Friday, 27 August 2010

(Basking) Shark!

One of the best coastal walks on Arran follows the shore from Sannox, around the Cock of Arran to Lochranza. Its about 15km of remote coastline, ancient villages, caves and wildlife. This week Iain and Joy joined me for the day to view wildlife and explore the coast. The picture below shows the remote Laggan Cottage, only accessible on foot, and the view north towards Kintyre.

As we walked along the shore, buzzards circled overhead, and gannets dived dramatically into the sea on our right. If we looked carefully out to sea we could make out the dancing shapes of manx shearwaters skimming across the whitecaps.

The highpoint of the day however was without doubt a basking shark, feeding on plankton in the sheltered waters close to the shore. These giants of the sea are harmless to humans, but sadly increasingly rare. At about 12 foot long this one was not large- they can grow to be 25 feet plus! If you are lucky enough to spot a basking shark you can record your sighting on the Marine Conservation Society website. Very little is known about these gentle giants and every reported sighting adds to the knowledge.

Finally, a gratuitous wildflower shot!  Grass of Parnassus is in bloom on the boggy coastlines of Arran at the moment, and is absolutely beautiful. You can see it right now on the Sannox to Lochranza walk, and also along the shore near Kings caves. It is a pale fleshy flower, with grey veins, about 2-3 cm in diameter.  The leaves are round and found near the base of a single stem.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Stones and Skye

I managed to squeeze in a long weekend on Skye even though it is August and was treated to a couple of days of fantastic weather.  Even when the weather gave up on us a day earlier than forecast, we made the most of it with a visit to the Brochs of Glenelg- over on the mainland  from Kylerhea in a wee ferry that just happens to be community owned.

Arriving on the island on the Thursday night, we made straight for Glenbrittle.  The quiet campsite nestling by the sea at the foot of the Cuillins is just about my favourite place on earth.  We had hoped to get straight in to the mountains but on the first morning big black clouds hung ominously over the corries and there was rain in the air so we headed down the peninsula, where the sun was shining, to explore ruined villages and an ancient Dun (below).

The wildife found around Glenbrittle is very special and it is one of the best places I know to view golden eagles.  On this occasion the eagles were a bit shy, but we watched gannets and porpoises fishing in the Soay Sound, and stumbled over a Jack Snipe- an unusual passing migrant that crops up in the islands from time to time.

Our second day was blessed with better weather and we headed up in to Coir a Ghrunnda, the rockiest of the Black Cuillin Corries, to do some climbing. With the rock seeping moisture from the day before, we chose an easy route- a 240m Moderate called Slab Buttress. The route was a delightful meander up easy slabs, if a bit indistinct in the middle. The rock was really good, and mostly of the roughest purple brown gabbro for which Skye is famous.

The views in to the inner corrie and Sgurr Dubh Mor were magnificent, and we climbed all afternoon in the sunshine.

The third day, unfortunately, I have no photos!  This was because we failed miserably to find anything to climb, having picked a route in Coire Lagan that turned out to be too wet, and then picked another that turned out to be too hard and we retreated.... The day wasn't a failure, we enjoyed lazing around in the sun in Coire Lagan- one of the most beautiful places imaginable, and walked back via the Eas Mor waterfall. I have posted pictures of these already here on a different visit.

We weren't worried about wasting a day, because we had seen the forecast for Monday and it was going to be fine.  Of course Monday dawned wet and horrible so plan B was hastily concocted involving various tourist attractions, the Sea Eagle Exhibition at the Aros Centre, (ace), a boat trip to watch Sea Eagles (eagles ace, but boat trip was not the best customer service experience), 2 hours in a midge infested hide waiting for otters that didn't appear, but watching lots of seals, black guillemots and other wildlife (ace) and finally, the wee ferry to Glenelg to visit the Brochs of Glenelg which were very very special indeed.

The brochs are pictish habitations dating back 2,000 years standing some 25-30 feet high.  Built entirely of stone, with no windows or mortar, they are masterpieces of drystane walling. They were probably high status dwellings. They look amazing, and although are no longer complete- in some ways this is a bonus as it is possible to see the internal staircase that was used to help construct them.
There is lots of info on the web about them, but none of it really does them justice. I should have known that they would be so surprising- Scotland is full of incredible sites like this tucked away and unknown.  If you get a chance to visit them- do!

Friday, 6 August 2010

Cioch na H-Oighe

Blog post number two for today.  Wow... I am getting efficient.
Here are some photos from an afternoon out this week with Wally on Cioch na  H-Oighe, Arran.  The route incorporated a round of the Devils Punchbowl, above the village of Sannox, and some excellent scrambling.  The difficulties are (mostly) avoidable by following a wandering and eroded path up the steep flanks. However, if you have a good head for heights it is much more pleasant to take a direct line up slabs and chimneys on good solid granite. There are fantastic views across the Firth of Clyde to Bute and the Cumbraes, and down in to the Punchbowl.  The descent on the southern flank of the Punchbowl is bouldery and awkward, but the rewards are fine views of Cioch na H- Oighe (literally "Maiden's breast...") and the cliffs of the Bastion, which are the domain of hard rock climbers. This is a short but challenging outing, requiring a good head for heights, confident route finding and navigation skills. I describe a winter outing on this ridge here.

A small path heads up from the entrance to Glen Sannox in to the Devil's Punchbowl

Just before the entrance to the Punchbowl a traverse path winds its way around the base of the Cioch until almost above Glen Sannox. 

From here there is excellent scrambling on good rock.

Beyond the Cioch, the ridge narrows in to a fine bouldery crest.

The view back across the Punchbowl from the descent down the southern flank.

Ailsa Craig

Ailsa Craig is an extraordinary lump in the middle of the Firth of Clyde, somewhere between Girvan and the Mull of Kintyre. This bizarre block of granite stands 340m high, and the vertical cliffs are home to 70,000 breeding gannets, plus guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, fulmars and puffins.The island is managed by the RSPB, and as part of my role as information officer, I have been out there with local RIB providers several times this summer, to share the island and it's incredible wildlife to visitors. On this trip I travelled with Ocean Breeze Ribtours, who do daily power boat trips all over the Firth of Clyde.

Circumnavigating the island to look at the seabird colonies

 The white dots are gannets- each one a huge and elegant bird with a 6-7 foot wingspan! (See blurry image at top of photo...)

Getting there can take us through some bumpy seas in all but the calmest conditions.  I sat in the "wet seat" on the way back....