Stuc a' Chroin and Ben Vorich

Stuc a' Chroin and Ben Vorich

Monday, 28 February 2011

Loch Leven and some graves

The 'dismal' day mentioned in a previous post had transformed itself into a sunny, but blustery one by the time we arrived at the Kirkgate car park; oyster catchers were scattered along the grassy shore and Lochleven Castle was catching the afternoon sunshine.

The castle was used as a state prison (its first use) when, in 1316, King Robert the Bruce imprisoned John of Lorne there;  in 1390 it was granted to the Douglas family as a royal stronghold. In 1567 Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned in the castle and forced to abdicate in favour of her infant son James, later King James 1st, uniting England and Scotland. She escaped in 1568.

Now managed by Historic Scotland, a frequent ferry service runs from the pier to the castle during the summer and despite living nearby for many years, we have yet to make a visit there. Likewise we have still to walk the full 'Hertitage Trail'. Some way round, Lynne spied a cluster of yew trees off the path and guessed an old graveyard would be found there.

It was indeed just that and so we spent a pleasant hour 'Guddling among the Graves'.  This was the title of a series of illustrated talks by Hamish Brown about the folk art of Scottish gravestones, a talk which eventually gave birth to his fascinating book 'Scottish Graveyard Miscellany'.

Note the hourglass ('the sands of time are sinking') and the skull and crossbones

We were in fact at the site of the old Orwell Kirk, (without a church, the 'graveyard' would be a cemetery) which was moved to Milnathort in 1729. Now another building stands here - a mausoleum dated - 1865.

The earliest date we could find on a stone, was 1633 (and on the same stone 1688.) Note the spelling of 'year' as it was then.

The two photographs above show 'table stones', the gravestone having been placed on legs to prevent wear.

Further along the Trail is a seat with a rhyme in Scots carved into the backrests.

It relates to standing stones found on the land of Orwell Farm. The stones, which can't be seen from the trail, mark the site of cremation deposits which have been dated 2300BC.

In the centre backrest

To our east lay Bishop Hill and below it the village of Kinnesswood, once an important centre for the maufacture of vellum and parchment. Alexander Buchan the 'Father of meteorology' was a Kinnesswood man who identified the principles of isobars:

Buchan warned of windy weather
When isobars lay close together

We've enjoyed many a fine walk on Bishop Hill .........

Bishop Hill from the Heritage Trail

....but none better than in March 2010 when we paid our respects to Carlin Maggie.

The whole Trail covers 12.5Km and there is much more to tell than I have done here. One day we really must walk it in its entirety - and take that boat trip to Loch Leven Castle as well.

Note: much of the above is courtesy of  the Loch Leven Heritage Trail with some checks from Lynne.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Some lovely weather

 Well no. Not really.

Path west to Commonedge Hill and, looking east...

The path to Seamab Hill above Muckhart

Nevertheless, a happy Lynne, muscle mended, is on a summit again at last!

It's just as dismal today, so we're off for a walk round Loch Leven and thoughts of spring, not to say summer sunshine will just have to do for now.

Summer in Skye - Loch Dunvegan and Macleod's Tables - Healabhal Bheag (left) and Healabhal Mhor

And another

A nineteen-turbine wind power station at Corriemollie (Loch Luichart) near Garve has been recommended for approval by Highland Council.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Wind turbines and Forestry Commission Land

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Alan Sloman on David Lintern's programme yesterday evening -  not surprisingly, since my views are indistinguishable from his. Scotland's wild landscapes are stuffed, although I think Alan wanted to use a rather different word but couldn't on air!

And just to drive home that fact, here's some more depressing news.

Energy companies have, apparently, been given the go-ahead to develop Forestry Commission land for renewable energy which would see some extra 200 turbines erected.

In SW Scotland, Scottish Power Renewables will work with the commission to develop land in Arran and Dumfries and Galloway, while PNE Wind UK will look at schemes in Stirlingshire, Cowal, the Trossachs (in a National Park!?) and Tayside; in Argyll, Lochaber, Invernesshire and the Northern Highlands, E.ON Climate and Renewables UK Developments will be the preferred developer; in Grampian Fred Olsen will oversee this plunder.

Communities in the vicinity will get 'leading edge' annual payments, which can be reinvested into the developments, and can also add their own money to get a greater stake in the schemes. The next eight months will see developers identify suitable sites.

I wondered why Alex Salmond didn't want to sell off Scotland's forests like Mr Cameron south of the border.

Build more coffins Alan.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Closure of Wades Road crossing point over A9 near Newtonmore

Information on this, and an invitation to sign a petition to keep the crossing open, can be found on the TGO Challenge Message Board .

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Port na Craig - Tummel Ferry

The suspension bridge across the River Tummel

On our recent outings to Pitlochry Festival Theatre (see post 1 February) we had a bit of time to spare so wandered down to the 'Historic Hamlet' of Port na Craig on the banks of the Tummel.

In the 12th century, monks from Coupar Angus were given the lands of Fonab as a gift and established a ferry here, the last crossing taking place on Empire Day 1913 when the new suspension bridge was opened by the Duchess of Atholl. Made by the Lanarkshire Steel Company Ltd, it is now a Listed Grade B building.

 A sign asks that people do not cycle - or swing on the bridge!

Ferry rates

Further upstream is the Coronation Bridge (also listed), a similar suspension bridge built in 1911 to commemorate the coronation of King George V.

Ferryman's Cottage from the suspension bridge

An interesting diversion on what was a bittery cold day, but only a few minutes away hot coffee awaited in the theatre.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Mountain Rescue VAT campaign

Garbh Bheinn, Ardgour (scanned from a slide)

It appears that Mountain Rescue Teams have won the argument, in principle, that they should be able to reclaim VAT payments. Although it is against EU law to directly refund VAT, it seems the government has found a way round the problem by putting money aside to help with the teams' costs. Good news.

The MRTs provide a vital service and although the idea of self-reliance should never be forgotten, none of us knows when we might need their help.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Friday 28 and Saturday 29 January - Winter Words Festival at Pitlochry Festival Theatre: Jim Crumley and Stephen Venables

Ben Vrackie from the theatre car park

Winter Words Festival is one of Scotland's leading book festivals and held every January at The Festival Theatre, Pitlochry. This year two authors on the programme caught our attention -  nature writer Jim Crumley talking about his new book The Last Wolf, and mountaineer Stephen Venables giving a lecture entitled In the Steps of Shackleton.

Pitlochry Festival Thearte - not done justice by this photograph

The Last Wolf
 Note: this is not a book review.

We are both big fans of Jim Crumley's writing and I spotted this book in Bookmark in Grantown-on-Spey last September. So while Lynne, happy that her own book was on display, chatted to the owner, I surreptitiously bought a copy of The Last Wolf  for her and smuggled it out of the shop.

As Crumley said at his excellent talk last Friday, he is unashamedly 'pro-wolf', and the book essentially debunks the myths surrounding this beautiful shy creature which has, since ancient times, been the victim of horrendous black propaganda and slaughter; and he argues the case for the wolf's reintroduction to Scotland citing Yellowstone National Park and Norway as examples of what can be done, and the benefits to an eco-system which has been thrown out of balance by the extirpation of this top predator. Clearly some people will have misgivings about this idea - landowners and farmers particularly - and many are downright hostile but we, like Crumley, are 'unashamedly pro-wolf' and were so before we read his book.

According to Jim Crumley, Scotland could support three, maybe four packs at most (about 30 wolves) and if brought in from a country where their prey had been deer, then that is what they would hunt, this being transferred from generation to generation. Consequently, a healthier deer population would result with enormous benefits to the eco-system. That apart the wolf would, at last, be restored to its natural homeland.

Sadly, we think it unlikely that wolves will be re-introduced to Scotland in our lifetime, but we hope we are wrong. During 'question time', someone in the audience told how she'd had the wonderful experience of coming face to face (20 yards away) with one wolf while walking in Italy recently, and would, she said, be talking about this marvellous encounter for the rest of her life. Who wouldn't?

".......standing as a link to the kinds of mysteries that lie well outside our pipedreams of manipulation and control. Seeing a wolf in the wild can feel like one of the final frontiers of nature - a frontier that can never be possessed" Dougals W. Smith and Gary Ferguson, Decade of the Wolf - Returning the Wild to Yellowstone (2005)

In the Steps of Shackleton

For us, it's nearly a 100 mile round trip from home to the Festival Theatre, but an opportunity to listen to Stephen Venables talk about Shackleton and his own traverse of South Georgia in October 2008 was not to be missed. So, it was back up the A9 to Pitlochry on the Saturday.

The story of Shackleton's 1914 expedition to cross Antarctica via the South Pole is well known. His ship Endurance crushed by the Antarctic ice, Shackleton set off with five companions in a tiny lifeboat in search of help, leaving his crew stranded on Elephant Island. After 800 miles across the Southern Ocean they landed on the south coast of South Georgia and from here, with Tom Crean and Frank Worsley, Shackleton crossed (it was by then 1916) the unmapped mountains to finally reach the whaling station at Stromness.

Venables is an excellent, humorous storyteller. Using his own superb photographs and film footage, together with originals taken on the Shackleton expedition* he illustrated that first incredibly dangerous crossing  which he has done twice, once with Reinhold Messner and Conrad Anker in the autumn of 2000 when the route was bare ice, rock and littered with open crevasses.

On his most recent trip to South Georgia in October 2008 he and his party were able to follow the route on skis, hauling and lowering their pulks - one, inevitably, finding its way into a half-concealed crevasse. Of course as Venables pointed out, neither of these trips was a fight for survival - on the first he was making a film and the second was a recreational expedition.

South Georgia is a stunning place so it's no surprise that Venables is hooked - he's off there again in November.

He's on tour with this talk so if he's coming near you, I recommend you go along and listen.

* see: Endurance - The Greatest Adventure Story Ever Told - Alfred Lansing (2001 paperback)