Saturday, 29 November 2008

Winter has set in, at least for a while....

The whole of the UK seems gripped by freezing temperatures and Arran is no exception. A fair dump of snow in the hills on Thursday evening meant that we were able to get out and enjoy some winter conditions on Friday. I was able to test my new lightweight walking crampons on Cioch na h Oighe, a grade 1 scramble made more interesting by being plastered with snow and ice. (A birthday present-thanks Wally for my superlight feet!). Unfortunately my camera has gone awol and I am reliant on these pictures taken Wally on his mobile. Apologies for the quality but you get the picture. Winter afficionados will want to know whether the turf was frozen and if there was much ice- it wasn't and the ice was restricted to verglassed slabs. However, last night we had a huge dump of snow down to sea level and sub-freezing temperatures tonight so I would hope that ice will be starting to form in north facing corries here on Arran as elsewhere. It is set to be cold for several more days yet so hopefully will be able to get out and about a bit more next week (and maybe I'll find my camera).

The picture opposite was Lamlash this morning. Since it was taken another 2 inches fell during the day. It is very pretty but the road between here and Brodick was closed for much of the day which caused a few problems.... Sadly meant I didn't get out to play properly although I lobbed a few snowballs for my kitten who seemed a bit confused by all the snow.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Over the hills and far away

Summer is now well and truly over and since my last post Arran has been battered by gales and snow which has plastered the hills for days. Fortunately for me, I have been enjoying a climbing and beach holiday in the warm south (Cornwall) and have avoided most of the bad weather. I returned this week to lead an expedition of students from Glasgow on a three day hike across the Northend from Lochranza to Brodick.

The original plan for this group had been a trip to Knoydart, but the weather and an injury to their course leader meant a last minute itinerary change. My disappointment at not travelling to Scotlands last great wilderness was tempered by joy at being able to enjoy the hills I love the best and share them with a group.

The key to a multi-day backpacking trip is going lightweight. The temptation is to bring too much and 'luxury' items add up to a heavy bag... It is important to eat well, but avoid food that is already hydrated eg. tins and cartons, and go instead for dried meals such as noodles, porridge and rice. Tins are heavy, and add weight and bulk to rubbish that must be carried out again. Nutrition in the hills is all about carbs. A little protein is good for longer trips and fat helps keep you warm at night but I rarely worry about my vitamin intake even on a long trip. A cunning campfood is instant custard, which makes a delicious high calorie desert especially if tipped over a lump of cake on a cold eve, and has barely any cooking time so doesn't use much gas. My naughty luxury item on this trip- a tube of condensed milk. Yummy mixed with hot water and museli or squeezed into tea. This was a tip I picked up from Roger Wild of the MCofS who was my guide on a Conville Course a few years ago and I definately owe him for that one!

If like me, you expect to do quite a few long distance trips over the years, it is worth investing in some quality equipment. A warm down sleeping bag, a lightweight thermarest type mat, a lightweight stove, and a decent lightweight tent. My favourite piece of kit for this trip- my Pocket Rocket, an nifty little stove from MSR that weighs virtually nothing and goes like a train (or a rocket).

The route for the students was a short but ambitious one due to the steep terrain. We started at Lochranza, walking over the Narachan path, to the remote Laggan Cottage on the North East Coast of Arran. The moors above Laggan are home to red deer, kestrels and we were even lucky enough to glimpse a golden eagle wheeling high above the tops (See top picture). From Laggan, we followed the Coastal Way to Sannox, and then found a campsite in Glen Sannox. At sea level, this was a warm night, and we were cosy in our tents until disturbed by rowdy deer at a late hour.

The following morning began with a march up Glen Sannox, and then a hard pull up to Coire Na h-Uaimh. The path is faint and often boggy, and from the coire rim, the mist closed in and made finding the exit path through the steep headwall interesting! From the ridge above, we took a traverse path to the West of Cir Mhor, and then descended below the western slopes of the treacherous A Chir ridge (See image above). Finally, we climbed back up to the ridge, picking our way across the lower slopes of Beinn Tarsuinn to take the huntsmans pass down in to Coire A Bhradain. In bad visibility we grabbed the first flat spot we found and pitched camp under the looming cliffs of the Meadow Face of Beinn Tarsuinn.

The final day dawned and the group were tired and looking forward to going home. We took a cunning route out of Coire A Bhradain and down to Glen Rosa that allowed everyone to practice their micro-navigation skills. By returning to Brodick via the Castle grounds and the Fishermans Walk by the golf course, we were able to save our tired feet from miles of tarmac in the last section.

Thankyou to the students of North Glasgow College for a fantastic trip! If you are interested in the route, you can view it in full on the Ordnance Survey website:

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Scotlands first No Take Zone in Lamlash Bay!

Last weekend, amidst the hecticness of the Outdoor Festival, something truly wonderful and magnificent happened here on Arran. After 14 years of compaigning, Arran won a No Take Zone in Lamlash Bay. Not only is this Scotland's first NTZ, but it is also the UKs first community led scheme. This will have lasting and positive effect on the island for generations to come, and is a giant step forward for marine conservation.

The No Take Zone will protect precious maerl beds from destructive scallop dredgers, and was the vision of three local guys, Howard Wood, Don McNeish and Tom Vella Boyle. Maerl is a pink calicified seaweed that grows very slowly and forms nurseries for commercially important species such as cod and scallops as well as amazing habitat for all sorts of wonderful plants and animals. Howard and Don are divers and noticed how the maerl beds were getting trashed by bottom dredging. They set up the Community Of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST) to campaign for a No Take Zone in Lamlash Bay. It has taken many years, but at last the maerl in our bay is protected.
Today was the COAST AGM. AGMs can be very boring, but the room was full of extremely happy people and it was an emotional if low key occasion. Afterwards, Dr Sally Campbell took us down to the shore for a poke about under rocks and pools to see what could be turned up. We found plenty of shellfish, slippery rockfish and even a delicate brittle star. Pictured is an exquisitely beautiful prawn.
Sally also showed us some minute molluscs clinging to weed and rocks. These are the summers young mussels, winkles and whelks, spawned only this year, and after spending weeks floating on the currents, they have settled and found their homes in the tidal zone of our bay. It is expected, that by protecting the seabed here in Lamlash, similar spat from scallops, will be able to spread out into neighbouring areas of the Clyde.
For more information, please look at the COAST website:

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

A helicopter and a dead porpoise.

After a day off during which I was so tired I barely managed to lift my chin it was back to work as normal today. It was good after all the craziness of the weekend to get back to some semblance of normality and I was looking forward to a day of finishing jobs at the Ranger Centre. There are a number of little projects that have been put off due to bad weather and while the others were out on the hill completing the ptarmigan survey I hoped to enjoy a day of pootling and answering the phone. Shortly after lunch a pair of men arrived in a vehicle asking if they could land their helicopter in the castle fields. Not long after a royal Navy Sea King descended on a training exercise, scared the visitors and wildlife by whooshing leaves everywhere, and then left again. What a life!

Normality didn't really appear as predicted though as a call to the centre informed us of a dead harbour porpoise on the beach at Whiting Bay. I drove down there in the van to collect it for sending to the Scottish Agricultural College in Inverness for a post mortem. I had not expected to find an adult animal as strandings and deaths are usually juveniles. However, the poor creature was about five foot long, an adult male (I think), and extremely difficult for me to move on my own. I managed eventually to wrap it and drag it up the beach. There was some comedy value as I wrestled with the dead weight all the way back to the van but I was quite emotional at the same time as he was a beautiful creature, and I never expected to get so close to one, especially in such sad circumstances. Harbour porpoises are generally very shy and wary of vessels, and although they are sighted regularly in the Clyde, they are often just a fin glimpsed from afar as they glide away from you.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Summer Arrives for the Outdoor Festival

Perhaps it is true that if you hope for something enough it will come your way. This weekend's festival has been blessed by dry weather (almost) every day. It is Monday evening, and I'm about to go for a well deserved plate of fish and chips at the Pierhead Tavern, but before I do I thought I would post this picture of a group stomping up to the summit of Caisteal Abhail. It is a really exciting summit, with a little clamber to get to the very top, but the views and the sense of achievement make it all worthwhile.

The festival has been brilliant fun, and I have been loving getting out on the hill everyday. Everyone has been really up for it and for me, a big part of the fun has been meeting so many brilliant people who enjoy the outdoors.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Autumn Delights

Autumn is creeping up on us and as the temperatures drop, colours are intesifying on the hill and in the woods. Today in Merkland Wood, Heather and I were clearing drains. Drain clearing can be a satisfying job, as you shovel leaf detritus and mud out of the ditches and watch the muddy chocolate coloured water well up and start to flow, eventually running clean. Heather is on work experience, and drain clearing was new to her- perhaps not what most young people aspire to. It is also muddy, hot and smelly work (plenty of methane)and the midges are still here, so I was impressed with her work ethic.

On the way back to the rangers centre at lunchtime, we took a detour through Merkland, which is a stunning labyrinth of trees, rocks and streams. Local artists have created wonderful sculptures based on natural forms and tucked them away in corners of the wood, waiting to be discovered. There were plenty of truly wild things to be seen too, including some huge dragonflies, and magnificent fungi that are really going for it with the mild damp summer that we have had. The picture above is of a huge cascade of honey fungus, at the base of a beach tree. Honey fungus is edible, although it needs careful processing to remove toxins. It is also a highly effective parasite, attacking not only dead and rotting wood but also causing severe rot in living trees. Not good news for the beach tree, but it helps to ensure a ready supply of dead wood and habitat for woodland invertebrates.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Welcome and when will it stop raining?

It has been a damp and dismal few weeks across the whole of the uk, and Arran, sitting in the gulf stream as it is, has endured the worst of the wet weather. Luckily for us we have steep hills and rivers that run off into the sea, and so rarely suffer catastrophic flooding. This may not seem the case to the campers recently airlifted out of Glen Rosa! On a less disastrous level, the weather has hampered a lot of the work up at the Rangers Centre at Brodick Castle. I have been unable to get out and finish a fixed point photography project that I started weeks ago, as there has been so much mist and clag around. Last week's ptarmigan survey was limited due to apalling visibility on the hill which made it unsafe to spread out into a long beating line, instead keeping groups together, and impossible to see any birds with visibility down to a few metres. Some possible signs were discovered, including droppings and feathers, but nothing conclusive. I was up on Goatfell for this survey, with a team consisting of rangers from Glencoe and the Trust's ecologist. It was a great day out, with fantastic folk, but sadly no sign of the elusive ptarmigan.

As the summer season winds down it is a chance for everyone to take stock here, and try and work out whether it has been a good or bad summer overall. My guided walks are slowing down, but I'm still incredibly busy with work, particularly as we are now just days away from the Isle of Arran Outdoor and Walking Festival. This will be four days of guided walks and evening events. If you are interested in taking part, have a look at our website: