Wednesday 29 December 2021

An atmospheric walk on the Correen Hills

When Allan, Lorna and I made plans to meet for a walk over the Correen Hills the forecast suggested a misty start - and that's what we got.  We'd taken a hand-saw to cut away some of the branches from trees fallen during Storm Arwen and which were making progress up the forest and onto the ridge hard going - a 45 minute spell of trimming has made the route a good deal easier.

Emerging onto the ridge we had visibility of just a hundred metres or so for three quarters of the way around the broad, curving ridge.  But as we approached the path junction near Edinbanchory Hill which marks the turn towards Lord Arthur's Hill the mist began to thin and we strode on in ethereal light.

Looking across the valley of the River Don, Coiliochbhar Hill emerged from swirling mist.  This hill has given it's own wonderful misty conditions in the past.

Our pace sowed right down as we stopped frequently to watch the changing scene; ridges and hills appearing and disappearing as the mist boiled, dissipated and re-formed - the effect was quite magical.

We seemed to be in an area of relatively clear air, in each direction a thick cloudbank was evident.  Underneath everything was grey and monotone, around us the light was superb.

 We made the final pull up onto the summit of Lord Arthur's Hill in bright sunshine.  The lack of wind allowed us to sit for half an hour and enjoy the changing views in comfort - in late December!  As we went down the hill towards Tullynessle the air chilled and the mist began to re-form - but what an atmospheric walk it had been!

Saturday 25 December 2021

 Wishing you peace, health and happiness, wherever you may be this Christmas

Thursday 11 November 2021

Remembrance - 11th November

 In remembrance of all those men and women who have lost their lives in the service of their countries, those who still suffer the physical and mental scars of the conflicts in which they served; and those who are left with loss and grief.

"At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them"

Saturday 23 October 2021

Leuchan, Looking

October in Scotland can have some stunningly good weather, and a warm, clear early October day was too good to miss.  Allan, Lorna and I met up in the Deeside town of Ballater for a round of a hill suggested by Lorna, and one which I hadn't previously walked.  We left the town and crossed the River Dee on the fine stone Royal Bridge and left the road to join an old track through pines and larches, the track a cushion of fallen needles dappled with sunshine.

The track climbs very steadily at an easy-to-walk angle out of the wood and takes a curving line towards a distinct notch on the skyline.  Below us (to the left in this image) a very large "parcel" of red Deer hinds moved across the grassy ground with two huge stags in attendance.  the stags were roaring repeatedly and one charged the other, sending it trotting away.  In reality one stag has absolutely no chance of keeping a group of over fifty hinds through the rut - he has his hands full!  As we climbed further we saw numerous groups of hinds marshalled by stags, the hill slope echoing to their roar.

A chat with an estate stalker who was driving down the track gave an excuse to pause on the climb and we got some really interesting insight into management on this piece of ground.  A group of clients were out with the head stalker shooting grouse, we asked whether our route would be a problem - which it wasn't.

The views were really starting to open up as we reached the skyline notch and climbed above it towards the summit of our hill, Cairn Leuchan.  On a knoll above the path, the distinctive shape of a mountain hare could be seen...but something didn't seem was stock-still.  we walked up to investigate....

..and found this fine fellow called "Leuchan" from the hill, looking fixedly across Glen Muick to the distant Lochnagar.

Leuchan appears to be made from resin or a similar construction and even has his own stone name plate.  I've come across a similar sculpture on a hill the other side of Glen Muick previously and I still have no idea who installed them - but as pieces of art in the landscape they're fine by me!

We left Leuchan, looking, to his contemplation and continued towards the summit of Cairn Leuchan.

It's a short but steep climb to the outcrop forming the summit of Cairn Leuchan.  At 700m/2297ft it's neither a high hill or on any particular list of hills, but it is a very fine viewpoint.  The object of Leuchan the Hare's gaze, Lochnagar, is very prominent and draws the eye to the south west.

To the south east is another Munro, Mount Keen, the most easterly of Scotland's 3000ft hills.  The path which leaves the traditional "Mounth" route between Deeside and Glen Mark to climb to the summit is clearly visible as a pinkish line.

After resting a while and taking in the view we headed back down to the skyline notch, passing the shooters at their lunch.  We exchanged pleasantries with the head stalker and his staff but were roundly ignored by the clients.

We intended to keep to the high ground and took a short detour onto Craig Vallich, which is a fine viewpoint above Ballater.

The final high point of the day was the 601m/1972ft Pannanich Hill, which was possibly the best viewpoint on the walk.  A wide view through the northerly arc with the glacial lochans of Loch Davan and Loch Kinord as foreground with our "home hill" of Bennachie as backdrop made a super panorama while we sat and enjoyed a coffee.

It had been a great day, with lovely weather - t-shirts on high ground in October is definitely not the norm!  The walk had a final treat for us too.....

Another hare sculpture, also looking towards Lochnagar - maybe there's a pattern here, it's an intruiging puzzle!

The descent from Pannanich Hill back down to the valley of the River Dee is very steep and hard on the knees - we felt that our ascent route had been much the better way.  Soon though the roofs of the town and the fine church tower were in view and we strolled back along more level ground through a lovely wood.

What a great day it had been, another "wee hill" which had given a route of real quality and interest - a good choice by Lorna!


Wednesday 8 September 2021

A seasonal pleasure

September at Mountain and Sea Scotland HQ brings one of most satisfying of seasonal tasks, the storing of firewood logs to fuel our woodburner.  A big load of beech and elm from our regular supplier Ben at Treelogic arrived on a Friday, giving us the weekend to do the job.  

The first task was to sort out what would be stacked immediately and what could be split to give a variety of log sizes.  There followed an evening's work steadily moving the logs to the woodstore by wheelbarrow and starting the stacking process.  There was no hurry to do it as this load of wood isn't for use in the coming winter, it's destined to be burned in autumn and winter 2022/23.

I left the majority of the beech logs aside to be split.  As it was mainly large branch wood it would split nicely and provide smaller logs as well as making the individual logs easier to stack.  This is a job which has never seemed to be a chore to me but rather an enjoyable, even paced rhythm which is totally absorbing and almost therapeutic.

The job is made especially enjoyable because my splitting axe is a a wonderful tool.  A hand-forged large splitting axe from the small Swedish company Gransfors Bruk, it was a gift from our children a few years ago.  I have never used a tool so perfectly designed for purpose and which feels so absolutely "right" in the hands - it makes me smile every time I come to use it.

The job is finished by stacking the logs in one of our several woodstores.  This is also an absorbing job; there will be a "right" space for each log, no matter how awkwardly shaped.  In Scotland we don't usually see straight birch log firewood cut perfectly to length and diameter to form the wonderfully aesthetic stacks seen in Scandinavia, but its still possible to get a stable stack which doesn't look too much like simply a pile!

 And so, the job is done - for now.  The new load of wood is dry and perfectly burnable, but like malt whisky, firewood benefits from some additional time to mature.  Given extra months of seasoning it's possible to get wood seasoned from a dry 20% to as low as 15% moisture content even in Scotland's climate and this makes a surprising difference to the way it burns.  

In the meantime, of course, there's the satisfaction of walking past the woodstore on most days - it's tempting to build and fill "just one more" store - after all, you never know what the weather might be like next winter!

Sunday 18 July 2021

A recovery roll on the Sound of Sleat

The final morning of our trip to Loch Hourn was the first day of May, though you wouldn't have known it from the rather chilly early morning temperature.  While the paddlers carried our boats the short distance to the water at our camp site......

.....Donny boarded "Guppy" on the other side of the reef and motored off back towards Glenelg in order to arrive at high water and enable a much easier transport of his boat up the shore.  It had been great to have Donny along on another trip - you can see the film he made on his Youtube channel here, and follow the trip in "trivision" with some stunning images on Douglas' blog here

We'd remarked the previous evening that it was strange not to have seen any Otters, particularly since this area is the setting for Gavin Maxwell's "Ring of Bright Water".  Well, we didn't need to wait long to put that right!  A nice close view of what looked to be a dog Otter moving along the shore, then heading up the rocks was a great start to the morning's paddle.

The morning was beginning to warm up too as the sun burned away early cloud on the hills; all in all it was turning out to be a fine day.

Another Otter popped up in the middle of our group with a fair sized flatfish, which it proceeded to eat, although it was aware we were around it seemed very unconcerned.  This is one of the advantages of moving in a kayak, quiet motion and a fairly low silhouette offer some stunning wildlife encounters.  Watching the Otter eat his morning snack reminded us that it had been a few hours since breakfast - and we had information about a feeding opportunity of our own!

This being Saturday morning, the Glenelg Inn were marking their recent post-lockdown opening with a bacon roll that shouldn't be missed!  The staff were amazing, batting not an eyelid at us arriving in drysuits and ordering six coffees with twelve bacon rolls.  Many paddlers practice recovery rolls towards the end of a paddling day, and we agree that this is a good thing....especially if bacon or sausage is involved......

We enjoyed the view from the Inn's garden along with our second breakfast - the Glenelg inn gets a well-deserved 12/10 rating as a sea kayaking destination!

Refreshed and refuelled, there was just a short paddle back to the beach at Bernera to end our trip.

 Our route had been 62km over two half days and two full days with three nights camping.  In terms of distance this isn't a long trip but there is a lot to explore both on the water and on land.  

Ordance Survey Landranger  1:50K sheet 33 (Loch Alsh, Glen Shiel & Loch Hourn) covers the whole area.  There are fast tidal streams near Kylerhea and at both sets of narrows in Loch Hourn.  There are no easy escapes for the majority of the route; this is truly wild country.  The mouth of Loch Hourn can offer conditions ranging from "sporting" to very challenging in certain wind and tidal conditions - a period of relatively settled conditions is best to attempt the crossing of the loch mouth or the Sound of Sleat. Loch Hourn itself is notorious for violent squalls and funnels wind from both east and west, as well as "enjoying" some of the highest rainfall totals in Scotland.  Weather will likely be changeable, and this changeability with the sudden shifts of light and colour can really enhance a trip in this area.

Tuesday 6 July 2021

A toast or two on the Sound of Sleat

We dawdled along until the cloud lifted a little and built into a more substantial sheet, flattening the light. It had been a truly remarkable morning and yet we'd paddled only about six kilometres! Approaching Corran we stopped at the very smart "Ceildh House" which has local information, an exhibition/performance space and toilets. Immaculately clean and well kept, this is a true community hub. We took the opportunity to replenish our supplies of drinking water, and left a small donation. Places like this are really good to see, and there's even an arrangement for a couple of motorhomes to park for a couple of nights for a very reasonable fee. Unfortunately we were a couple of weeks too early for the opening of Sheena's tea hut... 

 At the other end of the village of Arnisdale is a building on an altogether grander scale. Arnisdale House was built in 1898 as a hunting lodge by Valentine Fleming, father of the author Ian Fleming, who wrote the James bond books. So, maybe this is the real "Skyfall".....

On this third and last night of our trip we returned to the same spot we'd used on the first evening, a reef topped with turf with great views up and down the Sound of Sleat.  We got the tents up and had a leisurely few hours in the late afternoon exploring on foot and collecting driftwood for the evening's fire.

The sun went down behind Skye's Sleat peninsula in a pale blaze and the temperature dropped - it was the last night of April after all.  Our tents were pitched on the highest ground so we found a good spot to shelter from a chilly "sundowner" breeze......

...where we cooked our dinner of home-made sweet potato curry.  We all consider good food a key part of any trip and when sea kayaking there's really no need to resort to tasteless processed food on shorter trips.  Each meal had been home-made prior to the trip and made a great end to the day, especially when accompanied by a frothing sports recovery drink and a dram.

Our fire was needed on this evening; although the showers of the previous day were thankfully absent it was certainly not very toasty warm.  We had another use for that fire too....

Baked potatoes in the embers of the fire followed by toasted marshmallows made for a most satisfactory supper!  We finished up with another toast - to the trip and to being back together after the lockdowns.


Saturday 19 June 2021

Days like these - a spectacular morning on Loch Hourn

I slept really well at our camp on Loch Hourn, waking early as the light grew stronger.  Stepping outside, this was my first view of the day - the majestic Ladhar Bheinn rearing into a flawless blue sky across the loch.  I've climbed Ladhar Bheinn twice, once from each side of the hill, and had remarkably good weather both times.  It's one of the Munro "superstars" in my opinion and anyone who climbed it on this day would have an unforgettable ascent.

The view in the other direction up Loch Hourn wasn't too shabby either!  The low early morning sunshine was silhouetting the tangle of ridges and spurs around Kinloch Hourn, a very different aspect of the same scene we'd watched the previous evening.

Rather than rush away we took our time to enjoy being in this utterly remote spot on such a great morning.  Everywhere we looked was stunning scenery and we found lots of interest all around, including some strange miniature fountains where the tide was pushing water and air up thorough the saltmarsh areas.

But it was Ladhar Bheinn which held our attention.  We had breakfast facing across the loch so that we could watch the light change on the cliffs at the head of Coire Dhorrcail (on the left of this image) and the gullies and faces at the head of Coire Odhair.

Eventually we decided to get underway and enjoy the view from the water.  We took down the tents and erased all evidence of our second fire; the tide had taken care of the remains of the first one!  We paddled out onto a mirror calm loch for a truly memorable morning's paddle.

It was now mid-morning and the warm sunshine had started to form clouds.  These didn't detract from the views at all, in fact the pattern of light and shade enhanced features and gave depth to the whole scene.  Douglas and I blazed away with our cameras and Donny filmed from "Guppy".  

The backdrop of Ladhar Bheinn was hard to beat, the kayaks tiny underneath the bulk of the mountain.  I took a tremendous amount of images and even now I can't decide which I prefer, so here's a few of them....Douglas' bright red P&H Volan providing a real splash of colour against deep shadows....

...a colour and light gradient as a passing cloud accentuated the warm sunshine against the shadow...

.......Lorna and Allan in a perfect reflection of the dramatic skyline of the summit ridges.....

....Donny motoring Guppy along below Druim a' Choire Odhair (ridge of the dun coloured Corrie)....

Already this was an outstanding day, and it was only mid-morning!  Days like these, they stay with you forever.


Thursday 10 June 2021

Time and tide on the shore of Loch Hourn

A leisurely paddle back along the shore of upper Loch Hourn took us back to our intended camp site on the point where we'd sheltered from the worst of the earlier squall.  The kayakers could carry our boats above the tideline, Donny moored his F-RIB "Guppy" in a small bay close by where it would be well out of the tidal stream.  There was plenty of space to camp here and good ground to pitch our tents; we got set up and did the usual sorting of kit after a day on the water.  

I really enjoy this aspect of trips whether by kayak or on foot - a reasonably early arrival at camp with time to enjoy the evening and to appreciate the setting.  This is a pretty remote spot, takes a bit of getting to and is well worth spending some time at.  The flow of the tide past the camp was quite hypnotic, it was fascinating watching the development of boils and swirls on the ebb and then the flood.

Through the early evening and while there was still some energy in the weather we were treated to a wonderful range of light as showers built over Kinloch Hourn.  The area around Loch Quoich gets some the highest rainfall totals anywhere in the UK and is used to "head" hydro power schemes - there's often plenty of energy potential falling from the sky!

We were pleased to see the showers remain concentrated at the head of the loch while we stayed dry and in a light breeze. It wasn't particularly warm, but cool and dry was fine by us.

As the sun dipped, the shadows deepened and increased the contrast with the sunlit hills, the highest of which still had a smattering of white from the earlier hailstorms - it was developing into a lovely evening.

After a dinner of home-made chilli  followed by baked fruit and custard, both kindly supplied by Raymond we secured the boats for the evening and made our way down below the high water mark to light our fire.  This early in the season there was no shortage of firewood - which as things turned out was a good thing.

 We lit the fire right on the previous evening's tide mark, but miscalculated by about 30 minutes of tide....with the result that we experienced "the lost fire of Loch Hourn"!  Managing to rescue some hot embers, we re-lit a fire on the shingle further up, but still below the Spring tide line.  We were glad of that fire, it was a fairly cold evening with a chilly breeze and though enjoyable to sit around chatting after so long apart, we didn't stay up too late.  The cloud began to dissipate as we were heading for our tents and we had hopes of good weather the following morning.  We were certainly not to be disappointed.....