March 2009


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 Glencoe Lochan Trails

Wanting to take advantage of unexpected good weather but unable to head high, I opted for a stroll  with the family around a local hidden gem. This is a popular spot for some gentle afternoon exercise and on this occasion even a small tour bus had disgorged its foreign visitors, cameras poised, to enjoy the pleasant woodlands at the foot of the Pap of Glencoe. Even so, a feeling of tranquility remained as we wandered around the small man made lochan, the perfect mirror for the white-capped peaks of Beinn a’Bheitr. Glencoe Lochan 3

This was also the perfect opportunity to try out a new GPS combo with my PDA, as there is a popular geocache hidden at the head of the lochan. If you haven’t tried geocaching then I recommend following the link for more information. It makes a pleasant diversion from time to time and I may write more about it in a future blog.

If you have spent a gruelling day on the Glencoe peaks, had your legs turned to jelly along the Aonach Eagach ridge or need a gentle aperitif before supper at the Clachaig Inn this is definitely the place to meander for a few minutes. 

You can see full route details at the Walk Highlands website.

 

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The Ballachulish Horseshoe

Whenever I drive home from Fort William my eyes are always drawn beyond the Ballachulish Bridge to the scimitar ridge of Beinn a’Bheitr above. The curving knife-edge neatly framing the forestry plantations as they plunge down in to Glenahulish below.

Whatever the season, whatever the weather you always notice something different about these mountains. The setting sun glinting from the wet rocky ridges following a late afternoon shower. The Dragon’s tooth menacingly erupting from the primordial swirling mists carpeting the corrie floor. Sweeping, seemingly virgin, snow fields, as crisp as freshly pressed cotton laid out over the ridge and flowing down into the high corries below. What simple delights the crowds miss as they steam across the bridge eyes firmly fixed on the craggier delights of Glencoe. Beinn a' Bheithir from across Loch Leven

Although I have climbed the two Munros of Sgorr Dearg and Sgorr Dhonuill before, I am not so obsessed with bagging that I would refuse to climb a peak again before completing a round. With limited, low level walking over the winter this was the perfect chance to give some underused muscles a workout.

There is no better way to reach the main ridge then climbing from the north-east to the minor top of Sgorr Ban. In fact this is the recommended route in “Scrambles of Lochaber”, describing it as a straightforward scramble with beautiful views. Instead, as I tramped up the boggy ground to the start of the scramble I had to content myself with imagining the Glencoe summits without their cloudy shroud. The way up is always clear with a few interesting moves but little exposure, making it perfect for anyone who has never scrambled before. As I was plodding along, my companions ahead merged in to the grey fog, spectres floating in and out of sight. There was a real feeling of solitude as I was enveloped in the murky silence.  The fog thickened on the approach to Sgorr Dhearg, the edge of the cornice barely visible and only a hint of the corrie beyond.

A quick check of compass and map at the summit gave us our bearings to descend towards the col before the stiff climb up to Sgorr Dhonuill. At the col it seemed that we might have to descend to Glenachulish as the way ahead seemed to be blocked by an extensive snowfield. Both ice-axe and crampons had been consigned to the car boot before setting off, deemed to be unnecessary on such a day. Fortunately, the snow was limited and where it needed crossing it was soft enough to walk through or in unexposed areas presenting no particular danger. 

Beyond the summit of the second munro we opted for the quicker descent down the “Red Scree Gully” rather than continuing around the ridge. Although steep and unstable in places the gully soon leads to a well engineered path and down into the heart of Forestry Commission land and the tracks leading to the small parking area. A pre-arranged driver to ferry us back to our cars meant we avoided the long trek via St John’s Church to Ballachulish.

 

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National Trust feels the pinch

The current recession is beginning to hurt organisations like the National Trust for Scotland. With investment portfolios taking a hit, as the stock market nose-dived and falling visitor numbers the NTS is feeling the financial pinch. As a result loss-making properties have been earmarked for closure.

Hugh Miller (1802-1856)It’s not just stately homes or historic castles that are under threat but smaller, perhaps, less eye-catchingly chocolate box attractive properties that face the axe. These might not be immediately recognisable but they play an important part in our history.

 

The small cottage in Cromarty, birthplace of Highland geologist Hugh Miller, is earmarked for closure. Millar’s fossil studies contributed enormously to our knowledge of both evolution and geology. In the year when we celebrate the Theory of Evolution and Darwin’s vast influence on modern science and culture it seems a travesty that an historic link is facing closure.

Even the modest numbers that visit the cottage will have a beneficial effect on the village economy in Cromarty. Yet in the Homecoming Year when we should be celebrating all that is culturally and historically great about Scotland and highlighting what the tourist industry offers, we see a custodian of our heritage faced with the dilemma of cutting costs by closing some of the treasures in their stewardship.

One of the local councillors for Cromarty has set up an online petition to campaign for Hugh Miller’s Cottage to remain open:

www.ipetitions.com/petition/savehughmillerscottage/

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Through the Torridon mountains

This was a seemingly innocuous route on the map but was to prove a long and tiring day. The title should more accurately be, “Round the front of Beinn Alligin and Beinn Dearg before going round the back of Beinn Eighe having followed the full length of Liathach.” Although accurate such a title is unnecessarily cumbersome.

I joined the other members of the hillwalking club at Torridon Youth Hostel, where they were based, for the first of their away weekends this year. The mountain forecast included gale force winds and snow blizzards so I opted for the lower level walk rather than attempt the Horns of Alligin with the more overoptimistic members. This may have been a low level walk but it certainly wasn’t a level one. As we headed out on the National Trust path up Coire Mhic Nobuil, I was lulled into a false sense of an easy day ahead. Having crossed the river, the path soon deteriorated to the rough, roller coaster like path that is normally encountered in the Highlands. Even so, we still made speedy progress to Loch Grobeig where we departed the path to head across open hillside to the path skirting Beinn Eighe. With the cloud base so low we were unable to enjoy views of the magnificent mountains around us.

 Track-Torridon

Tramping through wet, soft snow took us alongside the crashing waterfalls given fresh impetus by the torrent of water falling from the skies, before a sharp rise into the flat-bottomed Coire Mhic Fhearchair. This imposing mountain amphitheatre provided no protection as the wind funnelled driving rain in through its North-West mouth. Somewhere in the cloud the Triple Buttress loomed down upon us, we could only guess at its grandeur but could still feel its rocky menace lurking unseen.

Triple Buttresses of Beinn Eighe, ScotlandBy now, with sheets of water draining off the mountainside, we realised that crossing the river on our return would be nearly impossible. Sure enough our way across was blocked by a heaving mass of water ready to knock any foolish walker, trying to ford it, from their feet. At the end of a long day your heart sinks at such an obstacle and the prospect of a long diversion, or even having to retrace your footsteps. Will weary legs carry you further than originally intended? Fortunately by following the east bank of the river, although boggy for much of the way, eventually led tired bodies to a rough path down to the Glen Torridon road and a short walk to our shuttle cars. A long sodden day but one with a great sense of achievement even though no mountain top was conquered. Reports from the hostel told us that the hardy low-level walkers had in fact climbed higher than those that had headed to Beinn Alligin.

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Highland Post Buses Axed

Another lifeline service for rural communities in the Highlands will disappear in April as Royal Mail axes five post bus routes serving some of the remotest areas in the country. Areas such as Applecross, Torridon and Tongue will be hardest hit by the cost-cutting exercise where no real alternative public transport links exist.

Torridon village seen from Loch Torridon shore...

Although only just over 3000 journeys were made along these routes last year, this would suggest that they were well used by the small, scattered communities. Yet Royal Mail has decided to save just £12,871 a year by cutting the five routes, even though they seem to have made no effort to seek subsidy from the Highland

Council.

Royal Mail will still need to drive along these routes in normal post vans so why the need to cut such an important service that will save so little. If they need to make savings then they should perhaps look at the remuneration of their superannuated  Chief Executive, Adam Crozier.

There must be enormous potential for services like these amongst the walking fraternity. For example, the Achnasheen to Diabeg service runs through the heart of Torridon and could easily provide drop-off points for walkers wanting to undertake walks on many of the mountains in that area. Yet, there is no publicity of the service locally or within the walking community. You have to search hard on the Royal Mail website to find any mention of post buses. Just a little bit of marketing could mean additional use, allowing the service to continue for the benefit of both walkers and local communities.

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Dun Caan from Loch na Mna on Raasay, Scotland ...

Image via Wikipedia

Our politicians, whether they sit in Holyrood or Westminster, will inevitably want to address issues that receive the greatest coverage on the tabloid front pages and the television news. That means issues like knife crime or alcohol fuelled anti-social behaviour are high on the political agenda. They are certainly serious problems that need addressing but often it is forgotten that they are predominantly problems of our inner cities or urban areas.

By rushing to regulate or legislate, our parliamentarians do not think of the unintended consequences their actions will have on our more rural or remoter communities. For example, as the result of the tougher licencing regulations, the isle of Raasay will have nowhere to purchase alcohol from September onwards. The islands post office has decided to end off-licence sales when faced with a massive increase from £80 to £800 to obtain the necessary licence. This is on top of a raft of regulations that require the involvement of solicitors and architects as well as substantial alterations to premises and restrictions on in-store marketing.

Not only will the 150 residents of Raasay be facing a drier existence but the numerous visitors to the island during the tourist season will face a much reduced taste of Highland hospitality. No longer will they be able to pop into the local hotel for a wee dram (they haven’t had a licence for more than a year). Nor will they be able to enjoy a bottle of wine as they gaze at the evening sunset from their self-catering cottage, that is unless they remembered to bring a supply over from the mainland.  It is hardly the image we wish to portray to potential visitors.

The supermarket giants, off-licences and larger convenience stores will have no problem in adhering to the new regulations aimed at solving unruly city-centre drinking. For small rural shops the cost of complying will be prohibitive. There is also a potential, even more damaging, knock-on effect. Many small village shops rely on the revenue generated by selling beer and wine and any decrease in incomes from ending off-sales will lead to more shop closures. Even more pressure will be piled on to small shops when tough tobacco sales regulations are also introduced.

Yet another example of the unintended consequences of coming up with a solution suitable for our cities and towns and not giving a second thought to anyone else.

 

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Any honest blogger would admit that from time-to-time they look at their stats. Just a sneaky look, mind you, to double-check that the great cyber-public are stopping by to have a read of your carefully crafted words.

Any honest blogger would also admit that they would like more people to read their blog. They are lying if they say that they are just doing it for their own amusement and are not really concerned if no one is reading it. So why publish it on the Internet? You write a blog to get your viewpoint across and for other people to read it. You may do so for your own amusement but the bottom line is that it is there to be read.

So how do you encourage more people to read your blog? There are plenty of tips, self-help guides and blogs devoted to just that question. You could spend all your time following their suggestions to increase your readership instead of writing anything to read. When I get a sudden urge I do follow some of those suggestions myself.

moocardsHowever, I am going to try something a little different. Whilst I was ordering some new business cards this week I came across a company called moo.com that also offered what are called mini moo cards that are half the size of a normal business card. Perfect for creating a mini marketing campaign for my blog. These will be liberally sprinkled around the Lochaber area, anywhere where walkers are likely to be. It will be interesting to see how my stats increase after that, if at all.

 

 

All I need to do now is follow “Tip No. 1 – For Promoting your Blog”, post regularly at least 2-3 times a week.