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February 2009 Archives

February 6, 2009

Hiking the Cowal Way

I confess to being more "hands-on" than most publishers, or even editors. Our forthcoming Cowal Way guidebook was finally nearing readiness for repro when I was struck by the fact that the authors had never written a book before, let alone detailed walking directions. So I decided to test their manuscript by trying to walk the 57-mile route from their directions alone. To avoid delaying the book (due out in May), this had to be done by the end of January. I knew the short hours of daylight would be challenging, but I hadn't reckoned on the deep snow. From Cowal's coastal roads, it's hard to believe how wintry conditions can be on the high ground.

My trip began early on Sunday 25th with a hair-raising drive from Blairmore to Portavadie along the thickly snow-carpeted single-track B836. It was passable by my car (front-wheel drive) only by sticking to the tracks of the previous vehicle as if to tramlines. Any oncoming traffic would have ended the attempt before it began: it took all the momentum I could muster to crest the hills.

On Tuesday, I left Strachur very early, apprehensive of the uphill hike to Curra Lochain, the watershed above Loch Goil. Its outflow burn was in spate with melt-water, and it seemed impossible to find a safe crossing for this raging torrent. The "stepping stone" (promised by the directions) was submerged, slippery and sloping. Alone, unsupported and with no desire to get frostbitten feet, let alone swept away, I hesitated, backtracked and finally overcame my loss of nerve by tossing my rucksack across. It contained my prized Lumix G1 camera, so then I had no choice but to follow.

After an untidy, strenuous leap and scramble, I sat down to recover my breath and happened to look up. And there it was, less than 100 feet above my head, soaring and wheeling: a golden eagle. I had never seen a wild one before (other than as a speck in the distance), though buzzards are commonplace at Landrick. Once you see an eagle close up, there can be no confusion: its silhouette is more like a plank of wood than a bird's! The moment was too magical to spoil by reaching for the camera, but this photo (taken elsewhere by friend Sandy Morrison) evokes it well:


The descent past Sruth Ban falls to Lochgoilhead was easy enough and I reached Drimsynie House just after lunchtime. Wednesday's plan was to go over the top and try to meet friends Rob and Di Tennent somewhere on Loch Long-side. The cloud level wasn't too low when I left Lochgoilhead, but by the time I had climbed up Coilessan glen, I found myself approaching a featureless white plateau in total white-out, looking (according to the directions) for white marker posts! Not surprisingly, I didn't see any, but headed easterly, found the cairn and descended to pick up (with some relief) the line of a fence which, after some time turned out to be roughly the right route after all. Our rendezvous worked just fine and, even better, Rob and Di (with dogs) had kindly hiked and photographed the Ardgartan/Arrochar section for me. So they kindly ran me back to Strachur to retrieve my car and we celebrated the success of my four-day hike with a decent meal and a stiff drink.

But still I had this nagging feeling. I couldn't pass the proofs without checking out the white marker posts, so I went back today to look for them. The snow was still lying, but this time the visibility was superb, albeit the wind chill factor breathtaking. And, happily, neighbour Malcolm decided to join me as I hiked up from Ardgartan to the cairn. That meant that two of us tramped all over that plateau for an hour, but neither of us saw a single marker post! It turns out they were removed some years ago, so I just deleted them also from the route description. And although it demanded an extra expedition just to be sure, I'm not sorry I returned to the cairn. Here's looking west toward Beinn Bheula, across the frozen lochan:


February 9, 2009

Amy and Gregor

We had a lovely visit yesterday from the Flynns. It had to be postponed from Saturday because the snow and ice on our hill has been so bad – not a problem for adults in suitable hiking boots, but far from buggy-friendly at the best of times. Craig and Carol-Anne were bringing a Very Important Visitor – Gregor, their ten-month old baby – all the way from Greenock to meet us.

Craig runs Mini Tours Scotland - which gives private guided tours of Scotland to visitors (mainly from the States) in smallish groups. Carol-Anne is currently a full-time mother and Gregor, as you can see below, is just adorable. Amy, being two years older, was the focus of Gregor's attention and admiration. It was fascinating to watch them together, and Amy's obvious delight in Gregor's company was fully reciprocated. The paddling pool-cum-ball swamp gave them their own territory.


February 12, 2009

Images from a microlight

Yesterday I finally cashed in my voucher for a microlight flight from East Fortune with East of Scotland Microlights. This was a generous birthday present from son Sandy, who runs Experience Ecosse which issued the voucher. Sandy is also training to pilot one, and last Sunday he was listed at number 31 in the Scotland on Sunday Hot 100 eligible men. I was hoping to see him fly.

It had taken us a while to sort out a date, partly diary problems but also weather constraints (too much crosswind is a showstopper). It was well worth the wait. The visibility was great, a dusting of snow on the Pentlands and with Gordon Douglas at the controls I had never a moment's nervousness. He even let me do some simple turns and a bit of descent toward the airfield, although from the back seat it's hard to see where you're going.

I have a satisfying souvenir in the shape of some decent photographs (I had my new Lumix G1 round my neck) of the Bass Rock, Tantallon Castle, Gosford House and North Berwick Harbour. Another time I'd try for an even faster shutter speed: the helmet visor meant I couldn't use the viewfinder and it was too bright to change settings, but I'm trying to put perfectionism aside and just enjoy them as they are. After a quick lunch, there was time to watch Sandy doing take-offs and landings (Gordon in the back seat). This put both him and the microlight in a new perspective: the image was suddenly of a flimsy contraption, heavier than air yet impossibly vulnerable in flight. As he disappeared into the wide blue yonder, I turned away to drive home, lump in throat, suddenly reminded of what enormous strides he has taken in recent years.

Here's a selection of what I saw: Sandy flying past the airfield, then Queen Margaret University (which I took for husband Keir who is Vice-chair of its Court), then Gosford House and (my favourite) the sands of Gosford Bay. Things look refreshingly different from up there!





February 15, 2009

Amy's first snowman

Today is our 15th consecutive day with snow on the ground at Landrick, although the thaw has begun. It's been a time of leaving a car at the foot of the hill and walking up and down, far preferable to risking getting the car up but not down again. There's a great deal of rubbish talked about snow ploughs that takes no account of the cost of maintaining them to combat conditions that arise about once in 18 years. Sometimes the weather is in charge and you just have to adapt.

Anyway the snow has its upside, too. Daughter Helen and I took Amy outside yesterday and we built her first snowman, a fine collaborative project. He may look a little lopsided to you, but to us he was a splendid creation: sturdy birch arms, twigs for his hair, pebbles for eyes and a half-carrot nose. We were just in time, because this morning his neck has thinned to breaking point and he seems unlikely to survive the day.


About February 2009

This page contains all entries posted to Jacquetta in February 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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