Sunday, 30 August 2015

Drumochter - The boat house

It was a lovely wee camp spot. A promontory of dry, green grass poked out into the waters of the loch. The sinking sun touched the clouds with pink and providing some shelter from the wind was a little boat house. 

I got there early evening after a full day in the hills. A stiff climb up from Dalwhinnie had put me on a long, broad plateau which had a Munro at each end. They hardly seemed to be separate mountains, more upswellings of the plateau itself. To the east the plateau was dramatically dissected by the huge cleft of the Gaick Pass and its associated gullies, unnervingly deep and dark. Beyond the Gaick were the hazy outlines of the Cairngorms. To the west were the peaks around Ben Alder, its huge massif still clinging onto patches of snow. They say we might have some permanent snow patches this year due to the cool summer.

It was a long plod to pick off the two Munros and every time the plateau dipped there was water and bog and peat hag to negotiate. As I reached the second Munro late in the afternoon, the cloud lowered and the rain came on. I made steep descent down purple heather slopes and found the camp spot beside the boat house. The wind rattled the corrugated iron roof and made a constant bang from a whisky miniature that had been hung from the door by fishing line. It was picking up now and the loch was choppy and frothy. A pair of red throated divers called to each other offshore and an osprey hung in the air above the water. I pitched the tent on the leeward side of the boat house, looking out over the loch.  I slept well despite the howl of the wind and the drumming of overnight rain.

Next morning the wind had ramped up even more and sent out white horses across the loch. I climbed up Meall na Chuaich, the shapely northerly outlier of the plateau. It was difficult to say the least. I could barely stand up or walk in a straight line as I staggered to the top. This was the effect of the wind, you understand. It wasn't me that had drunk the whisky miniature that hung on the boat house door below.

Fact File
Start/finish: Dalwhinnie, served by Glasgow/ Edinburgh to Inverness trains or Citylink buses. The bus stop is a little closer to the start of the walk.
Map: OS Landranger 42
Route: From the train station walk down Station Road and turn right on the main road through Dalwhinnie. Follow this road south out of the village and just before it junctions with the A9 take the cycle path to the right signed for Pitlochry. Follow the cycle path for about 700m and where it changes from old road into new, narrower cycle path, climb up the bank and cross the A9. Take the double track on the other side that crosses under the pylons and follow it as it climbs  southeast up the hillside. It reaches the edge of the plateau at on old quarry site. Follow the track right and when it starts to turn west and downhill again, leave it at a boggy bealach and head south over rough ground to A'Bhuidheanach Bheag, the prominent top ahead. Then retrace your steps to the quarry and continue northwest on the track until the final rise to Carn na Caim where a faint path leaves the track on a more direct line to the top. I continued along the edge of the plateau for 1km or so until I reached shallower slopes down to the Allt a Choire Chaim which I followed to a firm landrover track. I followed this all the way to the main track alongside the Allt Cuaich. I turned right and walked to Loch Chuaich to camp. To climb Meall na Chuaich, I followed the track heading east from the loch alongside the Allt Coire Chuaich. Just after the bridge over the river, a path leaves on the left and heads all the way to the top. To return to Dalwhinnie I followed the track beside the aqueduct down to the A9 which it passes under, and over a bridge that put me back at the south side of Dalwhinnie.
Tip: Some great old railway photos on display in the waiting room at Dalwhinnie.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Edinburgh - The city secret of seal city beach

There's a secret place where I like to go that's just a few minutes from home by bicycle. It's right on the city edge. The deserted track to go there leaves from the quiet end of the beach. But you have to know it's there because you can't see it from the road or the beach itself. Just now it's bounded by verges of rampant wildflowers where insects buzz and birds flit back and forth. It passes behind the sewage works then skirts the ugly, dirty, litter - strewn mess of an industrial zone and fly tipping hotspot to arrive at the beach. The sandy shores are hidden from the city by the backdrop of warehouses and waste ground. It's not a place anybody would think to go, even if they knew it existed.

Once you pick your way through the additional rubbish that's been washed ashore, there's as many as fifteen seals to see basking on the nearby offshore rocks. Their colour varies from white through mottled greys and browns to black. Maybe not a seal city but a treat nonetheless for a city dweller. As well as the seals, wading birds pick their way along the tide line and cormorants and eider ducks preen on the outflow pipe. The place is strewn with old tires but grasses and wildflowers have grown up through the middles. I think it's this juxtaposition that makes me like the place. Beautiful, wild nature alongside man's dirty industry.