Friday, 20 January 2017

Celtic Connections , Comment

Son of Lewis, lonely boy

Bless Karine Polwart for responding thoughtfully yesterday at the opening concert of Celtic Connections to today's inauguration of a divisive president.

Your mother was a wee girl once,
who played upon my rocky shore.
And you, you are broken boy,
and you want more and more and more.
You build a tower. You build a wall,
You live in fear that they might fall.
You who see nothing but your face
in the sheen of The Hudson River.

The world needs more quiet revolutionaries like Karine. "I burn but I am not consumed."

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Monday, 29 August 2016


Greenbelt 2016: Silent Stars

Late on Saturday afternoon as the thunder roared in the distance and the angry rain hammered down oak leaves onto the canvas of the Canopy stage, I was sat entranced by a show I'd not intended to watch. Human Cargo uses folk songs to weave together four centuries worth of tales of the slave trade, clearances, kidnapping and immigration. It was a challenging hour, a strangely uplifting hour, and ultimately my favourite moment of Greenbelt 2016.

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Monday, 15 August 2016


Oh, Android

nosey-android.jpgOne day Android phones won't come with unwanted extra apps trying to justify their intrusion into your privacy with grammatically dubious phrases.

Open phone permission for fully enjoying APPS. User's privacy is safe. Open storage permission for stable basic functions.


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Monday, 1 August 2016


124th Dufftown Highland Games

dufftown-games.jpgA runner comes into the field. It was quiet when she left, but two hours later the arena is packed. There's one final circuit to do before finishing the hill race. At the bottom end the "heavy events" are well underway, as hammers are flung towards the highland dancers at the top. The back straight is shared with the band competition so the runner needs to dodge pipe and drum before reaching the final corner. Glancing to the left she sees tug-of-war teams digging their heels in, watching for any hint of a movement that will give a strategic advantage. At last the finish line is in sight; it's just a matter of dodging the sack race that's sharing the last straight.

dufftown-drums.jpgYou must visit a Highland Games at some time in your life, and the Dufftown Games were our perfect introduction: by far the most fun we've had all year.

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Friday, 29 July 2016


Sculptor's Cave

"Somewhere hereabouts," I wrote in March, "it's allegedly possible to drop down to a cave with 1,500 year-old Pictish carvings."

The soft sandstone of this part of the Moray coast is riddled with caves. The Sculptor's Cave is so-named because of the markings near its entrance that have been dated to about 500 AD. There's a notice near the entrance to help you distinguish the Pictish from the more recent vandalism. In the left-hand image, the markings depicted on the notice are at the top of the photograph. The Pictish markings in the right-hand image are the two concentric rectangles. The central image shows three adjacent ovals and an abstract flower. These are hidden on the ceiling at the entrance to the cave.


There's scant detail online about how to do it, so here I present how to get to Sculptor's Cave.

The cave can only be reached at low tide, so check the tide tables first. Since you'll be doing a little bit of clambering, make sure you've got appropriate footwear.

If you're driving, park on the B9040 at NJ 179 700, about a third of the way from Hopeman to Lossiemouth. There's sufficient space for three or four cars beside the track to the old coastguard lookout. Walk up to the lookout tower.

From the lookout tower at NJ 176 707, turn to face the sea. The cave is a little to the west of this point and below you, but to descend the cliffs you have to go east first. Ignore the Moray Coastal Way, and pick up the old coast path that's ahead of you. It soon bears right and passes a rock ledge on the left that provides a good vantage point to the slopes below. Just after the ledge look out for a gap in the gorse on the left; you should find a less distinct path that leads down to a level grassy area with a rocky cleft in the middle. (There are two routes down to this, approaching the 30cm-by-1m cleft from either side.)

The first of this next group of photos is taken from the old path; the rocky cleft is directly behind the foxglove flower in the middle of the picture. The central photo shows the cleft a little closer, and I took the right-most while standing directly in front of it. This is your way down.


The cleft is the top of a rock chimney (NJ 177 708, about 12m). Hanging on its western wall is a six-runged rope ladder. Test its weight and descend. The rocks at the bottom are slippery so watch out! Use a further bundle of ropes attached lower down to steady you onto the beach.

When you're on the beach, look back at where you've come from; you'll need to be able to find this on the way back. When we visited there was a handy green flag marking it.


That's the difficult bit done! Now scramble over the rocks round the first small headland to the west. There's a fantastic huge cave here, but it's not the one you're looking for. Keep going to the western end of the next shingly cove. Sculptor's Cave is the double-entranced cave at the back of the beach (NJ 175 707).


Visitors had left various bones, sticks and things on a large bolder at the back of the cave, but they're not significant. The carvings are all in the entrance passages.


Keep an eye on the time, and reverse your steps to get out.

As Jez said, there must be thousands of these types of places around the country. You just need to know that they're there and how to find them.

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Thursday, 28 July 2016

Inverness, Loch Ness and the North East Highlands

A Corbett

Can there be anywhere better than Ben Rinnes to prove that concentrating Scottish hillwalking on the Munros is a fool's errand?

climbing-ben-rinnes.jpg Distance: 4.97 miles
Ascent: 563 metres
Duration: 2 hours 44 minutes

Walk 21: Ben Rinnes

We first set eyes upon Ben Rinnes back in March when it stood out as the snow-capped dominating the view to the south from the Moray coast.


Climbing is easy — there's a good (although slightly rocky) track all the way up to the summit tor. And when you reach the top the views reward the climb. The whole of Moray is laid out before you, from the coast in the north to the edge of the Cairngorms in the west.

For years we've been focussing our walking on the coast, and I've been tempted to follow that with the Munros. The lesson of Ben Rinnes isn't that the other tick lists (Corbetts, Marilyns, Donalds, County Tops, etc.) should be sampled too, but that there is so much more of the country to explore.

Posted by pab at 17:17 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Tuesday, 26 July 2016


Nairn → Inverness

ardesrsier.jpg Distance: 19.77 miles
Ascent: 150 metres
Duration: 5 hours 50 minutes

Year three complete
« Forres | Rosemarkie »

Every so often there's a walk like today's. Between Nairn and Inverness the coast walker is challenged by a military range, a vast derelict oil rig construction yard, busy pavement-less roads, and no obvious footpath.

The easiest thing to do would be to say it's impossible or pointless to try this stretch. Not us. We're completists. On the other hand today we were more interested in making progress than searching out the most coastal route with the attendant risk of having to backtrack at an impassable bog. We knew there was a better route to take but we didn't have the energy to discover it.

pab-seafield.jpgSo for all but the first three miles we were on roads today: A-roads, B-roads, minor roads and old roads. The worst was the A96, the major route east from Inverness. It was a case of don the fluorescent yellow jacket, keep an eye on the vehicles and march. On the whole drivers graciously gave us space, but few slowed down and the draught from some of the lorries was almost enough to sweep us off our feet.

The highlight was the section through Carse Wood, just east of Fort George. Here the pine trees towered high and rubbed their branches together with the creak of an old floorboard. A little further on wild raspberries lined the road, as populous as brambles elsewhere but a delightful change.

towards-inverness.jpgThe wind sculpted the Moray Firth into choppy waves, and from the Fort we could see perhaps fifty people staring valiantly towards the water hoping to see an elusive dolphin or two. I'm sure we'll be the same when we get to Chanonry Point in two walks' time.

em-ascending-a96.jpgFor the final stretch we took to the old road that runs right along the coast starting at Milton of Culloden. It was a delightful change from the hectic traffic although the road stops rather abruptly when interrupted by the Aviemore to Inverness railway line. Scaling a fence, scrambling up a bank, across another fence and down a final bank to the A96 was a small price to pay and a somewhat exciting way to reach our destination of the A96/A9 interchange.

And with that, we've finished the third in our current five year coast walking plan. 2017 should see us reach John O'Groats; 2018 will take us to Cape Wrath. That gives us ten years to do the west coast of Scotland before our thirty-year walk is complete.

Notes for future walkers:

  • Take your time. Find a better route than we did!
  • West of Nairn we followed the coast past the third green at Nairn Golf Course before heading south across the course, where we picked up the track to Easter Denies and the A96.
  • From Denies we went west on the A96, then the B9092 before turning right past Kebbuk Stone on a minor road through Carse Wood. At Baddock we turned right towards Fort George.
  • Where the minor road meets the B9039 just east of Fort George we made straight for the beach and picked up an excellent footpath south through the shingle to Ardersier.
  • From Ardersier we took the B9039 south to the A96 which we followed south-west to Milton of Culloden. Traffic was fast and busy along this stretch.
  • There's a pavement alongside the A96 between Milton of Culloden and Inverness, but an alternative is to cross the railway at NH 710 470 and follow the old road south-east. There are a couple of opportunities to return to the A96 on footpaths but if you don't you'll need to scramble up the steep bank near NH 688 457.
Posted by pab at 19:08 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Sunday, 24 July 2016


Forres → Nairn

pab-em-kingsteps.jpg Distance: 17.02 miles
Ascent: 92 metres
Duration: 5 hours 23 minutes

« Findhorn | Inverness »

Forest. Rather a lot of forest.

Perhaps 80% of this section is in the Culbin Forest, a vast expanse of trees planted between 1920 and 1960 to stabilise the dunes that had wiped out farming communities living hereabouts.

culbin-track.jpgYou might think that would make for a boring, unvaried walk. Far from it! Although predominantly Scots and Corsican pines, the forest hosted a wealth of other life. Mushrooms gathered in clusters along the path; ants busied themselves moving needles to and fro; silvery-green lichen provided a blanket over the sand while broom, heather and gorse added colour. At one point we spotted a roe deer nibbling at the verdant undergrowth; sadly it was too quick to be photographed.

This being Scotland in July, there were biting insects too. Judging by the two huge lumps on my temple and crown these were not your regular midge! I spotted a tick on my hand too, but managed to dislodge her before she'd driven her jaw into my skin fully.

culbin-jjmh.jpgAbout halfway through the walk we met up with Jez, Jane, Miriam and Hannah. They previously joined us on the final coast walk in England. Hannah told me that "I walked from England to Scotland" featured in her "What I did during the holiday" writing that year.

Culbin Forest is a treasure. The Forestry Commission should be proud of what they've achieved here: a vast, well-managed estate with an poetic leaflet/map that almost demands a return visit.

Notes for future walkers:

  • It seems highly likely there's a path along the western bank of the River Findhorn from Broom of Moy; we just took to the road, passing Moy House, Wellside Farm and Lake of Moy before entering the forest at NJ 018 633.
  • There are myriad ways of traversing Culbin Forest, but once inside navigation can be tricky. The best way is to get the Forestry Commission map which shows numbered path junctions.
  • culbin-low-wood.jpgAfter entering the forest we walked north-east to junction 4 (NJ 023 635), north-east again to junction 3 (NJ 026 638), north to junction 5 (024 644), north-west to junction 8 (003 639), west south-west to junctions 13 (NH 996 631), 14 (NH 981 623), 15 (NH 973 621) and 18 (NH 962 616). Then south south-west to junction 19 (959 612), north-west to junction 20 (NH 955 613), west to junction 21 (NH 938 600), south-west to junction 22 (NH 922 590) and again to junction 23 (NH 920 584). From junction 23 we started south-west again, but soon headed north-west on a narrow path through the trees before picking up a path on at the very edge of the forest.
  • The path between junctions 18 and 19, and the one south-west of junction 23 were badly flooded; a better route may be possible.
Posted by pab at 18:09 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Saturday, 23 July 2016


A good mountain to start on

On our way north to spend a week in Moray with Jez, Jane, Miriam and Hannah, what should we do to break up the long drive? How about introducing the girls to Munro bagging?

carn-aosda.jpg Distance: 2.78 miles
Ascent: 285 metres
Duration: 1 hour 25 minutes

M281: Carn Aosda

The Cairnwell Munros are often derided as ugly, and boring. Not "good" Munros. Summits to get out of the way as quickly as possible when contemplating a round.

cairn-gorm.jpgI disagree. They may be amongst the lowest, they may be the easiest, but that's precisely what makes them an excellent choice for the first Munros to bag. We only had time for one today: Carn Aosda.

The view from the top was beautiful and expansive. I hope we'll be climbing more mountains together in the future. After all, there are another 283 to do.

Posted by pab at 21:11 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Saturday, 9 July 2016


Manic Street Preachers


The Manics first burst into my consciousness in the early 90s, played at a chest-rattlingly high volume in our sixth form common room, and their era-defining output formed a soundtrack to my student life over the next decade. Everything Must Go became an anthem to a particularly sour break-up; If You Tolerate This articulated a growing political awareness. For many years, the Manics were the band that got away: one of the ones that I never quite got to see live.

Maybe that's why I was so pleased to finally get tickets to see them at the Eden Project; not the first place I'd think of for live music, but since we've been visiting on an annual basis, somewhere that I've also come to deeply love. And it was my birthday weekend, too; hardly a better way to celebrate.

We managed to end up right at the front of the crowd, pressed up close enough to see the persistent rain sparkling in the stage lights. You love us played as a thumping encore; I certainly do.

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Saturday, 2 July 2016

Glyndŵr's Way

Meifod → Welshpool

ty-newydd.jpg Distance: 12.43 miles
Ascent: 630 metres
Duration: 4 hours 7 minutes

Changing character
« Not walked | Not walked »

Much of Wales will have a headache this morning, if my experience at The Angel Inn in Welshpool is anything to go by. The national football team made their way to the quarter-finals of a major sporting event for the first time in decades, and while the sport wasn't rugby the beer and cheer flowed freely.


Just like yesterday, today's walk demonstrated a change in the landscape. The fields are no longer all dedicated to grazing, and when I came across my first barley and wheat crops I knew there'd be no more mountains to climb.


From the higher points on the walk the flattening of the landscape to the east was apparent. And in the middle, the familiar double-hump of the Breidden Hills marked where I knew the border with England lay.


Glyndŵr's Way ends firmly in Wales though: in a park beside the canal in Welshpool.

As I arrived the annual Coracle Regatta and Food Festival was just swinging into action, although I wasn't daring enough to try my hand in one of these ever-so-local lightweight vessels.

According to my records the Way has taken me across 141 miles of countryside, climbing a total of 7,500 metres over 44 hours of walking. It's been a tiring week, but I've thoroughly enjoyed getting a taste for this part of mid-Wales, wet-weather and all.

Notes for future walkers:

  • There are a few diversions on this stretch, all well-marked on the ground.
  • The most substantial was from the road at the foot of Graig Wood (SJ 176 084). Instead of crossing the fields at this point, the route now follows the minor road to SJ 174 083, then takes the path to SJ 177 077 where it crosses another road to continue to SJ 174 076.
  • Watch out when you get to the roundabout on the outskirts of Welshpool: I ignored the map and headed into town on the B4381 instead of the A458, thus denying myself a triumphal entry!
Posted by pab at 14:10 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Friday, 1 July 2016

Glyndŵr's Way

Llanddwyn → Meifod

vyrnwy-dam.jpg Distance: 16.11 miles
Ascent: 656 metres
Duration: 5 hours 8 minutes

Slow down
« Not walked | Not walked »

Slow down. Hold still.

wooden-stakes.jpgMy chauffeur service departed this morning so I'm on my own for the final two days of the walk. Dependent on making my own arrangements, I've changed pace dramatically. I still started off early, but booked a taxi to pick me up after a sensible distance and left plenty of time. Even though my walking pace has been much slower today, I still arrived with ninety minutes spare.

The character of today's walk is unlike any previous section on Glyndŵr's Way: it's all downhill, following the Afon Efyrnwy from the woods beneath the dam (where I startled a newly fledged starling who was hopping about the path). The route wends its way through hamlets and villages with beautiful poetic names: Abertridwr, Pont Llogel, Dolanog, Pont Robert and Meifod.

pont-llogel.jpgThe central part of this route is shared with the Ann Griffiths Walk: a way marked trail celebrating the life of the 18th century hymn writer. In each village a charming open book sculpture shows a map of the route along with bronze leaves, chapels and wildlife.

meifod.jpgThe wildlife hasn't always been pleasing today though. On occasions this week I've picked up the scent of fungi in the woods, reminiscent of my childhood. But in the woods beside the river today on two occasions a similar fragrance was decay of another kind: lambs who'd strayed too far from the rest of the flock. (There are probably metaphors a-plenty here.)

That aside, it's been an enjoyable day. So here I am, in the churchyard of St Tsilio, sitting on a bench, enjoying the warmth of the sun, the breeze drying out my boots, and gathering my thoughts about a week of walking.

Posted by pab at 14:44 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Glyndŵr's Way

Cemmaes Road → Llanddwyn

twymyn-valley.jpg Distance: 25.89 miles
Ascent: 1436 metres
Duration: 7 hours 51 minutes

« Not walked | Not walked »

Yesterday's foreshortened walk meant that I'd lost the extra half day's walking I'd gained earlier in the week. The opportunity to reach Welshpool by the weekend was slipping away. As I lay in bed last night I hatched a plan: with one huge day today, I could be back on track.

I started early and walked fast. From the valley below, the rattling of the familiar train from Aberystwyth greeted all who were awake to hear it. There was no time to admire St Mary's Church in Llanbrynmair or the old chapel that my guide book raved about.

another-walker.jpgThere was time however, to engage in a rare conversation. In the Dyfnant Forest I met Martin, the first Glyndŵr's Way walker I'd met since the campers on day two. His accent marked him out as from Central Europe, but I didn't ask where. He'd walked half the Way with his wife and children seventeen years ago and was now back to complete it although like me the torrents had hit his plans, leaving him to spend two days drying off in Llanbrynmair. I hope he felt welcome in the village. "I hope," I would have liked to say, "you will always feel welcome in our country." (Some of the rhetoric espoused on television these past few weeks would imply otherwise.)

mum-eithin-llwyn.jpgMum had walked up to meet me at Eithin-llwyn, supplied me with fruit and then caught me again at Llangadfan although this time she directed me at the wonderful home baking on sale in the village shop.

llanwddyn.jpgSuitably refueled I continued, and before too long saw in the distance the water of Llyn Efyrnwy. There's a photograph of Mum and Dad here on their honeymoon. It was December 1967. Foot and Mouth control had closed the countryside so instead of walking they drove to a different body of water each day.

The lake was one of the first built by English municipalities to provide a reliable water supply. The flooding of valleys and eviction of communities in one country for the benefit of another ring echoes of the independence and EU debates. Llanddwyn village — now nestled beneath the dam — was reconstructed after being moved here from the valley just before flooding. There's little mention of this in the Vrynwy Experience exhibition.

Notes for future walkers:

  • Rather than visit Llanbrynmair, the path now runs directly from Bryn-aire-uchaf (SH 898 040) to Clegyrddwr (SH 901 038), which it routes around on the north before joining the minor road from Pandy-rhiw-Saeson and heading into the fields once more at SH 901 032. While the start of this detour was well marked, I lost the trail between the two farms.
  • The last bit of the path through the plantation at SH 941 066 was very wet underfoot, and the land across to the side of Eithin-llwyn (SH 946 063) was similarly boggy, as was the north-eastern side of Pen Coed (SH 996 092).
Posted by pab at 19:57 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Severn Way

Newtown → Abermule

swan-fight.jpg Distance: 4.90 miles
Ascent: 15 metres
Duration: 1 hour 9 minutes

Llwybr Hafren
« Not walked | Not walked »

brynderwen-bridge.jpgKeen to walk a little further after aborting this morning, I settled on an easy route: a taste of the Severn Way, following the towpath of the old Montgomery Canal.

It was a delight. When driving regularly to and from Aberystwyth a decade ago I'd often noticed the canal, so I was really pleased to see this obsolescent highway close up. Beech boughs bent to kiss the surface of the water, swans shepherded sheep away from their cygnets, and the braggadocious Brynderwen Bridge proudly declared itself to be the "Second iron bridge constructed in the county of Montgomery".

I think I'll be back for the rest of the Severn another year.

Posted by pab at 18:36 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Glyndŵr's Way

Machynlleth → Cemmaes Road

edible-mach.jpg Distance: 9.01 miles
Ascent: 560 metres
Duration: 2 hours 48 minutes

Uncomfortably numb
« Not walked | Not walked »

I took just two photographs on this walk. That should give you a clue about the conditions. The first — taken right at the start outside the Co-op on Maengwyn Street — is of Edible Mach: a perfectly placed herb garden from which shoppers are encouraged to help themselves.

Just after leaving Penegoes I dared take the phone out of its protective case for the second photo. The rain had been relentless since I set out and even in full waterproofs I could feel my temperature dropping as the wind drove it through to my skin, evaporating the little warmth I had.

penegoes.jpgRelieved that safety was in sight, I left Cefn Coch with the trail to my first rendezvous at Cemmaes Road. I'd hoped to walk further but it would have been foolish to continue. Gutted, I reconciled myself with the inevitable and sat quietly in the car.

On this evening's national news we heard of 29 DofE participants on the Brecon Beacons who'd not had such an easy escape. I made the right decision.

Posted by pab at 18:36 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!