October 2008


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Lochaber Life Magazine

 

I have been thinking about recommending the website of a monthly local magazine Lochaber Life for some time. Although it’s delivered free of charge to over 11,000 households in the Lochaber area every month, the great news is the whole magazine is available to view online.

Over the last year the magazine has run a feature about the geology behind our local landscape in conjunction with Lochaber Geopark (perhaps I will feature that particular organisation in a future blog posting). I have always been fascinated with the world around us and when out in the hills I marvel at the complex nature of our countryside and think about the gargantuan forces that shaped it. This monthly feature answers a lot of questions about the landscape around us with an engaging not too technical style.

Recent highlights include:

  • The landscape of the Small Isles, particularly Rum and Eigg;
  • Mile Dorcha, the Dark Mile that runs along Loch Lochy;
  • The mountains of Knoydart;
  • The Parallel Roads.

So if you are planning a walking trip in Lochaber or are just interested in how the landscape was formed, take a look.

Down in Perthshire to climb the three Beinn na Ghlo munros. Just spent the night in a local hotel that I will not be recommending but more if that later…

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Travel a few hundred miles south and you are bathed in warm autumn sunshine compared to the perpetual drizzle that seems to clothe the West Highlands at the moment.

Last weekend the sky was blue and the sun was blazing down on the Brecon Beacons allowing me to walk a delightful linear route. This was from the Llia valley over Fan Nedd and along the high escarpment of Fan Ghyirych before dropping down to estate tracks and then joining the line of an old mineral railway high up on the side of the Tawe valley.

I started near the mighty standing stone of Maen Llia in the depths of the Brecon Beacons National Park. Maen Llia What made our ancestors place these huge monoliths? Why, along with their numerous burial cairns, were they placed high up in these hills? Why was this a significant place for the ancient Briton? Archaeologists and historians speculate and hypothesise but like much of ancient history, with the lack of documented records, it can at best be an educated opinion rather than stated fact.

Leaving the standing stone behind I headed up over two fine peaks, only encountering two other walkers on the way. Then heading down to the line of an old mineral railway. that started high up in the hills by a series of small quarries before descending to the level above the hamlet of Glyntawe. The hundreds of miles of abandoned lines around our country are under utilised, admittedly many have been turned into paths or cycleways but many more lie forgotten and overgrown.

This line I suspect was under-promoted although it was clearly shown on the map. For some reason part of it was left out of the open-access area indicated on the map although the open-access continued either side of the line. This potentially prevents anyone following its course along the full length of the valley. So I was “forced to trespass” by continuing along the line, although others had clearly preceded me, to my destination of Coelbren. 

South Wales

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Fellow passengers on the flight back from Cardiff to Glasgow must have worried that they were sitting close to someone extremely unstable as I read last weeks Spectator magazine. Not only had I nearly choked on my gin and tonic but now I had begum muttering under my breath and dark thoughts clearly spread across my face, possibly the air stewards worried for their safety.

The formidable public relations exercise that is Paul Lister and the Alladale Estate had been in full operation again, inviting Lisa Marie Johnson who writes the Armchair Traveller column, for a stay at the lodge resulting in a glowing report of the “re-wilding” vision. Apparently the reason Lister wishes to re-wild Alladale is easily explained; “It ticks all the boxes: economics, ecology, the environment, education and employment.”  It is a shame the fence is a headache for the scheme as those of us in the “Right to Roam brigade doesn’t like the idea, for a start.” Damn right we don’t and we also don’t like someone coming along thinking that a piece of legislation does not apply to them. However, “Lister believes he will get round these hurdles” no doubt by browbeating politicians and bureaucrats into turning a blind eye to this particular scheme as it’s really about the environment rather than making money.

He has obviously converted the two bothies at the head of Glen Alladale into luxury eco-bothies to save the environment as well, in an effort to put off that nasty Right to Roam brigade from despoiling our landscape. Add to that, his plans to redevelop a second lodge into a six-suite hotel and we have an environmental haven! I have no problems with Highland Estates diversifying in an attempt to survive, but please do not use your spin machine to wrap it up in this eco-nonsense. Be honest it’s to make more money and you don’t care about riding roughshod over everything else to do so. Alas, this spin machine is ultra-efficient and many of those reporting this saga, including the BBC and now the Spectator, fail to explain the real vision being built at Alladale.

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A long weekend away with my parents who live on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park gave me the opportunity to walk in a different area than usual. Having my father on hand meant that I could rely on someone else to do the driving and ferry me to starting points and back from the finish.

I headed up into the Black Mountain (not to be confused with the Black Mountains found on the eastern side of the national park) and the peak of Fan Brycheiniog. This was a fascinating walk that makes me yearn to learn more about the geology of the British Isles. Walking parallel to the steep escarpment of Fan Hir, I wondered at the sheer geological forces that shaped this landscape over many millennia. As an amateur I can only guess at what created the tall heavily striated cliffs – was this the site of a large glacial lake – the rising and falling of the ice sheet scouring deep gouges in to the cliff face similar to the parallel roads found in Lochaber?  I really must put an introductory or idiot’s guide to geology on my Christmas book list.

Feeling much fitter and more energetic than my last hillside excursion I soon made good time to the mountain tarn of Llyn y Fan Fawr where some convenient rocks provided seating for lunch.  I was marvelling at the LLyn y Fan Fawrsolitude surrounding me when invading armies of walkers appeared from every angle all homing in towards the tarn. They too had decided this was the perfect place to stop for lunch.

A clear path leads steeply from the tarn to the windy Bwlch Giedd where strong gales awaited me. The path is undergoing restoration by the national park authority and they are doing a very impressive job. Often I have found that path restoration seems to amount to throwing down as many large stones and rocks possible without any thought of constructing a new path. The uncomfortable result encourages walkers to walk to one side along the grass bank exacerbating the existing erosion. New path to Bwlch GieddThe restoration up to Bwlch Giedd is a beautifully crafted piece of hillside engineering and will be a delight to walk on when completed.

I would normally stroll along ridges like this enjoying the wide panoramic views on offer, but on this occasion I hurried along  propelled by my own legs and the fierce wind. I dashed past the summit trig point on to the cairn at the end of the ridge before making an abrupt about-turn retracing my steps down to Bwlch Giedd and up to the Fan Hir ridge. The path skirts close to the escarpment edge giving tantalising glimpses of the sheer cliffs dropping below, but this was not a day to get tempted too close to the edge as one gust could have meant a Mary Poppin’s moment into infinity. Instead I opted for the more conventional descent continuing along the ridge line back down to the river.

 

South Wales

 

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A substantial gap between weather fronts on Sunday meant that I was able to get up into the mountains and enjoy a long walk without the prospect of getting wet. That is always a bonus when you live in the Highlands.

So I headed off to one of my nearest mountains, Mam na Guillain, that stands beside Loch Leven, to write a walk route for the walkhighlands website. Having not been hill walking for over six weeks,  I was amazed that I had lost a considerable amount of hill fitness in such a short amount of time. After the long walk along the West Highland Way to the beginning of the ascent from the Callert stalkers path, I struggled up the steep grassy incline towards the summit. The warm autumn sunshine did nothing to ease the feeling of fatigue and with great relief I collapsed at the foot of the triangulation point at the top.  Mam na Guillain

Refreshed with a flask of tea and my spirits lifted by views deep into the Glencoe moutains to the south and way beyond the Nevis range to the north, I headed along the ridge towards Kinlochleven. Ahead of me was Beinn na Caillich, “the old man” that towers above the village guarding the upper regions of the loch. This is a far more interesting mountain than the Corbett sized Mam na Guallain. Beinn na Caillich can be seen from all points of the village as it Beinn na Caillich beside Loch Levenbeckons you to put on your boots and head for the hills. In no time I was at the summit and with the last rays of daylight beginning to streak down the loch behind me I headed down the long descent back to the West Highland Way.

I did something foolish during this walk, I only stopped once for something to eat, and I began to regret that on the descent. I started feeling slightly dizzy and light headed, but with the gathering gloom I kept walking. Eventually, I forced my self to stop, devouring a bar of chocolate and a bottle of sports drink. I am sure if I had proceeded much further I would have passed out. Fortunately the peaty shoulder upon which I was walking would have cushioned any fall but elsewhere I would have landed on rocks. This would have been extremely serious as I was walking on my own. The lesson from this walk is to listen to my body when it begins to scream, stop, and rest. Above all I should always carry a quick energy solution in my pocket so that I don’t have to decide between stopping or pressing on.

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It seems that I am not the only one to be sporadically posting to their blog over the last month, as many other outdoor bloggers have recently posted apologies for the famine of postings.  The only excuse that I have is that a number of major events all came to a conclusion in the same week including two OU exams and the opening of a community centre in the village, of which I am Chairman.

Now with all those things behind me there are no more excuses.