Saturday, 21 July 2018

The Animals of Arran. July 13-20 (Scotland)
  The island of Arran off the Scottish coast has some interesting inhabitants: deer, sea otters, Eriskay ponies, Soay sheep, goats, squirrels, seals and so on. Birds too; gannets, gulls, guillemots, buzzards, ravens, eagles and a host of lbjs.

   This has nothing to do with the fauna found on the Scottish island of Arran although some of them may get a mention.
Animals, a sobriquet  earned some years ago, given by a wife who claimed that on the annual gentlemen's week we behaved like animals, drinking heavily. This is not true. True we are taking two barrels of beer to the island (144 pints) but this works out to about three pints each per day, hardly excessive and a refreshing drink at the end of a walk is just what a gadgie needs.
Seven of us, Brian, John C., Norman, Ben, Dave,Paul and me, have rented "Smugglers Den", a large cottage north of Brodick for a week's walking, cycling, bird watching and resting. 
Arran is sometimes described as Scotland in miniature, it has mountains, valleys, archaeological sites and, being an island, miles of coast. The usual way of getting there is by ferry from Ardrossan. Book well in advance.

 The only car park this week. Waiting for the ferry at Ardrossan
                           Caledonian Isles sails into Ardrossan. Ro Ro ferry to Brodick
     As soon as we landed we drove to the cottage at Corrie, some miles north of Brodick and unloaded kit. The other car had arrived some hours earlier, the first barrel was already tapped and waiting.

           Smugglers Den, home for the week. We had the ground floor, four bedroom, two ensuite, a bathroom, living room and kitchen. Upstairs seemed to be being renovated.
  The first night on the gentlemen's' week is spent in a pub/restaurant and we went to the Corrie Hotel a few miles north of the house fish and chips for some, and Belhaven beer.
Back at the house we walked on the beach, just across the road. Oyster catcher and very strange rocks, but not then promised playful sea otters.
July 14th
First walk of the week. We drove to the tiny settlement of Sannox and waited for a bus to Lochranza. It arrived, full, and the driver apologised saying we couldn't get on but a group of gadgies and gadgettes realised where they were and got off to start their walk so we took the bus to Lochranza. 
Lochranza is a long, one sided village with a Youth Hostel, a distillery and a ruined castle.
Having looked round the ruin we set off for the walk we had planned, a coastal walk back to Sannox.
A good footpath took us north west before turning in a semicircle. Nice names along the coast, Fairy Dell, Fallen Rocks and Cock of Arran, possibly the most northerly point of the island. Somewhere here is Hutton's Unconformity. Hutton is regarded as the father of geology. Working in the 18th century he realised from some formations on this coast that the earth was much older than the 4000 years calculated by a bishop. Hutton also inspired a young Charles Darwin.
A group of young Americans were playing happily in the sea at the point where we called a Herbie.
                                        Lochranza castle
                               Lunch on the rocks.
Parts of the walk were tricky, scrambling over boulders, watching where you put your feet. We passed a cottage at Laggan which had curtains painted on the windows and was obviously unoccupied.
Also on the coast we passed the ruins of some ancient salt pans, that particular substance being extracted from the sea water by evaporation, using coal from a nearby pit. And the group from the bus were coming the other way!
Later the path improved, we passed several navigation beacons, pre sat nav., and then we were at Sannox and drove home. The walk is about 10 miles.

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The evening meal was from Mrs E., her famous meat balls in a spicy tomato soup, served with rice, which I now know how to cook. Progress.
We finished the meal with slices of cake from
And for a light supper we had a selection of cheese and biscuits from Dave, and some whiskey.

This year's cake. The pork pie is significant and the map is edible.
The Wylam Brewery Gold tankard was in fine form, we all slept well.
July 15th
It rained, all day. We drove round the island, a distance of just under 60 miles, stopping at Pirnmill for lunch in the café there. Soup and a sandwich for most, omelettes for some. Great place, lovely staff. At Lochranza we went to the distillery, looked round and bought a bottle of whiskey between us.
The evening meal of pork steaks in sauce was provided by Brian, cheese by Dave, whiskey by us.

Lochranza distillery, relatively new 

July 16th
It was a sunny day.
Leaving the cars near the  castle in Lochranza we walked up Gleann Easan Biorach on a path that followed a stream initially. Wet after the previous day's rain, it climbed relatively gently to Loch na Davie. Shortly after we turned west beneath Beinn Bhreac and stopped for two reasons; the view and Herbie time.
Following the stream up Gleann Easan Beorach

                                 Lunch with a view
                     Lunch with another view, turning cool too, note the jackets!
After Herbie time we walked down Gleann Diohman which joined Glen Catacol. (Why are some Gleann and some Glen?)
Eventually, having passed another remarkable bank of geological interest which I forgot to photograph, we hit the road and turned right towards the Twelve Disciples at Catacol.
Twelve disciples with thirteen chimneys!
Behind the row of cottages a steep stairway climbs up to the Postman's Path, a narrow footpath through woods that leads to Lochranza. Tricky but better than the road.
The evening meal was prepared by Ben. Couscous with lamb, served with a fine red wine, followed by home made ice cream served with dessert wine.
having loaded the dish washer we settled down to an evening of music requests from iTunes, computers or whatever.
              Contains OS data, copyright. Crown copyright and database right 2018

Paddle ship Waverley, taken from Postman's Path.                                                                                            It was time to open the second barrel. Its contents were so lively we couldn't stop it coming through the pump and had to run round filling glasses and jugs. Couldn't let them go to waste.
July 17th
We had planned to catch the ferry to Holy Island off the south east coast but when we got to Lamlash the ferry man said he would not be sailing for some time, he could only take ten and there were already a number of people waiting.
As an alternative we walked up Glenashdale from Whiting Bay to the Eas A Chrannaig, or Glenashdale waterfall, an easy stroll through woodland.

Glenashdale falls, worthy of Sherlock Holmes
Having admired the cascade we walked on to the Giants' Graves, an ancient burial cairn with some very large piles of stones.

The remains of chambered cairns, used as burial sites.
Back in Whiting Bay we had a Herbie and went back to the ferry for Holy Island. The ferry man allowed us to book for tomorrow.
Most of us then decided to walk from Lamlash back along the coast to Brodick.
We passed the Outdoor Education Centre which was busy with young people off canoeing. At Clauchlands Point we watched either Cormorants or Shags on the tiny Hamilton Isle before turning north west along a rocky shore path. it is part of the Arran Coastal path and is tricky in places, especially if it's wet, although eventually it becomes a grassy track. At Dhunan we followed  gravelled road uphill before crossing some fields and making it to Brodick. This latter part of the path is well marked, better than most sections.
For the evening meal John had prepare a spaghetti bolognaise with spicy garlic pickles, red wine and cake.
July 18th
We arrived at Lamlash in time for the first ferry of the day and as promised the ferryman allowed us to jump the queue, not that it mattered as there are two boats and they were kept busy. The fare for the 15 minute crossing is £12 return, expensive  but worth it.
Holy Island has been bought by a group of Tibetan Buddhist monks who have converted an old farmhouse into their monastery and Centre for World Peace. At the south end of the island is a retreat where monks meditate for up to four years. The Lama has his own escape pod on the hillside. Unless you are visiting for a course on meditation the buildings are out of bounds, as is the whole of the east side of the island, which is a nature reserve. The island has protected herds of Soay sheep, Eriskay ponies and goats.
The Holy Island Monastery. Closed to most.
There is a well marked footpath that leads from near the landing stage quite gently for the most part up to Mullach Beag, the lower of the two peaks on the island. From here the footpath dips down then climbs again to Mullach Mor, the highest point on the small island.We called a Herbieand sat enjoying views over Arran and back to the mainland.
Lunch and a game of pick sticks on Mullach Mor. Kingscross Point in the background, the closest point between Arran and the mainland.
The path down from the summit is very steep, almost from the start, in places it is essential for gadgies to make use of hand holds on the rocks, but eventually we reached a grassy track. Some turned left to look at the Pillar Rock Lighthouse and some turned right past the retreat and walked back to the ferry.
Lama's hillside hideaway?

Sheep, separated from goats, or vice versa

There are several of these Tibetan style paintings on the path

Lone sheep or goat

Back on Arran we drove someway round the island and crossed from west to east on the road called The String. I cycled it once, couldn't do it again.
The evening meal, prepared by Norman, was a fine chicken curry, and we still had some garlic spice. Washed down with red wine, another well earned, well made dinner. For the evening's entertainment we watched two films, Early Man, funny animated film, and The Angels' Share, a Ken Loach film about a group of young Scots who have an interest in expensive whiskey. Well worth watching.
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July 19th
The highest point on Arran is Goat Fell at just under 3000 feet. A popular walk and I have done it but today, suffering from an uncomfortable knee each, John and I decided to have a quiet easy walk as the other five climbed the fell.
John and I drove to Machrie to look at the stone circles and burial cairns there. Impressive but a bit poor as far as information boards go.

Ancient settlements, standing stones and bjurial cairns at Machrie.
The last supper was prepared by Paul, a fine curry washed down with wine .  After dinner we watched several episodes of The Detectorists, a programme well worth watching if you likme gentle English humour with a little strong language. We tried to empty the second barrel but had to waste some unfortunately.
July 20th
Another gentlemen's week comes to an end. Fair to say we were all pretty tired. We had to vacate the house by 10 and went to a café for a second breakfast before catching the ferry back to Ardrossan and driving home.

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Good day, sunshine. (Northumberland) July 6th
High pressure continues to sit over the British Isles causing record temperatures and promises of water shortages. Local TV broadcasts pictures of dry river beds in Cumbria and warns us to take care on the moors. Quite right too, there are some raging moorland fires in Lancashire, the army has been called in to help.
And we seven gadgies are off for a country stroll based on Wark in the North Tyne Valley. We are Dave, Brian John C, John H., Ben Harry and me.
The walk from Wark is covered by OS Explorer OL 43 Hadrian'sWall, Haltwhistle and Hexham, and it would be useful to take one To get to Wark take the A69 west and turn north beyond Hexham and follow the B6320. Opposite the Battlesteads pub is a Yorkshire car park at GR NY 860769.
Close by is the Battlesteads Dark Sky Observatory which has four telescopes and a programme of star gazing activities, warm drinks supplied.
We stopped at Brockbushes farm shop/café on the way for breakfast, friendly place, too early to pick your own blackberries although strawberries are available for Wimbledon fans who might like to pretend they are there as they watch on TV.

                       Brockbushes farm shop and tractor.

                 Battlesteads hotel and car park across the road (Ian Allen no378)
And at last the walk, which is in many respects a wander from farm to farm.
Once ready to move, and it takes longer as we get older, we walked up the street from the car park, turned left, passed a few cottages and spotted the signpost on the left which was well hidden in a  bush.
                                 Well hidden sign in a bush.
From here we crossed fields to Woodley Shield, hoping we were on the path, which isn't too well marked, before turning down to Ramshaw's Mill on Wark Burn. The mill no longer operates but the conversion has some interesting garden ornaments.

                       Interesting ornaments at Ramshaw's Mill.
Beyond the mill we took a lane, forking right after a few yards and climbing the bank to the fields above. Two fields later we were at High Moralee Farm. Beyond the farm we reached the tiny cottage near Sheilahaugh, a name combining two Northumbrian words meaning at a guess "The shelter on the flat land near the stream".
                           and the footbridge beyond.
Crossing more fields and passing the delightfully named Pea Hill and Catless (Wish I was!, only joking dear) we hit the road near the house marked as Manor House on the map. There is a visitor centre here and a collection of eagles, owls and other large hunting birds. I do not like to see them caged, doesn't look right. (But is it ok to keep a budgie?) We didn't call in anyway but continued up a dirt track to Ravensheugh Crags.
              On the way to Ravensheugh Crags.
            There are several ancient burial cysts on this moor. This is a "four poster" marking some ancient something. Handy stones to sit on. My Mand S check shirt drew some sarcastic remarks for some reason, lack of style on their part I suspect. It was comfortable and the breeze quickly helped evapourate the sweat. They mocked my Tilley hat too. I'm stressed.
Having searched in vain for one particular burial cairn we moved on across the moors to Goatstones Farm and beyond that we sat on the bank by the roadside, checking carefully for adders, and declared a Herbie.
                    Herb by the roadside. Lunch included Titan bars, chocolate crisp, ginger biscuits, cookies and cake from Mrs A. In spite of all that I lost a couple of pounds on a hot day.
Moving on we turned right at Pit Wood and followed the edge of a plantation , crossing Red Burn to Allgood Farm. On the way we were carefully followed and watched by a buzzard, protecting his nest probably, not that he had anything to worry about from us.
Heading north from Allgood Farm we came to a road, turned right then almost immediately left into fields past Conshield  and Bleaklaw until we came to Low Moralee farm.

                           Low Moralee (I think)
From here we walked across fields until we were above the valley of the Wark Burn. The path here was not too clear, Dave and John H. descended to the ford marked on the OS map and made their way back to Wark. The rest of us walked the fields parallel to the stream until we hit the road, turned left and were soon back at the cars. At one point the thermometer John C. carries on his rucksack gave a temperature of 30C
Changed (Clean shirts at least on a hot a day) we crossed the road into Battlesteads pub which had several hand pumped beers on offer, including Jarl which Brian decided must be a pirates ale. "Two pints of Jarl, shipmates " spoken in pirate fashion with rolling rs. The soda and lime with ice and lemon went down well too.

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Next week is the annual gentlemen's trip. This year we are off to Arran with two barrels of beer and the possibility of walking or cycling. Big blog in a couple of weeks. (Hasn't there been a week away this year already?)

                                                                                                      steps               miles
NAK                                                                                             26095              9.88
iPhone                                                                                          22184              9
etrex              (3hrs 35 minutes walking 1 19 talking)                                         9.07
Dave's 3D                                                                                     22004             9.46
  "" USB                                                                                       20014              9.16
"" NAK                                                                                        19840              9.08
 S M                                                                                            21068               9.31
OUTDOOR GPS                                                                                                 8.98
Brian                                                                                                                    9.01?
 And a few pictures from Dave and me