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Mid Hill Monstrosity

It was a cold and windy day today so I decided I’d have a walk where there was a bit of shelter, so went to Fetteresso forest. I thought I would check out possible camp spots for this year’s TGO Challenge and also have a look at the Mid Hill wind farm as some folks had wondered if there is still work going on.

I’m happy to be counted as a wind farm anti but, to be honest, I’ve only ever viewed these things from a distance and never got up close before. The ‘good’ news is that there’s no disruption from the wind farm construction and I think concerns about water pollution are misplaced. The water quality seems fine. The bad news is that, up close, wind farms are horrendous. You don’t really appreciate how big and horrible they are until you are standing under a turbine. In Mid Hill, it’s particularly bad as some forest areas have been cleared and the brash has been left lying around so the landscape is absolutely devastated.

Mid Hill - Turbines and brash leaving a devastated landscape

Mid Hill – Turbines and brash leaving a devastated landscape

I walked up Cairn Kerloch where you get a full view of just how extensive this wind farm is. This was never a place of exceptional natural beauty but was simply a place that could be enjoyed by all sorts of day walkers from the north-east of Scotland- not just experienced hill walkers.  Now it has been destroyed by the policies of a scientifically-illiterate government whose only concern is attracting city voters in the central belt.

Cairn and Mid Hill wind farm

Cairn and Mid Hill wind farm

The contrast between the old stones of the cairn on Cairn Kerloch and the turbines was a telling one. I was a little consoled by the fact that the cairn will still be there long after the turbines have gone and we have moved to a more sensible approach to electricity generation.

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The word ‘photography’ derives from two Greek roots, which roughly translated mean ‘light’ and ‘to draw’ so photography means ‘drawing with light’.  It isn’t ‘copying with light’ because when photography was introduced it did not reproduce what was in front of the camera exactly as seen. Individuals draw the same scene differently, emphasising what is important to them, and until not so long ago, the same was true of photographers – they interpreted and presented what was in front of the camera in quite different ways.

With the advent of high-resolution films and, especially, digital photography this changed, to a very significant extent. The camera can reproduce to a very high degree of fidelity, a scene as shot by the photographer and leaving aside differences in post-processing, two photographers faced with the same scene will produce very similar photographs. My photography reflects my interests in the outdoors so is dominated by landscape photographs and in this area there has been an explosion of high-quality representational images of mountain and coastal landscapes. Some of these are absolutely stunning images, which show the beauty and the grandeur of the outdoors.

Yet, I must admit I am tiring of both taking and looking at these images. They may be technically superb and visually impressive but they often fail to get over what the photographer feels about the landscape. As Niall Benvie, a Scottish photographer says in his book ‘You are not a photocopier’   these are often simply high-quality photocopies. His book is about photography and art and, while I don’t agree with everything he says, it is a provocative read. A particularly good point that he makes is that we should not necessarily present photographs on their own but that interpretative text can make these more individual to the photographer.

For some of my own landscape photographs, I’ve been thinking about how these communicate how I felt when I took these pictures and how to present this. I have decided that colour is a distraction – it’s easy to admire the prettiness and to fail to ‘see’ what’s really in the photograph.  With a black and white photo, it’s about the light, not the colours. So I have been converting the original images to black and white with a bit of digital manipulation. I haven’t gone to the extent of removing or adding elements to a scene, although I don’t have a problem in principle with this if this presents a better picture of what the photographer actually sees. But I have avoided the more extreme digital manipulations simply because I think these are mostly gimmicks that fail to do anything except impress the viewer with the skills of the programmer who developed these effects.  Captions, I think, are very important so I have thought about longer, explanatory captions that try to describe why I like the photograph.

Here are a few examples and I would appreciate any comments that the occasional viewers of this blog have.

Lairig Ghru

Looking east through the Lairig Ghru. 

Many writers remark on the beauty of the Cairngorms and, especially under snow, Cairngorms views can be superb.  But the Cairngorms are rough, harsh, unforgiving places which are often not conventionally beautiful but which awe the viewer with their majesty.I’ve been through the Lairig several times and what has always struck me at the summit of the pass is my insignificance in the landscape. I’ve tried to capture the harshness of the land in this image, which is dominated by rock yet at the same time reveal the attractiveness of these magnificent hills.

Morrone birchwoods

Morning sunlight, Morrone birchwoods

Outdoor folks in my experience tend to be quite taciturn about what they feel about the environment and they don’t talk much about the emotional impact of the outdoors. But I suspect, like me, one of the real attractions for them at least is the sense of joy and happiness that you sometimes get from being in a particular place (often but not always a summit) at a particular time. I experienced this on a walk through the Morrone birch woods near Braemar where I was struck by the spring sunshine coming through the fresh spring birch leaves. Trying to communicate happiness in a landscape photograph is pretty hard but the lightness of the leaves reflected my lightness of spirit that spring morning.

Road to Achiltibuie

Towards Fisherfield from near Achiltibuie

Sometimes when you are out, landscapes surprise you and this is one like that. We were heading to Achiltibuie on a mostly dull day when we came across this view to An Teallach and the hills of the Fisherfield Forest. What was so striking was the contrast between where we were (in the dark foreground) and the frieze of hills that were revealed. It was just one of these ‘wow’ moments that makes your heart sing.  Entranced by the view of the hills, I didn’t see the road furniture (passing place signs) and telegraph poles. Someone with better Photoshop skills than me could, I’m sure, get rid of them but I decided that I quite liked them as they showed this was a living landscape and not a calendar scene.

Emergence

Emergence

Sometimes, it’s the unexpected that makes your day. We started to walk up Ben Hee in Sutherland in dull, claggy unpromising November weather with a sprinkling of autumn snow on the ground. As we approached the summit, however, we started to get hints of a change and a few minutes later the clouds started to clear. The times when you realise that you are going to get great views are amongst the best in the hills and I’ve tried to capture the first few moments of the emergence of the landscape here.

I won’t stop taking ‘pretty pictures’ in the hills or, indeed, admiring such pictures taken by others because, sometimes, these are simply the best ways to document walks and trips.  But I also plan to think more about why I took a photograph, what it really means to me and how I can represent this. I have no pretentions to being an artist but I hope that by focusing on light rather than colour, I can better communicate what being in a landscape means to me.

I’ve just finished reading ‘The Sunlit Summit’, a biography of W.H. Murray. Murray was a pioneer Scottish climber in the 1930s who wrote what I think is the finest Scottish mountaineering book ever written – ‘Mountaineering in Scotland’. Murray and his pals were hard men – no modern fabrics, crampons, protection equipment in these days –  and they revived themselves after a long cold day with a concoction which they called ‘Mummery’s Blood’ (after A.F. Mummery, a famous Victorian mountaineer). In Murray’s words, Mummery’s Blood was made by ‘bringing half a pint of water to boil on the Primus, dissolving 3 Oxo cubes then adding 2 gill bottles of rum’.

For younger readers, a gill is a 1/4 of a pint (just over 100ml) so basically Mummery’s Blood consists of equal parts of hot, strong beef stock and hot rum.

Ingredients for Mummery's Blood

Ingredients for Mummery’s Blood

After a cold Sunday afternoon walk, I decided that rather than my usual effete cup of tea, I would recreate Mummery’s Blood. I didn’t have Oxo cubes but had some Knorr beef stock so I made this up double strength. I then took a large measure of rum (not 2 gills as this would have rendered me comatose for the rest of the evening), added an equal volume of the beef stock and brought it to the boil.

The finished drink

The finished drink

Well, it was certainly a reviving drink. I suspect it would taste better in a cold tent or bothy rather than a centrally-heated house but it wasn’t bad – it was a drink to put hairs on your chest. Hot rum is very potent and I floated upstairs to my computer to write this post. I’m not sure that I’ll repeat the experiment at home but would like to try it in the hills.

If you have never read Murray’s book, it’s still in print. I’d recommend it to all hillgoers. You have a treat in store.

I first read this book in the late 60’s when I was working my way through the climbing and hillwalking section of the Stirling Library in Glasgow. It’s a series of chapters about camps and climbs in the Scottish Highlands by Tom Weir, where he talks about his epics and experiences in the hills. It led to me spending a couple of student summers wandering all over the Highlands from Sutherland to the Cairngorms.

Tom Weir was born 100 years ago today. He was one of the first people to make a living from outdoor writing and journalism and became a ‘national treasure’ in Scotland in the 1980s after a series of TV programmes called Weir’s Way. He travelled the length and breadth of Scotland talking to people and communicating both his love of the land and his genuine interests in what people were doing. Fittingly, a statue was unveiled to his memory on the shores of Loch Lomond, close to where he lived for most of his life. (BBC link)

Highland DaysHis popularity in the 1980s led to his early book being reprinted and I remember buying it on a trip home to Scotland. I re-read it then and enjoyed it just as much as the first time. It brought back my experiences in these 60’s summers before work and family made trips to the hills a very occasional pleasure. Recently, I found it on my shelves and decided read it again.

Tom travelled all over the Highlands in the 1930s and early 1940s. He writes about his experiences in Skye (a particular favourite),Knoydart, Torridon, Wester Ross, Sutherland and the Cairngorms. Long before lightweight gear, he backpacked into remote places and camped amongst the hills. On this reading of his book, I followed some of his days on a map and was amazed how much ground he covered. But he also interacted with the local people – staying with keepers and shepherds and establishing long-term friendships with them.

Tom was not a lyrical writer but he wrote with commitment and honesty. He doesn’t pretend that all days were good days but his joy at the landscape as the weather improved is infectious. His descriptions of his walks and climbs pull you into his experiences and makes you wish you were there to share them.

The book is now more than 70 years old. It’s about a place that is both unchanged and totally changed. The essence of the book – the landscape – has changed a bit bit but most of the walks that Tom describes are still recognisably the same. But the Highlands themselves have changed as they have modernised and developed into a tourist destination.  Old communities, which were disappearing in Tom’s time, have been revitalised by incomers. While there are still problems with professional jobs for young people, the Highland are no longer an economic basket case.

When I first read this book, I found it inspiring and re-reading it almost 50 years later, it still inspires and makes me want to get out and about in the hills.  I don’t think there is a modern book about Scottish hillwalking that is in the same class as ‘Highland Days’.  If you love the hills, read it if you can.

Lately, there has been some controversy over voting for outdoor blog awards and the fact that the voting system required a Facebook login and you had to agree that your list of Facebook friends should be disclosed. Frankly, I think this is disgraceful but an increasing number of sites use Facebook logins and its quite convenient to sign in this way.

So, if you care about these things, here’s how to circumvent the system (takes about 5 minutes) and, hopefully, provide misleading information to the marketing data collection behind these systems.

  • Start with a private browsing window (Incognito in Chrome)
  • Set up an email address on some free service that you don’t normally use (I used Yahoo but any one will do). You will not use this account for anything else and apart from one post, there is never a need to check it.
  • Set up a new Facebook account using this email address. Choose any name that you like and add some random information about location, education, etc. Best if this is genuine rather than made up names but make sure it is wrong. Pick a password that you don’t use anywhere else (fake-facebook-123 is good).Ignore all automated friend searches and set privacy to the most strict settings.
  • Go back to your new email account and confirm the Facebook sign-up email. You can then either delete this account or just leave it in case you need a ‘don’t care’ email account in future.
  • You can then use your  fake FB account for voting and logging in to sites that use the FB authentication method.

This, of course, breaches Facebook’s terms and conditions. But do you care?

My well-intentioned idea of using public transport to access the Aberdeenshire coastal path and to walk the path in linear sections has not really worked. Short winter days and infrequent buses mean that too much precious daylight would be spent on or waiting for a bus. So, for this bit of the path, I drove to Stonehaven then walked the sections north and south from there. I’ve written it in the reverse order to my walk so the afternoon photos come first.

Dunnotar Castle is easily accessed from the A92. It is an impressive ruined fortress on the cliff tops with lots of historical associations. Covenanters were imprisoned there in grim conditions and a small garrison held out against Oliver Cromwell’s army for 8 months protecting the Crown Jewels of Scotland.

 

Dunnotar Castle

Dunnotar Castle

 

From the Castle, there’s an obvious path along the cliffs to Stonehaven where you look towards the impressive hilltop Stonehaven war memorial. There’s a great view back towards the castle from the war memorial hill.

 

Towards Dunnotar

Towards Dunnotar

 

Stonehaven war memorial

Stonehaven war memorial

 

You then have a few metres on the road before descending the Bervie Braes to Stonehaven harbour. There’s a couple of good pubs here (the Marine Hotel and the Ship Inn) with the Marine having its own brewery and a remarkable selection of different beers. Both serve good food. When I did this bit of the path in early December, Stonehaven was in shadow so I’ve used  pictures here taken earlier in the year.

 

Stonehaven harbour

Stonehaven harbour

 

From the harbour, you cut between a couple of buildings onto the boardwalk, which runs round Stonehaven bay. You then join the promenade passing one of the few remaining outdoor swimming pools in Scotland. The Bay fish and chip shop is award-winning with a commitment to serving sustainable fish.

 

From the boardwalk

From the boardwalk

 

The River Cowie at the start of Stonehaven promenade

The River Cowie at the start of Stonehaven promenade

 

The coastal path restarts at the village of Cowie where you go along the base of the cliffs towards the Highland Boundary Fault.  This is a geological fault that originates in Ireland and separates lowland and highland Scotland. The path takes you up the cliffs where I met one of the usual ridiculous health and safety notices saying the path was closed because it was dangerous. Clearly, everyone had ignored this so I did too – there was a tiny section that had eroded but dangerous it was not.

 

The Highland Boundary Fault, north of Cowie

The Highland Boundary Fault, north of Cowie

 

The path ends at  the ruined chapel (reputedly 13th century) of St Mary of the Storms  and the ‘official’ Aberdeenshire council route is to cut up from there to join the road and follow it to Skatie Shore. Ignore this.

 

Churchyard - St Mary of the Storms

Churchyard – St Mary of the Storms

 

Instead, go through the churchyard where there is a gate leading onto the golf course. You then follow the edge of the course, round the cliffs (helpfully marked by white posts). So long as you keep to the perimeter of the course, there’s no problem and the golfers I met were very friendly.

I am generally of the opinion, as summed up in the old maxim, that ‘golf is a good walk spoiled’ but if I did play, I would want to play in Stonehaven. The course has magnificent coastline views with some holes requiring a shot across an inlet. As one golfer said, when I admired his shot, “there’s a lot of balls down there”. I walked out to Garron Point and sat for a while in the winter sunshine.

 

Garron Point from the golf course

Garron Point from the golf course

 

Skatie Shore is a large sandy bay where I stopped. It looks a great place for summertime picnics but it wasn’t a place to linger in the shade on a winter’s day.

 

Skatie shore

Skatie shore

I started doing the TGO Challenge – a cross Scotland walk – a couple of years ago. About 300 people of all ages spend a couple of weeks walking from the west coast to the east coast of Scotland. Start points are between Ardrishaig in the south to Torridon in the north and most Challengers finish somewhere between Aberdeen and Montrose.

One of my motivations for taking part in the Challenge was to revisit some of the places that I’d been to many years ago. In the 1970s, I stravaiged all over the Highlands but then family and work considerations took over and for many years, I only managed an odd weekend in the Highland hills.

Three years ago, a brush with cancer made me realise that no-one ever died saying they wished they’d worked harder. I decided it was time to stop bothering about work and to get back to some of the Highland hills and glens I hadn’t been back to for a while. So, revisiting old haunts has been my driver for choosing Challenge routes. I don’t worry too much about bagging Munros – I’ve done lots of them and I enjoy being ‘in’ as well as being ‘on’ the mountains.

This year, my ‘must go to places’ are Glen Pean, Loch Ossian and Glen Tilt so, I’ve worked out a route that links all of them.  Unfortunately, there’s more road walking involved than I’d like but that’s the price for a wandering south then north again. Going via Dalwhinnie would probably make more sense

In previous years, I’ve tended to bash on, irrespective of the weather. This year, if I get some good weather, I plan to hang around places and do some hills without a heavy pack. Hopefully, there will be a good weather window at the beginning and this will be in the west around Glen Pean but I’ll need to be flexible here. Basically, head down and bash out the miles if its wet, but take it easy if it’s sunny.

1.     Lochailort – Glen Pean bothy (Fri)

Over the hill to Loch Beoraid, then to Oban bothy. If decent weather, then a late afternoon trip through the magnificent Glen Pean to the bothy.

2.     Glen Pean bothy (Sat)

Either an early morning walk through the glen followed by a short day on the hills or a longer day in the hills. Staying on in the bothy one way or another on Saturday night.

3.     Glen Pean to Loch Arkaig. (Sun)

More walking around Glen Pean. My plan today is to do a hill (maybe Sgurr Mhurlagain) then head down Loch Arkaig in the late afternoon, stopping about halfway along the loch.

4.     Loch Arkaig to Spean Bridge (Mon)

Quite a bit of road walking to Spean Bridge.  By now, I’ll need a shower so I’ll plan to stay in a B & B there.

5.     Spean bridge – Corrour Old Lodge (Tue)

90K to cover in the next 3 days so it’s roughly 3 x 30K days but this may change depending on the weather. I have a day in hand at the end so not a disaster if it takes an extra day. Today, I’ll follow the Lairig Leachach to Loch Ossian then go on a bit to camp.

6.     Loch Ossian – Loch Rannoch (Wed)

Today’s a bit of a flog. Track down to the road then bash out as many miles as possible along Loch Rannoch. Hopefully, find a campsite somewhere just west of Kinloch Rannoch.

7.     Loch Rannoch – Blair Atholl (Thur)

More road walking then forest tracks to Blair Atholl. Time for another shower methinks.

8.     Blair Atholl – Falls of Tarf (Fri)

I don’t know how many years it has been since I’ve been in Glen Tilt – at least 30 so I’m really looking forward to this part of the walk. It’s a relatively easy 2-day walk to Braemar. I’ll find somewhere to pitch about half way. My backup plan if its wet in the west and I don’t do much in Glen Pean is to have a day in the hills around here.

9.     Falls of Tarf – Braemar (Sat)

Not too far in the Glen to White Bridge then via Mar Lodge and the Morrone birch wood to Braemar. Sadly, it doesn’t look like there will be tea and biscuits at Mar Lodge this year.

10.     Braemar – Ballater (Sun)

I’ve never done this before. Seems a bit of a trudge but the alternative is to go over Glen Gelder to Glen Muick and I’ve done this for the past 2 years.

11.     Ballater – Mount Keen hills (Mon)

The first bit is over the hill to Glen Tanar but then the dilemma. My thoughts were to head to Mount Keen then stay high as I go east to Fetteresso forest. But the blog posts I’ve read on this walk talk about how the landscape has been ravaged by new roads and fences so I’m wondering if its worth it or should I take my FWA down Glen Tanar then to Castle of Birse.

12.     Castle of Birse (or a bit higher) – Fetteresso forest

If I go high, stay on the hills to Clachnaben, then through the delightfully named Millers Bog to the Bridge of Dye and cross country to Fetteresso forest. Otherwise, follow the Feuch to Strachan (which, for non-locals is pronounced Straan) then to Fetteresso.

13.     Fetteresso Forest – Stonehaven

Today is the navigational nightmare of getting through a forest with new and unmarked roads. Hopefully, my phone will have enough charge for the GPS to work. I aim to get to Stonehaven for a late lunch and beer in the Marine then bus or train to Montrose.

Roger Smith has written an excellent “Essential Guide to Finishing Points” for the TGO Challenge but to slightly misquote Alice in Wonderland: “what is use is a book that has no pictures”. As I’ve visited lots of the places on his list as I’ve wandered up and down the east coast, I thought I’d write a pictorial guide.

The first two parts focused on places between Aberdeen and Cowie, to the north of Stonehaven (Part 1) and then on Stonehaven and Dunnotar. In this post, I’ve included some pics of places between Crawton, just south of Dunnotar, and Nether Warbuton, near Montrose.

Crawton

There’s a cliff path from Dunnotar to Crawton through the bird reserve. Not much at Crawton itself but great views to the south. You need to walk back to the main road to get the bus.

From Crawton looking south.

From Crawton looking south.

Catterline

Catterline is the next village down the coast. The village itself is now a commuter village and its a wee bit from the sea. It has a good pub (the Creel Inn) that specialises in fish dishes but I don’t think there’s a shop. I haven’t been in the Creel Inn for a couple of years but the food then was excellent.

Catterline

Catterline

It’s a short walk down to the beach. For geology buffs, Catterline has some of the best examples of conglomerate rock I’ve ever seen.

Catterline beach with conglomerate stack

Catterline beach with conglomerate stack

Kinneff

I went to Kinneff specially before I wrote this. Roger says ‘no easy access’. This is an understatement – I couldn’t find any way down although I have to admit I didn’t spend too long trying. As Roger says, the church is perhaps the most interesting feature of Kinneff.

Kinneff Kirk

Kinneff Kirk

Inverbervie

Inverbervie is the largest town between Stonehaven and Montrose with a full range of shops. It was a fishing village but I don’t think there’s any fishing there now. But there’s still the old boat winches on the beach.

I’ve been there a couple of times but my view is jaundiced by the fact that when we went there on a cold Sunday afternoon after walking along the coast, nothing was open. So I can’t say anything about my eating and drinking experiences. The Bervie Chipper, as Roger says, has won awards but rumour has it that it has gone downhill recently.

Inverbervie

Inverbervie beach

 

Gourdon

Gourdon is still a working fishing village with a few fishing boats in the harbour. The Harbour Bar is a good pub and the Hornblower is an outstanding fish and chip shop (with a posher but very reasonably priced fish restaurant upstairs – see my review).

Gourdon Harbour

Gourdon Harbour

Johnshaven

I’ve never actually been in Johnshaven village when it wasn’t raining but I don’t THINK it always rains here. So, my picture is looking down on the village – I’ll replace this with a seaside photo if I get there in the near future in the sunshine.

Looking down on Johnshaven

Looking down on Johnshaven

Like Gourdon, it’s still a working fishing village although I suspect that most residents are commuters. There’s a shop and you can get the bus outside the pub to Montrose.

Lobster soup from the Anchor Hotel in Johnshaven

Lobster soup from the Anchor Hotel in Johnshaven

I strongly recommend planning your arrival in Johnshaven for lunchtime and then going to the Anchor Hotel. It’s a great wee bar with friendly owners and excellent food. The lobster soup is simply the best fish soup that I’ve ever had.

Tangle Ha’

Tangle Ha'

Tangle Ha’

Tangle Ha’ is a great name but I think it is a rather unprepossessing place. Stony beach and no cliffs.

St Cyrus

St Cyrus is perhaps the most popular Challenge finishing place and rightly so. The views from the cliffs are absolutely superb and Wednesday and Thursday sees lots of people on the beach taking pictures of each other.

Challengers on St Cyrus beach

Challengers on St Cyrus beach

 

The beach stretches to the River North Esk and you can walk along to Nether Warbuton (and probably to Montrose but I’m not sure about that – you need to cross the river).

Looking south towards Montrose from the St Cyrus cliffs

Looking south towards Montrose from the St Cyrus cliffs

There’s an excellent coffee shop on the way to the beach and a pub across the road which I haven’t been in. Advice from an experience Challenger was that if there are 3 or 4 of you, it’s not much more expensive to take a taxi to Montrose rather than wait for the bus.

Nether Warbuton

I’m not sure that Nether Warbuton is really that different from St Cyrus – basically, it’s just along the beach but it does not require a traipse down the cliffs. There’s a visitor centre for the nature reserve there and a junkyard which has the biggest collection of absolute crap that I have ever seen (my daughter loves going there). It’s a nice beach.

The beach at Nether Warbuton

The beach at Nether Warbuton

Nowhere to eat but if you go back to the bridge over the River North Esk then walk a bit down the road towards Montrose, the Charleton Fruit Farm has a cafe that does very good and reasonable meals.

Other places

Kinnebar Links are on the south side of the River North Esk – I’ve never been there but some people finish there. You can see it on the St Cyrus picture – the bit across the river.

I haven’t really ventured much south of Montrose so I can’t illustrate these places yet. If I get the chance in the next few months, I’ll try and get there. Lunan Bay is a fabulous beach.

Lunan Bay

Lunan Bay

North of Aberdeen, Balmedie has fabulous sand dunes and Collieston is a lovely village. Again, I don’t have so many pictures but I might manage some coastal walking there over the winter.

 

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A weekend in Wester Ross with old university mountaineering club pals. Over the years, the conversations have evolved from youthful exploits in far-away mountains through babies and the trials and tribulations of teenagers to retirement and the inevitable aches and pains of getting older. But, by and large we are still game and still manage to get up hills. The days are short in November so we headed for Cul Beag, a steep wee hill near Ullapool.

I’ve been up this hill a couple of times before but have never seen the view from the summit so I was looking forward to climbing it on a clear day. In fact, the last time we went up there Scott (in the photo below) was blown over and badly sprained his ankle. We had a bit of an epic getting down (we’re of a generation that sees calling for the MRT an absolute last resort) but we managed to help him hobble back to the car.

Looking towards Suilven

Looking towards Suilven

Today, we took the ‘path’ (more like a burn) leading over from Loch Lurgainn to Loch an Doire Dhuibh before setting up the steep hillside. There was no obvious path so we all made our own route as we slogged up the hill.  The weather was dry and cloudy but even on a dull day, the Wester Ross landscape was magnificent.

Landscape from Cul Beag

Landscape from Cul Beag

When I reached the col, I found a bit of a path and, as I approached the summit, blue sky appeared and I hoped for some sunshine. There were sunbeams over Loch Broom but, sadly, they didn’t get to us. I was first to the top so I sheltered till everyone arrived when we had lunch and a summit picture. It was windy and a getting a bit cold so hats were on and hoods were up.

Summit sunbeams

Summit sunbeams over Loch Broom


 

We all made it to the top

We all made it to the top

We decided on a different way back to the road and headed east from the summit.  There’s a line of crags above Loch Lurgainn that we managed to avoid through some superb navigation (suggestions that this was luck are simply slanderous). But the way down via a remarkably steep grass slope to the loch side was a wee bit challenging but fortunately not too slippy. Everything stayed dry which is pretty good for November.

Then back to Ullapool for dinner and drams. I think Springbank may be the malt of choice for this year’s TGOC, if I make the cut.

I made the classic mistake of putting my camera on charge at home then leaving it behind. So, all photos taken with my iPhone.  Phone cameras are now remarkably good quality.

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In my last post, I wrote about places to finish the TGO Challenge between Aberdeen and Stonehaven. In this post, I planned to write about places between Stonehaven and Montrose but there’s a lot of places and a bit to say so I’ve decided to restrict this post to the northernmost bit of this section around Stonehaven.

Stonehaven is a small town south of Aberdeen that is a popular finishing point for Challengers. You can get there without too much tarmac pounding by going through the Fetteresso forest, which gets you to 2-3 km from the town. Unfortunately, there’s a big wind farm there now  (33 turbines) which should be fully operational by 2015 (it may be by now, I haven’t been there this year) but you still might prefer this to road walking.

Stonehaven Bay

Stonehaven Bay

Stonehaven proudly boasts that it is the home of the inventor of the pneumatic tyre (Robert Thomson) but keeps quiet about a more recent invention of a famous Scottish delicacy – the deep-fried Mars Bar.  If you come into the town from Kirktown of Fetteresso through the back streets, you come out near the Carron Fish Bar – birthplace of the deep fried Mars Bar.

The Carron Fish Bar

The Carron Fish Bar

I have only tried this delicacy once. They don’t look too appetising (a deep-fried turd comes to mind) but actually they don’t taste too bad. Soft and chocolately with a crispy coating. I’m not sure I’d want to eat a whole one but if there’s a few of you, you may like to experiment.  Profits from DFMBs are donated to charity.

Mars tried to bully them to take it off the menu. Thankfully, they didn’t succeed.

A deep-fried Mars Bar from the Carron in Stonehaven

A deep-fried Mars Bar from the Carron in Stonehaven

If you want fish and chips, however, best to go to The Bay fish bar at the other end of the promenade. It has won several awards for the quality and sustainability of its fish suppers.

Beer lovers and those with more refined culinary tastes should head for the harbour where there are two excellent restaurants – the Ship (good for Cullen Skink) and the Marine Hotel. The Marine has more unusual food, a great atmosphere and a superb range of beer – both real ale and bottled. They have their own brewery (6 North) so it is worth timing your arrival for a pint.

Stonehaven harbour

Stonehaven harbour

There are good transport links from Stonehaven to Montrose – there’s an hourly bus service (timetable here) and a couple of trains per hour although taking the train means a walk up the hill for about a mile and you may have done enough walking by the time you get there.

Just to the south of Stonehaven is Dunnotar Castle, another popular Challenge finishing point. I think this is maybe the most dramatic place to end your walk with the ruined castle on a headland with cliffs plunging into the sea. There’s lots about Dunnotar on Wikipedia so I won’t say more here.

Evening sunshine on Dunnotar Castle

Evening sunshine on Dunnotar Castle

As you approach the castle, you can get down to the beach on either side. Ignore the Danger – No Access notices – it isn’t dangerous at all for people who have walked across Scotland.  You can also get down to the beach at the adjacent bay.

Dunnotar Bay

Dunnotar Bay

There’s no cafe at the Castle – there is an ice cream van in summer but I don’t think it’ll be there on a weekday in May. You need to walk back to the main road to catch the bus.

Part 3  to follow soon.

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