Monday, June 27, 2011
Friday, June 24, 2011
I have spotted the deer on Kinnoull Hill many times - they've always been to quick for me to get a photo of before though. Usually, walking with three noisy children means that all wildlife within a few miles is scared away long before it can be seen. Today, on my own, the deer I have seen through the trees before, wandered out onto the path slowly enough to get a photo in, before it spotted me and took flight.
Friday, June 17, 2011
Ben Alder is one of the most remote and isolated mountains of the Southern Highlands of Scotland. Miles from any public road, and guarded on each side by mountains, lochs and great moors, it requires considerable effort even to see, never mind climb! Glimpses of Alder's dark shape are only usually glimpsed from the A9, as it passes the Dalwhinnie Distillery. Here the long glacial trench which holds Loch Ericht provides one brief line-of-sight through the tangled mountain architecture to great Ben Alder beyond. Many times I have looked down Loch Ericht, and longed to be heading out into the mountains again. Likewise, the sight of distant Ben Alder, (broad, rugged, remote, threatening) always seemed like a challenge, both awaiting completion and provocatively questioning my ability so to do!
Yesterday, Mr Pickering & I decided to accept the challenge. We packed rucksacks, bikes, cars, and went North, arriving at the level crossing by Dalwhinnie Station by 9:30. The long distances involved in penetrating the Ben Alder Estate are made comparatively easy by the provision of well-maintained estate tracks. While not open to the public for vehicles, they enable the mountain-biker to cover the miles quite efficiently, and so by late morning we had passed Loch Pattack and Culra Bothy.
In retrospect it would have been worth retracing our steps, and crossing the footbridge over the Allt a Chaoil-reidhe. Deciding instead to peddle on past the bothy, we faced a tricky river crossing after abandoning the bikes. Mr Pickering crossed the river without difficulty, incident, or getting soaked. I only wish I could say the same about my effort to safely cross! A simple slip, a lack of grip, a misjudged leap between rocks and I was in. With more than ten-miles left to walk, and another ten+ to cycle, I was wet, my kit was wet, and my boots full of water. My feelings of irritation were suitably enhanced by the sight of Mr Pickering sitting on dry land chuckling merrily at the sight of my folly. He redeemed himself though, by producing from his rucksack (wonder of wonders!); a clean, dry pair of walking socks.
After a lunch break we followed the sketchy path which skirts Loch a Bealaich Bheithe, and terminates at the Bealach Breabag - the high point between Ben Alder and Beinn Bheoil. A steep (pathless) ascent from here, crosses the subsiduary top of Sron Bealach Beithe and then skirts the cliff edge above the Garbh Coire, corrie - leading to a jumble of cairns around the summit trig-point. The summit was bald, bleak, windblown and misty. The cloud cover was very patchy and intermittent though, and we enjoyed views on every side, especially of Schiehallion, The Lawers Group the Glen Lyon Hills, and out across the wilderness of Rannoch Moor. The worst view of Ben Alder is from its own summit, where its' great sculpted corries and scrambly ridges are almost entirely hidden below is huge domed top.
With conversation ranging through history, faith, politics, the Bible, children, business, education, and the foolishness of falling into fast-flowing rivers... we retraced our steps to the Bealach Breabag and contemplated the ascent of Sron Choire na h-Lolaire, the beginning of the undulating ridge leading to Beinn Bhoile. Beinn Bhoile is a charming mountain. Although overshadowed by the size of Ben Alder, Beinn Bhoile's steep, graceful ice-carved lines and position high above Loch Ericht would make it worth a visit in and of itself.
We stopped for tea on Beinn Bheoil enjoying what was fast becoming a very pleasant summer evening. The threatened three-to-four hours of steady rain had failed to materialise and even the heavy showers we could see building over Rannoch Moor were carried miles to the East of us by the westerly wind. The descent of Beinn Bheoil is fast and straightforward, once a little path running through the heather is picked up.
After completing a very careful, and thankfully dry river crossing, we re-gained the bikes and turned for home, feeling thoroughly splendid about the whole day's adventure. Once past Culra bothy and onto the good estate tracks we began to accelerate - the thought of getting to Pitlochry in time for the fish and chips freshly inspiring tired limbs! And then it happened...
Mr Pickering's rear tyre instantly and totally deflated. This didn't appear to be an insurmountable problem until we realised that neither of us had remembered the puncture repair kit - and the car was still almost 11 miles away!
In front of us the long road to Loch Ericht and then to Dalwhinnie looked impossibly long. Behind us, the great mass of Ben Alder looked majestic in the evening light, its' ridges all picked out by the low sunlight. I cycled on to the car, in order to get within mobile range and assure respective wives that we were OK and to prevent them phoning Mountain Rescue! Thankfully before I got to the car I met one of the estate workers who gave me the code to unlock the gate to drive right up the lochside to collect the weary looking Mr Pickering and his beleaguered bicycle.
Despite the bike, and the river we managed to complete our two-Munro, 51km expedition - and sped to Pitlochry in search of food. As we drove we could feel aching legs beginning to tense and stiffen up. We got out of the car at Pitlochry and did a kind of 'geriatric shuffle' to the chippy - to the obvious amusement of an onlooker who wryly chirped "you look like broken men". That's maybe how we looked, but the chat on the way home was all about how we might organise a trip to Culra bothy - and ascent of the four mountains on the other side of Ben Alder, which have so far evaded my exploration.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Saturday, June 11, 2011
Friday, June 10, 2011
Monday, June 06, 2011
"Macbeth shall never vanquish’d be until
Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill
Shall come against him."
Macbeth, Act 4 Sc. 1
Within half an hour's drive from Perth in either direction, lie the two hills immortalised by Shakespeare in his "Scottish Play". It was the surprising fulfilment of the strange prophecy (above), that finally led to Macbeth's undoing, if my memories of English Literature classes a quarter-of-a-century ago serve me correctly!
Our six year old daughter (sometimes known as Doris), is remarkably insightful. As we dropped the kids off at school on Friday she said, "You're going to have a lovely day without kids aren't you!?!" Indeed we were; the weather forecast was great, the rucksack was packed and a return visit to Birnam Hill was planned.
Birnam Hill itself is delightful. Although a small hill, its wooded slopes above Dunkeld and Birnam Station are steep - and require some effort to climb at a good speed in hot weather, but the hill provides fine views in every direction. At the top of the steep ascent section, as the path flattens out to wind its way along the broad tree-lined ridge to the summit, there is a rocky outcrop. From here there is a particularly fine view down to Dunkeld and its' elegant Telford Bridge built in 1802 (top picture). Likewise the views to the North and West feature some of Perthshire's most well-known peaks such as Ben Vrackie, Beinn a Ghlo and Scheihallion (above).
The only disappointment we encountered -on an otherwise idyllic short walk, was the effect that the "path upgrade" work has had on the hill itself. Firstly, unnecessary sign-posts have sprung up all over the hill (that's what maps are for!) while secondly many of the hill's lovely footpaths have been destroyed by the addition of unsightly bulldozed tracks, which is a great shame.
To be honest, in a couple of places I was actually grateful for the new tracks. There used to be two hollows on the summit-ridge which after rainfall became quagmires which were unpleasant to cross. Walkers used to pile felled logs and brushwood on the path in order to limit the extent to which their boots disappeared beneath the oozing black sludge. These sections now have drainage and re-enforced tracks crossing them!
The bulldozed track on the ascent from Dunkeld is though, another story. The steep ascent path which provided a direct assault on Birnam Hill's Eastern side, was unrelentingly steep - but visually delightful. It was an ancient, foot-worn path through the woods where regular breaks in the green canopy would provide ever-widening views as height was gained. I was horrified to see what had been done to this path. In the place of the little footpath we found a broad bulldozed track. While the original path had been remarkably straight, this new eyesore zig-zags up the hill - carving its mechanised brutal ugliness all over the face of the natural landscape. Unlike the bog-crossings further up, this appeared to be work that didn't need to be done, which has been completed with little sensitivity to the natural beauty of the hillside. I dread to think how much it cost! Birnam Hill never felt like 'Wild Country' by any means, nevertheless this further taming of the hill was most unwelcome and rather disappointing.
A few years ago when tracks were built all over Kinnoull Hill, they looked a bit grim. Thankfully, it wasn't long before nature began to reclaim them - and they started to blend back in with the woods around them. No doubt, a few years of wind and rain will mellow the harsh and lines of these new paths on Birnam Hill; while seasonal coverings of leaves and snow will further minimise their visual-shock.
The view from the top of Birnam Hill remains utterly delightful. In every direction gentle Perthshire lowland farming gives way to first to forestry and then grand High-level mountains. On Friday, The Big County was laid out before us like a map, as it basked in bright, clear sunlight and sweated in intense humidity. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to go on beyond the summit, and descend the other side of the hill by the Quarry to make our walk circular. We had to get back to Perth for the school pick-up and so we returned via the bulldozed track above the station. However, as little 'Doris' had predicted we did indeed have a "lovely day without kids!"