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“Catching a Wave with Robinson Crusoe”

The Fatdog and I had a glorious day on the Fife Coastal Path on Saturday with the walking taking a backseat to the great weather and an opportunity to use the camera a bit more than normal.  Starting off from Lower Largo, the home of Alexander Selkirk on whom it is thought Defoe based the book Robinson Crusoe, we headed off across a vast expanse of “deserted” beach to see what adventure would come our way.


The way the Fatdog launched herself onto the beach suggested that the deep mid-winter lull in our walking programme had been too long a break.  She charged across the damp sand tormenting the local molluscs, rattling them round with her teeth before spitting them out again.  After a fruitless few moments attempting to remove the hard packaging she decided that she preferred her moules a la marinière and went looking for a stick to play with…they were so much more reliable.  As FD searched for a decent lump of driftwood I looked along the broad expanse of beach to the distant headland, Ruddons Point.  From the map I knew we would be travelling past the point and across Shell Bay to Kincraig Hill where, perched on the high cliffs, we would look down on the coastal town of Elie.

This was my second visit to the Fife Coastal Path, a walking trail following the Fife Coast from the Forth Rail Bridge at Inverkeithing to the Tay Bridge just across the River Tay from Dundee.  Today’s walk would be a round trip of about 12km from Lower Largo to (hopefully) somewhere near Elie and back again.   We started from the car park at the east end of Lower Largo immediately taking to the beach to make the most of the low tide.

The Fatdog was by now even happier than a few minutes before, she had found a stick…thousands of them!  Unfortunately fatdogs are not particularly decisive when faced with choice and will happily spend all day dithering over the selection process.  I left her to her happy conundrum and strode off across the sand to the nearest rocks looking for something to photograph.  It was a perfect January day with a low, strong, sun and deep shadows, perfect for someone as inept as me with a camera in hand.  All I had to do was take enough photographs and at least one or two should be half presentable.  At least I had the bag for the job.

My new backpack is a Kata, a pack designed for camera equipment but which, with some minor modification to the Velcro held internal panels, is ideal for carting around basic walking gear as well as the camera and spare lens.  It certainly provides a much improved ease of access to the equipment compared with my hill packs.  I can’t see me using it in the wilds but will be ideal for low level walks.   J tells me it’s the one favoured by the paparazzi.  I pondered over this wondering whether I was liable to be pursued by less than bright celebrities demanding to rip offending film out of my digital camera?  While my photography could certainly be considered offensive, mainly by photographers, I was now unsure whether I had to stake out a hill, waiting for something to happen, or whether I was to scream up beside hillwalkers on a trail bike whilst sticking a camera lens in their face bawling out the usual pleasantries like…

“C’mon luv, this way…give us a smile!”

…which, on the whole, might be a bit of a mistake if it’s a bunch of beer swilling, hairy a***d, ice climbers, with paparazzi dissecting implements.

I shook myself out of my musings and looked back across the rocks to Lower Largo.

The Fatdog was by now digging furiously having developed her own game of “bury the stick…then dig it up 2 seconds later”.  It’s a fast moving game but I’m buggered if I can work out the rules.

We moved on.  As the rocks started to run out we hit the “boulderfield” and what appeared to be the remains of some type of anchorage.

“Maybe it’s where they chain the paparazzi before they stone them to death.” I considered gloomily.  This is Fife after all.  I began to think the glamour of this photography thing was getting to me…just a wee bit.   Then I spotted the concrete bunker up in the Dunes…and a few minutes later we were admiring the remains of coastal defences from previous wars.

While I’m sure the bunker would have functioned admirably I’m not so sure about the single line of concrete blocks which ran from a few hundred metres inland across the dunes and straight out to the low tide mark.  It didn’t manage to stop this irritating ELF (Evil Little – use whatever F word comes to hand) on his incredibly noisy putt-putt from blitzkreiging his way up and down the quiet serenity of the beach, so I  have my doubts about its ability to hinder a full blown sea bourn invasion.   It was a good 30 minutes before he gave up his mindless assault and thankfully disappeared.

Spot the Fatdog tracks, my tracks and the ELF tracks.

Near the end of the bay the path veered off the beach, through the dunes and over a series of bridges crossing a tidal stream.   On the crest of the dune a wooden signpost leaned heavily, all 3 of its arms carrying the same destination…Fife Coastal Path.  Given that there were only three possible routes I struggled a bit with the usefulness of this particular sign but I liked it anyway, no matter if its existence was a bit superfluous.

As I photographed the sign two very unusual birds with exotic plumage flapped across the sand to the waves beyond.

I must admit I would never have associated this area with kite surfing but that’s what these two guys were up to.  A third appeared from the direction of the bridges, board in hand.  We chatted for a good 10 minutes and I discovered that when a decent westerly is blowing this particular stretch provides ideal conditions for the sport.  The down side is that the water quality is awful.    Still, you’re not liable to make so many mistakes knowing what awaits one false move.  I’d hoped to take photos on the way back, but unfortunately they’d gone by that time.  I had to make do with a shot of a piece of disassociated fabric fluttering above a dune.

We had reached the eastern limit of Largo’s long, sweeping bay and crossed through a gap in a narrow band of pines which ran along the headland towards Ruddons Point.  The scenery changed dramatically.  Instead of a continuation of the beach and dunes we found ourselves in a well tended caravan park.  At this point the coastal path appears to follow roads within the park but with numerous well worn trails through the managed dune grass reserve between the caravans and the shore, we chose a path at random and legged it away from civilisation in the general direction of Shell Bay.

The sand held rhythmic patterns of wave movement in between the lines of black rock streaking the shore.   Dramatic shadows were cast by the low sun with individual grains of sand gleaming brightly beside dark dipping troughs.

Shell Bay was alive with sea birds but the glare from the low winter sun was making it impossible to determine individual species.  At the east end of the bay the Fatdog had at last found a supply of fresh water in the form of a fast running, shore bound,  stream.  It had been a long, salty, couple of hours for a creature who prefers to “fuel up” at the start of a walk.

The path now climbed gently out of Shell Bay towards the start of Kincraig Hill.  To our left recently ploughed fields were ready for the coming year’s crops and only metres to our right waves crashed and sprayed over dark gnarled rocks.  Once again out came the camera and the Fatdog and I clambered down the sandy slope to “catch a wave”.

The Fatdog looked at me reproachfully.

Looking back across Shell Bay.

You may have noticed that I spent a fair bit of time with camera in hand.  A good chunk of our walking time had now gone and a decision would have to be made soon regarding the limit to today’s expedition.  It was now unlikely that we could walk as far as Elie and make it back to Lower Largo before dark.  I opted to finish on Kincraig Hill which would, no doubt give us a decent view towards Elie before turning back.

Back on the trail the path began to climb steeply up rough steps to overlook flat shelves of rock projecting into the crashing waves below.  We were now in clifftop territory and it was time for the Fatdog to be hooked up.

As we neared the hill’s summit more of the old concrete defence bunkers appeared.  Kincraig Hill is a natural viewpoint overlooking the beaches east and west as well as out over the Forth Estuary.  It is not hard to imagine why such a strategic point had been heavily fortified.  The one closest to the summit looked as if it had taken a direct hit but there was no indication if it was damaged during times of conflict or whether it was time itself which had led to its collapse.

Looking over Elie

“Are you looking for the King Eider?” an exceedingly polite female voice inquired from behind.  Binoculars around her neck my surprise visitor bent down to give Maisie a clap.

Then, looking the Fatdog straight in the eyes she asked.

“And what is one’s name?”

Given the fact that I knew it might be some time before she received an answer I decided to intervene.  The Fatdog beamed happily.

It transpired that, in bird watching circles, a King Eider (duck) had been seen in this vicinity and was a bit of a rarity, it being a native of such chilly parts as Iceland and Greenland.

I normally recognise duck by its proximity to the pancakes and Hoisin Sauce and by now the Fatdog was raking through the pack for the bowls and chopsticks.  I resolved, on returning home, to look up my big DK book, “The Eejit’s Guide to Burdz”, and see what a King Eider looked like.

Having been astounded at our general lack of knowledge on the subject of ducks our bird watching acquaintance started dejectedly on her way home.   Another glance at the watch told me it was time for us to have a very quick snack and make our own way back to Lower Largo via the same route as we had come.

We only made it as far as the rocks overlooking Shell Bay when the camera was hauled out again.  I had noticed Eider Ducks and Oystercatchers below and just within range of the bigger lens.  The Fatdog sighed and sat patiently as I scoured the shore waiting for a decent photo.

Eiders and Oystercatchers

I looked at my watch.  It would be about 4.30pm before we reached the car, if we left now.  I sighed…it was time to go.   With a great deal of regret the big camera was stuffed back into my paparazzi bag for the last time and we headed off back to the car as if  pursued by a posse of celebrities’ oversized minders.  It was almost dark as we completed the last section of the coastal path back into Lower Largo.

Nearly there!

 
 

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The Fatdog and the Elephant

Looks like a wet and very windy weekend coming up so it’s time to dig out an unpublished  “tail” from earlier in the year…

9 December 2009

Way back in what passed for the summer of 2008 the Fatdog and I paid a visit to one of my old agate hunting spots, Boddin Point, a promontory on the Angus coast between Arbroath and Montrose.  It must have been almost 30 years since I had wandered that area rummaging on the beaches for the semi-precious stones.  They were rare then and I didn’t expect to find many now.

It was the BBC book COAST – The Walks that had prompted this piece of nostalgia.  A chapter on Lunan Bay, just to the south of Boddin Point, brought back memories of hours of scouring nearby shingle beaches for a glimpse of banded translucence amongst the pebbly dross.  That and pub lunches – the 1970’s standard of Scampi in a Basket, now banned for reasons of hygiene and above all good taste.  I had almost forgotten that basket meals were de rigueur in 70’s Scotland, such was the dearth of even semi-decent restaurants outside of the cities.  Times have certainly changed.

COAST - The Walks

COAST - The Walks

Today we were looking for nothing in particular, just hopeful of the odd meaningful photograph and lunch would be out of a rucksack.  Possibly a step backwards on the food front then?

After a few years in the hills, the coast proved to be a totally alien environment.  Different plants, different birds and a puzzling tendency to hover around sea level baffled the senses.  And if you thought trying to bypass crags on a mountain was a problem, sea cliffs, slippery seaweed and crashing waves make equally awkward barriers.

We slithered down an ancient sea-slimed slip way leading to Boddin’s southern bay.  Unused for many years (presumably) and eroded to the point of collapse this sloping concrete slab was undermined by enormous cavities and crossed by large fissures where the waves had washed out the shore below.  Seaweed coated sections had sheared and collapsed making the ramp into a series of long treacherous steps.  Delicate scrambling was required before we reached the comparative safety of the beach.  I say comparative as almost vertically above us unsafe weathered rock poised threateningly, waiting for an opportune moment to collapse onto unprotected heads.  On these crumbling red sandstone cliffs, martins had built nests below overhangs, sheltered from the harsh east coast weather while noisy gulls squabbled over tiny rock ledges.

Heading down the slip-way

Heading down the slip-way

The nets of the salmon fishers - my great great grandaddy did this not far from here.

The nets of the salmon fishers - my great great grandaddy did this not far from here.

Nests under Ledges

Nests under Ledges

We didn’t find much by way of agates on the beach.  A couple of inconsequential jasp-agates were all we could turn up.  The incoming tide stopped us reaching the reclusive and evocatively named Black Jacks Bay.  The Fatdog was trying to come to terms with the concept of salt water…not particularly successfully I may add.  Whilst FD spat out mouthfuls of unpalatable seaweed, serene Eider ducks floated past offshore and cormorants skimmed the surface of the waves as they shot by, bullet like, with an unknown but determined purpose.

Jasp-agate

Jasp-agate

Ducks floating by

Ducks floating by

Flower - Still to find out what it is

Flower - I've still to find out its name.

The Fatdog tries to gain the moral high ground - and fails!

The Fatdog tries to gain the moral high ground - and fails!

Passing the old lime kiln we headed on the rising path to the old clifftop cemetery overlooking the Rock of St. Skiagh.  I wanted to find a gravestone, the one belonging to George James Ramsay a man who, according to his inscription, died before he was born.  This would have to be considered unlucky in the extreme or at best inconvenient.  In places the path almost disappeared in the long grass but eventually it widened into a lush grassy lane high above the seashore.

On our way to the cemetery!  The original salmon fishery buildings

Looking back to Boddin Point and the Limekilns

Heading along the clifftop to the cemetery with the salmon fishery buildings below

Heading along the clifftop to the cemetery with the salmon fishery buildings below

On the lusg green track the Fatdog stops to sniff the wildflowers

On the lush green track the Fatdog stops to sniff the wildflowers

The tiny cemetery proved to be seriously overgrown with grass and weed.  After hacking our way through the undergrowth the erroneous piece of monumental sculpture was exposed and Mr. Ramsay’s final humiliation photographed.

When they got it wrong - they got it WRONG!

When they got it wrong - they got it WRONG!

The next move saw us on more familiar territory – a steep downward slope, in this case to the pebble beach at the foot of the Rock of St. Skiagh.

Shaped by eons of wave power the long and narrow Rock of St. Skiagh (also known as Elephant Rock) is a local tourist attraction.  The uncanny resemblance to an elephant with its trunk dipped into the North Sea is remarkable and, as I rummaged in the beach cobbles for signs of the elusive agate, I just couldn’t rid myself of the feeling that there was always someone or something looking over my shoulder.

Rock of St Skeagh (Elephant Rock)

Rock of St Skeagh (Elephant Rock)

The Fatdog and the Elephant

The Fatdog and the Elephant

I patiently turned over rocks one at a time...   NOT!!!

"I patiently turned over rocks one at a time..." NOT!!!

As I patiently turned over rocks one at a time the Fatdog, having given up on the unpalatable seaweed, was now hot on the multiple heels of an unfortunate crustacean.  I decided to feed her before she depleted the area of its natural resources.  I called FD over and turned back towards the rucksack.  There was a indignant yelp behind me and I could the scampering of claws on rocks coming closer.  “Serves her right!” I thought.  It sounded like the pestered crustacean had made its point.

As soon as my hands made contact with the backpack the Fatdog lined up at the front of the lunch queue, the inquiring black nose barely a millimetre away. As I opened the pack the hairy head plunged inside before I could reach for the food box.  The peace of the bay was broken by the Fatdog’s noisy rummaging and my unsuccessful efforts to dislodge the piratical intruder.

FD, unable to locate the lead lined case containing the food eventually gave up and sat back while I distributed the rations.  Our meal was munched in near silence, the only sounds breaking the peace of the quiet cove being the swish of the waves the gurgling of the Fatdog’s overactive digestive system.  Lunch over I did as I had done 30 years before…I sat contentedly below Elephant Rock and watched the tide come in.

The closest thing to an agate found all day - but mostly just crystalline quartz

The closest thing to an agate found all day - but mostly just crystalline quartz

The Elephant watched fascinated as the Fatdog pursued the crab over the rocks.  It had seen a number of strange sights over the centuries but this surely took the biscuit.  The Elephant had a strong sense of right and wrong and this was most definitely wrong.  Canines just don’t chase crabs!  As the crab scuttled past with the Fatdog close on its heels the Elephant carefully tapped the hairy pest with its trunk to have a word.  The Fatdog looked up in disbelief as the massive head loomed towards her.  She squawked and scampered back across the rocks leaving the baffled Elephant contemplating sadly the decreasing standard of manners these days.

The sight of the opening rucksack immediately distracted the panicking Fatdog and all thoughts of the Elephant popped straight out of her mind.  It was lunch time!

Once the irritating intruders had stopped their petty squabbling over the contents of the bag the Elephant sighed happily and returned to keeping watch over its small stretch of shoreline…tranquillity had returned once more to Elephant Rock.

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2009 in General Drivel

 

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Gallery Lendrick Hill

Gallery Lendrick Hill

2 Jan 09

This is the first day the Fatdog and I have managed to get out the door this holiday period and it’s dull…drearily dull. Best thing that could be said about the weather is that it’s not raining. Too many celebratory meals and late nights have taken their toll and it was midday before we staggered into the car and headed out across the Forth towards the evocatively named Yetts o’ Muckhart at the eastern end of the Ochil Hills. I’m not entirely certain what images this name does evoke but there’s always the suspicion that they’re not entirely pleasant. Just past the most confusing rural road junction in Scotland we picked up the Dunning road and within a few minutes pulled into the wide entrance to Lendrick Forest.

Leaving the car we followed the forestry track uphill for 10 minutes before  we came across a fire break on the uphill side with a barely distinguishable path. This proved to be a shortcut to the summit. A further 10 minutes or so and we were at the forestry boundary fence and only a couple of minutes from the top of Lendrick Hill.

First there was some dog tossing required…then the shooting started!

Somewhere between us and the Lomond Hills a constant crackle of gunfire kicked off…the Fatdog’s tail drooped. A few quick photos later we were off – FD leading the way back at pace.

Another day out for the Fatdog ruined. How on earth these people are permitted to make so much noise baffles me. I’m sure if I made as much noise I would be quickly visited by the men with the blue flashing lights not to mention locals carrying torches and pitchforks! Maisie ensured the pace was kept up until we reached the car.



 
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Posted by on January 2, 2009 in General Drivel

 

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The Great Fatdog Seal Hunt

The Great Fatdog Seal Hunt

In attempt to find a creature similar in size to the Fatdog, J and I headed for the seal colony on the beach near Tentsmuir Forest north of Leuchars in Fife. Our luck was most definitely in as a sizeable number of these large sea mammals were lounging about on the shoreline waiting for pool service to arrive with the next round of “Blue Lagoons”.

Zooming in to capture the expressions on the creatures faces has sacrificed a bit of sharpness – just wish I had the nerve to go a bit closer.


 
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Posted by on December 30, 2008 in General Drivel

 

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The Goet – A Walk in the Mist

The Goet – A Walk in the Mist

12 October 2008

I came close to forgetting about this one.  I let a backlog build up of days out minus their “tails”, a heinous crime if ever there was one.  As a result of this, some would say welcome omission, I have to recount such travels from memory or again, as some would say…make it up!  Needless to say this gives me no problem at all.  It’ll just be like all the rest.

I had high hopes for today’s walk.  A number of other commentators had in the past been most complementary about the location so the Fatdog and I were looking forward to our visit.  Well I was, the Fatdog was more likely looking forward to lunch.  As we rolled up to The Glen Clova Hotel I noticed immediately that we weren’t the only thing that had rolled up.  Above Loch Brandy an uninvited mass of dull grey cloud had also rolled up…and then rolled over the hills to the east.   While this is generally of little consequence to most hillwalkers, FD and I are acknowledged as being leading exponents of fair weather hillwalking i.e. we like to see where we’re going.

The Goet being today’s destination I was aware that, once up on the plateau above Loch Brandy, the intervening terrain was fairly featureless and navigation considered tricky in cloud.  Oh good…just what I didn’t want.  However the circular route up and around Loch Brandy would be easy to follow without any serious risk of wandering off, so I decided we would head up and see if the cloud could be persuaded to lift a couple of hundred metres.

I should make it clear at this point I don’t have any particular worries about navigating in cloud.  Although I’ve never had to use a compass in anger, I did a lot of surveying in my younger days and therefore used to maps, calculating bearings etc.  I know about compensating for magnetic north and working out distances by pacing.  I just don’t have any particular desire to do it.  I want to be able to take pretty pictures!

So, brimming with confidence we set off through the car park towards the hill at the back of the hotel. There was a short section of native woodland and then it was onto the open hill on a five star path all the way to Loch Brandy.

As we were ultimately heading towards the Goet we could have struck east at Loch Brandy thus short cutting the walk.  On the other hand if we went up The Snub, the steep spur to the north of Loch Brandy, that would get most of the serious uphill done for the day and it would be the hillwalking equivalent of “feet up” time after that.  We forked left up The Snub.

It wasn’t a very hard pull to be honest and soon we were looking down into the rocky bowl holding Loch Brandy.  Unfortunately the low cloud had sucked the colour out of the day and the view had a weary flatness to it.  Disappointing I have to say.

But something always turns up and today it was a massive shear crack.  The shear crack suggested that some time in the future a very large chuck of The Snub is going to find itself in Loch Brandy.  This begs the question – where will Loch Brandy go when this happens?   It’s probably been like this for a few thousand years so I wouldn’t go and book seats for the event.  Just don’t wander too near the edge…you never know.

I looked at the cloud squelched flat on the top of the plateau to the south east and wondered.  This would be slightly out-with our comfort zone.  Did we go for it?  Of course we did.

I had checked the map and as long as we picked up the trail from Green Hill, later forking left towards Muckle Cairn, all we then had to do was pick an appropriate spot to cut right and wander uphill across some open moorland and eventually we would blunder across the summit of The Goet.   Off into the clammy mist we toddled.

It was like a scene out of horror movie.  The dank mist swirled ominously as solid stony moorland gave way to dark festering peat haggs.  The black tortured earth appeared to heave around us as the path cut through suppurating bog .  Ghostly lights gleamed eerily below the surface of the dark fermenting sludge.  Speaking frankly these mind games are not the thing to become involved in when out walking on your own in these conditions, where all that stands between you and the dread Legions of Hell is a tubby Labrador with an oversized appetite.

Fortunately I tend to know when things are going pear shaped and I was pretty certain they were going pear shaped right about now.  We had been following the path south east in cloud for a wee while but a couple of things did not feel right.  I had by now become accustomed to the Headless Horseman and the Screaming Banshee, but I could sense the path veering right and down…when we were looking for left and down.  I could also catch glimpses through the swirling cloud of high ground to our left, which according to my map, should have been physically impossible.  We were pretty obviously not where we should have been.  I guessed we had missed the fork somewhere further back.  But I wanted to know exactly where we were.  Out came the compass.  The Horseman and the Banshee stopped prancing and wailing respectively and peered over my shoulder, interested in what was about to happen next.

My god, compared to working a precision surveying instrument the compass is a somewhat fussy beast and can be incredibly indecisive about where it wants to point.  I had north in at least 6 different positions…and I reckoned one of them was south!

The Headless Horseman and the Screaming Banshee were pissing themselves laughing by this time and buggered off into the mist leaving me to a torturous slow death by compass reading, their eerie laughter mocking me as they went looking for more heroic prey.

Eventually the spinning needle agreed to point in one direction and I lined it up on the map.  Our path appeared to head due south which was unfortunate as the path we wanted was heading east.  To check the path we were on was definitely running N-S we followed it for a further 100m and did a further check.   Still N-S – so the path wasn’t changing direction.  It was about time we did!

Back up the path we trailed.

We never did reach the fork.  As we walked back, off to our right, I could see what appeared to be a number of small piles of stones.  I was sure that these marked the location of our path (or graves of…”Aaargh!”).  Now all I had to do was work out where to leave this path and strike out across the cropped tundra-like surface towards the Goet.

We were to have a bit off help from now on as from time to time the cloud cleared fractionally in front allowing glimpses of the terrain to come.  We picked out a large rocky landmark to the right, headed for it, with a view to picking out Stoney Loch from there.  From that position we should have both a line to the summit and a line of sight back to the track.  Once we found the little lochan it was plain sailing.  All we had to do now was keep going SE and up until we tripped over the trig point.

Then out of the mist loomed something which ensured that there was no way on earth we could get lost from now on– a swath, some 20 to 30m wide, of ATV tracks and a bloody great electric fence.

With no views to speak of we had a very quick lunch and headed back down the mess of tracks until once more we reached the path.  By now the cloud had deigned to disperse and a views were beginning to appear, mainly to the north (or maybe south if you ask my compass).  We had only headed a short way back towards Green Hill when an enormous mountain hare ambled across our path.

I began to murmur the well worn horse racing commentator’s line…

“and they’re…”

and on the word “…off!”  The Fatdog predictably launched herself at full pelt after the big bunny.

The hare sat patiently, watching the galloping Fatdog lurch towards her.  It waited for a few seconds before setting off at, for a mountain hare, snail’s pace.  Almost immediately FD gave up in disgust and wandered back sheepishly.  With no more sport to be had the big hare lazily bunny-hopped over the nearest rise and into the distance.

Fatdog Semaphore

With the clouds now a respectable height above the tops we had a clear view of the way back.   We dropped down to the south of Loch Brandy on the circuit path then strolled back to the car along the main access route.

Even with the cloud lifted I have to say that this was one of the most insipid walks we’ve been on.  I’ve no doubt they’ll be a few who may contradict me on this one but I didn’t even find the drama of the cliffs above Loch Brandy very dramatic.  For example, Coire-Fhionn Lochan on Arran is fairly similar but seems to have more character.    The moorland itself wasn’t quite bleak enough to be interesting and was probably more atmospheric under cloud.

High above Loch Wharral a Headless Horseman and a Banshee were having a post haunting cup of tea ruminating on the fact that hill walkers were disappointingly softer than they used to be.  It was hardly worth the effort these days and those peat haggs were far too piddly to be worth haunting in the first place.  The Horseman pulled out a map and pointed.  The Banshee wailed in agreement and they both disappeared into the moisture laden curtain of cloud.  A scrap of antique map lay on the ground where they had been, a ghostly print smudged over a spot on the map…Debyshire!

 

 
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Posted by on December 26, 2008 in General Drivel

 

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Gallery – Ben Cleuch Dec 08

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2008 in General Drivel

 

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Ben Gullipen – In Search of Houdini

Introduction

Since my last “tail” a month or so ago Christmas shopping and Strictly Come Dancing have taken their toll so it’s about time to get off the backside and do some writing. In reality the Fatdog and I haven’t been up to much since our day trip with Cap’n Jack to Ben Vrackie and Schiehallion in early November, with only a couple of half days out since then. Two weeks ago we were on the snow covered Ochils in blazing sunshine but 2 weeks before that we plodded our way up the majestic Ben Gullipen.
I can almost hear the puzzlement as frantic googling goes on in the background. Our multi-compleatists are going spare trying to figure out where this oversized lump of rock is before pontificating knowledgably on the pros and cons of the various approach routes to the summit. Sit back and relax, I’ll save you all the bother.

Ben Gullipen – In Search of Houdini

Like most walkers confronted with a gate I expect it to be locked, if nothing just out of shear bloody awkwardness. I knew this one would be locked but FD and I are becoming expert at circumnavigating these sort of things. Why did I know the gate would be locked? Simple…it was me who instructed the lock to go on some 20 years ago! Well strictly speaking it was the police and the landowner who wanted the lock to protect their valuable equipment from thieves and their empty hillside from rampaging punters respectively. This was another of my “tracks for radio masts” jobs from the 1980’s and this was my first return visit. I had expected the original lock to either be very rusty or to have been replaced, probably more than once, since I had left. What I didn’t expect was that the lock would have managed to reproduce. The evidence was however irrefutable. Wrapped around the gate and post was a multiplicity of locks, nay a veritable plethora. Given the absence of human remains I am assuming that Houdini escaped this one. Alternatively, I suppose, it may have been the tethering point for a prospective groom the night before the wedding, supplied with 100 keys only one of which would open one particular lock. Maybe he was lucky and didn’t escape for a couple of days. I looked on the bright side…maybe we would find the remains of either further up the hill.

The track had changed a bit since my last visit. There were no trees when I was last here. What had been superb open views to the east and south were now totally obscured by the Sitka planting of my old landowning adversary Captain BH. The landrover track formed a narrow corridor through the trees as it headed straight up the hill from the road.

So where are we you are probably asking yourselves? Ben Gullipen is a 414m bump just to the SW of Callander and north of the A81 to Aberfoyle. A gated access to the mast track (616, 047) on the A81 provides very limited parking (although there is a rough forestry lay-by just across the road).
I remember this first section as a steep daily slog but after two years of constant hillwalking it was close to luxury to myself and the Fatdog. As the track goes all the way to the summit there are no significant gradients to worry about so all in all it’s a fairly easy half day. By this time you are no doubt wondering “Why go up this little pimple in the first place?” The answer is partly about great memories…and the views. I recalled killer views over Loch Venachar to Ben Ledi with an encompassing panorama of the Trossachs, the Campsies and the Ochils. In my mind I can still see a frosted hillside, the Forth Valley filled with cloud and just in front of the Ochils Dumyat, an island poking through the mist. Well worth a return visit, but we would have to wait a bit longer this time to get the views.
This is a short walk, so about 20 minutes from the car we were ready to say “goodbye” to the trees and “hello” to open hillside. But first it was to be “hello” to another gate before we were free of the forest.

The phrase “pedigree highlanders” on the estate sign conjoured up a number of exceedingly unwelcome images. Were we to be treated to a herd of doddery plaid clad clan chiefs with knobbly walking sticks singing about “mooses loose” or heaven forbid, prospective Chippendales in vests and kilts roaming the hillside grazing on shortbread and single malts? Maybe best to have a multilocking system after all, the public should be protected from such clichéd beasties. Anyway I would be more than happy to ensure I closed the gate after me as requested…assuming that is, I could find a way of opening it in the first place!
Closer inspection confirmed that Houdini had escaped once again and that the lock breeding programme was still active. FD and I magicked ourselves past this second gate and set out for the summit.

Not only had the locks been propagating but the masts were running a close second. I remember installing bases for a mast and 2 huts. Like all construction programmes in this country there appears to be a need to cover every square inch of available ground with a building and the mast site was no exception. The summit of Ben Gullipen would soon achieve new town status.

While Ben Gullipen was in some ways my main target I was keen to walk further along the ridge to Beinn Dearg, a Marilyn, about 1km to the west. To do this I would need to cross a fence hemming in the Ben Gullipen summit. Just before the mast compound I noticed a weak spot in the fencewire and after I moved a few spikes away from the gap FD crawled through and I stepped over…straight up to my knees in deep heather. I knew there would be great views of Loch Venachar some 20m or so north, so off we waded, the Fatdog spinning up a white cloud of fine snow from the winter brown heather tops. These were to be the best views of the day, with a surreal light capturing Ben Ledi in a white haze.

Ben Ledi

Loch Venachar with Ben Venue just left of centre

Struggling in deep heather and soft terrain we made it back to the fence and began to follow it past the mast compound in the direction of the next hill. We were only 10 metres past the compound when I looked back…to see a convenient stile over the fence previously hidden by the huts. Sigh!

The ground dropped off steeply after Ben Gullipen as we headed west towards Beinn Dearg. The Fatdog had found a faint track through the heather and was leading us down through snow dusted heather into a narrow bealach. These steep sided notches through the narrow ridgelines are characteristic of the Menteith Hills.

A stile with style

The Menteith Hills comprise 2 main ridges, the one we were on made up of Ben Gullipen and Beinn Dearg and one further west which includes the Marilyn of Craig of Monievreckie. From Ben Gullipen I had noticed a track heading just left of the Marilyn’s summit so at the big stile to Lochan Balloch we cut left of the ridge heading for the assumed track position.

A bit of unattributed background info:

Deep below the Carselands and peat mosses in the lower parts of the Forth and Teith valleys to the west of Stirling we find red-brown sandstones, mudstones and pebbly conglomerates. These rocks link at depth to the upstanding ridges of the Menteith Hills in the distance – formed by almost vertical strata of the same rocks. The strata were formed under tropical conditions about 400 million years ago in the Devonian age. Behind the Menteith Hills is the craggy backcloth of the Highlands with the prominent peaks of Ben Ledi, Ben Venue and farther west Ben Lomond. These much older rocks have suffered a longer and more complex history and formed part of the Caledonian Mountains which stretched from Norway to the Appalachians.
The Highland-Lowland boundary reflects the major geological change from hard Dalradian metamorphic rocks in the north west to pebbly conglomerates and softer sandstones of Devonian age immediately to the south east. Between the two there is a sequence of lavas, conglomerates, limestones, black mudstones and sandstones which are different to both Highland and Lowland rocks, called the Highland Border Complex. They form a zone up to 1.2 kilometres wide which is found between Balmaha and Callander. These rocks came from both deep and shallow waters and once formed part of the floor of a small ocean basin. We know this because of the marine fossils found in the limestones, although these are very small and difficult to find. The rocks range in age from about 550 million to 445 million years old. They became attached to the Highland block by lateral faulting as a result of plate tectonic movements.
Highland Border Complex rocks form hilly ground, which near Callander lies between the higher ridges of the Menteith Hills and Callander Craig to the southeast, and the rocky crags of the Dalradian which overlook them to the northwest.

The “track” proved to be no more than a route taken by an ATV but the vehicle had flattened long grass and reeds over boggy areas thus providing a relatively dry passage for myself and the Fatdog. Even better was the fact that it took us away from the steep ups and downs of the heather swathed ridge. We were now walking on the flatter ground just to the south of Beinn Dearg. Looking back to the east, the track rose gently to the bealach between Ben Gullipen and Letter Hill (to the south). That would be ideal as our return route.

Looking back to Ben Gullipen

Following what might have been an animal track we clambered up through the heather to the summit of Beinn Dearg.
Although it was dry the light was fairly uninspiring. I had come hoping for a drama of sun and shade, but the sky had failed to live up to its billing. Thicker loud than I had anticipated meant that the panoramas were merely dull with only occasional spots of weak sunlight creeping across Ben Ledi’s lower slopes. On a good day this place would be well worth the visit. I had considered walking to the western extremity of the ridge but a relatively new metal fence hinted at the prospect of dog tossing. I decided to call it a day and head back to the car.

Ridge End

The Campsies

The Fatdog

The ATV track back towards Ben Gullipen

We took a fairly steep south turn from the summit down to the flatter ground and picked up the tracks of the ATV back towards Ben Gullipen. The ATV track ran out at the fence between Ben Gullipen and Letter Hill. With the benefit of hindsite I should have climbed the steep slope back to the summit of Ben Gullipen and picked up the landrover track from there.

Climb left here!

We made the mistake of continuing through the coll between the two hills which was nothing more than a big bog. I walked along the heather/reed boundary to keep dry but it made for an uninspiring slog back to the landrover track with its obsessively padlocked gates … and still no trace of Houdini!

Bog Slog!

It was a shame about the weather today as the views were somewhat diminished by the poor light. On a good clear day this would be a great short walk. Remember to bring your camera, as many keys as you can find and/or large bolt cutters.

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2008 in General Drivel

 

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Gallery – Morrone

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2008 in General Drivel

 

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