Hello, my name is Mal Tabb.
Thanks for visiting our web pages. Marion & I operate a small outdoor activity organisation called Canoes, Mountains & Caves. We provide activities for: adults, young people, schools, charities, families & individuals. A key aspect of our work is the provision of a "Community Programme" which is offered free of charge to participants. If you think we might be able to help please don't hesitate to contact us, you can find out more about what we do on our main website www.canoesmountainscaves.com

Thursday, 29 September 2011

A Week In Wester Ross

Rubh Re Lighthouse
Kay & I have recently got back from a week in Wester Ross we had a great time despite some very mixed weather - contrast the picture on the left  with the one taken in Torridon three days later!

Torridon - hail stones all over the road
We stayed at the Old Inn in Gairloch which was excellent - the staff were extremely helpful & friendly from the moment we arrived to when we left. Our room was large, comfortable and well maintained. The Old Inn's bar is well frequented by locals making it a lively place and a good selection of real ales are served including An Teallach and Dark Island (two personal favourites) their own brew made out the back of the premises isn't bad either! Live music from Dave Fleming on the Friday evening was really enjoyable. All in all we thought the Old Inn & its Gairloch location made an ideal base from which to explore the area - our only negative with the hotel was, that in our opinion, the food didn't quite meet expectations.

Things to do (what we did):

Rubh Re Lighthouse (photo above) is well worth a visit, the seascapes throughout the drive north from Gairloch are dramatic and the visitor centre has a month by month historical record of dolphin; minke and orca sightings - unfortunately we saw nothing but we spent several hours looking in the most incredible surroundings with views to Skye and the Western Isles.
Beinn Eighe, there is no shortage of mountains to climb in the area - I chose Benn Eighe, Ruadh-stac Mor (see this blog, previous post) - and was not disappointed.

Coire Mhic Fheachair
We also stopped by the Visitor Centre at Beinn Eighe on a very wet day - well worthwhile and carried on down Glen Torridon where we were ultimately greeted by a torrential hail storm in Torridon village - see photo above.

Gairloch itself has a superb beach as does Redpoint, just to the south, with its "peach coloured" sand - we visited both on one of those bright windy days that seem so characteristic of the area.

Kay on Gairloch Beach
We also explored the shores of Loch Maree; visited the villages around Loch Ewe (including the quirky Heronscroft) and spent quite a bit of time about Gairloch itself.
Food and Drink
We visited the Mountain Coffee Company in Gairloch everyday & ate in the Old Inn a couple of times. However, our food and drink highlight was undoubtedly Na Mara restaurant on the square in Gairloch - we ate there four times in the week!

Na Mara - on a sunny day
Its been a great week - a very long drive next down to London & Cambridge to catch up with family.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Beinn Eighe (Ruadh-stac Mor: 1010m, 3314')

With: on my own
Where: Kinlochewe, Wester Ross, NW Scotland
Weather: Frequent squally showers; wind building to gale force south westerly; cloud above the highest summits most of the day

Choire Mhic Fhearchair
Although a frequent visitor to the Highlands I've spent more time in a canoe when there than on foot so during this current visit I took the opportunity to enjoy a day on the hill. The hill of choice was Beinn Eighe - it was a good choice!
I set off from the car park on the A896 at the bottom of the Coire Dubh which separates the Liathach from the Beinn Eighe Nature Reserve. It was a wild squally morning and there were only a handfull of vehicles parked up. The initial trudge up the path and across the stepping stones, which allow a dry shod crossing of the Allt a'Choire Dhuibh Mhoir, was under bright blue skies and in the company of a stiff south westerly breeze. I headed north, where the path divides at a small lochan, tracking around the base of the large bulk of Sail Mor. I didn't see many folk all day but on this section I was completely alone and the view out across the wilderness that lay in the north west quadrant was inspiring, it lifts my spirits to see such vast areas untouched in this country.
It was with a sense of anticipation that I "rounded the bend" towards Coire Mhic Fhearchair, about which I have read so much - the finest mountain scene in Scotland? The waterfalls were in full spate with the rapidly strengthening wind blowing constant spray from the upper cascade.

It wasn't long before I had climbed the final few metres to be greeted with the sight of Choire Mhic Fhearchair; triple buttress and the summit ridge leading to Rhuadh-stac Mor, my main objective of the day.

The scene was"ampitheatre-like" an expanse of bare rock in the foreground; changing shades of green through to grey as the wind disturbed the surface of the water; the towering mass of Triple Buttress to my right and steep scree streaked slopes protecting the ridge to my left. It is indeed a classic view one which I'm not sure my photograph above does justice to.
After soaking up the scene for a few moments I crossed the water issuing from the corrie and headed around the east shore before selecting a route to scramble up on to the ridge. I'm not sure I chose well at all - the ascent was a hard slog over loose rock up, round and over boulders but it was good to get acquainted more closely with the Torridonian sandstone and Quartzite which add a special colour and feel to this environment. I eventually emerged on the  ridge in a howling gale with the summit of Ruadh-stac Mor about 200m to my left, I paused for a moment and vowed to find an alternative route down (my original plan had been to traverse the ridge taking in Spidean Coire nan Clach but I had already concluded by this time that the wind might well have ejected me from the ridge, the forecast was for 75 mph by afternoon & it must have been close to). The last few metres into the wind and a short scramble to the summit cairn were a pleasure & I was rewarded with fine views in all directions.
My chosen line of ascent - not good!

I re-traced my steps along the ridge with a wind that had picked up to the point that it was really quite difficult to stay upright and headed for an obvious col that I had spotted from the loch below which was at the head of a red sandy coloured "rake" hoping this might provide a better line of descent - it did. There was still plenty of scrambling and a little slipping and sliding particularly towards the bottom where the small loose stuff had piled up no doubt helped by the footfall of many others via this route. The section from the foot of the rake to the shore of the loch took a little longer than I had anticipated as the scrambling over slippy, wet, sometimes small car sized boulders continued. Once back on the east shore of the loch it just remained for me to reverse my route in to conclude a great day on a big mountain with the reward of expansive views and much solitude - quality!
Ruadh-stac Mor Summit Cairn
View North
Red Sandy "Rake" my Line of Descent - Would Have Been Better in Ascent Also

Friday, 16 September 2011


Kay & I have been on tour for the last couple of days, we've enjoyed catching up with parents in our home town of Widnes. Its 20 years since we left the shores of the Mersey and so much has changed! 
I guess the town's most iconic image is that of the Widnes-Runcorn bridge, opened in 1961 to replace the earlier "Transporter Bridge", there is a great deal of similarity between Widnes' bridge and the one in Sydney harbour.
The Bridge from West Bank
I think it could well be a full two decades since I was last in West Bank on the promenade where the above photo was taken so whilst there my Dad & I went on to Spike Island. Its incredibly difficult to picture this place as the heart of a thriving British chemical industry manufacturing soap & alkali, I can recall from childhood the remnants of the factories in this area, names such as Gossage, Deacon, Brunner and Mond are etched on my memory. Below is a picture of the Sankey Navigation, which I always knew as "The Cut"-  again its hard to envisage barges laden with the output of processes like that developed by Leblanc for the production of alkali plying their trade along this stretch of water.

Looking upstream in the direction where ICI's Pilkington-Sullivan works used to produce Paraquat and Saffil the Mersey looks like a big river and another of Widnes' iconic sights can be seen - the eight towers of the Fiddlers Ferry power station! (I only got four towers in the photo). I can remember well the windy day when one of the towers imploded and for some time the eight became seven!!

This "post-industrial" landscape now forms part of the Trans Pennine Trail a 215 mile way marked route connecting Southport on the Irish Sea with Hornsea on the North Sea Coast and now provides a stopping point for the geese rather than a source of employment to thousands in the manufacturing sector.

A Gate Valve From One of the Alkali Plants
So the "chemics"have become the "vikings" and Spike Island has given way to the Mersey Multi Modal Gateway where no longer do ICI, Fisons, Albright & Wilson make the chemical building blocks that support the World's economies but Eddie Stobart distributes produce made elsewhere. In a week that the Widnes Weekly News reported the potential arrival of a further 2,000 new jobs via an Amazon distribution centre at the multi modal gateway I guess this looks like the next stage in the development of the town's commercial future. 
The town centre itself has changed beyond recognition with the arrival of the most of the well known high street giants - the new Tesco store still under construction - appears to be of immense proportions and judging by the car parks they all seem to be doing well. The Peel House Lane & Widnes Road ends of the old main street, however, appear in need of some urgent regeneration.
It was great to be back, we enjoyed seeing the changes and reflecting and reminiscing as to how it used to be - we will try to get "home" more often in the future.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Canoeing In The Rain

We've just had a great weekend at the Centre hosting a family focussed outdoor activity weekend, fifteen parent-child pairs attended and all rotated between canoeing on Bassenthwaite Lake; Ghyll Scrambling in Stoneycroft Ghyll  and a selection of on-site activities (archery, fencing and pedal karts). Challenges were overcome; fears conquered & comfort zones extended - all went home smiling on Sunday afternoon!!

Considering we have the remnants of hurricane Katia hurtling towards us and the weekend weather forecast looked distinctly un-promising I guess we didn't fair too badly for weather, on Saturday I worked with the canoeing group on Bassenthwaite in the morning in dry and calm conditions, the afternoon Ghyll Scrambling saw a few showers and Stoneycroft at a very sporting level with the jumps & slides at their best - very enjoyable.

Sunday was a different story, I spent the morning canoeing again on Bassenthwaite, it poured down! Interestingly although the wind had now picked up significantly-  blowing up the lake from the Keswick end with "white horses" in the middle - the area around Peel Wyke (where we get on) was in a giant eddy that was effectively wind free and provided us with safe although very wet paddling conditions. A couple of hours on the water saw everybody soaked to the skin with just one swimmer and the weekend complete!

Canoeing In The Rain

Monday, 5 September 2011

Looking Back At Summer

As Atlantic lows spiral towards us strong winds and heavy rain bring a distinctly autumnal feel to the week, I've found myself looking back at a diverse, challenging but deeply rewarding summer at Blaithwaite House.
This summer's weather has been truely mixed: April was dry, sunny and characterised by cool northerly and north easterly winds. After this excellent start, with the exception of a couple of good weeks in July the summer was a distinct dissapointment, reports suggest the coolest summer since 1993
The weather did not put off Blaithwaite's campers, folk have arrived in the biggest numbers since Kay & I have been here to enjoy our upgraded camping facilities. Schools' weeks from mid-March right through to mid July saw intense activity, especially late June and early July & we have enjoyed welcoming back Church groups & our regular summer youth camps..
Lake District Fells
Its been my best summer of fell walking for years. I completed the Mountain Leader Assessment and enjoyed some great days out.
Its hard to pick a best day but Great Gable took a long time for me to get to & was very enjoyable

Caving has been a bit limited this summer but we plan more for the winter. Venues such as Sell Gill Holes & Bull Pot of the Witches tell their own story of wet opportunities to get out!

Over the last few weeks I've really enjoyed reading Nick Baines's (the Bishop of Bradford) excellent blog and on the outdoorsy front Hendrik Morkel's Hiking in Finland is a treasure trove of information!
Running has had to take a back seat since injury in May, the outlook is very uncertain in this area so I've just joined the new gym in Wigton to try to maintain some of the basic fitness I always kept through running.
So with a stormy week ahead & a busy activity weekend scheduled I'm looking ahead to a trip to the North West of Scotland and a change of season at the Centre..................................

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Stoneycroft Gill

I was back in Stoneycroft Gill again on Wednesday leading a gorge walk for a fairly large group that were staying at the Centre. The group were a great bunch with seven or eight nationalities represented and the Christian schools work they do is excellent. It was amongst the best of the many days I have enjoyed in Stoneycroft Gill over the last six or seven years.

Stoneycroft Gill in the Newlands Valley is, to me, a special place in the Lake District - its a magical set of cascades of water offering great entertainment for the folk that use it each year as a gorge walking venue (the bottom section is bolted and provides a gentle introduction to canyoning) but the setting is exquisite - right in the heart of the Newlands Valley. Walkers find it a popular start point (see my last post) for Causey Pike, Eel Craggs, Sail, Barrow etc. I guess the heavy footfall must take its toll on the natural environment of the Gill, however, it still does look superb.

From my point of view there is added interest in its mining history which provides both an interesting and tragic tale. The early (Elizibethan period) German mining engineers were the first to work in Stoneycroft Gill prospecting for lead. Sometime around 1700 an engineer named David Davis undertook extensive work in the Gill: building dams, sluices and sinking an engine shaft. However, a storm destroyed the efforts of his labour and many miners were tragically drowned as a result. 

The mine did re-open some 160 years later and was worked for a further eight years prior to closure. There is much evidence of the work of the miners in and around the gill and its well worth an explore to see the history that is still evident.
Ref: The Lakes & Cumbria Mines Guide, Ian Tyler, Blue Rock Publications, 2006