Monday, 20 April 2015

Top Gigha

One of those trips that has been planned for many years and put off time and again - sometimes because of poor weather but more usually and quite simply because of its position which requires a rather singular focus, nevertheless Gigha was ideal for our purposes on this weekend of brilliant sun and blue skies.
Waking up to the familiar sound of the tent flapping in the wind as a brisk easterly pushed across the Sound of Bute, I'd wondered whether the forecast had changed once again. Looking towards Arran from our camp, the sea was a mess of white caps running before a cold wind - nothing to be overly concerned about but definitely a day for the drysuit. Arriving a little later on the opposite side of the peninsula, we began loading the boats still dressed for a chill morning. And as if on cue, the wind dropped, the temperature soared and out came the shorty cags. Result.
Launching from the ferry terminal at Tayinloan we crossed quickly with a gentle tail wind, heading first for the southern tip of Gigha and then south again to Cara Island.
An idyllic spot and by the time we'd walked up to the Brownie's Chair - the low summit at the southern end of the island - the wind had disappeared altogether.
Looking south beneath a strong sun - pretty much a constant for the entirety of the trip - towards Ireland. So clear was the air it was possible not only to see its northern coastline, but headland after headland to the west.
Islay and Jura formed our western horizon - we spent some time here just soaking it all in before heading back to the boats... paddle beneath the low cliffs of the Mull of Cara...
...and on up the west coast of Gigha, the paps of Jura dominating the view.
A beautiful if uneventful stretch of paddling brought us by late afternoon to the beach and dunes inside Eilean Garbh. 
The shape of this bay, open to the south west, means that it gathers not just the drift wood but every imaginable type of detritus our seas are now awash with - despite having seen the same in so many places, wild and otherwise pristine beaches so very obviously polluted, the result is no less shocking on each occasion.
You could easily be forgiven for thinking its neighbour, the north facing beach of the tombolo separating Eilean Garbh from Gigha, was somewhere else entirely rather than a few short strides away.
Sunset beyond Islay and Jura that evening gave way to a cool clear night, the stars brilliant, the only sound that of the snipe and gentle wash of the sea on the white sands below.
We were away in good time the next morning...
...launching in the clear seas, once more beneath a sun already strong.
A fresh breeze from the north-east rapidly dropped as we rounded Sgeir Fhiacail, the northern tip of Gigha, leaving us to make the return crossing on glassy seas, looking south to Cara and less clearly this time but still discernible on the distant horizon, Ireland's northern coastline.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Sunset beyond Jura

Sunset beyond Islay and Jura...
...a beautiful end to a stunning day's paddling off Gigha.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Last light on the first evening

Eagerly anticipated every spring, the first evening when sufficient light remains to enjoy an evening on the crag or bike after work never fails to catch me by surprise. And so it was that I found myself on a local gritstone edge, racing the setting sun to reach a section of the crag where I could focus on a several problems without having to move far in between. 
Feeling particularly rusty, I scratched my way up and along several old favourites before failing quite completely on an old project which I last climbed two or possibly three years ago.
Heading down and a long view towards Pendle as the stars came out - hopefully the weather will hold and there will be time for a few more, less rushed evenings on the moors this spring.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Reflecting on Wastwater

Of all the Cumbrian lakes, Wastwater remains a favourite haunt. Markedly busier in the summer months than I remember it when I could legitimately call the area home, it is still less frequented than most simply by virtue of its inaccessibility. And in the winter it retains a sense of wild beauty long since lost in many places on the eastern side of the fells.
I have seen the lake in all of its moods, from tranquil summer mornings to wild winter nights - and remember watching in awe one Christmas as great sheets of spray were lifted from the surface as storm force winds battered the fells. Only rarely have I seen it so calm, and never like this.
An evening of rare, transient beauty, the sea fret creeping insidiously into the valley...
...reaching slowly across the screes, until quite suddenly the lake was gone, only the highest summits drawing breath from the clear skies high above.

You can run but you can't hide

The blue skies and cold clear air of the previous evening had eventually succumbed to the fog flowing in from the coast, hiding all but the highest of England's summits before nightfall. Unfortunately there would be no hiding from the Easter crowds drawn all too predictably to those same mountains the next day, my own motivation for taking in the summit of Scafell Pike having more to do with the fact that it provided the natural high point for a run which descended via the Corridor Route - a high level traverse which to my mind is equaled in the Lakes only by the path which cuts across the northern slopes of Pillar linking the top of Black Sail Pass to Pillar Rock.

A continually absorbing mountain path, the Corridor Route begins (in descent) from centre of the broad the col between Lingmell and Scafell Pike (seen on the left of the image above), weaving above Piers Gill and beneath the crags of Broad Crag and Round How to reach Sty Head where we would temporarily rejoin our route of ascent before dropping steeply back to Wasdale Head beside the falls and clear pools of Lingmell Beck. I have used the path many times and it was one I have wanted to run for some time.
The climb to Sty Head Tarn was dispatched painlessly enough, the bulk of Great Gable receding gradually as we gained height...
...though from the broad ridge of Great End, there remained plenty of climbing still to do. From here, the numbers of walkers steadily increased - I counted upwards of 30 on the summit of Scafell Pike shortly before we arrived - the reaction to our passage the usual mix of bemused, usually friendly, sometimes curious and occasionally plain rude that I have encountered so often while on the bike in the fells. A not insignificant wind chill left little reason to dally on the summit - a soulless place on days so crowded - descending rapidly to reach the start of the Corridor Route.
Pausing for a moment above the rift of Piers Gill, Pillar and Gable providing the back drop beyond the austere and rarely visited north facing crags of Lingmell.
On the last section of the traverse, descending beneath blue skies and a strong sun...
...before dropping steeply to the valley floor and following the beck back to Wasdale Head.
A fine sunset beyond the western fells - a peaceful close to a busy day on the hill.