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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Monday, 23 November 2015

Double-bubble - Preparing the greenhouse for winter

Frost arrived this weekend. And so did the best system for insulation.

The main route to a warmer greenhouse is using bubble wrap for insulation and a frost protection heater. What varies is the type of fixing for the bubble. In previous years I tried various plastic and metal clips designed to pierce the film and hold it in place, but now I've finally settled on the system recommended by the greenhouse manufacturer.

This uses a number of small brackets which fit under the existing nuts on the frame. The brackets are then threaded with wire which suspends the bubble-wrap and hold it in place.

Next spring the plastic will be removed and stored for reuse, while the wires will remain in place and can be used later in the summer to hold material for shading against direct sun.

Double-bubbled for insulation
It is hard to imagine a single layer of bubble-wrap being very effective, so we doubled it over with the two bubble surfaces facing each other and the smoother surface on the outside. While the whole greenhouse is insulated, there is always the option to making a curtain across the middle creating a warmer tent in the part where the heater is installed.

The greenhouse shown used 3 x 30 metre rolls of 75cm wide bubble-wrap. Sourced from Homebase.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Around the Peloponnese

The entrance to Hades is a cave near the southernmost tip of Greece. Leading to this and the three fingers of Greece pointing towards Africa is a land steeped in legend and marked by remains of the many civilisations that have occupied the area over 5000 years.

The Peloponnese always seemed less accessible than other parts of Greece, but this is an illusion. Now, with a good road heading from Athens to Kalamata the whole area is reached within 3 hours.

Nafplio is a short drive, less than 2 hours, from Athens airport and provided us with a pleasant and convenient base for reaching a host of important ruins including Corinth, Mycenae, Epidavrus.
Nafplio from south showing town beach
The town beach although tiny provides good swimming and a short walk along the coast is the wide sandy beach of Karathona. Nafplio is dominated by two fortresses; our three days and nights did not give us enough time to explore these so we will have to return!
Nafplio from north showing port and fort on hill above the town
 North of the town is Corinth, gateway to the Peloponnese. Here is the Corinth canal - looking rather small as you cross it on the motorway. The ancient town is an impressive concentration of remains nestling below a hill with the fortress of Acrocorinth dominating the skyline. Although Corinth was one of the most important cities of ancient Greece thought to have a population of 90,000 in 400BC, what is visible at the site is mostly from the Roman period when it was visited by St Paul (in 51 and 52AD).
Conrinth - In the footsteps of St Paul?


The wide plain backing Nafplio was dominated by cities like Mycenae until about 1100BC, and there are many remains from this period across the landscape.
Mycenae - the rear entrance
Mycenae - the more famous front entrance the 'Lion Gate'
'Tholos' tomb characteristic of the Mycenae period
Interior of Mycenaen 'tholos' tomb

To the east is the remarkable site of Epidavros which was in use from 600BC until 400AD. Something of a ancient holiday camp, the sanctuary of Asklepius is dominated by the theatre with seating for 14000.
14000 capacity theatre at Epidavros
Near the theatre is the remains of a hostel with four courtyards each with 160 rooms. As well as a enormous gymnasium and baths there is also an extensive temple area where female guest spent the night and were supposedly given medicine and then dreamed about young boy gods who cured them of their ailments.
Nea or Achea Epidavros
With the site being something of a resort, the local town for everyday living is thought to be several kilometres away by the coast. At the end of the bay in the picture above is the 'Sunken City'. I went out with my snorkel and found just one building complex with walls and the bases of giant ceramic storage pots, but hardly a city!

Sparta famously defeated Athens, but there are not many visible remains of the ancient city. Nearby Mystra is on the edge of the Taygetus Mountains which bound the Spartan plain to the West.
Mystra - castle and town with Sparta in the distance
Here are ruins of a completely different kind. On the slopes below a hilltop castle built by the Franks in the 1200s are the remains of a medieval Byzantine city with many churches and chapels that remain intact, most with frescoes in various states of repair.
One of the main routes through Mystra
 The site was compulsory purchased by the government in 1953 to develop as a tourist attraction. Like many Greek sites the content is enormous and to restore it to a level where the totality makes sense to a visitor is an impossible task. One can however imagine the narrow and steep streets of a more modern Greek towns developing from these early origins.

The interior of the churches and chapels are covered in frescos and much of the painting seems rather crude. The stories and how the figures are depicted was strictly controlled by the church and these rules were codified in the 16th century.
Frescoed ceiling - church in Mystra
There is a well built road over the mountains to Kalamata and the plain of Messinia. This ridge heads down the middle of the Mani to the most southern tip of Greece where it was believed a cave leads into Hades. Patrick Leigh Fermor jumped off a boat and thoroughly explored the cave in the 1950s and found no other exit.
Exo-Mani - looking south over Kardamyli
North towards Kardamyli with Kalamitsi beach and Leigh Fermor's house in the forground
Fermor lived in Kardymyli on the west side of this peninsula. We chose the nearby town of Stoupa for our next stop. This is a real beach resort. Before this, each stopping place – be it museum, or ancient site, or beach had a few tourist, but not many. So it was a bit of a shock when we arrived in the evening and found the bars and restaurants all abuzz with hundreds of English people.

While many stay in the town moving between beach and restaurant, this area is also popular for walking in the hills. We found it too hot for much walking in mid-September.
Abandoned olive oil factory looking down to Kardamyli
Abandoned house in the village of Prastio in the hills above Kardamyli
Ruined Monastery in the hills above Kardamyli

The Towers of Vathia
Abandoned olive oil factory at Vathia

Fermor explains about his investigation of the culture of the Mani in his book of the same name. Many of the homes are built as small towers - an indication of feuding between families in adjacent towers. Byzantine churches and small chapels dot the landscape, many of them old and some pretty and decorated with crude frescos.
Further West, the 3rd peninsula of the Peloponnese is protected by the Venetian towns of Koroni and Methoni both with forts which would look out on the traffic between Venice and the East.
The foundations of a bastion of the fort at Koroni

The fort at Methoni
We stayed at Pylos, overlooking a spectacular natural harbour famous for the ‘accidental’ battle of Navarino involving a joint fleet of Russian, French, and British ships against the Ottomans.
Voudokilia view from Paleokastro
Our hostess explained the 4 incarnations of Pylos. The current one is built below a fort constructed by the Ottomans in the 16th century. They relocated from Voudokilia with the Paleokastro constructed by the Franks in the 13th century. Nearby are many remains from Mycenaen times (3000 BC) but the main settlements for this period and the classic era are yet to be found.
One of the lakes at Polilimnio
One of the popular attractions in this area are the falls of Polilimnio. A gorge channels a river from pool to pool down between the hills. The local soil renders a bright blue colour in the water. We clambered up the steep path clinging to giant staples in the rock face. As we reached the top a dramatic storm started with torrential rain and thunder like a gun battery banging just over our heads. Fortunately there was a road which took us back down to the car park.

Pylos is a 3 hour drive to Athens airport, giving us time to visit ancient Messene on our return for an evening flight. This is a large site with remains of an impressive 9km long wall surrounding the wider area.
The site of Ancient Messene
The northern 'Arkadian' gate to Messene
Roman washroom for the gymnasts
What you need to know. Andrew Bostock's guide, now in its second edition provides coverage of the whole area. We sourced our maps in the UK from Stamfords - they have a supply of driving and walking maps. The Frytag and Berndt road map was a disappointment – although up-to-date some features were not well represented. I had read that this was hard to handle in the car and indeed it is necessary to stop and get out of the car when turning the map, without this it will get badly torn. There’s an airport in Kalamata served by ‘budget’ airlines from the UK, but Athens is just 3 hours drive away. Our car was supplied CarDelMar, a German company. The price was reasonable, the local company met us with the car at arrivals and took it back at departures.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

A Busy Night at the Compost Heap

A visit to a local organic farm last winter taught me that you can compost woodchip. According to Ian Tollhurst you just spread it on the ground and turn it every 3-6 months and within two years you have compost which is good enough for potting out seeds.

Thinning the trees to allow more light in the veg patch has resulted lots of branches. Pushed through a Bosch chipping machine I now have several metres cubed of material which covers a wide area. Previously I would have hidden this under hedges or used it as a weed suppressor on the pathways.

The  pile was a uniform half metre high, held in place by a couple of felled tree trunks. As spring progressed it became more and more untidy. Someone was digging through it and scattering debris on all sides.

Here are the visitors recorded last night.
This young fox is one of several that pass through most nights. Maybe they are aware of this camera and as a consequence the others have changed their route. Not so interested in the compost.

This female deer is looking for more tasty stuff. Roses and other flowers, maybe responsible for a trampled and half eaten sunflower. In hot pursuit is a male. It looks like he chases her out of our flower garden - thanks for that! She jumps into the compost heap in her haste to escape his attention. Otherwise not so interesting in compost.

Here is the real culprit. Not shy of anything this badger is intent on the prospect of tasty insects and worms. It would be a lot more fruitful if he'd let the heap alone for a few months to allow the decomposers to multiply in their numbers and efforts.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Gather up Them 'Erbs

Everything is growing like crazy. Oregano sprouting up all over the place. Rosemary waving in the wind. Chives clumping here and there, not to mention a bit of sage and thyme.

 Gather up a handful or, rather, and armful and add it to your favorite bread recipe.

Four loaves here made with a sourdough starter have 120gm of chopped herbs between them giving a mild flavour - good for savoury or sweet. For a real herb taste use around 75gm for a loaf!

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

TGOC 2015: diary notes #5 Lochcallater Lodge to Inverbervie and Montrose

note: you can click on a picture to enlarge it (because of the accident on day 3 pictures are from my MotoG phone and not the Sony RX100 - hence the lower quality)  ...

Push and pull the map in the window below to see the route in blue.

Sunday 16th May Loch Callater to Clova

Bacon rolls start the day at Lochcallater Lodge
By 7am the smell of bacon drifts up the stairs, and guests as they appears are supplied with mugs of tea and bacon rolls.

Lochcallater Lodge down below
I planned to walk over to Lochnagar and then double back to Cairn Bannoch and Broad Cairn. This caused consternation to everyone I confided in, and lots of advice for alternatives. The idea of doubling back seemed unthinkable!

Loch Callater with Jock's Road
In any event with a poor weather forecast I was easily persuaded from being too ambitious and set off with a shorter route. The path up from the lodge is easy going with good views down to the Loch. Jocks Road continues southwards along the valley below while the high path traverses eastwards to Carn Sagain Mor (1047m).
Carn Sagain Mor with Les and Issy in pursuit

The ridge south from here joins Cairn Bannoch (1012m) and Broad Cairn (998m) and leads to a wide flattish area where a small building known as the pony shed marks a dividing of the ways. Loch Muick is off to the north and my path to the glen with River South Esk heads south.

Loch Muick from Broad Cairn

Les and Issy caught me up on Broad Cairn and a brief shower of hail obscures them as they rock-hop down to the pony shed.

Les & Issy obscured by hail (Pony Shed below)
I follow a well-made path leading down eventually through a few trees to the River Esk.
Bridge over upper South Esk River
Broad Cairn from Upper South Esk Glen
Throughout the trip I have seen very few walkers away from the roads, so I was quite startled when I turn a corner to be confronted with more than 30 people. It turned out that they were a bird watching party, guided by national trust / forestry wardens. They were on the look-out for golden eagles, but none appeared  while I was with them.

I could see that my planned high-camp spot was not really viable, but once down on more level ground around Glendoll lodge there were several possibilities. My shortened route however gave me time to reach Glen Clova Hotel. The weather was now fine and there was a great temptation to dawdle in the afternoon sunshine. This is the only place I was offered a lift on the whole trip. 3 cars stopped or slowed down, but I resisted.

I was lucky to get the last room in this small hotel. After a long soak in the bath and a rearrangement of  of my pack I headed to the bar to be greeted  by Carburn Chamberlain. We shared a long table and gradually more TGOers arrived for food and drink.

Carburn was camping across the road. The hotel had several outbuildings used as bunkhouses, and a few TGOers were staying there including Frederick who travelled Jock's Road from Lochcallater Lodge and Les and Issy.

This proved a comfortable hotel with reasonable food, and a guest ale amongst the typical Scottish brews. A newly installed wireless network failed to work which was a disappointment, but batteries could be charged, and the hotel phone rates were not too high.

Monday 17th May Clova to Tarfside

At 8:30 we were 7 or 8 TGOers in the breakfast room.

I got away by 10:00 and headed up the slope behind the hotel. It remained clear just long enough for me to see Carburn disappear over the top of the ridge around Loch Brandy. By 10:30 it was raining and snowing. This was wet and miserable walking on an indistinct path over rounded hills Muckle Cairn, Sulley, Burnt Hill, with occasional views towards the valley on the north side.

With the exception of one figure spotted around 2pm I saw no-one else all day until arriving at St Drostans. This place was heaving with TGOers. Where had they all come from?

Wet gear was everywhere. And welcome faces in the kitchen with a range of temptations from tea and scones, to cakes and fruit, and even bottles of beer. I was surprised to be offered a place for dinner -  I declined having stocked up in Braemar. Eventually they had four sittings for a baked potato meal.

The field in Tarfside was filling with tents making a good opportunity to see what is new, and what is recommended for these trips. The star for 2015 was a custom built tent / tarp from Colin Ibbotson (who appeared on my route exactly 1 week ago following the Scotland National Trail). Gordon Green was one of the first owners and was very enthusiastic. As he is an ex- Trailstar owner I felt I should list to him.

Another TGO institution is the 'club' at Tarfside. An anonymous building just across from the camping field is said to be owned by the Masons. At 7pm we passed through the door into a large room with a fire at one end and a bar in the corner. After signing-in we proceeded to buy and drink cans of beer and talk loudly to each other.

Along with Mike Akin-Smith I heard about the frustrations of a young runner - "we must walk so slowly and carry so much!". Sarah Morton was looking forward to some long mountain runs in the Alps this summer, and would not be doing the TGO again soon!

Tuesday 18th May Tarfside to Clatterin' Brig

Although it was busy last night, Tuesday is peak time and Tarfside would probably have even more TGOers today. After a freezing night I get away before most at around 7:30. The track north heads into the hills straight from the middle of the village.
View over Glen Esk from Craig Soales

After a kilometre or so a path takes off to the east up to Craig Soales, the first of several low tops on the ridge up to Mount Battock (778m). Someone ahead of me is walking a little faster and after an hour he has disappeared from view.

The hills here are reminiscent of the Monadliath - brown rounded terrain with land rover tracks heading along the valleys or ridges. There's a few sheep roaming free here which I've not seen in the Monadliath, and before long the barren hills give way to farmland.

I've made a route which heads north, then east, then south to maximise my time away from civilisation. There's two other TGOers with a similar idea. I see them ahead of me for a large part of the afternoon and I meet them briefly after they miss a turning allowing me to overtake.

First view of the sea east of Mount Battock
The last of the ridges pointing eastwards drops down steeply to a road junction and a cafe at Clatterin' Brig. Here the two TGOers are the last customers at closing time 4pm.

The Drumtochty Forest across the river to the east is my target for a camp. Skirting the woodland to the South I find the tracks different from my map, and after retracing my steps several times I end up beside a farm track into the forest at 7pm.
Camp Drumtochty Forest

In the field nearby I can see sheep with lambs and some feed supplement, which means a likely visit by the farmer. Sure enough as I'm eating in my tent an ATV goes past.

Wednesday 18th May Drumtochty Forest to Inverbervie

Camp Drumtochty Forest looking south
I determine to move off early to avoid another visit and start getting up at 5:30am. Before 6, as I am eating breakfast the farmer arrives again. We have a conversation through the tent wall. He has noticed walkers doing the 'coast to coast' around this time in other years and wonders if that's what I'm doing.

I strike off skirting the woods following the field edges until I eventually get close to the road. It is difficult to avoid much road walking on the last day, and my efforts lead to some unexpected diversions when I find the way blocked by a new industrial estate, and when I find the air misted by a chemical spray recklessly applied on a windy day by a farmer.

Angus Farmland: Daffodils for market
Angus Farmland: Strawberry planting
My target of Inverbervie is at the mouth of the Bervie river and, although there are no riverside paths marked, I determine to try to follow the bank for the last 7 or 8 kilometres. Although it is mostly agricultural land here, this mostly ends at a wooded escarpment which rises above the south bank of the river.
Secret paths above the Bervie Waters
Allerdice Castle

The weather is fine and although the going is easy, this is a great way to turn a two hour walk into a five hour adventure. In places there is the makings of a ancient track not shown on my map.

East coast is reached!
Eventually I come to the town where friendly locals offer cups of tea and a chat. I head straight for the beach to complete my journey before looking for the 'award winning' fish and chip shop. This is closed, and so I go to the Crown Hotel which a local has mentioned as somewhere I might find a room. This is a quiet place, uninviting as far as accommodation is concerned. While supping a drink I use their wireless internet and find that Gourdon just down the coast is more promising with an 'award winning' restaurant and a highly rated B and B.
Gourdon harbour

30 minutes later I enter the quiet town of Gourdon, looking for some guidance to the B and B. The first person I meet is TGOer Mike Akin-Smith who is looking for a bus to Montrose. He advises me to consult in the local museum and before long I'm established in a large and comfortable room at Lilybank Guesthouse B and B.

Irene explains that their 'award winning' fish and chip restaurant is closed for holidays and, taking pity on me, proposes that I share her husband's meal of place goujons, chips, and peas. How could I refuse? 5 minutes down the hill the Harbour bar provides some liquid refreshment.
Great hospitality at Lilybank B&B

Thursday 19th May Gourdon to Montrose

The coastal path is well signed at Inverbervie and follows a dismantled railway line. As you get further south, beyond Johnshaven, things are less clear. I hadn't seen a map of this area for a few months and this trail was not on my plan, so I was happy when I identified Montrose Lighthouse on the horizon.

Coastal path with Gourdon
 Although I start off in rain this soon stops and it becomes quite a pleasant walk. There are not many features of special interest until St Cyrus where the spectacular beach backed by high cliffs is breathtaking.
Coastal path near Johnshavon

This place is all the more curious to approach from the south because as you get closer you can see a steady stream a people popping out from the bottom of the cliff in the middle distance. They are all heading to the sea, then they turn about and head back to the cliff from where they came.
TGOer of course!
St Cyrus

Crossing their path seemed anti-social, but each one of them could also have headed north on the beach towards Montrose instead of up the cliff to the pub / bus / cafe.
Remains of salmon fishing St Cyrus beach

At the top end of the beach are the remnants of a fishery where the salmon were trapped in a system of nets as they headed towards their spawning grounds in the river Esk. Here also is the St Cyrus nature reserve with an area that has been reserved for nesting birds for many years. There is an information centre with coffee machine and toilets.

It is necessary to divert away from the coast to get across the river. The old railway bridge has be turned into a footway / cycleway. By keeping on this track it is possible to avoid the roads until reaching the town side of the golf links.

Once here it is just a matter of following any old blokes with backpacks or ladies to arrive at the Park Hotel where the TGO Controllers sit.

The Controllers get their say!