Ben A’an & the Unwanted Company

The weather forecast was looking great (for a hungry biting insect). Overcast with no wind: just what those infamous Scottish biting residents love.  A colleague was selling Avon products with Skin So Soft reduced to £1.99. “I’ll take 3 bottles, one of each flavour” says I and the delivery of ‘original, water-mint and silk moisture’ arrived in time for my Ben A’an walk… I showered and smothered myself in water-mint (smelled so good) laid my clothes down and sprayed them too (tip of the day). Got dressed then applied to bits that may have been missed like ears, back of neck etc. Would that be enough to gain me a magical shielding cape to fend off those bitey beasties…?

Picking up my walking buddy from a nearby village we arrived at the well marked Ben A’an car park. We’d been tipped off previously that there were now parking meters in force and purchased our all day ticket of £3 (cards not accepted at time of writing) As always, i parked in a spot ideal for a cup of tea and view to enjoy while resting our weary legs post-walk.

I did this hill climb about 6 years ago and i remember it being easy. Often referred to as a ‘great family climb’ I thought it an ideal start for my friend who was recovering from surgery and ready to venture skywards. The original path has been changed and is now a wide steep track to allow for the large tree cutting vehicles to access ‘no entry’ tracks further afield. That short climb was already quite a struggle. oh dear.. I have never professed to being a great hill walker. I can walk on flat for miles but hills, well, they don’t come so easily. See that wee pointy one? Well, that’s it…

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The very well maintained path offered a thoughtless climb, no need for umming and ahhing at the possibility of a wrong turn. Sturdy stones made the stairway quite luxurious with few people descending at this morning hour making the awkward “excuse mes” and the “hope their’s a burger van at the top” exchanges quite rare. Yes, it is me that makes those comments, i apologise but unfortunately, I can’t stop this habit…

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Very shortly in, lush greenery had enticed the unsociable midgie to start raising their families. With the constant walk by dinner to feast upon it was no surprise that the estate agents of the insect world classed this as ‘prime location’. I felt confident that my cloak of Skin So Soft would protect me from all evil predators. Alas, my cocky confidence was short lived… We were swarmed. Trouser legs grew an extra layer with the vicious wee blighters starving for breakfast prepared to gnaw through quick-dry fabric for a tasty bite of my blue tinged Scottish skin. I had foolishly left a few square millimetres of skin un-oiled on my neck and the next morning, i looked like an extra in a Micheal Jackson video.

The majority of the lower land had been drastically chopped back leaving a prehistoric landscape of stumps and skeleton tree trunks extending skywards their spindly limbs offering safety to buzzards and other needy birds seeking rest.

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The midgies hastened our preferred relaxed pace as we climbed higher seeking a breezy opening. The baron landscape changed to beautiful tones of purple heathers and green ferns, trickling burns quietly making their journey to Loch Katrin. Family’s with toddlers and teenagers bounded past and we enjoyed the journey properly taking time to absorb the fine colours of Scotland.

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We arrived at the top. That was quick! A large crowd had gathered before us and insisted on a drone recording and champagne to celebrate someones birthday. We grumbled momentarily about spoiling the serenity and the overuse of technology then appreciated their excitement at climbing a Scottish hill. I did wonder why Ben A’an was the birthday hill of choice when the likes of Ben Lomond would have been a far more impressive story to spin to friends back home. There were many different accents from around England. I wondered how they had all met and agreed to meet here on this wee hill…

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Loch Katrin

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Loch Venachar we think!

Sandwiches eaten. Pictures taken. We descended quickly arriving at the car park where we stayed for an hour drinking tea and people watching. Great spot… A drive along the side Loch Lubnaig and a wander through the forestry completed the day and we headed home happy and full of Coop granola bars and tea. I also saw a helicopter. I do love a helicopter, especially a black shiny one…

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Shenanigans on Schiehallion 

Ever since my dad had ‘done’ Schielhallion a few years back I had been quite keen to attempt it but as I hadn’t done any ‘real’ climbing before this year, I had been hesitant. I could pronounce it so that was a bonus. Spelling it, that was another matter…

I met my walking buddy in Strathblane and off we headed in Harvey RV along the very scenic route via Callander parking at Braes of Foss carpark (£2 a day) The MET office weather forecast showed great conditions on the Saturday for Sunday although this did change Sunday morning. I searched other hills but all forecast the same.  Best stick with plan A.

A helpful chap arrived at the car park in a sign written van asking us if we had done this munro before, we told him we hadn’t and he handed us  a leaflet. As with every instruction leaflet i receive, i don’t look at it until the ‘task’ is done. Washing machines, fridges, mountains. All the same to me. As it turns out it was a great read about the munro and the John Muir Trust. The car park also has loos which is a bonus. I wish more people had taken advantage of these facilities instead of abandoning tissue paper along the way… Why do people litter the hills (or anywhere outside for that matter: country or city) take a plastic bag with you. However, on seeing these white tissue piles, we knew we on the right track of civilisation.

These pictures below are in the correct order… See, visibility not too bad

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Ghostly visions appearing from the mist…

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Two thirds of the path are very clear and beautifully maintained and those same two thirds remained with very good visibility. We couldn’t see the top of Schiehallion but the route up was clear. We climbed, frequently turning around in search of a view. The delicate mist blew across in ghostly sheets leaving us suddenly cold and in awe of this spooky happening. Pictures taken got fewer and fewer with the total lack of the usual stunning panoramas.

The best attempt of a ‘ghostly sheet’ i could get…

wp-1469464215915.jpgThe path ended and rocks happened. Rocks turned into boulders which turned into rocks then back to boulders. What a climb. Now, bearing in mind that Schielhallion is meant to be the easiest Munro, the rocks, as well as the heavy mist should have put a dampener on the journey but everything enhanced each other. I’m sure I’m the only ‘odd ball’ that could have put such a positive slant on a hill climb but I really did enjoy the ascent. And I’m not even a ‘glass half full’ kind of girl usually… Something in the air I’m sure. Many a helpful (but miserable) face descending assisted us in the right direction and at this point, I did feel a little bit foolish for not being better organised. I had my map. I had my compass. I had done a hill navigation course. Hmmm. Should have practised before this mischievous misty mountain… With my knowledge, wisdom and expertise I did know that once there was no more hill to climb, we had arrived at the top…

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The total climb in the mist was actually fab once my half-hearted concerns had passed. It was eerily quiet. I’ve never experienced serenity on a hill before. No vast crowds, no billowing wind. Peace and quiet with the earie landscape of rocks and boulders. It was like walking on another planet. So surreal. So stunningly beautiful. I’m glad my walking buddy knows me well enough to realise I’m not having a breakdown when I recite my emotional thoughts and random artistic  observations. Thank you Jacqueline…

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Obligatory trainer shot…wp-1469464215751.jpg

When does a cairn become a house…? I imagine a very welcome sight when the weather blows across…

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We did eventually run out of climb and arrived safely at the top making our way to the cutest cairn we had seen all day. We ate our lunch, took pictures and avoided even more abandoned tissues.

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At one point a crowd of 6 appeared in the mist and asked ‘is this it?’.  Never had a more genuine and heart felt question been asked but she had a point. There was no flat grassy resting place, no little corner of your own that every other mountain seems to have commissioned as a specification for ‘munro’ status… Just flatter and larger boulders. Also joining us on our dining experience was a father / son / dog trio. The son was walking Munros to total the height of Everest for his football charity. The 8 of us had a whip-round towards his good cause, wished them well and we started the descent. I wanted to keep up with the crowd of 6, safety in numbers and all that but we were quickly separated due to my half-speed-knees. We got a bit lost. I got a bit scared, fell over twice. ‘Tit over arse’ I think is the phrase with no injury except pride. We retraced our steps and the ghostly trio were heading towards us pointing us to the right route. They lead the direction, respectfully keeping a distance staying close enough to ensure we were safely on the path.

Just as we got to the bottom of Schiehallion, the sky’s opened and it poured. Heavily. A big mug of tea in the van helped with the very dull journey home on the A9. Next time I’ll stick with the more scenic route home again.

As much as this walk sounds awful, I loved every minute (apart from the getting lost bit, let’s forget that bit) My lunch was crap, walking pole broke, twisted my ankle, got rained on, was cold.. I can’t wait to do it again but next time Mr Schiehallion, can you provide some blue sky…?

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Feel free to Ramble on down to my Facebook page, Rambling Scotland where i will post videos and other snippets. I also welcome other bloggers and ramblers to share their stories and pictures

 

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Rambling Scotland. But in London…

I lived in London from 1985 – 1992, moving from a sleepy (unexciting) village in Scotland aged 15. I introduced myself to the London suburbs during the birth of rave and acid house parties, somehow managing to land myself the role of floor manager in Next Retail in between the all-nighters and energy drinks.

As my partner is a Londoner and my dad & step-mum, extended family, old school & work friends still live there, we visit fairly frequently doing the usual tourist things in the city and out-with but never realised before how small it is… Ok, a bit unfair to use the word ‘small’ as it does cover 611 square miles but now I’ve actually began to really leave the house, there’s only so much real exploring you can do in a big city. Let me elaborate…

Pete (the partner) is a great one to ‘do’ London with. He was a motorbike courier in his younger day and knew the city intimately: all the lanes, cut throughs, secret lunch time skiving spots etc. He can still fluently recite the A to Z leaving listeners in awe and can take you through the virtual streets once you name a start and finish point. In short, if anyone knows London, it’s this man. Me? I tag along, knowledgeless and happy to be directed either on motorbike, foot, underground train or bus…

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Being based in South East London during our stays, just on the edge of Greenwich, it’s a great part of the city to stay in. A very large green to the front of the houses keeps the main road considerately away providing a convenient bus every 10 minutes. You can walk up to the High Street, visit Eltham Palace, jog or cycle around the various sports fields or walk around the newly regenerated Kidbrook Village taking in Sutcliffe park en-route. This most recent visit we wandered around the grounds and buildings of Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site taking in the stunning museums, painted hall, chapel and Royal Observatory.

There was an open stage with David Gray playing that night. The pre-security atmosphere was relaxed and the venue was stunning with the backdrop of an impressive London skyline running along the Thames.

What I like about walking is not sticking to a detailed plan. Going off route should you wish and discover what’s down that path, at the bottom of that hill or what’s on the other side of that massive rock. Yeh, I’m the one holding up the group and you’d be surprised at what was on the other side of that rock… In London, that doesn’t happen. It can’t happen as so many of the old cobbled lanes have been closed off to squeeze in another overpriced flat with a desired postcode.  That shrinks the experience and the scale of the area. You can see everything, no further exploring necessary or possible.

I would love to momentarily go back to ‘Oliver’ times with the dark mysterious lanes although they did seem to encourage prostitutes, murderers and undesirables. Maybe not…

Don’t get me wrong, I love London: the suburbs and in the thick of it but I realise that I need a different mind-set to appreciate the latter. The beauty I seek in the city is in the architecture, reading historical plaques, looking down at the well walked slabs wondering how many foot-steps it took for that erosion, touching a tree or over-painted cast iron bench while walking along the Thames. Visiting markets, smelling the canals, sampling food from every culture imaginable and finding unique charm in each distinctive underground train station. Alternatively, you can ‘sight-see’:  Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, Tower Bridge and the like. They are all great to see but that’s all you do. See the sight then move on to the next one.

No you won’t see any hills, streams and massive rocks with secrets on the other side and you will feel insignificant. Everything has been ‘discovered’ and you won’t be the first one to touch the old stone wall. You will be stopped by gates, walls and barriers. You can’t say hello to everyone you pass, or spark a conversation with a stranger. You will be surrounded by people yet still feel alone. No one makes eye contact… Few will even notice your existence. They are too busy with the stress of mortgages and overpriced city living. The city boundary is bulging with buildings, shops, people and Tesco Extras…

And all these factors make England’s huge capital seem so small.

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Boats and Bad Weather in Oban…

Despite the wet forecast, I had promised myself that Oban would be next on my to-do list and I headed off early leaving bright Strathblane sunshine behind.

The first stop was the world famous Rest and be Thankful where I bought a cup of tea from the snack van. Not overly lured by the eggs being fried in the bacon and black pudding fat, I settled for the more appetising option of some stale fruity oatcakes I had in Harvey RV… I think I offended the proprietor by asking for chips at 9.30am. I’m a grown up, I can ask for these things although I did sulk when he told me the fryers weren’t on yet…


After reading the sign with the history of the area, I glanced at the mist covered mountains knowing one was The Cobbler I had climbed a few weeks earlier. I didn’t know which one it was but was thankful not to be climbing that day.

A coach turned up in the distance and out spilled tiny 2 legged, excitable creatures, the most confident striding up front with the Saltire. They were on a mission to wave the Scottish flag with a backdrop of a misty mountain. They all took a turn. I wondered what hashtags they’d be using that night and how many Facebook profile pictures would be changed in memory of that coach tour

I took a wrong turn (as I have the habit of doing recently) and took the more picturesque B828 which has clearly been laid by council workers tipsy on midgie repellent. The single lane ribboned narrow and wide with passing places galore taking me through the Argyll Forest. Oh shit. A junction.
I had made the decision to follow an actual paper map that day and left the sat-nav at home. Lets just say I take notice of maps even less than I do of a sat-nav. I took the B839 towards Inveraray. That road was quite an experience in itself but note to self, find the A83 at home time…

Stopping every mile or so to allow traffic to overtake with drivers so close waving a middle finger of appreciation… These stops also allowed me time to discover that the water to the left was Loch Fyne. Yay! Loch Fyne Oyster Bar. Pit stop priorities… Nice loos


Turning right then left I nearly took out 3 cyclists who were drinking tea on the road! On the actual tarmac right at the corner. I threw my best glare face but 3 flashes of glistening lycra catching the sunlight and I was distracted…
Inveraray came and went and I followed the A819 up Loch Awe passing the very beautiful Kinchrackine Castle floating graciously above the surface, shrouded in dewy petticoats. You can access it further around the coast but it looked quite a marshy walk. Will dig out my wellys and return again. Here it is here.

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The A85 brought normality back and I continued North West through the Pass of Brander / River Awe. Reminiscent of Wast Water in the Lake District which took my breath away last year. Pulling over, I found a virtually vertical path and upset the quietness of 3 young fishermen. I apologised and told them to look away as the chances were I would fall. They kept looking but the show never came. They seemed disappointed.

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Passed Cruachan Power Station: “I’ll visit that on the way back” (didn’t)

Continuing through the stunning bridge at Connel. A quick leg stretch, next stop: Oban.

A bright yellow Hotel was the first thing that hit me. No convenient place to stop and my eyes were distorted and sparkly for a while. I thought it was a migraine coming on but no, just an immaculate yellow hotel in view. I can’t even remember the name of it but the building itself was memorable!

As usual, a tour of the area is a must before parking up and an ideal spot was found at the harbour. Not even a pay and display like everywhere else in the area. Result. Fish and chips will be consumed there later after my mammoth hill climb…

Unusually, I visited Tourist Information where a lovely girl advised me how to get up to McCaigs Tower. I did upset things by asking her opinion on the best fish and chip in town. After a quick fumble in the ‘what advice can I give to tourists’ leaflet, she awkwardly told me that she couldn’t give her personal opinion on that. Let me re-phrase. What F&C shops do others tell you are good? “They are mostly the same…” So like I choose wine, I opted for a shop later that day with a nice colour scheme and quirky font…

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A climb up to appropriately nick-named Obans Crown, I entered the quite spectacular McCaigs Tower. Again, I’d seen this on Facebooks ‘Show me Scotland’ site so it was already in my little purple things-to-do book. What I have also discovered is that rain is quite a good thing. It keeps people away and you get to see and do things by yourself. Although the road is quite steep, it’s a short journey from the water and you can drive there if you wish.

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A wee keek through the windows to spot Caledonian MacBrayne Ferry on his jaunts…

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What else is there to do, let me consult my map. Hmmm… a wander around the harbour, mediocre Fish and chips then head back taking in all the things I’d missed on the way there. What I have come to find is that I’m far preferring the journey to the destination. I’m always disappointed by the destination as I expect too much. No doubt Oban has far more to offer: seal spotting boat trips, cinema, distillery, rare breeds farm park and many, many restaurants. I may return for a spot of seal spotting…

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I drove to Dunollie Castle, parked and walked the opposite path finding out about cave dwellers and this big dog stone. As myth would have it, Fingals dog was tied there and the heavy chain he wore, ground the rock away. It’s a sea stack formed by the lava flow from (probably) Beinn Mhor carrying all the bits of rock and stone in its flow. It would have once formed an arch between the cliffs behind me (where the cave dwellers lived)

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Back to the van then carrying on down that road to the end was a wee beach with immaculate new car park. No overnight parking? We’ll see about that next time I visit… Although the new houses nearby may report an intruder disobeying the council rule book. A wet wander; both under foot and from the sky, back to the van and onwards to Dunstaffnage Castle. If you take a trip here, prepare to feel lost as the signs take you through building site and small ‘industrial estate’. Avoid eye contact with office/shop looking for £5.50 (unless you want to go in the castle. I will. One day) and i wander the grounds outwith the walls.

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I stumble upon a little rocky sanctuary and wish it was sunny. No, take that back. If it was sunny it would be busy! I take in the view of either Loch Linnhe or Firth or Lorn depending on which way you look. Here, I found my highlight of the day. Nothingness. It’s the most nothing I have ever seen in my life apart from closing my eyes. See…

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This wee boat came putt-putting closer and closer making me smile. It was the only company I needed all day. I thought this lone waterproofed stranger may have caught his attention but it didn’t. Perhaps he was thinking the same thing…

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The midgies insisted I leave and I apologised for killing 4 with one swift slap

Homeward bound, full of Fish ‘n’ Chips i arrived home to a glass of Prosecco and pondered my next outing…

 

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BLiSS full Monday…

The frequently posted images on Facebook of ‘Still’ led me to read more of this photogenic fella.  While trying to find any connection of his residence in St Fillans to the St Fillans cave in Pittenweem, I fell short of gaining any linking evidence as I was prematurely side tracked by stumbling upon the BLiSS Trail…

The BLiSS trail was the brainchild of LETi (Loch Earn Tourism Information group) and takes you a scenic journey through heart of ‘Rob Roy Country’ to celebrate the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design 2016. The name BLiSS comes from the four villages linked by the trail: Balquidder, Lochearnhead, Strathyre and St Fillans, with the “i” standing for both tourist information and innovation. The villages are currently home to 13 ‘official’ sculptures and creative projects and I was on a mission to meet each and every one.

The plan was to follow the numbered map implicitly… until I took a wrong turn but still, we joyfully ticked off every sculpture enjoying banter and helpful advice from the locals at every turn.

Our first stop was at ‘Sloc nan Sitheanach’ (Faerie Hollow) to see the work of Ruairidh Moir. A tranquil rest and sheltered spot to admire the view of Loch Lubnaig. It was set just to the right at the beautifully maintained north carpark. There are lots of picnic tables and metal stands to fire up your portable bbq and snack ‘shed’ for coffees etc.

Continuing up the A84, on the left you’ll see The Broch Café in Strathyre where the second installation (designed by Jeremy Cunningham) is easily spotted: ‘Ride Out Seats’.

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After a stroke of the smooth, perfectly proportioned steel and oak, a glance ahead uncovered the third piece which we made our way over too. At this stage, I began calling it a treasure hunt as the directions were a bit vague. To be fair, they are probably very helpful if you knew the area. But we didn’t…

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Stirling Council had commissioned installation number 3 to chainsaw carver Iain Chalmers who created ‘A Soaring Eagle’ standing about 7 foot tall in amongst the trees. Handsome brute…

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Airlie-Phant

Moving swiftly onwards (we were doing well by this point) to Airlie House Bed & Breakfast (Strathyre) where we saw ‘Hunting Owl’ and ‘Feeding Time’ (Heather Gray) in the gardens of this beautiful property. One of the neighbours had told us it was ok to go into the garden. So we did… Several minutes later the owner came from the building and I predicted shouts of “gerrofmyland” which never came. Instead we were given a warm welcome and a short tour of the 3 sculptures he had including the very cute elephant.

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This is where ‘we’ (me) took a wrong turn and went from project 4 up to number 9: ‘Bill the Bull’ by Kev Paxton. By short term skipping Balquhidder, we headed east and met this moo-tilful creation (couldn’t resist…) at The Lochearnhead Hotel. He sits tall and handsome in the gardens and his colour entices you to stop and have a ‘pet’. My partner, also a blacksmith, had met the more monochrome bull at the galvanisers some time ago. I wish he’d photographed it then. I think it would look even more stunning in his metally glory with authentic rusty curls but then the children who painted him wouldn’t have had their fun nor would the money raised from the painting have been put towards Kevs favourite charity Ripple Retreat. (That’s a lot of information one sentence!) *Googles Ripple retreat*

Further along the road is number 11: ‘Fraser Briar’, again by Kev Paxton, one of my favourites of this trail. Set in such a stunning and somehow surreal location across from Briar Cottages he stands tall and proud admiring Loch Earn, his body made from components such as roses, leaves, a thistle and there’s a wee mouse with cheese in there too! The garden doubles as a mini golf course and home for ducks, we spent a while there taking everything in.

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Now, here’s the man I wanted to meet and he didn’t disappoint. ‘Still’ by Rob Mulholland. Guarding the water, he stands tall at the jetty of the Four Seasons Hotel in St Fillans.

Watching.. Defending … Hypnotising…

After a pot of hot chocolate at the Four Seasons Hotel, we continued a short walk to Lynne Schroders ‘Fish Out of Water’ at Achray House Hotel. A lovely end to the journey. Although we had missed a bit…

Driving back down the A85, swinging left at Lochearnhead, just as we left the signs we saw ‘Dragon Bike’ by June McEwan made from willow wicker at Mansefield House. This was number 8. It was quite sad to see he had been chained down but due to the first ‘Still’ being stolen and the damage done to ‘Lookout’, I suppose it’s necessary.

Kev Paxton was back on the scene again with his 3rd sculpture on the trail. ‘Sunflowers’ are sprouting out of the car park at The Golden Larches Restaurant in Balquidder Station for installation 7. See, I like this unfinished, galvanised monochrome finish. He could have painted them garish yellow, been even more eye catching but on this grey overcast day, they fitted into nature perfectly. (image below untouched)

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Sunflowers – Kev Paxton on the BLiSS Trail

Continuing the journey down towards Loch Voil, Balquhidder Village Hall holds project 5, ‘Grooming Stag’ by June McEwan. He stands peacefully grooming himself in the serene surrounding sin Rob Roy Country.

The last one to find, 6, was ‘The Lookout’ by Angus Ritchie and Daniel Taylor. This one wasn’t as easy to find although the helpful staff at the stunning Monachyle MHOR Hotel happily pointed us on our way through a field. Midgie hats unfolded, we walked through the field between Loch Voil and Doine. A couple of snaps later, we raced back to Harvey avoiding beastie bites and cow pats!

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Darn those midgies!

A trip of ‘Roy Rob Country’ isn’t complete without a trip to the resting place of the man himself, wife and kids. There’s a vacancy for a new minister if anyone’s interested…

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Read more (or apply for the vacancy) here Balquhidder Church

You may have noticed that I missed out the 10th project (let’s face it, you didn’t notice…) This is still in the construction stages at Lochearnhead. Students from Perth College are creating a ‘Contemporary Art Project’ which I’ll look forward to going back to see.

If this sounds like a trip you’d like to take, I suggest you go soon as the pieces are being taken down to be shown at exhibitions or sold on so I don’t know how long they’ll be there for.

Enjoy!

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The Sunday Cobbler

Saturday 6th June, I met my walking buddy Janice and her wee 4 legged pal Coco in Drymen and we headed up the west side of Loch Lomond, turning left at Tarbet.

The Succoth carpark is easily spotted on the left after leaving Arrochar and costs a £1 (check up to date prices) for the day, Monday to Sunday. A stop in Arrochar for a pre-walk loo break is recommended as there are no facilities at the carpark. Having parked Harvey in a shady spot, we gathered our things and headed across the road to the well-signed path.

The path zig-zags up the south-east side of the corbett with a wide and well-worn path being our guide. Slowly ascending, the stunning views of an early morning Ben Lomond were behind us while we were serenaded by the Arrochar Church bells. The true early birds were already passing us coming down with envious muscular legs and golden tans. While we climbed, so did the temperature and we promise ourselves the next walk would start around 6am or earlier.

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Coco enjoying the adventure

Continuing to zig-zag, you will reach a junction with a bench. Sit down. Take a picture of Ben Lomond and breathe in the view.

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Ben Lomond and Loch Long

Turn left, then the next right. That’s the only time you could possibly go off route.

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And there’s our challenge for the day – The Cobbler

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The Cobbler

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Looking back towards Ben Lomond again

Now, when you come to this point…

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We took the ‘easy’ path on the right. Although Janice is ridiculously super fit, me, not so much and she didn’t want to return a broken friend back home. We were told the right path was easiest. Plenty of people took the left path, children too. I don’t know if they had been that way previously and until the next time, I won’t be able to give you more info on how difficult that route is. Climbers overtook us armed with ropes and various ‘kit’ hook thingys… Judging by the side of the hill, I can only presume they were taking the 3rd, more direct vertical option!

The majority of the climb is gentle to moderate. And then you hit this stage…

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It killed me. I took it slow stopping every 2 minutes or so to catch my breath. 3 minutes from the top, I was knackered and felt totally deflated. I sat down for a couple of minutes to find meaning, drank water and sat. Still… That was enough. I skipped the rest of the way up. Be kind to yourself. If you want to stop. Bloody stop! And then continue. It’s not a race, take your time.

Click an image below to enlarge…

It’s very sociable at the top of Ben Arthur and I although I’ve only climbed about 6 hills, I would say the friendliest of them all. Someone offered midge repellent; another gave Coco a bowl of water and offers of map reading help and hill spotting were given. Small things can sometimes mean the most and I felt honoured that these fellow hill walkers became temporary friends.

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There’s more to explore at the top and plenty of opportunities to find your own space.

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We weren’t brave enough to ‘thread the needle’ and after a quick lunch and keek through ‘Argyle’s eyeglass’ we began our descent. Is it just me who thinks this looks like a couple gazing adoringly at each other…?

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Argyles Eyeglass

While we greeted everyone with a cheery acknowledgement, several chat stops were made with this one being the most memorable. We had the pleasure of meeting Ian Russell and Kai. In December 2014 at Ayr train station, gentle Shar-Pei, Kai was left tied to railings with a suitcase containing his pillow, bowl and toy. The Scottish SPCA took Kai in and a Just Giving page was set up to raise money for costly surgery to his eyelids. Kai’s story went viral and caught the attention of Ian who contacted the SPCA directly with an offer of financial help. Over 200 offers of adoption came from around the world; Kai was nearly as famous as Paddington Bear, suitcase and all!

Ian kept in touch with the SPCA saying if Kai couldn’t be rehomed, he would gladly help. Fast forward a few weeks where they met for the first time. Bandanas were exchanged, a new friendship was formed and off they walked into the sunset. I do like a happy ending…

We welcomed a quick paddle and sandwich at this little dam. The peace was rudely broken by an inconsiderate dog owner that brought his hairy mutt to the water for stick fetching games. Which was fine. Until he got out and shook water over all the weary wanderers and their possessions. Shoes, snacks and faces were drenched. And they continued to do that until everyone left.

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Views at all stages of the walk were stunning. It’s no wonder film crews from around the world come and set up base here. Its awe inspiring. Romantic. Moody. Menacing. Foreboding. All these things rolled in to one glance.

Although I ‘like’ waking, you’ll be surprised to hear I don’t love it. What I do love are those spectacular views; views I’ve never seen before and views I will never see again. I shall compare it to childbirth. Let’s face it, having babies is sore, f***ing sore but the prize you are given you cannot compare to anything else. And the pain is quickly forgotten…

Never be put off by having never walked before. There are walkers of all ages and levels just ‘getting out’. Being part part of someone else’s journey and experience whether they be first time walkers or those 4am hill runners is a real eye opener.  We met adventurers from all ‘walks’ of life. A matching-t-shirt-wearing stag do , families, tourists and solitary walkers. We all have the same goal: to make the most of life.

 

Posted in Summer Walks and Wanderings | Leave a comment

Devils Staircase to Heaven

“Who’s nicked my hills??” says me at 5.30am Saturday morning. The Campsies were still to wake and while snuggling deep under a milky mist, they were seemingly enjoying the lie in after another Friday night of Scottish hospitality. At 6.30, me and Harvey hit the tarmac, picking up the A82 at Balloch, heading north, passing the glassy waters of Loch Lomond. Sleepy campers were lighting fires for their first cuppa, glancing up at the annoying diesel engine rumbling by breaking the serenity of their peaceful morning. Kids still in pj’s, throwing stones in the water waiting patiently for the weekend treat of hot chocolate and Frosties.

I continued to the north point of Loch Lomond, Inverarnan, and welcomed a quick comfort stop at the world famous Drovers Inn, (MANY a gin fueled happy night spent there!) The majority of this road offers beautiful and changeable scenery with open water, cliffs, rocks and flat green fields: its a glorious drive passing through Tyndrum, Bridge of Orchy and the wet lands around Loch Tulla in Rannoch Moor. I shock myself when i realise that this is only the second time i have been to Glen Coe when it’s only 1hr 45minutes drive. I have a lot to catch up on

The meeting point was Glen Coe Ski Resort where I meet my climbing companions. I park Harvey in a quiet corner surrounded with the chaos of a few hundred bikers partaking in a bike rally. We drive one car round to Kinlochleven where the walk begins on the old military road…

2 steps up, slide 1 down, its that kind of surface!

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Blackwater Reservoir

Blackwater Reservoir

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Keep your eyes open for this sign, which re-directs you from the military road. I love the traditional style of this sign and can imagine ladies in tweedy pantaloons and sturdy leather ankle boots with tired, frayed laces striding unashamedly with the men…

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A well deserved lunch and feet up for 20 minutes. Eating. Breathing. What would we do without it… 😉

Oh yes, then this happened…

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… We were invaded by Storm Troopers. Darth Vader was feeling a bit shy but we persuaded him to join us in our picture. They were collecting money for Bloodwise, a blood cancer charity

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The descent was relatively quick and just as stunning although those dodgy knees were causing grief again. The roar of motor bikes echoed around the mountains and stayed for seconds longer than usual. Natures surround sound right here in Glen Coe.

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This handsome fellow must be the most photographed animal in Scotland and we met him at Kingshouse Hotel. This picture below i have pinched from Facebook group Scotland from the Roadside. The photographers name is Erin Garrett and i claim no ownership at all! What a picture though…

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From the most photographed animal in Scotland to the most famous cottage. No walk in Glen Coe is complete without a picture of Blackrock Cottage.  Not residential but used by the Ladies Scottish Climbing Club. I wonder if those ladies go walking in leathery boots and frayed laces…

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The day ended with a solitary 12 mile drive up the single lane road towards Loch Etive, Glen Etive. Dotted with tents, fires and fishermen, scored with crystal clear rivers. That’s for another blog…. But here’s a snippet…

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