Saturday, 28 March 2009

Spring forward - Fall back

As British summertime kicks GMT into touch and you're complaining about losing an hours sleep, perhaps your thoughts should turn to new born gamboling lambs, sprouting daffodils & the Easter bunny...... or even the Birds & the Bees.

Described as an aromatic pale ale brewed with a combination of barley, oats, hops, meadow sweet & elder flowers. Any excuse to try out a new traditional cask ale is alright by us, so if you are dropping into the bar over the weekend 3rd/4th April, treat yourself to the latest offering from the the Williams Brothers, stars of the hit TV show 'drink to Britain' with their new pals Oz Clarke & James May.

Friday, 27 March 2009

£200 for Mountain Safety Initiatives

Ok, so the clocks may be about to go forward and the daffodils might be in full bloom, but its certainly looking very wintry on the mountains today. Some winter - with snow falling in October and still coming now that its nearly April.

So caution if you're heading out into the hills. Know the skills you need, be properly equipped and all that. But not an issue if you attended one of the Winter Experience Lectures at Clachaig during February and March.

The series is organised by the Mountaineering Council of Scotland and are provided free of charge. We've hosted the series every winter for time eternal - originally set up in the late 1980's by Peter Daynes and Andy Fanshawe who was the National Officer of the BMC at the time. We've always maintained that they should be free, if they are to connect with the folk who might most need to be aware of their content.

However, there is a cost associated with presenting the lectures, so we do tout for donations. The collections this year raised £200, which will go back to the MCofS, and used to help fund further mountain safety initiatives.

Roger Wild has recently stepped down from his post as Mountain Safety Officer, so contact the MCofS directly if you fancy a job in the mountains and helping to organise the Winter Experience Lectures in 2010!

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Car Park Extension Phase I Finished

Finally, Phase I of the car park extension works is finished. Ok, there's some signs to add, some grass seed to sow and a fence or 2 to erect, but we're done. For this season at least!


The front elevation of Clachaig has been transformed.

Last Summer. Most of these trees have been retained.

In the process we've added in a dozen or more extra car parking spaces and included a couple for 'oversized' vehicles - ideal for those mini buses we see so many of these days. There's signs that the grass (and the weeds) are beginning to grow, despite the frost this morning, and so we'll be out sprinkling the grass seed fairly soon.

We're having slight problems deciding on what to do about the proposed childrens' play area. Our aspirations for the most modest of facilities have come back with a 5 figure price tag on them and that's without some of the ground works, but do come with a British Standard attached. On the other hand, our insurers are just interested in the British Standard (and the ubiquitous 'risk assessment') and this comes at a price.

Hopefully, we'll be able to move on to Phase II in the autumn. Phase II is essentially tidying up and rationalising the rest of the car park areas, especially the existing lower car park. In its current form, the informal layout is very handy for all sorts of vehicles that we find using it (including those that just park up and disappear onto the hills for a few days). However, it looks bloody awful!

Phase II should see the lower car partially enclosed with a sleeper wall, more easily recognisable parking bays and improved signage & lighting. More news on this later in the year.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Cave Rescue

I wonder whether caving counts as an outdoor activity given that it largely takes place indoors? Here in the Outdoor Capital of the UK were fairly well known for our big hills and open lochs, but did you know that we also have a fair few caves on the patch too?

The TV must have been a bit dull last night as instead of a glass of vino and sinking into a comfy sofa in front of the fire, we found ourselves myself doing a bit of this instead. Despite being a 'mountain' rescue team, Glencoe Mountain Rescue are called on to assist in all manner of incidents, including cave rescues. With our cave stretcher (looks like a superb sledge!) and an extremely brave volunteer we set off down the 'walk in' cave in Duror to have a little rescue exercise.

Its a while since I've been near these caves. My last visit was probably something like 2o years ago on a rescue in the Cave of Skulls. Consequently, I'd managed to get it into my head that a 'walk in' cave would be more like Stump Cross Cavern and come complete with a tour guide and a crystal shop at the end. Oh, dear..!

A fairly interesting exercise, all told. Casualty handling in enclosed spaces is even more difficult than it is in exposed places. And whilst man handling the 'stretcher' round impossible corners and down the odd steep pitch is hard work and (not good for those with a bad back), I'd rather be doing that that having my nose scraped along the walls whilst lying on it!

My advice? If you do go caving don't have an accident. Particularly if you're taller than 5' 6" and you're passionate about pies. And also, make sure you've got some of those protective seat covers for your car and don't go near the washing machine while your wife is looking.

Taking photos was a bit of challenge. Either a view of someone's rear end, too much moisture in the atmosphere causing a mist in the flash or all hands required! There's a few more photos on the web album.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Paul Pritchard - The Totem Pole

A great night at Clachaig last night, very reminiscent of the good old days, as we enjoyed Paul Pritchard's lecture The Longest Climb.

Paul Last spoke at Clachaig some 12 years ago, around the time that his first book, Deep Play, was released. On that occasion he wowed a full house with his amazing photos of the climbs that he is famous for. The book went to win the 1997 Boardman-Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature.

Shortly after that, whilst attempting to climb The Totem Pole, a sea stack in Tasmania, Paul was struck on the head by a large rock. He miraculously survived the accident but now suffers from hemiplegia. The story is told in his book of the same name which aain won critical acclaim. Paul is the only author to win the Boardman Tasker Prize twice.

The Longest Climb covered his early climbing exploits through the 1980's and 90's, the acccident on the Totem Pole and his long battle to continue with an adventurous lifestyle in the period since.

It was an inspiring talk, and it was also fantastic to see Paul back in Glencoe again. As we put him back on the train this morning, his parting words were, "Maybe next time I come back I'll have a go at the Aonach Eagach ridge".

The lecture was a fringe event in the Fort William Mountain Festival. Paul is speaking at several venues around the UK and Europe during the course of the coming season. Contact him through his web site if you'd like to know more.

Friday, 6 March 2009

From Glencoe to Bollywood

With winter refusing to let go we bid a fond farewell to ’Febfest’ and yet another hugely successful 3-week long beer festival.

A record number of customers & guests enjoyed our programme of ale & whisky tastings, live music, quiz nights and mountain safety lectures. Judging by the praise lavished on us by those in attendance, you could be forgiven for thinking our formula is a ‘piece of cake’, so spare a thought for our bar staff who handled, nurtured & lovingly presented over 50 Scottish cask ales during the festival.

Fastest off the taps being Cairngorms’ ‘Sheepshagger’ which disappeared at a speed of 18 gallons in under 3 hours, a rate of knots that even a Top Gear presenter would be proud of.

Surprisingly, the talking point of the festival wasn’t an unusual ale, a quirky band or even one of our renowned Highland Malts. Hot on the heels of Slumdog Millionaire and presented by Gerry Brown from Gordon & Macphail comes India’s first Malt whisky ‘Amrut’. Now before you scoff and pour scorn on their cheek in mimicking our ‘Uige Beatha’ or ‘water of life, it would be prudent to remember that the classic Indian dish Chicken Tikka Masala was actually created in Glasgow.

… next time you visit Clachaig, treat yourself to a wee dram of Amrut. You’ll find it on the shelf between Aberlour & Ardbeg…try it with our Haggis Vindaloo!

Thursday, 5 March 2009

A snowy day

Frosty last night. Heavy snow falling this morning. Fantastic winter weather!

How we tittered a month or so ago when Engerland seemed to shut down because of a little bit of snow. However, seems were not immune from it either. A couple of inches of snow this morning, with a forecast for it to clear by 9am, and the schools are shut. Its now late morning, the snow man in the garden is melting fast, the roads are blacker than my coal bin, the sun is out, the sky is blue and the kids are going wild... No complaints from them at least!

Lots of snow on the hills now. Have heard a couple of reports of folk 'swimming' on all fours in some parts. And you can see some of the deep drifts looking spectacular in the sunlight from down below.

Looking good...

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Flying Without Wings

No, we're not going all Westlife on you. Just probably the best way of describing an accident which occurred on the popular cliffs of Stob Coire nan Lochan, Glencoe, on Sunday afternoon. It seems that the lesson learned is not to go too close to the edge of the cornice when testing it! See the report in the Press & Journal.

Falling the full length of SC Gully (pictured) and coming away with just minor injuries is simply quite miraculous. Its a big bit of mountain and a long way down! As we jumped into the RAF Sea King to get uplifted to the coire, I must admit that I wasn't too sure what we'd be going to find based on the reports passed on to Glencoe Mountain Rescue Team. But all the same, great to see that there's a happy ending to this one.

Plenty of new snow in the last 24 hrs as the image from the A82 web cam shows. Winter's not over yet!

Monday, 2 March 2009

Online real time booking?

Modest-sized Highland hotel we may be, but we've always actively embraced new ideas and new technology to keep us progressing. And usually its worked wonders for us. Stand still and watch the world pass you by and all that. Curious then, that we've been slow on the uptake with what those in the trade might call Property Management Software.

There are in fact any number of reasons, but we don't really want to bore you with these right now. However, the tide is turning. We've recently made a few changes to some of the front of house systems and already the results have taken us by surprise. For example, 56% of our guests since the turn of the year have either been to Clachaig before or were referred by a friend who had. Whilst we always knew that repeat & referred business was a significant part of our business, prior to now we couldn't put an exact figure on it.

And this is the tip of the iceberg. We had a meeting on Friday to discuss moving forward, some may say to arrive in the 21st Century, and the ball is beginning to roll. Perhaps by the autumn we'll be saying adieu to the pencil and the ledger. Perhaps.

One thing we're keen to know is your view on online booking. Whilst introducing PMS software will do many things, an important consideration is whether we go the 'whole hog' and also add online booking. Some of us think it works fine for the bog standard - dare we say Premier Inns, but feel that booking something slightly out of the ordinary in the Highlands still requires that personal intervention.

What do you think?