Saturday, March 31, 2007

Otley, Masham and Manchester March 2007

In aid of 'Paul the Wilson's' 30th birthday on March 24th, I undertook one of my crazy driving jaunts last weekend, beginning with a 5 and 3/4 hour non-stop Friday night direct cruise from Aberdeen to chez Alison in Otley, Yorkshire. After brief hellos to Alison herself, Andrew R and The Leach, and a refreshing G&T, we were soon at the bar in the wonderful Junction Inn, a real ale delight complete with stone floor and roaring fire. After a couple of Old Peculier's, it was definitely time to eat something, and so we returned home where my Sainsbury's pasta salad awaited! After the life-saving nutrition, I defied medical advice in order to continue on to try some beautiful whisky, including the group's first tasting from new Islay distillery, Kilchoman, as we opened one of Andrew R's New Spirit miniatures, drinking it straight from a quaich; I can happily report that this is going to be one fine malt, with the expected peat in abundance. After that, my fatigue was upon me, not-to-mention Alison's living room developing some structural instability, or so it seemed.... It was definitely time for bed.

Saturday came, and it was wonderful not to have any rush in the morning for a change. In fact, the most pressing matter was nipping to the bakery to get some teacakes for bacon sandwiches!

As I didn't have to be at Paul's in Manchester until teatime, it was agreed that we had time to visit Masham and the Theakston's brewery, not a bad idea at all. After some great driving through fine Yorkshire scenery, we were booked in for the 14:00 tour and sat having a great pub lunch, although a mis-communication meant that the food only came 15 minutes before the tour began!! However, we coped fine and were soon learning (again) about different mixtures of hops, scraping out brewing vessels, Yorkshire squares, and friendly rivalry with Black Sheep down the road. The tour ended in the bar-shop and we had a fine table full from the full Theakston range. My only pain being that I had to drive so could merely take a small taste of each. Nevermind, I could still buy a T-shirt, Old Peculier cheese & truffles, and two Old Peculier glasses!! And then this was fantastically complemented by Andrew R and Alison buying me a Theakston-branded barrel head as a late house-warming gift, c'mon! Just the thing to finish off some home decoration!

A mighty team was assembled:

The tour begins:

You can have anything you like as long as it's...

Arty beer shot no.76 in a range of 100...

Still, all good things must come to an end and I was soon back on the main roads making my way over to see Paul in Manchester. The Masham trip had delayed things slightly, so by the time I had found roughly the right location and given Paul a call and then repaired my own navigation efforts it was 18:00. A quick Old Speckled Hen and Paul, Jolan and I were sat having a great curry in Rusholme's Curry Mile, accompanied by Cobra of course!

Once our plates were cleared, The Britain's Protection was our destination; a fine, friendly and homely pub with real ale and whisky in abundance, and we were soon joined by Paul's workmates, Chris and Frank. Such was the venue that we didn't leave all night, although it descended into a cigar-smoking, insult-throwing, hyper-price whisky downing, Star Wars quoting shindig. All good then really.

Jolan, Chris and a rather rude Paul!

One for the family album then:

Perhaps sensibly, our whisky downing intentions soon ran out of speed once back at Paul's, although it meant I woke up early to be confronted by a full glass next to my bed, not a welcomed sight!

A very welcomed Irn-Bru was quickly followed up by an equally welcomed pub lunch in The Friendship, where I had a beautiful steak & Guinness pie with chips, just the thing to ready oneself for the Aberdeen run (in less than twelve parsecs).

And so it was that I began a beautiful drive northwards, passing hill & dale, The Lakes and into Scotland as the sun shone bright. Wonderful stuff, until the sun went down that is and then from Stirling on was a real chore. Still, The Sonia had my tea ready so I can't really complain! A wonderful weekend, but an exhausting one. Happy Birthday Paul!

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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Ash Grove Volume 9 - Xmas 2006 Disc 1

Well, at long last, it's about time I got to reviewing at least one of Lisa & Neil's superb Christmas compilations!! The compilations in general have been going ever since I met the Dudes at the back end of 2002, and each further chapter makes a very welcomed addition! So quick, before any more DIY or mountains get in the way!

1. The Tiny - Know Your Demons
From: Starring; Someone Like You (2006)

Taken from The Tiny's second LP, this track starts the compilation off sweetly and innocently enough, the beautiful voice of Ellekari Larsson coming in over gentle piano notes. However, with the first run of the title line, an unbalanced edge comes into Ellekari's delivery, and you start to feel that this might not be as billed. Sure enough, futher returns to this line are accompanied by equally unbalanced backing vocals and crashing of drums, culminating in a swirling endgame as your gentle stream suddenly becomes full-on rapids. Indie, but flavoured sweet, odd, unbalanced and Scandanavian. If this track isn't on the soundtrack to 'The Golden Compass', there's no justice..

2. Felix - Death To Everyone But Us (Meredith's Version)
From: What I Learned From TV (2006)

Offbeat Nottingham festerers. Discordant piano. Muttering. Feedback here and then there. No complaints. They seem almost embarrassed to be articulate but in doing not so they create a tension and an envelope that you're suddenly on the inside of. Like Lorna in a psychiatric ward, or possibly Meanwhile Back in Communist Russia without the loud bits.

3. Beirut - Scenic World (Version)
From: Lon Gisland EP (2006)

Suddenly, this comes in and gets the place moving. Hip young thing Condon, lover of electronic and Balkan music alike, tinkers with no set rules and is clearly having a fine time. His vocal delivery is restrained but emotional, but the rich music tapestry behind it is infectious and overall means that this is an upbeat ride. A fine thing. A jotting down of the name for further investigation...

4. Eleni Peta - Only When I Lose Myself
From: A Greek Tribute to Depeche Mode (2005)

Only Lisa could find an album by this name, and yet it all makes sense. A fine cover from a niche within a niche. This Depeche Mode number benefits a reworking by this Greek star and general 'not entirely unattractive lass'.

5. Low - Back Home Again
From: Take Me Home: A Tribute To John Denver (2000)

Some people don't 'get' Low, finding their 'Slowcore' numbers to be definite downers. I feel sorry for these people. Maybe my emotions resonate in the slow spectrum, but they always have quite an effect on me and this is a fine example. A cover that definitely justifies itself and probably this compilation's centrepiece.

6. Maps - Don't Fear
From: Now Hear This! 47 (2006)

Northampton electronica-indie outfit. A simple and uplifting refrain repeated over relaxed but building music that without realising it, you're bobbing along to. The Polyphonic Spree meet The Jesus and Mary Chain.

7. Lullaby Arkestra - Unite!!!!!!!!!
From: Ampgrave (2006)

This piece from Toronto's newies starts innocently enough, but for a song with nine exclamation marks, you just know there's going to be some shouting before too long. Sure enough it comes in abundance in choruses and then in trading cross-fire, as the music seems to lose all control and brakes through every genre-boundary it can find, sounding simultaneously like thrash metal and eastern european folk. These people can only be a welcomed edition.

8. Dead Can Dance - Cantara
From: Within The Realm Of A Dying Sun (1987)

A fine outing from old skool Dead Can Dance. Tense and echoing guitar gives well to fine eastern vocals and rousing strings. This is simply great music.

9. A Hawk And A Hacksaw - In The River
From: The Way The Wind Blows (2006)

Another great piece from eastern folk stalwarts A Hawk and A Hacksaw. Wonderful rich music with a delivery that could fit any lyric to any music and make it an essentially part of the song.

10. Ludovico Einaudi & Ballaké Sissoko - Chameaux
From: The Festival In The Desert (2003)

The folk theme continues with this well-crafted piece. I really hope these people know how well they play!

11. Superágua - Stylish
From: The Rough Guide To Brazilian Electronica (2003)

I have all the patience in the world for electronica with soul and this has it. No thundering dark beats like the home grown stuff, but instead a welcome marriage of sounds as more traditional music comes in, finishing on upbeat notes fading out to...

12. Orishas - A Lo Cubano
From: A Lo Cubano (1999)

Well, this livens things up! Cuban hip hop with great beats and vocal delivery, both upfront and with the backing. Stands up in its own right as well as bearing many cultural clues to its origin, and no bling in sight...

13. Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble - Exile
From: Exile (2003)

Bringing the heartbeat back down is the saxophone stylings of Gilad Atzmon et al. A gentle track but still with a distinctive flavour.

14. Felix - Back In Style
From: What I Learned From TV (2006)

See no.2. It still has muttering. It still has melody. It's still dark. It's still brilliant.

15. Saturday Looks Good To Me - Typing
From: All Your Summer Songs (2003)

Sweet female vocals and slightly unhinged indie accompaniment is always a good mix and this is no exception. Makes me think of Lorna again, but you know, once they've been kicked out of school.

16. Sarah McLachlan - Dear God (cover of XTC)
From: A Testimonial Dinner: The Songs OF XTC (1995)

Sarah McLachlan takes on XTC and wins. What can you say? She bags it.

17. Saint Etienne (feat. Stephen Duffy) - Fake '88
From: Sharks Patrol These Waters: The Best Of Volume Too 2 (1995)

Ash Grove compilation stalwarts St. Etienne round up this chapter with a depressing look at how the 80's will be remembered. 'Wet look gel'. Enough said.

Good work dudes. Maybe we can get one of those signs like with twinned towns? 'The Dudes Music, twinned with George's Aberdeen, for cultural enrichment!'

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Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Drumochter Hills: Geal-charn (279) and A' Mhanconaich (179)

Let's start by thanking Blogger once again for turning a once pleasurable pastime into a frustrating chore with their wonderful Beta-Bollocks(TM). Thanks dudes.


Walk date: 03/03/07
My Munro #'s: 100 and 101

Pronunciations - translations - heights:
Gyal chaarn - white hill - 917m
A varkaneech - the horse place - 975m

Duration - 12:00 - 15:00
Distance - 12.2km
Weather - dry at first with light wind. Wind increasing to moderate after first peak. Snow underfoot from 700m. Hail at col between the two peaks with fast snowfall on descent from second peak and some blustery wind.
Team - solo

A quite obvious route kept me close to the blue:

Today's menu, Geal-charn (R) and A' Mhanconaich (L):

I only decided to do this hike on Friday night, as the Saturday night I thought I was having was not the same as others thought!! However, this was by no means a bad thing as this hike rocked!
With daylight hours increasing I only had to leave Aberdeen at 09:00 and made my way via Keith and Aviemore, past Dalwhinnie to Balsporran cottages where our tale begins. I knew there was going to be some snow as I passed Glenfarclas as the relatively stumpy Benrinnes was covered in the stuff. Having plenty of time and with the day's weather forecast to be ok, I was definitely of the mind to 'bring it on'.

Which was good, because I immediately went wrong, heading onto the first path I saw going up, which was headed for Creagan Mor (see map). I obviously wasn't the first as the then required crossing of Allt Beul an Sporain was evidently well used with the mud being full of footprints. To avoid this detour, stay on the track until a path forks off that you can actually see rising up Geal-charn.

Once on the path, and above the boggy sections, the way is simple enough. With the snow soon reached, the going wasn't as quick as it otherwise would have been, but for the most part it was soft and pre-used by hikers ahead, so good time was still made. Fine views soon opened up, but ahead I could see dark clouds coming from behind the peak. Not the forecast simple day coming up perhaps? Nonetheless I pressed on and an hour after setting off, I was stood chatting to fellow hikers on the rounded summit of Geal-charn.

The view ahead on Geal-charn:

To the south, the impressive A' Mhanconaich:

The view across Loch Ericht here to the imposing peaks of Beinn a' Chlachair and 'the other Geal-charn' was unexpected and superb. Some great future hills to look forward to. Also unexpected was how close Beinn Udlamain was. In that dark corner of my mind that I shouldn't listen to, whispers of plans to capture it began to circulate. However, as I made my way to the col, south west along the length of Loch Ericht and towards Ben Alder, some very dark weather could be seen coming in, which quickly brought me back to reality (no map, no plotted route? Details!) and I slapped on my coat on in readiness. Sure enough, I was soon trying to eat a sandwich with stinging hail against one side of my face, which certainly made the few pieces I could get in taste better!

Across Loch Ericht to hills I haven't tasted:

With everything being in white, I ended up starting my ascent of A' Mharconaich a litte late (see map) and that in turn meant the ascent was steeper than it should have been. Nevermind I thought, as I staunchly plodded up the snowy slopes (thick-snow, tiring to lift feet out of; thin-snow, slippery and tiring to keep balance) to finally make it onto the fine backbone of the peak. The wide gentle slope to the top provided easy walking, but it also meant that as another cloud moved in for the kill, there was nowhere to hide. Thus, the second peak of the day was hurridly bagged amongst drifting snow and fresh fall carried on a no-slouch wind.

Drifting snow on A'Mhanconaich:

A' Mharconaich has some extremely steep drops on its east face, so I stayed well away from the edge as I started my descent into clearer weather, all the time wondering which way the two hikers I seen ahead before the weather closed had gone, because now they were nowhere in sight!

Fellow hikers on A' Mhanconaich, where'd they go?

The chilly top of Munro 103:

Looking back once out of the fray:

Once below the snow line, the return route was simple, and I even got up to some of my patented 'controlled falling' descent method, which after a 'I don't give a damn' river crossing got me back at the car exactly three hours after setting out. Now that is Munro efficiency!

Back down beside Balsporran cottages, choo-choo!

On a high from my stomp, and after passing Dalwhinnie on the way to the hike, I hatched a plan to return to Aberdeen via Tomintoul, a small community high in the hills and visit the superb Whisky Castle whisky shop there. Obstentiously, I was to collect a bottle of Dalwhinnie double-matured, but the crafty whisky-pimp there steered me off it with his opinion that they should have 'left it alone'. In my defence however, I resisted his pimping of a good number of independent bottlings in the £50-70 range and opted for a fine looking bottle of Pittyvaich for only £32. Pittyvaich was a little-known Speyside distillery on the outskirts of Dufftown open only from 1975 to 1993 and was shamefully used almost exclusively in blends and I'm going to open it as soon as I finish typing this. You realise this is just for research purposes yes? Good.

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