Sunday 5 November 2017

Fossil Hunting at Achanarras Quarry, Caithness

Morven - from the walk to Achanarras Quarry

The family geologist (every family should have one!) is back in the north on a flying visit...

So, being enthused by his descriptions of possible finds of fossil fish (380 million year old fossil fish in the old red sandstone) we embarked on a 3 hour drive to the famous (in fossil hunting circles anyway) Achanarras Quarry near Spittal in Caithness (ND149544). 

Information board at Achanarras Quarry car park

It was a lovely clear day and the drive was a delight - autumn colours across the hills and coastal scenery to make your heart melt...

We turned left off the A9 just south of Spittal onto the A870 and then took a right onto a rough track (after about 1km) to the quarry car park. Both turns had SNH signposts to Achanarras Quarry.

Freddie, Rafe and Jim - the walk to Achanarras Quarry

The quarry is a SSSI and we read the guidance and info board, before heading off up the track towards the quarry - beside the track there were several other information rocks - taking us back through time.

Abandoned croft-house near Achanarras Quarry

There were good views of Morven, a hill we can see from Hopeman, north across the Moray Firth.

Rafe, Freddie and Jim - the walk to Achanarras Quarry

It was only about 1km along the track to the quarry - through a couple of gates and past a forestry plantation - and across a couple of really boggy bits...

Achanarras Quarry

But it wasn't long before we reached the flooded quarry, the banks strewn with quarry spoil.

An icy wind was blowing across the moor, bringing the odd squally shower - and our fist sprinkling of snow this winter! We were glad to see a shed/shelter, with more information boards.

Achanarras Quarry

Very soon, we were rummaging about amongst the rocks - it took a while to get the eye in, but once we started to recognise the signs, we were finding fossils everywhere.

Achanarras Quarry

Mostly they were just part fish and plants, but we did manage to find a few specimens that we wanted to keep. Our resident expert kept us right! It was rather fun - and exciting, not knowing what the next turning of a rock may reveal.

Freddie finds a fossil fish - Achanarras Quarry

Achanarras Quarry

With the sun slipping into the west - the days are shortening fast - we rather reluctantly stacked up our finds (visitors are allowed to take up to 10 specimens each, we had about 10 between us) and headed back to the car.

Information board in the shelter at Achanarras Quarry

It really was worth the visit - we're researching further fossil hot spots!

Time to head back with our samples - Achanarras Quarry

Thursday 12 October 2017

Ben Vorlich

Loch Lomond, Ben Lomond and Inveruglas Isle from the start of the walk

At last a good forecast - after a week of rain and windy weather, the day dawned bright - with the prospect of no more rain and wind until teatime.

Off we go...

Rafe and Jim - views to Ben Vane from the track into the hills (NN310093)

We set off from the car park at the Inveruglas Visitors Centre - the cafe was all shut up at this early hour, but we looked forward to coffee and cake at the end of the walk...

Loch Lomond from the track above Inveruglas Water

Across the road and south past the power station, we followed the route of the Cowal Way, through a gate onto a tarmac track heading west and under the railway bridge.

Ben Vane

The track (road!!) was smooth and clear ahead, winding around a little hillock and then west with Ben Vane, the smallest Munro, directly ahead, stark against the blue sky.

A' Chrois

There was a rough path around the other side of the little hillock - we umm'd and ahh'd and decided not to take this - would it take us where we wanted to go? So we stuck to the main track, only to find the other end of the rough path further up the track - we'd try that way on the way down.

Ben Lomond from ascent to Ben Vorlich

The sky was clear and the views crisp and sharp - beautiful - although the hydro infrastructure, pylons, buildings and the road itself needed to be overlooked somewhat.

We took our turn to the right a little early, taking another tarmac track across the hillside. We soon realised our mistake and yomped back across the hillside to the main track - don't turn right until you can see the bridge to Coiregrogain, head off north west up the glen towards the dam on a further tarmac track.

Rafe and Jim - Loch Sloy dam and Ben Vorlich

The little bridge - access to hill path from Sloy dam track

The track/road carries on up to the dam, but we took the little bridge over the gutter, onto the hill track  - chatting to another walker, who was changing from his trainers into his walking boots before heading into the bog.

Ben Vorlich from the track to Loch Sloy

With all the rain over the last week, it really was a bog!

Jim and Rafe - ascent to Lag Dubh and Ben Vorlich

The water had been flowing over the grasses, the burns were full and tumbling, the bog was dark and sticky and Rafe was soon up to his haunches in mud.

Loch Sloy from ascent to Ben Vorlich

It was suddenly steep - quite a shock after our easy walk in.

A'Chrois from ascent of Ben Vorlich

We found a handy rock for lunch, with views back into the glen and across to Ben Narnain - a hill we climbed a good few years ago now, along with The Cobbler.

Jim - first lunch in Lag Dubh

As we ascended, the path got better, drier and rockier, easier going.

Ben Vane and Loch Sloy from ascent of Ben Vorlich

Jim - ascent of Ben Vorlich

As we neared the summit plateau, the terrain changed - we wound our way through rocky outcrops, there were a couple of places where old fogie Rafie needed a helping hand.

Views south from ascent of Ben Vorlich

The sky was clouding over, a few of the highest summits were shrouded. The wind was getting up and there was a definite chill in the air. Was the forecast weather front coming in early?

Jim - ascent of Ben Vorlich

But for the time being we still had the views - opening up over Loch Lomond and beyond - just stunning.

Loch Lomond from ascent of Ben Vorlich

Jim and Rafe - ascent of Ben Vorlich

We chatted to a couple of other walkers, descending from the summit plateau - laying bets on whether we would get off the hill without a soaking.

Ben Lomond, Loch Lomond and A'Chrois from ascent of Ben Vorlich

Loch Arklet from ascent of Ben Vorlich

A' Chrois, Ben Narnain and Ben Vane from ascent of Ben Vorlich

Jim and Rafe - Ben Vorlich ridge

We were soon on the summit ridge - the views opening up to the east as well. Although the sun had gone and the clouds were scudding by, the scene was wide and wonderful.

Loch Arklet, Ben Lomond and Loch Lomond from Ben Vorlich ridge

Ben Lomond, Loch Lomond and A' Chrois from Ben Vorlich ridge

Further along the ridge was the trig point just south of the summit, photographs were taken - but the icy wind had got up further, there was no messing about...

Jim and Rafe - trig point near Ben Vorlich summit

Trig point with views to Ben Vorlich summit 

A' Chrois, Ben Narnain and The Cobbler from near Ben Vorlich summit

The summit was about 200m further along the ridge, we battled along the path, adding an extra layer to keep out the chill.

Rafe and Jim near Ben Vorlich summit

The cloud swirled away from the higher tops as we reached the summit of Ben Vorlich (Munro 229, 943m), we hunkered down behind the rocks and pointed out hills and lochs. But it was too cold for much of a stop, we needed to keep on the move.

Views south from Ben Vorlich summit to Ben Lomond

Ben Vorlich summit (Munro 229, 943m) - views to Ben Narnain

Loch Arklet and Ben Lomond from Ben Vorlich summit

Rafe and Jim - returning south along the ridge towards the trig point

Returning back by the same route, the trig point was soon passed...

Back at the trig point, south of Ben Vorlich summit

A' Chrois, Ben Narnain, The Cobbler, Ben Vane and Ben Ime from Ben Vorlich

...and the views of Loch Lomond opened up in front of us again.

Rafe and Jim - Loch Lomond from the descent from Ben Vorlich

Loch Arklet, Ben Lomond and Loch Lomond from descent from Ben Vorlich

Jim and Rafe - Ben Lomond and Loch Lomond from descent from Ben Vorlich

As we came off the ridge and into the coire, we were hailed by a couple of other walkers - two young men asking how far to the summit. They were excited and animated - this was to be their 5th Munro!

A' Chrois and Ben Narnain from descent from Ben Vorlich

Rafe - descent from Ben Vorlich

We found a sheltered spot amongst the rocks for a second lunch - the rain was keeping off!

A' Chrois from Lag Dubh, Ben Vorlich

It was one of those slippery descents - every step risking a slip and a slide on the wet grass, moss and bog - thank goodness for the walking poles.

Loch Sloy dam from descent from Ben Vorlich

We were very soon back on the tarmac track - and the two new baggers were catching up - fairly flying down the hill!

They hailed us again - and we walked out along the track with them. It was lovely to chat with such cheerful and enthusiastic young people - they had been climbing in Glen Coe earlier in the week and had thought Ben Vorlich would be an easy hill - but had been shocked by the length of the walk in. They have a lot to learn!

Ben Lomond from Sloy Dam track

A few drops of rain started to fall and the lads walked on whilst we took out our waterproofs - but it wasn't far back to the car park now.

Loch Lomond from above Inveruglas

We took the rough track through the woods on the way back. It was definitely prettier than the road, and better on the feet than tarmac at this point in the walk - plus Rafie got a little plodge in the burn.

Rafe - woods near Inveruglas

It was most disappointing to find that the cafe at the visitors centre was still closed - there were lots of people about and it would definitely have been worth their while to be open on a reasonable day in the school tattie holidays. Aww well, we'll keep our money.

We waved at the two lads across the car park - I hope they keep up their hill walking.

And we headed back to the campsite - another Munro and another great hill day in the bag.

Inveruglas Island, Loch Lomond

Route:  Car park at the Inveruglas Visitors Centre (NN322098), S along A82 to track sp Three Lochs Wayand Cowal Way (NN318093), W along tarmack track under railway and above the Inveruglas Water to NN303092 (ignoring various other tarmac tracks to both left and right), take tarmac track NW into Glen Sloy, with dam soon coming into view ahead, at NN294104 approx (about 1km SE of dam) cross a small bridge (a slab over the ditch!) on the R of the track onto rough hill path into Lag Dubh and eventually through minor crags on western flank of Ben Vorlich and onto summit ridge, continue NW to trig point at 941m (NN295122), continue NW descending briefly before ascending to a small crag, the summit of Ben Vorlich (Munro 229, 943m), return to start by reversing route.

Statistics:  Distance: 13.5km Ascent: 940m Time: 5hrs 30mins

Map:  OS Explorer 364 Loch Lomond North

Ben Vorlich

Beinn Bhrotain and Monadh Mor

Setting off from Glen Feshie - it was chilly - before the sun had a chance to peep over the hills...  Off we go! Jim - Setting off near Auch...