Friday, March 30, 2012

Sgiath Chuil & Meall Glas

Once again, the summer in Scotland has been moved back from its traditional point in the fixture list in June-August, to its new location March-April. Whether the schools will eventually follow-suit and move the long summer break to the Easter holiday remains to be seen. What is certain though is that even the slightest glimmer of fine weather sends Scotland's hillwalkers scurrying for their boots and rucksacks and making for the mountains.

One of my neighbours is a Munro-bagger like me, and the happy co-incidence of the prospect of sunshine and his need to 'use or lose' annual leave before the end of the month - saw us heading West from Perth towards Killin. 
Sgiath Chuil & Meall Glas are two hills which lie between Glens Dochart and Lochay, between Killin and Crianlarich, in an area known as the Mamlorn Deer Forest. "Forest" is an interesting word to use to describe Mamlorn - an area now completely deforested, but still technically a "hunting forest" apparently. The Mamlorn hills have received a less-than-enthusiastic reception from the writers of hill-walking guides, who routinely describe them as uninspiring, or lacking character. 

I suppose if you went looking for the rugged grandeur of The Cairngorms, the Tolkeinesque intrigue of Assynt, or the rugged spectacle of An Teallach - Mamlorn would indeed disappoint. However, if appreciated on their own terms, Mamlorn's hills are full of interest. For a start they are big. While not the highest of Scotland's hills by any means, the long walk-ins required and the distance between Munro's means that long-days out are required to appreciate them.

While some ranges, like The Mamores, pack a huge number of peaks and ridges into a comparatively small area, the areas around Sgiath Chuil & Meall Glas provide wide panoramas up long glens to distant peaks. While there is undoubtedly a thrill in clambering across splintered rock, there is also a joy to be found in striding across springy fresh grass on high ridges, which Sgiath Chuil provides in abundance.  

These hills can be climbed from Auchessan in Glen Dochart from the South, or from the end of the single-track road up Glen Lochay to the North. There are issues with access from either side. At the main road in Dochart, parking is limited to a few spaces only, which might rule this out on a sunny Saturday or Sunday, unless you were prepared to arrive early. In Glen Lochay, while the estate has provided a free car-park for many vehicles, they have also restricted access further up the glen, and you can no longer drive as far as Kenknock farm as suggested in older guidebooks. Heading in from this car-park at Glen Lochay, it took us half and hour to make the start of the climb at the newly refurbished cottage at Lubchurran. A landrover track strikes southwards into the hills above the Lubcharran Burn, which we followed for a kilometre or so, before bearing Eastwards, across the stream by tiny a Hydo-board  dam, and up onto the long, long  ridge and then summit of Sgiath Chuil, via two subsidiary tops.

The descent between these two hills is steep and awkward. The dry weather meant that the grass was grippy and crunchy, the descent in the wet would have been a slippery affair. There seems to be no obvious line of descent, other than to avoid the steepest section in the centre of the cleft between the peaks. The climb from this pass, the Lairig an Currain, up to Beinn Cheathaich (a top) is steep, and required navigating around some snow-fields lying high in the corries. In the absence of rain, these great sheets of ice were feeding the streams and rivers below as they gently sweated in the afternoon sun. The undulating ridge between Beinn Cheathaich and Meall Glass is a lovely piece of mountain scenery and provided us with a path - for perhaps the only time in the day.

Cameron McNeish recommends the ascent of these hills from the North, but suggests descending the NW ridge back to Glen Lochay. This seemed like an unnecessary addition to an already lengthy day, so we opted to retrace our steps, but descend/traverse round underneath Beinn Cheathach, towards a track we had previously seen above the Lubcharran Burn, which is on the 1:25,000 OS map, but not on the 1:50,000 version. We hit the track without much difficulty which led us back down to the cottage, the road and our walk back (through herds of cows) to the car.

These hills may not be the prettiest in Scotland, but the views were quite magnificent. They also provide the walker with a real sense of achievement, my aching knees confirming that the mapping software's estimate of 19.5km/1300m of ascent is about right! My other achievement of the day was to reach 200 Munro's again. I say again, as I had reached 200 last year before they declassified one in Glen Carron which I had been up the year before! 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Glen Lednock's Circular Walk

The "Glen Lednock Circular Walk" is (for the pedants amongst you), far closer to being rectangular than resembling a circle. Nevertheless, this pretty waymarked route is an easy afternoon out for a young family, which offers a bit of everything, to keep the smaller members of the family interested. The walk begins at a little roadside car-park just North of the village of Comrie, where space and earthquake permitting, the car can be left. From the car park a small track winds away from the road and over to the River Lednock, whose charming course (pictured above) it follows for a couple of kilometres to the various viewpoints over the series of waterfalls known as The Deil's Cauldron, no less!

The path rejoins the road just above the falls and gives the walkers the opportunity to branch off from the circular route, to climb the steep 130m up Dun More to the impressive viewpoint at Lord Melville's Monument. Like countless other walkers I have no idea who Lord Melville was, or indeed why he needed such an inordinately enormous monument to commemorate him. Whoever he was, given the size and shape of his monument he clearly had enormous confidence in his own munificence -albeit in an oddly Freudian manner... Nevertheless, his monument provides an excellent place for a rewarding the children who managed the climb with some hard-earned snacks and drinks, and a few moments to sit and soak in the panoramic view.

Once back down the steep path to the road, the road is followed a little way Northwards, until a signpost which directs walkers down to a wooden bridge over the broad river. On the other side of the river a very attractive path leads all the way back to the east side of Comrie, where the trackbed of a former railway line leads back to within a hundred metres of the car.

Our six year old managed the walk with no difficulty, and it provided a constantly varying landscape with rivers, waterfalls, veiwpoints, a climb, a village, and easy safe walking. An ideal family afternoon out!

Book Notes: Gunning for God, Why the New Atheists are Missing the Target by John C. Lennox

Gunning for God is John Lennox' reply to the critique of religion in general and Christianity in particular which has been so loudly and trenchantly offered by writers such as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and the late Christopher Hitchens. In chapter after chapter, analysing different aspects of their work, he finds their arguments flawed, their understanding of Christian belief skewed, and their use of evidence faulty. Lennox' most significant claim, however is that the New Atheists fail to live up to their own much-vaunted standards of objective enquiry, when it comes to matters of faith. Because they are led by a mistrust of religion which has spilled over into distaste and then blind-hatred, the New Atheist literature if filled with misquotations, misrepresentations and unsupported assertions, which Lennox exposes and dismantled with some relish.

For his part, John Lennox is a Professor of Mathematics at The University of Oxford, sometime lecturer in the Philosophy of Science, and someone who has publicly debated these issues with Dawkins and Hitchens. He also writes from distinctly Christian convictions - and wishes the reader to know why (contrary to the New Atheist assertions to the contrary) these form part of a seamless worldview with his science - and not in contrast or contradiction to it. This is where the book begins, but soon moves forward to consider things such as Hitchens' 'religion poisons everything' argument. Lennox ably demonstrates the historical silliness of this argument - and counters with the record of atheism, both in government and in the "wildly intemperate" statements about curtailing the freedom of belief and conscience that atheist writers such as a Sam Harris have made.

The latter half of the book focuses more on the Christian faith in particular, and deals in detail with some of the critiques of Christian theology which have been raised, such as the morality of the Bible and the doctrine of the Atonement (: Jesus died in our place to reconcile us to God). Here Lennox finds countless examples of (wilful?) misunderstanding of what Christians believe, and the construction and subsequent demolition of paper-tigers instead of careful argument, especially in the works of Dawkins, which he lambasts. Finally the book ends with a defence of the historically credibility of the central Christian claim that miracles occurred in Christ's life (engaging with Hume's argument), culminating in his resurrection from the dead.

This remarkably combative book pulls no punches, and demonstrates many of the flaws in the writings of Dawkins and co. concisely and aggressively. While no doubt Lennox would listen attentively if Dawkins were to be lecturing in his area of biological research, it soon becomes apparent that he takes a very dim view of Dawkins ability to comment meaningfully in the areas of philosophy or theology. 

Gunning for God, makes a strong contribution to this debate which has dominated so much public discourse about faith over the last decade. No doubt believers will be heartened by this book, and followers of Dawkins et al, very irritated by it. I hope that it gets widely read, and that people who have only read the New Atheist view of the world, will be prepared to engage with it, and that at the very least they will adjust their critique of faith, and tone down their invective in response.

Yet again, however we have a book from a Christian publisher without a proper index. While the endnotes are very full and detailed, a work of non-fiction should be properly indexed. If the publisher hopes that a work of apologetics like this is to be used in assisting in further discussion, then making the contents readily accessible through an index should be standard practice. 


Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The Case of the Knackered Tumble-Dryer!

We couldn't work out why despite re-taping up all the joints, the tumble-dryer wasn't blowing or drying properly. Thankfully, on Friday while the legendary John H. was helping us to replace its broken drive-belt, he noticed that this piece of ducting (above) which is supposed to be beautifully rectangular, had completely failed. Although it was supposed to be heatproof, the exhaust from the tumble-dryer had shrunk it, until it was hardly letting any air through at all. Recycling wet-air repeatedly meant it wasn't drying much either! 

Monday, March 05, 2012

The Hunter and The Fisherman

Some things I saw walking home from dropping the kids off at school.

Preparing for Easter

As we run-up to Easter, I've been thinking through the meaning of the Cross of Jesus Christ with my friends at one of the churches in Perth. These are a couple of the slides from the talk I gave last night.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Slavery & Human Trafficking Today

Our church in Perth (Scotland!) is hosting a seminar by The International Justice Mission, a Christian human rights agency, "rescuing victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression". The event will be held at Perth Baptist Church, Almond View, Perth PH1 1QQ, on Saturday 31st March, 9:30am-12:00. The event is free, please come, anyone welcome. More information is available from 01738 621213, or . Click on the image of the poster above to read it properly.