Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Roar of the crowd, call of the wild

Once again Pauline and I have been back "on the road" with our talk tour, having enjoyed five weeks off. Despite the gap we were word perfect in our performances.  This was a fun section of the tour, over on the west coast of Scotland.  We had two nights back to back to do, first of which was on the Isle of Mull. It was fun having to get a ferry out to the island from Oban. A mini adventure.

The second night found us back in Oban on the mainland, performing to a small audience. Small but perfectly formed, as they roared with laughter in all the right places. A wander through the quiet town centre after the show, in search of what has become an after-show tradition, chips (fries to my American readers), we watched the last of the ferries coming home for the night.  Oban is such an idyllic little west coast town, bustling with holiday makers and people coming and going from many of the Hebridean islands. A gateway to the islands.

As we have done after all our shows, we made the most of being away by answering the call of the wild and heading out into the mountains.  This time we based ourself about 35 miles east of Oban at a small village called Tyndrum, and trekked off west into the mountains on a glorious day.

Far up ahead, at the end of the valley, is the impressive massif of Ben Lui, almost 4,000ft.  With its craggy fingers of ridges stretching out in all directions, it is an impressive and foreboding sight.  This was not to be our destination this day though. We were headed to a mountain just south east, called Beinn Dubhchraig, itself a Munro (mountains over 3,000 feet) at 3188ft.

The lower slopes were lush with head-high ferns (or was it bracken?) and the path was boggy. Everywhere wild flowers were in bloom. We had an easy river crossing to do at one point and then it was a great quality path toward the summit on a glorious blue-sky day.  In the heat it was a slow final ascent as the ground became steeper, and we topped out late afternoon.  
Despite its beauty, this time of year Scotland is plagued with a tiny biting insect, a cousin of the mosquito, called a midge. They gather in their thousands to devour your blood whenever you stand still, making campimg at this time of year unbearable.  So we decided to camp just 150ft below the summit, beside two small lochans for the night, to escape them. They don't have  ahead for heights!

As the night wore on the fine weather of the day gave way to rolling fog, smothering the top, and transported out little campsite into an isolated world of its own.  As I sat there making my dinner on my little roaring stove, watching Pauline exploring the pools of water for evolving tadpoles, I felt so relaxed and happy.  It was so much fun being up there, away from everyone and everything.

By day break the next day the heavens had well and truly opened, and our descent was in heavy rain. The landscape was quite different, and the gentle waters of yesterday were now raging torrents.  We reached the point of crossing the day before but now the river was several feet deep and boiling with white water.  For one insane moment we contemplated trying to cross it, but the first rule of river crossing is, if there's a safer alternative, don't cross.  Just under two miles north, following a tributary, there was a bridge marked on the map, so we headed for this and a safe crossing.

This week we're off to do our 9th show, again in the Highlands, just outside Aviemore, at the Scottish National Outdoor Training Centre, called Glenmore Lodge.  Then we'll be back into the mountains for two days, this time on our mountain bikes.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

It's not easy being green

You're probably thinking that I've not posted for 10 days because I've been really busy again. Nope. Just out enjoying the unprecedented summer sunshine. Inspired by Chris Froome's success in the Tour de France, I've been out on my bicycle most days, creating a strange looking tan that goes from my wrists to half way between my elbow and shoulder, and from my knees to my ankles. Pauline, my adventure buddy, has been out on her kayak in the Highlands, and if you'd like to read about her adventures then go to her blog here.

The past few summers in the UK, going back as far as 2007, have been primarily wet, at times causing major flooding. The reason for this damp patch was quite simple: the jet stream had shifted from it's normal position of north of the country, to the south, pulling in low pressure systems on a daily basis.

We get a pretty large amount of rainfall as it is in Scotland, but without it, the rivers would not run with the crystal clear waters that go to making our famous Scotch whisky, and the landscape would not be as green and lush as it is.

But the last two weeks have turned that green landscape into a shade more akin to sandpaper. Then, yesterday, it broke. All that moisture and heat gathered together and created an hour-long thunder and lightning storm to rival any that I had seen in America on my big cycle adventure with Pauline.

Speaking of which, we have enjoyed a few weeks off the talk show tour, but we're back treading the boards again this week with two shows back to back. The first is on the beautiful island of Mull, then the following night we're back on the mainland in the town of Oban. We're really looking forward to being back on the west coast of Scotland, and after the two shows we'll spend a couple of days trekking in the mountains. 

Hopefully they're still a little green.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Glen of Weeping

It's been a couple of weeks since I last posted.  It's been a hectic time.

The past week has been taken over by the sudden surge in sales of my film Sleepless 'til Seattle, thanks to an article that appeared in the Adventure Cycling Association's, online bi-weekly magazine, Bike Bits.  It appeared last Wednesday and by Thursday morning orders for the film and the CD started to flood in.  Today I mailed out the first 115 of them. Fantastic, but the Post Office staff weren't too pleased when I turned up this afternoon to mail them!

So after all this I thought I deserved a reward. Yesterday, together with my good friend Andrew, we ventured 130 miles north into the Highlands to the iconic mountain range of Glencoe.

Unusually for Glencoe it was basking in 25C (77F) heat and bright blue sky. We were quite late getting to our destination and as a result our intended peak of Bidean nam Bian, the highest peak in Glencoe and one of "the Three Sisters", was outwith our available time. As it would turn out it would have been outwith our available fitness too.

It was 2.00pm before we set off on the high quality path. It is steep from the start and gradually becomes even steeper as it ascends the 873m (2864feet) to the summit.  It became obvious around the half way point that my fitness was not at its peak, and I started to stop to catch my breath at ever more frequent intervals.

But by 4pm I took the last few steps that brought me out onto the craggy, exposed summit.  Words cannot describe the view from here. It felt as if I could see forever. To the north was the UK's highest mountain, Ben Nevis, to the south, the peak of Bidean that we had originally wanted to climb. From here it was obvious we would not have made it. Curiously, despite a constant breeze all the way up there was not a breath on the top. It was perfectly still.
The peak is called Am Bodach, and not too far to the north is another peak also called Am Bodach, which is slightly confusing. That peak is famous as being the UK's 100th highest in the Munro table (mountains over 3,000ft). However, the peak I was now standing on has fame all of its own: it marks the start of what is easily the UK's scariest and most exposed ridge, the 10km long Aonach Eagach. For me Am Bodach was far enough, and after a few photos I turned south and picked my way down the same route.

It was at this point, with an hour of descent ahead, that I realised I had run out of water and had left my food at the bottom.  Every step I took down the steep path jarred through my legs, and by the time I reached the bottom I was exhausted, dehydrated and my legs were trembling.  A quick sugar hit and a litre of water brought me back to the land of the living.

The name Glencoe is often said to mean "Glen of Weeping", perhaps with some reference to the Massacre of Glencoe in 1692 when the clan Campbell murdered the McDonalds, some while they slept.

The only thing that was getting murdered this day was a large pizza at the Green Wellie shop on the way home.