Sunday, 19 September 2021

They think it's all over


The sheer vainglorious contempt for the European Union by the UK government is typified in the above charts. Although UK citizens are able to travel if tested, many European countries are red listed despite having far lower Covid rates that the UK. The second chart shows that many UK regions, mainly in Scotland, have amongst the worst Covid rates in Europe. Those countries that UK citizens are allowed to travel to are subject to testing and quarantine on return if not vaccinated. It all seems part of the abuse of data that has been a feature of the last 18 months when the UK government attempted every trick to disguise the fact that it had the highest number and proportion of Covid cases in Europe as was the position before the vaccines came to the rescue. 

If the vaccines are such a success, it is surprising that UK regions are back at the top of the list of countries with Covid. Israel is the country with the best vaccination rates and the highest ratio of Covid cases. It is not that vaccines are not working, all the evidence shows the significant benefits of vaccines in reducing infections and the severity of cases. Is it that the government's relaxation of lockdown, encouragement to get out and support hospitality businesses, opening up of mass events and because they think it's all over that have led to the surges? It may also be due to the unexplained slowing down of vaccinations. This is particularly apparent amongst the younger age groups who appear to be suffering the most from the recent upsurge in cases. We are almost back at the levels of January and February 2021 and in Scotland the hospitals are at breaking point again.

I have some concerns about the figures published by the Scottish Government about vaccination rates. The chart below shows that for the older age groups, the vaccination rates are 100% for all the over 60 cohorts and 90% and over for the 40-49, 50-54 and 55-59-year-olds. Is this statistically possible? Given that there are significant numbers of frail elderly or people with medical conditions that make vaccination unlikely or not recommended, I think not. Anecdotally, I know of relatives and friends who have been called to be vaccinated by their local GP, who presumably ordered vaccines for them, but who then took the opportunity to get one earlier by attending one of the pop-up vaccination centres. There have been other occasions when health data has been incorrect as a result of double-counting, for example the population on GP lists often exceeds the total population. Yet no NHS spokesperson or journalist has explained how 100% of some cohorts of the the population has been vaccinated

No one wants the current curtailment of freedoms to be extended but the escalating rate of Covid, the constantly changing rules, the visions of crowd scenes at major events are simply amplifying the doubts of a large proportion of the population who are stoically avoiding going out to public places and certainly not using trains and boats and planes or for that matter restaurants, sports facilities or workplaces. The chances of getting to see a GP , dentist, or hospital appointment are limited. We live in a different world and until there is a sense that Covid spreading is under control, many people will resist the urge to exercise their fake freedom.

With 10-15% of carers unvaccinated according to Nadra Ahmed of the National Care Association, allowing UK citizens to travel abroad, despite having higher rates of infection than almost all European countries and a contact tracing system that remains seriously flawed. The UK government is gung ho for free markets, prepared to heap the blame for spreading on other countries and unprepared to release some of the 540 million doses of vaccine to countries that are suffering the most as a result of a shortage of vaccines. This approach has been recommended by such luminaries as Professor Andrew Pollard and more recently by Professor Sarah Gilbert who were both instrumental in creating the Astra Zeneca vaccine and always saw it as a non-profit resource for global usage.  

At a time when the UK is supposed to be defining a new role for itself on the world stage, it is tragic that we are not using the soft power of vaccines, international aid and climate change as weapons for the global good. Instead, the government are signing up to strategic nuclear submarine pacts, getting ever tougher on immigrants and asylum seekers, allowing the fire sale of UK companies to hedge funds, and routinely abusing or blaming the EU. All of this is wrapped up in a union jack as a half baked foreign policy. Add a foreign secretary who believes that free markets will sort out the mess and we truly are becoming a pariah nation.

Thursday, 2 September 2021

Beinn Dronaig

Bidein a' Choire Sheasgaich and Lurg Mhor from Beinn Dronaig

Wednesday, 1 September 202

Ascent:       1201 metres (605 metres cycling)
Distance:    34 kilometres   (25 kilometres cycling)
Time:          6 hours 12 minutes  (3hrs 18mins cycling)

Beinn Dronaig     797m 3 hrs 36 mins  (1hr 55mins cycling)

After a restless night in the BnB in Lochcarron, I set out for the short journey to Attadale. The day was absolutely perfect with just a slight breeze, more noticeable when cycling. I was the first visitor of the day and was cycling up the track past the Attadale Gardens before 9am. On the track to some cottages, I met the gamekeeper who asked if I was going up Beinn Dronaig, and if so, could I use the route up just before Loch Calavie as he would be stalking the other part of the hill tomorrow. It was a civil request and although I had intended this route anyway I had hoped to descend westwards along the summit ridge but that would not be possible.

The climb up the rough gravel track was steeper than I remembered. I had once walked this route when climbing Bidein a' Choire Sheasgaich and Lurg Mhor with Mark and knew that it was a 3-hour walk at least. I spent the next half hour crossing the river, I had taken the wrong track and then pushing the bike up the steep hill. There is then a section of a kilometre or so that can be pedalled before the track ramps up again and climbs to a col at 350 metres. The long descent from here to the bridge over the Black Water allowed me to save some time despite quite a few stops for photos. I reached the track to Loch Calavie in less than two hours. It was time to dump the bike and walk up the rough path to the high point towards Loch Calavie. I began the steep climb up the lush, lumpy grassy slopes of Beinn Dronaig but not before filling my water bottle from the sparkling burn.

It was a relentless ascent, twisting between the rock bands, following some burns and eventually arriving on the glorious summit bejewelled with small lochans and providing scintillating views to the Torridons and over to the mesmeric peak of Bidein a' Choire Sheasgaich and Lurg Mhor, two of the most inaccessible Munros. I took half an hour on the summit, it was one of those days when I felt that the effort expended in getting to the summit had earned me some respite and what a spectacular setting. 

I had to decide the route down and chose to take a more direct line further to the east than the way I had climbed the hill, it would save me circling my way through the outcrops. The route worked well although I did have to scramble down a gulley between some rock outcrops at one stage. I was back on the track in 45 minutes and from there it was an easy walk back to the bike. There was a sense that I had done the difficult part of the day although there would be a 2-kilometre climb on the bike in the searing heat to reach the summit of the track to Attadale.

The cycling was easy going to the bridge over the Black Water and after an initial climb up a rough path back to the track there was another section that could be cycled with ease. Thereafter, it was a long half-hour pushing the bike to the 350-metre col. I could have cycled some of it but the loose stony surface and the incline made it easier to keep walking. The brakes on my bike are not the best and, as I started the descent, I realised that they were not going to stop me on the steeper switchback sections of the descent. Thereafter some long sections of steady descent made for faster progress and I managed to average 22kph on the last 3 kilometres back to the car. It was 4pm and the temperature was 25°C as I began the long drive home. The traffic was light and I was in Fort William well before 6 pm. A chance to buy some beers for when I arrived home. Glencoe was again at its most magnificent in the evening light and I envied the microlight pilot who was skimming over Rannoch Moor.

It had been a hard but successful two days, the weather had been almost perfect, the cycling had been hard particularly to Beinn Dronaig. The climbs on both Aonach Buidhe and Beinn Dronaig had required determination with no paths, full-on summer vegetation, and steep slopes. In the circumstances, I had made better times than expected. I have only two Corbetts to complete the challenge I set myself on retiral: a round of the Munros and Corbetts to keep me fit and out of trouble. 

I have kept Beinn Dearg in the Torridons for the final Corbett. It had been included in Irvine Butterfield's marvellous book, the High Mountains of Britain and Ireland covering all the hills of 3000feet. It was at the time classified as a Munro before the surveyors re-estimated its height to 2999 feet, although the OS still have it as a 914-metre summit. The pictures and description of Beinn Dearg was one of the reasons that I started to climb the Munros in 1989 and its completion would be a fine epitaph for 32 years of walking the Scottish Hills. Then I can relax a little; climb old favourites, walk the lower level passes and maybe finish another round of Wainwright's in the Lake District - so much easier and not requiring long days and overnight camps. Yet it is the very remoteness of the Scottish Mountains combined with the weather that makes them such a perpetual challenge and reward, the agony and ecstasy are so finely paired.

The track up to Beinn Dronaig from Lochcarron

Lochcarron from the track

Lochcarron and Applecross Hills from top of track

Bidein a' Choire Sheasgaich and Lurg Mhor from track

Black Water Bridge

From Blackwater Bridge

By Beinn Dronaig Lodge and Bothy

The track back to Attadale

Sheasgaich and Lurg Mhor

High level pools

Torridons from Beinn Dronaig

Beinn Dronaig Lodge and Bothy


Aonach Buidhe

Aoach Buidhe summit

Tuesday, 31 August 2021

Ascent:      985 metres
Distance:   34 kilometres (25km by bike)
Time:         4hours 50 minutes

Aonach Buidhe    899m      2hrs 48mins

I normally look forward to climbing hills for the first time but I was unusually anxious about two of my last four Corbetts. Aonach Buidhe and Beinn Dronaig are quite close as the crow flies, a mere 6 kilometres. The terrain between them is pretty rough with 600 metres of descent, rivers to wade and I reckoned 55 kilometres including a 25-kilometre bike ride. It would have the sort of challenge that appealed in the past but time is less precious after retirement and with stamina on the wane.

I had been working on Monday, the first time in a couple of years, but spotting a couple of dry days in the northwest highlands, I decided to take the plunge. I thought about taking the tent but the midges would be at their most bothersome so I booked an Airbnb in Lochcarron so that I could shower and have a meal at the hotel. I had figured on 6 hours 30 minutes for Aonach Bhuide with the journey up to Killilan at the head of Loch Long adding a further 4 hours taking account of the slow procession of vehicles that are an inevitable feature of travel in this part of Scotland. 

I left home at 7:45am, the morning conditions were perfect with not a cloud seen before Fort William but the hills to the north of Fort William were lost in the clouds. I parked at the car park just shy of Killilan and assembled the bike quickly encouraged by swarms of midges. The first part of the cycle ride is along a well metalled private road but it deteriorates into a gravel track after a few kilometres and begins to climb slowly. I passed the path to the Glomach falls and promised myself to visit someday but not today, there was not much water in the river and time would be tight. I arrived at the small copse of trees by Iron Lodge within the hour after a few photo stops and pushing the bike up a couple of hills. There were four bikes already there but I had not seen a soul.

The route up is by the south ridge and I followed the footpath for a kilometre and stopped for some lunch before beginning the ferociously steep climb up long grass adorned with the odd boulder. Although it looks like a well-defined ridge on the map it is a broad ridge with variations in steepness once you get above 450 metres. Despite the cloud cover the heat made for lethargy as I slogged my way to the summit. I looked over to Beinn Dronaig, tomorrow's hill, and thought more of this to come. The views were good but the cloud cover meant that the clarity was not as good as I had hoped.

I decided to descend to the west, a steep drop keeping to the north of the burn. Again the long grass made for slow progress but at least the dry August meant that the normally boggy ground was not an added inconvenience. Reaching the footpath made for an easy couple of kilometres back to Iron Lodge. An elderly couple were unlocking their electric bikes from a signpost. The woman had just climbed An Cruachan, a very remote Graham requiring a 17-kilometre walk there and back from Iron Lodge. She had only two Grahams left to climb having already completed the Munros and Corbetts. Her husband accompanied her on the bike but had given up on the Grahams. We had a friendly chat before they set off back to Killilan. 

I unlocked the bike and had some food and drink before starting the cycle to Killilan. There were some uphill sections but it was mainly a speedy descent. I passed the couple before running into a couple of hundred sheep charging up the track, they saw me and turned to run back towards Killilan. The woman farmer was following in a truck and she hollered me to get off the road. I did by climbing up the bank and the sheep charged past at a gallop. The last couple of kilometres on the smooth road made for a fast ride despite the sheep droppings. 

I was back by 5pm and after loading the bike and speaking again to the couple who had arrived at their large motor home, I travelled along the narrow road alongside Loch Long that is dotted with new houses and on to Lochcarron to the Airbnb. An excellent meal in the Lochcarron Hotel set me up for an early night with the prospect of a tough day in the saddle tomorrow.

The track up Glen Elchaig

The route to the Glomach Falls

Loch na Leitreach

Looking down Glen Elchaig from start of Aonach Bhuidhe


Looking north to Torridons

Summit looking east

Faochaig and Sguman Coinntich on descent

Descent route to An Crom Allt

Iron Lodge


Tuesday, 17 August 2021

Devon: South Ham

South Pool

The first family holiday since Covid took us to South Devon. It was 556 miles made even more difficult by the closure of the M6 in Cheshire resulting in a 3-hour hold up and then various other delays as the summer traffic on the M5 backed up and brought us to standstills in Birmingham and North Somerset. We had wisely decided to spend a night in Somerset and the Devonshire Arms in Long Sutton provided the perfect place to rest up before the final 100 miles to South Pool. 

We arrived on Saturday lunchtime with other family members arriving at 4pm from London and 7pm from Glasgow. The narrow Devon roads, with high hedgerows and frequented by lots of high-end SUVs, only rarely driven by folk with any courtesy, made the last twenty miles more threatening than Covid. It was summer staycation in full swing with no quarter given. The tide was out but the local pub provided a chance to relax after the long drives whilst we waited for the Glasgow arrivals.

Over the next couple of days, we visited the local attractions: Kingsbrdge, Bigbury, Burgh Island, Bee Sands, Salcombe, and best of all the coastal walks. The weather was not the best but the real problem has been the narrow roads clotted with cars and jammed by oversized vehicles. Car parking has been almost impossible and on two occasions we simply had to abandon plans and find alternative destinations. 

The secluded beaches are fine if crowded but it has proved almost impossible to find anywhere to eat given the number of visitors. Devon has an enviable reputation as a holiday destination but I suspect it will suffer a decline next year as people reject holiday traffic jams and the rising costs of UK hotels and holiday lets and return to the better value and weather that Europe offers.

Cyder House

South Pool

Burgh Island from Bigbury beach

Bigbury on Sea

Burgh Island Trailer as the tide recedes

Burgh Island Hotel and Bigbury car park

Paddling back from Burgh Island



Friday, 23 July 2021

Buidhe Bheinn

Loch Hourn and Ladhar Bheinn  from the southwest top of Buidhe Beinn

There are some hills that you resent climbing. In this case, it was the surveyors who were to blame, they had reclassified Buidhe Bheinn as the Corbett rather than its twin peak, Sgurr a' Bhac Chaolais. I had climbed the latter three times during walks along the South Cluanie ridge. On the last of these occasions, I had camped just below the summit of Sgurr a' Bhac Chaolais and could easily have popped over to Buidhe Bheinn, before climbing Sgurr na Sgine and the Saddle on a glorious morning. I was back in Glenshiel by 11am and caught the morning bus back to Fort William, it was the waste of a good day. 

With only five Corbetts left, I had decided to take advantage of the good weather for the week and take my bike to this area to climb Aonach Buidhe by Iron Lodge and Beinn Dronaig, deep in the Attadale Forest. My car developed a fault and it was difficult to book a garage appointment so I lost the 2 days I had planned. I decided to use the one day I had free to tackle Buidhe Bheinn. It was a 300 mile round trip with a 5am start so that I could be home for a meeting at 8pm. 

Wednesday, 21 July 2021

Ascent:       1659 metres
Distance:    23 kilometres
Time:          8 hours 14 minutes

Sgurr a' Bhac Chaolais       885m    2hrs 21mins
Buidhe Bhenn                   885m     3hrs 22mins
Buidhe Bheinn SW top      879m     3hrs 50mins
Sgurr na Sgine                  945m      6hrs 24mins
Sgurr na Sgine NW top      944m      6hrs 36mins
Faochag                             900m      7hrs 6mins

I packed the night before, the only weight in the rucksack being the 2 litres of water, the forecast was so positive that there was little need for any spare clothing apart from a waterproof. Sun cream, sunglasses and a peaked cap were the essentials and no chocolate because of the heat.

There was low cloud at 5am and driving through Rannoch Moor required headlights in the murky morning gloom. Only as I began the descent into Glencoe did the visibility improve but the clouds were still enveloping the mountains. There was little traffic at this time of day so the journey was relatively quick, even Fort William was quiet before 7am. I arrived at Glenshiel by 8am and parked by the footpath that climbs precariously over to Glen Quoich. 

It was cool, the cloud level was down to 300 metres, I was relieved that the ascent in these conditions would not be too exhausting. The normally wet boggy path to the Allt Mhalagain was almost dry and the river crossing an easy hop, step and jump before beginning on the narrow path that follows a burn as it twists its way to Bealach Duibh Leac. I was not walking well, maybe the lack of sleep or the three-hour drive had drained my energy. It took an hour to reach 400 metres, by which time I was sweating in the humid conditions. I had spotted a walker about ten minutes ahead and he provided a target so that I could muster a reasonable pace to the bealach. I had almost caught him but he went left towards the South Cluanie ridge and I turned right to head up alongside the wall towards Sgurr a' Bhac Chaolais. 

The sun was now the sole occupant of the azure blue sky but there was a light breeze to make walking conditions enjoyable. The views from the centre of OS sheet 33. my favourite map, were perfect. I had not intended to climb Sgurr a' Bhac Chaolais but it was too tempting and it would provide me with a view of the surveyors' teasing alternative summit. To be fair it is a fine summit with exceptional views in all directions. I stopped for my first drink, took some photos and dealt with some emails and messages. 

I was feeling fresh and frisky as I began the walk along the so-called ridge to Buidhe Bheinn. In practice, it is a series of rocky hills that straddle the arc of a circle that is dotted with several lochans. It s not a walk to speed along although it took just an hour to the summit of Buidhe Bheinn, slightly ahead of my hoped-for time. This had consequences as I decided to walk over to the southwest top that bears the name of Buidhe Bheinn but is 6 metres lower. It is a fine vantage point as I discovered when Loch Hourn and Knoydart were revealed in their naked sunbaked summer plumage. 

I tramped back over to Buidhe Bheinn, energy drained by the midday heat and filled up with water, I had hoped to climb Sgurr na Sgine and the Saddle but the visit to the southwest top had taken over an hour with the photos and after a lunch stop at the summit, it was now almost 1pm. I decided that I would just climb Sgurr na Sgine and descend to Glenshiel via the steep path down Faochag. I made a bad route choice that I have made many times, instead of following the tops of the five hills between the two ends of the twin Corbetts, I undercut them and made for Bealach Toiteil. It saved some climbing but a long contour amongst the crags is never easy and hard on the feet. The consolation was a burn dispensing cool water and a herd of deer in Coire Reidh who scattered as I entered their domain. I arrived at the bealach well exhausted from the heat. 

I did think about heading straight down to Glenshiel but my pride wouldn't let me so I aimed for the wall south of Sgurr na Sgine, followed it until the end and then climbed the ramp to the summit. Surprisingly, the climb was not nearly as tiring as the previous contouring. I wasted little time at the summit, walked over to the nearby top and then followed the ridge around to the impressive Faochag. It is just not high enough to be a Munro and does not have a 500 feet drop to justify Corbett status. I knew from previous experience that the path down was relentlessly steep as it twists and twirls through the rocks. I had chased Mark and Gregor down the path during a ridiculously quick 40-minute descent in 2005 on a day trip to climb the Saddle and Sgurr na Sgine.

Today, it took over an hour to make the descent, it is a path that I never want to descend again. My thoughts were echoed by another walker who had decided to give it a break about halfway down. I continued but each step was an assault on the feet and ankles and my shoes had decided to transfer the agony to me. It was after 4:30pm. It took an age to change shoes, rehydrate, and prepare for the drive home. I stopped at Spean Bridge to buy a bottle of lime and lemon sparkling water to quench my thirst. The traffic was lighter than expected to Fort William although a car towing a caravan pulled out in front of me adding at least 10 minutes to the journey home before it pulled off at Ballachulish. I arrived home in time to join at the start of the Zoom meeting that had been postponed by 15 minutes. Only four Corbetts to go.

Sgurr na Sgine and Faochag emerging from the morning cloud

Like so

Bealach Duibh Leac

Buidhe Bheinn from the bealach

Sgurr a' Bhac Chaolais

Sgurr na Sgine and the Saddle from Sgurra' Bhac Chaolais

Five Sisters

Ladhar Bheinn from Sgurr a' Bhac Chaolais

On the way to Buidhe Bheinn and Ladhar Bheinn

Looking back to Sgurr a' Bhac Chaolais

South Cluanie Ridge

Ladhar Bheinn from the Buidhe Bheinn ridge

Top of Buidhe Bheinn

Southwest top

Buidhe Bheinn and South Cluanie Ridge from sw top

Deer in Coire Reidh

Final ascent of Sgurr na Sgine

The Saddle from Sgurr na Sgine

South Cluanie Ridge from Sgurr na Sgine

Sgurra' Bhac Chaolais to Buidhe Bheinn

Five Sisters from Sgurr na Sgine