Archive for April 2012

The Unfogettable Fire – Rum, Easter 2012 Part 3   10 comments

A brief little postette. On our final evening we decided to head down to the goat latrine that is the small square path of grass down by the beach and have ourselves a little bonfire.

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Playing with fire

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View south from the beach

We thought about moving the tent down here but as our stuff was dry and we are a couple of lazy gits we decided not to bother. There was already a fire pit with a collection of wood plus a lifetimes supply on the beach so with a judicious input of firelighters and meths we soon had a roaring blaze going.

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"Needs more wood"

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Can you feel the warmth?

Must be encoded in our DNA strands but I’m yet to meet a bloke who doesn’t love playing with fire in one form or another be it a beach fire, a BBQ or in EDs case setting fire to someone’s newspaper while they are still reading it!

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Dying embers

No better way to finish off the day than messing about on the beach picking up driftwood and then sitting in front of the fire while it burns down and watching the stars appear. I was as happy as a pig (or goat more appropriately) in muck and was even able to dry out my socks and boots a bit so they were ready for a fresh supply of water the next day.

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Warm dry feet for the first time in 2 days

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This is real living

Wood doesn’t burn for long so once we’d burnt of what we’d collected and completely incinerated our rubbish we headed back up to the tent for the usual late warming brew to prepare for the walk out the next day.

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Sunset over the mausoleum

Lovely final evening at Harris Bay celebrated with a little video of the event – I’ve edited out my attempt to sing for the sake of everyone who appreciates good music

Posted April 29, 2012 by surfnslide in Backpacking, Scotland, Walking, Western Highlands

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Coastal Plonking – Rum, Easter 2012 Part 2   12 comments

After the excitement of the previous day the weather took pity on us and gave us a grey and dreary day so we could have a lie in. After the usual routine of breakfast (I’m still struggling with the best backpacking breakfast – I hate muesli and now I’ve decided I hate granola as well) and a couple of brews eventually the inevitable calls of nature force you out of the tent.

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Looking west

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I know these as zawns (Cornish)

It wasn’t half bad so we went for a pre-lunch stroll along the coast to the north, taking in the Bullough family Mausoleum. It really is a very odd thing to find in a such a remote site but it’s quite atmospheric in a macabre sort of way.

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Down among the dead men, women and children

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Things you don't expect to find

The cliffs are superb but I was surprised not to see any nesting seabirds. Rum does have a large colony of Manx Shearwaters but they nest up on the slopes of Askival and Hallaval on the main ridge. As we walked the views opened out and we kept climbing enjoying vistas up the coast and back across Harris Bay.

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Looking north

We thought we’d head up to find the little Loch Monica but it proved elusive until we realised we hadn’t climbed anything like as high ad we’d thought. We eventually found it nestling under some nice little crags and took a stroll along their edge before we decided to head down as the rain returned. We had at one time thought we could take a walk over Orval and down over Bloodstone Hill to camp near the bothy at Guirdil but as the weather was so unsettled and we had lovely pitch (with dry stuff in it!) we decided to stay put, but it would be a cracking stroll even if you just walked the coast as the terrain didn’t look too punishing.

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Loch Monica

It proved to be the start of the worst spell of the weather of the weekend as it tipped it down for 4-5 hours so we had lunch and a little afternoon snooze.

Around 5ish the weather changed dramatically and the sun came out while the mountains were still swathed in streaming clouds.

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The weather improves

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Our home from home

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Barkeval

We took in a long stroll in the other direction just enjoying the superb clear views and clambering around on the coastal rocks and multiple small headlands. This is an activity we’ve come to perfect over the years and termed “coastal plonking”. It normally involves scrambling very close to the water’s edge until someone gets wet (or in my case until someone steps on a rock that wasn’t there and falls on his hand resulting in a trip to casualty to have his hand stitched up but that’s another story)

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Looking south

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Ruinsival and the cliffs to the south

The light was just superb and I reeled off huge numbers of photos but it’s hard to catch the mood. In essence we were on a remote Scottish island with the whole bay (in fact what felt like the whole island) to ourselves.

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Down by the waters edge

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Harris Bay, Canna in the distance

Amazing how life’s little problems just melt away when you find yourself at one with the hills and you get a real perspective. I’ve been pretty busy at work the last couple of months and I often find it hard to leave it behind and unwind at home. Here it suddenly occurred to me I hadn’t thought about work since I landed in Glasgow. This is proper relaxation. One of my work colleagues is also a keen walker and he mentioned that he often “communes with the mountains” when he needs to think. I think we can all empathise with that view

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Barkeval and the Abhainn Rangail

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GM does the chores

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Moody mountains

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Ruinsival from the tent door

Time for tea (chilli and rice if you’re interested) before we decided we needed to light a fire on the beach which I’d been looking forward to all weekend. That’s for another post to come so for now here’s a little video slide show of the day’s coastal wanderings.

Unfinished Business – Rum, Easter 2012 Part 1   19 comments

So why “Unfinished Business”? Before I dive into the post let me tell you a little story from a previous visit to this island.

Back in 2008 me and GM took an impromptu trip to Scotland one October. After messing about on Bidean in Glencoe for a day and stroll to Peanmenach bothy on the coast of Moidart, we decided on a few days in Rum to capture the main ridge. We had a great walk around the coast to Dibidil bothy (a storming spot) and set out for the ridge the next day. A few hundred feet short of the summit of Askival on it’s scrambly south ridge, GM decided a hand-jam was in order. A sizeable chunk of Askival came loose and sliced open his hand in an expansive manner and re-arranged several of the bones. The rock bounced down, missing my head by a foot or so and GM and fell on me, nearly taking us both off. With calm understatement GM told me he thought he’d bust his hand. Remarkably we managed to get back down to the bothy with relative ease, pack up, walk most of the way back to Kinloch before getting a handy lift from a brand new Coastguard helicopter. So ended, abruptly our first visit to Rum with none of the peaks of the main ridge climbed. So Rum was classified as unfinished business. Now it was time to go back….

(My original photoset on Flickr is here)

We were originally planning to go Jura with several of the boys, but all of them apart from me and GM cried off with some poor excuses. We decided to keep Jura ready for next year and return to Rum. I decided to fly up from Bristol (not much more expensive than driving) with GM picking me up at Glasgow and taking us up to Suie Lodge for a brief overnight stop. The weather the next day was cold, wet and windy and we almost bailed out but thought we may as well go for it. Almost all the heavy snow that fell couple of days previously had gone, killing the debate about whether we should have taken axe and crampons. We reached Mallaig in the rain (made packing at the car a nightmare), bought the tickets and waited for the ferry.

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Small Isles Ferry

The rain stopped and things looked a little less grim, although the cloud was still down to a few hundred feet above sea level. Surprisingly there was a dogfish swimming quite nonchalantly about in the harbour which was quite something.

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Dogfish in Mallaig Harbour

There were several people waiting for the ferry although most had enough stuff to set up a small settlement so we assumed they were hostel bound

The ferry journey even on a day as grey as this was still enjoyable and I passed the time looking for dolphins without success. The views across to Eigg were still great although Rum was barely visible under a heavy blanket of cloud.

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Eigg

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Loch Scresort and Kinloch

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Jumping ship

Walk in, 7.7 miles, 1,200 feet of ascent

On reaching Loch Scresort we left the hostellers behind and started the long walk in to Harris on the far side of the island, chosen for its ideal start point for a circuit of the main ridge.

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Struggling with the weight of flapjacks

Despite the dreary low cloud the walk was still enjoyable with a sense of adventure in heading off to a remote corner of an equally remote island. It’s easy-going along a wide 4WD track and we made good time. As we passed a few highland cattle and deer Harris came into view and it became clear this was a special spot. The cloud lifted to an encouraging degree and we could see the full sweep of bay from the mausoleum to the cliffs and the large raised beach clearly visible.

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Harris

We set about finding a decent campsite for the weekend. Pete over at Writesofway had told me of spot by the beach with a fire-pit and plenty of wood to burn but we noticed another couple had pitched up just across the river so we thought it a little impolite to intrude on their privacy. We eventually decided on one of the smaller enclosures up near the raised beach which didn’t have the beach fire potential but did have better views. It was a pretty cracking spot, with the sea in front and the mountains behind and a real sense of wilderness. I loved it, nothing is better than getting your tent set up in a wild location and then just soak up the atmosphere with brew.

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Our pitch amongst the stones

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GM, raised beach and Ruinsival

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Looking south along the coast

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GM enjoys a brew

We spent the rest of the evening pottering on the beach and collecting water and various bits of driftwood to sit on and provide improvised laminate flooring in the tent porch. We dined on stir-fry and noodles and watched as the skies cleared, the stars came out and the main ridge slowly revealed itself. It was magical, if a little chilly and the late evening light was truly magnificent.

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Yours truly admiring the sunset

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Sunset

Life seems pretty simple at such times as you settle down to simple pleasures, a hot brew, a homemade flapjack and a view not many people get to see. We kept our fingers crossed the weather forecast for the next day might be wrong.

Main Ridge, 7.4 miles, 3,250 feet of ascent

It wasn’t. The next morning we woke to dull leaden skies and despite the sense that it was only going to get worse we decided to give the ridge a try.

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Enjoy the view while you can

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Calm before the storm

It started drizzling within an hour and the climb up to Ruinsival was a little unrewarding. Once on the top my mood improved as we crossed the strangely eroded gabbro rocks on the summit, almost like a gabbro pavement.

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Ruinsival summit

We were in the cloud but it wasn’t too cold and things could be worse so we pressed on, exploring the cliff edges of Leac a Chasteil as we went.

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Standing on the edge

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Don't do it

Only as we hit the nameless summit at 759m did the weather suddenly turn wetter, windier and colder. Onwards to Ainshval you get a first taste of the real flavour as the ridge suddenly narrows and changes to basalt which was astonishingly slippery and pretty un-nerving. We managed to get down an onto Ainshval without any incident.

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Ainshval, cold wet and windy

Then the fun really started. We tried to follow the ridge down towards Trollaval but lost the route. We ended up on some of the scariest terrain I’ve been on for many a year, a series of small ledges of slippery basalt that just seemed willing us to a nasty fall. We slithered and picked our way slowly down, GM calmly, me in an increasingly agitated state. As we descended we were acutely aware of the risk of not being able to continue down or return the way we had come. You often read in guide-books “no place be in bad weather and poor visibility” and treat it glibly. However Rum has mountains that are not to be trifled with and all the way down I kept thinking “not again”.

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Forced smile

As we neared what we hoped was the bottom of the worst I slipped and nearly came off a very short down-climb, I’d have done myself a nasty if I had fallen. Fortunately my bone-head saved me from slipping as I jammed it into the rock as a makeshift point of contact and after recovering what was left of my composure and checking to see if I needed a change of underwear we seemed clear of the difficulties and the col was in sight below us.

I’d had enough. I was wet, cold and my nerves were shredded so I wanted to head down. GM decided to plough on alone. I didn’t say it at the time but I really didn’t want him to carry on. He’s an extremely experienced mountaineer and climber so the ridge was well within his compass but the previous hour and the last visit to Rum was messing with my head. He headed off to Trollaval and I started the long and lonely trudge back to camp in the drizzle. I stopped at Loch Fiachanis and there were some wafts of blue sky which cheered me up a bit. Short-lived though and the rain was soon back. I was relieved to get back to the tent, get changed and warm up with several brews. GM showed up a couple of hours later and I was mightily pleased he’d managed to do the main summits (and mightily relieved he’d done it without incident). The rain was pretty much set in for the day so after a well-earned meal of anchovy carbonara we settled in for a wet and windy night. Second attempt at the main ridge, second epic, albeit with a happier outcome. As I said, Rum is not to be trifled with.

Enjoy the slideshow, a little longer than normal but I thought the music seemed to fit. Sorry for the lack of photos of the ridge. Not really a day for the camera in more ways than one. More Rum adventures to follow

Unknown Snowdonia – The Tarrens   8 comments

Behind with the blog again!

First weekend of the Easter holidays we went down to my parents caravan on the mid-Wales coast, me for the weekend but Jane and the kids for the week. I had planned to take D up Snowdon but the weather forecast didn’t look worth the long drive so we revised our plans.

In the event as you can see from the photos they got the forecast wrong (surprise!) and it turned into a pretty decent day. I’ve had my eyes on a little known cluster of hills on the southern edge of Snowdonia called the Tarrens.

The Tarrens, 11 .2 Miles, 3,400 feet of ascent

There are no really obvious circular routes without some road pounding but after a ponder over the options we decided on a route from the north to take advantage of a little jaunt on the little Tal-y-Llyn railway to avoid a 3-mile yomp.

D was particularly pleased to get a ride on a steam train and after a short look at the Dolgoch falls (we’ll return to these later) we sat in the sun on the platform at Dolgoch station waiting for the train.

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Train approaching Dolgoch station

After it puffed into view we took  a seat and enjoyed a pleasant relaxed trip to the end of the line at Nant Gwernol to start the walk proper.

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Nant Gwernol station

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We crossed the bridge over the Nant Gwernol, a lovely little gorge and hit the track up into the upper reaches of the Gwernol valley with its array of old slate workings, a reminder of the railways original purpose. The first part of the walk is along a very long and dusty track that snakes its way up towards the open hillside through the forest. Or in this case through the felled forest with its vast piles of logs ready to be turned into whatever they turn it into (question – who lives in a log-pile house).

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Logs, logs and more logs

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View across Cadair Idris

Have to say that long walks through forestry plantations don’t get my pulse racing but just when I was thinking I’d had enough conifers for one day we suddenly emerged onto the open hillside of Tarren-y-Gesail. We’d been walking for quite a while so we stopped right there for lunch and a fresh brew overlooking the rest of the walk along the main ridge. Nice to be out with both Jane and D to enjoy the day. We don’t get out together for a proper walk very often (especially Jan) so I think she was really enjoying the day

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Lunch on the slopes of Tarren-y-Gesail

From there it was a short steep climb to the summit of Tarren-y-Gesail with fine views across to Cadair Idris opening up as we climbed.

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Tarrenhendre from Tarren-y-Gesail

At the top I took out the Jarrold guide I’d been using which said to ignore the obvious path along the top and drop down to the north to find an even more obvious one. After bouncing around on a trampoline of moss and heather with no hint of a path for 15 minutes we returned to the top and carried on the route I should have followed in the first place. Great, these Jarrold guides for low-level countryside walks, useless on the mountains.

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Dovey Forest to the north

The route then follows the edge of very wide a deep corrie wich gave some fine views across the forest. The Tarrens aren’t quite as badly cloaked in conifer plantations as they look on the map and the views were expansive.

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We passed the only people we saw all day, a couple of new age types walking barefoot across the fells. They didn’t return my greeting so I guess they were communing with the earth or some such. The route turns west along the grass and tree-lined ridge of Foel-y -Geifr, a splendid high level stroll where we really started to eat up the miles again. It culminates in a nameless peak where we stopped at the bottom for second lunch and another brew.

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Second lunch, Foel-y-Geifr and Tarren-y-Gesail behind

It was turning into a long walk so I climbed the peak and Jane D walked around. D was seemingly having no problems with the distance or the climbing while Jane was struggling a little. She runs to stay fit but a couple of recent injuries has meant she hasn’t been able to keep her fitness levels high. D now leaves her trailing in his wake.

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Across the Dovey estuary

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Jane, Tarren-y-Gesail and nameless peak behind

It was long climb to the summit of Tarrenhendre and we reached the top at the cloudiest part of the day. My eye was taken by the long high ridge to the SW that looks superb. Looking at the map a full east to west traverse would be a storming outing with two cars or using a bike to overcome the road at the bottom.

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Southwest ridge

As we headed back towards Dolgoch the sun burst through again and it turned into a glorious evening with barely a cloud in the sky. The valley down towards Dolgoch was top-notch with views across to the southern outliers of the Cadair Idris range.

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Upper Dolgoch valley

We picked out a path to the top of Dolgoch falls and had a pleasant finish to the day looking at the waterfalls and river gorge.

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Upper Dolgoch falls

We finished off in warm and glorious evening sunshine after a very long and rewarding day on some hills I’d never knew held such delights.

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D in the dappled evening sunlight

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Arty sun/tree shot

We headed back to the caravan for tea, Jane and the kids to spend Easter there, me to head home and prepare for a trip to the island of Rum. How exciting!

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