Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ben Vorlich (Loch Lomond) – our First Munro!

Big mountains in the background
Mary on the summit of Ben Vorlich
Our First Munro! – A Munro is a Scottish mountain over 3000 feet. I know that sounds small to folks from British Columbia, Alberta, and the Western States – but what these hills might lack in stature they more than make up in ruggedness and beauty.

Ben Vorlich (Hill of the Bay) is 943m/3094ft. On Sat, May 14 we got up, made lunch, went out our door and walked about 100 metres down to Great Western Road where we caught a bus to Ardlui. Ardlui sits along the north western banks of bonnie Loch Lomond, right at the foot of the mountain. We were on the route within 15 minutes of getting down from the bus.

There are several ways to approach this mountain, we chose to come at it via the corrie on the east side of the hill – Coire Creagach. A corrie (coire in Gaelic) is a rounded hollow in a hillside. It is a result of glaciation, and often has an open slope at the front, with steep walls at the back and sides. Our corrie was steep and a bit boggy in places, but wide open. There was not really a trail to follow, just some general map headings – but navigation was not too difficult.

The day had some wonderful light as clouds moved in and out over the surrounding mountains. We had some showers, and it even snowed on us on the summit ridge (weather in Scotland is VERY changeable!), but the day was mostly dry and bright.

The view southwest
Ben Vane in the foreground
We ascended up through the corrie with some stunning views back to Loch Lomond and Ben Lomond (big mountain on the other side of the Loch), but the scene really opened out when we reached the col (a low notch in the ridge) at about 600 m. The blue and gold mountains, especially to the north and west, marched away into the mist – we saw a summer of hill walking stretch out before us.

The wind on the col and along the summit ridges was fierce – my eyes teared constantly and as soon as a drop formed the wind slapped it across my face. We got some relief on the eastern side of the ridges and at the summit in the lee of the big cairn.

Mike and Mary on the hike
Mike and Mary in the Coire Creagach
Mist started to roll over us as the summit came into sight – we were feeling pretty pleased with ourselves on getting to the top of our first Munro. Just then we spied two other walkers who came up the southern slopes of Vorlich. While chatting at the summit cairn we discovered they first went up and over Ben Vane, another Munro in the area. Clearly we are NOT quite the stud-muffins we thought we were! The only thing for it is more hill walking.

On the way down we ventured towards another height of land to the north-east of the col. Then we traced a path back to join up with our route through Coire Creagach. We were down at Ardlui and enjoying an ale in the pub by 6:00. We took the train back to town and were home by about 9:30 – another day seized in Scotland!

Map of the route

View Ben Vorlich in a larger map

More pictures from Ben Vorlich

Friday, May 20, 2011

Bog Trotting and Hill Topping

Light rains down on Ben Lomond
The view from Flanders Moss: Evening light on Ben Lomond
At the end of our first week in Scotland (May 6) we were treated to a tour through a Scottish National Heritage site – the Flanders Moss. This is the largest raised bog in Britain and is an endangered ecosystem. Our guide through this wetland was Kate Sankey, an organic farmer, owner of West-Moss Side, and one of the guardians of the bog.

We travelled up from Glasgow with Irene and Al Whitney to stay with Kate on her farm. As we trotted through the bog Kate and I discovered what a truly small world it is as we have many colleagues and friends in common.

The bog was a delight of subtle colour and sound – meadow pipits and skylarks made the evening sing. But for me the evening dance of light on the Scottish hills was the spectacle I had hoped for.

Dinner that night was memorable – not only did Kate treat us to a tasty barbeque of organic sausages and steaks from cattle raised on the farm, but the dinner conversation was wide-ranging and engaging. We talked about the SNP’s (Scottish National Party) surprising victory in the recent Scottish elections, personal responsibility and “mountains without handrails”, and different approaches to heritage and conservation. When Kate brought out the selection of single malts the discussion really got lively – so lively I can’t quite remember the topics – but rest assured they were deeply important!

Scenes from the Flanders Moss Bog

Looking across the bog     Coming home in the evening light    On the Flanders Moss bog

Mike and I got to spend the night in very deluxe accommodations – a yurt. Kate has three on the property and they are available for booking.

Yurt at West Moss-Side
Our home away from home
The next day Al and Irene drove us back to Glasgow and on the way we passed through a group of low hills to the north of the city – the Campsie Fells. Again, the light was beautiful – rain and sun highlighted the green that is Scotland in springtime. I was particularly fascinated by one hill – Dumgoyne over the Glengoyne distillery. I resolved to hike up it as soon as possible. A few days later Mike and I were on top.

It wasn’t quite as easy a trip as I had planned for our first hiking foray – the Glasgow bus system is very convoluted. When we got to the town of Milngavie (pronounced Mull Guy), it seemed, as they say “you can’t get there from here” – or at least you can’t get there for the bus ticket you have in your hand. No worries though – we decided to walk on the West Highland Way. The trail starts/ends in Milngavie and so off we went. Things progressed so swimmingly that we just kept on going until we got to the approach for Dumgoyne. We looked at one another, said “What the heck – let’s go”, and up we went. 25 km later we were back where we started – another day seized in Scotland.

Mike takes a rest
Mike on the West Highland Way - headed to Dumgoyne (hill on the right in the sun)
More pictures of Flanders Moss Bog
More pictures of Dumgoyne and the first part of the West Highland Way

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Settling in on the Bonnie Banks O'Clyde

Bikes in Scotland
Pollock Park, on the cycle way into Glasgow
Mike and I have been in Glasgow, on the bonnie banks o'Clyde, for almost two weeks. We've settled in to our flat nicely, and are learning the Glasgow ropes. Mike has discovered all of the good junk stores, I'm a regular at the Waitrose supermarket, and we are both in search of the perfect pint --it is going to take a lot of sampling, but we 're up for it!. 

Since landing in town we've gone rambling with Irene and Al Whitney, spent the night in a yurt at an amazing organic farm (West-Moss Side), visited a growing peat bog, hiked some of the West Highland Way, and climbed our first Munro (mountain over 3000 ft) of the trip. I've attended a number of sessions at the Learning and Teaching Centre at the University of Glasgow, and have been warmly welcomed. 

We arrived at Paisley, the airport serving Glasgow, at 4:45 am on Thur, May 5. After a bit of a wait at customs we collected our bicycles and got them ready to ride into town. For the past month Scotland has been enjoying a hot, sunny, dry spell -- it has been so unseasonably hot and dry that forest fires broke out in the Highlands. We, it seems, brought the more usual Glasgow weather -- cloud and rain. But, at least it was warm. 

Mike on the White Cart Water
Mike on the White Cart Water

On the Sustrans bike route from Paisley to Glasgow
Paisley Sustrans (bike route) marker
By 7:00 a.m. we had ridden into Paisley and were ensconced at a small cafe enjoying a typical Scottish Breakfast - eggs, potato pancakes, blood pudding, haggis, beans, and bacon - great for the touring cyclist. Then, after a quick tour of the Paisley Abbey grounds (founded in 1163),  it was off to National Cycle Route7/75 for the ride into Glasgow. Mike and I did this route in 2007, but there have been a few changes. Today the route travels along a small river - the White Cart - for much of the time. Glasgow is a city of over 2 million people, and this no-traffic route through parkland and green space takes you right into the heart of the downtown. 

We found our way onto the University precinct and moved into our flat at 3A Southpark Terrace before noon. The building is quite ornate; a sandstone multi-storey with huge windows and high ceilings. Our flat is a very large one bedroom affair on two floors. The bedroom is on the second floor and looks out over the street. The living room, kitchen, and bathroom are below street level, with a small sunken walkway in front of the windows. 

The crack in the frameUnfortunately, Mike discovered a major crack in the frame of his bike. It is not safe to ride. We found a bike shop in town willing to weld it back together, but Mike had to turn the living room into a bike repair shop and strip the bike down to the frame. It should be repaired sometime next week and we'll be able to get out for some bike rides soon. In the mean time we've been exploring Glasgow on foot, and going a bit further afield by bus and train. We've even been out in a car with Al and Irene, who are here getting their sailboat ready to put in the water.  

All in all we are enjoying our new digs and our new city -- don't be surprised if we come back with a "wee" bit of a Glaswegian accent.