Saturday, 26 November 2016

Lime Craig: a winter's trail

Ben Lomond from the route up Lime Craig

Over recent years I have made only slow progress towards completing a long standing target of 200 runs up the nearest hill, Lime Craig. It is a mere 325 metres of ascent over 5 kilometres and was in my racing days a regular training run taking 26 or 27 minutes to the top, my pb to the summit from home was 23 minutes 42 seconds in August 1990 during a year when I made 21 ascents. It has become more of a challenge nowadays taking between 33 and 36 minutes. I only tackle it three or four times a year, usually in the winter months when the visibility is at its best. Today the early morning temperature of -7°C had prompted me to postpone my early morning run but the blue skies and hard frost persuaded me to tackle Lime Craig along the sublime forested trails above Braeval. It was almost 11am before I ventured out, the pavements still frosted but the sun bright and the visibility excellent.

I took my altimeter to check the height gain but decided after stopping for a couple of photos on the lower slopes to forget about times, it was going to be slow but so what. Suddenly the run became joyous, every stride a chance to garner new views. I arrived at the summit feeling fresh despite completing the final 200 metres of ascent at a reasonable pace. I stood at  the top on the base of the old Police radio station, removed my gloves and began to box the compass for views and some photos.

A walker arrived as I was photographing my distressed gloves that had served me for ten years on runs and climbs. He was amused and we began an animated conversation for twenty minutes or so about wildlife on the Scottish mountains before another walker, armed with a Scottish Tourist Board leaflet of the walk up Lime Craig arrived. The discussion suddenly changed to where the best cakes could be obtained as a reward for their walks. I left them deliberating and met another two pairs of walkers nearing the summit, pausing to take photos of a mother and daughter combo who were new to the hill and infatuated with the views. I freeheeled in a stretched rhythm down the long incline with  3 or 4 switchbacks past the Go Ape site, over the footbridge by the lodge and then coasted down the cycle way to the village. I was back for lunch; no cakes just lentil soup and the satisfaction of another brick placed in the wall of 200 runs, just ten more to go.

Above Dounans camp
The carse looking to the Campsie hills
Approaching Braeval
Nearing Lime Craig summit

Stop Binnein and Ben More

Ben Lomond behind Craig Mhor

Past their best hand warmers on summit platform

Descent from the Lodge

Monday, 21 November 2016

Cnoc Coinnich

The last leg to Cnoc Coinnich
Monday 21 November 2016
Ascent:       765 metres
Distance:    11 kilometres
Time:          3 hours 4 minutes

c     Cnoc Coinnich         763m         1hr  46mins

The surveyors had recalculated the height of this hill and it was a metre higher so Cnoc Coinnich was added to the table of corbetts earlier this year. Fortunately it is quite near home and it is an interesting area boasting splendid views down Loch Long and Gairloch to the Clyde estuary. I had crossed the flanks of this hill during a mountain marathon 25 years ago but corbett means corbett so a visit to the summit was now necessary.

It was the coldest morning of the year, -4°C, as I left home and a cold fog accompanied the frost. By the time I was driving up the A82 alongside Loch Lomond the skies were blue and it looked a perfect day for walking. I turned off the Rest and be thankful road at the visitor centre and followed the single track road for 3 or 4 miles to a car park at the foot of the Coilessan burn. The car park had been taken over by forestry contractors; massive dumper trucks, earth movers and equipment were assembled. There was major road construction taking place and the forestry tracks would have been impossible mud tracks had it not frozen hard in the overnight frost and the temperature wasn't going to get beyond freezing today.

I crossed the bridge beyond the car park and turned right to follow the construction road through the forest. There was a lot of activity and I had to jump off the raised road every time a lorry carrying ballast came chugging up the incline. There is a long section where the trees have already been felled as the road climbs to 350 metres before a footpath signposted for the Cowal Way begins a far steeper climb rising 150 metres to the top of the forest and on to the col between Cnoc Coinnich and the Brack, the adjacent corbett to the north.

There is a gate that leads onto the open hillside at 450 metres. The snow level had started at about 400 metres but from the gate it was deep soft snow all the way to the summit. There were deep footprints from a walker that took a good line so I followed them to the start of the summit ridge that runs south-east for over a kilometre. It was hard going in the soft snow and after a week with a heavy cold, I was in no hurry. I coughed and wheezed enough to clear my airways and hope that recovery is now assured. A fresh north easterly breeze was also beginning to blow through me and the sweat from the lower slopes became a fond memory. I had not bothered with an ice axe but there were sections with slabs of ice below the snow that made it necessary to use a walking pole to avoid sliding down the slope. I reached a col below the final ridge and the last 200 metres of climbing was steep but served to provide vigorous exercise to keep the cold at bay.

The summit was in the grip of deep snow on all sides but provided a superb viewing platform for the Arrochar Alps, the sea lochs draining into the Clyde estuary and the less familiar hills behind Lochgoilhead. The wind had stiffened and I had to find some shelter below a swirling outcrop of schistose rocks at the the summit to enjoy a flask of coffee.

I managed to take a few photos from the summit before beginning the return, pleased to be escaping from the freezing conditions and nursing some circulation into my hands. It was easy walking with snow lubricating the descent. I was soon off the summit ridge and plodding through the deep snow to the top of the forest. Conditions here were benign, so hat and gloves came off as I sauntered down, eating an apple and dodging the occasional dumper truck of grey gravel. I was back at the car before 2pm, something of a record, and home by 3pm. It had been the perfect outing to resume exercise after a winter cold.

Start of the walk at the Coilessan car park: Loch Long
Dumper on Coilessan track

The gate at the top of the forest

Below the summit cairn for coffee
Loch Long, Loch Lomond and Ben Lomond
At the summit, Beinn Ime and the Brack
Clyde Estuary
Loch Long and Gairloch

Thursday, 17 November 2016


Post-truth was announced as word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries yesterday. It was defined as "relating to circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief." The notion that desired outcomes are more important than facts was a key reason why the UK voted to leave the European Union and Donald Trump won the electoral college to become President elect.

Post-truth Foreign Secretary
Post-truth go-between
It becomes more evident with every passing day that the Brexit front men: Johnston, Farage, Gove et al. made up stories that contradicted facts or else were at best wishes rather than realistic propositions. Post-truth seems a kinder adjective than the Brexiteers and much of the right wing press deserve for their concoction of deceit that they avalanched onto an electorate who had given up believing a government that has significantly reduced the quality of life for the majority of working people.

The cheer leaders of the Brexiteers have no record of supporting the NHS, safeguarding benefits, opposing the impact of austerity measures or introducing more progressive taxation. They are firmly advocates of the neo-liberal conspiracy that delegates responsibility to raise living standards to the markets. But for whom? There is a wealth of evidence that the financial and corporate establishment who gambled our pensions and savings in hedge funds and offshore tax havens, designed tax evasion schemes, indulged in mega mergers and then increased their income through PPI selling, currency trading and higher bank charges should not to be trusted with rescuing the economy. They are the incarnation of post-truth businesses, but they have been one of the few growth industries and provide much of the advertising for the post-truth media moguls. There is now emerging a strident but risible argument that the highly paid executives in the financial sector are vital to our economy because they make a far bigger tax contribution. Just like Sir Philip Green and his erstwhile friends.

Pants on fire liar
In the United States it was notable that when the facts were checked of statements made by the two main Presidential candidates that the Politifact Donald Trump scorecard showed that he had lied in 70% of all his statements, 17% were so bad that they are classified in post-truth terms as "pants on fire". Only 17% of his statements had some modicum of truth. The Politifact scorecard: Hillary Clinton found she had lied in 26% of statements, 2% of her statements were classified as "pants on fire". 50% of her statements were in the truth categories. So Donald Trump was three times more likely to lie than Hillary Clinton but eight times more likely to tell porkies. Donald Trump, like the Brexiteers, had the temerity to appeal to the common man and achieve a democratic mandate for lies that are now defined as post-truth.

All of this leads me to believe that we need to define what should happen in a 'post-lie' world. An era that sheds the cynicism and narrative of post-truth and aims for more egalitarian values, progressive taxation, quality services for all citizens, regulation of rogue corporations and businesses. Surely this has to be the objective as we challenge the post-truth opportunists of their collective greed and sinister involvement in trading, trafficking, warmongering and tax evasion.

It requires a commitment to a more participative democracy built from the local level, a guarantee of human rights, a global commitment of climate change measures and a universal right to education and health. A United Nations that polices global corporations as well as oligarchical regimes and a world bank that supports indigenous industry not tax advantages for the corporate behemoths. Those who dance the post-truth fandango will reject much of this for reasons that illustrate their very lack of humanity.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Oh Vienna

Vienna skyline from the Leopold Museum
Vienna is probably my favourite city in Europe after a second visit this week. A tribute only accorded in the past to established favourites like Athens, Rome, Paris, Florence and Venice. Winter is a good time to go as the cold clear air sharpens the outline of the magnificent city buildings and makes walking the streets a bit like rediscovering the magic of childhood. We were there on the night that Donald Trump became President elect so the melancholy of american democracy was diluted by the extravagant and timeless beauty of Vienna.

Post Brexit there are some remarkable deals for city breaks and despite the parlous state of the pound, it was possible to manage 5 days in Vienna, hotel included, for only slightly more than it would have cost for the rail fare down to London on Virgin Trains. It was also quicker than a trip to London with Vienna airport seamlessly linked by a fast train to the city centre and costing only a quarter of the price of the so called Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted expresses. Flight paths into Vienna sensibly avoid the city so that it remains a quiet city, even the trams have suppressed the sound of their bogies.

The hotel was on the edge of the city centre close to the museum quarter and had a level of comfort that was exceptional. The Austrian attention to detail and cleanliness is evident in buildings and the external environment. We found a local cafe so that I could fuel myself with apple strudel and coffee  for the long days on our feet. Despite an excellent public transport network of underground and trams we walked to almost all the attractions. The streets are spotlessly clean and, apart from the longish wait to cross the Ringstrasse, pedestrians more or less have the streets, gardens and squares to themselves.

Our previous trip to Vienna four yeas ago had allowed us chance to visit just some of the many attractions. I had half read the 'World of Yesterday' by Stefan Zweig an autobiography of his life in Vienna from the turn of the twentieth century until his exile in London and New York. He covers the collapse of the Habsburg dynasty with references to all the leading artists, composers and philosophers who were part of Vienna's Cafe culture early in the twentieth century. I battled through more pages but as always on city visits I preferred gathering impressions by walking, observing, listening and visiting the endless range of attractions.

We spent a day in the Kunsthistorishes Museum, a monumental building opened in 1891 to display the impressive Habsburg collection of antiquities. The Italian and Dutch collection of paintings with Pieter Bruegel the elder prominent was the highlight and the cafe under the cupola was the epitome of elegance. The collection consumed most of the day leaving only time for a saunter round the historical centre with its parks, palaces and cafes. The city is going through a massive phase of refurbishment of its impressive array of buildings along the Ringstrasse. The parliament is to be moved to a temporary site for 3 years to allow the modernisation of the building. The streets in the centre are largely car free apart from government limousines, horse and carriages and an occasional hybrid bus. The massive open car park by the Hofburg palace is the only blight on this people friendly city.

Over the next couple of days we visited the Albertina museum with ts collection of Picasso and Monet together with an exhibition of Pointillism including a good range of Van Gogh and Seurat together with an inspiring collection of woodcuts of Viennese Art Nouveau from the secessionist period.  An evening at the Volk opera was a revelation with the comparatively low prices allowing hundreds of school children and young people to enjoy their Mozart heritage.

We had saved the Leopold museum for the last day having visited before. It is a modern building at the heart the museum quarter purposely designed to display the work of Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt along with their contemporaries from the secessionist movement. It is one of the best curated museums and the exhibits are shown to best effect in the minimalist salons. On a quiet late November afternoon I could think of no better use of time with Professor Leopold's widow providing a filmed explanation of the outstanding collection of Egon Schiele paintings.

On our last day the Christmas markets were opening with tented bars, decorative baubles, fine local foods and a warmth of welcome that surprised us. Alas our time was up but we had witnessed the peerless intimacy of Vienna, a place that is regularly voted as one of the best cities in the world to live in. As well as its magnificent buildings, green space, outstanding museums and pollution free streets; the urban realm panders to people and the worst excesses of corporate retailing have failed to take hold. There is a palpable egalitarian feel about the city that would have been anathema during Habsburg dynasty. Representative democracy has shifted that sort of outmoded hegonomy to the United States.

Traffic free roads

Secessionist Toilets on the Graben 
Stephansdom church
Winter street markets
Festive florists
Shopping on the Graben
Rathaus from the Volksgarten
Ceiling in the Freyung Passage
Parliament Building

Rathaus quadrant
Kunsthistorishes Museum
Cafe in the central concourse of the Kunsthistorishes Museum
Täufers -Salome. A lost parable on the day that Trump became President
Picasso line drawing
Picasso from there Batliner collection
Norwegian Blue, not dead just reproduced
The Leopold museum hosts Egon Shiele and Klimmt
Egon Schiele self portrait
Schiele -
Leopold window

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

November First Frost

In the forest
Condensation on the windows
A sphere of breath as I step outside
The crackle of frosted leaves
Wispy white clouds
Revealing the intense blue skies above
Still air, the sound of silence
Amplifies the cadence of running shoes
Through the forest, ears pricked for quiet sounds
Acorns falling onto the wooden bridge
Beech leaves rustling as they settle
A gaggle of geese going west
Tilted head to watch the buzzard patrol the sky
And the vapour trail of a transatlantic jet
Stepping aside for the calor gas lorry
And mums with buggies returning from school runs
Welcomed home by a robin
It perches next to me on the bench
Gloves, hat and shoes come off
Exercise over and breakfast pangs
First frost on first of November

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Mrs May's Mistakes

Theresa May had an easy route to becoming Prime Minister, easily beating the toxic threesome of Brexiteers: Liam Fox, Andrea Leadsom and Michael Gove, to win the nomination from Tory MPs without requiring the final vote from party members. She has continued to receive a largely favourable press, gained partly by having been a lukewarm remain supporter whilst now sounding like an enthusiastic Brexit campaigner, whatever that means.

Her utterances on gaining office were both surprising and promising following the elitist austerity policies of Cameron and Osborne.

Theresa May speaking after becoming Prime Minister
"The Government I lead will be driven not by the interests of the privileged few but by you.
We won't entrench advantages of the fortunate few. We will do everything to help you go as far as our talents can take you. We must fight the burning injustices. We must make Britain a country that works for everyone.We believe in a union not just between the nations of the UK but between all of our citizens - every one of us."

However the promise of an era of egalitarian decision making is now beginning to look threadbare. Her decision to appoint three ministers, David Davis, Liam Fox, and Boris Johnson to take collective charge of Brexit is seriously flawed. All of them have egos that trump their abilities and they seem unwilling or incapable of acting in concert. Brexit would be hard to do even without it being a hard Brexit.

She then installed or retained some of the least respected MPs as senior ministers. Amber Rudd, Jeremy Hunt and Andrea Leadsom have reputations that were already shredded before taking up, or in the case of Hunt retaining, key cabinet posts. Just watch the conspicuous disdain from their own backbenches when they speak in parliament.

She has managed to lose any goodwill from the three devolved governments in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, who seem increasingly frustrated by the lack of any genuine consultation about their involvement in negotiations over Brexit.

And then she has given the go ahead to three mega infrastructure projects: Hinkley Point, HS2 and Heathrow that defy economic, environmental and social evidence or sense. This was tersely summed up by Simon Jenkins in an article that questioned the capability of Mrs May's government to make rational decisions.

Meanwhile in the real world, the PM has declared that the future of Education requires the rebirth of grammar schools as well as the continued growth of academies, the NHS continues to miss targets with Jeremy Hunt showing every sign of this being a softening up for more privatisation, and there is no sign of any attempt to increase the stock of social housing, although I did see an article that the government are contemplating the return of pre fabs.

The majority of the right wing press are in denial about any damage being incurred by the Brexit vote. This despite Mrs May being allowed to only attend the most recent EU leaders meeting after midnight to give a 5 minute speech, which was then ridiculed by some of her colleague national political leaders.

The £ has dropped to a 31 year low against other currencies, falling 22% from the day before the referendum. The government's refrain is that it will make it easier for the UK to export its goods and services, although so far the trade balance deficit has increased. The government and the press also claim that inflation hasn't increased significantly so far. It soon will. Inelastic items of expenditure like petrol, Marmite and Apple computers have all gone up by between 12% and 20% in recent days.

The Resolution foundation chaired by ex Tory Minister, David Willetts, has warned of the dire consequences of the deterioration of public finances since the referendum. This will impact on those on lowest incomes. The minimum wage will be reduced, benefits are already being cut and inflation is set to soar in the new year when the full impact of the falling pound will impact most on those whom Mrs May defined as 'just managing'.

Mrs May has displayed her talent for doing damage in triplicate so far. The consequences are dire in almost all areas. She has got away with it by virtue of the 'political honeymoon of new PMs' but as Gordon Brown could tell her it doesn't last long. Her party are in a flagrant civil war not only over Brexit but grammar schools, disability benefits, bankers, energy policy, immigration and now Heathrow with Zac Goldsmith carrying out his threat to resign and restand as an independent.

On occasions like this it is usually the case that the official opposition provides alternative options but in these troubled times the Labour Party is more intent in continuing with its own internal conflict. The Lib Dems are seizing their chance to regain some credibility following their disastrous coalition years and the Greens want to collaborate with the other alleged "progressive" parties but are drawing a blank. This is surely the time for an axis of enlightened politics from the other political parties, after all the Tory vote was only 24% of the registered electorate in 2015, and that was a high water-mark before the disenchantment with Cameron and the irreconcilable split amongst the MPs.

In parliament this week Mrs May was showing signs of being rattled at PM questions by Jeremy Corbyn, not something that has worried either her or David Cameron in the past. I suspect that she knows that the months and years ahead are destined to be devilishly difficult with many unpopular decisions to be taken and some votes to be lost. I hope, but with little confidence, that her pledges   about 'fighting the burning injustices' and 'making Britain work for everyone' will not be abandoned as she tries to triangulate the competing pressures from Europe, her party, a slowing economy and the aspirations of those just managing. 

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Beinn na h-Uamha, Ardgour

Beinn na h-Uamha beyond Loch nan Gabhar
Monday, 24 October 2016
Ascent:        846 metres
Distance:     16 kilometres
Time:           5 hours 31 minutes

c    Beinn na h-Uamha      762m    2hrs 50mins

Breakfast at the Ariundle Centre was a bit of a luxury for us but we had time on our side today for the comparatively easy walk up Glen Gour to the rock girt summit of Beinn na h-Uamha. We parked by the old bridge at Sallachan and began the walk up the beautiful glen. The day was windless and from the good track the views were sublime towards the distant peaks. Reflections of the mountains in Loch nan Gabhar and the copper hues of the grasses made the views exquisite. Swans were cruising on the loch, a cormorant skimmed by, there was peaceful silence that allowed us to hear the birdsong in the birchwood. It is a 4 kilometre walk along the track with virtually no ascent. The river then had to be crossed but it  was in low flow and proved relatively easy, even in trail shoes we emerged with dry feet .

We had decided to climb the south east ridge, crossing a meadow of long grasses first before climbing steeply alongside a burn that cascades from the end of the ridge. It was warm work and jackets were removed as we eased upwards to the top of the burn and then negotiated our way through the rock bands that provide two intermediate tops along the ridge. There is a flatter section from where a deeply incised burn cuts down to the glen, a drop of 550 metres. We decided that this would be a better route down. Thereafter it was an enjoyable climb for the final 200 metres of ascent with the views into the Ardgour hills opening up.

We reached the summit just before 12:30pm. It was a perfect autumn day with excellent visibility, a warm sun, no wind and vistas to dream about. Westwards we could see some of the small isles beyond Rois Bheinn but the pride of place was Sgurr Dhomhnuill, a soaring peak just 3 kilometres away but probably a 2 hour walk with all the descents and ascents along the way. To the east we could trace our route along Glen Gour and along the ridge to the summit and to the south the massive flat summit of Garbh Bheinn looked like an anvil. As a place to eat lunch this has few peers on a day like today, we were aware of the privilege. John reflected that we had earned it from all the wet, frozen, windy days when we had no view and stopping at the summit would guarantee getting cold, wet and miserable.

We spent 40 minutes enjoying this rare spectacle before beginning the descent. To my surprise we found an easy route down the ramp at the side of the burn to the river about a mile upstream of where we had crossed on the ascent. There was a good sample of indigenous oaks and birch along the water courses and sprouting from erratic boulders. We crossed the river and found the track which was waterlogged in places but we had just 5 kilometres to cover to return to the car. As the afternoon sun began to sink, the length of our shadows and the walk seemed to extend. But this had been one of the most enjoyable outings on a hill that I had not known and will have trouble remembering by name. It means 'hill of the caves'.
Golden Days
Old Oak tree at the river crossing
Looking east to A' Bheinn Bhan during the initial ascent
Pottering along the ridge
Sgurr Dhomhnuill from Beinn na h-Uamha
Looking north west to Roiss Bheinn
At the summit
Looking down Glen Gour to Loch Linnhe and Glencoe
Birch on Psammite metamorphic outcrop
Loch nan Gabhar on the walk out