Kilchurn Castle

A couple of weeks ago I set off early to visit Kilchurn Castle. The plan was to get some good photo’s as the sun rose and as it was a clear night it should be worth setting the alarm for.

Kilchurn Castle

The drive up was fine but due to the freezing temperatures and the quiet roads there was a few slippy moments on the way. By the time I parked up it was minus 7. Brrrrr. The scenery and location was amazing and I setup the camera waiting for the sun to rise properly. There were only a couple of others around on the other bank of the loch and it was eerily quiet.

Loch Awe

Well it was eerily quiet until i fired up the drone. I’d read that the drone didn’t like the cold and that turned out to be true. Battery life took a bit of a hit and I also got warnings about the temperature and also one of the motors. I carried on though and it was fine and I got some not bad shots.

However my lack of touch friendly gloves meant I flew without wearing any and my hands were frozen. Even the next day my fingertips were still numb. Idiot. I also missed out on many shots that I had wanted to take, partly cause I rushed and partly due to the batteries dropping quicker than usual. Next time I head out I’ll do a bit more planning upfront. It wasn’t just the drone…I missed a few great images with my camera that when I looked back through the photo’s I’d taken were obvious. Experience I guess but I was ticked off at making the effort to get there and miss some pic’s.

If you are looking for a fantastic old castle to visit that was built in the 1400’s then give Kilchurn a go. I plan to visit again sometime in the future and maybe try and get those shots I missed a fortnight ago but I’ve a lot of other places to visit before I return to Kilchurn. Onwards.

A Simple Question

Should Scotland be an independent country?

It’s straightforward enough and thankfully we will know 5 days from now how Scotland has voted. This has been the longest most drawn out political campaign I’ve experienced and despite the money spent by each camp there is still a vacuum of real answers. It’s clear that the result is closer than many thought and is also causing real division across families and friendships and I just hope once the answer is known on September 19th that we can all move on and accept the result.

There have been some negative aspects to the overall campaign:

  • Better Together’s campaign has been a mess. Negative, lack of a plan A around devolved powers and an obvious last minute panic as the poles narrowed. Their mismanagement will be costly.
  • Alex Salmond’s comments on Team Scotland vs Team Westminster and the snide assertion that if you are Scottish you will vote Yes and if you are a No voter then you aren’t part of Team Scotland. Bullshit of the highest order.
  • The lies from both camps. Never ending.
  • Citizen journalists and analysts and ‘their sources say’. What sources? More bullshit.
  • I’ve had no hassle but I know my mum has been called an idiot for not voting Yes and does feel intimidated by some of the behaviour of campaigners in town at the moment. I’ve also seen some heated Facebook threads just because someone has said they are voting no. Sad.
  • The lack of clear answers from the Yes campaign. In my opinion they watered down what independence really means to guarantee a win – monarchy, currency etc. Be honest and set out a truly independent vision rather than a 3/4 way house.
  • The assertion that ‘big business’ is in cahoots with the No camp only. Jim McColl’s rescuing of Ferguson’s and the subsequent mailshot that I and many others received from him on behalf of the Yes campaign was stage management of the highest order. All from a guy thats stays in Monaco.

However the positives have been great:

  • The referendum vote has grabbed the public imagination and sparked debate and participation after decades where people have felt disenfranchised by the main political parties. The use of social media has certainly exploded over the last few months – even today there is a massive rally protesting at BBC bias over the last weeks and months and if it wasn’t for friends posting about it you’d have no idea it was taking place. Hours after it started it’s only now that the editor of Reporting Scotland has tweeted about it (and much later the BBC reported on it themselves – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-29196912). Thats the only recognition that around 1000 people are now at Pacific Quay protesting. Well done Roy for on the spot reporting 🙂
  • Patrick Harvie, co-convenor of the Scottish Green Party, has been great. Spoke well, debated without getting into slanging matches and has campaigned tirelessly for the Yes campaign.
  • One hundred weeks of Scotland is a blog started by Alan McCredie in October 2012. Each week he would write about a different aspect of Scotland highlighted by some great images that he took on his journey. Been great to follow this on the run up the vote with some amazing photo’s and stories.

I’ll be voting No on Thursday as the arguments for change haven’t been made clear for me but my expectation is that the Yes vote will win and on Friday Scotland will be an independent country. I hope then we can all move on and make the best of what lies ahead – it won’t be an easy journey.

Dumgoyne

With the weather finally taking a turn for the better it was time to get the walking books back on. I’ve not walked since November much like my walking buddies so we decided to start small and picked Dumgoyne as its close by, not too tough and the views are great.

I walked up Dumgoyne at the start of 2009 and I found it pretty tough needing lots of stops. However today felt like a hard stroll and I was surprised how quickly we got to the top. We carried on to what we thought was Earls Seat but we were one summit short of that one.

So a great day especially with the weather. Not so great was me totally fluffing most of my photos on the walk as my settings were for indoors and not the clear blue skies we had today. When will I learn! Full set of the photos that did turn out (auto FTW!) are up on Flickr.

Beinn Bhuidhe

The final, for me anyway, Arrochar Alp was Beinn Bhuidhe and yesterday seemed to be a fine day to tackle this munro. It was rated more difficult and required a four mile walk before beginning the climb but for me this was probably my hardest walk.

We started early from the head of Loch Fyne on our 4 mile walk. First mistake of the day was heading through the quarry. Think of the Doctor Who episodes from the 70’s and 80’s which were all set in quarries and you’ll get the idea – not exactly picturesque. We cracked on and it was pertty warm/muggy even though it was only 09:00. After 4 or so miles we were starting to wonder where the path was for Beinn Bhuidhe. We kept walking until we got to a sheep dip on the map, thinking that maybe this was the route up? After 10 mins of discussion we cracked on until we had walked 5 miles – we were then convinced we had missed the path but never mind – lets crack on up the hill and we’ll find it soon enough.

Beinn Bhuidhe Route Guidance

In case you’ve stumbled on this website looking for advice look at the map above. The path is halfway between the abandoned house and the stream, directly on your left after you pass through the safety gate. In winter/spring it might be obvious but at this time of year almost impossible to spot. We bumped into a couple of groups later on who had made the same mistake which made us feel a whole load better…one day we will learn.

Anyway, back to cracking on up the hill. We skirted around a small woodland and walked up some steep undergrowth – thick grass and bracken. It was warm and unpleasant and the midges were out in full force. Nice. This was much the same for a lot of the walk. We also got split up and were walking as individuals for much of the first 2/3rds of the walk. Around 600m I had to stop. Was feeling very ropey, sweating buckets and convinced I was going to be sick. Was also thinking Danny had dropped back quite a bit so I may as well wait. 5 minutes later and I was sick. First time on a hill walk that I’ve been that unwell. A few mins later and despite being that far up I was convinced that I should turn back. A couple of mins later I spotted Danny ahead of me – he had taken a slightly different route and was now looking for his lost sunglasses. A quick shout and he buddied up with me for the rest of the walk and I carried on. Big thanks to him – he will now be known as sherpa Dan.

View from Beinn Bhuidhe

The walk up was great after 800m. Some ridge walking and we also found a path! Finally! The views from the top were stunning. Photo’s really don’t do it justice – it was some of the best views from a munro yet. After a quick lunch (half lunch for me as I still felt ropey) we cracked on down following the path this time.

Squirrel

The path from around 500m follows the stream all the way down to the starting point and was steep and pretty awkward in places requiring a wee bit of scrambling and searching for hand holds. In some ways it felt no easier than the route we eventually took although with hindsight it was more straightforward. I’m sure taking the path is also more scenic as there are a few waterfalls to see on the route up. We couldn’t believe how obscure the path was when we reached the start point – no wonder we missed it!

Beinn Bhuidhe Runkeeper

We walked back to the car, this time avoiding the quarry which was a far better option. We also indulged on some ice cream at the car park. I’m sure Bounty ice cream isn’t recommended for an upset stomach but it helped me! As usual, full photo set is on Flickr but not as many as usual – didn’t feel up to it really which is a shame as some of the ridge views were great.

So a tough walk especially on a warm muggy day but the views are stunning. For me, that was the last Arrochar Alp and was actually the most rewarding after The Cobbler despite the heat, sickness, my burnt neck and arms or the extra midge bites I picked up. Well worth doing but start early and if you’ve got the option, take a bike and cycle the first three miles. Your legs will thank you later.

Ben Vane

A couple of months since the last walk but the weather was too good to ignore. This time it was to tackle Ben Vane, another one of the local munro’s. Setting off early on a glorious day we were surprised how quiet it was for a mid summers day.

Ben Vane

We were quickly rewarded with some great views back over Loch Lomond. It then turned quite boggy – wish I’d worn my gators as the boots were caked in mud on the way up and down. The boggy ground only lasted for 15-20 mins though and the rest of the way was on ok but steep paths. There’s plenty of false summits and also some scrambling near the top but it was worth it.

Ben Lomond from Ben Vane

For a summers day when temperatures at ground level were nearly 20C, it was a wee bit chilly at the top with temps nearer 5 or 6C. Still, it was nice to cool off, grab lunch and take in the views which were stunning. Usually in summer you get a lot more haze but not today.

Alistair, Danny, Ian and Allan on Ben Vane

A very helpful fellow walker took the above photo. More telling is that while the camera was in her hands it seemed to perform so much better. I need to spend time revisiting many of the 550D’s features!

Ben Vane Runkeeper

Considering the stops and the 30 mins for lunch we made really good time on Saturday. Even on the way back down I was surprised by the lack of fellow walkers. Also surprising is the impact on my thighs this week – it’s 5 days since the walk and they are still a bit tender. I must look into improving strength/recovery as it seems to impact me more than others. As usual, all photo’s can be found on Flickr and also Facebook and Google+. Trying other ways of getting photo’s out to friends as not everyone likes or uses Flickr.

So that’s five out of the six munro’s that make up the Arrochar Alps ticked off, leaving just Beinn Bhuidhe which will hopefully be this weekend as the weather is looking good if not a tad hotter. Early start required.

Beinn Ime

In August last year I tried to walk up Beinn Ime via Beinn Luibhean but admitted defeat due to the wind. Roll forward 6 months and it was time to finally climb Ime. We set off early on Friday (cheers to Wills and Kate as we had the day off) and started from Succouth this time which meant walking between The Cobbler and Beinn Narnain before finally getting to Beinn Ime.

Beinn Ime

The weather was glorious although quite breezy at ground level and the forecast higher up was winds touching gales in places and to be a lot colder than the 16-18C at the car park. The first 3 miles was a gradual ascent on a well crafted path that took us to the back of the Cobbler. We then veered right and started climbing Ime. The ground at this point was quite boggy and to be honest there was no well defined path, probably because Ime isn’t as popular as the other two peaks in the vicinity.

After 20-30 mins we picked up on a path as the climb became more strenuous. This took us up the majority of Beinn Ime. At this point the wind really picked up and it was pretty cold. Until now it had been shorts and t-shirt weather but a warmer top was required to get us up the final peaks.

View from Beinn Ime

There were great views from the top but the sun started to hide between clouds and it became pretty hazy in places. At this point it was bloody cold – despite the great ground temp’s we were glad of hat s and gloves and some shelter behind a rock so we could grab some lunch. We didn’t hang around at the summit – just too cold but coming down off the main peak there was a great photo opportunity and the sun had popped out again – still really windy though.

Ian on Beinn Ime

In the background to the photo above you can see the seaplane that takes off from Loch Lomond and the Clyde. I’ll need to try that one day when the weather is good – the views from it will be amazing. After taking some shots we made our way back down – we really covered ground pretty quickly on Friday as can be seen from the RunKeeper stats below.

Beinn Ime Runkeeper

Even better – no midges to report which was a surprise. I just need to remember that my legs need sun tan lotion or they burn. Not clever. Next up is probably Ben Vane which leaves the more isolated Beinn Bhuidhe to complete the five munro’s that make up the Arrochar Alp’s. Hopefully we’ll get them both done by the middle of summer.

As usual, full set of Flickr photo’s can be found here.

Conic Hill

Took advantage of a slight rise in temperatures and the promise of sunshine to climb Conic Hill last Sunday. After a slow and slippy drive to Balmaha it was on with the boots and gaters for the short 400 metre climb. Although the car park had a few cars the hill was pretty deserted and we only saw two other chaps all day who had abandoned their climb up Ben Lomond. At lower levels there was a bit of a thaw on and the snow was quite wet and slippy. After a half hour we had left that behind and were in to the actual climb. Proper snow!

Danny on Conic Hill

It didn’t take long until we got to the top of the first summit – Conic is actual three small summits and as we clambered on the sun came out and gave us some glorious views of Loch Lomond, the Arrochar Alps and Ben Lomond.

Loch Lomond from Conic Hill

Despite the sun and the thaw at lower levels it was f-f-freezing at the top. A pretty brisk wind meant we didn’t hang around for long at the top and we walked down a bit to have some lunch. After a quick soup we decided not to clamber over the hill again but head further down the slope as we’d surely find a path. Wrong. We found a very old wood and a peat bog so not the best decision we’d ever made. Hence the RunKeeper map showing a circular route that doesn’t really exist.

Conic Hill

Speaking of RunKeeper, two little titbits. Runkeeper Pro is currently free for the month of January on both iOS and Android platforms. Highly recommended and is constantly being improved by the development team. Secondly, I forgot I had switched on RunKeeper Live a couple of months. What this means is that at the start of the walk a tweet is sent out and people can watch you walk live online. Updates seem to be every 10 seconds or so and looks to have worked pretty well. Got a few bizarre tweets when I checked twitter after the walk 🙂

Loch Lomond from Conic Hill

The full set of pics from the walk is as usual on Flickr including the panorama above which came out quite well.

Beinn Luibhean

So yesterday should have been a walk up another munro – Beinn Ime, taking in Beinn Luibhean on the way down. It would have been quite a long walk but the views from Beinn Ime would be worth it. However the weather was quite a bit worse than we expected and our route following was crap!

View from Luibhean

Firstly we marched off from the car park down the wrong path, realising only when we’d walked a mile. So we walked back to the road and made probably our second bad choice of the day. We decided to tackle the corbet, Beinn Luibhean, first and then onto Beinn Ime. The ground was pathless, boggy and quite heavy going. After a couple of hundred metres it started to get very windy. In fact we were blasted by 40-50mph winds for the next hour before we finally made it to the top of Beinn Luibhean. We were wet, cold and faces were red raw from the wind. Welcome to summer hill climbing in Scotland.

We found some shelter and decided not to carry on. Ime, like Luibhean, was shrouded in cloud with zero chance of any view. We were also pretty bushed already as the heavy ground and fighting the wind had taken it’s toll. On descending the cloud broke a little and the rain went off so at least I got a few photo’s. Also stumbled across a muddy and broken path which helped but not by much. In fact it was a slog back down which was pretty slippy, especially with lots of small logs lying underfoot which I think caused all of us to slip/fall one way or the other. Thankfully no injuries!

Luibhean Runkeeper Stats

The RunKeeper output from yesterday shows our mistake at the start and also the odd route we took up and the more direct route down. One app I might try for next time is Trailhead from The North Face which allows you to download routes to your iphone prior to the walk so you can track how close you are to the recommended route. Would certainly have helped yesterday. One other note – battery life on the iPhone 4 is much improved on the 3 and 3GS. Used just under 50% of the battery while using RunKeeper which is excellent for a 5 hour walk.

The full set of photo’s are available on Flickr. Used a new camera bag yesterday, the Kata H-10, which proved very useful in the rain and wind. I had it hooked onto the waist strap of my bag which felt quite comfortable and kept the camera fully protected. The rain cover that comes with the bag was invaluable!

So a couple of lessons learned yesterday:

  • Check your bearings before setting off. We had compass and maps but failed to use them properly.
  • Tackle the munro first, then worry about other surrounding climbs.
  • Respect the weather. Mountain Weather Information Service provide accurate forecasts, and winds gusting to 55mph are not to be sniffed at.
  • Weather in July and August can be cold, wet and wild in Scotland. We cancelled a walk at the start of July due to 90mph gusts and yesterday got pretty cold in the wet and biting winds. Be prepared for all weathers no matter the time of year.
  • I need a bigger bag 🙂

Just a shame we didn’t arrange the walk for today – glorious weather by the looks of it. We’ll keep Beinn Ime for one of those days.

Beinn Ghlas and Ben Lawers

It’s been a funny year for walking. The first few months was difficult due to the severe winter we had. So much so that we couldn’t do much walking at all without crampons and an ice axe – something I’ll be picking up before the winter season kicks in this time. The last walk was The Cobbler, which was excellent but a few feet short of a munro. So 2/3rds of the year gone and no munro’s…until now. Beinn Ghlas and Ben Lawers are two adjacent munro’s that can be tackled in the same day. Another benefit is that the starting point of the walk is 400 metres so your almost half way just by getting out of the car – excellent!

Jim on Beinn Ghlas

There is also an excellent path leading from the car park and now that I’ve done it, I can say it’s an excellent first munro for anyone looking to get into walking. As for the views, I’m sure on a clear day they are spectacular, but for us what looked like a promising day turned into one lacking any view at all. Low cloud rolled in as we climbed meaning we got zero view from either munro. In fact it got pretty cold at the summits so it wasn’t a day for hanging around. Just a quick mention on weather – we originally planned this walk for the first weekend in July but had to postpone due to 90mph winds. I’m glad we did as we got talking to a couple of other walkers who were trying Bheinn Ghlas for a second time as they had attempted it that weekend but had to literally crawl down the hill as they got near the summit – it was that bad. Despite it being summer, the hills can be still unpredictable so you do need to carry waterproof just in case and it’s also worth checking the mountain forecast rather than the MET office site as they give very different results.

Ian and Ben Lawers Trig Point

Bheinn Ghlas is reached first and if your not careful it’s easy to walk by as it’s a tiny cairn that marks the summit. It’s then about a half hour to 40 minute walk to Ben Lawers summit. This is more substantial, marked with a cairn and trig point but as mentioned, zero views for us. Despite the easy walk you are now just 17 feet short of 4000 feet so quite a height. We decided to take the same route back to the car park although you can descend and go around the base of Bheinn Ghlas, but it did brighten up a bit so we wanted to keep some height…and it also meant that climbing back over Bheinn Ghlas counts as another munro climb, no?

Runkeeper Summary

As ever I used RunKeeper to track the walk and I’m pretty pleased with the pace we kept up throughout. I don’t really bother stopping the clock when I start taking pictures or we take pauses for breath so actual time walked is probably about a half hour less. I almost forgot to mention one thing. Fucking midges. The car park was swarming with them – I covered myself with jungle insect repellant and ended up with around 6-8 bites which is a lot better than on Ben Lomond last year. If you do go out walking around now make sure you take some sort of repellant. Can’t wait until it gets a bit cooler and they will be gone for the year.

So thats munro 5 and 6 done. Hopefully get another 2 or 3 done before the end of the year – weather permitting!

The Cobbler

It’s official name is Ben Arthur but it’s commonly known as The Cobbler and it’s one of the best known walks in Scotland. I’d done the neighbouring hill, Beinn Narnain, last year mainly because Narnain is a munro and one of the party had done the Cobbler before. However The Cobbler had to be done. It had been recommended by too many people, not just for the walk up but for the last 10 metres or so – threading the needle.

Yet again we were lucky with the weather. Setting off from Succoth car park we climbed steadily via the excellent path. I say excellent…it’s also pretty dull as it zig zags back and forth. You gain height but it takes a while.

Still a bit to go

Once the zig zags stop you join an old tramway path which takes you gradually but continually ever higher until you get to the south face of The Cobbler. You have two choices here – a scrambly route up to the summit or continue on the path for a mile or so and take a stepped route up to the summit. We took the former which made for a more interesting ascent and a far easier descent down the steps.

The ascent was pretty straightforward although we did lose the path from time to time and some scrambling was required to get towards the summit. After two and a half hours we made it to the top and were rewarded with some great views over to Ben Lomond and down Loch Long. While we ate lunch we some a couple of others thread the needle. Decision made – it had to be done.

Ian, Danny and Jim

Now the photo above doesn’t make it look to hard but it’s a tight squeeze through a small gap and then a short climb up to the top. You have a ledge around a metre wide to climb up on. Doesn’t sound too bad but there’s a drop of 100-200ft below and the ledge slopes away from you.

Quite a drop

That picture gives you a better idea of the slope and the drop. Getting up wasn’t too bad. Navigating back down was more tricky. Some of the drops starting playing tricks with the mind and you had to be careful as you inched back down. I would hate to have done this in the wet. In fact, I doubt I would have. I think the ledge would have been far too slippy. Spare a thought for Danny who was described as ‘humping the rock’ as he made his way back to firmer ground. Bless.

Cobbler

The gap in the rock you clamber through is called Argylls Eyeglass – I’m sitting in it in the photo above. Quite unique in my minor hill walking experience and a nice climax to the climb. It’s also worth noting that the walk was on May 9th and despite good temperatures at ground level it was well below freezing due to the wind at this height.

We descended quickly down the steps on the north face. Couldn’t believe how quickly we dropped – a far easier way down than retracing our steps. It was then a walk back to Succoth car park. We took just under five hours in total which included around 40 mins at the summit and quite a few stops.

Cobbler Runkeeper

One last point – it’s a very popular walk so it’s advisable to set off early as possible. We passed by lots of people on the way back to the car park and the summit was busy enough when we were at the top.

The Cobbler is a great walk, one of the best I’ve done so far, and it should not be overlooked just because it’s 100ft short of being classed as a munro. The paths are excellent and there’s the thrill of threading the needle at the end of the climb. Hopefully you’ll have as good a day as I did.