Tiree – Sun, Sea and Sands

Posted in Cycling with tags on September 18, 2016 by Jinja Coo

My first visit to Tiree but definitely not my last, this island has long been on my radar as a paddle destination, but this visit was mostly spent cycling around and enjoying the amazing beaches, colours and scenery.

In four days there was a couple of spells of unpleasant weather, but largely the island lived up to the reputation for being Britain’s sunniest place, and cycling in wind driven rain isn’t so bad anyway once you get going, is it?








Days were long, relaxed and enjoyable with miles of quiet, flat roads eaten up between stunning beaches, set at all directions to the winds resulting in calm and rough seas just a few minutes apart. Despite that, I never saw much in the way of any surfing taking place along the way as conditions were not quite perfect for the serious surfers who make the effort to get to Tiree.










A coo with a view…




I specifically went to the beach at Port Ruadh (my thirteenth!) on Gunna Sound at the north hoping to see basking sharks, but none were evident – at least from the shore – and talking to a local, have not been seen for a couple of months. From this lovely spot the views of Coll, to the north, show a distinctively different landscape and I am keen to get back to both islands for a paddle. That might have to wait till next year now though with ferry timetables about to change to the winter schedule and the shorter days meaning less time for paddling each day.



Having enough time to linger before my ferry home, I headed to a wind turbine for a closer look as I’ve always wondered what the scale of these things was like close up. This one has blades that are quite short compared to the tower, which might explain why it was quieter than I’d expected close up.





Four great days on Tiree were over and it was time for the ferry back round Mull to Oban, passing between Coll and the Treshnish Isles on the way. An energetic pod of dolphins came directly to the ferry and passed under it to continue on their way westward, probably my best wildlife sighting from a ferry journey.






Islay and Jura – Two Wheelin’ all the Distilleries

Posted in Cycling with tags , on September 17, 2016 by Jinja Coo

I knew I’d be back some day to see more if Islay and this time a bit more ground was covered with bikes taken on to the island, and over to Jura, than on the previous trip. Five of us headed to Islay and based ourselves at the Port Mor campsite just west of Port Charlotte.

On the journey out we had a mix of sunshine, strong winds and showers and the sky at Port Askaig suggested bad things ahead, however, almost immediately after setting off westward on the bikes, things improved and the warm breeze soon had the roads dry for us. Nice colours were evident on the farmland and seascapes along the way as the miles got eaten up. I had forgotten how fast ground can be covered by bike and was enjoying it even with a bit of a headwind.





Our first distillery involved a detour north to Kilchoman – just in the nick of time – to pick up a miniature and enjoy the scents of the place before it closed for the day. I was drawn a bit further north to the coast at Machir Bay – a lovely spot and perhaps Islay’s nicest beach and dune system – there are others on the map, but they look more easily accessed by boat than bikes.



Before I made it to the wide expanse of sand some buzzards drew my attention, in the sky and landing on the ground, they seemed to be quietly buzzing each other repeatedly.

Passing over the dunes, I found surf was breaking on a gorgeous beach, stretching along way in both directions, remains of a boat on the sands and bright sunshine turning the waves turquoise as they grew taller and thinner on their way to collapsing – a stunning place with only a handful of others in the distance. It was easy to spend time here, but I eventually headed off to camp to get setup and out for the night, and our first whisky tastings of the weekend.













Next day, our biggest, we made a beeline for Ardbeg, the furthest distillery away and the only one I had been to on the island previously. A bit disappointing that it was closed for an event and we shifted our attention to Lagavulin then Laphroaig – all three conveniently close together – before grabbing a snack at Port Ellen – Islay’s southernmost town and alternative ferry port.

Winds had been notable all day, but as we now turned north we blasted our way up the island’s main road, putting more effort in than necessary to enjoy the resulting speed the tailwind helped with.

Bowmore was the source of a taster and miniatures and we coffee-and-caked too to fuel us on our final few miles round Loch Indaal back to Port Mor.




Our last day felt like retreat from something nice in a way, but we stretched it out with detours. First, a stop at the nearby Bruichladdich distillery for photos – it wasn’t open yet – then further on detours to Bunnahabhain and Caol Islay distilleries, both with some of the best views of the weekend. Across the narrows, the Paps of Jura dominate and thankfully we managed to squeeze in a trip across to Jura before our mainland ferry later in the day.






From Port Askaig the ferry crosses the fast moving tidal stream to Feolin, where there is not much more than a waiting room. From there the road follows the coast south then crosses the island before swinging north to Criaghouse; our destination, the island’s main town and site of our final distillery. The latter was closed, but the cafe was not and we refueled again before returning all the way to Port Askaig for our ferry back to the mainland.





Jura’s landscape is so different to neighbouring Islay; much less homes, farmland and generally more rugged and barren. We only saw a few of the island’s many deer, but did see a few sea eagles, first being mobbed by buzzards then on their own too – a nice finishing touch to a great trip.

Though we enjoyed Islay’s flatness, the northwest has a lot more hilly ground than I had realised and I can see a return trip involving some walking, maybe in conjunction with a visit to a final distillery we missed which is not quite online yet.

Sron na Creise

Posted in Hiking, Hills with tags , , on August 18, 2016 by Jinja Coo

I arrived at the entrance to Glen Etive hoping to see my route for the day, but as forecast, the cloud was lower than the summits and Sron na Creise, the ridge I would ascend Creise by, was completely hidden.

Having had no view of the route, I took some photos of the route description for reference later on and set off. First challenge of the day was crossing the Etive, my second river crossing in a couple of weeks with a strong current. No danger other than a potential soaking as a consequence, but my camera was in my mind as I struggled to get across, this time with no bike to assist stability. Fifteen or so minutes of trying various options to get across and I was over with soaked boots and somewhat committed to going for the ridge.




Good upward progress was easy after crossing the boggy ground low down and despite the cloud cover high up, I had great views across at my favourite mountain, Beauchaille Etive Mor, and down Glen Etive.


I was nervous on the first bit of scrambling, not used to trusting my feet, but soon realised how grippy the rock was and started to relax. I reached the ‘house sized’ boulder and sat for a few minutes, taking on food, admiring the views and checking the route description. The next section was an angled slab, atmospheric and felt like the point where hillside transitioned to mountain.










Thick mist lowered briefly then rose again, briefly denying me views then revealing them again, but after this I was ascending into the summit cloud. The route description did come in handy, but largely the route was obvious and though it would be easy to stray off onto easier ground away from the ridge I managed to follow the line of interest without too much thought.



There were no views up top and I had to navigate to work my way to the summit of Creise and round to the western ridge that would take me onwards to Beinn Mhic Chasgaig.

Part way down to the bealach, the mist cleared, giving me a view of the hill ahead as well as up Glen Etive and back towards Clach Leathad.



The northern ridge I would descend by had looked impossibly steep from my start point earlier in the day, but proved to be an easy route down. Tier after tier brought me quickly back down to Glen Etive, finishing with a section following a continuously white burn (Allt Fionn Ghlinne), flowing down exposed, smoothly worn bedrock right to the Etive and my second crossing point of it.



By now, the cloud had lifted, at least from Creise, and as I walked back up Glen Etive to my start point the ridge had revealed itself so that I could see the line of my ascent in its entirety and given the distinctive sections of the route, it was easy to piece together exactly where I had been earlier in the day.



Rounding Beinn a’ Ghlo

Posted in Cycling with tags , , , on August 16, 2016 by Jinja Coo

It was far too windy for an original planned outing on the hills and I perused books and maps looking for low routes between hills as an alternative. Good fun in itself and I have plenty of new ideas for trips in future, but I settled this time on rounding Beinn a’ Ghlo by way of Glen Tilt, Glen Loch and the more open ground to the south of the hill.

I have cycled up Glen Tilt on two previous trips including a full traverse as part of cross-country jaunt and part way up on a bike n’ hike taking in Carn aā€™ Chlamain to the north of the glen, and really enjoy time spent there.

It is such a varied glen with interest along the way in numerous waterfalls and in the changing scenery as the glen rises and narrows. The River Tilt is formed by the coming together of the Tarf Water, Allt Garbh Buidhe and Allt Feith Lair, then just below by the addition of the waters from the An Lochain, the latter of which is fed by Loch Loch, which lies within Glen Loch, my second low pass of the day.













Having first detoured for lunch at the idyllic spot of the Falls of Tarf, I returned part way down Glen Tilt level with the mouth of An Lochain, to cross the river and continue onward up and through Glen Loch.

I had chosen to go clockwise to get to this crux point before the harder work of the day as route descriptions suggested this crossing could be difficult / impossible when the river high and given the amount of water lower down and the colour of the water, I had been thinking I might not get to ride the full loop. However, this high up, the river was just passable with the bike coming in handy for stability as I made my away across the swiftly flowing water.


Winds, which had pushed me up Glen Tilt, were now against me and with funneling were causing me to work hard to stay balanced. Not so much of a problem early on as I largely pushed the bike, but once on better tracks, the winds made cycling (and even standing) quite tricky. Long before I set eyes on Loch Loch, its presence was evident by huge spumes of white spray whipped up from the surface by the stronger squally gusts.



Despite the breeziness, I was keen to enjoy a swim having earlier been pleasantly surprised by the relative warmth of the river on my crossing. The narrows gave me a chance to get a spot out the wind to enjoy a second food stop and here I braved the waters, albeit very briefly. Refreshed and refueled, I continued on and was surprised to hit easier cycling sooner than expected as a new bulldozed track leads up to the southern end of the loch.



A few of the ruins that the area is known for lie at the point where I turned westwards to cycle below an increasingly gloomy looking Beinn a’ Ghlo. Wetter weather was definitely pursuing me on the way out, but thankfully I made it back to my start point dry at least, though muddier than I’ve been in years. It is a good route, hard earned, but I wonder what changes are ahead (if any) necessitating the newly extended 4×4 track into Loch Loch.


Interestingly I noted my arms being sore on my previous, shorter cycle up Glen Tilt, but this time on a different bike with front suspension and bigger wheels, I was blasting along rough tracks with little discomfort at all – much more enjoyable.

Central Cairngorms

Posted in Hiking, Hills with tags , , , , , on August 15, 2016 by Jinja Coo

After the previous night’s camp I needed to re-stock my food and pack for a solo trip rather than shared kit. A relaxed coffee and cake stop had us part ways and I was on my own to head back into Linn of Dee for the second time in two days.

This time, I was taking the northern path, following the Derry Burn rather than the Dee. Apart from runs in the recent years utilising a stretch of this route, this was my first walk in this neck of the woods for fourteen, possibly fifteen years! On that visit, a record breaking warm February day, three of us were aiming for Ben Macdui and Derry Cairngorm, but high winds and burns swollen with the heavy thaw held us back and we eventually turned back from Loch Etchachan where chunks of ice were flying off the surface at us.

Derry Lodge arrived sooner than expected, where I headed north into a stunning Glen Derry. I had very little memory of the place and was surprised how nice it was: hemmed in by mountains on either side and ahead, yet open feeling with edges softened by the numerous pine trees along the way; Derry Burn close by and the view ahead of the torrs on Beinn Mheadhoin adding something to the scene.





It was dry all the way to the point where I turned west, just fifteen minutes from the Hutchison Memorial Hut. A very wet fifteen minutes! I took shelter in the hut, until the roof told me the rain had all but stopped. I had wondered about staying here and the place would likely be mine for the night, but a second high camp and dramatic views were more appealing so I continued upwards. Coming level with Loch Etchachan, I was now further than I had been before in this area and took some time to admire the scenery before turning to continue up Beinn Mheadhoin. I was looking forward to views back down Glen Derry from this high point (the torrs I had seen all the way in), but more so to to a place I have read about and seen on maps, but never been into, the Loch Avon basin. Behind me though, views over Loch Etchachan and the cliffs behind towards Ben Macdui were giving me plenty of reasons to stop and take my time.







It was clear the weather for the remainder of the day was going to be on the wet side, but I got some good views up top – some more dramatic for the swiftly moving cloud and mist – and I took a detour to the lower summit, Stacan Dubha, where much better views of the loch and the Shelter Stone crags can be enjoyed than from elsewhere on Beinn Mheadhoin. My timing was (im)perfect, coinciding with the start of even heavier rain and views were obliterated in seconds. I did get enough glimpse to know it is an impressive view and I’ll be back to see it again soon, I hope.

This actually would have been a perfect place to camp, but I wanted to hold off until the rain stopped to get setup. However, after the walk back to Loch Etchachan and studying the sky to the west, I was starting to shift my attention back to a night in the bothy – it was clear I’d not be getting a camp with views tonight. An easy decision made, half an hour later I was in the bothy changing out of soaked clothes into dry ones. Things improved shortly after with food being taken and the the noise of heavy rain and winds on the roof convincing me I had made a good decision.

It is a great wee bothy – much more appealing now after a recent refit than all those years ago – and I got it to myself afterall.


After a pleasant, but restless night, I woke to brightness coming directly in the window and didn’t waste time getting packed up and back up to Loch Etchachan where the scenery was even better under a blue sky – cliffs that were grey and black the previous evening, were now showing all kinds of shades of red and pink amidst the greys.


The walking felt easy and I was soon up high with views of my day ahead and enjoying my breakfast. Derry Cairngorm to the southeast looked further away somehow – something I have experienced in the Cairngorms previously – yet I was on top soon after, enjoying views to the west, where Ben Macdui – just in cloud until now – was showing signs of clearing.



I lingered to enjoy views at the summit, but walked quickly onwards to Ben Macdui, hoping to get the views over the Lairig Ghru and the hills across it, before any more cloud came in. Just as I approached the ruin of the Sapper’s Bothy, I was stopped in my tracks by a bold snow bunting who was keen to lighten my load. After bouncing over to me, it rounded me in circles and only flew off once I had given up some of my lunch.



The summit of Ben Macdui was bouldery as expected, but I hadn’t expected so much in the way of constructions – cairns all over the place – not sure that would be helpful in a whiteout. No visibility issues today though, my views were reasonably clear, both across the Lairig and south to my next destination, Carn a’ Mhaim. One of the best views was of the Devil’s Point, somewhat dwarfed among its giant neighbours, at the southern end of the Lairig Ghru – and I found myself looking across at it all the way along the ridge to Carn a’ Mhaim. More great views from there, over my travels of the past two days and my route back out to Linn of Dee.







Until now my legs had been pretty fresh, but the descent from Carn a’ Mhaim had pushed them over an edge and once back on the path back out to Linn of Dee, I could feel the weekend’s efforts in them.


Four buzzards (I think) were above me on the latter stages of the walk out soaring and gliding far and wide, calling to each other all the time. Perhaps two parents teaching their young some skills. A final highlight in a couple of brilliant days’ walking in the Cairngorms.