25 April 2010

Ben Lomond in April

Having had some trouble with my knee lately, I decided not to risk going walking with a group, preferring to test it out by doing a hill on my own. Ben Lomond was an obvious choice as I had been asked to check on alpine flowers growing on the ledges near the summit and I could start by looking for Purple Saxifrage. This flower is relatively easy to see at a distance and would give a good indication of the best places to visit later in the year.

Spring has really come at last. There were Primroses, Violets, Wood Sorrel and Wood Anemone in flower, and I heard the Cuckoo for the first time this year. High up among the snow patches I spotted a Wheatear.

Wood Anemone

It was a hazy day with a lot of mist on the east side of the ridge near the summit.

There was still a lot of snow high up on the north-facing slopes

I decided to take the alternative route down along the Ptarmigan ridge. I had only just left the summit when I began to find small patches of Purple Saxifrage, so I spent some time noting their position.

Near the summit there are some very steep sections on the path, and there was snow lying on it in several places.

From the Ptarmigan ridge there is an excellent view back to the summit and the ledges below it.

Fortunately my knee stood up well to the test, so I hope to be back up the hills regularly.

17 April 2010

How not to pronounce Eyjafjallajökull

And now I can enlighten you!

Hear some hilarious attempts, and then the correct pronunciation from an Icelander at

Easy isn't it! ...?

Also visit a collection of mispronunciations by news reporters at

26th April

In the last few days, attempting the pronunciation seems to have become a new form of entertainment:




A lesson in how to pronounce it... but it's WRONG!

Another lesson that gets it wrong, but there's help from an Icelandic singer to put you right

Two more ways to pronounce it incorrectly

Yet two more ways

and this guy doesn't even try!

but Human Bobble Head has more success

16 April 2010

Don't try to fly

With incredibly bad timing, on top of the pile of post I received this morning lay a brochure from a travel company asking in large letters,


Yes, well... er... a flight or two might help. But there are few flights to anywhere today, least of all to Iceland.

Having amused myself with the complete inability of anyone I have heard so far to make even a vague attempt at pronouncing "Eyjafjallajökull" correctly, I tried to write a phonetic version, which Fred declared to be just as unpronounceable as the original, so I will not attempt to enlighten you.

Yes I have seen Eyjafjallajökull from all directions, and flown over it more than once while it was peacefully slumbering. I took the picture below when I was flying to Iceland some years ago. Eyjafjallajökull is the white blob to the left of centre. The white blob to the right is Mýrdalsjökull, a much larger ice-cap, also concealing a volcano with the much more easily pronounceable name of Katla, which could also be triggered into eruption by the current activity. The neck between the two, only partly covered in snow, is Fimmvörðuháls - the location of the smaller eruption that took place in March.

Here are some good places to look for more information:

Written by an Icelander, but in English, gives a real feel for what it´s like to be there. Lots of videos and links to other interesting sites, and if you were worried about breathing in volcanic dust, just look at the video of "Driving through volcanic ash"

3 movie webcams. The locations vary from time to time, but currently "Eyjafjallajökull frá Hvolsvelli" is giving the best view

This Swiss site has some excellent photos of the eruption

Current satellite views of Iceland which can be viewed at various resolutions. View previous days by clicking on the "prev" button

Icelandic news in English, with lots of articles about the eruption

Yesterday evening Fred and I decided to go and see if the sunset was better than usual. We weren't convinced that it was more brightly coloured, but at least it was free of vapour trails.

Sunset over Ben Lomond

Now I will attempt to post this, hoping that Blogger can cope with all those funny Icelandic letters.

Added on 18th April 2010

I found this magnificent satellite image of the south of Iceland produced yesterday. Click on it to see a larger version.

Public domain: NASA/GSFC, MODIS Rapid Response

14 April 2010

Kirkton Glen

I have at last swapped skis for walking boots, and we are beginning to find the first spring flowers.

Last Saturday we walked up Kirkton Glen.

The start of the walk is on a track through forestry which has mostly been felled. Between the trees, we had a view to the top of the Glen.

Soon after leaving the forestry track for the hill path I found a beetle which I didn't recognise. I later identified it as Carabus nitens, which is described as a very local species, and I am grateful to Jeanne Robinson who confirmed this ID.

Near the top of the track is a large boulder called Rob Roy's Putting Stone.

On this boulder and on many of the surrounding crags we found Saxifraga oppositifolia, Purple Saxifrage, in flower, though it was not as advanced as it had been 10 days earlier last year.

There was still quite a lot of snow lying around Lochan an Eireannaich.

The weather was warm and sunny and, with more similar days forecast, the snow cannot last much longer at this relatively low altitude.

There were frogs everywhere. We heard them singing by the lochan, and whenever we were near water they were leaping away from us.

To the west, we had magnificent views of Stobinian and Ben More.

As we returned, we also had excellent views to the south-east, looking down to the track by which we had ascended.

Distribution maps of ground beetles including Carabus nitens

12 April 2010

After the snow 2

Now that we are suddenly having warm, sunny days that seem like summer, it is hard to remember that only 10 days ago I was cross-country skiing on the hills just half an hour's drive from our house.

When I wrote the previous entry entitled "After the snow," I didn't imagine that we would have so much more cold weather with plenty more snow although we mostly had to travel short distances to get to it. I spent so many days cross-country skiing that other things, such as keeping up this blog, got left behind.

Towards the end of February I visited Loch Lomond twice. Large parts of it were frozen, and this picture was taken on 21st February at Balmaha on the east shore.

Two days later, after a day's hill walking, we stopped off at Loch Lomond Shores at the south end of the loch. Here, too, the loch was largely frozen, though there was little snow on Ben Lomond in the background.

The Fintry Loup is a large waterfall in the River Endrick, and I visited it when it was still partly frozen. The amount of water coming down was considerably less than usual, not only because of the ice, but also because we had so little rainfall.

On 24th February more snow fell, and two days later we went skiing at the Queen's View by the road to Drymen. Unfortunately, further up the hill the snow was not only very deep but a hard crust had formed on it which we continually broke through, making skiing very difficult and tiring.

Better conditions followed and we had several magnificent days of skiing in the Carron Valley Forest. The hill in the distance is Meikle Bin.

The Carron Valley Reservoir, like almost every other area of water, was completely frozen.

In some places it was hard to tell where the land ended and the water began.

Although it appears that the ice is melting in the picture below, it was only surface water, and when we visited again a few days later the surface was once again solid ice.

The continuing cold weather produced many more ice spikes in our garden, especially after I discovered that using de-ionised water greatly increased the likelihood of spikes developing. This double spike appeared on 31st January.

Another strange phenomenon, which I began to see with increasing frequency on lochs and reservoirs which had been frozen for some time, was large stars forming in the surface of the ice.

There is an article about this in the Physical Review, published by the American Physical Society.

While the cold weather lasted, we continued to be visited by large flocks of redpolls. The largest count I made was 84 on 5th February. The numbers dropped off as the weather became milder, though a pair of redpolls was still present last week.

Now, by contrast, we have warm, sunny weather. There are new flower species coming out every day, and they are catching up fast.