Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Strathyre and the Red Squirrels

Leaving the summit of Ben Shain, I headed north along a wide grassy ridge. The western end of Loch Earn was now clearly visible in the valley below.

I mused at the rusting gate which seemed to barred my way, until I noticed that there was no sign of a fence or other posts anywhere near it

When the ridge ended, I was rewarded with a lovely view looking over Balquhidder and Kirkton Glen to the horshoe ridge that I walked during the winter snows, two years ago

Descending to the east of the ridge, I picked up a foresty track that headed back to Strathyre

The track meandered through the forest where I got some photographs of the autumn colours

Before reaching the quiet country road that leads into Strathyre. It was here that I was delighted to see several red squirrels dancing around in the fallen leaves.

There are not so many red squirrels left in Scotland, as the brown variety ..which are not native to this country ... have all but taken over and driven the red ones almost to the point of extinction.

Unfortunately, I didnt have a zoom lens with me to capture them in photograph and they were too quick and skitterish to get near them with my wide angle lens. I will remember the telephoto lens for next time though.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Ben Shain ...Continued

I must admit that I love the colours and clear atmosphere of Autumn on a lovely sunny day. Summer is now a distant hazy memory... of... wind and rain.

As I gained height the views over the sleepy village of Strathyre started to open up.

Loch Lubnaig glistened in the the low autumn sun, making it difficult to photograph but I managed an acceptable shot.

Approaching the summit of Ben Shain, I took a photograph of the valley that heads for Lochearnhead. The oranges, yellows and browns of the heathers and bracken seemed to frame the evergreen forests with gold.

Over towards the north west, Stobinian was easily recognised by its flat summit. Ben More and Cruach Ardrain were standing proudly by it's flanks. I stopped for a moment as time stood still, while I recalled distant memories of when I last stood on their summits in days gone by.

Over to the east Ben Vorlich and Stuc A'Chroin dominated the sky line and I also thought of the times I stood on their summits. I thought it was a great day to be out and about on the hills. Both the air and my memory of forgotten walks was very clear on this autumn day.

To be continued...

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Strathyre and Ben Shain

Having a regular income again has its advantages as well as its disadvantages. I miss being able to roam the countryside whenever I please, which was every day the weather was suitable, when I wasnt working. However I can now compensate that slightly by spoiling myself with the odd toy, purchased from my hard earned wages.

I have recently bought an IPAD 3 and it is truelly a mini marvel. I am very pleased with its 10" screen which has a resolution of 2048 x 1536 pixels and is the best display I have for looking at my photographs collected over the years.

Even my computer 23" monitor is not as sharp as it can only display 1680 x 1050 pixels maximum and its ageing processor struggles trying to display images at any speed.

However, like work, it has its disadvantages too. I cant connect a USB memory stick to it and everything has to go through Itunes. I guess nothing is perfect, however I can recommend an IPAD if you like photographs.

Its the reason Im using for not posting lately. I was distracted from the blog by the learning process of the IOS6 operating system. I have been doing a few walks in between so I intend trying to catch up now :-D

I have been doing a few low level walks recently in an effort to capture the autumn colours. The leaves look "tree"mendous in their colourfull glory. On Saturday I went walking near Strathyre in the Trossachs and went to the top of Ben Shain. Its not the highest of hills but like Ben An over by Loch Katrine.. it offers a surprisingly good viewpoint.

The walk starts at Strathyre and crosses the river by a rickety old swing bridge. It creaks and groans as you cross, but seems safe enough

The autumn leaves look very vibrant in the early morning sun light

The path then cuts through the forest as it meanders up the hillside

The summit of Ben Shain can soon be seen through the trees as height is gained

The forestry workers have been felling trees in the area but unlike some cut plantations, Im pleased to say... they have not left the place in a mess

And the path is in good condition too. The views soon open up.

To be continued....

Friday, 5 October 2012

Ben Nevis and the Cumbernauld Ladies

I first climbed Ben Nevis thirty years ago via Tower Ridge. Since then I have been on top of the mountain five other times, but I confess I have never climbed it via the mountain path. It never appealed to me because I am generally a lone walker and prefer the solitude of far more remote hills.

However all that changed last Saturday. I climbed Ben Nevis by the mountain path for my first time, on one of the busiest days of the year, in the company of seven other walkers, and I must admit, it was one of my most enjoyable days on the hills yet.

What changed my mind about the mountain path walk ? Well ... It started with this conversation.

LL “Hey DonnyW, care to sponsor me for my charity walk ?”

DW “OK..where are you going and when ?”

LL “Ben Nevis on Saturday. We are doing it for the Breast Cancer Charity”

DW “Wow..the weather this week is wicked ..are you sure you know what you are doing”

LL “ Nope..but we will have some fun and we will get to the top.. or die trying”

DW “ Sounds like you could die trying .. have you been on mountains before? “

LL “ Yup..we all went up Ben An in the Trossachs as a test run..it was fantastic. A couple of us have also done Ben Lomond. We are sure Ben Nevis will be OK for us. Perhaps one or two wont make it ..but Im sure I will”

DW “Can any of you use a map and compass ?”

LL “Nope..but we just follow the path..dont we ?”

DW “ What will you do if one cant make it”

LL “ We will go on to the top and they can wait until we return, or they can go back themselves..we are all sensible so won’t get into difficulties”

During this conversation I googled the weather forecast on Ben Nevis on Saturday. It was for heavy rain in the morning, with gale force winds and snow on the summit. Dry spells in the afternoon with strong winds, then severe gales and torrential rain during Saturday night.

I didnt want to burst this woman's bubble of enthusiasm by giving her a lecture on mountain safety but I knew it would do no good anyway, so instead I said ..

DW “Its going to be a rough day for your party on the mountain. The weather is bad and your safety could be at risk. Would you like me to come along to ensure none of you get into trouble, I can guide you when the mist is down. That way you and your friends need only worry about the walking aspect of the challenge”

LL “Wow..you would do that for us ? I would love you to come along as I was a little concerned about the weather forecast myself”

DW “OK..its a done deal.”

I knew I had just taken on the responsibility for the safety of a party of six women whom I knew little about, except that they were of different fitness levels. I would never dream of leaving a straggler to wait in a freezing cold mist for our return, so summoned the assistance of another experienced walker to accompany us. Both my thanks and the ladies thanks go to Russell, for volunteering to assist with the journey.

It was clear around the half way point that a couple of the ladies were not as hill fit as the others. However by working as a team, and by carrying their packs for them, motivating them with small talk and encouragement, everyone made the summit and got back home safely. They raised £1500 for their chosen charity.

Here is their story .. I hope you enjoy reading it. I thoroughly enjoyed my day walking with them

Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the UK and to reach the top involves a 10 mile hike which climbs steeply to a height of 4370ft. It is a demanding challenge even on a day with good weather but in bad weather it can easily become an impossible journey. On Saturday six brave women from Cumbernauld set off to try to reach its summit in an effort to raise money for the Breast Cancer charity. The weather forecast for the journey was heavy rain, gale force winds and snow showers near the summit, but the ladies were prepared.

They were full of smiles and laughter as they got their boots on at the Nevis Centre which is where the hike begins.

Spirits where high as they started their way up the mountain path walk towards the Ben. The low cloud and heavy rain prevented them seeing their target.

It always takes a while to catch breath and find a walking rhythm on a steep start, but the ladies were full of fun right from word go.

As the path levelled near the half way lochan, they stopped for a break. The rain was still relentless. They knew that soon they would be in the mist, and it would be too cold to stop for long.

The path steepens considerably as it zig zags its way up the barren shoulder of Ben Nevis. Leg muscles and knee joints were now being stressed to their limits.

A brief respite in the rain and a quick break in the clouds reviled some amazing views. The walk started at those white specs of houses, far below in the green of the valley floor. However, the ladies knew they were little over half way up the mountain.

Soon they were engulfed in a freezing fog on the ever steepening rocky path. The wind was beginning to howl and tear at loose clothing. The chill factor made temperatures feel like minus 10 degrees centigrade.

Then the path entered the snow line around an altitude of 4000ft. Although it was bitterly cold and everyone was very tired, the ladies now knew it wasn’t too far to the summit.

Great care had to be taken while passing Gardiloo Gully as a strong gust of wind can easily blow the unwary into its bottomless abyss. Three feet further forward and it is a 2000ft fall to the bottom of the gully. Sadly, it has swallowed many walkers in its dark past. The six ladies passed it with no problem.

Then it was only a short stroll across the summit plateau to the trig point and ruins of the old Observatory.

There were many walkers on the summit celebrating their achievement and raising money for various cancer charities. However there were just as many walkers who didn’t reach the top. The weather and fatigue took their toll on the way, and they had to turn back before reaching the top.

However I am delighted to say that the six ladies from Cumbernauld who set out on this amazing journey all made the summit.

This story is only half the battle, as they then had to then get down off the mountain. They all got home safely and under their own steam although I’m pretty certain there will be a few sore muscles for a day or two.

I’m sure you will all agree .. By working as a team, the ladies performed brilliantly on their chosen task to raise the money for charity

Well Done ..to the Cumbernauld Ladies

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Fleet Bay and Murray's Island

After a quick lunch on Ardwell Island, I headed off the seaward side of Murray Island for a spot of serious mackerel fishing. I attached a trace of three feathers to a lump of lead, dropped it overboard and let line out till it hit the bottom, wound it in a couple of feet and settled down for an afternoon snooze. The bobbling of the boat kept the feathers moving as the motion put me to sleep.

Suddenly, like an alarm clock going off in the morning, a tugging of my line brought me back to reality, as I drifted peacefully between my sleep and the islands. I had just hooked my first mackerel of the year. In fact, when I wound the line in, I was delighted to see I had caught two with my first cast :-D

I continued fishing for another five minutes and when I had five fish for the table, I decided it was too much like hard work so went to have a closer look at the islands.

Murray Island is now a bird sanctuary and as there were a lot of young gulls and gannets around I didn't land on this one

I also knew from a previous landing, many years ago, that the island is over run with rats. I kept my distance so as not to disturb the nesting birds as the rats will eat the very young or the eggs if the parents leave the nest ungarded.

The ruins of an old cottage show it was inhabited at one time but human life left many years ago.

I drifted quietly past the gulls and gannets and enjoyed watching their antics as they too tried to catch their fish dinners

Then I headed back to my mothers caravan for BBQ mackerel. I thoroughly enjoyed my second outing of the year, even though it was just a short, lazy and uneventful kind of day.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Fleet Bay and the Solway Firth

I will be the first to admit that this year was a very poor year for me and my inflatable boat journeys. After a great start to the season, when I rounded the Ailsa Craig in glorious weather, things rapidly blew into a storm with an illness in the family. Then the winds and rain of summer came, coupled with a return working, and everything seemed to eat into my free time and kept me from seeing the sea.

However, at the end of July, I managed to get a couple of days down at the Solway Firth, staying with my mother at her caravan which overlooks beautiful Fleet Bay.

It was only a flying visit, so I took my smallest inflatable boat and 2HP Yamaha two stroke outboard. They take up little space when packed in the boot of my car and allow easy launching on any beach, assuming the winds are fair. Im glad to say that they were very fair during my short stay. Fleet bay is extremely tidal as can be seen from this photo taken when the tide is out.

However it is a lovely area to explore in a small boat when the tide is in. You just have to remember that the tide will go out again, so unless you want a long portage back to the beach..its best to return a couple of hours after high tide turns. I inflated my boat a couple of hours before high tide and had ample time to explore the area.

Although I had not used the little outboard engine for two years, I had serviced and winterised it myself. A fresh tank of two stroke mix and two pulls at the starter cord had it purring nicely and I was off for another adventure.

The inflatable is a small Avon Redstart and is a very seaworthy boat but it can be a rather wet journey. Its seaworthy in the fact that it cant sink because of the inflated tubes, but the sea has a habit of washing over the low sides, so even in a little chop, I find that I have to bail out water as I go. Soon I was on the other side of Fleet Bay and off the shore of Sand Green caravan park.

I was heading for the Fleet Islands by following the sheltered side of the coast line.

I had planned in going through the narrow channel that separates Ardwell Island ( the biggest of the Fleet Islands) from the mainland, but a steady breeze against the tide made the chop a little choppier so I opted for the dryer option of landing on the island to have lunch. The sun was out and I was thoroughly enjoying my day, which was only my second outing of the year.

I was getting myself ready for a serious mackeral fishing session as it was also my first time fishing this year.

To be continued...

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Firth of Forth and the Summer Rain

Passing the entrance of Burntisland Harbour, I gave the fishermen on the pier a wide berth. I have seen them in the past, hurl lumps of lead several hundred yards with their powefull beachcaster rods, in an effort to cast their bait to the fish. I didnt want a sore head from either their flying weights of shouts of anger if I crossed their lines with my propeller.

They did look at me rather enviously as I caught another couple of mackerel just out of their casting range. I headed east and left them in peace. Soon I was rounding the point of Burntisland and saw it had a lovely sandy beach. I also discovered later that it has a public slipway near the swimming pool where I could launch my fibreglass boat. There is a good car park beside it too.

Inchkeith Island was still calling to me from the middle of the Forth, and I do intend visiting it one day but it was not to be on this day.

I went as far east as the caravan site sprawlled on the hillside east of Burntisland
before turning back towards the west and Aberdour Silver Sands bay.

It had been a beautiful morning up until now, with light winds and sunny spells. However as I started running for home, the sea started to go a cold grey colour as the sky darkened.

To the south, above Edinburgh the storm clouds started to gather. I heard the odd rumble of thunder in the distance too.

I knew the rain was only moments away so opened throttle and for Silver Sands Bay

As I approached the bay, I could see it was very busy with people enjoying their day on the beach. I half dreaded having to make several trips across the busy beach unloading my boat, engines and fishing gear to carry them to the carpark, just in case some inquisitive kids decided to play with the boat while I walked back and forward to the car.

I worried needlessly because a hundred yards off shore, a loud crack of thunder cut the air and the rain came down in buckets. It was so heavy, the beach cleared in seconds. I have the place to myself as I packed everything away. I was soaked to the skin but happy with my first day of boating on the Firth of Forth.

Just before I left the beach, the rain stopped and one or two kids appeared again.

Some of you may be wondering what I have been up to lately so I will reveal all.

I have had my three months contract at work extended for another three months. Its called a "rolling contract" and I guess its a sign of the current recession. Companies seem reluctant to give long term contracts at present, but that suits me. Im happy to go with the flow.

I have been extremely busy with work, pooch painting, some boat journeys and hillwalks. Then to top it all, I have also started rehearing in a band situation. I have several years experience of playing keyboards in a local band a while back and I have recently been asked if I wanted to start playing again.

With all my hobbies and interests eating my free time, Im afraid my blog has suffered a bit, but I do intend keeping it going and being more active again.. so stay tuned for some more inflatable boat journeys very soon :-D