Thursday, 30 September 2010

Loch Awe 3 - Kilchurn Castle

Kilchurn GJC_IMG_8636

Kilchurn Castle is the most famous view on the shores of Loch Awe as it is usually the subject of Scottish scenic calendars.
The castle which is now situated on a peninsula was once located on its own island until 1817 when the water level was slightly lowered due to the exits of the Loch being tampered with. It is thought that it was joined by an underwater causeway.
The car park wasn't signposted and I back tracked a few times to find a road exit on the Loch side. The walk to the castle wasn't a short one and included going under the Glasgow - Oban railway. The reason I included the bridge photo (below) apart from demonstrating the low cloud, was to mention that I have seen this castle on numerous occasions from the train when I followed the class 37 diesels when they worked these lines up to 1989. These days my visits to these parts are by an extremely long day charter train and are less frequent ( bi annual May bank holiday ... including this year, Oban blog label ). The Castle is quite difficult to photograph as the train moves at speed with a mix of numerous tree obstructions and photographers fighting for a window space !!

Bridge  GJC_IMG_8638

On approaching the castle, it seems more eerie to me than the magical calendar view that I am used to...

The walk GJC_IMG_8641

 ...the atmosphere is definitely not helped by the dark and looming clouds of the day....

Profile GJC_IMG_8645

Castle  GJC_IMG_8661

Kilchurn Castle was built in the 15th century by Colin Campbell and was originally meant to be a five storey tower. Improvements, additions and repairs were carried out over the next 2 centuries which included the facility for housing 200 soldiers. The round stone structure in the centre of the photo (above) was originally part up the upstairs masonry that was struck by lightning in 1760 and landed upside down. The castle was damaged by the constant raids of the MacGregors on the Campbells and was finally abandoned during the 18th century.
One thing I did think needed to be abandoned today was this French Horn player. It was a great idea to play in an ancient castle but maybe not to play a few random notes then constantly move around the building looking for the seemingly unachievable location.

French Horn  GJC_IMG_8680

Steps  GJC_IMG_8677

It was time to go higher in search of the views and architecture. The Loch Awe hotel I spoke about in the previous post is shown through a window...

The View  GJC_IMG_8657

Doorway GJC_IMG_8678

As a castle, the walls would have been difficult to scale and in similar historical circumstances to predators falling from the walls in defeat from the defenders, so I half expected this German traveller with less than appropriate footwear to follow in the rich tradition of the place. The lengths people go to to plan their escape to avoid a history lesson !

Climb  GJC_IMG_8659

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Loch Awe 2 - St Conan's Kirk

Kirk GJC_IMG_8635

St Conan's Kirk is an inconspicuous church that stands partially hidden in the trees adjacent to the A85  Tyndrum to Oban road on the banks of Loch Awe.
After my short somewhat disappointing and cynical excursion to the underground Ben Cruachan Power Station, I was returning to the most famous landmark beside Loch Awe when my attention was drawn to an old tower through the trees. I had to make a split second decision to stop as I was travelling at too fast a speed to pull over the road into the small car park. I couldn't make up my mind in time and passed a tight vacant car parking space. As there was a car behind me and with no place to stop, I had to continue on to the village of Loch Awe to turn around.
As an aside, I am aware that Churches and Cathedrals are places of worship followed by architectural interest and then general tourism. However I was glad on this particular occasion that I reversed that order because when you have seen as many magnificent structures that I have, some of these glorious buildings begin to look similar to each other. I made the decision to return and park the car as this was one of the most amazing surprises that I have come across in a long time.
The area around this vicinity once was uninhabited due to the lack of roads in the area ( you may remember the road constructed above the water in the last post). Once the Oban railway was constructed ( an engineering achievement in its day), it was decided that a Hotel should be built and Walter Douglas Campbell built a large house nearby for his Mother, sister Helen and himself. As an architect and builder, he built a simple church for his mother to attend on this site as it was too far to travel to Dalmally. He wasn't happy with the building that took five years to build and complete in 1886. He set about on a more grand project that started in 1907, but the slow labour of love that included locally resourced stone from the nearby hillside, rolled down the hill, split and shaped on site took its toll. He died in 1914 and the work was continued by his sister Helen who subsequently died in 1927. The trustees finally finished the project in 1930.
Walter Campbell had an unorthodox approach using styles from as many different generations of architecture that he could possibly use to create a hybrid building of great beauty.

Front Door  GJC_IMG_8623

Parts of the building were re-cycled from a variety of other structures, Inchinnan church, A bell from Skerryvore lighthouse, some stones from Iona for the south aisle, chairs from Edinburgh and Venice  and oak beams ........ from the battleships The Caledonia and The Duke of Wellington. Wood from these ships was used in the making of doors and some of the main roofwork..........

Nave  GJC_IMG_8605

 I was firstly struck on entering the building by the amount of light coming through the roof windows ( the man's a genius) and the unusual exposed walkway behind the simple communion table (yeah right... it was hand carved from a piece of solid oak wood that weighed 35 tonne). It is thought that the main chancel design was based on St John's Chapel in the Tower of London with the addition of natural sky and back light. After a walk around the Ambulatory curve and into St Fillan's aisle.......

doors  GJC_IMG_8594

.... it was time to wander outside into the cloister and explore the majestic exterior....

Cloister walk  GJC_IMG_8616 (1)

I was beginning to see the mixture of styles as well as a lot of potential for staying here for a bit longer with the camera. The door at a height to the right (below) was the original entrance to the bellows of an old pipe organ ..........

Cloister  GJC_IMG_8611

 .... accessed by some interesting stairs ....

Steps  GJC_IMG_8613

Ceiling  GJC_IMG_8614
Cloister roof design

Back Door  GJC_IMG_8618 (1)

Returning into the main building again, there was still the rear of the Kirk to explore via the back door to the back drop of Loch Awe which is why the location was chosen in the first place. It is said that Mr Campbell was so much of a perfectionist that he pulled the sundial down on numerous occasions until he was happy with the result on the eighth attempt. Shame it was no use to me today ...although I could catch the reflection of it due to the rain !!

Sundial  GJC_IMG_8589

The rear of the building is the ultimate in the architectural fusion which would need a whole album to demonstrate fully the unusual flying buttresses doubling as rainwater aqueducts. The saxon tower and strange anatomy will have to suffice for this photo.

Rear view  GJC_IMG_8627

On the roof there were three lead Gargoyles, one dog chasing two hares ! On a day like today it would be rude to show something coming from the hares mouth so I waited for my moment .... you know I was only keeping dry inside....

Gargoyle  GJC_IMG_8585

I am sure he could have taken a lesson from these silent creatures sheltering from the weather !!

Owls  GJC_IMG_8620

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Tyndrum & Loch Awe 1- Ben Cruachan Power station

A85  GJC_IMG_8533

My biggest concern that I had about this trip, for a few months beforehand, was what do I do if the weather is not suitable for hillwalking...... Today was that day!.... as the cloud base was low and the weather forecast for the afternoon was bad.
The weather forecast looked good for the following two days so I needed to take it easy in preparation for that. The natural destination would have been to visit Oban but I had been there just a few months ago by train (see Oban label)... incidentally you can see the railway line in the above picture on the left.
The loose plan I had started at the Green Welly stop in Tyndrum. This place can only be described as being professional in giving the tourist a complete service. I can't decide how this business grew but I get the feeling that it must have started life as a petrol station.

Green Welly Stop  GJC_IMG_8529

The premises are ideally located for such a business near a major road junction that take traffic to Oban and the Isles in the west, Glencoe and Fort William in the north west and Loch Lomond / Glasgow or the Trossachs / Stirling in the south and east. The petrol station shop has grown into the usual mini mart that looked after me for post dinner treats and a sandwich for lunch time today. From my description of the location, you can gather that it has to be run like a professional organisation accepting 100's if not 1000's of people everyday. The car park was just as professional...

Car Park  GJC_IMG_8528

The main part of the shop deals with the need of the tourist to eat food, have a toilet break and to buy souvenirs for people you don't like !!!..........
Seriously though, there were some good things for purchase, but on the second day of my trip,  I wasn't quite looking for that kind of thing just yet.
When I spent some time in these parts on holiday with my parents as an early teenager, I often asked if we could go to the "Hollow Mountain". Unfortunately, they didn't share my enthusiasm and consequently I never went. As it was only 30 minutes drive, I thought it would be an ideal choice for the day out of the rain. I travelled along the shores of Loch Awe heading in the Oban direction to the Ben Cruachan Hydro electric power station.....

Ben Cruachan Visitor centre  GJC_IMG_8545

During the morning, I learned that the small site was artificially created from the rocks excavated from the four reservoir pipe shafts when the power station was built. The work took 6 years to complete in the 1950's/60's and provides Scotland with a small amount of hydro electric power at peak times. The reservoir is unseen from the road and the pipes are angled at 55 degrees to create the momentum of water to drive the generators.
To give you a feeling of the space available at the bottom of the mountain, the main road that passes the car park going to Oban was a major building achievement as it was created with no artificial base......

A85 meets Loch Awe  GJC_IMG_8540

The small visitor centre consisted of a shop, cafe, electricity exhibition and a video presentation. There were two minibuses that took visitors to see the generators and as there was only one space to park it underground the 30 minute trip for £6 had to be on schedule. The lasting experience that I gained from the bus trip was not the long dark tunnel ( just felt like travelling at night time), nor was it the hewn out tunnels in the style of early James Bond sets with tropical plants beside the walkway or the 1960's engineering, but the amount of facts that my head was pounded within the period. There wasn't enough time to talk about it all at the small viewing platform that we were taken to, so we had a full commentary on both sections of the bus journey.
 I was however disappointed to learn that we weren't allowed to take in cameras or bags, so these had to be left in the lockers provided. This the last view before the trip......

Ben Cruachan Bus GJC_IMG_8547

check out this Cruachan guided tour link for a view of tunnel and walkway/plans and google images has a photo of the yellow generators we saw.
  I had to content myself with photographs in the exhibition of how electricity works.....

Home Electricals  GJC_IMG_8553
Control room  !
.... and how to cook a turkey in the microwave !!!!.......

Plastic Microwave  GJC_IMG_8574
My window shopping experience continued a theme that I left off in Tyndrum with items that the Scottish locals would be embarrassed about.....

Egg cup  GJC_IMG_8575
Highland eggcup
Terrier  GJC_IMG_8531
The answer's yes, but I'm not sure why
Time for my lunch time sandwich outside the building next to the Loch overlooking a Trout fish farm that supplies Marks and Spencers and Tesco ( I'm told). After lunch it was time for something a bit more interesting...

(Sorry for the delay with this post, I wasn't hurrying to do it at the photographs were not that inspiring for me but I can't leave it out as it is part of the tour.)

Monday, 20 September 2010

Ben Lawers and Killin

Dochart  GJC_IMG_8391

The village of Killin with The Falls of Dochart stands at the western end of Loch Tay while the Ben Lawers mountain range is a little further on to the east of it.
( This is effectively a double post as I have thought about how to write this over the last few days. My visit to Killin was in two halves with a mountain walk sandwiched in between...... however more of sandwiches later !! )
I began my day from the Crianlarich Bed and Breakfast car park with an amazing view of the cloud covered top of Ben More and had difficulty in finding somewhere to stop in order to take a photograph. In fact, I was so overcome with the view that I forgot to search the side streets of Crianlarich in search of a shop for sandwich purposes. I was sure that there would be plenty of facilities in Killin on the way.

Ben More  GJC_IMG_8384

It took me about 30 minutes drive in the car to Killin  but that was possibly due to the fact that I was tempted to stop in a lay-by and photograph Loch Lubair.....

Loch Lubair  GJC_IMG_8385

 I arrived at the outskirts of Killin where there was a free short term lay-by car park to view the Falls of Dochart....

River Tay  GJC_IMG_8387

 ...It was an opportunity to scenically photograph the mountain range that I would be climbing later and buy a lunchtime sandwich.

Falls of Dochart  GJC_IMG_8395
The Falls of Dochart
 I crossed the bridge passing the Falls of Dochart on one side and the supposedly haunted MacNab burial ground on the other.... they'll be telling us that there is a monster in Loch Ness shortly !!
Having never been here before, I had no idea that there were shops at the far end of the village, so I had to negotiate a price with a "we accept coach tours" cafe !! You can imagine my disgust when seeing a local grocery store further along the road.

Finally I arrive at the car park.........

Gateway to the Mountains  GJC_IMG_8399
"Gateway to the mountains !!"
 .... to wonderful views of heather and a nature reserve plantation....

Beinn Ghlas GJC_IMG_8400

Scottish mountains tend to be the property of landowners, however Ben Lawers is an exception to the rule as it was purchased for the National Trust for Scotland in 1950 by a mountaineer called Percy Unna.

Way Down  GJC_IMG_8414

The view looking from my ascent towards Loch Tay and Killin at the far end of the Loch. Incidentally, the cloud covered mountain of Ben More I showed you earlier can be seen on the horizon to the far right of the picture.
The first summit that I had to conquer was Beinn Ghlas with it's cairn shown below and the first decent view of Ben Lawers in the background for the day.....

Lawers from Ghlas  GJC_IMG_8420

The middle section of Loch Tay was prominent from time to time on the right....

Rock  GJC_IMG_8427

Loch Tay  GJC_IMG_8441

I soon reached the top with the remaining short climb from this point with the view looking eastwards (above) and south west (below). I'm not quite sure what happened to the ground surrounding the triangulation point !! .......

Summit  GJC_IMG_8443

This cairn was an ideal place for a lunch break while I contemplated doing a third summit to the right of the cairn below ( but then I would have to return to this point making it four... too much to do I think on day 1 ) .......

East Lawers Range  GJC_IMG_8447

I decided to give it a miss to pace myself for the week in favour of a second dose of tourism in Killin and apart from that, the weather forecast wasn't great for later.

Mountain  GJC_IMG_8448
Beinn Ghlas from Ben Lawers
On my descent, I took the route that circumnavigated Beinn Ghlas to the right (above) and the route back to the car park was quite clear......

Sheep  GJC_IMG_8456

Killin (part 2)......

Church Hall GJC_IMG_8459

One of the more unusual and less well known sights is this tin hut church built in 1876 by The Earl of Breadalbane as a chapel for his shooting parties.

River Tay  GJC_IMG_8462

 I always seem attracted to water and boats particularly when reflections are involved ......

Reflections  GJC_IMG_8470

However, I sense that the peace of the reflections.....

Boat  GJC_IMG_8469

 ....are about to be disturbed by passing traffic, how old is she ? ! ............

Paddle  GJC_IMG_8468

I moved to the west end of the village again and although there doesn't seem like a lot of tourist shops here (err, that will be just the one !), the impression that the visitor gets is that this may be the only set of attractions within 1 hour drive in all directions. The coach parties had returned to the comfort of their armchairs and evening meal in the hotels !!

Coach Tour  GJC_IMG_8482

 .... while the adjacent shop was still catering for passing trade unlike the sardine moment I had earlier in the day when I could hardly move. The only food I could stalk successfully here were boxes of shortbread.....

Shop  GJC_IMG_8481

 .... drawing comparisons -  the modern day hunter has just as much trouble finding the correct nutritional feast as his ancestors did in this part of the country !!
Lastly, the nearby former mill building of Breadalbane Folklore centre with it's description of Scottish clans and exterior waterwheel was closed at this late hour. With the piercing eyes of the wolf at the door, I compared it with the peaceful waters of the nearby afore mentioned river and the passing traffic of coach tours ... child unfriendly !

Museum  GJC_IMG_8476

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