Chris Bowness Landscape: Blog en-us (C) Chris Bowness (Chris Bowness Landscape) Mon, 22 Jan 2018 21:52:00 GMT Mon, 22 Jan 2018 21:52:00 GMT Chris Bowness Landscape: Blog 120 68 The Woodland Shelter "Sleeping in the woods on a Saturday night!" - There are no rock songs that I know of containing these lyrics...

I have known my friend Andy since our early teens. I remember even back then, Andy was into his outdoor pursuits and it has taken me about 30 years to catch up with his hobby. We had recently decided to spend a night in a local forest, where we would erect a tarpaulin for shelter then sleep below it. Any teenager looking at us would see a couple of old men who should know better (our partners think that also!), but for us, apart from it being simply fun, it's also useful practice for when we do go on long walks. There is no point on walking 15 miles into the countryside only to discover that you are unable to set up camp for the night. That would be stupid.

So, for the purposes of research and practice, we packed our things and headed off to Devilla Forest where we could hopefully find a secluded corner where nobody could see us. We had important things to test out, The tarpaulin and bivvy bags that Andy had brought and the wood-burning stoves that we had both brought.

After a 30 minute walk into the forest, we decided on a spot that we thought was relatively secluded and it was time to set up. Andy unpacked the gear whilst I unpacked a can of lager! Andy set up the tarpaulin whilst I provided the support of taking pictures and drinking from the aforementioned can...

Andy sorts out the tarpAndy sorts out the tarpWhilst I take pictures!

After a short time the tarpaulin was strung from two trees and pegged down, It was then time to put the ground sheets down, blow up the airbeds and put the sleeping bags within the waterproof bivvy bags. It was raining, light drizzle and the weather forecast that morning had forecast light rain at 3 pm and then only 10% of rain after 4 pm.

Bed for the nightBed for the nightIt was not forecast for wind or rain...

Settling into my corner of the shelter, I was able to see my view for the night, it was a fine view. The rain continued past four o'clock and continued as it got dark. It was not windy at least so the rain was falling vertically and our shelter was keeping us dry. I have consistently found that if there is a small percentage chance of rain in a Scottish forecast, it is going to rain! 

The view from our shelterThe view from our shelter

In the twilight, it was time to test our wood burning gasification stoves. The idea is that you put a few twigs in them and they will produce enough heat to cook your food. As they are self-contained metal stoves, they do not blacken or heat the ground where a campfire leaves an ugly scar. We selectively searched for fallen twigs that had not been in direct contact with the ground, but they were still wet from the rain. Andy gave me one of his magic home-made firelighters and the twigs caught fire easily. It quickly became apparent though that the stoves were like smoke machines. The smoke they gave off was incredible for the few twigs that were being burnt. There was only a slight breeze and the forest downwind was filled with an amazing volume of smoke. This concerned me as if a resident on the outskirts of the forest were to see this, they might call the fire brigade and our stealth forest-camp would end in farce! Luckily though, once I stopped adding twigs (these stoves are greedy) then the smoke abated and the remaining twigs quickly became charcoal. At this stage, the gasification and cooking could begin. I managed to cook my super noodles and chili using this remaining wood and I realised that like the full-size stoves I've used in the past, these stoves need to be used a few times so that you can understand how they work - more practice is needed before I can deliver a verdict, but the stove has potential as it is light and would be a useful back-up to a gas stove on multi-day trips.

Once the food was eaten, it was time for a few drinks and to chat about life in general. Mid-evening we did see a few head torches going through the woods and a couple of people actually passed quite close by, we were sitting without lights on as our eyes had adjusted to the low-level light. The people passing by were twenty metres away so we probably blended in quite well as they carried on their way.

Eventually, it was time to sleep and I had a warm night in my bag. The intermittent patter of rain on the tarpaulin made it feel even cosier as I looked out into the forest from my bed. Around 7 am we got up, made breakfast and packed up, leaving no trace of our stay except for some flattened ground. It was an enjoyable night, a bit different certainly from a usual Saturday night...

The one thing that I have learnt is that forest ponds stain your skin. I had used the water from a nearby pond to wash out my cooking pot and had dipped my hand in it when scooping out the water. The pond was brown coloured from the dead pine needles and leaves in it. When I got home, no matter how much I scrubbed, my fingers on my left hand remained a funny shade of yellow, I had to go to work like that and I may have inadvertently discovered a free way to get a fake suntan - just go into a forest and roll in a pond...  

New Fake Tan discoveryNew Fake Tan discoveryIf you dip your hand in a forest pond, it comes out a different colour!




]]> (Chris Bowness Landscape) bivouac camp devilla forest tarpaulin wood Mon, 22 Jan 2018 21:46:27 GMT
A Walk in the White Stuff "I fancy a walk tomorrow", Bob shouted over his garden to me. "Me too," I said, "have you seen the snow up the Ochils?" I asked, "yes," Bob said, "let's go".

Heading For Ben CleuchHeading For Ben Cleuch

I am lucky to live near to the Ochil Hills. They are only a 30-minute drive for me and I can then be standing 700 metres in the crisp snow 90 minutes after leaving my car. In the winter, this means that I get to walk in snow, where around my house, a little above sea level, snow seldom settles.

Bob had suggested that we climb up Wood Hill. We could then do a circular route over the highest Ochil Hill, Ben Cleuch, that stands at 730 metres. I agreed and suggested that we come back down The Law on the other side - the shortest circular.

We set off late, 10:30 am, a luxury when the hills are so close. Even with a sunset at 3:30 pm, we had plenty of time. We started the ascent of Wood Hill. As we climbed on the steep slopes beneath the Caledonian pines, I stopped to take some pictures.

Wood HillWood Hill   The Ochil HillsThe Ochil HillsLooking North from Wood Hill

At this point we could see the snow at the top of Wood Hill. The snow didn't look much and it still seemed far away, but we struggled towards it regardless. At the 475 metre mark the snow was well in control and looking around, we realised how much of it there actually was. We could see for miles and the Ochil hills looked like they went on forever in a winter wonderland.

Beyond Ben GengieBeyond Ben GengieStanding on Wood Hill looking Northwest.

Walking on the snow, I was quick to forget the brown and green land that we had left behind. We were now in a sterile land of bright white with a blue sky. All was good with the world and it was fresh and clean, with only old fences to remind us of man's impact on this land.

There was a well trodden snow path on the final slope up to Ben Cleuch. It was as busy as I’ve ever seen it here. Everyone passing by was smiling and commenting on the beautiful day that we were sharing. We stepped off the well-trodden snow path as we ascended to let people by. we walked a few steps on the solid snow before breaking through up to our knees. The path formed by the many walkers had made the going easier, but my lazy legs were feeling it regardless.

Ben CleuchBen Cleuch At the summit, there was a slight breeze that made it quite chilly on the exposed skin. We decided to keep moving and I pulled over my face mask as we headed off the summit. This earned a comment by a man passing the other way… “Feeling cold are we?” Well, the fact was that I was as warm as I would have been sitting in my house and I wanted to keep it that way! Some people can walk about in thin layers and be a hero if they wished! I like to enjoy the hills whilst remaining warm, why make it an ordeal?

After the top of Ben Cleuch, we decided to head down at the Law and below us, we could see the Central belt of Scotland. It was brown and green and dirty, an affront to the bright sterile white in which we stood. I could see the steam billowing from the refinery at Grangemouth. The power station at Longannet looked small and the Kincardine Bridge was but a toy. A fire in a woodland billowed smoke to further add to the grunge below us.

Beyond The LawBeyond The LawLooking over Grangemouth oil refinery, Longannet Power Station and Kincardine Bridge, from Ben Cleuch

It was now time to leave our pristine world of white and blue. We had to descend down the kneecap popping 600m of the Law into the dirty world below. As we left the snow line, I looked back up the and could barely conceive the perfect world above me that I had left.

Heading Down to BrownHeading Down to Brown I was now back in the imperfect world of brown and green which, like it or not, is the world in which I live.



]]> (Chris Bowness Landscape) ben bridge cleuch from grangemouth hill hills kincardine law longannet ochil power refinery station the view wood Wed, 10 Jan 2018 23:54:23 GMT
Hogmanay  The late Harry Keen, who was a dear family friend, recalls his memory of New Year as a child in early 20th Century Edinburgh.

Auld ReekieAuld ReekieThis ariel picture of Edinburgh was scanned from a family book called Wonderful Britain by JA Hammerton, printed in 1920. Hogmanay,

In the Scots it means, the last day of the year or, a gift given to children on New Year's Eve


the very word conjures up a mixed bag of images, from when I was a child growing up in Edinburgh, right up to the present day. I suppose that as we get older, the celebrations of yesteryear grow in grandeur and gaiety, as our memories get dimmer. Strangely enough, my memories of Hogmanay celebrations of the past are very vivid in my mind and I can remember who and what relatives appeared first at the door after the bells. Which Auntie used to get drunk the quickest and who would eat the most Black Bun and who would be the first to get up and sing.

When I was a child, I remember what great excitement there was in the house prior to Hogmanay, My Mother was (it seemed to us kids) always baking and cleaning one thing and another. She would start days before, making and cutting the sausage rolls and shortbread and lots of other goodies, one of which was the Ne'er day Cloutie Dumpling, with the silver threepenny bits in, wrapped in waxed paper, which we couldn't touch on pain of death, they were for the Hogmanay.

Then on the Hogmanay, she would take all the bedclothes and our clothes, in an old pram, up to the washhoose in Simon Square, just above the Deaconess Hospital in St Leonards, Edinburgh. She would then give them a thorough cleaning. I remember these old wash houses with their big wash tubs and the drying racks which used to come trundling out of the wall. The steam and the noise, and of course, the chatter among the women.

On that day, the house was cleaned from top to bottom, the fire was cleaned out, the grate was polished with black lead and then the fire was relaid, ready to be lit after tea time. From the start of the year, after the 1st of January, my mother would put money away in a drink club at a Grocer's shop. All year until the Hogmanay when my Father would go and collect the booze for the festivities.

This was a trip to the other side of town and sometimes we were allowed to go with my father and help him lug the booze back on the bus. We were thrilled to travel on the bus as most times we had to walk everywhere. Father and my brother George and I would collect it in the thick paper bags and struggle to the bus stop with it, being warned constantly "dinnae drop that bag mind". Once on the bus we would go upstairs to the front while my father sat in the back and smoked.

From the front of the bus, we could see other fathers carrying their paper bags with the festive bottle or two peeking out of the top and kids like us helping..

Once the house was clean and ready for visitors, we, the children would be washed, scrubbed and put into clean clothes, dared to get ourselves dirty and told to play in the bedroom while my mother made all the sandwiches, cooked off the sausage rolls, sliced the Black Bun and broke the shortbread. She then got all the glasses ready, set out most of the bottles of Whisky and Beer and then she got herself ready to greet the New Year.

It was the custom in our house, when the clock was about five minutes to midnight for my father to go outside. He carried with him, a piece of Shortbread to make sure we would have food in the house, a bottle of Whisky to make sure we would have something to drink and a lump of coal to ensure we would have warmth in the house all the year.

He would wait for the bells to chime midnight to be the houses first foot. On the last stroke of the Bells, he would ring the doorbell, my mother would answer the door and he would wish all in the house, a Happy New Year. He would pour a Whisky for my mother and any other adult in the house at the time. We would get a glass of Vimto or Iron bru and we would all wish each other a Happy New Year.

It was after Hogmanay that we kids received our presents. We would only have a stocking on Christmas morning. My parents celebrated the New Year rather than Christmas, as a lot of Scottish families did and it was a bit strange to us to see other kids with presents on Christmas morning instead of New Year's Day.

During the early hours many people would come to the house, bringing with them their bottles, usually a half bottle of Whisky and the party would start sometimes lasting for days.
When we kids became teenagers we would go up to the Tron Church down from the Castle and gather there. Here we would often try to hit the clock by throwing an empty bottle at it. We never did of course but it was good fun to try.

We would wait for Midnight when we would kiss all the girls, who would let us, wish each other a Happy New Year and drink from each others bottles. Then we would First Foot everyone we could think of.
No one ever had their doors closed, anyone could walk in and join the party as long as they had a bottle in their hand.

On New Year's Day itself, relatives would join us in a Ne'er Day Dinner which was always my Mothers 'Red Broth'. This was a mixture of Scotch Broth and Tomato Soup, followed by the Roast Pork, Roast Tatties and the Cloutie Dumpling. Oh, what excitement if we found a silver threepenny bit, it was ours to keep and spend.

The Table was read and once again, the drinking and singing would go on to the sma' hours.

I remember when I was in the army, the Scots would volunteer to stay in camp to do the various guard and cookhouse duties over Christmas and let the English go home so that we could be home for the Hogmanay. It was our festive season - Christmas didn't mean very much in the way of celebration except as a remembrance of Christ's birth. We didn't attach to it the same festive spirit as other nationalities did.

Those days have gone now. There is not the same, I would say, reverence, if thats the right word, paid to the New Year's Eve, Hogmanay celebration. There is more of a disco-type atmosphere, more and more people are celebrating in Discos and clubs, especially the young ones. But then, there were fewer clubs as we know them today, and definitely no discos. Dance halls like the Palais in Fountainbridge or Fairlies down the Leith walk were the meeting places for the youngsters. The old style of celebrating at home and in each others homes has gone, except perhaps with the older ones like myself.

I still clean the house on Hogmanay morning, and my American wife marvels at this but never tries to dissuade me. I still have the Shortbread and Black Bun and make the sandwiches, though more often the stuff is bought from the supermarket, except for the shortbread which is still baked by myself

In fact on Nee'r day itself the tradition in our house is that all the family come over to my house and we have Curry, lots of it, in fact about 11 or 12 different ones with the Sambals and various rice dishes. This has been our tradition for many years, ever since I left the Army and settled in Blairgowrie. The husbands and wives of my children have come to love it as much as we do.

There is no longer a fire grate to be cleaned, central heating and gas fires having taken over, but still in the older folks homes, there is that reverence for the Hogmanay that cannot be extinguished. We can sit by the fire and think of Hogmanays past listening to the last stroke of Big Ben echoing out of the radio, instead of the Television. I can still hear my Father's knock as he chaps to come in to first foot us My Mother's soft voice as she says, "There's yer Faither at the door". The singing as the revellers come up the stairs. The shouts in the street of "Happy New Year" and the chorus of "Auld Lang Syne" being sung in every household in the land, from Croft to Big House.

At that special time of year all we had were friends, no enemies. We loved one another, as long as we were all Scots and still sober, although others like the English were welcome at that time of year.

We were a' Jock Tamson's Bairns, whatever else we were at other times of the Year.


It's seeven oclock, get up an' aboot 
There's lots tae dae, too much a' doot 
Get the weans washed an' oot tae play 
It's the thirty first, it's Hogmanay

Get ben the hoose and strip the bed 
An' see an' get the table read 
Get thon hurley oot o' sight 
Fir later oan, it's Hogmanay night

Thirs soup tae mak', an' Bun tae bake 
Yer Grannies bringin' a Stottie Cake 
Thirs Shortbreid done an' packed away 
Fir it's end o' year, it's Hogmanay

Rake the fire, tak the ashes oot 
An' dinnae scatter them a' aboot 
Keep them off o' the landin' flair 
Fir it's yer Mithers turn tae dae the stair

Ging doon tae Dilworths' 'am gonnae need 
Twa plain loaves an' a pan o' breid 
A' dinnae want nane fae yesterday 
It's gotta be fresh, it's Hogmanay

Get the sausage meat oot o' the press 
An' mak sure yez dinnae mak a mess 
There's the booze tae get, "is yer Faither away"? 
Cos the nichts the nicht it's Hogmanay

Ah've goat nae time tae dae yer tea 
Ging tae the chippy jist doon the street 
Pies an' chips 'ull juist hae tae dae 
Fir it's nearly end o' the Hogmanay

The tables set, the fires a' lit 
Yer Faither ye ken is aye first fit 
Sorry son, whits that ye say? 
Oh help ma boab, it's near end o' day

The hoose is clean, sandwiches made 
You bairns 'ull juist hae lemonade 
Get doon the street fir yer Auntie May 
She'l want tae be here fir the Hogmanay

Noo, a' things ready fir fowk tae come in 
Fir neebours an' wir kith an' kin 
They cam fae a' the airts this day 
Fir abuidy's hame fir the Hogmanay

Yer Faithers here, the bells have rung 
An' auld lang syne has juist been sung 
A Guid New Year tae a' I say 
It's January first, an' New Years Day

Sae lift yer gless, mak sure it's fu' 
An' heres a toast fae me tae you 
Tae young an' auld, fae far an' near
Hae a Happy, Healthy, Guid New Year"

"Hogmanay" by Harry Keen © 1999

Footnote: Harry volunteered to write this article and poem for my then website in 1999, which I published as a newsletter for the millennium.  Harry sadly passed away in 2015 aged 83, so I thought it right to again share his wonderful memories.

]]> (Chris Bowness Landscape) 20th black bun celebrations century dumpling early edinburgh hogmanay magical memories new poem stootie year Wed, 27 Dec 2017 14:59:00 GMT
Winter Camping "Whatever the question, the answer is always more booze".

This was the reply from my friend Andy to my text about the -4°C weather forecast for Saturday night. We were going camping then and it was December with the coldest weekend of the winter so far now predicted; our families and friends were all laughing at us. We parked in the picturesque town of Dollar and headed up the narrow gorges of Dollar Glen. Passing Castle Campbell on the way, the path eventually opened out into the Glen of Sorrow and we followed the burn upstream, looking for a nice camping spot.

The path that runs alongside the burn was icy in places and care was needed to bypass the worst of the icy slopes, as there are some quite unhealthy drops into the water below.

We decided to camp around the 325-meter mark before the glen narrowed and steepens. We found a good spot with plenty of room for our tents. Andy had bought a hammer which really useful for driving the tent pegs into the hard soil. I had a drink of water out of the Burn of Sorrow and as soon as it was in my bottle, ice started to form - very refreshing. Camping in the Glen of SorrowCamping in the Glen of SorrowA nice spot at 325 metres

After dinner was finished it was time for a few cheeky drinks. We stood beside our tents in the cold starlit night blethering about things in general. When the booze was finished, it was time to sleep. I put on a full face balaclava and slept in my clothes, all of them, including gloves. If it had been wet, I had a down jacket packed away as a backup. My camping mat is an Alpkit Numo and although it is sold as a 2-3 season mat I felt that it protected me well that night from the frosty ground. My sleeping bag is a 2°c bag and I supplemented it with a down quilt. This combination kept me cosy and in the morning my watch was showing a temperature of -3.8c inside the tent with the air outside being -4.9c. The tent was coated with frost, both inside and out.
  winter campingA frosty tentCovered with ice both outside and inside -3.8C inside the tent.It was -4.9C outside, according to my watch.  

My stove had let me down even though I had slept with the gas cylinder in my sleeping bag, it was lukewarm coffee in the morning until Andy fired up his stove. I should have bought my hex burner as back-up.

I went and took some pictures in the shaded glen whilst Andy had breakfast. The Glen of SorrowThe Glen of SorrowFirst light hits the Ochil hills whilst a lonely tree in the Glen of Sorrow remains in the shade We packed up and headed down the Glen of Sorrow. Walking down into Dollar revealed all the trees to be white with frost, it was quite beautiful. Reaching my car at 11 am, the car's thermometer revealed that it was still -4°C in the bright sunlight. I wondered then on the accuracy of my watch thermometer.



]]> (Chris Bowness Landscape) camping frost glen hills ochil of scotland sorrow tent winter Tue, 12 Dec 2017 22:07:18 GMT
Buffalo Systems Special 6 The Buffalo Special 6 is a “smock” and not a jacket. Whatever it is, it is the best piece of outdoor clothing that I have bought.

For three years now, I have headed to the winter hills wearing a Buffalo Systems Special 6. This is a picture of me wearing it on Beinn Fhionnlaidh in 2016.

Christian ClimbingChris ClimbingMe walking on the slopes of Beinn Fhionnlaidh. This photo was taken by Robert Brown © 2016.

So what is special about a 3-year-old smock? In that picture above, there is only one thing between my bare skin and sub-zero conditions. It is the Buffalo Special 6 and it works.

I am no gear reviewer, but I have just spent a weekend camping at Loch Affric when it was approx. 1 or 2°C (not far below the snowline) and it was raining. I was wearing the Special 6, which is not waterproof. The smock gets heavy when wet and it was all that I was wearing, but I was still warm - it is quite remarkable.

The Special 6 consists of a pile inner (like the fur on a teddy bear!) with a Pertex outer. The pile absorbs moisture (sweat) and your body heat pushes it away to create a warm microclimate at the skin, so even though the pile is wet, you are warm. The Pertex outer is breathable and disperses the moisture to the atmosphere. There is a video on Youtube of a man jumping in a cold lake wearing a Buffalo Systems smock and trousers. After 15 minutes of walking, he is again dry and comfortable. My own experiences in the rain, although not as radical, corroborates this.

Buffalo Special 6My Buffalo Special 6This picture shows the dark pile which goes against the skin. The Pertex keeps the wind off whilst allowing the smock to breathe and disperse moisture. Buffalo Special 6A Winter Selfie on the Ochil HillsWhilst I may not look particularly stylish, I have been standing up a Scottish Hill for half an hour in winter taking pictures of a sunset. Being comfortable in these conditions means that I can concentrate on taking pictures

I bought my Special 6 from Sports Warehouse in Edinburgh and I had gone to their shop to try it on. I am glad I did this as I left the store with a size smaller than I would have otherwise ordered online. For gear like this, it is important to get the right fit.

Since then I have worn my Special 6 on many winter trips up my local Ochil Hills. I have also worn it further afield to stay at bothies and on Munro's in winter. I have stood on a windy summit with a frozen water bottle and yet I have felt as warm as sitting in my house.

It is not perfect, there are draughts that have made me feel vulnerable in high winds on Munro summits. The wind can whistle up the gap between trousers and shirt, but it has never been a problem to affect comfort and there are straps to adjust the tightness around the waist. I do not wear the Special 6 trousers, so I am unsure if this is also a feature of the full system.

The Special 6 actually relies on draughts to keep you cool, it has side zips that open to let excess heat out. I have used these zips in sub-zero temperatures with a high wind-chill factor and you adjust them to stay warm. I find that the smock is too hot for prolonged climbing above 5°C.

The Special 6 does not come with a hood, but you can buy one. I have seen this hood criticised in some reviews and I can understand why. I use the hood with a beanie and snood(or scarf) around the neck. The hood also comes with a face shield and this protects my face from the winter excesses of wind and spindrift. The picture below shows me checking my watch with my face shield and ski goggles on. You can see why a beanie is necessary, but this combination works well for me.

Buffalo Special SixMe in my Special 6Checking the time on the climb up (Picture by Robert Brown © 2016).

My Special 6 also has its scars, I burnt it on a stove in a bothy and I have covered that with a bit of duct tape - it doesn't like fire! It also has paint on it from a bothy work party where I was too comfortable on a snowy April morning to care about the odd splash of masonry paint.

These scars give my smock history and mean that the Special 6 has served its purpose - It has kept me warm and allowed me to do things and avoid faff. After 3 years of usage in a variety of conditions, I am confident in its ability to keep me warm on multi-day winter trips.




]]> (Chris Bowness Landscape) buffalo experience review six special systems thoughts user Sun, 12 Nov 2017 17:21:06 GMT
Whiteout This picture is of my friend Bob, taking a video of the whiteout conditions in which we found ourselves.

The WhiteroomThe WhiteroomBob in a whiteout on Beinn Udlamain. The cloud closed in and suddenly everything went white. We stopped, I took a picture of Bob videoing the surreal scene. Luckily we knew where we were...

The whiteout in this picture was due to heavy cloud covering a snow-covered mountaintop. 

We were heading from the rounded summit of Beinn Uldamain when the cloud closed in. I realised that there was no distinguishing the ground from the sky. It is uncanny when everything is white, the snow and sky become the same. As you walk, you have no idea where your next footstep is going to land, you could step off a cliff.

Beinn UldamainBeinn UldamainNearing the summit. At the summit of Beinn UldamainAt the summit of Beinn UldamainThe cloud was starting to close in.

View from the topView from the top

This is where navigation is paramount. the compass and map become your best friends so that you can avoid the cliffs and get home. The whiteout can surprise you, so if you are not sure where you are, it is too late to find out once the cloud arrives. This whiteout lasted about 20 minutes before the cloud cleared. We got off easy as there are old metal poles on this mountain, the remains of an old boundary fence. We knew from the map that this fence line led to where we wanted to go. Each pole could be spotted in the distance through the cloud. It was easy to follow them and we got back to the car before the light faded.

Whiteout navigationWhiteout navigationThese little poles became an important navigational aid meaning that we could keep our bearing easily.   Cornice on A' MharconaichCornice on A' MharconaichA Cornice on A' Mharconaich, one of the A9 Munros

If we had got lost, we would have been returning in the dark. 

Fire and IceFire and Ice

Last lightLast light


]]> (Chris Bowness Landscape) bagging hill mountain munro navigation scenery scotland scottish walking whiteout Sat, 28 Oct 2017 20:18:18 GMT
Behind the Picture: Doggy Dreams The reason I like taking pictures is for the memories that they contain. When I look at a photo that I've taken, all recollection of that moment comes flooding back.

Below is another of these images that bring particular memories - This picture is called "Doggy Dreams".

Doggy DreamsDoggy DreamsDigger twitches and yelps in his sleep and it makes me wonder what he is dreaming about. This picture is composed of three images stitched together. It includes a picture of my dog, Digger, sleeping on the back of our couch. It also contains a picture that I took of our friend's Husky, Oscar, as well as a forest background.

Digger was fast asleep and he had been twitching and yelping whilst dreaming of doing doggy things. I wondered whether he was dreaming of being a wolf (his ancestor) running free in the forest; or does he dream of being a short legged Jack Russell tugging on his lead whilst walking on a pavement?

I know Digger, he will be running free.

Digger Sleeping on the Couch

]]> (Chris Bowness Landscape) art dog doggy dreams jack photograph picture russell sleeping twitching yelping Sat, 07 Oct 2017 12:04:14 GMT
Devilla Forest Devilla Forest is located near the small town of Kincardine, in Central Scotland. The forest, although managed, is composed of mainly Scots Pines and is quite natural compared to some densely packed plantations. The forest is also quite large for these parts and I have spent many hours exploring it with my dog and camera.  Some of these pictures can be viewed below. 

Amongst the trees

The PortalThe PortalThe Portal, Devilla Forest, Scotland

I enjoy wandering off tracks into the forest, you'll never know what you may find and I enjoy that adventure.

Abandoned graves

18th Century Gravestone18th Century GravestoneThe abandoned church yard of the Keith family mausoleum with its skeletal gravestones is quite an experience. It is hidden on a hill and takes effort to get to. It was worth it! This is where I first saw the writing on the stones "Memento Mori" which is latin for "remember that you have to die"...

There is an abandoned graveyard around Devilla Forest.  I won't use its proper name, as it's best left hidden amongst the undergrowth so that it can't be disturbed. The gravestones go back to the 17th century and the inscription "Memento Mori" (remember that you'll die) together with the carved skulls certainly makes for an interesting visit. 

Deep in Devilla Forest 

Deep In Devilla ForestDeep In Devilla ForestDevilla Forest Scotland

There are few areas of tightly packed plantations in Devilla Forest and this fire break made for a good photo opportunity. 


RhododendronRhododendronDevilla Forest in Scotland

This is one of my favourite pictures. It was only once I got home that I saw the face at the end of this tunnel, an accident of twigs and branches. This tunnel of Rhododendron leads to the 'Danish Camp', an earth mound that goes back to Roman times that was a place of encampment for an army of Danes that fought a battle near here, a few centuries ago. 


Digger in Moor Loch

Devilla ForestDevilla ForestDigger with wet feet

Digger does not like water, so this excursion was worth a picture.

Plague Grave 1645

In Devilla forest, you may eventually come across this grave and beside it, there is a sign nearby that explains why it is here. The grave sadly contains the remains of 3 young children, Robert, Agnes & Jeanne Balds, who all died of the Bubonic plague on the same day - 14th September 1645. The sign also explains that the grave is maintained by the "B&M kin" of the unfortunate victims.

The Keir dam

The first time I came across the Keir dam, it was a full open expanse of water. 

Rhododendron Flowers

At the end of May, the Rhododendrons at the edge of Moor Loch carpet the ground with their flowers. 

]]> (Chris Bowness Landscape) dam devilla forest gravestones keir kincardine loch moor photographs rhododendron scotland Sat, 16 Sep 2017 07:00:00 GMT
The Grey Cairns of Camster Working in Caithness for the week and having some time on my hands in the evenings, I decided to visit the Grey Cairns of Camster which were originally built around 5,000 years ago and are some of the oldest stone monuments in Scotland.

The Cairns have largely been reconstructed, but they are still a great place to visit. The bonus is that you can crawl inside them, which was too great a temptation for me to pass by. I started by visiting the biggest Cairn, the Long Cairn, which consists of two chambers.

The Long Cairns of CamsterThe Long Cairns of CamsterThe Grey Cairns of Camster, Lybster, Caithness

The doorways, if they can be called that, are only big enough to crawl inside. I started by squeezing in the crawlway to the right hand side chamber, but quickly retreated when I realised there was a big puddle halfway along, due to recent heavy rain. I then crawled into the left hand side chamber, which was much easier than the first. Once inside I took this video of the chamber and the crawl back out.

Inside the Long Cairn (LH)Camster Cairns I then followed the wooden walkway over the bog to the round cairn and I prepared to crawl inside, this corridor was lower and darker than the last.

The Round CairnThe Round CairnThe Grey Cairns of Camster, Lybster, Caithness In the video below, you can see that it goes dark for a minute once I am inside and all you can hear is me dragging myself along. Stick with the video though, as I turn the light on once inside. When this chamber was first discovered they found skeletons and bones inside of it. It was awesome looking at the large stones in the central chamber, knowing that they could have been placed there 5 millenia ago.

Entering the Round Cairn of CamsterA tight and dark squeeze into the central chamber, where I switched my light on to see. With Dirty knees I emerged from the tunnel and walked back to my car, I had videos, pictures and a satisfaction of having been lucky enough to visit these neolithic landmarks. 





]]> (Chris Bowness Landscape) cairns caithness camster lybster scotland wick Fri, 01 Sep 2017 07:00:00 GMT
Return to Braemore As I drove down the hill, Maiden’s Pap with Morvern nestling behind it came into view. It was beautiful to see these pointy hills with crepuscular rays shooting through the gaps in the clouds - It had been fourteen months since I was last here and it looked more wonderful than the first time I had visited.

Braemore Light ShowBraemore Light ShowBraemore, Caithness, Scotland

I reached the parking spot at Braemore where the public road ends. It was evening, so I planned to walk on the track that heads westward over the Flow Country. On my previous visit, I had visited Corrichoich and Morvern and had camped overnight. This time, however, it was just a short walk until dusk, as I had to get back to the guest house for work in the morning.

Leaving my car, I could see the rain approaching, I took a picture of a rain shrouded Morven with Maiden’s Pap in the foreground as the rain started to fall.

Maiden's Pap and MorvenMaiden's Pap and MorvenFrom Braemore, Caithness

The rain got quite heavy, but I could see it clearing ahead. I stopped and looked back as the rain eased and saw the end of a rainbow pointed to Braemore, which was a little oasis of trees surrounded by empty moorland.

I followed the track up the hill and marched onward over the Flow Country, cursing myself for forgetting my walking boots — I was only wearing flimsy trainers, and they made walking a chore. I had hoped to make the closed bothy at Gobernuisgeach, so I stopped briefly to look at my Viewranger App. The app showed me that the bothy was several kilometres from where I was standing and it would be dark in a couple of hours, I was not that desperate to see it!

The Way AheadThe Way AheadFlow Country, Caithness I could now see the silvery trail of Berriedale Water leading the eye to the other closed bothy at Corrichoich, besides which I had previously camped. The small cottage was just distinguishable below the artificial patch of trees in the distance.

Smean and MorvenSmean and MorvenWalking on the Flow Country I headed onward with the sun in my eyes. The top of the hill, and my expected view of the flow country was still a good distance away. Small herds of Red Deer were all around me as I walked.

The Flow CountryThe Flow CountryWalking onward A drainage ditch was running beside this track, likely required to protect the road from the multitude of moisture that surrounded it. The ditch was about a meter deep and the walls of the ditch were black peat with water oozing out like a squeezed sponge.

PeatPeatA ditch in the flow country, water dripping from the peat.

I had read about the Flow Country after my last visit and had discovered that the peat is formed from the mosses and bog plants that grow here. I had also discovered that each millimetre of peat represented one year's plant growth. In that metre deep ditch, there was 1,000 years of growth and in some parts, the peat can be up to 10 metres deep; 10,000 years a bog, since the last ice age.

The Flow Country is big; it even has a website. The site explains that this place is the largest area of blanket bog in the world at around 4,000 km2 (1500 square miles). The bog is important too, as the active growth of the mosses and specialist plants absorb lots of carbon dioxide. It is estimated that there are 400 million tonnes of carbon locked in the peat of the Flow Country. Significant parts of this land have been damaged by the plantation of forestry since the 1970's. With growing environmental awareness, however, the damage is being undone by blocking the drainage ditches and removing the trees.

I had now reached the top of the hill and had stopped at a T-junction. If I turned left, it would be approx 5km to Gobernuisgeach. If I went straight on, it would be another 5km to the lodge at The Glutt, and then another 5km to the next (empty) building. If I continued onward, it would be approximately 15km to Altnabeath train station. I attempted to capture the scale of my surroundings with my camera, which was difficult, as the view ahead was empty.

The Flow CountryThe Flow CountryA big empty space in Caithness, Scotland The Flow CountryThe Flow CountryCaithness Scotland After taking pictures, I decided to turn back. The wind was becoming colder and despite the July sunshine, I had put on my pocket gloves. The light was changing often, with the fast moving clouds seeming to form a conveyor belt over Morven and getting in the way of the sun.  The setting sun eventually started to peek below this covering, and lit up Morven as it sat with a bonnet of cloud at its summit; this was caused by the warmer air being pushed up over the top and condensing.

MorvenMorvenA cloud capped Morven, in Caithness Scotland I took some more pictures, before heading back.

Maiden's Pap and MorvernMaiden's Pap and MorvernCaithness, Scotland Nearing the end of my walk, I looked back one last time and saw the clouds lit up by the last of the sun.

The End of the RoadThe End of the RoadBraemore, Caithness, Scotland

As I reached my car, I realised that I was being watched by some curious deer on the hill above me — When they noticed me looking back, they disappeared over the hill. I wondered then if they too had seen the rainbow. DeerWatching Deer


]]> (Chris Bowness Landscape) blanket bog braemore caithness country flow scotland the Thu, 17 Aug 2017 07:00:00 GMT
Torwood Castle Torwood CastleTorwood CastleTorwood Castle is a Scottish Baronial style castle near Falkirk in Central Scotland. It is estimated to be built in 1566 and once the seat of the Clan Forrester. Nearby is the ancient Tappoch Broch and the mysterious blue pool of Torwood.

According to the Clan Forrester web page, Torwood castle was built in 1566 by Sir Alexander Forrester. The lands of the "Royal Forest of Tor Wood" were bestowed upon the Forrester family in 1450 and as such, the castle would have formed the seat of Clan Forrester. 

I walk here often and the history of this secluded spot is fascinating, where there is the 2,500-year-old Tappoch Broch nearby in the forest. As the Clan Forrester web page alludes, the castle grounds are also situated on where a Roman Road used to run and it was on this road that Siward the Dane passed in pursuit of Macbeth in the 11th century. 

Torwood CastleTorwood CastleFalkirk Scotland There is an old tree that stands a few metres from the castle, it is an old oak with a split trunk that appears to be collapsing under its own weight. The tree is still alive as it still has leaves on it in the summer and I have taken many pictures of it. The picture I took below of this tree is my favourite, it's called "The weight of experience" as that tree has experienced a great many years at that spot since it first emerged as a seedling. Time is bearing down on it with such weight that it struggles to keep standing, but it still hangs on.

The weight of experienceThe weight of experienceThis old oak stands beside the 16th century Torwood Castle and I wonder how long they have stood together. Although the tree's trunk is split at the bottom it still puts out leaves ever year and I always check on it when nearby. I wonder about how long the tree has stood there beside this old castle and I wonder what variety of people have passed by this tree. Was the tree there when people lived in the castle before it became a ruin? I will never know.


]]> (Chris Bowness Landscape) ancient castle forest historiy macbeth mcbeth oak scenery scotland scottish tor torwood tree wood Wed, 02 Aug 2017 07:00:00 GMT
Final Vacation The Red ShedThe Red ShedA shed standing beside the Beauly Firth, near Inverness in Scotland

My mother-in-law, Ericka, passed away around 8 am on the 19th July 2016, she was 68.

It has always been a firm tradition of my wife's family to go away for an annual holiday together. On those holidays, we have visited many destinations in the UK and Ericka always looked forward to her week's vacation with a passion that was unmatched by the rest of us - She would count down the days for when the trip would start and she would relish every moment of it.

In October 2015 Ericka was diagnosed with terminal cancer and she was told that she had six months to maybe a year left; we watched as, despite treatment, she continued to deteriorate. When we visited her she sat with a steely acceptance of her condition, she was so brave. She reached her 50th wedding anniversary in June of that year and we took her up to Fort William for a day out and a meal. David, my brother-in-law booked a cottage on the Beauly Firth in July, as she so wanted her annual trip away. By this time Ericka was unable to walk due to her badly swollen legs but, despite the doctor's advice, she was determined to go on her holiday and she was positively animated at the thought of going.

Her doctor was so concerned about her that arrangements were made with local doctors in Inverness in case an emergency arose. We then made the trip up to Inverness and the nice cottage by the water of the Beauly Firth. Despite her condition where she needed regular doses of morphine, Ericka enjoyed her holiday like she always had. She had her nightly trip to the Bingo in Inverness, except this time she had to use a wheelchair. I cooked her breakfast in the morning, except she ate only small amounts. We went for bar lunches and she would order a big plate of food, but only a token was actually eaten.

When we left the cottage at the end of the week, Ericka was too ill to stop for food and wanted to go straight home. She was home for just a few hours and then an ambulance had to be called to take her to the hospital.

The holiday was finished and she'd made it.

Ericka, I took the above picture of a red shed on the Beauly Firth, near the cottage that we stayed and I never got to show it to you. This picture always now reminds me of you and your love of family holidays; whatever the weather. It is now one year exactly since you've passed and today the rest of us are together in the Lake District, on holiday, having a walk in Keswick beside Derwentwater, a place you so enjoyed.

We will be thinking of you.

Derwent WaterDerwent WaterThe beautiful Lake Derwentwater in the Lake District



]]> (Chris Bowness Landscape) beauly brave firth inverness mortality red shed Wed, 19 Jul 2017 07:00:00 GMT
The Falkirk Canal Tunnel Falkirk Canal TunnelFalkirk Canal TunnelBuilt in the 1820's, this tunnel is 630m long and the Union Canal runs through it from Edinburgh to Falkirk Completed in 1822, the 630 metre (690 yards) Falkirk Canal Tunnel was a marvel of its time. The tunnel forms part of the Union Canal that was built to link Edinburgh and Glasgow via the Forth and Clyde Canal at Falkirk. The tunnel was not originally intended but it is a consequence of the local landowners, the Forbes family, who lived in the stately Callander House objecting to the canal spoiling their view.

This tunnel is then a consequence of Nimbyism. These particular Nimby (Not In My Back Yard) complainants were very well connected and forced the canal builders into building this expensive tunnel before that now popular acronym was even conceived.

Before the canal millennium projects, where many millions of pounds were spent in restoring the canals of Central Scotland, this tunnel had no lighting or railings. The railings are for safety as there is no need nowadays for horses to pull the barge through the tunnel. Lights have been installed too, but it is still a very dark tunnel to walk through, with a lot of people using their phones for additional illumination as they hurry through it.

I have spent time in this tunnel taking photos and after a half hour of long exposures using a tripod I realised that the tunnel has bats, as only once my eyes adjusted to the low light did I notice them skimming silently past me.

Falkirk Canal TunnelFalkirk Canal TunnelThis is the Falkirk end of the Falkirk Canal tunnel in scotland

Falkirk Canal TunnelFalkirk Canal Tunnel Falkirk Canal TunnelFalkirk Canal Tunnel The thing that strikes me about inside the tunnel is the colour of the living rock that is visible at the entrance. These colours are amazing where there are greens, blues, turquoises and yellows visible where I expect the rock to be brown or black. There is also a lot of water coming into the tunnel through holes and cracks, where you have drips hitting your head and a pretty intense (and noisy) spout of water near the entrance. Halfway through the 200 odd years of water ingress has coated the walls with minerals and stalactites are forming. This coating on the walls is porcelain/yellow and looks wet and slimy but when you touch it is as hard as rock. 

The Dripping WallsThe Dripping WallsFalkirk Canal Tunnel

The oozing WallsThe oozing WallsMineral formations inside the Falkirk Canal Tunnel I spent so much time on my two (photography) visits, I even managed to catch a boat coming out of the concealed entrance. The noise of the engine as it heads through the tunnel is amplified and is thunderous and disorienting. It drove Digger crazy and I had to comfort him and get him out of the tunnel. If I ever go back to take more pictures, I will leave him at home, as I've realised that dogs and tunnels are not compatible.

Falkirk Canal TunnelFalkirk Canal TunnelA boat emerging from the Falkirk Canal Tunnel


]]> (Chris Bowness Landscape) 630 and barge canal clyde edinburgh falkirk forth glasgow metres miley scotland spooky tunnel union Fri, 07 Jul 2017 20:17:35 GMT
Behind the Picture: The Empty Field The reason I like taking pictures is for the memories they contain. When I look at a photo that I've taken, all recollection of that moment comes flooding back.

Below is another of these images that bring particular memories - This photo is called "The Empty Field". The Empty FieldThe Empty Field This image was taken beside a field near Torwood in 2014. I had walked past here earlier in the summer and it was full of bullocks (young male cattle). Whilst most of these large animals ignored us, a few came up to the gate and eyed both myself and my dog Digger walk past with great curiosity. Staring back at them and looking at their faces, I could see some character in the eyes which was mostly curiosity and bewilderment, which is a lot like me! I realised then that the cattle, held in the field by a simple gate, had a lot in common with me, on very many different levels.

Later in October of that year, I had just returned from a holiday in the Mediterranean and was disappointed to find that all the autumn leaves at Torwood had been blown off the trees by a storm whilst I was away. Walking on with my camera, I came to this field and it was empty, the bright-eyed bullocks were gone. I realised that the destination for these curious and bewildered young males would have been the slaughterhouse and the field would remain empty, until next year.

I took this picture then.

]]> (Chris Bowness Landscape) behind picture story the Sun, 25 Jun 2017 13:11:49 GMT
Post-Industrial Chicken (a short story) My Grandfather told me a lot about the way things used to be when there was plenty. I remember him telling me about planes trains and automobiles, those marvellous machines of which just remnants still remain. He told me that they had drinking water whenever they wanted and light was available simply by pressing a button.

What I most remember about my Grandfather’s stories, however, was the amount of food he said that was available. They had fruits and tastes from all around this great world and they could have it whenever they wanted, as the world was very small then.

They had a lot of meat which was plentiful in those days. My grandfather told me about a bird called Chicken - it was his favourite. He told me that it was a large tasty bird that you could get freshly cooked and still hot from a "Supermarket". He said that the bird was so large that you could feed a family for days from the flesh of just one chicken. He gave me this picture that his own Father, my great grandfather had taken and he told me it was the closest representation he had of what a chicken looked like. Looking at the picture I cannot to this day understand where the meat came from...

Post Industrial Chicken I miss my Grandfather so very much as he knew about everything and I really never fully understood what he told me. He told me that things went wrong when he was young because we grew so large and we always wanted more, but the world is only the world and there is nothing else. It is a paradox, he told me, that where something is useful, we use it more and more and become reliant on it, using more and more and more... This occurs until there is nothing left and by then you have forgotten how to live without it.

This is what happened when the oil ran out, everything that relied on it collapsed, the society he was born into collapsed, billions starved and the chickens among many other animals never made it; all eaten. Grandfather said that despite this great calamity that decimated the planet, nobody had actually learnt from these events, but this was the way of this world, he told me - it always will be.


]]> (Chris Bowness Landscape) bowness chicken industrial post short story Sun, 11 Jun 2017 20:44:43 GMT
Racing the Night We have had a great spring but I have not been out and about much due to work and social commitments, with my backlog of writing and pictures also having to take a back seat. My only escape has been evening trips up the Ochil Hills with my long suffering wife Karen and her friend, Sarah. 

With me as their guide, the ladies have covered a few of the higher Ochil hills so far this year and the next on the list was Ben Cleuch, the highest Ochil at 730 meters. We set off late and parked up the car at about 7:15pm. I was worried we were going to run out of daylight as that only allowed us 2.5 hours before sunset. It was however a bright and warm night so I expected at least another half hour of daylight after sunset - the head torches were in my rucksack though, just in case.

Up until recently both Karen and Sarah didn't really hill walk, but their recent jaunts up the Ochils has slowly acclimatised them to climbing steep slopes; they still moan though! As we left the car the first complaint I received was that they were bored with walking here as our previous two trips up Wood Hill and Craighorn have started from the same place, the Wood Hill woodland park car park. In anticipation of this I had thought of tackling Ben Cleuch from nearby Tillicoutry but the pull up The Law is a pretty intense climb and I did not fancy the additional moaning that this route would generate... I decided to take the safe route up the dirt track from the village of Alva that runs beside the Nebit as this is an 'express' route for fast access to Ben Cleuch, which lies further back from the steep slopes veering out of the Forth Valley.

We headed off through the woods and after passing the old silver mine we reached the dirt track and followed it as it zigs-zaps upwards above Alva. After passing the Nebit (which I never get round to climbing) and with the ladies already glowing from the climb so far, it was time to turn off the track and follow the grassy path up towards Ben Ever. This is quite a steep climb and as we walked past many sheep and lambs, I kept in front to avoid the moaning and complaining stares, with Digger kept on his lead to avoid any confrontations with the local livestock.

Halfway upHalfway upThe easy bit on the climb up Ben Ever

As we topped the broad ridge of Ben Ever, Ben Cleuch was now in sight and its summit cairn did not look too far away...  I was outvoted with my suggestion to go over the top of Ben Ever and it was decided that we would use the bypass path to go round the top to avoid unnecessary climbing. My watch was consulted and I pointed out that we would probably reach the top about 9pm. This would give us no more than 90 minutes of fading light to get back down. Karen and Sarah eyed the top and looked back at the route we had taken, "we have come this far" they said, so we headed onward.

The initial climb from the col between Ben Ever and Ben Cleuch is a short but sharp slope and I took off up it to leave the ladies to moan amongst themselves. I waited near the summit for them to catch up and as they arrived they both glared at me as if blaming me as being the cause of their exertions. At the summit cairn the trig point was touched and the usual picture was taken so that they could post their latest conquered hill onto facebook. 

At the summitAt the summitKaren and Sarah at the top of Ben Cleuch  The picture below is from the summit of Ben Cleuch which was taken on a different visit a few years back.

Ben CleuchBen CleuchThe view from the Summit of Ben Cleuch, Ochil Hills, Scotland I took the picture below at the top of Ben Cleuch with my phone, looking northeast with the lowering sun was giving good light.

Northeast on Ben CleuchNortheast on Ben CleuchOchil Hills Scotland

Evening on Ben CleuchEvening on Ben CleuchOchil Hills Scotland We left the summit at 9:15pm, the sun was getting lower and only the top peaks and ridges of the Ochils were still lit, with everything else in shadow. I had considered whether it would be quicker coming down The Law into Tillicoutry Glen, but decided against it as the route we had came up would be a safer bet if we run out of light. We took off at a good pace knowing that we were now racing the night and at the col I decided to take the path to the top of Ben Ever and told the ladies I would meet them on the other side, where the bypass and summit paths meet. I had not bought my camera as I didn't think it worthwhile (!) but here was I on the top of a hill with the sun setting. At least I had my phone and I took a few shots missing  the zoom lens that having my camera with me would have provided.

Sunset on Ben EverSunset on Ben EverOchil Hills Scotland

NorthwardsNorthwardsEvening on Ben Ever, Ochil Hills, Scotland When I finished taking my snaps, I looked down the hill and saw that Karen and Sarah were already at the bit where I was to meant to meet them, they had stopped and very nearly took the wrong path along the long ridge towards the steep wood hill. Luckily though they realised, waved up to me, then raced off down the Ben Ever slopes leaving me to hot foot it after them. I finally caught up with them halfway down and we finally reached the track about 9:50pm - good going. As we walked down the track towards the zig-zag over Alva, I pointed out to my companions that the car is parked at about 50 metres elevation so they had climbed 680 metres... This kind of information is best held back until after the climbing is over!

We finally reached the Wood Hill woods and there was just enough light to see the path back to the car. We walked this last stretch through the still and humid woodland with bats whizzing silently about us, their speed and agility is amazing. We reached the car at 10:15pm, not having seen a single person the whole time. The light was now fading fast, but we had done it. We jumped in the car and headed home with that sense of achievement that only fellow walkers understand.

As it stands Karen and Sarah have still to climb the following (larger) Ochils - The Law, Andrew Gannel Hill, Blairdenon Hill, Colsnaur Hill, Innerdownie and Ben Gengie / Craig leith - I will leave that one till last... 

]]> (Chris Bowness Landscape) ben cleuch climbing ever hills night ochil scotland sunset walking Sat, 03 Jun 2017 16:06:19 GMT
All Alone on Rannoch Moor Rannoch MoorRannoch MoorFrom Meall a' Ghortain Rannoch Moor is 50 square miles of peat bog and it was a great feeling to be standing on it surveying the expanse. I took the above picture in April 2016 from Meall a' Ghortain which is the hill behind Gorton Mountain Bothy. I stood for quite some time here in the chilly spring breeze and marveled at the fact that despite there being a road and a railway crossing this moor, evidence of anything man-made could not be seen. I felt very small and isolated but also elated at the feeling of isolation, I was truly alone in the landscape. In the Robert Louis Stevenson novel Kidnapped, Rannoch Moor was described as "that country lying as waste as the sea".

All Alone on Rannoch MoorAll Alone on Rannoch MoorStanding on Meall a Ghortain looking over Rannoch Moor

Black Mount from a distanceBlack Mount from a distanceOn Rannoch Moor   Rannoch Moor from Meall BuidheRannoch Moor from Meall Buidhe

Due to the bleak emptiness of this place it has been used as a backdrop for various films and TV shows and when driving on the main road back from Fort William a few months back, I drove past a a music video production where there appeared to be lots of smoke with people dressed in period costumes dancing about like numpties near the ski centre. They were much better dancers than me admittedly!

This moor is a haven for photographers and when driving on the main road to Glencoe, there is always at least one person standing with a tripod trying to catch that perfect shot of the loch with the mountains of Black Mount in the background. I have seen some spectacular shots taken of what I have found to be quite a hard shot to capture. My better shot of this area (for what it's worth) is below, except I was pointing the camera in the opposite direction to the "famous" shots of this place. I had got there as the very heavy rain and cloud was clearing and the sun broke through.  

Rannoch MoorRannoch MoorThe rain was clearing to the West

The above shot was taken near to the main road and my car was only a five minute walk away, as it was in the shot below of Black Rock Cottage where you are actually standing on the road to the ski centre when you take the picture.

Black Rock CottageBlack Rock CottageThis famous cottage sits near the main road at the West end of Rannoch Moor

The Shepherd of EtiveThe Shepherd of EtiveBuachaille Etive Mòr on the NW edge of Rannoch Moor. This is a very photographed view. This is a stitched panoramic and pretty poor compared to some marvellous shots I have seen.

The above shot of Buachaille Etive Mor is also taken a short walk from a car park and this is the "standard" place that photographers come to compose a shot with the river and falls in the foreground. Most shots you see off Rannoch Moor do not involve any great amount of walking from the comfort of a car, which is a shame.

Standing on Meall a' Ghortain however was a different matter, I was a good six miles from my car and in the picture below you can see the distant Loch Tulla, near where my car was parked. The light was bad and the photo's therefore "difficult", but I am glad to have visited here and I hope to explore more of this area.

At the top of Meall a' GhortainAt the top of Meall a' GhortainMy car was parked near the distant loch.

I was standing here late on a Sunday afternoon, after a work party at the bothy had finished. Everybody else has headed home and I was going to head back down to stay for a further night at Gorton. The fire was burning away when I had left to climb up here and after taking these picture I headed back down from this lonely vantage point to spend the night in front of the warm fire. I have heard people call the fire the "bothy TV" and it was certainly enjoyable just sitting on your own staring into the flames, with no electrical gadgets or phone signals to distract you. 

Gorton BothyGorton BothyMy home for the night

Gorton Mountain BothyGorton Mountain BothyA cold April morning   The Bothy TVThe Bothy TVThe fire at Gorton Bothy

Seemingly the Gorton area was once inhabited and it even had a school to cater for the local children. I had found out that this bothy had been a family home right up until the 1950's, but now the building stands on its own in splendid isolation; a simple shelter for weary walkers to enjoy solitude or bothy companionship and to experience living in simpler times. 

Walking to Gorton BothyWalking to Gorton BothyWalking on a Dreich Day, hoping for a warm fire.   Rannoch RuinRannoch RuinOn the path to Gorton Bothy

]]> (Chris Bowness Landscape) a' all alone bothy empty ghortain gorton landscape meall moor photography pictures rannoch scenery scottish solitary vast Tue, 16 May 2017 21:41:06 GMT
Two Nights in the Cairngorms In September 2015, Bob and I set out for a long weekend in the Cairngorms. We parked at Linn of Dee and headed off towards White Bridge and then headed up to Carn Cloich Mhullin.

Looking North from White BridgeLooking North from White BridgeWe were heading up to climb the hills on the left, in the evening we were to camp beneath Devil's Point on the right.   Bheinn Bhrotain Carn Cloich Mhullin cairngormsCarn Cloich MhullinLooking north(ish) towards the edge of Bheinn Bhrotain


It was a good walk and climb to Carn Cloch Mhullin after which we quickly made the higher top of Bheinn Bhrotain. This top is marked by a decent boulder field, over which we had to step carefully - I lost concentration a couple of times which is not good as you could easily hurt an ankle, or worse, through lack of attention. After clearing the boulder field, we eventually topped Bheinn Bhrotain and then carried on Northward to drop down to Loch Nan Stuirteag at the head of Glen Geusachan.

At this spot, a conversation was had; Bob, who likes to push on, suggested a climb to Devil’s point and then descend down the steep slopes to Corrour Bothy. It would be dark but he has descended there before at night. I on the other hand, the lazy office worker who had smoked for 30 years previous, was perturbed at the offer of extra exercise that the additional climbing offered. I instead eyed the safe glen below entertaining the thought of sitting beside my pitched tent and brewing a cuppa.

It was decided to head down, I felt sorry for holding Bob back but, I would have felt more sorry for myself descending steep slopes at night on tired legs.

Dropping down and walking into Glenn Geusachan, the going was not easy, as the paths were occasional and patchy with the heather in between them deep. We were looking out for a spot to camp as the shadows were lengthening, it was a beautiful evening with a nice breeze and I was looking forward to getting the tent up and, finally, a sit down. As we neared the base of Devil’s Peak we eventually found a flat grassy spot and decided to pitch our tents. I was so looking forward to this.

As I put down my rucksack and extracted my tent from it, the first of the midges arrived…. The breeze had disappeared with the sun behind the mountains, it was a dry clear night and the millions of midges in the glen could fly in the still air… Dinner had arrived.


Midges are pretty rubbish, they are slow fliers (about walking pace) so can't fly if it's windy, they can't fly when it's raining either (thank goodness). When conditions are right though, they make up for their shortcomings in immense numbers. It is the female midge that bites, she needs the blood for her eggs and there were now two mammals in her vicinity, in perfect weather conditions, breathing out CO2 and giving off distinctive smells. 

The two mammals, Bob and I, were now miserable. Swarmed whilst putting up our tents, we had headnets on but the midges were everywhere, exploring every nook and cranny they could find of us to get a bite, to get some blood, then splat! I was slapping every part of me, I was a mass midge murderer - I generally like to leave insects alone so they can get on with their short lives, but midges, swarming and biting, they are deal breakers... Bob had given up cooking outside and retreated into his tent. He took this video, which can be viewed below, of the experience on his phone.

I soldiered on cooking my evening meal wearing a headnet and gloves. As soon as it was cooked I paced furiously backwards and forward. Midges are slow flyers, so if I walked fast enough they could not get me. Walking fast, back and forward on a short section of rough path, allowed me to pull my head net up and eat my midge laden meal…

The CO2 from the stove burner had also attracted the midges and they continuously flew into the hot flames and perished with a wee crackle and a visible spark whilst I was cooking. There were a lot of midges, there were a lot of sparkles, my stove had become a midge sparkler.. So many midges, burnt and unburnt, ended up in my chilli it was actually amusing - and great to get some blood back.

After clearing up I ran around to clear the swarm and then dived into my tent to avoid too many midges joining me. Of course many did but, something happens to a midge when it gets inside a building or tent - they suddenly just want out! I think the CO2 and pheromones in a confined space builds up so they go “blind”, they cannot home in, so instead they meekly dash themselves against the inside of the tent. With me safe inside and the swarms outside trying to get in, it was time to sleep with the total silence only broken by the occasional grouse call.

It was already daylight when I opened my eyes. It was quite chilly, this was promising - maybe it was too cold for the midges? I unzipped my tent,  it was clear and there had been a hint of frost. I climbed out as the sun peeked above the hills, thinking of making breakfast and suddenly they were there, again.  After my midge infused porridge,  I packed away my midge infested tent and we set off, heading East through rough pathless terrain to the river Dee. As we forded the river, it was a beautiful morning with a slight breeze, the midges were gone and the world was good again.

Glenn GeusachanGlenn GeusachanThe scene of our first nights encounter with the local midges.   The River DeeThe River DeeLooking North along the Lairig Ghru, from below Devil's Point. Corrour Bothy can be seen in the distance


As we stepped onto the Lairig Ghru path, we were overtaken by a group of teenage walkers. They told us they were with an outward bounds group and that they had slept outside Corrour bothy as it was full. “The midges were terrible”, they told us, Bob and I nodded simultaneously.

Glenn Geusachan & Devil's PointGlenn Geusachan & Devil's PointTaken from Carn a' Mhaim

We climbed up the path towards Derry lodge, with the intention of peeling off and climbing Càrn a' Mhàim. It was a steep start and as we climbed, we caught up with the group of teenagers who were all sitting about on the path, we plodded past them and after a period of time they passed us again, only for them to be sitting down at the again at the next corner. This continued and I commented to Bob about youth being of no advantage to a steady plodding pace!

We continued up to the summit cairn of Càrn a' Mhàim where a runner appeared. She told us, as she ate sausage rolls ravenously, that she had done several summits already and was going to run several more in the afternoon! The runner was travelling light and I marvelled at her speed as she run away into the distance, skipping over rocks.

The summit of Càrn a' MhàimThe summit of Càrn a' MhàimThe much larger Ben Macdhui is in the background. In comparison I was trudging over rocks like a lumbering tortoise with my heavy home on my back.  From the summit, we followed the broad ridge until we reached the base of the much higher Ben Macdui. After a brief discussion it was decided to drop down into the Glen, Allt cairn a’ Mhaim and head at low level to Derry Lodge, where we would camp for the night. The youth group had the same plans and it was a Hare and tortoise race to our destination with us pretty much arriving at the same time.

It was a beautiful evening as we arrived,  the sun was setting and there was a nice breeze.  I chose my camping spot across the river from a couple of tents and took off my backpack.  The sun disappeared below the horizon and the wind, obviously driven by the sun, instantly stopped. At this opportunity, the midges came out in large numbers and as I finished pitching my tent,  I simply dived in it and ate a few snacks before going to sleep,  my plans of a nice hot meal were again defeated. The midges had ruined the weekend and the extended stay, originally planned for another couple of nights, was not being considered anymore.  

In my tent I could hear the teenagers setting up camp a short distance away and they were having a miserable time of it. I quickly went to sleep.

In the morning I emerged from the tent to a cloud of midges, I took a walk through the trees with my headnet on, munching on a breakfast of beef jerky, past the abandoned lodge only to discover Bob Scotts bothy. If only I had found this the previous night a midge free hot meal could have been had!

I went back to where we had camped and we discussed whether to just head home or whether to climb Derry Cairngorm before then heading home. It was decided to make use of the day and tackle Derry Cairngorm.  

I started to take my tent down and suddenly heard a man scream loudly. He was screaming “F*****g Midges!!!” repeatedly in a strong Germanic accent in between shouts of “Arrghhh”. The man camping on the other side of the river had obviously retired into his tent before sunset and therefore had not encountered the Midges in the sun driven breeze. He must have woken up and unzipped his tent, unwittingly allowing the midges full ventilated access to his accommodation. On realising his error, he had jumped out of his tent and randomly run about furiously waving his arms and cursing loudly. He had no headnet; that would be a deal breaker for me. We continued with packing up our stuff across the river from him, trying not to laugh. After much cursing and arm flailing he finally run back into his tent and zipped it up quickly whilst muttering to himself.  

By this time we had finished packing our midge infested tents into our midge infested rucksacks and we walked off quickly towards Derry Cairngorm and quickly gained enough height to find a breeze and lose the midges.

Derry Cairngorm is a good climb and by the time we reached the summit the cold wind at this height smelled of winter, it was only September but it was piercing cold on the Rock strewn summit.  

Derry CairngormHalfway up Derry Cairngorm

Derry CairngormDerry CairngormAt the summit of Derry Cairngorm on a windy September day

After a short stop, we headed back down and passed the now tentless Derry Lodge and empty Bob Scotts bothy on our way back to Linn of Dee. The midges had shortened our trip and we were fed up, I was now looking forward to home and its comforts. The joy of camping, to me, is being able to eat a hot meal after a good days walking and not be under constant attack from biting insects. Apart from what I have subsequently learned to reduce the amount of bites, the lesson here is to be flexible and maybe have the hot meal earlier in the day when it is windier and midge free. Flexibility is key here, where I need to learn to adapt to nature and don't expect it the other way round.

Heading HomeHeading HomeDescending from derry Cairngorm and seeing the path home to Linn of Dee

]]> (Chris Bowness Landscape) a' bheinn bhrotain biting blood cairngorm carn càrn cloich derry insects landscape mhàim mhullin midges mountains scenery scotland suckers swarms Sun, 23 Apr 2017 12:34:03 GMT
Schiehallion I went for a quick walk up Schiehallion on Saturday afternoon, as it was a lovely day. I parked up around 3pm, having left it late, so that I was able to park despite the car park overflowing onto the road. On the way up Schiehallion I was met with a procession of people coming back down - it is a very popular hill!

Schiehallion is notable for being the mountain where contour lines were first used to map out the slopes - they were invented here! It was here that an expedition by Charles Mason in 1774 came to weigh the earth, using the bulk of this isolated hill to deflect a pendulum so the mass of the world could be determined. His assistant, the mathematician, Charles Hutton, came up with the idea of using lines to map out the slopes and contour lines are still used to this day, where a map would be much less useful without them.

After struggling up the side of the lower slopes, I reached the wide ridge and the summit was in site.

Schiehallion Rocky RidgeSchiehallion Rocky Ridge

Once on the ridge the terrain gets progressively rockier and you have to concentrate for pretty much the second half of the climb over the boulders. The rocks were not too much problem for me but Digger with his short legs was finding it hard to pick his way over them and he struggled on behind me. I was glad I had bought spare water and a bowl for him to drink from, as this is a dry mountain with no water available at all. 

Once we reached the top I took this video, you can see Digger struggling over the rocks to reach me!

Schiehallion, at the topI took this quick video at the top of Schiehallion as Digger scrambled over the rocks to reach me :)

The light was not that great but I managed to grab a few shots, one of them I was quite pleased of with its many layers of rolling hills.

View from the topView from the topSchiehallion Looking SouthLooking SouthFrom the top of Schiehallion

Many Shades of GreyMany Shades of GreySchiehallion, Scotland

We quickly headed back down and made it back in 4 hours - with the drive there and back it was 8 hours all in. Digger slept in the back of the car all the way home and he then snored in his bed when we got home. Digger always snores heavily after a good days walking, as do I.


]]> (Chris Bowness Landscape) climb contour lines munro scale scenery schiehallion scotland scottish summit video Tue, 11 Apr 2017 19:23:33 GMT
Dunmore House Dunmore HouseDunmore HouseA large ruin in Central Scotland

Dunmore House is a partially collapsed ruin located on the Dunmore estate near Airth, Falkirk. We have many striking and significant ruins such as this in Scotland and this particular building could be considered a remnant of empire, where the landed gentry of the time could afford to build and maintain these large expensive houses, funded from the fat of the colonies over which they had influence.


The Dunmore Estate was the seat of the Murray family, the Earl’s of Dunmore, from 1754 who had purchased the land from the Elphinstone family, the occupiers since 1338. The most notable Earl was the 4th Earl of Dunmore, John Murray or Lord Dunmore. This particular Lord is remembered as an American villain. He was the first governor of New York and he was the last royal governor of Virginia, during the time of the American revolution - Lord Dunmore played his part on the losing side.


The American connection is actually still visible on the Dunmore Estate, where a now little-used road is lined with large Sequoia trees which, given time will become giants. The tree connection is, however, a coincidence, as they were only first discovered in 1833 and Lord Dunmore was sent packing from North America much earlier, dying in 1809 in Ramsgate. The trees are therefore more likely to have been planted as a result of fashion, rather than as a connection to the 4th Earl of Dunmore’s checkered American history.

Dunmore Sequoia'sDunmore Sequoia'sEven though the Earl's of Dunmore's association with America ended with the 4th Earl. A piece of America remains on the Dunmore estate in the form of these giant Sequoia trees which can live many centuries.  

The current ruin of Dunmore House was designed by the architect William Wilkins around 1825 and the Murray family lived there until 1911. The house remained a private dwelling until 1961 and it then had a short spell until 1964 as a girls school, after which it was abandoned. A large part of the rear of the building has since been demolished but, much remains to demonstrate its crumbling grandeur. My most recent visit in autumn 2016 was surprising, as a lot of saplings have grown quickly and obscured the front of the building. My pictures from 2012 and 2014 that you see on this page would likely not be possible now, at least not in the summer. Dunmore House PanoramicDunmore House PanoramicThis is a stitched panoramic of very many 50mm shots taken at close range. I was amazed the software could handle it, although it did need a bit of help and the distortion is obvious from where I took the shots. The 4th Earl of Dunmore has however left a lasting legacy - the Dunmore Pineapple that is dated 1761 above its doorway. The Dunmore Pineapple is, in fact, a large stone pineapple that has been carefully crafted to prevent water gathering, it has survived to this day without any frost damage to its delicate stone form and it still looks impressive. This folly was built to crown the hothouse building where actual pineapples were grown for the privileged few. This very unusual building is now looked after by the landmark trust and is available to rent as a holiday home.

Dunmore PineappleDunmore Pineapple   Elphinstone TowerElphinstone TowerThe partially collapsed 16th Century Elphinstone Tower, on the Dunmore Estate near Falkirk, onced served as a crypt for the remains of the Murray family. The remains were moved after it was vandalised and the remains of the coffin racks were visible through the partially open door. Since this photo was taken in 2013, the door has been removed entirely.

There remains a legacy to the Elphinstone family, hidden in a wood near the Sequoia lined road on the Dunmore estate. Elphinstone tower is a partially collapsed tower built in 1510, two hundred years before the union of Scotland and England. A picture of the tower and the neighbouring but now demolished church can be seen on the website of the Falkirk local history society. My 2013 pictures, however, present a much sadder scenario where the tower is partially collapsed and even the cross, marking a grave in the foreground, went missing sometime after in 2014. My other picture shows the door of the tower being ajar and the coffin racks of the Murray family crypt exposed for me to photograph. The remains of this family, more well known on another continent than to their own countrymen, had long been moved to another location due to simple vandalism a few decades earlier.

My last visit in 2016 found the door totally removed and the tower struggling to retain its shape; a tired and forgotten witness of 500 years. Elphinstone TowerElphinstone TowerThe partially collapsed Elphinstone Tower on the Dunmore Estate, near Falkirk in Scotland

Dunmore HouseDunmore HouseThe entrance of Dunmore House - A stitched vertical panorama picture.



]]> (Chris Bowness Landscape) 4th america american dunmore earl elphinstone estate history house lord of pineapple scotland sequoia tower trees Thu, 30 Mar 2017 21:13:19 GMT