Friday, 30 December 2011

The Ochils, Sherrifmuir and Blairdenon Hill

I have another confession to make. Im getting another addiction in addition to my chocolate one. Im now getting addicted to the endorphins my body produces when I do strenious walking. Im not too concerned about this addiction though as its a happy harmless one. My only problem is I dont like sitting still for too long.

I have been pacing a bit since my last walk, eager to get back out again but the weather has not been kind. Last night the forecast was for a very cold but dry start to the day with rain moving in around lunch time.

Great.. I had a walk in mind that was possible before the rain arrived.. and even if the weather closed in and I had to navigate by compass was a safe enough in round rolling hills to the west of the Ochils.

I wanted to do the circuit around the Old Wharry Burn from Sherrifmuir. The six mile hike will take in six small hill summits including the "Donald" Blairdonan Hill at 631m high. Altogether its only around 1500ft of ascent so I had hoped to be home and dry for lunch.

I drove up to Sherrifmuir from Dunblane at sunrise. The road was covered in black ice so I took it easy. Dumyat looked very inviting from this angle against the red morning sky.

The walk I was going to do starts at the Sherrifmuir Inn. The hill at the back in this photo is Greenforet which is just in front on Blairdenon Hill.

The route circumnavigates the Old Wharrel Burn so the distance to Blairdenon Hill as the crow flies is a bit deceptive as I found out.

I soon got my pace and was standing on top on the first hill called Little Hunt Hill. It offered a great view of the Sherrifmuir where the battle was fought in 1715 at the height of the Jacobite rebellion. The 2nd Duke of Argyle (John Campbell) brought 4000 men here to stop the 6th Earl of Mar (John Erskine) who had an army of 12000 men from controlling the area. By evening both armies were greatly reduced. but the battle was inconclusive. Both sides declaired victory as they both withdrew.

As I surveyed the moors, I imagined the sight of 16000 men hacking bits off each other with swords and claymores. It was a stark reminder of how lucky I have been not to have been involved in the horrors of any battle.

This panorama of three photos shows the area where the battle took place. The small photo just does not do the scene justice. It will get a little larger by clicking on it.

This is part of the larger photo and shows the Sherrifmuir Inn

I was now on the summit of Big Hunt Hill and I could see the weather front coming in from the west... very fast. I still had to traverse around the Menstrie Moss area before approaching Blairdenon from the south.

The weather started to close in when I was on Menstie Moss. This is a view looking back down the Old Wharry Burn towards Big Hunt Hill (left back) and Kidlaw Hill (centre) which I skirted around.

This is looking from the moss over to Bengengie Hill which is the summit I was on at the start of the week.

The mist closed in as I took a compass bearing on Blairdenon. Fortunately I had now reached the fence line that goes to the top of Blairdenon so even if I couldnt use my compass, I couldn't get lost :-D

I was looking for the monument and remains of the Tiger Moth that crashed into the hillside near the top of Blairdenon Hill in 1957 killing its pilot. I had no problem finding it and it was another moving moment as I thought about the accident and sad loss of life at this spot

Shortly after I summited Blairdenon. There is not much of a cairn here, just a small pile of stones near the junction of three fences. I dont know what the view is like as I saw no more until I had crossed Greenforet hill, Mickle Corum Hill and Glentye Hill. My navigation worked and as I reached the Sherrifmuir moors again, the cloud lifted slightly, the snow stopped and torrential rain started. Still... I was almost back at the car.

I stopped to take a photograph of Wallace's Stone which is near the Sherrifmuir Inn. There are five standing stones here but the other four have long fallen. They are all in a straight line pointing towards the Carse of Stirling.

When I got to the car I was soaked through but very happy with the endorphines I produced while walking. I had intended taking a Photo of the Sherrifmuir Monument and then walk over to the Gathering Stones but I was now too wet and cold so I have attached a couple of photos from a previous visit to the moor.

Monument commemorating the Battle of Sherrifmuir

The Gathering Stones where the Duke of Argyle watched the battle. There are several mounds of mass graves from the battle in the immediate area of the stones

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

The Ochils, Colsnaur and Bengengie Hills

I hope you all had a great Xmas and Santa brought you everything you asked for. I had a good one and had my Xmas dinner at my moms.

I have a confession to make. I am a chocoholic. Yup.. its similar to an alchoholic except for me, it is chocolate binging that I do. I just cant help myself if someone buys me chocolates, I will eat the lot at once.

Yesterday I was on my own and started a little comfort eating to compensate. Before I knew where I was, I was feeling sick, hyper and a little depressed from the sugar spike of eating a large box of Ferrero Chocolates in one sitting. Ok, Im aware of the risk of diabeties by binge eating sugar but they were delicious :-D

I went to bed feeling very guilty and promised to walk them off today, so I was up at dawn and walking the Ochils. I managed a 7 mile hike over some summits that I have not been on before, before the sugar spike was gone.

I started in the village of Menstrie and started walking up the landrover track while the locals still slept.

I got a new view of Dumyat from this angle and saw a path going up from this side. I noted it for a future walk.

The track twists its way quite steeply up the hillside and soon views across to Longannet Power Station and the River Forth came into view. The lights of Grangemouth Oil Refinery twinkled in the background reminding me I was still in central Scotland

I left the landrover track after a mile or so and soon topped my first summit of Myreton Hill at 384m high. It offered a good view over Alva

And also over the river Forth with the two Kincardine Bridges in front of Grangemouth

There is a fair drop from the top of Myreton Hill before starting the ascent of Colsnaur. I normally dont like dips in hillwalks but I was soon on the upward path again, driven forward by the sugar surpluss circulating in my blood. Once above the summit of Myreton, the sun almost shone and spotlit the polution at Cowie. I wondered if the locals had a hangover below that fog ?

It seemed to take forever but I eventually topped the summit of Colsnaur at 553meters. There is a cairn and a little corrie on the top. I sheltered from the cold in the corrie and ate an egg sandwich. I couldnt help but notice that all the snow on Ben Vorlich and Ben Ledi was now gone.

As I digested my lunch I looked towards Bengengie Hill. It didn't look too much further but I knew I couldn't walk as the crow flies, simply because there is a deep ravine of Balquharn Burn that needs traversing.

The egg sandwich gave me the energy to get to Bengengie at 565 meters high and I was soon looking back towards Colsnaur.

I paused to look down Alva Glen which is another favourite walk of mine. I had wanted to climb Bengengie from Alva Glen for quite a few years but was always put off by the steep slopes. Now.. thanks to a box of chocolates ..and my addiction... I had found the energie to walk the long way round.

I returned the same way and just as I arrived home, the rain started. Not that I cared, because I had thoroughly enjoyed my walk.

Im sitting looking at another box of chocolates as I write this ............

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Getting ready for the Big Boys and Winter Walking

Its hard to believe that it is two weeks since I last posted ? I thought retired people had lots of time to spend doing all the things they want to do ? Now Im wondering how on earth I managed to fit a 40 hour working week into my busy schedule. :-D

I’m now realising that time is like money, we tailor our cloth to suit our means. I find time flies and I still don’t have enough to do all I want to do.

So what do I do all day I hear some say ? I have done everything but paid work. I have been replacing wheel bearings on the boat trailer. I have been making a better tent for the boat as I intend to do a lot more camping out it next year. I have started doing long outstanding household chores and DIY around the house. But most my time has been getting fit for the longer winter walks in the hills.

I was second eldest of four boys in the family and every one of us used to do a lot of mountaineering in our younger days. My father and mother did too although they mostly stuck to hill walking. Sadly I am the only one left who is fit enough to get to the summits now, and I fully intend to make the most of my good health.

However I know that it is foolhardy to suddenly start winter walking on the longer routes without building up my stamina levels. It gets bitterly cold at the tops and as such, I know I can’t stop long for a rest so I have started with shorter walks and am slowly building myself up to the big boys again.

The weather has not been kind lately as Im sure you are all aware but it has not stopped me. I started walking the Kilsyth Hills including Meikel Bin and Court Ma Law .. places I had never thought of walking before but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I also visited the Whangie for the first time in my life yet I had been aware of its existance for forty years.

This week alone I have been to the top of Kings Seat on the Ochils and Ben Ledi in the Trossachs, both under bitterly cold, full winter conditions. Im almost ready for the longer walks like Ben Vorlich and onto Stuc a Chroin etc.

The weather has not been kind for photography but here are a few from Kings Seat walk.

Ben Ledi was even worse, I was around 500ft from the summit when the cloud came in and it turned into white out conditions. I managed to find the Cross and also the trig point at the top but decided to return the way I had come rather than attempt the descent into the Stank Glen. I have been that way before and know there are some difficulties in a whiteout.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Dunure and Hurricane Bawbag

Although I am making a web site for my artwork, I still intend to keep this blog updated with my latest adventures.

The past couple of days, I have been in Ayrshire when the Met Office forecasted the hurricane that was to hit the Central Belt of Scotland. Their advice was not to travel on the roads due to the expected severe gale force winds.

Of course, that was like a red rag to a bull. I just had to travel to the coast to see the waves. Admittedly I only drove around 5 miles as I thought the little harbour at Dunure would be a good vantage point to see the sea.

Although some folks seem to think the "hurricane" was just a gale, hence the name Hurricane Bawbag, Im glad I was not at sea in a small boat. Standing at the harbour around two hours before the full force of the wind hit land was enough for me.

Here are some photographs of what I saw at the sea.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The Metabolic Transformation of DonnyW

You may wonder what I’m up to now that I have “retired” from the pressures of a fast paced industry which was making little money. Well, wonder no more as I can assure you that I am delighted to be out of the rat race.

I admit that it is a bit premature for some as I am only 56 years old and have no money income what'so'ever. However, if you have been following my blog, you may realise that I consider my wealth is my good health and also my love of the outdoors.

I’m not really one for materialistic possessions simply because I believe my happiness stems from my freedom. Possessions tend to bog that down. Example, if I had an expensive car, I would only worry about leaving it parked somewhere as I went boating for a few days. I doubt if many would be interested in stealing my 10 year old Toyota so I have little worries abandoning it for a week or so.

I do have a few savings that will keep me going for a while in my simplistic lifestyle, but I also realise from my pervious boating adventures to the wilderness of Scotland, that I must fish for the mackerel or collect the shellfish to fill my belly on the lean days. It is all part of the challenge that I enjoy so much.

So at the moment I’m learning to “fish” to hopefully supplement my savings. Im doing this by setting up my own web site where I hope to start fulfilling a life long dream of being a self sufficient artist and photographer. Its early days yet to know if I will succeed, but a caterpillar has to turn into a cocoon before it can become the butterfly. I think of myself as the cocoon in the metabolic transformation to fulfil my dreams. I am also quite positive about my self survival.

Its still very much under construction, but you can see my web site at the following link...

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Finnich Glen and the Devils Pulpit

Finally I arrived at the bottom of the old stone stair case where a rusty metal bridge crossed over to a ledge and pathway which lead down to the bottom of the gorge.

I have never been in such a place as this before. The gorge walls towered vertically above me for almost one hundred feet. The width was around twelve feet at the narrowest part. The walls were made of red sandstone but were covered in vibrant green moss and other lichens. The burn was in spate after the heavy rain we have been having lately. Huge trees were jammed in the narrows.

Due to the depth of the gully and the dense woods on its banks, the light was soft and diffused giving the place an eerie, unworldly feeling. It was a perfect place to take photographs. I wished I had brought my tripod as there was hardly enough light for hand held shots.

The water was blood red which added to the atmosphere and feeling that this surely was a place where faeries, goblins, dwarfs and orcs would live.

I paddled around a little in the icy cold water but didn’t go far. Then I saw what I had come for. Ahead of me was the Devils Pulpit. That is the name given to the rocky outcrop on the gorge floor. I had seen enough. It was time to get out before Old Nick himself came looking for me.

Back at the top of the gorge, I edged forward to look down into its depths. From here, I could see why it is so dangerous. Not only are the stairs in a very slippery condition but the edge of the gorge was soft muddy earth. I had chosen a spot where there was a bit of a slope ending on a level platform before disappearing into the abyss below. I slipped several times trying to get back up the slope. Had it been at the edge.. I may have met Old Nick quicker than I wanted.

However I will say..the place fired my imagination and Im certain I will get some good paintings from my adventure. It is also like a magnet.. I feel the pulpit drawing me back time with my waders and a tripod.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Finnich Glen or was it Wonderland ?

I have a few home chores that I want out the way first, then I hope to start concentrating on my paintings. I was surfing the net looking for locations that could possibly inspire backdrops for some fairy tale pictures. That is when I found out about Finnich Gorge. It was on Alex and Bob’s Blue Sky Scotland Blog so thanks for that guys. I never knew such a place existed, yet I live only twenty odd miles away.

Yesterday I went to see it for myself. Did I get inspired ? Read on and you will find out.

It was a funny kind of morning..It was bright when I left the house and I was full of anticipation of seeing the Gorge and wondering what I would see there. As I got closer, the sky started to darken and some thunder rumbled in the distance. I climbed over the barbed wire and wall. It is to keep people out as it is considered to dangerous a place for the public ?

There was a magical feeling in the woods behind the wall. Huge ‘shrooms grew out of the trees and although it is winter time, there was a vibrant green moss everywhere. I thought of Alice in Wonderland when I saw the fungi. “Eat me” they seemed to say.

I resisted the temptation, but I think it still put a spell on me. The undergrowth seemed to start whispering to me as it swayed in the breeze “come over here.. “ “this way..” “come over here ..”

I followed the whispers wondering where they would take me... “down here Donald ..down here ... “ I looked down in amazement. I was standing at the top of the rabbit hole that Alice fell down.

I edged forward very carefully and discovered an ancient flight of stone stairs descending deep into the ground. The top of the stair was guarded by an old tree Ent. You can make out its face in this photo.

It whispered. “Curiosity killed the cat Danald” I ignored it and passed under its ancient boughs. The staircase was very very steep and disappeared round a dark corner far below.

The steps were very slippery with green slime and wet leaves. After descending for what seemed to be forever, they became very narrow. A waterfall was pouring down them and at one point..the steps were folded into a flat some kind of deadly trap. I edged onwards slowly but surely, ever downwards .....

High on the mossy walls, far above me, I could just make out the inscription “ DIE” .It certainly is a very atmospheric gorge.

Sadly, I think someone did die, at least if he is not buried under this fallen step, he will be forever remembered in the depths if this remarkable place.

To be continued ....

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The Trossachs and Loch Katrine

Because Loch Katrine is in Scotland, it is not always lovely blue skies. In fact, more often than not, the cloud is down on the hills. I still enjoy cycling round the loch in those types of days as the sense of silence and solitude is greatly magnified in the mist.

The road is quite hilly around the Portnellan area but you do get some nice views of the loch from here, assuming the mist is not too thick.

Jutting out into the Loch is the old grave yard of the McGregors. Of course Rob Roy McGregor is not buried here. His bones were put to rest at Balquhidder which is not far over the hills as the crow flies but a fair journey by road.

The water level in the loch has been raised by the water board on three occasions, and on each occasion the engineers had to protect the graveyard by walls and raising the level of the island.

Just before reaching Glengyle,there is another old boathouse on the loch side. The days of numerous boats are long gone as water sports are discouraged on the loch due to it being the main Glasgow City reservoir.

Glengyle house stands on the site of the croft where Rob Roy McGregor was born. Without doubt, he would have known every inch of the area but the present day loch may not have been familiar to him as the water levels have been raised by dams.

Rounding the north end of the loch offers some fine views along its length.

Finally the road reaches Stronachlachar where there is a pier and a cafe. From here, after a coffee, you can either return by boat if you have timed it right, or do as I do and cycle back the way you came.

There is something magical and almost Victorian about cycling round the loch in the off season when the many tourists have long departed and you are left alone with your imagination.