Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Walking on Jura: Corryvrecken

View out over the Northern tip of the island
Final post on the walks I did during my recent trip to Jura.  You can see all my Jura posts here.  There is a bit of dearth of info on the web on walks on Jura so aiming to make this a bit of a reference point for others - hoping it will be useful!

The best written guide I found is this one;



And of course you'll want the right OS map.  All set with this and assuming that you're based in Craighouse (the main settlement) you've got a great couple of days ahead of you.  

This walk is all about getting to see the famous Corryvrecken whirlpool.  Be warned, this is a real yomp of a day - 30km+ over nearly eight hours.  Not technical or difficult (you're just on the one road), just a long old day.  


The end of a long day!
For this walk you really do need to use the bus (NB, the bus service has been re-tendered - it's now run by Garelochhead Coaches not Alex Dunnachie as per the Argyll and Bute website - the link I give here is the right one!).  I caught the 0803 from Craighouse and got off at Ardlussa which is as far North as the bus goes (not not the end of the line - it then loops a bit back South to Inverlussa before turning around for the return trip).  The bus drivers are very friendly so will drop you off at the right place if you ask.  So you'll suddenly be in the middle of no-where at about 8.45am - brilliant!

The route is incredibly simple, just keep following the road in front of you through some farm buildings, it slowly works its way up through the island, progressively becoming a track then a rough path.  You'll pass a kind of pull-in car park on the right with a sign urging car drivers not to progress further.  If you're driving rather than getting there on foot please do heed this warning - you won't be able to see it, but about a mile up the road there's a chain across the road.  And this ain't the place to be doing a three-point turn or reversing back...

Eventually you'll come across a little white and grey house in the distance;

Barnhill
This is Barnhill - where Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four - there's a great booklet available to buy in the Hotel foyer that tells the story of his time on the island.  The house is a private holiday let so you can't really get close but the views from up above are fantastic as you can see.  

Press on and you'll eventually come to the most northerly settlement on the island - Kinuachdrachd which apparently offers bunkhouse accommodation.  Your main purpose of being here is to make sure that you take the right route to the whirlpool however.  

¡No pasarĂ¡n!
Press on up past this sign and you'll soon see another smaller one partly hidden by the grass promising that the whirlpool is just (I think I'm remembering this right) a mile up the hill.  I think it's further than that in any case.  

You can't really go wrong at this point, just keep heading forward, the ground gets a bit boggy but nothing too much to worry about.  You'll eventually be rewarded by this view;

"Whirlpool"
As you can see, there's not much sign of the whirlpool - it's very tidal and I was there at the wrong time - I knew this but the bus times restricted me a bit.  Ask at the hotel for the best times to visit.  There are some videos on YouTube of the swirly goodness - here and here.  

I took my own little videos which (I think) have a sense of where the water would start spinning in a couple of hours - there are little darts and eddies that are slowly swirling around.  In the photo above you can see a real stillness in the water which is where the action happens.  

video

And once you've had your lunch and rested up a bit, it's time to start to think about the trip back.  Very straightforward, just retrace your steps - it's pretty much a wash in terms of ascends vs descends so you'll not be much faster or slower in either direction.  The bus back will pick you up where you were dropped off just after 4.45pm.  But if you miss it or are very early and don't want to wait, then you can easily hitch a lift - I was offered three in the ten minutes I was waiting there.  

What other walks can you say that you've seen a whirlpool and the house where a world-class piece of literature was written and still be back in time for dinner? 

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Walking on Jura: Paps

Following on from this post and intended as a resource for future visitors to the Isle of Jura, I'm sharing some details of the walks that I did on Jura this summer.  There is a bit of dearth of info on the web on walks on Jura so aiming to make this a bit of a reference point for others - hoping it will be useful!

This post is for a trip up the legendary Paps of Jura.  

Again, the best written guide for walking on the island I found is this one;



And of course you'll want the right OS map.  All set with this and assuming that you're based in Craighouse (the main settlement) you've got so many great options.  



You can see in my photo above two and a half of the Paps - I climbed the one in the middle - Beinn Shiantaidh (Holy / Sacred Mountain) which is the second highest (not that I'm counting!) on the island at 757m.  The hill to the right is Corra Bheinn which is a useful reference point for you throughout the walk.  

Much as this walk, head on up out of the village on the main road - going North.  You can either walk (it's about a 5km initial trudge), use the intermittent (albeit very reliable) bus service (NB, the bus service has been re-tendered - it's now run by Garelochhead Coaches not Alex Dunnachie as per the Argyll and Bute website - the link I give here is the right one!) or try to hitch a lift.  I just walked.  

You'll reach 'Three Arch Bridge', the road bend up to the left for about 1/2 a mile.  You then see a signpost to the left of the road indicating 'Evans Walk'.  Here you have to busk it a little bit - the path isn't anywhere as near as clear on the ground as it is on the map.  Basically, head NW as well as you can using the local landmarks especially the old crofters fence (it crosses the path at NR5457411.  Keep going until about NR539747 when the path start to head pretty much due North.  At this point you leave the main path (not that you'll notice much difference!) and strike out alone!  

You need to kind of loop South-ish around the base of Corra Bheinn and then go West-ish and North-ish up to the series of little lakes - called Lochanan Tana on the map.  I'm being deliberately vague here as there's no right or wrong way, just keep heading towards the huge mountain in front of you and keep thinking, "Am I really going to climb that?!".  I had my lunch about this point and rested up - had been going since about 8 so felt like a reasonable time to stop.  


This view from the top of the climb shows the little lochs to give you a sense of what I'm talking about
Go left/South of the little Lochs and you'll see a kind of path / river-bed start to snake up the mountain.  Use this if it's dry enough until it starts to go off too far West.  This is where you start to really busk it.  

You basically start scrambling hand over hand up the scree - jumping onto the little patches of heather for stability where you can.  This is hard work.  Really hard work.  You have to cover something like 400m of ascent like this so take you time.  You're looking at at least an hour of climbing.  I found my walking poles very useful at this point to lever myself up the side of the mountain.  There's no obvious route, just keep going up and on and you'll eventually reach the top.  There's something of a false summit but just keep going and you'll see the man-made cairn of rocks at the top clearly enough.  

Then you get to enjoy this frankly incredible view and an amazing sense of achievement - it might not be the highest mountain in Scotland (not by a long way) but it's got to be one of the most demanding to complete.  





Catch your breath, take a drink of water and start to think about how you're going to get down.  

I originally intended to pretty much retrace my steps, but I met up on the top a guy from Northern Ireland who I buddied up with for the rest of the day and we together descended pretty much directly South aiming for the Corran River below.  If anything, the descent is harder than the climb - the pressure on your knees (and bum if you end up falling...!) on the slippery scree is tough and you certainly won't be much quicker coming down than you were going up.  Keep pressing on and you'll eventually reach the river.  

This very midge-y so take some repellent but also revel in the fact that you're now pretty much on the flat - head more or less East keeping the river on your left (you can cross at many locations) and you'll get to the road at Three Arch Bridge which you'll have seen this morning.  Have a little dip in the river, certainly if it was as hot as the day I did this take a long drink of  water (it's perfectly safe) and start to think about how you'll cover the 5km or so back to Craighouse.  You'll deserve a whisky that night...

I hope this helps some walkers if they're considering a trip up the Paps.  It's not easy but definitely worth it.  Leave me a comment or email at alex [at] alexball dot co dot uk if you've got any questions.  

1. This is a Grid Reference for the OS map - see an explanation here 

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Lake District

Given how much of a keen walker I am, it's always been a bit of a source of shame that I've never been to the English Lake District.  Well, I managed to rectify that omission this week just gone.  When a good friend said he was getting together a few of us to go the Lakes I jumped at the chance - especially when someone else does most of the organising!  

We stayed at a cottage in Chapel Stile in the Southern Lakes, not too far from Ambleside rented through Wheelwrights who appear to have cornered the market in holiday cottages in this area!  It was a good location and the cottage was lovely - a little bit dated in some of the decoration but big and with an excellent kitchen.  I only banged my head on the low beams once too...

The weather was a little variable but we managed to get to do some great walks - including about 90% of Crinkle Crags (got lost in the mist on the tops so called it off early) plus a trip along the Langdale Valley and out to Ambleside and also Grasmere and Keswick.  

Things that are probably commonplace for people who've been before, but new to me and that I recommend;

- Grasmere Gingerbread.  Simply yum and makes the visit to Wordsworth's grave especially fragrant!
- Sticklebarn.  Great pub with fab food run by the National Trust.  
- Bluebird Bitter.  From the award-winning Coniston Brewing Company - very tasty, especially when sampled at the excellent Britannia Inn.  
- And I even managed to get a little run in as part of my training for the Nottingham Half Marathon

I loved the fact that even a little stroll along the valley floor was stunningly beautiful and a little hike up would soon become almost alpine - I'll be back soon I think!



Thursday, 15 August 2013

Hello Telegraph Readers

If you're coming here from the Daily Telegraph article I've had published (here) then you're probably looking for more on my trip to America.  

Try some of these links;

My time with FDR's grandson in the Northeast

Cincinnati

Detroit's extraordinary decay

Travelling overnight on the Amtrak system

Silicon Valley

Yosemite National Park

Bentonville and Northwest Arkansas

A couple of posts on the re-election of President Obama in November 2012: here and here

But do have a poke about and see what you fancy


Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Book Review: The Ice Age

The Ice Age by Margaret Drabble



I read this whilst on holiday the other month and despite it having been written in the (late) 70s a more relevant novel for today I couldn't think of.  

There's a real fin-de-siecle feel to the novel - naturally enough given that is was written in the run-up to the Winter of Discontent and all of the soul-searching over what role Britain should be playing in the world at that time.  I make no apologies for the fact that a lot of this 'review' is simply a quoting from the text - the plot (see below) isn't the real point of the novel - it's much more about the capturing of the essence of the thoughts and feelings of the time that I loved about it.  

The plot, such as it is, centres around Anthony Keating and his personal diaspora: (ex) business partners, ex-wife, mistress, children, lost-acquaintances - I love this kind of common starting point for a story and seeing how it all spins out - my (very embryonic) idea for a novel centres around one person and a sprawling set of linked other characters through the years.  

I like the fact that a lot of the discussion is around property and development - unsurprisingly given how much of my WorkTwo1 is focused on building houses at the moment.  In fact, a lot of the issues and ideas tackled very much remind me of the play 'Benefactors' by Michael Frayn which I have been in a production of with my amateur dramatics group.  It's a seriously good play - I recommend it.  


Ok, on with the passages that I really liked;


"Their supper that night had been tinned soup, hamburger, mash and swede, and rhubarb and custard.  The thin green-pink strands of rhubarb had floated like weed, like scum, acidic, sinister in the watery juice, nudging uneasily, like a jelly fish against a rock, against the great solid dob of custard.  Custard, the poor man's cream".   
I love the over-written style of that, particularly coming as it does after a paragraph describing the best meals that the character has ever eaten - he is now in prison so a big step down in the down, both in culinary and other terms.  
"But there was a page and a half on Britain's economic decline, and the sinking pound, and the dismal state of British industry, and the failure of British firms to deliver goods, ad the folly of trying to support workers' co-operatives with state money, and the inevitability of cut back in public spending, particularly in the Health Service.  Reading, Alison felt the usual surge of British patriotism; things were not as bad as that, surely? [...] She wondered what she thought about the British National Health Service.  Did she think it rotted the spirit of enterprise and self-help, that it demoralised doctors and patients alike? [...] She was no socialist [...] but she felt very strongly indeed about the Health Service [...]"
Feels pretty relevant for today's political discourse... 

Two thoughts - it made me look up the source for the line about the NHS being the closest thing to a national religion in the UK - it's from Nigel Lawson's memoirs and I don't think that the the full quotation is quite as favourable in its intent as its adherents might want it to be: "he National Health Service is the closest thing the English have to a religion, with those who practice in it regarding themselves as a priesthood" (italics mine).  I do however, like the fact that when surveyed about the NHS in abstract people think it's a disaster and needs radical reform but when asked about their own personal experience the feedback is significantly more positive...

(Typing out all of that passage from the novel, I noted how many commas there were - it's a piece of punctuation I over-use, glad I'm not the only one!)

Two more passages with no additional comments;
"Christmas of that year was much the same as usual.  Economically, the country was declared to be in acute decline, and yet, of course, record spending went on, accompanied by record moaning"
"[...] he saw, as he sat there, some apparition, of this great and powerful nation, a country lying there surrounded by the grey seas, the land green and grey, well worn, long inhabited, not in chains, not in thrall, but a land passing through some strange metamorphosis, through the intensive creative lethargy of profound self-contemplation, not idle, not defeated, but waiting still, assembling defences against the noxious oily tides of fatigue and contempt that washed insistently against her shores"
My final section is probably my favourite - I particularly enjoyed the rhythmic cadences of the writing and the poignant end.  
"Others enjoyed the crisis for more indirect reasons.  Odd new groups of the far left hoped that each rise in the bank rate and each strike in a car factory heralded the final collapse of capitalism.  Sociologists expressed approval of the rate of social change, the radicalising influence of increasing confrontations of worker and managements.  Out of this, some sincerely believed, would rise a new order, of selfless, social, greedless beings.  [...] There were also the real poor: the old, the unemployed, the undesirable immigrants.  They were better off than they would have been in the thirties, for Britain is, after all, welfare state, and not many slip through its net.  Let us not think of them.  Their rewards will be in heaven.  [...] Finally, there was a small communion of saints, who truly hoped that from this crisis would come a better sharing among the nations of the earth: who truly in their hearts applauded the rise in price of raw materials from the poorer countries of the earth [...] [A] bishop [...] in fear of his own too great charisma, and who prayed nightly for the country of his birth  [...].  Pity the bishop, on his knees on the cold linoleum.  His love is strained, dilute, insufficient.  Could even God's love suffice this multitude?  It must be said that even the bishop cannot find it in his heart to regret that Britain has struck oil.  This is the state of the nation".  
Seriously - buy it, read it, give it away to someone else, you won't regret it.  

1. See here for an explanation of WorkOne and WorkTwo 

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Walking on Jura: West Coast


I thought I'd do a post on one of the walks I did during my recent trip to Jura.  There is a bit of dearth of info on the web on walks on Jura so aiming to make this a bit of a reference point for others - hoping it will be useful!


The best written guide I found is this one;



And of course you'll want the right OS map.  All set with this and assuming that you're based in Craighouse (the main settlement) you've got a great couple of days ahead of you.  

Head on up out of the village on the main road - going North.  You can either walk (it's about a 5km initial trudge), use the intermittent (albeit very reliable) bus service (NB, the bus service has been re-tendered - it's now run by Garelochhead Coaches not Alex Dunnachie as per the Argyll and Bute website - the link I give here is the right one!) or try to hitch a lift.  I just walked.  

You'll reach 'Three Arch Bridge', the road bend up to the left for about 1/2 a mile.  You then see a signpost to the left of the road indicating 'Evans Walk'



This is where it gets a bit funky.  

The path is very clearly marked on the map.  On the ground it's not quite so clear...

As long as you keep going broadly NW you'll be ok but be warned, the ground can be very boggy - I went in up to my knees at one point.  Use the rivers that you cross (perfectly fine to drink by the way) and the old crofters' fence (marked on the map and a rusty red colour on the ground) to guide out your way.  You pass to the right of the two mountains in the photo above (the one on the left is one of the Paps: Beinn Shiantaidh) and then pick up a river: Abhainn Loch na Fudarlaich, at which point it gets much easier.  The path is pretty clear at this stage and you can navigate by a number of waterfalls and movements of the river.  As long as you keep the river to your right you can't really go wrong.  You'll undoubtedly come off the path at some point, especially near the end, but other than meaning that you have to fight your way through a load of shoulder high ferns there's no real problem.  

Eventually you start to be able to see the sea the other side which is the photo at the top of this post.  Keep pressing on and you'll start to come down into the bay of Glenbatrick.  

This is where the reward comes.  

The (holiday) house here is owned by the Astor family and a more perfect hideaway I can't imagine.  Local legend has it that Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies were spirited away and hidden here at the peak of the Profumo Affair.  




As you can see, I wild camped here - I recommend this even though it means humping all your stuff along.  It's a good three and a half hours one way from the Evans Walk sign (ignore the informational panel by it that suggests a three hour round trip) so you'd be looking a long old yomp to do it there and back in one day - especially if you walk from Craighouse like I did.  Settle down, have a bite to eat, pitch your tent and revel in the freedom and beauty of the surroundings.  Listen to the sound of the sea on the beach and the wind over the mountains.  Bliss. 

Top Tips; Leave early so you're not rushing.  Wear sunscreen (the sun is on the back of your neck all day).  Drink in the scenery and the isolation - not many places left in the UK are this wild.  Bring a nip of Jura Whisky to toast your success on arrival.