Monday, 31 January 2011

Tievebulliagh, The Hills and Glens of Antrim

I finally made it out today for the 1st time this year, I'd hoped that things would fall into place and I'd be able to visit the Cairngorms but it wasn't to be, in fact getting out today wasn't a certainty but as the walk had been planned by my mate Les I just needed to turn up. I had a few things to attend to this morning which required a trip into town so we decided to meet up at the layby near Essathoan waterfall at 12.00.

Our destination was Tievebulliagh, a nicely shaped (depending on where you view it from) little hill just to the NNW of Trostan. I'm not quite sure why we were going there, it was either because Les wanted to get some photpgraphs or because his mate Bert wanted to find the Neolithic axe factory, Tievebulliagh being a source of Porcellanite, but regardless I was happy to tag along.

Some sources claim that Tievebulliagh is one of only 2 places where Porcellanite is found and that axe heads from Tievebulliagh have been found in the Outer Hebrides and as far as the south of England, whether that's true or not I couldn't say but almost every source that refers to Porcellanite mentions Tievebulliagh.

When we met up at out start point the sky was overcast but it wasn't raining and was reasonably bright although there was a stiff breeze coming from the West/South West. As I'd been given the task of navigator I'd planned to take a fairy direct route over the Easten shoulder of Trostan before dropping down to a flatter section and then following the base of the broken outcrops to where the 'Axe Factory' was marked on the map. With that done my intention was to continue around the base of the broken rock before attaining the summit via a short steep grassy slope on the North side. With the summit reached we would then decend following the edge of the outcrop to pick up our outward route before returning via the summit of Trostan.

I'd aquired some new kit over the past few weeks, a consolation for the disapearance of the snow we had at Christmas, rather than a stove I took a new flask. I found it by accident in a cookware shop in town, made by EMSA with a 5 year guarantee it's hermetically sealed and is rated as being able to keep water hot for up to 12 hours. I'd tried it at home, filling it with boiling water after pre heating/priming it and the water was still at 58°c after 17 hours.

The other item I wanted to try out was a pair of 'Easy Windproof' trousers from Uniqlo. They'd been mentioned on the Bargain Alert thread on OM by 'Moonlight Shadow'. I really only bought them as I was ordering some Heattech thermal baselayer tops and longjohns as they looked like they'd be a good option for canoeing.

The rest of my clothing consisted of a L/S Heattech T-Shirt over a short sleeved version, on top I wore my Paramo VAL, a polar Buff rolled into a cap and SealSkinz Activity gloves took care of the extremities and I carried my Montane Flux as extra insulation to be used Paramo Torres style over my VAL during stops.

We set off at quite a pace but quickly settled back down to something that could be sustained for more than 5 minutes, at first benefitting from the forest track but before long leaving the forest to make the gradual climb up wet grassy and sometimes heather clad slopes to the shoulder from which we'd see our destination. Decending down off the shoulder the going was somewhat worse being heather covered almost all the way to the lower slopes of Tievebulliagh. We had to make an effort to maintain height and bearing as the wind which had increased by now together with the natural tendency to loose height when traversing causing us to drift off to the east. That was something that I wanted to avoid as I really hate loosing height after the effort of gaining it in the 1st place, especially when there's no good reason for doing so.

We reached the broad grassy ridge where it merged with the start of the broken rock/cliffs but rather than follow the base of the cliffs we decided to continue up the ridge following the edge. The view wasn't the best due to the low cloud and the wind was quite strong, certainly strong enough for Les and myself to stay back from the edge although we did move closer as we became more used to it. It was pleasant to be on soild ground and short grass rather than the boggy heather covered ground we'd crossed to reach this point and with the Summit in sight thoughts started to turn to lunch.

We stopped briefly on the summit while Les took a few photographs but the light was such that it wasn't worth messing around with tripod and filters. Looking down to the base of the hill we could easily see evidence of the axe factory looking like a clachan of giant molehills.

The broken rock/cliffs don't extend all the way along the ridge and from the summit it's just a short steep drop down to the axe factory, there's a choice of routes/techniques, straight down the grassy slope folloing the fall line, a zig/zag traverse down the slope or straight down a scree chute. Initially I opted for the zig/zag method but switched to the scree chute as it was easier.

Down among the mounds we stopped for lunch, the flask was produced together with Tunnocks Caramel wafers which went down a treat with a Starbucks Via. With lunch taken care of we set of again, this time skirting the base of the rocky outcrops. We all seemed to take different approaches. I chose to gain the required height right from the start and then maintain it until the base of the outcrop merged into the start of the long grassy ridge, in the end we all arrived at the shoulder at pretty much the same time.

By now the cloud base had dropped significantly and the wind if anything had picked up and swung around to a more southerly direction bringing with it light rain as we started to make out way across the featureless heather clad plateau. Visibility was still generally reasonable but from time to time it closed in, we were aiming to hit a fence line but in spite of trying to avoid drifting down to our left the endless zig/zag route through the peat banks meant we did drift off slightly. After crossing the fence the ground started to rise so with a fresh set of batteries fitted to the GPS (I'd forgotten to change them before starting out and hadn't been using it as we could see where we were going anyway) we checked our position and after a final steep pull we once again reached the shoulder of Trostan and soon picked up our footprints from earlier. We didn't waste much time as the rain which hadn't really increased in intensity had become persistant, the visibility had become worse and the wind was showing no signs of abating.

Dropping down off the shoulder the edge of the forest soon became visible on our right and we simply followed the fence line down to a break in the forest with only a short distance along a firebreak to reach the forest road at Essathoan waterfall. Within 20 minutes we were back at the cars and once gear had been packed and wet jackets replaced with dry ones we were on our way.

The Gear

I hadn't gone out with the sole intention of testing gear, I expected everything to work fine although to be honest I hadn't expected it to rain and if I had I may have chosen not to wear the Uniqlo Easy Windproof trousers and would have worn my ME Ibex softshell instead. As it turned out the Uniqlo trousers were absolutely fine, they looked dry apart from the bottom of the legs (I hadn't worn gaiters) although even then they didn't feel wet inside. I'll look at the Easy Windproof trousers in more detail in due course.

The Paramo VAL performed faultlessly, I hadn't needed to vent it and was comfortable wearing the Heattech baselayer, the hood on the VAL did an excellent job of shielding my face from the wind driven rain.

The flask worked as expected and finally the Sealskinz Activity gloves kept my hands dry and mostly warm, I knoew they weren't totally waterproof as I'd already given them the 'Bucket Test' and they did leak a little at both thumbs but they provided enough grip and dexterity for me to operate a DSLR and generally enough insulation to keep my hands warm.

All in all it was a good day out even if the weather did limit the views towards the end.

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