The road to Ben Nevis Nov 2009

The road to Ben Nevis Nov 2009
The road to Ben Nevis Nov 2009

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Saturday, 16 June 2018

TGO Challenge 2018 - Oban to Kinnabaer: #1 to Glen Etive

This year I captured my walk using the Spot Tracker which should record my location every 30 minutes. Is this truly representative? I always think of the occassions when I spend 30 minutes wandering in the wrong direction or zig-zagging up a hill and how in this instance it will show almost no distance travelled between two beacons. The information was recorded on Phil Sorrel's Socialhiking site (about the become defunct) and downloaded from there. This revealed some information gaps - ie there is not a beacon for every 30 minute period. This maybe a shortcoming with Spot (discussed on the internet elsewhere) and how it communicates. Anyway there is a good approximation of my steps across Scotland here.

For the first time pictures are embedded from an album on Flikr. Is this good? I'm not sure. If you double-click on a picture suddenly you are on the Flikr website scrolling through a photo album that contains a lot more pictures than shown here. Equally disconcerting is the Youtube video which starts with a mountain scene from my panorama movie and after playing leaves a picture of Frank Zappa in the middle of the blog.  

  Push and pull the map in the window below to see the route in blue.
How to choose out of the 14 start points for the TGO Challenge? Oban is the southernmost and perhaps one of the most accessible, and so one of the most popular start points. For me, there was unfinished business in Iona - just 2 ferries and a bus ride away from Oban - which was pleasantly dispensed with prior to the start of the big walk.

This small port on the west coast of Scotland is easily reached by a 3 hour train ride from Glasgow. Early May seems to be very much 'in season' for tourists of Western Scotland with a kaleidoscope of nations at the very serious shellfish stall on the quay.

On Thursday 10th of May there was a palpable change in the atmosphere around the town as more and more people arrived of a certain age and demeanour marching here and there with large packs on their backs. And on Friday morning I followed after the throng heading along the seafront to furthest ferry terminal which would take us to island of Lismore and the start of my walk.
Lismore Oban Ferry
This hour long trip provides an opportunity to reflect on the journey ahead - a step removed from the business of walking, and with a panoramic vista of the landscape with its ups and downs and geographic features all looking small and distant. On the other hand there is a couple of comfortable seating areas on the small car ferry where you can sit and talk and avoid the fresh air and views (after all you will get plenty of that stuff later!).
The TGOers are Go as Lismore
We were 9 or so that raced ashore eager to start our Challenge. Those still in chatting mode gravitated towards a road walk. At the rear I realised that something did not quite match my expectations and I backtracked to find the field route. When I eventually surrendered to the road there was just Robert from Tennessee. He was happy to have a trailing wind, I was please to have a clear view of the hills on the mainland, and we were both pleased to reach the Appin ferry in good time to avoid the long lunch break in the timetable.
Lismore to Appin Ferry
Lismore to Appin Ferry
On reaching the mainland the majority rushed into the local hotel for lunch. I was more inclined to restart my walk. And found my route to the Jubilee bridge and the reclaimed railway which is now a hardsurfaced cycle path.
Getting out of Appin - Jubilee Bridge

Getting out of Appin - Jubilee Bridge

It is always a relief to move onto a softer surface and despite some gentle rain I was happy to be heading into the hills to look for my first campsite.

Into the hills from Applin - Gleann na h-lola

The spot I found on the map was a bit rougher than expected and I travelled on and up towards the bealach over towards Glen Creran.
Beinn Fhionnlaidh Glen Creran from bealach Gleann na h-lola
Although pathless at the higher level, I had identified a footbridge on the map which was a good target to aim for on the way down to the glen. On the other side a ridge leads enticingly eastwards over munro Beinn Fhionnlaidh. It's a long haul - about 5km - pathless, and despite fine visibility the ridge line is not so clear on the ground as on the map.

Beinn Fhionnlaidh summit

Flanks of Beinn Fhionnlaidh to Glen Etive From the top there is a good view to the hills on the other side of Glen Etive - the target for the next couple of days. In fact the views are terrific in all directions, and I take a 360 degree movie in an attempt to capture the memory.

Spraying gang in Glen Etive Down below dark scars on the ground converge on a forest track which leads through Etive forest to the valley bottom. Vast swathes of trees have been felled on such a scale that the gang of men spraying the remaining undergrowth are almost invisible (reminder to self - don't drink from streams passing through forest enclosures!).

Eventually I come to the road and, to my suprise there's quite a few cars. As I round a bend there, sitting on a wall, with a giant pack on the ground beside him is Ian lamenting how Glen Shiel has changed since he last visited it on the TGO 20 years previously. Down the valley he just passed 'lots of party animals with their pop-up tents and loud music', and around the next corner I pass Matt another TGOer who confirms the story and can't understand how I can be going the opposite direction to him.

Before long I turn off, finding my bridge across the River Etive and passing an unfriendly (but absent) resident who has blocked the public track and tried to send walkers around their plot on a wet and muddy diversion with a notice "please respect our privacy" - I resolve next time to bring wire cutters and a notice "please respect our public right of way". A little further there's a camp spot next to the river and near the bottom of the ridge stretching down from Ben Starav. It is weekend and despite my late pitch there are still a few walkers returning down the path from the hills, the last rushing by at about 10pm.
Riverside camp Glen Etive

I rested well in the knowledge I was on schedule and the weather set fair for one of the highlights of the trip the following morning.


Monday, 28 May 2018

TGOC 2018 Oban to Montrose the slideshow

The unexpurgated photo reel from the TGO Challenge coast to coast walk is here. A description and maps will surely follow, but probably at a distance.

This year we started at Oban, and planned a Munro or two on most days. The plan was adjusted a bit en-route to enable more resting time. As you will see the weather was generally good - and the best that I have experienced in my 5 trips.

Slideshow from FlikR (uses Adobe Flash)

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Presunto I presume! Fish, Fado, & Ham - 2 nights in Lisbon

(Scroll down for the Fado video)
What to see on a short trip to Lisbon? Most cities have a grand hierarchy of sights - from the oldest and best preserved monuments through a variety of museums and galleries to the busy shopping and entertainment areas. For Lisbon however the hierarchy was flattened by a big earthquake in 1755 which destroyed everything.

So although there's lots to be interested in, there's no consensus on the best. Just turn up and let each hour lead into the next. A map and a walking guide will help. Brits will feel at home - the oldest treaty in the world was made between Britain and Portugal in 1373 and is still in force today. There is even a Parque Eduardo VII which commemorates the British king!

After damp and cold in London, the bright blue skies of Portugal are a welcome change. The airport is on the underground system and the ticket machines with English language help dispense reloadable travel cards. Within 30 minutes we were at our accommodation by Cais de Sodre in the town centre by the waterside.

For lunch we headed to the 'Timeout Market' across the road from our lodgings. The old market has been largely re-purposed as a giant canteen surrounded by stalls representing some of the best restaurants in Lisbon. A meal deal for 12 euros was fine for us.
Outside, the wide estuary was dotted with boats, many of them, strangely, with people standing to attention on the deck. It turned out that this was the 700th anniversary of the creation of the Portuguese navy. On the main square overlooking the water the forces paraded, the history was told in Portuguese then English.
700 year anniversary for Portugal's navy

We walked around the old town guided in to The Castle, and a couple of the churches, past tile makers workshops and street artists. 

We found our way into a concert given by young people at The Music Academy and sat with the parents listening to Britten's Ceremony of Carols.

I had 3 wishes for our trip. The first was a fish dinner. Years previously business trips to Cascais near Lisbon gave me the taste for really fresh fish cooked simply. Our host made a recommendation, just 10 minutes walk away. Being out of season there was no need to book especially if we arrived by 8. Unfortunately he was wrong, the place was full. Google showed some places I researched earlier and by phoning I confirmed a table.

When we were sat in front of the menu I remembered that 'seafood' is different from 'fish'! But never mind, I like both. We shared a big crab, which was nicely partitioned for two people. Cold of course. Then a clam soup prepared with vegetables garlic wine and tomato. Delicious.

For dessert we headed back to the 'Timeout Market' for a couple of the famous Pastéis de Nata to take back to our room.

The next day the weather was still fine and we took a tram to Belem. We headed straight to the new MAAT building designed by British architect Amanda Levete. During our visit this stunning building housed video art - absorbing and impressive.

Ladies & Gents communal wash basin

Hard against this and part of the same complex is an old power station with the original boilers by Babcock and Wilcox and a collection of comtemporary art.

We headed to the Centro Cultural de Belém where we found a fine lunch.

Belem is a primary destination with several of the Lisbon tourist icons present including the Torre de Belem, the Padrão dos Descobrimentos monument, and the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos which in part survives the earthquake of 1755.

The church is a curious variation on Gothic.The monastery next door gives access to the gallery with a fine view of the interior, as well as a stunning tiled refectory and a beautiful courtyard.

The second of my wishes for this trip was 'Presunto'. The last few years we visited Spain in winter time and bought a leg of Spanish ham to take home. We started with the cheapest offer in a local supermarket and graduated to ham from acorn eating black footed pigs from the hills in the south west (see here). Across the border it is said there are similar traditions in Portugal. Investigations on the internet however did not look promising, but at least I learned the word 'Presunto'.

Presunto, I presume!
The fall-back for ham in Lisbon was to be the Spanish department store ' Corte Ingles'. After failing to find local shops we headed for the 13 floor monster direct from Belem, and on floor -1.5 found the food department with a range of Spanish hams as expected, but also some Portuguese Presunto. There has been some price inflation since my last trip, so even the cheaper front legs (palleta) seemed expensive.

Having got the ham I could now focus on wish number 3. Fado!

Many say the drama of Fado is overtaken by commercialism, with venues focussing on the tourist, and offering a poor combination of a crowded restaurant, overpriced food and non-authentic music. But we were happy.
Fish stew served in a loaf or bread!

We shared our venue with mostly Portuguese diners. The food was satisfactory, with a minimum charge of 30 euros per person to cover the entertainment, we two spent a little over 100 euros for 2 courses and drinks.

During the evening from 20:00 until 23:00 there were 4 music sets with 3 different singers, with a final set involving all the singers and some members of the audience - which the those who understood Portuguese found hilarious. The video above gives a good sense of the program.

The next morning we found our way to the famous bakery to try Bolo Rei - made to a secret recipe imported from the French Court.

A nice Christmas Cake to take home?