views in all directions. The walking on the long summit ridge is very easy, dwarf heather and gravel flats. Near the summit itself is this slab with two perfectly circular "pots" scoured out by wind action. Up here, the wind is king. Plants, animals and even the rock are dominated by it.

To the north, some of the Cairngorm giants were looming in and out of the wintry showers. Here, Derry Cairngorm is in sunlight while Coire Sputan Dearg of Ben Macdui is capped with cloud.

Sunday 7 March 2010

The Lofoten and Vesteralen Islands - The Wall in the West

On the western side of the fjord, the Lofoten and Vesteralen Islands form what appears to be an impenetrable and continuous wall of jagged peaks stretching away into the far distance to the north. One Norwegian term for the islands is the "Lofotveggen" (Lofoten Wall)

From a distance it looks like the Cuillin ridge of Skye, but much, much longer. The nautical charts show that Lofoten/Vesteralen is a tight-packed archipelago split by narrow fjords and channels. The whole archipelago is around 150km long.

In the clear air, it was difficult to work out how far away the islands were. Refractive effects made them seem very close, but they were in fact many kilometers away. Interestingly, this effect hasn't been replicated by the camera.

The whole area of Vestfjorden and the Lofoten & Vesteralen Islands looks like a wonderful place to explore by sea kayak.

One day maybe!

Saturday 6 March 2010

Arctic Sunrise

There's a special quality to an arctic sunrise. The light spreads to fill the sky with glorious colour.

The coastal mountains were silhouetted in the frigid air as the sun began to clear the horizon

As the sun was rising, the moon was still well above the horizon. The start of another day of amazing air clarity

Thursday 4 March 2010

Northern Norway

I've recently had the opportunity to work off the Norwegian coast; including a few days in Vestfjorden, well inside the Arctic Circle between Bodo and Narvik.

Vestfjorden is a very large fjord - in Scotland similar sized bodies of water would be called Firths. It's bounded on the seaward side by the Lofoten and Vesteralen Islands, and on the eastern side by a rugged coastline dotted with islands and split by narrow fjords. After two days of very poor weather with visibilty down to under a kilometer and driving snow, the weather cleared to reveal a spectacular scene.

The mountains rise sheer from the sea in soaring towers. These hills on the island of Hamaroya are about 800 metres high, and there are many bigger mountains farther inland.

Average daytime temperatures were around minus 8 Celcius, and any breeze was bitingly cold. As dusk began to fall each evening, the mountains took on a beautiful pink alpenglow.