Wednesday, 19 September 2018

A summer in the Pyrenees

Fifty years ago I read a short account of a two person expedition into a remote and then inaccessible region of the Pyrenees, " the Enchanted Mountains" by Robin Fedden", then " The Pyrenees" by Hillaire Belloc and " Backpacking and Camping in the Pyrenees" my imagination was captured.

When I discovered that there was a long distance footpath through the mountains from Hendaye on the Atlantic coast to Banyuls sur Mer on the Mediterranean, the GR 10  I wanted to do it but work always intervened. Fifty five daily stages plus rest days meant I needed ten weeks to complete the route in one trip. This year 2018 I retired and I had the time but could an old man of 75 with dodgy knees, spindly legs and a heavy pack walk 1,000 km while climbing and descending  53,000 m.

The old casino Hendaye the start
This was also the year when I passed from, "wrinkly"  to "crumbly" a state of decrepitude that includes aching joints, painful legs, a fallen arch and increasing deafness. On 26th June, my 75th birthday, I met up with Rob Bolton (only 65 years) at Hendaye, we set off full of optimism from the old Casino above the beach and headed East, an a relatively easy day for the GR10 21 km but only 700 m of ascent.

After a week, at St. Jean Pied de Port Rob left for home and work. I carried on, on my own, through the Basque country followed by at least three species of vulture attracted by my slow pace, stumbling gait and white hair. It wasn't until I reached the High Pyrenees that they gave up. After ten 20 km days with 1200 - 1500 m of ascent and descent over high cols and a fall due to exhaustion I needed a Plan B.

Refuge de Marailles
Plan B would have to consist of shorter days, 10 to 12 km and avoid the most brutally hard descents. Walking uphill is fine but descending long, steep  eroded footpaths tough on the knees and rather slow. I took a day off to study the trail guide and the bus and train timetables also bearing in mind that hitch hiking in the mountain regions of France is easy.

Pyrenean valleys run from south to north so it's possible to avoid some of the harder stages of the GR!0 by travelling north, then east and back south again to re-start the route. There are also more mountain refuges and gites d'etapes as you get further east with the exception of the Ariege, this enables shorter daily walks.

Early on day 12 after 200 km and 6,000 m I walked out on to the road and stuck out my thumb. In two lifts and less than two hours I was at the railway station at Oloron Ste. Marie and the free bus service to Pau. ( When industrial action disrupts train services in France a free bus service replaces the cancelled train)

Cirque de Gavarnie 
This was the start of Plan B, wandering in and out of the valleys then east over high passes to encounter shepherds and walkers, wildlife and  forests, spectacular mountainscapes, good food, wine and hospitality.

The end




 It was a summer of relaxed wandering rather then hard trekking through the mountains. So, rather than write a blow by blow account of travelling from west to east with the wind behind me and a schedule to keep , I have had enough memorable encounters to write posts about my summer as a vagabond free wheeling through the mountains with no hard and fast plan.


Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Owls in the barn...... owls in the nestbox........ a barn full of owls




Owlets 3 - 4 weeks old 

Adult delivering food
Tonight it will be dusk at around 8.30 pm. if you wait quietly outside my barn you will see two adult owls swooping in with food for their young that hatched about six weks ago. Three owlets hatched from a clutch of five eggs.











We have had a nestbox up in the roof of the barn for over 18 months and this was a surprise and a rather late nesting. At six weeks of age now a size where they can be handled and ringed by Hamza an experienced bird ringer. Today he took a look inside with his mobile phone.









Although there are three young birds you can only see two in the video and there's a unhatched egg in the foreground.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Barrisdale bothy under new management


Over the years the Barrisdale bothy had a bad press.....

" The worst bothy I've experienced....infested with mice....garbage..... unclean.... blocked up fireplace".

http://forums.outdoorsmagic.com/showthread.php/10593-knoydart-barrisdale-bothy-info

https://www.ukclimbing.com/forums/hilltalk/barisdale_bothy-599402

On our walk in to Knoydart last week we took a look inside.

For £3.00 a night it seems to be good value there's an honesty box for payments. New owners took over a couple of years ago and things have changed. There's a well furnished ( by bothy standards) kitchen with table and chairs, it's clean, there are sleeping platforms, a flushing loo and no rubbish lying about. I've stayed in worse.



As for the lack of fireplace;  bothies have burned down in the past due to drunken behaviour, vandalism and sheer stupidity so you can hardly blame the estate for blocking it up.

We walked in from Barrisdale because the reports of the bothy were so bad otherwise we would have walked from Kinlochourn and stayed overnight.

 Peter Fletcher ( the Arnisdale boatman) picked us up at Kinlochourn for the half hour trip to Barrisdale. To book this excellent ferry service phone Peter on 01599 235007. Barrisdale ferry


Mam Barrisdale descent to Knoydart

               



Friday, 27 April 2018

Not many people know this Part 2.........bees are safer but our drinking water may be next

A little safer now
Today, Friday 27th April 2018 the European Union banned the outdoor use of three neonicotinoid insecticicides. But this still leaves some of them in widespread use including acetamiprid the active ingredient in Gazelle which is used widely in our forests to contol large bark beetle.

It's not just used in fields and forests, if you have a dog or cat you probably use it regularly to control fleas, you can also buy it in supermarkets and garden centres to control greenhouse insect pests. It's everywhere. Acetamiprid is also used to control bed bugs but people who reasd this blog don't have bed bugs.

Acetamiprid has been found "moderately toxic" to bees, so that's OK!  but it's still toxic and has been licenced by the EU until 2033. Moderate toxicity doesn't justify reigning in it's very widespread use and affecting corporate profits, supermarket income to protect water quality because even when used indoors it gets into the drains and water supply..

This could be our next concern
On the posiitve side, politicians seem to be listening to the scientists and responding to widespread public concern. But acetamiprid is highly toxic to birds, kills non-target species, is soluble in water ( think drinking supplies ) and toxic to humans , have a look at the safety notes on your systemic cat flea killer. EU ban on neonics







Friday, 13 April 2018

Not many people know this..............Neonicotinoids in Scotland's woodlands Part 1


Forest industries in Scotland make a huge annual contribution to our economy through; timber growing, timber processing, employment in forestry, recreation and tourism. The forest industries support 26,000 FTE (Full-time equivalent) jobs and create an estimated Gross Value Added (GVA) in our economy of £1bn each year. It's important and it's big business but like all industrial activity it has the potential for vast environmental damage.Economics of forest industries in Scotland

Our national forest estate looks pristine, natural and healthy but there is something unseen and potentially damaging going on...... the deployment of neonicotinoid pesticides to control the large pine weevil (Hylobius abietis).

This beetle eats the bark of all tree species but is particularly damaging in commercial industrial forestry. Sitka spruce the most numerous and widespread commercial tree species are especially vulnerable to beetle attack and are being treated with a neonicotinoid, (Gazelle) in forest nurseries and commercial woodlands.

Bark weevil reproduces rapidly in the stumps of recently felled trees and it is necessary for then to die out before replanting or the new  plants will be ring barked and killed.
Neonicotinoids have been found to directly affect honey bees and indirectly song bird species in the UK and throughout Europe. Is widespread use of neonics in forestry going to have disastrous unintended consequences on wild life and the environment as they have in industrialized agriculture? , not least by killing non-harmful and beneficial insects. Insect pests of trees in Scotland

There are people who work in forestry who think that neonics are potentially damaging to human and ecosystem  health and that non-chemical physical barriers to the beetle, nets and wax treatment should be standard practice as in Scandinavia.

Last week I was working with Rachel Watt planting trees on my croft. Rachel is a forestry contractor with 35 years experience, she told me about this problem, it was the first that I knew of it. Most of what goes on in the Forest Industries is completely unknown to the majority of us so I have asked Rachel to write an insider's story of neonics in our woodlands. See the next post.











Tuesday, 3 April 2018

A long walk in the Pyrenees

Back in the depths of winter ( 13th January) I perhaps rashly, posted a blog proposing that I walk from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean through the Pyrenees along the route of the GR 10, Le Sentier de Pyrenees. From Hendaye-Plage to Banyuls-sur-Mer it's a journey of 995 km in 55 daily stages and 53,000 m of climbing. I can see what you're thinking..... "He now knows what it involves and wants to back out".Do you remember an inn Miranda, January 2018

No, I still want to do it, but more slowly than in 55 days; perhaps 60 or 65 days in June, July and August. I do have," form " as a GRdiste, the Tour of the Glaciers of Vanoise, the Route Stevenson through the Cevennes, hut to hut in the Alpes Maritimes and the toughest, the GR 20 across the mountains of Corsica. But the last was twelve years ago. So I do need your help; and perhaps Mac Hoskins would like to join me for one of the stages?

At my age there is no way that I want to carry a tent and all of the gear for that distance over so many mountain passes. The solution is to use Mountain huts, gites d'etapes, hotels and where necessary cabanes ( bothies).  According to the guide there are only two nights when a cabane is necessary. However; since the last trip when mountain huts in Corsica cost slightly less than £20 a night, huts and gites in the Pyrenees cost £40 a night, add travel, insurance and a modest per diem allowance of  £10 a day and you have a total expedition cost of £3,500. Too much for a Crofter on a pension alone.

Craigard

Is there anyone out there who wants to spend a month or two months of the coming summer renting and living in my house and being a Crofter? This would help to finance the expedition, you could take over the blog for two months, look after the hens, do shepherding, fishing, walk the hills and take care of Miss Mimi my hybrid wild cat. Craigard Croft on Google Earth

From the kitchen window


When Hamsa gets back I'll ask him to make a short video of the croft, inside and out and then I'll post a link so that you can have a close look at it. In the meantime, Jacqui Chapple who runs Steading Holidays is going to look after inquiries and handle any  Steading Holidays



Friday, 23 March 2018

Where to find and see red squirrels in Scotland..... "squirrel hot spots".

If you have been paying attention to some of the recent posts on this site you will be well informed about squirrels and might now want to see some

It's the school Easter holidays soon and if you are in Scotland you can visit a number of Forestry Commission sites where you can see them close up. Scotland is home to 75% of the UK's surviving red squirrels and our forests are being managed to help them flourish. It's in these red squirrel, "strong hold forests" that you can see them close up.

For an interactive map of Scottish red squirrel distribution have a look at this site; it will help you find them. Where to see red squirrels in Scotland

I visited one of these sites at Inchree just south of the Corran Ferry, off the A82 earlier this week. As usual I didn't have high expectations but I was wrong. At one point there were five squirrels only a few metres away from the wooden screen with viewing holes in the Forestry Commission car park.

The best time is probably around mid-day when it's warmer. And!...... if you have a dog please don't let it loose, if you do you certainly will not see squirrels.

I only had my phone camera with me so You have to look very carefully at the feeder in the second tree, there is a squirrel peering out from behind it. How to find the Inchree squirrels



View from the screen