Friday, 27 June 2014

Scottish Wildlife

(Late breaking news: see bottom of entry!)...

The Corran ferry (it wasn't busy!)

We got here slightly later than planned due to Mothers train being delayed so her missing her connection, not a problem, gave us more time to buy food and wine! Not sure she was very amused though. We managed to get to Corran about 5 mins before a ferry which was great as we’d have had to decide whether to do many more miles to probably not get there any quicker or to wait half an hour! 

Hooting Lodge, our home for the week
On arrival at the cabin we were warmly greeted by Jayne who is very friendly and told us all about the cabin, the facilities, the hundreds of local walks….. sadly we all glazed over and just wanted her to go away so we could eat! One thing we did listen to though was put out a spoon of jam and some peanuts and the pine martens will come and eat them! 

She’s right, we’ve been visited every day, apparently there is a mummy and two kits, I think we may have seen them all, but not at the same time. They love the jam and appear not to worry about cavities in the very sharp pointy teeth. They also seem to like cooked chicken, cheese and chicken fricassee and rice too – in fact everything we’ve put out!

The following morning after we’d finally made it down the stairs past the bird feeders with siskins, tits and chaffinch to breakfast porridge was quickly ignored as the first red squirrel sighting was made in a feeding box! B decided to stay in and relax after his exertions of Saturday while Mum and I went for a little potter, found the local shop (stocking the Daily Telegraph), said hello to big ginger cat, walked down to a very rickety jetty all in Acharacle (pronounced: A-haracle) before driving off to walk on the beach. We deviated off at Salen to see the button shop and Thor and Freya the two horned owls, having stopped to stare in amazement at some more ‘wildlife’ in a eucalyptus tree!

One of the 'grumpy old' owls!
The other 'wildlife' - Koalas in a eucalyptus tree. The tree is real, the Koalas, well, they're stuffed and nailed to the tree!
Tuesday dawned a bit damp so we decide to drive down the Ardnamurchan peninsula to the UK’s westernmost point, thinking that even in the rain a drive would still be atmospheric and beautiful. It wasn’t very far but after we’d stopped at every layby and ambled about at every opportunity we arrived at the lighthouse in brilliant sunshine. 

Then the sun came out!

Ardnamurchan lighthouse, 23 miles further west than Lands End
Just in time for the 2 o clock tour B and I made post haste up the 150 steps (quicker and more consistently than the average we were pleased to be informed by the girl at the top!) The views were amazing, islands and seals but sadly no basking sharks. Got down to be approached by Collie Dog with a stone that he dropped at my feet waiting patiently for it to be thrown. 

Thats the foghorn down there
It felt wrong throwing stones for dogs, but he seemed to enjoy it and I was told by a shout from the top of the lighthouse by the girl that I had a job for life! We even managed to fit in a clotted cream tea on our way back, just as well as we’d eaten the ‘welcome tray cake’ and B hadn’t got round to baking one yet!

View from the lighthouse, right is Egg, left in distance is Rum, middle left in front is Muck and, in the distance, between Rum and Egg you can just see Skye
The turquoise sea at Sanna Bay
A family of sheep cross the river

Castle Tioram (burnt down in 1715)
Wednesday was taken up with two gentle ambles one around Castle Tioram, accessible at low tide, as were the mussels we collected for a starter for dinner. The second to the oakwoods to a hide looking for otters, saw no otters but lots of herons and two very noisy seals cavorting about having a wonderful time. Two small walks on Thursday in very different countryside showed the real diversity of the landscape. 
A piper appeared in the castle grounds to accompany our visit

The mussels we collected off the beach
Also proved that it was a good year for ticks which I’d already been told, having spotted one between the shoulder blades of one of the pine martens, and felt two on ginger cat, I brushed a number off my legs (perhaps shorts weren’t such a great idea!) and had to remove 5 from Mothers legs and neck. (Good buy the tick lasso then!) The walk from the ‘Seven men of Moidart’ monument was shorter than expected as the man mowing the lawn told us we couldn’t do half the walk due to storm damage, “just walk along the front of the house…” Gladly, it was beautiful, as were the twin black cats, the black lab and the pocket sized Jack Russell that all came to see us.

Just a 'nice' view, even though it was raining
Even the pigs came running up to say hello
Today Mother felt more like chilling so we took her to collect the paper before throwing her out of the car to walk home while we returned to the castle to do a circular walk (in short supply round here, they all seem to be linear, not so helpful really!) along the coast returning over the hillside. Very pretty and a good little stomp.

The 'hide'

Jackie and Pauline in the remains of an ancient oakwood temperate rainforest
This is a tick crawling up Jackies leg, looking for a place to 'dig in'

This one's in Pauline's neck, Jackie just removing it with our 'tick lassoo'
Jackie has just spotted it in her neck

A tiny little frog, there were dozens running around by a small lochan we visited
A small Jackie or a very big plant?

Not forgetting her favourite!
More 'art'!
The impressive Kinlochmoidart house. It was on this location, in the original Kinlochmoidart house that, in 1745 'Bonnie Price Charlie' rested after landing at the nearby Loch Moidart with six others, awaiting support from the Jacobites. The Jacobite Rebellion got as far South as Derby before being repelled by the English, forcing Charles II 'across the sea to Skye' and then escaping into exile on a passing French ship. The original house was razed to the ground in 1746 and this house built in the 1820's
We were invited by the gardener (possibly the owner, who knows), to walk through the grounds, rather than follow the public footpath up into the surrounding hills, following storm damage. I remarked on the house, hoping he would invite us in to look round, but he didn't!
Today's walk on the 'silver trail'

Fabulous views!
Four deer look on as we walk past. Can you see them all?
These aren't high mountains, but still fabulous

This dragonfly was something like 80mm long. We saw one earlier eating a bee!
A small dammed lochan with views of the sea and the Isle of Mull beyond

Our hosts pointed out this slow worm hiding under a rock on our return home. It was about 150mm long

A Goldfinch and yellow Siskin on the birdfeeder outside our window

LATE BREAKING NEWS: Idris the pigeon is home!

Monday, 23 June 2014

The 10in10 Sponsored Lake District Challenge Walk for the MS Society

Friday dinner in the Lakes: Paul, Alex and Jackie

We left Dave and Pol’s cottage in the North Yorkshire Dales behind en route to Cumbria and the Lake District to meet up with members of Solihull Mountaineering Club for the 10in10 challenge, just south of the lovely (and sunny when we were there) Keswick. Now the Lake District is well known for its rain (it didn’t get its name for nothing), being the first set of hills the westerly weather encounters on its journey over the Irish Sea. What rain didn’t fall over the hills in Ireland and the extra moisture collected on the way it deposits in the Lake District hills, giving a very green and beautiful landscape, but often shrouded in mist and rain – but not when we were there! Su, SMC’s meets organiser said she had booked the weather, and so it turned out to be, a high pressure zone appearing right over us just at the appointed time – well arranged Su!

The two 'Yurts' on their platform
In fact the sun was shining all the way across the North Yorkshire moors and, on arrival in Keswick, it was T shirt and shorts weather and could have been anywhere, had it not been for the fabulous stone buildings, tea rooms, multitude of outdoor gear shops and ‘Booths’, the very classy and well-known food shop in town and with branches across Northern England. Duncan Booth, the son of the millionaire owners of ‘Booths’ and sufferer of Multiple Sclerosis, is the organiser of the 10in10 challenge and, along with his wife and three children is a friend of our friend Alex, SMC member and, herself a sufferer of MS. 

Registration at the start (06:45am)
They apparently ‘met’ some years ago when Alex, planning a trip to conquer a peak in the Nepal Himalayas, phoned the Jagged Peak organisers to make sure the insurers had her adequately covered with her MS. She was speaking to Duncan’s wife who, at that time, had only been recently diagnosed, so she wanted Duncan to be inspired by Alex and perhaps they could help one another. Alex is a rock climber (formerly E2’s and E3’s), has trekked major peaks in the world, as well as rowed and fenced for the UK, an expert telemark and downhill skier and generally an all-round outdoor enthusiast. Duncan is a similar enthusiast and his inspiration in organising the 10in10, through Alex, got us all involved so, here we were in sunny Keswick on Friday afternoon, having met up with Alex, who knows the area like the back of her hand, indulging in ‘afternoon tea’ of scones with jam and cream and a ‘nice cup of tea’, served by men in waistcoats in a beautifully furnished room – how British!

Don't forget the suntan lotion Paul, it's going to be sunny!
Our accommodation, in typical ‘mountaineering club’ tradition, was relatively basic and Su had booked a 10 place bunkhouse, and then two ‘yurts’ in a nearby outdoor centre, as numbers increased. These were modern Yurts, made of canvas stretched over a timber frame, circular in shape, the two positioned on a raised wooden platform with covered area of tables and chairs with gas BBQ and a ‘shed’ with fridge and kettle. The toilets were relatively close by, but the shower was along a lane five minutes walk away! The main building was nineteenth century and now an outdoor centre mainly for kids, a group of which were still there on Friday night and thought they might want to ‘drift’ around our Yurts. “This is out-of-bounds” said Alex in her best schoolmistress voice and we had no more interference!

The uphill slog to High Spy
After collecting my brother-in-law, Paul, from Penrith railway station, dinner and some excellent local real ale in the nearby pub, others arrived after their usual nightmare journey up the M6 motorway on a Friday afternoon and we chatted and went to bed, four of us in our Yurt all arranged like spokes in a wheel. After drifting off to sleep Rob, Alex’s partner (and former work colleague of mine), arrived with Ed around 11pm, followed by others arriving for the other Yurt sometime later, waking us all up. The owl, who seemed to have taken up residence on our roof and commenced hooting at full volume didn’t help, but sleep took over and I, at least, heard nothing else until the alarm at 05:45. Paul had a different view exclaiming “that was probably the worst nights sleep of my entire life!” and Jackie faired only slightly better.

Yeah, Peak number 2!
The 10in10 is a walk challenging people to summit 10 Lakeland peaks in 10 hours and is run with the only slightly less 5in5 challenge: the 10in10 covers 25km, the 5in5 17.7km, so both are quite a challenge. Seven of us did the 10in10 (me, Paul, Su, Ben, Sean, Holly and Kristyna), six of us the 5in5 (Margaret, Donna, Brighid, Mike, Cathy and Zoe) with Jackie and Alex doing a special 1in1, walking up the first peak with the 5in5 people to fulfil Margaret’s wish to ‘walk the 5in5 with Alex’. The other’s, Ed, Rob and Richard, being ‘walk haters’ went climbing for the day (only 2 x E1 climbs in a day, apparently! Ed’s E1 lead was ‘interesting’ and lacking in gear at critical points according to Rob who was belaying and afraid of Ed hitting the ground if he fell off at that point)

That's Dale Head just up there...
Paul and I did our 10in10 without the other SMC people as we failed to meet at the start, so Jackie and Alex waved us off as we set off around 07:15am in relatively clear skies and morning sun, the others apparently setting off at 07:45 and secretly hoping they would catch us up! They didn’t, but I’m glad we didn’t know as it would have put pressure on us and caused us to keep ‘looking over our shoulders’. They finished 15 minutes behind us at the end, so gained only 15 minutes on us over 9.25 hours, not bad for us ‘old uns’ (Old Guys Rule was the name of Paul and my team of two!).

On Dale Head, hot and sunny!
Peaks 1 and 2 (Castle Crag and High Spy) went well, the sun was up and getting hotter, so we were beginning to suffer on the long, steep ascent up to Dale Head (the first peak on the 5in5), so the drinks break at the quarry after its descent was a welcome break, but not the very steep looking ascent up to Grey Knotts that we could see over the rim of our cups! There was a bit more cloud about now, the sun less strong and a bit of a breeze, so it turned out to be perfect weather for hill walking and we settled into a good rhythm which wouldn’t be the fastest, but achievable and was about the same rate as those around us as we ended up seeing the same faces most of the day.

Fabulous views from the top
Welcome drinks break at the bottom of Dale Head
Brandreth (Peak 5) was easy, with little drop in between, but the descent off from Green Gable (Peak 6) was steep with loose scree, with odd bits of ‘scree running’ possible, with the welcome relief of a checkpoint by the lake at the bottom with a very nice lady handing out handfuls of ‘jelly babies’ as reward for getting this far! The descent from Green Gable was also the final descent for the 5in5, followed by a final peak and a ‘long walk’ out from this fairly remote spot.

Brian on top of Green Gable, with Great Gable behind
We should have known that relief was short lived, as the rest in very pleasant surroundings was followed by a pathless and steep ascent of Seathwaite Fell, followed by an equally pathless descent down! We were now on a popular walking track, giving access to many of the well-known hills in the Lakes, so walkers not on our challenge were in abundance, enjoying the settled weather and fabulous views, up a wide path rising gradually to the col giving access to, among other peaks, Allen Crag, Peak 8 for us and, significantly heading in the direction of ‘home’.

The descent from Green Gable
Although on the ‘home run’ it was a long walk to Peak 9, Glaramara, with a couple of other minor peaks in between, taking us over pretty rocky terrain, with the small black dog who had kept us company for most of the walk, trotting up to us and off to other walkers and back to us, seemingly with limitless energy and always with a wag of his tail as he greeted us.

Jelly Baby relief before the ascent of Seathwaite Fell
At the bottom of Seathwaite Fell
At last Glaramara was ticked off and, to our relief it was virtually all downhill from here, Thornthwaite Fell (Peak 10) being only a minor bump on an otherwise downward path, the sight of the bright orange jacket on the marshal there being visible from Glaramara.

We were down and nearly back to the start to see Jackie and Alex ready to greet us, so we broke into a run and sprinted (trotted) in to the cheering crowds (well, Jackie and Alex plus a few others anyway!) at 4:30pm, 9.25 hours after the start and feeling pretty good! Under 10 hours, there’s still life in us yet, but the most welcome (after getting our free T shirt) was the excellent pint of local real ale from the Scafell Hotel!

We've done it! T'shirts in hand
Pleased to see the others come in at 4:45pm and so glad they didn’t catch us, even though they are training from a trip to Chamonix in the French Alps in July! It obviously wasn’t that easy for them as Sean was seen asleep in a chair, with Holly and Kristyna asleep on the grass (sorry guys, there’s photos to prove it!).

LtoR: Holly, Kristyna, Sean, Ben, Su, Alex, Brian and Paul
The biggest worry proved to be the 5in5 people who, after 9 hours still hadn’t come back. It turned out that Brighid had to be rescued by Fell Rescue after her knee became excruciatingly painful and she collapsed from pain on the top of Brandreth. The others waited until she was safely strapped onto a stretcher and carried off the mountain by many hands of mountain rescue volunteers (where would we all be without them?), then carried on to finish, somewhat late, but even with Margaret’s heavy cold, lots of smiles.

Easy walk was it Sean?
So how did it go then Holly and Kristyna?
Brighid turned up later at the Yurts for our SMC after walk (and climb) BBQ party, a little embarrassed and limping quite a lot, but otherwise apparently OK, so all ended happily and we had a good evening of eating, drinking, chatting, midge swatting and general lying about feeling pretty tired!

Jackie will try any midge repellant!
Sunday dawned pretty slowly into a sunny day, easy Sunday morning tea and coffee and chat, with most people planning to go climbing, flicking through climbing guides and generally ‘easing’ into the day, but our visit was cut relatively short as we wanted to go gear shopping in Keswick, followed by a trip back to Penrith to get Paul back onto his train home and to food shop for our Scotland trip and then pick Jackie’s mum Pauline up and head on up to Acharacle, west of Fort William, for our stay in a luxury cottage here in the wilds of Scotland.

And so apparently will Rob and Brighid!
Professional photographer Ed points his camera at me...
We’re here, we’re relaxed, it’s a fabulous cottage in a fabulous location and it’s going to be great! Weather not quite so sunny and warm, but it’s brilliant!

Later that evening in the Yurt! LtoR: Ben, Holly (asleep!), Ed, Alex, Rob, Brighid and Donna