Saturday, April 23, 2016

Friday, April 22, 2016

Beinn Mhanach

Ben Lui from Beinn Mhanach

Beinn Mhanach (pro-nounced byn vanach) is a Munro in the Bridge of Orchy group of hills. While the four main Munros in this group lie alongside the main A82 heading to Glen Coe, Beinn Mhanch sits hidden behind them, mostly out of sight. No-one calls this hill Orchy's hidden gem though - because 'hidden lump' would be a fairer assessment! The hill is a good few miles from the road, and is a large grassy elongated dome, lacking any distinct ridges or towering peaks. 

Beinn Mhanach has three attributes which attract walkers to its summit cairn. The first of these is the fact that it owns mythical Munro status, and so is compulsory for those who need to add ticking lists to their enjoyment of the hills. People like me, in other words! Secondly, it is a good physical challenge. The walk in is quite long and the climb from the floor of the glen to the top unrelentingly steep and hard going. The western end of the hill is in fact steep enough that the hill walking books warn against attempting a descent this way. The greatest thing about Beinn Mhanach though, is its location. The adjacent Glen Orchy hills, stretching from Ben Dorain to Beinn a'Chreachain are only the foreground of a massive mountain panorama.

There are two obvious routes towards this hill, the first is from Bridge of Orchy station, and over the bealach between Ben Dorain and Beinn and Dothaidh. This is the shortest route, but involves a lot of extra ascent. The other is to walk from the main road towards the farm at Auch, and on under the viaduct on the Crianlarich-Fort William arm of the West Highland Railway and then along the track along the Auch Achaid-innis Chaileinn which eventually reaches recently renovated farm buildings at Ais-an t-Sithean. This track fords the meandering Allt Kinglass river repeatedly, but crossing it was never a problem as it didn't reach the height of or boots. The SMC Munro book notes that when the fords are too deep, then the walker can continue up the glen by staying on the SE bank of the stream.

Once past the Ais-an t-Sithean farm buildings, the track bears round to the right, still climbing and reaches a gate, fence and weir system before descending towards the very end of Loch Lyon. At this watershed, there is a deep gully scarring the face of the hill, which leads to the lowest point on the broad ridge between the Munro summit of Beinn Mhanach at its lower top, Beinn a Chuirn. The ascent of the hill can be approached from either side of this gully. The left hand side is gentler, and reaches the summit plateau at its lowest point; but climbing on the right side of the gully (alongside a rusting iron fence) leads directly and steeply, towards the summit. We went up the steep way, and back the more gentle route.

The climb was exhausting! Although I had scraped ice off the car windscreen in Perth at 6:45AM, by 10:30AM. the sun was basting the mountains, the intense heat being held in almost completely still air. Thankfully in April we are still in the pre-midgie phase of the year! Shedding layer after layer, we made the summit, only to have a chill-wind take our temperature imbalance to the other extreme. With icy winds evaporating hot sweat from our faces, we felt our body temperature plummeting and changed in a few seconds from tropical to Arctic clothing!

The views from the top were quite amazing. Ben Lui (Beinn Laoigh) immediately draws the eye, as it is such a beautiful mountain, and is so pleasingly framed by the glen below. 

Westwards, Cruachan's shapely and majestic peaks, still snow-capped, glistened stunningly in the clear, crisp sunshine.  Northwards, the railway line across Rannoch Moor could be seen, along with the Laggan Hills. The Lawers group dominated the eastern view, while to the South the peaks which encircle the strange little village of Crianlarich, looked truly impressive.

The descent was hot and the ground quite slippery. The sun shone and heated up the grass which gave off a distinct odour - which reminded me of childhood. Once back at the head of the path, it is simply a long trudge back to the main road.

Final view of the Orchy Hills, in the wing mirror from an interminable traffic jam on the A82.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Falls of Braan

(click on image to enlarge it)

At The Hermitage, Dunkeld on the last day of the school holidays.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Romantic Seals

Applecross, Scotland.

(Click on image to view fullsize)

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Book Notes: Thatcher Stole My Trousers by Alexei Sayle

"Thatcher Stole My Trousers" is the second part of Alexei Sayle's enormously entertaining memoirs, published this year as a follow-up to "Stalin Ate My Homework", which dealt with his early years. In many ways the books are quite similar, in that Sayle is a superb storyteller and raconteur whose style translates to the printed page with ease. He is effortlessly funny, and has lived the kind of extraordinary life which seems to generate more than its fair share of anecdotes which are improbable, ludicrous, and wonderful in equal turns. Like the first book, in Thatcher Stole My Trousers, Sayle is angry, Marxist, and foul-mouthed! But there are differences between the two books too.

While Stalin Ate My Homework, dealt primarily with Sayle's adventures growing up in Liverpool, and revolved around his complex relationship with his Stalinist, volatile, and almost unbelievable Mother, Molly Sayle; Thatcher..... moves on sees Sayle leave home, move to London and commence adult life. Both books have a central female character, and Molly makes way for Linda - who in the course of this book becomes his wife. While not as unhinged as his mother, Linda is clearly a force to be reckoned with! Here's a snapshot of Sayle's writing, roaming through family life, politics, the state of the economy, and all delivered in steely satirical prose.

"..... friends came up to Liverpool for the party when in 1974 Linda and I got married. We had decided to wed almost as an affectation. All the couples we knew were living together while marriage was considered to be old-fashioned and possibly fascist so we thought we'd be different. It was only slowly that as the date approached that we came to realise that marriage was a actually a huge commitment not to be taken lightly or done as a fashion statement. So by the time of the ceremony at the registry office in Brougham Terrace in Liverpool me and Linda were very solemn and a bit intimidated by the weight of the event. 
After the ceremony we, our parents, Linda's brother Jimmy and Chris Walker went to the Berni Inn in town for a steak lunch. Somebody, probably one of Linda's parents unsure of themselves in a restaurant, asked the waitress what she'd recommend for a suitable wine to accompany the low-quality beef, a badly burnt tomato and frozen peas. The woman, big and beefy herself, with a towering beehive hairdo, thought for a few moments and then replied, 'Well..... they say the rosé very good.'  
We wondered who exactly 'they' were. Perhaps, we thought, a group of worthies - philosophers, lawmakers, playwrights, and politicians who met in convocation to decide what was good and bad in the world, to pronounce accordingly and to ensure that life was free from upset. If that was the case then they'd clearly taken their eye off the ball recently because things seemed to be going to hell in a hand-cart. First of all there was the OAPEC oil embargo begun by the major oil-producing countries in response to American involvement in the Yom Kippur War between Israel, Egypt and Syria. The major victims were Canada, Japan, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the US. Flying and boating was banned on Sundays and the speed limit was reduced to fifty-six miles an hour, supposedly the most efficient speed to drive at but which meant that a trip to Liverpool took seven hours. Then there were the high rates of inflation so people's wages didn't keep pace with the cost of things meaning there were a lot of strikes and work-to-rules, culminating in the three-day week in which electricity was rationed to three days a week, so we had to buy our wedding clothes by candlelight. And to add to that there was a stock market crash when the FT 30 lost 73 per cent and a secondary banking crisis forced the Bank of England to bail out a number of lenders, so perhaps 'they' should have been thinking about other things than what wine went with substandard grilled meats in a cellar in North-West England.  
Linda moved her belongings into the horrible little flat in North Kensington. She did her best to try and cheer up the gloomy apartment but really it was impossible." (p89-90)
Much of the book concerns Sayle's various jobs, and the rise of his comedy career, beginning with some slightly odd sounding left-wing theatre and reviews (he apparently had a routine about Albania under Enva Hoxha); on to the Comedy Clubs he founded, and The Young Ones which made him a household name.

Coupled with this, is Sayle gradual disengagement with the political party of his youth, The Communist Party of Britain (Marxists-Lenininst). This Maoist party both was militantly communist enough to satisfy Sayle hard-left politics, but also anti-Stalinist enough to irritate his mother which seemed to make it his natural home. As this book develops however, Sayle grows increasingly wary of the intensely esoteric, dogmatic and theory-obsessed meetings of these groups - and slips out from their membership. His detachment from the CPB(M-L) seems natural and inevitable and not the great tumultuous crisis of faith that Mark Steel's exit from the Socialist Workers Party seems to have been. (which is documented in his book, What's Going On?) Rather, Sayle seems to be passionately aware of the faults, errors and corruption within capitalism - and certain a socialist alternative is credible; but bored by the ludicrous, pedantic theoretical dramas to which the far-left seem especially prone. When Linda explained that she'd never got a pension because she was sure that by the time she was old enough to need one, "Britain will inevitably be a socialist nation led by a vanguard party whose ideology is based on the teachings of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Mao Tse-Tung, and every worker will have all of their needs taken care of by the state." Sayle replied that he'd never got one because he was convinced that he'd be a famous comedian who could afford anything he wanted!

Whether he is covering British manufacturing, the rise of alternative comedy, his own career, Thatcher, Arab terrorists he has known (!), or his own absurd adventures - this book is genuinely funny and un-put-down-able. There are times when Sayle is exceptionally self-deprecating, but yet others in which he indulges in the kind of "See-I-told-you-so!" which is an essential element in any decent autobiography It's a heady mix of reminiscence, sentimentality, satire, comedy, social-history, and very angry ranting. You don't have to agree with all of Sayle's political or social views to enjoy this book either. If your palate is too delicate for swearing and communism, it'd might upset you; but with a story as good as this to tell, and a story-teller this good; what's not to enjoy?

Saturday, April 09, 2016


(iphone photo!)

My plan for the day was to drive home to Perth from Applecross, and climb a pair of Munros on the North side of Loch Quoich on the way. My plans did not go as expected however. Firstly, I was a little later leaving Applecross than I had hoped - and was always going to be racing to catch up. Secondly, I had great difficulty finding a shop that could sell me a compass, it took three or four attempts - which wasted more time. Then finally, I hit a really rough bit of road - and had a blow out in the car. I reached start of my walk feeling harassed!

The beginning of the track up Gleouraich is hidden amongst a dense patch of infernal rhododendrons. The estate on the Applecross peninsula are investing thousands of pounds in having their rhoddies removed, and burnt. Locals told me that these monstrous plants, which are so ubiquitous, were introduced into the Highland landscape by the Victorians. They presumably had no idea that their lovely flowering bushes would become such a menace. A small metal post marks the spot where a tiny, boggy  path leads through the bushes and out onto the open hill.

It's a remarkable path too, zig-zagging its way up the blunt nose of Sron a Chuillin, and up and over the top marked as Druim Saileach on the OS 1:25 000. The path abruptly ends at a small semi-circular stone wall underneath Gleouraich's steep sides, but although the formal path ceases, a upward stretching line of bootmarks indicates that most walkers continue on towards the summit. 

The climb here is steep, and in snowy conditions like those I had, exceptionally slippery. I was hoping from magnificent views from the ridge. The usually pessimistic Mountain Weather Information Service was suggesting a 90% chance of cloud free Munros, but alas it was not to be. I climbed up into the cloud and stayed there for the duration! The view did not reappear until my descent.

My plan to continue from the summit of Gleouraich along the ridge to Spidean Mialach were thwarted by the weather too. The edges around the summit were decorated with amazing cornices requiring careful navigation. The ongoing ridge looked a bit dicey too; and I was looking along it in two minds as to whether to go that way, when the snow started to fall heavily and visibility reduced to very little. It was obvious that as I was there on my own, it was time to retrace my steps (which as they were imprinted to clearly in the snow is meant literally).

The finest view of the day came along Loch Quioch from the track on this descent, once back under the cloud base. 

Once back at the car, I had to "limp" it home on one of those stupid half sized wheels that are limited to 50mph...... I'm sue losing 3cm of boot space would make up for this!?