Sunday, 2 June 2013

June Beags and Doodle Beags

The Quest

Part 1 of McGonks' attempt to follow the 'Pilgrim Way'
Torhouse Stone Circle
As you'll perhaps have noticed on the McGonks Facebook page, we are now trying to find out much more about a place named Whithorn and it's many links with Scotland's past - Vikings, Romans, the arrival of Christianity to Scotland and royal visits by such famous people as Mary, Queen of Scots and Robert Bruce.
This is in no way a pilgrimage nor is it in any way religious, it is a simple exploration of a road that is said to join the Southern Upland Way (Britain's first official coast to coast long distance foot-path) near the famous Glenluce Abbey then run all the way down through the Machars of Galloway to the Isle of Whithorn, where the remains of St Ninian's Chapel still stand to this day.
The Machars of southwest Scotland are home to many, many interesting places of national historical note. We believe The Whithorn Trust is like the information hub for anyone wanting to find out more about this area, offering helpful advice and information relating to all of the following historic sites: 
There's also Whithorn Priory, a place where no McGonk has yet to venture, so we are planning on visiting all of these locations this summer AND attempting to make it to Glenluce Abbey to complete all stretches of the original Pilgrim Way. In doing this, we hope to help raise awareness (and funds) to help save The Whithorn Trust. We've already set up a donations page and linked to a petition that we beseech you to sign and then spread the word to all your friends, relatives, colleagues and acquaintances to do likewise. Only by saving the Trust can we save the visitor centre and, in so doing, have somewhere of historical interest to meet and greet all the ex-pats who will be visiting Scotland during Homecoming 2014. Having some place to enjoy a cuppa whilst learning about their Scottish heritage has to be high on the list of priorities if we are bringing our long-lost relatives all the way across that big pond known as the Atlantic!
But let's get back to the case in hand bfore we become too distracted. Our route starts probably halfway between the start and finish of the original Pilgrim Way, from Thrift Cottage, home of Clan McGonk. We don't yet have a proper map of the road or pathway, nor do we even know if it is still in use - it is our quest to find out and to uncover the secrets of this ancient way that could have been walked, horse-driven or ridden over 1,000 years ago. We 'think' it's about 50 miles round trip, so needs splitting into manageable sections to allow plenty of time for exploring everything there is to see en route. There are also herds of cows to be avoided, as part of the track cuts over farmland that we already know is home to the big scary, hairy beasts, the Black Galloways.
Along the way, (pardon the pun) we will be seeking to help discover a means of saving the associated visitor centre and museum, which is located near the old Whithorn Priory. It apparently costs about £100,000 each year to run the centre (it now also has a cafe) and keep it open for business while holding on to the treasures contained within. The ruined nave of the Medieval Cathedral and crypts are now in the care of Historic Scotland, as is the museum, which is reported to house the finest collection of early Christian stones in Scotland. McGonks haven't yet travelled this far along the route but they have found an easy access point onto it and are planning to follow the road and visit all the sites that they can.
This is one of the Beag McGonks, a dandy little fellow who was part of the support group that ventured to the summit of Ben Nevis last weekend (a total of 4 McGonks succeeded in reaching the top - Bhreac + 3 supporting Beag McGonks). He has been out on the beach today, where he found himself a beautiful 'wizard stick' and a feather for his cap. He then went out to show off his new outfit and admire himself in the garden mirrors. He's fairly well travelled and should make an excellent scout for this challenge; if you look closely at the Torhouse Stone Circle photograph, you can just make him out when he and the grey Beag were hiding at the bottom of the huge boulders. He has been nicknamed Doodle Beag.
So, McGonk fans, let's set to work and try to help save the Whithorn Trust for a while longer and, in so doing, discover the Pilgrim Way so we can trek, ride or cycle the length of the Machars. It's another big adventure!
Check out for links to donate or even just to sign the petition to help save the Whithorn Trust. We hope you will enjoy the summer adventures and our quest to uncover the original Pilgrim Way.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

McGonks Conquer Ben Nevis.


On Friday, 24th May 2013, McGonks set off from Port William, making the 209 mile trip by car to Fort William for what had become known as the 'Port to Fort Challenge'. The challenge was to make it to the very top of Ben Nevis and bring back a photograph as proof positive that a McGonk had been to the very top of the United Kingdom. It had been a difficult decision trying to choose which of the McGonks would make the trip but, in the end, the brave Bhreac McGonk was chosen. Bhreach sounds like 'Vra-chk' with the 'ch' similar to that in Scottish loch. (It's gaelic for speckled.) This is Bhreac safely tucked into the backpack, ready for heading north.

The drive up was spectacular, with glorious weather and a stop at Luss on the banks of Loch Lomond. The sun was shining, the visitor centre was alive with people out making the most of the bank holiday weekend and everything looked really positive for the big day. A quick look at Ben Lomond towering above the loch was a firm reminder that the walk to the top of Ben Nevis was going to be neither fast nor furious, as McGonks have virtually no legs and they need to stop often to take many, many photographs.

Onwards and upwards - we arrived at the hostel ( just before 5pm and were soon settled. Then we were off out for a short walk to explore Fort William. There are simply too many photos to share here but you can imagine how awesome such a trip was for such a little creature as a Galloway McGonk who had never been up any higher than the trig point on Mochrum Fell in the Machars! Indeed, we had been there just two nights previously by way of a final practice walking on hills. But Ben Nevis looked ENORMOUS in comparison!

We set off after breakfast on Saturday 25th May 2013 and reached the Ben Nevis visitor centre around 9.30am, where we stopped for some photos.

The mountain was busy and we saw all sorts of characters making their way up what's known as the old pony track but nowadays, the track has become worn and in many places all but disappeared under falling rocks and scree, so there would be no way a pony or donkey could clamber up to the top. But it's still safe enough for walkers and the well-practiced runners who race up and down it. Tumbling down it seemed like too much of a hazard to risk going any faster than snail's pace for us, though! And apart from that, we could now see snow on the summit... lots of it!

By lunchtime, we had reached the lochan that's about halfway up the mountain, where we stopped to eat our first picnic. Poor Aunty Woo had just got comfortable after slipping down a gully when a wee Yorkshire Terrier came scurrying along and pinched her cheese sandwich! The owner was so apologetic, but that didn't bring back lunch! We couldn't help but get the McGonky giggles! We decided to move on a little, and made our next stop at the Red Burn waterfall. This was where we began to see the snow creeping closer.

The sunshine and fair weather meant that crossing the burn was very easy and stopping to fill our water bottles an equally simple task. I can highly recommend the water from the Red Burn, no matter what you think of drinking from mountain streams. If you're out of water on a mountain, what else are you going to drink, bar eating the snow once you reach it?  (There isn't exactly much by way of livestock once you pass the 2,000ft stage, although we did see ptarmigan and red deer during our walk, plus sheep on the lower slopes of Glen Nevis.)

The path had run downhill slightly towards the burn crossing, but we were soon heading back up and fast running out of footpath. It was barely discernable once we reached the scree, with huge boulders that had obviously come clattering down with melting snow. The sunshine, mountain breeze, glorious blue skies and the occasional wisping cloud combined with the friendliness and camaraderie of most of the other walkers made this a truly memorabel trip. I certainly don't think we'll forget it!

We were walking for Pirsac, the Port William Inshore Rescue lifeboat, which is completely independent of the RNLI, but there were several other well deserving charities benefiting from the efforts of the climbers: this is one of the walkers who was making the trip to help raise funds for Brain Tumour UK. We met these guys again on the summit.

The rocks began getting a little slippery underfoot as we approached the snowline. Few photos were taken here for fear of McGonk blowing off the mountain, but we did try. The only way he could survive was within the safety of the backpack. As you can see, there isn't much to distinguish the path at this point, but the views were spectacular on such a fantastic day. The photo on the left is looking back down towards Glen Nevis, from where we had just come. Can you see the tiny people zigzagging their way up the mountain?

Onwards and upwards.

We could now see the snow stretching out before us. Bhreac insisted on having his photo taken at the bottom of the first marker cairn before venturing into the white snowy mountainscape, where there would have been absolutely no clue as to the whereabouts of the footpath had it not been so busy on that holiday weekend. It would have been a case of crampons and hiking upwards using map and compass, but we were lucky n that we could simply follow all the other footprints that had gone before us.

We took the straight route as soon as we could and began following
the line of cairns from one to the next, steering well clear of the teacherous Five Finger Gully and the equally precarious northeast face with its 2,000ft drops! Seeing the snow up there was awesome, especially when considering we were probably walking over about a meter of the stuff.

This is when the enormity of walking up Ben Nevis suddenly hits you! It is such an awesome place! 

Photographs cannot adequately reflect the magnificance and majesty of Ben Nevis on such a spectacular day - somebody, somewhere had to be smiling on us! The weather was perfect, not a cloud in the sky, the snow was stretched out before us glistening in the sun and, despite the hundreds of people already flocking ahead of us, they looked like nothing more than tiny specks blowing along on the stark landscape.

This was the final stage of our walk - spirits were high, there were skiiers, runners, people of every age sliding around the place and, most importantly, everyone looked full of the joys of spring. We new we were approaching the summit by the sight of brightly coloured dots (fellow walkers) waving their arms in the air in celebration at seeing the old observatory, emergency shelter and trig point come into view.

Walking the final few hundred meters to the summit was an unbelievable experience on it's own - it was so good, Bhreac and I did it twice and, each time, we were rewarded with fantastic views and imprinted memories to carry home and share with the others. It certainly was an experience of a lifetime that I want to share and share again. I'd love to go back up there, but could anyone ever plan so well as to provide the perfect weather? I think not.

So here we are, right on the summit of Ben
Nevis, up on the highest trig point, somewhere on the collaped dome of a long-extinct volcano about 1,344 metres (4,409 ft) above sea level... and this McGonk about to make it to the highest point in the United Kingdom! I've included a close-up of the Ordinance Survey number off the trig-point as added evidence that this was, indeed, the summit of Ben Nevis.

Now, all we need to do is get back down again and make it back to Glen Nevis safe and sound to complete our challenge and show you all that this fundraising mission has been a success. We were delighted to see this little fellow waving at us on the way back down! But we didn't venture too close, as he seems to be pointing in the general directon of the dreaded Five Finger Gully - not a place the McGonks want to go near, especially in snow.

There was so much to see, so many people to chat to and even the wildlife was entertaining, with snow buntings coming to be fed crumbs on the very summit of the mountain. Time flew away from us as we picnicked on the top, watching the birds, surveying the hundreds of miles of mountain tops that spread out below us. It was fairly cold, the snow had filled our boots and there was a bit of an icy breeze yet, despite all of this, we managed to stay up there for well over an hour.

But time was marching on and we had to begin our descent. Such a shame to leave this all behind and
such a worry that something would happen to the camera before making it home and seeing the photographs!

The downward walk was slippery but fun. It was much slower than anticipated, although much faster than the ascent. The snow was slippery, the scree slid from beneath our feet, the rocks seemed twice as big when clambering back down the way and the views were stunning, meaning twice as many stops to take even more photographs.

All too soon (some may say none too soon) the lttle metal bridge was back in site and we were on the final slope leading down into glen and heading for the Glen Nevis Inn. Ten people, Bhreac McGonk and 3 mini-McGonks set off to reach the top of a mountain that day and all concerned made it to the top and back down safely.

I can honestly say that this mission has been accomplished successfully and we hope that all the money raised will be of benefit to the corresponding charities. We made several stops en route down the way and finally reached the pub early evening. We spent a full day out on the mountain!

For McGonks, we hope to help keep the Port William lifeboat afloat for as long as possible. If you would like to support this cause, you can still do so by donating via website. To date, we have raised £635 from this one walk and put a McGonk on the highest point in the UK - no small feat for a gonk with no feet!

Our next challenge involves some more walking and cycling and it begins today, Saturday 1st June 2013. Warch out for news and updates online, where you can follow the exploits via the McGonks Facebook page and join our event (see events section) as we go in search of funds to help save The Whithorn Trust from closure.