Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Isle of Gigha

The maritime sliver of schist and quartzite that is the Isle of Gigha is an island of two coasts: a sheltered riviera of sandy bays on the east and a weathered and hardened west coast facing the Atlantic between Kintyre and the Oa of Islay. The central ridge of the island is wooded on the lee side and shelters most of the community around the hub of Ardminish and the old wooded Achamore.

For climbers, the best trail is the west coast from the south pier to the summit of Creag Bhan, which is a day-long walk between ferries with some good climbing and bouldering, largely underdeveloped. The northern island of Eilean Garbh has some steep crags for sport-heads and a remarkable tombolo beach, polluted to hell with plastic on the drift side but postcard-perfect on the lee side.

Walk up from the pier to the village shop at Ardminish, turn left and south past the hotel to the south of the island, past Achamore gardens and Gigha windfarm - the ‘dancing ladies’, four windmills as of 2014, 3 originally, a fourth was added in 2013. March 2014 output made £11,200 and this excess allows the Gigha Community Trust to profit from wind generation power, selling it back to the grid.

The South Pier – splitting natural harbours of Port Meadhonach and Port na Carraigh - is where the ferry sleeps at night and is a deep berth opposite Gigalum Island. Walk south-west along the shore of Caolas Gigalum on a sandy bay, cross over a fence where it meets the rocks, then head up right onto the heathery hill by a wall, follow this south-west to where a small promontory juts out, on the south side of this is Uamh Mhor, the ‘big cave’, a well-hidden quartzite cave.

Remains of a dun (or just a raised beach?) can be found on the boulder shore on the way to the cairn-marked craggy hill-top above Port Mor, opposite the three little islands of Eilean Leim, where the sea is usually rougher facing the westerly winds. Descend to the headland west of a rocky outcrop hill (Carn Leim), where a roaring cave can be heard, marked by a choked boulder in a chasm, this is Slocan Leim, the ‘leaping cave’, where in a strong westerly storm, geysers spout violently up around a choked boulder in the black gorge. In calmer weathers, pebbles turn and rumble with a deep bass in the hidden cave.

North along the craggy headland by the high tide mark is another hidden cave, or blowhole, usually covered with seaweed blown up by the geyser of Sloc an t-Srannain, the ‘snoring hole’, though this might be more apt for the cave further south. The names might best be swapped around.

A few hundred metres north leads to a stile onto the beach of Grob Bagh under Leim farm. This has a raised beach and an old spring at the north end, sometimes bleeding out an alluvial fan of sand. The beach bends west to a grassy shore and a gap through wind-exfoliated outcrops to a rocky coast west of Leim Farm, under the grassy hill of Am Pluc, full of unusual boulders worn into strange ships by the wind – this soft schist sits on top of a quartzite stone in parts. The skerry out to sea is Dudh Sgeir – the black reef.

Continuing north past the reefs and islands of Port a’ Gharaidh to the slabby walls under the wind farm, where round hollows on the slabs show the site of a Quern Quarry. This garneted schist seems to have been ideal for making quern stones – they can be seen on slabs just before the bay and tidal island of Eun Eilean. Out in the bay lies the rocky Craro Island. Skirting the shallow sandy bay of Poll Mor (the big pool), where common seals roll and play in the turquoise waters, sometimes with attendant otters, is Port nan Each, a sheltered headland just under Cuddyport cottage (Tigh nan Cudainnean) with its sheltered ‘rock garden’. The west side of the headland directly under the cottage has a good series of slabbed amphibolite quern pits.

The next headland is accessed along a beach to a path up to a Cairn or Cist, before the bay of Portan Craro, opposite Craro island. The wild headland walk leads eventually past some caves to Port an Duin, with its attendant farm and old mill.

Above the bay a track leads up to the 100m summit of Creag Bhan, with some fine slabby crags on its west flank facing Jura and a steep cracked crag on its east flank. The summit trig point also has a marker plinth listing distances to Ireland, Kintyre, Arran, Knapdale, Jura and Islay, a fine vista on a clear day. The track leads down to a farm track east to Druimyeoin More farm and the road back south to Ardminish.

Friday, April 04, 2014

The Lost Township of Grulin on Eigg

‘The Stony Place’ as it translates, the archaeological notes on the RCAHMS database for Eigg, state baldly the lost humanity of Grulin as early as an 1880 OS survey map: ‘…eighteen unroofed buildings, six enclosures and a field-system’. Now a scheduled monument and memorialised as a ‘depopulated settlement’, though it is not obvious if the verb is passive or aggressive, Grulin Uachdrach (Grulin Upper) is, like Hallaig on Raasay, a place of violent silence and resonance.

Who lived here and why was the site abandoned? If it were not in Scotland, suspicions might fall to the climate, remoteness and apparent unsustainability of the stony place, a rabble of large rocks under the steep slopes of An Sgurr, but the carefully constructed walls tell us it was once a thriving township – the kilns, folds and blackhouse walls integrated with the giant boulders such as Clach Hosdail. In 1853 the whole of the village of Grulin, both upper and lower, housed fourteen families who were forced to leave, 57 people in all cleared aside from one family held as shepherds. One family was crofted at Cleadale but the rest found emigration to Nova Scotia the only option. In 1841 there had been 103 people but by 1853 Laig farm to the north of the Sgurr had been let by the landowner to a borders sheep farmer called Stephen Stewart, who took on the contract only on condition it included the fine grazing and pasture around the Grulins under the south face of the Sgurr. The subsequent events tell a similar tale to the hundreds of other cleared villages throughout Scotland.

Around the village lie hidden, sheltered runrigs with ingenious irrigation walls and channels. The place is still populated by cheviot sheep who wander oblivious in through the out-doors of the old shielings to graze on lush grass between the sheltered walls. Flag iris grows around the streams and springs harbour water cress, and on a summer day it is not hard to imagine this would have been a place of serenity and pride after the long day’s tilling. But then came the monetisation of the Highlands, the aristocratisation of the old clan system, the demise of a communal agrarian system and the volatile business of kelping and sheep-farming. The rest is a sorry tale of shame, though the modern drive for locality and breaking of the land regimes of the past has led Eigg to be considered a showpiece example of community ownership, having been bought in 1997 from single ownership. The island is now self-sufficient in energy with wind, solar and hydro in several locations and the 100-odd population thrives by itself with a little help from tourism.

Further reading:
Susanna Wade Martins, Eigg - an Island Landscape,PWM Heritage Management, 2004
James Hunter, The Making of the Crofting Community, John Donald, 1976

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Windyhill on a sunny day

Glasgow's quarried hinterlands, such as the braes above Paisley, Johnstone and Elderslie, well what can we say of them, what is there for the climber: dank landfill quarries, briars flagged with poly bags, Tennents cans and Cider bottles, dog-shite, plastic detritus, road-dumps, graffiti splatters, neds, broken bikes and unmbrellas, abandoned tyres, fire-pits ... or, if you're in a brighter mood: sunbitten orange basalt, birds singing, blue skies and daffodils, technical moves & rough textures, silver birch, silence, a warmed back as you climb...

Windyhill is an odd little bouldering backwater, but a little attention, litter-picking, briar-bashing, in short a simple bit of bouldery love, and the place is fine for an evening's sunny bouldering in the lower grades. There's even a car-park 10 yards across the road now. No excuses then, but bring your secateurs, those briars are vicious!

Friday, March 07, 2014

Cairngorms & Strathnairn

Before the milder weather arrived, we ran the Friday night bothy run from Glasgow to Newtonmore, then up early amongst the pines of the Sugarbowl into the Chalamain Gap and the Lairig Ghru. Lurcher's Crag provided an icy gully, sunny belays and views across to Braeriach's plateau S-carved with skiers. We meandered down snow-wisped slopes of Creag an Leth-choin, back to Aviemore for the night.

Strathnairn was next day's choice for some sunny bouldering, of course the Ruthven Boulder was the target after a visit to see the Farr boulder. A walker on his way up Stac Gorm called the uniquely rough gneiss 'Strathnairn granite' and noted to us that it necessitated wearing gloves if you were building a wall, as it tore the skin from your tips. We noted that too after an hour or so, as well as a general wilting of power on the butch bouldering on this world-class stone.

Here's a short guide to the stone:

The Ruthven Boulder

Ambience: steroid bloc
Rock: gneiss

Season: year round

Gear: mats, chalk, skin cream, true grit

Grades: 5 to 7c

GR: NH 636277


· Come off the A9 at Daviot, 5 miles south of Inverness, west onto the B851 signed to Fort Augustus

· Continue through Inverarnie (shop) and another 8km past Brin rock on the right to a right turn signed to Loch Ruthven RSPB

· Another 2km to parking at Loch Ruthven

· The boulder is obvious below Stac Gorm, south of the loch, a 5 minute walk uphill

Bloc Notes

‘Clach na Boineid’ in Gaelic, it translates as the ‘Bunnet Stane’, but to boulderers is commonly called the Ruthven Boulder. This is the Hulk of Scottish boulders, a steroid-pumped glacial erratic packed with bulging gneiss veins. The bouldering is amongst the best in Scotland, and the moves are technical despite the powerful approach required.

Top Problems (described anti-clockwise from back descent)

The Descent of Man 2

A layback gains the shelf and easier moves to the top. Also the descent…

The Cheeky Girls 6a

The wall right of the descent. Gain slopers and travel right to rock left.

Austin Powers 4+

The excellent juggy groove a few metres right of the descent.

The Razor’s Edge 7a

SS jugs under arête to crimps, then sharp edges and crimp up and left to flake.

The Slippery Slope 6c

SS edges to lip sloper, twist up left to jug, then mantle right to high crack.

Sloping Off 6c+

SS as for above, but from sloper go right to holds and finish right over bulge.

Q.E.D. 7c

SS under roof and gain slopey lip, finishing right.

Barry Manilow 7a+

SS under the big nose and climb it direct via one jug under nose. Start on small incut hold under roof travel right to a good hold under the nose (but no jugs!), break left through the prominent slopey nose and beg your way up to a high quartz hold. A classic struggle.

Builder’s Butt 4+

Start on the jugs right of the nose and pull into the groove. SS 6a from left.

Ebony Face Beyond Communication 7c (8b sport)

SS Builder's Butt jug traverse along the front face to Big Lebowski around the corner to Rock n Roll.

Nefertiti 6b

2 small edges middle of left wall to good hold, RH incut then a long Egyptian up and left to a good edge, up to a layaway.

Pinch Punch 6c

SS small edge to shallow scoop, lunge for hold left, a RH pinch to a LH edge then up to layaway and trend left.

The Groove 5+

Start on small holds at the bottom of the groove, some nice moves lead to beter holds all the way up the groove.

Outstanding 6a+

SS roof off wee stone through jugs to hidden quartz hold, lunge to high jugs.

The Dude 7a

SS as above but a long move out right leads to hard sequence into hanging mossy groove. Direct top is 7b.

The Big Lebowski 7a

SS left roof traverse right to end of slopey ledge then wall via sidepull and crimpy finish.

White Russian 7a+

SS direct up through sloping shelf via pinch above.

Shreddies 6c

Stand start to undercut arête. Finish direct.

The Big Tease 6b

Stand start right of arête to quartz blobs up and right, finish direct.

Neil Armstrong 5

Start at a shallow horizontal crack and climb the wall on quartz holds.

Crystal Maze 6c

SS flat hold left to quartz jug, rock left.

Sylvester 6a+

SS flat hold left to quartz jug, back right over lip to crack and slab.

Tweeky Pie 6c

SS flat hold, cunning cross right to sloper and mantle lip to crack.

Rock ‘n Roll Baby 5

SS jugs under roofed arête right to crack and rock onto slab.

Cheese Grater 6b

SS jugs and climb right of the arête.

Lovely Jugs 3

Line of jugs between Cheese Grater and the descent.

Bitch Slap 6c

Baby Bonnet. SS on a small shelf on the front right. Follow the holds left along the fault to a jug, take a slappy sequence left to finish up the blunt arête.

Turn The Other Cheek 6b+

Baby Bonnet. Starts the same as above to the good hold then head right to rounded holds, struggle onto the slab.

Warm-Up Traverse 6a

Baby Bonnet. On uphill wall of Baby Bonnet boulder. Start at L end on obvious dish. Traverse slopers rightwards to incuts around corner then mantle.

Test Tube 6b

Embryo Stone. 100m uphill. SS on the downhill side of the boulder climb direct.

Brave New World 6a

Embryo Stone. 100m uphill. SS downhill side of the boulder climb out leftwards.