Friday, 22 April 2011

Intensely Beautiful: Kayaking from Kildonan

I'm reassuringly behind on the blogging here which means that I am out and about having fun.  Here are some fantastic photos that my husband took whilst we were in our kayaks around Kildonan on Monday evening. We set off from the grassy slip way down to the beach opposite the village hall, and struck out east towards Bennan Head.  Almost immediately we were joined by a flotilla of curious harbour seals who followed us for a kilmoetre down the coast.

 I am surrounded!

Getting a good look at us. 

The tide was dropping and we drifted along the coast through forests of kelp and watched the nesting birds on the cliffs above in the haze. 

The Black cave looks like something from a film set, with a stunning waterfall on the west side. It is accessible on foot close to low tide but the path is very rough and bouldery (read non existant).

There are nesting fulmars on the cliffs above and it was the perfect place for little stop and a gaze...

After the Black Cave, we paddled over to the little island of Pladda, uninhabited now except for a large colony of seabirds including shags, eiders and common gulls that nest along the rocky shore. 

With so many birds about, landing was impossible, but it was good to sit and watch the comings and goings on the island from the little bay on the east side.

Glassy water, no wind, perfect for draw stroke practice. 

We headed back to the Kildonan Shore as the sun began to set. 

Couldn't leave this wee razorbill enjoying the warmth of the setting sun out of the album.  Love these birds!

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Silver DofE: Glen Orchy to Taynuilt- the long way round.

I have been having a great few days in the fantastic weather we are enjoying, and I kicked off the heatwave with three days on foot in the West Highlands on a Silver Duke of Edinburgh training expedition with a brilliant group of young students from Wellington School, Ayr.

We set off on the first day of the exped after lunch, and up Glen Orchy towards the Bridge.  Although it was a grey day, we did get some views of Bein Udlaidh (above).

 The next morning was bright and warm for a long walk over the watershed and down Glen Kinglas. We started near the Clashgour hut, a historic building originally built at the start of the 2th century as a tiny school house, but taken over by Glasgow University Mountaineering Club in 1948.

Speirs Ltd were a Glasgow based firm of architects founded in the 1880s that specialised in prefab timber and metal buildings for remote areas. 

The Clashgour Hut

Mink or Pine Marten scat on the bridge by the hut. 

Loch Dochard- A lovely place for a stop in Glen Kinglas.

Not all the bridges were fully functioning.  This mellow walk would have been a bit different after rain!

On the third day, we walked out of the Glen and on to the shores of Loch Etive.  

We were treated to great views of Ben Cruachan on the way down the Loch. It was a beautiful day and perfect for a wander in to Taynuilt in time for lunch.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Here Be Dragons

Today I took advantage of the last of the unseasonably good weather for a while to head up in to the hills to survey some of my tetrads for the BTO Bird Atlas. The tetrads that I have been allocated are in some of the most remote, wild and lonely parts of the island. In theory I was given these as I have a natural inclination to explore remote places, but I am starting to wonder if our local bird recorder is keen to lose me in the bog.

These four tetrads are located on  one of those blank bits on the map where if you were to ask a local what was there they would look at you vaguely and say "hill". If it was an old fashoned kind of map, there would be a caption reading "Here be Dragons". Nobody goes there, except for the odd long legged estate worker.  There are no famous mountains, or challenging rock climbs, just mile after mile of heather, forestry enclosures and tussocky Molinia grass. It is pretty rough going underfoot up there, but I was rewarded with a vast landscape, complete solitude, big blue skies and wildlife.

Once I had left the thick forestry woodlands I was out on the open hill in the sunshine being serenaded by skylarks. Other birds included wheatears, newly arrived from Africa, and noisy meadow pipits.  I also saw plenty of red deer, who looked much more alarmed to see me than deer I have met in more popular parts of the island. The spot of the day however was a pair of hen harriers (male and female) driving off another male intruder. High drama on the hill.

Flowering bog myrtle covered all my gear in puffs of green pollen wherever I walked.

Beinn Bharrain, seen from the south east.

 Looking downstream, Glen Scaftigil.

Empty cocoon of the Northern Eggar Moth Larva 

The low hump of Sail Chalmadale

So after three visits and one more to come, here is one blank spot on the map that I feel I know well.  I didn't find any dragons, but I did see a common lizard, and it was certainly a monster day.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Granite Heaven: The High Road to Brodick

Yesterday was one of those days when the Isle of Arran gleamed like a jewel in the sea. Staying indoors was simply not an option, and the only decision to be made was which gorgeous corner of the island to go and play in? In the morning, the Northern Hills were still shrouded in mist, but the forecast looked set fair so we dropped the car at Cladach near Brodick and hopped on a bus to Sannox.  From here we planned to link up two of the finest low grade scrambles in Scotland, if not the UK, and vastly underrated at that. It was a long day, the sort when you linger at every viewpoint for longer than you intend... and I took tons of photos, so I'll let them speak for themselves.

From Glen Sannox, the way strikes up left toward's the Devil's Punchbowl. Cioch Na h'Oighe is the peak on the right of the picture. There is a traverse path that runs from the burn to the base of the scrambling on this peak.

Once established on the Cioch, there are great views in to Glen Sannox. The route follows a series of exposed slabs up to the first summit. Most are avoidable, but there is one tricky section that must be negotiated. 

Once on the ridge, a series of rocky crests rises up before you. 

Most of the hardest scrambling is avoidable on the right, but it is more fun to take the ridge direct at about grade I/II

All too soon the ridge broadens out at the back of the Punchbowl and you begin the climb up to Mullach Buidhe. 

Looking back along the ridge, there are fabulous views of the Cioch, and down to the sandy beach of Sannox Bay. 

Mullach Buidhe itself is a rock escarpment overlooking the head of Glen Sannox, This is looking back to Mullach Buidhe from the slopes of North Goatfell. 

Great views in to Coire Lan and towards the village of Corrie from the slopes of North Goatfell.

The blocky summit of North Goatfell, with Goatfell looming beyond. 

The Stacach Ridge hangs between the two summits of Goatfell.  Most of the difficulties can be avoided by taking a traverse path to the East, but a traverse of the ridge crest is an exposed and exciting scramble on excellent rock at hard grade I.

Great views back in to the mountains. From left to right the peaks are: Cir Mhor, Caisteal Abhail, and North Goatfell. 

And finally, from the summit of Goatfell, the South Ridge. The tourist path takes an easy line to the East.  We chose a direct descent down the South Ridge, with a bit more easy scrambling, before dropping down to the main path above the forestry.