Sunday, 8 December 2013

The start of winter on Ben Lawers

My summer stroll on the Ochils last weekend was in sharp contrast to my previous weekend's walk.

Winter had arrived and from my position on the Central Belt of Scotland, I could see snow on the summits of the higher hills. My friend and I were keen to get our crampons out of summer mothballs and onto the snow bound hills. What higher hill could we choose near home than Ben Lawers just short of the 4000ft mark.

We has an early start on a promising looking day. Ahead of us.. I could just make out a lone walker disappearing into the swirling mists of Beinn Ghlas... the summit before Ben Lawers

Blue sky and the clear atmosphere made the view over Killin and the western edge of Loch Tay a pleasure to behold.

While the early morning sun still gave Meall nan Tarmachan a golden hue to its snow plastered slopes

With our lungs filled with clear icy air.. the adrenalin of walking made it feel great to be out on the hills.. even though it was hard work.

Nope..the sun hasn't fallen out the sky in this photo..its an illusion caused by the suns reflection off loch Tay.. and the swirling mist blowing over the ridge

Unfortunately, the swirling mist soon engulfed us as we climbed higher up the steep slopes of Beinn Ghlas.

We saw no view from the summit of Beinn Ghlas..and the steep slope up Ben Lawers really sapped our energy. The first walk of winter was taking its toll on our stamina.

By taking one step at a time and not thinking about the steps still to come ... we finally saw the summit loom through the mist and quickened our pace to reach it.

At last.. we stood on the summit cairns. Its unfortunate that Ben Lawers was not just a tad over 4000ft Im sure .. a few feet higher..and we would be in the sun again. was not to be. After a quick lunch stop..the clag still had not dispearsed and it was too cold to wait any we headed back the way we had come.

On the way down..we caught the odd fleeting glimpse of the surrounding countryside..before it all closed in again.

I confess that I was glad when I reached the car again. Im also glad that we had not planned the whole Lawers horseshoe. Im not winter fit yet .....

Sunday, 1 December 2013

A Summer day in December

What better way to kick off the new chapter in my blog, than to post about today's walk in the Ochil Hills.

One thing that I have been very aware of lately is ... that following a lazy summer of sitting in my inflating my boat ... my stomach has also inflated a bit. Not with hot air but with bouncing blubber. I have scoffed too many cakes and chocolates. I weight 10lb more than I did at the start of the year. Its now time to get a grip of my fat and walk the blubber off.

Although Im working "Up North" during the week, I travel to the central belt for the weekend, so decided not to spend any more time travelling in a car today. I chose to bounce my stomach up the nearest hills which are the Ochil Hills.

The route I chose started at Castle Campbell in Dollar, over Kings Seat hill, drop down to the burn of sorrow, then climb to the top of Tarmangie, wobble across to Whitewisp then return to Castle Campbell. A total distance of 6 miles and climbing around 2500 ft with all the ups and downs.

The sun was starting to flood the plains of the Central Belt of Scotland as I started my walk

Early morning mist still clung to the valleys in the clear frosty air. The Lomond Hills looked very close and clear in the still air.

There was hardly a breath of wind to ruffle the fumes coming out of Grangemouths chimneys. Im sure all that polution must have helped make it feel like a summer's day in December. At noon it was around 10 degrees C. Almost unheard of at this time of year.

My stomach was too warm wrapped in my fleece as I headed up the long slopes leading to King's Seat. I took the jacket off and found I was still sweating my way up the hill in only shirt sleeves.

Down below, the last of the morning mist cleared as my glasses started to steam up with my hot breath as I climbed ever upwards.

I paused for a brief rest and a drink of water at the memorial which was errected a few years ago to remember the loss of three Spitfire's from Grangemouth airfield that crashed at this location. Two of the pilots died but amazingly one survived.

It didnt take too long for me to reach the large summit cairns of King Steat.

I have been here many times before and once or twice contemplated dropping the 500 feet or so, then climbing again to reach the top of Tarmangie on the other side of the Burn of Sorrow. However I have always thought that it wasnt worth the effort and returned the way that I had come.

This time I was determined to continue onto the Summit of Tarmangie.. for no other reason that to show my inflated stomach what I was really made of. A bit of puffing and panting and I was on the other side ... approaching the summit cairn of Tarmangie.

This summit offers a great view of... windfarms. Not a blade was turning in the still air. I just hope Alex Salmond has enough wind to justify covering our countryside in them. I dont think they are ugly now that I have accepted them.. but I cant help wonder if they pay for their keep ?

A lot more wind from my lungs...and I was standing on top of Whitewisp... my third top of the day. Although the sweat was blinding me because of my overweight exersion .. I could still see Dundee in the far distance.

Then it was downhill all the way back to Castle Campbell. It was a glorious day to be walking the hills..and I hope I taught my stomach a lesson. I know I have to loose part of it if I want to do the longer winter walks that I so love.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Another chapter in my Blog

Hi all,

I guess you have been wondering what happened to me or where did I go ?

Have I given up on my blog ? Am I still having adventures ? Let me explain....

My blog is a little more that just a collection of some my adventures on the seas or the hills of Scotland. Between the lines.... it is also the ever evolving story of my life, at the age of 58, trying to discover myself.

Im sure that my love of nature and the solitude of wild places comes through in my adventures, but what is probably not so obvious, is the changes I make in my life to try and make life long dreams come true.

Those of you who have followed my blog for a while will know that, because of my disillusionment with the industry that I have worked in since leaving school, I left to try my hand as an artist. It was always a dream of mine. I was happy, even though I was following the life of the “classic starving artist”. I painted what I wanted to paint and did what I wanted to do... within the tight restrictions of my budget.

However, old capitalist thoughts started entering my head again as I bought my four wheel drive car, and upgraded to a more sea worthy boat. I went back to my old industry for a while. I was happy in a junior role doing the office work. It was a long boring week but I made the most of my free time with new boating adventures, sleeping in my car and walking the hills of the north. In fact..this year was one of my best adventure years yet.

My camping spot for a long weeking hillwalking last spring

Unfortunately, I was that busy having adventures and working, (I even went back to old hobbies from my past) I got a little more serious with my sea fishing.. expanding my species list from mackerel .. to also include herring, codling, pollock, poor cod, gurnard saith and a couple os spicies of dog fish... that I had little time left for blogging, which was the reason my silence.

A spur dog from Loch Etive.. I didnt notice its lethal spur near its dorsal fin when I caught it. Fortunately it neither bust my inflatable boat or my flesh before I returned it unharmed into the loch to fight another day.

My hillwalking adventures also became a little bolder. I wouldn't say that I have gone back to mountaineering yet..but I enjoyed a summer and autumn of scrambling routes as my head started to accept the exposure of scrambling adventuresome mind could not cope with the tedium of repetative office work.. and my watercolour painting fingers could not cope with the constant typing of filling in spreadsheets, eventually I suffered repetative strain arthritus in my typing digit. So when the opportunity came along to do full time outside work in my industry again ... I jumped at the chance.... Especially as the work is in the north of Scotland. During quieter spells in my new job.. I am surveying future launch sites for my boat... like this one at South Kessock in Inverness.

The work is high pressure work but it also pays well. My idea is to see if I would like to retire "up north" which has always been another dream of mine.. or whether to stay south in the central belt of Scotland. To ease the stresses and strains of conference calls to my employers and their customers. I use my mobile phone to call in from "calming surroundings" like the Clava Cairns.

So my blog ..has been silent for a while as I adjust to new changes in my life..but it has certainly not stopped.

Its still a bit hectic in my new work..but I hope to start blogging again..either by backdating my years adventures.. or by posting about new ones. Just bare with me as I adjust..its a bit harder to do at my age :-D

Thanks for looking in

Monday, 26 August 2013

The Bridge across the Atlantic Ocean

The pirate ship didnt stand a chance of catching me once I put the boat on the plane and surfed over the sea towards Scotland's Bridge across the Atlantic Ocean.

Its actually called Clachan Bridge and connects the Island of Seil to the mainland. I didnt pass under it as it was already getting quite shallow and it dries to a thin trickle when the tide goes out.

I headed for the secret yacht moorings hidden behind Eilean Nam Beathach instead. There were a few yachts at anchor in the quiet backwaters. I could see why it is considered one of the best mooring sites on the west of Scotland.. especially as the Clachan Bar was only a 5 minute walk which made it even more attractive.

I was very keen to see the next section of coast line because, many years ago.. I was at a scout jamboree at Ardencaple. Those childhood memories have lived with me all my life. I passed my sea scouts oarsman badge there which was my first formal boating experience. I have tried to revisit Ardencaple by land in the past, but found I couldn't as it is a private estate. I wanted to see if I could remember the place as I imagined it.

I passed by Ardfad bay and although I dont remember the seals..I wondered if I could recall the large square rock ? .. it looked quite distinctive in the flattish area.

Further on I passed the slipway which would belong to Ardencaple Estate..but I didn't recognise it. I suppose childhood memories can get distorted a bit as I seemed to recall a little stone harbour there ?

With childhood memories still in my head, I continued round the coast line of the Island of Seil and headed for the Sound of Inch. It separates the Island of Seil from Inch Island.

It was not yet noon and I had travelled further than I could ever dream of travelling in my smaller boats, so I stopped below these impressive cliffs to try a little fishing. The water was very deep ..but within minutes I had several mackerel pulled to the surface.

Once I had caught enough for my dinner.. I then headed for the village of Easdale....

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Gylen Castle and the Pirate Ship

The southern end of Kerrera would be quite an inhospitable place in a wild day. The rocky coastline has few landing places and the sea swells from the south crash onto the rocks even on a calm day. Knarled outcrops of rocks form ominous shapes and there is little sign of human habitation on this side of Kerrera.

The ruins of Gylen Castle looming high on the headland is the only sign left that people once lived and died here. Built in 1582 by clan MacDougall, it was captured and burnt to the ground by the covenanters in 1647. It was never restored or inhabited since.

Soon after passing the castle, I found myself at the southern end of the Sound of Kerrera. I could just make out the building of Oban at its northern end. It hadn't taken long to reach this point and it was such a calm morning that I decided to head further south.

But first I entered Loch Feochan for a nosey around. I didnt venture far into the loch as it quickly turned very shallow. I stopped and drifted in a deeper channel, while I ate a late breakfast and dropped a set of lures over the side. I enjoyed my sandwich but I didn't get a single nibble of the fishy kind... so quicky got fed up and moved on.

Back in the Sound of Kerrera, another fishing boat was moving on too. I wondered if it had better luck than me or was heading for Oban for an early lunch.

Moments later, a regatta of yachts came oozing down the Sound from Oban. I guessed there was a major yacht race underway and although I was delighted there was no wind, I assumed these guys were cursing being stuck in the doldrums.

I turned to head south and thats when I first glimpsed the pirate ship looking for easy plunder ?

Sunday, 18 August 2013

The Island of Kerrera

I decided to circumnavigate the Island of Kerrera for my the first open sea voyage in The Gurnard. Kerrera is just off the coast from Oban and although there are tidal flows in the area, they are not nearly as strong as some to the south. It was a calm morning and I had the boat on the plane.. but cruising along peacefully.

Soon I was passing Maiden Island at the entrance to Oban Bay. Legend has it that it is so named because a young girl had been accused of a crime. She was tied to a rock at low tide .. her punishment being death by drowning .. when the tide came in. I guess we were not always the mamby pamby country we are now, where even mass murderers seem to be treated well for their crimes ?

Heading down the seaward side of Kerrera, I dodged the many huge clumps of seaweed floating on top of the water. I also noticed that the warm spell of weather had brought a load of jellyfish with it. The Island of Mull didn't seem too far across the Firth of Lorne and I wondered about crossing to visit it but decided to wait a while to see how reliable my new set up was. The engine ran very evenly and seemed happy enough. I also had my auxilliary 3.3 Mariner outboard with me just in case of engine problems but still though it better to keep to the coast, until the main engine had proved itself.

I navigate with my OS maps as Im not investing in any nautical charts at present. I research tidal flows and hidden reefs on the internet before going on a trip anywhere new. I passed the caves shown of the OS map on the west of Kerrera, so knew exactly where I was. I wished I had my fish finder fitted to the boat as it keeps me informed of the depth of water that Im in, but I didnt expect and surprise rocks in this area. I intend installing the fish finder very soon.

It didn't take long at planing speed before Bach Island came into view. This Island is off the south west point of Kerrera so I knew that I had almost travelled the full length of the what seemed minutes rather than hours at displacement speeds of my other boats.

I dont know of any legends of fair maidens tied to Bach Island. Its just a flat uninteresting lump of rock in the sea. However I though I could hear someone bleating in the distance ? Then I spied some ferral goats on Kerrera. The remote islands of Scotland appear to be full of wild goats ?

I had wondered if there would be a bit of a chop on the sea between Back Island and Kerrera as the tide must cause a bit of a flow here and if the wind is blowing against tide.. it could turn a bit rough. However, all was as still as a mill pond when I rounded the point.

To be continued ...

Friday, 16 August 2013

Launching at Ganavan Bay, Oban

After my Loch Etive outing, I knew the Mariner 25HP 2 stroke engine seemed reliable, so I was keen to try the boat in the sea.

I had been meaning to try launching a boat from Ganavan Bay (just to the north of Oban) for a while, so What better place to choose for the first true sea voyage. The slipway is huge as it was built during the war years to allow launching sea planes. No problems even for me to reverse down.

Its a public slipway so free to launch from and there is plenty parking space in the huge car park at the top of the slipway. It is a council owned carpark and has a ticket machine, but £2 for the day is well worth it, consideriong there is also a toilet and burger van in the car park.

I arrive at 7am and the tide although still low but rising, was not far from the bottom of the slip.

I unhitched the trailer and pushed it the last few feet to the waters edge. I then pushed the sack trolley with the engine down to the edge too. I have found the best way for me to transport everything is to keep the engine on the sack trolley with the engine mounting brackets facing outwards, and transport it in the car.

Its easy for me to slide the engine and trolley it into the car, as I have a drop down tailgate. Its also easy to attach to the boat as I simply reverse the floating boat into the engine mounting brackets, screw them up, then just slide the trolley out. At no point do I lift the full 52kg weight of the engine by following this method

Sliding the engine into the transports beautifully in a horizontal position and is held firmly on the trolley. Dont try this with a four stroke engine as the oil will run into the head.

The engine skeg is held on a wooden foot with a slot. Its a big foot for extra stability on the shore.

The engine head is held in a wooden cradle on the trolley and secured with a length of rope.

Although transporting and attaching the engine is a doddle by this means, I still have to submerge the trailer in the sea to float the inflatable boat off. I wish I could think of a better way ..but at 100kg for the empty boat weight..its still to heavy for me to lift on and off the trailer on my own.

Because it has a soft bottom, I cant winch it onto the trailer in the same way I winched the hard shell boat.

That is my trailer sticking out the water beyond the boat. I have to clean and regrease the wheel bearings every month and also carry a spare set in the car. The trailer is hosed down with fresh water after every trip.

It took longer to write about launching it that it took in real life. Once the boat was in the water with engine attached, I pumped the tubes up to working pressure. A few strokes with the hand pump was suffice.

Then I was off on my first sea voyage in the new boat......