Thursday, 29 September 2016

Pop Brixton


Brixton - a strap line that works
Entrance to Pop Brixton, a business park in recycled containers
Pop Brixton - big screen outdoor events venue
Diverse, dynamic, digital businesses
With added beers
Celebrating Universal heroes
Challenging Network Rail over gentrification of the arches
Graffitti that wakes you up

My hero is in the buggy
We normally arrive in Brixton by tube and emerge to the sound of Caribbean drumming, the streets are chocked with people of all ages and ethnicities as they bustle their way to homes, shops and the huge range of venues, cafes, bars and businesses that abound in this vibrant epicentre of London's diversity. This time we had driven down by car to deliver a bike and other paraphernalia to our offspring. The next day we travelled by tube and came face to face with the massive statement over the underground concourse - "Not Them, Only Us". For once it was a tag line that seemed to bear some relevance to the reality of the place. Brixton is such a curious mixture of communities, buildings, cultures and money that it conspires to confuse the visitor with its street sure creativity.

It includes Papas Park, a children's playground on a bit of waste ground that is run by community volunteers (time philanthropists) and is usually alive with children, parents and grandparents seeking fun and friendship in the heart of Brixton. The Council have recently indicated that they will no longer be able to fund the park so a campaign to find alternative funding is starting up. The whole area is buzzing with new developments as it ihas become one of the sought after locations in London in recent years. Its position at the terminus of the Victoria line mean that central London can be reached in 15 minutes, there are big event venues like the O2, a stupendous array of eateries, good parks, outstanding schools, a thriving local cinema, library and bus services in all directions.

There are downsides too, like the main shopping street being the most polluted in London after Oxford street, a high proportion of people on the breadline living in crowded or poor accommodation. It has a high profile police presence that creates tension with its noisy sirens and speeding cars. It ison the flight path to Heathrow airport with the night flight limit of 5800 landings and take offs a year still enough to disturb sleep for hundreds of thousands of people. Network Rail have decided to cash in on the arches below the overground lines and dozens of small businesses are being evicted to allow upgrading the arches to generate a higher rental income. Some of the large murals made it clear how much this was despised by the existing community that has been nurtured in the dilapidated old buildings of Brixton. It is criminal that the beating heart of Brixton found in the markets and independent shops that cluster round the underground station in the streets like Electric Avenue, the arches and Brixton market is under threat by gratuitous urban gentrification.

Nearby a new business park has been created by the simple expedient of stacking containers on two levels to create an intimate environment for new businesses to thrive. Being Brixton there are cafes offering cuisines from all parts of the world as well as local craft beers and a smattering of new technology businesses. A large space has been created between some containers for local concerts and an outdoor sports pitch doubles as a venue for big screen events. It had been the perfect place to watch european football and the olympics in the summer. The whole place had a collective vibe that was multi cultural, relaxed and edgy; just like Brixton village.

The streets are full of indigenous graffiti . Alongside Bob Marley painted on the shutters of a lock up street stall are exciting cartoons of gaming characters. We ate at the Ritzy cinema, listened to the street musicians and observed the building of a new Council HQ being built along with lots of social housing next to the existing town hall. Lambeth will be closing all its other offices once the new building opens. I spent quite a bit of time wheeling our grandson round the streets and posed him as my hero in front of David Bowie, who had been another Brixton resident.


Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Norfolk


Brancaster Staithe in the Haar
Brancaster Staithe Crab Hut
Wells-next-the -sea, an artist captures the beach huts
Wells, there will always be an England
Tory government reveals new affordable housing initiative
Wells-next-the sea
It has been a long time since I last visited Norfolk on a university field trip to Cromer in 1968 when the highlight was an afternoon spent sheltering in a haystack during a thunder storm. As a six year old during a holiday with my cousins in King's Lynn, my lasting memory was a day on the beach at Wells-next-the-sea. My Uncle Jack, a test pilot for the Canberra bomber, raced away from our hire car and he picked up yet another speeding ticket on the journey home. This time we were off to visit a cousin of Aileen whom I never met but who had helped her with a family history.

We had made rapid progress down from Yorkshire through the flat farmlands of Lincolnshire to the Wash and on to King's Lynn. The September heatwave in the south gave us a warm welcome and the entire population of eastern England seemed to be on the road to Hunstanton and the north Norfolk coast. It was nose to nose traffic and our hope of a late pub lunch faded as the clocks made faster progress than the vehicles. Hunstanton had lost its charm and was another seaside resort with all the usual embellishments of fast food outlets, pleasure rides, nose to tail parking along the promenade and tawdry looking guest houses. Despite the splendid sea cliffs there was no temptation to stop in the town; the streets were crowded, a haar was hanging over the coast and the sea looked the colour of elephant's breath. 

We continued along the coast road through attractive villages such as Titchwell and Brancaster. Well maintained houses were built of flint and brick and a large percentage of them looked like retirement homes. The pubs had stopped serving food but the consequence was a chance encounter with the boat park at Brancaster Staithes. The haar was restricting visibility and creating a cool belt of weather next to the sea. We were delighted to happen upon the Crab Hut, a local food outlet that sold fresh crab baguettes and a mug of tea for £4. What a bargain and then a chance to mosey around the sailing boats and observe the muddy banks draining towards Mow Creek. The misty conditions gave the day an eerie feel.  The only downside was when the lady in the crab hut told me that the haar would stretch to Wells-next-the sea, which is was my intended destination for a stroll through the pine trees onto the beach.

I was tempted to stop at Holkham Hall until I realised that it was a cash cow for the owners who seemed to have obtained first dibs at UK and European conservation grants, car parking fees for access to the beaches as well as pricey entrance charges. They then claimed the credit for preserving and providing activities through various commercial ventures for the visitors. We continued to Wells and parked by the sea but even here the land was owned by Holkham Hall and the parking charge would be an embarrassment to most city councils. We had little choice but to fill their coffers in order to walk through the pine trees to the Wells beach.

The sun had broken through and the beach was buzzing in the way that English beaches buzz. Dogs chasing balls, lines of beach huts, brightly coloured wind breaks, folding chairs, straw hats, children paddling, pensioners swimming with the current of the incoming tide, inflatable devices, artists, kites, frisbees, sand castles, flags, life guards but not an ice cream vendor or donkey in sight. Holkham Hall probably has the franchise on those activities nearer to its commercial honeypots. Nevertheless it was a treat and we had a long walk along the estuary of the channel that leads to Wells. Later as the tide rushed in a few pleasure boats returned with their passengers, sun bathers retreated to their beach huts and we exited the beach.

Our last leg for the day took us south and into the searing evening heat, 26°C, as we drove through Fakenham and Swaffham to a B&B in the village of Great Cressingham. It was a tranquil village with a pub on the outskirts, a school, community centre and little else. We indulged ourselves in the pub and cursed the reviews of the B&B that had few endearing features and low beams that almost decapitated me on return from the pub.

The next day was spent on the catch up with Aileen's cousin. He was a retired policeman who had good values believing strongly in community policing and protecting wildlife against the poachers and gamekeepers. It was fascinating to watch and hear two cousins rediscover their common past and share their stories of the intervening years. We went for a pub lunch as the thunderstorms marked the end of the heatwave in Norfolk. Everyone seemed keen to tell us that it was the hottest September on record, given global warming this could be a warning for East Anglia which is slowly sinking into the north sea.

We drove off to Suffolk in the afternoon to visit the village of Lavenham. It had been on the radio a couple of times in recent weeks, the houses so quaint that they were snapped up by wealthy outsiders and the school could not provide for all the villager's children owing to the iniquities of placing requests from incomers. The pleasant hotel only took the Telegraph and Daily Mail and the local worthies at the bar cursed the Council for trying to build social rented housing. We were truly in Mrs May's England.

Lavenham, unaffordable housing


Monday, 19 September 2016

Harrogate

Bettys establishment

Carved memorial to the stage finish of the Tour de France in Montpellier Park 
'Keith's Choice' Dahlia in Valley Gardens
Royal Pump museum
Shrinking in blue

This solid sophisticated Yorkshire town was founded on the abundance of sulphur springs. My Yorkshire relatives who lived in the Huddersfield-Wakefield rhubarb triangle used to talk about Harrogate all the time, it was their day out of choice. Flower shows, parks, shopping and afternoon tea at Betty's. I had passed through a couple of times on the A59 on trips to Scarborough but never stopped to explore its charms. We were en route for London and decided to rectify the omission, arriving via the Yorkshire Dales and Blubberhouses moor on a blissful early autumn evening as the skies were turning from blue to pink to grey as the sun gave way to the moon.

Half an hour later we were seated in Bettys tea house, an institution that was opened in 1911 by a Swiss confectioner.  It occupies a substantial corner building at the foot of Parliament street and has the ambience of a Viennese coffee house set in the 1930's. The food was good and the clientele made us feel quite young; Harrogate is the preferred choice for retirement in Yorkshire and sells itself as the happiest town in Britain. It reminded of a ditty that a friend recited at a Burns supper when he had been asked to toast the haggis. He was from Yorkshire and explained that "we don't talk to wer food where I come from and I can't pronounce Haggis cos its got an aitch (H) in it. He then gave us a rendition of what the teacher had taught his class at school in a forlorn attempt to correct their pronunciation.

'Arry went to 'Arrogate,
'Arry lost his 'at
'Arry's mother said to 'Arry,
'Arry where's your 'at
'anging in the 'all mother,.
'anging on a 'ook'
'Arry's mother said to Arry,
Arry go and look.

He made a word perfect presentation of the toast to a haggis but it was "'Arry went to 'Arrogate" that brought he house down. He told us that a Yorkshireman that pronounces Harrogate correctly probably lives there 'cos no-one else in Yorkshire can.

Harrogate has long been a conference centre, most famously for the Lib Dems, being big enough to cater for Cyril Smith, but the large conference centre and still thriving grand hotels host a myriad of events; today it was 'Christians against Poverty' and balloons festooned the entrance stairway. We decided to tour the town centre and trooped round the victorian buildings that remain impressive and well preserved. The sumptuous gardens that encircle the centre were at the stage when the summer displays were wilting but the level of planting and imagination were still evident. The Montpellier quarter, which is dripping with antique shops, cafes and high end independent shops had yet to come to life. The museums were still closed so we walked through Valley Park, window gazed at the furniture shops and galleries before finding some good coffee in an Italian cafe, the pleasure of never using a franchised coffee chain always cheers me up.

The drive out from Harrogate was through parkland and roads lined with splendid Edwardian houses until we reached the outer suburbs that resembled any other town in England: brick boxes and a slew of modern warehouses. In no time we were on the A1(M) and passing the massive power station at Ferrybridge. There are more probably pylons in this part of Yorkshire than words in the bible.

Despite the existing devastation to the environment around Ferrybridge, I would still have preferred to see the well advanced carbon capture scheme implemented by SSE, after all Ferrybridge is/was the largest power station in the UK. The designs and pilot scheme for carbon capture had been completed but Chancellor Osborne pulled the funding. The UK could have been at the forefront of carbon capture technology that is essential as a retrofit for both coal and gas power stations; they will be the mainstay of electricity production for decades in many parts of the world. Osborne had no such reluctance to fund the French and Chinese to design, build and operate the massively expensive and controversial nuclear plant that Mrs May has now endorsed at Hinkley Point and thereafter at Sizewell and Bradwell. Once again the UK will have jettisoned its technical expertise and reputation through its adherence to economic theories that are even less sustainable than coal.


Ferrybridge Power station and pylon landscape

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Conival and Ben More Assynt


Conival from Ben More Assynt

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Ascent:         1360 metres
Distance:      20 kilometres
Time:            7 hours 28 minutes

Conival                     987m      2hrs 40mins
Ben More Assent      998m     3hrs  29mins  

The sun was beating down at 6am so I wasted little time in breaking camp and getting on the road from Durness. I had originally intended to climb the two most northerly corbetts, Cranstackie and Beinn Spionnaidh, but decided this would leave insufficient time for Conival and Ben More Assynt later in the day. I could have climbed Canisp instead of Conival and Ben More but I wanted to take advantage of fine day for the two munros. The drive south on the A838 passes some of the most spectacular scenery in the highlands including Foinaven and Quinag. They had a mesmeric pre historic presence in the early morning sun. It was 8:30am before I set out from the Inchnadamph car park that served as midge central so I wasted no time starting the walk up Gleann Dubh. 

After a couple of kilometres up the path I met a walker coming out, he had started his walk at 4am. It is an easy start to the walk on a track and then a grassy path beside the river. After 4 kilometres the path begins to ascend steeply as it climbs into the corrie on a path that oscillates between mud and a quartzite staircase that every so often became a gushing drainage channel. The day was heating up and I had to stop to fill up with water a couple of times. I can seldom remember days as hot as the last three in the Scottish hills and wished that I had worn shorts now that I was out of the long grass and heathers and away from the ticks.  Conival looms over the corrie to the right, on previous visits I have made direct ascents up the crags in my impatience to reach the summit but today I kept to the path. 

There is a scramble through a rock band before reaching the ridge that climbs southwards to the summit of Conival. The final section levels out and provides a wonderful airy promenade with the enticing white quartzite ridge to Ben More Assynt to the east and views to Canisp, Suilven, Cul Mor and Cul Beag to the south west. It was a dazzling spectacle that made the walk a festival of gawping. I had a brief stop at the summit of Conival before beginning the two kilometre walk over the sparkling ridge to Ben More Assynt. There is not a big drop but several descents and ascents over exposed quartzite blocks. Just before the summit I met a walker beginning the return and we chatted for a while. He told me of a route off Conival to the north that passed the site of a crashed airplane and said that there was a good stalker's path back to Inchnadamph. It added a few kilometres but avoided the need to descend the jumbled boulders and mud of the corrie. 

I was on the summit of Ben More Assynt before noon and decided to eat my sparse lunch whilst enjoying the panorama of the northern highlands. There are two summits both with cairns so I visited them both before returning across the ridge. Time was on my side as I had decided not to bother with another hill but to head home instead, I had accomplished the objective of 8 munros in 3 days and the corbetts could wait. They would be a good excuse for a visit next year. It allowed me to try out the route that had been mentioned to me. Instead of descending down the corrie from the cairn I continued northwards, climbing to a small lochan at the foot of a quartzite scree slope, the water was crystal clear. The other walker was about a mile ahead and I watched him as he headed over the plateau of Beinn an Fhurain. There were ninety or so deer grazing on the short grass and an easy gentle descent to the north that involved some dodging of the water courses. More deer watched my approach and moved a couple of hundred metres to allow me through. 

I came upon the site of the aircraft crash that occurred during a training flight in 1941. It was an Avro Anson used in coastal reconnaissance. The six crew had survived the crash but died on the remote plateau as they sought to find a way down. They were found by a shepherd several days later. A grave had recently been erected at the site and the two Armstrong Siddeley engines were both on view as was some of the undercarriage. I had watched the other walker disappear into the rock strewn terrain ahead and found a couple of cairns that led me down a steep descent. The narrow Loch nan Caorach was ahead and I began the scramble over the boulders on its southern shore. A herd of deer were watching my progress from the slopes opposite and I was surprised to hear several loud whistles. I could see nobody so decided to keep clear of the deer, it may have been a stalker, and made for what was a deep ravine ahead. It was too steep and rocky to descend with confidence so I climbed back up to the shoulder of Meall nan Caorach and found a skittish route down to the river below. It looked as if there was a stalker's path on the other side. 

After threaded my way down the crags, I crossed a boggy area and then waded the river and found a narrow path that was cairned. It soon disappeared as I headed towards Inchdadamph and there was a tedious half hour of battering down the heather pleased that I had not worn shorts. Little did I know that the real path was 30 metres above me. Eventually I did happen upon it as I made the final descent to the track along Gleann Dubh. I had a good view of the new house that sits hidden from the glen and appears to have been designed to imitate the conical summit of Quinag. 

I arrived back at the car before 4pm and changed and scavenged some food from the cold bag in the car. I was about to leave when the other walker appeared and told me I had taken the wrong route down and that he had been whistling me to stop me going down the ravine. He was relieved that I had made it down and we reflected that it would have been near impossible on a winter's night after an aircrash. 

The three day unadulterated munro bash was over and I drove down to Ullapool to buy a cold drink and then onto Aviemore to visit some of the family who were holidaying there. It was 11pm before I made it home, the A9 was remarkably quiet.

Gleann Dubh path
Heading into the corrie below Conival
Looking across to Canisp and Suilvan from Conival ridge
Loch Assynt and Quinag from Conival
Beinn an Fhurain and Quinag from Ben More Assynt
Ben More Assynt from Conival
Loch Assynt and Quinag from Conival

Ben More Assynt from lochan

Deer above airbrush site
Avro Ansell engine
Loch nan Cearach
New house imitates Quinag profile
Looking uo Gleann Dubh to Conival

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Ben Hope and Ben Klibreck


Ben Hope from Hope

Ben Klibreck, Tuesday, 16 August 2016
Ascent:       980 metres
Distance:    13 kilometres
Time:          4 hours 38 minutes


Ben Klibreck              961m      2hrs 24mins   

The early morning was shrouded in mist but it did not stop the midges as I packed the tent and began to roll north up the single track A836 road from Lairg to Altnaharra. It was a scary drive with cattle trucks and van drivers heading south at speed and visibility less than 100 metres. The afforestion here is amongst the ugliest around, oddly shaped spruce plantations with no respect for the lonely landscape. It has been funded by tax dodging celebrities who have exploited forestry grants to degrade the vast voids of the flow country. Ben Klibreck emerged from the mists as I approached the Crask Inn and I thought briefly about starting the walk from here but there were a couple of motor homes parked so I continued down Strath Vagastie until the footbridge over the river that was still in full flow with the recent rainwater. There is a lay-by for 4 or 5 cars here and I was the first customer for the interminable slog across 4 kilometres of bogland.

Ben Klibreck certainly challenges the spirit of the walker, there are a few narrow and boggy paths that fade and re emerge as deer paths higher up but there is little respite from the steady climb with feet operating like suction pads. As you gain height the lochans to the north provide some visual foreground for the stunning distant profiles of Ben Hope and Ben Loyal that pop up above the diminishing horizon. As on previous visits I elected to take the steep route from Loch nan Uan up to the ridge that runs from Creag an Lochan to A'Chioch. It is a brutal 300 metres of ascent through deep heather and facing west the slope was in the shade, the midges were feasting on me as I stopped for blaeberries to sustain me on the climb. Only towards the top did I stumble onto a path that had become a man made gulley for draining the slopes. This is why most people elect to walk the hill from the Crask. It saves 100 metres of ascent and captures the breeze that keeps the midges at bay but it adds 3 kilometres of distance.

Reaching the ridge is entering another domain, short grass, and gentle incline towards A'Chioch with splendid views to the flow country and the distant dramatic hills. There were three walkers behind me coming up from the Crask and another walker was ahead almost at the summit. There is another 250 metres of ascent up a 30° slope that is well defined as it twists upwards through quartzite and other rocks. Ben Klibreck is a fine summit and as I arrived the other walker was still enjoying the vistas. He was a young civil engineer who had recently returned from Nepal and before that he had worked on a wind farm that we could see to the north. My comments about the damage caused by the plantations was replicated by his experience of building the wind farm on the site of a plantation that had been felled but not cleared. One set of plantation subsidies for the landowners had been substituted by a rental stream for the wind turbines.

We spent 15 minutes in discussion at the summit and then began the descent together. We passed the other walkers as they were sweating up the final slope and then for 3 kilometres we shared experiences and he explained his hopes for the future. His ambition was to find work constructing sustainable buildings instead of erecting cheap premises that would be cash cows for shady investors intent on abstracting subsidies and tax concessions. In the meantime he was going to help a friend renovate a traditional bothy. I wished him well in his career as I veered off to make my way down to the bogland that was decorated with cotton grass all the way back to the footbridge. A large dog gave me a rousing reception as I came across a young german family enjoying a picnic alongside the river Vagastie.  Ben Klibreck is not high on my list of favourite hills but like every other hill walk it had provided a reminder of how challenging bogs, heather and steep slopes can be on hot days. It also gave me hope about the good values of the younger generation.


Ben Klibreck from the Crask

Ben Loyal over Loch nan Uan

Midge remembered heather slopes
The view north west from the A'Chioch ridge
Ben Hope and Ben Loyal from Ben Klibeck

Ben Hope, Tuesday 16 August 2016
        
Ascent:           940 metres 
Distance:        7 kilometres
Time:              3 hours 26 minutes

Ben Hope       927m      1 hr 57mins

The drive from Ben Klibreck to Ben Hope is a long 20 miles on a single track road that is becoming more like a dirt track with a couple of bridges having been washed out and the tarmac is so old it is weathering. The days of Highland roads being well maintained are no longer with us as Council budgets have been savagely cut since the recession and ex Chancellor Osborne's experiment in enforcing austerity. There is a large parking area at the foot of the climb and it was full of cars and motor homes. The early walkers were returning so I was able to find a space and to load some fruit into my rucksack. The heat was mediterranean like although it was almost 3pm. I thought about wearing shorts but the prospect of abstracting the ticks on getting home made me stick with trousers.

Once again I was staggered how muddy the path was as I climbed the steep path alongside the waterfall and into the rocky quagmire that continues for a good kilometre as the braided path seeks to penetrate the rock girt ramparts of Ben Hope. I am fond of the hill so it may have been the heat or the effect of the morning walk but it was a hard slog. Even the walkers on the descent seemed to be struggling over the unyielding ground. Once on the higher ground at 450 metres the walk becomes easier, not that the gradient relents, the ground is rockier and drier and there is a reasonable semblance of a path. All of the descending walkers made similar comments about rather you than me as I dug into the task of fighting the heat and the slopes. I met a young couple struggling down, the girl had spent three days celebrating a wedding in Inverness and was fully spent. A south african told me there was still ten minutes to go as he staggered down the hill when the summit was only a couple of minutes away. 

The summit is at the top of an airy ridge and although the day was bright, a heat haze meant that the views were less clear than I had hoped. I retrieved an apple, gulped down another litre of burn water and began the descent. It was a lot easier although my feet were suffering in a pair of old hill running shoes the were too tight. The final section of the descent down the muddy path was tricky, I had caught up with walkers who were nervously slipping and sliding down the wet rock and mud. A german couple were bathing in the pool above the waterfall. I briefly thought about joining them but I had no towel and I realised that they were skinny dipping. Besides it was 6:30pm and I had an hours drive to Durness where I intended to stop for food and an overnight camp.

Start of the ascent of ben Hope
Final climb to summit of Ben Hope
Looking east from summit of Ben Hope

Ben Hope summit

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Strathfarrar Four

Alba
The portents were good with the possibility of four days of fine weather after the rains of the last week. It was a chance to finish off my remaining munros in the far north. The only problem was the searing heat and the prospect of camping with the midges when they would be at their most ferocious. I deliberated various itineraries and decided to start by climbing the four munros in Strathfarrar that I had missed in June. I could then complete a loop taking in Ben Klibreck and Ben Hope followed by Conival and Ben More Assynt.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Ascent:        1360 metres
Distance:     18 kilometres
Time:           6 hours 8 minutes

Sgur na Ruaidhe                    993m     1hr   59mins
Carn nan Gobhar                   992m     2hrs 57mins
Sgurr a' Choire Ghlais         1083m     3hrs 45mins
*Creag Ghorm a' Bhealaich 1030m     4hrs 31mins
Sugar Fhuar Thuill              1049m     4hrs 50mins 

* top  

I left home early to try and beat the A9 traffic but 20 minutes at the Broxden roundabout in Perth and then a game of follow my leader up the A9 put paid to my good intentions. It was 11:30am by the time I reached Strathfarrar and was allowed a late entry through the locked gate up this magical but private glen. The gate lady warned me about not arriving back late. I would have seven and a half hours to drive up the glen, climb the four munros, walk back 7 kilometres to the car, drive back down the glen and escape before she locked the gate for the night and reported me missing.

Strathfarrar is like going back in time. The glorious long glen provides a remnant of beautiful birch and scots pine woodland along a clear rippling river. It is a game reserve for men in tweed with fly fishing rods strapped on their land rovers (the real ones, not monstrous urban chic range) and the only incursion to its Edwardian charm are 1950's hydro electricity stations complete with obtrusive pylons. I parked at he east end of the four hills and was warned by a woman in the next car, who had just returned from walking part way up the hill with her husband, that the ascent is very muddy and I should wear boots. I didn't have any with me having long ago relegated boots to winter and wet autumn usage.

She was right and after the first half kilometre I was ankle deep in mud, the clear sunny day was not going to dry out the boggy ground anytime soon. The path is easily followed and takes a good line up to Coire Mhuillidh on the east side of the burn. Then a long steady climb through the grass and heathers towards the never nearing summit of Sgurr na Ruaidhe. A parapenter appeared from Carn nan Gobhar, gliding over the summit then making a large circuit of the summit before continuing his journey east. It reminded me, as do eagles and deer, how slow we move as we climb the hills. It had taken almost two hours to reach the summit. The day was getting better but hotter all the time.

The walk to the next summit, Carn nan Gobhar, is fairly straightforward - a descent down a gentle grassy slope and then a dog leg path to the summit. The final stretch is over a boulder field and the cairn is at the north end of a plateau like summit. I was walking well and set off immediately to curve round onto a flattish ridge before dropping to a bealach and then climbing a long slope to the highest of the four summits. I passed a party of five going in the other direction and arranged a lift back with one of the party who had dumped a bike at the east end so that he could to cycle the 7  kilometres to collect his car, which was parked at the west end where I would finish my walk. If we arrived at roughly the same time it would save me a long walk along the road.

The summit of Sgurr a' Choire Ghlais was a good vantage point and I had a late lunch before descending down a boulder field that I could and should have avoided. I was walking towards the west with the Mullardoch hills, Torridons, Fisherfield and Fannaichs, a tantalising grouping of favourite hills and all in my line of sight. There is an intermediate top, Creag Ghorm a' Bhealach, before the final munro and the walking is easy. The late afternoon sun was beating down and the Highlands had a balmy atmosphere. Where was a cool breeze on a day like this? I continued along the ridge and descended by the splendid stalker's path noting that there was a walker about a mile ahead.

I stopped only for a top up of cool burn water and about 2 kilometres from the road I caught the walker. He was ages with me and trying to finish the munros, 40 to go, despite being based in Middlesborough. He was well organised and had his days meticulously planned. Next day he was off to climb the Loch Quoich munros and then to Bidean nam Bian on his way home. He offered me a lift back to my car and I accepted gratefully, not revealing that I had battered down on the hope that he had a car at the west end.  I had to sit on top of his bike which was filling the back of the hatchback but it was a welcome lift. I had changed and was ready to drive off when the man with the bike arrived at the bottom of the hill to start his bike ride. I explained that I no longer needed a lift back and escaped the glen with an hour and a half to spare. The drive to Lairg in the evening sunshine was memorable although my normal food stops in Evanton and Bonar Bridge had both closed down since my last visits. I found a good hotel for some food in Lairg and camped for the night on a well maintained camp site that looked straight out of the 1960's. Ben Hope tomorrow.


The slog up Sgurr na Ruaidhe was not eased by parapenting cheats

Sgurr a' Choire Ghais and Carn nan Gobhar from Ruaidhe summit

Carn nan Gobhar summit, Fannaichs behind

Sgurr a' Choire Ghlais from Carn nan Gobhar

Sgurr Fhuar Thuill from Choire Ghlais

Sgurr a' Choire Ghlais from Fhuar Thuil 

Looking west to Loch Monar from Sgurr Fuar Thuill,