Sauntering around in sea mists at Ross Sands

 

Sea mists are a strange affair and quite an experience. We went for a beach walk in early May on the coast at Ross Links, setting off in blue skies and sunshine, not quite expecting to be engulfed in swirling sea mist! We were looking for and hoping to see grey seals at Guile Point!!

Summary:

Sunday 8 May 2016. Start time 11.38am. Distance 11.0 km (6.8 miles). Duration 3 hours and 52 minutes.

The Journey:

We set out in sunshine and blue skies to look for grey seals, known to be around Guile Point at Ross Sands; but instead stumbled into a sea mist or sea haar – or as they are known here in Northumberland, a sea fret. They are caused by warm moist air moving over the cooler North Sea causing the moisture in the air to condense out and form a fog, which then blows inland on easterly breezes. They can be common in the North East in the summer months!!

It was quite delightful as it obscured all views, blew off the sea and swirled around us as we walked along the beach. No real need for a compass to check our bearings – just keep the sea on your right hand side as you walk northwards!!

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Setting off in bright sunshine.

 

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No hint of what is yet to come!

 

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Across the dunes on a well marked footpath.

 

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The sand shifts in this area!!

 

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Sea mist, sea haar or sea fret blowing off the beach. Call it what you like!

 

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Two walkers emerge from the mist.

 

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Visibility “sort of” improving near the sea.

 

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Sea birds nest on the sand and dunes in this area and are protected by roped off areas. Sensible.

 

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Approaching the end of the beach and the view of Holy Island appears.

 

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Navigation towers at Guile Point, or strictly speaking, lighted stone obelisks built in 1859 provide a lead for vessels entering Holy Island harbour.

 

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Some walkers making a dash for it as the tide cut off their little island!

 

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Heading back along the beach with the sea fret beginning to clear.

 

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Beach art!!

 We didn’t see any seals …… next time maybe!

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Saint Oswald’s Way – a tale of many days. Part 1&2

The St Oswald’s Way is a 97 mile (155km) long distance walking route in Northumberland. The route links between the St Cuthbert’s Way at Holy Island and the Hadrian’s Wall Path at Heavenfield.

This post follows our travels along the St Oswald’s Way, a journey that we are doing as a series of day walks in no particular order!! Future posts will track our later progress.

The St Oswald’s Way route recalls the life and importance of King Oswald/ Saint Oswald who ruled and travelled the Northumberland countryside in the 7th century.

This post describes two day walks, the first from Alnmouth to Weldon Bridge and then two weeks later, the second from Weldon Bridge to Rothbury.

Summary:

Part 1. Alnmouth to Weldon Bridge. Sunday 28 February 2016. Start time 9.39am. Distance about 30.3 km (18.8 miles). Duration 7 hours and 18 minutes.

Part 2. Weldon Bridge to Rothbury. Saturday 12 March 2016. Start time 10.35am. Distance 12.0km (7.5 miles). Duration 3 hours and 6 minutes.

The Journey:

Three intrepid heroes set off from Alnmouth with the intention of doing a “long walk” – a training exercise for one of our group who was planning to do a long distance charity walk later in the year.

It would be a long walk with a twist – a long linear walk. Many of you who walk regularly will know that linear walks are usually quite rare but can be very interesting and fulfilling. They are rare because they involve a lot more logistical faffing (being dropped off, or picked up, or leaving cars at either end, or using a mix of public transport and favours from friends). In my opinion they are particularly interesting and fulfilling as you pass through the countryside, move from point A to point B and don’t usually cover any ground twice – so different from a circular walk!

Alnmouth is a pretty coastal vilage and its serenity hides the fact that it was a bustling port in the 13th Century and then again in the 16th and 17th Centuries, exporting grain from the Tyne Valley. Apparently, smuggling was rife! In 1806 a violent storm dramatically altered the flow of the River Aln resulting in a shallower channel and the port saw a rapid decline.

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Two of the three amigos. The third was camera shy!

 

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Alnmouth viewed from the far side of the Aln estuary.

 

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On the dunes, heading south, looking back towards Alnmouth.

 

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8km into the journey, Warworth castle appearing in the distance.

 

The old village of Warkworth is enclosed in a loop of the River Coquet, the village growing up around an old Saxon church from 730 AD. The village is of course dominated by its castle, now looked after by English Heritage, following its transfer from the Percy family to the nation in 1922. The first ‘motte and bailey’ castle was built in the 11th Century and replaced with a stone castle in 1158. The imposing Keep, that survives well today, was built between 1380 and 1390 under the instruction of Henry de Percy IV, who became the first Earl of Northumberland.

 

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Leaving Warkworth behind after lunch.

 

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20km into the journey and the blocks look comfortable for a rest!

 

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Heading towards Felton, as we drop down to walk beside the river Coquet.

 

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The old bridge in Felton.

 

The village of Felton grew up on the old Great North Road (that then became the A1 as we know it today) and had a variety of inns, shops and services. Nowadays the old bridge is just for pedestrians with the main road going over a more modern bridge almost adjacent.

 

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Felton’s church of St Michael and All Angels.

 

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Parkland in Felton. Looking back towards the village.

 

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Heading back down towards the river Coquet. Joined by Emma now.

 

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Underneath the A1 at Weldon Bridge …… the end point (a pub) now in site!!

 

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The Anglers Arms at Weldon Bridge an old coaching inn on the turnpike road from Morpeth to Cornhill-on-Tweed. The end of Part 1. The start of Part 2.

 

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Not many photos of Part 2 apart from this river scene!

 

The day 2 walk follows the River Coquet westwards, usually with the river in sight but not often walking along its banks. The walk passes the Brinkburn Priory, established for the Augustine canons, nearly 20 years before the stone castle at Warkworth. A fine Norman church remains in good condition and is still used for weddings!

The walk carries on eventually joining the disused Northumberland Central Railway line passing by the Cragside Estate viewed on the other side of the valley. The Estate is covered by over seven million trees and shrubs planted under the instruction of Lord Armstrong, who took over a small hunting lodge and transformed it into a fine Victorian house and gardens. Well worth a visit in our opinion!!

Lord William George Armstrong is sometimes referred to as Britain’s forgotten genius. He was a visionary inventor, engineer, scientist and businessman. He established his Elswick works on the north bank of the Tyne in Newcastle which employed in its heyday over 25,000 people in the manufacture of hydraulic cranes, ships and armaments. Armstrong’s other achievements included:

  • building Newcastle’s Swing Bridge and the hydraulic mechanism that operates London’s Tower Bridge.
  • creating Cragside in Northumberland, the first house in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity.
  • restoring Bamburgh Castle on the Northumberland coast, often described as England’s finest castle.
  • gifting the public park area of Jesmond Dene to the people of Newcastle.
  • founding the Armstrong College (which evolved into Newcastle University).
  • creating an endowment of seven hospitals, including the Royal Victoria Infirmary, and the Hancock Museum of Natural History (now the Great North Museum).

The walk concludes by heading down into the small market town of Rothbury where we found a pub!!

Links to Part 3 and Part 4 will appear here soon!!

 

 

 

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Long distance trails

Northumberland is blessed with a number of Long Distance Trails that stretch across the hills and along the coast and offer superlative walking opportunity. These trails vary in length and hence the time that it will take to walk them!

  • Hadrian’s Wall Path National Trail, 85 miles.
  • St Cuthbert’s Way, 63 miles.
  • St Oswald’s Way, 96 miles.
  • Reiver’s Way, 150 miles.
  • Northumberland Coast Path, 63 miles.

Some people tackle them as a “challenge” and complete them as few days as possible, others (and I’m included in this group) would rather take them at a more leisurely pace,  over a number of days.

Some of these trails follow normal footpaths across the landscape and others are specifically way-marked with unique trail identifiers. These markers are usually found at frequent intervals along the trail and make route finding that little bit easier. All you need to worry about is the rucksack on your back, the distance walked, the next spot to eat and drink, or to just enjoy the views as they unfold in front of you!

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St Oswald’s Way trail marker.

 

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St Cuthbert’s Way trail markers.

 

The most recognised and “famous” of the walks listed above is the Hadrian’s Wall National Trail, that stretches from coast to coast following the World Heritage site of Hadrian’s wall past Roman settlements and forts. This is on the bucket list of things to do.

The St Cuthbert’s Way and St Oswald’s Way both follow a short section from the shore of Holy Island to the coast of Northumberland. From here the routes differ in both their direction and history but that is for another post. Here is a summary of each:

The St Cuthbert’s Way links Melrose in the Scottish Borders, where St. Cuthbert started his religious life in 650AD, with Holy Island off the Northumberland Coast, his eventual resting place and original pilgrimage shrine. We walked this path, as a continuous trail, in the summer of 2013 and thoroughly enjoyed the ever changing scenery as we left Melrose and the Eildon Hills, approached and crossed the Cheviot’s and arrived at the coast.

The St Oswald’s Way route links some of the places associated with St. Oswald, the King of Northumbria in the early 7th Century, who played a major part in bringing Christianity to his people. The route starts on Holy Island and finishes at Heavenfield near Hexham and Hadrian’s Wall. We are currently walking this path as a series of day walks. One section was completed in late February/ early March 2016 and another section is being walked tomorrow!

The Reiver’s Way is a route recently updated by Paddy Dillon, across Northumberland in the footsteps of the notorious border reivers (raiders along the Anglo-Scottish Border country between the 13th and 16th centuries). The route starts in the Tyne Valley passing the finest remains of Hadrian’s Wall, and then heads northwest to Rothbury, over the Cheviots to Wooler, and finishes with the coast path from Budle Bay to Alnmouth. Sections of this walk are also on the bucket list of things to do.

The Northumberland Coast Path needs little introduction and is famous in its own right; being best known for its wide, sweeping beaches, backed by high sand dunes that are punctuated by dark whinstone outcrops! Delightful villages and castles abound!!

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A year is passing by …. quickly

Well, here we are, it is now late December in the real world and my blogging is stuck in March 2016. I need to do some catching up as we have done some great walks over the spring, summer and autumn –  some alone and some with friends. We are now well into winter and have passed the winter Solstice, so the days are getting longer!! So there we are, best get writing, and catch up on a few trips out.

In the real world, has everything gone bonkers? The UK has voted to leave the European Union. Donald Trump has been voted as the next President of the USA. Boris Johnson ran for Prime Minister but failed. The Olympics in Brazil outstripped all expectations. Chris Froome won his 3rd Tour de France. The hour record was broken by Bradley Wiggins. Andy Murray won Wimbledon for the second time and successfully defended his Olympic crown!! In Northumberand, the coast and hills remain as beautiful as ever and have been visited whenever time would allow.

This post catches up on some of our spring walking adventures and post walk pints! A number of these walks start and finish near Alwinton, a small village at the top of Coquetdale, with a fine pub, the Rose & Thistle. They also explore the Usway Burn – an upland river on the southern flanks of the Cheviot Hills, in the Northumberland National Park. It is a tributary of the River Coquet and is about 15 km in length. It is located close to the northernmost end of the Pennine Way.

These walks were completed between 27 February 2016 and 1 May 2016. In this period I also completed a short solo walk and wild camp!!

Summary:

There are a couple of walks presented below, each slightly different, but focussed on the hills around the Usway Burn. A nice place to be. Plus there are photos from my wild camp – an objective of mine for many a year, but never completed, until now that is!!    🙂

Walk One – from Shillmoor Farm, along the Usway Burn towards Batailshiel Haugh, climb out of the valley near The Castles, around the side of Saughy Hill and return along the broad ridge that includes Copper Snout, Saugh Rigg and back to Shillmoor Farm.

Walk Two – from Shillmoor Farm, up the steep sides of Shillhope Law, descend towards Kyloe Shin and into the forest at Middle Hill, cross the burn at Fairhaugh (using the new footbridge) and return along the Usway valley bottom to the farm.

Walk Three – my solo wild camp on the flanks of Cunyan Crags.

Post Walk Pint: as the majority of these walks have either started or finished in or around the village of Awinton, the Post Walk Pint was inevitably Secret Kingdom (4.3% ABV) brewed by the Hadrian Border Brewery. Dark, rich and full-bodied slightly roasted with a malty palate ending with a pleasant bitterness!

 

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The Journey:

1) The Usway Burn returning via Copper Snout

Three intrepid explorers set off on a chilly February morning, one preparing for a long distance walk in the late spring, so wanting to get some early season miles into his legs!

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Looking north along the Usway Burn

 

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Arriving at Batailshiel Haugh farm and looking back into the burn.

 

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Climbing away from the farm, approaching The Castles.

 

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Rounding Saughy Hill with Shillhope Law dominating the immediate skyline.

 

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Looking down the Mid Hope burn.

 

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Lunch just off the forest path.

 

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The ridge route ahead is clear ….. not sure why the floor is so interesting!!

 

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Approaching Saugh Rigg with the Usway Burn far below.

 

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Descending towards Shillmoor Farm.

 

2) Shillhope Law and the Usway Burn

Four intrepid explorers set off this time and the weather still wasn’t much better than in February!

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Climbing away from Shillmoor Farm up onto Inner Hill.

 

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Snow in the col between Inner Hill and Shillhope Law.

 

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Trig point and shelter on Shillhope Law, 501m.

 

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Descending towards Kyloe Shin.

 

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Approaching the forest at Middle Hill. 

 

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The new bridge at Fairhaugh. Fine it is too!!

 

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Entering into the Usway Burn, beneath Hoseden Law and after the waterfalls.

 

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Lambs near Batailshiel Haugh farm.

 

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3) Wild camping on Cunyan Crags

Wednesday 27 April 2016 and an opportunity presented itself for a short walk and a wild camp!!  Setting off at 7pm saw me walking into the hills and heading towards rain and some snow flurries! Once these had passed the skies cleared and the rest of the evening was pleasant enough!!

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Heading west along Reaveley Hill.

 

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Nice evening sun after the snow storm! Cunyan Crags ahead!

 

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Clearing skies and temperature dropping.

 

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Tent all set up – need to get cooking some food for an evening meal. 

 

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Sunrise the following morning. Simply stunning!!

 

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Early morning views to the coast.

 

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Looking back towards Cunyan Crags in the morning sunshine.

 

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Ingram Valley.

 

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And finally, some spring lambs to finish with ….. roll on summer!

 

 

 

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Does it get better than this? A jaunt up Ben MacDui!

This post is the final one showing scenes of snow and ice from a winter walking weekend in Scotland at the tail end of March 2016. The conditions were very different from the previous two walks on Schiehallion and climbing a wintry gully in Coire an t-Sneachda.

This walk was completed on 19 March 2016 and was my first ascent and traverse of the Cairngorms plateau. Ben MacDui  is the second highest mountain in the UK, located in the centre of the arctic-like Cairngorms plateau. It is a long walk from the ski centre! In good conditions it would be a very pleasurable day out. In poor conditions it would be dangerous and a real challenge. This walk is a classic “big-day out” in the Scottish mountains. Very exciting, as my journey into mountain exploration continues!

Start time 9.43am. Distance 17.3 km (10.7 miles). Duration 7 hours and 28 minutes.

Post Walk Pint: Schiehallion (4.8% ABV) a craft lager brewed by the Harviestoun Brewery.

The Journey:

The day started reasonably early with breakfast and a short drive to the car park at the Caingorm Mountain ski centre. The car park was a bustle of activity and looked like a busy Saturday morning. The weather was gloomy, grey and foggy but the forecast optimistic – it MIGHT be clear higher up the mountain!

The route would see us leaving the car park taking the path to the corries, continuing across the moor and crossing the Allt Coire an t-Sneachda with the help of stepping stones. Crossing the next stream, which issues from Coire an Lochain, we continued on the path up onto the wide ridge of Miadan Creag an Leth-choin.

From the summit of the ridge we continued southwards, contouring around the western slopes of Cairn Lochan, dropping down towards (the hidden lochans) on the plateau itself. From here, heading on a south easterly bearing we would cross the plateau, rising gently before a slight descent and then a longer gradual climb across the flanks of Ben Macdui’s northern top to reach the true summit. The second highest mountain in Britain is marked by a big cairn topped with a trig point. Here we had lunch. Did we admire the views?

For the return journey we returned the same way but once at the ice covered  Lochan Buidhe, we took the path that curves off to the right (north east wards) to cross the slopes above the headwaters of the Feith Buidhe. The edge of the northern corries is reached at the bealach between Cairn Lochan and Stob Coire an t-Sneachda.

From here we would continue around the headwall of Coire an t-Sneachda before reaching the top of the Fiacaill a’Choire Chais ridge which offers a steady descent to the ski slopes and the Ski Centre car park.

 

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Photo from Viewranger. Route shown in black (using Ordnance survey mapping).

 

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Leaving the Ski Centre car park in the gloom. Would the visibility improve as height is gained? The forecast said it would …..

 

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It’s not happening yet!

 

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In theory, as height is gained great views open up on the left, across the gulf of Coire an Lochain. We could see none of this but it did appear to be getting brighter the higher we climbed!

 

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Blue skies appearing????

 

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Most definitely!!!!

 

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Wow, climbing out above the cloud inversion

 

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The view back down the wide ridge of Miadan Creag an Leth-choin. Impressive cloud inversion!

 

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Coire an Lochain from two slightly different perspectives

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The way ahead, contouring around the western slopes of Cairn Lochan

 

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Two walkers, having just put their crampons on, on the slopes of Cairn Lochan

 

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Leaving the slopes of Cairn Lochan and heading in a south easterly direction. Its warm in the sun!

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Two views looking back from where we have come. Cairn Lochan is in the middle of both photographs.

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Looking to the mountains west of the plateau. Unseen in the foreground is the massive trench of the Lairig Ghru! 

 

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Selfie on the summit Might be getting sunburnt here!!

 

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Trig point. Lunch stop. Beautiful day.

 

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Another view, this time looking more south westerly from the trig point.

 

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Heading back towards Cairn Lochan (mountain in the middle).

We climbed up through the cloud earlier in the day but is the same cloud now starting to engulf us and cover the plateau itself???

 

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Taking the path that curves off to the right (north east wards) to cross the slopes above the headwaters of the Feith Buidhe, covered by snow today (on the right in this picture).

 

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Looking backwards, the cloud is rolling in …..

 

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And finally, it rolls in completely, leaving us with limited visibility!!

 

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Walking the head wall of Coire an t-Sneachda. Couldn’t see the drop!!

 

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Ski slopes coming into view as we descend the Fiacaill a’Choire Chais ridge

 

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The final plod behind the fences down to the car park at the Ski Centre.

 

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Looking back up towards the mountains. What a great day out.

It had certainly been a “big day out” in the Scottish mountains. Apparently cloud inversions like this don’t happen very often. Frequent “Cairngormers” were often heard to be remarking on the weather we had experienced today. This was mountain walking at its best!!

 

No pictures of Post Walk Pints today. Dead phone. Fancied a lager though, as strange as that might sound!! Schiehallion  at 4.8% ABV it would be from the Harviestoun Brewery.

 

Harviestoun Brewery was founded in 1983 by Ken Brooker in a 200-year-old stone barn on a farm on the Harviestoun estate, near Tillicoultry and Dollar in Clackmannanshire. In 2006 the brewery was bought by Caledonian Brewery. Following the takeover of Caledonian by Scottish & Newcastle in 2008, Harviestoun became independent again – it was bought by a group of Caledonian Brewery directors.

Schiehallion is a stunning lager with elegant head and luscious lacing. It has “aromas and flavours of fresh-cut grass, brown sugar, lychee and green mango” with a crisp palate and a lingering, fresh, grapefruity finish!!

 

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A new experience – climbing a wintry gully

This is the second post of three, showing three very different walks completed under different winter conditions on a weekend back in March 2016. This was the final walk of the weekend and could be summarised as short, sweet and steep! Coire an t-Sneachda was our destination…..

This walk was completed on 20 March 2016 and was my first ascent of a corrie headwall under full winter conditions. It was not for the faint hearted but was a great experience being accompanied and guided by some more experienced mountaineers!

Summary:

Start time 8.50am. Distance about 8.8 km (5.5 miles). Duration 4 hours and 20 minutes.

Post Walk Pint: none. We had to get back to Edinburgh airport …

The Journey:

The walk started early in the ski centre car park at Cairngorm mountain.  From here we took the path up towards the heart of Coire an t-Sneachda, heading beneath various winter climbs on the high cliff faces. Once past the two frozen tarns, both a spectacular blue colour, we made towards the head-wall further west of the Goat Track. From here, with crampons on our boots and ice axes in hand, we made our way up, steeply, climbing up a gully; eventually topping-out in blustery and cloudy conditions with limited visibility. Rather than descend via the Goat Track we walked around the head walls and back down Fiacaill a Choire Chais (the Fiacaill ridge) as per the walk on Saturday. This time we started higher on the slopes before sliding on our backsides with an ice axe for a break. From here we descended past the Funicular Railway and back to the car.

 

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Getting kitted up for the day.

 

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Heading on the path towards the corrie.

 

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The approach to Coire an t-Sneachda. Will it brighten up later on?

 

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Local wildlife – two ptarmigans walking in the snow!

 

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Crossing the boulders in Coire an t-Sneachda

 

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Frozen tarns – magical!

 

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Climbing the head-wall into the gully directly above our heads.

 

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Our group ascending the head-wall!

 

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Topping out at the top of the gully. The hard work is over!

 

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Ready for the walk off the tops.

 

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Selfie. Not great visibility up here!

 

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Descending the Fiacaill ridge, just before the backside-sliding starts on the snowy slopes!!

 

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The final descent back to the ski-area

No Post Walk Pint today!

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A winter tale – Schiehallion

Winter seems to have finished and Spring started but this weekend (23/24 April 2016) has seen snow flurries and hail in the north of England! It looks set to continue for a few days yet. This post is a final hurrah to snow and ice, capturing some scenes from a winter weekend in Scotland, at the end of March. This post is the first of three, showing three very different walks completed under different winter conditions.

This walk was completed on 18 March 2016 and was my first ascent of a Scottish Munro!!

Summary:

Start time 11.25am. Distance 13.1 km (8.1 miles). Duration 6 hours and 10 minutes.

Post Walk Pint: Moulin Light (3.7% ABV) brewed by the Moulin Brewery.

The Journey:

The day started early, by picking my brother up from Edinburgh airport at 7am, and heading north to Perth and the Pitlochry area. Here I had identified our first Munro ascent – Schiehallion – one of the most familiar and best known mountains in Scotland. The mountain appears as a whale-back ridge from most viewpoints, but appears as a perfect cone when seen from across Loch Rannoch. Our views were totally obscured by cloud as the initial photos below will show!

For those that didn’t know. Schiehallion’s isolated position and regular shape led it to be selected by Charles Mason for a ground-breaking experiment to estimate the mass of the Earth in 1774. As a result, a graphical system was developed to represent large volumes of surveyed heights. This was the creation of contour lines, something we might be using a lot of, as the visibility from the car park was negligible!

Our route for today would create a “circular” trip out of a walk that is usually completed as an “out and back” from the Braes of Foss car park. We started with approximately 2.5km of quiet road work, before heading across open country, eventually arriving at the bottom of the (steeper) western ridge. From here the route was straight forward – upwards (steeply at first) heading for the narrowing summit ridge and ultimately the summit at 1083m. From here the return route was a simple extended walk along the eastern ridge before gradually descending to the flatter ground and the car park. From here, a short drive via Tummel Bridge, saw us arrive in Moulin, just to the north of Pitlochry, for some well earnt dinner and refreshment (being mindful of Scotland’s drink-drive policy)!

 

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Route shown in red. Photo taken from Viewranger (using Ordnance Survey mapping)

 

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The Braes of Foss car park with Schiehallion behind (promise!)

 

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Selfie before the journey start. Map reading skills expect to be tested!

 

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15 minutes later. Is that a hint of blue sky over there?

 

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Looks like the day is clearing and the snow becoming visible on the mountain to the south.

 

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Having left the road behind and climbed up to the wall on top of Creagan Geur and Tom na Fuine, where we stopped for lunch.

 

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Lunch stop with the western ridge coming into view at Cnoc na h-lolaire.

 

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Starting the climb of the western ridge ….. up it goes …

 

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Not far now ……

 

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Distant cloud inversion

 

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Nearly there now ….

 

 

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On the summit, looking back towards the western ridge. What a view!

 

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The way ahead, along the eastern ridge, and down into the cloud!

 

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Descending towards flatter ground.

 

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Back at the car park for the same picture taken earlier in the day. Notice the mountain in the background!

 

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Established in 1995, the Moulin Brewery was one of the first micro-breweries in Scotland, located in Pitlochry.

 

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Moulin Light, 3.7% ABV, a light golden coloured session beer brewed with a good percentage of wheat malt.

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