Saturday, 21 August 2010

Appin Show 2010

Appin tea and home baking - nothing in any restaurant or coffee shop comes close to this for quality
A Big Fella - Highland Bull
First Prize & Well Deserved
Castle Stalker - Stunning Backdrop to the show
Nice to see the sun out and it's nice to watch the men of the land proud of their work and showing fine animals. Funny watching them trying really hard not to go into the beer tent, then succumbing knowing that very many drams and big session will result, which they really want - and don't at the same time as they know it will be brakes off until sunset. Good folk and resonance of generations before echo down the names on the stock fencing "Fold of Achnacloich" for one. All with a backdrop that will never need Adobe to enhance.  Feels like home.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Happy Birthday Hamish MacInnes

As a young Highland lad in the very early 70’s climbers were still seen as something of a mystery by Glencoe locals. Ian & Nicky Clough were my neighbours in the village and I used to be encouraged by them.  I remember sitting in the front room of  "Tigh Dearg" watching a slide show by Tom Patey through a grey haze of smoke,smoking "Gauloise"being a major secondary pastime to beer and mountains. I found these folk scary as I wanted to climb in the mountains but the pictures of faraway places made me quite scared that I wouldn't live long unless I sharpened up. Sadly three of the folk in that room had all been killed in the mountains within two years.  Ian Clough by a serac on Annapurna, Tom Patey on "Am Buachaille" in an abseil accident, and Dave Knowles on the Eiger during filming for "The Eiger Sanction". This had a profound affect on me as a young lad as it coincided with my own early misadventures and scrapes and the first fatal accidents I helped at in spring 1972. My personal conclusion being that getting fitter and stronger and more technically able let me be a leader and decision maker rather than blind follower giving me at least some control over my destiny.  One of the very few folk who I have ever trusted absolutely with my own life and that of others was Hamish during a technical ResQ. His knowledge of the individual rescuers strengths and weakness's kept the right folk in the right place at the right time and put safety at the front of the agenda. 
Hamish in the workshop at Allt na righ
Without Hamish, Glencoe Mountain Rescue Team would have taken many more years to form and become the extremely well organized and trained rescue service it is to this day, saving many lives through Hamish’s technical and medical initiatives. To this day he has a keen interest and maintains the team’s stretchers with the new MacInnes Mk 7 the mainstay of Scottish rescue evacuation. My climbing role models at that time were either in the rescue team, or working for Glencoe School of Winter Mountaineering as instructors. As a young sixteen year old mad keen on climbing, Hamish took me and another local lad Ronnie Rodgers under his wing. As the youngest, as long as I tagged along on rescues not getting in the way and helping a bit, then odd bits of gear would arrive from “Fishers of Keswick”(pre Nevisport) or Typhoo’s (Tiso’s), ordered for me by Hamish to encourage me for my labours. Emulating these masters was anything but safe, as copying Nicholson’s soloing was fraught with risk and I did end up needing rescued with friends myself from a frozen North Face of Aonach Dubh in winter at sixteen. With me at the end of an abseil rope that hung in space and was frozen. Hamish and Walter Elliot led the rescue and got us to safety. Hamish always had a word of caution or advice for us local lads and despite needing rescued because of inexperience, it was, and is not his nature to pass judgment.
Rescue Twisting Gully 1979
Someone told me one time that I should “carry a camera - as one day it will carry you”. Good advice that took me many years to action. If I had a camera in my early climbing and rescue years, one picture I wish I had taken was that of Hamish in Glen Etive beside an abandoned min-van. We had gallon cans of beans in our old WW2 rescue truck as sustenance, and lacking a plate and spoon there he was sitting on a rock beside the river with his iconic cap on, eating cold beans out of a mini headlight glass with a big dirty channel peg. That image will always stay locked into my brain as the epitome of a hard man climber picture. Yet behind that picture is a gentleman. Another picture I would love to have taken was in his house with a gathering of many very well known climbers, with Hamish dishing out his potent Birch Bark home made wine from gallon flagons. The later devastation flopped around the room paralyzed from too much intake, some adorned with African masks and other things on the nether parts from his expeditions would have been hilarious. Hamish is a tough customer. Cold doesn’t seem to bother him and he has always been immensely strong. This strength at the end of an axe has produced many classic winter routes, not least of which are Agags and Ravens with a youthful Bonnington. I meet Hamish often, out for his daily walk or in the local coffee shop for a daily tea and scone. If the picture of him eating beans out a headlight will also be locked into my minds eye forever, so will be the esteem shown to him from all the greats in world mountaineering. Sitting chewing the fat for a few hours about fishing, films and mountains with Hamish, Yvon Chounard, Cubby and Jimmy Marshal last year I remember as so typical of Hamish’s broad range of interests and friends, and a man unique in his contribution to world mountaineering and mountain rescue.
Left to right 1975.  Wull Thompson - Willie Elliot - Sandy Whellans - Jeff Arkless
Post Script:
Sadly Willie who you see in the picture above has passed away.  Sandy had a big input into MR in the late 60's and 70's a fact often overlooked in MR history. Willie Elliot was unique in his intimate knowledge of Glencoe and was an able mountain man when I was a lad. At 16 he took me to Dalmally show to help with a Tup he was selling.  Courtesy of a famous grouse I was deposited home paralytic that evening.  On a more serious note I will not forget the evening he phoned me to say he thought he saw a "wee light" opposite the house in the "Y" gully, did I feel like a donder up to see if it was anything before he called out the team.  Sure enough up high I found a wee lad of 12 years with both lower legs broken who had slid down a few hundred feet and over a pitch on the hard neve.  The lad told me what had happened and how his dad had told him what to do if there was ever an accident when they were out.  He had got himself into a bag and put on warm clothes and flashed his torch 6 times a minute at the road as he had been told to do. The lad asked me to go up and see if his dad was ok.  Sadly I found him above, but he was dead. After the team had arrived and the ResQ was over I told Willie about the wee lad and what he had done, and how if he hadn't been having a look the lad would have died from his injuries and the cold.  I later found out that the family were from Taynult. Years later I heard from the mother who told me of the lovely letter she had received from a Willie Elliot of Glencoe MRT after the accident telling her of the bravery of her son, who despite his pain and injury had done his dad proud. She told me of how much comfort it gave her and her family after their loss.  Willie saved many lives with his sharp eye and the deer stalkers "glass". He also was a caring person. The World is a lesser place without these gentlemen of the hills with unassuming wisdom and a caring nature.

Monday, 9 August 2010

The Power of the Internet

Many cyclists these days use GPS cycle computers.  These new generation cycle mounted GPS give a variety of information including: heart rate, distance, time, cadence, speed, average speed and many other functions, including power output in watts from ANT enabled hubs such as "Power Tap". Best of all they record an exact breadcrumb trail of where you have been and all the data. More expensive models also include a map display giving your real time location.
Cyclists up load data to a central resource such as Garmin Connect or Map My Ride and visitors then have access to route information that they can either follow by directions, or upload onto their own GPS and follow. You can also "virtual race" as the more expensive GPS show your position in time and speed against the original person as a pair of cyclists moving on the map. Of course it's not just cyclists that use this technology. Geochaching is hugely popular as a family activity and this form of family friendly fun is growing as an attraction in areas that lend themselves to freedom of access and suitable non hostile terrain which away from the big mountains we in N. Argyll/South Lochaber have an abundance.

Go to the Garmin Connect site and move the mapping to Glencoe then type in Glencoe.  You will then see various activities uploaded already by visitors. These range from cycling on and off road, to hill runs and family walks.  GPS routing is a powerful tool.  This was brought home to me recently when cycling the A828 Oban road in the Appin area, as I had noticed a big increase in cycle tourers using this route. The tourers now use the Lands End/John o' Groats route up the Ayreshire coast, across to Arran then to Cambeltown or via  Rothsay or Dunoon as the roads are quieter, it's very scenic, and in time it takes no longer.  This is all via tracking files from folk who can show this route works well.  Even the other day while out road training on this road I met over 40 road cyclists over a morning some of whom had driven up and parked to just come and ride a route I had uploaded and recommended as a good loop with good coffee stop at Castle Stalker a friendly bike stop with good size portions for calorie hungry bikers. 
Typical deep section narrow rim road wheel that goes fast, is worth £500 each and doesn't like kerbs or potholes!
Road bikes don't do well on the new cycle track due to skinny tyres and poorly finished kerbing at crossings, not to mention horse shit, prams and buggies and the faster pace of a road bike. Generally the folk on the Oban road due to it being a wider better cared for road than the A82 give road cyclists more respect.  I think the folk of Duror, Appin, Benderloch and Southward need to prepare for more of this form of trade and perhaps advertise the bike friendly nature of the providers as this can only grow.

Someone asked me the other day where I would say the best location was for a holiday in this area.  My view was Appin.  Access to a decent shopping area in Oban with amenities, good family cycling routes, the short trip into Lochaber for skiing at either resort in winter/spring and the ferry's to either the Islands, or a day trip to Lismore. That was what would tick the boxes for me with my family but as always having parents from Cuil Bay and Appin I may be genetically biased.

As wee taster for folk who want something to do with the kids here's a link to a  geocache on Loch Leven that is on the worlds biggest data base. I don't know the uploader but it gives you a taste of geochaching as a family activity. 

Monday, 2 August 2010

North Shian Appin - A Family Cycle Route

I love Appin. Well I would having spent chunks of my early childhood there as my uncle had the garage and my cousins and I mucked about together. Also my gran, the blacksmiths wife lived at "Sunset", her house in Tynribbie in Appin.  It's a tight community, although alas many of the old worthies are gone and a pint at Creagan is less likely to lead to acute liver failure and more likely  an overdose of Latte than when it was a great social centre. Like Glencoe many new folk have moved in to the area and it has a blossoming tourist trade. It still retains a rich farming and crofting heritage and it was nice to see and smell the hay getting mown on our cycle around Shian yesterday.
A tired Rebekah who wants juice and a bit of millionaire shortbread more than a picture

We parked at Lettershuna and took advantage of the cycle track along past the old railway platform where I used to get off with my mother, cross the Jubilee bridge and walk down to Tynribbie and Granny Campbells.  I was 7 the last time and the lovely Dr Beeching then wiped it and many other branch lines off the map. What a great assest the cycle track is.  The completed Appin section especially so, as it's more or less flat for all of the 5 miles following the old railway line from Lettershuna to the North Shian road where it ends. Crossing the road to North Shian you are rewarded with more well tarred single track road at a good gradient for the next few miles among a truly stunning landscape. Only one steep hill shortly before Port Appin below Drumneil House, then it's a swoop down to Airds and an Ice Cream at the shop, a beer or juice at the pier, then along the road to the Jubillee Bridge which is a real hoot to cycle over, and back along to Lettershuna and  Lunch at the Castle Stalker restaurant. All in this is 15 miles of good family friendly cycling and must rank as one of the best for able children in North Argyll & Lochaber.  Highly recommended by my daughter Rebekah who is 12 years old. That's a real compliment take it from me!