I get asked often what I do in the summer months, curling having been my winter occupation for most of my life! I usually reply that I like to walk. I climbed my first hill, thanks to the encouragement of my geography teacher, when I was at school. He set up a hill walking club, of which I became an enthusiastic member. I recall these first adventures well, and climbed my first Munro, Ben Narnain in the Arrochar Alps, when I was just 14. I think I was especially lucky to have been given an appreciation of outdoor life in Scotland then, and I grew to love the hills.
For the next thirty years or so I was never a Munro bagger, although I calculated once that I had completed more than half of them. I liked the solitary places, and staying in mountain bothies. I completed the West Highland Way with my curling friend Johnny McFadzean, who was also the inspiration to go walking across Nepal early in 1983. Reaching the top of Kala Pattar at 5,600 metres (over 18,000 feet) was an 'achievement'. It was certainly one of the physically hardest days of my life so far, and it gave me an appreciation of just what those high altitude mountaineers (who are only starting out from this height) go through to accomplish what they do! There's a nice account of the ascent of Kala Pattar recently on Geoff Inglis's website (Yak Horns and Suspension Bridges) here, with some good photos.
But I digress, as usual. The idea for this blog post came when I began to notice signs like the one above. The 55 mile Annandale Way will be launched officially on September 12. Seventy-three markers like the one above, at the top of the Devil's Beef Tub above Moffat near the start of the walk, to the Solway Coast at Newbie, have already been erected. Or you could do it from south to north! The route will be low level, varied, easy walking, and is sure to bring a lot more people to discover and explore this wonderful part of Scotland.
And that's what I've been doing recently. What started me off was finding the Geograph British Isles project which aims to collect geographically representative photographs and information for every square kilometre of Great Britain and Ireland. The site is a great example of how the Web can bring people together. The idea is a simple one - take photos of every little bit of this country. Gary Rogers came up with the original idea, and what an interesting project, and website, has mushroomed from that.
But it can be different things for different people. Many of those who got involved at the beginning (in 2005) are involved in it as a game - how many grid squares can I be the first to photograph? In many ways it is an educational geography project. It's an online community project. It's a national photography project. For many, and I include myself, it has been just a good excuse to get out more!
I am interested in both maps and photography. So when the project was first pointed out to me last year, I was fascinated. It ticked the boxes. You have to explore the website to really see what's on offer. In the forums there are competitions for 'the best' photos that have been taken, and if you are at all interested in taking pics, you will find these fascinating too.
Each photo in any grid square is shown as a thumbnail, and if you click on it, it opens in a separate window beside a map showing you exactly where it was taken. Skip Cottage is in this square.
What I discovered was that, although most of the country within easy reach of a road has been photographed, locally around Skip Cottage there were many squares that did not even have one image.
I like challenges, but what this has meant for me has been the incentive to get out, away from the garden and the computer, with my camera, and explore places on my doorstep where I might never otherwise have ventured! If you want to see where I've been, log on to the Geograph website and search for 'Bob Cowan'! I should just say that my own folders do not comprise a showcase of good photography! Rather, it gives a taste of what this area of Annandale is like. For me, it's been something of an achievement. Those who know me well will realise that at times last year I was barely able to hobble round the curling rink. Being able to walk a little again, has been a joy.
Below are just a few of my photos of places I've discovered recently.
On the moors between Wamphray and Boreland there was a military training area during WW2, long before the new forest plantations had been thought of. A tank firing range, I've been told. There's not much to show now on the ground, but I discovered this building on Saturday, obviously a relic of that time.
Forestry plantations may not seem to be an attractive place to go walking. Yet, I've never been disappointed, even on what looks unpromising an a map square. This is the path of the Uppercleuch Burn in Auchenroddan Forest. I was here last week. Primroses everywhere, and very close encouters with a roe deer and a buzzard just made the day.
A perfect winter day.
Looking down on the Dryfe Water in the hills behind Boreland. And if you like solitude, you are unlikely to meet hordes of others on these little hills.
Annandale, and Dumfries and Galloway generally, is covered with archaeological sites. This ancient stone circle is on the hill behind Wamphray Kirk.
Blue skies and happy exploring to you all.