Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Lewis and Harris - Hushinish and Luskentyre

Another sunny day arrived despite the forecasts so we set off to explore Harris this time, heading for Hushinish.

The road is very narrow with passing places, some more realistic than others.  It descends at one point by a shallow river outlet that was very pretty:


And then passes through a walled castle and grounds, which is a bit odd.  Anyway we got close to the beach at Hushinish, stopping to let a cow amble on down the road and to take this picture:


A Dutch tourist eventually persuaded the cow to move so we were able to park-up and get onto the beach proper:


We also walked over to a much more exposed and windy bay with views back into the island.   There's a really interesting looking walk however we could see it rising on a sloping bank alongside the water, which is exactly my least favourite and doable kind of walking so we gave that a miss and just took in the scenery instead:


From Hushinish we drove towards the southern most point on the Island at Roder and the Churhc of St Clements:


We saw a seal colony close to Roder:


One thing we found rather bizarre was the fact that virtually every single cafe and restaurant was shut for Sunday.   We hadn't expected this and basically missed lunch.   You need to make sure you have lots of fuel too as the petrol stations are also shut.   There was one cafe open but by the time we found it we'd given up on the idea.  The hotel restaurants stay open apparently.   All a bit odd if you ask me.

By now we were heading along the coast heading for the famous beach at Luskentyre, passing some less famous but quite jaw-dropping beaches and landscapes on the way:




Luskentyre is indeed breathtakingly beautiful , heretically though so is the beach at Hayle in Cornwall, though Hayle lacks the hills and Luskentyre isn't covered in tourists.  We really enjoyed walking around the beach and over the dunes:





With the day marching on we headed to our booked hotel near Tarbert for a much anticipated gastronomic feast, passing Tarbert town on the way:


The food disappointed, the prices surprised,but we still enjoyed ourselves.  Given the great weather we'd seen everything we wanted to see on the islands and didn't fancy going back up to Stornoway to stay in a terraced house, self-catering, with a very early start for the ferry two mornings hence so booked ourselves on the afternoon ferry, which meant a long day and a long drive but it was all well worth it.  We really enjoyed our trip including our first visit to the Outer Hebrides (must do the Uists and Barra too at some point) and particularly the non-stop scenery and landscapes we travelled through. We'd seen a lot of birds too including Golden Eagles and Golden Plover amongst others.  Time then to head back as the rain clouds moved in, the temperature dropped (1c on our last night) and everything went grey:


Best get planning our next explore then....

Lewis and Harris - Butt of Lewis and Callanish Standing Stones

The next day, Saturday wasn't forecast to be as nice so we wrapped up and headed out towards the very North of the Island, passing more fantastic scenery on the way:


We had planned a six mile circular walk from Europie beach via the Butt of Lewis lighthouse and beyond and then back to the beach:


I was hoping to see the famous Machair but alas we were too early, we did see lots of the familiar Thrift and even saw Painted Lady migrant butterflies on these plants as we walked around.

The heat however was proving uncomfortable for the resident Ravens:


We reach the lighthouse on the Butt:


There's some interesting stuff around and the cliffs aren't too high:


We finished the walk in gathering fog, our earlier investment in a GPS device proving it's worth when finding the car, and headed on down the West coast of Lewis to our next planned stop, the standing stones at Callanish.

The site is free to visit but does have an exhibition and a cafe. The latter was doing a roaring trade and we can recommend the food and indeed the coffee.

The stones were very popular, it took me some time to capture them without people in the shot.   There were half a dozen people in the stones, i just worked the angles to have them all be hidden by the stones themselves:



Having visited the stones we carried on South stopping to explore the third set of standing stones.

While walking up to the stones we met a young Highland cow heading towards us, it passed through the stones:














And carried on towards us:


Fascinating animals!  With the day moving on we headed back to Stornoway.

Lewis and Harris - via Glenfinnan and Skye

Seeing as we're living in Scotland, we're determined to make the most of our time here and to see as much of this beautiful country as possible.

The first of our proper explores then was planned for late May and we decided upon a visit to the Outer Hebrides, specifically the Isles of Lewis and Harris.   Now we could fly but suspect it would be a small aircraft and we're still not recovered from our experience in Tanzania from last year, then there's the ferry.  Two ferries in fact, one from Ullapool and, more accessible for us, one from Uig on the Isle of Skye.  We decided upon the latter and duly booked the ferry.

Next-up we looked into accommodation.   Here we'd left it a bit late, we were able to sort out something at the start of our Island stay in Stornoway, capital town of Lewis, then we got a night in a recommended hotel in Tarbert, Harris, instead of the two we'd wanted, and then it was a bit all over the place, and Skye was fully booked too.  So some creative thinking from Helen and we had a room booked in Glenfinnan for the first night of the trip, giving us enough time to make it across Skye to Uig the following day.   We also decided on a house rental instead of a static caravan for the last part of our stay.

Off we set then during an unusually warm spell of weather, it was already over 20c when we left Falkirk, rising to 26c during the day as we travelled North.

We stopped at various points on the way, mostly to take in the landscape and scenery.   This is a snap taken at one such stop alongside on of many beautiful Lochs we passed:


We've a number of targets to achieve while we're living here and this we the day we completed the first one, seeing the Chequered Skipper:


We did this by driving a long narrow road alongside first Loch Lochy and then Loch Arkaig reaching a National Nature Reserve called Allt Mhuic, which is spectacularly located:


We saw a handful of this species of butterfly, now only viewable in Scotland, the UK population having gone extinct in 1970s apparently.

From the NNR, having walked up and down a little we headed into Fort William for lunch and then to Glenfinnan and the monument to Bonnie Prince Charlie overlooking Loch Shiel:


There were unusually large numbers of people at this site we thought,  The shop is also stocked with Harry Potter stuff.  We asked and it turns out the viaduct above the valley is the one used in Harry Potter for the Hogwarts train, hence the crowds.

We did indeed see the train as it climbed, good timing on our part.   We decided to head on and follow the coast road towards Mallaig and unexpectedly we seemed to be keeping pace with the train.   This is a picture of it as it had just passed on a bridge i had hastily parked alongside:


This is a view from the coast towards Mallaig and another viaduct over which we saw the train pass:




The coast, Lochs and scenery of our first day were proving as good as we'd hoped:


After a pricey night near Glenfinnan we drove on to Skye, stopping briefly on the road to photograph Eilean Donan Castle on another beautiful day:


We crossed on to Skye:


With the temperatures still climbing (it hit 26c on Skye and 25.5c on the Isle of Lewis), we drove on up to Uig for lunch before the ferry crossing.  


We parked the car for a mooch and saw a sign to Ella's cafe which we checked out and surprise it's a vegetarian and vegan cafe that offers a single meat dish (quite the opposite of normal!), so a sumptuous lunch was enjoyed before we joined the ferry for the very calm crossing.  Finally the Isle of Harris was close enough to see clearly:


On arrival in Tarbert we headed straight for Stornoway, a one-hour drive to locate our B&B,  The landscape is quite eerie when you see it for the first time, all barren hills and rocks, lots of evidence of current and historical peat cutting, small isolated houses and the odd town, and no trees.

There's some spectacular sections of road in terms of landscape and views and some planted trees which come as a surprise when you do eventually enter a sheltered area where they can flourish.

Stornoway looks more like a typical Scottish port town though quite small.   We settled into our spacious B&B, grabbed a takeaway pizza and relaxed.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Hillwalking

Scotland has hills and mountains, lots of them in fact.   There's a formal classification system too, based on height with Munros the tallest, Corbetts the next and then Gordons.

We tried ascending Ben Lawers in April reaching only Beinn Ghlas due to the wind, snow and lack of preparation.

However the weather is improving and i find myself kicking my heels from time-to-time so I decided to self-assess my fitness.

To start with I picked the southernmost Murno, Ben Lomond on a warm sunny Spring morning.  Ben Lomond is probably the most walked mountain in Scotland and it proved so as i met perhaps half a dozen people on the way up and three or four times that on the way back down.

You park at the end of the road at Rowardennan in a forestry commission car park for the princely sum of £3 for the day.  It has loos and everything.   The car park is alongside Loch Lomond affording very pleasant views:


As does the initial ascent, through woodland rich with the song of Wood Warblers, Willow Warblers, Blackcaps, Song Thrushes, etc.  Soon you head out of the woodland, still keeping the spectacular views:


The scenery is consistently beautiful in fact.  Although the stuff right in front can appear less pleasant:


I reached the top and was doing well until i looked back, the sky-path on my right was in fact the edge of sharp cliff-face:


In front the path narrowed to the short ascent to the summit, i reckon i was 50 metres from the trig point, i could see the two hill runners (!) who had passed me just minutes before taking pictures.   That was as far as i could take myself so I took in the landscape before heading down:



I reached the car park in 4 hours 35 minutes, having completed 8 miles there and back, all either up or downhill.  I ached for two days afterwards but also had a real sense of achievement.

The following week I decided to head out again.   My ideal ventures include a drive of roughly an hour, accessing the Southern Highlands, and a hill that is not considered either very hard to navigate or indeed ascend, my vertigo suggests actual climbing is a non-starter.

Anyway for my second trip I settled on Ben Venue or the 'small mountain'.   To reach the car park at Loch Achray (again Forestry Commission) you pass the beautiful Loch Venachar:


As you can see i'd picked another still slightly over-cast day for my walk.   I was the only car in the car park at 9 am, gulp!.   Again the hill starts in woodland alive with bird song, which makes for a very pleasant environment:


The first third of Ben Venue is steep paths through growing woodland, before you reach a section of felled woodland, this landscape accounts for the next third of the walk and while continually ascending it's very moderate.

Then you turn a corner and hey presto mountain scenery including waterfalls (it had rained heavily for the previous two days) and it is spectacular:


At one point after a scramble I turned around to look back into the valley i'd walked up:


As you get up to the top the landscape opens up and the walking becomes a combination of steep climbs, scrambles, crossing small bogs, etc:


 But it is worth it, the views are spectacular, particularly over Lock Katrine:


The tops are inhabited by Meadow Pipits and Northern Wheatears and you hear the odd Raven fly-by.but it definitely gets quieter the further up you go.

This time I got to the final climb to the trig point before turning around and heading back.  As I descended i heard voices, the first in three hours and finally encountered a small  group of walkers.  I met a further six people on my descent, nine in total.  I'd walked 8.75 miles in 4 hours and 3 minutes, a notably faster rate than the previous week.  I'd learned and taken two walking poles, which proved essential for some of the steeper parts of the descent.  The high waterproof boots were a boon too.   I do however need map, compass and GPS as evidenced when I realised I was on the wrong exit path and had to cross unmarked bog to make the main path again.

There aren't that many hills that will fit my specific criteria, but I intend to locate and ascend as many of them as I can, ideally with company too!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Spring catch-up

It's been a hectic start to Spring, so much so that i find myself fully 2 months behind with the blog!

Time for a catch-up post then.

Our first visitor to our new home in Falkirk was a nephew and his friend, who he'd visited at Edinburgh University.  Helen was at work so I dragged them first to the Falkirk Wheel for lunch and then on to Stirling, this is the view from the Castle on what proved a cold but sunny Spring morning:


Having visited the Castle and Museum we walked back to the car.   This chap was PM apparently:


And then did an Andy Scott tour, taking in the sculptures on the roundabouts between Stirling and Falkirk (via Alloa) and on to the highlight, the Kelpies, back in Falkirk.   A winter shower was about to blow through, all wind and sleet, but briefly the Kelpies were lit by the sun with the dark clouds behind, I really like the effect:


Shortly after that visit we journeyed to York to spend a weekend with friends there.   Spring was definitely Springing further south, it too was enjoying the unseasonably warm weather:


York is outstanding for architecture and history both:



We really enjoyed the weekend, meeting friends, eating out, exploring and the sunshine helped too.

Next-up a visit from Helen's sister which saw her attending the Saturday morning run in Callendar Park, so we had a wander around there while she completed the hilly version of her regular timed run:


Then it was time to head to the coast at Aberlady, again we were very lucky with the weather:



The next day was a washout however.  We drove all the way to Anstruther expecting the rain to stop but it just got heavier, so a long morning spent in the car hoping for a walk that wasn't to be.

We did get out again the following day though, visiting Killin, on our way to the NNR somewhere up towards Ben Lawers:


It turns out the NNR was dormant but hey we were on a foothill of a Munro, so what else to do but try the ascent!

Ok we weren't really prepared, Helen didn't even have gloves with her.  We did get as far as a plateau with a small cairn of stones but it had started snowing, the wind was blowing strong and we would have had to ascend a path on a steep half-ridge to reach the summit of Ben Lawers so we stopped to take in the scenery:


Fresh snow on the Munro:


Before heading back down and home to defrost, drink tea, etc.   Further research however showed that the plateau we'd reached was in fact our first Munro, Beinn Ghlas!   I was somewhat forgiven for the lack of clarity in terms of our destination given what we'd all achieved.

It proved a beautiful spot even in the tail of winter and one we intend to visit again.

On another grey day we decided to visit the forest at Aberfoyle.


The waterfall was pretty but overall we didn't feel the need to come back again, it's more of an outdoor park for families:


April rolled into May and we found ourselves in Cornwall for the second week out of four, this time on holiday though rather than a working visit.   The holiday itself proved very busy and we ended up visiting North Cornwall and Devon for a break within the break!

Spring was much more advanced here than in Scotland, not surprising given its mild climate and being 500 miles closer to the equator, as we soon discovered:




We parked and walked the short distance to the top of Kit Hill for some spectacular views:


And visited Calstock to see the viaduct there:


We fitted a lot in including the Buckfast Benedictine Monastery (in homage to Buckfast Tonic wine, a favourite in Glasgow) and Castle Drogo which was a very different place.   The walk to and from the Castle from Fingle Bridge was a particular highlight, though all week the weather was against us (and we eyed the wall-to-wall sunshine in Scotland with some envy):


With the holiday done it was time to head back to Scotland and hopefully the extended sunshine we'd been observing from the South.

With Helen back at work i was under instructions to get out and about, so i surprised us both by booking the ferry from Anstruther out to the Isle of May NNR, a place i'd wanted to see since our first visit to this area some ten years previously.

On the trip out we encountered a pod of Bottlenose Dophins:


The island itself is a haven for breeding seabirds:


The Gannets don't breed there, they use Bass Rock further down the Fourth:


The island hosts Puffins, Gulls, Razorbills, Guillemots and Shags:




Alas the swell was too much and the winds too strong for us to land, so we circled the island before heading back to the harbour:


This was only the third time in five years they'd set-out but not been able to land.   I was surprised to be told i'd get a 50% refund.  Decent approach that, i'll be back.

So that's the catch-up.   Spring is now in full swing even up here.  Time for some more exploring....