Friday, 24 February 2012

The Ochils Bengengie by The Torry

The weather has been pretty poor this week so I have not had any hikes in the hills.

However , every cloud has a sliver lining and the bad weather kept me indoors doing pooch paintings. I sold two this week which covers my art costs nicely.

I also sussed out an internet scammer when he pretending he wanted one of my paintings. He asked for my bank details and address so he could send an agent round to collect it. He wrote in his email that he was a sailor stuck at sea but could put money into my account, no problem. He disappeared when I got the IP address off his emails and I sent him the result shown in google map below. sailor at sea must have run his boat aground in central Nigeria. Either that, or he thought I came up the Clyde in a banana boat :-D

I did manage a walk last week, just before the weather broke. I had often wondered if I could walk up the steep slopes of The Torry hill behind Alva. The answer is yes there is a way and its not as steep as it looks from the road.

The walk started at Avla Golf course and headed directly upwards to the west of Alva Glen.

Then it went straight up the steeps slopes of The Little Torry heading for the obvious grass gully on the east side of the hill

Although the gully looks very steep from Alva, its not that bad when you get into it. I had Holly on the leash in one hand and my camera in the other, so there is no scrambling involved. This is taken looking back down the gully just before I topped out on the summit of Little Torry.


The Ochil hills all look very steep from this angle on Little Tory.

Its a very quick way to get to the top plateau of the Ochils. Because it is so steep I arrived at the summit cairn before I had time to catch my breath.

Then it was a stroll in the grass to the summit cairn of the Big Torry.

And an enjoyable walk along the ridge to Bengengie. Its the third time this winter I have been on this summit.

A view from just below the craggy summit of Bengengie, looking towards Ben Cleuch, the highest of the Ochil Hills.

Then I circled right round the head of Alva Glen and across Alva Moss to arrived at the summit of Craighorn.

Looking back across Alva Glen to Bengengie

Then it was downhill all the way past east side of the Nebbit and back to the car in Alva.

Its roughly a seven mile hike and it could be quite wet in warmer weather, however I was glad it was still frozen grass when I did it last week with Holly.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Pooch Paintings

Although I consider myself retired from the industry I grew up in, I will eventually have to find some other way to help pay the bills. I dont require much as I made the concious decision to give up many of the useless materialistic possessions that cluttered my life and which, in reality, contributed little to my happiness. I now want to follow my choices in life rather than follow the directions pf an industry which is only interested in making money for itself and where I was no more than a name and number.

So what are my plans for my future ?

Im sensible enought to realise that life requires more than just walking in the hills and boating in the sea lochs. Im hoping to suppliment my survival by starting to explore and exploit my own unique and natural talents. I have not used them much in the past and always considered that I was wasting a "gift" by not giving the time to my creative side.

One of the things in my life that I want to develop much further is my artistic side. Its been hard to know the best way to do this and I have often racked my brains thinking of the best approach to do this.

Its funny how things often happen unexpectedly and can open new doors if only we take the time to look for them ?

Holly, the rescue Staffy was an unexpected occurance in my life. Im very happy to say we both seem to thriving on our relationship. She is getting fitter with the long walks and good diet. Her bald patches and skin problems are clearing. She has a caring owner and is settling in nicely.

Im getting fitter with the long walks and not "comfort" eating as much as I did when working. Im much happier with my weight and with myself. Im enjoying the dogs company and it is opening a new door for me in my art. I have started Pooch Painting by painting Holly and I now have two commissions from people who have seen the paintings :-D

That is why I didn't post much this week..
I was too busy doing these watercolours of Holly. I am very happy that I seem to have captured her character well.

In this painting, she is half sleeping in her bed and quite content, dreaming of her next walk in the Ochil Hills.

In this painting, she has been gently scolded for jumping onto my sofa and cushion. She knows that I dont allow that, so does the doggie equivalent of pouting a lip like a spoiled kid, hoping that I will give in. (I often do too)

Clicking on the paintings will bring up a larger image.

Im needing practise in polishing my pooch painting skills so if you are a dog lover and would like your pooch painted in my style.. then dont be afraid to contact me

Friday, 10 February 2012

Ben Cleuch and the cold weather front

According to the weather forecast, Wednesday morning was to be the last of the recent high pressure area and a cold front would move across the country in the afternoon heralding the return of our normal wet weather.

I have been gently building the dog's stamina and foot pads for the past few weeks by alternating longer walks in the hills with days of shorter walks pounding the pavements. After our walk up Meikle Bin on Monday, where she showed no signs of fatigue or suffering on the cold snow, I decided it was now time to try for the highest point of the Ochil Hills. Ben Cleuch is 2364 ft high and I could see from my house that the summit was covered with snow.

I have been to the top of Ben Cleuch many times in the past few years but have always gone via Mill Glen at Tillicoultry and up the steep front of The Law. However because the Mill Glen is closed at present due to a rock fall, I decided to approach Ben Cleuch from Alva. This is a new route to me.

I stopped for a photograph at the familliar sight of the Waterfall in Alva Glen. The route to Ben Cleuch branches off the Alva Glen walk not far past this point.

As I followed the path, I carefully studied the front face of Big Tory on the opposite side of Alva Glen. Im sure there must be a way up to the top of the Tory for a future walk ? I tried it from the top of the Alva Glen walk many moons ago but turned back when it got too steep for me on the slippery grass

There was no problem going to Ben Cleuch from the Glen as the route soon joined the road that was built to carry the wind turbines to the top of the Ochils. Woodhill on the other side of the road is another future walk.

I followed the road for a mile or so before taking the path up the flanks of Ben Ever. Its not as steep as the Law but it seemed to go on forever. I think I prefer tacking the steep Law approach. This photo is looking back down the slopes of Ben Ever towards the Nebbit (the hill in the centre of the photo)

I like the names of the Ochil hills as they are easy for me to get my tongue round, not like the strange names of mountains in the north. I lived in the lowlands of Ayrshire for too long to be called a true Cheuchter, even though I was born in Dingwall. It was warm work slogging up the track and I had my hat off and jacket open. Holly walked happily at my side.

I kept a close eye on Holly to see if she was starting to show signs of slowing down with fatigue but she was quite happy walking in front. (I let her off the lead when I was sure there were no sheep around) We followed the path that by passes the summit of Ben Ever to save some energy. We were now above snow level and it was getting colder by the moment. My hat went back on and the jacket was zipped up. I wondered if Holly would get too cold.

Because of a suspected poor diet, she has lost a lot of her fur, and she also has a few bald patches due to itchy skin so I was a little concerned for her but she had great fun trying to find something below the snow ? I suspect it was a mole or something similar ?

The temperature dropped even further as the sun disappeared behind the clouds. The wind chill was bitter. I wished I had a coat for Holly but she seemed to manage ok.

Looking over to the west, the cold weather front was dramatically darkening the sky. It can be a bitterly cold and desolate plateau at the top of the Ochils and is not a place to take lightly in a winter storm.

Both Holly and myself moved quickly up the final slopes of Ben Cleuch. It was to keep ourselves moving and blood circulating. The wind was quite strong at the summit cairns and Holly dived into the shelter as I fumbled around trying to take a photograph. My hands were frozen so I hate to think what her ears felt like.

I quickly took one more photo of the turning wind turbines, before putting my camera away, putting my gloves on, and pulling my hat over my ears. We were about to head back the way we came and straight into the wind.

I shouted "Come on Holly..lets get outta!!" and ran down the slopes. Holly didnt need any second telling .. she turned tail and ran too.

By the time we dropped to the summit of Ben Ever, we were either below the cold wind or it had dropped again. I got the lunch box out while Holly investigated the cairn, then we shared an egg sandwich. I also gave her some doggie treats which I declined on.

Then we both wandered happily down the hillside towards home, sometimes running and sometimes walking. Holly showed no signs of fatigue nor being too upset with the cold. I was proud of her achievement but I think I will wait until it gets a little warmer before attempting a munro with her.

However, until the snows disappear, our successful walk to Ben Cleuch has opened up a lot of other walks on the Ochils.

The only problem I now have is that for the past two days..of damp, wet, miserable weather .. both Holly and myself have been pacing the pavements .. wanting to get back to the hills

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Kilsyth Hills and Meikle Bin

I love Mondays now that I am not working, especially when the weather is good. The weekend walkers have long gone home and I have the hills to myself again.

There was a freezing cold high pressure area over the Kilsyth hills and although I was at the top of Meikle Bin in November, I was robbed of the views when the mist descended as I left the forest road, heading for the top. I thought it was time to try again and see the views. It was a good hill to push Holly the dog that little bit further.

As I drove past Loch Carron, Meikle Bin looked very attractive covered in snow. I mused as I thought it a good test to see how Holly would handle the white stuff without crampons.

I parked at the west end of the loch and started walking along the forest road towards the hill. It looked very distant and high from this angle but in reality, a return walk is around 6.5 miles and it is only 1870ft high.

There was a hard frost on the grass at loch level but not a breath of wind. I listened to some birds singing happily in the trees. Another month and it would be nesting time again

When the forest road left the loch and started climbing, I came across the snow level and walking was a little difficult as it had been compacted into ice by the many weekend walkers. I chose to walk on the grass verge rather than risk a slip on the road. I was happy with the thought that the normal bog fest through the woods before emerging onto the open hillside would be frozen solid, and easy going.

It was a truelly beautiful day for a walk. The cold air was very clear and as I started up the open hillside, I could see Loch Lomond behind me, with Ben Lomond and the arrochar Alps, all the way round to Stobinian and Ben More were covered in snow

I could see from tracks that a few weekend walkers had used crampons and wondered how I would get on without them on the ice slopes. It was no problem as long as I kept off the compressed snow of the path. The snow was about nine inches deep but Holly had no problems with it as it could support her weight without falling though. She took a great interest on the aircraft wreckage near the summit.

Then we were at the summit, which was as bald of snow as myself and Holly are of hair. I thought I would have great views from the top this time round.

I looked south expecting to see the high rise flats of Glasgow but all I saw was... mist. The valley was full of it so I guess the people of Glasgow were not having such a good Monday as me, especially if they were working. I could see the huge windfarm on the high plains of the Eaglesham Moors beyond Glasgow. Not one blade was turning.

The mist streched along the central belt to Grangemouth. Its chimneys were still belching out the waste smog from the oil refinery so something was working.

It was clear views all the way to the north east over a frozen Loch Carron. I could see the Ochil hills and Lewis Hill above North Third, all recent walks in this blog.

From horizon to horizon I could see distant hills covered in white snow and wind generators.

Not one of them were earning any money as they were all stationary in the windless atmosphere. I didn't earn a penny either but at least I had a great Monday :-D

It was also Holly's longest walk and she managed just fine..its now time to get her going some decent walks. She has to earn her keep :-D

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Bannockburn and the forgotten Lime Industry

Mention the name Bannockburn and everyone remembers that Robert the Bruce fought a great battle there. Most people will also remember that he fought the English there and he won the battle. Some people will remember the date was June 1314 especially if they have been to the Bannockburn Heritage Centre which documents the battle.

But few people seem to remember the thriving Lime Industry which was built around the Bannock burn, North Third and Cambusbarron Area. It lasted until the 1920's. The Lime was mined and then heated in Lime Kilns to turn it into Calcium oxide which was then turned into Calcium Hydroxide in slating pits. It was for agricultural use. The soil around the Stirling area is heavy clay and very acidic so it was spread on the fields in great quantities to reduce the acidity thus making the soil more fertile for crops.

Three Lime workings were around the Bannockburn. Craigend Lime works, Murrayshall Lime works, and Gillies Hill Lime works. It was hard dangerous work, the lime could burn or blind the people who worked it. Vagrants and poor folks often slept in or near the kilns during the cold winter months, as they were a source of heat, but the lime took its toll on them too.

When I was walking around the North Third Reservoir I decided to explore some of the remote woods to see what I could find. I couldn't help notice the damage caused by the recent storms. Hundreds of trees have been blown down all over the place. Many of the paths and walkways have been shut until the fallen trees are made safe.

I ignored the warning signs and headed deep into the woods. I was going north to the old Ash tree woods on the Bannockburn banks. Sadly, there was a lot of trees down here as well. The winds after Hurricane Bawbag have created a lot of damage around this area.

After a mile or so I came to the Bannockburn which is not very wide or deep at this point.

Then I came to a clearing and saw the Craigend Lime Kilns. They were huge compared to the smaller ones I visited on the Island of Lismore last summer.

Someone had been cutting trees and vegetation off the old stone walls, so perhaps there are some that remember the industry from years gone by and want to preserve its history.

I went deeper into the woods. It was hard going, climbing over fallen trees, trying to cross marshy ground, there was not much of a path to follow, but I was on a mission. I was looking for more relics of the industry. I came across another set of smaller kilns so I knew I was getting close.

I then headed through the undergrowth towards the Quarts Dolemite cliffs of Sauchie Craigs and eventually found what I was searching for. The lime was mined from deep under the craigs. I had found one of the old mines.

The walls looked in a very dangerous state. Bricks had fallen out and soil was oozing through the gaps. The floor was covered in a foot of water. I knew the atmosphere in there could kill me within seconds if the oxygen content was to low. I could see the mine disappearing round a corner around 50m from the entrance. I knew it would go a long way further in.

I thought of a movie on TV that I couldn't watch over the holiday period. It was a true story called 127 Hours. I turned it off when a lone walker got his arm trapped by a boulder while he was in the wilderness. He had to cut his arm off with his pen knife to free himself so he could get back to civilisation and help. The movie was too near the knuckle for me. I know I could not cut my arm off even if it was to save the rest of me. I love exploring on my own ..but the mine in the middle of nowhere was just a bit too much.

I headed for home happy knowing I had remembered some history about the Bannockburn.