Friday 29 November 2013

An extraordinary sunset

Whilst completing a few last minute jobs in the garden I became aware of a quite extraordinary sunset developing overhead......

                      Quite apart from the gorgeous colours, thee was an unusual effect in the clouds........

                                          ...which intensified and formed as we watched.

A 3D effect combined with blurring at the edges of the clouds made for a wonderfully textured skyskape

These may have been Mammatus clouds formed in sinking air, a quite unusual cloud type.  Certainly the weather had seen some big fluctuation in temperature over the previous 24 hours.

Meanwhile, the bottom edge of a more defined bank of clouds resembled flames as the sun fired through it and the colour reached a rich crescendo before gradually fading.  We were simply spellbound at this beautiful and most extraordinary of sunsets.

Thursday 28 November 2013

The turning wheel

Three days of deep frosts followed by a bitter day of cold, lashing rain; it feels that autumn is now turning to winter in the Aberdeenshire countryside.  The trees are almost bare and the fields behind our house have been spread with dung then ploughed to await their next crop - the land transformed  from the golds of late summer to brown shades.

On a more settled morning I took a walk to get some height and hopefully a view.

Coiliocbhar Hill is just ten minutes drive from home and I was soon up above the farmland and onto the hill ground.

The moorland grasses are bleached and dry after snow, then cold winds and frost - it really looks like winter.

To the north-east I could look over to Bennachie, that most recognisable of Aberdeenshire's hills, and one associated with homecomings.  The last time I was on Coiliochbhar Hill I was treated to a great Brocken Spectre, but no chance of that today in a cold blustery airstream.

To the west I looked over the course of the River Don and beyond to the hills separating Donside from Fiddichside......

 .......while a bit closer, the hulk of Kildrummy Castle watches the turning of the seasons, as it has done for 800 years.

I walked reluctantly back down from the hill towards a winter sky.  The wheel of the seasons is turning.  I'm about to leave for four months working abroad; when I return the wheel will have turned further and the fresh shades of Spring will be across the land.  As with the seasons, the small cycle of my own wheel will have turned too.

Sunday 24 November 2013

An adventure of a different kind!

This blog usually features adventures in Scotland's great outdoors whether on the hill or in a kayak on the sea or just the beauty of the natural environmnent. Recently though, we've been making items for an adventure of a completely different kind!

For our first attempt to sell some of the things we've made we chose a Christmas Fayre orgainsed by the Parent-Teacher Association at Craigclowan School in Perth where we have a connection through a family member.  We arrived the evening before the fair and quickly realised that we needed lots of space!  The co-ordinator of the event kindly arranged a bit of extra space by forming a corner which worked really well for us.

Although we'd tried out a table plan at home there were some changes needed, but eventually we were set up with tealight holders made from whisky barrel staves at one end along with prints and cards....

                                .....more whisky barrel items and some clocks in the middle....

......and driftwood items at the other end.  The evening had a sense of relief that we'd got this far, but quite a bit of apprehension as to how things would go on the day.

The Christmas Fayre was really well supported by the school and the wider community and was very busy with folk. As well as stalls the event featured choral singing, music, a fashion display and a demonstration of how to make the perfect Christmas table centre.  There were lots of activities to keep children entertained and of course an opportunity for little ones to get their wish-list to Father Christmas when he visited along with a rather dashing Pony.

There were a good range of stalls with a wide variety of really nice items - we were at risk of spending more than we'd make!

So, how did we do?  Well, we had a great time and exceeded our hopes for how things might be received and sell.  Certainly we've been encouraged enough to continue the adventure and develop things further.

We'd like to extend our heartfelt thanks to the Head Teacher, staff, PTA and pupils of Craigclowan School for making us so welcome - it really was appreciated and we hope to return next year.  Also of course to those folk who liked what we'd done enough to purchase items - we hope that you enjoy them!

Thursday 21 November 2013

The ticking of clocks, the lighting of lamps and the raising of glasses.....

For a good while, we've toyed with the idea of making some hand-crafted pieces for sale. We've made some items for family and some for ourselves, and finally we've taken the plunge. Booking a place back in August for a Christmas Craft Fair in Perthshire this weekend gave us the push we needed and the last few months have seen full production! Along with the items themselves, there have been all the little things we didn't originally consider, like hand-stamped gift tags, bags and a host of other small items which all add up.

The ticking of clocks.....

...with some made from pieces of driftwood collected over a period of years on sea kayak and walking trips....

                                        Others made from pieces of tree bark found in odd places.....

...and some made from oak whisky cask staves.  We get the staves from a cooperage in Speyside; they start out black, wet and dirty, needing quite a bit of work to bring back the character of the oak wood.  It's a marvellous material to work with though; every cut or hole made in the wood releases a beautiful whisky aroma!  :o)

                                Whisky cask staves also go towards the lighting of lamps........

                      Tealight holders of various sizes and configurations; some straightforward.....

                                   ....others requiring a bit of thought to get the balance right.

                                            The barrel chines can sometimes come in useful!.....

...and there are even some unusual woods - this oak stave seems not to have been used for whisky at all; it's very blonde and had an aroma of (perhaps) cognac.

Driftwood used here too.....

                                                A Gorse root bleached by sea and wind.....

                                            ...and a piece of trunk beautifully polished by the sea.

                   For the whisky drinker, the barrel staves can be put to a very satisfying use.......

                                                            .....whether for oneself.....

                                                  .......or to raise a glass with friends.

We've also got some prints and greeting cards featuring images which have appeared on the blog, so a bit of a variety of items. It's hard to know whether the things we've made will be good enough to sell, but unless we dip our toes in the water, we'll not know either way  :o)

There's a distinct possibility that we'll sell very little, in which case all our family's Christmas presents are sorted for several years to come!

Winter backpacking on the White Mounth - going out in a blaze of glory!

We slept well and warm in the bothy at Glas Allt Shiel despite outside temperatures dipping well below freezing.  Early morning frost and ice had made the grass crunchy and the ground hard.

After breakfast and a good clean and tidy out of the bothy we set off to walk out along Loch Muick, which was still in shadow.  The air was cold and sharp, it was a cracking morning to be out and about. As a bonus our rucsacs were substantially lighter by most of our food and a couple of kilos each of coal and kindling  :o)

The early sun wasn't far away, still below the hills of the Capel Mounth but lighting the sky a to a searing white.  There was great wildlife interest too.  In the space of five minutes near the outflow of the loch we saw groups of Red Deer, a party of black grouse and a group of about twenty Whooper Swans (Cygnus cygnus) falling gracefully out of the morning air from the north east to land on the loch with much calling and splashing.  We thought perhaps that this was possibly their first arrival for the winter having flown from Iceland, such was the commotion on landing.

Past the outflow of Loch Muick we entered the woods of Glen Muick (pronounced "Mick" and meaning Glen of Pigs).  It was much cooler here in the wood and out of the sun but above us the larches were in glorious sunshine. 

We stopped for second breakfast near the Linn of Muick, finding a small patch of sunshine in which to sit and reflect on a great short trip which had given us some of the best of Scotland's winter hills.

Emerging from the woods further down, we walked into a truly fabulous morning.  The final flourish of autumn colour made the hills and woods appear to glow.  The hills might now be in full winter conditions but here on the lower ground it was still autumn yet.

We strolled down the final couple of kilometres to where we'd left a car near Mill of Sterin; there's space to park a car here if it's done carefully and considerately.  Our short early winter trip had been just 30 kilometres over an afternoon, a full day and a morning but it had interest, variety and two good bothies.  We'd also been fortunate with the weather; as we drove the short distance home the grey clouds of an approaching weather front filled the sky.

Wednesday 20 November 2013

Winter backpacking on the White Mounth - from ice to fire

As we descended from the Dubh Loch into the large glacial trench containing Loch Muick (loch of pigs) we could see our destination for the night marked by the stand of pines and larches on the cloch shore.  The descent is on an easy-angled stalkers path and relatively painless on the knees.  The burn draining the Dubh loch (the Allt an Dubh Loch) can be seen on the right of this image.  It zig-zags down to Loch Muick in almost continuous whitewater;  I have heard it referred to as the "streak o' lightning" due to its appearance from across the loch.

Approaching the trees we walked into welcome sunshine, warm on the back.  The larches were glowing in the late sun, showing up well against the contrast of the pines.

Our accommodation for the night.......well, almost.  Glas Allt Shiel (shieling of the grey water) is shooting lodge built for Queen Victoria and is still in very occasional use.  An outbuilding to the rear contains a bothy maintained by Dundee University Rucksack Club, run on very similar lines to MBA bothies.  Dave and I have stayed at Glas Allt Shiel previously.

 We made hot drinks and went to the loch shore to enjoy the last of the late afternoon sunshine.  The view down the loch is very fine from here.  We then set about collecting firewood, picking up branches blown down in the recent gale.  Between us we'd also carried coal and kindling on our journey over the mounth so we would have a good fire.  The previous open fireplace in the bothy has been enhanced with a very effective solid fuel stove - we got it lit and by the end of the evening had the whole bothy up to 18 degrees Celcius; not bad in a granite outbuilding with outside temperatures below freezing!

Whilst we were sawing up our firewood a Common Vole (Microtus arvalis) repeatedly appeared to eat a few blades of grass.  It allowed close approach but if we strayed too close and it disappeared into one of its runways through the grass.  It seemed quite a fiendly wee thing, but would have a colder night than we would!

Tuesday 19 November 2013

Winter backpacking on the White Mounth - the dark jewel

Dave and I descended off the slopes of Carn an t-Sagairt Mor and headed towards the Dubh Loch (black, or dark loch), now clearly visible ahead.  The loch is really obviously of glacial origin, formed as a corrie glacier ground off the high hills of the Mounth and gouged out the bowl of the loch.  The additional weight of ice would have gouged deeper to form the dip which later filled to be a loch, and the corrie lip where the ice poured over to join the larger glacier forming Glen Muick is visible at the outflow end of the loch.

Descending towards the loch the best line is to keep fairly high on the north side of the approach (the left hand side in this image) to avoid boggy ground above the head of the loch.  There are some beautifully planed-off granite slabs on this descent together with a burn which forms a long waterslide at one point on its fall to the loch.

On the south side of the loch is the steep cliffs of Creag an Dubh Loch........

......and on the south side are the crags of Eagle's Rock.

Eagle's Rock is a 150m south facing granite mass which has some fine summer rock climbing routes.  Being south facing, it thaws early in winter but nevertheless has some classic ice routes up a waterfall.  We noted what looked to be a fine low-grade gully towards the right of the crag as an obvious line.

Creag an Dubh Loch is both higher and colder.  Facing ENE, the crag reaches 270m in height and has 1.5km of continuous cliff rising 200m or more.  It's the highest continous cliff in the Cairngorms  and one of the highest in Britain.

Seen across the Dubh Loch in early winter conditions, Creag an Dubh Loch is an imposing sight.  Split by a left slanting scree gully (Central Gully), the crag is composed of overlapping and compact dark granite giving some very hard climbs.  Names such as Sword of Damocles (E1), Mousetrap (VS), Sabre Edge (HS), King Rat (E1), Predator (HVS) and The Naked Ape (E5) give a hint of the grade and nature of climbing on this crag.  Unsurprisingly, there are also excellent winter routes, but these require long days and good conditions.

Seen from the outflow, the Dubh Loch looks much the same as it must have done shortly after the ice retreated.  For me, this dark jewel is one of the special places in the Cairngorms area and well worth a visit whether in winter or summer.

Monday 18 November 2013

Winter Backpacking on the White Mounth

Dave and I continued to climb steadily until we reached the cloudbase at about 800 metres.  Visibility in the clouds was about 200 metres with a chilling NW'ly wind at about 30mph - in other words perfectly acceptable and normal Scottish winter conditions!

Our route took us uphill on a line of old iron fence posts marking an estate boundary.  Placed on one strainer post was a piece of aircraft engine.  It is very likely that this is part of the wreckage of an RAF Canberra WJ615, a bomber/reconnaisance aircraft which crashed into the mountain in level flight on the evening of 22 November 1956, killing its crew of two, Flying Officer Redman (pilot) and Flying Officer Mansell (navigator).  The subsequent enquiry was unable to determine the cause of the crash.  The wreckage is scattered across a wide area of the mountain; I've seen odd pieces including a wing section around this location. 

Our climb soon levelled out and we navigated across to the summit cairn; or one of them, there are two which seem to be of equal height and about 200 metres apart.  Carn an t-Sagairt Mor (rocky hill of the big priest) is 1047m/3435ft, and up here the scene is Arctic even this early in the season.  We'd seen Hares and Ptarmigan on our ascent, both in full winter garb of white streaked with grey and perfectly camouflaged and adapted for life here.  Unlike us.  Although our Buffalo Mountain Shirts are great for these conditions, the exertion of carrying fairly heavy rucsacs meant that we'd begin to chill down if we lingered.  A brief five minute stop for a snack and a drink, then we took a compass bearing for our next destination and set out across the broad summit area of the hill.

We visited the second cairn on our way across the broad dome of Carn an t-Sagairt Mor, where the rime icing was quite impressive for November.  The "feathers" of ice are depoisted on the upwind side of rocks (and in this case old fenceposts) in a cold, moist airstream and can grow out to a foot or more.  They are one of the real features of Scottish hills in winter and I've always thought them beautiful, even if it takes hostile weather to form them.

As we descended below the cloudbase, our next destination showed itself in a window through the clouds - we were right on track.