Thursday, 24 December 2009

SNOW!

I have been amazingly busy this summer, walking all over Arran and Scotland, followed by a horrible ankle sprain in September, which kept me indoors all Autumn, and I have let the blog slide. I hope to update with more soon- in the mean time, please enjoy some recent photos taken on Arran in the snow this december! The ankle is on the mend now, and I am looking forward to getting out in the hills as often as possible, as well as guiding and leading walks.

Holy Isle in the snow from Lamlash Beach.


The Sleeping Warrior taken from the Boguille Pass.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

West Coast Holiday Snaps

I recently returned from a great 10 days on the West Coast climbing, scrambling and sea kayaking with my husband Wally. Below are a selection of snaps from the trip.

Wally on D Gully Buttress, Buchaille Etive Mor.


On Castle Ridge, Ben Nevis


The Forcan Ridge, Glen Shiel


Paddling out of Glenbrittle with the Cuillins behind. Had great views of Golden Eagles on this journey.


We stayed at Camasunary Bothy.



Sea Stack, off Soay in the Soay Sound.


The Cuillin Ridge Looking South from Bruach Na Frithe, Skye



Fairy Pools, Skye

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

West Highland Way- look after your feet and you will be fine.

Have recently returned from a week of guiding on the West Highland Way for Macs Adventure. (Sometimes I have to pinch myself- what a job). Like the rest of the group, this was the first time I had done this trip, so was slightly unsure of what to expect from 95 miles of low level walking from Glasgow to Fort William. Some "hardcore" friends and colleagues are a bit rude about Scotland's first long distance footpath. The implication being that a low level walk spread out over 7 days is an easy challenge that anyone can accomplish. However, averaging 14 miles a day, and with no rest days, I expected to feel some pain along the way.

The reality of the West Highland Way is that yes- this is indeed a walk that anyone of reasonable fitness can undertake. There are baggage companies that will carry your clothes for the week and comfortable b&bs along the way. However, it is also a great leveller, as the fittest walkers fell by the wayside in a bloody mess of blisters and compeed, having underestimated the challenge and set off at a cracking pace. Slow and steady is the order of the day- as 95 miles on drovers roads and lakeshore boulders take their toll. And the key- look after your feet. If these survive, it is in the bag. If you get blisters, only your iron will and a lot of painkillers will get you to the end.

Oh, and the views were fabulous, the walking really quite gentle, and the 20 mile day over Rannoch Moor the highlight of the week. Watching Buchaille Etive Mor hove in to view as we descended towards the Kingshouse was a joy. A huge sense of achievement was felt by everyone in the group as we covered the final miles in to Fort William, and rightly so.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Ice cream, otters, beach, oh and some bouldering....

I had a playday today (it is Easter after all) and had my first day off in a while. Ex Arran inhabitant Clare Y (she is a bit good) was up from Sheffield with her mate Tom so we headed down to the beach for some seriously hardcore.... otter watching....ice cream eating.... and in between climbed some rocks.
Kildonan has got a bit of scope for boulderers, and although the rock needs to be treated with care, it is quite fun. Watch out for the landings though, they can be very rocky and unpleasant.
As we were putting our rockshoes on we became aware of a high pitched whistling and discovered to our suprise a baby otter tucked away behind a rock just metres from our gear. We retreated to a kinder distance (jiggling with excitement- not cool)
and the little fella joined its mum and sibling in the sea. Later, whilst enjoying a well earned ice cream break, we watched the female fishing on the rising tide along the shore.
Arran is home to a lot of otters, how many is not known. They tend to have holts tucked away from view up the burnsides inland, but often forage along the shore and out to sea. The seem less shy and are easier to spot along the coast. A sighting inland is rare.
We did do some bouldering as well, and after lunch we headed down to another venue at the Cleats Shore. Even more esoteric with crumbling rock and cowpats, it is also Arran's nudist beach, although I have never been there on a day that anyone would want to take their clothes off.


Monday, 6 April 2009

Introduction To Navigation

It was a wild and woolly Saturday morning for the start of the Introduction to Navigation course. I had high hopes that we would get some properly foggy conditions- perfect to practice timings, pacings and bearings. The intrepid group headed up to the moorland behind Urie Loch in horizontal rain and howling wind. Unfortunately, although the rain and the wind hardly abated before turning in to hail, the cloud lifted with the passing of the cold front and we ended up with near perfect visibility. We were rewarded with fabulous views to the South from the summit of Tighvein, in between being pelted with stinging ice. All good practice, as you rarely have to do full-on micro nav in nice calm sunny weather!
On day two, we were treated to a glorious sunny day, and made the most of it by heading in to Corie A' Bhradain- a remote (and boggy) corrie that nestles between the horseshoe of the Three Beinns. It is great for practicing naviagation as the gentle slopes are pockmarked and criss-crossed with lochains, stream junctions and ring contours.
We had stunning views of the ominous Meadow Face of Beinn Tarsuinn, and were also treated to a magnificent flypast by golden eagle- I was just able to make out the golden feathers on its head glinting in the afternoon sunshine. Smiles all round!

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Messing about in boats!

What a wonderful week it has been here on Arran. The sun shone for most of it and it really felt like the new season had arrived. On Thursday evening I rushed home from work for the first paddle of the season. A quick sploosh around a very tranquil Lamlash Bay at sunset was the perfect end to a busy day. We attracted the obligatory curious seal and were treated to great views of wading birds including curlew, ringed plover and oystercatcher flocking on an exposed sandbar at Cordon that was not quite covered by the high tide.
This brief paddle was not enough for me and on Friday we took the boats over to the west coast of the island and put in at Imachar. The day was a breezy one and a rolling swell was coming up from the Irish Sea. Getting out on to the water was my first challenge as I am really a novice paddler. With aching arms and lots of heavy breathing I managed to control my kayak sufficiently to paddle beyond the breaking waves and in to flatter water to turn north and paddle up the coast. Surfing a gentle swell, we were quickly swept along, and arrived in Lochranza exhausted but happy after a brilliant afternoon. Along the way we had spotted pairs of mergansers, shelduck, shags and flotillas of male and female eider ducks.
On the downside, we saw a lot of plastic and other rubbish in the water which is very dangerous to wildlife. We collected some of the larger stuff including this balloon. Balloons are easily mistaken for jelly fish by leatherback turtles and dolphins. If they eat it, they will almost certainly die. The balloon cannot be digested, and the creature, thinking it is not hungry, starves to death. Balloons can travel long distances, so even balloons released hundreds of miles inland can be incredibly dangerous to marine life. For more information visit the MCS website: http://www.mcsuk.org/mcsaction/pollution/balloons

Saturday, 14 March 2009

A Perfect Day

Bit of a late update this due to all sorts of exciting craziness happening with the Wildlife Festival taking up my time. The booking lines, website and leaflet all went live this week. Woohoo.
I still managed to snatch a fantastic day on climbing on the mainland on Tuesday. Heavy snow and strong westerlies limited our venue and route choice but as it turned out it couldn't have been better. We took the gondola up to Aonach Mor and traversed in to the West Face, where we spent a fabulous sunny day climbing Golden Oldie (II). There was still plenty of fresh snow and some ice was in evidence. The warm temperatures meant that the thinnest ice became a little sketchy higher up, but the routes was easy enough. A narrow knife edge with little fragile cornices near the top also made us pause for thought!
The beauty of the day was, with the cable car up and down, it was possible to do a 500m route and still have a little spring in our step when we got down. A beer and dinner with Max, who I haven't seen for ages rounded off a perfect day in the hills.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Wild on the West Coast

Have recently returned from a mildly frustrating week on the mainland in very wet weather. The trip was planned as a winter mountaineering holiday, and whilst the rest of the country has been in the grips of the coldest winter for decades, I was working at home and looking forward to a break. When the time came, the weather warmed up, and we spent most of the week trying to plan walks that avoided river crossings, with all but the tiniest of streams running as full mountain torrents for days.
We headed up to Kintail, and spent a few days bagging peaks such as A'Chralaig and Carn Ghlusaid. It was great to be walking somewhere new, and we were treated to fantastic views of ptarmigan and snow bunting, but sadly no summit views- the peaks were permanently swathed in mist. The picture above shows views of Loch Cluanie (Loch Cluanaidh), lit up by a rare break in the clouds.
A promise of at least one cold day tempted us to Glencoe, where we climbed Central Gully on Bidean Nam Bian. This route was mostly banked out with snow, and the cooler conditions meant that the slush of earlier in the week had firmed up. However, there was a bare section at the start which was hard, and when we gained the ridge, we saw that most other routes had big hanging cornices with tasty cracks waiting to plop off. On the left is a picture of the easier snow lopes high up in the gully. Our route choice was a good one- there wasn't much else that could be climbed safely. Below is a view of Bidean Nam Bian taken from Stop Coire nam Beith as we walked off in the afternoon.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Snow and nutella sandwiches

We have just got back from a week on the mainland visiting family in England and spent Friday night in the back of the van on the quayside in Ardrossan. We had to blow away the cobwebs and it was a beautiful snowy day so got straight out on the hill as soon as we docked.
There are a few things that I get really excited about, and these include snow, and nutella, and with a couple of well laden butties the day was looking very promising.... (sorry about the stupid photo, but you get the idea...)

We went over the ridge between North Goatfell and Goatfell called Stacach. It is an easy scramble in summer conditions and in winter a major mountaineering expedition needing axe and crampons. When we got to the ridge, the wind was very strong, so we decided to pick out a cunning traverse that avoids the narrowest part of the ridge. Again, in summer, this is a narrow but simple path to the East, but in winter crosses avalanche prone snowfields above big drops. Avalanches are not regularly recorded on Arran but that doesn't mean they don't happen. Care required! The overhanging cliffs were smeared with icicles. At the top the rocky crest was encrusted with rime ice that had grown weird formations in the damp but icy winter blast of wind that was hammering across the top.
This all added to the fun and we stopped along the way to do Stacach Gully- a grade I/II mountaineering route, with a short ice pitch half way up. Unfortunately we forgot the drive-ins for protecting turf so we top roped it. Wally set up a belay on a sheltered ledge and we took turns to lower each other into the snow filled gully. The gully was fairly open on the right, but the left wall was flanked by blank rock and ice smears, and the ice pitch up the middle was fragile, but bits were banked out enough with snow that it was straightforward on a top rope. I went second, which was a good thing, as I kicked out the bottom a bit and left very little for anyone else. Again, sorry, but it was the kind of sugary ice full of bubbles that didn't like being kicked. Fortunately we are due for a good freeze thaw this week and it should reform. Hopefully a bit better.
After all this fun, we headed for the summit of Goatfell, and enjoyed a chat with a fellow walker on the way. (Hi Tim). The half light of the sun shining through the clouds and on to the icy rocks was absolutely stunning and although it was very windy and cold, we hung around for a bit to enjoy the atmosphere (there was plenty of that!).

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Extreme Weather

The last few days have been truly wild here on Arran! Friday morning saw me out on the hill and tactical retreat by lunchtime, as damaging gusts were starting to blast across higher ground. I took the picture above on the way home at Imachar Point. This is normally a tranquil and sheltered part of the coast where the Kilbrannon Sound begins to narrow. This was a mere ripple however , when compared to the fierce gale that blew in on Saturday night. To the right and below are pictures taken at Blackwaterfoot and in Lamlash Bay that afternoon. Overnight we were battered by 70mph winds and the poor ferry has spent a big chunk of today tied up in Brodick. I have also inserted a chunk of video I took at the pier in Lamlash yesterday. The waves are not breaking on the beach- they are crashing on the concrete hardstanding behind the beach by the yacht club! Apologies for the wobbly camera work, it was kinda windy.... The weathermen are predicting a big dump of snow for tomorrow.....
video

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Beinn Bharrain

It was a damp and dismal thawing type of day yesterday so we treated ourselves to an new approach and a whole new peak- the last one on Arran for us, which we had been saving up for a special occasion. Beinn Bharrain lies at the southern end of the Pirnmill Hills- rolling whalebacks with spectacular views over the Kilbrannon Sound to Kintyre- when not fogged in with dense clag. The scots word is dreich which is a wonderfully onomatopoeic word that describes the miserable wet foggy weather that encloses west coast islands from time to time. We certainly had plenty of that yesterday. Not quite sure why we saved Beinn Bharrain for so long. We have stopped short on Mullach Buidhe and I have walked around its bouldery lower flanks on many occasions. Perhaps we just wanted to really savour the last hill...
We took a pathless and rocky crest with several awkward granite steps which from below looks deceptively straightforward. The ridge encircles a small coire with Beinn Bharrain sitting at the southernmost end. The top is flat and broad, with scoops of erosion eaten out of the rounded slopes by powerful westerly gales. A pair of ravens circled overhead in the mist. Most of the time we couldn't see them but could just hear their guttoral rhythmic croaking through the gloom. Although these hills are not as high as the main range, there are plenty of mountain plants that grow up here. There are particularly lush and verdant communities of mosses clinging on in the shelter of granite stacks that scatter the coire rim.
The picture shows three common mountain mosses of Arran, in a sheltered hollow of rough granite near the top of Beinn Bharrain. The tall fingery one is known as fir club moss, and produces characteristic wiry stems that grow upwards in defiance of the prevailing weather. It has a small cousin, alpine club moss, which is found only on the highest and most exposed slopes of the Goatfell Range. The fluffy moss at the back is a type of Racomitrium, another classic hillside moss with a dry woolly texture. In front a type Sphagnum, a family of porous and soggy mosses that thrive in damp places and form the basis of peat bogs. The plant has been used as a wound dressing in the past and was gathered during the 2nd world war and send to the front. It is extremely absorbent when dry due to its loose cell structure and is said to have antiseptic properties!
Coming back down we were treated to a lifting of the mist and a wonderful view of the failing light over the Kilbrannon Sound. All in all a wonderful day out and proof that you don't need great weather to have fun in the hills.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

L'ile d'Arran, un ecrin de verdure

Slightly embarrasing, but I was recently involved with french tv company TF1 News who came over to Arran to film this short excerpt about the island in winter. We had a fantastic day filming around the island and topped it off with some folk music at the Catacol Bay Hotel. The highpoint of the day for me was watching an otter fishing in Brodick Bay at sunrise, but see what you think. Apologies if you don't speak French, but you get the idea..... Click on the thumbnail screen if you have problems viewing the video.
Link to TF1.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Happy Hogmanay!

2008 ended very quietly with cold frosty weather and clear skies for several days. Amid the festivities I was able to get out and enjoy a bit of quiet time in the hills. This was a good opportunity to squeeze in a (late) early winter visit to my BTO Bird Atlas tetrads. The plan is to survey these little chunks of Arran four times a year, recording the birds that I see in each region of four square kilmetres. Many others are doing the same across the island, and the data will be collated into a nationwide atlas of bird records gathered over a 4 year period by the British Trust for Ornithology.
Although the weather was fabulous, and the bog for once so well frozen it was (relatively) easy going across the tussocky moorland, I saw very little in the way of wildlife. This is the quiet time of year for upland creatures, with many dispersing to other more fruitful areas to return in the spring, or simply descending to the valleys and coastal farmland. I was surprised at how little I saw, but have never claimed to be a great birder, so perhaps it was my surveying technique, or even sods law, that whatever you are surveying disappears from view as soon as you begin your measurements. There were a few small birds to be seen however, including a couple of very seasonal robins, who looked out of place amongst the heather and a smart little male stonechat. I was also treated to a magnificent close up view of a red deer hind that I startled in the cover of deep red dry bracken. If you would like more information about the BTO and Bird Atlas, please visit their website: www.bto.org. If you are generally interested in Arran birds, the following website will be very informative as it is maintained by the local bird recorder: www.arranbirding.co.uk.
As for my Hogmanay, it was a little more wild.... with plenty of laughing and dancing. I enjoyed the local dance at Lamlash Village Hall on the 27th, and something quite a bit more expensive at the Auchrannie Hotel on the 31st. Happy New Year and may 2009 bring you happiness and lots of great days out on the hills!