Saturday 30 October 2010

A Golden Morning, Glencoe

On a morning of golden light, Buachaille Etive Mor (Little Herdsman of Etive) was lit by the low sun.  A few wisps of cloud added to the effect.  The pass of the Lairig Gartain was echoing to the sound of Red Deer stags roaring - the rut is in full swing.

A wider view shows a glimpse of the easterly spur of the "three sisters"; spurs of Bidean nam Bian which guard the sudden narrowing drop into Glen Coe itself.

What these photographs can't show is the bitingly cold northeasterly wind which was scouring across from Rannoch Moor.  The morning's promise was short lived as within an hour a sheet of grey cloud had covered the sky bringing showers of sleet.

It was a glorious morning though.

Wednesday 27 October 2010

The Enchanted Forest

This year's Enchanted Forest event in Perthshire is underway, running until 7th November.

The theme this year is "Force of Nature", with trees, water, light, sound and fire all playing their part.

The sound quality is much improved over last year, and it has been used to great effect in combination with the lighting.
The features of the wood at Loch Faskally have been incorporated too.  The lighting of the tiny boathouse made a dramatic start to the walk around the loch.

From the bridge near the end of the loch, the light constantly changes, sometimes in a subtle way and sometimes with sudden, dramatic effect.

It's too easy to dismiss Pitlochry as a hackneyed tourist trap aiming for coach-bound visitors, but the town has really got behind this event and the Highland Perthshire Autumn Festival.  There's music, street theatre, storytelling and a Autumn/Hallowe'en theme throughout.

It's also easy to dismiss The Enchanted forest as a gimmick - but a visit with children on a still, clear night as when we visited is a magical experience for all.  Recommended!

Tuesday 26 October 2010

Filming the Tay Descent 2010

I've recently had the opportunity to help shoot a film. 

A friend, Simon Willis who owns Sunart Media, was filming the Tay Descent 2010 and asked me to film at one of the locations.  Simon was to shoot the footage on Saturday 23rd using six camera locations, then edit the footage and produce the film to be shown at 12 noon the following day as part of the Scottish Canoe Association's annual Canoe Show - quite a challenge!

The Tay Descent is intended as a Tour and a Race, open to all forms of canoe and kayak.  As the film shows, there were indeed all kinds of boats being paddled and all sorts of paddler taking part.

Having not used a video camera before, I was a bit nervous about messing things up.  However, Simon explained the workings of the camera and tripod when we met up at the River Tay on the Saturday morning.  I had scoped out positions to film from a few days previously, but in the intervening time heavy rain had raised the river to a high level.

The Descent took place on a fine autumn day.  As film locations go, this was a stunner.

The filming went well, and Simon edited furiously overnight to achieve the screening the following day. The screening was both well attended and well received with lots of laughs.  The finished article is available to view at Simon's blog page

A new experience for me, and very enjoyable!

Saturday 23 October 2010

The Bow Fiddle

A rare day of calm conditions in the outer Moray Firth is not to be wasted.  A short drive from home is the small fishing village of Portnockie.  I launched from the inner harbour and paddled out into windy conditions, but with almost no swell (the main limiting factor in paddling these exposed rocky coasts).

The rock features start immediately to the east of the village.  The sloping strata of the rock forms caves, stacks and arches all along this stretch.

One feature of paddling the eastern side of Scotland is the amount of birdlife.  There are areas of high concentration on the West coast, but the numbers on the East coast are staggering in the summer when every ledge is crammed with seabirds; Fulmars, Shags, Cormorants, Kittiwakes, Guillemots and Razorbills are the most numerous here.  The combination of cliff nest-sites and shallow, productive seas brings hundreds of thousands of birds each Spring.

The cliffs are quieter in October, but there is still plenty of activity, noise and smell!  Many Cormorants are resident all year, together with their guano....

The feature for which Portnockie is best known is the Bow Fiddle Rock. A quartzite stack around 20 metres high with a graceful arch, it is said to resemble the Bow used to play a Fiddle.  The arch can be readily explored by kayak in calm conditions - but is a very different pospect in a heavy swell.

The width of the channel formed by the "bow" varies with the height of tide.  This picture was taken at low water neaps.  The channel was around 5 metres wide, and there is about 3 metres of depth to a sandy bottom which was glowing a luminous green in the shadow of the arch.

Sunday 17 October 2010

Forest Elements

We recently took an afternoon walk around Loch an Eilein in Rothiemurchus Forest.  This is a very scenic walk, but on this occasion the light wasn't good for landscape photographs.  There was still plenty to catch the eye in the smaller, more intimate details of the forest

A birch leaf is lit by a shaft of light hitting the lichen encrusted granite boulder it had fallen onto.  The Caledonian Pinewood is interspersed with Birch, Juniper, Holly, Rowan and Aspen.  It is so much more than simply a Pinewood.  Some of the Birches are very old, and this leaf had fallen from just such a tree. 

A blink of late afternoon sun brought out the rich colour in the bark of this Scots Pine.  This tree was a "Granny Pine", and at a guess was well over 200 years old -the bark was several centimetres thick on a huge trunk.

In a place like Loch an Eilein, it's easy to stare at the loch with the famous island castle, or the surrounding Cairngorm hills - but sometimes it's good to look at the small details.

Thursday 14 October 2010

Indian Summer in the West - Loch Sunart

Our last day at Strontian was again warm but with a fresh easterly wind.  I paddled on Loch Sunart, passing beneath Beinn Resipol.  Today the summit was cloudless, a contrast to the Spring day Dave and I had on the hill when we'd looked down through gaps in the cloud to this part of the loch. 

The north shore of the loch is clothed in native oakwoods - this is "Suaneairt Ghorm nan Darach" (Green Sunart of the Oaks).  A temperate rainforest rich in wildlife and interest, it's a Special Area of Conservation and is managed as a project by local people.

Although there was a haze in the air, the autumnal colours were starting to dominate with shades of russet against the blue sky.

The evening produced another wash of rich colour as the sun sank beyond Ardnamurchan.  We spent the evening with friends who are fortunate enough to live in this beautiful place.  As Simon remarked, "when you live here, why would you want to be anywhere else in the world?"

Tuesday 12 October 2010

Indian Summer in the West - Getting Shoogled

After a great day paddling and sunbathing, we drove to Glenuig to watch one of our favourite bands, Shooglenifty, play at their spiritual home in the tiny Glenuig Hall.  Variously described as Progressive Celtic, Folk, World and Acid Croft, they make a great  sound led by fiddle, mandolin and banjo.

Following an impromptu warm-up set by Jim Hall with his sons, Shooglenifty came onstage at 9.45pm.  The place was crammed, and although we've both seen the band before, nothing could compare with seeing them at this venue.  For the next 3 hours, the hall was absolutely jumping - at the short interval, fiddler Angus Grant implored the crowd to "drink plenty of water, go get some fresh air!"

The second set was, if anything, more frenetic.  Superb musicianship and a fantastic atmosphere with an encore that had to be heard to be believed.  They eventually called it a night just short of 1am, probably because the bar was about to shut!

A memorable gig; everyone left well and truly Shoogled.

Indian Summer in the West - Ardtoe and Loch Moidart

We booked a weekend on the west coast at Strontian, staying in the very comfortable Strontian Holiday Lodges.  Our lodge was really well equipped and had a gorgeous view down Loch Sunart.  An evening temperature of over 20 degrees Celcius is not normal for Scotland in October!

The sunset hinted at a fine day to come.  As night fell the cloud dissipated to leave a sky full of stars

The following day we headed out to Ardtoe, a small beach at the end of a minor road with a really special atmosphere.  the West is well known as the home of this chap's relatives, but one advantage of this time of year is that there are none about!

Paddling north out of Ardtoe opens up a great view of Eigg and Rum.  An Sgurr of Eigg is on the left with the Rum Cuillin beyond. 

We turned into Loch Moidart, accompanied as ever here by an escort of curious Common Seals.  Castle Tioram sits on it's rock near the head of the Loch.  Last time I was here the weather was superb too.  An easterly breeze blowing out of the loch was making for hard going, so we turned around and paddled back to Ardtoe to relax in the sunshine.

Thursday 7 October 2010

Wind and Water in Glen Muick

Yesterday I had a mountain bike ride at Glen Muick (the glen of pigs).  A road runs from the town of Ballater, over the River Dee and then a minor road goes the 12 kilometres up the glen to a car park and small interpretation centre run by the estate Ranger Service which has some interesting displays about wildlife and landforms on the estate.

The ride up the glen was into a stiff headwind, and higher up, blustery rain showers.  There's also about 300 metres of ascent, so it wasn't the fastest ride I've ever done!

At the roadside, these Wild Rose hips were glowing in a patch of sunlight.

It can be a very fast and furious bike ride back down the glen on an estate track on the west side of the river, but go too fast and you'll miss the falls on the River Muick.  Today there was plenty of water in the river and a plume of spray was blowing up from the peaty water crashing down the fall.  To the left, a "salmon ladder" can be seen, a sort of by-pass for fish heading upstream to spawn.  To get this photo it was necessary to walk out on a narrow ledge with the falls one side and the ladder the other - MTB shoes with a metal plate in the sole are a bit scuttery!

From further down, the source of the spray is easy to see as the water crashes over a rocky obstruction.

The track then follows the river down the glen before a minor road is met past Birkhall and back towards Ballater.  This ride is just over 30km, so doesn't take too long, and can be extended by riding around Loch Muick itself, though there's a rough and difficult section for bikes near the head of the loch.

Wednesday 6 October 2010

The Fords of Avon and Glen Derry

The river was much quieter near the top of the glen.  Just after Faindouran the estate track ends and a rough path continues for 5km up to the Fords of Avon.  Ahead, it was plain that the showers had been falling as snow on the high tops.

At the Fords is the Refuge, basically a garden shed with big boulders piled around it!    In the winter it's sometimes completely covered by snow.  Not really a bothy, it's an emergency shelter and is cramped and dark inside though a welcome respite at times of bad weather.  The Refuge lies at 690 metres, at a crossroads in the Cairngorms.

From here one can go north to Ryvoan and Glenmore via either Bynack or Strath Nethy, west to the Loch Avon basin - heart of the Cairngorms, east to Glen Avon and Tomintoul or south to Glen Derry and Braemar.  Most directions are dependant upon fording the Avon though!

Today it was at a reasonable level.  I crossed without getting my feet wet and camped on the south side of the river.  The better camping pitch is near the Refuge, but it's wise to cross the river while you can when the weather is mixed!

On a much brighter and calmer morning I set out south, initially through the Lairig an Laoigh (pass of the calves - an indication of the former importance of this route as a drove road) then down into Glen Derry.  To my right, I had great views into Coire Etchachan.  The dip on the right leads out to Loch Etchachan, a high lochan at 922 metres with an arctic setting.

The back wall of the corrie contains the big cliffs of Creagan a'Choire Etchachan, on which there are some classic climbing routes - "Talsiman" and "Quartzvein Edge" are summer routes whilst "Djibangi" is one of the best winter routes.  Facing north-east and being high, these cliffs get a good covering of ice.

The route down to Derry goes through the pinewoods around Derry Lodge, then further to Glen Lui (Glen of the calves) to meet the road at Linn of Dee.

Monday 4 October 2010

The Bright One

I reached the River Avon (pronounced "Aan"- Ath Fhionn - the bright one) near Inchrory, at the beautiful Linn of Avon. The river is noted for the clarity of its water; it flows over Cairngorm granites and picks up very little peat staining. This clarity perhaps gives the Gaelic name - and there's even a rhyme :

"The water of A'an it runs sae clear,
t'would beguile a man o' a hundred year"

a reference to the fact the clear (and cold) water is always a bit deeper than you think!

A Linn is the name given to a constricted waterfall with a pool below. There are Linns of Dee, Quoich and Avon on this side of the Cairngorms. All are lovely places, but the Linn of Avon is the hardest to reach, being 10km from the nearest road, and 15km via the usual approach up Glen Avon.

The pool looked peaceful enough, but the rapids just downstream showed the power of the river, quite high after a couple of very wet days.

When the sun broke through the showers, it flooded the scene with warm light. It's a place to linger and to enjoy.

Friday 1 October 2010

Birthplace of the Don

My first days back on the hill after a long spell at work were to take me from the birthplace of one river (the Don) to near the source of another (the Avon).

On a day of alternate sunny spells and lashing showers I set out from Cock Bridge at the foot of the Lecht (the infamous Cock Bridge to Tomintoul road). Patterns of light and shade raced across the landscape on a blustery north wind. The hill in the distance is Creag Veann or Mheann (middle hill) and in the foreground is the boggy ground of the Feith Bhait.

This boggy hollow gives rise to the infant River Don, which flows east to the North Sea and in turn gives it's name to the city of Aberdeen (Obar Deathan - mouth of the Deathan - Deathan translating as river deity).

These hills at the edge of the Cairngorms aren't formed of the granites of the main massif, but of schists and diorites. The softer rocks break down readily to give more rounded and fertile hills. This weathered boulder looked like a piece of some enormous spinal column.

There was still plenty of green in the landscape, but looking closer the signs of Autumns approach were evident. The blaeberry leaves are turning a flaming red colour which glowed among the mosses and ferns