Monday, June 24, 2024

Nearly 9 years…

Nearly 9 years have passed since I last posted on this blog. I didn’t mean to stop blogging, it just happened. Anyway, I feel inclined to return to blogging occasionally, so there might be more posts here soon. 

In the meantime, if you happen to be reading this, please leave a comment just so I know that there is an audience out there, however small. 

Labels: ,

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

15 Mountains in 2015 - #6: Beinn Bheula

Mountain number 6 in 2015 was a bit smaller than number 5, and was a solo affair. I regularly spend time in the Cowal area of Argyll, but somehow have never found the opportunity to climb any of the handful of mountains that are there. On Wednesday 29th July I had a free morning, so I got up early and took my chance. Beinn Bheula is the highest peak in the area and is normally (not that many people do it, I think) approached from the Loch Goil side. But I chose to approach from the south, largely to cut down my driving time.

I left the car at the Glenbranter forestry car park (with hindsight, I could have parked closer to the start of the route, but this was fine) and set off. It was a fine morning, although there was quite a lot of misty stuff around, covering all the nearby hills (and filling some of the valley too). 

The route I had planned took me up the forestry paths to the north of Invernoaden, and these proved to be a great way to get some elevation early on. 

Quite a lot of the forest has been felled since my map was printed, and a new forestry road (at about grid ref 994127) offered, or seemed to offer, a good route up the side of Carnach Mor, sooner than I had originally planned. But once among the recently felled forestry, the going got very rough and it proved an unpleasant 30 minutes or so, picking my way up the hillside. But having emerged from the forestry ground, the hill improved and provided tantalising glimpses (through the mist) of interesting looking crags above.

When I made it up among them, they were some pretty interesting rocks. I wish I had had time to explore, but this walk was against the clock, so I moved on.

Having reached the top of Carnach Mor, the peak of Beinn Bheula should have been in view for the first time, but it was hidden in some cloud, still lingering on the tops.

The bealach between Carnach Mor and Beinn Bheula is a very peaty, very soggy, very boggy trudge and I was glad when I finally made it onto the grassy slopes of Beinn Bheula proper.

By the time I reached the top, the cloud had lifted and I was rewarded with excellent views towards Loch Goil and the Arrochar Alps:

And also towards the Clyde:

After pausing to enjoy the view for a few minutes, I carried on along the ridge to Creag Sgoilte. Here's the view looking back to the summit of Bheula:

I descended more or less due south from the Creag, hoping to find the plane wreckage that is still to be found on that hillside, but sadly didn't manage to find anything in the knee high grass. So I kept going down the pathless (and boggy in bits) hillside, eventually reaching the Coire Ealt burn.

I then followed the forestry road back to Invernodan. The views across Loch Eck were stunning, and I would recommend this path as a walk to anyone, even if they don't attempt the mountain behind. On this stretch of my walk I passed a lone mountain biker - the only other person I saw on the entire walk!

All in all this took me about 5 hours. Here's the route:

And here's the elevation:

It was a good walk, which I greatly enjoyed, but I'm not sure I can totally recommend the route - the climb up to Carnach Mor was tough, the bealach boggy and the descent into Coire Ealt was rough, with no obvious best route. But if you like being alone on a mountain, then maybe this one is for you.

Labels: ,

Saturday, March 21, 2015

15 Mountains in 2015 - #3: Catbells

Having said that number 3 would be bigger than number 2, it wasn't. Indeed, I'm probably cheating by counting this as a mountain, given that its only 451m above sea level, but a day in the Lake District included a few hours walking up one of Cumbria's most well trodden fells, so I'm going to count it anyway.

21st March 2015 - Catbells

I'm not going to describe the route much except to say that it was a good clear day and unexpectedly warm for March. Here's a photo of my wife Fiona, on the way up...

Labels: ,

Thursday, February 19, 2015

15 Mountains in 2015 - #2: Beinn Capuill

My second mountain in 2015 was much smaller than the first. About half the size really. And it certainly doesn't feature on Munro's list of mountains over 3000 feet, not even on Corbett's list of mountains over 2500 feet or Graham's list of mountains over 2000 feet. But if there was a list of Scottish mountains over 1500 feet, then somewhere near the end of that list would be Beinn Capuill.

Its not a well trodden path. Indeed, for much of the route that I chose there wasn't any path. And such paths as there were were hardly in good condition.

Anyway, here it is:

Thursday 19th February, Beinn Capuill.

The skyline above the small Argyll town of Tighnabruaich is dominated by a small hill, known locally as 'The Duin' ("doo-in"). Behind this, a bit higher up, are some very minor crags, marked on the OS map as 'Cnoc an Fhithich' which completely hide the 'peak' of Beinn Capuill from view from the town.

I've climbed Beinn Capuill, or something that sounds like "Ben Ach Apple" when the locals name it, before, about 14 or 15 years ago. That day was grey and windy and the ground was very, very boggy. That time, I took the obvious path, starting from the Duin. This time I decided to try a different route, and began by following the 'public right of way' marked as 'path to new road' from just above the boat yard at Rubha Ban. Clearly, not many people use this path. Here's some pics of the bridges on it:



Yes, not only was the third bridge almost completely ruined, it was also almost completely overgrown and also crossed into the middle of a muddy thicket that took quite a while to escape from! But eventually I made it up to the A8003 (the 'new road'; well, it was new in the 1960s) and up a few steps to the signposted viewpoint (looking SSW towards Ardlamont point):

And here's a panorama taking in all of Bute:

Here the path stopped. I crossed the rough ground above the viewpoint, climbed a deer fence, and scrambled up the hillside, to the top called Cnoc a' Chaisteil on the OS map. Then across a boggy, gnarly, bit of ground, across another deer fence (this one with a stile), and finally climbed up another rough slope to reach the plateau. Which looked a bit like this:

Finally, the top was in sight. But first there was an extremely boggy plateau to cross. There were occasional paths here, but none seemed to actually go anywhere useful, and all ended up in bogs, so there was nothing for it than to simply head across the ground in a vaguely straight line towards the top. Once across the plateau there was a steep, but much nicer, climb which zig-zagged between rock and small cliffs right to the top:

Success! Number 2 of 2015 in the bag. Here's the view from the top in three different directions:

Shortly after this it started sleeting, so I hastily made my way back down, this time following the direct 'path' to Tighnabruaich. At this point I saw a pretty big stag, but it had cleared off long before I got my camera out to take a pic. I also saw the remains of two sheep, both of which appeared to have taken unlucky tumbles off some small crags.

Looking back on the way down, Beinn Capuill looked more like a mountain than it had at any point on the way up:

And here's the view from Cnoc an Fhithich towards the Duin and Tighnabruaich:

Here's the map of the route, red on the way up, blue on the way back down:

I'm not sure I'd go as far as recommending this walk to anyone. It is probably the boggiest walk I've ever done. But I enjoyed it nevertheless. Think I'll aim for something higher for my 3rd mountain of 2015.

Labels: ,

Sunday, February 01, 2015

15 Mountains in 2015 - #1: Ben Chonzie

My new year's resolution for 2015 is simple to express, possibly harder to achieve. The aim is to climb 15 mountains this year. Which is way more than I've ever climbed in a year before. But you may as well set your sights high, I guess. The mountains don't need to be Munros (although I hope a fair few are) and it doesn't matter if I've done them before. 

So here is #1 on the list. 

Sunday 1st Feb 2015. Ben Chonzie, near Comrie.

This is the first mountain I've climbed in proper snow, so I thought I'd better not go for anything too ambitious. Instead I opted for the mountain considered by some to be the most "boring" Munro of the lot, Ben Chonzie. I'd heard that there's basically a well marked path most of the way, then you follow the fence posts to the top. Sounds easy enough. And so it was, despite the snow.

But what a glorious day! For the most part there was little in the way of wind and not too much in the way of cloud. The conditions at the top were a bit different, but we'll get there in a bit. For now, here is a pic of me, just setting out at Glen Lednock:

And here, a few minutes further up the path is my walking companion and brother-in-law, Ewan:

In warmer weather, this 'path' is really a ford and you have to cross at the dam if you don't want wet feet. Not the case on this occasion:

The icicles on the fence beside the dam were perhaps the best icicles I've ever seen:

Looking South-South-West from Invergeldie dam:

From here, the path got a bit steeper and more snow covered, but there were occasional patches of bare ground for a spot of sunbathing:

Or to stop and check the map:

About 3/4 of the way up we left the path and branched out across a pathless snowfield, aiming for the ridge above:

Once on the ridge, the wind picked up and the temperature noticeably dropped, but it was a fairly easy climb to the top. So here's me at the top of Ben Chonzie, my 16th Munro, and the first of my 15 mountains in 2015:

Couldn't keep my gloves off for long! After about 30s I was losing sensation in my hands! We didn't stay too long at the top, but returned hastily along the ridge, looking for a sheltered spot for lunch. Along the way, we saw some amazing patterns in the snow, formed around the footprints of a walker on a previous day:

Here's a cairn and the view to the West (or North West) from the ridge:

In the end, the storm shelter proved a good place for a lunch break. Its been up several mountains with me before, but never actually used for its intended purpose before now:

The walk down was fairly easy, but we wished we'd thought to bring sledges. Or skis, like these people:

(There are three skiers in there if you look carefully.) Odd thing is, we saw about 5 or 6 skiers coming down the mountain, but not a single person carrying skis up the mountain...?

All in all, a great day for my first snow covered mountain. Must do one again. Here's the map of our route, showing red most of the way up, then blue. 7.7 miles in total, according to my phone, with a 2,681 foot elevation gain.

Details of the next of my 15 mountains coming soon...

Labels: ,

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Chemickal Marriage

Nearly seven years ago I read a book called "The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters" by G.W. Dahlquist, which is set in a semi-steampunk, Victorian-ish, alternate reality. That book is full of adventure, mystery, and quite a lot of sex. As I said at the time, I'd find it very hard to recommend that book to anyone because of what they might infer about me, but it was a rip-roaring romp which I enjoyed quite a lot. At the end of that book, there seemed to be a few lose ends of story not tied up, but the bulk of the story appeared to be done. 

 The sequel, in 2009, called "The Dark Volume" continued the story without really achieving much. I was hugely disappointed, as I blogged at the time

 And now the trilogy has come to an end with "The Chemickal Marriage". I approached it hoping that it would be as good as the first book, but fearing it would disappoint as much as the second. Indeed it sat, unread, on my Kindle for the best part of a year before I got around to reading it. Well, its somewhere in the middle between those two books, but sadly closer to the sequel than the original. 

The great success of the first book was the way the author spent the first half of the book teasing the reader with suggestions and tantalising hints about the nature of the mysterious 'process', and with teasing of an erotic nature too, and then spent the second half of the book slowly revealing details of the strange alchemy, and also occasionally revealing erotic stuff too. It was compelling, as a reader, to try and figure out what was going on with the politics, with the science, and with the sexual politics, and then have your suspicions confirmed, or more commonly overturned as the story unfolded. 

The main failing of the two sequels is that they don't really have anything to tease and tantalise the reader with. Sure, we find out a few new things about the properties of the glass, but really there seems to be no purpose behind most of the events and revelations. Stuff happens, more stuff happens, characters die, characters that you thought might be dead turn out not to be dead, and so on, but its really just a jumble of events occurring (oh, and there's quite a lot less sex). Fundamentally, I didn't really care what happened next, I only really wanted the story to make some sort of sense and come to some sort of conclusion. Eventually, it does. The trilogy appears to be over, and that's that. But getting there wasn't half as interesting as the first book. Not even a quarter as interesting.

One thing I noticed in here, which I can't remember noticing in the first two books, is the way in which the author seems to keep getting ahead of himself in the action sequences. Characters, who may have been left behind pages before suddenly reappear without warning and promptly change the way a fight is going, or equivalent. It seems the author is in such a hurry to relate events to the reader that he occasionally loses track of what he's trying to convey. After a while I got a bit fed up with this. The first book was all about anticipation, here we never got the chance to anticipate anything. Things just happened, event, event, rush, rush, rush, event.

Also, the author seemed to forget some of the things he factored in at the start of the book. Early on, Chang wakes from unconsciousness to discover that he's been operated on and has some form of implant on his spine. A chapter later Dr Svenson looks at this and is shocked, but the reader doesn't really find out why he's shocked, and then... the author forgets all about this and it doesn't feature in the story again. This happened to a few other plot points too.

Another annoyance was the way the author stuck to the same pattern as the first book. There are 10 long chapters, each focussed on one of the three main characters. This worked really well the first time about, but I have to say that I really lost interest in all the chapters about Dr Svenson here. I totally didn't care about his story arc.

I could moan about this book for ages, which would give the wrong impression. It wasn't bad. It was quite engaging and enjoyable at times, but it is not a worthy successor to the original.

I wouldn't bother if I was you. Just read the first book and move on.

I really hope G.W. Dahlquist writes a stand-alone novel next time. Tease, tantalise, hint, reveal, action, reveal, twist, end. That would be great.

Labels: , ,

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Revelations by Alex Preston

I'm not sure if this book review belongs on this blog or on my other blog, but I've put it here anyway... 

The RevelationsThe Revelations by Alex Preston
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

If you think that all Christians are hypocrites and the Alpha Course is a cult, then this is the book for you. However, if you are more realistic in your outlook then the shortcomings of this book will probably annoy you as much as they annoyed me.

The book follows the lives of four young (late 20s) Christians who are helping run 'The Course' for the first time. They are all musicians and the band they play in (at The Course) is known as 'The Revelations', hence the title of the book. The Course itself is clearly a fictionalised and exaggerated version of the Alpha Course, a popular introduction to Christianity course run by many churches in the UK and beyond. However, in the book, 'The Course' is clearly much more of a cult-like entity rather than being merely an entry point into mainstream evangelical Christianity. Indeed, one of the characters in the book refers to The Course as being a cult.

The book is clearly written by someone who is not a Christian and has issues with Christianity. I've been through an Alpha Course, and been involved with leadership in other similar courses, and as a consequence, the behind-the-scenes bits in this book simply do not ring true at all. Course leaders do not behave like this, talk like that, pray like that or sing worship songs like that. Basically, the Course in the book is so much of a caricature that it is unreal.

I know that not all Christians are perfect and honourable, but I can't believe in the scenario given here where all four characters leading the Course are hypocrites, liars, sexually promiscuous (with course attendees) and get drunk (again with course attendees) all the time. While you do get people like that in Churches, generally they are not invited to lead worship or evangelism groups.

The book is split into three sections, the first relates to the 'normal' weekly workings of the Course, the second relates to the weekend retreat, which anyone familiar with Alpha will be familiar with, and the third relates to the unraveling of the lives of the characters following the events of the retreat weekend. I'll not give spoilers.

Given what I've said above, I found section 1 to be unrealistic. I didn't like the characters, I didn't believe the scenarios, I didn't care what happened. But I'd paid for the book so I kept reading...

Section 2 was more interesting, and you do start to care a little for some of the characters. Particularly Lee, who is clearly a fragile character with various complicated needs, which obviously is going to start things spiraling out of control in the third section. But the prevalent sexual promiscuity and drunken debauchery through the weekend retreat is so far from believable for anyone who's ever been on one, that the thing is simply unrealistic. Half of it I could relate to, half of it would never happen like that. This is a book written by an external viewer imagining what might happen on such courses, not someone who's actually been there.

But. By the third section I was caring for the characters and genuinely wanted to find out how all this was going to resolve. There are a couple of twists that send the story heading off in directions you don't expect and it is a fun ride. Then the story ends, but there is still 10% of the book left... The final bit drags as a few final 'revelations' come out, some which are expected, some less so, and you realise that all that has gone before is not exactly as you thought. And at the end you realise that none of the characters are honorable, even the ones you thought were basically good people. Its all about money, sex and power. None of the characters has any other driving motivation. Which is a crap way to end the book.

I'm disappointed. The author could have filled his book with a variety of characters with different wants and desires, but actually no. As far as he is concerned, all Christians are drunken, promiscuous, hypocrites.

Given how far from reality that belief is, the ending is a huge let down.

Oh, and by the way, there is quite a lot of unnecessary sex in this book. With quite a few scenes with details which we really didn't need to know, and only serve to underline the hypocrisy of the characters further. We got the message, OK?

Bottom line is that I know a lot of Christians and I don't know any people like these. Sure, I know Christians who have had affairs, sure I know Christians who drink too much occasionally, sure I know Christians who are motivated by greed, sure I know Christians who lie and cheat. But on the whole, the vast majority of Christians I know are not like this all the time. So in the end, I simply don't believe this story.